Out with the old kook, in with the new

“John Bolton’s ouster makes the world safer,” according to a headline in The Nation, but the analysis that followed was unpersuasive. Yes, the loony chickenhawk is gone but not his boss, who has launched a misguided trade war against China, trashed the nuclear deal with Iran, threatened to nuke North Korea, and encouraged Boris Johnson to destabilize the EU and destroy what’s left of the United Kingdom. How is the world safer?

“Why do you read that crap?” said Swamp Rabbit, who was looking over my shoulder at the story. “Why don’t you feed the cats, or pull up them weeds over there by the tomato patch?”

I told him it’s important to follow the mainstream news analysts. They usually reach the wrong conclusions from the facts they gather, but careful readers can use the same facts to piece together conclusions that make more sense.

“I’m gonna piece together some lunch from that pork roll I swiped at the SuperFridge today,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Stop by my shack if you want a sandwich.”

I told him no thanks, I had some Triscuits, I was reading up on who might be chosen to replace Bolton. Politico said Trump was looking at more than a dozen “generally conservative” candidates, some of whom have ties to Bolton or Fox News or the George W. Bush administration. The pick will be a “yes person,” according to an insider quoted in the article.

But we already knew all that, didn’t we? We knew the new national security adviser is likely to be as despicable as Bolton (one of the liars who helped start the disastrous war in Iraq by falsely claiming Saddam had WMD) though possibly not as overtly kooky. That he or she will be an ass-kissing neocon who will obey all orders from Trump, no matter how stupid or vile.

In the end it won’t matter who’s chosen. No one Trump hires could possibly be any more impulsive or vindictive than he is, and he has the final say on policy. The world will be no more or less safe.

I should have waded over to Swamp Rabbit’s place for that sandwich.

Footnote: Imagine a just world in which government officials and their toadies are held responsible for their roles in debacles like Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya, where hundreds of thousands of people died for nothing and trillions of dollars were wasted. All the Boltons would have been banished years ago. A lot of them would be in jail.

One step forward, ten steps back

Swamp Rabbit and I were wondering why some people still think progress is inevitable despite evidence that it’s being blocked on all fronts by the sociopath in the White House and his Republican enablers. A case in point:

The Trump administration is rolling back requirements for new, energy-efficient light bulbs. The Energy Department announced the move on Wednesday, withdrawing standards that were to be put in place to make commonly used bulbs more efficient… Critics of the reversal say it will mean higher energy bills and more pollution. “The rollback will eliminate energy-efficient standards for light bulbs that were slated to take effect in January that would save consumers billions of dollars and reduce millions of tons of climate change carbon dioxide emissions,” says Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project.

“I don’t get it,” Swamp Rabbit said, staring out at the swamp from my front porch. “Why’s Trump want to bring back them old bulbs that burn out fast?”

“Nostalgia,” I replied. “He misses lead paint and coal-powered trains and leaded gas for cars and asbestos-contaminated buildings. He hates wind turbines and solar panels, women, immigrants, animals, affordable health care, gun control. He wants to save plastic straws and bring back goose-stepping.”

Swamp Rabbit glared at me. “Don’t be cute, Odd Man. What’s the real reason?”

I shrugged. “It’s hard to tell with sociopaths. Maybe lobbyists for the old light bulb companies got to him. He’s against regulating methane emissions, too. He killed the Clean Power Plan. He’s obsessed with reversing Obama’s policies. We talked about that, remember?”

Swamp Rabbit was playing the pessimist today. “Talk is cheap,” he said. “The peeps care about today, not tomorrow. We ain’t making no progress.”

“Progress is all about stops and starts,” I told him. “Two steps forward, one step back. Or one forward and two back. Thesis and antithesis.”

The rabbit leaned over and spit into the swamp. “I don’t go in much for that Hegelian shit. If we don’t stop moving backwards soon, there ain’t gonna be no time left to move forwards.”

Dissing Mother Nature and other ‘nasty’ women

Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen hurt Donald Trump’s little feelings this week when she told him Greenland wasn’t for sale. Trump called her “nasty,” his favorite word for women he can’t bully, and canceled a state visit to Iceland.

Even The New York Times was befuddled: “Is this real life? Or a Peter Sellers movie?”

Also in the news this week was the fact that the ice in Iceland is “leaving” due to man-made global warming, a concept Trump and his fellow troglodytes scoff at.

Greenland is melting, too,” my friend Swamp Rabbit noted. “It lost eleven billion tons of surface ice the other day on account of that heat wave from Europe.”

Swamp Rabbit was in tears because he hadn’t been able to scrape together enough money to fly to Iceland to attend a funeral service for the first glacier it has lost to climate change. There will be many others.

Meanwhile in the other hemisphere, in Sao Paulo, it was nighttime at 3 pm, largely because of a giant overhead plume of smoke caused by fires in the Amazon rainforest, an irreplaceable resource that sucks up carbon dioxide and produces 20 percent of the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere. These and many other fires down there have been linked to “deforestation efforts” by Brazil’s Trumpian president, Jair Bolsonaro. Such efforts are helping to accelerate the pace of climate change.

I reminded the rabbit that our environmental crisis is also political crisis. That dictator types and their oligarch friends, rather than caring about the future, are fixated on things like buying unspoiled Arctic land to dig for fossil fuels and rare minerals, and burning rainforests to make way for cattle-grazing.

“I don’t get it,” I confessed. “These greedy old guys will all be dead in a few years. Why don’t they just let the world be instead of working to ruin it?”

“Ain’t no way to know,” Swamp Rabbit said. “But I’m guessin’ Trump would find a way to blame all them women who were nasty to him.”

The endangered includes humans, too

Rick Wilson’s book Everything Trump Touches Dies came to mind yesterday when I read that the Endangered Species Act is in danger:

New rules will allow the administration to reduce the amount of habitat set aside for wildlife and remove tools that officials use to predict future harm to species as a result of climate change. It would also reveal for the first time in the law’s 45-year history the financial costs of protecting them. The long-anticipated changes, jointly announced by the Interior and Commerce departments, were undertaken as part of President Trump’s mandate to scale back government regulations on corporations, including the oil and gas industry, that want to drill on protected land.

I wondered again about our ongoing emergencies. I’m sure I’ve already asked, but who would have thought a few years ago that a festering heap of fast-food garbage named Donald Trump would somehow parlay his incompetence into a successful run for the most powerful job in the world?

“Ain’t no point to that question,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Might as well ask why mudslides and earthquakes happen.”

I tried to think of a character in literature like Trump, a minor sociopath who somehow rises to the top and tries to remake the world in his own foul image.

“What about that dude in Lord of the Rings?” Swamp Rabbit said. “The evil wizard who chops down all the trees and fouls up the water and builds a factory to breed an army of monsters? Saruman, his name was.”

“No way,” I replied. “Saruman was a good guy until he got depressed and started thinking that what’s rotten in the world is stronger than what’s good. Trump was always on the rotten side. He was born rotten.”

I reminded the rabbit that the Endangered Species Act helped save the bald eagle, the grizzly bear and other species when they had been all but wiped out, and that Trump’s rule revisions are a big blow to people who are working to keep the ecosystem from collapsing.

“What about Sauron, the actual lord of them rings?” Swamp Rabbit said. “He was always tempting peeps to switch to the dark side. He’s the dude who flipped Saruman.”

I shook my head. “Sauron is like Satan. He lives in the Dark Tower and has an all-seeing eye. Trump can’t see past the tacky gold trim in his New York penthouse.”

Swamp Rabbit scowled. “You sound like all them other peeps who thought Trump was a joke. Ain’t none of them laughin’ now.”

Footnote: I’d recommend Elizabeth Kolbert’s book The Sixth Extinction, but it might mess up your mind. You might end up like Saruman.

Oh, Baltimore!

I was trying to convince Swamp Rabbit that there was nothing new about Donald Trump’s style of racism, that Randy Newman had sung about it long before Trump became president.

I told him that Republican Richard Nixon, running for president in 1968, wooed Southern white Democratic voters by stoking their anger regarding desegregation laws. And that Alabama Governor George Wallace, running as a third-party candidate that year, also reached out to Democrats, and ultimately helped get Nixon elected.

And that Lester Maddox of Georgia, another segregationist governor, walked off the set of the Dick Cavett Show in 1970 when Cavett refused to apologize for implying that some of Maddox’s constituents were racists.

And that all these events influenced singer/songwriter Newman, whose 1974 album Good Old Boys, addressed America’s enduring racial divide in ruefully funny songs like “Rednecks,” told from the point of view of a Southern bigot who understands that the North has been no kinder to black people than the South:

Last night I saw Lester Maddox on a TV show/With some smart-ass New York Jew/ and the Jew laughed at Lester Maddox/And the audience laughed at Lester Maddox too/Well he may be a fool but he’s our fool/If they think they’re better than him they’re wrong/So I went to the park, and I took some paper along/And that’s where I made this song…

And I told Swamp Rabbit that Newman, in 1977, released an album that included “Baltimore,” a song about a big city on the skids (Oh Baltimore! Man, it’s hard just to live) that could have been written last week.

And that the blowhard Trump, ranting on Twitter in 2019 about “disgusting, rat and rodent infested” Baltimore — its population is about 64 percent black and its poverty rate about 24 percent — would sound just like Wallace and Maddox if not for his Northern accent and his tendency to make remarks even more blatantly racist than anything those governors ever said.

And I reminded the rabbit that almost every prominent Republican politician has either defended Trump’s recent racist remarks or declined to comment, which puts them all on the wrong side of history.

Swamp Rabbit stopped me and said, “Where you goin’ with all this, Odd Man? I already know Republicans ain’t worth a damn.”

“Just wanted to turn you on to Randy Newman,” I said. “Politicians come and go, but good songs never get old.”

Footnote: Dick Cavett is a gentile from Nebraska, not a Jew. Newman, who is Jewish, has always enjoyed using unreliable narrators.

One more: Anyone who pretends they’re surprised by the recently discovered recording of Ronald Reagan referring to black people as monkeys during a conversation with Richard Nixon either wasn’t around when Reagan was in office or wasn’t paying attention.

The special counsel underwhelms

Swamp Rabbit and I went on the road yesterday to work a hick-town event and were stuck in traffic for a long while before we got back to my shack to watch the highlights of the Mueller hearings.

“You were wrong, rabbit,” I said as the cable news recaps were playing. “Mueller clammed up, just like he said he would, but the fact that he’s a Republican had little to do with it.”

“OK, it ain’t politics that stopped him from answering all them questions,” the rabbit conceded. “It’s got more to do with him being old and worn out.”

I had to agree that the special counsel had seemed frail and befuddled; that Mueller the relentless, all-knowing investigator had turned out to be a mythic hero created by the media and embraced by those of us hoping for someone who would single-handedly bring down the most divisive and dangerously corrupt president in U.S. history.

But it was also clear that the hearings hadn’t been a waste of time; that House Democrats strengthened their case just by holding Mueller’s hand and coaxing him to repeat his team’s findings. He declined to answer about two hundred questions, but he did confirm that the Russians had interfered with the 2016 election; that their interference had helped Trump; that Trump had encouraged them to interfere; and that Trump’s cronies, some of whom are already in jail, had schemed with Russian officials on his behalf.

Just as important, Mueller’s testimony reminded viewers that his report had documented multiple instances of obstruction of justice on Trump’s part, including the fact that he’d ordered former White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller and then, after McGahn refused, ordered him to deny he’d ordered the firing.

“And how about them scumbags on the other side,” Swamp Rabbit said, referring to Attorney General William Barr and the Republican members of the Judiciary and Intelligence panels who attacked Mueller. “They all know Trump is a lying pig, but there ain’t a one of them didn’t get down in the mud with him.”

“History will remember them,” I replied. “Just like it remembers the Know Nothing movement and the German American Bund.”

“I don’t know nothing about no Bund,” the rabbit said, reaching under the couch for the bottle of bourbon he’d stashed there.

Al Green’s impeachment song is a flop

I was in the little shack behind my main shack, rooting around for a rusty old window fan. Swamp Rabbit was in the main shack, watching the rerun of a cable news story from last night.

“It’s Al Green, check him out,” the rabbit shouted. “He telling Congress to impeach Trump for being a racist. He should sing about it instead of making a speech.”

It turned out to be Al Green the Texas congressman, not Al Green the Memphis soul and gospel singer, but I couldn’t convince the rabbit that the two Als weren’t one and the same.

“Trump will just keep denying he’s a racist,” I said, plugging in the fan. “They should impeach him for obstructing the Mueller investigation. That’s where the criminal evidence is.”

“They might not impeach him at all,” the rabbit replied. “They’re too busy fighting each over. Old versus young, white versus black, Nancy Pelosi versus the Squad.”

As we were arguing, a talking head on cable news announced that the House had voted down Al Green’s impeachment resolution. Democrats can’t even agree on whether to impeach a guy who is arguably the first gangster president in American history. What does that say about their ability to settle on a candidate who will appeal to the majority of voters in the 2020 election?

“But you ain’t all wrong,” Swamp Rabbit said to cheer me up. “Better to wait till Robert Mueller testifies next week and then decide where to go on impeachment.”

Better to concede the hardcore bigot vote to Trump, he added. To go after so-called independents and lapsed Democratic voters — the Democrats who voted for Obama twice but sat out the 2016 election because Hillary was such a drag. To remind them about Trump’s wall fantasy, his attempts to kill Obamacare, his tax cuts for the rich and contempt for the poor, his ill-advised tariffs, his submissive relationship with Putin, his corrupt Cabinet, his ignorance and unbridled sleaziness.

“You’re right, the racism charge won’t work,” I admitted. “Trump fans like his racist talk, it stirs them up. Al Green should have put a lid on his anger instead of making a scene.”

“He should have sung ‘Let’s Stay Together,'” the rabbit said.

Dems have one job. Will they screw it up?

We were on the porch at my shack in the Tinicum swamp. “Swine was all I could swipe at the SuperFridge,” Swamp Rabbit said as he placed a few hot dogs on my hibachi. “Couldn’t even steal no sardines.”

I’m no swine fan, but I wasn’t complaining. It was 9 p.m., almost dark, and my cupboard was bare except for some stale wheat bread. We wrapped the wieners in the wheat bread and ate them while we jawed about the presidential race.

The first round of debates ended more than a week ago. Eric Swalwell (who?) has dropped out but billionaire hedge fund manager (ugh) Tom Steyer has jumped in. The herd hasn’t yet thinned, though most of the two dozen-or-so candidates are and will remain almost unknown except in their home states.

“They know they got zero chances but they want to brag to their grandkids that they ran for president,” Swamp Rabbit said after complaining there was no ketchup in my shack.

You’re right, I told him. If Beto O’Rourke, John Hickenlooper and Steve Bullock weren’t delusional egotists they would recognize that a Democratic president won’t be able to undo many of Trump’s dirty deeds unless she or he has a Democratic Senate and House to work with. They would run for Senate seats in their respective states, not for president.

And Kirsten Gillibrand would admit she’s a shallow opportunist who is likely to be remembered only for her leading role in chasing the progressive Al Franken out of the Senate for minor sexual misconduct. And Bill De Blasio would quit making a fool of himself. And anti-vaxxer Marianne Williamson would just go away. And…

“I don’t need to hear you run through the whole list,” Swamp Rabbit said. “The only ones got a real chance are Biden, Sanders, Warren, maybe Harris and maybe that little guy with the goofy name — Bootyjuggs, I think.”

I reminded the rabbit that only Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have crafted boldly progressive plans for changing the rigged system that gave us the enormous gulf between rich and poor, the student-loan racket, the health insurance racket and all those other symptoms of a failing democracy.

And that Biden and Harris, although they differ on some social issues, are both corporate candidates, meaning they’re being funded mostly by the powerful entities that have been dismantling New Deal-style democracy for more than 40 years.

“Blah blah,” the rabbit said. “Save all that jive for later. The Dems got one job this year — to get behind the candidate who will win enough states to get rid of that spray-tanned Mussolini in the White House. Ain’t nothing else matters if that don’t happen.”

What protest? I don’t see any protest

Swamp Rabbit was listening to me enumerate the lies Donald Trump told in Britain this week. My favorite was Trump saying, “I didn’t see any protest” when asked about the anti-Trump protest in London. Then he said the protesters were “a very, very small group.” Then he said the people on the streets were pro-Trump demonstrators, not protesters.

“I guess he didn’t notice that giant ‘Baby Trump’ balloon or that Trump-on-the-toilet float,” Swamp Rabbit said.

Note the irony: This week marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Who would have thought a few years ago that a would-be dictator like Trump would be feted by British royals then go to Normandy for a ceremony honoring soldiers who fought to overthrow a dictator?

“You can’t call Trump a dictator,” the rabbit said. “America elected him.”

The Nazis were elected, too, I told him. Enough Nazis to get Hitler appointed chancellor. Does he really think Trump won’t seize power the same way Hitler did if Congress and the courts continue ignoring his crimes?

Swamp Rabbit threw up his hands. “There you go with Hitler again.”

Another irony: This week is also the 30th anniversary of the massacre of protesters in Tiananmen Square, a history-changing event that Chinese dictator Xi Jinping and his gang have more-or-less erased from Chinese media outlets and history books.

I said, “When Xi’s gang is asked about the protest at Tiananmen Square, they say ‘I didn’t see any protest.’ Or they say ‘The protest was very, very small.'”

“Trump ain’t on the same page with that China boss,” the rabbit argued. “He started a trade war with China.”

I shook my head. “Trump wants to cut the trade deficit, but he admires Xi. He called him a ‘a terrific guy‘ and ‘a great leader.'”

“That don’t mean nothing,” the rabbit said. “I doubt Trump knows what he’s saying one minute to the next.”

Back to D-Day for one more irony: In a speech at the ceremonies, French President Emmanuel Macron, with Trump nearby, said the Allies who made D-Day a success “are the same ones that were able to build the existing multilateral structures after World War Two.”

This was an implicit jab at Trump, who has worked hard to undermine the European Union and other “multilateral structures” that were established in part to help prevent the sort of bad relations between countries that resulted in two world wars in the 20th century.

“Do you think Trump got it?” Swamp Rabbit asked. “Did he know Macron was criticizing him?”

“Maybe,” I said. “If anyone asks, he’ll say ‘I didn’t hear any criticism.’ Or ‘The criticism was very, very small.'”

Books? There is no time!

Swamp Rabbit told me he was going home, he was tired of my grumbling about Donald Trump, I should finish writing my new “fiction book” instead of following politics.

“Or read books by other peeps,” he said.

I told him there’s no avoiding Trump, he’s even crept into contemporary fiction. I’d read Gary Shteyngart’s Lake Success a few months ago and encountered about a dozen mentions of the grabber-in-chief. Trump is like an expanding cloud of smog, polluting everything.

The rabbit asked, so I explained that Shteyngart is an A-list novelist and that Lake Success is about a guy named Barry Cohen whose life is falling apart even though he’s an enormously wealthy hedge-fund manager with a beautiful wife and a zillion-dollar condo in Manhattan.

Self-absorbed Barry feels unloved by his wife and their autistic son, and is also in trouble for insider trading. He leaves town to search for an old girlfriend, but he ends up searching for the real America or the meaning of life or something. He’s like Sal Paradise in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road crossed with Sherman McCoy in Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities, except that Barry is a bit older than Sal and a thousand times more prosperous and jaded.

“Wait a minute, who’s this Sal guy?” Swamp Rabbit said. “And where’s this bonfire you’re talking about?”

I told him never mind, I should know better than to make literary allusions to someone who gets his information from talking heads on TV and gossipy Internet news sites.

“That ain’t fair,” Swamp Rabbit said. “You get your news from the same crappy sources as me.”

He was right. I spend more spare time scrolling Internet news sites than reading books, fiction or nonfiction. I realize that news venues impart only superficial knowledge of what’s happening in the world, but I excuse myself by saying “Who has time to read books these days?”

“And who has the energy?” I added, challenging the rabbit. “I’m worn out from working my traveling salesman job. It’s easier to watch cable news or Game of Thrones.”

“Quit whining,” he said. “Tell me about Lake Success.”

So I told him Barry’s reunion with the girlfriend doesn’t work out (of course not) as he travels west by bus and meets minorities and suffers through a bunch of indignities and wises up to the fact that daily life in America is much worse for the poor than it is for the rich.

And there’s a counter-narrative from the POV of Barry’s frustrated wife Seema who, after their first meeting, had

…Googled Barry’s net worth and found it comforting. A man that rich couldn’t be stupid. Or, Seema thought now, was that the grand fallacy of twenty-first-century America?

Trump is in the story even when he isn’t directly mentioned. He’s the grotesque symbol of the emptiness at the heart of the American Dream — the emptiness that helps explain Barry’s and Seema’s inability to feel any contentment despite their opulent lifestyles. But Shteyngart is a naturally funny writer, so you don’t get hit over the head with that message.

“Blah blah, ” Swamp Rabbit said. “Cut to the chase, what happens in the end?”

I told him to read the book if he wants to know. He looked at me like I was loony and said, “Who has time to read books these days?”