Brownback’s Horrible Policies Might Save the Republic


Louis XIV almost certainly never said it. The phrase was attributed to him by his enemies precisely because it would have been an outrageous thing even to think. The words are still easily recognized today.

L’Etat, c’est moi

I am the nation

When we hear modern echoes identifying an individual with the state, no matter how faint those echoes, we still take notice.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus did not see much in Donald Trump’s State of the Union to applaud. So they didn’t.

Donald Trump reacted:

…even on positive news, really positive news like that — they were like death. And un-American. Un-American.

Failing to applaud my President is an insult to more than a mere individual. It is an insult to America.

I mean they certainly didn’t seem to love our country very much.

As it turns out, those African Americans, those Democratic members of Congress, were worse than un-American.

Can we call that treason?

The boisterous presentation, and the crowd reaction, may suggest the President was joking.

Of course. Or half joking. Or some other fraction.

He was not joking a few weeks before when, during a break from a golf outing, he spoke about the ongoing investigation into possible campaign conspiracies with Russia. He seemed explicitly to identify himself as a personification of the country. Any investigation into his own possible wrongdoing hurts, not him, but America itself. Here are his words:

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Trump Kills

When the arrest was announced in mid-January, it was accompanied by even more sobering news. The one-time US intelligence officer, a trusted employee of the CIA had revealed to the Chinese government a list of informants within that country. These were people without any sort of diplomatic immunity. Within a week, American analysts had been able to count up some of the casualties. The Chinese dictatorship had arrested and executed at least 20 people as a direct result of that leak.

And it got worse. Investigators believe the Chinese then shared information with the regime of Vladimir Putin. New information about US methods and technological capabilities have already led to arrests and executions in Russia.

The list of the dead will grow.

The actual number of executions will probably remain murky, hidden well into the future. Intelligence agencies are cautious about such matters. Releasing the names, and even the numbers, would allow a bit of reverse engineering, giving opposing analysts a new starting point. If we know you have that numerical information, we will know that you were able to obtain it, and we may be able to figure out how. And if we are the Chinese government or the Putin regime, we will have a deterrent you in the United States will not. We can summarily hold secret executions. And we will.

It is unknown, and unknowable, how many US assets were caught and killed in the mid-1970s after CIA employee Philip Agee published the names of 250 secret employees. Only a few killings were documented, the names of the victims released. A few years later he went on to publish 2000 more names.

Getting people killed does not always require releasing their names. Information can often be gleaned out of secondary data.
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Trump Law

How would anyone deal with a sudden fire, demolishing a home, destroying private possessions representing experiences over a lifetime? What if it happened to an important accidental witness, testifying against powerful political figures? What if it occurred during her absence from home, on a trip to give testimony to Congress?

What if she and her family were the targets of arson?

I wonder what sort of courage it took for Jill Simpson to take the risks she took. A few days after the fire, she was tailed at night along a lonely rural Mississippi road for miles by a large automobile which eventually overtook her, then forced her own car off the road.

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Shadows of War, a River of Blood


Fifteen years ago, a fictional President walks past his Intelligence Director.

President Bartlet: What’s the CIA know that I should know?

Director Clark: Neighbors are… swapping family members.

The President passes the information on to his Chief of Staff:

Bartlet: Clark says neighbors are swapping family members in Khundu.

Leo: Really?

Then to Leo’s deputy:

Bartlet: Hey, Josh. There’s intelligence that Khundunese neighbors in the country are swapping family members.

Josh: Sorry, I don’t – I don’t unders…

Bartlet: For the night, they’re swapping family members, you know, and sleeping in each other’s houses.

Few of us would recognize the terrible signal this represents, the presage of genocidal atrocity. Those who have spent their professional lives would remember what happened in Rwanda, as Hutus prepared to butcher Tutsies to the edge of extinction.

Experts would know what the Serb dominated government ordered done to Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina leading up to the killing fields.
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The Long Presidential Journey from the Profound to the Petty

It’s November 19 and the man has spoken. The crowd is unimpressed.

That is all there is? Really?

Let’s face it. Our President is not what anyone would call widely admired. A few lawmakers in the Republican party, his party, are speaking out. More are said to be criticizing him bitterly in private. Even supporters see him as the most divisive leader the country has ever had.

George Templeton Strong of New York calls it for many.

A barbarian, a Scythian, a yahoo, a gorilla.

At this one event, you would think the President of the United States would have risen to the occasion.
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The Absurd Collapse of the American Ideal

We heard it as an impromptu bit of indelicate phrasing:

He was President, The World Trade Center came down during his reign.

Candidate Donald Trump, February 13, 2016

He was President, okay? Don’t blame him, or don’t blame him, but he was President.

Americans were taken aback at the brashness of the accusation, at the casual way it was tossed into the debate. President George W. Bush was responsible for the worst terrorist attack on American soil.

There was a factual basis for the accusation. It was not simply the most reported incident, the President’s Daily Briefing of August 6, 2001. A month before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, George W. Bush heard the summary which began this way:

Bin Laden Determined To Strike in US

It was not only his dismissive response:

All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.

The institutional temptation is understandable. A new administration assumes office promising a change in national direction. Warnings, even desperate warnings, from the outgoing administration are easy to brush aside. The pleas to deal with the threat of terrorism were dismissed with derisive laughter.

Bill Clinton and his National Security team had practically begged President Bush and his people to take international terrorism seriously. They were brushed off. Agents that had been focused on stopping attacks were reassigned. Budgets were reduced. Programs were discontinued.

Donald Trump had historical evidence on his side. The gasp at the attack on a fellow Republican, the last Republican President, went beyond his words.

Headlines were all variations of the same note:

Trump blames George W. Bush for 9/11

Even now the real significance is hidden in the shock of accusation. The candidate described the time the previous Republican President had spent in office this way:
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The Difference Between a Bastard and a Stupid Bastard

I was thinking about the abrupt decline of a favorite film star of my youth and one of his best films.

In the early 1960s, a fictional President, made older than his age by the burdens of office, is about to support a candidate he does not like, does not enjoy being around. But Joe Cantwell is tough and decisive. And President Hockstader wants someone strong to lead the country through rough international times. When Cantwell threatens to release illegally obtained information, the President reacts:

And to think I was going to endorse you for President… You know, Joe. It’s not that you’re a bastard that I object to. I don’t object to that at all. It’s just that you’re such a stupid bastard that makes you insufferable.

Gore Vidal wrote the play The Best Man. It was made into a movie starring Henry Fonda. Cliff Robertson was the evil, slimy Joe Cantwell. The play, and that movie, may come closest to redeeming the truly awful public personna that Gore Vidal left as he departed this mortal coil. It was much harder to watch Vidal in televised interviews than it was to enjoy the movie script. He turned snide cynicism into an artform. One comment about Vidal stays with me: “He bites his betters on their kneecaps.”

Cliff Robertson played in other politically tinged films. John F. Kennedy asked that he be cast as young Kennedy in the movie PT 109.

Long before Harvey Weinstein exposed himself to us, years before he ever cast his eye on his first victim, Cliff Robertson convinced me of the deep down corruption of moviedom. He pretty much destroyed his career in 1977 through an unlucky bit of honesty. He accidentally discovered that a major studio had written a huge check to him for work he had never done. Robertson’s name was forged on the check, and the head of the studio pocketed the money.
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Republicans Frightened by the Bell

Most of us have heard some version of the tale. It has been around for a long, long time. Vermont scholar Marjorie Dundas is retired from teaching, but she has made a sort of second career in collecting variations of the same legend.

Thumbing through the anthology, I am struck by the diversity of nationality and ethnicity. The ancient wisdom of a judge in India, of a magistrate in mainland China, a county governor in Taiwan. Could the same ancient story come from so many places? I admit to a suspicion that the single origin of all those versions may be the creative imagination of some forgotten writer.

The story I heard as a kid was about the ancient Chinese magistrate. A priceless item has been stolen. A host of suspects appear before the magistrate. Each swears to innocence. There seems no way to find the actual thief. So the magistrate resorts to the supernatural.
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Trump Truth

The young inexperienced security guard had quickly won over pretty much all of us. He had a sort of naive air about him that almost compelled us into a protective mode. He made friends. So, when he and his wife lost the baby during her difficult pregnancy, our small office sort of closed ranks around them both.

One loutish supervisor tried to comfort them with a larger perspective. “A miscarriage is just nature’s way of getting rid of its mistakes.”
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Ethnic Logic: Children to Become Strangers in a Strange Land


I cannot claim to be diligent about exercise.

It has been years since I ran or even walked for any purpose other than getting some short distance away.


It isn’t a defiance of mild medical admonition, exactly. It’s more an issue of time. Sometimes what is most important is not what is most urgent. At least that’s the story I tell myself.

I still see folks as I commute. You can tell the people doing their daily obligation to health and wellbeing. They do the same thing I sometimes did in my less sedentary days. I carried a stick. It was for a couple of reasons.

It signaled to me that it was time to adopt a fitness persona. Tired? Keep running because I had the stick.

But it was also for early morning or late night protection. I’m pretty big and kind of dopey looking. So nobody is likely to bother me. And walking in most neighborhoods is safer than you might think. But why take chances?

So I see folks walking or running with their sticks in hand, and I know they’re exercising.

A few years ago, one early morning walker in Montgomery, Alabama, suddenly found himself surrounded by police. Officers from two patrol cars were joined by another on a motorcycle. They questioned the man. Did he just come from South Perry Street? As questioning went on, the reason became apparent. The police had a report of someone walking with a crowbar.
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