Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Abyss: Weekend Update

It was the epic Friday night news dump of all time, culminating in the just-past-9 p.m. pardoning of convicted criminal, ace birther and former Sheriff Joe Apieceofwork.  With the possible exception of the "I quit/ no you're fired!" termination of Nazi Lite Sebastian Gorka from his nebulous White House post (with a quick slink back to Brietbart, natch), all of that dumped news has impeachment implications, new and old.  Oh, and it was all done as the worst hurricane to make US landfall in a decade was closing in on Texas.

Let us begin with the most likely to be lost in the explosion: earlier on Friday: the public rebuke of Homegrown Hitler's remarks on Charlottesville by his chief financial advisor Gary Cohn in an interview with the Financial Times.  As the WAPost reports, HH was "furious" but Cohn is so essential (Wall Street panicked when his resignation was rumored--a well-founded rumor, it turns out, because he drafted a resignation letter) that the official response from the White House was much more tepid.

Also the first subpoenas from Robert Mueller's DC grand jury for testimony about Paul Manafort and his tangled webs of deception.   There was also the little matter of North Korea firing missiles into the ocean near Japan, though initial reports claim they all failed.

But the superstar of the news dump was the pardon.  Two responses to it so far are notable:  A quick statement of "disagreement" with the decision from the usually mealy-mouthed Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, whose statement continues:“Law-enforcement officials have a special responsibility to respect the rights of everyone in the United States. We should not allow anyone to believe that responsibility is diminished by this pardon.”  Ryan of course would be a key figure in any future impeachment proceeding.

And second, the response from Dem Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, who said it "violates his [HH's] oath of office."  That a Dem Senator opposed it isn't the significance--it is positioning it as a violation of the oath of office.  Without saying so, that makes it grounds for an article of impeachment.

The predominant--if not universal--view is that the pardon is constitutional, though its extraordinary, really unprecedented nature qualifies it for court challenge.  Although Christian Farias in New York Magazine opines that it won't lead to impeachment, he also quotes Justice Breyer from last year: “There’s no blank check, even for the president,” he said during the hearing. “And if there’s no blank check, that means sometimes they can go too far. And if they have gone too far, it is our job to say that.”  As a constitutional issue, the Supreme Court could examine a pardon power case for the first time in its history.

If they do, they will look at the intent and the history.  Its intent, say scholars, was to keep the peace in a time of upheaval, such as the first pardon of miscreants convicted in the Whiskey Rebellion--that is, for the common good.  This pardon is obviously divisive, and plays only to HH's political base.

But a court case on the pardon itself, or an article of impeachment, aren't the only places it could turn up.  If it demonstrates to those that Robert Mueller prosecutes that they need not worry about it, it subverts justice from the get go, and becomes another Obstruction of Justice count.  If it impedes the investigation itself, as Rep. Adam Schiff charges, by signaling that targets or witnesses can get away with even not cooperating, then again it's obstruction.

The political base motive was clear in HH's campaign speech in Phoenix in which he asked the audience if they liked "Sheriff Joe" and promised him that he would be all right.  Further, he offered the opinion that Arpaio was wrongfully convicted, ("convicted for doing his job") and therefore the pardon is a clear case of the maybe no longer apprentice but functioning dictator substituting his judgment for the court and for the legislature that passed the law.

These two political motives: to reward a loyalist and their common political base, and to foul up the Mueller investigation,  are given further credence by the Washington Post story that last spring, the apprentice dictator asked the attorney-general to drop the federal case against Arpaio.

Add them altogether and it's called Abuse of Power, right up their with Obstruction of Justice as primary grounds for impeachment.

The other of the twin stars of the dump was the White House announcement banning the armed services from accepting transgender recruits.  Let the law suits begin!

  "As Chris Geidner of Buzzfeed reports, this memo is expected to receive significant legal challenges in the months ahead. Multiple LGBT advocacy organizations are seeking injunctions against the implementation of Trump’s transgender ban. The American Civil Liberties Union made no secret of its legal intentions, either, tweeting simply: “We’ll see you in court.”

The issues have become constitutional ones and it seems likely to end up, in fairly short order, in the Supreme Court.  When articles of impeachment are drawn up, the attempt to abrogate a constitutional right of equality as recently interpreted by the Supreme Court, could be among them.  In fact, because the Arpaio conviction was for persistent discrimination against Latinos, that could go into such a count as well.

Of the immediate responses to this decision, one stands out, partly because it came from the daughter of a cabinet member in the current regime, who is also an armed forces vet.  That a child of a prominent pol publicly disagrees is not entirely new.  But the terms used by Jen Detlefsen, the daughter of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in her social media post were notably harsh:

This man is a disgrace. I've tried to keep politics out of my social media feed as much as possible, but this is inexcusable,” she wrote in an Instagram post.

This veteran says sit down and shut the f--- up, you know-nothing, never-served piece of s---. #itmfa #wtf”

Friday, August 25, 2017

This Week in the Abyss: The Anti-President and R v R

1. The Anti-President

After all the initial emotion, political and otherwise, related to Charlottesville, there is this specific sadness: the young woman who died there as a victim of political violence while peacefully demonstrating, was buried without a consoling word by the President of the United States.

 Her funeral received almost no coverage nationally, because no President was there.  That it wasn't covered is a failing of the media, which has a very bad record in remaining so fixated on Homegrown Hitler that other important stories are obscured, but it is much more a failing of the current White House incumbent.

When David Axelrod stated absolutely that President Obama would have given the eulogy for Heather Heyer, no one could contradict him.   But the current incumbent is more than absent as president, the un-president.  The words he did speak were all but opposite to what all the living presidents would have said and in fact did say. He is the anti-President.

When sailors died on the John McCain, the current incumbent--their ultimate commander as commander-in-chief-- offered no words, said nothing.  On other occasions when any other president would have spoken, he has not.

The White House is no longer a welcoming place where artists and scientists feel valued and heard.  No longer does it celebrate and demonstrate diversity or inspire children to learn and achieve.  It is not even a moral vacuum.  It is the ever tightening, shrinking home of lying words and evil deeds.

So we get Frank Bruni's New York Times column entitled The Week When President Trump Resigned:

"Trump resigned the presidency already — if we regard the job as one of moral stewardship, if we assume that an iota of civic concern must joust with self-regard, if we expect a president’s interest in legislation to rise above vacuous theatrics, if we consider a certain baseline of diplomatic etiquette to be part of the equation.

...his presidency ended in the lobby of Trump Tower on Tuesday afternoon, when he chose — yes, chose — to litigate rather than lead, to attend to his wounded pride instead of his wounded nation and to debate the supposed fine points of white supremacy.

He abdicated his responsibilities so thoroughly and recklessly that it amounted to a letter of resignation. Then he whored for his Virginia winery on the way out the door."

And another NYTimes oped by young author Caroline Randall Williams entitled: President Obama, Where Are You?  She lamented the loss of Obama's "gravity, good sense and honesty" as President.  She spoke for her generation that graduated from college, got their first jobs and became adults during his administration:

We learned to experience politics through the lens of your eloquent presence in the White House. In this respect, you raised us. So we are unaccustomed to all of this wildness. Just because we’re grown doesn’t mean we don’t need to hear from the man who brought us up."

2. R v R

Controversies rage over our apprentice dictator in the White House.  He screams at his most vocal critics, insults them and threatens their jobs.  They question his moral judgments, stability, fitness for office and his sanity.  Their arguments fill the media space.

Yet they all have one interesting thing in common.  They are all Republicans.

I think it was Rachel who pointed this out Wednesday.  On Thursday, it didn't stop. For example, The Hill: GOP taken aback by Trump’s verbal bombs and White House calls GOP senator's remark about Trump's competence 'outrageous'

 Politico headline: Trump takes potshots at GOP leaders as fiscal crisis looms.  Another:Trump clashed with multiple GOP senators over Russia.

The preponderance of coverage was about these intra-party conflicts.  So it is perhaps not surprising that the most recent Politico/Morning Consult poll showed that Homegrown Hitler hit a new low in that poll of 39%, a drop of 5 points, and "Much of the decline in Trump’s approval rating appears to have come from self-identified Republican voters."  

It's a large one week drop while the overall R support is still 75%.  But it could be a harbinger of things to come.

Monday, August 21, 2017


This is my photo of the view from a cafe attached to a motel in Lincoln, Oregon in 1986.  I'd completed a speaking engagement in Portland and took a bus here to spend my 40th birthday by the ocean, before flying back east.

Today the solar eclipse that has the country in a frenzy will start precisely here, in Lincoln, Oregon.  I won't be there, however.  Motels in Oregon and certainly this one in Lincoln (if it still exists) are not only booked for today--they have been for four years.

Here in Arcata (where I now live), down the coast from Lincoln, the eclipse won't be total.  And forecasts suggest that it will be eclipsed anyway, by a combination of fog, clouds and smoke from fires to our north and east.

I've seen a partial eclipse, in Pittsburgh.  Or at least I saw the eerie reverse shadows on the sidewalk of leaves from the trees near the library on Forbes Ave. in Squirrel Hill.

Time was I might have traveled hundreds of miles to witness such an event as a total solar eclipse.  Not today, though.  In fact, I'll probably be asleep.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

When We Were the Next Generation

A minority group is prevented from buying food and supplies because powerful people have intimidated storekeepers.  This group finally occupies the street and is preventing anyone from buying at the stores.  The leader of this minority has a brief conversation with a storekeeper.

"It's not right to make innocent people suffer," says the storekeeper, meaning his regular customers.

"Those who think themselves better than others are not innocent," says the minority leader.

"But don't you understand--I was forced to do what I did."

"Cowards are even less innocent than hypocrites."

Robert Loggia as Elfego Baca
So what philosopher, what great statesman or author wrote this dialogue?  It was Maurice Tombragel.

 You've likely never heard of him.  I hadn't.  But he wrote this episode of what by then was called Walt Disney Presents in the late 1950s.  It was one of the series of hour-long stories centered on Elfego Baca, a Mexican-born hero of the American West, played by Robert Loggia.

The people in this minority group were called Mustangers, apparently poor whites from the Blue Ridge Mountains who at this point were trying to farm in the cattle-range West.  But they had all the characteristics of a minority suffering prejudice by others and oppression by the powers that be.  It's not hard to see parallels with another minority prominent in 1958.

We often think of westerns, so popular in my 1950s childhood, as a lot of fistfights, shooting and riding, and especially cowboys v. Indians.  But many were more than that, and few were as simplistic.

One reason was Maurice Tombragel.  After a decade writing a variety of B movies, he turned to television, especially westerns.  Before Disney, throughout the 1950s he wrote for The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok, Annie Oakley, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Jim Bowie, Bat Masterson, the Range Rider.  I watched them all.

But of course it wasn't just him.  The very first network western TV series was Hopalong Cassidy.  It starred William Boyd, who had played the character in more than 60 movies, beginning in 1935.  Boyd, who'd started in silent films, bought all the rights and produced his own series for this new medium of television.   It began broadcasting in 1949 and became wildly popular.

The series episodes were digitally restored and are now available on DVD and on YouTube.   They are kind of amazing.  The plots are both simple and complex (some involving finance and real estate deals), and there's plenty of riding, fistfighting and shooting.  But there is also a common thread: Hoppy is always fighting for the oppressed, for people who are helpless against the more powerful, including those in authority.  He fights for people who are being cheated, and are the victims of prejudice and hate.

When Indians appear, they are either being set up as villains by white land-grabbers or victims of attempted swindles. The bad guys are usually motivated by greed.  He defends Mexicans, and there's even an episode about human trafficking.

(The Lone Ranger, who rode into television next, was also this kind of western hero. Clayton Moore, who played the LR, appears in a Hopalong Cassidy episode--as a bad guy.)

The first two TV heroes I knew were Captain Video and Hopalong Cassidy. I had Hopalong six-guns and holsters, a Hoppy toy box and other Hoppy toys to put in it.  The only pun I remember my Italian grandfather making was calling me Hopalong que-se-dice. He was a hero.  I tried to imitate his walk and especially his laugh.

William Boyd was pretty old when he made these episodes, but we didn't notice (though once the series became a huge hit with kids, he played the parent--or grandparent-- figure with moments tagged onto the end, requesting that we brush our teeth and help out around the house.  I was probably around 5 at the height of my Hoppy obsession, and judging from these messages, so were a lot of his viewers.)

 Did I absorb attitudes from these shows, perhaps even develop a social conscience because of them?  I think I did, partly (though of course more generally with Hopalong and the earliest heroes.)  Not only from my TV heroes, but certainly they were powerful in reinforcing and defining who the good guys and bad guys were, and why.

It's especially interesting to me at this historical moment to observe the historical moment when these shows were made.  People think of the bland 1950s, but apart from the atomic bomb and the Korean War, there was Joe McCarthy and the Blacklist, and the early Civil Rights movement and events.

But I think in some ways the most important element was that the memories and the meaning of World War II were still being absorbed.  The end of the war was only four years in the past when Hopalong Cassidy first hit the airwaves, and the Nuremberg trials only three years.

Thanks in part to Frank Capra's Why We Fight series and other movies and short films, and Norman Corwin's eloquent radio programs for CBS, there eventually was widespread awareness of  the evils of Nazism and fascism in the 40s, and that education continued after the war.

The contrast was often drawn between the US as defender of the oppressed, as a citadel of freedom from oppression.  For writers of even TV westerns, that consciousness transferred to other causes.

It wasn't always westerns.  When Superman flew out of the comics and into radio, he was heard battling religious bigots and the Ku Klux Klan.  The opening familiar from television ("truth, justice and the American Way") also included on radio a description of Superman as “champion of equal rights, valiant, courageous fighter against the forces of hate and prejudice.”

Superman came to television in 1952.  In that first year a two-part episode had originally been the movie that introduced George Reeves as Superman.  In it, Superman defends aliens (from the center of the Earth) against a persistent mob.  At one point he accuses the mob of acting like "Nazi stormtroopers."

Superman in this series fought crime but also defended the unjustly accused, and in an early second season episode with a plot that had appeared in the comics, he battled against the clock to stop an innocent man from being executed.

The Depression in its way, and World War II in another provided the stories that gave content to social conscience.  They in turn led to other stories, including the ones my generation saw and heard on television.  (The Blacklist led directly to some of these.  Some blacklisted writers fled to England and wrote episodes of Robin Hood and Sir Lancelot that did exactly what the blacklisters feared--poisoned our minds against racial prejudice and towards equality.)

Despite the dangers (i.e. every online argument, it is said, eventually gets to one or both sides accusing the other of being Nazis), I hark back to the Nazi era pretty frequently here.  One reason is that the generation that experienced World War II and may have seen Nazi Germany up close and personal, is all but gone.  Those of us who grew up on stories that had the Nazi experience fresh in their backgrounds and perspectives are getting pretty old as well.  But for as long as we can, we have to represent that perspective when it is important to do so.  As it seems to be right now.