Category Archives: Political Crack

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.

The Fog Of Scandal: The Massage Is The Message

Backlash is a funny thing; funny strange, not funny ha-ha. It’s not surprising that there’s been a backlash to the election of the first African American president; it was predictable and began early on with the advent of the Tea Party.

The election* of Donald Trump perfected the racist backlash to the Obama presidency. In that instance, history repeated itself: there was an anti-Civil Rights backlash in the 1966 and 1968 elections. It is largely forgotten that Richard Nixon had been a moderate on Civil Rights before that consummate opportunist became the personification of the Southern Strategy. Tricky saw an opportunity to flip the solid South in the GOP’s direction and he took it. The party of Abraham Lincoln and Jackie Robinson became the party of Strom Thurmond and Curt Schilling.

There’s an odder form of backlash going on today. Barack Obama’s administration was one of the cleanest and least corrupt in American history whereas the Trump administration is in contention for the most corrupt. The competition is stiff but the Trumpers are equal to the task. The Insult Comedian is easily the most personally corrupt Oval One in American history: Grant and Harding were largely bystanders to the wholesale theft perpetrated by their minions and Nixon was a piker compared to Trump. Repeat after me: Donald Trump is a criminal.

Just when you hoped that there wouldn’t be any scandals to fog up the political scene even more, a new one breaks. The massage parlor access scandal at least has the virtue of being unintentionally hilarious. Given the way Mar-a-Lago operates, a pay for play scandal was inevitable. Club members pay for access to the club and its owner who just happens to be the deeply corrupt Current Occupant. What could possibly go wrong?

It turns out that Cindy Yang has ties to the Chinese government as well as to the GOP. It’s *almost* a relief that this scandal involves Chinese crooks instead of Russians. It’s good to change-up criminal associates in order to achieve maximum grift in a state known for its grifters: Florida. The Yang-Kraft-Trump connection sounds like the plot of a Carl Hiassen novel instead of something happening in the real world. You cannot make this shit up, y’all.

If the Cindy Yang pay for play scandal isn’t enough to rub you the wrong way, there’s a looming scandal involving president* Trump and the CEO of Boeing:

With more countries grounding Boeing jets and with lawmakers, aviation workers and consumers calling on the United States to do the same, the head of the aerospace giant on Tuesday made a personal appeal to President Trump.

Boeing’s chief executive, Dennis A. Muilenburg, called from Chicago and expressed to Mr. Trump his confidence in the safety of the 737 Max 8 jets, according to two people briefed on the conversation. Two of the planes flown by overseas carriers have crashed in recent months in similar accidents.

This phone conversation has the potential to kill people. Instead of leading the world in aviation safety, the United States is being held hostage by the First Criminal and one of his cronies. This goes beyond comic ineptitude to serious malfeasance. What else would you expect from a guy who wanted to appoint his personal pilot to head the FAA? He knows the best people, the best people. Believe me.

Personal relationships are always important in politics and government but Team Trump has taken it to a whole new level. The president* who “promised” to drain the swamp has become a swamp thing of historic proportions. The “promise” itself was a lie by the the most prolific liar in our political history. The massage has always been the message for Donald Trump. His whole life is a series of scams that dangle bright shiny objects in front of those dazzled by his wealth, celebrity, and power. It’s high time for the suckers to stop taking the bait.

I hope that Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao will exercise her authority to ground the potentially lethal Boeing planes but I am not optimistic. Her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is one of the foremost Trump dignity wraiths in the country. Why would she be any different?

The last word goes to Frank Sinatra with a song that could be retitled Come Fly With Me Except In A Boeing 737 Max 8:

Tweet Of The Day: Secular Votive Candles?

It looks as if some Austin hipsters have secularized votive candles just in time for Lent and, more importantly, SXSW:

A Jewish woman on a votive candle? Beto as Jesus? I have a confession: I kinda like the Nancy Smash one but the other two are flat-out weird. Unholy Holy Trinity, Batman.

What’s next: an Orthodox icon featuring RBG? Oy, just oy.

The Big Picture

There was outrage and shock over the light sentence given to Paul Manafort by Judge TS Ellis last week. I was unhappy with the 47 month sentence but not shocked because I followed the trial closely. Judge Ellis was biased against the prosecution and in favor of Manafort throughout the trial. Several times during the trial, Ellis expressed the opinion that Manafort was a stand-in for Trump so the expressions of shock were either themselves shocking or naive. The light sentence was predictable. Not desirable but predictable.

Judge Ellis is the personification of a federal judge who has served too long. He’s been on senior status since 2007 and has served a total of 32 years. Federal judges tend to have a high opinion of themselves and their legal acumen. Ellis may be an extreme example but the system is pockmarked with high-handed judges who act like demigods in their courtrooms.

I’m inclined to agree with former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti:

The 47-month sentence imposed on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has drawn widespread criticism that Judge T.S. Ellis’s decision to give Manafort a sentence far below the 19.5 to 24.5-year guidelines range was motivated by Manafort’s race and class or by partisan bias. In fact, his flawed decision is a consequence of the vast discretion given to federal judges to issue sentences without real fear of being overturned.

What you might not know is that federal law permitted Judge Ellis to give Manafort a sentence of anywhere between 0 to 80 years in prison. And as long as Ellis did not go above the 24.5-year maximum called for by the sentencing guidelines, an appellate court would almost certainly not reverse his sentence, given the very deferential standard of review.

Some compared Manfort’s 47 month sentence to the 13 year book thrown at my former Congressman Dollar Bill Jefferson by Judge Ellis. One flaw in that reasoning is that was not a tax case but a bribery case. Besides, Dollar Bill’s sentence was reduced to 5 years after a plea bargain in 2017. As I said on the tweeter tube:

Dollar Bill is a corrupt piece of shit who deserved all the jail time he got as I pointed out in a piece I wrote for the Bayou Brief.

The reason I’m more sanguine than many about the Manafort sentence is that I’m a big picture guy. Ellis’ sentence is just the first bite out of the sentencing apple. The DC judge, Amy Berman Jackson, has already taken a hard-line with Manafort by revoking his bail for violating his plea deal with Team Mueller. I expect she’ll throw a heftier book at Manafort with that sentence running consecutively with Ellis’ 47 months, which could be a total of 14+years.

In addition to being a big picture guy, I’m not a fan of hot takes. It’s easier to spout off on social media than it is to think things through before responding to the events of the day. It’s why I’m not a fan of epic “tweet threads.” I’d rather read a coherent discussion of an issue than 25 often disjointed tweets on the same subject. That’s why I’m a blogger, not a tweeter.

In other big picture news, people are obsessing about the 2020 campaign and why certain candidates should or should not run. I think it’s up to the voters to sort things out. Lack of interest is why Mike Bloomberg and Sherrod Brown dropped out, which is a good thing in both cases. Bloomberg will spend his megabucks on issues and Brown will hold on to  a senate seat that would surely tumble to the GOP. The Ohio senator may still end up on the ticket if the nominee is looking for balance: a Harris-Brown ticket could be formidable.

Here’s the deal. I think that Trump and the Republicans will be so consumed with scandal that the Democratic nominee will be a heavy favorite to win the election. For that reason, I think that the ability to govern is just as important as electability, which is why I’m reluctant to support anyone at this point in time. The next Democratic president is going to have an even bigger mess to clean up than the one inherited by Barack Obama, which is why competence and experience are just as important as ideology in 2020.

I’ve seen confident predictions that the Democratic nominee will not be a white man. It’s too soon to tell: who thought an obscure one-term Georgia Governor would be the 1976 nominee? I’d like to make history again BUT we’re the big tent party and need to assemble a coalition that appeals to moderates and independents as well as to the left. Once again, the voters will winnow down the candidates. Whatever happens, the Democratic nominee will be far superior to Trump or anyone else the GOP puts forward.

Former Veep Joe Biden seems to be edging closer to a decision as to whether or not to run. If Biden were 10 years younger, he’d be a prohibitive favorite for the nomination. In his case, experience and likability could trump (pun intended, it always is) ideology. Joey the shark will have to explain some of his past positions but is viewed with personal affection by most Democrats. He’ll also have to rein in his tendency to praise *everyone* including Republicans if he runs. It’s what happens when you’re an epic schmoozer.

I may be a self-proclaimed big picture guy but I’m out of the prediction business. I hope that Trump will be out of office before January 2021 BUT things have been so crazy for the last three years that I hesitate to dust off my crystal ball. All I’m certain of is that it’s going to be interesting on both the legal and political fronts for the foreseeable future.

Saturday Odds & Sods: Rocky Road

Charing Cross Bridge by Andre Derain

Carnival was alternately exhausting and exhilarating. I love it but I’m always glad when it’s over, especially when the weather is cold and wet. This year was physically difficult for me as I was in pain for the last week of the season. I ended up on the disabled list and stayed home on Mardi Gras day but I don’t regret not resting on Lundi Gras as you can see from this tweet:

Proteus is one of the “old line” krewes and their den is around the corner from Adrastos World Headquarters. They were indeed as drunk as plutocratic skunks. Watching them set up to roll is one of the pleasures of life inside the parade box. Where else can you watch three fake kings-Proteus, Comus, and Rex-toast one another on the street?

This week’s first theme song was written by Nick Lowe and Bad Company drummer Simon Kirke for Nick’s 1990 Party Of One album, which reunited him with his musical partner in crime, Dave Edmunds.

It’s disambiguation time: a different tune with the same title. Our other theme song was written by Steve Tilston but I first heard it done by Fairport Convention. We have two versions for your listening pleasure: Fairport live followed by the songwriter.

Now that we’ve traveled down several rocky roads, it’s time to jump to the break.

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Lost In The News

Transitioning out of the Mardi Gras bubble is always difficult. But there’s so much going on right now that I don’t quite know where to begin. I think a potpourri post full of quick one liners and, hopefully, pertinent observations is the best way to shake off the rust. Of course rust never sleeps so who knows if that will work? Only the Shadow or Neil Young know for sure. Hey, hey, my, my.

Stale News In Brief: I watched the Cohen hearing from gavel to gavel but had company that night for the Nyx parade so I couldn’t share any thoughts and/or pithy observations. I’ve been somewhat pithed about this momentary lapse of reason, which is why I’m writing about it a week later. Better late than never.

I had assumed that Cohen was a punk and a brain-dead doofus. I was right about the former but wrong about the latter. He was well-prepared, penitent, and surprisingly sharp in a street wise Lawn Guyland kinda way.

Cohen’s performance is proof positive that exposure to Donald Trump cuts people’s IQ’s in half. It’s one reason why the Kaiser of Chaos needs to go before we become a country of mouth-breathing morons who overuse the word very. Believe me.

Speaking of dumbassery, the performance of Oversight Committee GOPers was appalling. They’re the dumbest collection of congresscritters it has ever been my displeasure to observe. They were poorly prepared and dumber than a proverbial bag of rocks.

It *is* true that Cohen was a lying sack of shit in his days as Trump’s fixer. But that means that some of the shit leaked onto the president* for whom Cohen was lying. Gym Jordan and his gang of morons didn’t see it that way. Jordan makes Trey Gowdy look like Perry Mason as a cross-examiner. Oy, just oy.

The country saw Congressman Clay Higgins and learned what we in the Gret Stet of Louisiana have known all along: he’s a poser and a nitwit. He kept asking the same question over and over even though it had been “asked and answered” as the criminal law objection goes.

Higgins is a demagogue and dumbfuck of epic proportions. Additionally, his district director is an accused pimp.  It’s a pity that his name isn’t Willie. Jerod Prunty the Pimp doesn’t  have the same ring to it:

Investigation Mania: House Democrats are gearing up to get to the bottom of the plethora of Trump related scandals. The good news is that they can walk and chew gum at the same time as they’re passing a plethora of progressive legislation as well. It will all, of course, die in the Senate but it forces them to take unpopular stands against popular legislation such as gun background checks, which I believe even the ghost of Charlton Heston favors:

An interesting tidbit in the news is Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff hiring former SDNY prosecutor Daniel Goldman to spearhead his Russia investigation. Cable news viewers know him better as a telegenic teevee lawyer on MSNBC. The president* is bound to fear him because he’s been on the tube, which could have been a factor in Schiff making this hire. Goldman is also stone cold brilliant and knows his way around Russian mobsters and oligarchs. Watch out, Trumpy.

The Big Rebuke: There are enough votes in the Senate to shoot down the Insult Comedian’s fake emergency order. As of this writing, it’s not a veto proof majority BUT the fog of scandal continues to envelop the Trump regime. That, in turn, could lead more Senatorial rats to flee the USS Trump as it sinks in a sea of scandal. Holy mixed metaphor, Batman. Is it a fog or a sea of scandal? Actually, it’s both, which is a rare example of both-siderism on my part.

John Dean On Cohen: As a Watergate junkie, I would be remiss in not mentioning John Dean’s NYT op-ed article on the impact of being a star witness on the witness:

Mr. Cohen should understand that if Mr. Trump is removed from office, or defeated in 2020, in part because of his testimony, he will be reminded of it for the rest of his life. He will be blamed by Republicans but appreciated by Democrats. If he achieves anything short of discovering the cure for cancer, he will always live in this pigeonhole. How do I know this? I am still dealing with it.

Just as Mr. Nixon had his admirers and apologists, so it is with Mr. Trump. Some of these people will forever be rewriting history, and they will try to rewrite it at Mr. Cohen’s expense. They will put words in his mouth that he never spoke. They will place him at events at which he wasn’t present and locations where he has never been. Some have tried rewriting my life, and they will rewrite his, too.

Can I get a witness?

The last word goes to the late Marvin Gaye whose image will adorn a stamp to be released on April 2nd: