Cut Joe Manchin some slack

JoeManchinMany Democrats are excoriating  Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) for betraying Democrats by voting yes to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court. Gail Collins, for example, writes in the NYTimes

Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat, didn’t care and took a dive. It’s a real shame. This is a senator whose he-man image is so critical to his identity that he always runs campaign ads in which he shoots offensive legislation with a rifle.

I admire and follow Collins, but this is just wrong-headed.

First, the easy part. Manchin is a West Virginian. Like most people in his state, Manchin believes people have a right to own and carry guns. By shooting a rifle in his campaign ads, Manchin cements his relationship with his constituents. He has, however, bucked his party by opposing legislation that would impose restrictions on automatic weapons sales and a bill that would ban high-capacity magazines.

More important is the fact that West Virginia is the state that gave Trump his greatest margin in 2016, and Manchin is up for re-election in a few weeks. He is ahead in the polls, but if he had voted against Kavanaugh, he would very likely lose his seat in November. Democrats can’t take that risk if they want to win control of the Senate. By gaining the majority, Democrats would also control all the committees. Imagine how Kavanaugh would have fared if Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) had chaired the Senate Judicial Committee with a Democratic majority. (see Only 2 Republican votes to defeat Kavanaugh?)

Once Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) announced her vote in favor of Kavanaugh, his confirmation was assured. It would have been incredibly stupid for Manchin to sacrifice himself on the altar of a lost cause.

Now that the votes are in, the issue is a little more complicated. Kavanaugh was confirmed 50-48. He had 49 Republican votes plus Manchin’s one. Two Republican senators did not vote. One was Steve Daines (R-MT). He had previously announced that he would be at his daughter’s wedding on Saturday, the day of the vote. The other senator was Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the only Republican with the courage to buck her party. She had announced that she couldn’t support Kavanaugh. But Murkowski didn’t vote no, as expected. She didn’t vote. I suspect she didn’t want to be the deciding vote, the only Republican to vote against Kavanaugh. If Collins had voted no, Murkowski and Manchin and possibly others could have covered each other by voting no together.

As it turned out, if Manchin had voted with the Democrats, the vote would have been tied, 49-49, and Vice President Mike Pence would have broken the tie, giving Kavanaugh his confirmation. Manchin’s vote would not have made a difference.

 

 

 

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And now, Justice Kavanaugh

KavSneerCropsusan_collins_official_photo-e1538799982930.jpg

 

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) put the icing on the cake. The confirmation was baked in long ago: the path to a fifth conservative seat on the Supreme Court was in the works for at least 30 years. (Remember Karl Rove’s dream of a permanent Republican majority?)

Before Dr. Christine Basley Ford described the sexual assault she had suffered in high school at a specially convened hearing of the Senate Judicial Committee, the Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) vowed that the Senate would “plow” through to a certain confirmation. But when Ford described her ordeal, she moved and impressed not only the senators, but the president, with her authenticity. Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation no longer looked like a sure thing.

Then Kavanaugh testified. Red-faced, he wept and he raged. Furious, he accused the Democrats of plotting a “calculated and orchestrated political hit,” fueled by “pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election.” But “what goes around comes around,” he said, apparently foreseeing vengeful retribution against the Democrats.

Following the hearing, people were appalled at Kavanaugh’s injudicious lack of control, his partisanship, fury and unseemly demeanor. The American Bar Association and the Yale Law School withdrew their endorsements pending a further investigation by the FBI. Close to 1,000 professors of law wrote to the Senate that Kavanaugh lacks the judicial temperament required for a seat on the Supreme Court.

The Republicans, all men, identified with Kavanaugh. They said they believed Ford had been sexually assaulted, yet contrived a way to exonerate Kavanaugh and justify voting for him. They began to poke holes in Ford’s testimony, pointing to her inability to remember details such as the address of the house, who took her home and the like. The people Ford named as being at the party couldn’t recall the party, much less the attack. All the evidence the senators chose to examine was gleaned from the severely limited FBI investigation. It was not enough to identify Kavanaugh as Ford’s aggressor. There was only Ford’s word. It didn’t occur to the men that a woman who had been sexually assaulted would have a powerful and excruciatingly present memory of the event, if not the superfluous details, while others present would have no reason to remember what was for them one unremarkable party among many. Once again, the woman was silenced, her searing testimony almost beside the point.

Within days, the debate shifted. Kavanaugh’s lack of judicial temperament, his lying under oath and his fierce partisanship replaced the sexual assault as the principal reasons to deny him a lifelong seat on the Supreme Court.

In the end, however, Kavanaugh’s unsuitability was tamped down by the overwhelming desire to hold on to power. Republicans have an extremely thin majority in the Senate. In the event of a Democratic victory in the imminent midterm elections, they would lose not only one or both houses of Congress, but the ability to establish a conservative majority in the Court that could endure for decades to come.

So Ford exposed her private torment to the world, and for what? For nothing, as she herself had feared?

Well, no, not entirely. Women heard her and their own buried traumas rose to torment them. All across the country women clamored to bear witness. They marched and spoke and wrote and pounded on the doors of their representatives. 

Many men listened to them. Amazed by their number, they confessed they had no idea that sexual assault was such a widespread problem. The #metoo phenomenon, just a year old, came roaring back.

Now that women’s and Democrats’ efforts have failed to prevent the elevation to a lifetime appointment of a judge whose convictions threaten the progress already made, what comes next?

Keep striving. We have to believe that though we have undoubtedly suffered a setback, we have the strength to reclaim lost ground and continue to advance into a more equitable future for all Americans.

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David Brock recalls Brett Kavanaugh’s key role in the Starr investigation

After Judge Kavanaugh’s first appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee in pursuit of a seat on the Supreme Court, David Brock (former arch-conservative, now reformed) spoke with NBC. Brock told NBC about his experience with the judge when Kavanaugh was a key assistant to Ken Starr during the investigation of Bill Clinton. “Kavanaugh was not a dispassionate finder of fact but rather an engineer of a political smear campaign,”

I used to know Brett Kavanaugh pretty well. And, when I think of Brett now, in the midst of his hearings for a lifetime appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, all I can think of is the old “Aesop’s Fables” adage: “A man is known by the company he keeps.”

And that’s why I want to tell any senator who cares about our democracy: Vote no.

Twenty years ago, when I was a conservative movement stalwart, I got to know Brett Kavanaugh both professionally and personally.

Brett actually makes a cameo appearance in my memoir of my time in the GOP, “Blinded By The Right.” I describe him at a party full of zealous young conservatives gathered to watch President Bill Clinton’s 1998 State of the Union address — just weeks after the story of his affair with a White House intern had broken. When the TV camera panned to Hillary Clinton, I saw Brett — at the time a key lieutenant of Ken Starr, the independent counsel investigating various Clinton scandals — mouth the word “bitch.”

But there’s a lot more to know about Kavanaugh than just his Pavlovian response to Hillary’s image. Brett and I were part of a close circle of cold, cynical and ambitious hard-right operatives being groomed by GOP elders for much bigger roles in politics, government and media. And it’s those controversial associations that should give members of the Senate and the American public serious pause.

Call it Kavanaugh’s cabal: There was his colleague on the Starr investigation, Alex Azar, now the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Mark Paoletta is now chief counsel to Vice President Mike Pence; House anti-Clinton gumshoe Barbara Comstock is now a Republican member of Congress. Future Fox News personalities Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson were there with Ann Coulter, now a best-selling author, and internet provocateur Matt Drudge.

At one time or another, each of them partied at my Georgetown townhouse amid much booze and a thick air of cigar smoke.

In a rough division of labor, Kavanaugh played the role of lawyer — one of the sharp young minds recruited by the Federalist Society to infiltrate the federal judiciary with true believers. Through that network, Kavanaugh was mentored by D.C. Appeals Court Judge Laurence Silberman, known among his colleagues for planting leaks in the press for partisan advantage.

When, as I came to know, Kavanaugh took on the role of designated leaker to the press of sensitive information from Starr’s operation, we all laughed that Larry had taught him well. (Of course, that sort of political opportunism by a prosecutor is at best unethical, if not illegal.)

Another compatriot was George Conway (now Kellyanne’s husband), who led a secretive group of right-wing lawyers — we called them “the elves” — who worked behind the scenes directing the litigation team of Paula Jones, who had sued Clinton for sexual harassment. I knew then that information was flowing quietly from the Jones team via Conway to Starr’s office — and also that Conway’s go-to man was none other than Brett Kavanaugh.

That critical flow of inside information allowed Starr, in effect, to set a perjury trap for Clinton, laying the foundation for a crazed national political crisis and an unjust impeachment over a consensual affair.

But the cabal’s godfather was Ted Olson, the then-future solicitor general for George W. Bush and now a sainted figure of the GOP establishment (and of some liberals for his role in legalizing same-sex marriage). Olson had a largely hidden role as a consigliere to the “Arkansas Project” — a multi-million dollar dirt-digging operation on the Clintons, funded by the eccentric right-wing billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife and run through “The American Spectator” magazine, where I worked at the time.

Both Ted and Brett had what one could only be called an unhealthy obsession with the Clintons — especially Hillary. While Ted was pushing through the Arkansas Project conspiracy theories claiming that Clinton White House lawyer and Hillary friend Vincent Foster was murdered (he committed suicide), Brett was costing taxpayers millions by peddling the same garbage at Starr’s office.

A detailed analysis of Kavanaugh’s own notes from the Starr Investigation reveals he was cherry-picking random bits of information from the Starr investigation — as well as the multiple previous investigations — attempting vainly to legitimize wild right-wing conspiracies. For years he chased down each one of them without regard to the emotional cost to Foster’s family and friends, or even common decency.

Kavanaugh was not a dispassionate finder of fact but rather an engineer of a political smear campaign. And after decades of that, he expects people to believe he’s changed his stripes.

Like millions of Americans this week, I tuned into Kavanaugh’s hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee with great interest. In his opening statement and subsequent testimony, Kavanaugh presented himself as a “neutral and impartial arbiter” of the law. Judges, he said, were not players but akin to umpires — objectively calling balls and strikes. Again and again, he stressed his “independence” from partisan political influences.

But I don’t need to see any documents to tell you who Kavanaugh is — because I’ve known him for years. And I’ll leave it to all the lawyers to parse Kavanaugh’s views on everything from privacy rights to gun rights. But I can promise you that any pretense of simply being a fair arbiter of the constitutionality of any policy regardless of politics is simply a pretense. He made up his mind nearly a generation ago — and, if he’s confirmed, he’ll have nearly two generations to impose it upon the rest of us.

 

 

 

 

 

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What’s wrong with Kavanaugh?

KavanaughSneerLet me count the ways.

Mueller is closing in, so Trump elevated Brett Kavanaugh above the other candidates for the Supreme Court to protect himself. Kavanaugh believes there can be no limit set on executive power: the president may not be indicted nor his greed restrained. As Nixon said, “When the President does it, that means it is not illegal.” Trump’s ambition and rapacity would be unfettered with no opposition from SCOTUS.

Almost 200 congressional Democrats filed a federal lawsuit last year charging that Trump was illegally profiteering from his businesses. That suit was just given a green light as was another, that Trump was violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution, filed by the attorneys general of Maryland and Washington, DC. Trump will soon need Kavanaugh to protect him from the sanctions of the co-equal branches of government.

Women, of course, stand to lose the most if Kavanaugh is confirmed. The judge is in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade, greatly hobbling a woman’s ability to determine whether and when to have children and therefore be able to make a life for herself without depending on husband or father.

The differences in opinion between the far right that wants to put women back in the kitchen and progressives who believe that society suffers when half the population is not able to contribute its talents to the common good are philosophical and tightly held. The place of religion, the rights of non-white citizens, immigration, gay marriage, traditions that glorify the antebellum South, all contribute to a rancorous divisiveness that alienates the two Americas as never before since the Civil War.

But we knew all that before the profoundly moving confrontation between the presentations of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Kavanaugh. Thursday’s Senate hearing solidified the positions of both sides, though Dr. Ford impressed even the president and his sycophants with her careful, sincere and clearly difficult testimony. At the very least, Republicans knew it was politically expedient not to further alienate women, to admire her courage and acknowledge the pain she confessed before the entire country.

Then it was Kavanaugh’s turn. I understand the disappointment, the anger, of scrabbling to the peak of judicial accomplishment only to slip as you’re cresting the summit and plummet into an irretrievable abyss. Republicans felt Kavanaugh was justified in venting his rage, especially since he and they felt cheated and out-maneuvered.

Still, I was appalled at Kavanaugh’s complete loss of control and composure. This man who aspires to the pinnacle of his profession lapsed into a tantrum, belligerently lashing out and crying in the manner of a spoiled child whose promised toy was snatched from his hands. For a man in his position with so much at stake, as a prospective justice, he should certainly have exerted self-control.

Not bothering to hide or disguise his contempt for Democrats, for the hearing or for the U.S. senators who asked him questions that he clearly thought were beneath him, he failed a test of coolness under fire. He was rude. He sneered and snarled at Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)— both women— and did not deign to answer their questions. He went so far as to throw their questions back at them, and when Feinstein pressed him, he broke his silence by saying he’d already answered the question and then again persisted in his non-answers.

He was about as partisan and petulant as a judge could be expected not to be:

“This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.”

To questions about his alleged behavior when drinking too much, Kavanaugh proudly threw out his academic achievements. He seems to think that his Ivy degrees will shield him from any accusations of impropriety. When Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) asked about a reference to drinking in his calendar, Kavanaugh deflected:

Senator, I was at the top of my class academically, busted my butt in school. Captain of the varsity basketball team. Got in Yale College. When I got into Yale College, got into Yale Law School. Worked my tail off.

Complete non sequitur. ‘I got into Yale’ isn’t a moral defense. But Kavanaugh tried it again when Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) recalled that Kavanaugh’s roommate described him as “a notably heavy drinker, even by the standards of the time.” Kavanaugh’s response:

Senator, you were asking about college. I got into Yale Law School. That’s the number-one law school in the country. I had no connections there. I got there by busting my tail in college.”

What we witnessed was a manchild who is sure that he is entitled to the ultimate prize for his hard work, that he deserves the prize because of the Yale degrees on his CV. He couldn’t control his rage because he is convinced of being cheated of that prize, falsely and spitefully accused of a sexual assault he insists he couldn’t possibly have committed then or ever.

Dr. Ford is “100 percent” certain he was her attacker and Kavanaugh is also 100 percent sure that he wasn’t. But the reason that this isn’t a simple “he said, she said” is that Ford suffered a traumatic event “forever seared” into her memory. For her, it was a singular, extraordinary experience. I do believe in due process, so I can’t say he is guilty, but I also believe that it is entirely possible for a man, especially under the influence of alcohol, not to remember something that for him was unremarkable, a possibly common occurrence.

Brett Kavanaugh’s refusal to answer questions at a hearing that he says he requested, his contemptuous, condescending interaction with U.S. senators, his demeaning treatment of women and his inappropriate, raging belligerence are reasons enough not to elevate him to the Supreme Court.

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Only 2 Republican votes to defeat Kavanaugh?

We keep hearing that the Democrats need only two Republicans to vote with them in order to sink the Kavanaugh confirmation to the Supreme Court. But there is a big, unspoken assumption in that strategy, namely, that Democrats will vote as one against the confirmation.

There is, I believe, a very good possibility that Democratic senators in blood-red states will buck their colleagues and vote to confirm.
Incumbents Joe Donnelly in Indiana, Claire McCaskill in Missouri, Jon Tester in Montana, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota and Joe Manchin in West Virginia all have wrenching decisions to make. If they stick with their party and vote against confirmation, they will alienate their constituents and likely lose their races. But if they vote to confirm, they will make their constituents happy and thereby have much better chances to keep their seats and possibly help flip the Senate for the Dems.

Joe Manchin, for example, represents West Virginia, a state where Trump received close to 70 percent of the votes. His opponent, Republican General Patrick Morrisey, is one of 18 attorneys general who have joined a lawsuit against Obamacare. If they win the suit, coverage for pre-existing conditions will be terminated. The other senators named above are strongly committed to preserving what is left of the American Care Act. It behooves Democrats to keep Manchin and other red-state Dems in the Senate.
Besides, it is not at all certain that the two Republicans who might vote against Kavanaugh will in fact do so. Neither Susan Collins of Maine nor Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have signaled that they will defect and abandon their party. If just one of them votes to confirm, Democrats would need to find another Republican to vote with them. The same is true if even one, let alone four or five or more, of the red-state Democrats votes with the Republicans.
The odds against confirmation are very slim, so the red-state Democrats may see there is nothing to gain by falling on their swords when the battle is lost.

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9/11 Elegy

The ghostly Towers of Light, which appear every year on September 11, manifest the loss endured by New Yorkers and the nation.

The Twin Towers are not all that is missing but remembered. Lost are the almost 3,000 victims in the U.S. on 9/11; 5,000 American and coalition soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, tens or hundreds of thousands (estimates vary wildly) of Iraqis and Afghans killed violently since 9/11 by airstrikes, collapsed infrastructure, and the ISIS occupation.

We have lost the dubious pleasure of air travel, the ability that we took for granted to simply walk to the gate and board a plane after leaving our bags at the curb or the counter. We lost the freedom to walk into many buildings without being scanned and searched. The New Year’s Eve celebrants in Times Square must undergo screening and rub shoulders with hundreds of armed police. How festive is that?

In one respect there is a gain— the multiplication of victims. They are the loved ones of the slain who suffer their loss.

Was killing Bin Laden and exacting vengeance on his co-religionists really worth the spilling of so much blood, the draining of national treasure and the transformation of everyday American life? We are still debating the answer.

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A street in Palermo’s historic district

The streets in the historic Palermo not too long ago were all but off-limits to any but the mob-connected. To wander there at night was to bet your life with the cards stacked against you. In the past 25 years, however, the district has gradually been transformed to the tourist-friendly magnet it is today.

At the intersection of the two main streets an especially large square opens up. Each of the four corners is cut away. A semi-permanent fixture at one of these “corners” is an incredibly garish and unique “cart” that evokes the traditional “carretto siciliano” that farmers used to take their harvest to market.

Despite all the fruit and flowers, this vehicle’s sole purpose is to serve tourists and their cameras

It’s impossible to walk along the street and stay hungry.

Ice cream is serious business

Service with a smile and often a hug, because the customers quickly become friends

 

The servers at the ice cream bar never have to handle money. The server has only to enter the price into the machine on the right. It takes in coins and bills and gives back the correct change in coins and bills.

Dogs like ice cream, too

“Bite and run”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Across the street, sit and sip.

Restaurants and cafés take their places in the square on one side of the street

Restaurant proprietor and diner become friends

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coffee, dessert and another friend

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Palermitani are very friendly and welcoming people. It is, of course in their interest to welcome tourists, but they manage to do it in a way that comes across as genuine. If you ask, they are happy to tell you about their families, how they began in business, what they have done in their lives, etc. They trade anecdotes with you and are eager to hear your story.

Not only are Palermo’s streets safer than they have been in a long time, they are more beautiful. Ruined palazzi and run-down mansions are being restored and renovated as desirable condominiums.

Some doorways

are irresistible

Some, not so much

A gentleman of Palermo

shows off the building he is restoring and dividing into apartments

 

 

 

 

A little farther down the street looms the Cathedral of Palermo

After the cathedral, the street assumes a different personality.

 

 

 

 

Past the park, the street ends at one of the four medieval gates of the city.

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