You Scratch My Back…

Clear

News of another Trump campaign, Trump Tower, meeting for the purpose getting illegal (and shady) foreign assistance — this time from the Middle East — comes on the heels of the Senate Intelligence Committee report confirming that Russia interfered in the 2016 election in favor of Trump.

The New York Times is reporting emissaries from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates met with Donald Trump Jr and others three months before the election to discuss ways to help Trump win.

A few days ago the report from the Senate Intelligence Committee was released that backed up the intelligence community assessment that “The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated, and ordered by President Putin himself for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton.” The bipartisan report is at odds with the House Intelligence Committee Republicans who are working overtime to block any attempts to understand what happened during the election.

Also last week, Trump strangely came to the defense and sought to bolster Chinese telecom ZTE after it was sanctioned for the security threat it posed to America. Then we found out the Chinese government was giving $500 million to a Trump project in Singapore.

In fact, whether it’s Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., or Russia, Trump was (and is) willing to sell out the interests of the United States to advance his own interests, and it’s pretty transparent at this point.

As we learn more about this administration’s corrupt approach, have a Clear Intentions cocktail to wash away the swampiness.

Via Kindred Cocktails, the Clear Intentions is:

2 oz gin (Sipsmith in my case)

.75 oz Cocchi Americano

.25 oz Amaro Montenegro

1 dash celery bitters

Stir over ice, strain into a chilled coupe

Cheers!

 

This Ain’t No Disco…

Burning

May you live in interesting times.

This alleged ancient Chinese curse (more likely of European origin in the past century) seems fitting amid today’s turmoil. Between Trump pulling out of the Iran deal and Israeli rockets target Syria, I find lyrics from Warren Zevon’s song The Envoy playing in my head (Nuclear arms in the Middle East…).

On one hand, however, it is worth remembering that for all the geopolitical crises mentioned, Zevon released that song 36 years ago this summer and that was still five years before R.E.M. sung about the end of the world. The War Pigs aren’t new.

On the other hand, in the those other interesting times Donald Trump was not the U.S. President. Now we have entered a mad world where the insane becomes commonplace. For example, German Chancellor Angela Merkel today remarked that Europe can no longer count on the United States to protect it, but must take its destiny in its own hands.

As the evidence mounts daily (sometimes seemingly hourly) that Russia compromised the 2016 election, the President, and increasingly it appears the Republican Party, the world has come apart. Vice President Mike Pence and Congressional Republicans continue call for — and work toward — ending the Mueller investigation. Meanwhile, reports mount of the corrosion of bribes from Russian oligarchs and U.S. corporations funneled through Trump lawyer Michael Cohen that reveal the den of thieves running the government. For all Americans who truly put country first, this ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around.

So, as we face the possibility that Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu may look to military actions to wag the dog and keep investigations at bay, we have to hope they don’t light the fuse that sets the world on fire. But following Monty Python’s advice to Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life, we have gin, so in these Burning Times then, have a Burning Times cocktail.

Via Kindred Cocktail, the Burning Times cocktail is:

2 oz Plymouth Gin

.75 oz Strega

.25 oz Fernet Branca

2 dashes Dr. Adam’s Bokers Bitters

lemon twist

Stir, strain, garnish

Cheers!

Buddy System

Pal

National Friendship Day isn’t until August, but this week gave us a much deeper look into the circle of Trump besties. The one that made the biggest news, of course, was finding out that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen also has Trump TV host Sean Hannity as a client.

It was known that Cohen “represented” not only Trump but also his fellow RNC fundraiser Elliott Broidy, and apparently performed similar services. Not entirely clear was what Cohen did for Hannity, but Hannity’s regular defense of Cohen and Trump was much more obvious than their relationship.

Actually, it seems other regular guests on Hannity’s show, also Trump connected lawyers, were doing work for Hannity as well.

Trump, we’ve learned, has a history of not treating his fixer Cohen very well. Now Trump may need him more than ever after the FBI obtained Cohen’s files in a raid, and the possibility Cohen will flip has Trump concerned.

Beyond the issue of who Trump’s personal attorney has been palling around with we saw more evidence of the Trump-Putin relationship on Sunday. Soon after Nikki Haley announced new sanctions on Russia over Syria, Trump called his BFF to tell him not to worry. Then Trump canceled the planned sanctions.

I’m looking forward to the book when this is all over so we can get a clear picture of how all these people are connected and who has what on whom. In the meantime, have an Old Pal cocktail.

From Robert Simonson’s 3 Ingredient Cocktails the Old Pal is:

1 oz rye

1 oz dry vermouth

1 oz Campari

Orange Twist (other recipes call for lemon twist, which I did since I was out of oranges)

Stir over ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

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!

The Gathering Storm

Stormy

The naming of John Bolton as Trump’s new National Security Advisor is a dark cloud over the White House. As the third sentence of Friday’s NY Times editorial says: “There are few people more likely than Mr. Bolton is to lead the country into war.”

Bolton’s penchant for warmongering comes at a time when Mueller’s Russia investigation is tightening the noose around Trump and porn star Stormy Daniels is set to reveal details of the affair Trump tried to keep secret. It is an extremely dangerous time and the risk of war as distraction is high.

In his first memoir about the events leading to WWII, “The Gathering Storm,” Winston Churchill called the Second World War a largely senseless but unavoidable conflict. Today we face the potential for catastrophic war that is both senseless and avoidable.

The revelation that hacker Guccifer 2.0 was a Russian intelligence agent points to Trump associate Roger Stone pretty clearly conspiring with Russia and WikiLeaks to win the 2016 election. As The Daily Beast put it:

Mueller is likely looking to see whether Stone or other members of the Trump campaign played a role in suggesting the timing of the release of the Podesta emails, which occurred on the same day as the release of the Access Hollywood tape in which Trump spoke in vulgar and disparaging ways about women. The release of the tape was a potentially campaign-ending event for Trump. Instead, that story competed for attention with the story of the Podesta emails. 

While this news broke on Friday to start the weekend (another in which Trump is at his Mar-a-Lago property in Florida), the weekend is set to end with the 60 Minutes interview of Stormy Daniels.

After a $130,000 hush money payment just before the election, Daniels has fought the validity of a Non-Disclosure Agreement about the affair. Trump has tried a number of ways to keep this story from coming out, possibly including threats.

The Stormy Daniels story is only one of several recent accounts of sexual affairs by Trump to come to light, including one from ex-Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal. Trump’s reaction to all of this pressure on multiple fronts with few familiar faces in the White House left is hard to gauge, but his behavior has been a bit more unhinged than usual lately.

Now the man Washington Post columnist George Will calls the most dangerous man in America will be advised by the person Will calls the second-most dangerous American on April 9, when Bolton joins the Administration.

There is really only one cocktail to have this weekend, a Dark ‘n Stormy. This is Gosling’s Black Seal Rum’s signature drink, and one it has held a trademark on since 1988. I was out at the time I wrote this and used Cruzan Black Strap rum instead (making it not technically a Dark ‘n Stormy, but still tasty).

So breathe deep the gathering gloom, and grab your rum and ginger beer before the light fades from every room.

1.5 oz Gosling’s Black Seal Rum

4 oz Ginger Beer

Lime wedge

Build on rocks in a highball glass, squeeze the lime and drop into the glass.

Cheers!

Would You Believe…

Smooth

The most frequently used word in headlines over the past week has been chaos.

Between tariffs, North Korea, staff defections, the Russia investigation, and legal actions around Trump’s porn star hush money, to name a handful of the top stories, the disarray at the White House has been more than usual.

As Dan Balz notes in The Washington Post today, however, Trump promised just this kind of presidency. But for all the commentary that tries to liken the Trump presidency to a reality show, this week may point to a different TV genre and show.

We may be in an episode of Get Smart. Nevertheless, the past year and definitely the past week, has certainly been a battle between CONTROL and KAOS. Trump is absolutely the Mr. Big of KAOS right now, and Sebastian Gorka is straight out of Mel Brooks’ central casting for KAOS agents. (Not saying Mueller is Agent 86, btw.)

All of the chaos of the past week has led to a nearly universal feeling of being on the road to ruin. On one side are people fearful of the negative effects of a trade war, destruction of our democratic norms and atomic annihilation, on the other side are Republicans facing this fall’s elections.

While we watch Trump walk back meeting with Kim Jong Un and maybe not impose tariffs on allies, adding to the long list of erratic policy behavior, have a Smooth Operator cocktail.

Via Kindred Cocktails, the Smooth Operator is:

2 oz Plantation Stiggin’s’ Fancy pineapple rum

.25 oz orgeat

.25 oz Allspice Dram

2 dashes aromatic bitters (I used Dr Adam’s Orinoco)

orange twist

Stir, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, garnish

Cheers!

 

Gerrymander & The Top Bananas

Clipper

As El Caudillo Trump dreams of his military parade, the Republican Party is going about the more fundamental work of undermining American democracy and our electoral process.

Leaving aside for the moment the way Republicans are doing nothing about clear evidence that Russia interfered with the 2016 election — and appear to be ready to do so again this year — last week saw another GOP authoritarian outburst on gerrymandering. When the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the Republican drawn electoral map violated the state’s constitution and a fairer map must be drawn, a GOP state legislator called for the Justices to be impeached.

Meanwhile, over in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker is refusing to hold special elections for two open state legislature seats after another special election in January saw the Democratic candidate win a heavily Republican district.

Of course, Walker’s move is strategic, at the core of GOP efforts to gerrymander the Karl Rove vision of a permanent Republican majority. He can’t let those Wisconsin seats fall to Democrats and endanger the Republican ability to draw the electoral map.

Gerrymandering isn’t new. It comes from the 1812 redistricting map of Massachusetts where one redrawn district was likened to a salamander which, when combined with Gov. Elbridge Gerry’s name gave us a new word.

However, this effort has accelerated and been refined with technology. After the 2010 census and the new maps it created, the 2012 election saw 1.4 million more Americans vote for Democrats for Congress, but Republicans won a 33-seat majority. Then, in 2016, despite winning fewer than half of all votes for Congress, Republicans again won a 33-seat majority.

The problem of gerrymandering spurred former Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr., with support from President Obama, to create the first-ever strategic hub for a comprehensive redistricting strategy, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. The NDRC is working to ensure the next round of redistricting is fair and that maps reflect the will of the voters.

The importance of this effort cannot be understated, and was highlighted by an important piece in the NY Times over the weekend. Patrick Kingsley’s piece on Hungary’s slide toward autocratic rule is a very important look at the danger liberal democracies face around the world today.

To understand how Prime Minister Viktor Orban has reshaped Hungary, start with the private meetings in 2010. Fidesz had just won national elections by a margin that qualified the party for more than two-thirds of the seats in Parliament, even though it had only won a slim majority of votes… Weeks later, Mr. Orban and his lieutenants began a legislative assault on the Hungarian Constitution, curbing civil society and, to less fanfare, diverting billions of euros in European Union and federal money toward loyal allies.

First, he moved simultaneously to curb the Hungarian media and the judiciary. Next came the erosion of the country’s checks and balances, which has helped Mr. Orban share the spoils of power with close friends and important businessmen.

And then, came the electoral process. The restructuring of Hungary’s election system, including a redrawing the electoral map, has helped him remain in power, even as his party has won fewer votes.

The electoral foundation of American democracy is in peril not because of Trump, but because of the GOP’s long-term attacks on the electoral system that can be accelerated under Trump’s general disregard for the rule of law.

In fact, the GOP acquiescence in Trump’s attacks on the rule of law prompted Jonathan Rauch and Benjamin Wittes to write in The Atlantic a call to boycott the Republican Party from top to bottom in this year’s election. They have come to regard the GOP as an institutional danger because “it has proved unable or unwilling (mostly unwilling) to block assaults by Trump and his base on the rule of law. Those assaults, were they to be normalized, would pose existential, not incidental, threats to American democracy.”

That is where we are now with Republican efforts to restructure our electoral process. While their gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts may have once been incidental threats to our democracy, they have now become existential.

The instability and tin pot dictator approach of Trump and the Republicans is steering the ship of state dangerously close to banana republic territory. So while you’re thinking about how much to donate to the NDRC, have a Banana Clipper cocktail. Via Kindred Cocktails, the Banana Clipper is:

1.5 oz Barbancourt 8 rum

.5 oz Plantation Stiggin’s Fancy pineapple rum

.66 oz Cynar

.25 oz Giffard Crème de Banane

1 dash Bittermens Xocolatl Mole bitters

lemon twist (expressed and discarded)

Stir over ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, twist

Cheers!