Last night I went out for a walk around my neighborhood. As is my custom when I do such things, I loaded up my phone with the latest podcasts I enjoy to keep me company and spent an hour or so listening to the Friday edition of "The Bob & Chez Show" (Afterparty edition). It wasn't a standout entry by any stretch, but it was still enjoyable to listen to Bob and Chez gab on about Trump, politics, the state of the world, and, naturally, Jordan Peele's sense of humor and whether the movie "Get Out" deserves its 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Later on, I was browsing through my Twitter feed and saw a post from Bob mourning the loss of Chez. I wasn't sure what to make of it—I could see a context where Bob was making a joke at Chez's expense in relation to some event that had happened that I wasn't aware of (like a death notice for some celebrity who was actually still with us), but what's the joke? Was it not a joke? Did Chez actually die??!
Turns out, Chez died.
The dude was my age. No idea what happened to him yet.* As far as I know, he wasn't ill, though he had a history of substance abuse that he'd overcome successfully. On his Friday show, I did notice that he was less involved than usual, keeping quiet while Bob talked rather than interject with frequency and wit, but assumed he was just tired or having a day, you know. And perhaps he was. No details on how he died have been made public, so he might have been fine and been the victim of a car accident or something. Not that it matters, I guess. Dude's still gone.
I started listening to the podcast when it was "The Bob & Elvis Show," back in the aughts, then when Elvis quit, Bob recruited Chez to take his place. I liked Elvis and figured the new guy wouldn't be nearly as good, but Chez was even better. Funny with snark and cynicism that was somehow uplifting, even when he'd say that Trump was going to kill us all. Of course, it helps that Chez had my political sensibilities and nerdly interests, and as contemporaries his pop-culture references usually landed squarely. (My favorite line of his from recent shows was in reference to the Trump press conference a couple weeks ago or whenever it was, when Trump responded to a question about meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus by asking the reporter to set up such a meeting for him. Chez said, "He figures all black people are like fucking Aquaman." I laughed loudly, despite my presence sitting in public at the Wayward wearing my earbuds, imagining John Lewis sending out concentric telepathic circles summoning fellow black people from the sea to aid him in battle against Paul Ryan.)
I came to look forward to each week's trifecta of Bob & Chez podcasts as a highlight of my news/politics consumption, and would be disproportionately annoyed when my podcast software was late in making an episode available. I enjoyed the few Twitter back-and-forths I had with Chez about the show, and was absurdly pleased that he ran with the metaphor of the Trump presidency being "less of a news cycle and more of that 'Battlestar Galactica' episode where the Cylons attack every 33 minutes," which I shared with him after I saw it tweeted from the Atlantic's Matt Ford, in both his columns at the Daily Banter and on the podcast.
I never met Chez Pazienza, I only knew him through his writing and commentary and those few interactions on social media. But Chez was someone that made my political awareness more informed and more full of wit, and he was personable and friendly and willing to interact on social media, and I'm stunned that he's gone. Heartfelt condolences to his fiancee, his daughters, and Bob Cesca, his partner in podcasts. If someone as far removed as I am misses Chez, I can't imagine what it's like for the people that he was actually close to. Godspeed, sir.
* Update 2/27/17: Turns out Chez backslid into his heroin habit, which is a shame on a number of levels, not the least of which is all of the work he did to get clean years ago. His editor at the Daily Banter gave some details today in a candid obituary and Bob discussed it a little bit on the Stephanie Miller Show today. Goddamnit, Chez. Sigh.
Help Congress Help Us
Since the election, I've written four letters to my congressional representatives. I'm quite sure there will be many more to follow, because the stakes have never been higher for our Republic. My prior letters urged opposition to Trump cabinet nominees and support of investigation of and appropriate action for the Russian attack on our election. This one is about the Affordable Care Act as it faces catastrophic maiming if not outright repeal by the Republican leadership.
I have added a link on the right sidebar (not visible if you're reading this on your phone, maybe if you tilt it over to landscape mode) under "Be Heard" that I invite everyone to take advantage of. It'll take you to to a site that will find your Senators and Representative based on your zip code, then give you a ready-to-go form that will send them email or, for a nominal fee, printed snail-mail letters. They don't have to be long, they don't have to be especially eloquent, they just need to convey your opinion on a particular issue. Take advantage of this tool! Write often! (And check out Indivisble as well for helpful pointers on what to say.)
January 8, 2017
Dear Representative Jayapal:
Dear Senator Cantwell:
Dear Senator Murray:
Firstly, thank you for your advocacy and efforts thus far regarding public health matters in general and the Affordable Care Act in particular. The ACA has been a godsend to the American people, even those who haven't recognized it as such; I myself have returned to the ranks of the insured thanks in large part to the ACA.
The Republican goal of repealing the ACA is astonishing—or rather, it would be if the Republican party bore any resemblance to its former self—and I implore you to continue to oppose them in their efforts to strip us all of this newfound ability to get care.
What Congressional Republicans are trying to do would be criminal under broader context and should be stopped. Consequences of repealing the ACA without substituting any comparable alternative are predictbale, because we've seen them already. For the most fortunate Americans, they will be forced into lesser insurance coverage for more money. For the rest of us, it could mean the choice between financial ruin and death.
Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump, and their respective posses are either indifferent to the fact that their agenda will bankrupt and/or kill thousands of Americans, or they are deliberately planning it. That makes them, if they succeed, guilty of negligent homicide or premeditated murder, all so they can enact a kind of atavistic revenge fantasy against a soon-to-be-former President that they detest.
If there is a legitimate reason for the GOP's repeal effort outside of (a) empowering the insurance industry to make greater profits on the backs of Americas who can't afford it and (b) giving a giant middle-finger salute to President Obama, I don't see it. It certainly has no basis in serving the interests of the American people.
Keep up the good work, and please—remind your Republican colleagues that they are supposed to be PUBLIC SERVANTS, not officious-looking hit-men.
The Trumpsterfire nightmare is going to be worse than we imagined, and I don't think our collective imagination was all that restrained. We're just three weeks into the transition period, and in that short span of time, President-Elect VonClownstick has said and done too many outrageous and insulting and downright frightening things to keep track of.
There's a lot of stupid distracting bullshit he's spewed through his Twitter account, but let's look at the real "highlights" of our PEOTUS in these three weeks:
- Settled a lawsuit for fraud, paying $25,000,000 to make the suit go away and prevent a conviction (and walking away with an estimated $150,000,000 in fraudulent gains)
- Either directly or indirectly intimidated his alleged rape victim into dropping her lawsuit against him
- Appointed a white-nationalist propagandist, Stephen Bannon, to the post of chief White House strategist and senior counselor
- Began filling out his cabinet nominations with people who are, to a person, unqualified for their designated departments; horrifying contenders for remaining positions include Joe Arpio for Homeland Security, Myron Ebell for EPA, Harold Hamm for Energy, Jan Brewer or Sarah Palin for Interior, John Bolton for State(!!), Rudy Guliani for State or National Intelligence, the list goes on.
- Declared that the concept of "conflict of interest" does not apply to him, despite the plethora of conflicts he will have, a notable few of which include a financial interest in the Dakota Pipeline project, real estate holdings the world over, and a Washington, DC, hotel that he will not be allowed to lease once he's inaugurated but plans to continue operating anyway
- Discussed policy with world leaders on unsecured communications lines with no preparation or briefing, the exact thing he threatened to jail Hillary Clinton for
- Took credit for "saving" a factory from moving to Mexico even though the factory had never had any intention of doing so
- Objected to recount efforts in states where he won by a thread, claiming that we should respect and accept the result form election night and insulting the parties seeking an audit, then almost immediately thereafter made a baseless claim that "millions of people voted illegally" and accused three states in which he lost of harboring "serious voter fraud"
- Continued to refuse to disclose his tax returns, presumably to continue hiding all of his debt to foreign banks and governments as well as his general avoidance of paying taxes and the true value of his net worth
- Interviewed a candidate for Secretary of State who is serving two years probation for the crime of leaking classified information, precisely what he accused and threatened to jail Hillary Clinton over
The twitter rants insulting the Hamilton cast and declaring flag-burning should be punishable by loss if citizenship and maligning the New York Times and other journalism outlets are windows into this man's psyche, but ultimately distractions form the real problems.
The incoming administration is shaping up to be the most massive collection of incompetence and ignorance to ever occupy the White House, coupled with the most corrupt chief executive in the nation's history.
Be aware. Be vigilant. Be active. The Senate can thwart at least some of his appalling cabinet nominations, so let your senators know you won't support them if they support Jeff Sessions or Tom Price. (Or Ben Carson or Elaine Chao or Betsy DeVos or ...) Support organizations that will be extremely busy in the coming years such as the ACLU, who will undoubtedly be swamped with cases against cabinet secretaries and other officials who don't respect the Bill of Rights. Make your voices heard by local officials as well, support efforts to keep localities relatively safe from official thuggery. Intervene if/when you see unofficial thuggery, as the election of this weasel has emboldened those among us who would oppress and terrorize minorities and disadvantaged persons. Write to newspapers. Hold journalists accountable for their behavior if and when they fail to report or spin any of these atrocities as somehow normal. If you can afford it, support journalism and civil rights causes financially.
Oh, and don't get sick, as efforts to strip you of your healthcare will be aggressive and venomous.
We're in for a rough ride.
Thinking it Through
I seem to have rattled a cage or two the other day with some posts on social media about the election. Not surprising, I guess; it's a pretty charged issue considering the extreme consequences that have already started to unfold. But the cage-rattling came about because I referenced (mostly via link) third-party "protest" votes.
I'm acquainted with several people who were in the "I can't support Hillary no matter what" camp and who intended to vote third-party in protest. I don't know if they actually did or not, but hundreds of thousands of other people did. And I remain unclear on why. Sure, I know the standard answers: "Neither of the major candidates is good enough for me" is what they all boil down to, and if any substance is given to support that conclusion, it generally fails to stand up to even minor scrutiny. "Hillary is just as dishonest as Trump," for example, or "the DNC cheated Bernie out of the nomination and therefore Hillary is illegitimate," or my favorite, "both parties are essentially the same" — all of which are demonstrably false without even expending much effort.
But those details are beside my larger point. What I'm really wondering is, why are so many people essentially abdicating their responsibility to vote by casting a "protest" ballot? In Michigan alone, tens of thousands cast ballots that just left the section on President blank, which is slightly easier for me to understand; I think it's beyond foolish and irresponsible in this particular case, but I understand the logic of "I don't like any of these options so I vote for none." It's the idea that a "protest vote" for someone like Jill Stein or Gary Johnson is any different that throws me.
Let's think it through, shall we? The premise seems to be this: The Republicans are running candidate A, who is unacceptable. The Democrats are running candidate B, who is also objectionable. One of them will win no matter what. But rather than take a hard look and make a decision about whether, on balance, I prefer A to B or B to A, I will instead cast my vote for candidate C, a fringe figure who represents one or two of my views in strong stead while being severely unqualified on the whole and who has zero chance of winning. That either A or B will actually become President, and that the repercussions of that result will be gigantic, is less important to me than voicing my protest over the two major candidates.
(Or, I will instead vote for candidate D of the fringe party because I support the fringe party and want to give it more influence. This is ridiculous — the Green Party, for instance, has so little presence today that adding a vote to its minuscule showing in a presidential election will do nothing to affect its influence. If you want to build up the Green Party, work on it from the bottom up, not the top down; get Greens elected to city and county councils, mayorships, then state legislatures, eventually sending a Green or two to Congress. Then you've got a presence building. It doesn't work starting at the top.)
But what are you protesting? The nomination of someone you object to? How does that protest work? In the case of 2016 and Jill Stein, it's reasonable to assume that protest votes for her were protesting the Democratic nomination of Hillary Clinton, so what constitutes a successful outcome? It seems to me that the only possible goal of protesting Hillary Clinton with a vote for someone else is that someone else win the election. "I object to Hillary's nomination, therefore I will protest with a vote for Jill Stein, showing that the Democrats should have nominated someone more liberal. This will be heard and possibly be influential when Hillary loses." Right? I mean, if she wins, the protest will fall on deaf ears, won't it? So the goal of the protest requires her to lose. (Protest votes for Gary Johnson are harder to break down, they might be in protest of either Clinton or Trump, but the point is the same, it can only work as a protest if the one you're protesting loses.)
Then there's the "safe state" caveat. The "I prefer candidate B to win, but since I live in a state that will surely go to B anyway, I can safely vote for candidate C to voice my objection." How does that work, exactly? Who hears that protest? What becomes of it? Your state might be "safe" for B, but if you narrow the gap between A and B enough you can make it less safe for the next time 'round and give A's party a better shot — C's influence is still nothing, but now B's party, which you ultimately prefer to A's, may be more vulnerable to A's party, which you dislike.
Am I wrong? How can a protest vote be effective otherwise? What's its point if not to help defeat the one being protested?
And I don't want to hear the "this way I can vote my conscience" bullshit argument, either. Your conscience isn't served by casting a ballot for someone that won't get more than a tiny fraction of the vote and doesn't send any kind of message that will be heard. Your conscience is there to tell you not to do something that might make you feel good but will hurt others, and it can distinguish between the two possible winners. Even in cases where it truly is a case of choosing the lesser of two evils, one of them is less evil.
The bottom line is that protest votes mean the voter doesn't care which of the two possible winners wins, that s/he is fine with either result. And in this particular election, I can't see how anyone can view the two candidates as equally good or equally bad. Even those that hate them both hate one of them more. I don't actually believe that third-party voters in 2016 didn't care who won, that if pressed, they wouldn't find they preferred one over the other. Yet, here we are.
Maybe the system is broken. Maybe we'd be better off with a kind of parliamentary setup that gives representation to minor parties, or maybe things would improve under the current system if we had a third major party. But, for now anyway, we have the system we have. And we are in real trouble because of how this election turned out.
Third-party voters are not the sole reason we have President-Elect VonClownstick. There were many causes of this nightmare and I don't want liberals to fight among themselves placing blame on each other for the corruption and criminality to come, especially since the news media, the FBI, the Russians, and plenty of other factors (not to mention actual Trump acolytes) played bigger roles. But I do want us all, liberal and conservative alike, to use our heads and think critically when it comes to elections and not ignore the big picture.
One Week On
So, we've all had a week to process. Our collective wish to wake up and discover it was all a dream has gone unfulfilled. How do things feel now?
Mr. VonClownstick seems to be a bit deer-in-the-headlights about what happens now, which in a way is a consolation, because that's how a lot of the rest of us feel too, just for different reasons. But what is not consoling in the slightest is how he's preparing to take office, which is to say, not preparing much at all in terms of basic things like hiring staff and returning calls form the Pentagon, and who he's surrounding himself with, the horrid details of which I don't want to get into here.
So there's nothing in the way of mitigation to make us feel better, and the surreal nature of the past seven days promises to continue indefinitely. But life does go on, and spending all of our time semi-catatonic, compulsively checking Twitter feeds for some bit of reportage that can make sense of this nightmare, or frantically busying ourselves with anything and everything mundane to just focus on something, ANYTHING else (I've been doing all three) isn't healthy or practical. Everyday life will reassert and we'll begin to function again, sooner than seems reasonable, and we can resume enjoying things again. But with a new feeling of vigilance attached.
I say "new," but it's really only new for some of us, isn't it? I've been neglecting my cartooning endeavors for far too long (and though I do want to resume it at some point, I've no immediate plans to do so), but I have had the basis for a Cloud Five sequence swirling around my head about the new vigilance; for people like me, who have lived entirely in the context of relative privilege and the normative majority demographic, it's new, even shocking, to feel threatened like this by agents of authority, and my C5 alter ego would express this. His best friend and crush would have to explain to him that to her it isn't so much a new feeling as one that had always been there at lower volume, but now it's been cranked up to 11.
Anyway, this post is unfocused and kind of rambling, but worthwhile to get out even as a stream-of-consciousness sort of thing. Part of the process of processing, and all that. Yes, now we have to band together and fight for the forces of civility and inclusion and basic reason, but first we have to come to grips and regain some equilibrium.
Ship of Fools
This is not how it was supposed to look.
"Unbelievable" is the word that keeps occurring to me. This election is literally unbelievable. I am still in denial a little bit.
How could so many people — so many women — be suckered so thoroughly, be so fully hoodwinked by this, this overgrown spoiled brat? This obviously incompetent and dangerous man that campaigned on ideas and statements so beyond what had been acceptable discourse for American politics? A man who championed war crimes, tax evasion, and science denial; who defrauded Americans wherever and whenever he could (and who has a court date in a few weeks on fraud charges), who made no secret of his contempt for women and who has another court date upcoming concerning his alleged rape of a child.
This man won a presidential election. In the United States of America. In the twenty-first century.
He had plenty of help, to be sure. All of it unsavory, and none of it terribly concealed. Help from Russia. Help from rogue agents in the FBI. Help from cable news (a whole lot of help from cable news). But in the end, people still voted for him, and despite the abject failure of the Fourth Estate to do its job, a lot of those people should have known better.
Of course, plenty of other people didn't even show up. And that may be the root of the problem. Voter turnout was lower than any time since the last time there was a split between the popular vote and the electoral college. And I dare say a lot of those that didn't bother were also played for fools. Suckered by a bombastic grifter and his henchmen into thinking his opponent was the one guilty of all of the deplorable (yes, that word fits perfectly) behavior that he himself had dispensed in "huge" quantity. A lot of other people voted for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, two horrible candidates in their own right, and those people also, I have to believe, were played for saps (Johnson's totals were greater than the margin between Trump and Clinton in at least five states). I've no doubt that the dirty tricks of voter suppression played a role as well, that the gutting of the Voting Rights Act aided and abetted this nightmare, that the efforts to falsely convince people that they could vote online even prevented some votes from being cast.
Fifty-nine million people voted for this man, this personification of chaos and dishonesty and ignorance. Sure, some of the fifty-nine million are racist misogynist assholes who greedily anticipate the coming downfall of civilization, but most are just dupes. This election has revealed us to be a nation of idiots, at least outside of the Pacific and northern Atlantic coasts.
I am terrified that we will suffer greatly in the next two years. Assuming no electoral shenanigans in the meantime, the midterms should swing Congress heavily back toward the side of sanity, but by then it will be too late for some, and even then Congress can't check everything.
America, we've been had. Conned. Fooled like never before. And we will pay for it in ways we can't even imagine yet.
At the risk of stating the obvious, I've not been good about maintaining this blog. Many topics have been worthy of jotting a few sentences about, and yet... Well, I'm here now. So, some flotsam and jetsam from my head as I wait for my car to be serviced in advance of my next rip to SoCal:
- My mood hasn't been great lately. No particular reason, at least none on top of the stresses and bummerific context of my being a Trustee of my mom's estate. Last month there was an incident that triggered an eruption of buried/suppressed rage that was surprisingly powerful and not especially useful. Even when it seems justified, anger of that degree gets in the way of, you know, addressing the problem. But that was then; more recently I've just been in a foggy sort of stasis, for lack of a better term. I'm no stranger to dour moods, and this isn't a severe example by a long shot, but in some ways this sort is more frustrating. I always want to make sense of things, and when staying focused on anything is an elusive task it's impossible to feel like things make any sense. If that makes sense. Which it probably doesn't. Because I'm all over the place in my head right now.
- So, let's talk about baseball, since that is something I can make sense of. Having the playoffs on during this time of foggy ennui is a good thing, it's helpful, but what isn't helpful is the Toronto Blue Jay offense. I really want to like the Jays. I have a great affinity for Canada, for one thing, and they're the only north-of-the-border team in the bigs; they also have a few individual players I like a lot, from ex-Mariner Michael Suanders to Troy Tulowitzki to J.A. Happ, and I have tended to enjoy the company of Blue Jay fans when they come to Seattle to see the Jays play the M's. Sadly, they are built around a one-dimensional offense dependent on the home run, which is so not my style. Also, not good enough to beat the Cleveland Native American Caricatures. Toronto's down 0-3 to the Clevelanders, and while there is Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor to appreciate I just can't find anything redeeming about Cleveland winning the American League championship. Bleh. Come on, Blue Jays, be the second team ever to rebound from 0-3! Meanwhile, the Cubs/Dodgers clash in the National League Championship Series has been outstanding -- Javier Baez even stole home! -- and I await the inevitable freak occurrence that prevents the Cubs from winning a pennant. They're clearly the better team, but if they are to maintain their essential Cubness, they must not win. With a pennant, they would cease to be the Cubs.
- John Oliver has been the saving grace of this year's presidential campaign, and this week he tackled the problem of otherwise thoughtful people choosing to vote for protest candidates Jill Stein and Gary Johnson. I say problem because the people I've personally encountered that are supporting one of those two maintain that their choice is principled and Stein/Johnson is actually the best person running. I call bullshit on that, and so does John Oliver, who points out in glorious fashion that both Stein and Johnson are totally incompetent.
Endorsement Comedy Jackpot
Stephen Colbert recounts the brilliance of a Sarah Palin endorsement on any candidate...
I’ve been preoccupied of late, to say the least, so I’m a little bit behind on things like, oh, the news, and events out in the world. I was vaguely aware there was a Seahawks football game today because all of the traffic noise outside my building totally went away for a few hours, but things like political debates completely passed me by. But I learned a little about what happened with such things this week during my attempts to distract myself today, including hearing the exchange between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in which Cruz denigrated Trump for having “New York values.” This is what is known in political circles as a “dog whistle,” a coded term to say something to the base that would be too inflammatory to say overtly, and it was one I found extra-familiar for some reason: because Aaron Sorkin dramatized this very code in the pilot for The West Wing (first clip below; scene continues in second clip).