Friday, December 22, 2017

Crisis in the Offing

The stink bomb that is the Trump presidency should have as its motto “Thanks for the votes, suckers!”

“Aha!” you say, “because of the tax cut for billionaires!” Yes, but for so many other reasons as well. Anyway, let’s start today’s tour de farce with a glance at that tax bill. This bill is one of those Congressional actions that makes ordinarily cynical people say, “Good God, I haven’t been nearly cynical enough!” Or, as the venerable Onion put it, “GOP Leaders Celebrate Decisive Win Over Americans.”

If Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell were normal human beings with normal standards of honesty they would have put forward their tax plan with these words: “We want to cut taxes for corporations and rich people because they pay for our campaigns. We will throw a few temporary cuts to some middle-class Americans hoping they will let us get away with this, even though they and their children will have to pay for the 1.5 trillion dollars we are borrowing to fund our bribes to our wealthy donors. Of course, middle-class insurance premiums will go up, but maybe voters will forget that our tax plan caused that. Now, if our rich corporate friends will only give us a boost here by suddenly showering their employees with hundreds of dollars (from the billions the taxpayers are giving them), that would help us cover up our scam. In the meantime, thanks for the votes, suckers!”

But such honesty is alien to the likes of Ryan and McConnell. However, Dear Reader, please don’t refer to Washington as a Swamp, because any ordinary, self-respecting swamp would recoil in horror and disgust at the rank and slithery morass that is today’s Republican Congress. But I digress.

The other gross blunder committed by Trump and his enablers last week was the follow-up to a previous gross blunder: the promise to move America’s Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This incredibly stupid and provocative gesture resulted in a UN vote of condemnation that was supported by almost all of America’s erstwhile allies – including Britain, Germany, Japan, and France.

The Trump administration should have accepted that the UN vote was a rational reaction its own blunder - a blunder which, by the way, further undermined America’s already shrinking influence in the world. But instead of quietly accepting the vote of condemnation, the Trump administration reacted with the belligerent anger of a common street thug. America's UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley, promised that she was taking the names of those countries that hurt Trump’s feelings by criticizing him, and that they would pay.

Even worse than the tax cuts for the rich and Nikki Haley’s thuggishness were the attacks that various Republicans have begun to level at the FBI. Orchestrated by the Stink Bomb White House and in close coordination with propagandists at Fox News, Congressmen like Devin Nunes (R - CA) and Jim Jordan (R - Ohio) are trying to make Americans distrust the FBI and Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Obviously, what they want to do is weaken Robert Mueller so that Trump will be able to eliminate him and wipe out the Russia investigation. Trump wants to eliminate Mueller because the special counsel is all but certain to reveal very damaging information about the corrupt behavior of Donald Trump and/or his family.

Here’s what Republican Congressman Jim Jordan said about the FBI last week: “Everything points to the fact that there was an orchestrated plan to try to prevent Donald Trump from being the next president of the United States.”

Yes, Jordan actually claims that the FBI, under the direction of James Comey, was trying to get Hillary Clinton elected. Can you get your head around that? Probably not, if you’re a normal American patriot. Well, MSNBC host and normal, patriotic American Nicolle Wallace can’t. Here’s what she had to say about her fellow Republicans:

“I can’t get my brain around the insurrection in the Republican Party against Republican-led law enforcement agencies. I can’t shove the round pegs into the square boxes. It’s making me crazy.”

It’s making a lot of us crazy, Ms. Wallace, and it’s going to make the entire country crazy next year if Trump orders Mueller fired and Congressional Republicans support him. There will be crowds in the streets, lots of them and for a long time, I guarantee you.

I believe Trump will have Mueller fired because that’s the kind of person Trump is: crude, bullying, and unconcerned with anything but his own sorry hide. If we had enough decent, patriotic Republicans in Congress to stop Trump from doing this or, at least to replace Mueller with an equally dedicated and competent investigator once he is fired, the country would be fine. But look at the recent behavior of GOP politicians. What do you think?
                           (Photo from Salon)

Monday, November 20, 2017

Sweet Home Alabama

Savannah Guthrie interviewed Leigh Corfman on NBC’s Today Show this morning. Corfman is the Alabamian who was the first to speak out about Roy Moore’s victimization of her during her teenage years. Since then, of course, eight other women have told similar stories about Moore, and a few people have referred to his being banned from the Gadsden Mall for his inappropriate interest in adolescent girls.

Here are what I consider Ms. Corfman’s most memorable lines:

“It took away a lot of the specialness out of interactions with men. it took some trust away. It took years for me to regain a sense of confidence in myself, and I felt guilty. I felt like I was the one that was to blame. It was decades before I was able to let that go.”

After being shown a picture of herself at 14, Corfman reflected on her teenage self: “She sure did have a lot of promise ahead of her, and she didn’t deserve to have a 32-year-old man prey upon her.”

                                        -    -     -

I’m sure I’m not the first one to say this, but I believe you can judge a society’s moral standing by the opportunities it gives children to find happiness. There are a number of ways in which we Americans can be said to “need improvement” in this area, but certainly one that the Roy Moore case emphasizes is our failure to protect children from sexual predators. This failure speaks poignantly to us from Ms. Corfman’s words and demeanor. The interview can be seen in its entirety here.

The other side of the Roy Moore story is the political drama that now surrounds it. Ms. Corfman, like most white Alabamians, is a Republican, but I gather she won’t be voting for him in his run for the Senate against his Democratic opponent. In fact, Moore’s shocking behavior may keep Moore from winning the election in this usually reliably Republican state.

No surprise there. The surprise is that he has a chance of winning at all; yet the polls are showing a “too close to call” contest at this point.
Most people would say that pedophilia is a disqualifier from public office. But some Alabamians have decided not to believe the nine women who have spoken up about their victimization by Moore even though their accounts have been corroborated by dozens of others who were told about the incidents when they occurred.

It's hard to believe anyone could fail to believe these women who, after all, have paid a price by stepping forward. But too often people choose to believe that which confirms their prejudices, even when what they choose to believe is thoroughly refuted by harshly compelling facts. As Simon and Garfunkle once sang, “…a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”

We’ve come to a point in our partisan landscape where confessions of the heart that ring painfully true may be disregarded if they run up against tribal political interests. These poor women who have suffered once, may find themselves suffering again if Moore actually wins the December 12 election. Such an outcome would be a validation of his behavior and a rebuke to their courage. Heaven help us all if our blind partisanship winds up thrusting us down into that circle of hell.

Ms. Corfman - Courage
(NBC News)

Friday, October 20, 2017

Happy Birthday, General Sickles

Few events in history have been more fascinating to me than the American Civil War. As an adolescent, I learned the names of all the corps commanders at the Battle of Gettysburg, and was even familiar with some of their quirks. For example, Confederate General Richard “Baldy” Ewell could not sleep in an extended position, but had to curl his frame, wooden leg included, around a stool, before he could doze off at night.

But in the Department of the Grotesquely Outrageous (or is it Outrageously Grotesque?), Baldy Ewell is nothing compared to Union General Dan Sickles whose birthday it is today.

Sickles was born to a wealthy and prominent New York family and quickly became accustomed to deferential treatment from those around him. Upon the outbreak of the Civil War, he used his political connections to wangle an officer’s commission in the U.S. Army. This was in spite of his lack of significant military training. The truth is, however, that he had already become famous before the war, having made headlines as a flamboyant politician and notorious womanizer.

His first political position was as an assemblyman in New York’s state legislature where he came to be known for his numerous love affairs and for escorting Fanny White, the well-known owner of a local brothel, into the Assembly’s chambers. He doubled down on this scandal by taking Fanny with him on a trip to Europe – leaving his pregnant wife home alone. According to Wikipedia, Sickles presented Fanny to Queen Victoria, introducing her with the name of one of his political opponents.

In February of 1859 Sickles discovered that his beautiful young wife was having an affair with Philip Barton Key, the son of the composer of America’s National Anthem, and the District Attorney for Washington, D.C. Sickles, a man of action, confronted Key one Sunday in Lafayette Square in the heart of Washington, and, crying out, “Key, you scoundrel, you have dishonored my home; you must die!” shot the unarmed Key multiple times, thoroughly killing him. (Reports that Sickles actually declared, “My name is Daniel Sickles. You have shagged my wife. Prepare to die,” are apparently unfounded.)

Washington’s District Attorney was now dead, of course, so Sickles promptly surrendered himself to the city’s surviving authorities and was taken to jail.

Again, from Wikipedia:

“He received numerous perquisites, including being allowed to retain his personal weapon, and receive numerous visitors. So many visitors came that he was granted the use of the head jailer's apartment to receive them. They included many congressmen, senators, and other leading members of Washington society. President James Buchanan sent Sickles a personal note.”

The murder trial took place in the spring of 1859 and Sickles secured as his defense lawyer Edwin M. Stanton, the future Secretary of War, a man of considerable political ambition. Stanton based his case on the idea that the infidelity of the beloved Mrs. Sickles had driven the Congressman insane with jealousy and, not being of sound mind during the shooting, could not be found guilty of murder. Sickles was acquitted on April 26, 1859, the first person ever to win a case on the basis of temporary insanity. Today, in reference to the Sickles acquittal, February 19 is celebrated as “Temporary Insanity Day.” I’m not sure why it isn’t February 27, the actual day of the murder, but, in any case, I understand that appropriate eCards are available.

As a Civil War general, Sickles clung to his outrageous ways. He maintained that he still loved his young wife, but he also found the company of other women (of varying reputations) irresistible. He was aided in his affairs by his friend and superior officer, General Joseph Hooker, who was so connected in the public mind with ladies of the night that a spurious theory arose claiming that the noun “hooker” was derived from association with this general’s name. Charles Hanna writes in his 2010 book Gettysburg Medal of Honor Recipients, that “Accounts at the time compared [the army headquarters of Sickles and Hooker] to a rowdy bar and bordello.”

At the Battle of Chancellorsville in May of 1863, Sickles, as head of the Third Corps, helped thwart a crushing blow against the Union Army, turning a potentially catastrophic defeat into a merely humiliating one. But it was at Gettysburg two months later where Sickles’ behavior stirred up some controversy. He had been ordered to maintain a solid line of defense along Cemetery Ridge, but he decided, on his own initiative, to advance his corps forward, thus leaving a gap between his troops and those of his fellow Yankee generals. When the Confederates attacked, Sickles’ corps was almost annihilated and Sickles himself lost a leg to a rebel cannonball. Though some commend Sickles’ maneuver, most regard it as a dangerous blunder that almost cost the Union the battle.

Sickles’ mangled leg was amputated, but it was saved as a relic of the battle, and it, or at least its bones, can be seen today at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Maryland.

After the war, President Grant made Sickles the U.S. minister to Spain. It may be that the president was hoping to put an end to the scandals that surrounded the former general, but if so, this plan was not entirely successful. For soon after arriving in Madrid, Ambassador Sickles, apparently undiminished in his raffish impulses, stirred up rumors of an affair between him and Queen Isabella II. America’s next war, of course, was with Spain, but I don’t claim any known connection between Sickles’ unremitting debauchery and the War of 1898.

Upon his return to the U.S., Sickles struggled for years to bolster his reputation as an outstanding general who made all the right moves at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and the other battles in which he was a participant. He died in 1914 at 94 years of age, but, if he could communicate with us today from the beyond, he would surely claim for himself a “10” in the area of generalship.

That’s about all I have on General Sickles. I just thought it might be fun, in honor of the general’s birthday, to think back on a time when churlish, self-important blowhards held sway in Washington society.