When will Trump’s minions stop applauding?

Last week Swamp Rabbit and I watched House Republicans grill FBI agent Peter Strzok and wondered if they really believed Strzok was part of of an FBI conspiracy to link Donald Trump to Russian interference with the 2016 election, even though they knew the FBI had undermined Hillary Clinton’s chances, not Trump’s, by restarting an “email probe” against Clinton right before the election.

And we realized the Republicans at the hearing, every one of them, were trying to make a case they knew was not only false but implausible, in the hope of somehow discrediting special council Robert Mueller if he releases evidence linking Trump to the Russians.

And we had to conclude that the TV hearing marked a new low point for the GOP, the point where they tacitly admitted they’d rather invent untruths and pursue false leads than publicly voice doubts about their dear leader, a dangerous fool who consistently sides with Vladimir Putin against the FBI and the Department of Justice.

And I remarked on the lies and cowardice of the Republicans, and on how none of Joe Stalin’s Soviet minions wanted to be the first to stop applauding when he made a speech, lest he or she be taken out and shot for lack of fervor.

“Hold on there, Odd Man,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Trump ain’t Stalin and the Republicans ain’t minions. Ain’t nobody gonna have them shot.”

I replied, “You’re right, Trump can’t have them shot. Not yet. But he can rile up his base and have his minions driven out of office if they take sides against him.”

Today Trump and Putin met in Helsinki for a private love session then took questions from reporters. Trump expressed doubt about whether Russia was to blame for election interference, and he voiced confidence that the U.S. and Russia would get along better in the future.

After the Q&A, some Republicans in Congress conceded the Russians really were to blame for election misconduct — hacking, etc. — but only those few who didn’t endorse Trump or aren’t running for office again said anything overtly negative about his conduct. Certainly nothing approaching former CIA chief John Brennan’s charge that Trump’s performance at the Helsinki meeting was “nothing short of treasonous.”

I told Swamp Rabbit that Trump’s minions will continue to applaud him, no matter how rotten his actions, unless the tide turns and they think supporting him might hurt their chances for re-election.

“OK, but just don’t compare Trump to Stalin again,” Swamp Rabbit repeated. “He ain’t no killer dictator.”

“That’s an accident of time and geography,” I replied. “Lucky for his minions.”

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A white haven for the blues

So I was upstate again last weekend, speeding home from a sales job, when a road sign on the highway caught my eye: WHITE HAVEN 4 MILES.

“Perfect,” I said to Swamp Rabbit, my sales partner. “White Haven is a town, I guess, but it would be a good name for the whole county.”

We’d just worked a blues festival at which I spotted fewer than a dozen blacks in the audience of more than a thousand people. Hardly any blacks on stage, either. There’s nothing new about this, of course, but I couldn’t help but wonder aloud how a style of music so firmly rooted in black culture evolved into a genre whose fan base is overwhelmingly white.

“What exactly you askin’?” Swamp Rabbit said. “Of course the crowd is white. We’re in Pennsyltucky, not Philadelphia.”

“It doesn’t matter,” I replied. “The crowd would have been just as white if the show was in Philly.”

Swamp Rabbit groaned. “Culture is always changing, Odd Man. Most black people who liked the blues are dead now. Each new generation tries to make new sounds. Blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, soul, funk, hip-hop. It was all black music at first but then it was white music, too. You got your BB King, you got your Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan.”

I asked what he thought of the tendency of many white people to romanticize the black experience in the Jim Crow South. To appropriate black music, to commodify it. To turn black pain into product, as one blogger put it.

All music these days is product, in case you ain’t noticed,” he said. “The money men ain’t looking for the next new thing. They’re looking to dig up the old thing and dress it up a little different.”

He mentioned an Irish festival we’d worked last week in some white suburb of Philly. The bands played a ghastly hybrid of Irish folk and punk rock at train-wreck volume as the crowd got drunk. It felt like someone was driving a nail through my forehead.

I reminded Swamp Rabbit that the “Irish” music I prefer is by people like Van Morrison and Rory Gallagher who grew up in Ireland playing African American music. I confessed to him that I still don’t understand why so many white people in Pennsyltucky — and in parts of Philly, for that matter — embrace black music but avoid or are actively hostile to black people.

“Blah blah,” he said as we drove into the Lehigh Tunnel. “There’s a lot you don’t understand, Odd Man. Just be glad we ain’t gotta work no more of them Irish festivals this summer.”

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Fourth of July in Pennsyltucky

I’m still tired from working July 4th with Swamp Rabbit at a folk fest in upstate PA. Not a good event for sales, too rural and right-wing, and way too hot. I pitched a lot of German Americans with pot bellies and jowls. Some non-Germans too, I guess. One fellow told me no, he doesn’t like clean energy, he was moving to South Carolina to get away from all the socialists. I’ll bet his great-grandparents were socialists.

A corn dog vendor told me he’d trained as an aerospace engineer in his youth and had wanted to be an astronaut but had been too big and heavy to make the cut. I didn’t believe him, but I liked his story.

To be polite, I said it’s a shame the government doesn’t put much money into the space program anymore. The corn dog man said Donald Trump will fix that, wait till he puts together his Space Force. I whipped out my phone and told him, “Excuse me, I’ve gotta make a call.”

Across the road, a bearded man hawked a mysterious lotion to passers-by. “Ladies, would you like some soft, smooth hands?” he shouted, over and over. I pictured him peddling bloody, lopped-off body parts. A special on lady fingers, perhaps. The heat was getting to me. I’d stayed too long in Pennsyltucky.

Swamp Rabbit guzzled water from a gallon jug. It was too hot to drink whiskey, even for him.

I grabbed the jug and said, “You ready to hit the road, rabbit?”

I didn’t have to ask him twice.

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Update — Justice Kennedy, worse than a hypocrite

Jeffrey Toobin is a lawyer who writes for the New Yorker and appears on cable news shows, portraying a legal expert of sorts. Which is why I was surprised to see this in a recent column of his:

So there is some irony in Kennedy’s decision, last week, to turn over his precious seat on the Supreme Court to the least dignified man ever to serve as President.

Toobin had just noted that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s favorite word was “dignity.” He’d used it nine times in an opinion he wrote in the 2015 ruling that guaranteed the right of same-sex marriage in all fifty states.

I thought Toobin would circle back to further explore the irony of Kennedy’s gift to the undignified Donald Trump. But he merely stated the obvious — Trump will choose someone more consistently right-wing to replace Kennedy. Someone who will “tarnish” his legacy.

My first thought was “What legacy”? When did Kennedy ever take the side of working people against the rich and powerful? He voted against his right-wing colleagues on gay rights and abortion rights, but surely he knows his decision to step down on July 31 will give right-wingers just enough time to appoint someone who will work to scuttle those rights.

Toobin apparently chose to ignore the follow-up stories after Kennedy’s announced his retirement — stories that trace the cozy connection between the Trump and Kennedy families.

This would seem to indicate he’s ignoring the main story. The question is why. My guess is that Toobin is too much of a mainstream tight-ass to mention the possibility that Kennedy is as corrupt as all the other people who have chosen to play ball with Trump.

It seems Toobin would have us believe the myth of the Supremes — that they are eminent and distinguished and dignified, when in facts they are merely lawyers who went to good schools (usually) and rose through talent (sometimes) and much luck to a place where they could wield great power.

Footnote: Last week I naively speculated that Kennedy’s loyalty to the Republican Party may have won out over his commitment to individual rights. But now it seems his greater loyalty may have been to Trump, not the party.

One more: The best piece I’ve seen on this subject was by Michael Tomaski and was headlined “Anthony Kennedy, you are a total disgrace to America.” Pretty blunt, but I’ll take blunt truth over civility any day.

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Justice Kennedy — defeatist or hypocrite?

Anthony Kennedy was the U.S. Supreme Court’s swing vote, but he usually swung far to the right. He deserves a lot of credit for helping George W. Bush’s steal the presidential election in 2000. We can also thank him for his critical role in the Citizens United decision, which allows corporate kingpins to funnel huge amounts of money to the candidates who would do their bidding.

This week, Kennedy capped his career by helping to strip organized labor of its right to collect dues from nonunion members, even though union and nonunion workers benefit equally when unions negotiate contracts.

And he struck a major blow for racism by backing Donald Trump’s Muslim ban – “travel ban” is the euphemism – a Supreme Court decision that will live in infamy, like Dred Scott v. Sandford (upholding slavery) and Plessy v. Ferguson (upholding “separate but equal” laws) and Korematsu v. United States (upholding internment camps for Japanese Americans in WWII).

Slate’s Richard L. Hasen wrote that Kennedy’s recent court decisions reflected the “depressing defeatism” of an old man who knew his time to retire had come. Hasen quoted from the one-and-a-half-page concurring opinion Kennedy wrote to clarify why he went along with the majority vote on the Muslim ban. It sounds almost like an apology:

There are numerous instances in which the statements and actions of Government officials are not subject to judicial scrutiny or intervention. That does not mean those officials are free to disregard the Constitution and the rights it proclaims and protects. The oath that all officials take to adhere to the Constitution is not confined to those spheres in which the Judiciary can correct or even comment upon what those officials say or do. Indeed, the very fact that an official may have broad discretion, discretion free from judicial scrutiny, makes it all the more imperative for him or her to adhere to the Constitution and to its meaning and promise.

Kennedy surely knew Trump had no interest in “adhering to the Constitution.” He saw and heard Trump’s many public comments about Muslims and knew the travel ban initiative was motivated by racism, not concern for national security.

And he knew it’s the Supreme Court’s job to stop a president from abusing the powers of his office, especially in an era when the majority party in Congress is a rubber stamp for the president’s whims and prejudices.

So why didn’t he do the right thing? Too defeatist, I guess, or maybe too much of a hypocrite to admit that loyalty to party (he’s a Republican with libertarian leanings) was more important to him than “judicial scrutiny,” even though the party currently is marching in lockstep with a president who aspires to be a dictator.

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They really don’t care — ANY of them

“I really don’t care, do u?” was the message scrawled on the cheap jacket Melania Trump wore on her way to visit a detainment facility – a jail, really — for kids who were separated from their parents by U.S. border guards.

Was there a hidden meaning, or was Melania merely stating the obvious?

The Washington Post received thousands of e-mails from readers responding to reports of the incident. Most of the e-mail writers expressed contempt for Melania and said they weren’t surprised by her stupidly insensitive fashion choice.

Many of them seemed fixated on the notion that Melania is a whore, what do you expect? They mentioned that she had worked in the soft-core porn industry.

One person wrote “…there are names for women who are willing to sell their, uh, integrity for money.”

Another asked “Why would anybody care about the overt opinion of an individual who has sold both her body and her soul to the devil for the metaphorical 30 pieces of silver?”

Whoa! Washington D.C. is crawling with prostitutes and most of them are men. They attach themselves to men who have money and power, and they do whatever they must to keep their jobs. They trade their souls — and their bodies, sometimes — in the hope of furthering their careers by pleasing their sugar daddies.

Centers of power have always attracted such men, but the current crop of prostitutes seems more blatant and shameless, probably because Trump is a dictator-type who demands out-loud professions of loyalty from underlings.

A case in point: Can you think of anything more sickening than the video of Trump’s cabinet members sitting around a table and pledging allegiance to him, one by one? What sort of men would behave like this? They couldn’t have been more obsequious if they’d got on their knees and fellated him.

So let’s not make too big a deal of Melania’s behavior. Her face is inexpressive, maybe because of Botox. She doesn’t say much, and her rare public statements would seem to indicate she’s not too bright. She may have unwisely sold her body to a bloated ogre in return for financial security. (Nothing new about that.)

But she’s not destroying the environment, or chipping away at our First Amendment rights, or giving further tax breaks to billionaires. She’s not in the same league with the whores who help Trump make policy.

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OK, you’re in love, but can you sell my novel?

An editor friend just called to apologize, he hasn’t had time to read my new manuscript because he’s having his roof replaced and can’t hear himself think. I said hey, no hurry, it will still be there when you find time, unless I rewrite it.

I was kidding. I’m done with the novel until I find an agent for it. I’m doing my research again.

Most literary agents seem to be young women looking for Young Adult and Romance and Queer and so on. (What is it with the YA craze in publishing? Do you know any teenagers who put down their phones and video games long enough to read?)

A lot of agents post descriptions of the sort of manuscripts they prefer. A surprising number say they won’t represent a writer unless they “fall in love” with his/her manuscript. As if falling in love weren’t a highly overrated reason for doing something, especially something business-related.

Some say they’re looking for either literary fiction or genre fiction, as if those categories are always separate and mutually exclusive.

Some are enormously successful. I recently visited the website of an agent who represents a formidable bunch of thoroughbred writers. I pictured them in her stable, being fed and groomed in luxury stalls. I could go for that.

Yes, it’s delusional to think an A-list agent will look at my manuscript and phone me, even if my unsolicited query letter indicates I’m snarky and self-effacing, in exactly the right proportions, and a joy to work with, and in the vanguard of writers who are inventing The Next Big Thing.

But one never knows, do one?

Just this morning I looked at my ringing phone and saw the call was from New York City, and my pulse quickened. Could this be love? It was a recorded message from someone trying to sell me something. I don’t know what the product was because she was speaking Chinese.

Long ago, I reluctantly concluded the best way to get an agent’s attention is through referrals. This time, lucky for me, I know a friend of a friend of a friend who knows a friend of a big-name agent in Manhattan. I’ll let you know when I make the connection.

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