Category Archives: Political Crack

The Bland Bespectacled Bomb Thrower

Attorney General Bill Barr is so ordinary looking that he’d never stand out in a crowd. As a witness, he speaks softly and occasionally mumbles his responses. As a public speaker, he’s as charismatic as Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State Warren Christopher who looked as if he stepped out of a coffin.  Barr is as dull as a lawyer can be until you closely examine his words: then you realize that he’s a bland bespectacled bomb thrower.

In front of House Judiciary Committee, Barr stuck to the basics of his cover-up line, which involves deflection, misdirection, and kicking the can down the road for as long as possible. In the friendly confines of Lindsey Graham’s committee, Barr sounded like a spokesman for the Freedom Caucus. I almost expected him to morph into Jim Jordan just like Bruce Banner transforms into the Hulk. Barr smash.

Given Barr’s background in intelligence, he knows how inflammatory the word spying is. He crawfished on the usage later but his work was done. The Attorney General of the United States has given the green light to wingnut conspiracy nuts everywhere. I think former Clinton-Gore-Biden-Obama aide Ron Klain put it best:

Klain is a Democratic utility infielder: he was also Chief Counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee and Attorney General Janet Reno’s Chief of Staff, so he knows the DOJ and how it’s supposed to work. This isn’t it.

Not only does Barr sound like a conspiracy buff, he sounds like a spokesman for the Trump re-election campaign. Their goal is to confuse the issues surrounding the Trump scandals and to discredit the Mueller Report when Barr finally gets around to releasing even a redacted version.

Barr’s testimony was all about placating the president* and the red hat set. There was no spying, only an authorized FBI counterintelligence probe.

The bland bespectacled bomb thrower is a throwback Attorney General. Before Watergate, it was not unusual for campaign managers to become Attorney Generals. On the good side, there were Robert Kennedy and Herbert Brownell who was Ike’s top legal eagle and the leading advocate of Civil Rights in that administration. On the dark side, there were Tricky Dick’s law partner John Mitchell and Harding’s venal AG, Harry Daugherty. That’s why I don’t want to hear that Barr’s conduct is unprecedented. It doesn’t make it any better but it’s not.

I like how never Trump Republican and all-around smart ass, Rick Wilson, described Barr:

William Barr’s tone was calm, but his agenda was clear: His job is to protect Donald Trump, no matter the prerogatives of Congress or any consideration of the rule of law. Bill Barr is not the attorney general of the United States. He is the Roy Cohn whom The Donald has craved since become president; an attorney general who sees his duty as serving Trump.

<SNIP>

Barr exudes just enough of the comforting style of the Washington insider to quiet the fears of many in the House and Senate. He comes across as pedestrian and legalistic, bordering on dull, but he’s the most dangerous man in America.

That’s why I called Barr a bland bespectacled bomb thrower. He’s there to help the Kaiser of Chaos foment, uh, chaos, not to the serve the public interest. Repeat after me: this is horrible but not unprecedented.

In other scandal news, the cover-up has spread to the Treasury Department. Mnuchin the Moocher is dragging his heels on turning over Trump’s taxes. He’s not supposed to have a role in this: it’s up to the IRS commissioner. The Moocher has tried kicking the can over to the DOJ but they don’t have a role in this either. The law is clear as it uses the mandatory shall, not might or maybe. The Moocher’s inaction could even put him in legal jeopardy. He should be careful: he’d look shitty in an orange jump suit.

I keep hoping that we’ll wake up and discover that the Trump regime was just a bad dream. Unfortunately, life isn’t like the series finale of St. Elsewhere. The nightmare is real.

Charles Blow On Political Folk Heroes

Donald Trump and Edwin Edwards in 1993. Photo via the Advocate.  

The Op-Ed page of the Failing New York Times gets a lot of abuse. While some of it is deserved, everyone should remember that Paul Krugman, Michelle Goldberg, Jamelle Bouie, and Charles Blow dispense wit and wisdom in their NYT columns. My focus today is on the man with the swell name, Charles Blow. The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind…

Mr. Blow is from the Gret Stet of Louisiana. He was born and raised in Gibsland in Bienville Parish and graduated from Grambling State University. He occasionally writes about his mother who still resides in Louisiana. He done it again in one of his most original and insightful columns thus far: Trumpism Extols Its Folk Hero.

Mr. Blow posits that, among the suckers who have fallen hardest for the con, Donald Trump has morphed from mere mortal to a legendary figure, a folk hero. For those of us who are immune to his snake oily charm, he’s an anti-hero.

Mr. Blow uses his mother’s affection for, and support of, 4 term Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards as an example of how a political folk hero can mesmerize their fans:

My mother is a devout Democrat, but also one of the most socially conservative people I know. This is typical of our home state of Louisiana among black citizens — they can be as conservative as any Republican, but are also completely convinced, by dint of history and experience, that the Republican Party not only abides racists, it courts them, and therefore they would die rather than vote red.

My mother is so austere that she never drank or partied in any way, except for the one time she told me that she went to a nightclub and tried a drink. She didn’t much like the dingy space or the bitter beverage, so she swore them both off.

She abhorred the showy, deeming it vulgar, so every single article of clothing in her closet was white, black, brown or navy blue. Red? Yellow? Green? God forbid.

And she was unshakable in her sense of moral rectitude, viewing sins like lying, gambling and philandering as absolute corruptions of character.

And yet, through my time growing up there and going to college there, she took a devilish pride in enthusiastically supporting and voting for the four-term Democratic governor, Edwin Edwards, a cocksure, gambling womanizer who would end up in federal prison in 2002 for bribery and extortion.

On the surface, it doesn’t make sense that my mother, who thought herself a moralist, would find a champion in a flaunting immoralist, but she did as did many other Louisiana voters. And I believe this was possible because Edwards achieved something that few politicians achieve: He transcended the political, and on some level even the rules of the workaday world, and entered the astral league of folk heroes.

The rules don’t apply to the folk hero. People don’t measure them by the same tape. Behavior that people would never condone in their personal lives, they relish in the folk hero.

Sorry for that epic quote but it’s too well-constructed to cut. Charles’ writing does not blow. And unlike the president* he’s not a blowhard.

Mr. Blow goes on to apply the rules of folk heroism to the Insult Comedian. I agree with his analysis as it explains the irrational, cult-like devotion to Trump among his shrinking base. I disagree, however, with his conclusion:

Anti-Trump forces must stop operating as if they are doing battle with a liar; they are doing battle with what his supporters have fashioned into a legend. How does one fight a fiction, a fantasy? That’s the question. Its answer is the path to America’s salvation.

What we have to do is to ignore hardcore Trumpers who are no more than 25-30% of likely voters. Trying to convert them is a waste of time: they’re fantasists who believe what they want to believe, which is that the Kaiser of Chaos is making America great again. They’re low information voters, trying to convert one’s crazy uncle who watches Fox News is futile. Shorter Adrastos: Fuck them.

A reminder that the GOP lost the midterms by 9 points nationally. Democrats need to keep our base as well as disaffected suburban voters mobilized and ready for action in 2020. If we do that, Trump will lose. Repeat after me: Trump’s only path to victory is to destroy his opponent. Believe me.

Pondering Charles Blow’s name has given me an earworm. The last word goes to McKinley Morganfield:

Nielsen Cancelled

Remember when important political developments rarely happened on the weekend? It wasn’t long ago but the Current Occupant must be the center of attention at all times. It’s exhausting, y’all.

Sunday’s big news was the resignation of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. I would call her the latest Trump dignity wraith but she lost whatever dignity she once had by serving as Team Trump’s point person on immigration.

Nielsen leaves behind a legacy of shame. Caging babies, then lying about it was her modus operandi. Nielsen’s apologists claim that she restrained Trump from doing even worse, more extreme things but who gives a shit? The things she did were bad enough; some of which may have risen to the level of genocide. Things invariably get worse with each change in Trump regime policy and personnel, especially where immigration is concerned. Shit, meet fan.

President* Trump may be the man without  a plan but White House aide Stephen Miller has one. And he’s carrying it out by engaging in a purge at DHS. Just what we needed: this crypto-Fascist in charge of our immigration system, and the Secret Service to boot.

Nielsen’s apologists  tell us that she was a bureaucratic technocrat. So was Adolf Eichmann who was also adept at caging human beings. The “just following orders” defense didn’t work for him and it shouldn’t work for her.

Stephen Miller is in charge of the immigration system: Shit, meet fan.

Saturday Odds & Sods: Don’t Get Me Started

My Brother Imitating Scherzo by Andre Kertesz

New Orleans is a city of extremes. We do everything in an outlandish fashion and that includes the weather. I’ve been bitching about the pollen and the need for rain for months, but when it finally rained, it was a deluge. There are times when moderation is a virtue but it’s hard to find in this town. Oh well, you know what they say: “April showers bring the flowers that bloom in May.”

Traffic cameras have been one of the main topics of conversation locally.  Mayor Cantrell campaigned against them. She seems to have changed her mind as well as the rules governing them in school zones. The speed limit is 20 MPH but the city used to cut motorists some slack and didn’t issue tickets to folks within 5 MPH of the limit. They changed the rules without informing the public, which resulted in an angry debate on social media once the cat got out of the proverbial bag. Nobody likes paying $75 for going 3 MPH over the limit, after all.  This debate beats the hell outta talking about murders, mayhem, and the price of Jazz Fest tickets. Btw, the band whose latest iteration I call Finnwood Mac is replacing the Stones at Jazz Fest.

This week’s theme song was written by Rodney Crowell for his 2005 album, The Outsider. Don’t Get Me Started is something I find myself saying frequently in the Trump era. Don’t get me started about Herman Cain on the Fed, y’all:

Now that we’ve shared a rockin’ rant, let’s jump to the break or is that break to the jump? I hope break dancing isn’t involved: I’m not flexible enough to spin about on the ground. I leave such gyrations to young Paul Drake and the dude in the Andre Kertesz photograph above.

Continue reading

The Man Without A Plan

The Insult Comedian continues to flail, wail, and fail. My favorite recent moment was his “threat” to close the border, which almost no one took seriously. The Trump base likes their guacamole and tequila as much as the rest of us. As always, Trump caved and issued a “one-year warning” instead. I somehow doubt that President Obrador aka Amlo was shaking in his boots. It was non-starter from the git-go.

It’s time for a reminder that Trump is the man without a plan. He wings it, improvises, and pulls stuff out of thin air. The only plan he has is to distract attention from evidence of his criminality.

An excellent example of Trump’s inability to plan ahead is the Mar-a-Lago mishigas. I suspect the Secret Service knew early on that it was an insecure location since anyone with an extra $200K can buy a membership and proximity to Trumpberius. The word seems to have spread in China that this is the way to get to Trump. A man with a plan would have had one to make the so-called Southern White House more secure. But who needs security when everyone loves you? #Sarcasm

My other favorite recent Trump gambit is his threat to nominate Herman Cain to the Fed. Isn’t Stephen Moore bad enough? A WaPo headline describes the Cain gambit as a plan but you know what  I think about that. Trump is the man without plan.

Another area that Trump’s chronic inability to plan seems to be infected is his re-election campaign. Here’s a Gabriel Sherman quote from the Hive that has people buzzing:

The prospect of damaging Mueller revelations is particularly alarming to advisers who worry the president’s 2020 re-election campaign is in “disarray,” according to three Republicans close to the White House. “There’s no brain trust,” a former West Wing official said. Campaign manager Brad Parscale, a social-media consultant with no political experience prior to Trump’s 2016 campaign, is struggling to exert control over the operation and reverse Trump’s upside-down poll numbers with women voters, sources said. “The polling is very bad. They’re going to have a big problem with female voters,” a Republican who’s been briefed on the internal numbers said. According to a source, Parscale told Trump over the weekend of March 16 that he could improve his standing with women if he dialed back the tweeting. Trump responded with a tweetstorm the following day that included an attack on the late Senator John McCain and a retweet of a user who had promoted the QAnon conspiracy. “Brad went to him and Trump’s response was like 40 tweets,” the source said.

I’d call it a brainless trust, especially since Sherman goes on to state that Trump Junior and Slumlord Jared will really run the campaign. Another gift from the president* to the resistance. Thanks, Trumpy.

Here’s my oddball 2020 prediction. Not long ago, former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld announced that he was challenging Trump for the GOP nomination. It got very little attention but Weld is just the sort of candidate they love in New Hampshire. Do I think he can win? No, but he could attract enough votes to make Trump tweet 40 times after the primary. Remember: Pat Buchanan got 37% of the vote against Poppy Bush in 1992. It’s true that Trump is Buchanan-like but they love protest candidates in the Granite state. And Weld is for legal weed. Party on, Bill.

Trump’s inability to plan is one reason I call him the Kaiser of Chaos. I’m unsure of the “oranges” of this problem but it may have something to do with a rebellion against his father’s grandfather’s homeland. Germans like to plan, y’all.

The last word (image?) goes to Michael F with his marvelous Trump as upper class twit of the year image from last week:

Cover-Up In Plain Sight

We’ve entered a new phase in the war of the Trump scandals. Previously, it was like a series of air strikes. This week, it’s akin to hand-to-hand, house-by-house combat: think the Red Army in Berlin at the end of World War II. House committees have issued subpoenas for the Mueller Report, Trump’s taxes, and financial records. The House has not only crossed “the red line” they’ve hurdled it like Evel Knievel in his heyday. That may sound overly dramatic but I don’t think I jumped the shark. Team Trump, however, may have done so.

You know the worm has turned when the previously tight-lipped members of Team Mueller talk to the media. Both the WaPo and Failing New York Times have published reports of their consternation over the 4 page epistle from Trump’s handpicked Attorney General. They’re outraged that 22 months of hard work has been reduced to spin by Bill Barr. Here’s the lede of the NYT piece:

Some of Robert S. Mueller III’s investigators have told associates that Attorney General William P. Barr failed to adequately portray the findings of their inquiry and that they were more troubling for President Trump than Mr. Barr indicated, according to government officials and others familiar with their simmering frustrations.

The WaPo’s sources were less tentative but expressed the same frustration. It’s good to see that both papers have moved away from their initial acceptance of Barr’s “conclusions” but neither is willing to use the term cover-up. That’s what this is. It’s no less pernicious because it’s happening in plain sight. It’s worse.

Covering-up is what Bill Barr does. Beneath the owlish exterior and thick glasses, lurks a lawyer with extreme views on executive power. He’ll never be straightforward enough to quote Tricky Dick’s aphorism but he surely agrees with it:

This is not Bill Barr’s first cover-up rodeo. He was behind the mass Iran-Contra pardons issued in the waning days of Poppy Bush’s administration. It was so blatant that even former Nixon aide and conservative NYT columnist William Safire objected, calling Barr the “Cover-up General.” Safire, of course, moved on to the Clinton scandals and Barr returned to the private sector before emerging like a seedy Icarus to attempt to rescue the tawdry Trump regime.

Team Trump has vowed to fight against any and all encroachments on their executive powers. It will delay their day of reckoning but they’re more likely than not to lose court battles. Just wait until they claim that Trump’s tax forms and those of his nefarious web of LLCs are covered by executive privilege. That will get laughed out of any courtroom in the land.

The question that everyone should ask about the Mueller Report is a simple yet profound one. If it “totally exonerates” the Insult Comedian, why is he opposed to its release? To put it in terms that the president* would understand: no exoneration, no exoneration, no exoneration.

Today On Adrastos’ Obsession With Robert Caro

Regular readers of Saturday Odds & Sods are already aware of my Robert Caro obsession. I usually like post to pieces about and by him there. I thought it was time to let my inner fan boy shine on a school day. I don’t have an apple for the teacher but I do have some unsyrupy thoughts about Caro.

I first heard about Robert Caro from a Gore Vidal review of The Power Broker. I read the book and was enthralled by this, unknown to me, story. As a baseball history buff, I was particularly interested to learn that Robert Moses was one of the reasons the Dodgers left Brooklyn. Walter O’Malley had an inner city Brooklyn site in mind for a new ballpark that would be accessible to public transit. Moses wanted a more car-friendly location and insisted that the Dodgers move to the site where Shea Stadium was later built. O’Malley moved the team to Los Angeles instead.

One of the reasons I’m so drawn to Caro’s magisterial Years of Lyndon Johnson series is that he’s such a great storyteller. Who else would talk to LBJ’s high school and college friends as a way of illuminating his style as a politician? A typical biographer/reporter would talk only to the “important people.” I was raised to believe that how one treats the “little people” is more revealing of one’s character. Caro gets that as did David Halberstam before him.

Anyway, Robert Caro recently sat for an interview with David Marchese for the New York Times Magazine. I was particularly interested in how he used Georgia Senator Richard Russell to explain the South and Civil Rights:

So there’s this character, Senator Richard Russell. He’s fascinating because he’s so smart, he’s so learned. In foreign affairs he’s like a consul of Rome. He sees the whole world, you know? But he’s this son of a bitch.

And a racist. Yes. Here’s how I boiled that book down: I said that two things come together. It’s the South that raises Johnson to power in the Senate, and it’s the South that says, “You’re never going to pass a civil rights bill.” So to tell that story you have to show the power of the South and the horribleness of the South, and also how Johnson defeated the South. I said, “I can do all that through Richard Russell,” because he’s the Senate leader of the South, and he embodies this absolute, disgusting hatred of black people. I thought that if I could do Russell right, I wouldn’t have to stop the momentum of the book to give a whole lecture on the South and civil rights. What I’m trying to say is that if you can figure out what your book is about and boil it down into a couple of paragraphs, then all of a sudden a mass of other stuff is much simpler to fit into your longer outline.

Caro declined to be drawn into a discussion of the Trump presidency*. I’m glad: I want him to live to publish the final book in the LBJ series. Discussing Trump is bad for one’s health. Believe me.

While running a search on the NYT web site, I learned that late night funnyman Conan O’Brien shares my obsession with Robert Caro. His dream as a chat show host is to have Caro as a guest. I can’t  resist posting the full NYT link because the image is such a hoot:

Here’s one of many money quotes from the Conan piece:

Mr. O’Brien was insistent that Mr. Caro’s team has been nothing but polite in sending its regrets. In fact, a few years ago, Mr. O’Brien received a signed copy of “The Path to Power” with the inscription: “To Conan O’Brien. From A Fan — Robert A. Caro.”

The gift only confused matters.

“It just cracks me up,” Mr. O’Brien said. “It’s like the White Whale writing Ahab a note, saying, ‘Hey, man. We’ve got to get together. I’m a fan!’”

So, Mr. Caro, be well and finish that book. When it’s done, cut Coco some slack and grant him an interview. Then I can write a post titled When Caro Met Coco.

UPDATE: A pox on me for not googling Caro + Conan. I missed a piece in Vulture wherein we learn that Coco’s dream will come true later this month. Thanks to Mr. Cosmic Ray for the correction.

Tweet Of The Day: Dementia Edition

Donald Trump is a horrible person with whom it’s hard to empathize. Those without empathy receive little in return. I’m not a doctor, but yesterday he showed  clear signs of age-related mental decline. He clearly intended to denounce the “origins” of the Mueller but instead said “oranges.” On one level it was funny given that his own skin color resembles Kraft singles after spending time on the White House tanning bed. However, when one remembers that there’s a family history of dementia, it’s not as amusing.

Then there’s the matter of his latest mantra: “I’m very normal.” Like such past hits as “I have a very good brain” this is not something that one says if one is really normal. The First Creep is getting creepier by the moment.

That brings me to the tweet of the day. It comes from Media Matters editor at large Parker Molloy. Embedded therein is a series of clips showing how Trump’s speech patterns and cognitive functions have declined since 1988:

Donald Trump has *always* been a horrible person but he used to be a coherent horrible person instead of the rambling wreck he is in 2019. It’s hard not to be even more alarmed that he’s the Current Occupant. The people close to him are even worse than Trump himself: they’re using his power to enrich and empower themselves while ignoring signs of dementia. Come on down, Javanka.

We’ve had other presidents who experienced mental or physical declines in office; most notably Ronald Reagan. BUT we’ve never had such a vicious and vengeful man surrounded by sycophants. No wonder Rod Rosenstein talked about invoking the 25th Amendment. It’s a pity that he had neither the authority nor the will power to follow through on his loose talk. This is one ship that deserves to be sunk by loose lips.

The Trump regime is going to get worse before it goes. Trump’s mental decline makes that inevitable. It looks as if the voters are going to have to remove him at the ballot box. Let’s choose our nominee wisely. There’s a helluva mess to clean up.

The Veep Abidens

I remain undecided in the increasingly contentious race for the Democratic presidential nomination. I remain committed to the notion that anyone who wants to run, should give it a shot and see what happens. The more the merrier, let the voters decide. You’ve heard it all before.

I begin to wonder, however, whether or not former Vice President Joe Biden should throw his hat into the ring. It’s not for ideological reasons: anyone who was a Senator for 30+ years is going to have votes that look questionable 20 years later. It’s called the rule of unintended consequences and applies to the omnibus crime bill passed in the 1990’s. Its intent was NOT to throw more black folks in jail but that’s what happened. It has turned out to be a bad bill despite its strong gun control aspects, which proved to be depressingly ephemeral. Hindsight is always 20-20.

I’m less concerned with the “handsy Uncle Joe” stories than many. Arguably, these stories boil down to cultural, regional, and generational differences since they occurred in public view, not behind closed doors. Dr. A had a colleague who moved to New Orleans from New York in the 1990’s. She considered people calling her baby, sweetie, or darling to be sexual harassment. If that’s the case, it still happens to me every time I make groceries. In New Orleans, it’s just people being friendly. In fact, the colleague in question came to understand that. But I don’t think we should be having *that* particular argument during such a high stakes election.

I come from a touchy-feely ethnic culture in which hugging and kissing people of both genders is the norm. Having said that, I don’t recall ever kissing a woman on the back of the neck and sniffing her hair as Lucy Flores says Joe Biden did. That’s definitely creepy even if Flores herself thinks it was an invasion of her personal space and not sexual harassment. Is it disqualifying for a presidential candidate in the #METOO era? I’m not sure but it will  be a factor in a race in which there are multiple serious female contenders.

I’ve compared the early stages of the 2020 Democratic race to 1976 before. Joe Biden is an excellent analogue to the Happy Warrior of that era, former Vice President /Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey. HHH was more battle-scarred, but by 1976 he had regained his popularity among the Democratic base. He was repeatedly approached to join the race and was always reluctant because he knew he’d feel less love if he became an active candidate. He did not run.

There’s ample evidence that many Democrats have great affection for Joe Biden because of his 8 years as Barack Obama’s loyal Vice President. We at First Draft call him Joey the Shark, but many more people call him Uncle Joe. The Uncle Joe glow is already beginning to fade as Biden inches closer to running. It’s getting ugly out there. The axes are being sharpened over his voting record, loose lips, and back-slapping persona.

Then there’s the matter of Biden’s age. Dr. A and I paid a visit to an elderly relative yesterday. She’s an ardent Democrat but expressed her own concerns about Biden’s age. She said that she didn’t feel like an old lady even in her late sixties but when she hit her mid-seventies that changed dramatically. Joe Biden is 76 and, unless you’re a lazy lima bean like the Insult Comedian, the presidency is an arduous, stressful job, and campaigning is even harder.

My unsolicited advice for the Veep is to abiden by his beloved former colleague’s example and stay out of the race as Humphrey did in 1976. The supporters of at least one of his potential primary opponents are ready, willing, and able to throw everything they’ve got at him. If he runs, he needs to be ready to deal with them, then face the prospect of an ugly general election in which Team Trump will not only attack him and his family but create new charges out of thin air. Trump’s only path to re-election is total destruction of his opponent. Believe me.

Saturday Odds & Sods: I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter

Sunrise by Roy Lichtenstein

I bet you thought I was done with the epistolary references but I’m made of sterner (sillier?) stuff than that. There’s even another Bill Barr reference coming up. Does that make this a red-letter day? Beats the hell outta me.

Since, unlike the first Barr letter, the post title is so damn long, the intro will be mercifully brief. I’m even skipping another epistle pun just to prove that I’m capable of restraint. Anyone buying it?

This week’s theme song, I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter, was written in 1935 by Fred E. Ahlert and Joe Young. It was introduced to the world by the great Fats Waller and has been recorded a zillion times over the years.

Since it’s one of my favorite tunes, we have a slew of versions for your listening pleasure.

Now that we’ve finished our correspondence, let’s put a stamp on it, mail it, then jump to the break. Continue reading

Adam Schiff Is Okay

Controlled public anger is the best kind of public anger. It connotes passion, principle, and, well, control. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff is ordinarily a cool customer, which is what made yesterday’s display of controlled rage even more impressive.

Here’s why Schiff lost his shit: nine Republicans demanded Schiff resign as Chairman of a committee that Devin Nunes made a laughingstock during the last Congress. They were doing the Insult Comedian’s bidding, which inspired Schiff to launch into what will surely be known as the “You may think it’s okay but I don’t” speech:

Schiff’s controlled tirade will go down  as one of the great moments in Congressional hearing history in the “shame on you” category. It’s right up there with  Joseph Welch’s “Have you no sense of decency” moment during the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954.

Adam Schiff is okay.

A Gift From The President*

I knew that Trump would overreach after his “total exoneration” by his hand-picked Attorney General but I didn’t think it would happen so quickly and stupidly. This Daily Beast headline sums it up quite well: “WTF Is Wrong With Them’: Republicans Horrified As Trump Goes After Obamacare Again.

I like it when Republicans are horrified. They’ve been horrifying me for years.

The first four paragraphs of the piece are equally delightful:

Over the past 24 hours, Republican officials have watched in horror as the Trump administration once again fully embraced the repeal of Obamacare, just over a year after the issue proved toxic for the party at the ballot box.

The embrace came in two steps: with the Department of Justice siding with a lower court ruling that declared the health care law invalid in toto, and with the president tweeting that the Republican Party would become the party of health-care reform. And it quickly complicated what had been widely viewed as one of the best weeks of Trump’s presidency. Ebullient over a four-page summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s meddling—a summary that said the president was not guilty of collusion—Trump suddenly found himself back in a debate that has vexed his administration.

GOP officials couldn’t help but marvel at Trump’s inability to enjoy a rare grace period. “They are completely tone deaf,” texted one of the party’s top strategists. “How bout a few more victory laps on Mueller while you can get away with it? WTF is wrong with them?”

But seasoned Trump hands were hardly surprised at the rake Trump had placed his foot on. “And there’s something unusual about him stepping on a good message?” one former administration official said, laughing when asked about the timing of the announcement.

The policy shift was opposed by the two officials in charge of implementing it: the epistolary Attorney General, William Barr, and HHS secretary Alex Azar who, as far as we know, hasn’t written a letter in “total exoneration” of the Insult Comedian.

I’d like to thank the president* for this gift. He seems to have forgotten that health care was the issue that drove the Blue Wave in the midterms. There’s no cure for Trump’s own pre-existing condition, stupidity.

My hunch is that the decision was made after a long day of fuming over John McCain’s “treachery” on the ACA. Policy making by tantrum is a bad idea. I’m not a fan of it. I am, however, a fan of self-inflicted wounds by my political enemies.

It’s good to know that Trump’s Razor is still in effect. I’m glad he used it to slit his own political throat. Thanks Trumpy.

Never Give A Sucker An Even Break

Yesterday’s headlines were appalling. To read them one might think that the full Mueller Report had been published instead of a letter by a partisan Attorney General determined to carry water for his president*. I don’t know about you but I feel like W.C, Fields in the poster above. The Barr letter felt like a brick to the head. Ouch.

For the moment, the MSM seems to have fallen for the Barr gambit. The Insult Comedian’s laughable claim  of “total exoneration” is being accepted at face value by a press corps that knows that he’s a liar. One would have hoped that they’d learned something after years of exposure to Trumpian mendacity but he’s an experienced flim-flam man.

Team Trump is engaged in its own version of March madness. They’re in a full-court press to suppress the publication of the full Mueller Report. If it “totally exonerates” Trump, what are they afraid of? The truth, that’s what they’re afraid of. Just because criminal conspiracy may not have been proven, that does not mean that ethical and political offenses were not committed. They clearly were. At the very least, Team Trump turned a blind eye to Russian interference in the 2016 election. They could have reported the approaches to the FBI but did not.

As to Barr’s decision to make a determination on the obstruction of justice issue, the MSM’s reaction has been simultaneously supine and confused. Just because a cover-up occurred in broad daylight does not make it less offensive. One would hope that the MSM’s herd instinct would not kick in at this crucial point but the best that can be hoped for is that an all out stampede can be averted.

Too many people placed too many eggs in the Mueller probe basket. I was guilty of it myself at times. Criminal conspiracy is damned difficult to prove. Last Sunday was easily the best day for Donald Trump in months. Now is not the time to give up, it’s time for the House to engage in its own full court press to obtain the full report. Stop the madness.

Team Trump’s spin is as predictable as it is dastardly. The bad news is that it’s working so far. The good news is that they’ve already overplayed their hand with threats of retaliation. It’s what they do. Nuance and subtlety are not characteristics of Trumpism.

The entire Trump regime is a shell game and Bill Barr is the latest in a long line of con artists. They’ve been down for a while but they’re pushing hard right now because they believe in the adage attributed to PT Barnum: never give a sucker an even break. They’ve played millions of voters for fools and now they’re working on the MSM, which should know better. But as long as people like Chuck Todd occupy positions of influence, the shell game will continue.

It’s time for the suckers to fight back and never give the Trumpers an even break. They confuse fairness with weakness. Don’t give them an opening. Be relentless.

Barr Letter Reading List

It’s peak pollen season in New Orleans. There was also a 5-alarm fire a few miles away. The result is horrible air quality, a death grip sinus headache and red, red eyes. I’ve already medicated, which is why I’m keeping this short.

I have a new Fog of Scandal meme, a Magritte-like image, The Man and the Sea by Giuseppe Maiorana, I love the image of umbrellas dropping in the fog. Substitute shoes for umbrellas, you can catch my drift if you can see it amid the fog of scandal.

I may not have words of wisdom for you but these folks do:

David Corn reminds us that even if there was no finding of criminal conspiracy there were many strands of co-operation between Team Trump and Russian intelligence.

Franklin Foer points out the accomplishments of  the Mueller probe.

Mark Joseph Stern says I told you so about Bill Barr.

Jed Shugerman wonders why the Barr letter quoted nary a complete sentence from the Mueller Report.

The man who wrote the DOJ special counsel guidelines, Neal Katyal, calls for the immediate release of the full report.

Former Obama White House counsel, Robert Bauer, is concerned that this result will make Trump even more brazen. Me too.

Bob Bauer gets the last word with this passage from his NYT piece:

But the Mueller report marked a low point for more substantive norms of presidential conduct. It shows that a demagogic president like Donald Trump can devalue or even depart radically from key norms, just short of committing chargeable crimes, so long as he operates mostly and brazenly in full public view. For a demagogue, shamelessness is its own reward.

Such a president can have openly, actively encouraged and welcomed foreign government support for his political campaigns, and his campaign can reinforce the point in direct communications with that government’s representatives.

Instant Analysis: The Barr Redaction Of The Mueller Report

Criminal investigations are a blunt instrument. Team Mueller was looking for a criminal conspiracy, not co-operation or collusion. There’s circumstantial evidence of the latter BUT proving criminal conspiracy is a bitch. In such an important case, federal prosecutors like to have enough evidence to convict before pressing charges. I think the case has been made politically but Mueller’s remit to was prove criminal conspiracy with the Russians, not collusion or co-operation. The evidentiary standard for criminal conspiracy is a high one: beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the defense lawyer’s mantra and credo.

As to the obstruction of justice investigation, this is where William Barr had his way There’s obviously more to the story since the AG waffled, hedged, or whatever the hell you want to call it. It’s time for Congress to focus on obtaining the unredacted Mueller report, which is manifestly in the public interest. They also need to hold hearings on the “sitting president can’t be indicted” doctrine, which is enforced only by a DOJ memo written in the 1970’s. Do we want ANY president to be above the law based only on a memo?

I’m not surprised by these results BUT I admit to having fantasies of a stronger conclusion. Trump will have to die a political death of a thousand cuts instead of by a single blow. Remember: there are 15+ ongoing investigations and Trump has already been an unindicted co-conspirator in the Michael Cohen hush money case. To quote  Keith Reid’s lyrics to an old Procol Harum song, STILL THERE’LL BE MORE.

The Barr Redaction of the Mueller Report is the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end. The Trumpers are already spinning the hell out of the Barr Letter. Let them prematurely spike the ball and overplay their hand. It’s what they do. This is a setback, not a disaster.

STILL THERE’LL BE MORE.

Procol Harum gets the last word with this savage ode to revenge:

 

Steve King Can Go Fuck Himself

The King of Bigots is at it again, and this time it’s personal:

[H]ere’s what FEMA tells me: We go to a place like New Orleans, and everybody’s looking around saying, “Who’s going to help me? Who’s going to help me?” We go to a place like Iowa, and we go see, knock on the door at, say, I make up a name, John’s place, and say, “John, you got water in your basement, we can write you a check, we can help you.” And John will say, “Well, wait a minute, let me get my boots. It’s Joe that needs help. Let’s go down to his place and help him.”

I don’t want to say anything derogatory about Iowa flood victims. They’ve been through enough trauma. They don’t deserve to be dragged into a political argument by one of their elected officials BUT this is such bullshit.

People in New Orleans after the storm and federal flood were just as determined to help their neighbors as the “nice white Midwesterners”  represented by the King of Bigots.  Does he think that Iowans will turn down government assistance when it’s offered? Of course not and they should not.

We all depend on the kindness of strangers after a disaster. It doesn’t matter if you’re white or black or a Democrat or Republican: people should give you a hand up instead of a kick in the head. It wasn’t right when New Orleans flood victims were used as political pawns and it’s not right if the same thing were to happen in Iowa. Unfortunately, the Trump regime has already set a pernicious precedent in Puerto Rico. I sincerely hope that federal and private aid to Iowa and other flooded area is dispensed without regard to politics. Iowans shouldn’t suffer because one of their Congresscritters is a white nationalist moron.

One more thing: Steve King can go fuck himself. I can’t say that often enough.

Kabuki Feuding

Kabuki Actors by Kunimusa

People occasionally ask me why I nicknamed Donald Trump the Insult Comedian.  In part, it’s his delivery, which is reminiscent of the Borscht Belt comedians who were a staple on teevee when I was a kid. It’s also his demeanor: he’s a man with skin thinner than deli ham who is always eager to take, and give, offense. I coined the nickname not long after the infamous Trump bon mot about John McCain not being a hero because he was shot down. Stay classy, Trumpy.

The main reason I call him the Insult Comedian is his need for conflict, argument, and drama. Not a day goes by when he doesn’t fight a pick with someone over a slight, be it real or imagined.

It’s often difficult to tell which of Trump’s feuds are real. Hence the post title: Kabuki Feuding. My colleague Michael F does a fine job discussing the Insult Comedian’s bizarre and unseemly feud with a dead man. What is this? An episode of Six Feet Under? How dare John McCain not thank Trump for throwing him such a swell funeral? There’s as much wrong with that statement as with the Trump presidency* itself.

Since Michael dealt with that Kabuki Feud, my focus is on Trump’s phony war with George Conway and the latter’s phony war with his cartoon villain wife, Kellyanne. The hostilities have revved up this week, which has led to a debate: is the uncivil war between the Conways real or phony? Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. It feels like the B-story line in an episode of Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise. They’re arguing in public to entertain themselves and give the Insult Comedian a reason to distract attention from the legal tsunami that threatens his presidency* and financial empire.

Do I think George Conway hates Trump and thinks he’s a lunatic who threatens the continued existence of the “Conservative movement”? Sure, why not. It doesn’t matter: it’s all entertainment for the twitterati and punditocracy who collectively gasped when a smirking Insult Comedian called George, “Mr. Kellyanne Conway.” If that’s Trump’s idea of a sick burn, he needs better joke writers.

Squabbling couples have been a staple of American entertainment forever. From the Bickersons in the funny papers to Lucy and Ricky on teevee to George and Kellyanne on the tweeter tube. It reminds me of a low-budget version of The War of the Roses; only with creepy wingnuts instead of Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. Now that I think of it, George bears a passing resemblance to the director of that movie: Danny Devito.

It’s just reality teevee. It’s just entertainment. A Potemkin presidency* deserves its own Kabuki theatre of the absurd. And it doesn’t get much more absurd than The War of the Conways.

The last word goes to the brilliant cast of The Band Wagon:

Only The Shadow-Banner Knows

I didn’t think it was possible but Devin Nunes is making a “serious” attempt to out crazy the Insult Comedian. It wasn’t enough for Nunes to sell his soul to Trump, he’s now acting as if he wants to be the GOP’s bull goose loony after the lunatic-in-chief leaves the stage.

I’m referring, of course, to Nunes’ fakakata suit against Twitter, never-Trump Republican consultant Liz Mair, and two Twitter trolls who make fun of poor poor pitiful Devin. They’ve apparently hurt Nunes’ feelings, which is enough to file suit in the parallel universe inhabited by wingnuts.

The lawsuit is partially based on a Republican conspiracy theory that they’re being “shadow-banned” by Twitter. I’m not going to bother trying to explain this crazy theory as it’s inexplicable but Jonathan Chait gives it a go. It’s also not a basis for litigation or anything other than an episode of InfoWars. To paraphrase (butcher, actually) the introduction of the old radio show: Only the Shadow-Banner knows what evil lurks in the heart of the tweeter tube.

It’s amazing what wusses fake tough guys like Trump and Nunes are. If you can’t take a punch, get out of the ring, don’t sue people, corporations, and phantoms who only exist on the tweeter tube. Suing Devin Nunes’ cow is udderly ridiculous. I’ll leave it to that feed to milk the bovine jokes after this musical interlude:

To some extent, this is an attempt by Nunes to make like Peter Thiel and try to sue Twitter into the ground. But why? Trump is not only the Kaiser of Chaos, he’s the King of Twitter. The platform allows him to run wild, lie, and share his paranoid fantasies with the world. Last weekend was particularly fertile as there were 50+ presidential* tweets. Unhinged thy name is Trumpy.

I suspect that Nunes’ real motivation is an unintentionally hilarious attempt to erode the libel laws as they apply to people in the public eye such as, say, wingnut congresscritters and batshit crazy Oval Ones. To the limited extent that he understands it, Trump is a known critic of the Sullivan case and at least one current supreme, Clarence Thomas, thinks it should be limited. I think their influence should be limited instead.

I selected the vintage Shadow Magazine cover because the armed chick vaguely resembles Liz Mair, who also rocks a Louise Brooks-style hairdo, and the Shadow looks a bit like Nunes. Of course, the Shadow was a hero and Nunes is yet another cartoon villain in an era full of them. The good news is that his suit isn’t going anywhere. The bad news is that it hasn’t already been laughed out of court.

The last word goes to Frank and Sammy with Me and my Shadow:

Saturday Odds & Sods: Everybody Takes A Tumble

High Spring Tide by Jack Butler Yeats

It’s time for the annual Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day parade. This year it takes place on the day before the holiday but at least we got a wee break from Mardi Gras. Parading is hard work, y’all.

As always we’re going to our friends Greg and Christy’s open house to eat, drink, and be merry. The parade is exuberantly disorganized but the party is more fun than a snake down your trousers. It’s so much fun that one year a Leprechaun attended and posed for a picture with our hosts:

This week’s insidiously catchy theme song was written by Mike Scott and Anthony Thistlethwaite  for the Waterboys’ 2007 album Book of Lightning.  We have two versions of Everybody Takes A Tumble for your listening pleasure: the studio recording and a live version from Irish teevee:

Now that we’ve filled our tumblers with Tullamore Dew, it’s time to stumble to the break. I’m not sure if I’m capable of jumping.

Continue reading

Beto’s Big Getaway

It took longer than usual to come up with a title for this post. I seem to have used up all my Beto puns last year and was reluctant to Beto the ranch on a new one. I consulted with Mr. Google and learned that Sam Peckinpah’s 1972 film of The Getaway was filmed in O’Rourke’s native El Paso. The book on which it’s based was written by pulp icon Jim Thompson and it’s Pulp Fiction Thursday hence the post title.

Another reason The Getaway provides a perfect title for a post about Beto’s belated campaign announcement is that its premise seems to be “vote for the cool kid” and nobody was cooler than Steve McQueen whose nickname just happened to be The King of Cool. Destiny or a fluke? You decide.

I just finished reading Joe Hagan’s ode to Beto in Vanity Fair. Both Hagan and the candidate think O’Rourke is a man of destiny:”I want to be in it. Man, I was born to be in it.”

I’m less certain. As to the tone of the piece itself, I’m inclined to agree with this tweet from Gambit editor and Adrastos crony Kevin Allman:

The puff piece article compares O’Rourke to Obama and JFK. It even hints at a “LBJ only cuter” analogy with an extended discussion of Beto’s father Pat, a failed politician, with whom the candidate had a contentious relationship as did Lyndon and Sam Johnson. It was the most interesting part of Hagan’s hagiography piece and included this bit of myth making:

One night in July 2001 the two had what Beto O’Rourke says was “the best conversation we ever had,” ranging over family, politics, personal history. “We just ate leftovers and drank a bottle of wine in the backyard,” he recalls. The next morning, his father was cycling along a quiet route outside El Paso when he was struck by a car and thrown 70 feet to his death. “I was at work and my mom called me and I just knew,” he says. “Because her voice was shaken and said, ‘Something’s happened with your dad. You should come to the store.’”

Neither Jim Thompson nor Sam Peckinpah could have concocted a more mythic end to this father-son relationship.

I’m already on the record as a “the more the merrier” pundit. Whoever wants to contend for the 2020 Democratic nomination should run and let the voters decide. I, too, think that the ability to defeat Trump should be an important factor BUT given the slippage in the incumbent’s support and the scandals engulfing him, I think that any plausible Democratic candidate has a good chance of beating him.  I’m concerned about governing: Trump’s successor will have an ungodly number of messes to clean up including the rebuilding of the NATO alliance. Being cool is not enough.

The Beto myth did not start with the Vanity Fair puff piece. After his defeat by Ted Cruz, people started comparing him to another politician who lost a senate election and was elected president in the next cycle. Comparisons to Lincoln, Kennedy, and Obama seem a bit over-the-top and even a trifle overwrought. What’s next? Are they going to trot out the old Todd Rundgren album title: A Wizard, A True Star? Annie Leibovitz took a picture of Beto “jamming” with his kids, maybe they can do their own version of that classic 1973 album.

Here’s the deal: I will support any Democratic nominee against anyone the GOP puts forward. I don’t even dislike Beto in the way I dislike Bernie Sanders who I would also support. I’m just skeptical that the guy who lost to Tailgunner Ted who lost to the Insult Comedian is the right person to become the next president. If you want healing, unity, and love, Cory Booker is already sounding those themes. Thematically, Beto is the white Cory, only the latter’s stage mannerisms are not reminiscent of revival tent preachers. I’ll spare you comparisons to Burt Lancaster as Elmer Gantry. The Steve McQueen shtick is enough for one post.

Beto brings another liability to the race. There’s a hunger in the Democratic base for a woman and/or person of color to top the ticket in 2020. Women and minorities drove the party to victory in 2018 and many believe that we should follow suit in 2020.  I remain undecided but I’m inclined to agree.

This post is not intended as a takedown of Robert O’Rourke. I just think he should be subjected to the same scrutiny as the rest of the field. One important question is whether or not he’s ever eaten salad with a comb a la Amy Klobuchar. Repeat after me: being cool is not enough.

Being urged to run by Oprah Winfrey is not a reason for non-celebrities to support a candidate. Thus far, all we really know about O’Rourke is that he’s an excellent campaigner and that the media and some voters are in love with him. It’s unclear what his raison d’être for running for president is: “Vote for Beto because he’s cool” is not enough.

It’s obvious that Oprah and former president Obama urged him to consider running because timing is everything in politics, and O’Rourke was the brightest and shiniest media object in the 2018 campaign. He also lost his race to Ted Cruz a man who is disliked even by those who agree with him. Moral victories are not enough: the stakes are too high.

While I wish that Beto was running against John Cornyn instead of jumping into the crowded presidential field, I understand that the adage “when you’re hot, you’re hot” applies to politics. The people who ran The Getaway‘s PR campaign understood that too. This alternate poster for that movie gets the last word:

Instant Postscript: I mentioned to a friend that I was doing a Beto post centered around the Steve McQueen version of The Getaway. He reminded me that there was a unnecessary and even gratuitous 1994 remake starring SNL Trump impersonator Alec Baldwin. Betomaniacs could argue that McQueen would kick Baldwin’s ass hence O’Rourke could whip Trump. It’s not a bad argument as fictional arguments go. Repeat after me: being cool is not enough.