Saturday, March 25, 2017

‘Rookie error’: The disaster of TrumpCare, the president
who bought it, and the House Speaker who birthed it


We will immediately repeal and replace ObamaCare — and nobody can do that like me. We will save $'s and have much better healthcare!

@realDonaldTrump, February 2016


YOU KNOW it’s been a bad day at House Trump when the proprietor in chief won’t even tweet about the biggest accomplishment of the day. The one that was intended to be held high as a shining example of presumptive president Donald Trump’s ability to lead a newly-unified Republican government. But there was silence about that biggest accomplishment from TeamTrumpTweet ... which makes a kind of sense: When the biggest accomplishment didn’t come off as planned, well, who wants to own up to that?

On the day after the seventh anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s bedrock-legacy domestic achievement, Trump caved on even bringing the ACA’s long-awaited replacement to the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote.

On Friday, in an act of political euthanasia — one that everyday people can understand better than the politicians — the American Health Care Act was withdrawn shortly before an almost-certain losing vote in the House, despite the late-night pleading of Trump administration officials with Republican conservatives who refused to sign on. The bill shorthanded AHCA was quickly and mercifully taken off the respirator by its loved ones, rather than be allowed to die over time, vote by vote, on live television.

If that seems like a harsh rhetorical use of real-life experiences, all apologies. But the fact of how the AHCA went down to defeat implicitly sends that same message: This is how precipitous American lives are down here on the ground, in the real world. “Repeal and replace” was simply not an option, not for Americans who’ve besieged their representatives in emails and tweets, phone calls and town halls for weeks.

“We had no votes from the Democrats,” Trump said on Friday afternoon. “They weren’t going to give us a single vote, so it’s a very difficult thing to do … I think what will happen is Obamacare, unfortunately, will explode. It’s going to have a bad year.”

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YOU COULD see this coming from a distance. The AHCA never had the populist loft needed to take off. It was rushed, hurried. Obamacare took about a year to gain ground in Congress and gain favor with the public. Trump’s legislation — principally the work of House Speaker Paul Ryan — took less than two months. It didn’t pass the smell test with anyone.

Influential conservative entities from the Heritage Foundation to the Club for Growth hammered Trump’s AHCA mercilessly in the week before the vote. “In many ways, the House Republican proposal released last night not only accepts the flawed progressive premises of Obamacare but expands on them,” Heritage Action CEO Michael A. Needham said to The Daily Beast on March 14. Others piled on with no fear of retribution.

It was going south for House Trump. We knew it Thursday when White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said “we are very, very pleased with the direction this is going.” With a straight face. We knew it when Ryan postponed a planned Thursday vote, pushing it back later in the day and finally cancelling it.

We knew it late Wednesday, when the president-apparent, a big fan of brinkmanship, said he wanted Congress to get behind the AHCA or he would abandon the repeal-and-replace effort altogether.

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The arm-twisting and gnashing of teeth continued into the night but by Friday morning, not enough had changed. Trump, sensing an all-in, guts-ball moment in the making, dramatically called for a floor vote on Friday. No dice. It wasn’t cooler heads that prevailed, it was mathematics.

The Democrats were a solid bloc against the AHCA. Any more than 22 House Republicans voting against the Trump measure was a kiss of death, and there were a lot more No votes than that. The White House knew it; Trump, consulting with Ryan, the author of this nightmare, opted to, uh, pull the plug.

“I spoke to the president just a little while ago and I told him that the best thing I think to do is to pull this bill, and he agreed with that decision,” Ryan said at a press conference. “This is a setback—no two ways about it. "We're going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.”

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HOUSE MINORITY Leader Nancy Pelosi pulled no punches when the deal went down, with a timeless quote: “Rookie error, Donald Trump, for bringing this up on a day that it is clearly not ready,” the California Democrat said. “You do not bring up your bill just to be spiteful on the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. You build consensus ... not the shortest, quickest monstrosity you can bring to the House floor.”

There’s a semantic reason for Democrats to cheer: By characterizing the GOP replacement measure as “Obamacare Lite,” as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul did on March 14 (when TrumpCare was still gathering what looked like steam), Republicans attached to their own legislation a weaker contrasting rhetorical valance that defined it, fatally.

By definition, if you say something is “[Anyword] Lite,” you’ve invested the [Anyword] with a weight that its ostensible alternative doesn’t have. The intended Republican disparagement is an actual Republican compliment. The messaging itself sent the signal that the Republicans knew AHCA was facing an uphill battle.

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TOM PRICE’S bid for the diplomacy of gradualism had its own unexpected revelation. On March 14, the Health and Human Services secretary told reporters the AHCA is a “is a work in progress, and we'll work with the House and the Senate. As you know, it's a legislative process that occurs. ... People engage and they get involved in the process. Sometimes, to a greater degree, nothing focuses the mind like a bill currently sitting on the table. We’ll work through it.”

With his “work in progress” talk, Price underscored something that was just as true for the GOP replacement for Obamacare as it’s true of the genuine article. Obamacare was never intended as the be-all and end-all, the slam dunk for all the nation’s health-care woes.

From the start, seven years ago this month, President Obama characterized it as a first step, not an event but a work in progress. Price’s comments on March 14th on behalf of the GOP’s alternative plan showed how challenging that process can be. No matter what side of the aisle you’re on.

Friday’s events were an optical and a tactical setback for Trump. By failing to even get the AHCA bill to the House floor for a vote, Trump’s vaunted reputation as king of “the art of the deal” got the drubbing it deserved. It’s especially galling since last Oct. 24, at a campaign rally, Trump all but guaranteed that a full-on repeal and replacement of Obamacare would be done and dusted within his first 100 days. He only needed 64 to find out how wrong he was.

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But it shouldn’t have been that big of a surprise. Trump’s bill — which according to the Congressional Budget Office would leave 24 million more Americans without insurance in 2024 — faced big challenges from the jump. Starting with the public. A March 14th Survey Monkey poll found that “the Republican replacement bill starts out under water, with far more opposition (55 percent) than support (42 percent), and with twice as many Americans saying they are strongly opposed (38 percent) than strongly supportive (18 percent).”

A March 15th PPP poll found that almost twice as many Americans prefer Obamacare over the American Health Care Act. “Only 24% of voters support it, to 49% who are opposed. Even among Republican voters only 37% are in favor of the proposal to 22% who are against it, and 41% who aren't sure one way or another,” PPP reported. Small business owners feel much the same way.

Trump overplayed his hand, badly, with the Congress he needs to function. Maybe he was angry or just fed up with people resisting his every commandment — which tends to happen from time to time in popularly decided democratic governments. Whatever it was, it showed when Trump, late Wednesday, said he wanted Congress to fall in line or else he’d leave Obamacare in place.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Race and Racial Impersonation:
Three Views in Three Books


The national dialogue on race, already fraught enough before the Trump presidency and even more so now, will soon feature three new books with which to settle an argument, or start one, about an intriguing variation on the topic that’s still the third rail of American life.

All three books, coming out back to back to back starting at the end of March, will survey the tricky terrain of literal racial impersonation, from personal, journalistic and scholarly perspectives. Their arrival in the culture at virtually the same moment — what they say about this nation and its bandwidth for the uncomfortable — may be just a coincidence of publication schedules.

It’s more likely the inevitable intersection, or collision, of viewpoints on a debate that arouses deep-seated feelings about race and identity, and those insidious pledges of allegiance, the ones we Americans take without realizing it — the ones that say, in so many words, “Stay in your lane.” ...

Read the full story at Humans

Image credits: Book cover: © 2017 BenBella Books

Monday, March 20, 2017

Brown-eyed handsome man:
Chuck Berry (1926-2017)



TO THE LIVING, we owe respect,” Voltaire once observed. “To the dead, we owe only the truth.” By that reasonable metric, the hole in our lives and the depth of the truth of our foundational cultural love are both exponentially bigger, wider today than they were before Saturday, before tragedy and poetry came at us from an unexpected angle, in a statement from the County Police Department of St. Charles, Missouri.

“St. Charles County police responded to a medical emergency on Buckner Road at approximately 12:40 p.m. today. Inside the home, first responders observed an unresponsive man and immediately administered lifesaving techniques. Unfortunately, the 90-year-old man could not be revived and was pronounced deceased at 1:26 p.m.

The St. Charles County Police Department sadly confirms the death of Charles Edward Anderson Berry Sr., better known as legendary musician Chuck Berry.

The family requests privacy during this time of bereavement.”

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A galaxy of kindred spirits and cultural co-conspirators appeared almost immediately. Alice Cooper tweeted that Berry was "the genesis behind the great sound of rock 'n' roll. All of us in rock have now lost our father," he said.

On Twitter, Mick Jagger weighed in, as we knew he would. “His lyrics shone above others & threw a strange light on the American dream. Chuck ... your music is engraved inside us forever.”

Jagger’s Rolling Stones fellow traveler Keith Richards spoke up too: “One of my big lights has gone out.”



@questlove said: “Thou Shall Have No Other Rock Gods Before Him.” And Huey Lewis tweeted a homage, saying straight-up that Berry was “Maybe the most important figure in all of rock and roll.”

Huey Lewis got it right. Chuck Berry wasn’t just present at the beginning. He was the beginning. Before Dylan, before the Beatles or the Stones, before Jagger or Hendrix, before Michael or Bowie or Prince ... there was Chuck.
.
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ALL DUE props, but there’s no way Dick Clark could possibly have been America’s oldest teenager. Clark lived and died by the musicians he could put on American Bandstand, including Chuck Berry, who appeared on Clark’s show (already a proven hitmaker) not long after its debut in 1957. Without that music, American Bandstand would have had nothing to stand on, would have had nothing to be. Chuck Berry was the oldest American teenager before Dick Clark ever put his music on TV.

Some of the obituaries from the mainstream media found elaborately deceptive ways to mischaracterize Berry’s role in the music, to somehow place him amid events that were already happening, like he was a man trying to catch a train that’d already left the station. “Journalists are getting it wrong,” Questlove tweeted. “#ChuckBerry didn’t help define or was part of the fabric: he literally was THE STANDARD of rock n roll.”

Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Little Richard and Ray Charles were the A, T, C and G of rock music’s DNA. Either by writing the songs (a genetic code of musical notes), or by synthesizing that code for presentation to a presumably wider and more palatable audience, those four men were generally indispensable to the music that is today so intertwined with our culture, our ethos, our world view.

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Elvis and Little Richard were as much or more popularizers of music by others as they were songwriters of their own, helping to bring that music into a broader exposure. Similarly, Ray Charles was a composer early in his career, but went on to ultimately become more an interpreter of the American songbook than a composer of the necessaries in that songbook, to any great degree.

Of this necessary quartet, Chuck Berry was the full package: a man with a spirited, dexterous, fiercely original guitar style; the ravenous self-confidence that typified the American ethos of the mid-50’s; the vision to blend country-western motifs with R&B; and a consistent command of songwriting: lean, smart, poetic, lashing, subversively topical, on point in ways that practically no one understood (or at least admitted to understanding).

He codified the swagger, the chords, the style, the sonic vocabulary, the social context of rock n’ roll. On Saturday, Bruce Springsteen called him “the greatest pure rock ’n’ roll writer who ever lived.” And he was.

And if you’ve played a guitar at any time in the last 60 years, you should get down on bended (and maybe arthritic) knee and give thanks. Without Chuck Berry, rock n’ roll does not exist. Full stop.

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CONSIDER ONE of Berry’s better songs, and one of his lesser-known songs, “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man,” for a guide on how to speak to an audience no one was paying attention to. The song was a series of slice-of-life vignettes that all hinged on the presence of the character of the title as leitmotiv, as linchpin, as the catalyst no one saw coming.

Arrested on charges of unemployment,
he was sitting in the witness stand
The judge's wife called up the district attorney
Said you free that brown eyed man
You want your job you better free that brown eyed man.

Flying across the desert in a TWA,
I saw a woman walking across the sand
She been a walkin' thirty miles en route to Bombay
To get a brown-eyed handsome man
Her destination was a brown-eyed handsome man.

One lyric does it for me:

Two-three the count, nobody on,
He hits a high-fly into the stand.
Rounding third and heading for home
It was a brown-eyed handsome man
That won the game,
It was a brown-eyed handsome man.


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He could have been talking about anyone with brown eyes, but he wasn’t. When that song was released in 1956, it was just eight years after Jackie Robinson broke into the major leagues. America was only months into the civil rights experiment started by a very young Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. We were a decade away from the Black Power movement, generations away from #Black Lives Matter. But even then, Chuck was speaking to black America. It wasn’t code-switching, it was winking to a black American population that was about to go into the crucible: S’ all right. We’re gonna get through this. Just hold your head up. We’re winners. We’re everything we think we are.

That song was a subliminal anthem for black America. “Arrested on charges of unemployment”? Black people relate, then and now. The song’s an ode to empowerment that didn’t sound like an ode to anything. It celebrated our status as disrupters, as shit disturbers. As survivors.

That song remarked on the African American ability to be (borrowing a phrase from Reggie Jackson) one of the major straws stirring the American drink. It was never announced as such, and certainly not promoted that way in 1956. But it spoke to young black Americans like few things could, at a pivotal time in our history.

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CHUCK DIDN’T do that a lot. He didn’t have to. He was on point, he was of the moment even when he maybe didn’t realize. In the same song he speaks of “flying across the desert in a TWA.” That name-check is documentary, a marker of our time and our culture. “TWA.” Who did that then? Who does that today?

In the song “Run Rudolph Run,” his indelible Christmas chestnut, Berry catalogs the desires of children wishing for holiday presents according to the 50’s. In the song, Santa’s asked to “take the freeway down,” one of the very first weaves of a fixture of postwar industrial American life into a rock and roll anthem. One little girl in the song wants “a little baby doll that can cry, sleep, drink and wet” — a clever nod to the tail-finned consumerism just starting to rear its head in the 50’s. And so Santa makes haste, with Rudolph lighting the way, “whizzing like a Sabre jet.”

A Sabre jet? There are living Americans old enough to have been a part of that era who don’t even know what a Sabre jet was; that component of 1950’s-era American military technology is something that probably went over their heads, something they'd remember to forget. Not Chuck. The artifacts and everydays of our culture were part of what powered his best songs.

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“Sweet Little Sixteen” anticipated our ravenous celebrity culture, right down to the pursuit of autographs that typifies that culture today. “You Never Can Tell” (you know, the Jackrabbit Slim song on Pulp Fiction) glorifies the sweet dilemmas of a modern love story. In the seven(!) verses of “Too Much Monkey Business,” you’ll find a catalog of our conflicts with everyday life, as pertinent now as they were when the song came out in 1956.

And the protagonist of “Memphis” pleads with “long distance information,” trying to put a call through in an era way before the digital performance we take for granted today. In the song, covered by just about everyone, Berry presents one of the simplest, most evocative, most eloquent expressions of longing and the desire for human connection ever written:

Help me, information, more than that I cannot add
Only that I miss her and all the fun we had
But we were pulled apart because her mom did not agree
And tore apart our happy home in Memphis Tennessee.

Last time I saw Marie she's waving me good-bye
With hurry home drops on her cheek that trickled from her eye.
Marie is only six years old, information please
Try to put me through to her in Memphis Tennessee.

Chuck Berry achieved so much because he was of us, and his experience was of us. All of us. At once, his musical vision seemed to be fully-formed and ecumenical, and didn’t hinge on race or gender or other distinctions, even when he did, occasionally. Even when society happily let those distinctions come to bear on him. Constantly.

He paid a price for being so brashly self-assured. A lot of people had problems with that coming from him and people that looked like him. Being a brown-skinned brown-eyed handsome man had its risks and dangers in mid-century America. Just like it does today.

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PETER GURALNICK, writing in an October 2016 essay that Rolling Stone republished on Saturday, got close to the unknowable core of Chuck Berry:

“He is, like many of us, his own best advocate and his own worst enemy, but the particular problem for Chuck is that, for all of the accolades that have come his way ... to this day he has not been unambiguously embraced in the full artistic terms he deserves.

“There are undoubtedly a multiplicity of reasons for this (race would certainly have to be factored in), but the principal reason that Chuck has not been lifted up on a wave of critical and biographical hosannas is Chuck himself. His unwillingness to ingratiate himself. His unreadable apartness. The deep-seated sense of anger and suspicion that can unexpectedly flare up and turn into overt hostility, with or without provocation (check out the 60th-birthday, star-studded performance documentary, Hail! Hail! Rock N' Roll, which is both brilliant for its uplifting artistry and maddening for its self-inflicted failures). Most of all, I would guess, it comes down to his determined, uncompromisingly defiant refusal to conform to anyone else's expectations but his own.”

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HE NEVER stopped moving. He never stopped playing. According to the Chuck Berry website, a new album, “Chuck,” will be released later this year (CBS Sunday Morning says it's coming in June). It would be “his first album in nearly four decades,” the website says.

Like Bowie and Prince, both lost to us too soon not long ago, Chuck Berry will be in his next phase what he’s long been in this one: a presence as necessary as oxygen, a force as inescapable as gravity. A figure deserving of respect and truth.

In 1977, when the folks at NASA launched the Voyager I satellite, they included a so-called Golden Record, a phonograph disc that collected a potpourri of the sounds and images of we earthlings of 1977. The sound of thunder, waves breaking against the shore, automobile traffic and the greetings of people in four dozen languages are included; so are the music of Bach, Beethoven, mariachi music and folk music from Azerbaijan.

The record also includes “Johnny B. Goode,” as recorded by Chuck Berry in 1958. It’s the only rock song on the record attached to Voyager I, which, according to NASA, entered interstellar space in September 2013 — the farthest human-made object from the earth.

Which needn’t be a surprise to us. We’ve already known for 60 years what some lucky extraterrestrial in the constellation Camelopardalis will find out sometime over the next 40,000 years:

Yeah. Chuck Berry was out of this world.




Saturday, March 11, 2017

Command and out of control:
A troubling new military autonomy



Mandrake, do you recall what Clemenceau once said about war? He said war was too important to be left to the generals. When he said that, 50 years ago, he might have been right. But today, war is too important to be left to politicians. They have neither the time, the training, nor the inclination for strategic thought.

                                 General Jack D. Ripper, “Dr. Strangelove” (1964)


IT ALL sounds so operationally liberating, so refreshingly autonomous, so unlike the control-freak identity of the young Trump administration. The Washington Post and The Associated Press reported that a few hundred U.S. Marines deployed into Syria as part of the continuing preparation for the coming battle to push elements of the terrorist cabal known as ISIS out of its self-declared headquarters of Raqqa.

AP reported Wednesday that, according to a senior U.S. official, while“[t]he deployment is temporary ... it is likely an early indication that the White House is leaning toward giving the Pentagon greater flexibility to make routine combat decisions in the IS fight.”

Sourcing insiders at the Pentagon, The AP reported that the Raqqa campaign follows “the recent temporary deployment of some dozens of Army forces to the outskirts of Manbij, Syria,” in what the Pentagon has called a mission to “reassure and deter” — basically a chance to brandish American might by flying the Stars and Stripes and making a show of the strength embodied in heavily armored vehicles. The Marine mission will also include heavy artillery.

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AP reported that “[m]ilitary commanders frustrated by what they considered micromanagement under the [Obama] administration have argued for greater freedom to make daily decisions on how best to fight the enemy.

“The moves to pre-position U.S. troops closer to the fight, so they can be tapped as needed, are the kinds of decisions that military commanders say they need to be able to make more quickly, without going to the White House every time for approval,” AP reports.

At first blush, and given the 140-character attention span of the current occupant of the Oval Office, it might be seen as a good idea — even taking into account Trump’s penchant for micromanagement.

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BUT WHAT begins as a welcome overture to the military and its grasp of the situation in Syria has the potential to morph into something more, wider and more ominous. Basically, the Trump policy potentially sets this nation’s military on the slippery slope of that military assuming, over time, even more of the command and control of U.S. armed forces — the way of making sure war is left to the generals — and it does so with an outwardly palatable argument, in the guise of improving operational readiness in times of crisis.

It establishes the pretext under which the military may decide to make major moves on behalf of the commander-in-chief, without consulting the commander-in-chief — a fundamental walk-away from the civilian oversight of the military that’s a hallmark of American government.

We’re sure to be told that, of course, the civilian leadership will be consulted in making the big decisions about America’s use of force in foreign conflicts. The question is, for commanders in the field newly empowered by an autonomy they haven’t had in at least eight years, what constitutes a big decision? What’s the threshold for seeking direct input from the executive branch of the government — the White House? What's important enough to tear the commander-in-chief away from Twitter?

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The potential is there for some in the military to take liberties, to go too far in the name of protecting this country and its allies. We’ve already seen how that could play out.

Early in February, a photo making the rounds on Facebook showed how scarily this could play out. The picture taken by Carole Puryear and posted to her Facebook page, shows a Humvee personnel carrier rolling down a road, one of several military vehicles in a convoy near Lexington, Ky. The vehicle Puryear photographed was flying a Trump 2016 campaign flag — not in addition to the American flag, but instead of flying an American flag.

If that seems a bit out of bounds to you, rest assured you’re not alone. “Department of Defense and Navy regulations prescribe flags and pennants that may be displayed as well as the manner of display,”  said Navy Public Affairs Officer Lt. Jacqui Maxwell, to the web site for WSMV-TV. “The flag shown in the video was unauthorized.”

Of course it was. Which didn’t stop it from happening, now did it?

Thursday, March 9, 2017

For whom the dictionary trolls



The idea of “the resistance” has taken on many forms since Jan. 20th. Much of its new power and identity has been a product of visible protest in the streets, on blogs and in the airwaves since Donald Trump took office. But for months now, there’s been another free-floating resistance, a pushback of words and language by the people whose business it is to know words and language, and how to use them.

Read more at The Swamp

Image credit: WordsMatter image: From the Merriam-Webster Twitter page.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The train wreck on Pennsylvania Avenue



THE PENCHANT for secrecy in the administration of Donald Trump has left ample evidence of its own existence. The president-apparent has ruled the White House in the autocratic way he promised from the start. As a result, we’re dealing with a president enamored of crisis as an operational dynamic. A president mightily (and curiously) concerned with suppressing the truth about the involvement of a foreign power in our national election. A president who apparently thought that the occupant of the Oval Office could demand a wiretap on his say-so alone.

We’re left with a White House whose governing rationale, its throughline, is up for grabs. That may also come to include its players too. And soon.



On Sunday, CNN obtained and released a video was released late Friday, on CNN and other cable news orgs. The video showed the shadowy images of major players in the Trump White House, having what’s been described as an “animated” or a “heated” conversation.



Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner appear to be there, as well as White House Chief of Stuff Reince Priebus and word jumble enthusiast/White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. So, of course, is Stephen Bannon, chief White House strategist and media prince of darkness, gesturing, chief strategizing — and pointing with assertion. In the Oval Office, a space that is not his own. CNN’s Ryan Nobles reported that “a lot of expletives” are said to have been exchanged.

The maximum leader was apparently upset with the latest fallout from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who announced earlier that he would recuse himself from involvement in any cases related to his contacts with Russian officials in the run-up to the November election.

After a bruising confirmation battle, it turns out our new Attorney General lied under oath during that confirmation hearing — lied about his contact with Russian officials, notably Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak.

Sessions met twice with Kislyak during the 2016 presidential election season; navigating this thorny little matter and the perception of wrongdoing in its wake are among Sessions’ first orders of business as the nation’s top law enforcement official.

Trump, it seems, thought that Sessions had caved too soon, or that he shouldn’t have folded at all, despite the fully bipartisan call for Sessions to step away from official involvement in any Russia probe.

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BUT TRUMP couldn’t just walk away from this apparent defeat. He had to say something. Reliable as Pavlov’s dog, Trump flew down to Mar-a-Lago and on Saturday morning, like a vengeful child armed with wi-fi, lashed out twice on Twitter to circulate the claim that President Obama was involved in a “Nixon/Watergate” operation to wiretap phones at his Trump Tower headquarters in Manhattan (as if a sitting president three months from permanently exiting the pressure cooker of the White House didn’t have better things to do).

There’s no evidence to support this wild (and possibly impeachable) claim; its very suddenness, how fast he put this crap together, distills the essence of the problem with the Trump presidency.

Robert Reich, former labor secretary, author and filmmaker, wrote Sunday in The Huffington Post on just how wrong this is for the Trump White House:

◊ ◊ ◊

“No president can order a wiretap on his own,” Reich wrote. ”For federal agents to obtain a wiretap on Trump, or anyone else, the Justice Department would first have had to convince a federal judge that it had gathered sufficient evidence of probable cause to believe Trump had committed a serious crime or was an agent of a foreign power, depending on whether it was a criminal or foreign intelligence wiretap.

“In which case we have someone in the White House who shouldn’t be making decisions that could endanger America or the world.”

Then, in a dictionary-perfect demonstration of the phrase double down, Trump on Sunday took to the twitterverse to call for a congressional investigation of the warrantless wiretaps he’d just invented the day before.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Forget the envelope, please:
Moonlight eclipses our expectations



ALL RIGHT. You know the deal by now. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway read that La La Land was the winner in the Best Picture category for the 89th Academy Awards, even though the real winner was Moonlight. The fabric of the universe has thus been torn asunder forever; the sun will rise in the west under further notice.

Such has been the short-term fallout from the biggest gaffe in the history of the Oscars, with the immediate cosmic-gobsmack reaction approaching the clinical (never mind the fact that it's happened before: Peep this link). But end of the day, Barry Jenkins’ film of a poor black boy’s sexual awakening while growing up in Miami, became the first LGBTQ tale to win the best picture Oscar, making history on multiple fronts.

This lean, spare, subliminally muscular film went out and did the impossible; some would have said, given the power of the La La Land juggernaut, maybe even done the unthinkable.

◊ ◊ ◊

On TV, what happened within two minutes of the Beatty-Dunaway error looked like a rugby scrum with tuxedos; the stage of the Dolby Theater swarmed with people who didn’t belong there. The mistake was realized within a few minutes (the time it took for two of La La Land’s producers to fully express their thanks for a victory that dissipated before their eyes).

Consequently, what’s happened over the ensuing days has come close to a forensic investigation. To go by a story in the Los Angeles Times, there’s even talk about how the redesign of the winners’ envelopes may have been to blame.

PricewaterhouseCoopers (the accounting firm whose name is mercifully short-handed as PwC) has been responsible for handling Oscars voting counts and winners' envelopes since 1934. They had a statement too:

“The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope, and when discovered, was immediately corrected. We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred.”

◊ ◊ ◊

THE ACADEMY of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released a full statement:

“We deeply regret the mistakes that were made during the presentation of the Best Picture category during last night’s Oscar ceremony. We apologize to the entire cast and crew of ' La La Land’ and ‘Moonlight’ whose experience was profoundly altered by this error. We salute the tremendous grace they displayed under the circumstances. To all involved —  including our presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, the filmmakers, and our fans watching worldwide  —  we apologize.

“For the last 83 years, the Academy has entrusted PwC to handle the critical tabulation process, including the accurate delivery of results. PwC has taken full responsibility for the breaches of established protocols that took place during the ceremony. We have spent last night and today investigating the circumstances, and will determine what actions are appropriate going forward. We are unwaveringly committed to upholding the integrity of the Oscars and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.”

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This felt like the 13th mea culpa that PwC or the Academy has issued since the whole thing happened. If all that clarification wasn’t enough, on Tuesday, Beatty (present at the creation of all this) told The Associated Press that he thought Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs should step forward and publicly clarify what happened as soon as possible.”

We’ve gotten the drift: Heads will roll, asses will be worn for hats. But there may be nothing else to clarify. The AP seems to have hit on a chronology of events that makes sense. With so many moving parts in the proper performance of an event of this magnitude, the law of averages suggests that things were ripe for a fall. Maybe it was just something in the wrong place at the wrong time, or something in the right place at the wrong time:
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