Democracy Dies In Darkness

Paperwork

Republicans in the Senate appear to be taking the slogan of The Washington Post — Democracy Dies In Darkness — as a plan of action.

The unprecedented withholding of Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s records is designed to ram through the choice of the unindicted co-conspirator president. Among the documents unavailable to Americans, and most of their representatives in the Congress, are the judges’ views on executive authority. Besides overturning Roe v Wade, Kavanaugh seems willing to allow his sponsor to pardon himself of his crimes.

Oh, and those documents may contain evidence that Kavanaugh has lied to Congress. I guess that would allow some future Congress to impeach Justice Kavanaugh, if future Congresses are allowed to exist.

The Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee are putting up an uncharacteristically stiff resistance and have aimed their fire (effectively?) at turning the two Senate Republican votes they need to stop the nomination. This has included releasing documents the GOP has decided to term Committee Classified.

As the Democrats say Bite Me to the GOP’s classification, tonight have a Just the Paperwork cocktail. This is another recipe from Sother Teague’s great new book I’m Just Here for the Drinks that I’m sure you all have bought by now. I’m not sure I was all that familiar with the scaffa cocktails before, always neat and unchilled. The Just the Paperwork is:

.5 oz water

2 dashes orange bitters

1 oz Cocchi Americano

1 oz cognac

1.5 oz Amaro Nonino

Build in a rocks glass, serve neat, garnish with an orange twist

Cheers!

The Aging of Reason

Reason

“We’re on a mission from God.” — Elwood Blues

Have you seen the Light? America today is seeing its fundamental values — a birthright of the Enlightenment — being squeezed from two sides.

On the one side is the Religious Right. It has been building for quite a long time, but it does seem different today. For all of the faults of George W. Bush, he was a Believer who tried to live as (his version of) a good Christian. Trump, on the other hand, obviously prefers to spend his Sundays on the golf course (preferably one of his own). Nevertheless, the Religious Right is the strongest part of his base.

Plenty of evidence has sprung up just in the past week, from Trump’s anti-abortion moves to moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. The new generation of evangelical leaders, including Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr. and Texas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, heap praise on Trump (and VP Pence), but raise questions whether their aim is power rather than piety.

The influence of the Religious Right on the policies of the U.S. government is not what the founders intended. When Thomas Paine published his Age of Reason pamphlets attacking organized Christianity, he was arguing the church was corrupt and overly institutionalized. What would he think of today’s situation?

As obvious as the Religious Right squeezing from one side is, the other pressure point is really just coming into focus. Shedding some light on this point is (of all people) Henry Kissinger in The Atlantic this month. While his piece, “How The Enlightenment Ends,” is aimed at how humans are not prepared intellectually, philosophically, or ethically, for the rise of artificial intelligence, it definitely touches on some topics that have become more visible in the Age of Trump.

The Enlightenment sought to submit traditional verities to a liberated, analytic human reason. The internet’s purpose is to ratify knowledge through the accumulation and manipulation of ever expanding data. Human cognition loses its personal character. Individuals turn into data, and data become regnant.

Users of the internet emphasize retrieving and manipulating information over contextualizing or conceptualizing its meaning…Truth becomes relative. Information threatens to overwhelm wisdom.

When it comes to politics, Kissinger sees the velocity of data having a negative impact on understanding and on building consensus. He says this is due to the greater ability to micro target based on “specialized purposes or grievances.” A quick look at the social media effect on the 2016 election gives plausibility to this idea. “The digital world’s emphasis on speed inhibits reflection; its incentive empowers the radical over the thoughtful; its values are shaped by subgroup consensus, not by introspection,” Kissinger writes.

Perhaps like Jake and Elwood, it is time to get the Band back together — Locke, Kant, Voltaire, Adam Smith, etc. — to spark a new Enlightenment for the 21st Century, one that energizes a new generation to tackle the philosophical and ethical questions unimaginable in the 18th Century.

But before you going looking for that copy of Rousseau’s The Social Contract you had in college, you may want to make yourself an Age of Reason cocktail.

Via Bittermen’s, the Age of Reason is:

2 oz rye

.5 oz cognac

.5 oz Cocchi Americano

1 bar spoon green Chartreuse

1 bar spoon yellow Chartreuse

10 drops Bittermen’s ‘Elemakule tiki bitters

lemon twist

Stir over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Run the lemon twist around the rim of the glass and discard.

Cheers!

 

Unrepresentative Democracy

Metropolitan

The 2020 U.S. Census was in the news last week, raising the specter of Republican election rigging at a foundational level.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder summed it up well in an email to his anti-gerrymandering group, the NRDC:

“First: Trump’s pick to run the Census, Thomas Brunell, withdrew his nomination after it came out he is an inexperienced partisan who has defended racially gerrymandered districts and voter suppression. He even wrote a book called ‘Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections are Bad for America.’

“Second: Experts say the Census is woefully underfunded and short-staffed. The agency has had to cancel or narrow the scope of critical tests in the lead-up to the 2020 count.

“Third: Now the Trump administration is adding a controversial question about citizenship to the Census, which could result in the undercounting of many people, including immigrants.”

I have written about these issues of representation on several occasions, including here and here. The current issues with the Census, and the typical heavy hand of the Trump Administration coupled with its signature incompetence, is raising the profile of the problems to a much wider swath of Americans.

In fact, the history around why the number of members of the House of Representatives is based on the 1910 Census is covered in a terrific new piece by Ari Berman in Mother Jones. The article, “Hidden Figures: How Donald Trump Is Rigging the Census,” details efforts to sideline minority communities, especially immigrants.

 

Some former directors of the census worry Republicans could simply choose to disregard the 2020 count. There’s precedent for that, too.

 

Back in 1920, the census reported that for the first time, half the population lived in urban areas. Those results would have shifted 11 House seats to states with most of these new urban immigrants, who tended to vote Democratic. The Republican-controlled Congress recoiled. “It is not best for America that her councils be dominated by semicivilized foreign colonies in Boston, New York, and Chicago,” said Republican Rep. Edward Little of Kansas.

Congress refused to reapportion its seats using the 1920 census. Instead, it imposed drastic new quotas on immigration. It didn’t adopt a new electoral map until 1929.

There’s no indication Congress will ignore the results of the 2020 census. But (former Census Director Kenneth) Prewitt sees parallels between the Republican Congress of 1920 and the one today. “You could make a plausible argument that one party benefits from the current distribution of seats across the legislative bodies, and they can’t necessarily improve on the ratio they now have, so therefore why reapportion?” he says. “It’s unlikely, but not implausible.”

The 2010 Census held that 63 percent of the U.S. population lived in cities, but Congressional Republican majorities are not advocating issues important to an urban population. It is only getting worse (lack of public transit funding and roll back on emissions standards), and the new, more aggressive ICE approach on immigrants certainly point to lack of concern for cities in the GOP.

So tonight, have a Metropolitan cocktail. Via Philip Greene’s The Manhattan, the Metropolitan is:

.5 oz Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula Cognac

1 oz sweet vermouth

3 dashes Angostura bitters

3 dashes gum syrup

Stir, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, garnish with a lemon twist.

Cheers!

Extremism In Defense of Lunacy

Vieux

The public square has been overrun by the village idiots.

We are trying to function at a time when right-wing fringe propagandist Steve Bannon is a close advisor and confidant to the President; when the President goes on the InfoWars show with extremist screamer Alex Jones; when the right-wing media environment spews nonsense like Hillary Clinton running a child porn ring out of a D.C. pizza parlor and an armed N.C. man opens fire while investigating.

This environment has been building for years. When many Americans believed that a President of the United States was using a military exercise to declare martial law in Texas as a pretense to seize people’s guns, we really shouldn’t be surprised to find ourselves in our current situation.

Arizona  Senator Jeff Flake, in his broadside against Trump as he announced his retirement from the Senate identified it as “a sickness in our system — and it is contagious.”

E.J. Dionne addressed this in a recent Washington Post column, “The mainstreaming of right-wing extremism.”

“Why have our politics gone haywire, why have our political arguments turned so bitter, and why was Donald Trump able to win the Republican nomination and, eventually, the presidency? A central reason has been the mainstreaming of a style of extremist conservative politics that for decades was regarded as unacceptable by most in the GOP…

“The extremist approach is built on a belief in dreadful conspiracies and hidden motives. It indulges the wildest charges aimed at associating political foes with evil and subversive forces… Ordinary political acts are painted as diabolical. Dark plots are invented out of whole cloth. They are first circulated on websites that traffic in angry wackiness, and are eventually echoed by elected officials.”

This extremism has both fed and been nourished by the digital and social media culture of the past decade or so.

It is important to understand this context and background, this idea that the John Birch Society-types have become mainstream. That understanding helps to see the deeper extent of Russian meddling in our election. They very effectively used our divisions against us. The question remains whether they had any internal help in this.

The absolute must read here is “What Facebook Did to American Democracy; And why it was so hard to see it coming,” in The Atlantic. The extent to which ads could be/were targeted, and the way that advertising and targeting could be hidden is essential knowledge to prepare for our elections in the future. Mother Jones had covered the topic earlier as well.

The Atlantic also gave us some hope that maybe our fellow Americans aren’t as bad as they seem on social media, reminding us “Don’t forget to adjust for Russian Trolls.”

Even the guy who’s administration told us the world doesn’t really work as part of a reality-based community anymore has had enough. In a speech George W. Bush delivered earlier this month he said, “We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty.”

Senator John McCain spoke to the lunacy of extreme rhetoric when he accepted the National Constitution Center’s Liberty Medal.

“To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.

“We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil… We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.”

This is not a “MAGA” statement, but we need to bring a civility back to our politics. This won’t be easy. Politics is adversarial by nature, but we can’t let forces like homegrown Nazis or hostile foreign powers like Russia use our disagreements to create divisions that tear us apart.

We need to return to an old way of politics, where a dispute over health care policy is unlikely to involve treason, but helping a foreign power meddle in our elections probably does and should at least be vigorously investigated.

While we contemplate ways to return sanity to our public forum, enjoy a Vieux Carré cocktail. The translation of Vieux Carré is appropriately “Old Square” even though it technically referred to the French Quarter in New Orleans, the birthplace of the cocktail.

Via Brad Thomas Parsons in his book Bitters, the Vieux Carré  is:

1 oz rye

1 oz Cognac

1 oz sweet vermouth

.25 oz Bénédictine

2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters

2 dashes Angostura bitters (or Dr. Adam’s Orinoco Bitters)

Garnish: lemon peel

Stir over ice and strain into a double old-fashioned glass over a large ice cube.

Cheers!

 

 

Safe for Democracy?

Sidecar

The passage of “Trumpcare” by the House of Representatives sucked up most of the attention this past week, but there were other things going on that will likely have a deeper and more lasting impact.

That is not to belittle what just happened with the AHCA vote, but as anyone who has seen Schoolhouse Rock understands, this bill has a way to go before it’s law. As E.J. Dionne said in The Washington Post, “the Anti-Health-Care Bill passed on Thursday bids to be the most remarkable redistribution of income in congressional history, from the poor and middle class to the very wealthy.” He added that this heartless vote will define the House Republicans and the Cook Political Report said the vote moved ratings on 20 House seats more favorably toward the Democrats.

So, yes, the healthcare vote could have a lasting impact on Republicans, but the more troubling impact for all of us came on the international front where we continued to turn our backs on 100 years of global leadership.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gave a speech to State Department employees saying that too much reliance on human rights principles really creates obstacles to our ability to advance our national security interests, and our economic interests.

Tillerson’s move away from promoting human rights simply follows one of Trump’s few consistent policy directions. During the campaign Trump said the U.S. didn’t have the right to lecture other countries on human rights because things are so bad here now. In the past week, Mother Jones reported Trump renamed the White House office of “multilateral affairs and human rights” as the office of “international organizations and alliances.”

The last week also saw Trump say he would be “honored” to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who he has regularly praised, and invite Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to the White House. One of the only other ways Trump is consistent (in addition to golfing at one of his resorts every weekend) is his praise for dictators and despots around the world.

All of this comes weeks after the 100th anniversary of a moment that defined the direction of America for a century. After years of keeping the United States out of the war that would become World War I, neutrality was no longer viable and on April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson went before a joint session of Congress to seek a declaration of war. A part of his address would set us on a path that only now we seem to be leaving:
The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make. We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the faith and the freedom of nations can make them.
The United States needs to reaffirm its aspiration to these Wilsonian principles. Today we are following the misguided isolationist path of America First and raising up opponents of democracy from Putin to Erdogan (leaders of countries where Trump has financial interests).
At this point 100 years ago America was mobilizing for the Great War. Those doughboys were the ones who helped make America great in the eyes of the world, and we largely stayed that way for the past century. Despite his slogan, Trump is threatening to tear down what makes America great.
As you mobilize for this fight, have a cocktail that grew out of WWI, the Sidecar. This classic recipe is:
1.5 oz cognac
1 oz Cointreau
.5 oz lemon juice
Orange twist garnish
Shake over ice and strain into a chilled, sugar-rimmed cocktails glass (sugar not pictured), add garnish
Cheers!

The Union Forever!

Scorch

The United States has a history of defeating those who would enslave others.

Our victories over the Soviets, the Nazis, and the Confederates help to define who we are as Americans. Republicans from Abraham Lincoln to Ronald Reagan have led or supported that fight.

Today, the descendants of those defeated enemies have coalesced into an insurgency that threatens our democracy, all too often with the cooperation of the GOP. Evidence continues to mount that the Russians, led by a former Soviet KGB officer, undertook a disinformation campaign designed to help their choice of candidates get elected President, or at least create maximum confusion and mistrust with our political system.

Trump, the Conman-in-Chief with his fascist-leaning tendencies, has put into the highest reaches of our government actual Nazis and Nazi-sympathizers, along with an assortment of white supremacists. Meanwhile, Republican politicians in the former Confederate States work to suppress the votes of African-Americans, or simply undermine the workings of governing process.

These enemies are emboldened now. Just yesterday, GOP candidate for governor of Virginia Corey Stewart, who was born in Minnesota, said there is nothing worse than “yankees” saying Confederate monuments don’t matter, as Louisiana began taking down its monuments. Of course, there are many things worse, including slavery!

The fool has continued to double down on the nonsense today. Now Stewart tries to claim that taking down monuments to Confederate leaders is destroying U.S. history and next the politically correct left will tear down monuments to Washington and Jefferson. Of course, they weren’t traitors trying to pull the country apart, but perhaps we should spend more money on history education in our schools.

On this Confederate memorial day, when Alabama and Mississippi close state offices, there is no better time to sing The Battle Cry of Freedom, to rally around the flag, and as that favorite song of Union soldiers says:

We will welcome to our numbers
The loyal, true and brave,
Shouting the battle cry of Freedom;
And although they may be poor,
Not a man shall be a slave,
Shouting the battle cry of Freedom. 

Within those numbers, let’s hope there’s a Ulysses S. Grant, a George S. Patton, or a William Tecumseh Sherman. While we plan our fight against the traitorous scum and toast the Union Forever, let’s make the drink a Scorch the Earth cocktail in Sherman’s honor.

The recipe, from Kindred Cocktails and attributed to Gary Regan, calls for:

1.5 oz cognac

.5 oz sweet vermouth

.5 oz Cynar

Stir over ice, strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with flamed lemon peel

Cheers!

It’s Complicated

Harvard

Nine weeks into the Reign of Error, and the party that holds power in Washington continues to work to prove government doesn’t work.

Today, the Republicans in the House – who have voted to repeal Obamacare something like 6,000 times over the last few years – pulled their Trumpcare replacement bill because they couldn’t get enough of their members to vote for it. The bill had Trump’s backing and fulfilled Speaker Paul Ryan’s college dream of kicking people off Medicaid, but only had 17% approval in polls.

A few weeks ago, Trump lamented “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” Of course, everybody but Trump knew this. Turns out pulling the bill was just another brick in the wall for Trump this week with treason bubbling under the surface of investigations of Russian collusion in the election and a pending filibuster of his SCOTUS nominee.

Trump may feel he don’t need no education on health care, but he got one today. In honor of all that potential learning, tonight let’s toast the death of this Trumpcare bill with a Harvard Cocktail. The recipe from Philip Greene’s The Manhattan calls for:

1.5 oz cognac (Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula)

1.5 oz sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica Formula)

3 dashes Dr. Adam’s Bokers Bitters

Lemon peel garnish

Stir with ice, strain into chilled cocktail glass, garnish

Happy Friday!

Cheers!