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Inside the mind of a House Republican


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…???



I’ve refrained from endorsing any of the Democratic candidates so far, although I did take The Pledge, at the very beginning of the race, to support whomever the eventual nominee is. And I stand by that promise. But I’m now prepared to endorse Pete Buttigieg for President in 2020.

My reasons are simple. For starters, I believe Mayor Pete can win. Perhaps any of the other Democrats can, since Trump is loathed by a majority of the American people. But Mayor Pete has that mysterious aura of “winner” shining over him.

Another reason Buttigieg has earned my support is his temperament. I like the cut of the man’s jib, as they say. His coolness, his blasé demeanor, his detached intellectualism testify to a first-rate intellect, which America is going to need as we recover from the catastrophic damage the Trump cult has inflicted upon us. At the same time, for all his welcome gravitas, Mayor Pete possesses an amused irony I find refreshing. In so many ways, he reminds me of John F. Kennedy. JFK, let’s remember, was another man whom the pundits said could never be elected. I remember the history well: Kennedy, it was said, couldn’t win because he was Catholic. Now, some people are saying Mayor Pete can’t win because he’s gay. JFK proved the skeptics wrong. I think Mayor Pete will, too.

Electability and temperament aside, I also like Mayor Pete’s positions on the issues, although I acknowledge they’re still evolving. That’s okay; he’s not going to arrive at final conclusions on issues until he’s analyzed them fully and figured out ways of achieving his goals, and I like that pragmatic approach to problem-solving. As for those issues on which he’s taken positions, I like his formula for “Medicare for all who want it.” This basically expands the Affordable Care Act to its maximum extent without replacing it with Warren-style universal healthcare. I don’t think the country is ready for a government-run healthcare program; polls prove that it frightens the middle class (they worry about not being able to choose their own providers). The devil is in the details, but “Medicare for all who want it” seems to strike the sweet spot in the debate over healthcare insurance.

His economic plan focuses on “working and middle class families.” It has all the standard Democratic talking points: lower housing and childcare costs, affordable college tuition, reducing the cost of prescription drugs, a $15 an hour minimum wage, comprehensive sick leave and family leave, higher teacher salaries, clean energy, protection for unions and so on. This is all a bit anodyne to be sure, but then, I haven’t seen a presidential candidate in my life whose campaign promises weren’t. (Candidates campaign in poetry, and govern in prose.) On the all-important matter of taxes, Buttigieg has three major proposals:

  1. Tax cuts for the middle class, and
  2. A capital gains tax on the top 1% of earners, and
  3. Eliminating the Trump tax cuts that benefited the rich and corporations.

Granted, this doesn’t go as far as the confiscatory taxes on billionaires that Warren and Sanders call for. But it also doesn’t raise the fear factor that a Buttigieg presidency will raise taxes on working people. This is preventive warfare on Mayor Pete’s part: Republicans will attack him with all the savagery of which they’re so capable, but accusations of “He’ll raise your taxes!” won’t carry water.

All this is to suggest that, in our over-simplified political parlance, Mayor Pete is a “moderate.” All the evidence suggests that the American people are not in a mood for radical changes; President Obama’s recent warning to the party to beware of “revolutionary Democrats” seems spot-on to me. The last two elected Democratic presidents, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, both were “moderates,” with Clinton proclaiming his “third way” and Obama attempting, without much success, to reach out to Republicans and work with them in a bipartisan manner. That Obama’s fair approach didn’t work wasn’t his fault, but the fault of an ideologically rigid, religion-crazed and intolerant bloc of Republicans, whose “my way or the highway” style culminated with the election of Trump.

I don’t mind having a conversation about “how far left is too far left?” over the next ten months. It’s a good conversation for Democrats to have. The party needs to rejigger its default settings if it hopes to regain the White House, and anyway, any Democratic policy is going to steer America in the right direction. Democrats broadly agree on most things; and I think most of us are smart enough to realize there aren’t quick fixes or silver bullets to solve anything, but only the slow, painstaking progress of incremental change. Pete Buttigieg appreciates this truth, and with his enormous intellectual capacity, he is fully capable of presiding over a period of reconstruction and progress.

There’s a final reason for my endorsement, beyond Mayor Pete’s awesome and inspirational resumé. He is a decent man. After the indecency of this current administration, I yearn for a well-behaved president, one with manners and politeness, free of rancor, open-hearted and open-minded, a man (or woman) of integrity and, yes, love. Donald J. Trump is the opposite of all these values. Mayor Peter embodies them. That is why, I believe, he’s soared to the top of the polls in Iowa; the good people of the Hawkeye State recognize a gentleman when they see one (which is one reason why they choose Barack Obama in their 2008 caucus).

Don’t we all miss President Obama? No scandals, a gentleman, a lovely family (compared to the nasty spawn of the current president), a man (and a First Lady) to admire and look up to, rather than be embarrassed by. Pete Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, similarly are admirable people. They will re-moralize the White House and restore grace and dignity to the presidency.

For all these reasons, I endorse Pete Buttigieg for President of the United States of America.

Reviews: Four wines from Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite)


Reviewing Cabernet Sauvignons and Bordeaux blends from around the world requires a certain juggling skill: you have to compare each wine as you judge it according to some standard, but what standard? Is a superripe Napa wine the ne plus ultra? Or a dry, elegant Bordeaux? You see the problem. I’ve given very high scores to ripe Napa Cabs, which was my tour d’horizon; but at the same time, I could always appreciate the comparatively drier, leaner charms of Bordeaux; and I never felt compelled to have to make a Solomonesque choice between them.

If anything, over the years my preferences have veered away from the superripe Napa style to a drier, more streamlined wine. I can’t explain why; it just is; palates change over time. Bordeaux teases, titillates, makes me look further. A superripe Napa Cab reveals everything right away, and can become tedious. Bordeaux keeps you searching.

I was sent the following four wines from the Domaines Barons de Rothschild for review. The DBR is the parent company of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. They make different wines from around the world. These four (three reds, one white) from DBR all would be expected to adhere to the standards of Lafite, which is to say: impeccable balance, dryness, and Old World elegance. Do the wines rise to this standard?

Caro 2016 (Mendoza); $65.This is a partnership between DBR and the Catena family of Argentina. The wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and that Argentinian specialty, Malbec. I think of it an Argentine Opus One, which of course is a Napa Valley partnership between Robert Mondavi and the Mouton Rothschilds. The most salient fact about this wine is the alcohol level: 13.5%. You almost can’t find a Napa Cab that low. This means that the blackberry-currant fruit has a definite herbal character: also that mouthwatering acidity is pronounced. The overall impression is dry, smoothly tannic, complex. I loved sipping this wine. It offers something new every time. Now it seems sweet, now austere. This yin-yang keeps you coming back. Ageworthy? I suppose so, but why bother? Drink it now and over the next six years. Score: 93.

Chateau d’Aussieres 2016 (Corbieres); $38. I drank a lot of Corbieres back in the 80s and 90s.The wines were good and affordable; not many Americans knew about them. DBR, in the person of Eric de Rothschild, invested in the area in 1999, his vision (according to DBR’s marketers) to create wines crafted in the spirit of the South of France.” The wine, true to that spirit, is a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Carignan. But it differs significantly from the memory of wines of my younger years in two respects: first, it’s much oakier, and more tannic. What I liked about those Corbieres of yesteryear was their immediate and delicious drinkability. This 2016, by contrast, is inky black and quite tannic. Yet it displays a vast depth of fruit: blackberries and blueberries at the height of summer ripeness, black licorice, a wild, animal flavor of beef teriyaki, and a sprinkling of clove and black pepper. A wine like this presents challenges. Do you drink it now, or cellar it and, if so, for how long? My own guess is to pop the cork now and over the next four years. I do have to say that this impressive wine lifts Corbieres to a new level. Score: 93.

Le Dix de Los Vascos 2015 (Colchagua); $65. Le Dix is the “grand cuvée” of Los Vascos, whose wines are widely available, at everyday prices, in American shops. My first impression, sniffing the wine, was, “Wow. Oaky.” And in fact, it was aged for 18 months in new oak, according to the Los Vasco website. The blend is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, with Syrah and Carmenere; the official alcohol reading is 14.5%. At four years old, the wine is a bit too young to drink now. The oak hasn’t yet been integrated into the fruit; all the parts (and they’re very good parts) are a bit scattered. But that fruit is considerable: a rich, ripe mélange of raspberries and cherries, not the usual, darker and heavier Cabernet blackberries and cassis. There also are spicy notes, a zippy orange zest brightness, and a refreshing, grippy minerality. The tannins are what you’d expect from a winery that can afford the highest viticultural and enological practices: thick, but ultra-smooth and sweet. It’s certainly a flashy wine, with a long finish, and quite irresistible. But as good as it is, it would really be a shame to open the bottle now. Better to store it in a good cellar and give it, say, another 4-5 years. That gorgeous fruit isn’t going away anytime soon. Score: 94.

Rieussec 2018 “R” (Bordeaux Blanc); $44. Chateau Rieussec is a 1er Grand Cru in Sauternes, and consistently produces one of the great dessert wines of the world. This is their dry white wine version, although it qualifies only for the Bordeaux Blanc appellation. Made from the same grapes (Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon) as the Sauternes, it’s a very fine wine. I was immediately struck by the dryness. You rarely if ever get this linearity in California (my old territory), where rich fruit is the name of the game. There’s subtle fruit here (tropical, citrus) but the main impression is minerality and white pepper. Streamlined, elegant and complex, it’s a delight to sip. Incidentally, I saw this wine on for $33. The price I quote, $44, is from DBR. Score: 93.

Where is Zuckerberg coming from?


Timothy Egan, a columnist for the New York Times, on Saturday wrote an op-ed piece about Mark Zuckerberg, who, it’s fair to say, finds himself under fire for the way he runs Facebook.

The problem, says Egan (and I agree) is that Facebook “makes much of its money by channeling tidings of sludge around, often to great harm.” The world first learned about Facebook’s sludge-mongering in the 2016 election, when Russian intelligence services and Trump allies posted millions of fake posts about Hillary Clinton and Trump’s other political enemies. Zuckerberg’s latest scandal is that he refuses to take down patently fake posts that are mainly from Republican (and Republican-aiding foreign) operatives, under the dubious claim that he stands for free speech.

Egan correctly disputes this excuse. Many users, he explains, cannot discern between authentic information and lies that purport to be true. These lies appear, not only on Facebook’s news feed, but more often on Facebook pages, such as Breitbart’s, that are patently outrageous.

Egan says that “especially older users” are unable to tell the difference between truth and lies. He cites “a study in Science [magazine]” that found that older Americans “lack the digital smarts to distinguish made-up garbage from the truth on Facebook.”

As an older American I take umbrage at this. Older Americans may not be as digitally savvy as their grandchildren, but that doesn’t mean they’re morons. Not being able to figure out the complexities of your iPhone doesn’t mean you can’t “distinguish made-up garbage from the truth.” Indeed, a case can be made that older Americans are particularly adept at discerning truth from lies due to their vaster life experience.

Egan blew it: he’s right about Facebook’s harmful effects and he’s right about Zuckerberg’s cluelessness. But he’s wrong about the people who are most likely to fall for the crap Republican operatives put on Facebook. It’s not the elderly who believe it, it’s evangelicals and their ilk (many of whom are elderly). These are people who mistrust public education (“too liberal”) and turn to home schooling and religious schools instead. These are people who don’t read newspapers or intelligent magazines, but who get their information about Hillary Clinton and other Democrats from David Pecker’s National Enquirer. They don’t watch the news on T.V. or listen to it on the radio, unless it’s from rightwing propagandists like Fox “News” commentators, Rush Limbaugh or, more frighteningly, the Christian Broadcast Network, where a sepulchral Pat Robertson, looking like he just clawed his way out of the grave, smears Democrats, liberals and the media every day, in between suckering poor rural folks out of their money.

Egan points out that Zuckerberg, either consciously or unwittingly, “is now helping Trump’s bid for another term.” Politico (what a great outfit they are) exposed a secret meeting he had a few weeks ago with “conservative journalists…as part of his effort to cultivate friends on the right…”. The conventional wisdom is that Zuckerberg is alarmed by the talk of some liberals, including Elizabeth Warren, about breaking up big tech.

Meeting with rightwing Trump supporters doesn’t mean Zuckerberg is one of them. He may well be liberal in other respects. (For instance, he has long supported gay marriage.) But it is concerning that the head of the biggest media company in the world (one-third of our planet’s population tunes into Facebook) is protecting fake news, false claims and smears—exactly as the Russians might wish.

Surely some greater form of government regulation is called for. I don’t know if Facebook should be broken up. But something’s wrong here; Zuckerberg runs that place, and we need to have a greater understanding of his motives and, more importantly, whom he’s meeting with. We also need to keep up the pressure on him to take down those fake posts. If Zuckerberg doesn’t care that they’re a threat to America, he may care that they’re a threat to his control of Facebook. Because they are.

A cautionary tale


Imagine, if you will, a criminal investigation—say, a serial killer has been caught; the evidence against him is overwhelming; the District Attorney indicts, and a trial date is set. The media covers the breaking story thoroughly; after all, the killer (whom we’ll call Mr. X.) has terrorized a great swathe of America, and people are following developments closely. Surely, the killer will be convicted—most people who follow the news know how overwhelming the evidence is. Surely he will be dispatched appropriately, according to the law.

But wait! Suddenly, one morning, there’s a new development. The killer, it turns out, is a very wealthy man; moreover, he has wealthy friends. Together, they have pooled their resources, in order to fund a defense. The core of their defense is bizarre: the District Attorney himself, they allege, is the real killer, and is framing Mr. X., whom he hates. They have no proof. They offer no facts. All they can do is allege. But the allegation, backed up with their money and power, is enough to convince some people that where there’s smoke, there must be a fire.

Around water coolers at the office, at dinner tables, in bars after work, Americans talk about the case. “How could the District Attorney be the killer?”

“Well, why not? Anything’s possible.”

“Yes, but it seems so odd. We all know that Mr. X. did it. Didn’t you see the stories on T.V., or read the reports in the newspapers? The DNA evidence, the fact that Mr. X. had no alibis, and he had the underclothing of the victims in his apartment.”

“Yes, but Mr. X.’s lawyers say that was all made up. How do we actually know? Did you conduct the DNA tests yourself? Did you find the underclothing? How do you know it belonged to the victims?”

“Well, I admit that I’m taking other people’s word for it. Of course I didn’t conduct the DNA tests myself! I wouldn’t know how to.”

“Exactly. And how do we know that the supposed ‘experts’ who did conduct the DNA tests knew how to? Besides, what if they were secretly in cahoots with the District Attorney himself?”

“You mean–?”

“Yes. It could all be a huge conspiracy.”

“Like the Moon Landing?” asks a third man, who’s been listening in.

“Yes, like the Moon Landing. I heard that was staged at a Hollywood back lot.”

“I did too!” chimes in a fourth man, a construction worker. “I also heard that it wasn’t Al Qaeda that took down the World Trade Center. I heard it was the Mossad.”

“I heard it was the CIA” said another man, an electrician by trade.

“Don’t the CIA and the Mossad work pretty close?”

And so it went. The more people talked about the case, the more confused they became. That there actually was a mountain of evidence against Mr. X. was irrelevant. There also was a mountain of evidence against the District Attorney. Well, not exactly “evidence,” but a mountain of allegations, some of which came from some credible people.

Polls were taken of the public at regular intervals by the major polling companies. It was found that one-third of the population thought that Mr. X. was the killer. Roughly one-third thought that the District Attorney was the killer. The remainder didn’t know. The country was evenly split.

Many years later, when nearly all the principles in the case were dead—the District Attorney, Mr. X., his rich friends, the lawyers, the journalists—a scholar wrote a book about it. Piecing together all the facts, he concluded that Mr. X. had indeed been the killer. But it was too late to do anything about it; Mr. X.’s trial had ended in a hung jury. Twelve men and women of good will could not agree on the facts. In fact, the jury itself was split right down the middle: six to convict, six to acquit. Mr. X. went free.

The journalist who wrote the book went on a book tour, appearing on many  T.V. and radio interviews. He was often asked what was the lesson of the case of Mr. X. Here is what he replied:

“The evidence against Mr. X. was overwhelming. In retrospect, we know he was a monster, who should have been stopped. My reporting found that in all likelihood he continued to murder innocent victims. Sadly, his lawyers were very clever. They succeeded in bamboozling the public, in overwhelming them with false information, with smears, with allegations that were so patently absurd, many people felt they had to be true, for who would dare to say such easily disproved things? In the end, I think the lesson is that democracy is always threatened, not so much from external enemies as from within. People have to keep their wits and use their common sense. Once reason and logic are undermined, so is democracy itself.”

Have a lovely weekend. If you live in the Red Flag areas of California, be safe.

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