This Wolf Comes As A Wolf

A menacing wolf

Have you heard the shocking news? On Saturday, Michelle Wolf, a professional comedian hired to deliver “her truth-to-power style…and self-made, feminist edge” at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, unapologetically labeled a mendacious, misogynistic, and perverted presidential administration as mendacious, misogynistic, and perverted. She told the press to stop booking Kellyanne Conway to lie to them and scolded them for enabling a dangerous executive for the sake of profits and access. She spoke the truth to her targets’ faces instead of hiding behind a self-serving, false appeasement. She dared to acknowledge that the media continues to ignore the poor African-American people of Flint—who remain without drinkable water for going on three years now—with nary a joke to parry the impact. Oh, the humanity!

The backlash was swift and predictable. Continue reading

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Facebook Can’t “Like” This

Facebook’s lawyers are busy these days. On the heels of stories from the Observer and New York Times last month exposing how consulting firm Cambridge Analytica harvested the profile data of more than 50 million Facebook users, plaintiffs firms have jumped into the fray with four lawsuits against Facebook and its officers. And no wonder; the lurid details involved appear to have the makings of both a best-selling thriller and a legal nightmare for the tech giant. By posing as an academic researcher, Aleksandr Kogan, a Russian-American professor at the University of Cambridge, obtained millions of users’ detailed profile data without their consent but with Facebook’s knowledge. Kogan then funneled that information to Cambridge Analytica, a firm owned by the billionaire Mercer family, which used it to build psychological profiles of voters in aid of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

The resulting legal filings have alleged wide-ranging misconduct on Facebook’s part.  Continue reading

Report From The Court: The Justices Try To Take Trump Out Of Trump v. Hawaii

Protestors in front of the Supreme Court

The mood inside the Supreme Court today was grim. Not because the stakes were particularly weighty, though they were, or because the Court is bitterly divided, thought it certainly appeared to be, but because of the reason everyone was assembled on the Court’s last day for its most newsworthy case. On another day, in another context, review of an executive order restricting certain classes of aliens from entry into the United States might have warranted far less attention than the expedited briefing and accelerated hearing Trump v. Hawaii received.  This country’s immigration laws grant the president significant discretion over immigration, and the Court’s precedents have long warned against judicial intrusion into matters of national security. Yet, as the justices knew but only obliquely alluded to, the case was as much about the president himself as the order he signed. Continue reading

Check Your Attorney-Client Privilege

“Attorney-client privilege is dead!” recently lamented our president, a man long concerned about the procedural safeguards and civil liberties of marginalized criminal defendants. The responder-in-chief was referring, of course, to the no doubt startling news that his consigliere, fixer, business associate, marital rape defender, poll questioner, cigar smoking exhibitioner, and money launderer Michael Cohen’s files had been seized by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan on a referral from the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Continue reading

The Curse That Is Loving Baseball

Los Angeles Dodgers losing streak game log from 2017

Today is opening day in baseball, a moment for hope and promise for fans across the country. The preseason predictions may have rendered their verdict, but as we see each year, a 162-game season has other plans than simply confirming the overconfident understandings of our ordered minds. Even teams with the highest expectations must slog through six months of unknowable obstacles to reach the promised land.

It’s a particularly disorienting opening day for me as a long-time, unrequited fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers. I became a fan of the team a half-decade after their last championship in 1988. Although the Dodgers have generally been a strong, entertaining, competitive team over the last twenty-five years, it was not until last season that they succeeded in returning to the World Series. After a succession of playoff heartbreaks, the 2017 Dodgers won a league-best 104 games and ran through two rounds of National League playoffs to reach a decisive Game 7 of the Fall Classic. Although they lost that game and the sport’s highest honor to the Houston Astros, the team accomplished nearly every other milestone for which a fan could hope. For those wedded to a championship-or-bust mindset, the season was a letdown. But for me, it was a seventh month odyssey of pure pleasure—sports at its absolute best. The Dodgers were the best team in all of baseball in the regular season, they won more games than any team in thirteen years, and at one point they won an astonishing 44 of 51 games. From start to finish, last year’s run was the greatest of my life. And yet, at the beginning of a new season, looking back on the last one, I’m forced to conclude that my most powerful memory of that time is the darkest.

From August 26th to September 11th, the Dodgers inexplicably lost 16 of 17 games. It was stupefying, confounding, unnerving, and ultimately meaningless. The team posted a sparkling 91-36 record in its first 127 games before the losing streak, recovered after it in time to win the National League West comfortably, and then shined in the playoffs, coming one game from the sport’s ultimate prize. It was the least consequential collapse in the history of baseball in every respect. And yet, I’m forced to admit, it was my defining baseball experience of 2017. Continue reading

No More Confirmations. Period.

It’s not chaos if the dizzying madness is caused by careful design. Yet, the nation’s front pages insist day after day that “chaos” and “turmoil” are “roiling” the White House, as Rex Tillerson is sacked on the can, as Rick Perry potentially moves from one agency he can’t remember to another. The repetition is nauseating, which is a better descriptor for the effects of our president’s childish gamesmanship with executive branch personnel. For there is nothing chaotic or tumultuous about a deliberate plan by an institutional terrorist hell bent on dismantling the citizenry’s trust in its own government. How else could you describe a president so gleeful over the sickening drama he has injected into his own administration’s bloodstream? Rather than replenish a government he has failed to adequately fill, Donald Trump continues to haphazardly hack away.

In doing so, President Trump has undermined the basic functioning of responsible government even beyond his own unprecedented ignorance. We are about to be on our second CIA director, secretary of state, and FBI director in little over a year, to say nothing of the breakneck churn of the president’s own staff. Trump’s impish disregard for the orderly functioning of government has even impeded his own priorities—deportations of undocumented immigrants are far lower than they were during any time under President Obama (though they are more arbitrary and cruel).

Fortunately, the president’s effort at disrupting his own cabinet is one of the few areas over which Congress has strong, constitutional authority to affect. The response must be strong and unmistakable: the U.S. Senate should refuse to confirm—should refuse to even consider—any Trump cabinet-level nominee. Continue reading

Much Wahoo About Something

Trevor Bauer of the Cleveland Indians displays the Chief Wahoo Indians baeball cap.

We are now entering year four of what some might call our national war over political correctness. In 2015, multiple Republican presidential candidates placed curtailing political correctness at the heart of their campaigns. In 2016, one of those candidates engaged his supporters with racially charged, politically incorrect rhetoric and won the presidency. In 2017, that president reignited the conservative version of political correctness, condemning football players, mostly African-American, for boycotting the national anthem in protest of racialized police violence. And we’ve begun 2018 with a debate about immigration from “shithole countries” and the dismissal of hundreds of thousands brought to this country illegally as children as immoral and deportable.

It is into this thicket that Major League Baseball stepped gingerly last week when it reached agreement with the Cleveland Indians to retire Chief Wahoo—the grinning, red-faced caricature of America’s first people that has symbolized Cleveland’s professional baseball club since 1947. The Indians will continue to sell limited issue Wahoo merchandise in northeast Ohio to retain its intellectual property rights and prevent mass marketing of the image by others, but the team will heavily reduce the logo’s circulation and will cease featuring it on its uniforms after next year.

One might imagine that an athletic team’s choice of mascot would not engender controversy or bitterness. That might be the case were it not for the deep-seated emotions caused by issues of race and sports in American culture. The day MLB announced its decision, a poll on Cleveland.com was running about 9 to 1 in favor of retaining Chief Wahoo, before settling a little above three-fourths support over the following week. A change.org petition collected over 15,000 signatures in support of the mascot and against “all the P.C. hype!” Polite opinion and corporate dollars are on the side of change, but the passion is with Chief Wahoo. Continue reading

The New Republican Moment

In his first State of the Union address on Tuesday night, Donald Trump proclaimed a “new American moment.” Unlike the annual address’s typical, forward-thinking framing, that moment, the president told us, is not near, close, or upon us—it is now. According to our ever-circumspect commander-in-chief, the Trump presidency has ushered in a new golden age in just one year. It will apparently not, however, contain any policy prescriptions or legislative initiatives. The speech was long on celebration but almost entirely devoid of new ideas. President Trump appears to have no agenda for his moment other than to bask in it.

Empty thought it may have been, the speech was a fitting capstone for the administration’s first year of restructuring the Republican Party. Trump boasted about a soaring stock market and large corporate tax cuts (populism!) while once again framing the immigration crisis as one of murderous Latino gangs roving suburbia’s sidewalks. Moments before calling for unity, he impliedly chastised black celebrities for not standing for the national anthem. It was a clear marker of where his administration now stands. Trump is a plutocrat happy to hand his less fortunate supporters the figment of control that is white supremacy. Continue reading

Intellectual Shutdown

I’m sure by now you are thoroughly sick of the transparent messaging squabbles involved in the “Schumer shutdown” versus “Trump shutdown” debate that ended earlier this evening. The particulars of how we arrived at this strange moment in American politics are complicated but comprehensible, and they involved a detailed accounting of the parties’ (and the president’s) positions on the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy, not a silly hashtag war about who is to blame. Both parties are to blame in a sense, of course. The salient question, however, is whose role in shutting down the government was justified and to what extent. That’s an inquiry that involves both an assessment of the parties’ values and whether their negotiating positions and public statements support them—a full consideration of who is being consistent, who is negotiating in good faith, and whose words are backed up by their actions. But that’s not what we are getting.

For all the talk of how the media has adapted to the Trump era, the shutdown coverage has shown how far we have yet to go. Continue reading

Review: What Happened

 

What Happened by Hillary Clinton

It was no surprise that Hillary’s Clinton’s latest book was greeted by many as yet another attempt by a calculating politician to deflect blame and reposition her reputation. Here was the former Democratic nominee, not even a year removed from a shocking electoral defeat that by all accounts should not have happened and that has imperiled American democracy, reinserting herself into the national discourse to yet again defend and explain her values and choices. Always opposed to losers, frequently distrusting of Clintons, and often unsympathetic to women, political pundits focused their reviews on whether Clinton sufficiently accepted responsibility for her election loss, seeking their pound of flesh. In a media landscape that allowed vague suspicions about Clinton’s motives and morals to reach equal footing with the daily outrages of Donald Trump, it was all too easy to dismiss Clinton as the worst interpreter of “what happened.”

In many ways, the critical reception proved the unstated thesis of the book. That once set, narratives never die. And for Hillary Clinton—a smart, ambitious, private, and independent woman—that narrative has always been that there was something lurking behind the curtain even when she was most exposed. Fortunately, then, Clinton didn’t write What Happened for those viewing her through that prism. Instead, she set out to expose that prism and show its effect on both the campaign and her public life. Continue reading