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.