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!

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!

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!

Revelations 2017

Revelation

Monday evening saw The Washington Post pick up its running competition for scoops with the New York Times all pointing toward time running out for the Trump Administration.

The latest revelation finds that Trump reportedly asked the top U.S. intelligence officials to deny any collusion between his campaign and Russia in an effort to push back on the FBI. The story follows on after two big pieces on Friday where the Post reported the probe is now looking at a current White House official as part of the Russia investigation (rumored to be his son-in-law Jared Kushner), and the Times piece on how Trump told the Russians (during their visit to the Oval Office) that firing the “nut-job” Comey relieved great pressure on him.

All of this has prompted another piece in the Post headlined “Trump is practically begging to be accused of obstruction of justice right now.”

One problem we face now is too much information that threatens to bury other important stories, like Trump’s budget proposal to gut Medicaid.

To help stay vigilant as the revelations keep streaming in, I suggest the Revelation cocktail. This nice Manhattan variation from Kindred Cocktails is:

1.75 oz rye

.25 oz Fernet Branca

.25 oz sweet vermouth (I went with .5 oz and it was quite tasty)

1 dash orange bitters

1 Luxardo cherry as garnish

Stir, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, garnish

Cheers!

 

Pledge Allegiance to ?

Pledge

After Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, the person in charge of investigations his campaign colluded with the Russians to influence the election, it was revealed Trump had asked for Comey’s loyalty on several occasions.

It was also revealed that Trump’s barely plausible reason for the firing was a lie when he told Lester Holt he did it because of the Russia investigation.

The best some Republican members of Congress could do was express concern, while their leaders Ryan and McConnell essentially said nothing to see here.

As this was unfolding, white nationalist supporters of Trump rallied in Charlottesville, VA, to protest the removal of monuments honoring traitors to the United States. They did this while carrying citronella tiki torches from Wal-Mart and chanting “Russia is our friend.”

Tonight The Washington Post revealed just how good a friend Trump thinks the Russians are as he revealed highly classified information to the Russian Foreign Minister and U.S. Ambassador in the Oval Office.

Serious questions must be asked about where the allegiance of the President, his supporters, and Republicans in Congress lies. We need to record the answers, as they may be important when the allied powers begin their de-Republicanification efforts.

As you re-affirm your allegiance to the United States, have a Pledge cocktail. Via Kindred Cocktails, it is:

1.5 oz rye

.5 oz yellow chartreuse

.5 oz Averna

2 dashes aromatic bitters ( I prefer Dr. Adam’s Orinoco Bitters)

Lemon peel garnish

Stir, strain, garnish

Cheers!

Perfect Manhattan: No Trump

Perfect

On the eve of Trump’s first visit to NYC since becoming president, all of us in the vicinity could use a drink.

Presidential visits create massive disruptions as a rule, but rarely do you get the added snarl of citywide protests. From his arrival at JFK airport to his dinner on the Intrepid aircraft carrier in midtown, the area will be a mess for much of the day.

Fortunately, his Orangeness will spare the metro area from a lengthy visit and immediately hightail it to his golf resort in rural New Jersey after dinner.

As a reminder of how nice NYC is when Trump is not here (or signing executive orders that cost, demean or otherwise fuck over New Yorkers) I suggest fortifying with a Perfect Manhattan.

No better source than Philip Greene’s book The Manhattan: The Story of the First Modern Cocktail.

2 oz rye (or bourbon)

.5 oz dry vermouth

.5 oz sweet vermouth

2 dashes aromatic bitters

Cherry for garnish (lemon peel also suggested, real Americans use real cherries)

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

Cheers! (He’ll be gone soon)

All Blown Up

Philabuster

As the smoke clears on week 12 in the Reign of Error, we survey the damage from bunker busters in Afghanistan to the filibuster in the Senate. Clearly the most explosive week yet.

Employing his “Bomb-the-shit-out-of-them” strategy for defeating ISIS, Trump ordered the use of the GBU-43/B MOAB, which stands for Massive Ordinance Air Blast, or more popularly as Mother Of All Bombs. It is the most powerful non-nuclear bomb ever used by the U.S. in combat, and was dropped on Islamic State tunnels in Nangarhar province. The $314 million weapon reportedly killed 36 militants.

Shortly after dropping the MOAB, Trump scurried off to Mar-a-Lago for yet another round of golf, and perhaps to contemplate nuking North Korea over chocolate cake. He also faces the tightening noose after the bombshell report about campaign aid Carter Page.

The Washington Post reported that the FBI got a FISA warrant to monitor Page last summer as part of an investigation into possible links between Russia and the campaign.

The Page news had come quickly on the heels of the Sean Spicer implosion while attempting to use a Hitler analogy to defend the ineffective airstrikes in Syria.

On Monday, Neil Gorsuch was sworn in as a Supreme Court Justice to complete the GOP theft of this seat. The heist began about a year ago when Senate Majority Leader McConnell and the Republicans refused to even meet with President Obama’s nominee. Before they could get to Monday’s ceremony, however, McConnell had to use the “Nuclear Option” to get Gorsuch approved. Last Friday, McConnell dropped the Mother of All Bombs in the Senate and killed the filibuster so Gorsuch could be confirmed by a simple majority.

Of all the explosions over the past week, killing the filibuster and confirming Gorsuch is likely to have the greatest impact. This is true both for the way the Senate has historically  operated (though the filibuster had been abused for some time), and for the country at large as a relatively very young right-wing ideologue now has a lifetime appointment to the highest court.

To wash away that Nuclear Senate residue and try to forget that the patriotic Republicans have just handed a stolen Supreme Court seat to a corporation-favoring tool, chosen by a puppet of the Russian government, I suggest a Philabuster cocktail via Kindred Cocktails.

1.5 oz rye, Rittenhouse 100

.5 oz Aperol

.5 oz Cocchi Americano

.25 oz Cynar

.12 oz Fernet Branca

1 dash grapefruit bitters

1 twist grapefruit peel as garnish

Stir, strain over rock, highball, garnish

Happy Friday!

Cheers!