Friday, October 5, 2018

The altar of Donald Trump's need

Dear Senator Flake,

I am grateful you used your leverage to get some sort of FBI inquiry into the allegations made against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, but I’m wondering what follow-up you have in mind.

You’ve said that if the FBI finds that Judge Kavanaugh lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee, his nomination is over. But you didn’t need the FBI to know that he was lying. Not necessarily about what did or didn’t happen in 1983, but numerous statements the judge made in his September 27th testimony are documentably false, down to whether he watched Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony (a Republican aide says he did watch it; Judge Kavanaugh stated in the hearing that he did not).

The FBI investigation itself indirectly raises other questions. Your colleague Sen. Collins said she found the investigation to have been complete, but that’s transparently false. The Bureau didn’t interview the witnesses proposed by Deborah Ramirez. They didn’t interview numerous college classmates of the judge who came forward to offer their eyewitness testimony about his drinking behavior during college (and thus speak to whether he was truthful with the Senate Judiciary Committee).

Most damningly, they interviewed neither Dr. Blasey Ford nor Judge Kavanaugh. During the most recent testimony, the judge was not only combative, but notably evasive in responding to questions from Democratic senators. In an FBI inquiry, belligerence and evasion don’t work, and so the failure to interview Judge Kavanaugh looks very much like an intentional measure to avoid making him answer difficult questions.

The background issue here is what purpose you had in mind for an FBI investigation. If you wanted to be able to point and say, “The FBI looked, they didn’t find anything, so my conscience is clear in voting ‘Yes,’” then you got what you wanted, what you needed.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Welcome to the world of InstaChat

For the second time in about four days, I've been in a stall in a public bathroom when someone else has come in and started narrating their inner world.

Today's running commentary:

"It smells like, Oh my god.

It smells like, a god, who's pissed at the world, because it shits dicks."

I hear a dog barking in the hall outside the the bathroom.

"I know that dog."

A-a-a-and, we're out.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Day 38: Apparently, dictatorship is fine

My Congressman supports Trump being a dictator.

Well, he hasn’t said that in so many words, but I’ve been asking for a while whether he would vote for impeachment if Trump were to murder someone who was investigating him.

He hasn’t answered.

And when I say “a while,” I mean since June 4th.

That’s seven-and-a-half weeks ago. 52 calendar days. Or Day 38 if we take June 4th as Day 1 and count only work days.

Here’s today’s conversation (earlier ones are linked at the end of the post).
Last week Mr. Faso issued a statement criticizing the president’s handling of the press conference after the Helsinki summit.
Since then, we’ve heard hints from the Russian side about what was agreed to in the summit itself, and sometimes we get confirmation from the White House, sometimes we get silence.
And the president apparently agreed to some very dangerous things, like ratifying the Russian seizure of Crimea and potentially ratifying the occupation of eastern Ukraine.
In dealing with this, we have no coherent report from the American side, and no coherent response within the U.S. government, because the president ignored everyone’s advice beforehand and went in one-on-one—the only other American in the room was his translator.
This is not mishandling a press conference. This is, at best, massive incompetence in the conduct of foreign policy. But it also looks like subservience to a foreign dictator.
Is Mr. Faso doing anything about this threat to our country?
What you like him to do?
Is he doing anything other than criticizing a press conference?
I want to know, first, what he thinks of the deeper, more serious issues about the summit itself.
And he could perhaps have hearings, ask to talk to the Secretary of State or others involved in foreign policy.
[Takes name and contact info, promises to pass along my concerns.]
While I have you, I just need to follow up on another question that I’ve been trying to get an answer on since June 4th. That’s seven-and-a-half weeks ago. If I’ve spoken to you before, you probably know what it is.
The president’s lawyer says he could kill James Comey and it would still be illegal to indict him, because the only remedy for a president is impeachment. So I want to know: If the president were to kill someone who was investigating him, would Representative Faso vote to impeach him?
I have not spoken to the Congressman as to whether he would vote to impeach if the president were to murder someone investigating him.
Well, as I said, I’ve been asking this question for seven-and-a-half weeks, and everyone I’ve spoken to about it has said that they would see that the Congressman got the question, so presumably someone has spoken with him about it, but I guess it wasn’t you.
This is the first I’ve heard of it.
And this is not some bizarre hypothetical. The president’s own lawyer brought it up.
This is an absurdly easy question. If you don’t support impeachment for a president who murders investigators, then you support dictatorship.
It’s beyond pathetic that Mr. Faso can’t answer this question.
The question is basically, Can the president murder his opponents without being impeached? Can the president murder his opponents without being impeached?
Why is that even a question?
You should be able to say, “Of course Mr. Faso doesn’t believe the president should be able to murder his opponents without being impeached.”
But you can’t say that, because Mr. Faso hasn’t seen fit to answer the question.
And that is simply absurd.
I will certainly see that he gets asked this question.
Do you personally interact with the Congressman?
Do you think you personally could put this question to him?
Yes, I can do that.
And can you convey to him how absurd it is that he can’t answer it?
Yes, I will do that.
And perhaps at some point in, oh, the next two years, I might get an answer, but by now I fully expect not to get one. Though I will keep asking.
What kind of world is this, where a congressman can’t answer this question?
I don’t know.
You have a good day sir.
I would have a better day if my elected representative believed in democracy. You have a good day, too.
In case you're in John Faso's district, the number for his D.C. office is (202) 225-5614. He'd love to hear from you!

Earlier calls:

Thursday, July 19, 2018

How to ruin small-talk

Everybody knows that feeling when you walk away from a conversation, then five minutes later think “That’s what I should have said.”

You know that feeling, right?

I still don’t have that feeling.

It’s been half a day, and I’m still at, “What should I have said? Should I have said something?”

I was in the grocery store and I almost collided with another customer. His physical type was one you encounter pretty often here in upstate New York: 60-ish, a rough, full beard, and a weathered face.

Oh, and on his chest, in something like a baby carrier, he was wearing a Chihuahua.
It was basically this model. Now replace the woman wearing it with a gristled 60-year-old man in a rural New York Price Chopper.
Image from

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Day 32: Don't expect action

On Monday I called the office of John Faso (NY-19), expecting that he wouldn’t have yet figured out what to say about Trump’s Surrender Summit in Suomi.

To my surprise, the staffer had a statement there to read to me (which I later learned was also on Faso’s website). I was so surprised, that I said I agreed 100%, but I think it was more that seeing my congressman criticize Trump as much as he did was a bit like seeing a dog talk. On reflection, the dog was only making a little sense. (Still, yay dog for talking at all, right?)

Since my call on Monday, Trump had sort of walked back his dis of U.S. intelligence in favor of Putin’s view of what happened in 2016, but not really, and then had gone ahead and full-on ignored the intelligence community’s assessment of risks for 2018.

So I thought I’d check in with Faso.
I’m calling to find out what Congressman Faso is doing to follow up on his statement from Monday regarding the president’s summit with Vladimir Putin.
I haven’t had a chance to speak with him about that. Is there a message you’d like to pass along?
There are two very specific actions that Congressman Faso should take.
First, he should work with his colleagues on closing the loophole in the Defense Authorization Act that allows the president to waive sanctions on the Russian military.
And the second?
He should vote with the rest of the House to release the president’s tax returns. Every other presidential nominee for the last 45 years has released his or her tax returns. Trump said he would do it if he was elected. We’re now 20 months past the election, and we still haven’t seen them.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Taking out the garbage (statistics)

Have you ever encountered a list of claims about how great the economy is doing under Trump, and wondered how much substance there was behind it?

As a public service, here’s a list I encountered this morning, set in the context of data.


And reuse, link, etc.

“Lowest unemployment rate amongst African Americans and the Spanish community since it's been tracked.”

Those numbers are continuations of trends that were running for the last 5 years of Obama’s presidency.

And the employment-population ratio for both groups is still below what it was in 2007, and far below what it was in 2009.
The situation for Latinos (I assume that’s what you meant by “the Spanish community”) is actually still pretty far below the 2007 level.

“Lowest unemployment rate for woman in 66 years.”

I assume you mean “women,” and not some one individual “woman” who’s got her best numbers in 66 years.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Day 30: The non-answer answer

Back on June 4th I called the office of my congressman, John Faso (NY-19). The thing that got me to pick up the phone was Rudy Giuliani’s statement about the president being above any law except impeachment. I kept calling (see the roster at the bottom of the post), and a couple of other issues crept in.

On July 7th, I finally got a response (see the JPEG at the end of this post). I choose the word advisedly, because I didn’t get an answer.

So I called again.

(Note: The “Day 30” in the title is the count in terms of business days. In calendar time we’re already at Day 48 since my first call on June 4th.)
I’ve been asking questions on three areas:
     1. Tariffs 
     2. Family separations 
     3. Limits of presidential power
I got a letter dated July 7th that says nothing in particular. The Congressman says that he doesn’t agree with President Trump on everything (though he declines to mention anything specific on which he disagrees), and he says he’s working with the Problem Solvers Caucus to find solutions.
I asked specifically whether there would be legislation to prevent further destructive use of tariffs. The letter says nothing about that.
I asked specifically whether there would be hearings on the family-separation question, and also how the congressman reconciles, on the one hand, his stated opposition to detaining children with, on the other, his vote for a bill that would have authorized the continued detention of children. The letter says nothing about any of that.
When I started these calls back on June 4th, my very first question was, if the president did indeed kill someone investigating him, would Mr. Faso vote to impeach. It’s a very specific question, and a very reasonable one, because the president’s own lawyer said the president is immune from indictment, even if he were to have killed James Comey. That leaves impeachment as the only remedy should the president blatantly break the law, and I want to know if the congressman would use it.
It’s a very specific, relevant question, and I expect a grown man to be able to actually answer it, particularly if he thinks he deserves to represent us in Congress.
Is there a chance I can get answers to those questions?
Absolutely. (Takes name and contact info)