Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Category: Humor and Weird Wilson-isms Page 2 of 18

In the spirit of her full-length book “Laughing through Life” that featured humorous stories of child-rearing and general life, Connie has written humor columns for a variety of newspapers, which Erma Bombeck’s widower described as being very much like her columns when presented with a book at an Ohio writing festival.

January 6th: History Is Made on Capitol Hill During Ceremonial Meeting to Certify Election

BEE GONE: A POLITICAL PARABLE

Texas politicians have been involved in the contesting of the presidential election results far more than those of other states including: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (recently reported by his staff for taking bribes in the service of a wealthy realtor), U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert. The “Metro & State” portion of the Austin American Statesman, today, had an entire story entitled: “Four Texas Republicans Who Have Humiliated Us.”

Cruz is going to contest Arizona’s election returns today—in just a few moments, in fact, inside Capitol Hill on the Senate Floor. (See some of those remarks at the end of this article.) Gohmert has had various legal actions thrown out of court. Former Ken Paxton aides reported him to the FBI and then began resigning in droves. An anti-trust lawsuit against Google was underway, but now, because Paxton’s former deputies are all accusing him of crimes in the service of wealthy donor Nate Paul (an Austin real estate investor), Paxton is seeking $43 million to go forward with the Google lawsuit with outside legal help. Paxton hired outside firms to conduct the suit, saying, “The legal services cannot be adequately performed by the attorneys and supporting personnel of the attorney general’s office.”

This was not true before Paxton was reported for misconduct in office, as the Attorney General’s office had thousands of employees and Deputy Attorney General Darren McCarty was leading the investigation, prior to Paxton’s misconduct in office.  Mateer, McCarty and Ryan Bangert, another senior lawyer involved in the case, all resigned after reporting Paxton to the FBI. All 8 of Paxton’s accusers have quit or been fired and 4 alleged in a lawsuit that the attorney general created a hostile work environment, including deploying armed guards, to force them out.

Google, of course, has assembled “the best lawyers unlimited money can buy.” Now, Texas tax-payers are being asked to foot the bill for hiring outside counsel to the tune of millions. The allocated amount to pay the monthly bills is $43 million, if approved by the Legislature.  If Google doesn’t end up paying those charges, Texas will try to recoup its costs in court. A second firm (Keller Lenkner) has laid out a similar payment plan. Texas has the largest Republican-controlled state attorney general’s office in the country.  With roughly 750 lawyers and 4,000 total employees. It’s  for the state to hire outside counsel. Paxton most recently hired outside lawyers last month, for his failed suit seeking to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election.

Today, in the Austin American Statesman opinion piece (see below) entitled “Cruz’s Stunt Shows Contempt for Voters’ Will” the newspaper had this to say about all the shenanigans ongoing today on Capitol Hill:

“The Electoral College challenge planned by Senator Ted Cruz and other Republicans reeks of an audacious stunt, a desperate act to keep Donald Trump in the White House.

But this is no political game.  Something far greater is at stake here, something Americans hold dear: our nation’s standing as a democracy, the legitimacy of its government coming from the consent of the governed.

Cruz, a dozen other senators and about 140 Republicans in the U.S. House—including newly elected Rep. Pete Sessions, whose district includes a swath of northern Travis County, and Williamson County’s Rep. John Carter—plan Wednesday to stymie the confirmation of the Electoral college results.

They won’t succeed in preventing Joe Biden from being sworn in January 20th as president.  But they risk inflicting lasting and unspeakable damage, cratering the public’s confidence in our elections and deepening the partisan divides that make it harder for Americans to confront the pandemic, achieve an economic recovery and tackle other pressing challenges.

“The Christmas Cats Flee the Bee,” sixth book in the Christmas Cats series (www.TheXmasCats.com).

No kidding. It’s amazing that number isn’t higher, given the barrage of disinformation from Trump and conspiracy theories on social media.  Equally disingenuous, Cruz says “the unprecedented allegations of voter fraud” demand Congress’ intervention, ignoring the lead role he and other GOP officials played in amplifying those baseless claims.

Cruz would have Americans believe that a new “Electoral Commission” is needed to scrutinize the elections administered and certified by the states, opening the door for legislatures to pick a different president than the people did.  Nevermind the fact that at least 86 judges across the political spectrum have heard—and dismissed—all claims of election irregularities.  Or the fact that former Attorney General William Barr said the Justice Department found no widespread fraud that would change the outcome of the election.  Or that a national coalition of election security officials, including some appointed by Trump, said “there is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

Cruz’s crusade is not about election security  It’s about pandering to a diehard Trump base that he hopes will propel him to the White House in 2024.  It’s about the flurry of fundraising emails from Cruz, Carter and others seeking campaign donations to “join the fight”—as if it costs them anything to show up Wednesday and raise objections on the floor of Congress,

To no one’s surprise, Trump has handled defeat the same way he’s managed other political setbacks:  Spread lies and conspiracy theories.  Pressure key officials to bend the rules.  The appalling audio of Trump’s hour-long phone call last weekend with Georgia elections officials shows the leader of the free world demanding a “recalculation” of the votes to keep him in power–as if the results of an election were negotiable.

Trump’s antics have tested our nation’s commitment to self-governance and created a rift within the Republican Party.  Our democracy still stands because others within the GOP—from local elections officials to Republican-appointed judges—have shown their fidelity to the Constitution and the will of voters.

Laudably, a growing chorus of Congressional Republicans, including Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Chip Roy of Hays County, have refused to take part in challenging the election results on Wednesday.  In a statement with 6 other members of the U.S. House, Roy said taking such an action would “unconstitutionally insert Congress into the center of the presidential election process…(and) would amount to stealing power from the people and the states.”

Taken during a McCain rally at the Cedar Rapids Municipal Airport during the 2008 presidential campaign. Cover of Volume II of “Obama’s Odyssey: The 2008 Race for the White House.” (Available on Amazon in paperback and e-book).

Plenty of issues, from tax policies to judicial nominees, are fair game for partisan fights.  But the underpinnings of our democracy, the very notion that voters decide the elections must be sacrosanct.

Honoring the will of the voters should not be a Republican or a Democratic norm, but an American one.  The efforts to subvert that, first in failed lawsuits by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Rep. Louie Gohmert, now in the charge led by Cruz, are nothing short of seditious.

Cruz’ gambit on Wednesday will fail, too.

But what a shameful spectacle!

*******

“We cannot simply declare ourselves a national board of elections on steroids!” (Mitch McConnell) If we overrule the election results, we damage our democracy. This election was not even unusually close The electoral college count was almost identical to what it was in 2016.

If this election were overturned by unsupported allegations from the other side, our democracy would enter a death spiral. Every 4 years would be a scramble for power. If we overrule the voters, we can damage the Republic forever.

The effects would go even beyond the elections themselves. Self government requires a shared commitment to the truth and a shared respect for the ground rules of our system. We cannot keep drifting apart into 2 separate tribes with a separate set of facts with nothing in common but a respect for the common institutions we share.

Every time since 2000, said McConnell, such a dispute took place. Republicans condemned those baseless attacks back then, said McConnell. “There can be no double standard.” We must not imitate and escalate what we repudiate,” said McConnell. It must not be “an endless spiral of partisan venom.”

Belmont Town Hall meeting on campus in Nashville, Tennessee, 2008.

“Honor the people’s decision,” said McConnell. “Show that we can still muster the patriotic fervor not only in victory, but in defeat.”

“It would be unfair and wrong to overrule the voters on this extraordinarily thin premise.”

I will vote to defend our system of government as we know it”

(The above from Mitch McConnell)

******

From Chuck Schumer:

The Congress does not decide the outcome of elections; the people do.

American people elected Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to be the next Pres. and VP of the U.S. And yet a number of our colleagues have organized an effort to challenge our free and fair election. They have no evidence of widespread voter fraud to change our election. That’s because there is none. They know that President Trump and his allies have lost no fewer than 62 legal challenges, rendered by many Republican judges appointed by President Trump.

In the process of objecting, they will embarrass themselves, their party and the United States of America. Merely accepting the results of an election is considered an act of political courage.

Barack Obama in Davenport, Iowa (River Center) during the 2008 caucus season.

That anyone, much less an elected official, would be willing to tarnish our democracy in order to burnish their personal political future, senators of good will from both sides of the aisle will explain why these challenges must be dismissed.

What message will we send today? What message will we send to every dark corner of the world where elections are stolen? What will we show those people? Will we show them that truth matters. There will always be a stronger coalition ready to push back, ready to defend everything we hold dear.

Let those words ring in the ears of every Senator. Let us do our duty to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, so help us God.”

(From Chuck Schumer)

****

Biden on the caucus campaign trail in Iowa prior to the 2008 presidential race. Don’t worry: I’ll be back to politics by the end of the week.

From Ted Cruz:

We have seen and will continue to see a great deal of moralizing from both sides of the aisle. We are gathered at a time when democracy is in crisis. Recent polling show that 39% of Americans believe that the election was rigged. That is a profound threat to this country and any administrations that will come.

I believe that there is a better way. Let me be clear: I am not arguing for setting aside the results of this election.

The Hays-Tilden election of 1876 appointed a 10-day investigatory commission. (Cruz wants to establish such a commission).

 

 

Racism in Trumpland

Democratic National Convention, 2008, Denver: CNN Headquarters.

Today is January 5th. Congress is meeting in Washington, D.C., preparing to certify Joe Biden’s presidential win. Voting for 2 Georgia Senators is imminent.

While browsing news channels at 3 a.m., I stumbled upon Don Lemon, interviewing Mitt Romney’s old campaign manager and paired with a former campaign manager for Barack Obama. Both were talking about the true motive for much of what is going on and, in fact. the true motive for the weird Georgia state rules for selecting senators.

According to these learned gentlemen (and the New York Times editorial I am about to reprint), it’s all part of that age-old story about minority disenfranchisement. Rather than make black voters guess how many jelly beans are in a jar to be allowed to vote (depicted in one memorable movie,  with Oprah Winfrey portraying said black female voter)— the country—or, I should say, the Republican party—has moved on to high-tech digital disenfranchisement. All of the outcry that DJT has aimed at his election loss centers on predominantly black cities and states. Georgia is certainly no exception.

Here is today’s New York Times editorial, entitled “Trump Tries to Drag Jim Crow Into the Digital Age,” written by Charles M. Blow for that newspaper. At the same time I reprint this article, I mention the Twitter thread that explains how Trump will (probably) take the Republican party down with him, in the same way that the Whig party was taken down in disputes over slavery in 1854:

https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2021/1/2/2005496/-In-epic-Twitter-thread-Steve-Schmidt-explains-why-1-6-21-will-be-the-end-of-the-Republican-Party?detail=emaildkreicymi

Without further ado, here are Charles M. Blow’s thoughts on racism in Trump-land:

“Regardless of what has happened since the election 2 months ago, or what may happen in the next few weeks, Joe Biden will almost assuredly be inaugurated the president on January 20th, and Donald J. Trump’s official reign of presidential terror will end that day.

But that is cold comfort as we have trudged through these last few months of Trump trying, at every turn, to overthrow the will of the people by overturning the election he lost in November. Even if his ultimate loss is inevitably secure Trump’s loss in the election, it seems as if he is burning down the village as he retreats.” (*Note: I’ve likened Trump’s time in office not tending to the Coronavirus as Nero fiddling while Rome burns, and Trump’s reaction to his defeat this past several weeks as Sherman’s March to the Sea.)

Trump has essentially claimed that fraud occurred during the election in large swing-state cities within counties that have large African-American populations—cities like Detroit, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia.  But there is a problem with that implicit theory, as the New York Times pointed out in November:  “All  three of those cities voted pretty much the same way they did in 2016.  Turnout barely budged, relative to turnout in other areas of the state.  Joseph R. Biden saw no remarkable surge in support—certainly nothing that would bolster claims of ballot stuffing or tampered vote tallies.  Mr. Trump even picked up marginally more votes this year in all 3 cities than he did 4 years ago.”

Liberty Bell, 2008, Denver, Illinois delegate

Trump didn’t lose this election in the cities; he lost it in the suburbs. But that thought is antithetical to the war Trump wants to wage within America between the suburbs and what he decries as ‘Democrat-run-cities,’—code for where concentrations of Black people and other people of color live.  That prevailing racialized perception in conservative politics is part of the danger that Trump’s campaign to undermine the election poses:  It threatens to strengthen efforts to disenfranchise in the future Black voters and other voters of color  who disproportionately voted for Democrats. (*Note: As an attendee inside the DNC in Denver in 2008 and the RNC in St. Paul that year, I can testify to the diversity that was evident within the Democratic Convention that nominated Obama and the complete lack of anything similar within the Republican Convention in St. Paul, MN, that year.)

Trump has contended that his challenge to the election is about “ensuring that Americans can have faith in this election and in all future elections.” As Jay Willis pointed out in The Washington Post, “Even afterTrump’s presidency endsthat message will pave the way for GOP politicians and judges to further one of their party’s and the conservative movement’s most important ongoing projects: restricting voting rights.”

Trump lost this election, but he can still help Republicans win in the future.

Conservatives in America, whether they were acting under the banner of Democrats 100 years ago or under the banner of Republicans of today, have engaged in a campaign for racial exclusion at the ballot box ever since Black people (only Black men, at first) gained access to the franchise.

Trump not only attempted to erase Black votes after they were cast, he attempted to suppress them before they were cast. This is nothing new among Conservatives, but Trump has dragged the practice out of the backrooms and into the light of day once again, giving it a telegenic, digitally contagious persona.

And the Republican Party, or at least large portions of it, seem to have embraced Trump’s approach of making voter suppression a front-and-center, out-in-the-open central tenet of their electoral strategy.

As Eric Levitz pointed out in New York Magazine:  “The GOP is now a party that has no compunction about nullifying the voting rights of its opposition to retain power.  And once a party has liberated itself from the shackles of respecting its detractors’ rights, much else becomes permissible.” (*Note: I’m reminded of Susan Collins’ librarian-like admonition following the impeachment fiasco, that Trump would have “learned a lesson” from being impeached in the House. No, Susan, he learned that doubling down works and that he can push any boundary he wants, which has become painfully clear in the wake of the phone call to Brad Raffensperger in Georgia yesterday, 1/4/2021).

We have heard much talk about how Trump’s bogus battle weakens democracy by causing people to lose their faith in our honest and fair elections.  But we don’t talk enough about how Black people and other racial minorities, this isn’t just about faith.  For Blacks and other minorities, it is about being able to participate in elections at all. (*Note: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 would have seemed to have solidifed our nation’s position that “ALL” men are created equal and have an equal right to access the ballot box for change, but Trump seems to be trying to turn the clock back on that precept. The MAGA hats should say MAWA: Make America White Again—which, let’s face it, isn’t going to happen.)

Now Trump’s battle moves to Congress, where a group of Republicans plan to challenge the counting of state Electoral College votes.  This effort, too, is expected to fail.  But it will provide yet another spectacle on a grand stage for the lie that Trump and his sycophantic courtiers have sown: that the political machine in liberal cities full of Blacks, hipsters (*Note: are ‘hipsters’ still a thing?), gays and gangs stole elections from the real Americans in the hinterlands.

What we are seeing unfold before our eyes is not about building trust in elections, it is anti-patriotic.  It is not about ensuring that every legal vote is counted.  It is about attempting to legally limit whose ballots can be counted.

Trump is attempting to drag Jim Crow into the Twitter era.

Republicans and Their Dubious Relationship with Facts

Joe Biden in Independence, Iowa, on the Fourth of July, 2019.

Paul Krugman is a columnist for the New York Times, but he was reprinted in the Austin “American Statesman” today talking about why Republicans seem to have such a tenuous grip on facts. He has a point. I think some of the explanation behind Krugman’s thesis can be laid at the feet of the fractured nature of today’s news—where even the Facebook-like meeting grounds have splintered into those that are far right, those that are far left, and Facebook, itself. So, here is Paul Krugman’s “When Did Republicans Start Hating Facts?”

I reprint it here because not all of you can re-read it on the pages of the Austin “American Statesman” (p. A11) and, in my own experience, there is always a pay wall up on the NY Times.

“Republicans spent most of 2020 rejecting science in the face of a runaway pandemic; now they’re rejecting democracy in the face of a clear election loss.

What do these rejections have in common? In each case, one of America’s two major parties simply refused to accept facts it didn’t like.

I’m sure it’s not right to insist that Republicans ‘believe’ that, say, wearing face masks is useless or that there was widespread voter fraud. Framing the issue as one of belief suggests that some kind of evidence might change party loyalists’ minds.

In reality, what Republicans say they believe flows from what they want to do, whether it’s ignore a deadly disease or stay in power despite the voters’ verdict.

In other words, the point isn’t that the GOP believes untrue things. It is, rather, that the party has become very hostile to the idea that there’s an objective reality that might conflict with its political goals.

Democratic National Convention, 2008, Denver: CNN Headquarters.

Notice, by the way, that I’m not including qualifiers, like saying “some” Republicans.  We’re talking about most of the party here. The Texas lawsuit calling on the Supreme Court to overturn the election was both absurd and deeply un-American, but 60% of Republicans in the House signed a brief supporting it, and only a handful of elected Republicans denounced the suit.

At this point, you aren’t considered a proper Republican unless you hate facts.

But when and how did the GOP get that way?  If you think it started with Donald Trump and will end when he leaves the scene (if he ever does), you’re naive.

Republicans have been heading in this direction for decades. I’m not sure whether we can pinpoint the moment when the party began its descent into malignant madness, but the trajectory that led to this madness probably became irreversible under Ronald Reagan.

Republicans have, of course, turned Ronald Reagan into an icon, portraying him as the Savior of a desperate, declining nation.  Mostly, however that is just propaganda.  You’d never know from the legend that economic growth under Reagan was only slightly more robust than it had been under Jimmy Carter, and slower than it would be under Bill Clinton.

And rapidly rising income inequality meant that a disproportionate share of the benefits from economic growth went to a small elite, with only a bit trickling down to most of the population.  Poverty, measured properly, was higher in 1989 than it had been a decade earlier.

Other measures suggest that we were already veering off course.

For example, in 1980, life expectancy in America was similar to other wealthy nations; but the Reagan years represent the beginning of the Great Mortality Divergence of the United States from the rest of the advanced world.  Today, Americans, on average, can expect to live almost 4 fewer years than their counterparts in comparable countries.

The main point, however, is that under Reagan, irrationality and hatred for the facts began to take over the GOP.

There has always been a conspiracy-theorizing, science-hating, anti-democratic faction to America.  Before Reagan, however, mainstream conservatives and the Republican establishment refused to make alliance with that faction, keeping it on the political fringe.

Reagan, by contrast, brought the crazies inside the tent.

Many Americans are, I think, unaware that Reagan embraced a crank economic doctrine—belief in the magical power of tax cuts. I’m not sure how many Americans remember that the Reagan administration was also remarkably hostile to science.

Reagan’s ability to act on his hostility was limited by Democratic control of the House and the fact that the Senate still contained a number of genuinely moderate Republicans.  Still, Reagan and his officials spent years denying the effect of acid rain, while insisting that evolution was “just a theory” and promoting the teaching of Creationism in schools.

This rejection of science partly reflected deference to special interests that didn’t want science-based regulation.  Even more important, however, was the influence of the religious right, which

Good Old Boy Fred Thompson, running as a Republican, in 2008.

 

first became a major political force under Reagan, has become ever more central to the Republican coalition and is now a major denier of the party’s rejection of facts—and democracy.

For rejecting facts come naturally to people who insist that they’re acting on behalf of God. So does refusing to accept election results that don’t go their way.

Sure enough, a few days ago, televangelist Pat Robertson—who first became politically influential under Reagan—pronounced the Texas lawsuit “a miracle,” an intervention by God that would keep Trump in office.

The point is that the GOP rejection of facts that has been so conspicuous this year wasn’t an aberration.  What we’re seeing is the culmination of a degradation that began a long time and and is almost surely irreversible.

Texas’ Lt. Gov./Texas’ Attorney General: Time for Changes Here?

Posted By on Mon, Dec 7, 2020 at 3:20 PM

From San Antonio; Reposted on Tuesday, Dec. 8th

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick - WIKIMDIA COMMONS / GAGE SKIDMORE

  • Wikimdia Commons / Gage Skidmore
  • Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick

After telling seniors they should be willing to risk contracting COVID-19 to protect the economy (see previous WeeklyWilson article), Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick doesn’t seem to be willing to make a similar sacrifice to serve in the Texas Legislature next year.

Hereford cattle on LBJ Ranch.

Patrick, 70, who presides over the upper chamber, informed state senators Friday that people testifying before committees may need to register three days ahead and take a quick-turnaround coronavirus test 24 hours before they’re allowed into the Capitol building, the Texas Tribune reports.

During past sessions, people have been able to sign up and speak on the same day.

Patrick, a Republican, discussed the safeguards on conference call with the Senate Democrat Caucus, the Tribune reports. During those discussions, Patrick he wants the National Guard to conduct the tests, handling 10 to 12 people per hour.
Such caution seems at odds with Patrick’s partisan pronouncements about COVID earlier this year during TV talk show appearances.

In addition to telling grandma and grandpa they should be willing to risk death to save the economy, Patrick downplayed Texas’ infection numbers and accused the media of ginning up panic. He also dismissed warnings from Dr. Anthony Fauci, saying the nation’s top infectious disease expert “doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

And, to top off the crazy from Texas, where I currently am, the Attorney General of Texas, who is under indictment for Securities fraud and under investigation for bribery, filed a lawsuit alleging that the states of Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona shouldn’t be allowed to confirm their votes on today’s “safe harbor” date (Dec. 8th) which comes in advance of the Dec. 14th vote of the electoral college. Supposedly, the man is angling for a pardon from the departing DJT and is a huge Trump loyalist.

Grape Creek Winery

It is Texas officials like these that drive one to travel far into the countryside (Fredricksburg) and visit wine tastings in the middle of the day on a Tuesday. Time for a change, politically, perhaps?

It was 75 degrees out today and, from the highway (I-290) we could see people swimming in their pool! We also decided to take a leisurely drive through LBJ’s old ranch, something the spouse and I had done but the son and daughter had not done.
Tomorrow, it is supposed to be 82 degrees. Not sure if this is a record, but it certainly beats the Illinois temperatures on a December day.
Aside from the wine tasting, daughter Stacey has traveled to Austin to be with us and her brother took off half a day of work to join us on our wine-tasting adventure. Then, we watched Iowa (#3 nationally) beat North Carolina (#16 nationally) in basketball. Following that, the younger members of the family got in the hot tub, but—once the sun went down—the evening temperatures did not convince me that I’d be warm enough.

LBJ Ranch, with deer.

I re-started my subscription to the “Austin Statesman” newspaper (REAL newspaper) and it was to have started this morning.

It didn’t. (Sigh)
[Other observations above from Sanford Nowlin who writes for the digital edition of the San Antonio paper.]

RoboCalls Number One in the State of Iowa (No Wonder No One Has A Land Line Any More)

BEE GONE: A POLITICAL PARABLE

According to James Q. Lynch of the Des Moines “Gazette” bureau, Iowa was Number One with a Bullet in receiving robo calls this election season. Transaction Network Services which analyzes over 1 billion calls a day determined that Iowa voters received more than 610,000 robocalls—most of them political in nature—during the presidential election. On November 2nd, the day before the election, Iowans received more than 270,000 robocalls.”

This works out to be about 19.5 per 100 Iowans, making Iowa Number One in the nation with calls per population.

Most of the calls were being made on behalf of candidates on the ballot. “Lucky, lucky you,” said Jim Tyrrell, a senior director at the firm, noting that most recipients were happy that this political period was over.

Every morning, as I sat down to read my morning paper, I took 4 things: 1) the morning paper (2) my land line phone (3) my cell phone and (4) my morning coffee.

I am not technically “in” the state of Iowa, but being on the border means that the Quad Cities television and radio stations and our newspapers are carrying political ads non-stop. I would have to get up at least 3 times during this time period, unless I had taken the phones with me.

Dominion Voting Machine Conspiracy Theories: Only Crackpots Need Apply

Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute warns that the crack-pot Dominion Voting Machine conspiracy theories are harming cyber-security:

BEE GONE: A POLITICAL PARABLE

Last week, Julian Sanchez wrote about a crackpot conspiracy theory making the rounds: The allegation that voting machines or tabulation software produced by Dominion Voting Systems had somehow been “hacked” or “rigged” to alter the outcome of the presidential election. At the time, I worried I might be giving undue attention to an outlandish claim that—given how thin and easily debunked was the “evidence” for it—would surely fade away on its own. Apparently, I need not have worried. Since then, the Dominion Theory has not only led to the firing of Chris Krebs, the well‐​respected head of the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity agency, but featured in a press conference held by Trump attorney Sidney Powell, who made it the centerpiece of a wildly implausible case that Donald Trump had won the presidency by a “landslide” and been deprived of victory by massive and systematic vote fraud. According to Powell’s increasingly byzantine version of the theory:

“The Dominion Voting Systems, the Smartmatic technology software, and the software that goes in other computerized voting systems here as well, not just Dominion, were created in Venezuela at the direction of Hugo Chavez to make sure he never lost an election after one constitutional referendum came out the way he did not want it to come out.”

None of this is true. Dominion and Smartmatic are separate companies, and indeed competitors; the tenuous connection between them is that Dominion once purchased assets from a firm that had been owned and sold off by Smartmatic years earlier. Smartmatic is an American company, though its founders are Venezuelan, and its software was not used in any of the swing states currently under scrutiny. (It has provided software used in Venezuelan elections, but the company itself has called out electoral fraud there.) Powell’s claim appears to be little more than an effort to insinuate guilt by (very indirect) association with an authoritarian regime.

The other supposed “evidence” for chicanery linked to Dominion is equally shoddy. Election‐​night tabulation errors in Michigan—detected and corrected almost instantly—were speculatively attributed to Dominion software by online conspiracy theorists, but local election officials have since explained that they were the result of human errors, not computers misbehaving. Claims amplified by Trump that millions of votes had been “deleted” in Pennsylvania were unequivocally refuted by state officials. Trump appears to have picked up the notion from a report on the One America News Network, which got the idea from a blog post citing data from the polling firm Edison Research—though Edison itself had produced no such report.

Evidence against the theory is overwhelming, and has only become stronger in the week since my original post. Georgia recently completed a manual recount of paper ballots, supervised by the Republican secretary of state, and found no sign of any significant tabulation errors. (The states electronic voting machines generate voter‐​verifiable paper records, and in most battleground states the in‐​person votes that would have used such voting machines favored Trump, with Biden having the advantage in hand‐​marked mail ballots.) In an open letter, 59 of the country’s most prominent election security experts said they’d found no evidence of systemic fraud—cyber or otherwise.

None of this, alas, was enough to save Chris Krebs, until recently director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency within the Department of Homeland Security. For the sin of issuing a statement that the agency had found no evidence of voting systems being compromised, Krebs was summarily terminated by tweet, with Trump declaring the agency’s expert analysis “highly inaccurate.”

“We have it totally under control.” (Jan. 2020)

Since the evidence‐​free Dominion theory is unlikely to persuade any court, Krebs’ dismissal may be its most damaging consequence, at least in the short term. This is not merely because Krebs was widely respected and viewed as highly competent, but because the firing sends a clear signal to all government employees: if your own analysis contradicts the president’s claims about vote fraud, you shouldn’t expect to remain employed for long. This undermines CISA’s core mission, which includes assisting and coordinating with states which may lack the federal government’s capabilities when it comes to monitoring and detecting sophisticated cyber‐​threats. Now the specter of political interference hangs over any warnings the agency may provide in the future. The agency may now hesitate to provide state officials—and the general public—with reassurances about the integrity of local elections, while warnings about actual threats may be viewed with suspicion given Trump’s clear desire to find evidence of fraud. Nor is the harm limited to CISA. The Intelligence Community at large is on notice: produce reporting at odds with the president’s public claims, and you place your career at risk.

This is particularly poisonous because it distorts what’s known as the “intelligence cycle”: the process by which agencies gather intelligence, analyze it, disseminate reporting, and then use that information to allocate resources and prioritize the next round of intelligence collection. Any distorting effect on what is reported—either because employees feel obliged to emphasize information that confirms what the president wants to hear or suppress information that contradicts his presuppositions—risks creating a feedback loop, infecting the next round of planning and intelligence collection, and diverting resources and energy away from genuine threats and toward spurious ones. We should hope the president‐​elect has the wisdom to avoid such potentially toxic interference.

Trump Power Grab Is Going On Now: Pay Attention

“Bee Gone: A Political Parable”

Trump exhorted his far-right army to mobilize for a sustained conflict over the election results. He refused to say whether he’d accept a legitimate loss. And he confirmed he’s expecting the Supreme Court to help invalidate countless legally cast ballots.

Can Trump can pull off one of his most-discussed means for rigging the election: getting a GOP state legislature to appoint substitute pro-Trump electors to the electoral college, regardless of the popular vote in that state? That’s what is going on right now.

Trump is telegraphing his scheme.

At the debate, Trump said he “can’t go along” with a result tallied up from millions of mail-in ballots, which will mean “fraud like you’ve never seen.” He urged supporters to “watch” the voting “very carefully,” i.e., to engage in voter intimidation. When his own GOP appointed cyber-security official, Christopher Krebs, who had done a good and honest job, testified that it was the fairest election in history, DJT fired him.“We did it right. Defend Today, Secure Tomorrow,” wrote Krebs, a former policy director at Microsoft whom Trump appointed to his role in 2017 after Russia’s 2016 election Interference campaign.

It is unconscionable that the man in charge of keeping foreign countries from interfering in our elections, who has, by all accounts, done an admirable job, is being punished for doing his job well. Trump is also playing with fire in replacing the Secretary of Defense and other high ranking officials, just as is done in tin-pot dictator countries before a coup d’etat. The Republicans in the House and Senate, so far, are simply going along with these anti-democratic acts and making excuses for the man-child orchestrating them.

Asked what he expects of the high court and his most recently appointed Supreme Court Justice Amy Conan Barrett, Trump said: “I’m counting on them to look at the ballots.” He is dragging his feet as long as he can, demanding recount after recount, even though none has changed the results. He is seeking to sow dissension in the ranks of his loyal-to-the-bitter-end followers and to get their public outcry to the point where red state officials will feel confident in saying that they are sending in their own electors for the Dec. 14th Electoral College vote. So far, only a few GOP Senators have had the cojones to even congratulate the rightful winner and I know of only two who have spoken out at all about any portion of this travesty.

We are in deep water, here, folks, and there doesn’t appear to be anyone throwing us a life line. The Senate won’t, as they demonstrated during the impeachment opportunity. Bill Barr won’t, as he’s the guy who helped Reagan out during Iran/Contra and has already demonstrated how he will work to undercut the Mueller Report by releasing his own Cliff’s Notes version early and supporting Trump in many other unethical ways.

“We have it totally under control.” (Jan. 2020)

Trump did also say he might not “need” the court to settle “the election itself.” But that only inadvertently confirms that he believes the court is at his beck and call to hand him the presidency, despite the fact that he lost the election by over 5 million votes. His supporters in Michigan have already tried to refuse to certify that their state vote went to the Democrat.

As far-fetched as it seems that a state legislature might appoint pro-Trump electors, it’s important to note that some Republicans are already claiming that the fictional mass fraud in large-scale mail balloting could serve as the justification for doing just this.

As one Trump legal adviser said, they might say: “We don’t think the results of our own state are accurate, so here’s our slate of electors that we think properly reflect the results of our state.”

And so, when Trump casts doubt on the legitimacy of a prolonged count after Election Day — as he did at the debate — he’s opening the possibility of using exactly this justification for precisely this endgame.

 

Nero Fiddled While Rome Burned; Trump Sulks While A Quarter of a Million Die

The editorial below appeared in the Nov. 12th Quad City Times and was written by Michael Gerson (WaPo). When you’re right, you’re right and I’m sure Gerson has said this better than I could:

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BEE GONE: A POLITICAL PARABLE

President Donald Trump will be remembered for many things.  For the audacity of his mendacity.  (* He just fired the head of the cyber security team).  For his ready recourse to prejudice.  For his savant’s ability to rile and ride social resentment.  For his welcoming of right-wing crackpots (QAnon?) into the Republican coalition.  For his elevation of self-love into a populist cause.

For his brutal but bumbling use of force against protesters.  For his routinization of self-dealing and political corruption.  For his utter lack of public spirit and graciousness even to the very end.

And, to be fair, for the remarkable achievement of winning more than 73 million votes with an appealing message, without significant achievements, without a discernible agenda for the future (and after 240,000 U.S. citizens lay dead because of his inattention to duty.)

But although Trump will be remembered for all these things, he will be judged for one thing above all: When the pandemic came and hundreds of thousands of Americans died, he didn’t give a damn.

How do we know this? It is not easy to read a man’s heart, but it is easy to detect that organ’s absence. Trump is not only refusing to provide leadership during a rapidly mounting health crisis, he is also sabotaging the ability of the incoming Biden administration to cooperate with leaders at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and other government agencies.  By disrupting the presidential transition during an unfolding Covid-19 disaster, Trump is engaging in history’s most dangerous sulk.

Even before his re-election loss, Trump had trouble expressing empathy for victims of the virus and their families. Even after his own bout with Covid-19, Trump did not seem capable of feeling or imagining the suffering of others. (*We saw this in Puerto Rico when his sole presidential act was to throw paper towels to the suffering populace.)

This may reflect some psychological incapacity. But it also indicates a certain view of pandemic politics.

From the start, Trump did not believe the disaster itself was a true enemy.   Rather, he viewed the public perception of widespread disease as the real threat—the threat to his political future. So, the fewer Americans who believed in the disease’s spread, the better. And the less attention the victims of the disease received, the better.

This helps explain Trump’s own explanation given to the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward at the start of the pandemic.  “I wanted to always play it down,” the president said.  “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.” A panic, after all, might spook the stock market, or make him appear responsible.

This is a distorted way to view both illness and politics.  Interpreted as an attack on him, Covid-19 should be minimized.  In reality, the disease was—and is—an attack on the American public, which can be fought only by elevating attention to the disease and warning against indifference.  It was Trump’s monomania that dictated the path of denial and inaction.

At one point early in the unfolding crisis, a senior official urged Trump to take leadership and “own the problem.”  But that is exactly what the president wanted most to avoid.  As the danger became undeniable, the president doggedly denied it.  “It’s going to disappear,” said Trump.

The goal was not to calm the public, but to anesthetize it.

In this cramped and selfish view of the world, every Covid-19 victim who is highlighted by the media is perceived by the president as an attack on himself. And the public expression of sympathy on his part would be self-sabotage, an admission of his failure.

So when Trump recovered from the disease, he did not say, as former Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie did, “I should have won a mask.”  Instead, Trump pronounced himself “immune,” held dangerous largely mask-free rallies, and used his own recovery to play down the seriousness of the disease.

Covid-19 Test Site.

Recovery from Covid-19 did not change Trump’s perspective, and neither has electoral loss. The president is apparently too busy moping, golfing, fuming and lying to assume leadership during a spiraling health crisis. (*Today, however, he took time to fire the head of cyber-security for the election and to make an attempt to disenfranchise all of Detroit.).

He has roused only enough interest to take personal credit for a prospective vaccine.  Once again, Trump does not seem to regard Covid-19 as a threat to the country requiring responsible action  He sees the pandemic as an attack on his person to be downplayed or denied.

This is egotism, turned cruel and deadly. (*The nation’s Top Psychiatrists say that Trump is, indeed, a malignant narcissist. This means narcissism, anti-social personality disorder, paranoia and sadistic tendencies rolled into one and created to describe Hitler.)

The country will not be delivered by appealing to Trump’s better angels, who fled in disgust long ago.  It might help if elected Republicans stopped ignoring and enabling Trump’s lethal tantrum.  But the hours until noon, January 20th, still move too slowly.

 

Thoughts, Post-Election, Regarding the Presidential Election of 2020

BEE GONE: A POLITICAL PARABLE

I have purposely refrained from writing anything “post election,” hoping that I could post something very hopeful and positive.

Instead, although former Vice President Joe Biden prevailed and has won enough votes to be declared the winner of the presidential race by everyone except hard-core Trump supporters, the news from the front was not as rosy as Democrats might have hoped. Cheri Bustos, who was Chairperson of the DNC, has stepped down amidst the news that the “blue tsunami” that many thought was going to happen did not materialize.

I never felt that there was going to be a “blue tsunami.” I was still coping with the debilitating news that Trump was going to be our president, rather than Hillary Clinton. Mind you, I was not an avid Hillary supporter, but I did think she would be competent, which was not at all clear with the mercurial temperament of DJT.

I felt the way I did when Stephen Colbert had set aside his entire late night talk show to revel in Hillary Clinton’s victory and, instead, had to consume the champagne in a much-less festive fashion.

Since the polls closed on November 3rd I’ve waited for a sign that a smooth transition of power was taking place and our long national nightmare with DJT might be over. It will be two full weeks tomorrow and Biden’s popular vote continues to rise. However, the Trumpers are in the position that those of us who backed Al Gore in 2000 were placed in after the hanging chad election in Florida. Only worse.

There is far more evidence, this time, that the citizens of the United States wanted to be rid of Donald J. Trump. That enthusiasm for change did not, however, extend down the ballot, and the mere fact that 170 million people could still bring themselves to vote for Donald J. Trump is disconcerting.

After reading many “post election post scripts” in these 2 weeks, I have settled on tapping the thoughts articulated by Leonard Pitts of the Miami “Herald” and here are this Black American’s thoughts, published on November 9th:

Recognizing Who We Are: Faced with a clear choice between good and evil, America did the right thing, barely.  That is sobering and profoundly disappointing.

“Forgive me for being the ant at the picnic.

Certainly this is a glad moment, an ecstatic and delirious moment.  The election of 2020 has ended at last.  Joe Biden is finally the president-elect and Donald Trump is finally consigned to the dank well of ignominy he so richly deserves.

As Gerald Ford once said in the aftermath of a less dire threat, “Our long national nightmare is over.”  As the Munchkins of Oz once sang, “Ding dong! The wicked witch is dead.”

But if gladness is mandated, caveats are required.  America needed an emphatic rejection that left no doubt that the chaos, lies, lawlessness, bigotry and ignorance Trump represented were not, as some of us are overly fond of claiming ‘who we are as a people.’ We needed to deliver him a thundering, emphatic rejection.

And we did not.

To the contrary, a victory that should have been an overwhelming landslide had to be eked into existence.  Indeed, even in defeat, Trump actually improved on his 2016 popular vote count by, at this writing, roughly 7 million votes.

Think about that.  After he bungled a pandemic (240,000 Americans dead; 420,000 by March 1st), after he botched the economy (nearly 5 million jobs lost—more than any president since WWII), after he alienated our allies and emboldened our enemies, after he undermined every institution, down to and including the National Weather Service, after he extorted Ukraine, occupied Portland and declared war on Lafayette Square, and, after he embraced an agenda of brazen white supremacy, after, in other words, they lost the excuse of ignorance, because they knew exactly what Trump was, 7 million more people cast their ballots for Trump.

Joe Biden in Independence, Iowa, on the Fourth of July, 2019.

Yes, he lost.

Yes, Biden tallied more votes than any candidate in history (78,789,001, 50.9% for Biden to 73,167,876 votes, 47.3% for Trump) and, of course, won the Electoral College. But the caveat looms large.

Faced with a clear choice between good and evil, America did the right thing, barely.  That is sobering and profoundly disappointing.

And it strips bare all the glossy claims about who we are as a country, underscoring the fact that in a meaningful sense, we are not one country at all anymore, but two sharing the same borders.  The last time that happened, it took four years and 750,000 lives to force us back into some semblance of oneness.  Even then, the seams of the fracture were always visible.

Unlike that break, this one is not starkly geographic: South versus North. No, this one is city versus country, college educated versus high school educated, and, most significantly, future versus past.  Meaning that yesterday, this was a nation where white people were the majority, and tomorrow it will be one where they are not.

The fear and resentment that inspires in many white people cannot be overstated.  It has warped our politics for years, culminating in the disaster of Trump.

Now, Biden is elected on a promise to heal those breaks, but that will require more than a good man’s good intentions.  It will require white Americans to divest a system of white supremacy that, let’s face it, has been very, very good to them.

Unfortunately, it has been less good for the country.  So a moral reckoning is required here.  It is time more white Americans finally recognize that white supremacy is not something you compromise with or rationalize.  It must be a deal breaker, always.  And it isn’t, as evidenced by the fact that the man who called Mexicans rapists and Haiti, El Salvador and the nations of Africa “shithole countries,” who described neo-Nazis as “very fine people” and told four Congresswomen of color born in this country to “go back where they came from” just won 7 million more votes than he garnered in 2016.

That’s “who we are as a people.”  Let’s stop kidding ourselves about that. And start figuring out how to become what we said we were all along.”

 

 

“The Comeback Trail” Will Leave You Laughing—and That’s Just What We Need!

George Gallo and Josh Posner took an old idea (based on a 1982 film of the same name  by Harry Hurwitz) and tweaked the basic idea of “The Producers” to give us the comedy “The Comeback Trail.” The movie stars Robert DeNiro, Tommy Lee Jones, Zach Braff, Morgan Freeman, Emile Hirsch and there is an uncredited cameo from Jason Bateman.

Gallo was the creative force behind “Wise Guys,” “Midnight Run,” and “Bad Boys,” among other amusing films. This is a World Class Cast and the music by Aldo Schllaku and cinematography by Lukasz Bielan are top-notch. Budget was estimated to be $25 million.

Here’s the plot in a nutshell (as revealed in numerous trailers): Max Barber (DeNiro) and his nephew Walter Creason (Zach Braff) have just released “Killer Nuns” (“They’re nuns with a bad habit.”). It’s another bomb from Miracle Pictures. [In fact, the Miracle Pictures slogan is, “If it’s good, it’s a miracle.”]

Walter borrowed $350,000 from Reggie Fontaine (Morgan Freeman) to make the picture, and Reggie wants his money back. Since Reggie isn’t kidding about wanting repayment, Max goes to James Moore (Emile Hirsch), a wealthy investor, and James (call him Jamie) demands that the great script for a film called “Paradise” be signed over to Jamie, in exchange for helping bail Max out.

It is while at Jamie’s mansion, where filming is taking place on yet another picture, that Zach Braff, seeking an autograph, inadvertently causes Frank Pierce, the star of the picture (uncredited cameo by Jason Bateman) to fall off a building.  (I wondered if Frank Pierce was modeled on Tom Cruise?) Pierce is killed,— but he was insured for $5 million.

That is the germ of the idea for Max: Hire an over-the-hill movie star of yesteryear, insure him heavily, and kill him off while making a picture. Then, collect the insurance. This isn’t too far off the idea behind “The Producers” when another Max planned to make a terrible Broadway bomb and collect for its failure. That original film with Dick Shawn (“Springtime for Hitler,” anyone?) unfortunately goes on to be a roaring success, which ruins Zero Mostel’s (Max Bialystock’s) plans.

Tommy Lee Jones is the over-the-hill Western star, Duke Montana, who is reduced to doing commercials for Big Earl’s Used Cars, while living in a retired actors’ home, where he is suicidal over his long-lost love, Bess.

THE GOOD

The dialogue frequently references famous movies of yesteryear. At one point, for instance, Morgan Freeman tells Max’s character that, if he is not promptly paid within 72 hours, “I’ll hunt you down like Redford and Newman in ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.’” There is an amusing exchange when Morgan Freeman—a frequent investor in numerous film projects—-marvels to his sidekick, Devin, that they are on the movie set where “Gunga Din” was filmed.

“This is where they shot Gunga Din!” says Morgan’s character.

Devin responds, “Who is Gunga Din and why did they shoot him?”

It’s throw-away lines like this, plus the stunt horse Buttermilk (an homage to Dale Evans) that will tickle the fancy of true movie buffs.

The horse (Buttermilk) has various tricks that he’ll perform upon the uttering of a code word. Say “rocket” and he’s off running like one. Say “mattress” and he’ll lie down. Say “Rhubarb” and watch out! There is also a bull whose intentions towards the cast are deadly and a hanging footbridge over a canyon that makes Duke ‘fess up that he is afraid of heights.

THE BAD

I’ve never thought that Robert DeNiro played comedy as well as drama. He always seems to be over-the-top hammy in fare like “Meet the Fockers,” but the movies were still funny. His mugging for the camera (again) doesn’t keep the lines and situations from being laugh-out-loud humor at a time when we desperately need more laughter in our lives.

The movie was filmed in and around Albuquerque, New Mexico, and will be streaming by December 18th. Be sure to stay after the credits to see the hilarious phoney ads for “Killer Nuns” and films like “Cows from Beyond” by the mythical Miracle Films.

 

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