Tuesday, October 16, 2018

This Is A Test

From the Washington Post:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) had said she would not “sit quietly” as President Trump made claims about her ancestry that she called racist. On Monday morning, she released a DNA test that suggested she did have a distant Native American ancestor, and by the evening, she was using the ensuing dust-up to attack Trump.

The release of the test results Monday morning called Trump’s months-long bluff, which arose at a July 5 rally in Montana when the president questioned the senator’s heritage claims.

Even then, Warren was rumored to be a likely Democratic presidential candidate in 2020. Trump, with glee, told the rally crowd he looked forward to making Warren “prove” her Native American heritage on the debate stage if the two were to square off.

“I’m going to get one of those little [DNA testing] kits and in the middle of the debate, when she proclaims she’s of Indian heritage … ‚” Trump said. “And we will say, ‘I will give you a million dollars to your favorite charity, paid for by Trump, if you take the test and it shows you’re an Indian.’ “

The crowd cheered.

“And let’s see what she does,” Trump continued. “I have a feeling she will say no, but we’ll hold that for the debates. Do me a favor. Keep it within this room?”

So the question really isn’t whether or not Sen. Warren has Native American ancestry or whether or not Trump really did say he’d give a million dollars to her favorite charity.  The question is have we gotten to the point in American politics that the future of the country and its leadership comes down to what is literally a spitting contest: Elizabeth Warren spits in a test tube to prove her point, and Trump spits in the eye of the American people who want more than just a schoolyard bully as their president.

We’ve been told over and over again that these are not normal times, and while American politics has always had this kind of freak show quality to it — a glance back at presidential races shows that it’s never really been normal — getting back to questioning the racial heritage of a candidate or even a potential candidate has a nasty, brutish quality that shows we really haven’t gotten past the point where E pluribus unum is just Latin for “Are they one of us?”

It didn’t start with Barack Obama’s birth certificate or John McCain’s adopted daughter, and it won’t end with DNA results for Sen. Warren and her Oklahoma roots.  There will always be fringers who will come up with the wildest claims about someone just to see if it will fly, and there will always be those otherwise serious people who take a moment to say, “Well, what about that?” and waste our time indulging in nutsery.  It’s supposed to reflect their dedication to objectivity, but all it does is give weight to the lunacy.  At some point we have to call it what it is: bullshit and distraction.  But as long as Trump can go full-tilt racist and get a cheer, it’s going to be a part of his shtick.

This isn’t the end of this by any means, and if Sen. Warren is really going to run in 2020, this is just the first ptui.  The true test will come when the American electorate says “Enough!” and demands more from our leaders than “Am Not!” and “Are Too!”

Footnote: FWIW, this video is pretty impressive hitting-back.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

An Angry Mob, You Say?

From the Washington Post:

When thousands of furious, screaming protesters marched toward the Capitol over the weekend as Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh was confirmed, Republican staffers peered out at the scene from the windows above. They were not alarmed but elated.

Weeks ahead of the midterm elections, Republicans have cast the Trump resistance movement as “an angry mob,” a term used by many of them to describe a faceless amalgamation of forces that they say threaten the country’s order and, they hope, energize their voters.

President Trump and the GOP firmly control Congress and the White House and have massive financial and media infrastructure behind them. But in an effort to flip the midterm elections from a referendum on the unpopular president, they are casting themselves as defenders at the barricades.

In Virginia, Rep. David Brat (R) is running against the “liberal mob,” and GOP Senate candidate Corey Stewart has decried the “mob tactics” that “tried to destroy” Kavanaugh.

“When we’re out at grocery stores or at events, we’re finding swing voters are turned off by how Kavanaugh was treated,” Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) said. “Chasing senators down the hall, running up the stairs at the Capitol — we’ve been taken aback by how people have reacted to it. And we’re responding.”

The characterization evokes fear of an unknown and out-of-control mass of people, and it taps into grievances about the nation’s fast-moving cultural and demographic shifts that Republicans say are working against them. With its emphasis on the impact on traditional values and white voters, particularly men, it strikes the same notes as earlier Trump-fanned attention to immigrants, MS-13 gang members and African American football players protesting police treatment of young black men.

So the angry protestors that disrupted town hall meetings in 2009 at the instigation of the poorly-disguised GOP-led Tea Party and the White Pride march in Charlottesville, Virginia, that killed a woman and were told that there were “good people” doing it; those were just good citizens exercising their First Amendment rights, is that it?  Oh, and all those people chanting “Lock her up!” and beating up demonstrators at the encouragement of their dear leader, why, that was just good old American freedom flexing its muscle.

The ironic thing is, though, that this country was founded by an angry mob: the American revolution wasn’t a polite disagreement, and if we’d let the fear of the unknown hold us back, we’d have never expanded this country beyond the Appalachians.  But the Republicans and the Trumpers are masters at exploiting fear and loathing; it’s the only way they’ve won elections in the last fifty years, and they know that there are enough weak-willed and blustering bullies out there who will either fall for their line or make money off it.

We’re better than that.  But don’t take my word for it.  Take it from a man who couldn’t even stand on his own two feet without help but who faced down fear and anger and turned it into good.

This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.

Now’s the time to do it again.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Don’t Let Your Boys Grow Up To Be Assholes

The Trump males are all worried that the world isn’t safe for the penis-bearing population anymore.

During a quick presser before boarding Marine One, while discussing the Kavanaugh nomination, Trump told the press that woman are doing fine, but it’s a very “scary time” for young men.

Apparently a woman being sexually assaulted is no big deal at the White House these days.

Yesterday, Don Junior told the Daily Mail this bit of lunacy.

“I’ve got boys and I’ve got girls, and when I see what’s going on right now, it’s scary for all things,” Trump Jr. said in an interview with DailyMail TV that will air Monday and Tuesday. Asked who he is “scared most for” — his sons or his daughters — Trump Jr. said, “right now, I’d say my sons.”

Trump parrots what he hears and likes from other people, including his son.

Trump outlined Kavanaugh’s problems right now with the FBI investigation ongoing as “a sham.”

Trump said, “It’s a very scary situation where you’re guilty until proven innocent.”

Here’s a solution: how about you don’t raise your sons to be whiny entitled shits who expect women to do their bidding and submit to groping when you’re shitfaced from your love of beer?  How about you raise your children to respect other people the way you’d want them to be treated themselves?  Or is that too hard for you, you lazy, privileged, entitled, and fragile and — in all meanings of the word — little snowflake?

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Tamper, Tamper

It’s never the crime but the cover-up that gets you.  Don’t they teach that at Yale, or was Brett Kavanaugh too busy talking to Ralph on the big white phone?

I’m not a lawyer but with my vast knowledge of “Law & Order” reruns as support, I know that even dropping a postcard to a potential witness is a no-no.

In the days leading up to a public allegation that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh exposed himself to a college classmate, the judge and his team were communicating behind the scenes with friends to refute the claim, according to text messages obtained by NBC News.

Kerry Berchem, who was at Yale with both Kavanaugh and his accuser, Deborah Ramirez, has tried to get those messages to the FBI for its newly reopened investigation into the matter but says she has yet to be contacted by the bureau.

The texts between Berchem and Karen Yarasavage, both friends of Kavanaugh, suggest that the nominee was personally talking with former classmates about Ramirez’s story in advance of the New Yorker article that made her allegation public. In one message, Yarasavage said Kavanaugh asked her to go on the record in his defense. Two other messages show communication between Kavanaugh’s team and former classmates in advance of the story.

In now-public transcripts from an interview with Republican Judiciary Committee staff on September 25, two days after the Ramirez allegations were reported in the New Yorker, Kavanaugh claimed that it was Ramirez who was “calling around to classmates trying to see if they remembered it,” adding that it “strikes me as, you know, what is going on here? When someone is calling around to try to refresh other people? Is that what’s going on? What’s going on with that? That doesn’t sound — that doesn’t sound — good to me. It doesn’t sound fair. It doesn’t sound proper. It sounds like an orchestrated hit to take me out.”

The texts also demonstrate that Kavanaugh and Ramirez were more socially connected than previously understood and that Ramirez was uncomfortable around Kavanaugh when they saw each other at a wedding 10 years after they graduated. Berchem’s efforts also show that some potential witnesses have been unable to get important information to the FBI.

Aside from the fact that you really don’t need to have a possible Supreme Court justice committing a felony just to save his dream job, the arrogance with which he does it — “hey, you’re gonna back me up on this” — speaks to his stinking attitude of white male privilege: how dare anyone — especially a woman — try to deny me my entitlement.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Sham Wow

If you believe the FBI investigation into allegations against Brett Kavanaugh isn’t a sham, well, buddy, have I got some real estate just west of here for you.

The FBI has received no new instructions from the White House about how to proceed with its weeklong investigation of sexual misconduct allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, a senior U.S. official and another source familiar with the matter tell NBC News.

According to the sources, the president’s Saturday night tweet saying he wants the FBI to interview whoever agents deem appropriate has not changed the limits imposed by the White House counsel’s office on the FBI investigation — including a specific witness list that does not include Julie Swetnick, who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct in high school.

Also not on the list, the sources say, are former classmates who have contradicted Kavanaugh’s account of his college alcohol consumption, instead describing him as a frequent, heavy drinker. The FBI is also not authorized to interview high school classmates who could shed light on what some people have called untruths in Kavanaugh’s Senate Judiciary Committee testimony about alleged sexual references in his high school yearbook.

So basically the White House is doing what they do best: obstructing justice while saying they’re open to any and all investigations.  It’s all bullshit and they know it.

What I find impressive is that they can pull off this and expect — even count on — the rest of us to nod and say, “Oh, okay.”  That takes chutzpah; something never in short supply with these people.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Two Words, Sen. Graham

I missed most of the Senate hearing with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh, but I caught some of it, including the moment of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) having an absolute fit on national TV about how mean the Democrats are being to poor Brett.

(to Senators) If you wanted an FBI investigation, you could have come to us. What you want to do is destroy this guy’s life, hold this seat open and hope you win in 2020. You’ve said that. not me. [to Kavanaugh] You’ve got nothing to apologize for. When you see Sotomayor and Kagan, tell them that Lindsey said hello, because I voted for them. (to Senators) I would never do to them what you’ve done to this guy. This is the most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics. And if you really wanted to know the truth, you sure as hell wouldn’t have done what you’ve done to this guy.

Two words, Lindsey: Merrick Garland.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Shiny Object Time

For a while yesterday afternoon it looked like Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was going to be fired because of a third-hand-reported story in the New York Times that said he made jokes about wearing a wire when he talked to Trump and was in the room when someone wondered about the 25th Amendment.

But he still has his job as of this writing and the White House demurred to speculate on his employment situation.

I have no more clues about the inner workings of the White House and Justice Department than the ibises picking up bugs in my back yard, but it occurs to me that this kerfuffle over Mr. Rosenstein was a badly-crafted attempt to distract our attention from the Brett Kavanaugh story, and it didn’t work.  And even if it had, firing Mr. Rosenstein now would only make things worse for Trump and the White House.  Oh, and it wouldn’t stop the Mueller investigation, either.  To do that, they’d have to basically burn down the Department of Justice.

It also occurs to me that either Mr. Rosenstein has some very damning evidence on Trump and his corruption, or Trump thinks he has and isn’t willing to fire him so that he’d leak it afterwards as some sort of revenge.  I’m not saying Mr. Rosenstein either has the dirt or would do something like that, but that’s how Trump operates and he probably thinks everyone has the same set of morals that he does.

Anyway, the distraction didn’t work, and it wasn’t helped by Judge Kavanugh going on TV last night and forcing the image of his alleged virginity on us.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Rush To Judgeship

The Republicans are in an awful hurry to get Brett Kavanaugh onto the Supreme Court, pushing Prof. Ford with the “take-it-or-leave-it” deadline to testify on Monday.  It’s as if they know that if they can’t whoop him through next week, it’s all going to go sideways until after the election when perhaps the rising tide and gorge of voters see what they’re pulling off sweeps a bunch of Republicans out of office and their chances go a-glimmering.

Ironically, they were smugly content to keep the Scalia seat open on the court for over 400 days while Merrick Garland cooled his heels waiting for so much as a postcard from Mitch McConnell, and now all of a sudden it’s really important to get it done.  Kinda like there’s some political reason for it, huh?

A lot of us were hoping that they learned a lesson from the Anita Hill / Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991.  Unfortunately the lesson the Republicans learned and still practice is that you can vilify a witness and defend a predator and get your creepy guy onto the court, and that’s all that matters.  They’ve learned nothing from history, and to them the #MeToo movement is nothing but a bunch of shrill women with made-up stories and exaggerated claims because some dude brushed up against them in the elevator and didn’t fall over with apologies and a court settlement.  They got their guy on the Supreme Court and that’s all that matters.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Culture Of Victimhood

Only in Trump world would someone who stands accused of being a sexual predator be portrayed as a victim.

“I feel so badly for him that he’s going through this, to be honest with you,” Mr. Trump said of the judge. “I feel so badly for him. This is not a man that deserves this.”

Yeah, and Prof. Blasey Ford doesn’t deserve to get death threats and being forced to go into hiding because she spoke up.

In the letter to the Judiciary Committee, Dr. Blasey’s lawyers said that she has been the target of “vicious harassment and even death threats” since her name was made public on Sunday in an interview published in The Washington Post. Her email has been hacked, she has been impersonated online and she and her family have been forced to relocate out of their home, according to the lawyers, Ms. Banks and her partner, Debra S. Katz.

She has nothing to gain from coming forward except to save us from putting yet another creep on the Supreme Court.

But to the Republicans, playing the victim is always their backstop.  Oh, the burden of paying higher taxes just because we make so much money; pity us for having to press 1 for English when calling in to the bank; why is it that we, the oppressed and persecuted Christians, have to bear the immeasurable humiliation of being told “Happy Holidays”?  We’re the white guys; we’re supposed to be in charge.

President Obama made a good point in one of his speeches last week.

“Even the folks who won don’t seem happy. Have you noticed that?” Obama told the Cleveland crowd, decrying the country’s “broken” politics. Republicans won the presidency, House and Senate, he said, but “they’re still mad, which is interesting.”

It’s because they don’t understand the point of how to get along in an ostensibly free society.  No, you can’t go around and call people names or treat them like shit and get away with it.  No, you can’t just have your way without taking other people into consideration and listening to their ideas.  No, you can’t make a zillion dollars and not expect to pay for the things that support you, like police, utilities, and public education.  You can live in your gated community, but you have to pay for it above and beyond the monthly maintenance fee.  In short, you have to act like an adult, and if you’re going to be in charge — or just aspire to it — you have a duty to act like you understand that basic human concept.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Sunday Reading

Back In The Game — Charles P. Pierce on Barack Obama’s return to the arena.

“But over the past few decades, the politics of division and resentment and paranoia has unfortunately found a home in the Republican party.”

That, right there. That is, I believe, the most purely partisan thing Barack Obama ever has said. It’s damned sure one of the harshest, and it’s plainly one of the most accurate. On Friday, Obama was at the University of Illinois to receive an ethics award named for Paul H. Douglas, a remarkable man who was once the senator from Illinois and whom Dr. King once called “the greatest of all senators” because of his unflinching support of civil rights.

How remarkable was Douglas? He went through Parris Island at the age of 50 and fought as a private soldier on Peleliu and on Okinawa, winning a Bronze Star along the way.

How unflinching was his support for the civil rights movement? In 1957, Douglas voted against his own party by voting against making racist Mississippi Democrat James O. Eastland the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, breaking all Senate customs and confounding (briefly) Lyndon Johnson.

Those were the footsteps in which Barack Obama walked on Friday, and he did not disappoint. He reckoned with the Democratic Party’s misbegotten racist past, even giving ol’ Everett Dirksen of Illinois a shout-out as a Republican who was down with civil rights. But then, he came to the heart of what he’d come to say.

But when there’s a vacuum in our democracy, when we don’t vote, when we take our basic rights and freedoms for granted, when we turn away and stop paying attention and stop engaging and stop believing and look for the newest diversion, the electronic versions of bread and circuses, then other voices fill the void. A politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment takes hold and demagogues promise simple fixes to complex problems. No, promise to fight for the little guy, even as they cater to the wealthiest and most powerful. No, promise to clean up corruption and then plunder away. They start undermining norms that ensure accountability and try to change the rules to entrench their power further. They appeal to racial nationalism that’s barely veiled, if veiled at all. Sound familiar?

Why, yes. Please continue, govern…er…Mr. President.

But over the past few decades, the politics of division and resentment and paranoia has unfortunately found a home in the Republican party. This Congress has championed the unwinding of campaign finance laws to give billionaires outside influence over our politics. Systematically attacked voting rights to make it harder for young people and minorities and the poor to vote. Handed out tax cuts without regard to deficits. Slashed the safety net wherever it could, cast dozens of votes to take away health insurance from ordinary Americans, embraced wild conspiracy theories like those surrounding Benghazi or my birth certificate, rejected science, rejected facts on things like climate change, embraced a rising absolutism from a willingness to default on America’s debt by not paying our bills to a refusal to even meet much less consider a qualified nominee for the Supreme Court because he happened to be nominated by a Democratic president.

None of this is conservative. I don’t mean to pretend I’m channelling Abraham Lincoln now, but that’s not what he had in mind, I think, when he helped form the Republican Party. It’s not conservative. It sure isn’t normal. It’s radical. It’s a vision that says the protection of our power and those who back us is all that matters, even when it hurts the country. It’s a vision that says the few who can afford high-price lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions set the agenda, and over the past two years, this vision is now nearing its logical conclusion.

He has gone out of his way to diagnose the prion disease—when it started, its various manifestations, and how it now rages out of control, devouring the higher functions of the collective Republican conservative brain. He took hard, clean shots at alleged Never Trumpers both in and out of office, both well-known and anominush. (Hi, Ben Sasse!) He ridiculed the notion that unelected staffers are somehow saving the Republic by disobeying the orders of a crazy man.

And, finally:

We are Americans. We’re supposed to stand up to bullies. Not follow them. We’re supposed to stand up to discrimination, and we’re sure as heck supposed to stand up clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers. How hard can that be? Saying that Nazis are bad?

Frankly, I never thought I’d see him address this as directly as he did on Friday. Yes, toward the end he got back into how there are people of good will on both sides who are drowned out by the noise of our politics. Low, high, you know the spiel.

I know there are conservatives who think there’s nothing compassionate about separating immigrant children from their mothers. I know there are Republicans who believe government should only perform a few minimal functions but that one of those functions should be making sure nearly 3,000 Americans don’t die in a hurricane and its aftermath. Common ground is out there. I see it every day. It’s just how people interact, how people treat each other. You see it on the ball field. You see it at work. You see it in places of worship.

He could say nothing else because that hope is his entire political raison d’être. This is the way it is with Barack Obama. He will throw red meat, but it will be good lean red meat that’s more healthy for you. It beats all hell out of waffles.

Doonesbury — Planning ahead.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Status Quo Ante

CLW thinks the motive behind Anonymous and their op-ed isn’t to save the country so much as it is to save the GOP and get them back to where they were and maybe even pick up some yardage.

The “call from inside the house” is not some bold resistance fighter, not some valiant defender of the constitution. Not even someone pressing for a book deal.

No, it’s a member of the GOP old guard frustrated with the squandering of their ownership of the two — about to be three — branches of government. They love the tax cuts for the wealthy, the bolstering of our already ridiculously fat military-industrial complex, and the outright grift masquerading as “deregulation.” They have no problem with the fetid swamp.

They just fear the whirling dervish in the oval office will derail their roughshod ride through the Constitution and their historical opportunity to pillage the treasury. This clarion call was to say “hang in there, red base, we’ve got this, don’t abandon ship yet.”

This was a cry to salvage the mid-terms and to allow the old guard GOP (McConnell, Ryan, et al) to regain control. Be careful with your hopes and dreams based on this one, specious report from inside the house.

I think his point is well-taken; the old guard would have been perfectly happy to have Trump in the White House if he were disciplined and mature enough to, like Gov. William J. Le Petomane, just hold a pen and sign the bills that McConnell and Ryan whooped through Congress, then go back to his pussy-grabbing.  They knew they had a racist and xenophobic base, but they were held in check by promises of tax cuts and gay bashing, which seemed to be working.

But instead of a useful and easily-manipulated mannequin, they got the whirling dervish because they’d never paid attention to his antics on TV or looked into his background as a businessman and his history of corruption and bankruptcy.  It certainly never occurred to them that they couldn’t mold him into something “presidential” the way they had with their last outlier presidents, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.  And they forget that they were unable to mold them to their will; they actually became like them.  Funny how that works.

The danger Trump poses to the GOP isn’t just that he’s poisoning the well and putting their majority at risk in the House and the Senate. It’s that he’s revealing the true core of the GOP establishment as a bunch of white heterosexual genially-racist Jesus-shouting rich guys who will say anything and sucker in anyone who will buy their load of capitalist jingoism as long as they don’t talk about it outside the gated community. But Trump went out on the nicely-manicured front lawn, dropped his pants, and drew in all the tacky trash that comes with an annual subscription to Infowars and the National Enquirer. And while the Republicans were always willing to take their votes and their money, they would never invite them into the house. That’s the real threat to the GOP, and they can’t live with that.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

“Fear” And Loathing

The leak of Bob Woodward’s new book “Fear” about the inner workings of the Trump White House revealed nothing that anyone who has been paying even marginal attention to how the country has been run for the last 18 months would find surprising in the least.

Woodward depicts Trump’s anger and paranoia about the Russia inquiry as unrelenting, at times paralyzing the West Wing for entire days. Learning of the appointment of Mueller in May 2017, Trump groused, “Everybody’s trying to get me”— part of a venting period that shellshocked aides compared to Richard Nixon’s final days as president.

The 448-page book was obtained by The Washington Post. Woodward, an associate editor at The Post, sought an interview with Trump through several intermediaries to no avail. The president called Woodward in early August, after the manuscript had been completed, to say he wanted to participate. The president complained that it would be a “bad book,” according to an audio recording of the conversation. Woodward replied that his work would be “tough” but factual and based on his reporting.

[…]

A central theme of the book is the stealthy machinations used by those in Trump’s inner sanctum to try to control his impulses and prevent disasters, both for the president personally and for the nation he was elected to lead.

Woodward describes “an administrative coup d’etat” and a “nervous breakdown” of the executive branch, with senior aides conspiring to pluck official papers from the president’s desk so he couldn’t see or sign them.

Again and again, Woodward recounts at length how Trump’s national security team was shaken by his lack of curiosity and knowledge about world affairs and his contempt for the mainstream perspectives of military and intelligence leaders.

At a National Security Council meeting on Jan. 19, Trump disregarded the significance of the massive U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula, including a special intelligence operation that allows the United States to detect a North Korean missile launch in seven seconds vs. 15 minutes from Alaska, according to Woodward. Trump questioned why the government was spending resources in the region at all.

“We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told him.

After Trump left the meeting, Woodward recounts, “Mattis was particularly exasperated and alarmed, telling close associates that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — ‘a fifth- or sixth-grader.’ ”

What, you were expecting Lincoln’s “team of rivals” or FDR’s calm and occasionally jovial sense of duty?  We’ve known all along that Trump has all the patience and insight of a sugared-up six-year-old with a full bladder.  (Speaking as a recovering teacher of sixth graders, Secretary Mattis’s claim is misplaced.  Most if not all of the sixth-graders I taught were capable of demonstrating far more maturity and dispassionate judgment than Trump.)

The most disturbing aspect of these revelations isn’t how he operates.  It’s that no one around him, either in the West Wing or on Capitol Hill, seems inclined to step up to rein this behavior and the ensuing clusterfuck of an administration in.  What is it going to take to get someone to put the day-to-day operation of the executive branch on a path of normal behavior before it truly runs into a disaster?  Aside from the fact that the business of running the country is being thrown for a loop and displaying an amazing lack of leadership, it’s revealing to the rest of the world, including a whole lot of people and nations who wish us ill, that our nominal leader is guided by the instincts and self-control mechanisms of an alligator.  (But this is what you get when you “drain the swamp.”)

Whether it’s the cabinet or Congress, someone with a backbone and a sense of national preservation needs to step up, invoke whatever kind of authority they can muster, and stop the madness.

Brett And Circuses

The first day of the Kavanaugh hearing devolved quickly to consternation and shouting matches.

Through most of the day, the nominee sat silently in the center of the room, alone at a table below the senators and in front of more than 100 reporters and nearly that many citizens who had waited for hours in line for their few minutes of inspirational democracy in Hart Senate Office Building Room 216.

All around him, democracy happened. It wasn’t pretty. The first seven hours of the Kavanaugh hearing broke down like this:

About three hours consisted of Democrats saying to their esteemed Republican colleagues that they did not provide the documents Democrats need to decide if Kavanaugh should get a lifetime appointment to the nation’s top court, with the Republicans responding to their friends across the aisle that yes, we actually did.

The debate in the greatest deliberative body in the world proceeded more or less as follows:

Did not.

Did so.

The Republicans and their pundit minions were shaking their heads and tut-tutting about the complete lack of decorum and class that the Democrats and protestors brought to the hearing, even though it came off as a tepid imitation of the warm-up acts for a Trump rally.  The shouters have nothing on the #MAGA crowds in airplane hangars and county fairs.

I think the most telling moment of the day was one that passed in silence, hardly even noticeable by the hundreds of reporters and flashbulbs.

It happened in the middle of a contentious meeting taking place in a country whose political divide seems to grow deeper by the day.

As the room broke for lunch during the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, a man approached the judge from behind and was able to get his attention. Kavanaugh turned to look at the man, who later identified himself on social media as Fred Guttenberg, the father of Jaime Guttenberg, one of the 17 people killed in the Parkland school shooting in February, as he stuck out his right hand. He appeared to say, “My daughter was murdered at Parkland.”

Kavanaugh gave the man a look but declined to shake his hand. It is not clear whether he heard Guttenberg’s introduction, though the two were standing within a few feet of each other. Another man, who a White House spokesman later said was a security guard, had come to Guttenberg’s side by that point.

(Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP)

The interaction was captured on camera — both in an arresting photograph shot by the Associated Press and multiple video cameras recording from different angles. And it quickly began to circulate on social media, an instant visual artifact trending as a stand-in for a politically complex and emotionally intense moment in American history.

As they say, a picture says a thousand words, so there you have it.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Foregoing All Pretense

Now that they have got an outright racist running for governor in Florida, the Trump regime is moving on to clear the border of people they suspect aren’t really ‘Murican because they’re Hispanic.

On paper, he’s a devoted U.S. citizen.

His official American birth certificate shows he was delivered by a midwife in Brownsville, at the southern tip of Texas. He spent his life wearing American uniforms: three years as a private in the Army, then as a cadet in the Border Patrol and now as a state prison guard.

But when Juan, 40, applied to renew his U.S. passport this year, the government’s response floored him. In a letter, the State Department said it didn’t believe he was an American citizen.

As he would later learn, Juan is one of a growing number of people whose official birth records show they were born in the United States but who are now being denied passports — their citizenship suddenly thrown into question. The Trump administration is accusing hundreds, and possibly thousands, of Hispanics along the border of using fraudulent birth certificates since they were babies, and it is undertaking a widespread crackdown.

Well, they’ve got to find a use for all those concentration camps now that they’ve been busted for separating parents from their children.

Hey, you — yeah, you — can you prove you’re a citizen?  Do you remember being born?  Where was it?  Where’s your birth certificate, and how do we know it wasn’t doctored up back when you were born to make it appear you were born here and not in Juarez or Kenya?

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

That Was Fast

As I noted in the post this morning about the Florida gubernatorial race between Andrew Gillum and Ron DeSantis:

Andrew Gillum is African-American, setting up the possibility of being the first black governor of the state, and got backing from Bernie Sanders.  He came from behind to win in a field that included Gwen Graham, a one-term Congress-person and the daughter of former governor and senator, Bob Graham.  Ron DeSantis came out of the woodwork to beat Adam Putnam, who has been running for the office since he was in high school, thanks to a tweet by Trump.  He’s a Trumper all the way and this race is going to get really nasty really quickly; there are still parts of the state where whistling Dixie isn’t just an expression, and setting up an unapologetic liberal with a right-wing Trump-sucker will bring national focus, and that means lots of money for PAC ads and all sorts of shit.

Not even twelve hours into the general election and DeSantis comes up with this:

Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis urged Floridians not to “monkey this up” by voting for his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum. Gillum is the first African-American gubernatorial nominee in Florida’s history.

[…]

“It’s disgusting that Ron DeSantis is launching his general election campaign with racist dog whistles,” the Florida Democratic Party chairwoman, Terrie Rizzo, said in a statement soon after the Fox News appearance.

Dog whistle?  That was about as subtle as a klaxon in an elevator.

Welcome to Florida.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Obsessed

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was a little too interested in the details of Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Kavanaugh, as associate counsel in the office of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, wrote in the memo that he was “strongly opposed” to giving Clinton any “break” and suggested 10 questions, including: “If Monica Lewinsky says that you inserted a cigar into her vagina while you were in the Oval Office area, would she be lying?”

He also was hell-bent on punishing Mr. Clinton for his failings.

“After reflecting this evening, I am strongly opposed to giving the President any ‘break’ in the questioning regarding the details of the Lewinsky relationship” unless he “resigns” or “confesses perjury,” Kavanaugh wrote, continuing: “He has required the urgent attention of the courts and the Supreme Court for frivolous privilege claims — all to cover up his oral sex from an intern. He has lied to his aides. He has lied to the American people. He has tried to disgrace you and this Office with a sustained propaganda campaign that would make Nixon blush.”

Well, if that’s how he felt about Clinton’s straying from the truth, imagine how outraged he must be at Trump’s complete abandonment of any resemblance of veracity.  But apparently he had a change of heart, arguing later — after working for George W. Bush’s administration — that the president shouldn’t be distracted by petty lawsuits and the occasional lapses of truth-telling.  Gee, I wonder what it was that brought him around?  (*cough Cheney Rove Iraq war cough*).

This insight into Mr. Kavanaugh’s thinking reveals again the moralistic right-wing’s obsession with someone else’s sex life to the point that it borders on creepy.  I’m not defending Mr. Clinton’s behavior, but if Mr. Kavanaugh was so upset with it, why is he allowing himself to be nominated to the highest court in the land by a being who has overtly demonstrated and even bragged about behavior that makes the Lewinsky affair sound like a pat on the cheek?

Because he’s a flaming hypocrite and a bit of a perv, that’s why.

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Truth Is Out There

Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, yesterday on “Meet the Press:”

“I am not going to be rushed into having him testify so that he gets trapped into perjury,” Giuliani said, repeating a frequently made point. “And when you tell me that, you know, he should testify because he is going to tell the truth and he shouldn’t worry, that’s so silly because it’s somebody’s version of the truth, not the truth.”

“Truth is truth,” [moderator Chuck] Todd responded, exasperated.

“No it isn’t truth! Truth isn’t truth!” Giuliani said, adding: “Donald Trump says I didn’t talk about Flynn with Comey. Comey says you did talk about. So tell me what the truth is!”

Some pills make you larger, and some pills make you small…

What’s remarkable about this exchange is not just the Orwellian peace-is-war / Lewis Carroll “Through the Looking Glass” framing of reality.  It’s that there will be any number of Republicans who, either because of fear or convenience or their own self-interest, will shrug it off and go on about their business because Trump is their leader and Republicans always follow their leader, even if it’s down the rabbit hole or over the cliff.

Paul Krugman:

The real news of the past few weeks isn’t that Trump is a wannabe Mussolini who can’t even make the trains run on time. It’s the absence of any meaningful pushback from Congressional Republicans. Indeed, not only are they acquiescing in Trump’s corruption, his incitements to violence, and his abuse of power, up to and including using the power of office to punish critics, they’re increasingly vocal in cheering him on.

Make no mistake: if Republicans hold both houses of Congress this November, Trump will go full authoritarian, abusing institutions like the I.R.S., trying to jail opponents and journalists on, er, trumped-up charges, and more — and he’ll do it with full support from his party.

[…]

The point is that once you’ve made excuses for and come to the aid of a bad leader, it gets ever harder to say no to the next outrage. Republicans who defended Trump over the Muslim ban, his early attacks on the press, the initial evidence of collusion with Russia, have in effect burned their bridges. It would be deeply embarrassing to admit that the elitist liberals they mocked were right when they were wrong; also, nobody who doesn’t support Trump will ever trust their judgment or patriotism again.

They are counting on two things: the short-term memory of both the news cycle and those who maintain it, and the rabidness of the base of the party that embraces the racism, the sexism, the anti-democratic instincts that lie within the heart of all hard-core cults of personality.  Both of those come together to make it perfectly plausible for Trump to stand up at an airport hangar rally in some mid-size city in the Midwest and say, to the adoring cheers and prompted jeers at the news media, that the truth about him is all lies and that the things that America stands for such as equal rights under the law and freedom of the press are the real threats to our way of life.  He’ll sell a million red hats with that emblazoned on it.  He will be able to count on the complicity and indifference of the Republican party because what they stand for is “keep us in power so we can make money and keep the nice things for ourselves.  As for the rest of you, well, you’re on your own.”

And that’s the truth.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Real Enemy Of The People

Editorial boards across the country and even overseas are joining the Boston Globe to speak out against Trump’s attacks on the media as, to quote Josef Stalin, “the enemy of the people.”  The Miami Herald, as a part of the McClatchy chain of papers, printed their thoughts.

No American president, or any city council member, for that matter, has ever unreservedly delighted in the way he or she was presented in the press. “I so appreciate the accuracy of their reporting on my perceived flaws!” said no official ever. “And good for them for holding me accountable.”

But President Donald Trump has veered into unfamiliar and perilous territory with his unceasing all-out assault on the free press and the First Amendment. Of course, the irony of Trump’s attacks on the “SICK!” and “very dishonest people” in “the fake media” he accuses of purveying, yes, “fake news” is that he himself is a product of the New York tabloids. He’s as savvy about manipulating his coverage as he is adept in undermining it.

But today the consequences of the president’s perpetual battle against journalists extend far beyond the Manhattan gossip pages. And the animus you see directed at CNN’s Jim Acosta isn’t just reserved for the White House press corps. Everywhere in the country, any matter that an official doesn’t want to talk about or that a reader doesn’t want to hear about is “fake news” now.

In our business, we know how much words matter. We know, too, that Trump’s references to us as the “enemy of the American People” are no less dangerous because they happen to be strategic. That is what Nazis called Jews. It’s how Joseph Stalin’s critics were marked for execution.

Every reporter who has ever covered a Trump rally knows the scratch of a threat that’s conveyed during that ritual moment when he aims the attention of the crowd to reporters, many of whom no longer stand in the press pen in the back for that reason.

And as real as the threat of physical violence is, especially after the murder of our colleagues in Annapolis, Maryland, Trump’s aggressive posture toward the First Amendment worries us even more.

That’s why nearly all of McClatchy’s 30 daily newspapers, which almost never speak with one voice, are doing so now. That’s why we’re joining with fellow journalists across the country in calling for an end to the president’s war of words against our free press.

It’s an affront to the U.S. Constitution when President Trump threatens to eliminate the First Amendment protections the Supreme Court has built into our nation’s libel laws — or when he suggests revoking the FCC licenses of broadcast news organizations whose reporting he doesn’t like.

The White House’s besmirching of journalists who are doing their jobs is dangerous to the public as well as to the press. It’s not just that we dislike being called “fake news.” That misnomer discredits facts and creates what Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway called “alternative facts,” making reasoned and informed debate basically impossible.

We all — as citizens — have a stake in this fight, and the battle lines seem pretty clear. If one first comes successfully for the press as an “enemy of the American People,” what stops someone for coming next for your friends? Your family? Or you?

Not even President Richard Nixon, whose original “enemies list” of the 20 private citizens he hoped to use his public office to “screw” included three journalists, tried to incite violence against reporters. While stewing privately about Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as “enemies … trying to stick the knife right in our groin,” not even Nixon tagged the lot of us, Soviet-style, as “enemies of the people.” Nor did even he dare to take on the idea that our free press is worth protecting.

Donald Trump swore on Abraham Lincoln’s Bible to uphold the Constitution. And the First Amendment’s guarantee that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press” implies that no branch of government will do so.

That 44 percent of Republicans polled recently said Trump should have the autocrat’s power to shut down news outlets shows how successful his efforts have already been.

Like Nixon, Trump still pines for the kind of coverage his behavior makes impossible. But his place in history will be far less mixed than Nixon’s if he continues to menace James Madison’s best work.

Having worked, however briefly in the news business (nine months), I know all too well the pressure reporters are under to get the story, get it right, and make sure that it is reported as fairly and without bias as possible.  That’s all you can hope for, and there’s never time to sit back and try to spin it or slant it.  You ask questions, you do your research, and if someone tells you something, you check it out.  The people you report on may have an agenda, but the only one you have is to the truth as best you can find it.  In other words, it’s too hard to come up with “fake news;” getting the real news is hard enough, and anyone who voluntarily takes the low pay, the long hours, and the countless attempts to prove you wrong are truly dedicated to their mission.

Trump’s attacks on the press and the people who report the news stink of desperation and consciousness of guilt.  Granted, no one likes seeing their faults printed or being called out for falsehoods, but that’s human nature.  The true sign of maturity and of civilized society is the ability to either accept it, laugh it off, or make amends.

The real enemy of the people are those who would try to repress the true expression of the truth or the attempts to do so.

Purity Tests

One of the results of Tuesday’s primaries — and some others before — has been that the Republicans are being drawn in to nominating candidates who are true to the Trump brand and rejecting those who might have said an unkind word about him.

Case in point: former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s failed attempt to win the GOP nomination for his old job.  He lost, according to observers, because he had the nerve to criticize Trump for the Access Hollywood tape, calling him “unhinged and unfit.”  Apparently Minnesota Republicans are out to redefine “Minnesota nice” as smiling politely when they go to grab your genitalia.

Mr. Pawlenty isn’t the only one to find himself on the outs with the True Trumpers, and in several races around the country through the primary season we’ve seen Trump-endorsed candidates beat the more traditional faction.  Kansas could be on their way to having Kris Kobach, who never met an immigrant or a non-white voter he couldn’t demonize, and pick up a lucrative consulting fee in the process, elected governor, and the winds — at least in the tornado alley of GOP politics — are blowing from Trumpland.

A number of pundits are saying that this could be great news for the Democrats; the more Trumpistas the GOP runs the more the Blue Wave will become a tsunami and once and for all push those lemmings over the cliff and down onto the rocks of oblivion below.  And it could well happen; I’m pretty sure the good people of Virginia aren’t going to elect a white supremacist to the Senate, or any of the other alt-right candidates for Congress or local offices that have come slithering out from under their rocks now that we have a president who thinks home-grown Nazis can be very good people, too.  But I also remember the same assurances two years ago when a lot of people were sure that it would be a Democratic landslide and that Trump would be back to shilling his crap on QVC by January 2017.

There are a number of outside factors that on the surface have nothing whatsoever to do with the mid-terms: the outcome of the first Manafort trial, a report from the Mueller investigation, economic troubles from the tariff wars, and even more tell-alls from dismayed supporters.  But the fact that the GOP is handing the country some very clear choices in state and local elections will be the truest test of whether or not we’re going to be the ones to put an end to this calamity.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Sunday Reading

This Is A Test — Elaina Plott in The Atlantic on gauging the GOP response to this weekend’s Nazi rallies.

This weekend, an untold number of white nationalists and their sympathizers will gather in Washington, D.C., to rally against, in their words, the “civil-rights abuses” they endured in Charlottesville, Virginia, exactly one year ago. The “Unite the Right” gathering will take place in Lafayette Park, just across from the White House. It will mark the anniversary of not only the group’s march through Charlottesville, tiki torches ablaze, but also the horrors that resulted from it, including the murder of 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

It also potentially marks a paradigmatic shift for the Republican Party. President Donald Trump responded in the dark aftermath of last year’s march not by emphatically denouncing the bigotry that sparked it, but by reminding Americans of the “very fine people on both sides.” Chief of Staff John Kelly may have hung his head as Trump delivered those remarks, but, like most officials in this administration, he never spoke out against them.

It is this fact and its consequences that bear considering throughout the demonstrations this weekend: whether, in today’s GOP, racism has been relegated to gaffe-like status—a political pitfall to navigate against, rather than a moral failing to wholly condemn.

I happened to be with an administration official this time last year, interviewing him for a story unrelated to Charlottesville. But the violent march naturally crept into our discussion, as both of our phones trilled with news of Trump’s press conference. I remember the official sighing deeply, shaking his head as he scanned the reports. Yet I’d learn moments later that this was not in opposition to the president’s comments themselves; rather, it was anxiety about how to contain the fallout. “Great, yet another distraction,” the official said. “The media will never let this one go.”

It was as though Trump had mistakenly defined his proposed corporate tax rate—not equivocated on the actions of white nationalists.

Republican leaders were careful to denounce the demonstrations in no uncertain terms. But they were also careful to avoid any mention of Trump, or avoid criticizing him directly. “We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive,” House Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted. “This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity.” Echoed House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy: “Saturday’s violence and tragic loss of life was a direct consequence of the hateful rhetoric & action from white supremacists demonstrating.”

“We have to unequivocally say that the KKK and the white supremacists were wrong,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel told ABC’s David Muir at the time. She tried to spin Trump’s words: “The president was saying that people brought violence from both sides.”

My conversation with the administration official, and the response from GOP leaders, brought Trump’s immunity from reproach into sharp relief. There’s been a lot of talk about “red lines” in the last two years, which is to say musings about what, if anything, could cause the GOP to turn on Trump. This weekend’s Unite the Right rally offers occasion to consider many things, about where this country is and where it is going. But crucially, it offers a potent reminder of Trump’s seeming infallibility in all corners of his party.

Depending on Trump’s reaction to the rally this weekend, should he have one at all, Republican leaders may have a chance to rewrite the script. At the very least, perhaps they will take issue with the group’s namesake, and make clear that white supremacy does not, in fact, fit into their definition of “the Right.” Or perhaps they will stay silent, and take comfort in the fact that, in the Trump era, political consequences seem to only last for so long.

What Really Happened — Larry David (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) has the straight poop on the meeting at Trump Tower.

Everybody wants to know what was said in that Trump Tower meeting with the Russians in June 2016. Well, other than the people in the room, I, Steven Yablonsky, alone know exactly what was said because I worked as a janitor in the building and was hiding in the closet recording all of it on my phone. As it happens, I was fired yesterday for not putting up the “wet floor” sign in the lobby, and a few people took a tumble, including Tiffany, so now I can finally reveal all.

Transcription:

Through a crack in the closet door, four Russians enter. They are Natalia Veselnitskaya, Rinat Akhmetshin, Irakly Kaveladze and Anatoli Samochornov. Already present are Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and Rob Goldstone. They all say hello and introductions are made.

Rinat: Where shall we sit?

Don Jr.: Anywhere you’d like.

Rinat: You want big chair?

Don Jr.: You can have the big chair.

Rinat: Ah, I feel a little funny.

Natalia: Take big chair. Don Jr. say O.K.

Rinat: (sits) I like this. It sinks in. Might fall asleep.

Irakly: (pointing) Look at nice spread.

Jared: Help yourself to anything on the table.

Irakly: Is that tuna fish or chicken salad? Very hard to tell difference.

Rob: And they taste the same. That I don’t get.

(They all mutter in agreement. Why is that? One’s chicken, one’s fish.)

Manafort: O.K., shall we begin?

Natalia: We have very good dirt, as you say, on Clinton. You win election with this.

Manafort: Hold it, hold it. Wait a second. First off, that would be illegal. That would be conspiring with an enemy to commit election fraud.

Rinat: I thought that was what meeting about.

Natalia: Me too.

Don Jr.: What? Who told you that?

Rinat: What did you think it was about?

Don Jr.: I thought it was about adoption!

Rinat: Adoption?!

Manafort: Yes, adoption. We want you to rescind the ban. It’s taking a tremendous toll.

The Russians: (in unison) Ohh … well, this is big misunderstanding …

Jared: I’ll say.

Don Jr.: Can I have a word with my colleagues?

(The four Americans huddle up right in front of the closet door.)

Don Jr.: I think we should call the F.B.I.

Goldstone: Right now?

Don Jr.: Right now!

Jared: No, that’s crazy.

Don Jr.: We’re breaking the law, Jared!

Jared: No, we’re not. … What’s that word that starts with a “c”?

Goldstone: Constitution?

Manafort: Coffers?

Don Jr.: Conspiracy?

Jared: No … collusion! That’s legal! Is that a beauty? We’re not calling the F.B.I.!

Don Jr.: O.K., but my dad still might get in a lot of trouble for this.

Goldstone: I’m getting an Arnold Palmer.

Don Jr.: I don’t think there’s any lemonade.

Goldstone: Seriously?

(They return to their seats.)

Manafort: Sorry about the misunderstanding, but you see, there are thousands of families in America who are suffering because they’re unable to have children of their own. One of my dearest friends has no children. It’s been heartbreaking to watch them trying to adopt and come up empty.

Don Jr.: Do you have kids, Anatoli?

Anatoli: Yes, two beautiful daughters. The government take them for gymnastics.

Don Jr.: So you know how empty life is without them. I know relations between our great countries have been frayed. But that shouldn’t be what this is about. This should be about hardworking families who want to experience the joys of parenthood. Can’t you put yourself in their shoes? Can’t you … (begins to break down)

Manafort: Does anyone have a tissue?

Anatoli: Natalia, you have tissue in purse?

Natalia: Here, yes, of course. Don’t cry, Don Jr. Don’t cry.

Don Jr.: (bawling) Thank you. … I wanted to adopt a child from Cambodia, but Vanessa said no. It broke us up. … I’m sorry.

Natalia: I see how much this means to you. I will call President Putin to discuss. I am on your side.

Rinat: Me too.

Don Jr.: Thank you. This means the world to me. And you know who will be really happy about this? Dad. In fact, this whole meeting was his idea.

Natalia: Nice.

Rinat: And you’re sure you don’t want our information on Clinton? Election in bag.

Manafort: Oh, God, no. Please don’t bring that up again. You see, Rinat, this is America. We’re a democracy. Our elections are sacred. And when it comes right down to it, I’d rather lose than win by cheating.

Natalia: Understood. Our apologies. We will be in touch.

(They say their goodbyes and head out. As the door closes …)

Don Jr: I still think we should call the F.B.I.

Doonesbury — Show some backbone.