Better Left Dead

Reviver

Senate Republicans narrowly squeaked out enough votes to begin debating their plans to repeal Obamacare, even though there is no bill yet.

The only things that seem consistent with GOP ideas for “Repealing and Replacing” Obamacare is that tens of millions of Americans will lose their health insurance, that pre-existing conditions may well be uncovered again, and that basically this benefits no one but members of Congress and their ultra-rich donors.

Yet somehow this keeps coming back to life. While that may suggest the appropriate drink is a Zombie, I have two issues with that.

First, that would be a lot of Rum for a Tuesday night. Second, with a Zombie you pretty much know what you’re getting, but we have no idea what this healthcare reform might look like as it is being done in secret by a handful white male Republican Senators with no public hearings.

Therefore, I propose tonight is a night for a Corpse Reviver #2 cocktail. For one thing, you never know what will happen once the corpse is revived (Could have the brain of Abby Normal). This classic cocktail is also an eye opener, and we certainly need that right now.

You’ll often see it made with Lillet Blanc, but I really prefer using Cocchi Americano and believe it is closer to the original from the days of the 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book.

.75 oz gin

.75 oz Cocchi Americano

.75 oz Cointreau

.75 oz lemon juice

scant barspoon Absinthe

Shake vigorously over ice and strain into a chilled coupe.

This is one of my all-time favorite classic cocktails, enjoy!

Cheers!

This Is Fine…

Dandy

Things have become a little creaky six months into the Reign of Error. Cries of “Fake News” on Russia have evolved into inquiries about Presidential pardon authority.

The first six months has also seen more disarray on the personnel front than perhaps any Administration in history. Despite claims of Democratic obstruction, of the 210 seats requiring Senate confirmation, 33 have been confirmed, 58 have been nominated, 5 more have been announced but not formally nominated, and Trump has yet to take any action on the remaining 114 seats. This is in addition to losses of people from his first National Security Advisor Michael Flynn to his spokesman Sean Spicer the other day.

Spicer’s leaving came as a result of Trump naming the slick Wall Street huckster Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director. Things did not start all too well for the Mooch. From being fully transparent about being less transparent and removing old tweets (or at least thinking he could remove old tweets) to muddled messages about the Russia investigation, it was just another weekend in the slow motion train wreck that is the U.S. right now.

Meanwhile, dealings with Congress aren’t going much better. From immigration, to health care, to infrastructure, to the Russia probe, The Washington Post headline today summed things up well saying “Republicans are in full control of government – but losing control of their party.”

“Frustrated lawmakers are increasingly sounding off at a White House awash in turmoil and struggling to accomplish its legislative goals. President Trump is scolding Republican senators over health care and even threatening electoral retribution. Congressional leaders are losing the confidence of their rank and file.”

This mess can’t all be laid at Trump’s feet. Republicans have lacked any cohesive, workable plans that they can build anything resembling consensus around for a long time, other than attention-grabbing soundbites for an out-of-power party.

Trump just amplifies the more general problems of the GOP. In an excellent Twitter thread, NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen took an in-depth look at the recent Trump New York Times interview and the way it breaks down the premises on which such interviews are historically built.

“It’s more than incoherence, it’s the obliteration of sense,” Rosen wrote. You don’t get a sense that he’s explaining what existed prior to its being asked about in the interview— or that it will persist after.

“Reading the transcript, you see desperation everywhere: a hunger for validation, a dim rage to appear before the judges of appearance.”

Oscar Wilde is reported to have said, “there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

This has been a guiding idea for Trump, perhaps forever (or at least since he was calling in to the NY Post posing as his fake publicist). Trump may not be a dedicated follower of fashion in the way Wilde was something of the pre-eminent Dandy of his day, but in the late 19th Century Dandyism was partly defined as a style marked by artificiality. As a grifter looking to enrich himself while paying lip service to blue collar Americans, Trump fits the definition.

So while we watch flames kick up around Trump and the GOP, enjoy a Dandy Cocktail. Taken from Kara Newman’s excellent book “Shake, Stir, Sip,” though the drink dates back much longer and was in the Savoy Cocktail Book, it is:

1.5 oz rye

1.5 oz sweet vermouth (I went with Cocchi Rosa in this case)

3 dashes of orange liqueur (Cointreau here)

1 dash Angostura bitters

1 lemon and 1 orange twist

Stir over ice and strain into a chilled coupe, express the citrus oils and use the peels of each as garnish.

Cheers!

The Madness of King Donald

Royalty

The Reign of Error hit its six month anniversary today, and in an interview with the NY Times, His Orangeness really lays bare what we are dealing with as a nation.

It is not so much that what Trump said was surprising as it was a confirmation of his cluelessness, his ignorance, and his deeply held belief that he has been anointed the absolute monarch of the U.S.

The Times interview is a must read, even if it is difficult to get past the periods of meaningless word salad gibberish to understand the amazingly un-American approach to the conduct of our government.

Trump’s misinformed conception that the head of the FBI is someone who is, or should be, directly reporting to the President was part of his whine that included the unfairness of Attorney General Jeff Sessions having to recuse himself from the Russia investigation (and the Russian Front has been very active this week).

The interview included elements of his astounding lack of knowledge on health care, saying insurance costs $12 per year, while threatening Senators that they must vote for the McConnell plan for Trumpcare or risk losing their seat (as though he were some two-bit gangster).

Meanwhile, the royal family nepotism runs deep, and was a primary source of the Russia investigation issues Trump had to deal with this week. During the Times interview, Trump even referenced the Don Jr. collusion meeting in Trump Tower last summer that likely caused the suicides of a few Trump communications people.

It has been 240 years since our Revolution to break free of an insane king, and it looks like that time has come around again. While we think about those things we’ll need to fix when the smoke clears, an American Royalty cocktail will help.

Taken from Kindred Cocktails, American Royalty is a variation on a Kir Royal, a bitter variant to match the bitterness the concept of American royalty should be to any true patriot.

1 oz Gran Classico

1 oz Creme de Violette

4 oz Champagne

Add the liqueurs to a flute, top with Champagne

Cheers!

No Taxation Without Representation!

Diamondback

Independence Day this year carries a bit of melancholy with it as we watch the insanity emanating from Washington, D.C.

As David Frum put it in The Atlantic, “This is a Fourth tinged with sad ironies.” We are dealing with “a president mysteriously dependent on a foreign power—a president who lavishly praises dictators and publicly despises the institutions of freedom, not only the free press but also an independent judiciary and other constitutional restraints on his will.”

As we celebrate the Declaration of Independence we should remember that the Declaration is largely a list of grievances against the King of Great Britain, a list that interestingly carries echoes today for the governed and governors in the U.S.

A key concept expressed in the Declaration is no taxation without representation. It was one of the most fundamental slogans at the birth of the United States. Too often over the past few decades those four words have been separated, changing their meaning.

Our founders were not proto-Randians. They were not calling for no taxation, and that extreme view is coming home to roost. As The New York Times reported, conservative legislatures in Kansas, South Carolina and Tennessee have agreed to significant tax increases recently. Meanwhile Illinois faces the prospect of becoming the first state ever to lose investment-grade status from S&P after decades of fiscal mismanagement involving both parties. Perhaps America is getting the message it’s been waiting for.

While there has been a breakdown on our approach to taxation, it has a lot to do with forgetting the second part of the slogan and the consequent breakdown in representation.

As fashionable as it has become, this is not a rant about Gerrymandering. That is not to say it’s not an important subject. In the New Yorker, Lawrence Wright’s article “America’s Future Is Texas” notes how Texas’ redistricting really changed the bipartisan Gerrymandering game that led us to where we are now.

John Oliver also covered the topic very well on Last Week Tonight, and Barack Obama will devote his post-presidency to efforts at reforming the way political districts are drawn. Fixing the issue of Gerrymandering could go a long way toward solving the excessive polarization in our government, if not the country.

However, even the most evenhandedly drawn districts won’t solve the problem we face with representation today. As the Thievery Corporation reminds us, it’s a Numbers Game.

As I mentioned recently in “The Poisoning of Democracy,” the 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives has been the same number for essentially the past 106 years. (Essentially because it briefly went to 437 when Alaska and Hawaii became states in 1959, but dropped back to 435 in 1962.) It has remained at the level that was set by the Apportionment Act of 1911.

There is no specification for the number of representatives in the Constitution, though there was a guideline on equal representation and a maximum number of people per representative. Representation was therefore reapportioned after each census, so the number should have risen after the 1920 census, to 483 to be exact. However, concerns about immigrant waves settling in cities led to fights during the 1920s that finally resulted in the Reapportionment Act of 1929 which gave us the setup for the 435 representatives we have today.

As the population of the U.S. has grown while the number in the House has remained 435, the power of smaller rural states has grown at the expense of larger urban areas.

The original idea was a representative for every 30,000 people, the average now is 700,000 people per representative. But districts are not set up nationally, and 700,000 is more than the entire population of four states. I live in the second most populous county in NJ. At 639,000 people as of the 2010 census, it is bigger than Wyoming and Vermont. But, unlike Wyoming and Vermont, we do not get two Senators and three Electoral votes.

We probably don’t need one representative for 30,000 people, but one per 700,000 is too few, and a greater number of representatives would make it harder – if not more expensive – for special interests and lobbyists to control Congress the way they do now. It would be a way to take the power back.

The key question is not just how much we are taxed, but how that money is used. Today’s Congress is bought and paid for by powers that do not have the best interests of the American people at heart. The AHCA is an example of legislation that penalizes millions of Americans to reward insurance companies and the wealthiest with new tax cuts. The unrepresentative nature of our government today can be seen in the unpopularity in much of what Congress pursues, from gun control to the environment.

Despite all of the tri-cornered hat wearing and Gadsen flag waving over the past decade, the Tea Party Patriots missed a very important element in the “Don’t Tread On Me” approach, representation.

With the Gadsen Flag rattlesnake in mind, it is time for the people to take back the symbolism of our revolution and we can start with a Diamondback cocktail. Then we can fight to have all of our voices heard in the people’s House. From the Cold Glass blog, the Diamondback recipe is:

1.5 oz Rittenhouse 100 rye

.75 oz Apple Brandy

.75 oz Yellow Chartreuse

Dash of Peychaud’s bitters

Stir, strain into a chilled cocktail glass (optionally garnish with a cherry)

Happy Independence Day!

Cheers!

Empire Drinks

Imperial

Democracy is feeling a little weak these days.

As the Senate tries to ram through a secret health care bill that could hurt millions, Trump continues to use his position to enrich himself, and gerrymandering again seems too strong to overcome in the most expensive House race ever in GA06, these are dark days indeed.

We have heard more details on Russian attempts to interfere with our elections and evidence of cyber attacks on state election systems. Meanwhile Trump claims it is all a Democratic hoax and skirts with obstruction of justice to block any investigation.

The emperor may have no clothes, but he certainly has friends in Congress and the Kremlin. As hard as it is, now is the time to stay strong. The French elections remain a sign of hope against the global tide of nationalism and fascism. As the refrain goes in the French national anthem, La Marseillaise:

Aux armes, citoyens !
Formez vos bataillons !
Marchons ! Marchons !
Qu’un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons !

For now, while we form our battalions, we can perhaps take a little power back with an Imperial Buck cocktail. From Kindred Cocktails, the recipe is:

2 oz Cruzan Blackstrap Rum

.5 oz lime juice

1 oz pineapple juice

3 oz ginger beer

Shake without ice all ingredients except the ginger beer, pour over ice into a Collins Glass, add the ginger beer.

Cheers!

The Poisoning of Democracy

Racer

The spectacle of Dear Leader Cheeto Mussolini receiving the sycophantic praise of his VP and Cabinet before the cameras yesterday raised serious questions about what alternate universe we’ve been beamed into.

Then the evening brought the trial balloon that Trump is considering firing Robert Mueller, the special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation (you know, the one that could potentially find that Russia interfered with the election to install Trump, who is now doing everything Putin could possibly want). This is a cause for concern not because of any doubt that Don Cheeto Corleone would do it, but rather that the GOP Congress would do nothing to stop or correct it.

Not to ignore the massive problems caused by our would-be naked emperor and his Russian patrons, but our representative democracy has some deep structural problems coming to a head right now.

In an encore to their utterly unprecedented stealing of a Supreme Court seat, Senate Republicans are now preparing to ram through some version of Trumpcare. There is no way to argue about its provisions specifically because no one knows what’s in it. However, if it follows the AHCA passed by the House GOP, then many Americans will suffer, many will lose their access to healthcare, most Americans will become that much more dependent on their employers for increasingly expensive healthcare, all while providing the wealthiest people in the country big tax breaks.

This breakdown in Congressional norms is the latest in a long string of anti-democratic actions that deny any real representation in our government. This certainly includes recent Republican voter suppression efforts around the country, but also the Gerrymandering work of both parties. In fact, it has been going on long enough that there is no false equivalence as both parties have undergone several changes in direction since it started. Those policies that were once the Democrats’ are now Republican, and vice-versa.

On Sunday, there was a vote that has the (unlikely) potential of exposing that structural flaw we are grappling with now. Once again, the voters of U.S. Territory Puerto Rico have voted for statehood. Now there are many problems with this vote, it was 97% in favor, but on 23% turnout, there was a voter roll purge before the election, etc.

However, despite its problems, half a million Puerto Ricans voted in favor of statehood, and that is about as many as the total population of a couple of states sending four Senators to Washington. Even Washington D.C. itself has more people than Wyoming, but Wyoming has 3 electoral votes and D.C. has none.

It is clear this Republican Congress is not going to give any real hearing to Puerto Rican statehood because that would add an awful lot of likely Democratic voters (the precise opposite of everything they have been working for) who are poorer, browner, and (worst of all) Spanish-speaking.

It is the fear of the other, the non-white invasion (that once included the Irish and Italians) that has kept our Congressional representation at the same number it has been since 1911 (with small variations).

The prospect of Puerto Rico becoming the 51st state reminds us of the question of representation. Sure, the Senate might move to 102 members, but the House would have to change a number it has had for more than 100 years with only temporary deviation for Alaska and Hawaii.

As the population of the U.S. has grown while the number in the House has remained 435, the power of smaller rural states has grown at the expense of larger urban areas. That is the poison at the heart of our system now, and the Puerto Rican vote has put it back in focus.

So the cocktail for today is the Puerto Rican Racer. Named for the island’s mildly venomous snake, this recipe from NYC’s Death & Co. calls for:

2 oz Puerto Rican Rum (Ron del Barrilito 3 Star)

.5 oz Laird’s Apple Brandy

.5 oz Yellow Chartreuse

1 tsp Grenadine

1 dash Peychaud’s Bitters

Stir over ice, strain into an old fashioned glass over a big rock, no garnish

Cheers!

MAGA? Nah, MACAA!

Hound

All eyes will soon be on the Senate Intelligence Committee and the testimony of ousted FBI Director James Comey. However, we must not overlook today’s testimony the Committee heard from several of the top intelligence officials in the administration.

On one hand, their refusal to answer questions should sound the alarm about what is going on. On the other hand, as conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin put it at The Washington Post, that refusal puts our intelligence officials in contempt of Congress.

“None of these witnesses invoked executive privilege or national security. They just didn’t want to answer,” she wrote. “This is nothing short of outrageous. …their behavior was contemptuous and frankly unprecedented.”

While these professionals knew exactly what they were doing (and I’ve heard cogent argument of how they were protecting the independence of foreign intelligence gathering), supporters of the administration seem likely to miss the significance. These self-proclaimed lovers of the Constitution have always been a bit fuzzy on the details, however.

Beyond the 2nd Amendment, the Gadsen-flag waving Tea Partiers would be hard pressed to describe any of the other 30 Constitutional Amendments (or even realize there are only 27). And, their 2nd Amendment Solutions™ have always been selectively applied.

The administration of George W. Bush spied on Americans and not only listened in on the calls home from our military stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan, but made jokes about those calls between our soldiers and their wives and sweethearts. Crickets from the NRA members, but when the black guy in the White House suggested improving health insurance, time to show up at protests with sidearms and semi-automatic weapons.

But I digress. Our problem today is that too many people lack a basic understanding of how our government works. That goes for Trump, who thinks he’s Don Corleone reincarnate, to the members of Congress who think they work for Trump.

This includes voters, as well. We just had a primary election in New Jersey yesterday and we heard again the usual complaints. Lamentations about the low voter turnout, anger over the lack of voting choices, and hand-wringing over the fate of our democracy. Too many people forget, however, that general elections are about democracy but primaries are about party organization. Back when most people identified with one of the two major parties, choosing the candidates for the general election was taken away from party bosses in smoke-filled back rooms and given to “rank-and-file” party members via primaries.

But today, lines are blurred. We’ve gone from those smoky rooms filled with party bosses giving us FDR and Ike, to primaries giving us presidents from Jimmy Carter to Trump. And now people who would refuse to declare themselves a party member want undue voice in deciding a party’s slate and direction. (Looking at you Bernie Bros.) If you want to change a party, either party, you have to get involved, convince people, build a slate and take over functions. It won’t happen by sitting back and waiting for an election.

As we’ve lost sight of the separation between primary and general elections, we have also overlooked the separation between the levels and branches of government.

Therefore, the hearings going on now will truly test whether our current crop of Congresscreatures understand they are a separate and co-equal branch of government. The future of our democracy may depend on this. Forget Trump’s MAGA slogan, we need MACAA, Make American Civics Accessible Again!

While we contemplate the educational effort ahead, and the need to keep Texas from determining the content of school books, to ensure basic knowledge of the workings of our democracy, have a Constitution Hound cocktail.

An appropriately bitter drink for our times, the recipe from Kindred Cocktails calls for:

1 oz rye

1 oz Campari

1 oz Fernet Branca

.5 oz Bigallet China-China

1 barspoon absinthe

3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters

1 twist Grapefruit peel

Shake, strain, rocks, garnish

Cheers!