Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Response to Extraordinary Loyalty to a Malicious Man

(See: Just Above Sunset: Extraordinary Loyalty to a Malicious Man)

Really, why does Donald Trump act like such a jerk?

He apparently does it on purpose. There's actually a whole philosophy about this, that the bigger an asshole you are, the more successful you’ll be, and Trump has openly hinted at believing in it. He may be the first card-carrying proponent of “assholeism" to ever be elected president of the United States, but he’s not the first human being ever to think that pissing people off is the most effective way to make them do what you want.

For example, maybe Mexico would, without any prompting at all from anybody, work a little harder at keeping refugees from coming to the United States, but why not threaten them with a possible border closure, just to make sure? Just think of the quote, “You can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone”, which either originated with Al Capone or possibly Professor Irwin Corey, nobody knows for sure.

But an even better question is, why do all these Republicans, with all their piety and talk of morality, allow Trump to get away with being such a jerk?

I think the answer is, mostly, they’re afraid of the dark. And when I say “the dark”, I mean they’re afraid of the unknown. Trump may be a big arrogant brat — very sure of himself, although near-totally clueless — but these Republicans, although equally clueless, are all stumbling around, while somewhere in the dark, they seem to have lost possession of their moral compasses.

Although they may have learned as kids, maybe in Sunday school or even from Hollywood movies, that "you should always do the right thing”, once they grew up and found that doing the right thing was rarely a winning strategy, they learned to improvise — which, often as not, meant not being a goddam “goody-goody”. Nobody likes good people. Nobody wants to admit it, but good people are weak, and nobody is afraid of them, because they’re too nice. As famous tough guy Niccolo Machiavelli once said, "It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.” And you can’t.

When it comes to political discourse, I think of it as having two levels:

The best known of these is what some call “the horserace”, but what I prefer to call “the game”, since the object of the game is to win, and when it comes to elections, everybody seems to think that winning is all that matters.

That’s one of the reasons you pretty much only hear “the game” being discussed on TV, rather than serious seminars on history or civics, or even science. After all, it’s safer to form an opinion about who will win an election, and what it takes to do it, than to opine about, say, whether we should raise the minimum wage, based on whether it would be good for the economy or not.

Which brings us to that other level, which is, “The way things ought to be”. (I need to find a pithy one- or two-word description for this level, but for the time being, this is all I got.)

And the most important thing to remember is something sort of surprising, and this is that the second level — “the way things should be” — is the top level, and "the game" discussion belongs below it.

An example?

What would happen if, say, in an NFL game, one player took out a gun and just shot to death the opposing quarterback?

First of all, is there anything in the NFL rulebook that says he can’t do that? Maybe “unnecessary roughness”? I’ve seen the rules on this ("Penalty: For unnecessary roughness: Loss of 15 yards. The player may be disqualified if the action is judged by the official(s) to be flagrant”), and take my word for it, there’s nothing there about not being allowed to shoot another player to death.

But, of course, it doesn’t really matter. The refs don’t need to get in a huddle to discuss what to do about this, since the cops will eventually come in and arrest the guy. And this is as it should be. You can't get away with saying that all that matters is the game, and that “the way things ought to be” doesn’t figure into it at all.

So if you believe in morality, or maybe even in some God that determines right from wrong and how humans should behave, then doesn’t that take priority over the rules of some stupid game?

We need to give conservatives something to think about. But still, what if they still don’t come around and help us do something about America’s only (to date) asshole president?

Well, then screw it! In that case, we just crush ‘em!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Response to A Constitutional Reality Show

(See: Just Above Sunset: A Constitutional Reality Show)

I think the secret password that Chief Justice John Roberts is asking the administration to figure out before he’ll let them include the citizenship question on the census form is, “Open, Sesame!!!”

But to make sure it works, they’ll need to say it really, REALLY LOUD!!!

(Or was it “ Rumplestiltskin”? I forget.)

My problem with this SCOTUS decision is that Roberts has turned a court case into some sort of children’s fairy tale.

Instead of giving the White House another chance at coming up with a more believable rationale, he should just be saying “No!”, followed by, “You have failed to explain why this thing should be done — and by the way, there is at least one obvious reason it should not be done. End of story. Go away.”

Their argument needed, from the get-go, to include both (a) an explanation of the problem that they seek to solve, and (b) an explanation of their proposed solution to the problem.

Furthermore, these two things need to be presented concurrently! — not making the solution independent of some non-existent, random, last-minute, thunk-up-out-of-thin-air problem — or maybe some possible unconnected explanation that some parallel White House might have accidentally concocted in an alternative universe. The Chief Justice shouldn’t be hinting that he might be open to changing his mind, depending on whether Trump's team can come back in a few days after having captured some wicked witch’s broom.

Another meme for what Roberts is doing — as if one is needed — might be that of the headmaster of the local university, in a quiet room, reluctantly retesting the star football player on his botany final, hoping, along with the whole student body, that this clueless thug, who happens to have bean-dip where his brains ought to be, can finally pass the course, thus allowing him to play in, and indeed win, the state championship game this coming Saturday, and by so doing, also saving the institution from the wrecking ball.

As engaging as all of this is, I’m tired of living in a drawn out Hollywood fantasy. Can’t we just go back to the boring old days of not having to pay so much attention to all this crap?


Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Response to The Enterprises of Ambition

(See Just Above Sunset: The Enterprises of Ambition)

I guess most people, including Donald Trump, never wondered why there has been so little previous celebration of American military might in our observances of July 4th, 1776, a day when leaders of the American colonies (most, if not all of them unarmed!) finally met in a room somewhere to jointly declare those colonies no longer colonies of Britain.

Except for sometimes having a few old war veterans march down Main Street of our hometown, this holiday has traditionally skipped over all the military stuff and correctly focused on the independence stuff. In fact, Washington’s army probably had less to do with winning independence than our militia, who, unlike the regular army, rarely seemed to lose their battles.

Although I doubt that’s why we don’t do all the tanks and flyover stuff on the 4th. It may have more to do with such hardware display reminding people of such dog-and-pony shows as Moscow’s Red Square on May Day, with its huge ICBMs on wheels and giant portraits of the current top mucky-muck of the party, the kind of foolishness that most of us tend to giggle at when we see it on the news, but with which Trump is apparently infatuated — which is sort of ironic because of that whole bone-spurs thing.

But if Trump says one goddam thing in his speech that’s partisan, we need to send a bill for the whole shebang to the RNC. I always wonder, come to think of it, if we are charging him for his use of Air Force One, et al, every time he flies off to a rally in some gymnasium where he mocks everyone who disagrees with him, which he seems to do often. We should.

And maybe for next year's Independence Day, America could collect dimes and pennies to rent a secret venue somewhere to celebrate the 4th the old fashioned way  with music and fireworks, but no Sherman tanks and no military flyovers  and best of all, we don't invite Donald Trump.


Thursday, May 30, 2019

Response to Trusting the Truth

(See Just Above Sunset: Trusting the Truth)

Contrary to popular opinion, I think Bob Mueller did, in his vague and taciturn way and through logical deduction, clarify what at least Trump opponents needed clarified. In fact, unless Congress decides there is more it needs him to say about certain classified matters behind closed doors, I no longer see the necessity of subpoenaing him.

What Mueller clarified:

(1) First, something I wish Mueller had stated out loud, for everybody to hear, back before his investigation got started — that, because of DOJ policy prohibiting an indictment of a sitting president, we should not anticipate that this probe will end up charging Trump with any crimes, even in a sealed indictment that would be unsealed after he leaves office. Had Mueller made that clear from the beginning, he would have made it impossible for Trump to claim the report vindicated him.

(2) And second, if they thought they had evidence that definitely cleared him, they would have said so, and since they didn’t do that, it’s just possible Trump is guilty of something that they can’t charge him with.

(3) And yes, the ”legal" authorities don't have jurisdiction over whatever wrongdoing Trump did, if anything, (and this runs counter to so-called White House thinking, such as it is) but the “political" authorities in Congress, under the Constitution, do have jurisdiction!


And as for the “legal” matters, this all leaves open the question of what might happen to Trump after he leaves office. For that, we’ll just have to wait and see.

As for some saying Mueller’s statement is a "referral to impeach”?

Yes, it is, but that doesn’t mean Congress has an obligation to do it if they don’t think they have the votes in the Senate to convict.

Too often, we tend to confuse the “political horse race” with “political principles”, usually by our yielding priority to the horse race, but this is one of those rare cases where many are arguing that we should stand by our principles, whether or not that does damage to whatever cause it is we’re fighting for.

In this case, maybe Congress should consider making the point that the president is playing loosey-goosey with America’s values by censuring him, but only if they think they can get the votes in the Senate. Maybe later, if he hasn't gotten the message (and assuming we have the votes), we can always impeach.

I do sort of favor the idea of just launching “inquiries” into impeachment, if that would help enforce subpoenas, but in any event, it's Congress's call if they think it would do more harm than good, and on this, I trust Nancy Pelosi’s judgment more than that of those who would rush to impeach, such as the Trump campaign, Charles Blow, and dare I say it, even my wife. (Please don’t tell her I said that.)

But there’s one more thing we have learned from all of these recent events, possibly without yet realizing it:

You know that phrase we often hear, that “In America, nobody is above the law, even the president”?

It's just not true. The president of the United States, at least when he’s in office, is untouchable by the law. The law can’t charge him with a crime, can’t arrest him, apparently can’t stop him from doing anything he feels like doing, and the law can’t remove him from office.

Someday, when we get around to it, we’ll have to find the time to do something about that.

Rick


Monday, April 1, 2019

Response to Punishing Times

(See: Just Above Sunset: Punishing Times)

"Just a few more weeks of this and the nation may regret” electing Trump, you say?

I suspect that those who will, already do. But if history is a guide, those who don’t regret it will continue not regretting it.

Ask any Iowa farmer who voted for Trump and they’ll admit that the Trade War, if continued much longer, will probably kill their careers, but do they absolutely still stand behind Trump? Absolutely!

Yes, there will be news stories reported about it, but will most people feel it? No. Most Americans don’t really seem to look to the news media for information they need to live their daily lives. And if I’m wrong, Trump will just change his mind and somehow claim victory, and those who don’t like him won’t believe him, and those who do, will continue to believe him.

The more news there is out there, the less we take seriously. Write that down. That actually happens.

Oh, and one more thing:

Do you think there’s a chance that Trump, by nicknaming Adam Schiff “pencil-neck”, may finally be guilty of overreach?

First of all, maybe he’s mistaking Schiff for someone else, since Schiff’s neck is not shaped like a pencil. Also, go to the following link, look at the guy on your right, and than ask yourself if someone shaped like that should be insulting anyone else’s physical features:


And this view of him isn’t even as unflattering as the view from his other side! Every time I see that, it occurs to me that God may be punishing this hypocrite by letting him be born with a name that rhymes with “Rump”.


Monday, March 25, 2019

Response to To Deepen the Pain and Antagonism

(See: Just Above Sunset: To Deepen the Pain and Antagonism)

If you think about it, the fact that Donald Trump, in claiming "It was a complete and total exoneration!”, directly stole the word from Robert Mueller’s phrase that specifically says his report “does not exonerate him”, might in normal times be a source of world-wide hilarity that could have had us mocking the president for a good week or so, but I guess it’s the exposure to two or three years of relentless Trumpyisms that has finally eroded our appreciation of the man’s incidental ironies.

In other words, the next two years — or, God help us, six — will be even less fun than we had previously anticipated.

Okay, so now the war begins, the war between, on one side, Trump’s TV “sock puppet army”, and on the other, anyone of either party (or neither), disturbed enough by all those things on David Frum’s wonderful list of Trumpian offenses against the nation, to seek out measures to take against a president that they see as “Enemy of America”.

Do I accept Barr’s findings?

As for punting on obstruction of Justice, it does seem strange that they all didn't see his firing of Comey, and then telling everyone he did it with the Russia probe on his mind, as pretty much a slam dunk on obstruction, not to mention his constantly complaining that Jeff Sessions never told him ahead of time that he would recuse himself. (I wish some reporter had asked Trump, "Okay, well, what would you have done if he had not recused himself? Would you order him to close down the so-called 'witch-hunt'?") I have a feeling this obstruction question isn't gone for good.

How about "Collusion"?

Technically? Yes, I accept that, assuming Barr's accurately reflecting Mueller’s report, specifically that, after many attempts, they found no actual evidence of coordination between Trump and the Russian attackers. And I trust Mueller did his job.

Still, it should be noted that, while “price-fixing”, for example, is an illegal form of collusion, to be found guilty of it does not always require being caught actually colluding with anyone. See this legal advice from the Art Publisher’s Association to its membership (“Be Careful About Antitrust Law!”) back in February of 2000:
"To be unlawful, the agreement does not have to be in writing or even expressed verbally. Countless courts have found that unspoken agreements to fix prices exist, based on the parties' conduct. An example would be where an industry leader announces its prices, and all the rest of the industry then adopts identical pricing.”
And so maybe the battle-cry of our side in the coming war should be, “EXONERATION? NO WAY! BUT COLLUSION? ACTUALLY, PROBABLY YES!” (Okay, this bumper sticker obviously needs some work.)

I suppose it might have been too much to ask the Special Counsel’s team to look for this “de-facto” type of collusion, but if they had, they would have found several examples of it — Trump and Putin saying all those nice things about each other; Trump refusing to agree with our intelligence services that Russia and not some 400-pound kid in New Jersey was behind the election meddling; and probably even Trump’s “jokingly” asking Russia in a live news conference to try to find Hillary’s missing emails, something the Russians apparently tried to do the first thing the next morning.

And yes, there may also be evidence in his taking positions that Putin would like, and that Americans and our allies would not — Trump’s attacks on our European and Canadian allies; Trump’s attempts to weaken NATO; Trump’s attempts to weaken the EU; Trump’s seeming praise and admiration of authoritarian leaders; Trump’s having America step down from its role of world leadership; Trump's blatant diminution of free media (if you believe in Democracy, you don't disrespect the free press); and Trump's weakening of the world economy with his declaration of a world-wide trade war, raising tariffs on Chinese purchasers of American soy beans and on the Iowa farmers that sell them to them, on everyone on the planet with the possible exception of Antartica.

And then there’s that goofy Trumpian narrow-minded ignorance that can’t be expected to ever do anything good for his country, but can only turn out well for its foes.

But did Russia and Trump ever really coordinate? I’m thinking probably not, but certainly not because of Trump’s moral scurples.

I think Putin originally intended to screw up our elections, as he does in lots of countries, and only later realized he might be able to scuttle his nemesis, Hillary Clinton’s campaign, at the same time helping Donald Trump, who’s political aims, he had by this time discovered, seemed to jibe with his own. Neither party really needed to coordinate with the other, since they were already naturally in synch.

Which I would think, in a normal world, wouldn’t really say much for Donald Trump, would it? But apparently, being praised by one of our nation’s foes didn’t turn out to be a problem for him after all. Go figure.

But what about Manafort’s polling data, given to that Russian oligarch? Although I think the data probably came in handy to the Russians, I never got the idea Manafort realized that he was helping Russia’s election shenanigans — I think he was just intending to help out someone he did business with — and I think his lack-of-criminal intent may help him here. But we’ll see.

And I think the same dim-wittedness was present in that Trump Jr. meeting in Trump Tower.

My feeling is, they had no idea why they all found themselves in a meeting that was supposed to be about getting dirt on Hillary, but in which the topic turned to “adoption of Russian children”, of all things. I can see them all looking at each other with puzzled looks — (“Do any of you guys know what the hell they’re talking about?”) — and when it became clear they weren’t going to be getting Clinton dirt, they all just split. I’m sure the Russians, on leaving, concluded that they had overestimated the intelligence of these Bozos.

Had anybody with the least awareness of what the Russians want been there, they would know immediately the Russians were saying to the Trump people, “Look, maybe we can help each other out here. You help us get us something we want —  like, oh, getting rid of those sanctions — and we’ll give you something you guys want — like, for example, cancelling our prohibition of Americans adopting Russian orphans" — a law Russia had enacted to punish America when it put sanctions on Russia — "and okay, perhaps we might also dig up stuff on Hillary Clinton for you!”

I’m pretty sure the Trump people hadn’t a clue what all this nonsense was about, but seeing nothing in it for them, they just bailed. And all that dirt old man Trump promised America was coming? Just another broken Trump campaign promise fades away without a trace.

And so America is, once again, accidentally rescued by our resident nit-wittery, but through no real efforts of our own!

God Bless America! Huzzah! Huzzah!


Friday, March 22, 2019

Response to Off the Deep End

(See: Just Above Sunset: Off the Deep End)

What is it with Trump’s hatred of the press? I have a theory:

Back before he ran for president, back when he was a local character in New York City, Trump used to manipulate his own news coverage — calling them up while pretending to be his own spokesperson to praise his “boss” behind his back, spilling the beans on “Mr. Trump’s” sex life, or arguing that he’s actually much richer than everyone thinks (which, of course, he wasn’t) — he was talking mostly with tabloid page-six editors and gossip columnists, all of them desperate for salacious material, the kind of “journalist” who wouldn't dig so deeply into his story in a way that might kill it, since their very livelihood depended on keeping the “billionaire playboy Trump” myth alive — not so much Woodwards and Bernsteins; more like the paparazzi bikers who chased Princess Di into that tunnel.

But once he got into dealing with national political reporters, he found himself out of his league — a different class of journalist who doesn’t really care about the comings-and-goings of the local New York village idiot, but one more likely to dig into a candidate’s background to see how much of it is total bullshit. National media have little incentive to play along with his silliness, and he doesn’t like that.

But even though he’s now playing with journalists who aren’t so likely to play into his fantasies, he still knows enough about how media works to be pretty much able to manipulate what will be the big news of any given day. Reporters and editors and producers already know the rules; they have little choice about what to report on if Trump decides, for example, to insult a famous dead American war hero or the husband of one of his closest advisers. It’s not that there aren’t more important American issues to delve into, such as why it is that so many unarmed black people seem to get killed by cops, but it’s hard to even start discussing that stuff when the president of the nation is so busy trying to trash the reputation of the late John McCain.

The fact is, however, that other presidents had to have known how to play that game, too — it doesn’t take a genius to know how to do this. But the difference is none of them chose to do it, since none of them (with the possible exception of President Richard Nixon, and probably also President Andrew Johnson) suffered from a particular type of Personality Disorder  although it may be worth noting, according to the Mayo Clinic, that "Many people with one personality disorder also have signs and symptoms of at least one additional personality disorder”, and that "It's not necessary to exhibit all the signs and symptoms listed for a disorder to be diagnosed."

Just saying.