Thursday, December 6, 2018

Socially Awkward

I didn’t watch any of the funeral ceremonies for George H.W. Bush yesterday, but I did see that when Trump showed up there was a rather awkward moment when he took his seat next in the front pew next to the Obamas, Clintons, and Carters.

Trump was in the company of all his living predecessors for the first time Wednesday, and the encounter was plainly uncomfortable. By 10:49 a.m., when Trump and first lady Melania Trump stepped into the cathedral, a cool hush had come over the pews filled by American dignitaries and foreign leaders, past and present. Trump handed his black overcoat to a military aide and took his seat on the aisle next to his wife, with three past presidents and first ladies seated to her side.

First was the president Trump said was illegitimate (Barack Obama); then the first lady he called a profligate spender of taxpayer dollars (Michelle Obama); then the president he called the worst abuser of women (Bill Clinton); then the first lady and secretary of state he said should be in jail (Hillary Clinton); and then the president he said was the second-worst behind Obama (Jimmy Carter) and his wife, Rosalynn.

The Trumps and the Obamas greeted each other brusquely, but only Melania Trump reached over to shake hands with Bill Clinton. Hillary Clinton did not acknowledge the Trumps, keeping her gaze straight ahead as if determined not to make eye contact with the man who continues, two years after the 2016 election, to inspire “Lock her up!” chants at his rallies.

Body language speaks volumes.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

A Long Slow Slog

Every time there’s a bombshell about the corruption in the Trump administration, pundits and those who get paid to put them on the air tell us that this is the last straw; the walls will come a-tumbling down and the whole sordid affair will, at long last, be over.

Not so fast, say Mikhaila Fogel and Benjamin Wittes in The Atlantic:

We need to stop thinking of it as a fragile structure waiting for the right poke to fall in on itself. Think instead of the myriad investigations and legal proceedings surrounding the president as a multi-front siege on a walled city that is, in fact, relatively well fortified.

Siege warfare is not a matter of striking precisely the correct blow at the correct moment at a particular stone in the wall. It is a campaign of degradation over a substantial period of time. While those inside the fortified city may rely only on the strength of their walls and their stored resources, the attackers can take their time. Volleys of projectiles—arrows or trebuchets—pepper the city walls and those atop them, while the strength of the defending army diminishes as soldiers slip away and food dwindles. Moreover, active conflict is an episodic, not a constant, feature of siege warfare; the enemy army can encamp outside the walled city and blockade it without firing a shot. Over time, the walls and defending forces become degraded to such a degree that the invaders are able to scale the walls and sack the city.

No, Mueller and his forces are not a Mongol horde, but the Trump White House is very much under siege.

[…]

So what will the big one look like, if not some Mueller-lobbed bombshell? When the walls are finally breached, how will we know that it really is the beginning of the end? Here’s a hint: The big one will not be a legal development, an indictment, or a plea. It will be a political development—that moment when the American political system decides not to tolerate the facts available to it any longer. What does that look like? It looks like impeachment. It looks like enough Republicans breaking with the president to seriously jeopardize his chances of renomination or reelection. The legal developments will degrade the walls. But only this sort of political battering ram can breach them.

I wouldn’t sit around waiting for the Republicans to break away from Trump unless they see that standing with him jeopardizes their own livelihood, and as long as there’s Fox Nation and the 40% who see nothing wrong with being a white nationalist and playing footsie with murderous thugs from Saudi Arabia and Russia, they’ve got no reason to turn on him.  Nixon had that much support on August 8, 1974; the only thing that convinced the Republicans on Capitol Hill to come to the White House and tell him to resign — and he acknowledged as much in his resignation speech — was that he had lost the support of the party.  The GOP was staring down the barrel of the 1974 mid-terms and a Democratic House that was ready to vote out articles of impeachment.  The GOP leadership didn’t give a damn about the rule of law; they saw their doom riding full force at them.  So it will take a similar situation — the GOP facing electoral carnage — that will make them turn on Trump.

And no, the 2018 mid-terms, at least to Trump and the GOP leadership, was not a warning, even though they lost 40 seats in the House and the Democrats will start issuing subpoenas next year.  Delusion and denial is a powerful cocktail, so if the Mueller investigation and the rest emanating from the Southern District of New York is the siege, then the White House becomes the bunker where the leader hunkers down and assures himself and his few remaining loyalists that they can still fend off the horde; troops are on the march to defend us!

The only way to truly win is by beating him and the rest of the GOP in an election.  There’s one coming up in less than two years.

The question then becomes, will Trump concede and actually leave?  That’s another question, but then, the Secret Service works for us, not him.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

One Of Our Fifty…

I’ve lived in New Mexico — twice, actually — so this story is nothing new to me or anyone who’s lived there, but I thought it was interesting that it has become a somewhat national story.

A New Mexico man applying for a marriage license in Washington, D.C., this month had his state driver’s license rejected as a form of identification because a clerk and her supervisor believed New Mexico was a foreign country.

Gavin Clarkson, a Las Cruces, N.M., resident, said he was at the District of Columbia Marriage Bureau on Nov. 20 applying for a license to wed his then-fiancée when their nuptial plans hit a brief snag. The clerk told him he would need an international passport on the apparent belief that he wasn’t a U.S. citizen.

“She thought New Mexico was a foreign country,” he said of the clerk as quoted by the Las Cruces Sun-News. “All the couples behind us waiting in line were laughing.”

Clarkson was a recent candidate for New Mexico secretary of state and is a member of the Choctaw Nation. He said he protested the clerk’s decision to her supervisor, who also failed to recognize New Mexico as a state.

“You know you are from flyover country when you are applying for a marriage license, give them your New Mexico driver’s license, and they come back and say ‘my supervisor says we cannot accept international driver’s licenses. Do you have a New Mexico passport?’ ” Clarkson tweeted.

This happens so often that New Mexico, the magazine put out by the state’s tourism office, has a regular feature, “One of Our 50 Is Missing,” regaling readers with tales of people in other places mistaking New Mexico for a foreign country.  As a matter of record, it’s the fifth-largest state in area and it’s been a state since 1912, coming into the union before Arizona.

Just to make sure the word gets out, the state’s license plates confirm that the Land of Enchantment is one of ours.

However, given the state of education — don’t they teach geography any more? — and the fear of Others put into the mind by the foolish and the weak in this country, I’m pretty sure that the magazine and the Missing 50 will have plenty of stories to tell for a long time.

Trashing The Joint

I see this more as a fit of pique than anything else.

In Michigan, Republicans are hoping to push through laws slashing environmental regulations, reducing worker protections including the minimum wage and limiting the attorney general and secretary of state’s authority. Both offices were won by Democrats in the November midterms.

A similar push is underway in Wisconsin, where Republicans in the state legislature have teed up bills to weaken the authority of incoming Governor Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul, both of whom are Democrats.

It also tells us that the voters of Michigan and Wisconsin were right in voting those bastards out of office and laying the groundwork for getting the rest of them out the next time around.

Hanging By His Thumbs

As I noted last week, Trump may be in more trouble for trying to cover up his crimes than the crimes themselves.  Now it looks like his tweets could open the door to getting him on obstruction of justice and witness tampering.

Trump took to Twitter Monday morning, haranguing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and witnesses to his ongoing Russia investigation. His tweets have become a common morning occurrence, particularly in recent weeks. But legal experts are calling Monday’s missives a newsworthy development that amounts to evidence of obstructing justice.

Trump’s first statement went out after Michael Cohen, his former personal attorney who pleaded guilty last week for lying to Congress about the president’s real estate project in Russia. In his tweet, Trump alleged that Cohen lied to Mueller and called for a severe penalty, demanding that his former fixer “serve a full and complete sentence.”

After the overt attack on Cohen came a tweet encouraging Roger Stone, a longtime adviser to Trump, not to become a witness against him:

“’I will never testify against Trump.’ This statement was recently made by Roger Stone, essentially stating that he will not be forced by a rogue and out of control prosecutor to make up lies and stories about ‘President Trump.’ Nice to know that some people still have ‘guts!’”

Norman Eisen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that the most striking thing about Monday was that there were two statements in proximity.

“It comes very close to the statutory definition of witness tampering,” he said. “It’s a mirror image of the first tweet, only he’s praising a witness for not cooperating with the implication of reward,” he said, adding that Trump has pardon power over Stone.

“We’re so used to President Trump transgressing norms in his public declarations,” Eisen said, “but he may have crossed the legal line.”

[…]

Attorney George Conway, husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, referenced the federal statute most likely to create legal liability for Trump: 18 U.S.C. §§ 1512, which outlines the crime of witness tampering.

What is the law?

Tampering with a witness is obstruction of justice.

It’s a federal crime for an individual to intimidate, threaten or “corruptly persuade” another person with the goal of influencing or preventing his or her testimony.

Did Trump break it?

Historically, there are plenty of cases where similar statements were used as part of an obstruction-of-justice prosecution, according to former acting solicitor general Neal Katyal.

Even if Mueller could technically satisfy the statute, few prosecutors would make a congressional referral based on tweets from the president alone.

Instead, Monday’s slew of tweets probably will be used to evaluate whether Trump’s intent was “corrupt.” They will also be used to show a pattern by Trump to interfere with law enforcement to serve his personal end, Katyal said.

I can’t decide if Trump is unaware of the liability he’s exposing himself to, doesn’t care (“Neener, neener, I’m the president and you can’t touch me!”), or he’s fully aware of it and is doing it on purpose in the mistaken belief that somehow his tweeting will damage the Mueller investigation and make it impossible for the prosecutors to empanel a jury.  Or, maybe, as the article suggests, he’s just melting down.

In any case, it makes you wonder where the hell his lawyer is in all this.

Monday, December 3, 2018

All Is Calm

The GOP plan going forward is “What, we worry?”

With a brutal finality, the extent of the Republicans’ collapse in the House came into focus last week as more races slipped away from them and their losses neared 40 seats.

Yet nearly a month after the election, there has been little self-examination among Republicans about why a midterm that had seemed at least competitive became a rout.

President Trump has brushed aside questions about the loss of the chamber entirely, ridiculing losing incumbents by name, while continuing to demand Congress fund a border wall despite his party losing many of their most diverse districts. Unlike their Democratic counterparts, Republicans swiftly elevated their existing slate of leaders with little debate, signaling a continuation of their existing political strategy.

And neither Speaker Paul D. Ryan nor Representative Kevin McCarthy, the incoming minority leader, have stepped forward to confront why the party’s once-loyal base of suburban supporters abandoned it — and what can be done to win them back.

The quandary, some Republicans acknowledge, is that the party’s leaders are constrained from fully grappling with the damage Mr. Trump inflicted with those voters, because he remains popular with the party’s core supporters and with the conservatives who will dominate the caucus even more in the next Congress.

And considering how much they paid attention the last time they attempted introspection — remember the famous post-2012 election “autopsy” where they castigated themselves for not reaching out to minorities, women, and even promised to stop being the Stupid Party (oh, where is Bobby Jindal now?) — they’re even less likely now that they have an id-and-ego driven president and a House caucus that is only too eager to follow him and his neo-Nazi base into oblivion.

Please proceed, lemmings.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Sunday Reading

Two views on the life of George H.W. Bush.

Nice Guy — Thomas Mallon in The New Yorker.

“Leave the kid alone,” George Herbert Walker Bush said, when, as a teen-age boy at Andover, he spotted a fellow-student being bullied. As if he were Zorro, performing a casual rescue and then vanishing, Bush left Bruce Gelb, the undersized Jewish kid he’d aided, to ask a witness, “Who was that?” Gelb learned that it was Poppy Bush, “the greatest kid in the school.”

The eulogies for “41,” who died on Friday, will note his underage enlistment in the Navy after Pearl Harbor—how he went from preppy god of the baseball diamond to bomber pilot over the Pacific, with no intermediate step—but the scourge-of-bullies story, told in Jon Meacham’s biography of him, is the essential tale from Bush’s Andover days. It contains the boy who, almost fifty years later, startled the Republican Convention that had just nominated him for President by saying that he wanted a “kinder, gentler nation.” The phrase seemed odd, even candy-assed, to some; it would be mocked, its potential meanings never much pondered. What that night’s audience liked better was “Read my lips,” the signal for a no-new-taxes pledge, a piece of absolutism that didn’t come naturally to a pragmatic moderate. It was those words that, four years later, would do Bush in.

The 1988 campaign was anything but kind and gentle. There was the racially charged Willie Horton ad, in which Bush attacked Michael Dukakis’s furlough program for Massachusetts prisoners. Bush’s opponents—and some of his friends—thought that he had cheapened himself in the bare-knuckled grasp of his young campaign manager, Lee Atwater. The opponents acted surprised, claimed they were disappointed in him, as if anyone ever got that far in the game without playing rough. (Al Gore had first gone after the furlough program, albeit without mentioning Horton, when running against Dukakis in the primaries.) Bush’s foes derided his résumé as a sort of gilded joke, reciting all the appointive offices he’d briefly held—U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Republican National Committee chairman, U.S. Special Representative to China, C.I.A. director—as if they were a string of presents meted out to some trust-fund boy who’d done nothing to earn them. In fact, Bush rose in the Party because of electoral, not appointive, politics. And he rose, curiously enough, by losing—twice, in Senate runs in a still-blue Texas, in 1964 and 1970. He took two for the team, and the Republican Party owed him.

Even when he tried to kick ass with the silver foot supposedly lodged in his mouth from birth, there remained an irreducible niceness to him, an appealing mixture of noblesse oblige, boy-next-door bonhomie, and parody-begging goofiness—“the vision thing.” He can be found, still on his way up, in his late forties, making some appearances, as both conversationalist and subject, on the Nixon White House tapes. On November 29, 1972, the President is making sure that H. R. Haldeman presses Bob Dole to leave the R.N.C. chairmanship sooner rather than later, so that it can be turned over to Bush, who was then the U.N. Ambassador. Nixon, afraid that Bush will be oversensitive to Dole’s feelings and won’t join in the effort to speed up implementation of what’s already a done deal, reminds his chief of staff that “George is such a sweet guy.” He doesn’t say it with the scorn or sarcasm that a word like “sweet” usually called forth from him. He utters it with a sort of charmed appreciation, as if he’s just remembered a unicorn that sometimes gambols on the South Lawn. In November, 1972, weeks after Nixon’s reëlection landslide, with Watergate just a passing cloud, the R.N.C. job was still a plum. A few months later, Bush would start to take a third, prolonged pummelling for the team.

He eventually became the President who presided over a brief but glorious Pax Americana. (Bruce Gelb, by then a wealthy businessman and devoted contributor, became his Ambassador to Belgium, the little country handed to the kid like a signed jersey.) If Reagan had thrown the touchdown pass of the Cold War, Bush was the one who caught it, and when he got to the end zone he famously refused to spike the ball, as if he’d also caught sight of his mother in the grandstand, warning against self-congratulation. (He is the only modern-day President not to have written his memoirs.) Between 1989 and 1993, Bush became, in Maureen Dowd’s phrase, “the gracious cruise director of international politics.” He also directed a just war—Kuwait was being bullied—toward a fast conclusion.

As the “vision thing” goes, kinder and gentler was actually profound. It didn’t take, of course. The nation has become spectacularly meaner, to the point that George H. W. Bush is likely to be remembered as the last President of the republic not to have been intensely despised by a significant portion of its population. Now, instead of having the greatest kid in the school as our President, we have Cartman, someone who surely would have been smacking Bruce Gelb around in 1940. One’s strange reaction to the death of George Bush—the end of a life well-lived into its tenth decade—turns out to be bitter disappointment. I’ve just dug out a friend’s e-mail from December, 2016: “I was discussing 41’s health with a colleague this morning, and we realized that Trump will be delivering his eulogy if GHWB can’t hang on for four years. What a rotten end for an honorable man.”

A Disgrace — Steven W. Thrasher in The Nation.

Just after midnight on December 1, World AIDS Day, I learned that President George Herbert Walker Bush had died. And I was dismayed not just that the hagiography afforded dead presidents would overshadow Bush’s own appalling legacy on AIDS, but that his death would eclipse the tens of millions of lives we should be remembering today.

When I teach AIDS history, I always show a clip of ACT UP’s October 11, 1992, “ashes action” at the White House, in which brave activists took the cremated bodies of loved ones who had died of AIDS and hurled them onto Bush’s lawn. (If you’ve never seen it, I dare you to watch without crying).

The ashes action is brilliant not just for how raw it was but also for how it held a powerful man to account without civility. (ACT UP had also gone to Bush’s vacation home in Maine, and they hounded him up until the night he lost reelection, when they marched the dead body of Mark Fisher to his campaign headquarters.) For in life—and, sadly, in the first obits, in death—Bush dangerously hid the vast nature of American violence beneath the seductive cloak of civility, that opiate of mass media that gets journalists and readers to let violence go unremarked.

But at a presidential debate with Bill Clinton and Ross Perot the day after the ashes action, journalist John Mashek asked Bush:

Mr. President, yesterday tens of thousands of people paraded past the White House to demonstrate about their concern about the disease, AIDS. A celebrated member of your commission, Magic Johnson, quit, saying there was too much inaction. Where is this widespread feeling coming from that your administration is not doing enough about AIDS?

Looking annoyed, Bush listed what his administration was doing before saying, seemingly irritated, “I can’t tell you where it’s coming from. I am very much concerned about AIDS. And I believe we have the best researchers in the world at NIH working on the problem.” But then he added:

It’s one of the few diseases where behavior matters. And I once called on somebody, “Well, change your behavior! If the behavior you’re using is prone to cause AIDs, change the behavior!” Next thing I know, one of these ACT UP groups is saying, “Bush ought to change his behavior!” You can’t talk about it rationally!

Bush’s words are not just cruel; they fundamentally misunderstand what causes AIDS and how to effectively address it. Sex—yes, even gay sex—is a part of being human, and the people who died of AIDS did so because of societal neglect, not because of their human acts. And while he was nominally better than his predecessor (a very low bar) at addressing the consequences of AIDS, he’d been unforgivably quiet as Reagan’s vice president.

But as director of the CIA, vice president, and then president, Bush exacerbated the material conditions that allow AIDS to flourish in the first place. For what causes AIDS? And why has it always so disparately affected black people? Medical research and pharmaceutical interventions are important in dealing with the consequences of seroconversion and limiting onward transmission of HIV. But AIDS is caused by broader social problems: homelessness, inadequate access to to health care, political instability, racism, homophobia, and the violence of capitalism. And on these fronts, Bush is guilty; his “behavior matters.” As a former head of the CIA, Bush created political instability in nations around the globe where AIDS would thrive. He hyped up racism with his Willie Horton ad, by replacing civil-rights titan Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court with Clarence Thomas, and by vetoing the Civil Rights Act of 1990.

And, of course, in starting the 1991 Iraq War, he set our country on a nearly three-decade-long disaster which has left millions sick, disabled, and dead—many of them LGBTQ soldiers and civilians.

Sadly, gay journalists have been among the worst to immediately whitewash this part of Bush’s legacy. Frank Bruni published a gushing New York Times column on World AIDS Day (“George H.W. Bush’s Uncommon Grace”) without mentioning the words “gay,” “homosexual,” AIDS, or HIV. Meanwhile, over at the gay magazine the Advocate, Neal Boverman headlined his insipid revisionism “George H.W. Bush, No Ally But No Enemy of LGBTQ People, Dead at 94.”

The American desire for civility is so strong that many liberals who were enraged that Trump nominated and stood by Brett Kavanaugh have been silent that Bush nominated and stood by Clarence Thomas. Even in the Me Too era, many seem to be eliding that Bush was recently accused of groping women (while allegedly declaring “I’m David Cop-A-Feel!”).

On World AIDS Day, it would be an unforgivable injury to those who died of AIDS because of Bush’s actions and inactions to let him off the hook. Instead, look at what drove grieving lovers and friends to pour ashes onto Bush’s lawn—and really sit with the violence of American empire embodied by George Herbert Walker Bush.

Doonesbury — Speaking of nice guys…

Saturday, December 1, 2018

World AIDS Day

Yes, it still matters.

In August 1994, when I was living and working in Petoskey, Michigan, I received a phone call from Northern Michigan Planned Parenthood, asking me if I would write a short play for their Troupe Teen Theatre group for World AIDS Day 1994. The troupe, made up of local high school students, would perform the play on World AIDS Day and then take it on the road to high schools around northern Michigan. The theme was AIDS education and awareness. I replied, “Sure,” and promptly forgot about it.

At the end of October, I received another phone call from the troupe’s director, telling me that the first rehearsal would be the next afternoon and that the troupe was really looking forward to reading the play. I gulped, got the time of the rehearsal, and booted up my reliable old Apple IIc. Within an hour I batted out a twenty-page manuscript, proofed it, and ran to the copy center next door.

I have a reputation in my writing – deserved or otherwise – for being able to get it right the first time. I got through college and both grad schools turning in first drafts, and the only research paper I remember doing in more than one draft was my doctoral thesis. This play, which I titled Here’s Hoping, was the same. The kids read it the next day and loved it, and other than some minor changes for scientific accuracy, the play went on pretty much as I wrote it that October afternoon.

It’s the story of an AIDS support group meeting in a church basement, not unlike an Al-Anon meeting (with which I had recent experience at the time). All of the participants are supporting AIDS victims, including a college student with an HIV-positive boyfriend, a young couple with a child infected by a blood transfusion, and a widow of AIDS. Into this mix comes a straight-laced couple pushed into the group by the illness of a son they cast out several years ago. The group meets their challenge and their needs.

All of the people in the group are based on people I knew – and still know. Some are gone, but most are still with us. The play is dedicated to them and their memories.

Today I remember the friends who I’ve lost to this scourge: childhood friends like Mark, colleagues like Stephen, Matt, David, and Scott, and those who keep fighting, growing ever stronger in their resolve to win.

*
If you would like a copy of Here’s Hoping in PDF format, it is on my New Play Exchange page here. If you would like to use it for a production, I will waive royalties as long as the performance is conducted under standard contract terms of The Dramatists Guild and as long as the proceeds go to your local AIDS charity.

George H.W. Bush — 1924-2018

The last World War II veteran to serve as president.

George H.W. Bush, who in one term as president reasserted the U.S. as the world’s lone superpower, rallying an international coalition against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War and presiding over the fall of the Berlin Wall and subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union, died on Friday. He was 94.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Seeing A Pattern Here

Josh Marshall may be on to something.

Sometimes it’s worth stepping back and stating the obvious. Over the course of these thirty months of cover-ups, every player in the Trump/Russia story has lied about their role in the conspiracy. And not hedging and spinning fibs but straight up lies about the core nature of their involvement, their overt acts. Most – though here what we know is a bit more tentative – seem to have lied under oath, whether to congressional committees or a grand jury. Not a single one of them told a story that wasn’t eventually contradicted and disproved. Not a single one.

Who? Well, let’s see. Donald Trump, Jr., Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, Donald Trump, Jerome Corsi, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Carter Page, Jared Kushner. These are ones who lied, the ones we can state definitively. I’m not including the marginal players, folks like Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan. I’m not including those who just never spoke at all – at least not in public.

His inevitable conclusion is that they’re all guilty.  Perhaps not of a crime, but an innocent person doesn’t risk criminal charges by lying.

Then again, there’s Trump who lies about everything without even thinking about it.  It’s not even to cover up suspicious activity; it’s just his natural state.  Does that mean he’s guilty?  That’s a bit harder to prove, but it does mean that convicting him of a crime, whether it’s collusion with a foreign government to win an election or taking a lot of money from unsuspecting and gullible people for a fictional university degree, is a lot harder because you have to prove criminal intent.  And it’s hard to prove that for someone who lies by nature, the same way some people fart.

So I think this is how it’s all going to end: Trump will be convicted — or at least indicted — for serial lying, not for the actual thing he’s lying about.  Trump’s defenders have already come up with a way to dismiss it, but those were the same folks who went after Bill Clinton and demanded his head for lying about his affairs, so take that for what it’s worth.  It’s an old song; it’s what’s been the downfall of just about everyone else who’s had scandal or questions arise about their behavior: the lying is what does it.

Thursday, November 29, 2018