Sunday, August 5, 2018

Sunday Reading

Suckers — Rick Wilson in The Daily Beast.

Conspiracies are hard. They’re even harder when you’re stupid.

They are, however, deeply compelling. Some people need a single, grand unifying theory of why the world refuses to line up with their expectations. When difficult realities confront people without the intellectual horsepower to understand and accept the truth, some turn to conspiracy theories to paper over the holes in their worldview. No matter how absurd, baroque, and improbable, conspiracies grow on their own like mental kudzu where inconsistencies aren’t signs of illogical conclusions, but of another, deeper layer of some hidden truth, some skein of powerful forces holding the world in its grip.

After Donald Trump’s rally in Tampa this week, the notorious QAnon scam became America’s conspiracy of the moment. And why not? In the face of Trump’s daily meltdowns, mood swings, and unmedicated rage episodes in which he lashes out at every target in reach, his base is desperately looking for a version of reality that gives them some comfort and stability.

This Q conspiracy is filling the political bloodstream of the Trumpentariat and has been bubbling up inside the right for the last few months, and while Will Sommer and others have covered the story, there seemed to be a media shock moment after the Qbots showed up at Trump’s Tampa rally.

Conspiracies—this one in particular—give their devotees a sense of coherence that is lacking in everything Trump does. QAnon presents Trump as the character he plays on TV; bold, commanding, strategic, and brilliant…as opposed to the real Donald Trump, who displays the dignity, intelligence, and honesty of a strip-club tout with tertiary syphilis.

In Q’s world, Donald Trump is courageously leading an effort to round up and punish—I’m not exaggerating—tens of thousands of child predators who occupy the highest reaches of government.  Q and Don, side by side, doling out the secret knowledge to the new elite. Instead of getting a clearance, all you need to do is check out 4chan, Reddit, or YouTube.

Some even believe Q composes these messages for their eager consumption and interpretation at Trump’s direction, the amanuensis to an orange Nostradamus whose quatrains appear on the same image boards that feature bronie porn, hentai spank-bank material, and tween Neo-Nazi shitposter incels, instead of penned on parchment.

They’re desperate to believe “Q” is a senior official cleared at the highest levels (as one former NSA official jokingly called it, “TS/SCI NOSEBLEED”) who is busily leaking cryptic messages to them. Set aside that the Q clearance is a Department of Energy designation, and is for access to particular nuclear weapons matters, not the Bondian highest-reaches-of-government shenanigans to which Q claims access; this entire thing reeks of enough bullshit to fertilize Mars.

The claims of Q-Anon make Nostradamus look like Hemingway. Naturally, they’re elliptical, variable, and impossible to cross-check. Hundreds of YouTube videos, blog posts tweets, Facebook items, and speculation follow each post, a Confederacy of Dunces that ramifies this idiocy out into dumber and dumber dead ends. QAnon asks its believers to “follow the breadcrumbs” and fill in the blanks. Those blanks get filled with epic idiocy.

The glee with which the followers of this absurdity latch on to imaginary deportations of Hillary Clinton, John Podesta, and others to Gitmo is notable. Several times, Q has promised them that any moment now the rest of the Deep State will occupy the darkest holes of the American prison system. QAnon tells them that retribution is at hand, and they’re ravenous for more. Lurid and exciting for the rubes, but as of yet, Hillary Clinton walks free. If that even is Hillary Clinton, and not a shapeshifting reptilian overlord.

Those of us with the unfortunate awareness of the clownishly risible QAnon conspiracy cult have been reveling in the comedy gold, lavishly overwrought, dangerously stupid proclamations of Q for months. We’ve alternated between laughter and wide-eyed shock at how credulous Trump’s Army of Cletuses must be to fall for such an obvious, ludicrous con. Then again, Donald Trump put the “con” in “conspiracy” as far back as his embrace of birtherism.  If the puzzle surrounding QAnon is a fever dream wrapped in an enigma, coated with nougat, rolled in nuts and filled with a creamy center of delusional paranoia, Trump’s own role in fostering it is right out of the Lil Tots’ First Book of Authoritarian Strategy.

For actual authoritarians and the merely dictator-curious, building a separate, hermetic truth defined only by the Dear Leader is 101 stuff, and goes hand in hand with the relentless attacks on the free press an enemy of the people.

Of course, it’s just trolling. It’s just a prank by some chan-autists. It makes me shake my head to explain to people that the idea of a conspiracy this grand and elaborate has as much chance of working as Skeeter’s plan to cook meth in the WalMart bathroom.

Why has Q eaten the Trump-right’s minds? Why does it work on them when it’s so obviously, evidently a gigantic pyramid of digital horseshit?

It works because stupid people are stupid and because Donald Trump’s Administration loves what QAnon does to stoke the fires of paranoia, resentment, and division. QAnon works for Trump because people who are not knowledgeable about the world, politics, government, the intelligence community and reality more broadly are desperately looking for confirmation that they’re on the winning team. Q tells them that they’re on the right side of history and that for once in their dreary little lives they and only they possess the secret, hermetic knowledge from inside the esoteric cult.

Q represents where the former GOP has gone in the era of Trump; possessed the desire to have a private space that makes even Fox News look mild in comparison, grasping desperately for a different reality.

When even aggressive conspiracy-pusher faux-journalist loons and alt-lite thought leaders Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec find QAnon too crazy to promote, it should make you pause. Both men were aggressive promoters of the Pizzagate theory, in which a Washington D.C. restaurant was falsely alleged to be the center of a global child sex-trafficking, cannibalism and prostitution ring. Both were all-in on the cruel and false Seth Rich story, and a raft of other pro-Trump efforts to mainline fantasy conspiracies into the American body politics.

If it’s too crazy for those edge cases, it’s too crazy.

No, Trump fans, the storm isn’t coming. There is no Great Awakening. “Where we go one we go all” is a path to disappointment and madness, not to some brave new future where Donald Trump’s genius and his army of secret soldiers purge America of a vast, secret deep state of hostile insiders and pedophiles.

Q is a meta-hoax, a recursive scam in service of a scam called the Trump Presidency. The “drops” are meaningless claptrap, noise without real signal, and most certainly not the signs of the new reality its eager marks desire.

Doonesbury — Mission: Impossible.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Enemy Of The People

Until Trump came along, the only time most people had heard the term “enemy of the people” was in old newsreels about Stalin or in theatre history class discussing the play of the same name by Henrik Ibsen.  (By the way, it’s a really good play and a cautionary tale for our times.)  But now Trump is slandering the media with that tag, and it’s being thrown around by his minions, including Sarah Huckabee Sanders.  Yesterday she got into an exchange with CNN’s Jim Acosta.

Notice that her complaints are all how the press has treated her. That’s all it really is; she’s the victim here and it’s SO unfair.  That seems to be why she is incapable of agreeing with Ivanka Trump that the press is not the enemy of the people.

First, if you’re going to be the White House press secretary, you’re going to get a lot of scrutiny and be held accountable for what you and the people you represent do and say.  (Oh, and if you’ve got a list of grievances about how those meanies in the media go after you, sit down with Hillary Clinton and hear what it’s like to have the press go after you for real.)

Second, and more importantly, the press’s job is not to be just an echo chamber for your balderdash and bullshit.  Their job is to ask the questions and get the answers and call out the bullshit when they see it.  (Ironically, not a lot of the press is actually doing that; most of the time they sit and watch.)  That’s what Sarah Huckabee Sanders objects to; that there are those in the press who call her and her boss out and wow does it hurt her fee-fees.

Hey, Ms. Sanders, you want to see the real enemy of the people?  Look in the mirror.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Sunday Reading

Get Out and Vote — George Packer in The New Yorker.

In the haze of summer, with books still to be read, weeds pulled, kids retrieved from camp, it’s a little hard to fathom that, three months from now, American democracy will be on the line. The midterm elections in November are the last remaining obstacle to President Trump’s consolidation of power. None of the other forces that might have checked the rise of a corrupt homegrown oligarchy can stop or even slow it. The institutional clout that ended the Presidency of Richard Nixon no longer exists. The honest press, for all its success in exposing daily scandals, won’t persuade the unpersuadable or shame the shameless, while the dishonest press is Trump’s personal amplifier. The federal courts, including the Supreme Court, are rapidly becoming instruments of partisan advocacy, as reliably conservative as elected legislatures. It’s impossible to imagine the Roberts Court voting unanimously against the President, as the Burger Court, including five Republican appointees, did in forcing Nixon to turn over his tapes. (Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s nominee to succeed Anthony Kennedy, has even suggested that the decision was wrong.) Congress has readily submitted to the President’s will, as if legislation and oversight were burdens to be relinquished. And, when the independent counsel finally releases his report, it will have only the potency that the guardians of the law and the Constitution give it.

Behind these institutions lies public opinion, and we are quickly learning that it matters more than laws, more than the Constitution, more than the country’s supposedly inviolable founding principles. “If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it,” George Orwell wrote, in “Freedom of the Park.” “If public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.” During 1973, the year Watergate became a national scandal, facts changed the political views of millions of Americans, Nixon’s approval rating fell from sixty-seven per cent to less than thirty per cent, and his fate was sealed. In our time, large blocs of public opinion are barely movable: Trump’s performance in Helsinki—declaring himself on the side of Russia, against his own intelligence agencies and the integrity of American elections—received favorable reviews from eighty per cent of Republicans. Yet public opinion still plays a central role in safeguarding democracy, and it becomes decisive through voting. Demonstrations can capture attention and build solidarity, books can provide arguments, social media can organize resistance. But if the Republicans don’t suffer a serious defeat in November, Trump will go into 2020 with every structural advantage.

Democrats have a habit of forgetting to vote between Presidential elections. Republican turnout has exceeded or equalled Democratic turnout in every midterm since 1978, no matter which party held the Presidency, with an average margin of three per cent—more than enough to decide control of Congress in a closely divided election. The demographic groups that are least likely to vote—young people, Latinos, and those with a high-school education or less—tend to be Democratic constituencies. This tendency has been especially stark in the past two midterm cycles: in 2014, the turnout among eligible voters aged eighteen to twenty-nine was seventeen per cent—one in six. The disappearing Democratic voter also had an effect on the latest Presidential election, when, for example, African-American turnout dropped almost five per cent from 2012—a crucial difference in the three key states that gave Trump the Electoral College.

Republicans, for their part, don’t always entrust their hold on power to democratic methods. Since 2010, nearly half of the states have passed laws that make it harder to vote—from restrictions on early voting to I.D. requirements, mandatory proof of citizenship, and purges of voting rolls. The purpose of these laws is not to fight a mythical epidemic of fraud but to depress turnout of normally Democratic constituencies. They show incremental signs of success: a government study found that new laws reduced turnout in 2012 in Kansas and Tennessee by two or three per cent, notably among young and black voters. Other states have expanded the franchise, particularly to former felons, but Republican control of two-thirds of state legislatures and the shift of courts to the right give the momentum to efforts to curtail voting.

Gerrymandering is another effective tool for staying in power. The Brennan Center for Justice recently released a report on the effects of redistricting in states like Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and Texas. Algorithmic mapping has grown so precise that Republican legislatures have created a sixteen-seat advantage in the House of Representatives that remains impervious to standard electoral pressures. In November, just to achieve a bare majority, Democrats will have to win the national congressional vote by nearly eleven per cent. (Other studies put the number at around seven per cent.) And legislatures elected this year will redraw state and federal districts after the 2020 census. There’s a thick seawall standing in the way of a blue wave.

But it’s self-defeating to exaggerate the external obstacles: in 2016, Democratic turnout declined in states with and without new voter restrictions. Gerrymandering is a time-honored practice of both parties—look at Maryland’s House delegation. Unfettered money in politics doesn’t always favor Republicans, let alone guarantee victory—Hillary Clinton raised twice as much as Trump did. The greatest obstacle to voting is the feeling that it won’t matter, and that feeling seems to be more prevalent among Democrats.

In some cases, that sense may be based on overconfidence and insularity—a presumption that the other party’s outrages will automatically disqualify it in voters’ eyes. More often, it comes from a belief that politics doesn’t change anything in people’s lives. For two generations, the Republican Party has been an expression of grassroots conservatism, most recently the fever that’s ceded the Party to Trump. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has grown less connected to its voters. It’s like a neglected building, perennially on the edge of collapse, which left-leaning Americans occasionally use for some purpose and then abandon.

This year, something seems to be changing. The new faces among Democratic candidates, the new energy behind them, suggest a party of members, not squatters. But, come November, they will have to vote. It’s the only thing left.

Pence Is Worse — Frank Bruni in the New York Times.

There are problems with impeaching Donald Trump. A big one is the holy terror waiting in the wings.

That would be Mike Pence, who mirrors the boss more than you realize. He’s also self-infatuated. Also a bigot. Also a liar. Also cruel.

To that brimming potpourri he adds two ingredients that Trump doesn’t genuinely possess: the conviction that he’s on a mission from God and a determination to mold the entire nation in the shape of his own faith, a regressive, repressive version of Christianity. Trade Trump for Pence and you go from kleptocracy to theocracy.

That’s the takeaway from a forthcoming book by the journalists Michael D’Antonio, who previously wrote “The Truth About Trump,” and Peter Eisner. It’s titled “The Shadow President: The Truth About Mike Pence,” it will be published on Aug. 28 and it’s the most thorough examination of the vice president’s background to date.

I got an advance look at it, along with a first interview about it with D’Antonio, and while it has a mostly measured tone, it presents an entirely damning portrait of Pence. You’ve seen his colors before, but not so vividly and in this detail.

The book persuasively illustrates what an ineffectual congressman he was, apart from cozying up to the Koch brothers, Betsy DeVos and other rich Republican donors; the clumsiness and vanity of his one term as governor of Indiana, for which he did something that predecessors hadn’t and “ordered up a collection of custom-embroidered clothes — dress shirts, polo shirts, and vests and jackets — decorated with his name and the words Governor of Indiana”; the strong possibility that he wouldn’t have won re-election; his luck in being spared that humiliation by the summons from Trump, who needed an outwardly bland, intensely religious character witness to muffle his madness and launder his sins; and the alacrity with which he says whatever Trump needs him to regardless of the truth.

In Pence’s view, any bite marks in his tongue are divinely ordained. Trump wouldn’t be president if God didn’t want that; Pence wouldn’t be vice president if he weren’t supposed to sanctify Trump. And his obsequiousness is his own best route to the Oval Office, which may very well be God’s grand plan.

“People don’t understand what Pence is,” D’Antonio told me. Which is? “A religious zealot.”

And D’Antonio said that Pence could end up in the White House sooner than you think. In addition to the prospect of Trump’s impeachment, there’s the chance that Trump just decides that he has had enough.

“I don’t think he’s as resilient, politically, as Bill Clinton was,” D’Antonio said. “He doesn’t relish a partisan fight in the same way. He loves to go to rallies where people adore him.”

There’s no deeply felt policy vision or sense of duty to sustain him through the investigations and accusations. “If the pain is great enough,” D’Antonio said, “I think he’d be disposed not to run again.”

So it’s time to look harder at Pence. “The Shadow President” does. It lays out his disregard for science, evident in his onetime insistence that smoking doesn’t cause cancer and a belief that alarms about climate change were “a secret effort to increase government control over people’s lives for some unstated diabolical purpose,” according to the book.

It suggests callousness at best toward African-Americans. As governor, Pence refused to pardon a black man who had spent almost a decade in prison for a crime that he clearly hadn’t committed. He also ignored a crisis — similar to the one in Flint, Mich. — in which people in a poor, largely black Indiana city were exposed to dangerously high levels of lead. D’Antonio told me: “I think he’s just as driven by prejudice as Trump is.”

During the vice-presidential debate with Tim Kaine, Pence repeated the laughable, ludicrous assertion that Trump would release his tax returns “when the audit is over” and falsely insisted that Trump hadn’t lavished praise on Vladimir Putin’s leadership — though the record proved otherwise.

The book says that in a high-level briefing about Russian interference in the 2016 election, Pence was told that intelligence officials hadn’t determined whether that interference had swayed the results. He then publicly claimed a finding of no effect.

At Trump’s urging and with taxpayer money, he and his wife, Karen, flew to a football game in Indianapolis just so he could make a big public gesture of leaving in protest when, predictably, some of the players took a knee during the national anthem.

And, following Trump’s lead, he rallied behind the unhinged former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. In a speech he called Arpaio a “tireless champion” of the “rule of law.” This was after Arpaio’s contempt-of-court conviction for ignoring a federal judge’s order to stop using illegal tactics to torment immigrants. The conservative columnist George Will seized on Pence’s speech to write that Pence had dethroned Trump as “America’s most repulsive public figure.”

You can thank Pence for DeVos. They are longtime allies, going back decades, who bonded over such shared passions as making it O.K. for students to use government money, in the form of vouchers, at religious schools. Pence cast the tiebreaking vote in the Senate to confirm her as education secretary. It was the first time in history that a vice president had done that for a cabinet nominee.

Fiercely opposed to abortion, Pence once spoke positively on the House floor about historical figures who “actually placed it beyond doubt that the offense of abortion was a capital offense, punishable even by death.” He seemed to back federal funds for anti-gay conversion therapy. He promoted a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

“He is absolutely certain that his moral view should govern public policy,” D’Antonio told me.

D’Antonio then recounted two stories that he heard from college classmates of Pence’s after the book had gone to bed, so they’re not in there. One involved a woman in Pence’s weekly college prayer group. When she couldn’t describe a discrete “born again” experience, “he lectured her on her deficiencies as a Christian and said that she really wasn’t the sort of Christian that needed to be in this group,” D’Antonio said.

Another involved a college friend of Pence’s who later sought his counsel about coming out as gay. D’Antonio said that Pence told the friend: “You have to stay closeted, you have to get help, you’re sick and you’re not my friend anymore.”

According to D’Antonio’s book, Pence sees himself and fellow Christian warriors as a blessed but oppressed group, and his “hope for the future resided in his faith that, as chosen people, conservative evangelicals would eventually be served by a leader whom God would enable to defeat their enemies and create a Christian nation.”

I asked D’Antonio the nagging, obvious question: Is America worse off with Trump or Pence?

“I have to say that I prefer Donald Trump, because I think that Trump is more obvious in his intent,” he said, while Pence tends to “disguise his agenda.” D’Antonio then pointed out that if Pence assumed the presidency in the second half of Trump’s first term, he’d be eligible to run in 2020 and 2024 and potentially occupy the White House for up to 10 years.

Heaven help us.

Doonesbury — Get up and go.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Fever Pitch

David Brooks is convinced that by 2020 we’ll be so over Trump and MAGA and angry white supremacists so that we can go back to whatever it is passes for normal here in the good ol’ US of A.  So he, like James Comey and other “thoughtful Republicans” is giving Democrats advice on how to win so the fever breaks.

Maybe this year is different, but for 100 years, Democrats have tended to win with youthful optimism and not anger and indignation. The Democrats who have won nationally almost all ran on generational change — on tired old America versus the possibilities of new America: F.D.R.’s New Deal, J.F.K.’s New Frontier, Bill Clinton’s bridge to the 21st century and Obama’s hope and change.

If I had to advise on a Democratic narrative I’d start with three premises: First, by 2020 everybody will be exhausted by the climate of negativism and hostility. Second, the core long-term fear is American decline; are we losing our mojo? Third, communities and nations don’t come together when they talk about their problems; they come together when they do something on behalf of their children.

Well, that would be nice, wouldn’t it?  And I suppose there’s a part of me that wants to believe it.  But if the past is any predictor, it will not happen even if the Democrats do come up with a well-crafted and meaningful message and candidate that breaks through to the people who need to hear it.

When the change comes, and it could start as early as November, they’re not going down without a fight.  If Trump loses in 2020 and the Democrats regain control of both Congress and the White House, there will still be backlash, most certainly from Trump himself who will claim that the whole system was rigged and the election of anyone but him is illegitimate.  He’s already started to feed that line to his base.  (He even tried it out in 2016 when even he didn’t believe he could win.)

So whomever the Democrats come up with — a supermix of FDR, JFK, and Obama — and no matter what message they craft to unify the country for ourselves and each other, the resentment and push-back will still be there.  After all, FDR, JFK and certainly Obama all faced it, and all Trump did was exploit it.

I truly would like to live in David Brooks’ world of rainbows and unicorns, but for the foreseeable future, we’re going to have to live with thunderstorms and jackasses.

Friday, July 13, 2018

A Confederacy Of Dunces

If you turned on MSNBC yesterday, you probably saw the live testimony of Peter Strzok before the congressional committee made up of a majority of Trump lickspittles and GOP weirdos.  I saw some of it, but I leave it to Charles P. Pierce to wrap it up and deliver the verdict.

There’s no real point in recapping the highlights. The videos are going to be in regular rotation for quite a while now. It was, as it was called at various points in the hearing, a kangaroo court, a show trial, and a travesty of a sham of a mockery of a sham of two mockeries. But it was designed to be that. It was a performance piece. It was not a very well-cast one, and several of the lead actors fell into the orchestra pit, but it managed to run from curtain-up to curtain-down.

Have you ever seen those videos of fist-fights breaking out in parliaments of third-world countries where they really go at it with furniture and farm implements?  I wish we had that kind of decorum.

(HT to the memory of John Kennedy Toole.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Shoring Up His Base

The only reason I can think of for Trump to give clemency to the gang that occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in 2016 (the gang that tried to send out for snacks in the middle of their rebellion) is because he’s got some idea that they still support him even after it dawns on them that the Trumpistas are using them and stealing their Doritos.

Either that or he’s counting on the fact that they’ll never wise up.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Too Late Now

I knew the moment I got up this morning to check my e-mail that I would be getting “BREAKING” and URGENT messages about the nomination of the next white Christian guy nominated to the Supreme Court, along with appeals to send money to defeat the nomination.

Not that I’m in favor of putting Brett Kavanaugh on the bench or that I don’t think that he won’t be the one to find a way to overturn Roe vs. Wade or uphold the corporation-as-person or find new ways to extend “religious liberty” into outright bigotry in terms of marriage equality or let the 2nd Amendment be the absolute law of the land, the time to have worked to keep him or any other like-minded 19th century-precedented jurist off the bench was in 2010, 2012, and 2016 when people who should care about those issues and keeping them safe from Mike Pence decided not to vote.

Thanks a lot, you lazy jerks or you purists who thought Jill Stein could make a “statement.”  Well, here’s a statement for you: my great-nephew George will be well into his forties before the seat becomes available again, and time and the actuarial tables don’t make it look good for those who stand against the onslaught of Jesus-shouters and corporate greed.  So you owe him and his generation and those to follow something more than, “Sorry, but I didn’t think it mattered.”

Seriously, Mitch?

A quote of Mitch McConnell:

We should evaluate this president’s nominee fairly based on his or her qualifications. and we should treat the process with the respect and dignity that it deserves.

This from the man who basically subverted the Constitution until Trump was in office is demanding that the Democrats play nice.  Seriously?

I have a suggestion for Mr. McConnell, but it would require an adaptation of his anatomy that isn’t covered by his insurance.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Sunday Reading

Miami Underwater — Carolyn Kormann in The New Yorker.

In Miami, the rising sea is already an ineluctable part of daily life. Everyone is affected—whether storm flooding forces a small-business owner to shut down for a few days (at tremendous cost), or daily tides hinder students commuting to school, or the retreating coastline forces people to abandon their homes. There are other, less obvious, but equally troubling impacts. People’s increased contact with overflow water from urban canals and sewers is a significant health issue. Low-income communities of color—like Liberty City and Little Haiti—also face rising housing costs as residents seek higher ground. Some have started referring to this as climate gentrification, “a trend of underserved communities being taken over by investors and developers due to rising sea levels,” Valencia Gunder, a community organizer, explained. Historically, “low-income communities of color were forced to live in the center of the city, high above sea level. Now that the sea level is rising, that puts us in prime real estate.” Gunder is one of the many Miami residents who appear in this video series, which focusses on the high-stakes questions that arise as people begin to adapt, and the factors that help create and strengthen resiliency for what’s ahead. “Every adaptation project is an opportunity to improve our environmental quality,” Tiffany Troxler, a wetlands biologist, said. “And to improve social equity.”

As the average global temperature increases, sea level is projected to rise more than one foot by 2045, which would put a fifth of Miami underwater at high tide. While the entire East Coast of the United States is at tremendous risk, Miami is particularly vulnerable. Its underlying bedrock is limestone, which makes the effects of sea-level rise particularly insidious. “Limestone is very porous, so salt water can seep up,” Ben Wilson, an environmental scientist, said in an episode that examines the intersection of ecology and development. “We can’t just build a wall to keep salt water out.” Along the shoreline, freshwater marshes, which act as natural coastal buffers against storm surge, are collapsing because of increased salt-water intrusion. Once those grasses are gone, storm waters will flood Miami much more quickly.

The economic effects will be staggering. Tourism and property taxes—derived from real-estate development—are the region’s two main sources of income. “There are many in the business community, and even government officials, who feel we shouldn’t talk about it,” Wayne Pathman, a real-estate lawyer, said. “But it’s too late for that.” The median family income in Miami-Dade County is roughly forty-five thousand dollars—not high for a metropolitan area. The hardest-hit communities will be, and have already been, those with the fewest resources to adapt and rebuild.

“With climate change there already are winners and losers,” Jesse Keenan, a Harvard professor who teaches courses on climate adaptation, said. “The idea, as a matter of public policy, is how do we subsidize and and support the most vulnerable populations, who are very often the economic losers.” There is no easy answer. But the people featured in these videos are, at least, trying. “I love this place,” one activist told the filmmakers. “I love the people, I love the diversity and the colors and the richness. I love that cross-cultural mix we have going on here. The question is, ‘Can we live here much longer, and safely? And if so, how much longer, and how safely?’ ”

Party of Fear — Leonard Pitts, Jr. in the Miami Herald.

“I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The party left me.’’

Ronald Reagan

Now I know how the Gipper felt.

Once upon a time, you see, I thought I was a little bit conservative. Mind you, I could never side with the right on social justice matters like the treatment of LGBTQ Americans, African Americans and women, where they have always been irredeemably wrong. But I did agree with them on the importance of fathers and on the need for self reliance, a strong military and foreign-policy realism. While I support government regulation of business, consumer standards and the environment, I was even willing to listen to conservative complaints about excessive red tape.

Thing is, I still hold more or less the same views, but I’m nobody’s idea of a conservative. I didn’t change, but the definition of conservative did. And that forces a realization:

With apologies to John F. Kennedy, Ich bin ein liberal.

That will, I know, bring howls of derision from conservatives. They’ll see it as a portentous announcement of a self-evident truth — like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar announcing that he is tall.

I get the joke, but the joke makes my point.

We live in a starkly bipolar political world. One is red or one is blue, one is right or one is left. But I’ve always resisted the idea that I had to choose a team and line up behind its talking points. I’ve always said no political philosophy has a monopoly on good ideas.

So I was never willing to call myself liberal. Or conservative. I liked the idea of weighing the facts and thinking a thing through for myself.

I was naïve, though. While I was holding out on a lonely island of principle, the middle space between the extremes shrank to nothing. Political identity became actual identity, and one was required to choose sides, like a kid in the slums forced to choose between rival street gangs, with conscientious objection not an option.

And the choice isn’t really a choice at all, because what used to be conservatism no longer is. When’s the last time you heard the right talk about the kinds of things — fatherhood, clear-eyed foreign policy — that once helped define it?

No, these days, being “conservative” means being angry and fearful at the loss of white prerogative. It means to embrace — or at the very least, tolerate, which is functionally the same thing — a new and brazen strain of white supremacy. It means to be dismissive and destructive of the norms of democratic governance. It means to willingly accept nonstop lies, intellectual vacuity and naked incompetence and pretend they are signs of stable genius. It means to be wholly in thrall to the Cult of Trump.

Small wonder GOP heavyweights like columnists George F. Will and Max Boot and campaign strategist Steve Schmidt have disavowed their party out of devotion to what conservatism used to be. Their moral courage makes neon obvious most Republicans’ lack thereof.

That said, one wonders if it will not turn out that these worthies are simply holding out on their own lonely island of principle, if conservatism’s headlong march toward fascism will not make them the ones who seem naïve 20 years down the line. But that’s their problem.

This column is about my problem, which I guess I’ve solved, though not without some regret for the days when I felt free to walk between political extremes and not declare myself. But in 2018, that’s an unaffordable luxury. In 2018, one of those extremes represents a danger as clear and present as any foreign adversary.

So yes, I am a liberal. Because I have, literally, no alternative.

Compare and Contrast — Musings on public speaking.

1863:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

1961:

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

2018:

I have broken more Elton John records, he seems to have a lot of records. And I, by the way, I don’t have a musical instrument. I don’t have a guitar or an organ. No organ. Elton has an organ. And lots of other people helping. No we’ve broken a lot of records. We’ve broken virtually every record. Because you know, look I only need this space. They need much more room. For basketball, for hockey and all of the sports, they need a lot of room. We don’t need it. We have people in that space. So we break all of these records. Really we do it without like, the musical instruments. This is the only musical: the mouth. And hopefully the brain attached to the mouth. Right? The brain, more important than the mouth, is the brain. The brain is much more important.

Doonesbury — Wasting time.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Monday, July 2, 2018

This Time We Really Mean It

I know it sounds alarmist to say that the Supreme Court pick by Trump could change the world, but this time it could.  Giving the right wing a solid majority on the court for the next thirty years could mean the end of reproductive choice, which effects more than just women; LGBTQ rights, including marriage equality; voting rights, workers rights, immigration, and even the various amendments to the Constitution, including the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth.

All of them have been under assault by the right wing since the 1960’s, held in check by an evenly-balanced court that even Ronald Reagan couldn’t tip his way completely.  He got very close with Robert Bork, but we stopped it then, and got Anthony Kennedy.  Now he’s going, and unless we do something to stop Trump’s pick, we’re going to get someone just as doctrinaire and antediluvian as Bork, but without the charm.

But wait, someone says, how do we know that Trump will pick a far-right jurist?  Simple; because he will do whatever he can to piss off people, and he knows that picking a wingnut will outrage the progressives.  He doesn’t really care about policy or judicial background; he just likes to watch the fireworks.  He doesn’t have a clue that whomever he picks will outlive him and change the fundamental laws of this nation; he just wants to see Rachel Maddow’s head explode.  Knowing that, it’s safe to conclude that his choice will be not be because he cares a popcorn fart about the Constitution — we’ve known that all along — but what kind of meltdown he can cause on Twitter.

So it comes to the Senate, where a far more wily foe lies in wait: Mitch McConnell.  He’s already stolen the Supreme Court pick from the Democrats the last time there was a vacancy with his daring daylight robbery of Barack Obama and Merrick Garland.  Now he’s planning to whoop through Trump’s pick before the mid-terms, knowing that the sentiment is building against the Republican majority in the Senate, and the only thing that’s keeping him in the majority is the health of John McCain, who is the 51st Republican in a 51-49 chamber.  It only takes two to win for the Democrats.

As Martin Longman notes, it’s a lot easier to work for change than it is to fight to keep the status quo.  This time the change is coming from the left, but the battle is going to be that much more brutal when you have a mercurial and frankly bonkers leader on the other side, held in check only by the fingernails and hawksbill of Mitch McConnell and the ticking clock leading up to November.

This will be a two-front battle.  We have to defeat the nomination of Trump’s pick and we need to win back the Senate to guarantee that no matter who else he picks for however long he remains in office won’t get passed through so your grandchild can marry whomever he or she wants or gets to decide who controls her body or if they get to enjoy a safe work place or even vote in the first place.

I know I’ve said that every election and therefor the future of this nation hangs on three little words — The Supreme Court — but this time we really mean it.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

What’s To Stop Them Now?

There are times when you just have to say…  Well, I don’t know what I can come up with cogently, so here again is Charlie Pierce with thoughts on the retirement of Anthony Kennedy and the handing over of the reins to the far-right nutsery for the next thirty years.

There is not much that the Democrats can do about this now. The Republican majority in the Senate killed the filibuster in order to install Neil Gorsuch in the seat they hijacked from Merrick Garland. So any complaining about how Chuck Schumer didn’t hip-check Mitch McConnell into the aisle should be pre-emptively dismissed now. This result was inevitable from the moment that Antonin Scalia’s heart stopped. This is the beginning of the end of the long game that began with the Powell memo in 1972. All that’s left for them now is to solidify the gains they have made, an option that no longer may be available to minority voters, and gay citizens, and everybody else who thought their enhanced ability to participate in American self-government was permanent.

They have everything in place to do that very thing. Some of it was serendipity; they didn’t plan on two Republican presidents in 18 years both installed without winning the popular vote. But the rest of it was a grand strategy against everything they have despised about American politics since the end of World War II. They have pushed every built-in chokepoint present in our political institutions in order to put in place political choke-points guaranteed to operate to their advantage, and they’ve done everything to reinforce these dark creations until they look as permanent as the composition of the U.S. Senate or the Electoral College. When the Senate confirms the nomination of Louie Gohmert later this summer, it will mean that four of the nine justices of the Supreme Court will have been nominated by presidents who lost the popular vote. I’m beginning to doubt the wisdom of the Founders.

Anyway, everything’s up for grabs now, if Justice Samuel Alito’s casual detonation of 40 years of precedent in Wednesday’s majority opinion in Janus is any indication. Roe, and then Griswold, are in range. The very idea of a national healthcare system is running scared. Reform of our cash-drunk campaign finance system now looks as distant as the mountains of the moon. Obergefell carries a bullseye—the next court is odds-on to find religious liberty exceptions to every law, including gravity and certain parking regulations—and so do Miranda and, what the hell, Brown v. Board.

Why not? What’s out there to stop them now? Just this week, they’ve written religious bigotry and legislative ratfcking into the Constitution and converted the United States into a right-to-work country. Millions of people are going to have their lives made harder by the events of the past week. In that context, musings on political strategery seem viciously beside the point.

The only way to stop this is to stall the hearings on the nomination until after the mid-terms in November and work like hell until then to take back the Senate.  Both are breathtakingly monumental tasks given the odds against the Democrats and their maddening ability to try to get along.

And don’t think that waiting for Robert Mueller and his report, no matter how damaging it is to Trump and the Republicans, to save us.  Even if Trump is somehow miraculously forced out of office or is incapacitated, waiting in the wings is Mike Pence, who will appoint Judge Roy Moore to the court.

So, yeah; there doesn’t seem to be a lot to be gained by wondering what Chuck Schumer will do.  It’s up to us now.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

What Other Recourse Have We?

I’ve been trying to break free of the blogging pattern of blockquoting a long article and then inserting “What he/she said.”  But in the case of publications like the New York Times where there’s a paywall to be breached or the writing is just too good to summarize, I’ll still avail myself of it and justify it by saying “What he/she said.”

This is from Michelle Goldberg in the New York Times on the topic of whether or not liberals should publicly shame Trump supporters and enablers.

I’m somewhat agnostic on the question of whether publicly rebuking Trump collaborators is tactically smart. It stokes their own sense of victimization, which they feed on. It may alienate some persuadable voters, though this is just a guess. (As we saw in the indignant media reaction to Michelle Wolf’s White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner routine, some pundits project their own concern with Beltway decorum onto swing voters, who generally pay less attention to the news than partisans.)

On the other hand, there’s a moral and psychic cost to participating in the fiction that people who work for Trump are in any sense public servants. I don’t blame staff members at the Virginia restaurant, the Red Hen, for not wanting to help Sanders unwind after a hard week of lying to the public about mass child abuse. Particularly when Sanders’s own administration is fighting to let private businesses discriminate against gay people, who, unlike mendacious press secretaries, are a protected class under many civil rights laws.

Whether or not you think public shaming should be happening, it’s important to understand why it’s happening. It’s less a result of a breakdown in civility than a breakdown of democracy. Though it’s tiresome to repeat it, Donald Trump eked out his minority victory with help from a hostile foreign power. He has ruled exclusively for his vengeful supporters, who love the way he terrifies, outrages and humiliates their fellow citizens. Trump installed the right-wing Neil Gorsuch in the Supreme Court seat that Republicans stole from Barack Obama. Gorsuch, in turn, has been the fifth vote in decisions on voter roll purges and, on Monday, racial gerrymandering that will further entrench minority rule.

All over the country, Republican members of Congress have consistently refused to so much as meet with many of the scared, furious citizens they ostensibly represent. A great many of these citizens are working tirelessly to take at least one house of Congress in the midterms — which will require substantially more than 50 percent of total votes, given structural Republican advantages — so that the country’s anti-Trump majority will have some voice in the federal government.

But unless and until that happens, millions and millions of Americans watch helplessly as the president cages children, dehumanizes immigrants, spurns other democracies, guts health care protections, uses his office to enrich himself and turns public life into a deranged phantasmagoria with his incontinent flood of lies. The civility police might point out that many conservatives hated Obama just as much, but that only demonstrates the limits of content-neutral analysis. The right’s revulsion against a black president targeted by birther conspiracy theories is not the same as the left’s revulsion against a racist president who spread birther conspiracy theories.

Faced with the unceasing cruelty and degradation of the Trump presidency, liberals have not taken to marching around in public with assault weapons and threatening civil war. I know of no left-wing publication that has followed the example of the right-wing Federalist and run quasi-pornographic fantasies about murdering political enemies. (“Close your eyes and imagine holding someone’s scalp in your hands,” began a recent Federalist article.) Unlike Trump, no Democratic politician I’m aware of has urged his or her followers to beat up opposing demonstrators.

Instead, some progressive celebrities have said some bad words, and some people have treated administration officials with the sort of public opprobrium due members of any other white nationalist organization. Liberals are using their cultural power against the right because it’s the only power they have left, and people have a desperate need to say, and to hear others say, that what is happening in this country is intolerable.

Sometimes, their strategies may be poorly conceived. But there’s an abusive sort of victim-blaming in demanding that progressives single-handedly uphold civility, lest the right become even more uncivil in response. As long as our rulers wage war on cosmopolitan culture, they shouldn’t feel entitled to its fruits. If they don’t want to hear from the angry citizens they’re supposed to serve, let them eat at Trump Grill.

Trump and his supporters are very good at exploiting the culture of victimhood.  It’s what got them into power: by convincing the people who have wielded power in this country since long before its founding that they are powerless against the Others.  They are very good at it, too, because a lot of otherwise smart people are buying what they’re saying.

Charles P. Pierce not behind a paywall.

By all accounts, the most civil action taken in L’affaire Poule Rouge was the way Stephanie Wilkinson handled her refusal to serve Sarah Huckabee Sanders at the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia. She first consulted with her staff, several members of which were gay and were angry at the administration*’s policies in that regard, and everyone was outraged by what was going on at the border. Wilkinson then took a vote on whether or not to serve Sanders. When the staff voted not to do so, she politely informed Sanders and her party that they would not be eating at the Red Hen that night. She even comped them the cheese plates they’d already ordered.

She did not use an official government Twitter account to discuss the episode, as Sanders did later. She did not use the power of the Oval Office to try and destroy someone’s business, as the president* found time to do later. She asked the staff what they wanted to do. She took a vote. She abided by their wishes. If there’s a more civil way of saying “no” to someone, I don’t know what it would be.

It would have remained a shiny object unworthy of pursuit had it not roiled up a good portion of official Washington, which seemed grateful to be discussing anything except hijacked migrant children. Suddenly, just as the issue of the hijacked children was beginning to bite the administration* severely in the ass, here was an event over which the elite political media could do one of its favorite traditional fan dances: the Question of Civility.

Right on cue, Fred Hiatt’s Washington Post editorial page, which has no compunction about publishing the words of torture-enthusiast Marc Thiessen, blurted out the most embarrassing single paragraph written about the events at the Red Hen. To wit:

We nonetheless would argue that Ms. Huckabee, and Ms. Nielsen and Mr. Miller, too, should be allowed to eat dinner in peace. Those who are insisting that we are in a special moment justifying incivility should think for a moment how many Americans might find their own special moment. How hard is it to imagine, for example, people who strongly believe that abortion is murder deciding that judges or other officials who protect abortion rights should not be able to live peaceably with their families?

How did any higher primate write this paragraph without coughing up a lung? How did any sentient mammal not red-pencil this paragraph into oblivion? How did Post truck drivers not save their employers severe embarrassment by tossing that entire day’s print run into the Potomac?

For the benefit of those people also living in Fred Hiatt’s Land Without History: abortion providers have been stalked. Their children have been stalked. Their places of business have been vandalized. And, lest we forget, doctors who perform abortions have been fucking killed! They’ve been gunned down in their clinics, in their kitchens, and in their churches. They have not been allowed to live peaceably with their families, Fred, you addlepated Beltway thooleramawn. They haven’t been allowed to live at all. I’m no expert, but I’m fairly sure that a bullet in the head is far more uncivil than a complementary fucking cheese plate. What is wrong with these people?

I’m old enough to remember the raucous town halls of 2010, when the AstroTurfed forces of the Tea Party shouted down members of Congress while men with automatic weapons strolled around the perimeter of arenas in which the President of the United States was speaking. I’m old enough to remember when N. Leroy Gingrich, Definer of Civilization’s Rules and Leader (Perhaps) of The Civilizing Forces, was working out his Universal Lexicography of Insult for the benefit of a party that ate it up with an entrenching tool. Newt also emerged on the electric Twitter machine over the weekend, leaping to SarahHuck’s defense, and that was nearly enough to make me give up English as a hobby.

You know who would’ve been baffled by this sudden debate over “civility”? Samuel Adams and John Hancock, that’s who. They were a helluva lot less civil to the crew of the Dartmouth than Stephanie Wilkinson was to the Sanders party, and the citizens of Boston did not comp Thomas Hutchinson to a cheese plate when they ran his sorry ass across the pond. And, who knows, maybe if Elliott Abrams had been chased out of a few DC bistros in the 1980s, Archbishop Oscar Romero and four American nuns would still be alive.

This debate is stupid. It’s also dangerously beside the point. SarahHuck is the lying mouthpiece of a lying regime that is one step away from simply hauling people off in trucks. That she was politely told to take her business elsewhere is a small step towards assigning public responsibility to public officials that enable a perilous brand of politics. There are bigger steps to be taken, but everyone in official Washington is too damn timid to do what really needs to be done about this band of pirates.

So, Sarah, since I know it is hard for you to understand even short sentences, I’ll put it as briefly as I can: Take a hike.

What he said.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Follow The Leader

Based on the returns from the various primaries around the country on Tuesday, the Republicans seem to be lining up behind Trumpism and setting themselves up for reckoning in November.

“It’s becoming a cultish thing, isn’t it?” Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee told reporters Wednesday morning. “It’s not a good place for any party to end up with a cultlike situation as it relates to a president that happens to be of — purportedly — of the same party.”

Mr. Corker — who is leaving the Senate when his term is up next January — is one of the few Republicans who have stood up to Trump; easy to do when you don’t have to run for re-election.  But the rest of them are all heading for Jonestown.

Not that I’m in the habit of giving advice to people I’d like to see removed from both office and polite society, but when a party re-forms itself to comply with the vagaries and vulgarities of one man — and in doing do blithely abandons its core principles such as fiscal responsibility, family values, freedom (not that they having been breathtakingly hypocritical about all of them before) — they’re setting themselves up for a real turkey shoot.  History — both here and abroad — is littered with the bleached bones of parties and movements that have aligned themselves behind a personality, and there have always been body counts of the innocent to go along with them.  Political parties may unite behind the nominee or a candidate, but they don’t make their platform all about him.  And there has always been a core of loyal, even cordial, opposition within the party to keep a balance and provide a home for the voters who may not have gotten their candidate of choice but still believe in the values that made them join in the first place.  What seems to be the motivating factor behind this cult isn’t a unity of ideas but fear of a tweetstorm from the Dear Leader.

I’m not a great prognosticator of election outcomes, but if the last couple of midterms are any indication, the Republicans are in for a bit of a shock.  Kellyanne Conway, the Wormtongue of this administration, noted the other night that Trump’s approval level rivals that of Barack Obama’s in 2010.  And remember how well the Democrats did in the midterms then?

Friday, June 1, 2018

Words Have Consequences, Part 2

I’m not going to defend Samantha Bee for the word she used, but I knew the moment I heard about it that there would be a backlash, particularly an “AHA!” from the Trumpers who defended Roseanne Barr for her racism.  Of course there would be demands that TBS fire Ms. Bee because one bad word is exactly the same as a long history of loopy racism and conspiracy theories, which it is most assuredly not.

Ms. Bee immediately apologized without blaming prescription drugs, as did the network.  But she handed the Trumpers an excuse to indulge in their favorite game of Both Sides Do It.  Forget the fact that the “c” word was emblazoned on t-shirts at Trump rallies; forget the fact that it’s been bandied about by Trump supporters like Ted Nugent and Trump’s inner circle and Trump himself.  None of that matters to the Fox News viewers who will carry on about how mean the liberals are to poor Ivanka and what flaming hypocrites they are too.  And they should know about hypocrisy because they live it night and day.

Plus there’s the added bonus of getting all amped up about language, which distracts us from the fact that more people died in Puerto Rico from a hurricane than were killed on 9/11 and they’re still waiting for complete power restoration.  It’s so much easier to talk about your personal outrage than do something about nearly 5,000 American citizens dead on an island.

As Steve M notes, “I’m not saying, ‘Liberals, censor yourselves.’ I’m saying, ‘Liberals, don’t give the bastards an opening.'”

Thursday, May 31, 2018

It’s Not About You

Via the Washington Post:

Trump, who has personally congratulated Barr on the initial success of “Roseanne,” finally weighed in on the rapidly unfolding controversy Wednesday. Trump questioned why the head of ABC parent company Disney had called Valerie Jarrett — the target of Barr’s racist comments — to apologize, when he hadn’t received similar treatment.

“Bob Iger of ABC called Valerie Jarrett to let her know that ‘ABC does not tolerate comments like those’ made by Roseanne Barr,” Trump tweeted. “Gee, he never called President Donald J. Trump to apologize for the HORRIBLE statements made and said about me on ABC. Maybe I just didn’t get the call?”

The sign of a truly immature and undeveloped personality is that no matter what the situation — in this case a racist getting her due comeuppance — it always comes down to “Hey, but what about ME?”  He was even able to take a solemn occasion such as Memorial Day and make it all about him.  (By the way, saying “Happy Memorial Day!” is like saying “Happy Good Friday!” or “Happy Yom Kippur!”  It’s supposed to be a day of reflection, not celebration.)

But if Trump really wants to bring up how being president makes you a target of HORRIBLE statements, perhaps he ought to look in the mirror at the things he’s said or tweeted over the years about his predecessor, starting with the whole birtherism number and going on to the “spying” on him during the campaign.  Or perhaps he’s forgotten the entire chorus of banshee calls from the right-wing nutsery about the Clintons and the Obamas.

Roseanne can blame it on the Ambien (which is a bullshit excuse), but in the case of Trump, it’s just the fact he’s never gotten past the level of kindergarten schoolyard behavior.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Sit Anywhere You Like

One of the upshots of Starbucks’ consciousness-raising over who gets to sit in their coffee houses without drawing the attention of the constabulary is that they will make it their official policy that you don’t actually have to buy something to earn a place to sit there.

That’s good to know; I’ve been doing it for years (although I usually do buy something; after all, those blueberry scones are pretty good), and the local Starbucks was my go-to place for WiFi last September after Hurricane Irma, free or otherwise.  Now I won’t have that tickling feeling of guilt when I stop in and boot up without buying a scone or a tall plain cuppajoe.

But that’s upsetting to some conservatives.  Megyn Kelly, for instance.

“They’re allowing anyone to stay and use the bathroom even if they don’t buy anything, which has a lot of Starbucks’ customers saying, ‘Really?’” Kelly remarked on her Today Show program. “Because now the Starbucks are going to get overwhelmed with people and is it really just a public space or is it not?”

“For the paying customers who go in with their kids, do you really want to deal with a mass of homeless people or whoever is in there — could be drug addicted, you don’t know when you’re there with your kids paying for the services of the place.”

For those of you who are numb to dog whistles, what she’s really saying is that Starbucks is now the equivalent of the Port Authority bus terminal and their bathrooms are open to just anyone, not just rich white people paying five bucks for a latte.  Oh, how we’ve all caved to political correctness and now she has to sit next to someone who is undeserving of being in her presence.

Or maybe she’d rather see what I saw yesterday morning when I got to the office before dawn.  It’s located in downtown Miami and there are a number of homeless people who spend the night in sheltered areas until the building opens.  As I approached the entrance, I saw a man standing outside on the wheelchair ramp where he’d spent the night.  From his stance and the fact that I’m a man who knows what a certain stance means, I knew he was taking a leak against the side of our building.  As I got near the door, he tried to mop it up with the newspapers he’d just used as his bed.  I didn’t say anything to him, but I did inform the security guard who was arriving of what I’d seen so they could get someone to hose the ramp down.  I didn’t call the cops, and if the man had asked, I’m pretty sure the guard would have let him in to use the rest room on the first floor instead of peeing on the ramp.

I’ve often said it would be nice if there was a Starbucks in the neighborhood, and there’s another reason now; to show a little bit of kindness and accommodation to people who don’t have multi-million dollar contracts to sneer at others on TV.

Words Have Consequences

Rather than add to the bonfire of outrage over Roseanne Barr and the fact that ABC knew full well what they were getting and were probably ready for her Twitterpation (they were not caught off-guard; they had the press release and the firing orders in draft when they signed the contracts last year), I will simply remind us all that “freedom of speech” doesn’t mean you get off scot-free for saying something hideous.

It should be noted, however, that if every celebrity that tweeted racist and conspiracy shit were fired in three hours and banished from the public stage with such expeditious dispatch as ABC showed Ms. Barr, Trump would have never made it past his descent on his golden escalator in 2015.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

That Old Time Religion

It’s been almost forty years since Jerry Falwell and like-minded ministers saw gold in them thar GOP rubes and hitched their hallelujah wagons to the idea of becoming the busybodies of the nation and make a shitload of money while doing it.  It appeals to both their prurient instincts and their love of money, and it was all tax-free.  Yip-yah!

Now they’ve merged their holier-than-thou lust to the epitome of the conman in Trump who represents the id of these so-called pastors of the Lord: sex and power.  The number of preachers who have been caught with their hands on someone else’s wife or put a rent boy on their American Express has become so numerous that it borders on cliche, and the way they’ve raided the collection basket to feather their 16,000 sq ft “manses” raises the level of tacky to giddy heights. So of course they admire and excuse the excesses of Trump and support his political agenda.  He’s their idol.

It’s reaching the second generation.  Jerry Falwell, Jr. picked up his late daddy’s con with Liberty University, a diploma mill of hatred, bigotry, and superstition, and of course he’s a supporter of Trump. He had him speak to the rapturous crowds (and made attendance mandatory just in case someone had a fit of free will) and backs him on everything from hating the transgenders to booting out the Dreamers because, as we all know, Jesus hated Mexicans.

Not to be outdone by that Jerry-come-lately, though, we have Franklin Graham, the scion of the late Billy Graham who pioneered the path to fame by deigning to talk to presidents.  Now Mr. Graham is going around the country and rallying the foolish and the weak to the Trumpian cause because blatant hypocrisy is all the rage now and there’s always a collection basket at the door.  He’s even marching into the lion’s den of them all, California.

PASADENA, Calif. — Franklin Graham stood in a packed locker room at the Rose Bowl, surrounded by fellow evangelists, pastors, and his top Los Angeles donors. It was two weeks before the California primary, and Mr. Graham was urging them to take a stand against their state’s “blue wall.”

The blue wall of California, Mr. Graham told the gathering, represents secular values that have taken root on the country’s west coast.

“Progressive?” he went on, “That’s just another word for godless.” Now is the time for churches to “suck it up” and vote.

According to the article from the New York Times, Graham is finding big crowds and a lot of money in his hate speech about people who aren’t like Us.  He knows that people are looking for an excuse to justify the blaming of their self-wrought misfortunes on others and ratify the idea that a level playing field is biased against them.  Like a lot of charlatans, he’s very good at finding a problem and blaming it on someone else without offering any sort of solution other than prayer and a plea for more money.  He knows it works, too; it always has.

The exploitation of tribalism is as much a part of human nature as self-pity and flatulence.  It’s the root of nations and religion; we’re Us, they’re the Others, and because we have our self-doubts, they must always be seen as oppressors just waiting to pounce.  Here in this noble experiment of America, we tried to appeal to our better angels, striving for unity of purpose over identity by giving it a new one: a nation of laws, not tribes.  It has always been an uphill struggle; the massacre of the natives under the guise of Manifest Destiny, Reconstruction, the civil rights struggle, the Red Scare, the Cold War, the Sixties, the Southern Strategy, terrorism, and Trumpism have tested the simple concept that yes, we were serious about the idea that all of us are created equal and that we are all entitled to equal protection under the law.

In the case of Mr. Graham and his followers, he is seeking to exploit the fear and loathing that is inherent in the radical idea we should have learned in kindergarten: that it is meet, right, and our bounden duty to share our toys with others and help those who don’t have the same gifts granted by nature or God or whatever it is that gets you through the night.  The notion that Jesus, who, according to the mythology that they claim they hold dear, came along to lift up the least among us would endorse this hatred and Otherism wrapped in the flag and biblical verse should make even the most pious Christian blush with shame.

We have never made it through the nights of fear and loathing without lingering scars and a degree of PTSD, nor have we made it through good times and advancement without backlash from those who thought the status quo was just fine.  Roughly translated it comes out as “I want my country back.”  The problem with that is that it was never “my” country to begin with.  It is Ours.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Sunday Reading

“Mustang Means Freedom”  — James B. Stewart on why Ford decided to keep building the icon.

1965 Ford Mustang*

When Ford Motor all but eliminated passenger cars from its North American lineup earlier this month to concentrate on trucks and S.U.V.s, it turned the page on a long and storied history of now-defunct but once red-hot nameplates: the Model T, the Model A, the Galaxie, the Fairlane, the Thunderbird and the Falcon, to name several.

There was one conspicuous survivor: the Mustang.

“Get rid of the Mustang?” asked James D. Farley Jr., Ford’s president of global markets, when I asked him this week how the Mustang had survived. “The Mustang is like Rocky: It survived the 1970s fuel crisis, the glam 1980s, the move to S.U.V.s. It’s made it through every round of cuts.”

For me, the Mustang’s reprieve came as welcome news: I took my driver’s test in my mother’s 1967 turquoise Mustang notchback. On the rare occasions I was allowed to drive it, it conferred instant status and triggered unabashed envy among my high school classmates.

Wall Street probably would have been just as happy to see the Mustang go the way of the Fusion, Taurus and Fiesta, current models that Ford said it would phase out and which Mr. Farley dismissed as “commodity silhouettes.” (Ford says it will continue to make passenger vehicles, but they just won’t be in the shape of today’s sedan. The Focus, for example, will survive, but as a crossover S.U.V.)

That’s because in its last earnings report, Ford revealed for the first time that a relatively small number of products, including the hugely popular F-150 pickup truck series, accounted for 150 percent of its earnings before interest and taxes, with profit margins in the midteens. Another group was barely profitable. By contrast, Ford said its “low performing” products lost money, with negative margins of more than 10 percent.

Using Ford’s disclosures, Morgan Stanley automotive analyst Adam Jonas extrapolated that the low performing businesses accounted for 40 percent of Ford’s revenue yet sharply reduced the company’s earnings. Ford didn’t say which models fall into the category, but Mr. Jonas included North American passenger cars and Lincoln models. (So far, at least, Ford hasn’t altered its Lincoln lineup, which includes several passenger sedans.)

Mr. Jonas applauded Ford’s decision to drop most of its passenger cars, assuming the company actually follows through on it. “If a disproportionate effort is going into products that don’t make money and consumers don’t want, then what are they doing?” he asked.

Ford doesn’t break out financial results by model, but Mr. Jonas believes the Mustang is modestly profitable. The base hardtop starts at $25,845, but popular options can quickly drive up the cost. The convertible starts at $31,345. The most popular model, the Mustang GT fastback, can easily top $40,000, and the 526-horsepower Shelby GT350 starts at more than $57,000. A racing version of the Mustang Cobra can hit six figures.

“I can’t think of another car where some models sell for four times the base price,“ Mr. Farley said. “We sell a lot of Mustangs that are $70,000.”

The Mustang has continued to sell well. Ford said it sold nearly 126,000 last year in 146 countries and that it was the world’s best-selling sports car. (By contrast, the Toyota Corolla, the world’s best-selling passenger sedan, sold nearly a million cars.)

But the Mustang’s survival isn’t really about numbers. “Five years from now, whether Ford decided to keep the Mustang or not isn’t going to be a material factor,” Mr. Jonas said. “It’s more of an emotional thing. They’re trying to preserve the sexuality of motoring the way it used to be known.”

From the day it was introduced 54 years ago, Mustang was positioned as a stylish, affordable and practical alternative to expensive European sports cars. In various tests, the Mustang GT still compares favorably to the Porsche 911, which starts at over $90,000.

So iconic is the Mustang that it has been commemorated with a Postal Service stamp — twice. The latest one, in 2013, depicts a blue 1967 model bisected by two white stripes.

Mustangs have appeared in countless movies and television shows, becoming an indelible image of American culture. In “Goldfinger,” James Bond ran a white 1965 Mustang convertible with red interior off the road.

Steve McQueen drove a dark green 1968 fastback in “Bullitt,” in which Mustang emerged as a classic “muscle” car. This year Ford is selling a 475-horsepower Bullitt anniversary edition, complete with, in a nod to the original, a cue ball on the stick shift. The Bullitt limited edition sells for $47,495. (The first one off the assembly line sold at a charity auction earlier this year for $300,000.)

A souped-up 1967 Mustang fastback stars in “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.” But Mustangs aren’t all about high testosterone. A 1966 convertible is featured in “The Princess Diaries,” and Ford said 27 percent of Mustang buyers are women.

William Clay Ford Jr., Ford’s executive chairman and the great-grandson of founder Henry Ford, is a Mustang fanatic, with 20 versions in his personal collection. Mr. Ford showed up at the company’s annual Mustang birthday party last month in a navy blue 1968 Mustang Shelby 500 convertible with a white top.

“I put it in the same category as the Corvette,” said Eric Minoff, an automotive specialist at Bonhams auction house in New York. The Mustang “is a cultural icon,” he added. “Even people who don’t know anything about cars recognize a Mustang.”

Next week, Bonhams is auctioning several vintage Mustangs previously owned by Carroll Shelby, the racecar driver and automotive entrepreneur who developed high-performance Shelby Mustangs in collaboration with Ford starting in the 1960s. A 1968 Mustang GT 350 and a 1969 GT 500 are each estimated to fetch $80,000 to $100,000 at the June 3 auction.

I found a turquoise 1967 Mustang notchback that looked identical to my mother’s car listed on the Hemmings vintage car site for $37,900.

Those are surprisingly high prices considering how many Mustangs were made. “After the car first came out, there was a saying that hot cakes are selling like Mustangs,” Mr. Minoff said. “They’re not exactly rare. But no matter how common they are, they’re very attractive cars, and with the V-8 engine and rear-wheel drive, they’re very sporty and fun to drive. The fastback editions, especially with all the options, command quite a premium.”

Mr. Farley described the Mustang as a “mind-set” vehicle. “When we ask people around the world what they think of Ford, they say Mustang,” he said. “Mustang means freedom. It means taking a road trip in a convertible down the West Coast. That’s what people all over the world imagine America to be. Why would we ever give that up?”

*I’ve had three: a 1965 2+2 like the one in the photo, a 1995 GT convertible, and my current one, a 2007 convertible.

Leonard Pitts, Jr. on being reasonable with Trumpers.

We’re going to try something different today. Rather than pontificate yet again upon the motives of Donald Trump’s supporters, I’ll let a few of them explain themselves in their own words.

Here, then, is “Robert” with a comparative analysis of the 44th and 45th presidents:

“President Trump has accomplished more positive things for this nation in less than two years than the last three have accomplished in twenty plus years. After the past eight years of a Muslim Marxist in the White House this nation could not survive another demwit in the White House. … Could you please list one thing the demwit party has done for the black people in America other than hand out government freeies for their continued votes?”

And here’s “Gary’s” take on demographic change:

“[America] has a constitution which guarantees equal rights for all and yet people like you hungar for change that puts people like me in the back of the bus. You seem egar to know what it would be like to be in the driver’s seat. You need look no further than Zimbabwe and South Africa. When people like you started driving the bus, the wheels came off. That’s what terrifies people like me.”

This column is presented as a service for those progressive readers who are struggling with something I said in this space. Namely, that I see no point in trying to reason with Trump voters. I first wrote that over a month ago, and I am still hearing how “disappointed” they are at my refusal to reach out. So I thought it might be valuable to hear from the people I’ve failed to reach out to.

I’m sure some of you think those emails were cherry-picked to highlight the intolerance of Trump voters. They weren’t. They are, in fact, a representative sampling from a single day in May, culled by my assistant, Judi.

It’s still an article of faith for many that the Trump phenomenon was born out of fiscal insecurity, the primal scream of working people left behind by a changing economy. But I don’t think I’ve ever, not once, seen an email from a Trump supporter who explained himself in terms of the factory or the coal mine shutting down.

I have, however, heard from hundreds like “Matthew,” who worries about “immigrants” and “Gerald,” who thinks people of color have an “alliance” against him. Such people validate the verdict of a growing body of scholarship that says, in the words of a new study by University of Kansas professors David N. Smith and Eric Hanley, “The decisive reason that white, male, older and less educated voters were disproportionately pro-Trump is that they shared his prejudices and wanted domineering, aggressive leaders …”

Look, I get it. That’s a hard pill for those progressives who have kin or friends among Trump supporters. We love who we love, even when they — or we — are small, unkind or disappointing. That’s what family is about. We love who we love, and let no one make you feel compelled to apologize for that.

But at the same time, let us be clear-eyed and tough-minded in assessing what’s happened to our country — and why. How else can we salvage it from the likes of “A Trumper” who says Trump was needed to “get things back in order” after the “terrible job” done by President Obama?

He wrote: “We’re sick of paying welfare to so many of your brothers who don’t know what work and integrity mean. I hope you keep writing these articles and reminding my White Christian brothers that we did the right thing and we need to re elect Trump.”

I have two words for those progressives who think it’s possible to “reason” with that:

You first.

Doonesbury — One by one.