Cake or Death?
Here in Washington, we do all our voting by mail. It's fantastic. People can vote at their convenience, take their time, no traffic issues, easy-peasy.
I voted yesterday, and though there was one choice I didn't make—a local ballot measure that both sides argued well on and I just didn't find I had a preference for, kind of like how I feel about this year's World Series—it was otherwise the simplest electoral decision making in my experience of voting (Tim Voting, est. 1988), and it should be thus for everyone in the country, local ballot measures notwithstanding.
But if you find yourself unsure of how to vote in congressional races, gubernatorial races, even city council races, please remember these points:
- You may or may not like the current two-party structure of the American political system, but it's what we have now, and with the state of affairs in crisis as it is the priority has to be mitigating the disaster as much as practical right now. Reforming the system to be something other than primarily Republicans and Democrats can wait until things are stable and calm.
- Which party has the majority in congress is critically important in setting a legislative agenda as well as overseeing and investigating governmental action.
- One of those two parties supports the concepts of democracy, representative government, civil liberties for all, equality in principle, the bill of rights, a right to health care, social and civil infrastructure, the rule of law, prohibitions on corruption, international diplomacy, human rights, international arms control, logic, recognition of complex matters that interrelate, mitigating action on climate change, clean air and water, and so on.
- The other party now supports kidnapping children seeking asylum, allowing as much poison in the air and water as companies want to pump in, taking money from those who have the least and giving it to those who already have the most, denying people health insurance in order to make insurance companies more profitable, self-dealing in government for personal enrichment, demonizing the press, overt bigotry and misogyny, aiding and abetting the murder of a journalist, election fraud, and a plethora of other criminal actions so long as they're only committed by rich white people.
The Republican party is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Donald Trump and the Koch brothers. This is not just my opinion, nor is it hyperbole, and I urge all not to take my word for it but to look at evidence and voting records and patterns of behavior by the individual Republican candidates and the Republican party apparatus. If you favor being lied to on a regular basis, having your money stolen from you, having your health insurance revoked, terrorism of journalists, limitless pollution, totalitarian "ethics," and the creation of an environmental hellscape of submerged cities and massive refugee crises, then the Republican party is your jam.
On the other hand, if you want the United States of America to return to being a place of freedom and democracy; if you want a healthy population that respects science, respects the law, strives for equality; and if you think the United States should be an example to the world for humanitarianism, moral fiber, and civilization, then please, vote for Democrats. Especially for Senate and US House of Representatives, but also for your state legislatures, governors, and city councils. Congress is critical, but local governments can do a lot too.
The Republican party's electoral playbook has been primarily about cheating for at least the last two decades. Voter suppression is a favorite tactic, as are voter purges. To overcome the cheating that is already apparent in several states, voter turnout has to be massive.
This is not trivial. We're in crisis. The Republican agenda of destruction and corruption must be arrested and reversed. Please vote. The choices are pretty easy.
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So, yeah, I've neglected the poor blog. No posts here since Discovery was on and I had to nerd out on that. What can I say, there's been a lot going on.
I bought a condo. I moved (still unpacking). Went to California for a bit. Got sick for a bit.
And I've been running the baseball site GrandSalami.net as a way of keeping up the brand and maintaining some tenuous connection to what had been my favorite client gig until Grand Salami magazine stopped publishing last fall; I guess most of my writing has been dedicated to that online outlet for a while. (Aside: It would be really great if I had some help over there. It isn't making any money so far, but in order for it to ever make any it needs more traffic, which means more content, which means either I devote even more time to a one-man show over there or some other writers help me out. It's baseball! The Mariners are having their best year in ages, surely people have opinions to share. Doesn't have to be the Mariners, necessarily, any baseball-related writing would be welcome. I can't pay yet, but contributions will be greatly appreciated nonetheless.)
But that doesn't mean there hasn't been lots I've wanted to say. Because the country is going to shit.
I mean, it's been headed there for a while now. Depending on your calculus, it started November 8th, 2016, or when Cheeto Hitler first announced his candidacy, or in 1980 when Ronald Reagan conned Republicans into believing in trickle-down economics and got elected. Whichever period you point to, the descent into madness has accelerated to superluminal speeds this year.
The elections of Barack Obama gave me hope, and not just as a campaign slogan. After two presidential elections that I remain convinced were "won" by cheating (see: Florida 2000, Ohio 2004), the country actually showed up to vote and surpassed whatever GOP shenanigans were in place and did it handily. Twice. But I hadn't counted on the backlash being quite so forceful.
That backlash gave us the Tea Party and a rise of attitudes espousing (overtly or covertly) racism and jingoism and fear of equity. And a degree of that was to be expected; having an African-American president was bound to rile up the bigot brigade. What I and apparently a lot of other people underestimated was the size of that brigade and the degree to which that entrenched, ingrained hatred and fear would overwhelm reason and principle.
Even when we witnessed this abhorrent behavior all through the Obama years, both at street level and where it hurt society writ large (talking to you, Mitch McConnell, you criminal sleazebucket), it didn't register how truly threatening and pernicious the cancer of small minds was. The carcinogen had already taken root and metastasized all through the Republican party. That was evident all the way back to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and seen daily with McConnell, Sarah Palin, Paul Ryan, Michelle Bachman, et.al. Yet the significance still didn't penetrate through our illusion of safety, because we believed—not even with conscious thought, we simply took for granted—that the laws and egalitarian principles of the United States, however lacking in certain areas, were strong and there to protect us.
But the cancer of small minds ultimately gave us President von Clownstick. And he and his Russian masters will—if not stopped very, very soon—literally destroy those laws and principles and then all bets are off. It is really and truly time, if not to panic, then to scream loudly and often.
There's a problem with that, though, and it's a problem the cancer-ridden Republican party has deliberately created and nurtured with either long-term calculated planning or dumb luck. They've peppered the media and culture for years with enough whacko conspiracy theories and tin-foil-hat level nutjobbery—Alex Jones, birtherism, Whitewater murder stories, "pizzagate," etc., etc.—that we have two major problems: One, society is numb to the absurdity of prominent figures and public officials saying ridiculously false things, from the more abstract tax-cuts-will-pay-for-themselves to the visceral everyone-seeking-asylum-is-from-MS13, and thus presenting such poses no consequence to the liar; and two, the crazy from the political right was delivered in ways designed to stir fear, to panic the listener, and was always, of course, too stupid to take seriously and deserved to be mocked. Because of that, when the political left, now, is correctly saying what I'm saying here, that we're in severe danger of descending into fascism because of what the Trump Administration is doing, it presents in a similar fashion—not because we want to instill fear and cause panic with what we say, but because we are afraid and panicked because of what the right-wingers have done. But that's not a distinction that penetrates to many. Thanks to Republican manipulation and deliberate spread of the cancer, we live in a society in which false equivalences are accepted.
And I don't know what to do about it.
I was watching Bill Maher's show tonight. He had Michael Moore on at the tail end of the show and Ben Shapiro on at the beginning. Shapiro demonstrated how the small-mind cancer had already ravaged his brain as he did ethical contortions to justify support for Trump, even while claiming to object to some of the things Trump has done. He has lost his ability to reason because the fear cancer has overwhelmed the logic center of his brain and thus he could be fine with the Hail Hydra horror show of Trump because he got a tax cut and an oligarch on the Supreme Court with another on the way. Moore, on the other hand, was justifiably panicked about our slide into dictatorship but was presenting like a crazy person, in much the same way Republican crazies went on about their baseless fever dreams that Barack Obama was going to proclaim Sharia law and melt down everyone's guns.
The thing is, Moore is essentially right. But he isn't going to reach anyone not already there with him that way. Shapiro is utterly wrong, but can claim "civility" and look more "reasonable" to many with his calmly stated support for an unabashedly offensive criminal bigot who is at this moment building internment camps for brown people. Because the cancer of small minds is everywhere now.
A point made repeatedly on the show was that Democrats must "play hardball" and push back as hard as Republicans have historically done. I get that. I agree with it in many circumstances. But how it's done is important. Yelling just as loudly isn't going to do the trick. And it doesn't address the basis of that particular complaint. Democrats have not pushed as hard or been as stubbornly assholish as Republicans because of a fundamental difference in makeup: Democrats respect the opinions of other people enough to allow for compromise, and respect rules, laws, and traditions enough to work within them. Republicans have no empathy or respect for anyone else and are happy to subvert rules, laws, and traditions if they become inconvenient. (And I'm talking about modern Republicans here, the 21st century models. Go back to even the end of the '90s and there were still plenty of human beings in the party that hadn't been overtaken by the cancer yet, along with the true scumbags like Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani that have always been there.)
For all the whining last week about "civility" after Sarah Huckabee Sanders Thurmond Gohmert was asked to leave a restaurant, what's lost in the story is that she was asked to leave, politely and with great civility, because she is a vile individual doing the bidding of a much more vile and much more powerful threat to democracy. What's the response been from these alleged defenders of civilized behavior? Death threats to the restaurateur. Vandalism at establishments with similar names. Hypocrisy is a prerequisite for the modern Republican party and a necessity in Trump support, so none of that is surprising, but it illustrates the problem. One side is basically respectful, the other side isn't.
I've always held to the belief that one cannot succumb to the level of one's enemy. My ethical standards reflect Mr. Spock and Spider-Man: the bad guys kill people, we don't. In this case, the bad guys get their way with intimidation and manipulation and violence. The good guys are better than that and are above such tactics.
But this is a "desperate times" situation. Do we need desperate measures? Do they need to be as vicious as the Trumpers'? Are there still enough people in this country with the ability and means to stop this fall of American civilization before it's too late without resorting to dubious tactics?
Without such desperate measures, all we have left to work with is political pressure. And if the Trumpers have their way, that won't matter much longer. As much pressure as we can muster has to be applied to Senators who need convincing to prevent this criminal president from stacking a Supreme Court that will surely be asked to rule on his own conduct. To congresspeople and other officials to oppose and act against the incarceration of legal asylum-seekers. To media publishers who regurgitate propaganda and fail to communicate the severity of the current government's un-American behavior and the blatancy of its seemingly boundless dishonesty.
It just doesn't seem to be enough. And I don't know what else to do.No Comments yet
Abuses of the Department of Justice by Congress
Congressman Devin Nunes, R-Donald Trump's colon
So, the memo was released. I read it. I’ve not heard any news about it today yet, but I sure heard all the hype ahead of time that Republicans and Fox “News” have been spewing. I was concerned that it would be so much cherry-picked information and half-truth nuggets about the FISA warrant process in general and Carter Page in particular, with so many key omissions and maybe some outright BS added in for fun, that the lemmings that watch Fox “News” and listen to Alex Jones would be so convinced of a nefarious “deep state” oppression of poor, poor Donald Trump that it would spread to mainstream media outlets and actually gain traction with the public.
It still might; I mean, Americans can be pretty damn stupid. Trump’s approval ratings actually went up after his apocalyptic State of the Union speech that announced zero policy or agenda items and stoked fear of immigrants with bullshit about how brown people are coming to kill your children.
But the memo itself? It ain’t all that. If one actually reads it fully—and, you know, knows words, the best words or even some words—it actually undermines the Trumpster brigade’s claims.
It’s also full of shit, of course, no doubt with the intention of confusing and distracting from the big picture by giving us other things to refute and argue about. Even if you allow the title—“Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Abuses at the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” which itself implies a conclusion not found—it chooses not to be subtle in propagandizing.
Referring in section 1) to the Steele Dossier as compiled “on behalf of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Hillary Clinton campaign” omits the fact that before anyone associated with the DNC was involved it was started by and funded by the Washington Free Beacon on behalf of Republicans. It goes on to allege “political origins” of the dossier—which may be true, but those origins were not from the DNC or any Democrats—and claims that Christopher Steele was “working on behalf of—and paid by—the DNC and Clinton campaign,” which is utter bullshit.
It goes on in section 2) and 3) to attempt discreditation of Steele himself, alleging violations of protocol and suggesting that his “desperation” that Trump not become President was the source of, rather than result from, his findings while investigating Trump. Section 4) characterizes the dossier as known to be “salacious and unverified” (portions have since been verified) with the implication that those terms somehow mean “incorrect,” which they do not, and reiterates the suggestion that Steele fabricated his findings due to a pre-existing political agenda. Section 5) ties in the “scandal” of the Pete Strzok/Lisa Page text messages that were critical of Trump (the memo makes no mention of the fact that these messages were also critical of Clinton, Sanders, other Republicans, other Democrats, and evidenced no clear preference for any one person or candidate; nor does it mention that Strzok was removed from the investigation when these text were found, lest there be any appearance of bias), but to do so has to acknowledge that the investigation that the Carter Page FISA warrant was a part of actually originated with another Trump staffer, George Papadopoulos, in July 2016. The memo begins with stating that the issue at hand is the October 2016 FISA warrant, which is the date of a renewal of an already existing warrant to surveil Page.
The thing is, none of the bullshit matters.
In terms of factual, relevant information that shows an improper granting of a FISA warrant or other abuse of power, the memo has exactly zero content.
The origins of the Steele Dossier might have relevance if it were shown to be false, but to date nothing in it has been disproven and several items have been verified. Christopher Steele and his agenda are not the issue, the issue is whether or not Trump staffers (in this case Carter Page and Papadopoulos) are acting as agents of a hostile foreign government. Probable cause had to be shown at each renewal of the warrant, and the memo itself describes the Steele Dossier as “part of” the warrant application. This means that there was other evidence in addition to Steele’s findings that went to establishing probable cause. Nothing in the memo even suggests that any item within the dossier is inaccurate, it simply impugns the investigator. It also admits that at the time of the initial FISA warrant on Page that examination of the Steele Dossier was “in its infancy,” meaning it would not have had much bearing on whether or not to grant the warrant, and that even then it was “minimally corroborated,” meaning that what little they had examined had been corroborated.
Devin Nunes, probably with help from the White House, concocted this document for political reasons only, to attempt to paint Christopher Steele as a partisan who fabricated his dossier because of a hatred of Trump, rather than a concerned investigator who developed a fear of Trump because of what he found while compiling the dossier. It is supposed to be a document that shows “abuses” by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, but gives no evidence of any kind that the FISC issued a warrant improperly.
No careful reading of this memo can lead to conclusions other than motives of purely partisan obfuscation and distraction by someone with something to hide.1 Comment
The New Normal
The avalanche of crap coming from the White House has been impossible to keep up with. There's just too much. Every day brings news of a new outrage from President VonClownstick or one of his toadies. If it's not the "shocking" racist statement about immigrants form "shithole countries" (this shocks no one who has been paying attention, that's who this idiot is), it's the neverending stream of lies coming from Sarah Huckabee Sanders' press briefings or tweets that parrot Fox News and cause national security officials to go into frenzied damage-control spasms. And that's just the "big" stuff.
Rachel Maddow did an exceptional "A" block the other evening that pretty well covered my feelings on the subject; there is just SO MUCH in terms of outrageous behavior, bad policy, overt meanness, and basic incompetence and stupidity coming out of 1600 Penn. that we're numb to it. It takes the exceptionally salacious or brutal to be given its proper reaction and attention, otherwise it's just Trump being Trump and so much yadda yadda yadda.
We humans only have so much bandwidth to devote to keeping up with the details of this crisis in history, but even if we don't pay strict attention to the yadda yadda of it, we have to remember that's what it is. Life keeps on chugging forward day by day, but we are living through a pivotal period in history that demands attention—as much as we can bring ourselves to give it, anyway.
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Motives, Madness, and Male Behavior
The current cultural focus on sexual harassment and assaults is largely a good thing. Fostering an environment where (a) victims feel that reporting the crime is a viable option with an expectation of being taken seriously, and (b) exposing the prevalence with which that sort of behavior still goes on in modern America (and elsewhere, but we get into other elements with other cultures) can and should go a long way toward changing our cultural acceptances and minimizing, if not eliminating, such behavior in the future.
It's fascinating to see this all going down now; I've written two posts on the subject already, about Cosby and Spacey, and lo and behold here's a third. One of the reasons it's a fascinating topic is its inherent mystery—I really don't get it. I mean, I understand the theory and intellectual analysis of men abusing their power over people they see as lesser; it's an ego and psychology and/or pathology issue, OK. But I don't get it, intuitively. It defies easy understanding. In some cases, the public response also defies easy understanding.
Now, I'm a straight dude who hasn't ever been on the receiving end of this sort of thing, unlike basically every woman I know, so my perspective is limited. There are things I will not know from firsthand experience and things I can only grasp as intellectual concepts. So, with that established, I have a question about Al Franken's case.
I've seen a lot of reaction to Franken's situation on television and social media, heard plenty of people discuss it on podcasts and news shows. People I know and people I don't have declared with vehemence that Franken should resign his Senate seat. Others have said with equal vehemence that he absolutely should not. Some uncertainty exists as to the veracity of the accusations against him—his security escort from the USO tour maintains there was never a moment that Franken and his accuser were alone, for example—but enough of it is accurate enough for Franken to own up to, if not the exact behavior alleged, inappropriate and offensive actions that shouldn't have a place in civilized society. (And really, Franken himself has reacted quite well, showing an awareness and repentance that none of the other men accused of such during this time have shown.)
My question to those that demand his resignation, though, is this: Why?
That's not a snarky question, it's intended to be taken at face value. Why do you want him to resign? What purpose will it serve for you? What is the hoped for consequence of a resignation? I'm not advocating one position or the other here, I just want to know the reasoning.
Is it to teach him a lesson, show him that behavior like that is unacceptable and not to be repeated? Unnecessary, Franken is already there and, unlike the other high-profile culprits, has not evidenced a predatory pathology; in fact, plenty of women who have worked with him have made a point of declaring the opposite, that Franken has only been a respectful professional in this regard. He's pre-reformed.
Is it to enforce a kind of no-tolerance policy that demands ostracization of anyone to ever have such an accusation levied on them? If so, be prepared to prosecute scores of other officials and public figures, not to mention everyday men who once pledged a fraternity or made lewd jokes at a bachelor party. (I would not defend such jokes, fraternity practices, pledging fraternities, or even the traditional bachelor party, I'm just pointing out the ubiquity of these attitudes in our culture to date.)
Is it in support of the accuser? She doesn't want his resignation, she in fact seems kind of blasé about any fallout for him.
If none of these things, then what? What big-picture result of a repentant, diligent ally of women's rights and positive public policy leaving his position and abdicating his ability to help influence this and other important issues am I not seeing?
Maybe a zero-tolerance take is valid. I tend to think not, as there are degrees to this and, as Franken has shown, people can grow and learn on the issue and become champions for the cause, and men who have been guilty of one or two relatively minor offenses in years past should not be looked at in the same way as those with pathological issues (Anthony Weiner, Cosby, Spacey, C.K.) and/or who fail to acknowledge the humanity of their victims (Roy Moore, Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein).
The cultural problem is finally being addressed, and hopefully it will continue to be until such time as we look back on it as distastefully as we do "separate-but-equal" and treating abrasions with mercury. The pathological problems will need an additional vector to combat; a cultural shame/fear factor will no doubt help greatly, but some people will always be predators. It seems important to make a distinction.No Comments yet
The Changing Face of Evil
I had been in the middle of writing a post about this country's penchant for revisionist history, referencing John Oliver's show segment about Confederate monuments, the Harvey Weinstein outrage and how it was only now coming out that he'd been horrible for years and years, the rampant bullshit being spewed out of the White House press room, and on and on. All that was leading into some commentary on the recent rash of stories about high-profile sexual predators, from Weinstein to Bill O'Reilly to Roger Ailes to the Catholic Church to the Penn State University guy to Donald Fucking Trump.
And Bill Cosby.
So I'm writing this and then Rachel Maddow's show begins and she starts talking about Harvey Weinstein and ... Bill Cosby.
Rachel threw the Cosby scandal right up on my TV as I was trying to write something about it, which was, frankly, a little irritating. :)
The thing is, when I was a kid, Bill Cosby was a big deal to me. I didn't care one way or another about his sitcom, really, though that was fine; I loved his standup albums and Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. Fat Albert was the highlight of Saturday morning cartoons with its thematic educational bent showing us kids how to be good people and treat our fellow humans better, and the standup albums were joyfully rich with funny stories that were wholesome and didn't depend on insults or any sort of derogatory language, that were relatable by most people in American culture. Many of them about growing up and childhood adventures, many of them about everyday events. It was a sense of humor that I gravitated to, a way of storytelling I delighted in.
The Cos was a big part of my adolescent years. I knew (and still know) whole albums verbatim, having listened to them countless times. I regaled my dad and others with retellings of routines about tonsillectomies, Cobra automobiles, Junior Barnes, go-cart races, and The Lone Ranger.
About 20 years ago(!) I drew a large piece I called "Heroes," a charcoal montage of portraits of five public figures that were highly influential in making me me: Gene Roddenberry, Jimmy Carter, John Lennon, Jackie Robinson, and Cosby. I was and am proud of it, it's one of my more satisfying works, and it's been hanging in a prominent place in my living room ever since.
It's still there, and every now and then I wonder if I should take it down. It has a kind of aura about it now that seems like a Confederate statue or something; that's not quite the right analogy, but in any case an honorific to a person that is now a symbol of misogyny and abuse. It's bothersome. (Roddenberry and Lennon were no saints, they had their respective issues, but they each worked to overcome them and to live by their high ideals and I never felt any reticence about displaying their portrait in my home.)
Yet, the influence of Bill Cosby the performer remains, and if I were to listen to one of those standup albums now, I wouldn't enjoy its content any less. The taint of knowing that the performer was/would become a sexual predator and commit irredeemable acts upon who knows how many women would be there, but the humor is still funny and the brilliance of the storytelling is still what it was when I was 12.
So I'm torn about leaving my charcoal masterpiece up on display. I don't want to be thought of as glorifying the symbol of horror that Cosby has become, and if I could somehow replace Cos in the picture cleanly I probably would, but that's not the way these things work. And I still honor the other guys, and the drawing is still something I'm proud of as a piece of work.
In my earlier (pre-Rachel Maddow interfering with my train of thought) draft of this post, the overarching point was more about acknowledging the nastiness of history in general and resisting the temptations to sanitize our narrative of past events; ignoring historical evils is not a way to overcome them in a society nor on an individual level, and in fact just makes things worse — witness the inclination of many Americans to wave the Stars and Bars while insisting that reveling in that heritage has nothing to do with racism, or how long it's taken for the culture to come around to treating behavior like Weinstein's and Cosby's as worthy of outrage and condemnation (still waiting on the culture to come around to condemning Trump, though).
History is written by the winners, goes the adage, and it's important to remember that the word "history" is a contraction of "his story." With so much reliance by people like Trump and most Republicans on warping accounts of contemporaneous events into unrecognizable fictions, vigilance is needed more than ever. We all need to own up to the bad stuff, even when an admired figure is revealed to be a heinous monster.
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.
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* 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.No Comments yet
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.1 Comment
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.1 Comment