October 26, 2018

Miscellaneous Thoughts on Trump

Lyin’ Trump

I listened to 1A on NPR yesterday. The New York Times reporters who investigated the source of Donald Trump’s wealth were interviewed (see “Trump Engaged in Suspect Tax Schemes as He Reaped Riches From His Father”).

Trump’s origin story has always been that he received a $1 million dollar loan from his father, which had to be repaid with interest, and which he parlayed that into a multibillion-dollar fortune through his real estate dealings. What the Times learned is that Trump’s story is nowhere close to the truth. Over his lifetime, Donald Trump received hundreds of times that $1 million from his father, little of which was ever repaid.

A listener of the program asked what difference it makes how the president made his fortune. This is a good question.

The importance of the findings of the Times reporters is that Trump’s lies are hardly a new phenomenon. Lying for Trump is a way of life and has been so throughout his career. Trump doesn’t simply shade the truth; he makes up his own “facts” out of whole cloth. His supporters may not care, but they should.

Secure Communications

The New York Times reported that President Trump frequently uses an unsecured iPhone to make personal calls to friends. Moreover, those calls are being monitored by the Chinese and Russians (and God only knows who else). This is driving intelligence folks crazy. Their one consolation is that Trump isn’t very curious about government secrets, so his ignorance is a check against his divulging them.

The Times story is distressing and goes into significant and disturbing details not worth repeating here. You should read the article.

What I find most interesting in Trump’s refusal to give up his unsecured phone is the contrast between his communications that we now know are being monitored by our country's adversaries and his insistence that Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server, which appears never to have been compromised, was criminal.

All I can say to the latest revelations is, “Lock him up!”

Presidential Rhetoric

In light of the apparent bombs sent to prominent Democrats recently, Donald Trump has called for unity and civility. Of course, what he really expects of his opponents is surrender to the Trumpian cause. It didn’t take long for Trump to renew his venom directed at the news media, as if journalists created the atmosphere of hate in which bombs being sent to his opponents seems almost predictable.

Trump has often complained that news stories about him are predominately negative. This is a rare instance in which he is entirely correct. He goes on to complain that this situation is unfair, however. There, he is wrong. Most news stories about Trump and the Trump administration are negative in tone because most actions of Trump and the Trump administration are hateful, meanspirited, self-destructive and stupid. Well, at least Trump got something right!

The Refugee “Caravan”

President Trump has used the parade of thousands of Central American refugees walking north to alarm his base supporters. (We should use the phrase “base supporters,” which, of course. is a double entendre.) He has talked about closing our borders—by which I assume he means only our Southern border—to avoid admitting any more people to the U.S., whether or not they have legitimate asylum claims. Apparently, he is even carrying out his threat to send regular Army troops to patrol the border, a potentially illegal move.

Rather more stupidly, Trump has threatened to reduce aid to the Central American countries from which members of the “caravan” are fleeing. On the one hand, reducing aid is likely to make life in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala even nastier than it is already. That, of course, would induce more people to leave in search of a more secure life. On the other hand, were Trump, by whatever means, to induce these countries to prevent people from leaving, would he not be creating a virtual prison for their populations? Is this really a proper role for the “freedom-loving” United States?

Oh, sorry, we are only concerned with making our own country great; the rest of the world can go to hell!

Here’s an idea: Let’s get out of Afghanistan. Our efforts there are clearly a lost cause. We can use the money we save thereby to strengthen democracy in Central America. This would help make America (and the Americas) great.

October 21, 2018

October 7, 2018

An Indiana Demonstration

Coming home from the supermarket this afternoon, I drove down Philadelphia Street, the main drag of Indiana, Pennsylvania. On the sidewalk for several blocks were people holding signs, most of which said: “PRAY TO END ABORTION.” I didn’t actually count, but there must have been at least 12 or 15 people holding signs facing the street. I saw a single sign promoting adoption. The people were spaced out, so the effect was of a blocks-long demonstration.

It was not clear who was responsible for this event, but my guess is that (1) the demonstrators were Roman Catholic, and (2) they were emboldened by yesterday’s swearing in of Roman Catholic Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Until now, I had never seen anything like today’s display in Indiana.

I found the demonstration exceedingly annoying. Praying will do little good, though it may make some people feel more righteous. If the demonstrators really want to end abortion, they should advocate for serious sex education for public and private schools, as well as for home-schooled children. They should also advocate for easy access to contraception and sterilization. Typically, however, the “pro-life” crowd (who are really just anti-abortion) have little use for effective sex education and are often down on contraception as well.

Pray for sane and effective public policy on matters related to human reproduction.

September 28, 2018

Historic Hearing

Yesterday, Brett Kavanaugh proved beyond doubt that he is unqualified to be a judge, much less a Supreme Court justice. After showing himself to be a mean and vindictive witness, it is easy to imagine him as a mean drunk, as he has been characterized by a number of women.

After being coached by Trump’s minions at the White House, Kavanaugh changed his demeanor from innocent choir boy to cornered and enraged tiger. He exhibited a huge chip on his shoulder and wove a conspiracy theory about Democrats out to get him to even the score for Trump’s electoral victory, oppose his political views, and repay him for his role in the Ken Starr investigation. He complained about the millions spent to oppose his candidacy, ignoring the millions spent in its favor. He inveighed against damage to his reputation and family but showed no sympathy for the trauma and indignity endured by Dr. Blasey.

Kavanaugh evaded questions and talked incessantly in order to use up the little time each senator was allotted for questioning. He had the nerve to ask one senator a question, as if she were on trial. Most importantly, when repeatedly asked if he would request an FBI investigation of the charges against him, he consistently evaded the question, saying that such an investigation was up to the committee and, in any case, would not draw conclusions. (This last assertion is beside the point, of course. The FBI could solicit sworn testimony that would likely cast doubt on Kavanaugh’s indignant show of innocence.)

Kavanaugh’s questioning followed that of  Christine Blasey Ford. Dr. Blasey’s performance was nothing short of totally believable. Even an outside prosecutor could find no contradictions or suspicious details in her story. Though admittedly nervous, she maintained her composure and was forthright about what she could and could not remember. She declared herself 100% certain of the identity of her attacker and was even helpful in pointing out how some missing details of her story could be filled in. She, too, asked for additional FBI investigation.

It was expected that the hearing would be a he-said-she-said affair requiring a difficult choice of whom to believe. It was not! Any reasonable, objective person—apparently no GOP senator on the committee is in this class—would conclude that Blasey told the truth and that Kavanaugh lied and evaded. If Christine Blasey Ford was not telling the truth, she should be scooped up by Hollywood, as her performance was of Oscar caliber. If she was not telling the truth, she is the greatest actress of this age, perhaps of any age.

Kavanaugh, on the other hand, has shown himself to have a mean streak in his personality and a disregard for truth and the search for it. He is a privileged white male angry that anyone should attempt to limit his privilege. He lacks a judicial temperament. Not only should he not be a Supreme Court justice, but he also should be removed from his current position as a federal appellate judge.

NOTE: I am writing this about an hour before the Senate Judiciary Committee is almost certainly going to forward Kavanaugh’s nomination with a positive recommendation to the full Senate. I hope his nomination will be stopped in that body.

September 26, 2018

Stanislav Petrov Day

On this day in 1983, Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov (1939–2017), who was the duty officer at the Soviet Union’s command center for the Oko nuclear early-warning system, likely saved the world from nuclear war. The system he was monitoring indicated that six missiles had been launched from the United States targeted at the Soviet Union. In September 1983, relations between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were tense, and a nuclear attack, though unlikely, was not inconceivable.

For a variety of reasons, Petrov guessed that the alarm was false. He was, of course, correct, and he did not report an attack to his superiors. It is feared that, given the political tensions of the time, Soviet leaders might well have launched a counterattack, which would have elicited a similar response from the U.S.

As it happened, the warning that Petrov received was the result of a confluence of unusual circumstances misinterpreted by a relatively new monitoring system. He did not know this, however, and his failure to report an American attack may well have saved the world from nuclear holocaust. The incident ultimately resulted in changes to the Soviet early warning system.

Petrov received little recognition in his native Russia but has received a number of awards from the West. More information about him and his heroic inaction can be found on Wikipedia.

On this day, it is appropriate that we offer a moment of silence or prayer in thanksgiving for Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov.

Stanislav Petrov
Stanislav Petrov in 2016 (photo by Queery-54)

September 24, 2018

In What Year Did Brett Kavanaugh Stop Assaulting Women?

A second woman (and possibly others) have accused Supreme Court justice candidate Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct. First, it was an incident in high school. Now we have a charge of an incident in college. We are told that Kavanaugh has led an exemplary life. We must ask, however, in what year did he stop abusing women? When did he become the paragon of virtue described by the president and GOP senators?

Kavanaugh’s truthfulness and his expansive view of the presidency have already come into question. But the president and his minions in Congress have attempted to hurry through the Kavanaugh nomination before he is thoroughly vetted and before any more damaging information comes to light.

Under the circumstances, it is time for Brett Kavanaugh to withdraw from consideration to become a Supreme Court justice. This country is in danger of having a Supreme Court 22% of whose members are likely guilty of sexual improprieties. Of course, this is no concern of those radicals who see the reversing of Roe v. Wade as the highest priority of the United States of America.

Let’s get this increasingly ugly mess out of the way. Let the president find another, more appropriate, candidate to elevate to the Supreme Court. How about Merrick Garland?

Kavanaugh: Withdraw!
Click on image for a larger view.

My earlier posts on Judge Kavanaugh can be found here, here, and here.

September 22, 2018

Clean Your PC

My PC, which was once very quiet, has been quite noisy of late. Initially, this was worrisome, as I feared the noises, which were clearly coming from some rotating device, indicated that my hard drive was about to fail. On careful listening, however, it didn’t seem like the hard drive was making the noise.

Like many computer users, I keep my “desktop” machine on the floor under my desk. I knew that the fans in the computer tend to suck in dust, a particular problem because I have two cats who cannot seem to keep all their fur attached. Once before, I wiped off the accumulation of dust from the perforations on the side of the computer and decreased the noise made by the PC by doing so. That trick didn’t work this time. Almost certainly, the fans designed to keep everything cool were working very hard to move air through an accumulation of dust and making unusually noises in the process.

I opened the case and began a more thorough cleaning. My computer contains three fans, each of which can suck in dust. There is a small fan at the back of the power supply, a larger one below it ventilating the case generally, and a fan mounted atop the CPU heat sink. In each case, I used the suction function of my vacuum cleaner to remove dust. I also dusted other components with a soft bush, a shaving bush, actually, which comes in handy for such tasks.

When finished, I replaced the side panel of the case and turned on the machine. I now hear only the slightest hum, but I have become acutely aware of the noises made by my refrigerator.

If you are hearing loud whirring sounds from your PC, you might want to try cleaning it as I did mine. It’s a good idea to remove power from the computer first. Keep metal implements away from internal components. Oh, and be careful with that vacuum cleaner. Don’t let it get near anything other than a fan intake.  I inadvertently sucked up a USB drive that was lying nearby and had to retrieve it from the dust bag.

September 20, 2018

Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, Round 3

I want to address the charges Dr. Blasey has brought against Judge Kavanaugh as this psycho-political national drama moves toward a conclusion. My first post on this subject can be found here. My most recent post is here.
As of this writing, it is unclear whether Christine Blasey Ford will testify against Brett Kavanaugh before the Judiciary Committee. Senator Grassley is insisting that the testimony be given at a session on Monday and that Dr. Blasey deliver a statement to the committee by tomorrow. Dr. Blasey, on the other hand, wants there to be an FBI investigation of her charges before she testifies. It is unclear how this standoff will end. Although the GOP line is that an FBI investigation would be irregular, there was such an investigation, albeit a less than intensive one, after Anita Hill brought forward her charges of sexual harassment against judicial candidate Clarence Thomas.

We should ask whether the assertions of Dr. Blasey, if determined to be true, will make any difference. The alleged rape attempt took place a long time ago and may well be dismissed by senators as a “youthful indiscretion.” If Judge Kavanaugh has not carried his drinking and sexual predation practices into adulthood, does this one incident really matter? If he has since lived an exemplary life, should he be denied his chance to become a Supreme Court justice?

Of course, if Dr. Blasey’s story is true, we must ask whether it was an aberration on the part of her attacker or whether it was part of a pattern of which we are presently unaware. An FBI investigation into Judge Kavanaugh’s youth might be indicated.

Dr. Blasey’s charges are certainly serious. It is clear, as I am sure she will testify, that the incident has been deeply troubling and has engendered a long-term psychological burden. That burden is particularly heavy for having been visited on a 15-year-old girl. Will this matter to the senators on the Judiciary Committee? Anita Hill, to whose situation that of Dr. Blasey is being compared, wrote this two days ago in The New York Times:
In 1991, the Senate Judiciary Committee had an opportunity to demonstrate its appreciation for both the seriousness of sexual harassment claims and the need for public confidence in the character of a nominee to the Supreme Court. It failed on both counts.
I fear that the committee will fail again.

Her accomplishments make it clear that Dr. Blasey is a smart woman. She knows what Anita Hill went through. It is almost inconceivable that she would make the charges she has were they not true. If committee members are convinced that Dr. Blasey’s story is true, and if Judge Kavanaugh continues to insist that it is not, then he must be a liar. It is difficult to see how this would not be disqualifying. Ironically, it would be easier to excuse his actions were he to admit to them.

If there is a hearing with Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Blasey as witnesses, difficult questions will be asked of the reputed victim, and many will not be answerable. On what date did the attack occur? At whose house? Who was in charge? Who else was there? How do you know that Brett Kavanaugh was your assailant? Are you sure? Who did you tell about the attack? If you told no one, why did you not?

Questions must be asked of Judge Kavanaugh as well. Did you know Christine Blasey? Did you ever attend a party with her? Did you go to many parties? Were you a frequent drinker? Did you ever not remember events of the night before after drinking heavily? Were you sexually active at 17? Did you date younger girls when you were 17?

Without an investigation to shed more light on the situation, the proposed hearing will degenerate into a he-said-she-said affair. Democrats will believe Dr. Blasey and vote against the nomination. Republicans will pretend to believe Judge Kavanaugh and will send his nomination to the full Senate with a recommendation to consent to the nomination. And the country will take another step on the road to perdition.

September 19, 2018

Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, Round 2

I was writing a new post about the charges leveled against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when I learned that his accuser is requesting an FBI investigation of those charges before she testifies before the Judiciary Committee. I’ve put that post on hold, so I can write about the situation we now find ourselves in. My original post on the Kavanaugh-Ford matter can be found here. In the interest of clarity in what follows, I will refer to Kavanaugh as Judge Kavanaugh and to Ford as Dr. Blasey, by which name she is known professionally. In the incident described by Dr. Blasey, of course, she was simply Christine Blasey.
Dr. Christine Blasey, through her lawyer, has requested that the FBI investigate her charges against Judge Kavanaugh before she offers testimony before the Senate. This is problematic. Dr. Blasey has agreed to testify, but committee chair Senator Chuck Grassley has scheduled testimony to be heard on September 24, five days from now, and he appears to view the date as non-negotiable. Not only does this leave insufficient time for an investigation, but the president and the FBI have rejected the investigation sought by Kavanaugh’s accuser.

The FBI asserts that it has added Dr. Blasey’s charges to its background file on Judge Kavanaugh and is not going to investigate what it construes to be a crime that is a state, rather than a federal, concern. This, of course, is nonsense. Government background checks do not merely collect rumors, but attempt to discover actual facts about the person being investigated. (Republicans no longer believe in facts. But I digress.) Adding a devastating charge to a background check without indicating if it is to be taken seriously is simply irresponsible.

President Trump has suggested that the Senate committee should investigate. This is reasonable in the abstract, but not in actuality. Such an investigation would be controlled by Republicans, who are not objective investigators. Moreover, the Judiciary Committee lacks both the resources and time to carry out such an investigation.

Why has Dr. Blasey made the request she has? This question is easy to answer. A hearing conducted now (or next Monday), absent more information than is now known, will simply become a he-said-she-said affair. There will be no objective means to determine who is telling the truth. Republicans will believe Judge Kavanaugh; Democrats will believe Dr. Blasey; and Judge Kavanaugh will likely become Justice Kavanaugh.

As I said in my earlier post, no one has a right to become a Supreme Court justice. The Judiciary Committee can use whatever criteria it chooses to decide Judge Kavanaugh’s fitness for office. The life tenure of Supreme Court justices should demand that the suitability of a particular candidate be established beyond a reasonable doubt, however. It should not be necessary that serious doubts about a candidate’s suitability be established beyond a reasonable doubt.

There is time for an investigation, preferably by a reasonably objective body such as the FBI. Perhaps there are witnesses who can establish that both Kavanaugh and Blasey attended the same party or that Blasey left unexpectedly and distraught. Perhaps there is evidence that would exonerate Kavanaugh. We won’t know unless we look into the matter. That should be done forthwith.

Note: An earlier version of this post asserted that the FBI has said that the Senate should investigate the charges against Judge Kavanaugh. It is the president, not the FBI, that has made this statement.

September 17, 2018

Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford

Senate Republican leaders in the hours after The Post’s article was published indicated that they intended to move forward with voting on him. Republicans planned to argue that unless corroborating information came to light, they had no way of verifying her story and saw no reason to delay the vote, according to a person involved in the discussions.
The New York Times, 9/16/2018
The United States Senate is facing a challenge. GOP senators have been moving at breakneck speed in their attempt to elevate Brett M. Kavanaugh to a seat on the Supreme Court. This is happening despite the fact that voters largely object to Kavanaugh, as do Democrats, almost universally. The appeals court judge has a record of favoring corporate interests over personal ones, showing little interest in the rights of women, and believing that the President of the United States should be above the law. None of these are mainstream American views.

Installing Kavanaugh would be a triumph for the president, to whose agenda (and whims) Republicans seem obsequiously committed. In their haste, they have prevented senators from gaining access to thousands of documents relating to Kavanaugh’s service in the executive branch.

It is ironic, but understandable, given the ultra-partisanship of today’s Republican Party, that a GOP Senate blocked even consideration of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland on the flimsy excuse that a presidential election was “close,” more than half a year away. Kavanaugh’s nomination is being considered on an expedited basis despite being even closer to what may be the most significant election in the nation’s history.

Now comes an allegation of a sexual impropriety—seemingly, an attempted rape—against the Supreme Court nominee. What was, only a few days ago, an anonymous charge is now an assertion made by a respected psychologist willing to submit to questioning by the Senate.

Not surprisingly, Kavanaugh has denied sexual improprieties with Ms. Ford—then Christine Blasey—or with anyone else. Such a denial might be expected whether or not the allegations are true. Clearly, they would be hard to prove. Kavanaugh may well believe in his innocence, given that Ford has provided him with an excuse for forgetting the incident and for failing to follow through with the rape—he was falling-down drunk at the time. (He seems to have been proud of his drinking in high school.)

Ford’s charges against Kavanaugh cannot but bring to mind the allegations that Anita Hill brought against Clarence Thomas when he was being considered for a seat on the Supreme Court. Like Hill, Ford, assuming that she is the rational human being she seems to be, has no reason to expose herself to Republican hatred and ridicule other than a concern for her country and its judiciary. There is no apparent reason to disbelieve Ford’s narrative, just as there was no apparent reason to disbelieve that of Hill. Persons of goodwill may legitimately quibble about the relevance of Hill’s story, as well as Ford’s. What is likely, however, is that Ford, like Hill, will be publicly pilloried and, ultimately, ignored.

It would be easy to dismiss Ford’s story as less significant than Hill’s. Hill described relatively recent actions of an adult nominee; Ford told the story of an adolescent that happened many years ago. On the other hand, attempted rape is more serious than mere harassment. And victims of sexual assault commonly attempt to suppress its memory, a fact that helps explain Ford’s not having brought forth her charges earlier, perhaps years ago.

In this age of #MeToo, one might hope that Republican senators would reconsider how the charges against Clarence Thomas were handled and tread lightly in the present circumstances. After all, if Kavanaugh’s nomination is derailed, President Trump will get another chance to name a Supreme Court justice. (But, should the Senate change hands, will Democrats pull a Merrick Garland? Who knows?) In any case, there is strong evidence that Kavanaugh lied under oath when he was being considered for his present judgeship, and his recent answers before the Judiciary Committee have been, at best, guarded. Can he really be trusted to tell the truth? No one has a right to be a Supreme Court Justice. Surely there are better candidates—even Republican candidates—available.

September 10, 2018

Thoughts on “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration”

Last Wednesday, The New York Times, published an op-ed essay anonymously written by “a senior official in the Trump administration.” The piece has elicited extensive commentary, addressing both its content and the decision of the Times to publish it. Fearing that I may have nothing original to say about “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” I nevertheless feel compelled to offer my own thoughts about the piece.

Four obvious questions come to mind:
  1. Who wrote the essay? This question has been given a lot of attention in the past few days.
  2. Why was it written? What was the author trying to accomplish?
  3. Why did The New York Times choose to publish it?
  4. What are we to make of the substance of the op-ed?
I am not a Washington insider and have no idea who might have written the essay. Many writers have speculated about the author, seemingly in the absence of actual evidence. We are unlikely to have our curiosity assuaged anytime soon; Deep Throat remained anonymous for decades. That many administration figures have denied authorship should hardly be taken at face value. The authorship question is entangled with the question of motivation, which I address below.

Saving America
Delcan & Company for The New York Times

Ironically, the president, who regularly calls the Mueller investigation a witch hunt, wants to initiate his own witch hunt —which my dictionary defines as “the act of unfairly looking for and punishing people who are accused of having opinions that are believed to be dangerous or evil”—for the writer. Trump claims the hunt for the author is a matter of national security, his motivation for everything from a border wall to outrageous tariffs. The op-ed is certainly not a threat to national security and is unquestionably not illegal, though one may quibble about its ethicality.

It is unclear why the op-ed was written, though speculation as to motive has more evidence to draw on. I think it unlikely, but some have suggested that the piece was written at the behest of the president. (The writing is too coherent to have been written by Trump himself, and the president surely could not have personally pitched it to the Times.) This theory posits that the essay is intended to appeal to the president’s base by casting him as their embattled champion. I doubt that Trump’s ego would allow him to conceive such a convoluted plot that relies on devastating criticism of himself.

In other words, I believe the op-ed was indeed written by a highly placed official in the Trump administration. I have no reason to think that The New York Times would mislead us in this regard. A cursory reading suggests that the writer intends to reassure citizens that, despite the president’s mercurial nature, there are adults in the White House intent upon preventing Trump from doing anything crazy. Indeed, we are told that “many Trump appointees” are engaged in this project. (It has even been suggested that the op-ed is the project of multiple authors, a notion that enhances the credibility of the assertion that patriots in the White House will be able to “preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.”)

The headline asserting that the writer is part of the “Resistance,” is somewhat misleading, The “Resistance” of the op-ed is not the Resistance of the left, which has claimed that name from the beginning of the Trump era. The author is explicit about the distinction and writes that “[w]e want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous.” Democrats and other opponents of this administration most definitely do not believe that Trump has made America safer and prosperous. We believe that Trump has been a singular disaster for America and for the world, a disaster whose consequences have yet to be fully realized.

The op-ed is, I think, aimed at three audiences. The True Believers, particularly the president’s evangelical supporters who may be having doubts related to Trump’s character, are being reassured that his worst proclivities are being held in check. The traditional Republicans—surely there are some left somewhere—are being told that Trump really is implementing a conventional, conservative GOP agenda. Those who believe that Trump’s is a ruinous presidency are expected to take some comfort that there are surreptitious forces restraining the chief executive. The author(s) probably hopes that the latter group will overlook the fact that those anonymous forces are not really on their side.

“I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration” is, in the end, a defense of an administration that many of us believe is indefensible.

We actually have concrete information as to why the Times decided to publish the anonymous op-ed in the form of a “Bulletin Board” post titled “How the Anonymous Op-Ed Came to Be.” (I am inclined to take “the failing New York Times” at its word.) Apparently, the piece was unsolicited and was brought to the paper by a trusted third party. According to Jim Dao, writing for the Times,
[W]e concluded that the author’s principal motivation was to describe, as faithfully as possible, the internal workings of a chaotic and divided administration and to defend the choice to nevertheless work within it.
Of course, the op-ed was also a significant scoop for the paper, as evidenced by the amount of attention it commanded.

The essay mostly confirmed the chaos in the White House of which we were already aware, thanks in part to excerpts from Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book, Fear: Trump in the White House. Of course, there is value in getting such information, even anonymously, directly from someone in the administration, unfiltered through a journalist. For most Americans, and particularly for Democrats, the op-ed offers little solace. Yes, there are adults in the room that may sometimes keep Trump from doing something stupid or reckless, but those “adults” still appear to be far-right conservatives intent on destroying as much of the government as possible.

The writer(s) expresses appreciation for “free minds, free markets[,] and free people,” but admits that Trump “has attacked [these ideals] outright.” His inclinations are “anti-trade and anti-democratic.”
He “shows a preference for autocrats and dictators … and displays little genuine appreciation for the ties that bind us to allied, like-minded nations.” However well-meaning the administration’s “Resistance” may be, it has been, in the end, feckless. The essay raises the prospect of invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump, but it is clear that such a move is not going to happen.

The fundamental problem with Trump is described this way:
The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.
I agree that Trump is “not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.” The author(s) has made a significant mistake, however, in calling the president amoral. Admittedly, particularly in the American context, being amoral is a bad thing. But Trump is not amoral; he is immoral. He is hateful, vindictive, self-righteous, ignorant, mendacious, untrustworthy, callous, and boorish. He is very nearly evil personified. Consider the so-called seven deadly sins: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. Every one of these can be applied to our president. He believes himself to be best at everything, all evidence to the contrary. His life has been one of greed, pursued without scruples. I need hardly comment on lust! He envies other countries who have “cheated” the U.S., and one suspects that he envies those people whom, in his heart of hearts, he knows are in some way better than himself. As evidence of gluttony, I offer his weight, which he tries to minimize, and his love of junk food. His wrath is apparent every day; it seems a substitute for happiness. Finally, there is sloth. Trump has taken far more vacation days than other presidents, clearly enjoys golf more than governing, and appears to spend an inordinate amount of time sitting down in front of the television watching Fox News. Would that these were his only sins!

“I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration” offers insights into the workings of the current administration, but it offers no comfort. Whoever wrote the piece is engaging in self-serving self-righteousness in order to keep a job that is as much enabler as disruptor. He (or they) should resign, declare him- or herself, and admit to the American public that the emperor has no clothes. If indeed a cadre of Resistance folks resign at once, at least they will distract the president from his more evil enterprises for a time.

August 11, 2018

Another Governor’s Cup

Five years ago, I reported that Keuka Spring Vineyards won the Governor’s Cup for the top New York wine entered in the New York Wine Classic. Keuka Spring’s 2012 Riesling was a product of my son’s first full year as head winemaker at the winery on Keuka Lake.

In this year’s competition, a KSV wine has again won top honors, securing the second Governor’s Cup since August Deimel assumed responsibility for wine production and the third Governor’s Cup in the winery’s history. The winning wine was the KSV’s 2017 Gewürztraminer, one of three 2017 KSV wines featuring this less-than-famous cold-tolerant grape.

August is particularly pleased that one of his Gewürztraminers won this year, as he has a passion for this particular grape. Although the Finger Lakes region is especially well-known for its Rieslings, Gewürztraminer is another aromatic grape from which distinctive Finger Lakes white wines are made. In fact, August considers Gewürztraminer another signature grape of the region. The Governor’s Cup winner was intended to be what he has characterized as “the essence of Finger Lakes Gewürztraminer.”

Need I say that I am a proud father? I don’t understand how August performs his magic on grapes, but I am impressed with the results he gets. August is shown below with winery owner Len Wiltberger. (Compare this picture to the one in my post on the 2013 Governor’s Cup win. August now has longer hair and a slimmer body.)

Len Wiltberger and August Deimel

August 4, 2018

The Wisdom of Dumping Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi
Nancy Pelosi
Democrats have not learned one of the most important lessons of the 2016 election: Leaders with exceptionally high negatives are liabilities in elections. The well-established and well-recognized Republican loathing for Hillary Clinton made her a poor choice for the party in 2016. Of course, taking everything into account, it isn’t clear that Bernie Sanders would have been a better standard bearer. Hatred of Clinton, combined with a lackluster campaign that failed to generate an adequate strategy against an unconventional opponent gave us the Trump presidency.

Justified or not, Nancy Pelosi has been a lightning rod for Republican criticism. Replacing too many GOP House members with Democrats, so the argument goes, would make the hated Pelosi majority leader. The ability to articulate this argument makes Pelosi a liability going into the 2018 midterms. Replacing her as House minority leader before November would take a much-used rhetorical arrow out of the Republican quiver and would deprive Republicans of sufficient time to adequately demonize her successor.

Will House Democrats take this step to increase their prospects in November? Likely not.

July 31, 2018

The Donald Goes Rolling Along (Final Version)

I was reasonably satisfied with my original version of “The Donald Goes Rolling Along.” As is typical, however, the satirical lyrics to the U.S. Army’s official song could be improved by thoughtful revisions. I have made revisions and added the new version to my Web site. You can read the lyrics and my explanation of the changes I made here.

For what it’s worth, I have also updated the introductory page to the Poetry section of my Web site. You can find that here.

July 21, 2018

The Donald Goes Rolling Along

I have occasionally used this blog to display a poem in progress. I am doing that again in this post. I invite literary criticism in comments or by e-mail. Do be picky.

The poem, in this case, is a lyric to the tune of “The Army Goes Rolling Along.” The version of the U.S. Army’s official song is of the form verse-chorus-refrain, though other choruses exist. (Think of our National Anthem, whose first verse is the only one you are likely to hear.) You can find various sound and sheet music files for “The Army Goes Rolling Along” by following the first link above. If you would like to watch a YouTube version, you may do so here.

In order to offer more content, my satiric lyric is of the form verse-chorus-refrain-chorus-refrain. The text is the following:

The Donald Goes Rolling Along

Screw the poor, screw the sick, poison air and water, too,
Build a wall, and repeal every reg I can undo.
I am Donald, the lord of this land;
I am Donald, the brilliant and grand!

Every day, every night,
I am tweeting left and right,
And The Donald goes rolling along.
What I tweet might be true,
Though I really have no clue,
But The Donald goes rolling along.

Then it’s Hi! Hi! Hey!
The Donald’s on his way,
Where to, it isn’t very clear.
But where Donald goes,
Mister Putin knows
That the Russians have nothing to fear.

NATO’s bad, trade’s unfair,
Immigration needs repair,
And The Donald goes rolling along.
Pack the courts, help the rich,
Ethics really are a bitch,
But The Donald goes rolling along.

Then it’s Hi! Hi! Hey!
The Donald’s on his way,
Where to, it isn’t very clear.
But where Donald goes,
Mister Putin knows
That the Russians have nothing to fear.

I will copy a version of “The Donald Goes Rolling Along” to my Web site after I consider it further and react to any feedback I get. I have no problem doing a major rewrite if that improves the lyric. Can you help?

Update, 7/31/2018: As explained in a newer post, a revised (and I hope improved) version of “The Donald Goes Rolling Along” is now on my Web site here.

July 17, 2018

Mr. President, Time to Come Clean

I am not the only person who has called President Donald Trump’s performance at yesterday’s press conference with Vladimir Putin treasonous. We have a president who fights with our allies—and just about every other country, actually—but praises Russian and its virtual dictator Vladimir Putin. Trump appears, at least in foreign affairs, not to be interested in making America great again, but in making Russia great again.

Ever since Trump entered the presidential race, he has studiously avoided saying anything negative about Russian and its leader. He has had personal ties to Russia (which he has repeatedly denied) and has appointed people to office who also have had ties to Russia. And yet, to any objective observer, Russia is a bad actor.  It has a repressive government with an abysmal human rights record, has annexed the territory of another country by force and is supporting a foreign rebellion, has assassinated critics both domestically and on foreign soil, and has interfered in votes in democratic countries. Apparently, Trump is fine with this, yet he has no trouble castigating U.S. allies for virtually anything they do.

In an earlier post, I suggested that Putin has some specific hold on Trump:
Putin must have something so damning on Trump that our president dare not anger Putin, lest the Russian leader tell what he knows.
After yesterday’s dismaying press conference, the theory that Putin has blackmail material on our president is the only viable explanation of Trump’s behavior other than that Trump is an amoral imbecile. It is hard to pick one of these two theories as the more likely, but I am inclined to think that Trump is subject to extortion by the Kremlin.

How bad can it be, Mr. President? It is time to free yourself of Putin’s hold over you. We know you are a shady businessman; we have come to terms with the golden showers story; we know you are a sexist pig. Have you killed anyone (directly, anyway)? Have you cheated on your income tax? Fess up. Nothing you say will make us think less of you than we already do. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose by coming clean.

July 15, 2018

Peter Strzok on the Hot Seat

Peter Strzok
Peter Strzok
On television Thursday, I watched parts of the joint session of the House Oversight and Judiciary committees. Committee members were questioning FBI counterespionage expert Peter Strozok. It was exciting viewing.

Strozok famously exchanged anti-Trump text messages with attorney Lisa Page, with whom he was having an affair. Strozok and Page were both members of Robert Mueller's team investigating connections between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. When Mueller became aware of Strozok’s remarks to Page, Mueller dismissed him from the investigation. Republicans have aggressively tried to use Strozok’s alleged bias to discredit the Mueller probe as a political witch hunt. After extensive questioning of Strozok in closed session, Republican committee members expected to pillory him in public and advance their thesis about Mueller’s investigation.

The planned Republican exposé of Mueller team bias, however, turned into a donnybrook. Rachel Maddow described the hearing this way on her July 12 show:
This is not what Republicans were expecting or hoping for from their data—put Peter Strzok in the hot seat, right? They thought this would be beat-the-piñata day. Turns out, the piñata is alive and has its own bat.
Congressional witnesses tend to sit back and take hostile questioning from their interrogators. Not Mr. Strzok. He defended both the FBI and his actions as aggressively as Republican members attacked them. He asserted that he never has and never would lie under oath. Referring to FBI personnel above and below him, he argued, “They would not tolerate any improper behavior in me, any more than I would tolerate it in them. That is who we are as the FBI.”

Of course, it must be said that Strzok is hardly blameless. He used an official, rather than a personal, telephone to send his messages. His excuse that he did so late at night and without much forethought is a poor excuse. His comments using an official channel did nothing to advance the contention that his personal views were unconnected to his official actions as a member of the Mueller team.

What Strzok did not assert is that his suggestion that a Trump presidency would be a threat to the Republic was a perfectly rational evaluation and one held by many, perhaps even most, Americans. He did say that “we” would stop Trump was intended to refer to voters, not to himself or the FBI. Unless you are a member of Congress with an “R” by your name, that is easy to believe.

Strzok’s primary argument was that, in his professional capacity, he was able to set aside his personal views and perform his duties objectively. (His testimony was more compelling than this description suggests, but that isn’t relevant to the point I want to make here.)

Strzok’s GOP inquisitors refuse to believe is that a person can have strong personal views and yet keep those views from affecting one’s professional responsibilities. But this capacity is a foundation of our legal system. Jurors are expected to put aside their personal views and any knowledge remotely relevant to a case and to base their verdict only on court testimony and the law. Likewise, judges are expected to rule in accordance with relevant laws and regulations, to keep their own views from injecting bias into a case, and to fairly explain the law to jurors.

The irony, of course, is that the kind of disinterested execution of one’s duty appeared to be utterly foreign to Republican members of Congress, who, in former times, would have been expected to be seeking truth rather than mere partisan advantage, to be “defend[ing] the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic [emphasis added],” as their oath pledges. Instead, in attacking the FBI’s attempts to protect the country, they were playing into the hands of Vladimir Putin. Their objective was to smear Strzok’s name and promote their theory that the Mueller investigation cannot be an honest one because it was being conducted by people whose primarily failing is that they are human.

Hostility toward the witness reached its peak in the questioning of Texas Republican Louie Gohmert.
The congressman accused Strzok of lying when he said that his personal opinion did not indicate that he was biased in his work on the Mueller investigation. “I wonder how many times did you look so innocently into your wife’s eyes and lie to her about Lisa Page,” Gohmert said. Democrats on the committees were incensed at this uncalled for remark.

The failure to set aside personal opinion and agenda in the cause of good government, however, was most obvious in the congressman who chaired the hearing, Representative Bob Goodlatte of Virginia. Although he deserves credit for letting Strzok speak his peace, he was totally disdainful of Democratic attempts to make use of legitimate parliamentary maneuvers. When a motion was made to adjourn, it was ignored; pleas of personal privilege were ignored. A lot of shouting went on back and forth during the hearing.

In short, Republican committee members could not put their personal agendas aside to do their duty and to seek the truth, yet this is what they expected of Mr. Strzok. Ironically, there is no evidence to suggest that Peter Strzok did not do his duty as he was pledged to do. Republican members of Congress continue to protect the president at all costs.

July 11, 2018

Make American Great Again—Really

Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” played on the prejudices and misperceptions of one segment of the American population. It implied that America was not great but had been great at some earlier time. In fact, America under Barack Obama was great—less great because of a Republican Congress, of course—and could look forward to being even greater.

Unfortunately, Donald Trump is destroying much of what has been great about the United States—its strategic and moral global leadership, its acceptance of minorities, its protection for our environment, its willingness to welcome oppressed foreigners, its commitment to the rule of law, its protection of the least of society, its embrace of science and truth, and its striving for economic justice.

Ironically, as Trump destroys the best of America, “Make America Great Again” becomes not a piece of cynical propaganda but a rational goal of our debased democracy.

Let us indeed make America great again by getting rid of Republicans in general and Donald Trump in particular.

Trump’s slogan is beginning a beacon of hope.

July 10, 2018

The Future of Roe and Obergefell

I listened to the first hour of 1A this morning, where the possible repercussions of the president’s choice for the next Supreme Court justice was discussed. As usual, opinions among the guests were mixed. One of the panelists tried to reassure listeners that, with Brett Kavanaugh on the high court, neither Roe v. Wade nor Obergefell v. Hodges was likely to be overturned.

I would like to be comforted by this assertion, but, alas, I am not. The Supreme Court could decide that either of these cases was wrongly decided.

I won’t claim the title of prognosticator, but I suspect that Obergefell v. Hodges is indeed safe. It has created facts on the ground that cannot easily be dispensed with. Would the Supreme Court dare to un-marry gay couples or upend the plans of engaged couples eagerly awaiting their nuptials? Overturning Obergefell would create a citizen backlash that could severely damage the reputation of the court. That won’t happen.

On the other hand, even though the right to obtain an abortion continues to be supported by most Americans, I believe that the ascent of Kavanaugh endangers Roe. That decision, too, created facts on the ground, but those facts are invisible. One cannot tell by looking at an adult female whether or not she has had one or more abortions. Even if abortion were totally outlawed—not a likely outcome even if Roe is eviscerated—there is nothing for the court to undo. What is past is past, and those who have benefited from Roe cannot have that benefit taken away from them. The Supreme Court can repudiate Roe without the disruption of society that would be caused by doing the same to Obergefell.  There would be protests, of course, but they would likely be of no effect. A product of The Federalist Society such as Brett Kavanaugh would be overjoyed at the opportunity to overturn Roe, and we should not overlook that fact.

Although it is unlikely, Democrats might be able to delay confirmation of Kavanaugh, take back control of the Senate in November, and block any Trump Supreme Court nomination other than that of Merrick Garland. That would be a great outcome, but certainly not one to be counted on.

As a practical matter, as I argued in an earlier post, the greatest defense against attempts to strip away the right to an abortion is having large numbers of women admitting to having had abortions and being glad that they did so. Additionally, it would be helpful for older women to come forward who suffered from pre-Roe back-alley abortions, telling their stories of trauma and, in some case, loss of fertility. We also need to hear from family members who lost loved ones through back-alley abortions or whose loved ones wanted but could not obtain an abortion and died from complications of childbirth.

Not respecting the choices of women must be as unacceptable as sexual harassment and rape.

July 9, 2018

Two Complaints about Bishop McConnell

On the whole, I have been pleasantly surprised at Dorsey McConnell’s performance as Episcopal Bishop of Pittsburgh. Most especially, I was pleased with the way he handled moving the diocese to accept the blessing of same-sex unions. He created a process that allowed people of the diocese to discuss their views toward homosexuality in small meetings, after which he authorized priests to proceed with blessings. It was not transparent how the outcome of the meetings led to the bishop’s ultimate decision, but I think the fact that fewer people participated than had been anticipated suggested that, in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, the matter was less controversial than might have been thought. Of course, the exit of parishes supporting deposed bishop Robert Duncan altered the philosophical balance of opinion in the diocese.

Recently, however, Bishop McConnell has taken two actions of which I heartily disapprove. On June 27, he sent e-mail to “Diocesan and Parish Leadership” announcing that he had suffered a mild stroke and would have to reduce the burdens of his office. The body of the message was the following:
Dear Friends,

Recently I awoke in the middle of the night to find a numbness in my right arm and a confusion in my speech. (I could think of exactly what I wanted to say, but the words did not come out in any way resembling spoken English). The symptoms resolved within a few hours, and I have not had a recurrence.

It has taken some time for my doctors to find out exactly what happened, but in the last few days the picture has become clear. I am one of 24% of the adult human population walking around with a small hole between the atrium and ventricle of my heart, known as a patent foramen ovale or PFO. Ordinarily this would be of little concern; however, in extremely rare instances, a clot can travel through the hole and pass into the brain. This is apparently what happened to me, causing a small stroke in the left hemisphere, near the "language center,” briefly affecting the sensation in my right arm as well.

The source of the clot that caused it is still a mystery. There is no evidence of it occurring in my legs, my carotid arteries, or anywhere else in my vascular system. I have no history of stroke in my family, no evident plaque anywhere, and no other indication of risk. Since the event, I have been on a regimen of one low-dose aspirin per day, which— along with compression socks when I fly— will remain a part of my ordinary life, though my doctor may eventually recommend a prescription blood thinner.

All of this has come at some cost to my stamina. I am reviewing my calendar and work habits, and have asked for the assistance of my staff to help me achieve a more regular schedule. I will curtail my international travel, as well as my commitments to the National Church, and may limit the number of events I am able to attend within the Diocese on any given day. Please rest assured, however, that I generally feel well and energetic.

Betsy and I ask for your prayers. Please know you are always in ours.

Faithfully your bishop,

(The Right Reverend) Dorsey W.M. McConnell, D.D.
VIII Bishop of Pittsburgh
June 27, 2018
When a leader has a serious negative health event—if his schedule and life are being affected, the event described is serious—it is not only leaders who have to be told; so do ordinary citizens. If the governor or president suffers a stroke, people expect to know about it. This is not the first time Bishop McConnell has chosen only to inform diocesan leaders about matters affecting the diocese. The bishop asked for the prayers of the message’s recipients. Are the prayers of diocesan laity of no consequence? When diocesan news is distributed, the question to be asked is whether laity need not be told. Transparency should be the default, even when it is assumed that laypeople will not be interested. In fact, laypeople should be encouraged to care about the diocese, which is facilitated to letting them in on what is going on.

Mercifully, Bishop McConnell did not instruct diocesan leaders to keep the information in his message confidential. My own rector and other clergy I know about explained the bishop’s letter in church the Sunday after it was sent. Clearly, they thought the people needed to know about the bishop’s health.

My second complaint against Bishop McConnell is rather more complex, but I won’t attempt to give a full explanation here. Just days before the opening of the 79th General Convention, the bishop, along with Bishop Nick Knisely of Rhode Island and Bishop Lawrence Provenzano of Long Island, offered a resolution for consideration by the convention. Somewhat misleadingly titled “Marriage Rites for the Whole Church,” B012 was intended to be an alternative to Resolution A085, which had been proposed by the Task Force on the Study of Marriage. (The Living Church, prior to the beginning of the convention, offered a succinct review of A085 and B012. You can find that review here. Note that the links to the respective resolutions in that piece point to the resolutions as marked up by the convention as of the time they are accessed. A later Living Church article can be found here. As of this writing, the revised B012 has passed in the House of Deputies and is being sent to the House of Bishops for consideration.)

Essentially, A085 would have given same-sex marriage rites prayer book status and made the liturgy available to all congregations interested in using. B012, on the other hand, continued the trial status of such liturgies indefinitely. Significantly, it provided for bishops not approving of same-sex rites to require congregations wishing to use them to request DEPO (Designated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight), allowing same-sex marriage under the oversight of a more accepting bishop. (There are currently eight diocesan bishops who have disallowed same-sex marriages in their dioceses.) Such a procedure, which was invented by Episcopal bishops in a different context and never embraced by the General Convention, is ill-defined and cumbersome. Moreover, it makes same-sex marriage in The Episcopal Church less than fully embraced and makes diocesan bishops the princes who determine the religion of their subjects, a notion more feudal than democratic.

The Episcopal Church is, and should be, ruled by the General Convention, and individual bishops should not be able to veto procedures adopted by the convention. I was very disappointed by Bishop McConnell for his support of B012 and for that of Bishop Knisley as well. (I count Bishop Knisley as a friend; I do not know Bishop Provenzano.) Bishops out of step with the General Convention have been the source of much mischief in recent years, and B012 was an invitation to continued mischief.

As it happens, the matter of same-sex marriage collided with the other big topic at this year’s General Convention, namely prayer book revision. As a result, in a House of Deputies legislative committee, A085 was put aside and B012 was put forward with massive changes. The indefinite trial status remains, pending prayer book approval, but the diocesan bishop veto has been eliminated. It is to be hoped that the House of Bishops can accept this seemingly reasonable compromise.

July 6, 2018

Save Democracy

I have done my best as an ordinary citizen to oppose the ignorant, narcissistic, vindictive, and racist autocrat who has become president of the United States. One of my tactics has been to devise buttons that I and others can wear. Before the 2016 presidential election, I designed a button that asked: “How would Jesus vote?” I thought the correct answer was obvious, but other self-described Christians either had a different answer or failed to ask the question.

After the election, I designed another button that I expected to be wearing daily for four years: “Don’t blame me. I voted for her!” I convinced fewer people to wear these than I had hoped.

My latest button is shown here:


Donald Trump has been sabotaging democracy at home and abroad, wreaking havoc on the environment, favoring the wealthy at the expense of everyone else, destroying the goodwill and authority of the United States in foreign affairs, and enriching himself and his family at every opportunity. He now seems intent on destroying the world economy based on his own naïve mercantilist fantasies.

The only way to contain the pestilence that is the Trump administration and its congressional enablers is to mobilize citizens to turn out in large numbers in November and to vote for Democrats—any Democrat over any Republican. This is the motivation for the button shown above. At least until the midterm elections, I will be wearing one of these buttons every day.

I have only a few of the Save Democracy/Vote Democratic buttons left, although I can have more made if the need arises. If you are interested in having a button, let me know here.

June 27, 2018

Thoughts on A Highter Loyalty

Although I ordered a copy of James Comey’s book A Higher Loyalty before its publication, I didn’t begin reading it until Monday last, when I had jury duty. I was allowed to bring a physical book but not an electronic one. I read through six chapters or so in the courthouse and finished the book three days ago. What follows is neither a book review nor a book report. Instead, it is a somewhat random collection of thoughts I had while reading A Higher Loyalty.

Let me say at the outset that I recommend A Higher Loyalty. It is at times interesting, thought-provoking, instructive, and frustrating. Comey obviously wants to offer a public defense of his actions as FBI director, but the “good stuff” for which many will pick up the book begins far into the volume. The work is thoroughly autobiographical, and, if it is about anything but the obvious, namely James Comey, it is about leadership. As regards government service, at least in an organization such as the FBI, it is about non-partisan loyalty to the mission of the organization. Leaders in any situation can benefit from what the author has to say, however.

Democrats may be wondering if Comey is a self-righteous prick. I don’t think he is. Autobiography tends to be self-serving, of course, but the former FBI director comes across as genuine, honest, caring, competent, and committed to his work. But his unshakable commitment to protecting the reputation of the FBI led him to sabotage the candidacy of Hillary Clinton just before the 2016 election. He clearly recognized that a Trump victory would be a disaster, but he assumed, as did almost everyone, that Trump would lose. He gambled—though he never admits this—that he could save the FBI from criticism by announcing the re-opening of the investigation into Clinton without endangering the Republic. He lost. And the country lost.

Comey clearly believes that a President Hillary Clinton would have been a very different chief executive than the one we have now. About Trump, he writes, “Donald Trump’s presidency threatens much of what is good in the nation.” Most of it, probably.

As if Comey’s actions were not infuriating enough, his commitment to being non-partisan led him to not vote in the 2016 election, even though his family very much wanted to see a woman become president. I cannot understand this, just as I cannot understand journalist Katy Tur’s not voting, even after covering the Trump campaign and surely recognizing him for what he is. Citizens, particularly those who see a clear and president danger, have an obligation to not stand on the sidelines!

Besides being ignorant and self-absorbed, Donald Trump is nasty and vindictive. I was astonished by what this passage near the end of the book says about our president:
President Trump, who apparently watches quite a bit of TV at the White House, saw those images of me thanking the cops and flying away [from Los Angeles, where Comey learned that he had been fired]. They infuriated him. Early the next morning, he called [by then, acting FBI director Andrew] McCabe and told him he wanted an investigation into how I had been allowed to use the FBI plane to return from California.

McCabe replied that he could look into how I had been allowed to fly back to Washington, but that he didn’t need to. He had authorized it, McCabe told the president. The plane had to come back, the security detail had to come back, and the FBI was obligated to return me safely.

The president exploded. He ordered that I was not to be allowed back on FBI property again, ever. My former staff boxed up my belongings as if I had died and delivered them to my home. The order kept me from seeing and offering some measure of closure to the people of the FBI, with whom I had become very close.

Trump had done a lot of yelling during the campaign about McCabe and his former candidate wife. He had been fixated on it ever since.

Still in a fury at McCabe, Trump then asked him, “Your wife lost her election in Virginia, didn’t she?”

“Yes, she did,” Andy replied.

The president of the United States then said to the acting director of the FBI, “Ask her how it feels to be a loser” and hung up the phone.
It is worth noting that, although Comey is reluctant to accuse Trump of obstruction of justice, he makes it clear that he thinks that the president may be guilty of obstruction. Surely he is.

June 12, 2018

Kim: Another Admired Strongman

It is a good thing that the United States is now interacting directly with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Our reluctance to acknowledge and talk to communist regimes in the past has not been especially productive. It was years before we recognized the Soviet Union, and for long periods, we had no intercourse with the People’s Republic of China or Cuba. Like it or not, North Korea is a real country, with a real government, headed by a real ruler.

Whether a leader-to-leader meeting, especially one of such short duration, was a good idea at this juncture is an open question. Each of the participants in the just-concluded summit in Singapore had his own reasons for wanting a meeting. Each was looking for some measure of validation. Kim Jong-un wanted recognition as a world leader; Donald Trump was looking for a win that he could point to in anticipation of the mid-term elections.

One wonders if the “agreement” signed in Singapore is worth the paper it’s printed on. Its provisions are largely unremarkable and become important only if they are carried out. The jury will be out for a long time. I doubt that the president accomplished much of substance, but I am willing to withhold judgment. I would like to have seen a formal end to the Korean War and the exchange of ambassadors, neither of which would have been an immediate game-changer but which would have created a more favorable environment going forward. That denuclearization was neither guaranteed nor even defined by the agreement is unfortunate, but for it to have been otherwise would have been like winning the lottery on three successive days, i.e., unlikely beyond belief.

Kim and Trump in Singapore
Generally, I refuse to quibble with the made-for-TV summit. I do have one complaint, however, and, although some may consider it trivial, I do not. Trump declared that he was “honored” to be meeting with Kim Jong-un. What sort of “honor” was that? A brutal dictator who demands veneration from his starving populace, mercilessly murders his political rivals, and achieves a summit meeting by threatening our country with nuclear missiles “honors” Trump with his mere presence? Of course, we should not be surprised, as Trump appears to idolize strongmen—Vladimir Putin most notable among them—and have little real respect for the leaders of Western democracies. Trump declared more than a year ago that he would be “honored” to meet with Kim. I could understand “pleased,” even “happy,” by not “honored.”

What sort of man seeks such an honor?

June 11, 2018

Michael Curry and Donald Trump

I have described myself as an Episcopal Church activist, though I must confess that my activism on behalf of my church has, for some time, been meager. Since the 2016 presidential campaign, and especially since November 8, 2016, my activism has been focused mainly on our democracy and on the Democratic party.

Donald Trump’s election to the presidency was a tragedy, or so I thought at the time. Little did I realize the magnitude of the catastrophe it presaged. On November 9, I felt incapable of fully capturing my thoughts. In “Post-Election Depression,” I wrote
I slept less than three hours last night and took a pre-dawn walk trying to wrap my mind around the tragedy that befell our nation last night. I had hoped to write something insightful this morning, but I am overwhelmed with dispair.

For now, I want to call your attention to an essay by New Yorker editor David Remnick. It is called “An American Tragedy.” This is all I can offer this Wednesday morning.
Five days later, feeling a bit more communitive, I wrote another post, “More on My November 9,” though even that was more about my state of mind than about what I thought was happening to the country.

Having been obsessed with politics for the past year and a half, I have paid little attention to the General Convention of The Episcopal Church, which meets next month, the Lambeth Conference scheduled for 2020, or ongoing property litigation. (It is worth noting, however, that the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a decision favorable to the church on that latter front today.)

I was recently buoyed by the royal wedding that took place a few weeks ago and at which our church’s presiding bishop, the Most Reverend Michael Curry, preached. Curry’s words were intended for the royal couple, of course, but also for members of the Church of England, for all Americans, and for Christians generally. Love was the subject of his sermon—not a surprising topic under the circumstances—but one that was advanced with unusual passion and with a plea for universal applicability. Curry said, in part,
Well, think and imagine a world where love is the way.

Imagine our homes and families when love is the way.

Imagine neighborhoods and communities when love is the way.

Imagine our governments and nations when love is the way.

Imagine business and commerce when love is the way.

Imagine this tired old world when love is the way.

When love is the way, unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive.

When love is the way, then no child would go to bed hungry in this world ever again.

When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.

When love is the way, poverty would become history.

When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.

When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields down by the riverside to study war no more.

When love is the way, there’s plenty good room. Plenty good room. For all of God’s children.

And when love is the way, we actually treat each other—well, like we’re actually family.

When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters. Children of God.

My brothers and sisters, that’s a new heaven, a new earth, a new world. A new human family.
(Text and video of the full sermon are available here.)

The world described by Bishop Curry is not the world President Trump aspires to build. Trump’s world is one of hatefulness, vindictiveness, racism, mendacity, greed, and narcissism. It is the opposite of the Christ-centered world described by the bishop. It is the world desired by the Devil himself.

Bishop Curry has reminded us of the world to which we should aspire. His is the antidote to the vision of the so-called Christians whose approval of the president seems to rise with every obscenity and absurdity committed by the devil in the White House.

The world described by Bishop Curry is not going to arrive anywhere, either in the U.S. or elsewhere. As Christians—even as non-Christian humanitarians—we should work for the advent of such a world, however. We can begin by opposing Donald Trump’s policies at every turn and by voting for Democrats—any Democrats, this November.

June 9, 2018

Draining the Swamp

As a candidate, Donald Trump pledged to “drain the swamp” in Washington. To my knowledge, the candidate never really explained what he meant by that. The federal government—and especially Congress—was not popular, and people, both left and right, read whatever they wanted into Trump’s promise.

In fact, Trump brought lobbyists, plutocrats, anarchists, sycophants, and incompetents into his administrations. His corrupt and destructive administration was further enabled by Republican leaders in Congress who seemingly lost any sense of independence or morality once Trump was elected.

The poster child for Trump’s team is EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who has contempt for the mission of his agency, disdain for ethical norms and government regulations, and who spends taxpayer money with reckless abandon for his personal comfort and convenience.

Frustration with Donald Trump and his cronies, especially the likes of Mr. Pruitt, inspired the graphic below. Feel free to distribute it on social media and elsewhere. Click on it for a larger version.

June 5, 2018

Afternoon Cinema

I went to see Solo yesterday at our local cinema. Indiana Mall Cinema charges only $5 for a ticket on Monday and throws in free popcorn. This is a powerful incentive for seeing movies on Monday if it is at all convenient. It’s hard to pass up a good deal, and I appreciate the Monday movie package, something that relieves me of the need inveigh against the high price of movie popcorn.

The show time for Solo was listed as 12:15. I arrived just after noon, not knowing whether a summer movie in a popular franchise available at a discount would result in a long line of patrons. I needn’t have bothered; only a dozen or so people showed up, and I had my choice of seats.

That I had to wait to see the movie wasn’t a problem; I finished reading a New Yorker article on my phone and most of my popcorn before the advertised start time. Meanwhile, for much of the wait, I watched—could have watched, anyway—the Noovie “pre-show,” a collection of mostly ads from National CineMedia. Noovie tries hard to be entertaining and is at least a little informative. I saw promotions for Incredibles 2, for example, a sequel to a picture I found charming.

When 12:15 rolled around, I expected to see previews or perhaps even the movie itself. Instead, I was subjected to advertising for 15 minutes, including advertising for television programs! I felt like a hostage. One of the joys of going to the movies used to be escaping the barrage of television advertising. No more!

Finally, at 12:30, a more conventional program began—a succession of previews of coming attractions.

At 12:38, the actual movie began. By this time, both my patience and popcorn were long gone. And the movie was just so-so, not one of the better Star Wars efforts. Maybe next time, I’ll have more patience, skip the movie theater experience altogether, and watch Netflix.

In the meantime, why can’t movie houses advertise the time movies actually start? Some people value their time and do not appreciate being held hostage so they can be shown advertising.

June 3, 2018

Fair Offer or Discrimination

This afternoon, I saw a Ford advertisement during a baseball game whose narration included:
Ford thanks those who go further for all of us. First responders, all military personnel, veterans, and retirees can now get $750 appreciation cash on top of current offers, all from Ford, America’s best-selling brand.
The video included scenes of military and firefighters in action.
Ford logo

I suspect that most viewers respond positively to this ad, which seems to offer significant benefits to those who serve their community, often at great personal sacrifice.

My first thought, however, was whether such a discount is really fair. Why should an accountant or a grocery clerk have to pay $750 more for an automobile than a former Army bandsman like myself? Isn’t such a policy discriminatory?

What if, instead of Ford’s current policy, the company’s appreciation was for, say, white people:
Ford thanks all the white people who have helped make America a great country over these many years. All white people can now get $750 appreciation credit on top of current offers, all from Ford, America’s best-selling brand.
Ford’s offer seems less benign now, doesn’t it?

Auto dealers offer special deals to customers all the time, of course. These offers usually either apply to everyone—“shop our Memorial Day sale”—or apply to customers in particular automobile-related circumstances—“available to current Ford leaseholders.” The current Ford offer, however, applies to people that the company views as especially virtuous, irrespective of their relationship to anything automotive.

Honestly, I have sometimes benefited from small discounts for being a veteran and have not thought much about it. The Ford benefit (or discriminative pricing) seems extreme, however. If it is acceptable, why is it not acceptable to favor white customers, straight customers, young customers, or Republican customers?

June 2, 2018

Samantha Bee vs. Roseanne Barr

On Wednesday night, as I usually do, I watched Samatha Bee’s weekly show Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. It seemed like a typical episode of liberal feminist commentary with its usual seasoning of humor. On Thursday, however, I learned that Bee was being criticized for something she said about Ivanka Trump and that there were calls for her show, like that of Roseanne Barr, to be canceled.

I was perplexed that I hadn’t noticed anything outrageous on Wednesday’s show. I knew that Bee called Ivanka Trump “feckless,” but that was hardly in the same category as Barr’s asserting that Valerie Jarrett was descended from apes. I went back and reviewed the show. Actually, Bee criticized Ivanka for failing to be a moderating influence on her father, describing her as a “feckless cunt,” though that second word was bleeped out on TBS. Oh.

As it happens, the feckless asshole who is Ivanka’s father and who acts—“serves” seems like the wrong word—as President of the United States tweeted the following:

What got Roseanne Barr fired was the somewhat cryptic and ungrammatical tweet:
muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj
Valerie Jarrett
Valerie Jarrett
Apparently, an earlier tweet had suggested that Jarrett, who had been assistant to the president for public engagement and intergovernmental affairs in the Obama administration, had covered up certain Obama “secrets.” I have no idea if there was any truth in that charge, but, given her government position, it is unlikely that she disclosed publicly everything she knew. Whether she was “hiding” facts citizens needed to know is a matter of opinion and of facts not at hand. Whatever she may have done or not done, Barr’s tweet was something of a non sequitur.

Jarrett, though born of black American parents living temporarily in Iran, has apparently never been a Muslim. Her being black and having been born in a predominantly Muslim country apparently led, in Barr’s mind, to her now infamous tweet. The tweet was condemned as racist—and not merely stupid—as blacks have often been disparaged by being called apes or monkeys. Happily, doing so today is seen as beyond the pale.

What of Bee’s characterization of Ivanka Trump? Admittedly, “cunt” is flagged in various dictionaries as “extremely disparaging and offensive” or “obscene,” which is why, even on cable television, it was bleeped out. On the other hand, whether Ivanka is feckless or a cunt is a matter of opinion. That she is is certainly arguable with actual facts, and I have no doubt that Samantha Bee could make such an argument if pressed. (I intend to stay out of this argument.) Barr’s implicit characterization of Jarrett, on the other hand, is nothing more than an ad hominem—and, in fact, racist—attack. It is impossible to offer any facts to support the truth of Barr’s “equation.”

Honestly, I would not personally have used “cunt” as Bee did. In fact, I think I have never used the word to describe a woman however contemptible I thought the person to be. It is a nasty and socially unacceptable word. And yet, I cannot think of a single word that could have been substituted for it that would carry the same sense and power. “Feckless and contemptible woman” lacks the punch of Bee’s phrase. She could have substituted “bitch” for “cunt,” of course, but that word is only slightly more acceptable in polite society. Nonetheless, “bitch” might have been a better choice. Dictionary.com calls the word slang and offers as one definition “a malicious, unpleasant, selfish person, especially a woman.” That would not be my characterization of the president’s daughter, but I can see how someone might think it justified.

Donald Trump is no doubt happy that two sponsors, State Farm and Autotrader are, at least for the moment, withdrawing their ads from Full Frontal. I do not believe that TBS and ABC are applying different standards to the words of Barr and Bee, however. Their “offensive” statements are not of the same character. Bee’s sin is decidedly less blameworthy. True to form, while making a point that has a certain surface credibility, Trump attacked Bee as lacking talent—which is surely untrue—and as having a show with low ratings. I don’t know what Bee’s ratings are and whether they are getting better or worse, but I suspect that the president doesn’t either. (Cf. Trump’s referring constantly to the “failing New York Times.”)

Bee’s program is funny and insightful, and I hope that it remains on the air.

May 13, 2018

April 25, 2018

Change in Comment Policy

Beginning today, comments will not be posted until approved by me. I will try to approve comments quickly, but the needed approval time will necessarily be variable.

I take this step reluctantly. Unfortunately, some visitors have used their comment privileges to post off-topic messages that include links to irrelevant commercial Web sites. Rather than removing such comments after the fact, I have decided to prevent them from ever being posted.

Your understanding and indulgence are appreciated.

April 16, 2018

A Pro-Choice Essay and Graphic

To someone who believes that women are not lesser creatures than men and should not lose the right to direct their own medical care the moment they become pregnant, the political fights over the right to abortion are maddening. The anti-abortion crusade was born of the Roman Catholic Church’s obsession with sex and male control over women. Catholics sold their obsession to evangelical Protestants, who bought it for political reasons of their own, rather than out of any abstract or biblical moral reasoning. It quickly became a widespread obsession that now even threatens to outlaw birth control devices.

The anti-abortion folks call themselves “pro-life,” which is ironic on many levels. The same people often seem unconcerned with quality of life, with child welfare, or with capital punishment. To many, a single-cell fertilized egg is worthy of more moral consideration than a one-year-old child. At best, this is illogical, at worst, outrageous. As a rhetorical slogan, however, “pro-life” sounds righteous and compelling. “Pro-choice,” by contrast, sounds selfish and uncaring. Calling the anti-abortion crowd “anti-choice” isn’t any better.

I got to thinking about how the pro-freedom forces can better advance their cause in the abortion wars by altering tactics.

As a rhetorical device, the term “pro-life” is very strong. The anti-abortion side has worked hard to encourage people to view the embryo/fetus (or even the zygote/blastocyst) as a human being. Human beings have rights, so the logic goes, and the developing human in the womb cannot advocate for itself. Implicitly, he mother, on the other hand, who is morally oblivious to the nature of the life she is carrying, can mistakenly act in what she sees as her own self-interest unless prevented by an enlightened and benevolent government.

There are problems with the “pro-life” rhetoric. Perhaps most importantly, is the identification of everything from a fertilized egg to a newborn as a human. In all cases, it is human, but it is not necessarily a human. By analogy, a severed finger is human but not a human. Clearly, a baby is a human just before birth, but months earlier, it has more in common with a fish or a frog. That it may have a heartbeat means little; so do adult fish and frogs. Whether it can feel pain early in life is likewise not dispositive (and is, in any case, debatable). So can fish and frogs. For many pro-lifers, the status of the unborn really hinges on the unstated assumption that the “baby” has a soul. Clearly, many people do not believe this, and the existence of a baby’s soul is hardly a valid consideration in the policy-making of a secular democracy. (No, the U.S. is not a “Christian” country and was never intended to be.) In any event, I find the argument to be made for my cats having souls more compelling than any for the souls of zygotes.

A case can be made—the Supreme Court accepted such a case, after all—that, at some point in a pregnancy, abortion should, in nearly all circumstances, be disallowed. I lack the wisdom to know where that point is, and so do the anti-abortion folks, irrespective of their claims. Save for egregious cases, I’m perfectly willing to leave the matter to women and their doctors.

Returning more directly to rhetorical concerns, pro-choice people necessarily need to place more emphasis on women acting as free and rational beings in their choices to abort their pregnancies. Probably, the most effective pro-choice tactic would be to have ordinary women who have had abortions explain their choices in public—on television, on social media, and in person with their friends. (Acceptance of homosexuality depended on people’s encountering actual homosexuals after all.) There is also a place for sloganeering, a consideration that led me to create this graphic:

You don’t respect women if you don’t respect women’s choices.

This seems like an appropriate message in the age of #MeToo: women are to be respected and their medical choices assumed to be reasonable (or, in any case, ones they should have the freedom to make). The use of “choices” here subtly suggests choices related to abortion, since everyone is assumed to be familiar with pro-choice rhetoric.

I encourage others to use the above graphic freely. A larger version is available by clicking on the one shown here.

Postscript: I first posted my graphic on Facebook and decided that I should put in on my blog as well. I intended to write a short introduction to it but got carried away. I hope people find this essay interesting, perhaps even useful. I invite rational discussion and reserve the right to delete comments that do not qualify.