Saturday, May 19, 2018

Sex and Violence

Now that I have your attention.

I am crazy about Jim Jefferies.  He is Australian, now living in the U.S.  I discovered him when a friend sent me a link to a stand up comedy bit he did on guns.  It is biting, hilarious, and just as relevant today as it was when he first did it.

He also has a filthy mouth.  He happily pushes the limits way past humor.  He has to tone it down for basic cable, but his podcast is something to behold.  It is basically him and a couple of his writers getting drunk and dirty for an hour after the show each week.  The filth is pretty meaningless, just drunken slobber for the most part.  It would be nice if it were funnier, but his political commentary is so brilliant, as is his humor, that I will plow through the pure crap for it.  I don't know many who would.  Even my son has said, Uh, no thanks.

But Jefferies follows a long line of great comedians who pushed the limit.  Lenny Bruce was slightly before my time, but he fought the law for freedom of speech.  George Carlin did it when the zeitgeist welcomed it, and I am so glad he did.

As he branched out from the seven words you can't say on TV, two things happened.  He really exercised his First Amendment right, and in so doing, exercised it for the rest of us.  And he offended a lot of people.

Being a child of the 60's and in full-blown rebellion against parents that would curse at times but tell me it was a sin, I rejoiced in Carlin's literally calling out the hypocrisy.  In my home, "god-damn" was the forbidden swear word, requiring confession on Saturday.  Carlin welcomed sexual curse words into our vocabulary.  It was glorious to be able to toss out a "fuck" back in the day.  Today those dirty words more often are uninspired, about as clever as a burp, but truly tinged with violence.

Today we have a "president" who dismisses his comment about grabbing pussy as locker room talk, and then is celebrated at the annual prayer breakfast.  Granted, you still can't say "shit" on TV.  But Roy Moore very nearly became a US Senator with the religious right fully aware of his pedophiliac past.

I was planning on writing about sexual harassment and women's rights.  But there is the power of words, and maybe we need to start there.  After all, it was a matter of empowerment that African Americans have forced our entire country to say "N-word" instead of, well, you know.  And yet, "bitch" isn't even consistently bleeped on TV.

A staple of Bill Maher's comedy for the past two years has been inviting his audience to join him in calling Donald Trump a "whiny little bitch."  This gets my back up.  And yet, when I searched for the inception of this routine I came up with the funny and ironic "New Rule" in which he turns the stereotypes of women on its head, and applies those stereotypes to the whiner-in-chief.

The most powerful of words, the dirty words, have power because they are sexual.  And they have the potential to twist our morality into knots because our sense of our sexuality is so twisted.

Men who, despite their thoughts and prayers, don't flinch over mass murders, are willing to legislatively rape women in the name of "saving babies."  And women have been willing to let them.  The most logical comparison is of the fight to preserve a man's god-given right to own a gun versus the fight to allow women to control their own bodies.

In the 60's we welcomed those seven dirty words into public life, but began to refer to sex as "making love."  Is sex talk dirty, does it have to be?  And when is it degrading, because it surely can be.  As, for example, when used by the "president."  And what does it do to women, who are still considered the weaker sex?  When is sex talk violent, and when are insults sexual?

#MeToo has us all wondering how afraid men should be about stepping over the boundaries between approach and harassment, sex play and coercion.  I would like to suggest that sexual harassment and assault is the end result of verbal attacks on women that we ignore and/or accept.  If you aren't uncomfortable with Maher calling Trump a "whiny little bitch" you are either a man or a woman who doesn't recognize the power that words have to demean you.  If you don't cringe when you hear men insulted by being referred to as "girls" you are accepting not just that women are physically weaker, but that women are weaker.

The answer is not censorship.  The answer is changing perceptions, refusing to accept stereotypes and insults.  The value of forcing us to refer to the derogatory term as "n-word" (when we are in civil society) may be a constant reminder of how wrong it is, but it also denotes the power that African-Americans now have that they can compel this change.  Sadly, another result is that racists become ever more filled with rage at the imposition on their freedom to publicly display their bigotry; the backlash was destined to happen.  But African-Americans aren't taking it anymore, and that too will be quashed.

Women don't like to fight.  We want to fix things.  This makes us appear to be weak, and people like Congressional republicans and Donald Trump will use us as a battering ram to force their way into power.  On the other hand, they can dog whistle other misogynists by painting those of us who aren't compliant as bitches, you know, like Hillary, Nancy and Elizabeth.

Sexual equality is going to mean a fight.  Our daughters have grown up in a world we thought was safe, but was still fraught with sexual harassment and degradation.  As long as there are laws that establish rules about what is contained within our bodies, men will control us.  And we will be demeaned.

Those dirty words have power.  I am all for the well-placed curse word, but we have to admit that there is violence in sexual language.  It is not just that men in power can "grab pussy," it is that they are so confident in that right that they are happy to tell others about it.  Confronting men who assault women sexually is the beginning; their acts must have consequences.  What we  do as these men are confronted is going to be a long and tangled path.

But we need to first become sensitized to the words, their meaning, and their effect.  Not to censor, but not to ignore.  Indeed, until there are consequences for a man who brags about grabbing pussy, women will be under siege.  Denial of the power of those violent words leaves us vulnerable, and grants permission to men to continue to put us "in our place." 

It is time to let men know that we are the ones who will determine what our place will be.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

What Comey Forgot

Not too long ago I wrote about an important book that went under the radar called, The Unmaking of the President 2016.  The book explains quite thoroughly how Comey's clumsy handling of the Hillary email fiasco caused Trump to win the election.  At the time, I got pretty snarky in describing James Comey.  But I do try to be fair, and now that I have heard him analyze the bizarre details of his past couple of years in the spotlight, and have read his book, A Higher Loyalty, I find that I have changed my opinion of the man.

I believe I have referred to James Comey as smug and compared him to Pence and Gorsuch, which would conveniently make them the unholy trinity of vanity, hypocrisy and self-righteousness.  But I don't believe Comey is like that at all.

He seems to be honestly struggling to do the right thing.  He can be self-deprecating, which means he is attempting to be objective and is aware of his own very human fallibility.  He has a sense of humor, which immediately separates him from the humorless Pence and Gorsuch, as well as Donald Trump.  By the way, I have for some time been aware that Trump never smiles or laughs, a feature of the narcissist-in-chief that had also come to Comey's attention.

Comey has a lot to say about bullying.  In his book he describes having been both a victim of bullying and an instance wherein he became a bully in his younger days.  This kind of self-analysis and insight makes his narrative of the election of Donald Trump both personal and relevant to the current political era.

As with all heroes, Comey's greatest strength became his Achilles heel.  The need to be honest and fair brought him to national attention during the Bush years, when he went head to head with Dick Cheney over the reauthorization of the NSA surveillance program "Stellar Wind."  It was a dramatic moment, when Jim Comey dashed to John Ashcroft's hospital room -- in intensive care -- to head off White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and Bush chief of staff Andrew Card who were trying to force Ashcroft to sign the reauthorization.

Because of this, Comey had a great deal of respect and credibility when he began the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server as Secretary of State.

In his book, Comey goes into great detail explaining the situation as he saw it, and each step of his decision making.  It is obvious from this narrative that he has not only examined his actions but looked to others of his peers for their analysis.  He is aware that his actions may have influenced the election, and he has admitted that the thought of having a hand in electing the deranged and dangerous Donald Trump makes him "mildly nauseous."

I can appreciate, after the diarrhea of lies that have come from Donald Trump and his swamp creatures, that James Comey is being honest.  I share his nausea over the events that led to the election of Donald Trump.  I value the extent of his self-examination in order to get this account right.

But James Comey has missed an even greater factor in this tragic event.  He has neglected to include the effects of a corrupt Congress in the way this story has played out.

The story goes way back, but it was the republicans in Congress after the election of Barack Obama, and subsequently the Tea Party extremists that took over who represent the bully in the room.

It was minutes after Obama's inauguration that the republican leaders in Congress were meeting to strategize how to defeat the president.  Mitch McConnell famously and unashamedly stated,

John Boehner on the floor of the House led the rage with a cry of "Hell no you can't" as he talked about the proposed health care bill, a bill republicans refused to be a part of constructing, and then told the American people that the Democrats were excluding them from the process.

Republicans in Congress thwarted Obama's every effort to move the near-dead economy, ignored or distorted his successes and magnified out of context the defeats. Remember Solyndra?  Thanks to republican spin and the media echo chamber, all the successes that resulted from government investment in such small businesses were buried under headlines about this one failed attempt. 

That was the way Obama's eight years went under this republican Congress, as they doubled down on lies and false accusations with each electoral success.

While ignoring the hunting down of bin Laden and the winding down of one of our most tragic wars, republicans in Congress did not just refuse to work as partners with Obama in defeating our enemies, they actively opposed whatever he proposed.  Isis?  Syria?  The dynamic and entertaining McCain/Graham duo found fault with it all.  McConnell and Boehner refused to offer any constructive alternatives.  In fact, Congress did not offer any legislation that could be seen as a commitment one way or the other; all they offered was cynical criticism of anything Obama thought might work.  And because he believed that he should be working with Congress, he hesitated to take strong actions in Syria without agreement from Congress.  Although Obama's diplomacy turned out well at the time, he has faced contempt throughout for failing to act when Assad "crossed the red line."

And the whole Hillary project may have begun as an innocent misogynist reaction to the smart and powerful wife of a president, but by the time her intentions to run for president had barely been announced, the same game went into play.  Her every action was criticized, lies were told and then retold by the press, and the Hillary that can't be trusted became the narrative. 

The obstructionism worked, because the republican party united in their loud opposition.  They worked the media, and they played the American people.  They lied and then they lied again.

So, when Donald Trump brought his tantrums and lies to his campaign, the only difference between him and Congressional republicans was the degree and the flamboyance.  And because the media likes to follow shiny objects, like the orange hair, we got to witness every moment of the blowhard's traveling salvation show, with fake miracles and full-blown hate and hysteria.

Sadly, Trump gets full credit for Obama's failure to act more aggressively against Russian election interference.  And surely Trump was by then the bully that controlled the entire show.  He spewed anti-democratic hatred with far more flair than his republican allies.  But without eight years of the bombast and bullying of the republican party and Congressional leaders, Trump would have most likely been dismissed as a crackpot.  Without a Congress that refused to fight for anything other than their own survival, Obama would have fought hard against Russian interference.  But the bullies were harassing and attacking one of the candidates, and the opponent was making shrill accusations of cheating.  Bullies win when they cause the rest of us to lose confidence and to hesitate to do what is right.  The bullies won because Obama did not want to be seen as interfering in the election, as the bullies had already intimated.

And this is where Comey lost the thread of the narrative.  He thought he was cooperating with a responsible branch of government, but Congress was a fully partisan player in destroying Hillary Clinton.  He reported to Congress about emails as though the emails were the issue, and not the defamation of a candidate for president.  And then he went back again, because he had promised he would if anything changed, even though he had no reason to believe anything had changed.

Just as Obama went timidly into these last weeks of this election, Comey went obediently to Congress.  He ignored the advice of his boss and he rationalized ignoring precedent, and he interfered in the presidential election by jumping into an investigation because he was afraid of not opening it, and he reported it to Congress and the American people, because he was afraid he would be seen as dishonest if he didn't.

There are times when one has to take the risk of doing the wrong thing in order to do the right thing.  That last decision point, days before the election, was when James Comey decided it was more important that he be seen as trustworthy rather than that he had followed precedent and law.

James Comey has had to face the reality, through his subsequent dealings and ultimate firing by Donald Trump, that his attempt to be honorable led to a disaster for our democracy.  Out of fear of being seen as dishonorable, he allowed himself to be used by a corrupt Congress and a megalomaniac candidate.  Had he not come forward to announce the reopening of the investigation of Hillary Clinton's emails, the outcome of the election would surely have been different.  But then he would have had to face accusations of partisanship by the other side.  And that is where being honorable would really have come into play.

Which brings me to the point of the whole thing.  We have a Congress that is dirty.  Congressional republicans have proven to be wholly partisan and untrustworthy.  They have chosen to continue to hide facts in order to support a corrupt and unbalanced leader in order to maintain their hold over our democracy.  In Germany in 1933, it took elected members of the republic to give Hitler the power to create a dictatorship.  And today we have lapdogs like Devin Nunes and power mongers like Mitch McConnell paving the way for the illegal and undemocratic acts of the Trump administration.  Today this Congressional majority is not only thwarting efforts to protect Robert Mueller from being fired by Donald Trump, they have undermined the investigation into Russian interference.  And incredibly, we continue to hear from one or the other that they think Congress should reopen investigations on Hillary.

While Trump keeps us busy following his criminal and crazy rants, Congress is truly the arm in which the fate of our democracy rests.  I don't believe we can take another session of republican rule.  Not only have they gutted laws that protect 98 percent of us, they have stood by as Trump signs away our environment and our liberties.  They happily approve federal judges that represent the far right:  big business, big money and the curbing of individual freedoms.  They continue to hope baiting us with Planned Parenthood and the Second Amendment will keep them in power, and are blind to the threats to our democracy.  In so doing, they have become the greatest threat to our democracy.

This is why we must do everything we can to turn over both houses of Congress in November.  The only way we can survive the terrorism of Donald Trump is by electing a Congress that will fight for our democratic principles.

We cannot be passive during this midterm election season.  Be informed.  Volunteer.  Donate.  Spread the word.  Vote.

Our lives and our children's futures depend on it. 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Forgetting to Show Up

In Arizona, republicans just won the special election for US House, and it is my fault.

It is also Rachel Maddow's fault, and Stormy Daniels' fault.

After amazing wins in Alabama and Pennsylvania, we seem to have been lulled into a sense of complacency.  Persistent hyped up talk of a "Blue Wave" and the powerful get-out-the-vote movement by Parkland shooting survivors were momentarily energizing but, after all, this is midterm year and we Americans just don't pay much attention.  So many special elections competing for air time with the Trump train wreck.  And now we have primaries leading up to November's election.  So exhausting. 

Is it any wonder we can't seem to take our eyes off Stormy Daniels and Trump's tweets?  Once again we have been happily led by American media to the lowest common denominator of the entirety of our politics, our government and our democracy.  It appears the future of our republic hinges on a pee tape and a payoff.  Meanwhile, who can keep up with the daily dastardly deeds of the Justice Department, Congress, and the "president's" cabinet?

Don't blame me for being tired and discouraged.  MSNBC and CNN cover the same damn story with the same damn quotes -- and "presidential tweets" -- hour after hour.  Who can stand listening to that nasty sound coming from the puckered mouth of the tantruming toddler-in-chief?  New White House scandals aren't much different than old White House scandals.  It has been established that Trump can shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue, Scott Pruitt can carry out his heist in broad daylight, and Lindsey Graham will change his mind daily about the importance of defending our democracy.  We have, since November of 2016, marched, emailed, and attended town halls, only to learn that republicans in Congress -- and a few shameful Democrats -- don't feel much of a need to even bother to justify their greed and collusion with their wealthy constituents, much less change their votes.

On the momentum of the Woman's March and Indivisible, a lot of incredible people have stepped up to run for office this year.  There has been a lot of enthusiasm for this movement to turn over Congress and state houses, but I fear it is dwindling.  Of late our minds have been wandering.  With this brutal winter and reluctant spring we seem to have lost the fervor we had just months ago.  Yes, we are glad Democrats are running for office.  But we just don't have the energy to stand right by them and fight for them.  We just want this embarrassing nightmare, of Trump and pee tapes and cabinet members destroying our country from their soundproof telephone booths, to end.

I fear that, instead of charging that last mile to November, we are closing our eyes for a little nap.

I know I have taken my eyes off my democracy because I can't tell you who is running in my state primaries.  I know we have Democrats running in races here in South Carolina that have gone uncontested for far too long, and we even have more than one candidate in many of them.  When our candidates show up, isn't it our responsibility to get excited about it?  And more than our responsibility, shouldn't it be our privilege?

In the age of Google, it doesn't take all that much energy to find out who the candidates are for, say, governor and go to their websites and click on "Issues" to find out where they stand.  And if the words on the screen all seem very similar, you can find moving pictures of the candidates on youtube.  If you follow candidates from Facebook or their website, they will probably let you know when they are speaking, and this is a great way to get a feel for whether they are speaking for you.

Here is another great advantage to showing up.  It lets other people know there are candidates they should be paying attention to.  Our Democratic candidates are not going to get a lot of publicity here in SC unless we create the crowds and the fervor that will make it impossible for media to ignore.  You can do that!

Wow.  I don't do exclamation marks all that often.  It felt weird, but in a good way.

We have for far too long tamped down our enthusiasm, tried not to get our hopes up, hidden our progressive ideas for fear of being attacked by the rageful right-wing.  We have listened to a Democratic Party that has exercised caution instead of confidence in its candidates.  They have held back funds in races they could have helped win, like that close race in Arizona.  But in a year when an endorsement by Donald Trump can lose a race for a republican, isn't it time for us to take to the streets for our candidates?   Why are we continuing to allow the pundits who led us to Trumpland get away with telling us we don't have a good chance of winning the Senate?  Or the governorship?  Or the statehouse?

Because the fact is, if we turn up, we can win.  And as long as our three branches of government continue to so blatantly work against 98 percent of Americans, we can bring all but the mad and the obscenely rich to our side.

The South Carolina primaries are June 12.  Here in SC we can choose to vote in either the Democratic or republican primary, but with so many candidates running on our side, I believe most of us will be wanting to vote on the Democratic side.  And you can get a list of all the candidates on your ballot at Ballotpedia.

How cool is that???

It would really tickle me to hear on June 13 that more Dems showed up to vote in the primary than republicans.  And to be honest, it would incite fear into the republicans, which would be a bonus for showing up.

If your favorite candidate is running uncontested, show up anyway.  There are lots of other choices to be made.  Show up and show some enthusiasm.  Because it is the enthusiasm that will grow that Blue Wave and wash the corruption and crazy out of our government.

That nap I took was refreshing.  And now I am ready to get back in the fight.  I plan on spreading the word on races across the country, like that one between Beto O'Rourke and the hideous Ted Cruz, and here in SC where we can get rid of the phony Mark Sanford, "you lie" Joe Wilson and gun-slinging Ralph Norman.  And in our own state capitol, we've got a governor and state legislators that need to be retired.  Guys like Peter McCoy have been skating by while holding his party line for far too long; show up at the Democratic primary and shake things up by voting for his opponent.

Paul Ryan may have pretended to ignore our calls and postcards and rallies, but it is because of our energy that he is heading for the hills.  We don't need the DCCC to come out from hiding in order for our great candidates to win.  We have been winning without their help.  We can make that Blue Wave happen.

If we show up.

South Carolina Primary Day
Tuesday, June 12

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Rare Ability to Piss Off Everyone

Party republicans here in SC are whining about the primary process.  It appears that they no longer like the open primaries that they have in the past used to great success.  In fact, they are so up in arms that they are finally moving toward changing to a closed system.  Democratic party officials, not to be outdone, are pissed off that a Democrat colored outside the line.

The big brouhaha is over former Bernie Democrat Dimitri Cherny, who has switched party affiliation in order to primary Mark Sanford in US House District 1.  The problem for republicans is that Cherny is using their own game against them.  The problem for Democrats is that he isn't playing the game by the rules.  The rules that republicans have consistently broken in order to win, and which has over the years given them control over all branches of government, including of late the Supreme Court.

Back in 2010, a smart and unscrupulous republican realized that if certain key state districts could be won and legislatures handed over to republicans, that would enable them to control the upcoming redistricting.  What resulted was the bizarre gerrymandering we have today, wherein most Democrats are swept into one huge district, and many other districts have a comfortable republican margin.  Read the brilliant book Ratf**cked by David Daley for the incredibly ballsy details behind Project REDMAP.  And note:  REDMAP 2020 is in the works.

Closer to home, and back to the republican snit over Cherny registering as a republican, we have indeed had our own questionable candidates.  Back when I was a new and naive blogger, there was Alvin Greene, who despite being totally unknown, handily defeated Vic Rawl in the Democratic primary.  Greene had no prior political experience or ambition.  A closer look (and there were lots of those) found him to have right-wing views on major issues and a couple of pending obscenity charges.  Before the primary he had done no campaigning.  Boy, were our faces red.

The media tried to come up with a number of lame excuses for why his candidacy -- and win -- were legitimate,  from Rawl only campaigned with robocalls and emails, to Greene's name was first alphabetically and on the ballot.  The most logical reason that an Alvin Greene could end up competing against Jim DeMint for the Senate is that he was a republican plant.

Then we have the twenty-year perennial candidate Ben Frasier, who popped up every couple years like Punxutawny Phil to primary a Democrat here in Charleston.  Each election season he dropped in with questionable residency and the ability to disrupt credible races and drain a candidate's financial resources.  He infuriated party elders like Jim Clyburn who accused him of being a plant, but was unstoppable.

Both the Alvin Greene and Ben Frasier fiascos left Democratic Party officials skittish, to say the least.  When Jay Stamper attempted to run against Lindsey Graham in 2014, rumors about his legitimacy had Dems running for cover.  He was not even allowed to introduce himself at a Charleston Democratic group meeting.  At the time, he seemed to me just the kind of candidate that could beat the republican:  fearless, smart, ballsy.  In other words, just the kind that republicans would fear and that Democrats... would also fear.

Stamper was running as a Democrat.  So it is not surprising that Dimitri Cherny would get at best the same kind of welcome as did Stamper.  Given that we actually do have two Democrats running in the primary for SC House District 1, it would make sense that we want our voters to show up for that particular primary.  Cherny has suggested it would be cool for Dems to choose to vote in the republican primary so they can vote for him.

I love you, Dimitri, but that's not going to happen.  What is more likely to happen, however, and what has republican panties in a bunch, is that he can throw a wrench into their primary, which with Dimitri now has three candidates.  I find that absolutely delightful.  Cherny is likely to appeal to younger and/or angrier voters, and given the third candidate, a woman, there is indeed a possibility that Sanford will not easily walk away with a primary win.  And even a win will leave him with republican voters who voted for one of the other candidates.  For once in his graced political life, Mark Sanford might end up breaking a sweat.

The neat thing about Cherny's run is that he just might get some people to get engaged on issues.  Sanford mumbles and bobs-and-weaves his way into sounding like he agrees with just about every stand, and then goes into Congress and votes 100% party line.  As a recent notable example, he happily showed up at town halls last year and expressed total understanding and sympathy over those who did not want to lose Obamacare, and then voted for each of the horrific repeal bills.  Most recently he voted for tax cuts for the rich, his true constituents.   And while he is smart enough to be against drilling off our own coast, he totally supports oil and gas company rights to drill every-damn-where else.  Leaving his supporters back home thinking he is on their side, with no one to challenge him.

The way I see this is:  Sanford wins, and has to go against a Democrat without as united a front as he has had in the past; OR, his republican opponent wins and without the name recognition leaves the Dems with a more level playing field.

OR, Dimitri Cherny wins.  And in the general election we have a Bernie Democrat running against... a Democrat.

No wonder republicans are so pissed off they are actually planning on changing the system.  But Dems, how about lightening up?  Take a page from the truly successful republican playbook and make lemonade out of this strange lemon.  You could just end up winning.

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Ironic Cherry Reads... What's Up with James Comey?

The Unmaking of the President
Lanny J. Davis

I am not a fan of James Comey.  He is smug and smarmy and carries himself with the self-satisfied aura of Mike Pence and Neil Gorsuch.  I look forward to reading what promises to be a self-serving memoir entitled A Higher Loyalty much as I looked forward to the 60 Minutes interview with Stormy Daniels; that is, with a great deal of skepticism.

I picked up the book, The Unmaking of the President 2016, when it came up in my library search for Comey's book.  With all the Trump/Russia/election books out there, this one seemed to have gone under the radar.  Since I have less time to waste these days, I did a quick google search for the author and the book, and decided it would be worth the effort.  And I needed a more objective narrative before I tackled Comey in his own words.

It is a shame that we are reading trash like Fire and Fury while this book goes unnoticed.  It is a clear and well-documented record of the FBI "investigation" of Clinton's emails, and describes precisely how -- and why -- this incredible interference into the 2016 presidential election came to be.

Going way back to the reporting on the initial fake Clinton scandal known as Whitewater, Davis describes the biased and inaccurate reporting of the New York Times, and then the similar biased coverage in its misleading reporting of the FBI email investigation.  In a nutshell:  When the fact of Hillary's use of a private email server became news, she said, "I want the public to see my email(s).  I asked State to release them.  They said they will review them for release as soon as possible."  This routine "security investigation" to determine if any documents to be released were confidential was reported by the Times as a "criminal investigation."

Throughout, insinuations became headlines, and corrections and clarifications were buried near the bottom of the page.  Right wing media like Fox and Breitbart began the rallying cry and mainstream media led by the Times was all too happy to follow suit.  And it was Clinton season in the political hunting world once again.

The sainted Comey (self-sainted, I would like to add) may have been best known for the moral stance he took by standing up to Bush administration pressure to reauthorize illegal spying.  But, as recounted in The Guardian, Comey is not a huge fan of civil liberties.  He has backed torture, warrantless wiretapping, and indefinite detention.  Davis claims that Comey's heroic act had more to do with "technical issues" -- and maybe also the fact of the Bush administration trying to do an end run around Comey to get to a hospitalized John Ashcroft -- than with principled opposition to the program.

Democrats have been heralding Comey as a hero once again since his firing by Trump.  Of course, the idiot-in-chief tried to con the Democrats by saying Comey was fired because of the bad things he did to Hillary --  even though he admitted on national TV that he indeed fired Comey because of the "Russier thing."  While we aren't buying that load of Trump manure, we should also be wary of the man who said during his Senate testimony:  "It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election.  But honestly, it wouldn't change the decision."

There have been things about Comey and the FBI leading up to the election that have made me mildly nauseous as well.  I have wondered about Comey's anti-Clinton bias, as he was supposed to have been honorable and non-partisan.  I wondered at his extremely poor judgment and apparently partisan exposure of the Clinton investigation while keeping the Trump investigation under wraps.  And I wondered why on earth he would make the announcement that he was reopening the investigation on October 28, going against long-standing DOJ policy not to make public announcements that close to an election that might effect the outcome.

Which leads us to Rudy Giuliani and the New York FBI.  Ignorant as I am about the goings on of the New York FBI, there was just something squirrelly about Giuliani's gleeful and somewhat mad TV appearances days and even weeks before Comey's October 28 surprise.  Because "surprise" was exactly what Giuliani was crowing about.  Davis explains this puzzle in a way that makes all the crazy pieces fit.

Take years of a rabid republican Congress trying to dig up scandal against the presumed Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, add to that the festering Giuliani and his New York FBI cronies, and top it off with a year and a half of Trump's paranoid harangue that everybody is out to get him and the election is being rigged.  The end result is Comey being twisted and influenced because of his own need to be seen as above the fray, morally and politically superior to those around him.

Davis ends his argument with an impressive chapter detailing objective measures that point to the effect of the Comey letter on the outcome of the election.  Yes, it is possible, and he does not just point to a single poll but several measures that show strong consensus in the dramatic changes that occurred after October 28.

The last chapter of the book is a strange one, in that it led me to ask:  "Why is this here?"  It is labeled "Epilogue" and details the impeachment process and twenty-fifth amendment:  the history, the process and the relevance.  Again, it is well-drawn and important, but really has nothing to do with Comey.  At all.  I couldn't help but imagine that the author was so impassioned by the need to rid ourselves of the scourge of Donald Trump (as are we all) that he just had to include this appeal.  Whatever his reasoning, I'm glad his editors let this tangential bit in.

I am also glad that I found this book before diving into Comey's memoir.

One last thought:

A better title might have been, "The Unmaking of the Presidency."

Friday, March 23, 2018

Lies and Liars

Quite a long time ago, I had my very first full-time job in the meat department of a supermarket.  When we had chickens on sale, there were times that there were crates of chickens left over after the sale.  We froze them.  Then, when they went on sale again, we defrosted them.  I recall one time when the department manager was running water over the frozen chickens to defrost them faster, and the word came down from the store office that the big boss had walked into the store.  There followed a Marx Brothers-like dash to get the chickens out of the running water and onto trays.

Because freezing and defrosting the chickens and then selling them as fresh was illegal.  The game was that everybody knew this was done, but it had to be done in the dark.

Around the same time, a friend who was a cook in an upscale restaurant was visiting, and he was working the grill in our backyard.  He was describing in Bourdain fashion the horrors that go on in the kitchen in a fancy restaurant.  He had just described how, if a piece of meat fell on the floor, the cook would pick it up, brush it off, throw it on the stovetop for another minute, and then serve it.  As he finished the story, the steak he was grilling dropped to the ground.  Looking just a tad abashed, he picked it up, brushed it off, and threw it back on the grill.

In a non-food related area, I was volunteering at my daughter's elementary school library.  The librarian was pulling books from the shelf and deleting them from the school's records.  I am sure I asked what would happen to them next, and she told me a story about how they would be stored in an attic in an administration building.  After many later years working in school and public libraries, I can assure you they were not being stored.  They were being discarded.  When you work in a library, you don't tell the patrons (or the parents) that books are being thrown out.

If you look back on your various jobs and careers, most of you will recall lies you were told, and lies you told.  Not too long ago, in congressional testimony under oath, White House communications director Hope Hicks testified that she had told "white lies" for the president.  The very president who on Day One made his press secretary tell us that "This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration... period."  And then there are the convenient lapses of memory by Jefferson Beauregard Sessions during his confirmation hearing.  All under the watchful -- you might say, paranoid -- eyes of the liar-in-chief.

We once lived in a country wherein the business philosophy was "caveat emptor" -- let the buyer beware.  Buyers were taken for such a horrific ride that they rebelled, and laws were passed protecting them from harmful lies.  Of course, it did not take long for capitalists to fight back for the right to do whatever the hell they please, and we have had ups and downs in the area of consumer protection.  These days, Congress and Trump's swamp creatures are busy dismantling consumer protections and the Supremes are solidly behind the big bucks.  We seem to have returned to the carnival days of never give a sucker an even break.

In today's atmosphere of cynicism, it is surprising how naive we all continue to be.  We are watching Donald Trump and his cronies display in full screen the flagrant corruption and rampant lies of business in America.  This is the corruption of the real estate industry, and of the oil industry, and big pharma, ad nauseum.  From Bill Gates to the Kochs, the rich got that way by screwing others and telling us how lucky we are to have the opportunity to be screwed.

How do they get away with it?  They have learned how to frame their lies in a way that appeals to us.  Republicans won congress back in 2014 by well capitalized lies about Obamacare.  The Supremes, in Citizens United, gave their blessing to big lies told with the money of big donors.  Political ads tell more brazen lies than the most egregious drug commercial, and they work.

Diversion is the other tactic that keeps us fish biting through misdirection.  The magic is in making the mark look the other way while their pocket is being picked.  I know some very fine and caring Democrats who get rabid over food stamp cheats.  While there are going to be a few slick characters who don't need food stamps but have found a way to receive them, this is mostly a myth that goes way back to Reagan's food stamp queen driving up to the welfare office in her Cadillac.  The woman in the grocery store line buying that steak may have eaten pasta and beans for a week to afford that treat, and very likely lives a life of worry over making ends meet.

On the other hand, if a wealthy businessman pays no taxes you can be sure it will be painted as well deserved, because he contributes so much to the economy.  The worker who earns $20,000 a year?  Not so much.

I had a conversation with a guy repairing my washing machine a few years ago.  We were having an innocent, non-political chat about retirement and being able to afford it, and he went off on welfare cheats.  I said I was far more concerned about the billionaires that were cheating us via the government.  And he replied:  "Yeah, but you can't do anything about them."

So our entire economic system comes down to getting abused by your boss and coming home and kicking the dog.  It is all about feeling so helpless to fight the corrupt powerful that we are willing dupes in the misdirection that causes us to turn on those with less than us.

These days, the Trump swamp has stunk so much that it has even magnified the odors coming from Congress.  Paul Ryan's lies about health care and Trump's lies about tax cuts just may be what creates the prism that separates the lies from the reality.  It may not be so far between lies about inaugural crowd size to stealing those massive tax cuts.  Taking away consumer financial protections and affordable health care might serve to focus us more on the real issues than the diversions.  The outcomes of recent special elections may be the proof that we are waking up to the big con that has been perpetrated on us for far too long.

Today the liar-in-chief is rethinking his promise of just yesterday to sign the budget and keep the government running.  I heard everyone from Paul Ryan to Mick Mulvaney were surprised.  I try not to dwell on the creep's tweets, but I heard he was complaining that the Dems have abandoned the Dreamers and he hasn't gotten the full amount for his damned wall.  It would take another entire blog to unpack that load of crap.  As I recall though, it was the orange criminal himself who took DACA away from the Dreamers, and Mitch McConnell who has been refusing to bring it up for a vote in the Senate.  And we keep hearing about Trump fulfilling his promise to build the wall, but he fails to mention who he said was going to pay for it....  Lies and cons.

November is coming, and I hear that this year it is going to be swamp-draining season, in Washington and throughout the country.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Deciding Who to Throw Under the Bus

We know who republicans are fighting for:  the wealthy and the Christian right-wing.  That unholy alliance was formed to help Reagan get elected and was such a resounding success that despite seeming to be totally at odds, the two groups have gone on to be famous lovers.

On the Democratic side, we try to do the right thing, but we get so damned confused.  We want to win -- not for our own gratification of course, but because that's the only way we can do good.  It is easy to manipulate us by accusing us of, gee, almost anything; just toss out an attack and watch us scurry around in confused agitation, like a disturbed ant hill.

It is with some amusement that I have been observing David Brooks, who of late has determined to advise Dems on how to best succeed.  In a recent column he suggests that on gun control we blue people should be more empathetic towards those red folks, and let them take the lead.  In another special piece of mansplaining entitled "The Abortion Memo", he tells us that if we don't do some compromising on abortion restrictions, then we are letting Donald Trump win.  And, after all, going along with something like the twenty week abortion ban doesn't affect all that many women.

Democrat Conor Lamb just won a special election in a district that had belonged to Trump not too long ago.  In the wake of which, as described in a brilliant article by Charlie Pierce, David Brooks obfuscates into a win as a result of a move toward the center.  Pierce says, "This attempt to drag Conor Lamb into David Brooks' Cloud Cuckoo Land of Responsible Centrism is simply a load."

From the White House we have the brute-in-chief, who is always happy to tell "Schumer and Pelosi" what they need to do to make their party happy.

Enough from the republican chorus.  It takes second guessing from our own party and candidates' advisors to really put a damper on that whole liberty and justice for all thing.  If you plan on running for office on a truly progressive agenda, you are going to be facing a whole lot of squishy Democratic opinions about why you can't do that and win.  You are just going to have to hide those lefty beliefs, embrace those on the other side, and make some compromises.

What it all comes down to, this compromise business, is who we Democrats agree to throw under the bus in our race to the finish line.  And there are so very many Americans and issues to choose from.

For example, we might support Dreamers.  In fact, Dreamers are very popular.  But we might just want to be a little more agreeable about closing that Mexican border.  We could beef up security, spend more money on patrol agents and build just a little bit of a wall.  (And let's not make a big deal out of all those families being deported, and especially about the children being separated from their parents.  Oh, and let's not get into defending sanctuary cities; that's just too messy.) 

How about that Muslim ban?  We know it's a bad idea to close our borders, and it's not just the melting pot, "give me your tired, your poor" thing.  It's bad for business.  But the courts are fighting it out.  (And if our candidates make too big a deal out of it, it is just going to scare those Christians on the other side.)

Teachers.  We have heard our democratic candidates say all the same safe words about teachers.  It is so important that we praise teachers for their important hard work that there is even a website with "Words to Thank a Teacher."  (But we don't want to get into what it would cost to pay a teacher what they are worth, or provide them the environment and supplies and support that they need to do their jobs better and with less stress.)  In fact, one of our own SC Democratic candidates for governor is these days saying we should get rid of 1/3 of our teachers.

Which brings us to an even more explosive four-letter-word:  Unions.  (Oh, please don't let anyone ask about unions, please, please, please, please.  Because then I'll have to say I support unions, but people who don't "believe in them" shouldn't have to pay for them, and then union members will get angry at me and then...)

Taxes.  The republicans have long ago taken ownership of the phrase "lower taxes and better government services."  The fact that republicans that lower taxes invariably cut needed services doesn't seem to dispel the magic of the promise.  But does it?  Maybe candidates that fearlessly talk about the cost of inadequate taxation... (If I talk about taxes, I'll be called a tax and spend Democrat, so maybe I just won't say anything.)

Women's health care.  Health care.  Abortion.  If you recall, back during the Obamacare "debate," big republican donors paid for a huge astroturf campaign, much like the Russian trolls spurred in 2016, revving up the American people with fears that the government was going to kill their grandmas with their death panels, and the government was going to spy on their doctor appointments.  They even gave them bag lunches and put them on buses en route to protests.   Well, women are dying from inadequate access to health care, and our government wants to tell our doctors what they can say to us about our reproductive health and dictate and monitor our care.  Texas has closed so many clinics that over recent years the maternal mortality rate has been likened to that of a third world country.  The highest in the nation, they had no recourse but to... re-interpret the data.  Still the highest mortality rate in the country, but not as high as they thought.  (But I'll be very careful not to sound as though I'm "pro-abortion."  And make sure that I agree with the sanctity of life, and just get back to saying mothers and babies need better health care.  And hope nobody notices.) 

AND guns.  Maybe our Democratic politicians could stop prefacing every statement on gun control with, "I believe in the Second Amendment" or by telling us how old they were when they first went hunting with their daddy.  The numbers of  shootings in this country, mass and otherwise,  is obscene.  We can all agree that we have to do something about it.  We can take a tough stand against the NRA when it comes to bump stocks and AR-15's and background checks, because poll after poll has shown that this is supported by the vast majority of Americans.  (But stay away from registering guns, or making laws about safe use; we sure don't want anyone to think we are planning on restricting their God-given -- I mean constitutional -- right to carry a gun.) 

Oh, I could go on.  There are so many minefields, and so much opportunity for republican opponents to attack us Democrats for taking a stand.  And so much potential for in-fighting.  But there are minority rights and individual rights and constitutional rights being eroded, and we are the ones who must turn that tide.

If we don't stand up for every single one who is affected by those issues, if we are willing to sell out one woman who may at some future time need a third-trimester abortion, or ignore one immigrant whose family is being torn apart, if we allow our unions to be undermined and our workers underpaid and unprotected, we are not who we claim to be.

A smart candidate in Trump's failed America should be able to explain why it is good for us all to welcome immigrants, support women's reproductive rights, and restrict access to guns.  We should also be able to explain the difference between responsible taxation and burdening the middle class.

Yes, voters are often tempted to follow the shiny object:  the biggest mouth, the most brazen promises.  But we have had special elections this year where fearless candidates fought against the lies and the fearmongering, and they have won.

Don't let anyone convince you that the way to victory is through caution.  Let us not throw anyone or any group under the bus in the cause of victory.  Not this year.