My Corona

Okay, at nearly 350 Comments, Jim White’s excellent post, “PREPARING FOR THE INEVITABLE CORONAVIRUS DISEASE 2019 OUTBREAK”, is getting a little long in the comment tooth. So, I am going to add a new post, even if a short one, to allow continuous commentary on this subject that is of such import and interest.

To set the scene, I have had a touch of walking pneumonia for the last, give or take, 10 days. I finally listened to Mrs. bmaz and went to the doctor early last week and got some prescriptions, most importantly steroids and antibiotics. Things are improving, albeit it slowly.

There is a new wrinkle though! Very late Friday night, actually very early Saturday morning, our daughter flew in and is home now. Why, you ask? Well, about eight days ago, she was in Italy for a week and flew out of Milan (a Level 3 containment area) to return to Boston, where she works. Her employer said “Lol, take two weeks off before coming into work again”. So, she came home to visit.

She is asymptomatic to date other than some sniffles and sore throat, which is not uncommon for her generally. No temperature. But she is considering getting tested anyway. Turns out there was literally no real capacity for testing in Arizona until….today. Apparently. The state DHS announced they could start today, but there are no good instructions on how to do it, or if you will get billed thousands of dollars for doing so. It is maddening. The woman who runs the DHS effort here is not bad, this appears to be caused by the lack of competent interaction by the federal government. Will she get tested? We don’t know. Should she even worry about it? We don’t know that either. And trying to talk to somebody about it is impossible, I can seriously get US Senators and Representatives on the phone easier.

We shall see. Thankfully we have a big enough house that we can mostly keep a distance. But there has to be a better way to respond to this than what the Trump Administration has engendered.

So, for all things Corona, have at it some more. You folks have engaged in marvelous discussion so far, keep it up.

Super Bowl LIV: Who Will Party With The Lombardi

Super Bowl Sunday this year is a special day? How so you ask?

How’s this for a calendrical trifecta: Sunday is Super Bowl Sunday. And it’s Groundhog Day. And it’s a rare eight-digit palindrome when written as 02/02/2020 — the only one of its kind this century.

A palindrome, as you might know, is a sequence that reads the same forward as it does backward.

Apparently the only palindrome in recent memory. But also Groundhog Day too (when will that inanity give way)? If you want to add some other calendar stuff on, 2020 is also a leap year.

We will get to the last NFL game of the season in a minute, but first a couple of quick things.

First, in the middle of the night last night, there was a stunning Women’s Final in the Australian Open. Barely 21 year old American Sophia Kenin, who slayed media darling Coco Gauff in the fourth round, and then world number one Ash Barty in the semi-finals, in straight sets, was also victorious over two time Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza. And she did it with quite a bit of aplomb. Lost the first set, and then took over. Kenin may be around a while, get used to the name. And, if you can catch a replay of the match, do it. The announcers universally thought a star was being born, and they might well be right. It was something.

While Kenin was a breath of fresh air early this morning (the Aussies are in a far different time zone), last night was the first Lakers game after the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gigi, John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli and Alyssa Altobelli, Christina Mauser, Sarah Chester and Payton Chester and pilot Ara Zobayan. The Staples Center was purple and blue, and, given the obvious emotional difficulty, it was all beautiful. LA and the Lakers got it right. The videos are out there, take a look. The tributes, music, and sometimes combination (the cello guy during the video tribute was spectacular).

Okay, on to the Super Bowl we go. There are, as always, a lot of weird “proposition bets”. I don’t really get into that, but here are a bunch of, um, interesting ones. The current overall Vegas line is vacillating between 1 – 1.5 points, with that historically slim line in favor of Kansas City.

So, what’s the deal? Lol, I dunno. But, in the long run, balance and defense wins. KC has the more explosive offense, but that is partially because they have had to rely on it, and Mahomes, so often to climb out of holes. On the other hand, they have been able to do so, and especially impressively so in the playoffs. The 49ers are different though. The SF defense starts with that they basically only rush the front four to create the havoc they do. Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead are relentless and really good. and with Richard Sherman and Mosely patrolling the secondary, the Niners are extremely solid.

The Chefs, however, while having a winning defense are nowhere near as consistently solid as SF. Frank Clark is not a beloved character in the NFL, but he is extremely good as a pressure point. Chris Jones and Tyrann Mathieu are first team all pro worthy types in the secondary. Honeybadger was here in Arizona his first few years and, when healthy, which he is now, he is a big play game changer of special talent. And as good of a player as he really is, he has grown up to be an even better person. This is a great piece in the WaPo on Tyrann:

For all the new plans and pieces, Kansas City’s defensive transformation began with the player teammates still love to call the Honey Badger. Mathieu is a storm of calculated mayhem, a worker bee who wakes up at 5:45 each morning and a heat-seeking missile who can line up or strike from anywhere on the field. He has changed the Chiefs in elemental ways with his all-pro performance and his mere presence.

“He’s a special person,” Chiefs General Manager Brett Veach said. “It’s really hard to explain the power someone like that has unless you’re actually in the building. . . . You have to get talent. You have to build a deep roster. You need corners, and you need rushers. Until you get a catalyst, it’s hard. You need that one guy that will make everything go. He’s certainly that guy. To have him on our team has meant everything to us.”

Again, what do I think? First off, what I think is beyond irrelevant anywhere but here. Secondly, I am a dope. So, given those caveats, here we go. Honeybadger can sit and snipe on Jimmy G enough, or the Niners O-Line gives Jimmy G the time that San Francisco’s D-Line does not afford Mahomes. I have no real idea, but with betting no real money, I think….think….The balance on the Niners is better and wins. No, I do not feel good ab out that pick.

As a parting note, today’s music is Heart playing Stairway To Heaven at the Kennedy Center for the remaining members of Zep, assorted dignitaries and President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama. To say it is stunning is a gigantic understatement. I had never seen it before last night, when I stumbled on it by accident. WOW. Shared it with numerous friends and the universal reaction was still WOW. It is that good, especially when the choir/chorale kicks in. It is soooo good. Check it out. I was almost lifetime tired of Stairway to Heaven before I saw this, and was immediately mesmerized. Yeah, it is that incredible. And if you want full screen, just click to embiggen it.

Rock and roll, and enjoy the Super Bowl!

John Lewis Was Not Always Old

Ode to Ella Baker” by Lisa McLymont (Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

A few weeks ago, John Lewis put out a press release announcing to all that he is undergoing treatment for stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He later sent out a tweet, lifting up one of the best lines in that press statement:

I have been in some kind of fight – for freedom, equality, basic human rights – for nearly my entire life. I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now.

Lewis’ summary of his life is not hyperbole. He is the last living member of the Big Six, the speakers at the 1963 March on Washington for civil rights, and now is a senior member of Congress. But it’s important to remember that John Lewis was not always old. He was just 23 when he spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as the president of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) – an organization he co-founded three years earlier at age 20 – and at 21 was one of the original Freedom Riders.

Let me repeat it again: John Lewis was not always old. He has always been a fighter for civil rights, but he has not always been old.

In 2005, historian David McCullough noted how we as a society perceive great leaders in a speech about the Founders:

We tend to see them—Adams, Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Rush, George Washington—as figures in a costume pageant; that is often the way they’re portrayed. And we tend to see them as much older than they were because we’re seeing them in the portraits by Gilbert Stuart and others when they were truly the Founding Fathers—when they were president or chief justice of the Supreme Court and their hair, if it hadn’t turned white, was powdered white. We see the awkward teeth. We see the elder statesmen.

At the time of the Revolution, they were all young. It was a young man’s–young woman’s cause. George Washington took command of the Continental Army in the summer of 1775 at the age of 43. He was the oldest of them. Adams was 40. Jefferson was all of 33 when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Benjamin Rush—who was the leader of the antislavery movement at the time, who introduced the elective system into higher education in this country, who was the first to urge the humane treatment of patients in mental hospitals—was 30 years old when he signed the Declaration of Independence. Furthermore, none of them had any prior experience in revolutions; they weren’t experienced revolutionaries who’d come in to take part in this biggest of all events. They were winging it. They were improvising.

This is not unique to the American Founders. Historians of social change who pay attention to the leaders of these movements often see the same thing. For example . . .

  • When Martin Luther King, Jr. led the Montgomery Bus boycott in 1955, he was just shy of 25 years old. When he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, he was 35, and when was assassinated on the balcony of a Memphis hotel, he was only 39.
  • When Thurgood Marshall argued on behalf of racial justice in Shelley v. Kramer before SCOTUS in 1948 – six years before he did the same in Brown v. Board of Education – Marshall was 40 years old. He won both cases, the former striking down restricted housing covenants and the latter doing away with the pernicious “separate but equal” doctrine that was at the heart of Jim Crow.
  • When Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, and Nelson Mandela co-founded the ANC Youth League in 1944, they were 31, 26, and 25 years old respectively.
  • When Dr. Paul Volberding and nurse Cliff Morrison pushed against incredible medical and social prejudices to organize the nation’s first AIDS unit at San Francisco General Hospital in 1983 as the AIDS crisis continued to spiral out of control, they were 33 and 31 respectively.
  • When Gavin Newsom (then mayor of San Francisco) ordered the San Francisco clerk’s office to issue marriage licenses for couples regardless of the genders involved on February 14, 2004, he was 36.
  • When Upton Sinclair published The Jungle, exposing the ugly underside of the meatpacking industry and spurring social change with regard government oversight and regulation of food and drugs, he was 28.
  • When anti-lynching crusader and journalist Ida B. Wells published Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases in 1892, she was 30.
  • When Elizabeth Cady Stanton co-organized the Seneca Falls Conference on Women’s Rights in 1848, she was 32.

It’s not too much of a stretch to say that the leaders of social change movements are more likely to be young than to be old.

After Lewis made his announcement, Marcy tweeted out her reactions to the news, including this:

Say a prayer–or whatever you do instead–to give John Lewis strength for this fight. But also commit to raise up a young moral leader who has inspired you. We can’t rely on 80 and 90 year olds to lead us in the troubled days going forward.

I’ve been chewing on that tweet for the better part of a month.

What immediately went through my head upon reading that tweet was the name Ella Baker, one of the less well-known leaders in the civil rights movement. In a story for the Tavis Smiley Show on PRI about the founding of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), John Lewis tells of Ella’s powerful role:

Martin Luther King, Jr. was so impressed by the actions of the students [and their non-violent lunchcounter sit-ins], says Lewis, that he asked a young woman by the name of Ella Baker to organize a conference, inviting students from 58 colleges and universities.

“More than 300 people showed up at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, where SNCC was born,” said Lewis. “It was Easter weekend, 1960.”

Baker, considered by many as an unsung hero of the civil rights movement, was a “brilliant” radical who spurred on the creation of SNCC as an independent organization, says Lewis.

“She was a fiery speaker, and she would tell us to ‘organize, organize; agitate, agitate! Do what you think is right. Go for it!’ Dr. King wanted her to make SNCC the youth arm of his organization. But Ella Baker said we should be independent … and have our own organization.”

While the SNCC was deeply inspired by Dr. King and the SCLC, or the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the students in the organization didn’t always see eye-to-eye with SCLC leadership.

“We had a lot of young women, and SNCC didn’t like the idea of the male chauvinism that existed in the SCLC,” says Lewis. “The SCLC was dominated by primarily black Baptist Ministers. And these young women did all the work and they had been the head of their local organizations.”

I’m not sure where Smiley got the phrasing about Ella Baker being “a young woman” when this all happened, as she was 55 years old in 1960 and King was only 30. But Ella did exactly what Marcy was talking about in that tweet. When she saw an opening to act, she helped raise up hundreds of young moral leaders, and she helped them most by encouraging them to act out of their own gifts and strengths and not by tying themselves to the approaches of older leaders.

Which brings me to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. In the days following the massacre at MSD, the students there took matters into their own hands, rather than waiting for their elders to act. These are kids who grew up entirely in the post-Columbine High School shooting world, where active shooter drills were a regular part of school life. (I’m old: the only drills we had were “duck and cover” for a nuclear attack and “head for the hallway or basement” for tornadoes.) With each new shooting, they saw the same script written by the elders play out each time – thoughts and prayers for the victims, debate over gun laws, and nothing changes. They saw it happen around the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando a year and a half earlier. Talk, talk, talk and nothing changes.

This time, it wasn’t the elders running the show, however. It was Emma Gonzales, live on every cable network, who called BS on the NRA and the legislators who were intimidated by them. It was Cameron Kasky who gathered and organized his classmates to make this a movement. It was David Hogg and a dozen others, a hundred others, who did interviews, organized demonstrations, and the 1001 other things to give their work power. They reached out to other teens affected by gun violence, especially teens of color, to amplify the common message demanding change. They became a force to be reckoned with, not only in Tallahassee where they actually got gun laws changed, but in DC and around the country.

Behind these students, though, were their teachers. These are the folks who nourished the gifts of research and organization, of public speaking and political organizing in these young people. There were parents and other adults, who took their cues from the teens and did the things that you need someone over 21 to do, like sign rental bus agreements, for example. It is clear, though, that the moral leaders are the teens, with the elders in supporting roles.

Then there’s Greta Thunberg, relentlessly pushing the elders in seats of power to take action on the climate emergency gripping our planet.  Her messages are always a version of “This is not about me and my knowledge; it’s about the scientists and their knowledge – and they say we are going to burn the planet down if things don’t change fast.” She points to data, and forces her hearers to look at it. She may have gotten attention early on because of her youth (“O look at that cute little girl, doing cute little things and trying to get politicians to act”), but being a cute little girl doing cute little things doesn’t get you seat at the table at Davos. No, she got her seat at the tables of the powerful by being the young person who said over and over and over again that the emperors, the presidents, the corporate titans, and the powers of the planet aren’t wearing any clothes.

Just like young John Lewis.

The other part of Greta’s “It’s not about me” messaging is that she has sought out and nurtured other young people around the world, who have been organizing in their communities while she was at work in Sweden. She met Lakota activist Tokata Iron Eyes, who invited her to Standing Rock to see the work they are doing. Thunberg not only accepted, but eagerly lent her support to their work, not least of which came because of her larger media profile. When she spoke at Davos, it was as part of a panel of other young climate activists from Puerto Rico, southern Africa, and Canada.

Like the MSD students, Greta has passion for her activism, a data-driven focus that she hope can break through the cynicism and self-centeredness of world leaders, and a skill at building alliances with other like minded folks. And like the MSD students, people with power are listening — and are beginning to want to hear more. While Steve Mnuchen (following the lead of Donald Trump) mocked Thunberg for her youth, another world leader had a different reaction:

Angela Merkel, though, spoke warmly about the work of the new generation of climate activists.

“The impatience of our young people is something that we should tap,” the German chancellor said. In a special address to the WEF, Merkel called for more international cooperation to tackle climate change.

“I am totally convinced that the price of inaction will be far higher than the price of action,” she declared.

Over the last month, I’ve been looking at and interacting with the teenagers in my life a little bit differently, a little more intentionally, thanks in part to Marcy’s tweet. You see, one of those teens may just be another John Lewis, and I’d dearly love to be another Ella Baker.

Christmas Eve Remembrances

Yeargh, I bollixed this up. Meant to post this several hours ago, and told Marcy I was going to, but instead had a giant nap on the couch with an overly large puppy right beside.

We deal with a lot of hard subjects here on this blog, and do so daily, if not sometimes hourly. The people, you, are what makes it worth it. Thank you. Every year we are separated from some. Sometimes we know, sometimes we only know because they are conspicuously no longer around.

This year, one we know is gone is John Casper (early on known as Boo
Radley). Another soul we knew from not just Emptywheel, but even before. There are undoubtedly others that we are not so aware of, but who have filled our comments with intellect and passion over time.

So, on this Christmas Eve, thank you to all here, from not just me, but Marcy, Jim White, Rayne, Ed Walker, Roving Reporter Rosalind and Quinn Norton. And thank you to those that have been here and left us. There are too many of the latter. This time of remembrance started in 2011 with our fellow contributor, Mary Beth Perdue, who literally passed on a long ago Christmas Eve. It has kind of been a tradition to go back to that as an honorarium to all friends gone, and so here we go:

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Here we are, heading into Christmas. Everybody is slowing down and heading into the holidays. We all are. Things often get a tad scarce this time of year, but we would like to say Hi, Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Mele Kalikimaka and any other greeting applicable. Thank you for being here with us.

It has been a couple of years…I think…since we have done the remembrance section at this time of year. Many of you are old-timers going back to when we were at TNH, even before the FDL years, but so many are new and really do not know the history. We have been at this a good long while now. The years float by, but the people are what stick.

In that regard, I want to return to thanking those that contributed much, but are now gone. If you are new here, you never would have known the names of Mary, Bob Schacht, Mad Dog, Free Patriot, Skdadl and a host of others that were not only our blog friends, but that we often met and knew in real life too.

They are gone, but not forgotten heading into this Christmas Eve. But this always, at least for me, Marcy too, comes back into focus on this date because of our friend and beloved colleague, Mary Perdue. Mary passed away on Christmas Eve 2011. She, like all the others, was the best of what this blog had, and has, to offer. So, in memory of all who are gone, but never forgotten, here is the original in memorium for Mary.

You all, each and every one, rock. Thank you for being here and supporting us. Happy Holidays everyone:

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The internet is a strange and wonderful thing. Just about everyone and everything in the world is on it, even though it is nothing but data in the form of binary computer code traversing by random electrons. Yet thought is crystalized, and friendships born and nurtured, through commonality of interest and purpose. And so it is here at Emptywheel, where many of us have been together since the days at The Next Hurrah, through years at Firedoglake, and now at our new home. Just because it germinates via the net does nothing to detract from the sense of community, friendship and admiration for each other gained over time.

With profound sadness, I report we have lost a true friend, and one of our longest tenured contributors, Mary. Mary Beth Perdue left us on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2011.

Mary Beth Perdue, 52, of Robards, KY, formally of Newburgh, passed away at her home.

She graduated Order of Coif from University of Kentucky Law School and from University of Evansville with an accounting degree. She was a member of the Indiana Bar Association. She was in house counsel at Mid-Central Land Services, Inc. and served as an attorney for firms in Indiana and Kentucky. She owned and operated the Horse and Hound (a pet supply store) in Newburgh. Mary was a lover of all animals with a special place in her heart for horses, dogs and cats. She was involved in numerous equestrian sports and organizations.

Here at Emptywheel, she was just Mary; and she was so much more than a simple obituary can convey. She was funny, kind, and, most of all, razor sharp in analysis of extremely complex issues surrounding torture, indefinite detention, international human rights, illegal wiretapping and executive branch overreach. Mary had a steel trap index in her mind for even obscure torture and rendition cases and facts. To the day she died, Mary was one of the very few people commenting in America that remembered, and would never miss a chance to point out, how the children and extended families of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Aafia Siddiqui were used and/or disappeared by the US as pawns in our immoral torture in the name of the so called “war on terror”. Mary’s dissection of Jack Goldsmith terrorist detention policy, complete with with a comparison to the Ox Bow Incident, was a thing of passion and beauty.

One of Mary’s favorite, and most important, hobby horses was the seminal case of Ex Parte Milligan, on which she beat the drum loudly long before the critical 2008 decision in Boumediene v. Bush and the 2009 release of the torture memos. She was, as usual, right. Here she is taking John Yoo apart at the seams over his intellectual duplicity regarding Ex Parte Milligan. And then there was Mary’s three part opus on the history and meaning of Ex Parte Milligan (Parts One, Two and Three), which is one of the best primers anywhere on the case that has finally come back into renewed significance in the critical issues of the war on terror. Mary played a part in keeping that significance alive, and in the discussion mix, until it took hold again.

Mary did not talk much about her real life family and work, and as another still practicing attorney, I can fully understand the maintenance of that separation. It is quite likely, like me, that her friends and family had little idea of the true depth and importance of her knowledge and dedication to the interests she expressed here, both in front page posts authored, and in her consistent critical contribution in the discussion comments. But, make no mistake, Mary was not just an invaluable contributor, and affected not just me and Marcy, but key players in the larger discussion. I know for a fact, because I talk to the different people and discussed it with them; Mary’s posts and comments were seen and known by actors from the ACLU, to EFF, to other think tanks and attorneys in the field. She left a mark.

As I said at the start of this post, the internet is a curious, if compelling and wonderful place; in all the furiously teeming milieu of people and issues, it is easy for one voice to not be missed for a brief time. All of us take time away every now and then, and Mary was no exception; often being scarce for a period due to pressing duties with work and her beloved horses and land.

I had not talked to Mary since a few days before Christmas. With the rush of the holidays, and a busy work schedule for me in January I have been a tad scarce myself and I had not particularly noticed Mary’s absence. A little over a week ago, I emailed her some irresistibly cute pictures of the one of a kind racehorse Rachel Alexandra and her new foal. Mary loved Rachel Alexandra. Realizing she had not responded to that catnip, I checked yesterday and found the terrible news. There are a lot of things Mary might be too busy with real life to respond to, but not that. And so life became a little less full and enjoyable. Mary’s family has indicated:

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to a local humane society or other animal rescue.

And that would indeed be Mary, and fit her, to a tee. Here is a secure link to do so for the national Humane Society; but by all means, if so inclined, give to your local chapter and let them know it is for Mary.

Emptywheel will not be the same without Mary Beth Perdue, but her work and memory will live in our hearts, minds and archives as a testament to who and what she was and stood for. We shall close with the picture Mary never got the opportunity to see, but would have been the epitome of the horses, animals and children which she truly loved, Rachel Alexandra and foal.

Vaya con dios Mary, you will be missed.

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Cheers to all, and to all a good night and wonderful Christmas Day.

A Billionaire’s Opportunity Cost

It’s a holiday week — posts here may be slower than usual. Our team of contributors are traveling or preparing for guests and feasts, or just plain in need of a break after the last two weeks.

Here’s something to talk about to launch this open thread: Michael Bloomberg and the opportunity cost of running for the presidency.

Many Democrats are angry with yet another billionaire popping into the primary race. If they sincerely cared about this country’s welfare they would do better things with their money, like fund media outlets so they don’t become husks siphoned dry by vampiric private equity firms (motives of which may not merely be sucking down loose cash).

But this is a problem Democrats have that Republicans don’t — they don’t think like people born to capital or who’ve acquired the separation from society wealth provides.

Take Michael Bloomberg (please, bah-doom-tish!). He already owns a media company. He doesn’t believe he owes the media ecosystem anything further if it doesn’t have his name on it and make a butt load of cash.

He’s worth $54 billion dollars, though, and not running for office has a steep opportunity cost.

Investopedia defines opportunity cost as “the benefit that is missed or given up when an investor, individual or business chooses one alternative over another.”

For Bloomberg, the risk of losing as much as 2% of his accumulated capital to a wealth tax must have looked so likely he felt he had to throw his name in the ring.

The $37 million he spent this past week on advertising was chump change. You see, if Bloomberg was liquid and invested in guaranteed income funds paying 3%, he’d make $1.62 billion a year just sitting there breathing.

He could spend 2% of his wealth — $1.08 billion — over the course of the next year leading up to the election, a burn rate of around $3.08 million a day, and possibly shape tax policy dialog on the left and the right while potentially winning the election against Trump.

And then he’d be able to influence tax policy to his benefit, making up for the money he spent campaigning.

Of course Bloomberg would throw his hat in the ring. It’s the same reason Starbucks’ Howard Schultz got into the ring.

What it tells me is that 2% isn’t a steep enough rate to tax these super wealthy assholes into thinking about something besides protecting their own assets.

This is an open thread. Feel free to share your favorite Thanksgiving Day recipes while you’re bashing billionaires.

A Meditation: Who Are You?

[NB: Byline check, thanks./~Rayne]

I’ve had this tune stuck in my head for days now while pondering existential crises in the U.K. and the U.S. as well as the full-blast firehose of news this week. Though a British band, The Who asked the right question giving me pause.

The capper in the course of my meditations —  of all bloody things — was this fragment from a speech given late last November by that well-known survivor Rod Rosenstein:

… I visited the nation of Armenia in 1994, just as it was emerging from seven decades of Soviet domination. I gave a talk about public corruption at the University of Yerevan. After I finished, a student raised his hand. He asked me, “If you cannot pay bribes in America, how do you get electricity?”

It was a pragmatic question that illustrated how that young man had learned to think about his society. Corruption may start small, but it tends to spread like an infection. It stifles innovation, fuels inefficiency, and inculcates distrust of government.

We aim to prevent corruption. …

Both this snippet and The Who’s tune brought to mind another couple memorable exchanges I’ve had in the past with co-workers from abroad. One chap I’ll call PDV lived in the Netherlands and loved to visit the U.S., coming over at least once a year to marvel at the profusion of choices we had.

It was early 2000, well before the election, and I remember PDV telling me that one thing he really enjoyed about the U.S. was our freedom. I laughed because I thought he meant the myriad beers he giddily described being offered in one of our chain restaurants, or the ridiculous number of choices in dried pasta in an American grocery store, both of which he had remarked upon in our previous chats.

“No,” he told me. “Your society is free. When you go to the airport there are no dogs, no military personnel except travelers, no police armed to the teeth like military.”

And now we take our goddamned shoes off, allow our bodies to be scanned, tolerate the armed personnel with dogs as if we were sheep being herded.

The other co-worker from overseas I didn’t know as well. We communicated less frequently, I think in part because he felt less connected to the rest of the global business. It made sense; he was in South Africa, nearly half the globe away from my location. I tried to make him feel comfortable during his visit to the U.S. – this was in 2000 – but the smallish company town in which my facility was located wasn’t yet up to world standards.

Not a place one could easily find rusks for breakfast let alone crumpets.

What struck him as odd when he visited was our openness. Not just the manner in which we greet each other, especially here in flyover country where our passive-aggressiveness is well hidden beneath our Midwest niceness.

When I asked him to explain what he meant he said, “You leave everything out.” We didn’t take in our outdoor patio furniture or our grills. We didn’t lock up our personal effects. He said it wasn’t like that where he lived in Johannesburg at the time; if anything was left outside, it disappeared.

I didn’t have anything to say to that. I couldn’t imagine living in such a suffocating fashion.

And yet now years later I have to monitor everything I do with my electronic devices, hide my traffic with various tools, avoid cameras and Blueray and other IoT devices to prevent losing personal information. No one’s stolen my bike from my porch or my gas grill from my deck but somebody knows my age, name, location and they’ve sold it repeatedly without my express permission.

Who are you? the song asks. Somebody knows, and it’s worth a fortune to them; they’ve stolen that information.

~ ~ ~

It wasn’t The Who that entrenched the question into my brain pan. It was the other way around, a moral and ethical question which wouldn’t leave me alone as I watched miserable wretch after miserable wretch compromise themselves this past week.

The question may even have started to embed itself when I revisited Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations  this last month and asked, What is Rudy Giuliani?

He’s not ‘America’s Mayor’ – unless America has become a bat shit insane and lawless place.

He was there at the scene in 2001 when our collective consciousness was hacked and we began to destroy our open society with a police state.

Is this who we are, weak-willed and servile, giving up our freedoms for the illusion of safety and security, failing to question to whom we yield these freedoms?

Because Rudy Giuliani is among the last people we should seek as an authority on security. He is wholly corrupt, the very thing we should be avoiding if we are a free and open society. He conducts his business in the dark, without oversight, which is appealing to a certain kind of client, abusing the faith and trust some have awarded him by simply surviving the demands 9/11/2001 placed on him as a mayor.

In retrospect perhaps he survived not because he was good but because he was so very bad. We have to ask ourselves what didn’t survive but should have had better leaders with integrity lead us through that time.

Did we really survive?

~ ~ ~

2000 and 2010 did serious damage to us; our country arrived at a fork in the road and it took the turn for the worse. Imagine if instead we had refused to accept the SCOTUS appointment of George Bush in 2000 as president. Imagine if our nascent government surplus had become a means for providing health care for all. Imagine if President Al Gore had been able to promulgate his intended policies to halt climate change.

2010 exacerbated the damage begun in 2000 with the aggressive gerrymandering of states so that the public’s true desires were suppressed at the polls in subsequent elections. We have become a nation in thrall to an oppressive minority, one which is willingly corrupted in order to retain its power over what was the largest economy in the world. Gains made for personal freedom have been few and squelched whenever possible.

We are not the government now in place; they do not truly represent America. They are what a rigged system created by corruption permits us.

What is left of us?

~ ~ ~

Which brings me to that question beating a tattoo in my head: Who are you?

By you I mean the person in the mirror. I mean the persons reading this post, which is in itself another mirror. I mean us, the plural you, the collective we, us.

Who are we?

We aim to prevent corruption, said Rosenstein, and yet I have no faith in this statement from him. I can’t see what he has done to prevent what is happening around us now, a steadily increasing occupation by a transnational organized crime syndicate masquerading as a political party, in league with other crime syndicates abroad which are proxies for hostile nations.

I can’t see how his boss Bill Barr is doing anything to prevent corruption, especially when he perverts and corrupts the First Amendment by claiming from a podium that secularism causes increasing drug use after meeting with the head of a pro-Republican media organization. Not to mention his own role in obstructing justice with his gross misrepresentation of the Special Counsel’s report and his lies to the Senate before that during his confirmation hearing.

I don’t see how our law enforcement is stopping a slide toward a wholly transactional society, when Trump can admit to soliciting foreign aid for his personal benefit on camera with an implied return and our top law enforcement and Senate leadership do nothing but blink like deer in the headlights, offering mealy-mouthed platitudes instead of adherence to ethics and faithful application of the law.

The easier question may be who are we not. I hope we are not these corrupt functionaries holding the places meant for persons with real ethics.

We aim to prevent corruption, Rosenstein said. Note how he didn’t say we stop corruption.

If you read the rest of his speech you’ll note he focused on disproportionate and inefficient enforcement, working on consistency to avoid “piling on” in relation to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

And yet here we are, nearly a year later, digging through a mound of corruption, staring at multiple acts of bribery or extortion as well as violations of federal election laws.

Does this look like we’ve aimed to prevent corruption? Had it not been for a determined and concerned whistleblower we might never have realized there was the possibility of rampant corruption here and overseas involving the White House.

Is this who we are, a nation whittled away down to one brave person who felt their personal ethics required more of them than to simply allow this to continue unchecked?

~ ~ ~

My social media timeline is filled with people who are upset about Trump’s agreement with Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. We do not know the terms of the agreement, only that Trump has consented to Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria to attack the Kurds. There is no apparent benefit to the U.S. and definitely no benefit to the Kurds obtained — The Art of the Deal at work once again.

We can’t rule out there was another quid pro quo involved in this agreement because Trump has properties and businesses inside Turkey, having failed to divest them to avoid conflicts of interest.

ISIS members have escaped because their Kurdish captors have been attacked.

There are atrocities recorded – non-combatants including multiple children killed, a human right activist murdered. Our own troops have been pinned down under Turkish attacks, ordered to stand down and not fire back nor protect the Kurds who have been our allies.

We are both collateral damage and party to war crimes. We have been led into this by a man who is corruptly compromised.

Is this who we chose to be?

~ ~ ~

Every day is a chance to make a new choice, to pick a different way forward. Most of us believe we choose every day not to be a society like the one Rosenstein alluded to in his speech, a place where corruption has infected our thinking and we accept it as a way of life.

(Though I refer to him I’m not at all convinced Rosenstein is above a banal form of corruption by complacency. Someone should ask him if merely surviving is enough, if that’s all he wants for an epitaph on his tombstone: He was a survivor – until now.)

I can’t imagine having to arrange to bribe someone to order a service or product, but we do already accept applications on our phones which direct us to goods or services based on payments those providers made to the application developer. When is this a service versus a system of bribery and extortion?

I can’t imagine bribing a school to obtain an education for myself or my children, and yet some people have and do though only a few have been caught out and punished for it, and nominally at that. When does it become commonplace for bribes to be paid in education, or to punish the well-meaning ineligible voter far more harshly than those who engage in bribes?

I couldn’t imagine compromising on the ideal of one citizen, one vote. Yet I know I didn’t get engaged to deter this ideal’s collapse until too late in my own state. It was like a slow-motion train wreck watching a GOP majority legislator elected to office only to trash the idea of a representative republic right here, up close and personal. It’s not as if they were brilliant; I participated in a debate with our local GOP state representative who proved he was as dumb as a box of rocks. But corruption isn’t smart – it’s persistent, determined, ruthless, and often has the money their ethical opponents don’t. Smart didn’t overcome this, expecting everyone to play by the Marquess of Queensbury’s rules in a bloody street brawl.

I should know better now, having become an activist while watching our slide toward fascism after 9/11; engaged in tracking the tech industry only to find it riddled with misogynist and hebephilic scum. And yet a lack of imagination kept me from seeing the big picture.

I couldn’t imagine living in a country where our leaders openly talk about their own corrupt practices on television, ask for foreign interference in our democracy for personal benefit, and the people don’t take to the streets like they did in South Korea or Romania.

Yet here we are – me, typing away at my keyboard, you reading these pixels. Neither of us in the streets as they are in Hong Kong, fighting to preserve what’s left of their democracy.

Who are we?

Who are you?

Boomtown Blues Trash Talk

As the kids are wont to say, that was a hell of a week, and I’m only talking about Thursday and Friday. Also, too, there seems to be a second IC whistleblower on the horizon, per the NY Times. Things are happening fast, and in real time.

First up is the collegiate athletics. By the way, I honestly think all the Fair Pay to Play acts are, well, not good. They will give a very select small few rights to earn big money, and be seen as different by all the other college athletes that will never benefit. It is a caste system, and empowerment of the 1% off of Wall Street and onto the NCAA landscape. That is not a good thing.

Here is a piece by Michael McCann at the newly decimated Sports Illustrated, that I actually agree with. If Fair Pay to Play is to be enacted, it is absolutely necessary that it be done on a national basis, not a bogus piecemeal state by state basis, as some over aggressive voices are pushing. If you are going to do it, do it right. Join the national effort, not just try to make a name for yourself in your particular state.

Fair Pay to Play Acts are really ratifying that only a select few will ever profit off of the toils of the many. And the only recipients will be, with very few exceptions, in only football and basketball. The theory is not as evil as the result it will create. Irrespective of that merits discussion though, the siren song of state fame seems to be stronger for some noisy advocates than joining in a legitimate national plan. Shocker!

Alright, back to actual college football. It is a rather weak week for interesting games. Iowa at Michigan may be one of the best,and that is pretty telling. The best game is, arguably, Auburn at Florida. Jim White’s Gators have been a bit of a surprise, while Auburn was maybe larger on the preseason radar. The game is in the Swamp, which is huge for Florida. Auburn seems for real this year though, on both sides of the ball. That is the one game I will be truly watching. Mostly a whole lot of nothing after that this week.

As to the Pros: The Squawks beat the Rams in a great Thursday Night game. Off the top of my head, I think the Thursday Night football this year is already of a better quality than past years. Scribe said Vontaze Burfict should be banned from the NFL. I did not necessarily disagree, because his miscreant conduct goes back to college, and he played a couple of years here for the Sun Devils. He is a bad character, banning was arguably a fair result. Instead he will be suspended for the remainder of the year.

The Patriots have a lot of injuries, but they are playing the Skins, who are simply, and totally, fucked. Washington will be starting Colt McCoy, who may actually be their best option. If the Cards and Kyler Murray cannot beat the Bungles, they may not win a game this year.

The game that may be the most interesting is Tampa Bay at New Orleans. Teddy Bridgewater is no Drew Brees, but the Saints are seriously good, and playing at their home dome. Give Jameis Winston a smidgen of credit though, he is markedly better under Bruce Arians’ tutelage. This could be an excellent game. Vikes at Gents could be interesting, even though irrelevant mostly.

In a nod to Scribe’s coming comments, the Ravens at Steelers should be very interesting. Mason Rudolph did well last week; the Ravens not so much in a blowout loss to Baker Mayfield and the Brownies. Two different styles, and two teams that really don’t like each other. Excellent!

Green Bay at Dallas you would think would be a great game. But, even though I am a lifelong Pack fan, this is a tough road to hoe. Have to favor the ‘Boys. Lastly, the MNF game of Cleveland versus Niners in Santa Clara (yeah, that is still a dumbass location for the Niners to be playing in; what a joke), could be very good. Mayfield versus Garrapolo. Both teams are really looking up this year. Edge to SF though. I think…..

This week’s music is Boomtown Blues by Bob Seger, and it is from an under-appreciated early 80’s album, The Distance. Not sure what made me think of it, I have not thrown that album on the turntable for years, but here we are. Making Thunderbirds is also a truly killer cut on The Distance.

Since blowing the whistle is all the rage currently, I am including a second Seger cut, Let It Rock, this from the much earlier Bob Seger System, and it is an old song originally credited to Edward Anderson. Thing is, Edward Anderson was an early pseudonym for the one and only Chuck Berry. Seger’s version is awesome.

Rock on folks.

Three Things: Kavanaughhh

It’s absolutely ridiculous Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court. It’s only more clear over time that he shouldn’t have been. Were Congress not under #MoscowMitch McConnell’s stranglehold as senate majority leader, Kavanaugh would be impeached — his lies alone are adequate reason.

~ ~ ~

We’re revisiting this dreadful wretch because The New York Times published an article this weekend about him.

[Screenshot: The New York Times]


The piece, written by Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly, contains new reported content validating Deborah Ramirez’s claim that the now-seated Supreme Court jurist Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while she was a student at Yale.

Of course the NYT can’t publish this to the front page where it belongs; it filed it under ‘News Analysis’ as you can see in the screenshot above, in their Opinion section of the Sunday Review.

A report of sexual assault on a woman, validated by multiple witnesses, is just an opinion. Entertaining reading on a Sunday morning over coffee in bed.

What utter goddamn bullshit.

Of course the NYT can’t leave that insult on its own. They must further buff this turd by turning this reported piece about a man who has serially assaulted women and lied repeatedly into a diversity piece, making the focus about Ramirez fitting into an Ivy League school.

Ramirez fit in just fine. Yale, however, should answer why it allowed abusive liars like Kavanaugh roam its halls, undermining the scholarship of women around him. The headline on this story should have reflected this problem which is comparable to MIT’s Epstein problem.

Why have highly-ranked universities allowed predators anywhere near students for decades?

And then the pièce de résistance: the tweet promoting this “opinion” piece.

Whoever drafted this now-deleted tweet needs to be interviewed by NYT’s management. They should be worried about an employee who so easily characterizes a form of sexual assault as “harmless fun.” A tweeted apology will only gloss over a deeper problem.

That it made it onto Twitter and wasn’t removed until there was an outcry may explain why NYT has done such a crappy job covering Kavanaugh up to this piece. The paper could have done the legwork Pogrebin and Kelly did to validate Ramirez’s and other accusers’ claims but they didn’t. But NYT didn’t because it’s the kind of news organization which only sees a drunken frat boy’s sexual assaults as “harmless fun.”

~ ~ ~

And then the storm troopers came out to defend their poor little Kavanaugh now that the public has been reminded he’s serially assaulted women and lied repeatedly, meriting impeachment.

Last evening The Federalist’s Sean Davis attacked a witness who validated Ramirez’s claim.

Los Angeles Times’ Jackie Calmes rebutted this morning:

Following Davis, The Federalist’s MZHemingway came out to play character assassination:

Note the time — that’s 11:58 p.m. EDT *. What’s so important that The Federalist’s editors are tweeting on a Saturday evening after the NYT published an Opinion piece in the Sunday Review section?

One might wonder if this wrecking crew had a head’s up this piece might be published over the weekend; they published an article last week attacking Kavanaugh’s accuser Christine Blasey Ford.

Although a piece on/related to Kavanaugh in The Federalist isn’t much of a surprise; they’ve published 371 articles mentioning him or about him to date.

null

If they were paid by the piece they made some bank on Kavanaugh.

But The Federalist still does not publish information about its funding. The public can’t determine if there is a conflict of interest in whatever this conservative outlet produces on Kavanaugh and the jurist himself.

~ ~ ~

While partisan volleys over the NYT’s piece, witness bashing, and victim blaming continues, we still don’t know who paid off Kavanaugh’s massive credit card debt.

We have no idea if any case in front of this current Supreme Court has been decided to the benefit of whoever bought Kavanaugh.

We can’t trust Kavanaugh’s filings about his personal finances because he hasn’t the receipts and he’s lied repeatedly.

Kavanaugh needs to go for these reasons alone. But there is one more extremely important reason he needs to be removed from the SCOTUS.

He’s the single biggest reason current House Democrats cannot rely on bringing any of the unsatisfied subpoenas before the SCOTUS.

The unanimous Supreme Court decision in United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683 (1974), by which Richard Nixon was forced comply with a Congressional subpoena to give up damning audio tapes, was the most critical point of the impeachment process against Nixon. The court said there was no “absolute, unqualified Presidential privilege of immunity from judicial process under all circumstances.”

In essence, the president is not above the law. They cannot withhold materials responsive to a subpoena because of a general interest in confidentiality.

Kavanaugh has said he believes United States v. Nixon was wrongly decided, however, in spite of a unanimous decision.

If he believes the SCOTUS can’t weigh in on a dispute between two co-equal branches, he’s allowing the president to run unchecked — above the law.

We can’t trust the logic of a serial liar, ostensibly owned by some unknown party, with a habit of ignoring a lack of consent.

~ ~ ~

Treat this as an open thread.

(* I’m not sharing a link because I’m not driving traffic to any of The Federalist’s team. Attention = money and I’m not giving them any more than I have to.)

Commuting Blago’s Wildly Excessive Sentence Would Be Right For Trump To Do

Another poster at the Emptywheel blog, okay, it may be Emptywheel herself, has today posted a very interesting take, and I think a good one, on the intersection of Jim Comey, Pat Fitzgerald and Rod Blagojevich.

If Trump were to commute Blago’s sentence…..it would be one of the few pardon power actions he has taken that would be justified.

The other was, obviously, the woman Kim Kardashian talked him into commuting.

Don’t get me started about governance by reality show/sex tape idiots like Kimye, but still that was good.

Here is the thing though. Hate on Rod Blagojevich all you want. Laugh at him all you want. Sure, all that is good and proper.

What was not, however, was his sentence. Judge James Zagel got a bug up his ass and sentenced Blago to twice as much time as was possibly appropriate for his purported offenses. There is a long history of Illinois Governors, criminal charges, and prison. But no sentence remotely like Zagel gave Blago.

Then there was Bob McDonnell of Virginia, who ended up not ever serving a day on things that were, mostly, more obvious pay to play corruption than Blago. Also, there was Don Siegelman, who arguably met potential charging elements, even if they were mostly innocuous acts, and who was only ever charged because of a Rove/Cheney effort to insure the same. Siegelman got just over six years.

Don’t get me started about Bob Menendez. The point being, even if Blago was corrupt, needed to be found guilty, and needed to be sentenced…..The sentence of 14 years Zagel gave Mr. Blagojevich was insane and ludicrous.

As big of a narcissistic and useless asshole as Trump is, he would be right to commute the insanely over sentenced punishment Zagel gave to Rod Blagojevich.

People, especially the more liberal than not among us, constantly scream for criminal justice reform. Abolish cash bail (a good thought, but one with far different and deeper implications than you think as Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice has noted), less incarceration, shorter sentences, better programs for those incarcerated. End the death penalty. Less solitary confinement. Etc. All good things.

But part and parcel of all of it is recognizing crazy stupid sentences too. Blago is pretty much a joke of a historical character. Fine. He was never Public Enemy Number One either. His sentence from Zagel was outrageous. If Trump is willing to commute it, he should, and that should be cheered.

But, because of pushback from the very same people that usually scream and squawk, and rightfully so, about criminal justice reform when it is not one of their pet pariahs, i.e. people on the left and, here, Blago, Trump will certainly chicken out from doing the right thing. Because Trump doesn’t know the facts, and he is a pussy that is too easily grabbed by Republicans and, in this case, bullshit liberals too.

Free Blago. It needs to be done.

Clear The Shelters Day Is August 17

Yes, I know I do not write enough lately. I may return to the absolutely faux impeachment shenanigans Nadler is perpetrating soon, we shall see. Those caveats aside, there are some important real life things going on this weekend

The Clear The Shelters day is coming this weekend on August 17. It is an awesome and worthy effort. Please give it consideration and a try. You will get a new family member and enjoy unconditional love, even if there is the traditional pet rambunctiousness.

Marcy has been fantastic, forever, in adoption doggies. I will fully admit to being bad in this regard because many decades ago (no I will not say how many, because it is a lot), a college roommate in Boulder brought home a Samoyed puppy. I fell in love with and, upon return to Arizona, I got a Sammy. The third in succession, Kiki, is still alive and kicking, though quite old. I stubbornly stuck with kind of a rare dog that you don’t find at the shelter. Our dogs have been fantastic. But dogs are almost always fantastic, and saving them is truly a wonderful and admirable act.

So, I have not done so well at adopting and rescuing dogs. Yet. But, hopefully, that will change with the next critter.

But you can.

Saturday August 17, 2019, is Clear The Shelters Day. You feel low about all the outrageous bunk going on in America, much less the world lately? A pup will help you deal with it. Pups are universal, and they will love you as much as you love them, if not more.

Go get a pup, and Clear The Shelters.

On a parting note, I’d like to commend and support the effort that Glenn Greenwald and David Miranda are doing in Brazil to not only rescue dogs, but homeless people as well. It is a fantastic thing. And, done correctly, maybe something that could, and should, be done here in the United States.

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