Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Just Some Folks Torturing Other Folks

Gina Haspel oversaw a secret prison in Thailand where she approved the torture of at least one detainee.  She also signed off on the destruction of evidence of these so-called enhanced interrogations. Although it seems that initial reports of her involvement in the brutal torture of Abu Zubaydah was in error, this does not undermine the view of the New York Times, which editorialized:  "when it comes to torture, no American officials have been more practiced in those heinous dark arts than the agents and employees of the Central Intelligence Agency who applied it to terrorism suspects after 9/11 [and] few American officials were so directly involved in that frenzy of abuse ... as Gina Haspel."  Neither she nor any other government official was prosecuted when President Obama determined to look forward instead of backward, and so instead of spending these last years in prison, she has moved up the ranks of the CIA and is currently the agency's deputy director.  The current president, an unabashed torture supporter, has nominated current CIA director and fellow torture supporter to be Secretary of State, and has announced that he was going to name Haspel to head the CIA.  We thus have to once again debate what should not be debatable, but it is a debate worth having.  Below is a piece I wrote in August 2014 about the need for a true reckoning.

Previewing a declassified report that concludes the prior Administration used techniques on terrorism suspects amounting to torture, President Obama conceded that "we did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks."

Of course, Obama couldn't quite make himself confront Bush, Cheney & Co. with a point blank accusation.  First, he had to couch the statement by using the pronoun "we" as if either he or his political party or the citizens of the United States were responsible for torture.  Then, like a good Dad who praises his child before making a critical remark, he stated that a lot of things were done right, before pointing out that "we tortured some folks."  'That's OK, Junior, try harder next time.'  And, by the way, what were those "right things" to which he was referring?

To further minimize the impact of his statement, Obama relied on the colloquialism -- "folks."  We tortured "some folks."  He sounds like President Gomer Pyle.  'Well, golly.  I guess we tortured some folks.'   Those who were tortured were real flesh and blood people, human beings capable of feeling the extreme pain and humiliation of "enhanced interrogation techniques."  They were entitled to being treated as such.

It gets worse.  The President then rationalized the use of torture in the context of the stressful times we were in.  While it was certainly not cool to torture folks, it was understandable that our government would resort to such techniques because, you know, it was kinda scary back then.
I think it's important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the twin towers fell and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent and there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this. And, you know, it's important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. A lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots, but having said all that, we did some things that were wrong.
So, our folks -- meaning, the leaders of our government -- were frightened and working under pressure, but, nevertheless, they were "real patriots" and so we shouldn't hold them accountable just because they tortured other folks.

As if the use of torture was simply an understandable spontaneous reaction to the tragedy of 9/11 and not a well calculated policy decision that those in the Bush Administration and their allies and apologists continue to believe was justified. As Charles Pierce puts it:  "Quite simply, nobody who engaged in torture, nobody who worked to establish a legal rationale for torture, nobody who applauded torture or encouraged it or welcomed its practice, has any right to be referred to by anyone, let alone the president, as a patriot."

I've written before that President Obama's biggest mistake when he first took office was refusing to allow his Justice Department to investigate, much less prosecute, the government officials who authorized torture.  He maintained that since his Administration wouldn't condone torture we can simply move forward.  (See, e.g., Pitfalls of Only Looking Forward, Tortured Logic.)  But we are not moving forward.  If we are to remain a nation of laws, when high government officials break the law or cynically bend the law to justify human rights violations there must be consequences.

Obama's latest comments, as mealy-mouthed as they were, elicited the predictable backlash from the right while the media noted that they "reopened debate."   The upcoming report by the Senate Intelligence Committee is significant, but without a true reckoning that confirms once and for all the immorality, illegality and inefficacy of torture, we remain stuck in a debate that should have been resolved.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Relative Madness

Monarchs and dictators name relatives to high-level government positions regardless of their qualifications.  Presidents in democratic countries not so much.  JFK received all kinds of criticism when he nominated his younger brother to be his Attorney General -- but at least RFK had to be confirmed by the Senate.  Meanwhile, Trump's daughter and son-in-law run amok in the White House as senior advisers to the president, sorely lacking security clearances, much less the requisite qualifications and experience.  And his two sons run the family business from which Trump has refused to divest, ignoring conflicts of interests and reneging on promises to not engage in new foreign deals.

Ivanka headed a delegation to South Korea that went far beyond merely attending the closing ceremonies at the Olympics.  With no background or training in government policy, foreign relations or diplomacy, she met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in to discuss U.S. - North Korea relations -- somewhat of a sensitive topic given the recent round of nuclear brinksmanship between her daddy and Kim Jung-Un.  Ivanka reportedly briefed the South Korean president on economic sanctions and other ways our two countries can put pressure on North Korea.  Feel safer?

Why the fuck not?

Then there's Jared who, as the Times reports, was finally "stripped of his top-secret security clearance after months of delays in completing his background check, and will now be limited in his ability to view highly classified information."  Just in the nick of time given the Washington Post bombshell that "officials in at least four countries have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared ... by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience."  One wonders how the boy wonder will solve the Middle East peace process and negotiate foreign deals without access to classified information.  One also wonders how he has already compromised our national security -- unwitting or otherwise -- while trying to get his own badly indebted financial house in order.

And then there's Donnie, Jr., back from his trip to India, where he mixed business with politics as only a Trump can.  Promoting luxury condos on behalf of the Trump Organization, attending a conference with the Prime Minister (although he did cancel what was to be a foreign policy speech in the face of much criticism), and selling access to himself (aka the President's son) for $38,000 a person.  He also traveled to Mumbai to christen a demo unit at Trump Tower, a project being built by a firm run by a state legislator in the Prime Minister's political party.

Just another week in the Kleptocracy.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Trump Goes All Captain Queeg

"For god's sake, somebody tell him the mess boys ate the strawberries." -- Charles Pierce
It is hard not to draw parallels to Nixon's unravelling in the waning days of Watergate, when Tricky Dick was drinking heavily, scribbling incessantly on legal pads and making bizarre late-night phone calls while his Chief of Staff, General Al Haig, tried to tamp down the chaos and run the government. Imagine if Nixon had Twitter. 

Now picture the malevolent orange #shitgibbon alone, washing down cheeseburgers with diet cokes, gorging himself on cable news and raging about how the indictment of 13 Russians confirmed the truth of what he has long disparaged as a hoax -- Russian interference in the 2016 election.  He knows that the indictments have not by any stretch absolved him of "collusion" and he knows that Mueller is just getting started.  Meanwhile, Melania is surely not providing badly needed ballast after yet another bombshell report about another affair -- this time with a former playmate of the year, rather than a porn star.

Isolated and feeling cornered he does what rats do -- lashes out at all his perceived enemies.  As this headline from Talking Points Memo puts it:  "Trump Attacks Congressional Dems, FBI, McMaster, Clinton, Obama, Schiff, Others."   Rather than focus on how he can use the power of the presidency to protect the country from further Russian interference or provide solace and reassurance to a nation grieving from another mass shooting, he takes to spewing out a series of increasingly unhinged, defensive tweets that display a level of ignorance and dishonesty and a lack of sensitivity and empathy that is remarkable even for this despicable sociopath. What is really frightening is that the indictments don't directly implicate him -- imagine what he will do and say if and when he is implicated.

The most offensive tweet was this one:

As EJ Dionne says: "it is hard to capture the horror of using the deaths of young Americans as part of his campaign of denial and self-protection."

Digby, who copies the entire gruesome collection at least as of 9:30 this morning here, wonders whether his tweetstorm is not a reflection of his narcissism but his guilt:
What if he goes to these lengths because he's actually guilty? I certainly am not saying that he has a strategy. He's clearly incapable of that. What I'm saying is that his crazy reaction to the Russia investigation isn't necessarily attributable to his insane ego. It might just be attributable to the fact that he knows he did something very bad and he knows he's going to be caught. It is not normal for a 71 year old man to behave this way, certainly not normal for a president. But there is no reason to assume that his abnormal behavior is simply a function of his narcissism. It might just as easily be a function of his guilt.
The bottom line is that we have another stark reminder that this #shithole is utterly unfit for office.  And we must not forget that his shameless enablers in the Republican Party continue to support him, vote at his direction and refuse to investigate him.  It would only take two GOP senators for fuck sake to bring him down but it isn't going to happen.  This is not going to change until November.  Let's get busy.

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Friday, February 16, 2018

Who Said It: Mitt Or Groucho?

Mitt Romney has announced that he is running for the U.S. Senate in the State of Utah (it must be nice having residences in multiple states).  It is a sign of how degraded our politics have become that he is now considered by some to be an honest broker and paragon of American values -- and compared to the current occupant of the White House, I suppose he is.  But only by comparison.  We should not forget the mendacity of this loser of both the popular vote and the electoral college in the 2012 presidential election.  (See, e.g., Mitt Romney and the Odor of Mendacity)  In the piece below, originally posted on May 18, 2012, I attempted to make this point with more humor and less rancor.

Mitt Romney is sounding more and more like Groucho Marx all the time -- except he's not trying to be funny.  Take the quiz below, and identify the quote as coming from Mitt or Groucho.  (And here's wishing Mitt would sound more like Harpo.)

(a) "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them, well, I have others."
(b) "I’m not familiar precisely with what I said, but I’ll stand by what I said, whatever it was.”
(c) "People ask me, 'what would you do to get the economy going?’ and I say, 'well look at what the president's done and do the opposite.’"
(d) " I don't know what they have to say, it makes no difference anyway, whatever it is, I'm against it."
(e)  "The president should have built a credible threat of military action and made it very clear that the United States of America is willing, in the final analysis, if necessary, to take military action to keep Iran from having a nuclear weapon."
(f)  "It's too late [to prevent war]. I've already paid a month's rent on the battlefield."
(g) "I'm not a big-game hunter. I've made that very clear. I've always been a rodent and rabbit hunter. Small varmints, if you will."
(h) "I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I'll never know."
(i) "I believe marriage should be preserved as an institution for one man and one woman."
(j) "Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution?"
(k) "Money frees you from doing things you dislike. Since I dislike doing nearly everything, money is handy."
(l) "My wife drives a couple of Cadillacs."
(m) "My dog likes fresh air."
(n) "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."
(o) "I worked my way up from nothing to extreme poverty."
(p) "I should tell my story. I'm also unemployed."
(q) "I believe in an America where millions of Americans believe in an America that's the America millions of Americans believe in. That's the America I love."
(r) "Members of the faculty, faculty members, students of Huxley and Huxley students.  Well I guess that covers everything."
(s) "America cannot continue to lead the family of nations around the world if we suffer the collapse of the family here at home."
(t) "Behind every successful man is a woman and behind her is his wife."
(u) "If you think this country's bad off now, just wait till I get through with it."

Answers: (a) Groucho; (b) Mitt; (c) Mitt; (d) Groucho; (e) Mitt; (f) Groucho; (g) Mitt; (h) Groucho; (i) Mitt; (j) Groucho; (k) Groucho; (l) Mitt; (m) Mitt; (n) Groucho; (o) Groucho; (p) Mitt; (q) Mitt; (r) Groucho; (s) Mitt; (t) Groucho; (u) Mitt Groucho

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

Republicans Have No Solutions To Gun Violence; They Are The Problem

"[T]here are many reasons you might have for voting for candidates of one or the other party that have nothing to do with guns. But the fact is that one of our two parties has in recent years decided that it will stop any and all efforts to address gun violence, no matter how reasonable they are and no matter how much of the public favors them."  -- Paul Waldman
Nikolas Cruz legally purchased the semiautomatic AR-15 rifle that he used to kill seventeen people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.  He appears to have some connection with white nationalist groups.  But we're not going to hear anything from the president or his party about easy access to guns or the rise of those very fine people wearing white hoods.  Instead we get the usual meaningless claptrap:  thoughts and prayers, proclamations and half-mast flags.  We also hear that the problem is not that there are too many readily-available assault weapons but that there are too many mentally ill people (as if one somehow cancels out the other).  Imagine the response if the shooter had been an immigrant, or Muslim, or a person of color.  

  • The GOP has prevented the CDC from conducting gun violence research
  • The GOP has repeatedly stopped renewal of the ban on assault-style rifles
  • The GOP has refused to allow passage of a ban on devices that can turn rifles into automatic weapons
  • Bush signed a law shielding gun manufacturers from liability
  • The GOP opposes strengthening background checks
  • Trump rolled back a rule that would have made it harder for the severely mentally ill to buy guns
  • The Trump DOJ purged from the current background check system 500,000 “fugitives from justice”
  • The latest Trump budget calls for $12 million in cuts to the current background check system
  • Trump shifted focus of a government program designed to counter all violent extremism, including from white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups, to "Islamist" extremism
  • Trump also proposes cutting $625 million from federal mental health programs, and $1 trillion from Medicaid, which provides health insurance for the mentally ill.
We can offer thoughts and prayers. We can issue proclamations and lower flags to half mast.  Or we can do the only thing that has any chance of addressing gun violence in America.  Vote Republicans out of office.

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Monday, February 12, 2018

Resist Trump -- Play Ball!

As the #shithole that lurks in the White House seeks to delegitimize truth, justice and the American Way, it is critical that we #resist by protesting, mobilizing and organizing.  We must insist on truth and push relentlessly for justice, but we also can't forget to celebrate the American Way -- by which I mean reveling in those profoundly American institutions that cannot be tainted by that malevolent shit-gibbon who is befouling just about everything else.  For me those sacred institutions include jazzmovies and, of course, baseball. 

And so spring and Spring Training could not come too soon. 

Cue the Ken Burns music and read the next paragraph in a deep baritone voiceover.

Spring training, like spring itself, is a time of renewal and rebirth; a time when even the lowliest team has hope for the season ahead.  Critical trades and free agent signings over the winter have bolstered the team's weaknesses.  Players coming off injury-plagued seasons are returning in the best shape of their careers.  Hitters have corrected the flaws in their swing and pitchers have discovered devastating new pitches. 

It may be hackneyed and trite, but I buy it every year. 

As a Met fan, for most of the last decade or three, after enduring yet another dismal season filled with heartbreaking losses, underachieving performances, devastating injuries, and mind-boggling player moves or non-moves, I would nevertheless approach Spring Training with a na├»ve optimism that would endure at least until Opening Day. 

I would then delude myself through much of a hopeless baseball season that my team could pull it together and make a run for the playoffs down the stretch.  I refused to face reality until sometime in August, when forced to accept the inevitability of a losing season, I would be stuck watching a team play uninspiring baseball for the last month or so, with little to root for other than spoiling another team's playoff run and the individual achievements of favorite players.  With a team going nowhere, much of the luster and lyricism of the game was lost -- at least until the spring, when it all began again.

And here we are.  But, unfortunately, with a couple of notable exceptions, the Mets seem determined to bring back the same team that was so disappointing last year when things fell apart a whole lot earlier than August.  Only two years removed from a World Series appearance, the 2017 squad regressed to the mean -- back to their usual combination of bad luck, baffling injuries, poor management and complacent ownership.  In contrast to their rival in the Bronx, the Mets refuse to act like a major market team that spends money for players that could put them over the top.  Instead, they hope to placate the fans by doing just enough to make the team competitive so that if everyone stays healthy and they get a little lucky, they can squeak into the playoffs -- never mind that they never stay healthy and they haven't been lucky since 1986. 

But wait -- there is no room for skepticism.  It's Spring Training. The Mets' great young pitchers, most of whom were hurt last year, are all feeling good and are ready to blow away hitters.  Yoenis Cepsesdes, their one true superstar, also back from injuries, is primed for a stellar year.  Budding star, Michael Conforto, is healing well from surgery and should be back and better than ever early in the season.  They have an exciting phenom at shortstop in Amed Rosario and a recently-signed slugger Todd Frazier to play third and hit homers.  Overmatched and overweight Dominic Smith is in the best shape of his life.  Juan Lagares has a new swing and catcher Travis D'Arnaud has (again) figured out the flaw in his.  And, finally, there's a new manager, Mickey Calloway, who brings badly needed confidence, energy and baseball acumen.

If only most of this turns out to be true, the Mets could have a magical year.

As for the fate of the country?  If we protest, organize and mobilize, and if we continue to protect our precious institutions, as the late, great Joaquin Andujar described both America and baseball "in one word:  you never know."

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Friday, February 9, 2018

Rob Porter And The Deplorable Republicans

Rob Porter could not get a security clearance from the FBI because of accusations from two ex-wives that he physically abused them.  Neither his conduct nor his lack of a clearance mattered to the Trump White House.  He was given a critical position -- staff secretary -- in which, as oval office gatekeeper, he reviewed everything that reached Trump's desk.  (Assuming most of these documents were more than a couple of pages, in a regular-sized font and not filled with graphs and pictures, he read a whole lot more than the president himself.)  Chief of Staff John Kelly and others in the Administration knew about Porter's proclivity for thrashing his wives but even after it became public, they continued to praise him effusively and vouch for his stellar character ("“a man of true integrity” about whom Kelly could not say “enough good things.”)  Kelly reportedly asked him to stay on until public outrage -- and a photo of one of Porter's wives with a black eye -- left the Administration with no choice but to push him out.

There is so much wrong with this story.  It provides yet another example of the degrading of the office of the presidency.  It reminds us as if we need reminding that this White House is stocked with a remarkably awful collection of human beings.  One would like to think that those who assault women -- or for that matter, those who are racist or corrupt or xenophobic or anti-Islam or anti-LGBT -- would have no place in the White House.  With this presidency these seem to be bona fide job qualifications.

There has been no proper vetting of any of them.  Indeed, who knows what salacious dirt is out there on the rest.  As with Michael Flynn, Porter's behavior could have subjected him to blackmail, creating a national security risk.  But they don't care.  Their disregard for national security concerns is further shown by their blithe attitude towards security clearances -- Jared doesn't have one either. 

As with Roy Moore (and President #Shithole himself) there is a knee-jerk defense of white men accused of physically and sexually assaulting women.  It took a fucking photo before they would concede that Porter had to go -- and only did so because the photo was publicly released.

For Trump and his inner circle, it didn't matter that Porter was violent and abusive to women.  What mattered was that he was good at his job. Kelly relied on him as a critical ally in bringing order to the chaos.  Trump apparently was fond of him (birds of a feather, I suppose).

Which brings me to the non-troglodyte Republicans in Congress and Trump's non-deplorable supporters (i.e., those who continue to support Trump although they are purportedly not misogynists or racists themselves). If they are at all honest, they will acknowledge, if minimize, the disturbing truth that Trump has groped, assaulted and insulted women, that he has a long history of racist behavior, and that he is intolerant of non-Christian religions and non-heterosexuals.  But, just like the way the White House viewed Rob Porter, these Republicans are willing to overlook the more unsavory aspects of his character.  They will put up with Trump's misogyny, racism and bigotry -- and his other odious qualities -- because of the positive things they think he can do for them -- cut taxes, appoint right wing judges, deregulate industry.

But this requires failing to take sexual and physical assault and degradation of women seriously and ignoring not just the legacy of racism in this country but how it continues to fester.  It overlooks that this is a feature of Trumpism, not a bug.  And therefore it means acquiescing to some pretty dire consequences for public policy -- from undermining women's health, reproductive rights and pay equity to rolling back civil rights enforcement and exacerbating mass incarceration to brutally harsh and nativist immigration practices.  Republicans might be able to live with that.  The rest of us cannot.

Finally, what this sorry episode with Rob Porter has really shown us is that Trump has created an Administration in his own image.  They are an unprincipled bunch of miscreants who apparently can only be stopped if there is a photo proving their malfeasance -- or a pee tape perhaps?

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Thursday, February 8, 2018

Countdown To Zero

Guest Post by Marisa Handler

I come from a city surrounded by water.  Cape Town sits at the tip of Africa, where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet.  In precolonial times, the indigenous Khoena people called the Cape Peninsula “the place where clouds gather.”  The winters of my childhood were memorable affairs, with frequent storms bringing gale force winds and drenching rains.  But two years of severe drought have changed things, and now a different kind of storm is gathering.

Two and a half weeks ago officials announced the countdown to “Day Zero,” when the city will run out of water.  That’s the day provincial dams are estimated to sink to a mere 13.5% of capacity.  In the words of Cape Town mayor Patricia De Lille: “We have reached a point of no return.”  Initially announced as April 21st, after farm irrigation was curtailed, Day Zero was moved up to mid-May.   Unless the heavens unhinge or residents immediately begin abiding by strict rationing, Cape Town will become the first major city in the world to exhaust its water supply.  Faucets will run dry, and Capetonians will have to collect their daily water ration from supply points.  “The challenge exceeds anything a major city has had to face anywhere in the world since the Second World War or 9/11,” said Helen Zille, the Western Cape province premier.

Officials have begun announcing the 200 collection points throughout the city, at which the population of almost 4 million will be required to line up for their daily 25 liters (6.6 gallons).  That’s around 20,000 people per supply point.  Pundits are calling it a national disaster in the making, potentially crippling the “Mother City” of South Africa.  Most schools will need to close.  Jobs will be lost, property prices fall.  Tourism, which accounts for 9% of the country’s annual revenue—Cape Town alone draws 2 million visitors each year—will certainly drop.  Only hospitals and clinics will retain normal water supply.  Despite the mayor’s explanation that “prior to filling their vessels, each person will be given a dose of hand sanitizer,” the inevitable sanitation issues mean serious potential for disease spread.  While many affluent residents will likely leave the city, the millions living in the townships have no such recourse.  At best, circumstances portend a logistical nightmare; at worst, chaos of dystopian proportions.

How did the situation get so dire?

In short, if you’ll excuse the pun, it’s the perfect storm: global warming meets incompetent leadership.  The city is currently experiencing the worst drought in a century.  By some calculations, a drought this severe should normally occur only once in a millennium.  Researchers at the University of Cape Town estimate that low-rainfall years have become twice as frequent over the past century.  According to the climate models, it’s only going to get drier.

Meanwhile, both city and provincial governments have been twiddling their thumbs.

Other than a tepid #ThinkWater public relations campaign, the warnings of water management experts have largely gone unheeded.  Infighting within the Western Cape provincial government, currently run by the Democratic Alliance—the ANC’s main opposition on the national scene—has stalled effective action.  When the city asked residents to limit water use to 87 liters (23 gallons) a day, only 39% complied.  Residents are now being asked to limit themselves to 50 liters (13 gallons), but given the previous failure of voluntary appeals, this is clearly an inadequate measure.  Until two weeks ago, officials had failed to follow through on pledges to fine excessive users.  Given the long-term outlook—clear skies—the city has seven major water initiatives underway, but six of these are currently behind schedule.  And four of them are desalination plants on the Atlantic Ocean, even though experts say that large-scale use of desalination will be too expensive for Cape Town to afford.

It’s a heady mix of denial and ineptitude.  As Nic Spaull writes in South Africa’s online Daily Maverick, the crisis comes down to an outright failure of leadership.  Of the 76 tweets in 2018 by the City of Cape Town, Spaull writes, less than a quarter have addressed water issues: “More than half are inane messages like “Top of the morning to you, Cape Town. With a high of 22, you can expect clouds and sunshine with a windy afternoon.” I don’t want the City to wish me a joyous morning and a jolly good night. I want them to make sure that I have water in my taps.”  In a flourish of satirical proportions, the “Resilience Officer” of the Cape Province, who is charged with dealing with the drought, is currently on garden leave following an internal squabble over municipal bus procurements.

What is a thirsty city to do?  Other than ration drastically, Capetonians can’t do much more than look to iconic Table Mountain and pray that its legendary waterfall of cloud—the “tablecloth”—will turn into rain.  As for the rest of us, it’s a dire parable about the convergence of climate change, inept governance, and collective denial.

Marisa Handler is the author of the award-winning memoir Loyal to the Sky: Notes from an Activist.  Her work has appeared in numerous publications, and she teaches Creative Writing at Mills College and Stanford.  This piece was originally published in Tikkun

Thursday, February 1, 2018

It's All Obama's Fault

  “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”
When President Ford pardoned Richard Nixon for "all offenses against the United States," he stated that it was out of concern for the "immediate future of this great country."  He should have considered the longer term.  We may have been spared short-term trauma, but Ford's pardon guaranteed that future high government officials would feel unconstrained by the checks and balances of the other branches of government.

This, of course, led to Iran-Contra.  A quick recap:  The Reagan Administration sold weapons to Iran, ostensibly to secure the release of hostages, and then used the money from the arm sales to fund the Nicaraguan Contras.  However, there was an embargo on arms sales to Iran and legal prohibition against funding the Contras. The ensuing scandal revealed evidence of money-laundering, arms smuggling and drug trafficking, and resulted in the the indictment of 14 participants, 11 of whom were convicted.  But Republicans stacked the joint legislative committee undertaking the investigation with the conservative wing of their party (e.g., then-Representative Cheney), while the Democrats relied mostly on moderates, and thus the committee members were skewed toward those who were disinclined to probe very vigorously.  By rashly granting immunity to key witnesses such as Ollie North, the committee undermined prosecutions by an independent counsel.  The Iran-Contra Affair culminated in the pardon by first President Bush of several participants who had been implicated.  The lesson learned was that a Republican President and his circle had nothing to fear from overriding the will of Congress and undermining the Constitution -- Republicans protect Republicans while Democrats stand idly by.

The failure of any real accounting for the abuses of power stemming from the Iran-Contra Scandal lead directly to the excesses of the George W. Bush Administration, which operated under the belief that the executive branch could run foreign policy as it saw fit regardless of  laws, treaties and the Constitution.  It would be up to the next president, Barack Obama, a Democrat who came into office backed by a Democratic majority in Congress, to ensure a true reckoning.

As we painfully know, this didn't happen.  Obama, owing to his bipartisan fetish, refused to seek any meaningful investigation of his predecessor's "War on Terror," despite substantial evidence --indeed, admissions -- that wiretapping laws were broken and torture was authorized at the highest levels.  Much like President Ford, Obama claimed that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.”  And so, once again a clear signal was provided to future presidents and their enablers that there would be no consequences for gross abuse of power.

This has all laid the groundwork for the grossest, most unethical and corrupt presidency in modern history.  Trump is running his administration like a crime family, unconstrained by government norms, conventions or meaningful checks and balances.  The Republican-controlled Congress has ignored Trump's blatant conflicts of interest and unfettered self-enrichment.  They shrug at his appeals to white nationalism.  Worse, they are determined to protect Trump from an investigation into his administration's involvement with a foreign power's attempt to undermine our democracy.  The latest efforts involve drafting and releasing a memo summarizing classified information that is so skewed that Trump's hand-picked FBI Director felt compelled to warn against its release, stating the Bureau has "grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”

The end game appears to be to not only tar the Special Counsel's investigation as biased but to provide a justification for the removal of key personnel -- if not Special Counsel Mueller, then Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, who is Mueller's superior.  We could be watching another Saturday Night Massacre in real time -- but one where the president actually gets away with it.

This could play out in a number of ways.  One is that Rosenstein is fired and replaced by a Trump apparatchik who either quashes the investigation or sits on Mueller's findings without referring them to Congress or releasing them to the public.  Even if Rosenstein remains, Mueller could file a report concluding that Trump and others engaged in criminal activity, Rosenstein could refer it to Congress and then Congress could do nothing with it, siding with Trump that the whole enterprise is a partisan witch hunt.  At that point, not to be too dramatic about it, we truly would be in banana republic territory.

The only recourse is to ensure that Democrats take back the House and, dare I say, the Senate, in 2018.  (As my old high school classmate Paul Rosenzweig persuasively points out here, the future has to lie with Congress because an indictment of a sitting president is not going to happen.)  And, critically, if and when the Democrats are back in control of at least some portion of the government, it must not pull an Obama and insist on looking forward instead of backward.  It is only through a true reckoning of the damage the Republican Party and their leader has done to our democratic institutions that we can actually move forward and put an end to what has been a national nightmare.

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Friday, January 26, 2018

Stop Normalizing Met Ownership

This piece is about baseball, not politics, but if I may digress for a moment -- The Orange #Shithole who resides at the White House has degraded the Office of the Presidency so thoroughly with such an overwhelming barrage of corruption, abuse of power and bigotry that it is difficult not to become inured to it all.  Thus, for example, a story that his attorney created a dummy corporation through which a porn star was paid hush money right before the election barely rises to the top five scandals of the week.  None of this is normal and we must not accept any of it. 

Which brings me somewhat circuitously to the Orange and Blue #Shitholes who preside over the New York Metropolitan Baseball Club.  During these cold winter months, the hot stove rumors about signing high-priced free agents and trading for the best players never seem to involve the Mets.  Sportswriters and fans instead propose clever cost-saving moves involving bargain basement, one-dimensional players to complement flawed role players the team already has.  It is simply assumed that despite being situated in the largest media market in the country, the Mets don't have the willingness or, perhaps, the ability to spend what it takes to put together a championship team.  On the contrary, it has become a well-worn truism that they will spend on payroll what mid-market teams in Cleveland and Kansas City do.  Or less.  Milwaukee just traded for Christian Yelich and signed free agent Lorenzo Cain, two great outfielders, on the same day the Mets signed aging infielder and erstwhile wife beater Jose Reyes.  None of this is normal and we must not accept any of it.

The Mets' penury is generally attributed to the owners' entanglement with Bernie Madoff -- which purportedly resulted in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in investments, hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to cover debts they made against their Madoff investments, and additional money they have to pay to a fund for other Madoff victims.  Of course, the Wilpons will not admit to their financial woes or concede that they are in any way restricting spending.  Instead, as Jeff Wilpon said recently when he finally deigned to appear before the press, spending does not necessarily translate into success.  Setting up and knocking down a straw man (not to be confused with the Straw Man):  “I’d rather look at what we can do in terms of wins and losses. We were in the top five in payroll, and I don’t think that won us a World Series. We set out to make the playoffs. We’re trying to win the World Series, not trying to be in the top five.” 

OK let's look at wins and losses.  The Mets won 70 games and lost 92 games last year.  Their payroll in 2017 was 12th (just above Seattle) and in 2016 was 19th (just below Minnesota). No one is saying the Mets have to spend like the Yankees, Dodgers or Red Sox (although, why not?), but they should not shy away from making moves that would greatly strengthen a team that needs strengthening for fear of going over what appears to be an arbitrarily-constrained budget. 

It was only two years ago that the Mets made the World Series thanks to a crop of incredibly talented young pitchers, a superstar in Yoenis Cespedes (who the Mets did sign to a lucrative deal) and other solid players who got hot at the right time.  But the team never supplemented their promising core with players who could take them all the way.  Instead they stood pat and (barely) got as far as the Wild Card game in 2016.  And then last year when most of their pitchers and just about everyone else including Cespedes got hurt, the team played miserably, finishing in fourth place, 27 games behind the first place Nationals. 

The team (thankfully) hired a new manager and most of their great young pitchers should bounce back.  Cespedes should be healthy and budding star Michael Conforto should recover from the injuries he suffered last season.  Amed Rosario, their new young shortstop, should be a dynamic and productive force.  That's a pretty solid foundation for an exciting and promising team.  But it isn't enough.  There are some huge holes to fill, including at second base and third base and in the bullpen.  Another starting pitcher would be nice.  So would a real centerfielder.  Acquiring such badly needed talent, however, isn't going to come in trades because the Mets don't have prospects in their woefully thin farm system.  In fact, they have so little depth they reportedly wouldn't trade substitute outfielder Brandon Nimmo (who they feel they need to keep in case a starter gets hurt) for a solid starting second baseman.  That leaves spending money on free agents. 

True to form, the only significant free agent move this off season was the return of outfielder Jay Bruce -- hardly a game-changer, as it were.  (They also signed, for the Major League minimum salary, former All Star, with emphasis on the "former," Adrian Gonzalez.)  It thus appears that the Mets'  strategy is to look for bargains and bring back as much of the team that lost 92 games last year as possible and hope for the best. 

Ownership thinks it can placate the fan base by putting together a relatively competitive team that, if healthy and lucky, can squeak into the playoffs.  The Mets are rarely healthy and they haven't been lucky since 1986.  It is far past time to spend money (wisely) to build a team capable of winning a championship.  The refusal to do so is not normal.  #Resist.

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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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