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In defense of those infamous wine caves

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Elizabeth Warren took a cheap shot at Pete Buttigieg during the last debate, when she accused him of going to a Napa Valley fundraiser in a “wine cave filled with crystals.”

Her line put Mayor Pete on the defensive and seems to have accomplished what Warren set out to do: garner lots of publicity for herself. But it was in terribly poor taste.

It’s short-term publicity for Warren, but it won’t do her any good in getting the nomination. It was a gratuitous swipe at Mayor Pete, a really good, appealing young politician who’s leading in the Iowa and New Hampshire polls; Warren’s comment merely shows how desperate and afraid she really is.

I’ve been in a lot of wine caves, and I mean a lot, from my decades as a wine writer. They’re quite common in wine country, not just Napa Valley but up and down California. People have them built because the natural temperature of below-ground caves is in the high-40s to mid-50s, a perfect temperature to store wine which is a living thing (unlike canned soup), and will quickly deteriorate at room temperature, not to mention the heat waves that routinely occur in wine country.

Once the cost of digging the wine cave is paid, there’s no more expense: no electric bills, no air conditioning. Mother Nature does all that. So lots of winemakers build wine caves, not just billionaires, as Warren implied. In fact, a wine cave is the smartest, most practical business investment a winemaker can make, which is why so many of them do it.

It is, of course, easy for people to poke fun at all things wine-related. And when it comes from California, from Napa Valley, just north of San Francisco, the temptation to ridicule it is great. But this is the sort of cheap insult I expect from Republicans: “brie-and-Chardonnay-drinking liberals, elite San Francisco snobs,” that sort of thing, which we’ve come to expect from the right wing.

But to hear this crap from a Democrat? Not cool.

I know the Hall family, whose wine cave Mayor Pete visited. And yes, they’re uber-rich. I have no special love for Kathryn Hall, the owner, a former U.S. ambassador to Austria under Bill Clinton (presumably an award given her for hefty donations to him and the DNC). She does make fantastic wine, though, and I don’t hold her wealth against her, any more than I held Jess Jackson’s, or Bill Harlan’s, or the Gallo’s, or Jean-Charles Boisset’s, or Jan Shrem’s wealth against them. Some people are rich; most of us, including most winemakers, aren’t. That’s how things are. So it’s no big deal that Mayor Pete raised some money from Kathryn Hall and her like-minded Napa Valley friends.

Besides, Warren has gotten her own sizable donations, although she likes to pretend all her donors are teeny weeny little working people sending her $5 or $10. According to the website campaignsecrets, she raised $60 million as of Sept. 30, 2019. About $18 million of that (nearly 30%) was from unidentified “large individual contributions.” Politico reported that Warren’s campaign is “courting big donors in the Northeast by organizing trips, hosting events and acting as conduits for information about the campaign.”

Meanwhile, the New York Times revealed that “Ms. Warren wooed wealthy donors for years, stockpiling money from fund-raisers, and has used $10.4 million from her 2018 Senate race to underwrite her 2020 bid.” So it’s really hypocritical of Elizabeth Warren to criticize Mayor Pete for raising campaign funds from rich donors.

Look, as the late, great Jess “Big Daddy” Unruh, Speaker of the California Assembly in the 1960s, observed, “If you can’t eat their food, drink their booze, screw their women and then vote against them [i.e. donors], you’ve got no business being up here,” “here” meaning the Legislature.  

So I give Mayor Pete a pass, although he’s unlikely to revisit Napa Valley anytime soon. It’s just too risky, what with the reverse-snobbish Republican Party (which siphons dark money from secretive, rich people) issuing potshots , and your own kind, a fellow Democrat, obeying the Republican playbook. Very bad form, Sen. Warren. You lost my respect and, I suspect, that of many, many good Democrats and Independents.


It’s done

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Donald J. Trump has been impeached. The nation breathes a sigh of relief—but it’s not over! The struggle continues, the fight goes on. Our American liberty hangs in the balance.

As long as Republicans exist in their current form, we’ll have a fight on our hands. It’s not because we don’t believe in compromise and conciliation. We do. It’s because you can’t compromise with evil.

And that is what this Republican Party has become: evil. The virulent homophobia—these awful cultists would harm tens of millions of LGBTQ Americans, and for what? Because the Bible perpetuates ancient, discredited superstitions. This party of white supremacists gives the finger to people of color. A misogynistic president insults women every chance he gets. Why would any self-respecting woman support Trump? He has treated every woman he ever met like a whore. This stupid, dangerous party doesn’t believe in science. This horrendous stain on the body politic stands solidly behind a sociopath, bent on leading America away from civil liberty and democratic freedom to a religious, fascist dictatorship.

And so we fight. I know I live in a blue bubble. I know that vast stretches of America are red, red, red. I see the faces of the people at Trump rallies—violent faces, twisted by rage, laughing at Trump’s insults and put-downs of his “enemies” (his latest salvo, alleging John Dingell is in hell, is beyond the pale)—and I think, Who the hell are these people? I barely recognize them as human, much less American. Are they the Americans that George Washington envisioned? Are they the Americans Abe Lincoln preserved the nation for? Are they the Americans the Greatest Generation fought World War II for? Are they the Americans John F. Kennedy had in mind when he asked us what we can do for our country? Are they the Americans Ronald Reagan claimed had built “a city on a hill”? Are they the Americans who were so proud to see Barack Obama standing tall, dignified and respected?

No. They are the Ugly People, the small minds, the dirt on America’s heel, a clique determined to wreck the Constitution, overturn our traditional values of fairness and mutual respect and replace it with some kind of nasty little banana republic. They—the MAGA hat-wearing screamers—are the kind of poor people Donald and Melania Trump would never let in the door of their Trump Tower mansion or Mar-a-Lago palace—unless it was to clean the toilets. They—the Four More Years crowd—are the kind of uneducated people the Trump spawn—Ivanka, Eric and the pathetic, chinless Donald, Jr.—would never associate with. Jared Kushner and his Orthodox Jewish family put them down, in private and behind their backs, as goyim—and the worst kind of goyim at that, ignorant Jesus freaks. Believe me when I say these words: I know these Hasidic Jews. Not nice people.

The funny thing is, for all the “love” said to exist between the Republican/evangelical far right and the Orthodox Jews, that love is strictly situational. Both sides loathe each other; both believe the other will burn for eternity, as soon as the necessary conditions are fulfilled: the Rapture for Christians, the coming of Moshiach for Jews. Both sides are prepared to polish the blade of the guillotine, to chop off the heads of the others, as soon as they seize power. When you hear the likes of a Franklin Graham, Jr. praying for Israel, he means: Netayahu’s Israel, a racist state, controlled by Russian ex-pats whose only experience of government was the Communist dictatorship of the former Soviet Union. It is, perhaps, no coincidence that Trump’s best friend on the world scene is another survivor of that awful, authoritarian era, the ex-KGB chief, Putin.

I don’t know what Pelosi will do now that her House has impeached. We’ve second-guessed Madame Speaker too often to do so again: every time, she’s outsmarted her skeptics. Amidst all the noise and haste of this crazy election season, I’m ready to let things settle down…find their level…which means, allow the voters to absorb everything, filtering out the irrelevant and stupid, retaining the essential data: Trump’s disgustingness as a human being and the pressing need to dump him, even if it’s for a psychopath like Pence, who believes that Cain and Abel played with dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden precisely 5,780 years ago. Any Democrat would love to run against such a man, who would be a laughingstock in a serious debate.

Will you be watching the Democratic debate tonight? I will.


The United States of Grief

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Marilyn told me about a New York Times op-ed piece I’d missed, by Michelle Goldberg. In her piece, entitled “Democracy Grief is Real,” Goldberg says she finds herself suffering from “democracy grief,” which she defines as the “anxiety and anger” she experiences at watching democracy in America die or, more precisely, be murdered, by none other than Donald J. Trump and his  Republican co-conspirators. “When I contemplate the sort of illiberal oligarchy that would await my children should Donald Trump win another term,” Goldberg writes, “the scale of the loss feels so vast that I can barely process it.”

I know how she feels. Like many other Americans, I grew up to revere our country, its Constitution, decency, and the rule of law. You know that old saying, You don’t know what you have until it’s gone? It’s like that. I love my mother more now that she’s dead than I did before she died. The connection was always there, but I took it for granted—didn’t always feel it—she occasionally drove me crazy, and I sometimes actually resented her. And then she died, in my arms. Now, I keep her photograph—the one I took shortly before she died—in my living room, and when I look at it, which I do often, I realize how much I miss her.

My “democracy grief” works much the same way. I didn’t realize how much I loved America until now, when Trump and his Republicans threaten to take it away from me. I trusted our mutual respect for truth, assumed that the rule of law would always triumph here, and that the U.S. would always be a democracy with fair, idealistic values. All those things are disappearing under this Trump regime. Now that they’re gone, or going, I feel a sharp pang in my heart. Goldberg refers to the “destabilizing” impact of Trump’s “official lies,” the “suffering” and “despair” caused by Trump’s, and Republicans’, wholesale assault on truth, on facts, on veracity, on “epistemological solidarity.” That’s a remarkable phrase, but a simple one: it means that Americans used to be able to agree on the basic building blocks of truth: Obama’s inaugural crowd really was bigger than Trump’s. Obama really was born in the U.S. Trump really did try to bribe Zelensky. Climate change is real, not a hoax. Hillary Clinton really did win the 2016 popular vote, not Trump. And on and on.

No more. Now, Trump lies with impunity—and 43% of the country believes everything he says. Who would not grieve, if he or she believes in facts, in truth, in America? And yet, it’s not just Trump’s lies that are so grievous, it’s his utter immorality: the bullying, the vulgar insults that we never expected to hear from a president, the gratuitous smearing: of Greta Thunberg, of those Gold Star parents, of handicapped Americans, of decent, reputable politicians like AOC and Nancy Pelosi. Trump can’t just disagree with their views, he has to demonize them and make them sub-human, exposing them to physical harm by his unhinged followers. We’ve always known, and tried to avoid, people like Trump. We never thought one of them could become the President of the United States of America. And now, we can’t avoid him.

“A loss so vast…”. Thus Goldberg’s grief; thus mine, and Marilyn’s, and the grief of tens of millions of decent Americans—not all of whom are Democrats. We’re witnessing something that was so important to us now dying, or rather, being slaughtered in broad daylight, in front of our eyes, on television, live, every day: America.

Two things keep me going. One: this isn’t over yet. We have an election coming up: we can turn this damned thing around, and save our country, and our souls. The other: aggrieved people are motivated people. The Goldbergs, Heimoffs and Marilyns of America are not going to roll over and play dead, giving into despair and pessimism. If anything, we devote ourselves even more to rescuing that which we once treasured, and still do, and are happy to fight for. Call us The Resistance: we’re stronger than ever, and will not go away. Trump has bitten off more than he can chew. The America of my parents, and their parents before them, still exists—the America I can believe in.

By the way, were History to grace me with an advanced reply to Trump’s letter to her, via Nancy Pelosi, from yesterday, here’s what it would say: Dear Disgraced Trump: We’ve made up our mind. You were the Worst. President. Ever. Sincerely, History.

P.S. This is Nancy, Mister President. See you in Court.”


Impeachment: What will happen

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Democrats are waiting for some kind of surprise happy ending to the Senate Impeachment trial. Maybe Bolton will sit down and testify: “Yes, there was a quid pro quo.” Maybe Mulvaney will swear to tell the truth and then say, “The president lied. Everybody was in the loop.” Maybe Giuliani, under subpoena, and facing multiple indictments, will strike a plea deal. “Trump made me blackmail Zelensky. And he wants to build a Trump Tower in Kiev.”

And maybe the moon is made of green cheese.

Alas, there will be no last minute denouements. No breaking news, no dramatic “other shoes” dropping. This dreary little script has been written for months: the House impeaches, the Senate—dominated by Cult of Trump devotees—acquits. Trump screams VINDICATION; his wild-eyed acolytes have torchlight parades and yell KILL DEMOCRATS as they rally in their MAGA hats and Trump2020 buttons.

At least, that’s how it looks from where I sit. The only question remains, What will the voters decide in 2020? It all comes down, apparently, to about 80,000 votes, scattered in a swathe of Midwest land from rural western Pennsylvania through Ohio into Michigan and Wisconsin. Republicans know they’re going to lose the popular vote—again. They know that coastal states, including Virginia and, likely, North Carolina, are lost to them. But they don’t care. They’re organizing in the Midwest, in two ways: registering new voters, mainly Christians whom they’re scaring the shit out of by telling them a Democratic president will force them to be atheists and make their grandchildren gay, and by suppressing existing voters, especially voters of color, in states like Georgia and Kentucky.

And it just might work. If you keep a finger in the wind from day to day, as I do, you become acutely sensitive to the slightest shifts in public opinion concerning the upcoming election. One day, Democrats are surging; the next, Republicans. Lately, if I read the tea leaves correctly, the conventional wisdom has swung back to a Trump victory. The Mueller Report landed with a great big THUD (although it should have set everyone’s hair on fire). Impeachment seems like a new NBC sitcom that hasn’t gotten traction yet (although it still could). Trump is proving, once again, to be a dirty, below-the-belt but marvelously effective fighter, while his Republican stooges, abandoning all pretense of standing for justice and law, stand shoulder to shoulder with him; this Republican Party really does deserve credit for solidarity. Never mind that History will be unkind to them; they don’t care. History is fungible: people still quarrel over the French Revolution, American southerners still insist they didn’t lose the Civil War, some Germans still year for a resurgence, and the civil rights of homosexuals in this country are still perilously vulnerable. Republicans know that History is never finished, but is constantly being rewritten.

One wonders if these Republican officials—the Scalises, Sensenbrenners, Jordans, Lindsay Grahams, Cornyns, Cruzes and their like—have private conversations with their best friends and family members:

Old friend to John Cornyn: “Jonnie, why do you stand by this guy, Trump? You know he’s a creep.”

Cornyn: “Yeah, but look at the judges he’s appointing!”

Old friend: “Yeah, but Pence would do the same thing. And at least Pence is a real Christian! Trump is, you know, he screws around with other women, and doesn’t pay his bills—he’s the kind of deadbeat we Republicans have spent our lives denouncing.”

Cornyn: “I can’t deny that. But I can’t go against him. I’d get my ass primaried.”

I hope they have these conversations, but that presumes that the families and friends of extreme rightwing Republicans still are capable of rational thought—of moral commitment—of patriotism—of respect for the Constitution. This presumption, though, may be inaccurate. It may be that mental illness has completely swept through Republican America, an epidemic, like AIDS, that strikes at—not the body, but the mind, and not just the mind, but the soul.

One thing is certain: Trump began as a minority president, he remains a minority president. That means (and Trump can’t stand to admit it) that most Americans really dislike Trump. They don’t dislike him the way, say, some Democrats disliked George W. Bush. Democrats did, but they still admitted that W. seemed to be a pretty nice guy whom they wouldn’t mind having a beer with (notwithstanding the fact that W. doesn’t drink).

No, most Americans loathe Trump, are shocked and embarrassed by him, and see him as the threat he actually is. They perceive the disease that permeates his brain. They know who and what he is, because he doesn’t try to hide it. Most sociopaths paper over their sickness with charm and smiles. Trump doesn’t even have that skill. I’ve long said that the best way to beat Trump in an election is to remind the people what they already know about him: that he’s mentally and morally depraved. The Democrats who took the “Can’t we all just get along” route were playing a losing hand. I like what Biden’s been doing lately: calling Trump a “narcissist” and attacking him personally. That’s the winning ticket.

By the way, yesterday’s Supreme Court decision (or lack of one) on homeless camps is bad news for cities, like Oakland, that are trying to clean up the filthy encampments. Apparently the Supreme Court is saying cities can’t roust campers without offering them someplace else to live. That is clearly impossible: Oakland has 4,000 homeless people (Los Angeles has tens of thousands), so in order to shelter them all—permanently?—taxes would have to be raised inordinately, and people will not stand for that. SCOTUS has weighed in very stupidly on this one: they should respect the rights of local municipalities to govern themselves.


House Judiciary: “Trump, you stand Guilty before the Bar of History!”

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The most ridiculous, stupidest, dumbest, more ingenuous and fake thing I heard in yesterday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing on Impeachment came from Douglas Collins, the Republican ranking member who’s been one of the more incendiary firebrands on Trump’s side. He said (I paraphrase) that the Democrats don’t have a case because they won’t subpoena Hunter Biden to testify.

Did you ever have one of those experiences when you didn’t know whether to laugh or cry? No, the Democrats have no intention of letting Hunter Biden testify, because he has nothing—nada—zero—zilch to do with the Case Against Donald J. Trump. But it’s the Republicans, led by Trump, who are preventing authentically relevant witnesses from testifying: Bolton, Giuliani, Pompeo, Pence, and others, all of whom are implicated in the Ukraine bribery scandal up to their necks.

If you’ve been watching the hearings you’ve seen the Republicans’ faux outrage. How dare, they allege, Democrats accuse this wonderful, brilliant president of anything bad? Of course, when it comes to the facts of the case, they’re mute. There is no rebuttal to the facts: Trump, fearful of his strongest opponent, Joe Biden, attempted to bribe the president of Ukraine to announce a fake “investigation” that he, Trump, could then use to smear Biden. Smear: Trump’s favorite thing to do. Smear Hillary—smear the Gold Star parents—smear Greta Thunberg—smear, smear, smear—it’s what this foul-mouthed bloated dotard does. Trump then obstructed Congress from performing its Constitutionally-mandated job by instructing his lemmings to defy subpoenas to testify. Those are the facts: Republicans haven’t offered a single defense, because there isn’t one.

And so they fulminate. Posture. Pound the table. Sputter incoherently. Democrats are trying to undo the 2016 election! Well, yes, Democrats are impeaching Trump, but the Constitution—the one that Trump routinely pisses on—gives them the right to do so. And not only the right: the duty. When a president commits High Crimes and Misdemeanors, as this one has, the Congress has no choice but to move expeditiously to get rid of him, fast, so he can do no more damage.

P.S. Thank you, House Judiciary Committee Democratic members, for your historic decision this morning: to Impeach this lawless, illegitimate president. Now, the full House will Impeach Trump, while House Republicans will aid and abet his criminality, followed in due course by their supine co-conspirators in the Senate.

Trump is shamed and embarrassed before the country and before the world: Democrats have shown our global friends that one at least one American political party—Democrats—still respects the ideals of justice and the rule of law. The other political party—the one Trump, the sham “president,” belongs to—has thrown itself onto the scrap heap of history, alongside other discredited criminal cults. A sad ending to the Party of Lincoln; today’s Republicans bear more resemblance to Nazis and Fascists. History has a neat way of consigning evil to its darkest, most impugned corners; that is where the Republican Party will long fester.


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