“Biggest con job since the Trojan horse”

The phrase jumped off the obituary page in Houston’s Leading Information Source last June: Elene Davis passed away from “…complications due to congestive heart failure and the 2016 Presidential campaign.”  Imagine if she’d seen what’s gone on in the past week!

Late last month I saved the link to this Garrison Keillor column punching again at Donald Trump, noting that “a panhandler in Times Square sat holding a sign reading, ‘Give me a dollar or I’ll vote for Trump,’ and people laughed and reached into their pockets.”

His bucket overflowed. He stuffed the bills into his jacket, and other panhandlers looked at him with admiration. The man could’ve sold franchises and retired to Palm Beach.  The panhandler knows what every New Yorker knows, which is that the biggest con job since the Trojan horse is taking place in our midst. Millions of Americans are planning to cast their votes for a man who has lived his life contrary to all of their most cherished values. They are respectful, honest, generous, loyal, modest, church-going people with no Mafia connections and good credit records who try not to spout off about things they know nothing about.

The same week USA Today did something it had never done in its thirty-four years of publication: it took sides in a presidential race:

This year, the choice isn’t between two capable major party nominees who happen to have significant ideological differences. This year, one of the candidates — Republican nominee Donald Trump — is, by unanimous consensus of the Editorial Board, unfit for the presidency.

From the day he declared his candidacy 15 months ago through this week’s first presidential debate, Trump has demonstrated repeatedly that he lacks the temperament, knowledge, steadiness and honesty that America needs from its presidents.

Then it went on to spell out the record, that Trump is erratic, ill-equipped to be commander in chief, traffics in prejudice, has a checkered business career, and more.  The Atlantic quadrupled-down when it comes to historical precedent, making only its third endorsement since 1860 and the first since recommending Lyndon Johnson over Barry Goldwater:

Today, our position is similar to the one in which The Atlantic’s editors found themselves in 1964. We are impressed by many of the qualities of the Democratic Party’s nominee for president, even as we are exasperated by others, but we are mainly concerned with the Republican Party’s nominee, Donald J. Trump, who might be the most ostentatiously unqualified major-party candidate in the 227-year history of the American presidency.

(snip)

Hillary Rodham Clinton has more than earned, through her service to the country as first lady, as a senator from New York, and as secretary of state, the right to be taken seriously as a White House contender. She has flaws (some legitimately troubling, some exaggerated by her opponents), but she is among the most prepared candidates ever to seek the presidency. We are confident that she understands the role of the United States in the world; we have no doubt that she will apply herself assiduously to the problems confronting this country; and she has demonstrated an aptitude for analysis and hard work.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, has no record of public service and no qualifications for public office. His affect is that of an infomercial huckster; he traffics in conspiracy theories and racist invective; he is appallingly sexist; he is erratic, secretive, and xenophobic; he expresses admiration for authoritarian rulers, and evinces authoritarian tendencies himself. He is easily goaded, a poor quality for someone seeking control of America’s nuclear arsenal. He is an enemy of fact-based discourse; he is ignorant of, and indifferent to, the Constitution; he appears not to read.

This week the Republican Party’s nominee added something new and bizarre when he repeated to CNN his belief that the Central Park 5 are guilty of a famous 1989 rape and beating of a jogger in Central Park.  That is, he claims that the five men (who were teenagers in 1989) originally convicted of the crime but “exonerated in 2002 when an investigation by the Manhattan district attorney found DNA evidence linking the vicious crime to a previously convicted rapist. That man admitted to acting alone in the crime” are, nevertheless, the guilty parties.  DNA evidence to the contrary, and the confession of the actual guilty party notwithstanding, Trump today insists those five men are guilty of the crime.  It’s one thing to have taken a stand on an issue and then have time and the facts ultimately prove you to be wrong; it happens.  But Trump is incapable of acknowledging the facts laid out for everyone to see, and rather than admit a thoroughly human error–or even, God forbid, just shut his damn mouth–he repeats his error.

Dumb ol’ me, here I am thinking that should be enough to shock some more Trump supporters into realizing just what a moron he is…but then the issue completely disappears when the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold publishes the Access Hollywood videotape that has dozens of high-ranking Republicans elbowing each other out of the way to jump off the Trumptanic.  (Fahrenthold is the reporter who’s dug into the Trump Foundation and found it to be far less than the charitable organ that’s advertised.)  I won’t pretend to be horrified by Trump’s comments, which on their face do resemble an admission of numerous instances of sexual assault (if you assume he was telling the truth and not just “bragging”), since they reinforce my previously-held belief that he’s a genuine creep, as well as an ignorant narcissistic megalomaniac with the attention span of a three year old.

Question for those now changing their minds on Trump: why now?  Does this incident just seem to be a good excuse that also allows you to pander to the puritanical element of your constituency?  It seems like you’ve passed up plenty of chances to do the right thing…

The Deseret News, among others, is now calling on Trump to drop out; I hope he keeps his promise not to withdraw from the race because I think he’s now on an irreversible slide to a yuuuge loss and I want the Republican Party and the crazy right-wing element that nominated this yutz to feel the pain of what they’ve done while they consider their future…yesterday Craig Mazin storified a Tweetstorm that pretty well sums up the path forward for the GOP.

I’d also like to see NBC News pay for its role.  Producers for Access Hollywood, which is a corporate relation of NBC, brought the tape to the network last Monday and they sent it to their lawyers; while a legal review was prudent, withholding permission to publish out of fear that Trump would sue is plain old cowardice: in real journalism, being sued by powerful people over a big story is sometimes just part of the deal.  So far Trump has apologized and he’s started to accuse others of being bad guys, but he hasn’t threatened to sue anyone.  It appears that someone in NBC who was frustrated at the delays leaked the tape to the Washington Post, leaving NBC to be scooped on its own story.

Now, let’s see how Trump handles the town hall-style debate this evening when, hopefully, the nice people at Washington University will insist on straight answers rather than a string of sentence fragments out of the Republican nominee.  I predict that without a fawning audience to buoy him, the real, ugly Donald Trump is likely to be on full display.

 

When setting a price cheapens the product

The recent news that the Pentagon has been paying professional sports teams to honor current service members and military veterans was dismaying and surprising to me.  I’ve become numb to the annoying level of enforced patriotism in America in the past ten years or so, chalking it up to the thoroughly American trait of overdoing pretty much anything that becomes popular.  But I hadn’t considered that our government was paying hard money to try to keep the swell of pride in the military from subsiding.

Frankly, I’ve felt sorry for the men and women who were trotted out to the field to accept the accolades, because I felt they were being exploited by the local teams.  Turns out, they were being exploited by their government, too.  Now, Tom the Dancing Bug makes it clear that I should not have been surprised at all:

td151113

Thanks to Tom the Dancing Bug and GoComics.com

First the good news, then the better news, then the bad news

The good news is this: Congress has reached a budget deal.  Yes, the U.S. Congress.  And not when facing a deadline.  America’s guests have done a thing that is rare in this day—their jobs.  Here are the details; I’m most enthused at the idea that enough members showed enough maturity and leadership to actually work out some agreement, one which means we and the world can go two years without having to fret about a government shutdown.

Now to the better news, which I would actually classify as a Christmas miracle if I were given to assuming that God takes sides in American politics (or sports): the mainstream Republican Party is showing signs of finally standing up to the conservative extremists.  Speaker of the House John Boehner was the first to publicly, honestly, express his exasperation with the tea partyish crowd that has pushed the GOP so far to the edge of American politics that they have to stand on each other’s shoulders a mile high in order to see the center.  He reportedly got even more “honest” in private:

“They are not fighting for conservative principles,” Mr. Boehner told rank-and-file House Republicans during a private meeting on Wednesday as he seethed and questioned the motives of the groups for piling on against the plan before it was even made public.

“They are not fighting for conservative policy,” he continued, according to accounts of those present. “They are fighting to expand their lists, raise more money and grow their organizations, and they are using you to do it. It’s ridiculous.”

The conservatives of course defended themselves, which is perfectly fine; I hope the center and the far right keep this back-and-forth going ad infinitum (we’re already well past ad nauseum).  For however long they fight with each other—and these things don’t last as long as you might wish them to—it keeps them from concentrating their fire outside the circle; maybe that keeps the extremists from winning more elections and coming into real power to remake America in their own frightening image.

One more politics thing: did you see who was cited by PolitiFact for the Lie of the Year?  Yep, our president.  Selected by a reader poll from among ten finalists, “If you like your health plan, you can keep it” was chosen by 59%, the winner going away and embarassingly ahead of popular favorites like “Congress is exempt from the healthcare law” (Ted Cruz), “No U.S.-trained doctors will accept Obamacare” (Ann Coulter) and “Muslims are exempt from Obamacare” (chain email).  President Obama’s catchy little reassurance actually worked its way up over the years from “half true” to “pants on fire” and now Lie of the Year.  Congratulations, Mr. President, for finding a way to help the self-defeating conservatives survive the circular firing squad.

The White House is clocking my phone calls—-yours, too

I am in the midst of the keyboard equivalent of verbal spluttering because I’m so damn mad at this news, so I’ll let Twitter tell you just like it told me:

That is to say, The National Security Agency secured a court order ordering Verizon to turn over—each and every day for three months—all the metadata about all the calls made by all of its customers.  You can read the court order here; you can read the story that broke the news here.

The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.

The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa) granted the order to the FBI on April 25, giving the government unlimited authority to obtain the data for a specified three-month period ending on July 19.

Under the terms of the blanket order, the numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls. The contents of the conversation itself are not covered.

(snip)

Under the Bush administration, officials in security agencies had disclosed to reporters the large-scale collection of call records data by the NSA, but this is the first time significant and top-secret documents have revealed the continuation of the practice on a massive scale under President Obama.

The unlimited nature of the records being handed over to the NSA is extremely unusual. Fisa court orders typically direct the production of records pertaining to a specific named target who is suspected of being an agent of a terrorist group or foreign state, or a finite set of individually named targets.

The Guardian approached the National Security Agency, the White House and the Department of Justice for comment in advance of publication on Wednesday. All declined. The agencies were also offered the opportunity to raise specific security concerns regarding the publication of the court order.

The court order expressly bars Verizon from disclosing to the public either the existence of the FBI’s request for its customers’ records, or the court order itself.

“We decline comment,” said Ed McFadden, a Washington-based Verizon spokesman.

(snip)

It is not known whether Verizon is the only cell-phone provider to be targeted with such an order, although previous reporting has suggested the NSA has collected cell records from all major mobile networks. It is also unclear from the leaked document whether the three-month order was a one-off, or the latest in a series of similar orders.

The court order appears to explain the numerous cryptic public warnings by two US senators, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, about the scope of the Obama administration’s surveillance activities.

For roughly two years, the two Democrats have been stridently advising the public that the US government is relying on “secret legal interpretations” to claim surveillance powers so broad that the American public would be “stunned” to learn of the kind of domestic spying being conducted.

More Twitter…this just in the first hour after the news broke:

https://twitter.com/mattyglesias/status/342440076514582528

https://twitter.com/mattyglesias/status/342444816216518656

https://twitter.com/petersuderman/status/342445596432551938

On top of the Justice Department investigating journalists as criminals for doing their jobs and the IRS applying “special scrutiny” to tax matters of conservative political groups, this president has got some explaining to do, and fast, or he’s going to lose a big chunk of his political support not to mention his historical legacy.  I’m waiting…

Joe didn’t do anything wrong? Oh yeah, he did

The fact that he is who he is, and that he did what he did, makes it even worse than it already is.

For most of us who are not in western Pennsylvania, this came out of the blue last week: a grand jury indicted a former Penn State University football coach on accusations he sexually assaulted young boys.  When I first saw the story in the paper last weekend, and read that head coach Joe Paterno had been told by an eyewitness that Jerry Sandusky assaulted a young boy in the shower and Paterno had relayed the information to his immediate superior but done nothing else about it, I felt like he should have done more.  But then I turned the page, because I don’t care about college football or Penn State, and because I didn’t want to really think about what was actually going on here.  Shame on me.

By Wednesday, the winningest coach in major college football history had been fired by his university, but he was not the only person in Happy Valley shamed by the incident.  Far from it.  More’s the pity.

Sandusky, the long-time Penn State assistant coach who gets a lot of the credit for the team’s history of turning out great defensive players—especially linebackers—stands accused of being a serial pedophile, of sexually assaulting at least eight boys over a 15 year period.  He also founded a charitable organization called The Second Mile in 1997, which provided services to children in need.

One of the saddest ironies of the sexual abuse charges against Sandusky that stunned and sickened the nation last weekend is that if the allegations that he assaulted eight boys over a 15-year period are true, he may have been allowed to prey on those children in large part because no one at Penn State would go that second mile for his victims.

Sports Illustrated’s Phil Taylor is one of many who’ve made the point: where the hell were all the adults at Penn State who should have done something about this?  I’ll tell you where—they were all busy protecting a wealthy university and its vaunted football program and its reputation, for surely those things were more important than the lives, and the futures, of pre-teenaged children whose parents had turned to Penn State for help.  What is Sandusky accused of doing?  McClatchy summarizes the timeline here, and it shows just how many people at Penn State didn’t stand up for these kids.

Sandusky was cashed out as the team’s defensive coordinator after admitting to having showered with a 10 year old boy, but the school and the coach only took his job away—Sandusky was allowed to keep using university facilities for his charity’s activities.

In 2000 a janitor saw Sandusky having sex with a young boy in a campus football building and told his supervisor, but neither of them called the police.

In 2002 a graduate assistant (a former player; a grown man) saw Sandusky having sex with a young boy and did not do anything to stop the assault that was going on right in front of his eyes; he did not call the police, not even the university police; he went home and called his own father and asked what he should do; and it wasn’t until the next day that he told Paterno what he’d seen.  Paterno told the athletic director, and left it at that.  About this time, school officials told Sandusky not to bring children to the campus any more, although he himself still used the facilities.

Paterno made a lot of his reputation for insisting that Penn State was different from other big college football programs, that Penn State did things the right way—it followed the rules, it graduated its student athletes, and it was successful on the field.  Bull.  Despite the high graduation rate and the championships and the bowl games, we now know that Penn State was just as sleazy as any other program.  Maybe more so.  Ohio State’s in trouble for its players selling equipment to get discounts on their tattoos; Miami is in trouble (again) over impermissible benefits given to players by a booster.  But no one else is in the news for making the conscious decision to protect their own ass by turning a blind eye to the alleged child rapist in their midst.  For years.

Where was the “Hey, you can’t do that” reaction the first time someone saw this man naked with a child?  Where was the unconscious and visceral “stop that” response?  Where was the call to the cops?  Where is the humanity?

Yesterday, Penn State played its first football game in the post-Paterno era.  It lost the game.  But the university community may have taken the first baby steps to recognizing what’s important in life, certainly more important than a university’s bruised ego or loss of financial support.

"It felt like we all banded together. And it wasn’t just about football," said Melissa Basinger, a 2005 Penn State grad who made the trip from Charlotte, N.C. "It was about coming together as a school, and showing the country, world or whatever that this does not define who we are."

We’ll see.