Monday, January 15, 2018

Proud To Be Maladjusted

Originally posted on January 17, 2011

Over the weekend, I grabbed from my bookshelf A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., and literally dusted it off.  I flipped through it looking for something profound with which to pay tribute to the day.  There was so much eloquence to choose from, so many familiar, but nevertheless timeless speeches and essays defending the morality of non-violence and demanding racial justice, social justice and human rights. As I leafed through the book, I kept returning -- as Dr. King did -- to the theme of embracing "maladjustment;" refusing to be comfortable in an unjust world and insisting on action to achieve a better one.

In the summer of 1957, King addressed students at UC Berkeley, where he spoke of being maladjusted:
Now we all should seek to live a well adjusted life in order to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities.  But there are some things within our social order to which I am proud to be maladjusted and to which I call upon you to be maladjusted.  I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination.  I never intend to adjust myself to mob rule.  I never intend to adjust myself to the tragic effects of the methods of physical violence and to tragic militarism.  I call upon you to be maladjusted to such things. . . . God grant that we will be so maladjusted that we will be able to go out and change the world and our civilization.  And then we will be able to move from the bleak and desolate midnight of man's inhumanity to man to the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.
Dr. King reiterated this theme in 1958, in an article he wrote for a Christian publication.  The article criticizes churches for failing to be more vocal in denouncing racism.  He stated "it may well be that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition is not the flaring noisiness of the so-called bad people, but the appalling silence of the so-called good people . . . .  What we need is a restless determination to make the ideal of brotherhood a reality in this nation and all over the world."  King then reprised the notion of being maladjusted, almost verbatim from the speech he gave in Berkeley.

And then, in 1961, Martin Luther King gave the commencement address at Lincoln University, in which he talked about "The American Dream," "a dream where men of all races, of all nationalities and of all creeds can live together as brothers."  (I'm sure he meant sisters too.)  King urged the students to "not be detached spectators, but involved participants, in this great drama that is taking place in our nation and around the world."  He concluded this remarkable speech with many of the same words on being maladjusted that he used earlier: 
Every academic discipline has its technical nomenclature, and modern psychology has a word that is used, probably more than any other.  It is the word maladjusted.  This word is the ringing cry of modern child psychology.  Certainly all of us want to live a well-adjusted life in order to avoid the neurotic personality.  But I say to you, there are certain things within our social order to which I am proud to be maladjusted.

If you will allow the preacher in me to come out now, let me say to you that I never did intend to adjust to the evils of segregation and discrimination.  I never did intend to adjust myself to religious bigotry.  I never did intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few.  I never did intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, and the self-defeating effects of physical violence.  And I call upon all men of good will to be maladjusted because it may well be that the salvation of our world lies in the hands of the maladjusted.

So let us be maladjusted as the prophet Amos, who in the midst of the injustices of his day could cry out in words that echo across centuries, "Let justice run down like waters and righteousness like a might stream."  Let us be as maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln, who had the vision to see that this nation could not exist half slave and half free.  Let us be as maladjusted as Jesus of Nazareth, who could look into the eyes of the men and women of his generation and cry out, "Love your enemies.  Blequss them that curse you.  Pray for them that despitefully use you."

I believe that it is through such maladjustment that we will be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man's inhumanity to man into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.  That will be the day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Catholics and Protestants, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last!  Free at last!  Thank God almighty, we are free at last."
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Monday, January 8, 2018

Annual Hall Of Fame Rant And Hypothetical Ballot

“Voting shall be based on the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, their contributions to the team on which the player played.” -- BWAA's Hall of Fame Rules
Racists and segregationists who conspired to keep African Americans out of baseball are in the Hall of Fame.  So are players who regularly used amphetamines to "enhance" their performance on the field and others who took illegal drugs off the field.  Cheaters are in the Hall, from spitballers to sign stealers.  The Hall includes adulterers, sexual assaulters, drunks and batterers.  But some of the greatest players of the past couple of decades, including some of the greatest in the game's history, are denied induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame because they allegedly used steroids, probably used steroids or simply looked like they used steroids.

This wholly arbitrary application of the so-called "character clause" argues for its elimination as a factor altogether.  This would help dampen the sanctimony of many Hall of Fame voters -- and the self-annointed minister of morality, Joe Morgan -- and their misguided effort to prop up an idealized, idyllic view of the National Pastime that never was.  As S.F. sports columnist Ray Ratto put it:  The Hall of Fame is not a church; it is history, for good and for ill.

It is unquestionable that steroids were used by a large group of players --  hitters and pitchers -- particularly (but not exclusively) from about 1995 until 2005, when the baseball establishment, under pressure, finally began to crack down on the use of performance enhancing drugs.  During this time, when offensive numbers (and players’ heads) were suspiciously inflated, the fans cheered and the owners gleefully looked the other way while pocketing the profits.  The thrilling battle to break Roger Maris's homerun record in 1998 between two puffed up sluggers -- Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire -- was obsessively covered by the media and joyously celebrated by everyone (except Barry Bonds who learned that being the greatest ballplayer of his generation did not garner the accolades that being a PED-enhanced slugger did).  For better or worse, steroids were an accepted part of the game and unless we are going to disqualify everyone who played during these years, we simply have to accept it.  Moreover, with the exception of the few players who have admitted steroid use or where the evidence appears overwhelming, we have no way of knowing with any hope of accuracy who juiced and who didn’t.

Then there is the utter hypocrisy of the induction and reverential treatment of managers Tony La Russa and Joe Torre, who acquiesced while their star players used performance enhancing drugs -- not to mention former commissioner Bud Selig, who was recently voted in despite presiding over the whole debacle. 

Baseball writers who vote for Hall of Fame induction need to stop using their votes to impose their idiosyncratic view of morality on the game.  Voters should simply focus on the players' performances on the field.  Determining who deserves enshrinement is tricky enough without adding a whole other layer of subjectivity. 

And that goes beyond alleged steroid use but applies to other character issues such as offensive and hateful political speech.  Curt Schilling -- a borderline candidate in my view -- may be an intemperate and odious transphobic, anti-Islam, right wing clown, but that should have no bearing on his worthiness for the Hall.

At bottom, the best and most dominant players of every era should be Hall of Famers, period. Without Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, the Hall of Fame's avowed goals of "preserving history and honoring excellence" will be greatly diminished. 

For what it's worth, my vote for the 2018 Hall of Fame class (without regard to real or imagined steroid use or other non-baseball issues) would include Clemens and Bonds.  I would also vote for Edgar Martinez, who was without a doubt one of the best pure hitters of his day, despite the fact that his achievements came from being almost purely a designated hitter.  Also deserving of my vote are  Vladimir Guerrero and Manny Ramirez -- two of the most dangerous hitters of their era.  For those appearing on the ballot for the first time, Chipper Jones is an easy call (one of only seven players with a career .300 batting average, .400 on-base percentage, .500 slugging percentage).  He was the leader and best offensive player of the great Braves teams that won their division just about every year -- the quintessential Mets killer, who beat them so often that he named his son Shea, after the Mets' stadium. 

I would pass on Omar Vizquel, an acrobatic, slick fielding shortstop who won 11 Gold Gloves and could field grounders with his bare hand.  But he was a below-average hitter in an era where the best shortstops could hit as well as field, and notably never started in an All Star game.  Then there's Jim Thome, who could hit but not field.  I wrote about him several years ago (see Damn Statistics) and I stand by my position that he is not deserving of the Hall despite gaudy offensive numbers that include more than 600 home runs.

There are strong statistical arguments for other eligible players, but the numbers don't tell the whole story in assessing the career of a baseball player and ultimately the Hall of Fame vote is a gut call.  And using my gut, I would not add to my hypothetical ballot any of the other players who seem to be getting the most attention from the real voters.  The closest calls are Trevor Hoffman, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling and Gary Sheffield.  Hoffman was a relief pitcher with a devastating change up.  After Mariano Rivera, Hoffman has the most career saves -- a statistic, however, that I believe is way overvalued.  (See Save It)  Sheffield, like Guerrero and Ramirez, was a feared hitter for many years but he is not quite of their caliber, in my opinion.  Maybe next year.  Schilling and Mussina were both excellent pitchers with stellar careers for whom a reasonable case for the Hall could be made; just not by me.

Finally, I would vote for Johan Santana, who appears on the ballot this year, for sentimental reasons.  For a five year stretch, from 2004-2008, Santana was arguably the best pitcher in the game.  He won two Cy Young Awards with the Twins in 2004 and 2006, and arguably should have won a third in 2005 over Bartolo Colon, who had more wins that year but was not nearly as dominant as Santana.  He was traded to the Mets in 2008, where I fell in love with him.  Santana led the National League in in ERA and won 16 games that year, and would have won a whole lot more had the Mets' notoriously porous bullpen not blown seven of his starts.  Most memorable was the three-hit shutout he pitched on the final weekend of the season with a torn meniscus in his left knee and the post-season on the line.  (The Mets proceeded to lose the last game of the season to miss the playoffs.)  Santana pitched well in 2009 and 2010, although both seasons were cut short by injuries, and he then missed the entire 2011 season while recovering from shoulder surgery.  And then there was 2012, when he appeared to be back to his brilliant self, pitching the first no-hitter in Mets' history, but requiring 134 pitches with his still fragile left arm to do so.  Santana still only 33 years old, declined rapidly after that, suffering additional injuries and pitching in only ten more games.  Maybe not a Hall of Fame career because of the lack of longevity but in his prime there were few better. 

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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

On Resisting Scandal Fatigue And The Importance Of Staying Outraged

But Trump is anything but a regular politician and this has been anything but a regular election. Trump will be only the fourth candidate in history and the second in more than a century to win the presidency after losing the popular vote. He is also probably the first candidate in history to win the presidency despite having been shown repeatedly by the national media to be a chronic liar, sexual predator, serial tax-avoider, and race-baiter who has attracted the likes of the Ku Klux Klan. Most important, Trump is the first candidate in memory who ran not for president but for autocrat—and won. -- Masha Gessen, New York Review of Books, Nov. 10, 2016
Last year, after the unthinkable happened and a malevolent orange shit gibbon became the President of these United States, Masha Gessen wrote an important and much circulated piece entitled "Autocracy: Rules for Survival."  She criticized Obama, Clinton and other leaders of the Democratic Party for their far too conciliatory post-election reactions that pretended Trump was a "normal" politician to be given the benefit of the doubt.  She sharply observed that their magnanimous responses may have been meant to ensure a peaceful transfer of power but effectively closed off any alternative to despair and acquiescence by implying that there was no daylight between acceptable, indeed necessary, peaceful protest and a violent insurgency. 

We are now being cautioned by The New York Times' Frank Bruni and others after a year of enduring the complete abdication of political norms and attacks on our democratic institutions, the corruption and self-enrichment, the racism and xenophobia, the pathological lying and incoherent rambling, the obstruction of justice and abuses of power, that we should avoid hysteria and become more measured in our opposition -- that we should keep our collective powder dry for when Trump creates a true national emergency.  As Bruni puts it:  "When Trump’s opponents react to so much of what he says and does with such unfettered outrage, that howl becomes background noise, and it’s harder to make sure that his unequivocally foul maneuvers stand out from his debatably foolish ones."  Similarly, Ed Kilgore argues that "In the end, Trump’s critics and accusers will not be able to capitalize on any particular scandal so long as they treat his very presence in the White House as scandalous."

I respectfully but vigorously disagree.  In light of this call for modulating our outrage, it is well worth revising the six rules Gessen provided after the election which are more relevant than ever:

Rule #1.  Believe the autocrat.

Trump says a lot of ignorant and provocative things that one would not expect from any rational human being, much less the purported leader of the free world.  While, as Gessen pointed out, it is human nature to assume he is exaggerating and to reach for a rationalization, it should be clear by now that Trump means what he says.  When he taunts Kim Jong-un and threatens to obliterate North Korea we should not assume he is bluffing.  When he uses white nationalist rhetoric harkening back to the Jim Crow Era that includes support for the symbols of the Confederacy while condemning African Americans who protest police killings and mass incarceration as "sons of bitches," we should not assume he is merely firing up his base.  And when he repeatedly bemoans his inability to influence the Justice Department to shut down the Russia investigation and refocus on his political opponents, we should not assume he is merely venting and won't start issuing pardons or takes steps to fire Mueller when the walls start closing in further.  

Rule #2.  Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.

The bar is so low for Trump that anytime he reads complete sentences from a teleprompter without going on an off-the-cuff rant or responds to a crisis or national tragedy with an appropriate, if robotic, scripted response without drooling all over himself, the media is quick to remark that, at long last, Trump has acted presidential.  Mainstream pundits and politicians yearn, as we all do, for a calm, rational leader and many continue to engage in magical thinking, believing that any time now Trump will moderate his behavior and transform from mentally and morally unfit to fit.  But we can't be fooled by the occasional appearance of reasonableness.  As Gessen wrote last year: "Panic can be neutralized by falsely reassuring words about how the world as we know it has not ended. It is a fact that the world did not end on November 8 nor at any previous time in history. Yet history has seen many catastrophes, and most of them unfolded over time. That time included periods of relative calm."

Rule #3.   Institutions will not save you

The White House press corps dutifully lines up every day to ask questions of Trump's press secretary who enables the President by translating his crazy gibberish into something less insane and inane (but see #1), and by spewing lies that are then dutifully reported.  Any criticism of Trump or members of his Administration -- particularly if they have worn a military uniform -- is immediately characterized as disrespectful, not to mention "fake news."  Trump himself refers to the media as "the enemy of the people" and has threatened to shut down those outlets that he deems to be unfair -- or disloyal -- to him.  This has all had a corrosive effect on the public's view of what constitutes not only real news, but real facts.  As for other institutions, Congress, controlled by Republicans, has slow walked investigations that could lead to revelations of the Trump campaign's connections to Russia while pursuing trumped up scandals to undermine those revelations.  Republicans have determined to ignore Trump's corruption and unfitness for office in favor of tax cuts, deregulation and appointing right wing judges.  And speaking of those judges, the courts, are being stocked with lifetime appointees who are filling vacancies left open by unprecedented Republican obstruction during the Obama Administration -- not to mention the theft of a Supreme Court seat.  This may come in handy for Trump and his cabal as they challenge the arrests, indictments and subpoenas that are sure to come their way.

Rule #4.  Be outraged.

Every day there is something -- often more than one thing -- to be outraged about.  It is hard to resist scandal fatigue.  It is hard not to become inured to the arrogant abuse of power, the daily madness, the destruction of formerly accepted norms, the lies, the corruption, the cruelty, the ignorance and the instability.  The drip, drip, drip of the Russia scandal.  The Katrina-like failure to respond to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.  The nomination of unqualified judges who are avatars for the culture war.  The senselessly harsh and aggressive immigration tactics.  The attempts to sabotage the ability to obtain affordable health insurance.  The ethics violations from virtually every cabinet member when they are not otherwise destroying the agencies they were appointed to run.  The efforts to mine, drill, frack and otherwise exploit public lands while ignoring climate science and destroying the environment.  The self-enrichment and business deals by Trump's family in the face of massive conflicts of interest.  And on and on and on.  It is impossible to keep up. But, as Gessen reminds us, "in the face of the impulse to normalize, it is essential to maintain one’s capacity for shock"

Rule #5.  Don’t make compromises.

We have already seen virtually the entire Republican Party sell their already very dark souls.  It is essential that we ensure that the Democrats resist and refuse to cooperate with an illegitimate president -- one who has still not disclosed his tax returns or revealed his myriad business interests and conflicts of interest; who, the mounting evidence suggests, cooperated with a foreign power to get elected; who is catering to a white nationalist agenda; and who has complete disdain for constitutional principles, democratic institutions and conventional norms.  "Those who argue for cooperation will make the case, much as President Obama did in his speech, that cooperation is essential for the future. They will be willfully ignoring the corrupting touch of autocracy, from which the future must be protected."

Rule #6.  Remember the future.

I can't say it any better than Gessen said a year ago:  "Failure to imagine the future may have lost the Democrats this election. They offered no vision of the future to counterbalance Trump’s all-too-familiar white-populist vision of an imaginary past. They had also long ignored the strange and outdated institutions of American democracy that call out for reform—like the electoral college, which has now cost the Democratic Party two elections in which Republicans won with the minority of the popular vote. That should not be normal. But resistance—stubborn, uncompromising, outraged—should be."

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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

DiFi's Unsatisfactory Non-Responsive Response

Fair and Unbalanced fans will recall my open letter to the senior senator from California in which I expressed my outrage regarding her comments to the San Francisco's Commonwealth Club in which she urged patience and understanding for Donald Trump.  This was back in August, when she actually said that we should wait and see “if he can forget himself and his feeling about himself enough to be able to really have the kind of empathy and the kind of direction that this country needs.”  Remarkably, she said that “the question is whether he can learn and change” and, if he can, “he can be a good president.”  That, of course, was far from the question -- which was more like, is this sick fuck going to destroy our country?

I didn't say that last bit.  What I did say was that it was beyond comprehension that a member of the Democratic leadership would give Trump the benefit of the doubt after he has shown his utter mental and moral unfitness for office that is hardly due to a lack of learning or experience.  

I provided the all-too-familiar litany, including his refusal to disentangle himself from his myriad businesses or disclose the extent of his finances while he and his family are profiting off of the office of the presidency; his ill-conceived, discriminatory Muslim ban; his firing of the FBI director and the taking of other actions to thwart the investigation into his administration’s alleged collusion with Russia; his comments in the wake of Charlottesville that gave comfort and support to white nationalists and neo-Nazis; his withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords; his call for a transgender military ban; his taunting of North Korea; his attacks on U.S. institutions, from judges to intelligence agencies to the media; and his relentless lying to the American people every day, every single day.

I wouldn't say that I eagerly awaited a response but I was mildly curious to see what form of non-responsiveness I would get. Well, now I know.  Senator Feinstein's letter, sent after another four months of madness,  did not even acknowledge her inexcusable remarks that caused me to write in the first place.  Rather, she thanked me for sharing my concerns regarding Trump's conflicts of interests. She went on to say that while she shares my "concerns about conflicts that may arise from President Trump’s complex network of financial holdings and businesses" and believes "the American people have the right to know that personal financial interests do not influence the Trump administration’s policies and decision making," there wasn't anything she could do until Trump provided his federal tax returns "which are necessary to clarify whether such deals directly benefit him or his businesses and financial interests."  She did assure me, however, that she is introducing legislation to compel presidents to disclose their tax returns and that she will "continue to push for greater transparency and accountability."

Unfortunately we already know that Trump cannot "learn and change.”  Worse, Feinstein and far too many of her fellow Democrats continue to proceed with business as usual, providing the same tired, tepid responses to alarming political crises.  Even today, after the Republicans passed the abominable tax bill, Democrats dutifully go before the cameras to decry the bill with reasoned and temperate remarks.  Apparently, they cannot learn and change either. 

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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Joe Biden's "Apology" To Anita Hill Is Too Little, Too Late And Too Lame

Joe Biden was the chair of the Senate's Judiciary Committee during Clarence Thomas' confirmation hearings in 1991.  In contrast to his more recent incarnation as the beloved elder statesman and erstwhile sidekick to Barack Obama, Biden played a singular role in delivering Anita Hill into a lion's den of misogyny and ensuring that her testimony that Thomas sexually harassed her when she was in his employ at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission would be ridiculed.

Biden was a well-ensconced member of the Old Boys' Network aka The United States Senate, and did his level best to be a neutral arbiter, which allowed the more aggressive, overtly-sexist Republicans to control the proceedings.  (Sound familiar?)  In his efforts to be unstintingly fair to Thomas -- to the detriment of Thomas' victims -- he repeatedly assured him that "you have the benefit of the doubt," despite the lack of any legal justification for such an assurance.  This was not a judicial proceeding, it was a confirmation hearing. 

Biden had the power to permit expert testimony on sexual harassment but he refused.   He had the power to restrain the insulting and humiliating questioning of Hill but failed to do so -- and got into the act himself (asking Hill about how she felt during an alleged sexually-charged interaction with Thomas, “Were you uncomfortable, were you embarrassed, did it not concern you?”) And, worst of all, he reached a private compromise with Republican senators -- a classic back room deal -- not to call witnesses who would have corroborated Hill, most importantly, Angela Wright, another former employee of Thomas at the EEOC who also claimed to have been sexually harassed by him. 

Thomas was confirmed by a painfully slim margin, 52–48, with the help of 11 Democrats.  Although Biden voted against Thomas, his shameful performance as Judiciary Chair is directly responsible for one of the most reactionary Supreme Court justices in U.S. history.

Now that we are seemingly at a watershed moment in which sexual misconduct by men in power is coming under scrutiny, questions about Clarence Thomas and how the sexual harassment allegations against him were addressed are getting a well-needed second look.

In an interview with Teen Vogue, Joe Biden was asked about his role in hearings.  He focused on his inability to control his "Republican friends," stating "my one regret is that I wasn’t able to tone down the attacks on her by some of my Republican friends. I mean, they really went after her. As much as I tried to intervene, I did not have the power to gavel them out of order. I tried to be like a judge and only allow a question that would be relevant to ask."

I'm gonna call bullshit.  First, Biden was not a judge, he was the chairman of the committee and certainly had the power to "gavel" the unwarranted attacks on Anita Hill as out of order.  But what Biden conveniently elides is his pivotal role ahead of the proceedings in rigging things in favor of the nominee in a way that would undermine the credibility of Anita Hill -- failing to set parameters for questions and failing to allow corroborating testimony.

Anita Hill recently told the Washington Post that she believes that Biden still doesn't get it -- that he fails to “take ownership of his role in what happened.” As she said:  "he also doesn’t understand that it wasn’t just that I felt it was not fair. It was that women were looking to the Senate Judiciary Committee and his leadership to really open the way to have these kinds of hearings. They should have been using best practices to show leadership on this issue on behalf of women’s equality. And they did just the opposite.”

Biden concludes in his Teen Vogue interview: "I wish I had been able to do more for Anita Hill.  I owe her an apology."  You sure do, Joe.

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Friday, December 8, 2017

You Can't Make This Stuff Up: Clarence Thomas' Wife Gives Award To Man Who Tried To Discredit Sexual Assault Allegations Against Roy Moore At Trump Hotel

James O'Keefe's most recent stunt attempted to discredit the Washington Post's credible reporting on Roy Moore's sexual improprieties with underage girls.  O'Keefe hoped to show the Post was promoting fake news about Moore by trying get them to bite on a false story about another woman's relationship with Moore that purportedly resulted in an abortion when she was 15. Had the Post published the story, O'Keefe would have revealed the story as untrue, thus calling into question the other allegations against Moore and helping a pedophile win a Senate bid.  Fortunately, the Post did their due diligence and exposed the scheme.  

Ginni Thomas is a  right wing activist and powerful lobbyist.  Formerly employed by the Heritage Foundation, a right wing think tank, she set up a political consulting business, Liberty Central, which has been described as an advocate for “liberty-loving citizens" fighting against the left wing "tyranny."  She is also an indefatigable defender of her sexual-harassing husband, Clarence Thomas, who sits on the Supreme Court.  (See "And The Chutzpah Award Goes To ... Ginni Thomas")

So who better to give James O'Keefe an award than Ginni Thomas, and where better to hold the ceremony than at the Trump International Hotel.  The event was hosted by a group called United for Purpose, and the award (also given to Sean Hannity, among others) was designed to honor “conservative leaders who are making a transformational impact on American culture.” Ginni Thomas called O'Keefe and the other award winners “the bravest, most effective, most dedicated, determined warriors defending the values that are the real strength of America. They have shown moral courage in the face of desperate times.”

Desperate times, indeed.  This little episode in mind numbing hypocrisy should remind us that with all the reckoning about sexual misconduct perpetrated by those in power, it is far past time to revist Clarence Thomas.  Maybe Joe Biden, whose shameful performance as chair of the Senate's Judiciary Committee during Thomas' confirmation hearings that continues to taint his legacy, should show some moral courage and initiate the call.

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Monday, November 20, 2017

The Reckoning: Clinton & Franken Versus Trump & Moore

Update. December 6, 2017.  Below I noted that with the second accusation against Franken, the call for whether he should resign was closer.  Now, with more credible accusations mounting it has gone far beyond the tipping point and Franken needs to go.  It appears that he will resign tomorrow.  Knowing the first two reports weren't isolated incidents, shame on him for not resigning sooner.  Sexual misconduct is obviously rampant on Capital Hill and we are sure to hear more officials -- Democrat and Republicans -- being called out.  Democrats will resign; Republicans will not.  Democrats will lose men who have otherwise done and would have continued to do great work on important, progressive causes, but so be it -- with a couple of caveats.  First, beware of Republican dirty tricks as they try to dig up real and fake dirt to sully Democrats as a way to blunt the Roy Moore allegations.  Second, Democrats should not reflexively call for resignations  Every case is different, and there is a continuum of misconduct that has to be considered. But, as Senator Kirsten Gillebrand put it in urging Franken to resign:  "[T]his moment of reckoning about our friends and colleagues who have been accused of sexual misconduct is necessary, and it is painful. We must not lose sight that this watershed moment is bigger than any one industry, any one party, or any one person.”  This is a watershed moment and the Republican Party can remain pig-headedly the Party of Donald Trump and Roy Moore at their peril.  

Sexual misconduct does not have a party affiliation.  It is all about power, and white men -- Democrat and Republican -- have long wielded it. So, at this moment when women are finally feeling empowered to speak out, they are speaking out against Republicans like Roy Moore and Democrats like Al Franken.  But that doesn't mean that the transgressions of Moore and Franken are equivalent.  Sexual assault and harassment are always unacceptable but context matters.  The nature and magnitude of the acts matter.  The response to accusations matters.  The effect of the response on the victims matters.  And how Democrats and Republicans address the issue matters too.

When a Republican is in the hot seat, Republicans are quick to point to Bill Clinton's misdeeds because "Clinton" is always a way to distract and deflect from Republican malfeasance, sexual or otherwise.  Although it must be conceded that, Democrat or not, relevant or not, Bill Clinton is a pig.  No question about it.  I'm still angry that he couldn't keep his fucking dick in his pants while he was president, and as a result he not only marred his own presidency but undermined the candidacy of his vice president, Al Gore, who would have defeated George W. Bush had Gore not had the Clinton sex scandal albatross around his neck.  Democrats, unlike Republicans, always pay the price, and they continue to pay for Clinton.  Recall how the Trump campaign was able to undermine Hillary Clinton' by cynically but effectively countering the sexual assault charges being leveled against him by parading the women who made accusations against Bill and somehow found Hillary complicit for her husband's misconduct.

But it is important to remember, as Republicans drag out the "what about Clinton" trope, that although he lied about it, Clinton's "relationship" with Monica Lewinsky was indisputably consensual.  And although we should rightfully believe women when they come forward, whether they accuse Democrats or Republicans, the other women who were allegedly victims of Clinton's unwanted advances and assaultive behavior get less of a benefit of the doubt because they were put up to it by a widespread and well-financed ratfucking operation aimed at destroying the Clintons, and their accusations were rife with false and inconsistent information.

Al Franken not only forcibly kissed Leeann Tweeden during a USO show rehearsal, but posed for a damning photograph in which he appears to be lecherously touching her breasts over a Kevlar vest while she is sleeping.  True, Franken was a comedian, not a Senator, at the time, but such disturbing behavior is inexcusable whatever one's profession.  To his credit, Franken acknowledged this, apologized sincerely, and called for an ethics investigation on himself.  Democrats have roundly condemned him and agree that such an investigation should be launched. Tweeden accepted his apology and does not believe he should resign.  Update:  Another woman has come forward to say that in 2010, when Franken was a Senator he pulled a George H.W. Bush move and grabbed her behind while posing for a photo. 

And while Franken's conduct is not in dispute, it is worth noting the suspicious timing of Franken's outing.  Roger Stone, ratfucker nonpareil, seemed to know well ahead of time that Franken was about to be exposed.  Together with the fact that the initial Franken story came out at the exact moment when the Moore story was gaining traction with new allegations suggest some coordination with the darker end of the Republican spectrum.

And then there's Trump.  After the Franken revelations broke, our adolescent-in-chief couldn't keep his tiny fingers from tweeting about it, despite that fact that he was not only caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women, but that 16 women subsequently came forward to describe how he harassed, grabbed and groped them. Trump's response at the time of those accusations -- not surprisingly given his history of misogyny -- was to disparage the women and call them liars. Republicans in Congress initially criticized the words Trump uttered on the tape but never engaged with the numerous credible reports of sexual harassment and assault.  Clinton was impeached for lying about having consensual sex with an intern.  Trump was elected president.

Roy Moore, if possible, is even ickier than Trump. Well-sourced and corroborated allegations describe Moore as a creepy hebephile who lurked around malls, preyed on teenage girls, and in some instances sexually assaulted them.  Moore and his supporters deny everything, contending it is the liberal media, Democrats and troubled, gold-digging women who have fabricated it all.  Initially most Republicans hesitated to condemn him, waiting for absolute proof of his guilt, but eventually several so-called Establishment Republicans called for him to withdraw from Alabama's special election.  Still, many Republicans, including the Alabama GOP and President Trump, would rather have a sexual predator than a Democrat as an Alabama Senator, and they continue to deflect questions about the veracity of the allegations that keep piling up against him, insisting it is up to the voters to decide.

Republicans, unlike Democrats, don't apologize.  On the contrary, they attack and shame women who dare to come forward.  They accuse Democrats and the liberal media of manufacturing allegations against them while they engineer scandals to target Democrats.  And they rarely pay the price for their misdeeds. Donald Trump is the President; Clarence Thomas is on the Supreme Court; and Roy Moore has a reasonable chance to become a U.S. Senator.

In stark contrast to Republican denials, Franken and his fellow Democrats are acting responsibly and doing some soul searching that includes how they responded to the accusations against Bill Clinton (and should include how they responded to Clarence Thomas -- I'm looking at you, Joe Biden). Indeed, some on the left are even calling for Franken's resignation before an ethics investigation has a chance to play out.  They argue that while Franken has been an unstinting champion for women's rights, his effectiveness has been compromised -- and, in an effort not to appear hypocritical, they argue that he should step down given how Democrats have unequivocally attacked Trump and now Moore.  They further maintain that as long as Franken remains in the Senate, any effort by Democrats to challenge Republicans for their perpetual war on women will be countered with the Franken photo. As Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times put it:  "Republicans, never particularly eager to hold their own to account, will use Franken to deflect from more egregious abuse on their own side, like what Trump and Roy Moore are accused of. Women with stories about other members of Congress might hesitate to come forward. That horrifying photo of Franken will confront feminists every time they decry Trump’s boasts of grabbing women by the genitals."

Before the second incident came to light, my feeling was that reflection and taking responsibility are essential, but that we shouldn't get carried away -- that Democrats should not deny, deflect and disparage like Republicans do but at least in this case, they don't need to reflexively fall on their sword either.  Al Franken's conduct, as gross as it was, appeared to be an isolated incident that took place when he was a comedian.  He apologized respectfully and the apology was accepted.  Unlike Trump and Moore, he has been a strong and effective advocate for women and women's rights, which should count for something.  And he's already suffered enormous damage to his reputation and destroyed any chance for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020.

The question is whether this second accusation changes the calculus.  Its definitely a closer call, but it still seems to me that Franken's status should be determined by the Ethics Committee.  As noted above, many Democrats feel otherwise, believing that if Franken resigns from the Senate it will bolster the Democrats ability to go after Moore, Trump and other Republican misogynists.  But this suggests a logic that does not exist in Congress.  The notion that if Democrats remain principled and pure they will somehow win the day sure didn't work during the Obama Administration and it won't work now.  Republicans will attack Democrats with real facts if they have them and alternative facts if they don't.  They will call out Democrats for hypocrisy, whether they are hypocritical or not.  Look what they did to Hillary when she went after Trump's mistreatment of women.  Whether or not they have the Franken photos to point to, Republicans will always have the Clintons. 

Roy Moore was kicked off the Alabama Supreme Court twice -- first, for refusing to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments at the state courthouse, and second, for defying the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding same sex marriage.  He believes that homosexuality should be illegal.  He was unfit for the Senate before the sex allegations came to light, particularly given his belief that his evangelical version of the Bible trumps the Constitution and the rule of law.  And he has failed to acknowledge, much less apologize, for his sexually predatory behavior. 

Al Franken is no Roy Moore.  It would make sense for him to be censured or receive some punishment short of expulsion after the ethics investigation, but given the nature of the allegations (so far), I believe he should remain in the Senate where, having owned up to his own misconduct, he can, along with his fellow Democrats, call out sexual assault and harassment when it arises, fight like hell for women's equality and reproductive freedom, and confront the inevitable efforts from the Roy Moores of the Republican Party to trample on women's rights.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Muchas Gracias, Carlos Beltran

"I am blessed to have played this game for 20 years.  I am blessed to have played for so many great organizations. I am blessed to have shared all of my experiences with my wife and my three kids, my family and friends. To have so many loving fans. To have been able to build a school in Puerto Rico and change the lives of so many kids. To have won the Roberto Clemente Award, which is the greatest honor I could have ever received as a ballplayer. And I am blessed to be a champion. But now, my time as a player has come to an end. Today, I am officially announcing my retirement. Muchas gracias, bĂ©isbol."  -- Carlos Beltran on his retirement from baseball
Carlos Beltran announced his retirement this week.  If not for suffering though some injury-plagued seasons in his prime, Carlos would be a lock for entry into the Hall of Fame.  A nine-time All-Star, he finished with over 2700 hits, over 400 homeruns and over 1500 RBIs -- numbers that do not automatically put him over the top.  But when healthy, Carlos Beltran was one of the best players in the game -- he could hit, hit with power, steal bases and cover centerfield as well and as gracefully as anyone.  Based on advance metrics, he is just below the pantheon of the greatest centerfielders of all time (e.g., Mays, Cobb, Mantle, Griffey, DiMaggio) but is in the top ten.  His similarity score puts him closest to two Hall of Famers, Andre Dawson and Dave Winfield.

Beltran played six-plus years with the Mets, and also played for the Royals, Astros (twice), Giants (briefly), Yankees, Cardinals, and Rangers.

I wrote the following in July 2011, after Carlos was traded from the Mets to the Giants:

"What we’ve seen from Beltran is ours to keep forever, no matter what team he’s playing for tomorrow. Carlos Beltran playing baseball at the peak of his ability is a beautiful sight to behold, and we got to watch it hundreds of times."  Ted Berg
There are some Met fans who have never forgiven Carlos Beltran for taking a called strike three with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning of the seventh and final game of the 2006 playoffs.  It was a brutal end to a great season and the Mets have suffered nothing but heartbreak and frustration since.  But the Mets would not have come close to making the playoffs that year without the incredible season Carlos had.  He was an All Star, played a brilliant centerfield, earning him the first of three consecutive Gold Glove awards, and put up huge offensive numbers, especially for a Met (41 home runs, 127 runs scored, 116 RBIs).

I recently wrote about great players who came to the Mets with high expectation only to flounder.  Carlos was not one of them.  The Mets signed him after his monstrous 2004 post-season with the Astros to a 7-year contract that at the time was the biggest in franchise history.  In his first year, he suffered from injuries, including those stemming from an outfield collision with Mike Cameron, and his numbers were off.  But for three years, 2006-2008, before getting hurt once again, he was great.  And this year, finally healthy after knee surgery, he has rebounded superbly, making the All Star team once again, and becoming the much sought after hitter for contending teams. 

As a Met, Beltran hit 149 home runs (6th All Time), had 557 RBIs (6th), scored 548 runs (6th) and stole 100 bases (11th).  He has been a great leader on the field and was known for charitable works off the field.  Although admittedly not a deep pool, he is one of the greatest Mets ever.  But with his 7-year contract coming to an end and the Mets going nowhere this season, they decided to trade the 34-year old to the Giants.

I understand why the Mets made this deal.  They got an excellent pitching prospect, Zach Wheeler, in exchange for two months of Beltran.  But it is a shame that the business of baseball comes down to buyers and sellers in the second half of the year, with struggling teams having to give up players before they are lost to free agency -- especially players as fun to watch and who have given so much to the team as Carlos Beltran.  He will be missed.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Rebecca Solnit On Fighting Foundational Misogyny One Story At A Time

Let This Flood of Women’s Stories Never Cease

Guest Post by Rebecca Solnit

There’s a problem with the way feminism moves forward in reaction to breaking news stories. It brings focus to a single predator, a single incident, and people who haven’t faced the pervasiveness of misogyny can build stories around it about why this was the exception, not the rule. That Harvey Weinstein was typical of liberals or Hollywood, or Roy Moore and Bill O’Reilly were typical of conservatives, that this mass killer with a domestic violence background was typical of veterans or loners or was mentally ill, that case after case is a glitch in the pattern of society, not the pattern itself. But these are the norms, not the aberrations. This is a society still permeated and shaped and limited by misogyny, among other afflictions.

Obviously—as we keep having to reassure them, because when we’re talking about our survival we’re supposed to still worry about men feeling comfortable—not all men, but enough to impact virtually all women. And in another way all men, because we’re all warped by living in such a society, and because as Kevin Spacey’s case demonstrates, though men are nearly always the perpetrators, other men and boys are sometimes the victims. Being groomed to be a predator dehumanizes you, as does being groomed to be prey. We need a de-normalization of all that before we can try to rehumanize ourselves.

Women spend their lives negotiating survival and bodily integrity and humanity in the home, on the streets, in workplaces, at parties, and now on the internet. The torrent of stories that has poured forth since the New Yorker and New York Times broke the long-suppressed stories about Weinstein tell us so. They tell us so in the news about famous women at the hands of famous men, in social media about the experiences of not-so-famous women and the endless hordes of abusers out there, whether we’re talking rape, molestation, workplace harassment, or domestic violence.

This seems to be what’s produced the shock in a lot of what we are supposed to call good men, men who assure us they had no part in this. But ignorance is one form of tolerance, whether it’s pretending we’re in a colorblind society or one in which misogyny is some quaint old thing we’ve gotten over. It’s not doing the work to know how the people around you live, or die, and why. It’s ignoring or forgetting that we had this kind of story explosion before, in the 1980s, with Anita Hill’s testimony in 1991, after the Steubenville gang rape and New Delhi rape-torture-murder in late 2012, and the Isla Vista mass shooting in 2014. One sentence I come back to again and again is James Baldwin’s: “It is the innocence that constitutes the crime.” He’s talking about white people in the early 1960s ignoring the violence and destructiveness of racism, their opting out of seeing it.

You can say the same about men who have not bothered to see what is all around us: a country in which a woman is beaten every 11 seconds, in which as the New England Journal of Medicine put it, “domestic violence is the most common cause of nonfatal injury to women in the United States,” and male partners and former partners were responsible for a third of all murders of women in the US, in which there are hundreds of thousands of rapes a year and only about 2 percent of rapists do time for their crimes. A world in which Bill Cosby wielded a power that could silence more than 60 women and let his crime spree go unchecked for half a century, in which Weinstein assaulted and harassed more than 109 women who, for the most part, had no recourse until something in the system broke, or changed. A world in which Twitter temporarily shut down Rose McGowan’s account for a tweet related to Weinstein that allegedly contained a phone number, but did nothing when alt-right pundit Jack Posobiec tweeted out the workplace address of the woman who reported Moore sexually exploited her when she was 14, as it has done nothing about so many campaigns of threat against outspoken women.

Because here’s a thing you might have forgotten about women being menaced or assaulted or beaten or raped: we think we might be murdered before it’s over. I have. And because there’s often a second layer of threat “if you tell.” From your assailant, or from the people who don’t want to hear about what he did and what you need. Patriarchy kills off stories and women to maintain its power. If you’re a woman, this stuff shapes you; it scars you, it tells you you are worthless, no one, voiceless, that this is not a world in which you are safe or equal or free. That  your life is something someone else may steal from you, even a complete stranger, just because you’re a woman. And that society will look the other way most of the time, or blame you, this society that is itself a system of punishment for being a woman. Silence over these things is its default setting, the silence feminism has been striving to break, and is breaking.

Each individual action may be driven by an individual man’s hate or entitlement or both, but those actions are not isolated. Their cumulative effect is to diminish the space in which women move and speak, our access to power in public, private, and professional spheres. Many men may not have perpetrated it directly, but as some have finally discussed, they benefitted from it; it knocked out some of their competition, it dug a Mariana Trench through the playing fields we’re always being told are level. Diana Nyad, the world-famous swimmer who has just revealed that starting when she was 14 her Olympic-champion swim coach began sexually assaulting her, talks about the harm she suffered, the way that it changed who she was, diminished her well-being. She says, “I might have defied ruin, but my young life changed dramatically that day. For me, being silenced was a punishment equal to the molestation.” This story: it could be that of dozens of women I know, hundreds or thousands whose stories I’ve heard.

We treat the physical assault and the silencing after as two separate things, but they are the same, both bent on annihilation. Domestic violence and rape are acts that say the victim has no rights, not to self-determination or bodily integrity or dignity; that is a brutal way to be made voiceless, to have no say in your life and fate. Then to not be believed or to be humiliated or punished or pushed out of your community or your family—or in the case of Rose McGowan after Harvey Weinstein allegedly raped her, followed by spies intent on containing your voice and undermining your truth—is to be treated the same way over again. Ronan Farrow just exposed the network of spies employed to keep her silent; fellow New Yorker writer Emily Nussbaum noted, “if Rose McGowan had told the story of the Mossad spies earlier, everyone would have simply assumed she was nuts.”

Because we tell stories about what’s normal, or we’re told them, and this level of malevolence from our prominent men is not supposed to be normal, even when we have so many stories confirming that it is. So many women who told stories about men trying to harm them were treated as crazy or as malicious liars, because it’s easier to throw a woman under the bus than a culture. The bus rolls forward on a red carpet of women. Trump gets out of the bus and brags about getting away with grabbing women by the pussy and gets elected president less than a month later. He puts in place an administration that starts clearcutting women’s rights, including the rights of victims of sexual assault.

Fox renewed Bill O’Reilly’s contract after he settled a sexual harassment claim for 32 million dollars, a payment for silence from the victim that included destroying all the emails that documented what he had done to her. The Weinstein film company kept paying off victims, and the settlements purchased the victims’ silence. Fellow straight men in comedy apparently formed a protective wall of silence around Louis CK, making it clear that the man who kept jerking off at unwilling, non-consenting, appalled women was more valuable than those women were and would remain more audible than them. Until something broke; until journalists went fishing for the stories that had been hidden in plain sight. And the stories poured forth: about publishers, restaurateurs, directors, famous writers, famous artists, famous political organizers. We know these stories. We know how the victim in the 2012 Steubenville rape was harassed and threatened for reporting a rape by her high school peers. Four adults in the school district were indicted for obstructing justice by covering up the crimes. The message was clear: boys matter more than girls. One 2003 investigation reported that 75 percent of women who report workplace sexual harassment faced retaliation.

What would women’s lives be like, what would our roles and accomplishments be, what would our world be, without this terrible punishment that looms over our daily lives? It would surely rearrange who holds power, and how we think of power, which is to say that everyone’s life might be different. We would be a different society. We have shifted a little over the past 150 years or so, but since the Civil War, black people have still been held back, since women got the vote 77 years ago, women of all colors have still been kept out, and of course black women got it both ways. Who would we be if our epics and myths, our directors and media moguls, our presidents, congressmen, chief executive officers, billionaires were not so often white and male? For the men now being exposed controlled the stories—often literally as radio executives, film directors, heads of university departments. These stories are doors we walk through or doors that slam in our faces.

It is to the credit of Diana Nyad that, despite having a rapist as a coach, she became a great swimmer, to the credit of those Olympic gymnasts on the US team that they won gold medals despite having a molester for their doctor (more than 100 women have accused him to date). But who might they have been, in their personal lives as well as their professional achievements, without such harm being inflicted upon them by men who wished to harm them, who regarded harming them as their right and their pleasure? Who might we all have been if our society didn’t just normalize but celebrate this punishment and the men who inflict it? Who have we lost to this violence before we ever knew them, before they ever made their mark on the world?

Half a century after the fact, Tippi Hedren told how Alfred Hitchcock sexually assaulted and harassed her off-camera and punished her on-camera and then told her, “his face red with rage,” if she continued rejecting his advances, “I’ll ruin your career.” Hitchcock, whose desire to punish beautiful women drives  many of his films, did his best to do so, even blocking an Oscar nomination for her starring role in his 1964 film Marnie. These famous people are not the exceptions, but the examples, the public figures we know playing out the dramas that are happening in schools and offices and churches and political campaigns and families too.

We live in a world where uncountable numbers of women have had their creative and professional capacity undermined by trauma and threat, by devaluation and exclusion. A world in which women were equally free and encouraged to contribute, in which we lived without this pervasive fear, might be unimaginably different. In the same way, a United States in which the votes of people of color were not increasingly suppressed might not just have different outcomes in its recent elections but different candidates and issues. The whole fabric of society would be something else. It should be. Because that is what justice would look like, and peace, or at least the foundation on which they could be built.

Rebecca Traister and others have made the important point that we should not mourn the end of the creative lives of the men being outed as predators; we should contemplate the creative contributions we never had, will never know, because their creators were crushed or shut out. When Trump was elected we were told not to normalize authoritarianism and lies, but the losses due to misogyny and racism have been normalized forever. The task has been to de-normalize them and break the silence they impose. To make a society in which everyone’s story gets told.

This too is a war about stories.

San Francisco writer, historian, and activist, Rebecca Solnit is one of the essential voices of these fraught times.  She is the author of seventeen books about geography, community, art, politics, hope, and feminism and the recipient of many awards, including the Lannan Literary Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award.  This piece was originally posted at Literary Hub.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Two Men From Alabama Who Personify The GOP

First, there's your former judge whose Senate campaign is in jeopardy, not because he is a racist, homophobic, religious bigot who was twice removed from the bench but because he is a pedophile. Then there's your pro-NRA, anti-Hillary blogger whose nomination for a lifetime appointment on the Alabama district court may be called into question not because he has only been a lawyer for three years, never tried a case, and has barely ever been in a courtroom but because he forgot to disclose that his wife is chief of staff for the White House Counsel and has been interviewed pursuant to Mueller's investigation. 

Republicans didn't care about Moore's racism, anti-LGBT and anti-Muslim views or his disdain for the Constitution.  But will they take meaningful steps to thwart his candidacy for sexually assaulting young women?  And they didn't care about Brett Talley's utter lack of qualifications for federal judge.  But will any Republican vote against his confirmation for his lack of honesty?
Hopefully they won't ask the leader of their party if any of these qualities are disqualifying characteristics.

Friday, November 10, 2017

"If It Turns Out To Be True" Is Meaningless In The Republican World Of Alternative Facts

If it turns out to be true that Roy Moore preyed on young girls, Republicans would demand he withdraw from the Alabama Senate race.
If it turns out to be true that Donald Trump groped, grabbed and assaulted women, Republicans would oppose him.
If it turns out to be true that Trump stocked his administration with white supremacists and neo-Nazis, Republicans would condemn him.
If it turns out to be true that Trump was involved with Russia's efforts to interfere with the presidential election and obstructed the Russian investigation, Republicans would impeach him.
If it turns out to be true that Trump, his family and his cabinet are getting rich off the presidency, they would investigate them.
If it turns out to be true that human activity causes climate change, Republicans would take steps to mitigate it.
If it turns out to be true that massive tax cuts to corporations and the top 1% create greater inequality while failing to spur the economy, Republicans would not support them.
If it turns out to be true that Trump's judicial nominees are unqualified, Republicans would reject them.
If it turns out to be true that the Affordable Care Act is not imploding but is providing affordable health care to millions of Americans, Republicans would not try to repeal it.

Luckily for the Republican Party there is no objective truth.  There is alternative truth and there is fake news.  And so they don't have to face the fact that the president is a corrupt bigot bent on dismantling democratic institutions.  They don't have to deal with the fact that he very likely colluded with a foreign power to get elected.  And they don't have to accept the fact that, based on thorough and well-sourced reporting, Roy Moore is a pedophile.  After all, look how they acted after the release of the Hollywood Access tape, followed by a parade of women describing how Trump assaulted them.  That wasn't true enough?

They care only about tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation for business and installing right wing judges.  And if sexual predators like Roy Moore can help them maintain power and achieve these goals, they will stick with .them  And that's the truth.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Normalization Alert: Trump Lies, Media Balks, Public Shrugs

Republicans may believe -- in the face of all historical evidence, from Reagan to Brownback -- that massive tax cuts to wealthy business owners spur the economy and create jobs.  Fine.  If they want to rationalize their plan based on zombie economics, whatever.  But it can't be reasonably argued that their tax reform plan hurts the rich and helps the middle class.  After all, if their plan burdened the wealthy, how would they ever become job creators?  More objectively, the Tax Policy Center determined that the top 1% would receive over 50% of the tax benefits from the plan's tax cuts -- their after-tax income would increase by 8.5% while most other taxpayers would see their incomes increase between 0.5 and 1.2%. 

Many Republicans have conceded this.  They've more or less acknowledged that while their plan may be unpopular with voters who justly see it as benefiting the rich over the middle class, they are compelled to pass it in order to assuage their donors. 

But then there's the president, who insists that the plan will actually hurt those in the highest income brackets and will be a great boon to the middle class.  According to the Washington Post, during a meeting this week in which administration officials briefed Democrats about the Republican tax plan, Trump phoned in from Asia to say that "he has spoken to his own accountant about the tax plan and that he would be a 'big loser' if the deal is approved as written." He further stated that "the deal is so bad for rich people, I had to throw in the estate tax just to give them something."

Does anyone believe him?  Does anyone think that Trump actually spoke to his accountant?  Does anyone think that a tax plan that includes a pass-through loophole, eliminates the Alternative Minimum Tax, and slashes the corporate tax rate will hurt, rather than enrich the president and others of his social strata?  Of course not.

Has the media asked any questions to follow up on these statements?  Have they sought to track down Trump's accountant?  Have they asked why Trump is still not providing his tax returns and how the public can trust that he isn't benefitting from the tax bill -- and other policies -- without knowing the nature and extent of Trump's finances?  Of course not.

He lies.  He lies about the impact of tax reform on the country.  He lies about the impact of tax reform on himself.  He refuses to disclose his tax returns or resolve myriad conflicts of interest.

This.  Is.  Not.  Normal. 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Trump, Using Nixon's Playbook, Commits Yet Another Impeachable Offense

University of Missouri Law Professor Frank Bowman writes a blog, Impeachable Offenses, that should be essential reading as we try to sort through and process the myriad outrages committed almost daily by the malevolent shit gibbon that, at least for now, resides in the White House.  Far more fair and balanced than this blog, it was recently described by The New York Times as "dedicated to “a more rigorous analysis” of impeachment than the one found in the mainstream news media. Professor Bowman has allowed me to re-post his latest piece, originally titled "Trump Commits Another Impeachable Offense: Siccing Federal Criminal Investigators On His Enemies."

Guest Blog by Professor Frank Bowman

On July 27, 1974, the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment against Richard M. Nixon. The second article charged that President Nixon abused the powers of the presidency either by using or trying to use federal investigative agencies against his political enemies or by interfering or trying to interfere with lawful investigations by those agencies into his own wrongdoing or that of his subordinates.  He tried to get dirt on his opponents through the IRS. He ordered the FBI to conduct investigations of actual or suspected enemies in and outside of government. He sought to suppress investigations into the growing Watergate scandal. As the fifth specification of the article of impeachment put it:
In disregard of the rule of law, he knowingly misused the executive power by interfering with agencies of the executive branch, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Criminal Division, and the Office of Watergate Special Prosecution Force, of the Department of Justice, and the Central Intelligence Agency, in violation of his duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.
In short, the House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach Richard Nixon because he sought to turn the immense power of the Justice Department and federal criminal investigative agencies against his political adversaries. Although this article of impeachment was never approved by the full House of Representatives because Nixon resigned before a vote could be taken, it received more votes in committee than any other proposed article. No respectable scholar of the constitution doubts that directing the criminal justice and intelligence systems of the United States against political opponents for purposes unrelated to the impartial enforcement of the law or preservation of legitimate national security interests is among the impeachable “high Crimes & Misdemeanors” of Article II, Section 4.

This morning, Friday, November 3, Mr. Trump sent out a series of Tweets in which he explicitly urged the Justice Department and the FBI to investigate Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party for a grab bag of supposed offenses — e-mails deleted from Secretary Clinton’s private server, the Russia-uranium kerfluffle, activities by Tony Podesta (lobbyist and brother of Secretary Clinton’s campaign manager), and the allegation that officials at the Democratic National Committee worked with Secretary Clinton’s campaign to give it a boost over that of Senator Bernie Sanders.

The Trump Tweet-string included these classics:
Everybody is asking why the Justice Department (and FBI) isn’t looking into all of the dishonesty going on with Crooked Hillary & the Dems..
….People are angry. At some point the Justice Department, and the FBI, must do what is right and proper. The American public deserves it!
Mr. Trump followed up these Tweets with statements to the press in which he said he is “disappointed” with the Justice Department and would not rule out firing Attorney General Sessions if Sessions won’t investigate Democrats.

In my view, Mr. Trump’s tweets tiptoed right up to the line of an impeachable offense.  His subsequent statements to the press stepped firmly over it.

Using the Nixon precedent as a template, in order to show that Mr. Trump’s behavior is impeachable, several requirements must be met:

First, he must be seeking to employ the criminal investigative powers of the federal government against his political opponents.  That is unquestionably the case.

Second, he must be acting, in the words of the Nixon impeachment article, “for purposes unrelated to national security, the enforcement of laws, or any other lawful function of his office.”  Although his most devoted adherents may claim otherwise, it is impossible to divine any legitimate, non-political, purpose in his call for action by the Justice Department.
  • Although it is doubtless a matter of intense interest for members of Democratic Party, whether the DNC did or didn’t favor Secretary Clinton can by no stretch be translated into a violation of law, and still less a fit subject for a criminal investigation by a Justice Department controlled by the opposing party.
  • The Clinton e-mail matter has already been investigated by the Justice Department, even if extreme Republican partisans may not have liked the outcome.
  • Tony Podesta’s activities are already the subject of inquiries by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which is why Podesta just resigned from his own lobbying firm.  So Trump’s inclusion of Podesta in his broadside manifested either a scarcely credible ignorance of the state of play of an investigation with which Mr. Trump is plainly obsessed or a willful attempt to deflect attention from Mueller’s focus on Trump campaign affiliates.
  • And, as multiple credible observers have explained, the Russia-uranium-Clinton connection is an invented non-story. Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear materials and non-proliferation expert, observed in Newsweek, “I have to say that this is one of those things where reasonable people cannot disagree: There just aren’t two sides.”
In short, every item on the laundry list of things for which Mr. Trump wants the Justice Department to investigate his political opponents is either not a crime, has already been or is being investigated, or, in the case of the Clinton-uranium “scandal,” is an invented storyline promoted by Mr. Trump and his supporters to divert attention from the Mueller investigation.

Third, it is not necessary to establish impeachable misconduct that a president succeed in bending law enforcement agencies to his corrupting purpose. While some of the law enforcement and intelligence officials Nixon tried to enlist in his illegal schemes cooperated, many refused or ignored his orders, the IRS, the CIA, and important elements of the FBI among them. His failed attempts to misuse federal agencies were nonetheless integral components of the impeachment case against him.

This is a key point in the present case. If pressed, Mr. Trump will no doubt claim that he didn’t order anybody to do anything and that his Tweets are, at worst, expressions of dismay at the established norm that bars presidents from direct involvement in Justice Department decisions. This is, of course, transparent eyewash.  When a President of the United States publicly proclaims that he wants an executive branch agency to do something and will be deeply displeased if it doesn’t, that’s tantamount to an order.

Even if it were not, Mr. Trump took the next and fateful step this morning when he expressed disappointment in the Justice Department for its inaction and held open the option of firing the Attorney General if his wishes were not honored.  That is as close to a direct order as a president can give without putting it in writing.  Any way you slice it, Mr. Trump is telling the Justice Department and the FBI that he wants them to engage in legally baseless, politically motivated criminal investigations.

Finally, it is not, cannot be, an excuse if Mr. Trump were to say, “Well, even though the uranium story and all the rest prove to be baseless, I didn’t know that. As I so often do, I was just responding to what ‘people are saying.'” As the Nixon articles of impeachment observed, a president has the solemn constitutional obligation to “take care that the laws shall be faithfully executed.”  If this duty means anything in the criminal justice setting, it means that presidents shoulder an obligation even more binding than that assumed by their subordinates not to unleash on any citizen the intrusive, life-altering power of federal investigative agencies absent credible evidence that a real crime may have been committed.

Let us be absolutely clear here. No matter how far Mr. Trump has warped our collective sense of what is normal or even minimally acceptable in an American president, it is not acceptable for a president either to employ, or threaten to employ, the agents and ministers of the criminal law of the United States against his enemies for political gain.  A president who does so engages in precisely the class of misconduct perilous to the maintenance of republican government for which the founders designed the remedy of impeachment.

When and if the political season is ever ripe for enumerating Mr. Trump’s “high Crimes & Misdemeanors” in articles of impeachment, his attempts to corrupt the American justice system should be among those articles.

Frank Bowman is the Floyd R. Gibson Missouri Endowed Professor of Law, University of Missouri School of Law.  He blogs at Impeachable Offenses? ~ Examining the Case for Removal of the 45th President of the United States, where this piece was originally posted.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Groucho Marx On Why It Is Never A Good Time To Talk About Gun Control

The malevolent orange shit gibbon immediately seized upon the truck attack by an immigrant from Uzbekistan to bash Democrats, condemn immigration policies and call for shipping the perpetrator off to Guantanamo and then, on second thought, urge that he be given the death penalty "fast."  The contrast with the measured thoughts and prayers response to the Las Vegas shooting or the "very fine people on both sides" response to the Neo-Nazi car attack in Charlottesville couldn't be more black and white (so to speak).

When Democrats want to discuss solutions to gun violence after mass shootings (by white U.S. citizens), Republicans argue that we shouldn't politicize tragedy.  As Trump's press secretary put it after Las Vegas:  “There’s a time and place for a political debate, but now is the time to unite as a country."  A month has now passed, but it is still not time to talk about gun control. 

The absurdity is captured perfectly by the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup:
Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho):  And now members of the cabinet, we'll take up old business.
Cabinet Member: I wish to discuss [gun violence and gun control].
Firefly: Sit down, that's new business. [pause] No old business? Very well, we'll take up new business.
Cabinet Member: Now about [gun violence and gun control]
Firefly: Too late, that's old business already. Sit down.
Trump has no interest in uniting the country -- unless that country is the Confederate States of America.  His tweets about the most recent tragedy in New York is all about divisive politics -- diverting attention from Mueller's investigation into collusion, corruption and obstruction of justice that has the walls closing in on him and providing fodder to impose ever more restrictive, discriminatory and mean-spirited immigration and refugee policies -- and, of course, to blame Democrats for everything. 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Fall Classic

Every October, no matter how bitter and broken I am from suffering through another dismal Met season, I take a few days to shake it off (this year, admittedly, it took more than a few days) and refocus on the post-season. 

Playoff baseball encapsulates a season's worth of drama into a few short weeks.  Each team has its own uplifting story and appears to be the team of destiny.  We get to know the personalities of the players and see rivalries develop as the same teams play each several games in a row.  Every game, every inning and every pitch is pivotal.  We are treated to legendary victories and tragic failures in each series, culminating in the Fall Classic itself.  While I can't help but be reminded that my team is once again not a team of destiny but of ignominy, I eventually find players and teams to root for and to root against, and I lose myself in the drama.

And this year's World Series is proving to be one of the most exciting in years.  The Astros and Dodgers are both really fun teams to watch, stocked with brilliant young players, future hall-of-famers and gritty role players. We're five games in and already two of the games will go down as a pair of the most dramatic in World Series history. 

I'm loving every minute -- and all five hours and seventeen minutes of Game #5.  But, at the same time, some troubling issues have arisen.

First, there is something wrong with the baseballs.  Pitchers are having difficulty gripping the ball, and typically dominant pitchers are getting uncharacteristically roughed up because they've lost the ability to throw a slider.  There have been reports all season that the baseballs have flatter seams, which is deemed largely responsible for the unprecedented  explosion of home runs.  But in the post-season, the balls are not only more lively, they are apparently slicker and harder to grip. Sure, home runs are exciting and dramatic, but so are pitching duels.  Messing with the quality of baseballs is messing with the game.  This is not cool.

Then there's the disturbing racist gesture and slur by the Astro's Cuban slugger Yuli Gurriel in Game #3.  After hitting a home run off Yu Darvish, who grew up in Japan and whose mother is Japanese, Gurriel not only stretched the corners of his eyes, but uttered the derogatory term, "chinito."  It seemed stupid and juvenile rather than cruel and malicious, but it was undoubtedly offensive and the fact that Gurriel and his teammates saw nothing wrong with doing this on a national stage is a vivid example of how racial insensitivity remains so ingrained.  While Major League Baseball handed down a five-day suspension without pay for the start of next year, it seems to me that they too quickly swept this under the turf.  A one-game suspension during the World Series would have sent a stronger message about racism and intolerance.

Finally, George H.W. Bush and his son George W. Bush threw out the first ball to start Game #5 yesterday to wild cheering and applause.  Sure this was Houston and all, but did we really need to see the 41st President -- most recently known for groping women from his wheel chair and historically known for putting another sexual harasser, Clarence Thomas, on the Supreme Court -- handing the ball to the 43rd president -- who is not as cruel, corrupt and unhinged as the current occupant of the White House, but did lie us into the worst foreign policy disaster in modern history, approve torture, and botch the recovery from Hurricane Katrina.  

Baseball is our National Pastime and, as such, it often provides a reflection of who we are as a nation.  And so it shouldn't be surprising, particularly at this fraught time, that the Game, like the Country, would be marred by questions of integrity, demonstrations of racism and mindless support for undeserving Republicans.  But baseball -- and hopefully America -- is incredibly resilient.  Whatever its problems, we are always left to revel in its beauty and power, in the remarkable feats and the agony of defeats, and in the drama of the unexpected.  Let's Play Ball!