Wednesday, March 01, 2017

The Press Conference That Wasn't

Aberdeen Times :

So I caught part of President Trump’s latest press conference while eating lunch Thursday. I’ve since watched the whole thing on video. I’ve reviewed the transcript of it online. And I have come to an inescapable conclusion: There is something seriously wrong inside the head of the President of the United States.  What began as an opportunity to introduce Mr. Trump’s new nominee for Labor Secretary, R. Alexander Acosta, rapidly degenerated into the usual airing of the grievances, resentments, and narcissistic obsessions of one Donald J. Trump.
His favorite whipping boy, of course, was what he calls “the dishonest media,” a designation which might have been somewhat more compelling had Mr. Trump himself not told so many outright lies. He claimed “the biggest electoral college win since Reagan” (George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama all had greater margins).  He claimed to have given a news conference “every time I made a speech, which was like every day. OK?” (As the Toronto Star noted, this was “not even close to true. Trump indeed gave near-daily speeches during the campaign, but he did not do a single news conference over the last three months of the campaign”).  He claimed a “smooth rollout” of his Muslim travel ban  (the chaos and confusion caused by the ban is well-documented). He said his administration is running like “a fine-tuned machine” (except, one supposes, for the National Security Adviser forced to resign for lying to the Vice President; the freelancing “spokesperson” who’s been barred from both the usually friendly “Morning Joe” and from CNN; the labor secretary nominee even some Republicans couldn’t stomach; and so on).
To Trump, however, any fact that contradicts what he says is “fake news.” This is the case even if , for example,  said “fake news” led him to fire National Security Adviser Gen. Michael Flynn for lying to the Vice President about his contacts with Russia--after which Trump griped about how unfairly Gen Flynn was treated.  
Supposedly it’s also “fake news” that his campaign was in contact with agents of Russian intelligence at about the time the Russians were hacking the computers of the Democratic National Committee.  The leaks that led to those stories, however, are serious business, “so unfair,” according to Trump, and need to be investigated. When pressed on the apparent contradiction, Trump explained that leaks are real but the news that comes from them is fake, “because so much of the  news is fake.” Get it now?
See, here’s something Mr. Trump probably doesn’t get about this whole leak business. I’ve tried cases in criminal and domestic courts for over 25 years now, and “where did you get that?! You’re not supposed to have that!” when confronted with damning evidence is the cry of a guilty man.
Mr. Trump spent a lot of time complaining, as he always does, about how unfair everything is to him.  After all, he said, “I inherited a mess.” Funny, I seem to recall every time President Obama mentioned the mess he’d inherited, including the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, the wingnuts shrieked “When is Obama going to stop blaming Bush for all his problems and show some leadership!?” 
A real low point (there were so many) was when Trump responded to a question from  April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks as to whether the Congressional Black Caucus was going to be included in meetings on Trump’s “urban agenda.” “Do you know them?” Trump said challengingly. “Do you want to set up the meeting?” When Ryan noted that she was only a reporter, Trump snapped “well then, set up the meeting.”
Oh, and he also rudely dismissed a Jewish reporter in a yarmulke for asking about rising anti-semitism in the country. “Not a fair question,” he snapped.  “Sit down.” This must have reassured his large and devoted neo-Nazi following that he’s still on their side.
All of this is just catnip,  of course, to Trump’s hard core supporters. Sure, the leader of the Free World sounded like an angry drunk at the end of the bar raging at the TV when the bartender flips it to CNN. But Trump could have done the conference in a clown nose and rubber duck hat, honking a bicycle horn and speaking in pig Latin, and his base would eat it up, so long as he attacked the press and put a black reporter—a woman, no less-- in her place. All it lacked to make it like the good old days of the campaign was some random old white dude smacking April Ryan in the face as she was led out.  
 In the end, this wasn’t a press conference. It was another rally for the troops, yet another campaign event for the man who’d rather keep campaigning than actually govern.

She Persisted

Aberdeen Times:

Looks like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t think his cunning plan to silence Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren all the way through.
  In case you missed it, this past Tuesday, Senator Warren was engaging in the debate over the nomination of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions. As part of the debate, she was reading a letter written by the late Coretta Scott King, widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and a formidable civil rights crusader in her own right. King’s letter was written in opposition to Sessions’ nomination for federal judge. It said, in regards to his tenure as U.S. Attorney for Alabama, that “Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters. For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship.”
All this was just too much for the delicate shell-like ears of Senator McConnell, who invoked a rule of the Senate that forbids any Senator from using “any form of words” to impute “conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator." Apparently, you’re free to oppose a sitting Senator up for a cabinet post, but you can't say anything negative about him while you’re doing it. No mean trick, that. Apparently, the Republican majority in the Senate is still so insecure about their position that they feel as if the only way to win a debate is not to have it.
In any case, McConnell, hereinafter referred to as “Sen. Snowflake,” made a motion to censure Warren which barred her from any further debate on this nomination, which passed along party lines. This was bad enough, but then Snowflake really stepped in it. In defending his use of Senate rules to muzzle a female Senator, he issued a statement:  “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
There are some things said by politicians that are just so ham-fisted, so clearly ill-advised, so just plain wrong that they make you go “oh, dude, you are totally going to regret that.”  That was one of them.  Within hours, “She persisted” became a Twitter hashtag, an Internet meme, and a general rallying cry, which only grew louder when several male members of the Senate (Tom Udall of New Mexico, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, and Bernie Sanders of Vermont) were allowed to read the whole letter.
Sessions was eventually approved, as everyone knew he would be, which made this action by the Senate GOP even more pointless and unnecessary.  Had they not chosen to intervene, the letter, read to a mostly empty Senate chamber, would not have attracted much, if any, notice.  I suppose Sen. Snowflake felt like he needed to smack down a potential Democratic presidential nominee. But defending the action with the sort of language an abuser would use after blackening his partner’s eye (“Hey, what could I do? I warned her, I explained why she was wrong, but she kept flappin’ her gums”) just served to rally people behind Warren and make her an overnight sensation, the face of the resistance.  You want to crush a movement, you don’t hand it a slogan and a flag. These are not very bright people.
Because here’s the thing: an election is not a war. When it’s over, the people you defeated are still around. That’s how it works in America, at least for now.  Recently, I read one of those gloating, chest-beating online opinions claiming that the Democratic Party and liberalism are “dead.” Hmmm, I thought. This sounds familiar. And I was right. It’s what the same people were saying the day after George Dubbya Bush was re-elected. Four years later, Barack Obama became the first black president. And then, some were saying that the GOP was dead. But after President Obama’s election, what did the right do? The Tea Party held rallies, turned out for town halls, carried signs--some with truly comical spelling and a few that were outright racist, but they were out there. They persisted. And now the pendulum’s swung the other way. But no pendulum stays swung in one direction for ever.
If you believe in voting rights for all,  if you believe in equality before the law for all people, if you believe the environment is worth saving for all of us, and if you believe that access to healthcare should be for everyone, not just those with money—in short, if you believe that “liberty and justice for all” isn’t just an empty slogan, then you might think these are some dark days, what with the vain, greedy, childish wannabe dictator Orange Julius Caesar in the White House and a compliant Congress willing to roll over for him. But that’s when, more than ever, you need to persist.

Super Bowl Bud Ad Causes Wingnut Frenzy

Aberdeen Times : 

Super Bowl Sunday has become a truly American holiday, and one of its most cherished traditions is the rollout of new, creative, occasionally controversial, and always insanely expensive TV ads.
One that’s already raising a few eyebrows is from a perennial advertiser on sports programs of all kinds, the Anheuser-Busch Corporation. Titled “Born the Hard Way,” the ad provides a highly dramatized version of the journey of A-B co-founder Adolphus Busch. The young and handsome Adolphus comes to our shores via a stormy passage on a rickety boat, experiences anti-immigrant prejudice (“You ain’t wanted here! Go back home!” an unshaven lout yells at him), sees his first black person, is forced to jump overboard after a steamboat explosion, and eventually makes his wet and weary way to St. Louis, where a chance meeting over a beer with the older and prosperous Eberhard Anheuser causes him to reveal his dream of brewing the watery and undistinguished pilsner that would become the catalyst for so many of my own youthful misadventures.
Now, the bit about anti-immigrant sentiment lasts maybe five seconds of the 60-second ad, which in normal times would be regarded as a standard, if hackneyed rags-to-riches story. It should also be noted that the ad was written, produced, and shot months ago, long before Cheeto Mussolini’s disastrous, ill-conceived and chaotically executed Muslim ban-that’s-not-a-ban-but-Trump-said-it-was-a-ban-on-Twitter.
But to the special snowflakes of Trumpland, who spend half their time crowing and thumping their chests about their idol’s recent electoral triumph and the other half stomping their feet and whining about every perceived slight to his (and by extension, their) awesomeness, even a bland ad for a blander beer is a vile and traitorous act of offense to the sovereign. “Budweiser Attacks American’s [sic] Who Want Secure Borders,” blared the wingnut website “Gateway Pundit” (where they apparently find the rules of punctuation too “elitist,” or “politically correct”).
A site called FreedomDaily.com blasted that “Budweiser Airs DISGUSTING Super Bowl Commercial Bashing President Trump.” It should be noted that President Tweety’s name is never mentioned in the ad, but why let little details like that get in the way of right wing butthurt? Breitbart.com, the wretched hive of online scum and villainy that gave us Trump adviser Steve Bannon, accused Anheuser Busch of “playing politics.”
But for the truly unhinged reactions, you have to go to the comments section at Breitbart, where one angry little Trumpkin asserted that “the Super Bowl has been a globalist propaganda machine for a number of years now.” Another raved (in ALL CAPS, of course) that we should BOYCOTT THE SUPER BOWL AND THE NFL!!! #MAGA!”
Yeah, that’s going to happen. Nothing says “Make America Great” like boycotting the Super Bowl, Budweiser, and the NFL.
Oh, they’re also mad at Kellogg’s cereal for some reason. I didn’t dig any deeper, because wading around too long in the fever-swamp that is the Trump-centric blogosphere eventually leads to sensations of disorientation and nausea. All I can say is, if these people keep getting so offended by the “liberal” bias they imagine in one food or beverage company after another, pretty soon they’re going to be living on nothing but Papa John’s pizza and Chic-Fil-A. Scurvy is a distinct possibility.
I suppose it’s not surprising that they’re a little bit touchy. After all, the poor dears find themselves trying to defend an Executive Order that was supposed to help keep us safe but which quickly degenerated into chaos and confusion, including the detention of legal permanent residents, small children, and people who risked their lives to help U.S. soldiers in the Iraq War.
Things reached maximum lunacy (we hope) when we saw Press Secretary Sean Spicer desperately trying to convince us that five year old Iranians really are dangerous and the increasingly haggard Kellyanne Conway making up a fictional “Bowling Green Massacre” to try and “prove” that “Obama did it too!” (He didn’t. Obama slowed down the admission of Iraqis to impose new vetting procedures after a terror plot was discovered; he didn’t blanket ban people from seven countries).
As you may have surmised by now, while Bud was the beer of my misspent youth, I now consider it swill. Apparently the real Adolphus Busch, a wine drinker, felt the same way. But I may just buy a six-pack in their honor after this. I’m not going to drink it, mind you, but in a world where even the beer is a political statement, one must do one’s part.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Gaslighter In Chief

Aberdeen Times:

Hi! I’m J.D. Rhoades, and I’ll be (hopefully) entertaining you here at the Aberdeen Times every Sunday. Some of you may know me and my work already, some may not. If you don’t, let me tell you a little bit about myself.
I was born and raised here in the Sandhills, and I’m the result of a one night stand between then-president John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe, who JFK snuck down and stashed for an evening of romance at the old Charlton Motel on U.S. Highway 1. After Ms. Monroe delivered me at the old Moore Memorial Hospital, I was raised by a kindly pharmacist and his beautiful wife until the age of 12, where my inherent genius was noticed by Harvard University, who arranged for my entry on a full scholarship. I graduated Harvard in two years and completed Yale Law School in one. Since my graduation and admission to the bars of seven states, I’ve made a living arguing cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. At one point, my brief in a case involving a water rights dispute between Nevada and Colorado actually reduced Justice William Brennan to tears. “It’s so beautiful,” he sobbed. In my spare time I’ve amused myself by writing several New York Times bestsellers, two of which have been nominated for both the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes.
What’s that you say? That sounds like a pack of outrageous and easily refuted lies? Pshaw. That’s pre-Donald Trump thinking. As of January 20th, we live in the world of “alternative facts.” That’s the term Trump spokesgoblin Kellyanne Conway used when NBC’s Chuck Todd used his newly acquired backbone to point out that claims by press secretary Sean Spicer that the turnout for President Tweety’s inauguration was “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period” were refuted by photographs, counts by the DC Metro system of people traveling into DC, and pretty much every source connected with objective reality. The claims were, in fact, lies.
But Ms. Conway scoffed at any suggestion of the “l” word. Don’t be so dramatic, she chided Todd. Spicer had “alternative facts.”
Now, the rest of us don’t get to claim the use of “alternative facts.” If I get popped by the Highway Patrol for going 75 miles per hour in a 35 mile an hour school zone, I don’t get to stand in court and say “The alternative facts, your honor, are that I was driving a perfectly legal speed, and besides, I was actually on the German Autobahn.” If I come home at 3 AM stinking of rum and cigarettes and covered in stripper glitter, I don’t get to claim “alternative facts” that it’s only 9 PM, that smell is chamomile tea, and I’ve been at Bible study.
The Trump camp’s tactic very closely resembles a sinister game played in interpersonal relationships known as “gaslighting.” It’s named for the classic 1944 suspense film “Gas Light” in which Charles Boyer attempts to convince his spouse, played by Ingrid Bergman, that she’s going insane.



 A number of odd things happen (such as the sudden random dimming of the gas lighting in their home), which Boyer insists to Bergman are all figments of her imagination. Gaslighting is a favorite tactic of sociopaths and spousal abusers, who’ll try to create “alternative facts” (“I didn’t hit you, I never threatened you, you’re making it up because you’re crazy”) to keep their victims off-balance and in line.
You have to wonder how many times Donald Trump has seen that movie, because he seems to be basing a lot of his communication strategy around it:

• “I never mocked a disabled reporter, you’re making it up because you’re trying to discredit me.”
• “Three to five million people voted illegally. Everybody knows it. You know it. You don’t need evidence. You’re just denying it because you’re partisan.”
• “I never compared the intelligence services to Nazis. I love the intelligence services. You’re just saying otherwise for political gain.”
• “I had the biggest inaugural turnout ever. Who are you going to believe, me or your lyin’ eyes?”
The wingnuts spent years falsely dubbing Barack Obama “Liar in Chief”. So who do they elect to replace him? A man who, along with his henchpeople, will lie to your face about things that can be easily disproved, then call you crazy or partisan for standing up for reality. Donald Trump has become, in the space of one short week, America’s Gaslighter in Chief.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Post the Pilot Newspaper Didn't Want You To See

After 20 years writing a column with pretty much total editorial independence (and winning two NC Press Association Awards for it), The Pilot Newspaper of Southern Pines, NC decided that the column below might make too many Republicans mad. "David is getting tired of people saying they're cancelling their subscription," I was told. The opinion editor, Steve Bouser, demanded a "more hopeful" one (on  Thursday morning, no less).

 I declined, since to do so would have been to write something  I do not believe in. They spiked  it and ran a "let's all give Trump a chance" column in its place.  So I have ended my association with the Pilot as a columnist.

If you're as concerned as I am about dissenting opinions being stifled because of Republican bullying, please contact the publisher at david@thepilot.com, or the opinion editor at sbouser@thepilot.com. Now here's the column they didn't want you to see:

Dear Mr. Trump:

Well, the day has finally come and gone. You’ve risen to the top of the list, a-number-one, king of the hill, all that stuff. You’ve achieved an honor few men can claim. And in that ascension, you’ve helped to set Americans free. Well, some of them at least.

Oh, you think I’m talking about the Presidency? Well, I suppose that’s neat, too. But this week, according to the Twitter feed of your son (and 80’s movie villain) Eric, you’ve also garnered laurels from Golf Digest, who has raised you to lofty heights by proclaiming you “Golfer-In-Chief.” According to the G.D. story, “Sixteen of the past 19 presidents have played golf, but Trump is the best and most passionate golfer among them.”




Now, I remember when “Golfer In Chief” was used as a sneer to question the work ethic of President Barack Obama. I remember it because it was still happening this week.

But, as you’ve taken great pains to make us aware, Donald J. Trump is a great man. Too great to be fettered by little things like consistency or principle. How else would the man who once spent six years questioning the legitimacy and American citizenship of a sitting president get to be all indignant because a Congressman questioned his own legitimacy? How else could the man who tweeted after Barack Obama’s 2012 election that "We should march on Washington and stop this travesty. Our nation is totally divided!" later call Rep. John Lewis, a hero of the civil rights movement, a hypocrite for not attending his inauguration? How else could a man who harshly slams companies for sending jobs overseas nominate a man who’s done just that for Commerce Secretary?

Consistency? Principle? Pshaw. Those are for the little people, not a transformative figure like Trump, son of Trump.

And make no mistake, Mr. Trump, you are a transformative figure. You’ve already done so much to free us from the bonds of “political correctness.” Why, just this past week, Christopher vonKeyserling, a 71-year-old Republican politician from Greenwich, Connecticut, resolved a political argument with a female town employee by following the woman into her office and, according to a criminal warrant filed later by the woman, “reach[ing] between her legs from behind and pinch[ing] her in the groin area.” According to both the Washington Post and the fact-checking website Snopes.com, von Keyserling had earlier crowed that “it’s a new world now. I no longer have to be politically correct.” He also reportedly told police that the pinch, which lesser beings might call a sexual assault, was what he called a “gig,” the type he often used to “embarrass his teenaged granddaughter.”

Yes, Mr. Trump, you have truly changed the world, even before taking office. By your example and your disdain for political correctness, you’ve made 71 year old men feel free to openly grab—sorry, “gig”- not only adult women with whom they disagree, but their teenaged female relatives, by a certain body part.

Finally, you’ve set your party free. No longer do the Republicans have to pretend that they care about things like small government, free markets, and the Constitution--unless, by “small government” you mean having the whole thing shrunk to one person who makes all the decisions, like your BFF Vladimir Putin. No longer do they have to pretend to care about accountability in government, since they were willing to trash the congressional ethics office (until they got caught at it) and perfectly willing to hold sham hearings on your nominees before their ethics reviews are even done. Oh, people like the guy you called “Little Marco” still feel like they need to put up token resistance to your Russian-owned Secretary of State nominee. But we all know he’ll get over it.

 Be proud, Mr. Trump. Your election has transformed the Republican Party by freeing them from pretending they have any actual principles, conservative or otherwise. Just look at the standard response to any criticism of policy or even denial of your awesomeness: “We won. Trump is your President. Suck it up, buttercup.”

That’s the response of someone with no moral center whatsoever, to whom the only thing that matters is raw power and the exercise of it. It’s the response of the kind of bully who reads or hears George Orwell’s nightmare vision of a totalitarian future—“imagine a boot stamping on a human face, forever,” and thinks “hey, that sounds pretty cool.” 

This is the world you’ve already made, Mr. Trump. And you’ve just begun. God help us all.


Dusty Rhoades lives, writes, and practices law in Carthage, North Carolina.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

A Pack of Little Yappy Car Chasing Dogs

Opinion | thepilot.com

A few years ago, I lived on a street in Southern Pines, near the airport. One of my neighbors on that street owned a feisty little dog who would chase my car down the street every day, barking his fool head off.
One day, I slammed on the brakes, looked out the car window, and told the baffled pooch “OK, pal, you caught it! Now what are you gonna do with it?”
Needless to say, he didn’t have an answer.
I’ve been thinking about that dog a lot as I watch the new Republican Congress members try to follow through on the promise they and Russian-backed President-elect Donald Trump made to “repeal and replace Obamacare on Day One.”
You may not have noticed, what with the New Year and all, but Day One has come and gone, and, well, they’re still trying to figure out how to do it.
They’ve whipped up a “budget resolution” that says, in effect, “Yessiree, we’re sure ’nuff going to repeal that nasty Obamacare, just you wait and see,” but how it’s going to be done, and what will replace it, remain as much a mystery as why McDonald’s keeps bringing back the awful McRib sandwich or why “Dating Naked” is an actual TV show.
Meanwhile, Comrade Trumpovitch took a break from his busy schedule of writing thank-you notes to Vladimir Putin and throwing online shade at Meryl Streep to let the Congress know that delays would be unacceptable, and he wants both repeal and replace right now, dang it. He told The New York Times he wants a repeal vote “next week” and a replacement bill “very quickly or simultaneously.”
Trump demanded that no more than “a few weeks” must pass before an entirely new health care bill must be plucked from out of the vast roaring void that is the Republican source of health care ideas. Then it has to pass through the legislative process and be voted on.
Oh, and according to Trump’s prior fiats, it has to keep the things that Americans like, like the prohibition against denying insurance because of pre-existing conditions and letting people keep their offspring on their family health plan until they’re 26. And it has to bring costs down. So let it be written, so let it be done.
Rep. Chris Collins, a Republican from New York and a member of Trump’s transition team, fell back on what’s become a standard Trump response: The guy whose supporters love him because he says what he means doesn’t really mean what he says. Collins told CNN that “I'm not reading it literally literally” when Trump says he wants it done right away.
He’s a CEO, Collins Trumpsplained, and he’s “using that mindset.” Perhaps my favorite bit of Trumpsplaining comes from Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidey: “I think (Trump) speaks in concepts, and I accept his concept.”
OK, let me just say right now, I am totally stealing “speaks in concepts.” I can see it now: “Sure, honey, I said I’d be home by 11 and it’s 3 a.m., but, you know, I was just speaking in concepts. You should know not to take me literally literally.” I could also use it at work: “Your Honor, I know I said I’d have that order to you by Friday, but I was, you know, speaking in concepts.”
In any case, the actual timeline for full “repeal and replace” (which, unlike a simple budget resolution, will most likely take some Democratic votes in the Senate), could take months. If they keep the promise made by House GOP Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who said, “Let me be clear: No one who has coverage because of Obamacare today will lose that coverage,” the timeline might stretch out even further, as in “never.”
In that case, one can only imagine the Twitter storm to follow. It’ll be like that famous and often-parodied scene in the movie “Downfall,” in which a certain German dictator goes completely berserk when told that the units he’s ordering into brilliant counterattacks against the encroaching Allies don’t exist anymore. Except from Trump it’ll be 140 characters at a time.
But don’t worry, Congress. Before long, Alec Baldwin or a Dixie Chick will say something President Tweety doesn’t like and he’ll get distracted and leave you alone while he goes off on them, and you can get back to failing at your jobs. Once again, the Republicans have shown that while they can win elections, they’re incapable of doing the actual work of governing.