Steadily and Inevitably Toward the Full Trump Apocalypse

Lambert to the Slaughter

Every so often the question gets asked again: “How much longer can this last?” “This” of course being the brazenly corrupt reign of Donald Trump and his beyond-the-pale collection of cartoonish grifters. (Eg: EPA boss Scott Pruitt, Interior czar Ryan Zinke, Commerce con man Wilbur Ross, the already departed HHS Secretary Tom Price and on and on and on and on ad nauseam.)

Even the most cynical and despairing among us have, buried deep in our numbness from so much unchecked self-dealing, fraud and incompetence, a belief that “this” can’t survive. It’s just too flagrant, too clumsy and too shameless to avoid a day of reckoning.

Since last fall I’ve pegged late spring-to-early summer of this year as the likely point where the [bleep] really hits the wall. The point where only the most delusional far right bubble creatures refuse to accept incontrovertible evidence that our Commander-in-Chief is not merely a fool, but a criminal one as well, and very likely a treasonous one to boot.

(Read this from James Risen at the Intercept, titled, “Is Donald Trump a Traitor?” Sample:

“Most pundits in Washington now recoil at any suggestion that the Trump-Russia story is really about treason. They all want to say it’s about something else – what, they aren’t quite sure. They are afraid to use serious words. They are in the business of breaking down the Trump-Russia narrative into a long series of bite-sized, incremental stories in which the gravity of the overall case often gets lost. They seem to think that treason is too much of a conversation-stopper, that it interrupts the flow of cable television and Twitter. God forbid you might upset the right wing! (And the left wing, for that matter.)

“But if a presidential candidate or his lieutenants secretly work with a foreign government that is a longtime adversary of the United States to manipulate and then win a presidential election, that is almost a textbook definition of treason.”

Friday’s indictment of a baker’s dozen of Rooskies (and one lone American wanker roped in to help the Russians pay off Tea Party-style patriots) clearly has Trump ricocheting off his gilded walls. It is almost certainly a Phase One indictment, setting the stage for Phase Two: charges against Americans who wittingly or unwittingly (through their existing criminal endeavors) made the Russian attack on last year’s election possible. Next up, (my guess), are the American data operations who “weaponized” the Russians’ social media strategy into the swing states where 78,000 votes turned the electoral college in Trump’s favor.

Could this mean Cambridge Analytica, where son-in-law Jared Kushner crossed paths with Robert and Rebekah Mercer? All available signs point to it.

If Kushner never gets his White House security clearance, it will be, I believe, because his connections to Cambridge Analytica have compounded his debt his issues with Deutsche Bank, his sweetheart dealing with the Chinese and of course that fateful meet and greet with the Russians at Trump Tower.

A Kushner indictment would be the signal that we have arrived at a one-step-from-the-abyss moment for Trump … and us.

After Kushner, the only target left is Trump himself, who at the point will be completely exposed by everything Mueller has collected from plea deals with Michael Flynn, Rick Gates, George Papadopoulos and Paul Manafort, too, I’m guessing. (At this point even Manafort, the sleaziest of lifelong DC swamp creatures, has to realize that all he can do now is mitigate his eventual prison sentence. There is no other choice, other than making a run for it.)

I make this late spring-early summer prediction in part because of what I and others have said from the get-go. This cascading fiasco has been called “stupid Watergate” for a reason. There doesn’t appear to be anything all that sophisticated or original about Trump’s 30-year money laundering scheme with international gangsters. There just isn’t a lot of brain power and criminal craft on display here. Even Trump’s “fixer” attorney, the mobbed-up Michael Cohen, is more thug than legal strategist.

I’m inclined to believe Mueller’s (far smarter) team has seen this sort of thing many times before, but until this episode may never have had quite the incentive or resources to mount a full-scale investigation of so farcical character as Trump.

Moreover, there’s the not-insignificant fact that Trump inspires no loyalty among his “team”, other than among maybe his immediate children, Cohen, and, of course, the sad, angry chumps who use him as the prism for their rage against “the winners” of the world. Everybody else around Trump has only good reasons to give him up and quite literally no reason at all to protect him. There’s no one like Bob Haldeman or John Erhlichman here. Who thinks Reince Preibus, John Kelly or any other institutional actor is going to court perjury and jail time to protect an ungrateful fool like Trump? I mean, people! can you imagine what Steve Bannon alone said last week in 20 hours of testimony to Mueller’s crew?

So … assuming Mueller is doing what credible analysts believe he is doing, namely, steadily building up pressure through a series of strategically sequenced indictments on everyone who hasn’t flipped to come in now, I think by late May or early July we’ll be into a fresh kind of hell with Trump.

And that hell will be a form of civil war between the most ardent (i.e. angriest, deepest in the bubble) Trumpists egged on by their favorite for-profit rage inducers and the rest of us. They will be told their election is being stolen from them by “the deep state” and the liberal media and they will believe it, because that’s all they’ll have left to believe in. Any other option requires them to admit they’ve been played for chumps … yet again.

The anger and solidarity of that crowd; a large, reliable and therefore absolutely vital percentage of the Republican voting bloc will mean Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and the rest of the so-called party “leadership” (ironic since they’re actually the ones being led) will remain locked in their implicit defense of Trump, no matter what Mueller chooses to disclose.

At that point, I don’t see how the 4K HD Director’s Cut version of the infamous Ritz-Carlton Moscow “pee tape” will change any minds. Hell, Trump’s evangelicals will most likely look on that as a kind of born again baptism.

 

All Hail The Return Of Sir TPaw!

Who is that gallant knight gliding o’er the horizon on his white steed? Come hither good people of the frozen Kingdom of Minnesota! All hail the return of Sir TPaw!

Forsooth, the brave knight’s pinstripe Stuart Hughes Diamond Edition suit of armor is overflowing hither and tither with gold lavished upon him by the robber barons of Wall Street.

After being left for dead in the Battle of Iowa, the bloodied knight hath been highly rewarded by the gentry for pillaging the lowly wind-sucking peasants, and for bestowing further riches to their rightful place in the palaces of Edina, Wazyata, Eden Prairie and Minnetonka.

Sir TPaw returneth to overthrow King Dayton and his would-be successors! He is returning to save Minnesotans from the current ravages of historically low unemployment, progressive taxation, services for the peasantry, and a steady stream of national kudos.

Prithee, Sir TPaw, restore us to the glory days of a “no new taxes” troth, budget gimmicks, lower taxes for the upper classes, fewer alms for the commoners, “borrowing” from classrooms, and chronic budget shortfall crises.  (Not to mention your “red hot smokin'” Lady!)

Aye, his beauteous mullet hath been shorn in the c-suite battlefields. But perchance it too shall soon be returned to its past glory?

Gramercy Sir TPaw! How fortunate we all are to once again grace your now wealthier — and, if we may say so, oh-so-presidential — shadow! Dilly, dilly!

But wait! Nay, why o why is thy Kingdom of Minnesota not rising up in rapture and adoration for the newly enriched Sir TPaw riding in on his white steed? The well-born are pitchkettled!  This is utter woodness!

“Trumpublicans” Not Republicans

Unfortunately, Donald Trump is not on the ballot in 2018.  If he was, polls indicate he would get crushed in a landslide by Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders or Oprah Winfrey.  But because Trump isn’t on the ballot, criticizing him during the campaign will have little effect on the Trump agenda, unless voters become convinced that the 468 Republican nominees who are on the general election ballots are substantively the same as Trump.

After the 2018 Republican primaries are over, we can expect many congressional Republicans to stop pandering to the roughly 35% of Americans who make up the “Trump base” and instead distance themselves from him in an attempt to win over the swing voters who will decide the election.  They’ll be saying things like “I support his tax cuts, but I’m my own person and don’t agree with him on many things.”  This is absurd because most Republicans voted with Trump over 90% of the time in Congress.

Still, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of advertising will be spent in gerrymandered districts to build this “independent from Trump” illusion.  If congressional Republicans get away with this Extreme Makeover, Americans will be stuck with unchecked Trumpism in 2019 and 2020, and perhaps beyond.  It could get so much uglier.

So Democrats need to do more than just give long-winded anti-Trump speeches on MSNBC. Casually involved swing voters don’t have the patience for long-form communications. Instead, Democrats need a concise term to rebrand Republicans in the Trump era.  Congressional Republicans need to be branded what they are, a group of Trump-programmed bots who are ideologically indistinguishable from Trump.  Republicans of the Trump era need to be branded as “Trumpublicans.”

I certainly didn’t invent the term “Trumpublican,” and I don’t find it especially clever.  But it has the important virtue of clearly and concisely communicating that Republicans have become a wholly owned subsidiary of Trump.  These shameful 468 Republicans have empowered this dangerous, bigoted, unpopular moron.  So let’s shine klieg lights on what these Republicans have allowed themselves to become, boot-licking Trumpublicans.

Even Republicans of the Reagan, Dole and Bush eras would never have kicked 30 million Americans off of health coverage.  But that’s what Trumpublicans giddily did when they repeatedly pushed Trump’s unpopular and cruel TrumpCare bill.

Even Republicans of the Reagan, Dole and Bush eras would never have deported 800,000 beautiful young people productively living out the American dream.  But Trumpublicans enthusiastically embraced Trump’s unpopular and racist DACA repeal.

Even trickle-down Republicans of the Reagan, Dole and Bush eras never would have given 83% of a tax bill benefits to the richest 1% of Americans.  But these Trumpublicans toasted the billionaire Trump as that extremely unpopular and immoral bill was enacted into law.

Even Republicans of the Reagan, Dole and Bush eras supported conservative Presidents and Administrations that had at least some modicum of experience, integrity and ethics.  Trumpublicans have embraced and blindly defended the Trump Administration’s jaw-dropping parade of incompetence, inexperience and corruption.

Because of congressional Republicans’ complete lack of Trump oversight the last two years, they are no longer Republicans in the sense Americans have traditionally used that word.  That term is now much too good for them.  Republicans have completely merged with Trump Incorporated and made themselves into Trumpublicans.  Americans need to understand this truth before November 6, 2018.  Drain THAT swamp.

So Democrats should be continually reframing Republicans as “Trumpublicans” during the 2018 mid-term campaign season.   Unlike conservatives, progressives don’t have Russian bots and billionaire funders to drive the message.  So Democrats are going to have to do it the old-fashioned way, with disciplined repetition.  Trumpublicans, Trumpublicans, Trumpublicans.

Five Anti-Trump Critiques Liberals Should Drop

On dozens of issues, President Trump deserves criticism. In fact, one of the central challenges of the anti-Trump resistance is that he offers up so many examples of lies, corruption, destructive policies and incompetence that it can be difficult to remain focused on the things that most matter to swing voters who will decide the all-important 2018 elections.

With so much outrageous behavior in the White House, Trump resisters don’t need to overstep. Moreover, overstepping detracts or distracts from more persuasive critiques.

But like the conservative base, the liberal base frequently does overstep with their critiques. Let me count the ways:

Appearance. The President is orange complected, obese and has bizarre hair. We all can see that on our own. Repeating it ad nauseam doesn’t win any converts, distracts from consequential issues, and makes the messengers look petty and small. So just stop.

P.S. The same applies to Trump’s staff. Snarky jokes about the appearance of Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Steven Bannon detract and distract from real issues and make the messengers look like shallow bullies.

Junk. The obsession with presidential phallic matters is wrong on many levels. It’s pure speculation, has absolutely no bearing on his job performance, and makes critics sound like small-minded middle schoolers. Think of it this way: What would liberals think if conservatives constantly commented on some aspect of a Senator Clinton’s genitalia?

Daughter. The fact that Trump says his daughter is beautiful and smart doesn’t mean there’s something creepy going on between them. That’s a leap too far that too many liberals make with absolutely no evidence.  It’s not fair, and it hurts them more than it hurts the President.

Wife. Sorry, but you can’t make conclusions about a marriage based on body language alone, something that is done constantly by Trump critics on social media. Besides, plenty of Presidents with troubled marriages were effective. So move on to more important issues.

Golf. Yes, it’s outrageously hypocritical that the man who constantly criticized President Obama for golfing and vacationing too much golfs and vacations much more than Obama did. But Trump is a failure because he is incompetent, an ultra-conservative and corrupt, not because he isn’t sitting at his desk enough.  So let’s stay focused on making THAT case.

So please, my fellow progressives, continue to criticize President Trump and his shameless Trumpublican enablers. TrumpCare cruelty. Tax handouts to billionaires and corporations. Russiagate. Foreign bribes.  Deficit spending hypocrisy.  A racist, unnecessary wall financed by Americans. Obstruction of justice.  Medicare and Medicaid cuts.  Serial lying.  Climate change idiocy. Gun protection obstruction. The sexual assault admission.  Racist immigration policies.  Childish, dangerous warmongering.  There is a very long list of things that liberals should stress in the 2018 elections.

But these five things should not be among them.

Franken Wasn’t “Denied Due Process” By Critics

One of the primary rallying cries of the righteous defenders of Senator Al Franken is that he is being “denied due process.”  Republican former Governor Arne Carlson was the latest in a long line of folks to make this righteously indignant assertion:

I am deeply troubled by the resignation of Al Franken and the complete absence of anything resembling due process. While I am not always in agreement with Senator Al Franken, I firmly believe in due process which is a cornerstone of our democratic way of living. Whenever in history we abandoned it, we severely damaged ourselves. Just think about the lynching of Blacks in the South, the internment of people of Japanese descent in World War II, or the era of McCarthyism when lives were destroyed based solely on allegations.

With all due respect to the often thoughtful Governor Carlson and my progressive friends who are understandably stinging over the loss of an effective champion, puh-lease. Al Franken is being treated like lynched African Americans or imprisoned Japanese Americans?  Really?

This is a silly argument. Clearly, Senator Franken had due process available to him every step of the way – the Senate Ethics Committee investigation process.  Franken said he wanted make use of that process when there was one accuser. After the number of accusers increased to eight, he decided to resign and not tap into that process.  That’s not quite how it went down for African Americans and Japanese Americans.

The critically important point is, the decision to forgo the process was always Franken’s.  It was not forced upon him by “the lynch mob,” the favored term Franken defenders use for anyone who believes Franken’s accusers.  The U.S. Senate’s due process existed for former Senator Bob Packwood when he faced sexual abuse accusations, it existed for Franken, and it still exists for accused pedophile Roy Moore if he, gulp, wins a seat in the Senate today.

While the “denial of due process” argument doesn’t hold up, there is a reasonable discussion to have about whether there was a “rush to judgment.”  Who knows, maybe all eight of these accusers were lying, exaggerating, conspiring or confusing an ass grab with a “hug.” To me, the evidence was pretty strong that Franken’s behavior — sophomoric and degrading, though nowhere near as bad as Moore’s or Trump’s assualts — no longer left him credible enough, at this unique time in history, to be effective representing his state and progressive causes.  That photo, which would have lived on in political ad-driven infamy, made it much worse for him.

But if some disagree with me on that, and want to make the “rush to judgment” argument, that argument is reasonable. Now, it would feel much more reasonable if those same folks were making the same “don’t rush to judgment” argument in the case of Cosby, Weinstein, Rose, Lauer, Keillor, Franks, Moore, Trump and others, which they aren’t.  But that is at least a worthy topic of discussion.

Not so with the “due process” hysterics. If the accusations of all eight women were as false and/or exaggerated as Senator Franken claims, he did have an impartial investigative process during which he could have tried to prove his case. The fact that Franken’s colleagues and constituents exercised their free speech rights to criticize him did not take that right away. He voluntarily abandoned that option himself, just as the list of women accusing him of unwanted grabbing and kissing was growing longer.

Al Franken Is Putting His Self-Interest Over Everything He Claims Is Important

If Senator Al Franken left the U.S. Senate in the wake of his sexual harassment admission, Governor Mark Dayton would be able to appoint a replacement.  Many speculate that he might name his Lieutenant Governor, Tina Smith, a respected, thoughtful leader who would likely be a very capable candidate in a November 2018 special election.  There are also other excellent choices Dayton could make.

As a result, Al Franken and Minnesota DFLers need to be asking themselves some important questions.

Who would have more moral standing to hold sexual harassers and abusers like Roy Moore and Donald Trump accountable, and send a clear signal that sexual harassment will no longer be tolerated?

Who would be a more credible and persuasive advocate for progressive causes?

Who would be a more respected representative of Minnesotans’ interests, opinions, and values?

Who would be a better role model for Minnesota’s young men and women?

Who would be more re-electable in 2020, and more likely to help Democrats stop Minnesota’s Senate seat from going to a Trumpublican?

What Al Franken did is less egregious than what Moore and Trump did, so he may be able to hold onto his job, even after a long and humiliating Senate Ethics Committee investigation that will further cement this incident in the public mind. But just because he can hold on to his job doesn’t mean that he should.

Note:  The day after this post was written, Senator Franken resigned, proving this post’s headline wrong.  In his resignation speech, Senator Franken said: “Minnesotans deserve a senator who can focus with all her energy on addressing the challenges they face every day.  I of all people am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls is running for Senate with full support of his party.” 

Two days after this post was written, accused pedophile Roy Moore lost his Alabama U.S. Senate race by 1.5 points, which underperfromed Trump’s 2016 victory margin in Alabama by a staggering 30-points.

Garrison Keillor v. Minnesota … “Public” … Radio

As further proof that my cynicism knows no depths, let me assert that based on decades of experience, it is my belief that when it comes to personnel issues, by gargantuan enterprises like NBC/Comcast or merely big ones like Minnesota Public Radio … “It’s Money That Matters” as Randy Newman once sang.

In the matter of its summary execution of Garrison Keillor and the scrubbing of all mention and residue of him from their archives, MPR, Minnesota’s “listener-supported” PUBLIC radio “service” is staying very much in character.

The number of people who have tried to play not just media reporter but media critic in the Twin Cities don’t amount to even a handful. But for years I was one of them, and until the current management of the Star Tribune, no organization in town was more walled off, impenetrable and resistant to potentially negative inquiry than MPR. The joke among those of us who tried over the years was that you were more likely to get a full and forthright comment out of the CIA than MPR.

Despite “Public” being a central part of its name and identity, MPR has always conducted itself as the most private of media entities. By contrast, as I’ve often said, Stanley Hubbard, who truly is a “private” owner of television and radio stations, was routinely willing to take a phone call and offer some kind of an explanation for his internal controversy of the moment. With MPR, at best you were lucky to get a turgid, opaque statement from their PR desk.

(The level of fear that permeated MPR’s newsroom staff was frankly remarkable. MPR laid off a group of people a couple of years ago. Only two of the laid-off responded to requests for an entirely off-the-record, not-for-attribution conversation about what happened … and then only to plead not to ever be contacted again.)

In this Keillor situation what leaps out at me is that the only story of an offense, such as it is, comes from Garrison himself. This is the odd business of his hand slipping up a distraught employee’s bare back. In fairness, MPR may be protecting themselves and Keillor from far … far … more unsavory behavior. But we will never know, unless Keillor decides to lay it all out for his fans and the general public, something at the moment he is saying he doesn’t care to do.

In Sunday’s Star Tribune we had this all too familiar line: “MPR’s director of communications, Angie Andresen, said Friday that her organization would like to share more information, but to do so would be a breach of confidentiality that might deter potential victims or witnesses of abuse from coming forward.”

At that, the treadworn cynic in me screams, “Bullshit.”

Since MPR never shares information about anything with even the most remote potential to injure its reputation and impact its revenue stream, it is fair to conclude that it is MPR not any victimized woman who is enforcing this cone of confidentiality. Other media organizations — CBS with Charlie Rose, NBC with Matt Lauer — have seized on high-profile offenses to encourage other women on the staff and in the culture at large to come forward and speak up. The encouragement to women to tell the sordid stories is at the essence of this moment.

MPR is, as usual, taking the opposite approach. “Public” is for them is a branding scheme with no concurrent obligation to transparency.

I’ve told a few people that I’d be fascinated to get a full picture of MPR’s financial relationship with Keillor prior to this reputational guillotining. Nothing of course could be more horrifying to MPR’s executive offices. This is after all the organization that fought tooth and nail the disclosure of founder/CEO Bill Kling’s salary, firing off letters demanding the firing of reporters reckless enough to ask so basic a question of … a public organization.

With that in mind, it is easy, even logical to believe that MPR seized on the opportunity of some kind of impropriety involving Keillor and a woman/women to invoke a morals clause immediately and completely voiding contract(s) with him. Contracts it has monitored carefully and come to regard as no longer beneficial to their revenue stream.

As the saying goes, “Every crisis is an opportunity.”

I strongly suspect NBC/Comcast executives carefully assessed the financial impact of wiping $20-$35 million of Matt Lauer’s salary off the books and concluded “The Today Show” will survive just fine with Savannah Guthrie and (my bet) Willie Geist on the set fawning over pop stars and offering shopping tips.

As for Keillor, can we all acknowledge he is not an average guy, much less a “normal” human being? A bit like Bob Dylan, Garrison long ago began protecting his talent and productivity by interacting with the quotidian universe solely on his terms, as much as possible. You simply can’t be as productive as people like those two have been and deal hour by hour with the numbing, insipid bullshit of daily life. Hell, Keillor’s even said he’s autistic to some degree. So when he then says he’s remarkably awkward in personal encounters, I believe him.

Could he have had an affair with a staffer? I suppose. But even that seems a stretch. What’s inconceivable though is going all Harvey Weinstein or even pulling a Matt Lauer button-under-the-desk and sex toy routine. But in the absence of actual transparency — from an organization that explicitly demands it of the public subjects of its news gathering — everyone’s imagination is free to run wild.

Personally, I hope Keillor reconsiders his decision not to say more about what’s gone down. As a gifted writer, and just as importantly as a humorist, not mention at age 75 with the bulk of he career behind him, Keillor could help turn this current dialogue down a more nuanced, balanced path.

A path that would include the purely monetary pressures that invariably apply in high-profile matters like this.

 

 

 

Al Franken and Our Paris-in-the-Terror Moment

Image result for paris in the terrorThe set of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” will never be confused with The Algonquin Round Table. If for no other reason than Dorothy Parker would never allow Joe [Scarborough] to bloviate on as long and as loudly as he so often does. But the show’s cast of supporting characters — plenty of New York Times and Washington Post reporters and columnists — is bona fide, and given a topic in her wheelhouse, in this case th gross sexual misbehavior by men, soon-to-be Mrs. Joe, Mika Brzezinski, (a.k.a. “Mika-Boo”) is a force of nature.

And Mika the Force is all over our “me too” moment. Amid much high dudgeon about sexual harassment she has also been pushing the nuancy questions of proportionate punishment and “What do we do with the apologies?” This isn’t to say Brzezinski is the first to pose these questions, only that she’s making a persistent point of them.

And that it directly affects Al Franken.

Even following the latest accusation of … butt-palming … at the State Fair, liberal women are having a hard time lumping Franken in with Harvey Weinstein and Roy Moore. For her part, (as a very committed feminist and liberal), Brzezinski is conceding her tribal affinities, while arguing that if this “moment” is going to accomplish something of lasting value, every woman has to have the right to speak and every offender should suffer or at least endure some measure of punishment. But, that said … butt palming/patting/caressing is not in the same universe as rape or pedophilia.

What Mika-Boo hasn’t yet gotten into in this Paris-in-the-Terror moment for men, is the twisty down side to a flat-out, unequivocal “believe the women” episode.

Some of us are old enough to remember the truly bizarre (and remarkably under-examined) frenzy over satanic sexual abuse, murder and mutilation of very young children in schools and day care centers in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Sociologically and psychologically, it was a mind-boggler.

Here in Minnesota the focus was in Scott County. A zealous prosecutor, Kathleen Morris — like prosecutors in the McMartin Pre-School case in California and the Little Rascals Day Care case in North Carolina — insisted the public at large had a moral obligation to “believe the children”. (BTW: The PBS series on the latter case, “Innocence Lost” remains one of the most riveting documentaries I have ever seen. If you want a case study in tribal psychosis, there it is.) Eventually, after millions in court costs and the total ruination of reputations and lives, all of the cases fell apart and the frenzy subsided.

The media took the “believe the children” bait, big time.

My point is that in those environments it was difficult-to-impossible to not “believe the children” just as, for progressive liberals and Al Franken in particular it is not functionally,  socially possible to “believe the women” in this environment.

For example: Even if Franken knew for certain the tongue-in-the-mouth business with Leeann Tweeden was a “bit” or that the butt-caressing at the State Far never happened … he can’t in effect call either of the women liars by saying so. That simply isn’t allowed under the rules of this “cultural moment”. Not for liberals anyway. Conservatives, especially Donald Trump and Roy Moore, are free to condemn all female accusers as liars (and in Trump’s case argue that none of them were good-looking enough to warrant his attention, and then threaten to sue them).

It’s a liberal dilemma … and one that is ripe for exploitation.

Now, before I wander off into the bat[bleep] conspiracy phase of this screed, let me issue the disclaimer that: The United States has always been exceptional in the long march of human nature, in that unlike every other culture on the planet, here in the USA malicious adversaries have never ever concocted a plan to destroy a political opponent through nefarious means. That sort of thing only happens someplace else.

Personally, I don’t find it unimaginable that people like Roger Stone, Steve Bannon and the toxic-but-well funded netherworld of Breitbart and the Mercers might find a way to, shall we say, “encourage” women like Ms. Tweeden and the State Fair victim to come forward with stories (and photographs) deeply damaging to a politician enjoying high regard as a clever, mediagenic assailant of their pet policies and personalities.

I know how insane that sounds. It’s real Elvis-stepped-off-the-UFO stuff. But I’m simply saying I can imagine it. (And yes, I’m taking medication to treat the hallucinations.)

Also, as we collectively try to come up with the appropriate scale to judge all the misbehaviors being tossed up, let me suggest that abuse and harassment stories coming through some form of professional vetting — like the editing pipeline of a major news organization — strike me as having more credibility than just someone holding a press conference.

Big news organizations have reputations to protect and don’t like getting sued. But no nationally renown public figure, of the progressive political persuasion, is in any position to denounce much less sue one poor woman recovering, like Ms. Tweeden and the young lady at the Fair, from the terrible, psychological scarring of sexual abuse.

Voters Need To Fire The Creeps

We’ve learned a lot of grotesque things in recent weeks.  Minnesota U.S. Senator Al Franken will do anything to get a laugh, including humiliating women. Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore is a serial pedophile predator who should have been prosecuted before the statute of limitations ran out. Minnesota Representative Dan Schoen and Senator Tony Cornish continually go way over the flirt-harassment line, and it’s not close. President Donald Trump has admitted on videotape to sexually assaulting women, and at least 16 women have gone on the record to assure us that what the President told Billy Bush is true.

So enough with the political noise.  Enough “if the allegations are true” games.  Enough “what about others in the other party?” What these men did was unacceptable.

I obviously can’t control the outcomes of these controversies.  But if I could, this is what I would wish for all of them: None of them would resign under pressure from party leaders. All of them would be voted out.

Clearly, if they do resign before their next election, that’s better than them retaining their power.  But if I could wave a magic wand, I don’t want the final chapter on these men’s history to be “resigned under pressure from party leaders.” I want it to be “rejected by the voters.”

Here is why:  If it’s the former, there will be many Americans who blame the spineless, “politically correct” party elites who forced the resignation. If it’s the latter, it will be much more clear that the community-at-large rejects sexual harassment and assault. That’s what we need to stigmatize this behavior and make it less prevalent.

I understand why party leaders call for these men to resign. To give them the benefit of the doubt, they’re showing that they take the issue seriously. To look at it more cynically, they need to replace their damaged political goods with a more electable candidate so they can retain power for themselves. Whatever their motivation, I’m glad they’re doing it, because it helps to spotlight and denormalize the behavior.

But I don’t want party elites to end these political careers. I want the larger “us” to do that. We’re a democracy. Voters need to step up and do our job. We need to overcome our tribal instincts and vote these guys out. We should replace them with more women. We should send a clear signal to political leaders that creepiness and criminality are electorally toxic, so parties will start nominating better people.

Like a lot of men, I’m not all that comfortable speaking out on this topic. Men who are self-aware and honest know that we’re all part of the sickness we’re reading about on the front pages.

Though we continually assure ourselves that we’re “way better than most,” we also know we’re far from perfect. Maybe we’ve told a joke that we understand in retrospect made women uncomfortable. Maybe we’ve confused objectification with flattery. Maybe we haven’t always controlled our eyeballs. Maybe in the exclusive company of men, we didn’t have the courage to speak out about comments that embolden harassers. Maybe we haven’t called out peers who went over the line in our presence.

So I’m not coming at this from a holier than thou perspective.  We all need to improve. We all need to own this and fix this. Seeing the community at large — masses of fed up voters — reject this behavior will do more to hasten the improvement process than seeing them forced out by a handful of party elites scrambling to cover their asses.

Al Franken, Come On Down.

And now it’s Al Franken’s turn. While he has, first and foremost apologized, then asked for an investigation of himself and promised to cooperate, the chips are still going to have to fall where they may, regardless of his advocacy for issues vital to women and liberals. It’s the new normal. It’s a fact of life we’re all going to have to get accustomed to. If you’ve behaved like a pig, (although in this case not criminally so), chances are good you’re going to get outed.

Having met and interviewed Franken a number of times I can’t say that I, like Claude Rains in “Casablanca” (which I saw again last night at the Icon Theaters in St. Louis Park) am “shocked, shocked” to hear that Al the celebrity behaved badly.

This situation strikes me as very similar to the actor Richard Dreyfuss, who after being accused last week issued a statement saying:

“I want to try to tell you the complicated truth. At the height of my fame in the late 1970s I became an asshole–the kind of performative masculine man my father had modeled for me to be. I lived by the motto, ‘If you don’t flirt, you die’. And flirt I did. I flirted with all women, be they actresses, producers, or 80-year-old grandmothers. I even flirted with those who were out of bounds, like the wives of some of my best friends, which especially revolts me. I disrespected myself, and I disrespected them, and ignored my own ethics, which I regret more deeply than I can express. During those years I was swept up in a world of celebrity and drugs – which are not excuses, just truths. Since then I have had to redefine what it means to be a man, and an ethical man. I think every man on Earth has or will have to grapple with this question. But I am not an assaulter.”

Franken may not have had the same cachet with “all women” as an Oscar-winning actor, but the “asshole” part may well apply. A constant with a lot of the characters outed to date is a sense of being drunk on fame and power, of being transported by manic ego to a realm of impunity for behavior unconditionally unacceptable to others. (Although, lord knows, millions of common guys have pulled the same stunts).

Comparisons are already being made to liberal women’s regard for Bill Clinton, who was without question a reckless womanizer. At Vox, Matt Yglesias goes on at length about why Clinton should have resigned following disclosure of the Monica Lewinsky affair. But he didn’t and he wasn’t forced to because a majority of Americans, not just liberals, made a value judgment that he was doing more good for them than bad, and that the Lewinsky thing was the sordid culmination of a decade-long witch hunt by opponents who had no better option to offer.

Clinton’s um, “interaction”, with Lewinsky was wrong by every measure, and despite leaving office with a higher approval rating than (St.) Ronnie Reagan, Clinton and Hillary have paid quite a high reputational price for it. But … unlike Roy Moore, Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump … even Lewinsky describes their fling as “consensual” and in no way (that we know) did Clinton require sex as a ticket to employment or advancement. So it is with most of the other ladies he is known to have cavorted with in his drunk-on-fame binge.

The episode with Juanita Broaddrick, which she describes as rape, has always been clouded by her way-too tight association/exploitation by the same semi-deranged Clinton-haters who tried to convince us a money-losing Arkansas land deal was a Constitutional crisis. But that isn’t to say it didn’t happen. (This one is an example of a “consider the source” accuser.)

The point, with reference to Al Franken and liberals, is that we are now in an era when what was once secret is being laid out on the table for all to see and judge. I’ve voted for Franken twice, because he votes my interests, which I’ve always thought is the best reason to vote for anyone, not because I liked him personally. And if a full investigation concludes that this supposedly semi-comic groping kissing business was the full extent of this incident I’m inclined to vote for him again.

More to the point, the revelation about Franken, (and we already know about his coke-snorting days), comes in the early moments this “cultural moment.” There’s a lot more to come. You can feel it. And we’re seeing quite a range of skeezy behavior. Some far … far … more ugly than others.

I’ve been trying to imagine the frantic contacts and the amount of hush money that must be changing hands right this moment in every industry from Hollywood to Silicon Valley to to Detroit to Capitol Hill as famous men with a whole lot to lose, (think Bill O’Reilly’s $32 million), buy off the victims of their years of being an asshole.

 

Bad Boys, Dumb Boys, Roy Moore and our “Cultural Moment”

Is there a male alive today who doesn’t cringe at every new revelation of sexual misbehavior? God we look bad. Whether blatantly criminal, like Harvey Weinstein and Roy Moore, or farcically oafish, like GOP Rep. Tony Cornish here in Minnesota, the male “brand” is taking a brutal beating in this “cultural moment.”

And for the (very) most part that’s a good thing. We’re witnessing an astonishing outing of perverts, boors and dorks. It’s a comeuppance that is generations-to-centuries overdue. As I’ve said before, since we live under the minority rule of gun fetishists, we’re not going to do anything about our weekly assault rifle slaughters, so maybe all this attention being paid to male sexual/ego dysfunction will accomplish something positive.  (Clearly, the gun slaughter thing has been reduced to: A week of news coverage, “thoughts and prayers” and “let’s move on”.)

Having become a fan of Yuval Harari’s books on human evolution, I’ve been wondering how much of this predatory sexual behavior is a modern invention? And by “modern” I mean post-agricultural revolution?

Did adult males in our hunter-gatherer days lurk malevolently around adolescent girls — like a pervy Fred Flintstone at the Bedrock Mall — and force themselves on them against their will? Was violent rape a common occurrence?  Did sexual fantasies of power and domination control male behavior? Sexual interaction between males and females of “breeding age” was common. We know that. But what about the violence part? The literature I’ve seen recently is mixed, but trending to the belief that this twisted, contorted notion of male dominance is yet another example of a large percentage of the human population — most notably the males — failing to adapt to the exponential increase in population, competition and discordant cultural messages.

Pretty much every culture war issue can be broken down to a diminishment of the archetypal male role. Our big muscle skill set began to be less important to species survival when we stopped having to spear and wrestle mastodons to the ground. Likewise the need for us males to spread our seed to as many females as possible has been making less and less sense species survival-wise since we settled down to farming and began producing more off-spring than we could feed.

A friend the other day mentioned he was called into a faculty meeting at the college where he teaches. The topic? You guessed it. Sexual harassment in the work place, (and by extension everywhere else.) He correctly saw his role at that meeting as, “Shut up and listen.” The women had plenty of venting to do, and this is their time to do it. No mansplaining required or allowed. (It’s fascinating to see the level of passion coming from media women on political chat shows. They are truly seizing the moment to clue — men — into all the crap they’ve been putting up with since junior high but until now have quarantined to lunches with their girlfriends.)

There’s a worry among the usual retrograde types — Sean Hannity, Alabama Republicans, etc. — that not only are fine Suth’n gentlemen like Roy Moore being tarred without a trial — but every male is now going to be treated like a criminal pervert.

That of course is part and parcel of the usual hysteria from the perpetually aggrieved, a description the Trumpist right wears round their necks like a medieval scapular. With male attention — sought an unsought — playing as large a role in women’s lives as it does (the reverse being at least as true for men), I’m not too concerned “the gals” will have a hard time making out the qualitative difference between getting raped (Harvey Weinsten), preyed upon and groped (Roy Moore and Donald Trump), being shocked and disgusted (Louis CK), inappropriately seduced and abandoned (Bill Clinton), aggravated and annoyed (Tony Cornish) or semi-amused and filled with pity at the average guy’s generally clueless and clumsy come ons.

Women have made a science of male behavior. Think of us as simple, one-cell/one track paramecium being observed under a microscope. The Harveys and Roys and Louis of the world are no surprise to them. All that’s going on now is that evolution has ticked up a notch to where (western) women can say out loud and with less fear of male repercussion what they’ve been saying to each other for, mm, several thousand years.

 

 

The Edina Resistance and Katherine Kersten

Judging by the interest in what would normally be a sleepy school board election, The Resistance is alive and fired up in leafy Edina. The town is slathered with yard signs. It isn’t just that there are 12 people running for four seats. It’s also the clear reaction to former Strib columnist Katherine Kersten and a suddenly reinvigorated Center of the American Experiment (CAE).

The latter used to be a deeply ingrown redoubt for what passed for the intellectual right in Minnesota. (It’s run out of Golden Valley.) For years the leader was an amiable guy named Mitch Pearlstein, the sort of character you could have a pleasant and even entertaining lunch with and not feel like you’d been exposed to some mutant toxin. The CAE brought in speakers and held luncheons and generally maintained boiler pressure for the usual conservative shibboleths like “smaller government” and climate change denial.

But as American conservatism began walking further and further out on the plank of talk radio nuttery, the CAE began losing what relevance it had. I mean … eight years of ruinous, disastrous, freedom-sapping Barack Obama rule! This aggression can not stand, man! Whether Pearlstein grew tired of that shtick or simply too old, I don’t know. But roughly a year ago he was replaced by John Hinderaker, best known as the most incendiary (i.e. unhinged) of the attorneys fueling the nationally popular Powerline blog. (The Strib ran a perfunctorily bland PR piece shortly after he took over.)

Hinderaker will forever be remembered for this 2005 commentary on George W. Bush, “It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can’t get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.” It was typical of both his depth and his lick spittle approach to conservative power centers.

Which is why a lot of people, me among them, suspect Hinderaker tapped some very (very) rich vein of cash to infuse the CAE with enough money to choke Edina mailboxes last month with a remarkably polished magazine, “Thinking Minnesota”, driven by a cover story from Ms. Kersten on “racial identity activists” polluting the traditional curriculum of Edina’s public schools. It was an academic gloss on nakedly distasteful racial fear mongering.

No matter how much Kersten, the CAE and establishment Republicans (most of whom have their toes curled at the very edge of the talk radio, race-baiting plank) try to “intellectualize” and legitimize her message, the fact remains that the targets of her animus are invariably organizations and people with increasing racial and cultural diversity. Rethinking hoary white traditions and encouraging racial/cultural acceptance is like a dagger to her ideological heart.

As everyone watching politics since Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” knows, modern Republican antipathy toward racial and cultural diversity is also a key tactical strategy in suppressing Democratic votes. (Here’s another Strib piece, reporting on the effects of Kersten’s persistent, dog-with-a-bone attacks on a Muslim-oriented St. Paul charter school.)

Anyway, pretty much everywhere you go in unequivocally first world Edina these days people are talking … school board elections. The “Thinking Minnesota” mailing, coupled with a Kersten commentary published by the Strib has given my well-bred, well-educated, upscale neighbors, (I’m none of that), an amphetamine-like injection of resistance/activist zeal. The field of 12 candidates has been parsed down to pro-Kersten and well, “[bleep] Kersten and the horses she rode in on”.

As I say, I don’t know where Hinderaker got the money. Lord knows there are enough well-heeled metro area Republicans to goose the CAE’s prospects. (Climate change denying will always get you a check from Stanley Hubbard.)  Or it could be, as conspiracy-minded liberals like me prefer to think, an example of the Koch brothers tossing the Minnesota bums a dime to both shore up “traditional thinking” on the school board and prep the landscape to reelect Third District Congressman Erik Paulsen. Paulsen being a legislative lightweight ripe for plucking if the Democrats can coalesce around a viable opponent. (“Adult spirits” heir Dean Phillips would seem to have the best shot.)

Defeat of the “Kersten slate” of school board candidates should rightly spook Paulsen.

Down around the bottom line is this: Edina has changed. Once a reliable fortress of white entitlement, the city, while still very (very) white is home to enough brain power and conscience to be disquieted-to-horrified by the corruption and bigotry of the Trump regime and the various apparatuses — (eg: the CAE) — that promoted his pyrrhic victory.

The resistance is lined up for lattes and scones at Patisserie Margo and is saying, “No way! Not here!”

 

When Manafort Met Trump.

I would love to have been in the meeting where Paul Manafort pitched his services to Donald Trump. What those two grifters saw in each other may be the wet kiss that seals both of their fates.

The suspicion today, before the inevitable avalanche of more damning details, is that Manafort was in hock to Russian paymasters — i.e. oligarch/gangsters — and badly needed to “get whole” ASAP. We know that almost immediately after getting the job to run Trump’s campaign he uses that very phrase in a correspondence seeking ideas about how to monetize his new presidential candidate connection.

But come on! The guy, who has been a DC system parasite for over 30 years, with a career of shady deals in his treadworn baggage, has no concern about walking into the spotlight of a presidential campaign? No concerns that at long, long last the Justice department or US Attorney or someone will take a more focused look at what he’s been up to or … what he will now do to win an election?

Talking Points’ Josh Marshall speculates that Manafort was so desperate to resolve his debt(s) to Oleg Deripaska (and likely others) that he decided the lesser risk was in the spotlight working for Trump. As we know, Manafort, a character who regards every breath he takes as an opportunity to make a buck off someone, worked for free.

Now that’s a motivated employee.

Says Marshall in the context of Manafort suddenly increasing his value to the Russians, “… spies look for people who are crooked and people who are desperate. Manafort looks like he was both.”

So what did Trump see in Manafort? We’re told they were well acquainted with each other, but not close. Besides a relationship with (yet another career long grifter) Roger Stone, the one thing they absolutely had in common, and which I suspect they knew about each other, were long-term relationships with Russians laundering money, in Trump’s case through wildly over-priced purchases of Trump real estate.

But what does Manafort promise to deliver? As of yesterday we now know Team Trump was being baited with the prospect of Hillary e-mails as far back as March, months before they eventually dropped, (within hours of the Access Hollywood tape.) Did Manafort promise to make that delivery happen? Did he convince Trump that he knew the right people to make it happen? Had he heard offers of cooperation from the Russian hacking operation? Did Trump see in him, a veteran grifter, a guy who could weaponize such information and not screw up?

We know that Manafort had some kind of role in dropping that plank about arming Ukrainians against the Russians. That move — though symbolic — had to have impressed Russians watching to see what they might get for their money, or at least their continued patience until Manafort delivered the money he owed.

But now that he’s under house arrest, with no chance of repaying whatever he owes Deripaska (and other Russian mobsters) how does Manafort see a way to defeat these first charges, much less all the others very likely to come down thanks to George Papadopoulos’ guilty plea, and “proactive cooperation”, (i.e. wearing a wire to talk to campaign and White House supervisors)? Russian oligarchs with millions in property all over Western Europe and the United States have to see a Manafort under arrest as worse than useless to them. If he starts singing, aggressive US attorneys (if there are any left after the Trump purge) will be delighted to move on those empty $5 million condos glutting markets in New York, London, San Francisco and everywhere else.

And then, as has been noticed, let’s not forget Gen. Flynn, about whom nothing was said yesterday. If Mueller kept Papadopoulos’s guilty plea under wraps for months, fair speculation says he’s got something similar going with Flynn.

 

 

 

 

What Did Bill O’Reilly Do to Give a Woman a $32 Million Pay-Off?

Let’s imagine for a moment what you would have to have done to pay another person $32 million to go away and forget the whole thing? I don’t know what it was, and Bill O’Reilly, as usual, is screaming “bull[bleep]” and claiming that he is the real victim. But if a pig like Harvey Weinstein was in the habit of tossing $150,000 of chicken feed to shut up women he sexually harassed, it’s reasonable to think O’Reilly is into “either a dead girl or a live boy” territory.

Says Debra Katz, a D.C. attorney in a Huffington Post story this morning,

” ‘This is unprecedented’, she said. ‘It’s a shocking figure’. The settlement, Katz said, indicates that O’Reilly ‘felt extremely exposed’. ‘There was obviously strong and compelling evidence that had to be of a very embarrassing nature that he did not want to become public, and that’s why he’s paying this extraordinary sum’, she said. ‘You don’t pay a $32 million settlement if you’ve engaged in no wrongdoing’.”

The astonishing boorish-to-criminal behavior of guys like O’Reilly and his boss Roger Ailes, a mob of other Fox executives, Weinstein, movie director James Toback, Bill Cosby, Roman Polanski and on and on (and on and on) may actually have ignited something that produces real change … just when you thought progress and improvement were quaint notions held only by sweet nattering aunts. The #metoo movement has the feel of a cathartic event that if it doesn’t put an end to O’Reilly/Weinstein-ism, (of course it won’t), will at least continue to embolden women (and their lawyers) to drop the hammer more often than they have in the past.

I mean, when the astonishing machine gun slaughter of 58 people at a music concert In Las Vegas rates only a week’s worth of attention, because no one expects anything to change, the power of so many women collectively calling out the arrogant, diseased-by-power dudes who regularly make their lives miserable seems a far better bet for forward movement.

But back to O’Reilly, and the toxic, consistently misogynistic culture promoted in the right-wing media environment. $32 million is the kind of money you pay to someone who has the kind of irrefutable proof of behavior so heinous it guarantees your existential ruin. Not murder, and maybe not actual rape, but … well there was the, um, unusual mention of O’Reilly sending the woman in question gay pornography. I have no statistics on how many desperate guys get anywhere with the women of their desires by impressing them with their gay porn collection, but I’m thinking it’s in the low single digits.

Bill O’Reilly unmasked as a bona fide bi-sexual/closeted gay predator would be really … really … tough on the macho, “No Spin” branding campaign, wouldn’t it?

Josh Harkinson at Mother Jones wrote a fascinating piece last winter that bored into the psychology of the target audience for FoxNews, O’Reilly and Trump. (A comment on Weinstein in a moment.)

“Revelations of Trump’s sexist comments and his bragging about grabbing women’s genitals only helped forge stronger ties between the racist and sexist wings of the alt-right. After the bombshell revelation of the Access Hollywood tape, Spencer said it was ‘ridiculous’ and ‘puritanical’ to call Trump’s behavior sexual assault, adding, ‘At some part of every woman’s soul, they want to be taken by a strong man’. Far-right blogger RamZPaul responded to the Trump tape by saying, ‘Girls really don’t mind guys that like pussies, they just hate guys who are pussies’.”

His colleague, Kevin Drum, quoted that graph and reacted to it saying,

“A big chunk of the alt-right is populated by social misfits who have been repeatedly rejected by women and are bitter about it. This makes them suckers for leaders who assure them they aren’t misfits. What’s really happening—and this can be a very beguiling story—is that women toy with them and laugh at them as part of a deliberate ploy to emasculate strong men and keep them from their rightful leadership positions. Because of this, a bitter resentment of women runs through almost every strain of the alt-right.

“I don’t know if the alt-right is a truly important new development or just a passing fad—a new name for a lot of the same old resentments that have been around forever. But to the extent the alt-right is important, it’s worth knowing how central this particularly toxic brand of sexism is to the whole movement—even if it doesn’t often get a lot attention. This is also why it’s not right to simply call them racists or neo-Nazis. A lot of them are indeed that, but they’re so, so much more.”

Hollywood’s Weinstein problem is bad. The movie/TV industry in general has too few qualms about relating masculinity to violence and selling sexual stereotypes marinated in a lot of pretty juvenile male fantasies. #metoo will have a tougher time adjusting corporate/studio calculations of “what the public wants”. But I’ll bet gross-pig behavior will get more immediate and louder blowback than before.

But toxic masculinity — based on victimhood, grievance and domination — is a staple of The O’Reilly Diet Plan. A staple so lucrative and satisfying Bill-O and “scores” of other boys at FoxNews apparently became addicted to it.

Which leads me to Steve Bannon. Given everything we know about this manifestly damaged, bitter personality, how long do you think before we find out what or who was dissolved in acid in his hot tub in Florida?

Bonus link: A (possibly bogus) site claims Bannon’s joint, (supposedly occupied by his third ex) was used to cook meth and shoot porn videos.

You want to say, “That’s crazy.” But with this crowd everything is plausible.

 

How About We Shift the Harvey Weinstein Discussion Up a Notch?

Even driving around the canyons and hollows of the Rocky Mountains as we were last week, it was impossible to avoid the Harvey Weinstein story. Every local TV station and newspaper had something on him, because after all, celebrity and sex are a sweet spot of American culture. (If there was a way to roll football and shopping into the story the rest of the planet could have exploded and no one would have noticed.)

Having put in several years of service observing the folkways of Hollywood, I too am engrossed with the sheer horror of Harvey. But, having seen the system up closer than many and having interviewed celebrities like Melanie Griffith and Lauren Hutton, to name only two, who were remarkably frank about their career strategies, I’m still left with the feeling that there’s another facet of this outrage that isn’t out on the table for indignant dissection.

It’s been noted that the Hollywood casting couch is such a hoary cliché the fact so many supposedly worldly media types are treating the Weinstein episode as a surprise is in fact the biggest surprise of all. I mean, what world have they been living in? As everyone who follows the movie industry knows, legendary tycoons like Jack Warner,  Louis B. Mayer and Sam Spiegel essentially operated harems of aspiring actresses for their personal amusements. Fat, piggy Harvey was merely following a well established tradition.

I’m with the skeptics who find it impossible to believe that savvy operators like former Disney chief Jeff Katzenberg, a friend and business confidante of Weinstein’s for 30 years, knew nothing of Harvey’s open secret of a reputation. Likewise, the pro forma notes of dismay sounded by people ranging from George Clooney, Matt Damon and even Barack Obama ring a little hollow. Anyone successful in any business is also in the business of knowing. The question here is what did they accept as a cost of doing business?

Which is close to the discussion that isn’t (currently) being had. And it’s this: For all the women who were rightfully, legitimately horrified at what Weinstein put them through, he wouldn’t have kept at it for 30 years or more if there weren’t at least an equal number of other women who wrote off submitting to Harvey as a cost of doing business. Which isn’t to say they weren’t disgusted by the sight of him and with themselves for going along with it. But if the legal issue is consent they — who we may never hear from — consented to a long-accepted Hollywood tradition.

Like a lot of businesses, Hollywood is a highly transactional environment. You have something he wants. He wants something you have. You make a deal. A deal horrifying to puritans and god-fearing protestants in Peoria, but damn close to normal in an industry where sex or at least sex appeal is the commodity that delivers the cash.

Part of the fascination with Harvey Weinstein is that the guy is in visual terms, central casting’s idea of a repulsive pig. The sort of guy few if any women would give a second look, if it weren’t for the fact he could put them in the movies. I can’t help but wonder how reaction to the story might be different if Weinstein looked like Ben Affleck? (In that context it’s hard to imagine Affleck having to resort to the bathrobe and massage shtick time after time.)

Point being, while Weinstein is a caricature of a disgusting dilemma — “Do I do it to get it over with? Or do I scream and run for the door?” — hundreds of other producers, directors, agents and other purveyors of influence and dreams look like they could model of GQ. The calculation over sullying your self-respect for career advancement becomes a bit different when the “predator’s” appearance doesn’t disgust you.

I’m hoping the discussion turns to what a lot of people — not just attractive young women — submit to, in terms of gross violations of traditional ethics and standards of behavior just to move a step up the career ladder. Such submission doesn’t have to mean snogging a porker like Harvey Weinstein. It could be as utterly routine as shutting up and being “a good team player” when every red light and alarm in your conscience is screaming that the boss or company you’re working for is engaged in legal or moral fraud. (Take, for example, the thousands of Wells Fargo employees who consented to the big bank’s series of outrageous frauds. Or take Enron, or Countrywide Financial, and on and on)

The current “me too” movement is a unique and valuable response to sexual harassment and assault. There are Harvey Weinsteins in every company from Main Street to Wall Street, and no woman should be required to weigh her option whether to submit to lechery or not. But while we’re at it, can we talk just a little, amongst ourselves, about how often ordinary people, us “little people”, are required to violate our basic ethical standards just to keep that next check coming?

 

And We Expect What from Las Vegas?

One night a couple of years ago, while taking a short cut across the Las Vegas Strip, I was stopped at a police road block. At least a dozen cops and a half-dozen police cruisers had cordoned off the side street and were supervising eight or nine semis maneuvering to unload at the freight dock of some large building.

Vegas hosts a non-stop run of trade shows, but come on! Maybe you need two cops to hold back traffic for a couple of minutes. What’s this all about?

As the huge trucks slowly angled into the docks I craned my neck over to passenger’s side to see where exactly they were going. The Sands Expo Center. And below it a banner announcing the “36th Annual SHOT Show”, the world’s biggest gun and ammo show, a production of The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a “gun enthusiasts” organization based, very ironically, in Newtown, CT.

The Vegas cops were there to protect a convoy of semis [which came across what public highway with how much protection?] loaded with hundreds-to-thousands of guns and rounds of ammunition.

There is no reason to believe this week’s epic mass slaughter — again, very ironically, at a country music concert in Las Vegas — will have any effect at all on the dwindling percentage of Americans feverishly clinging to the Second Amendment as the most vital of all the words of the U.S. Constitution. As statistics tell us, while each year there are fewer Americans owning guns, those that do, like Stephen Paddock, the Vegas shooter, as with an addict, are stockpiling both guns and ammo, with eight being the current average number of guns in their personal arsenals. [As the link above notes, 3% of America’s “gun enthusiasts” own 50% of the weapons. Paddock owned over 40.]

Discussions about the fragile psychology of these “gun enthusiasts”, (the polite description often used by the non-partisan press), have proven pointless. The credible accusation that someone, mostly white males, stockpiling an arsenal in their demonstrably peaceful suburbs and out on their ranches, has serious masculinity insecurity issues only increases their conviction that they and their “way of life” are under attack. At which point, their paranoia spiking,  they rush out and buy more guns and bullets.

In a country now more heavily armed per capita than [bleeping] Yemen, and far more than any other place on the planet, there isn’t a flicker of hope that any significant gun regulation will come out of this week’s massacre. We all remember that the response of the Republican congress to the Newtown slaughter was to further weaken gun laws. [Here’s another useful set of stats, if, as The Dude says, you’re not into that whole brevity thing.]]

In a rational environment, there would at the very least be a terrorist watch list-like data base of people buying up multiple numbers of guns and the thousands of rounds of ammo so many of these killers manage to acquire. [A $5 tax per bullet might slow things down a bit, too.] There would also be a rational acceptance of the fact that — if getting killed by a psychopath is something you worry about — the chances of that guy being a middle-aged-to-older white guy far exceeds the likelihood of him being a muslim. [As close as we’re likely to get to a definitive comparison, over the 10 years from 2005 to 2015, there were  71 deaths on American soil due to “terrorism” and over 301,000 to “normal” gun violence. Remind yourself of that the next time the news kids go berserk over a “terror link.”]

But we left “rational” behind generations ago. A huge part of the American myth — powerfully abetted by pop culture — is that our “freedoms” were born out of and sustained by firepower and that male potency is directly linked, infused if you will, with threats and displays of violence. Never mind every statistic available proving that we are living in one of the least violent and threatening periods of human existence.

If there is a glimmer of hope anywhere it may be in the Supreme Court’s decision on Wisconsin’s gerry-mandering. If the court at long, long last concurs that congressional districts designed to sustain a particular party affiliation is, you know, not what the Founding Fathers had in mind, it would mean that rural politicians would have to appeal to someone other than the reddest meat of their pro-Second Amendment constituency. It might well mean that the NRA’s choke-chain on every Republican and all but a couple of Blue Dog Democrats, like Minnesota Collin Peterson, would show a little slack.

But the psycho-sensory effect of a loaded gun in the hand of a guy with a weak sense of his masculinity is so powerful it truly is a primal, primary motivation in his life.

Good luck changing that.

Why Not Regulate Guns Just As We Already Regulate A Similarly Dangerous Hunk of Steel?

Imagine that you turned on the news today to learn that Group A of politicians was accusing Group B of politicians of plotting to confiscate all automobiles.  As evidence, Group A was noting that Group B supports requiring users of vehicles to be licensed, registered and of sound, mind and body, and opposes the use of armored tanks or monster trucks on community roadways.  In that news story, imagine that Group A is insisting that no vehicle regulations be used.  After all, they claim, any regulation would be equivalent to, or would surely lead to, confiscation of all vehicles.

We would think Group A was delusional, even though we all adore cars and are vehemently opposed to them being confiscated. But that, my friends, is the world in which we are living, when it comes to gun control.

Almost every debate about responsible gun control regulation is dodged by gun advocates. Instead of debating proposed gun regulations on the merits, gun advocates instead claim that the mere mention of a gun regulation constitutes ipso facto evidence that guns are about to be confiscated. That ridiculous assertion has been trotted out there for decades, despite the fact that gun confiscation has never even been proposed by a mainstream politician, much less come close to being enacted.

Obama_gun_control_confiscation_memeGun advocates promised President Obama would be a gun confiscator, and they rushed out to buy stockpiles of weapons and ammunition.  To no sane person’s surprise, it never happened, even in the first two years of his presidency when Obama’s party controlled the House, Senate and White House.  It was never even proposed.

Obviously, no one is going to confiscate guns, because there is no political support in America for confiscating guns. It hasn’t happened, and it’s just not going to happen.  We need to put those confiscation delusions to rest before America can have a reasonable debate about how to responsibly regulate guns.

A Familiar Regulatory Framework

How should America regulate guns?  My approach is simple: Let’s regulate guns similarly to how we regulate cars and trucks.

Think about it:  Both motor vehicles and guns are hunks of steel that pose relatively little public danger when used responsibly, but are extraordinarily dangerous when used irresponsibly. For that reason, society keeps motor vehicles legal, but we regulate them to reduce the risk of harm.  Therefore, we should regulate guns just as we regulate motor vehicles:

  • Users should be licensed.
  • Users should have to pass a basic safety-related test in order to get a license.
  • Users who are not physically or mentally equipped to safely operate the equipment should not be licensed to do so.
  • There should be rules for safe use of the equipment.
  • Users who don’t use the equipment responsibly should lose their license.
  • Each piece of equipment should be registered.
  • Equipment registration data and user licensure data should be readily available to law enforcement officials to help them enforce laws.
  • The equipment should be able to be used in many parts of the community, but not in all parts of the community.
  • The equipment should be required to have locking devices to help the user secure it from theft and use by minors and other unlicensed citizens.
  • The equipment should be required to have reasonable safety features.
  • The equipment makers should be held liable for failure to produce safe equipment, just as every other manufacturer is.
  • Types of equipment that are unnecessarily dangerous to the community shouldn’t be legal.

That’s what American society does with cars and trucks, with relatively few complaints or abuses, and that’s what we should do with guns.

Would applying the motor vehicle regulatory model to guns stop every accidental shooting, murder, mass murder, and suicide? Of course not. Just as regulated motor vehicles still are dangerous, regulated guns would still be plenty dangerous. But just as motor vehicle regulations limit the harm caused by cars and trucks in society, gun regulations would limit the harm caused by guns in society.  It would make a difference.  It would make things less bad.

So let’s have an honest debate about that familiar and successful regulatory model.  And for once, let’s have the debate without getting side-tracked by ridiculous delusions of confiscation.

Note:  In the wake of yesterday’s horrific and all too familiar shootings in Las Vegas, this is a Wry Wrerun.  A very similar version was originally posted in October of 2015.

“The Vietnam War” and A Flood of Memories

Watching Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s “The Vietnam War” unleashes a torrent of memories, few of them good. Despite the moral cover offered by the likes of Ronald Reagan a decade after the fall of Saigon, there was never anything “noble” about “the cause”. The mission of Vietnam was ignorant and ignoble and it’s execution begat an apocalyptic disaster.

People too young to remember the era first hand must have a hard time applying any kind of comparison. At its worst — which it was for nearly 10 years — Vietnam was the equivalent of a Hurricane Harvey/Irma/Maria disaster hitting every week for years in terms of expense, only worse because it was compounded by another 300–500 American deaths each week, with all the grief, rage and polarization that induced. In the midst of it Vietnam felt like a catastrophe without end.

Thinking about it again 50 years later sets the mind off in a dozen directions, most with institutional deceit at their hub.

As a generally credulous teenager in far off, all-white, small town America for half of the Vietnam years, what was etched most into my consciousness, my routine valuations and assessments of American life, was a deep skepticism of authoritarian belief systems. For me (and millions of others) Vietnam was a horrifying example of the steep and frequently cataclysmic effect of blindly submitting to “established order.” By “authoritarian” I mean the subservient end of the process, where “average citizens”, i.e. “the led” embrace and accede to the direction of what passes for our ruling class.

At one point in “The Vietnam War” a field commander gets emotional talking about the world’s greatest fighting men, young Americans who, he says, are great soldiers because they can be trained to follow commands without question, to always do what needs to be done. No one questions the value of such training/indoctrination in a combat situation where Job #1 is staying alive. But that same unquestioning reverence for authority, the willingness to be led anywhere, is also what commits an entire culture — American, Vietnamese, “radical Islamic”, North Korean — to homicidal disasters.

I’m not certain what the essential roots of the authoritarian mindset are. In the film we meet West Pointer Matt Harrison, raised in a military family with an unequivocal alpha father. “Duty” and “honor” were staples of his family psychology. An apex of Americanism. (The film introduces us to Harrison in the company of two other West Point classmates. The cream of young American manhood. The three arrive in Vietnam simultaneously and barely a week later the other two are dead, zipped up and carted away in body bags, after an ambush on a classically absurd “search and destroy” mission.)

Domineering, ethics-shaping fathers are no doubt a powerful influence in the authoritarian makeup. But so to is the group think of immediate culture, that is to say the people you go to school with, do business with and need to count on as compatriots to achieve happiness in life. As the film tells us, through surviving veterans and a precious few of the ruling bureaucrats of the era, “courage” in the early to middle years of Vietnam was defined by skepticism-free, unquestioning acceptance. Doing “your duty.” “Cowardice” was defined by expressing empirical doubt about what Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara and all the other (all white, all-male) leadership group was selling.

Only in the late Sixties, with weekly death tolls hitting 200–400 did the general authoritarian impulse abate enough to create a cultural mass sufficient enough that doubters and objectors had protection from blowback from “the silent majority.”

As depressing as it is to relive the emotions of those years, Burns and Novick are fully aware of how this same reptilian, atavistic, authoritarian mentality infects society today.

I often take (negligible) comfort in the high likelihood that credulous group-think is an aspect of our ongoing evolutionary process. Instinctual group-think impulses saved man-apes on the African savanna, neanderthals in northern Europe and fledgling humanoids everywhere from predator attack for millions of years. Independent thinking was a recipe for shunning if not death. It stands to reason we haven’t lost that go-with-group instinct in the blink of the evolutionary eye that we’ve been (sort of) fully conscious.

But evolution has proceeded. We are now a couple important rungs up the ladder of full(er) awareness. In evolutionary math terms the experience of Vietnam, with its catastrophic levels of misguidance and deceit maybe the overall percentage of independent cognition ticked up 5 to 10%.

If we survive our technological infancy, maybe in  a few hundred years we’ll reach a tipping point where rational thought is the controlling norm. The hope is that then we’ll understand that the predators we most need to protect ourselves against are the people exploiting our “patriotic” impulses to attack someone else.

 

One Fool’s Experience with Delta/American Express’s “Platinum” Customer Service

Please allow me to vent.

I don’t write this because it is unique in any way. Precisely the opposite. What follows below is the kind of stuff every American consumer deals with on a regular basis … if, like me, they’re foolish enough to put up a fight.

To keep a long-ish story as short as possible, the saga begins last June at the Fox Car Rental desk in Las Vegas. Because I’m a cheap bastard I reserved a car at Fox’s “airport location” completely based on price. Their’s was cheaper than Budget, Hertz, etc. Was I happy to discover that Fox’ “airport location” is not one but two shuttle bus rides and a half an hour away from the airport and that the building itself is a chaotic, dirty mess? No.

Likewise, was I in any way amused to be told I was free to wait there amid a scene out of “A Bad Day in Karachi” for “two or three hours” for a car to become available? Or that I had to compete with two other guys, one at each shoulder, barking at the same beleaguered clerk about the fact that they didn’t have their reserved vehicles either? Not so much.

But my Cheap-O-Dar began blinking bright red when I noticed a $150 deposit added to the quoted bill. Did I believe the tiny, tired, bird-like little woman/clerk when she said, “It’s just routine. It comes off when you bring the car back.” Not really.

Flashing forward: I returned the car as scheduled, a week later, on July 6 to be exact, took an Uber to the airport and flew home.

A few weeks later I check, just to make sure you know, that funky $150 “deposit” has been lifted from my American Express bill. Shocker: It hasn’t. Getting anyone at Fox Car Rental on the phone proves futile, so I call American Express, issuer of my all-powerful, all-servicing Delta Airlines Platinum American Express card, and tell them this is wrong and I’m disputing the charge. The representative is very business-like and puts a stop on the charge and promises an investigation.

“Damn straight!”, I say to myself, pleased that my $195 a year annual fee for the (let me repeat and foreshadow) Delta-American Express Platinum Card buys me such powerful and efficient representation. Fox Car Rental, you have screwed with the wrong dude!

A couple more weeks pass and I get a letter from (Delta-American Express Platinum, Inc.) informing me that their investigation has been completed and the charge will be returned to my account. In other words, pay the $150.

Now the fun begins. I call (Delta) American Express and essentially ask, “WTF?” On what grounds is American Express upholding this charge? Well, odd that I should ask that.

Without offering any details about who (if anyone) they spoke with at Fox, the AmEx rep goes into a long explanation of AmEx’s policy regarding collision claims. Point being they completely misunderstood/botched the reason for the dispute. This has nothing to with collision claims. Apologetic, they vow to redouble their thoroughness, power and efficiency and really, truly get to the bottom of things … this time.

Again hearing nothing for a while, I call AmEx back to inquire on their progress. And lo! There has been some! Fox has refunded $82 and change. Huh? Is there an explanation for why that amount and not the rest? Uh, no. AmEx has no information of contact between them and Fox. Do I want to dispute the $64? The underlying tenor of my response was, “[Bleep] yeah!.” AmEx again promises a thorough, powerful and efficient investigation.

Now, much like my wife and everyone saner than me, (which is pretty much everyone), you’re probably saying, “For chrissake. Forget it. It’s just $64.” But — you guessed it — it’s not the money so much as … the principle of the thing. Companies like Fox calculate they can get away with this stuff 95% of the time. Sane people will let them have the money simply because it isn’t worth their time to fight it. But this a form of moral consumer jihad I’m waging! Infidels and non-believers need to STFU.

What further fuels my crazed zealot-like focus is the reading of a handful of consumer complaint websites on Fox Car Rental and the innumerable ways they have jacked other customers around with that $150 deposit. I hate to accuse an American corporation of a routine, institutionalized scam, but there, I just did. If half of the on-line complaints (most very detailed) are true, I’ve got lots of company complaining about pretty much the same thing.

Getting the distinct feeling that my $195 annual fee (for unparalleled customer service) isn’t buying me quite the power and efficiency I had hoped for, I try again to contact someone — anyone at Fox. And I succeed! An actual person answering an actual phone, who actually tells me the $64 is for an extra day’s rental, since I returned the car on the 7th of July, not the 6th as I promised. Telling her that that would be really tough to do since I was home in Minnesota on the 7th, and had been for a day, means nothing to her. In classic corporate fashion, it’s not up to the company to prove they’re right, it’s up to me — the customer — to prove they’re wrong.

Back to (Delta) AmEx. They have requested a copy of my original rental agreement with Fox, but (you guessed it) as yet have no new information on the dispute. Well, I tell them, I do. (Because I made a phone call.) I tell them what Fox is claiming about the extra day and that to resolve this thing — powerfully and efficiently — AmEx should go get a copy of my boarding pass for the July 6 Delta flight and slap it in Fox’ nefarious little faces.

So now. Are you ready for some true inter-corporate comedy? The (last of several) AmEx customer service reps tells me they can’t do that. You see, they have no real connection to Delta Airlines. Firewall. In my best interests. Customer privacy protection and all that.

Again, my exact line wasn’t, “Are you [bleeping] kidding me?” but that’s what I was thinking. “Right on the card it says Delta SkyMiles American Express, and you’re telling  you have no access to Delta Airlines and no way to get something as simple as a copy of a boarding pass? And if you can’t get it, who can?

I already knew the answer to that one. Once again, as a key component in the Delta/American Express Platinum customer service protocol, I the customer, would be the one doing the leg work in settling this dispute for AmEx … on my behalf.

I call Delta customer service. There’s a four-hour long queue. They finally call back.

The lady is very polite and friendly. She commiserates about Fox’s scummy business practices and assures me that at the moment she doesn’t have access to flight records. (“It’s so far back” — not quite two and a half months). But, as a valued customer,  I am able to write to a Delta archive department in Atlanta … via snail mail … and ask them to retrieve a copy of the boarding pass … after paying Delta … $20. It’s another customer service thing, you understand.

Feeling pretty woozy at this point, I ask why I don’t see any record of the trip to Vegas, coming or going, on my Delta SkyMiles account? I mean if I did I could just kick that over to my high-powered AmEx investigators.  The friendly, polite customer service rep tells me that’s because I failed to … manually enter my SkyMiles number. (I’ve had the card just over a year.)

“What?!”, I blurble. “I bought the ticket on the Delta site with the Delta SkyMiles American Express Platinum card which has all of my information from my SkyMiles account number to, [bleep] I don’t know, how often I floss my teeth. What’s the possible point of not automatically entering the SkyMiles number when I’m buying a Delta plane ticket for myself?”

The response is deep scripted gibberish about what if I wasn’t who I said I was? What if I was instead, “Ted Green”, buying a ticket?” In other words, yet another customer service in the name of “customer privacy”. It’s entirely for me own good.

Or perhaps, I tell her, is it because Delta’s bean counters have run a few numbers and calculated how many fewer travel awards they’ll have to pay out to eligible customers if X% of those customers fail to manually enter their SkyMiles data? Shall we, mam, freely speculate on possible “savings” and enhancement of shareholder value?

“Oh, no! I assure you that’s not the reason.”

Of course not. Delta’s only responsibility is to serve.

Bottom line as of today. There is no resolution to this titanic struggle. Delta wants a fee for providing a simple service and AmEx is continuing to, well, they’re continuing to continue, by doing what, I have no idea.

In terms of cost per time spent, I’m pretty sure I’m deep into deficit spending. My only satisfaction to date is a perverse one. Namely, the chronicling of a not at all unusual episode of the American hospitality/service/finance industry, which as we all know is out there every day building consumer trust through customer service … powerfully and efficiently.