Justice for Castile v. the Authoritarian Juror

The charge, “So we have reached a point where it’s been proven a cop can do anything he wants when stopping or confronting a black person?” is entirely valid and worth broad discussion in the wake of the “not guilty” verdict in the Philando Castile case.

But leaving police hiring criteria and training aside for minute, what is it about juries, supposedly a random sampling of every day Americans that leads them to reject a seemingly cut and dry situation like this one, where a nervous young cop panics and kills a man who by the weight of 99% of available evidence was being fully compliant?

The questions I think ought to be rolled more heavily into the mix of topics related to the Jeronimo Yanez verdict and (the rare) other cases where cops are brought to trial, are these:

1: A shrewd defense attorney like Earl Gray, (he of the “it shouldn’t even have been charged” quote), has to have developed a well-tuned sense for jurors with an authoritarian mindset. “Authoritarian” is often confused as solely the attitude of the dominating personality, the one demanding or manipulating others to his will. But in jury selection the “authoritarian” aspect refers to those on the receiving end, people who have been acculturated to give uncritical respect to any authority figure, be they parents, teachers, government leaders or cops. When you’re raised to defer to the judgment of such people — people you regard as superiors, and with bona fides well beyond you’re own — it becomes an enormous leap of intellectual courage as a juror to see any such person being in critical error, much less guilty of felony behavior.

2: Added to that is the relative ease — or so it seems to me — with which defense attorneys are able to gum up what objective critical faculties remain in average jurors with a kind of absolutist concept of “reasonable doubt”. In this case “reasonable doubt” was laid heavily upon jurors trying to decide whether Yanez actually did see a gun — i.e. Castile going for the weapon he told Yanez he had on him. The end result of their thinking being that since there was “reasonable doubt” about whether Castile was not going for his gun, authoritarian-minded jurors gave the authority-figure the benefit of the doubt and voted for acquittal … because, you know, they were in “reasonable doubt” about what actually happened.

i don’t know what the solutions to these issues are.

Perhaps, in the latter, more articulate jury instructions from the presiding judge on what “reasonable doubt” means and doesn’t mean

But on the former, the prevalence of the powerful authoritarian impulse built into a society (I would argue human nature) trained by family, institutions and culture to accept the judgment of anyone in a position of authority, I suspect we have a monumental problem for every prosecutor who follows Ramsey County Attorney John Choi’s path and takes the case of a panicky cop before a jury of peers.

 

Before the Jeronimo Yanez Verdict

Not being what you’d call a gambling man, (there was that slot machine in Beatty, Nevada years back) I’ve never put the chances of Jeronimo Yanez’ conviction in his killing of Philando Castile any higher than 15%. I hope I’m proven wrong, but history is on my side as we await the verdict. And this is an actual jury, not one of those sealed off police review boards where the chances of the finger of guilt would drop into the low single digits.

Before the jury returns I just want to return to a couple facets of this more or less routine run of traumatic incidents of police playing judge jury and executioner with black motorists and guys selling CDs on the street corner..

1: Jeronimo Yanez should never have been a cop. No one operating at the level of fear and panic he demonstrated should be wearing a badge, much less toting around a loaded gun with a license to kill. I’m told he’s a sweet guy. But that isn’t the point. He clearly didn’t have the emotional stability to be in the job he was in. Maybe at a desk for a non-profit. But not a cop. And for that I blame his employers as much as him.

Just because someone wants to be a cop is no reason to hire him. In fact, given the militaristic-to-racist attitudes of too many of these guys (and the woman in Oklahoma), wanting (badly) to be a cop should be a red flag for anyone sorting through applications. Moreover, are city police forces so desperate for bodies to fill uniforms that they can’t adequately vet someone like Yanez for aptitude and judgment? Put another way, if they took Yanez, who did they turn down? This guy?

After that we move on to training, where as we’ve learned, there is plenty of focus on gunplay and combat-style tactics — they call it “Bulletproof Warrior” for chrissakes — and not so much on how you go about dialing down the temperature of a situation.

Finally, on this facet, there’s the demand put on “emotionally vulnerable” young cops like Yanez to produce revenue for cash-strapped municipalities, largely by repeatedly ticketing low income minorities for nuisance violations. You don’t want to know how beyond-crazy ballistic I would have been after the second ticket from some twitchy cop, and Castile was stopped something like 44 times.

But as we all know the Jeronimo Yanez law enforcers of the world aren’t going to be hassling middle-aged and older white folks in clean new cars, even if they have a broken tail light.

2: And apparently I’m the only person on the planet who is obsessed with this, but why, considering all the pain and suffering to victims, families, police department reputations, city budgets and on and on hasn’t anyone (else) suggested issuing police a kind of dial-barreled service revolver, with a default setting firing rubber bullets or chemical darts? (When city cops get into the exceedingly rare raging, Hollywood-style gun battle, they could simply re-set the thing to fire its load of live ammo.)

Had Yanez freaked at the word “gun”, whipped out his and starting pumping rubber bullets into Castile’s chest, (being careful as he says not to scare the toddler in the back seat), Castile would have been pretty damn sore for a week or so, but he’d be alive, Yanez wouldn’t be on trial, the cops wouldn’t be fending of the now standard and very hard to dispute accusations of racism, the cities involved would be several thousands of dollars less in the red and Castile would be alive to pay another few hundred dollars a year in expired tab fines, or whatever the next cop could get him for. (I’m not sure what St. Anthony Park’s basic fine is for “Driving While Black”.)

This is good: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/07/police-shootings-traffic-stops-excessive-fines/

As far as I can tell my dual-barrel revolver idea has garnered exactly zero interest anywhere in the country, probably because no politician could stand up to Second Amendment fanatics shrieking about, “Disarming the cops!”.

One other facet worth giving some thought to are statistics dug up by Kevin Drum at Mother Jones on the disproportionate number of these cop v. minority killings that involve peace officers who are either young or very new to the job.

 

 

Good Luck, Portland.

So it’s “Portlandia v. Trumpistan” this Sunday in Oregon. Organizers of the June 10th rally against Sharia Law, without question the most imminent threat to free-range espresso sipping Oregonians anyone can imagine, has been cancelled. But Sunday’s “Pro Trump free speech” rally is still on. Because … well because free speech is still a thing around here, at least in the uber-holistic paradise known as Portland.

As you may have heard, the Mayor and the cops aren’t too thrilled with this. But a court refused to revoke the permit on the grounds that the organizers got it fair and square. Nevertheless, the potential for some kind of telegenic mayhem is very high, since every affiliate satellite truck and crew for 500 miles is going to be scanning the scene for the slightest hint of confrontation between Trumpers and pissed off lefties eager to show the country that skinhead/tinfoil goobers are not representative of their misty green city.

Except of that they are, just as they’re representative of increasingly emboldened factions everywhere else in ‘Murica. Which is why I get more fascinated (and concerned) every day at the thought of what this “pro-Trump free speech” crowd will do when, as I believe, Trump himself inevitably disintegrates and is replaced.

At the moment, living in separate bubbles as we do, the impression in mine is that the 60 million who voted for The Donald last November have been cowed back to a fraction of that number — to only the most whacked-out goobers — and that forces of reason have gained the upper hand. But in the other bubble, the one that holds “the failing New York Times” and “the Clinton News Network” and pencil-necks like Rachel Maddow, Ezra Klein and David Frum in utter contempt, and suckles at the addictive teat of Breitbart, NewsMax and Sean Hannity, the hardening perception is that the election of the guy (Donald) for whom they waited their entire lives is being invalidated and revoked in front of their eyes by exactly the domineering snobs who have oppressed their friends and them for generations.

So … I don’t see them sitting still for The Donald’s shall we say “deinvestiture” by the same corrupt urban elite pencil necks. They will certainly be encouraged by their, uh, “thought leaders”, to rally and rage more vigorously than ever before as they see Trump being castrated by the “administrative state” they sent him to DC to blow up. And by “vigorously” I mean physically, as though they’re the last militia between “freedom” and “tyranny”.

The guess is this is what has Portland’s Mayor and cops spooked about this “free speech” event this Sunday. If you are prone to worrying about a face-to-face clash between the farthest right and the farthest left in the country today, both eager to make a defining statement, well, here’s leafy, piney Portland for test run #1.

It’s worth remembering that when Richard Nixon waved goodbye and disappeared into that chopper 31% of the country still supported him. But that was back in the day when even the gnarliest redoubt Republican had some exposure to the likes of Walter Cronkite. Today, the “pro-Trump free speech” base, literate really only in the Second Amendment, has very little if any routine contact with mainstream news (i.e. reality), other than being told by the likes of Breitbart and Trump that it’s all “fake.”

This crowd is running on a much higher octane mix of delusion than the Republicans of 1974.

Mix gas like that and a wildfire of stoked rage and we’ve got a bigger problem than the cops in Oregon.

Three Facets of The Walker’s “Scaffold” Flap

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3The Walker Art Center’s troubles over a piece of art for it’s renovated Sculpture Garden is an interesting controversy for a number or reasons, not the least of which is that smart, well-educated, broad-minded people like those who run large high-profile arts organizations aren’t supposed to find themselves in situations like this. The working presumption is that they have a better grasp of history and cultural nuance than say, you or me.

The story is so rich in artistic hubris, cultural faux pas and psycho-social analyses it’s a shame Tom Wolfe doesn’t have an apartment at 510 Groveland to record and relish all the mayhem among the (art) mavens across the street.

But here are three points that I keep returning to.

1: Artists work off inspiration and emotion. They are struck by an idea or a feeling and produce what they produce — paintings, dance, films, sculpture and/or, well, a scaffold. In this case Sam Durant, creator of the scaffold was, we have good reason to believe, genuinely moved by the the world’s use of capital punishment and this country’s long, ugly history of genocide and extra-judicial killings. (One irony being how this controversy overlaps with the start of the trial for the cop who killed Philando Castile.)

So fine. Durant produces an artistic statement based on a combination of outrage, determination to provoke a new conversation about this homicidal history and his gift for … structures.

But then we move to the Walker’s Olga Viso, the Art Center’s executive director who saw Durant’s work in Europe and was … moved, which is to say compelled to some extent by emotion. That too is fine. People who curate art should retain the ability to be moved by art, and to see in art the potential to provoke discussion and debate.

But, perhaps obviously, Viso’s role requires a tier of judgment beyond that of either the artist or the consumer. Her job, (and I really know nothing more about Viso), is to make decisions based on a broad(er) grasp of culture, as in to ask, “Will the public perceive this as I perceive it? If not, how will they see it?”

Given that “Scaffold” was being purchased and shipped to Minnesota to be part of a permanent exhibit in a venue — the Sculpture Garden — previously notable for the whimsy of its most prominent pieces and as an environment that encourages calm and serenity in its audiences, not references to mass hangings, clearly the question of “What will the audience think?” should have been given even higher priority. It is what she’s paid to do.

That said, it’s hard to take seriously anyone accusing either Durant or Viso of racist intent. Durant’s career is notable for his sympathies to Native American sufferings, and Viso’s worst offense is short-sightedness, not some sort of class-calloused indifference to Native suffering.

2: Let’s talk artfulness. Like you, I’m guessing, I had no idea who Sam Durant was before all this exploded. All I know was what I saw in the dozens of photos of “Scaffold” erected in the Sculpture Garden. And to that my art-consumer reaction was somewhere south of, “meh.” Maybe I needed to see it in person. To touch the wood, or to climb on it like a 10 year-old on a jungle gym. But I couldn’t find an angle that inspired anything in me like it inspired in Ms. Viso when she wrote, ”

“Constructed of wood and steel, this work layers together the forms of seven historical gallows that were used in US state-sanctioned executions by hanging between 1859 and 2006. These representations, assembled one on top of the other, intersect into a single, complicated structure. This composite forms what Durant intends as a critique—“neither memorial nor monument”—that invokes white, governmental power structures that have controlled and subjugated nations and peoples, especially communities of color, throughout the history of the US.”

And, “When I first encountered Scaffold in a sculpture park in Europe five years ago, I saw a potent artistic statement about the ethics of capital punishment. Most importantly, I recognized its capacity to address the buried histories of violence in this country, in particular raising needed awareness among white audiences. I knew this could be a difficult artwork on many levels. This is invariably connected to national issues still embedded in the psyche of this country and its violent, colonialist past.”

To that, all I can say is, “Wow. Maybe I needed a better liberal arts education, a couple seminars in Symbolism and Structural Reinterpretation, or maybe a micro-dose of good acid.” But then, I am also the fairly regular modern art consumer who when confronted with Mark Rothko’s “Untitled (Black on Grey)” has been heard to say, “Give me a break.”

Bottom line here, “Scaffold” as constructed, even with a ponderous “artist’s statement” or video primer, evoked nothing unique in my understanding of capital punishment or genocide.

Finally, 3:  The desire to provoke a fresh conversation about whatever horror you choose, capital punishment or the largest mass execution in American history, is a valid and honorable intention. History is sanded down and polished so often it loses its vital instructive value.

So lets give Durant and Viso credit for recognizing the importance of revitalizing memories of great injustices. And let’s hope that this flap, with all the condemnatory ranting, doesn’t siphon off attention to white Minnesota’s role in the horrors set upon Native Americans over the past 200 years.

Because … if you’re really in the mood for outrage, how about we take a survey of what Minnesota school kids are taught about the men we widely and routinely regard as our wise and just pioneering elders?

Guys like our first governor, Henry Sibley, for example.

 

What Spawned Who … Among the Body Slammin’ GOP?

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3With Greg “The Body-Slammer” Gianforte’s unequivocal victory in Montana last night there’s a lot of hand-wringing talk about how this is the latest example of “The Trump Effect”, “the fish rotting from the head down”, yadda yadda. And with the statistically demonstrable upsurge in anti-Muslim activity around the country, compounding what is already an intolerable level of racist attitudes by authority figures, it’s hard to make a case that The Donald’s success hasn’t unleashed something pretty sick and unevolved in our “shining city on the hill”.

But come on. Donald Trump, essentially an ideological illiterate, a guy whose trademark is exploiting weaknesses, financial, political and moral, to his personal advantage hardly invented the pig-headed brutishness displayed by Republican candidate Gianforte or his Big Sky supporters, (many of who possibly voted for him before he smacked that “aggressive liberal journalist” to the ground.)

I’ve been on a couple “Fake News” panels in recent weeks and my now standard line is that “fake news”, with all the demagogic recklessness and viciousness attached to it is part of an established, profitable and electorally successful  continuum from — to pick a recent start point — talk radio in the early 1990s, FoxNews in the mid-to-late ’90s, all the crackpot websites of the mid-aughts to Trump’s victory last fall. Point being, Trump exploited the grievance-saturated messaging of all that came before him to draw out a crowd that had been sitting on the sidelines for years and propel him to victory. Whether he personally believes any of what he bellowed at them hardly matters. (In sales, it’s often the bullshit — the not caring if something is true or false — that closes the deal.)

Trump is the product of every “conservative entertainment complex” huckster and every Republican politician who kow-towed to … a collection of radio jocks. They are the head of the rotting fish. Trump is just a guy who applied full caricature to the extant mob mentality and got himself appointed grand marshal of their parade.

This “Anyone Who Kicks Ass on A Pencil-Necked Liberal East Coast Faggot Reporter Is My Kinda Guy” moment in Montana comes simultaneous with Sean Hannity’s on-going, obnoxious exploitation of a young guy’s murder in D.C. — in his cynical, fevered mind a clear connection to Cruella de Vil rat-bastard Hillary Clinton and everyone trying to blockade The Donald’s visionary conservative plan to make ‘Murica great again. While even FoxNews has reversed course on the story, Hannity has persisted, despite repeated pleas from the kid’s family to stop the aggravation of their suffering.

But the carefully strategized, generation-long interplay of low information news, shameless delusion and naked grievance — and oh hell, through in a fat dose of barroom clodishness — has worked so well for Hannity (and FoxNews under Roger Ailes) that it’s impossible to resist. Junkies to the next meth hit, my friends.

By the way, hat tip to pal Jim Leinfelder for alerting me to this classic Matt Taibbi screed at Rolling Stone on the passing of Ailes and culture, of Gianforte-style Republicanism.

Rx for Your Psychic Health: Enjoy Trump as an Epic Farce

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 2For everyone exhausted by Trump’s Follies and terrified the world as we know it is about to collapse in a steaming pile of Keystone Cops criminality, I urge you to chill just a bit. Try this: Tamp down the stress by absorbing this absurd drama less as a nightmare and more as trashy reality TV on an epic scale.

Sure, sure there is no end of reasons to spike your blood pressure over things like the “unimaginable cruelty” of Trump’s budget. But that thing, like virtually all of his promises/threats/delusions isn’t going anywhere. (You gotta love the minor $2 trillion math error involved in its grand design.)

In fact, one of the truest things I’ve heard recently was some talking head urging calm by reminding viewers that, “As long as doing nothing is the default option” all this incompetence and venality is survivable. What he meant is that with 98% of Trump (i.e. Steve Bannon’s) ideas doomed to fail, we can get through Trump with the rudder and sails still attached to the ship of state. Obamacare will remain (perpetually imperiled, but “un-repealed”), the tax code will go “unreformed” (meaning another GOP giveaway to the rich will wait for a later day) and Big Bird will not be plucked and roasted (by government, although maybe eventually by the commercial marketplace.)

So with the normal consequences of incompetence in mind, it may be beneficial to our psychic health to dial back the grim expressions of stress and view this story as a kind of slapstick Ring Cycle. Instead of The End of Days, think of the Trump presidency and its inevitable collapse as a sprawling, time-consuming tale of dozens of strange, silly, improbable characters and lots of noise. True, like “Big Brother” or “Jersey Shore”, “The Trump Show” its a crass epic lacking anything in the way of moral grandeur and honorable tests of mortality. Just the opposite in fact. The whole thing is playing like the Farrelly brothers reimagined Wagner. It’s “Dumb and Dumber” inflated to international proportions.

This is why I don’t share the sense of dread and panic of some of my fellow liberals.

Unlike say Richard Nixon, much less truly psychopathic thugs like Benito Mussolini, Stalin and what’s his name back in Germany, Trump is both ideology-free and resoundingly lazy. Beyond ego-gratification he doesn’t really know what he wants and is not about to put in the effort to find out. Moreover, since he has no friends in D.C., and no deeply connected Dick Cheney-like consigliere to work the system and connive with a deep closet of corporate cronies, Trump’s more isolated with every passing pratfall. And they’re coming at the rate of about one an hour.

Hell, the only guy he could imagine defending him against this Robert Mueller investigation is his long-time apologist Marc Kasowitz, a guy — wait for it — who also includes among his best clients, Russia’s biggest bank. (See above for “slapstick”.)  The word “literally” is getting a work out these days, but … literally … every move Team Trump makes to defend itself from accusations of collusion adds a new layer of farce.

Add to this the stage whispering that the White House “person of interest” mentioned in that Washington Post story last week is over-ambitious, over-burdened son-in-law Jared Kushner, he of recently reported Baltimore litigious slumlord infamy.

(Since young Jared has been in the Middle East this past week we can assume he’s got the handle on that little problem and will be having Hezbollah and the Israelis over for a Shavuot barbecue.)

If true, and it fits so perfectly it’s in the range of “very highly likely”, Jared-as-person-of-interest suggests a laser point on Trump family financial machinations vis a vis Russian “investors.” (For my money Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has been as good as anyone at connecting the bizarre characters on the money trail between Trump and Russian oligarchs/mobsters.)

The story even has standard issue domestic farce, like the First Lady uh, rebuffing, the touch of the guy proud of being able to grab any woman anywhere anytime he wanted. (I keep thinking our old friend Tom Arnold may have the best explanation for that particular chill.)

One of the next acts in this grand burlesque will be crushing legal bills dropping on the Kellyanne and Spiceys of the world. Will the narcissistic emperor pick up those tabs? Would you count on it if you were them? Moreover, who would be stupid enough to step in and replace them once they are reduced to “losers”, the absolute worst thing you can say about someone? (See above for “isolated”.)

Shortly after that the spillway will open wide when Michael Flynn, the show’s paranoid general, (think Sterling Hayden as Gen. Jack D. Ripper), realizes he’s not going to get immunity and spills everything he knows in the hope of the court’s mercy.

Point being friends, there is a choice here. You can laugh or cry. I prefer to laugh. It’s easier on the nerves.

Have We Finally Found a [Bleep]-Up That Matters?

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3There was a telling audience reaction to a moment in “Saturday Night Live’s” opening skit last week. “Weekend Anchor” Michael Che was playing Lester Holt interviewing Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump about the firing of James Comey. At one point Baldwin/Trump blurts out that yeah he fired him because he was rooting around in this Russia stuff. To this Che/Holt looks around, as though talking to his crew, “Is that it?” “Did I get him?”, meaning that — come on, folks — Trump clearly admitted obstruction of justice.

But then he quickly realizes, no. “No? So nothing matters? Is that right? Nothing matters?”

To which the “SNL” audience (99% of them sneering-at-real-‘Murican urban elites) responded with a laugh of cathartic recognition, as though a deeply shared suspicion had been pushed out into the light of day. “Nothing matters.” That’s what you and I have been  thinking. I.e. Is there nothing Trump says or does — and this was before dropping that “highly classified”/code word intelligence on the Russians in the Oval Office — that is appalling enough, stupid enough or legally indefensible enough to make a dent in his core support?

The hope is this latest fiasco — bragging to the Russians about the “great intel I get” (as though they’d be surprised the President of the United States gets juicy information) — will do the trick.

Maybe. But I doubt it. After the pussy grabbing stuff last fall, we all thought he was doomed. I mean, what politician could possibly survive that?

Over at The Daily Beast this morning, Michael Tomasky speculates on the polling numbers necessary to push your Paul Ryans and Mitch McConnells out of the Trump support ICU. Basically, and I agree with this, he says that when (not if) Trump’s support drops into the 20% range, (George W. Bush territory), he will have shed pretty much all the tribal Republicans. This would be the crowd that really should have known better, but rationalized Trump as a better choice than Hillary Clinton on the grounds of her “corruption”. (In reality it was more likely the fact she was female, her last name was Clinton and they would sooner have their fingernails pulled out than vote for a Democrat.)

The stereotypical Trump voter — ill-educated or ill-informed or “left behind” or roiling with grievances or all of the above — constitutes maybe 20-25% of last November’s GOP voting bloc. Pissing them off is perilous to most Republican candidates. But, as I’ve said several times before, the name of the Ryan-McConnell game is not about making the lives of those sad stereotypes better, it is about providing service to the people who fund their careers. And if enough of those people fall away to drive Trump’s numbers down into the very low 30s or (oh my bleeping god!) the W-like 20s, they will have no choice other than to take the gamble and consent to the independent prosecutor (linked to the FBI investigation with full subpoena power).

At that point, and I’m repeating myself I know, Ryan and McConnell will have accepted that because of Trump’s astonishing laziness and incompetence they have no chance of getting “tax reform” through Congress, or even fully repeal Obamacare. (And always remember that Obamacare repeal is mainly about returning the $600-$700 billion in taxes the wealthy are paying to keep it going. Obamacare repeal is a tax relief play, with health care only as collateral damage.)

There have been several excellent analyses written recently about Trump’s endurance in the face of unequivocal incompetence. One of them was former Milwaukee conservative radio host Charlie Sykes’ piece in … The New York Times, very ironically titled, “If Liberals Hate Him Trump Must be Doing Something Right.”

Sykes, never an Alex Jones/Mark Levin nitwit, has gone over to the dark side as far as many Trumpists are concerned. Sykes is out of the William F. Buckley school of conservative thinking, which among other things involves reading books written by people other than Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity and assembling, you know, facts to make an argument.

Complaining that conservative media, which has incited and sustained the Trump base, has lost all connection to traditional conservative values, (we can still argue the quality of those values), Sykes writes …

What may have begun as a policy or a tactic in opposition has long since become a reflex. But there is an obvious price to be paid for essentially becoming a party devoted to trolling. In the long run, it’s hard to see how a party dedicated to liberal tears can remain a movement based on ideas or centered on principles.

Conservatives will care less about governing and more about scoring “wins” — and inflicting losses on the left — no matter how hollow the victories or flawed the policies. Ultimately, though, this will end badly because it is a moral and intellectual dead-end, and very likely a political one as well.”

And, “As the right doubles down on anti-anti-Trumpism, it will find itself goaded into defending and rationalizing ever more outrageous conduct just as long as it annoys CNN and the left.

In many ways anti-anti-Trumpism mirrors Donald Trump himself, because at its core there are no fixed values, no respect for constitutional government or ideas of personal character, only a free-floating nihilism cloaked in insult, mockery and bombast.”

A lefty moonbat like myself couldn’t have said it any better.

 

 

 

Tricky Moment for “Principled Conservatives”, If There Are Any.

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3A familiar complaint, from exasperated liberals, over the first three and a half months of the Trump regime has been something on the order of, “When are the Republicans going to show some spine/grow a pair and stop this fool?”

The easy, glib answer is, “Probably never.”

The slightly less glib response is, “As soon as he puts their reelection in peril.”

And the third, somewhat more nuanced rejoinder is, “When they detect his base has abandoned him and it’s obvious they’re not going to get the ‘tax reform’ by which they are judged with him around.”

Watching (way too much) cable news last night and this morning, I had to snort at every pundit’s appeal to “principled conservatives” and “Republicans or honor” to stand up — now, in the immediate waking of Trump firing FBI Director Jim Comey — and demand an independent prosecutor to follow the Russia-Trump connections wherever they lead. Judging by Mitch McConnell’s statement this morning, that “immediate” thing ain’t gonna happen.

McConnell is the single best barometer of adult Republican/cynical electoral calculation. As long as old wattle-necked Mitch supports Trump, you know he doesn’t see an election-day upside to abandoning him to an independent anything. McConnell knows as well as other prominent Republicans that their hold on House and Senate majorities depends very heavily on the Trump base, and that base isn’t close to admitting they’ve been played for chumps (yet again) and are starting to bail on the guy they sent to D.C. to roll a hand grenade into every bureaucracy in town, including the FBI.

But … Mitch is going to have to start selling “Still Support Trump” a lot more aggressively than he has. Saturday Night Massacre comparisons aside, fury over the Comey firing is only going to build over the next few days and weeks. (It’ll build even faster if Comey makes his scheduled appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday. And faster still if various vows to haul in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein bear fruit. Rosenstein being the guy Trump says did the real dirty work in the Comey firing.)

Comey’s firing, added to the reignited rage over last week’s “TrumpCare” vote in the House, will suck a tremendous amount of attention and energy out of the push to do what Republicans always want to do most, namely accommodate their donor class with tax relief, I mean “reform”.

Point being, “tax reform” has just been pushed even further off toward the horizon. So fa off that old Mitch and other GOP “wise men” (entirely ironic description there) have to start wondering anew at how much better off they’d be with Mike Pence in the Oval Office … well before the clock flips over to 2018.

My personal fascination at the moment is with Rosenstein, a guy torn from obscurity to the harshest imaginable spotlight in barely a month. White House spox Sarah Huckabee Sanders didn’t even attempt to play coy this morning asserting flatly that it was Rosenstein who was responsible for every facet of the Comey firing, from recommending it to Trump to concocting a rationale to signing his name to the historical document.

It was breathtaking.

So … you gotta wonder how Rosenstein, allegedly a straight shooting ex-prosecutor, likes being picked up and heaved under the bus before he’s even figured out where the supply closet is in his own new office? If it were me, I’d be pissed as hell, to use the parlance of our times.

As I understand it, Rosenstein has the authority — today — to call for an independent prosecutor. Why he consented to ginning up the rationale for firing Comey is beyond me. The only explanation is that he is yet another DC careerist terrified he’d be fired if he refused, which makes me exceedingly skeptical that’ll he’ll man up now and go the special prosecutor route.

If he is another bureaucratic worm, his flaccid resolve might be stiffened a bit by GOP heavyweights like John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Richard Burr going well beyond “concerned” and “troubled” statements and demanding an independent investigation.

My guess though is that the Republican “wise men” need to see some thorough polling of the braying, foot-stompin’ Trump rally crowd before they go out on TV and get all righteous about, you know, defending the Constitution.

 

Jim Comey’s Pre-Existing Conditions

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 2Sure it’s berserk, (for them, typically berserk), but I’m hoping U.S. House Reoublicans pass their Obamacare-gutting bill today. Why? Because holding the national conversation hostage over whacking adequate, reasonably-priced health insurance for 20-30 million Americans will re-inflame The Resistance and keep the inmates away from tax “reform” and everything else on Steve Bannon’s to-do” list, at least for a while.

The numbers on the so-called bill up for vote today are gob-smacking as usual. They make no sense. But this is what we’ve come to expect from a collection of critters, (today’s “principled conservatives”), far better suited to opposition than, you know, actually running things.

Here are a couple of the top howlers in this bill as it is. The $8 billion (over five years) tossed in yesterday to win support from four “moderate” Congressthings to cover constituents with pre-existing conditions? Well, to paraphrase baseball play-by-play legend Bob Uecker, that comes up “Juuuuust a little short.” Like by roughly, oh, $190 billion. In other words, it’s meaningless.

The other, in terms of who gets screwed most, is this: The top ten states with the most people 40 or younger with pre-existing conditions are all … damn you, you beat me to it … deep red, hootin’ and hollerin’ Trump states. Preggers in West Virginny? That’ll be an extra $17,000 in annual insurance premiums. Really, WTF?

But if this “moral monstrosity” as Nancy Pelosi put it yesterday, does pass, it’ll go over to the Senate for weeks if not months, eating up massive chunks of pundit air supply not to mention the attention of our ADD-afflicted Orange Leader. And by the time the Senate lays eyes on this thing, due diligence conservatives along with you and me, will actually know silly science-y stuff like for example, what’s actually in the bill, how it works and … how much it’ll cost. And at that point wiley old Mitch McConnell, who is all about political survival, (and I do mean all), will have to decide how big an appetite he has for political suicide.

My guess? None at all.

That said, there’s a connection within this all-too familiar madness to FBI Director Jim Comey. Allow me to make it as succinctly as I can.

Comey seemed unusually animated yesterday talking about his options regarding his unprecedented Oct. 28 disclosure about Hillary Clinton’s-mails. There were only two, he said: “Really bad” and “catastrophic.”

So, he broke with the FBI’s rules and went with “really bad” because of the predicament “we” (meaning the FBI) would have been in had Clinton won (which everyone assumed she would) and word leaked out post-Clinton victory that she had … had … well, frankly I don’t know what, unless somewhere in her e-mails was a note to Vladimir Putin proving she was involved in something truly treacherous and treasonous, like colluding with agents of a homicidal international gangster to trash her opponent.

Want to read the best “Why Comey Turned the Election to Trump” piece I’ve read? Here you go.

But what is far, far more likely, and isn’t discussed nearly as much is who Comey feared most and why. I can’t claim originality on this. But when The Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky argued that Comey had every valid reason to fear what Congressional Republicans would do to him personally and the FBI it landed with the weight and scent of high plausibility.

The established Republican game plan, going back to the Clintons and Whitewater, is to launch an endless series of investigation and hearings, amplified by their media mouthpieces, until something … anything … gets churned up that damages the intended target, normally a Clinton or a Democrat.  (Notable irony: They never found anything with which to attack Obama.) For example: Failed Arkansas land deal begets Monica Lewinsky and impeachment. And more recently “Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi” begets Hillary’s e-mail server.

Democrats either haven’t learned how to play this game or find it too repugnant to seriously consider. And Comey knew that. He already had an insurrection within his New York FBI office. His agents were convinced, probably from listening to Rush Limbaugh on stakeouts in Chappaqua, that the Clintons were dirtier than Carlo Gambino and Comey wasn’t being tough enough. He also had good reason to suspect those agents — retired or otherwise —  were leaking inside information to Trump ally Rudy Giuliani. (Now Comey says he’s investigating that angle too, along with the Russians, etc., etc.) With all those fuses burning Comey made the fateful promise he had no legally valid reason to make, namely that he would keep “Congress” i.e. Republican committee heads, updated on anything new regarding their Enemy Number One, Hillary the Terrible.

In effect it’s not all that different from the kid cowering from a pack of bullies pleading, “Please don’t yell at me. I hate it when you yell at me!.”

To do less, which is to say play by normal FBI/Justice Department rules, Comey would have faced the extreme probability of guerrilla war within his New York office (at least) and a full-fledged Congressional Republican/conservative media attack on both him and the Bureau at large for being a Clinton stooge. Conversely, he had nothing of the sort to fear from Democrats by not mentioning last Oct. 28, “Oh, by the way, we have a criminal investigation going into the Trump crowd for jacking around with the Russians to pervert the election.”

Point being:  The contemporary Republican strategy of reckless, relentless total war, on individuals no matter their status in the DC pecking order and on the most basic logic of legislative cause and effect has a chokehold, (maybe a stranglehold), on all points of critical government function.

But, if you’re paying attention, you already knew that.

 

 

100 Days. How Much Stupidity Can We Survive?

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3So let me get this straight. The “yuge”, “beautiful” wall keeping out all those Mexican drugs, bad hombres and strawberry pickers is not only not going to be paid for by the Mexicans, but probably isn’t going to be built at all. Likewise, China the worst currency manipulator in the world, the bastards destroying our economy … will not be branded a currency manipulator, partly because the Chinese guy spent 10 minutes explaining how complicated this North Korea thing is.

And ObamaCare repeal, that thing Republcans voted for 50, 60, 200 times, meaning actually tearing the whole damn thing up and returning us to the golden days of yore when health insurance was dirt cheap and “accessible” to everyone … eh, not so much, and sure as hell not in time for the big 100 Days check-off this Saturday.

Ditto tax “reform” (i.e. the usual Republican ritual performance of oral sex on its donor class without so much as a handshake for you and me). And … and … well the list of what His Orangeness promised, in the loudest and angriest terms to his hootin’ and hollerin’ rally-goers last fall is very, very long and all but entirely incomplete, except for Neil Gorsuch.

In other words it is exactly the farce of buffoonish incompetence most of us expected when we voted Nov. 8. The only thing that is “fer sure” is that the timer on the hand grenade both the “deplorables” and the tribal conservative clod-bro culture wanted rolled into D.C. is seconds away from detonation.

At last Saturday’s “March Against Stupidity” “March for Science”, I kept thinking, “How much stupidity can an enormous, intricately complicated society withstand before something blows … fatally?”

A lot of people are watching Trump poke at North Korea, like an impaired six year-old jabbing a stick at a rabid dog trapped against a fence. None of the outcomes to this drama are good, and some are border-line apocalyptic. More to the point, confidence that either of the main guys involved are rational and competent is, well, kinda like non-existent. (I still wonder what serious humans like “Mad Dog” Mattis would actually do if Trump decides he wants to lob some missiles into Pyongyang? There are — rarely used — military codes of ethics that prohibit an officer from following an order he deems illegal or wholly unjustified.)

Most likely, like everything else on his list of batshit campaign bluster, Trump will do nothing, other than play another round of golf at Mar-a-Lago and enjoy another five or six slices of “the most beautiful chocolate cake you’ve ever seen.” But the issue is what the North Korean nutjob does in response to what he thinks Trump might do.

While enjoying the sunshine, the crowds and a lot of very funny signs at the Science march I was reminded of another detail related to a book I read last month, “Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs.” Harvard astrophysicist Lisa Randall and her team have a theory about the “periodicity” of asteroid impacts on planet earth. Something big and nasty rolls in roughly every 35-40 million years. Their idea is that this coincides with our Solar System’s two million-year passage through the center plane of the Milky Way, a plane dense, she thinks, with dark matter and its mysterious gravitational effects.

She theorizes that these effects kick up a storm among the rocks and comets otherwise tumbling innocently through the Oort Belt far out beyond Pluto, sending a barrage of the stuff inward toward the Sun and colliding with earth.

And what’s this got to do with Donald Trump and the ascendance of crass stupidity to power in all facets of the government of the planet’s most technically advanced society?

Well, there this. In his fourth grade coloring book of a budget “presented” last month, the one red-lining Planned Parenthood, the National Endowment for the Arts, Big Bird, and on and on, there was the part cancelling NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission.

The main part of that mission was an elaborate project to grab material off a passing asteroid and get it back to orbiting astronauts for examination. But a facet of it was money to pay smart people here on earth, (FoxNews/talk radio/clod-bro culture’s much derided “experts”), to think seriously and propose ideas about how me might deal with an apocalyptic meteor heading our way.

The cost of the entire Mission was pegged at $1.25 billion. The part where the gubmint pays smart people down here on terra firma to work out the details of how to protect civilization from toasted dinosaur-like destruction was probably a lot … a lot … less.

But if you’re too incompetent, lazy or sociopathic to care about stuff like that, well, screw it. We gotta pare this insane spending down to compensate for whacking the Alternative Minimum Tax, which would have saved Trump roughly $25 million off the only tax return we’ve ever seen.

Stupidity is darkly funny up to the point it makes survival an open question.

 

Bye, Bye Bill-O. Schadenfreude So Sweet.

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3The deceptively lovely German word “schadenfreude” feels like it was made for Bill O’Reilly. If ever a guy deserved an ignominious demise, a real “Game of Thrones” shot-on-the-toilet departure, it is Bill-O, the biggest of cable TV’s braying, anti-PC “straight shooters”. A self-inflating TV “entertainer” whose Orwellian all spin-and-fantasy “No Spin Zone” was designed to inflame the self-pity, bogus victimhood and grievances of (mainly) aging white men, while piling up tens of millions of profits for his employers. So yeah, a lot of people are enjoying watching Bill-O take one to the chest and topple over, off the pooper (i.e. FoxNews), albeit clutching $25 million in bye-bye cash.

(Trevor Noah gets the overnight prize for the best of many gleeful takedowns.)

No offense to all the women he intimidated, pawed and leered at, but getting Bill O’Reilly for sexual harassment is a little like jailing Al Capone for tax evasion. I mean, great. The deal got done. Whatever it takes. But O’Reilly’s barely disguised racism and siren call to his audience of confused and embittered whites, stoking their antipathies toward the truly less fortunate was a far worse pollutant in our cultural waters than hitting on every woman who found herself marooned in his domain, wittingly or otherwise.

It’s a wholly good thing that O’Reilly’s downfall generates another round of talk about sexual harassment. The piggish behavior of entitled bullies like Bill-O is a universal disease, even as the FoxNews “empire” raised it to the level of a brand ethos. But the greater cancer that O’Reilly and so many others of the Fox “team” normalize(d) was the extraordinarily cynical concept of white Christian male privilege, of a moral standing based entirely on gender, race and religious orientation. It’s always been repugnant, but it is so deeply baked into our popular culture today it’s almost like we don’t see it anymore.

I had two conversations with O’Reilly over my years covering the media. Once in Minneapolis when he was on tour hyping “Inside Edition” and then years later in Hollywood at some press dog and pony show. (The other notable at that event was singer Jon Bon Jovi. Proving what a nerd I am I — tried — to chat up O’Reilly.)

The impression the first time was, “One of those guys.” A Sammy Glick character hyping a cheesy tabloid show as the next coming of Edward R. Murrow. The second time the impression was simply, “a jerk.” A guy who, now feeling the cushion of real money, couldn’t bother to engage in a conversation about cable news … at a cocktail party organized for the sole purpose of schmoozing the press. Bill-O had clearly decided he was beyond that stage of life. Or maybe he was looking for someone with more cleavage.

At the Washington Post Ruth Marcus unloads on the Fox culture for creating and enabling the O’Reilly/Roger Ailes frat house within and projecting its corresponding message to its audience. But watching O’Reilly over the years and the events of the past week I was reminded again of author Susan Cain’s research for “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” The experts she interviewed formed a consensus that big, narcissistic, possible sociopathic characters capable of dominating rooms and conversations hold sway over the more introverted among us purely because they talk the most and the loudest. Human nature lends undue credibility to such people, possibly because they are doing something most of us can’t, or won’t. Whether they possess better judgment or more valuable insights is secondary to the influence of their presence.

Hence a toxic flow of Bill O’Reillys, Rush Limbaughs, Donald Trumps and on and on … and on and on. (Many of the worst, the most toxic, appeal to the authoritarian personality, common people inordinately submissive to the rule of force, or personality in these cases.)

So as I say, “whatever it takes.” There’s delicious justice in women driving O’Reilly off the air, (until he reappears on Breitbart TV). But his piggishness toward women was only one facet of his and Fox’s sociopathic personality.

 

 

With Trump, What’s Plausible Isn’t Normal.

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3My blogging buddy and “Wry Wing” creator/officer of protocol Joe Loveland read my feeble mind with his latest post, “Mainstream My Ass.” Word for word, I couldn’t agree more. The fact that a couple military professionals like (the latest) National Security Advisor, Gen. H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis were the last people in the room to “advise” Donald Trump’s response to the Syrian sarin gas attack does not mean Trump overnight has become FDR or Dwight Eisenhower.

Joe’s excerpt from David Frum is spot on. Punditry, whether from Joe Scarborough or David Ignatius of The Washington Post abhors monotony. Show biz requires regular shifts of tone and mood. All commercial artists understand the necessity of inserting a moment of drama into a comedy, or breaking tension with a joke.

Which is what the new “normal” Donald Trump is. A laughable assertion.

What’s more, and here’s where the left-wing nuttery kicks in, Trump’s fundamental abnormality is what makes the most “outlandish” theories about him and what’s really going on seem so plausible.

The plausibility issue was/is a topic when the famous Christopher Steele dossier was released. Traditionalists huffed and puffed about the “unconfirmed” nature of the thing, which of course included the notorious spectacle of Donald and x-number of Russian hookers “micturating” on the bed Barack Obama had slept in when he visited Moscow. (That bed really tied the room together.)

The well-groomed and well-mannered of our media aristocracy were titillated but disdainful. Such unseemly things are simply beneath the dignity of Americans of high standing. (You never hear much detail about Jack Kennedy’s carnal escapades.) There’s a resistance to openly considering the notion with Trump even if at the time of the alleged micturation he was nothing but a misogynistic, pussy-chasing casino operator/reality TV star.

But here’s the thing. It’s plausible. Trump, without the Mrs. in Moscow not long after Obama humiliated him at that White House Correspondents’ dinner paying a bunch of up-for-anything Russian girls to trash a luxury hotel suite? I don’t have a hard time believing that. (Mike Pence? No. But Donald Trump? Easy. My image of Pence would be in a tub with an underage boy reading him the Bible.)

So then, as we consider what is and isn’t plausible … let’s look through a different lens at the fearsome, oceanliner-turning Syrian “strike.”

As I understand it, the base in question, while obviously on Syrian territory is functionally operated by the Russians. A lot of Russians. All over the place. Which means if the Syrians loaded up a jet with sarin gas — which would require an elaborate process of guys in HazMat suits gingerly trucking and loading hyper-lethal gas cannisters back and forth across the base — the Russians had to have known, if they weren’t the ones who bought in the gas in the first place and ran the operation the whole operation.

So yeah, that Russia didn’t know is …  not plausible. But that’s Putin. The guy Trump still won’t criticize directly.

Putin wants to see what he can get away with. Also, he’d like to create some kind of new narrative that would shift the thinking that Trump is his puppet. Because if everyone thinks Trump is his puppet Trump the blackmailed puppet is of no use to him at all.

So Trump watches “Fox & friends” and sees babies gassed to death, and boy is he pissed! We all are! By god, we’re going to do … something! Like … like … like … well, like blow some shit up, man!

McMaster and Mattis suggest a “limited strike” on the offending airfield. And Trump … notifies “Russian authorities” that retaliation is coming. (Remember when Trump the debater was appalled by the idea we’d tip our hand militarily? That too has changed. Sad! USA!)

The Russians, knowing the quality of US satellite surveillance, didn’t have to ask what the most likely targets would be. So they clear their personnel away from the strike zone, (have you seen a number of Russian personnel killed in the strike?) and Trump shoots off 59 Tomahawks. (Snopes.com confirms Trump has a modest stock holding in Raytheon, manufacturer of the Tomahawk). The game-changing strike destroys 20 jets, some which were out of commission.

Thus begins the kabuki performance.

The Russians are indignant! Trump frowns and says harsh things about the Russians, (although not Putin.) Tillerson goes to Moscow and has a “tense meeting.” Relations are at “an all-time low.” Clearly, if you’re half awake or a mainstream political pundit desperately seeking normalcy, everything has changed. Trump is no friend of Russia! He wouldn’t “strike” a friend! We’re back in a normal world!

Except that in reality almost nothing has changed. The airfield wasn’t hit hard enough to slow down takeoffs for even a day. Assad isn’t deterred in any way. The slaughter continues by conventional means.

What has modulated is the perception that Trump and Putin have canoodled at some point in the semi-recent past. Both now appear to be back in their historically acceptable roles of fierce, steely adversaries. Pundits breath a sigh of relief. Normalcy! It’s a return to the traditional game board of Xs and Os. No crazy Y-factors, like a U. S. President in office after colluding with Russians who have the sword of blackmail dangling over him.

Putin, we are to believe, is now genuinely worried about Trump. The orange comb over reality TV star has suddenly become a canny geo-political foe, a genuine threat to the strategies of a career spy/mafia don.

Sorry, the micturating hooker story is more plausible than that.

 

 

Is It Too Much to Ask for Real Competition for United and Every Other Airline?

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 2If United Airlines doesn’t pay out a fat chunk of change to the guy dragged off that plane in Chicago and roughed up by O’Hare airport cops we’ll know America has reached a point of apocalyptic decline. I mean, in the country I grew up in anyone could sue anyone for anything and often collect. And that was before everyone around  them had a movie camera in their pocket recording their senseless beat down.

I wish I were surprised to hear legal opinions that United’s victim — whether he’s actually a doctor who needed to get to Louisville ASAP or not, I still do not know* — has no legal recourse because of all the fine print buried in … the ticket he paid for. But I’m not. American corporate/lobbying legal muscle may be the most goddam powerful force on the planet today. And that includes a volley of Tomahawk missiles.

(* This just in via the New York Post … consider the source.)

If it weren’t for speed and the view (assuming you’re mashed against the window and haven’t been told to pull down your shade as “a courtesy” to the passengers watching “Transformers 10” on their in-flight entertainment) I’d never get on another plane. From the moment of drop off to bag collection (maybe) on the other end the experience is not just uncomfortable but [bleeping] annoying, what with being herded through security penstocks, stripping down for X-rays so TSA “agents” can inspect you for instruments of terror, like folded paper money (it happened to me), to having the guy with lethal halitosis fall asleep on your shoulder for most of a flight from Hawaii to Dallas (ditto), the commercial airline experience is an exercise in constant grinding irritation, made more irritating if like me you’re just generally irritable to begin with.

Give me a comfortable car, that I can get out of whenever I like, and I’ll get myself wherever (in the mainland) I want, according to my own door-stopper of a book of fine print regulations.  (Rule #41 for riding with The King: No auto-tuned diva music.)

Or, give me a train. And not that 14-hour St. Paul-to-Chicago express. An actual train, that runs (much) faster than a car and unlike planes, allows me to get up and walk around and even stroll to a … bar car … for a beverage, whenever I damn well please.

But of course we don’t have such trains because The Usual Fools (TUF), your “principled conservatives” like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker aren’t about to agree to anything that their campaign benefactors haven’t signed off on. And the oil-refining Koch brothers don’t get anything like the cut from selling Jet A fuel from electric trains. (Here’s TUF Texas politicians obstructing the idea down there.)

Japan, home to the famous 200-mph plus bullet trains, is already planning for full-on MagLev trains capable of 300-mph plus. (A recent test run hit 374 mph. Translation: The Twin Cities to Chicago in about 85 minutes, without stopping in Wisconsin.) Naturally, the Chinese, less fettered by American-style free enterprise, are actively selling their schemes for bona fide game-changing airline competition all over the planet.

There is a better than half-baked plan to build a Baltimore to D.C. link (woo-hoo!), with a big maybe for a D.C. – New York track in … 15 years. But like everything from health care, to incarceration rates, to infant mortality the good old US of A is lagging back with the Turkeys and Bulgaria of the planet on this topic, while The Usual Fools continue to remind us of how super-exceptional we are.

But as I say, we can mourn the death of justice American-style if United escapes this latest incident without a serious dent to its bottom line. The lobbied-in fine print may keep the company out of an actual court room, but if public opinion matters, the natives are already throwing a rope over the sturdiest branch they can find.

At minimum, the “doctor” dragged off and bloodied by O’Hare’s finest should get a lifetime first-class pass for himself and everyone he calls family, an in-person, televised apology from United’s tone-deaf CEO and, oh hell, $10 or $15 million for walking around money.

 

 

 

Good God! This Country Needs a Better Class of Fools.

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 2Lord, what a farce! The collapse of “repeal and replace”, the GOP’s single biggest campaign/fund raising promise was even more chaotic and Looney Tune-ish than anyone could have ever imagined. After the “Freedom” Caucuses’ debt ceiling government shut down a couple years ago I didn’t think it possible for the inmates to have more control over the asylum.

But as usual, I was wrong. There is no depth of absurdity this crowd can’t sink to.

But yeah, I grossly underestimated the ability of 2017’s “Party of Lincoln” to be even more detached from reality, even more indifferent to the day-to-day miseries of their irredeemably ill-informed base and even less embarrassed to be caught out in public fully de-pantsed, ethically and intellectually. Good god! Whatever happened to a concern for personal dignity?

After six and a half years of shrieking and howling and vowing and promising, after 60+ time-sucking votes and an election that handed the red-faced, spittle-flecked repeal-istas control of both houses of Congress and the White House, they still screwed this up.

This country needs a better class of fools.

Trump, the master deal maker, put less effort into this than his weekend golf trips to Mar-a-Lago. A couple rallies in Hillybilly Elegy Holler, a few phone calls and … wow! … a trip all the up to Capitol Hill to make a few veiled threats to the Tri-Corner Hat Caucus. The boy’ll need a long rest after all that exertion. But we’ve already established that Trump is too easily distracted and lazy to do even minimal homework on policy details … even on a plan to flip 20% of the American economy on its head. So his lack of preparation and effort is not too surprising.

But, come on! Paul Ryan!? WTF?

Because he’s the latest Republican example of … what dumb people think a smart guy sounds like … I assumed that he at least, after seven goddam years, had come up with a plan that papered over the hostilities (and stupidity) within his own party. I mean, what kind of an imbecile slaps his face and reputation on something as colossally under-negotiated as the thing he whipped out 36 days ago? (BTW. Obamacare: 383 days of negotiating/legislating after literally decades of smart people fussing over minute details. TrumpRyanCare: 36 days and quite obviously little-to-no-effort wrestling the Rubik’s Cube of conflicting issues into stasis.)

This would be a joke if it weren’t so sick. After all, this crowd is now “running” everything. And now comes “tax reform.”

Trump’s Red Hat Brigade, hootin’ and hollerin’ at basketball arenas in coal country will continue to believe anything he tells them, as long as he says he’s sticking it to the terrorists and everybody who is getting gubmint services … other than them. But Ryan, a guy who has spent his entire adult life on gubmint payrolls (sweet pension, dude) and arrived in Congress thanks largely to cash from insurance companies, (Northwestern Mutual being Exhibit A) and the financial “services” industry, (and oh yeah, and this trucking dude) has some serious ‘splainin’ to do.

Everyone who can accurately spell “Make America Great Again” knows this Trump/RyanCare health care shtick had almost nothing to do with improving the quality of care Americans get and lowering prices, and everything to do with clawing back the $100 billion a year in taxes Obamacare was sucking out of our valiant job creators/major campaign donors.

Pundits are squalling about how “stupid” it was to “go after health care first”, instead of “tax reform” and “regulatory reform”. (Those last two are hoary code-language for more unfettered profit-taking with much less “redistribution” of wealth.)

But as Ryan very well knows, getting “tax reform”, by which we mean a new round of epic, deficit-blowing George W. Bush-style tax cuts for the plutocrats who keep Ryan in office, is a hell of a lot harder to do without being able to balance things out — marketing-wise — with the $1 trillion (over ten years) in Obamacare “savings.” The numbers just get too ugly too fast.

No doubt Ryan will try, because … well, because he has no other choice. “Tax reform” is, and always is, Issue #1, for “principled conservatives.” The Kochs and the Mercers and everyone else buffing their yachts for cruising season have paid good money to keep Ryan in office and he had damned well better deliver, no matter how ridiculous he sounds explaining the exploding deficit.

He of course has the benefit of  the rubes writing rubber checks for breakfast at Denny’s, because that crowd always thinks Republicans are talking about them when they hear “tax cuts”. But Ryan has to be calculating the fired-up Trump resistance, which is far more energized then it was back in George W.’s day and is smelling blood with this farcically garish “repeal and replace” defeat. Expect a lot of loud, ugly noise about deficits and who gets how much when the “reform” act starts to play.

Also, Trump’s Russia problems are going to get worse, not better, making him of almost no use to Ryan on “tax reform.” Likewise, the big money kids have to be assessing the reality that Trump is proving to be such a lazy and incompetent fool, so compromised by whatever the hell he was doing with the Russians and in so far over his head dealing with professional politicians and bureaucrats, that he can’t be factored as an asset to this coming tax scam.

If I were Ryan I’d be hitting the P90X workout several times a day. He’s going to need every endorphin he can squeeze up to survive the next farce.

Hell, if I were him I’d just hide in the gym.

 

 

Trump in Defeat Will Get More Erratic, Not Less.

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3Among (quite a few) guilty pleasures is “Morning Joe”, MSNBC’s daily pundit Woodstock. Yeah, Joe Scarborough is a putz and a blowhard, and since it’s his name on the show, guests who are actually expert in serious things have to pretend to tolerate his stem-winding rants. But when Scarborough is modulated or (praise lord!) off on vacation, checking in with what “The Circus” boys, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, “legendary” ex-newspaperman Mike Barnicle, etc. is a far better use of my super valuable morning time than the brain gelatinizing insipidness of “The Today Show” or “Good Morning America.”

Lately, ex-CIA and NSA chief Michael Hayden has been getting a lot of airtime. Tuesday morning, coming off FBI Director Jim Comey’s stunning yet-unsurprising revelation that Trump’s campaign has been under investigation since … late July, “Morning Joe’s” assembled deep thinkers were grasping for new and better ways to describe the unprecedentedness (an actual word, I looked it up) of a sitting president, two months in office!, being investigated for colluding (or “coordinating” if you’re Comey) with the friggin’ Russians to rig the election that got him where he is.

But it was Hayden, the old spy hand, who after handing it to the Russians for “the biggest W” in the history of espionage chicanery, posed the question of how this whole Trump-Russia thing began? As an old spy, he said, you always ask if what you’re seeing is the result of “malice or incompetence.”

Here the easy answer of course is, “a little of both.” But we can narrow that a bit. It was a marriage. The Russians brought the malice. Trump supplied the incompetence.

Incompetence, something a majority of voters recognized last November, is now a vivid, permanent reality that even The Wall Street Journal editorial page, akin to a Vatican declamatio to pious conservatives, has come to accept as a fact of life.

Say the cossetted white sages employed by Rupert Murdoch:

“If President Trump announces that North Korea launched a missile that landed within 100 miles of Hawaii, would most Americans believe him? Would the rest of the world? We’re not sure, which speaks to the damage that Mr. Trump is doing to his Presidency with his seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials and other falsehoods. … Two months into his Presidency, Gallup has Mr. Trump’s approval rating at 39%. No doubt Mr. Trump considers that fake news, but if he doesn’t show more respect for the truth most Americans may conclude he’s a fake President.”

It’s that intro that bothers me, because obviously it’s on the minds of anyone seriously watching the astonishing farce being played out hour-to-hour in D.C.. If Trump loses his Obamacare repeal tomorrow it will be a gut punch defeat. He will of course blame Paul Ryan and everyone down to the West Wing cleaning crew for what has been an object lesson in his incompetence and laziness. Is there a single person anywhere who honestly believes he has read or thoroughly educated himself on what Ryan’s six years-long piece of legislation will do? Of course not. All Trump wants is a bill — a victory — he can sign and wave in front of his next Red Cap rally, never mind that his shrieking fans are exactly the people getting the forced colonoscopy.

But to the Journal’s opening line. With the FBI on him, the details of his long Russian canoodle becoming more apparent every day, “health care reform” (insert laugh track here) about to spiral into a fiery grave and his approval rating dropping to George W. Bush levels, it is (very) likely Trump will become more erratic, not less.

So what is a solution to getting the media, Congress and most importantly the Red Cap Brigade to ignore all that “fake” noise and see him as The Great Leader? Well, a war of some kind might do it. And since we’re talking about a guy who only wins, a winnable war. With lots of “shock and awe”, only biglier.

The North Korean scenario is foremost on a lot of peoples’ minds because Kim Jong-un is another guy trapped in a corner, desperate and reckless. It’s another marriage made in hell. But if you need an excuse for distracting fireworks — Re: the latest TSA Homeland Security alert — a bomb on an airplane will do just about as well.

I’ve mentioned this before, because knowing what the intelligence agencies and the Pentagon know about Trump, their response to his pushing the button for military action is by no means a certainty.  Does anyone believe the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the permanent bureaucracies of the CIA and NSA haven’t thoroughly assessed the psychological fitness of their Commander-in-Chief? Are you certain they would comply with an order from … Donald Trump, oft-bankrupt casino developer, reality TV show host and inveterate liar … ordering them to place American troops and possibly the American public in harm’s way?

I’m as cynical as it gets about “aye-aye sir” toadyism and group-think, but I have an extremely hard time imagining characters like Admiral Mike Rogers (NSA) following go-to-war orders on Donald Trump’s say-so.

Trump style incompetence (born out of psychological dysfunction and laziness) may be exactly the grenade the Red Hat Brigade and tribal Republicans who rationalized him as a better choice than “crooked Hillary”, wanted rolled into DC when they pulled the lever for him in November. But I seriously doubt that quality of cynicism applies to the people who have to commit people under their command to possible death.

More to the point. As crazy and ridiculous as Trump-involved political events have been these past two months, it has been notably quiet in terms of international crises. Experience tells you such lulls are always broken.

There Are People Who Know What The Russians Have Been Up To With Trump

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3I’m not so sure “no one knows” what’s going on with Trump and the Russians.

You hear something like that four or five times an hour as pundit-reporters compete to be the most flabbergasted by the latest tweet and revelation from TrumpWorld. But, if there is any credibility to Steve Bannon’s “deep state” paranoia, it strikes me as very-to-highly likely that within the gargantuan US intelligence apparatus there are people, and my guess is they would be senior career professionals, who have a real good idea of the games Trump has been playing with Russians, or to be more precise, games Russians have been playing with Trump.

Over just the past two weeks three separate pieces of reporting have etched a portrait of the Trump reality in clearer detail. None of them can be described as “sound bites.” You’ll need an hour to digest them all. Two have appeared in consecutive issues of the New Yorker and one is a series of posts by Josh Marshall for his site, Talking Points Memo.

“Trump, Putin and the New Cold War” by New Yorker editor David Remnick and two colleagues is a fascinating overview of the populist forces that first Putin and now Trump have very cynically exploited (and in Putin’s case sustained) to grab power. “Donald Trump’s Worst Deal” by the same magazine’s Adam Davidson uses a bizarre development deal in Baku, Azberbaijan to lay out a money-laundering operation involving comically corrupt Azerbaijani officials, Trump and … Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Over at Talking Points Memo, Marshall’s series, zeroing in on Trump’s long-standing, very close association with a strange fringe mob/wannabe spy character named Felix Sater and Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen. Begin, if you’re interested, with, “The Innocent Explanation, Part 1.”

To compress a very broad narrative to its essence, you have this: In the late ’90s and early ’00s Trump was effectively bankrupt and no American bank would do business with him. What he found were Russian oligarchs, newly and fabulously wealthy from mob-style “privatization” in the post-Soviet economy. That crowd needed ways to launder money, and a lot of it. They bought into Trump projects, often at absurdly inflated prices, enriching Trump as their cash got legitimized. As the pattern repeated itself, Trump and family become ever more beholden to their “business partners.”

Now, it is interesting from a media critic perspective to note how little anyone else in the press is playing with this Felix Sater keyhole to Trump’s empire. Sater, as Marshall reveals, not only served prison time for stabbing a guy, Joe Pesci-style, with the broken stem of a wine glass, but has established connections to New York mob families.

It is a long-standing fascination of mind at how the once enormously influential crime families of “Godfather” legend have all but entirely disappeared from media attention, as though they were never anything but a fiction. (Remember, until 1957 J. Edgar Hoover insisted organized crime did not exist in the United States.) The general explanation being that they all went “legitimate” at some point 25-30 years ago and there’s nothing more to see here.

I don’t think so. More likely is that the families figured ways to better launder their criminal earnings and are probably as wealthy today as they’ve ever been.

Whatever, this Felix Sater story is the extraordinarily rare instance when American organized crime reemerges in mainstream reporting. (The New York Times has reported on Sater, but to date has not pressed the connections Marshall has.) On the other hand Russian mobsters are a common subject of conversation. (It’s another form American exceptionalism, you see. We are the only culture in world history exempt from the scourge of organized criminality, and the corruption and violence that comes from it.)

Marshall acknowledges the normal viability of Occam’s Razor — (Definition: “Suppose there exist two explanations for an occurrence. In this case the simpler one is usually better. Another way of saying it is that the more assumptions you have to make, the more unlikely an explanation is.“)

Says Marshall, “The simplest explanation isn’t necessarily the right one. But in the spirit of Occam’s Razor, we should prefer it because it usually will be. To state the key point for clarity and emphasis, it is not the simplest explanation. It it is the simplest explanation which accounts for all the known facts. That distinction makes all the difference in the world.”

I could go on, but the reading list above lays all this out in compelling fashion.

My point, regarding the likelihood of senior people in the permanent government, (the part of the government Steve Bannon wants to “deconstruct”), knowing what all this Russia business is about also has a bit of Occam’s Razor to it.

Specifically, fabulously wealthy Russian oligarchs, essentially organized international criminals, many (but not all) aligned with Vladimir Putin (who is reputed to be one of the wealthiest people in the world thanks to his looting of the Russian economy), would be precisely the people enriching and enabling all sorts of nefarious activity all over the world, including here in the United States. They would therefore be primary targets for US (and allied) intelligence operations, intercepting their communications and monitoring their contacts and money flows.

If they weren’t/aren’t being regularly surveilled it would be an astonishing dereliction of duty on the part of our $80-$100 billion annual intelligence apparatus.

So … here’s the assumption. Senior intelligence people, knowing with very high confidence what Trump has been involved with for years, begin a series of strategic leaks to the media to prod judicial action. After all, enabling by ignoring quasi-to-overtly criminal association with foreign adversaries is diametrically opposed to what they signed up for.

And this is very serious stuff for whoever is leaking. They themselves are risking criminal prosecution. Which is why I find it hard to believe it’s just a few Bartleby the scrivener types buried in the bureaucracy. People like that have essentially no political cover. But further up the chain, where senior officials have personal relations with influential political leaders — from the likes of Diane Feinstein and John McCain and Lindsay Graham, etc. — such a risk becomes more tenable.

In summary, while the pundit press saying “we don’t know” is credible.

But that is not at all the same thing as saying, “No one knows.”

 

 

 

 

Yeah, Kids. It’s “Binary”. Sessions Lied Under Oath

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 2This one is really simple. The top law enforcement official of the United States lied under oath. As all the cool kids are saying these days, “It’s binary.” Yes … or … no. Simple as it gets. No nuance required. And here, as regards Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions the III of the great state of Alabama, the answer is unambiguously, “yes.”

So less than one day after the D.C. punditocracy was wetting itself over Donald Trump “pivoting” to Presidential, we’re whiplashed back into the real reality of, you know, what is really going on. And there’s no plausible equivocating that can be done here.

Sessions, one of the first-in-for-the-Donald members of Congress, and a constant presence throughout the sordid campaign, not only lied in his reply to a question from our own Al Franken, he “volunteered” the lie … abut something that he didn’t have to lie about. (Although the more his standing with the Senate Armed Services Committee is tossed up as an explanation for chatting up the Russian ambassador the more people are stopping to say, “Wait a minute. Chatting up foreign ambassadors is a function of the Foreign Relations Committee, not the one Sessions was on.”

The significance of last night’s news — from both The Washington Post (on Sessions and the Rooskies) and The New York Times (on several foreign governments offering confirmation of Trump associates meetings with Russians in Europe during the campaign) — is that Congressional Republicans are … this close … to the tipping point. The point at which the accumulation of suspicion and evidence is large they have no practical choice other than to agree to an “independent special prosecutor” to investigate — a la Ken Starr — anything and everything related to Trump and the Russians.

Who that special prosecutor would be, who appoints him/her and what level of subpoena power (i.e. into Trump’s taxes) they have remains to be … politicized to hell.

But for now, things are proceeding quite nicely, thank you.

Trump worshippers and toadies will kick up a lot of dust parsing the possible innocence of Sessions’ coziness with the Russian ambassador. But the, uh, unimpeachable fact is that he flat out lied … under oath … to Congress. Just as Bad Old Bill Clinton lied about “not having sex with that woman.” Only this time, we’re not talking about heavy-petting, sort-of-sex in the Oval Office. We’re talking about colluding with the United States’ primary foreign adversary to screw with a Presidential election. Republicans are going to have go deep doo-doo double secret probation tribal to make sex a bigger deal than this, and I have no doubt they will. But as they like to say down in ‘Bama, “That dog don’t hunt.”

Six weeks into the Trump era we’ve already reached the point of needing an extra-Congressional investigation of possibly treasonous activity. (“Treason” being another word that has lost most of its meaning as a result of the constant braying of tri-corner hat-wearing imbeciles.)

Not that I’m surprised, you understand. In fact what surprises me most about the way Sessions, Gen. Flynn before him and the whole Trump team has responded to “the Russian thing” is that it doesn’t seem to have occurred to any of these deep thinkers that it is the business of the NSA, the CIA, the DIA and on and on as well the MI5 in Britain and every other allied intelligence agency to monitor meetings and calls and communications with people close to Vladimir Putin. In fact … wait for it … it’s precisely what we pay billions of dollars a year for them to do.

So, I don’t know if, “Dem boys ain’t too bright” is another ol’ ‘Bama sayin’. But it sure fits this crowd.

Who Knew [Insert Issue] Was So Complicated?

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 2Personally, I too was gobsmacked to learn that our World’s Greatest Health Care System is, “so complicated.” What’s next? Quantum physics can’t be explained on a 4×6 note card?

The revelation that washed over His Orangeness the other day, that he or Steve Bannon, can’t order “it” done, without explaining what “it” is, fits an already familiar pattern. Bold promises of bold action meets, damn it all anyway, the real world. The real world where people a lot smarter than either of them, with much more experience in specific disciplines, not too mention entire careers they want to protect, react to “boldness” with expressions of incredulity and, yeah, skilled resistance.

Then, aside from that already familiar pattern there’s the matter of … not wearing ourselves out while reality and resistance beats this new White House crowd like the proverbial herd of rented mules.

My growing concern, based on conversations with friends and family over the past couple months, is that our expressions of stunned dismay, outrage and vilification don’t take more of toll on us than Team Trump. We are the people who want to defeat and survive The Know Nothing Pitchfork Revolution.

What I’m hearing too much of are exercises in what you might call “competitive anxiety”. One person, rightfully horrified at the latest “who knew it’d be so complicated” tweet from Trump, or Goebbels-like assertion from Stephen Miller, (“the President’s authority will not be challenged”) goes off on a rant about the stupidity and horror of this stuff. In response the next person twists the dial from “7” to “8”, the next from “8” to “9” and pretty soon, you guessed it, the amps are blasting at full “11”.

On one level it’s cathartic and bonding. We’re all pissed and full of righteous, well-informed indignation. We didn’t pay attention in school, do our homework, pass tests, acquire adult skills and behave in a (mostly) conscientious manner all these years just to watch a collection of cynical hucksters take over the country by playing the chumps for chumps (with the enormous assistance of tribal Republicans — i.e. 53% of white women — for whom there is an even deeper level of hell.)

“Putting up with it” is not in our vocabulary, and why should it?

My point here is the need to individually monitor our acidic juices. There is a point beyond which all this indignation compounds the misery. Most of us, the majority of voters disgusted by what Trump represents, are encouraged by the level of resistance throwing flames on his recklessness and stupidity. This is something new and intensely gratifying. An insurgency of the informed! All hail!

But how about practice a form of therapeutic compartmentalization, if we can? If Trump-rage spills out over every other facet of our lives, kind of like the terrorists, he wins. More to the point, individual energies are limited. There’s only so much raging and grand displays of principled contempt any person can heave up before they’re too sapped to fight what is not going to be a quick war.

Even if a videotape of Trump and Putin and a dozen Russian hookers colluding to rig the election was televised tomorrow, it’d be well over a year or more before this debacle of American Berlusconi-ism reached a conclusion. (Do you think the hardened Trumpists clogging Florida airplane hangars care that much if the election was rigged? He has a base line of support that Nixon never had.)

There is a facet of our cultural psychology that rewards overt self-dramatization. (I blame the Kardashians). They who best and most frequently display emotional injury and stress receive a disproportionate share of available attention. Their particularly self-focused displays of concern have the effect of convincing others that they are the only ones taking this crisis seriously. There’s a unique status that comes with being the most stressed-out person in the room.

So to friends, family and allies: There’s plenty of fight to be had. It’s not going to be over anytime soon. If survival is part of the end game, let’s run regular checks on our personal levels of humor and sanity in response to the abundant stupidity and fraud.

 

The Big Difference Between Town Halls of 2009 and Today

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3One teeny, tiny thing missing from news coverage and punditry about Republicans and the their difficulties with the First Amendment at town halls is the matter of … actual, real facts.

Every news report about GOP representatives meeting constituents — in a public place, not check-writers at swank lawn parties — makes a point of comparing this eruption to what occurred over Obamacare in 2009. And yeah, it looks about the same. Pretty angry people, packed into an auditorium shrieking at some schlub who always looks like he/she’d rather be somewhere else. Like at a swank lawn party with polite people telling him/her how much they love them.

To date though I haven’t heard anyone dare say that while one group actually knows what they’re talking about the other was operating on ginned-up hysteria over set of unknowns and laughable misinformation. Specifically with regards to Obamacare, the program exists. That is what people in my country call a “fact.” People today know what it does and what it doesn’t. When they scream at some Congressman, most of who have been ranting and voting to repeal the law outright for seven years, they are operating on a foundation of factual reality.

Not so in 2009 when the other raging horde was bellowing about “death panels” and “socialism” and, my personal favorite, “the gubmint getting in between me and my doctor”, without ever acknowledging that some gargantuan, wealthier-than-God-himself insurance company was already in between them and their doctor sucking up so much space and air no piddly “gubmint” was ever going seriously compete for their health care dollar, (if they weren’t already on Medicaid). It was (yet another) fascinating explosion of viral, know-nothing conservatism. Not, you understand, that folks who know nothing and fear everything a smarty pants black liberal thinks is a good idea don’t have the right to rant and holler, too.

Today though, the people doing the yelling actually know quite a lot. They know how Obamacare works, at least for them. They also know for an absolute fact the people they’re yelling at did nothing to set it up or get it right and everything to sabotage it … without bothering even for minute to think hard enough to devise a replacement over the course of seven long years. They also know, off topic, that Donald Trump has not released his taxes, that he has a weird fondness for Vladimir Putin, that the Russians hacked into our election system and that our immigration system is still a mess, mainly because the same guys who they’re screaming at about Obamacare, have resisted every plan to improve immigration policy too, even the one George W. Bush tossed up.

There’s also the question of who whipped each group into its respective frenzy? True, 2009 liberals saw the Koch brothers behind every red-faced, “I don’t need no damned Obamacare, I got the emergency room” ranter. As though the Kochs themselves were robo-calling Red America warning them about some heinous gubmint plan to kill granny rather than treat her bunions.

The reality of that era was the match that lit the fuse to the crowds of 2009 came from their everyday, go-to source for entertainment and information — talk radio, FoxNews and fact-free websites, this being before we used phrases like “fake news.” As is their wont, the crowds of 2009 listened to and ingested hour after hour of fact-free, rabble-rousing bullshit and then went roaring off into the night to rant about “death panels” and “socialism” at the guy/gal standing on the stage, often in the precise words as their intellectual mentors on TV and radio.

There is no qualitative comparison to what the Jason Chaffetz (that oily little bleep), Mitch McConnell and Tom Emmer are hearing today. Town hall combatants today know that killing off Obamacare completely means no more coverage for pre-existing conditions. And, big issue here, that whacking the individual mandate means you, Mr./Ms. Republican representative of “the people” then have no way to pay for everything else. (Of course let’s remember that to 30% of America The Affordable Care Act is not so bad, but Obamacare, now that is the friggin’ devil’s work).

Point being, the difference between 2017 and 2009 is a yawning chasm between empirical reality and flat-out, fact-free partisan hysteria.

I repeat: There is little-to-no comparison of the level of factual literacy in the two eruptions.

Not that anyone in the press wants to say that too loudly.

 

 

President Nickelback

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3A couple years ago, horrified at the thought Nickelback, (aka “The Worst Rock Band in the World”*) would touch down in the United Kingdom, a guy started a petition to keep them out. Now it’s Donald Trump. Similarities abound.

Those of you who have either never heard of Nickelback or been exposed to one of their “songs” are the lucky ones. Kind of like what happens when you Google “Rick Santorum”, the “Nickelback” search field is populated with unflattering references. A review in The Guardian says, “Canadian rockers Nickelback aren’t universally popular. Some 55,000 American football fans once signed a petition to attempt to stop them playing at half time. A dating website has voted their music the No 1 “musical turn-off”. In a particularly low moment, Nickelback haters set up a Facebook page to demonstrate that a pickled cucumber could get more fans. … Their lyrics flirt with misogyny, and women are routinely depicted as ‘naughty’ or strippers. You become thankful for small mercies, like when Kroeger tells a ‘dirty little lady with the pretty pink thong’ that she ‘looks much cuter with something in your mouth”, it turns out he’s referring to her thumb’.”

Other classic Nickelback anthems: “Something In Your Mouth,” “I’d Come for You,” and “S.E.X.”

And now the Brits, the people who taught us our manners if you believe “Masterpiece Theater” are debating whether to ban … the President of the United States from soiling Jolly Olde with his Nickelbackian presence. Specifically, the House of Commons had a very long and loud set-to over the weekend about rescinding an invitation conservative, pro-Brexit Prime Minister Theresa May extended seven days after His Orangeness was in office.

Said The Guardian, “The debate, which took place in Westminster Hall, was prompted by the petition signed by 1.8m people saying Trump should be denied a state visit and it was opened by the Labour MP Paul Flynn who, in a wide-ranging attack, described Trump’s intellect as ‘protozoan’.” And, “… Flynn said that only two US presidents had been accorded a state visit to Britain in more than half a century and it was ‘completely unprecedented’ that Trump had been issued his within seven days of his presidency. Flynn – who started the debate because he is on the petitions committee – said Trump would hardly be silenced by the invitation being rescinded, accusing him of a ‘ceaseless incontinence of free speech’. Asked by Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green party, if Trump’s views on climate science should also be taken into account, Flynn responded that the president had shown ‘cavernous depths of scientific ignorance’ on the issue.”

Damn, but the Brits get off some good lines.

The expectation is that one way or another, with The Queen or without her, Trump will land in Britain sometime later this year, if only because pro-Brexit conservatives need to firm up their economic bona fides with someone, now that they’ve pissed off most of the rest of the European Union. (It has not escaped notice that The Queen has previously hosted the likes of Nicolae Ceausescu, a dictator of Stalinesque depravity),

But Trump will go to Britain because … also like Nickelback, which has sold over 50 million records and will be the opening night act at the Minnesota State Fair the summer … Trump is popular with “a small majority”, (key word: “majority”) of Brits, people, surveys show, convinced open border immigration is polluting the essence of Britain.

My point here is, I guess, limited and obvious. No matter how reviled by wordsmith music critics, an act like Nickelback is giving an enormous audience exactly what it wants, which is, as I always like to say, The First Rule Of Show Biz. The crassness of it, the swinish vulgarity of it, the shameless artlessness of it, the misogyny, the … well, you can fill in the rest … is not only not off-putting to the ears and minds of Nickelback’s fans … it is damn near exactly what they want, and have wanted now for 22 years.

People proud of their cultured tastes, people whose critical antennae are tuned to discern unimaginative pandering in guitar licks and drumming, and irony-free lechery in lyrics, could do worse than keep Nickelback’s enduring commercial success in mind as they calculate Trump’s “inevitable” implosion.

Now, to the best of my knowledge Nickelback has not been fed life-saving loans by Russian gangster/oligarchs or colluded with a murderous dictator to undermine the popularity of a better band, like say Pearl Jam. Nor are currently under investigation by the FBI. So the comparison falls apart on that score.

But … writing about Nickelback’s success for The New Yorker, Ian Crouch concluded by saying, “… to be hated is to be something. And to be hated by an army of anxious, élitist, Pitchfork-reading coastal snobs may be enough of a foundation on which to build an enduring fan base in the shrunken marketplace of the digital age. I think that [lead singer Chad] Kroeger is probably right that the haters have made Nickelback stronger, in that they have given what had been a bland, soft-metal, post-grunge band the outsider, bad-ass edge that it had always projected but never earned. As an old saying goes, ‘To be loved is to be fortunate, but to be hated is to achieve distinction’.”

Make of that what you will.

*An “alternative fact”.