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Trump defense collapses at Thursday’s Impeachment hearing

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Yesterday’s testimony from Fiona Hill and David Holmes was really the clincher for the case against Trump. Both witnesses gave their stories in prosaic, almost homely ways, compared to the equivocating sniveling of Sondland, who struck me as a rather sordid character.

But Hill and Holmes were anything but sordid. Holmes, who went first, told the tale of Trump’s criminal interference in Ukraine in a straight-forward way. The details were compelling, the narrative easy to follow, Trump’s crime impossible to overlook. Then came Hill, whose poise and articulateness—not to mention her public scolding of Republicans on the committee who, consciously or not, are peddling the Putin line—made her an ideal witness. Together, the two entirely confirmed what the other witnesses said—what we all know to be the facts: Trump, in an effort to hurt Joe Biden (who he thought was his likely, and most powerful, opponent in 2020), bribed, or attempted to bribe, Zelensky into announcing a fake investigation into the Bidens. In so doing, Trump not only broke the law, he entirely subverted longstanding American policy with respect to Ukraine, our ally, and endangered our national security.

That’s the story, pure and simple—and it was fun watching the Republicans on the committee and their lawyers squirm to rebut it. They tried to smear both witnesses as well as former witnesses (like Vinman). They tried to change the topic: Hillary, the Steel dossier, Sweden!!! They tried to protest the structure of the hearings, or the processes by which Democrats launched them, or the timelines. The peddled, again, the thoroughly discredited fable—manufactured by Russian security–that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in our 2016 election. They even descended to the absurdity of grilling Holmes about the distance between Sondland’s ear and his cell phone. They grabbed at any straw they could, to convince themselves and Trump’s base that the story of Trump’s High Crimes and Misdemeanors could not possibly be true.

But of course it is. And everybody knows it.

I feel no sorrow for these Republicans. In attempting to defend the indefensible, they obviously have bitten off more than they can chew. But more than that, they have shown themselves before the Bar of History to be contemptible fools. At the very least, they have destroyed their own personal reputations. At the most, they have come dangerously close themselves to being part of a criminal conspiracy. And, as if all that isn’t bad enough, they’ve created a system of lies and truth-denying that threatens the very fabric of our society. That is Hitlerian.

Since there’s zero chance the traitors in the Republican Senate will vote to convict despite the mountain of evidence, it all comes down to the 2020 elections. It’s conventional wisdom to say that every election is the most important in our history, but in the case of 2020, I really believe it. I take heart in recent elections (Kentucky and Louisiana governerships, Virginia legislature) that went, improbably, for Democrats. But some polls (for instance, this one showing Trump winning in Wisconsin) give me pause. There is still a possibility, even after all we know about this unnatural inhabitant of the Oval Office, that enough people remain stupid enough, or credulous enough, or hateful enough, or stubborn enough–whatever–to cast a vote for the most stupendously incompetent man ever to be president. Add to that, we now know Russia—yes, the Russia with which Trump colluded in 2016–is working furiously on Trump’s behalf to do it again in 2020. Putin clearly has something on Trump; the two once again will conspire to subvert our election. If Trump is re-elected, America’s troubles will reach the boiling point.

Have a lovely weekend.


A wine review, and an Overview of Napa Cabernet

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Nickel & Nickel 2009 C.C. Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley). The C.C. Ranch is in the eastern Rutherford appellation, just west the Silverado Trail, near the hilly knolls of Quintessa. It’s a younger vineyard, with planting starting in 2000 to Cabernet Sauvignon. The gravelly soils are well-drained. Nickel & Nickel gets a portion of the grapes of the 115-acre vineyard.

When I first reviewed this wine, in 2012, it was disagreeably hard in tannins—a trait that marks all of Nickel & Nickel’s single-vineyard Cabernets. Which suggests aging. So how’s this 100% Cab doing?

Splendidly. The tannins are still there, but they’ve grown softer and melted. The youthful blackberry, cherry, plum and raisin flavors, liberally enriched with oak and tangy spices (anise, Chinese 5 spice), are turning the corner into secondary character: dried fruits, cassis, dark chocolate, enlivened with acidity. With a complex, long finish, it argues the case for aging high-quality Napa Valley Cabernet; a decade is a good guideline. Does it have a future? Yes. Already throwing sediment, it should continue to glide through the next ten years. But right now is a good time to pop the cork. Score: 95.

My review of this Cabernet opens up the wider question of the role of Napa Valley Cabernet in today’s world. The glamor, I think, that haloed Napa Cab from the 1960s until the end of the century has largely faded. Like a famous movie star in her time—Garbo, Bergman, Dietrich—its luster necessarily diminishes. And yet, Napa Cab has achieved what its pioneers always dreamed of: reputational parity, or nearly so, with classic European wines: Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, German Riesling. The words “Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon” finally signify something important, coveted and expensive.

Still, Napa Cab suffers from limitations that do not impact classic European wines. For starters, Napa Cab is notoriously difficult to pair with food. It can be done, of course: if you go to a steakhouse, chances are you’ll see a lot of Napa Cabernet on the wine list. But people are eating less beef these days. Between 2000 and 2017, beef consumption in the U.S. declined significantly, by 15.5%.

People are turning away from beef, in favor of lighter meats (chicken, pork, lamb) or plant-based foods. And the fact is that Cabernet is not a particularly deft partner for lighter meats. It swamps poultry, while for pork or lamb, lighter reds, such as Pinot Noir, and even white wines, are far more amenable.

I suspect that my experience with Cabernet Sauvignon is similar to that of many other Americans. I drink it less and less (even though I have a lot in my cellar), simply because it’s too heavy for my eating habits. (I also drink far less Cabernet in the summer, for that very reason.) Napa Cabernet is high in alcohol, relative to other dry red table wines, which is another reason to reduce my consumption of it. I’m not a Millennial, but my hunch, based on anecdotal information including my observation of “hot” wine bars in the San Francisco Bay Area, is that Millennials (Gen Y) and Gen Z (at least, those old enough to legally consume alcohol) are not drinking Cabernet Sauvignon. They’re looking for lighter, more interesting wines from around the world, not something expensive and heavy, which their parents and grandparents drank. Having said this, I’m aware that Cabernet Sauvignon, as an international varietal wine, is the most popular red wine in America, by far. But that’s everyday Cabernet, under $20 or so—the polar opposite of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: the former Toyota, the latter Porsche.

Napa Cabernet will be around for a long time, but I think it has now entered a period of stasis. It will rest on its laurels, enjoying its exalted status, but its best, most exciting days are behind, at least here in the U.S. This has long been foreseen by Napa wineries, at least those capable of forward-looking vision, which is why so many have labored for so long to establish overseas markets. But export markets aren’t a silver bullet: Trump’s tariff wars threaten the foreign importation of U.S. wines.

So if you’re a Napa Cabernet producer, what do you do? For one thing, you’re grateful you have a personal fortune (which is practically a prerequisite for owning a Napa winery). Your money will allow you to continue in business, despite headwinds, for some time to come. But your money can’t compel consumers to buy the product you’re selling, and eventually, for many upscale Napa producers, getting bought out by a large company is the only way out (Cf. the Pahlmeyer-Gallo deal).

Don’t get me wrong: as my review of the Nickel & Nickel ’09 C.C. shows, it is a fabulous wine. I enjoyed reviewing it, and, afterwards, drinking the remainder with a perfect hamburger I made myself, using good ground beef with 20% fat content. But that was the first hamburger I’d made at home in years; it was only the second hamburger I’d eaten in years, and in fact, the reason I chose to make a hamburger was because I wanted something to drink the wine with, and a hamburger seemed a healthier alternative to steak. None of my “normal” dinners (grains, vegetables, chicken, salmon, omelets) would have been suitable for such a rich wine, sweet in fruit and oak, and thick in tannins. And so, all those other older bottles of Napa Cabernet will remain in my cellar until the next time I chose to make a hamburger, much less a steak. All of which makes drinking my Napa Cabs, frankly, problematic…


Inside the mind of a House Republican

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Every one of those damned Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee Impeachment hearings knows exactly what Trump did. Every damned one of them. They know he attempted to bribe, or extort, Zelensky: “You’ll get your money and your White House meeting when you publicly announce Ukraine is investigating Joe and Hunter Biden.” And they know that Trump and his co-conspirators—Mulvaney, Giuliani and the whole damned bunch of them—are engaged in a massive coverup and campaign of intimidation to keep the American people from finding out the truth.

Any Republican on that committee who claims he or she doesn’t know these things is a damned liar. They have their orders: Say anything you have to say to protect Trump. Lie, insinuate, distract—anything. If you don’t, well, you’re going to be in trouble.

Do you remember when Jim Comey compared Trump to a mafia boss? He meant that when the boss “suggests” you do something for him, it’s not a mere suggestion, it’s an order. By “suggesting” instead of ordering, perjury can be circumvented: if a prosecutor asks you if the boss “ordered” you to do something, you can truthfully answer “No.” But when the boss tells you, “Gee, I really wish so-and-so would go away and not come back,” you—the subordinate—understand his meaning: Kill him. And so you do.

Henry II: “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” That’s how it works.

Zelensky understood that Trump’s “favor” was an order. Trump is far more powerful than any mafia boss who ever lived; Zelensky, a new president (a former comedian!) knew that he had no choice whatsoever but to obey the president of the United States.

These Republicans on the Judiciary Committee likewise understand that they have no choice but to lie, insinuate and distract, even though they know exactly what Trump did. If they don’t—if they refuse to toe the Republican line—they not only lose all power in the Republican caucus, they’d be shunned by the entire caucus, and eventually forced to leave the Congress. Or they’d be primaried out of office. Once returned back to civilian status, they’d never be able to get decent jobs at any law firm, think tank or corporation with Republican ties—which is pretty much every law firm, think tank and corporation in America. That’s a pretty heavy price to pay for conscience. And so they flush conscience down the toilet.

A common meme these days, especially among Democrats, is that someday History will catch up with these Republicans. They’ll be embarrassed and shamed; their grandchildren will turn on them; their neighbors will shun them; they’ll go to their graves regretting their cravenness.

But these Republicans don’t see it that way. They figure that they may have to take a little heat in the short term, but over the long haul, people will forget this unpleasant episode, and it will be business as usual. Some of these Republican backbenchers may even be rewarded for their protection of the criminal president. If they get to a position of leadership in the House, or get elected to the Senate, their lies, insinuations and distractions will be long past. Nobody, in five years time, will ask them about it; nobody will care; the whole sordid thing will be forgotten, buried by an avalanche of subsequent history. They may feel a little guilty now for what they’re doing—no one but a sociopath wouldn’t. But they know how human nature, or at least their nature, works. Time heals all wounds. Five years down the road, ten years, fifteen, their personal shame will largely be healed over, like a wound that scabs. Sure, it may leave a little scar. But no one else will be able to see the scar.

And so they do the dirty deed. They lie, insinuate and distract, and the fact that their fellow Republicans are lying, insinuating and distracting is a great balm. They look at their Republican colleagues, who to a man and a woman also are lying, insinuating and distracting, and they think, “Gee, maybe what I’m doing isn’t so bad. All my friends are doing the same thing.” And then they remember the good times they have in the caucus—the card games, the beer-and-football games, the restaurant dinners with their wives and Republican pals. They know, on some primitive level, that what they’re doing sucks. But the perks of the job! The power tripping! The respect they get back home in the district! It’s ridiculous for anyone to expect them to chuck all that away. Easier to live with a little shame, for a little while. It will end someday…won’t it…???


Republicans lie, while children die

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Another day, another school massacre. And what were Congressional Republicans doing, virtually at the same moment students were dying?

Blocking another gun control measure.

Senate Democrats proposed yet another law authorizing background checks, but Moscow Mitch—or “Massacre Mitch,” as he’s now known—blocked it. McConnell, too, bends over for Wayne LaPierre.

What in God’s name is wrong with background checks? Why do Republicans resist keeping assault weapons out of the hands of mentally ill people, or domestic abusers? Could it be—gasp!—that Republicans actually want crazy people to have firearms because they (Republicans) believe that most crazy people are Republicans?

After this latest school shooting, which occurred in Santa Clarita, California, I saw my Governor, Gavin Newsom, at a presser in which he commented on it.

I’ve known the Governor for a long time, and I’ve never seen his face so sad and weary. I almost weeped. A longtime advocate of stricter gun control, he’s watched as Republicans oppose every single effort at anything resembling gun control, as child after child after child is slaughtered. I feel Gavin’s pain; there are many perks that go with being Governor, but the anguish of a school shooting must be unbearable.

Republicans just don’t care. Somebody has to say it: they just don’t give a damn. They don’t care how many school children’s torn and bleeding bodies are scattered in hallways and classrooms; they don’t care how much blood is shed; they don’t care how many lives are traumatized and ruined. They.Do.Not.Give.A.Shit. All they care about is taking the NRA’s murderous hatred up their Republican asses.

Harsh words? Yes, for sure. But true—and everybody knows it. It’s my damned blog. I’m angry. If you’re not, why the hell not?

Does any sane person seriously think that the Republicans don’t know what went down in this Ukraine scandal? They know precisely what happened. They know Trump didn’t give a damn about Ukraine, or about America, for that matter. All he cared about was getting dirt on the political candidate he thought posed the greatest threat to him: Joe Biden. He then extorted, or bribed, Zelensky: invent something dirty on the Bidens, or you get nothing from me: no weapons, no White House meeting. That this accords precisely with the Russian agenda is no coincidence. As Speaker Pelosi noted, “All roads with Trump lead back to Putin.”

We may never know what Putin has on Donald J. Trump, but I think I know: the pee tape. Putin can ruin Trump politically, financially, socially, through a simple act: releasing the pee tape to a third party—say, a Romanian or Lebanese newspaper, from which it would leak out (no pun intended) all around the world. The scandal would be enormous; with Trump’s face clearly visible, sitting on his Moscow hotel bed while a pair of gorgeous porn stars urinate on each other, Trump would be mortified: Melania might even leave him. Trump would lie, of course. “Fake video!” He’d try to drag Hillary into it, Obama, Liddle Adam Schiff, “the Democrat Party,” the lamestream media, the faiing New York Times…the usual suspects he attacks every time his crimes and misdemeanors are exposed. But would even the appearance of the pee tape matter?

This is, after all, the man who boasted he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and murder people and not lose a single supporter. If he can commit first degree murder of innocent people and not lose any support, why couldn’t he be revealed as a sexual pervert, and still retain the love of his rightwing base? I get the feeling Trump could rip his face off on national T.V., reveal a hideous alien with tentacles, dripping goo from fanged lips, and his people would still stand by him. “Better a Republican alien,” would be their reasoning, “than a libtard Demon-crat.”

Watch the impeachment hearings today and next week. The case is clear; the obstruction of justice by Trump also is clear.


Impeachment: 24 hours, and counting

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HERE WE GO into Impeachment Land. Don’t you get the feeling this whole thing is like a reality T.V. show? Republicans and Democrats each trying to banish the other from the island. Like any good serial program, one week one side is up; the next, the other; and every episode ends on a cliffhanger. Will the witnesses testify to any bombshells that haven’t already been made public? Will Republicans force Hunter Biden to appear? Will the pro-Impeachment and pro-Removal numbers rise, fall, or stay steady? Back in a moment—but first, this word from our sponsor.

It’s all very satirical, but we mustn’t lose sight of the underlying importance of this Impeachment, which is: we have in America an almost diabolical president, hostile to freedom, indifferent to human suffering, prejudiced in favor of his own billionaire class, a thug of unbelievable ferality and amorality, or at least devoid of anything that normal people would consider ethics. This thug leads a movement that is the most antithetical to democratic (small “d”) values that we have seen in our lifetimes, or even read about in the history books.

I was reading the other day an essay (I think in the N.Y. Times) by an op-ed writer, firmly Democratic in his beliefs. He was issuing a warning to Democrats: we could lose the 2020 election, thereby ensuring Trump’s reign from 2021-2025, which would be a catastrophe. What did this writer base his dire prediction upon? His sister, who lives in Eastern Washington State and, apparently being evangelical and poor, feels that coastal and urban elites turn their noses up at her and ridicule her for her beliefs. When the writer explained to his sister that Trump, if entirely successful, will take away her healthcare, and cause other damage to her and her class, she told him she didn’t care; she was voting her emotions, and Democrats and “liberals” have hurt her emotionally.

I have no way of doubting this cautionary tale. I’m sure that the writer’s sister will vote Republican even though, in every pragmatic sense, a Trump victory will cause her personal harm, especially if accompanied by Republicans retaking the House. Nor do I doubt that there are millions of American voters who feel the same way as the sister. They’re evangelical or fundamentalist (is there a difference? Not that I can see); they’re badly educated; they’re rural and poor; they do feel despised by people like me, who are in many respects their polar opposite: well-educated, not religious (and certainly not evangelical), urban, and middle class if not even higher on the economic totem pole. And the sister is right to this degree: I do despise these people. I always have. They’ve been out to get me–a gay man and a Jew, and as an intellectual who believes in science and reason–ever since I was born, and my reading of the news and of history teaches me that they’ve always been out to get my kind; and they’ve become even more demonic in this Age of Trump, which emboldens them.  So why would I not despise them?

At the same time, American history is replete with stories of opposing political sides compromising and accommodating each other. Indeed, that’s the spirit of our democracy, the premise upon which our political system rests. Admittedly, when it comes to the most basic political issues—abortion, gay rights, global warming, America’s role vis-à-vis the rest of the world, immigration and the border—it’s very hard to even theoretically imagine where compromise rests. Gay rights, for example: America either recognizes the full legitimacy of gay people (including the right to marry and adopt children) or it doesn’t. There is no middle ground that I can see. And the same is true for the other issues. Everything, it seems, that could ever be negotiated already has been; what remains behind is the non-negotiable stuff. I am not ready to compromise on whether or not America shall be a Christian country. The Mike Pences of our nation insist it be so; I insist not; where is the middle ground?

Still, I suppose I have to be bold enough to imagine that some sort of middle ground can be reached, because if it can’t, the result will be too drastic to contemplate. So let the Impeachment hearings begin, on television. Let all the T.V. stations, broadcast and cable, interrupt regular programming to televise them in their entirety. Let the independent media (which excludes Fox “News”) report on the hearings, which we’re assured will provide devastating evidence of Trump’s crimes and misdemeanors. Let the conversations roll forward, around kitchen tables and water coolers. Let the American people make up their own minds, and let them see through the veil of lies and smears issuing from Republican propaganda outlets like toxic gas from dismal swamps. Let the House Impeach, Impeach, Impeach—and let the chips fall where they may.


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