Sunday, December 3, 2023

Sunday Reading

Comic Relief — Eric Lach in The New Yorker discovers the point of George Santos.

In early April, when former President Donald Trump was arraigned for the first time, in New York City, a small pro-Trump protest took place outside the criminal courthouse in lower Manhattan. Leading up to the day, there had been concern about what a crowd of election deniers and conspiracists might do when their hero leader was brought before a judge. The N.Y.P.D. had set up barricades and closed off streets around the courthouse. Security in the building itself was jacked up to fortress levels. In the end, though, the pro-Trump crowd was small, and the mood was mellow. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Georgia representative who supports Trump and opposes Jewish space lasers, stopped by and gave a forgettable speech. Jordan Klepper, the former “Daily Show” correspondent, trawled the crowd, interviewing an older woman wearing an American-flag scarf, who was incensed by how much the city had lately reeked of weed. The only moment in which anyone appeared at risk of physical danger was when the Republican congressman George Santos showed up, and dozens of reporters stampeded toward him, thrusting their cameras and microphones in his smirking face. “Guys, guys!” Santos said, delighted. “You’re pushing me!”

By then, Santos, the U.S. representative for New York’s Third District, was already a laughingstock. In December, the Times reported that he had embellished much of his résumé on the campaign trail: he sold himself as the striving son of immigrants, which was true, but also as a responsible, seasoned professional with experience both on Wall Street and in the nonprofit sector. A series of impossibly stupid revelations followed. (E.g., “Santos Was Charged with Theft in 2017 Case Tied to Amish Dog Breeders.”) Then questions turned more pointed. (E.g., “Scrutiny Turns to George Santos’s Campaign Funding.”) Santos insisted that he’d done nothing wrong, but it soon became obvious that his political career, and perhaps his entire existence, was unsustainable. In the scrum outside the courthouse, at Trump’s arraignment, members of the media tried to bait Santos, referring obliquely to different chapters in his strange, fabricated life:

“George, we want to hear about your volleyball career!” someone shouted.

“Are the Russians paying you?” another asked.

“Are you going to Ground Zero?” a third called out.

“This isn’t about me,” Santos said. “You guys should focus on the story.”

“What’s the story?” a fourth voice called out, exasperated. “What’s the story?”

I thought about that question this week, before the House of Representatives finally expelled Santos, in a vote on Friday. Santos had survived two earlier expulsion votes; he is only the third representative expelled from the House since the Civil War. He’ll also go down in history as the first openly gay Republican to win a House seat as a non-incumbent—a fact that attracted some modest public interest when he won, in November, but nothing like the circus that followed. Why did anyone pay such attention to this bizarro Mr. Smith gone to Washington? Why did they care about the strange tale of George Santos? Here’s a theory: focussing on Santos was a way for Democrats to console themselves after their surprising defeats in New York State in 2022. Last year, the state Democratic Party lost control of the decennial redistricting process, blew a bunch of close races, and helped hand control of the House of Representatives to the Republican Party. The story of a con man who won a freakish election by hoodwinking everyone around him was easier to take than one about complex political dynamics and bad decision-making in the suburbs of Long Island and the lower Hudson Valley.

In this telling, Santos is a caricature of American political dysfunction, a serial fabulist who sought power to assuage unfathomable internal inadequacies, and who achieved it only by accident, because the rest of us were not paying enough attention. (It’s worth remembering that a small newspaper on Long Island called the North Shore Leader broke the story of Santos’s falsehoods before the election, but no one reads local news anymore.) The absurd variety of Santos’s lies, and their essential meaninglessness, was another plus. Santos told donors, for instance, that he’d helped produce “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” one of the most accursed flops in recent Broadway history. He told the chair of the Nassau County Republicans that he’d been the “star” of the Baruch College volleyball team. His campaign bio stated that his grandparents, who as far as anyone can tell were born in Brazil, “fled persecution during WWII.” American politics lately has been full of complicated, multiyear story lines intelligible only to paid professionals or fanatics. Santos’s situation was as baroque as any of them, but it could safely be ignored by the public, and even by Santos’s colleagues in Washington. Early last year, there were worries that Santos would become the latest twisted face of the Freedom Caucus, the radical Republicans achieving power and influence by gumming up and embarrassing the House of Representatives. Pretty much anything goes in the Freedom Caucus. But, even among insurrectionists, nihilists, and would-be autocrats, Santos proved to be too much. As his behavior grew more erratic—in recent weeks, he’s taken to walking the halls of Congress holding an unidentified baby—few in Washington remained at Santos’s side. As novel as he was, Santos was also a kind of throwback figure to a time when political scandals were contained, and didn’t threaten the foundations of the entire country. It’s been too easy for notoriety to translate to power recently. It’s reassuring that Santos couldn’t pull off the trick.

In May, a few weeks after Trump was arraigned, federal prosecutors brought charges against Santos related to campaign-finance shenanigans. He’s alleged to have spent campaign donations on Botox, OnlyFans, and credit-card-debt payments. (He has pleaded not guilty.) Several of his former aides and associates are reportedly coöperating with the government. He’ll soon be little more than a footnote, a piece of historical trivia. “Are you finally bringing legitimacy to this process?” Jordan Klepper asked Santos in April, outside the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse. Santos was wearing a light-gray suit and dark sunglasses, and his hair was combed over the top of his head in a way that only accentuated his bald spot. “I am here to support the President of the United States, who is being unfairly attacked,” Santos replied. Maybe it was the proximity of so many Trump fans in costume, but it occurred to me in that moment that what Santos was doing was cosplaying as a politician, nothing more. Even the most cynical members of the federal government failed to arrange a useful role for such a dolt. The public found a role for him, though. For nearly a year, as wars broke out and raged around the world; as a former President faced criminal charges for the first time, while running for President on a platform of political revenge; and as economic expectations did loop-de-loops, Santos was American politics’ comic relief. He played the part beautifully. And, just as quickly as he appeared, he’ll vanish.

Doonesbury — Out and about.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Calling Their Bluff

I’m not as deep in the weeds on the Hunter Biden investigation as some bloggers and news reporters are because I basically don’t care about what the son of the president does in his private life unless it results in corrupting the president himself.  The Republicans on the Hill, however, are all over it; an odd contrast to their indifference to the doings of the Trump kids, but be that as it may, the Biden investigation seems to be flailing through no fault of anyone else but themselves.  They keep hoping for some intransigence on the part of the accused, and he keeps defying them by agreeing to go along with it as if he has nothing to hide.

Hunter Biden is open to testifying publicly before the Republican-led House Oversight Committee on Dec. 13, his lawyer said in a letter sent to the panel Tuesday.

House Republicans subpoenaed the president’s son early this month and summoned him to appear for a closed-door transcribed interview as part of an escalation of Republicans’ impeachment inquiry into the president.

“We have seen you use closed-door sessions to manipulate, even distort the facts and misinform the public. We therefore propose opening the door,” his lawyer Abbe Lowell said in a letter Tuesday to Oversight Committee Chair James Comer, R-Ky.

Comer pushed back at Lowell’s letter in a statement Tuesday morning on X: “Hunter Biden is trying to play by his own rules instead of following the rules required of everyone else. That won’t stand with House Republicans.”

“Our lawfully issued subpoena to Hunter Biden requires him to appear for a deposition on December 13,” he said. “We expect full cooperation with our subpoena for a deposition but also agree that Hunter Biden should have [an] opportunity to testify in a public setting at a future date.”

Well, that just won’t do because testifying in public will just ruin all the plans for going on Fox and saying he’s refusing to cooperate so there must be something he’s hiding.

Jamie Raskin called their bluff with a tinge of sarcasm on the side.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., the ranking member of the Oversight Committee, issued a scathing statement in response, saying Comer’s statement shows that “what the Republicans fear most is sunlight and truth.”

“Let me get this straight. After wailing and moaning for ten months about Hunter Biden and alluding to some vast unproven family conspiracy, after sending Hunter Biden a subpoena to appear and testify, Chairman Comer and the Oversight Republicans now reject his offer to appear before the full Committee and the eyes of the world and to answer any questions that they pose?” Raskin said.

Mr. Biden, your cooperation is ruining this scandal.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Bless Their Hearts

From Florida Politics:

‘Bless their hearts, they have no shame.’

One Florida congresswoman balked at U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson touting the heavy infrastructure investments at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor called it “awkward” and “shameful” to cheer a project funded by a $1-trillion infrastructure package Johnson voted against. Castor, a Tampa Democrat, supported that bill.

The infrastructure package passed on a 228-206 vote in the House, with just 13 Republicans crossing the aisle to support the bill. Florida’s House delegation broke along party lines.

The massive spending package included some $15 billion dedicated to airports. Much of that has landed in Castor’s district, at Tampa International Airport, and some went to a neighboring district represented by U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Longboat Key Republican.

But neither Johnson nor Buchanan supported the package when it passed in Congress in 2021.

“The infrastructure dollars have been a godsend,” Castor said. “It did take some Republican votes to pass. But no Florida Republicans supported the infrastructure law. There are too many Republicans who voted against the infrastructure law who are taking credit now for improvements to airports, ports, toxic cleanups.”

“Bless their hearts, they have no shame,” Castor added, punctuating her disdain.

Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport specifically received $16 million in federal funding over three installments since becoming law. That’s a significant chunk of the $100 million expansion currently underway at the airport.

But at this point, Castor isn’t surprised.

“This is now a very awkward Republican tradition,” she said. “Sen. Rick Scott did it when he touted Everglades funding after he voted against it. These infrastructure investments are very popular with Floridians, who know they create jobs and are improving our lives.

“Speaker Johnson just joined the club of ‘vote no and take the dough.’”

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term “Bless their hearts,” it’s Southern polite for “Fuck you.”

No surprise here that the Republicans who voted against the infrastructure bill would try to take credit for it; Joe Biden has said as much on the campaign trail in Iowa and other places where the money is being put to use and the local GOP toads are taking all the credit.  That includes Sen. Tommy Tuberville (RWN-AL), who has demonstrated that stupidity is a chronic condition.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Hey, Democrats, Try Something New

Here we go again: another round of polls that show the Democrats and their incumbent president in the crapper a year before the election, and the Very Serious Pundits and chat-show denizens believe that they’re doomed.

Bradley Beychok in Salon has some advice: knock it off.

After another blockbuster election night for Democrats, Chris Hayes tweeted, “The political experience of the Biden era for Democrats is: extended periods of intense anxiety about terrible polling, occasionally punctuated by strangely positive election nights. And then the cycle repeats.”

I’m here to let you in on a little secret – we don’t have to keep doing this.

If you want to put money on this election, smart money is on Joe Biden winning again in 2024. How do I know? I watch Republicans all day, I don’t have the mysterious presidential election cycle amnesia half of Washington has caught, and I trust election results over the poll du jour.

In 2010, I co-founded the opposition research hub American Bridge 21st Century. Our mission remains the same — to track Republicans and hold them accountable.

For thirteen years, I’ve gotten dozens of daily reports from our team monitoring GOP candidates across the country. Here’s what’s clear — Donald Trump cannibalized the Republican Party. A decade ago if you told me my inbox would be filled with mainstream Republicans defending insurrectionists, calling to ban Bud Light, and attacking our military, I would have said: Lay off the hallucinogens.

If you told me the GOP Speaker of the House monitors his own son’s porn consumption, I’m not sure I would have continued in this line of work.

But here we are.

Today, MAGA rules the day in Congress and up and down the Republican ballot. Voters outside the GOP primary ecosystem, especially women, have rejected these Republicans and their extreme abortion bans right where it counts: the ballot box.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at the results we have seen since the midterms. Voters in Ohio overwhelmingly supported two ballot measures in favor of abortion and marijuana rights — not exactly Republicans’ favorite positions.

Kentucky Democratic Governor Andy Beshear cruised to re-election. In what Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade called an “epic failure” for GOP Governor Glenn Youngkin, Virginia Democrats held their Senate and flipped the House of Delegates.

I’ll keep going. Democrats defeated Republican anti-abortion extremist Carolyn Carluccio, electing a liberal to serve on Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court. And in April, Democrats flipped Wisconsin’s Supreme Court by 11 points.

Watching the news and hearing pundits breathlessly regurgitate presidential polls, like the recent ones from the New York Times/Siena and CNN, you’d think Democrats were doomed — not sweeping elections. I’ve been around this town long enough to remember this panicked framing always happens, like clockwork, and it’s always premature.

Here’s a quick look at some headlines at this point in the 2012 cycle: Poll: Obama hits all-time low, Obama trails Mitt Romney in new Quinnipiac poll, and Gas Prices Slam Mobility — and Obama’s Popularity Too.

Sound familiar?

I know what you’re thinking — there’s a big difference between President Obama in 2011 and President Biden now. You’re right. Biden’s economy is stronger, we have a lengthy list of legislative and policy-driven wins, and his likely opponent is a man facing 91 felony counts who’s been found liable for sexual abuse and whose biggest accomplishment was cutting taxes for the wealthy and big corporations — putting Social Security and Medicare at risk.

Another big difference between first-term Obama and first-term Biden? Republicans overturned Roe v. Wade. For the first time in nearly 50 years, abortion is no longer a constitutional right.

In red states and blue states, women voters have a unified message for Trump and his band of merry extremists: We’re not having it. Seven states have voted to protect abortion access since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade.. Voters, especially women voters, are fed up and don’t want to support Republicans. The results at the ballot box prove that.

Trump may be able to shoot someone on 5th Avenue and walk, but as the face of the anti-choice movement, he doesn’t stand a chance of stopping this force. He nominated the justices who tore down Roe. He promised to punish people who had abortions. He’s been an anti-abortion extremist from the start.

Protecting democracy and reproductive freedom are the key issues fueling the electoral juggernaut that is women.

I propose Democrats create a new political experience for the next year – ignore these polls, talk to voters about the issues that matter to them (abortion rights, freedom, democracy), get folks to the polls, then repeat on November 5, 2024.

I get tired of having to tell people that polls this far out are as useless as tits on a snake, but it sells newspapers and gets the fretters time on cable TV.  Sometimes I think they do it because they like to see people freak out the same way they like to play Invisible Ball with the dog or laser pointer with the cat.  But even the dog gets wise, and the cat will crap in your slippers if you keep doing it.

I also think a lot of people like to fuck with the pollsters.  Certainly the temptation is there: “Hello, I’m calling from Fred’s Opinion Survey and I’d like to ask about your views on the upcoming election.”  At that point I am sure they get a lot of people saying they’d vote for Kwame Nkruma if he was on the ballot, and the fact that Trump is going around sounding off like Josef Goebbels about crushing vermin doesn’t get a rise out of people who are more interested in finding out who Taylor Swift is sweet on.  All the facts — and they are facts — about the rebounding economy, gas prices below $3 a gallon, inflation under 3%, and people are being hired in record numbers gets swept away by a TikTok video of someone with a $16 receipt from McDonald’s.

In some ways I wish the Democrats were more like the Republicans: falling in behind their leader regardless whether or not he’s sounding like a lunatic.  And can it with the chatter about a terrible choice between the two party leaders.  I’ve been hearing that as long as I’ve been watching elections: Kennedy vs. Nixon, LBJ vs. Goldwater, Humphrey vs. Nixon, Nixon vs. McGovern…. you get the idea.  Suck it up, promote the issues that matter, and vote already.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Sunday Reading

Those Cagey Canadians — Charlie Pierce on pushing the panic button over a car accident.

I have been long convinced that it’s time for this country to take a knee, take a few plays off, go into the tent on the sidelines, and enter the concussion protocol. Our bell has been rung so loudly that we can’t hear ourselves think any more, which is probably just as well, because what we’re thinking in many cases is not worth hearing anyway.

Earlier this week, a couple from Grand Island, New York, named Kurt and Monica Villani, were in something of a hurry to get to a night out in Canada. They headed at high speed toward the Rainbow Bridge that connects the United States and Canada. (Some reports have it that the Villanis, disappointed that a Kiss concert on this side of the bridge had been cancelled, were heading for a casino on the other side.) Video from the border crossing show a white car speeding around a corner and suddenly going airborne, banking just a bit to starboard as it goes out of frame. The car landed hard and exploded on impact, taking out a border security building with it. It is quite the video.

Shortly thereafter, elements of the American media and the American political establishments went completely out of their minds. They instantly snapped to a war footing, claiming that the car was coming from Canada (Wrong) and that it was loaded with explosives (Also Wrong) possibly to commit terrorism in the United States (Also, horribly, inexcusably wrong.) The original source for this wrongness was a quick-draw dispatch from a Fox News reporter. And that was enough for people who should’ve known better, but clearly don’t. Come on down, Vivek Ramaswamy. From the CBC:

That didn’t stop a candidate for president of the United States from appearing on Fox News to promote an aspect of his platform: Building a border wall with Canada. “I have been sounding the alarm bell about the northern border for a long time,” said Vivek Ramaswamy during a lengthy interview about an incident he did not witness, was not a subject-matter expert on, and had no insight into. “This is a mounting crisis. We’re ignoring it.”

Someone should explain the concept of “due diligence” to Captain Nuisance before his campaign finally crashed and burns.

Pretty soon, some of the rest of the boogedy-boogedy chorale chimed in, featuring guest soloist Senator Ted Cruz:

This confirms our worst fear: the explosion at Rainbow Bridge was a terrorist attack. Both attackers are dead, and one law enforcement officer is injured. I am praying that officer makes a full recovery and is able to spend Thanksgiving surrounded by family and loved ones. Thank you to our law enforcement officers who are remaining vigilant and working to protect Americans traveling for Thanksgiving.

This idiocy, first posted on Wednesday, was still up as of 2:30 p.m. Friday. If the senator wants to be a talk-show host, he should give up his day job because he is plainly not good at it.

Some of the lesser voices in the chorale had their moments, too. Kari Lake, the inexplicable presence from Arizona, blamed the administration’s “open borders” policy for this obvious terrorism event.

Rep. Byron Donalds, last seen being beheaded at a hearing by Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, said, “Today’s apparent terrorist attack must be a wake-up call to all Americans.” Go back to bed, dude. Then there’s Senator Rick Scott: “We know that threats against America are on the rise.” Only if you go back into the health-care business.

And his colleague in the House, Anna Paulina Luna called for an immediate panic attack: “So it begins. We need to lock down the borders immediately. Full deportation efforts need to begin. The US does not need to be the world’s hospitality suite any longer.”

And because Florida insists on electing one of its roadside reptile farms to Congress, Rep. Cory Mills also suggested we have a national nervous breakdown: “Probing attacks, a compromised or detected bomber, secondary trigger man, malfunction, or diversionary attack away from S. Border should not be out of consideration.”

Especially on nights when Kiss cancels a gig.

The unreconsructed seditionist caucus checked in. Rep. Ronny Jackson, who once looked at El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago and saw Josh Allen, drew on his vast reservoir of intemperance: “God bless our Border Patrol. Early reports are that this attack in New York was terror related and that two people have been killed by this reported car bomb. This is terrible news for our country, but not surprising to anyone based on the wide open borders we have had since Biden took office.” Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, who wanted a pardon after January 6, was quite disturbed: “Praying for our CBP officials and first responders. Our borders are under attack and the Biden Administration continues to sit on its hands. It’s long past time to put Americans first.” And to obey all posted speed limits. And Rep. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania, of whom I know next to nothing, opined, “I’m incredibly alarmed by reports of an attempted terror attack at the U.S.-Canada border. For months, I’ve warned about the surge of suspected terrorists entering through our Northern border. We must greatly enhance border security at ALL of our borders, including the North.”

Political opportunism is one thing. I understand it. I expect it. But when its immediate side effect is having the entire country hide under the bed is a whole ‘nother thing. The Republic would be infinitely better off if politicians were banned from social media. I’m sorry if this inconveniences politicians I happen to like, but desperate times, etc. I’m fed up.

I had a hard lesson myself on this back on April 15, 2013. When the Tsarnaev brothers attacked the Boston Marathon, I wrote almost immediately that it was close to April 19, which is kind of a high holy day for America’s rightwing extremists. The Waco siege ended on April 19, 1993 and, then, Timothy McVeigh memorialized it by blowing up the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City two years later. When it became plain that the crime was perpetrated by a couple of local DIY terrorists from central Asia, I took considerable heat from starboard for pinning the act prematurely on America’s well-regulated duck boot militia. And, sadly, much of it was correct.

In fact, Canada has had the sad experience of Americans jumping to conclusions and landing on its head once before. From the CBC:

The afternoon of speculation rekindled rough memories for Canada from the 9/11 era, where American fears of cross-border terrorism resulted in a long-term tightening of the border. Incorrect reports that the hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001 entered from Canada compounded fears fuelled by the deadliest terrorist attack in American history. Canadian diplomats in Washington spent years trying to dispel that canard, as it had created a real-world impact on Canada’s economy and its major international border. On Fox News, one anchor was well aware of this history: network host John Roberts, a Canadian, said it wasn’t clear what exactly had happened Wednesday. Roberts asked: “Is this foreign-born terrorism? Is it domestic terrorism? We don’t know.” He did note, accurately, that, a year and a half before the Sept. 11 attacks, a would-be terrorist bomber, Ahmed Ressam, was stopped at the border entering from Canada.

Let us face facts. No country ever had a better neighbor than we have in Canada. We’ve invaded it twice, and even put two hockey teams in Florida, and they’ve been remarkably understanding of our now regularly scheduled mental-health episodes. We could learn a lot from that, once we’re out of the concussion protocol and declared physically capable of thinking again.

Doonesbury — Infectious humor.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Saving Mike’s Ass

From Charlie Pierce:

Headlines You Will Never See, Part The MCMXLV: Democrats Vote To Keep Government Open; Save Speaker’s Ass. From the Washington Post:

The House passed a short-term funding bill Tuesday that would avert a government shutdown Saturday, a major victory for new Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), who faced competing demands from different factions in his party. The bill would fund some government departments until mid-January and the rest through early February. It does not include spending cuts or policy changes that Republican hard-liners sought. A shutdown would leave legions of federal employees without pay just before the Thanksgiving holiday.

As far as I know, there were no outbreaks of Republican-on-Republican crime on Wednesday morning, but that doesn’t mean that Republican-on-Republican scheming has taken a holiday. From Politico:

Many House conservatives are fuming that Johnson — the most ideologically conservative speaker in decades — refused to take a hard line in his first attempt negotiating with Democrats and instead leaned on them for help. In the end, more Democrats voted for the measure than Republicans, in nearly identical numbers to the September stopgap measure that triggered McCarthy’s firing. Some tore into his strategy in a closed-door meeting Tuesday, arguing that his plan, which would allow funding levels set under Nancy Pelosi to persist for months, is tantamount to surrender. They’re not looking to oust Johnson over it. But some conservatives are privately entertaining other ways to retaliate.

Cue the organ music.

One tactic under discussion is the same one they used against McCarthy after he struck a debt deal they hated: holding the House floor hostage by tanking procedural votes. “There is a sentiment that if we can’t fight anything, then let’s just hold up everything,” said Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), one of several frustrated Freedom Caucus members who has huddled with the speaker multiple times this week.

If those divisions worsen — like if conservatives make good on their threat to start blocking bills from coming to the floor — some centrist Republicans pointed out that would just increase their incentive to join forces with Democrats. Republicans openly shifting to that strategy would amount to a historic shift in House power dynamics. “It just forces us to work with Democrats — these guys play checkers, they don’t play chess,” said centrist Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.).

At least, what’s left of their higher functions as the prion disease takes a toll was clear enough that they realized that firing Johnson for cutting the same kind of deal as the one that did Kevin McCarthy in would probably fasten the red rubber nose on the GOP permanently.

There are a few reasons conservatives won’t push a mutiny 20 days into Johnson’s speakership, an effort Rep. Andy Ogles (R-Tenn.) characterized as “untenable.” But mainly, Johnson doesn’t have the same stubborn trust issues that plagued his predecessor. McCarthy and his allies argue he was ousted not for working with Democrats to pass a spending bill, but largely due to personal animus among the eight GOP members who voted against him, particularly the leader of the rebellion, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.).

Nevertheless, the violence is clearly simmering not far below the surface. If the Senate balks at this deal, I expect the opening scene from Gangs of New York to break out in the Speaker’s lobby. We will keep you posted on any further outbreaks.

Spoiler Alert: The Senate passed the bill and it’s on the way to the White House.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Kids’ Party

After elbowing in the hall and fist-fights brewing in the Senate, what have we come down to?  Andy Borowitz finds the awful truth.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (The Borowitz Report)—Millions of Americans are terrified by the dawning realization that Rep. Mike Johnson is the adult in the room, millions of Americans have confirmed.

Across the country, residents of the United States were initially cheered by the possibility that an adult was in the room, but were immediately shattered by the discovery that said adult was Rep. Johnson.

In particular, they wondered what sort of adult would deny the outcome of a legitimate election, believe that the separation of church and state is a myth, and declare that same-sex marriage is a “dark harbinger of chaos and sexual anarchy that could doom even the strongest republic.”

While a substantial number of Americans conceded that the Speaker of the House appears to be an adult when compared with Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, or Matt Gaetz, they disagreed that such a dubious distinction earns him even a remote claim to adulthood.

All in all, there seems to be a broad consensus that, if Mike Johnson is in fact the adult in the room, the room is totally screwed.

We should amend the Constitution so that one of the requirements for running for Congress include a degree in child psychology.

Monday, November 13, 2023

Don’t Say You Did Nazi That Coming

From the Washington Post:

Former president Donald Trump denigrated his domestic opponents and critics during a Veterans Day speech Saturday, calling those on the other side of the aisle “vermin” and suggesting that they pose a greater threat to the United States than countries such as Russia, China or North Korea. That language is drawing rebuke from historians, who compared it to that of authoritarian leaders.

“We pledge to you that we will root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country that lie and steal and cheat on elections,” Trump said toward the end of his speech, repeating his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. “They’ll do anything, whether legally or illegally, to destroy America and to destroy the American Dream.”

Sound familiar?  Perhaps you need to refresh your memory:

Nature is cruel; therefore we are also entitled to be cruel. When I send the flower of German youth into the steel hail of the next war without feeling the slightest regret over the precious German blood that is being spilled, should I not also have the right to eliminate millions of an inferior race that multiplies like vermin?

That was Adolf Hitler in 1942 while the ovens were running full-blast at Auschwitz and other camps in Europe.

More from the Post article:

“The language is the language that dictators use to instill fear,” said Timothy Naftali, a senior research scholar at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. “When you dehumanize an opponent, you strip them of their constitutional rights to participate securely in a democracy because you’re saying they’re not human. That’s what dictators do.”

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a historian at New York University, said in an email to The Washington Post that “calling people ‘vermin’ was used effectively by Hitler and Mussolini to dehumanize people and encourage their followers to engage in violence.”

And here’s Trump’s campaign mouthpiece doing a great impersonation of Josef Goebbels:

Steven Cheung, a Trump campaign spokesman, told The Post “those who try to make that ridiculous assertion are clearly snowflakes grasping for anything because they are suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome and their entire existence will be crushed when President Trump returns to the White House.”

“Their entire existence will be crushed”?  Lining up the boxcars and dusting off the Arbeit Macht Frei banners are you?

The first question at every Republican news conference, debate, and TV interview with a member of that party should be “Do you think your opponents are vermin?  Yes or no?”  And don’t let them off the hook.  And if they are shocked, shocked to hear that kind of language, remind them that he has been talking like that since the beginning.  Don’t say you didn’t know; you were counting on it.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Sunday Reading

Sorry, Moms — Amanda Marcotte in Salon on the poor showing the ironically-named Moms for Liberty had last week.

“We have more people. That’s a huge part.”

Jane Cramer, a mother from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, explained to Salon earlier this year that she felt good about the ragtag team she’d helped assemble to boot Moms for Liberty, the well-funded conservative parents’ rights group, off of her local school board. “We’re not organized in the best ways necessarily, but it kind of all fell into place,” Cramer told me. “And we’re all obsessed a little bit.”

Last month, I published an investigative report about how Moms for Liberty, a group dedicated to rewiring American education toward the far right, had taken over the board of education in the Pennridge School District, about half an hour outside Philadelphia. Moms for Liberty, a heavily funded astroturf organization linked to GOP leadership, wasn’t especially subtle in its strategies, pinpointing a handful of swing districts in purple states, like Virginia and Pennsylvania, and targeting school board elections, which are usually low turnout and easy to win. Once installed, Moms for Liberty members started banning books and Pride flags, as well as protesting that teachers were “grooming” kids with “smut,” which usually meant either a history book or acclaimed, age-appropriate fiction. The idea was to create moral panics around sex and race that could tip national elections towards Republicans.

Well, it backfired.

As I reported, parents in the Pennridge district eager to fight back against right-wing radicals formed the Ridge Network and got the word out, arguing to voters that the group was degrading the quality of the public schools. This week, those efforts paid off: Democrats won all five of the open school board seats in the district, wresting control away from Moms for Liberty.

By the time this election rolled around, Moms for Liberty seemed to have already realized their brand had become poisonous. As the Daily Beast reported, “In 2021, Moms for Liberty claimed credit for 33 seats in Bucks County,” but in this election cycle, the group “endorsed only a single candidate in the county.” The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that some Republican candidates wanted the group to keep its distance, fearful of the taint. And that was my sense of things in the Pennridge district this fall. School board members who had links to Moms for Liberty tried to downplay it and ended up getting outed by investigators from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

The school board election is the latest in an escalating series of victories for the Ridge Network and other resistance efforts in Pennsylvania. Last month, the Democratic-controlled state legislature held hearings about the threat of book banning, allowing parents and educators to speak out. One of those parents, Darren Laustsen, told Salon about his attempts to expose backdoor book banning at Pennridge, which involved books mysteriously being “checked out” so that students couldn’t read them all year. In late October, he won a lawsuit against the school district over what the judge called a “cover-up” of such secretive book bans.

But Laustsen isn’t resting on his laurels. He’s still out there raising awareness of the radicalism of Moms for Liberty. He recently tweeted a story about Moms for Liberty activists demanding the arrests of librarians for letting kids read young adult novels, adding, “I am so tired of these psychos.”

It’s remarkable how swiftly Moms for Liberty became such an albatross organization. As many Pennridge parents complained to Salon, much of the initial media coverage of the group was credulous, buying into the false narrative that it’s a grassroots group of normal parents who are simply “concerned” about liberal “excesses.” In reality, the group was founded in 2021 by the wife of the chair of the Florida Republican Party and was immediately so well-resourced and fully staffed that it could only be they were propped up by secretive, wealthy donors.

The suspicious aura of money around the group was interesting to journalists, but what really damaged Moms for Liberty was that they underestimated the intelligence of the people in the communities they were targeting. The parents of Pennridge were not fooled by attempts to characterize literary fiction as “pornography.” Local residents also feared that rewriting history classes to adhere to right-wing mythologies would ultimately harm the school’s reputation, which could hurt both their property values and the ability of their kids to get into good colleges. Above all, multiple parents expressed a belief that schools should be preparing kids for the real world. They worried that right-wing whitewashing of history, social studies and other courses would leave kids without the basic skills necessary to thrive in a diverse, dynamic society.

Moms for Liberty was started, in a fairly obvious manner, to help boost the national prospects of Republicans. So it’s a delicious irony that, in two short years, the organization is mostly known as a symbol of the MAGA extremism that is driving down the overall popularity of the GOP, leading to yet another election cycle where Democrats overperformed expectations. The group was meant to put a family-friendly gloss on right-wing extremism. Instead, they got parents and teachers, many who barely have time to work and care for their families, to become political organizers. Messing with people’s schools was not, it turned out, a genius political strategy.

Doonesbury — It’s only a game.

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Who’s Crazy Now?

Humor from Andy Borowitz:

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Expressing concern about the wife of the new Speaker of the House, Ginni Thomas said that Kelly Johnson “seems a little crazy” to her.

“I don’t know Kelly personally, so this is just based on what I’ve read,” Thomas said. “But I have to say—she comes off like kind of a crackpot.”

Noting that the operating agreement of Johnson’s counselling company, Onward Christian Counseling, appears to equate sex outside of marriage with bestiality, Thomas added, “I saw that and I was, like, ‘Whoa, Nelly! Looks like we’ve got a bit of a loony tune here.’ ”

Thomas said she became “even more alarmed” when she read that Johnson offers “temperament counseling” based on the teachings of the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates.

“Someone has to tell her to dial it back a smidge,” Thomas said. “When you’re married to one of the most powerful people in the government, you can’t go around sounding like you’re cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.”

John Cole from Balloon Juice:

One of the more infuriating things about people in the mainstream starting to wake up to the fact that the Republicans are overtly all about Christian nationalists is remembering all the times I argued with people and they ignored me- “Trust me they don’t just want to stop at 16 weeks they want to end it for everyone and ending abortion is just the beginning” and get met with “no they don’t just a few crazy ones.” As Americans become less religious the ones who are religious have become louder and more crazy. And I am just tired of their stranglehold on public policy.

I hear it’s nice in Nuremberg this time of year.

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Save-A-Soul Mission

Amanda Marcotte in Salon looks at the evangelical fervor that Speaker Mike Johnson uses to save America from Danny DeVito dressed up like Satan.  No, really.

Ours is an age where once-hoary clichés have been given new life by the rise of right wing authoritarianism: “The banality of evil.” “First they came for the [fill in the blank].” “2+2=5.” Then there is the famous quote, translated from Voltaire: “Those who can make you believe in absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” That’s the one that popped into my mind when I read that newly-elected Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., believed demons were attacking his family through the TV set.

Johnson largely managed to keep his name out of the national news before his ascendance as the highest-ranking Republican on Capitol Hill. That’s why he won, as Republicans hoped to conceal his far-right radicalism under the veil of ignorance. But prior to the current unearthing of Johnson’s long history of creepy and fascistic behavior, he did get a small amount of national attention in September 2022 for posting an ’80s-style Satanic panic about a cartoon show on FX.

“Devilish Danny DeVito Cartoon Sparks GOP Satanic Panic,” read a Daily Beast headline in September of last year. “Disney and FX have decided to embrace and market what is clearly evil,” Johnson said of a series called “Little Demon,” which, ironically, is a comedy show about how the devil’s daughter has declined to become the Antichrist. Johnson describes sprinting to change the channel from the trailer, lest the tendrils of hell emanating from this show, which also stars Aubrey Plaza, somehow snag his children.

Despite being roundly mocked on social media for these hysterics, he doubled down on his podcast, insisting, “This is not frivolous, light-hearted entertainment,” but “serious, eternal business.” Yes, he argued people are literally going to hell for laughing at Danny DeVito playing a satirical version of the Prince of Darkness.

This is, after all, the same politician who once fought to secure taxpayer funding for a Noah’s Ark-based theme park. Yes, he did so out of conviction that a literal flood wiped out all life on Earth except an old man, his family and a boatful of animals around 2300 B.C. Never mind that there are historical records of thriving, well-documented civilizations like Mesopotamia and Egypt at the time, and they did not disappear into a flood. The Noah exhibit even claimed dinosaurs were on the boat, which did not stop Johnson from arguing that “what we read in the Bible are actual historical events.”

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour,” Johnson wrote on Facebook, quoting the Bible to justify his belief that a cartoon show is literally demon-possessed.

I was reminded of a quote from Carl Sagan’s classic defense of science, “The Demon-Haunted World“: “The Bible is full of so many stories of contradictory moral purpose that every generation can find scriptural justification for nearly any action it proposes—from incest, slavery, and mass murder to the most refined love, courage, and self-sacrifice.” As I argued on Monday, Johnson’s career is a perfect example. Johnson’s starting position is clearly a desire to prop up a patriarchal system that oppresses women and LGBTQ people. The Bible is backfill — there as rationalization, not reason.

It’s important to understand that most fundamentalists like Johnson “believe” that Noah’s ark was real or Satan controls Disney in a very different way than most people understand the word “believe.” It’s not an assertion about reality in the same sense as saying, for instance, that October 31 is Halloween. An assertion is valued for how it makes them feel or whether it helps them get power. Evangelical culture is full of these quasi-beliefs, from creationism to urban legends about everyday encounters with angels.

We can know they don’t really believe half the crap they say because they don’t act like people who believe it. When they get sick, most creationists go running to medical doctors, whose practice only works because the theory of evolution is true. Johnson wasn’t really afraid his TV was a portal for demonic possession, or he would have thrown the whole machine out. And certainly, no one literally believes Donald Trump is a Bible-believing Christian, but since it suits their purposes to claim he is, they will “believe” he is saved by the cleansing powers of Jesus Christ.

“Belief” is less about actual views on the nature of reality, and more about claims that serve their personal or political purposes. I often refer to an illuminating 2008 Patheos blog post by Fred Clark, regarding his efforts, when he was with the church, to dissuade people from spreading the lie that a Satanic cult secretly ran Proctor & Gamble. As he wrote, “no one is stupid enough to really believe such a story.” When they were presented with evidence that P&G is not a Satanic cult, they did not express relief, which is what a person sincerely misled would do. They got defensive and angry. That’s because it felt good to them to claim P&G is a Satanic cult. It allowed them to feel self-righteous and titillated at the same time, an intoxicating combination that no fact can compete with.

This is why Trump has done so well with evangelicals, despite his utter contempt for their faith and his lifetime of unrepentant philandering. His life philosophy, where what is “true” is whatever he wants to believe, fits nicely within the demon-haunted rhetoric of the Christian right, where Noah’s ark is real but science is not. The “belief” that the election was stolen from Trump isn’t a statement of fact but of loyalty to the tribe. That’s why most Republicans now claim Trump didn’t try to steal the election, as if they simply didn’t see the months of loud, showy efforts to do so. They know in their hearts it’s not true, but the false thing feels better to say.

That’s why it’s not a mere sideshow when Christian politicians like Johnson sign off on goofy beliefs in Satanic TV shows or ark-riding dinosaurs. This is not a minor eccentricity. It’s a whole worldview, one where there is no “belief” too silly or impossible, so long as it serves the political goals of the Christian right. As Voltaire noted, it’s not just about the absurdity, but the atrocity. Because they are so comfortable “believing” that which they know not to be true, it was a breeze for Republicans to go along with Trump’s Big Lie — and therefore the atrocities that were committed in service of it, such as the Capitol riot.

PS: If you’re a theatre person, you know where I got the title of the post.  “Follow the fold….”

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Sunday Reading

How We Got A Wingnut As Speaker of the House — Jonathan Blitzer in The New Yorker.

On Wednesday morning, after House Republicans nominated Representative Mike Johnson, of Louisiana, as their fourth candidate for Speaker in a span of three weeks, many in Washington were forced to admit how little they knew about the man who was about to be second in line for the Presidency. The Republican senator Susan Collins said she’d have to Google him. In a conference of bracing personalities, Johnson’s relative anonymity to the wider world was an advantage. Trim and bespectacled, with dark hair and a youthful face, he blends in rather than stands out. Democrats call him “Jim Jordan in a coat,” because of his history of taking radically conservative positions—especially on the 2020 election, which he refused to certify—and presenting them with lawyerly polish. Hours before Johnson won the vote on the House floor, on Wednesday afternoon, without a single Republican defection, I asked a former senior G.O.P. aide how moderate members could justify voting against Jordan but for Johnson. Their politics are nearly indistinguishable; Johnson, who sits on Jordan’s Judiciary Committee, once compared their relationship to being “like Batman and Robin.” The aide replied, “Have you ever heard of Mike Johnson?”

Johnson, a fifty-one-year-old constitutional lawyer, came to Washington the same year Donald Trump did. He had served briefly in the Louisiana state house, but he was better known as an attorney pursuing conservative causes. “Some people are called to pastoral ministry,” he said, when he first ran for Congress. “I was called to legal ministry, and I’ve been out on the front lines of the ‘culture war.’ ” As an attorney and spokesperson for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a right-wing advocacy organization, he appeared twice before the Louisiana Supreme Court to defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Within a few years in Washington, Johnson emerged as a trusted member of the Party—an unflinching partisan combatant in a conference lurching to the right. “Everyone likes him,” the former aide told me. He chaired the Republican Study Committee, the largest conservative faction in the House, and joined Trump’s defense team during the President’s first impeachment.

The key to Johnson’s current standing among House Republicans is his role in the aftermath of the 2020 election. Trump’s refusal to accept the result put his congressional supporters in a bind. Their base shared Trump’s belief in the illegitimacy of the outcome, but privately the Party’s top leaders admitted that the President was unhinged. Apostates such as Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, who sat on the January 6th committee, have since been ostracized by the G.O.P. But at the time even hard-right Republicans, including members of the notoriously obstructionist Freedom Caucus, were uncomfortable invalidating the vote. “History will judge this moment,” Chip Roy, the Texas Republican, said, in a closed-door Party meeting on January 5th. “If a majority of Republicans vote to reject the electors, it will irrevocably empower Congress to take over the selection of Presidential electors.”

Johnson had proposed an alternative that allowed members to skirt the question. According to a detailed report, published last year in the Times, he suggested that House Republicans could vote against certifying the results not just because of fraud, which no one could prove, but on arcane legal grounds. “Constitutional infirmity,” Johnson called them. Many states had modified their voting procedures in response to the pandemic. But in the process, he argued, they had violated the Constitution. According to Johnson’s theory, they could only make changes to election protocol with the approval of each state’s own legislature; as a result, Republicans could rule out the results. “I am a lawyer. I don’t engage in conspiracy theory,” Johnson told my colleague Isaac Chotiner at the time. “I have gone to great lengths to say, ‘We have to be intellectually consistent about this.’ It’s not just about the support of Donald Trump in 2020. It’s about the institutions themselves.”

That December, Johnson tweeted out his theory of the case around the time that the attorney general of Texas was filing a petition before the U.S. Supreme Court to discount Joe Biden’s wins in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Georgia. On the morning of December 9th, Johnson, who planned to submit an amicus brief in the case, was gathering signatures from House Republicans when he heard from Trump. “Someone showed the President my post, I guess, and he called me and said he was so glad we were doing this,” Johnson told Chotiner. Within an hour, Johnson wrote an e-mail to his colleagues with the subject line “Time sensitive message request from President Trump.”

“Dear Friends,” he began. “President Trump called me this morning to express his great appreciation for our effort to file an amicus brief in the Texas case on behalf of members of Congress.” Then, in bolded and underlined red type, he added, “He specifically asked me to contact all Republican members of the House and Senate today and request that all join on to our brief.” The next day, a hundred and five lawmakers signed on. Prominent leaders, including former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, held out—which enraged Trump. Within another day, twenty more had signed the letter. One of the last to do so, citing a technical glitch for his delay, was McCarthy.

On Tuesday night, with the Party coalescing behind him, Johnson appeared on Capitol Hill to take questions from the press. Predictably, someone asked about the certification scheme. Johnson smiled and shook his head. The members surrounding him booed; one told the reporter to “shut up.”

Johnson’s power has followed from his discretion. In 2020, he managed to give Trump and the Republican base what they wanted, while claiming that he was plotting a principled course of his own. His canniness has paid off. Earlier this week, the Party’s third-ranking member of leadership, Tom Emmer, of Minnesota, was eliminated from contention for Speaker after Trump and the far right attacked him for being insufficiently conservative. Of the viable candidates still in the running, he was the only one who’d voted to certify the 2020 election. Yet there were others in the conference who’d opposed the bids of Jordan and Steve Scalise because they had refused to certify those results. One of them was Ken Buck, of Colorado. When he and I recently spoke, Buck told me that the old Jim Jordan wouldn’t recognize the person he’d become. But now Buck supported Johnson. On CNN, Abby Phillip asked him how he could square the two positions. “Jim Jordan was involved in much of the post-election activity,” he said, stammering a bit. “Mike Johnson was not. He voted to decertify, absolutely. That wasn’t my vote. But we need to move forward.”

Johnson is the most conservative Speaker in recent memory, perhaps ever. Last year, for instance, Johnson introduced a bill to prohibit discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity at any institution that receives federal funds. After the Supreme Court repealed Roe v. Wade, Johnson called it “an historic and joyful day.” He has also said that the landmark abortion case “gave constitutional cover to the elective killing of unborn children in America, period.” In a move sure to cause friction with some Republicans, he’s also voted to block further funding for Ukraine. Republican moderates, particularly those in districts that Biden won, may feel uneasy about their new leader, but they were apparently willing to suspend their misgivings in order to end the embarrassment of the past three weeks. The former aide told me, “The moderates decided it wasn’t a hill worth dying on.”

Doonesbury — Have we met?

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Trump’s Little Bitch

The GOP finally got their shit together and elected a hard-core right-wing evangelical as the Speaker of the House because Trump didn’t object yet.

Ruth Marcus in the Washington Post:

If you are feeling any sense of relief that Jim Jordan won’t be the next House speaker, stop and worry again.

The new speaker, Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), might be more dangerous than the firebrand Ohio Republican. For Jordan’s shirt sleeves demeanor and wrestler’s pugnacity, substitute a bespectacled, low-key presentation, a law degree and an unswerving commitment to conservative dogma and former president Donald Trump.

This is not an upgrade. It is Jordan in a more palatable package — evidently smoother, seemingly smarter and, therefore, potentially more effective.

Johnson, now serving his fourth term in Congress, was the moving force behind a Supreme Court brief that helped lay the shoddy intellectual groundwork for Jan. 6, 2021. In December 2020, he rallied fellow Republican lawmakers to support Texas’s brazen bid to overturn the election results. In a lawsuit that fizzled almost as soon as it was filed, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sought to have the Supreme Court intervene in the election by blocking the certification of electoral college votes in four swing states — Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin — where voting rules had been changed in the course of the election and voters, not coincidentally, had favored Joe Biden. The justices swiftly rejected the case, tartly noting that, “Texas has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another State conducts its elections.”

[…]

Running for Congress in 2016, he described himself as “a Christian, a husband, a father, a lifelong conservative, constitutional law attorney and a small business owner in that order, and I think that order is important.” Johnson said he had been “called to legal ministry and I’ve been out on the front lines of the ‘culture war’ defending religious freedom, the sanctity of human life, and biblical values, including the defense of traditional marriage, and other ideals like these when they’ve been under assault.”

His congressional career has been more of the same, including backing a federal ban on abortion after 15 weeks. Johnson twice served on the impeachment teams defending Trump and pushed to expunge the first impeachment from the record.

His fealty to the former president seems to have paid off. “My strong SUGGESTION is to go with the leading candidate, Mike Johnson, & GET IT DONE, FAST!” Trump advised on his social media site Tuesday. So, they did.

There will be a government shut-down, Ukraine will get stiffed, and the banshees will scream in glee, all for doing the bidding and the demands of an indicted felon.  The House will get nothing done because they don’t believe in democracy.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Losing It

Charlie Pierce wonders when the Very Serious Media will notice that Trump is displaying behavior that would, to be polite, raise a concern among the people running the asylum.

It is now beyond hopeless to expect the elite political press to cover what is plainly happening before its eyes as regards Fulton County (Ga.) Inmate No. P01135809, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president of the United States. On Monday, he went up to New Hampshire to put in his papers for that state’s primary. In connection with this, he gave a speech in Derry. During this speech, he provided more convincing evidence that he is out of his freaking mind. To wit:

I don’t mind being Nelson Mandela because I’m doing it for a reason. We have got to save our country from these fascists, these lunatics that we’re dealing with. They’re horrible people and they’re destroying our country.”

Also:

“I’m for us! You know how you spell “us,” right? You spell “us” “U-S!” I just picked that up. Has anyone ever thought of that? I just picked that up, couple of days I’m reading, and it said “us,” and I said, you know, you think about it, “us” equals “U-S!” Isn’t that … Now if we say something genius they’ll never say it.

In addition,

“The whole world is exploding. You know I was very honored—Victor Orban, did anyone ever hear of him? He’s probably one of the strongest leaders anywhere in the world. Right? He’s the leader of Turkey,”

Also, too,

“I will implement strong ideological screening of all immigrants. If you hate America, if you want to abolish Israel, if you don’t like our religion, which a lot of them don’t, if you sympathize with the jihadists, then we don’t want you in our country and you are not getting in.”

And, in conclusion,

I dream of that. You know what I’d do with him? I’d hit him right in that fake nose. He’d have plastic lying all over the floor.

What makes that last one the most ironic? The bronzer? The hair transplants? The lifts in the shoes? The girdle? And you really have to see the video to get the full effect of a tough guy act unseen in mass media since Rip Taylor hung ’em up.

“Poof. Poof-poof-poof.”

Jesus H. Christ in a spit-bucket, get the hook.

So the leading Republican candidate for president got up in public with his frontal lobes apparently leaking out of his ears, and you will not find a single account of this speech that states this obvious fact clearly and without equivocation. This, of course, is happening in a campaign in which the president’s age is considered to be a live and important issue in the upcoming election. But the former president’s obvious Olympic downhill of a cognitive decline is treated as an ugly side of his eccentric political persona. Each fable or fabrication is debunked—or “fact-checked”—as an individual aberrant moment, and not as cumulative evidence that his chandelier is winking out, one bulb at a time.

Here in Florida we have the Baker Act, which is where a person is involuntarily taken into custody for their own protection.

The Baker Act allows for involuntary examination (what some call emergency or involuntary commitment), which can be initiated by judges, law enforcement officials, physicians, or mental health professionals and close friends and relatives. There must be evidence that the person:

  • possibly has a mental illness.
  • is in danger of becoming a harm to self or harm to others, or is self-neglectful.

I’m no mental health professional, but I have eyes and ears, and it’s time for the folks who write the news put it all together: he’s losing it.  Hell, he lost it years ago, but none of them have had the guts to say it.

Monday, October 23, 2023

DeSantis Implosion

My political predictions are just that — predictions — and they’re not based on much more than gut feelings, but I think I’ve got this one right: that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s presidential campaign would be pretty much over by October 2023, and he won’t make it beyond the Iowa caucuses next winter.  This recent article in the New York Times bears that out.

In early May, as Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida prepared to run for president, about a dozen right-wing social media influencers gathered at his pollster’s home for cocktails and a poolside buffet.

The guests all had large followings or successful podcasts and were already fans of the governor. But Mr. DeSantis’s team wanted to turn them into a battalion of on-message surrogates who could tangle with Donald J. Trump and his supporters online.

For some, however, the gathering had the opposite effect, according to three attendees who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to damage their relationships with the governor or other Republican leaders.

Mr. DeSantis’s advisers were defensive when asked about campaign strategy, they said, and struggled to come up with talking points beyond the vague notion of “freedom.” Some of the guests at the meeting, which has not previously been reported, left doubtful that the DeSantis camp knew what it was in for.

Four months later, those worries seem more than justified. Mr. DeSantis’s hyper-online strategy, once viewed as a potential strength, quickly became a glaring weakness on the presidential trail, with a series of gaffes, unforced errors and blown opportunities, according to former staff members, influencers with ties to the campaign and right-wing commentators.

Even after a recent concerted effort to reboot, the campaign has had trouble shaking off a reputation for being thin-skinned and meanspirited online, repeatedly insulting Trump supporters and alienating potential allies. Some of its most visible efforts — including videos employing a Nazi symbol and homoerotic images — have turned off donors and drawn much-needed attention away from the candidate. And, despite positioning itself as a social media-first campaign, it has been unable to halt the cascade of internet memes that belittle and ridicule Mr. DeSantis.

These missteps are hardly the only source of trouble for Mr. DeSantis, who is polling in a distant second place. Like the rest of its rivals, the DeSantis campaign has often failed to land meaningful blows on Mr. Trump, who somehow only gains more support when under fire.

But as surely as past presidential campaigns — such as Bernie Sanders’s and Mr. Trump’s — have become textbook cases on the power of online buzz, Mr. DeSantis’s bid now highlights a different lesson for future presidential contenders: Losing the virtual race can drag down an in-real-life campaign.

I think the problem goes deeper than whether or not his team knows how to use the internet. The problem is the product they’re trying to sell.

According to someone I know who has been in the candidate’s presence more than once and who is politically inclined to support a Republican candidate, Ron DeSantis hasn’t got the personality or the stage presence to make the case.  Others have noted that he’s a pretty much charisma-free in person and when he’s out meeting voters, and that the message he has — Fight The Woke — is an abstract in search of meaning.  Put that together in the race against the rest of the field, and, in Broadway terms, that show closes out of town.

DeSantis has chosen, for whatever reason, to run as if he’s running against Joe Biden, not Trump, and therefore leaving himself vulnerable to whatever scorched-earth tactics Trump and his minions will use.  He’s also a bully and a coward — redundant, I know — and used his mean-spirited and legally-challenged tactics in Florida — shitting on the vulnerable minorities such as immigrants, the LGBTQ+, and Others in his quest to eradicate “the Woke” — that he has no positive message to counter the authoritarian goals of Trump.  In fact, he’s echoed them.  In all of this, he has yet to give anyone outside of his bubble a reason to vote for him instead of just voting against the other guy.  That doesn’t win a primary.

On the up side, he’s term-limited as governor, and when he’s done he’ll either try to run against Rick Scott for the Senate or for a seat on the couch at Fox News.  But he’ll never make it to the White House.

Friday, October 20, 2023

Happy Friday

Musical Chairs in the House – Humor from Andy Borowitz:

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—In an agreement that members of the G.O.P. conference are calling a game changer, every House Republican will serve as Speaker for a term of four minutes.

At the end of each four-minute term, Rep. Matt Gaetz, of Florida, will advance a motion to vacate the chair, after which the Speaker will be forced to clean out his or her office and start working from Starbucks.

Once the Speaker has been removed, Republicans will recess for a week before choosing who will serve for the next four minutes.

Future Speaker of the House George Santos of New York hailed the agreement as “the best idea I’ve seen in my thirty years in Congress.”

Another future Speaker, Marjorie Taylor Greene, of Georgia, said that the arrangement would restore Americans’ faith in the Republicans’ ability to govern. “With this distraction out of the way, we can get back to the important business of impeaching Hunter Biden,” she said.

John Deering in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette:

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Crossing Off Jordan

Update: Jim Jordan officially caved.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) will not seek an additional speaker vote Thursday, and he will back a plan to give Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.), the temporary speaker, additional powers, according to multiple people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the situation. After two rounds of votes, a group of Republicans had made clear that Jordan did not have enough support to win the speaker’s gavel. With House functions at a standstill, lawmakers can now move forward on a proposal to expand McHenry’s powers.

More from Charles P. Pierce.

Forty-five years ago this week, the cardinals of Holy Mother Church met in conclave to elect a new pope two months after they’d elected the previous one. Pope John Paul I had been elected in August and he was dead by the second week of October. As the conclave gathered again, the betting favorites were Giuseppe Cardinal Siri of Genoa and Giovanni Cardinal Benelli of Florence. However, the rapid succession of the conclaves, one fast after another, created a fluid situation among the cardinals and, soon, rumors flew that the conclave might be on the verge of going hog wild and electing a non-Italian for the first time since 1522. The Italian cardinals realized that it was slipping away, and that neither Siri nor Benelli was going to receive enough votes, so they began a frantic search for what became known as a “compromise Italian.” They settled on Giovanni Cardinal Colombo, the archbishop of Milan but, as soon as Colombo saw that he was picking up votes, he announced that he would not accept election. Which is how we got Pope John Paul II.

Right now, the Republicans in the House of Representatives need themselves a compromise Italian in one quick hurry, because Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Van Heusen) is as done as a hunk of brisket. On the second ballot, he lost two more votes than he lost on Tuesday. He had four members who voted for him yesterday flip on him today. In related news, Lee Zeldin got another vote for the congressional Undead. Rep. John James of Michigan voted for Candice Miller, the commissioner of public works for Macomb County, because why the hell not? But the best moment came when Rep. Mike Kelly voted for former Speaker John Boehner, and I was instantly overwhelmed by the vision of a mouthful of fine Merlot being spewed across a handsome den in Ohio.

Perhaps the most important individual roadblock to Jordan’s candidacy is not Don Bacon or Mario Diaz-Balart, both of whom would like Jordan’s head on a stick. Neither is it any of the famous Republicans From Biden Districts. It is an 80-year old conservative from Texas named Kay Granger. She’s the chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. When she went against Jordan on Tuesday, it was a genuine temblor in the calculations. Granger is Establishment personified. It is not a leap to speculate that Granger has become frosted at Jordan’s annual attempts to fck with the Appropriations process for transitory political gain. He is too eager to use the threat of a shutdown to get what he wants. And, as the last few days have demonstrated, Jordan has all the political savvy of a jackhammer. Granger simply may be fed up with his act. She voted against him again on Wednesday, as did two other Texas members of the Appropriations Committee, Tony Gonzales and Jake Ellzey.

Basically, there is a power bloc in the House now dedicated to getting the House to function as a proper legislature again instead of a vehicle for Fox-fed fantasies and imaginary grievances. That may point them, finally, toward some sort of deal that allows interim Speaker Patrick McHenry to exercise the powers of the office at least until the current continuing resolution expires in November. But any deal like that will require some Democratic votes, which is bound to raise the hackles of the Angry Children’s Caucus. Already on TV, shortly after the balloting had left it without a Speaker, people on TV were already talking about whether an interim Speaker would be vulnerable to a motion to vacate the chair. It’s hard not to just give up.

But we still don’t know who’s next to put their head on the chopping block.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Jim Of The Jungle

They’re Not Really Into You — Charles P. Pierce.

Perhaps the most telling report from the House of Representatives as it prepared not to elect Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Van Heusen) Speaker of the House on its first ballot came during Rep. Pete Aguilar’s nominating speech on behalf of Democratic Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries. Aguilar pointed out that the proposed Speaker of the House never has proposed a bill that has become a law. Sitting together, Reps. Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert reportedly applauded. That is modern conservative Republicanism is miniature. Elect Jim Jordan — A Lawmaker Who Doesn’t Make Laws.

Jordan came up 20 votes short. That’s a lot of votes to make up. Some of them are very intractable; Reps. Don Bacon of Nebraska and Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida clearly want to eat Jordan’s heart in the marketplace. Both Steve Scalise and Kevin McCarthy voted for their common executioner, which really is an unfortunate blow against righteous political vengeance. (McCarthy couldn’t even do that right. Uncle Joe Cannon is embarrassed to share historical infamy with him.) Once it became clear that Jordan’s chances on the first ballot were as dead as Tuesday’s lunch, all restraint was lost. Rep. Lee Zeldin got three votes. The Three Toms— Emmer, Cole, and Massie— each picked up one. I’m not sure, but I think William Seward got a couple. Once the result became obvious, people got giddy. More significantly, 12 of the 18 Republicans who were elected from districts the president also carried voted for the insurrectionist non-lawmaker. Good luck next year, gang.

Jordan’s gifts for political persuasion are, shall we say, limited. His only real talent is for noise and bullying. So, if he’s going to swing enough of those votes to get his candidacy back on the rails, he’s either got to scare them to death, or he’s going to have to have Scalise and McCarthy whip votes for him. That, of course, would be another level of degradation for the both of them. I can’t think of anyone who deserves that more.

Onward.

Hell in the well.

Friday, October 13, 2023

Happy Friday

Jim Jordan Gets Schooled — Charles Pierce.

It hasn’t been the best week for Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Van Heusen). First, he loses out to Steve Scalise in the race to become almost the Speaker of the House. Then, he once again was instructed in the law by Fulton County DA Fani Willis. I would not like to be instructed in the law by Fani Willis because it really sounds a bit like being instructed in arithmetic by Sister Kathleen Robert. From CNN:

“A charitable explanation of your correspondence is that you are ignorant of the United States and Georgia Constitutions and codes,” Willis wrote in her letter to Jordan, an Ohio Republican, on Wednesday. “A more troubling explanation is that you are abusing your authority as Chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary to attempt to obstruct and interfere with a Georgia criminal prosecution,” she added.

I’m getting a tingling pain in my knuckles right now.

Jordan has been trying to use his chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee to bigfoot Willis’ prosecution of the phony-electors scandal in Georgia. Perhaps believing that she doesn’t need lectures on compliance from a guy who’s now into his second year of refusing to answer a congressional subpoena, Willis has buffed up her rebuffing skills.

Willis previously provided information about the federal funding her office receives. But she has rebuffed Jordan’s demands for information related to her investigation and copies of any communication between the district attorney’s office and federal executive branch officials, particularly anyone at the Justice Department. “To the extent you have specific questions about the Department of Justice’s communications, we refer you to the Department of Justice,” Willis wrote in the letter.

Being rebuffed by Fani Willis sounds worse than being instructed in the law by Fani Willis.

Grab a napkin, Jim.  You’ve been served.

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Sunday Reading

Dueling With Skunks — Charles P. Pierce.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve wondered whether allowing the U.S. House of Representatives to set its own rules is a good idea. Perhaps someone else should be appointed to run the House in a kind of receivership until the current Republican majority calms down, gets its meds adjusted, or is not the majority anymore. I truly don’t see any other way out that’s remotely plausible. The former president* seems content to allow Rep. Jim Jordan to act as his proxy in the Speaker’s chair. Current Majority whip Steve Scalise is simultaneously a proud right-wing belligerent — “David Duke without the baggage,” as he once called himself — and just enough of an Establishment figure to outrage the Angry Children’s Caucus that ran out former Speaker Kevin McCarthy. And the idea of any sort of power-sharing arrangement with the Democratic minority might as well be a proposal for an alliance with people from Venus.

(An aside: even though Fulton County (Ga.) Inmate No. P01135809 has announced his support for Jordan, it is the considered opinion of a number of House members that, if he were to announce he was available, it would be hard as hell to prevent it. P01135809 third in line for the presidency? The nightmare potential of that scenario is unfathomable.)

The basic cause of the current chaos was a change in the House’s procedural rules that was part of the intramural negotiations among the Republicans that groaned through 15 ballots before enough crackpots voted “Present” to allow McCarthy to become Speaker. There is in the House rules a provision called Rule IX. It allows for something called a “motion to vacate the chair.” This is a privileged motion, which means that, once proposed by a House member, the chamber has to take it up within two legislative days. In 2019, the rule was changed so that a privileged motion had to emerge from a party caucus. This change was put through a Democratic majority presided over by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. It was the result of an exhausting period of chaos that saw the speakerships of Republicans John Boehner and Paul Ryan collapse, the former under the threat of a motion to vacate the chair from then-Rep. Mark Meadows and the Freedom Caucus.

Which brings us to last January, and the endless wrangling over McCarthy’s elevation to the speakership. The process played out in public, and it turned out to be a perfect preview of what happened a week ago. McCarthy kept cutting deals as the House reeled toward a confrontation with the debt ceiling. The now-familiar rump faction of conservatives was insisting on severe budget cuts as a ransom for increasing the debt ceiling. McCarthy kept surrendering concession after concession. As Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina told The New York Times in January:

Among that group’s demands were a push for steep cuts in federal spending and a balancing of the federal budget within a decade without raising taxes. “Is he willing to shut the government down rather than raise the debt ceiling?” Representative Ralph Norman of South Carolina, who was one of 20 Republicans to initially vote against Mr. McCarthy on the House floor, recently told reporters. “That’s a non-negotiable item.” Mr. McCarthy appeared to agree to those demands, pledging to allow open debate on spending bills and to not raise the debt limit without major cuts — including efforts to reduce spending on so-called mandatory programs, which include Social Security and Medicare — in a deal that brought many holdouts, including Mr. Norman, into his camp.

n the middle of this exercise in extortion, the conservatives threw in a fail-safe device that they believed would guarantee that McCarthy lived up to the concessions they’d wrung out of him. They proposed, and he agreed to, a change in the House rules whereby a single member — say, oh, I don’t know, Matt Gaetz — could bring a privileged motion to vacate the chair. McCarthy agreed, securing the sword of Damocles over his own head. In retrospect, it’s hard to determine whether McCarthy severely overrated his own political skills, or whether he simply was so desperate for the speakership that he would have agreed to anything. Whatever, it was clear to everyone that McCarthy had signed his political death warrant by agreeing to this “minor” rule change that hardly anyone noticed at the time.

Apparently, McCarthy’s own fail-safe plan was that, in the event of a motion to vacate, he would somehow gather enough votes from the Democratic minority to survive. He may have believed this all the way through the passage of the Continuing Resolution that passed on September 30, primarily through Democratic votes, that bought the House three weeks to avoid a shutdown. But then, McCarthy went on Face the Nation 12 hours after the CR passed and blamed the Democrats for the entire mess. At a meeting of the Democratic caucus, they ran the video of McCarthy over and over again, outraging the minority to the point where it joined the effort to boot McCarthy. This is sort of what I meant about McCarthy’s severely overrating his own political skills.

When McCarthy agreed to the rule change that eventually doomed his speakership, most of the attention was being paid to the brinksmanship over the debt ceiling. But, when McCarthy agreed to the compromise CR, the question became not if, but when he would lose his gig. Gaetz may be intensely unpopular, but he only needed four other Republicans to swing the vote his way. I mean, hell, he didn’t even need Lauren Boebert or Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Article I, Section 5 states that,

“Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.”

Since the House was the institution of government elected most closely to the people, the Founders designed it as best they could to keep it from being stampeded by popular passions. As Mr. Madison wrote in Federalist 57,

The House of Representatives is so constituted as to support in the members an habitual recollection of their dependence on the people. Before the sentiments impressed on their minds by the mode of their elevation can be effaced by the exercise of power, they will be compelled to anticipate the moment when their power is to cease, when their exercise of it is to be reviewed, and when they must descend to the level from which they were raised; there forever to remain unless a faithful discharge of their trust shall have established their title to a renewal of it.

Gaetz may well face the judgment inherent in his “habitual recollection of [his] dependence on the people.” There is a movement in the House to expel him from the Republican caucus, if not from the body entirely. In the history of the House, only five members have been expelled. The first three were members who had fought for the Confederacy. The last time was the case of roguish Ohio representative James Trafficant. He was expelled after being convicted of a number of criminal offenses including bribery, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice. Former aides said they had to kickback a portion of their salaries to him, and local business owners said he shook them down for payoffs. In July 2002, he was expelled from the House by a vote of 402-1. His lone supporter was former Rep. Gary Condit.

Gaetz, however, will face disciplinary action largely for being a jerk who embarrassed his party before the entire nation. It is an almost purely intramural squabble that the Democrats seem likely to stay out of until it’s time to vote on Gaetz’s punishment. What is clear is that, if the House is ever going to function as a legislative body again, that change in the rule regarding motions to vacate has to be reversed, and the previous rule adopted under Speaker Pelosi re-established. Otherwise, given the nature of the Republican caucus, anyone they elect to replace McCarthy is Speakering on borrowed time.

In 1910, progressives in the House rose in revolt against the ironclad Speakership of Joseph Cannon. Uncle Joe has cemented absolute control of the House by holding not only the Speakership but the chairmanship of the Rules Committee, the body that determines what bills will make it to the floor and what bills are not merely dead, but really most sincerely dead. Led by Rep. George Norris of Nebraska, young progressive Members of the House struck Cannon from that chairmanship. But, even with that, a motion to vacate the Speaker’s chair failed. A Democrat from Texas, Albert Burlison, offered a motion to vacate the chair, but the Republican caucus held and Norris, exhausted from the around-the-clock, three-day fight to pry the Rules chairmanship away from Cannon, decided he didn’t have the stomach for another marathon brawl. But Uncle Joe left the Congress with a hard and fast rule that it ignored to its detriment over the past month.

“Sometimes in politics one must duel with skunks, but no one should be fool enough to allow skunks to choose the weapons.”

Doonesbury — Alternative facts.

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