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

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

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

And that it directly affects Al Franken.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

From “Clinton Cash” to The Comey Letter

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3Whatever happens Tuesday — and I’m confident Donald Trump will lose (the election, but not his perch as guru of modern Republicans) — The Comey Letter has entered permanent historical legend. The FBI Director’s decision to drop a hand grenade into presidential politics will be studied and argued over for decades. Did it swing the final vote? Did it drive down turn out? Was it a vital element in swaying down ballot votes to Republicans?

Don’t expect any definitive answers on any of those, ever.

What will be easier to assess is the internal culture of the FBI. Since Comey’s letter was leaked eight days ago we have learned, through actual reporting, not cheap punditry, that the FBI, particularly retired agents associated with the New York field office, have been in rebellion mode for quite some time and that Comey had “concerns” (i.e. we was afraid) they would further undermine his authority by leaking their “evidence” of serious corruption on the part of the Clintons to Republicans. Hence, his decision to alert Congress that the FBI had something more on the great Clinton email scandal … without actually yet having anything or even knowing if there was ever going to be anything.

But here’s my favorite part. That FBI culture. As the story has accumulated detail over the past week (with more certain to come) we see the FBI having essentially the same internal dynamics as the average police force, most of the military and the bedrock of Trump’s support. Namely, it’s an overwhelmingly male universe with a militaristic attitude toward perceived enemies, which is to say, “If they’re not on our side, they’re against us and need to be neutralized.”

From the Politico story linked above: “According to numbers from August, 67 percent of FBI agents are white men. Fewer than 20 percent are women. The number of African-American agents hovers around 4.5 percent, with Asian-Americans about the same and Latinos at about 6.5 percent. If Trump were running for president with an electorate that looked like that, he’d win in a landslide. ‘The bureau does tend to be more conservative than people you see in the general populace. It’s a natural outgrowth of the demographics. … That’s just math,’, said retired agent Emmanuel Johnson, one of several African-American agents who sued the FBI for racial discrimination in the 1990s. ‘What’s troubling is you look at the same population groups they were having trouble [recruiting] 20, 30, 40 years ago and they’re having the same trouble today’.”

Despite being better educated and better trained than your average say Chicago or St. Anthony, Minnesota cop, the picture of the FBI revealed as a result of Comey’s letter is that of yet another group of public employees roiling with the same antipathies and hostilities of a lot of middle-age and older mostly white American males. A subset of the population eager to embrace as fact anything that confirms their righteous, embattled protectors-of-God’s-one-truth view that the only explanation for the expansion of liberal ideas, from Black Lives Matter, to ethnic tolerance to genuine equality for women is … corruption … on the part of the most prominent and successful liberals on the landscape, the Clintons*.

The head-slapper in reporting on the FBI New York field office was the basis of their outrage over the (liberal Obama) Justice Department’s refusal to launch a DefCon Four attack the Clinton Foundation. Multiple sources says it was a book, “Clinton Cash” written by Republican think-tanker/consultant Peter Schweizer. The book comes with a gloss the usual anti-Clinton screeds lack. Schweizer is associated with the Stanford-based Hoover Institute. But he is also associated/funded by the Koch brothers and Steve Bannon, CEO of the truly unhinged Breitbart website and Trump’s current campaign supervisor. The Bannon-produced campanion movie was widely mocked as a howler of overwrought distortion.

Said TIME magazine: “The film carefully curates reality in way to boost anti-Clinton voices. For instance, discussion of Bill Clinton’s role in post-2010 Haiti earthquake completely ignores that George W. Bush also helped raise cash in the wake of the disaster, nor does it acknowledge that one character, the founder of Canadian TD Bank’s sister corporation, TD Ameritrade, also funded Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s super PAC. The film doesn’t mention other reasons why Hillary Clinton may have made particular decisions, leaving the viewer with a narrow understanding. And it blurs the line between Bill and Hillary Clinton’s actions, treating them as essentially the same person.

“Visually and sonorously, the film more closely resembles a Bond film, with pictures of the Clintons and their associates stained with blood-like red ink. At other times, the film suggests that checkbooks are filled with blood money. And the music that plays over grainy images of the Clintons—and mushroom clouds—matches. It won’t win an Oscar for subtlety, but it makes a point.”

This sort of thing is standard politics, something the Clintons are well accustomed to. What’s different is when the FBI starts treating flagrantly partisan hysteria-mongering as though it were actual evidence. (As usual, the “full story” can’t be told until the Clintons are “properly investigated”, never mind the 25 years the same crowd has been investigating — with persistent futility — everything from Arkansas land deals to cattle-futures trading.)

Schweizer’s book got more than average play in the mainstream press, likely due to the enormous lift it was given by right-wing radio, which treated it and hyped it to its audience (of primarily middle-aged-to-elderly white males) as a cross between the Codex Seraphinianus and the Bible.

Again, that’s democracy and free speech. Hysterical insinuation comes with the territory. What’s bad news — really bad news for the credibility of the FBI and the trust the public puts in it — is when people hired and trained to deal with hard evidence, demonstrable, provable facts, shuck all that, revolt against the system they’ve sworn to uphold and force a nervous, insecure boss into breaking standards observed even by a cross-dressing whack job like J. Edgar Hoover.

*Only in 2016’s Breitbart/TReaParty hysteria would the Clintons be considered “liberals”.