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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

The 'Great Cuckold' Who Inspired Alito's Contemptuous Opinion

Think about it this way: If Justice Samuel Alito gets his way, and the Trumpist Supreme Court majority voids Roe vs. Wade, many states will be forced to begin criminal investigations of women who suffer miscarriages. Don’t give me that crying act, sweetheart. In this state, abortion is murder.

After all, it’s not as if the police have anything better to do.

Exactly how the authorities are supposed to know who’s pregnant to begin with is a tricky question. Maybe doctors will be required to turn them in. Call them “mandatory reporters,” like teachers who encounter child abuse.

And what about those home pregnancy tests? Maybe they’ll need to be taken under official supervision. Perhaps pharmacists can be deputized.

Hippocratic Oath be damned.

In the spirit of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Republican state legislators are considering prosecuting women who travel, say, from Missouri to Illinois for legal abortions. Can we expect Texas to administer pregnancy tests at the Mexican border—going and coming? Otherwise, there could be as many gynecologists as cut-rate dentists in Juarez.

Look, if all this sounds like a bad joke, I wish it were. Most Americans believe that there’s a right to privacy in the U.S. Constitution. The very austere Justice Alito, however, assures us that’s not so. His draft opinion overturning Roe vs. Wade, the 50-year-old Supreme Court precedent granting American women reproductive freedom, astringently points out that the word “abortion” does not appear in the text.

Of course, neither do the words “cellphone” or “woman.” Women participated in the Constitution’s, pardon the expression, gestation not at all. They played no role in 18th century American political life—one of the many reasons Constitutional “originalism” makes so little sense. Slavery too.

The overall tone of Alito’s draft opinion was best described by Adam Serwer in The Atlantic: "Alito’s writing reflects the current tone of right-wing discourse: grandiose and contemptuous, disingenuous and self-contradictory, with the necessary undertone of self-pity as justification."

In my view, turning government over to law school all-stars was never a good idea. Rationalizing the irrational is what they do. Indeed, I suspect Alito himself is as good a suspect as any for who leaked the fool thing to the media, placing maximum pressure on his colleagues to affirm it.

And speaking of irrationality, Alito’s 92-page opinion relies for much of its historical analysis on 17th century English jurist Matthew Hale, who pronounced the abortion of a “quick child” a “great crime.” (A “quick child” is a fetus whose mother can feel its movements, that is, five or six months along.) Polls show most Americans would agree, but more about that to come.

Among historians and legal scholars, Matthew Hale is notorious for having also decreed that a man can’t rape his wife, as a woman cedes property rights to her womb at marriage. He also presided over one of England’s most notorious witchcraft trials in 1662, sentencing two elderly widows to be hanged.

Some learned authority, no?

Hale's 17th century biographer John Aubrey wrote that the eminent jurist’s first wife “made a great cuckold of him,” but that’s neither here nor there, and I’m ashamed of myself for mentioning it. For whatever cause, he definitely had an attitude about women.

The main reason Americans think there’s a right to privacy is the Fourth Amendment, which affirms that “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”

Think about it: What could possibly be a person’s own damn business more than the decision of whether or not to bear a child? Do you really want the government to monitor your neighbor's intimate life? Your own? If you’re like most Americans, no, you pretty much don’t.

So often in the forefront, Oklahoma has already imprisoned a woman who had a miscarriage after taking illegal drugs—a Native American woman, naturally. It’s hard to imagine them investigating debutantes.

Regardless, polls have shown that the great majority agrees with Bill Clinton’s formulation that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” More than two-thirds of respondents told a 2018 Gallup poll that they wouldn’t like to see Roe v. Wade reversed. Most favor little or no restriction on first trimester abortion, but feel quite differently about late term procedures—pretty much the standard courts have established in the decades since 1973.

Now minority leader Mitch McConnell tells reporters that a post-Alito Republican Senate “certainly could legislate in that area.” Which can only mean, Michael Tomasky deduces in The New Republic, “that Republicans are contemplating a federal law to make abortion illegal—everywhere.”

New York, California, everywhere.

And what then? President Biden vetoes it, the 2024 presidential turns on it, and the USA ruins a lot of women’s lives and tears itself to pieces.

Why McCarthy's Pathetic Groveling Is So Important To Trump

Call it the dictator’s paradox: By demonstrating weakness, you affirm the Big Man’s power. By groveling, you gain standing. Pretending to believe what’s patently false, you affirm manly independence from what Swift mockingly called “the vulgar Dictates of unrefined Reason.”

It’s not a question of true or false; it’s a matter of who’s in charge, a form of moral cowardice common in the pre-Civil Rights South: say, the Alabama of George Wallace or the Arkansas of Orval Faubus. Cowering acknowledges respect for the way of the world, enhancing one’s standing.

Up until the rotten edifice collapses, that is, when the ambitious sycophant may suffer a bad fall. Hard core segregationists became hard to find down South after the Civil Rights Act.

So it is with Trumpism. What happens if the Big Man’s strength proves more illusory than real? After all, everybody with sense enough to come in from the rain knows that Donald J. Trump didn’t merely lose the 2020 presidential election; he lost it by seven million votes.

What if something like that happens again, as appears quite likely? Whatever will become of the Rep. Kevin McCarthys of the world, who have turned themselves upside-down and inside-out to affirm Trump’s most preposterous lies?

Once upon a time, the California congressman who yearns to be Speaker of the House was overheard in a recorded conversation with a group of fellow Republicans on June 15, 2016, obtained by the Washington Post.

“There’s two people I think [Russian dictator Vladimir] Putin pays: [Rep. Dana] Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy said.

None of his listeners objected. Plays a bit differently today, doesn’t it? But then Trump went on to win the GOP presidential nomination, McCarthy made nice, and the two became allies.

His most recent series of blunders have made McCarthy look even weaker. Basically, he jumped into his own trap. Excerpts from a new book by two New York Times reporters titled This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden and the Battle for America’s Future, began to circulate around Washington last week. It quoted McCarthy describing Trump’s role in the January 6 Capitol riot as “atrocious and totally wrong.”

He’d even gone far enough to inquire about using the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office and put Mike Pence in his place.

Two days later, the Times reported, the House minority leader held a telephone conference with his leadership team. Regarding Trump’s conduct on January 6, McCarthy told the group “What he did is unacceptable. Nobody can defend that and nobody should defend it.”

Responding to a question from Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) about the likelihood of Trump resigning, McCarthy said he planned to phone Trump about the Democrats’ forthcoming impeachment resolution. He said he would tell the president that “I think [the resolution] will pass, and it would be my recommendation you should resign.”

TheTimes report stipulated that its reporters had “reviewed the full recording of the conversation.”

Seemingly panicked, McCarthy ignored the blinking red light and blundered on. He and his press spokesman put out dueling statements denying everything. The Times story, McCarthy insisted, was “totally false and wrong.”

Bad move.

Reporters Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns went on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC program that same night, and played the audio tape.

Uh-oh. How could McCarthy not suspect that Liz Cheney would keep a recording of the call, and might be disinclined to keep his secrets after he’d purged her from House leadership to please Trump? (To be fair, she has denied taping the call or leaking the audio.)

After all, history records that only days after President Biden’s inauguration, McCarthy had hurried down to Mar-a-Lago to roll on his back and pee on his belly like a puppy before the former president.

So now the Very Cowardly GOP Leader has had to do it all over again. Knowing a sycophant when he sees one, Trump has gone out of his way to appear magnanimous. McCarthy, he told the Wall Street Journal, had changed his mind “when he found out the facts.”

“I think it’s all a big compliment, frankly,” Mr. Trump said about Republicans who doubted him after January 6, but later changed their minds. “They realized they were wrong and supported me.”

That’s just how Trump likes it. He has a downright canine understanding of who’s the Big Dog in any relationship. “Trump actually prefers it when people oppose him and then have to beg for his forgiveness,” Salon's Heather Digby Parton has written. “It shows dominance. And if there’s one thing we know, dominance tastes sweeter to him when he forces it with his boot on his rivals’ necks.”

But it’s all dependent upon the perception that Republican voters remain in thrall to the Big Loser. And there are growing indications that his hold over the base could be waning. Upcoming GOP primaries in Pennsylvania, Ohio and particularly Georgia don’t look so good for Trump-endorsed candidates.

Ruling by fear only works when there’s something to be afraid of.

Irked By Progressive Ideologues On Campus? Sorry, We Have Bigger Problems

Breaking News: college liberal arts departments infiltrated by liberals. Engineering schools, not so much. Profs pompous; college kids self-righteous. If these strike you as major revelations, you may have what it takes be an editor at the New York Times, brow perennially furrowed for signs of leftist groupthink in the academy.

Recently, the Times sounded the alarm yet again, publishing an op-ed column by University of Virginia senior Emma Camp, a columnist for the campus newspaper. Camp lamented that “my college experience has been defined by strict ideological conformity” to the point where “I sometimes feel afraid to fully speak my mind.” It’s a trendy complaint.

Camp provides one specific example. “During a feminist theory class…I said that non-Indian women can criticize suttee, a historical practice of ritual suicide by Indian widows.” For this implied offense against multi-culturalism—never mind that this custom has been practically unknown in India for many years—Camp felt the classroom grow tense.

“I saw people shift in their seats. Someone got angry, and then everyone seemed to get angry.” After the professor tried to move the discussion along, "I still felt uneasy…I was shaken, but also determined to not silence myself.”

And that’s it. From this, we are led to conclude that the University of Virginia has become a hotbed of “woke” political correctness where brave iconoclasm like Emma Camp’s is virtually unknown.

Never mind that the author herself had recently written a column urging classmates to confront their “racist” relatives over Thanksgiving dinner: “This holiday season,” she opined, “white progressives should not continue to favor their own comfort and familial peace over the tangible suffering of vulnerable people.”

Geez, I don’t know. Sounds a little woke to me. Your mileage may differ.

Look, she’s a college kid. Takes courses in “feminist theory” and expects… Well, what? Did her classmates defend ritual suicide? How? Camp doesn’t say. The professor? No clue. Where do they stand on eight-year-old brides? Female circumcision? Many remote practices are incomprehensible to contemporary minds.

If I’d been Camp’s editor, I’d have written “Be specific” in the margin and demanded particulars. Without them, her complaints ring hollow.

Nevertheless, a mighty hubbub arose in the Times comments section and elsewhere, quite as if Camp had described a real-world problem and proposed radical change. In my experience, anything touching upon the practices and prerogatives of college faculty—who have a lot of time on their hands—will draw an impassioned response.

Remember that Philip Roth wrote this novel a generation ago, titled The Human Stain. A New England professor uses the word “spooks” (as in “ghosts”) to describe two missing students he’s never seen. They turn out to be Black. Tragic folly ensues. The movie co-stars Nicole Kidman.

So it’s not exactly as if we’ve never heard of academic intolerance before. Indeed, I was present at the creation of political correctness. Back in the Seventies, I found myself the object of a departmental investigation at a New England university many years ago for failing a Black student who’d done badly on the mid-term, submitted no term paper, and failed to show for the final. Instead she dealt the race card.

Following my exoneration, a colleague commiserated that an “aristocratic Southerner” like me must find the school’s ethnic diversity challenging.

I am tall, not a big smiler, and may have appeared aloof. It’s been known to happen. Also I happen to be an Irish Catholic from Elizabeth, New Jersey who’d gone to grade school with classmates from families where foreign languages—Yiddish, Italian, Polish and Russian—were spoken in the home.

A diversity expert who couldn't spot an Irish guy in Massachusetts?

But I'd also attended the University of Virginia, on scholarship, which seemed to be what the investigation was all about. Seriously. At departmental gatherings, people patronized my “pretty little wife” to her face—accurate, but deliberately condescending. Academics only, I hasten to add. Ordinary New Englanders would ask Diane questions just to hear her Arkansas accent.

I decided to quit before they could fire me, and ended up teaching more Black kids every semester at a college in Arkansas than during three years in New England.

So my advice to contemporary students would be to avoid all courses in “theory” except in math or science. You’re just asking for politicized dogma of the kind that almost destroyed literary studies a generation ago. Look, academia attracts oddballs the way basketball courts draw tall people. There’s really not a lot to be done about it.

Except maybe to transfer to Virginia Tech or Texas A&M. It's a big country.

Meanwhile, author Camp resides in a state whose newly-elected governor has set up a telephone tip-line to report subversive school teachers. Churches in Texas are besieging librarians to banish books concerning race or sex. In Florida, armed truckers are blockading Disney World to protest its resistance to the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. School board members are getting death threats.

And we’re supposed to worry about UVA English Majors? I don’t think so.

The Kind And Gentle Man Who Confronted The Mainstream Media

I believe I spoke with Eric Boehlert, the penetrating observer and gadfly of American journalism who died last week in a tragic bicycle accident, only once, in 1996. As a young media critic for Salon, Boehlert phoned to interview me about my book Fools for Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater.

Two things stood out about our conversation: Eric’s diligence—he’d actually read and thought about the book, a rarity—and his personal warmth. He’d done me the great favor of independently fact-checking a few of the book’s more counter-intuitive passages—such as the time a savings and loan “investigator” who’d peddled “Presidential Bitch” T-shirts out of her government office collapsed and was hospitalized during a Senate hearing after being confronted with proof she’d manufactured evidence.

“Mainstream” reporters deeply invested in the phony scandal somehow contrived to ignore the episode. Viewers of C-SPAN saw the whole thing. The New York Times, however, failed to notice.

Boehlert and I had stayed in touch by email ever since. Also partly, I suppose, by quoting each other’s work. I considered his Press Run website an invaluable resource.

Like my old friend James Fallows, I found Boehlert “a conscience and inspiration. He was fearless and absolutely unsparing in his writing about this era’s mainstream press. I am so sorry for him, and for his family, and for all of us to have lost his courage and voice.”

Everybody who knew Eric personally spoke of his kindness and generosity. A fine athlete, he coached kids’ baseball and basketball in his adopted hometown of Montclair, New Jersey.

On his MSNBC program, Chris Hayes played a characteristic video clip of Boehlert talking bluntly about the deleterious influence of Fox News on the body politic.

“Fox News is a closed society,” he pointed out. “They do not have people on the air who disagree with them. None of these people venture into the public square to have actual debate. So they lie without consequence, and they’ve done it for years and it’s just gotten more and more extreme. So they’re absolutely boxed in. But they don’t care, right? They know they can lie to their viewers. Their viewers expect to be lied to. This is the cushion that they’ve always had.”

Hayes ended a eulogy by saying: “I learned a lot from him and he is going to be deeply, deeply missed.”

Amen to that.

That said, calling out Fox News on MSNBC is pretty much preaching to the choir. Where Boehlert really excelled was in confronting the blind spots and herd-behavior of the so-called “mainstream” media.

Consider Boehlert’s final Press Run column, headlined “Why is the press rooting against Biden?” There his targets were CNN, the Washington Post, Meet the Press, and Axios.

Keying in on the Biden administration’s extraordinary success in job creation, Boehlert’s column implicitly asked, “What’s worse, that you’re out of a job, or that the price of gasoline has risen 25 cents per gallon?”

Put that way, the question answers itself.

So why were “mainstream” outlets virtually unanimous in burying last week’s blockbuster report of 400,000 new jobs in March? Sample headlines: “Booming Job Growth Is a Double-Edged Sword For Joe Biden” (CNN); “Biden Gets a Strong Jobs Report, But a Sour Mood Still Prevails” (Washington Post)

When it comes to the Biden economy, the glass is always half empty. On CNN particularly, you are not going to see any positive economic news without the next shot being of a gas pump, with a motorist in an SUV complaining how he can’t hardly afford to fill his tank. Ditto NBC and the rest.

“That’s why,” Boehlert wrote “according to a recent poll, 37 percent of Americans think the economy lost jobs over the last year, when it’s gained seven million. (Just 28 percent of people know jobs are up.)

“Virtually all the Beltway coverage today agrees on this central point: When it comes to the economy, Biden’s approval rating is taking a hit because Americans are freaked out by inflation. But maybe it’s taking a hit because Americans are under the false impression that jobs are disappearing. Voters don’t know what they don’t know because the press isn’t interested in telling them.”

Exactly why that’s so is hard to say. Maybe the Biden administration isn’t so good about blowing its own horn. Also, inflation affects everybody, while other people’s jobs directly affect only them, not necessarily you.

That said, Boehlert puts it bluntly: “Biden is facing not just one organized opposition in the form of the GOP, but another in the form of the Beltway press corps.”

Contrary to partisan mythology, it can definitely happen to Democratic presidents. In my experience, Beltway reporters lean not so much left or right, but pro-career. And as in the natural world, the safest place during a stampede is in the middle of the herd. Eric, however, followed his own lead.

Is America's Pandemic Derangement A Permanent Condition?

A few months ago, I ran into a recently-retired judge, a former prosecutor and friendly acquaintance, at the grocery store. I asked him what he thought was causing the wave of homicides and shooting incidents around the city. Even in our normally safe, quiet neighborhood, it’s not uncommon to hear fusillades of gunfire in the night—semi-automatic pistols by the sound of them.

“Damned if I know,” he said. “Probably the same thing that’s making everybody drive like lunatics.”

It’s true. In my travels around town, it’s not uncommon to be passed on a double yellow line on residential streets. Thirty seconds later, you pull up behind them gunning their engines at a stoplight. Everybody drives like they’re in Dallas, with lots of tailgating and horn-blowing. Granted, I’m an old duffer in no particular hurry, but people run so many red lights that it’s definitely a good idea to look both ways on green.

One-finger salutes are ill-advised, as many of these knuckleheads go around heavily armed.

Did I mention a safe neighborhood? Last week there was a homicide at a bar a couple of blocks from our house. The doorman, a universally popular fellow, told a guy he couldn’t carry his drink outside. The idiot came back with a pistol and shot him dead. They showed a remarkably clear photo of the killer on TV and arrested him the next morning—a 23-year-old from across the river.

Two lives destroyed over nothing.

But it’s not just where I live. (Little Rock.) Increasingly bad behavior is nationwide. Auto fatalities, to stick with a relatively non-politicized issue for the moment, are up sharply since the Covid pandemic began. Although traffic volumes diminished with many working from home (or not working), car crash deaths rose fully 18.4 percent in 2021.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “the main behaviors that drove this increase include: impaired driving, speeding, and failure to wear a seat belt.” It appears that some of the same jerks who resented face masks compensated by unbuckling their seat bels.

Why am I not surprised?

“If there was a way to make the driving experience less safe for drivers, less safe for passengers, or less safe for everyone else on the road,” Matt Yglesias comments “people did it.”

At the nation’s airports, there has been an epidemic of unruly passenger behavior—people punching gate attendants, slapping flight attendants, even trying to break into cockpits. Mostly over face masks.

May I offer you another cocktail, sir?

Elsewhere, drug overdose fatalities are up, there’s been an increase in attacks on health care workers, and schools across the country report a sharp uptick in disruptive behavior by students.

A substantial proportion of our fellow Americans are simply losing it. There’s even been a rise in comedian-slapping at the Oscars.

Writing in The Atlantic, Olga Khazan wonders why: “In 2020, the U.S. murder rate rose by nearly a third, the biggest increase on record, then rose again in 2021. Car thefts spiked 14 percent last year, and carjackings have surged in various cities. And if there were a national tracker of school-board-meeting hissy fits, it would be heaving with data points right now.”

Indeed, it’s no longer shocking to hear of school board members receiving death threats—a dubious honor that used to be reserved for such minor public figures as newspaper columnists.

Maybe I’m losing my edge, however, as it’s been months since anybody has vowed to murder me (I do block threatening emailers). Personal abuse, however, has risen sharply. Name-calling is way up, and reading comprehension is down. It’s remarkable how few people can follow an argument that hits their personal hot spots.

Quote something our former president has said in praise of noted humanitarian Vladimir Putin and you’re a “liar!" afflicted with “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” An awful lot of these people sound like Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife, Ginny, i.e. like cranks haunted by imaginary conspiracies and dreaming of vengeance.

For the most part, I agree with The Atlantic’s Khazan that the “rage, frustration, and stress” coursing through American society have a lot to do with Covid, and attendant feelings of fear, frustration and sorrow.

Loneliness too.

“The pandemic” she writes, “loosened ties between people: Kids stopped going to school; their parents stopped going to work; parishioners stopped going to church; people stopped gathering, in general.” Most experts she consulted—psychiatrists, criminologists, and social historians—believe that as our social interactions return to normal, our collective behavior will also improve.

Color me skeptical, but I think that the decay of journalism in the age of Fox News and the derangements of social media have done permanent harm. Mere facts no longer persuade.. The propaganda term “Fake News” has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Millions believe nothing they don’t wish to believe. They have utter contempt for anybody who disagrees.

That won’t change painlessly.

When Biden Smacked Putin, He Was Playing Bad Cop

In Michael Kinsley’s immortal definition, "a gaffe is when a politician tells the truth—some obvious truth he isn't supposed to say." By that standard, the term would definitely apply to Joe Biden’s recent condemnation of Vladimir Putin.

“For God’s sake,” Biden blurted out “this man cannot remain in power.”

An international coalition of Nervous Nellies and lunchroom monitors pronounced themselves aghast. You’d think the president had purposely broken wind at a state dinner, or proclaimed a Supreme Court justice’s wife to be as crazy as an outhouse rat.

No sooner had he made the remark at the end of a powerful speech expressing the West’s determination to resist Russian aggression—Biden warned Putin not to advance “on one single inch” of NATO territory—than White House staff began walking it back. “Regime change” in Russia, they emphasized, is not American policy.

A hand-wringing Washington Post headline read: “Biden’s Putin remark pushes U.S.-Russia relations closer to collapse.”

Not Putin’s manifest crimes against humanity, mind you, but Biden’s outburst. Might it not push Putin’s imagined paranoia over the edge?

On the Sunday talk shows, Republican politicians competed with Kremlin spokesmen to express their shock. On NBC’s Meet the Press, GOP Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio worried that Biden’s indignation “plays into the hands of Russian propagandists and plays into the hands of Vladimir Putin.”

Kremlin mouthpiece Dmitri Peskov said it wasn’t up to Biden to decide who the Russian president should be. Somewhat laughably, he insisted that was up to the “Russian people,” whose say-so is entirely theoretical, given Putin’s practice of having political rivals jailed or murdered. Indeed, the Little Tsar’s reign resembles nothing so much as a series of footnotes to Dostoyevsky’s prophetic 1872 novel The Possessed. Suffice it to say that Russia has never experienced democracy—lurching periodically from one form of dictatorship to another.

Even so, America’s imaginary determination to conquer Russia is a major feature of the Putin regime’s propaganda, despite the U.S. having restrained itself from trying since 1945. Anybody familiar with Russian suffering in World War II can understand a degree of national paranoia, although Biden was surely correct to say that Putin’s pledge to “de-Nazify” Ukraine is both “cynical” and “obscene.”

Nevertheless, to many Russians, it plays,

That said, and much to President Volodymyr Zelensky’s dismay, everything about President Biden’s strong, but measured approach to Ukraine’s agony has demonstrated extreme U.S. reluctance to go to war in Russia’s backyard. First Napoleon and then Adolf Hitler long ago proved the futility of doing so.

And that was before Russia acquired nuclear weapons.

Even so, God forbid that the Russian dictator should get his little feelings hurt. Why he might do something crazy, such as bomb Ukrainian apartment buildings, hospitals and orphanages.

War crimes all.

Even French President Emanuel Macron of France, a stalwart NATO ally, expressed a degree of concern with Biden’s outburst. “I wouldn’t use this kind of words,” Macron of France said in a television interview. He said that he hoped to broker a cease-fire and a Russian withdrawal by diplomatic means. “If we want to do this,” Macron added, “we mustn’t escalate,” he said, “neither with words nor with actions.”

Down at the police station, this tactic is known as the Good Cop/Bad Cop approach to dealing with recalcitrant suspects. And cops use it because it works. Do you want to cut a deal with the very angry American president, or the more understanding French one?

Italy’s foreign minister, Luigi Di Maio, put it another way. President Biden, he said, had used words “that must make Putin clearly understand that he has to stop.” The American president,” he added, made “a very clear speech, he used resolute words…But let’s remember that on the other side, Putin uses bombs.”

Was Ronald Reagan wrong to call the Soviet Union an “Evil Empire?” Was it a terrible gaffe by a doddering old man to personalize the Cold War, when Reagan urged “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall?” Many thought so at the time, but few would say so now.

In his Warsaw speech, Biden cast the Ukraine crisis as a new Cold War, a generational conflict: “a new great battle for freedom: a battle between democracy and autocracy, between liberty and repression, between rules-based order and one governed by brute force.”

Like blogger Kevin Drum, I doubt Biden’s spontaneous remark will send Putin over the edge. “Quite the opposite: the fact that Biden is obviously very sincere in his loathing of Putin makes it clear that the US and NATO are unlikely to back down in Ukraine.” He’d be well advised to find a pathway to retreat from a disaster of his own creation.

Good cop/Bad cop.

Biden himself now says he never meant to endorse a policy of “regime change,” but had an emotional reaction to meeting with Ukrainian refugees in Poland.

That’s good enough for me.

Putin's Crazy Nuclear Threats Display Weakness, Not Strength

In a properly-run dictatorship, Dear Leader always wins thunderous electoral victories. You won’t see Vladimir Putin in any late-night cliffhangers. Regardless of how many of his political opponents fall out of windows, get shot dead in the street, find neurotoxins in their underwear, or get thrown into prison—or, in the case of Putin’s outspoken critic Alexi Navalny, both—the Little Tsar’s faithful supporters can be depended upon to keep cheering.

Or, at minimum, to avert their eyes.

The awful truth, you see, is that under the right circumstances, Fascism can be very popular. Most people are instinctively nationalistic, and Putin’s basic message of “Make Russia Great Again,” as Kevin Drum puts it, can be counted upon to resonate. So long, that is, as the Little Tsar maintains complete control of Russian media and prevents foreign news from filtering into the country.

Last year, the Russian military outlawed the possession of Smartphones by soldiers. Last week, Margaret Sullivan reports, its parliament banned the words “war,” “invasion” and “attacks” from being used to describe Russia’s assault upon Ukraine. Instead, it’s called a “special military action,” supposedly to protect Russian-speaking UkraInians from their “Nazi” oppressors.

Ukraine’s defiant President Volodymyr Zelensky, of course, is a Jew, which makes the lie particularly grotesque. But then sheer audacity is often the key to effective propaganda.

Inside Russia, reporting and publishing “fake news,” a phrase borrowed from Putin’s biggest American fan, Donald J. Trump, is now a criminal offense, punishable by 15 years in prison. Moscow, police have been reported spot-checking people’s cellphones on the street, hunting for dissenters. Western news organizations such as the BBC, CNN, and the Washington Post have quietly quit sending bylined dispatches from inside Russia lest their reporters get thrown into dungeons.

Even Fox News, where the pro-Putin cheerleading stopped only last week, and whose brand-name personalities Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham had become regular fixtures on Russian state TV, no longer reports direct from Moscow. It’s too dangerous.

Russia has banned Facebook and Twitter.

And, yes, it’s certainly working. Wave the flag, beat the drum and report only thunderous victories over fiendish enemies—"Oceania was at war with Eurasia; therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia,” Orwell wrote in “Nineteen Eighty-Four”—and the great majority will support the Little Tsar for as long as the illusion survives.

The ”Two Minutes Hate” is always well-attended.

An extraordinary report in the New York Times documents the stunning experiences of besieged Ukrainians trying vainly to make their Russian relatives understand what’s going on. Instead, they encounter “a confounding and almost surreal backlash from family members in Russia, who refuse to believe that Russian soldiers could bomb innocent people, or even that a war is taking place.”

Reporter Valerie Hopkins interviewed Misha Katsurin, a Ukrainian restaurateur, who phoned his Russian father to describe his efforts to evacuate his wife and children. Instead of sympathy, he got yelled at for siding with Nazis.

Far from bombarding Ukrainian cities and villages, the older man insisted, Russian soldiers are handing out blankets and food to victims of Nazi atrocities. His son’s eyewitness accounts counted for less than state TV propaganda—where Russian artillery barrages are definitely not targeting civilian neighborhoods. Also, there’s certainly no 40-mile-long tank convoy stalled impotently on a Ukrainian highway, a show of military incompetence that has astonished observers worldwide.

One couple told The Times it was “easier to explain the invasion to their 7-year-old daughter than to some of their [Russian} relatives.” For his part, Misha Katsurin says “I am not angry at my father — I am angry at the Kremlin. I’m angry about the Russian propaganda. I’m not angry at these people. I understand that I cannot blame them in this situation.”

Problem is, the Little Tsar can’t keep Russians in the dark forever. As the coffins of Russian soldiers begin to come home, and embittered soldiers start telling their war stories at family gatherings and in bars, the awful truth will begin to emerge.

Historically speaking, Russians have had a lot of bitter experience decoding government propaganda. Under the Soviet Union, the nation’s two leading newspapers were Pravda (truth) and Izvestia (news).

Russians told a bitter joke that became proverbial: “There is no truth in news and no news in truth.”

So, yes, the Russian people have seen this movie before. Which could very well be, come to think of it, why Vladimir Putin has resorted to crazy talk about nuclear weapons. Isolated from the outside world and surrounded by the worst kinds of sycophants and yes-men, it may be dawning upon him what a terrible trap he’s set for himself and for Russia.

Invading Ukraine was supposed to weaken NATO and divide America from Europe. Instead, it’s made the Western democracies more united than ever. The hard part will be finding the Little Tsar a survivable way out

As Putin Sinks Into Infamy, He's Taking Down Trump Republicans Too

As I write, a 40-mile long convoy of Russian “peacekeepers” — i.e., tanks, armored personnel carriers and mobile artillery — is approaching Kiev with the clear intent of bludgeoning the Ukrainian people into surrender. The dead-eyed little killer in the Kremlin is too fearful to back down.

Even so, it’s not going to happen. Vladimir Putin’s forces can besiege the Ukrainian capital and demolish its monuments—albeit at a fearful cost to Russia’s conscript army--but overcoming the patriotic determination of its people appears beyond his capacity. So far, Putin’s invasion has accomplished two things: making Ukraine an international symbol of democracy and the Russian gangster state an international pariah.

And a bankrupt pariah at that.

Already, the reputation of Russia’s vaunted army has been tarnished in a display of logistical incompetence that’s left its forces out of fuel, stranded, and at the mercy of Ukrainian irregulars. TheWashington Post reports that “[m]ultiple videos from around the country have portrayed scenes of burned Russian tanks, dead Russian soldiers and captured Russians, some barely out of their teens, making plaintive calls home to their parents.”

They’re mainly draftees, you know. Evidently, many had no idea they were being ordered to invade. Putin has little regard for Russian lives either.

Furthermore, even if Putin’s forces were to capture or kill Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, they will have first succeeded in transforming him into a heroic avatar: A living symbol of freedom who has used his skills as a TV performer to rally his people against Kremlin brutality.

Frankly, it’s hard to imagine how Putin’s rule survives the consequences of his enormous blunder. "When dictators rule for decades,” former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul has said “they (1) stop listening to advisors, (2) become disconnected from reality, (3) spend a lot of time alone, and (4) overreach. This is exactly what has happened to Putin."

McFaul also tweeted that he’s “confident in predicting that Putin's evil invasion of Ukraine marks the beginning of the end of Putin's dictatorship and Putinism in Russia. No moral person can support this heinous war. There are millions of moral people in Russia.”

Frankly, it’s good to be reminded. All across Europe, athletes are refusing to play against Russian teams.

In Moscow, however, the costs of dissent are high. Putin’s political rivals keep falling out of tall buildings and finding deadly toxins in their underwear. Chances are he’s just bluffing about Russia’s nuclear arsenal, like a barroom brawler demanding his friends restrain him. Nevertheless, should the tyrant’s rage and paranoia make him order a nuclear strike, I suspect that patriotic Russian officers would refuse.

And that could indeed be the end of him.

Closer to home, Trump Republicans are having trouble remembering which side they’re on, much less recalling that their hero was impeached for trying to blackmail President Zelensky into conjuring a phony investigation of Joe Biden. Trump also froze military aid to Ukraine, and even echoed Kremlin propaganda that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 American election.

Eric Boehlert points out that on Fox News, whose commentators are regularly featured on Russian state TV, a smirking “Laura Ingraham mocked…Zelensky’s passionate plea for peace as a ‘pathetic display’ from a ‘defeated man.’ Tucker Carlson announced, ‘No one on this show is…rooting for the Ukrainians for that matter,’ insisting Putin ‘just wants to keep his western borders secure.’” Celebrity author and Ohio GOP Senate candidate J.D Vance said, “I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or the other.”

After the political winds shifted, Vance did too.

This is who they are, America. Remember them.

Meanwhile, over on the moron wing of the Republican Party, the inimitable Marjorie Taylor Greene spoke at a white supremacist rally in Orlando whose organizers led cheers for Russia.

“Putin, Putin, Putin!” chanted the crowd.

Greene later feigned ignorance of the group’s views.

It hasn’t been but a month since J.D. Vance, who once called Trump an “idiot” and compared his fan base to opioid addicts, declared himself “honored” to accept her endorsement.

Today’s white nationalists are the spiritual (and sometimes literal) descendants of the 1930s “America First” movement, which held pro-Nazi rallies at Madison Square Garden right up until Pearl Harbor.

So, yes, America, we’ve seen this movie before.

Then there’s the great man himself. Even as the tanks rolled, Donald J. Trump called Vladimir Putin “savvy,” and a “genius.” Speaking at a Florida fund-raiser, he portrayed the Russian invasion as a clever real estate transaction.

“He’s taken over a country for $2 worth of sanctions,” Trump said, “taking over a country — really a vast, vast location, a great piece of land with a lot of people — and just walking right in.”

The man is a moral imbecile.

Now he says that if he were president Russia wouldn’t have dared, this guy who all but sent Putin an engraved invitation.

Across America, The Vast Majority Of Democrats Reject 'Woke' Excess

To hear some people tell it, the Democratic Party is overrun with far-left culture warriors preaching “identity politics” and what Kevin Drum calls “semi-insane levels of wokeness.”

No less an eminence than James Carville, the political consultant, recently sounded off on the theme to a New York Times columnist. Democrats, he warned, need to shed the image of being an “urban, coastal, arrogant party” indulging in “faculty lounge politics” and employing racialized code words like “Latinx” which no normal person of any ethnicity uses.

Do such persons exist? Absolutely. And many inhabit college liberal arts departments, where being persnickety about “gendered” language can reach near-comical levels. I’ll not soon forget being scolded from the audience at a college talk for using the word “murderess” to describe a character in my book Widow’s Web who’d committed two homicides.

So, is “murderer” an honorific, I wondered? (Indeed, I’d argue that “murderess” is a far stronger word, as it’s men that do most of the killing. Or would have argued, if the point had been worth making, which under the circumstances, it wasn’t.)

But I digress: Back to crackpot Democrats. Washington Post opinion writer Matt Bai recently published a column pronouncing himself “utterly repulsed from the mainstream of both parties”—Republicans because they’ve become “more a celebrity fan club than a political organization” that “would, if left to its own devices, destroy the foundation of the republic.”

And, Democrats because they’ve become what he calls “arbiters of language… constantly issuing Soviet-style edicts about which terms are acceptable and which aren’t…a tactic used for controlling the debate and delegitimizing critics.”

So one party’s gone fascist, while the other calls people bad names. And these things are equally objectionable?

Sounds like somebody’s been getting ugly emails.

Bai argues that by embracing the politics of racial identity, Democrats have become a sort of mirror image of white supremacists: “instead of trying to restore some obsolete notion of a White-dominated society, they seek vengeance under the guise of virtue.”

And this, in turn, means that persons like himself, indeed “the broad center of the American electorate--traditional conservatives and liberals both—no longer [have] a political home.”

To which my response is: Does this guy even read the newspapers? Because on the planet where I live, things basically work like this: Democrats reject extremists and vote them out; the other guys embrace them.

Take, for example, the single dumbest political slogan in recent American history: “Defund the Police.” Have Democrats, broadly speaking, endorsed it?

Well, President Joe Biden hasn’t. Quite the opposite. As Eric Levitz points out in New York magazine:

“Through the American Rescue Plan, Biden sent $350 billion in fiscal aid to states and cities. He then encouraged municipalities to invest those funds into expanding police departments. Nearly half of America’s 20 largest cities have followed Biden’s advice.”

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, heavily Democratic Minneapolis put the question on the ballot. A proposal to replace the city’s police department with a “Department of Public Safety” lost decisively.

Even more reliably Democratic New York City has recently elected a new mayor: an ex-cop of the African-American persuasion who promises sterner and more efficient law enforcement everywhere he goes.

Which appears to be exactly what the Black community, broadly speaking, supports. Although most have few illusions about police brutality, it’s Black neighborhoods that bear the brunt of wild-west style shootouts in the streets between groups of armed hoodlums. Calling preachers and social workers rarely helps over the short term. Crusading lawyers on CNN denouncing everybody as racists aren’t much practical use either.

Sometimes, you’ve just got to call the cops. What’s needed aren’t fewer police officers, but more and better ones. The great majority of Democratic voters understand that.

Or consider San Francisco, Nancy Pelosi’s hometown and as loyally Democratic a constituency as exists in the USA. Voters there just removed three almost comically “woke” school board members in a recall election by margins of more than seventy percent.

Chinese-American voters in particular grew angry with a board which kept San Francisco schools closed due to Covid while schools opened successfully all across the country; which changed admissions policy at a prestigious high school from merit to a lottery (thereby removing the “prestige” part altogether); and which changed the names of schools commemorating George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, among other “racist” offenders.

‘It’s hard to escape the conclusion that a lot of San Franciscans have climbed off the woke bandwagon—or were never wholeheartedly on it” writes Gary Kamiya in The Atlantic.

In short, far from showing that Democratic voters even in liberal inner sanctums are eager to practice Carville’s feared “faculty lounge” politics, it proves the exact opposite. Maybe the party’s biggest problem isn’t so much its policies or its rank and file voters as the way people talk about it.

Behind The Locked Door 'Mystery' Of Bob Saget's Death

Sherlock Holmes fans love a locked door mystery, so it was inevitable that the accidental death of TV comic Bob Saget in a Florida hotel room would get people buzzing. “Murder!” wrote suspicious fans on Facebook, Twitter, and everywhere else rumors flourish online.

Authorities in Orlando, where Saget’s body was found by a hotel detective on January 9, ruled that he’d died of a brain injury after an accidental fall. The Orange County Sheriff’s Department found no evidence of an intruder, nor a struggle. Neither alcohol nor illegal drugs were involved.

Sheriff John Mina told reporters that Saget’s injuries appeared to have been caused by a fall where he struck the back of his head on a flat surface, such as a bathroom floor. He somehow got into bed, but succumbed to a brain bleed. His family released a statement agreeing with the Sheriff, and begging public forbearance.

Not that it stopped anybody. According to Fox News, “[t]he growing belief that Saget’s injuries are from something more than a fall had experts weighing in on various media outlets.” Doctors compared the severity of the comedian’s skull fracture to an auto accident victim’s. “This is significant trauma,” Dr. Gavin Britz, the chair in neurosurgery at Houston Methodist told the New York Times. “This is something I find with someone with a baseball bat to the head, or who has fallen from 20 or 30 feet.”

On his Daily Howler website, Bob Somerby, a sometime standup comic who knew Saget professionally, grew exasperated after watching a CNN colloquy between Don Lemon and Dr. Sanjay Gupta. “We wondered if anyone watching the segment,” he wrote “had failed to wonder whether Saget had perhaps been the victim of a violent assault.”

Well, not me, particularly. But then I’d gotten my bell rung in a rugby match many years ago. Aroused with smelling salts, I finished the game on my feet, but woke up in a hospital a week later diagnosed with a concussion but no memory of how I’d gotten there. I’d passed out over breakfast. An ambulance took me to the emergency room. Brain injuries can be tricky.

The human skull can be extraordinarily resilient but also surprisingly fragile. “It’s like an egg cracking,” Dr. Jeffrey Bazarian, a concussion expert at the University of Rochester Medical Center told The New York Times. “You hit it in one spot, and it can crack from the back to the front.” He also doubted Saget was ever fully conscious after the injury.

But another aspect of the tragedy also caught my eye. According to the New York Times, the autopsy report also showed signs of two prescription medicines: “Clonazepam, commonly known as Klonopin, a benzodiazepine that is used to prevent seizures and treat panic attacks. Tests also found Trazodone, an antidepressant, the report said…[D]octors said that they could make people sleepy and contribute to a fall.”

Well, no kidding.

So, here’s my story: Two years ago, my wife Diane, an otherwise active, healthy woman in her 70s began to experience sudden, unexplained falls. No dizziness or unconsciousness. She’d just go down like a marionette with its strings cut.

In between, she complained about weakness in her legs.

They kept her overnight once at the university hospital, but found no cause. Over several months, doctors ran her through every high-tech diagnostic machine they have there: X-rays, CAT scans, MRIs, brain scans, etc. She wore a heart monitor for two different months. They referred her to cardiologists, neurologists, even a neurosurgeon.

Nobody could find anything wrong with her. No heart problems, no spinal issues, no tumors or brain abnormalities, no nothing. The famed neurosurgeon basically told us the referral was a waste of his time and ours.

Once every few weeks, down she'd go.

Her worst injury was a broken shoulder and torn rotator cuff—painful but not life-threatening. I teased her about needing Tommy John surgery, which being a baseball coach’s daughter she found (mildly) amusing.

Thankfully, no head injuries.

Then one day her girlfriend Carla, a physician at the V.A. asked to see a list of prescriptions Diane took. (She’d been reluctant to interfere.)

So, Carla goes "I don't let my patients over 65 take Trazodone."

I put the question to Maggie, the pharmacist.

“If it can put you to sleep,” Maggie said “it can make you fall down.” (We both used Trazodone for sleep.)

Within 24 hours of quitting, Diane felt dramatically stronger. The cardiologist said she needn’t come back. When I told him what Maggie said he affirmed “She’s absolutely right.”

Med school specialists however, are geared for heroic interventions. Simple causes can be overlooked. Read the label. Talk to your pharmacist.

Common side effects for Klonopin, the other drug Saget was taking, include: “drowsiness, dizziness, weakness, unsteadiness, and loss of orientation.” He was also Covid positive.

Sometimes, things are simpler than people want to believe.

Suburban Wingnuts Banned 'Maus' -- And Now Everyone Wants To Read It

As I write, the recently-inaugurated Republican governor of Virginia is engaged in a Twitter war with a mouthy high school kid.

And losing.

It’s like something out of Curb Your Enthusiasm, a TV program “Moms for Liberty” would surely ban if they could. Never mind that the whole thing started because the kid posted an inaccurate article about Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s closing down an educational exhibit about slavery -- which he didn’t do.

Any time you’re having a public spat with somebody seventeen, however, you’re in trouble. Youngkin blamed overzealous staffers for “an unauthorized tweet” taunting young Ethan Lynee for appearing in a photo with “a man that had a Blackface/KKK photo in his yearbook.”

That would be Youngkin’s immediate predecessor, former Gov. Ralph Northam, who once apologized for the Blackface photo but now says it wasn’t him. So, it’s a comedy of errors all around.

My own policy is to avoid Twitter altogether. Facebook is dangerous enough. Also, I’m not running for anything. Not never one time, as a backwoods friend likes to say. And if I ever did declare my candidacy, my wife would seek legal guardianship and have me put out to pasture.

Even so, the Youngkin episode had almost everything: a phony racial controversy, an inaccurate (and subsequently withdrawn) news story, and hotheads going off half-cocked all around.

Maybe Moms for Liberty should ban the lot. In case you don’t know, the “Moms” are a fake grassroots organization out of Florida dedicated to turning American public schools into fundamentalist Christian academies. Or getting rid of them altogether, which may be the ultimate goal.

“Karens for Christ” might be a more accurate moniker.

Bless their hearts.

Where I live in Arkansas, people like them are in the ascendancy. The newspapers are filled with tales of sexual violence and child pornography anyway. A prominent holy man was recently convicted in Federal court of molesting young girls. These are not practices people learn at school.

When liberals strike similarly righteous poses, it’s called “virtue signaling,” and most people think it’s kind of silly.

Consider, by way of example, the recent case of the McMinn County, Tennessee school board removing the graphic novel Maus from the eighth-grade curriculum. It’s a harrowing tale of cats in Nazi uniforms sending whole families of cartoon mice to concentration camps, torturing, and killing them. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Art Spiegelman tells the story of his parents, who survived the Holocaust. The school board voted unanimously to remove the book “because of its unnecessary use of profanity and nudity and its depiction of violence and suicide.”

The shocking profanity consisted of the word “damn.” As for a naked cartoon mouse, have the Tennessee censors never noticed that Donald Duck wears no pants? Although like an actual duck, Uncle Donald has nothing but feathers between his legs. (Among domestic fowl, you pretty much have to BE a duck to tell the boys from the girls.)

Almost needless to say, this preposterous decision succeeded in pushing Maus to the head of best-seller list and causing many thousands, if not millions—of young readers to seek it out. Like Orwell’s Animal Farm, the book’s sheer power resides precisely in its use of a children’s fable to teach a harrowing lesson. Once read, Maus will never be forgotten.

It follows that the sheer futility of book-banning in today’s United States almost cannot be exaggerated. Nor is it entirely a right-wing phenomenon. As Nashville writer Margaret Renkl points out in her New York Times column: “Last year, Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, was on the American Library Association’s Top 10 Most Challenged Books List ‘for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a ‘white savior’ character, and its perception of the Black experience.’”

Sigh.

Besides, while the little cherubs aren’t listening to their teacher drone on about Harper Lee, 1984, or some equally impenetrable text, what they’re listening to on their iPhones is Cardi B’s WAP, a coarse ditty about a boastful strumpet’s use of her… Well, there’s no polite word, and the clinical terms have come to sound dirtier than the unprintable ones. That thing Trump boasted about grabbing.

My point’s a simple one. The culture war’s over, and your side lost. So did mine. See, there’s this thing called the Internet out there, and it has changed everything about what children learn and how they learn it except the way school boards and old fools like you and me talk about it. For that matter, probably nothing so renders a once-incendiary book harmless as being required in a high school English or history class.

Make me education czar and students wouldn’t be permitted to bring their accursed phones to school at all—the contemporary equivalent of Hans Brinker sticking his finger in the dike to ward off a tsunami.

And if you recognize that allusion, you’re an old pedant too.

In Virginia, A New Governor's Bullying Big Brother Overreach

I’m so old I can remember when people calling themselves “conservative” thought “Cancel Culture” was a bad thing.

Oh wait, that was last week.

More recently, the brand new governor of Virginia—whose own children are safely ensconced in an exclusive Washington prep school—has opened a telephone snitch line enabling citizens to inform upon teachers committing “Thoughtcrime” in the Commonwealth’s public schools.

“We’re asking for folks to send us reports and observations,” Glenn Youngkin said, “and we’re going to make sure we catalog it all … And that gives us further, further ability to make sure we’re rooting it out.”

“It” being the dread Critical Race Theory, otherwise known as Black history. While there’s scant evidence of CRT in Virginia school curricula, there’s evidently more Black history than Trump-leaning parents want their children hearing about, what with Virginia being America’s cradle of slavery, beginning at Jamestown in, yes, 1619.

Can’t have that.

A country club moderate to outward appearances, Youngkin has turned out to be rather fiercer than advertised during his 2021 campaign. And right on schedule too. Book-banning and purging subversives have become all the rage among Republicans nationwide.

But then I can also recall when many public schools in Virginia remained segregated, when my wife and l lived there in the years following Brown vs. Board of Education. Change came slowly. Prince Edward County closed its public schools for five years rather than allow Black and white children to share classrooms.

At the rural Black high school where I was an occasional substitute, they used rocks for bases on the baseball diamond. But they did have tattered, second-hand books, desks, and blackboards—more than could be said for a lot of segregated schools. At the white county high school where my wife taught, she got summoned before the school board to answer a parental complaint about a “dirty” novel—Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”—she’d given her students.

It was the only book she ever got most of them to read.

The aggrieved parent had highlighted her child’s copy with magic marker, particularly objecting to the allegedly pornographic phrase “blue ball” to describe a child’s toy.

The board apologized to Diane for wasting her time.

Then there was the memorable meeting regarding the length of teacher’s skirts, prompting an exasperated assistant principal to remark: “If y’all don’t mind them boys shooting beavers, I don’t reckon I do.”

But speaking of nostalgia, here’s how the official state social studies textbook, “Virginia: History, Government and Geography” described the institution of slavery:

“Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, uncivilized and unemployed Negroes were given free passage on cruise ships from Africa to America with a stopover in Jamaica. Upon their arrival, after their time spent in the tropics, they were welcomed by white people who were happy to give them a new home. Jobs were provided along with a lifetime of free room and board. Here in America, they learned to speak English, sing hymns, and revel in the glory of God through the Gospel of Christ in place of their heathen savagery.”

Oh, happy day!

The novelist and law professor Garrett Epps, who grew up in Richmond, cites another Virginia public school textbook informing children that “[a]bove all the Colony was determined to preserve the racial purity of the whites. This determination is the foundation upon which Virginia’s handling of the racial issue rests, and has always rested.”

Which is not to say Glenn Youngkin endorses any of these ideas, nor that things haven’t changed for the better in Virginia and everywhere across the South. Nor even to say that parents who find the violence and sexual brutality of, say, Toni Morrison’s Beloved too heavy for high school kids are motivated by bigotry. I find her novels unendurable myself.

But Youngkin grew up in a culture marinated in Confederate grievance, as did many Virginians responding favorably to his attacks upon public school administrators and elected school boards. As a prep school graduate who has never attended a public school at any level, Youngkin campaigned as a genial moderate interested in “parents’ rights.”

He has chosen to govern as a bully.

The courts will decide whether or not gubernatorial fiat can override state law and local school boards in the matter of mask mandates. I suspect not.

Youngkin’s “Big Brother”-style attack upon the intellectual freedom of beleaguered public school teachers, however, has taken it several steps too far. Already, smart alecks are filling the governor’s tip line with allusions to “The Simpsons” and Cardi B, among others. Black parents are reminding him that they have rights too.

I think Washington Monthly’s Bill Scher has it right: Youngkin’s “I-know-best” gambit “has all the hallmarks of a misread mandate and classic overreach.”

Most Virginians, I suspect, have little appetite for loyalty investigations, and even less in becoming Ground Zero in a televised culture war.

Press Predictions Of Biden's 'Doom' Are Just Clouds Of Donkey Dust

I’ve been bemused by what I’ve called the Cult of the Presidency since long before it became my job to write about it. To an awful lot of people, the President of the United States is held personally responsible for things he can’t do a blessed thing about, from the price of Cocoa Puffs to the mutation of viruses. And too rarely given credit for things he’s done right.

Given the onset of climate change, it won’t be long before we’re blaming the White House for the weather.

But hey, it comes with the territory. A person would have to be downright mad with ambition to want the job.

That said, I’ve always felt warmly toward Joe Biden, if for no other reason than his resemblance to my late father, another Irish guy with a great smile and a fondness for the word “malarkey.” He also favored the phrase “donkey dust,” basically “nonsense.”

Something else that comes with the presidency is the attention of the nation’s esteemed Washington press clique. To find a group more prone to insider gossip and groupthink, one would have to be transported back to a high school lunchroom.

By way of historical context, Eric Boehlert provides the following example of press clique conventional wisdom on his Press Run website: “A year into his presidency, President [Blank] faces a polarized nation and souring public assessments of his efforts to change Washington, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.”

The year was 2010, the president, Barack Obama. Pundits predicted that the Ebola virus would ravage the nation and Obamacare would enter a demographic death spiral. Neither happened. So, it’s best to keep things in perspective when CNN asks “Is Biden’s Presidency Doomed?”

Probably not.

That said, Covid continues to ravage the nation, affecting every aspect of American life from education to inflation—no thanks to red state Republicans’ conversion to a pro-virus death cult. Hospitals are overwhelmed with the sick and dying, and what are they upset about? Face masks, Dr. Fauci.

Then too, congressional Democrats and the White House wasted months pretending that a 51-50 advantage in the Senate would allow the passage of “Build Back Better”—sweeping legislation few voters understood.

Altogether elsewhere, Vladimir Putin appears determined to occupy Ukraine, driving a wedge between the US and our NATO allies.

Of the above crises, only the time and political capital wasted pursuing “progressive” daydreams can be laid at Biden’s feet. Not only was Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WVV) never going to give Bernie Sanders’s supporters what they wanted, his constituents don’t want him to. West Virginia voted for Donald Trump over Joe Biden by 69 percent to 30 percent -- more than two to one.

“You don’t have to be a genius to succeed in politics,” the late Robert F. Kennedy told a friend of mine. “But you do need to be able to count.”

Biden wouldn’t be the first president to overrate his personal charm and persuasive skills. It’s been known to happen.

Left out of many negative assessments of Biden’s first year, however, was the extraordinary success of his economic policies. Thanks in large part to the fiscal stimulus plan he signed into law last March, unemployment has declined to 3.9 percent, almost where it was pre-Covid.

Since Biden’s inauguration, the U.S. economy has generated more than six million new jobs — an extraordinary achievement. Workers’ wages have risen as well. For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about high gasoline prices and seven percent inflation, both outside the president’s control, and both likely to be brought under control after Covid recedes, the president’s economic record could hardly be stronger.

That said, yes Biden’s polling numbers fell considerably beginning in August 2021, in seeming reaction to the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. (Not that anybody wants to go back.) But that hardly makes him an outlier, notes Tim Noah in The New Republic: “That also happened to Trump, Obama, Clinton, Reagan, and Carter.”

In short, the post-honeymoon phase of the presidency tends to be rough on everybody. Noah also notes that Washington media gossip has little bearing on a president’s political success: “Time famously pronounced Clinton ‘The Incredible Shrinking President’ on a June 1993 cover.”

Three years later, Clinton was re-elected easily despite the press clique’s obsession with the make-believe “Whitewater” scandal.

George W. Bush was saved from sinking polls during his first year by the surge in patriotism following the 9/11 terror attacks, only to plunge to historic lows after his disastrous Iraq invasion. In case you’ve forgotten, the Washington media led cheers, dressed up in fatigues, and followed the troops into battle.

Chances are Joe Biden hasn’t yet encountered whatever it is that will determine his administration’s place in history. But it’s clear that poll numbers won’t define it. Those fall under the heading of what my father would have called “donkey dust.”

To Hold Trump Accountable For His Criminal Conduct Is An Enormous Challenge

So here’s my question: Let’s say you’re Attorney General Merrick Garland. Filing a criminal indictment against former President Trump should be a fairly straightforward matter, although conspiracy charges are notoriously hard to prove. After all, much of Trump’s January 6, 2021 attempt to overthrow the United States government was performed live on national TV.

We’ve seen the video a hundred times, with Trump urging the mob to march down Pennsylvania Avenue to the U.S. Capitol to “fight like hell and if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore.”

Trump also promised to march with his impassioned followers, but anybody who believed that probably still believes that Trump got a big league tryout alongside Hall of Famer Willie McCovey, as he once boasted.

For the record, McCovey who died at age 80 in 2018, was eight years older than Trump. By the time our hero graduated from high school, McCovey had been the San Francisco Giants first baseman for five years. In 1959, when Trump was in ninth grade, he’d been National League Rookie-of-the-Year.

Slate once dug into old newspapers that published local prep school box scores. Trump’s batting average was .138.

So no, there was no big league tryout, a pathetic and ridiculous lie very much like his “landslide” win in the 2020 presidential election.

He just makes stuff up as he goes along, this guy, relying upon the tribalism and extreme gullibility of his supporters. So, of course, he failed to march with the mob to the Capitol. It’s doubtful he could walk that far without a golf cart.

Instead, Trump retired to the White House, where he watched the violence unfold on TV—ignoring pleas from his son, daughter and normally worshipful Fox News personalities to urge the rioters to desist.

At 2:24 PM, with the crowd having erected a gallows on the Capitol Grounds and chanting “Hang Mike Pence,” Trump tweeted that the vice president “didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.”

The Vice President’s security detail hustled him to safety. Meanwhile, Trump kept watching for another couple of hours as the mob beat cops with flagpoles and fire extinguishers, hunted Nancy Pelosi, vandalized Congressional offices and defecated in the halls of the U.S. Capitol.

Not long after he finally urged the horde to relent, as they obediently did, Trump dispatched another tweet: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots…”

But back to the Attorney General’s dilemma. That Trump engaged in a criminal conspiracy to prevent Congress from certifying the Electoral College vote appears quite clear. Now that he’s no longer in office, the Justice Department’s policy that a president cannot be charged no longer protects him. Indeed, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) has pointedly paraphrased the applicable laws in her statements about the investigation.

But how on earth would it be possible to put Trump on trial? Jury selection alone would be a nightmare. Not only does everybody already know many of the facts and judgements alluded to above, but many have already formed unassailable opinions. (I’d certainly be ineligible to serve.)

Some observers think Fulton County (Atlanta) prosecutor Fani Willis has a better shot at prosecuting Trump for trying to strong arm Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” 11,780 votes—enough to overturn that state’s vote. Partly because not everybody already knows the story, and partly because they’ve got Trump whining and threatening on tape.

That said, convicting the sleazy rascal would be a heavy lift. A substantial proportion of the American public exists in thrall to what The Hill columnist Bill Schneider calls “militant ignorance,” i.e. “ignorance that is proud of itself, that holds knowledge in contempt.” (It’s first cousin to what we called “invincible ignorance” back in my Baltimore Catechism days.)

A good place to witness the phenomenon, for those who lack the advantage of living among red state Republicans, would be to examine a focus group the New York Times conducted with Trump voters. Not only have most swallowed his election lies—they believe that mail-in voting led to massive fraud—but also that the January 6 insurrection was “way overblown.”

Shown texts by Donald Jr., Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity urging Trump to restrain his followers, they express dismay.

“They’re saying what you would think almost a Democrat would say or a liberal would say,” one woman exclaims.

“Kind of shocking to me,” says another “You’d think they’d back the president.”

That is, the mob.

Elsewhere, the group evidences a deep strain of paranoia. Democrats are scheming to steal our freedoms and usher in the New World Order. “It’s all about control, and they’re keeping Covid as one of their biggest weapons.”

Alas, our nation’s problems go deeper than Trump.

Trump May Dream Of 'Civil War,' But It's Not Going To Happen

When it comes to prognostication, my favorite philosopher has always been the eminent Lawrence Peter Berra. “It's tough to make predictions,” Yogi famously said, “especially about the future.”

For all his baseball genius, Yogi came by his skepticism honestly. He spent three years managing the New York Mets—enough to make anybody leery about expressing confidence for next year.

Nevertheless, here goes: Regarding American politics, most of this loose talk about an impending civil war is just that, talk. Organized, armed militias running around the countryside attacking political enemies? Not going to happen. Of course there will be violence. This is, after all, the United States of America, where there are cranks and loons of every kind and description armed with guns and explosives.

Terrorism, maybe. After all, it was no less an eminence than Thomas Jefferson who wrote that “[t]he tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” And Oklahoma City terrorist Timothy McVeigh, who had the phrase emblazoned on his T-shirt when he was arrested. McVeigh imagined that murdering 168 fellow citizens with a truck bomb would spark civil war. Instead, he was tried, convicted, and executed in 2001.

For the record, Jefferson penned the unfortunate phrase in France, a slave-owning aristocrat playing revolutionary at Paris dinner parties. He wrote regarding Shay’s Rebellion, a 1787 anti-tax uprising in Massachusetts which his fellow Virginian George Washington believed demonstrated the need for a strong national government. At the subsequent constitutional convention (which Jefferson did not attend), Washington’s views prevailed. As president, he sent soldiers to put down the Pennsylvania “Whiskey Rebellion” with prejudice.

Following his own presidency, Jefferson founded the University of Virginia and designed its staggeringly beautiful campus: a living monument to stability, order, and Thomas Jefferson himself. One of the most appalling things about the “Unite the Right” torchlight parade there in 2017 was its desecration of “Mr. Jefferson’s university” as Virginians call it. You couldn’t expect a barbarian like Donald Trump to understand that.

But I digress. The main reason there’s so much loose talk about civil war is the publication of recent polls showing that strong majorities of Republicans continue to believe that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” from the aforementioned Boss Trump. Meanwhile, the latest Washington Post -- University of Maryland poll shows that the “percentage of Americans who say violent action against the government is justified at times stands at 34 percent.” (40 percent of Republicans vs. 23 percent of Democrats.)

That and similar surveys show that between 58 and 71 percent of Republicans tell pollsters that Trump was the actual winner of an election he lost thunderously, making Joe Biden an illegitimate president.

It bears mentioning that contrary to the usual 50-50 framing, Republicans represent nowhere close to half of the electorate. One quarter is more like it. Looking at it that way brings the actual proportion of the sorehead minority down to something like half the headline number saying somebody needs to kick ass to bring back the glorious reign of the old p***y grabber.

It doesn’t say how many are prepared to drop the remote, clamber out of the recliner, and take up arms whenever Tucker Carlson says it’s time. Given the advanced age of the Fox News demographic, I’m confident the great majority of would-be warriors—like Trump himself—mean to follow the action on TV.

“The thing that’s most concerning is that [this false belief] has endured in the face of all evidence,” says Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of two honorable Republicans in Congress (the other being Liz Cheney). “And I’ve gotten to wonder if there is actually any evidence that would ever change certain people’s minds.”

The answer is almost certainly not. After all, this is pretty much the same demographic that has resisted science and medicine amid a worldwide disease pandemic. Indeed, many are now angry with Trump for boasting about the very vaccines that they’ve risked their children’s lives resisting. They’re about to have a rough few weeks. Swallowing his election lies has been is risk free and easy by comparison.

There are also signs of waning certitude. The same Washington Post poll shows that the percentage of Republicans denying Joe Biden’s legitimacy has dropped from 70 to 58 percent since the January 6 insurrection. What’s more, fully 72 percent of all Americans saw the January 6 riot as a threat to democracy: a number that can only rise as investigations proceed.

Once the dam springs a leak, it’s doomed.

Having spent much of my adult life as a Yankee in the American South, I have seen this movie before. As recently as the 1960s, many Southern whites thought the world would end if schools and universities integrated. So watch the upcoming Alabama-Georgia game, and tell me what you see.

Civil war over Trump?

In his dreams. Nowhere else.

Remember When Trump Jacked Up Oil Prices? Neither Does The Media

Only last week we learned that one Donald J. Trump was, in effect, the Typhoid Mary of the Covid epidemic during the 2020 campaign. What’s more, unlike the original, an Irish-born cook who unknowingly infected whole families in early 20th century New York, Trump had tested positive for Covid, but didn’t bother to warn any of the scores of individuals he came into close contact with before himself being hospitalized.

So was Trump deliberately trying to infect Joe Biden when he arrived at their first presidential debate visibly Ill? Nobody knows. Only that the entire Trump family showed up unmasked in defiance of agreed-upon rules. Five of the six persons who helped Trump rehearse came down with Covid, including former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who almost died, and who blames Trump for infecting him.

Elsewhere, a 38-page Power Point presentation detailing a crackpot scheme to steal the 2020 presidential election was inadvertently turned over to the House Committee investigating the January 6 insurrection by former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who subsequently developed an acute case of “Executive Privilege” lockjaw. The idea was that Trump would declare a National Emergency and seize voting machines on the grounds that Chinese hackers had corrupted them—for which there’s not a particle of evidence.

And what was the big political news story of the week according to our esteemed Washington press corps? Why the rising cost of milk and gasoline, of course. Last week’s announcement of a 6.8 percent increase in inflation over the past year provoked semi-hysterical coverage reinforcing the media narrative that terrible economic conditions had the Biden White House reeling. On her nightly broadcast, CNN’s Erin Burnett was practically feral—talking over guests and treating their explanations with scorn. How could anybody deny that runaway inflation was crushing American families?

On his invaluable PressRun Substack, media critic Eric Boehlert details what he characterizes as a Washington press corps “married to a Biden Doomsday storyline.” Dan Kennedy at Media Nation faults what he calls “the media’s primordial need for balance — for treating Democrats and Republicans as if they are both legitimate actors even though the Democrats, for all their flaws, continue to act as a normal political party while the Republicans have descended into authoritarianism.”

We have seen this movie before; an allegedly even-handed establishment press succumbing to feverish gang coverage of stories that never add up. Remember Hillary’s e-mails? The great “Whitewater” scandal of legend and song? The 2000 “War on Gore?” Selling Saddam Hussein’s non-existent “Weapons of Mass Destruction” as a pretext for invading Iraq would also qualify.

CNN recently found a family it portrayed as driven to near penury by rising milk prices. Supposedly, the cost of a gallon had risen from $1.99 to $2.79 where they live. That’s a forty percent increase. According to the Consumer Price Index, milk has risen four percent over the past year—noticeable, but ten percent of what CNN reported.

This too: The family reported buying 12 gallons a week—enough to bottle-feed several calves. (Granted, it was a large family.) Even so, MarketWatch documented that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, milk hasn’t cost less than $2.00 a gallon since the turn of the century.

CNN’s story had no basis in reality.

Not to be outdone, the New York Times profiled a man in Toms River, N.J. whining about the rising cost of gasoline for—get this—his Cadillac Escalade: “Aldo McCoy, who owns an auto repair shop in Toms River…recalled recently filling his 2003 Cadillac Escalade and seeing the price go above $100, where it used to be $45.”

For the record, a Cadillac Escalade comes advertised as a “full-sized luxury SUV.” Slightly smaller than a school bus, an Escalade retails for around $80,000. So I suspect that McCoy may be laying it on a bit thick when he reports working 15 hours overtime every week to gas up the behemoth.

It’s also true, as The Tines reports, that the notoriously volatile price of gasoline “is $3.41, which is $1.29 more than it was a year ago, according to AAA.” Also that it’s dropping fast as oil-producing nations ramp up production. Me, I paid $2.79 the other day. Your mileage may differ.

So here’s another New York Times story dated April 12, 2020, ancient history, detailing an “unprecedented” agreement between the Trump administration and its pals in Saudi Arabia and Russia, for “the largest [oil] production cut ever negotiated” for the express purpose of driving up prices and increasing energy industry profits.

“Oil prices spike by a record 25% as Trump talks up huge production cuts,” was how CNN headlined the story. Like most Trump schemes, it failed due to the pandemic. Today, however, OPEC is sharply increasing production. Prices are dropping.

But until they do, it’s all Joe Biden’s fault.

'Third-Rate Grandstander': Even Trump Wanted Massie Tossed Out Of The GOP

Some days, it’s the little things, the small absurdities in the news that make a person wonder if there’s any real hope for American democracy.

Consider, for example, the Christmas greeting sent out by Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, featuring the Republican congressman’s entire family—husband, wife, two daughters, and three sons—brandishing semi-automatic rifles and grinning into the camera like some latter-day Bonnie and Clyde. Or “Y’all Qaeda” as somebody derisively dubbed the happy family on Twitter.

There’s a Christmas tree in the background, and a cheery holiday message: "Merry Christmas!, ps. Santa, please bring ammo."

Ho, ho, ho!

This only a few days after a disturbed 15 year-old in Michigan murdered four high school classmates with a semi-automatic handgun that his parents gave him as an early Christmas gift.

Oh yeah, this too: Rep. Massie himself appears to be fondling an actual machine gun, presumably to let everybody know who’s the head honcho of this hardy brood of crackpots. None of whom, you can bet your own personal Colt .45, has ever heard a shot fired in anger, nor—prayerfully—ever will.

Somebody who has experienced actual combat, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), an Iraq War veteran, put it this way: "I'm pro second amendment, but this isn't supporting the right to keep and bear arms, this is a gun fetish."

My sentiments exactly. Current right-wing idolatry of firearms as totemic objects, it seems to me, signifies arrested development in those like Rep. Massie who make a spectacle of brandishing them. You can’t hunt or go target-shooting with a heavy-caliber automatic weapon. They’re useless for self-defense or for anything other than military purposes. In civilian hands, they’re essentially masturbatory. Basically codpieces.

Speaking of arrested development, you may not be astonished to learn that Rep. Massie’s Facebook page identifies him as a “Libertarian,” that is, as somebody whose intellectual development stalled at the “You’re not the boss of me” stage of early adolescence. The congressman, whose district stretches along the Ohio River in rural northern Kentucky, has made rather a specialty of solitary grandstanding.

Back in 2013, Massie was the only congressman to vote against the “Undetectable Firearms Act,” a bill to prevent non-metallic weapons from being smuggled aboard airplanes. (Or the U.S. Capitol, for that matter.) His was the only vote against the “Stolen Valor Act” punishing people falsely posing as war heroes. In 2017, he cast the lone vote against sanctioning North Korea. He’s also provided solitary votes against helping to build Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile defense system; and supporting Hong Kong’s democracy.

Trained as a mechanical engineer at MIT—just to show you—he derides climatology as “pseudoscience” and rejects all efforts to do anything about it. Regarding the Covid plague, he has argued fiercely against mask mandates. He and Marjorie Taylor Greene, to give readers an idea of the company he keeps, have sued Speaker Nancy Pelosi after being fined for refusing to wear masks on the House floor.

Like Greene, he has compared vaccination mandates to the Holocaust, trivializing the gravest crime in living memory. “There is no authority in the Constitution that authorizes the government to stick a needle in you against your will, [or] force you to wear a face mask,” he once tweeted. “Can you imagine the signers of the Declaration of Independence submitting to any of these things?!”

Better-informed critics quickly cited Constitutional Law 101: "Congress shall have power to…provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States." Others noted that in 1776, Gen. George Washington ordered his army inoculated against smallpox at Valley Forge, no exceptions. Putting down the epidemic proved decisive in the Revolutionary War.

Me, I wondered if Rep. Massie thinks laws requiring him to wear pants constitute government tyranny? Indeed, no less an authority than Donald J. Trump, irritated by a Massie ploy in June 2021, in which he demanded an in-person floor vote delaying a Covid relief bill that had passed 96-0 in the Senate, called him “a third-rate grandstander” who should be drummed out of the Republican Party. Former Sen. John Kerry commented that Massie had "tested positive for being an a**hole."

And yet, the five-term congressman endures, an experienced vaudeville performer and firm fixture in the GOP Clown Caucus, along with such worthies as Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), and noted cartoon assassin Paul Gosar (R-AZ.). Me, I’m just glad he’s not from Arkansas, where I live, although we have a couple of districts where his slack-jawed comedy stylings—filing bills to abolish the U.S. Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency, for example—would definitely play.

He’d have to make up with Trump, however, although abject flattery is all that’s really necessary to win the great man’s favor.

You’d like to think Massie’s grotesque parody of a Christmas card would finish him politically. But then you’d like to think a lot of things.