Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Glad to meet you, Louise Linton

Louise Linton, wife of Treasury Secretary and wealthy person Steven Mnuchin, mocked a critic of one of her Instagram postings.

She had gushed — there's no other word for it — about her trip to Kentucky with her husband and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. The post prompted Jenni Miller of Portland, Oregon to post the response, "Glad we could pay for your little getaway. #deplorable."

As it happens, "the Mnuchins reimbursed the government for the trip", according to the Treasury Department. I wouldn't have blamed Linton for acidly pointing that out to Miller. However, Linton went farther:

Do you think the US govt paid for our honeymoon or personal travel?! Lololol. Have you given more to the economy than me and my husband? Either as an individual earner in taxes OR in self sacrifice to your country?

...

I’m pretty sure we paid more taxes toward our day "trip" than you did. Pretty sure the amount we sacrifice per year is a lot more than you’d be willing to sacrifice if the choice was yours.

Congratulations, Louise. Those lessons at the Kanye West School of Entitled Deportment really paid off. It's a good thing Donald Trump explained the "sacrifices" the moneyed class makes, or we might have misunderstood you.

Miller's criticism was kind of rude. But Linton ... well, I'm just glad to know her true colors.

Linton has done us all a favor, by reminding us that a little revolution now and then is a good thing — if it rids us of people like her.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Don't hide the Confederate statues

In the rush to disavow the lingering ugliness represented by heroic statues of prominent Confederate figures, we risk hiding our history.

No question, glorifying Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and other military and civilian leaders of the Confederacy can only be defended if you believe in their gospel of white supremacy. They attempted to secede from the United States in order to preserve slavery, period, full stop. The idea that they were political philosophers selflessly committed to "states' rights" is utter nonsense. They and their allies wanted to preserve the privileged position of large slaveholders. Following the Civil War, Southern whites who still believed in the innate superiority of whites over blacks devoted themselves to ensuring that blacks could not participate fully and equally in civic life, giving rise to Jim Crow. It was the children and grandchildren of the Confederacy who exalted the losing side's military and civilian leadership, spinning for themselves and their descendants the comforting myths that the Civil War was about states' rights, an overbearing federal government, conspiracy by northern states to undermine the economies of southern states — that the war was about anything other than slavery and the postwar desire for white dominance and black subjugation, in practice if not in law. If not for this whitewashing (ahem) of history, the Confederacy would be seen for what it was: a rebellion by slaveholders to protect their economic and cultural interests.

Now, it's crucial that we stop thinking of the Confederacy as anything but what it was. To that end, we have to do something about all those monuments that uncritically exalt the Confederacy. But is simply tearing down the statues the right step?

Not if that's the end of the story.

Tearing the statues down and throwing them away would be almost as irresponsible as erecting them in the first place. It would be following a grotesque distortion of history with a denial of history. The history in question isn't so much the Civil War as the more than century-old effort to exalt white supremacy and to deny the reality of slavery's hold on the United States.

As bad as it has been to misrepresent the legacy of the Confederacy in the way the contested statues have done, it would be nearly as bad to deny that this misrepresentation ever took place.

One reason the Confederacy lingers as a romantic Lost Cause is that the U.S. has never confronted the meaning of the Civil War. The U.S. has never undertaken the kind of soul-searching that Germany did after World War II. (Granted, that soul-searching was mandated by the conquering powers.) Tellingly, Japan faces much the same challenge vis-à-vis World War II as the U.S. does with respect to the Civil War. That's why every so often U.S. leaders have to do an awkward dance regarding which Japanese war memorials they can visit: some of those memorials exalt the kind of culture of Japanese supremacy that prevailed before the war, a toxic culture Japan has not disavowed in the complete way Germany has disavowed Nazi ideology.

So the U.S. must grapple with the Civil War and what it meant in a real, painful way. But the U.S. must also grapple with what it has meant not to have come to terms with that war and its causes.

It has meant that those who fought to perpetuate slavery and to tear asunder the United States have not been portrayed as actually doing these things.

It has meant that millions of their descendants have embraced a toxic ideology that tells them they are superior to blacks and other non-whites.

It has meant that these same descendants have told themselves comforting myths that deny that this ideology motivated, and was at the heart of, the Confederacy's very existence.

To pretend that the Civil War's unconfronted and toxic legacy in the South (and elsewhere) never happened would compound the terrible error we've made by not confronting that legacy in the first place.

By all means, take the damned statues down (and while we're at it, rename all those schools named after the same Confederate leaders). But don't just send those statues to the nearest landfill. Send them to a museum where they can be contextualized properly — where we and our descendants can finally learn the truth about the Civil War and the toxic aftermath that resulted from not acknowledging that truth for so long.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Is inciting violence an impeachable offense?

So, Dear Leader, in the space of a day, has gone back to scolding the rest of us for ignoring violence allegedly perpetrated in Charlottesville by the so-called "alt-left". He insisted that many among those participating in the protest were quietly and peacefully protesting the removal of Robert E. Lee's statue, and then chidingly wondered where the statue-removing would end — would George Washington and Thomas Jefferson be next?

All this is catnip to the alt-right, of course, because it attempts to distract all of us from the primary issue: those protesting in support of Robert E. Lee were, whether they knew it or not, supporting white supremacy.

Lee was a white supremacist. You might not like that, but it's the truth. He defended slavery as an improvement over the living conditions of blacks in Africa. He participated in an insurrection against the federal government to defend the peculiar institution, and he never fully reconciled himself to losing the war. He treated his own slaves harshly before and during the war, and soft-pedaled brutality against blacks committed by students while he was president of a college after the war.

But what does all this have to do with Dear Leader?

I very much doubt Trump knows diddly about Robert E. Lee's true feelings toward blacks, or about the real origin of the Civil War being the South's insistence on keeping and expanding slavery. He therefore is like a lot of other people in this country who find the argument that Lee and other Confederates were romantic, doomed figures representing an honorable sort of heritage for today's (white) Southerners plausible.

But you know something? It's his fucking job to know the truth about Lee and the Confederacy. It's his fucking job to understand how corrosive white supremacy is to this country. It's HIS FUCKING JOB to know that people shouting the horrendously ugly things the protesters shouted must be reviled.

To unite the country, as Dear Leader frequently claims is his aim, you have to know what is beyond the pale. Here's a free clue, Donnie: white supremacy and neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism are BEYOND THE FUCKING PALE.

So fucking what if there were a handful of hopelessly naive "good" people in that protest? They were not the majority of protesters! The majority of the protesters were full-on, enthusiastic bigots who would love nothing better than to take away the civil rights of non-whites and anyone else they perceive to be threatening them.

Dear Leader's appalling press conference today at Trump Tower was, as somebody (maybe a lot of somebodys) said, a moral failure. To attempt to excuse white supremacists is the mark of someone with abso-fucking-lutely no sense of right and wrong. Actually he wasn't excusing white supremacists: he was and is encouraging them.

Not too long ago Dear Leader also encouraged police to treat suspects roughly after they've been arrested. In short, Dear Leader has a history of encouraging violence.

Does fomenting violence constitute a high crime and misdemeanor for which a president might be impeached?

Ultimately this is a political decision that must be made by members of Congress — particularly Republican members of Congress, given their majority in both legislative houses.

So, ladies and gentlemen of Congress, how do you feel about the President of the United States excusing white supremacists who committed homicidal violence?

Ball's in your court, Congress. The non-white supremacists and non-neo-Nazis among us are waiting to see where you stand.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Think about where we are

I had mentally tuned out Charlottesville and the attendant furor over Dear Leader's flaccid initial response. Then a CNN panelist this morning said something that gave me pause.

"I mean, Nazis! Right?"

She was expressing her incredulity that Dear Leader had been incapable (up to that time) of condemning the white supremacist-originated violence that led to the death of one woman and injuries to a score of others. And really, she brought me back to reality.

I've gotten so accustomed to writing off Donnie as a cancerous abcess on the body politic that I needed to be reminded of how aberrant he and his followers really are.

Do we really have a U.S. president who requires two days of nonstop condemnation on all sides before he'll appear before the camera to deliver a cautious, minimalist condemnation without any real conviction? (We know what Donnie looks and sounds like when his blood is up, as when he's pissed at so-called "fake news", and his address to the nation this morning sounded anything but convincing. He sounded like a schoolboy delivering an oral report that bores him.)

To express the panelist's thought a little more fully:

Do we really have a president whose first, instinctive response ISN'T to condemn neo-Nazis and racists?

Really?

[UPDATE: Not three days of condemnation, but two days.]

Thursday, August 3, 2017

This is a no-brainer

Use open-source software for voting machines.

Open-source software can be inspected by anyone. Increasing the number of eyes looking at source code increases the likelihood that subtle bugs will be unearthed. No company can bring as many eyes to bear as the Web can, so open-source software tends to be more robust and secure than closed-source software.

It's bad enough that vulnerabilities in consumer-grade software cost consumers and businesses millions, perhaps billions of dollars every year. The consequences of vulnerabilities in the software that controls our voting machines, or that counts the votes, could be the integrity of our elections.

For once, let's not wait for a disaster to occur. This is not a hard problem. Let's address it.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The mind stuck in "now"

Reince Priebus is out as White House chief of staff. He's the latest Administration appointee to be canned because he couldn't (or wouldn't) make Dear Leader happy.

Dear Leader seems to be operating under the theory that you try out horses until you find one that can make it through the steeplechase; the ones who can't, you shoot. He will continue to look for horses who can clear the fences. They will continue to fail because he (1) ties their legs together, (2) feeds them moldy hay and (3) (metaphorically) weighs a couple of tons, most of it ego. (Can you imagine a less bearable jockey?) He therefore will continue to shoot horses until we kick him off the track, which I fervently hope will happen no later than January 2021.

He will try out his second horse in the chief of staff position: his current Homeland Security Secretary, John Kelly.

Trump supporters are apparently happy because they never liked Priebus (I get that) and because military leaders are perceived to be better at everything than wusses who never served in the military. Maybe Kelly will magically bring order to the seething entropic whirlpool that is Dear Leader's West Wing. I'm not betting on it, but anything's possible.

Still, was Kelly really such a good pick? Not because he's not a capable guy: nobody has said that. (Oh wait, actually Roger Stone did say that, though Stone was referring solely to Kelly's lack of political experience.)

No, the problem with Kelly is that he occupied a Senate-confirmed position. Dear Leader hasn't exactly done a bang-up job of finding, much less nominating, people that the Senate will confirm. The chief of staff position, however, doesn't require Senate confirmation: Dear Leader could have picked anybody to fill the job. It seems to me that by taking a Senate-confirmed appointee and putting him into a position that doesn't require Senate confimation, Dear Leader squandered an increasingly scarce resource.

So who will Dear Leader's new Homeland Security secretary be?

Newsweek says it will be Kelly's deputy, Elaine Duke, at least on an interim basis. She was confirmed to her current position by an 85-14 Senate vote.

Duke could probably be confirmed relatively easily as DHS secretary, but that would just push back Dear Leader's problem to finding and confirming her deputy.

Any way you look at this, Dear Leader has made more work for himself. Did this occur to him?

I don't think so. I don't think Dear Leader thinks about consequences. If he has an itch, he scratches it. If he sees an immediate advantage he takes it, regardless of the long-term fallout. He lives in a perpetual "now".

That may be fine for a private citizen but it's catastrophic in somebody who's supposed to be leading the country. You don't do stuff as President just because it feels good right now. Part of your job is to look ahead.

But just try telling that to Mr. Short-Attention-Span Theater.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

When the boss is a public servant

Every president has a learning curve. Trump's is steeper than any president's has been in my lifetime, partly because he has never served in public office and partly because he's less able to absorb information than anyone I've ever seen who aspired to public office (or was a CEO). He claims he's smart, which, like nearly everything he says, has to be taken with a huge grain of salt. If that's true, though, then he has to be the laziest guy to gain office in my lifetime, because he has shown no sign that he is getting better at the job. If Donald Trump, final authority on The Apprentice, were judging Donald Trump, president, on his job performance so far, Trump the judge would fire Trump the president.

So it was with mixed emotions that I read that Trump is being briefed in tweet-sized nuggets for his meeting with Vladimir Putin.

On the plus side, at least he's being briefed, and his advisors have gone to great lengths (by limiting themselves to the briefest of lengths) to overcome what at this point we have to consider Trump's learning disability. I give his staff due credit for creativity and dedication (probably born of desperation, but whatever).

But honestly ... tweet-sized memos?

140 characters doesn't deliver a lot of information. If you're going to talk to another nation's leader, even a friendly nation's, you need to know enough about the subjects that are likely to come up to know whether the other leader is feeding you bullshit. That's going to take way more than 140 characters, or even 1,400.

Yeah, Donnie, your job requires studying.

My impression is that Trump, the CEO, didn't tolerate slackers. Well, as president, he's a public servant, making me one of his bosses. I'm here to tell him to do his job. He literally campaigned for it, after all.

I don't want to hear excuses, I don't want to hear how others are to blame. Sit down, shut up, and learn what you're supposed to know. (A lot of it you would already know if you were as smart as you claim you are.)

I don't give a shit if it's hard for you. It's your job. Fucking do it.