Friday, February 15, 2019

It Can Happen Here

In 1935, Sinclair Lewis called it.

It Can’t Happen Here is a semi-satirical 1935 political novel by American author Sinclair Lewis,[1] and a 1936 play adapted from the novel by Lewis and John C. Moffitt.[2]

Published during the rise of fascism in Europe, the novel describes the rise of Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, a demagogue who is elected President of the United States, after fomenting fear and promising drastic economic and social reforms while promoting a return to patriotism and “traditional” values. After his election, Windrip takes complete control of the government and imposes a plutocratic/totalitarian rule with the help of a ruthless paramilitary force, in the manner of Adolf Hitler and the SS. The novel’s plot centers on journalist Doremus Jessup’s opposition to the new regime and his subsequent struggle against it as part of a liberal rebellion.

Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post today:

We have a national emergency, all right. Its name is Donald Trump, and it is a force of mindless, pointless disruption.

The president’s decision to officially declare an emergency — to pretend to build an unbuildable border wall — is not only an act of constitutional vandalism. It is also an act of cowardice, a way to avoid the wrath of Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the far-right commentariat.

It is an end run around Congress and, as such, constitutes a violation of his oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” — which gives Congress, not the president, the authority to decide how public money is spent. It does not give Trump the right to fund projects that Congress will not approve. Authoritarian leaders do that sort of thing. The puffed-up wannabe strongman now living in the White House is giving it a try.

If you think I’m being alarmist — what’s next, the Reichstag? — then remember that if Trump gets away with declaring a national emergency for a mythical wall, what’s to stop him from doing the same for banning Muslims?  Yeah, he tried that, and the courts basically let him get away with it.

The only thing that seems to be holding the Republicans from getting totally on board with this is the realization that the next Democratic president could declare an emergency on guns or climate change, which seems to be a particularly weak argument on their part: the other guys will come up with shit that’s crazier than our own guy.

The fact that former Deputy Director of the FBI Andrew McCabe, who filled in for the fired James Comey, considered the idea of invoking the 25th Amendment should awake you and us.  He’s not some left-wing socialist, but a career man who clearly believes in the rule of law.  And if he’s worried about who’s running the country, we all should be.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Fantasy vs. Fantasy

Via Joe.My.God.

CAMDEN, Ark. (KARK) – A family-owned Christian grocery store with several locations in Southeast Arkansas is dealing with backlash as customers argue a weekly ad mailer included a controversial political message.

The ad book was sent to four Mac’s Cashsaver stores in Arkansas. According to the store, the mailer typically includes a religious or political message. The current mailer includes a message that references the U.S./Mexico border wall controversy. It reads, ‘Heaven has a wall, a gate and a strict immigration policy. Hell has open borders. Let that sink in.’

To which I, along with several other people, noted that Mordor has a wall, a gate, and a strict immigration policy.  The Shire has open borders.  Let that sink in.

Two can play this nerd game, fella.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Deficit Deficit

Well, of course.

It wasn’t long ago that Republicans were hair-on-fire obsessed with the deficit and the nation’s multi-trillion-dollar debt. Though the purpose of the Tea Party “movement” was always a bit murky, it was ostensibly about the right’s overwhelming anxiety about the United States’ fiscal imbalance. The irony of these Republicans’ concerns went largely overlooked.

After all, as a percentage of the economy, Ronald Reagan was responsible for some of the largest deficits in American history. After the deficit disappeared entirely under Bill Clinton, George W. Bush added trillions to the debt.

It was in 2003 when then-Vice President Dick Cheney declared that “deficits don’t matter.”

After Barack Obama shaved a trillion dollars off the deficit in his first seven years, the deficit is soaring again under Donald Trump – and Cheney’s adage is back as a governing principle.

First, let me correct the record.  The Tea Party “movement” was about a bunch of old white people who were adamantly opposed to the idea of a black man as president.  Period.  The End.  They disguised it rather clumsily by saying they were opposed to the deficit, but that was pure racist bullshit and everyone knew it.

That said, however, the Republicans have always been against the deficit as long as a Democrat was in the White House, and they carried on about it when they found themselves out of office and leaving their mess for someone else to clean up.  They campaigned to get back in office so they could run up the deficit again on weapons or border walls or whatever the boogedy-boogedy scare-the-base theme was in a particular election cycle: Communism, abortions, or gays living their lives.

Everybody knew the Trump tax cuts would explode the deficit and blame it on the last guy, and when the Democrats win back the White House they’ll be blamed for bringing it back under control because that’s how this stupid shit works.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Nerve Of Some People

From the Washington Post:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday that a Democratic bill that would make Election Day a federal holiday is a “power grab,” sparking a fierce backlash online.

McConnell was speaking about H.R. 1, legislation that Democrats have made a centerpiece of their agenda since retaking the House earlier this month.

In remarks on the Senate floor, McConnell (R-Ky.) said Democrats “want taxpayers on the hook for generous new benefits for federal bureaucrats and government employees,” including making Election Day a “new paid holiday for government workers.”

“So this is the Democrats’ plan to ‘restore democracy,’” McConnell said, describing the legislation as “a political power grab that’s smelling more and more like what it is.”

OMG, those Democrats want to make it easier for more people to vote!  Holy crap!  Do you know what will happen if that actually happens?  The Republicans may lose because there are more Democrats than there are Republicans, and if there were elections that weren’t riddled with all sorts of Jim Crow-style restrictions aimed at minorities and the poor, the GOP would be so screwed — not like they are now.

Charlie Pierce:

There simply is no more loathsome creature walking the political landscape than the Majority Leader of the United States Senate. You have to go back to McCarthy or McCarran to find a Senate leader who did so much damage to democratic norms and principles than this yokel from Kentucky. Trump is bad enough, but he’s just a jumped-up real-estate crook who’s in over his head. McConnell is a career politician who knows full well what he’s doing to democratic government and is doing it anyway because it gives him power, and it gives the rest of us a wingnut federal judiciary for the next 30 years. There is nothing that this president* can do that threatens McConnell’s power as much as it threatens the survival of the republic, and that’s where we are.

Remember, he had it in for Barack Obama from Day 1, and of course there’s Merrick Garland.  So yeah, Mitch, go throw yourself and your carapace down a well and rot.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Distressing Numbers

The national polls are showing that Trump and the Republicans took it in the nuts as far as approval ratings go after the shutdown and looking off to 2020.

The fact that the Democrats are having a wide-open race and is attracting just about anyone who can be seen as left of William Weld onto the field shouldn’t really matter at this point.  No nominee who races to the front a year before the Iowa caucuses stays there for long, and when there’s an incumbent president up for a second term, it has to be about him and what he’s doing, not the flavor of the month from the Democrats.

But what really bothers me is that after two years of criminal corruption, serial lying, institutionalized bigotry, and basically turning every core belief that we’ve established as a country and society on its head, there are still 28% of the electorate who would vote to re-elect Trump.  What the hell is wrong with these people?

Friday, January 25, 2019

We Should Be So Lucky

Via Hullabaloo:

A political action committee that pushes for stricter immigration controls said Thursday it is launching a campaign to draft conservative writer Ann Coulter to challenge President Trump.

Americans for Legal Immigration PAC has been among those most critical of Mr. Trump’s latest immigration proposal that includes temporary legal status for some 700,000 illegal immigrant “Dreamers” now protected by the Obama-era DACA program.

ALIPAC, which had been a backer of Mr. Trump’s in the 2016 election, says it’s lost faith and is now seeking a new champion.

“I hope Ann Coulter will give serious consideration to running against Trump in the primary and run on a MAGA platform offering conservative voters a pledge to keep her promises … unlike Trump!” said William Gheen, president of ALIPAC.

He said he hoped such a bid would at least convince Mr. Trump to worry about his base voters as he prepared for re-election, and perhaps force him to abandon his latest immigration plans.

The only thing that keeps me from laughing out loud is that I had that same reaction in 2015 when Trump announced he was running and look what happened.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

For Every Action

From the Washington Post:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday rescinded her invitation to President Trump to deliver the State of the Union in the House next week — denying him a national platform for the annual speech in an extraordinary standoff between the two most powerful figures in the nation.

Late Wednesday, the president signaled a retreat from the standoff, announcing on Twitter that he will wait till the shutdown is over to deliver the address to Congress.

The cancellation — part of an escalating and at times personal feud between the newly elected Democratic speaker and the Republican president — illustrates the extent of the dysfunction that has gripped Washington and America’s body politic amid the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history.

The imbroglio also underscores the extent of the enmity that has developed between Trump and Pelosi, neither of whom appears ready to retreat in their standoff over the president’s demand for money to fund part of his promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Trump will come up with something to hit back at Speaker Pelosi, and if his past actions are any guide, it will be something petty and immature that will get the tongues wagging on cable TV and the tails wagging among the base.  He’ll also find some airplane hangar or empty sports arena to deliver a campaign-rally style speech to feed the slavering masses of smirking and shouting Redhats, making it clear that even without the shutdown, it was a good idea on the part of Ms. Pelosi to not invite him over to the House to shit on the carpet and trash the place.

And not for nothing, I take issue with the tone of that last paragraph of the article quoted above.  It makes it sound as if both sides are responsible for the standoff.  That, my friends, is the insidious creep of Broderism, named after the late David Broder, a columnist for the Post who was able to always blame both sides of an issue regardless of who actually picked a fight: “Well, you know, we really shouldn’t blame the Japanese for bombing Pearl Harbor; we bear some responsibility for provoking them.”  (No, he never said that — at least not on the record — but you get the idea.)  The current advocate for Broderism on the TV is MSNBC’s Chuck Todd who seems to be able to find a both-sides-now argument in just about everything.  It’s supposed to be a way to demonstrate fairness and objectivity, but in reality it’s feckless and lazy, and giving Trump and his minions an inch to make their case just encourages them to make their tantrums and rants more a legitimate part of the discussion.  That is bullshit.

I have no idea how Trump will hit back, but when he does, expect the Broderists to call it even.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

In This Corner

I don’t have any idea how long the government shutdown will last, and I don’t have any idea how it will end.  Neither do the people who have the power to end it.  But as it works its way into the fabric of our daily lives, affecting more and more elements it’s going to have unintended consequences that will be permanent.

It’s all because of a wild-eyed campaign promise that started out as some kind of mnemonic about immigration that turned into a real thing.  It’s like Herbert Hoover and the Republicans in 1928 demanding that there really will be a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage and by golly, we’re shutting down the government until those chickens and cars are in their places.  It is just as ridiculous to promise a wall along the 2,000 miles of the southern border and betting your entire political legacy on it.

No one — least of all Trump — knows what he really meant, and it’s clear that this tantrum that has morphed into hardships for the people directly affected and creating ripples beyond their zero-sum paychecks — if they’re not getting paid, they’re not buying groceries or paying their bills and that hits the merchants and the landlords and so on — and now the good folks at the IRS may not be processing tax refunds upon which a lot of people count on as a boost in their income during the bill-paying months after Christmas (hi there!).  And it may even reach into the public schools, where kids who count on being fed breakfast and lunch to supplement their diets may lose out on free or reduced meals because the school district can’t put up the funds to pay for the program on their own.

But as long as Trump believes this is the only way to win and he’s being egged on by sycophants and his maniacal base, this situation will continue until he figures out a way to cave and make it look like he’s won.  It will be something along the lines of “I allowed the shutdown to end because I know the terrible burden it’s placing on the people who depend on the invaluable services the government provides!  I alone can save them!”  Fox News will hail him as the hero of the working class, he’ll demonize the Democrats as obstructionists, and campaign in 2020 as if he was the one who saved America.

Now, about those chickens…

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

They Finally Noticed Steve King’s Racism

Too little, too late.

A panel of Republican leaders voted unanimously Monday to keep veteran Iowa lawmaker Steve King off House committees, a firm rebuke to an influential opponent of illegal immigration who sparked outrage last week after openly questioning whether the term “white supremacist” was offensive.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said the decision by the Republican Steering Committee, which seats lawmakers on House committees, followed his own recommendation and was meant to send a message about the GOP at large.

“That is not the party of Lincoln,” he said of King’s comments. “It is definitely not American. All people are created equal in America, and we want to take a very strong stance about that.”

I suppose it’s understandable that they’d finally get around to doing something about this alleged human being.  Up to now he’s been blocked out by all the dog whistles and downright air horns from the rest of their supremacists, including the guy they elected as president.  And now that the Republicans in the House are in the minority, it doesn’t really matter what committees he’s on.  And, after all, he’s only been doing this shtick for the last eighteen years or so.

You Want Fries With That?

Having the team over for snacks?  Why not have it catered?  Oh, wait, it’s the White House and there’s a government shut-down.

The Clemson Tigers, fresh off their Jan. 7 victory over Alabama in the College Football Playoff national championship game, arrived Monday for a White House visit with President Trump. The team was served a variety of fast-food items, for which the White House said Trump paid out of his own pocket.

“I think we are going to serve McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King’s with some pizza. I really mean it,” Trump had said earlier in the day. “It will be interesting. I would think that’s their favorite food. So we’ll see what happens.”

According to White House press secretary Sarah Sanders (via The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey), Trump was “personally paying for the event to be catered with some of everyone’s favorite fast foods” because the partial government shutdown meant that some of the White House staff who might have handled the catering for this type of event are on furlough.

“The president wanted to host a fun event to celebrate the College Football National Champion Clemson Tigers,” deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said in a statement to CNN, adding that Trump’s gesture came about because “the Democrats refuse to negotiate on border security.”

Describing the fare as “great American food,” per a pool report, Trump said: “If it’s American, I like it. It’s all American stuff.”

Hey, everybody has to sacrifice in a pinch, but if memory serves — going back to when I was an undergrad at the University of Miami in the early 1970’s — the football team was on a really strict diet and junk food, no matter who served it or where, was off the menu.

And of course the White House had to throw in a dig at the Democrats and their refusal to pay for the mythical wall, so a nice if somewhat cholesterol-riddled gesture was tainted with Trumpian bullshit.  That’s off the diet, too.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Why Is Anyone Surprised?

Reading the BREAKING NEWS banners on cable news and banner headlines in the New York Times and Washington Post that Trump is a Russian asset has been, at least for those of us following the news at all since 2016, a study in foregone conclusions.

For the benefit of those who don’t get the painfully obvious or you need a typewritten list, look at any number of people who have been patiently explaining the story since the beginning of the presidential campaign and even before that.

This also explains the long list of distractions, diversions, and various other attempts to misdirect our attention from the plain truth that Trump, either passively or purposefully, has been doing the bidding of the Kremlin.  The current one is the mythical wall and the very real government shutdown.  His minions have been landing on other non-stories like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s nickname or Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s use of an epithet as true scandals.  People are dying at the border crossings but calling Trump a motherfucker is the real shame on America.

I suppose it’s in our nature to want to avoid the real hard and scary stories if we can be diverted by reality-TV-level fluff, but when the future of our democracy is at stake, I really don’t want the history books, assuming there will be any written, to say that our country went down because we were too easily distracted by YouTube videos.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Sunday Reading

Why Hasn’t He Folded? — David A. Graham in The Atlantic.

Saturday marks the 22nd day of the government shutdown, the longest closure in American history. And with neither Democrats nor the White House budging from their positions, and the president threatening to keep the government closed for months or years, there’s no end in sight.Which is all the more remarkable in light of how the shutdown began—or rather how it almost didn’t. As the nation approached the end of government funding in late December, President Donald Trump was on the verge of giving in. Then he reversed course, announced he’d shut down the government, and hasn’t blinked since. Why has Trump decided to hold firm this time, and what does it mean for the likelihood of a deal?

The proximate cause for his decision to shut the government down is relatively clear: firm pressure from his hard-line allies. In early December, during a meeting with the Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, Trump said that he would be “proud to shut down the government for border security.” But for 10 days afterward, the White House tried to slowly walk that back. Aides said that Trump was looking for ways to build the wall using funds from other departments, and they signaled that he’d sign a clean bill that kept the lights on without money for the wall. On December 19, immigration hard-liners mounted a counterattack.

“This is textbook,” Rush Limbaugh fumed. “It’s a textbook example of what the Drive-By Media calls compromise. Trump gets nothing and the Democrats get everything, including control of the House in a few short weeks.”Ann Coulter blasted the president as “gutless” (earning herself a Twitter unfollow). Even Laura Ingraham was critical. “It was supposed to be a ‘big beautiful wall’ with a ‘big beautiful door,’” she tweeted. “Now it’s just an open door with no frame. Unreal.” Representative Mark Meadows, the chair of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, held out hope that Trump might still veto the bill. Followed by what? “Renegotiating.”

Even though there was no clear plan for how Trump would get money out of the new Democratic House majority once it took office in early January, the pushback got his attention, and he announced that he wouldn’t sign any legislation without wall funding. Positions have been stuck since then. Democrats have not shown any weakened resolve; neither has Trump.

On the Democratic side, the X factor seems to be Pelosi and her newly empowered caucus. Schumer has been inclined to negotiate with Trump in the past, but the House Dems, having campaigned against the president and his wall, show no appetite for compromise.

What’s less clear is why this is the moment Trump has decided to take a stand. Though he styled himself a master dealmaker in the business world, he’s been far softer in politics, showing a surprisingly deferential side at the negotiation table, whether his interlocutor is domestic or foreign. He backed down after promising to go after the National Rifle Association on gun control; he shied away from branding China a currency manipulator; he didn’t follow through on threats to investigate the Justice Department or withdraw foreign aid as retaliation for UN votes.

The timing is also peculiar. Trump’s best opportunity to get funding was when Republicans controlled both houses of Congress, during the first two years of his term. But Congress refused, and while Trump griped about it, he never pushed the issue as far as a shutdown. As my colleague Peter Beinart has written, the president shows little interest in actually building the wall. Instead, he appears to view it as an effective political bludgeon against Democrats.

Whether it actually is effective is unclear. Polling since the start of the shutdown has shown that more Americans blame Trump than Democrats for the deadlock, though Democrats haven’t escaped blame altogether. But a Morning Consult poll this week showed a four-point increase in the share of voters who see Trump as the culprit. Even if Trump is losing, there’s no massive shift against him that polls are picking up, and both sides seem to believe that they are winning.

Some Senate Republicans, however, may not be so certain. A small but growing number, especially those up for reelection in 2020, have begun saying that the government should reopen while negotiations over the wall continue—which is tantamount to surrender, since Trump would be giving up his leverage. (A few House Democratic freshmen are nervous as well.)None of this offers much insight into the way the impasse might break. The negotiation tactics that Trump imported from the private sector have, yet again, failed to deliver much in the way of results in politics. During a meeting this week, Trump walked out after Democrats once again said they wouldn’t compromise on the wall. (It’s a sign of how poorly the talks are going that the two sides promptly got into a quarrel over whether Trump had stormed out or merely politely departed.) Trump’s allies claim that this tactic worked well in his last job, but Democrats seem only to have been delighted by the incident, which demonstrated their resolve.

By the end of the week, it seemed that the most likely outcome was for Trump to sidestep the shutdown by declaring a national emergency and using those extraordinary powers to build the wall, perhaps with the help of the military. While that would open up a new front of legal and political crisis as he tested the limits of presidential powers, it would also likely end the shutdown, as it would obviate the need for Congress to grant funding.

“If this doesn’t work out, I probably will do it, maybe definitely,” Trump said Thursday while visiting the border. But Friday afternoon, Trump demurred. “What we’re not looking to do right now is national emergency,” he said.

Once again, Trump had signaled one intention and then swerved at the last minute, a mirror image of his reversal on the shutdown in December. With negotiations frozen and the president ruling out a national emergency—at least for now—the shutdown that almost didn’t happen looks like it’s here to stay.

Old Story — Leonard Pitts, Jr. on the right wing’s rehash of personal attacks.

Haven’t we seen this movie before?

Certainly, there is a sense of déjà vuall over again as one watches the right wing hyperventilate over a certain freshman congresswoman from New York. The attacks on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have been frequent and furious, but also petty, silly and (in the mental-health sense) hysterical.

Just days ago, The Daily Caller tweeted “the photo some people are calling a nude selfie of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.” But it turns out “some people” are morons. The so-called “nude selfie,” depicts only a woman’s feet in a bathtub. Yes, some observers claim her bare breasts are visible in a reflection on the faucet, but if that’s true, your humble correspondent lacks the eyesight — and the interest — to make them out.

Not that it matters, because Ocasio-Cortez is actually not the woman in the image, as The Daily Caller was eventually forced to concede. So this was a political hit job wrapped in a Three Stooges routine. She seems to attract a lot of those.

On Jan. 6, for example, conservative blogger Jim Hoft tweeted the “news” that Ocasio-Cortez “Went by ‘Sandy’ Well into College.” This guy touted as an “EXCLUSIVE” the fact that the woman has a nickname — like he thought he had solved the Hoffa case or something.

Then there’s the since-suspended Twitter account that tweeted a video of Ocasio-Cortez dancing on a rooftop when she was in college. “America’s favorite commie know-it-all acting like the clueless nitwit she is,” the tweet said. Apparently, we’re meant to be apoplectic to learn she once suffered boogie fever.

And so it goes. Republicans in Congress boo when her name is called. Her wardrobe and lodging are scrutinized. GOP operative Ed Rollins dubs her “the little girl.” Rush Limbaugh calls her “some young uppity.”

All this lavish abuse, it bears repeating, is for a freshman representative who, at this writing, has yet to do much of anything in Congress. Yes, like Bernie Sanders — and Martin Luther King Jr. — Ocasio-Cortez is drawn to democratic socialism. It’s fair to question her ideology. It’s fair to question anyone’s ideology. But that’s not what this is.

No, this is that movie we’ve seen before where the right wing, alarmed by the rise of the scary Other, seeks to manufacture scandal, spread rumor, sow confusion, impute some sense of the sinister. The less they have to work with, the more shrill, desperate and idiotic they become.

Back then, it was Barack Obama. He wore a tan suit, and conservatives sank onto their fainting couches. He greeted his wife with a fist bump and Fox “News” thought it might be terrorism. And how many conservatives, with furrowed brows and studious miens, pretended to believe there was some reason to doubt that he was born in Hawaii?

Obama’s “otherness” came of being a black guy with a funny name. Ocasio-Cortez, though, hits the trifecta. She is young (29), a woman and of Puerto Rican heritage. Add her ideology to that mix, and you have a perfect storm of panic for those who consider power the birthright of gray-haired white men.

Ocasio-Cortez is another unwelcome reminder for them that change is here — and that power will henceforth no longer be the province of a favored few. They’ve had over a decade to acclimate themselves to that, so it is sad to see the right wing retreat instead to the same old script — especially since it inevitably reveals more about them and their fraidy-cat bigotry than anything else.

Yes, we have, indeed, seen this movie before. It was a lousy film the first time around.

It has not improved.

Doonesbury — And the winner is…

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Unnatural Disaster

Florida has had its share of troubles, but the karmic lesson of reaping what you sow on top of Mother Nature and her visits are becoming a bit much for Trump fans in one part of the Sunshine State.

MARIANNA, Fla. — A federal prison here in Florida’s rural Panhandle lost much of its roof and fence during Hurricane Michael in October, forcing hundreds of inmates to relocate to a facility in Yazoo City, Miss., more than 400 miles away.

Since then, corrections officers have had to commute there to work, a seven-hour drive, for two-week stints. As of this week, thanks to the partial federal government shutdown, they will be doing it without pay — no paychecks and no reimbursement for gas, meals and laundry, expenses that can run hundreds of dollars per trip.

“You add a hurricane, and it’s just too much,” said Mike Vinzant, a 32-year-old guard and the president of the local prison officers’ union.

If nature can be blamed for creating the first financial hardship, the second is the result of the even less predictable whims in Washington: President Trump warned last week that the shutdown might last “months or even years.”

In Florida, where Republicans dominated the November midterms and the state’s only Democratic senator went down in defeat, conservative towns like Marianna — along with farm communities in the South and Midwest, and towns across the country that depend on tourism revenue from scaled-back national parks — will help measure the solidity of public support for Mr. Trump and his decision to wager some of the operations of the federal government on a border wall with Mexico.

Jim Dean, Marianna’s city manager, said he had already been concerned, even before the shutdown, that the hurricane would prompt public agencies to consider reducing their footprint in the region. What if an extended shutdown contributed to keeping the prison closed indefinitely?

“I worry about the government pulling out of rural America,” he said.

It’s easy to gloat and practice saying “schadenfreude” with a particular Germanic tone, especially when you remember that at this stage in the recovery from Hurricane Maria, people in Puerto Rico were still 90% without power and nothing was happening even with the government up and running.  It’s also a reminder that a lot of people who supported Trump are the ones who were so sure that they didn’t need the government hand-outs — bootstraps, everyone! — and those who had their hands out were lazy druggies or worse: immigrants.

I don’t minimize the pain and struggle the folks in Marianna went through after Hurricane Michael; I know hurricanes and they don’t care about politics, and all the best preparation doesn’t stop them.  But the rest of it was easily prevented, both before November 2016 and after when they were so sure that rhetoric and metaphors about mythical walls was the real solution to all their problems.

The shutdown will end at some point, the checks and back pay will come, and given the short attention span of the American electorate, they will probably vote back in the same people who lied and conned them the last time.  They probably know it; rest assured the liars and the con-men are counting on it.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Nice Work If You Can Get It

From the Washington Post:

While many federal workers go without pay and the government is partially shut down, hundreds of senior Trump political appointees are poised to receive annual raises of about $10,000 a year.

The pay raises for Cabinet secretaries, deputy secretaries, top administrators and even Vice President Pence are scheduled to go into effect beginning Jan. 5 without legislation to stop them, according to documents issued by the Office of Personnel Management and experts in federal pay.

The raises appear to be an unintended consequence of the shutdown: When lawmakers failed to pass bills on Dec. 21 to fund multiple federal agencies, they allowed an existing pay freeze to lapse. Congress enacted a law capping pay for top federal executives in 2013 and renewed it each year. The raises will occur because that cap will expire without legislative action by Saturday, allowing raises to kick in that have accumulated over those years but never took effect, starting with paychecks that will be issued next week.

Cabinet secretaries, for example, would be entitled to a jump in annual salary from $199,700 to $210,700. Deputy secretaries would be entitled to a raise from $179,700 to $189,600. Others affected are under secretaries, deputy directors and other top administrators.

The pay of Pence is scheduled to rise from $230,700 to $243,500.

There was no immediate comment Friday by the White House. A spokesperson for Pence also did not immediately provide comment.

The White House will explain it by saying that these people really deserve it because they are working very hard for the American people and that while the optics may be awkward, who can deny that they’ve earned it?  And besides, it’s the Democrats’ fault because they wouldn’t fund the wall… or the fence… or the slats.  Whatever.  Amirite?

And of course the Fox News people will defend it and the drooling base will buy the load of bullshit because America.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Looking Back/Looking Forward

Time for my annual recap and predictions for this year and next.  Let’s look back at how I did a year ago.

  • There will be indictments at a very high level in the administration as the Mueller investigation rumbles on.  Plea bargains and deals will be made and revelations will come forth, and by summer there will be genuine questions about whether or not the administration will survive.  But there won’t be a move to impeach Trump as long as there are Republican majorities in the Congress, and invoking the 25th Amendment is a non-starter.

I’ll give myself a B on that since it was pretty much that way a year ago and the gears of justice grind slowly but irresistibly.  No high-level members of the administration were indicted, but shame and scandal did bring down an impressive number of folks who had hard passes to the West Wing.

  • The Democrats will make great gains in the mid-term elections in November.  This is a safe bet because the party out of power usually does in the first mid-term of new president.  The Democrats will take back the Senate and narrow the gap in the House to the point that Speaker Paul Ryan with either quit or be so powerless that he’s just hanging around to collect pension points.  (No, he will not lose his re-election bid.)

I’ll go with a C on that since I hit the nail on the head in the first sentence; I should have just left it there.  But no; I had it backwards: the House flipped but the GOP still has the Senate, and who knew that Paul Ryan would decide to quit?

  • There will be a vacancy on the Supreme Court, but it won’t happen until after the mid-terms and Trump’s appointment will flail as the Democrats in the Senate block the confirmation on the grounds that the next president gets to choose the replacement.

I’ll take an A- on that since I got the timing wrong, but I think Brett Kavanaugh did a great job of flailing (“I like beer!”) before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The predator still got on the court, though, and we all hold RBG in the Light for at least another two years.

  • There will be irrefutable proof that the Russians not only meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, but they’ve had a hand in elections in Europe as well and will be a factor in the U.S. mid-terms.  Vladimir Putin will be re-elected, of course.

A+ Duh.

  • Raul Castro will figure out a way to still run Cuba even if he steps down as president, and there will be no lessening of the authoritarian rule.

Another A+, but what did anyone expect?  Trump’s half-assed attempts to restrain trade with Cuba, along with Marco Rubio doing his yapping perrito act, only make it more ironic when it’s the administration’s policy to cozy up to dictators like Putin and the Saudis.  If Trump owned a hotel in Havana he’d be down there in a second sucking up to the regime with video to prove it.

  • The U.S. economy will continue to grow, but there will be dark clouds on the horizon as the deficit grows thanks to the giveaways in the GOP tax bill.  If the GOP engineers cuts to entitlement programs and the number of uninsured for healthcare increases, the strain on the economy will be too much.

I’ll take a B on this since I didn’t factor in tariffs and the trade war(s) he’s launched that led to wild uncertainty in the markets, not to mention Trump’s bashing of the Fed chair that he appointed and told him to do what he’s doing.

  • This “America First” foreign policy will backfire.  All it does is tell our allies “You’re on your own.”  If we ever need them, they’re more likely to turn their backs on us.

I get an A on this because it has and they are.

  • The white supremacist movement will not abate.  Count on seeing more violence against minorities and more mass shootings.

Sadly, a very predictable A on that.

  • A viable Democratic candidate will emerge as a major contender for the 2020 election, and it will most likely be a woman.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren is considered to be the default, but I wouldn’t rule out Sen. Kamala Harris of California or Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York just yet.  (Sen. Gillibrand would drive Trump even further around the bend.  She was appointed to the Senate to fill Hillary Clinton’s seat when she became Secretary of State in 2009.)

I get a B on this because it was rather easy to spot and I’m already getting begging e-mails from Ms. Harris.

  • On a personal level, this will be a busy year for my work in theatre with a full production of “All Together Now” opening in March and several other works out there for consideration.  I will also be entering my last full year of employment in my present job (retirement happens in August 2019) but I’ll keep working.

This was a great year for my playwriting with a lot of new friends and opportunities out there and more to come in 2019 (see below).

  • People and fads we never heard about will have their fifteen minutes.

Yep.  I’ve already blocked them out.

Okay, on to the predictions.

  • Barring natural causes or intervention from an outside force, Trump will still be in office on December 31, 2019.  There is no way he will leave voluntarily and even with the House of Representatives in Democratic control and articles of impeachment being drafted they will not get to the Senate floor because the Republicans are either too afraid to rile up the base or they’re too enamored of their own grip on power to care about the government being headed by a poor imitation of a tin-pot banana republic authoritarian douche-canoe.
  • The Mueller Report will be released to Congress and even though it’s supposed to be classified it will be leaked with great fanfare and pundit predictions of the end of the Trump administration with calls for frog-marching him and his minions out of the West Wing.  Despite that, see above.
  • There will be no wall.  There never will be.  Immigration will still be a triggering issue as even more refugees die in U.S. custody.
  • There will be no meaningful changes to gun laws even if the NRA goes broke.  There will be more mass shootings, thoughts and prayers will be offered, and we’ll be told yet again that now is not the time to talk about it.
  • Obamacare will survive its latest challenge because the ruling by the judge in Texas declaring the entire law unconstitutional will be tossed and turned into a case study in law schools everywhere on the topic of exasperatingly stupid reasoning.
  • Roe vs. Wade will still stand.
  • With the Democrats in control of the House, the government will be in permanent gridlock even after they work out some sort of deal to end the current shutdown over the mythological wall.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will become the Willie Horton for the GOP base and blamed for everything from budget deficits to the toast falling butter-side down.
  • We will have a pretty good idea who the Democratic front-runner will be in 2020.  I think Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s chances are still good (she announced her exploratory committee as I was writing this), as are Sen. Kamala Harris’s, and don’t count out Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, but who knew that Beto O’Rourke, a charismatic loser in the Texas senate race, would raise a lot of hopes?  That said, fifteen years ago when I started this blog, Howard Dean looked like the guy who was going to beat George W. Bush.
  • The economy will continue with its wild gyrations, pretty much following the gyrations of the mood of Trump and his thumb-driven Twitter-fed economic exhortations.  The tax cuts and the tariffs will land on the backs of the people who provide the income to the government and the deficit will soon be out there beyond the Tesla in outer space.  But unlike that Martian-bound convertible, the economy will come crashing back to Earth (probably about the time I retire in August) and Trump will blame everyone else.
  • There will be a natural event that will convince even skeptics that climate change and sea level rise is real and happening.  Unfortunately, nothing will be done about it even if lots of lives are lost because [spoiler alert] nothing ever is done.
  • I’m going out on a limb here with foreign affairs predictions, but I have a feeling that Brexit will end up in the dustbin of history.
  • Personally, this will be a transition year.  My retirement from Miami-Dade County Public Schools occurs officially on August 31, 2019, and I’m already actively looking for something both meaningful and income-producing to do after that.  (E-mail me for a copy of my resume; nothing ventured, nothing sprained.)  My play “Can’t Live Without You” opens at the Willow Theatre in Boca Raton, Florida, for a two-week run on March 30, and I’m planning on returning to the William Inge Theatre Festival for the 28th time, either with a play or most assuredly with a scholarly paper.  I have my bid in for a variety of other theatre events and productions; I think I’m getting the hang of this playwriting thing.
  • I will do this again next year.  I hope.  As Bobby says, “Hope is my greatest weakness.”

Okay, your turn.  Meanwhile, I wish continued good health and a long life to all of you and hope you make it through 2019 none the worse for wear.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Monstrous Endgame

Paul Krugman sees no good coming from where we’re going with the Republicans trying to run the table.

The midterm elections were, to an important extent, a referendum on the Affordable Care Act; health care, not Donald Trump, dominated Democratic campaigning. And voters delivered a clear verdict: They want Obamacare’s achievements, the way it expanded coverage to roughly 20 million people who would otherwise have been uninsured, to be sustained.

But on Friday, Reed O’Connor, a partisan Republican judge known for “weaponizing” his judicial power, declared the A.C.A. as a whole — protection for pre-existing conditions, subsidies to help families afford coverage, and the Medicaid expansion — unconstitutional. Legal experts from both right and left ridiculed his reasoning and described his ruling as “raw political activism.” And that ruling probably won’t be sustained by higher courts.

But don’t be too sure that his sabotage will be overturned. O’Connor’s abuse of power may be unusually crude, but that sort of behavior is becoming increasingly common. And it’s not just health care, nor is it just the courts. What Nancy Pelosi called the “monstrous endgame” of the Republican assault on health care is just the leading edge of an attack on multiple fronts, as the G.O.P. tries to overturn the will of the voters and undermine democracy in general.

[…]

So how do people who think and behave this way respond when the public rejects their agenda? They attempt to use their power to overrule the democratic process. When Democrats threaten to win elections, they rig the voting process, as they did in Georgia. When Democrats win despite election rigging, they strip the offices Democrats win of power, as they did in Wisconsin. When Democratic policies prevail despite all of that, they use apparatchik-stuffed courts to strike down legislation on the flimsiest of grounds.

This has been going on for a lot longer than just since Trump descended his gold-plated escalator.  Trump, like the chancre of syphilis, is merely the outward sign of rot, the manifestation of the inner destruction.  It’s been ingrained in our human nature to the point that the Greeks wrote plays about it, as did Shakespeare.  It’s usually seen in civilizations where dominance by threat and coercion in the name of God or some monster holds the reins, but now it’s coming ashore here, where the rule of law and the idea of equal rights under the law, once a revolutionary concept, became the norm.  Far more than the whispered scares about Bolshevism or Otherism, this coup by manipulation by those who would rather rule than govern is our biggest threat.

Holiday Spirits

This warms the cockles of my heart.

Diana Rowland’s husband bought her the dragons as a birthday gift a few years ago.

The inflatable lawn ornaments, black and red, purple and green, were the epitome of cool to the former police officer and morgue worker, who is now a writer of sci-fi books.

And after what Rowland says was a smashing debut one Halloween, she decided to set the dragons up again for Christmas, outfitting them for the holiday season with garland, Santa hats and blue shawls meant to evoke biblical stories. The neighborhood loved them, she said. And she did, too.

This year was scheduled to be the fourth that the dragons would uneventfully grace her yard for Christmas.

But then an anonymous letter came in the mail.

“YOUR DRAGON DISPLAY IS ONLY MARGINALLY ACCEPTABLE AT HALLOWEEN,” it said. “IT IS TOTALLY INAPPROPRIATE AT CHRISTMAS. IT MAKES YOUR NEIGHBORS WONDER IF YOU ARE INVOLVED IN A DEMONIC CULT.”

It continued.

“PLEASE CONTINUE REMOVING THE DRAGONS. MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND HELP YOU TO KNOW THE TRUE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS.”

It sounds more like the anonymous neighbor is the one involved with a demonic cult: one that demands that everyone else follow their religion or face judgment.

Rowland did what any normal person would do in 2018; she posted the angry letter on social media.

“Our dragon holiday display got fan mail!” she wrote on Twitter, posting a photo of both the letter, and, it must be acknowledged, the dragons somewhat demonically lit up at night.

But in regards to the question of what to do about the dragons, she wavered for a moment.

Had Rowland chosen to take the dragons down, her actions surely could have been explained by what is commonly referred to as the “holiday spirit:” the idea that people somehow become better versions of themselves during the last week of December.

But perhaps the holiday is misunderstood, or worse, misconstrued, by the writers of television advertisements and holiday cards. For in truth, there are thousands of experiences like Rowland’s out there for every Christmas miracle.

So Rowland decided to go another route, which she again announced on Twitter, a response she said to the “judgy-mcjudgyface neighbor,” who had written her.

“I have added more dragons,” she wrote.

Good for her.  Dragons are one of the few mythical creatures that have global appeal: they show up in just about every culture’s story-telling, from Wales (look who’s on the flag) to China and everywhere in between.  They can be good, like Eragon, or bad, like Smaug, but nowhere are they considered “demonic” unless you’re one of those people that thinks that anything that doesn’t worship the Baby Jesus and his televangical minions “demonic.”  And dragons have about as much to do with the Christmas as Santa and his flying reindeer.  (Wouldn’t it be amazing to sub in dragons for reindeer?  For one thing, they wouldn’t need Rudolph.  Who needs a red nose when you can exhale fire?)

So decorate your lawn with mythical creatures for a couple of weeks.  It would go very nicely with the other myths, like the creche and angels.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Embarrassingly Bad

The late Friday news that a conservative judge in Texas ruled the ACA aka Obamacare unconstitutional brought swift condemnation from legal scholars on both sides of the argument.

Ted Frank, a lawyer at the Competitive Enterprise Institute who is critical of the ACA, called the decision “embarrassingly bad” because “you’re twisting yourself into knots” to reach a particular conclusion.

Over the past two years, Frank said, he and other conservative lawyers have complained when district court judges did similar intellectual gymnastics to attack Trump administration initiatives. “It’s not appropriate in the other direction, either,” he said.

Nicholas Bagley, a University of Michigan law professor, predicted “a long slog” while the courts wrestle with O’Connor’s decision.

“I think this case is frivolous, and I think the judge’s opinion is about as naked a piece of judicial activism as I have ever seen; I don’t even think it’s close,” said Bagley, who supports the ACA. “Like any lawsuit, you should take it seriously, but I don’t think this is an imminent or mortal threat to the Affordable Care Act.”

Since I only studied law at the feet of Jack McCoy, I defer to the real attorneys, but in my humble opinion, Judge O’Connor arrived at his ruling beforehand and then went on a turd-hunt to find something in the law and its history to support it.  He did so when Congress reduced the penalty for not buying health insurance to zero.

This ruling will undoubtedly be appealed just in time for the 2020 election and pitting the GOP and their candidate who crowed on Twitter about the wonderfulness of the ruling against the 20 million people whose health insurance and lives are placed in jeopardy if, by some insane logic, (hi, Clarence Thomas), it is allowed to stand by the Supreme Court.

I can’t wait to see how they’re going to talk their way out of this one.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Never-Ending Mission

Glenn Kessler, the Fact Checker at the Washington Post, has had to come up with a new measure for the number of lies a politician tells and how often they repeat them.

The scale used to be one to four Pinocchios: one Pinocchio was a fib; four was a blatant falsehood.  But now we’re in the Trump era and that quaint measurement is shot to hell.

To accurately reflect this phenomenon, The Washington Post Fact Checker is introducing a new category — the Bottomless Pinocchio. That dubious distinction will be awarded to politicians who repeat a false claim so many times that they are, in effect, engaging in campaigns of disinformation.

The bar for the Bottomless Pinocchio is high: The claims must have received three or four Pinocchios from The Fact Checker, and they must have been repeated at least 20 times. Twenty is a sufficiently robust number that there can be no question the politician is aware that his or her facts are wrong. The list of Bottomless Pinocchios will be maintained on its own landing page.

The Fact Checker has not identified statements from any other current elected official who meets the standard other than Trump. In fact, 14 statements made by the president immediately qualify for the list.

The president’s most-repeated falsehoods fall into a handful of broad categories — claiming credit for promises he has not fulfilled; false assertions that provide a rationale for his agenda; and political weaponry against perceived enemies such as Democrats or special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

The number of Bottomless Pinocchios is legion, ranging from Mexico building the Wall to car companies building new plants to the number of people that showed up at his inauguration, and on and on.

The problem with fact checking Trump is two-fold: it’s never-ending (as it should be for any public figure who can change our lives) and the lies never die.  They’re zombies; no matter how often they’re debunked, disproved, and even mocked, they still get repeated and passed on by the gullible or those who would rather repeat a flaming lie than accept the boring truth.  (And, like zombies, they’re in search of brains.)

So while I applaud Mr. Kessler and his mission to expose the lies and the lying liars who tell them, he’s like Voyager 2: there’s no end in sight to his mission.