it’s not about her clothes

We keep falling for it. By ‘we’ I mean liberals, and by ‘it’ I mean the misleading bullshit conservatives throw in front of us to distract us. We keep falling for it. You’d think we’d know better by now, but no…we keep falling for it.

Let me give you an example. A few days ago Eddie Scarry, a writer for the conservative newspaper The Washington Examiner, posted this on Twitter.

And, of course, immediately there was a backlash. A deserved backlash, to be sure, but mostly it was a backlash about this line: that jacket and coat don’t look like a girl who struggles. It was a backlash about the term ‘girl’ used for a 29-year-old woman who was a newly-elected member of the U.S. House of Representatives. But mostly it turned into a discussion about what clothes are appropriate — and affordable — for a young woman from the working class who wants to look nice in an office environment.

Which means we fell for it. Remember, ‘it’ is the misleading bullshit conservatives throw in front of us to distract us. It’s NOT about her clothes. When we respond to bullshit by discussing the clothing options of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, we are falling for the misleading bullshit. It’s sabotage. It’s creating a narrative designed to undermine Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It’s suggesting she is a fraud, that she’s not who she says she is, that she doesn’t belong in a position of power, that she can’t be trusted. That she’s phony. I’m going to say it again; it’s NOT about her clothes. We do her a disservice when we let folks like Eddie Scarry distract us by talking about her clothes.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez working as a bartender.

Repeat his attack — and similar attacks — for a decade and some of that narrative will infiltrate the public consciousness. After a few years, people will begin to distrust AOC without quite knowing why; they’ll begin to dislike her without knowing quite why. This is exactly what conservatives did to Hillary Clinton. It’s what they’ve done to Nancy Pelosi. It’s what they’ve consistently done to all effective Democratic women leaders.

They’ve started on AOC even before she’s been sworn in. Why? Because she scares the absolute shit out of them. She’s young. She’s young AND she’s conventionally attractive. She’s a young, attractive woman AND she’s of Puerto Rican descent. She’s a young, attractive, working class Latinx AND with less than US$200,000 in campaign funds, she won a primary against a long-term Democrat with campaign funds of nearly $3.5 million and who was the Chair of the Democratic Caucus of the House of Representatives. She did it through hard work combined with intelligence and passion. And that scares them.

It’s not about her clothes.

She scares them because she’s the future. It’s a future they don’t want to see happen. It’s a future that doesn’t rely on — or need — a well-connected network of middle-aged (or old) white guys. She scares them because they’re losing their power and their authority and their privilege — and they’re losing it all to people like her. So yeah, she scares the absolute shit out of them.

Let’s face it, Eddie Scarry doesn’t give a damn what Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wears to work. He only cares that she reports for work in Congress. He only cares that Congress this year is less white, less male, and less hetero than it’s ever been. Eddie Scarry isn’t a fashion blogger; he’s a conservative political reporter with an agenda (and I’m being charitable here; Scarry made his bones at a gossip blog called FishbowlDC). He only cares about undermining effective Democratic leaders. He’s only concerned with sowing discord among liberals.

Don’t let him trick you into thinking this is about clothes. It’s not. It’s really not. It’s about the slow introduction of poison. It’s about weakening Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. If we continue to fall for the bullshit Scarry and folks like him throw in front of us, we’re just spreading the poison.

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down to hope

So here we are. Election Day in Godawful America. Nobody knows what the fuck is actually going to happen. But I suspect we’re all pretty confident it’ll be ugly.

For Democrats, progressives, liberals — for those of us who want a nation that’s actually representative of the people who live here — it’s a day of hope tempered by trepidation. We hope to do well, but we had that same hope two years ago. We’ve seen hope turn to shit. We don’t really trust hope.

We know from experience that hope doesn’t carry much weight — not in the face of rampant voter suppression, widespread gerrymandering, unchecked lying, unbridled racism, and blatant voter intimidation. We know the game is rigged against us. We know it’s not enough to get more votes; we know it’s not enough to actually win an election; we know we have to win it by a massive margin in order to overcome the institutional and political obstacles deliberately put in place to prevent us from winning.

Hope? Hope is a mug’s game. Hope is a path strewn with caltrops. Hope is standing waist-deep in a cesspit at the bottom of a hill, looking up at those at the top, who are complaining about being ill-treated while rolling boulders down at you.

Tree of Hope — Frida Kahlo, 1946

But here’s the thing about hope. You can’t help it. No matter how steep the hill, no matter how many goddamn boulders, no matter how fucking deep the cesspit, you can’t help but hope there’s a way out. You tell yourself it’s stupid to hope, you completely understand that hope only leads to disappointment and frustration and rage, and yet you just cannot help yourself. Hope is fucking brutal.

But it’s what you need in order to haul your ass out of that cesspit. Hope and hard work.

So here we are. Election Day in Godawful America and nobody knows what the fuck is actually going to happen. But we’ve done what we can. We’ve knocked on doors, we’ve made phone calls, we’ve donated time and money, we’ve encouraged others to vote and we’ve voted our ownselves.

Now it’s down to hope. With hope and hard work, maybe tomorrow will be less godawful.

oh shit

There’s a sadly useful expression I learned in the military. It’s used to describe that moment when a situation changes so suddenly and radically that whatever you had been doing up to that point was no longer relevant — maybe not even possible. Overtaken by events

For example, let’s say one moment you’re flying a perfectly functioning aircraft and the next moment you’ve smashed into a flock of Canada geese; your engine fails, your windshield is shattered, and suddenly you’re hurtling along at 550 mph in an aluminum coffin. Dude, your flight plan has been overtaken by events.

In my medical unit, we modified the expression. A situation wasn’t overtaken by events; the situation went Oh Shit. As in “Everything was under control, until the patient had a seizure during a cutdown and an artery got nicked, then everything went Oh Shit.”

For years I had occupations in which there was always a possibility to be overtaken by events — for everything to go Oh Shit. Things frequently went Oh Shit as a medic, sometimes went Oh Shit as a counselor in the Psych/Security unit of the prison, but only occasionally went Oh Shit as a private investigator. But ‘Oh Shit’ was a constant in my working equation until I left those careers behind me. With the exception of a morning walk interrupted by a nasty auto accident (three cars, a scared and confused old guy trapped in his vehicle), for the last several years I’ve lived a life totally free of Oh Shit moments — and really, that exception was seriously more Oh Shit for the old guy I had to break out of his car than it was for me.

Then I read the news this morning, and saw this headline:

Trump says US will pull out of intermediate range nuke pact

And I thought ‘Everything’s going to go Oh Shit‘. I mean, we’re not actually in the process of being overtaken by events, but guys we’re at high altitude and moving at speed in the direction of a flock of geese. Because Comrade Trump isn’t a president who carefully considers the implications and possible outcomes before making a policy decision. He’s more of a ‘Fuck yeah, I like the sound of that, let’s DO it‘ decision-maker.

That’s the sort of decision-making process that leads to…well, massive fuck-ups. “Hire the Hell’s Angels to do security at a Rolling Stones concert? Fuck yeah, I like the sound of that.” “Get a tattoo of my ex’s name after an evening of regret-drinking? Fuck yeah, let’s DO it.”

And then everything went “Oh Shit.”

When he was ‘elected’ some folks said, “Not to worry — Trump’s impulses will be tempered by more sober-minded professionals.” Yeah, that didn’t happen. Instead, Trump fired the few sober-minded professional. After his first National Security Advisor was fired for 1) lying to the FBI, 2) lying to the Vice-President, 3) accepting money from foreign governments without approval, and 4) planning the kidnapping and extrajudicial rendition of a Turkish cleric to Turkey, and after his second National Security Advisor resigned over disagreements about Trump’s approach to Russia (and North Korea and, what the hell, Iran), Trump named John Bolton as his third National Security Advisor.

Who the fuck is John Bolton? Lawdy, where to start? He’s a war hawk who admits he avoided service in Vietnam by joining the Maryland National Guard (“I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy”). He’s been a paid Fox News contributor and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He was chairman of the Gatestone Institute, which is known for disseminating false anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim information. In the Reagan Justice Department, Bolton opposed financial reparations to Japanese-Americans held in World War II-era internment camps. He apparently threatened to fire a woman for refusing to lobby for the deregulation of baby formula in developing nations. He convinced President George W. Bush to pull out of the International Criminal Court (which Bolton described as the ‘happiest moment’ of his political career). He tried to reduce funding for the Nunn–Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program designed to halt the proliferation of nuclear materials. As a private citizen, Bolton was identified as a key member of Groundswell, a secretive coalition of right-wing activists trying to effect political change behind the scenes through lobbying of high-level contacts. He gave a speech for the fake Russian ‘Right to Bear Arms’ group for whom Russian spy Maria Butina worked. He also argued that the conclusion of the US Intelligence Community that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump may have been a ‘false flag’ operation.

Bolton speaking at Russian ‘gun rights’ event.

In other words, John Bolton is a conspiracy theorist with a history of encouraging wars other people will have to fight. He’s basically Comrade Trump without the real estate career. This is the guy Trump relies on as his National Security Advisor. This is the guy urging Trump to develop new and improved nukes…you know, for leverage. Trump, of course, loves the idea of nuclear leverage. He loves the idea of any sort of leverage, really — of essentially being able to force people (or nations) to do what HE wants instead of what THEY want. So of course he’s all ‘Fuck yeah, I like the sound of nuclear leverage, let’s DO it.”

The ONLY hint of a silver lining in this looming cloud of Oh Shit is the fact that Trump often says he’s going to do stuff that 1) he doesn’t actually know how to do, 2) he fails to understand he lacks the legal authority to do, or 3) he thinks makes him look or sound tough. But as long as Bolton is standing at Trump’s side, Grima Wormtonguing in his ear, we’re in serious danger of everything going Oh Shit.

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.

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.