Trump Launches Operation Bannarossa

DJTDonald Trump is surrounded by – and apparently admires and respects – generals. His chief of staff, John Kelly, is a retired four-star Marine general. His Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, is also a retired four-star Marine general. His national security adviser, H. R. McMaster, is an active three-star Army general. And then there’s the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, who is also a four-star Marine general. He could walk out of any door in the Oval Office and would trip over a general. A couple of them – McMaster and Mattis – are known as intellectuals and students of history.

Since Mr. Trump seems to have some sort of soft spot for fascists, white nationalists and neo-Nazis, he should ask any of those generals about Operation Barbarossa and how it worked out for Germany’s Nazis. Today, with the shit-canning of the lumpy, oatmeal-ish, slovenly Steve Bannon, Trump is making the same strategic blunder. Let’s call it Operation Bannarossa.

Now, please don’t think for a second that 1) I’m unhappy about Mr. Bannon’s departure or 2) that I feel sorry for Mr. Trump that he’s made a decision of such epic stupidity that it compares to the decision that ultimately caused the death of millions, caused Germany to lose the war and led to the division of Europe for almost half a century. I am, actually, almost gleeful (more on that below). Instead, I’m writing today because this marks what may well be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency.

For those too lazy to click on the link or who are too far removed from their high school history class, Operation Barbarossa was the name for Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in June of 1941. It was – and remains – the largest military operation in history, involving 4 million men, an 1,800-mile front, 600,000 motor vehicles and 600,000 to 700,000 horses for non-combat operations. It also opened a second front in Germany’s war, one that ultimately sucked dry the German war machine. The horrific and protracted fighting lasted for four years and directly contributed to the ability of the Allies on the western front to reclaim the countries of western Europe that had been conquered earlier in the war.

There’s some debate among students of history whether Germany had to invade the western part of the Soviet Union as a source of manpower and natural resources, but there’s little debate – at least that I can find – that the actual invasion was incredibly stupid. It was based on overly optimistic assessments of German military effectiveness, the weakness of the Soviet military and the strength of its political leadership. It ignored the lessons learned by one of the great tacticians of all time, Napoleon Bonaparte, who invaded Russia in 1812 with an army of 422,000 soldiers and came home in 1813 with 10,000 men marching behind him (see the graphic below).

Figure527

What Trump has done today is pretty much the same thing. By firing Steve, he has opened up a new front in his war with…pretty much everyone. Yesterday, his strategic map looked like this:

Before

In the first seven months of his administration, Mr. Trump managed to go to war with almost everyone who wasn’t in his “base.” Whether deliberately or through ineptitude (my leading theory) he has managed to alienate both those he might have persuaded (Independents, moderate Democrats, the intelligence community) and those he should have been able to hold close like Senate Republicans, his only reliable support has been those loyal supporters on the right who – for a variety of reasons – responded to his populist/nationalist message. There are enough of these people to keep Mr. Trump’s rallies full and to enforce a little discipline on Congressional Republicans who are scared that they might be primaried by unhappy Trump voters.

Today, with the launch of Operation Bannarossa, Mr. Trump’s strategic map looks like this:

After

With this firing, Mr. Trump has opened up another front that will, I believe, cost him a substantial part of his remaining support. He has 1) pissed off and embarrassed Steve Bannon 2) freed him to “let Bannon be Bannon” 3) angered all those who think of Mr. Bannon as their guy inside this White House. High among those are the billionaire Mercer family, which has bankrolled Breitbart and Mr. Bannon and, of course, Breitbart itself. These people believe – with good reason – that they made Donald J. Trump’s unlikely victory and they can, by God, take it away.

Lest you think I’m exaggerating how this move is being perceived by Mr. Bannon’s allies, his former colleagues at Breitbart sent out a one-word Tweet upon hearing the news:

War

DevilAnd, lest you think I’m exaggerating the amount of effort Steve Bannon and his Breitbart colleagues poured into promoting Mr. Trump, I highly recommend the just-published Devil’s Bargain by Joshua Green that details how Bannon was pushing the Trump candidacy long before joining the campaign in August 2016. Consider, for example, Bannon’s efforts in February 2016 to convince then-Senator Jeff Sessions to endorse Trump:

As Joshua Green wrote in “Devil’s Bargain,” Sessions, then a senator from Alabama, was unsure if Trump could secure the Republican nomination, and knew that being the first senator to endorse Trump could further curtail his political future if Trump, the Republican frontrunner at the time, lost.

The day before Sessions endorsed Trump at a Madison, Alabama rally in February 2016, then-Breitbart News chairman Bannon told Sessions that it was “do or die” time and that “this is the moment” to endorse.

“Trump is a great advocate for our ideas,” Sessions told Bannon. “But can he win?”

“100%,” Bannon said. “If he can stick to your message and personify this stuff, there’s not a doubt in my mind.”

Sessions then noted that the GOP already denied him the chairmanship of the Budget Committee, and that “if I do this endorsement and it doesn’t work, it’s the end of my career in the Republican Party.”

“It’s do or die,” Bannon replied. “This is it. This is the moment.”

That moment was just days before what are known as the “SEC” primaries — a series of primary contests concentrated throughout the South. Bannon told Sessions that his endorsement could push Trump over the hump in many of those contests and essentially seal up the Republican nomination.

“Okay, I’m all-in,” Sessions said. “But if he doesn’t win, it’s over for me.”

And, lest you think I’m exaggerating the importance of Breitbart in setting the agenda of American conservatives and in controlling what they read, watch and listen to, I refer you to a recent study by a Harvard/MIT team which reached the following conclusion:

Our own study of over 1.25 million stories published online between April 1, 2015 and Election Day shows that a right-wing media network anchored around Breitbart developed as a distinct and insulated media system, using social media as a backbone to transmit a hyper-partisan perspective to the world. This pro-Trump media sphere appears to have not only successfully set the agenda for the conservative media sphere, but also strongly influenced the broader media agenda, in particular coverage of Hillary Clinton.

The research team visualized Breitbart’s impact by looking at how many postings to Facebook come from the various media sources. By far, the largest star in the conservative universe – the one that bends light because of its gravitational field – is Breitbart. Bigger than Fox, bigger than the Daily Caller or any other outlet combined.

Map

And Donald Trump just went to war with them. Good luck with that.

As an aside, if you want an in-depth look at Breitbart, I recommend this week’s New York Times magazine cover story.

Now, some will take issue with the near-glee I feel at the prospect of watching Mr. Trump’s approval ratings go into the 20s (near certain IMHO) and the steady procession of Congressional denouncements (again a near-certainty) and staff and Cabinet resignations (likely but not certain because some will have no place else to go – the spittle-chinned Stephen Miller for example – or are so thoroughly stained – I’m looking at you @kellyannepolls – that there’s no reason to leave). It is unpatriotic to root for our president to fail, they’ll argue, and in general I agree.

But, this isn’t the general case; Donald Trump is the black swan sort of case. After watching the damage he’s done to our country over the last seven months, convinced that he will never, ever, EVER change, I’m convinced that we need him to leave office as soon as possible whether through resignation, impeachment, use of the 25th Amendment or taking him up on his offer to go away for five billion dollars. We cannot survive a full term of this man.

Operation Bannarossa…may it do for Donald Trump what Operation Barbarossa did for the Nazis. Faster.

 

 

A Not-So-Implausible Conspiracy Theory

The June 2016 meeting between the Trumps and the Russians is the subject of ongoing scrutiny by the media, the public and – it appears – the special counsel appointed to look into the question of Russian involvement in the 2016 election. Much more effort will likely be expended in this area, trying to suss out what happened in that 20-30 minute meeting.

Those efforts are important, but here’s reality: The moment the Trumps’ visitors stepped off the elevator on the 25th floor of their tower to sit down with Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, the Trumps became pawns of the Russians. It doesn’t matter what was actually said or done.

By way of explanation, consider who was on the field that day: Starting with the visiting team, we have Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian attorney with close ties to the Russian elite, two people, Rob Goldstone and Irakly Kaveladzeare beholden to the Agalarov family, a former Soviet counter-intelligence officer, Rinat Akhmetshin, and a translator, Anatoli Samochornov.

Playing for the home team, we have the aforementioned Trump, Kushner and Manafort.

Now, if I were the kind of guy who was a former intelligence officer who used to catch and run spies for one of the most vicious (and effective) intelligence agencies in the world, the kind of guy who has been in power for nearly two decades and runs his country like a private bank for himself and his friends, the kind of guy whose political opponents serendipitously end up dead – if, in other words, I was Vladimir Putin – I would view this meeting as a lever. I could – with very little effort I suspect – convince the visitors – all of whom are tied to me, my country or my friends – to tell any story I wanted about what was said, what documents were provided, how the home team reacted.

Absolutely anything.

If I were Vladimir Putin’s kind of guy, I could probably get the visitors to swear that Ms. Veselnitskaya promised the Russians would arrange for the release thousands of Clinton campaign e-mails if Don Jr. promised that his dad would look the other way on Ukraine. Or that the Trump organization would wire $100 million to a Cayman Islands bank in exchange for help. Or that he’d pimp out Melania, Ivanka or Tiffany.

Or anything else. Let your imagination run.

Lest you think this is unrealistic, consider this thought experiment: sooner or later, the visiting team is going to be called to testify before Congress. If all five participants come to the witness table and in shaky, tremulous voices describe a more-or-less consistent version of what happened in that meeting, who can rebut them? After a solid year of lying, dissembling, omitting, misdirections, incomplete answers, amended forms and convenient forgetfulness, can anyone honestly claim that Don Jr., Jared and Paul have MORE credibility than five earnest people who haven’t spent all that time lying in public on a near-daily basis?

What if someone on the visiting team happened to record the meeting? Or at least has a recording that purports to be from the meeting? Before you say no way could something like that be faked, read this article.

Of course, the beauty of a lever like this is that you don’t actually have to use it in order to make it effective. All you have to do is let your opponents know that you have the lever and that you’re prepared to use it. You would also offer them a carrot in the form of a “promise” that the visiting team would continue to be helpful in terms of denying anything untoward happened as long as the Trump administration continued to cooperate.

Now, when could the Russians have let the Trumps know of the existence of such a carrot-and-stick arrangement? Could they have told them…

  • During the undisclosed conversations between Mike Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak?
  • During the undisclosed meetings between Jeff Sessions and Kislyak?
  • During the undisclosed meeting between Jared Kushner and Kislyak?
  • During the undisclosed meeting between Kushner and Russian banker Sergey Gorkov, the head of Vnesheconombank?
  • During President Trump’s unpublicized meeting in the Oval Office with Kislyak and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov?
  • During the 2:15 meeting between President Trump and Putin at the G20?
  • During the just-disclosed one-on-one meeting between the two at the G20 dinner?

Those are just a few of the possibilities. Turns out there’s a Wikipedia page dedicated to cataloging the many ways information like this might have flowed to the Trumps.

“The Russians are not our friends,” said Mitch McConnell. Similarly, Vladimir Putin does not admire, respect or want to be friends with Donald Trump. Everything I’ve ever read about the man suggests that people are important to him only to the extent that they’re useful to him. The Trumps, through ineptitude, greed or entitlement, have made themselves extraordinarily useful. As I’m putting the finishing touches on this article, I’m seeing reports that the Trump administration has ended its program to supply arms to anti-Assad rebels in Syria, something long sought by Moscow. As one current official described the decision, “Putin won in Syria.”

See how useful the Trumps can be?

Austin

 

 

Bye Bye Bobby Lee. Can a Stone Wall be Moved?

IMG_5638

After 133 years, a statue of Robert E. Lee came down in New Orleans last week. It made me wonder, again, about the portrait of Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson that’s in our bedroom. I’ve been enormously intrigued by Jackson for years, and researched and wrote an historical novel about him (Cross Over The River; Lives of Stonewall Jackson, available on Amazon.com and iUniverse.com) years ago. Jackson, like Lee, fought valiantly to defend the South and its inhuman institution of slavery. Is he to be admired? Why do I have him hanging on my wall?

Herman Melville wrote a poem about Jackson when Stonewall was accidentally killed by his own troops at the battle of Chancellorsville:

The Man who fiercest charged in fight,
Whose sword and prayer were long –
Stonewall!
Even him who stoutly stood for Wrong,
How can we praise? Yet coming days
Shall not forget him with this song.

Dead is the Man whose Cause is dead,
Vainly he died and set his seal –
Stonewall!
Earnest in error, as we feel;
True to the thing he deemed was due,
True as John Brown or steel.

Relentlessly he routed us;
But we relent, for he is low –
Stonewall!
Justly his fame we outlaw; so
We drop a tear on the bold Virginian’s bier,
Because no wreath we owe.

Stoutly stood for wrong. Earnest in error. Melville called him true as John Brown, who fought against slavery in Kansas and Virginia. Each a zealot, each spilling blood both innocent and guilty in his cause. Can one do something admirable, moving, courageous, in a bad cause?

Of course, “bad cause” and “earnest in error” are tepid bits of language for something as abominable as human slavery. But Jackson fought successfully against desperate odds. His 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign, when he defeated five armies with his much smaller force and caused Lincoln to pull back troops from Gen. George McClellan’s attack on Richmond, is still studied at West Point. While the Federal armies were getting everything in order, arranging supplies and getting all horses shod, Jackson would move like lightning with only part of his force only half equipped and sweep down on the Federal flanks and rear. At the height of his greatest victory he was killed by friendly fire. If he had not been shot then, it’s very possible we would be two countries, not one, today. Jackson would likely not have hesitated two months later at Gettysburg, as his replacement did, on the day the Confederates almost swept the Federals from the field. And the war might have ended then with a Union defeat. So he’s clearly a powerful and influential figure in history.

On my first visit to New Orleans I was in a cab swinging around a traffic circle, in the middle of which was a statue on a pedestal so tall I couldn’t make out whom the statue depicted. I asked my cab driver, a black woman, who was up there. “That’s Bobby Lee, baby,” she said, as if I was a hopeless rube. She said it with what I heard as pride. I was probably wrong.

I asked a black friend of mine when she came to my house if the portrait of Jackson bothered her. No, she said — I took her to mean she had more current racial battles to worry about.

When I first heard, years ago, of movements to remove Confederate statues, I thought it was a mistake to try to erase history. The first instance I recall was a push to remove a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate cavalry general, from Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis. Forrest was a ferocious, unconventional and successful fighter, like Jackson. After the war he was one of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan. I understood that honoring him in public was at best a moral quagmire. But what about “Bobby Lee, baby”? Lee was a man of grace and honor and storied lineage. He married the daughter of George Washington’s stepson. His father was a colonel in the American Revolution and a governor of Virginia. After Appomattox, when many advocated that the remnants of the Confederate armies head for the hills and conduct guerrilla warfare, Lee told Confederate soldiers to lay down their arms, go home, and obey the law.

Should statues of Robert E. Lee be taken down? Or all the statues of Confederate line soldiers in countless courthouse squares across the South? Or Jackson’s statue at his grave in Lexington in the beautiful Shenandoah?

If I were Jewish, what would I think of finding a statue of Herman Goering in a public park?

I believe Donald Trump, with his denial of global warming and his rescinding of Obama’s environmental regulations, will share responsibility for hundreds of millions of deaths in his children’s and grandchildren’s generations as the seas warm and rise and weather worsens and crops and fish die off. I don’t ever want to encounter a statue to this barbarian.

Slavery is just a word to a well-off white guy like me. But in some of the museums in the South I’ve seen artifacts of slavery that are haunting, like an iron collar with six-inch spikes that clamped around a man’s neck and restricted his ability to do almost anything a human being should be able to do. I’ve lately heard two African American historians and writers explain whey they call their ancestors an “enslaved person” rather than a slave. No one is born a slave, they say. Slavery is something another person did to them. And continued, day after day, to do. Rounding up humans in Africa. Packing them in ships like cordwood, a large percentage of them dying on the passage. Beatings. Selling children away from their parents. Endless rape. Denying the right to read. Denying the right to be respected or even seen as human. Murder for sport. Terrible housing. Disease and death. There’s no way for me to imagine what existence was like as a slave. And the hypocrisy of the whites who said slavery was good for this “childlike race” is staggering.

Jackson and Lee fought to keep the right to keep people enslaved. How can that be admirable, no matter how resourceful and inspirational and successful they were against impossible odds?

Lee and Jackson said they fought because their country was invaded. They believed in the right of a state to secede from the Union it had voluntarily joined, and were appalled that other states would march murderous soldiers into theirs to force them to stay in the fold. They both owned slaves and said, correctly, that the Constitution guaranteed them the right to do so. They considered themselves patriots and opposed secession until it happened, then served to defend their native state.

Part of the answer to all this is unfolding in Charleston, South Carolina, the flashpoint of the Civil War. Like Washington, D.C., Charleston will open in 2019 an International African American Museum on the site of a wharf where perhaps 40% of the Africans enslaved and brought to America landed. The city’s mayor for four decades, Joseph Riley, is one of the people most responsible for the museum’s creation. He hopes the museum helps all Americans learn from the unvarnished truth of our country’s original sin by seeing the horrors of slavery and the heroism of those enslaved. Asked about taking down monuments to Confederates, he has said the answer isn’t less history, but more. Keep the old monuments but tell the whole story by adding new ones such as Charleston’s and D.C.’s museums and programs. That sounds like wisdom to me.

Otherwise, how many more statues will come down? In New Orleans, where Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard and Jefferson Davis were just removed for display in some not-yet-determined, more-appropriate less-public place, a statue in Jackson Square of Andrew Jackson rises on rearing horseback. Our seventh president. Who conceived and carried out a policy of Indian removal that uprooted America’s indigenous civilizations and killed tens of thousands on many Trails of Tears. If Lee’s statue can’t stand — can Jackson’s? Must Jefferson be led away from his gorgeous stone gazebo on the Tidal Basin? Must Washington City be renamed?

So why do I have a portrait of Thomas Jackson on my wall? Stonewall wouldn’t have liked me, a reprobate pantheist. I probably wouldn’t have much liked him, a stern Old-Testament Presbyterian and a college teacher who delivered memorized lectures that allowed for no discussion. But as a father and husband he was tender and, flouting local custom, he taught a Sunday school class to black children. And his daring and decisiveness were breathtaking. The South was vastly outnumbered in everything — population, soldiers, ships, resources, railroad iron, manufacturing, guns, food, fuel, foundries. The only force they had stronger than the Union’s was their generals’ audacity. How quickly Jackson took the measure of his opponents, the chances he took, how he used the beautiful geography and topography of the great Valley of Virginia to hide his moving troops, all make him a fascinating man for me. Yet despite why he said he fought, the result of his fighting, if successful, would have been continued slavery. History is complex and unclear.

In Lexington, Virginia, where Lee served after the war as president of Washington College, now Washington and Lee University, there is a stable next to the president’s house. Lee died in 1870 in Lexington of pneumonia after a ride in the rain on his horse, Traveller, who had served Lee faithfully during the war. A year later Traveller died. The doors to Traveller’s stable are always kept slightly ajar, even today. In case the horse comes home.

One day, perhaps, America will come home. I can still hear George McGovern’s acceptance speech in 1972, late late at night, when the quixotic candidate ran against Richard Nixon in an America as divided as it is now, and almost as divided as it had been one hundred years before — “Come home, America,” was McGovern’s plea. Come home, together, despite conflicting views and values.

I’m fine with Robert E. Lee being taken off his pedestal in New Orleans. We don’t have to hold him up, but we can’t make believe he was never an American. We can’t delete Lee, or either Jackson, from history or from the tangled twisted improbable story of America that is still being told. As we all try to find home.

— Bruce Benidt

The Arrogance of Donald Trump

15237I’ll leave it to the elephants to trample the grass around the firing of FBI Director James Comey – except to agree with the obvious point that this clearly wasn’t about the Director’s handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail issue – but I do want to call out one telling detail of yesterday’s drama: Mr. Trump sent his longtime bodyguard – Keith Schiller – to hand carry the letter of dismissal to Director Comey’s office. That wasn’t an accident and reveals the petty cruelty and arrogance of Mr. Trump.

For those unfamiliar with Mr. Schiller, he has been part of the Trump Organization since 1999 when he signed on as a part-time bodyguard. In 2005, he became Trump’s head of security. If you’ve ever watched a Trump rally, you’ve probably seen Mr. Schiller as he’s rarely far from his boss.

Schiller served in the New York Police Department and in the Navy so he has law enforcement experience, but his primary qualification for his job is his unwavering loyalty to Trump. Sending him to “fire” James Comey – someone who has worked for decades in the highest levels of our nation’s law enforcement – is a calculated insult akin to sending a first-year medical student to pull a neurosurgeon out of an operating room.

In plain language, it’s a dick move by a low-class bully who probably fouled the Oval Office by giggling about how clever he was.

This detail changes nothing about how I feel about Mr. Trump and I suspect that it won’t change anyone’s opinion of the man. If, however, someone tells you about the “warm and gracious” Trump that no one sees on camera, remember this counterpoint. This is the real Donald Trump and these are the people he wants around him.

  • Austin

101 Trumpnations

One hundred and one. But who’s counting? The total is too daunting.

101 image

Donald Trump in 100 days hasn’t done as much as we may have feared, and of course he’s done way less than he promised. Lots of commentary about this artificial hundred-day mark, about how Trump’s doing.

What about us? How are we doing?

Still shocked. Still disbelieving. I have friends and family who are watching and reading much less news. Thoreau said that, once you know trains can crash, you don’t need to know every time a train crashes. I’m reading and watching somewhat less. So little of what’s in the headlines and on the air is surprising: Trump guts environmental protections, Trump proposes tax breaks for the rich. We need to know he’s doing this, but I don’t need to punish myself with each detail.

My wife, Lisa, has said for some time that, politically, things have to get worse before they get better. She started saying this when W was “selected” as she says. I hoped eight years of W would be enough to start the “better.” But I guess we need more “worse.” I can’t quite fathom that we have fourteen times as many days of Trump left as we’ve had so far — if he doesn’t quit early, bored and tired of actual work, as I believe he will. At 66 years of age, keeping my head down for four years and hoping things get better doesn’t sound as easy as it might have in 1968, at the beginning of Nixon. Or even at the beginning of Reagan, when I was 30.

Several commentators, including Andrew Sullivan, have said it’s a good thing Hillary Clinton didn’t get elected, if Congress stayed Republican. Congress would have let her accomplish less than Obama, and the right would have gone more crazy, and the Democratic Party would have suffered more in the White House than in the Wilderness, Sullivan says. Maybe there’s a silver lining there.

The hope these writers have is that Trump will screw up enough that there will be a reaction against him in both the midterms and the next presidential election, and we’ll get back to … to what? Republicans and Democrats fractured within their parties, left and right (or right and far right)? Voters who don’t understand or want to understand people who voted for the other side? A country still divided, or splintered, but one with a Democrat in the White House? I guess that’s our hope, faint though it may be.

My hope is that people who voted for Trump will see his con. But they haven’t so far. Ninety-six percent of those who voted for him still support him, some polls say. Those numbers may not yet reflect reaction to his tax plan, which benefits him to the tune of hundreds of millions, and $1.2 billion in estate tax savings, if you believe his boasts about his own wealth. Maybe those numbers will wake up some Trump voters — but are the local media in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, or Anadarko, Texas, showing who benefits and who’s getting screwed in Trump’s plan? Fox News ain’t. What will make Trump voters understand that he ran as a populist and is already governing as a plutocrat?

Trump voters are getting the circus they wanted, but not the bread. Jason Miller, a Trump campaign adviser, told the New York Times today “The 2016 election wasn’t a delicate request to challenge exiting traditions; it was a demand that our next president do things different. And while the professional political class struggles to understand what has happened to their hold on power, supporters of President Trump — the forgotten men and women he referenced in his Inaugural Address — love the change they’re seeing.” So Trump shakes things up and doesn’t follow convention, and I understand how that’s appealing. Too many politicians are to human beings what a postcard is to a real sunset. So Trump is refreshing to people tired of both Marco Rubio and Hillary Clinton poll-testing their every breath.

Trouble is, Donald Trump doesn’t give a rat’s ass about “the forgotten men and women he referenced in his Inaugural Address.” Never has. And is busily working, when he’s not golfing, at screwing them over. Will they see it, or will his flimflam bluster keep them entertained enough to not check their wallets?

Time will tell. But with an aging Supreme Court and the oceans rising … do we have 1,359 more days?

Me, I’m just glad baseball season started. Even reruns of West Wing (our fifth time through) aren’t cheering me up as much as an Evan Longoria homer or rope-line toss from deep at third.

How are you all doing?

— Bruce Benidt

 

Minnesota Has Seen This Movie

rotten_tomatoes_8290As I watched the dramatic collapse of Trumpcare today, I was reminded that Minnesotans have seen this Happy Gilmoresque movie before: Before there was “Trump: The President” there was “Ventura: The Governor.”

For those younger than me – approximately all of you – you might not remember that in 1998, sober, sane, proud-of-our-good-government-instincts Minnesota elected a former professional wrestler – surely the forerunners of today’s reality stars – and bit-player actor (“I ain’t got time to bleed.”) as its governor. While this decision looks positively brilliant next to Mr. Trump’s election – Ventura had at least served in the military and had held elective office – it was an electoral exercise in “what-the-fuck” voting as two uninspiring mainstream candidates drove down their turnout and allowed a third party candidate to eke out a narrow victory.

Two things saved Mr. Ventura’s tenure from immediately becoming the smoldering crater that is the Trump Administration after just 64 days. First, and most obviously, is the fact that we elected a buffoon to the Governor’s Office instead of the Oval Office thus limiting the damage that even the most inept office holder can do (though one should never underestimate what a motivated governor can do – I’m looking at you Scott Lets-Gut-Public-Unions Walker and you Rick Let-Them-Drink-Lead Snyder). Second, as MPR notes, Jesse “The Body” Ventura was lucky enough to come into office with a $4 billion tax surplus (which it also notes he turned into a $4.5 billion deficit) and a blessedly quiet period in Minnesota when the most difficult public policy questions consisted of everyone asking, “What should we do with all this extra money?” Even Jesse Ventura – who had the not-very-original-or-smart- but-defensible position of rebating the surplus to taxpayers – could manage not to screw things up too bad in a political environment that marshmallowly.

As an aside, while I was reading the MPR story mentioned above to refresh my memory of what happened – and didn’t – during The Body’s time in office, I was struck by this passage:

Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum says Ventura’s relationship with key lawmakers was hot and cold.

“There are times he just charmed you tremendously. You know, just very, very charming,” Sviggum said. “And in the next minute, you’ll be shaking your head and saying, ‘you know, I don’t want anything to do with the individual.'”

Gee, who does that remind me of? Wait, wait…it’ll come to me.

Unfortunately, shit got real for Minnesota in the last year or so of Governor Ventura’s term when the money ran out and actually governing and legislating had to be done. Mr. Ventura, after making some nominal efforts to participate in the process, checked out and left it to the legislature to work it out. I seem to recall he spent his time – while in office – being the MC for something called the XFL, junketing to China and Cuba and feuding with the media (the more things change…).

This trip down memory lane is more than just an old fart’s reminiscences; it bears on today’s debacle – and that’s an insult to the other debacles – in terms of what happened today and – more importantly – what’s going to happen next.

Today, Mr. Trump’s efforts at playing the role of President were exposed as the fraud many of us have believed it would be and is. The master negotiator got rolled by two dozen guys in $200 Men’s Wearhouse poly-blend suits. The “closer” discovered he’s a “c” short. The Great Leader turned around and discovered the parade was a bit shorter than he’d promised and that nobody seems terribly worried about crossing him. In short, he got the shit kicked out of him and even if he can’t admit it, looked hopelessly out his depth.

Who knew health care was so complicated? I mean, gee Wally, I guess being a grown up is harder than it looks.

My prediction is that Mr. Trump – who is so thin-skinned he makes Mr. Ventura look positively indifferent to criticism – will do exactly what the governor did back in 2001; he’ll pull back from all this “governing stuff” and leave it to the Congress – and maybe his cabinet members – to deal with. Having suffered a body-blow of a loss, Mr. Trump will retreat to what he likes best – ceremonial photo ops with truckers, bikers, CEOs who announce jobs (real or not), rallies (though I’ll be interested to see how those crowds hold up for a guy who lent his name to a bill supported by 17 percent of voters), Mar-a-Lago and Twitter. The billionaire president is going to be positively cheap when it comes to spending whatever political capital he has left.

We’ll be able to assess the accuracy of my prediction in short order because in just a few weeks Congress will have to vote to increase the debt limit or risk a default by the U.S. government. The adults in the room – reported to be Mnuchin and Cohn when it comes to economics – will start issuing warnings. Speaker Ryan, cindered up to his well-toned biceps from the last 18 days, will be as firm as Jello and mostly ignored. Mitch McConnell will say…something. The Freedom Caucus will announce its unalterable opposition to raising the debt limit (but will back-channel that it can be bought for some draconian price), the Democrats will take the understandable (albeit not very grown up) position that since it’s the Republicans who control both both houses and the White House, it’s their responsibility to lead on the issue.

My guess – based on what I know of Mr. Trump and what the lesson of Jesse Ventura tells me – is  that while the risk of default builds, President Trump will hit the links, meet with Bill Gates (again), Kanye, the border patrol union, seventeen guys in the construction business and a collection of country-and-western stars. He’ll Tweet out stream-of-consciousness thoughts as he watches Fox & Friends and let Congress and his surrogates work it out (though he will never, ever again own their actions). If they’re able to work out a deal, then – and only then – will he show up for work. I suspect he’ll re-create the boardroom set from The Apprentice and make Ryan, McConnell and a player to be named later have to come pitch him to save the country’s credit rating. He’ll do it live. Steve Bannon will get a producer’s credit. The other Steve – the one with the bulging eyes and the spittle – will do the script.

What a profile in courage. What a change agent.  And it’s only two months in. Forty-six more to go.

  • Austin

 

 

What Now? Can We Find Peace Amid Rising Waters, Rising Gorge?

God willing and the creek don’t rise…  I wrote earlier this week about the likely election of Hillary Clinton.

The creek rose. And now so will the seas. And now what do those of us, more than half the country, who think Trump is horrendous do to find some equilibrium? Anger shock and griping isn’t a healthy plan for living.

Donald Trump’s first act as president elect will ensure that his son Baron and Baron’s children will live in a world of horror. You think there are refugee problems now, Mr. Trump? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Wait until your know-nothing policy on global warming has its effects and tens of millions of poor people who don’t look like your voters flee the rising seas. Trump named Myron Ebel of the Competitive Enterprise Institute to head his transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency. The fox has entered the henhouse. “Mr. Ebel has asserted that whatever warming caused by greenhouse gas pollution is modest and could be beneficial,” The New York Times writes today. Bye Bye Paris climate accord. Bye Bye livable earth.

Every day there will be another outrage like this. But these won’t be like Trump’s campaign outrages. Those could have still been addressed by the voters. Too late now. Too many of these new daily outrages will become policy.

Can I stand to be outraged every day? Angry? Depressed? Clinton in her concession speech said we owe the president elect an open mind. I’ll try. I’ll have to or I’ll go crazy. Or I’ll have to go up in the hills and live alone and become a helmet, as Maynard G. Krebs said.

Perhaps this man will grow in the office. He seems not to have fixed convictions, and he’s certainly not an orthodox Republican. So I suspect he’ll sometimes pleasantly surprise us. He may push for government-supported work repairing infrastructure that was the first thing the Republicans blocked President Obama from doing eight years ago. Clips and pictures of him meeting with Obama yesterday showed Trump looking as if he’s realized what deep water he’s in. That, or he was already bored.

I can’t live in anger for four years. People who thought Obama was an abomination and that his policies were ruining the country felt every day for eight years what I’ll feel now for four. Their representatives in Congress did little but bitch and say no. That wasn’t very satisfying or useful. I don’t want to do that.

So I’ll watch and read less news. Try not to wallow in the daily transgressions. Read more books. Write more books. Watch more movies. Talk with Lisa more instead of sitting next to each other watching MSNBC. Bowl. Do something. Actively try to stop some of the worst things Trump and his backers will do. Are already doing. But I can’t be sad or angry every day or the cats will hide under the bed and Lisa will make me live on the screen porch where my black cloud won’t foul the air.

Half the country is crawling out of their cellars these last three days and looking around at what the tornado rearranged. It’s an apt cliche to say we’re in shock. Moving slow. Staring off in the distance. Wishing it weren’t so.

The dark parts of me want to say to Trump voters, “You picked him, you got him, don’t come to us when you realize he’s screwing you.” And the nasty parts of me want to say to Democratic primary voters, “You picked her, a terrible candidate, and look where that got us.” The late great Molly Ivins wrote a book about George W. Bush’s years as governor of Texas to show voters what Bush would be like as president. And he was (sort of) elected anyway and he acted just like Ivins warned he would. She wrote a second book before Bush’s reelection and said in the introduction “If y’all hadda read my first book I wouldn’t have had to write the second one.” If we’d paid attention to Carl Bernstein’s study of Hillary Clinton’s actions and character “A Woman in Charge” we would have put up someone this year who wasn’t so reviled and could have won.

But that didn’t happen. And I have to stop moaning about it all. For my own peace, and so people and small animals don’t flee from me on sight. Pick a few important causes to back and then back away from the daily deluge. Find quiet corners.

We survived eight years of Reagan (the poor didn’t survive very well as income disparity started to skyrocket under this earlier actor who played a president). We survived eight years under Bush (the soldiers and civilians killed and maimed in Bush’s endless wars didn’t survive very well under this earlier front man who didn’t know much). We can probably survive four years of Trump. But the planet and our progeny?

Get thee to a hammock, Bruce. Squeeze a cat pet a dog love the kids. Turn down the temp inside yourself. And send Elizabeth Warren flowers.

img_4608

— Bruce Benidt

 

How Could You????

The majority of colonists in America either favored staying with King George or at least didn’t support the rebellion. The Revolutionaries who wanted independence were a minority. Status quo has a powerful inertial force.

I think of this as I try to understand how anyone — any one person not related to him — could possibly vote for Donald Trump. (Yes I realize people with the opposite view wonder the same thing about voting for Hillary Clinton. That’s the great divide right there.) I think it’s the economy, stupid, and the way things were. And the fact that we’ve let so many politicians get away with so much bullshit for so many years that we can no longer tell the difference between standard-issue political bullshit that comes from someone with at least some idea of how the real world works and the totally empty policy-free crap that comes from an Olympic-level bullshitter with no knowledge of a world beyond his own mirror.

I’m truly trying not to be reactionary. It’s easy to say many, or most (or half, Hillary?) Trump voters are ignorant or racist or xenophobes. It’s easy to dismiss them from many angles. But there are so many of them. Forty percent of voters polled. That’s a lot of people and they can’t all be ignorant racist xenophobes. Everyone I know is appalled by Trump. But, really, everyone? I bet many people I know are considering pulling the lever for Trump tomorrow, or already have. And just not talking about it, at least with liberal me.

Why would anyone vote for Trump? Many don’t like Obama policies, such as Obamacare, which has been presented to them by conservatives and their media lackeys as poison. Many don’t like Hillary Clinton, don’t trust her, don’t think she’s ethical. I’m among those. But I already voted for her because we agree on almost all policy and issues. And because she has actual knowledge of the world. A lot of veterans and active military support Trump, many because they don’t like how America is being pushed around by foemen not worthy of our steel.

img_5174I’ve been reading three memoirs from the South that help explain Trump voters. Hillbilly Elegy, by J. D. Vance (he’s been on every interview show there is lately), Dimestore, by Lee Smith, and Finding Grace, by Donna VanLiere. All three talk about small towns withering in the South and about what people who stay are like and what people who get out are like. A common theme is that, as the world and the economy change and jobs disappear, some people change with the flow and some stand pat and drown.  Many who are overwhelmed by change lack agency — they feel as if the world is doing something to them, and as if they have no role to play in adapting or changing. And many of them are mad. At the world. At “them.” Whoever “them” is. In Vance’s book, a guy who lost his job by drinking too much blames his bosses. Vance says having someone to provide kids growing up with stability (for him, grandparents) and a view of larger possibilities can make all the difference between becoming someone who feels angry and helpless and someone who feels he or she can rise higher than their immediate surroundings.

I’ve also recently reread All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren, and read It Can’t Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis, and Lindbergh, by A. Scott Berg. As the books meander through demagoguery and America First-ism, they all shed some light on the world of Trump. There are clear bad guys in these tales. Bankers, European war leaders, subversives. There’s a “them” to blame. Different for everyone, but someone for everyone.

I recently talked to a Brit I admire who lives in the US,  and I asked if he would have voted for Brexit if he still lived in England. “Absolutely” was his immediate response. And he began talking about immigrants and losing the culture of England. The England he grew up with is changing.

And I think that’s the key. How things used to be. Even if they weren’t all that good, they were what we knew. What we grew up with. It was how the world was. And was supposed to be. Too bad if the way things were was mostly good for straight white men.

Trump promises to turn back the clock. Make things better. Just like that. Flick of a switch. Take us back. Make steel jobs reappear. Make criminals disappear. He identifies the bad guys — them — and says he can fix what they’ve wrecked. Overtly he names the bad guys as immigrants and Muslims. People not like us. Covertly he identifies the bad guys as blacks and hispanics and women and the poor. People not like us.

There are many who feel the pull of Trump’s reactionary make-believe and know he can’t really just snap his fingers on day one and fix it. They know his plans don’t exist. But they buy into Trump’s siren song hoping that some of what’s gone awry can be righted by this guy who at least names the problems. Yes, there are also many who hear Trump’s fantasies and are too ignorant or too irresponsible to pay enough attention to see that Trump’s a charlatan. These people aren’t doing their duty as citizens — and, I believe, are the most likely to be racists and xenophobes and be the kind of people Vance says blame others for their problems. (Much of that blame is reasonable:  companies that move jobs overseas — to meet our demand for cheap stuff — have indeed acted upon their employees in ways that are no fault of the workers. The issue is what do you do with yourself — and what does your upbringing and experience tell you is possible to do — after the job disappears.)

Many news articles lately have shown that the people most likely to fall for Trump are white people with the worst economic prospects. (Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans who’ve been suffering economically for generations aren’t jumping on his bandwagon, because they’re paying attention.) These white folks who’ve lost jobs as the economy and world change hear Trump shout out loudly that there’s someone to blame, someone to beat on, and he’s someone who’ll do it.

The most compassionate viewpoint about Trump voters I’ve heard came from Van Jones, a black social entrepreneur, activist and commentator on CNN. In The New York Times some weeks back he said “When I listen to Trump voters I hear Black Lives Matter people.” Both groups feel ignored, left behind, marginalized, feel like the system is rigged against them.

So, as Trump loses tomorrow, god willing and the creek don’t rise, let’s not scorn those who voted for him. Many are good people who feel they’ve been screwed. And America and her new president need to give them an ear and some hope. Yes, we can.

— Bruce Benidt

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I Voted.” Small sticker, precious step

Today I’m as powerful as Sheldon Adelson, Sean Hannity, Paul Ryan, John Roberts, David Axelrod or Elizabeth Warren.

My vote counts as much as each of theirs. And as I cast my vote today my heart lifted. I could feel it. For too many months I’ve been worrying and griping and moaning and arguing and living in fear of the unthinkable. An hour ago I took action. I feel empowered.

img_5163Our country has flaws. Disparity of rich and poor. Gross overconsumption of the planet’s resources. Poor education and a paucity of hope for too many. A system designed by those who already have the most to assure they get more. And our election system is far from perfect. Voter suppression. Hanging chads. Too much influence by the wealthiest. Gerrymandered districts that permit little challenge to incumbents.

But I just cast a vote that counts the same as Barack Obama’s. And it will be counted. The regular citizens who handed me the ballot and watched me slide it in the machine are the volunteer custodians of the dream the founders dreamed. My Uncle Bob died in World War II to protect the vote I cast today. John Lewis had his skull cracked to preserve the right of all of us to not just speak up about where we’re going as a country but to put our hands on the wheel.

There was a man standing at the corner of the street that leads to our local government center where Lisa and I voted. He was showing the world a life-size picture of Hillary Clinton behind bars. I firmly believe he’ll be disappointed a week from today. And as we drove past him I felt less of the despair I’ve been feeling for months, despair that the candidate he supports might actually, how could this possibly be true, win the election. I felt less depressed because I had just taken action. I had voted. To turn away that man’s vision and to bring my own closer to the light.

In a world full of despots I stood up and said to the preposterous, self-absorbed, ignorant, immature poseur who would be president: “I banish thee. Slink back under the foul rock you crawled out from. Begone.” Little old me, a guy of scant power, wealth or influence. But a guy with a vote.

In the car, Lisa and I did a Barack-Michelle fist bump. Is this a great country or what?

— Bruce Benidt

How Dare You, Donald Trump?

khizr-khan-dncI spent 20 minutes today on the Massachusetts Turnpike with tears streaming down face.

I was so outraged listening to Donald Trump’s response to Khizr Khan’s speech on Thursday that it brought me to tears. Now that I’m not driving I can use my words:

How dare you, Donald Trump? HOW FUCKING DARE YOU?

How dare you demean and disrespect those AMERICAN parents who understand far better than you the citizenship that is your birthright and that you do not deserve?

How dare you use a mother’s raw pain as another dog whistle insinuation to impugn a religion you neither understand or respect?

How dare you dismiss the sacrifice their son made on behalf of his country and his men? Humayun Khan, an Army captain, died trying to save lives. That moment of bravery counts for more than every second of your 70 years of greed, narcissism and classlessness.

How dare you equate your “sacrifice” with a second of the Khans’ grief and mourning?  The dust on their soles have more claim on our sympathy than you do.

How dare you equate your “sacrifice” to that of any other veteran’s family? For two years, I watched my mother cry every day when the mail came: she cried when a letter from my Marine Corps brother in Vietnam arrived and and she cried when one didn’t. My mother and tens of millions like her – parents whose sons and daughters go to war, wear the uniform of our firefighters and police – know the meaning of “sacrifice.” You know nothing.

Sixty-two years ago, Joseph Welch kicked another petty bully to the curb with words that perfectly express the contempt I feel for you. With apologies to his memory, I paraphrase:

Until this moment, I think I have never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Little did I dream you could be so reckless and so cruel as to do an injury to that people such as the Khans. If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty I would do so. I like to think I am a gentleman, but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me.

Let us not assassinate this family further, Mr. Trump. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?

And to those of you out there who still support this poor excuse of a MAN, please tell me why. Please explain how you can look the other way in the face of such grotesqueness. Are there no standards of decency or humanity left to transgress? How will you explain your support for this monster to your children? How can I explain it to my children? Paul Ryan, can you answer those questions? Mitch McConnell? Reince Prebius?

The simple truth is that you cannot. If you cannot admit this now, then you are damned along with him.

– Austin

 

 

The Trump Train Adds Another Car

David Duke

Donald Trump likes to boast of how many people are joining the “Trump Train” so I’m sure a Tweet from @realDonald Trump (AKA The Great Conductor) will be forthcoming welcoming David Duke aboard.

For those of you who do not inhabit the fringes of racist politics, Duke is a former Louisiana state representative who has run unsuccessfully for Congress, governor and president. He’s also a convicted felon and has in recent years hosted a radio show where he promotes his point of view that Americans of European descent are the real victims of discrimination.

And, oh yeah, he’s a former leader of the Klu Klux Klan.

It’s no coincidence that Mr. Duke is jumping back into politics now after almost 20 years off the trail. In the New York Times, Mr. Duke credits Donald Trump for making the environment welcoming:

“‘I’m overjoyed to see Donald Trump and most Americans embrace most of the issues that I’ve championed for years,’ said Mr. Duke, who had an early foray in politics as a supporter of George Wallace, the Alabama governor whose name remains synonymous with segregation.”

And he’s been an enthusiastic supporter of the Trump campaign:

David Duke 2

You might remember that when Mr. Duke and the KKK first jumped on the Trump Train, it took The Great Conductor – AKA Donald J. Trump – a couple of days to decide how he felt about the riders. This caused most of us – who have pretty firm views on the KKK that are easily recalled and expressed – to pause. After an unseemly long time, The Great Conductor said they couldn’t ride. That remains the official position of The Great Conductor as revealed by His Oracle who told the Times that ““Mr. Trump has disavowed David Duke and will continue to do so.”

The problem, though, is that even someone as powerful and dominating as The Great Conductor doesn’t actually get to pick and choose who rides his train. When you lay your tracks right into the dark heart of racism and intolerance, when you spend 14 months stoking the boiler with a powerful mix of dogwhistle code words, encouragements to violence, calls to “take our country back” and to blame people who don’t look like you for all their problems, you can’t credibly claim surprise – or even dismay – when the David Dukes of the world hitch their car to your train.

Welcome to The Great Conductor’s Train, Mr. Duke. You two deserve one another.

– Austin

 

Better Writers Than Me

A couple weeks ago I was having lunch with a friend who also blogs on occasion. We were discussing our free-floating anxiety around Donald Trump and he made the observation that it was hard to find something to say about the Republican nominee that wasn’t already being said – and said better – by others.

He’s right. Everywhere I turn reporters, columnists, editorialists, op-ed authors and others are describing in detail every aspect of Donald Trump’s unsuitability for elected office – any elected office truthfully but most especially the oval one at 1600 Pennsylvania.

As an excellent example of this phenomenon, I offer you today’s Washington Post editorial:

WP - Editorial

The whole editorial is well worth the two or three minutes it will take to read it. It’s worth sharing with your friends, family and neighbors. It’s worth printing out, highlighting and taking door to door in Eden Prairie, Chanhassen, Elk River or any other place with a high concentration of Republican voters.

Here are a couple of excerpts:

“Mr. Trump’s politics of denigration and division could strain the bonds that have held a diverse nation together. His contempt for constitutional norms might reveal the nation’s two-century-old experiment in checks and balances to be more fragile than we knew.”

“[T]here is nothing on Mr. Trump’s résumé to suggest he could function successfully in Washington. He was staked in the family business by a well-to-do father and has pursued a career marked by some real estate successes, some failures and repeated episodes of saving his own hide while harming people who trusted him.”

“[H]e displays no curiosity, reads no books and appears to believe he needs no advice. In fact, what makes Mr. Trump so unusual is his combination of extreme neediness and unbridled arrogance. He is desperate for affirmation but contemptuous of other views.”

“He also is contemptuous of fact. Throughout the campaign, he has unspooled one lie after another — that Muslims in New Jersey celebrated after 9/11, that his tax-cut plan would not worsen the deficit, that he opposed the Iraq War before it started — and when confronted with contrary evidence, he simply repeats the lie. It is impossible to know whether he convinces himself of his own untruths or knows that he is wrong and does not care. It is also difficult to know which trait would be more frightening in a commander in chief.”

There’s more. Annotated, fact-based, sober in tone and language.

I submit that the best thing you can do for our democracy this evening is share this editorial with everyone you can reach. Send it to your contact list. Post it to Facebook, Tweet it, paste it on construction sites. Don’t just send it to the people who agree with you, send it to your uncle who’s wearing the Trump hat or the coworker who keeps forwarding you the “Hillary for Prison” e-mails. You don’t have to argue, debate or persuade; just ask them to read it.

As the Post notes, Mr. Trump is everyone’s problem now. The Republicans have made their choice – as Paul Ryan noted – and they chose poorly. Now the rest of us have to clean up the mess. There’s two ways to do that: 1) to turn out every possible vote in November for Hillary Clinton and, 2) to give those who might be inclined to support Donald Trump every possible reason to reconsider.

– Austin

 

 

The Incoherency of Donald Trump

NATOThe foreign policy world is abuzz today about the latest pronouncement from Donald Trump that casts doubt on his willingness to fulfill our NATO treaty commitments.

The policies Trump puts forward are wildly outside the mainstream of any Republican or Democratic administration in the last 60 years, but what really caught my eye in the transcript of the interview – which was put out because the campaign is now claiming Trump was misquoted – is the basic incoherence of his words. At almost every point, the words Donald Trump speaks literally make no sense.

To wit (emphasis added):

“If we cannot be properly reimbursed for the tremendous cost of our military protecting other countries, and in many cases the countries I’m talking about are extremely rich. Then if we cannot make a deal, which I believe we will be able to, and which I would prefer being able to, but if we cannot make a deal, I would like you to say, I would prefer being able to, some people, the one thing they took out of your last story, you know, some people, the fools and the haters, they said, “Oh, Trump doesn’t want to protect you.” I would prefer that we be able to continue, but if we are not going to be reasonably reimbursed for the tremendous cost of protecting these massive nations with tremendous wealth — you have the tape going on?”

“In the meantime, what have we done? So we’ve kept peace, but in the meantime we’ve let North Korea get stronger and stronger and more nuclear and more nuclear, and you are really saying, “Well, how is that a good thing?” You understand? North Korea now is almost like a boiler. You say we’ve had peace, but that part of Korea, North Korea, is getting more and more crazy. And more and more nuclear. And they are testing missiles all the time.

“And we’ve got our soldiers sitting there watching missiles go up. And you say to yourself, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ Now we’re protecting Japan because Japan is a natural location for North Korea. So we are protecting them, and you say to yourself, ‘Well, what are we getting out of this?'”

Just so you understand though, totally on the record, this is not 40 years ago. We are not the same country and the world is not the same world. Our country owes right now $19 trillion, going to $21 trillion very quickly because of the omnibus budget that was passed, which is incredible. We don’t have the luxury of doing what we used to do; we don’t have the luxury, and it is a luxury. We need other people to reimburse us much more substantially than they are giving right now because we are only paying for a fraction of the cost.

By the way, and I know what I’m talking about is massive. If we ever felt there was a reason to defend the United States, we can always deploy, and it would be a lot less expense.

“I don’t think so, but I do give great credit to him for turning it around. You know, the first hour, it seemed like it was over. Then all of a sudden, and the amazing thing is the one that won that was the people. They came out on the streets, and the army types didn’t want to drive over them like they did in Tiananmen Square when they sort of drived them over, and that was the end of that.”

“Meetings. If I ever have the opportunity to do it, meaning if I win, we will have meetings, we will have meetings very early on.”

David, I have statisticians, and I know, like if I went to Pennsylvania, I say, “Give me the statistics on what is going on with respect to manufacturing.” Numbers — 45, 55, 65, I have states that are so bad. New England. Look at New England, what happened.

Cyber is absolutely a thing of the future and the present. Look, we’re under cyberattack, forget about them. And we don’t even know where it’s coming from.

Because we’re obsolete. Right now, Russia and China in particular and other places.

Yes. I am a fan of the future, and cyber is the future.

We have nuclear that we don’t even know if it works. We have nuclear where the telephone systems are 40 years old and they have wire that’s so corroded that they can’t call from one station to the next.”

And I hope you say that I do know my subject. And I do know it. I know it better than, I know it better than the people that do it for ——

It’s possible to puzzle out of these comments what the reader THINKS Mr. Trump is saying but the reality of the words he speaks are incoherent and nonsensical. He does not deserve the benefit of the doubt. No one should level up his words. He deserves to be judged on the basis of what he actually says and the way he says it.

– Austin

 

“I Believe…”

4917998Parsing the various ways that “establishment” Republicans support their presumptive presidential candidate is a wonderful exercise in linguistics. You can tell that most of them are using talking points that have been honed to within a micron of their rhetorical content. Even the simple word “support” is subject to a range of definitions that have come into play only in the last several months. To some, it means voting for, endorsing, campaigning for. Some say their support means voting for only. Some have yet to tell us what their support means.

A regular feature, though, of all of these tortured pronouncements is a phrase along the lines of, “I believe that Donald Trump believes that…” I’ve seen it used to justify supporting him because of vacancies on the Supreme Court, on gun rights, on abortion, on supporting the family values and religious freedom concerns of the evangelical voters, on immigration, on trade, on foreign policy. Check out Tom Cotton’s use of the phrase in The Atlantic to explain how a classic conservative hawk – someone who believes in a muscular, robust, outward-looking foreign policy – could support a man who has advocated pulling out of NATO, reneging on bilateral treaty commitments in every corner of the world, supporting the spread of nuclear weapons and wants to turn our foreign policy into a series of one-time financial transactions.

These people are deluding themselves. No one, not even Donald Trump, knows what he believes. No one, especially not Donald Trump, considers the candidate bound by anything that comes out of his mouth. Like his approach to foreign policy, Mr. Trump treats every utterance as a one-time transaction in which he will say literally anything to close whatever deal he thinks is in front of him at that very instant.

Honest to God, I think if you could book Donald Trump into back-to-back conventions – say, for example, the White People’s Party annual convention and the National Black Republicans Association – he wouldn’t skip a beat:

“Thank you…thank you…what a great crowd…wow, it’s packed in here and I hear there is a huge line trying to get in. Thank you. What a great bunch of Americans, people who want to take their country back, who want to make America Great Again. And we are going to do that, don’t you worry. You’re going to get so tired of winning, you’ll beg me to stop. We’re going to win on trade, on the military, on our police – aren’t they great? – on immigration. And that includes winning on your issues. There will never be – I guarantee you – a president who’s going to more for your people and the issues you care about than Donald Trump. I will be so good to you. Because I’ll bring back the jobs. I’ve created so many great jobs – including hiring thousands of your people – and built such a great company with the best properties that it’ll be easy. So easy.”

Of course, I am – thankfully  – not in Donald Trump’s head so I can’t say for sure that his calcified brain is wired this way, but I would submit that his entire career and his entire candidacy is built on this mindset: Donald Trump will say whatever he needs to say to get the deal, the loan, the government approval, the wire transfer, the contract, the work done, the item placed on Page Six, the interview, the caucus win, the primary votes and then – when the deal is closed – he’ll do whatever he wants.

Repeat over and over and over for more than 40 years. End up as the Republicans’ nominee.

Sad!

– Austin

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sad! Trump’s “Crowds” Ain’t What They Used to Be

Poor Donald Trump. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that he’s not as rich as he’s always claimed (my leading theory for why he won’t release his tax returns is that they would confirm this) and now he’s no longer quite as popular – even with the true believers – as he once was.

Exhibit A in this argument is a couple of photos from yesterday’s Trump “rally” in Manchester, NH – in case it’s easier to track his rallies by gaffes rather than geography, it’s the one where he made a joke about the Mexican plane and didn’t take issue with his supporter’s “heebee-jabbies” comment – that shows by my count maybe 100 people in the audience:

2016-07-01_15-57-4702tfd-trumpwomen-web1-superJumbo

What should be even more worrisome for the campaign than bad advance work (really, did the same advance team that did the garbage backdrop do this one too?), is the complete lack of energy the crowd is exhibiting. In the face of a full-on Trumping, his audience responded thusly:

Sad!

– Austin

PS – Photo credits: Top image is a screen grab from CBS, lower image and audience isolates are credited to Brian Snyder/Reuters.

 

How Trump is Making America Great

It sets my hair on fire that journalists treat Donald Trump like he’s remotely qualified to serve as president of the United States. By casting this election as simply a more extreme or unusual of politics as usual, they make Mr. Trump appear more acceptable and mainstream. He’s neither.

Consider, for example, this lead from The Atlantic:

On Wednesday, Donald Trump gave, by his standards, a restrained and subtle speech.

True, the Republican candidate referred to his opponent, Hillary Clinton, as “a world-class liar,” “maybe the most corrupt person ever to seek the presidency,” and someone whose “decisions spread death, destruction, and terrorism everywhere.” And yes, the speech was full of lies and half-truths. Yet Wednesday’s speech, delivered at an upscale hotel the candidate owns in New York’s SoHo neighborhood, was nonetheless the most focused and cohesive address he has yet given, one that laid out a cogent populist argument without resorting to overt racism or long insult-comedy riffs.

This is how “normalizing” happens. This is how we become desensitized to the awfulness of Mr. Trump’s candidacy. By giving him credit for occasionally not making racist, misogynistic, violence-inciting comments. By being quick to give credit to him for a speech that is – in parts – coherent (which are clearly written by someone else and spoken by Mr. Trump who gives this speechwriter every impression that he’s reading the words for the first time).

Mr. Trump should not be given any credit for “pivoting,” “rebooting” “moderating” or “being disciplined.” All he’s doing is pretending to be something other than he is: a shallow, ignorant, incurious, emotionally immature narcissist who is less qualified to be president than the average person on the street. (I’m not kidding about that, by the way: I think I’d take my chances with a person chosen at random from anywhere in America than Mr. Trump.) All he should be given credit for is a willingness to do anything he thinks will advance his interests at any given moment. That includes reading aloud words written by someone else. Any notion that he understands, agrees with, will be bound by those words is simply wrong.

I’ve buttonholed a couple of journalists on these points and they have uniformly 1) gotten defensive about the media’s efforts to report on the various aspects of Mr. Trump 2) hidden behind the notion that “it’s not their job” to decide who and who isn’t qualified to be president. I’ve also seen in their eyes the panicky look that says they know I’m right (or that I’ve gone stark raving crazy and they’re trapped in a conversation with a lunatic).

In normal elections – i.e. any other election in my lifetime – I would agree with them. Not this one. This election makes a higher claim on all of us to not simply do our jobs but to stand up and be counted. As the saying goes, “When your grandchildren ask you, ‘What did you do to stop Donald Trump?’ what will you say?”

That applies to journalists too.

– Austin

A Rose by Any Other Name…

I’m going to start a collection of Donald Trump descriptions and invite you to play along at home. I’ll update this post whenever I stumble across a new one.

The rules are simple: Any description is eligible as long as you can cite a link to an article or video somewhere on the web. Descriptions can be positive or negative, as short as a single word or up to a sentence in length.

At the end of the election, we’ll hold a vote to pick our favorites.

Here’s a couple to get us started:

Positive

“The best sex I ever had.” Marla Maples, Access Hollywood (h/t to Ellen Mrja)

Negative

“…dangerous buffoon…” Frances Wilkinson, Bloomberg View

“…a small, insecure money-grubber…” Elizabeth Warren, Huffington Post

“…a thin-skinned, racist, sexist bully…” Elizabeth Warren, Huffington Post

“He is a man-baby.” John Stewart, CNN (h/t to Mike Keliher and Jeremy Powers)

“…a megalomaniac…” Trump: What’s the Deal (h/t to Gary Gilson)

“…a pathological liar…” Carl Bernstein, CNN

“…a strong man who doesn’t believe in democratic institutions.” Carl Bernstein, CNN

“…a grifter always dancing one step ahead of bankruptcy court and concocting one failed scheme after another to separate people from their money.” Paul Waldman, Washington Post

“…a shallow, ignorant, incurious, emotionally immature narcissist.” Jon Austin, The Same Rowdy Crowd

I look forward to your entries.

– Austin

 

 

Enough. No more liberal coddling.

In the days since Orlando I’ve become more afraid. And I’m ready to abandon my liberal “We Are The World” views and adopt harsh measures to assure American safety.

We are facing a threat to our very existence. Andrew Sullivan in New York Magazine called the threat “an extinction-level event.” And the normal, nice, politically correct responses won’t work against it. Terrorism is inside our borders, playing out on our televisions every night, the unthinkable and the horrifying becoming the normal.

We have to exclude the terrorists and we have to root out the communities that hide and support them. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War, abridging some rights to save all rights. We need to stop pussy-footing around the problem and go to the source — and stop it. Plug the holes so more terrorists can’t get in. Expel the terrorists who are here and hold those who are like them responsible for their acts.

One force is creating paralyzing fear among Americans. That’s the definition of terrorism. That force is causing us to abandon our principles and sink to the level of the  terrorists. That’s the result of lighting these fires and fanning these flames. I’m tired of it. It has to end. Or we won’t have a country.

My modest proposals:

  • Our most horrible threat comes from a German. So we must immediately stop immigration from Germany. Round up all Germans now in America and throw them the hell out of the country. You don’t have to have been born in Germany to be a German. Your parents being German is enough. Or your grandparents. Or maybe you once lived next to a German. Or ate German chocolate cake. You’re gone.
  • The terrorist who presents the greatest threat against America is a capitalist. So we must immediately bar any capitalists from entering the country. And we must stop all immigration from areas of the world where there are capitalists or where people support capitalism.
  • The steaming, fetid, amoral, immoral, festering hotbed of capitalist terrorism is Wall Street. We will build a wall around lower Manhattan, from the Empire State Building south, to keep all capitalists in so they can’t further infect our country. And, of course, we’re going to make Goldman Sachs pay for the wall. It will be beautiful.
  • We must stop the politically correct language that hobbles our response. Liberals and their running-dog media partners call the threat a “candidate” and analyze his “policies.” They talk about him giving a “speech” and about who are his “advisers” and what kind of “analysis” he engages in and what his level of “knowledge” is. C’maaahn. Let’s call a Drumpf a Drumpf. This is a dangerous, immoral, raving narcissist who, to increase his own false sense of his grandeur, will hurt anyone, trample on our most cherished beliefs and wreck our way of life. He doesn’t have bad policies. He doesn’t pay enough attention to anything beyond his own aura to have policies. He has infiltrated this country through our most-vulnerable yearning — the hope of the masses to someday not be among the masses. He now poses a threat that, because it seems so unlikely, is horrifyingly real. This force of terror is a threat to everything that makes America exceptional.
  • Enough. We have to stop Radical German Capitalist Terrorism. And it must start now.

In the immortal words of an American solider in Vietnam, talking to the late Morley Safer as he lit a Vietnamese family’s house on fire, “Sometimes we have to destroy a village to save it.”

–Bruce Benidt

Vietnam village

“The Suspense is Terrible…I Hope It Will Last”

Maybe this is what it’s like to get old.

My theory of aging is that you start getting old the moment when you stop keeping up. By that I meet keeping up with what’s going on in society, how technology is evolving, how to use it. Understanding the big flows in the global economy, how the pieces fit together and affect one another. Keeping up with your family and how they in turn participate in their communities.

For my parents, this process started happening when my father retired. Bit by bit over the next couple of decades they went from participants to observers to finally patients. They went from the people who I would call first for help and advice to the people I hid bad news from to a couple of fearful, confused people who didn’t understand the world around them.

Maybe that’s what’s happening to me. Without realizing it maybe I crossed that first threshold sometime in the recent past and didn’t realize it.

I’m thinking along these lines as part of my effort to understand the panicky feeling that’s been my constant companion ever since it became clear that Donald J. Trump would be the Republican nominee. His enduring success suggests I no longer understand the world and what moves it. The notion that he’s got a 45-55 chance to become the next president of the United States – and thus the most powerful person in the world – makes me anxious in a way I’ve rarely felt.

When I try to disassemble my anxiety, I end up sorting it into several buckets:

  1. The top line. A Donald Trump presidency would be a disaster for the United States, its citizens, our allies and world. I believe this with every fiber of being. Donald Trump lacks the experience, temperament, education, judgement, emotional maturity and almost every other quality I think is important in a president.
  2. The subtext. Do 39 percent of Americans REALLY believe Donald Trump should be president? According to the latest Fox News poll they do. If this number is even remotely correct then I feel a lot like Donald Sutherland in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (or Kevin McCarthy if you prefer the 1958 version).
  3. The counter-narrative. What if I’m wrong? What if I’ve missed something so fundamental about the state of our country that those 39 percenters are right to want to elect Donald Trump? If they are, then what else am I wrong about?

For reassurance on all three levels I find myself compulsively reading the news, watching CNN, etc. I feel mildly encouraged by reports that suggest the Democrats are getting their act together or that the Republicans and the Trump campaign are in disarray. I find myself watching Trump’s rallies and speeches hoping for – at last – something that will irrevocably take him from legitimate threat to our democracy to universal joke.

In other words, when I step back and look at my behavior, I have to wonder,

“When did I get so fucking old?”

<sigh>

Austin

 

 

 

Reaping the Trumpian Harvest

It’s early days in terms of calculating the damage Donald J. Trump has already done to America but there are already many signs that he has emboldened racists, misogynists and other species of political fungi that have been mostly consigned in the shadows of American politics.

Let’s not even get started on how many of our allies are already rethinking their relationship with a country that may end up led by a man who thinks it’s a good thing that they’re “rattled” by his candidacy. Here, too, the damage he’s already done is considerable.

In fact, Mr. Trump could drop out of the race tomorrow and we’d still be years recoMatthew Ericksonvering.

Or maybe his candidacy is the kind of damage a democracy like ours is ill-equipped to recover from. Take a few minutes to watch the announcement speech of one Matthew Erickson, the Republicans’ latest candidate to succeed Congressman John Kline in Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District. Mr. Trump likes to boast about his success in bringing new people into the political process. If this is a representative example, he’s done us no favors by creating a new class of candidates and activists who think his example is worthy of following. We may never wring this stain out of our national fabric.

I weep for our country.

– Austin

 

The Long Hot Summer

Our lesson for today:

1. demagogue: a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than through rational argument

2. fascist: a political leader who believes in authoritarian nationalism

3. moron: a person who is okay with either or both of the above, which, according to recent polling, includes nearly half the American population

4. conventional wisdom: a banal, soul-crushing substitute for actually knowing something

5. pundit: idiot (Not to be confused with moron, as pundits do not care about what the government does, only who will get to be in it.)

6. eternity: the time remaining between now and November 8

 

American Exceptionalism Defined

The PeripheralLast summer I read an extraordinary book – The Peripheral by William Gibson (@greatdismal) – that I highly recommend to anyone who wants to look 20 – and 100 – years into the future. It’s such a good book, in fact, that I’ve re-read it (something I almost never do). Twice.

At one point in the book, the primary character is explaining why she refuses to do something terrible to people who are actively trying to hurt her and her family even though her refusal put her and her loved ones in danger. In three simple sentences, she explained American exceptionalism in words even Donald Trump can understand:

“They’re assholes. We’re not. But we’re only not assholes if we won’t do shit like that.”

Mr. Trump, on the other hand, appears to believe that American exceptionalism means we have to one-up the assholes. If you’ve ever caught one of his rallies, he loves to tell the (apparently pants-on-fire false) story of how Gen. John Pershing “took 50 bullets, and he dipped them in pigs’ blood,” and shot 49 Muslim rebels. “The 50th person, he said, ‘You go back to your people, and you tell them what happened.’ And for 25 years, there wasn’t a problem.”

In Mr. Trump’s worldview, ISIS’ burning captives to death or conducting mass drownings isn’t a sign of its illegitimacy, it’s the nation-state equivalent of a “your momma” diss that has to be outdone.

Sad!

– Austin

 

 

And…We’re Back Live From the Site of the Apocalypse

Guess who’s back, back again…Shady’s back, tell a friend…

– Eminem

Goddammit.

At the end of our last episode, things seemed to be on an even keel. We figured it was safe for us to slip off into the sunset, that you guys could take it from here. If it wasn’t a silver-bullet-Who-was-that-masked-man-Hi-ho-Silver exit, it was at least Gene Wilder and Cleavon Little riding off in a limo at the Warner Brothers backlot.

And look what happened. You – we…because I bear a share of the responsibility – let Donald Trump happen.

I’m not mad. Just…disappointed. It’s (y)our democracy, after all, so what you(we) do with it is up to you(us), but I can’t help but think you(we) were raised better than this. 240 years of struggle to perfect the union just so we can watch the most unqualified candidate for president in modern history be this close to the Oval Office.

That’s no hyperbole or partisan perspective…it’s verifiable fact. If you trace the start of the modern age to the 1944 election – the election that most closely corresponds to the start of the nuclear age – there have been 18 presidential elections, 12 victorious candidates and 19 losers (I’m including the three third-party candidates who earned any meaningful number of electoral votes – Strom Thurmond, Harry Byrd, George Wallace – and excluding cranks like Ross Perot and Ralph Nader got 0). Any one of those 31 people was better qualified to be president than Donald J. Trump. Even the three guys who ran on the segregationist platforms had more credentials.

Here’s an interesting thought experiment: go to the Wikipedia entry on U.S. presidential elections and post your top five candidates and your bottom five. Not just in terms of qualifications, but in terms of who was/would have been a good president. I bet the top five are pretty easy and will reflect most people’s partisan biases. The bottom five, though, pose some interesting questions: Would Donald Trump make a worse president than George Wallace would have been? Than Strom Thurmond?

Honest to God, I’m not sure.

I can say for sure that I would have chosen any of the major party candidate – including Nixon, Goldwater and George W. Bush – over Donald Trump. Yes, even George W. Bush – who led us into the single stupidest foreign policy mistake since Vietnam, since the Treaty of Versailles, since…ever maybe – I would be ecstatic to have him back for a third term.

Another thought experiment: Which option would you pick?

Option #1: We call off the election right now and Obama is succeeded by the WORST major party presidential candidate since 1944. Hillary doesn’t get elected but neither does Trump.

Option #2: We let the election play out and hope that Hillary beats Trump.

I consider Trump such a threat to the country that it’s not a tough call for me. Thomas Dewey, Richard Nixon, George McGovern, Barry Goldwater, Jimmy Carter, George W…each of these men would have been or were deeply flawed presidents IMHO and any of them would be a better president in 2016 than Donald J. Trump.

So, this means I can’t just bitch about this. I have to do stuff. I have to donate money to Hillary (more than I’d planned to), I have to volunteer for campaign activities (hadn’t planned to), I have to advocate for Hillary – and against Trump – wherever possible. It means I have to reactivate The Crowd if for no other reason than to give me an outlet for my near-panic about all this.

Now this looks like a job for me so everybody just follow me…‘Cause we need a little controversy…’Cause it feels so empty without me.

Welcome back, Crowdies.

– Austin

 

 

 

That Damn Hippie Pope

NEW SLAUGHTERMy guess is that Pope Francis was well aware of the appalling orgy of fevered consumerism — Black Friday and the onset of our sacred “Holiday Season” — when he dropped his 50,000 word rip job on “trickle down” economics and our “idolatry of money.” The timing was just too ideal to be a coincidence. And that, you have to hand it to him, demonstrates some shrewd marketing chops, along with a bona fide Christian conscience.

I am not expecting it to do much good though, unless he requires his “shepherds” in local parishes to hammer that message … to the dwindling audience that still sees moral authority in a church degraded by medieval sexual politics.

Coincidentally, news of the Pope’s hippie-like attack on the foundation of American exceptionalism — i.e. unbridled acquisitiveness and status through possession — came on the same day I caught a nakedly cynical Christmas-y ad that began with a lament for the sad state of Christmas today.  (Open with: A montage of Norman Rockwell-like imagery; happy nuclear families, cherubic kiddies, fresh snow, tree trimming). The clear inference being that we’ve fallen a long, long ways from “the true meaning of Christmas”.

Where, I wondered, was this leading?

Cut to a scene from today … inside some tricked out big box super store, with … you know t, a fake Santa and excited shoppers stockpiling massive amounts of crap (excuse me, “gifts”). It was an ad for Gander Mountain or Cabela’s or some much enterprise, which, I think you can see the irony here, has nothing whatsoever to do with the “true meaning” of Christmas and everything to do with what’s wrong with this blessed season and what the Pope was getting at.

Popes routinely bemoan crass consumerism and exploitation of the lower classes. But soon they move on … to negotiating Vatican politics, managing the church’s vast real estate holdings, meetings with attorneys fending off sexual abuse claims and battling homosexuality. The priority stuff.

Maybe Francis, who is off to a good start, will be a transformative figure. Maybe he’ll push this them, especially when he makes his first visit to the United States. But the odds are against him.

Especially here in America, where to watch the network and local news there is no greater unalloyed good than storming the mall — or WalMart — in support of the economy. Sure they all reported the fistfights over 40″ Funai TVs and laughed at the video of the guy loosing his drawers in a WalMart brawl and flashing plumber butt — but nowhere did I see anyone come back from any of this and say, “This is nuts.”

Obviously, TV news has an enormous stake in shilling for any excuse to spend money. But, Barry Ritholtz in the not exactly hippie-dippy Bloomberg View tells us again, it’d help if “news” was actually based in some semblance of fact instead of junk numbers made up by random shoppers and repeated endlessly everywhere you looked.

I still think it’d be interesting to get someone like Barack Obama into a candid conversation about values. Not just the usual platitudinal stuff about “democracy” and “a thousand points of light” but the essential message leaders have an obligation to convey to their citizens.

Once away from the White House (and you know he’s got scratch marks on the cell wall counting off the days ) I suspect he’d agree with the Pope. There’s almost nothing about inciting mass psychosis and the constant pornographic exultation of the super rich that meshes with actual Christian (or Jewish, or Muslim) values.

JFK 50 Years Later: It’s Still … Means, Motive and Opportunity

NEW SLAUGHTERWith the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination comes a lot of predictable commentary.

We’re getting the inevitable re-resurgence of Camelot-era hagiography. “Oh, the glamour!” “Oh, the grace!” “They were our royalty!”, “They were so rich and so beautiful!” Likewise we’re enduring the usual musty, journalistic eulogizing about the immensity of the tragedy and how it was a “turning point” for American culture, our “loss of innocence”, the beginning of our distrust of authority, etc. Ditto another round of conclusive-sounding assertions of the veracity of Warren Commission’s ruling on who-dunnit, assertions that, like the Commission itself, seek to reassure us in the absence of any kind of real certainty.

I was 12 when Kennedy was killed and as stunned as everyone else. (The old Vaughn Meader comedy record was a staple at the Lambert boyhood manse.) A lot of people were still on edge after the previous autumn’s Cuban missile crisis, so word that the accused/likely assassin was a “communist sympathizer” … kicking around 1963 Dallas … had almost everyone fighting back fears of another nuclear showdown.

… and then Jack Ruby killed “the killer.”

I watched it happen that Sunday morning and when it was announced that Oswald had died my first thought was, “Now we’ll never know why he did it.” And we don’t. And there are good reasons to believe that’s why Ruby did what he did.

Respectable, responsible journalism venues, your Time and Life magazines, your New York Times and Washington Posts and your network newsrooms have accepted Oswald as the assassin since the moment he was collared in the Texas Theater. I’d like to say that appropriate, intense skepticism was applied at some point over the past 50 years, but I really can’t. Oswald has always been the one and only.

In my personal experience, discussions with other journalists on the minutiae of JFK killing have been a bit underwhelming. Few if any could explain what Arlen Specter’s Magic Bullet Theory was all about. Most had heard of it, but after that their eyes got pretty glazey. And the glaze got even thicker once I wandered off the plantation and started talking … means, motive and opportunity.

Mainstream journalism runs on conventional wisdom, and after the Jim Garrison meltdown in New Orleans in 1967 every theory counter to the Warren Commission’s became professionally toxic. The accepted default in newsrooms was, and remains, that Oswald acted alone, the government said so, it’s yesterday’s news  … let’s move on. To suggest you remained skeptical, to suggest that the 24 year-old Oswald’s associations in  New Orleans and Dallas were exceedingly odd and that there were parties with far — far — higher levels of … means, motive and opportunity … who might find it useful to manipulate a guy like Oswald was/is pretty much like saying, “I just saw Elvis, Janis and Jim Morrison land a flying saucer in front of the White House.”

So, about 20 years ago, or soon after Oliver Stone’s loony-but-provocative “JFK”, I finally let it go. I’ve rarely talked about it since. Certainty will never be achieved. I’m not interested in convincing anyone of anything. Believe what you want. The ratio of skepticism-to-acceptance we have today is, I’m guessing, pretty much what it’ll be 500 years from now. Moreover, it no longer matters. Where maybe something could still have been accomplished 10 years after the assassination, or even 15 — when the House Select Committee on Assassinations asserted that there was a conspiracy, and even ID’d those with means, motive and opportunity — at 50 years out the horses have long since left the corral and been reduced to glue.

G. Robert Blakey, counsel to the 1978 House Committee has often said that the JFK murder has become a kind of Rorschach test for those looking at it. What we see is in many ways more illuminative of our individual prejudices and beliefs than the reality of the event itself.  There’s a hard truth in that, that I accept.

Just as I accept that I’ll remain a skeptic of the Warren Commission theory for a long time to come.

Without re-litigating the whole case, here’s why:

Over the years CBS, ABC and most recently PBS’s NOVA have argued in favor of the Commission’s view based on the only aspect of the crime testable by science — namely the forensics of the shooting in conjunction with the Zapruder film. Each has hired experts, staged reconstructions, fired rifles, extracted bullets and established in ways that would be convincing in any courtroom that it is possible for one bullet to do everything Arlen Specter and the Commission said it did.

… and each therefore concluded that … Oswald did it.

To which I always say … wait a minute.

It’s one thing to make a case that it is possible for one man to have done all the damage recorded on camera (and in the mangled autopsy) and a whole other thing to say that man was Lee Oswald. But the two are almost invariably mashed together as inseparable conclusions … based on a problematic palm print on the rifle found stashed at the Book Depository and the circumstantial evidence collected and vetted by the Commission.

Comedian-actor Richard Belzer (“Homicide”, “Law and Order: SVU”) has had a second career for years as a kind of Howard Zinn  of contemporary American politics. He has churned out several books on the JFK hit and when interviewed invariably returns to one moment that for him most undermines the Oswald-as-shooter scenario (as well the Commission’s choice of who and what evidence to accept as most accurate). The moment was when a Dallas motorcycle cop dropped his bike in front of the Book Depository seconds after the motorcade gunned it for Parkland hospital, ran in, yelled for the boss, a guy named Roy Truly, and ordered him to accompany him upstairs. Upon reaching the second floor cafeteria they encountered a guy at a vending machine. The cop asked Truly to identify the man, which Truly did as Oswald, an employee, and they continued on up.

What it means is that within 90 seconds of shooting … the President of the United States, kind of big deal for which a person might both be (and look) a little excited, a not so great a marksman has run across to the opposite end of the sixth floor, stashed the rifle behind some boxes, run down four flights of stairs, dropped coins in a vending machine and appeared composed and unflustered when confronted by a cop. While the speed required to accomplish those actions hasn’t been recreated without signs of obvious exertion, I suspect it is, like other aspects of the Commission’s case possible under a certain set of circumstances.

But it is means, motive and opportunity that carries the day for me. Oswald barely had the first (a for-shit rifle and very limited skills as a marksman), is deep into dime store psychology on the second (“he was a nobody who wanted to be a somebody”) and, were it not for his second floor cafeteria appearance, has indisputable credibility only on the third. He was employed right there on the motorcade route.

As Daniel Schorr, the bete noir of the Nixon White House once told me when I asked about his interest in the JFK killing, “I like stories that are ascertainable”, which the JFK saga most definitely is not. The unascertainable, reputation-sullying quagmire of every theory other than the Warren Commission’s may explain why so few news organizations have aggressively pursued the most tantalizing of the “means, motive and opportunity” angles.

Oliver Stone lost me with his “LBJ gave them their damn [Vietnam] war” angle. Not even in 1963’s subservient media culture would there be a way to keep chatter of an assassination cabal from leaking out of government offices. Governments keep paper records (and recordings). Every reporter has sources of some sort within or close to the CIA and the White House. Ascertainability is possible.

Not so with organized crime.

If you want a practicing, professional journalist to glaze over in disdain, bring up the role of the mob in anything that went on in 1963 or even today. As limited as my press colleagues’ knowledge has been on the topic of JFK forensics, the first mention of Carlos Marcello and the mob always has them scanning over my head for an emergency escape. Since almost none of them has even heard of Marcello, the longtime head of the New Orleans mob … I’m another whacked out “grassy knoller” counting UFOs in the Rose Garden.

I have found very few journalists who know that Bobby Kennedy, prior to becoming Attorney General vowed and immediately upon being sworn in made a top priority of throwing Marcello out of the country … and that he actually did it. RFK literally had Marcello kidnapped off the streets of New Orleans and dumped in Guatemala, simultaneous with an unprecedented, coordinated effort to take down his sprawling operation … which besides the usual racketeeering included seedy strip clubs across the South and Texas. In fact, the 1978 House Committee specifically ID’d Marcello, along with Jimmy Hoffa and Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana as people with … means, motive and opportunity to kill JFK.

But — a reality check here — no ink-stained newsroom beat reporter does ascertainment on the Mob. As I say, to follow the news even today you’d be inclined to believe organized crime has ceased functioning in the United States … a turn of events which truly would make us exceptional in human history. Crime kingpins are brown, scarfaced, moustachioed guys like Pablo Escobar. They operate in sweaty Latin American countries. Based on the lack of reporting we could easily believe they have no peers within our borders. No stateside kingpins. Just street level distributors like Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale in “The Wire”.

More to the point in the JFK era, it was the official view of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI that organized crime was a non-factor in the United States, a view that infuriated Bobby Kennedy especially since the FBI’s “investigations” of Marcello’s New Orleans operations were consistently misdirected and thwarted.

For me this is, ironically, the Occam’s Razor phase of the story.

In order to accept that Oswald acted alone you have to ignore/outright dismiss his very strange associations with Dallas’ very right-wing “White Russian” community and the crowd he assorted with in New Orleans, as well as his lack of expertise as a marksman, his jailhouse assertion that “I’m just the patsy” [an interested choice of words] and accept as his motivation that he was … suffering from low self-esteem. It’s not what you call a neat scenario.

By stark contrast, in the Marcello-driven version of events you have a bona fide, serious-as-a-heart attack adversary, requiring by far the fewest assumptions to reach a conclusion … if …  if it is a conclusion you’re comfortable making.

Means: Organized crime, should you choose to believe it exists, has professionals it can call upon to kill anyone. (Ask Whitey Bulger’s FBI compatriots.) And you don’t need an Oliver Stone-sized conspiracy. Just maybe a half dozen guys doing what they do.

Motive: Not only is this little prick Bobby Kennedy coming after one of the leaders of the American mob in that era, he’s a damned Kennedy who appears to have forgotten all the business the Mob and his father did back in the day. Getting harassed and dumped in Guatemala is not a way you treat friends. More to the point, by hitting the brother, you neuter the Attorney General.

Opportunity:  Open car. Parade. Plenty of cover … and a chump, set up to think he’s a player in some spy game, primed not only to take the fall, but be killed off in quick order. (By the mobbed-up owner of a seedy strip club … who did it, we are asked to believe, in order to spare poor Jackie Kennedy a return to Texas for Oswald’s trial.) The hand-the-cops-the-dead-patsy ploy is classic mob architecture. Plus, as a plot, it understands quite well the cultural climate of that era. The “communist sympathizer” angle virtually guarantees  that responsible elder statesmen like Gerald Ford, CIA Director Allen Dulles, segregationist poster boy Richard Russell, and all-purpose Cold War counselor John McCloy will see the peril of super-power confrontation and gravitate to the lone, glory-seeking-nut explanation, which is infinitely easier to make with that particular guy dead.

Also, should there be even the faintest interest in pursuing an organized crime angle, those same statesmen will quickly appreciate that an aggressive mob inquiry means a wholesale re-write of the “fallen King of Camelot” narrative, with the shocked public getting a highly disillusioning education in how Joseph Kennedy made his fortune and how cozy the sexually compulsive JFK was with the seamier side of the show biz-Vegas interface. Bobby Kennedy seemed to grasp the dilemma.

Given the low likelihood that courtroom-worthy evidence would ever to spill out of the mob — no files, no recordings, and no witnesses — the choice for the Commission was actually pretty easy. Build a credible-enough case that sets the long-dead Oswald as the lone shooter, calm the country, let everyone mourn and savor a fallen hero and move on. It’s what patriarchal leaders are supposed to do.

But as Rorschach tests go … this version of the story paints an exceedingly different view of the United States than most people care to entertain.

A Rowdy Crowd Pop Quiz

NEW SLAUGHTERWhat father of what politician preached this … ?

“There are some of you, as a matter of fact I will dare to say the majority of you, that your anointing is not an anointing as priest. It’s an anointing as king. And God has given you an anointing to go to the battlefield. And what’s the battlefield ? The battlefield is the marketplace. To go to the marketplace and occupy the land. To go to the marketplace and take dominion. If you remember the last time I was in this pulpit, I talked to you about Genesis chapter 1, verse 28, where God says unto Adam and Eve, “Go forth, multiply, TAKE DOMINION over all creation.” And if you recall, we talked about the fact that dominion is not just in the church. That dominion is over every area – society, education, government, economics…

Continue reading “A Rowdy Crowd Pop Quiz”

I know, wrong?

i_know_right_-_Google_SearchEvery generation has its annoying catch phrases.  The valley girls and their wannabes famously sprinkled every sentence with “like.”  More recently,  “not so much” has been used ad nauseum to express disapproval or disagreement.

“Whatever!”  It’s not “all good.” Admittedly, often it’s “my bad,” “yada yada.”

I have a house full of teens and young adults these days, so I’m particularly aware of a prevalent catch phrase.  When I assert something that meets with the youngsters’ agreement, a rare event, they invariably respond with “I know, right?”

The main problem with this, or any catch phrase, is that I know it’s only a matter of time before I hear those words coming out of my mouth.  Catch phrases are contagious that way.

I desperately don’t want to let this phrase into my lexicon, because it particularly irritates me.  It makes no sense to respond to an assertion with a question about whether the assertion is correct.

My mama taught me that it is polite to respond to direct questions.  So, it strikes me that the “right?” part of the response requires a response, which leads to mind-numbing exchanges such as this:

Me:  “The Twins starting pitching is crappy.”

Youngster:  “I know, right?”

Me:  “Right.  That’s why I just said it.”

Youngster:  “I know, right?”

Me:  (stink eye)

I know, it’s not really a question.  But then, why include the “right?” part.

I guess this is the “everyone gets a ribbon” generation that we raised.  Even when they are agreeing with us, they need still more affirmation that agreement is acceptable.

Right?

– Loveland

Snobbyapolis

News flash:  Minneapolis is a snobby city.  This from Travel and Leisure:

In the annual America’s Favorite Cities survey, we asked readers to rank 35 major metropolitan areas for features such as trendy food trucks or good-looking locals.

To determine which city has the biggest nose in the air, we factored in some traditional staples of snobbery: a reputation for aloof and smarty-pants residents, along with high-end shopping and highbrow cultural offerings like classical music and theater.

But we also considered 21st-century definitions of elitism: tech-savviness, artisanal coffeehouses, and a conspicuous eco-consciousness (say, the kind of city where you get a dirty look for throwing your coffee cup in the wrong bin).

Minneapolis ranked 4th, trailing San Francisco, New York City and Boston, but edging out Seattle, Santa Fe and Chicago.  The Travelers’ and Leisurers’ take on us:

Perhaps readers felt intimidated by these bookish, indie-music-loving, craft-beer-drinking hipsters, who also ranked highly for being exceptionally tidy. If these Minnesotans feel self-satisfied, is it any wonder? They also scored well for being fit and outdoorsy; you can join them at the Chain of Lakes, where, depending on the season, folks are hiking, paddling, or even ice-surfing.

Snobby?  Really?  Isn’t having interesting stuff in your community a desirable thing?

Of course it is.  Having the option of experiencing something new and different that isn’t available just anywhere is a huge advantage of living in a great city like Minneapolis.

But T and L got it right.  Minneapolis is a snobby city, because having new and different things is not enough for many Minneapolitans.  They feel obliged to look down  from their lofts and rooftop cafes judging people who don’t worship at the altar of all that is new and different.

Minneapolis_hipster

For instance, God help you if you express dislike for Surly Furious beer inside the Minneapolis city limits.  It’s perfectly reasonable that some people would enjoy the bitter taste of the hop-heavy brew, and some would not.  Preferences are preferences.  But to hipster Minneapolitans, a distaste for the hops in IPAs is a clear sign that one is not sufficiently evolved.

The same thing applies to food and wine.  If my God-given tastebuds just can’t distinguish between a ten buck meal and a fifty buck meal, does that really mean that I’m a closed-minded rube?  Maybe it just means that I’d rather hold onto the extra forty bucks to buy four extra ten buck meals.  Saffron and truffle oil?  Can’t taste it dude.  Hints of oak barrel?  Even if I could taste it, why would I necessarily desire it?

I also plead guilty to wearing khakis and not possessing a single pair of skinny jeans.  Why?  One, BECAUSE I’M NOT SKINNY.  (Neither, by the way, are many of you.)  Two, because I still have khakis in my closet from the 90s that have some more miles on them.

And then there are bicyclists.  Minneapolis is thick with them these days, and I’m all for them.  I support more bike lanes, bike racks, and people out of cars, if that’s what works well for them.   But just because I prefer not to arrive at meetings drenched in sweat and expect bicyclists to obey traffic laws doesn’t make me a Neanderthal bike hater who doesn’t understand the profound awesomeness of Amsterdam.

The fact that many Minneapolitan hipsters equate rejection of a trend with inferiority is what makes them snobby. Trends are fine.  Enforcement of trends is snobby.

It’s a little more difficult for me to understand when snobbery happens in a city of folks who are largely transplants from small towns, suburbs and rural areas.  Even most of the free spirits in Uptown and downtown lofts did not grow up in Soho or Greenwich Village.  They are only a few short years removed from enjoying Folgers, Mogen David, Buckhorn and IHOP.  If those folks find that  Peets, Pétrus, Surly, and Café Lurcat brings them more joy, enjoy already.  But really, there is no need to evangelize and snigger.   We hayseeds are perfectly comfortable, in all our glorious frumpyness.

– Loveland

What I Didn’t Miss During a Long Walk in the Woods

NEW SLAUGHTERHere’s a list of things I didn’t miss during a week hiking down Isle Royale.

1:  Senate Republicans failing to come up with the 70 votes supposedly needed to give Speaker John Boehner “cover” to support immigration reform without the support of the majority of his neanderthal caucus. This was the presumption as we boated away from Grand Portage 12 days ago and nothing much changed, so what’s to miss?

There are only so many times I … you … paid pundits … the drunk on the next stool … can belabor the head-slapping destructive/self-destructiveness of this current crop of Republicans. And as much as road-blocking immigration reform is perhaps the single most damaging thing they could do to their election chances (in 2016, but very likely in 2014 as well) it just isn’t news anymore that these characters really are so … well, stupid is perfectly adequate word … that they will drive a stake through the heart of the one piece of legislation that might give them standing with the fastest-growing ethnic group in the country. A group big enough to turn … Texas for crissake … blue in another couple of election cycles.

It also isn’t worth mincing words about “why”. This isn’t another exercise in the hyper right-wing’s phony pursuit of Constitutional purity. It’s racism, pure and simple. The hillbilly sensibility of the Republican base has no time or sympathy for intruder factions unconnected by origin to new conservatives’ cockamamie mash-up of Hollywood westerns/xenophobia/Ronald Reagan hagiographies and snake oil punditry.

The fog that rolled up and over the Greenstone Ridge had the effect of blotting out a lot of toxic buffoonery.

2:  Even though I predicted it, I did not miss the minute-by-minute updates on where Edward Snowden was and might be going. Commercial media are incapable of engendering and sustaining a national conversation about anything of genuine importance … unless there’s a celebrity sex angle. The fact they’re treating Snowden the fugitive as “the story” and not the still-emerging details of the US’s multi-multi billion dollar cyber systems is too dismaying to “miss”. A hot shower after 50 miles of sweat, DEET and black flies, yes. A cold beer, yes. CNN, no.

3; Speaking of … I hadn’t been giving George Zimmerman a lot of thought, frankly. Although news of his trial start did make the crawl on a screen in the bar at the casino where we stayed the night before leaving. But upon return … I mean, WTF? Zimmerman is a bigger story than a military coup in Egypt? Even MSNBC has gone monomaniacal.

The Zimmerman trial is several rungs of significance up the ladder from the latest Jodi Arias/Casey Anthony sluts-who-slaughter convulsion, but round-the-clock?

Yes, I understand it’s far, far cheaper than sending crews to Cairo. And yes, I understand that certain key demographic groups will devote obsessional amounts of time watching a murder trial. But are we really at the point where we don’t even pretend “our viewers” have an interest in the meltdown of democracy in the anchor nation of the Middle East?

Don’t answer that question.

I get that CNN’s new boss, Mr. Early-Morning-TV-Works-in-All-Dayparts, Jeff Zucker sees an audience of attention-span deprived emotional adolescents, people who need a cooking segment and celebrity hype-chat to break the monotony of revolutions, car-bombings, cyber-warfare and legislative gridlock … but … passing mention? Imagine if another Carnival cruise ship flipped over in Miami harbor? You’d never hear of John Boehner again.

4:  Finally, I didn’t miss the story and intense local discussion about old Carl Pohlad’s tax troubles with the IRS … because they weren’t reported in the local press. Forbes magazine put out the story of the old man’s serious Mitt Romney-like gaming of the tax code … to the advantage of his heirs, a couple of whom at least have done some commendable things with the loot … they didn’t turn over to the common coffers.

Now that I’m back, after trying to cook my fabulous tuna schmeckler under a raggedy pine tree in a steady rain, would it be okay for someone in this town to get impertinent with one of the Pohlad boys and ask how exactly they justify the fantastical level of accounting magic that took their family off the hook for their “fair share” of taxes?

I understand every media outlet wants to be the Pohlads’ BFF. But now that this is “out there”, perhaps some tough-as-nails, take-no-prisoner reporter could “request” a first person comment from one of the boys.

I know, I know, it doesn’t have the reader interest of a list of “10 Great Places for Patriotic Dining”, but it is kind of like … news.

BTW … The beach at Siskiwit Bay was … idyllic. I’m already missing it.

Eddie Snowden’s Girlfriend is the Key

NEW SLAUGHTERMaybe the “celebrity-fugitive-with-hot-girlfriend” aspect of the massive NSA spying “scandal” is what will keep it alive long enough to have an intelligent national discussion of what it all means, how we want to conduct our war-without-end on terror … and how much we’re willing to pay for it.

Because, as it is, this one is disappearing faster from radar contact than Darrell Issa’s IRS investigation.

The NSA/PRISM/Snowden story has a lot of interesting facets, few of them all that surprising to me.

My first reaction to the SHOCK!!! of the Guardian/Glenn Greenwald story was, “Well, what do you think they’ve been doing with all that money?” But then I’ve never quite gotten over the collective freak-out in the aftermath of 9/11 that so seamlessly transitioned the country’s military-industrial complex (beatin’ on the Rooskies) to the intelligence-industrial complex (beatin’ on the jihadiis). America’s warrior lobbyists fully exploited a national disaster and over the course of the decade that followed turned five of the counties surrounding Washington DC into the most affluent in the country and sucked thousands of whip-smart kids into “top-secret” jobs, not as lowly-paid, grey gummint employees, but as quite nicely remunerated for-profit junior executives, with stock bonuses from their work in The War on Terror for Shareholder Value.

While there just might be a hint of disingenuousness to the Obama administration’s claim to “welcome a discussion”, I think it’s abundantly clear that this program, PRISM, far exceeds anything Team Obama could ever assemble. In fact, this is a classic view into the country’s permanent government, the agencies and contractors who outlive all but the hoariest, senile Dixie legislator. The staggering amount of money freaked-out Congress threw at “national intelligence” after 9/11 — as much as an additional $80 billion a year (or closing in on $1 trillion for 12 years … plus of course the cost of Iraq and Afghanistan) — reinvigorated a contractors-at-the-trough feeding frenzy that hasn’t stopped since Word War II.

Hell, I doubt you could win in a district as blue as Manhattan’s Upper West Side if you were accused of being “soft on terrorism”.

Overall, I’m pleased young Ed Snowden connected with Greenwald and all this spilled out. Pleased, because I seriously doubt the revelation that the US can track patterns in phone and internet connections is news to any terrorist mastermind, and might … not likely, but might … lead a few courageous voices to demand the same kind of efficiency and reduction in fraud and waste in intelligence-gathering that so many in Congress routinely demand for food stamps, Head Start and college loans.

The classic line about the Pentagon is that its in-breeding with defense contractors has created a “self-licking ice cream cone”. Ditto, with the NSA, the CIA and the blizzard of corporate spooks nuzzled up against them just outside the DC Beltway. This is a system that creates and sustains itself, with every cycle of fear-mongering adding octane/tax dollars to the tank.

One way to judge Obama’s commitment to an open discussion of how we protect the country against stateless villains is if he issues a blanket pardon to Snowden. The kid’s been fired by his private contractor firm. That’s good enough for me. That precedent alone will chill any further “disclosures” from those thousands of young brainiacs now paying on fat mortgages, BMW payments and booking kids into private schools in the rolling hills outside DC.

The better move is to bring an immunized Snowden up on Capitol Hill and have him (and his former employer) explain how exactly he got into a position to have access to what he did, and what he really knows.

Better yet, set up a Booz, Allen terminal in the Congressional hearing room and let Snowden access the phone and internet records of a couple of Senators sitting right in front of him  — (come on, you want to know what Ted Cruz downloads after a tough day at the office) — and a couple of media news stars, too. I’ll suggest Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs. Let him show the country how this stuff really works, and what we’ve paid (another) trillion bucks for.

But the way our media culture operates today, it’ll take racy pictures of his dancer girlfriend to sustain this story at the supermarket checkout lane.