civic duty

This is one of the first things Dr. Christine Basey Ford said on Thursday:

“I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified. I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me while Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school.”

Civic duty. I’m a big believer in civic duty, though it’s pretty much an outmoded concept these days. Civic duty is the notion that citizens owe some fidelity to the government, and in return that government helps and protects its citizens.

The government really asks very little of us. Pay our fair share of taxes. Vote. Obey the law. On rare occasion, serve on a jury to sit in judgment of a legal matter involving our community or a fellow citizen. That’s about it. Some of us accept more civic duty than is required. We serve in the military, we work for the fire department, we help out in natural disasters, we volunteer to feed the homeless and help the poor. We alert the authorities to information they need. Sometimes we oppose the authorities when they overstep their power.

“[I]n early July 2018. I saw press reports stating that Brett Kavanaugh was on the shortlist of a list of very well-qualified Supreme Court nominees. I thought it was my civic duty to relay the information I had about Mr. Kavanaugh’s conduct so that those considering his nomination would know about this assault.”

Civic duty requires an element of sacrifice. That sacrifice is why so many people try to avoid their civic duty. People try to avoid paying taxes, find ways to shirk jury duty, can’t be bothered to vote. They praise the military, but shun actual service because it can be dangerous, and doesn’t pay well, and disrupts their career plans. They blame the poor for their poverty and ignore the homeless. They turn away from the victims of crime or condemn them for being victims.

“My motivation in coming forward was to be helpful and to provide facts about how Mr. Kavanaugh’s actions have damaged my life, so that you could take into a serious consideration as you make your decision about how to proceed.”

Civic duty requires a sort of quiet heroism. It normally doesn’t call attention to itself. It usually doesn’t promote itself. In general, it simply involves the acceptance of the responsibility necessary to be a good citizen, and whatever sacrifice that entails.

But sometimes civic duty requires actual courage, actual sacrifice, actual heroism. Sometimes it demands more than a person wants to pay, more than it’s reasonable to pay. Those are times when we discover how sincere and genuine a person’s dedication to civic duty is.

Dr. Ford did not want to expose herself and her family to what she knew would come if she made her allegation against Judge Kavanaugh public.

“This was an extremely hard thing for me to do, but I felt that I couldn’t not do it. My hope was that providing the information confidentially would be sufficient to allow the Senate to consider Mr. Kavanaugh’s serious misconduct without having to make myself, my family or anyone’s family vulnerable to the personal attacks and invasions of privacy that we have faced since my name became public….

In August 2018, the press reported that Mr. Kavanaugh’s confirmation was virtually certain. Persons painted him as a champion of women’s rights and empowerment. And I believed that if I came forward, my single voice would be drowned out by a chorus of powerful supporters. By the time of the confirmation hearings, I had resigned myself to remaining quiet and letting the committee and the Senate make their decision without knowing what Mr. Kavanaugh had done to me.”

Here’s the thing about civic duty and civic engagement. You don’t do it for yourself. You do it for others. You don’t do it to improve your social status — most civic duty is pretty low status stuff. You don’t do it for money — civic duty doesn’t pay well at all. You don’t do it for attention — most civic duty is ignored except in times of crisis, and if you get any attention at all, it’s almost always negative attention.

“[M]y greatest fears have been realized and the reality has been far worse than what I expected. My family and I have been the target of constant harassment and death threats, and I have been called the most vile and hateful names imaginable. These messages, while far fewer than the expressions of support, have been terrifying and have rocked me to my core.”

You accept your civic duty because you care about things. You care about your community, your neighborhood, your town, your county, your state, your nation, your entire world. You accept your civic duty because it’s the right thing to do. You engage in civic duty to protect public values, sometimes to make a change, sometimes to prevent a change, but you always do it because it’s your responsibility as a good citizen.

“It is not my responsibility to determine whether Mr. Kavanaugh deserves to sit on the Supreme Court. My responsibility is to tell you the truth.”

Dr. Christine Basey Ford is a good citizen. She’s a hero. She’s told her truth, whether you believe her or not. She’s been willing to accept the sacrifice of her decision. No matter what happens from this point on, she deserves our respect.

Advertisements

life just be that way, i guess

Every so often, on a regular goddamn basis, I am reminded that The Wire wasn’t just the best cop show ever made, but a modern oracle for understanding These United States. The opening scene of the very first episode is the most concise, most hard-boiled, most accurate summation of how the world works in this nation.

Here is a True Thing, a thing The Wire gets right: Snot Boogie is always going to steal the money. Always, every time. But here is another True Thing, something that reminds you that The Wire is fiction: in real life, Snot Boogie often gets away with the money. Not every time, but often enough that snatching the pot and running is considered a business practice.

Maybe you should watch this before we go any further. Little over two-and-a-half minutes. It’s all there.

Delaware North. A privately owned global food service and hospitality company, owned by the Jacobs family, named for the location of its headquarters building on the corner of Delaware Avenue and North Street in Buffalo. Over fifty thousand employees, annual revenues of over three billion dollars. Three billion dollars. That’s serious coin.

In 1993, Delaware North won the contract to provide concession services for Yosemite National Park. We’re talking food, beverage, souvenirs — a sweet deal. But they lost that sweet deal to another company in 2015. That’s how the game of craps works, right? You make your point, you keep the dice; you don’t, the dice get passed to the next player. Delaware North is out, Aramark has the dice.

Well, that’s how it works in a fair game, even in a Baltimore back alley. Now imagine if Delaware North passed the dice, but said that in order to keep playing you had to pay them if you used the words ‘dice’ or ‘craps’ or ‘roll’ or any numeral from two to twelve. If somebody pulled that shit in Baltimore, his ass would get whupped.

But that’s basically what Delaware North did with Yosemite National Park. During the twenty-two years they had the concession contract, they began to trademark the names and images of the iconic landmarks inside Yosemite. They trademarked the name of ‘Curry Village’ and ‘Ahwahnee Hotel’ and even ‘Yosemite National Park.’ Hell, they trademarked the likeness of Half Dome. These greedy motherfuckers trademarked the phrase ‘Go climb a rock.’

Sorry, dude, can’t say that no more.

And when they lost the contract, Delaware North sued the National Park Service for trademark infringement, demanding US$50 million in compensation. That suit is still unresolved, but in the meantime the park decided to rename the hotel, the village, and some other sites. You can’t stay in the Ahwahnee Hotel anymore. Now you have to stay in the Majestic Yosemite Hotel. I mean, it’s just a name…but damn.

But wait…it gets worse. Of course it does. Everything gets worse in the Comrade Trump administration. About a year ago, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke created (and I am NOT making this up) the ‘Made in America’ Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee “to tackle some of our biggest public lands infrastructure and access challenges.” That’s ZinkeSpeak for ‘How to make rich motherfuckers even richer by letting them fuck with public lands.’

“Life just be that way, I guess.”

Guess who’s on that advisory committee? If you guessed Jerry Jacobs, the billionaire CEO of Delaware North, you’d be right. Only in the Trump administration would you find a greedhead like Jacobs, who is suing an agency of the Department of the Interior, formally named an advisor to that department.

Why is Jacobs on the committee? According to Zinke, he offers “unique insight that is often lost in the federal government.” That’s ZinkeSpeak for “Life just be that way, I guess.” Jerry Jacobs is what you get if you let Snot Boogie keep stealing the pot. So why do we even let him in the game?

“Got to. This America, man.”

the infuriating john mccain

They’re calling John McCain the ‘last Republican’ and I suppose there’s some truth in that. I think it would be more accurate to say he was the pivot point between old school principled conservative Republicans and the new brand of batshit crazy racist grifters that dominate the modern Republican Party.

I mean, yes, he defended Barack Obama as a decent man…but he also picked Sarah Palin as his running mate. And yes, he made a highly theatrical vote that saved what remained of the Affordable Care Act…but let’s not forget that he repeatedly voted to involve the US in a variety of armed conflicts. And yes, he spoke out against the US policy of torture during the Bush II administration…but he also went all wobbly during the 1999 presidential campaign on the issue of the Confederate flag because it was politically expedient.

That seems to have been the problem with John McCain. His first impulse was to stand up for what he believed. But in politics, people are often given the opportunity to have second and third and fourth impulses…and when McCain had time to think about the implications of the politics of a situation, he all too often caved in and did what he thought was the best political move.

I didn’t always like John McCain. I didn’t always agree with him. And I didn’t always respect him — because some of the shit he pulled wasn’t deserving of respect. For example, I respected the John McCain that stood up for Obama. The John McCain who made Sarah Palin political viable–fuck that McCain in the neck.

But what made John McCain the ‘last Republican’ was that he was always capable of earning the respect of liberals like me, even when we thought he was wrong. He always held out the possibility and the hope that at the last moment he’d step up and act honorably. And he did exactly that often enough to be infuriating.

For me, the defining moment of McCain’s career was the Affordable Care Act vote. It wasn’t his actual vote that, to me, defined that moment. I mean, I’m glad he voted to save the ACA, but it was the way he did it that was classic McCain. He was the last person to vote, and he did it as theatrically as possible. He held his arm out straight for a long moment (and folks, that wasn’t easy for him — as a result of his torture in Vietnam, McCain’s shoulders were so fucked up that he couldn’t raise his arm high enough to comb his own hair), then gave a quick thumbs down. But even that wasn’t the actual defining moment. Immediately after giving the thumbs down, he turned and looked directly at Mitch McConnell — then turned and walked away.

I could respect that John McCain. I’m sorry that John McCain is dead. We need that John McCain.

could we please just go 20 minutes without a new scandal please

Damn it, anyway. A guy sits down to write about David Pecker, the weasel-faced CEO and Chairman of American Media — which publishes every nasty-ass tabloid that can be found in America’s finest supermarket checkout aisles — and Pecker’s (alleged!) safe crammed to the gills (yes, that’s right, gills — Pecker’s safe has gills, just like the ‘Lake Erie Monster that Ripped a 38ft Sailboat in Two!’ whose photo appeared on the cover of Pecker’s Weekly World News) crammed to the damned gills, I say, with salacious dirt on Comrade Trump’s many (alleged!!) affairs with assorted porn stars, strippers, and goats of questionable heritage, and what happens?

Pecker and Trump

What happens is we hear the White House (allegedly!!!) blocked a bipartisan bill to protect elections from interference. Seriously. The president who was elected president because of Russian ratfucking decides to interfere with a bill to prevent interference in elections? Is this farce? No. Sadly, no. Which means I have to scrap my David Pecker blog idea to write about Comrade Trump (allegedly!!!!) openly rat-fucking the midterm elections…and then what happens?

Trump and Weisselberg

What happens is Allen Weisselberg, who’s been the CFO of the Trump Organization since 2000, and who has worked for Trump and Trump’s father since the 1970s, and who has (allegedly!!!!!) detailed information about Comrade Trump’s involvement in about a half million financial crimes (allegedly!!!!!!), has been given immunity from prosecution in exchange for “truthful testimony” in the Michael ‘Mickey the Snitch’ Cohen case. Which means I have to scrap my blog post on the Senate Election Security bill, so I can write about this Weisselberg character, whose name I have to double-check every damned time I write it.

And now I’m afraid to look at the damned news for fear something else will happen, some new TrumpScandal ™ will have developed in the last ten minutes. I’m afraid if I look at the news I’ll discover Comrade Trump has threatened to put Attorney Jeff Sessions over his knee and paddle him, or that some porn actress has an electron microscope image of Trump’s wee peanut, or that Trump has openly embraced some ridiculous white supremacist conspiracy theory that white farmers in South Africa are being murdered by….

GoddamMotherfuckSonofabitch.

Okay. Okay, I suppose this was bound to happen. Inevitable, I suppose. Okay then, I can scrap the Weisselberg blog idea and…and give up and just start drinking now.

sputtering bastards

It didn’t take long, did it. For the Republican sputtering to begin, I mean.

Yesterday we witnessed an Olympic caliber exhibition of synchronized justice. Comrade Trump’s former campaign manager AND his personal attorney simultaneously became felons. It was certainly the most news-intensive 20 minutes of my long and semi-wicked life. It put me right on the cusp of news overload.

And the response from Republicans in Congress? Sputtering. “But but but neither of these cases has anything to do with Russia.” “But but but this has nothing to do with collusion.” “But but but but…”

These fucking guys, I declare. But hey, technically they’re right. They’re cowardly dissembling ethics-free sacks of horseshit, but technically they’re right. Manafort’s convictions aren’t directly related to Russia or Trump. And Cohen’s guilty plea has nothing whatsoever to do with illegal Russian meddling into the election.

Cohen’s plea is an altogether different sort of illegal meddling into the election. But hey, guess what. It’s still illegally meddling in the damned election. And Cohen, bless his criminal little heart, directly implicates Comrade Donald J. Trump as knowingly and willfully participating in that illegal election meddling.

There’s some shit Republicans can’t just sputter away.

Here’s the thing: Cohen’s guilty plea incriminates Trump in a conspiracy to influence the election that’s completely separate from the Russian conspiracy to influence the election. That’s TWO distinct criminal conspiracies to influence the election. Two. A Russian criminal conspiracy AND a domestic campaign criminal conspiracy. And since we already have a Special Counsel to investigate the Russian conspiracy, it only makes sense that we should appoint a completely separate Special Counsel to investigate the campaign conspiracy.

I doubt that will happen. Certainly not while Republicans control Congress. Certainly not while Republicans run the Department of Justice. They’re much too busy with all that sputtering.

ADDENDUM — As I was writing this, a friend asked me if I thought this might lead to articles of impeachment. And no, I don’t think it will. It should, but c’mon…we’re talking about Republicans in Congress, who have turned hypocrisy into pure performance art. Let’s consider some of the high crimes and misdemeanors Republicans considered impeachable when Barack Obama was POTUS.

— Republican Darrell Issa said it was an impeachable offense for Obama to offer an administration job to Joe Sestak to persuade Sestak to drop out of the PA Senate primary election.
— Republican Michael Burgess at a rally said Obama needed to be impeached in order to prevent him from “pushing his agenda”.
— Republican Jon Kyl said there might be ‘shenanigans’ involved in the Obama immigration policy that would be impeachable.
— Several Republicans suggested there was an impeachable cover-up in the Benghazi incident that somehow escaped discovery in the ten separate Republican investigations.
— Republican Tom Coburn said Obama was “perilously close” to committing high crimes and misdemeanors by allegedly ordering USCIS employees to “ignore background checks for immigrants” though there’s no indication Obama ever suggested such an order.
— Republican Blake Farenthold told a rally that Obama should be impeached over the conspiracy theories relating to his birth certificate.
— Republican Kerry Bentivolio said he’d like to write articles of impeachment based on the notion that the Obama administration had directed the IRS to target conservative groups.
— Republicans on the House Judiciary committee held a hearing on “The President’s Constitutional Duty to Faithfully Execute the Laws”, which they viewed as an attempt to begin justifying impeachment proceedings.
— Republicans in the Oklahoma legislature (and seriously, I’m not making this up) filed a measure asking Oklahoma members of Congress to impeach Obama (and also the Attorney General and the Secretary of Education) over the decision to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity.

I suppose we should be grateful they never accused Obama of collusion with Kenya to influence the 2008 election. Although we’re talking about Republicans in Congress, so there’s still time for that.

adding insult to the office

If you read or listen to the news in the morning, it’s always distressing to wake up to the reality that Comrade Trump is still POTUS. But lawdy, some days are just more difficult than others. This is one of them.

Trump is rage-tweet-vomiting again. He began with a three-tweet rant quoting Tom Fitton of the right-wing group Judicial Watch:

The Strzok firing is as much about the Mueller operation as anything else. There would be no Mueller Special Councel to investigate so called collusion but for the machinations of Strzok & his colleagues at the top levels of the FBI. We know this guy was corrupt and had anti-Trump animus. Strzok and others at the FBI should be criminally investigated for the way the conducted this investigation. Instead, Mueller is pretending nothing went wrong. He used Strzok, he used the Clinton DNC Dossier…the whole thing should be shut down. The Strzok firing shows that the fundamental underpinnings of the investigation were corrupt. It should be shut down by the courts or by honest prosecutors.

It’s hard to even know where to start with this wall of bullshit. You need an abacus to keep track of all the errors and outright lies. Was Strzok instrumental in creating the Special Counsel investigation? Nope. Is there any indication that Strzok is corrupt? Nope. In fact, the Inspector General report clearly stated there’s no evidence that Strzok’s dislike of Trump influenced any investigative decisions.

In fact, the ONLY accurate information in all of that is this: Peter Strzok was fired from the FBI. And let’s face it, that was essentially a political act to punish a career law enforcement professional for the sin of thinking Comrade Trump is unfit to be the President of the United States.

Tom Fitton

But this is pretty much what you expect from Trump and Tom Fitton. Who IS this Fitton guy? He’s on the Board of Directors of Judicial Watch, which describes itself as a ‘watchdog’ group. You’d think, as a frequent FOX News analyst on judicial behavior and as a member of Judicial Watch, Fitton must be a lawyer. Or at least has a background in law. Or maybe some significant professional experience in law enforcement. Or a graduate degree in some area of criminal justice. Or even an undergrad degree in a related field. But no. Tom Fitton has a B.A. in English. Oh, and he was a talk radio host on a conservative station.

Fitton is probably best known for his ‘work’ on the Benghazi attack. He posited the theory that the attack was actually part of an Obama administration conspiracy. Obama, he claimed, wanted Libyan militants to kidnap Ambassador Stevens. That would allow Obama to do a prisoner swap — Stevens for terrorist Omar Abdel-Rahman (the blind cleric convicted for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing). It’s not clear why Obama would go to such elaborate lengths to free Abdel-Rahman, but it probably had something to do with him being a wily secret Muslim. Unfortunately, Stevens was accidentally killed during the assault, so the plot failed. In an interview, Fitton admitted there was no actual evidence to substantiate his claim — but he asserted that lack of evidence was, in itself, evidence of the Obama cover-up.

The sneering, volatile, cruel, self-centered, would-be tyrant who occupies the White House.

This is the sort of person Comrade Trump looks to for expertise and support. Every day Trump occupies the White House is an insult to the nation, every day he remains in office further degrades the presidency, every day he attacks the institutions of democracy is an offense against the men and women who work to protect it.

And every morning I wake up and read what new outrage Comrade Trump has committed is a gut-churning reminder that we can’t for a moment stop resisting.

not normal…unprecedented…irresponsible…fucking nuts. 

During his stream-of-semi-consciousness speech in Montana last week, Comrade Trump addressed an issue that’s on the minds of a whole lot of people — his meeting with Vladimir Putin. I say he ‘addressed’ the issue, which is misleading; he mocked the issue. He said,

“They’re going ‘Will President Trump be prepared, you know, President Putin is KGB and this and that.’ You know what? Putin’s fine. He’s fine. We’re all fine. We’re people. Will I be prepared? Totally prepared. I’ve been preparing for this stuff my whole life.”

No. No, he won’t be prepared. And no, he hasn’t been preparing for this his whole life. But Putin actually has.

Trump grew up pampered and privileged, of course. His grandfather made a fortune providing housing for prospectors during the Klondike gold rush before moving to New York and began buying and building houses and apartments. Trump attended the posh Kew-Forest School until his parents caught him sneaking into Manhattan and sent him to the New York Military Academy–a private boarding school. He did a couple of years at Fordham, picked up a B.A. in economics from the Wharton School, then took a position in the real estate business his grandfather created.

He eventually inherited a lot of money and a lot of lawyers and he’s counted on the lawyers to keep himself in the money. For much of his career, Trump’s business model seems to have been to personally meet with investors, make a number of demands, then leave while his lawyers work out the details. If the business succeeds, Trump takes credit. If it doesn’t, he blames the lawyers. His bankruptcies made it impossible for him to obtain loans from most major international banks, forcing him to deal with banking institutions in former Soviet client states, many of which have an international reputation for money laundering. He’s also become dependent on foreign nationals to buy or lease expensive apartments–also a common source of money laundering.

A pampered, ignorant rich guy.

Putin, in contrast with Trump, grew up in post-WWII Leningrad. Both of his older brothers died–one in infancy, the other from disease during the Siege of Leningrad. His father served in one of the infamous ‘Destruction Battalions’ of the NKVD during the war. After the war, the Putins lived in a rat-infested apartment complex; both of his parents worked in Soviet factories. Putin knows what it is to be poor, to be hungry, to struggle to survive.

He was a good student, though, and Putin was eventually able to attend college and law school (yeah, he’s actually a lawyer). After graduation, he joined the KGB and began his career in counter-intelligence. He monitored foreign dignitaries (which meant spying on them and gathering dirt) as well as consular officials (spying and gathering dirt) in Leningrad. He later spent half a decade undercover (spying and gathering dirt) in East Germany. His work wasn’t simply about spying and gathering dirt; it was grounded in an understanding human frailty coupled with knowledge of techniques to capitalize on that frailty. He eventually became a Lt. Colonel in the KGB.

As the Soviet Union began to collapse, Putin left the KGB–but he used his KGB training to become successful in politics. In seven years he went from being an advisor to the mayor of Leningrad to being a deputy chief on the staff of Russian president Boris Yeltsin. Putin succeeded because he prepared. He studied…well, almost everything about almost everybody he would come into contact with. For example, when he met Strobe Talbot, a representative of the Clinton administration, at an informal gathering, Putin casually mentioned the names of the poets Talbot had studied in college. Talbot understood this wasn’t Putin showing off; it was Putin letting Talbot know the KGB had a detailed file on him–and that Putin was familiar with it.

A seasoned counter-intelligence professional.

A year later, Putin was put in charge of the FSB, the successor of the KGB. A year after that he was appointed acting Prime Minister of the Government of the Russian Federation. He’s basically been in power ever since. His rise to power demonstrates a high level of espionage tradecraft combined with a ruthless determination.

So this is where we are. We have Donald Trump, whose personal and financial behavior has left him vulnerable to blackmail meeting with a guy who built the early part of his career on finding and using dirt to manipulate others. We have Trump who, when challenged, threatens his opponents with a lawsuit (and often fails to follow through on those threats) meeting a guy who, when challenged, imprisons his opponents. Or has them assassinated. We have Trump, who seems incapable of controlling his emotions, meeting with a guy trained to suppress his emotions. We have Trump, who talks tough, meeting with a guy who actually is tough. We have Trump, who never prepares for anything, meeting with a guy who prepares for everything.

And if that’s not bad enough, Trump has insisted his meeting with Putin take place without any official witnesses. No aides, no advisors, no staff, no official translators, and certainly no press. There will be no official record of what happens in the meeting. As far as that goes, there’s not even an official agenda of items to be discussed.

Spider meets fly.

It’s just going to be an over-confident and under-informed Donald Trump walking into a room with an experienced counter-intelligence professional who’s had an entire staff scouring through every moment of Trump’s life for leverage to use against him.

This is not normal. This is unprecedented. This is entirely irresponsible. This is fucking nuts.