Friday, September 28, 2018

Going to Jimmy's for 'Skis with Judge, Tom, PJ, Bernie and Squi




Brett Kavanaugh may have sealed his own doom with this passage from his now infamous calendar of 1982.  Rachel Mitchell had started to question him about this entry in her second round of five-minute questions, but after the break was heard from no more.  Had the Republicans misjudged Mitchell, which conservative tweets suggested she had been too soft on Christine Ford?  She may have been soft, but she was clearly making an effort to erode key parts of her testimony.  Here she was using the same technique to probe Judge Kavanaugh's calendar of events.  Lindsey Antebellum picked up on it, and when it came his turn took to the podium after the break, he delivered all the pent-up rage in the Republican Party for having their Supreme Court nominee questioned like this.

Charles Pierce in Esquire offers the best take I've read thus far on the political theater we saw yesterday.  Here was a man drunk with power every bit as belligerent as described by Christine Ford and others who saw him in his inebriated moments from high school and college.

One of the few things we learned from the questioning of Judge Kavanaugh is that he can't hold his liquor.  He claimed it was because of his weak constituency, he couldn't handle certain foods as well.  This was obviously the same "Bart O'Kavanaugh" described by his friend Mark Judge who ralfed in the car on "Beach Week" in June.  However, as the real Kavanaugh would tell it, his buddy had a propensity to exaggerate things.  After all, they grew up on movies like Animal House, Caddyshack and Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Democrats tried to undermine Kavanaugh's story but they didn't really succeed.  The closest was probably Sheldon Whitehouse, who went line by line through his 1983 Yearbook entry, asking what all the references meant.  I let out a loud guffaw when Kavanaugh said that "boof" was a reference to farting.  A cursory look at urban dictionary reveals no such description, and you will be surprised at the many variations, most of which are not very flattering, much less flatulent. 

What emerged from this crude display of histrionics is a very angry federal judge, who does not like to be questioned, especially by Democrats, who he thinks are conspiring against him.  He will do whatever it takes to protect his position and family.  He is a man who is the very definition of "white male privilege" from adolescence to where he is now.  He tries to claim he was like any kid, working construction and mowing lawns during the summer, but given his hectic athletic schedule it is doubtful he had time to mow any lawns other than his parents, and that the construction work was probably on a deck he helped build with his father.

It struck me as odd that he should tear up over the idea of a calendar coming from his father, who began one in 1978, according to Brett's testimony.  I thought his father may have recently passed away, but there he was sitting right behind him, along with his attractive mother and wife.  He teared up another time over his father as well, but can't recall exactly when.

His little story about his youngest daughter asking for them to pray for Mrs. Ford at dinner was priceless.  A nugget that obviously hit the mark, as at least one Republican Senator referenced it.  I imagine it went over very well in Magaland too, as did his entire introduction.

It was correspondingly tough and sensitive, rising and falling with each of his references, so many in fact that "fake news" will have a field day fact checking each and everyone of these references between now and Monday, when the Senate vote on his confirmation will most likely be held.

Another thing that struck me is how he went out of his way to surround himself with women.  He even boastfully said that he has appointed more women to clerk positions than any other judge in history.  The type of boast you would expect from Trump or Hugh Hefner, who liked to claim he was at the vanguard of the women's liberation movement in the 60s.  This was a red flag, but just as oddly Democrats didn't pick up on it.  Why exactly would he surround himself with so many women?  Were there no available men?  Or, did he just like having glamorous-looking women around his office, as a Yale professor told a young woman who wanted to clerk for Kavanaugh?

He seemed genuinely obsessed with women from childhood.  How else to explain the 65 women who vouched for him in an open letter?  One can understand this desire coming from someone who went to an all boys' private school, but how the hell did he meet so many girls at such a young age, being so shy as he described himself?

One possible place is the country club that Christine Ford described in her opening testimony.  This club sounds like it came straight out of Caddyshack, the 1980 movie that Kavanaugh referenced.  There were obviously plenty of mixers at this club and when the kids wanted to play they went to someone's nearby house to have a few brewskis, which Ford implied.  The parents conveniently at the club.

In his introduction, Kavanaugh made it sound like he was too busy for these sorts of things, even in summer, as he was attending basketball camp, taking part in workouts with his friends and preparing for placement exams, and oh yes mowing lawns.  Yet, when Ms. Mitchell started to question him on the events of July 1 he was obviously very uncomfortable relating them, and afterward asked for a break.

None of Kavanaugh's story holds up, yet the Republicans don't seem the least bit interested in getting to the bottom of it.   They just want to get their man on the bench before the end of the month so that they can focus on the midterm elections in October.  Mark Judge is obviously not a very reliable witness, whose "sworn testimony" turned out to be a six-sentence paragraph signed by his lawyer, which Sen. Blumenthal held up as exhibit A.  The same went with PJ and Leland Ingham Keyser, who said she didn't remember that evening.  Basically, it comes down to Kavanaugh v. Ford.

Kavanaugh and the Republicans were smart not to attack Ford, but rather present her as a person with a flawed memory.  They didn't deny she was sexually assaulted, but rather insinuated that it took place somewhere else with someone else.  In fact, two men have magically stepped forward to claim they were the ones who forced themselves on Christine Ford all those years ago.  This is even more absurd than using Kavanaugh's calendar as a means to exonerate him, rather than have the FBI verify the events in question.

Yet, the judge said everything Republicans wanted to hear after Christine Ford's emotional testimony that had some of them questioning Kavanaugh's moral character during the lunch break.  No need to worry in the end, as Sen. Kennedy made Kavanaugh swear on god and country that all these allegations were not true.  All though, It looked to me that Sen. Kennedy had his doubts.


Thursday, September 27, 2018

#NastyGirls




Events surrounding Brett Kavanaugh's Senate Hearing have literally turned into a cluster fuck with a fourth woman now coming forward, claiming that a drunken Kavanaugh threw her against a wall and tried to have sex with her coming out of a DC bar in the late 90s.  This was the time Kavanaugh was working with Kenneth Starr in building a case against Horny Bill over similar allegations.  Maybe he was just trying to recreate a scene from the Oval Office, but the woman was none too pleased, and claims she has friends to support her story.  So far, she has chosen to remain anonymous.

Of course, Kavanaugh denies it as he has all the other charges, using his boyhood calendar to defend himself.  What strikes me as odd is how poor Naughty Brett's defense has been so far.  Does he really expect us to believe he would have marked a kegger on his calendar?  Instead, he raises more questions like "Who is Suzanne, a name which appears three times in the notorious month of June, 1982?

Trump didn't make things any less confusing with his rambling press conference after his inflammatory UN appearances.  He went on for 81 minutes, trying his best to work around the reporters' questions regarding the sexual abuse allegations.   He called it a "big con job" one moment and then claimed he was open to Ford's testimony the next.  The only thing that was clear is that he stood behind Kavanaugh, stating that his nominee was too soft in his interview with Fox News.

What gets me the most in reading the posts on my facebook timeline is how persons have aligned themselves with Kavanaugh and Ford with very little critical thinking, as I mentioned in the previous post.  Most now question the #MeToo movement because it no longer suits them politically.  The movement was fine when it went after liberals like Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose and Al Franken, but now that their politicians and celebrities come under attack, #MeToo is seen as a political tool of the Democrats and liberal Hollywood.  Sorry folks, you can't have your cake and eat it too.  Maybe #DontEatCake should be the next phase of this movement.

Many conservative women now fear for their sons, as Brian Kilmeade did when he became unhinged on Fox and Friends.  Even his co-hosts gave him the side-eye.  I would think these conservatives would be more worried about their daughters, who have to endure this abuse and keep it hidden so as not to offend any basketball player or future politician.  I think this is a good time for some of these parents to watch 13 Reasons Why, which seriously questions this concept of "male privilege."

There's no denying Kavanaugh was a poor choice.  Trump and his Republican friends did what they could to hide his sketchy record and try to push him through the Senate hearings before anyone could serious question him.  As it is, he still may end up getting approved as it seems Lisa and Susan aren't convinced by these allegations. 

This is what led a fourth accuser to send he anonymous letter to Cory Gardner, Colorado's Republican Senator, in hopes he might question Brett's moral character, as the event she describes took place when he was an adult.  Unless, she steps out of the shadows it is doubtful Republicans will accept her story, and even then they may dismiss it, as they have the other three other allegations, claiming they are all politically motivated.

Little wonder women choose not to report sexual abuse and rape.  We've seen Patti Davis, Ronald Reagan's daughter, step forward with their own story this past week, but it is doubtful this will sway conservatives.  Women choose to lock these stories up inside them until they are forced to confront their assailants from their past.  One can imagine what Christine Ford, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick all felt seeing Kavanaugh being nominated for the highest court of the land.  This was not an easy choice for them to make, and all wanted to remain anonymous, but the seriousness of the charges compelled them to come forward.

For Republican leaders to take this lightly or dismiss the allegations out of hand, as many have done, is unconscionable.  Democratic senators didn't do this when one their own, Al Franken, was accused of far less egregious sexual abuse charges than Brett Kavanaugh.  They pleaded with Franken to resign rather than drag down the party.  Of course, there was a picture, which it seems one has to have to make a charge stick these days.  However these confirmation hearings turn out, it will be a very nasty reflection on the GOP come November.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Time to get that crayon out of our brains




If only it were this simple.  Way back in 2001, The Simpsons nailed anti-Intellectualism in this country, and may have revealed the secret to Trump's debilitating mental powers.  Those nasty Crayola crayons kids apparently love to shove up their noses.

As we watch "Crazytown" unravel, it seems Michael Avenatti is taking full advantage of the situation by offering a third assault victim and witnesses in regard to Judge Kavanaugh's moral character.  Hard to put too much trust in Avenatti, given his propensity to chase ambulances, but it has thrown the Republican confirmation hearings into similar disarray.  Mitch and Chuck were badly hoping to have Kavanaugh seated by the end of the months, but it now it looks like these hearings will stretch into October.

Republicans find themselves in a damned if they do/ damned if they don't situation in their attempt to stack the Supreme Court.  The last president who tried to do this was FDR and the Democrats paid at the polls way back in 1937.  FDR found himself with a much more hostile Republican Congress in 1938.

The court is not something you tamper with, at least not so overtly, and the Republican overreach that began in June with Kennedy's surprise retirement has come to a head in their attempt to stuff Kavanaugh on the bench despite a sketchy judicial record and an even sketchier boyhood.

To be fair, the Democrats tried to point out Kavanaugh's shortfalls in regard to his views on Native Hawaiians, but the Republicans were hearing none of it.  Not surprising that the Dems would use Christine Blasey Ford to try to stall the confirmation hearings.  Republicans are crying foul, but these are the same Republicans who refused to even consider Merrick Garland, another privileged white judge, when Obama nominated him for the seat in early 2016.

Meanwhile, our crayon-lodged-in-the-brain president vents on twitter how nasty the Democrats and Ford are to thwart his judicial appointee, further eroding public confidence in Kavanaugh, whose story keeps changing.  He apparently now claims he was a virgin throughout high school and didn't pursue women, in an interview eerily reminiscent of the one Bill and Hillary had with 60 Minutes in 1992 to deny the allegations of sexual abuse by Gennifer Flowers.  It may have worked then, but in this #MeToo age, it is doubtful it will work now.

Of course, many conservatives see nothing wrong with what Brett did even if he did do it.  Boys will be boys, as legal pundit Jeanine Pirro would tell us, and besides she thinks Ford was hypnotized into telling this story.  This is one of the many crazy conspiracy theories surrounding the sexual abuse allegations as religious conservatives rush to defend Kavanaugh, who they think will help undo Roe v. Wade.  However, Jeanine doesn't think Kavanaugh will give religious conservatives what they most want.  So, it doesn't seem the young judge was properly vetted in a number of ways.

What does all this tell us about Trump and that crayon lodged in his brain?  For a man obsessed with legacy there is no greater legacy than a President packing the Supreme Court.  Within two years, he has had the opportunity to name two appointees.  Gorsuch sailed through.  The Democrats put up a fight, but the dashing 51 year-old judge, who also served under Kennedy, didn't have any ugly skeletons in his closet.

There was something smarmy about Kavanaugh that you couldn't quite put a finger on until Ford came forward, much like the Donald himself.  This is a guy who rose up the ladder purely though white privilege from the Georgetown prep school to Yale law school to his plum role as clerk for Kennedy.  To be fair, Gorsuch was no different in this regard.  He too attended the same infamous Georgetown prep school, graduating two years later than Kavanaugh, before going onto Columbia and Harvard, where he brushed shoulders with Obama no less.

The difference resides mostly in looks, which is probably why Trump wasn't as excited about Kavanaugh as he had been Gorsuch.  Trump is obsessed with looks, but Kennedy had convinced him that Kavanaugh was his boy, so he is forced to accept him as he is his son, Eric.  If Kavanaugh is defeated, Trump will disown him.  Simple as that.

However, Mitch is going out of his way to convince wealthy conservative patrons that it won't reach that stage.  He probably figures he has two or three Blue Dog Democrats in his back pocket if Lisa and Susan jump ship, with Our Man Pence there to cast the deciding vote should it be a tie.

The most bothersome aspect of the whole thing is that intellectualism is brain dead.  People are lining up on either side of this debate purely out of emotion.  Then there's Avenatti throwing a third woman into the mix, presumably a woman anyway, to draw attention to himself.  The same way he rushed down to the Texas border to find some kid to defend against Trump's zero-tolerance immigration policy when he was no longer getting as much airtime with Stormy Daniels.

No one is looking at Kavanaugh's questionable judicial record the way Sen. Hirono did.  This is a guy who similarly looks like he has a crayon lodged in his brain, only in his case retarding all empathy.  It's not just Native Americans he appears to have no regard for, but immigrants and workers as well.  Fact is he barely has a judicial record you can hang a cloak on, having dissented from controversial cases and split the needle on other cases so that no one really knows where he stands on key issues.

We can thank Christine Blasey Ford for at least bringing his boyhood past to light.  What happened at Georgetown prep school doesn't stay at Georgetown prep school, and now the school is having to wrestle with its murky past.



Monday, September 24, 2018

Keep it Tight

Or Tainnkyauthcwar hcaung (google) to my Burmese friends




Facebook is an easy target, as is social media in general, but is it really the platform's fault that so many persons abuse it?  That seems to be what Congress is implying as it goes through another round of hearings to determine the role social media networks had in the 2016 elections and if they are just as vulnerable in 2018.

The Senate panel was apparently better at questioning social media executives than had been the House earlier in April, but it strikes me Congress is trying to pin all the ills of the past election on social media rather than owning up to its lack of any meaningful legislature to limit electoral abuse.  This is why Google didn't even bother to show up.

John Oliver tore facebook a new asshole on another front, its reach into countries like Myanmar, where facebook is readily available as a phone app.  It is apparently used so much in this newly opened country that it has become the go-to platform for news and opinions.  But, is facebook worse than a toilet as he implies in his lengthy segment?

Everyone has strong opinions and with social media now reaching well over a billion persons worldwide, it is pretty hard to police.  Zuckerberg said they were ramping up the number of Burmese-speaking monitors to screen out hateful language, but the problem is so broad, and continues at full throttle here in the US, that curbing it seems like a quaint idea.

Basically, people like to vent, often regretting it afterward and having to patch up friendships.  I've gone through this myself.  If you keep your circle of friends to people you know, it pretty much becomes self-monitoring, but when that circle expands because of a person's lust for followers then anything goes, as is the case on twitter, quite possibly the most abused social media platform where your 280-character missive can literally be seen by anyone and in turn anyone can respond.  This is why Trump loves it, as twitter allows him to claim a massive following, although it falls far short of Katy Perry.  In fact, he's not even in the Top Ten.

We all hate to see those political commentaries, memes and hashtags, but in the end this is what most persons respond to.  And pet pictures too.  At facebook, persons form support groups for their political views, sometimes going as far as blocking unwanted intruders.  It's kind of like the AA in this sense.  If you do crash someone's support group, tempers flare, and pretty soon it becomes a nasty free-for-all.  Do it enough times and you become de-friended.

This is why I generally tend to lay off because as much as I might dislike what some of my old high school and college friends have to say politically, I still remember what they were like growing up, and they are not bad people.  They have plenty of family and vacation pictures to share as well, which allows us to keep on friendly terms.

I've found humor works better when it comes to politics.  It tends to diffuse a tense moment or simply makes your view known without dwelling on it.

There might be a lot of things wrong with facebook, as John Oliver has unmercifully pointed out, but it is a valuable means of keeping in touch with people you lost track of years and even decades ago.  True, in some cases it was better to let sleeping dogs lie, but these surly beasts are the rare exceptions, and easily de-friended.

Where I think facebook could do a better job is in screening out all those unsolicited requests that appear on your timeline, particularly in the form of trivia games.  They are nothing more than a means to tag your page and collect information, presumably for marketing purposes, but god knows what other nefarious reasons as we found out with Cambridge Analytica.  Data mining, they call it.

Basically, you have to be careful.  I can see how it can be a major problem in Myanmar, where the Burmese had no exposure to social media before 2013.  But, in the US and other Western countries it is about  keeping your circle of friends tight and your personal information as private as you can.  Avoid the temptation to play those trivia games, and be careful what product advertisements you open.  Sometimes you can get a free pair of Nooz pince nez, but more often you get scammed.  It's just like the junk mail you used to find in the mail box.

Anyway, it is not the platform but the user who is the real problem here.  We wouldn't be so gullible if we were more careful about what we follow on social media.  It helps to fact check and read consumer reports.  It's all available at a touch.  Nobody likes to be made a fool.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Space is the Place




Another thing that caught my eye in Budapest were all the NASA t-shirts and patches on backpacks.  Back in Vilnius, I noticed a lot of young persons wearing NASA t-shirts as well.  What gives?

Not surprisingly the trend can be traced back to Kylie Jenner, who first sported a NASA-inspired t-shirt in 2016.  Turns out she was referring to a 90's club that was known by the same acronym, but soon other celebrities were sporting shirts with direct references to the space agency.  NASA became so popular that top fashion designers were quick to weave the logo into their clothes, or at least a semblance of it.  Space is the place! as Sun Ra would say.

I guess I just didn't notice it before I was rummaging through a box of patches in a shop called Szputnyik in Budapest, pulling out all the space-inspired ones, as I recalled my infatuation with space travel back in the 70s.  It was Tang and chocolate space sticks for me each morning there for awhile.  Surprisingly, no patches of Sputnik or other Soviet space references.  The kid behind the counter said the owner based the name of the shop on Murakami's book, Sputnik Sweetheart, not seeming to realize Murakami amusingly transposed Sputnik with Beatnik in the novel.  The shop had more of a Beatnik feel to it, so it seems the owner played along with the joke.  Anyway, the two were both products of the 50s.

It's great to see all these young people getting interested in space again, whether the American, Russian or European program.  Today, the International Space Station is home to scientists from all around the world, echoing the theme of Star Trek many years ago.  Unfortunately, Russian rockets are still the only way to get there, as neither Space X nor Blue Origin have developed rockets able to get astronauts to the space station.  All though, Space X was the first private company to send a spacecraft to deliver cargo to the ISS in 2012, so it is only a matter of time.

There was a time when NASA and the Soviet space program Roscosmos worked together in space, but today Russia has the monopoly on ferrying astronauts to the space station.  It has been upping the costs for its shuttle service ever since NASA launched its last space shuttle to the ISS in 2011.  No matter, it is still significantly less than it would have cost to keep the space shuttle program going -- a whopping $450 million per flight!

NASA has gained more from the satellites and probes it sends into space, able to go far beyond the reach of humans.  Still, there are important experiments scientists can do in space which they can't do here on earth so the ISS remains an invaluable part of the space program.

It helps that Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are investing heavily in space.  They have drawn interest once again in space travel.  Musk recently announced he would be sending his first private astronaut, a young Japanese billionaire, on an orbit around the moon.  The mission is expected to cost around $5 billion.  Not sure how much Maezawa is putting up, but he says he will bring along a team of artists at his expense to draw their impressions of the journey.  Surprised he didn't invite Murakami.

This is the type of stuff that feeds fantasies and what Musk draws upon to attract attention to his space program.  Bezos has kept a lower profile to this point but now that his amazon is valued at over $1 trillion it is safe to assume he will be spending much more on Blue Origin.

In the meantime, we content ourselves with the retro NASA space logos.  There were many, but the original design by James Modarelli is the one to get.  He based the red swoosh on a supersonic aeroplane designed to fly at Mach 3, adding the Intergalactic field of stars behind it, with NASA through the middle.  It was known as the worm and meatball in NASA circles.  No one wore it better than Buzz Aldrin.


Friday, September 21, 2018

Our special relationship with Budapest




On an amusing note, it was fun to see some of the sculptures in Budapest on a recent trip.  Ever since Hungary returned to the European fold in 1989, local artists have been making it known where their allegiances had long lied.  This is why you find a life-size bronze likeness of Ronald Reagan in Liberty Square, where a Soviet obelisk still stands in commemoration of the Soviet liberation of Hungary from Nazi Germany.  It's kind of hard to get both in the same picture.

The Reagan statue was erected in 2011 with much fanfare and has been a favorite spot for American tourists ever since.  There is also a statue of US General Harry Hill Bandholtz, erected in 1936 in memory of the role he played in stopping a gang of Romanian soldiers from looting the National Museum of Transylvanian treasures in 1919.  Surprisingly, it wasn't taken down during the Soviet-Hungarian years.

I learned that Transylvania is a sore point for Hungarians, as this infamous region in the Carpathians was once part of Hungary until the Romanians laid claim to it in 1918.  It had been part of the Magyar kingdom as far back as the 9th century, but ethnic Romanians disputed this claim, and when the Austro-Hungarian empire disintegrated after WWI, they claimed it in the name of the newly formed Romanian Kingdom.

Of course, we all know Transylvania largely from Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula, which was rather loosely based on Vlad Tepes, the ruler of Walachia in the 15th century.  He became known as Vlad the Impaler on account of carefully driving a stake through the anus to the open mouth of his poor victims, leaving them elevated above the ground until they died of internal injuries.  This gruesome method was quite common at the time.  Stoker took it one step further in his novel by turning Vlad into a blood sucking vampire.

The book has been made into numerous movies, but the 1931 cinematic version remains the most famous, starring Bela Lugosi.  You might not see the irony in this until you learn that Bela is a native Hungarian.  Essentially, he reclaimed Count Dracula and the Transylvania region in the name of his homeland, for better or worse, and has been duly memorialized on one of the many corners of Vajdahunyad Castle, symbolizing the millennium of the conquest of the Carpathian basin in 895 by the Magyars.

The fairytale castle was built in 1896 at the height of the Austro-Hungarian empire and has many other persons memorialized there.  You might struggle to find Bela without a phone app, but persevere as it is worth it.  I'm not sure whether he filled a pre-existing niche or if the sculptor carved out a special place for a small bust of him, but Bela seems right at home in this castle.  We came at twilight and bats were darting around above us.

Nothing quite prepares you for the life-size bronze sculpture of Peter Falk and his famous Basset hound at the end of the No. 2 Tram on Falk Miksa St. near the Danube, or Duna as they call it in Hungary.  What has Columbo, as the statue is known as, got to do with Hungary?  The name of the street should give you a clue, as Falk is a Hungarian name, and the sculptor linked the actor to the famous journalist and politician, Miksa Falk.  There is nothing to indicate such a connection exists, but Peter himself claimed to have Hungarian Jewish blood, and that was enough as far as the sculptor was concerned.

I think Peter Falk became famous in Europe largely for reprising his role of Columbo in Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire.  The 1987 movie has a cult following and in many ways presaged the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.  To my mind, no movie more evocatively captures the duality of life in Berlin at the time, which is why it is probably better translated directly from its German title, Skies Over Berlin.  I don't think too many Europeans, and especially Hungarians, paid much attention to Columbo before then.

There are many more sculptures to check out in Budapest.  Here are the ten most interesting according to EUrama.   Surprisingly, Shakespeare didn't make the list, who bows before a Starbucks on the east bank of the Duna.


Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Fatal Flaw of the Religious Right Movement




If it has been made abundantly clear the religious right will elect or stand behind anyone who swears his allegiance on the Ten Commandments, sees abortion as murder, and believes in the sanctity of heterosexual marriage.

We saw Alabama religious conservatives continue to support Roy Moore, the so-called Ten Commandments judge, despite numerous highly credible claims that he was a sexual predator of teenagers while serving in the District Attorney's office.  The same "moral majority" similarly has no problem with thrice-married Donald Trump, who admittedly cheated on each of his wives and left a trail of sexual abuse allegations that continue to hound him in office.  Now we see the same religious zealots coming to the defense of Brett Kavanaugh, despite a serious charge of attempted rape while a senior at a prestigious Georgetown prep school.

The underlying thread among all these nefarious characters is their steadfast support of the holy trinity of religious right political issues.  Religious conservatives believe firmly the country was founded upon the principles of the Bible, abortion from the point of conception should be treated as a criminal offense, and that there is no room for gay marriage.  They will elect virtually anyone who supports these positions no matter how dubious their personal character, and are determined to pack the Supreme Court with judges who will overturn Roe v. Wade.  Little wonder you see them turn a blind eye to Kavanaugh's highly questionable character, as he is the judge they have long been waiting for.

Trump telegraphed this pick, just as he did his ban on Muslims during the campaign.  The Supreme Court still upheld his travel ban, as his administration had added Venezuela and North Korea to the final version so that it could no longer be called a ban on Muslims.  Religious conservatives can rest assured Kavanaugh and his fellow conservative judges will find a way to undermine Roe v. Wade similar to the way the conservative court invalidated key parts of the Voting Rights Act, even though he danced around the issue at Senate hearings.

American religious conservatives have adopted the same no-holds-barred political attitude of Jewish Zionists in Israel.  They don't give a fuck how their agenda is fulfilled, as long as it is fulfilled.  This is why we see so many references to The Handmaid's Tale.  You might call it Old Testament Christianity -- an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth -- which was made very explicit in the television series.

You actually have religious conservatives running for office in Idaho on the belief that abortion should be punishable with the death penalty.  As it is, Idaho has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.

This has been a march that started in full earnest in 1980 when the "moral majority" led by Jerry Falwell helped get Ronald Reagan elected.  Not coincidentally, it was the time Margaret Atwood wrote her now famous book.  Since then Falwell's Liberty University has become one of the largest colleges in the country with an enrollment of over 100,000 students, the vast majority of them on-line.  It is the "think tank," if you will of the religious conservative movement.  The bastion of their higher principles, now led by his son Jerry Falwell Jr., a vocal Trump supporter.

It's not just Roe v. Wade they want overturn.  They want to rewrite the Constitution as well, or at least make it explicitly clear the Founding Fathers were basing their beliefs on the Bible, not the Enlightment as historians would tell us.  The religious right does not believe in a separation between church and state, they see it as one in the same.  Their origin point for the United States is Plymouth Rock.

James Madison's words fall on deaf ears in the Bible Belt.  David Barton and other conservative religious scholars have been busy rewriting the Founding Fathers, replete with copious footnotes, asserting that they always saw the United States as a Christian nation, and that Thomas Jefferson set up the University of Virginia as an evangelical college, even though there were no evangelicals around at the time.

The second Great Awakening, from which all these evangelical religions sprung, didn't happen until the mid 19th century, long after the Founding Fathers were dead.  Time, however, has a way of becoming compressed in the conservative evangelical mind, kind of like dinosaurs on Noah's Ark.  After all, these people believe the world is little more than 6000 years old, an origin derived by tracing back the dubious genealogy in the Old Testament.

However, these evangelicals should be watching what is going on in the Vatican more closely.  When you harbor sexual predators in your midst, sooner or later it all comes out, and whatever moral high ground you like to claim erodes pretty quickly.  Eventually, people lose faith in the their leaders and seek alternatives, as was the case in Alabama when Doug Jones defeated the contemptible Roy Moore, who was best known for placing a stone monument of the Ten Commandments in front of the Alabama Judicial Building in Montgomery.  Turns out the Ten Commandments Judge liked to chase after high school girls while serving as an assistant district attorney.

Now we have a man seeking the highest court in the land who was an equally contemptible prep school bully, forcing himself on at least one woman, and judging from his buddy's book, was a regular party animal in high school.  It's not like "Bart O'Kavanaugh" (as he is referred to in the book) mended his ways.  He just learned better how to conceal them.  Surely, the Republican Party could have better vetted their Supreme Court nominee!

Yet, the religious right stands behind Kavanaugh, as seen by Rev. Franklin Graham's defense, who dismisses the sexual assault allegations as he has done those against Donald Trump.  All is forgiven as long as you support the key tenets of the evangelical religious faith.  Unfortunately for Kavanaugh, Maryland law doesn't see it that way and he is still liable for the claims being made against him by Christine Ford.  That's why he has hired a high-profile female lawyer rather than seek religious forgiveness.

Meanwhile, a panel of 11 Republican men on the judiciary committee mull over their approach to Ford, as the optics aren't very good.  Their attempts to discredit Ford have already backfired on them, with 63 of the alleged 65 women who signed a letter in support of Kavanaugh refusing to come forward or simply didn't exist in the first place.  The best Fox could do was get two women to vouch for the Supreme Court nominee, having dated him roughly around the time in question.

That's probably enough for the Republican senators and religious conservatives, but many more women have come forward in defense of Ford, all of whom were high school classmates.  It's like the global warming debate.

Whatever the case, these allegations have exposed the fatal flaw in the Religious Right Movement.  It can't pretend to serve as a moral vanguard for this country if many among its midst are either sexual predators or condone their abusive ways.  They may try to deal with it among themselves, as the council of local commanders did with Commander Warren in The Handmaid's Tale, but we still live in a secular United States where the rule of law counts more than the Ten Commandments.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Sock it to me, baby!




At this point in the campaign season, you want to be scoring some wins to propel your Congressional candidates to victory in the upcoming midterm elections.  Instead, the GOP looks like the Arizona Cardinals.

What appeared to be an easy confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh has turned into a three-ring circus, with at least three Republican Senators expressing their doubts about his moral fiber after his accuser made herself public and passed a polygraph test.  This was enough to make nearly all the women, who signed a letter of support for the Supreme Court nominee, get cold feet, or they didn't exist to begin with.  Kavanaugh's staunchest defender, Mark Judge, is a right-wing ideologue with a dubious past tracing back to his days with "Bart O'Kavanaugh" at the now infamous Georgetown prep school, where Christine Blasey Ford claims the two tried to rape her.   Even the White House needed a couple of days to determine how to approach this thorny dilemma, opting not to follow the lead of Donnie Jr.

Making matters worse, Paul Manafort decided it was better to cooperate with the FBI than spend the rest of his life in jail.  Doesn't seem that the former campaign chairman for Trump 2016 was very confident of a pardon coming through.  As it now stands, Trump can only wring his hands trying to guess what Manafort tells Mueller.   Same with fellow Republicans who can be potentially linked to the Kremlin.  Little doubt Manafort was the Russian access point to US politics.

All this makes Chris Collins' indictment over insider trading look like small potatoes.  Of course, this isn't stopping the GOP Representative from staying in the race, much to the chagrin of the Republican National Committee.  Chris may hold onto his seat, but it further tarnishes a party already suffering from numerous corruption charges.

Turning the death of Mollie Tibbetts into a political whipping post isn't working too well for Republicans either.  Her parents are furious and letting everyone know, yet Trump persists in drawing attention to her murder by an undocumented immigrant at campaign rallies.

The piece d'resistance is Trump's new round of tariffs, which essentially act as a consumer tax with the retail industry passing along his 10 per cent rate hike to the public.  Trump was unable to get what he wanted with China from the first round of tariffs, which devastated soybean farmers, so now he decides to make all Americans pay for them.

From day one, Republican leaders warned Trump about using tariffs but he did so anyway.  It's like telling your kid not to drive the fancy sports car in the garage while you are on vacation.  You knew Trump would do it.  The tariffs failed to unite Republicans around embattled Rick Saccone back in March, and it is doubtful it will help embattled Republicans in the midterms.  What began as a special election ploy has turned into an albatross around the GOP neck.

As Samantha Bee points out, there's no guarantee Democrats could successfully take back their shopping carts, let alone retake Congress.  The cards are definitely stacked against Democratic candidates with all the gerrymandering since the 2010 census, along with Voter ID laws, and notorious state policies that don't allow ex-convicts to regain their voting rights, also known as felony disenfranchisement.

John Oliver pointed out how bad the situation is in Florida, where 1.5 million former felons are unable to vote, largely thanks to Rick Scott, who personally oversees the matter.  I don't know which is worse that Florida has so many ex-convicts or that Rick actually sits on the board that reviews their appeals.

However, it seems the enthusiasm is much higher among Democrats than it is Republicans heading into the midterms, which doesn't bode well for the GOP.  Young candidates seem to be drawing in new voters, which might help offset the gerrymandered districts and defy the voter ID laws.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in Texas, where Beto O'Rourke has Ted Cruz crying for help.

Watching the Republicans try to pull their act together before the midterms is like the old episodes of Laugh-In.


Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Perfect Shit Storm, Part II




They call them manure lagoons, which seems like an awfully nice term for shit ponds.  This is where all the hog shit goes from those huge hog farms in the Carolinas.  There are probably more hogs in North Carolina than there are people.  All to feed our insatiable appetite for pork.  One can imagine how this will affect Coastal Carolina, where many of these hog farms are located.

Hog farming is an ugly business.  The Danes raise a considerable number of hogs, and to try to ease the overflow in their small low-lying country, have set up hog farms here in Lithuania.  The stench is overwhelming, leading many local inhabitants to complain how the government ever allowed Danish pork companies to set up their operations here, not to mention the periodic "swine fever" that breaks out among these pigs.  This year, nearly 20,000 pigs had to be culled.

At least pig farming is regulated to some degree in Europe, which is more than you can say for North Carolina, which is swamped with law suits.  The state senate reaction was to limit the payouts, as it doesn't want to lose its profitable pork industry to civil action.  So, you can imagine what local regulations are like.

The hog farmers scrambled overtime to drain their lagoons before the storm surge.  It seems that the worst case scenario has been avoided and Coastal Carolina won't be covered in pig shit.  His Trumpness would have had a hard time living that down in an election year, not to mention state and US representatives up for re-election.

However, the Donald had his own case of swine fever, babbling incoherently about his record this past week.  He seemed to only reinforce what had been said in recent books and anonymous op-eds about his declining mental state.  He tried to play down the staggering revised death toll from Hurricane Maria by saying it wasn't the White House's fault, but that of Puerto Rico's poor infrastructure and political bickering in Congress.  His FEMA team, led by embattled Kirstjen Nielsen, did a bang-up job in his mind.  It doesn't matter that the death toll exceeds that of Katrina in 2005, which became an albatross around George Bush's neck, helping the Democrats retake Congress in 2006.

Talk of a red wave in November has since receded, as not even the "record economy" is enough to buoy up his floundering administration.  The guy hits 4% GDP growth for one quarter and he acts like it is the greatest recorded economic growth in history, especially since it edged out unemployment last month.  I'm sure Republican candidates are dreading the third quarter numbers due out in October, as it is highly doubtful he will hit 4% again.

Hurricane Florence couldn't have come at a worst time for Republicans.  It brings back all those ugly memories of how poorly Republican presidents and Congresspersons have responded to hurricanes.  It has always been Republican US representatives who have been slow to provide disaster relief, as long it doesn't affect their individual states.  Puerto Rico was perfect in this case, as it has no representation in Congress, so they could dawdle as long as they wanted over finally lending relief to the island territory, which many Americans think is a foreign country.

Of course, Trump and fellow Republicans will try to use Florence to help voters forget their past record, rushing aid to the Carolinas and taking advantage of as many photo-ops as possible.  However, if there is a way to botch the recovery, the Donald will find it, as he has just about everything else during his tumultuous term in office.

What we have in Washington is essentially a "manure lagoon," filled with all the shit coming out of these politicians mouths for the past 21 months.  There is only so much any reasonably sane person can take of this, including die-hard Trump supporters, who themselves are beginning to question their anointed one's mental state.  Why else would all these senior officials and staffers in his administration divulge so much to Bob Woodward, who has made it his mission to take presidents down?

The cry for help inside the Trump White House is deafening, but Republican lawmakers refuse to hear it, stifling attempts to hold the president accountable.  Again, this isn't much different than what North Carolina Republican lawmakers have tried to do to make their manure lagoons invisible to the public eye.  All it takes is a hurricane to expose the shit ponds they have created, and we have two more storms out in the Atlantic and one churning up waters in the Caribbean. 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Lodestar




I don't know why I follow Yahoo! news feed other than I have my e-mail account through Yahoo!  Sandwiched between all the stories of the Kardashians, missing teens, fallout over Nike's Kaepernick ad, and most luxurious castles to sleep in are a few stories on the anonymous editorial in the New York Times by a senior official in the White House.

Everyone is trying to guess who he is.  The most intriguing theory is Mike Pence, largely based on one word -- lodestar.  More likely it is Dan Coats or Don McGahn or someone we don't pay much attention to.  Whatever the case, it sure has gotten the Donald's dander up.

Some have come out and said a senior administration official is "gutless," as he is answerable only to the Commander-in-Chief and is himself or herself posing a national security risk.  Others feel all these officials are answerable to the United States, and if they have grave doubts about the sanity of the President, which Bob Woodward's new book makes explicitly clear, then it is their obligation to invoke the 25th amendment, which is one of the hottest hashtags right now.

Not since Watergate have members of a President's administration so brazenly defied their boss, and for good reason.  Trump is certifiably nuts.  We don't need Omarosa to tell us this, or even Bob Woodward.  All one has to do is look at his steady stream of tweets -- five, six, seven or more per day -- that show a man that is truly unhinged.

To this point, his administration had drawn a wagon circle around him but with his former lawyer and accountant flipping on him and no telling how much information the FBI landed from their raid on Paul Manafort's home, there are a lot of Trump officials, both senior and junior, fearing they might be next.  As such, the wagon circle now has a few holes in it, and one big gaping one to read the NYTimes op-ed piece.

This is truly damning, as the anonymous editorial reinforces pretty much what Woodward says in his new book, Fear, and for that matter Omarosa too, that this administration has entered a "Twilight Zone," where aides have to keep information and papers away from the President for fear he might do something truly stupid and dangerous that would threaten our national security.  Does Congress need anymore reason to impeach him?

Apparently, yes, as Republican leaders in the Senate have for the most part remained mum on the subject and they are the ones who ultimately decide this issue.  Regardless of how the House votes on impeachment, the Senate must approve that decision by a two-thirds vote.  That's 67 Senators.  It is doubtful Mitch McConnell would use the so-called nuclear option in this case.

The best course is to try to get Trump to step down at the end of the year, especially if Democrats take the House in November.  An impeachment hearing is almost certain at that point.  The only problem is the Donald is not the kind of person to go quietly.  He will resist such efforts to the bitter end.

Leaks have always been a problem for this White House.  From day one stories came poring out of the West Wing that made the President look bad, prompting him to vent his anger on the "fake" news media for reporting these unsubstantiated rumors.  More and more, these stories have been substantiated, with the documents and tapes in question being released anonymously, or in Omarosa's case proudly before the public.

Rudy Giuliani hasn't done a very good job of doing damage control.  In many cases, he just added more fuel to the fire.  It also doesn't help that Trump regularly vents his rage on twitter, often incriminating himself as he recently did by calling the the judgement of the Justice Department into question for prosecuting two Republican legislators.  The mid-terms weigh very heavily on Trump's addled mind, as he sees the Congressional elections as a validation of himself, posting nearly everyday how well he is doing, and that there will be a "Red Wave" in November that will allow him to fully enact his policies.

If he can't run a tight ship, it is pretty hard to enact any meaningful policies, especially when senior officials pull papers from your desk so that you aren't able to sign these questionable policies into action.  The amazing part is that he apparently has no memory of these papers having been on his desk in the first place, which makes one wonder again about his state of mind.

It is doubtful, the "resistance" in the White House has enough votes to invoke the 25th amendment, but their duty is to the country not the Commander-in-Chief, and we should be thankful that some persons within Trump's inner circle are finally questioning the president's sanity.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018




Another upset in the liberal Northeast.  Say hello to Ayanna Pressley.  She just beat a 10-term incumbent Democrat in Massachusetts' 7th District.  The Democratic Party is so badly in need of fresh faces and is finally getting them.  Of course, establishment figures like Michael Capuano are none too happy about it, but after so many terms he should be thinking about retirement anyway.

If only we could convince Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein and other lifetime Congresspersons to step down gracefully.  Pelosi is 78.  Feinstein is 85.  They have been in Washington since 1987 and 1992 respectively.  There reaches a point where these political figures no longer offer any fresh ideas, dragging the party down.

Ayanna, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Conor Lamb, has voiced outright opposition to Nancy Pelosi, as have many of these young insurgents in the Democratic Party.  A strategy that has worked for Democratic candidates as their Republican challengers try to tie them to the embattled Democratic House minority leader.

Not surprisingly, Ayanna received virtually no support from the Democratic establishment, despite having worked for John Kerry and Joseph Kennedy.  All the state Democratic US Representatives backed Capuano.  Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, both up for re-election, stayed neutral.  Pelosi endorsed Capuano, although she congratulated Ayanna on her victory.

Why doesn't Pelosi simply give up her leadership role?  That would undermine what little is left of the Republican strategy in 2018.  But, the 16-term Congresswoman has no intention of stepping down, even if she has lost two of her strongest allies, Capuano and Crowley, in the liberal Northeast.

Some persons just don't know when to go.  For both Capuano and Crowley it should have been obvious.  They were aging white men in districts that had become predominantly Black and Hispanic.  Yet, they hung on like two paternalistic old men pretending to represent their districts in Congress, when they pretty much just served the Democratic Party.

This is the problem across the country.  Congresspersons serve party interests, often to their own detriment, as they come to rely on political machines to keep them in power.  But, in this day of social media anything is possible, because you no longer need a huge war chest to mount a campaign, especially in a district that favors you to begin with.  It also helped that Ayanna and Alexandria got out and stirred people up with their presence, while their opponents relied largely on surrogates.

Even with this popular insurgence of young candidates, the Democratic Party still favors age.  Believe it or not, Joe Biden is being seriously considered for President in 2020.  He will be 77 during the campaign year.  Sure, he still has a youthful spirit, much like Bernie did in 2016, but why isn't the Democratic Party promoting younger potential candidates like Cory Booker, Julian Castro, or Kamala Harris?  The closest the party has come to backing a progressive candidate is Elizabeth Warren, who will be 71 in 2020.

I suppose there is a certain fear these younger candidates would not fair well on a national stage, but then Obama proved this kind of conservative thinking wrong in 2008.  Since the Civil Rights Movement, the Democratic Party has done better when it promotes youthful nominees, not old farts.  Ironically, Ayanna Pressley will be representing John F. Kennedy's former district in Congress, showing just how far the Democratic Party has come since the 1950s.

Congratrulations, Ayanna!

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

There Will Be Blood




There's a panic in the air as the midterms quickly approach.  It is now just two months before that fateful day in November where voters get to throw the bums out of Congress and their states as well.  The only problem is that the retention rate is usually pretty high, and very rarely do we see the upheaval we imagine.

Social media is leveling the field to a certain degree.  It no longer takes a huge war chest to be competitive in a campaign.  But, some persons still get out there the old-fashioned way, going door to door as Beto is doing in Texas.  He has Ted Cruz sweating bullets, calling on no less than Donald Trump himself to get him over the finish line in what has become a very close race.  David Hogg wants Texans to remember what Trump said about Ted during the 2016 campaign.  You might call it a billboard outside Lubbock, Texas.

Across the country, many Congressional races are unusually close.  The fact that Ted has to defend himself means that conservative PACs can't spend as heavily unseating vulnerable Democrats like Heidi Heitkamp or Bill Nelson.  This is an election where Republicans should gain seats in the Senate, given the Democrats have to defend so many seats.  Seeing Ted having to battle an upstart like Beto O'Rourke, who has firmly aligned himself with labor, is not what Texas conservatives expected.

Beto has helped to take some of the heat off Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who the Republicans have been trying to turn into the poster girl of the new Democratic Left.  The Conservative PACs had been making Nancy Pelosi into the Wicked Witch of the West, but have been so overwhelmed by all these new "Democratic Socialists" that they don't know which way to turn.

Fear is the prime motivating factor for conservatives, but how much of a base does Trump have left at this point?  His favorite poll, Rasmussen, only shows that 35% of Americans strongly approve of his performance.  Other polls have that number at less than 30 per cent.  That might be enough to hold onto reliably Republican seats, but when it comes to close races, that might prove to be a tipping point in favor of Democrats.

The midterms are generally seen as a referendum on the President's performance and typically the party in power loses seats.  Fact is many of these elections are won at the local level, particularly US Representative seats.  It doesn't matter too much where you stand on Trump or Pelosi, local voters want a person who represents them.  Cortez will win her reliably Democratic district despite her "socialist" roots, just as Duncan Hunter will probably hold onto his reliably Republican California seat despite the corruption charges being leveled against him.  What's interesting is that there are far less "safe seats" this time around for Republicans than in any previous election.

The special elections illustrated that point very well with close races in Georgia, Ohio and Arizona, and Conor Lamb pulling off a stunning upset in a conservative district of Pennsylvania.  At the state level, Democrats scored some big turnovers in the assemblies, most notably in Virginia.  For once, Democrats appear to be tailoring their candidates to their specific districts, rather than conceding conservative districts to Republicans.

Trump and his allies would like us to think there will be riots in the street if the Democrats win the House in November.  This is probably the first time a President ever threatened violence as a means of scaring persons into voting for his party.  This appears to be the only card he has left in trying to strong arm Evangelical leaders into getting their parishioners out to vote.  This is wrong on so many levels.  Not only does it represent a clear breach of the separation of church and state, but pastors should be above this petty call to violence.  They are acting like this is ancient Rome, although Trump resembles Nero moreso than he does a Christian warrior.


Saturday, September 1, 2018

Aretha, Sing One for Me




Aretha had a send off fit for a queen, although one has to wonder about some of the political figures on hand for her memorial service.  It would have been nice to avoid this kind of representation all together, but there was Bill Clinton, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Louis Farrakhan moving in and out of the background as performers gave their soulful tributes to the Queen of Soul.  Their presence served as a distraction more than anything else, as this is what was commented upon most in social media.

For me the high point was when Shirley Caesar came to the pulpit, breaking into song at the 3:45 minute mark of this video clip.  She was joined by Tasha Cobbs on a rousing version of "How I Got Over."  The other songs were hit and miss, as you can expect at such a gathering.  Jennifer Hudson appeared to be trying too hard on Amazing Grace, and Chaka Khan gave a rather subdued albeit heartfelt performance of "Going Up Yonder."

CNN moved from hers to McCain's memorial throughout their coverage.  BBC had a few clips.  Euronews only passing reference.  So, one has to look on line for a broader survey of Aretha's grand send off, which lasted more than five hours at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, or Motown as it was known for many years.

There's no doubt memories of Aretha will last far longer than they will for John McCain, as very few persons touched the soul of the country the way she did.  She has a musical legacy that stretches back 60 years before she first appeared on Columbia records in 1961, after switching from gospel to soul music.  She had recorded songs earlier with JVB Records for an album entitled Spirituals, which were later released on Checker, after she shot to fame in the mid 60s.

Perhaps one of the greatest tributes to Aretha was this song by George Jackson, Aretha, Sing One for Me, he sang back in 1972.  A lovely song that emotionally shows how easily she touched all our lives.

She had an erratic career to say the least, but so many memorable performances along the way that you forget about all the rough patches.  She resurfaced in the 1970s cult movie, The Blue Brothers, along with Cab Calloway and other musical legends.  Here is her wonderful cameo in the movie.  She had a way of stealing the show wherever she pitched up.

Hard to believe this stunning performance of A Natural Woman was only three years ago.  She not only never lost her soul.  She never lost her voice.  You will be missed, Aretha, deeply, truly, madly!