Thursday, December 28, 2017

Christmas in the South

When you say the word “Belgian” to an American, the next word that comes into their mind is either “waffle,” “chocolate,” or “beer.”  Fran has confirmed this from personal experience, and that’s just one of the many burdens that we as Americans have to live with.

Naturally, when we went to Chattanooga to visit my family for Christmas, we had to go to the Waffle House.

Because Waffle Houses are to the American south what McDonalds are everywhere else – ubiquitous standardized franchise restaurants serving moderately non-lethal food – and really, how can you say you’ve been to the old Confederacy if you haven’t gone to a Waffle House at least once?  You can’t, that’s how.

My side of the family decided to gather at my Uncle Bob and Aunt Linda’s house outside of Chattanooga this year.  We’d thought to stay home in Wisconsin after four straight years of traveling for the holiday, but the clan doesn’t gather in its entirety very often anymore and we had two entire nephews that we hadn’t even met yet, so we decided to drive down.  Having an exchange student to take with us on the long drive through Illinois, Kentucky, and pretty much all of Tennessee was just one more reason for the trip.  You can’t really get a sense of the scale of this country until you’ve driven through a chunk of it.

The family has gotten big enough, through marriage and children, that we can’t all stay at my aunt and uncle’s house anymore, so Keith and Kim worked out a hotel for us and we met there on the evening of the 23rd.

The Waffle House was practically next door!

The next day was Christmas Eve, and naturally that was when the back tire on our minivan decided to die.  Or was murdered by pointy object or objects unknown, either way.  Thankfully it was good for the entire ride down the previous day, and it had remained fine when Kim went to the store for some last-minute gift-wrap supplies Sunday morning, but somewhere in the following hour or so it became a sad and deflated sort of thing.  We sent the kids along ahead of us with Keith and his crew, called AAA, and settled into wait.  Eventually a cheerful bearded guy (not wearing a red suit) with the thickest Tennessee accent I have ever heard drove up, pulled the tire off, pointed to the quarter-inch hole, and said, “There’s yer problem raht there!”  That seemed a fair assessment.  He got it patched up and sent me on my way in good speed, and off we went to join the festivities.

We spent most of the next three days there, hanging out in a swirl of family.  We’re an intense but welcoming group, really.  There were several themes that played out across the holiday.

For one thing, we hung out a lot.  For many people spending the holidays with family is a source of stress, but not for us.  We actually enjoy our time together, and the holidays are one of the few times we get together in large numbers – or as large as our numbers get, anyway.  We talk.  We laugh.  We enjoy each other’s company.  And life is good.

For another thing, there was food.  Lots of food.  We’re a family that thinks in terms of its next meal even without the holidays to highlight it, and we had a grand time with that.  We kept it pretty informal, though – long gone are the days of bringing out the good china and silverware, because really the whole point of the visit is to do what you love with those you love and nobody loves loading the dishwasher no matter who is with them.  The food gets set out, everyone grabs a sturdy paper plate and dishes up, and off you go to the table to get to the main focus of conversation and consumption.

The food was good, as it always is.  We’ve pretty much abandoned the “seven kinds of fish on Christmas Eve” tradition since many people in the crowd don’t much like fish and some are allergic to it, but seafood did make its appearance so we can say we upheld the tradition in spirit.  There was also ham, turkey, pasta, and any number of sides.  There were things for vegans, things for carnivores, things for the gluten-intolerant, things for those allergic to nuts and peanuts, things for people who should be watching their salt, things for everyone because everyone is family and everyone is us and food is love.  We also brought down a box of cheeses from Wisconsin to be cut up and noshed upon, and Fran’s family sent us their recipe for bread pudding (really good, by the way) and we made that too.  We did not starve. 

I may never eat again, actually.

Another theme that played out was the incessant game-playing that went on.  There were a couple of rounds of Cards Against Humanity and its lineal descendant, What Do You Meme.  There was a Gobblet tournament that never quite got rolling but still managed a few rounds.  There was Taboo.  There was Phase 10.  There was a rousing game of spoons.  There was some kind of game played on people’s phones that somehow managed to make all of the participating phones switch to Dutch as the main language.  We are game players, we crew.

Also, it turns out that cousin Josh is a wizard with Rubik’s Cubes of many varieties.  I find this beyond impressive, since the best I have ever done with a Rubik's Cube is not cut myself on one.  He had a cube that was something like 10x10, another in the shape of a soccer ball with pentagonal faces, and a third that was offset, with facets of different sizes, that he could actually solve with his hands behind his back.  I watched him do that several times and even now will swear to you that it is impossible.

And, of course, there were gifts. 

We’re not a huge gift-giving family.  It’s not the center of the holiday for us (see above, re: food, family, etc.).  But it’s always nice to get stuff and we certainly have no objections to it.  Most of the gift-giving happens on Christmas Eve, which is the bigger holiday on my side of the family.  Christmas morning is for the little kids.

For the past few years the cousins of my generation have been playing the Dice Game, which cuts down on a lot of the gift-giving headaches and is fun, so double win for us really.  You get a fixed budget and have to buy two gifts with that – one nice and one kind of goofy.  You put them in six piles.  You roll a die and pick from the pile that the die says to pick from, unwrap the gift, and then pass the die to the next person.  When everyone has two gifts in front of them, you take out several pairs of dice, set a timer, and then roll.  If you get doubles you can forcibly trade with someone else.  And then you see how it goes.

This year the next generation started to get involved as well – Tabitha, Lauren, Fran, Josh, Sara, and Annelise all took part, and it went well.  It’s one of those games that people seem to enjoy no matter what they end up with when the timer goes off.

We even got Randall to beam in by phone, because technology can in fact sometimes make life better.

We think that was one of the goofy gifts, but in the current political climate we can't be too sure.

Our big excursion was the day after Christmas, when we went to the trampoline park.

If you’ve never been to one of these things, well, you should go.  There’s a big room full of trampolines of varying descriptions and bounciness as well as pits full of foam blocks and other such activities.  You put on the special socks, sign all of the various waivers, and let people run around for an hour.


After that we went over to see the new Star Wars movie, which was unique to the series in that it had some jokes in it (“Right away, sir”).  Say what you will about Disney, but they’re good at what they do.  And what they do is they separate you from your money in exchange for an entertaining story.  Really, what more do you want from a movie?

We hit the road early on the 27th for the long drive back to Wisconsin.  It was a pleasantly uneventful trip and we arrived back home with vehicle, persons, and sanity intact.  It was considerably colder than it had been in Tennessee, of course – while Tennessee saw temperatures in the 20s F, we won’t see that here for a while.  At one point in northern Illinois the thermometer on the dashboard got down to -7F (about -20C) though by the time we walked into our house it had warmed up all the way back up to -2F!  Barbecue weather!

Today was a good day to stay home and do Not Much Of Anything.

At some point, Kim and I will finish our Christmas cards, too.

Sunday, December 17, 2017


If you’ve ever read A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving, you know that the Christmas pageant scene is worth the price of the book all by itself.  I always think about that this time of year.  We had an annual Christmas pageant at my church when I was a kid, and it was pretty much the same chaotic whirl of children that Irving describes.

I don’t remember the original pageant that they were running when I was really little.  I think I was in that one once, playing a soldier with a tin-foil hat of some kind (really, the jokes just write themselves, don’t they?) alongside my friend Bobby, who was a year younger.  We weren’t the most intimidating soldiers in the Roman army, coming up about to the waist of the other actors, but we did our best.  They had to make a few changes after that because we were a small parish and didn’t have that many kids, and the soldiers got phased out.  Call it a peace dividend, which in retrospect is probably appropriate to the season.

The pageant I remember most was a fairly straightforward retelling of the Nativity story.

There were shepherds.  I liked being a shepherd because it involved almost no makeup and you got to carry around a big stick, which is about all a small boy can ask of the theater.  They knew better than to give us small animals.  My dad almost always got put in charge of shepherd-wrangling because he was good at it, being the sort of man who had a finely tuned ability to let go what needed to be let go and crack down on what needed to be cracked down on.  We’d do all our prep in the big parish hall and then wait until it was time to go on, while the grown-ups took photos.  I’m on the right in this picture.

There were angels dressed in choir surplices big enough on them to be robes.  Some years they got halos and some years, well, you know, small kids.  Whoever had to be the angel Gabriel had to stand up in front of the church with her arms raised for unreasonable amounts of time, as I recall, which eventually led to several near-faintings and a revision to the blocking that allowed them to put their arms down in future pageants. 

We shepherds would march in, be suitably amazed by the angels, and then slide off to the side while the main action occurred.

Joseph and Mary were the stars, and I think they came in next.  Those roles always went to the biggest kids, since they were the least likely to make faces or otherwise turn the whole thing into a vaudeville performance.  There are limits to how much you can get away with, no matter how cute you are.  They’d march up the aisle and speak to the innkeeper and his wife before heading off to the manger which was, conveniently, front and center so everyone could see.  What the innkeepers did during the rest of the pageant I have no idea.  I never got to play the innkeeper.

The wise men were kind of the highlight of the pageant, since they had all the best props.  They also had the most makeup.  When I got older I mostly ended up as a wise man – there weren’t that many young men in the church, so casting decisions were not all that flexible – and I cannot tell you how much I hated getting the beard put on.  This was back in the 70s when spirit gum and steel wool were the cutting edge of theatrical technology, and as soon as the pageant was over we’d race out to the bathrooms and scrape the stuff off with our bare hands.

But we were stuck with it during the pageant itself.

We’d gather at the back of the church and the choir would launch into “We Three Kings,” one verse at a time, and the appropriate wise man would march up for each verse.  We’d set down our gifts next to the manger – there was usually a large doll inside the manger dressed to look like what a baby Jesus might look like in suburban Philadelphia – and step aside for the next verse, until everyone was up front and the gifts all neatly arranged.

Then we’d sit there while Important Lessons were announced by various lay readers, making faces at each other and whacking each other with sticks until it was time to march back out.

To this day I still have a soft spot for “In the Deep Midwinter” and “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” as they were the exit hymns for the pageant and that meant we could head out to the parish hall, get rid of the beards, and make a beeline for the snacks that always followed in abundance.

I don’t know if they still do pageants there anymore – it’s been a long time since I lived in that neighborhood, and times change. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017


I think I am officially old.

Yes, I know.

There are any number of hints that I could have taken in order to draw this conclusion – the rapidly thinning hair, the simple arithmetic of “current year minus birth year,” the thoroughly outdated cultural references, the fact that I now identify with the parents in Disney movies – but the one that has been most relevant here of late is simply outerwear.

It’s December in Wisconsin, which means that it’s getting cold.  Not Yukon cold, but cold enough – most mornings when we leave to get the girls off to school it’s about 17F (about -8C), which is enough to remind us that it will be winter soon.

And every morning I say to my youngest daughter, “Put a coat on!  You’ll freeze!”

She rolls her eyes and says, “Okay, dad,” and then she puts on a fall-weight jacket and that’s as good as it gets, really.  When I drop them off at school it’s easy to see that she’s in the majority, not me.  Some of those kids are just wearing t-shirts.

The school plans for this, by the way.  The lockers at Local Businessman High School are about a hands-width across and will not actually fit any coat warm enough to withstand a February day in Wisconsin.  The jackets they wear in December can fit if you shove them hard enough, I am told, but you don’t actually need to hang them up on anything.  They will stay up just from the tight fit.

There is a part of me that sympathizes with my daughter, I have to admit.  I used to be that kid.  I like cooler weather.  I still don’t get cold too easily – I’m happy in my windbreaker down to about 40F (5C), I see no reason for the air temperature ever to go above 70F (20C) no matter what time of year it is, and I much prefer winter to summer since you can always add clothing and the reverse is not necessarily true, especially in the United States.  We’re kind of weird that way.

We’re kind of weird in a lot of ways, really.

But I have reached a point where I am all too aware of the fragility of the human body and the relentless assault of the elements upon it, and I have adopted the Swedish motto (“There is no bad weather, only bad clothing”). 

So I say my bit and she says her bit and so the cycle of life continues.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Continued Stray Thoughts on the Current Political Climate

With the cascade of stupid, immoral, illegal, subversive, un-American, and possibly treasonous things emitted by der Sturmtrumper, his pet Congress, his supporters, and his administration reaching levels that make it nearly impossible for any sane person to keep up with, I’ve started just keeping a running list of observations on the matter.  Every time the list reaches critical mass, I suppose I’ll post it and start a new one.  Can’t hurt; might help.  Here’s the most recent list:


1. I have begun to dislike these posts, as they go on and on and add little to my total happiness.  I quarantine my political posts to this blog now, rather than having them infect other social media accounts that I have, for that very reason.  But I do feel an obligation to write them.  I do not accept the destruction of the American republic by right-wing extremists.  I will not go gently into that authoritarian nightmare.  I will holler and I will act and I will keep writing these for as long as I have to do so.  Add that to the long list of sins for which the GOP should burn.

2. Well, those maniacs did it.  In the dead of night, against the wishes of the vast majority of the population, they passed a tax bill that nobody had read – that nobody could read, since parts of it were hastily scribbled in the margins and were entirely illegible – but which, according to the legible bits, will pay for a massive tax cut for the already wealthy by raising taxes on the poor, the working class, and the middle class, explode the deficit and make the national debt soar, and destroy what fiscal sanity we have.  This is a joke perpetrated by a mob of clowns, and we can no longer claim to be a serious country because of it.  The Wisconsin Process – ramming through shoddily written bills crafted by lobbyists while actual elected officials are locked out of rooms, making sure that there is no time for debate, no room for public hearings, and no input from anyone other than the cronies and sycophants who wrote the thing – has gone national, as has the Kansas Miracle.  You can see how well this plan worked in Kansas, where even the GOP has conceded that it was a disaster of Biblical proportions.  And yet it’s good enough for you, citizen.  Please turn your pockets out so your GOP overlords can ensure that they haven’t missed anything.

3. This is, as Joshua Holland wrote in The Nation, an act of looting and pillage.  The GOP knows this tax bill is a moral disgrace and a fiscal nightmare.  They know that nobody likes it.  They know that a backlash is coming.  The GOP has lost the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential elections and only the gerrymandering of the Electoral College has kept them in the Oval Office.  They routinely lose the total votes for the House, and only the extreme gerrymandering of House districts has kept them in the majority there – the GOP could lose the popular vote by as much as 8% and still keep their ill-gotten majority – and they understand full well that their electoral base of evangelical older white men is shrinking fast enough that even the most frantic voter suppression tactics may not save them.  This is their raid on the US Treasury, a desperation theft of public funds while the getting is good.  This is why they went all in on the Wisconsin Process, this is why they don’t care that public opinion is so overwhelmingly against the bill (even large numbers of Republican voters hate it), and this is why they are so eagerly destroying everything that makes the US more than a collection of atomized individuals ruled over by tribal warlords.  They dress it up in pretty words, but this is nothing more than a smash-and-grab raid on what they see as a dying country, one designed as a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If you’re not outraged by this, there is no hope for you as an American.

4. At least they’re not even pretending to care about American citizens anymore.  At least they’re not even pretending to care about fiscal responsibility anymore.  At least they’re not even pretending to care about basic economics anymore.  At least they’re not even pretending to care about Constitutional democracy anymore.  And when they try to pretend again, as most assuredly they will someday, they should immediately be pointed at, laughed at, and shooed away from the grownup table.

5. If Bernie Sanders decides to run again in 2020, he’s got his campaign speech already written out thanks to the GOP.

6. One of the more insidious assaults on basic American values and good economic planning is that the bill is deliberately written to take money away from public schools and give it to private schools.  It allows 529 plans to be used for private k-12 schools rather than just higher education, and repeals the deduction for state and local taxes that was formerly allowed when filing federal taxes.  That makes it far more expensive to pay for public schools out of those taxes, since that money is essentially being taxed twice.  So less money available for educating the vast majority of Americans, while more money available for the ultra-rich to pay for their children’s tutelage into the master class.  Welcome to the ancien regime.

7. Meanwhile, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has no trouble handing $1.4 trillion to corporations and the wealthy, but thinks it’s just far too expensive to pay about 1% of that to continue providing healthcare to poor children.  And that, folks, is pretty much the GOP priority list in a nutshell.

8. In keeping with this, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) defended the repeal of the estate tax – a tax that affects only those with more than $5.5 million in assets for individuals or $11 million for couples filing jointly (about 5,000 people in the entire US, so roughly 0.001% of Americans) and which is deeply embedded in the fabric of American democracy (see the Founding Fathers’ distrust of entail, for example) – by saying “I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”  Hear that, struggling Americans trying to pay your mortgage, put food on the table, or make it to the next paycheck?  Your overlords think all you do is spend money on riotous living and use that to justify making the Gilded Age inequality of this country even worse.  Let them eat cake.

9. Michael Flynn’s guilty plea has apparently unhinged der Sturmtrumper to the point where it is now contagious.  First, der Sturmtrumper, in an effort to wriggle out from under the obvious impeachable offenses that are coming to light, sent forth into the world a Tweet claiming that he had to fire Flynn in February because he had lied to Toady Pence and the FBI, except that Flynn’s comments to the FBI were not public knowledge and were not known to the White House at the time.  And the day after Flynn was fired, der Sturmtrumper went to James Comey, then head of the FBI, to try to get him to back off the Russian investigation.  If der Sturmturmper really did know that Flynn had lied to the FBI, this is essentially der Sturmtrumper admitting publicly that he obstructed justice by actively interfering with an ongoing criminal investigation.  So der Sturmtrumper’s lawyer, John Dowd, is now claiming that he wrote that Tweet, which would be laughable if it weren’t so grotesquely transparent as a diversionary tactic.

10. Yeah, this.

11. Dowd also made the Nixonian claim that a president cannot, by definition, obstruct justice.  Uh, we settled this in the 1970s, dude.  It was the first charge listed in the Articles of Impeachment against Nixon, the ones that only got shelved when he resigned in disgrace.  If the president does it, it can in fact still be illegal, thank you very much.  Nitwit. 

12. Flynn’s guilty plea is all kinds of ugly for der Sturmtrumper.  It is not a “meet-in-the-middle” deal where both sides gave and got.  It’s the standard prosecutorial framework that says, “I know you’re guilty of a lot more and you’re going to give us everything we ask for until we get the people above you,” to which the guilty party says, “yes, sir.”  The actual charge says, in so many words, that der Sturmtrumper was actively colluding with Russian agents to subvert American diplomacy and foreign policy and influence the 2016 election, a whole new range of impeachable offenses to add to the large pile we already have.  It puts everyone in der Sturmtrumper’s administration, including both Toady Pence and “He Went To” Jared Kushner, within the range of criminal and, in Pence’s case, impeachable offenses.  And Flynn is prepared to testify to all of it. 

13.  No doubt der Sturmtrumper’s loyal minions will respond with cries of “fake news!” and other half-witted nonsense – they already are (if you really want to destroy any faith you have left in humanity, read social media comments left by supporters of der Sturmtrumper on articles about Flynn or Russia) but really what else is left to them?

14.  Is it any wonder that Congressional Republicans are frantically trying to halt the investigation into these crimes?  In theory they could value country over partisan gain, patriotism over greed, or morals over vanity, but so far not a sign of it.  Color me shocked.

15.  Of course, as soon as the GOP completes its Tax Heist, der Sturmtrumper’s usefulness will plummet.  They may well cut their losses at that point and let the process continue.

16. All of this is at a time when this country is not experiencing any major crises at home or abroad.  Try to imagine what this will look like if anything major happens in the world.  Consider: der Sturmtrumper is even now pushing us closer to nuclear war with North Korea while at the same time encouraging hardliners who want war with Iran by floating the idea of Tom Cotton, the second-most bone-ignorant man in the Senate after Ron Johnson, to run the CIA.  Cotton ardently defends the use of torture and is on record in October threatening war against Iran.  As Michelle Goldberg put it in The New York Times, “If you think 2017 was bad, imagine an America without allies fighting another two-front war, this one involving nuclear weapons, under the leadership of the most hated president in modern history, while a torture apologist runs the CIA.  The world now is a powder keg.  Trump, an untethered maniac, sits atop it, flicking a lighter that Republicans in Congress could take away but won’t.  If everything goes up in flames, we can’t say we weren’t warned.”

17. Billy Bush, the man who was speaking to der Sturmtrumper when he made his “grab ‘em by the pussy” comment, has confirmed the obvious – that yes, that was der Sturmtrumper, no matter what delusion der Sturmtrumper is currently under about someone else having said that.  We have a psychotic in the White House, and the only people who can do something about that are too focused on looting the Treasury to care.

18. Is it any wonder that the rest of the world has decided that the US is no longer trustworthy?  At the end of the Obama administration, 64% of those surveyed in 37 different nations had confidence in the American president and 23% did not.  64% had a favorable view of the US as a whole, while 26% had an unfavorable view.  Six months into der Sturmtrumper’s regime, only 22% of those surveyed had confidence in the American president, versus 74% who did not, while the gap between those who had a favorable view of the US versus an unfavorable view had closed to 49-39.  Only two countries have a higher view of the presidency under der Sturmtrumper: Russia and Israel, both of which colluded with the incoming administration before it was installed, so no surprise there.  The other 35 countries have lost confidence by as much as 83 percentage points.  This kind of extreme shift in perception is unprecedented, and entirely due to the erratic and irrational policies now being implemented by this rogue regime.  The rest of the world can see it clearly, folks – maybe the US should take a look at itself in a mirror.

19. The outcome of that, for those inclined to dismiss it, is simple, as Arthur Lupia (a political scientist at the University of Michigan) points out: “As America is seen as an increasingly volatile and unreliable partner, the reduced credibility that follows creates new international opportunities for people like Putin – who can promise relative stability.  The net result?  We now have reduced leverage in many international settings.”  Folks, this is a national security issue.  We are less secure now than we were, and we will continue to be less secure for as long as this gang of criminals and halfwits is in charge.

20.  You know, there are consequences of rewriting the entire American tax code in an afternoon, scribbling up the voting copy minutes before the vote, not holding a single hearing or consulting a single expert on what the bill would actually do, and generally behaving like a drug-addled banana-republic strongman in a hurry to get out of town before the coup starts.  Screwing yourself over is just one of them.  As Eric Levitz explains in The New Yorker, this all has to do with the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT).  The AMT prevents companies from driving down their tax rate to zero by establishing a baseline minimum rate.  Under current law, the statutory rate for corporate taxes is usually 35%, with an AMT of 20%.  The plan was to abolish the AMT completely, since God forbid any corporation be forced to pay any taxes at all.  Taxes are for the poor and middle class!  Unfortunately Senate rules forbid any bill that will add more than $1.5 trillion to the deficit over the next decade, and the giveaways that the GOP was forced to add in order to bribe its members to vote for this turkey brought the total way over that.  So they added the AMT back in.  And forgot to lower it.  In Levitz’ words, “This is a big problem.  The Senate bill brings the normal corporate rate down to 20 percent – while leaving the alternative MINIMUM rate at … 20 percent.  The legislation would still allow corporations to claim a wide variety of tax credits and deductions – it just renders all [of] them completely worthless.  Companies can either take no deductions, and pay a 20 percent rate – or take lots of deductions … and pay a 20 percent rate.”  To which we respond, hah.

21. The AMT screwup means that there will almost have to be a new vote on this bill – the House isn’t just going to vote for the Senate version – and that some of the more vicious and petty bits from the House version (such as the tax on graduate students) may find their way back into the final version.  Because they certainly won’t consider actually being fiscally responsible and abandoning this abomination of a law.

22. The first legislation passed by the GOP Congress since the massacres at Las Vegas and Texas is a bill that would overturn state regulations and make it easier for ammosexuals to carry concealed weapons anywhere they want.  Because people don’t count in the United States, but guns and donors do.

23. Der Sturmtrumper has decided that homeless vets should just stay on the street where they belong, apparently, cutting almost all of the $460 million from a VA program that helps veterans find affordable housing.  Republicans sure love vets when they’re sending them off to fight wars, but never seem to have time or money for them when they return and need help.  [Edit: apparently enough people pointed out the essential fuckedupness of this bit of GOP logic that they’ve backed off.  For now.  Don’t think it won’t be back, though.]

24. Der Sturmtrumper also doesn’t seem to care whether the world burns down as long as he gets his cut and his alt-white supporters are happy.  As the latest exhibit in this ongoing trend, I point you to his decision to overturn 70 years of American policy and move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem – the diplomatic equivalent of pouring gasoline on a fire.  There is a reason that every American president from Truman to Nixon to Reagan to Bush thought that was so far beyond stupid that it never even occurred to them that a rational human being would even conceive of it, let alone try to act on it.  As with rejecting the reality of climate change, we are now the only nation on earth who lives in our ideological bubble that says this is okay (presumably excepting Israel on this one, of course, though even there I suspect there are plenty of people who recognize the stupidity of this).  Once again, der Sturmtrumper has pissed off most of our allies and pissed on the hard work of generations who sought an actual solution to problems rather than a quick point-scoring opportunity with a delusional base.  There will be blood, and it will be on der Sturmtrumper’s hands, and neither he nor his base will care.

25. This is how this will go.  Der Sturmtrumper and his alt-white administration will move the US embassy to Jerusalem, provoking intense and wholly justified outrage in the Muslim world.  Some penny-ante terrorist group will seek to capitalize on that outrage by attacking the embassy.  Der Sturmtrumper will then whip up a war frenzy and plunge the US further into the kind of unwinnable, intractable, budget-busting warfare that the GOP has specialized in this century and use that as an excuse to a) gut any non-military spending by the federal government and b) gut civil liberties in the US, both of them because “we can’t afford them in wartime.”  Watch and see.

26. Paul Ryan is already talking about destroying Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid because of a newfound concern with deficits and debt that didn’t exist when he voted for the budget bill that created the crisis in the first place.  Folks, this is the Wisconsin Process to a tee.  In 2011 Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) first destroyed Wisconsin’s fiscal sanity then used that destruction to pass Act 10, which effectively outlawed unions and gutted public education in the state.  I’m not sure why the GOP wants Americans to be poor, ignorant, and servile.  You’d have to ask them.  I do have my theories, though.

27. One of the more interesting revelations from the Mueller investigation so far is that not only did der Sturmtrumper and his campaign collude with the Russians, they also colluded with the Israelis.  In December 2016, the Obama Administration had made it clear that they were going to abstain from a UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements in occupied territories – a stance that has had long-standing bipartisan support for decades going back to Ronald Reagan.  According to the statement of offense against Michael Flynn, “On or about December 22, 2016, a very senior member of the Presidential Transition Team directed Flynn to contact officials from foreign governments, including Russia, to learn where each government stood on the resolution and to influence those governments to delay the vote or defeat the resolution.”  In other words, for those of you not keeping score, der Sturmtrumper’s transition team was actively undermining US policy by colluding with foreign governments before coming to office.  This is uncontested by der Sturmtrumper’s administration, and the Israelis have likewise been open about it.  This is yet another impeachable offense, but we’ll throw that on the large pile of the other ones that the GOP cares not a whit about.

28. Representative Elijiah E. Cummings (D-MD) has formally written to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to accuse Michael Flynn of seeking to “manipulate the course of international nuclear policy for the financial gain of his former business partners.” His letter has three pages of citations and evidence to back this up, and calls for investigations into what is, after all, a serious crime against national security by the guy who was supposed to be promoting national security.  Good luck with that, Rep. Cummings.  They don’t care.

29. An interesting observation from a Reddit user whose name I can’t determine because I am not really conversant in Reddit but which I will gladly credit if someone else can tell me: “Christian conservatives repeatedly told me, ‘uhh, if we let a man marry a man, next thing we know we’ll have to “tolerate” pedophiles.’  Well, I’ll be damned.  Here we are merely 2 1/2 years after legal gay marriage and the GOP and evangelicals are falling all over themselves to support a pedophile.”

30. Speaking of pedophiles, the child molester Roy Moore’s latest bit of wisdom comes from a September interview in the Los Angeles Times, in which he responded to a question asking when the US was last “great” by saying, “I think it was great at the time when families were united – even though we had slavery.”  Uh, dude, that’s so far beyond screwed up that it would take three generations and a nuclear-powered Correct-All just to get it back down to “merely wrong.”  But the alt-white is nothing if not consistent: still defending slavery after a century and a half.

31.  So Al Franken is resigning but the Pussy Grabber In Chief is still in office and the child molester Roy Moore is leading the polls in Alabama, both still supported by their mindless toadies, and both still somehow immune to both shame and legal proceedings.  And now you know which party finds sexual assault acceptable and which does not.

32. Robert Mueller has reportedly subpoenaed Deutsche Bank to get at der Sturmtrumper’s financial records.  According to Reuters, “A US official with knowledge of Mueller’s probe said one reason for the subpoenas was to find out whether Deutsche Bank may have sold some of Trump’s mortgage or other loans to Russian state development bank VEB or other Russian banks that now are under US and European sanctions.  Holding such debt, particularly if some of was or is coming due, could potentially give Russian banks some leverage over Trump, especially if they are state owned, said a second US official familiar with Russian intelligence methods.”  So, yeah, thanks, GOP – we got us a foreign puppet and you’re okay with it as long as you get your tax cuts for millionaires.

33. Now it turns out that der Sturmtrumper is planning to set up his own network of spies to circumvent the professionals in the US intelligence community because he doesn’t trust them.  This private Gestapo would report directly to the White House (via der Sturmtrumper’s stooge, Mike Pompeo), bypassing legal and political controls put in place to prevent the kind of abuse that happens when would be petit-Fascist dictators set up their own institutions to replace the ones created by a democratic republic.  Apparently disgraced subversive Oliver North will be involved, which is a pretty cushy job for someone who should have rotted in jail decades ago.  Folks, if you’re not worried about the survival of the American republic under this gang of thugs, you’re not paying attention.

34. The latest voice raised in concern regarding der Sturmtrumper’s deteriorating mental state is former GOP Congressman Joe Scarborough, who points out that der Sturmtrumper has been more erratic and dangerous than usual in the last few weeks.  Scarborough runs through a long list of “bizarre” behavior, some of which I have also chronicled here, and notes that “Any Fortune 500 company would have fired a chief executive exhibiting similarly erratic behavior long ago.”  “The president’s meltdown could not come at a more perilous time,” Scarborough continues.  “For months now, national security advisors have been fretting about the possibility of war on the Korean Peninsula.  But administration sources admit their greatest fear is their own commander in chief’s instability.”  Remember, folks, this is the guy with his finger on the nuclear button, and he was grotesquely unqualified to start with, let alone now as his cognitive abilities are increasingly impaired. 

35. In case you want to know where the GOP stands, you can always find a reliable indicator in Representative Steve King (R-IA), who is too much of a Dunning-Kruger poster child to keep his mouth shut or use the dog whistle rather than say things right out loud where the rest of us can hear.  “Diversity is not our strength,” is his latest little hobby horse.  Apparently we should all aspire to be pasty white men who reject anything unfamiliar, which – while consistent with the GOP platform – is no way to go through life if you hope to make anything of yourself or your country.

36. In the “credit where due” section of today’s post, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) has flatly declared that the child molester Roy Moore should not be his colleague.  “The state of Alabama deserves better,” he said.  “If he wins, we have to seat him.  Then there will immediately be an ethics investigation.  The allegations are significantly stronger than the denial.”  Shelby further said that when it came time for him to cast his ballot, “I couldn’t vote for Roy Moore, I didn’t vote for Roy Moore, I wrote in a distinguished Republican name.”  The child molester Roy Moore’s campaign advisor, Brett Doster, responded with “Alabama deserves better than ‘establishment Shelby,’” which is a) true, which is why Doug Jones is running, and b) indicative of a twisted mind that thinks a non-extremist voice is worse than a pedophile.  If it weren’t so grotesque it would be comical.

37. Ah.  It makes sense now.  On December 6, the House GOP released a fact sheet about the Reverse Robin Hood tax plan that they’re attempting to shove down the throats of the American people without hearings, analysis, or even legibility.  This fact sheet referred to Americans earning $450,000/year as “low- and middle-income.”  Seriously?  That’s the top 0.5% of American earners.  The median household income in this country is almost exactly $59,000, which if you do the math, is roughly 1/8 the money of that “low- and middle-income” GOP American.   “[They] think that the income level of the top one percent is lower- and middle-class,” said AFL-CIO Policy Director Damon Silvers.  “This is a world where if you make less than $500,000, you don’t exist.”

38. Well, the Treasury has now released its “detailed analysis” of the Reverse Robin Hood Tax Plan, the one that Treasury Secretary Mnuchin claimed he had 100 staffers busily working on.  You can download it yourself!  Settle in, grab a beverage, and get ready for some reading, people!  Or not.  Definitely not.  This thing is, uh, one page long.  It has no analysis, no substance, and no reason to exist other than as a negative example.  It’s a stupid person’s idea of what a smart document should look like, though it does contain a number of correctly spelled words so it’s got that going for it.  Sweet dancing monkeys on a stick, folks, this is just pathetic.  We are governed by fools.

39. Europe’s five biggest economies – you know, the ones this country depends on as trading partners and diplomatic allies? – have issued a formal warning to der Sturmtrumper and his pet GOP that the Reverse Robin Hood Tax Plan may actually violate treaties this country has signed.  “It is important that the US government’s rights over domestic tax policy be exercised in a way that adheres with international obligations to which it has signed up,” said a joint statement of the finance ministers of those countries.  Let’s see, now – international law and legal obligations on the one side, short-sighted greed and cruelty on the other.  I wonder which side the GOP will choose.

40. And when faced with opposition from a woman, der Sturmtrumper responded with his usual moral leprosy and childish venom, accusing Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) of being willing to “do anything” for money, a rather thinly veiled accusation of prostitution.  That’s kind of rich coming from der Sturmtrumper, but there you go.  Seriously, can we just toss this cancer on the body politic into the dustbin of history and get an Actual President soon?

41. It’s decision day, Alabama.  You can vote for the career prosecutor, or you can vote for the child molester.  What do you want the rest of the country to see when they look at you? 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Tool Guy

In my basement there are a great many tools.  They have arrived there from any number of places.  Some were Kim’s when we got married.  Some come down from her side of the family.  I inherited a tidy pile of them from my dad.  Some we have bought as needs dictated over the years.

No, there weren’t many that were mine originally.  I have a defective Mr. Goodwrench gene and should not be trusted with any tool more complex than a screwdriver and there was really no need for me to have my own tools for most of my life.  The sum total of my tools when Kim and I got married consisted of a Swiss Army knife, a crescent wrench that was given to me by a theater group back in college so I could hang lights, and one of those little kits that they used to give out as door prizes for you to stow in your car because the red plastic handle included inside could take any of the 64 random metal pieces surrounding it and become a cheap knockoff version of some other more useful tool. 

What can I say?  Tools are not me.

But we have reached the point where I can no longer find tools that I need that I am sure we have, and – perhaps more importantly – where I need the floor space in the basement for other things.  Lauren got a new bed a few weeks ago, and her old one is still sitting in the upstairs hallway, disassembled into its component pieces, waiting for a more permanent home.  Preferably one in the basement. 

So I am trying to organize the tools.

I bought a couple of those shelving units that they sell at the Big Box Hardware Stores across the nation – you know, the ones made of particle board, depleted uranium, and grief, are heavy enough to warp gravity, and that claim to require no tools to build although you and I both know that there is no friend like a hammer when it comes to such things?  Those.  I even managed to put them together and get them standing more or less where I want them without permanent injury.  Now I just have to put the tools onto them in a way that will allow me to find them again without too much hassle.

This requires sorting.

The problem, of course, is that all those tools all look more or less alike to me.  They are all made of grey metal, except for the ones that are made of dingy heavy-duty plastic or well-worn wood.  Most of them have sharp edges, grippy bits, or poky things.  And while I’m good with the basic screwdriver/hammer/wrench/pliers distinctions, once you go beyond that my sorting accuracy declines sharply.

For example, we have an entire milk crate of things that I’ve decided are plumbing-related.  There are things that are obviously plumbing-related, such as toilet-tank repair kits and something called “plumber’s tape” (big giveaway right there, if you ask me).  There are things that are probably plumbing-related, such as long skinny wrenches with flippy bits at the top, and what look to be c-clamps with cutting wheels inside of them.  And there are things that I’m putting in with the plumbing stuff because they were already in with the plumbing stuff and I’m going to assume that there is some kind of plumbing magnetism that causes plumbing-related stuff to clump together into unwieldy piles like that.

It makes as much sense as any of my other theories, anyway.

Right now I’m just putting things in piles.  Eventually there will be bins, because bins are nice.  And if I am feeling really handy when all this is done, there may actually be labels.

Monday, December 4, 2017

News and Updates

1. And now we are five.  Thanks to a series of implausible events, we are now hosting a foreign exchange student.  Fran is from Belgium and has been staying with some friends of ours for the last couple of months.  She’s been with us for about a day now, and so far it’s working out well!  We knew she’d fit in here when she settled in on the couch and started reading.  She’s one of us!

2. Things I currently know about Belgium: a) it’s where Kevin De Bruyne is from, and yes I realize that I’m probably one of two dozen people in America who know or care who Kevin De Bruyne is but there you have it, b) it’s got two main groups of people in it – the French-speaking Walloons and the Dutch-speaking Flemish – and I just love those names, c) Brussels is where the European Parliament is, and d) it has the world’s best chocolate.  Things I will know about Belgium by next summer: a) a whole lot more.

3. It’s 60F here on December 4 and that’s just weird.  That’s about 15C, and that’s equally weird only in metric.  There should be snow, or at least the possibility of it.  As it is we’re expecting thunderstorms.  In December.  In Wisconsin.  Good thing the climate isn’t shifting, because otherwise?  I’d be worried.

4. Tabitha has now been accepted into two colleges, with one more application in and a handful yet to submit.  It’s becoming more and more real now – next year she will be away, and that will be very strange.  I just know I will not handle that well.  And when Lauren does the same thing four years from now?  Yeah, well.

5. We went to see Murder on the Orient Express last week.  Having never read the book or seen the previous movie, I have nothing to compare it to.  But it was an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours, and I hope that Kenneth Branagh’s mustache goes on to have a fruitful career of its own.

6. Autoplay video ads are the scourge of the internet and any website that employs them should be immediately hacked and replaced with cat photos.  Static cat photos, all laid out right there in front of you, because any website that requires you to view a slide show or click to see the rest of the article should be immediately hacked and replaced with dancing hamsters.

7. The Cards Against Humanity people are having more fun than should they probably should with their crowd-sourced effort to put obstacles into the path of the ill-thought-out and unworkable border wall that our current government is planning to erect as a distraction from its crimes.  They bought some land on the border with Mexico with the express intent of refusing to allow any wall on it, and asked for donations to cover it.  It seemed worthwhile to me.  So far we’ve gotten an endearingly offbeat sort of a map of the land, a letter from their attorneys promising to use every legal tool to draw out the eminent domain process as long as they can, some stickers, two small sets of game cards, and the possibility that those who support such a wall will be irritated and inconvenienced, which isn’t bad for a $15 investment.  They even built a trebuchet on the land, so it will be well-defended.

8. I desperately need to deshambleize my office, as it is not only stuffed to the gunwales with books, notes, and other varieties of paper, but also now houses Kim’s office for the duration of Fran’s stay.  Unfortunately, the default setting of my office is “shambles,” so I’m not sure how this is going to work.

9. One of my long-term projects has been to try to get some handle on the basement, which is currently full of Stuff.  As a show of good intent, I spent some time last week building shelving units and setting them up along the back wall.  These have been designated as the Tool Area, as we have a large and motley collection of tools from various sources and it’s getting hard to find things that I am pretty sure we have.  Right now I’m in the “it will look worse before it looks better” stage of the project, where I pull everything out and sort it into piles.  Oh well.  Eventually it will work, and then we’ll actually know how many tools we have.

10. It is December, so I will now acknowledge the existence of Christmas.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Plinking Around in the Family Past

Is there a switch that gets flipped when you reach a certain age that makes you interested in genealogy?

I rather suspect there is.  It makes sense.  As a historian, one of the things that I have noticed over my career is that people tend to become more interested in history when they have more of their own history to be interested in.  The young look forward, not back, and that’s entirely appropriate.  Their lives are in the future and they need to focus on that.  But as you get older and more and more of your life recedes into the past, the past becomes a much more interesting thing.

And there is no past so interesting to a person as their own past.

I’ve been plinking around on my family genealogy project for a few years now, as time and resources permit.  I spent a couple of summers scanning all of the family photos, for example.  Everyone has a copy of them now so even if my house gets spirited off to Oz in one of the tornadoes that occasionally grace us with their presence here in the midwest, the photos will survive.  I’ve also scanned the small trove of documents that we’ve collected as a family – at least the ones that have come down to me.  I included those scans with the photos when I sent them out, so they too will not fall into the hands of the Lollipop Guild.  And that’s where things have stood for a while.

A week or two ago I found myself in my office not wanting to do anything of any productive value, a disturbingly common feeling these days.  So I decided to return to my plinking.

And I struck gold.

Genealogists are obsessive people, prone to do things that normal human beings would never even consider.  High on that list is going through cemeteries, cataloguing all of the gravestones, and putting that information into searchable databases for people like me to explore.  I’m grateful that they do such things, though kind of dumbfounded at the same time.  That’s okay.  People feel the same way about some of the things I do, too.

I stumbled into one of these databases and there, on my first try, was my great-great-grandmother.  I was actually looking for her daughter, who had the same name, but there you go.  Most of the information on her record lined up well with the papers I already had, so I’m pretty certain it was her.  She had a lot of children, and all but one of them were listed as descendants in the database (the one, of course, being my own great-grandmother, the one I was originally looking for, but in the defense of the database she was buried in a different cemetery so the connections might not have been clear to the people who built it).  My great-great-grandmother’s record also listed her parents.

And their parents.  And so on.

I tracked this back to a guy named James Taylor (presumably not the singer), who was born in 1797 in Ireland and, if his children are any indication, arrived here sometime in the first third of the nineteenth century.  I’m not sure what part of Ireland he was from – I’m guessing the northern part, since that’s where most of the Protestants live and I come from a long line of those – but there it is. 

I also found the Civil War vet whose discharge papers my parents had framed and hanging on their wall back in the old house.  He was one of those 90-Day Wonders at the beginning of the war, when everyone thought it would be a short, glorious victory for their side and be done by Christmas.  His company served in some of the campaigns of the summer of 1861 before reaching the end of its service and being mustered out in August, whereupon he presumably went back to being a blacksmith since he does not appear to have thought enough of military service to reenlist. 

On the other side of my family, I found my great-uncle John and his wife, who it turns out are buried here in Wisconsin, not all that far from where Kim grew up.  I’ve been to that town, actually.  It has a bar with a jackalope on the wall.  I was there when my great-aunt was still alive, in fact, though I had no idea she was there or even what her name was, to be honest.  John died in the early 1970s and we sort of lost track of her after that. 

All of these people had siblings and inlaws and children, so there are all sorts of new avenues to explore now.

I can see this becoming a big project at some point soon.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Continued Stray Thoughts on the Current Political Situation

With the cascade of stupid, immoral, illegal, subversive, un-American, and possibly treasonous things emitted by der Sturmtrumper, his pet Congress, his supporters, and his administration reaching levels that make it nearly impossible for any sane person to keep up with, I’ve started just keeping a running list of observations on the matter.  Every time the list reaches critical mass, I suppose I’ll post it and start a new one.  Can’t hurt; might help.  Here’s the most recent list:


1. The GOP Class War is in full swing, as anyone with more than half a dozen brain cells can see when they look at the tax plan.  Taxes will go up for most people and down for the ultra-rich.  You can deduct your private jet but not office supplies for a classroom.  College students are pretty much screwed, because who needs social mobility or trained intelligence in an ancien regime society of nobles and peasants?  And the GOP knows this.  That’s why they’re shoving this through Congress without hearings, publicity, or even the barest pretense of constitutional democracy.  They want this in place before the American people can react to it – and, if the Wisconsin model is any indication, they will likely succeed.  Remember folks: democracy is for suckers and all hail your GOP feudal overlords.

2. For those who want numbers, just note that once der Sturmtrumper’s tax plan is fully phased in, everyone making less than $75,000/year will have less after-tax income (by as much as 1.5% of total income), while everyone making more than $100,000 will have more after-tax income (by as much as 0.6%).  And folks, 0.6% of a million dollars is a whole lot more than 1.5% of ten thousand dollars, so yes this is a vast giveaway to the already wealthy.  But the GOP doesn’t care.  The ultra-rich will get theirs, and the lessons of how the ancien regime ended will go unlearned.  For now.

3. Meanwhile, another little poison pill inserted into the GOP tax plan is another attempt at the failed Republicare.  They will repeal the individual mandate – the thing that makes the ACA actually fiscally responsible, because hey, fiscal responsibility is just so, so unlike anything the GOP actually wants to do – and then their sabotage will be complete.  But a few Republicans have noticed the flaw in this.  “You can make an argument that Obamacare is failing of its own weight, until we repeal the individual mandate,” noted Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC, a man who very carefully hides an actual brain underneath thick layers of invective and general unpleasantness, sometimes far better than is reasonable [see item #40, below]).  “I hope every Republican knows that when you pass a repeal of the individual mandate, it’s no longer THEIR problem.  It becomes our problem.”  And the vast majority of Americans – including the majority of Republicans – agree that the deliberate sabotage of the ACA is indeed on the GOP.  Well, that’s what you get when a President guts outreach for enrollment by 90%, cuts in-person sign-up by more than half, abruptly cancels billions in cost-sharing payments to insurers, severs partnerships with community groups working to increase enrollment, and generally does everything in its power to violate his Constitutional duty to see that the laws are faithfully executed.  Despite this, the ACA continues to work as designed, at least for now.    Congrats, GOP – you’re the party of “let grandma die.”

4. It appears Exxon’s Own Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has now been formally accused of violating federal law by State Department officials working for him.  He apparently sees nothing wrong with children being conscripted as soldiers, despite federal law saying otherwise.  Morals?  Not in this administration.

5. Why does the FCC hate small businesses?  In yet another power grab by the ultra-rich and their monopolistic companies, the FCC has decided that it will scrap net neutrality and destroy the internet as we know it.  This will make it possible for the big cable companies – you know, the ones whose customer service and consideration for the rights of consumers is legendary for its active non-existence – to block sites, censor your internet use, slow down anything you haven’t paid extra for, and generally treat the once-thriving world of e-commerce as their own private urinal.  I hope you have enjoyed finding new entrepreneurs online, because that shit stops now.  I also hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog, because while I may well continue writing it there is no guarantee that your internet provider will let you see it.

6. Nobody wants this plan.  Consumers hate it, and tens of millions of them have deluged the FCC with comments opposing this extremist takeover of the internet.  Small businesses hate it, because it blocks them from reaching new customers.  Anyone with anything to say – especially if that anything isn’t precisely in line with the official stance of Big Monopoly or Raw Power – hates this because it amounts to a silencing of American voices.  The only people who want this are the already rich and powerful, and that’s enough for der Sturmtrumper and the GOP.

7. The avalanche of negative comments on the proposal was so vast that it required the FCC to upgrade its filing system and extend the comment period just to handle the volume.  To which der Sturmtrumper’s handpicked Commissioners replied that they don’t care.  Comments that “did not introduce new facts to the record but just stated an opinion … do not have much bearing on decisions,” which is just another way of saying that the views of millions of Americans don’t count at all when it comes to decisions made by people on the public payroll.  Remember, folks – all hail our GOP overlords, and please bend over and smile.

8. Also, the Party of Local Control That Hates Big Guvmint will force states to abandon their net neutrality laws too, because the will of the American people certainly counts for nothing when there is a chance to funnel money into the hands of the already wealthy and powerful.

9. New York Attorney General Schneiderman has estimated that hundreds of thousands of US citizens had their identities stolen and used in spam campaigns supporting der Sturmtrumper’s repeal of net neutrality.  When Jeff Kao, a data scientist and software engineer, actually went through and examined those comments, he found about 1.3 million false pro-repeal comments submitted to the FCC as a bare minimum, with the total number likely being much higher than that.  The 1.3 million came from one spam campaign.  There were probably others.  It is, he said, “highly likely that more than 99% of the truly unique comments were in favor of keeping net neutrality.”  Nobody wants this repeal except the corporate megadonors, which means of course that the GOP is all in favor of it.  You, citizen, don’t count.

10. It is possible, though, that the courts would strike down this reversal by the FCC.  Tim Wu, professor of law at Columbia University, notes that “government agencies are not free to abruptly reverse longstanding rules on which many have relied without good reason, such as a change in factual circumstances.  A mere change in FCC ideology is not enough.”  There simply isn’t enough actual evidence to warrant this change, given the strong economic and social successes of net neutrality.  It is a shame that the courts have to be the last line of defense against corporatist monopoly, but that’s where we are now.

11. The reports on der Sturmtrumper’s tax plan are in, and my, my but don’t they all confirm every negative report that has been made of them.  The Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan analysis group, notes that by 2027, when this bill fully matures, the majority of Americans (50.3%) will actually see their taxes increase because of this bill.  Almost every reputable economist on record has said that this will not grow the economy much if at all, let alone be a spur that would pay for the bill’s drastic cuts in federal revenue.  88% of those economists surveyed said that it would also vastly increase the national debt – particularly the critical “debt to GDP” ratio.  The Wharton Budget Model, used by the University of Pennsylvania to assess the budgetary effects, indicates that the federal deficit will increase by more than $1,300,000,000,000 in the first ten years of this bill’s operation without even including the massive debt-servicing costs it will engender.   But hey – those rich people need, um, more of something I’m sure.

12. And the Russian noose continues to get tighter and tighter, as Michael Flynn’s lawyers have now cut off cooperation with der Sturmtrumper’s legal team and he has agreed to plead guilty to charges related to the Russian collusion in the 2016 election, all of which is legalese for “Flynn is now cooperating with Mueller.”  Grab yo popcorn! 

13. Der Sturmtrumper’s name has surfaced in the Panama Papers, the trove of documents that details how the ultra-rich avoid scrutiny and taxation on their business dealings – how they shirk their responsibilities and dump them onto the rest of us, in other words.  His company was involved in the flipping of a condominium unit in a process that looks rather suspiciously like money laundering, which would be a fairly serious crime if proven.  Interesting times.

14.  The hits keep coming for the GOP “Reverse Robin Hood” Tax Plan.  Analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office – an office that the GOP has repeatedly tried to eliminate since it deals in actual reality and consistently refuses to go along with their ideological fantasies – reveals that the GOP tax plan would mean that Americans earning less than $30,000/year would see tax increases as early as 2019 and those earning less than $40,000 would see tax increases beginning in 2021.  People making less than $75,000 would see tax increases by 2027.  Meanwhile, people making over $75,000 would see small tax cuts, and people making more than six figures would see big tax cuts.  Plus the GOP plan would increase the national debt by over $1,400,000,000,000, which is more than the Wharton estimates.  And yet there are still people foolish enough to think that the GOP cares about fiscal responsibility.  It’s one of the most bizarre things about American politics these days.

15. The real kicker of this theft from working and middle-class Americans by the rich is that it is theft going well into the future.  It will not help the economy.  It will not create jobs.  And pretty much every serious economist out there (37 of 38 prominent economists, according to one poll) agrees that it is essentially useless for those things.  The main feature of this tax plan is cutting corporate taxes, but there is almost no consistent evidence that this will do anything other than boost profits for those corporations.  CEOs themselves are very clear on this – tax cuts won’t make them invest, won’t make them pay higher wages, and won’t make them create new jobs.  “From real world experience I can tell you that tax rates literally never came up in any discussion about hiring or pay levels,” notes David Mendels, formerly of Brightcove and Adobe.  And this is not a surprise to anyone who understands basic economics.  In a consumer economy, demand drives investment, wages, and jobs.  Say it with me once again, people: supply side economics does not work in a demand side economy.

16. At least some Republicans have figured out that none of this is good for the future of the party.  Thanks to their consistent effort at gerrymandering the electorate to new and dangerous heights, the only challenge that GOP officials face when it comes to most re-election campaigns is in the primary, where ever more radical candidates are pushing the party toward its lunatic fringe – the fringe that captured the presidency last year and which has openly declared war on the rest of the party.  So they end up with candidates who can, in fact, lose safe seats in the general election.  The fact that the Democrats have an actual shot at a Senate seat in Alabama is entirely due to the fact that the Alabama GOP stands squarely behind the child molester Roy Moore.  At some point, even Republicans have to question that.  Whether it will be this year is an open question – a lot of them seem to have no difficulties with voting for someone who molests children, which I suppose is indicative of their worth as human beings – but eventually.  Perhaps.

17. Jeffrey Sachs, professor of economics at Columbia University, is blunt about it: the rich are at war with the poor and middle class, and the rich are winning.  “On top of a huge budget deficit, unprecedented inequality in America, largest wealth soaring at the top, they want more, and more, and more.”  As for the GOP “Reverse Robin Hood” tax plan, “Patriots should oppose this, period.  Because our budget deficit is already huge and rising and this is pure populism.  An unusual kind of populism.  Populism by the super rich.  But it’s pure populism.”  Asked about the tax cuts passed by the GOP-controlled House of Representatives, Sachs said, “We cannot afford tax cuts.  The idea that somehow has gotten into our heads in recent weeks, that ‘oh, $1.5 trillion, that we can give away,’ is unbelievable in any serious country.  Unfortunately we are not seriously governed right now.”

18. Meanwhile der Sturmtrumper continues to rageTweet about pretty much whatever he thinks will distract people from the ongoing ethical, legal, and moral collapse of his administration and party.  His unwarranted attacks on CNN seem to be the latest excuse for his tantrums.  He claimed that Fox (which he insists is somehow an actual news organization) is “MUCH more important in the United States than CNN” but complained that outside of the US, CNN is more respected.  He feels this represents the US poorly.  All of this might have something to do with the fact that CNN actually delivers news instead of partisan propaganda and the rest of the world is miraculously able to see what right-wingers in the US refuse to notice. But be that as it may, CNN’s response (“It’s not CNN’s job to represent the US to the world.  That’s yours.  Our job is to report the news.”) was on point.

19. Former CIA and NSA Director and four-star General Michael Hayden, dressed down our Toddler In Chief over this assault on CNN.  “If this is who we are or who we are becoming, I have wasted 40 years of my life.  Until now it was not possible for me to conceive of an American President capable of such an outrageous assault on truth, a free press or the first amendment.”  Not that der Sturmtrumper’s care about truth, a free press, or anything whatsoever to do with the Constitution as a whole or any particular amendment specifically, but there you have it, for whatever good it will do.

20. Is there anybody out there who is at all surprised that der Sturmtrumper took time out of a ceremony meant to honor Navajo code-talkers from World War II in order to make a racist joke about Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)?  Is anybody surprised that White House Mouthpiece Sarah “Huckabee” Sanders adamantly insists that there was nothing wrong with this?

21. American intelligence officials have warned our allies not to share information with the US that they don’t want getting back to Russia.  As reported by Vanity Fair – which is doing a surprising amount of hard news reporting these days, along with Teen Vogue, which is good since so many other “news” outlets seem to have abdicated that role – at a meeting in January between US and Israeli intelligence officers to discuss the decades-long cooperation between our two countries on intelligence matters, one American official announced toward the end of the meeting that “American intelligence agencies had come to believe that Russian president Vladimir Putin had ‘leverages of pressure’ over Trump.”  “Israel, the American officials continued, should ‘be careful’ after January 20 – the date of Trump’s inauguration.  It was possible that sensitive information shared with the White House and the National Security Council could be leaked to the Russians.  A moment later the officials added what many of the Israelis had already deduced: it was reasonable to presume that the Kremlin would share some of what they learned with their ally Iran, Israel’s most dangerous adversary.”  And lo and behold, der Sturmtrumper has fulfilled those warnings, giving away valuable intelligence secrets as if they were party favors and openly sharing them with Russian sources.  You want to accuse der Sturmtrumper of treason?  It would be a stretch, as the Constitution is fairly clear on the definition of that crime and on the surface this likely wouldn’t fit, but this would be a good place to start looking for evidence.

22. Meanwhile convicted criminal James O’Keefe continues his pathetic efforts to persuade right-wingers that they’re not nearly as stupid as convicted criminal James O’Keefe thinks they are.  His latest scam was to try to set up the Washington Post with a fake story about Roy Moore, presumably in the hopes that they’d run the story accusing Moore of further crimes and then convicted criminal James O’Keefe would pounce and declare them to be untrustworthy.  Except that the Washington Post practices actual journalism – something convicted criminal James O’Keefe wouldn’t know anything about – and refused to run the story on the uncorroborated say so of convicted criminal James O’Keefe’s paid stooge, Jaime Phillips.  Not that it took much for the Post to find out what was really going on – Phillips opened a GoFundMe account in her own name announcing her intention to do pretty much exactly the kind of false front nonsense that the Post found her doing – but you know, checking sources: it’s what journalism is actually about.

23.  Apparently there are a number of people who support the child molester Roy Moore who are trying to do stunts like that, because when you’re okay with molesting children there really isn’t anywhere further down the morality scale you can fall.  The Party of Values strikes again.

24.  As my dad always used to tell me, “Don’t talk to me about ‘values.’  Hitler had ‘values.’  I want to know whether you have morals.”

25. Not surprisingly, der Sturmtrumper – a man whom at least seventeen different women (including five different girls between the ages of 12 and 15) have accused of gross sexual immorality ranging from harassment to assault to actual rape – has publicly endorsed the child molester Roy Moore for Senate.  Birds of a feather and all that.  Yet the GOP wonders why the rest of us consider them immoral.

26. Speaking of which, President Pussy Grabber is now publicly disputing whether that is actually him on the tape where he declared that grabbing women “by the pussy” was a praiseworthy thing to do.  Seriously, can we just invoke the 25th Amendment now and get rid of this hallucinating buffoon?

27. When you think about moral codes, remember that blue states practice what the red states only preach.  States that vote Republican have higher rates of premarital sex, teenage pregnancy, shotgun marriages, and child weddings than states that vote Democratic.  They also have higher rates of adultery and prostitution, as well as lower rates of education.  Suddenly the child molester Roy Moore as a Senatorial candidate makes more sense, doesn’t it?

28. Barack Obama played 29 rounds of golf in his first year in office.  George W. Bush played seven.  Der Sturmtrumper has been at golf clubs 81 times in ten months, and while he has not publicly released the actual number of rounds of golf he has played, observers put it around 64.  He still has two months to go before his first year is up.  At this rate, he may well spend more time golfing than governing, which is pretty much the only thing saving the American republic at the moment.

29. On the “I’m just going to leave this right here” front, der Sturmtrumper’s ethics lawyer has resigned.  Nothing to see here, move along.

30. The Wisconsin GOP recently decided that small children – who cannot be trusted to sit unbuckled in a car, view actual human breasts even if those breasts are actively feeding them, or choose books that don’t make right-wingers nervous – should be allowed to carry rifles and hunt deer.  And of course the Wisconsin DNR almost immediately sold 10 hunting licenses to infants.  On the one hand this was probably safer than giving them to adults, since infants are notoriously poor at actually picking up and firing guns, though the DNR also gave 52 licenses to kids between one and five years old.  You are, statistically, more likely to be shot to death by a toddler than a terrorist in this country, and the Wisconsin GOP clearly approves of this trend.  We like when people kill people in America.  That’s why we give everyone guns.

31. That same Wisconsin GOP has also been seriously considering eliminating all of Wisconsin’s clean air laws, because apparently they’ve figured out a way to breathe money.

32. In case you thought that the rule of law was safe under GOP overlords, consider Wisconsin.  There are so many examples to choose from, but the latest one comes from a case where right-wing extremist groups are suing State Superintendent of Education Tony Evers because he dared to pass administrative rules that the law, the Wisconsin Constitution, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court all say he has the power to pass.  Evers, sensibly, chose to be represented by his own attorney, but Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) overruled that and said he had to be represented by the State Attorney General, Brad Schimel.  Bear in mind that Schimel is on the plaintiff’s side in this case, and Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) is essentially forcing Evers to be represented by a lawyer who actively opposes Evers’ position.  It is surely a coincidence that a) the case, if decided for the plaintiff, will drastically decrease the power of pretty much the only state official not currently subservient to Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries), and b) Evers is one of the leading candidates running against Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) in next year’s election.  So let’s recap that: Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries), in the face of law, Constitution, and Court opposition, has decided to intervene in a spurious case against a duly elected Constitutional officer, take the side of the extremists pushing this spurious case, and choose the attorneys for both sides in order to get the verdict he wants.  Weaponizing the law as a form of political intimidation is a hallmark of tyranny, folks.  Keep that in mind.

33.  Racine County, here in Wisconsin, saw its credit rating lowered because of all the debt that it will incur making Governor Teabagger’s (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) Fox Con deal – you know, the one where the state of Wisconsin is too poor to fund education or roads but has more than $3,000,000,000 to give to a foreign-owned company with a long track record of reneging on its promises? –  and may yet see it lowered further.  Because that’s what happens when the Party of Fiscal Responsibility is in charge.

34. In the midst of all of the crushing responsibilities of the Presidency, der Sturmtrumper took the time to send out three phenomenally racist videos (at least one of which has been previously exposed as an outright fabrication) that were originally posted by an extremist group known as Britain First, and then had his Deputy Press Secretary go out and tell people that even if the videos were fake he still felt this was okay because it somehow elevated the discussion – which says a lot about the kinds of discussions he was having prior to this, I suppose.  While former KKK leader David Duke thought this was fine and dandy, every responsible politician in Britain (one of our oldest and, at least for the moment, closest allies), from Prime Minister Theresa May to opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to London Mayor Sadiq Khan has flatly condemned der Sturmtrumper’s racist attempt to stir up violence and hatred as the disgrace that it is, and even Paul Joseph Watson – editor of the American right-wing extremist site Infowars – thinks der Sturmtrumper went too far with this.  When the Infowars guy thinks you’re too deep into Fascist propaganda, maybe you should rethink your life choices.

35. Naturally der Sturmtrumper has doubled down on his racist insanity and now risks a full-blown diplomatic incident with one of our most important allies.  Outrage in Britain is now in full bloom across the political spectrum and, since Britain does not have a specific equivalent to the American First Amendment protection to free speech however vile, it is likely that der Sturmtrumper’s sharing these videos has violated British law.  While he can’t be prosecuted for this, since he was spewing his filth here in this country rather than in Britain, it is entirely possible that he could be placed on a Watch List and barred from entry into Britain – a first for an American president.  And, honestly, who could blame them?

36. A few of der Sturmtrumper’s loyal minions are now sending anonymous threatening robocalls to people across the US and even in Canada who post “negative and derogatory” things about der Sturmtrumper, because that’s the kind of lowlife cowards that they are.  So far none for me but there will be plenty more of these posts that will have to be made, so I suppose there will be other opportunities.

37. And now it’s National Security Advisor HR McMaster who is on record as noting the distinct lack of intelligence of his boss.  In July at a private dinner with the CEO of Oracle (someone whose name has been thrown around as a possible candidate for positions in der Sturmtrumper’s administration), five witnesses have reported that McMaster described der Sturmtrumper as an “idiot,” a “dope,” and someone with the intelligence of a “kindergartner.”  McMaster has, of course, denied this.

38. Senate Republicans have revealed that der Sturmtrumper repeatedly asked them to cut the Russian investigations short, an intervention that is unusual enough to be highly suspicious.  Attempts by the executive to suppress legislative investigations into criminal acts by the executive are impeachable offenses, as Nixon found out, so we can just add that to the long list of things that would have had der Sturmtrumper tossed out on his ear months ago if the Republican party actually gave a damn about law, ethics, morals, or Constitutions.

39. Will Exxon’s Own Secretary of State Rex Tillerson be dropped in favor of right-wing fanatic Mike Pompeo?  Will the phenomenally ignorant Senator Tom Cotton be selected to run the CIA in place of Pompeo?  Is this an actual news story or just more distraction and posturing?  Who knows with this crowd.

40. Why there is no hope for the GOP:  Senator Lindsay Graham in 2017 on der Sturmtrumper (“What concerns me about the American press is this endless, endless attempt to label him as some kind of kook, not fit to be President.”) vs. Senator Lindsay Graham in 2015 on der Sturmtrumper (“I think he’s a kook.  I think he’s crazy.  I think he’s unfit for office.”).  When the allure of power makes you blind to things that were once obvious to you, you need to go.

41. I hope you had your popcorn from item #12, as today’s news brings reports that Michael Flynn has promised “full cooperation” with Robert Mueller’s investigations and is prepared to testify that during the 2016 election der Sturmtrumper explicitly “directed him to make contact with the Russians.”  We already know that there was collusion.  Now we’re just asking how much, what was promised, and how close to treason this came.  Meanwhile, the GOP continues to support their stooge.