Tag: Politics

Wake up, News Media

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I am really curious, and really pessimistic, about how the network news shows and principal print press are going to handle President VonClownstick and his enablers going forward.

Three years into this nightmare administration and Chuck Todd is still asking milquetoast questions on Meet the Press and Margaret Brennan is still letting Republican Senators and administration officials walk all over her on Face the Nation. (How Stephanopolous is doing on his show I don't know, but based on his performance in last week's debate I have to think he's asking dumb questions too.) Now that POTUS has gone full-on dictator with his consigliere henchman Bill Barr, taking revenge on those who dared testify under Congressional subpoena and using the Justice Department (which really will need a new name) as an arm of the Trump Crime Family, will reporters change their ways? Will they start confronting enablers of autocracy on their overt and covert abetting of an insane clown tyrant?

I have my doubts. The outrages we've already lived through seem like plenty to light a fire under the press and, with some very notable exceptions*, they still cower. The President of the United States has called our free press "the enemy of the people" and decried all truthful reporting as "fake news," he is (and has been for years now) employing Russian-style propaganda tactics, spewing misinformation at a truly astonishing rate, and has somehow conned or coerced the entire Republican Party (what remains of it) into helping him bring down the country; even during impeachment reporters basically gave these people a pass.

I've noticed a small change since the impeachment show-trial; Brennan was tougher than usual when interviewing Sen. Lindsay Graham (R, Ninth Circle) last Sunday, though not nearly enough. Todd was better with Sen. Lamar Alexander (R, Bizarro-world) a week prior and got him to admit he thought Trump was guilty but would let him off anyway, but failed to sufficiently press the point to confront Alexander with the hypocrisy of his vote. Baby steps, I guess.

But baby steps are too little too late, this is crisis time. The Republican party writ large is trying to discredit the press in its entirety. STOP LETTING THEM.

* The MSNBC prime time trio of Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, and Lawrence O'Donnell are doing very well, but they are considered, rightly or wrongly, as biased because of the Republican narrative that MSNBC is "liberal." Anderson Cooper has likewise stepped it up of late. Washington Post columnists like Gene Robinson and Atlantic Magazine writers like David Frum (a conservative!) are solid, but these are analysts rather than straight reporters. The news needs to be frank, direct, call out lies and propaganda, and treat this political era with the gravity it requires.

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Stray Political Thoughts

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I watched tonight's Democratic candidates debate with some friends and have some thoughts.

  • The moderators from ABC News were gawd-awful. Every question from them seemed to be designed to start a fight. To their credit, the candidates generally refused to take the bait, which seemed to frustrate, especially, moderator David Muir. When Muir didn't get an answer he liked, he followed up with another candidate trying to bring out the claws. It was infuriating. Muir's ridiculously simplistic question to several candidates concerning the killing of Iranian general Soleimani was embarrassingly stupid and his rejection of nuanced answers to it spoke quite poorly of Muir's grasp of reality. Most if not all debates have occurrences when a candidate dodges a question or otherwise manages to avoid a direct answer, but this was the first time I can recall being pleased to see question avoidance. The questions tended to suck.
  • Candidates that impressed: Pete, Bernie, Warren, and Steyer. Mayor Pete was exceptionally eloquent, gave brilliant answers to lame questions, and came across as monumentally competent. As I said to my companions here, if Pete were ten years older and had served in Congress, I'd be tempted to vote for him based on this.
  • My candidate of choice right now, though, is Senator Warren, and she had one standout moment by articulating an agenda based around fighting corruption, including creating a standing agency to keep tabs on government actions that cross lines of legality. Unfortunately, none of her other answers struck me as enough to move the needle for her; she remains strong, but this debate probably didn't win new voters to her side.
  • Bernie Sanders was the only one to give an actual answer to the final question that candidates used for closing remarks, and he hit an upper-deck homer with it. The question was, essentially, child poverty continues to be really bad in the U.S., why is that? Sanders crushed it with a simple truth: Because our priorities are fucked up, rewarding the rich and corporate in a Republican economic disaster that began in the 1980s and has never truly righted itself. Bernie also had good remarks on party unity—his most fervent supporters really need to hear that, we can have no _____ or Bust people this time—and on his evolution on gun control.
  • And Tom Steyer, who nobody really considers to be a legit contender, barged his way into the discussion with a frustration that a lot of us watching were also feeling: These nitpicky arguments about Medicare for All vs. Medicare for All Who Want It vs. Obamacare + Public Option and the like are tiresome, we've been over it and over it, and no matter what, every single Democrat running will push for vast improvements with the same ultimate goal; what we really need to be discussing is the existential danger of a President Trump who would be King Trump the Dear Leader. Several candidates made the case for turning out a massive number of voters as necessary for victory, which is true, but none of them noted that part of the reason it's necessary is that we need to overcome the cheating that the Republicans are and will continue to perpetrate.
  • Amy Klobuchar and Yang were fine, came across well, but didn't impress me. Yang seemed pretty simplistic by always leaning on his basic income proposal as a panacea.
  • Everyone missed the opportunity for a simple, clear, true, and relevant answer to a question on whether or not approving the USMCA was a good idea. Instead of arguing that not making climate-change mitigation part of the agreement was a reason to oppose it or defending that it was more important to have a united bloc among the US, Canada, and Mexico on trade, there was a better response: For the Senators who cast a vote, there were but two options—nothing, or a bit better than nothing. Voting no would not help climate change, but voting yes would help some in other areas. Warren almost got there, but veered off before making the point.
  • Joe Biden was better than he was in prior debates, but he still seems like a poor choice. Not that he'd be a poor choice to be President, I mean a poor choice to be a candidate for President in the general. The stakes are so very, very high this time around and Joe has this way of interrupting himself, speaking in terms that lack context, being oddly aggressive at times that don't really call for it, and, at least in a debate format, is remarkably defensive. It's scary to me, given how malleable voters have shown themselves to be in the past.
  • Mayor Pete is going to make an excellent Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
  • I'm more in Warren's camp than ever at this point, but not due to her performance tonight. I started out supporting Kamala Harris, thinking that we need a prosecutor in this election (and she's been a solid public servant). Warren is closer to my thinking in terms of policy, but now, with the field narrowed as it is, she's also the one that gives me the least anxiety as a potential nominee. She's unabashedly and authentically the opposite of Trump in most ways: anti-corruption, pro-labor, full of integrity, whip-smart, and compassionate. And she relates to the general public well. There is still some of that Senator-speak that I cringe at—it's the thing that drove me nuts more than anything else while working for John Kerry's campaign, using the language of the Senate floor on the campaign trail and sounding condescending when it was far from his intent—but in general she connects with the masses.
  • Biden and Sanders do the Senator-speak too—the most common offense being to start a sentence with "Look, blah blah," which almost 100% of the time sounds as if there's an unsaid portion that makes it really "Look, you idiot, blah blah"—but Sanders is such a unique character that it just blends into his style and doesn't stand out. Biden is really bad with it, though, especially when he's defensive or amped up.
  • Discussing the idiocy of having Iowa and New Hampshire get so much say in who gets nominated, my friend Mark mentioned that at least we in Washington have done away with caucuses. This, weirdly, was news to me! What? When did that happen?! Why didn't I know this?! Just yesterday I blogged about how much I enjoyed them! Turns out Mark is correct—last April the state Democratic party made the change to a primary, and we vote shortly after Super Tuesday. How this escaped my notice I have no idea. Seems like something I would have been plugged into. It was April, so I was likely immersed in baseball, but still. Sigh.
  • Little to no commentary in the debate tonight about Trump's truly frightening off-the-rails ego trip yesterday in the East Room. It deserved a mention.
  • However, Trump's retaliation against impeachment witnesses Col. Vindman and Ambassador Sondland did get mentions, though not enough. He's going full-on Emperor Palpatine now.
  • FactCheck.org has a rundown of things said in the debate that aren't 100% accurate, and it's kind of amusing; none of the items are in spirit incorrect, only in fine details, which is such a giant contrast to any given day of Trump's Twitter feed.

This has been a brutal couple of weeks, politically, and it's necessary to remember not to fall back into normal election season behavior. Watching the debates is interesting and reading analyses of candidate performance is good and all that, but we have to keep in mind that if Trump has his way, this election will not be on the up-and-up and could easily be the last one with any sense of legitimacy at all for a long, long time. Tom Steyer was right: bickering about who has the incrementally better health-care plan means nothing compared to defeating Trump and making it stick. Because we know he won't take losing gracefully, he'll fight it with claims of fraud—because in his mind, everyone does what he does as nothing else makes sense to him—and bogus whining about being a victim and his corrupt and evil henchmen in the Justice Department. That's the priority: Not just beating him, but beating him so soundly and forcefully that he can't cheat his way out of it.

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Caucus Mockus

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By Lisa Benson, WaPo Writers Group

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So, the Iowa caucuses were a bit of a shitshow this year, and people all over the political world are to some extent losing their minds, including the esteemed Mr. Hayes, above. As if this was something new.

Iowa caucuses have been a mess for a long time, this shouldn't surprise anybody. Remember 2012, when Mitt Romney won Iowa, no wait, Ron Paul did, no wait, Rick Santorum did? There wasn't even a mobile app to blame then. Yes, the Iowa state Democratic Party screwed the pooch on this. No question. But let's not make a bigger deal of it than it is; Iowa fucks up, it's normal, and eventually we get results that are agreed upon.

That said, I do think things should change. The wonks on Pod Save America predict this was the last time we'd have Iowa caucuses, at least as we've known them since the modern process started in 1972. I don't see that happening, because this mess will be forgotten just as all previous Iowa caucus messes have been. But the problems are undeniable.

Ultimately, I think I agree with Chris Hayes. Doing away with the caucus process and having every state adopt a primary instead would be more democratic, more inclusive, more understandable. It'd be better. Yet, I like caucuses. I'd miss them.

I've attended the Washington State Democratic caucuses in 1992, 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2016, skipping the years when incumbent Democrats were running for reelection and had essentially no competitors. They're fun. For political nerds like me, anyway; they aren't continuously fun, they also involve a great deal of boredom and standing/sitting around. But when stuff is happening, it's neat. It's talking with your neighbors about important national issues and advocating for your chosen candidate. It can also mean greater participation in the whole lengthy campaign—in 2004, I was elected as a delegate for the John Kerry campaign (which I had been doing considerable volunteer work for over many months by then) to the next stage in the nominating process, the district caucus, and had circumstances permitted I would have run for delegate to county and state conventions.

One positive element to caucuses is the ability to switch your allegiance. In a way, it seems unfair, but in the end it's a good thing: If your chosen candidate does not have enough support in your precinct to net a delegate, you may join the group supporting a different candidate so your participation will aid your choice of the remaining options. This happened to me in 1992, my first caucus—I was the only one in my precinct supporting Jerry Brown, thus Governor Moonbeam was unviable there, having less than 15% support. So was Senator Paul Simon. I then opted to join the Clinton supporters over the Paul Tsongas supporters. In the moment I didn't like this, but had the state apportioned delegates via primary election, my vote for Brown would have contributed zero while my caucus support for Clinton gave him one more delegate at the precinct level. Similarly, in 2008—before the scandal broke—I was in the John Edwards camp, but again was in a sub-15% minority and thus had the chance to throw my support to Barack Obama and help him take the state over Hillary Clinton. Of course, calculating voters can make strategic votes in primaries by making assumptions on viability ahead of time, but I still like the process.

We should get rid of it, though.

Caucuses by design limit participation and effectively disenfranchise voters who for whatever reason cannot devote several hours to go to a school gym or a church basement or wherever. They discourage those who simply don't want to give up their afternoon (or evening, in Iowa). They are not a secret ballot, which can keep people away. People who are not comfortable speaking up in groups or who have social anxiety issues won't participate. Elections, on the other hand, are simple. Especially here, where it's all done by mail (or neighborhood drop box). Far more voters can participate. Sure, there are election security issues that caucuses avoid, but as we see every time, there are caucus administration issues that are inevitable. And elections, done right, have a paper trail that can be audited while caucuses can be comparatively recordless proceedings.

Oh, and caucus or not, Iowa has had its fun being first. Time to share that honor around. Yes, yes, they like it so much (as does New Hampshire) that they have a state law mandating they be first, but let's be serious. Let's revamp this to give (a) a more populous and diverse state (say, Georgia? Michigan?) the influence of being first, and (b) change up the order every cycle, so it isn't always the same three or four states that winnow the field. Iowa and New Hampshire have the most influence on who gets nominated, always. South Carolina got in on it recently, and more recently Nevada got in on things, but by the time any large population gets to vote, the field has been cut considerably. Every damn time.

So, change it up. Put in a rotation system. Not necessarily random, I mean, having California go first might be its own problem, but put some thought into it. Albino Iowa and palesnow New Hampshire can go later. Maybe on Super Tuesday.

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Welcome to the Banana Republic

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Well, they did it. As we knew they would. As they telegraphed they would on multiple occasions and as they confirmed with vehemence last Friday by denying evidence be admitted to trial. 52 United States Senators decreed today that we are no longer a democratic republic, no longer a representative democracy. Instead, in direct opposition to the will of the national majority, those 52 United States Senators welcomed the transition to despotism by giving the current president of the nation unchecked power, by removing any remnants of inhibition that might remain in his behavior.

The current holder of the office of the President, whose actual name I will not use today and whose name will, should we survive into history, become a synonym for corruption and cruelty, was impeached by the House of Representatives on only two counts. He could have been impeached on many more, as he has committed many more reprehensible offenses, but the two in question—abuse of power by extorting a foreign leader to tar a political opponent with made-up accusations and obstruction of Congress in covering that abuse up—were slam-dunks. The proof was overwhelming. He admitted it, repeatedly, on television. No attentive person with even a modicum of intelligence and understanding of the United States Constitution could reasonably deny that he committed these offenses.

52 United States Senators, however, found they could unreasonably deny it and pretend they were honorably upholding their principles.

President VonClownstick reacted to his faux-acquittal by immediately tweeting an animated graphic based on a Time magazine cover displaying his desire to remain in power in perpetuity. Some of the 52 Senators gloated, many of the wannabe-dictator's fans and cultists verbally bashed adherents to the rule of law as losers and, paradoxically, traitors. The wannabe-dictator's son attacked the only Republican Senator to side with the Constitution by demanding that Senator be expelled from his party and branding him a "member of the resistance," a term that in and of itself is troubling. (If there is a resistance, there must by definition be something to resist, and common parlance relegates "The Resistance," in political contexts, to oppressed populations opposing tyranny.)

Those 52 Senators will rue this day, presuming they live more than another few months. There is no question that our wannabe-dictator will continue to abuse his power, will continue to commit atrocities, will continue to show contempt for the Constitution, will continue to behave like the leader of the international criminal enterprise that he is. As House Impeachment Manager Rep. Adam Schiff put it, the odds of this are "one-hundred percent." Further details of the abuses already committed, including those the 52 Senators declared to be perfectly acceptable, will come to light soon. The political calculation these 52 people made will backfire. But will it matter?

We have one opportunity to reclaim the United States of America as the democratic republic it had been before this administration began tearing it down. 52 United States Senators have abdicated their responsibility out of fear of retribution from a vindictive man-child, out of their own corruption and lust for power, out of rank stupidity, and/or out of allegiance to foreign dictatorships. That leaves the electoral process as the only remedy left, and as we have seen many times before, too many American voters are easily-manipulated simpletons that can be tricked into voting against their interests.

It's crisis time. If this president is not defeated in this year's election, if the Senate is not wrested from the death grip of Mitch McConnell, then this country is finished. That sounds hyperbolic, I know, but it's not. This president is profoundly anti-democracy, profoundly dishonorable, profoundly corrupt—and profoundly fragile. He is so thin-skinned and insecure, so in need of utter adulation to fuel his ego, that he demands complete fealty. The danger is, to use one of his favored words, tremendous.

And 52 United States Senators do not care.

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Is This Thing On?

Forgive me, Internet, for I have lazed: It has been over a year since my last blog post. In that time I have engaged in numerous behaviors and inner monologues that were worthy of posting about, but failed to do so. I spent my time doing other things. Unfortunate, but as we say on Earth, "c'est la vie."

There has been so much going on in the world, most of it horrible. I know y'all know what's what regarding impeachment. I don't need to go off on a screed here. I mean, I might anyway, because therapy, but you know it sucks and me spelling out the myriad ways President VonClownstick is a vile despotic turd masquerading as a human being isn't going to reveal any new information. Also, the world is on fire. Also, plastic is killing us. Also, Runaways and Cloak & Dagger were both canceled.

But I need to use this platform again. I use my side project over at grandsalami.net to talk baseball, but there's plenty to discuss here (especially in the offseason) and I should do it.

Not right now, though. And not because the State of the Union is happening right this second, I'm not watching that. I will consume all manner of analysis and reportage after the fact, but watching it live would just piss me off and run the battery down on my phaser. No, I have to go pick up my equipment and umpire a softball game now. It's 34 degrees out. Fahrenheit.

More later.

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Cake or Death?

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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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Powerless Panic

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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.

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Abuses of the Department of Justice by Congress

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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.

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The New Normal

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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

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Al Franken

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.

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The Changing Face of Evil

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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.

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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.

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Mere Mortals

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Chez Pazienza

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.

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