Saturday, February 24, 2018

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. Just in case you thought the GOP actually respected the law or the Constitution (and more the fool you if you did), there is always the Pennsylvania GOP to remind you that the modern Republican Party is nothing more than an authoritarian dictatorship on the rise.  Consider the recent bitch-slap administered to the state GOP by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court over the radically gerrymandered districts set up by the GOP in that state – a set up that “clearly, plainly and palpably violates the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” according to the Court.  Would the PA GOP acknowledge their criminal wrongdoing?  Would they correct their theft of recent elections and allow the citizens of Pennsylvania to choose their own rulers rather than have their GOP overlords shoved down their throats?  Don’t make me laugh like that!  Of course not!  When power is at stake, the GOP knows only one strategy – damn the laws, damn the republic, damn the Constitution, damn morality and common decency, and up yours, neighbor!

2. More specifically, the PA GOP has a) called for the impeachment of the Court justices who dared try to limit the absolute authority of the GOP in all cases whatsoever, because Fascist is apparently just another word for conservative these days (good lord, guys, stop confirming my stereotypes once in a while, would you?), and b) submitted a new map of electoral districts that somehow managed to be EXACTLY AS GERRYMANDERED as the unconstitutional one!  Astounding!  Under the old map, the Democrats routinely received about 50% of the vote and got 5 of the 18 PA House seats.  Under the new map, guess what would happen!  Go on!  Guess!  If you said “5 of the 18 PA House seats,” you win the Obvious Prize.  As the Washington Post put it, “Jowei Chen of the University of Michigan created 500 computer-drawn district maps optimized for Pennsylvania’s traditional redistricting criteria of compactness, contiguity and equal population.  Among those maps, ‘the highest number of classified Republican districts was 10, and in none of the simulated plans would 13 of the congressional districts be classified as Republican’ as they are under the existing maps.” 

3. The GOP: because democracy doesn’t produce right-wing rulers, so some other method must be found.

4. Is anyone surprised at the fact that der Sturmtrumper won’t let the Democratic response to the Nunes Memo be released?  Seriously, it’s like the guy is a cartoon villain sometimes.  Of course, given the fact that Nunes (“Trump’s Stooge,” according to at least one newspaper in his district) managed to cobble together a memo that was so entirely without merit that the Democrats might well end up using it in their own campaign ads, perhaps the response memo doesn’t really need to be released after all.  [EDIT: apparently der Sturmtrumper has decided to release a heavily censored version of the response memo – mostly, I suspect, to get the original Nunes Memo back into the news cycle for a day or two.  But hey.]

5. Of course, the mere factual emptiness of the Nunes Memo isn’t all that important to the GOP.  They know it’s all lies.  They don’t care.  But the point of the memo was not to put facts in front of an impartial world.  It was to announce a partisan intention to a hyperpartisan base.  Charles Pierce once noted that we no longer live in a world where Truth is measured by how well it describes objective reality – we live in a world where Truth is measured by strength of belief.  By releasing this thin tissue of nonsense, the GOP simply takes another step toward bolstering its own bubble and retreating from reality as we know it.  This will get progressively more dangerous as the bubble gets closer and closer to being popped.  When the facts are finally laid before the impartial world, expect violence and retribution from the affronted right wing.

6. A study conducted by several Oxford University researchers points out the obvious, except that they document it with hard evidence.  Supporters of der Sturmtrumper consume more “junk news sources” (i.e. propaganda, lies, troll-bait, and sheer fabrications) than “all other groups put together.”  Specifically, on Twitter, der Sturmtrumper’s supporters consume 55% of the fake news, while on Facebook der Sturmtrumper's “hard right” (as distinct from the merely Republican) consumes 58% of the fake news.  Folks, the right wing lives in a bubble of their own making and they are becoming harder and harder to reach by people out in the real world.  All those surprised by this, raise your hand and be prepared to tell us how long you were in that coma.

7. Did you know that failure to applaud der Sturmtrumper counts as treason?  Wow.  Won’t someone take this idiot aside and explain to him the concept of a republic, please?

8. That someone would be Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).  Duckworth is a decorated combat veteran who lost both legs when her helicopter was shot down over Iraq in 2004.  “We don’t live in a dictatorship or a monarchy,” she said.  “I swore an oath – in the military and in the senate – to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, not to mindlessly cater to the whims of Cadet Bone Spurs and clap when he demands I clap.”  Der Sturmtrumper – a “five-deferment draft dodger” in Duckworth’s words – has not responded.  Real heroes don’t take shit from puffed up fools, and Duckworth is the real deal.

9. Apparently der Sturmtrumper was denied permission to build a casino in Sydney, Australia, because of his mob connections.  The Police Board of New South Wales called Trump “unacceptable” – “the Trump mafia connections should exclude the Kern/Trump consortium” from consideration, they said.  Keep that in mind as you watch der Sturmtrumper’s unfolding relationship with the law.

10. Der Sturmtrumper has decided that he’s eager to sit down and talk to Robert Mueller under oath.  “I would love to do it, and I would like to do it as soon as possible,” he said.  “I would do it under oath, absolutely.”  That gelatinous roar you heard following that statement was the heads of der Sturmtrumper’s legal team exploding.  They don’t want him to talk to Mueller under any circumstances, and especially not under oath.  They have pretty much admitted that there is no way der Sturmtrumper won’t perjure himself.  The man can’t get through his own mailing address without lying – brazenly, openly, shamelessly, and self-convincingly – so there’s no way he could survive an actual interview with an actual opposing lawyer.  Der Sturmtrumper’s lawyers have pretty much demanded that he not speak to Mueller’s investigation at all, ever – in effect, pleading his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself.  As the New York Times observed, “His lawyers are concerned that the president, who has a history of making false statements and contradicting himself, could be charged with lying to investigators.”  That’s what his lawyers are willing to say publicly!  Note that der Sturmtrumper doesn’t actually have the right to refuse to cooperate with a criminal investigation.  That question was litigated under Nixon and Clinton and the results are very clear – presidents are not above the law and must comply with criminal investigations, though there may be certain areas of privilege that they can claim.  Grab yo’ popcorn, folks.

11. Okay, now you can say that the Democrats sold out the Dreamers.  Sweet dancing monkeys on a stick sometimes politics sucks all around. 

12. The new budget is conclusive proof that the GOP only cares about deficits when the black guy is in charge.  When it’s a white guy running up the bills, they’re all for it.  Honestly, the hypocrisy would be sickening if it weren’t wholly expected.

13. Odds of John Kelly surviving until April?  Small and getting smaller with every statement of “absolute confidence” that der Sturmtrumper issues.  As one GOP source in the White House said, “The more Kelly plays up that he’s being the adult in the room – that it’s basically combat duty and he’s serving the country – that kind of thing drives Trump nuts.”  Another GOP source reported der Sturmtrumper referring to Kelly by saying, “I’ve got another nut job here who thinks he’s running things.”  Well, somebody has to.

14. The latest GOP assault on ordinary citizens comes in the form of a concerted effort to repeal paid sick leave.  Apparently forcing people to come to work while sick is the new face of conservatism – or the old one, since it’s a strategy straight out of the Gilded Age.  This despite the fact that we have a particularly deadly strain of the flu rampaging through the US at the moment, and the fact that sickness rates overall decline when people are not penalized by their employers for staying home when they are unwell.  Let’s see here, public health and individual rights on the one side, corporate profits on the other – which will the GOP support?  Hmmm….

15. More news keeps dribbling in about President Bannon’s unceremonious departure.  Newsweek quotes him as saying that he was “sick of being a wet nurse to a 71-year-old man” when he left the White House.  Aren’t we all.

16. So now that the Black Guy is no longer president, all the cowardly little ammosexuals no longer feel any great need to rush out and buy Big Compensating Firearms.  “They call it the Trump slump,” said SUNY-Cortland professor Robert Spitzer, and it’s why Remington just declared bankruptcy and Smith & Wesson’s profits fell 90% in the last year.  “Gun sales have become politicized to a great degree,” Spitzer said, “Gun purchases recently have been made not just because someone wants a new product but to make a statement; not just because of fears that there might be tighter regulation but also to make a statement against Obama.”  The US has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world – 88 guns for every 100 people – but gun ownership overall has been declining since the 1970s.  Hunting has declined, younger Americans aren’t generally interested, and the gun lobby has not made much headway into any market that isn’t older, white, and male.  The reason US gun stats are so inflated is that fewer and fewer people own more and more guns, and they’re just a sad little group of people afraid of the world aren’t they.

17. And as if on cue, there is yet another school shooting here in the US.  Another one!  Seventeen dead children and still the ammosexuals insist their right to own guns counts for more than the lives of the innocent.  THIS IS NOT NORMAL, FOLKS.  This is what happens when a radicalized right-wing shoves its agenda down the throat of what had once been a republic.  This is what happens when the cowardly and the insane team up to convince each other that their toys outrank your children.  No other country in the world does this to its children, not even countries actively in the middle of civil wars.  Remember that, next time some shithead ammosexual tries to tell you he (almost always “he”) deserves his guns because fuck your dead children that’s why.

18. Oh, look – stocks for gun makers are up!  As if on cue!  The blood of children is good for American business.

19. You cannot be pro-gun and “pro-life.”  Snotty Facebook memes don’t change that.  The next pathetic distraction machine who tries to make that argument to me will be laughed at until Hell freezes over and then told to fuck right off there by dogsled.  Honestly, sometimes you just have to wonder at people’s stupidity.

20. If you ever wanted to know the full spectrum of just how morally bankrupt and socially undesirable the American right wing is, consider the slander and death threats now being thrown at the survivors of the Florida massacre by any number of right-wing “news” outlets (and no, goddammit, I will not link to them – it took several rounds of eye bleach to get those stains off my own retinas and you don’t need that aggravation) and commentators.  Because when real Americans stand up for their rights, you can always count on the right-wing to go full-on batshit insane against them.

Get this straight, you soulless moral lepers: those kids have more courage, more grit, and more American spirit in their little fingers than the modern right-wing has in its entire squelching membership.  Thanks for proving it so clearly.  Now fuck off sideways.

21. It is more and more coming to light that the NRA took a significant sum of money from Russian sources in order to sow discord in the last election.  Is anyone surprised by the fact that the National Rifle Association has become a front for Russian influence here in the 21st century?  Imagine – the NRA and Putin’s Russia, two groups with no tolerance for dissent and an eager willingness to employ violence against opponents, joined at the bank account.  The NRA long ago crossed the line from responsible advocacy group to domestic terrorism sponsor, and they deserve the contempt and scorn of every American patriot.

22. Meanwhile elsewhere in the petit-Fascist takeover of a once-proud republic, it looks like Robert Mueller has been busy.  A grand jury has returned indictments for 13 Russian nationals and 3 Russian entities for meddling in the 2016 presidential election and conspiring to defraud the United States, according to CNN.  The purpose of these Russians, according to the indictments, was a “strategic goal to sow discord in the US political system” through information warfare.  Looks like it worked. 

23. So, yeah, look for the next big distraction from der Sturmtrumper any time now.  Like the cornered rat he and his party are, they will do whatever is necessary to keep you from noticing the real stories.

24. Such as, oh, a big parade!  A military parade!  You know, like the ones they have in pissant tin-pot dictatorships!  There’ll be dour-looking men in unearned uniforms so full of clanking brass medals that you’d swear it was a wind-chime convention!  They’ll stand Mussolini-like on some balcony while Big Explody Things carried by soldiers move slowly past them for review!  Won’t that be great!  Of course, this is all coming from a five-time draft dodger (vide supra, “Cadet Bone Spurs”) who has no idea what American military power is actually based on.  When asked if he wanted such a parade, President Dwight Eisenhower – who, as the former commanding officer of Allied forces in the European Theater of Operations during World War II knew a thing or two about the realities of military power, responded, “Absolutely not.  We are the pre-eminent power on Earth.  For us to try and imitate what the Soviets are doing in Red Square would make us look weak.”  And so it does.  Whatever happened to der Sturmtrumper’s Big Parade, anyway?

25. You think der Sturmtrumper will obey the law and actually enforce the sanctions against his Russian puppetmasters, as overwhelmingly approved by Congress (yes, even by the Republicans in Congress, bless their hearts)?  Or will he show the same contempt for that law as he does for all the others?  Three guesses, first two don’t count.

26. “The only thing more stunning than the scale of Russian interference uncovered today is the fact that an American president is taking no action to protect our country against an ongoing threat.  This is a dereliction of duty.”  (Madeline Albright, former Secretary of State)

27. Hell, even der Sturmtrumper’s own National Security Advisor, HR McMaster, is convinced.  “As you can see with the FBI indictment,” he said, “the evidence is now really incontrovertible and available in the public domain, whereas in the past it was difficult to attribute for a couple of reasons.”  Not that der Sturmtrumper is prepared to do anything about it, or even acknowledge it. 

Folks, how many times does it need to be said?  The United States lost a war against Russia in 2016, a war we didn’t even know we were fighting, and now the Quislings are in charge.

28. David Frum – a fairly reliable conservative voice over the years – is blunt about this.  In response to der Sturmtrumper’s rage-Tweet festival over the slaughter of high school students – a festival that included nothing even remotely appropriate to the occasion – Frum castigated the current occupant of the Oval Office.  “As the rest of America mourns the victims of the Parkland, Florida, massacre, President Trump took to Twitter,” Frum noted.  “Not for him the rituals of grief.  He is too consumed by rage and resentment.  He interrupted his holidaying schedule at Mar-a-Lago only briefly, for a visit to a hospital where some of the shooting victims were being treated.  He posed afterward for a grinning thumbs-up photo op.  Pain at another’s heartbreak – that emotion is for losers, apparently.  Having failed at one presidential duty, to speak for the nation at times of national tragedy, Trump resumed shirking an even more supreme task: defending the nation against foreign attack.”  Frum notes how systematically der Sturmtrumper has refused to take any action to prevent future such attacks and slander and obstruct investigations into the ones that brought him to power.  “Trump continues to insist that he and his campaign team did not collude with Russia in the 2016 election.  We know that they were ready and eager to collude – that’s on the public record. … The public does not yet know whether the collusion actually occurred [EDIT – actually we do, it’s just a matter of to what degree and what effect].  But in front of our very eyes we can observe that they are leaving the door open to Russian intervention on their behalf in the next election.  You might call it collusion in advance – a dereliction of duty as grave as any since President Buchanan looked the other way as Southern state governments pillaged federal arsenals on the eve of the Civil War.”  Well, that analogy may be more apt than Frum thinks, at the rate things are going.

29.  Is anyone else amused by the febrile rage of right-wing Twitter warriors over the loss of thousands of their followers and echo chamber buddies?  They claim censorship!  Persecution!  Purges!  They howl in indignation!  The fact that Twitter deleted those accounts because they were confirmed as Russian bot accounts doesn’t seem to matter to them.  And that tells you all you need to know about the modern right wing in America.

30. When people blame “Washington” or “Congress” or “both sides” for the current dysfunctional government, I just laugh at them.  It’s not both sides.  It’s one side.  Specifically, it’s the Republican Party, which is standing in the way of not only what the Democrats want but also what large majorities of registered Republicans want.  68% of Republicans want legal protections for the Dreamers – that they should be allowed to stay and given a path to citizenship.  Yet the GOP president and the GOP members of Congress have repeatedly blocked any such thing.  92% of Republicans support requiring background checks for ALL gun buyers (a figure in line with every other political group in America – it’s one of the few political issues today that shows almost no variation in support across parties), and 56% support a ban on any kind of gun modification that would convert guns into automatic weapons.  Yet the GOP Congress killed universal background checks and voted against any attempt to limit automatic weapons.  If you want to solve a problem, first you must identify the problem.  As long as you stick with the “both sides” nonsense, you will be mystified.

31. Seen on Facebook: “‘We’re going to be strong on background checks’ says the guy whose White House staff can’t pass a security clearance.”

32. If more guns meant more safety, why don’t right-wingers let people carry guns at CPAC?  Or the GOP convention?  Asking for a friend.

33. Emma Gonzalez, the student survivor of the Parkland massacre who has emerged as one of the most effective speakers on behalf of people who don’t want to be shot to death by morons with high powered firearms, made an interesting point regarding der Sturmtrumper: “I think the best way to deal with this is to ignore him,” she said.  “I think we can all agree that the things that President Trump tweets is nothing that will have a lasting impact – unless it’s a negative lasting impact – on the people around us.”  And oddly enough, this is exactly the same advice that American lawmakers (both Democrat and GOP) and national security officials are giving to foreign leaders.  When your children are leaders and your leaders are children, things have gone awry.

34. You know, maybe if “mental illness” was really a factor in all these mass shootings, der Sturmtrumper shouldn’t have revoked the regulations that were scheduled to go into effect when he took office that would have kept mentally ill people from buying weapons of mass murder.  Or maybe the whole “mental illness” thing is just a smokescreen designed to make you forget the simple fact that people use guns to kill people and the solution to the problem is pretty obvious.  You think?

35. The numbers are in: since der Sturmtrumper took over the US government, tourism to the United States has dropped by 4%.  This sounds more impressive when you look at what that number actually means on the ground – $4.6 billion in lost revenue and about 40,000 lost jobs.  But MAGA, right?

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Another Party Heard From

So now we have another voter.

Tabitha is eighteen now, legally an adult, which comes with all sorts of new rights and responsibilities.  She can sign her own forms.  She’s getting ready to go to college.  And thanks to the 26th Amendment, she can vote.

Not that there aren’t any number of political leaders and an entire political party working very hard to prevent any such thing from happening, mind you.  We’ve seen an explosion of voter suppression over the last decade, here in The Land Of The Free (tm).  As for me and my house, we do our best to poke such things in the eye with sharp sticks.

Kim and I always vote.  Always.  Every primary.  Every general.  Every time.  Voting is how you make your voice heard in a democracy, and it is what give you your right to complain when things don’t go your way.  If you can vote and you don’t, of your own free will, you need to sit down and shut up about things. 

Today’s election was a fairly small one, as much as such things can be said to be small.  There was only one race on the ballot – a State Supreme Court race between an NRA-backed pro-gerrymandering right-wing extremist on the one hand and two actual judges on the other.  One of those three people won’t be on the ballot for the general election, and the fact that the odd person out will likely be one of the actual judges is just one more reason for people to doubt the existence of a providential higher power.  Supreme Court justices are big deals, and Wisconsin’s Supreme Court has been an unapologetic branch of the GOP for a decade now, rendering it a laughingstock as these things go.  It will take more than one election cycle to fix that.  But you have to start somewhere, and today is as good a day as any.

Of course it rained all day, after having rained all last night, on top of what had been ten inches of snow and and what still was frozen earth, flooding out entire roads here, which meant that actually being able to get to the polling place here in Our Little Town was a bit of a chore.

We were the only ones there, other than the poll workers.

Kim and I dutifully went up to the folks with the big books, presented evidence of having paid our poll tax as required under Wisconsin law, and cast our ballots.  Wisconsin still uses paper ballots, which means you can actually go check the results if you’d like.  It’s nice that way.

Tabitha went over to another table where a nice older man gave her a form to fill out, examined her drivers license, and eventually pronounced her fit to vote.  It was much less of a hassle than I had feared it would be, so a win all around.

She got her ballot, proceeded to the wobbly little plastic booths that they give you to make your choice upon, and then fed the big paper sheet into the reader.  They stamped the back of her hand with a blue “I Voted” stamp, and away we went.

Not every milestone is dramatic.  But they’re all important.

Congratulations, Tabitha.  Well done.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Atrocity? What Atrocity?

So here we are, America.  Eighteen school shootings this calendar year and we’re barely halfway through February.  We’re averaging one every 60 hours, more or less.  Next one should hit by Monday, so set your watch.  We slaughter our children with a carefree abandon that you won’t find in any other country – not even ones in the middle of civil wars.

Why?

Because for all the “family values” rhetoric that gets vomited across the media by politicians and their sycophants, we really don’t give a damn about our children, do we?

No, we don’t. 

I see you getting ready to tear me a new one, tell me to go to hell, tell me how awful I am as a human being for daring to suggest such a thing.  And you know what?  Fuck you.  Fuck you and your guns and your “thoughts and prayers” and your willingness to let this slaughter continue so long as you can live your life and keep your precious, precious firearms.

Seriously.  Fuck.  You.

If we actually gave a damn about our children this country would look very different. 

We’d have sensible gun laws, the kind that EVERY CIVILIZED NATION IN THE WORLD HAS ALREADY.  Isn’t amazing how few “mentally ill” or “lone wolf” people slaughter multitudes in places where guns are regulated?  We would do everything we could to keep high-powered weapons off the street, to make sure that random idiots can’t kill masses of people in the blink of an eye.  But no.  We love our guns.  We love them more than we love our children and it’s not even close.  Guns are works of craftsmanship, but children can be manufactured by unskilled labor.  If your first reaction to a school shooting is to defend your right to own a gun, you are morally sick and should fuck right off now.  And if that makes you angry, you can fuck right off twice.

We’d have an actual commitment to helping people with mental health issues rather than stigmatizing them, denying them they help they need to stay in control, and then blaming them when they spiral out of control.

We’d have a social safety net worthy of the name.  There would be intense social and governmental efforts to keep children from starving in a nation defined by plenty.  To make sure they have health care.  To alleviate the kind of poverty you get when the top 1% of the population controls more wealth than the bottom half combined.  But no.  We are perfectly willing to take all that away in order to give that 1% even more of our wealth, and we call it freedom.

We’d put immense efforts into public education so that all American children – not just the wealthy or the fanatically religious – could have better opportunities in their lives, could make something of themselves.  Instead we have an entire political party dedicated to dismantling nearly two centuries of hard work and achievement and reserving education as a privilege for the few rather than a right of the many.

We’d have an economy that rewards people who work rather than people who move money around, one that taxes fairly and uses that money to benefit American citizens rather than pays people to move jobs out of the country and hoard wealth.  We'd invest in our future.  We’d give our kids an economy worth participating in, in other words.

Notice that none of this is happening today, and we have a government and an entire sector of American society that is actively working to make it less likely for it to happen.

Because GUNZ.

We could solve this problem.  Every civilized nation on earth already has.  We could solve this if we wanted to.  We’re Americans, dammit.  These colors do not run.  We do the hard things that make the world a better place, or at least we used to.

Now?

Now we’re a nation of cowards hiding behind our guns.

Now we’re a nation of wannabe heroes who think they’re going to Save The Day by Shooting The Bad Guy, when every trained law enforcement officer and soldier knows that this is utter horseshit, that all those wannabes will do is turn a massacre into a bigger massacre.

When Americans decide that we care more about our children than our guns, things will change.  Until then, no.

Friday, February 9, 2018

They Say It's Your Birthday

We celebrated my birthday today. 

It was a quiet sort of celebration, really.  I made gravy (spaghetti sauce to you non-Italians, “red sauce” to midwesterners).  We watched the Olympics opening ceremony.  It was nice, though the announcers for the ceremony really needed to hush themselves and let the rest of us enjoy the show.

Of course, my birthday was two months ago, so I suppose making a big deal of it today would have been kind of silly.  What can I say?  Time sort of got away from me.

It’s hard to get an evening with everyone home these days.  I’m busy.  Kim’s busy.  And we have 50% more teenagers than we used to have, so finding an evening where nobody has to be rushing off early or coming home late is pretty much impossible.

But we had a snow day today. 

Snow days are found time.  All of your plans get tossed out, and you can do whatever you want to do as long as it doesn’t involve actually leaving the house for any particular reason or, if you do go outside, not having much of a schedule.  Lauren’s friend Isabella came over and I took them and Tabitha and Fran over to Mel Allen Hill (“Ooooooh, that’s GOTTA hurt!”) for some sledding.  They had a grand time, and then there was hot chocolate.  That was pretty much the extent of our time commitments for the day.

There is never a bad time for a celebration, and holidays happen whenever you have time for them.  I’ll be this age all year, so step right up and raise a glass.

The world will pick up as usual tomorrow.  The streets will have been plowed, errands will have to be run, and Lauren and I need to be at an Event down at Local Businessman High in the evening.  The wheels on the world go ‘round and ‘round.

But tonight we had a nice dinner and a good time.

Happy birthday to me!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Eagles Have Flown

My dad would have loved this.

The last time the Eagles won the NFL championship, they hadn’t invented the Super Bowl.  Dwight Eisenhower was president, though he already knew who his successor would be.  The number one song in the nation was “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” by Elvis Presley, who was not an oldies act at the time.  A new house cost $12,700 – a shade over double the average annual income.  A new car would set you back $2600, gas cost 25 cents/gallon, and the minimum wage was $1.25/hour, which is higher than it is today when you adjust for inflation.

It was a long time ago.

But tonight they won.  Those magnificent bastards, they won.  After a lifetime of watching them put players out on the field who had their helmets on sideways, led by coaches who were quietly amazed to discover that the game had a clock, for the first time in my lifetime, they won the championship.  They are Super Bowl Champions.

To get to this point they beat the Brady/Belicheck Machine that is the New England Patriots – the team everyone outside of New England hates because they are ridiculously talented, incredibly well run, and entertaining if you can get past the perpetual smell of suspicion that follows them around like a wet puppy. They’re the Dallas Cowboys of the 21st century.

My dad was a huge Eagles fan. 

He took me to the only professional football game I have ever been to – a preseason game between the Eagles and the then-St.-Louis Cardinals, which I am sure that the Eagles lost because this was the early 1970s and they generally lost games then.  They had a quarterback who had to be watered twice a week so his roots didn’t die, and a place kicker who had half a foot and was by far the best player on the team.

He instilled the Eagles fandom in me, and we cheered them through good seasons (the Super Bowl years of 1980 and 2005, the powerhouse years of the late 1980s and early 2000s, and so on) and more than a few bad ones.  We’d always talk about the latest game during the seasons, comparing notes and observations.  And even in recent years, as my interest in American football waned, we still talked about the games because that’s one of the things we talked about.  That’s what sports does for you, it creates bonds.

The Eagles never won a Super Bowl.  Not while he was alive.

They won tonight. 

It was a good game.  Both teams played like they belonged there.  There were great plays by the Eagles and, much as it pains me to admit, great plays by the Patriots.  Between them they set an NFL playoff record for total offensive yardage, and there was a grand total of one punt.  Eagles quarterback Nick Foles became the only quarterback in Super Bowl history to both throw and catch a touchdown pass.  Fittingly, it came down to the last play.  When it ended, I had to check the clock to see that the game was over.  And it was.

I have no idea what awaits us after we die, whether there is some kind of afterlife or whether this is the only one we get.  I try to live my life so that it doesn’t matter which one is true.

But if there is a life after this one, I know my dad is happy that his beloved Birds have finally, finally, won it all.

And so am I.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

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. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has weighed in on the extremist gerrymandering perpetrated by the state GOP in the wake of the 2010 census, and – perhaps surprisingly in this hyperpartisan age – has declared that it “clearly, plainly and palpably violates the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and, on that sole basis, we hereby strike it as unconstitutional.”  The Court forbid the use of those gerrymandered districts in the May 15 state primary and ordered the state legislature to come up with an acceptable plan by February 9 or it would write its own plan.  “To comply with this Order,” the Court continued, “any congressional districting plan shall consist of: congressional districts of compact and contiguous territory; as nearly equal in population as practicable; and which do not divide any county, city, incorporated town, borough, township, or ward, except where necessary to ensure equality of population.”  In other words, monstrosities such as Seventh district (which would have been mine if I were still living where I grew up) will no longer be allowed. 


Given that the PA GOP got roughly half the votes in that state and still ended up with 13 of 18 House seats, this decision is long overdue.  It is also very unlikely to be overturned in federal court as it rests solely on the state constitution, and perhaps it is a sign that the brazen theft of electoral power committed by the GOP across the country might be coming to an end.  [EDIT: Well, when power is at stake and the law is against them you can always count on the GOP to break the law.  The Pennsylvania GOP has flatly refused to comply with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court order because reasons.  Grab your popcorn!]

2. Yes, theft.  Consider Wisconsin, which is one of the worst-gerrymandered states in the country (along with North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and – just to prove that sometimes the Democrats aren’t any better – Maryland).  In 2012, in the first Wisconsin elections after the Great Gerrymander, the GOP won 47% of the vote and ended up with 61% of the legislature.  If you think that’s democracy, well, I’ll assume you voted for der Sturmtrumper too.

3. The Pennsylvania decision is part of a larger willingness by the courts to address – finally – the corrosive effects of partisan gerrymandering.  Now they have a test to apply to electoral maps – “a district map is invalid if (1) it was enacted with the discriminatory intent of benefiting a particular party and handicapping its opponent; (2) it has produced a discriminatory effect in the form of a large and durable partisan asymmetry in favor of the mapmaking party; and (3) no legitimate justification exists for this effect.”  (James A. Wynn, Jr., who wrote the opinion striking down North Carolina’s shameful map).  Clearly the legislatures won’t solve this problem – they created it, and they benefit from it, so why would they? – and yet it needs to be solved.  Restoring competitive elections would go no small way toward taking the hyperpartisan edge off of American politics and if that happens perhaps we can actually have a government again instead of a braying collection of extremists like the one we’re stuck with now.

4. Der Sturmtrumper and his minions are boasting about the fact that 863,000 women joined the workforce during the first 11 months of his administration, which – given their position on women doing anything other than staying in the kitchen and making them “a home cooked dinner every night at six” (hi there, Missouri GOP Senate candidate Courtland Sykes!  And you seem to have forgotten your dog whistle!) – is rather surprising.   It’s even more surprising when you remember that this is 34% fewer women joining the work force over the same period in each of the previous two years (when, oh, the Democrat was in office, right?), the smallest increase since 2012 (right after the recession and when, who was in charge again?), and below the historical norm going back to 1964.  The GOP: politics for people who can’t math.

5. I made the mistake of engaging with a GOP troll on Facebook a short while ago – he was posting gibberish on a friend’s page, trying to claim for der Sturmtrumper achievements that were the tail end of trends had been happening for nearly a decade prior and being rather snotty about it in the process – and I even went out to the Department of Labor’s website to find a graph that conclusively proved my point, only to discover that he had already posted it in order to cherry-pick a few random statistics lower down on the same page.  Dude, not only can you not write a coherent sentence, you can’t even read your own graph!  That’s when I hit the “turn off notifications for this post” button, because once someone is that far burrowed up into their own lower intestine there is no further point to engagement with them.  Can’t do math, can’t read graphs, can’t write, rah, rah, GOP.

6. Well, the Satanic Temple has finally done what I’ve been threatening to do and use the religious “freedom” bills so beloved of the blasphemous Dominionists of the GOP against them.  They successfully challenged one of the punitive abortion restrictions implemented in Missouri on the grounds that they violated the sincerely held religious beliefs of one of their members, and the Missouri GOP backed down.  For those who want to know, the Satanist Temple does not believe in a literal Satan but sees the Biblical figure as a metaphor for rebellion against tyranny.  And don’t we need that these days.

7. Former RNC Chair Michael Steele certainly has figured out the truth behind the blasphemous Dominionists who make up the evangelical right wing base of der Sturmtrumper, a bit late but better than never.  Tony Perkins – the doofus who runs the right-wing noise factory known as the Family Research Council (really, that’s what it’s called!) – recently said that der Sturmtrumper should get a “mulligan” (a do-over, for those not rich white men and up on their golf lingo) for his affair with a porn star shortly after the birth of his child and for the six figures of hush money that he paid her to keep it quiet.  Steele’s response was simple.  “Just shut the hell up and don’t ever preach to me about anything ever again.  I don’t want to hear it,” he said.  “After telling me how to live my life, who to love, what to believe, what not to believe, what to do and what not to do and now you sit back and the prostitutes don’t matter?  The grabbing the you-know-what doesn’t matter?  The outright behavior and lies don’t matter?  Just shut up.”

8. But lies don’t matter, not to the “Christians” of the far right.  John Pavlovitz put it pretty well, really. “Dear White Evangelicals,” he wrote.  “I need to tell you something: People have had it with you.  They’re done.  They want nothing to do with you any longer, and here’s why.  They see your hypocrisy, your inconsistency, your incredibly selective mercy, and your thinly veiled supremacy. … They recognize the toxic source of your duality.  They see that pigmentation and party are your sole deities.  They see that you aren’t interested in perpetuating the love of God or emulating the heart of Jesus.  They see that you aren’t burdened to love the least, or to be agents of compassion, or to care for your Muslim, gay, African, female or poor neighbors as yourself.  They see that all you’re really interested in doing is making a God in your own ivory image and demanding that the world bow down to it.  They recognize this all about white, Republican Jesus – not dark-skinned Jesus of Nazareth. … You’ve lost an audience with millions of wise, decent, good-hearted, faithful people with eyes to see this ugliness.  You’ve lost any moral high ground or spiritual authority with a generation.  You’ve lost any semblance of Christlikeness.  You’ve lost the plot.  And most of all you’ve lost your soul.”

9. And so the #TrumpShutdown ended with a whimper rather than a bang, as some of the more responsible people on both sides of the aisle finally managed to work out a deal and someone convinced der Sturmtrumper to sign it (maybe he thought it was a check to another porn star?).  In exchange for a six-year funding of CHIP – enough to get past the next presidential election, you’ll note – and a public, explicit promise from Mitch McConnell to hold a vote on a mutually acceptable compromise on DACA, the Democrats agreed to vote for the continuing resolution to fund the government through February 8.  Naturally there has been much uninformed shouting about how the Democrats “caved” and abandoned the Dreamers.  Really?  Are people that blind?  Yes, McConnell is the least trustworthy man in Washington, which is saying something.  But two things here: First, the GOP holds unified control over the federal government and was perfectly happy to let 9,000,000 American children go without health care in order to fund their tax breaks for the wealthy.  Mere days beforehand it looked like that was a done deal.  But now that is off the table – children’s health cannot be used as a partisan weapon by the GOP anymore, which is a tremendous political and moral victory for the Democrats that removes a big club that the GOP could have used and had been using.  Second, folks, get real – Democrats expect McConnell to break his promise, because precedent says that’s pretty much the sure thing here.  And then where are the Democrats?  Three weeks down the line (i.e. not much time, really), without having to defend CHIP, with the clear and public betrayal by McConnell to make the blame for the shutdown even more obviously GOP-centric, and with exactly the same leverage and power as they had when the government shut down in January.  So zero cost and a big win on CHIP?  Yeah, I don’t think that counts as caving.

10. There’s a lot of frankly nonsensical talk about DACA among the sort of right-wing extremist happy to destroy families and deport taxpayers in order to prove an ideological point, and eventually the rational mind just rebels.  If you’re one of those goons (and honestly, what are you doing here if you are?), please get the following through your head: 1) The Dreamers pay taxes – over $11 billion in income taxes last year – which is more than der Sturmtrumper can say.  2) They are not eligible for welfare benefits, unlike der Sturmtrumper’s supporters.  3) They cannot have a criminal record if they are to qualify for DACA, also unlike der Sturmtrumper’s supporters.  And 4) they came here as children and therefore have no green cards or permanent residency cards and no path to citizenship.  They’ve been here their whole lives.  To deport them is morally senseless, economically unsound, and politically shortsighted, all very much like der Sturmtrumper’s supporters, alas.

11.  Folks, keep an eye on North Korea, as der Sturmtrumper’s administration seems to be maneuvering to get us into nuclear war there soon.  We have an unusual number of aircraft carrier groups in the area, and for the first time ever both of the nuclear-capable bombers in the US arsenal are now positioned within range of North Korea.  In all probability this will come to just more sabre-rattling and dick-waggling, particularly since South Korea seems to have taken some of the wind out of these sails by actually talking with the North Koreans, at least one hopes it will, but it’s worth paying attention to nonetheless.  Watch out for a “Wag the Dog” scenario here.

12. House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes – the self-righteous partisan warrior who tried to crush the Mueller investigation last summer – has now declared that he has a Secret Memo describing some kind of plot within the FBI to besmirch the good name of der Sturmtrumper and bring about a coup of some kind.  He’s got the “highly classified” secret intelligence to prove it!  Except he can’t show it to you, because it’s “highly classified”!  You’ll have to trust him, good citizen!  And so, apparently, will the Senate, since it’s somehow too classified to be shown to the Senate Intelligence Committee – a fact that seems to be pissing off its Chair, GOP Senator Richard Burr, to no end, as Jim Wright notes.  Nobody can see it!  Not the Senate, not the FBI, not even the Justice Department!  The intelligence is just too secret!  Though not secret enough that Nunes and apparently half the GOP caucus can’t be blabbing about it ad nauseum to the press, mind you.  [NOTE: apparently he changed his mind about showing it to people: see below.]

As Jim Wright noted in a Facebook post (since expanded into a full blog post that is one of the more damning indictments of the abuse of power that likely led to this memo that you will ever read), “What intelligence?  What agency produced this intelligence?  No, think about it. Who's tasked and empowered to investigate the FBI? Who is that? Who is empowered by force of law to investigate the FBI's Russia Investigation? Who?  I mean, it's not the CIA or DIA or NSA or any other federal intelligence agency. That's not their job. Their job is foreign intelligence. They don't investigate domestic law enforcement. In fact, there are a couple of very specific laws preventing them from doing so.  So, who investigated the FBI?  It's not a police department, because the FBI *is* the federal police department and with the exception of the Capitol Police or the Park Service, the rest of the police are STATE or LOCAL agencies who don't answer the House Intel Committee. And who are most certainly NOT empowered to investigate the FBI.  The Secret Service doesn't do this kind of work.  So, who does that leave? The Department of Justice Inspector General?  Well yes, that would be the correct answer, the DOJ IG would be the only agency empowered to investigate the FBI.  But the DOJ IG answers to Jeff Sessions and ultimately Donald Trump. And why would the Inspector General, a member of the EXECUTIVE BRANCH turn over the results of such an investigation, assuming they actually conducted one, which they haven't, to the HOUSE Intelligence Committee without a subpoena? Of which there hasn't been one?  More, if it was the DOJ IG, why would Nunes deny a request by the Department of Justice to see the memo? And why couldn't Sessions just ask HIS OWN INSPECTOR GENERAL for the information?  So I'll ask again, WHAT INTELLIGENCE?” 

As a former Naval Intelligence Officer, he asks the right questions but he isn’t happy with any of the answers.  And if a trained expert like Jim Wright isn’t happy when it comes to these things, I really can’t see myself being happy either.  If you’re not following Jim on Facebook or reading his blog, you really are missing out.

13. Speaking of Mueller, apparently der Sturmtrumper actually did order him fired last June, something Mueller only recently learned about as he interviews current and former White House officials.  Recognizing an impeachable offense when he saw one, White House Counsel Donald F. McGahan II informed der Sturmtrumper that this would have catastrophic consequences and threatened to resign rather than ask the Justice Department to carry out such an order, and der Sturmtrumper backed down.  Keep that popcorn popping, boys and girls!

14. According to de Volkskrant, a Dutch newspaper, the Dutch intelligence agency AIVD was instrumental in alerting American intelligence to the scope and success of Russian agents interfering with the 2016 election.  They penetrated the home network of Cozy Bear, a Russian hacker group located near Red Square in Moscow known for attacking governments, energy corporations and telecom companies, and were able to observe them in real time for about two and a half years.  They even hacked a security camera in the building and could observe and identify the Russians in real time.  It is this Dutch intelligence that is the foundation of the American intelligence community’s knowledge that Russia actively worked to subvert the American election on behalf of der Sturmtrumper.  The NSA and FBI worked closely with the Dutch to counter the Russians whenever possible and were able to observe the Russians penetrating der Sturmtrumper’s White House.  It’s the one of the foundations of the collusion investigation that Mueller is running.  And it’s coming to a criminal trial near you!

15. Here in Wisconsin, where the GOP has been testing out its petit-Fascist programs for almost a decade now, the GOP-ruled State Senate voted to remove the top elections and ethics officials without any public hearings whatsoever.  They are apparently annoyed that these officials had the absolute temerity to do their actual jobs rather than kowtow to GOP partisan demands, and of course we can’t have people obeying the laws when there is power at stake.  Personal and party loyalty is the only currency this group of authoritarian wannabes accepts, after all.  The Election Commission voted 4-2 (including one GOP yes vote, so credit where due) to reinstate the guy the Senate got rid of, and now it will go to the courts, so we’ll see how this pans out.  The Founding Fathers would have taken these wannabes outside and had them flogged. 

16. This country saw 11 school shootings in 23 days to start the new year.  Eleven.  And more since then.  This doesn’t happen anywhere in the civilized world.  It doesn’t even happen in war zones like Afghanistan or Iraq, where guns are commonplace.  There has been no outcry, no particularly focused news coverage, and no possibility of any real change – we just accept this as normal because GUNZ AND FREEDUMB AND MURCA and fuck those kids we’ll just make more.  There are no words to express my contempt for the people who can look at this sorry state of affairs and see nothing worth changing.

17. Isn’t it at least somewhat revealing that the five states with the highest gun death rates (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alaska, Alabama, and Nevada) have an average gun ownership rater of exactly 50.0% while the five states with the lowest gun death rates (Hawaii, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York) have an average gun ownership of 14%, just over a quarter of the high death rate states?  And yet you hear ammosexuals cry out constantly that guns make you safer.  Again – politics for people who can’t math.

18. 82% of the wealth created in 2017 went into the hands of the richest 1% of the population.  The three wealthiest Americans have as much wealth as the poorest 160,000,000 (roughly half the population of the United States).  But sure, GOP – tell me again why those people need a tax cut.

19. Der Sturmtrumper has now slapped a 30% tariff on imported solar panels, which will – according to Now1Solar, one of the companies hurt by this – cost somewhere north of 20,000 American jobs in a growing field that will confer global power on the country that can master it.  One company – SunPower – has already announced that it will halt a $20,000,000 expansion and all of the jobs that were to go with it.  “These were positions that we were recruiting for that we are going to stop,” noted SunPower CEO Tom Werner.  More people work in solar than in coal and oil combined in this country, and a competent administration would be working hard to promote American jobs and energy independence.  But no, we have to protect a coal industry that died in the 1920s and just hasn’t had the grace to fall down yet.  The level of malicious incompetence of this administration just boggles the sentient mind.

20. Remember how der Sturmtrumper and his enablers, lackeys, minions, and yes-critters all gathered round the burning fire of the economy to insist that his trillion-dollar giveaway of a tax plan would be used by the corporations receiving all that money to create jobs?  Remember how the CEOs publicly denied this, much to the shell-shocked amazement of der Sturmtrumper’s lead economic minion?  Remember how the insistence just got louder after that?  How’s that working out for ya, America?  Kimberly-Clark, the mega-conglomerate that makes Kleenex and Huggies, among other things, just announced that they will cut over 5,000 jobs and pay for the administrative costs with their share of the tax cut.  Walmart made a big splash by announcing bonuses and then laid off thousands of workers by closing more than 60 Sam’s Clubs.  Folks, when people show you who they are, believe them.

21. My friend Jack has been keeping track of the “fine-tuned machine” that is der Sturmtrumper’s administration, and notes that as of the one-year anniversary of der Sturmtrumper’s inauguration, 392 (62%) of 633 top level federal positions that need to be filled by presidential appointment are vacant, and 244 (39%) don’t even have a nominee.  On top of that, 60% of senior career diplomats have resigned or retired.  I think there’s some sand in those gears, son.

22. Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA) on the fabled Nunes Memo that the GOP is all hot and bothered about: “As a Member of the House Judiciary Committee, I read the partisan, classified Nunes House Intel memo.  I can’t talk about it.  However, here’s an analogy.  Remember Geraldo Rivera and the infamous Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults?  It’s like that, but Geraldo Rivera has more integrity.”

23. So der Sturmtrumper has decided that he’s completely above the law now and doesn’t actually need to do his Constitutionally-mandated duty of executing legislation that has been duly passed by Congress.  The Senate voted to put sanctions on Russia by a bipartisan majority of 98-2, and the House vote was 419-3.  Der Sturmtrumper is now refusing to enforce this.  This is a direct threat to the separation of powers, a willful violation of both law and Constitution, yet another impeachable offense, and nothing of any concern to a GOP determined to enable a dictatorship.  The fact that the GOP Congress is now investigating the FBI and the Department of Justice – two groups that exist to check executive power – is just icing on the Fascist cake.  MAGA, right?

24. At what point do we just admit that der Sturmtrumper and his enablers, minions, cronies, sycophants, and lackeys in Congress have declared war on our own government in order to further their own despotism?  The longer you wait to see the obvious, the more likely they will succeed.

25. And now the GOP has decided that it can release Nunes’ fabled memo after all!  Of course, you’re not going to get to see the response to this memo, the one that tries to put it into some kind of context rather than just cherry-picking whatever suits the predetermined conclusion.  Nor are you going to see the intelligence that went into it – just Nunes’ opinion.  In other words, there is no way to check any of the accusations that will be made in that memo – it’s just Nunes’ opinion, and Nunes has made his opinion on such matters clear, so this will add nothing to the discussion.  As Jim Wright, who spent a career as an intelligence officer in the Navy, observes, “Nunes’ education, training, and experience is in agriculture.  Specifically: Cows.  He is a certified expert in BULLSHIT.  And without the intel, without corroboration, this memo is exactly that, nothing but bullshit.”

26. Shep Smith on Fox agrees.  "Devin Nunes wrote the memo currently in question. He will not share it with investigators. The Trump Justice Department wants to see it—he won't let them. The same Trump department says it should not be made public, as it would damage the nation. … Many who've seen the memo say it's misleading, distracting, and lacking context.  The memo itself is in the conservative discussion mix while the special counsel investigating Russian interference into our democracy is apparently about to interview the president of the United States while seeking to determine whether he's colluded with the Russians or obstructed justice.  A memo can be a weapon of partisan mass distraction, especially at a pivotal moment in American democracy when it behooves the man in charge for supporters to believe the institutions can't be trusted, the investigators are corrupt, and the news media are liars. Context matters."  And when the GOP is trying its best to destroy any check on dictatorial authority, then not presenting the context matters even more.

27. For those of you who still aren’t convinced that the modern Republican Party is rapidly heading down the same path as the NSDAP from the 1930s (those were the Nazis, kids – try to keep up), there is always GOP candidate Paul Nehlen, who is running for Congress because he thinks Paul Ryan is some kind of closet liberal.  Nehlen is annoyed that people are criticizing his “America First” positions (uh, dude, you are aware that “America First” was the slogan of the American Fascists in the 1930s and the KKK in the 1920s, right?) so he got onto the Twitter machine and tweeted out “a list of ‘verified’ Twitter users who have attacked me *in just the last month alone* for my #AmericaFirst positions.  Of those 81 people, 74 are Jews, while only 7 are non-Jews.”  He then appended a helpful list of names, Twitter handles, and religious affiliations.  And he’s just astonished that people think he’s a Nazi.  ASTONISHED!  This guy is a malignant stain on the x-ray of the American body politic, and he’s right at home in the modern GOP.

28. On that note, it’s instructive that der Sturmtrumper’s minions saw fit to harass Arizona State Representative Eric Descheenie, calling him an illegal immigrant and yelling at him to “Get out of the country!”  Descheenie is Navajo.  His ancestors were here for thousands of years before any of those pasty America First right wing extremists decided that anyone with brown skin must be some kind of intruder here.  But please, don’t confuse the Sturmtrumper minions with reality.

29. No, I didn’t watch the State of the Union.  If I wanted to be lied to by an idiot, I’d buy a used car.

30. William Ruckelshaus served in the Nixon Administration.  He was appointed in 1970 to lead the EPA, which most Republicans today prefer to forget was a creation of the GOP back when it had sanity.  He also was in the Department of Justice and resigned rather than fire the independent prosecutor investigating Watergate in 1973, an even known as the Saturday Night Massacre and one which der Sturmtrumper seems to heading for as a reprise.  Ruckelshaus is not happy with Scott Pruitt, current head of the EPA and boil upon the arse of humanity, or the GOP orthodoxy that climate change must be fictitious because they declare it to be so.  “It’s a threat to the country,” he said of the GOP willful ignorance on climate change.  “If you don’t step up and take care of real problems, and don’t do anything about it, lives will be sacrificed.  They certainly are killing everything.”  He described Pruitt in particular as someone who does not believe in the mission of the department he supposedly leads and who is doing everything he can to destroy it.  Remember when we had a Republican Party you could disagree with and still respect?  Wouldn’t it be nice to have that again?

31. Here in Wisconsin, Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) is actively denying Wisconsin citizens representation in their own legislature by refusing to call special elections to fill open seats in the State Senate and Assembly.  Note that the law specifically says that “any vacancy in the office of state senator or representative to the Assembly occurring before the 2nd Tuesday in May in the year in which a regular election is held to fill that seat shall be filled as promptly as possible by special election.”  Both open seats have been so since 2017.  The last state legislative election saw a reliably GOP seat switch to Democratic.  Do the math.  Like so many other GOP officials, Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) is perfectly happy to break the law if it furthers his own power.

32. So now the Nunes memo has been released, in a breathtakingly cynical ploy to distract the country from the Russian noose and discredit the investigators into der Sturmtrumper’s crimes.  Der Sturmtrumper’s own Justice Department called it an “extremely reckless” move, one that had clear implications compromising national security and intelligence.  But this is just part of a larger war between the GOP and the rule of law, and between the GOP and American security.  “The memo itself is far less important than the fact that GOP Congressmen are now at war with our own law enforcement and intelligence community, something in a lifetime of being a Republican I never expected to see,” said Tom Nichols, a professor at the Naval War College.  “This will end badly.”

33. Oh, yes it will.  CNBC is now reporting that der Sturmtrumper is seriously considering not only firing Robert Mueller but actively prosecuting him, though “it’s unclear what charges Mueller could possibly face in such a situation.”  Make no mistake – if der Sturmtrumper goes through with this, all hell will break loose.  It will be an open declaration of dictatorship, and at that point all bets are off.

34. Well, there has been enough time for Actual Adults to read the Nunes memo and the verdict is pretty much unanimous: there’s nothing there.  As Zack Beauchamp wrote on Vox, “There is no proof in the memo that the FBI is biased against Trump, no proof of abuse of surveillance powers by the FBI, and no proof that the investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia is fundamentally flawed.  The memo is a piece of partisan spin, and not a particularly compelling one at that.  Republicans who claimed it was anything else have been egregiously misrepresenting what the memo actually says.”  This is a point echoed by legal scholar and former trial attorney Orin Kerr on Lawfare, who eviscerates the central claim that the bias of a source somehow taints the investigation that comes from it.  Kerr uses actual evidence and citations to prove his point, too, which is more than Nunes does.

35. Beauchamp’s takedown is pretty thorough, actually.  The memo does not actually support its most important claim: that the FBI’s use of surveillance under FISA represents an abuse of the process and a deliberate attempt to undermine der Sturmtrumper’s campaign.  But you know, none of the evidence (or assertions, really, since no actual evidence is introduced) actually proves any of that.  And even if you buy the idea that the FBI relied on a source with a grudge to get the FISA approval, well, how is that different from any other criminal investigation?  “People typically don’t go to the authorities with damaging information about people they like,” Beauchamp observes.  “The key question in an application like this isn’t whether the source liked the target; it’s whether the specific claims they’re making are credible.  The memo doesn’t make that case [that they were not credible].”  It is full of innuendo and implication but no actual assertions – largely because actual assertions would a) require actual evidence, and b) would lead to embarrassing revelations about how deeply involved right-wing sources were in the creation of the evidence that Nunes et al are so desperate to use to distract us from the Mueller investigation.  Beauchamp concludes that the memo actually justifies Mueller’s investigation.  In its last paragraph it notes that the investigation is also based on George Papadopoulos, which means that even if you somehow swallowed the happy drugs and decided that all the stuff about Carter Page needed to be tossed, the investigation still has grounding.  “First, the FBI and the Justice Department didn’t base their application to monitor Page entirely on Steele’s work,” notes John Cassidy in the New Yorker, “And second, and more important, the Trump-Russia investigation didn’t begin with the Steele dossier.”

36. Some other reactions from Actual Adults:

“That’s it?  Dishonest and misleading memo wrecked the House intel committee, destroyed trust with Intelligence Community, damaged relationship with FISA court, and inexcusably exposed classified investigation of an American citizen.  For what?  DOJ & FBI must keep doing their jobs.”  (Former FBI Director James Comey – remember him?  The guy whose firing led to all this?)

“The latest attacks against the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests – no party’s, no president’s, only Putin’s.  The American people deserve to know all of the facts surrounding Russia’s ongoing efforts to subvert our democracy, which is why Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation must proceed unimpeded.  Our nation’s elected officials, including the president, must stop looking at this investigation through the warped lens of politics and manufacturing partisan sideshows.  If we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putin’s job for him.”  (Senator John McCain, R-AZ)

“The FBI and Department of Justice are important to our country.  While we must maintain oversight of these institutions, it has to be done in a bipartisan manner – not for partisan reasons or political gain.  The manner in which this was done was wrong and does a disservice to our country.”  (Governor John Kasich, R-OH)

“The President’s decision to publicly release a misleading memo attacking DOJ & FBI is a transparent attempt to discredit these institutions and undermine Mueller’s probe.”  (Rep. Adam Schiff, D-CA)

“The release of the Nunes Memo by House Intelligence Committee Republicans and the White House, over the objections of the FBI and Department of Justice, is reckless and demonstrates an astonishing disregard for the truth.  This unprecedented public disclosure of classified material during an ongoing criminal investigation is dangerous to our national security. … Unlike almost every House member who voted in favor of this memo’s release, I have actually read the underlying documents on which the Nunes Memo was based.  They simply do not support its conclusions.”  (Senator Mark Warner, D-VA)

“I had many fights with Congressional Dems over the years on national security matters, but I never witnessed the type of reckless partisan behavior I am now seeing from Nunes and House Republicans.  Absence of moral and ethical leadership in WH is fueling this government crisis.”  (Former CIA Director John Brennan)

“The folks at The Onion after reading the Nunes Memo have sent a cease and desist order to the House Intelligence Committee for stealing their material.”  (Former RNC Chair Michael Steele)

37. I’ll let Eugene Robinson have the last word here, from his Washington Post article.  “Presidents don’t win fights with the FBI.  Donald Trump apparently wants to learn this lesson the hard way.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Green Community

I’ve been wearing my Eagles stuff around town, now that they’re in the Super Bowl this coming weekend.  I figure I should show willing.  My boss, an avid Packers fan, has even given me permission to wear Eagles stuff to the office since she knows how big of a deal this is.  “And they’re not playing the Packers,” she added, which is only fair.

It’s kind of surprising how much support I’ve gotten for it.

I’m guessing that a lot of it isn’t so much “Go Eagles!” as it is “Go Anyone But The Patriots!”  I can live with that.  The Patriots have been in the last thirty-five consecutive Super Bowls and won twenty-eight, a surprising number of them under a cloud of suspicion, and really it’s time for someone else to win for a change.  Dynasties are boring in professional sports.

And the Eagles don’t make themselves cute and cuddly for new fans, either.  They play hard on the field, they’re outspoken off the field (listen to Malcolm Jenkins sometime – no, really, listen to the man), and they play for a fan base that hasn’t got time for your shit, frankly.  There’s a reason the old Veterans Stadium had a functioning municipal courtroom in the basement.

Yet everywhere I go people come up to me and tell me that they’re fans.  Not just anti-Patriots, but actually Eagles fans.  There’s a guy who lives next door who has been chatting with me about this since he moved in a couple of years ago.  People stop me in the grocery store.  On the way to the barn to feed the chickens there’s a house with an Eagles flag, one that has been there long before the current success.  Plus, I run into other people wearing Eagles gear all around here, many of whom have never even been to Philadelphia.

For the older ones, it’s usually Randall Cunningham who brought them into the fold.  For the younger ones, maybe it was just not wanting to cheer for whomever their brothers and sisters were cheering for and deciding that the team in green was their harbor.  There’s a lot of reasons.

You can say a lot of negative things about professional sports in general, and many of them will be true.  You can say a lot of negative things about American football in particular, and many of those will be true too.  But one thing that those activities do definitely bring to us is a sense of community.  A sense of belonging.  A sense of commonality with people whom we might otherwise dismiss with casual snark in these divided times.

That has to count for something.

I remember once listening to a friend of mine describe an event in a book he was reading – a book written by a professor of English, a fellow academic in other words, and someone whose work I both admire and occasionally assign in my history classes.  The professor found himself in the back of a taxi and was simply aghast that the taxi driver would presume to ask him what he thought about the home team’s chances that season.  I don’t expect him to know about literature, the professor complained, why should I be expected to know about sports?

Even as a proud ivory tower academic, that struck me as both short-sighted and callous.

You should know about your own community.  You should make an effort to know about other communities.  And when people of good will seek to bring you into their community through conversation, you should be gracious about it.  A simple “I don’t know, I don’t really follow them.  What do you think?” would have been enough, really.

So I will wear my Eagles gear here in southern Wisconsin, where Packerland bleeds into Bears Country, and I will enjoy the conversations that arise from it.  It's nice to be reminded that there are things that unite us, even now.

Go Birds!