Friday, November 17, 2017

Oh, the Places You Will Go

And so it begins.

We’ve been visiting colleges with Tabitha for a while now, particularly as her senior year approached and then started.  She and I spent a weekend in October on a tightly-scheduled three-city tour of campuses, in fact, and last month I devoted an entire afternoon to the mysteries of the FAFSA and then wrote about it here.  You hafta FAFSA, as they say, though you don’t hafta enjoy it.

She’s been sending in applications over the last few weeks, with more to go out in the very near future.  There’s quite a list of places she’d like to apply to, and our basic position has been that she should apply to all of them and see what happens.  She has good test scores and grades, and a list of extracurricular activities that would impress anyone.  I figure she has a good chance of getting in most places, and why not apply?

I do think it’s harder to get into most colleges today than it was when I was applying.  I’m looking at the kinds of things they ask for and the things people tell me that these colleges are expecting and you know, I don’t think I could have gotten into my alma mater if I had to meet those standards.  It was a simpler time.

As to the money, well, again, apply.  The sticker price can be shocking, but you never know what financial aid they might give you.  As my dad always said, “Go ahead and apply.  If they want you, they’ll buy you.”

So wheels are spinning, is what I’m saying.

Today she got her first official acceptance.

We knew it was an acceptance for a couple of reasons.  First, it came in a big, richly colored, folder-sized mailer rather than a simple business-like envelope.  And second, yesterday we got an email from this particular college giving us a head’s up on the financial aid package that would be coming our way soon.

Way to tip your hand, guys.

But you know, this is marvelous news!  And it’s an important thing.  Tabitha has worked hard to get to this point and while this is just the next step rather than the end it is important to take time to recognize the achievement in front of you.

Congratulations, Tabitha.  I’m proud of you.

I also know that next year is going to be really, really strange.  And when Lauren goes through this same process in a couple of years, it is just going to be even more strange.  But you know, that’s why you raise kids – so they can grow up and become independent, mature adults who can go out and make their way in the world on their own.

Still going to be a wreck, though.

So I’ll celebrate today, and let the future worry about itself when it gets here.

It’s a good day.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Continued Stray Thoughts on the Current Political Climate

With the cascade of stupid, immoral, illegal, subversive, un-American, and possibly treasonous things emitted by der Sturmtrumper, his pet Congress, his supporters, and his administration reaching levels that make it nearly impossible for any sane person to keep up with, I’ve started just keeping a running list of observations on the matter.  Every time the list reaches critical mass, I suppose I’ll post it and start a new one.  Can’t hurt; might help.  Here’s the most recent list:

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1.  Election night was perhaps the first real sign that der Sturmtrumper’s toxic regression of American politics might be turned around by patriotic Americans concerned about the depths of depravity to which this country has fallen in the last twelve months.  His favorite candidates were rejected across the board.  The shockingly gerrymandered assembly in Virginia came very close to losing its GOP majority, something nobody ever thought possible.  It was a sweep.  But this can only be a beginning.  The GOP is nothing if not adept at clinging to illegitimate power and will likely pull out all of its tricks – voter suppression, scare tactics, further gerrymandering, misinformation and outright fabrication, and so on – to keep its hold on government, and there can be no letting up.  But for one night, it is right to celebrate the victory.

2. In other election news, Maine residents voted 59% to 41% to approve expanding their Medicaid program under the ACA, a clear rebuke to their Teabagger dictator of a governor who – among other things – has refused to expand the program.  But do you think the GOP governor cares about democracy or about what the American citizens he works for actually want?  If you do, you haven’t been paying attention.  No, Gov. LePage – who has vetoed five separate bills by the Maine legislature to expand Medicaid – absolutely refuses to implement the legally binding results of that referendum.  Because what business is it of yours, citizen, to have any say in your own government?  That’s what your GOP rulers are for.

3. One of the most satisfying victories in the recent election night was the election of Virginia state delegate Danica Roem, an openly transgender woman who defeated the self-described “chief homophobe” of the Virginia Commonwealth, Bob Marshall.  Marshall was the bigot behind Virginia’s bathroom bill, a copy of the one that disgraced North Carolina not so long ago, and he kept up a constant stream of slander and abuse aimed at Roem for the entire election.  And how did Roem respond?  When asked her opinion of Marshall after her victory, she answered, “I don’t attack my constituents.  Bob is my constituent now.”  That, folks, is class. 

4. Speaking of elections, Pennsylvania election officials finally wrapped up their probe into all that illegal voting that the GOP alleges is so significant in our politics these days.  Remember when der Sturmtrumper claimed that the fact he lost the popular vote by nearly 3,000,000 votes last year was due to all those illegal aliens casting ballots?  Of course you do!  He says that pretty much every hour on the hour.  It turns out this is not true.  Who knew!  Besides anyone with any contact with reality in all its technicolor glory, I mean.  Pennsylvania simply confirmed that.  After examining over 93,000,000 votes between 2000 and 2017 they found a grand total of 544 ballots cast by noncitizen immigrants, most of whom were simply mistaken about whether they could vote and who were otherwise properly registered with state authorities.  For those who can’t do math and wish to call honest mistakes “fraud,” that’s a fraud rate of 0.0006%.  That’s fewer than the people who just turn in blank ballots.  And yet Kris Kobach has a job.  MURCA!

5. Der Sturmtrumper’s “election integrity” commission – the voter suppression committee led by right-wing extremist Kris Kobach, mentioned above – has already been sued fifteen times for violating pretty much every government transparency and privacy protection law on the books (translation: for acting like the unelected dictatorship that they were appointed to be).  And now the committee is being sued by one of its own members.  Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, a Democrat appointed to the commission by der Sturmtrumper in May, has filed suit in federal court for the committee’s violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act of 1972, a law that requires presidential advisory committees to operate in a transparent and bipartisan manner.  Apparently refusing to give documents to Democrats on the committee, obstructing their participation, withholding agendas and results from them, declaring that the committee is “on hold” but holding meetings in secret anyway, and generally working to shut out anyone not likely to rubber-stamp Kobach’s radical anti-democracy views is a violation of federal law.  Who knew?  Meanwhile, one of the other members of Kobach’s hit squad on voting, Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation, has publicly called on der Sturmtrumper to exclude both Democrats and “mainstream Republican officials and/or academics” from having any say in the commission’s work because what if they bring actual facts or reality into the discussion and disrupt the voter suppression that is the commission’s designed purpose?

6. So it turns out ol’ Roy Moore – the Dominionist theocrat twice thrown off the Alabama Supreme Court for willfully violating federal law, and now the GOP candidate for Senator from that misbegotten state – stands accused by several women of sexually molesting them, one when she was as young as 14.  This, of course, puts him squarely in the mainstream of the Party of President Pussy Grabber, and it is grimly amusing to watch the GOP reaction to the revelation that their star boy is a pedophile and a predator, too many of whom are standing by their pervert for now and even publicly justifying his conduct.  And his base of supporters seems to think the accusations are some kind of endorsement, which in the modern GOP perhaps they are.

7. Just in case you think I’m exaggerating that last point, I offer you Alabama State Auditor Jim Ziegler, whose defense of Moore essentially amounts to “It’s okay – it’s in the Bible.”  Or, in his own words, “Take Joseph and Mary.  Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter.  They became parents of Jesus.  There’s nothing immoral or illegal here.  Maybe just a little bit unusual.”  Uh, first of all sexually assaulting a 14-year-old is ALL SORTS OF ILLEGAL AND IMMORAL, THANK YOU VERY FUCKING MUCH, and it was illegal, immoral, and punishable by the courts even in Alabama at that time.  Second, perhaps this idiot should read the Bible more closely, particularly the part about “virgin birth,” and see how that compares.  And third, you know what else in in the Bible?  Slavery.  Rape.  Murder.  Any number of things that really should not be taken as a model of civilized behavior but which are apparently okay in the Alabama GOP, and apparently the larger GOP as well.

8. A few other quotes of relevance here from the Party of Perverts and Predators:

“It was 40 years ago.  I really don’t see the relevance of it.  He was 32.  She was supposedly 14.  She’s not saying that anything happened other than they kissed.”  (Alabama Marion County GOP Chair David Hall, who apparently did not read what Moore actually did to that child)

“The other women that they’re using to corroborate: number one, one was 19, one was 17, one was 16.  There’s nothing wrong with a 30-year-old single male asking a 19-year-old, a 17-year-old, or a 16-year-old out on a date.”  (also David Hall, who doesn’t seem to understand the difference between asking someone out and sexually assaulting a child)

“I would vote for Judge Moore because I wouldn’t want to vote for Doug [Jones, the Democratic candidate].”  (Alabama Bibb County Republican Chair Jerry Pow, explaining that he’d vote for Moore even if Moore did sexually assault a child)

“Yeah!” (Alabama Covington County Republican Chair William Blocker, on whether he’d vote for Moore even if there were hard proof of sexual assault by Moore on a 14-year-old girl)

“Other than being with an underage person – he really didn’t force himself.”  (Alabama Geneva County Republican Chairman Riley Seibenhener – or, in other words, “Yes, but aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”)

As Daniel Dale, the correspondent for the Toronto Star who interviewed all these Shining Exemplars of Morality, put it, “Journalism In The Trump Era: begin the day quoting guys about tariffs, end the day quoting guys who prefer child molesters to Democrats.”  And make no mistake – they do.  The modern GOP would vote for Satan himself balls deep in a kindergartner before doing anything that might jeopardize their shriveled grip on power, and they’d slander anyone who criticized them for doing so.  They’re already doing so. 

9. Not universally, it has to be pointed out.  There are indeed GOP officials and elected politicians who have not failed the “child molester” test (why this needs to be specified is a damning indictment in itself, but let’s take our victories where we find them) and who have been clear that Moore’s actions cannot stand.  Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland, said, “Roy Moore’s defenders should ask themselves if they would be so quick to excuse him if the victim was their daughter or if the offender was a Democrat.  He is unfit for office and should step aside.  Americans are better than this.”  Retiring Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) simply said, “This cannot be who we are,” and Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) suggested that the Senate could simply expel Moore if he actually does win despite being a child molester.  Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) withdrew his endorsement, and even Mitch McConnell – the least honorable man in Washington DC – said that Moore should step aside, though he, like many Republicans, couched it in rather evasive “if this is true” sort of language.  To his credit also, McConnell has not ruled out simply not seating Moore if he should win, which the Senate does have the power to do, or seating him and then immediately expelling him (which would not be the first time a Senator has been brought forward for expulsion on charges similar – though less serious – than this).  Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), however, refused to be evasive and clearly demanded that Moore drop out – “This man is despicable and should step down” – and Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) has said Moore should “step aside.”  One national GOP strategist simply noted that he was “worried, but this is an opportunity to show a majority of Americans that the Republican Party does not stand for pedophilia and all these bigoted comments that he stands for.”  As for that opportunity, well, the jury is still out on that one, isn’t it?

10. As Jen Psaki, former White House Communications Director under Obama, said, “Moore is a test for the moral compass of the Republican Party.  Is it going to push him out of the race and applaud the bravery of four women in Alabama, following the lead of Mitt Romney and John McCain, or is it going to hide behind carefully worded statements out of fear of Steve Bannon and the Trump movement?”  I can tell you which one my money is on, but sure, let’s give it a chance to play out.  Who knows, perhaps I’ll be surprised.  I would be very, very glad to be wrong on this one.

9. Even beyond the whole pedophilia and sexual assault aspect of his character, Moore is just the gift that keeps on giving for those who wish to prove that the GOP is the party of bigots, fools, and people who have never bothered to read the Constitution or the law, or spell anything more complicated than “KKK.”  “The transgenders don’t have rights,” he said in a press conference on November 8.  “They’ve never been denominated as having rights by the US Supreme Court.”  He’s not just a pervert and a pedophile, folks!  He’s so much more!  You can’t make this stuff up, folks.  This ought to be proof positive of dementia and in any civilized country Moore would have spent the night in a padded room being fed soft foods.  Instead he remains the nominee of the once-proud Republican Party for an actual seat in the US Senate.  Hold onto your hats, boys and girls – the Fuckwit is strong with this one.

10. Dean Winslow, one of der Sturmtrumper’s nominees for a high Pentagon position, may well have talked himself out of a job by pointing out the obvious in the wake of the Texas Church Massacre.  When asked by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) whether the criminal behind that massacre should have received a dishonorable discharge from the Air Force for assaulting his wife and child, which might have kept him from legally purchasing the assault rifle he used to gun those church members down, Winslow noted that “I’d also like to, and I may get in trouble with other members of this committee, just say how insane it is that in the United States of America a civilian can go out and buy a semiautomatic assault rifle like an AR-15.”  Given that der Sturmtrumper and the rest of the GOP see no reason why anyone in the US can’t have any gun they want at any time they want it, it’s kind of refreshing to hear someone in Winslow’s position making that case.

11. The American Foreign Service Association – the professional organization for America’s diplomatic corps – just published some bizarre and frightening statistics.  After a year of der Sturmtrumper’s willful demolition of American diplomatic power and prestige, the number of career ministers (the equivalent of 3-star generals in the diplomatic service) is down 42% and the number of career ambassadors (4-star generals) is down by 60%.  And the number of entry-level hires who might one day work their way up to those levels is down from 366 in 2016 to 100 in 2017 thanks to a hiring freeze imposed by Exxon’s Own Secretary of State after he was confirmed.  The number of people who took the Foreign Service Exam, which you need to pass to become a foreign service officer, declined by more than half in that time as well.  The few people left are demoralized and looking for ways out before the whole thing comes crashing down, and both Republican and Democratic veterans of the State Department agree that Rex Tillerson will be remembered as “one of the worst secretaries of State we’ve ever had” (Eliot Cohen, who worked under George W. Bush) or possibly “the worst secretary of state in history” (Ilan Goldenberg, who worked under Barack Obama).  This is of a piece with the general New Gilded Age thinking of the modern GOP, but still – you’d think they’d at least be careful to preserve American power and prestige.  You’d be wrong, but you might still think that.

12. The Russian noose gets tighter and tighter and yet, at the same time, keeps expanding to include more and more of der Sturmtrumper’s close associates, minions, and flunkies.  This is a fascinating quality and one that should be studied.  Surely it has broader applicability in industry.  For politics, though, it means at this point that even more of his aides are getting sucked into the corruption vortex, the latest being Stephen Miller, the guy who was perhaps most instrumental in getting der Sturmtrumper to fire James Comey in order to try to hide all this collusion with an enemy power.  Miller is an “innermost circle” kind of guy, and if he’s involved directly you know that der Sturmtrumper was involved directly.  He’s also Our Confederate Attorney General’s boy, which just expands the noose that much further.  Eventually there will be nobody left in the White House who hasn't demonstrably sold out to the Russians.

13. The basic problem with the GOP tax plan is that it is a frontal assault on American citizens in the name of corporate wealth.  As John Cassidy put it in the New Yorker, there are two principles that they claim to find indispensable in guiding this bill – middle-class tax cuts and corporate tax cuts – but “these principles have run into the laws of arithmetic, and the fact that there isn’t enough money in the Republicans’ own budget, even using the fuzzy fiscal math the Party favors, to provide big giveaways for all businesses and all households.  Something had to give, and between businesses and households, House Republicans went with the businesses.  From what we’ve seen of the Senate bill, so far, it does the same.”  The wealthy 1% – who already control nearly a quarter of all the wealth in this country, while the bottom 90% share a slice of the pie about the same size as the 1% have – and big corporations will get a windfall while everyone else gets comprehensively fucked.  Families with children and incomes between $40k and $75k – the middle class, in other words – will see their taxes go up to pay for this.  It’s just math, people.  It’s not complicated.  I know the GOP doesn’t believe in science or observable reality, but come on – numbers too?

14.  In case you’re wondering whether the Republican War on Women ever went away, there is always State Representative Scott Allen of Wisconsin to remind you that Republicans consider women to be nothing more than incubators and livestock.  The Wisconsin State Assembly – a body so horrifically gerrymandered that the US Supreme Court is actively looking into it, and so corrupt that their response to photographs of them engaging in illegal activity was to put paper up on the windows so they couldn’t be photographed again – recently shoved through a bill restricting abortion coverage for state employees because of course they would.  Abortion (which, I remind you, is legal under federal law, state law, and the US Constitution, and supported by large majorities of the American population) would not be covered by state employee health plans except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the mother’s life.  And Representative Allen thought that was far too permissive.  “Labor force shortages are tied to population declines,” said this latter-day Solon who has apparently never heard of the free market, educational opportunities to train workers, or the idea of increasing wages to attract talent, and to whom the experience of countries like Bangladesh where dense populations of prospective laborers continue to live in poverty and economic stagnation.  “Labor force shortages are a limiting factor in economic growth. And limited economic growth poses a problem when government tries to pay for public services and infrastructure.  In spite of this, Mr. Speaker, ironically, the Democrats continue their effort to support the abortion industry.”  So, in sum, women should be forced to have children for the labor market, apparently.  Breed, you damned livestock, breed!

15. Der Sturmtrumper’s Asian tour is going about as well as you’d think it would.  Kim Jong-un, the psychopath running North Korea, called him an old lunatic, and der Sturmtrumper’s response was to ask, “Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me ‘old,’ when I would NEVER call him ‘short and fat’?”  Did I miss the part where der Sturmtrumper denied being a lunatic, or was that simply conceded?  And seriously?  Third graders think that exchange was childish.

16. Other highlights from der Sturmtrumper’s tour: he believes he’s significantly improved relations between Japan and South Korea in the 60 hours he spent combined in those two countries; he trusts Vladimir Putin more than he trusts the US intelligence agencies working to defend this country against foreign threats such as, oh, Vladimir Putin; he thinks the main reason we have bad relations with Russia is the investigation into his collusion with them (as opposed to, say, the Crimean invasion, their appalling record on human rights, and the entire Cold War); he’s still fighting the 2016 election a year after it ended; he thinks nobody else in history has ever gone on a 12-day foreign trip; and so on.  Seriously – someone needs to give this guy a placebo Twitter account and adjust his meds until reality can break through his bubble.

17. It didn’t take long for two former high-ranking officials from the American intelligence community to respond to der Sturmtrumper’s preference for the reassurances of an enemy power over the assessment of our own intelligence services.  Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former CIA Director John Brennan flatly accused der Sturmtrumper of toadying to Vladimir Putin and constituting a threat to American security.  “I think it demonstrates to Mr. Putin that Donald Trump can be played by foreign leaders who are going to appeal to his ego and try to play upon his insecurities, which is very, very worrisome from a national security standpoint,” said Brennan.  Clapper added, “Yes, I do think that both the Chinese and the Russians can play him.”  Guess what, you Trump voters – you put a patsy in the White House and the rest of us get to watch American power and influence dribble away with each passing rageTweet session. 

18. Good question. 


Granted, not all of the GOP is fine with it (as noted above and below - I will give credit where due, thank you).  But a curiously broad overlap with the benighted faction of that party that pushed the disgraceful bathroom bills is fine with it, nonetheless.  Maybe they were afraid that others would treat young girls as they treated young girls and didn’t want the competition?  Or, maybe it was just the standard bigotry and nonsensical fear-mongering.  You make the call.

19. The whole idea of adult men – often in their 40s or even older – sexually pursuing teenaged or even pre-teen girls is common in the evangelical right wing circles where Roy Moore is popular.  As Kathryn Brightbill puts it, “We need to talk about the segment of American culture that probably doesn’t think the allegations against Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore are particularly damning, the segment that will blanch at only two accusations in the Washington Post expose: He pursued a 14-year-old girl without first getting her parents’ permission, and he initiated sexual contact outside of marriage.  That segment is evangelicalism.  In that world, which Moore travels in and I grew up in, 14-year-old girls courting adult men isn’t uncommon.”  Evangelicals frame it that way, too – girls courting men.  Imagine!  These men groom underage girls for sexual relations – the word you’re looking for here is “predator” – and see nothing wrong with it.  And then they have the absolute gall to lecture the rest of us for our sins!  To which we reply that the said predators and the horses they rode in on are cordially invited to find some other way to entertain themselves.  Child molesters are the lowest of the low and deserve every malediction and punishment a people can pour out.

20. “The allegations against Roy Moore are merely a symptom of a larger problem,” Brightbill continues.  “It’s not a Southern problem or an Alabama problem.  It’s a Christian fundamentalist problem.  Billy Graham’s grandson, Boz Tchividjian, who leads the organization GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment) believes that the sexual abuse problem in Protestant communities is on par with that in the Catholic Church.  The evangelical world is overdue for a reckoning.  Women raised in evangelicalism and fundamentalism have for years discussed the normalization of child sexual abuse.  We’ve told our stories on social media and on our blogs and various online platforms, but until the Roy Moore story broke, mainstream American society barely paid attention.  Everyone assumed this was an isolated, fringe issue.  It isn’t.”

21. Yet if you had money to bet, you’d still put it on the good people of Alabama voting for a child molester to represent them.  And you know?  Maybe he does.

22. Scratch that.  Definitely he does.  A new poll says that 37% of evangelicals in Alabama say that they are now more likely to vote for Roy Moore now that he has been outed as a child molester than they were before.  That’s higher than the number of evangelicals who said it would make no difference to them if their elected representative was a child molester (34%) and the number of evangelicals who found child molesters less to their taste than non-child-molesters (29%).  Isn’t that just so, so very Christian of them?  Overall, nearly three in ten Alabama voters (29%, including both evangelicals and non-evangelicals) said they were more likely to vote for the child molester now that they knew he was a child molester.  This isn’t a man who should be in Congress.  This is a man who should be rotting in jail.

23. Roy Moore has now threatened to sue the Washington Post and, presumably, half the news media outlets in the country, for reporting that he is a pedophile and a predator.  No, no he won’t, and if you think otherwise you’re not paying attention.  This is pure theater for his supporters.  He has no case, first of all.  The depth of the news reports – multiple sources, cross-referenced, etc. – and the consistency of the stories are damning, and even the moral lepers rushing to Moore’s defense are mostly arguing that child molesting is somehow okay rather than arguing that he didn’t do it.  Second, even if does have a case – even if every single one of the accusers is complicit in some bizarre conspiracy to say untrue things about him – the newspapers reporting this are still not going to lose a lawsuit because they’ve done their homework and Moore won’t be able to show any actual malice or disregard for the truth.  Third, Moore is a candidate for public office and his actions and past are therefore legitimate subjects of inquiry, so there is no expectation of privacy here.  And fourth – and this cannot be stressed enough – he has no case at all.  There’s no upside to making those accusations, as those women are discovering now.  They won’t be rich or comfortable.  They’re already being persecuted, in fact.  They are being hounded, bullied, and threatened with incarceration (seriously – some numbnut Alabama GOP official wants to bring them up on charges for not accusing Moore sooner, as if his own vindictive malice wasn’t a clear sign of why they hadn’t).  When people go out of their way to make their lives miserable in order to get a story out, that’s usually a good sign that they’re telling the truth.  So Moore can make his grandstanding announcements for the benefit of the ignorant and willfully uninformed voters that are his base, but no lawsuit will ever appear. 

24. Now that Mitch McConnell has publicly and flatly declared “I believe the women” (and again, credit to him for doing so), the barriers for Republicans climbing on the anti-Roy-Moore bandwagon are falling.  Senator Todd Young (R-IN) said “Roy Moore should immediately drop out of the race.  The appearance of grossly reprehensible behavior disqualifies him from service in the United States Senate.  If he does not step aside, we need to act to protect the integrity of the Senate.”  Young further said that the accusations against Moore are “far more persuasive” than Moore’s denials.  Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) added, “The allegations leveled at Roy Moore are disturbing.  I have serious concerns about his prior conduct and fitness for office.  He should immediately withdraw from the race.”  Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) said, “I believe the individuals speaking out against Roy Moore spoke with courage and truth, proving he is unfit to serve in the United States Senate and he should not run for office.  If he refuses to withdraw and wins, the Senate should vote to expel him, because he does not meet the ethical and moral requirements of the United States Senate.”  Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) notes, “In light of the most recent allegations, and the cumulative effect of others, I believe Roy Moore would be doing himself, the state, the GOP, and the country a service by stepping aside.  If he continues this will not end well for Mr. Moore.”  Even with the fact that Graham lists the GOP before the country, it’s a pretty damning statement.  Hell, even Paul Ryan – a man so spineless it’s a wonder he can stand erect – has flatly declared that “He should step aside” because the allegations are “credible.”  Will wonders never cease.

25.  You know, if this sort of reaction catches on with the wider GOP and becomes permanent and, dare I say, leads to a rather less brutal attitude toward women in general, I may just have to revise my opinion of them a bit.

26. Of course they said much the same things about der Sturmtrumper too, once upon a time.  They do seem to have gotten over it, however.  So we’ll see what happens when the time comes, won’t we.

27. The floodgates are opening and more and more women are stepping forward to describe their abuse at the hands of Roy Moore.  We’re up to five now, and I doubt this will be the end of it.  For crying out loud, this guy was apparently banned from a mall in the 1980s for harassing teenaged girls.  How bad do you have to be to get banned from a mall in the 1980s?

28. In other news, the corruption of der Sturmtrumper’s regime just keeps getting deeper and deeper.  Apparently Michael Flynn is being investigated for violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) for his ties to Turkey.  Flynn registered as a foreign agent in March, long after he should have done so, and most times this would be the end of it – the federal government tends to want transparency more than prosecution, so as long as violators come clean and do not file misleading or inaccurate registrations (such as the ones Paul Manafort and Rick Gates filed, which are part of the charges against them), that’s generally where the matter rests.  But another part of FARA makes it a felony to hold any public office while registered as a foreign agent, and Flynn’s position in der Sturmtrumper’s regime would therefore make him a felon.  That carries some serious penalties, and gives Robert Mueller some equally serious leverage over Flynn.  When Flynn cracks, the whole thing may well come tumbling down.  And not a moment too soon.

29.  If you wanted to know just how petty and just how authoritarian der Sturmtrumper can be, you have only to look at his current demands for the AT&T/Time Warner acquisition, most of which involved punitive actions against CNN.  It’s not a coincidence that CNN has been one of the most barbed critics of der Sturmtrumper’s junta.  “There’s no question what is happening here,” said Josh Marshall of TPM.  “It’s the President using his vast powers to try to damage a news organization that won’t come to heel.”  And as an American citizen, that should scare you.

30. Every time I open my web browser I am hit with more evidence of just what a morally bankrupt troll Roy Moore is.  The Guardian is now reporting that Moore has repeatedly argued against the “rape-shield” rule meant to protect the victims of rape, particularly child rape.  In one case where a defendant admitted that he had raped a 12-year-old girl, for example, Moore argued that the defense should nevertheless have been allowed to discuss the girl’s sexual past, as if that would somehow mitigate raping a child.  In another case, he argued that a man convicted of forcing two 15-year-old girls to commit sexual acts with him should have been able to argue that the victims were bisexual and in a relationship together – something a lower court had already ruled as “at best, speculative” and a line of irrelevancy that would have “confused the jury by diverting its attentions to issues that were not germane to this trial.”  But hey – what’s a little child rape after all, when there are right-wing fundamentalist principles at stake?

31. There are times when it is hard to maintain a devotion to the Constitutional prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, and the fate of assholes like Moore and those who continue to support him in the face of his crimes is definitely one of those times.

32. Moore’s lawyer, "Trenton R. Garmon, JD MA," according to the identifiers under his signature, sent what might be the most incoherent, error-riddled, borderline incomprehensible letter ever written by a certified lawyer in American history, demanding, well, we’re not sure.  Might be some kind of tantrum directed at news organizations reporting on Moore’s child molesting ways.  Might be asking for recipes.  Hard to tell really.  As Joe Patrice of Above the Law said, “I know 14-year-olds who write better.  Sadly, Roy Moore might too.”

33. White House economic advisor Gary Cohn apparently lives in some kind of alternative reality where giving piles of money to people who already have more money than they know what to do with will in some way affect their behavior in a positive way.  When he asked a group of CEOs to raise their hands if they’ll boost investment with the windfall tax cuts they’re scheduled to receive from der Sturmtrumper’s boneheaded tax plan, a grand total of, well, not many, actually raised their hands.  “Why aren’t the other hands up?” Cohn asked.  Because that’s a really stupid thing to expect, that’s why.

34. The latest distraction technique being pushed by der Sturmtrumper and his minions and lackeys is the idea that Hillary Clinton, during her time as Secretary of State, somehow sold 20% of America’s uranium supply to the Russians in exchange for over a hundred million dollars being funneled back to the Clinton Foundation.  The fact that this is ludicrously false hasn’t stopped the tale from being spread like wildfire across the far right, because really what are they going to do – accept reality?  It’s such a ridiculous bit of nonsense that even Fox News has debunked it.  Shepard Smith points out a number of things:  “First, the Clinton State Department had no power to veto or approve that transaction. … Further, neither Secretary Clinton nor the committee [Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS – the group that did make the decision] as a whole could stop any deal of this kind.”  And most of the money that ended up in the hands of the Clinton Foundation was given by a guy who sold his stake in the uranium company three years before the deal and a year and a half before Clinton even became Secretary of State.  So, yes, another bogus distraction from the people who desperately want you not to notice their crimes.

35. This of course did not go over well with your average Fox viewer, who reacts very poorly to his (almost always his) precious ideological bubble being perforated by actual reality and facts.  Poor Shepard Smith, doomed to a career of pointing out the obvious to the oblivious.

36. This is part of a larger effort by der Sturmtrumper to attack his 2016 opponent on purely political grounds, a first in American history.  In a democracy, the winners win and the losers go home and that’s the end of that.  In a tin-horn dictatorship, the winners persecute the losers for having the temerity to challenge their all-powerful authority.  Guess which one der Sturmtrumper thinks he’s running.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.

37. And just in case you were wondering how low der Sturmtrumper can go, the next plan is to reverse the ban on elephant trophies and start encouraging the kind of big game hunting that most people thought was uncivilized half a century ago.  Bravely striding ass-backward into stupidity, that’s our Fearless Leader.

38. Here in Wisconsin, where the Right Wing Revolution has been in process for over half a decade now, we’re seeing the fruits of what happens when extremists seize power.  One of the first things that Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) did after being installed into office was launch a frenzied assault on the middle class.  Act 10, as it was called her, gutted collective bargaining rights for public workers, slashed their benefits, and generally made it clear that the Wisconsin GOP regarded its own workforce as little more than leeches.  This was especially true for teachers, who have been demonized, belittled, and treated as if they were expendable cogs.  Add to that the fact that Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) slashed over $2,000,000,000 out of education in this state from top to bottom – cut the university system to shreds, took money out of the public schools and gave it to unaccountable private con job charter schools – so the teachers couldn’t actually do their jobs no matter how hard they tried.  And you know what?  Strangely enough, this has made Wisconsin’s once-proud public education system corrode and decay.  Median teacher compensation has dropped by nearly 13% ($10,843) since Act 10 was passed, turnover rates have nearly doubled, and student performance on the standardized tests that are such the vogue these days has dropped.  Huh.  You call people names, slash their pay, take away their job security, and they leave and you’re worse off?  Who could have seen that coming?  Except anyone with a brain, of course.

39.  Yeah, well.  Education just makes the peasants uppity.  Can’t have that in the New Gilded Age, now, can we?

40. Al Franken too?  Well, hell.

Monday, November 13, 2017

News and Updates

1. It’s been grey and foggy and cold here the last few days, and it can stay that way for the rest of eternity as far as I’m concerned.  It’s good tea weather, and I’ve got a room full of books both unread and worth rereading.  If I stay in my little cocoon, perhaps reality will agree to stay out of my little cocoon.  It never works like that, though, so I will enjoy the autumn chill while I can.

2. Never blog about your workplace, no matter how much you have to say.  Nothing good can come of it.

3. Something is raiding our chickens and stealing all of our eggs, which I find unacceptable.  It might be rats – the rat poison I set out has been eaten away completely twice now, though I see no signs of the raids slowing down so far.  It might be possums – though there isn’t a gap in the pen big enough for a possum, really.  Rats can get in through anything, but possums require some space.  Might be something else.  At least whatever it is has left the chickens themselves alone, so far.

4. I spent most of yesterday morning replacing the under-cabinet radio in our kitchen.  This really should have been a half-hour job but I managed to turn it into a much longer task, mostly because I couldn’t quite get the holes I was drilling in the cabinet to line up with the pre-existing holes in the radio.  I am kind of hoping that I don’t have to replace this one anytime soon, as it is entirely possible that the bottom of the cabinet would collapse in a pile of sawdust if I did.  As it is, our dishes have more than adequate air flow.

5. One of the few television shows that I make time to watch these days is Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, which is now in its second season and still has yet to make any actual contact with Douglas Adams’ original books beyond the name of the title character, though it is a fun series nonetheless.  In this week’s episode, we find out that the name of one character’s dog is “Agrajag,” and I’m probably the only person in a two-county radius who would find that funny but I appreciated the shout-out.

6. We dragged out Kim’s old computer the other day – not the previous one but the one before that (of course we still have it, don’t be silly) – and fired it up solely to see if we could find some of the old games on it.  And yes, there they were!  So now our living room has been filled with the sounds of Saqqarah, which had a joyously campy sort of narration that followed you as you went about your business.  It makes the house seem more festive.

7.  It is amazing how quickly your life can get more complicated, even when those complications are objectively good things.  No doubt there will be more bloggage about those things as they come up, though for now they are all prospective.

8. I need to get my eyes checked.  It has now become more comfortable to read books and use computers without them than with them, and my guess is that is not how that is supposed to work.  Perhaps next year, when all the insurance resets.  Yes, even when you have insurance you have to play those games in modern America.

9. Maybe half of the calls we receive on our collective phones, cellular or other, are spam, though I’ve learned to filter most of it out.  Most of the email I get is spam, though much of it gets filtered out by various automatic processes.  The vast majority of the hits registered by Blogger for this blog are actually referral spam, so I have no idea how many people actually read anything I write anymore.  I have been dragged unwilling into the world of texting, and – surprise! – much of it is spam.  Far too much of my Facebook feed is Zuckerberg Spam, made up of the things Facebook wants me to see rather than the things I wish to see.  You know, this is why we can’t have nice things.

10. I know it’s autumn because the little “Check Engine” light in my car has come on.  I check, and the engine is right there where it should be.  This is a game we play when the temperature is between 20F and 40F.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Stories Behind the Photos

One of the nice things about Facebook, and one of the dwindling number of things that keep me on that platform as it slowly takes away everything that once made it worthwhile and replaces it with all of the things that they want you to see instead (seriously, why does anyone need “Top Stories” at all, let alone as a constantly resetting default?) is that you can still find some community there.  There are still a few things that get shared among friends for no other reason than that they’re interesting, and there isn’t enough of that in this world I think.

So I mostly forgive Facebook for its relentless attempts to convert what I want from their experience into what they want from their experience, though if it keeps up at current pace I may have to rethink that at some point.

One of the more interesting things that got shared around recently was the idea that you should post seven black and white photos that relate to you somehow, one per day, with no people in them and no explanation.

I like photographs.  Someday I hope to be more serious as a photographer – I’ve been threatening to take a photography class for years now, and when I have infinite time and money I will learn how to do figure and portrait photography well.  This goal is, of course, indicative of one of the main problems I had with this little project. 

I don’t generally take pictures without people in them.

As far as I am concerned, the whole point of photography is to take pictures of people.  People are the most interesting things in the world, after all.  Finding seven photographs that I have taken that were worth sharing that didn’t have people in them was a bit of a trick.

The other problem is that you weren’t supposed to explain the photos, just post them.  And that, I believe, also misses the point of photography.  Photos exist to tell stories.  Without the story, it’s just a blank image.  I spent too long running a museum that had an archive full of photos nobody cared about because nobody remembered the stories that animated them.  I don’t need to replicate that.  That was the meme, though, and it was harmless enough, so that’s what I did.  But this is my space and it follows my rules, and I can explain things if I wish.

So here are my photos, with the stories.

This one is my home office.


The house was originally built as a Lutheran manse, and this room was designed to be the minister’s office.  It’s separated from the rest of the house by two doors, so people could drop in and go about their business without disturbing or even seeing the rest of the house, and it has built-in bookshelves.  It’s one of the main reasons I knew this was the house we’d buy.

The rest of the room is similarly filled with books and bookcases – all four walls, leaving space only for the door and the desk.  These are the history shelves, with some of the to-read books flat below them and an assortment of knick-knacks in front of them – mugs, trivia-night trophies, and so on.  When I finally organized all these books a decade or so ago, it was amazing thing.  Sometimes I’d just sit there and stare at them all.  Books are lovely things.

This one is breakfast these days.


After my recent Middle-Aged Man Medical Procedure this summer my doctor told me I needed to eat more fiber, which I took as permission to go back to eating those gritty Scandinavian rye crackers that I love so much but which I gave up when I first tried to cut back on salt.  They don’t actually have that much salt, it turns out, but I hadn’t gone back to them.  And now I have.  I discovered these while visiting friends in Sweden, and they remind me of a time and place.  All they need is butter.  The mug goes back a decade to when Philadelphia was lobbying for its own Major League Soccer franchise and a group that called itself the Sons of Ben was raising funds for that.  I thought they had the best logo in the world – especially the skull with the Ben Franklin hair and the Liberty Bell crack – so I bought a mug and a little plaque which you may have noticed in the first picture.  I try to follow the Philadelphia Union as much as I can these days, since I do feel at least minimally responsible for their being there.  Someday I’ll go to a game.  The tea is your basic English supermarket tea, as far as I can tell, but it is robust and tasty and I can’t even tell you how pleased I was to discover that I could get it in my local supermarket here in Wisconsin.  As with the crackers, I discovered it while visiting friends – this time in England.  It has been my tea ever since, and again, it reminds me of a time and place shared with people I don’t get to see often enough and one I won’t ever get to see again.

This is Midgie.


We got Midgie from the pound back in 2012 after Tria disappeared.  She’s kind of defective in the way that cats are, though she smells a lot better now that all of her teeth were pulled.  She’s sweetly dim with the loudest purr of any cat I’ve ever owned, and she’s basically mine.  I’m her person.  The odd thing about this photo is that it makes her head look big and her body look small, which is precisely the opposite of how she looks in real life.  She’s our Spare Parts cat, with a small head, short stubby legs, short tail, and barrel of a body. We’ve had her on diets for years now trying to slim down, to no avail. 

I took this photo in New York City last December when we were visiting friends and family.


My brother lives in midtown, and we have friends in Yonkers.  The way you get from there to there is via the subway, which comes above ground at some point before it terminates at the Yonkers station.  It was a clear and cold winter day when we went into the subway station, but somehow when we got to the end of the line it was snowing fiercely.  It never did snow in midtown, from what we heard.

We got off the subway car and started walking toward the stairs and this seemed like a fairly arresting image so I took a couple of quick photographs before heading down to wait for our friends.  This one came out well, I thought.

This one comes from Utah.


Silver Reef was a boom town that existed for about 15-20 years in the late 19th century.  As the name implies, it was a silver-mining town.  And when the silver ran out, so did everyone living there.

When I was an undergraduate back in the 80s I had a work-study job with a professor who was studying the town.  Every so often he’d go out and dredge the place for artifacts to being back for study, which my coworkers would then catalogue and analyze.  My job was to read endless reels of microfilmed Old West newspapers looking for any mention of the town or any of a long list of its inhabitants or businesses, and write down any that showed up. 

A couple of summers ago the girls and I followed Kim out to Salt Lake City, where she was grading AP exams, and from there we drove down to the Grand Canyon and then back up to Salt Lake City.  Somewhere on the way we noticed that Silver Reef was not too far from where we were, so we went to visit.  They have a nice museum, and the volunteer there spent a good hour telling us about pretty much everything in it.  He even remembered my old professor, who is apparently still around and had visited not long before.  Afterward they just let us wander around the place, and I found this set up in front of the museum.

I don’t remember which turkey this was.


Lauren started raising turkeys a couple of years ago as part of her 4H projects.  We get them in March as day-old chicks and raise them in bins in the living room until it gets warm enough and they get big enough to transfer out to the barn where we keep the chickens.  They start out roughly baseball-sized and end up the size of beach balls, and after the County Fair we take them to the processor to be butchered.  Domestic turkeys don’t survive very long even if you take care of them.  They’re bred to be meat on feet.

I love the turkeys, though.  They’re just the most amiable things you’ve ever seen.  Their only defense mechanism is their scowl, but once you get past that they’re kind of fun.  They’d make lousy pets, though – they’re skittish and filthy and incredibly fragile.  But sometimes it’s nice just to hang out with them and let them tweedle at you and peck at your hands on the assumption that they must be good to eat.  It’s strangely calming.

This one is from Bath in England, which we visited in 2012.


Bath is, not surprisingly, named for the old Roman Bath that is still there.  You walk in and there’s a museum surrounding it that you work your way through – we ended up splitting up, and Lauren and I went through at our own rather rapid pace – until finally you get to the bath itself, which is a fairly large, murky, and strikingly green pool of water that you just cannot imagine anyone actually immersing themselves into.  This goes doubly so when you try the water – there’s a little fountain by the side with cups, and as Magnus said, “You try it just to say you tried it,” as it is full of minerals and tastes like the last thing you tried to make in 10th-grade chemistry.

The photo is what’s on the wall as you walk from the main entrance where they sell you the ticket into the museum proper, and I’ve always kind of loved the juxtaposition.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Continued Stray Thoughts on the Current Political Situation

With the cascade of stupid, immoral, illegal, subversive, un-American, and possibly treasonous things emitted by der Sturmtrumper, his pet Congress, his supporters, and his administration reaching levels that make it nearly impossible for any sane person to keep up with, I’ve started just keeping a running list of observations on the matter.  Every time the list reaches critical mass, I suppose I’ll post it and start a new one.  Can’t hurt; might help.  Here’s the most recent list:

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1. Sweet dancing monkeys on a stick but these things come fast and furious these days.  The malfeasance from der Sturmtrumper and his minions, supporters, cronies, lackeys, and sycophants flows out like water from a firehose, drowning the republic in nonsense, sleaze, wannabe petit-Fascism, and slack-jawed lunacy, and it’s all anyone can do to keep up with it and still have time to eat dinner.  Sometimes I wonder how this will look, years from now, when we have time to reflect on it.  And sometimes I wonder if that time will ever really come again.

2. Der Sturmtrumper having lost the popular vote and being sustained by a party that routinely wins legislative majorities without actually having majority support among voters, it is not at all surprising that he and the GOP are actively working to make sure that only the right-wing can actually vote.  Perhaps that will make their failures less embarrassing.  Key to this effort is the Voter Suppression Czar, Kris Kobach.  Kobach has a long track record of working to keep American citizens from casting the ballots they were entitled to cast – his disenfranchisement of over 35,000 voters in his home state of Kansas was so blatantly illegal that the US Court of Appeals – in an opinion written by a conservative judge appointed by George W. Bush – had to step in and overturn a clear “mass violation of a fundamental constitutional right.”  Yet this is the guy der Sturmtrumper chose to lead the voter suppression charge at the federal level.  Having been slapped down by federal judges, he is now working to get the federal laws changed so his disenfranchisement tactics will no longer be illegal.  And he’s been trying to deny doing so ever since last November.   If you think American citizens should have a say in their own government, Kobach should disgust you.

3. According to a recent poll by the Washington Post and the University of Maryland, over 70% of Americans think that our politics has reached a dangerous low point, that der Sturmtrumper’s administration is dysfunctional, and that Congress is even worse.  The number of Americans who are not proud of the way American democracy functions has doubled since der Sturmtrumper’s inauguration, from 18% to 36%, and that figure includes about a quarter of der Sturmtrumper’s own supporters.  Most Americans (51%) blame der Sturmtrumper for this deterioration – more than blame the GOP (38%) or the Democrats (32%), which at least shows some sign of awareness.  Folks, this kind of declining faith in democracy is a rehash of what the Western world saw in the 1930s.  That didn’t end very well then and it won’t end well now.

4. The former ambassador from Mexico is reporting that the US State Department is telling world leaders to stay at der Sturmtrumper’s hotels when they visit.  And the Party of Patriotism And Values sees nothing wrong with this latest violation of the emoluments clause.  Remember, folks – laws and Constitutions are for other people, not Republicans.

5. So the indictments are in, and those of you who had Paul Manafort in the office pool as the first domino to fall can collect your prizes.  Rick Gates was a bit of a surprise, and George Papadopoulos was an even bigger reveal.  Mueller is going about this methodically, and with the aggressive tactics appropriate for taking down a crime family.  Stay tuned for more fireworks.

6. The more immediately significant revelation was Papadopoulos, who a) pled guilty to the charges brought against him (as one observer put it, the question in front of us has now changed from whether der Sturmtrumper colluded with an enemy power to how much) and b) has apparently been talking about what he knows to Mueller’s team.  This is how you break crime families – you snare the little guys, get them to talk about the bigger guys, and work your way up the food chain.  My guess is that it is a rough time to be in the White House these days, what with the walls closing in and all.

7. As the New York Times put it, “You know it’s a bad day for the White House when the president’s former campaign chairman is charged with money laundering, tax fraud, making false statements and failing to register as a foreign agent – and that is only the second most damaging story of the morning.”

8. Manafort should not be underestimated as a catch, however.  He’s the guy who gutted the traditional anti-Russia stance in the GOP platform when he came on.  He’s the guy who brought in Toady Pence for the VP nomination.  And with Pence on board, Manafort had a direct line to der Sturmtrumper whenever he wanted it, no matter what his official capacity in the campaign or administration was.  So not only does this bring Manafort’s charges into fairly significant relief, but it also goes some way toward implicating Pence in all of this.  And if Pence goes you’re left with Paul Ryan, unless this drags on past next November and the House flips Democratic, in which case you could very well be left with Nancy Pelosi.  Don’t think that doesn’t give GOP bigwigs the heebie-jeebies.

9. Naturally der Sturmtrumper has been launching Twitter ragestorms about the fact that it isn’t Hillary Clinton being investigated, and even more naturally his superpatriotic minions of doom have been blindly echoing the tantrums from the White House shitter.  This is, of course, the exact distraction campaign that any even halfway intelligent observer expected, and can be safely dismissed out of hand.

10. It is entirely possible that der Sturmtrumper will try to pardon Manafort before he can be flipped – or, even more likely, Gates – and if that happens all hell will break loose as there could be no clearer evidence of guilt and criminal activity than that (accepting a pardon is legal admission of guilt) and then Gates will lose his 5th Amendment right to remain silent since legally he can no longer incriminate himself.  But all this presumes that der Sturmtrumper has the political capital even to attempt it.  For a guy who in theory is in charge of the party that controls every branch of the federal government, he is incredibly weak.  He has zero major legislative achievements in his first ten months – none whatsoever.  His biggest headline was the flaming collapse of Republicare.  [EDIT: "His biggest headline was FOUR flaming collapses of Republicare, each more spectacular than the last."  (Thanks, Jack!)]  His next big mission is a tax plan that the overwhelming majority of Americans don’t want.  His approval ratings remain stuck at Nixon-during-Watergate levels.  His base is starting to turn on him, though admittedly not nearly as much as a patriotic American would have hoped they would.  Yes, he has a hardcore support of cultists who by their own declaration would not abandon him if he were caught raping children on live television – who have said that there was literally nothing he could do to make them stop supporting him – but that will only get you so far.

11. And even if he does try to pardon Manafort and Gates, those investigations are being paralleled by state investigations that are beyond the president’s pardoning power.  So there is backup.

12. Even John Yoo – the Bush Jr. official who was the driving force behind getting the US to make torture part of official American policy – thinks that pardoning any of the people involved would be a political disaster.  When the torturer thinks you’re heading down the wrong path, perhaps you should rethink your life choices.

13. The next question, of course, is what will happen when der Sturmtrumper tries to fire Mueller.  He’s already being given cover for such a corrupt move by no less than the Wall Street Journal, which is apparently willing to fall for the Distraction Stories if it helps their corporate agenda.  And of course Fox – which refused even to cover the Manafort and Gates indictments in any meaningful way, because why broadcast stories of major presidential aides being indicted for “conspiring against the United States” when there are hamburger emojis to evaluate? – is yapping along with that, since what else would the propaganda arm of the GOP do?  If that happens there will be a political and Constitutional crisis, as the open corruption of the GOP will be there for all to see and only the faint hope of a moral and political backbone in a few GOP Representatives and Senators to avoid chaos.  Make no mistake – the American Constitutional system is teetering and der Sturmtrumper and his minions are more than happy to push it over the edge and watch it burn if it means more power for them.

14. One of the more interesting little tidbits to emerge from all of this is that a judge has denied some attorney-client privilege to Manafort.  Attorney-client privilege is one of the bedrocks of the American legal system, as it allows a defendant to be honest with their attorney so that the attorney can present a good defense in court.  But there are rare exceptions, and in this case the judge granted Mueller a “crime-fraud” exception.  And therein hangs a tale, because as Dahlia Lithwick put it in Slate, “Behind any successful crime-fraud exception application there is almost certainly one hell of a story.”  Basically this means that the judge is convinced that there is sufficient evidence that Manafort’s previous attorney or attorneys aided and abetted his criminal acts.  The rule of thumb, according to the Slate article, is that you can tell your lawyer where you buried the bodies, but you can’t get advice on how to bury bodies.  One is an honest description of your actions.  The other is your lawyer aiding and abetting your crimes.  For Manafort to lose that decision is a powerful indication of just how criminal he has been.

15. In other news, a federal judge has blocked der Sturmtrumper’s halfwitted policy barring military service by transgendered troops, because American citizens should be treated as American citizens after all.  Given that the military itself sees no reason for der Sturmtrumper’s petty little nonsense, perhaps this will die a natural and unmourned death.  Not likely, but one can hope.

16. Never one to miss a chance to exploit a tragedy for his own sordid political ambitions, der Sturmtrumper declared that the terrorist who killed 8 people in New York City recently was all Senator Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) fault because he came into this country on the Diversity Visa Lottery Program.  Except that a) that program is part of the Immigration Act of 1990, which was signed by President George Bush Sr., and b) the white terrorist who shot more than 600 people in Las Vegas a few weeks ago traveled there from his native state of Iowa and yet there were no ragetweets from der Sturmtrumper about limiting that kind of movement.  It’s good to be a white male in der Sturmtrumper’s world.

17. To remind us that this administration is composed of Stupid clear down to the bone, Energy Secretary Rick “Secessionist” Perry has publicly stated that fossil fuels can help prevent sexual assault.  “When the lights are on, when you have light that shines the righteousness, if you will, on those type of acts,” he said, “…fossil fuels … play a role in that.  I happen to think it’s going to play a positive role.”  Uh, what exactly is an intelligent person supposed to say to something so utterly devoid of sense and so completely isolated from reality?  Other than, “Hi there, Mr. Secretary,” I suppose.

18. When the painfully noncontroversial Newsweek runs a cover calling der Sturmtrumper’s administration “the most corrupt in U.S. history,” that’s saying something.  There’s an entire Gilded Age that he’s outdone, for one thing.  But the actual article inside (with the headline further noting that this is an administration of “first-class kleptocrats”) specifically addresses the Gilded Age, with presidential historian Robert Dallek pointing out that der Sturmtrumper’s administration has so far been more corrupt than both Ulysses Grant’s (generally seen as the low-point of federal ethics in American history) and Warren G. Harding’s (the only serious rival to Grant’s prior to this bunch of morally-challenged jackals).  “What makes this different is that the president can’t seem to speak the truth about a host of things,” Dallek said.  “The fish rots from the head.”  Or, as Elijah Cummings (D-MD) of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform put it, “I’ve never seen anything like this.”  From billing the taxpayer for luxuries to violating the emolument clause to having bizarrely huge security retinues, this is a group of privileged, overentitled toddlers swilling at the public trough without shame or remorse and the pattern starts at the top.  There is a broad pattern of illegality and criminal activity that is positively Nixonian here, and that didn’t end well the first time.  Of course, that assumes that the rest of the GOP will stop enabling this criminal circus and actually care about laws, morals, or Constitutional values.

19. Der Sturmtrumper’s judicial nominee Leonard Steven Grasz was unanimously rated as Unqualified by the American Bar Association – a rare and exceptional feat – but not surprisingly retains the “full-throated” support of der Sturmtrumper because when would qualifications become an issue for him, really?  The ABA found the former Nebraska chief deputy attorney general to be biased, rude, petty, incompetent, and generally uninformed as to the difference between a judge and a lobbyist.  When White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gridley attempted to blame the ABA for being partisan, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) noted that 40 of der Sturmtrumper’s 42 judicial nominees seem to have had no similar problems from the ABA.  Does this administration even have any idea what ethics are?  We’ve already determined that they don’t have any, but do you think they’re aware of the existence of such things?  The question remains open.

20.  Are you ready to be truly and comprehensively fucked, America?  Because the GOP tax plan is here to do that!  Not only does it destroy whatever fiscal sanity this country had managed to regain under the deficit-reducing policies of Barack Obama (seriously – the man cut the deficit by about 2/3 from the out of control waste of the Bush Jr. years), it also sabotages the housing industry, raises taxes on about 10% of the population, cuts about a trillion and a half dollars from Medicare and Medicaid, proposes eliminating or substantially cutting housing assistance and cancer research, and completes the fifty-year project of the ultra-rich to destroy the middle class and transfer its wealth into their own pockets.  But FREEDOM!  Yeah right.  Given the fact that this will add about $5.6 trillion to the national debt – including about $1.5 trillion in new debt – one may ask why a party that was so, so concerned with deficits and debt when Obama was trying to make sure that Americans didn’t die from untreated diseases is perfectly happy to abandon that concern when they get to loot the economy, and the answer, of course, is political gain.  They think they need a win and they’re willing to burn the country down to get one.  “If we had a whole bunch of wins on major items up to this point, would we perhaps be a little bit more deliberate in our negotiations?  I think the answer is yes,” said Representative Mark Meadows (R-NC), one of the leading Teabaggers in Congress.  “The fact that we need to put up some major legislative victories … certainly factors into how flexible, I think, a number of us are going to be.”  So there you have it – selling out the American people in order to score cheap (or, more accurately, expensive) points with their base. 

21. And if you really want to see that in action, all you need to do is look at how the “plan” very carefully repeals one specific part of the Johnson Amendment.  The Johnson Amendment has been in place since 1954.  It forbids 501c3 nonprofits from endorsing or opposing political candidates and prevents any tax-exempt organization from advocating for or against political candidates.  This is the price you pay for being tax exempt.  The GOP wants to repeal this, but only for churches.  So all those blasphemous Dominionist megachurches will be able to keep their tax-exempt status while acting as tinhorn lobbyists for the far right.  This also makes any donation to those churches for political purposes completely anonymous and fully tax-deductible.  If you want your church corrupt, this is how you do it.  If you want your politics corrupt, this is how you do it.  Hey – two for one.  Wasn’t this sort of worldly corruption of the churches the reason for the Protestant Reformation in the first place?  It is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation after all.

22. Apparently the GOP tax plan will also eliminate the deduction for student loan interest and eliminate Pell Grants, because that’s exactly how you encourage Americans to get their degrees and rise up the economic ladder, isn’t it?  Hello?  Is this thing on?  This is the party of ignorance and servitude imposing their will on the rest of us.  Education just makes the peasants uppity, and we can’t be having that in the New Gilded Age.

23. David Roberts at Vox raises an interesting and rather disturbing point: what if Mueller proves the case and it’s not enough?  What if there is no longer ANY evidentiary standard that could overcome the influence of the right-wing media?  This is not an idle point.  In an age of hyperpartisanship and polarization, more and more Americans are living in a bubble of their own information, and this is especially true for the right wing.  There is no comparison – liberals are far better informed than conservatives based on their media choices, because right-wing media is more hermetically sealed and less reality-driven.  Charlie Sykes, who was a conservative radio host for decades before he dared to criticize der Sturmtrumper and was essentially driven off the air by the backlash from the GOP base, notes that “the conservative media has become a safe space for people who want to be told that they don’t have to believe anything that’s uncomfortable or negative.”  Sykes went on to say, “the conservative media has done a really great job of convincing conservatives that they’re under siege, and that they’re victims and that there’s this effort to bring down their guy.  So the resistance is so strong to anything that poses a threat.  It’s not just a set of facts.  It’s an emotional reaction to these kinds of stories.  I’m sure you watched the way Monday morning [when Mueller announced his first set of indictments] played out.  How incredibly fast the spin went out that the Manafort indictment was not about Trump, not about the collusion, that it was a complete nothingburger that had nothing to do with Russia whatsoever.  And that lasted for about an hour, maybe an hour and a half, until the next shoe drops.  Then there was the Papadopoulos thing.  But it seemed like there was no period in which they were rocked back on their heels by the fact that we actually have indictments of some major players in Trumpworld.”  And as Roberts points out, the right has built a parallel set of institutions specifically designed not to provide reality-based information but instead to pamper and coddle right-wingers inside their bubbles (remember “Conservapedia,” anyone?  The right-wing answer to Wikipedia, because reality was just too liberal for them?).  “The right did not want better neutral arbiters,” Roberts points out.  “The institutions it built scarcely made any pretense of transcending faction; they are of and for the right. … Indeed, the far right rejects the very idea of neutral, binding arbiters; there is only Us and Them, only a zero-sum contest for resources.”  In sum, Roberts observes, “conservative media is more partisan and more insular than the left.”  And when you add all that up, what you are left with is this: even if Mueller has video evidence of explicit conclusion and a signed, dated confession from everyone in the room including der Sturmtrumper himself, the GOP base will not believe it and will punish any responsible conservative who acts to protect the American republic from this corruption.  And what then?

24. Is anyone else vaguely amused by the fact that a Twitter employee on his last day at work decided to go out with a bang and delete der Sturmtrumper’s account?  For 11 blessed minutes, the world was spared the latest spittle-flecked lies from the White House shitter, until someone noticed the imminent arrival of world peace and responsible government and reinstated the account, bringing us back to the status quo ante.  I guess that’s what you get when you conduct so much official government business on an unsecure public forum, but so it goes.

25. You do realize that anybody with a seventh-grade set of hacker skills could take control of der Sturmtrumper’s Twitter feed and start runs on the stock market, financial panics, or possibly WWIII, right?  This is why you’re not supposed to have unsecured social media accounts when you have jobs like that, or if you do you’re supposed to use them for incredibly boring things like announcing holidays and thanking visiting dignitaries for their time.

26. I live in a country where a fictional president is held to a higher standard of ethics than the real one. 

27. Representative and right-wing extremist Steve King (R-IA) recently tweeted out how much he and Donald “Fredo” Trump Jr. were enjoying their “peasant hunt.”  I suppose that’s technically a typo, but it is perhaps more honest than the real thing.

28. As more and more details of the GOP tax plan leak out (and why, for fuck sake, does a bill that will constitute a major overhaul of the federal tax system, to be voted on by the representatives in Congress assembled, have to “leak out”?  Shouldn’t this thing be public anyway?), it becomes clearer and clearer that the GOP wars on education are in full swing.  Some of the more interesting provisions would strip out those part of the tax code that allows universities to waive tuition for graduate students, repeal the Lifetime Learning Credit (used by graduate students, retraining workers, and part-time or nontraditional undergrads who take more than four years to graduate, which is extremely common for people who have to work while in school [i.e. most students these days]), tax university endowments, reduce the incentive to donate to universities, destroy the deduction for student loan interest, end tax breaks for employers who cover educational costs for their employees, and eliminate the ability of college employees to exclude from taxable income qualified undergraduate tuition reductions that they receive from their employer.  In short, this will make higher education prohibitively expensive for all but the wealthy and help bring to a halt the kind of social mobility that education can bring.  It’s of a piece with the “nobles and peasants” philosophy of governing that the GOP has adopted in the last decade or two, where those at the top increasingly gather all of the wealth and opportunities while those below exist only as beasts of burden.

29. Apparently Wilbur Ross, der Sturmtrumper’s Commerce Secretary, shares business interests with Vladimir Putin’s immediately family and hid that from Congress when he was being confirmed.  Congratulations, Republicans – you’re the party of Klaus Fuchs and the Rosenbergs, and if you had any clue at all what happened to those folks you would be afraid.  As it is I doubt many of you are even ashamed.

30. Lawrence Summers, the former US Secretary of the Treasury, has examined what detail there is in the GOP tax plan and has, not surprisingly, determined that it is little more than a gift to the wealthy financed on the backs of the middle class and the poor.  It will “retard growth, reward the wealthy, add complexity the tax code and cheat the future even as it raises burdens on the middle class and poor.”  The tax cuts will explode the deficit and defer any serious attention to the issues of infrastructure, security, and trade deficits.  The corporate tax cut will serve “only to reward monopoly profits.”  This is a clear sign that unless you have a net worth measured in millions the GOP cares nothing for you.  Why anyone not a millionaire votes Republican is an interesting question in political suicide.

31.  Actually the long-term pattern of GOP tax policy is fairly clear to anyone who looks.  1) Cut taxes on the wealthy, destroy the fiscal sanity of the country, increase the national debt and explode the deficit but continue shouting about how evil taxation is and how this will magically cause prosperity despite all evidence to the contrary until opposing voices are drowned out, 2) Get voted out of office eventually, 3) Watch the grown-ups come back into power and do the necessary things to restore solvency and stability to the country and get the middle class back on track, such as re-impose the taxes that the GOP got rid of, 4) Complain that the left is RAISING TAXES OMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMG!!!!!!!  5) Claim the economic recovery caused by abandoning GOP policies for their own, 6) Get voted back into power because Americans have the attention span of a hypoglycemic gnat, 7) Profit, 8) Repeat.  It’s sad, but inevitable.

32. Another day, another massacre here in the US.  Another coward with a gun, because what else do cowards have but firearms?  You know it was a white man pulling the trigger because nobody officially calls it terrorism and the right wing is falling over itself to say the shooter wasn’t representative of his demographic subtype – which is emphatically not the case for any nonwhite.  Look, I get it – the fight for gun control is over in this country.  It ended when a white male walked into a grade school and slaughtered a bunch of six-year-olds and the sum total of the American reaction was buying more guns, because hey, we can always make more kids.  Face it, Americans like killing people and we like it when people are killed.  And the cowards are in charge.  More firearms, anyone?

33. Yeah, this pretty much sums it up.


34. Although the next time I hear some uninformed goober trying to tell me that Hitler was a Socialist I swear I will go spare.  Seriously – Fascism is the totalitarianism of the right; Soviet-style Communism is the totalitarianism of the left; neither of them are Socialism (though Soviet Communism has some of its roots there); both hated each other.  It’s not that hard.

35. You know, if the GOP really believed that the mass slaughter of American citizens from freely available weapons of war was a mental health problem and not a gun problem, you’d think they would not have made it easier for people with mental health problems to buy weapons of war earlier this year.  It’s almost like they don’t actually believe in anything at all.

36. Keep an eye on the Paradise Papers – a treasury of documents leaked from an offshore financial firm describing the corrupt and devious ways that the rich and powerful escape regulation and taxation.  There’s a reason why der Sturmtrumper never released his tax returns, after all.

37. So where were you on the Great Uprising of November 4?  I spent it helping out at a science fair, so you can understand why I might have missed all the hubbub.  But what was your excuse?  Surely there were Great Events, surely there was Violence In The Streets, Bloodshed And Carnage On A Grand Scale, and all that?  Isn’t that what the right-wing extremists were predicting?  Isn’t that what they were fretting about?  Or was that just more baseless paranoia from an unhinged and mentally limited group of people with too much free time on their hands and not enough responsibilities to keep them productively occupied elsewhere?  Hard to tell these days.

38. Just to keep all this in perspective, der Sturmtrumper’s wildly flailing chaos machine has existed in a remarkably privileged bubble during its ten months of incompetence and ignorance.  Other than a couple of hurricanes (internal difficulties, and so far abandoning millions of American citizens to their fate seems to have had no effect on his supporters so look for him to spread that into the economic realm soon and include white people this time) and a fair amount of self-inflicted corruption and criminal wounds (hello, Robert Mueller!  What can we do for you today?), this has been a calm in larger affairs.  Now, if der Sturmtrumper and his Circus of Incompetence can create this much Failure during peacetime, imagine what will happen if an actual crisis occurs.  We’re working toward one, after all.  We’re due.  Der Sturmtrumper has systematically attacked the pillars of post-WWII American security and power during his time in office, we’ve already lost a war against Russia that we didn’t even know we were fighting, the Chinese are actively using their economic wealth to move into American-dominated foreign markets and move forward with new energy sources while the US withdraws into a 1930s-style America First hole and discourages anything but outdated fossil fuels, and the political polarization and economic inequalities that der Sturmtrumper is openly encouraging do not bode well for our ability to respond to any major crisis.  The Germans, for example, are actively planning for a post-American world and Britain is starting to do so as well, and one by one all of our allies are going to have to face the fact that for the duration of der Sturmtrumper’s regime (and quite possibly beyond, depending on how much damage he does to this country) the US is not going to be a reliable ally or even a stable democracy.  What happens when the next real crisis hits?  Think about that, if you don’t mind not sleeping tonight.

39. EPA chief Scott “Who needs all those trees, anyway?” Pruitt seems to have caught the “I’m a Republican, laws don’t apply to me” bug recently with his lobbying video for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a video that explicitly tells NCBA members to lobby Congress regarding a proposal to revise the Clean Water Rule.  The EPA and anyone associated with it is prohibited by law from using its resources to lobby Congress on ongoing legislative matters or to fund propaganda.  Pruitt is now just another criminal in der Sturmtrumper’s ongoing racket and would be removed from office and prosecuted if the GOP actually cared about the law.  And if you’re waiting for that to happen, perhaps you should be looking into purchasing a bridge while you bide your time.

40. And now the US is the only nation on earth that rejects the Paris Climate Agreement, since Nicaragua has said it would settle for it despite thinking it should be stronger and Syria (which is barely a nation at all these days) says it will join soon.  You know, you’d think the American right-wing would take the hint, but apparently they’re more concerned with denying reality and making themselves feel all butch and manly rollin' coal than they are with having a viable place to live for their children. 

41. “Modern air is a little too clean for optimum health.”  This observation brought to you by Robert Phalen, one of der Sturmtrumper's science advisors.  Seriously.  I know.  How exactly is a sentient human being supposed to respond to that level of nuclear grade stupidity?

42. A nonpartisan analysis directed by Kent Smetters (former economic advisor to George W. Bush) shows that the current GOP budget proposal would reduce federal tax revenue by $1.7 trillion over the next ten years.  Why does that precise figure matter?  Because under Senate rules, that exceeds the limit permitted to move legislation forward under “reconciliation” rules that allow the GOP to avoid Democratic filibusters.  Furthermore, that same analysis shows that the GOP budget would reduce tax revenue another $2.6 trillion in the dozen years after the first decade, and reconciliation rules don’t allow any bill to increase the deficit at all after the first decade.  So this bill is doubly banned from being passed under the no-filibuster reconciliation process.  Of course, the natural response of the GOP to this will be to change the rules, because that’s been precedent, but at least there will be that speed bump.

43. Oh, good lord – someone let der Sturmtrumper loose in Asia and he insists on talking when he’s there.  He doesn’t understand why Japan – “a county of samurai warriors” – can’t just shoot down North Korean missiles and he’s begging them to build their cars here, which they already do.  Shake my damn head.

Monday, November 6, 2017

All That Is Gold

What is it with British books and gold leaf on the cover?

I go through phases in my reading interests.  For a while a couple of years ago I read about World War I, a surprisingly forgotten conflict in the shadow of World War II.  I spent a happy few months reading the entire Discworld series in order a while back and should probably do that again – it’s a series that rewards multiple readings, I find.  Periodically I end up reading stretches of travel memoirs, which is somewhat ironic given my general stress when traveling anywhere further than my own chair.  Interests come and interests go and there’s always a few books to be had about whatever comes up, and that’s one of the things that is right with this old world, I say.

For the last year or two I have found myself interested in mid-20th-century British history and have been happily chugging through any number of books that cover the period from roughly 1925 to 1975 in that area of the world, as well as more general books about the culture and linguistic curiosities of that place up to the present.  It’s been great fun, and if I ever have to pack up my most precious items and flee from the collapse of the American republic perhaps I’d be better prepared to survive as a refugee there than anywhere else now.

Planning: it matters.

But one thing that many of these books have in common is that they insist on printing the larger-font words on the cover in shiny gold ink.  It looks really nice when you first pick up the book, but if – like me – you tend to cart books around with you and read them wherever you find yourself, that sort of ink does tend to wear off fairly quickly.

My current book is a history of modern Britain from 1945 to whenever it was published, about a decade ago, and it has been very interesting so far.  I may eventually forget who wrote it, though, as the author’s name is slowly being rubbed off in my travels.

Earlier this year I read an omnibus volume of memoirs by Ralph Glasser, who grew up in the slums of Glasgow, won a scholarship to Oxford, and became a figure of some repute in the post-war era defending traditional communities against well-meaning modernization, or at least that's what the back cover said.  The memoirs themselves stopped just before he won his reputation.  By the time I was finished with the volume I could barely read the title, which had lost most of its gilded letters somewhere between here and there.

And so on.

I’m not sure if this is something particular to British books, something particular to the British books that I happen to read, or just something I’ve noticed about these books that’s actually commonplace and I need to open my eyes a bit more.  But it is striking, and I wish someone would tell these people to stop doing that so that the books wouldn’t look so dingy and forlorn after being rubbed clear of legible words.

Books without legible words are kind of melancholy, really, unless they’re printed on thick cardboard and designed for toddlers.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Good Vibes

My car now has Zip and Pep.  Possibly even Verve.

Or at least as much as a 10-year-old Pontiac Vibe can have of those things.

We’ve been taking our cars to the same mechanics since the mid-90s.  When you find people you trust, you stick with them.  Dave owns the place, and he’s the sort of guy who will ask you “How much does that really bother you?  Because I can fix it for $300, or you can just live with it with no harm done for the next five years until it becomes part of something else that would need to be replaced anyway.”  I appreciate that kind of honesty, and I go out of my way to make sure that what needs to happen happens at his place.  This is why, for example, about a dozen years ago, I found myself cruising through town at about 15 mph so I could get from the place that said they could fix my transmission to Dave’s place.  Dave wasn’t going to try to fix it, but he did say he could replace it for about the same cost and that was enough for me.

Especially since the other guy was not nearly as trustworthy.  I suspect Dave had a few words with him, as he did not charge me for the second visit when I went to pick up the car and take it to Dave’s.  I’d already paid him enough for two visits by then anyway, and all of us knew it.

So we go to Dave’s. 

They also do oil changes there on a drop-in basis, and I find that a useful time to ask questions.  A couple of weeks ago, while the oil drained into whatever bucket they have for it down below the rack, I asked Dave, “That’s a 10-year-old car with 145,000 miles on it.  What should I have had done to it by now?”

“Have you done this?”

“No.”

“How about that?

“No.”

This?”

“Yeah, that we got covered.”

“Good.  How about that?”

“No.”

And after a few rounds of this we came up with a list of maybe half a dozen projects that would come to somewhere around $600.  When you think about that, that’s not a bad deal.  It’s a really great little car – reliable, efficient (I still get 27-30 mpg for city driving out of it), mostly still in good shape (there are a few things that failed the “how much does that bother you?” test that we just live with) – and I really don’t want to replace it anytime soon, especially with two kids headed off to college in the next four years.  I have better uses for my money.

I brought it in yesterday and the other Dave who works there (yes, there are two – fortunately they don’t look or sound alike, so it’s easy to keep them straight) took care of it.  He didn’t get to all of the original list, because it turned out that the front brakes were about to go and I said to go ahead and replace them now.  We’ll address the rest of the list after the next pay cycle, perhaps.  But my beloved Vibe is now tuned, belted, and ready to roll.

I can actually tell the difference.

It’s kind of nice that way.  It’s good to have something turn out well in a world where so many things seem to be falling apart.  There’s a lesson there, perhaps.