Thursday, October 19, 2017

Facebook Won't Let Me Post This

Senator Leahy Can Go Fuck Himself

Patrick Leahy of Vermont is the longest serving Democratic Senator.  His liberal bona fides are beyond dispute.  Throughout his tenure he has personified decency, thoughtfulness and honor.  His rectitude was on full display as the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee during the Obama Administration.  There he clung to the Senate's norms and traditions in the face of unprecedented obstruction by the Republicans who sought to thwart Obama's judicial nominations regardless of their qualifications.  It did not shake the stalwart Leahy from his deep and abiding principles that Republicans shamelessly used whatever tools they could to ensure as many judicial vacancies as possible remained open for the next Republican president to fill with right wing judges.  

And so, even when it was blatantly obvious that Republicans were abusing the time-honored blue slip tradition -- where a senator could block the nomination of a judge from his or her home state -- Leahy could not be deterred from continuing to honor the tradition.  And because he refused to dispel with this informal rule, 18 of Obama's nominations, including 6 for the Courts of Appeal, never made it to the Committee -- and many other judges from red states were not even nominated because of the perceived futility in getting past the Republican Senators.  Once Republicans regained their majority in the Senate, they not only slowed down the nomination process to a crawl, they stole a Supreme Court seat by refusing to hold hearings on Obama's nomination, Merrick Garland. 

We all know what happened next.  Trump somehow became president and the Republicans kept their majority in the Senate.  Neil Gorsuch, not Merrick Garland, became the next Supreme Court Justice after Republicans blew up another time-honored tradition, the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees.  (The Democrats were compelled to get rid of the filibuster for non-Supreme Court nominees earlier after Republicans, violating an agreement not to filibuster judges except in extraordinary circumstances, sought to prevent a Democratic majority on the D.C. Circuit). 

And now all those federal court vacancies are in the process of being filled, and it isn't pretty.  As Charles Pierce reminds us, Trump "subcontracted the job of picking judges to the Federalist Society, the Heritage Foundation, and various other wingnut intellectual chop shops" and, accordingly, we have been presented with an atrocious cast of nominees for lifetime appointments that are anti-LGBT, anti-choice, anti-civil rights, anti-regulation, anti-labor.  I've written about some of these gems before.  Here's another one:  Jeff Mateer, nominated to a Texas district court, does not believe that the Constitution provides for the separation of church and state, does believe that transgender children are part of Satan's plan, and is afraid that same-sex marriage is a slippery slope that will lead people to marry trees and pets.

Yet Democrats, for the most part, continue to go along with business as usual.  They refuse to use whatever procedural tools are available to the minority (admittedly, there aren't many) to slow down a judicial process that has become completely tainted by Republican bad faith.  The Republicans fucking stole a Supreme Court seat.  They ran out the clock on Obama's other nominees.  Oh, and the President is under investigation for colluding with a foreign power to get elected.  Democrats should be throwing sand in the gears at every conceivable opportunity to thwart every single judicial nominee -- even if they weren't a horrid bunch of right wing extremists. 

At least Democratic Senators Al Franken of Minnesota and Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon refused to return blue slips for judges nominated to the Eighth and Ninth Circuit, respectively.  Predictably this has led Sentate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republican hypocrites to call for ending the hallowed blue slip tradition that they relied on when they were in the minority.  And while Judiciary Chair Charles Grassley has so far resisted, it is just a matter of time before he gives in and does away with any obstacle to Republican stacking of the federal courts -- despite the fact that the ever-honorable Senator Leahy "trusts" Grassley to keep his word to respect the blue slip tradition. 

But Republicans may not need to do away with blue slips when they have spineless Democrats returning them. In fact, seven Democrats have so far returned blue slips, allowing Trump's nominations -- nominations that are being filled only because Republicans kept the vacancies open during the Obama Administration -- to go forward.  

In 2004, Dick Cheney infamously told Leahy to go fuck himself, when Leahy questioned the then-Vice President about Halliburton's activities in Iraq.  This breach of protocol was all the more shocking because of Leahy's stature.  It was as if Cheney was profaning the Congress itself.

Patrick Leahy and his unwavering belief in the integrity of our political process is emblematic of a Democratic Party that goes about the business of governing while the government is controlled by an ignorant, corrupt and unstable monster enabled by a cynical and uncompromising political party that is engaged in an all out war for the soul of the Country.  Those Democrats who to continue to acquiesce to conventional norms and operate as if this were a normal state of affairs can go fuck themselves.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Rebecca Solnit on Harvey Weinstein, Hillary Clinton, and Blaming Women for the Acts of Men

Guest Post by Rebecca Solnit

Harvey Weinstein is Hillary Clinton’s fault, we have learned from many sources. So is eczema and the Civil War and the fact that your child refuses to learn to tie shoelaces and sticks to Velcro shoes. The hairs and stuff that get caught in the Velcro are also Hillary Clinton’s fault, and she could have passed legislation against them if she cared instead of being uncaring. It is also the soon-to-be-divorced Mrs. Weinstein’s fault that her husband is an alleged rapist, except that it is Hillary Clinton’s fault, except that it is the fault of the victims for choosing to be small, young female victims looking for work at the outset of their cinematic careers instead of being Matt Damon, a choice open to us all.

Why are you not Matt Damon yourself? This is your fault. Perhaps you could also choose to be Jason Bourne, which would guarantee your safety every time? Take it from me: the Bourne option. After all I have read in Wikipedia that Bourne these days is “isolating himself from the world and making a living by taking part in savage, bareknuckle fighting bouts,” which is what everyone should have done if they saw Harvey Weinstein rising like a great scary potato over the horizon. It appears that Clinton was in Washington pushing to get the Children’s Health Insurance Program reauthorized while the reports broke about Weinstein’s alleged creepitude, but it’s her fault if she can’t multitask. Likewise it is the fault of young actresses for not speaking just because they were threatened by a terrifying bully, and it’s their fault that if they spoke up no one would have believed them, and of course you can now blame them for what happened, because in Shakespeare’s day there were no actresses, but these women insisted on entering the field, where there were men, and even entering the production facility, where there was this man.

Remember that every time a man commits a violent act it only takes one or two steps to figure out how it’s a woman’s fault, and that these dance steps are widely known and practiced and quite a bit of fun. There are things men do that are the fault of women who are too sexy, and other things men do that are the fault of women who are not sexy enough, but women only come in those two flavors: not enough, too much, and it is the fate of heterosexual men to endure this affliction. Wives are responsible for their husbands, especially if their husbands are supremely powerful and terrifying figures leading double lives and accountable to no one. But women are now also in the workforce, where they have so many opportunities to be responsible for other men as well.

It is Anita Hill’s fault that Clarence Thomas is a creep, and it’s also her fault that he’s on the Supreme Court, and it’s her fault she didn’t speak up about his sexual harassment, and also her fault that she did speak up about it, ruffling important waters when men were trying to fly-fish them, as women do when men try. To fly-fish that is, and the trout that are not biting are the fault of the woman who did not smile at you on the bus this morning, though it is a gospel truth that lady strangers owe you smiles. If we study up, it may be possible to figure out which parts of everything are Anita Hill’s fault. Mary Todd Lincoln: perhaps her faults linger on, and it would be fun to blame her for something, and why did Michelle Obama choose to exercise her right to bare arms? Perhaps that makes her responsible for some mass shootings, which tend to be carried out by men, but not their fault. Someone made them do it, and every time a man does something awful we can all pause for a moment of respectful silence while we figure out who to blame.

It is possible, as I study the situation, that I personally am responsible for the sack of Rome and for Attila the Hun and the Black Death (I wore a lot of black back in the day, still do), but more research is needed. It may also be that my friends Conchita and Amy are responsible for ebola and the holes in the socks of our great men that so afflict their heels when they would rather be thinking of how to serve our fatherland. If I were a man perhaps I would understand why a man just explained to me that Trump is Clinton’s fault and not be baffled about why no one ever said in my hearing that Bush II was Al Gore’s and then John Kerry’s  fault or Ronald Reagan was Jimmy Carter’s fault for that matter.

Evidently it is the fault of Hillary Clinton that there is Donald Trump, and it was wrong of her to put Harvey Weinstein’s donation to work on to her attempt to beat Trump and protect reproductive rights and stuff, instead of donating the money to a cause that benefited women, and it’s her fault that a lot of Americans wanted to vote for, as Laurie Penny put it, the Hog-Emperor of Rape Culture who hunted her onstage in the second debate like Sherman going after Atlanta, only with snorting. After all the Civil War was her fault.

I have spoken. Which I do. Which is one of my faults; I am crafting an apology for that out of dynamite and backhoes which will be ready presently.

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.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

That Boy Ain't Right

In an emperor's new clothes moment for the GOP, Republican chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, stated that the White House has become “an adult day care center,” that "every single day at the White House, it’s a situation of [senior officials] trying to contain him,” and that Trump’s behavior is setting the nation “on the path to World War III.”  What's more, Corker admitted in a Washington Post interview that most Republicans in Congress are well aware of this:  “Look, except for a few people, the vast majority of our caucus understands what we’re dealing with here.  Of course, they understand the volatility that we’re dealing with and the tremendous amount of work that it takes by people around him to keep him in the middle of the road.”

Corker's "day care center" comment couldn't be more apt given today's disturbing piece in the Washington Post that portrays Trump as a volatile baby, sulking and fuming because he isn't receiving the universal praise he thinks he deserves.  He is "lashing out, rupturing alliances and imperiling his legislative agenda" and "has torched bridges all around him, nearly imploded an informal deal with Democrats to protect young undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, and plunged himself into the culture wars on issues ranging from birth control to the national anthem."

The article goes on to say that Trump "has shown flashes of fury and left his aides ... scrambling to manage his outbursts."  Politico tells a similar story, describing "a process in which Trump's aides try to install guardrails for a president who goes on gut feeling — and many days are spent managing the president," convincing him that "something better was his idea or ignore what he said to do and hope he forgot about it the next day.”  His main source of information appears to be Fox News, and his tweets and rages, particularly in the morning, can generally be tied to whatever happened to be on Fox & Friends.

Apparently Trump has been brooding about Corker's comments and remains frustrated by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calling him a "fucking moron," leading Trump today to challenge Tillerson to an I.Q. test.  He also remains focused on the NFL player protests.  And, according to the Post, to get out of his funk, he was pushing to have another campaign-style rally in North Carolina this past weekend, and was disappointed it didn't happen because he longed to get back in front of "the rowdy crowds he loves."  Meanwhile, there are real disasters not in Trump's orange covered head that one would think would command presidential attention -- from hurricane recovery, including in Puerto Rico which remains largely without power or drinking water, to wildfires in Northern California.

Instead we get a dangerous new reality game show.  Apropos of Corker's World War III reference,  Trump quipped at a dinner with his top military commanders that this might represent "the calm before the storm," which he followed up, when asked by a reporter what storm, with "you'll find out."  Such comments would be alarming under any circumstance, but in the context of Trump's constant taunting of North Korea's leader Kim Jung-un and dismissing any efforts at diplomacy, becomes another exhibit in support of his removal under the 25th Amendment.

But, realistically, implementing the 25th Amendment seems far fetched, at least until there is even greater unraveling.  And impeachment proceedings won't happen unless and until the Democrats take back at least one chamber of Congress and/or Robert Mueller's investigations bear fruit.

In the meantime, we cannot assume that Trump won't crash through the carefully erected guardrails that the so-called adults in the White House are using to contain him.  Corker needs to do more than engage in a Twitter war with the president.  He and his fellow Republicans need to act -- and act fast -- to restrain Trump's destructive tendencies by, for example, putting more safeguards in place to prevent him from launching a nuclear strike or reneging on treaties.  Meanwhile, his keepers in the White House need to start giving him consequences, like sending him to his room without his two scoops of ice cream, limiting his time on social media, and taking away his television privileges.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

You Say Dotard, I Say Moron, Let's Call The Whole Thing Off

What do you call an ignorant, lying, malignant narcissistic bigot who happened to get elected President of the United States?  North Korean leader Kim Jong-un calls him a "mentally deranged U.S. dotard."  U.S. Secretary of State refers to him as a "fucking moron." 

One of the earliest entries is, or course, from Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, who got under his thin orange skin with "Short-fingered Vulgarian."

Then there are the late night tv hosts.  John Oliver has called him "America's back mole," "Rome burning in man form" and "Donald Drumpf."  Stephen Colbert has gone with "Toupee-Human Hybrid," "Microwave Circus Peanut," "Godzilla with less foreign policy experience," and far worse.  John Stewart's classic still resonates:  "Fuckface von Clownstick."  Trevor Noah has described him as "the face of a butternut squash who wished on a shooting star and became a real boy.”  Samantha Bee has a million of them, including, "Thrice-Married Foul-Mouthed Tit Judge," "Crotch-Fondling Slab of Rancid Meatloaf," "Melting Hunk of Uninformed Apricot Jello," and "America’s Burst Appendix."   

Conservative columnist George Will called him a "Bloviating Ignoramus,"  Sarah Palin (fondly) called him a "Golden Wrecking Ball," and Republican strategist Rick Wilson referred to him as "Cheeto Jesus."  On the Democratic side, former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley called him a "Facist Carnival Barker."

My all time favorite to date comes from Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach: "Fascist, Loofa-faced, Shit-gibbon." 

Care to pile on?

The United States Remains A Shameful Outlier On The Death Penalty

The Human Rights Counsel of the United Nations passed a death penalty resolution on Friday that had very reasonable, modest and non-controversial goals.  It didn't call for the abolition of the death penalty outright.  It simply urged countries that still use the death penalty to do so fairly. 

The Resolution calls upon countries to ensure the death penalty isn’t applied in a discriminatory or arbitrary manner and to provide those facing the death penalty with equal access to justice and qualified and effective legal representation.  It calls upon countries to not apply the death penalty to those with mental or intellectual disabilities, to minors and to pregnant women.  And it calls upon countries to not impose the death penalty as a sanction "for specific forms of conduct such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations." 

The resolution passed 27-13.  The United States was one of the countries to vote "no."  We were joined by:  Botswana, Burundi, Egypt, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, China, India, Iraq, Japan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates.  Every European country voted for the resolution.  So did every Latin American country (except for Cuba, which abstained). 

The U.S. reportedly voted against the resolution because of “broader concerns with the resolution’s approach to condemning the death penalty in all circumstances."  Bullshit.  We voted against the resolution because our government knows that the death penalty in this country is rife with discrimination and arbitrariness, and does not come close to ensuring the provision of competent counsel.  The U.S. was likely also concerned with the resolution's call for maintaining and providing data on the death penalty because it would allow for the kind of transparency that our government is very reluctant to provide.

While the rate of executions in the United States is declining in most parts of the country, we remain in the top five of countries with the most executions, joined by Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and China. 

We are an exceptional country.  We are exceptional in our refusal to confront institutional racism and we are exceptional in our tolerance for violence.  And we are exceptional in our insistence on state-sanctioned killing that perpetuates both.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Thoughts, Prayers, And Another Mass Shooting

"The main policy response to mass shootings is to lower the flag to half-staff."  -- Ryan Lizza
Thoughts and prayers and calls for unity when the shooter is white and the victims are white.  Such mass shootings are the result of pure evil, not an act of terrorism, we are told.  The solution?  There is no solution.  Just more thoughts and prayers.  This is not the time to politicize tragedy, we are told.  This is not the time to talk about meaningful solutions to gun violence because there is never a time to talk about solutions to gun violence. 

Imagine the president's response to the shootings if the shooter were Muslim and/or a person of color.  This divisive demagogue would hardly be calling for unity.  He would immediately politicize the tragedy, label it a terrorist act, blame Democrats, condemn all Muslims, and tweet about how it justified a travel ban.

Imagine the president's response to the shootings if the victims were mostly people of color.  There would likely be no response at all. 

Unity for Republicans means unifying against gun control laws.  In 2013, Congress voted 60-40 to defeat an assault weapons ban that would have prohibited "the sale, manufacture, transfer and importation of 157 of the most commonly-owned military-style assault weapons" and would have banned "large-capacity magazines and other ammunition feeding devices that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition."  While some Democrats joined the Republicans in voting this legislation down, only one Republican voted for it.  Now, once again, they offer thoughts and prayers.

Stephen Paddock, a 64-year old white man, checked into the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino with at least ten guns, reportedly including a high-caliber automatic weapon.  In Nevada, open carry is legal, you don't need a permit to buy or carry rifles and shotguns, there is no ban on assault weapons or magazine capacity limit for them, and there is no mandatory waiting period to purchase a firearm.

Stephen Paddock reportedly acted alone in perpetrating the worst mass shooting in U.S history.  That's because our government hasn't acted at all.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The First Amendment For Dotards

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

You might think that the establishment clause means that the government cannot establish a national religion or favor one -- or any -- religion over others, but that's because you are part of the immoral majority.  What this clause means is that the government cannot establish a religion other than Christianity.  And so we all must celebrate Christmas, and finally put an end to the long-running war on this sacred holiday.  Separation of church and state simply means that the government cannot tax churches.  It does not require, for example, the removal of a monument of the Ten Commandments at a state courthouse.  Just ask former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, now a Republican candidate for Senate, with the full support of the GOP, presumably because he promises to protect us all from the imposition of Shariah Law.  School prayer in public schools doesn't violate the separation of church and state either and should be encouraged as long as it is Christian prayer and as long as you don't take one knee, but take two.

Now, the free exercise clause means that the government cannot interfere with your exercise of religion if you are Christian.  Christians are free to impose their religion on everyone who is less godly -- Muslims, Jews, the LGBT community, and, of course, sexually-active women who want to be free to make their own decisions on reproductive health.  If you are a Christian businessperson who wants to discriminate against people in the LGBT community because you are offended by same sex marriage, then the government can't make you treat them equally as long as your bigoted views can be tied to your religious beliefs.  And finally, the government cannot impose a travel ban on Christians, but it can impose a travel ban on Muslims, as long as it also bans Venezuelans.

or abridging the freedom of speech

You are free to praise the President of the United States in whatever manner you choose.  Free speech, unlike the Second Amendment's right to bear arms, does, however, have limits.  You may not insult the current President or his family.  You may not call the President a racist, even if it is true.  If you do, the President can instruct your employer to fire you.  You may protest police brutality and police killings of African Americans but only in ways that won't offend the government or white people -- certainly not by taking a knee during the National Anthem at NFL football games.  That is because the Pentagon paid millions of dollars to the NFL to market patriotism, and protesting systemic racial injustice would violate that agreement.

or of the press

The press is free to report real news, not #fake news.  #Fake news is anything that is negative about the President, his administration, his political party and his family. It is up to the President to determine what is real news and what is #fake news.  Because the press keeps reporting fake news based on alternative facts it has become the enemy of the people.  The best way to ensure that the press reports real news that supports the President is to insult, intimidate and threaten them.

or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Freedom of assembly depends entirely on who is in the assembly and what they are assembling for.  Neo-nazis and white supremacists who want to celebrate our heritage of slavery and white terror may do so, especially if they are armed to the teeth.  Opposing such protests is an infringement on the free speech rights of these very fine people.  On the other hand, African Americans protesting acquittals of cops who kill African Americans is disrespectful to the police and our heritage, and therefore must be condemned.

Any questions?

Monday, September 25, 2017

A Basket Of Dotards

Eyes and brains to the dotard lethargic and dull,
Pale ravener of horrible meat.
-- from Herman Melville's "The Maldive Shark"
Kim Jong-un was on to something when he recently called Trump  a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.”  But he wasn't the first to do so.  The otherwise inimitable Charles Pierce had this to say back in May (in the context of L'Affaire Russe):  "He's not up to the job. This should be obvious by now. The most innocent explanation for the president*'s actions is that he's a blundering dotard who can't stop himself from destroying democratic institutions and from tripping over federal statutes."

The dictionary definition of dotard is “a state or period of senile decay marked by decline of mental poise and alertness.”  Seems to me this applies not only to Trump, but to the political party that enables him and the basket of deplorables that supports him -- no matter what he does. For example, they clearly lack the mental alertness to recognize that his juvenile taunting of the aforementioned North Korean leader could trigger a nuclear confrontation.  And they sure haven't exhibited mental poise at Trump's campaign rallies, like the one just held in Alabama, where they cheered the unhinged shit gibbon as he resorted to an unsavory combination of word salad, racist demagoguery and trampling on the First Amendment. 

Nationwide senile decay is as good an explanation as any for the inability to reckon with this country's legacy of racism and how it continues to taint every aspect of our society -- from mass incarceration and drug policy to police brutality and police killings to immigration bans and wall-building to confederate flag waving and neo-Nazis.  As Ta-Nehisi Coates argues in his latest must read essay, "Donald Trump Is The First White President," Trump's rise to power owes far more to white supremacy than to his appeal to the working class on economic and cultural issues.  And as Bryan Stevenson explains, our country badly needs truth and reconciliation, but before we can get to reconciliation, we have to tell the truth -- the truth about slavery and white terrorism, about lynching and segregation, and about entrenched racial inequality and discrimination in this country -- and confronting the truth is not something we, as a country, are very good at.  If it were, we would not have an ignorant, corrupt, racist as president. 

And so, Trump refers to the marchers in Charlottesville as "very fine people" while calling African American athletes who respectfully protest police killings of African Americans sons of bitches.  He continues to goad Kim Jong-un into war.  Meanwhile, he refuses to take note of the devastation in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria.  (Does he even know Puerto Rico is part of the United States?)  He supports another lame effort by the GOP to take away affordable health insurance from vulnerable Americans while preparing to propose a tax cut for the wealthy.  Meanwhile, his supporters -- an overwhelming majority of Republicans -- continue to hail his leadership.  And the leaders of the Party itself continue their race against time, hoping to get their tax cuts and to fill the federal courts with more right wing judges before he implodes or comes undone by indictments or unwittingly launches a war.

What a bunch of dotards.

Friday, September 1, 2017

A Different Harvey Descends On Houston

In 2013, Matt Harvey emerged as one of the great young pitchers in baseball -- a dynamic force who appeared on his way to becoming one of the most exciting players in Met history. Every one of his starts was celebrated by Met fans as "Harvey Day."  But after injuring his elbow, almost exactly four years ago, and undergoing Tommy John surgery, the promise of a great career seems to be fading.  Harvey returned in 2015, and helped the Mets make it to the World Series. But it has all gone downhill since his brilliant start in Game 5 ended ignominiously when he insisted on taking the mound in the ninth inning with the Mets leading 2-0.  He surrendered a walk and a double, leading to a devastating loss of the game and the series. Since then Harvey hasn't seemed right, physically or mentally.  He pitched poorly in 2016 before succumbing to season-ending surgery, and didn't look much better this year.  He was suspended for failing to show up at Citi Field, allegedly due to a hangover -- and then suffered another injury that necessitated surgery. 

Tomorrow Matt Harvey returns to the mound for the first time, hoping to begin his recovery and return to greatness.  He is pitching against the Astros, in Houston, the first game there since Hurricane Harvey devastated the region. 

The Houston Astros and the New York Mets are forever intertwined.  They began their baseball lives together in 1962.  At first the Mets were dreadful but entertaining, while the Astros were just dreadful.  Then the Mets were alternatively miraculous and dreadful, while the Astros stayed mostly dreadful, sometimes rising to mediocre.  Not that the Astros haven't had some excellent seasons.  In 1986, the Mets barely beat them in an incredibly exciting and intense playoff series. They made it to the World Series in 2005, only to be swept by the White Sox in what might be the most forgettable World Series ever.  This year, as it turns out, is their greatest season, with the best record in the American League (they switched leagues in 2013).  And while the Mets are back to being dreadful, the Astros are poised to do something special for their beleaguered city. 

Baseball is has remarkable reparative qualities.  It is truly the National Pastime and has been an essential palliative when the country has faced trouble and tragedy.  FDR famously rejected the suggestion that the 1942 baseball season should be cancelled in deference to the Second World War: "I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going."  In 1968, the Detroit Tigers' World Series victory was profoundly moving for a city teeming in social unrest (a year earlier, their great slugger Willie Horton attempted to quell the riots in his Tiger uniform).  There was Mike Piazza's dramatic home run at Shea Stadium in the first game in New York after 9/11, and David Ortiz's powerful speech after the Boston Marathon bombing. 

Tomorrow in Houston.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

An Open Letter To Senator Feinstein

Dear Senator Feinstein:

I am outraged by your recent comments at a Commonwealth Club event in San Francisco urging patience for Donald Trump.  You note that it has only been eight months since he took office, and 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.”  You believe “the question is whether he can learn and change” and, if he can, “he can be a good president.”

For one of the leading Democrats in the United States Senate, a ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, to still give Trump the benefit of the doubt is beyond comprehension.  Only eight months you say?  In those eight months, Donald Trump has shown his utter mental and moral unfitness for office that is hardly due to a lack of learning or experience.  Where to begin?  
Let’s start with 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.  And then there’s his ill-conceived, discriminatory Muslim ban.  And the firing of the FBI director and other actions taken to thwart the investigation into his administration’s alleged collusion with Russia.  And his comments in the wake of Charlottesville that gave support to white nationalists and neo-Nazis, followed by the pardon of the unpardonable Joe Arpaio.  He has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accords.  Has has called for a transgender military ban.  He is childishly taunting North Korea, bringing us too dangerously close to a nuclear confrontation.  He continues to attack U.S. institutions, from judges to intelligence agencies to the media, going as far as calling the press “the enemy of the people.”  And he has lied to the American people every day – the Wall Street Journal recently noted he has already lied more than 1000 times since being in office.
But you think this 70-year old ignorant narcissistic might magically transform himself and become a good president?   That we just need to give him more time?  That anything about this is normal?
As an esteemed leader of the opposition party, you should be leading the resistance, not the acquiescence.  You should be working to ensure that Democrats win back Congress in the mid-terms, not pandering to some mythical center.  Rather than urge patience, rather than normalize this president, you and your Democratic colleagues should be throwing sand in the gears of the Senate, using every procedural and technical move to prevent this frighteningly unfit demogogue and his enablers in the Republican Party from doing further damage to our country.  If you don’t have the stomach to fight, then perhaps it is time to move aside.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Principled Republicans Just Want A Kinder, Gentler White Christian Nation

Don't get me wrong.  I welcome the condemnation of the malevolent orange shit-gibbon from many sides.  It is admirable that conservatives are (finally) speaking out about his mental and moral unfitness and against his worst outrages -- particularly his wholesale endorsement of white nationalism in the wake of Charlottesville and his pardon of fellow shit-gibbon and unrepentant white nationalist, Joe Arpaio.

But what these so-called principled Republicans don't seem to get -- or at least fail to acknowledge -- is how the most blatantly deplorable aspects of Trump's presidency were not only obvious from the get go, but they have long been embedded in Republican Party orthodoxy.

And so, the insufferable David Brooks, like Captain Renault in Casablanca, is "shocked, shocked" that the GOP has all-of-a-sudden become the "vehicle for white identity politics" and urges Republicans to distance themselves from Trump's exploitation of bigotry and white resentment.  Brooks explains that thanks to Trump, the Republican Party is no longer the Party of Lincoln, a party that has long fought bigotry and courageously supported civil rights.  As irrefutable proof, Brooks cites the fact that he "never heard blatantly racist comments at dinner parties" with his Republican friends in those halcyon pre-Trump days.  "Blatant" being the key word.

Brook conveniently elides what has been the Republican stock in trade since the implementation of Nixon's Southern Strategy.  Must we again go down memory lane with Ronald Reagan, who launched  his presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, a place notorious for the 1964 slaying of three civil rights workers, and gave the classic dog whistle speech about states' rights?  And for Exhibit B, how about the first George Bush's notorious Willie Horton ad? 

Republicans have long been expert at tapping into anxiety of white middle and lower class Americans about losing ground culturally and economically to African Americans and immigrants in order to get their vote and to justify tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation of industry, and gutting social programs that have a disparate impact on people of color.  Support for states' rights, calls for curbing food stamps, blaming poverty on a "culture problem," referring to illegal aliens, expressing fear of the spread of Shariah law, and framing opposition to LGBT rights as "religious liberty" all get the message across without sounding overtly racist, bigoted, xenophobic or homophobic. 

Apparently the problem is that Trump is too undisciplined to use the dog whistle.  But he is really just a grotesque but natural extension of the Republican Party's ever increasing embrace of intolerance.  He is their Frankenstein.  Republicans like Brooks who are offended by Trump's vulgarity presumably would be fine with a less monstrous version -- with Mike Pence and his gentler brand of misogyny and religious intolerance. 

That brings us to Paul Rosenzweig, my old high school classmate as it turns out, who has written a smart, powerful plea to his fellow conservative legal scholars. He can’t understand how "members of the conservative legal movement" who supported Trump's election "don’t change their minds, even as the evidence of their error mounts."  Rosenzweig, like Brooks, clearly sees "the malignant deviancy that is the Trump presidency [as it] continues its steady erosion of core American principles."  And he provides a strong rebuttal to what he calls the "Gorsuch syndrome" -- the argument "that a good Supreme Court justice is worth all of the policy pain and political embarrassment that come with it." 

Rosenzweig argues that conservatives who are willing to "sell their souls" for a conservative court are "enabling the destruction of American values" for the narrow victory of a conservative judiciary.  He is absolutely right and deserves credit for standing up and saying it.  But what he misses is that the conservative judiciary that he and his colleagues have long agitated for -- and that energized the right wing base of the Party -- Trump's base -- to help put Trump in the White House -- is one that would roll back rights for women, for immigrants, for people of color and for the LGBT community.  So while Rosenzweig decries Trump's brazen misogyny, he applauds the appointment of Gorsuch and a judicial philosophy that would overturn Roe v. Wade and the affirm restrictions on women's reproductive rights.  While he bemoans Trump's embrace of racist ideology, he is apparently fine with the high court's restrictions on the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act that is permitting voter suppression efforts and diluting the votes of African Americans and Latinos.  And while he criticizes Trump's xenophobia, he supports judges that presumably would uphold Trump's Muslim ban.   

Republicans, like Brooks and Rosenzweig, who are not members the Trump cult, understand that the benefits to their Party are far outweighed by the dangers to our country.  They are essential to removing this disgraceful ignorant bigot from power.  But unless and until they come to terms with their Party's long and deep connection with the principles that allowed Trump to rise in the first place, we will be left with a major political party steeped in misogyny, racism, xenophobia and homophobia that will simply choose to put a lesser but still destructive evil in his place.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Could Be Worse

[Dr. Frankenstein and Igor are digging up a body from a graveyard]
Dr. Frankenstein: What a filthy job.
Igor: Could be worse.
Dr. Frankenstein: How?
Igor: Could be raining.
[it starts to pour]
-- Young Frankenstein
Two years ago the Mets were in the World Series and last year, despite an up and down season, they  made it to the post-season again before losing to the Giants in the Wild Card game.  Expectations were high for this year, but we should have known better.

Devastating injuries to virtually the entire pitching staff -- what was supposed to be the core of the Met resurgence -- put an early end to any hope of another playoff run.  The Met's captain, David Wright, trying to launch a comeback from a series of debilitating injuries never came back.  Yoenis Cespedes, the powerful hitter around whom the Mets' offense was built also got hurt, and has not been the same since his return.  The rest of the lineup, even when healthy, has been anemic, with the major exception of Michael Conforto, the young outfielder who has had a fabulous breakout year that included being selected to the All Star team. 

The Mets are more than 20 games back in their division, and playing pretty uninspired ball.  The owners have unloaded several veteran players whose contracts are up at the end of the year to save some cash (e.g., Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson, Lucas Duda, Neil Walker, Addison Reed) -- much needed cash given the continued impact of their financial losses in the Madoff scandal.  Pitchers, like Steven Matz, who appeared to be healthy, turn out not to be, resulting in season-ending surgery and raising fears that the fragility of the pitching staff will ruin next year too.

There isn't much joy in Mudville.  There are not many reasons to pay attention as the season winds down -- except to watch a couple of exciting youngsters (shortstop Amed Rosario and first basemen Dominic Smith) and the aforementioned Conforto.

Conforto is batting .279 with  27 HR, 20 doubles, and 68 RBI in 109 games.  Those will be his final stats for the year.  Today his season ended when he appeared to dislocate his shoulder on a swing during a game against the Diamondbacks.

Could be worse.  Could be raining.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Streamin' Jazz

Being somewhat of a late adopter, a couple of weeks ago I finally signed up for a music streaming service that, lo and behold, gives me access to just about all the music I could ever hope to listen to.  What I've quickly learned is that I am more of an albums guy than a playlist guy.  Also, I don't like to shuffle songs but prefer to listen to an album in the order the artist/producer intended.  Most interesting, at least for me, is where I chose to go first -- the dozen musicians that form the core of my jazz listening pleasure. 

When I started this blog about seven years ago, I began profiling some of my favorite jazz albums from different artists that ultimately comprised an idiosyncratic Top 50.  It wasn't meant to be a definitive or comprehensive list; my choices often depended on what I was listening to that week.  It included some unsung musicians (so to speak) while omitting more seminal ones.  I also included only one album per artist even though there were often multiple albums in an artist's oeuvre that deserved greater attention.

Below, I've take a different tack, having started from scratch with practically the entire universe of mainstream jazz recordings. These are the artists and albums I decided to save/download to build the foundation of my new virtual jazz library.  In some instances I've eschewed the more familiar, arguably superior, recordings of a given musician and gone instead with some of their less renown work -- sometimes this includes albums I've never heard before like Cannonball Adderley's Fiddler on the Roof -- how'd I miss that one?  Oh, and I've also included Frank Sinatra even though he isn't technically a jazz musician because, well, he's Frank Sinatra.

1)  John Coltrane.  The Atlantic Studio Recordings (including Bags & Trane (1959), Giant Steps (1960), Plays the Blues (1960), Ole Coltrane (1961), My Favorite Things (1961), Coltrane Jazz (1961), and Coltrane's Sound (1964)).  It is unfathomable how brilliant and prolific Coltrane was during this brief period, with many of these albums recorded at the same sessions in late 1960. 

2)  Art Pepper.  Two classics from his first great period, Meet the Rhythm Section (1957) and Plus Eleven (1959), and The Complete Galaxy Recordings from his remarkably fruitful comeback that began in the 1970's after years of drug addiction and incarceration.

3)  Horace Silver.  Horace-Scope (1960), The Tokyo Blues (1962), The Cape Verdean Blues (1965).  A disclaimer:  These aren't my favorite Horace Silver albums; there are easily another half-dozen from 1955-1965 that I could (and probably will) add.  I decided to start with those recordings that I haven't played to near-death, including one (Tokyo Blues) I had never heard before.

4)  Bill Evans.  The obvious move would be to go with the incomparable Village Vanguard recordings from 1961 with his first great trio.  Instead I went for less trod ground:  Moonbeams (1962), At Shelly's Manne-Hole (1963), Trio (1964) and The Best of Bill Evans Live on Verve.

5)  Sonny Clark.  Sonny Clark Trio (1957), Cool Struttin' (1958) and Leapin' and Lopin' (1961).  One can't go wrong with Sonny Clark.  These three albums and all of the others he made in his way-too-short life (he died at the age of 31 in 1963) are absolutely stellar.

6)  Miles Davis.  I'm particularly partial to Miles' first quintet (Coltrane on tenor, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, Philly Joe Jones on drums) that recorded three remarkable albums in 1956:  Relaxin', Steamin' and Cookin'.  For a change of pace (pun intended), though, I went with his recordings from 1961, with a band that included Wynton Kelly on piano, Hank Mobley on tenor, Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums:  Someday My Prince Will Come and In Person (Friday and Saturday Nights at the Blackhawk). 

7)  Sonny Rollins.  Sonny Rollins Plus Four (1956), with the four including the great Clifford Brown on trumpet and Max Roach on drums, Way Out West (1957), and The Sound of Sonny (1957) featuring another Sonny, Sonny Clark, on piano.

8)  Stan Getz.  I absolutely love his bossa nova albums.  Even though they are pretty well worn, they never sound tired to me:  Getz/Gilberto and Getz/Gilberto #2 (1964).  I also included a non-Latin Getz recording:  Stan Getz and The Oscar Peterson Trio (1957).

9)  Thelonious Monk.  Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall, recorded in 1957, but only recently discovered.  Also the Complete Prestige Recordings, the Complete Columbia Solo Studio Recordings and the Complete Columbia Live Recordings.  I should probably add the Complete Riverside Recordings and Complete Blue Note Recordings too. 

10)  Cannonball Adderley.  Somethin' Else (1958) with Miles Davis sitting in, is a true classic, as is Mercy, Mercy, Mercy at the It Club (1966).  So much great stuff in between.  I chose Things Are Getting Better (1958) with Milt Jackson on vibes, and the aforementioned Fiddler on the Roof (1964).

11)  Chet Baker.  Chet Baker Sings (1956) and Chet Baker Plays and Sings (1964).  The world is divided into those who love Chet's voice and those who love his trumpet playing.  Nothing wrong with his blowing, but I'm partial to the singing.

12)   Yusef Lateef.  I didn't really discover this singular artist until his passing a couple of years ago.  Eastern Sounds (1961) and Live at Pep's Volumes I and II (1964).

13) Frank Sinatra.   Don't judge me.  In the Wee Small Hours (1955), A Swingin' Affair (1957) and Come Fly With Me (1958).

Where to go next?  I will need to add the big band sounds of Duke Ellington and Count Basie, and some swing from Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young.  Bebop from Charlie Parker and Bud Powell, and hard bop from Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, as well as from the Jazztet (formed by Art Farmer and Benny Golson).  And, I know, I inexcusably omitted the vocalists -- Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday and Anita O'Day.  Other favorites include the great tenors, Hank Mobley and Dexter Gordon. Then there's Charles Mingus and Wayne Shorter and McCoy Tyner and . . . .

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Is Charlottesville Trump's Tipping Point?

"Does anyone know I own a house in Charlottesville? It is in Charlottesville. You’ll see....  It is the winery. I mean, I know a lot about Charlottesville. Charlottesville is a great place that’s been very badly hurt over the last couple of days. I own actually one of the largest wineries in the United States. It’s in Charlottesville." -- Trump's Captain Queeg moment at the end of his Aug. 15th press conference.
President Bush's invasion of Iraq and the disastrous decisions that followed (including the use of torture), comprise arguably the greatest foreign policy debacle in our history.  But it wasn't until Bush's inept and tone deaf response to Hurricane Katrina in his second term that the full measure of Bush's inadequacy as a president was roundly acknowledged.  This was the tipping point -- Bush's popularity cratered, the media stopped giving him the benefit of the doubt, and his presidency never recovered. 

We are only seven months into Trump's presidency, God help us, and there has been so much bad craziness -- so many ignorant, corrupt, dishonest, spiteful and hateful acts -- a level of scandalous behavior that would have brought any other president down by now -- that one wonders if we will ever reach a tipping point.   

It wasn't his brazen self-enrichment after failing to divest himself from his business interests while promoting those interests for profit.
It wasn't the stocking of his administration with white nationalists.
It wasn't his Muslim ban. 
It wasn't his withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. 
It wasn't his disclosure of highly confidential information to Russia which burned a critical Israeli source on Isis.
It wasn't his firing of the FBI Director and other attempts to impede the investigation of his administration's collusion with Russia. 
It wasn't his lies about voter fraud to justify a commission aimed at voter suppression. 
It wasn't his pathological inability to tell the truth about anything else.
It wasn't his relentless attacks on democratic institutions, from judges to U.S. intelligence agencies to the press.
It wasn't his reckless threats to North Korea, bringing us close to a nuclear confrontation.

But in the last few days the malevolent orange shit-gibbon appears to have outdone even himself, raising just the possibility of a tipping point.  The satirist Andy Borowitz has aptly stated before, in reference to some of Trump's more heinous actions, that "a group of scholars have concluded that the bar can no longer be lowered."  Well, Trump's refusal to unequivocally denounce as abhorrent Nazis, the KKK and white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, carrying torches (albeit tiki torches), chanting "blood and soil" and "Jews will not replace us," is a new low.  The bar cannot be lowered any further.  Trump's efforts to shift the blame for the violence that included the killing of a counter-protester and led to the deaths of two Virginia state troopers, his pathetic false moral equivalency between what he called the "alt-right" and the "alt-left," and his embrace of the talking points of racists and anti-Semites is grotesque and unforgivable. 

Trump defended the "very fine people" who were merely protesting the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue, ignoring that it was erected like so many other statues of Confederate leaders during the Jim Crow era, not to honor the Confederacy, but as a symbol of white terror and white supremacy:  "I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”  Where does it stop, indeed.

Will Trump's vomit-inducing "many sides" trope put an end to the mainstream media's reflexive "both sides do it" framing?  Will the leaders of the Republican Party finally say enough is enough, and concede that there are certain fundamental principles at stake that are more important than tax cuts, eliminating affordable health care and right wing judicial appointments.  And will the Democrats finally refuse to govern as a complacent minority party and begin using every technicality and procedural rule in their power to throw sand in the gears and bring Congressional business to a crawl until Trump is removed from office. 

If we haven't reached a tipping point now, I'm not sure we ever will.  Contact your Senators and Representatives.  If they are Republicans demand that they do more than declare that "Nazis are bad" and start taking meaningful steps to remove their leader from office.  If they are Democrats tell them to shut it down until the Republicans do so.  Enough is fucking enough.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Abandoning The Dog Whistle

You start out in 1954 by saying, "Ni***r, ni***r, ni***r." By 1968, you can't say "ni***r" — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Ni***r, ni***r."  -- Lee Atwater, 1981
Ronald Reagan, the ultimate master of dog whistle politics, launched his first presidential campaign in 1980 in Philadelphia, Mississippi, a place notorious for the 1964 slaying of three civil rights workers, and gave a speech about states' rights:  "I believe in states' rights.... I believe we have distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended to be given in the Constitution to that federal establishment."  What Reagan was really signaling by talking about states' rights in that particular venue was that he was squarely on the side of White America.  It presaged his relentless hostility to civil rights and voting rights, and his opposition to entitlements for the poor, particularly, African Americans, who he later famously disparaged with another classic dog whistle -- his unsubstantiated story about a "Cadillac-driving welfare queen."

Ever since, Republican politicians have been expert at using coded language to tap into anxiety of white middle and lower class Americans about losing ground culturally and economically to African Americans and immigrants.  Support for states' rights, calls for curbing food stamps, blaming poverty on a "culture problem," referring to illegal aliens, expressing fear of the spread of Shariah law, and framing opposition to LGBT rights as "religious liberty" all get the message across without sounding overtly racist, bigoted, xenophobic or homophobic.  The references to "Barack Hussein Obama" and relentless questions about Obama's birth certificate, of course, tap into the code as well.

But Donald Trump discarded the dog whistle during his campaign.  He referred to Mexican immigrants as drug dealers and rapists.  He argued for discriminatory treatment of Muslims.  He asserted that the judge presiding over the Trump University fraud cases, born in Indiana but of Mexican heritage, must be biased against him in light of Trump's proposal to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. 

And then he won the presidency, anyway -- or, more likely, because of it.  And after that, he brought white nationalists into the White House to be key advisors and installed them in his cabinet.  He sought to impose a travel ban on Muslims.  He sought to redirect a counter-terrorism program to focus solely on "radical Islamic extremism" and no longer target white supremacists.  The civil rights division of his Department of Justice is redirecting resources to investigate university affirmative actions policies. He has anointed Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to lead an investigation of non-existent voter fraud that is aimed at voter suppression in minority communities.  And his Department of Homeland Security is presiding over hyper-aggressive deportation policies. 

None of this was subtle.  And none of it was opposed by the leadership or rank and file of the Republican Party. 

So it is not surprising that white nationalists armed with torches and Nazi flags felt emboldened to rally in Charlottesville.  And it is not surprising that in the wake of this disgraceful display of racism and anti-Semitism, culminating in the tragic death of a counter-protester, that Trump would do no more than call out "many sides" rather than directly and forcefully denounce the one side that was demanding white superiority.

Some of Trump's fellow Republicans criticized him for his tepid response.  Others tried to explain what Trump really meant -- that, of course his comments "included" white supremacists and Nazis and that he would have more directly condemned them but didn't want to dignify them by doing so directly (like dignifying "Radical Islamist Terrorists").    

But the fact is that Republicans are merely embarrassed and discomfited by their leader's inability to effectively use the dog whistle.  So as they have done since before the election, they will continue to distance themselves from his most offensive tweets and insensitive remarks while supporting his policies -- their policies -- that seek to undermine the civil rights of the people the white supremacists and Nazis were rallying against.  It is what they've been doing for decades.