Lazy Caturday Reads: Trump and GOP Try to Destroy U.S. Democracy

“Yellow Cat Romps Butterfly” by Kim Hong-do (1745-1806)

Good Afternoon!!

I was so taken with the Korean folk art paintings that Dakinikat posted on Monday that I decided to focus on Korean cat art today. I hope these paintings will help you deal with today’s news, which is mostly stupid coup stories. Now that the Supreme court has rejected Trump’s last ditch effort to overturn the election results, he is melting down in even more embarrassing ways than ever. Will U.S. democracy survive? 

The New York Times: Supreme Court Rejects Texas Suit Seeking to Subvert Election.

The Supreme Court on Friday rejected a lawsuit by Texas that had asked the court to throw out the election results in four battleground states that President Trump lost in November, ending any prospect that a brazen attempt to use the courts to reverse his defeat at the polls would succeed.

The court, in a brief unsigned order, said Texas lacked standing to pursue the case, saying it “has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another state conducts its elections.”

The order, coupled with another one on Tuesday turning away a similar request from Pennsylvania Republicans, signaled that a conservative court with three justices appointed by Mr. Trump refused to be drawn into the extraordinary effort by the president and many prominent members of his party to deny his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., his victory.

Korean folk art - Magpie and Tiger

Korean folk art – Magpie and Tiger

It was the latest and most significant setback for Mr. Trump in a litigation campaign that was rejected by courts at every turn.

Texas’ lawsuit, filed directly in the Supreme Court, challenged election procedures in four states: Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It asked the court to bar those states from casting their electoral votes for Mr. Biden and to shift the selection of electors to the states’ legislatures. That would have required the justices to throw out millions of votes.

Mr. Trump has said he expected to prevail in the Supreme Court, after rushing the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett in October in part in the hope that she would vote in Mr. Trump’s favor in election disputes.

None of the three justices Trump appointed were willing to hear the case. But Republican support for Trump’s efforts have done permanent damage to our country. 

The New York Times: ‘An Indelible Stain’: How the G.O.P. Tried to Topple a Pillar of Democracy.

The Supreme Court repudiation of President Trump’s desperate bid for a second term not only shredded his effort to overturn the will of voters: It also was a blunt rebuke to Republican leaders in Congress and the states who were willing to damage American democracy by embracing a partisan power grab over a free and fair election.

The court’s decision on Friday night, an inflection point after weeks of legal flailing by Mr. Trump and ahead of the Electoral College vote for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Monday, leaves the president’s party in an extraordinary position. Through their explicit endorsements or complicity of silence, much of the G.O.P. leadership now shares responsibility for the quixotic attempt to ignore the nation’s founding principles and engineer a different verdict from the one voters cast in November.

Many regular Republicans supported this effort, too — a sign that Mr. Trump has not just bent the party to his will, but pressed a mainstay of American politics for nearly two centuries into the service of overturning an election outcome and assaulting public faith in the electoral system. The G.O.P. sought to undo the vote by such spurious means that the Supreme Court quickly rejected the argument.

Cat looking at butterlfly Byeon Sang-byeok, mid 18th century

Cat looking at butterfly, Byeon Sang-byeok, mid 18th century

Even some Republican leaders delivered a withering assessment of the 126 G.O.P. House members and 18 attorneys general who chose to side with Mr. Trump over the democratic process, by backing a lawsuit that asked the Supreme Court to throw out some 20 million votes in four key states that cemented the president’s loss.

“The act itself by the 126 members of the United States House of Representatives, is an affront to the country,” said Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee. “It’s an offense to the Constitution and it leaves an indelible stain that will be hard for these 126 members to wipe off their political skin for a long time to come.”

Read more at the link.

In response to the SCOTUS decision, Texas GOP chairman Adam West suggested that states that supported the lawsuit should secede from the union. Speaker Nancy Pelosi offered a more rational response:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued this statement after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to reject the sham GOP lawsuit demanding that Electoral College votes in four states be overturned and awarded to Donald Trump:

“The Court has rightly dismissed out of hand the extreme, unlawful and undemocratic GOP lawsuit to overturn the will of millions of American voters.

“The 126 Republican Members that signed onto this lawsuit brought dishonor to the House.  Instead of upholding their oath to support and defend the Constitution, they chose to subvert the Constitution and undermine public trust in our sacred democratic institutions.

“The pandemic is raging, with nearly 300,000 having died and tens of millions having lost jobs.  Strong, unified action is needed to crush the virus, and Republicans must once and for all end their election subversion – immediately.”

Trump reacted by skipping last night’s superspreader White House Christmas party and proceeding to melt down on Twitter. He was at it again this morning. I won’t reproduce the tweets; you can read them on Twitter if you want to endure the idiocy.

8298e29df3d8f2e58b972a7aa85ee14dSome thoughtful reactions to  Trump and GOP attacks on democracy:

Tom McCarthy at The Guardian: After the fact: the five ways Trump has tried to attack democracy post-election.

Historians could mark 2020 as the moment when Republicans applied the same zeal they have used to attack democracy in advance of elections, through voter suppression and gerrymandering, to attacking democracy on the back end, by trying to deny and overturn the results.

Here is a list of five post-election attacks on democracy by Donald Trump and Republicans that were new in 2020 but might haunt elections for years to come. 

Here’s McCarthy’s list–read the article for details: 1) Especially reckless and sustained election fraud charges, 2) Political pressure on local elections officials, 3) External legal challenges to the certification of state election results, 4) Internal political challenges to the certification of state election results, 5) The president’s role.

McCarthy on Trump’s behavior:

Should a president of the United States, after an election, be calling up county election officials in charge of certifying the results? Should a president invite lawmakers weighing an intervention in their state’s certification process for lunch? Should a president call out the mob on Twitter against a local election official or a state secretary of state who has resisted his schemes?

Whatever damage US democracy has sustained in 2020, much of it traces back to the source, to a president who did not see anything wrong in 2019 with coercing a foreign leader to try to take out a political opponent, who made the fealty of state governors a condition of pandemic aid, and who now has twisted the arms of elected officials across the United States in an effort to subvert the will of American voters.

The role that Trump has played in attacking the integrity of the American system is the most outrageous and unprecedented of all the unholy perversions of democracy that 2020 has seen. Whether that role will be replicated or reprised in future White Houses, and in future elections, could make all the difference.

Painting of Cats and Sparrows, drawn by Byeon Sang-bteij during the late period of Korean Joseon Dynasty, 1392-1910

Painting of Cats and Sparrows, drawn by Byeon Sang-bteij during the late period of Korean Joseon Dynasty, 1392-1910

William Saletan at Slate: Trump Is Finishing Russia’s Smear Campaign Against America.

Donald Trump’s presidency has been a gift to Russia. He has undermined NATO, withheld military aid to Ukraine, and abandoned America’s commitments to democracy and human rights. He has excused Vladimir Putin’s crimes, yielded to Russian troops in the Middle East, and dismissed Russia’s 2016 election interference as a hoax. Now Trump has been voted out by Americans, but he’s still serving Russia. He’s devoting his final days in office—and suggesting he might devote his post-presidency—to a long-standing Russian objective: destroying faith in U.S. elections.

For weeks, Trump has rejected Joe Biden’s victory as a fraud. In interviewstweetsspeeches, and a campaign rally in Georgia, Trump has accused Democrats of using dead people, undocumented immigrants, and software to manipulate the outcome. These allegations aren’t just lies. They’re replications, almost word for word, of propaganda that was spread by Russia in the United States and adopted by the Trump campaign in 2016. Russia expected Trump to lose that election, and it planned to portray his loss as evidence that American elections were rigged, that the U.S. government was illegitimate, and that the United States wasn’t really a democracy. Now that Trump has lost to Biden, that campaign of slander is underway. But it’s not being driven by Russians. It’s being driven by Republicans.

Russia’s strategy is detailed in three reports: one by the U.S. Intelligence Community, another by special counsel Robert Mueller, and a third by the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee. The ultimate goal of the operation wasn’t to elect Trump. It was to spread the idea that “U.S. election results cannot be trusted.” In 2016, Putin’s propagandists used fake Facebook pages and Twitter accounts (“Army of Jesus,” “Secured Borders,” “Tea Party News”) to plant bogus rumors of “voter fraud” in multiple states. They told the same horror stories and used the same trigger words Republicans use now: “rigged,” “dead people,” “illegal aliens,” globalist-controlled voting machines, “tens of thousands of ineligible mail in … votes,” and “voter fraud caught in Philadelphia.”

Trump and his followers parroted this propaganda during the 2016 campaign. Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump retweeted fake “#VoterFraud” updates written by Russian operatives. Kellyanne Conway, Brad Parscale, Michael Flynn, and other Trump campaign advisers also retweeted messages from the Russian accounts. When the Russians circulated a false rumor that voting machines were rigged against Trump, he repeated it on Fox News. After the election, when Russian front groups spread the word that “illegals” and “machines” had robbed Trump of the popular vote, he repeated that, too. “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” he declared.

There’s much more at the link.

CUL_Tiger_Persimmon_Body02Ryan Cooper at The Week: The Constitution has an answer for seditious members of Congress. Cooper notes that the pandemic is growing exponentially, while Trump and the GOP do nothing about it. At the same time Republicans supported Trump’s effort to overturn the election results.

In short, material conditions in this country have not been this bad since 1932 at least, and the political situation has not been this bad since 1860. The logical endgame of the rapidly-accelerating Republican attempt to destroy democracy while the country burns would be civil war — if it weren’t for the high probability that Democratic leaders would be too cowardly to fight.

But it’s worth thinking about what a party seriously committed to preserving democracy would do when faced with a seditious opposition party — namely, cut them out of power and force them to behave. Democrats could declare all traitors ineligible to serve in national office, convene a Patriot Congress composed solely of people who have not committed insurrection against the American government, and use that power to re-entrench democracy….

All members of Congress swear an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, which establishes a republican form of government. The whole point of a republic is that contests for power are conducted through a framework of rules and democratic elections, where all parties agree to respect the result whether they lose or win. Moreover, the premise of this lawsuit was completely preposterous — arguing in effect that states should not be allowed to set their own election rules if that means more Democrats can vote — and provides no evidence whatsoever for false allegations of tens of thousands of instances of voter fraud….

…this lawsuit, even though it didn’t succeed, is a flagrant attempt to overturn the constitutional system and impose through authoritarian means the rule of a corrupt criminal whose doltish incompetence has gotten hundreds of thousands of Americans killed. It is a “seditious abuse of the judicial process,” as the states of Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin jointly wrote in their response to Texas trying to steal their elections.

137837cc1c976c7b6ac3e2db96f77e4dThe Constitution, as goofy and jerry-rigged as it is, stipulates that insurrectionists who violate their oath are not allowed to serve in Congress. Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment, written to exclude Confederate Civil War traitors, says that “No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress … who … having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress … to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same[.]” How the Supreme Court ruled, or whether Republicans actually believe their lunatic claims, is irrelevant. It’s still insurrection even if it doesn’t work out.

Democrats would have every right, both under the Constitution and under the principle of popular sovereignty outlined in the Declaration of Independence, to convene a traitor-free Congress (also including similar acts committed by Republican senators like Lindsey GrahamDavid Perdue, Kelly Loeffler, and others), and pass such laws as would be necessary to preserve the American republic. That might include a national popular vote to decide the presidency, ironclad voting rights protections, a ban on gerrymandering either national or state district boundaries, full representation for the citizens of D.C. and Puerto Rico, regulations on internet platforms that are inflaming violent political extremism, a clear legal framework for the transfer of power that ends the lame duck period, and so on. States would be forced to agree to these measures before they can replace their traitorous representatives and senators. If the Supreme Court objects, more pro-democracy justices can be added.

Unfortunately the Democrats are probably too cowardly to take these necessary actions. Two more articles to check out along these lines.

The Hill: Democrat asks Pelosi to refuse to seat lawmakers supporting Trump’s election challenges.

Greg Sargent at The Washington Post: Chris Murphy’s surprise floor speech raises tough questions for Democrats.

That’s all I have for you today. Have a nice weekend, and please stop by and leave a comment if you have the time and inclination.


Tuesday Reads: Trump’s “Autocratic Attempt”

Good Morning!!

Benito Mussolini

Benito Mussolini

The U.S. is going through a very dangerous time. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have been elected decisively, but Trump and his GOP cult followers are trying to overthrow the election results. They are, in fact, attempting a coup.

Masha Gessen at The New Yorker, November 5: By Declaring Victory, Donald Trump Is Attempting an Autocratic Breakthrough.

The President of the United States has called the election a fraud. He has declared victory without basis, tweeting on Wednesday, “We have claimed” Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina, and perhaps Michigan—all states that were still counting votes. Donald Trump, who has been engaged in an autocratic attempt for the last four years, is now trying to stage an autocratic breakthrough.

I have borrowed the term “autocratic attempt” from the work of Bálint Magyar, a Hungarian sociologist who set out to develop analytical tools for understanding the turn away from democracy in many Eastern and Central European countries. I have found Magyar’s ideas surprisingly illuminating when applied to the United States.

Magyar divides the autocrat’s journey into three stages: autocratic attempt, autocratic breakthrough, and autocratic consolidation. The attempt is a period when autocracy is still preventable, or reversible, by electoral means. When it is no longer possible to reverse autocracy peacefully, the autocratic breakthrough has occurred, because the very structures of government have been transformed and can no longer protect themselves. These changes usually include packing the constitutional court (the Supreme Court, in the case of the U.S.) with judges loyal to the autocrat; packing and weakening the courts in general; appointing a chief prosecutor (the Attorney General) who is loyal to the autocrat and will enforce the law selectively on his behalf; changing the rules on the appointment of civil servants; weakening local governments; unilaterally changing electoral rules (to accommodate gerrymandering, for instance); and changing the Constitution to expand the powers of the executive.

Josef Stalin

Josef Stalin

For all the apparent flailing and incompetence of the Trump Administration, his autocratic attempt checks most of the boxes. He has appointed three Supreme Court Justices and a record number of federal judges. The Justice Department, under William Barr, acts like Trump’s pocket law-enforcement agency and personal law firm. Trump’s army of “acting” officials, some of them carrying out their duties in violation of relevant federal regulations, have made mincemeat of the rules and norms of federal appointments. Trump has preëmptively declared the election rigged; has incited voter intimidation and encouraged voter suppression; has mobilized his armed supporters to prevent votes from being counted; and has explicitly stated that he is changing the rules of the election. “We want all voting to stop,” he said on Wednesday morning, and vowed to take his case to the Supreme Court.

Please go read the rest at The New Yorker.

Ezra Klein makes a similar argument at Vox: Trump is attempting a coup in plain sight.

The Trump administration’s current strategy is to go to court to try and get votes for Biden ruled illegitimate, and that strategy explicitly rests on Trump’s appointees honoring a debt the administration, at least, believes they owe. One of his legal advisers said, “We’re waiting for the United States Supreme Court — of which the President has nominated three justices — to step in and do something. And hopefully Amy Coney Barrett will come through.”

If that fails, and it will, Mark Levin, one of the nation’s most popular conservative radio hosts, is explicitly calling on Republican legislatures to reject the election results and seat Donald Trump as president anyway. After Twitter tagged the tweet as contested, Trump’s press secretary weighed in furiously on Levin’s behalf.

That this coup probably will not work — that it is being carried out farcically, erratically, ineffectively — does not mean it is not happening, or that it will not have consequences. Millions will believe Trump, will see the election as stolen. The Trump family’s Twitter feeds, and those of associated outlets and allies, are filled with allegations of fraud and lies about the process (reporter Isaac Saul has been doing yeoman’s work tracking these arguments, and his thread is worth reading). It’s the construction of a confusing, but immersive, alternative reality in which the election has been stolen from Trump and weak-kneed Republicans are letting the thieves escape.

Francisco Franco

Francisco Franco, Spain

This is, to borrow Hungarian sociologist Bálint Magyar’s framework, “an autocratic attempt.” That’s the stage in the transition toward autocracy in which the would-be autocrat is trying to sever his power from electoral check. If he’s successful, autocratic breakthrough follows, and then autocratic consolidation occurs. In this case, the would-be autocrat stands little chance of being successful. But he will not entirely fail, either. What Trump is trying to form is something akin to an autocracy-in-exile, an alternative America in which he is the rightful leader, and he — and the public he claims to represent — has been robbed of power by corrupt elites.

“Democracy works only when losers recognize that they have lost,” writes political scientist Henry Farrell. That will not happen here.

It won’t happen, because the GOP is going along with Trump’s attempt.

Here’s the grim kicker: The conditions that made Trump and this Republican Party possible are set to worsen. Republicans retained control of enough statehouses to drive the next redistricting effort, too, and their 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court will unleash their map-drawers more fully. The elections analyst G. Elliott Morris estimates that the gap between the popular vote margin and the tipping point state in the Electoral College will be 4 to 5 percentage points, and that the GOP’s control of the redistricting process could push it to 6 to 7 points next time.

To say that America’s institutions did not wholly fail in the Trump era is not the same thing as saying they succeeded. They did not, and in particular, the Republican Party did not. It has failed dangerously, spectacularly. It has made clear that would-be autocrats have a path to power in the United States, and if they can walk far enough down that path, an entire political party will support them, and protect them. And it has been insulated from public fury by a political system that values land over people, and that lets partisan actors set election rules and draw district lines — and despite losing the presidency, the GOP still holds the power to tilt that system further in its direction in the coming years.

What happens when the next would-be autocrat tries this strategy — and what if they are smoother, more strategic, more capable than this one?

How is Trump’s autocratic attempt going so far? He has fired the Secretary of Defense and replaced him with a partisan loyalist. 

Adolf HItler

Adolf HItler, Germany

The Independent: ‘God help us’: Fired defence secretary Mark Esper worries about ‘yes men’ under Trump.

In an exclusive interview with Military Times that dropped shortly after his abrupt firing, Mr Esper took exception with critics who have called him a “yes man”, the source of the derogatory nickname “Yesper” used by the president.

“Name another Cabinet secretary that’s pushed back… Have you seen me on a stage saying, ‘Under the exceptional leadership of blah-blah-blah, we have blah-blah-blah-blah?” Mr Esper said.

“At the end of the day, it’s as I said — you’ve got to pick your fights… I could have a fight over anything, and I could make it a big fight, and I could live with that —why? Who’s going to come in behind me? It’s going to be a real ‘yes man.’ And then God help us.”

The interview was conducted on 4 November, before Mr Esper’s replacement would have been known.

Trump also fired the three officials who were in charge of our nuclear weapons. NPR: 

The Trump administration abruptly dumped the leaders of three agencies that oversee the nuclear weapons stockpile, electricity and natural gas regulation, and overseas aid during the past two days, drawing a rebuke from a prominent Republican senator for one of the decisions.

The sudden departures included:

  • Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, the first woman to oversee the agency in charge of the nuclear stockpile. She was required to resign on Friday.
  • Bonnie Glick, deputy administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development. She was replaced by acting Administrator John Barsa, who had run out of time for his more senior role under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.
  • Neil Chatterjee, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He was replaced as chairman, though he will remain at FERC, an independent agency, as a commissioner.

The firings were overshadowed by the prolonged drama of the presidential election.

Hideki Tojo, Japan

Hideki Tojo, Japan

Trump is expected to fire CIA director Gina Haspel and FBI director Christopher Wray, according to Axios.

He has named another yes man as general counsel at the NSA. The Washington Post: White House official and former GOP political operative Michael Ellis named as NSA general counsel.

The Pentagon general counsel has named a White House official and former GOP political operative to be the top lawyer at the National Security Agency, the U.S. government’s largest and most technically advanced spy agency, U.S. officials said.

The selection of Michael Ellis, which has not yet been announced, was made Monday, said officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. The appointment was made under pressure from the White House, said a person familiar with the matter….

Ellis, who was chief counsel to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), a staunch supporter of President Trump and then-chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has been at the White House since early 2017, when he became a lawyer on the National Security Council and then this year was elevated to senior director for intelligence.

There’s much more at the link.

Bill Barr is also on the case. The New York Times: Barr Hands Prosecutors the Authority to Investigate Voter Fraud Claims.

Attorney General William P. Barr, wading into President Trump’s unfounded accusations of widespread election irregularities, told federal prosecutors on Monday that they were allowed to investigate “specific allegations” of voter fraud before the results of the presidential race are certified.

Augusto Pinochet, chile

Augusto Pinochet, Chile

Mr. Barr’s authorization prompted the Justice Department official who oversees investigations of voter fraud, Richard Pilger, to step down from the post within hours, according to an email Mr. Pilger sent to colleagues that was obtained by The New York Times.

Mr. Barr said he had authorized “specific instances” of investigative steps in some cases. He made clear in a carefully worded memo that prosecutors had the authority to investigate, but he warned that “specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched claims should not be a basis for initiating federal inquiries.”

Mr. Barr’s directive ignored the Justice Department’s longstanding policies intended to keep law enforcement from affecting the outcome of an election. And it followed a move weeks before the election in which the department lifted a prohibition on voter fraud investigations before an election.

More from NBC News: DOJ’s election crimes chief resigns after Barr allows prosecutors to probe voter fraud claims.

The head of the branch of the Justice Department that prosecutes election crimes resigned Monday hours after Attorney General William Barr issued a memo to federal prosecutors authorizing them to investigate “specific allegations” of voter fraud before the results of the presidential race are certified.

Richard Pilger, who was director of the Election Crimes Branch of the DOJ, sent a memo to colleagues that suggested his resignation was linked to Barr’s memo, which was issued as the president’s legal team mount baseless legal challenges to the election results, alleging widespread voter fraud cost him the race.

“Having familiarized myself with the new policy and its ramifications, and in accord with the best tradition of the John C. Keeney Award for Exceptional Integrity and Professionalism (my most cherished Departmental recognition), I must regretfully resign from my role as Director of the Election Crimes Branch,” Pilger’s letter said, according to a copy obtained by NBC News.

“I have enjoyed very much working with you for over a decade to aggressively and diligently enforce federal criminal election law, policy, and practice without partisan fear or favor. I thank you for your support in that effort.”

Kim Il-sung, North Korea

Kim Il-sung, North Korea

Finally, Trump is preventing the Biden transition team from beginning their work. The Washington Post: White House, escalating tensions, orders agencies to rebuff Biden transition team.

The Trump White House on Monday instructed senior government leaders to block cooperation with President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team, escalating a standoff that threatens to impede the transfer of power and prompting the Biden team to consider legal action.

Officials at agencies across the government who had prepared briefing books and carved out office space for the incoming Biden team to use as soon as this week were told instead that the transition would not be recognized until the Democrat’s election was confirmed by the General Services Administration, the low-profile agency that officially starts the transition.

While media outlets on Saturday projected Biden as the winner, President Trump has not conceded the election.

“We have been told: Ignore the media, wait for it to be official from the government,” said a senior administration official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly.

The GSA, the government’s real estate arm, remained for a third day the proxy in the battle. Administrator Emily Murphy, a Trump political appointee who has lasted a full term in an administration where turnover has been the norm, is refusing to sign paperwork that releases Biden’s $6.3 million share of nearly $10 million in transition resources and gives his team access to agency officials and information.

So that’s where things stand right now, as we battle an out-of-control pandemic with no help from the federal government and the Supreme Court hears arguments that may end the Affordable Care Act and strip 20,000,000 people of health insurance. 

Hang in there Sky Dancers! Take care of yourselves in this dangerous time. 


Tuesday Reads: Looking Back and Looking Forward

Breton Children Reading, Emile Vernon, 1913

Good Afternoon!!

Thank goodness the “holidays” are almost over now, and soon a new year will begin. What will 2018 bring? Will Trump continue his goal of destroying democracy or will we somehow manage to keep it alive? First we have to get through the journalistic ritual of looking back over the year that is ending.

Eugene Robinson posted his evaluation of 2017 last night: Trump’s first year was even worse than feared.

Grit your teeth. Persevere. Just a few more days and this awful, rotten, no-good, ridiculous, rancorous, sordid, disgraceful year in the civic life of our nation will be over. Here’s hoping that we all — particularly special counsel Robert S. Mueller III — have a better 2018.

Many of us began 2017 with the consoling thought that the Donald Trump presidency couldn’t possibly be as bad as we feared. It turned out to be worse.

Did you ever think you would hear a president use the words “very fine people” to describe participants in a torch-lit rally organized by white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan? Did you ever think you would hear a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations thuggishly threaten that she would be “taking names” of countries that did not vote on a General Assembly resolution the way she wanted? Did you ever think the government of the world’s biggest military and economic power would reject not just science but also empiricism itself, preferring to use made-up “alternative facts” as the basis for major decisions?

We knew that Trump was narcissistic and shallow, but on Inauguration Day it was possible to at least hope he was self-aware enough to understand the weight that now rested on his shoulders, and perhaps grow into the job. He did not. If anything, he has gotten worse.

Read the rest at The Washington Post.

Paul Krugman still has hope: America Is Not Yet Lost.

Auguste reading to her daughter, by Mary Cassatt

Donald Trump has been every bit as horrible as one might have expected; he continues, day after day, to prove himself utterly unfit for office, morally and intellectually. And the Republican Party — including so-called moderates — turns out, if anything, to be even worse than one might have expected. At this point it’s evidently composed entirely of cynical apparatchiks, willing to sell out every principle — and every shred of their own dignity — as long as their donors get big tax cuts.

Meanwhile, conservative media have given up even the pretense of doing real reporting, and become blatant organs of ruling-party propaganda….

What we’ve seen instead is the emergence of a highly energized resistance. That resistance made itself visible literally the day after Trump took office, with the huge women’s marches that took place on Jan. 21, dwarfing the thin crowds at the inauguration. If American democracy survives this terrible episode, I vote that we make pink pussy hats the symbol of our delivery from evil….

Let’s be clear: America as we know it is still in mortal danger. Republicans still control all the levers of federal power, and never in the course of our nation’s history have we been ruled by people less trustworthy.

This obviously goes for Trump himself, who is clearly a dictator wannabe, with no respect whatsoever for democratic norms. But it also goes for Republicans in Congress, who have demonstrated again and again that they will do nothing to limit his actions. They have backed him up as he uses his office to enrich himself and his cronies, as he foments racial hatred, as he attempts a slow-motion purge of the Justice Department and the F.B.I.

I count it as a good sign that journalists are coming right out and calling Trump a wannabe dictator. Also a good sign: both Robinson and Krugman acknowledge that if we are to survive Trump, women’s leadership will be the reason. How ironic that a woman had to be excoriated and mocked by abusive male journalists for this awakening of women’s power to happen.

Jan Van Eyck – Madonna with the Child Reading (1433)

It’s also a good sign that journalists finally recognized the Russian threat, although this only happened after a monster was installed as POTUS. Yesterday The Washington Post published a breathtaking analysis of what the Russians accomplished last year and the danger they still pose to our democracy: Kremlin trolls burned across the Internet as Washington debated options. Here’s a brief excerpt; please go read the whole thing if you haven’t already.

The events surrounding the FBI’s NorthernNight investigation follow a pattern that repeated for years as the Russian threat was building: U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies saw some warning signs of Russian meddling in Europe and later in the United States but never fully grasped the breadth of the Kremlin’s ambitions. Top U.S. policymakers didn’t appreciate the dangers, then scrambled to draw up options to fight back. In the end, big plans died of internal disagreement, a fear of making matters worse or a misguided belief in the resilience of American society and its democratic institutions.

One previously unreported order — a sweeping presidential finding to combat global cyberthreats — prompted U.S. spy agencies to plan a half-dozen specific operations to counter the Russian threat. But one year after those instructions were given, the Trump White House remains divided over whether to act, intelligence officials said….

The miscalculations and bureaucratic inertia that left the United States vulnerable to Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential electiontrace back to decisions made at the end of the Cold War, when senior policymakers assumed Moscow would be a partner and largely pulled the United States out of information warfare. When relations soured, officials dismissed Russia as a “third-rate regional power” that would limit its meddling to the fledgling democracies on its periphery.

Senior U.S. officials didn’t think Russia would dare shift its focus to the United States.

“I thought our ground was not as fertile,” said Antony J. Blinken, President Barack Obama’s deputy secretary of state. “We believed that the truth shall set you free, that the truth would prevail. That proved a bit naive.”

Much more at the WaPo link.

From former CIA Deputy Director and Acting Director Michael Morrell: Russia never stopped its cyberattacks on the United States.

Every first-year international-relations student learns about the importance of deterrence: It prevented a Soviet invasion of Western Europe during the height of the Cold War. It prevented North Korea from invading South Korea in the same time frame. Today, it keeps Iran from starting a hot war in the Middle East or other nations from initiating cyberattacks against our infrastructure.

The Reader, by Federico Zandomeneghi (Italian, 1841)

And yet, the United States has failed to establish deterrence in the aftermath of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. We know we failed because Russia continues to aggressively employ the most significant aspect of its 2016 tool kit: the use of social media as a platform to disseminate propaganda designed to weaken our nation.

There is a perception among the media and general public that Russia ended its social-media operations following last year’s election and that we need worry only about future elections. But that perception is wrong. Russia’s information operations in the United States continued after the election and they continue to this day.

This should alarm everyone — Republicans, Democrats and independents alike. Foreign governments, overtly or covertly, should not be allowed to play with our democracy.

Read about the continuing threats from Russia at the WaPo link.

At the Columbia Journalism Review, Jonathan Peters reports on the work of NYT master’s student to examine Trump’s Twitter attacks on the media.

Trump’s prolificacy on Twitter is well documented, and some of his press-related tweets have captured vast public attention. For example, Trump tweeted in July a doctored video in which he wrestled a man whose head had been replaced by the CNN logo. It got hundreds of thousands of retweets.

Off Twitter, of course, Trump has waged a rhetorical war on the press, threatening to sue various newspapers and calling journalists “the most dishonest human beings on Earth,” all while characterizing as “fake news” any story he dislikes.

That’s what prompted an NYU master’s student to start tracking Trump’s tweets critical of the press. “I took it on as a labor of love and hate, and I suffered through his tweets every few days to log them,” says Stephanie Sugars, who is pursuing a joint MA in journalism and international relations. “It seemed important to maintain a record of what has appeared to be a deliberate and sustained campaign to discredit the media as an institution.”

By Zulia Gotay de Anderson

Sugars was working as a researcher at the Committee to Protect Journalists last spring when she created the Trump-tweet spreadsheet that she recently shared with me. She was helping to launch a website that documents press freedom incidents in the US. (CJR is a partner.) Originally, she and others at CPJ thought it would include not only arrests and equipment seizures but also anti-press social media posts.

“That just wasn’t manageable,” Sugars says. “We decided to pare the site back and not focus on tweets. I kept up with the spreadsheet, though, and continued to add to it, even after leaving [CPJ] when my term as a researcher there ended.”

Peters then assigned his students a the University of Georgia to “review the spreadsheet and to help me identify notable items and trends in the data.” Read the rest at the CJR link to see the results.

One more interesting read: could Ivanka be in trouble with the law? GQ: Ivanka Trump’s Old Jewelry Business Is Now Caught Up in an Alleged Fraud Scheme. Author Ben Schreckenger begins by asking, “Why do people looking to launder money seem to find Trump family businesses so appealing?”

Throw a dart at a map of the world and there’s a solid chance it will land near a spot where a Trump family business has allegedly gotten caught up in a money laundering scheme.

There’s Panama, where the Trump Ocean Club is said to have washed dirty cash for Russian gangsters and South American drug cartels. There’s Azerbaijan and the Trump Baku, where the money allegedly being laundered was said to belong to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. And of course, there’s the Trump Soho in Manhattan, a magnet for money from Kazakhstan and Russia, and a property that one former executive on the project now calls “a monument to spectacularly corrupt money-laundering and tax evasion.”

In each of those cases, the Trump Organization has denied any wrongdoing and has sought to distance itself—and the Trump family—from the property, saying they merely licensed ​the Trump name. But as it turns out, it’s not just Trump-branded real estate developments that perhaps have attracted the wrong kinds of money.

Thanks to an overlooked filing made in federal court this past summer, we can now add a jewelry business to the list of Trump family enterprises that allegedly served as vehicles to fraudulently hide the assets of ultra-rich foreigners with checkered backgrounds. In late June, the Commercial Bank of Dubai sought—and later received—permission to subpoena Ivanka Trump’s now-defunct fine jewelry line, claiming its diamonds were used in a massive scheme to hide roughly $100 million that was owed to the bank, according to filings at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Read the rest at GQ.

What else is happening? What stories are you following today?


Wednesday Reads: Forest for the trees

potagesmaggiGood Morning

My internet has been acting strange lately, so I am writing this post on the fly and comments will be at a minimum.

First up, sad story from India, according to BBC News: School meal kills 22 in India’s Bihar state

At least 22 children have died and dozens more have fallen ill after eating lunch at a school in the eastern Indian state of Bihar.

The poisoning occurred in the village of Dharmasati Gandaman, 80km (50 miles) north of the state capital, Patna.

The free Mid-Day Meal Scheme aims to tackle hunger and boost attendance in schools, but suffers from poor hygiene.

Angry parents joined protests against the deaths, setting at least four police vehicles on fire.

An inquiry has begun and 200,000 rupees ($3,370) in compensation offered to the families of each of the dead.

Twenty-eight sick children were taken to hospitals in the nearby town of Chhapra after the incident and later were moved to Patna.

A total of 47 students of the primary school fell sick on Tuesday after eating the free lunch.

More deaths are possible as many of the kids are under the age of 12 and still in critical condition.

The state education minister, PK Shahi, told the BBC a preliminary investigation indicated that the food was contaminated with traces of phosphorous.

“The doctors who have attended are of the tentative opinion that the smell coming out of the bodies of the children suggests that the food contained organo-phosphorus, which is a poisonous substance,” he said.

“Now the investigators have to find out whether organo-phosphorus was accidental or there was some deliberate mischief.”

Earlier, doctors treating the patients had said “food poisoning” was the cause of the deaths.

“We suspect it to be poisoning caused by insecticides in vegetable or rice,” Amarjeet Sinha, a senior education official, told the BBC.

A doctor treating the children at a hospital in Patna said contaminated vegetable oil could have led to the poisoning.

Patna-based journalist Amarnath Tewary says villagers told local reporters that similar cases of food poisoning after having Mid-Day Meals had taken place in the area previously.

The horror of this story will only be more disturbing if it does turn out to be deliberate. I will keep you all up to date on the details as the day goes on.

Meanwhile, the Zimmerman Jury’s shitstorm has begun B37’s fellow jurors in Trayvon Martin trial bash her for leading country to believe spoke for them – NY Daily News

Four jurors in Trayvon Martin trial have issued a statement Tuesday night bashing B37 for going on TV and leading the country to believe she spoke for all of them.

Just moments after CNN aired part two of its interview with the juror known as B37, four of her fellow members on the six-woman jury issued a joint statement.

“We also wish to point out that the opinions of Juror B37, expressed on the Anderson Cooper show were her own, and not in any way representative of the jurors listed below.”

The jurors added, “We ask you to remember that we are not public officials and we did not invite this type of attention into our lives.”

More from LA Times: Zimmerman trial: 4 jurors say Juror B37 does not speak for them

The other four jurors also cited Florida law. “Serving on this jury has been a highly emotional and physically draining experience for each of us,” the statement signed by Jurors B51, B76, E6 and E40 said. “The death of a teenager weighed heavily on our hearts, but in the end we did what the law required us to do.”

It still makes me cringe to think Zimmerman got away with killing Martin, and not one charge was brought against him…aside from manslaughter…assault…battery…geez, stalking?  I guess I am rambling but it still seems inconceivable to me that there are no criminal consequences for Zimmerman’s actions, which did result in the death of an unarmed young man.

Alright, here are some links from yesterday that you should check out.

Op/ed by Katrina vanden Heuvel: Congress’s appalling Republicans – The Washington Post

There really isn’t any other word. Congressional Republicans are simply appalling. They have absolute control of the House. They set the agenda. They decide what comes to the floor. They decide what passes on to the Senate.

They know that extreme legislation isn’t going to be enacted into law. The Democratic majority in the Senate and the Democratic president stand in the way. So the legislation they choose to pass is a statement of their own values. It is simply designed to proclaim, “This is where we stand.” And for the vast majority of Americans, what they proudly proclaim is simply beyond the pale.

New blog post by Kurt Eichenwald: My Family, Our Cancer, and the Murderous Cruelty of Conservatives | Vanity Fair

My wife has breast cancer.

I write this, with her permission, while sitting in the hospital waiting room as she undergoes surgery. Afterward, there will be another surgery, radiation, and probably chemo, but what else might be in the offing is guesswork at this point. I’ll know more this afternoon, when the operation is over.

A comparison over at Juan Cole’s blog: Israel’s District 9: Its Biggest Ethnic Cleansing since 1948 | Informed Comment

30,000 Palestinian-Israelis of Bedouin heritage are are being forcibly transferred by the Israeli government, and thousands of acres of their land is being stolen from them.

The 972 article compares it to Apartheid South Africa’s District 6, the inspiration for the film, “District 9″

The Palestinian-Israelis are mounting big protests today.

Tales from the Walmart inner circle: Four Angry Wal-Mart Workers, and Four Happy Ones

Last week, we brought you some true stories from Wal-Mart workers— stories that alarmed Wal-Mart so much that they (unsuccessfully) begged their employees to send us positive stories to balance them out. Since then, we’ve received many more, both good and bad. Here are some.

Note: Wal-Mart specifically solicited its employees to send us positive stories (and furthermore, one employee tells us, “Walmart does have an official policy on employees posting on social media and yes we *can* be fired for posting content the company doesn’t like”). Despite this, we’ve received a far greater number of negative than positive stories. Today, however, we’re posting an equal number of positive and negative stories. Take them as you will. They’re all revealing in their own way.

An interesting look at Latin America, considering the recent events surrounding Snowden and the “courtship” of his “affections“:

Why Latin America Is Becoming Less Democratic – Kurt Weyland – The Atlantic

democracytop.jpg

Opponents of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez stage a protest over a drawing of a gagged face during a march to commemorate the 53rd anniversary of the return of democracy after the 1958 coup in Caracas January 23, 2011. (Jorge Silvas/Reuters)

Around the turn of the millennium, prominent Latin America special­ist Scott Mainwaring highlighted the surprising endurance of democracy in that region after the transition wave of the late 1970s and 1980s.Dur­ing that interval, no democracy had permanently succumbed to a mili­tary coup or slid back into authoritarian rule. After decades marked by instability in numerous countries, especially Argentina, Bolivia, and Ec­uador, this newfound democratic resilience came as a welcome surprise.

[…]

The recent suffocation of political pluralism in a whole group of countries is with­out precedent. For the first time in decades, democracy in Latin America is facing a sustained, coordinated threat. The regional trend toward de­mocracy, which had prevailed since the late 1970s, has suffered a partial reversal. Unexpectedly, democracy is now on the defensive in parts of the region.

That is just a couple of paragraphs, go read the whole article…

There was a freaky story that you may have missed a couple of weeks ago, Mystery of Nazi Swastikas in the Forests – SPIEGEL ONLINE

Over 20 years ago, a landscaper in eastern Germany discovered a formation of trees in a forest in the shape of a swastika. Since then, a number of other forest swastikas have been found in Germany and beyond, but the mystery of their origins persist.

Blame it on the larches. Brandenburg native Günter Reschke was the first one to notice their unique formation, according to a 2002 article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. To be more precise, however, it was the new intern at Reschke’s landscaping company, Ökoland Dederow, who discovered the trees in 1992 as he was completing a typically thankless intern task: searching aerial photographs for irrigation lines.

For decade, this swastika of larch trees stood undiscovered in the middle of...

Instead, he found a small group of 140 larches standing in the middle of dense forest, surrounded by hundreds of other trees. But there was a crucial difference: all the others were pine trees. The larches, unlike the pines, changed color in the fall, first to yellow, then brown. And when they were seen from a certain height, it wasn’t difficult to recognize the pattern they formed. It was quite striking, in fact.

As he was dutifully accomplishing the task he had been given, the intern suddenly stopped and stared, dumbfounded, at the picture in his hand. It was an aerial view of Kutzerower Heath at Zernikow — photo number 106/88. He showed it to Reschke: “Do you see what this is?” But the 60-by-60 meter (200-by-200 foot) design that stood out sharply from the forest was obvious to all: a swastika.

Reschke is actually a fan of his native Uckermark region of northeastern Germany, extolling its gently rolling hills, lakes and woods, as the “Tuscany of the north.” But what the two men discovered in 1992 in that aerial photograph thrust this natural idyll into the center of a scandal.

This is one hell of a story, and at that Spiegel link there is a gallery of images that you need to see: Photo Gallery: Swastikas in the Woods – SPIEGEL ONLINE – International

The planting of swastika formations, like this one near the town of Asterode in...

The planting of swastika formations, like this one near the town of Asterode in the western state of Hesse, was popular among foresters throughout various regions of Nazi Germany. There were many swastikas in the forests surrounding Berlin until they were removed under Soviet occupation.

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In this same wooded area of Asterode in Hesse, the numbers "1933," the year...

In this same wooded area of Asterode in Hesse, the numbers “1933,” the year Hitler came to power, were spelled out in larch trees across a backdrop of pine forest, bursting into color in autumn. The eyesores remained for a long time, until the early 1960s, when American occupying forces discovered the trees during an aerial reconnaissance flight and complained to the local government.

But it was not just trees in the forest that took the shape of Nazi symbolism, towns..buildings and other land formations that remained hidden until discovered by views from above…seriously, go and check that article out.

One more link in connection with this story above, Misreading ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’ – NYTimes.com

The movie “Hannah Arendt,” which opened in New York in May, has unleashed emotional commentary that mirrors the fierce debate Arendt herself ignited over half a century ago, when she covered the trial of the notorious war criminal Adolf Eichmann. One of the pre-eminent political thinkers of the 20th century, Arendt, who died in 1975 at the age of 69, was a Jew arrested by the German police in 1933, forced into exile and later imprisoned in an internment camp. She escaped and fled to the United States in 1941, where she wrote the seminal books “The Origins of Totalitarianism” and “The Human Condition.”

It is easy to cite the ‘banality of evil.’ It is much more difficult to make sense of what Arendt actually meant.

When Arendt heard that Eichmann was to be put on trial, she knew she had to attend. It would be, she wrote, her last opportunity to see a major Nazi “in the flesh.” Writing in The New Yorker, she expressed shock that Eichmann was not a monster, but “terribly and terrifyingly normal.” Her reports for the magazine were compiled into a book, “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil,” published in 1963.

The poet Robert Lowell proclaimed Arendt’s portrayal of Eichmann a “masterpiece,” a “terrifying expressionist invention applied with a force no imitator could rival.” Others excoriated Arendt as a self-hating Jew. Lionel Abel charged that Eichmann “comes off so much better in her book than do his victims.” Nearly every major literary and philosophical figure in New York chose sides in what the writer Irving Howe called a “civil war” among New York intellectuals — a war, he later predicted, that might “die down, simmer,” but will perennially “erupt again.” So it has.

The op/ed continues to explore reviews of the film, and how Arendt’s work is still causing controversy so many years since it was first published.

Lastly, big news in Atlanta this week, LUN LUN THE GIANT PANDA GIVES BIRTH TO TWINS!

Lun Lun, a 15-year-old giant panda, gave birth to twins on July 15, 2013. The first of the tiny duo arrived at 6:21 p.m., and its twin followed at 6:23 p.m. The cubs are the first giant pandas to be born in the U.S. in 2013 and the first twins to be born in the U.S. since 1987.

The babies are doing great and according to a news release today…are healthy and fine.   Zoo Atlanta has a Panda Cam up and running, so I wanted to give you that link:

Zoo Atlanta Panda Cam

Panda Updates

Tuesday, July 16
The panda team is tired and a little stressed, but happy! So far, both cubs are doing well. We are fortunate that both were born a healthy weight and strong. Sometimes one twin is very small. As you all know, Lun Lun is a fantastic mom, and she’s even more impressive this time. The cubs are being alternated with her, which is a technique first developed by our colleagues in Chengdu and used successfully for many cubs. Lun Lun is such a good mom, though, that she is reluctant to give up whichever cub she has. So, we have not been able to swap the cubs as frequently as we would like. Because of that, both have been supplemented with some formula. Both are doing well with this. Their condition and Lun Lun’s behavior will continue to guide our actions. The next few days are especially critical. So, please continue to keep us in your thoughts. We can use the good vibes!
Rebecca Snyder, PhD, 
Curator of Mammals

There is so much information at that link to the Zoo Atlanta website, but I just want to add one more graphic which illustrates how amazing this little baby’s growth timeline really is:

Panda Developmental Timeline

Isn’t it wonderful?

Hope you have a fabulous day today, and try to stay cool out there. See you down in the comments, what are you reading and thinking about today?


Saturday Reads: President Obama’s Acceptance Speech

Good Morning!

Generally speaking the pundits didn’t care for President Obama’s acceptance speech on Thursday night. It’s not surprising that the guys at Politico thought it “fell flat.”

A surprisingly long parade of Democrats and media commentators described the speech less as a failure than a fizzle—an oddly missed opportunity to frame his presidency or the nation’s choice in a fresh or inspirational light.

Even those who liked the president’s performance generally went no further than saying that he was effective in doing a job that needed to be done, in a tough-minded if prosaic style.

These shoulder-shrug reactions confront Obama with a question no one expected to be asking when the week in Charlotte began: How did a president for whom stirring speeches were the engine of his rise to power manage to give, at best, only the third-most compelling speech at a convention devoted to his own re-election?

But even more liberal commentators found Obama’s speech wanting. Peter Beinart called it “underwhelming and anticlimactic.”

Obama’s acceptance speech had two apparent goals: The first was to lay out an agenda for the next four years so people feel they have something forward-looking to vote for. The second was to recapture the sense of hope that defined Obama’s 2008 campaign.

On paper, he did both things. But what the speech lacked was a coherent explanation of the nightmare this country has gone through for the last four years. Republicans are laying the Great Recession at Obama’s feet. Obama is saying that Republicans created it and, if elected, will make it worse. To win that argument, Obama needed to explain why the financial crisis happened, and he didn’t. Yes, he mocked the GOP for proposing tax cuts as the answer to every problem, but the financial crisis didn’t happen because of tax cuts. It happened, in large measure, because Republican and some Democratic politicians—blinded by free-market fundamentalism and Wall Street largesse—allowed bankers to create unregulated markets in which they gambled the savings of millions of Americans, knowing that if their bets failed, they wouldn’t be the ones to lose their homes and their life’s savings.

Obama should have told that story, and then gone at Romney for doubling down on the ideology that almost brought America to its knees. Then he should have contrasted that with his own interventions to protect people who the market has failed: whether they be auto workers or people with sick kids.

Michael Tomasky called it Pedestrian and Overconfident

Let’s be blunt. Barack Obama gave a dull and pedestrian speech tonight, with nary an interesting thematic device, policy detail, or even one turn of phrase. The crowd sure didn’t see it my way. The delegates were near delirium; to what extent they were merely still feeding off the amassed energy of the previous two nights I can’t say.

And swing voters watching at home? They probably weren’t as bored as I was, but it seems inconceivable that they’d have been enraptured. This was the rhetorical equivalent, forgive the football metaphor, of running out the clock: Obama clearly thinks he’s ahead and just doesn’t need to make mistakes. But when football teams do that, it often turns out to be the biggest mistake of all, and they lose.

Nevertheless, the final night of the Democratic Convention drew about 35.7 million viewers. The second night of the convention, when Bill Clinton spoke pulled in more views than the Giants-Cowboys game that played opposite the Convention coverage, about 25.1  million people–but nowhere near the number who watched the speeches by Vice President Biden and President Obama. Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech attracted 30.3 million viewers.

Howard Kurtz reported that Obama’s acceptance speech was deliberately “low-key.”

While the pundits are generally calling the president’s Thursday night address mediocre, Obama and his advisers had taken great pains to avoid soaring rhetoric that might have been derided as empty.

Indeed, they extensively tested the president’s speech in dial groups, a type of focus group where voters twist dials to register approval or disapproval of specific passages, and say it tested off the charts. The reaction, they say, was more positive than to Obama’s 2008 acceptance speech in Denver.

In short, the president deliberately dialed it down, stopping well short of the altitudes he is capable of reaching. Perhaps that will prove to be a mistake, but the decision to go with a less rousing approach was carefully considered.

The campaign’s primary goal at the Democratic convention was to provide a concrete sense of what Obama would do in a second term. That was what independent voters wanted, according to the research, and that was the focus in Charlotte.

Personally, I thought the first half of Obama’s speech was underwhelming, but I’ve never been a big fan of his speeches. About half-way through I thought the speech became more interesting. I was impressed that Obama admitted how difficult the job is and that he has questioned himself at times and that he has been “changed” by being President of the United States. I think the best evaluation of the speech that I read yesterday was by Tom Junod at Charles Pierce’s blog: President Obama Falls Back to Earth, Transformed. Junod’s thesis statement: “We should have known that Barack Obama would emerge from this convention conventionalized — that is, as a more conventional politician than he was when he went in. Or that we ever thought he could be.”

He didn’t rise to the occasion on Thursday night; he not only didn’t reinvent the possibilities of political language, he used language that many people had to feel they’d heard before. His speech was disappointing until, with about ten minutes to go, it acknowledged disappointment, and so began its rise. “The times have changed — and so have I,” he said. “I’m no longer just a candidate. I’m the president.” Of course, he was reminding us of his power; the fact of his presidency has become an argument for his presidency. But he was also reminding us that as a candidate who rose to power on the politics of pure potential, he is, as president, a fallen man. “And while I’m proud of what we’ve achieved together, I’m far more mindful of my own failiings, knowing exactly what Lincoln meant when he said, ‘I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.'”

This was where the speech turned, and became, in its statement of humility, a statement of rousing power. “I ask you for your vote,” he said, and his commonplace words had a beseeching quality that put them outside the realm of political performance. He had failed to transform his office, and failed to transform our politics, but he sounded fully aware that he had been himself transformed.

He had started out as the Cassius Clay of our politics, brash and blinding, with an abilty to do things in the ring that no one else had ever thought of — with an ability to be untouchable. Now he stood inside the ring of stars on the blue carpeted stage of the Democratic National Convention as the Muhammad Ali whose greatness was proven after he returned to boxing bigger, slower, harder-hitting but also easier to hit. Oh, Ali got touched, all right, and since he lost his skill at avoiding punches he had to find the skill of taking them. He became a prodigy not of otherworldly gifts but rather of sheer will, and so it was with Obama in his speech on Thursday night. At an event that paid endless tributes to our wounded warriors, he rebranded himself as something of a wounded warrior himself; and at the very moment when those who remembered 2008 hoped he might say something that no one had ever heard before and maybe even reinvent, one more time, the possibilities of a word as hackneyed as hope itself, he instead completed his hard-won journey to convention.

Of course I never thought Obama was anything but an ordinary, conventional politician. As everyone here knows, I never bought the “hope and change” schtick. I never saw Obama as a great liberal savior. I was impressed with his acceptance speech, because he showed humility. By the end of the speech I was convinced that this man had matured in office, and because of that, I saw hope for his second term.

Apparently, Charlie Pierce never saw the transcendent Obama either.

I never heard the music.

People told me it was there. People told me it sang to them. People told me that its chords touched them deeply in their hearts. I watched as it make them weep and cheer. I watched as it moved them while I stood there, an unbeliever at the grotto, seeing only rocks and weeds where everyone around me saw and heard and joined in something altogether transformative. I was there in Boston when the president gave the speech that first sent him rocketing up the charts, and I didn’t hear it. Since then, I have seen him give an acceptance speech, an inaugural address, a Nobel oration, and three State of the Unions, and the only thing I remember about any of the latter is that he got heckled by some peckerwood from South Carolina, and that he called out the corporate meat-puppets of the Supreme Court in what I still believe is the finest — and certainly, the most prescient — moment of his presidency.

But I never found the poetry in it all. I thought he was a good, smart orator with some uniquely gifted writers and a talent for creating a warm and comfortable context in which people could take what they believed were all their best instincts out for a walk. I still believe that. He still reaches people at depths that I cannot fathom. He still reaches them in frequencies beyond my poor ability to hear.

That is pretty much how I’ve always reacted to Obama’s speeches. But in his convention speech, I thought I saw something more substantive. And it gave me hope. Pierce was impressed with Obama’s reference to “…the hard and frustrating and necessary work of self-government.”

That I heard. That I understood. It is not musical. It is not in any way poetic. But it is a clear line drawn between the president and the person and the party that would like to take his job from him. It is now an article of absolute faith among Republicans that “the government” is an entity separate from “the American people,” which they say the same way that the old Jesuits talked about “the mystical Body of Christ.” It is now an ironclad commandment of conservative orthodoxy that “the government” is something parasitic and alien. There is a reason why conservatives talk about “government” and not “self-government,” because to refer to the latter is to concede that “the government” is really the most basic product of our political commonwealth, that it is what we produce among ourselves so as to order the production of everything else that we do together. This is not an idle distinction. It is the entire message of last week’s Republican convention, and it is the entire message of the campaign they are planning to run, and, make no mistake, it resonates deeply with millions of people because it has been spoonfed to them as a kind of noxious anesthetic for almost foty years now, a long enough time for it to seem as though it is the natural order of things.

“…the hard and frustrating and necessary work of self-government.”

Make no mistake. This little throwaway line was the most direct, and the most serious, challenge that the president threw down at the feet of the Republican ticket on Thursday night because it strikes at the very essence of four decades of conservative political philosophy. We create “the government” we have. “The government” is not imposed from without. It is our creation. Its proper operation is our responsibility. If we do not like the way it operates, we do the hard and frustrating and necessary work to change the way it does. If we believe that it is being hijacked, we do the hard and frustrating and necessary work of using the tools of self-government to run the moneychangers out of the place. If we do not like the way the person we vote for is doing the job with which we have entrusted him — if he, say, allows the crooks who brought down the economy to walk away free, or if he perpetuates policies antithetical to civil liberties, or if he gets a little too cozy with fracking or if he gives away too much in some Grand Bargain — then we do the hard and frustrating and necessary work of self-government to hold his damn feet to the fire and say, “No further.”

Please go read the whole thing if you haven’t already. Obama articulated the key difference between today’s Republicans and the rest of us. They hate government and believe it should do nothing for people, just fund national defense and aid corporations. Most Democrats still believe that Government has a role in making people’s lives better, in ensuring that even the weakest and most vulnerable among us have rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

At the same time we citizens have the responsibility to stand up to our leaders, to voice our needs and our values, to remind our leaders that they work for us and there are certain things we won’t tolerate–whether that’s privatizing social security and medicare, limiting women’s rights, killing people with unmanned drones, limiting voting rights or some other policy that is important to us.

I think Obama’s speech got the job done. It made the convention delegates happy, and it laid a foundation for the arguments he will make over the final few weeks of the campaign. I hope he will continue to emphasize the importance of citizenship–of the necessity of every American being involved in “self-government.” That is the price of democracy.

Now what are you reading and blogging about today?  This is an open thread!