Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Watch Kamala Harris. Now keep watching.

Don’t fall asleep on Kamala Harris.

The Democratic California senator, who jumped out front as a declared candidate for the presidency, has been quietly going about her business since her splashy Oakland campaign rollout in January, when Harris both announced her candidacy and set the emotional bar for the campaign — a deft blend of ebullience and duty — that no other Democrat in the race has matched yet.

Other candidates have announced since then, like Beto O’Rourke, the early imagistic darling of the 2020 race. Others haven’t formally announced but might as well have; South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg, a startlingly nimble, intellectual force seemingly come out of nowhere, comes to mind.

But modern American politics needs money; modern American presidential politics demands it. Cash flow buys a campaign time and space, and imparts the credibility of staying visible. Money keeps the lights on in the office of a presidential dream ... and Kamala Harris has got a lot of it. ...

Read more at Swamp

Image credit: Swamp logo: © 2019 Jerrick Media LLC.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Trump and the price of vengeance

IT IS NOT enough that I succeed, others must fail,” Genghis Khan is said to have once observed, the 12th century superdespot who inspired merciless boardroom tactics, equally merciless dictators, and the taste for vengeance savored by the current occupant of the Oval Office.

All the punditalk about a possible overreach by House Democrats in the wake of the pending release of the Mueller report pales in comparison to the proven overreach of President* Donald Trump, doing a protracted victory lap over apparently prevailing in that closed-but-not-closed investigation. Trump can’t celebrate a win for its own sake; chaos and conflict are the twin north stars of his persona and his psyche. And now, in the wake of victory, Trump has reanimated conflict with an old foe to address a new enemy.

With the potential Richter-scale disclosures in the Mueller report now largely downplayed by Attorney General William Barr’s Cliff’s Notes synopsis of the Mueller report, the president* hasn’t shifted his sights to a new domestic policy program. Instead he’s focused on remounting the thrice-beaten dead horse of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

With a statement to the Fox News bloviation ecosystem (“The Republican party will be the party of great health care. You watch.”) and apparently ready to make dismantling of that health care a central priority of the 2020 campaign — at the expense of at least 21 million Americans who can’t do without it — Trump’s busy turning the gold of a win into the dross of a stalemate or a loss, acting like a man blind to his own refusal to let a little success stand between himself and a major failure.

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Michael Kruse in Politico observed on March 29: “Barely more than a day after triumphantly (and incorrectly) blazoning his “Total EXONERATION,” Trump abruptly seized upon a Justice Department filing to pledge his intention to obliterate Obamacare. Bent on delivering on a campaign promise, Trump couldn’t resist the urge to try to parlay one win into an even larger one, no matter how improbable the odds. He ignored the advice of top staff and important allies, who pointed out that neither he nor his party had anything to offer as a replacement and that this almost certainly would work to the advantage of Democrats.”

The health-care issue is a convenient avenue where Trump can air a plethora of other grievances with his opponents, real and imagined. Even now, in the aftermath of what should be an easy layup of a victory lap with a touch of winner’s charitability, Trump’s hit full-vengeance mode, inveighing with a renewed vigor against the mainstream media, social media platforms, Hollywood and other available whipping boys and targets of opportunity.

He may well hope to exact revenge on his tormentors purely for its own sake. But never mind the mind-numbing logistical challenges of visiting Oval Office vengeance on each of more critics than he can count. In pursuing a mindless course of retribution, there’s a very real risk Trump runs by clumsily relitigating the purported wrongs against him for the last two years: the risk of turning voters off.

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VOTERS UNAFRAID to entertain something close to civility in the public discourse have reason to fear, or expect, tuning Trump out. The meanness of the man, his essential smallness, have been obvious in the worst way, and not just recently. Kruse reports: “To those ... who have watched him and known him longer than the insiders in Washington, this is par for the course for Trump. His vengeful, punitive, zero-sum worldview, they believe, dictates that a win alone is never enough; somebody else has to take the loss, and feel it.”

“Trump’s energy,” a former Trump associate told Kruse, “comes from conflict.”

“He is not interested in pleasures such as art and food and friendship, and he doesn’t seem to be motivated by love or creative impulses. The one exception is his drive to create conflict, which brings him the attention of others,” said Michael D’Antonio, a Trump biographer, to Politico.

“When he says he likes to fight — all kinds of fights — he is telling the truth.”

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Waging a punishment campaign is unproductive and potentially damaging to a presidency at any time in a term in office; A combative Richard Nixon tried that for months during the Watergate debacle, and look what good it did him. By waging vengeance on the eve of a presidential campaign, Trump risks alienating voters — not so much his Base voters, who’ll happily drink his bathwater if he asked them, but the swing voters and independents that helped him win in 2016, the same cohorts of voters he needs to have a chance at winning in 2020.

Finally, inexplicably, Trump goes even further. He didn’t have enough real working adversaries, it was time to go out and gin one up. That’s what he’s doing with the resurrection of the health-care issue; the personal vengeance campaign is yoked to the revival of a new old Trump policy objective: the destruction of Obamacare.

If the stars misalign somehow and the president* gets his way, the 20+ million people most likely to be badly hammered by a repeal of the ACA would certainly hollow out a serious chunk of the 35 percent of the electorate, give or take, that defines The Base from which all blessings flow.

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THERE’S A better use of Trump energies than revisiting the old battleground he keeps losing on, again and again. The fact that he insists on doing just that is to focus on a proven loser in the polls and the courts, two of the three places that matter the most in the debate.

In the wake of the release of Barr’s index-cards-and-a-Sharpie summary of Mueller’s report, there have been calls to Democrats from conservative analysts and the Fox News star chamber, asking them to accept the findings (the findings of the summary, mind you, not the full report) that Trump wasn’t ever involved with Russia in any way — requests asking Dems to “just get over it” and “get on with your lives” and (the usual go-to shorthand) “move on.”

How sadly ironic it is that Trump, the prickly, tragically hypersensitive standard-bearer of the Republicans, seems to be unwilling to take that same advice.

Image credits: Trump: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik. Nixon: Public domain.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Democrats, democracy
and the shock of the new

THE PROCESS of making a magazine cover doesn’t happen overnight. It’s an endeavor of weeks and sometimes months in preparation, the result of an army of creatives marching, for a minute, in exactly the same direction.

By that fact, then, there was no reason to be coy about whether or not Robert Francis O’Rourke of Texas was going to seek the presidency. A publisher like Vanity Fair doesn’t commit to a cover story (and Annie Liebovitz taking the photos!) about someone just pulling his chin about the presidency — like so many in the emerging 2020 cycle. You’re in or you’re out. And O’Rourke’s been in since before that VF cover was published; there was no other reason to put him there.

And in that magazine profile, the phenom Beto O’Rourke set the table, and the bar, for every Democrat who’s serious about winning next year. “I think that’s the beauty of elections: You can’t hide from who you are,” he told Joe Hagan of Vanity Fair. “The more honestly and directly you communicate to people why you’re doing this, the way in which you want to serve them, I just think that the better, more informed decision that they can make.”

Beto, who formally announced on Thursday, March 14, is one of the latest entrants into the 2020 race for the Democratic nomination. His talent for orchestrating the slow rollout of something apparently inevitable has been repeated by others who’ve decided, before and since, to seek the nomination for the presidency in 2020.

That’s nothing new; every four years, it seems, we get an ever-increasing field of aspirants for the Oval Office. But the would-be Class of 2020 is another animal entirely. For one thing, and for the first time, the current field of 13 Democratic candidates is almost as demographically diverse as America itself.

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The traditional white-male recipe of presidential contender shares countertop space with Asian, African American, Latino candidate flavors, male and female alike. One of the 2020 campaign’s early stars is the gay mayor of an Indiana city. With one notable exception, the current crop is dramatically younger than the candidates of recent years.

Most of these 13 candidates represent a true generational shift in the Democratic party identity. They could be the vanguard of the party’s future if — if the youngblood Democrats don’t get hoist internally on the petard meant for their interparty adversaries: building the litmus tests that can divide a party from within.

Maybe the ones who got in early knew, or sensed, what was coming, from the shape of the times and the perilous arc of the current presidency. The earliest adopters jumped in months ago, and even further back than that. Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney came out early in July 2017. New York businessman Andrew Yang announced on Nov. 6.

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OTHERS, ALMOST certain long shots, started the new year running, or pulling their chins about running. Hawaii’s Tulsi Gabbard announced her candidacy on Jan. 11. Pete Buttigieg, the millennial mayor of South Bend, Ind., came out on Jan. 23. Spiritual author Marianne Williamson, a confidante of Oprah Winfrey, announced on Jan. 29.

But rightly or wrongly, those candidacies are seen as outliers, in the early going, anyway. Since Julian Castro, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary, joined the race, on Jan. 12, the trickle of Democratic contenders with more gravitas (read: fundraising clout and/or political experience) became a flood:

California Sen. Kamala Harris joined the race with a high-profile, high-energy launch in Oakland on Jan. 28. New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker jumped into the race on Friday, Feb. 1, with a video sent to supporters and the media. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren jumped in on Feb. 9. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar announced her candidacy in a raging snowstorm on Feb. 10.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders started his campaign on Feb. 19. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee entered the race on March 1. Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper followed suit on March 4. Wayne Messam, the mayor of Miramar, Fla., announced formation of an exploratory committee on March 13. And New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand formally began her quest for the White House, announcing on March 17 and officially kicking off her campaign in a March 24 campaign event as bold and optically rich as you could ask for: In front of Trump International Hotel and Tower in Manhattan.

A survey of other possible contenders is about as long as the one for those who have declared: Former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams; Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet; Montana Gov. Steve Bullock; New York Mayor Bill de Blasio; former Secretary of State John Kerry; former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe; California Rep. Eric Swalwell; Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton; Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan ...

... and oh yeah, there's also some guy named Joe Biden.

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START GETTING used to it right now: the phrase “2020 vision” will get thrown around a lot next year, and in a context that has nothing to do with ophthalmology. For Democrats, the vision thing will be very real, and multifaceted.

Almost to a person, the emerging Democratic field is painting in very broad strokes right now, and there's nothing wrong with that ... right now. Much of what's propelling O'Rourke, Booker, Harris and Sanders to the top of the pops is a willingness to daringly, and maybe even impossibly, go outside the lines on policy prescriptions.

With such a big field of early contenders, the very idea of what makes a Democrat, what (beyond slogans and stereotypes) identifies a Democrat to the American electorate is undergoing several elastic interpretations — every one of them part of what makes this country what it is.

And there’s the rub: not everybody's gonna get to drop the mic. The process by which the Democrats perform this bloodsport surgery is never pretty, and thinning the herd certainly never is. The battle for the nomination will see to that.

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But this election season, the Democrats have the advantage of wielding, in a political context, what the renowned art critic Robert Hughes once called “the shock of the new” — his phrase that contextualizes the evolution and power of contemporary art, its velocity into the culture, and its reach and impact on our world.

The panoramic demographics of the new class of candidates, and the boldness of their convictions, impart much the same kind of frisson, the same jolt, to the political realm. The new wave of Democratic presidential contenders is, to some degree, a direct result of the blue wave of the 2018 midterm elections.

The forthright embrace of Democratic social and economic values we saw embodied in the campaigns of Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams, what we see distilled in Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Rashida Tlaib is finding its way into the campaigns of Sanders, Harris, Booker, and Warren, and others now finding their true, full populist voices.

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YOU CAN’T accuse the Democrats of playing small ball. O’Rourke set the terms of engagement in Vanity Fair; so did Booker at a recent town hall event.

“We are better when we help each other,” he said. “I believe that we can build a country where no one is forgotten, no one is left behind; where parents can put food on the table; where there are good paying jobs with good benefits in every neighborhood; where our criminal justice system keeps us safe, instead of shuffling more children into cages and coffins; where we see the faces of our leaders on television and feel pride, not shame.”

One of the sweetly grand certainties of the 2020 campaign: Unlike most of the presidential campaigns in any of our lifetimes, the future of the serious bid for the presidency of the United States will be not just polychromatic — Harris’ and Booker’s campaigns stand on the shoulders of antecedent giants, from Shirley Chisholm to Jesse Jackson to Barack Obama — but also ... well, what would the word be — poly-experiential?

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Because that’s what it is on the Democrats’ side of the aisle: more women, more younger members, more members of color. For the first time in a long time, the Democrats are interesting again: hungrier, a bit angrier when it’s required, and at times fearlessly foolish. Some of that will change; the young guns of the Democratic House will learn the law and the rules, like all of those who came before them. And in that process — knowing what to do and what never to do — they’ll have had a good teacher in the presidential asterisk occupying the Oval Office.

In Washington, the shock of the new takes its sweet time, but it does show up, and when it does, we never look back. That’s slowly happening again.

A new Morning Consult poll found approval for President* Trump in GOP bellwether state Ohio down 19 percent since 2017. At the Five Thirty Eight website, a poll of polls — YouGov, Rasmussen, HarrisX — discovered a nearly 10-point difference, a mood swing if you like, in approval / disapproval ratings. People disapproved of Trump by 52 percent; Trump’s champions gave him 42 percent in support.

These aren’t outliers. They reflect the ways in which, little by little, an abiding fact of American identity is coming into play. Donald Trump doesn’t move us like before. The shock of the old never trumps the shock of the new.

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WHY? SIMPLY PUT, we’re getting tired of The Don™. His angry orange madman shtick is getting old, and we know it and so does he. We can’t say that out loud because we don’t need the aggravation from neighbors and complete strangers, but it’s true: Donald Trump has worn out a welcome that was never a real, proper welcome in the first place.

He’s gotten predictable in doing what he believes is unpredictable. We know his every move; we can forecast every tic and twitch, and two years in, deep down we can tell: This is as good as it’s gonna get.

Whether the Democrats can move the needle enough — combating their own perverse appetite for self-destruction and overreach with an engaging, credible, palatably principled bid for the White House — remains to be seen. But it’ll be fun to watch what happens.

Is everybody in? The circus is about to begin.

Image credits: Beto Vanity Fair cover: © 2018 Vanity Fair. © 2018 Annie Liebovitz. Yang: tk. Buttigieg: tk. Booker: CNN. Shock of the New cover: Thames & Hudson 1980, 2004. Trump side-eye: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

'We have got to get back to normal':
Elijah Cummings' redemption song

EVERY SO often, someone rides to the rescue of America with a cri du Coeur from an unexpected place and puts things in a perspective we couldn’t, or wouldn’t, see coming.

In June 1954, during the dangerous travesty of the Joe McCarthy era, when a voice of sanity was desperately needed from ... anywhere, Joseph Welch, chief counsel to the United States Army during the Army-McCarthy hearings, stepped up and confronted the apostate Republican senator from Wisconsin with one blazingly honest distilling of outrage: “You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?

It’s been said, in a kind of acclimation, that this was the moment when the McCarthy vilification machine began to grind its gears and fall apart, ending one of the more ruinous episodes in American political history.

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The three-ring dumpster-fire train wreck of the Trump administration hasn’t given us many unalloyed profiles in courage; neither, frankly, have most of the people on its periphery in the government. We may have one in the Democratic congressman who heads a subset of congressional lawmakers never more vital than they are today. In Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, there may be the kind of spiritual centering, of faith and reliance in the Constitution, required to advance not necessarily the process of impeachment, but certainly, sure as hell, the process of inquiry.

On Wednesday, Feb. 27, Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, presided over the public congressional hearing of Michael Cohen, President* Trump’s former fixer/enforcer now effectively turning states’ evidence with a host of unsavory revelations about his former boss.

The expected highs and lows of Wednesday’s hearing — one of three such public and closed-door events — needed a ringmaster for these feral cats, someone to put things into perspective, and Cummings rose to the occasion. A veteran of 23 years in the House, Cummings took charge as the committee chairman, navigating the usual partisan rancor with a brisk, no-bullshit, businesslike style, and no reluctance to use the chairman’s crowd-control device: the gavel.

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IT THREATENED to go off the rails, all right. After Cohen’s compelling prepared statement, various Republican lawmakers did what they could to discredit him, some more noisily than others (witness North Carolina GOP Rep. Mark Meadows, who got in airtime waving papers around, fulminating and rhetorically foaming at the mouth over having his racial tolerance bona fides challenged. Justifiably, it turned out.).

Meadows went after freshman Michigan Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who broke with House protocol when she called Meadows out for the "racist act" of using the presence of, and a statement by Lynne Patton, a single black woman, to disprove allegations of racism against President* Trump.

Meadows told the committee that he and Cummings “have a personal relationship that’s not based on color and to even go down this direction is wrong.”

“If there’s anyone who is sensitive in regard to race, it’s me, son of former sharecroppers who were basically slaves, so I get it,” Cummings said.

“I could see and feel your pain, I feel it,” Cummings told Meadows. “And so I don’t think Ms. Tlaib intended to cause you that, that kind of pain and frustration.” Cummings got the side-eye from some in the minority media for siding with Meadows on largely procedural grounds, and on misperception, instead of with Tlaib on the basis of fostering an open debate in an open forum.

But Cummings proved himself to be what we’ve always known and believed him to be: an old-school institutionalist, a colleague of long standing in this deliberative body, a stone believer in the system and its possibilities, and its potential for fairness. The system he now helps to direct.

Why Trump bombed in Hanoi

WHEN GLOBAL summit meetings end as fast as the one just wrapped in Hanoi, it’s for one of two reasons: Either the summiteers realized they had no differences of opinion to slow things down, or they found out early that their differences of opinion would short-circuit anything else from happening.

We might have guessed that the second Donald Trump summit with Kim Jong Un of North Korea, just ended in Hanoi, would have the same kind of unsatisfying stalemate as happened last June in Singapore. We could tell that the first day, when it was announced that North Korea and the United States had already failed to reach agreement on the crippling sanctions imposed on North Korea.

What followed that first news were claims and counterclaims, concessions asked for and concessions purportedly ignored, each country offering an explanation as to why things went south so fast.

From the North Korean perspective, it may have come down to intransigence, an unwillingness to budge. But for the United States, the failed talks in Hanoi point to a growing institutionalization of American failure on the world stage, an inability to successfully advance American values and interests in a vital region of a shrinking, combustible world. ...

Read the full essay at Swamp

Image credits: Trump: Leah Mills/Reuters. Swamp logo: ©2019 Jerrick Ventures LLC.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

The .50-caliber Kevlar vest:
Cohen testifies on Capitol Hill

MICHAEL DEAN COHEN testified before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday and called President* Donald Trump everything but a child of God. This was more or less expected; Cohen and The Don parted ways as friends and colleagues a long time ago.

But the depth of detail Cohen offered the committee’s interlocutors into the workings of TrumpWorld was stunning, with an unprecedented scope and scale to his revelations. Cohen, who twice delayed his appearance in Congress, might take an occasional look under his car over the next few months.

Cohen, who once famously said that he would “take a bullet” for Trump, spent more than eight hours in the unusual position of firing back at the man he worked for for almost a decade, with full-throated responses to barbed questions asked by members of the House committee. Cohen replicated his previous role as bullet magnet, only this time he was dealing with the rhetorical artillery of truculent Republican congressmen and women deeply pissed off.

But it all started with Cohen reading 20 pages of prepared remarks that laid the man bare, and offered to the public what may well be the proverbial smoking gun of a document, the one that may directly implicate the president of the United States in a documented violation of campaign finance laws. Even the excerpts of that 20-page salvo are powerful in themselves. Candor, even in small doses, can be a weaponizing thing.

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“He is a racist, he is a con man, and he is a cheat. ...

“Mr. Trump is an enigma. He is complicated, as am I. He has both good and bad, as do we all. But the bad far outweighs the good, and since taking office, he has become the worst version of himself. He is capable of behaving kindly, but he is not kind. He is capable of committing acts of generosity, but he is not generous. He is capable of being loyal, but he is fundamentally disloyal.”

“Donald Trump is a man who ran for office to make his brand great, not to make our country great. He had no desire or intention to lead this nation – only to market himself, and to build his wealth and power. Mr. Trump would often say, this campaign was going to be the ‘greatest infomercial in political history.’ “He never expected to win the primary. He never expected to win the general election. The campaign — for him — was always a marketing opportunity.”

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IN QUICK ORDER, Cohen tried to navigate the indelible Howard Baker question: What did Trump know and when did he know it?

“A lot of people have asked me about whether Mr. Trump knew about the release of the hacked Democratic National Committee emails ahead of time. The answer is yes. ...

“Mr. Trump knew from Roger Stone in advance about the WikiLeaks drop of emails. In July 2016, days before the Democratic convention, I was in Mr. Trump’s office when his secretary announced that Roger Stone was on the phone. Mr. Trump put Mr. Stone on the speakerphone. Mr. Stone told Mr. Trump that he had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told Mr. Stone that, within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Mr. Trump responded by stating to the effect of ‘wouldn’t that be great.’ ... ”

“It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed among the wealthiest people in Forbes, and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes. I am sharing with you two newspaper articles, side by side, that are examples of Mr. Trump inflating and deflating his assets, as I said, to suit his financial interests. ...”

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Then, on to the matter of hush money paid to adult film star Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels):

“I am providing a copy of a $35,000 check that President Trump personally signed from his personal bank account on August 1, 2017 – when he was President of the United States – pursuant to the cover-up, which was the basis of my guilty plea, to reimburse me – the word used by Mr. Trump’s TV lawyer -- for the illegal hush money I paid on his behalf. This $35,000 check was one of 11 check installments that was paid throughout the year – while he was President. ...

“The President of the United States thus wrote a personal check for the payment of hush money as part of a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws. You can find the details of that scheme, directed by Mr. Trump, in the pleadings in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.”

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THEN, OF COURSE, there was the matter of the genesis of the relationship with certain people from Russia ...

“Sometime in the summer of 2017, I read all over the media that there had been a meeting in Trump Tower in June 2016 involving Don Jr. and others from the campaign with Russians, including a representative of the Russian government, and an email setting up the meeting with the subject line, “Dirt on Hillary Clinton.”

“Something clicked in my mind. I remember being in the room with Mr. Trump, probably in early June 2016, when something peculiar happened. Don Jr. came into the room and walked behind his father’s desk – which in itself was unusual. People didn’t just walk behind Mr. Trump’s desk to talk to him. I recalled Don Jr. leaning over to his father and speaking in a low voice, which I could clearly hear, and saying: ‘The meeting is all set.’ I remember Mr. Trump saying, ‘OK good…let me know.’ ”

Monday, February 25, 2019

Blackface history month

They stand side by side in the grainy photograph, facing the stark, blinding full-on light of a camera flash: the grinning stereotype and the hooded enforcer, two antagonists posing for a picture in a kum ba yah meet & greet from the bizzarro world.

The dapper grinning gent on the left is a white man wearing stage makeup or shoe polish, chocolate syrup or any number of other, temporary agents with which to darken his face. The person on the right is dressed as a full-hooded member of the Ku Klux Klan.

The photo is from the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook page of Ralph S. Northam, who is now the Democratic governor of Virginia. Northam is either one figure in the photo or the other. He claims not to remember which one he is. ...

Read the full essay at The Omnibus @ Medium

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Liam Neeson and the Outrage Age

WHEN YOU first heard it, it sounded as if Liam Neeson was offering an expression of life imitating art, speaking in an outtake from any of his Taken trilogy or Gangs of New York, or from Non-Stop or The Commuter, or a scene from his latest film, Cold Pursuit: the famed Oscar-nominated Irish actor as the bludgeoning avenger, the everyman prowling the streets, seeking justice — or at least vengeance.

But Leeson’s admission in a Feb. 4 interview with The Independent, was a deeply personal one, and all too real. The actor said that some 40 years ago while living in Northern Ireland, he was told by a friend that she’d recently been raped. “I asked: Did she know who it was? No. What color were they? She said it was a black person.”

Thus marginally informed, Neeson apparently wandered the streets brandishing a club and looking for a person of color, identity unknown. He told The Independent: “I did it for maybe a week, hoping some black bastard would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could ... kill him.” ...

Read more at Geeks

Image credit: Neeson: ABC News.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Pain by numbers:
Trump, the polls, and the shutshow

IT TOOK 700 DAYS for the administration of Donald Trump to decide to weaponize the levers of government against the very people called on to operate that government. It took him that long to shut down much of the government he pretends to run.

Judging from a torrent of polls spanning geography, demographics and political inclination, the ensuing 35 days may well shut down his hopes of re-election.

Signs have been obvious for some time now. You didn’t need a super blood wolf lunar moon to grasp how The Don’s cratering approval numbers do damage to both his current standing and his prospects for re-election in 2020, even among the hypothetical base voters that form the core of his support.

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How has The Don’s stock fallen since the start of the year? Let us count the ways:

A POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, released the day of the president’s* Jan. 8 Oval Office address, found “only tepid support for the wall he wants to build ... Voters are opposed to shutting down the government to extract the funds for the wall’s construction — and more blame Trump and the GOP for the shutdown than Democrats.”

The poll found that 47 percent of voters think Trump is responsible for the shutdown, while a third, 33 percent, think congressional Democrats are at fault. Another 5 percent blame the Republicans in Congress.

And the survey clearly suggested that voters opposed the fundamentally contradictory position of shutting down the government in order to fund its operation. Some 65 percent of poll respondents said Trump was ill-advised to shut down the government to achieve his policy goals; only 22 percent said a shutdown was acceptable for that purpose.

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ACCORDING TO a Jan. 9-13 poll from Quinnipiac University, 56 percent of Americans blame Trump for closing the government; only 36 percent pin responsibility on congressional Democrats for the government shutshow now underway.

And a poll from CNN played the same music again: 55 percent of the poll respondents gave Trump the side-eye, while 32 percent faulted the Democrats. Nine percent blamed both sides.

An NPR/Marist/PBS Newshour poll from Jan. 17 found that 57 percent of registered voters absolutely won’t vote for Trump in 2020. A Jan. 18 poll from FiveThirtyEight found that only 40.2 percent of voters approve of Trump’s performance art in the White House.

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A Marquette University poll from Jan. 16-20 found that 49 percent of voters won’t vote to re-elect him as president*. In the Gallup poll from Jan 21-27, only 39 percent of voters support Trump. An Associated Press poll from Jan. 19 found that 34 percent of voters approve of Trump’s actions — plummeting from a Dec. 18 AP poll that saw 42 percent of voters in his corner.

He’s underwater in the Jan. 22 Pew survey (39 percent job approval, 58 percent disapproval) and the one from Fox News (43 percent support, on the TrumpNewsChannel!) and the NPR/PBS/Marist poll (40 percent approval, 54 percent disapproval)

In another Politico-Morning Consult poll, released on Jan. 23, Trump got a 40 percent job approval rating, down 2 points from a poll that spanned Jan. 11 and Jan. 14. Two more big polls from the same day bore the same news. CBS News’ poll found Trump with 36 percent support; the Associated Press-NORC survey gave Trump a 34 percent approval rating, the lowest in Trump’s presidency. And with a Monmouth University poll released on Jan. 28, Americans rejected Trump’s planned last-ditch recourse on the border-wall issue: 64 percent of the country disagrees with Trump’s plan to invoke emergency powers to get what he wants.

Had enough?

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YEARS AGO, Trump inoculated himself from the kind of criticism that would bring just about anyone else to a humbling, enlightening self-appraisal, in the face of polling like that. And it’s true, a poll is at best a brief snapshot of a moment in civic time, an evanescent sampling of opinion for a moment and gone the next. And for a politician predisposed to a short attention span, like Trump, there’s an incrementalism to such polling that can make it easy to ignore.

But there’s no way to look at these polls in isolation. The fact that they’re conveying more or less the same downbeat statistical information, day after day after day, would be a problem for any forward-looking politician. For a profoundly insecure president* attuned (if not addicted) to the polls that illustrate his support, such a succession of surveys might actually be seen for what it is: pain by numbers, political death by a thousand random U.S. adults.

The next State of the Union address has been pushed back to Tuesday, Feb. 5. With the partial government shutdown finally over, but with the presidential threat to start a new shutdown on or after Feb. 15, President* Trump will speak from the House of Representatives to the American people, and try to impart his idea of the power of what’s possible. The wave after wave of polls that precede Trump’s speech in the House, and the ones that are certainly coming, will test his faith in the power of what’s possible — for him — in the 642 days between now and Election Day 2020.

Image credits: Trump top: Win McNamee/Getty Images. Logos of polling organizations © the polling organizations or their parent companies or entities.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Kamala II: Maiden voyage in Iowa

THE ROLLOUT OF the Kamala Harris 2020 campaign was powerful, eloquent, and convincing, but it was all on her terms — and her turf. The Jan. 28 CNN town hall at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, was her real coming-out party: an event that put her in a one-on-one footing with some of the savviest, smartly political citizens in this nation.

Harris brought the A games of her policy ideas and her personality to an unpredictable venue. To go from reactions from those in the hall and the punditburo around America, she more than held her own.

The candidate fielded a broad range of questions from the moderator, CNN’s Jake Tapper, but mostly from the various Iowans in Sheslow Auditorium.

Did she support the principles of a Green New Deal, popularized by New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? “I support a Green New Deal and I will tell you why. Climate change is an existential threat and we have got to deal with the reality of it.”

“We have got to deal with the reality of the fact that there are people trying to peddle some ideas that we should deny it. They are peddling science fiction instead of what we should do, which is rely on science fact,” she said.

“Our planet is at great risk ... we have policymakers who are in the pockets of big oil and big coal (and) don't fully appreciate the fact that we are looking at something that is presenting an existential threat to our country.

“And listen, all children need to be able to breathe clean air and drink clean water, and we've got to have a commitment to a policy that will allow that to happen for ourselves and our children and our grandchildren. And right now we don't.”

HOW TO DEAL with gun violence? “You know, here's the thing. We have got to have smart gun safety laws in this country. And we've got to stop buying this false choice. You can be in favor of the Second Amendment and also understand that there is no reason in a civil society that we have assault weapons around communities that can kill babies and police officers.

“Something like universal background checks. It makes perfect sense that you might want to know before someone can buy a weapon that can kill another human being, you might want to know, have they been convicted of a felony where they committed violence? That's just reasonable.

“You might want to know, before they can buy that gun, if a court has found them to be a danger to themselves or others. You just might want to know. That's reasonable.”

◊ ◊ ◊

One witheringly to-the-point question, from Drake senior Riley Fink, could have been the blindsiding blow no one saw coming:

“You have positioned yourself as in line with the progressive movement to make criminal justice less punitive and racist, yet your record as a prosecutor shows that you embraced the tough-on-crime mentality. You’ve defended California’s death penalty, and as California’s Attorney General your office opposed the release of non-violent prisoners and violated the constitutional rights of various drug defendants. How do you reconcile your contradictory past with what you claim to support today?”

The question has its antecedents in American political drama. How would John Kennedy deal with the nagging issue of his Catholicism in 1960? How would Richard Nixon handle the persistent investigation of possible improprieties tied to political campaign expenses in 1952? Fink’s question invited Harris to make her own Checkers speech, her own plenary statement about a potentially hobbling issue. She parked that fat pitch in the center-field bleachers.

◊ ◊ ◊

MY CAREER has been based on an understanding, one, that as a prosecutor my duty was to seek and make sure that the most vulnerable and voiceless among us are protected, and that is why I have personally prosecuted violent crimes that include rape, child molestation, and homicide,” she said.

“I have also worked my entire career to reform the criminal justice system, understanding to your point, that it is deeply flawed and in need of repair,” she added. “Which is why as Attorney General, for example, I led the [California] Department of Justice…and implemented the first of its kind in the nation implicit bias and procedural justice training for police officers.”

“I created an initiative back when I was District Attorney…and this is the 90s and the early 2000s…back when there was a tough on crime mentality, and I created one of the first in the nation initiatives that was focused on reentering former offenders by getting them jobs and training and counseling,” she said.

◊ ◊ ◊

Then Harris went straight for the deeply divisive issue of the death penalty. “I am personally opposed to the death penalty, I have always been opposed to the death penalty and that’s not going to change. It is a flawed system, it is applied unequally based on race and based on income. It is something that we know is flawed in that we know it is a final judgment but we have seen many cases where DNA has proven that the person that was sentenced to death was not in fact guilty. And it is something that frankly costs the taxpayers of this country a lot of money.”

“We all realize it’s a deeply flawed system, but we also want to make sure that when a woman is raped, a child is molested, one human being is killed by another human being we also want to make sure there’s consequence, and serious consequence for those crimes.”

Your move, Riley.

◊ ◊ ◊

WHEN THE town hall was over, Harris capitalized on her obvious enthusiasm. Even as the applause continued, Harris walked to the side of the stage. “Can I go down now?” She shouted over to Tapper, asking for permission to go shake hands with the crowd, taking pictures with the people, taking the temperature of the room.

Paul Begala, CNN commentator and longtime Democratic party fixture, was upbeat, tweeting: “In tonight’s #CNNTownHall, @KamalaHarris was substantive without being pedantic, empathetic without being saccharine, authentic without being, well, inauthentic. Impressive performance.”

A big objective for the Democratic Party making plans for 2020 has been to find a candidate who can “beat Donald Trump.” That spongy imperative, that imprecise goal is by definition something arrived at through application of emotional metrics — strength, toughness, the je ne sais quoi of what Feels Right in the voting booth.

In just a few days, Kamala Harris has demonstrated she has that quality, a major asset as she prepares to build an audience for that inevitable extended residency in Iowa. Somewhere, Chris Matthews' leg is tingling.

Image credits: Harris: CNN. Nixon 1952: public domain.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Live, from Oaktown, Kamala Harris

AMERICA, WE are better than this!” Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris said Jan. 27 at a vibrant, raucous, genuinely multicultural rally before a crowd of 20,000, announcing her run for the presidency of the United States in a call for national unity from her town, Oakland, California, the heart of the country’s demographic breadbasket, a city that looks like America as much as any other city in America.

“We are at an inflection point in the history of our nation,” Harris told the crowd at Frank Ogawa Plaza. “We are here because the American Dream and our American democracy are under attack and on the line like never before. ...

“I believe we must acknowledge that the word ‘unity’; has often been used to shut people up or to preserve the status quo. After all let’s remember: when women fought for suffrage, those in power said they were dividing the sexes and disturbing the peace. ...

◊ ◊ ◊

“When we have true unity, no one will be subjugated for others. It’s about fighting for a country with equal treatment, collective purpose and freedom for all. That’s who we are.

“And so, I stand before you today, clear-eyed about the fight ahead and what has to be done — with faith in God, with fidelity to country, and with the fighting spirit I got from my mother. I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for President of the United States. ...

“We can achieve the dreams of our parents and grandparents. We can heal our nation. We can give our children the future they deserve.

“We can reclaim the American Dream for every single person in our country. We can restore America’s moral leadership on this planet. So let’s do this. And let’s do it together.

“And let's start now.”

◊ ◊ ◊

WHEN YOU embrace Oakland, by definition you embrace the underdog and the street. The city never got the brand advantage of San Francisco, its raffish, elegant, iconoclastic neighbor to the west.

But Oakland has always reveled in its own identity, sufficient unto itself, happy with its own reputation as a gritty working-class city and having shed any inferiority complexes some time ago, even as it wrestles with the pathologies of racism and gentrification. Jack London hailed from the city, likewise Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali. And Zendaya. And Daveed Diggs and Clint Eastwood. Gertrude Stein lost her beloved neighborhood there there. And popular culture and music are more than peppered with exponents of the Eastbay sound: Tower of Power, Too Short, Tony! Toni! Toné! were born there too.

I was one of the original editors at the Oakland Tribune under the stewardship of Robert Maynard, the fiercely enterprising former editor who rolled the dice and bought the Tribune from Gannett in 1983, creating the first management-led buyout in American newspaper history, and becoming the first African American owner of a major metropolitan daily. Walking into Tribune Tower every day, I felt a sense of mission, and a civic pride I’d rarely experienced before. “The Trib” was Oakland’s own.

◊ ◊ ◊

JUST LIKE KAMALA Harris is. She was born there, at Kaiser Hospital, of a Jamaican father and an Tamil Indian mother. Harris understands the value of relying on your roots at big moments in life. She follows the lead of Kirsten Gillibrand, the Democratic senator from New York and another presidential aspirant, who is basing her campaign in Troy, N.Y., where she grew up.

Born in Oakland, she was later raised in Berkeley, got her law degree from UCLA, and, ultimately, became district attorney of San Francisco. All in all, a solid power base from which to establish political bona fides. A place from which to develop a network of good friends.

Friends like Nancy Pelosi, who’s known her since at least early 2004, during Harris’ time as San Francisco District Attorney. Interesting how things turn out: Pelosi’s now the Speaker of the House, and Harris is the first undisputed major-league contender for the 2020 Democratic nomination. And they go back 15 years ...

Two great tastes that taste great together in 2020? Hey, relax. I’m just sayin’.

◊ ◊ ◊

Harris joins a field of Democratic contenders that’s hardly crowded, at this point. Only six are in so far, and more will formally join before long. One thing that may work to Harris’ advantage is the possibility that the field of contenders may not be as big, as philosophically wide open, as some Democrats fear (or as big as the Republicans may be hoping).

It’s way too soon to start throwing around the phrase “front runner” at this point. There are too many variables in the early going — matters of financing a presidential run, staffing up, building the brain trust, doing the polling, gauging the grassroots energy — to anoint anyone with that lofty title just yet. That’d be one good reason for the field to either remain small or (more likely) thin out in a hurry once the logistical and financial demands become clear.

But Harris has the momentum of the early start. She’s been priming the pump the right way (a recent memoir; appearances in high-profile Senate hearings that are, among other things, essentially free advertising).

◊ ◊ ◊

SHE’S GOT A thorough sense of history and of timing: Her splashy campaign rollout in her hometown capitalizes nicely on the official launch of her White House bid (via video) on Jan. 21, the MLK holiday.

She has a smart feel for her political room. Harris’ hometown is and has been for more than two generations a Democratic bastion, with consistent votes in presidential elections for Democrats that were never lower than 60 percent going back to 1964.

And not for nothing: Harris has raised a lot of money in a hurry. On Jan. 22, Slate reported that Harris “had raised $1.5 million from roughly 38,000 donors in the first 24 hours after she made her 2020 plans official” on MLK Day.

◊ ◊ ◊

HARRIS recognizes that a long-haul enterprise like running for the presidency requires a big haul of cash. “Harris’ insta-fundraising is more evidence that she’ll be able to compete in what is expected to be a deep primary field,” Slate reported.

“Other big-name Democrats like Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand have not released any fundraising numbers to date, though both are still technically in the exploratory phase of their bids,” Slate said. “That difference, though, could be a further boon to Harris, who will likely now enjoy a feedback loop of sorts, in which her rapid fundraising start earns her more attention, which in turn boosts her name recognition, which in turn earns her even more cash, and then more attention.”

The wall comes down

THE POLAR vortex known as Donald J. Trump, the one that froze 800,000 federal workers out of their rightful employment, finally broke after 35 days. In the process of partially shutting down the federal government, President* Trump may have done no small damage to the future of his White House, shutting down some percentage of his likelihood for being re-elected.

Speaking in the Rose Garden, Trump announced the end to the government shutshow he birthed, at the end of December, faced with the empty threats of Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter and other bloviators in the conservative media ecosystem.

The Trump who spoke at the White House on Jan. 25 was a beaten man, forced to accept that, with the changing of the guard in the House of Representatives, he could no longer exert his will at will. The wall he conjured (as necessary to counter the immigration threat he conjured at the southern border) is not happening. Trump was forced to admit as much when he spoke.

“I am very proud to announce today that we have reached a deal to end the shutdown and reopen the federal government,” he said, to a smattering of applause from various White House staffers and flunkies standing in for a grateful nation of federal employees, air travelers and food consumers.

◊ ◊ ◊

Then Trump returned to threat mode. “I had a very powerful alternative but I did not have to use it at this time,” he said, in a not-veiled recent threats to declare a national emergency to get the $5.7 billion for the southern border wall he promised his base voters back during the campaign. “Hopefully it will be unnecessary.”

Trump continued, saying that if the White House couldn’t get a “fair deal” on border security from Congress, “the government will either shut down or on February 15, again, or I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and the constitution of the United States to address this emergency.”

But this last statement was probably bluster and BS. Trump got schooled by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on this whole issue, and was forced to go to the woodshed because Pelosi’s been in Washington for years and knows the terrain Trump’s just learning to walk on. It’s not likely he repeats having his ass handed to him by a politician he shouldn’t have underestimated.

His threat remains; in spite of the agony and embarrassment the nation suffered the first time, The Don could drag us through this crap again. But since the first shutdown, Republican power brokers have whispered into his ear, making clear how bad shutdowns are for business — the health of the American business whose stewardship Trump made a cornerstone of his presidential campaign.

◊ ◊ ◊

ALL IN ALL, Jan. 25 was not a good day for The Don and his advisers: They threw in the towel to Pelosi and the congressional Democrats, walked away from a campaign promise he never should have made.

We can thank the Congressional Budget Office for undercutting the likelihood of a repeat shutshow performance with nothing more than business. The nonpartisan CBO found that the 35-day partial closure of the government cost this country $11 billion — about $3 billion in the last quarter of 2018 and an $8 billion hit to the first quarter of 2019.

Note: $3 billion of that $11 billion in gross domestic product will never be recovered, the agency said in a statement Monday.

◊ ◊ ◊

And we can thank the human factor — the wrenching, painful stories of the thousands of people affected by this non-crisis. Since the start of this needless debacle, Team Trump worked long and hard to neutralize its human dimension, to smudge or play down the fact that it was happening to real human beings in real time, suffering real financial pain.

So it’s additionally sweet that the Trumpists didn’t get any of what they demanded, regardless of their post-shutdown spin. It’s just a shame that it took so long, wasted so much time, and — thanks to the tantrum of the nihilistic narcissist-in-chief — incinerated $11 billion from the United States economy — almost twice what his useless border wall funding demand was for in the first place.

Image credits: Trump: Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press. Pelosi: Andrew Harnik/Associated Press.

Monday, January 21, 2019

'Unpresidented': Real fake news
with a grip on the truth

PARODIES HAVE a way of getting to the truth to come, by accident. The structure of good parody — the over-the-topness that distills a vortex of events into something you can get your head around, and laugh from — has always been at the heart of our democracy, our politics, and our culture.

But this is a special time we’re in, the time of the Trump White House, a time of huge challenge for parodists everywhere. The challenge? Finding exactly where “over the top” is anymore, in the face of an administration whose defiance of political, social and legal reality has created a whole new metric for brash excess and vast, naked greed.

It’s a bitch to parody that which can’t be parodied. Leave it to The Yes Men to give it a fresh try. The self-described “trickster activist collective” announced it had published a visually pitch-perfect fake newspaper pretending to be The Washington Post, its tongue-in-cheek look at the ending life of the Trump administration.

◊ ◊ ◊

The print papers — dated (perhaps optimistically) May 1, 2019, and strikingly similar to actual copies of The Post — circulated in the Washington, D.C. area, on Jan. 16. The Yes Men smartly followed through on the newspaper subterfuge, with a companion web site whose look and content mirrored the print edition. They contained stories about Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and others in the Trump orbit as The Don absents himself from the U.S. presidency via a resignation message left in red ink on a napkin in the Oval Office.

The parody Post lead story says the 45th president* decamped for Yalta, the location of a pivotal meeting of FDR, Churchill and Stalin in February 1945. It also reported that Trump’s quick exit from the federal city was prompted by “massive women-led protests” around the country — this more than a hint of one of the parody’s real(er) intentions, promoting the Women’s Marches, which saw hundreds of thousands throng the streets of Foggy Bottom, and everywhere else in America, on Jan. 19.

The Yes Men Unpresidented parody as a PDF

Apparently, we can look forward to celebrations around the world, to go from the parody paper of May 1 — not coincidentally, a date globally recognized as International Workers' Day.  “Entire globe breathes sigh of relief at end of dark period,” reads one story subhead. Go ’head, party like it’s 1999, +20!

And in other news of May 1: Freshmen Congressional Democrats will seek to advance a package of 64 bills, pursuing a panoramic legislative agenda that includes a new energy-efficient national infrastructure, corporate accountability, and Medicare for All.

Also: “Reince Preibus joins Dancing With the Stars tonight on ABC ... Kanye West will announce he is retiring his MAGA hat. 'Being a rich white asshole wasn’t as fun as I expected,’ he has admitted in recent days. ... The Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg will lead a 10K race over the river and through the woods.”

◊ ◊ ◊

THE Washington Post verité is not amused. “We will not tolerate others misrepresenting themselves as The Washington Post, and we are deeply concerned about the confusion it causes among readers,” Post spokeswoman Kris Coratti said in a statement. “We are seeking to halt further improper use of our trademarks.” Since satire and parody are constitutionally protected as free speech, it's not clear how much they can do.

But frankly, when you look at this parody in the context of other such projects, it's not exactly a game-changer. We’ve been here before.

Avid students of media will remember the Boston Globe’s March 2016 front-page parody of itself under a Trump administration. It was seen as a lighthearted jab at something that no one then thought was possible: Trump in the White House. And then, of course, eight months later, it happened.

◊ ◊ ◊

Some of what the Globe parody facetiously proposed has come eerily come close to reality. If not reality itself. Look at this parody's lead story: “DEPORTATIONS TO BEGIN.” “President calls for tripling of [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] force.” Other “stories” in the Globe parody are more, well, over the top: “Education Secretary Omarosa Manigault summoned PBS officials to Capitol Hill to discuss remaking ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ using hand puppets.” “Riots continue.”

Wiz9999, a commenter writing in Mediaite, may have hit on what connects the Post and Globe parodies, and all parodies to the truth they revealingly exaggerate. “Maybe it is a rip in the space-time continuum and the future has leaked into the present.”

If that seems far-fetched, cut the writer some slack: It’s no more far-fetched than anything emerging from the reality distortion field of the Trump White House.

Image credits: Washington Post parody, Yes Men logo: ©2019 The Yes Men. Boston Globe parody page: © 2016 The Boston Globe.
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