Bullets vs gender

On March 16, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) posted this inflammatory image on his Facebook page. A member of the US Congress, sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution, King implicitly endorsed a new War Between the States. Yes, you read that correctly. 

King has a long history of making provocative assertions, racial and cultural insults. He uses racist language, demeans Latinos, demonizes Muslims, and promotes neo-Nazis and white supremacists on Twitter. He has a confederate flag on his desk. Long before Trump made building a border wall, eliminating birthright citizenship and persecuting undocumented immigrants the pillars of his presidential campaign, Steve King had embraced these positions. 

In an interview with The New York Times last January, King said, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” That was the final straw. The Republican leadership had given King a by for years. It was politically expedient. The Iowan was a kingmaker. But finally those remarks cost him his committee assignments. The Republicans may have found their spines because the election was over.

The differences between Republicans and Democrats have never been so stark, the parties so hostile to each other. The country is increasingly more polarized, to an extent most reasonable non-extremists never thought possible. So much so that I am no longer sure a civil war couldn’t become a reality. We already have violence and aggression, shameful disrespect and outright hatred of the Other, i.e., people with brown skin or opposing viewpoints. Mass shootings are now commonplace.

Without a leader to show the way, but instead with a president who personifies intolerance, exacerbates ill will and incites violence, American democracy is on its way towards morphing into a repressive regime, even without a coup or an insurrection. 


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Trump’s elusive wall


Trump promoting his wall -USA Today

Donald Trump needs The Wall that he’s been hawking since he entered the presidential race, but the Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, won’t let him have it. Like a spoiled brat who can’t get his way, the President had a tantrum. He retaliated by shutting down the government.

Donald Trump hates to admit he made a mistake. He rarely apologizes. Now he’s boxed himself in by saying he won’t reopen the government that he himself shut down unless he gets his Wall, but the Democrats are standing firmly against a wall they say would be ineffective. Negotiations are at an impasse. Trump is holding 800,000 federal workers hostage to something that began as a mnemonic device, a way to remember what he was supposed to say.

Why is Trump so enthralled by his Wall?

Before he officially became a candidate, Trump’s political advisers realized that immigration would resonate with conservatives and unemployed workers left behind in a growing economy that did not need their skills. In order to keep the easily distracted candidate on message, his handlers hit upon The Wall — a simple concept, an easy-to-remember four-letter word. It appealed to Trump the Builder — Build the Wall! — and the crowd’s enthusiastic response to the slogan converted it to a meme that has practically become a symbol for Trump himself.

The Trump Tower escalator descended with the aspiring candidate to a waiting crowd so that a beaming Trump could announce his candidacy. He described the evils he said were afflicting the country and attributed them mostly to immigrants who he said were invaders that arrived in hordes at the southern border. To stymie them Trump envisioned a “beautiful” Wall he would erect to “Make America Great Again” by walling out undesirables. America for Americans! (Never mind that America was built by immigrants and most Americans are descended from them.)

The Wall has become a convenient way for Trump to distract the country when new revelations from the Mueller investigation grab the headlines or challenge his version of events.

Now Trump has seized on the expedient of declaring a national emergency so that he will be able to use expanded executive power. The White House is looking for options like using military manpower and funds designated for other projects. The Pentagon may not look favorably on losing funds needed perhaps to build new barracks.

Democrats will lose no time before they challenge Trump in court. The president cannot overrule Congress by appropriating funds for a project it has not approved without precipitating a constitutional crisis. We are again in uncharted waters.


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Mending Wall by Ben East

Author, teacher and diplomat Ben East reflects on two dissimilar walls: one a poem by Robert Frost, the other the obsession of Donald Trump. With admiration and his permission I am reblog it below.

Only 2,000 Miles to Go

Robert Frost’s great poem, outwardly a critique on a pre-existing wall, arguably has little to do with the hypothetical wall being proffered today.

But Frost’s wall stands for so much more, and the critique applies more universally than merely to stone piled on stone. The critique can be said to include any barrier that divides us. The critique includes blind adherence to tradition. The critique marvels at the depravity and ignorance displayed by our fellow man.

I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

Frost’s narrator, in his easy country voice, recognizes that nature itself opposes these barriers. Hunters or weather or the invisible hand of the outdoors, the ordinary stuff of time’s passage, work in concert against the wall.

The narrator resonates common sense in questioning why his neighbor would rebuild the wall between their properties. And this same good sense reveals the answer: the neighbor is an individual of dim intellect and long habits.

He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

I’ve always loved this poem. Today I love it more than ever. I hear in this lament the nation’s former poet laureate snickering at today’s gross display of race-baiting, fear-mongering, ignorance, and megalomania.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…

Mending Wall
-Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

_____________________________________________________

Ben East published his first novel, Two Pumps for the Body Man (New Pulp Press, 2016), as a Bush-Cheney era black comedy. Set in Saudi Arabia, Two Pumps does for American diplomacy and the War on Terror what Catch-22 did for military logic during the Second World War. 

His second novel, Patchworks (Moonshine Cove Publishing, Sept 2017), examines American gun culture in a similar light.

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Can Trump declare a state of emergency?

photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Upon reading Elizabeth Goitein’s “What the President Could Do If He Declares a State of Emergency” in The Atlantic, my dismay spurred me to write the previous post. In “Our democracy may not be as robust as we think,” I considered a few of the disasters Trump would be empowered to inflict on the American public by declaring a state of emergency.

After publishing the post, I began to read The New York Times, and almost immediately came upon Bruce Ackerman’s “No, Trump Cannot Declare an ‘Emergency’ to Build His Wall,” The title promised to contradict all I had written based on Goitein’s article.

But Ackerman’s article was nuanced.

He refers to laws that would seem to prevent the president from suspending civil liberties and imposing martial law or build his wall. The first is a provision in a statute of 1878 that expressly forbids the willful use of “any part of the Army or the Air Force to execute a law domestically” unless “authorized by the Constitution or an act of Congress.” Then he refers to another statute from 1807 that directs the secretary of defense to “ensure that any activity (including the provision of any equipment or facility or the assignment or detail of any personnel)” will “not include or permit direct participation by a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps in a search, seizure, arrest, or other similar activity … unless authorized by law.”

Would Trump respect these statutes? For that matter, is he even aware of them? Is anyone in his cabinet or on his staff sufficiently conversant with the law to attempt to curb his illegal impulses? We have seen Trump compose executive orders and issue commands without seeking legal advice, unaware that he may be violating the Constitution or the laws of the land. His M.O. is “Act first, think later (if ever).” Knowing the presidency confers great power, Trump seems to think there are no restraints. If he were to declare an emergency, there would be a delay before the courts or Congress could thwart him. 

Ackerman admits that the laws he refers to “do contain a series of carefully crafted exceptions to the general rule.” He concedes that Trump might take advantage of the exception which authorizes the military to detain suspected terrorists. That’s not a stretch, since the President has repeatedly characterized migrants who cross the border illegally as terrorists.

But Ackerman believes that “it is an unconscionable stretch to use this proviso to support using the military for operations against the desperate refugees from Central America seeking asylum in our country.” It is “unconscionable” for a moral and compassionate person, but Trump has repeatedly demonstrated that he is neither. He has already gassed them.

The National Emergencies Act “formalize[s] the power of Congress to provide certain checks and balances on the emergency powers of the President,” writes Ackerman. It gives the House the right to rescind a state of emergency declared by the president and requires the Senate to ratify within 15 days. It seems foolishly optimistic to trust that the the legislators in the current divided Congress could come together in both houses long enough to pass a resolution.

Yet, in a neat twist of logic, Ackerman argues that Congress would intervene:

Since President Trump’s “emergency” declaration would be a direct response to his failure to convince Congress that national security requires his wall, it is hard to believe that a majority of the Senate, if forced to vote, would accept his show of contempt for their authority.

Hmm. That remains to be seen.

Finally, Ackerman concedes that, despite the legal obstacles that confront him, Trump could well declare a state of emergency. “He will likely take the most irresponsible path possible, issuing his ‘national emergency’ through a tweet or a question-begging written pronunciamento.”

We have reason to be very concerned.

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Our democracy may not be as robust as we think

Imagine an internet that restricts access to certain websites, including social media platforms; search engines programmed to return only positive results to queries for “Trump”; email that is monitored, censored, even blocked. Does that sound fanciful, an impossibility in our American democracy? Perhaps. Yet the threat is real. 

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

The current issue of The Atlantic has an alarming report written by Elizabeth Goitein, the Co-director of the Liberty and National Security program at The Brennan Center for Justice. Goitein delineates the formidable emergency powers that are available to the president during a national emergency. The article, “What the President Could Do If He Declares a State of Emergency,” is an eye-opener. Everyone should read it.

By announcing the mere threat of war, for example, the president could assume control of all communications, most likely including the internet. He could do so by invoking a law that has been on the books since 1942, when fears of invasion during World War II justified extraordinary executive power. Though it didn’t exist when the law was written, the internet today is a vital component of communications.

The Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law has tallied 123 statutory provisions that grant the president broad emergency powers the moment he declares an emergency. Moreover, the president himself may determine what constitutes an emergency, because the statutes do not define it. In addition, there is no judicial review, nor a requirement that Congress ratify the president’s appropriation of exceptional power. Though Congress could vote to end the state of emergency with a two-thirds, veto-proof majority in both houses, what are the chances of that happening today?

The Insurrection Act of 1807, modified over the years, allows the president to employ military troops to enforce the authority of the federal government in cases of lawlessness, insurrection and rebellion. Trump could deploy armed forces domestically wherever he saw fit, because the statute does not define the specific conditions that constitute an emergency. The law is vague enough that Trump could, for example, authorize tanks to patrol the streets, rounding up political protesters and undocumented migrants. President Eisenhower invoked this law in 1957 to enforce desegregation of the schools in Arkansas with federal troops.

Authoritarians routinely declare states of emergency to impose their will forcefully on their people. Trump admires tyrants like Turkey’s Erdoğan and Duterte of the Philippines — why wouldn’t he follow their examples? After all, Trump is not inhibited by respect for or even knowledge of the law or of the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.

Trump continues to attack the free press because it persists in calling him to account. The President riles up his followers and advocates the imprisonment of a political rival. He denies Muslims entry to the U.S. Clearly, Trump has no reverence for the basic freedoms of the press, speech and religion. Gotein cites Geoffrey R. Stone, a constitutional-law scholar at the University of Chicago, who observed that “It would not take much to upset the [Supreme Court’s] current understanding of the First Amendment.” 

“Indeed,” Goitein remarks wryly, “all it would take is five Supreme Court justices whose commitment to presidential power exceeds their commitment to individual liberties.”

Presidents in living memory have exercised emergency powers. Citing imminent threat to America, President Franklin Roosevelt defied the Constitution by interning U.S. citizens of Japanese descent. More recently, President George W. Bush authorized warrantless wiretapping and torture after 9/11.

In view of the latent perils to democracy that are now immediately available to President Trump, Gotein urges the American public to inform itself. We must insist that Congress repeal obsolete laws and limit the ones that contain the potential for abuse. The newly Democratic House must begin the review process in committees so that a future Democratic Senate can ratify the changes.

The time to act is now, before Trump or another president declares an emergency that gives him limitless power.

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A Blue Wave after all

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The immediate aftermath of the midterm elections left me uneasy, unable to fully celebrate the Democratic control of the U.S. House, despite my conviction before the election that without a Democratic victory in the House, democracy in America would surely be doomed.

The superstars, Stacy Abrams, Andrew Gillum and Beto O’Rourke were counted out as most returns were tallied on Wednesday. But high hopes dashed on Wednesday were revived by the weekend.

Andrew Gillum gave his concession speech on Thursday when it seemed he would not be Florida’s governor. But on Saturday, he took it back. Gillum and Stacy Abrams in Georgia are striving mightily against Republican opposition to have all votes counted and recounted in their races for the governor’s mansion. Both are close enough to trigger recounts. The same holds for the senate race in Florida.

As the vote counting continued, a Blue Tide began to wash over Republican-held seats, growing in size and strength. The House majority kept growing, and close races drew even closer. Democrats needed 23 seats to gain a majority in the House. As late vote counts rolled in, they garnered 32 seats, with 10 still not called.

The Blue Wave asserted itself: Democrats won 367 congressional seats— more than the Tea Party had in 2010. They flipped seven governorships, including in solid red Kansas (where they also captured a House seat). And when Florida and Georgia are finally finished counting and recounting, Democrats may gain one or two more governors.

Democrats scored trifectas — winning both houses of the state legislature and the governor — in six states: Colorado, Maine, Illinois, New York, New Mexico and Nevada. They will have full control in 13 states; the Republicans in 21.

Victories in state elections are important. State governments strongly influence health care, taxes, immigration and climate change in their states. They control redistricting, which is pivotal today, because gerrymandering currently causes Democrats to lose elections and seats, despite winning the popular vote.

Republican Martha McSally at first appeared to have won Jeff Flake’s senate seat in Arizona, but when all votes were counted a week after Election Day, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema became the first woman Arizona would send to the Senate and the first Democratic senator elected by the state in three decades.

The country moved left. Even in races the Republicans won, Democrats gained ground. As in 2016, Democrats won the popular vote. In Texas, Beto O’Rourke roused enthusiasm and came close to winning with a tremendous number of Democratic votes in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat since Ann Richards became governor in 1991.

More reasons to celebrate the 2018 midterms:

  • Americans were more engaged than ever in the elections. They voted in record numbers, more than in any midterm since 1914.
  • They elected more than 100 women.
  • The new class of representatives is more diverse than any of its predecessors, including two Native American and two Muslim women.
  • They are young, and have lowered the average age of representatives by a decade.

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Everyday Life

Ben East Books

The novelist is exhausted. Whole worlds suggest themselves to her but that is all. The worlds do not appear. They do not come ready-made. They do not exist. They require focus and time and attention. The worlds must be pulled forth. Forged.

The novelist is exhausted. Characters whisper in his ear and run through caverns in his mind. They are mere glimpses, shadows that must be captured, examined, and word by word turned from slip and sliver into clay.

The novelist is exhausted. The worlds and characters must palpitate, conflict, concur, act and react, breath and bleed and weep.

The novelist is exhausted because the details that join these things require consciousness as they tarry in the unconscious, wistful faeries concealed by too much darkness or masked by the squint of too much light. The glimmer and the shadow must be shaded or lit just so.

The novelist can’t show…

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Will 2018 election results reflect the will of the people?

BallotBoxThe highly anticipated midterm elections of 2018 are less than two weeks away. There is general agreement that the election is extremely important, because the United States is at a crossroads. President Trump has snubbed traditional allies and cosied up to the usual adversaries. He has withdrawn from treaties that were painstakingly drawn up over a period of years. He has levied tariffs where once there was free trade. Until October, the stock market was soaring. Less than two weeks before the election, all the gains of 2018 have been wiped out. His tax cuts have ballooned the deficit to record-setting heights.

Democrats are hoping to regain control of Congress, but it won’t be easy, even though there are significantly more Democrats than Republicans. Republicans, however, vote in greater numbers than Democrats. Another complicating factor is that Democrats are clustered in densely populated cities while many Republicans are in sparsely populated rural areas, making a Republican vote worth significantly more than a Democratic one. For example, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was re-elected with 111,000 votes; Democratic Chuck Schumer of New York was re-elected with 4.8 million votes. Yet they have equal power in the Senate.

Active voter suppression has wiped Democrats off the rolls in record numbers. State legislators with Republican majorities are writing new voter ID laws with the intent to disenfranchise people of color, because they tend to vote Democratic. The Republican governor of Georgia has purged hundreds of thousands of likely Democratic voters from the rolls. Of course, it also works the other way. Republicans are vulnerable too. In Alaska, new residency rules are designed to disenfranchise the Native Americans that were crucial to Sen. Murkowski’s victory in 2012.

This tactic is not new. It was employed until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 made it illegal. But in 2013 the Supreme Court ruled in Shelby County v. Holder that the Act relied on antiquated data and struck down its most effective provisions. Within five years of that decision, close to a thousand polling places were gone, most of them in predominantly African-American counties.

Free elections are still threatened by Russian meddling. Given what we now know, it may have swung the 2016 election to Donald Trump. The U.S. intelligence services are certain that the Russians continue to interfere, trying to influence the outcome of the election.

There is another, more sinister factor to consider: election results may be skewed domestically. We have no way to guarantee the accuracy of ballot counting, because the counting is not observable. Vote counting, once done in public view, now takes place out of sight, inside of computer chips. Jonathan Simon argues forcefully that what has happened to American democracy under Donald Trump and the Republicans may have a simple explanation.

Simon believes that tampering with electronic vote counting  may account for America’s dramatic shift to the right, considering that a majority of the electorate is centrist and did not vote for Donald Trump. By computerizing the electoral process we have made it extremely easy to alter the results. It’s no longer necessary to stuff ballot boxes with paper ballots or change 10,000 votes by hand. A machine can do that efficiently in seconds. A programmer or hacker can steal the election by inserting a few lines of code into the hundreds of thousands of lines of code and achieve the desired result with minimal risk of detection.

“This amounts to a rolling coup that is transforming America while disenfranchising an unsuspecting public,” Simon writes in “Code Red: Computerized Elections and the War on American Democracy.” Simon’s declared reason for writing the book is to alert the public to what he sees as a danger to democracy and the Republic that is far greater than gerrymandering and voter suppression. He wants to spur people into action before we can no longer vote our way out.

Simon asks,

Why do we collectively and so blithely assume that hundreds of millions of votes counted in secret, on partisan-produced and -controlled equipment, will be counted honestly and that the public trust will be honored to the exclusion of any private agenda, however compelling?!

Think about it.

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Pipe bombs and the crackup of the Union

Americans awoke this morning to the news that pipe bombs had been mailed to prominent political people. Not just any politicians— no Republicans, only Democrats and Trump’s favorite targets.

In his tweets and at his rallies, Trump has threatened and vilified Hillary Clinton, leading chants to “Lock her up!” He denied Barack Obama’s legitimacy, for years insisting that he was not born in the U.S., and has been dismantling every achievement of his predecessor since his first day in office. George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist and major Democratic donor, has been accused by Trump and the Right-Wing extremists of master-minding conspiracies against the U.S. and the world order. Trump has consistently disparaged the media, in particular, the publications that have criticized him, news organs like CNN and the New York Times. George Brennan, former Director of the C.I.A., has been outspokenly critical of Trump, and the President retaliated by stripping him of his security clearance.

Except for the NY Times, all of the above were recipients of bombs sent to their homes. Brennan’s was sent to CNN offices in New York.

We have a head of state who not only condones violence, but incites it. Since the days of his campaign, when he defended and encouraged his supporters that punched protesters, promising to pay their legal bills, the rabble-rouser-in-chief continues to stoke the fury of his followers, encouraging them to ravage the foundational principles of American democracy.

The country that prided itself on being a nation of laws is devolving into the misrule of chaos and hate. Trump campaigned on a pledge to destroy the existing order, and for perhaps for the only time, he is keeping his word. Rather than Making America Great Again, Trump is presiding over the disintegration of lawful society.

The political parties no longer work to reach compromises that further the greater good. Rather, they reflect the stark division of Trumpists determined to rend the fragile fabric of democracy and their opponents who want to conserve and build on the achievements of the bold experiment started over 200 years ago.

Update: Later in the day, more bombs were discovered. They were sent to Eric Holder, Obama’s attorney general and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA).

 

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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

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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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Palermo vs the mafia


In the center of Palermo’s old city, I was struck by the doors of a 19th century home hung with a blue banner proclaiming resolute opposition to the mafia. I wondered about the story behind it, as Palermo is the home of the Sicilian Mafia, who call themselves “Cosa Nostra” (our thing).

Walking farther on subsequent days, we encountered exhibits demonstrating the determination of Palermo to rid itself of the mafia. They are part of Manifesta 12, Europe’s most important biennial contemporary art exhibition. It coincides with the designation of Palermo as the capital of Italian culture for 2018.

The city is waging a campaign against the mob whose lethal grip for decades took over much of the government and compelled the city’s merchants, industries, and citizens to pay tribute.

Murdered anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino

During the 1980s, the judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino prosecuted hundreds of Cosa Nostra members in what was known as the Maxi Trial, the largest mafia court case in history. Four hundred and seventy-five mafiosi were brought to court and 346 were found guilty. In 1992, both Falcone and Borsellino were martyred in revenge killings. They became heroes whose names are known everywhere in Italy. Palermo’s airport, for example, is named after them. They are portrayed life-size in majolica at the entrance to one of the anti-mafia monuments.

Borsellino’s scroll notes, “The fearful die every day. The fearless die only once.”

Falcone’s says, “Men die, but their moral convictions remain, and they will continue to walk on the legs of other men.”

Under Sicily’s emblem is Goethe’s 1817 tribute, “Italy without Sicily leaves no impression at all on the spirit. It is in Sicily that one finds the key to everything.”

Since Borsellino and Falcone were struck down, 4,000 more have been assassinated. Journalist Attilio Bolzoni recalls that Palermo was a war zone:

I had been in Afghanistan, the Balkans, Iraq, but I had never felt so afraid as I did in Palermo during those years…. I had to watch my back all the time. You found the mafiosi everywhere, on the streets, in the shops, in the banks. It felt like a curfew was in place, there wasn’t a single cafe where you could sit at a table in the evening.

But the two murders marked a turning point. Thousands of Palermitani went into the streets to protest the killings and bombings. In 1993, an anti-mafia mayor was elected by 75 percent of the voters. New laws, harsher penalties and prison conditions made the mafiosi’s lives much more difficult. More than 4,000 mafiosi have been arrested in the ensuing years. Armed soldiers patrolled the streets of Palermo until 1998.

The city’s architecture reflects the mafia’s malevolence. Cosa Nostra took over the construction business and subsequently went on a building spree. Backed by their politicians, the mafia tore down beautiful art nouveau mansions and replaced them with ugly blocks of colorless apartment buildings. They ruined the beaches with rubble from the demolitions. It has been called the “sack of Palermo.”

With help from the government, Palermo’s citizens were able to invest in restorations of beautiful buildings that had been abandoned since they were bombed in World War II. In the last 25 years, more than 60 percent of Palermo’s historic buildings have been renovated.

In addition, a part of the funds and property (an estimated €30 billion) that were confiscated with the arrests of the mafia bosses has been used to create about 800 new social, environmental and cultural spaces for the city.

 

This 18th-century building houses an exhibit of Manifesta, a video of plaques and memorials placed on the spots where victims of the mafia were assassinated.

 

 

Spiral of Life

In the heart of the old city is another installation that is part of Manifesta. It represents the continuing war against the mafia and commemorates the mafia’s victims. Gianfranco Meggiato has created “an ode to the defense of the values of life and culture. It is the Spiral of Life, as opposed to the spiral of death, which seems to dominate in today’s society.” (explanatory sign)

The 2,000 burlap bags of which it is made are “sacks of memory,” each stamped with the name of a victim murdered by the mafia, Borsellino and Falcone among them. It was inaugurated on the anniversary of the massacre of Borsellino with five of his escorts.

Today Palermo is regaining its old splendor and the mafia is in decline. Art is winning and corruption is losing.

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After the storm

The day after

Sunset over a peaceful sea

The storm has passed

Day of the storm
Boats race against the coming tempest back to a safe haven

It was the the middle of August and a big, national, summer holiday. Everyone except emergency crews and restaurant and hotel staff was on vacation. The heat and humidity were oppressive.

Then the storm came. It lasted, with varying intensity, through the night. The lightening was focused on Capri: it blazed through closed shutters, dousing the house with light. Reluctantly, because of the heat, we had to close every window and door; the shutters were ineffectual at keeping out the rain. The deafening thunderclaps pounded us from less than a mile away. I have never experienced a storm so violent. (Hurricanes are in another category.) We were warned that global warming would produce extreme weather…

Next morning, no power, no surprise. No power also meant no water. Big holiday. The electrician was away and the plumber didn’t answer his phone. The power company threw up its defenses and no one answered those calls either. Soon we found out that we were the only ones without power.

A full day passed. We carried buckets of water upstairs from the garden, where one tap was still flowing. We charged our portable devices at a neighbor’s house and left candles at the ready. Back home, it seemed quaint to carry lit candles from room to room as we readied for bed. No streaming movies, but thanks to our electronic devices, we could enjoy reading.

Fortunately, power was restored the next morning, lifting the sense of isolation and allowing us to appreciate the storm’s gift: refreshing, cool, dry air.

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The Well-Dressed Horses of Palermo

Everyone loves horses and has at some time or other dreamed of sitting in a horse-drawn carriage. Tourists especially like to ride them. Palermo offers horse-drawn carriages wherever tourists hang out in Palermo. The horses look much fresher than the ones on Central Park South in New York City, who seem rather more tired and weary. The Palermo horses’s millinery shows an Italian sense of style.

They wear lace-trimmed straw hats:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and casual straws

 

 

slouch hats adorned with flowers
and a plain model for the guys

dress-up frilly ones

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and lest you think the men can’t be elegant too

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Palermo Journal: Life is sweet

Sicilians are famous for their desserts; they have a greater variety than the other Italian regions. They owe this distinction to the Arabs, who ruled Sicily for over 200 years and greatly influenced the island’s culture, cuisine and agriculture. Among the many foods and plants the Arabs introduced are citrus fruits, almonds, cinnamon, apricots, pistachio, pomegranates, sugar cane and watermelon, all of which feature prominently in Sicilian desserts.

So the signs were unmistakable. From our first breakfast in Palermo, we knew we were in Sicily. On a table laden with pastries there was a plate with empty cannoli shells and a bowl with creamy ricotta filling— Palermanitan DIY. In Sicily, cannoli are not pre-filled, because the shell gets soggy. (N.B. English speakers: “cannoli” is plural. One cannolo, two cannoli.)

We stepped out of the hotel into a land of cannoli, granita and ice cream.

IMG_3525I love cannoli and it was too early (for us) to have ice cream, so my eyes gravitated immediately to a store named Cannolissimo. They sell mostly cannoli, and they make them to order from a counter the width of the doorway and the store itself.

Custom cannoli

First, choose the shell: two kinds of plain or lined with chocolate or two other flavors. Next the filling: ricotta or ice cream, each with six flavors. What would you like sprinkled on top? You have seven choices.

We discovered ice cream heaven on our first night. Cappadonia had opened just two weeks before. The ice cream was the best we’ve ever eaten. The chocolate was to die for and the cantaloupe sorbet could have stood in for the melon with prosciutto.

Antonio Cappadonia

Antonio Cappadonia is the proprietor. The staff calls him “Maestro,” and so he is. He explained to us his process for making chocolate ice cream using only organic ingredients. Antonio insisted we taste his sorbet, which he makes only with fresh fruit that he himself selects, only when it is in season.

Tiziana and D’Amico

Il D’Amico and Chris with their new friend

Cappadonia is evidently an expert in human relations as well. It took months for him to put together his “team,” the out-going, gregarious and affectionate staff that serves the ice cream. They befriended us, kissing us when we arrived and again when we left.

No evening thereafter was complete for the team or for us without an ice cream fix  and warm hugs on all sides. Italians, especially in the South, open themselves to strangers, but I think they must not like strangers, because they rapidly transform them into friends.

Granita completes the trio of the most popular street sweets. You tell the vendor what flavor you like, and he pours flavored syrup over shaved ice. Granita is reputedly very refreshing in the heat, but it is too sweet for my taste.

Legend surrounds the invention of ice cream. Marco Polo may have brought it from China in the 13th century, though the emperors of the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 CE) are believed to have been the first to eat “a frozen milk-like confection.” Italians are always players in the fanciful (or not) history of ice cream.

Some believe it was invented in Sicily and taken to France by Catherine de Medici when she married King Henry II. Others attribute it to a Sicilian in the 17th century who opened the first café in Paris and there introduced gelato, the Italian version of sorbet, to the French public.

The Arabs, who ruled Sicily from the ninth to the eleventh centuries, drank an icy refreshment flavored with fruit juices. They called it sharabt, which later became sorbetto in Italian and sherbet in English.

It wasn’t until the 17th century that sorbet as we know it evolved with the addition of sugar. A Neapolitan is said to have written the first recipe for sorbetto. He also added milk to it, creating the first real ice cream.

Suffice to say that ice cream is so loved that everyone wants credit for introducing it to the world.

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It’s not easy to leave Capri

Marina Grande, Capri by Jorge Royan

Anacapri-Capri-Naples-Palermo

We were leaving for Palermo, taking an hour flight from Naples. I couldn’t get the boarding passes from the airline’s website straight into my phone, because the local airline we’re flying hasn’t learned how to do that. I did download the passes, but wasn’t able to print them at home, and the airline would charge an exorbitant amount to issue them at the airport. I finally sent the file to a friend at a hotel and asked her to print them. We are outside the town (Mastrillo on the map), so we would have to detour in Anacapri on the way to the port to pick them up.

We had two choices: drive to the harbor and leave the car there or take the car on one of the two daily ferries to Naples and leave the it at the airport for the week we’d be gone. Then Sal came up with option three. We’d take a taxi to the port. But since a taxi can’t navigate the very narrow and treacherous road that winds through the hilly countryside to our house, and since lugging our bags up the 88 steps to the road in the hottest part of the day was definitely not an option, Sal decided to drive me with the bags to the main road and leave me there while he took the car back home. Then he would climb up to rejoin me and the taxi he had previously ordered would pick us up there. 

I’ve been coming to Capri for more years than I care to recall, and I can count the number of times it has rained on the fingers of one hand, with some left over. Today, I added another finger while waiting on the roadside for Sal to return. Only drizzle, fortunately. It was pouring a few miles away in Naples.

We waited until it was a few minutes before the taxi should have arrived. Sal called the dispatcher to make sure the car would be on time, but after switching him from one agent to another, an agent advised Sal he could find no trace of either the reservation or the confirmation. And we had to pick up the boarding passes, fight the traffic to the harbor, make the ferry on time so we could get to the airport in time to check in and board the flight. My husband is the anxious type. You can imagine his condition.

Finally, a car came. I jumped out when we got to Anacapri and made a beeline for the hotel. The receptionist was very friendly and though the passes hadn’t been printed, she assured me I’d have them right away. Right. Right away Capri style. The slowest printer I’ve ever met seemed to print one word at a time.

We did finally make it to the ferry, to Naples, to the airport and finally, Palermo. The only mishap was Sal discovering a short while after we cleared security that his wallet wasn’t in his pocket. But the travel gods smiled down on us. The wallet was still on the floor where it had dropped.

A few hours later, we dropped into a comfortable bed in Palermo and slept soundly.

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Trump’s military parade

Military parade in Moscow, 2010

One way a despot controls dissent is with an ostentatious display of military force. An autocrat who loves gaudy extravagance, Trump was so impressed by the military parade he witnessed in Paris last year that he returned home and immediately demanded one of his own, a large-scale military parade rolling through the streets of Washington.

VoteVets, an association of veterans who know only too well what it takes to prepare for war and actually risk their lives, looks askance at Trump’s proposed jingoistic propaganda. The chairman and Iraq War veteran Jon Soltz wrote in an email, “This parade is not about honoring our military — it’s about using our military to honor Trump, a man who dishonors America and puts our country at risk.”

In 1991, Pres. George W. Bush had a parade to honor the vets returning victorious from the Persian Gulf War. That parade cost $12 million. A similar parade 27 years later would cost much more.

The streets of Washington were not built to withstand an onslaught of tanks and armored personnel carriers. Reportedly, it would cost at least as much as the parade to repair the damage to Pennsylvania Avenue and the rest of the parade route.

In February, even Trump-supporter Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-NY, told CNN, “I don’t believe we should have tanks or nuclear weapons going down Pennsylvania Avenue.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, tweeted that he supported a parade, but added his hope that “this parade will not focus on military hardware, but on military service, sacrifice, and saying ‘Thank You’ to those who protect our nation.”

In an apparent response to bipartisan objections, the Pentagon issued a planning memo in March, saying the parade will “include wheeled vehicles only, no tanks — consideration must be given to minimize damage to local infrastructure.”

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL, told NBC  that the idea is a “fantastic waste of money to amuse the president.”

Soltz called it “a national embarrassment all conjured up to serve a weak president’s frail self-image…. a disgrace.”

If you agree, pressure your members of Congress to intervene and stymie Trump’s wet dream. Do it now— the parade is scheduled for November, probably on Veterans Day.

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Don’t like vaccines?

Not vaccinating your kids leaves them vulnerable to disease their whole lives.

  • When your daughter gets rubella when pregnant, how are you going to explain that you chose to leave her at risk?
  • What will you say when she calls you and tells you she has cervical cancer, because you decided that she wouldn’t need the HPV vaccine?
  • What do you tell your son when he breaks the news to you that he cannot have kids, thanks to the mumps that he got as a teenager?
  • And what do you say when he gives influenza to his grandma? How do you explain that she won’t be coming home from the hospital? Not ever.
  • Do you tell them that you didn’t think these diseases were that serious? That you thought that your organic, home-cooked food was enough to protect them?

Do you say, “sorry”?

This was written by a doctor from Australia, Rachel Heap, for Northern Rivers Vaccination Association.
http://www.nrvs.info

I reposted it as a PSA.

Hat tip: Sunni Mariah on Facebook. She saw this in her doctor’s office, posted it, and within a few days it went viral. 

https://www.mamamia.com.au/child-vaccination/

 

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Immigrants make music

Maria Martin, Artistic Director and Flutist

Marya Martin, Artistic Director of the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival, announced this year’s theme at the first concert last night. Her lingering accent belied her birth on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Proudly she announced that all 10 musicians of last night’s performance— and what a performance it was! — were born outside the United States. Except for one, all now live in the U.S. The only native-born American was Alan Alda, who narrated the story of Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn.

Donald Trump, please take notice. Immigrants are what make America great.

From left: Emily Kruspe, Jakob Koranyi, Angelo Xiang You, Jonathan Lo, Then-Hsin Cindy Wu, Hezekiah Leung, Alan Alda, Jon Kimora Parker, Marya Martin

 

 

Kristin Lee

Angelo Xiang Yu

Jonathan Lo

Tien=Hsien Cindy Wu

 

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Filed under American Society, Music, Resistance

Treason, period.

Front Page, New York Daily News, July 17, 2018

“I see no reason why Russia would [interfere with our election].” —Donald Trump in Helsinki, July 16.

“I meant to say  “wouldn’t” instead of “would”” —Donald Trump, reading from notes, White House, July 17.

Please! Don’t add insult to injury!

A frantic White House understood what the President didn’t. The country was shocked and furious that the U.S. president, standing next to Putin and speaking to the world, repudiated the findings of his own intelligence agencies and believed Putin’s “strong and powerful” denial that Russia had interfered in the U.S. 2016 election.

In the face of strong criticism from both parties, Trump’s associates somehow persuaded him to walk back his remarks. He read from a prepared statement, a giveaway that the remarks were not his, and certainly not from the heart. He never reads from notes at his rallies.

Expecting the public to believe that he misspoke, omitting a mere 3-letter word, after praising Putin and Russia, is too much. As he did after the Charlottesville, Va, racial confrontation, Trump could not bring himself to completely renounce his remarks. He defended his observation that there were “some very fine people” among the white supremacists in Charlottesville, saying there were people to blame on both sides. Now, as he  did then, Trump said that the U.S. was as much to blame as Russia.

New York’s “Daily News” front-page reaction shows Trump shooting Uncle Sam on Fifth Avenue while holding Putin’s hand. Trump once said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in plain sight and suffer no consequences. Up to now, he was right. We’ll see what happens after today’s uproar, whether the Republicans who were publicly stunned by the U.S. president blaming America for problems Russia created will swallow his explanation of behavior that they found disgraceful (one of Trump’s favorite terms of opprobrium).

I wonder, does Trump realize that Putin ate his lunch in Helsinki?

Putin 1 (or more), Trump 0.

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Who’s he working for, anyway?

Trump meets with Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin alone with no one but a translator from the U.S. government. These two men are enemies of the U.S.— dictators who want to conserve and enlarge their arsenals of deadly weapons and cyber sabotage. Why does Trump want to keep their conversations and pledges secret? Why did he unilaterally agree to suspend the military training exercises that stave off the Russians and Chinese from our Pacific allies?

Who benefits from Trump’s sabotaging of the Trans Pacific Partnership, his intended evisceration of NATO and alienation of our faithful allies? Could it be North Korea, Russia and China? Not the U.S., for sure.

Trump levies “protective” tariffs on U.S.-made cars and agricultural products. Trump’s base is largely farmers in rural areas and workers who manufacture products like cars. Whom is he protecting? What does he think will happen to the American jobs he promised to increase? Will the farmers and workers he courted in his campaign continue to support him when they can’t sell their prohibitively expensive products abroad? Will they understand Trump’s role in rising prices for imports — how many times do you buy something that hasn’t been made in China?— and the subsequent spike in the cost of living?

He touts the health of the economy, taking the credit that belongs to Obama. What will the Base say when Trump’s soaring national debt and his tariffs take their inevitable toll? Will the coming recession be Obama’s fault?

He’s cut back on food stamps, made healthcare either more expensive or not affordable at all. Does he believe the “elites” rely on food stamps, Obamacare and Medicaid?

Your President isn’t working for you, Trumpists.

Will the truth ever percolate down to Trump’s base, or will the “alternate facts,” prevarications and out-and-out lies spouted by the dishonest “journalists” of Fox News, Trump’s enablers and Trump himself always continue to bamboozle the Trumpists who have drunk the CoolAid?

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Just a little note from your “enemy”

via Just a little note from your “enemy.”

So you heard that four journalists and a sales associate were gunned down on Thursday at the Capital Gazette Newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland.

A man armed with a shotgun stormed an office building and opened fire into the paper’s newsroom in the middle of the afternoon, sending people running in fear, diving under their desks and praying for their lives.

The man who’s accused of this horrible crime had a vendetta against the paper for printing a story about him years earlier. He wrote about his rage against the paper and the reporter who wrote the story on social media quite frequently leading up to the attack.

As a result of his anger and hatred, five people who got up to go to work to do their jobs — just like you do — are dead. Their families, friends and colleagues (their second families) are now left with a huge void.

It’s senseless. It’s sad. And it’s an attack on the free press — yes I said free, please reread your Constitution. The section listed “First Amendment.”

But it’s not the only attack, as you well know. As a journalist, I’ve been labeled an “enemy” of the people. I’m accused of producing “fake news.” So says the leader of the free world, who regularly uses his platform to discredit, malign and vilify journalists. And the message, unfortunately, reaches vast numbers of people who agree and emulate this behavior.

Continue reading…

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June 29, 2018 · 12:19 PM

One woman’s must-see video

MJ Hegar is a self-described ass-kicking, motorcycle-riding, Texas Democrat. She was a combat rescue pilot in Afghanistan until she was shot down and wounded on a mission. Several adventures later, Hegar is now trying to unseat the Texas Tea Party Congressman John Carter who refused to see her because she wasn’t one of his donors.

She calls her campaign video “Doors.” Doors she’s opened, shut, walked through, and doors slammed in her face. I’m posting her video, not to boost her candidacy, but because it’s impressively made about an even more impressive woman.

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Republicans finally resist Trump

https://www.nytimes.com/video/players/offsite/index.html?videoId=100000005960348
Was my previous post too cynical, too dark? Perhaps. But it is difficult to be positive when each day brings news of a new scandal in the Cabinet, trade wars, Trump’s mendacious fulminations, and scrambled foreign policy with rebuffs of our allies and embrace of tyrants.

Yet with all of this week’s horrors, there was one bright spot. Trump finally had to yield to the relentless entreaties of Congressional members to halt the forcible splintering of families. That is certainly a step forward, despite the inadequacy of the executive order. The President apparently caved because of the optics, realizing that when leading Republicans join Democrats in denouncing his barbarous policy, it’s time to change tactics.

The public outrage at the plight of the migrant children, inflamed by photos and the audio of their cries, was snowballing, forcing Republicans to realize that their hold on Congress could be jeopardized by their callousness. The Republicans who don’t dare criticize the President for fear of losing their seats could no longer stomach the anguished wailing of the caged children. They could see that the winds of public opinion were blowing against them. Politics, not compassion, drove Trump’s reversal, as was evident when he called undocumented immigrants “murderers and thieves” who want to “infest our country.” Brown people are not welcome in Trump’s America. He considers them vermin that must be stomped out by any means.

The migrant crisis at the southern border did have one salutary effect. It was the first time Congress defied the President. Republicans may have been shocked into action by the public reaction, worrying that it could swell into a wave that would imperil their hold on Congress. Or, more generously, they may have given in to their humanity. I wonder what it felt like. Will they be emboldened to resist the President the next time? Probably too much to ask.

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Filed under Politics, Race, Trump

“This is not who we are” Really?

Wailing toddlers ripped from their mothers’ arms, pre-adolescents caged in detention camps, children warehoused like so many sacks of flour— horrors never seen before in the U.S. are happening now at our southern border.

Really? Never before? There was a time when we whipped slaves, broke up their families and tortured them into submission so their hard labor could fill American coffers. Slavery really happened. Native Americans were killed or driven from their lands to make way for the white man’s expansion across the continent. The natives who survived were penned up in “reservations.”

We are a land of immigrants, but we never welcomed them. Lady Liberty lifts her lamp before the Golden Door, but the passage into her arms was never easy. To succeed and live the American dream immigrants had to claw their way up.

Not who we are? Sixty-two million Americans voted for a racist, xenophobic, pussy-grabbing tyrant. Millions of Americans approve of Trump as he snubs and slurs our allies while he clearly admires dictators whose hands are bloodied by the murders of their own people.

Trump’s numbers, even in the face of his latest outrage, are going up. Nearly 90 percent of Republicans approve of what he is doing. Recently, his approval rating among all Americans has climbed above 40 percent. There may be more Democrats than Republicans, yet when over 40 percent of Americans approve of Trump, despite his racism,  cruelty and corruption, we cannot say “This is not who we are.”

I don’t think it was always like this. When the U.S. sent its sons to die for a cause, to liberate the Europeans under Hitler’s boot— not to gather booty or expand its territory, we could say “This is not who we are.” And yet, while American boys were fighting for people who lived across the ocean, here at home other Americans were being taken from their homes and made to live in detention camps.

No one can impugn our ideals. Our founding document proclaims that all men are created equal. Though women and people of color are not mentioned or included, we have been working for over two centuries on the inclusivity of that ideal. Americans live in liberty and are free to pursue their happiness. Just not all Americans. Not all the time.

Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) implores his colleagues to end the inhuman brutality that the migrant children and their parents are suffering. These children need to be with their parents, just like all children. “Anything else,” he says, “is cruelty in its purest form.”

Fortunately, some Republicans are recognizing that this is not a political problem. It is a national emergency. Today, the protests and anguished cries finally made the President capitulate. He has ordered that families not be separated, but interned together. Only some of the more than 2,300 children in camps will be reunited with their parents. Homeland Security and the other agencies were not prepared to keep track of where the children were sent and with whom they belonged.

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Filed under American Society, Race, Trump