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He’s freaking out

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He’s really desperate, isn’t he? Trump, I mean (obviously), reading the same polls as you and I or, possibly, reading his private internal polls, which might well be even worse for him than the public ones. He sees himself losing in every swing state—and possibly losing in such rightwing stalwarts as Texas! He sees, moreover, “his” Republican Senators looking at a blowout, a Blue Tsunami that will give both Houses to President Joe Biden. And then, Trump is looking, post-presidency, at the very real threat of prison time, not to mention the collapse of his tottering business empire, and the ruination of the only people on earth he cares—a little—about: his family.

Of course, this is why he’s so maniacally driven on getting the arch-Catholic Coney-Barrett confirmed. She is, in his estimation (and you’ll pardon the pun), his trump card on the High Court. He’s gambling (I’d say “praying,” except that he’s an atheist) that “his” Republican Justices will exonerate him from anything and everything. They’ll award him “his” presidency after a “contested” election in which no one but he and his acolytes is contesting anything other than the legitimate result. Looking back to 2000, Trump believes that the Republican Justices signaled, for all time to come, that justice be damned, they’re going to protect the hand that fed them their august office; and if it was true in 2000, imagine how truer it is today, when not jurisprudence but religious (that is to say, radical Catholic) ideology rules the benches.

We’ll see. Supreme Court Justices have the decided advantage of holding office for life. They may have made certain, ahem, private assurances to the President during their interview process; but once on the High Court, they can do whatever they wish to. Even fanatics like Coney-Barrett, Alito and Clarence Thomas may feel the glint of Honor in their bones. (Well, probably not Thomas, but you get the idea.) There is thus no absolute guarantee that the Supreme Court will give Trump a victory, should he lose the election decisively and fairly. But there is also no guarantee that Trump will lose the election, or that Biden will win it, despite the polls. So we still have go vote, if we have not already done so,

Trump’s hopes are dwindling but in his head there are a few things that could revive them. He could win the Nobel Peace Prize, just days before the election. (I don’t think he will, but you never know.) He could announce a vaccine for COVID-19. He can brag about some putative “victory” in Afghanistan or someplace else. With luck, none of these things will occur before election day or, in the case of the Nobel, ever. Even without those bragging rights, Trump can still hope to convince some wavering, mentally unstable voters that “Crooked Hillary” remains a menace, that Biden and Obama must be “indicted” for committing the greatest crime in U.S. history, that Democratic Governors like Whitmer and Newsom are unConstitutional threats. All of this is nonsense, of course. Nobody could possibly believe any of it, except pervs like the Proud Boys (it annoys me to have to capitalize those words), and how fortunate it is that Trump’s own F.B.I. thwarted the treason which the Wolverine Watchmen (another forced capitalization) planned to pull off in Michigan. Republicans will, of course, echo Trump’s tweet that since it was “his” F.B.I. that busted the plot, how could he, Trump, possibly have aided and abetted it? But this, too, is nonsense. All it does is reassure us that at least a part of the F.B.I. is still doing its job, not propping up a criminal President, as is the man whose Justice Department runs the F.B.I., Robert Barr. But then, Trump loathes the F.B.I.’s director, Christopher Wray, whom he just accused of being a part of the “Deep State” along with Hillary, Biden and Obama.

Trump always seems to have done the lowest, basest thing possible, than which there can be nothing lower or baser, until a day or two later, when he manages to be even more vile. Can he seriously be contemplating launching a civil war? Of course. He has maniacs–white men all–like Stephen Miller, Sean Hannity, Steve Bannon and Franklin Graham whispering in his ear. “This is the time to do it, Mister President. Strike while the iron is hot.” His two male older spawn, Eric and Donald, Jr., also are urging him to “do it,” and waiting in the wings to step in should he falter. Field Marshall Donald Trump, Jr.! There’s a howler. I can see the Ruritanian Generalissimo now, bedecked in Kaiser Wilhelm-style military garb, complete with golden sashes, medals and ermine-lined red cape, a gilt sword in his hand—the same hand that slaughtered great innocent beasts on the plains of Africa. But what shall the “Heil Trump” gesture be?

It’s fun for a satirist to have this First Family. The late night talk show hosts are having a marvelous time. But beneath the fun-poking is genuine alarm. Trump told the Proud Boys to “Stand by.” We, too, have to stand by. Arms at the ready! Shore leave canceled! Keep your powder dry! We may be called upon soon to be heroes.


Winter is coming to California

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When I lived in the Green Mountains of Vermont the summers were long and warm but there was always a day—a particular moment, actually—when unexpectedly the air let you know that winter wasn’t far off.

It could have been in October, a lovely afternoon except that, suddenly, the leaves on the maples rustle and a chill hits the skin. There might be many weeks of Indian Summer to come, but the reminder is timely: Old Man Winter is coming.

In coastal California, the sign is subtler, but it’s there, and I felt it yesterday. I don’t think I’ve put on long pants for the last 5 or 6 months, nor have I often needed any outerware like a hoodie, except maybe when walking Gus early in the morning; but yesterday, it was long pants and a flannel shirt all day. It wasn’t particularly cold by Eastern standards: the high was around 65 degrees. But we Californians have thinner blood than those hardy New Englanders, and even 65 can feel cold, if you’re in a shadowed place with wind. You can feel the icebergs in the Aleutians. Winter is coming to us, too.

It’s been an incredible spring, weather-wise. The upside for us humans has been six months of dry, mild-to-warm-to-hot weather (at least here in Oakland), with very little fog–clear evidence of a changing climate. There were many, many days when I thought no place on Earth could have better weather than what we were having in Oakland. The downside, of course, has been the Fires and the resultant smoke (I capitalize “Fires” because of their historical import: 4 million acres burned so far—five times the size of Rhode Island, and more than double the previous record). The damage has been appalling. In Napa alone, 31 wineries, restaurants (including Meadowood) and resorts up in smoke.

As an old wine journalist whose stomping ground was Napa Valley, this makes me very sad. Some very famous names are gone. The arrival of cool weather is welcome news to the firefighters. There have been weather forecasts the last few days about possible rain this weekend, but I just checked the latest weather reports and they’re backing off, saying only that it will be partly cloudy. There is a storm up there in the Pacific Northwest, but its southern edge will reach down only to around Eureka, near the Oregon border—a classic weather pattern for this time of year. We’re going to have to wait a bit longer for the first rains in six months to hit Northern California. It will warm up again next week, but fortunately, nowhere near the triple digits that inland areas have experienced this summer and autumn.

For all the grief in Napa Valley—and it’s substantial—there’s also a lot of optimism. Many of those people have money and will rebuild. The vineyards that burned will take longer to restore, of course, but they’ll come back eventually. One should keep in mind that Old Europe’s wine country, from Bordeaux and Burgundy and Champagne to the German regions, have experienced 1,000 years of wars, plagues, plant diseases and economic collapses, but no matter how tough things get, those regions have survived and, most of the time, thrived. This isn’t to underplay the disaster of the Fires, but only to put things into perspective. Napa Valley, and Sonoma too (which was less affected this year) will get by, and rise again.

And from the consumer’s point of view (and that’s what I am, a consumer), the Fires might have the desired effect of lower prices on wine. I’ve never understood how a bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet could be $300 or even higher in many cases. When hundred-dollar Cabs became numerous in the 1990s, I scratched my head and wondered how it had happened. But wine pricing is one of the most irrational economic phenomena in the world. It’s completely based on supply and demand, not inherent quality; and wine’s appeal is as much to the ego and the imagination as it is to the senses. People lust after certain wines, which then become “first growths,” and their prices soar accordingly. People who can no longer afford them settle for the second most expensive, and those are the “second growths,” and so on, down the line. Thus are wine hierarchies, like Bordeaux’s, created. But as a reading of Penning-Rowsell’s “The Wines of Bordeaux,” with its price charts over the centuries, attests, prices go up rapidly and fall equally rapidly, in a cycle as dependable as the West Coast’s weather patterns.

And now—not to mix topics—on to the Election! Vote! And vote Blue. We mus stop this crazed, dangerous president and the religious fanatics who prop him up.


It’s becoming clearer what “stand down and stand by” means

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Trump told the Proud Boys to “Stand down and stand by.”

“Stand down”, according to the U.S. Department of Defense, is a specific command given to a military working dog (typically an attack dog such as a German Shepherd or Belgian Malinois) in a dangerous situation: personnel protection or enemy pursuit. When the suspect is down, the dog is commanded to sit on its haunches (“stand down”) and refrain from further activity until commanded again by its trainer. It will wait obediently if properly trained (as all military working dogs are) for a very long time.

“Stand by” is a military command used during ceremonial drills and ceremonies, according to a directive from the U.S. Department of the Army. Directed not at a dog but at armed troops, the command directs the troops to the final position before firing their arms. In a ceremonial situation (think of a military funeral), the ammunition would be blanks, shot toward the sky. In an active combat situation, the weapons would be fully loaded with live ammunition, aimed at the enemy.

Taken together, we can interpret Trump’s directives to the Proud Boys as, literally: “Wait for now. But be prepared to attack on a second’s notice.” Implicit in this command is “You will understand my order to attack when I give it.”

Now, Trump has taken a further step: he has created a website, armyfortrump.com. This website is a formal project of Donald J. Trump for President, Inc., the official website of Trump’s campaign for re-election. “armyfortrump.com” does not contain any formal references to troops, weapons or military mobilization. It invites its followers to “enlist” in the campaign in various areas, such as “Host a MAGA Meetup” and “Become a Digital Activist.”

“Enlist” is an interesting choice of words. The online dictionary.com defines enlist as “to enroll, usually voluntarily, for military service.” All of these military commands and implications are not lost on the Proud Boys or on the many other militia groups that form the core of Trump’s base. They are watching, listening and obeying. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there were 576 “extreme antigovernment groups active in 2019,” of which 181 were “militias.” The word “militia”, according to the dictionary, has three definitions, all closely related:

  1. a military force that is raised from the civil population to supplement a regular army in an emergency.
  2. a military force that engages in rebel or terrorist activities in opposition to a regular army.
  3. all able-bodied civilians eligible by law for military service.

In the case of “extreme antigovernment groups” such as the ones the Southern Poverty Law Center tracks, it’s nonsense to think of the Proud Boys and similar militias as “supplementing a regular army.” In America, there is no legal “supplement” to the regular U.S. armed services, except for legitimate National Guards, of which “extreme antigovernment groups” are not a part. The third definition also is irrelevant. The second definition of “militia” is the one we’re concerned with. These “rebels and terrorists” are precisely what the Confederacy formed during the Civil War. Had the South won that war, the “rebels and terrorists” would have become the “regular army.” But the South did not win. Lincoln would have been fully justified in prosecuting the leaders of the Confederate army, including Robert E. Lee, for treason, but he chose not to, in the interest of national healing.

We do not and cannot know with any precision how many people have “enlisted” in these terrorist paramilitary militias, for the simple reason that they’re secret. One estimate, in an article on the website quora.com, is 100,000 members, of which 40,000 are “active”; that article cites Timothy McVeigh as an archetypical militiaman. The author minimizes the threat of these militias because “the National Guard outnumbers them 10-1.” However, this presumes the loyalty of the National Guard. There are fifty National Guards, one for each State. States are run by Governors. Currently, there are 26 Republican Governors and 24 Democratic Governors. Given the propensity of Republican officials to cater unquestioningly to Trump, there can be no assurance that the National Guards of those 26 Republican States will not side with terrorist antigovernment militias, were there to be an uprising in America. In tallying up these numbers, we also have to remember that there are 1.7 million active duty military in the U.S. in addition to 588,000 reserve forces, and the President commands these active and reserve troops.

I present these facts and figures only because it’s important for Americans to be aware of them. We cannot know what’s coming. Every day seems to bring more astonishing developments; you couldn’t make this stuff up. There’s widespread expectation that Trump will lose the election to Biden but will not accept that result and will do whatever he thinks he has to in order to remain in office. If push comes to shove, he may conclude that illegal military action in our land is required. Hence “Stand down and stand by.”

Nor can we predict what individual men and women, whether they be regular U.S. military or National Guard, will do if a “situation” arises. Many may be patriots and obey the Constitution and refuse illegitimate orders to protect a criminal President. On the other hand, we can assume, with a high degree of certainty, what the paramilitary militias will do: stand by and defend Trump, even if it requires violence. The rest of us–not in the military or in a militia–now should ask ourselves, “What will I do?” if the unthinkable happens, because we may have only a few more weeks to decide.


No “thoughts and prayers” from me for Trump

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It’s completely inappropriate to take pleasure in Trump’s and Melania’s positive testing for COVID-19. Only an amoral, hateful person would be glad to see two human beings fall ill with a dreadful disease.

Did I just write the above? I did! But I had my fingers crossed the whole time, which is a pretty good feat. Ever try typing with crossed fingers? But you know I’m always honest on my blog, and so I have to be this time. I admit to a strong, pleasurable feeling of schadenfreude. There are no two people on Earth I’d rather see get sick with COVID than POTUS and FLOTUS.

Call it karma, call it poetic justice, call it just desserts, say “the bigger they are the harder they fall.” There must be a million aphorisms for the arrogance and hubris Trump has exhibited from Day One of the pandemic in America. Every living person understands this, including every Republican. What irony! What a comeuppance! After seven months of denying the pandemic, of calling it a Democrat hoax, of downplaying the infectiousness, of dismissing masks, the Denier-in-Chief has now fallen victim to the virus he said doesn’t exist.

It’s a howler!

So, yeah, I’m pleased. I’ve been watching the crocodile tears, mainly from Democratic leaders but also from the media on T.V. this morning. They’re asked to comment and they begin with, “First of all, I want to wish the President and First Lady my”—fill in the blank. Prayers. Thoughts. Best wishes for a speedy recovery, etc. etc. blah blah blah. Well, they have to pretend to care about Trump and Melania because they’re public figures, and they don’t want or need the backlash if they showed any kind of guilty pleasure. But I don’t care! I say it here, and I say it again: I couldn’t be more pleased. When I saw the headline in this morning’s San Francisco Chronicle, TRUMP SAYS HE HAS VIRUS, I burst out laughing. Huge gales of laughter. There I was at 6:15 in the morning, in my flip flops in the lobby of my condo, having just fetched the paper in its yellow plastic wrapper and removed it. TRUMP SAYS HE HAS THE VIRUS. Couldn’t help myself. Fortunately, no neighbors were around to witness this unseemly outburst, but I wouldn’t have cared if the whole building were there. It felt good just to have something to laugh about.

Will it have any impact on the election? I think so. I can imagine some man or woman in the midwest, white, middle aged, middle class, who voted for Trump in 2016. They didn’t necessarily like him, but they really disliked Hillary, and they thought that maybe Trump was just what America needed to shake things up. For four years, they’ve watched the shit show: the lies, the insults, the economy in meltdown, the anti-science crusade, the takeover by evangelical fanatics, the greed and corruption, the siphoning of money into Trump’s secret bank accounts, the cozying up to Putin, the hideous Trump children, on and on and on. It bothered them, of course, but never enough to decide to vote Democratic in 2020. Until now. It’s as if God herself had decided to help the undecided to decide. Enough is enough.

And now we’re told that, not only is Trump infected, he has “minor symptoms.” Good. I hope he lands in the hospital. Horrible thing to say, right? So sue me. I’m not saying I hope he dies—that would just give us Pence, who was person #1 in the Basket of Deplorables. But if Trump did get really sick and die, would you grieve? I wouldn’t, nor do I think would most Americans. They’d be horrified, shocked, concerned, worried. But grief-stricken? No. You only feel grief when people you love and admire die. Who loves and admires Trump? Nobody.


Stand down and stand by…

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I didn’t watch the “debate” last night. Instinct told me it would be ugly; I don’t need that. And by all accounts, it was a shitstorm—Trump’s shitstorm. Instead, I went to cable T.V. and saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind, probably the dozenth time I’ve seen it over the years. But a great movie, like a great symphony or painting, is always worth revisiting.

The thing that really struck me was the part about the fake poison gas leak in Wyoming that the officials dreamed up as a way of persuading people to evacuate the region around Devil’s Tower so that the scientists could have secrecy at their alien-landing site. The movie—by Spielberg, of course—was released in 1977. It was a time of conspiracy theories. Watergate had just happened. The Vietnam War was over but still fresh in people’s minds. JFK was long dead. All three events caused a segment of the American people to seriously question the media and political parties; indeed, we can trace the current skepticism about “news” and “science” to that period. Only it’s much worse now.

I remember seeing the movie when it first came out and thinking that it was completely plausible the U.S. government and military would lie about a gas leakage. We’d learned by then that the U.S. government was capable of lying about everything. It had lied about the “domino theory” in Southeast Asia and dragged us into a pointless war that killed 47,400 American service members. Nixon had lied repeatedly to the American people about the “third rate burglary” and about his involvement in the coverup. Some people actually thought the 1969 Moon landing was filmed on a Hollywood back lot. And of course, the JFK conspiracy theories ran rampant.

Well, back then conspiracy theories didn’t kill anyone. Today, they do: the anti-mask crowd is criminally negligent in spreading COVID-19. Trump has emerged as the conspiracy theorist-in-chief: in his view there are plots afoot everywhere to undermine his legitimacy and each of those plots is run by—of course—the “Democrat Party” (can we start referring to the GOP as the “Republic Party”?). Trump’s rightwing allies are convinced there’s some sort of conspiracy to destroy America, but they’re hard-pressed to state exactly how that will happen or who the plotters are. Islamic terrorists? Gays? Mexicans? Liberals? Abortion doctors? Jews? Journalists? Bill Gates? Probably all of them, say the Proud Boys. And how will they destroy America? From within, they say. They take over colleges and the media, including Hollywood and New York. They promote something called “equality,” which means letting colored people and foreigners take the decisions away from the capable white men who have always run things. Only the rightwing (they say) can correct these mistaken courses, and if it takes compromising an election in order to preserve the privileges of white men, then so be it.

It will take a lot to overcome the skepticism of the American people towards government. After the damage Trump has caused, you can’t blame people for thinking that all government and all politicians suck. That is, of course, precisely what Trump wants. I’ve seen lots of news coverage lately of people saying they’re so disgusted with everything, they’re not going to vote. I heard the same thing four years ago. Lots of people didn’t vote, and look what happened: Trump got elected. I know younger people who subscribe to the “a pox of both their houses” philosophy. All politicians are power-hungry, greedy, lying bastards. Why waste your time voting for them?

This is the Steve Bannon school of thought: make everything so putrid that people drop out of the system, which then comes crashing down. That’s always been what Bannon and Trump wanted: total annihilation of the system: banking, politics, culture, media, schools, cities, businesses, values, the economy. Raze it all to the ground, and then build it back up again. And who will do the rebuilding? The Proud Boys and their ilk: the resentful white men, angry that the land of liberty has been stolen from them. They will rebuild America, and anyone who opposes them is the enemy. And the Proud Boys, like Hitler’s Storm Troops, know how to deal with the enemy.

Well, now I’m sounding like a conspiracy theorist! But does anyone have any doubt what Trump meant last night when he told the Proud Boys to “stand down and stand by”? That is a military order. “Stand down”…for now. “Stand by”…for later. How much later? As soon as Trump sounds the alarm. When might that be? The day after the election is as good a date as any we can guess. He loses substantially…his claim that mail-in voting was rigged cannot be substantiated and isn’t believed by anyone except the hopeless cases of the Proud Boys. The Republican Senate is going down in flames as Collins, Gardner, McSally, Ernst and even Graham lose races to Democrats. The walls are closing in on Trump and his family. He can pardon himself from federal crimes but he can’t do anything about those New York State cases, or about the umpteen civil lawsuits coming his way. And, as we now know, he’s a half-billion in debt. Trapped, encircled, freaked out, Trump mobilizes the Proud Boys. What slogan, what phrase will he use? It will be a simple phrase, consisting of only a few words. “It’s time,” he might say, or “Stand up.” Something like that. Whatever the words he uses, the Proud Boys are already listening. They’re locking and loading.

And this is what it’s come to: both sides catastrophizing, expecting the worst. Which is exactly what happened in the weeks before Fort Sumter and the beginning of the first Civil War. Then, the U.S. military was divided: some general officers elected to uphold their oath to the Constitution and remained with the Union. Others, most famously Lee, violated their oath and went over to the rebels. This time around, senior U.S. military officers are going to have to choose from among the same options.


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