Public impeachment hearings began yesterday and the first two witnesses confirmed that the President of the United States of America used his foreign policy powers to extort personal political favors. What's more, they testified to a previously unknown phone call in which the president personally attempted to direct the extortion scheme.
That's corrupt. It's an abuse of power. It, alongside President Nixon's attempts to manipulate law enforcement and the intelligence community to perpetrate and cover up a break-in, constitutes the most egregious abuse of presidential power in living memory and, perhaps, American history.
The press is less than impressed, however, because there were no fireworks and no "pizzazz":
This sort of media framing -- that something needs pizzazz or fireworks to be interesting -- influences public perception and gives people license to not care about what is, in fact, a critically important chapter in American history. It's horribly irresponsible. It's an utter abdication by journalists who should damn well know better.
I am resigned to the fact that, given our current political reality, Trump, at the absolute most, will be impeached by the House but acquitted by the Senate even if it is unequivocally and undeniably shown that he abused his office and committed high crimes and misdemeanors. I strongly believe it is necessary to do this despite that near-certain outcome, however, because it is important that those in power be required to either stand against or stand in complicity with Trump's corruption and illegality.
But as a journalist, I am deeply, deeply saddened by how irresponsibly the press has been and, apparently, will continue to be in covering all of this. They are failing in their jobs. They are failing democracy. They are failing the American people.
On July 1, Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs asphyxiated while under the influence of fentanyl, oxycodone, and alcohol in his Texas hotel room.
Today, over at NBC Sports, I spoke with former players and front office employees who are concerned that baseball has a bigger opioid problem than most people think.
In the space of one news conference today, the president (a) announced he'd be using the power of his presidency to enrich him personally by holding the G7 summit at his own hotel; and (b) his Chief of Staff explicitly admitted that the president used his powers as Commander in Chief to extort a foreign country into interfering in an American election.
Both of these justify the president's impeachment and removal from office.
In the past two and a half years the President has repeatedly argued that he is not subject to legal process. That he is not required to make public information which is historically made public by presidents. That he is not constrained in any real way by either the enumerated, implied, or customary powers of his office. He has acted, in all practical ways, as a monarch.
Now, pursuant to a letter his lawyer sent to Congress yesterday -- a letter devoid of any actual substantive legal objection or defense to current proceedings by Congress -- the president has asserted a legally baseless, blanket assertion that neither he nor anyone who works under him will comply with Congress' constitutionally-authorized and constitutionally-mandated powers of oversight of the Executive Branch. He has made it clear that he believes he is not subject to impeachment or oversight of any kind, full stop.
Which means that we are now in a fully-blown constitutional crisis.
That term -- "constitutional crisis" -- gets thrown around from time to time, often irresponsibly. Usually it's invoked at a time of political gridlock or, perhaps, scandal. Rarely in our history has it actually been deployed accurately and specifically because rarely in our history have we come to a point where the very future of our country and its form of government has been thrown into question. Never has a sitting president rejected any and all constraints on the power of his office and acted as if he and he alone gets to decide how he should proceed. We have now, however, come to that point.
President Trump's declaration that he will not cooperate with a legitimate Congressional investigation will no doubt cause Congress to attempt to exercise formal legal process to compel the production of witnesses and documents. Trump will, apparently, fight those efforts by any means necessary, legal or otherwise. In the end, Trump will either be compelled by a court to comply with the Congressional investigation or he will not be.
The very act of getting to that point, however, risks destroying our system forever.
If the courts side with Trump's abject refusal to comply with Congress in the course of a legitimate investigation -- or if Congress loses its nerve and backs down in the face of Trump's intransigence -- the very concept of Congressional oversight of the Executive will be a dead letter and the notion that we have three co-equal branches of government will be definitively cast aside. Our Republic will, in such case, be transformed, for all practical purposes, into an Executive dictatorship.
If, on the other hand, the courts side with Congress, the president will no doubt intensify his defiant acts and rhetoric, casting Congress, the judiciary and the media as treasonous enemies of the state that have singled him out for persecution. He will no doubt be aided in this by a massively influential conservative media apparatus and, in all likelihood, virtually the entire Republican Party. The end product of this will be that a significant chunk of the population will agree with him that his power has been illegitimately usurped. That a coup has been perpetrated. In that case our Republic, though legally saved, will stand mortally wounded, perhaps for generations.
There are only two ways either of these disastrous constitutional outcomes can be avoided. One is an absolute impossibility and the other is a near-certain impossibility, at least based on everything we have seen:
1. President Trump, at some point, accepts that he must submit himself and his office to Congressional oversight and let that process play out however it plays out; or
2. Influential Republicans -- senators, party leaders, former office holders and those in the media -- call out President Trump's unlawful and irresponsible rhetoric and behavior, assert, unequivocally, that the current Congressional investigation is, in fact, legitimate, and demand for it to proceed accordingly, again, however it may play out.
Short of either of those things occurring, it's hard for me to see how our Constitution emerges from all of this without being mortally wounded and our country thrown into a state of autocracy.
Yesterday the Washington Post told the story of Maria Farmer, an artist who was commissioned by the disgraced and deceased sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein to do some paintings in the mid-1990s. In reality, Farmer alleges, Epstein and his partner Ghislaine Maxwell used the opportunity to sexually assault her while she was held virtual prisoner in a secluded, remote estate in New Albany, Ohio. An estate that, as the crow flies, stands less than half a mile from my house, and from which all power that matters in both New Albany and in the city of Columbus practically flows.
Epstein's crimes are well-documented. Less documented is the role, if any, that Ohio estate and its owner, billionaire retail magnate Leslie Wexner, played in it all. Wexner was, for over a decade, Epstein's only client and his primary financial benefactor. Epstein was gifted his Upper East Side mansion by Wexner and was given a guest home in New Albany as well. He was likewise given power of attorney by Wexner to handle all of his personal financial and real estate matters. Billionaires have no shortage of advisors and employees managing their concerns, but Epstein was, apparently, given far more power than anyone in Wexner's immediate circle.
Wexner, his lawyers, and his associates say he had no idea about Epstein's crimes and that he was deceived by Epstein just as everyone else was. And, to be sure, there have been no allegations that Wexner knew of Epstein's wrongdoing. Wexner claims he cut all ties with Epstein in 2007, soon after Epstein was first arrested on criminal sexual assault charges and, what's more, that he was financially defrauded by Epstein. There is no known reason not to believe Wexner's account of that.
The Post story, however, paints a frightening portrait of the circumstances Farmer faced when, in the summer of 1996, she took up residence on Wexner's estate to do those paintings for Jeffrey Epstein.
Farmer tells the Post that she was placed in a privately-gated guest house adjacent to Wexner's 300-acre estate and patrolled by Wexner's security staff which included both contracted sheriff's deputies and by guard dogs. She says that her movements were monitored and that she was not permitted to leave without permission. The night she was assaulted by Epstein, she claims, she attempted to call the Sheriff's Department but was told "we work for Wexner." She claims she was told by Wexner's security staff that she could not leave -- a guard told her "you're not going anywhere," she says -- and, indeed, it took her father driving to the estate in person to get her before she was permitted to leave. A former security guard for Wexner tells the Post that, while he has no recollection of the incident, he doubts that something like that could have happened.
I have no idea what Wexner's security guards did or did not say or do, but based on geography and based on the character of Wexner's estate, I don't think it would even require such acts by the security team for Farmer to feel like a prisoner on that night.
Even today, Wexner's property -- which is nothing short of a fortified compound -- is pretty remote. New Albany is growing, yes, but it's a very well-planned and restrained growth, little if any of which has reached the 300 pastoral acres Wexner calls home. In 1996 Wexner's house may as well have been in the middle of nowhere. At that point New Albany's metamorphosis from farm town to anglophilic upscale paradise was already underway, but it had not yet reached critical mass and his home was far removed from anyplace a young woman recently relocated from New York City would've considered civilization.
Wexner's personal property -- on which sat the guest house owned by Epstein -- is bounded by four roads, which were then and now no more than country lanes:
It's about two miles from Dublin-Granville Road -- the east-west road at the top -- and the east-west road at the bottom, Morse Road, just below where it reads "Balfour Green" (neither it, nor Albany Farms, high-end, gated properties carved out of Wexner's land existed in 1996). Wexner's main house is in the middle there, next to the stand of trees. It's unclear where the Epstein guest house was, but I suspect it is where New Albany Farms is now. Either way, Farmer says it was a half mile from the main house.
Today, if you were on that property and wanted or needed to leave, it'd be a a good mile and possibly two mile walk, depending on which of the estate's gate you exited, down a dark country road to the nearest business of any kind -- a gas station, to the northwest of the property -- depending on what gate you used.
Except you would be unlikely to simply be able to walk out of the estate's gates, especially at night:
That's the north side boundary of Wexner's property along Dublin-Granville Road. I took that photo on a walk a year ago. That fence and those signs surround the entire 300 acres and have for many years. The Post story notes that the land was patrolled by dogs back in 1996 as well.
And it's not just dogs, either. Wexner has 24-hour security that patrols the property and closely monitors the public roads adjacent to it. Indeed, everyone who has lived in New Albany for any amount of time knows of someone who, while lost, pulled to the shoulder of Kitzmiller or New Albany-Reynoldsburg Road or attempted to turn around in what looked to be an innocuous little driveway, only to have dark SUVs descend upon them and ask them what their business was.
Which is to say that if you were on Les Wexner's property and felt threatened in any way, I am certain you would feel extremely isolated and unable to leave. You would, for all practical purposes, feel like a prisoner, regardless of what was explicitly said to you by security guards.
Does any of that make Les Wexner responsible for what Jeffrey Epstein did to Maria Farmer? No. But it's certainly the case that Epstein's residence at the Wexner compound certainly made it easier for him to prey on her.
Here it is in black and white: the Whistleblower Complaint is out and not only does it claim, as I noted yesterday, that President Trump abused his power for personal gain, but, in a nod the master, Richard Nixon, he attempted to cover it up is well.
The whistleblower says that Trump pressured a foreign country to investigate his political rivals in order to give him an advantage in the 2020 election and subsequently dispatched his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and the U.S. Attorney General, William Barr, to carry out his plan. All of this in circumvention of U.S. foreign policy, in a manner which the whistleblower characterizes as a "serious or flagrant problem, abuse or violation of law or Executive Order," and in a manner which "pose[s] risks to U.S. national security and undermine[s] the U.S. government's efforts to deter and counter foreign interference in U.S. elections."
What's more, White House officials moved to cover it up.
In the wake of the July 25th call, a summary memorandum of which was produced yesterday, the president's men realized how serious of a transgression Trump had committed. Their response:
Even those who work for Trump knew full well that he had abused his power and intended to continue to do so.
To the extent anyone doubts these allegations or who claims that the complaint is mere hearsay, know that there are multiple people mentioned in the complaint who are said to have supplied consistent, corroborated reports of that which is asserted therein. Reports which can be easily confirmed via the testimony of the people who relayed that which they witnessed to the whistleblower. Which is to say that a few simple hearings will transform this from a mere complaint to documented, admissible evidence that the President of the United States, his Attorney General, his personal lawyer and other senior White House officials violated the law and mounted a coverup.
President Nixon was forced to resign under threat of impeachment for orchestrating a domestic break-in to get dirt on his political rivals and orchestrating a coverup. Trump now stands credibly accused of abusing the power of his office to coerce a foreign government into digging up dirt on his political rivals and orchestrating a coverup.
The facts of the matter could not be more clear. Nor could their implications or the logical conclusion to this affair: President Trump must be impeached. Those who oppose such an effort are endorsing a blatant violation of the Constitution.
UPDATE: Trump seems to be taking this well:
Earlier today President Trump released a summary memorandum of his July 2019 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Its contents are damning. They justify Trump's impeachment, without question.
The summary -- which it should be remembered, was crafted by Trump and his aides in order to put Trump's words and conduct in the best possible light -- clearly shows Trump using his powers as Commander-in-Chief and Head of State to pressure a foreign actor into doing his domestic political bidding.
The critical context: Ukraine faces an existential threat from Russia, with which it has been in a virtual -- and sometimes active -- state of war for some time. Russia has annexed a portion of Ukraine and represents a constant military threat. In light of that, Ukraine desperately depends on foreign military aid, particularly from the United States.
In the call, Zelensky butters up Trump to no end, both personally and about how grateful he is for our help. He also plays into Trump's need to feel superior to other leaders and leans hard into how little help, comparatively, Ukraine receives from Germany and France, mentioning its leaders by name, as Trump is wont to do. Trump laps that up and then leans back into Zelensky, agreeing how important our military aid is to Ukraine's security.
It is against that backdrop that Zelensky makes his ask for FGM-148 Javelin missiles, which are essential for Ukraine in the event of a Russian invasion:
Trump's immediate response:
"I would like you to us a favor though."
Words mean things and the "though" is the smoking gun.
In this passage, Trump is putting an express condition on United States military aid to Ukraine: sure, we'll help you, but you need to help me in combatting my domestic political enemies.
The reference to investigating the “whole situation in Ukraine” and Crowdstrike, refers to the company hired to investigate the hack of the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 election. Trump went on to mention the “other thing." What other thing?
Here Trump is, plainly, asking Zelensky to look into unsubstantiated allegations against Hunter Biden, the son of the potential Democratic nominee.
Trump is asking for political dirt. He is doing so by using Zelensky's obvious desire for military aid as a lever. It could not be any more clear.
It's a shakedown, in which Trump is using his defense and foreign policy powers to aid his political prospects. And, again, it should be noted that this is via Trump's own, self-interested summary memorandum of the conversation. The surrounding context, other conversations, acts in furtherance of this initial exchange, and whatever else exists illuminating all of this likely casts it in a worse light.
President Trump has abused his power. His doing so is an impeachable offense. It could not be any more clear.
UPDATE: The Whistleblower Complaint has been released and it is damning.
It's about as straightforward as a thing can be: the President of the United States has used his powers as commander-in-chief of the armed forces and head of state to coerce another country -- one which relies on us for protection against a stronger, threatening neighbor -- to dig up dirt on his domestic political opponents. That's the textbook definition of abuse of power. One could not invent an example of an abuse of power more on-the-nose than this.
If Congress does not impeach the president for such an act, he is completely and utterly above the law.
It does not matter that the Senate will almost certainly not remove him from office. Doing noting establishes the most dangerous of precedents. Not only with respect to this particular abuse of power but with respect to the fundamental ability of Congress to exercise oversight of a president. If Congress does not impeach here, it is empowering future presidents to abuse their power in similarly brazen and destructive ways.
Force the president to at least to begin to answer for his illegal acts. Force his political allies to stop their ridiculous equivocating and vote, on the record, in support of this. History will look terribly upon this president regardless, but it will look even more terribly upon those who stood by, watched what he did, knew that he abused the power of his office, and let it pass without making even the slightest effort to hold him to account.
The Columbus Dispatch reports today that between 2016-17 the State of Ohio took drugs purchased by and intended for the state's Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and gave them to the prison system to be used in executions. This despite warnings from drug manufacturers not to do so under threat of having drugs millions of people depend on, some to simply live, cut off.
Put more simply: the state thought it was so important to execute people that it was worth putting the lives and health of the sick and those in need at risk to make it happen. This -- along with empowering police to commit violence with impunity -- is one of the logical, violent end-points of the "tough-on-crime" political ideology. The place one reaches when one elevates vengeance above all other purposes of the criminal justice system.
And yes, there are purposes of the criminal justice system other than vengeance.
Rehabilitating criminals and making them productive or, at the every least, non-harmful members of society was once thought of as a laudable goal, but now it is considered too soft. Supporting such a thing makes one vulnerable to political attack ads, so no politician dares to publicly say they are for it. This is why parole is harder to come by, draconian mandatory minimum sentences exist, and capricious "three-strikes" laws are passed.
Simply incapacitating criminals and keeping them from committing more crimes is another purpose of the system. This one is seen as less wimpy by the tough-on-crime crowd, but it's difficult and expensive to house the convicted and doesn't satisfy that eye-for-an-eye bloodlust that seems so important.
So we're left with vengeance.
The problem, though, is that those who adhere to a code of vengeance do so out of the belief that it is mandated by God or some higher, moral power. As such, there is no end seen as more righteous and thus there is no price too high to pay to achieve it. Even if it means harming the sick and needy to see that vengeance is done.
But it's morally abhorrent. Vengeance is not ours. I'm ashamed to live in a state that believes it is. I'm ashamed to live in a state that values state-sanctioned killing above helping those in need.
Over the weekend a report emerged detailing how Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation process was aided by a fast-tracked FBI investigation which failed to follow up with dozens of witnesses with potentially damaging information on the nominee. It also includes new allegations from a witness who says he saw Kavanaugh push his penis into the hand of a female student at Yale. It was an allegation the witness told the FBI about last year but which they failed to investigate.
The new report has led to calls for Kavanaugh's impeachment. Such calls will likely go nowhere given current political reality. I will reiterate, however, that no matter what comes of the current news cycle, Kavanaugh is unfit to be a mere lawyer, let alone a Supreme Court Justice. He should not only not have been confirmed last year but he should probably be disbarred.
Most people are viewing all of this, both last year and now, with reference to the standard of what one can get away with in politics. On that score, sure, Kavanaugh is probably fine in today's graceless and shameless political age. He had and still has sufficient support (i.e. the Republican-controlled Senate). In politics, especially these days, that's all that matters.
Kavanugh, however, is not merely beholden to political processes. As I wrote last year, as a lawyer and a judge, he's beholden to the standards of legal and judicial ethics, which presents a far higher bar.
It is manifestly clear -- and was clear a year ago -- that Kavanaugh lied under oath during his confirmation hearing. Partisans contend that they were lies about minor details on relatively unimportant matters. They contend that they fall short of the sorts of lies which would typically bring forth a perjury charge. All of that may be true. All of it is irrelevant, however, because the standard of candor before a tribunal for an attorney and a judge is far, far higher than "that which is legally actionable for perjury" and no exceptions are made for "lies regarding unimportant matters."
As I wrote last year, a person can be denied a law license for lying about something that happened in college or even high school. A lawyer who even hints at misleading behavior during the course of trying a case or who even shades the truth under oath is subject to disciplinary action. The penalties for lack of candor before a tribunal are severe, and include disbarment.
Which is to say: Brett Kavanaugh would be unfit for office even if this past weekend's report never emerged. He'd be unfit to merely practice law, in fact. That, despite all of this, he is now ensconced in the highest and most powerful position in the entire judiciary for the rest of his life is a stain on the legal profession and on the nation.
I'm often told by opponents of Medicare for All that we can't have a single payer health care system because people love their private insurance.
In other news: Whole Foods is eliminating health insurance benefits for 2,000 workers. Because it can.
Wouldn't life be way better if your health insurance was not controlled by your employer?
Joe Biden leads the polls primarily, I assume, because of name recognition and the fact that Democratic voters liked Obama and associate Biden with him. That's fine. There are a lot of reasons people like candidates, especially if they're not hyper-connected with the day-to-day of the campaign like obsessives can be. Biden, on the whole, has been likable for most of his career and everyone knows who he is. It'd be surprising if he wasn't leading.
In recent weeks he's been increasingly attacked by those pursuing him, however. It was especially noticeable in last night's debate, when the other candidates went after him with gusto. Which is also fine. It's part of the deal when you're the frontrunner.
Biden is not handling the attacks well. His responses to anything but the most basic questions have been rambling and at times nonsensical. He gets lost in his own answers. He's simply not performing well under even the slightest bit of pressure. It's not a good sign.
Biden, however, has a lot of friends in the media, and today we see the sorts of dividends that pays via a New York Times op-ed framed thusly:
This is complete bullshit.
Bernie Sanders is older than Biden. Elizabeth Warren is 70. They have their detractors, obviously, but hardly anyone is attacking them for their age in and of itself. The reason for that is because, unlike Biden, they are coherent, rhetorically nimble and are championing policies that are forward-looking while he stammers, talks in circles, references "record players" and literally dropped his dentures when trying to mount an argument.
Biden is being criticized because his brain doesn't seem to be working. Because he cannot articulate compelling arguments and cannot defend himself in anything approaching a competent manner when attacked. The problem with Joe Biden is not that he's old. It's that he's totally overwhelmed, out of his depth and, worst of all, almost wholly disinterested in advancing policies beyond "I want to be president because it's my turn." It'd be just as disqualifying if a 45-year-old did this.
Biden's inability to argue and defend himself with even a modicum of energy will allow Trump to carve him up when they go toe-to-toe. His unwillingness to advance a forward-looking agenda will sap the enthusiasm of the energetic base of the Democratic party. Both of those things risk making an election that should be an easy win against an unpopular incumbent anything but.
It's why I can't support Biden in the Democratic party, even if I'd support him in the general.
When Joe Biden or whoever talks about "reaching across the aisle" to work with Republicans, someone needs to smack them in the head with a printed-out copy of this editorial, reminding them that Republicans have zero interest in such things because they are ideologically at war with democracy.
My kids are studying 9/11 in school. Yesterday my son was talking about it and described a video they watched featuring victims, family members of victims, and witnesses as "old people talking about 9/11." He spoke of it in the same terms as we might've talked about History Channel shows featuring World War II veterans.
My son is a 14-year-old freshman. September 11 happened almost four years before he was born. On my timeline, the moon landing and Woodstock are equivalently remote historical events. Which is a reminder that while, for many of us, 9/11 seems like it happened quite recently, it's not viewed by younger people in the same way. This should be an obvious sort of observation. "Time marches on" and all of that, but I feel like we're not letting time march on naturally with 9/11.
Unlike so many historical events, 9/11 continues to dominate the zeitgeist in a host of ways, many of them unhealthy. Most obviously, we're still fighting wars, either in response to it or for which it served as a pretext. But it likewise continues to inform our country's policies, business practices, political rhetoric, and mood. Post 9/11 life is so thoroughly shaped by it that I think we often forget just how different things are now than they were 18 years ago today.
There's a balance to be struck between "never forgetting" and "respectfully moving on." I'm not sure anyone has a great grip on exactly how to do that, but it's probably tied up in the difference between simply, "remembering" and having historical events serve as the fulcrum around which most current events continue to turn.
It seems we should still be able to remember the history of 9/11 without it serving as a conversation-ender or political third rail. It seems that we, as adults, should begin to think of 9/11 more like my son and his classmates are thinking about it today. As an important historical event and tragedy. As something which should be remembered and something from which we should learn. But as something that is, in fact, in the past and something which should not so thoroughly dominate the culture that it keeps us from moving forward into the future.
I'd occasionally see reruns of "The Rockford Files" when I was young. I didn't think too much of it. To me it was like a dozen other 70s and early 80s cop and detective shows for all the good and the bad that entailed. Stuff my parents liked. Give me "The Dukes of Hazard" and "The A-Team" instead.
When I was in my 20s I got really into detective fiction and revisited a few episodes. The show was pleasant enough and, by then, I was able to understand that it stood head-and-shoulders above its contemporaries, primarily because of how charming James Garner was in the lead role. But it was a tad slow, a tad clunky and looked extraordinarily dated to my young man's eyes. It was certainly far less action-packed than the visceral cop and action dramas of the 90s and lacked all of the style of the then-increasingly common 1970s-inspired fare. Quentin Tarantino would happily show you the cool sideburns, feature the baddest muscle cars and put all the coolest music of the era on the soundtrack, but he excised the plaid and vinyl, the ugly haircuts and the low-end Chevys and Dodges. I liked the 1970s pastiches more than the real McCoy at the time and I thus appreciated "The Rockford Files" more than I enjoyed it.
I recently dove back in to the show -- Cozi TV shows episodes every morning and I record them -- and I am loving it more than anything. I'm early in season 2 now and I am almost certainly going to watch every episode as they pop up on my DVR.
It's hard to say exactly why it's clicking for me so well now when it didn't before.
A lot of it has to do with me having an even greater appreciation for Garner now than I did back then. Dramatic TV today is so full of tormented anti-heroes and comedic TV is so full of discomfort-driven quirky humor that seeing a genuinely warm, funny, and comfortable performance from a straightforwardly likable actor stands out more than it once might've.
It's also the case that I'm older now and the I appreciate the slower pace than I did when I was 25. I've lived enough and read enough by now that I'm less interested in pastiche than I am in that which is authentic (or was authentic). There is no nostalgia to "The Rockford Files." None for me, certainly, as I was really too young when the show was on to look at it and say "that was my time." None on its own terms either, as nothing that show was up to was either especially backward or forward looking. They were living in 1974 (and 1975-80), and that was that.
All of this was twirling around my head this morning when I stumbled upon this bit from a blog post someone wrote about the show a few years back. I think it hits the nail pretty squarely on the head:
Perhaps it was the leaded gasoline fumes that made us all more lethargic, but to the best of my recollection, the mood in America just after Watergate was decidedly hung over, and no one pulls off a ‘where the hell’s the damned aspirin’ look like Jim Rockford does.
That's all pretty comforting, really. And it's probably why I've been enjoying easing into "The Rockford Files' each day.
Today is the 25th anniversary of the start of the 1994-95 Major League Baseball players' strike. Over at the baseball site I wrote about it.
But note: this is not a "here's what happened in 1994" post. Rather, it's 4,231 words about why the 94-95 strike happened in the first place. A strike that is impossible to understand unless you understand the 30+ years which came before it. A strike which, even if it happened 25 years ago, will directly inform that which happens in baseball's immediate future, as the baseball owners and the Players Union begin to negotiate once again.
Wanna know if there will be a strike in 2021? First learn about what happened from 1966-2019. This post is where you can start.
School starts for my two high schoolers in a week. Today was pick-up-the-schedule day, and I was required to be there with them for various little administrative tasks. It all went well except for one thing: "E + R = O."
"E + R = O" is a motivational concept developed by Jack Canfield, the guy who came up with the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" books. The kids' school introduced it as some guiding concept of their own a year ago and, from the looks of things, it'll be back for the 2019-20 school year.
Why is a public high school in Ohio running with some motivational speaker's schtick? Probably because it was very prominently adopted by former Ohio State University football coach Urban Meyer, who made it part of his motivational schtick several years ago.
Meyer put it in his leadership book and won a ton of football games and a national championship while giving voice to the concept. If you're from central Ohio and understand just how insane people here are about Buckeye football, it's not hard to imagine how such a thing might be picked up by school administrators who want to associate themselves with success. I mean, there may be a lot of smart educational ideas floating around out there, but how many of them were used to go 7-0 against Michigan? Yeah, I thought so.
So what is E + R = O?
The letters stand for "Events + Response = Outcomes." Here's a short version of the idea, as put by Canfield:
If unlimited success is your goal, looking outside of yourself is a strategic error. The most important lesson you must understand that you are 100 percent responsible for your life – the good and the bad . . . The basic idea is that every outcome you experience in life (whether it’s success or failure, wealth or poverty, wellness or illness, intimacy or estrangement, joy or frustration) is the result of how you have responded to an earlier event in your life. Likewise, if you want to change the results you get in the future, you must change how you respond to events in your life … starting today.
Meyer has his own spin on it, but it's basically the same thing:
You can’t control the Es of life—the Events you encounter. And you don’t have direct control over the Os—the Outcomes. The only thing you do have total control over is the Rs—your Responses to the Events you encounter.
Meyer's version goes on to set forth six mental techniques to make sure your Responses to Events help you achieve optimal Outcomes. Things like "press pause" to give yourself time to think about how you react and "get your mind right" to focus on positive things rather than negative things. Taken together, these techniques are called "The R Factor." The idea is to use "The R Factor" to "Own your R," or your Response, and thereby achieve good Outcomes when confronted by life's Events.
My kids' school's version of this is basically identical to Meyer's. There's lots of talk about the R-Factor and "Owning your R." They had a months-long program about it last year, complete with video seminars and rallies and stuff. They hand out the wristbands shown above to kids who want 'em. They even had a damn logo.
Given the misuse of the word "everyday" on it, it's pretty clear that this is 100% a function of school administrators and that the English teachers were not consulted. Maybe more than just the English teachers should've been consulted, actually, because if they were, maybe someone would've pointed out how fucked up all of this really is.
It's fucked up because E + R = O is not just a means of supplying kids with problem-solving tools. As is made plain by Canfield and Meyer, with it comes an inherent promise -- you will be successful if you do this -- that cannot possibly be kept, it completely discounts the nature of the "Events" people face in the real world, and it demands that we ignore the advantages and disadvantages some people have to begin with, which changes the nature of the Events they face. Some people will fail in life, at least temporarily, no matter how much they "Own Their R." Others will succeed, no matter what, even if they do very little.
That's because not all "Events" are created equally. Nor, despite what we are so often told to believe, are all people. At least in terms of means and privilege.
In the real world, some kids wake up in the morning with no food to eat or go to bed at night having suffered abuse at the hands of those who are supposed to care for them. In the real world the deck is stacked in favor of the wealthy, white people, straight people and men while it is stacked against the poor, people of color, LGBTQ+ people and women. In the real world people get sick or suffer from chronic diseases. In the real world people suffer from mental illness. There's a lot of bad shit out there wrapped up in that "E."
People like Canfield and Meyer, however, would have us discount all of that. "You are 100% responsible for your life," says Canfield. "Unsuccessful people focus too much on the E part," says Meyer. I'm struggling to think of how anyone other than someone who has not had to deal with much in the way of adversity -- or someone who has far more non-self-motivational tools at their disposal to deal with it such as money, power or privilege -- could discount the potential power and magnitude of adversity so cavalierly.
Which, in some ways, makes it understandable why my kids' school so readily took up the E + R = O concept.
New Albany is a wealthy community. While not everyone here is rich, there is much more money here than in almost any town or any school district in the state. Yes, everyone is fighting a battle outsiders know nothing about, but it's also the case that most people in New Albany have much greater resources to fight those battles. Poverty or economic insecurity is not a concern for the vast majority of kids here. Neither is crime. It's an overwhelmingly white place too, so most of the kids at my kids' school have never and will never have to deal with discrimination or bigotry the way many kids do.
In light of all of that it's probably true that, in a great many cases here, some simple positive thinking and R-owning will result in a great many positive Outcomes. But that's because almost any techniques -- be it "getting one's mind right" or "calling Daddy for help" -- is going to result in a great many positive Outcomes for kids in New Albany. The deck is stacked in favor of most of them and most of them are going to be dealt a better hand regardless.
That state of affairs underscores just how pernicious E + R = O is as a philosophy. It demands that people forget external inputs such as basic inequality and biased institutions and credit themselves with all outcomes. When the idea is applied to a group of people who are inherently privileged, it serves primarily to reinforce that privilege by having its practitioners believe that they, and nothing else, are responsible for their success. It demands that they forget that they were born on third base while giving them permission to celebrate hitting a triple. Meanwhile, it demands that they look at those who are not so privileged -- those who may be crushed by a wave of Events far bigger than most New Albany kids will ever know -- and blame them for their failure to achieve good Outcomes. Studies have also shown that constantly telling disadvantaged kids that society is inherently fair can be harmful.
No, I don't think that's what New Albany school administrators had in mind when they adopted E + R = O. I don't think they rolled it out as an explicit means of reinforcing the plutocracy or whatever. To the contrary, I suspect that aspect of it wasn't dwelled on much if at all and, instead, the idea's proponents focused on the "R Factor" stuff which, boiled down to its essence, is some pretty straightforward power of positive thinking stuff.
And I'm sympathetic to that.
There are better and worse ways to respond to life's challenges. It's true that it's better to be positive rather than negative if possible. It's true that it's best to find constructive ways to address adversity if we can. I want my kids to be good problem-solvers and I want them to face adversity with as much rationality, determination and positivity as they can muster. I've spent their whole lives trying as best I can to instill those ideas in them and if the school wants to help me with that, I'm happy for them to do it.
But it's possible to do that without going all-in with a toxic, prepackaged and celebrity-endorsed philosophy like E + R = O. A philosophy that casts anyone who falls short of their goals as a failure and blames them for that failure when, often, they are not to blame, and credits anyone who has achieved success as responsible for and worthy of that success even when, often, they did nothing but be born to achieve it.
And I'd say that even if Urban Meyer wasn't suspended and then forced into an early retirement because he refused to Own his R in the face of a big E that happened with one of his employees about a year ago. God, screw that guy.
"Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed." -- Antonin Scalia, Doe v. Reed, 561 U.S. 186 (2010)
Yesterday Congressman Joaquin Castro -- who is also chairman of his brother Julian Castro's presidential campaign -- tweeted out the names of several notable people and business owners in his district who made maximum campaign donations to Donald Trump. Castro said he did so because "their contributions are fueling a campaign of hate that labels Hispanic immigrants as 'invaders,'" and said that people should know who in their community are giving financial support for that agenda.
A backlash to Castro's tweet has emerged. Some of it is predictable, with Republicans calling it "targeting" or "shameful" and the Trump campaign itself calling it "reckless and irresponsible." Some members of the media, most notably the New York Times' chief White House correspondent, Maggie Haberman, have also taken issue with it, calling it "dangerous."
This is absolutely crazy.
The notion that listing names from legally-mandated public lists of political campaign donors is somehow out-of-bounds is unadulterated insanity. The ENTIRE POINT of campaign donation disclosure laws is for people to know who donates to whom. The ENTIRE POINT is to make it clear who is, or who may be, beholden to whom as a result of financial support for one's campaign. It's a an essential means of fighting corruption and promoting transparency in our political system and has been so for centuries.
The Republican response is particularly nonsensical. Republicans have sought -- successfully, I will add -- to massively increase the amount of money in politics under the guise of free speech. Their argument: a campaign donation is an act of free expression under the First Amendment and thus should not be limited, even in the case of corporations, who likewise possess free speech rights. For them to now claim that those exercising their all-important free speech rights should be able to do so in anonymity is deliciously hypocritical. Or it would be if, as I suspect, this little bit of outrage isn't the opening salvo in an effort to have campaign donation disclosure laws repealed. Short of that, the outrage likely centers on Republicans wanting to be able to hide just how much they support Donald Trump, thereby allowing themselves to say, later, when he is gone, that they never supported such a disgrace of a president and a human being.
The media's discomfort with this is likewise ridiculous. Reporters routinely do stories on campaign donations and donors, using the very same freely-available data Castro used to do so. Indeed, the same New York Times for which Maggie Haberman works published an article with the names of each and every donor to the Clinton Foundation -- thousands upon thousands of people -- complete with a searchable database a couple of years ago. And they were fully within their rights to do it. For them to now be uneasy with this shows just how easily they are swayed by -- or just how much they fear -- Republican outrage on any given topic.
Back in my days as a lawyer I spent a lot of time handling campaign finance cases before the Ohio Elections Commission. Let me tell you, there is NOTHING a corrupt politician wants more than to be able to hide who his donors are. The campaign disclosure laws seek to prevent that. And, given that the campaign finance system is itself overseen by political actors, the public nature of such disclosures is an absolutely essential component of the system. Citizens and the press must have access to this information. Indeed, the more they read and disseminate about campaign donations the better the system will be understood, the more people will know about who has power and who seeks influence, and thus the better and more transparently the system will function.
Of course, I have no idea if Castro's use of this information is good politics. It may not be. It could backfire. Or someone could use the same tactic against him or his brother to their detriment. Who knows? But the mere fact that someone -- even someone with a political agenda like Castro -- is using this information should be of no concern to the rest of us whatsoever.
We don't debate whether anyone who says the things Trump says is a racist. It's obvious. I mean, if your neighbor told a black person to "go back to Africa" or a any other non-white, native-born person "go back to where you came from," the message would be loud and clear: a non-white person is less-than-American and unwelcome to them. It would be racism in its most naked form.
Yet, suddenly, when the guy who does it has some sort of political constituency, it's a matter of fine nuance, with the media choosing its mildly-at-best condemning language carefully and Republicans breaking out Webster's dictionary to parse the meaning of "racism" in a way that makes it OK for them to give Trump a pass.
It's patently ridiculous, of course. Trump is a racist. It's not even a close call and it's far, far from being a matter for debate. If you support him, you support a racist. It's pretty simple.
Now, to be clear, you can like some things presidents do and not like others and hedge support most of the time. But not when racism is involved. You don't get to pick and choose when the evil is so dire.
Racism -- via slavery, Jim Crow and everything that has flowed from it -- is our nation's original and lasting sin. It is that, above everything else, our nation has to answer for, then, now and forever. As such, all else should fall away when it re-emerges, re-ascendant. You don't get to pick and choose to say "sure, he's ushered in an age of white ethnonationalism, but the economy is good, so . . ."
People can have one view or another on any manner of issues and take the good with the bad in what will, inevitably, be imperfect leadership. But not when it comes to racism. When it comes to that, anything other than total rejection and opposition is morally and ethically unacceptable. Your tax cuts and deregulation and whatever the hell else you want from this administration can wait while you either oppose it fully or admit you stand complicit with racists, legitimizing them. Our nation's history has mandated that you make that choice.
Pick your side.
Baseball and literary legend Jim Bouton died today. He was 80. My full story about his life and work can be read over at the baseball site. Now, though, something personal.
I have spent most of my life as something of a square peg in a round hole.
What should I have done with all of those past uneasy fits and what should I do about the present ones?
It's natural for some to simply assess the landscape and do what needs to be done to conform and fit in. I can't do it and never have been able to. There are times I desperately wished I could do that. I often think about how much easier my life would've been if I could've done it. But I simply can't. It's not in me.
By the same token, it's natural for some to rebel. To embrace iconoclasm and nonconformity and to wear those things like a badge of honor. That's not me either. My inability to readily fit in is not a point of pride and lashing out at authority or the establishment is not a part of my DNA, even if its opposite is not either.
I've always been caught in between. I am aware that I have always been different -- aware that I don't fit in well with my surroundings -- and I am proud of those differences. But I have never been able to shake the reluctant realization that I want and need at least some semblance of the approval of others. At least some validation from my peers, however defined. At least some place within the institutions I respect and which I superficially inhabit. This conflict has often caused me to exist in the world I live in uncomfortably, torn between my desire to find peace within it and my inability to simply relax and let peace wash over me, chafing against those constraints.
Despite all of this, I am a man at peace. I'm a happy person. Not because I know how to solve this dilemma -- I certainly don't -- but because I know I am not alone. I know that there are many people who feel this way. I have even had role models who have faced these same dilemmas and managed to triumph. Jim Bouton was one of them. Maybe the greatest among them.
Bouton was a square peg in baseball's round hole. He figured out pretty early that he wasn't much like his peers even if his skills entitled him to a place alongside them. He might've done well for himself if he had managed to put his head down and conform like so many players before him and so many since. He might've pitched in the big leagues until the late 70s or early 80s as a rubber-armed knuckleballer. Or, at the very least, might've latched on as a coach and maybe could've become a manager or a front office executive one day. He was a smart guy. He would've done a good job with it, I bet.
But he simply couldn't. For all that he wrote I don't think he ever really explained why, but my sense is that, like me, it would've simply been impossible and self-denying for him to do so. He had to do what the voice inside his head told him to do, even when it was likely to send him into a bad place. Which, by the way, it did. It caused him to be involuntarily exiled from baseball and to be ostracized by his former teammates and peers. He landed well -- he became a sportscaster and an actor and did all kinds of other interesting things -- but there was no guarantee that would happen. Bouton did what his conscience and is id told him to do, foregoing the easier path that conformity would've offered him.
Yet, at the same time, he was no true rebel. He was no iconoclast and never claimed to be. He didn't want to burn down the game of baseball and walk away as he blew out the match. Even before the fallout, as he was writing "Ball Four," he wrote of his fear and anxiety about not being a part of the game anymore. He worried that he couldn't pitch anymore and openly wondered what and who he was if he could not get major league hitters out and stick with a team. Later, years after the professional success and professional calamity that was occasioned by "Ball Four," he still longed to play baseball. He worked his tail off in the minors and the Mexican League simply to continue to do what he loved, with his most famous written words -- "You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time" -- no doubt echoing in his mind.
And he was successful. His five games with the Atlanta Braves in 1978, eight years after he was more or less drummed out of the game, served as validation for him. He had bristled against baseball's culture of conformity and, as a result was pushed out of the game, but he still needed it and wanted to be a part of it, badly. And he got it.
I was only a teenager when I first read "Ball Four," but something in it beyond its merely enjoyable prose resonated with me, even if I had no idea what it was. When I re-read it in my 30s it hit me harder. I felt a push and pull in my life that I couldn't really describe and I saw something akin to it in Bouton's pages even if I didn't know quite how it all fit together.
Now, on the day he died, it has finally crystalized for me. The battle between Bouton's inability to conform and his inability to truly rebel was not one either side of him was ever going to win and success or failure in his life was never going to be defined by the outcome of that battle. Rather, Bouton was defined by that push and pull. His success in life -- which I believe he achieved in spades, and I hope he died believing it too -- was a function of his finding grace and peace in the midst of it all, knowing that conflict would never be truly resolved.
In this, Bouton provided a sterling example for all of us who find ourselves in that same dilemma. In this, Jim Bouton became the patron saint for those who chafe.