Saturday, June 9, 2018

Anthony Bourdain

Writer, TV host and onetime chef Anthony Bourdain committed suicide in France on 8 June.

I was a fan. I enjoyed his often sardonic take on travel and TV, and I appreciated the glimpses he gave of cultures I will never see for myself. I preferred his older show, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, with its greater focus on food, but I think that if you buy into Bourdain's style at all, any of his work is entertaining.

His death has been treated as a tragedy by the media, which is all well and good except that a certain amount of hagiography is occurring. Yes, he had a significant impact on Americans' perception of other cultures, especially in his CNN series Parts Unknown. Yes, his brashness was occasionally bracing and, as his support for his girlfriend Asia Argento when she publicly accused Harvey Weinstein of rape shows, often admirable.

Yet Bourdain, it should be remembered, was not above cruelty. If he disdained a fellow chef or celebrity, he often didn't just say he didn't respect that person: he committed character assassination. I find Paula Deen despicable (and have said so four times) but to call her "the worst, most dangerous person in America" took gall only Bourdain had. Bourdain was arguably even crueler about TV food celebrity Sandra Lee, about whom he said, "I hate her works on this planet".

The media seems to be treading very lightly around the issue of his suicide: it has been reported but nobody has dwelt on the subject, except to emphasize seeking help for suicidal thoughts.

Should we condemn his suicide? I don't believe there's a right answer. Having been in the grip of severe depression I recognize suicide's seductive logic at that point. You're so bereft of happiness that you can't think straight. Or perhaps you are thinking straight, and you're simply marking time or making excuses in living your "normal" life. You probably don't agree but you can't say I'm wrong: you're not in my head — and neither of us was in Bourdain's. I won't condemn him. I don't understand his decision any more than I understood Robin Williams', but being famous and successful by others' standards doesn't mean one lives up to one's own.

I only hope his daughter isn't too badly hurt by his loss. She's the only one whom I could reproach Bourdain for not considering before he made his decision. Not knowing their relationship, though, I'm not inclined to reproach him even for that.

I'll miss his insights, especially in an age which doesn't value thoughtfulness. He was a rare public figure who seemed to be able to espouse the value of knowledge and understanding (not the same things) without being dismissed by the portion of the population that typically discounts intellectualism. And he exposed a lot of us to some really good food, too.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Abuse of power

Our domestic Dear Leader and his Congressional henchmen put pressure on the Justice Department to disclose evidence related to the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. This is the investigation, you might remember, in which our domestic Dear Leader is a subject and a potential target — that is, our domestic Dear Leader could face criminal charges as a result of the investigation.

One of our domestic Dear Leader's own attorneys attended at least part of the meeting, as did Congressional Republicans who are known to be friendly to the administration. Any or all of these men could brief our domestic Dear Leader on everything the Justice Department disclosed in that meeting.

But this is all too polite and indirect. Let's stop pretending to give anybody in or allied to this administration the benefit of the doubt, because they don't deserve it.

Congressional Republicans will share everything they learn with Trump. They will do everything in their power to obstruct and to compromise Robert Mueller's investigation. They will resort to criminal measures if they think such measures are needed. I don't know why. They may be running scared of Trump, whose stranglehold over the Republican base is undisputed. They may be so deluded that they genuinely think they need to do these things to preserve our republic. (I weep if that's the case.) Why they will do these things is irrelevant: the point is, they've shown their colors. They've sided with corruption and criminality. They've abetted corruption and criminality.

In private life Trump used his money and his lawyers to screw everyone he could, whether to save money or to indulge his petty insecurities. He has tried to use his legal authority as president to screw those he calls his enemies. He has used his legal authority as president to protect himself and those on whom he depends as best he can. And he has now used his authority as president to peek into what he can of the Mueller investigation.

So in addition to open bigotry, compulsive lying, shameless profiteering, sexual predation and serial philanderering, and contemptible bullying, Trump can add "abuse of power" to his resumé.

Neither Trump nor Congress had a right to interrogate the Justice Department on Mueller's investigation at this time, while it's still under way. This meeting only took place because Trump and Congressional Republicans have been and continue to be complicit in obstruction of justice and abuse of power.

Complicit. As in equally guilty. As in legally liable if, as seems likely, we someday find that actual crimes took place.

If today's meeting had never happened and Mueller eventually concluded that Trump did not commit a crime during the campaign, Trump could have made a case that he was "totally innocent". But that meeting did happen. As a result, no matter what Mueller concludes, the majority of the country that doesn't support Trump will always believe that he is guilty of something.

And that majority will be right. Trump's provably guilty of abuse of power.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Again with the White House Correspondents' Dinner?

Michelle Wolf came in for criticism for her swipes at press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. The criticism is leading to speculation that the dinner in its current form is over.

Maybe that's not a bad idea. Not because the administration and its allies are pissed, but because the White House Correspondents' Association is too cowardly to defend its principles.

Leaving aside the shameless hypocrisy of this White House's anger, Wolf's zingers weren't the attacks on physical appearance that they've been claimed to be. They were attacks on Sanders' mendacity, which is not just fair game but absolutely crucial in these troubled times.

The association has disavowed Wolf. Why they're quaking in fear of this administration I don't know, but I despise them for doing so. Individually and as a group, they should be ashamed of their contemptible spinelessness.

So to the association I say, if you won't stand up for those telling truth to power, stop patting yourselves on the back every year.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Trump and honesty

The Atlantic piece's title is "The Dangerous Confusion of Trump's Celebrity Fans". The headline is not promising if, like me, you're irritated by clickbait and you're especially irritated when you fall for it. However, the first paragraph included a howler:
Shania Twain, the Canadian country-pop pioneer, told The Guardian that if she could have participated in the U.S. election, she would have voted for Trump because “even though he was offensive, he seemed honest.”
Left unsaid, at least in the piece, is whether she still thinks so.

I assume Twain did mean "honest", but I think she did not recognize to what she really was responding. What I suspect she liked about Donnie was not his honesty, but his willingness not to edit himself.

Because even the fiercest supporter of our domestic Dear Leader cannot call him "honest" in the sense of "faithful to the truth". He is only "honest" in that he blurts out whatever's currently on his mind, whether it bears any resemblance to reality or not.

It's one thing to blurt out uncomfortable truths for other people's good. If you have a body-odor problem, it might take an uncomfortably frank conversation with a close friend or family member to effect a change.

It's another thing entirely simply to be offensive for the sake of being offensive. That is most often — nearly all the time, really — what Dear Leader is. It's an effective way to achieve a couple of his perpetual goals: focusing everyone's attention on him, and taking people's minds off of situations that are triggering uncomfortable questions for him.

Dear Leader is blunt, indifferent to civility, and uninterested in truth. In other words, he's anything but honest.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Congressional leaders are now complicit with Trump

As of right now, neither Mitch McConnell nor Paul Ryan is willing to protect special counsel Robert Mueller.
The effort to pass legislation to protect Robert Mueller’s job as special counsel appeared to hit a dead end Tuesday as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would not allow the bill to come to the floor for a full Senate vote.


Earlier in the day, Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said again that legislation to protect Mueller's position was “unnecessary” because, based on “the kinds of conversations we have had," he believes that the president will not take steps to dismiss the special counsel.

McConnell was referring to a bipartisan bill that was being considered in committee. Similar legislation, also bipartisan, was pending in the House.

Both bills had bipartisan support, though whether they actually could have passed either chamber is not clear. Politico reports that McConnell's arguments for not bringing the Senate bill to the floor were that it was "not necessary" and that anyway, Trump wouldn't sign it.

Nobody has ever accused Mitch McConnell of being a stupid politician. Unprincipled and contemptible, perhaps, but not stupid. I haven't paid as much attention to Paul Ryan but I don't think you can have a twenty-year Congressional career if you're a moron.

So we can dispense with any supposition that these two men genuinely believe Dear Leader won't fire Mueller. They have seen enough of Dear Leader's behavior to know that he damned well could go off half-cocked, and if nobody in the Oval Office can talk him down when he does, Mueller (and anybody in the way, like Rod Rosenstein) would be out of a job lickety-split.

We must therefore assume that McConnell and Ryan have no objection to Mueller being fired and his team's investigation stopped in its tracks.

In short, McConnell and Ryan are complicit in Dear Leader's ongoing attempts to obstruct justice. I hope there's a law somewhere that will make them accountable when the crimes and corruption of this administration are finally revealed.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Credibility means something

Lots of people are now castigating fired FBI director James Comey for the way he handled (or mishandled) the investigation into Hillary Clinton's email use while she was Secretary of State. I frankly can't parse his explanation of why he revealed the reopening of the investigation shortly before the 2016 election, and all I can do is to echo those who say he should have followed Justice Department procedure and kept his trap shut.

Of course, the reason people are castigating Comey anew is that he's on a high-profile publicity tour in advance of his new book's publication (it goes on sale Tuesday the 17th). In his interviews he has not been kind to our Dear Leader, calling him all the nasty names the rest of us have been using for over a year. The difference, of course, is that the rest of us haven't had a chance to say these things on ABC, where Comey gave his first interview since being fired.

Some of the people criticizing Comey aren't fans of Dear Leader, either, but many of the critics are acting on behalf of the embattled current president. The latter are hoping that enough people will be confused by who the good guy is that they'll throw up their hands and cry, "A pox on both your houses!"

The thing is, a lot of people are going to notice something: while Comey has admitted publicly to screwing up, our domestic Dear Leader never has. The Donald never, ever admits he made a mistake. He taunts, he jeers, he rants, but he never, ever apologizes for anything.

And while he taunts, jeers, rants, etc., above all, our domestic Dear Leader lies. Every day. About absolutely stupid stuff and in utterly absurd ways.

So a lot of people are going to ask themselves, "Hmm ... one guy admits to screwing up sometimes, like everybody does. The other can't stop lying, and is desperate for everybody to believe he doesn't lie. Which one sounds more credible? Which one should I believe?"

Well, which one does sound more credible?

Here's where three years of attention on the national stage is going to come back to haunt our domestic Dear Leader. You can sneer at the reporters and anchors, but you can't wish away the actual footage of Trump lying.

Credibility is earned. Comey's is tarnished. But Trump's is nonexistent.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Trump is not the country

It would be too exhausting to go through every incoherent burble, distortion of the truth and outright falsehood in Dear Leader's remarks Monday (the ones that were supposed to focus on the administration's contemplated response to the reported chemical-warfare attack against Syrian civilians), but one demands close attention.

Among many other claims by our Dear Leader in his lengthy rant against the FBI (and his own Justice Department, and special prosecutor Robert Mueller, and yes, Hillary Clinton, too) for its unannounced raids on his personal lawyer Michael Cohen's office and home, he said the raids were "an attack":

It’s an attack on our country in a true sense. It’s an attack on what we all stand for.




If you nod approvingly at Trump's argument, you either

  • buy into the "deep-state" conspiracy against him, or
  • have as little understanding of our Constitution and our laws as he.
Conspiracy theories are seductive little beasts but they generally suggest a lot more than they actually prove. That's why I treat them with great skepticism, often shading into suspicion. If you don't, I think you're showing more credulity than wisdom.

Now, a raid on an attorney's office and the seizing of his files is a very big deal. We all know about attorney-client privilege. (You don't? Well, attorney-client privilege means that your attorney can't reveal what the two of you discussed — at least, not when she was acting as your attorney.)

Even so, the FBI got a warrant to raid Cohen's office and living quarters. The warrant allowed the bureau to seize his files, which ordinarily would be off-limits due to privilege.

That was extraordinary. However, it wasn't illegal.

If a lawyer is suspected of working with her client to commit a crime, or to cover one up, a judge can decide that the attorney-client privilege is moot — that is, that communications between the attorney and client are not protected.

Defeating attorney-client privilege requires compelling evidence. Most attorneys have the knowledge, connections and financial means to counterattack if it turns out the suspicions of criminal behavior were unfounded. Plus, most judges were attorneys themselves, and as the morbid joke goes, sharks don't bite lawyers out of professional courtesy. So no judge is going to grant a warrant to seize client files without damned good reason.

In spite of plenty of lawsuits to his name, Dear Leader doesn't know the principles of our legal system: he only knows the grubby details that he has personally encountered. More to the point, he doesn't give a damn about those principles. He has no clue that the legal system is supposed to treat everyone equally. To the contrary, his self-obsessed little mind is convinced that since he's THE PRESIDENT, the Justice Department is supposed to be his personal attack dog and legal shield.

The Justice Department exists to uphold federal law. It's not the president's stormtroops.

Has DoJ misbehaved in the past, sometimes egregiously? Yes. J. Edgar Hoover treated the FBI much the way Dear Leader would like to, and the result was decades of misconduct and decades more of mistrust by elements of the public. Note, however, that those with the greatest reason to mistrust DoJ or the FBI are black and brown people — just like those Jeff Sessions is going after with today's DoJ, in fact. Rich white men like Trump simply have never been a priority for DoJ. (A lot of them got off scot-free after the 2008 financial collapse, remember?)

No, the FBI and DoJ came after Michael Cohen because they strongly suspect he has committed major crimes — and the evidence they have convinced a judge to sign a no-knock warrant that permitted them to seize his files (and his phone, apparently).

That's not an attack on our country. It's a vindication of our laws. It's a demonstration that the system, at least for now, and in spite of Dear Leader's corrosive attacks on the rule of law, still works.

From the standpoint of the rule of law, the raids on Dear Leader's lawyer's office and home were deeply disturbing — but not because they were an "attack" on anyone, but because they suggest something quite foul is going on with Mr. Cohen. If Dear Leader is feeling attacked, perhaps it's evidence of a guilty conscience. Or, well, no, not conscience, a mental faculty our Dear Leader has convincingly demonstrated he lacks. More like consciousness of guilt.

"L'etat, c'est moi" ("I am the state") is a long-discredited sentiment attributed to one of the more despotic rulers of France. Modern democratic states don't allow their executives to hold such autocratic powers. Yet that's what Dear Leader is claiming when he calls the raids "an attack on our country". News flash, Donnie: you're not the country. Your ego is that big, but you aren't.

Nor were the raids "an attack on all we stand for". What they were was evidence that the rule of law still holds, however tenuously. That's what we stand for. What about you, Mr. President?