Thursday, August 31, 2023

What the Movement Has Begotten

My, those were such heady days! On July 3, 2020, The New York Times noted

Four recent polls — including one released this week by Civis Analytics, a data science firm that works with businesses and Democratic campaigns — suggest that about 15 million to 26 million people in the United States have participated in demonstrations over the death of George Floyd and others in recent weeks.

These figures would make the recent protests the largest movement in the country’s history, according to interviews with scholars and crowd-counting experts.

These figures would make the recent protests the largest movement in the country’s history, according to interviews with scholars and crowd-counting experts.

“I’ve never seen self-reports of protest participation that high for a specific issue over such a short period,” said Neal Caren, associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who studies social movements in the United States.

While it’s possible that more people said they protested than actually did, even if only half told the truth, the surveys suggest more than seven million people participated in recent demonstrations....

“Really, it’s hard to overstate the scale of this movement,” said Deva Woodly, an associate professor of politics at the New School.

Professor Woodly said that the civil rights marches in the 1960s were considerably smaller in number. “If we added up all those protests during that period, we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people, but not millions,” she said.

Even protests to unseat government leadership or for independence typically succeed when they involve 3.5 percent of the population at their peak, according to a review of international protests by Erica Chenoweth, a professor at Harvard Kennedy School who co-directs the Crowd Counting Consortium, which collects data on crowd sizes of political protests....

“The geographic spread of protest is a really important characteristic and helps signal the depth and breadth of a movement’s support,” said Kenneth Andrews, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill....

“It looks, for all the world, like these protests are achieving what very few do: setting in motion a period of significant, sustained, and widespread social, political change,” Professor McAdam said. “We appear to be experiencing a social change tipping point — that is as rare in society as it is potentially consequential.”

The prediction of "a period of significant, sustained, and widespread social, political change" proved as prescient as of that "red wave" which was to prevail in November of 2020, or as would have been a prediction of a Chicago Bears appearance in the last Super Bowl.

As an observation- only- this tweet is not far off, presently:

Last October, a North Carolina television station reported

It's been more than two years since activists joined in the street to protest the murder of George Floyd.

The summer of often-violent demonstrations across the country in 2020 also spurred calls for cities to cut police budgets, an idea that's grown to be known as the "Defund Movement."

However, a national investigation by the ABC Owned Televisions Stations found those calls have not transformed into action.

An analysis of budgets for more than 100 law enforcement agencies across the country uncovered the opposite. Ninety percent of cities and counties increased spending for police between the fiscal years 2018-19 and 2021-22. None of the North Carolina cities the team analyzed reported an increase in law enforcement budgets.

Of the 10% of agencies who did decrease funding, the cuts were small with only eight agencies slashing the budget by more than 2%; a percentage many local government budget experts deem irrelevant.

As the associate professor of politics stated, the "scale of this movement" was enormous. It proved, however, to be a mile wide and an inch deep.  In October

Pew found that 51% of Americans say they strongly or somewhat support the Black Lives Matter movement. That’s down from nearly 70% of Americans who expressed support for the movement in the aftermath of the 2020 killing of George Floyd and 56% last year, the center said.

The plunge in support was virtually inevitable. Most media coverage at the time of the George Floyd protests consisted of coverage of the massive, largely peaceful demonstrations and politicians and pundits pledging support for the movement and, less often, the organization BLM. Months and years later, video of isolated violence at the protests dominated the news and was exploited by conservative politicians and pundits.

This was reinforced by false premises of the movement: police are America's heroes but periodically racist; and police misbehavior occurs all across the nation irrespective of state or municipal boundaries.

Even now, the left and center typically criticize local and state law enforcement as if it is one entity, at odds with the black community or perpetual guardians of populace's safety and security. However, not only is law enforcement likely different in, say, Arkansas than in Massachusetts, it probably differs between Little Rock and Heber Springs, Arkansas. More analysts than ever acknowledge an urban-rural split in the USA, yet avoid applying the understanding to police practice.

This reality largely blinds  the left, center, and the center-left from pivoting when red flags arise, such as we witnessed recently:



The admiring police escort, before Trump was taken into custody, in Atlanta was bad enough. The escort in New Jersey, from his property in Bedminster, was even worse because he wasn't even being taken to jail.


This unmerited use of public resources and paean to the greatness of Donald Trump did not occur because he is white. But the implications of such an outpouring of support from publicly funded police organizations for Donald J. Trump was both unnecessary and pregnant with implications if the subject of this reverence is able to regain the presidency.

Nonetheless, the interest groups which most fervently backed the black lives movement a mere three years ago are largely silent. Even when there is police overreach in plain sight, organizations often cannot find their voice, and usually cannot when there is no obvious racial component.

Whether or not generally beneficial, in the last few years there always has been more money- witness "cop city"- for the police establishment whether it fails or succeeds or crime rates rise or fall.  Professor McAdam was correct that in the summer of 2020, we did experience "a social change tipping point,"  rare and "potentially consequential." In the backlash to the black lives matter movement, the social change has been toward greater support for the police and less for the public it is sworn to serve and protect.'  We are witnessing a movement that has not only failed, but backfired.


Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Animal Instincts

"If President Biden were a tree, what tree would he be?" Presidential press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has not been asked this question. Yet.

Last December, Politico summarized

Tensions between Beijing and Washington have been steadily increasing for years. Some of the competition has been plain to see: New Chinese aircraft carriers, fifth-generation fighter planes and airstrips in the South China Sea that are facing off against U.S. megabases in places like Guam and deepening military partnerships with Australia and Taiwan.

But other aspects of China’s quest for power are much more subtle. Beijing is also playing a quieter game, using non-military means to propel its push for influence and dominance across the Indo-Pacific and beyond.

Talk to the China watchers in Washington and they’ll say these moves pose a trickier but no less belligerent set of challenges to the U.S. and its allies than China’s overt military buildup — whether it’s China’s deputizing commercial fishing ships to act as extensions of its Navy, it’s pumping money into private tech firms building drones and semiconductors for export across the globe, or it’s allowing government censors to dip into social media algorithms used by American teenagers. These are all part of a wider strategy to spread Chinese influence by marrying the military and commercial aspects of Chinese power, and which poses startling new threats to the United States.

And so in the presidential press conference of August 28, 2023, NBC News White House correspondent Kelly O'Donnell asked press secretary Jean-Pierre

On China, there are a lot of different tension points but one of these has been- we've been reminded of the fact that China has retained ownership of all the pandas at the zoo for the United States, including the Smithsonian National Zoo.  And, uh, is there any chance the President is going to ask President Xi to let the pandas stay?

Next week, Ms. O'Donnell may ask about Tiktok; Chinese hackers breaching public and private networks across the world; malware inserted by mainland China into power grid networks, communications systems, and water supplies in the USA;  Beijing's threat to Taiwan; or the extensive build-up of the Chinese military.  However, more likely, it will be "is there any chance the President is going to ask President Xi to free the Uyghurs who are in detention camps in Xinjiang. or at least free the pandas?"

Monday, August 28, 2023

Performing for the Masses

Juliette N. Kayyem is a lawyer, author, former Boston Globe columnist, former Homeland Security official in the Obama Administration, weekly guest on Boston Public Radio, and national security analyst for CNN. Either she can't hold a job or has a wealth of experience and knowledge few others do. Unlike most people well traveled, in her case it's the latter.

Kayyem also writes for The Atlantic, and on Saturday morning wrote about the murder of three black persons in Jacksonville, Florida by an assailant who evidently picked them out for their race. Accordingly, Kayyem noted

The Jacksonville killer, though, wasn’t just killing for his own and neo-Nazi branding. His other audience was the Black community, there and throughout the nation....

The Saturday shooting occurred on the fifth anniversary of the Jacksonville Landing mass shooting—a fact the killer was apparently aware of. It also occurred on the 60th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the civil-rights March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Whether the killer knew this doesn’t really matter. African Americans do.

We have heard, and will continue to hear, this and similar points about white supremacy on liberal, non-progressive MSNBC and CNN because the murders were intrinsically related to race. However, Kayyem goes where very few others go- at the story behind the story- when she explains

His actions yesterday were not just a hate crime. They were a performance for all the world to see. This is the age of mass shooting as production. And we misunderstand what is happening if we see this as a play with only one act at a time.

The Jacksonville crime was one of a larger pattern, Kayyem recognizes, inasmuch as

Right-wing violence is done by individuals, but they are organizing and learning from an online apparatus as well as the actions of previous like-minded killers. Mass killings from the past, in New Zealand or Norway or South Carolina, are studied and replicated, each feeding off the others. Like foreign terror groups, these men seek to use violence as a way to attract attention to their cause. “The culture of martyrdom and insurgency within groups like the Taliban and ISIS is something to admire and reproduce in the neo-Nazi terror movement,” a 2019 online poster advocated on a neo-Nazi site. These killings are done to amplify that movement’s perverse narrative of America—that white people are still in charge and that many of them are willing to kill to prove it, and they do so publicly to terrorize.

In an age of social media and the dark web, members of this sect find one another on platforms that welcome them. The public display of hate is part of the act. In recent years in Jacksonville, and in Florida more generally, the neo-Nazi movement has grown. Earlier this year, neo-Nazis projected anti-Semitic messages on buildings—look at us!—throughout the state. These were linked to a Jacksonville-based neo-Nazi group called National Socialist Florida (NSF). We do not yet know if the Jacksonville shooter had any knowledge of or ties to that group, but a federal civil-rights investigation will surely look into that question.

Look at us.  It's the performance that emboldens and energizes.  Normally, the impulse to be performative takes relatively benign forms, such as going to a concert, standing throughout and taking pictures of oneself to send to friends and relatives. However, among individuals who lack easy access to, or comfort with, firearms and are scarred by evil, the performance can take a much darker and deadlier form. In Jacksonville

According to information released at yesterday’s press conference, before he pulled the trigger, the gunman called his father. He directed him to look at his computer, where he had left his manifestos, the playbill of right-wing terror. He wanted to make sure his intentions were known. Hate-filled screeds had been written to his parents, law enforcement, and the media; he was leaving nothing unsaid.

Race, of course, here and in other instances. However, there also is a story to be told about social media (from four years ago, below) and its perverse impact upon millions of young Americans whose actions do not sink to the level of mass murder. 

Periodically, this sparks a flurry of concern about among elected officials, leading nowhere. More often, there is silence. Juliette Kayyem's voice is not enough to move the needle. However, along with the need for gun safety legislation, the influence of social media upon vulnerable Americans cannot be neglected forever if we wish to prevent incidents even more horrifying than we witnessed over the weekend in Florida.


Sunday, August 27, 2023

Tweeter Misses the Point About Ramaswamy

Right conclusion, wrong reason.

The food fight began when an Iowa voter asked 

Ramaswamy, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from India, if critics would blame him for white supremacy or call him part of white supremacy.

Ramaswamy responded by saying, "Ayanna Pressley, she's in the Congress today. She's a member of 'the squad.' Her words, not mine: 'We don't want any more black faces that don't want to be a black voice. We don't want any more brown faces that don't want to be a brown voice.'"

Pressley, of Massachusetts, is a prominent progressive voice among House Democrats and the first Black woman elected to Congress from her state.

Ramaswamy then quoted bestselling author Kendi from his book "How To Be Anti-Racist."

"Here's what it says," said Ramaswamy. "Opening lines: 'The remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination."

"These are the words of the modern grand wizards of the modern KKK," said Ramaswamy.

The passage of Kendi's book is surrounded by descriptions of anti-racist discrimination as “temporarily assisting an underrepresented racial group into relative wealth and power until equity is reached.”

Talking to reporters after the town hall, Ramaswamy doubled down on his comments.

"The fact that we're taught to see each other on the basis of our genetic attributes is something that would make the old wizards of the KKK proud," said Ramaswamy.

When pressed by NBC News on whether he was calling Pressley and Kendi "grand wizards of the KKK," Ramaswamy said what "the whole movement represented" is what would make "the grand wizards of the KKK proud."

In a fundraising appeal, the Pressley team responded “We typically don’t engage in these bad-faith attacks but yesterday a line was crossed. A GOP candidate referred to Ayanna as ‘a modern grand wizard of the KKK’ because she speaks out against racial injustice. This is backwards and harmful, but that is the point.”

In the clip to which Jemele Hill has linked, Ramaswamy is seen saying

What I said is the Grand Wizards of the KKK would be proud of what they would hear her saying because there is nothing more racist than saying that your skin color predicts something about the content of your viewpoint or your ideas." Bash reminded him that he had added "these are the words of the modern Grand Wizard of the modern KKK," to which the candidate replied "I think it is the same spirit to say that I can look at you and say just based on your skin color that I know something about the content of your character."

Saying that a person's skin color may reflect the viewpoint of the ideas of the individual is not racist. Ethnic background, associated with race, often informs the individual's viewpoint and perspective.  However, if Ramaswamy had said merely that he would not know the content of one's color based on his/her skin color, he would have been correct. Moreover, notwithstanding the Pressley claim, Ramaswamy did not maintain that the congresswoman is "a modern grand wizard of the KKK."  Reflecting the spirit or even speaking the words of a person is not equivalent to being a modern version of him.

But all that is mere detail and neither Pressley, Ramaswamy, or Hill is much interested in details or minimally more in facts.  The candidate's charge is over the top, exaggeration he should regret, but does not. 

Nonetheless, these remarks are not why he "does not deserve to be anywhere near public office." The more important reason is

"The Department of Education, the FBI, the ATF, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the IRS, the Department of Commerce. Many of these should not exist," Ramaswamy told Fox News Digital in an interview on Wednesday before adding "the CDC" to the list.

"I'm going to be the president of government shut down, as in literally shutting down the administrative state that sits under the executive branch," he said. "That will be a big part of my domestic policy legacy because that will also stimulate our economy. The regulatory state is the wet blanket on businesses across this country. So not only will we restore our three-branch constitutional republic, we will also restore four-plus percent GDP growth in this country. That's two wins."

The claim about the gross domestic product is balderdash. Further, this is a prescription for the wild, wild, West, with big-time drug dealers and gun runners having a field day while public education is gutted. Nonetheless, Beijing and Moscow will celebrate when there is no Internal Revenue Service to collect taxes to support armed forces or weapons of deterrent. However, that might matter for only a few years, given that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission helps "ensure the safe use of radioactive materials" and "regulates commercial nuclear power plants." Take away that function, and after a little while there may be no country or world for us to worry about anymore.

Alternatively, we can feel aggrieved and be indignant because Vivek Ramaswamy says that he is anti-anti-racism. It's our choice, really.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Mike Pence's Unique Problem

As a candidate for the Republican nomination for President, former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson appeared Monday on MSNBC’s ":Deadline White House", hosted by Nicolle Wallace. Hutchinson

has repeatedly said he cannot back former President Donald Trump if he is a convicted criminal. Yet, he signed a pledge to get on the RNC debate stage that would require him to back Trump if he is the nominee, even as he still claims he cannot back the former president.

"If you are not the Republican nominee, will you vote for Donald Trump as president?" asked Wallace.

"Well, I don't expect him to be the nominee so—" Hutchinson began.

"He's ahead 30 points in the latest polls," Wallace cut him off. "It's certainly a possibility."

"Well, I understand that and I'm sure that will come up on the debate stage, but of course, if you believe he's not qualified under our Constitution, the 14th Amendment, then he's not going to even be in the picture," said Hutchinson.

"Well, I agree with you but did you sign the pledge as a condition of being in the debate that you'll support the eventual nominee?" said Wallace. "I'm just trying to find the consistency with your stated positions. I admire some of them, but some of them don't add up."

Former Rep. David Jolly (R-FL), another disaffected anti-Trump conservative on the panel, spoke up.

"I support your spirit, but are you going to vote for Donald Trump as the Republican nominee if, indeed, he's on the ballot in Arkansas, where you're registered to vote?" said Jolly.

And I hear you very clearly, exactly what you're asking me, and I just gave you the answer that I am providing in signing that pledge based upon," Hutchinson said. "You don't have to accept it. I just gave you the answer."

"Governor, I think ... [Republicans] refuse to deal with the facts as they really are," said Wallace. "And the facts as they really are — and believe me, from the bottom of my heart, I wish it wasn't the case — but Donald Trump is ahead 30 points over the second-most popular Republican and that isn't you, sir, unfortunately. But I wonder how we are to cover seeming contradictions in views. You make a very strong constitutional argument, not just that he's the wrong president on policy but that it is unconstitutional because of the 14th Amendment, but you won't say here to us, two former Republicans, that you won't vote for him?"

"Well, it's necessary to be on the debate," said Hutchinson. "Obviously Chris Christie and others have signed that pledge."

Christie, in particular, has made it clear that he has no intention of supporting Trump. While it might be required to be on the debate stage, what happens after Trump becomes the nominee can't be controlled by the RNC. A Republican presidential candidate can sign the pledge now and ignore it later without any legal consequence.

Hutchinson claimed the other candidates "have their own rationale for being able to do that. I've said I'm not going to support anybody who is a convicted felon, I'm not going to support somebody who is disqualified from it. So I'm trying to make it clear what my position is. It's not hard to figure it out. If you see a contradiction in there, perhaps that will be clarified in future discussions on the debate or down the road. But I think I've been very clear that I don't believe Donald Trump should be the leader of the party, should be the next President of the United States. That's why I'm running, that's why I'm in debate and I'm making my case very clearly."

Shorter Hutchinson: "I signed the pledge so I'd be admitted to the debate and I will not support Donald Trump if his is convicted of a felony." Without confessing "I lied about endorsing Donald Trump," Hutchinson was as clear as he could be.

Not so Mike Pence. Victor Blackwell, who often demonstrates that "CNN" and "journalism" are not mutually exclusive, begins by showing a clip of the former Vice President Mike Pence stating "I'm running for President in part because I think anyone who puts himself above the Constitution should never be President of the United States."

Blackwell than responds (emphasis his)

Never be President of the United States. However, when you were asked last night if you would vote for former President Trump even if he is convicted, you raised your hand. Rectify those two.

Pence at first replied "Well, look, everyone on that stage signed a pledge to support the Republican nominee and frankly, my hand was raised in that spirit, just in keeping my word."  That would have been a good answer, and almost identical to that of Hutchinson. But Pence couldn't or wouldn't stop there, continuing

But I really do believe more after last night that Donald Trump is not going to be the nominee. I know that many of you in the media think this is already a rematch between Trump and Biden. I don't see that. But I also think last night the American people saw, hopefully, hopefully they got a better sense of me and my role as a leader over the last twenty years.

They already had a good sense of Mike Pence as a leader. You'll recall that    

A former aide to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told the House January 6 committee that then-President Donald Trump had suggested to Meadows he approved of the “hang Mike Pence” chants from rioters who stormed the US Capitol, two sources familiar with the matter told CNN.

Cassidy Hutchinson, the former aide, also testified that Trump complained about his then-vice president being hustled to safety while Trump supporters breached the Capitol, the sources said.

Fifteen months later, Brett Baier in Milwaukee would ask “You all signed a pledge to support the Republican nominee. If former President Trump is convicted in a court of law, would you still support him as your party's choice? Please raise your hand if you would."  Trump surrogate Vivek Ramaswamy, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, Tim Scott, and Doug Burgum, none of whom the 45th President recommended be lynched, agreed they would. So did Mike Pence. I may be old school, but I'd hold a grudge against someone who thought it would be lovely if I were hanged.

Pence added

But I think they got a better sense of what deep bench the Republican Party has and that we have- we have better choices for 2024 for our Party. So I'm more confident than ever that our Party is going to give us a standard-bearer fitted for the times, someone that's going to lead us to victory in 2024. I'm going to continue to work....

This "deep bench" distinguished itself by overwhelming pledging their fealty to a guy who now faces four indictments, tried to steal an election, encouraged an insurrection against the United States government, and stole top secret documents regarding USA nuclear programs and possible attack against Iran.

It's a stellar bunch. Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson stood alone in refusing to pledge allegiance to Donald Trump and they have their own flaws, Hutchinson as an ardent force-birther and Christie an obsession with breaking teachers' unions.  With Mike Pence, it's the "kick me" sign he has affixed to his posterior.


Thursday, August 24, 2023

Christie and Two Democratic Presidents

In a very indirect way, this tweet has a connection to Wednesday night's GOP presidential debate and illustrates a trait cutting across party lines.

At 4:38 of the video below, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, slamming Vivek Ramaswamy, bellows

I've had enough already tonight of a guy who sounds like Chat GPT and the last person at one of these debates, Bret, who stood in the middle of the stage and said "what's a skinny guy with an odd last name doing up here" was Barack Obama and I'm afraid we're dealing with the same type of amateur standing on the stage tonight. 


That was a powerful line, especially directed at the Republican street, which has a score to settle with Barack Obama because he was elected twice and still- still!- that awful liberal media won't admit that racism is dead in the country. Nonetheless, Ramaswamy was up to the challenge, remarking "give me a hug, just like you did to Obama and you'll help elect me just as you did..." (the rest drowned out by the audience).

Ramaswamy was responding not to a hug but to the effusive praise given President Obama by Governor Christie when the latter two toured the New Jersey Shore following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy. It was a few days before the presidential election Obama would go on to win and a year before Christie's own successful re-election campaign, assisted by the lovefest, the following year. Christie was disloyal to GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, for whom he had been a surrogate but undercut shortly before the election with the over-the-top applause for Romney's opponent.


Eight years later, the man who had served as Obama's vice-president would behave similarly. Obversely, it would not be a case of disloyalty but of loyalty to someone who had been insulting to him. In an early campaign debate, in June of 2019

California Sen. Kamala Harris called out Biden on the issue of race, saying the way he recently described his past working relationship with two segregationist lawmakers was “hurtful.”

Biden, at a campaign event earlier this month, had cited his ability to get things done even with segregationist senators as examples of the type of “civility” in Congress that has since disappeared. Numerous Democratic presidential candidates took Biden to task for the comments, though some, including civil rights icon John Lewis, defended the 2020 frontrunner’s remarks.

Harris also accused Biden of opposing busing, which Biden disputed.

“There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day, and that little girl was me,” Harris said.

“I will tell you that on this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate among Democrats. We have to take it seriously. We have to act swiftly.”

It turned out that the stunt was months in the making and within hours t-shirts reading "That little girl was me" were selling on her website for $29.

Harris, it was discovered, had held the almost identical view of busing has had the man she characterized as dangerously insensitive to blacks (my phrase).  "Dangerously insensitive to blacks" would appear euphemistic to some individuals, such as to Joe Biden's wife herself, who criticized Harris for allegedly accusing her husband of being racist.

That's "racist," as in  

I think that they were looking at the past. I mean, the one thing you cannot say about Joe is that he’s a racist. I mean, he got into politics because of his commitment to civil rights. And then to be elected with Barack Obama, and then someone is saying, you know, you’re a racist?

Twelve months after being justifiably condemned by the woman Joe Biden professes his love and admiration for, Harris was nominated by the77-year-old  presumptive Democratic nominee to be his running mate and with victory in November, a heartbeat from the presidency. 

There were many other individuals, including black women, qualified to be on the ticket, but only one had publicly berated Joe for being insensitive, bigoted, or racist. But- or maybe therefore- she was the one selected.

Donald J. Trump should be criticized for innumerable things, one of which is lack of loyalty, as Jenna Ellis apparently now realizes. However, lack of loyalty is not the worse of his sins, especially when considering that it's not an uncommon trait among very successful politicians. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Empathy Trumped

Newt Gingrich makes a legitimate point about President Joe Biden, then turns reality on its head.

Well, maybe the President has insufficient understanding of natural disasters. It is debatable whether he should have flown to Maui sooner than he did. His mere presence would have contributed little to actual relief efforts but, if nothing else, was politically tone-deaf.  Biden has not yet visited East Palestine, an error not only in politics but also in policy. There are issues, which he is reluctant to discuss, with the train derailment aside from climate change, and with the Maui disaster, beyond being an "act of God."

Moreover, Biden probably has less understanding of either of those situations than did President Trump about the danger posed by SARS-CoV-2, inasmuch as

President Donald Trump acknowledged the dangers of the coronavirus pandemic in a February interview with journalist Bob Woodward and acknowledged downplaying the threat in an interview a month later, according to an account of Woodward's new book.

“I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down because I don't want to create a panic," Trump said in a March 19 call with Woodward, according to an audio clip posted Wednesday on The Washington Post's website. The newspaper obtained a copy of the book, "Rage," which is scheduled to be released next week.

In the same interview, Trump acknowledged that the disease was more deadly than he previously thought.

"Now it's turning out it's not just old people, Bob. But just today, and yesterday, some startling facts came out. It's not just old, older," Trump said, according to an audio clip, and then added, "young people, too, plenty of young people."

And while then-President Trump on 38 conditions stated that SARS-CoV-2 would "go away" or "disappear" or was on its way to disappearing, 1,099,066 residents of the USA died from it on his watch. Much of that was tragic, thus unavoidable, and much of it was because the President knew and understood the danger of Covid-19 and was (generously speaking)  unconcerned.

In a portion of Gingrich's comments not included in the snippet above, the ex-congressman remarked  "He is out of touch with reality. How can you stand in Lahaina surrounded by death and talk about your '67 Corvette? 

This illustrates the absurdity of Gingrich's charge that Joe Biden "literally has no empathy for the human beings around him." The President had told of being in Washington, DC fifteen years earlier when "Lightning struck at home, on a little lake that's outside of our home—not a lake, a big pond,—and hit a wire that came up underneath our home into the heating ducts and air conditioning ducts. To make a long story short, I almost lost my wife, my '67 Corvette, and my cat."

It didn't come off well because the President seemed to be trivializing the devastating wildfires. Yet, he was describing how the memory of the lightning surrounding his home personalized to him the catastrophe in Hawaii.  It was not lack of empathy, but if anything, a misplaced emphasis on empathy.

We can see that at work in the controversy surrounding Biden's son, Hunter. Hunter was an alcoholic, is or was a drug addict, and appears to be a rapacious, even corrupt businessman. He rationalized his affairwith the widow of his late brother as "the idea that we could keep Beau alive by being together- that by loving each other we somehow could love him back into existence." That is some might powerful malarkey.

Nevertheless, Joe Biden has stuck with his surviving son, who if not a public figure would in times past have been dismissed as a "bad seed."  In April, amid congressional and criminal investigations into overseas business dealings, Hunter was permitted to join the President of the United States of America, the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces when actually called into service, on a trip to the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. (As Biden himself would put it, "not a joke!")

On behalf of an out-of-touch Administration, a spokesman blew it off with  "Historically, family members of presidents and first ladies have frequently joined them during international travel,. Current practices are consistent with those used by prior administrations."

Most prior presidents did not have a son or a daughter quite like Hunter. The fierce, even blind, loyalty of Joe Biden to his son reflects a stunning empathy, not absence of empathy. It represents also a reckless disregard of political reality and, arguably, of a President's duty to the nation he alone heads.

Joseph Robinette Biden is a family man and father- of a 53-year-old man. Astoundingly empathetic, he owes an overwhelming responsibility to the most powerful nation on earth. Empathy is admirable- in a President, leadership is far more important.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Cut Bait

The exhibition season (or as the league likes to put it, "preseason") is winding down in the National Football League. The first stringers on the reigning NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles appear set, which has drawn attention to their lack of a strong backup quarerback. The national Democratic Party should take notice.

In May, The Washington Post reported on an ABC News/Washington Post poll days earlier which showed that

while 54 percent said Trump had the mental sharpness it takes to effectively serve as president, just 32 percent said the same of Biden. The split was even bigger on physical health, with 63 percent saying Trump passed their test and just 33 percent saying Biden did.

Independents were significantly more likely to see Trump as being both mentally and physically fit, with only around 3 in 10 independents saying Biden was either of those things.

And while fewer than half said Trump, 76, was too old to be president, about 7 in 10 said the same of Biden, 80.

This is not good news. And compounding the danger

The same poll previously showed a significant decline on the mental sharpness question for Biden. While 51 percent said Biden had the mental sharpness to be president in May 2020, that dropped to 40 percent in February 2022 before dropping to 32 percent today.

A Pew Research Center poll last month also showed 68 percent said the phase “mentally sharp” didn’t describe Biden very well — up from 46 percent in March 2021. For comparison’s sake, fewer than half also said the same of Trump on the eve of the 2020 election.

A Fox News poll in October showed 40 percent said Biden had the mental soundness to serve effectively as president — lower than at any point in Trump’s presidency.

And an NBC News survey in January showed about twice as many Americans gave Biden poor marks as positive ones on having the necessary mental and physical health to be president. Just 28 percent gave him either a 4 or a 5 rating out of 5; but 54 percent gave him a 1 or a 2. That 26-point negative split was up from 17 points a year before. Only 13 percent gave Biden the highest rating.

Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election on the strength of victories in Michigan, which he won by 2.8%; Michigan, by 2.8%; and Pennsylvania, 1.2%. Georgia and Arizona were even closer, famously.  According to the Post, 51% in the same poll in May of 2020 believed "Biden had the mental sharpness to be President" and in May of 2022, 31%.


That constitutes a drop of 19%, a situation which might be of only limited significance but for....

A Vice President is similar to a backup quarterback. Assuming the starting quarterback is not inept and the team repeatedly loses, the backup quarterback serves little purpose.  He has no impact upon the team-as long as the starting quarterback stays upright. But if the latter goes down, the second-stringer becomes the most important player on the team.

And so it is with presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. The numbers are startling, and telling. As of a few months ago, fewer than one-third of voters believed he "has the mental sharpness it takes to serve effectively as President." 

That leaves us with Kamala Harris, who is broadly unpopular, as Nikki Haley and Jonah Goldberg obviously understand. In the video attached to the tweet, David Axelrod states that there is "a real focus on trying to lift her up."  This is a very heavy lift. She is not a political novice whose image can be easily manipulated.  

It wouldn't be easy, replacing the first black (or Asian-American or female) Vice-President; But it can be done, with buy-in sought from the interest groups most likely to be offended if Harris were dumped in favor of someone the public would find more impressive and would be a better President, were it to come to that. 

That buy-in would begin with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, some of whom reportedly are partial to an individual who

has helped Biden win Michigan, claimed her own reelection by double-digits, flipped the state Legislature and pocketed a raft of progressive accomplishments in a state Democrats lost in 2016. The years since have, well, not gone as well for Kamala Harris.

With fewer than 15 months until the election, there is no time to waste.  The Democratic Party needs to begin consideration of a replacement- if not for the quarterback, then for the backup. Start in Michigan.


Saturday, August 19, 2023

Echoes of Blackface

No one ever said that Bradley Cooper, the main character, director, co-producer, and co-writer of his latest movie, is unintelligent. And he most assuredly is not. Marc Tracy of The New York Times reports 

Leonard Bernstein’s three children came to the defense of the actor and director Bradley Cooper on Wednesday after he drew fresh criticism for wearing a large prosthetic nose in his portrayal of the midcentury American composer and conductor, who was Jewish, in the forthcoming movie “Maestro.”

When the makeup was first revealed last year, some questioned the decision by Cooper, who is not Jewish, to play Bernstein, who died in 1990. In the Netflix film, he stars opposite Carey Mulligan as Bernstein’s wife, Felicia Montealegre Bernstein....

In a series of posts on X, the Bernsteins’ three children — Jamie, Alexander and Nina Bernstein — said that Cooper had consulted with them “along every step of his amazing journey.”

If stereotyping an individual in a big-budget film with an acting superstar, it would be downright stupid not to rope in the family. Shutting out the family would be bad public relations and it simultaneously gives its members an opportunity to be part of something bigger than they are. Win-win.

Tracy writes

The debut of a teaser trailer on Tuesday prompted further discussion on social media about both the prosthesis, which critics said played into an antisemitic trope, and about whether an actor who is Jewish should instead have been cast to play Bernstein, the “West Side Story” composer and music director of the New York Philharmonic.

The two questions are whether a non-Jew can legitimately play a Jew and whether the portrayal should be by an actor with a prosthesis- and they suggest two different answers.  Notably, Tracy concludes

Helen Mirren, who is not Jewish, plays the Israeli prime minister Golda Meir in a biopic coming out this month (even as Liev Schreiber, who is Jewish, plays Henry Kissinger in the film, “Golda”). In the recent biopic “Oppenheimer,” the Jewish title character was played by the non-Jewish actor Cillian Murphy.

These two productions have not provoked the controversy that Maestro has.  And neither should. Helen Mirren and Cillian Murphy are not Jewish, and need not be. Nor is it necessary that Bradley Cooper be Jewish.

But it is critically important that Cooper, instrumental in all aspects of the film, not portray a Jewish character in a stereotypical Jewish manner. Whether a straight actor should play a gay character is a separate issue. Yet, if a heterosexual were to portray a gay individual with a traditional negative stereotype- such as with feminine affectation- there would be inevitable, justified, outrage.

To do so with an artificial body part is particularly egregious. In their post, the Bernstein children claimed “It happens to be true that Leonard Bernstein had a nice, big nose."

"A nice, big nose?" This is pathetically disingenuous. When someone, as was more common in the past, would note that he or she had gotten a "nose job," no one would ask "oh, reduction or enlargement?" The assumption, always a safe one, would be reduction.

In recent years, there has been a surprising number instances of whites in blackface playing black characters, and in some cases a regrettable tolerance of the practice. Blackface and Long Nose Jew are both noxious.  When the physical characteristics of the actor have to be artificially manipulated, reinforcement of stereotype for the benefit of a huge financial return should be unacceptable. And that's whether or not the actor is Jewish or the Jewish family issues a statement celebrating it.



Friday, August 18, 2023

Hear No Evil, See No Evil

On August 16, amidst nearly total silence from our great liberal/center-left cable networks, The Washington Post reported

Former high-ranking FBI official Charles McGonigal pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court to conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions and to laundering money by secretly working on behalf of a Russian oligarch he had been tasked with investigating.

The former chief of counterintelligence in the FBI’s New York City office, who was charged in January, settled his New York case with federal prosecutors by pleading guilty to one count in a superseding document used to override or avoid a criminal indictment and streamline plea agreements. He faces up to five years in prison and is to be sentenced Dec. 14.

McGonigal, 55, still has pending federal charges in Washington for allegedly taking $225,000 in bribes while working for the bureau on sensitive investigations.

McGonigal’s involvement with the Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska that is covered by his guilty plea took place over several months in 2021, three years after his 2018 retirement from the FBI, according to prosecutors.

In a statement Tuesday to U.S. District Judge Jennifer H. Rearden, McGonigal said he knew his investigative work benefited Deripaska and was illegal because he was being paid with money that originated in Cyprus and was filtered through local shell companies. His involvement with Deripaska included participation in a plan to try to get Deripaska removed from the U.S. sanctions list, a status that prevents the Russian from doing business with U.S. banks and entities.....

He admitted to receiving $17,500 from Deripaska, who was added to the U.S. government’s sanctions list in 2018 on suspicion that he committed several illegal acts including extortion and racketeering. Deripaska gained renewed international significance last year because of his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the U.S. government’s strong opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebecca Dell said McGonigal was in negotiations to find what was expected to be $500 million of hidden assets belonging to a Deripaska rival in exchange for a payment of up to $3 million.

McGonigal was arrested in January on charges stemming from efforts to get Deripaska removed from the U.S. sanctions list. At the FBI, McGonigal was assigned to investigate Deripaska, who is a known ally of Putin’s and is under federal indictment in Manhattan on allegations of evading sanctions.

"Russia, Russia, Russia," the sarcastic refrain goes. The right-wing, including Republicans the center-left media considers "moderates," continues (against all evidence) to refer to the "Russia hoax." With a little effort, the media would notice, as did political author Craig Unger, who after McGonigal's arrest noted that the accused was a close colleague of

the late James Kallstrom, who ran the FBI’s New York office in the mid-’90s and oversaw successful investigations into both the Italian Mafia and later the Russian mob. Kallstrom had developed close friendships with two key players in the Trump-Russia saga. He worked closely with then–U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Rudy Giuliani in the investigation of the Cosa Nostra network that led to the famed Mafia Commission Trial of 1985–1986. Going even further back, Kallstrom had also been friends with Donald Trump since around 1973, when Kallstrom was putting together a Trump-funded parade in New York to honor Vietnam veterans.

In a 2020 interview, Kallstrom had remarked

I went to a few dinners with him, we talked quite often. He was very, very supportive of the bureau. We lose an agent, or somebody gets shot up, he was always there to pay for the food or whatever it took.

Of course, he was, because Trump knew it would pay dividends. And so

Trump being Trump, loyalty and generosity came with strings attached. “He [Trump] cultivated FBI people,” says Jeff Stein, editor of the intelligence newsletter SpyTalk, in An American Affair. “And that’s well-known behavior by people who swim in dangerous waters. They want to have a get-out-of-jail card, and that get-out-of-jail is having friendships or being a good source for the FBI"....

Trump appears to have gotten exactly what he sought. As it happens, Kallstrom worked closely with McGonigal and cultivated friendships not just with Trump but also with Rudy Giuliani. Together, they are suspected of being party to an internal campaign just before the 2016 election that spurred FBI Director James Comey to publicly announce he was reopening his investigation into Clinton’s emails.

Ultimately, of course, America found out that none of Hillary’s emails were classified. The Times story on the subject was misleading at best. The “reopened” investigation was short-lived and appeared to reflect the wishful thinking of the pro-Trump leaker in the bureau, whether it was McGonigal or someone else. Likewise, the Times headline declaring “no link” between Trump and Russia seemed to reflect wishful thinking on the parts of Kallstrom, Giuliani, and McGonigal—not reality.

It therefore should be clear that FBI director James Comey was the most consequential American, perhaps the most consequential individual, of 2016.  Whether it was Kallstrom, Giuliani, or McGonigal, someone pushed Comey into announcing shortly before the election the discovery of emails which already had been reviewed, thus turning the presidential election.

That was seven years ago. However, the ramifications still are being felt as Republicans, discomfited by charges against hero Donald J. Trump, continue attack the FBI even as

“The FBI for many decades – almost a century – has been sort of the chief secret police entity against the left and progressives,” said Vince Warren, executive director of the progressive Center for Constitutional Rights. “During that time, the right wing and Republicans have been the biggest cheerleaders of this illegal activity when aimed at communists, civil rights advocates, anti-war advocates, all the way up to [Black Lives Matter] protesters. That seemed to change in 2016, when they backed a lawless president who didn’t like that his illegal activities were being investigated.”

With the FBI and federal law enforcement generally placed on the defensive by a GOP which will attack anyone and anything which dares to question the ex-President, the FBI is consistently defended, even lauded, by Democrats and anti-Trump hosts and guests on MSNBC and CNN.

McGonigal was a big deal in the FBI's New York office, which worked closely with Giuliani, then-U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. He violated U.S. sanctions against Russia nd participated in a money laundering scheme with a prominent Russian plutocrat associated with Vladimir Putin, who in turn engaged in a scheme aimed at defeating Hillary Clinton.

Rather than thoroughly reporting conclusion of the case against McGonigal, the media outlets ostensibly- allegedly- hostile to Donald Trump are virtually ignoring the story. Instead of questioning the connection between the FBI and the Republican Party, they prominently feature guests who were formerly employed by the agency and/or were U.S. Attorneys, none of whom questions the investigative agency. Most liberals play along, enthusiastically or otherwise defending an organization currently led by a Republican (and never by a Democrat), whose membership always has been GOP-friendly, and probably was the determining factor in defeating their party's 2016 presidential nominee.

Playing out in front of us are two things: an extraordinarily successful instance of gaslighting by the Republican Party of the Democratic Party; and disgraceful conduct by broadcast media all too willing to ignore news stories which would require a little effort to report.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

A War Not Only for Ukraine

It's a a contest of incredibility between the presidential contender who employs the phrase "actualization of their dreams" and an individual who claims to have been banned from Twitter in 2022 and "resurrected" in 2023.  The Jesus figure comes out on top because she chooses to believe comedian and political pontificator Jimmy Dore.

Dore slams the federal government for aiding Ukraine "while there are people living under every bridge in America."  Every bridge in America? The problem is particularly acute in temperate areas such as coastal Pacific Northwest.  Where I live, in an area more temperate than virtually everywhere in the USA outside of that region, not every homeless person lives under a bridge and not all bridges feature individuals living beneath it. Homelessness is too serious a problem to lie about.

In a variation of Donald Trump's "people tell me," Dore contends "$100 million which they say could end homelessness in the United States" is a much better investment than supplying weaponry to Ukraine. Where he gets the $100 million figure is anyone's guess, and he chooses not to tell us. Neither does he enlighten us as to the policies or programs, on the federal, state, or local level, which would accomplish that.  Moreover, as Williamson and Dore both understand- but as Dore pretends not to- if our nation's assistance to Kyiv ended tomorrow, that money would not automatically be applied to homelessness or to anything else. Little or none of it would be used to address the issue of homelessness- and "little" is on its way out-of-town.

But the crux of Dore's complaint is the war in Ukraine, a country which he unbelievably charges is "the most corrupt in Europe."  Ukraine is no paragon of virtue. In its annual Corruption Perceptions Index, Transparency International ranked 180 nations from 0 ("highly corrupt") to 100 ("very clean"). Ukraine is tied with six countries as the 116th cleanest and a score of 33. However, Russia is worse, tying two countries as the 137th best and a score of only 28. (The USA is 24th.)

So Ukraine is no paragon of virtue but is closer to it than Russia, whose President decided to have his forces invade Ukraine in early 2022. The threat from Russia is much more real to its eastern European neighbors than to Jimmy Dore or other fans of Moscow. This applies not only to the government in Warsaw but also to its citizens, who prior to Russia's invasion of Ukraine had been generally immigration-averse. It is significant that as of November of 2022, there had been 6.8 million border crossings from Ukraine to Poland and as "Poles rushed to welcome the newcomers"

Some analysts attribute the Poles’ change of heart to a cultural or ethnic similarity with Ukrainians and longstanding ties between the two countries. But when asked why they did what they did, many Poles talked about a sense of solidarity with opponents of their longtime adversary, Russia, perceived by many to have posed a threat since medieval times. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” one Polish man explained to the author. “Ukraine is fighting for Poland as much as for Ukraine, fending off both our countries’ age-old enemy, Russia.”

Poles realize Vladimir Putin has had his eyes on  their country.  If Poland were invaded by Russia, United States forces (as well as those of other nations) undoubtedly would be deployed to Poland under terms of  Article 5 of the founding treaty of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

American men and women would be killed, and a lot of them. Ukraine is putting up much more of a defense than most of us thought it could and can succeed only with continuing- probably increasing- support from the USA. That cost is high- but far less, in both physical and human capital, than the alternative.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023


It was only a matter of time:

I believe it was political malpractice for President Joe Biden not have visited East Palestine. And "visit" is the operative term; the physical presence of the President "on the ground" would have been of limited value to the people of East Palestine. Infinitely more important is the prompt, efficient coordination of federal resources and effective coordination with other government agencies- and possibly other actors- in addressing the catastrophic train wreck in the northeastern Ohio town.

Still, it would have been wise for the President to be seen in East Palestine, especially if he could have been photographed walking around, surveying the area in what, with the recent GOP abortion shenanigans, could again become a swing state. A similar, albeit far more worse, situation faced New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani on September 11, 2001.  Against expert advice, the mayor had successfully promoted an emergency command center at the World Trade Center and thus was left with little alternative to walking around Manhattan- and consequently was bizarrely perceived as fully in charge.

In 2007, presidential candidate Joe Biden , to widespread acclaim,  ridiculed Rudy Giuliani as forming sentences only with "a noun, a verb, and 9/11."  Nonetheless, Giuliani, promoted by Saturday Night Live and others, was crowned "America's Mayor" by the media and remained the favorite for the Republican nomination for President until his campaign imploded. And President George W Bush was fatally wounded by his decision to arrange a photo-op on Air Force One rather than on Bourbon Street to highlight the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

Yet, a trip to Hawaii probably isn't in the same category as Katrina or an unprecedented terrorist attack carried out by murderous Islamic fundamentalists. Though considerable, the death toll hasn't been as large in Hawaii as in New Orleans.

And it is one more thing: it is Hawaii. It is not Louisiana, Ohio, Kansas, or even California. It is Hawaii, like Alaska not a part of the continental USA- and unlike Alaska, not Republican, red or even "purple."

Hawaii is not a part of the continental USA. Though that doesn't make Hawaiians any less American, it appears to do so to a fair number of Americans, the vast majority of them conservative. The extraordinary diversity of the state, sometimes referred to as the Hawaiian Islands, exacerbates this unfortunate perception.

Notwithstanding the saying "perception is reality," perception is not reality. Otherwise, reality would no longer be reality.  However, perception is important. One of the reasons, completely unappreciated, that Donald Trump and his band of merry bigots were able to convince some conservative individuals that Barack Obama was born abroad is because Obama was not born in the continental USA, but rather in Hawaii.

Of course, in 2023 nearly everyone realizes Hawaii is a legitimate part of the country and perhaps most believe even that it is as American as, well, a cheeseburger with fries or silly emulation of cultural appropriation. And so, the President of the USA probably should drop in on Maui, demonstrate the proper affect, and explain the impact of the aggressive federal response to the fires there.  But the Administration should keep in mind that political implications of direct presidential involvement in other tragedies.

Turning a Blind Eye out of Fear

Have you heard the one about the minister who got himself into hot water because of illegal sexual behavior in which he repeatedly engaged ...