It Ain’t Over

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has provided a little pep talk to women and progressives who are disheartened, dismayed, enraged, and stunned by today’s public head-counting ahead of Brett Kavanaugh’s scheduled confirmation vote on Saturday.  She concedes defeat, and her tone seems meant to console the weary and prepare them for some as yet unidentified new battle.

The vote tomorrow may very well be a done deal. There’s an ultra-slim chance that a couple of Republican Senators will have a crisis of conscience tonight but, given Republican’s history of late, conscience is not a guiding force. 

But the allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh aren’t just going to magically dry up and blow away. In fact, it sounds like more and more witnesses with corroborating testimony are coming forward and will likely talk to the press, shedding more even more light in the public arena.  There may even be lawsuits against Kavanaugh himself.

The long list of potential perjury charges against him aren’t magically going to disappear, either.  Nor are the millions of Americans who have been disgusted by Republicans’ refusal to conduct a true and fair investigation of Kavanaugh’s background and his potential misdeeds.  Those 2,400+ law professors and the American Bar Association are also not all going to quietly slink into the background, never to be heard from again.

No matter which way Saturday’s vote turns out, the collective struggle to get to the truth is far from over.  It may take massive turnout at the polls.  It may take impeachment proceedings against him or legal action or public outcry, or all of the above.  It will be long and it is virtually guaranteed to be ugly.  But it will be worth the fight.

 

 

Sugar Frosted Flake

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) has been getting praise heaped upon him for “doing the moral thing,” for “taking a step back,” for “acting on his conscience,” and for “working across the aisle” by figuring out a way to delay Brett Kavanaugh’s SCOTUS confirmation vote, pending further investigation by the FBI.  But you don’t have to scratch too deeply into Flake’s sugar-coated surface to become cynical about his tactics and his motives.

Flake’s heralded rebellious behavior arrives against a backdrop of his previous history of pontificating against Trump and his policies and positions, followed almost immediately by his consistently voting in favor of Trump’s policies and positions.  The stakes here, however, are far greater than whether or not Flake agrees with Trump on any single policy matter.

If Flake had truly wanted to act morally and ethically, he had a less flimsy option available: he could have voted no in committee in order to allow sufficient time for a thorough FBI investigation of all pending allegations.  He would have been able to use the power of one committee member’s vote to ensure the result would be aligned with his purported position of morality.

Instead, he used a different strategy:  vote affirmatively in committee to proceed to a floor vote, with a pledge to vote no when the nomination went to the full Senate.  He agreed to a delay of a single week instead of letting the investigation take the amount of time that would actually be necessary.  This cursory delay gives Flake and the Republicans cover to pretend they looked deeply enough into Kavanaugh’s questionable past.  Flake can go home to Arizona and continue his public hand-wringing without truly having done anything genuine to get to the truth of Kavanaugh’s potential crimes through a robust, unconstrained investigation.

We’ve already seen Trump put limitations around the FBI investigation, including excluding any accusations by the third accuser and preventing the FBI from interviewing those folks from Kavanaugh’s college years who have stated that they regularly witnessed him drinking to excess and exhibiting belligerent behavior.

If Kavanaugh is confirmed (as many Republicans have promised that he will be, despite not having a clue what the FBI might uncover), three of the nine SCOTUS justices – a full third of the court – will be under a lifetime dark cloud.  Clarence Thomas, despite his confirmation years ago, is under renewed scrutiny and criticism in the era of #MeToo; Neil Gorsuch’s seat rightfully belongs to Merrick Garland; and Brett Kavanaugh, who will perpetually be mistrusted as the result of Thursday’s riveting and credible testimony from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, along with a whole host of unexamined or under-examined allegations from additional accusers and witnesses.

On a couple of occasions, I’ve listened to people support Flake by saying that he’s done more than any other Republican has done to try to make this debacle better.  That, sadly, is probably true.  But there is still a gigantic chasm between Flake’s actions and a truly moral and ethical solution.  Flake may have been able to give Republicans a pretense to hide behind and he may momentarily assuage his own sense of guilt.  But it does little to get to the actual truth of Kavanaugh’s history to determine whether he is morally suited for a lifetime appointment on the nation’s highest court.

Right-Wing Harpie Bites Publishing Dust

Katherine ‘Hair-Helmet’ Harris apparently is not particularly interesting, not even to her own demographic. The chronicle of her martyrdom — with the self-congratulatory title ‘Center of the Storm’ — is officially on the virtual remainder table, even on the right wing World Net Daily web site. Published at $22.99. Now selling for five measly clams.

Kind of a nice reflection of that old ‘supply-and-demand’ Republican value.

Keepin’ It Surreal

I’ve heard people say that Las Vegas is the most surreal place on earth. But I just spent the weekend in Palm Springs, and I beg to differ.

Las Vegas has no sham about what it is — a place to indulge in all those things that you’re not supposed to do, like drinking, gambling, going to titty bars, eating bad food, smoking indoors.

Palm Springs, on the other hand, is much more multi-tiered.

There’s the ‘Famous People Live(d) Here’ tier. That tier is unmistakable, especially when you’re waiting at the stoplight at the corner of Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra.

Then there’s the ‘I’ve Earned the Right to Retire Here’ tier. Hectare upon hectare of gated communities, all of which look just as recently installed as the palm trees that surround them. I often wonder, in such surroundings, just who the gates are meant to keep out. I can’t recall the last time I saw so much automotive bling-bling (gold trim on half-block wide Cadillacs, landau roofs, custom hood ornaments), except perhaps on one of those BET music videos.

Then there’s the ‘I’ve Earned the Right to be Gay Here’ tier. And the nudist tier (which overlaps sometimes with the gay tier). And the Indian Gaming tier (which, interestingly, seems to have been appropriated in part by Donald Trump — funny, I didn’t even know he was Native American). And the mega-Christian tier, which inspires people to decorate their cars with tributes to the big J.

One of the scariest tiers is the media tier, which consists of only happy news (in spite of a world in total turmoil). I’m sure the focus groups must have revealed long ago that the population in Palm Springs didn’t want to know anything disturbing or complex, because everything is reduced to the most banal, palatable or cute.

I guess the break with reality is why people make this a weekend escape. What worries me is that some just never come back.

Scalia

GOP: Let ’er R.I.P.

We note the passing today of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, champion of all things conservative and a self-proclaimed “strict constructionist” when it came to interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.

O.K. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk politics.  Too soon, you say? Hold your horses.  At this writing, it is merely a matter of hours since his death and Scalia’s corpulent corpse isn’t even cold yet.

Yet at this writing, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is already making statements that the Senate should prevent President Obama from appointing Scalia’s successor and that the nomination and confirmation of a new justice should wait until after the new president is in office, more than 11 months from now.

At this writing, Dr. Ben Carson, perhaps in some last-ditch effort to regain what he believed to be relevance, has said he doesn’t think a new justice should be sworn in until the next administration:

“It might perhaps be good to wait until we have a new president and someone who is going to put in the requisite amount of research into finding a strict constitutionalist.”

At this writing, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa has tossed his two cents in:

“… it only makes sense that we defer to the American people who will elect a new president to select the next Supreme Court Justice.”

At this writing, Senator Lindsay Graham has been slightly softer in his views, but every bit as crazy. He’s stated that there should be consensus in the Senate around the nominee but then suggested arch-conservative Orrin Hatch.

If there is any Democratic voter who says that they just won’t vote in November if their candidate isn’t the nominee, let today’s events be a warning. If you think the hyperpartisanship of today’s politics is bad, let your mind wander to just what it would look like with a Republican president and a Republican-controlled Congress, with nominations of multiple Supreme Court justices as bad or worse than Scalia. Enjoy your worst nightmare.

Walter Scott

Deja Vu with a View

It has happened again: another white police officer shooting an unarmed black man under deeply questionable circumstances.  These occurrences happen so frequently, they’re almost predictable.

However, the most recent police shooting (or, at least, the most recent one that is garnering national attention) has even some of the most ardent and loyal supporters of police decrying the law enforcement officer’s side of the story.  This would not be the case were it not for the video of the actual shooting, which surfaced yesterday via The New York Times.

The video is chilling to watch.

The North Charleston, S.C. police department, upon seeing the video, almost immediately fired Michael Slager, the officer who fired eight bullets at Walter Scott as Scott ran away from him.  Slager was also immediately charged with murder once the video showed what had transpired.

But there are still so many questions that need to be answered, among them:

  • Was Slager’s police report about the incident (that took place several days before the video surfaced) completely at odds with the events that are shown in the video?  Is that an explanation for the uncharacteristic haste with which he was charged?
  • What is the object that Slager picked up and subsequently dropped close to Scott?  Was this the stun gun that the officer claimed that Scott was reaching for?  Why did Slager retrieve this object before attempting to come to Scott’s aid or summoning additional help?
  • Why does Slager’s action – retrieving and relocating that object – appear to be so automatic?  Is this an indication of just how commonplace this sort of behavior is when officers in North Charleston are unaware that they are being filmed?
  • Why do the additional police reports filed by other officers who were next on the scene align so closely with Slager’s account of the events?  Was there collusion that was part of the cover-up?

And perhaps the biggest question:

  • What role did race place in all of this?

North Charleston is less than 10 miles from the Charleston slave market, one of the main points of entry to the United States for the slave trade; it’s often referred to as the “capital of the slave trade.”  There are those in South Carolina (as well as elsewhere in the South) who still don’t like to talk openly about slavery and its horrific and persistent after-effects.  If slavery is mentioned at all, it’s referred to as “that unpleasantness” or some other euphemism masquerading as gentility.  This kind of paranym, more sugary than sweet tea, is deeply embedded within the culture of the South.

As events over the next weeks and months progress, it will be revealing to see how this community, other cities, and the nation as a whole respond.  Will this be the shooting that finally moves the understanding of systemic racism forward?

Mike Pence

Mike Pence’s Fugue State

Indiana Governor Mike Pence appears to have been walking around in a fugue state for the last week. Somewhere between my empathy and my thirst for comeuppance lies a certain curiosity about what it must be like to be in his shoes these days. His world – or at least his political world – has turned upside down and back again in record time.

Between his bumbling appearance on This Week with George Stephanopoulos and his wheezing press conference the following day, the governor has received more national attention than he has ever dreamed of having, most of which has been exceedingly negative.

Pence is certainly no political neophyte. Far from it. He is what most observers would refer to as a seasoned politician. So why, then, has he appeared to be at such a loss for a solution to his (and Indiana’s) mounting public relations nightmare?

The most logical hypothesis is that he has managed to surround himself for years with people who either agree with his positions or who are politic enough not to challenge them too sharply.

The positions he has taken and the values he has held have generally fallen on the spectrum somewhere between conservative and off-the-charts right wing. This is particularly evident when you review his record on LGBT issues.

  • In 2006, he voted in favor of a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage
  • In 2007, he voted No on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act while in Congress
  • In 2010, he voted No on President Obama’s proposed repeal of DADT, arguing that “unit cohesion” would be affected.

It’s not just LGBT issues where he’s taken the most right-leaning positions. He’s voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and he opposed a similar state act in Indiana.

While there may have been viewpoints expressed that were different from his own, Pence pretty much skated by both in Congress and as Governor without having too much opposition aimed directly at him.

Suddenly this week, Pence faced genuine pushback – both in Indiana and across the country – the likes of which he’s never experienced after signing the state’s so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act, surrounded by a gaggle of nuns and his most devotedly anti-LGBT cronies. To say that he reacted to that pushback like a deer in the headlights drastically underestimates headlights.

He first denied that the bill had anything to do with discrimination, and then spun on his heels almost immediately to request that the law be changed.  On Thursday of this week, Pence signed the hastily cobbled-together amended version of the RFRA, under an even more secret veil of secrecy than he had signed the original version.

It remains to be seen how much additional blowback he’ll face and how much more political capital he’ll lose. But one thing is certain: even if he regains his equilibrium, his political world will never be quite the same.

Pick a Party, Already

During a press conference today, Sen. Chuck Schumer referred to the stalemate in Washington today as the “tea party shutdown.”   Schumer may be doing some political calculation in order to allow the GOP as a whole to save face.  After all, he’s got to work alongside of these people. However, it is completely disingenuous for him to characterize bringing the government to a halt as solely the work of the tea party.

We’ve watched over the last several years as the so-called tea party candidates have inserted themselves into the Republican party.  And the Republican party has done little or nothing to discourage them or their attendant extremism.  In fact, many in the Republican party used the ascent of the tea party as an excuse to espouse their own extreme right-wing views more openly and shamelessly.

Consequently, it’s virtually impossible to delineate where the GOP ends and the tea party begins.  They have become one and the same.  While there are certainly more extreme members with more extreme views, they blend in all too inconspicuously with the GOP at large.

With the current government shutdown, certain more centrist members of Congress have attempted to distance themselves from the tea party extremists within their ranks.  But the party as a whole has not yet come up with a strategy to restrict tea party influence within the GOP in a way that is commensurate with their actual numbers.  Consequently, the GOP owns this shutdown.

The basic questions that we were asking when the tea party first formed still haven’t been answered.  Which is it?  Are you upper or lower case?  Are you a faction of the Republican Party, and therefore the “tea party” or “tea party caucus”?  Or do you consider yourself an actual legitimate third party, or Tea Party?

If it’s the former, then the GOP needs to take your views into consideration but make its collective decisions based on the majority within the party.  (This especially means you, Mr. Speaker.)   That also means that the GOP owns all of the insanity within its ranks, in those cases in which the extremists convince the more mainstream members of Congress to vote with them.

If it’s the latter, then the tea party earns its upper case status, along with all of the responsibilities and obligations that a political party has.  So far, the tea party has reaped all the rewards of both positions and has borne none of the responsibilities of either.

So make up your minds.

To paraphrase Jesse Pinkman, “let’s Party, bitches.”

GOP Hypocrisy in Action

The New York Post reported today on a suspected denial of service attack on the New York state website meant to handle enrollment in the health care exchanges.  But buried within that article is a quote from attorney Greg Crawford, a man with Crohn’s disease who will potentially receive significant benefit from the Affordable Care Act:

“I’m not a big fan of the government taking over all this stuff politically, but I’m going to benefit from it tremendously as an individual, and I just wish it would work,” he said.

I do not know Crawford’s political affiliation, but this statement certainly sums up the way the GOP approaches government and the services and resources that the government provides. In their world view, the government should stay out of our business and not provide any services, unless it affects me.  We see this with the government shutdown, we’ve seen this with gay marriage, and we’ve seen this with funding for stem cell research.  We’ve witnessed how Republican governors who were vociferously opposed to bailouts are first in line to take credit when bailouts are successful.  We’ve watched as members of Congress voted against funding for rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy do a 180-degree turn when there’s a natural disaster that affects their own states or districts.

Crawford’s statement, apparently oblivious to the irony embedded therein, is just one more manifestation of the self-centeredness of today’s GOP.