If we had nothing else, this one small thing would show how unhinged Trump is

Forget dumping TPP, “alternative facts,” threats to bring back torture, the Wall, the admiration for Putin, “grab her by the p___y,” Alicia Machado and all the rest.

Try to imagine that up to now, Donald Trump has acted like a perfectly normal, grounded, mature human being.

This one interview would be enough to make you say, “This guy’s lost it!”

The way President Trump tells it, the meandering, falsehood-filled, self-involved speech that he gave at the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters was one of the greatest addresses ever given.

“That speech was a home run,” Trump told ABC News just a few minutes into his first major television interview since moving into the White House. “See what Fox said. They said it was one of the great speeches. They showed the people applauding and screaming. … I got a standing ovation. In fact, they said it was the biggest standing ovation since Peyton Manning had won the Super Bowl, and they said it was equal. I got a standing ovation. It lasted for a long period of time.”

The most powerful man in the world continued: “You probably ran it live. I know when I do good speeches. I know when I do bad speeches. That speech was a total home run. They loved it. … People loved it. They loved it. They gave me a standing ovation for a long period of time. They never even sat down, most of them, during the speech. There was love in the room. You and other networks covered it very inaccurately. … That speech was a good speech. And you and a couple of other networks tried to downplay that speech. And it was very, very unfortunate that you did.”…

It’s like he was trying to outdo Alexandra Petri’s satirical column (“The true, correct story of what happened at Donald Trump’s inauguration“) spoofing how awesome Trump thinks his inauguration was.

Soon, it will become impossible to lampoon him, as nothing satirists will be able to dream up will exceed the things he actually says.

Seriously, who talks like this? If you’d never heard of the guy, and heard him talking this way about himself, you’d start to steadily back away, trying to make no sudden moves…

trump interview

They’re actually still going on about this

relentless

I followed a link provided by Bryan to a site that Wikipedia describes as “conservative,” but — just going by the headlines — seems quite a bit farther to the right than that.

Anyway, in the middle of the piece Bryan had linked to, I saw the above ad. Here’s what it linked to.

And I thought, “Really? Still?

I had thought all that demonize-the-Clintons stuff was about keeping her from becoming president. Apparently, for some folks, it’s a career.

Which, of course, is what’s wrong with American politics across the spectrum from left to right: All those folks out there, in the parties and the many more-or-less affiliated interest groups, whose jobs depend on keeping people outraged…

Open Thread for Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Laura and Rob

Laura and Rob Petrie

I’ve been really tied up today with a client that had some news to get out, and I’m about to run to an event, so just very briefly:

  1. Leatherman re-elected to lead SC Senate — I’m sure y’all were on pins and needles about how this would come out, so I thought I’d let you know, just to relieve the suspense…
  2. Trump Orders Mexican Border Wall — This one’s probably a big shock to you, too… sorry to throw so many of them at you at once.
  3. Trump seeks ‘major investigation’ into his unsupported claims of voter fraud — Because you know, we just really need to be wasting time and money on this thing that exists only in Trump’s fevered imagination.
  4. White House draft order calls for review on use of CIA ‘black site’ prisons — Also, he may reinstitute torture. Just FYI, in case any of y’all were thinking about getting into the terrorism game.
  5. Cobb Theatres pulls out of Bull Street development — They were going to build a 10-screen “luxury cinema.” Now they’re not.
  6. She Turned The World On With Her Smile: Mary Tyler Moore Dies At 80 — I like best to remember her from “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” saying, “Oh, Ro-o-o-o-b-b!”

Open Thread for Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Screengrab of WIS feed of McMaster's swearing-in.

Screengrab of WIS feed of McMaster’s swearing-in.

Sorry I hadn’t had time to post today before now, but here you go:

  1. McMaster becomes governor of SC — After Nikki Haley is confirmed for U.N. post. You knew both of those were going to happen. After this, it gets interesting.
  2.  Israel approves huge expansion of settlements in response to Trump presidency — Yeah… that doesn’t sound great, even though I opposed the Obama administration’s abstention. Still… not stabbing Israel in the back is one thing — but more settlements? Don’t worry, though — Nikki’s on the case…
  3. Trump signs executive orders seeking to revive controversial oil pipelines — If you’ll recall, the Energy Party (known to the White House as the Enery Party) is on record as favoring the Keystone Pipeline. Or at least, we did in 2012. I don’t know what I think about the Dakota one….
  4. Leatherman resigns to avoid becoming lieutenant governor — Which is what I’d do in his place — if I had the votes to come back. Meanwhile, Kevin Bryant steps up to accept the booby prize, which he seems to actually want. Folks who don’t want a NC-style bathroom bill in SC should hope Henry stays healthy.
  5. Corley resigns after being indicted for CDV — Unlike Leatherman, though, I don’t think this one is coming back.
  6. Donald Trump still holds baseless belief that millions voted illegally — Yeah, he’s like that. The White House says this is based on “evidence”… that the White House is not sharing. So, ya know — Situation Normal, All Trumped Up.

Trump just handed the Pacific Rim to China

Trump, thinking hard before killing TPP. Feel free to laugh bitterly.

Trump, thinking hard before killing TPP. Feel free to laugh bitterly.

Well, he didn’t just do it. I tweeted about it eight hours ago, but now let’s discuss it here.

Here’s what’s happened:

President Trump began recasting America’s role in the global economy Monday, canceling an agreement for a sweeping trade deal with Asia that he once called a “potential disaster.”

Trump signed the executive order formally ending the United States’ participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the Oval Office after discussing American manufacturing with business leaders in the Roosevelt Room. The order was largely symbolic — the deal was already essentially dead in Congress — but served to signal that Trump’s tough talk on trade during the campaign will carry over to his new administration….

“This abrupt action so early in the Trump administration puts the world on notice that all of America’s traditional economic and political alliances are now open to reassessment and renegotiation,” said Eswar Prasad, trade policy professor at Cornell University. “This could have an adverse long-run impact on the ability of the U.S. to maintain its influence and leadership in world economic and political affairs.”…

Yeah, well, that’s not all it can do, and probably will do.

We’ve heard a lot of nonsense in the past year about TPP, most of which had little to do with what was actually at stake. There was a good piece summing up the situation fairly neatly in the NYT in November after the election. First, it explained, “the deal, between the United States and 11 Asian and Pacific nations, was never just about trade.” So what was it about? Serious, sweeping, grownup-level geopolitics:

The agreement, the Trans­-Pacific Partnership, was conceived as a vital move in the increasingly tense chess match between China and the United States for economic and military influence in the fastest­-growing and most strategically uncertain part of the world. The deal, which excluded China, was intended to give those 11 nations more leverage in that strained match by providing them with a viable economic alternative. And its defeat is an unalloyed triumph for China, the country that President­-elect Donald J. Trump castigated repeatedly over trade…

Now, instead of Pacific Rim nations gathering under American leadership, growing closer in the face of increasing lawless aggression by China, we have China moving to do much the same deal under its own leadership, freezing us out.

And we’re not just talking about weak-kneed nations in China’s geographic shadow, or some of the usual suspects in our own hemisphere, where the Chinese have been steadily wooing friends for a generation:

Australia said on Wednesday that it wanted to push ahead with a Chinese-­led trade pact that would cover Asian nations from Japan to India but exclude the United States. Peru has opened talks with Beijing to join the agreement as well. Even American business leaders are positioning themselves for the potential opportunities in Asia…

Et tu, Australia? One of our four closest friends in the world?

Of course, none of this matters a bit to Mr. America First, who likes to grumble at China but will hand Pacific leadership to it in order to curry favor with his isolationist, xenophobic base.

We’ve been in danger on this issue all year, with gratuitous populism washing over both ends of our political spectrum.

Some of my interlocutors here like to excuse Trump now and then by castigating Hillary Clinton for this or that. Everyone has his or her favorite Hillary sins to cite. Well, you know what I think is the most reprehensible, unprincipled thing she did in the past year?

It was turning away from TPP. And it was the worst because she knew better. Sanders and Trump didn’t but she did. And she lacked the confidence, security and character to stand up to the Feel the Bern crowd, even as the grownups in the Obama administration were working double tides to salvage sound policy.

So we were headed toward the wrong door either way. The only hope was that she might have hesitated when it came time to kill this “gold standard” (her words) agreement outright.

Trump, who is not burdened by knowing better, did not hesitate for an instant. And now, no doubt, they’re breaking out the Maotai in Beijing, because an advantageous position for the cause of freedom in the world just got flipped upside-down….

Trump’s grotesque first outing, and ‘alternative facts’

Trump preening in front of Langley's Holy of Holies.

Trump preening in front of Langley’s Holy of Holies./Still from CBS video.

Before I even knew what he said Saturday, I cringed at the image: Donald Trump… who has likened our intelligence community to Nazi Germany for its sin of having told the truth about Russia injecting itself into our election on his behalf… standing in front of the wall at Langley that honors CIA officers killed in the line of duty.

That, alone, was grotesque. But hey, maybe that’s not Trump’s fault. Maybe the CIA people set it up for him to stand there. Move on…

Then I learned what he said while he was there. He was there to mend fences — and good for him wanting to do that, and making it a priority. But he dishonored those assembled and even more those on the wall by spending a huge portion of his time moaning about the awful media and how they lie all the time.

What would be the pettiest “lie” for him to focus on? Yep, he claimed that the turnout for his inauguration was greater than it was, and lambasted the media for reporting it accurately.

He went on and on about it. To some who were there, it seemed he spent most of his time  talking about his grievance with the media rather than mending fences with the CIA. That’s not quite the case. Here’s a transcript of his rambling, hard-to-follow monologue (no, President Trump will not be any more coherent than the candidate was). I went through and tried, as well as I could, to separate the “CIA” parts from the “me, me, ME!” parts. My rough division came up with 1,450 words in the CIA sections, and 937 words that were purely moaning about himself and the media.

Still, pretty bad. And worse if you consider that he finds it hard to talk about the CIA without self-aggrandizement showing up in the same sentence. An example:

You know, the military and the law enforcement, generally speaking, but all of it — but the military gave us tremendous percentages of votes. We were unbelievably successful in the election with getting the vote of the military. And probably almost everybody in this room voted for me, but I will not ask you to raise your hands if you did. (Laughter.) But I would guarantee a big portion, because we’re all on the same wavelength, folks. (Applause.) We’re all on the same wavelength, right? He knows. It took Brian about 30 seconds to figure that one out, right, because we know we’re on the same wavelength.

But we’re going to do great things….

Maybe I shouldn’t have included those 114 words in the “CIA” file, since it’s so “me, me, me.” But hey, that’s how this guy reaches out to people. The basic form is, Wow, I am so great and awesome, and I know you appreciate that, so you’re great, too. I include you in my awesomeness.

So it’s hard to know what to put in the “focusing on others” category, and what is purely “focusing on me.”

A side note about the part about him and the media: He mentioned one actual error that one reporter had committed (a TIME reporter failed to see the bust of MLK in the Oval Office, and reported it was missing) — and then corrected right away as soon as he knew it was wrong. Which is what reporters do, immediately, when they report things that aren’t right. Trump, of course, uses the incident to suggest that this is but one example of the dishonesty of the media. (At least, that seems to be what he’s saying. As usual, it’s a bit hard to parse. At one point, he’s excusing the mistake; at another, he’s attaching universal significance to it.)

Note that Trump couldn’t even tell this anecdote without an extensive, childishly pathetic digression about how awesome he is: “So a reporter for Time magazine — and I have been on there cover, like, 14 or 15 times. I think we have the all-time record in the history of Time Magazine. Like, if Tom Brady is on the cover, it’s one time, because he won the Super Bowl or something, right? (Laughter.) I’ve been on it for 15 times this year. I don’t think that’s a record, Mike, that can ever be broken. Do you agree with that? What do you think?” Just, wow.

And how were the media being dishonest? By truly reporting a simple fact: The crowd that turned out for Trump’s inauguration was smaller than those for Obama in 2009 and 2013. This is obviously, clearly true, whether you go by photographs or Metro ridership. Here’s the 2009 crowd, and here’s the 2017 crowd. And it’s no big deal. Only the most fragile and insecure of men would be bothered by such a fact being reported. Hey, it was raining — so who cares, right?

Trump cares. Trump cares bigly. And therefore, so do his people.

That same day, we were treated to what may have been the most extraordinary White House press briefing in history — and hey, this was just the press secretary’s first outing! He marked the occasion by fuming at the reporters that lies were truth and truth was lies. His lies were patently obvious ones, easily refuted. And after spouting these lies, he stormed off without taking questions, which would have been remarkable in itself.

Already, this guy has made us nostalgic for the honesty, affability and quiet reason of Ron Ziegler.

OK, so a new administration’s rookie press secretary gets up and makes a jackass of himself in his first at bat. So you acknowledge it and move on, right? You hope to do better in the next game.

Nope. Not this team. The media’s refusal to embrace this lie about how many people attended the inauguration is, in their minds, the first crisis of the new administration, and calls for lashing out and circling the wagons.

The next morning, Kellyanne Conway responded to Chuck Todd’s questions about Sean Spicer’s bizarre performance by saying:

Don’t be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck. You’re saying it’s a falsehood, and they’re giving — our press secretary, Sean Spicer, gave alternative facts to that.

And she was serious about that! Watch the video below.

OK, so now you have it: This new administration that was going to “Make America Great Again” spent its first weekend in power engaging in a full-court press insisting that a lie was true. Insisting adamantly, because this utterly trivial matter is of the highest importance to this crowd, because anything bearing on his fragile ego is of the highest importance to the new president!

And that the new president kicked off this farce while standing in front of a monument to patriots who died in the darkness, without credit or acclaim, transforms what might otherwise be low comedy into obscenity.

Our very first (fill in the blank) president

The saddest thing I saw this morning was United States Marines saluting as Trump arrived at the White House. All these years they kept their honor clean. Now this...

The saddest thing I saw this morning was United States Marines saluting as Trump arrived at the White House. All these years they kept their honor clean. Now this. Not their fault, of course. They’re doing their duty as always. But as someone would say: Sad!

Initially, I saw this in the Post this morning:

John F. Kennedy was the first Catholic president; Ronald Reagan, the first actor and also the first to have divorced; Barack Obama, the first African American….

And was going to Tweet, “And today we swear in our very first idiot president.” But if I Tweeted it, it would also be seen by the politer souls of Facebook, and there could be hurt feelings. And Jesus told us that “whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” Which should most certainly give us pause. And my wife, my conscience, really doesn’t like it when I call people idiots, however richly they have deserved the honor.

So I’m trying to dial that back. Today sorely tries that resolution, but I’m trying to keep it nonetheless. As I type this, I’m listening to some Donovan in the hope that will gentle me, or at least serve as a soporific, something to numb me (Season of the Witch, indeed! So strange..). We’ll see if it works. Laudanum would probably work better.

But back to that Post story about the precedents being set today. A few examples from the list of what Donald J. Trump is:

  • The first president to have never performed public service, either by holding public office or serving in the military….
  • At age 70, the oldest man to be inaugurated president. (Ronald Reagan was 69.)…
  • The first president to be the subject of a Comedy Central Roast….
  • The first president to have not disclosed his tax returns during the campaign since the tradition began in 1976….
  • The first president to have hosted a reality show.
  • And the first to still hold the title of executive producer of one….
  • The first president to appear on Howard Stern’s radio program. Repeatedly. And brag about his sex life and discuss women’s appearances….

I’ll stop there, as I may have exceeded the bounds of Fair Use already. But I should set straight one “first” that is not. The story notes that “He will not be the first to be married to a former model. Betty Ford also modeled. However, he will be the first to be married to a former model who posed topless.”

So we have that to celebrate.

For their part, the folks at The Wall Street Journal protested that “Mr. Trump isn’t wholly unique.” Perhaps not wholly. For instance, they note that “Mr. Trump likes to play golf, a pastime many past presidents relished.”

So there’s that, too, but it’s thin stuff. And in the end, in the Journal story as well, it’s the departure from all that this country has previously experienced that stands out. We were blessed for so long, and being flawed humans, we didn’t properly appreciate it…

Trump point

Open Thread for Thursday, January 19, 2017

"That block was already messed up."

“That block was already messed up.”

Just a few items to discuss on America’s last day as a respectable nation:

  1. President-Elect Says Nation Was Divided Long Before Election — You ever see “Rush Hour?” My favorite line is when the captain, chewing out Chris Tucker, yells, “You destroyed half a city block!” Tucker shrugs it off: “That block was already messed up.”
  2. Mexican drug lord ‘El Chapo’ is being extradited to the United States — What!?! I thought that at the very least, Trump would keep out a guy like that! So what did we elect him for? No, seriously: What did we elect him for?
  3. At least this time we don’t have to pretend the president is good — I’m sharing this Washington Post opinion piece because it’s written by Columbia’s own Barton Swaim, the former speechwriter to Mark Sanford. Most provocative line, which he attributes to a left-of-center friend: “the rhetoric of consensus is always coercive.” As a big believer in consensus, I’d like to discuss that with Barton.
  4. Steven Mnuchin, Treasury Nominee, Failed to Disclose $100 Million in Assets — As I said on Twitter this morning, if this guy’s so loaded, why doesn’t he go out and buy himself another vowel?

Where did Melchizedek come from?

Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_The_Meeting_of_Abraham_and_Melchizedek_-_WGA20435

“The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek,” by Sir Peter Paul Rubens

The first of yesterday’s Catholic scripture readings (which I have emailed to me daily, and actually remembered to read at breakfast yesterday) is this one:

Reading 1 Heb 7:1-3, 15-17

Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of God Most High,
met Abraham as he returned from his defeat of the kings
and blessed him.

And Abraham apportioned to him a tenth of everything.
His name first means righteous king,
and he was also “king of Salem,” that is, king of peace.
Without father, mother, or ancestry,
without beginning of days or end of life,
thus made to resemble the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.

It is even more obvious if another priest is raised up
after the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become so,
not by a law expressed in a commandment concerning physical descent
but by the power of a life that cannot be destroyed.
For it is testified:

You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

Which reminds me. I’ve always wondered: Where did Melchizedek come from? To refresh your memory, here’s where he made his initial appearance:

GN 14:18-20

In those days, Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine,
and being a priest of God Most High,
he blessed Abram with these words:
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
the creator of heaven and earth;
and blessed be God Most High,
who delivered your foes into your hand.”
Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

OK, so… Abram, soon to be Abraham, pretty much invented monotheism, right? Or rather, to be more theologically correct, discovered it. Everybody else was worshiping idols, and then the one true God reached out to him, and all of Judaism and Christianity and Islam grew out of that original covenant.

I mean, he’s still trying to get this whole Most High God concept straight in his head, and bang! A priest of that same God shows up on his doorstep?

Not only that, but this priest already has the whole routine down. Rituals were already established. Like an Army padre on the battlefield, he had brought the bread and wine with him. And most amazingly, he got Abraham to tithe! That’s a trick a lot of modern priests wish they could master, and here this guy gets the world’s first believer to go along with the program right off the bat!

After all that, it’s a wonder Father Melchizedek didn’t, before moving on, start regular bingo nights to raise money for a new roof for the parish school.

OK, I need to stop before I get blasphemous. But I’m sincere about this: How does the guy who started a religion meet up with a priest — whose existence suggests the prior development of rituals and procedures and perhaps an administrative hierarchy — of that same religion?

He was indeed “without father, mother, or ancestry.” Like Minerva, he came springing forth fully formed from the brow of this new faith.

Unbelievers among you will say, “Stop trying to find logic in a made-up story.” But here’s the thing: If you’re going to make it up, why gratuitously introduce an element that makes everybody say, “What?!?!” If you’re going to write a fairy tale, have it make sense so as to facilitate belief. Fiction writers introduce characters for a reason. What was the function of Melchizedek, other than to make us scratch our heads?

And yes, I know that the church has — starting with the epistle quoted above — developed the idea of Melchizedek as a prototype of the Christ, as the eternal priest-king. But that’s retroactive. What’s the original explanation? What’s Melchizedek’s back-story?

No, the story of Melchizedek is so weird and inexplicable that it smacks of reality, however much might have been lost over the centuries before it was written down. It lacks the orderliness of fiction. Reality is bizarre and too often inexplicable. Doubt me? OK, who would write a work of fiction that had Donald Trump being elected president of the United States, and expect anybody to read it? Case closed, ya heathens.

I will now pass around the collection plate…

Open Thread for Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Yo, Mr. President: Commuting Manning's sentence is a BFD -- and not in a good way.

Yo, Mr. President: Commuting Manning’s sentence is a BFD — and not in a good way.

Have we done one of these this year? Well if we have, we haven’t done it enough:

  1. President Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning’s Prison Sentence — Well, I suppose that’s all right. What would be outrageous and utterly unthinkable would be if he commuted the sentence of Bradley Manning, because that little slimeball betrayed his country big-time, and is lucky he wasn’t shot. Just to be clear about it. And let me say now that if the president is even thinking about dismissing charges against Edward Snowden, I may have to take back every good thing I’ve said about POTUS. That would be completely beyond the pale.
  2. Dollar Tumbles on Trump Comments — Welcome to the big leagues, Mr. Trump. Well, I don’t exactly mean welcome. That’s just what the worldwise major-leaguers say to the bushers when they do something stupid, right? If only we could send him down to single-A ball soon after the season starts Friday.
  3. British Leader Commits to a Clean Break From the E.U. — I’ve been seeing stories about this since early in the morning, starting with The Guardian, and I keep thinking, Isn’t this what we thought she’d say? Isn’t that what the referendum decided? I mean, I see that she says that in the future, British courts would hold sway, not E.U. courts. And I’m like, duh! They’re be NO point to a Brexit without that particular point of sovereignty. That’s minimal!
  4. Leatherman wants ‘dark-money’ groups to have to disclose donors — I’m all for that, and I’ve yet to hear a good argument against it.
  5. White Knoll standout, USC baseball commitment dies — A very sad story about a local kid who had his whole life ahead of him. I want to know more about what happened; I hope subsequent stories tell us.
Something I received just now from Lindsey Graham...

Something I received just now from Lindsey Graham…

“The Last Man to Walk on the Moon”

The news was buried deep inside the paper.

The news was buried deep inside the paper.

To someone who grew up in the ’60s, that headline (“The Last Man to Walk on the Moon”) sounds like the title of a dystopian science fiction novel — set in some future several centuries hence in which we’ve rendered the moon even less habitable than it is now, perhaps with radioactivity from the Second Great Interplanetary War.

Cernan on the moon.

Cernan on the moon.

But neither Heinlein nor Herbert nor Asimov nor Bradbury nor the rest could have imagined a future in which, in the near year 2017, we’d be looking back to the last trip to the moon as a thing that happened more than 40 years ago. (OK, maybe one of them did imagine something like that and I missed it. But it would have been a betrayal of the genre. In their stories, bad things might happen out there, but at least we would be there.)

When I was a kid, going to the moon was this super-exciting thing we were going to do in the future, as a necessary step before venturing to Mars and beyond. And now, it’s so far in the past it’s shocking.

Over the weekend, something caused me to think of “the Space Age,” and I was saddened to think of it as a thing in the now-distant past. We had thought we were on the leading edge of something that would last for the rest of human existence. Space travel would soon be like air travel — “2001” told us so!

Instead, after a few flights to the moon, we went backward. We pulled back to boring orbital flight, never again to leave our own backyard. And then we went back further, to where we no longer have the capability to send a man into orbit — astronauts have to catch a ride with the Russians. You know, the people we beat in the Space Race.

Astronauts are now like hobos, riding the rails when they get the chance.

Perhaps we Americans, we humans for that matter, are like the English after Spain discovered the New World — they waited well over a century before sending people to live there. (But if that’s the case, who is Spain, or Portugal?) So maybe someday, long after my generation is gone…

Anyway, those are the kinds of thought I have upon reading this, buried deep inside the paper today:

Astronaut Gene Cernan traced his only child’s initials in the dust of the lunar surface. Then he climbed into the lunar module for the ride home, becoming the last person to walk on the moon….

“Those steps up that ladder, they were tough to make,” Cernan recalled in a 2007 oral history. “I didn’t want to go up. I wanted to stay a while.”

His family said his devotion to lunar exploration never waned, even in the final year of his life. Cernan died Monday at age 82 at a Houston hospital following ongoing heath issues, family spokeswoman Melissa Wren told The Associated Press….

On Dec. 14, 1972, Cernan became the last of only a dozen men to walk on the moon. Cernan called it “perhaps the brightest moment of my life. … It’s like you would want to freeze that moment and take it home with you. But you can’t.”…

When he took those steps up that ladder to leave the moon and never return, so did his nation, his species.

And he was not happy about that.

Now, all our space heroes are dying of old age.

In the ’60s, during the Space Age, we were fired up with energy to meet the challenge that an inspirational president had set for us. I still get goosebumps:

We choose to go to the Moon!… We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things,[7] not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win

Now, this week, as Astronaut Cernan was breathing his last, our nation prepared to inaugurate… President Trump, whose great aspiration for our country is to build a wall to keep the Mexicans out.

How far we have fallen from the moon, from the stars…

And now, we have China threatening ‘a large-scale war’

China's one and only aircraft carrier, which they bought used./U.S. Navy

China’s one and only aircraft carrier, which they bought used./U.S. Navy

Or rather, we have state-controlled media doing so, which is a signal I think we have to take seriously:

The US risks a “large-scale war” with China if it attempts to blockade islands in the South China Sea, Chinese state media has said, adding that if recent statements become policy when Donald Trump takes over as president “the two sides had better prepare for a military clash”.

China has controversially built fortifications and artificial islands across the South China Sea. Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, said China’s “access to those islands … is not going to be allowed”.

China claims nearly the entire area, with rival claims by five south-east Asian neighbours and Taiwan.

Tillerson did not specify how the US would block access but experts agreed it could only be done by a significant show of military force. Tillerson likened China’s island building to “Russia’s taking of Crimea”.

“Tillerson had better bone up on nuclear power strategies if he wants to force a big nuclear power to withdraw from its own territories,” said an editorial in the Global Times, a Communist-party controlled newspaper….

I’m not disagreeing with anything Tillerson said, mind you — and it’s not all that different from the policy followed by the Obama administration — but the current situation is fraught.

On a previous post about Nikki Haley, Phillip Bush said:

That’s going to be a tough job, representing the views of the United States to the United Nations and the world when your own Administration is going to be one squabbling, Tweeting, contradictory, capricious, incoherent mess, especially on foreign policy. Her greatest challenge will come not from fellow delegates at the UN or on the Security Council, but trying to sort out and gracefully convey the day-to-day contradictions emanating from the government she is appointed to represent….

Yep.

One of the main narratives of this week has been that Trump’s nominees are not toeing the Trump line, particularly on foreign policy. Which in one way is encouraging (the nominees’ take is usually far wiser and better-informed), but in another way can lead to chaotic, incoherent policy, an unstable situation in which an unstable personality (hint, hint) can trigger an international crisis, perhaps even war, with a phone call — or a Tweet.

I have little doubt that Nikki Haley will conduct herself “gracefully,” but I do worry quite a bit about a diplomatic novice representing us on the Security Council without expert supervision and direction. That said, in a crisis, Nikki would be the least of my worries. And of course, the new POTUS would be my greatest.

What if, sometime after next Friday, Chinese state media issues a blustering threat like that, and includes some less-than-flattering reflections on Trump himself? How do you suppose he’ll react? And who will be able to contain him? And will they be in time?

Did y’all watch Nikki’s State of the State? Thoughts?

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File photo from the governor’s Facebook page.

CAVEAT: When I wrote this post I had missed something important in the governor’s speech, something that had come during the part I missed. It has bearing on the points I make in the post, and here it is.

I had a Community Relations Council meeting last night, so I only heard the very last part of Nikki Haley’s last State of the State on the radio driving home.

It sounded fine, as fond farewells go. I was a little disappointed by one thing. I heard her talking in a roundabout, indirect way about getting the Confederate flag down:

But above all, I will remember how the good people of South Carolina responded to those tragedies, with love and generosity and compassion, and what that has meant for our state.

I spoke earlier of my dear desire to see the image of South Carolina changed for the better. Standing here tonight, I can say with every confidence that it has happened, that that desire has been fulfilled.

But not because of me. The people of South Carolina accomplished the highest aspiration I had for our state all on their own.

They did it by showing the entire world what love and acceptance looks like. They did it by displaying for all to see the power of faith, of kindness, and of forgiveness. They did it by stepping up to every challenge, through every tragedy, every time.

But I wish she’d spoken about it more directly. When I got a copy of her speech later, I found that it only contained the word “flag” once, and that was in reference to the Clemson flag she and her daughter had hoisted over the State House earlier this week. (NOTE: This counts officially as a sports reference, and fulfills the weekly quota! So if y’all want to talk about that football game the other night, here’s a place for you to do it.)

Which disappointed me. Why? Because I think getting that other flag down was her defining moment, the one when she became the leader of South Carolina, and led us to where our lawmakers had refused for too long to go.

Did you see Obama’s farewell speech the other night? He mentioned getting bin Laden, didn’t he? Of course he did. That’s when he made his bones as commander-in-chief. Well, the flag was when Nikki made hers, only as leader of a mature, rational state where people may not forget, but they forgive, and care about each other.

Yeah, I get that she wanted her speech to be sweetness and light, and didn’t want to say anything that stirred ill feeling — and there are those who resent taking down the flag, although they’ve mostly been fairly quiet. And it seems safe to assume there’s a bit of a correlation between those folks and the set that voted for her soon-to-be boss.

But that was her proudest moment. I think it’s easy for people to downplay her role, but I’m telling you, I’ve known too many governors who didn’t want to touch that flag, or even talk about it. And I’ve known others who started to do something, but backed away, or accepted a “compromise” that settled nothing — because they saw that as the best they could get out of our Legislature. And maybe they were right, at the time.

But the thing that Nikki did was recognize the moment when it came, and seize it without hesitation. (That’s a huge part of leadership — recognizing when people are ready to be led. One of the secrets of Lincoln’s extraordinary achievements was his uncanny ability to see exactly when he could lead the country to do things it had always refused to do before.)

It was a moment in which the whole state was in shock and morning. And there were those who protested that this wasn’t the time to act, before the dead had even been buried. But sometimes that exactly when one must act, because later would be much too late.

When she stood up and said, essentially, Let’s not let this summer pass without getting that flag down for good — no fooling around, no compromises, that made all the difference. It made what had been impossible possible, and made it happen.

So if she’d wanted to speak to that directly, I’d have applauded. Because I’m proud of her for that.

She didn’t have to brag or anything. She could have stuck to her theme of “I didn’t do it; y’all did.” And that’s true, in the sense that our state was ready to be led there. But without someone strenuously pushing it through the Legislature, it wouldn’t have happened.

I’ll close with that video my son did after the first anti-flag rally after the shootings, the one I did the voiceover on. It testifies to a mood sweeping through our state. But I still said, it took what Nikki did to translate that into action…

Tim Scott’s celebrated one-word burn

I read about this in The State this morning, but it really didn’t make any sense without the original Tweet:

Tim Scott is the first black Republican U.S. senator from the South since Reconstruction and the only black Republican in the Senate at the moment. He also has announced he will vote for Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions to become the next attorney general.IPwQ2WC9

Given the allegations of racism that have followed Sessions since he was denied a federal judgeship in 1986, Scott’s decision to support him has been met with plenty of criticism.

And lots of that criticism has come online, especially on Twitter, where Scott has 162,000 followers. But one tweet in particular annoyed Scott. User @Simonalisa blasted Scott and former Sessions aide William Smith by referring to them using a racial slur….

“So I thought it was a good time to tell people what I thought.”…

The original Tweet and the account that produced it had been deleted, but I found a reTweet that reproduced it:

OK, now I get it.

Well played, senator.

I miss Garrison Keillor

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Saturday, the radio in our kitchen was on at 6 p.m., and when “Prairie Home Companion” came on… we turned it off.

Instead of turning it up, which is what we usually would have done, ever since we started listening to it out in Kansas in the ’80s.

It’s just not the same without Garrison Keillor. That deep, mellifluous, soothing voice, speaking of things that prompted nostalgia and peaceful reflection on the human condition, was what the show was about. I appreciated that the new guy made a joke in the first show about his high, piping voice, but you know, after a bit it’s not funny. I’ve lost my reason to listen.

Keillor is still writing. But frankly, I’ve never liked his writing quite as much on a page or screen — I prefer to hear him say it. Also, his unspoken stuff tends to be more political, and he’s such a doctrinaire liberal that a lot of stuff he says is a bit off-putting to me.

But… I find that if I can imagine him reading it, I’m fine with it. And this latest piece in The Washington Post yesterday made it very easy to hear the voice. It was gentle, it was kind, it was reassuring, unassuming and forgiving. And when you write in a voice like that, I can handle pretty much anything you have to say. An excerpt:

Face it, Southerners are nicer people

I’ve been down in South Carolina and Georgia, an old Northern liberal in red states, enjoying a climate like April in January and the hospitality of gracious, soft-spoken people, many of whom voted for He Who Does Not Need Intelligence, but they didn’t bring it up, so neither did I.

I walked into Jestine’s Kitchen in Charleston, and a waitress said, “Is there just one of you, sweetheart?” and her voice was like jasmine and teaberry. There was just one of me, though I wished there were two and she was the other one. She showed me to a table — “Have a seat, sweetheart, I’ll be right with you.” Liberal waitpersons up north would no more call you “sweetheart” than they would kiss you on the lips, and if you called one of them “sweetheart” she might hand you your hat. I ordered the fried chicken with collard greens and mashed potatoes and gravy and read a front-page story in the Charleston Post and Courier about a Republican state legislator charged with a felony for allegedly beating his wife in front of their weeping children, and then the waitress brought the food and I dug in and it was luminous, redemptive, all that chicken and gravy could be. If this is what Makes America Great Again, I am all for it….

I thought to myself, “A person could live in a town like this.” I’ve spent time with people whose politics agreed with mine and who were cold fish indeed and now that I’m elderly and have time on my hands, maybe I’d enjoy hanging out with amiable sweet-talking right-wingers. I’m just saying….

Indeed. And I miss hanging out with him on Saturday evenings…

(It’s fun when Yankees find us so captivating. Reminds me of the one year I lived above the Mason-Dixon line growing up. I attended second grade in Woodbury, NJ. I read more fluently than most 2nd-graders, and once a teacher heard me read aloud, she started lending me to other classes to read to the kids. I was happy to oblige. They thought my accent was so charming. They looked upon me as a pint-sized Ashley Wilkes, and that kind of thing can make a certain sort of Yankee lady just swoon.)

Wishing Bryan and Kathryn joy of their birthday

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I already knew thanks to Facebook that today was the birthday of two blog stars, Bryan Caskey and Kathryn Fenner.

Then Bryan told us it’s Alexander Hamilton’s special day, as well. (We know what his birthday was; it’s the year that’s in doubt.) You know, the Broadway star.

I thought I’d do a post about ALL the distinguished people born on this day, but when I Googled it, I got this ridiculous site that listed Hamilton, and a bunch of people I’ve never heard of. See the sample above. I had been hoping for famous people. Was that list put together by a bot from Teen Beat?

Wikipedia took the question more seriously, and yielded up:

Now, see, that’s some distinguished company! A Roman emperor — well, you can’t say fairer than that! And I honor DeVoto as editor of Mark Twain’s papers. And who is cooler than Clarence Clemons?

In any case, happy birthday to all, especially Kathryn and Bryan. I give you joy.

Oh, and a special blog welcome to Colton, Bud’s 6th grandchild!

That's me on the left, Doug on the right, and our birthday kids in the middle, at the 2013 Walk for Life. They were younger then...

That’s me on the left, Doug on the right, and our birthday kids in the middle, at the 2013 Walk for Life. They were younger then…

All the President-Elect’s Men

Remember the last scene of “All the President’s Men?” If you don’t, you can watch it above.

Pretty powerful. On a television on a desk in the newsroom of The Washington Post, Richard Nixon is seen triumphant, being inaugurated for the second time as president. In the background, across the newsroom, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (OK — Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, really) are not watching the event, because they’re too busy pounding out one of the stories that will bring Nixon down.

We experienced a moment like that tonight. In a prelude to the inauguration of Donald Trump next week, President Barack Obama was delivering a particularly graceful valedictory address — our last worthy, fit president reminding us of the values that America is supposed to be about. The feeling of the passing of American greatness was palpable. We had a good run there, for 44 presidents. Or 43, if you leave out James Buchanan.

Half of Twitter — including me (you can go peruse my Tweets) — was writing about that. The other half was writing about this, which corresponds to the counterpoint of Woodstein hammering away at the story that will doom the new president. Check this out:

Or this version:

Or, if you’re into the salacious, this:

Wow. I mean, just… wow.

This is early. The picture is incomplete. There’s always the chance that, as Trump claims, this is “FAKE NEWS – A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!” After all, there’s a lot of that going around lately.

But I have never, ever heard of allegations like this, however flimsy, being made about anyone about to become president of the United States. That alone makes this unprecedented.

The report alleges that, while Trump turned down some sweet deals offered by the Russians, “he and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals.” Yeah, and “FSB has compromised Trump through his activities in Moscow sufficiently to be able to blackmail him.”

Who knows at this point what’s true? For their part, though, our top intelligence chiefs found it worthy of passing on to the current and future presidents last week.

Here’s a caveat in The Guardian‘s story:

Despite glowing references from US and foreign officials who have worked with the source, there are some errors in the reports. One describes the Moscow suburb of Barvikha as “reserved for the residences of the top leadership and their close associates”, but although it is a very expensive neighbourhood, there are no restrictions on who can own property there. The document also misspells the name of a Russian banking corporation…

Must give us pause. But speaking of misspellings, The Guardian mentioned “Senator Lyndsey Graham” in the same story.

I don’t know where this is going to go. But it feels like one of those moments. You know, like in the movie…

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Well, that didn’t take long: Roof sentenced to death

Well, that didn’t take long, in the end:

So after all the buildup to the trial, and the lengthy trial itself, the jury made short work of the matter. It took less than three hours for them to decide.

We’ve known he did it since the day after the massacre itself. Now we’re done with the formalities, except for one.

What to say? Well, I don’t believe in the death penalty, but if you’re going to have one, this is what it’s for.

If I have any further objection, it is this: I wish he was receiving this sentence purely for the nine horrific murders he committed rather than for “hate crimes.” It worries me to see the United States of America put someone to death for his attitudes, however abominable they are. It almost belittles the enormity of what he did, by shifting part of our emphasis from the killing of innocents to punishing political views. (This is one of my few areas of agreement with libertarians.)

But when his execution comes, I guess it’s sort of moot what we call the crime. Once he’s dead, that’s it. He won’t do that any more.

This was a weird day in the courtroom, with Roof’s bizarre address to the jury that dramatically demonstrated why it’s a terrible idea to represent yourself. After supposedly taking over his defense because he didn’t want evidence introduced that point to insanity, he said, “Um, I think it’s safe to say that no one in their right mind wants to go into a church and kill people.”

His soliloquy included other weirdness, such as:

“Wouldn’t it be fair to say that the prosecution hates me?” Roof said, noting that prosecutors were seeking the death penalty.

Roof told the jury they might think, ” ‘Of course they hate you; everyone hates you. They have good reason to hate you.’ I don’t deny it.”…

We’ll never really known what made this guy tick. And perhaps that’s a blessing…