Thursday, August 03, 2017

The Russia Investigation Heats Up, Part 2


Well. Things are certainly getting interesting.

Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller impaneled a grand jury today in the matter of Russian interference in the 2016 election, signaling that the investigation is entering a new phase. According to the Wall Street Journal, this could indicate that the investigation is still months away from any sort of resolution.

“Grand jury matters are typically secret,” Ty Cobb (no, not that Ty Cobb) special counsel to the President said. “The White House favors anything that accelerates the conclusion of his work fairly.…The White House is committed to fully cooperating with Mr. Mueller.” This runs in direct contradiction to donald trump's own statements classifying the investigation as a "witch hunt."

Legal experts are weighing in with their opinions as to what today's actions mean. Stephen I. Vladeck, a University of Texas law professor, says that “This is yet a further sign that there is a long-term, large-scale series of prosecutions being contemplated and being pursued by the special counsel. If there was already a grand jury in Alexandria looking at Flynn, there would be no need to reinvent the wheel for the same guy. This suggests that the investigation is bigger and wider than Flynn, perhaps substantially so.” Similarly, Thomas Zeno, a lawyer at Squire Patton Boggs and a federal prosecutor for 29 years previous to joining the firm, says that the grand jury is “confirmation that this is a very vigorous investigation going on.” He cautions that “This doesn’t mean he is going to bring charges, but it shows he is very serious. He wouldn’t do this if it were winding down.”

To further fuel speculation that the investigation is heating up, Greg Adnres has joined Mr. Mueller's team. Mr. Andres is a top partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP in New York. According to Mr. Zeno “People like Greg Andres don’t leave private practice willy-nilly. The fact he is being added after couple of months shows how serious this is and that it could last a long time.” As of this writing there has been no comment from Mr. Andres.

These developments come as Congress debates a pair of bipartisan bills originating in the Senate -- one from Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Chris Coons (D-DE) and another from Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) -- which make it more difficult for trump to fire Mueller, as he has threatened to do.

Under the Coons-Tillis bill, a special counsel has the right to challenge his or her removal, with a three judge panel providing a ruling within 14 days. If the challenge is upheld the special counsel is immediately reinstated.

The Graham-Booker bill, which is being backed by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), differs slightly in that the Justice Department would need to file a formal request prior to the firing, rather than appealing an existing termination.

More information can be found by following the links below.

The Hill: http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/345212-mueller-establishes-grand-jury-in-trump-russia-probe-report

The Wall Street Journal: https://www.wsj.com/articles/special-counsel-mueller-impanels-washington-grand-jury-in-russia-probe-1501788287

Reuters: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-russia-mueller-idUSKBN1AJ2RA

CNBC: https://www.cnbc.com/2017/08/03/special-counsel-mueller-impanels-grand-jury-in-russia-probe-wsj-reports.html

Bloomberg: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-08-03/mueller-is-said-to-impanel-grand-jury-in-russia-probe-wsj-says

The Washington Times: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/aug/3/robert-mueller-impanels-grand-jury-russia-probe/

The Week: http://theweek.com/speedreads/716352/russia-probe-special-counsel-robert-mueller-reportedly-impanels-washington-grand-jury

CBS News: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/report-robert-mueller-convenes-grand-jury-in-russia-investigation/

A Smorgasbord of Stupid


Welcome, welcome, one and all, to Uncle Skippy's Emporium of Batshit Crazy, where you can find incredibly dumbass things said by big-name Republicans ...

This is by no means an exhaustive list, just a sampling of the all-you-can-eat buffet of stupid that is the modern Republican Party. Feel free to add your own entries to the list in the comments, but please make sure they are legit and not the fevered imaginings of Al Franken's nightmares.

I would also like to offer a similar invitation to my conservative friends to provide examples of liberal dumbassery ... if you can find any.

That being said, a few caveats:
  1. If ya gimme a quote, ya gotta source it. We need to be able to corroborate, and if you have a link to audio or video of the actual quote that's even better ... that way we get to see the stupid in its natural habitat.
  2. If someone said something stupid, but later apologized/retracted/otherwise copped to it, it's probably good form to include this as well. You know, for balance and stuff. Either that, or just drop it entirely.
  3. Simple verbal gaffes that are obvious mistakes (a candidate getting the city he or she is in wrong, things like that) are probably not good examples of dumbassery. Everybody makes mistakes like this. For example, Dan Quayle mangling the motto of the United Negro College Fund, while jaw-dropping, is not a good example because he was trying to get it right ... he just failed miserably.

That's it with the rules. Below you will find a delectable sampling of empty-headed gibberish, ideologically-fueled misinformation, and outright lies, with a sprinkling of ridiculous balderdash thrown in for flavor. Bon appetit!

"A lot of people who go into prison straight, and when they come out they’re gay." -- Ben Carson, CNN interview, 3/4/2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/04/politics/ben-carson-prisons-gay-choice/

"Just because the Supreme Court rules on something doesn't necessarily mean that that's constitutional." -- Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK 1), interview with the Daily Caller, 3/10/2013, http://dailycaller.com/2013/03/10/rep-bridenstine-pushes-for-obamacare-fight-video/

"We know Al Qaeda has camps on the Mexican border. We have people that are trained to act Hispanic when they are radical Islamists." -- Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX 1), interview on C-SPAN, 4/17/2013, https://www.c-span.org/video/?312145-4/texas-representative-homeland-security-policy-post-boston

 "If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down." -- Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO 2), interview with the Jaco Report on KTVI in St. Louis, 8/19/2012, http://fox2now.com/2012/08/19/the-jaco-report-august-19-2012/

"If it hurts a bunch of lazy blacks that want the government to give them everything, so be it." – Don Yelton, North Carolina GOP Executive Committee member, on his state's voter ID law during an interview with the Daily Show, 10/23/2013, http://www.cc.com/video-clips/dxhtvk/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart-suppressing-the-vote

"The oil and gas industry gets no subsidies, zero, nothing." – Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, whose industry gets $4 billion a year in tax breaks, in a "State of American Energy" speech in the Andrew Mellon Auditorium, 1/8/2013, https://www.c-span.org/video/?310261-1/state-american-energy

I gotta lie down.

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Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Why Aren't Republicans More Pissed?


Dear Republicans,

There was a day in the not-too-distant past when, if there was even the slightest hint about Russian interference in our elections, you would have raised an enormous hue and cry over it and demanded that we get to the bottom of things. There would have been much pious hand-wringing and clutching of pearls over the integrity of our elections, in much the same way that y'all embrace Kris Kobach's voter suppression -- I mean, "integrity" -- efforts now. There would have been investigations, press conferences, truculent words exchanged with Moscow.

To be honest, you guys would have acted like this if the Kremlin interfered with your lunch order, much less our elections. So the obvious question, now that there is clear agreement in the intelligence community that the Kremlin got their meat hooks into our election in 2016, is this:

Why aren't you guys more pissed about this?

I can understand trump's unwillingness to acknowledge it, given his unwillingness to even acknowledge reality. I can even understand Mitch McConnell's seeming nonchalance about the matter, considering he and Vladimir Putin probably masterminded the entire thing in the first place. What I don't get, though, is how the rest of the Republican Party can dismiss this as no big deal, how they could spend months trying to downplay this, and how they could repeatedly stonewall efforts to investigate the matter.

Forget the partisanship. This is not about trying to score political points. It's just disturbing that the GOP can take this casual, hey-it's-not-a-big-deal-because-our-guy-won approach to it. After all, if the situation was reversed and it was discovered that Moscow had aided Hillary Clinton in an electoral victory, you guys would have immediately launched at least nineteen investigations. There would have been endless shrieking in the media about how she committed treason and should be imprisoned or hanged. There would have been calls to invalidate the election immediately. Independent prosecutors would have been appointed so fast the dust would have been visible in Google Earth. Your response would have made Henry VIII look calm and measured in comparison.
So what gives? Are you guys actually so craven, so beholden to the Mitch McConnell philosophy of "party before country" that you actually prefer a Russian puppet to a fairly elected president?

To be honest, this wouldn't have been as bad if you guys had at least nominated someone competent in the first place. Yes, it would have been annoying as hell, and there would definitely be agitation from the left to do something about it, but at least we would not be facing the possibility that we face today: that Russia helped elect the last President of the United States.

Look at what's happening in the world today. The United States, the leading voice in the international community as recently as seven months ago, is now being ignored, for the most part. Angela Merkel of Germany and Emmanuel Macron of France are stepping into the role of global leaders. North Korea and Iran are only the first of our adversaries testing the limits of their aggression to see just what they can get away with. Kim Jong Un is just begging for a fight with us because we have a commander-in-chief who couldn't find his own butt with both hands, a map, and step-by-step instructions.

Here at home, racially-motivated crime in the United States is on the rise. White supremacist groups are emerging into the daylight, emboldened by the general tenor of discourse coming from the White House. The administration is in complete disarray, having burned through three communications directors, two press secretaries, a chief of staff, a national security advisor ... and there's no sign of the carnage coming to an end any time soon.

When I try to discuss this with trump supporters of my acquaintance, I am told that it is fake news, there's nothing to see here, there's no evidence of collusion, collusion isn't illegal anyway ... in short, aping the "party before country" ethos.

Let's look at the meeting on June 9, 2016 at Trump Tower. Instead of simply saying "yeah, that doesn't look very good, does it? We had better look into this," you guys launched your GPS (GOP Positive Spin) system:
  1. The meeting was about the Magnitsky Act and adoptions, the only Russian there was the lawyer, and they never discussed the election beforehand.
  2. Okay, they did discuss the election beforehand, but it was in the context of completely innocuous good wishes.
  3. Okay, maybe they did say that they had some damaging information on Hillary, but we didn't need it so it's cool.
  4. Okay, so maybe we used it, but what's the big deal if a private Russian citizen gives us this information?
  5. Okay, so a couple of the Russians in the meeting -- of course there were three of them; we've been saying that all along, weren't you paying attention? -- were working for the Russian government, but this meeting wasn't in any official capacity.
  6. Okay, so maybe they were there as representatives of the Russian Federation, but only in the context of the adoptions issue; when they were talking about the election they were private citizens.
  7. You didn't see nothin'. Capisce?

So please, someone give me a clue. Why isn't the GOP more pissed about this? What is it going to take to get you guys to see that this transcends party politics and represents an existential threat to us as a country?

Yours truly,

The Blowhard Pundit

I gotta lie down.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Help Wanted


Okay, gang. We need an illustrator.

This isn't a paying gig (yet), but we need someone who can provide artwork -- cartoons and the like -- for our posts. Quick turnaround and a wicked, irreverent streak are essential. We are looking for "funny" and "appropriate to the material," and it doesn't hurt if it's a bit provocative, but we also want some underlying intelligence to it (no poop jokes unless we ask for 'em!). This isn't just "gimme a pretty picture;" your artwork will help define the public persona of the Blowhard Pundit.

If you or anyone you know fills the bill and is willing to take this on as an unpaid contributor (hey, we ain't gettin' nothin' either!), drop us a line at dave@blowhardpundit.com and we'll see if we can make some magic!

The GOP Wants You To Get Off Their Lawn


It has been an interesting ride since the inauguration of donald trump. When we hit the six month mark, many outlets ran timelines of his accomplishments1 (Breitbart et al) and his failures (Occupy Democrats and the like), while reputable outlets presented a simple timeline of what has happened since then.

What nobody has covered, and what I am going to cover here, is the progression of Republican reaction to opinions with which they don't agree since the election. And not just any Republican reaction, but Republican reaction on the internet. Won't this be fun, boys and girls?

"Get over it, snowflake"

It started mere nanoseconds after Election Day, when social media was flooded with triumphant mouth-breathers claiming victory and smugly telling liberals "He won. Get over it." Of course, the irony of having someone waving a Confederate flag and decrying the loss of the "good old days" telling others to "get over it" is not lost on ... well, anyone who is not a reactionary Republican.

Which, in today's political climate, includes pretty much every Republican. But I digress.

"FAKE NEWS!"

This became a rallying cry of sorts, claiming that news outlets -- which had spent years, decades, building up their reputations for fair, unbiased reporting -- had suddenly decided to abandon journalistic principles altogether and go full tabloid overnight. KellyAnne Conway took a break from slowly strangling her prey to pontificate on "alternative facts." Sean Spicer threatened to beat people up, or something before throwing his hands up and saying "fuck it. I quit." Anthony Scaramucci tried to bring a Lawn Gisland sensibility to the White House as Communications Director, apparently under the impression that what was needed in government was a sleazy used-car-salesman type hurling profanities at The New Yorker and ignoring the birth of his own child. trump himself apparently contracted Twitter Tourette's and starting spouting paranoid nonsense, 140 characters at a time. Reporters from legitimate outlets were shut down during press briefings, while Breitbart, InfoWars, the Daily Caller, and other right-wing bottom-feeders were given preferential treatment.

"At least he ain't Obama"

The next selection in this hit parade is basically saying, over and over, that Obama destroyed Murica and trump is gonna fix it and Make Murica Great Again and we should lock Hillary up and what about the Clinton Foundation, huh? Apparently, 84 months of continuous job growth (the longest in our nation's history), the killing of Osama bin Laden, saving the auto industry from collapse, allowing gays to serve in the military, legalizing same-sex marriage, getting 20 million people health care coverage when they didn't have it before, recovering from the Great Recession ... these are all signs of the impending apocalypse, or something.

One commenter on Facebook actually responded to one of my posts thusly: "You fucked up so bad we elected the craziest choice you could dream of." It's as if he was trying to claim that Republicans made a conscious effort to elect someone who was batshit crazy, who was mentally and emotionally unfit, to prove some kind of point, or something. I can picture a bunch of the guys from the RNC sitting around one night in 2015, getting bombed out of their skulls on cheap scotch and saying things like "No, wait a sec. I got a great idea. This'll be a howl. Donald trump for president" then giggling hysterically before turning Mitch McConnell on his back just to watch him struggle to right himself.

Here's the interesting thing. I have repeatedly pressed these people for details as to how Obama "fucked up so badly," and without exception they got nothin'. Sure, they give me a laundry list of supposed offenses: "He committed treason" "He ignored the Constitution by signing all those Executive Orders" "He broke the law". But when I ask for details, I get one of the following reactions:

Nothing.

I'm just a liberal and won't believe them anyway.

Hillary's emails, the Clinton Foundation, or any of a number of other irrelevant topics.

"Stop being so disrespectful"

This is one my very favorite. The same people who spent eight years accusing President Obama of being Muslim, being Kenyan, being a socialist, burning and/or lynching him in effigy, calling him names like "Obummer," portraying him and his wife as apes ... they are now demanding that the media stop calling trump names. "He's your president," they say. "Show some respect," they say. And when I point out all the nastiness that came before they are genuinely baffled as to what the point is that I am trying to make.

The thing is, trump has not earned any respect. Quite the opposite, in fact. From being oblivious to what his job actually is, to sheer vulgarity, he has demonstrated repeatedly that he is not qualified for this gig.

Once again, the sheer hypocrisy and willingness to not just distort, but absolutely pulverize, reality demonstrated by the GOP is simply astounding.

I gotta lie down.

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"It astounds me that you pretend to be an intelligent writer ... To be that you'd need to read things you don't agree with and judge them on merit, not source."

"That may be because liberal views have predominated for so long -- and now we are out of power...there's a kind of disbelief that value truisms once taken for granted no longer hold -- given that those with different views are now running the show."


1I use the term "accomplishments" very loosely here, as right-wing media has given him credit for things like "promoting cooperation between business and government," which, let's face it, is kinda what government does. Frankly, I'm surprised they didn't list "tied his own shoes" or "made boom-boom in the potty" as well.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Gratitude


"I'm fine. I've been in an accident. The EMTs want to take me to the ER just to make sure I'm okay."

This was the beginning of the phone call my wife received on Saturday morning, shortly after 9 AM. We immediately sprang into action: letting our other two kids know that we were leaving for the hospital, getting insurance information together, calling her ex-husband to let him know that his daughter was in the ER.

We actually got there first. As we watched the EMTs pull the gurney from the back of the ambulance, we could tell that she wasn't fine ... her eyes were squeezed tightly shut, and every slight nudge would make her wince. Once she was transferred to a wheelchair we could see the bump of a broken collarbone, which was confirmed by an MRI.

Being the stepfather, my role was greatly diminished in all these proceedings ... my main function was to remember things: where the bathrooms were, how to get from the triage room to the lobby, a food order from Wawa, that sort of thing.

Oh, and to stay the hell out of the way.

Her father sat on the edge of the bed and held her hand, not letting go unless the nurse needed to run some tests. Her mother sat on the other side of the bed, talking gently to her, trying to distract her from the excruciating pain.

The picture above is of the car my stepdaughter was driving when she hit a steel and concrete barrier head on at about 60 mph. She suffered a broken collarbone from the seat belt and a "sternal deformity" -- basically, a dent in her breastbone that almost, but not quite, caused a fracture -- as a result of the airbag deploying into her chest.

It could have been so much worse.

Modern cars are engineered to crash. Back in the day the thinking was to build the cars solid so that, if they were in an accident, it was relatively inexpensive to repair them, and the passengers would be kept safe. The conventional wisdom of the time held that, the more solid the car was, the less likely people were to be injured.

What was discovered is, while the cars were inexpensive to fix, people were getting killed because the interior of the car in a high-speed collision was transformed into what amounted to a giant Cuisinart. Because none of the shock from the impact was absorbed, it was transmitted to the passenger area. People were bouncing off doors and windows. They were being impaled by steering columns. In some cases they were simply pulverized by 400 pounds of red-hot engine barrelling through the firewall.

Newer cars have crumple zones. While it makes it easier for the cars to be totaled, it prevents the people from being totaled as well. Engine mounts are designed so that, if the engine breaks free, it is driven down into the pavement instead of through the firewall. The firewalls themselves are reinforced and shaped to shunt forces around the cabin instead of through it. Steering columns are collapsible, and are engineered so that the steering wheel will go up into the windshield instead of into the chest of the driver.

In this case, even though she hit a solid steel and concrete barrier head on, the passenger compartment was relatively unscathed -- in fact, with the exception of the cracked windshield, deployed airbags, and steering column that looked just a little bit off, you couldn't tell from looking at the interior that the car had even been in an accident.

Readers of this blog have probably picked up on subtle indicators (Yeah. Subtle.) that I am not at all squeamish about bitching endlessly about the peccadilloes and foibles of the current administration, and that I can extract political relevance from just about any situation. Except this one.

There is nothing political here. There is no complaining about trump's tweets, or Republican intransigence, or Democratic corporatism, or Russia, or Benghazi, or emails. There is no commentary on Venezuela, or Syria, or Ukraine.

There is only gratitude.

I am grateful to the unnamed volunteer firefighter who happened to be on the road at roughly the same time and who was the first on the scene. I am grateful to the EMTs who did their best to keep her comfortable during the ambulance ride to the ER. I am immensely grateful to the staff of Einstein Montgomery who took excellent care of her while she was in the ER. I am grateful to her mother and father who, despite the panic that must have been rising in the back of their throats, managed to help her hold it together until we were able to get her home. I am grateful for the outpouring of love and support from, literally, hundreds of people -- in person, on the phone, and online -- offering help, advice, or simply best wishes. I am grateful to Ford Motor Company for building the 2014 Fiesta (which she named Paul) so well that she could ram into a solid object at 60 mph and walk away under her own power.

Above all, though, I am grateful that she is home, and safe, and resting comfortably, and that we didn't have to face anything much, much worse.

Madison and Paul when they first met.




Changing tack

About a week or so ago I announced that I was taking a break from politics. As it turns out, this is not entirely true. In fact, I am taki...