Category Archives: Politics

S***hole Nations

The big issue of the day is immigration reform, and passing a much needed bill will require bi-partisan cooperation. And so meetings have been held, negotiations continue. In the midst of those conversations in the Oval Office, President Trump expressed frustration over a Democratic discussion of immigrants from such nations as Haiti, El Salvador, and various African nations. And the President, with that delicacy and elegance of expression that seems never to desert him said ““Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”  And then suggested that we should seek more immigrants from Norway.

And the internet blew up.

As did mainstream media. I watched the coverage of this story on several networks, as well the indispensible commentary provided by late night comics. It was kind of astonishing. Over and over again, the President was condemned as racist. And that’s without euphemisms of any kind. They used the word ‘racist.’ Time and time again, commentators were calling the President himself racist. In other words, it wasn’t ‘this comment was racially insensitive,’ or something similarly anodyne. It was ‘President Donald Trump is racist.’ Clearly a line has been crossed. A decision has been made. The attitude expressed by the President cannot be normalized. It must be condemned. This President has revealed himself (obviously not for the first time) as openly racist.

Which suggests to me an opportunity. Obviously, politics is compromise. Democrats want a clean DACA bill; Republicans want more money for border security, meaning Mr. Trump’s infamous wall. And in the meeting in which the President expressed himself so intemperately, a compromise was agreed to by the 6 Senate Democrats and Republicans in a bi-partisan working group. They presented it to the President with, I think, some expectation that he would go along with their agreement; just the day before, after all, he had said ‘I’ll support whatever these people (those senators, in other words) come up with.’ But the unctous and repellent Stephen Miller (this White House’s Uriah Heep), got to him first. Trump rather famously agrees with whoever talks to him last. So. No deal. And then came this repugnant Trumpian burst of racism.

But, okay. Does not this suggest a possible window of opportunity? Because the DACA compromise bill agreed to by the bi-partisan working group was a dreadful bill. It would have ended the diversity lottery (which doesn’t let enough qualified immigrants into the country, but at least allows some), it wouldn’t have allowed immigrants to sponsor this families, plus it would have provided at least some money for the wall. So, stuff for Democrats, stuff for Republicans, usual procedure. Except they can’t pass it without 60 votes. And if you’re a Republican, and you vote against, say, a clean DACA bill, aren’t you aligning yourself with this toxically unpopular President? On this issue? Not sure I’d want to run for re-election with that baggage.

Anyway, let’s admit this; there are some mighty screwed up nations on earth. It’s unkind and unfair to call them what POTUS called them, but I also wouldn’t particularly want to live there. The term of art is ‘failed states,’ and there are a few around the world: Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Syria. Do we want immigrants from those countries? Aren’t they likely to be (gasp) terrorists?

Here’s a working definition for a functioning state: its government has a monopoly on the applied use of violence. In the United States, if you decide to kill someone, you will be arrested, tried, convicted and imprisoned. The state reserves to itself that right. And since we get to vote for the people who run our country, we want it that way. We want to watch the constabulary like hawks, but we also want them to exist and to do their jobs.

The failed states I mentioned above are all embroiled in horrific civil wars, and all lack a central, respected state authority. And yes, they’re all havens for terrorism. (Have you noticed: terrorists come from screwed up places?) But their people want the same things most people want. They want their families to be safe. They want their kids to get educations, and to have opportunities. Can you even imagine how hard it is to escape a war zone? Can you imagine how much courage and determination it takes to get your kids out of a dangerous neighborhood, to find a refugee camp, to escape roving violent gangs, to find some kind of refuge anywhere?

Those are the people we want in our country, Mr. President. We want people who work hard, who are dedicated to their families, who are willing to sacrifice for the sake of their children. We want people like my grandfather, with his third grade education and indomitable work ethic. He was a highly intelligent man (best chess player I ever met), who never had the opportunity for success he desperately wanted for his children.

We want people from Haiti. We want people from Syria. We want people from Libya. We want Somalis. We want people from failed states, frankly. This isn’t liberal weenie moralizing. I mean, yes, it’s also the right thing to do, to accept into our country, the richest in the history of the world, impoverished children and their parents. We should do it because it’s right. But. Mr. President, if you genuinely want to put America first, fine. Accept more people from shithole countries. They’ve already demonstrated their courage and determination and creativity. That’s exactly who we want.

And just between the two of us, Mr. President, you absolutely don’t want more immigrants from Norway. You’re a conservative Republican. Norwegians are used to living in a country with socialized medicine and free college tuition. You don’t want Norwegians, because they’ll all vote for Democrats.

The Internationalists: Book Review

I just finished reading a terrific book, but I’m not sure how to approach telling you about it. If I tell you that it’s a densely written, impeccably researched book about international law, intellectual history, and foreign relations, I could make it seem boring. But I don’t want to mislead anyone either. In fact, the writing style is lively and engaging, but that’s not the main reason to read it. You should read it because it will rock your world, or at least, your understanding of the world in which we live. The book is The Internationalists: How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World, and the authors are Yale law professors Oona A. Hathaway and Scott J. Shapiro.

Let me start here. In 1928, essentially every nation on earth signed a treaty named the Kellogg-Briand Pact, after the American Secretary of State, Frank Kellogg, and the French Foreign Minister, Aristide Briand. That treaty, signed with much fanfare and enthusiasm, outlawed war. Since 1928, as you may have noticed, the world has seen a few wars, including, like, the Second World War. As a result, Kellogg-Briand is generally seen as ridiculous, a big, sad, unfunny joke. It’s not really taught anymore in classes on 20th century history, and rather ignored by experts in international law. The point of this book is to argue that Kellogg-Briand was massively consequential, exceptionally important, a pact that literally changed everything. Before I read the book, I had heard of Kellogg-Briand, mostly in the context of ‘look what silly nonsense weenie liberal eggheads got up to just before the most destructive war in history, what a laugh.’ Having read the book, I now find Hathaway and Shapiro’s argument completely convincing, and that realization has completely changed my opinion about 20th century history, the world we live in how, and the entire field of international law.

Hathaway and Shapiro begin by discussing the work of a Dutch scholar, Hugo Grotius, who in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries formulating a legal defense for war. Grotius did not act in a vacuum. of course, and what his writings really accomplished was simply to codify the ways nation-states already acted. War was simply the primary way in which nations resolved disputes. If you wanted territory held by a neighboring state, you sent an army across the border, and took it, and if you were able to do so, you held it, ruled it, used its resources for your own national purposes. You generally didn’t invade other countries without a pretext of some kind. You would, almost always, compose some lengthy rationale for your invasion, laying out all your grievances and complaints and the diplomatic steps you had taken to resolve matters peacefully. But you did send troops in, and if they were successful, the other countries on earth let you get away with it.

They use as an illustrative example, American President James K. Polk. The United States had a long-standing dispute with Mexico, over borders, and over negotiated reparations payments the US claimed that Mexico owed. All those complaints were carefully articulated in a war manifesto. (Hathaway and Shapiro, and their students, have compiled a remarkable database of over 300 war manifestos from throughout history, all round the world.) Having observed the legal niceties, Polk sent troops into Mexico, in what we call the Mexican War. As a result, the US added California, Utah, Nevada and much of Arizona, Texas and New Mexico to its territory. This conquest was justified by international law, as per Grotius. Nobody disputed it at the time, and nobody really seriously suggests that we, for example, give California back to Mexico. Might made Right.

It’s important to note two things. First, Polk did not say ‘man, if we took California’s ports and harbors, it would open up trade with the Orient.’ That happened, but it was not one of the rationales for war listed in Polk’s manifesto. And certainly, war manifestos could be self-serving and meretricious. But none of that mattered. Two nations had a dispute. The legal, justifiable way in which nations resolved disputes, according to the top legal analysis available, was through war. And after wars were fought, sovereignty over territory changed. California is, today, fully American. And everyone in the world was okay with that.

Everything changed in 1928. War was made illegal. The idea of invasion as a way of resolving disputes between nations became illegal. Every nation on earth, pretty much, agreed. And so, because war had been outlawed, Old World Order invasions and incursions became widely regarded as morally and legally invalid.

Did that fact deter Adolf Hitler? No, it did not. Nazi Germany still invaded Poland. But that invasion was seen as invalid, illegal, a contemptible act by an outlaw regime. That’s why the surviving Nazi leadership were tried at Nuremberg. (I found the lengthy discussion of the Nuremberg trials absolutely riveting.) It’s certainly true that most of the Nazis on the dock at Nuremberg were tried for war crimes. But in the Old World Order, according, again, to Grotius, war crimes couldn’t exist. Whatever any soldiers did in wartime was considered legally acceptable. Post-Kellogg-Briand, in the New World Order, perpetrators of war crimes could be tried and executed for their misdeeds. And, of course, the German government could be condemned for invading Poland, France, Czechoslovakia, Russia. That was no longer the legal way for nations to resolve disputes.

Kellogg-Briand, therefore, is not some nugatory piece of pacifist fantasy. It created the New World Order. When Russia invaded Crimea recently, that act was condemned as illegal, and Russia paid the price in economic sanctions. Some of the sanctions imposed damaged the economies of the European nations who imposed them. That ultimately didn’t matter. That invasion was a criminal act, a violation of international norms and laws and treaties. And the world acted in response.

One consequence of all this is that the numbers of nations on earth have increased. When the United Nations building was first built, its designers had to decide how many seats were needed for delegates. There were then 51 nations represented; the architects, after consulting with experts, decided to add another 20, just in case, bringing the total to 71. Today, the United Nations has 193 members, and all the seating the architects intended for audiences are needed for delegates.

But it makes sense. If Might Makes Right, then smaller countries would be swallowed up by more powerful nations all the time. The Old World Order created the conditions under which  colonialism could flourish. Not anymore. Since Kellogg-Briand, the numbers of nations has dramatically increased.

The end of legally sanctioned war did not mean the end of illegal, unsanctioned violence, of course. Terrorism and civil war still cause massive amounts of destruction and death. But violence has been greatly reduced. And even something as patently foolish as the American invasion, under President George W. Bush, of Iraq, shows the ways in which Kellogg-Briand affects the waging of war. The US couldn’t invade Iraq alone. That would be illegal. It needed to be done by the international community, by coalition forces. Then the war would be a response by the world to a rogue, outlawed nation. That was the legal rationale, at least, though it still strikes me as the most feeble kind of rationalization. But that’s frequently true of most war manifestos historically.

Anyway, I thought this book was exceptional, and I’m very glad I read it, and I strongly recommend it to you. It’s a paradigm-shifting book, a book that helps you understand the past, recognized what’s happening in the present, and forecast the future. And for a book by legal scholars, it’s intelligently and engagingly written. As Edwin Starr so memorably put it: “War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing.” A sentiment which isn’t quite true, but is surely worth keeping in mind.

Oprah for President?

In 2004, at the Democratic National Convention, an Illinois state legislator (and US Senate candidate) named Barack Obama stood up before a Boston crowd, and gave a keynote speech that none of us who saw it will ever, ever forget. He began by telling his story–start with your personal narrative, says every speechwriter ever–about his unorthodox family and unlikely rise to prominence. He tied his own tale, a story of hard work and sacrifice and the dream of a better future, to the stories of people he’d met all across America. He offered the obligatory keynote speaker praise for the actual Democratic nominee, John Kerry. And then he spoke of “the audacity of hope, hope in the face of difficulty.” It was a powerful, inspiring speech, and it was delivered by an African-American guy with a funny name that I’d never heard of before. The living embodiment of the American dream. A poor kid from a fractured family, who genuinely believed that through hard work and dedication, anything was possible.

I remember telling my wife as the speech finished, “that’s the guy. If Kerry loses, this guy will run for President in 2008, and he will win. This may be the next President of the United States.”

I didn’t watch the Golden Globes last night. I never do. But my Facebook page blew up with people saying things like ‘did you see Oprah last night? OMG!’ Positive and negative; I have conservative friends who didn’t like it. So this morning, I went to YouTube, and was maybe the nine trillionth viewer of the speech. Oprah Winfrey’s acceptance speech, after winning the Cecil B. DeMille award. Here it is.

Notice what she does. She starts with her personal narrative, a wonderful story about watching Sidney Poitier win an Oscar, and how she watched with her bone-tired, working class, single mother Mom. She tied that story to other narratives, about civil rights heroine Recy Taylor, a powerful, ultimately inspiring story that also tied together civil rights and feminism. She then made reference to the struggles of women all across the country. And she brought the speech to a rousing conclusion, about hope for the future and the powerful voices opposing sexual harassment.

And the crowd reaction was kind of interesting. It wasn’t a glamorous, Hollywood-celebrating night. The women were all in black dresses, turning haute couture into political engagement. The audience gave Oprah repeated standing ovations, but people seemed unclear about whether to sit down afterwards, or just stay standing. It was awkward; some people standing, others popping up and down.

Acceptance speeches on award shows are typically short; 30-45 seconds. They do give a little more latitude for big career lifetime achievement awards, like the DeMille. Oprah spoke for just shy of ten minutes. And no, the orchestra did not try to play her off. She commanded the stage, and the reaction to her presence and to her speech was rapturous.

In his opening monologue, Seth Meyers (who was terrific, I thought), mentioned his 2011 speech at the White House Correspondents Dinner. In that speech, Meyers rather famously made fun of Donald Trump, who was there. In Joshua Green’s book Devil’s Bargain, Green describes how angry Trump became during the speech, which he found insulting and humiliating. According to Green, Meyers’ monologue was what prompted Trump’s decision to run for President.

So, last night, Meyers addressed Oprah Winfrey directly:

Oprah, while I have you, in 2011 I told some jokes about our current president at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner — jokes about how he was unqualified to be president — and some have said that night convinced him to run. So if that’s true, I just want to say: Oprah, you will never be president! You do not have what it takes!

An “Oprah running for President joke.” Followed, fwiw, by a jab at Tom Hanks. “And Hanks! You will never be Vice-President!” Ha ha. Ha.

And then, Oprah gave an absolutely terrific political speech. And, yes, it was intentionally political; the Golden Globes last night became a political event, what with all the black dresses, and constant references to l’affair Weinstein. And that was great, though I imagine a Hollywood exercise in self-congratulation is a weird venue for a political rally. Oprah’s speech, in structure, directly mirrors one of the greatest political speeches of all time; Obama’s, in 2004. It was shorter, of course, but it had all the elements: personal narrative, inspiring historical anecdotes, tributes to the hard-working Americans you’re reaching out to, with a final uplifting appeal to hope. (Best of all, not a single mention of John Kerry.)

I begin every morning by looking at a dozen political websites: Salon, Politico, Slate, Vox, Daily Beast, the NYT and WP. This morning, every one of them had a story about Oprah’s speech, and every one was speculating about two questions: is Oprah Winfrey–bright, accomplished African-American with a funny name–going to run for President in 2020? And if she runs, can she win.

And, honestly, ask yourself this question. As Alex Burns put it in the New York Times: “Ms. Winfrey could face a difficult fight for the Democratic nomination, especially against _______.  It’s difficult to finish that sentence.” Indeed. Gillibrand? Warren? Booker?

Oprah has built an entire career on her unique ability to connect to working class women. She’s, like, the definition of empathetic. She’s certainly willing to face tough issues, and to confront difficult subjects. She’s also not a political figure. She’s a celebrity. Are outsiders in? She’s certainly able to self-fund a campaign. She’d be like Roosevelt; a rich person who can plausibly engage with not-rich people. Her big issue, if she ran, would be sexual harassment. Running against a serial sexual predator like Trump, she’d be a potent voice for women, and women’s empowerment. Will guys vote for her? Over Trump; oh, heck yes.

In a general election, as things currently stand, she would crush Donald Trump. I’m talking a 65-35 edge, electoral college sweep kind of landslide. Her base would be working class women. If she sweeps that demo, plus people of color, plus progressives, plus young people, plus college-educated people, and breaks even against white men, it’s a tsunami.

And nobody hates her, really. I can’t think of a soul. She may be accused of being a lightweight, of not being a policy wonk. My conservative friends thought her speech last night bashed men, which it totally didn’t; I think that’s more fear than anything.  But she’s a great public speaker, and she’s certainly smart enough to bone up on the political stuff.

I don’t know what she’s thinking, or what she will decide. I do think she’d make a formidable candidate, and that she would clobber Donald Trump in a general election. She’ll be 65 in 2020, and may decide she’d just as soon retire. Or she may just decide to keep doing with her life what she’s already doing. But, oh my gosh, if she runs. . .

Christmas, and the economy

I am, it turns out, rich. ‘I don’t think of myself as rich. I’m not a billionaire. I’m not a millionaire. I actually consider myself pretty averagely middle-class. But by at least one measure, I’m rich.

I’m hard to buy for at Christmas.

My brother and I were talking about this the other day. We’re not either of us actually rich. But we’re both hard to buy for. There really isn’t anything that I want or need that I can’t afford to buy. House? Paid for. Credit card debt? Nonexistent. Car. Well, we do owe money on our new car. We could have paid cash; instead, we thought we’d finance it, pay it off really fast, take the bump in our credit rating.

We have bills, of course. But my wife and I, if we want to go out to dinner, we just do it. If we want to see a movie, we see it. We’re fairly prudent, fiscally speaking. Love a good deal, love a bargain, still comparison shop. But we’ve really very comfortable. For which happy circumstance, by the way, I deserve exactly zero credit. My wife’s the money manager.

So when my family asked me for a Christmas list, I was at my wits end. Couldn’t think of a thing. I saw a commercial for a dingus that helps you put your socks on more easily; I put that on my list. A sock putter-on-er. There are always a couple of books I wouldn’t mind having. Movie passes. But truly, honestly, I couldn’t think of much.

Which, as it happens, is kind of bad for the US economy.

The US economy is not terribly robust right now. The Great Recession is over, and the economy has recovered, but we’re not exactly at peak growth. And I’m part of the problem. I’m one of the people who is supposed to be driving demand, and I’m not doing it. My generation is really falling down. We have pretty much everything we need. We’re fine. Just today, a book was recommended to me, one I’d like to buy, I think. Checked it out on Amazon; it’s available on Kindle for four bucks. So that’s actually not going to help much.

The Republicans just passed a big tax bill, which they’ve been selling as mostly a middle-class tax cut. It isn’t. It’s mostly for millionaires and billionaires, and people with pass-through business revenues and the CEOs of big corporations. But there is a tiny cut for guys like me, the middle-class wealthy. We’ll make a few hundred extra dollars this year. If we spend it all, the theory is that that money will trickle-down to the hewers of wood and drawers of water in our country. And everyone will benefit. Yay.

Except I probably won’t. ‘Cause, see, I’m kinda hard to buy for.

That’s why a supply-side approach to stimulating growth won’t work, not now, not in this country. It’s a silly notion anyway. Increasing supply will not increase demand. What we need is a tax cut for the lower class. They got demand covered; all kinds of things they need. What we need is to put more money in the pocket of those folks who need stuff. We need a demand-side recovery, funded by tax hikes for the super rich.

Right now income inequality is higher in the United States than it was in France in 1789. The big difference between then and now is that our sans culottes are better armed. This Republican tax bill is nuts on a whole bunch of levels.

So what I actually want for Christmas this year is an electoral wave. What I want is fewer Republicans in Congress to write dumb bills like this one. Getting that to happen is going to cost some money, and thanks to this bill, I may have it to give.

What I want for Christmas is a midterm landslide. And thanks to Republicans, I may actually get it.

2018: The year of confirmation bias, escalated

This is the time of the year for media year-end appraisals–best sports moments of 2017, or whatever. I’m not going to do one of those; my memory’s not good enough. But as I’ve thought about this last year, I did come up with maybe one way of understanding the sadly troubled state of our union.

2017 was the year of not just confirmation bias, but the ways in which confirmation bias escalates, each wrong conclusion leading to worse ones. You start with ‘would a plane hitting a building cause it to collapse?’ and end up with ‘no airplanes hit the Twin Towers; President Bush did it, or ordered it done.’ You start with a nagging question, and end up a full-on Truther. You go from ‘how did Shakespeare write those plays?’ to ‘Shakespeare didn’t write those plays.’ You do it by ignoring all evidence that tends not to confirm your conclusion. Nothing makes a conspiracy theorist angrier than telling him ‘there’s no evidence for that.’ And there is some mean troll-fun in saying that. But acknowledge this: when you troll a conspiracy theorists, you are not, actually, being fair. There is, always, at least some some evidence to support even the fruitiest theory. Plus, also, a preponderance of evidence that contradicts it. Confirmation bias is at least a first cousin to conspiracy theories, and conspiracy theories, in the age of Trump, rule. He loves ’em. He takes Alex Jones seriously!

I’ve seen it with friends. It starts with ‘Donald Trump, a candidate for President? Hilarious!’ Then, ‘geez, he’s pretty good on the stump; he might win.’ Then, ‘this is terrible. He can’t become President, can he?’ Then, ‘he’s the Republican candidate, and the alternative is Awful Hillary.’ Then, ‘Trump gropes women, but Hillary orders people murdered, so. . . ‘ Then, ‘Donald Trump is the Republican candidate. So I guess I’ll have to vote for him.’ And suddenly, Donald Trump, the vulgarian, the serial sexual assaulter, the most amazing liar in the history of American politics, the almost-certainly-crooked businessman, becomes maybe not so bad after all, plus maybe even kind of refreshingly candid. A guy who tells it like it is. And he’s our President, so we’d best defend him.’

Not all Republicans reasoned this way. I know a lot of lifelong, committed conservative Republicans who have become as ferociously anti-Trump as I am. National Review, maybe the leading conservative journal, has become the center for the NeverTrump resistance. I admire the principled stance Mitt Romney has taken towards Trump. More recently, Nicolle Wallace, who was one of the top members of the John McCain Presidential campaign was driven to ask “Are Republicans dead inside?”

What drove her there was the recent revelation that the House Intelligence Committee, chaired by hard-core Trump tovarisch Devin Nunes, has not only tried to derail the Russian investigation–which falls under that committee’s purview–but has formed a Republicans-only study group, a partisan sub-committee of the sub-committee, to investigate the FBI. Which has recently emerged, in the fever-dreams of Fox News’ Sean Hannity, and others, as treasonous. Yes. The FBI.

Here’s the evidence. During the 2016 election, an FBI agent named Peter Strzok had an affair with Lisa Page, an FBI attorney. Both of them were working on the Robert Mueller Russia investigation. Apparently, a big part of their relationship involved exchanging snarky texts about the election. They dished on Hillary Clinton, on Chelsea Clinton, on Bernie Sanders (who they both made fun of repeatedly). And they had a lot of joy at the expense of Republican candidate Donald Trump. And that’s the problem.

One text seems particularly ominous:

I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office for that there’s no way he gets elected—but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40 …

Insurance policy! See! There’s a Deep Space, black ops contingency plot to overthrow Trump! Proof!

Nonsense. As the invaluable Lawfare blog puts it:

Strzok was reacting to the argument that there was no point getting worked up because Trump was bound to lose. He argued in response that the odds against a Trump victory offered no reason to be complacent and gave an example: The odds are also very much against you dying before the age of 40, but you probably bought insurance at that age because dying with a young family would be such a disaster; the expense is reasonable even if the event is unlikely. For the same reason, in Strzok’s view, horror at the prospect of a Trump presidency is reasonable even though the prospect is remote.

Which is, far and away, the most sensible and rational way to understand an admittedly ambiguously worded text. Which he sent at 2 a.m. To his also-married girlfriend. Probably from the home he shared with his wife. Not conditions, in other words, that would lend themselves to clarity of expression.

At the same time, of course, a Special Prosecutor’s investigation should be impartial, and perhaps more importantly, should appear impartial. Strzok and Page worked on the Mueller investigation. The same day Mueller found out about their relationship and the accompanied anti-Trump texts, they were both reassigned. To the FBI’s HR department, which was surely intended to be punitive.

There’s another side to this. Strzok was also part of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. What Republican conspiracy theory wouldn’t find a way to drag Hillary Clinton into it?

Anyway, with this tiny molehill as foundation, the Strzok/Page affair, conservative media has constructed a mighty mountain of conjecture and speculation, now verging on certainty; the FBI can’t be trusted, and the Mueller investigation–I’m not kidding–is a attempted coup d’etat. Yes. Jesse Watters, on Fox News: “But the scary part is we may now have proof the investigation was weaponized to destroy his presidency for partisan political purposes and to disenfranchise millions of American voters. Now, if that’s true, we have a coup on our hands in America.” Of course, this only echoes what Trump tweets constantly; the Mueller investigation is a witch hunt, unfair, biased against him.

Still. A coup. Because two of the people in the Mueller investigation, as part of an affair, had fun texting back and forth. Inappropriately? Absolutely. Irresponsibly? No argument. Which is why, the second Mueller found out about it, he kicked them off his team. But man, it got taken seriously by Republicans. Andrew McCabe, Deputy Director of the FBI was hauled in before the House Intelligence Committee yesterday and grilled for over seven hours. I have a feeling they weren’t asking about his golf game. It was all Strzok and Page and Mueller.

Evidence of an FBI conspiracy? A liberal Democrat FBI conspiracy? A few anti-Trump texts. Sent back and forth by two people who also texted equally nasty stuff about Hillary Clinton, Chelsea Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Oh, and one of the agents involved was also on the email investigation. Evidence against the existence of such a conspiracy? Mueller got rid of them. Immediately. Plus he’s a Republican. So is his boss over in the Justice Department. Plus, of course, it’s nuts.

That’s how confirmation bias works. You ignore all evidence that contradicts what you already believe. Also, you get all your information from sources that you agree with. Contrary evidence is not welcome.

I do it, too. So do you; so does everyone. It’s a natural tendency for everyone. Which is why it is so freaking essential. Granted that objectivity is impossible; it’s still an ideal for which we should always, always strive. We should listen to each other, try to converse, make an effort to read articles we’re unlikely to agree with, try to understand sympathetically the points of view of all our brothers and sisters on this planet. Which we can’t ever do, but heck, we sure should try.

But don’t we have an equally sacred obligation to laugh at conspiracy theories? And at this President? Because there comes a point where there’s just so much evidence that you pretty much have to come to a conclusion, and not just any conclusion, but the only one the evidence supports. Trump’s a bad President. Mueller’s investigation is fair, and unbiased. And if he’s fired, Congress should take it seriously. Which this Congress probably won’t, but that’s a different thing entirely.

Kobe Bryant

This morning, ESPN’s SportsCenter did a big piece about Kobe Bryant. Lots of highlights, showing Bryant shooting, dunking, scoring. Interviews with former opponents, with former teammates, with Shaq, who was both. The occasion, the decision by the Los Angeles Lakers to retire both of his numbers. That’s right; Kobe played while wearing number 8 through 2003, then switched to 24 in 2004. Both numbers will be retired.

Professional athletes get attached to their numbers, and it’s unusual for a player to change. Kobe claimed that he asked for the change because the Lakers had just traded Shaquille O’Neal, which, said Kobe, suggested a new direction for the team. New direction; new number. From a basketball perspective, it makes sense for the Lakers to retire his number. He was easily the sixth best player in the history of the franchise; possibly even the fourth. Of course, Magic Johnson, Kareem Jabbar, Jerry West would go 1-3, and I’d put Shaq and Elgin Baylor ahead of Bryant as well. But he’s an easy vote for the Hall of Fame. A genuinely great player. Except, of course, something else happened in between.

I have to say, I find all the Kobe-love completely baffling, and especially today. The lead story on SportCenter this morning was the decision, by Carolina Panther’s owner Jerry Richardson, to sell the team, in the wake of serious (and creepy) sexual harassment allegations against him. Sports Illustrated did a big expose story about Richardson, and it took two daysm no more, for him to quit, resign, decide to sell the team. On the same day he quit, ESPN falls all over itself to praise Kobe Bryant. I truly don’t get it.

Has everyone forgotten? On June 30, 2003, Kobe Bryant checked into a hotel in Edwards, Colorado, preparing for scheduled surgery on July 2. On July 1, he had a sexual encounter with a female hotel employee. The next day, the woman reported that she’d been raped. Kobe was interrogated by the Eagle County Sheriff. He initially denied having had sexual relations with the woman. Physical evidence proved that he had. He then explained that her bruised neck was the result of rough, but consensual sex. An arrest warrant was issued, and Bryant surrendered, and was immediately released on bond.

Predictably, a media circus ensued. Bryant’s attorneys trashed the accuser’s reputation. So did national sports media. The accuser received hate mail, including death threats. Those got worse after some idiot released her name.  Public attacks on her credibility were so vicious that she attempted suicide. Twice. Finally, the unrelenting pressure she endured reached the point that she decided she could no longer testify in court. Instead, she filed a civil lawsuit. That case was settled; details were not disclosed.

In the initial press conference held by Bryant after his arrest, his wife stood by his side, playing the good wife. A few days after his arrest, he bought her a four million dollar ring. Any connection between those two events is purely conjectural.

Did Kobe Bryant rape this woman? I have no idea. I wasn’t there. Was the rape charge against him plausible? Absolutely. The Eagle County Sheriff had to have known that a rape charge against a celebrity was going to turn into a big deal. The Eagle County prosecutors had to have known how difficult such a case would be to prosecute. Their defendant in the case would be able to afford first class legal representatives. They went ahead with it. Seasoned, experienced law enforcement officials thought a woman had been raped, and were willing to do whatever they had to to prosecute the rapist. Bryant even made a public statement in which he acknowledged that, although he “truly believed this encounter . . . was consensual,” he recognized “that she did not and does not view this incident the same way. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person,” (he) now “understood how she felt that she did not consent to this encounter.” He said she said? Maybe. But with physical evidence supporting her narrative. And why would she lie? She had to know that the pushback from sports fans would be ferocious.

Okay. That was then, this is now. Things have changed, very much for the better. Jerry Richardson, apparently, repeatedly asked female employees if he could shave their legs. That’s super weird and creepy and the very definition of someone creating a hostile work environment. I’m glad he’s quit; if he hadn’t, the National Football League would have been perfectly justified in kicking him out. Richardson’s actions also fall considerably shy of rape, a crime of violence, a dangerous assault.

American society is lurching uncertainly towards a place where allegations of sexual aggression and harassment and assault are taken seriously, as they should be. Men in power should never have been allowed to get away with disgusting sexual behavior. I welcome this development, as should be all.

So why does Kobe Bryant get a pass? Why has an entirely plausible rape allegation been swept under the rug?

In his first game in Utah in the 2003-4 season, Kobe Bryant was booed by the Salt Lake crowd every time he touched the basketball. It got comical; these quick bursts of booing when he’d make a touch pass. I wasn’t there; I have friends who were, and they said it was the most electric atmosphere they’d ever felt in a sporting event. And then, in 2016, on his  NBA farewell tour, Jazz fans cheered him. A noble opponent, honored for his skills.

What? Why does this guy get a pass, especially now? I truly don’t get it.

Watching All the President’s Men in 2017

This afternoon, I was home alone, and happened to notice that HBO was screening All the President’s Men. Great film, with Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman at the top of their game as Woodward and Bernstein. Screenplay by William Goldman. Beautifully directed by Alan J. Pakula, and shot by the great Gordon Willis, the cinematographer known as ‘the prince of darkness’ for his wonderful use of shadows and unlit corners. The film holds up beautifully.

Obviously, though, that’s not why I watched it. John Oliver has called the Russian collusion scandal “stupid Watergate,” which is to say, it’s a scandal as consequential as Watergate, but carried out by dumber people. I was in high school during Watergate, and I remember vividly coming home from school every day and watching the Congressional hearings on TV. I was a news junkie back then, and I knew all the players, not just Nixon and Haldeman and Dean, but bit players too: Kalmbach, Magruder, Segretti, Hugh Sloan.

Richard Nixon was an intelligent and capable man. He certainly had his character failings, one of which, his thin-skinned sensitivity to criticism and his paranoid creation of enemy lists seem rather Trumpian. Nixon also seemed more ruthless. In All the President’s Men, Woodward and Bernstein were told that their lives were in danger, and in the movie, we believe them. They thought, and people generally thought, that Nixon could have his enemies killed. That turned out to be groundless. But everyone around Nixon seemed to be, at least, good at their jobs. Haldeman, Ehrlichman, both men were noted for their intelligence and competence. The analogous folks in Trump’s White House would be John Kelly, chief of staff (like Haldeman), and senior counselor Jared Kushner, special councilor to the President, similar to Ehrlichman. The one apt comparison would be the comically inept Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler, and the ghastly Sarah Huckabee Sanders, whose job seems to be to reinforce whatever the lie of the day is coming from the President.

That’s the biggest difference, though, between Nixon and Trump. Nixon was smart, a genuine expert on foreign policy, a real diplomat, but also amoral and vindictive. Nixon lied, but it wasn’t always easy to see through his lies. Whereas Trump is willfully, intentionally, insistently ignorant. You wondered, with Nixon, what he believed, and how it informed his governing. With Trump, you just assume he’s what he appears to be; a not-very-bright braggart narcissist.

Trump just lies all the time, about matters of importance and more trivial matters. He lies reflexively; telling a lie seems to be his default position. He drives the press corps crazy, not because he tries to mislead them, but because he’s so brazen about it. He lies when he doesn’t have to, lies when the truth is perfectly obvious to everyone. When he’s not lying, he’s bragging. And then, when it would do him the most damage, seemingly, that’s when Trump tells the truth, just blurts it out.  That really wasn’t Nixonian.

Both Nixon and Trump have been accused of obstruction of justice, for example. One of the reasons All the President’s Men is such a great film is Gordon Willis’ cinematography. So shadowy, so mysterious. That’s the feel of Watergate. No wonder the key figure in the film is Deep Throat, this guy meeting Woodward in parking garages. That’s not Trump. He’s all bluster. Did you ask James Comey to shut down the Russian investigation? Nixon would have obfuscated, offer some legalistic defense. Trump says ‘yes, I did, because I was trying to shut down the Russian thing.’ Nixon would never have done that.

But, then, Nixon couldn’t. Yes, he was head of the Republican party. But the Republicans were a different party then. For one thing, the party wasn’t consistently conservative. It was home to both Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller, two men who couldn’t agree about anything. Nixon himself self-identified as a conservative, but he in domestic policy, he would be a moderate Democrat today. And in both parties, there were politicians of integrity, people who were appalled by Watergate as the drip drip drip of new information about the coverup became known.

That’s not true anymore. The Republican party is the conservative party; a Rockefeller or a Charles Percy (liberal Republican Senator from Illinois) wouldn’t be welcome in it anymore. And politics had norms and standards and traditions Nixon had to at least pretend to follow. Trump sees all that nonsense as so much political correctness.

Trump’s lies are open and obvious. It should be much easier to catch him. It won’t be, because the Republicans seem unwilling to investigate even his most egregious statements and actions.

Nixon had to pretend not to be a crook. Trump, far more obviously, is a crook. So what? say his followers. A crook? A colluder? Possibly even a traitor? Who cares. He’s going to make American great again. And that’s all that matters.

Erik Prince’s spy network

This may not be a real thing. CNN contacted everyone who is supposed to be involved, and they all denied it. While it’s the kind of thing that’s likely to appeal to President Trump, I can’t imagine it passing muster with John Kelly, or any of the other White House minders and nursemaids and gatekeepers trying to keep some semblance of American democracy alive. And the story is, on the face of it, preposterous. An unholy alliance between Erik Prince, Mike Pompeo and Oliver North? Ridiculous. And, therefore, entirely plausible.

The Intercept is kind of a new thing. It’s an on-line news organization; been around since 2013. Started by Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitrus, and Jeremy Scahill, excellent reporters, all. Funded by the guy who founded Ebay, they’ve had some journalistic successes, and their reporting is generally solid, though as lefty as Sandy Koufax. And they’re very strong when it comes to reporting on American surveillance agencies and policies.

Anyway, on Dec. 4, Scahill and Matthew Cole reported that Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater and brother to Betsy DeVos, and Oliver North had pitched an idea to CIA director Mike Pompeo and to someone unspecified in the White House (Trump?), to create an off-the-books, unaccountable, reporting-to-Trump-only network of spies. Here’s a link. Let me quote the Intercept article.

The sources say the plans have been pitched to the White House as a means of countering “deep state” enemies in the intelligence community seeking to undermine Donald Trump’s presidency.

“Pompeo can’t trust the CIA bureaucracy, so we need to create this thing that reports just directly to him,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official with firsthand knowledge of the proposals, in describing White House discussions. “It is a direct-action arm, totally off the books,” this person said, meaning the intelligence collected would not be shared with the rest of the CIA or the larger intelligence community. “The whole point is this is supposed to report to the president and Pompeo directly.”

Some of the individuals involved with the proposals secretly met with major Trump donors asking them to help finance operations before any official contracts were signed.

The proposals would utilize an army of spies with no official cover in several countries deemed “denied areas” for current American intelligence personnel, including North Korea and Iran. The White House has also considered creating a new global rendition unit meant to capture terrorist suspects around the world.

After the Intercept article appeared, denials were swift.  A CIA spokesperson told The Intercept, “You have been provided wildly inaccurate information by people peddling an agenda.” Spokespeople for Trump, Prince and Pompeo all denied it. The Intercept’s sources were anonymous, so no one could confirm the story. So we don’t know if this was a real proposal made by people who thought this would be a good idea, or a badly sourced story rife with errors. But I also don’t take those denials very seriously, of course. If this proposal was really floated, everyone involved would, of course, deny it.

In fact, though, I do believe it. I think The Intercept story needs to be taken very seriously indeed. It needs to be investigated. While being investigated, it needs to be ridiculed. By everyone, everywhere. Mr. Colbert? Seth Meyers? Sam Bee? Anyone else?

I believe it because, frankly, Erik Prince is a tool. (See, for example, this Esquire article from yesterday). Erik Prince is the guy who, a few months ago, thought we should reinstitute colonialism in Afghanistan, with himself as Viceroy. He’d fund it via Afghan minerals, which Afghans would mine, enriching Prince, while also privatizing the military end of things, through Blackwater. This isn’t as crazy a scheme as that one. And it makes sense because it so perfectly expresses the paranoid, macho, divorced-from-reality nature of the Trump White House and Trumpism. My favorite part? That these guys think Oliver North–that’s Iran/Contra’s Oliver North–will lend the proposal credibility.

Look at the phrase ‘the deep state.’ The deep state is real, and its important. It’s shorthand for all those career government employees in State and the FBI and the CIA and every other government agency who are experts on stuff that it’s really important that someone be an expert on. Remember The West Wing? When CJ Kregg took over as Chief of Staff, the invaluable Margaret (Leo’s incomparable secretary), shows her the various meetings she needs to have that day. And CJ, overwhelmed, said (I’m paraphrasing) ‘I can’t possible know enough on all these subjects to advise the President.’ ‘You don’t have to,’ says Margaret. ‘Just call me. I’ll put you in touch with the leading experts in the world on any subject. They work for us.’ Do we have a problem with, I don’t know, Azerbaijan? Well, the leading expert on Azerbaijan works over at State. Career diplomats. Career analysts. Career spies.

Donald Trump doesn’t care about any of that, of course. He’s willfully, intentionally ignorant, and has no interest in learning. Deep state advisors are exactly the people that Rex Tillerson is trying to get rid of. They’re exactly the kind of people a major world superpower needs. They’re exactly the kinds of people who were horrified by Trump’s decision to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel. They’re non-partisan, patriotic, and really really good at their jobs.

Not according to Sean Hannity and Alex Jones and other wackadoodle cable TV guys watched by The Donald. To them, the deep state is something sinister and dangerous. President Trump apparently believes that they’re all allies of Hillary Clinton and The Democrats, and that they’re out to get him. I mean, the CIA believes that Russia helped him win the election! Outrageous! And the FBI are investigating him! Him! They’re on the wrong side. They’re dangerous. They need to be gotten rid of. Or, as with this proposal, circumvented. Sidestepped. And Erik Prince is there to help.

A private spy network. Presumably, some of the spies with 00 numbers, indicating a license to kill. That’s all Donald Trump needs. His own private secret police.

So let’s take it seriously. Call for Congress to investigate. (That’ll be easier after 2018). And meanwhile make as much noise as we can. And I know, there are so many outrages to protest, and only so many hours in the day. I do think The Intercept did America a great service with their article. At least, now, everyone in the Trump orbit has publicly issued official denials. Sometimes just shining the light on a particularly insane proposal is all that’s needed to kill it. Let’s hope this is one of those times.

 

Immigration and terror

On Halloween, an Uzbek man, in the US legally, rented a truck, and drove it onto a popular New York City bike path, killing 8 people, at least 6 of them tourists. The killer, one Sayfullo Saipov, claimed allegiance to ISIS in a note left behind in the truck. Saipov was shot by an alert New York police officer, and is currently under arrest. New Yorkers, meanwhile, headed off to their Halloween parties, which is precisely what they should have done. Terrorists want to terrorize; the best response is to not allow yourself to be terrified.

President Trump, with that delicacy of expression and sensitivity to nuance that seem never to desert him, used several Twitter posts in an effort to console the nation. His complete failure to do anything of the kind is as predictable as it was dispiriting. Of course, we know this; we know he can’t help but be divisive, that even something as basic as compassion is not in his wheelhouse. Prompted, apparently, by what the dolts on Fox and Friends were saying about the event, the President decided that blame for the attack should be laid at the feet of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

The terrorist came into our country through what is called the “Diversity Visa Lottery Program,” a Chuck Schumer beauty. I want merit based. We are fighting hard for Merit Based immigration, no more Democrat Lottery Systems. We must get MUCH tougher (and smarter).

Of course, it’s deeply wrong for anyone to politicize tragedy. Sorry, no, I got the rules wrong; what’s wrong is for liberal Democrats to politicize gun violence. It’s perfectly okay for a Republican to politicize a terrorist attack.  At least, that’s the official position of the executive branch of the United States, as articulated by Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

It goes without saying that Trump’s tweets were factually wrong: Chuck Schumer, in fact, is on record as opposing the Diversity Visa Lottery Program. I would suggest that both this President and Senator Schumer are wrong regarding the policy in question.

It’s important that we remember this: Trump is not only an odious and repugnant human being. He is that, but that’s tangential to the real danger he represents. He’s also wrong about policy. It’s uncanny; on every issue, he takes the wrong side. He supports proposals that would make everything worse, not better. He says he wants an infrastructure bill. Great, we have major infrastructure needs. But his public/private approach is a proven failure. He thinks the opiod epidemic is a major public health problem. Indeed it is. He resists, however, doing anything that might actually help. And so on.

It’s difficult, of course, to tell where Trump stands on any issue at all. Either he knows absolutely nothing about policy, and isn’t aware how contradictory his public positions actually are, or he’s a showman and con man who doesn’t care about policy at all, so long as someone, somewhere, cheers.  Still, whatever he might have said about health care policy, he did, in fact support the various ghastly attempts by Republicans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. And so on.

And so, yes, he’s wrong about immigration. Of course, that’s the mistaken policy with which he began his run for the Presidency; he spoke then and remains now unconscionably racist. And the biggest applause line in his stump speech–such as it was, it was actually more like a stump stream-of-consciousness–was his cretinous call for a Really Big Wall. Which Mexico would pay for.

The Diversity Visa Lottery Program, then, is not, in my opinion, a particularly good program. It’s far too restrictive.

Here’s how it works. Millions of people would like to come to the United States. Most lack the specific skills Trump’s ‘merit-based’ program requires. Most also lack relatives who are already citizens. Most come from places where they can’t plausibly request political asylum. But they can apply for a diversity lottery visa. It’s a weighted lottery, which last year offered green cards to 50,000 immigrants, out of 9 million applicants. Once selected, prospective immigrants are carefully screened. And then they receive the documentation they need, to live her, work here, and within five years or so, apply for citizenship here.

I said it was a weighted lottery. That’s because you can’t even enter the lottery if you come from a country that has sent more than 50,000 people to the US over the last five years. So your chances are largely based on where you’re from. Uzbekistan and Nigeria had disproportionately large numbers of lottery winners last year.

Sayfullo Saipov won the lottery. He also became a terrorist. Ergo, the Diversity Visa Lottery program promotes terrorism. Post hoc propter hoc. Blarg.

No. The United States of America is, at bottom, a nation made up of people from different places who unite together behind common ideals. Immigration is a social, moral and economic good. Immigrants start businesses. Immigrants raise families. Immigrants obey the law, with a few exceptions, of course. And, specifically, Muslim immigrants, immigrants from Muslim countries, reject terrorism, and are a massively useful resource in combating it. None of those statements are even remotely controversial among experts who study immigration. Those are simply the facts regarding immigration.

So, yes, the Diversity Visa Lottery program is flawed, but not because its vetting requirements are insufficiently rigorous. It’s flawed because it does not accept enough people. The ratio shouldn’t be 50,000 accepted out of 9 million. It should be closer to 1 million to 9 million. Yes, a million people, in addition to the refugees we should also be welcoming. And yes, some of those people will do bad things. A few might even become terrorists. It doesn’t matter. We will never win the ‘war on terror’ until we stop massively overreacting to terrorist acts. Catch the bad guys, and get on with our lives. Disproportionately many of those doing the arresting will themselves be recent immigrants, or their kids.

Of course, Mr. Trump is uninterested in making sense on this issue. He’s all id, all seething resentment and vile prejudice and pompous and ill-informed nativism. in fact; I’ll go further. I don’t think he gets it. He doesn’t understand, appreciate, or sympathize with what it means to be an American. He doesn’t grok it; he’s more foreign, in many ways, than some non-English speaking guy straight off the boat. I suspect that the Emma Lazarus poem on the Statue of Liberty is an incomprehensible jumble of words to him. Diversity–what America is basically about— is a mystery to him.

Sadly, he can’t even pronounce it:

Jeff Flake’s speech

Senator Jeff Flake, R-Arizona gave a speech yesterday at the US Senate. It was a terrific speech. Here’s how he started:

I rise today with no small measure of regret. Regret because of the state of our disunion, regret because of the disrepair and destructiveness of our politics. Regret because of the indecency of our discourse. Regret because of the coarseness of our leadership. Regret for the compromise of our moral authority, and by our, I mean all of our complicity in this alarming and dangerous state of affairs. It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end.

Well, who could argue with that? He comes across as a decent man, a man of conscience, a conservative in the best sense of the word. I’ve seen interviews with him, and I’ve read his book, cheekily titled Conscience of a Conservative. The title he may have stolen from Barry Goldwater, but those ideas are now mainstream conservatism. It’s the disgust with the Presidency of Donald Trump that’s, sadly, kind of unique. But back to his speech:

Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as telling it like it is when it is actually just reckless, outrageous, and undignified. And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy.

Preach it brother! Amen! Absolutely! And when I say ‘brother,’ I mean that in a religious sense; Flake’s LDS. And his speech isn’t just an attack on Trump. It’s also a call to action:

When the next generation asks us, why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up? What are we going to say? Mr. President, I rise today to say, enough. We must dedicate ourselves to making sure that the anomalous never becomes the normal.

Great. That’s fine. We don’t want the anomalous to become the normal. Couldn’t agree more. I just want to know this:

Why haven’t you done anything?

And why are you leaving?

Here’s an example. Betsy DeVos was confirmed at Secretary of Education back in February. It was perfectly obvious from her confirmation hearing that she was spectacularly unqualified for the job. She was the wife of a major Republican donor, who has spent her time trying to privatize the American education system. She demonstrated repeatedly that she knew absolutely nothing about the most pressing education issues of the day. And she was confirmed 51-50, with the tie-breaking vote cast by Vice-President Pence.

And Jeff Flake voted for her. He voted ‘yes’. He made normal, in other words, Trump’s sensationally anomalous choice for his cabinet.

Okay, that’s unfair. Flake is a big school-choice guy, a charter school guy. Maybe he agreed with her on education issues, and was willing to overlook her, ahem, idiosyncracies. And that vote was a long time ago. So what about yesterday? The Senate voted on a measure that would have made it harder for ripped-off citizens to sue the banks or credit card companies that cheated them. The one recourse people have under such circumstances is to sue, either individually or through a class-action suit. Credit card companies want people to use binding arbitration instead, because they usually win those. The Senate was voting on the measure. So, easy vote: Wall Street vs. consumers. And two Republicans voted against the banks, joining all 48 Democrats. Jeff Flake was not one of them. Trump wanted it, and Flake voted with Trump. Again, Mike Pence broke the tie. 51-50.

So, again, the anomalous becomes the normal. And Jeff Flake’s anti-Trump rhetoric starts to look pretty empty, pretty self-serving.

And, all right, let’s suppose Flake really would now like to oppose Trump on principle, that he wants to join the fight against normalizing anomalies. Then why not stay in the Senate? Because Jeff Flake’s big speech was essentially a farewell address. He’s quitting. He’s leaving the Senate.

I get that Trump hates him, and that Steve Bannon is willing to spend ten million dollars of Robert Mercer’s money to defeat him. Flake’s main concern seems to be all that support flowing to his primary challenger. He, understandably, does not want to humiliated by a primary defeat.

But it’s not like his opponent is some juggernaut. She’s Dr. Kelli Ward, an ER doc from Lake Havasu City. She’s probably a very good doctor. And she may not be quite as nuts as she sometimes appears. She appeared on Alex Jones’ show, where she suggested that John McCain may be trying to kill her. Kind of; Jones said it, she just didn’t contradict him. She hosted a town hall meeting about chemtrails. Though she hasn’t said where she stands on the chemtrail issue, she clearly took that particular conspiracy theory seriously enough to hold a town hall on it. So, no, it’s not entirely fair to call her Chemtrail Kelli. But she also sees political advantage to cozying up to conspiracy theorists.

What does she stand for? I went on her website, and guess what: if Trump’s for it, so is she. Border wall, tax cuts for rich guys, no gun control at all, for anything.

Remember, Steve Bannon is an insurrectionist. He’s pro-chaos. He wants desperately unqualified people in the cabinet and Congress; he’s trying to rush us towards something akin to the Second Coming. He likes creative destruction. That’s why he supported (and we may be stuck with), Roy Moore for the US Senate. Moore’s crazy. Bannon likes crazy.

More to the point, Flake isn’t crazy. At least, he’s not-crazy enough to understand what a disaster Donald Trump’s Presidency has become. He is, at least, competent, and a decent guy. He’s massively conservative, and if I could vote in Arizona, I’d vote for his likely opponent,  Kyrsten Sinema. She’s a liberal Democrat. Who he would probably beat.

What bothers me most, though, is him not even trying. What troubles me is the suggestion that active opposition from someone as extreme and bizarre as Steve Bannon might scare Flake off. Or that he doesn’t seem to think he can beat a Trumpite like Kelli Ward.

Flake’s speech seems to suggest that an actual conservative (whatever that is), can’t support Donald Trump in good conscience, and that the Republican party needs to disassociate themselves from Trumpian policies and politics. Great. Good start. But he’s not going to do anything about it. And that, frankly, strikes me not as conscience, but as cowardice.