"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Meanwhile, downstairs among the servants....

"Accordingly, there are no security concerns regarding the State of the Union address."
The President of the United States to the Speaker of the House, January 23, 2019.

Uh, you sure about that?  I mean, I don't doubt Secret Service agents are very professional, but this is the equivalent of the waiter spitting in your salad.

And Now for the Presidential Response....

“The State of the Union has been canceled by Nancy Pelosi because she doesn’t want to hear the truth,” Trump said. “She’s afraid of the super-left Democrats, the radical Democrats. What’s going on in that party is shocking.”

He added, “Now Nancy Pelosi, or Nancy as I call her, she doesn’t want to know the truth.”

He continued to unload on Pelosi.

“So Nancy Pelosi, knowing these facts and knowing that she can’t win, that she just went out and said ‘let’s cancel for the first time in the history of our country, let’s cancel the State of the Union address,'” Trump said. “It’s a disgrace. She used it on the basis of the shutdown. When she asked me to make the address formally in writing, most of you have a copy of the letter, when she asked me to make the address, she did it during the shutdown, well into the shutdown.”

He then called Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer a “puppet.”

“I think that Chuck Schumer sadly is dominated by the radical left and he’s dominated by Nancy Pelosi. Very strongly dominated. He can’t move. He’s a puppet. A puppet for Nancy Pelosi, if you can believe that,” Trump said.

He doesn't have a clue, does he?

You could fact-check some of that (the history of the SOTU is all wrong), point out he doesn't understand what the SOTU is, point out it isn't even canceled, just postponed.  Why bother?  He's clueless, a child in a man's clothes.  If this doesn't prove it, what will?  My favorite line is this one:

"Now Nancy Pelosi, or Nancy as I call her, she doesn't want to know the truth."

This from the guy who gives nicknames to everybody, and the best he can do is "Nancy, as I call her"?  And since he can't bring himself to attack her, he attacks Schumer, who is "dominated by Nancy Pelosi," because that's the worst thing he can say about Schumer?  And that has what to do with the SOTU, since McConnell is the man who can bring a resolution to the Senate, the very resolution Speaker Pelosi refuses to bring to the House floor.

He continued: “We just found out that she’s cancelled it. I think that’s a great blotch on the incredible country that we all love. It’s a great, great horrible mark. I don’t believe it’s ever happened before and it’s always good to be part of history but this is a very negative part of history.”

I dunno, which is worse?  This cancellation, or the continued refusal to allow all of the government to function while he tries to negotiate his beloved border wall like a normal President would do?

The cute part is, he thinks there's something he can do about it:

Trump added: “We’ll have to respond to it. We’ll respond to it in a timely manner.”
One can only imagine what he thinks he's going to do.  Meanwhile, as  another observer put it, on the matter of funding the wall:

“If the president put up a bill with permanent protection for Dreamers for border security money, it would pass,” said Todd Schulte, president of the nonpartisan immigration advocacy group and a major critic of Monday’s draft bill. “If the president wants money for the wall, he knows how to get it.”

The problem is, the POTUS doesn't know how to get it.

That Didn't Take Long

According to NBC News reporter Kelly O’Donnell, Pelosi’s letter said that she will not bring forward the resolution necessary to authorize the speech.
Turn out the lights, the party's over....

Truth is not objective, anyway.....

Love may mean you never have to say you're sorry (sorry; I lived through the '70's; it left scars); but pride means you never want to say you were wrong:

A CNN reporter traveled to Montecillo, Iowa where soybean prices have plummeted because of the trade war with China, but where farmers are getting free-flowing subsidies to offset their losses with $12 billion in American tax dollars.

The farmers he talked to support Trump, while their neighbors are aghast.

Farmers are able to subsist on their generous handouts, but are not able to invest in infrastructure on their farms with banks refusing to loan money.

They also can’t get data they need from the Department of Agriculture because of the shutdown.

Despite this, Dave Walton, a soybean farmer, “refused” to criticize Trump, who flipped the state from blue to red with the help of people like him.

“He campaigned on a lot of the things he’s doing right now and he’s doing it,” Walton said.
Farmer Brian Wolken said a lot of farmers are “big fans of Donald Trump.”

“Until he’s out of office I don’t think you’ll hear them say anything bad about him,” he said. “They’re just gonna say ‘This is going to be good for us in the long run.'”

Not everyone has been swayed, though. Others in the town, which now has a Democratic Congressman, said they are shocked by how the farmers are acting.

One eye doctor said he’s lost patients because he criticized Trump, and doesn’t care.

An elderly rural Iowa resident named Mel Manternach said it’s “unbelievable that the farmers of Iowa continue to support Trump.”

“I can’t believe that they’re that blind,” he said. “Some of the die-hards are dying harder.”
I would like to say I'm surprised;but I'm not.  More interesting than the mulishness is the reasoning:  “He campaigned on a lot of the things he’s doing right now and he’s doing it,” Walton said.  Uh-huh; name three.  But there's the rub:  who knows what is true, except what we believe to be true?

The example of the MAGA hat wearing teens is instructive here.  Which video of the event is the "true" record of what happened?  Everyone has their point of view, their preference, their conclusion.  I have mine, but it's based mostly on the smirk on the kid's face, and that same kid's statement that "I had every right to be standing there."  Punk needs to learn some respect for his elders, especially if those elders are non-white.  He also doesn't shift responsibility by immediately following that statement with a claim he wishes he could have had a dialogue with the older man.  His desire for dialogue comes from a place of privilege:  white and economic privilege.  He wants a discussion on his terms, not on terms of equality or even humility.  Then again, he's a punk kid; I can forgive him his sins, because they are mine, too.

Let's be honest.

But what of the farmer who claims Trump has accomplished what he said he would?  Based on what, aside from Trump's claims of accomplishment?  Then again, what other claims are there?  There are reports now that "moderate" Democrats and Republicans want to end the standoff over the border wall, but those reports overlook the "poison pills" in the legislative package the White House sent to Capitol Hill.  Where is the good faith required to reach a deal?  Or is the problem just the stubbornness of Democratic leaders, who should yield now and stand firm next time (until they yield then)?  Arguments, arguments, arguments, and where is the truth, the valid picture of reality?  Can we even know, when reality is whatever is reported to us by the news?  Aye, there's the rub.

Trump calls all news he doesn't like "fake news," and it's a pernicious lie.  But how do I verify the news?  What is being discussed among Senators and Representatives?  What efforts are being made to end this stupid stalemate, and why?  How do I know, except what the news tells me, and news reports are inherently incomplete and inaccurate.  What gets into the next report depends on editors and reporters and decision about what the "narrative" is for this story or that one.  Has Trump accomplished anything?  I don't think so, but my opinion is based on news reports.  Trump claims he's accomplished much because of judicial appointments and regulation reform (not all his Cabinet Secretaries have resigned in disgrace).  Is that an accomplishment, or merely a shift in the winds that will shift back in two years?  Even Gorsuch and Kavanaugh haven't (yet) significantly altered the trajectory of the Supreme Court.  Besides, I don't consider those things accomplishments; and in the face of the trade wars and the significant failures to achieve anything in foreign diplomacy and concerns that Trump's actions will trigger a world-wide recession, and the support of farmers in Iowa that can only be described as mulishness and the ethos that, however bad things are, farmers can survive it....

Truth, as Kierkegaard observed, is subjective.  Which is not to say truth is relative, but just that what is, in Tillich's terms, your "ultimate concern," determines what is most important to you; and what is most important to you, is what is true.  "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be, also," is a true statement, but it's also a statement of truth, a statement about the nature of truth.  Now, do you put your truth on a MAGA hat, or a determination to prevail against the future, or on what news reports say?  Or is the problem that we don't really know where to seek our truth?

Breaking News As It is Broken

I liked "Build The Wall and Crime Will Fall!" better.

"Not realistic"? Really?
Maybe it's just me, but I don't think the "bitchy woman" argument is a dog that'll hunt this time. Especially as the President vainly addressing an empty chamber won't be on even C-SPAN, so all complaints will be empty descriptions of the noise the tree made when it fell. And I suppose all that really matters is that Trump keep Hannity onboard:

And while we're doing Twitter, this is precisely what witness tampering looks like:
May you live in interesting times.

Well, this is interesting....

 According to McClatchy, Trump can enter the floor of the House of Representatives.  But the camera might not be on, the lights might not even be on, and he can't address a Joint Session of Congress if there has not been a joint resolution to hold such a session.  And that resolution can't come to the floor of the House without the approval of the Speaker.

Donald Trump is about to find out that the Speaker of the House is a Constitutional office of a co-equal branch of government.

Let's start with the joint session:

A joint session isn’t an ad hoc event. Both the House and Senate must formally agree to the session by adopting a “concurrent resolution.”

These resolutions are typically noncontroversial, often simply advanced by voice vote or what’s called unanimous consent, meaning no one objects so the measure is agreed to.

Pelosi, as the speaker, can control whether this resolution comes up for a vote at all in the House — or, if it does, she can urge her members to vote “no.” If there’s no joint session of Congress, Trump can’t come to the House floor to deliver his address.

Will anybody even be there?

Whether Trump could just get up on the dais and start delivering his State of the Union address is another question. Nothing could physically stop Trump from speaking in the House chamber, but there is a strict set of rules governing what is allowed to take place on the floor and what would be subject to condemnation.

In order for someone to deliver formal remarks in the House of Representatives, the chamber must be “in session,” which is at the discretion of the speaker.
And if the House isn't in session, and Trump walks into an empty chamber?

Ordinarily, C-SPAN is the only entity allowed to record House floor proceedings. But C-SPAN only has permission to operate when the House is officially in session. If the House isn’t in session and Trump comes to the floor and begins speaking, there would be no way of broadcasting the address to a national audience. The chamber lights might not even be on for Trump to see his written speech.
Can Trump demand other networks have access to the cameras?  No.  Can Trump demand the lights be turned on?  No.  Will this be a "Constitutional crisis"?  No; that would occur only if Trump got his way per that letter he sent to Pelosi.

Pass the popcorn.*

(In my mind's cinema I see the humiliation and rage as Trump's motorcade arrives at the Capitol and he enters the empty chamber, lights off, cameras dead.  Of course, to see that would require the lights be on and the cameras active, so I don't get my dream; but the effect will be like the tree falling in the forest that no one hears.  Trump may rage on Twitter, complain on FoxNews, but without the visual of his humiliation, who will really care (there is no Constitutional requirement that he make the speech to Congress, just that he deliver a report)?  And would he want to broadcast his powerlessness?  This is almost too perfect a victory over hubris and stupidity.)


“The fact is that we can understand, politically, the Speaker wanting to deny him the platform,” said [Andrea] Mitchell. “He wants the stage because he knows he can dominate.”

“He now wants that speech in that House as much as he wants to win the showdown,” replied [Margaret] Carlson, describing the standoff as “a preliminary bout.”

“He has to win it, because Trump has to be seen as a winner in his own mind or it’s debilitating for him,” she said, adding that she expected the president to win despite the shutdown. “That letter was spell-checked with all those exclamation points because he’s dead serious.”

Emphasis, obviously, added.  This is the best part of this nonsense; Trump cannot buffalo the Speaker of the House.  January 29 is much too far away. This is going to be like waiting for Christmas, all over again.

Pray without ceasing?

Let us be clear:  there is no legitimate purpose here, just government by slogan and catchphrase.  Ordinarily government is guided by facts and reasons; legislative inquiry, investigation, testimony, build a basis for a law or a governmental expenditure.  In the Great State of Texas, where the one task required of the Lege every two years is to establish a budget for the biennium based on the State Comptroller's forecast of revenue for the state (it's an elected office; we elect everybody in state government in Texs; everybody), the Comptroller is asking ordinary citizens to PLEASE come to Austin to testify so the Lege will have some idea how to spend the taxpayer's hard earned.  That's the way it's supposed to work.  

Trump doesn't understand any of that.  He just knows he ran on a slogan, and now he has to make the slogan a reality.  He doesn't even defend his racism and xenophobia; he just stands on it as if it were the Rock of Truth itself.  So this isn't about Trump's "political destruction," it's about governance and how our government should operate.  Congress should debate the wall, investigate the wall, consider all the reasons for and against the wall.  But they should not fund it's construction because the President came up with a new catchphrase.

And there's the curious appeal to faith, couched in two tweets:  "No doubt!' and "Use it and pray!"  What is the appeal here?  To unwavering support for Dear Leader?  And to pray without ceasing that the catchphrase will work?  I doubt seriously Trump has 1 Thessalonians in mind, but is he suddenly coming to religious language because he has nowhere else to turn?  That's the usual use of religion in public life:  when all else fails, God help us!

And, of course, the wall is not under construction now, else we wouldn't be in this quagmire (for which there is a simpler solution than capitulation; there is no reason for the government to be shut down because the President won't sign a funding bill.  It's past time to take that weapon away from the toddler-in-chief).

But given these tweets, does it matter what the Senate votes on today, tomorrow, next week?  Until the 100 Senators who voted to fund the rest of the government are willing to stand by that vote against a Presidential veto, it really doesn't matter what Congress votes to do.  This is really not on the Democrats at all.  The guy in the White House has said that all along; and today he's said it again, three times.

How many times does it take to realize he means it?

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

"(do you believe this?)"

As early as 10:00 in the morning:

In one interaction with then-House Speaker Paul Ryan, Elving described President Donald Trump “wandering off” during a complicated discussion of tax reform.

“He literally gets up while Paul Ryan is in mid-description and wanders out of the Oval Office and down the hallway into a side room where one can hear the television being switched on,” Elving said, adding the “eventually” the vice-president had to go retrieve the easily distracted commander in chief.

Kids these days!

In the '70's, as the Vietnam War was moving toward its finale, I wore a green Army jacket, courtesy of my then girlfriend, who had it from her older brother, a veteran of the war (both brothers served).  The jacket was a simple cloth jacket; no padding, no fur, no lining, the kind of thing you might expect to wear in tropical climes.

I wore it despite the fact I was virulently anti-war, and secretly scared to death I'd be drafted (and had been since the 6th grade, when a friend told me it was inevitable.  Fortunately it wasn't; I was in the last cohort (class?) to be in the draft lottery.  My number was high enough I missed altogether, and went off to college without worrying about failing out and getting caught to do my duty for Uncle Sam (as we put it then, derisively).  I wore the jacket derisively; but also because I liked it.  It was clearly military, but I thought it stylish (no comments from the peanut gallery!), at least comfortable, and besides, my girlfriend gave it to me.

So I think I understand why MAGA hats would be a thing among teenagers, especially those who want to annoy their parents or associate with a "winning brand."  Honestly "brand" seems to be all teenagers are about these days, something that isn't entirely new, so I won't go further afield with that.  Although, thinking back on my days of my Army jacket (I had a fake Navy peacoat, too; for a guy who didn't want to be in the military, I liked the clothing.  The peacoat was from Sears, and "navy" referred more to its color than anything more nautical), I don't think it would have been appropriate wear to a, say, anti-war protest, not that such things would have been a field trip for my high school.  Even if I thought I wore my jacket ironically, the irony was likely lost on almost everyone else:

“With regard to the hats, they were there for a pro-life march, which, granted, focused on abortion,” he said. “The hats that they were wearing, the so-called MAGA hats, the Make America Great hats, come with a certain political agenda that in my opinion can be seen as anti-Catholic, anti-Christian.
Certainly they represent a political agenda; even if it isn't anti-Christian (I think it is, but YMMV), what were they doing wearing them while on a school field trip?  As the priest said about their behavior:

“First of all, I think the students acted inappropriately,” he said. “I was raised at a time when we were taught, respect your elders. no matter how the Native American gentleman wound up in front of that student, that was the time to turn the other cheek, to step aside, no matter what you thought,” he continued.

“It wasn’t a time to thrust both cheeks, smirking, into the face of that elder. So, yes, where were the chaperones? This situation was escalating. you had the group that you mentioned with racial slurs. You then had kids behind them seemingly mocking this elder and smirking and laughing at him,” he said. “I don’t understand how the chaperones don’t step in and say, first of all, boys, get to the bus, to defuse the situation. that’s why a chaperone is there,” he said. 

If a picture is worth 1000 words, that kid's face is the dictionary illustration of "white privilege."  Answers to the priest's questions that involve reference to "baptized heathens" are unseemly and will not be countenanced here, or further discussed.  But yeah, I am thinking about it....

Monday, January 21, 2019

So Much Honoring!

We're getting tired of all the honoring!

So this is why?

Trump played golf on MLK day last year. He's made himself a prisoner of D.C. this year, so he had 2 minutes to kill.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Ariel Poems: Epiphany 2018

'Issues from the hand of God, the simple soul'
To a flat world of changing lights and noise,
To light, dark, dry or damp, chilly or warm;
Moving between the legs of tables and of chairs,
Rising or falling, grasping at kisses and toys,
Advancing boldly, sudden to take alarm,
Retreating to the corner of arm and knee,
Eager to be reassured, taking pleasure
In the fragrant brilliance of the Christmas tree,
Pleasure in the wind, the sunlight and the sea;
Studies the sunlit pattern on the floor
And running stags around a silver tray;
Confounds the actual and the fanciful,
Content with playing-cards and kings and queens,
What the fairies do and what the servants say.
The heavy burden of the growing soul
Perplexes and offends more, day by day;
Week by week, offends and perplexes more
With the imperatives of 'is and seems'
And may and may not, desire and control.
The pain of living and the drug of dreams
Curl up the small soul in the window seat
Behind the Encyclopædia Britannica.
Issues from the hand of time the simple soul
Irresolute and selfish, misshapen, lame,
Unable to fare forward or retreat,
Fearing the warm reality, the offered good,
Denying the importunity of the blood,
Shadow of its own shadows, spectre in its own gloom,
Leaving disordered papers in a dusty room;
Living first in the silence after the viaticum.

Pray for Guiterriez, avid of speed and power,
For Boudin, blown to pieces,
For this one who made a great fortune,
And that one who went his own way.
Pray for Floret, by the boarhound slain between the yew trees,
Pray for us now and at the hour of our birth.

Worst legal advice imaginable

Somebody's been watching"The Paper Chase." My advice is to switch to "On The Basis of Sex." Much better presentation of real legal reasoning.

Friday, January 18, 2019

If at first you don't succeed....

Prayer rugs!  Terror Alert Black Watch Plaid!

Try, try again.
And again.
And still again.
(the answer to the question is: to reassure NATO the U.S. is not pulling out of NATO anytime soon. Watch the donut, not the hole.  And yes, threatening the father-in-law is, again, witness intimidation.  Trump still doesn't understand what being POTUS means.) And again:
As Sen. Angus King put it:

“It’s very frustrating for me because my whole instinct is: Let’s find a way to get this solved. But so far anyway, his idea of negotiating is to say ‘here’s what I want, I’ll give you nothing,’” King remarked. “I could sit down with Mike Pence for an afternoon and we might come to some agreement. And then [Trump would] blow it up.”
And if you need an object lesson in non-denial denials:

 “This is absolutely ludicrous that we are giving any type of credence or credibility to a news outlet like BuzzFeed,” [Deputy Press Secretary Hogan] Gidley said. “They are responsible totally and completely for the release of a discredited, disproven false dossier.”

Gidley claimed one of the reporters admitted he could not corroborate the evidence used in the article, but Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer said the reporter said the reporter had relied on two trusted sources.

“But that’s not news, that’s something he sees and puts out there,” Gidley said. “It’s the same reason and rationale behind a dossier that has caused this entire fake witch hunt Russia investigation, and now it’s all been disproven and debunked at this point. This is the type of thing that we have to do with every day, we’re used to it. A report came out that 90 percent of the coverage against this president last year was negative, this is another in a long line of ridiculous charges without any corroboration or credibility whatsoever.”
So much winning!*

*And Cohen plead guilty based on evidence of perjury and fraud, not because Perry Mason forced him to break down and confess his guilt under harsh cross examination.  Cohen may be a confessed liar, but his lies were proven against him, not proven by his guilty plea.

Why Is This Woman Scary?

Yeah, we're all laughing at you, too, Mr. Woods.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

So Maybe Trump Pulled the Trip for Other Reasons?

So Trump denies the Speaker the ability to "express appreciation and thanks to our men and women in uniform for their service and dedication" and "to meet with top NATOR commanders, U.S. military leaders and key allies--to affirm the United States' ironclad commitment to the NATO alliance"?  Because of a shutdown that doesn't affect the DOD, which has been fully funded for the year?  This is what he considers a "public relations event"?

I don't think we should overlook the significance of the purpose of the trip to Brussels in all the attention being paid to the pettiness of the POTUS.

The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight

“We haven’t heard — he’s very silent, more than 24 hours … We haven’t heard yet,” she said.

Nancy Pelosi, speaking of Donald Trump, on the subject of the postponed SOTU.*  But it applies to almost everything.

This is his first tweet in 24 hours:

And yeah, it's got a typo.  Kind of hard to be menacing when you can't be literate. That was followed by one more, notable for who it doesn't mention, and for what it does:
No, I don't know either, and don't care.  Seems to be like his post about walls in the world, which one account blamed on FoxNews, another on USA Today.  But nobody, best I can tell, even wants to fact check this stuff anymore.  I mean, why bother?
And he's throwing himself a pity party, because he re-tweeted this:
He blamed "Speaker Pelosi" for not allowing Democrats to negotiate a deal (not that there are any reports they are anxious to), and the "radical left" for controlling the Democrats.  Pretty weak tea in the face of AOC's actions yesterday.  He still won't mention Pelosi, which is what's telling; and he's not talking about the SOTU, because it's a fight he can't win.  But he thinks he can fight anyway:

Which is not playing on the same field at all.  Trump isn't shaming Pelosi with this act; he's being childish and petulant because he can't force the Speaker to allow him to address Congress or even enter the floor of the House of Representatives.  Not going overseas during the shutdown actually plays to Pelosi's point.  And it's worth noting:

DHS considers the State of the Union to be a “national special security event” requiring “some of the most complex and logistically complicated protective operations undertaken by the Secret Service, often requiring anywhere from 3 to 18 months of planning.” 

Trump's attempt at retaliation does not increase confidence in the abilities of the Administration.  While it's a veiled attempt at responding to Pelosi's withdrawal of the invitation, her statement we opened with is still true:  Trump hasn't responded to her about that.  There is no quid pro quo offered here, no real mention of the SOTU at all.  Certainly nobody's getting eaten alive by that letter.

*It's worth noting the SOTU is required by the Constitution "from time to time", and between the Presidencies of Jefferson until Woodrow Wilson, it was merely sent to Congress as a document. The idea of reading it to a joint session is a product of communications technology, and honestly, who needs Trump preening himself on the idea of making so many people miserable and creating so much chaos due to incompetence, just because he's got the Presidential seal?

Asking for a friend....

Which returns us to the question:  why are we letting this happen?  Why do we think this is normal and even required by our Constitutional form of government?  This is not the example of a government of laws, this is the perfect example of a government of men (almost explicitly "men").


"New party, who dis?"

The last tweet on Trump's feed is 24 hours old; it looks even older than that:
In the meantime:
And for those of us old enough to remember when the GOP and the media whined about how Obama wasn't inviting Mitch McConnell over for drinks and schmoozing:

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) laughed when asked whether the White House had reached out to his office. “You’d think they would since I’m from a Trump district,” he said. “I guess I didn’t make the cut.”

Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) said his office hadn’t heard from the White House for at least six months, but noted the president’s staff has turned over since then.

“I don’t even know who is assigned to my office in the White House, that’s how bad their outreach team is,” he said.

In fact, only two of the Democrats from districts Trump won in 2016 contacted by The Daily Beast said the White House had reached out for a meeting. Reps. Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ) and Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, were invited with other members of the group to the White House on Wednesday for a meeting between the president, the vice president, and his aides. O’Halleran didn’t end up attending. Gottheimer did and described it as “productive” but declined to give details about what solutions were discussed.

But wait!  It gets better!

“Senator Tester has not spoken with the President,” a spokesman for Montana Democrat Jon Tester said, “nor have any White House officials reached out to discuss a solution to the shutdown with his office.”

“Neither President Trump, nor his senior staff, have reached out to Senator Casey for any conversations,” said John Rizzo, a spokesman for Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA).

“Not a word,” said a spokesperson for Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). “The White House has not reach out to our boss,” a spokesperson for Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) added.

“The White House has not reached out to our office for a meeting regarding the shutdown,” said Zade Alsawah, a spokesman for Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), “which the Senator repeatedly has called for an end to immediately.”

“Nope,” Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) told The Daily Beast when asked if he’d heard from the president.

A spokesperson for newly elected Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) declined to comment. A spokesman for Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) told The Daily Beast that the senator had heard from the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, about a week-and-a-half ago. But the aide characterized it as “a courtesy call” and a “brief conversation.”

And a cherry on top!

“They met with Democrat staff, the vice president did, his [and Trump’s] door is open, he’s been up to the Hill… I know they’ve been reaching out, but since when do senators have to be sitting around like schoolgirls waiting to be asked to dance?” former Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), a current Trump surrogate, said. “They’re grown adults, they can call the president and the White House,” he said. “It’s a two-way street. You can’t just sit in your corner.”

Waaaaah!!!!!!  And Trump realizes he's losing:

“We are getting crushed!” Trump admitted.

“Why can’t we get a deal?” he wondered.

What was his first clue?

So much winning!  Mr. President, we're getting tired of all the winning!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Oh, Dear, What Can the Matter Be?

Well, it ain't this:

On Day 25 of the longest government shutdown in United States history, Congress was no closer to resolving the impasse than it was on Day One. Since President Donald Trump rejected the easiest path out of the shutdown—declaring a national emergency and punting the issue of a border wall to the courts—over the weekend, the Capitol has seen its fair share of commotion. But none of that should be confused with movement toward resolution.

The partial shutdown of the government (occasioned because the final bill authorizing funding for the few remaining unfunded government agencies failed because Trump threatened a veto) is treated as a Constitutional mandate which cannot be resolved without political agreement or else the heavens will fall.  Actually, the declaration of a "national emergency" would be the Constitutional crisis, not simply ignoring this mess until Congress gets around to doing its job officially.  But no one wants to talk about that.

Why haven't we had this problem since the founding of the Republic?  There is no Supreme Court decision mandating this situation.  There is no Constitutional article, clause, or amendment requiring we do things this way or risk the validity of the Republic.  There is no statute, rule, or regulation saying it has to be this way.  Why do we do this?

According to an earlier Slate article (and Slate is not a monolith; it can publish wise articles and foolish ones, just like individual bloggers), the origins of this mess lay with Jimmy Carter's Attorney General, who issued an opinion that it was against proper practice for government agencies to function without current funding authorization.  Why he felt compelled to issue that opinion is one thing; why we feel compelled to operate our government this way, is another.

I'm most familiar with Attorney General opinions at the state level.  The Texas AG, who otherwise has limited legal authority in Texas (he cannot prosecute criminal cases, although his office can represent the state in all capital crime appeals; and while the Texas AG doesn't represent private individuals, the office and and does pursue child support claims on behalf of individuals who can't otherwise prosecute them), can issue legal opinions which are considered binding and authoritative unless and until a court of competent jurisdiction finds otherwise (directly or indirectly).  The AG of the US isn't as usually known for issuing such opinions (they are usually known for prosecuting criminal cases and civil matters), but such opinions do hold the same weight as opinions of the Texas AG:  i.e., legally binding as long as all parties agree they should be, and until a court says otherwise.

Aye, there's the rub:  tout le political demi-monde in D.C. has agree this legal opinion no one remembers or probably has ever read, demands that workers be furloughed and parks be shuttered and "essential workers" go unpaid but remain on the job, because we've always done it this way.  But is this any way to run a railroad?  Is this really necessary, really legally required, really a Constitutional necessity?  Is there no one who will rid us of the troubling legal opinion?

You, too, may be old enough to remember that the legal opinions of John Yoo and Alberto Gonzalez declared the United States could torture individuals with impunity.  Those legal opinions were repudiated by the next Administration, and yet the heavens did not fall, the foundations of our republic did not even tremble.  Why can't we revisit this legal opinion from nearly 40 years ago and decide it is unwise, invalid, and more trouble than its worth?  Why do we all agree we must do it this way?  Because we dare not say the emperor is unclothed?

Or is it because we think this situation, and this now-inevitable outcome (the third in two years) is a politically feasible mechanism?  We are entering into the longest government shutdown in history, something from which we will surely learn lessons.  Should that lesson be that the other side has to blink?  That a President with no political or negotiating skills whatsoever, whose word is as mercurial as the weather and as reliable as a 10-day forecast, should be able to knuckle the government to his intemperate will whenever he chooses to make a fallacious and unnecessary point?  Should the lesson be that the Constitution is indeed some measure of a mutual suicide pact and requires all concerned to cut off their noses to spite their faces?

Or can we actually be a little more sensible than that?  It seems to be declaring this "inevitability" to be nothing of the sort is actually the easiest path out of the shutdown.  After all, it isn't like a previous President declared a national non-binding referendum on a matter of absolute importance to the economy and even the nation, and set up a situation where the outcome of the vote can neither be followed nor ignored.

This ain't Brexit, people; this is just stupid.  We keep insisting the rule of law is beautifully clothed, when the naked truth is before us, and the rule of law isn't really even involved.  We are the ones holding the gun to our heads, threatening to shoot if anybody moves.

Boy, oh boy, are we stupid!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Speaking of Classism

Not fast enough

So this has taken on a life of its own.  Yascha Mounk, resident hand-wringer at Slate, worries that it is both distracting us from Trump's real problems (because we can only think of one national problem at a time, and the one we think about is the one that will get resolved?  Because magical thinking and sympathetic magic?  I dunno.).  Anyway, focussing on a self-proclaimed billionaire (no, I don't believe it, either) buying fast food for football players to serve in the White House on the best sterling serving pieces under candlelight is "elitist."  Or something:

And so we return, at long last, to Donald Trump and the curious case of serving fast food to the Clemson championship team. No serious political scientist should or would think twice about the implications of this culinary choice, unprecedented though it might be. On the contrary, the media’s obsession with it is harmful not only because much of America will rightly perceive it as an unbearable instance of cultural snobbery—but also because all the attention being lavished on it is liable to distract voters from the assault Trump is currently waging on vastly more important norms. 

Apparently if the media pays attention to this story, it's a problem; if Twitter pays attention to it, well, vox populi, bitches!  Amirite?

In the meantime, Vox reports the real criticism is that Trump's choices of foodstuff is both classist and racist.  Because, of course it is.  And I suppose Trump could have brought in food from his hotel 3 blocks away, though that would have probably meant using dishes and serving burnt steaks.  Still, my criticism of it all is a bit simpler than the economics or even symbolism of "fast food."

Why did he bother?

I get the reason he ordered fast food, one I don't think anybody has touched on, but one that made sense to me the minute I wrote "using dishes."  If there's little or no housekeeping staff in the White House just now, who would do the dishes?  (You want elitism, why has no one else thought of that?)  Could Trump get his restaurant to cater the meal (are they even capable of that?  Again, classist and elitist to assume so.  I actually worked for a caterer once upon a time; it's a lot of work and if you don't have the equipment to transport the food, well; you can't transport the food. And could they clear security to get into the White House to set up and remove everything?).  So that explains the fast food:  easy set up, and little clean up (the guys lighting the candles can wield trash bags, yeah?).  But that masks the other problem.

Cold fast food is shite.  Nothing edible about it.  Warm soft drinks, likewise, especially watered down by the melting ice.  300+ burgers and fries is all but pre-catered (somebody was there to stack the silver with boxes, so....).  Clean up is no dish washing, too.  But cold "Filet-O-Fish" sandwiches?  I'd rather eat sand.  Big Mac's are bad enough, IMHO; a cold Big Mac?  The box would be tastier.

So why did Trump do it?  Because of the shutdown, not in spite of it; he had to prove all was calm, all was bright.  Can't put off the celebration of the college football champs until it's over; by then it's college basketball season (or baseball) and football championships are the stuff of the record books.  But with no staff to serve, or cook, or wash the dishes after, what choice did Trump have?  So he invited them into "the people's house" and served them cold shit.  Seriously.  Who wants to eat fried food at room temperature?  Who wants a hamburger that's as warm as the box it comes in?  Who wants a cold drink as cold as the cup it sweats in?

The problem here is not racism or classism or elitism.  The problem here is:  Trump is a lousy host.  Not to mention a pig:

"I had a choice. Do we have no food for you, because we have a shutdown?" Trump told the team gathered Monday in the White House East Room. "Or do we give you some little quick salads that the first lady will make, along with, along with the second lady. They'll make some salads. And I said, 'You guys aren't into salads.'"

"Or do I go out ... do I go out and send out for about 1,000 hamburgers, Big Macs," Trump said.
(Yeah, everybody's noticed the number went from 300 to 1000 in record time.  Trump lies.  In other news, the sun came up this morning.) It's something of a tempest in a teapot, but honestly:  the guy disgraces everything he touches, including the White House as a place where the President celebrates our national victories on our behalf.

It would have been better if he'd declined to invite them and blame "Nancy and Cryin' Chuck" for the snub.  At least that would have shown some regard of a host for his guests.

You Don't Need a Weatherman

Wait times in Atlanta's airport (a/k/a "busiest in the world") are over an hour in security because of TSA agents calling in sick rather than working without pay.  Delays are causing a number of passengers to miss flights, which plays hell with the airliners scheduling.  A terminal in Bush International Houston is closed due to lack of TSA agents for screenings.  That's the hub for United Airlines.  Miami International has also closed a terminal for lack of screeners.  And:

The Trump administration now estimates that the cost of the government shutdown will be twice as steep as originally forecast.

The original estimate that the partial shutdown would subtract 0.1 percentage point from growth every two weeks has now been doubled to a 0.1 percentage point subtraction every week, according to an official who asked not to be named.

The administration had initially counted just the impact from the 800,000 federal workers not receiving their paychecks. But they now believe the impact doubles, due to greater losses from private contractors also out of work and other government spending and functions that won't occur.

So much winning!

Watching the Train Wreck

First, the prediction before this tweet came out:

Traditionally, in shutdown politics, the party with the eroding poll numbers is the one to make the greater concessions. So, that’s that. The White House will be caving any day now, right?

Alas, the hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts is now convinced that the answer is no.

Trying to predict what Trump will do is a fool’s errand, especially because Trump approaches the shutdown from a place that a generous observer would best describe as a strategy-free zone. Of course, that is one reason he will be less likely to concede. Kellyanne Conway can throw bad numbers around all she likes, but Trump is really good at not listening.

Even beyond that, however, a deeper cut into the polling data would give a Trump whisperer such as Stephen Miller some reasons to hope that maybe things will turn around. To be clear, I am not saying that these are good reasons. Some of them are very debatable. But they are at least grounded in some kind of polling reality that even non-Trumpists would have to acknowledge.
"Doubles-down" was actually a pretty safe bet.  No, I haven't found any poll that explains the numbers Trump is claiming.  In fact:

The increase in disapproval for the President comes primarily among whites without college degrees, 45% of whom approve and 47% disapprove, marking the first time his approval rating with this group has been underwater in CNN polling since February 2018. In December, his approval rating with whites who have not received a four-year degree stood at 54%, with 39% disapproving. Among whites who do hold college degrees, Trump's ratings are largely unchanged in the last month and remain sharply negative -- 64% disapprove and 32% approve. 

The wall itself is no more popular:

 Overall, 56% oppose a wall, 39% favor it. That's almost exactly the same as in December. And less than half view the situation at the border as a crisis (45% say it's a crisis, 52% that it is not).

And I'm old enough to remember when a "national emergency" was going to "solve" this problem.  That's so last week:

According to the Post-ABC poll, “by more than 2-1 (66 percent to 31 percent), Americans say they oppose invoking an emergency to build a border wall. The poll finds 51 percent say they strongly oppose such a declaration.” The wall itself is polling at 54 percent opposed and 42 percent support. So although the wall itself is underwater by 12 points, using emergency powers to try to bypass Congress is underwater by 35 points. That, plus mounting opposition in the Senate, should be enough to persuade even Trump not to do it, which eliminates the “out” that some had hoped would end the stalemate.

It's not going over big in the Senate, either:

Following an event hosted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation in Austin, [Sen. John] Cornyn said President Donald Trump is talking to his lawyers about whether he would have the authority to issue a national emergency and reprogram money that’s been allocated for other purposes.

“I will oppose any reprogramming of Harvey disaster funds,” the Senator said. “We worked very hard to make sure that the victims of Hurricane Harvey – their concerns are addressed and Texas is able to rebuild. And I think we are all together on that.” 
Let us pause and remember Hurricane Harvey didn't affect just Houston (which has gone decidedly blue), but the entire Texas Gulf Coast, from Beaumont to Brownsville.  That's a lot of red.

Polling numbers do not favor Trump:

But Daniel W. Drezner argues support for the wall is slightly increasing (although still underwater by double digits) and that may convince Trump to stay the course.  The problem with that strategy is, it's not up to Trump alone to end this.  Sooner or later the Senate is going to have to decide how much pain it wants to absorb.  Cornyn speaking out about the "national emergency" (which I think is dead as the dodo) indicates even the GOP Senate won't have infinite patience or walk in lockstep as Trump leads the entire government over the cliff.

Trump's severe allergy to reality is not going to serve him well, in the end.  How much is going to cost the rest of us, is the question (then again, we the People are the Sovereign, so every finger we point means three pointing back at us).

Hamberders for everybody!

(He'll replace this soon, count on it.  And the self-proclaimed rich guy shelled out for cheap fast food.  Wotta Rockefeller, huh?)

1000!  By the corrected tweet, it'll be a million!  YUGE!

*BTW, since posting that Tweet, Trump has posted 11 tweets, most of them re-tweets concerning the reported FBI investigation (long since taken over by Mueller).  He's not mentioning Mueller, just the FBI, so apparently he doesn't understand they are no longer in charge of that investigation.  He also seems to cling to the idea public opinion will override judicial opinion (it hasn't so far), topping it with this pitiful attempt at criticism:

Please note Trump has yet to come up with a nickname for Ms. Pelosi.  And frankly, if this is the best he's got, he's got nothin'.


And just yesterday:

“We have pizzas, we have 300 hamburgers, many, many french fries, all of our favorite foods,” Trump told reporters, as one White House worker still on the job lit tapered candles.

Math is hard.

Monday, January 14, 2019

You may see yourself as a prophet....

So Chauncey de Vega, not one of the brighter lights of Salon, is concerned that the news over the weekend (Donald Trump is a Russian asset!  Who knew?) won't finally be the penny that drops and makes the majority of the American public....think like Chauncey de Vega.  Apparently like a TV murder mystery we the audience (read:  the governed) are supposed to be absolutely convinced of the guilt of the murderer in the final five minutes of the show, and he is supposed to be punished accordingly (usually off stage, but justice is swift and final once the cops make their case, right?  Right?).  Those of us with memories long enough to recall Watergate know it doesn't work that swiftly, nor that surely.

Consider that the majority of the American public already, per a CNN poll, blame the government shutdown on Donald Trump by 66%.  Why, then, hasn't the shutdown ended?  Why hasn't Mitch McConnell put any House passed bill to a vote and sent it to Trump to veto, so the override process can begin and the Vox Populi be heard in the land?

Three guesses, the first two don't count.

And surely, when the American people finally agree by 66% (a significant majority in any calculation) that Donald Trump is a Russian asset and that this fact is "the 'greatest scandal' in US history," then justice will soon, if not immediately, be done.  Right?

I'm not arguing with deVega's claim that "tens of millions of white Americans agree with Donald Trump and the Republican Party — and by implication or association, also Vladimir Putin and the Russian government,: or his presentation of the concepts of "learned helplessness" or "participatory totalitarianism."  Except to the extent I'm arguing such claims are sheer nonsense and squid ink for "Why Doesn't Everybody Think Like ME?!"  I'm trying to fathom the mechanism he thinks would translate this sudden (and miraculous) single-mindedness of millions of Americans into the proper punishment of Donald Trump.  How, exactly, does that happen?

To consider the example of Watergate a moment:

June 17, 1972

Five men are arrested while trying to bug the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters at the Watergate, a hotel and office building in Washington, D.C. A day later, White House press secretary Ronald Ziegler famously called the Watergate break-in a “third-rate burglary.” At a press conference June 22, President Nixon denied that the White House was involved in the incident.

Aug. 1, 1972

The Washington Post reported that a $25,000 check intended for Nixon’s 1972 reelection campaign was deposited in the bank account of one of the Watergate burglars. It was one of the first developments linking the DNC break-in to Nixon’s campaign.
That timeline quickly grows tedious with detail; let's spare ourselves and cut to the chase:

April 30, 1973

The scandal reaches the White House, as senior White House aides H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman resign over Watergate. Attorney General Richard Kleindienst also resigns, and John Dean, the White House counsel, gets fired.

Still too tedious?  Be patient:

Oct. 20, 1973

The day that becomes known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.” Attorney General Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus resign in the same night after refusing Nixon’s order to fire Cox. Robert Bork, the solicitor general who was acting as attorney general, then followed Nixon’s order and fired Cox. Nixon’s push to oust Cox, who was leading the independent investigation into the White House misconduct, sparked intense criticism across the political spectrum. Four weeks later, on Nov. 17, Nixon issued his memorable denial: “I’m not a crook."
That denial, by the way, is about as effective as Trump's failure to deny anything.  Or his assertion that he's happy to let the notes of his meetings with Putin be revealed, confident in the knowledge no such notes any longer exist.

July 27-30, 1974

The House Judiciary Committee passes three articles of impeachment against Nixon, for obstruction of justice, misuse of power and contempt of Congress. By approving the charges, the committee sent the impeachment to the floor for a full House vote, but it never occurred.

Aug. 8, 1974

Nixon resigns. In his resignation speech, Nixon said: “I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as president, I must put the interest of America first.”

Yeah, Trump is never going to say anything that self-effacing (well, for Trump it would be).  But pay close attention to that timeline, and note it completely ignores the resignation of VP Spiro Agnew, who resigned as part of a plea deal on criminal charges from Maryland.  That resignation was 10 days before the "Saturday Night Massacre," And this time line elides a huge number of stories and revelations from people like John Dean, Haldeman and Ehrlichmann, and the cast of yahoos and grifters that had accumulated around CREEP (Committee to Re-Elect the President) in 1972.  This timeline, in other words, is almost too simplistic, and yet with the utter collapse of Nixon's administration, it was still almost a year from the Saturday Night Massacre, and after the Watergate tapes were published (I used to have a copy of the transcripts, and I'm sorry, simply as an historical artifact, I don't still have them), before Nixon finally was shown the handwriting on the wall.  And even then I knew people who thought Nixon was railroaded.  And then Ford pardoned Nixon, and what happened to Ford?  He simply was never elected POTUS.  GHWBush pardoned a number of shady characters on his way out the door a few years later, mostly to cover his own ass which was flapping in the criminal breeze at the time.  I finally heard that mentioned this morning on NPR, long after all the obsequies of his memorials were fish wrap and lining bird cages.  There is a mechanism for accountability at the highest levels (impeachment, rarely; elections, more often; criminal charges, more rarely than impeachment, it seems) and there is the slow adjustment of public opinion (which adjusts back, as everything in America since 1969 has taught me), and there is absolutely no mechanism for the majority of people affected to come-to-Jesus and see things as I do, more a legal mechanism for putting that agreement into political practice.  Word comes today that the Labour Party in Britain is hoping to force a vote of no confidence over Teresa May's Brexit vote, in hopes of forcing elections they might win.  We don't have that system in America, for better or worse.  Unless the DOJ decides Trump's crimes are so egregious he must be charged with criminal offenses (and there are serious problems with having a national security concern in the person of the POTUS; very serious problems), and unless the House and Senate decide Trump must be removed from office, there isn't much the American people can do.  Even Ted Cruz has gone back to being a sycophantic Trump supporter and offering a stronger defense of Steve King of Indiana than almost any other public official wants to offer.  He knows he's back in office for at least 6 more years, what does he have to lose?

Public pressure, to paraphrase Howland Owl, ain't so new, and it ain't so clear.  Newt Gingrich was on NPR this morning, re-writing his own history in public office to blame others (curious how much he sounded like Trump; or is it that Trump now sounds like Gingrich?), reminding us all he is the author of our current Troubles.  But if he is the author, We The People are the willing audience.  The times they may be a'changin' again (signs point to "Yes!") but even those changes won't be enough to force Trump from the White House to face the pitch forks and torches of the outraged People.

It just doesn't work that way.  Sometimes we just don't all agree on who the crook really is.

Thanks, Mr. President!

Cold hamburgers, French fries and pizza! The government shut down wad totally worth it!


Kind of like not denying he's influenced by Russia, Trump here doesn't mention his "escape" plan of declaring the wall a "national emergency" and ending the crisis he has caused.  One could say he's now rejecting that option, too, because he knows it will only go to court and that won't "get it solved."

He's in the round room trying to find the corner he's been told to sit in.

I would have bet last week Trump would "solve" this problem by declaring himself King.  I'm not so sure he isn't just going to dig in deeper until even the Senate has to override his veto.  That's beginning to look like the only way out, now.