Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Green Community

I’ve been wearing my Eagles stuff around town, now that they’re in the Super Bowl this coming weekend.  I figure I should show willing.  My boss, an avid Packers fan, has even given me permission to wear Eagles stuff to the office since she knows how big of a deal this is.  “And they’re not playing the Packers,” she added, which is only fair.

It’s kind of surprising how much support I’ve gotten for it.

I’m guessing that a lot of it isn’t so much “Go Eagles!” as it is “Go Anyone But The Patriots!”  I can live with that.  The Patriots have been in the last thirty-five consecutive Super Bowls and won twenty-eight, a surprising number of them under a cloud of suspicion, and really it’s time for someone else to win for a change.  Dynasties are boring in professional sports.

And the Eagles don’t make themselves cute and cuddly for new fans, either.  They play hard on the field, they’re outspoken off the field (listen to Malcolm Jenkins sometime – no, really, listen to the man), and they play for a fan base that hasn’t got time for your shit, frankly.  There’s a reason the old Veterans Stadium had a functioning municipal courtroom in the basement.

Yet everywhere I go people come up to me and tell me that they’re fans.  Not just anti-Patriots, but actually Eagles fans.  There’s a guy who lives next door who has been chatting with me about this since he moved in a couple of years ago.  People stop me in the grocery store.  On the way to the barn to feed the chickens there’s a house with an Eagles flag, one that has been there long before the current success.  Plus, I run into other people wearing Eagles gear all around here, many of whom have never even been to Philadelphia.

For the older ones, it’s usually Randall Cunningham who brought them into the fold.  For the younger ones, maybe it was just not wanting to cheer for whomever their brothers and sisters were cheering for and deciding that the team in green was their harbor.  There’s a lot of reasons.

You can say a lot of negative things about professional sports in general, and many of them will be true.  You can say a lot of negative things about American football in particular, and many of those will be true too.  But one thing that those activities do definitely bring to us is a sense of community.  A sense of belonging.  A sense of commonality with people whom we might otherwise dismiss with casual snark in these divided times.

That has to count for something.

I remember once listening to a friend of mine describe an event in a book he was reading – a book written by a professor of English, a fellow academic in other words, and someone whose work I both admire and occasionally assign in my history classes.  The professor found himself in the back of a taxi and was simply aghast that the taxi driver would presume to ask him what he thought about the home team’s chances that season.  I don’t expect him to know about literature, the professor complained, why should I be expected to know about sports?

Even as a proud ivory tower academic, that struck me as both short-sighted and callous.

You should know about your own community.  You should make an effort to know about other communities.  And when people of good will seek to bring you into their community through conversation, you should be gracious about it.  A simple “I don’t know, I don’t really follow them.  What do you think?” would have been enough, really.

So I will wear my Eagles gear here in southern Wisconsin, where Packerland bleeds into Bears Country, and I will enjoy the conversations that arise from it.  It's nice to be reminded that there are things that unite us, even now.

Go Birds!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Continued Stray Throughts 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. I’ve heard from several people about the length of these posts.  They go on too long.  And I agree with you, they do.  But: A) I mostly write these for two reasons, neither of which is readability.  First, I need to holler and this is my space to do it.  And second, I want it on record that I did not accept the right-wing assault on everything about the United States that is worthwhile and in accordance with our values and history.  That takes time and space.  B) With the sheer unrelenting pace of der Sturmtrumper and his minions, cronies, enablers, sycophants, and henchmen, there is a lot to write about.  And C) I try to keep some space between these posts.  If I made them shorter, I’d be posting them every day.  Who wants that? 

2. I’d try to be outraged by der Sturmtrumper’s recent childish outburst about “shithole” countries sending immigrants here, but this is just one more example of the vicious racism that has been obvious from Day 1 with this nitwit (remember, folks, this is the only president this country has ever had who has actually been sued by the federal government for being such a fucking racist) and it is exactly what his drooling base wanted from him (a president who was openly endorsed by every major white supremacist and neo-Nazi group in America is a president who should not surprise you when he opens his mouth and shit falls out) The next asshole thing that should have kept him from power in any civilized society that had morals and brains is only hours away, so I try to keep the outrage going at a sustainable rate rather than peaking every time he trolls the decent people of the world.  It’s a long-haul game, folks.

3. Why he singled out the Norwegians as desirable immigrants is not really clear.  What is clear is why Norwegians would have exactly zero interest in moving to a country stupid enough to elect der Sturmtrumper.  They are ranked 1st in happiness (US = 19th), 13th in freedom (US = 23rd), 76th in murder rate (US = 9th), 2nd in gender equality (US = 45th), have a higher GDP per capita, better education rates, lower poverty rates, longer life expectancy, and full national health care.  Maybe Americans should consider immigrating to Norway, though why they would let us come over is also not clear.

4. Der Sturmtrumper is now upset that the US embassy in London was moved and he’s blaming Obama for it.  Except that it was George W. Bush who set that process in motion, because the old site was vulnerable to terrorist attack.  The money they got for selling US property in London was enough to pay for the new embassy entirely, which means that it cost the American taxpayer not one red cent.  Der Sturmtrumper’s own ambassador to the UK, Robert Johnson (who also owns the NY Jets) took pains to contradict his boss on every single point that der Sturmtrumper tried to make, in an article written for the Evening Standard, and former US ambassador to the UK Louis Susman simply noted of the current president that “As usual, he’s dead wrong.”  But hey – “blame the black guy for imaginary problems” seems to be the motif of the current administration anyway (see Item #2 above). 

5. Folks, do you realize what this is doing to American prestige, influence, and power in the world?  What it means to have a president who labels entire nations as “shitholes” and who acts like a whiny toddler over embassies?  We look like fools.  And make no mistake: for electing and then tolerating this nitwit and his band of enablers we ARE fools.  It will take a generation for the US to regain the respect and influence in the world that we have lost just in the last year, and if der Sturmtrumper continues on his current path we may never get it back.  It’s possible we wouldn’t get it back anyway – powers rise and powers fall and the US is not immune from the laws of history – but to see that process accelerate like this at the hands of a malignant caricature of every negative stereotype the world has of us is certainly dispiriting.

6. As if on cue, the rest of the world responds as you would expect.  Vicente Fox, former president of Mexico, tweeted at der Sturmtrumper, “Your mouth is the foulest shithole in the world.  With what authority do you proclaim who’s welcome in America and who’s not.  America’s greatness is built on diversity, or have you forgotten your immigrant background, Donald?”  (And isn’t it sad when foreigners have to remind the American president what this country really is?)  Former Haitian president Laurent Lamothe says, “SHAME ON TRUMP!  The world is witnessing a new low today with this Shithole Nations remark!”  South Africa’s government called der Sturmtrumper’s racism “extremely offensive” and the African Union was “frankly alarmed.”  El Salvador sent a formal letter of protest.  EU lawmaker Gianni Pittella of Italy said that der Sturmtrumper “had forgotten to engage his brain before talking.”  Michaelle Jean, former Governor General of Canada, called the comments “disturbing.”  American diplomats around the world have been formally summoned by their host nations to explain der Sturmtrumper’s remarks, and one hopes they have something more to say than just the obvious “Well, he’s a racist asshole and we’re stuck with him.”  And nothing will change because this is who der Sturmtrumper is and this is what his Nazi base is and this is what they voted for and this is what we’re stuck with until the GOP that controls Congress decides to locate its collective spine, put the national interest before partisan gain, and get rid of this deplorable embarrassment.

7. Apparently der Sturmtrumper believes that the US has sold “F-52s” to Norway recently.  There are no F52s.  They do exist in “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare,” however, and when you’re already sufficiently divorced from reality that a diagnosis of schizophrenia is within sight, I suppose that’s a mistake you’re going to make.

8. So all the hype from the GOP about “job-killing regulations” turns out – once again! – to be so much nonsense when you actually look at the results.  California, the bogeyman for the GOP in their campaign to reduce the US to a libertarian hellhole of atomized impoverished peasants lorded over by a neo-feudal aristocracy – seems to be doing quite well with its progressive policies.  Despite higher taxes on the wealthy, more regulation of business, and a more complete social safety net, it turns out that California has higher employment, higher private sector employment, and a higher GDP than almost every GOP slash-and-burn state in America, even when other differences are taken into account.  In other words, even when you bend over backward to give GOP states every benefit of the doubt, it is still true that supply-side economics does not work in a demand-side economy. 

9. This administration is so transparently incompetent that they can’t even lie correctly.  Der Sturmtrumper is on his “I’m Not Senile” tour and spent some time talking to Congress about DACA.  Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) asked him he might like to abandon his position and adopt the Democratic position on the issue, and instead of just saying “No” he said “Yeah, I would like to do it,” an answer that horrified House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).  And when the White House released the official transcript of the meeting – an official US government document – oddly enough that line was missing.  Seriously?  This is third-grade nonsense, but par for the course with this group of stumblebums. 

10. And on that note, CBS is reporting that nobody in the White House could figure out how to mute a conference call.  During a conference call with over a hundred reporters regarding der Sturmtrumper’s position on the Iran nuclear agreement, White House staff spent more than twenty minutes unsuccessfully trying to mute the reporters.  Eventually the reporters began openly mocking them.  “This White House can’t even run a fucking conference call.  They don’t know how to mute their line,” said one.  “This is Kim Jong Un calling for Donald Trump,” said another.  No wonder the world laughs at us now.  MAGA, amiright?

11. Speaking of incompetence, der Sturmtrumper went on the Twitter machine to boast about a Quinnipiac Poll that said that 66% of Americans think the economy is “excellent” or “good.”  Except that that same poll says that 49% of Americans credit Obama for this (vs. 40% who think der Sturmtrumper had something to do with it).  Only 24% of voters say that der Sturmtrumper’s policies are helping their personal financial situation.  Meanwhile 63% of Americans say that der Sturmtrumper is not honest, 59% say he has poor leadership skills, 59% say he does not care about average Americans, 69% say he is not level-headed, 66% say he has damaged the US reputation in the world, and 57% say he is unfit to serve as president.  His net approval rating is -23%, down from -8% in January and -9% in February.  And this is the poll he is so proud of.

12.  Jim Wright points out the obvious about this particular bit of Twitter foolishness, noting that der Sturmtrumper’s boast came out 34 minutes after Fox & Friends showed a graphic of exactly the stat he boasted about: “He’s taking Fox News – and not just Fox News, but Fox & Friends, an admitted OPINION show – as fact.  He does not follow up research of his own.  Nobody on his staff provides him with any additional information.  He simply takes Fox & Friends as gospel.  Don’t think for one second foreign intelligence agencies haven’t noticed this.  Don’t think our own security people haven’t noticed this.  Trump is uniquely vulnerable to manipulation.  Trump is at the moment the single greatest threat to national security.”

13. Wait, a month before the election der Sturmtrumper’s lawyers paid a former porn star $130,000 in hush money to keep her quiet about an alleged sexual encounter with him?  First of all, if I were her they couldn’t pay me enough to talk about it in the first place.  They could have saved their money.  Hell, I’d pay them to keep it quiet.  Second, if I were him I’d have put that money into advertising and plastered the airwaves with that claim, just to prove that it was even remotely plausible.

14. The fact that this news isn’t even remotely the most disturbing and degraded thing that has come out about der Sturmtrumper just in the last week is kind of sad, really.  As Jess Dweck put it on Twitter, “’I hope the news of him paying off a porn star doesn’t distract from the news of him calling non-white countries shitholes’ is a sentence we can now say about the President of the United States.”  Remember when the word “presidential” meant dignified and statesmanlike rather than embarrassing and juvenile?  It wasn’t that long ago, after all.

15. And now credible rumors are spreading that Melania is seriously considering divorce.  In her place, I certainly would. 

16. The fact that der Sturmtrumper’s private personal lawyer formed a private company just before the 2016 election in order to pay hush money to a porn star (which nobody has denied, not even the lawyer), a woman who has publicly spoken about the affair she had with der Sturmtrumper four months after his third wife gave birth of his youngest child, and his adoring GOP cultists don’t care is a damning indictment of the hypocrisy of the so-called “values voters” who make up that faction.  I hadn’t realized that adultery and bribery were so highly valued.

17. This is also the guy who is trying to allow so-called “Christians” in the healthcare field to deny treatment to LGBT American citizens if they find that lifestyle not to their taste.  Uh, what now?  What part of der Sturmtrumper is to the taste of anyone who is Christian in more than just name?  I have no idea how anyone can be a right-winger and a Christian at the same time.

18. More and more Republican officials are declining to run for reelection this year in the face of what is likely to be a historic Democratic wave (assuming, of course, that GOP efforts to suppress voters and miscount results aren’t successful [here’s looking at you, Waukesha County, Wisconsin]).  Traditionally the party in power loses ground in the midterm elections anyway.  Add to that the sobering unpopularity of der Sturmtrumper to drag the ticket down and the equally sobering unpopularity of the GOP agenda (how do you pass a tax cut so vast that it destroys any fiscal sanity left in the federal government and still have the overwhelming majority of Americans hate it?  Well, let the GOP tell you!), and this could be a very good year for getting this country off its track toward destruction.

19. Of course, never underestimate the ability of the Democratic Party to pull defeat from the jaws of victory.  I’ll believe the results when I see the results.

20. Speaking of the midterm elections, it appears that Sheriff Joe Arpaio – the human dumpster fire who was pardoned by der Sturmtrumper because hey, petit-Fascist wannabes need to stick together, right? – is planning to run for Jeff Flake’s seat.  Seriously, Arizona – do you not have any Republicans who aren’t complete scum?  Could you maybe nominate one?  Thanks.

21. Newsweek is reporting that in the spring of 2017 der Sturmtrumper met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus and was apparently shocked to discover that the vast majority of welfare recipients in the US are not black.  Amazing!  It’s true!  Statistically speaking, the typical welfare recipient is a white person without a college degree.  Strangely enough, so is the typical Trump voter.  The reader is invited to draw their own conclusions from that.

22. So it turns out that Hawaii wasn’t destroyed by ballistic missiles after all, despite the “this is not a drill” warnings that were posted in error.  Two things stand out about this.  First, how plausible it is under the erratic and destructive rule of der Sturmtrumper that such an attack would be launched in the first place.  And second, how silent der Sturmtrumper has been about it – no reassurances, no calm leadership, just more rage-Tweets about distractions.  This is a complete abdication of leadership from a complete void of a leader, and a worrying preview of what will happen if there ever is a real crisis that needs to be addressed with more than just a racist Tweet.  We need to make America not embarrassing again.

23. If you’re looking for further evidence that der Sturmtrumper is no longer mentally competent, you need look no further than the interview he gave to the Wall Street Journal, published on January 14.  Sweet dancing monkeys on a stick but that’s a psychologist’s nightmare.  He has no idea what he’s talking about.  He rambles.  He makes absurd claims that are easily debunked by anyone with three minutes to spare.  He has no idea what his own schedule is.  This is a man in way over his head.

24. I will not be silent.  I will not be complicit.  I will not accept the moral failure of this administration and its supporters.  I will speak and I will be heard.

25. Analysis of FBI crime reports indicates that states that have legalized marijuana – particularly those states close to the Mexican border, where some of the most violent drug cartels in the world operate – have seen significant declines in crime.  Overall, robbery fell by 19% in those states, murder fell by 10%, and murders related to the drug trade fell by 41%.  Remind me again why our Confederate Attorney General wants to overrule all this?

26. In any normal administration, the House Intelligence Committee’s release of the transcript of the transcript of their interview with Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson would have created enough outrage to destroy the administration completely, but we live in an era where partisan beliefs are more important than criminal acts or reality itself and so the GOP continues to support der Sturmtrumper.  It’s clear that der Sturmtrumper is a front for the Russian mafia, unwitting or not.  The financial records are clear, and they speak of money laundering and other criminal activity dating back long before he seized control of the federal government.  They own him.  Consider that when you think of who’s got their tiny little hands on the levers of power in this country today.

27. One thing that is now obvious is that the FBI was already investigating links between der Sturmtrumper’s campaign and the Russian government before they got their hands on the Steele dossier, which directly contradicts one of the key GOP talking points in their continuing effort to discredit the investigation into der Sturmtrumper’s collusion with Russian intelligence.  This wasn’t some grand scheme of Hillary Clinton’s opposition research team – it was merely corroborating evidence for an ongoing criminal investigation.  No doubt the GOP will continue to trumpet their pet narrative, since facts don’t matter much to them anymore and haven’t for over a decade, but there you have it.

27. Another juicy little fact that the transcripts show is how the Russians infiltrated and used the NRA.  The FBI is investigating Alexsandr Torshin, a close associate of Vladimir Putin, for funneling money through the NRA in order to help der Sturmtrumper’s campaign, a violation of American law.  Maria Butina is also under investigation for similar crimes.  The NRA long ago declared war on Americans, and I suppose they now have the foreign influence to go with it.  Given the fact that the NRA pretty much owns the GOP and has for decades, you can imagine how much the pressure to fire Robert Mueller will ratchet up as this line of inquiry gets more serious.

28. In what might just be the single most Orwellian act by the United States government in its long and inglorious history, der Sturmtrumper’s Health and Human Services Department has just created a “Conscience and Religious Freedom” division in order to allow people’s personal faith to triumph over federal law, Constitutional requirements, and basic human decency.  This is little more than a right-wing extremist way to circumvent laws requiring that American citizens be treated as American citizens.  This is how they’ll deny women the right to control their own bodies, the right of anyone not straight, white, evangelical Protestant and male the right to pretty much any law that somebody’s blasphemous Dominionism gets vapors from seeing.  Of course, two can play at this game.  The Church of the Enlightened Mind does not hold with rampant stupidity, flagrant bigotry, economic injustice, Constitutional violations, or pretty much anything that that makes der Sturmtrumper and his enablers richer or more powerful, so perhaps I can file some lawsuits soon.

29. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR, and the second-most bone-ignorant man in the legislature after Ron Johnson) is apparently such a delicate petal that he regards contact from his constituents as harassment and has sent cease-and-desist letters demanding that they stop all communication with him or he will have them arrested.  Because your elected representatives don’t actually have to represent you, citizen – they’re too busy dancing on the strings pulled by their donors and creating an unaccountable aristocracy to care about mere citizens.  Thanks, Republicans, for making your priorities so clear.

30. It’s perhaps not surprising that turnover in der Sturmtrumper’s White House has been higher than any president in recent memory.  Among key officials (i.e. not the low-level coffee-fetchers but the folks who actually have Access and Influence), 34% of der Sturmtrumper’s people have already left.  Compare that to 17% of Reagan’s in his first year, or 11% of Clinton’s, 9% for Obama, 7% for Bush Sr., and 6% for Bush Jr.  Who wants to work for this train wreck?  It’s just a sure-fire way to destroy your reputation and prospects (just ask Sean Spicer, after all).  Given that turnover in Year 2 is almost always markedly higher, even for normal administrations led by actual competent presidents, and 2018 is likely to be quite a year.

31. For those who missed it, in a court filing on January 18, White House Director of Information Technology Charles Herndon said that the administration has not, in fact, discovered any voter fraud in the 2016 election and would be destroying confidential voter data that had been collected for the now-disbanded Voter Suppression Commission.  Kris Kobach, who has made Voter Suppression his pet cause and expects to ride it into the Kansas governor’s mansion when all this is over, presumably on the strength of the five carefully vetted voters who will still be on the Kansas voting rolls when Koblach is done (three of whom, in an ironic twist, will turn out to be Koblach himself wearing different wigs), continues to insist that there must have been such fraud because, well, he really, really believes it with all his heart and all his soul and we live in an era where Truth is measured by strength of belief, not factual accuracy.  Given the court filing attesting that such fraud does not actually exist, one may draw the relevant conclusions about Koblach’s heart and soul on one’s own.

32. Oh, for fuck’s sake, now those incompetent fools have shut down the government.  For the first time in American history, a party that controlled all three branches of the federal government couldn’t get out of its own way long enough to keep the lights on.  Next time try governing, guys.

33. They had a deal on the table that would have kept this from happening.  The Democrats got DACA and CHIP, and the GOP got significant money for border security.  All it needed was der Sturmtrumper to get out of the way.  This was the meeting that degenerated into the “shithole” comment, in case you’re wondering.

34. The GOP is in full “blame the other guys” mode, but consider: they own all three branches of government.  They ended DACA without anything to replace it.  They let CHIP die despite the fact that it would be cheaper for the American taxpayer to renew it and despite the outright moral failure of using children’s health as a political bargaining tool (I’ve learned over the years not to get into moral arguments with right-wingers, as all I get out of them is older).  They couldn’t even get all of their own party on board with the grab-bag of special interest giveaways and failed policies that got thrown into the Continuing Resolution.  They blew their shot at avoiding a 60-vote threshold during the failure to repeal the ACA, a program that is saving American lives and money and is broadly popular among the electorate.  They spent the rest of their time in power on useless pandering to the worst elements of their base (“some fine people”) rather than governing.  Der Sturmtrumper has repeatedly called for just this shutdown and now he has it.  The #TrumpShutdown is real and will likely be here for a while.

35. In case you’re thinking it’s just people like me who understand this, consider GOP strategist John Weaver, whose credits include working for John Kasich and John McCain.  “Trump created the DACA crisis,” he wrote.  “The congressional wing of the GOP refused to fund CHIP.  Trump & GOP ignored the pleas of the Pentagon for a fully funded budget.  All of this is on them.”

36. For those who think the Democrats are forcing the military to work without pay, remember that it was Mitch McConnell, at 1:17am on the night he engineered this shutdown, who objected to a floor vote to continue military pay and benefits for the duration of the #TrumpShutdown.  You know, the Romans eventually figured out that treating a swollen and powerful military poorly tends not to work out well for a republic.  I wonder how long it will take the GOP to figure that out.

37. The last time the government shut down, back in 2013 when the GOP Congress decided that petty partisan politics was more important than doing their jobs (wow, familiar…), Fox “News” asked der Sturmtrumper “Who’s gonna bear the brunt of the responsibility if indeed there is a shutdown of our government?”  And der Sturmtrumper responded, “Who gets fired?  Well, it always has to be the top.  Problems start form the top.  And  they have to get solved from the top.  The president’s the leader.  And he’s gotta get everybody in a room and he’s gotta lead!”  I wonder if he still feels that way.

38. So far the main thing der Sturmtrumper has done about the #TrumpShutdown is, as usual, send out junior-high-level rage-Tweets blaming the Democrats.  One accused them of “holding our Military hostage over their desire to have unchecked illegal immigration.”  This led Senator Tammy Duckworth – a decorated combat veteran – to respond with “I spend my entire adult life looking out for the well-being, the training, and the equipping of the troops for whom I was responsible.  I will not be lectured about what our military needs by a five-deferment draft dodger.”  Put some ice on that burn, Donny.

39.  Well, he did say he’d run the country like one of his businesses.  Most of those shut down too.

40.  Apparently #TrumpShutdown was the top trending topic on Twitter on the night the federal government was shutdown.  You can’t fool all of the people all of the time, boys – we’re onto you.

41. Just in case you were wondering about the level of maturity in the White House, know that after the #TrumpShutdown happened, they changed the outgoing message on the telephone comment line to blame the Democrats for it.  Seriously – I’ve known third-graders more mature than this lot.

42.  According to the Washington Post, which has been tracking such things, der Sturmtrumper has made over 2100 false or misleading claims in the year he’s been in office.  That’s about 5.9 per day, on average.  What’s impressive, according to the Post, is that when confronted with hard evidence that he’s lying he does not, as most politicians will, drop the false claims and move on.  Instead he doubles down on them, sure that his cultish base will believe him over reality.  And really, can you deny it?

42. In yet another example of the fact that the GOP can’t handle basic facts, the latest right-wing conspiracy theory is that Medicaid is fueling the opioid epidemic.  They point to the undeniable fact that opioid abuse is higher among the poor and in states that expanded Medicaid.  Except that correlation isn’t causality, as anyone who has taken a basic statistics class could have told them.  Medicaid expansion happened in 2014, nearly two decades after opioid abuse rates started rising and three years after the CDC called the opioid crisis an epidemic.  Most opioid problems are caused by fentanyl and heroin rather than the prescription opioids that can be obtained by Medicaid.  And opioid overdoses have been increasing across all American social classes, not just the poor.  So nice try, guys.  Next time try some reality for a change.

43. I think I’ll let conservative columnist David Frum have the last word here.  Frum has a new book out, Trumpocracy, that makes some interesting points.  He describes the “chaos” of der Sturmtrumper’s regime and the corrosive effect this is having on American institutions and values.  He talks about the increasing inequality of this country and the consequences this will have if not addressed.  And perhaps most importantly, he discusses the complete abdication of the Republican Party from restraining a rogue president of their party.  In an interview with Sean Illing, Frum puts it clearly. 

“Let’s talk about Trump’s enablers in the Republican Party,” says Illing, “the people in power who have failed to do what they know they ought to do.  How surprised are you by the capitulations of Republicans in the Trump era?”

“I’m horrified, but I’m not shocked,” Frum replied.  “The Republican Party has a platform that can’t prevail in democratic competition.  This is one of the big themes of this book, and why I think this situation is so dangerous.  When highly committed parties believe things that they cannot achieve democratically, they don’t give up on their beliefs.  They give up on democracy.”

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Marching With the Future

What did you do for the first anniversary of the beginnings of der Sturmtrumper’s Reign of Error?

I spent the day marching with the future of America.  It felt good, and it gives you hope for this country.  We do need that, in these parlous times.

Over the New Year’s holiday Lauren and several of her friends said they would be interested in participating if there were a repeat of last year’s Women’s March.  How could we turn down that kind of patriotism?  So we told them that if there was a march near us, we’d take them. 

Fast forward a couple of weeks and three things have become clear.  First, that there were in fact marches scheduled near us, even if not where they were last year.  We could still go.  Second, that Lauren and her friends remained committed to going.  You know it's important, then.  And third, that this year’s Winter Crud just sucks and too many people are sick.  At least one of Lauren’s friends had to bail on the march because of that, and so too did Kim. 

So it was a slightly smaller but no less enthusiastic group that went down to the march today.

The girls spent the morning making their signs, which took a bit longer than planned.  Nevertheless we managed to get down to the march with about three minutes to spare and join in.  The signs were worth the wait, I think.

It was a decent crowd – probably somewhere around 1500 or so, maybe a bit more – and a warmish January day here in the upper midwest, so everyone was in pretty good spirits.  Midwestern demonstrations are just so polite it’s almost eerie.  People marched along with their signs and slogans, speaking in complete sentences about the reasons for their presence and what they hoped to accomplish both with this march and with their future actions.  They stopped for streetlights.  Cops said hi and we said hi back.  People driving by honked and gave us thumbs-up signs, and we cheered and waved our signs back at them.  It was political protest as conducted by grown-ups.  There was a refreshing lack of Nazis, which the current Administration should take it as a model for how civilized humans behave.  Might do them some good.

Lauren and her friends had their photos taken by a lot of people.  People my age love it when people their age get involved like that.  It gives us hope that the future will be better than the current hot mess.

Eventually everyone spilled into the gymnasium attached to a nearby church to listen to any number of local dignitaries expound on all of the themes of the day.  That real Americans are not happy with the direction that der Sturmtrumper and his minions, lackeys, cronies, enablers, and sycophants are dragging this country, and we’d like it to change.

On the way out they had a giant banner for everyone to sign, and so we all did. 

As with last year, I have few illusions as to the practical consequences of this march.  At least not the immediate ones.  There will be no policy changes in the near future.  There will be no sudden realization that when your actions are enough to cause mass protest, maybe you should rethink your life choices.  There will be no lessening of the unrepentant cruelty, catastrophic short-sighted greed, or sheer incompetence that has been the trademark of this administration since it metastasized across the American body politic as well as of the party behind it for the better part of two decades.  Those won’t change.  At least not anytime soon.

But we march anyway.

We march to send a message to those in power, to make sure our voices are heard.  It’s a fairly simple message.

We outnumber you.

We are coming.

You are on the wrong side of history, morality, and American patriotism and values.

We will see you fail.

We will make sure you and all your works are forgotten.

Sleep well.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Domo Arigato to You Too

I am surrounded by robots.

Last fall, after years of threatening to do so, Kim finally bought one of those little vacuum cleaner robots.  It was on sale during the post-Thanksgiving retail festivities for a nominal fee, probably less than it cost to ship it from a sweatshop in some nameless Chinese province or Alabama county, and it arrived in a big cardboard box like everything else does these days.  It’s not a Roomba, but it’s something that looks like one and since I can never remember the brand name I’m just going to call it the roomba, without the capital letter, in much the same way that xerox, kleenex, zipper, and hoover are all now just words instead of brands.  It’s a chirping spinning disc about as big around as a barstool and maybe a hamster’s-breadth high.  It has stubby nylon whiskers, an array of R2D2-like whistles and tweets that probably would mean something to me if I actually bothered to read the instruction manual, and a little home base in the dining room that I can never figure out how to reattach it to so it always just dies overnight when I try.  It’s not intentional.  Honest.

I never wanted one of these things, for the simple reason that the hard part of vacuuming isn’t the vacuuming but the preparation for the vacuuming, which still has to be done with the roomba just as it had to be done with the regular vacuum cleaner.

It’s not the things you have to do.  It’s the things you have to do in order to do the things you have to do that do you in.

But there it is.  Kim adores this thing and is happy to send it off on its little mission whenever possible, much to the dismay of Midgie.  Mithra is okay with it – she regards it as less of a nuisance than Midgie, certainly, and will sometimes just track it around the room as if it were a particularly noisy mouse – but Midgie will puff up her tail and hiss at it before running off to the upstairs to sulk.  So far the roomba has not figured out how to climb stairs, which would just destroy Midgie’s world.  She is not thrilled, in other words.  But the floors are pretty clean.  You have to hand it to the little robot – it does clean the floors.

It was just about the time that I was getting used to having a vacuum robot that Christmas rolled around and it turned out that Amazon was selling their Echo Dot for an even less than nominal fee – sufficiently cheaply that Tabitha and Lauren got one for Kim.

Yes, Kim is the gizmo person in the house.  As a historian, I tend toward technology that has stood the test of time, such as books and shoes, on the grounds that I understand it.  I think at some point your ability to absorb new technology kind of runs out and you’re left to the rest of your life with what you’ve got.  I ran out of new tech sometime around 2002, I think.  Kim isn’t scheduled to run out for several decades after her actual lifespan.  We work well together that way, I suppose.

Kim already had an Echo in her office at school, and she’s been happily ordering it around for a while now, but I wasn’t all that thrilled at having a corporate spy in my house.  But when your kids are willing to spend their own money for a gift that you know in your heart that your wife would like, you really can’t say no.  So there it was.

We finally set it up last night.  Well, Kim did.  I mostly just watched.  It’s in the dining room – my one request was that it not be set up in my office, at least – and all three of the teenaged girls in the house had a grand time ordering it around.  “Alexa!  Play ‘Rhapsody in Blue!’”  “Alexa!  Play Top 40 music!”  “Alexa!  What is the airspeed of an unladen swallow?”  “Alexa!  How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie-Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?”

To give these random questions some context, this all happened moments after Lauren had spent much of dinner asking Siri to name the world-record holders for oldest farm animals and announcing the results to the rest of us.  Did you know there was a cow named Big Bertha that lived to be 49?  That the longest-living chicken on record died at 16 after a career as a magician’s assistant and has her own Wikipedia page and burial site?

There.  Now those are things you know.

At one point, someone – possibly Lauren – asked the robot to play “Hey Jude,” by the Beatles, which it dutifully began to do.  And then Kim asked, “Alexa!  Open the magic door!” which is apparently the trigger phrase for some kind of oral version of a text-based role-playing game.  The game-players were given a choice between heading off to the beach, off to the city, or deep into some spooky scary forest, so naturally the unanimous choice was the forest, which did not please Alexa very much – especially as “Hey Jude!” continued to play in the background.  She kept trying to get us to turn around and go some other direction.  Eventually I am sure that she would have had us meet up with a psychotic woodcarver just to restart the game, but in any event she didn’t have to.  At what seemed like a random moment, she logged herself out for some kind of software update, which probably never happens in the middle of a D&D campaign.

So we have robots.  At some point I worry that Alexa will learn to talk to the roomba and begin ordering it to run errands for her, at which point we may have to burn the house down.  I’ll let you know.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Time in a Bottle

The first year they had us switch teachers rather than just stay in one classroom was fifth grade. 

It wasn’t like high school or even junior high (as it was called then), where everyone gathered for a class and then hived off to wherever they were going and you’d see a different group of people in the next class.  We’d all get up as a group and hike over to the next classroom.  They were trying to get us used to the idea of switching classes without having us free to wander all over the building, which you know we would have done. 

My regular teacher was the history teacher.  From there we’d move over one room to the math teacher, then one room further to the English teacher, and then all the way back down the hallway past the first rooms to the cross hallway where the science teacher was, one big loop around the top floor.  It worked, I guess.  We did it again in sixth grade, so we were good and ready when junior high rolled around.

I remember a few of the things we did that year.  We studied the metric system in science, as it was the mid-1970s and the US was supposed to switch over to the same system that everyone else in the world was using by the time we got out of high school and they wanted us to be prepared.  The main takeaway I got out of it was that there is a tremendous difference between a pound of cheese and a kilo of cheese when you’re standing in a deli line.  In history we spent much of the year – the school year that started two months after the Bicentennial, after all – singing the preamble to the Constitution, as arranged by School House Rock.  I can still do that now, and I even add in the little phrase that School House Rock left out because that’s the kind of nerd I am.  In math they put some of us in a “work-ahead” group and left us to our own schedule, which is always a bad idea for me.  Sometime in January the teacher informed me that I was now behind the class and would be transferred back to the regular class if I didn’t get my act together.  By Valentine’s Day I had completed the year’s assignments and had nothing to do for the next four months.  So it goes.

The one assignment I remember from English class was to write an essay based on a song.  The teacher had known Jim Croce personally – he was from Philadelphia, just like us – and she was a fan.  This was a couple of years after Croce had died in a plane crash, and they still played his stuff on the radio now and then.  It wasn’t Oldies at the time.  She played Time in a Bottle what felt like a dozen times on the old record player that she had in her classroom and then asked us what we’d like to put in the bottle.

“If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that I’d like to do
Is to save every day ‘til eternity passes away
Just to spend them with you.”

I have no idea what I wrote for that essay.  I was twelve – what could I have possibly written?  You really need to spend some time on the planet in order to give that assignment the thought that it needed.

When you’re young, everything is immortal.  Things just are, and they’ve always been just so, and they’ll always be just so – especially if, like me, you come from a place and an environment where a great many people have worked very hard to make your life comfortable and safe. 

When you get older and get out into the world a bit, fail at a few things, have your heart broken once or twice, lose a few people, you begin to realize how fragile things are and how quickly the foundations of your world can change.  How even the most important things can be taken away without so much as the malice that would give such a loss even that much purpose.  Things just happen.  People come into your life and they leave, willingly or not, and you break and put yourself back together and the pieces never quite fit together right and the gaps collect thoughts, and eventually you know at least some of the things you’d put in that bottle.

A friend of mine posted Time in a Bottle on his Facebook page today, because he has something to put in the bottle.

There are things in this world that you just get used to. 

“Memory is what God gave us that we might have roses in December.”
       -James Barrie

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Fly, Eagles, Fly

Apparently I picked a bad season to get apathetic about American football, as my hometown Eagles decided to do well this year.

They were the top team in their conference.  They got home field throughout the playoffs.  And despite not having their Actual Quarterback (who watched the game in his street clothes, recovering from whatever surgery they inflicted on him after The Injury), they managed to win today.  This means they’re one game away from a Super Bowl appearance, an achievement that hasn’t happened since 2005 and only happened once before that.

They lost both times, but we’ll skip lightly over that for now.

It was actually a good game, much to my surprise – competitive, entertaining, and generally worth seeing if you like football.  None of the Experts thought the Eagles would win.  The Eagles made history as the first #1 seed playing at home to be an underdog to the visiting #6 seed.  To be honest I kind of agreed with that assessment – though how much of that was my analysis of the possibilities and how much of that was just Native Philadelphian Pessimism is something of an open question.  We’re not an optimistic bunch, we Philadelphia fans.  Having the teams we have will do that to you.

I’m glad the Eagles are winning these days.  It’s nice to see my team do well.  And given the teams left standing in the playoffs as I write this, it is entirely possible that in a couple of weeks there will be a championship game between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, which I think would be fun even if it probably would give the NFL head office heart palpitations since nobody outside of Pennsylvania would care.

I’m also kind of glad that the Eagles didn’t do this last year.

My dad was a big Eagles fan.  That was his team, the way the Phillies were my grandfather’s team.  When I would call him during the season we’d always find some time to dissect the latest collapse or bizarrity inflicted by the Birds upon the game, and somehow we’d always keep cheering for them.

I don’t think I would have forgiven the Eagles if they’d waited until the very next season after he passed away to get good again.  I’m glad they weren’t anything special last year.  It’s okay for them to be good now.

I miss being able to pick over the games with my dad, but that’s how it is and what are you going to do about it is what I’d like to know.  I can probably reconstruct how the conversation would go, anyway – we certainly had enough of those discussions.  Perhaps I’ll do that later tonight, in my head. 

So I watch, and I remember.

And for now the Eagles are still playing for the championship, the final defeat hasn’t yet happened, and all things are still possible.

Go team.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

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. Well, they did it.  In the dead of night, with enough screw-ups that they had to do it all over again the next day because Competence Just Is Not Their Thing, the GOP passed the most destructive financial legislation this country has seen in decades.  It makes a mockery of this country.  It is a mockery of this country.  It marks the end of the United States as a responsible fiscal entity and the official announcement of the kleptocracy’s victory over the American people.  And the GOP is going to be saddled with it forever.  How do you pass a bill that cuts taxes enough to cause a $1.4 trillion hole in the budget over a ten-year period and still have more than 75% of the American people opposed to it?  You do it the way these clowns did, by robbing from the poor, the middle class, and the only kind of wealthy to line the pockets of the ultra wealthy.

2. This is little more than a smash and grab raid on the American treasury by a small band of puppeteers and their dancing fools, a “heist” in the words of Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).  It is a moral disgrace and a giant “fuck you” to everything that once made this country decent and humane.  And if you truly want to lose what little faith in humanity you might still possess, try reading some of the semi-literate trollage that passes for support among the minions who think der Sturmtrumper and his band of vandals actually represent them.

3. If there is anything worse than the fiscal insanity of this tax bill – of cutting taxes on the wealthy at a time of low unemployment, high government debt, and a strong economy, which is something so blisteringly stupid that no civilized country has ever done it and no economic theory more complicated than HULK SMASH AND TAKE supports it – it is the utter contempt for democracy and constitutional process that the GOP has displayed.  There were no public hearings on this bill.  How could there be?  The bill was literally being scrawled on up to the last possible minute.  There was no time for a complete analysis of what this bill would do, and the GOP has gone to great lengths to slander and try to discredit every legitimate analysis that could be done in the meager time allotted.  There was no respect given to the will of the American people, and the GOP was honest about that at least – this was all about the ultra wealth donors who have the GOP by the short and curlies and don’t give a damn about the USA or anyone other than themselves.  Let’s be blunt here – this was not just an outright assault on fiscal sanity or economic reality.  This was the GOP’s declaration of war on democracy itself – a war they’ve been fighting for a decade now, and which has just now been made public.

4.  If you can support the GOP after this, you have no business calling yourself an American patriot.

5. Even Paul Ryan, the Ayn Rand wunderkind who has never had a private sector job in his life and has lived off the public dime since he was a child, has no idea what this bill will do beyond SMASH GRAB ALL MINE.  Anyone surprised by this has never actually spoken to the man in person.  I have spoken with him.  I’m not surprised.

6. The transfer of wealth out of the middle class and working class and into the rich and ultra rich has been going on since the GOP swept back to national power in 1980, according to an authoritative new study on global inequality.  Since 1980, when the GOP decided that supply-side economics were going to be rammed up the ass of the demand-side economy without so much as a reach-around, the bottom 50% of American wage-earners has seen their share of national income drop from 21% to 13% while the top 1% has seen their share grow from 11% to 20%.  This new tax bill will simply accelerate that process.  The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, the middle class gets smaller, and the pool of consumers that drive prosperity in a demand-side economy disappears, because that’s what happens when you force supply-side economics onto a demand-side economy, and welcome to 1929.  This didn’t end well the first time and it won’t end well this time. 

7. Remember, as always: when the poor have nothing left to eat, they will eat the rich.

8. If you don’t think that calls for that sort of thing are bubbling up to the surface, then you haven’t been paying attention. There are a lot of people in the US who are not fooled by what is being done to them and more who are figuring it out, and in a nation as heavily armed as this one there are very few ways for that to end well.  I don’t condone or desire violent revolution, but I won’t be surprised when it comes.

9. One of the things that is obvious to anyone who looks at the numbers is that American society is becoming increasingly stratified by wealth and the American economy is actively making that problem worse.  Household wealth is shrinking, middle class debt is soaring, wages – when they rise at all – are not rising fast enough to keep pace with housing costs, health care costs, or education costs, all things that are necessary for future prosperity, job growth is increasingly concentrated in part-time service-sector positions with few benefits or long-term security, retirement is increasingly out of reach for most Americans, and there are more Americans with zero or negative net worth today than at any point in the last half century.  And this is before the impact of the Reverse Robin Hood tax plan just shoved through Congress, or the unanesthetized chainsaw surgery that the GOP has promised on Social Security, Medicaire, and Medicaid to pay for all those juicy tax cuts for billionaires and the corporations they own.  Again, you know this won’t end well.  You know that, right?

10. If you look at the provisions in the Reverse Robin Hood Tax Act of 2017 (and now that it’s been voted on, perhaps the GOP Representatives and Senators who voted for it will finally take the opportunity to do so), it pretty much amounts to weaponizing the tax code against blue states.  It makes no pretense of being even-handed, just as it makes no pretense of being revenue neutral.  It is funding tax breaks for billionaires and corporations on the backs of blue state taxpayers by capping the SALT deductions, limiting homeowner mortgage deductions, and eliminating the personal exemption – all of which hit blue-state taxpayers much harder than red-state taxpayers.  We’ll leave unnoticed the premeditated assault on public education, which is generally better supported in blue states than red states (and the reader is invited to draw their own conclusion from that).  Not surprisingly, blue states like California are working on ways to fight back.  California is, for example, actively exploring ways to turn portions of its taxes into charitable donations – a strategy already used by right-wing states like South Carolina, Alabama, and Kansas to fund private schools.  By expanding this program, California would force the GOP into a choice – either let the blue states (because you know others will follow if this works) shield their taxpayers from right-wing raids on their cash, or eliminate programs that have disproportionately benefited red states up until now.  I don’t doubt the juvenile willingness of the modern GOP to cut off their nose to spite their own face, but perhaps that will cause problems for them down the line too.

11. And net neutrality is gone.  The federal laws that protected the internet from becoming cable television, that allowed new entrepreneurs to compete against monopolies, that allowed the voices of the voiceless to be heard over the din, have been sacrificed on the altar of corporate greed and mindless ideological fanaticism.  This despite documented fraud in the comment period, where literally millions of Americans had their identities stolen and used to promote this theft – fraud that the FCC has aggressively defended.  Does this group of con artists and fanatics have no decency left at all? 

12.  On the other hand, Alabama did manage not to send the Child Molester Roy Moore to the Senate, so there is that.  Imagine – a victory for human decency, in this parlous time.

13. Of course, it was grimly noticeable how nearly evenly divided the voters of Alabama were on the issue of having a child molester represent them and how overwhelming the support of white evangelical men was for child molester representation, so one cannot take this victory as final.  And, as if on cue, the Child Molester Roy Moore spent most of the following couple of weeks whining and complaining that he’d been Done Wrong By Mysterious Ill-Wishers.  First of all, Sonny Jim, you lost and you need to get over yourself.  I know this is a difficult lesson for someone who still thinks it’s somehow okay to fly the Confederate battle flag, but consider it a wake-up call from the civilized world and move on.  Second, there was never anything mysterious about the ill-wishers.  We are the moral and patriotic Americans who think child molesters should be in prison, not in government.  We’re pretty proud of that, actually.  And third, the fact that right-wingers consistently complain about “librul snowflakes” is just further proof that if you want to know what the right wing is up to, all you need to do is listen to what they accuse their opponents of doing.  A more reliable guide you will never find.

14. The Child Molester Roy Moore even went so far as to file suit demanding that the election results be overturned because reasons.  To their credit, Alabama state officials – all of them Republican – laughed this out of court.

15. Is it just me or is the fact that der Sturmtrumper spent the anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre meeting with NRA shills rather than doing anything to mark the slaughter of the innocent with high-powered firearms a rather telling example of his – and the GOP’s in general – priorities?

16. As the Russian noose tightens and Mueller’s investigation reaches further and further into the black heart of der Sturmtrumper’s administration, the panicked attempts by the GOP to shield their Fuehrer from further prosecution become more and more desperate and more and more authoritarian (no, my continued referrals to der Sturmtrumper and his enablers in language referencing the NSDAP are neither accidental nor hyperbolic, thank you).  Even former GOP officials have noticed and some have spoken out, to their credit.  When GOP Congressman Francis Rooney suggested that there should be a “purge” of the FBI to eliminate those willing to investigate der Sturmtrumper, Richard Painter – who had served as George W. Bush’s chief ethics lawyer – flatly accused them of dictatorship.  “Tell that congressman and all the rest of them who are shooting their mouths off without any knowledge of the facts that they are just flat-out wrong.  There’s not going to be any purge of the FBI on his [current FBI Director Chris Wray, a Trump appointee] watch.  He needs to stand up to these people.  They’re acting like dictators.  That doesn’t appeal to my type of Republican.  That doesn’t appeal to patriotic Americans, to see the FBI attacked that way.”

17. Unfortunately, the GOP has been taken over by a whole different kind of Republican, one who does not have the patriotism to stand up to such nonsense.  We’ll see how that goes.

18.  Apparently Mueller has begun seeking RNC campaign data, looking for exactly how compromised it was by Russian activity.  Meanwhile the FBI is taking a hard look at Kushner’s contacts with the Russian ambassador and a Russian bank that has already been sanctions for criminal activity.  Keep that popcorn popping.

19. For a guy who sits in the most powerful job in the world, der Sturmtrumper sure is insecure.  He recently bragged that he signed more laws than any president since Truman, which is absurd on its face.  He had actually signed fewer bills (96) at that point than any president since Truman, and more than two thirds of those are more or less trivial.  But even taking the 96 at face value, the fact is that Clinton, Carter, and Bush Sr. signed more than twice that many, while Eisenhower signed more than five times as many and Kennedy signed more than seven times as many.  You know, folks.  If you’re going to lie to pad your resume, you need to find things to lie about that aren’t so easy to check.

20. Remember Puerto Rico?  The American territory full of American citizens who got slammed by a hurricane back in the summer and whom der Sturmtrumper and his minions have done their level best to ignore ever since because why would they pay attention to an island full of brown-skinned Spanish-speaking people even if they are American citizens?  That Puerto Rico?  Yeah, on top of the colossal moral and political failure that this represents, it turns out that the vast majority of the IV bags used in American hospitals are made in one factory in Puerto Rico, a factory that somehow still hasn’t been put to rights.  If you’re wondering why hospitals in the US are now almost out of IV bags – why nurses have to inject fluids manually, a time-consuming and inefficient process, rather than just hooking you up to an IV – well, why don’t you take a moment and write to your president and ask him about that?  Surely self-interest will provide motivation for him, where civics and morality fail.

21.  For those of you who still think the right-wing media has any relationship with truth, morality, or reality as we know it, well, you could always listen to what they actually say.  Not just the mountain of fabrication and outright falsehood that is their stock and trade, but the times when they come right out and say that they’re lying to you.  Remember Rush Limbaugh declaring that he was “no longer going to have to carry the water” for the GOP at the end of the Bush Jr. administration?  How he proudly defended lying to his listeners for partisan gain?  Good times, man.  Now you’ve got Breitbart just as proudly admitting that they are glad to lie to people if it means protecting der Sturmtrumper from the crimes he and his minions perpetrate.  So next time someone tries to tell you that they rely on sources like this, feel free to laugh at them for as long as you have breath.

22.  So, have you read Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury yet?  I haven’t, but, like most people who don’t live in caves, I’ve heard of it and read both excerpts and analyses of it.  Which is, of course, part of the story.  Wolff had incredible access to der Sturmtrumper’s White House and the people in it, and his book is yet another damning indictment of the malfeasance, incompetence, and general unfitness of that crew – from top to bottom – to be in power.  But it’s not as if this is news to any American citizen who values this country and hopes for its continued prosperity and stability.  The fact that der Sturmtrumper has made such a big deal out of this book does, however, guarantee that what would otherwise have been a minor stir among the political class has now become a major cultural event.  For those of you new to this phenomenon, you can google the phrase “Streisand Effect” for the details.

23. There are, it turns out, a few interesting things described in Wolff’s book.  Such as:

a) Former President Steve Bannon explicitly described Don “Fredo” Junior’s meeting with Jared, Manafort, and Russian lawyer Natlia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower in June 2016 looking for dirt on Hillary Clinton as “treasonous.”  In his words, “Three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor – with no lawyers.  They didn’t have any lawyers.  Even if you thought this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.”

b) Bannon continues, “The chance that Don Jr. did not walk these jumos up to his father’s office on the twenty-sixth floor is zero.”  Nobody knows what the word “jumo” means here.  Seriously – people have done research.  It clearly isn’t positive, however.

c) Bannon also has the cunning to know what Mueller is aiming for.  “This is all about money laundering.  Muller chose Weissman first and he is a money-laundering guy.  Their path to fucking Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr. and Jared Kushner. … It’s as plain as a hair on your face,” according to an excerpt in The Guardian.  “It goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner shit.  The Kushner shit is greasy.  They’re going to go right through that.  They’re going to roll those to guys up and say play me or trade me.”  Bannon further predicts, “They’re going to crack Don Jr. like an egg on national TV.”  Hey, I’ll pay money to see that.

d) One of der Sturmtrumper’s oldest associates, billionaire Thomas Barrack, Jr., described der Sturmtrumper this way – “He’s not only crazy, he’s stupid.”

e) Rupert Murdoch seems to share this opinion, labeling der Sturmtrumper “a fucking idiot.”

f) Apparently everyone in der Sturmtrumper’s administration – from Bannon to Ivanka to Jared to the cleaning staff – all think they’re going to springboard into the presidency after this.  Lawsey, that’s frightening.

g) Nobody in der Sturmtrumper’s campaign thought they were going to win.  They didn’t want to win.  They wanted to keep it respectable enough to leverage the exposure into a new news network and make money.  Der Sturmtrumper would be famous and even more rich than whatever he thought he already was.  Ivanka and Jared would be celebrities.  Bannon would walk off as the head of the Teabagger movement, Kellyanne Conway would go on to cable news, and Melania could go back to whatever she used to do before this insane idea took off.  And when it came out the way it did, der Sturmtrumper was first confused, then disbelieving, then horrified.  And then, of course, the Ego took over and he decided it was only fair that he be president after all.

h) In other words, we’re living in a real life version of The Producers, including the musical Nazi number.

i) If you want to understand the dysfunctionality and chaos of the current regime, it all goes back to that.  They didn’t want to win.  They did win.  And like the GOP in general, they have found that throwing spokes in the wheels of good governance is easy, but actually governing takes work and thought – two qualities they don’t have.

j) Der Sturmtrumper apparently didn’t enjoy his inauguration much, which is only fair as neither did most of the country.

24. All this of course led der Sturmtrumper to turn on Former President Bannon, calling him a self-promoting charlatan who’d lost his mind, which AGAIN brings to mind the fact that if you want to know what the GOP is up to just look at what they call their opponents.  Der Sturmtrumper couldn’t commission a better description of himself if he tried.  Naturally the rest of the civilized world looked on at the fracas between Bannon and der Sturmtrumper and laughed until they cried, then cried harder realizing that these two morally stunted hacks ran the country for a while and one of them still does.

25.  Probably the biggest single takeway from Wolff’s book – a fact which has long been obvious and which nobody who actually knows der Sturmtrumper bothers to deny – is that der Sturmtrumper is completely unfit to hold office.  “My indelible impression of talking to them [the senior officials and other assorted personnel in the administration whom Wolff interviewed] and observing them through much of the first year of his presidency, is that they all – 100 percent – came to believe he was incapable of functioning in his job.”  He repeats himself, he forgets simple things (such as the fact that the ran for president in 2000, apparently), he behaves in much the way that people in the early stages of dementia behave.  “He’s lost it,” Wolff quotes Former President Bannon as saying.  Steven Mnuchin and Reince “No, Really, That’s His Name” Priebus both called him an “idiot,” though without the “fucking” modifier that Rupert Murdoch used (vide supra).  Gary Cohn says he has shit for brains.  HR McMaster says he’s a “dope.”  Exxon’s Own Secretary of State Tillerson says he’s a “moron.”  NONE OF THIS IS NEWS.  This has been documented for years.  It was obvious during the campaign.  And none of it mattered because, as Mitch McConnell – the least honorable man in Washington, which is quite an achievement – said, “[Trump] will sign anything we put in front of him.”  There’s your GOP, ladies and gentlemen.

26. They continue to prop him up, to support his outbursts, to serve in his administration.  When this all comes crashing down and the rubble settles, there will be reckoning.

27. Of course they can’t really abandon der Sturmtrumper, can they.  He’s become their face.  He is what this party has been shambling toward since 1968 when Nixon first introduced the Southern Strategy.  If he goes down in flames, so too does the entire GOP.  And it couldn’t happen to a nicer group of guys.

28.  The larger point, however, remains.  All snark and partisanship aside, this president is mentally unwell.  He desperately needs to be tested by neutral mental health professionals.  The ones who have looked at the thousands of hours of him speaking publicly are extremely concerned – which means we should be concerned.  Compare der Sturmtrumper from 1980, for example, when – whatever you may think of the substance of what he is saying – he is coherent and able to express himself clearly to the rambling, disjointed, fragmented, empty, repetitive speech patterns he exhibits today, and you’ll be amazed that it’s the same person.  Because really it isn’t the same person.

29. As if to hammer that point home even further, der Sturmtrumper gave an interview to the New York Times at the end of December that was all kinds of scary.  He lied, as he always does – that’s not the problem.  He does that routinely, and those of us in the reality-based community are used to it and those who make up der Sturmtrumper’s base think it’s fine.  The problem is that the interview went in two equally disturbing directions.

a) First, it went directly toward authoritarian rule.  Der Sturmtrumper thinks he has the “absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department.”  Uh, no.  No he does not.  The president is not above the law and the Justice Department enforces the law.  Der Sturmtrumper then went on to point out how gracious he is being for not interfering with them, which is the equivalent of a street thug demanding applause for not murdering you.  He clearly thinks they owe him loyalty, which is nonsense – they owe loyalty to the Constitution and to the law.

b) Perhaps more importantly (which is saying something, because a president who thinks he can waltz in and be a dictator is something that will frighten every patriotic American citizen – and if you’re not frightened by that, the rest is left as an exercise for the reader) is the fact that the interview is disjointed, fragmented, and delusional.  He starts at uninformed and goes downhill from there straight into incoherence, conspiracy, and nonsense.  Which brings us back to mental unfitness.  “Over the past 30 years, I’ve seen my father and all of his siblings slide into the shadows and fog of Alzheimer’s Disease,” writes Charles Pierce.  “(The president*’s father developed Alzehimer’s in his 80s.) … In this interview, the president* is only intermittently coherent.  He talks in semi-sentences and is always groping for something that sounds familiar, even if it makes no sense whatsoever and even if it blatantly contradicts something he said two minutes earlier.  To my ears, anyway, this is more than the president*’s well-known allergy to the truth.  This is a classic coping mechanism employed when language skills are coming apart.”  Joe Scarborough, former GOP Congressman and current cable news host, pointedly observes that der Sturmtrumper’s mental decline was obvious during the campaign “and it’s getting worse, and not a single person who works for him doesn’t know it.”  This is a man who should not be where he is.

30. Yes, I know that getting rid of der Sturmtrumper will leave us with Toady Pence, the man who single-handedly turned the otherwise unremarkable state of Indiana into a pariah for a few months when he was governor.  Unlike the vast majority of people shouting about this on Twitter, Facebook, or other forms of social media, I have actually read the Constitution.  I understand the presidential line of succession.  President Toady will present his own problems, most of which stem from the fact that he is a bog-standard Dominionist blasphemer and a Koch Brothers meat puppet who can be counted on to implement the most catastrophically short-sighted and morally callous agenda in modern political history.  But Pence is not mentally ill.  This is no longer about policy and hasn’t been for quite some time.  This is about the survival of the republic.

31.  Naturally, der Sturmtrumper couldn’t let any of this slide.  So in what can only be described as a meltdown of Biblical proportions and kindergarten-level sophistication, he let fly with yet another rage-Tweet festival when perhaps he could have been, oh, reading intelligence briefings or in some other way doing his job.  “Throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. ... I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star to President of the United States (on my first try).  I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius….and a very stable genius at that!”  Uh, wow.  There is no proper adult response to this other than goggle-eyed horror at the fact that this is the guy with his finger on the nuclear button.

32.  Although Mark Hamill’s response comes pretty close: “Congratulations, sir!  This dignified, statesman-like tweet is the perfect way to counter the book’s narrative that you’re an impulsive, childish dimwit.”

33. As does this:

34. Meanwhile back in the rest of reality, der Sturmtrumper has apparently disbanded his Voter Suppression Commission, which means that Kris Kobach can go back to evicting war widows from their homes or whatever it is he does for fun.  This is what happens when your loudly trumpeted claims of “voter fraud” are so patently ridiculous and obviously partisan that even Republican states tell you to go to hell.  Don’t imagine this won’t come back, though.  Voter suppression has been the goal of the GOP since the early 1980s – they’re very open about it if you just listen to them (see below) – and pretty much by definition they’ll try again.  It’s how der Sturmtrumper won in Wisconsin, after all.  When you’re a minority party, democracy just isn’t for you.

35. Der Sturmtrumper isn’t kidding when he says he thinks the Justice Department owes loyalty to him rather than the law.  His continuing efforts to throttle Mueller’s investigation long ago crossed into obstruction of justice and are rapidly hurtling toward imperial hubris, and the more evidence comes out the harder it will be for der Sturmtrumper to control events and the more desperate he will become to do so.  That’s not a combination that bodes well for anyone who cares about the future of the American republic.

36. You can understand why he’s so desperate.  Mueller now has evidence confirming several of the allegations made by James Comey, evidence from independent sources.  The web of obstruction has expanded to Jared Kushner and Steven Miller at the minimum, and possibly Jeff Sessions.  They’re all going down, and you’d be a fool to think they’ll go quietly or without trying to take everything down with them.

37. One of the more interesting responses to Wolff’s book has been der Sturmtrumper’s quixotic threat to sue Wolff’s publishers for, well, reasons.  He’d like to quash this book.  Should this lawsuit ever become more than an empty threat from a hollow man, however, it would expose pretty much everything he’s tried to conceal.  One of the main events that happens in any civil litigation is called “discovery,” and it is pretty much exactly what it sounds like – the attorneys on both sides demand documents from the other with the intent of using the information therein to bolster their case.  This is not optional.  In particular, a plaintiff (which is what der Sturmtrumper would be if he brought this suit) would have very little hope of refusing to turn over any document demanded by the defense since, after all, the whole thing could be brought to an end simply by his dropping the suit in the first place.  So long as the suit is there, pretty much everything connected to Wolff’s descriptions would be fair game for his lawyers to discover and make public, particularly as the suit alleges that there is no substance to the descriptions.  You can bet that Wolff’s lawyers are just salivating at the thought of such a lawsuit, and der Sturmtrumper’s lawyers are frantically trying to put that genie back in its bottle.

38. I’m not even going to go into the overwhelming mountain of Constitutional problems that would collapse down on der Sturmtrumper should he move forward with his attempt to impose prior restraint on the publishers of this book.  That’s not how the First Amendment works – that’s now how any of the Constitution works – and for a sitting president to make such a demand is both flagrantly unconstitutional and conclusive evidence that he has no business being in office.  As the Authors Guild president, James Gleick, noted, “This isn’t a country where we quash books that the leader finds unpleasant.  That’s what tyrants do, not American presidents.”  But when the American president is himself a tyrant, then what?

39. The Cardin Report, issued this week, presents a damningly clear and vivid analysis of how der Sturmtrumper’s collusion with Russia was just the most recent chapter in an ongoing effort by Putin and his Informational Warfare staff to corrupt and destroy Western politics.  It describes how and why this effort has been produced and how effective it has been.  And then it points out the obvious:  “Despite the clear assaults on our democracy and our allies in Europe, the U.S. government still does not have a coherent, comprehensive, and coordinated approach to the Kremlin’s malign influence operations, either abroad or at home. Although the U.S. government has for years had a patchwork of offices and programs supporting independent journalism, cyber security, and the countering of disinformation, the lack of presidential leadership in addressing the threat Putin poses has hampered a strong U.S. response. In early 2017, Congress provided the State Department’s Global Engagement Center the resources and mandate to address Kremlin disinformation campaigns, but operations have been stymied by the Department’s hiring freeze and unnecessarily long delays by its senior leadership in transferring authorized funds to the office. While many mid-level and some senior-level officials throughout the State Department and U.S. government are cognizant of the threat posed by Mr. Putin’s asymmetric arsenal, the U.S. President continues to deny that any such threat exists, creating a leadership vacuum in our own government and among our European partners and allies.”  In other words, we do nothing while der Sturmtrumper lets his puppetmasters have free rein over our once proud democracy.  Nice job, GOP.

40. The active refusal of GOP leaders to accept this reality – to deny categorically what has been extensively corroborated by independent research and is seen even within der Sturmtrumper’s administration as “objective reality” – is one of the great moral failures of our time.

41. On that note, we have the transcripts of the testimony before Congress of Fusion GPS, the agency that produced the Russian Dossier that hit the news during the 2016 presidential campaign.  The GOP had been doing its best to spin it one way, discredit it another way, and generally twist it to say pretty much exactly what it didn’t say, and then Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) decided to release the whole thing unedited.  And my doesn’t it get right to the heart of the matter.  You should read Elizabeth C. McLaughlin’s epic analysis of it.  McLaughlin was a securities fraud and human rights lawyer, so she knows what she’s talking about, and her basic point is that Fusion GPS did too.  Some of the highlights:

a) Fusion concluded fairly early that der Sturmtrumper has serious ties to Russian organized crime.  It is entirely possible that der Sturmtrumper – far from being a willing Russian agent – is effectively compromised and being blackmailed.

b) Der Sturmtrumper’s campaign was deeply compromised by Russian intelligence, and willingly accepted espionage reports from the Kremlin regarding the Clinton campaign.

c) Russian operatives actively attacked the DNC, the Clinton campaign, and anything else that might stand in the way of getting der Sturmtrumper elected.

d) The FBI was already investigating der Sturmtrumper’s Russian ties before this dossier came to their attention, so the connections were fairly obvious all around.

e) This is bigger than der Sturmtrumper and may well pull in much of the GOP elite of the last two decades.

f) One of the dossier’s Russian informants has already been murdered, which tells you that the Russians at least take it seriously.

g) “Now would be a good tie to ask yourself why it is that [GOP Senator] Chuck Grassley and others didn’t want this transcript released,” she points out.  Indeed it would.

42. North Carolina’s blatantly partisan gerrymandering scheme has been tossed out by a panel of federal judges on the grounds that it serves no purpose other than to “subordinate the interests of non-Republican voters and entrench Republican domination of the state’s congressional delegation.”  Well, when you have GOP officials like Rep. David Lewis – the Republican in charge of the now overturned gerrymandering – flatly declaring that “I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats.  So I drew this map to help foster what I think is better for the country,” what other conclusion could they draw?  This is about a concerted effort to turn what had been a democracy into an oligarchy where an entrenched minority could rule as it pleased.  It’s a temporary victory – voter suppression and minority rule have been the guiding stars of GOP political strategy for nearly four decades now – but any victory for democracy and American values is a rare and precious thing these days.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Christmas in the North

And so our long Christmas saga has mostly come to an end now, concluding as it should with one more festive celebration of food and family. 

On Saturday we went up to Kim’s side of the family to celebrate what we call Ukrainian Christmas, since a) that side of the family is largely Ukrainian in descent, as opposed to the mass of Italians on my side (and parenthetically, am I the only one who thinks that the word for a group of Italians should be a “mass”?  I can’t be), b) the food is all Ukrainian and features wholly unreasonable amounts of delicious, delicious poppy seeds, and c) Christmas in Ukraine is celebrated on the Julian calendar which puts it on Epiphany, and that works out very well when we’ve spent the Gregorian calendar’s Christmas visiting my side of the family.

Christmas for everybody!

We haven’t had much snow here in Baja Canada but it has been cold, so we bundled ourselves up and headed on down the road glad in our nice toasty car.  We got there in time to be put to work, which is really part of the fun, I think.

After that there was the milling about that always happens on holidays – the Noshing of the Snacks, the Catching Up With People as they slowly filtered in, and the Generally Not Doing Much Of Anything because it’s a holiday that’s why.  You’re not really supposed to do much productive on holidays, unless you’re cooking of course.

Eventually we all gathered around the table and dug into the various pierogis, sausages, stuffed cabbages, mushrooms (well, I let those go by – more for others, really) and assorted other goodies.  Fran got to try borscht for the first time and she seemed to like it.  Justin and I hoarded the horseradish, which was good and hot.  Lauren actually tried some and thought it was pretty good so perhaps we’ll have to share in the future.  Clears the sinuses right up!

There were two rounds of gifts after that, the first being aimed primarily at the littler kids.  They spent a happy half hour opening presents and making joyful noises and generally doing the sorts of things that you remember doing at that age if you celebrated Christmas.  Remember those days?  Now you understand your parents a whole lot more, don't you!  It's the circle of life, which rolls along much faster than you think it will.

And then the grown-ups and big kids played the Dice Game.

It’s the same Dice Game we played in Tennessee - the rules don't change - and it keeps things fun and affordable at the same time, which is always a plus.  My strategy is to aim for small things, since they’re easier to carry, though with this crowd we didn’t have to worry about people taking things home on airplanes so some of the items were actually fairly big. 

Driving for the win!

Over the course of the evening Lauren, Fran, and Tabitha ended up with a rubber cowboy - the one Lauren is holding there alongside the copper pineapple (a sentence I never in my life thought I would write, but life is full of surprises, really).  It’s one of the creepiest toys ever made – right up there with the Mickey Mouse doll that we saw in the Toy Museum in Stockholm that probably gave Goofy nightmares for years.  It’s kind of gummy and has a blank-eyed stare like it’s thinking of new ways to hack your credit cards, but on the plus side you can pull it into interesting shapes.

It took us nearly half an hour to find it online to see what it was called.  We have since collectively abandoned this knowledge for the greater good of humanity, though we still remember the cowboy with the odd fondness that one remembers any mildly disconcerting thing that did not actually cause you harm.  Merry Christmas, cowboy!  Yee-haw!

We’re back home now.  School and work have started up.  The temperatures have warmed up to about freezing.  At some point we should take down the tree, turn off the Christmas lights, and be ready for the next Big Holiday here in America – Super Bowl Sunday, the one day of the year where you’re required to eat junk food for dinner.  Maybe soon. 

Merry Christmas, one and all.