Monday, January 18, 2021

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther KingToday is the federal holiday set aside to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday.

For me, growing up as a white kid in a middle-class suburb in the Midwest in the 1960’s, Dr. King’s legacy would seem to have a minimum impact; after all, what he was fighting for didn’t affect me directly in any way. But my parents always taught me that anyone oppressed in our society was wrong, and that in some way it did affect me. This became much more apparent as I grew up and saw how the nation treated its black citizens; those grainy images on TV and in the paper of water-hoses turned on the Freedom Marchers in Alabama showed me how much hatred could be turned on people who were simply asking for their due in a country that promised it to them. And when I came out as a gay man, I became much more aware of it when I applied the same standards to society in their treatment of gays and lesbians.

Perhaps the greatest impression that Dr. King had on me was his unswerving dedication to non-violence in his pursuit of civil rights. He withstood taunts, provocations, and rank invasions of his privacy and his life at the hands of racists, hate-mongers, and the federal government, yet he never raised a hand in anger against anyone. He deplored the idea of an eye for an eye, and he knew that responding in kind would only set back the cause. I was also impressed that his spirituality and faith were his armor and his shield, not his weapon, and he never tried to force his religion on anyone else. The supreme irony was that he died at the hands of violence, much like his role model, Mahatma Gandhi.

There’s a question in the minds of a lot of people of how to celebrate a federal holiday for a civil rights leader. Isn’t there supposed to be a ritual or a ceremony we’re supposed to perform to mark the occasion? But how do you signify in one day or in one action what Dr. King stood for, lived for, and died for? Last August marked the fifty-sixth anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech. That marked a moment; a milestone.

Today is supposed to honor the man and what he stood for and tried to make us all become: full citizens with all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship; something that is with us all day, every day.

For me, it’s having the memories of what it used to be like and seeing what it has become for all of us that don’t take our civil rights for granted, which should be all of us, and being both grateful that we have come as far as we have and humbled to know how much further we still have to go.

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Today is also a school holiday, so blogging will be on a holiday schedule.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Sunday Reading

Tell The Whole Story — Masha Gessen in The New Yorker.

One of the most quoted lines in American nonfiction is Joan Didion’s “we tell ourselves stories in order to live.” It’s the first sentence of “The White Album,” an essay in which Didion recounts some facts, some images, and some reporting notes from 1968. Didion felt that she had lost the ability to string the stuff of stories into narratives, and, as a result, life itself seemed to drain away. She was plagued with symptoms that were variously interpreted as neurological or psychiatric—or, after the fact, by Didion herself, as a normal reaction to 1968, which could have given anyone a case of vertigo and nausea. Outwardly, she appeared to function, except when she didn’t, when her mind was besieged by disconnected phrases and an overwhelming sense of existential dread, apparently insurmountable for being well founded.

Nations, in this way, are like people: they cannot survive without a story. A common sense of past and future, a broad agreement on organizational principles, trust that your neighbors near and distant share a general understanding of reality and current events—all of these are necessary for any kind of politics to function. American politics right now are like Didion’s life in 1968: a jumble of fragments, a thin veneer of functionality, and an abyss of well-founded existential fear. At this moment, we are deciding whether we will try to forge a coherent story.

During the first impeachment of Donald Trump, in November, 2019, I wrote that it was impossible to observe the hearings without first choosing between two non-overlapping views of reality, two different stories. In one story, Trump had repeatedly abused power and was finally facing impeachment for a particularly egregious incident of abuse. In the other, Democrats had been trying to get Trump for years and had finally latched on to an inconsequential incident, staging a witch trial to get rid of the President. This week, the Republican Party is still closing ranks around the President, with a mere ten exceptions in the House. Wednesday’s impeachment hearing, like the first, was legible only through one of two frames: either Trump organized an attempted coup and was being impeached for it, or, as Representative Jim Jordan, of Ohio, claimed in his speech on the House floor, “It’s always been about getting the President no matter what. It’s an obsession.”

Although several Republican representatives acknowledged that the violence at the Capitol on January 6th was terrifying, condemnable, and un-American, some of them compared it to Black Lives Matter protests, or what they imagined the Black Lives Matter protests to be. “Make no mistake, the left in America has incited far more political violence than the right,” Representative Matt Gaetz, of Florida, said. “For months, our cities burned, police stations burned, our businesses were shattered, and they said nothing.” By this logic, since no one was impeached for, say, the property damage sustained in Minneapolis last year during the protests of George Floyd’s death at the hands of the police, no one should be impeached for inciting chaos at the Capitol.

President-elect Joe Biden released a statement several hours after the House voted on the motion to impeach. This timing seemed designed to signal that impeachment is not one of Biden’s top priorities. “I hope that the Senate leadership will find a way to deal with their Constitutional responsibilities on impeachment while also working on the other urgent business of this nation,” the statement read. Over all, Biden has distanced himself from the proceedings, underscoring that he sees his job as getting his Cabinet seated, speeding up vaccine distribution, and passing his economic-relief package. On Thursday, barely more than twenty-four hours after the impeachment vote, Biden gave a speech in which he made no mention of it, or Trump, or January 6th.

Most Democrats in the House have based their calls for impeachment on the claim that Trump is a “clear and present danger” and must be removed from office immediately. Framed this way, the process does seem to lose its urgency after Trump has moved out of the White House. The backers of impeachment will then shift their focus on the imperative to prevent Trump from ever running for office again. As malignant as Trump is, though, can the task of banning him from federal office be as urgent as legislative measures that will have a material impact on the lives and health of millions of Americans?

As long as the proceedings are narrowly focussed on Trump, the case for urgency will grow only harder to make. Instead, the goal of the Senate trial should be defined as finding and telling the truth about the insurrection. My colleague Jill Lepore has taken up the question of what we ought to call the events of January 6th. “Any formulation is a non-starter if it diminishes the culpability of people in positions of power who perpetrated the lie that the election was stolen,” she wrote. The task before the Senate, then, ought to be to produce the first draft of those history books.

Too often, we think that trials, whether in the courts or in the Senate, exist to mete out punishment—that they need to establish the facts only to the extent necessary to decide on the charges brought before them and determine the appropriate penalties. But, as of next week, whether Trump should be removed from office will no longer be an operative question. A Senate trial focussed only on Trump may not hold the attention of the media, the public, or even the lawmakers themselves. And if the trial in the Senate sputters out, the story of January 6th will be told in dozens or even hundreds of separate trials, in federal courts located in different states. Different judges will be deciding whether different defendants were guilty of trespassing, damaging federal property, assaulting officers and journalists, and taking part in an insurrection. It will not be the job of any of these judges to paint a comprehensive picture of what happened on January 6th, what led up to the insurrection, and what made it possible.

In the absence of such a story, the task of preventing future insurrections will fall to the F.B.I. and the uniformed services. Security in the Capitol and the capital will be permanently increased; domestic surveillance will grow in scale. In other words, the U.S. will respond to this crisis the way that it has responded to other crises: with securitization and the curtailment of political rights. The grave term “domestic terrorist,” which has gathered much traction in the past week, paves the way for just such a response. But the insurrectionists were not terrorists. Their primary purpose was not to inspire terror in the general population; their purpose was to prevent the elected President from taking office. Unlike most terrorists, they acted directly upon their target, going to the seat of political power in the United States and attempting to seize power, following what they perceived as orders from the President of the United States.

Reframing the Senate trial of Trump as a truth-finding mission rather than a punitive undertaking requires a voice more authoritative than that of any one senator or even a majority of the Senate. It requires the voice of President-elect Biden. Such a proposition runs against all of Biden’s political instincts: the idea that he should focus on his own Administration and his legislative agenda; the tradition of moving on in the name of healing; the knowledge that getting things done in the Senate is the process of counting votes, negotiating, making concessions; the desire to get results in the most efficient way possible.

An attempt to tell the story of the insurrection—and the story of the Trump Presidency, which made it possible—would not be efficient. It would have to be sprawling, ambitious, grand. It would require the President-elect and senators to use their full political and intellectual muscle. This needs to be done not because it is necessary to punish and banish Trump, but because this country cannot rely only on snatches of stories that float haphazardly through non-overlapping realities. Biden certainly fears that insisting on a deep and broad Senate trial would further alienate Trump’s supporters. But if impeachment is allowed to fizzle, or even to proceed in the most efficient way possible, that will guarantee nearly half of Americans will watch the process without having to challenge the notion that the Democrats are simply out to get Trump. Can they be pulled in by a more detailed, more truthful, and undoubtedly more troubling story? We cannot know—but without telling a story we cannot live.

Joe [hearts] Bernie — Charlie Pierce on Biden’s economics.

On Thursday night, we saw President-Elect Joe Biden bow to the iron constraints of The Blog’s First Law of Economics. To wit:

Fck the deficit. People got no jobs. People got no money.

To which we have added the codicil:

People got the ‘Rona.

For decades, Biden’s been a fiscal liberal, but one who was willing to cut deals that made him look less like a liberal and more like a creature of the mushy center. On Thursday, with a $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan,” he declared himself firmly on the side of Professor Keynes.

I know what I just described does not come cheaply, but we simply can’t afford not to do what I’m proposing. If we invest now boldly, smartly and with unwavering focus on American workers and families, we will strengthen our economy, reduce inequity and put our nation’s long-term finances on the most sustainable course.

No hedging. Not even a head fake toward The Deficit. Nothing about tax cuts. We will spend, and spend big, because that’s what this unprecedented double crisis demands. And there was more.

You won’t see this pain if your score card is how things are going on Wall Street. But you will see it very clearly if you examine what the twin crises of a pandemic and this sinking economy have laid bare. The growing divide between those few people at the very top who are doing quite well in this economy, and the rest of America. Just since this pandemic began, the wealth of the top 1% of the nation has grown roughly $1.5 trillion since the end of last year. Four times the amount for the entire bottom 50% of American wage earners. Some 18 million Americans are still relying on unemployment insurance, some 400,000 small businesses have permanently closed their doors. It’s not hard to see that we’re in the middle of a once in several generations economic crisis with a once in several generations public health crisis.

To hear Joe Biden sounding like Bernie Sanders, and to hear him put economic inequality in the middle of his plan to revive the country’s economy, is to hear for the first time in a long while that the federal government knows what it’s there for. After four miserable years being in thrall to the whims of an incompetent president,* and a Republican Congress that repurposed itself as nothing more than the Human Resources department of the federal judiciary, the federal government is stirring again to act on its own. If nothing else, Joe Biden knows where all the levers are. That, in itself, is a cause for hope.

Doonesbury — What’s left?

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Random Youtubery

Normally on MLK Weekend, I’d be over on Miami Beach at the Art Deco Weekend car show on Ocean Drive.  But this year it’s been cancelled — or postponed until next year — so for the first time since 2002, I get to spend the weekend at home.

But all is not lost.  The Miami Preservation League asked our club to put together a virtual  car show, and our webmaster Bob did a great job of pulling photos from some of our best shows and best cars.  So take a look at what we’ve done before and hope to do in coming years when this plague is behind us.

Here’s a look at one of the cars you might have seen at the show: a 1931 Ford Model A.

Friday, January 15, 2021

A Little Night Music

Forty years ago tonight, “Hill Street Blues” premiered on NBC.  It and “St. Elsewhere” were the reasons I finally broke down and bought a VCR so I could tape episodes while I was in rehearsal.

Thank You, Friend

Yesterday I drove the Pontiac to the supermarket.  As I was crossing the parking lot, a man called out to me and asked if that was my car.  I replied that it was; I’m used to people asking me about it.  But he said he’d seen it on the internet and knew the owner lived in the area, that the owner wrote a blog called Bark Bark Woof Woof, and wanted to someday meet him.  I grinned and said thanks.  He said he’s a reader, never commented, but enjoyed my work.  And then he said that there are a lot more people who agree with what I write.

We talked as we went into the store.  He’s about my age, he works as a carpenter for the school district; we’d met up as he was going in to get his lunch, I think.  He told me his name, but I’m not going to share it because I didn’t tell him I’d write about our meeting.

I know that there are a lot more lurkers here than commenters, but even so, it is very nice to hear from them.  Thank you.

Happy Friday

If you’re feeling a bit stressed, just think about what’s happened in the last two weeks:  The state of Georgia elected both a black man and a Jewish man to the United States Senate; armed insurrectionists tried to take over the United States government with the emphatic support of the current president; that president has now been impeached for the second time, and Ford introduced an electric SUV version of the Mustang.

Good news and bad all in a rush of fourteen days.  If that’s not enough to shake up your spinal cord, then you’re probably comatose.

How about some Friday Catblogging to sooth your weary mind.  Sombra keeping a calm but watchful eye.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Justice For Flint

See, you can hold government officials accountable for their actions.

Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, his health director and other ex-officials have been told they’re being charged after a new investigation of the Flint water scandal, which devastated the majority Black city with lead-contaminated water and was blamed for a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, The Associated Press has learned.

Two people with knowledge of the planned prosecution told the AP on Tuesday that the attorney general’s office has informed defense lawyers about indictments in Flint and told them to expect initial court appearances soon. They spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The AP could not determine the nature of the charges against Snyder, former health department director Nick Lyon and others who were in his administration, including Rich Baird, a friend who was the governor’s key troubleshooter while in office.

Courtney Covington Watkins, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said only that investigators were “working diligently” and “will share more as soon as we’re in a position to do so.”

Snyder, a Republican who has been out of office for two years, was governor when state-appointed managers in Flint switched the city’s water to the Flint River in 2014 as a cost-saving step while a pipeline was being built to Lake Huron. The water, however, was not treated to reduce corrosion — a disastrous decision affirmed by state regulators that caused lead to leach from old pipes and spoil the distribution system used by nearly 100,000 residents.

Snyder’s attorney, Brian Lennon, released a blistering statement Tuesday, saying a criminal prosecution would be “outrageous.” He said state prosecutors have refused to “share information about these charges with us.”

“Rather than following the evidence to find the truth, the Office of Special Counsel appears to be targeting former Gov. Snyder in a political escapade,” Lennon said.

Snyder apologized for the catastrophe during his 2016 State of the State speech and said government at all levels had failed Flint.

Finally. Perhaps the lesson learned is that while it may take a long time, justice can come through.

The New Kids In Town

Balloon Juice has a concise compendium of the gnashing of the teeth of the right-wing nutsery who are all upset about the reaction to the riot that they incited.

All of a sudden they’re being held accountable, and it’s just not fair!

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Make It Stick This Time

The House is going to impeach Trump again.

The push for an unprecedented second impeachment of President Trump took a dramatic bipartisan turn Tuesday, as several senior House Republicans joined the Democratic effort to remove Trump for his role in inciting an angry mob to storm the Capitol last week and the White House braced for more defections.

Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the third-ranking House Republican, and Rep. John Katko (N.Y.), the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, both publicly held Trump responsible for last Wednesday’s violence. They were later joined by Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.).

“The president of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” Cheney said in a statement, adding, “There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”

Said Katko, “To allow the president of the United States to incite this attack without consequences is a direct threat to the future of our democracy.”

Kinzinger added, “If these actions . . . are not worthy of impeachment, then what is an impeachable offense?”

A senior administration official said the White House expects at least a dozen Republicans to support impeachment in the likely House vote Wednesday. The White House is rudderless, unwilling or unable to mount any defense other than saying that Trump will already be leaving next week, two administration officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to disclose internal dynamics.

Trump, banned from Twitter, for the first time lacks the ability to aim angry tweets at those who oppose him, and White House officials conceded that he has few ways to stem the tide. He has asked Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) to urge fellow Republicans to oppose impeachment, an official said. Top House GOP leaders have announced their opposition to impeachment but have not given their members an alternative way to register disapproval of Trump or the assault.

As we know from last year, just impeaching him does not remove him from office. That will take a conviction in the Senate. Under normal circumstances that would be a non-starter, but maybe this time

Senator Mitch McConnell has concluded that President Trump committed impeachable offenses and believes that Democrats’ move to impeach him will make it easier to purge Mr. Trump from the party, according to people familiar with Mr. McConnell’s thinking.

The private assessment of Mr. McConnell, the most powerful Republican in Congress, emerged on the eve of a House vote to formally charge Mr. Trump with inciting violence against the country for his role in whipping up a mob of his supporters who stormed the Capitol while lawmakers met to formalize President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory.

In a sign that the dam could be breaking against Mr. Trump in a party that has long been unfailingly loyal to him, Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 Republican in the House, announced her intention to support the single charge of high crimes and misdemeanors, as other party leaders declined to formally lobby rank-and-file lawmakers to oppose it.

“The president of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” Ms. Cheney said in a statement. “There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”

Even before Mr. McConnell’s position was known and Ms. Cheney had announced her plans, advisers to the Senate Republican leader had already privately speculated that a dozen Republican senators — and possibly more — could ultimately vote to convict Mr. Trump in a Senate trial that would follow his impeachment by the House. Seventeen Republicans would most likely be needed to join Democrats in finding him guilty. After that, it would take a simple majority to disqualify Mr. Trump from ever again holding public office.

Don’t for a moment think that Mitch McConnell is considering voting to convict out of any concern for the rule of law or the good of the country. He’s thinking solely of the political fortunes of the Republican party; that if Trump is still around and eligible to run for another term in 2024, it’s going to make it hard to bring the GOP back to the way he wants it. That we might be able to get back to some semblance of normalcy would be a side effect.

Comparisons are being made to the first week of August 1974 when Richard Nixon was faced with a Supreme Court ruling that he must turn over the incriminating tapes in Watergate. The Republicans in the Senate realized that Nixon had to go, not for the good of the country, but for the sake of the mid-terms looming in November 1974. I think the more apt comparison would be the last week of April 1945 in Berlin when the bombs were falling around the bunker and yet Hitler still believed the war could be won and showed no remorse for what he had wrought. (Yes, Hitler comparisons are the end-game, but as long as we’re talking about psychopaths, we might as well go with the big one.)

We have a week. A lot can happen in a week. The Senate could actually meet, vote, convict, and brace themselves for the future.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Class Act

Good for you, Bill.

New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said in a statement Monday that he had turned down the opportunity to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Trump because of the “tragic events of last week,” a reference to the rampage at the Capitol.

You’re way ahead of Jim Jordan and Devin Nunes.

Reason Enough To Impeach

While people were being killed on Capitol Hill, Trump was glued to the TV.

Hiding from the rioters in a secret location away from the Capitol, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) appealed to Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) phoned Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter.

And Kellyanne Conway, a longtime Trump confidante and former White House senior adviser, called an aide who she knew was standing at the president’s side.

But as senators and House members trapped inside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday begged for immediate help during the siege, they struggled to get through to the president, who — safely ensconced in the West Wing — was too busy watching fiery TV images of the crisis unfolding around them to act or even bother to hear their pleas.

“He was hard to reach, and you know why? Because it was live TV,” said one close Trump adviser. “If it’s TiVo, he just hits pause and takes the calls. If it’s live TV, he watches it, and he was just watching it all unfold.”

Even as he did so, Trump did not move to act. And the message from those around him — that he needed to call off the angry mob he had egged on just hours earlier, or lives could be lost — was one to which he was not initially receptive.

“It took him awhile to appreciate the gravity of the situation,” Graham said in an interview. “The president saw these people as allies in his journey and sympathetic to the idea that the election was stolen.”

Trump ultimately — and begrudgingly — urged his supporters to “go home in peace.” But the six hours between when the Capitol was breached shortly before 2 p.m. Wednesday afternoon and when it was finally declared secure around 8 p.m. that evening reveal a president paralyzed — more passive viewer than resolute leader, repeatedly failing to perform even the basic duties of his job.

One might come to the conclusion that he was encouraging the attack.

The other conclusion is that he was paralyzed by fear of what was happening and had no clue as to what to do.

Either of those are reason enough to get him out of office.

Study In Contrasts

Al Franken resigned from the Senate after it came to light that he made inappropriate jokes about a woman’s breasts.

Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz refuse to resign after enabling sedition.

Monday, January 11, 2021