now it’s al franken

And now it’s Al Franken.

What we’re seeing here is a tsunami of collective frustration and righteous anger. It’s been a long time building and it’s massive and it doesn’t care who gets hurt. Which is exactly the way it should be. Only now it’s Al Franken.

Trump — we expected Trump, of course. Louis CK — well, there’d been talk about him for a long time, so he was no surprise. Weinstein — he was a given; it’s not surprising the tsunami took him first. Roy Moore — is anybody really surprised when a Christian conservative turns out to be morally bankrupt? But now it’s Al Franken.

Because of course it is. I mean, he moved in those circles. He was a semi-famous comedian before he became a politician. Fame and privilege go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Wait, let me amend that. Fame and privilege go together like blow flies and a decaying corpse. Popular culture history is jammed with stories of famous men abusing women. It’s so common, in fact, that I never even thought about it — not until around 1990, when a friend had me read Pearl Cleage’s essay Mad at Miles. I’ve been unable to enjoy Miles Davis ever since. Only now it’s Al Franken.

Al Franken is one of the good guys, right? Or he’s supposed to be one of the good guys. Somewhere on the internet yesterday I saw this comment: Now no man is safe. Which is true. Because, let’s face it, almost every man is complicit. I’m saying ‘almost’ because it’s theoretically possible there’s some guy out there who never laughed at a sexist joke, or who never looked at a woman in a purely sexual way, or who never discounted something a woman said simply because she’s a woman, or who never encouraged a woman to have another drink because he thought it would improve his chance of getting laid. Even those of us who like to think of ourselves as good guys, supportive guys, guys who ‘get it’ when it comes to women’s issues, almost all of us are guilty in some very real way. Now it’s Al Franken.

So now what do we do? What do we do now that it’s Al Franken, one of the good guys? Do we make excuses for him? “Well, at least she was an adult, unlike this Roy Moore business.” Yeah, no…that doesn’t work. Sexual harassment isn’t age-defined. “Well, at least he’s done good things for women since he became a politician.” Yeah, no…that doesn’t work either. Good behavior now may help atone for what he did back then, but it doesn’t excuse it. “Well, it’s only the one woman, unlike Trump.” Yeah, no…that really doesn’t work. If there’s one woman, then there’s bound to be another. A guy who acts like a sexist pig doesn’t only act like a sexist pig once. What Al Franken did was pretty classic sexist pig material, so even if no other woman steps forward and levels an accusation against him, I think we can be confident there are women who’d have every right to do that. So what do we do now that it’s Al Franken?

We do the same thing we do with all these other guys. We hold him accountable. At the very least, Al Franken deserves a public shaming. Hell, at the very least ALL men probably deserve a public shaming. Most of us will escape that since we’re not public figures. But public figures deserve public shaming. Even Al Franken.

That said, we can’t ignore that there’s a difference — and that difference also deserves discussion. We can’t hold ‘good’ guys to a lower standard, but we can and should tailor our response to these offenses. We can and should ask these questions: Will the person actually feel shame for their actions? I suspect Al Franken does. I don’t believe Trump and Moore do. Will the person work to change their behavior and atone for their past offenses? I suspect Al Franken will. I don’t believe Trump will.

A lot of women I know are torn up over this stuff. They’re glad to see women standing up for themselves, they’re glad to see attention brought to this too often ignored topic, but as one friend said, “I don’t want to demonize men and judge yesterday’s trespasses through the lens of today’s understanding.” As a man, I appreciate that thought. But I also think it’s wrong-headed. Pointing out bad behavior, even if it occurred some time ago, isn’t demonizing men; it’s demonizing a patriarchal system that deserves to be demonized.

It’s hard to cast off a few thousand years of patriarchal thought and behavior. It’s so deeply ingrained in us — both men and women — that much of the time we’re not even aware of it. We exist in patriarchy in the same way a fish exists in water. We generally move through it without noticing that it’s there. Not until somebody points out that the water is murky and filled with crap. Which is where we are today.

It’s critically important to support these women. It’s critically important to point out this bullshit when we see it, to drive a stake right through its fucking heart, and burn its corpse. Even when it’s done by Al Franken.

 

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i got your parable right here

A number of folks, after the recent mass murder at a Baptist church in Texas (which took place during the service), questioned the efficacy of thoughts and prayers as a defense against multiple rounds of .223 caliber bullets. This, naturally, upset some Christian conservatives.

[S]ome prominent left-wing voices have taken the opportunity to politicize the incident. Some on the left have used the shooting to mock the concept of prayer and Christianity.

In an effort to be transparent, I should probably repeat the fact that I’m not a Christian and I don’t believe in a supreme being. I don’t object to the notion of prayer, and I’d never mock folks who resort to it. But I have to say I don’t think it’s a good substitute for action. I do, however, enjoy a good parable.

Here’s one you’ve almost certainly heard before. Devout Christian hears a weather forecast warning of heavy rains and flooding. He stays in his house by the river. The river rises, the man’s house begins to flood, he prays. Sheriff comes by, suggests he evacuate the area. Guy says God will protect him. Flooding continues, the guy climbs on his roof. Rescuer in a boat comes by, offers to take him to safety. Guy says God will protect him. Waters rise, guy is stranded. Helicopter arrives, offers to airlift the guy to safety. Guy says God will protect him. Guy drowns. Shows up at the gate to heaven, asks God why he didn’t answer his prayers. God says he did — sent a warning, sent a messenger, sent a boat, sent a helo — but the guy just didn’t listen.

What? Naw, this is fine.

The parable stops at that point, and most folks seems content with that. Me, I find myself wondering what else God told the guy. I mean, does God say “Dude, you are too stupid and stubborn to enter heaven”? Or “Dude, you ignored every sign I sent you, but hey I’m feeling generous, come on in anyway”? Or what?

Still, as parables go, that one is pretty sweet. Maybe religious folk should take it to heart. If there’s a God, maybe he/she/it is saying “Dude, seriously? I let them shoot up a McDonalds. I let them shoot up a college campus. I even let them shoot up a bunch of six-year-old kids. Then I let them shoot up a church. Why aren’t you paying attention?”

Maybe? Possibly? What do I know? I don’t understand this ‘moves in a mysterious way’ business. But IF there’s some supernatural agent at work here leaving a coded message to his followers, the code really doesn’t seem that difficult to break.

NOTE: That ‘mysterious way’ business? It ain’t from the Bible. It’s from a hymn written by William Cowper in the late 18th century. Not long after he wrote that hymn, Cowper attempted suicide. By drowning. Just saying.

what it’s come to

The deadliest mass shooting in a house of worship. That’s how the massacre at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas was described last night on the evening news. We’ve reached the point at which we find it necessary to categorize our mass shootings.

The deadliest mass shooting at a college campus, the deadliest mass shooting at a shopping mall, the deadliest mass shooting at a festival, the deadliest mass shooting at a public school, the deadliest mass shooting at a place of employment.

We’ve had two of these deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history within the last 35 days. In the 309 days of 2017 we’ve had 307 mass shootings (remember, not all mass shootings are mass murders). We’ve made mass shooting ridiculously easy to commit. Semi-auto weapons are readily available, high-capacity magazines can be found without any fuss, bump-stocks that permit even more rapid firing have become somewhat scarce because people bought them up after the Las Vegas massacre, bulletproof tactical gear — vests, helmets, masks, gloves, trousers — can be purchased online or very likely at some local shop. If you have an active credit card, you too equip yourself in the latest mass murderer style.

Ruger AR-556

And we don’t much care who can buy all that gear. Devin Patrick Kelley had no trouble buying a complete mass murder outfit, even though he’d been court-martialed for assaulting his wife and child, did a year in military detention, and got his ass kicked out of the Air Force. He also apparently had a misdemeanor conviction for cruelty to animals. Didn’t slow him down at all when it came to buying a semi-auto rifle. We make it easy because, you know, a man has to be able to protect his family in case some nut decides to start shooting up a church.

And hey, it’s just as easy to mourn the dead. A few thoughts, a few prayers, that’s all it takes. Oh, and the promise to remember the dead. Comrade Trump his ownself said this about the victims:

“All of America is praying to God to help the wounded and the families — we will never ever leave their side.”

Except that, yeah, we’ll absolutely leave their side. Of course, we will — just as soon as the next ‘deadliest mass shooting at a location to be determined’ takes place. Trump is always saying pointless shit like that. We “will never ever forget the beautiful lives that have been taken from us.” That was the eight people killed a few days ago as they rode bicycles down a bike path in Manhattan. And this: “We will NEVER FORGET the victims who lost their lives one year ago today in the horrific #PulseNightClub shooting.” The hashtag, of course, because this was TwitterTrump. And again: “We mourn them, we honor them and we pledge to never, ever forget their names.” The victims and first responders who died on 9/11. And this: “So wonderful to be in Las Vegas yesterday and meet with people, from police to doctors to the victims themselves, who I will never forget.” Yeah, so fucking wonderful, I’m sure that’s what the victims of the Mandalay Bay shooting thought. And also this: “We will never forget the 241 American service members killed by Hizballah.” Sure, Donald.

First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas

Does anybody really believe Donald J. Trump remembers the names of any of the Pulse nightclub murders, or the names of the cyclists in Manhattan, or the names of any of the Marines who were killed in Beirut? Does anybody really think Trump was even aware of the Marines killed in Beirut in 1983 until a speechwriter coughed up that fact for a speech on terrorism?

We will always forget their names. Always. We will always leave their sides. Always. As a nation we will never remember for very long, because there’s always a brand new horror ready to crowd out the old one. The nine men and women slaughtered in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in 2015? Now they’re just victims of the second deadliest mass shooting in a house of worship. Nobody remembers who came in second.

I am sincerely sorry for the victims of the Sutherland Springs massacre. I’m gutted with hopelessness over their tragic, pointless deaths — just as I’ve been for so many other victims of so many other mass murders. I’m genuinely sorry, but I’m also disgusted. I suspect many (or most) of that Texas congregation voted for politicians who believe that this sort of routine shedding of innocent blood is the price we have to pay for our national firearm fetish. And you know what it says in the Bible. ‘Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.’

That’s a pretty grim, tough approach. The apostle Paul wasn’t a very forgiving guy. You broke it, you bought it. Me, I’m more inclined to take the Socratic tack; I prefer the gospel according to e e cummings.

and what i want to know is
how do you like your blue-eyed boy
Mister Death

dude is serious

Right, we’ve had a couple of days to give a measure of semi-sober thought to what happened on Monday. It seemed like a pretty big deal, didn’t it. I mean, we’re talking indictments, plea agreements, defendants turning themselves in to the FBI, millions of dollars in bail. On the surface, that’s some pretty dramatic shit.

That semi-sober thought business has clarified a few things. I think it’s safe to say on reflection that it’s an even bigger deal than we originally thought. It’s even safer to say this about Special Counsel Robert Mueller: dude is serious.

First, there’s this fact: Comrade Trump’s presidential campaign included three men (Manafort, Gates, and Papadopolous) who were actively working as unregistered agents of a hostile foreign government in an attempt to influence the presidential election. Three men. Actively working. As unregistered foreign agents. Of a hostile government. And one of those men was Trump’s campaign manager. If you wrote that in a novel or screenplay, you’d be accused of stretching the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief to the breaking point.

Second, there’s the George Papadopolous guilty plea. In a lot of ways, that’s an even bigger deal than the indictments. It not only serves as a reminder that Robert Mueller doesn’t fuck around, it also informs us that he and his team are professionals. While everybody was waiting for the first indictments to be announced, Mueller had already arrested this guy, convinced a judge to break the attorney-client privilege, flipped him, and got him to plead guilty. That was fast. Dude IS serious.

That also tells us that while Comrade Trump’s White House is packed full of folks willing or eager to leak stories, Mueller’s team knows how to keep a secret. Anybody who is/was associated with the Trump campaign, the Trump transition team, or the current Trump administration, has to be worried — if not for their freedom, then at least for their future career. Because more indictments are coming. More guilty pleas are probably coming. And ain’t nobody can tell where the hammer will fall next.

Robert Mueller ain’t having any of that.

That sends a further message: anybody who hopes to make a deal with Mueller had better make that deal quickly. Or somebody else will make that deal. And you know there are Trumpistas who’ll sell out anybody to save themselves. Mueller knows that too, and that dude is SERIOUS.

Also, make note that the guilty plea and the indictments all include charges about lying to the government as a mode of obstructing the pursuit of justice. Mueller ain’t having no obstruction of justice. No, sir.

Mueller is like the shark in Jaws. He’s coming. He’s not going to stop. You try to distract him with a huge pot roast on a hook, he’ll take the roast, take the hook, and take the pier you’re standing on too. Dude is serious.

don’t start cheering yet (go ahead, cheer)

I can’t really be happy about today’s indictment against Paul Manafort and Richard Gates. While I’m glad the system is working, it’s really a rather sad day for our nation.

Let me also say this. Manafort and Gates have only been indicted. That doesn’t mean they’re guilty. I’m a criminal defense guy, and I believe passionately in the notion that the accused MUST be considered innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. So right now, Paul Manafort has to be considered to be an innocent man.

That said, the indictment appears to be pretty solid. It includes one count of conspiracy against the United States, one count of conspiracy to launder money, seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts, one count of being an unregistered agent of a foreign principle, one count of making false and misleading FARA (Foreign Agent Registration Act) statements, and one count of making false statements.

Paul Manafort (Photographer: Victor J. Blue}

Essentially, this is a money laundering indictment. It’s grounded in monies coming from foreign sources having powerful political connections. It’s a well-constructed foundation for the accusation of collusion. And at the heel of the hunt, that’s what this is all about. It’s about Russia attempting (and, it seems clear, succeeding) to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election in favor of Donald J. Trump.

This is just the first step in building that case. Robert Mueller is a career prosecutor with a reputation of being both dogged and scrupulously honest (which is wonderful in a democratic system, and a terrifying combination to criminal defense guys like me). He didn’t put together a team of a dozen and a half seasoned prosecutors just to indict and prosecute a couple of guys like Manafort and Gates.

But here’s why this is a sad day: like all criminal prosecutions, this is the system attempting to correct (or at least ameliorate) something that already happened. This indictment is a reminder that a massive crime was (and yeah, I need to include this unfortunate term) allegedly perpetrated against the citizenry of the United States. It’s also a reminder that the citizenry were complicit in their own victimization. And it’s a reminder that the offense is still taking place.

There’s still a lot of hard and ugly work ahead of us. Is it too early to cheer? Yes. But hey, cheer anyway. Cheer because it’s a good start and we’ve had so little to cheer about lately.

ADDENDUM (for the folks asking about Comrade Trump firing Mueller): The law is pretty clear about this — and remember, this law was crafted in relation to the Kenneth Starr investigation of President Bill Clinton. The special counsel can only “be disciplined or removed from office only by the personal action of the Attorney General.” In this case, it would be the Deputy Attorney General since the AG has recused himself. The law also states the special prosecutor can only be removed for “misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause, including violation of Departmental policies.”

So no, Trump can’t just decide to fire Mueller. He can, though, order the DAG to fire him. If the DAG refuses, Trump can fire the DAG, then appoint a new DAG who would follow the president’s order. As I’ve stated elsewhere, that ought to be considered highly improbable — but this is the Trump administration in which the concept of improbability is pretty fluid.

semi-loyal opposition

I’m seeing a LOT of folks heaping scorn and contempt on Senator Jeff Flake today (and, to a lesser extent, Sen. Bob Corker). As you almost certainly know, both of those traditional Republican conservatives made a show yesterday of publicly spanking Comrade Trump. The scorn hasn’t been for the spanking — most folks appreciated that. The scorn seems to be because Flake and Corker then voted to repeal a rule repealed a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rule that made it easier for people to sue banks and credit card companies.

That, of course, is a despicable vote. But I don’t understand why anybody was surprised by their votes. Did people think that by condemning Trump, Flake and Corker would suddenly become progressive Democrats? Did they think Flake and Corker had some sort of ‘Come to Jeebus’ moment? That they would see the light and abandon all their previously held political positions?

Sen. Bob Corker

No, those guys are still the same conservative asshats they’ve always been. They both still support a LOT of what Trump supports. The only difference is…well, there are two differences. First, they realize that conservative Republicans are going the way of moderate Republicans. There is no longer a place left for principled conservatives in the GOP. There are only varied grades of extremists, identified by how much they love babby Jeebus or by how much they hate liberals. Oh, there’s still a place for traditional unprincipled conservatives; they can be measured by how much corporate dick they’re willing to suck.

Here’s the second difference. Principled conservative Republicans like Flake and Corker (and yes, I think they really are principled; their principles are radically different from mine — and I think their principles are wrongheaded — but they still have principles) can see that Trumpism is not only destroying their political party, but also a clear threat to what we laughably call representative democracy.

Sen. Jeff Flake

Trump, unlike every previous president, doesn’t seem to believe in the concept of a loyal opposition. He only believes there is loyalty and there is opposition — and even his notion of ‘loyalty’ is grounded in a businessman’s perspective, in which loyalty is only operative when it benefits him.

The fact that both Flake and Corker have announced they’re not running for re-election doesn’t make their comments about Comrade Trump any less legitimate. Waiting until you’re quitting to voice your objections to the president may be an act of political cowardice, but it’s also a clear demonstration of just how far into the much the entire GOP has fallen. These two guys lack the fortitude to stay in their party and fight for it, but they’re probably the bravest the modern Republican party has to offer today. That’s pretty fucking sad.

 

no, he doesn’t get credit for trying

I’m paraphrasing here, but this is basically what I heard today. “Trump can’t catch a break. He tried to do the right thing, calling the families [of the four soldiers in the 3rd Special Forces Group who were killed in Niger]. He’s not good at it, but at least he tried. You have to give him credit for that.”

And you know what? I very nearly did.

Let me start by talking about something that happened to my family a million years ago. When I was 15 years old, I came home from school to find two Marines standing at the door to my house. My oldest brother was a Marine serving in a Recon unit in Vietnam at the time. I went numb when I saw those Marines. I was about half a block from home when I saw them; I don’t remember walking the rest of the way. One of Marines said something like, “Son, we need to talk to your mother, but she won’t come to the door.”

I could see her through the window, sitting at the kitchen table, refusing to even look at the door. I’ve no idea how long the Marines had been standing there, waiting. I opened the door and invited them in. They told us my brother had been shot in the leg and in the back, that he’d been evacuated to a hospital ship. My mother asked if he’d be okay. All they could say was that his prognosis was guarded. I assumed that meant he was probably going to die.

One of the Marines made coffee. They sat down at the kitchen table, walked us through the likely process of my brother’s med-evac, referring to him by name. “Roger would have been stabilized and treated for pain at the site, his condition monitored en route to the hospital ship,” and so on. They stayed with us until my father got home. Then they went through the whole process again.

My brother was lucky; he lived, (it turned out he hadn’t been shot in the back at all). Nine other Marines and a Navy corpsman were killed on that same day in Quang Nam province. I’ll never forget how gut-wrenching it was to see those two Marines at the door. I’ll never forget how patient they were, and how supportive, and how quiet and respectful and calm.

I don’t normally talk about this stuff, but this is the basis on which I very nearly gave Comrade Trump credit for trying. I know what it’s like to get bad news. Having been a medic in the military, I also know what it’s like to deliver that news. It’s not easy. So a part of me actually wanted to give Trump credit for making those calls.

Yes, after the four soldiers were killed in Niger, he failed to even try to contact the families for almost two weeks. In fact, he hadn’t said anything at all in public about the four deaths — and I suspect he wouldn’t have said anything about them if he hadn’t been asked about it in public by a reporter. And yes, when confronted with his failure, Trump tried to claim other presidents had done less than he’d done. Which was a lie. But he said he would call the families of the soldiers. And he did. There’s that.

Before he called them, Trump apparently consulted Gen. John Kelly, his Chief of Staff, to find out what he should say. According to Kelly, he told Trump those four soldiers knew what they’d signed up for — they knew there was a chance they’d get killed or wounded in the line of duty. To Kelly (and most folks with military experience) that knowledge magnifies the level of commitment and the weight of the sacrifice troops are prepared to make. They knew the risks, but were willing to undertake them in the service of their country. There’s a terrible beauty in that.

From what we know of the conversation Trump had with the family of Sgt. La David Johnson, he apparently attempted to make that point, but did it in such a clumsy way as to offend the family. It’s been reported that he never referred to Sgt. Johnson by name, just calling him “your guy”. Trump is also alleged to have said, “He knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway.”

Even though he fucked it up, at that point I was still willing to reluctantly give Trump credit for trying. Then the family spoke out about the conversation, saying he’d been insensitive.

Here’s another thing that happened a moderately long time ago. President George W. Bush — the president I disliked the most until Comrade Trump slouched into office — had visited a military hospital to speak with troops wounded in the war he’d started. One of the families of the wounded was present, and they voiced their anger and resentment about the war and about Bush. Bush just stood there, facing the family, and took it. As the Commander-in-Chief, Bush understood his duty — to the family, to the soldier, to the America public — was to quietly accept the family’s anger, because he was ultimately responsible for that soldier’s wounds and that family’s distress. I passionately disliked Bush, but I respected him at that moment.

Had Trump done the same — had he followed Bush’s example, had he just quietly accepted the Johnson family’s response — I’d have given him credit for trying to do the right thing. Even though he’d been sort of forced into and even though he’d bungled it badly, I’d have given him credit for trying. If only he’d handled it like an adult.

But he didn’t. Instead, Trump lashed out. Which is what he does when he’s criticized. He lashed out and he lied about what took place– just as he’s done against other Gold Star families who’ve publicly criticized him.

So no, I don’t give Trump credit for trying. I might have given him credit; I very nearly did. But in the end Comrade Trump again confirmed to me that he’s a despicable poltroon, with no native sense of decency, and no regard for the truth, and no real respect for the military.

Those two Marines who came to deliver the awful news to my family, they didn’t know my brother. But they knew his name. They knew other Marines just like him. They knew other families like ours. They treated us with patience and courtesy and dignity and deep compassion.

Those qualities seem to be completely absent in the president.