The most clear-eyed social critic and political analyst in America

Noodling around in my email files looking for something to write about, but nothing stood out or snagged my interest.  You say I should improve the stuff I keep in my files?  I say, apparently you are correct.  It’s not to say that there’s nothing going on in the world—fercryin’outloud, the president just pushed the White House merry-go-round again by firing the head of the Veterans Administration Affairs and giving the job to a doctor with no experience running anything like the second biggest department the U.S. government; a porn star and her lawyer are running rings around the big bad businessman and his lawyer, while 61% of Republicans surveyed think Donald Trump is a good role model for their children—but today I just don’t have the spark to go into that again.

Turns out I don’t have to, because there’s somebody much better at it who’s rarin’ to go:

“[Trump] brings out the dark side of human beings for his own purpose, which is himself. And if it’s not pointed out and people don’t stand up and point it out, it will become commonplace, and it’s not the world that I want to live in.”

Ladies and gentlemen, my nominee for the straightest-talking social commentator and political analyst on two feet, Gregg Popovich, the head coach of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs.

Before facing the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night, Popovich, who has shared sharp criticism of Trump, was asked more questions about societal issues than basketball during his nearly 11-minute media availability. Popovich explained in detail why he continues to speak out.

“It becomes a priority of what’s more important. I think we have a situation where we’re going backwards, at least as far as race is concerned and it has to be pointed out,” Popovich said. “Our current president hopes to bore us to death with all these new issues day after day after day that keep him in the news. You can talk about one comment or scandal after another and it becomes commonplace, forgotten about and we don’t even know what’s going on behind the scenes, like what’s happening to our environment and health and all this sort of thing. All the laws that are kind of sliding and all the people who are being removed and being replaced. Like scientists being replaced by politicians.

“We take our eye off the ball, and he’s great at it,” Popovich continued. “He brings out the dark side of human beings for his own purpose, which is himself. And if it’s not pointed out and people don’t stand up and point it out, it will become commonplace, and it’s not the world that I want to live in.”

Also, Popovich said the youth who participated in the “March for Our Lives” rally on last Saturday was encouraging: “They give me hope that I’m actually living in the country I thought I was living in.”

Don’t fall for the argument that Popovich is just a dumb jock or another East Coast liberal who never did anything for his country: he’s from Chicago, graduated from the Air Force Academy with a degree in Soviet Studies, underwent intelligence gathering and processing training, served served five years on active duty.  He’s a guy who knows what he’s talking about, isn’t afraid to say what’s on his mind, and says it in a memorable and entertaining way.  Can’t ask much more than that from your commentators…or your basketball coaches.

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You don’t need to be “deaf, dumb and blind” to be fair

Read this from Vox.com, this is very good.  It’s helped me think more clearly in considering whether there’s been a rush to judgment against men recently accused of sexual assault and harassment.

First, I’ll go out on a limb and say, I’m against sexual harassment and sexual assault.  I’m against men with professional or financial power using that power against women.  I believe the women who are making the accusations, especially when the men choose not to put up much of a defense and just disappear (anyone hear anything from Charlie Rose lately?); I do not reject the accusations just because they are being made by women, or because I believe that the men are somehow being treated unfairly.

I have wondered if there are cases in which the past has been turned on its head.  Used to be, a woman’s accusation of misconduct against her boss, for example, was dismissed out of hand as not being credible, and the justice system has long made it difficult for a woman to prosecute a case against her rapist…men in charge protecting other men lest they be the next to stand accused.  But since The New York Times and The New Yorker broke stories about movie producer Harvey Weinstein last year, the tide has turned and we’re told we must believe the woman.  #MeToo proponents and others argue that women who have been harassed or assaulted do not lie about it.  OK, I’m with you.  But are there women who were not harassed or assaulted who are lying, who are making false accusations?  In our newfound effort to correct past wrongs, are we being appropriately concerned about that possibility?

Dozens of power brokers have been the subject of allegations of abuse and sexual misconduct since Bill O’Reilly was ousted from Fox News in April 2017. And as more and more figures face consequences — financial, political, professional, and legal — for their bad behavior, one term that comes up over and over again is “due process,” referring to the legal concept enshrined in the Constitution.

Even President Donald Trump is in on it: In a tweet on Saturday, apparently prompted by the resignations of two of his aides, Rob Porter and David Sorensen following allegations of domestic abuse, the president lamented the number of “lives being shattered” by a “mere allegation” of misconduct. “Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?” he asked, almost plaintively. But what does due process really mean today, now that people have begun to invoke it as a cultural concept?

I asked seven legal scholars and experts what due process is, with the understanding that in legal circles the question is essentially an existential one. Due process in court is one thing — in the court of public opinion, it is a much more fluid notion, entangling questions of what is fair, what is reasonable to believe, and what rings emotionally true.

The first of the seven, former federal judge Shira Scheindlin, makes a case that I find very clear and persuasive, clarifying that “due process” in a court of law is not the same as that which a reasonable man or woman should give to public accusations such as these:

The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, provides, inter alia, that “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” This legal standard means what is says. Certainly Rob Porter, and others who have been accused of sexual abuse or harassment, are not being deprived of their life or their liberty as a result of the allegations made against them. Property is a closer question in that some have lost their jobs — and the income resulting from that employment — as a result of accusations rather than proof in a court of law. Nonetheless, in most instances the question is not one of civil or criminal liability. Rather, the question is whether given the quality of the allegations, the person against whom the allegations have been made, should remain in the position of trust, confidence, and responsibility which he (and it usually is he) currently holds.

(snip)

But when a business, a government entity, or a voter must decide whether someone is fit for his position, the decision process is of necessity much less formal, quicker, and truncated. A judgment call must be made and it often must be made quickly. The due process of a court action is often a very complicated and lengthy affair, involving pre-trial discovery, witnesses, and a judicial proceeding. But given the stakes of loss of life or liberty that makes sense. In context, the accusations that cause a person to lose his job must be evaluated by the employer who must make a judgment call based on the strength of those allegations. There is nothing wrong with that. If the person removed from his position feels aggrieved he is welcome to bring a case in court in which he would have the burden of showing that he was wrongfully terminated. In that proceeding I have no doubt that the underlying accusations would be fully aired. That may be why so few — if any of the accused — have pursed this course.

Law professor and author Michael Meltsner of Northeastern University agrees that there is a distinction between due process as a legal concept as compared to a societal norm, and warns that raising that flag in these cases “can be an ideological screen behind which abusers or those defending them try to justify, deflect or delay condemnation.”  (He didn’t say it here but it made me think of President Trump, the credibly-accused, and self-confessed, harasser and assaulter of girls and women.)

What often gets lost in the wake of allegations of sexual abuse is that even the most flexible construct of due process focuses us on a struggle for fairness in the face of our human tendency to rush toward moral judgment. But just as importantly, due process isn’t deaf, dumb, and blind. It is essentially evidence-based, so where the facts have emerged — and we have a plethora of such examples now before us — no one need hesitate to pass judgment. At the same time, due process suggests being wary of broadsides that read all accusations identically. Human behavior, especially where sex, gender and power are concerned is often hard to fathom. Because one size rarely fits all, we are constantly challenged to name, call out, and demand action while at the same time accepting nuance and complexity. If this suggests closing your Twitter account, so be it.

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It’s been a hell of a year

If you want to try to narrow down the chaos that is Trump’s America,  try for a moment to put aside the things the president has done, and those you fear he might do, which you feel threaten the security of our country, or maybe even the safety of the entire world (there are some things!), and just focus on corruption.  There’s too much, right?  Well, not if you’re CREW, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.  Earlier this month it published its cumulative list of actions that it considers to be personal conflicts of interest for President Trump…things he has done to financially benefit himself and his family, things that no previous president has ever done (at least not so blatantly and openly).

CREW researchers spent a year tracking every known interaction between the Trump administration and the Trump Organization in a daily timeline. Here’s what they found:

  • President Trump spent a full third of his first year in office—122 days—visiting his commercial properties.

  • Seventy executive branch officials, more than 30 members of Congress and more than a dozen state officials visited Trump Organization properties during the first year of the Trump administration.

  • President Trump and his White House staff promoted the Trump brand by mentioning or referring to one of the president’s private businesses on at least 35 different occasions during the president’s first year in office.

  • There have been more than 40 instances of special interest groups holding events at Trump properties since January 20, 2017.

  • At least eleven foreign governments paid Trump-owned entities during the president’s first year in office, and at least six foreign government officials have made appearances at Trump Organization properties.

  • Political groups spent more than $1.2 million at Trump properties during the president’s first year in office. Prior to President Trump’s 2016 campaign, annual spending by political committees at Trump properties had never exceeded $100,000 in any given year going back to at least 2002.

Are you OK with all of that?  I’m not.  But a thing that is in some ways even worse—although frankly I’m having trouble deciding what thing is worse than the next thing anymore—is the revelation of the heart and soul of the national Republican Party in this first year of the Trump Administration.  (Yes, it’s only been one year.)  Conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin gives a stark but honest reading in the Washington Post:

The sight of conservative Republicans cheering President Trump as a great success in his first year in office tells us much about the state of conservatism and the future of the GOP. There are two components to the reverential treatment of Trump: first, praise for allegedly conservative wins, and second, a willingness to tolerate falsehoods and attacks upon democratic norms and the American creed, as though these are matters of style.

As to the first, “conservatism” these days has become (both in the eyes of liberals who think conservatism is interchangeable with “right-wing extremism” and those claiming the conservative mantle) a cartoon version of itself. A tax cut that grows the deficit and gives disproportionate benefits to the rich is a “win” and “conservative” because, because … why? Because conservatism demands that whatever the needs of the moment and whatever the politics, the first order of business is to starve the government of revenue? Tax cuts unmoored from reasonable ends (e.g. fiscal sobriety, focused help for the working and middle class) are not “conservative”; deficits and widening of income inequality should not be cause for celebration.

Likewise, denying climate change or calling all regulatory repeal “conservative” (is it conservative to allow restaurants to take away employees’ tips?) doesn’t strike us as evidence of truth-based, modest government. In sum, much of the cheering for “conservative” ends skips over the details, disregards the substance and ignores context — none of which are indices of conservative thought. It is not conservative to favor reversing everything President Barack Obama did without regard to changed circumstances or alternatives. That doesn’t make Obama’s political legacy wonderful; it makes those advocating blind destruction without reasoned alternatives anything but conservative.

(snip)

The “shithole” episode vividly illustrates this. The sentiment underlying Trump’s attack on African immigrants entails a repudiation of the “all men are created equal” creed, a disregard of facts (e.g., education levels of African immigrants) and a rejection of economic reality verging on illiteracy. (We do need skilled and unskilled workers, we do not have a finite number of jobs, etc.) Put on top of that the willingness to prevaricate (Well, if we say it was “shithouse” and not “shithole,” we can say Sen. Dick Durbin was lying!) and you have an assault on principles that are the foundation for our democracy and for conservatism (or what it used to be). It’s not a minor episode. It’s in many ways a defining episode, not only for Trump but, worse, for his defenders.

OK, just one more today.  As bad as I feel this has been, I am persuaded by Leonard Pitts, Jr., in a column entitled “Trump’s definitely not the brains of the operation—and that’s a good thing” that it could be worse:

But what if Trump were smart?

More to the point, what if there arose some future demagogue who combined Trump’s new media savvy with a toxic ideology? It’s not far-fetched to wonder if Trump is not simply writing that individual’s playbook, showing her or him how easily a stable democracy can be subverted.

So even as we grapple with the daily outrages of this presidency, it would be smart to begin inoculating future generations against one that could be worse. Now, then, would be an excellent time to push even harder for Internet giants like Facebook and Twitter to find better ways of purging their platforms of false news and hate.

Now would also be an excellent time for schools to beef up their teaching of philosophy, history, civics, social studies. Teach those things as a means of helping people to think critically, value truth and internalize the ideals that are supposed to make America America.

All I can hear in my head right now is Whitney Houston: 

I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way

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This is not the president you’re looking for

I get tired of feeling like I have to write about Donald Trump, and about what he has done and is doing to our country and our society.  I get tired of reading about the topic, too: it’s unhappy, repetitive, disillusioning news for anyone who believes in the American ideals of justice and tolerance and fair treatment and service to others.

The thing is, we can’t stop reading and writing about it because it’s too important.  None of us should just let what Trump and the Trumpettes are doing become background noise, or just blindly trust that someone somewhere will take care of it all eventually and things can go back to the way they were.  (First of all, things the way they were weren’t all that grand, but still…)  The least we can do is keep reminding ourselves and others of what is really happening—to recognize reality, to see the truth—and remind ourselves and others that things are not supposed to be like this.  We have to stand up for ourselves, and for our country.

David Brooks of the New York Times did a good job of that last week, sadly reminding the Republican Party and those who claim loyalty to its beliefs that they’ve betrayed their own ideals and are letting their party rot away.  He told Republicans who believed “…You didn’t have to tie yourself hip to hip with Donald Trump…You could sort of float along in the middle, and keep your head down until this whole Trump thing passed…it’s clear that middle ground doesn’t exist.”

First, [Trump] asked the party to swallow the idea of a narcissistic sexual harasser and a routine liar as its party leader. Then he asked the party to accept his comprehensive ignorance and his politics of racial division. Now he asks the party to give up its reputation for fiscal conservatism. At the same time he asks the party to become the party of Roy Moore, the party of bigotry, alleged sexual harassment and child assault.

There is no end to what Trump will ask of his party. He is defined by shamelessness, and so there is no bottom. And apparently there is no end to what regular Republicans are willing to give him. Trump may soon ask them to accept his firing of Robert Mueller, and yes, after some sighing, they will accept that, too.

That’s the way these corrupt bargains always work. You think you’re only giving your tormentor a little piece of yourself, but he keeps asking and asking, and before long he owns your entire soul.

The Republican Party is doing harm to every cause it purports to serve. If Republicans accept Roy Moore as a United States senator, they may, for a couple years, have one more vote for a justice or a tax cut, but they will have made their party loathsome for an entire generation. The pro-life cause will be forever associated with moral hypocrisy on an epic scale. The word “evangelical” is already being discredited for an entire generation. Young people and people of color look at the Trump-Moore G.O.P. and they are repulsed, maybe forever.

You don’t help your cause by wrapping your arms around an alleged sexual predator and a patriarchic bigot. You don’t help your cause by putting the pursuit of power above character, by worshiping at the feet of some loutish man or another, by claiming the ends justify any means. You don’t successfully rationalize your own tawdriness by claiming your opponents are satanic. You don’t save Christianity by betraying its message.

(snip)

The Republican Party I grew up with admired excellence. It admired intellectual excellence (Milton Friedman, William F. Buckley), moral excellence (John Paul II, Natan Sharansky) and excellent leaders (James Baker, Jeane Kirkpatrick). Populism abandoned all that — and had to by its very nature. Excellence is hierarchical. Excellence requires work, time, experience and talent. Populism doesn’t believe in hierarchy. Populism doesn’t demand the effort required to understand the best that has been thought and said. Populism celebrates the quick slogan, the impulsive slash, the easy ignorant assertion. Populism is blind to mastery and embraces mediocrity.

(snip)

[Unlike the tax cuts of 30 to 40 years ago] Today’s tax cuts have no bipartisan support. They have no intellectual grounding, no body of supporting evidence. They do not respond to the central crisis of our time. They have no vision of the common good, except that Republican donors should get more money and Democratic donors should have less.

The rot afflicting the G.O.P. is comprehensive — moral, intellectual, political and reputational. More and more former Republicans wake up every day and realize: “I’m homeless. I’m politically homeless.”

We don’t have to end up that way; we don’t have to let it happen.  Start with this Jedi-mind-trick chant: this is not the president you’re looking for…

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What I did eight years ago today

Today the high temperature in Houston was 81; it nearly broke a record for this date, unlike what happened here eight years ago today.  I remember what happened back then because I wrote about it, on my brand new little bitty blog…and it was the last post I made on the original host before I moved over here to WordPress.  I can see why I didn’t play golf that day; I just can’t remember why I wasn’t at work???

What I did today instead of play golf…

It snowed here today!

snow Dec 4 007

Them what knows say it’s the earliest in the season it’s ever snowed in Houston, and the first time it’s ever snowed here two winters in a row.  I believe that: it’s probably snowed fewer than a dozen times in the more than 40 years I’ve lived here.

snow Dec 4 009

The TV news freaked out, of course, although credit where credit is due: this snowfall was forecast five days ago, so it really shouldn’t have been a surprise.  But you know there’s always someone who didn’t get the message.

snow_simpsons

What happened to our global warming?

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