Southern Hospitality

What you see below is the actual sign drivers encounter when they enter Harris County, Georgia.

So much for southern hospitality!

 

How’s That Swamp Draining Coming Along?

Not so well, actually. In office less than 16 months, The Trump administration has seen an astonishing number of its upper-level people leave – many of them for ethical reasons, others because of competency concerns, and a few voluntarily.

First, those who chose to leave:

  • Chief economic advisor Gary Cohn – given a high-level job but never permitted to do anything; also, snubbed after joining the administration after being led to believe he would be the next Federal Reserve chairman. He lost that shot after he let it be known he was disgusted by the president’s response to the Charlottesville protest.
  • Office of Government Ethics director Walter Shaub, resigned after he realized his new employer has no ethical standards.

Next, those who were shown the door:

  • HHS Secretary Tom Price – questionable travel spending that led to his resignation.
  • Anthony Scaramucci – White House communications director, fired after ten days on the job for incompetence.
  • Press secretary Sean Spicer – blatant lying caused him to lose credibility.
  • National Security Advisor Michael Flynn – pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contact with Russian government officials.
  • White House staff secretary Rob Porter – beating up on women.
  • Personal aide to the president John McEntee – gambling problems.
  • National Security Advisor W.R. McMaster – fired because of a different kind of competency concern: he is, and that concerned the president.
  • Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – honest but not competent and made the mistake of not socializing with the president. Also, for defending the Boy Scouts.
  • Communications director Hope Hicks – resigned after telling a congressional committee she lies on the president’s behalf.
  • Omarosa Manigault-Newman – fired after the chief of staff learned she didn’t actually do anything and was what people used to call a “patronage employee.”
  • Deputy assistant to the president Sebastian Gorka – fired.
  • Chief strategist Steve Bannon – fired for taking credit for the ideas he gave to the president.
  • Chief of staff Reince Priebus – fired for incompetence.
  • FBI director James Comey – fired for not being willing to pledge his loyalty to the president and ending investigations of the president’s supporters.
  • FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe – fired because his wife ran for public office as a Democrat.
  • Under-secretary of state for Steve Goldstein – fired for telling the truth in response to questions from the press.
  • Chief White House usher Angella Reid – fired because she was hired by a Democrat and that’s reason enough.
  • VA Secretary David Shulkin – questionable travel practices and misleading government investigators and, apparently, inciting an unprecedented mutiny among members of his staff.
  • U.S. Forest Service chief Tony Tooke, because of an alleged history of sexual harassment, abuse, and retaliation while working in other jobs.

Finally, those who are on thin ice right now and could be gone any day:

  • EPA administrator Scott Pruitt – questionable travel spending and, just last week, news that he’s accepting practically free overnight accommodations from a lobbyist.
  • HUD Secretary Ben Carson – steering business to his family, giving his family advantages in business dealings, and approving the purchase of a $31,000 dining room table, in violation of federal purchasing guidelines.
  • Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin – questionable travel spending.
  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions – lying on forms disclosing contacts with foreign officials and lying to Congress.
  • Jared Kushner – lying on forms disclosing contacts with foreign officials on numerous occasions and lying about his personal financial assets. Also, new suspicions about massive loans his family’s business have obtained.
  • Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke – questionable travel spending.
  • Chief of staff John Kelly – lying about what he knew and when he knew about the inappropriate behavior of former White House staffer Rob Porter and ordering other White House staffers to lie about what he knew and when he knew it. Also, seeks to instill discipline in the White House staff.

This isn’t draining the swamp: it’s restocking it with even more venal swamp things (like John Bolton, who’s spent most of his adult life in the swamp).

 

 

The Newest in Reality TV

Just when you thought there was nothing new under the sun in the world of reality television comes…something new under the sun in the world of reality television.

Making its debut today on something called AXS TV is the new reality show Real Money.

It’s about money, all right – but not THAT kind of money.

No, it’s about 1970s slightly-more-but-not-much-more-than-flash-in-the-pan rocker…

Eddie Money.

He’s ALIVE!

Yeah, The Curmudgeon knows what you’re thinking: THIS GUY IS STILL ALIVE? He always looked half-baked when he performed and that was 40 years ago. How is this possible?

Well it is, Eddie’s alive, he’s old enough now that several of his kids are in his band, and he’s got his own reality show on AXS TV. Lord knows why they picked Eddie Money, of all people, for the reality TV treatment or what this show is going to be about, but you want it, you know you really want it, so sit back, Baby, Hold On, it’s Two Tickets to Paradise that will absolutely Take You Home Tonight.

Eddie Money. Reality television. AXS TV. Today.

You can’t make up stuff like this.

 

 

No, This is Not a Matter of Political Correctness

The Atlantic magazine, generally pretty liberal, hired a conservative writer named Kevin Williamson last month to offer perspectives from the other side of the political spectrum.

This week The Atlantic fired Kevin Williamson.

Why?

The Atlantic fired Williamson because he endorsed hanging women who get abortions.

Not a misprint.

He tweeted this sentiment in 2014. The Atlantic apparently knew about that when it hired him.

But earlier this week a liberal group found a podcast in which Williamson said the same thing in language The Atlantic characterized as “…callous and violent,” and before you know it, Williamson was gone.

To be precise, Williamson said that

I would totally go with treating [abortion] like any other crime up to and including hanging — which kind of, as I said, I’m kind of squishy about capital punishment in general, but I’ve got a soft spot for hanging as a form of capital punishment. I tend to think that things like lethal injection are a little too antiseptic.” 

 I’ve got a soft spot for hanging.

The Atlantic apparently did not know about this.

“Callous and violent” seems about right.

Conservative groups are not happy. One conservative radio host suggested that “the left” – apparently The Atlantic is now the center of the left – wants a “monopoly on the public square,” conveniently overlooking that if the folks at the magazine really felt that way they never would have hired Williamson in the first place.

Another called the firing “chilling” and one said it was “deplorable.” One declared that “The Atlantic is essentially declaring that it cannot stomach real, mainstream conservatism as it actually exists in 21st century America.”

The Curmudgeon, for one, refuses to believe that “mainstream” conservatives believe women who have abortions should be hung. He knows enough mainstream conservatives to reject that argument.

At the same time, however, The Curmudgeon also is uncomfortable with firing people for expressing their views when they specifically were hired to… express their views. But hanging for women who obtain abortions? That’s so extreme, so beyond the pale, that firing is justified, if not entirely desirable. The Curmudgeon would have preferred that The Atlantic let its readers weigh in on this before acting, but he certainly doesn’t begrudge the people who run the magazine from seeking to disassociate themselves from this guy as quickly as possible.

 

A Profile in No Courage

In 2014, Ryan Costello was elected to represent Pennsylvania’s sixth congressional district, which includes parts of Berks, Chester, Lebanon, and Montgomery counties. A Republican, Costello was re-elected in 2016. Earlier this year he announced that he would seek a third term in 2018.

Below is a map of that district at the time of Costello’s two victories at the polls.

Seems a little…strange, doesn’t it?

It wasn’t an accident. It was drawn this way by Republicans in the state’s legislature to create a geographic area that it would be almost impossible for a Republican candidate to lose. Basically, they loaded as many Republicans as they could into a physical space and drew the wacky district lines around them.

In response to a legal challenge to the fairness of this strange creation, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled this bizarrely shaped district unconstitutional and demanded that the state legislature, led by the same people who drew the offending district boundaries, do it differently this time – and do it better. They couldn’t – or, more precisely, they refused to – so the state Supreme Court did the redrawing all by itself. The new district looks like this.

So what does Congressman Costello do? He looks at the new map, wets his pants, realizes he would face actual competition for his seat rather than a sure thing, and withdraws from the race.

Now he can go get rich lobbying his former colleagues

He does so, moreover, only after he has filed nominating petitions and after the deadline for candidates to withdraw from the race, creating two problems: first, his name may still end up on the ballot; and second, he screwed any Republicans in his district who might’ve been interested in running for that seat had they known the Republican incumbent wasn’t going to run. In so doing, he deprives a lot of people – Democrats, Republicans, and independents – of a real choice of legitimate candidates in November.

That Ryan Costello is a real stand-up guy.

The U.S. Congress – and the residents of Pennsylvania’s sixth congressional district – will be better off without a guy who apparently doesn’t have a lick of fight in him.

 

 

Strange Doings at the EPA

The Curmudgeon has already touched on some of the strange doings of Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Scott Pruitt. Pruitt appears to be one of those people who sees public service as an opportunity to live well: chartered planes, first-class seats when he has to fly commercial, a large security detail, jobs for his friends, and, we learned just recently, bargain accommodations in Washington, D.C.

Nice work if you can get it.

The president loves Pruitt because Pruitt is delivering bigly for him: Pruitt’s mission at the EPA is to tear down as many environmental standards as possible so American manufacturers can make things at less cost.

Clean air? Who needs it – revoke clean air regulations.

Clean water? Who needs it – revoke clean water regulations.

Currently he’s on a drive to pull back on increasing car mileage standards – so much so that even the car companies, which generally favor making it easier to build cheap cars, are a bit alarmed.

But the lavish travel at taxpayer expense and the laying the groundwork for despoiling the environment have overshadowed some other strange doings at Pruitt’s EPA.

So let’s have the web site Vox fill us in on some of those doings, starting with how a public official in Washington, D.C. has found an apartment he can use, when he’s in town and wants it, for $50 a night.

On March 29, ABC News broke the story that Pruitt received a terrific deal on a rental property less than a block from the Capitol building for the first six months he lived in DC in 2017. The problem is the property belongs in part to the wife of a high-profile lobbyist, J. Steven Hart, who also contributed to Pruitt’s political campaigns and has a liquefied natural gas producer as his client. The wife, Vicki Hart, is a health care lobbyist.

Oh, and Pruitt paid just $50 a night, and only for the nights he was there, paying $6,100 for six months. His daughter McKenna Pruitt, who was a White House intern at the time, lived there too.

During his stay, Pruitt took off one afternoon to nap. His full-time security detail (more on that later) was concerned something was amiss and broke down the glass-paneled door of his rental property to check on him. The EPA then reimbursed the property for $2,460 for damages.

According to an EPA memo, “if the space was utilized for one 30-day month, then the rental cost would be $1,500, which is a reasonable market price.” (It’s not.) Pruitt’s pad was also used to host GOP fundraisers.

Sorry, but $1500 a month is NOT the going rate for an apartment just a block from the Capitol.

This whole imbroglio stands out because of the favors that appear to have been exchanged here between Pruitt and someone with ties to the industry his agency regulates.

In March 2017, the EPA approved a natural gas pipeline extension from a company represented by Hart’s firm, Williams & Jensen, while Pruitt was living in his wife’s property.

And in December, Pruitt jetted off to Morocco to pitch “the potential benefit of liquified natural gas (LNG) imports on Morocco’s economy,” flying in first class with his head of security and another staffer.

What’s next, the cone of silence?

Next is some monkey business Vox categorizes under the heading “Paranoia.”

Since taking office, Pruitt has displayed some odd paranoia about his security. Shortly after starting his new job, he spent $3,000 to sweep his office for surveillance bugs. He then spent $5,800 to install biometric locks with fingerprint readers.

Wait: he’s running the EPA, not the CIA, right? Do we really have deep, dark environmental secrets that need to be protected?

No, not THAT kind of escort.

He also spent more than $42,000 to build a phone booth in his office. He hides his schedule from the public. His own employees need an escort to see him and aren’t allowed to take notes at meetings.

Can’t take notes at meetings? What kind of nonsense is that?

Most notably, Pruitt has surrounded himself with an unprecedented round-the-clock security detail that has accompanied him on trips to Disneyland and the Rose Bowl.

And the head of the Environmental Protection Agency needs to go to Disneyland and the Rose Bowl because…?

CNN calculated that Pruitt’s security detail costs taxpayers $2 million per year, not including travel, training, and equipment.

Finally, Vox notes that Pruitt has a strange approach to hiring people.

Pruitt said one of his highest priorities at the EPA is the Superfund program, a federal initiative to clean up highly contaminated sites throughout the country.

Naturally, he’d want someone he can rely on to run the show. And that’s why he picked a guy he owes money to.

Albert Kelly, an Oklahoma banker, lent money to Pruitt to buy a home and a minor league baseball team. Kelly was later banned from working in the banking sector for life by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and faced $125,000 in fines.

He now collects a $172,000 salary from the EPA as a senior adviser to the administrator. His résumé lists no experience in environmental management but mentions “political activity” as one of his core competencies.

EXACTLY what we need more of in government. Isn’t it enough that we already have Jared Kushner?

Pruitt has also let staffers at the EPA keep their political consulting side gigs and gave big raises to two employees without approval from the White House.

So these folks can theoretically “consult” with companies that have business with the EPA?

Finally, in an episode reported for the first time just yesterday, Pruitt awarded large raises to two of his upper-level staff members after the White House specifically rejected the pay raises. Because the staffers in question were political appointees, giving them raises requires permission from the White House personnel office and that permission was denied. Pruitt then seized upon an obscure passage in a 1996 law to reappoint the people to whom he wanted to give raises to new positions – the exact same job, it was just a paperwork shuffle – and give them their raises: a $28,000 raise for one of them and a $56,000 raise for the other. When The Atlantic uncovered the shenanigans, Pruitt claimed to be shocked – shocked! – at what happened and said he would reverse the raises and get to the bottom of how it happened and that “There will be some accountability on that.”

Riiiiiight.

So what does Pruitt have to say about all this? The online publication The Hill asked him.

“There are people that have long in this town done business a different way and this agency has been the poster child of it. And so do I think that because we are leading on this agenda that there are some who want to keep that from happening? Absolutely. And do I think that they will resort to anything to achieve that? Yes,” Pruitt told told Paul Bedard of the Washington Examiner. 

“It’s toxic here in that regard,” Pruitt added.

“This president’s courage and commitment to make those things happen and him empowering his teammates in each of these respective agencies to say, ‘go forth and get results and get accountability,’ it’s happening. It’s happening here, it’s happening elsewhere. And do I think that is something that some folks don’t like? Absolutely. And do I think they’ll use any means to [stop] it? Absolutely. And it’s frustrating,” he said. 

Well, if using “any means to stop it” means telling the truth and pointing out all those abuses, The Curmudgeon guesses Pruitt is right. Note, however, that Pruitt doesn’t deny any of the accusations against him: doesn’t deny the extravagant travel, doesn’t believe there’s anything wrong with the high-end Washington accommodations at Motel 6 prices courtesy of a lobbyist, doesn’t deny the lavish spending to deal with his bizarre paranoia, doesn’t deny the favoritism in his agency’s hiring and decisions, and doesn’t deny letting EPA employees moonlight, potentially with people who have business before the EPA.

But there’s one thing nobody can deny: the guy’s a wackadoodle, and the sooner he’s a former cabinet member, the better.

 

 

 

 

It Just Screams “Don’t Take Me Seriously”

It was already hard enough to take seriously actor Cynthia Nixon’s announced intention to run for governor of New York.

She has no experience in the public sector.

Maybe her campaign motto can be “Nixon’s the One”

Her involvement in public affairs has been limited to celebrity-type advocacy.

And she’s never run anything bigger than her mouth.

But she wants to be governor of New York, which has an annual budget of nearly $170 billion.

Which is considerably more than you make as an actor.

So Nixon’s first priority – well, her second, because her first, already achieved, was to gain the endorsement of her former Sex and the City cast mates (well, actually, Kim Cattrall’s was not exactly an endorsement) – is to figure out how to get people to take her seriously.

So where does she start?

A TV interview seems like a decent place.

But with whom?

60 Minutes?

Barbara Walters?

Rachel Maddow?

Chuck Todd?

Lester Holt?

Nope.

And the pervert interviewers, Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose, are no longer an option.

So to whom does a girl turn to prove she’s serious and that this run for office isn’t the equivalent of making a pilot for a new series, a process in which you do some work and then just cross your fingers and hope someone likes it enough to buy it?

One of her more low-key outfits

For her first interview as candidate for governor, Cynthia Nixon will sit down for a one-on-one interview with…

Wendy Williams.

Because nothing screams “Take me seriously” like a conversation about public policy and politics with Wendy Williams.

Beware the Killer Dristan!

The Curmudgeon is just getting over a slightly-more-than-a-cold cold for which the doctor at the urgent care center suggested that he use an over-the-counter decongestant and nasal spray.

Involved in exactly ZERO mass shootings

To get the decongestant The Curmudgeon had to take a card off the drug store display, take it to the pharmacy counter, show identification, and sign something before the pharmacist would hand over the medicine.

Which leaves The Curmudgeon wondering: why does he have to undergo more rigorous scrutiny to get generic Claritin-D than he would if he tried to buy a gun at a gun show?

Consider the Source

You hear it now more than ever: “You can’t believe everything you read.”

But what – or whom – CAN you believe? That’s not an easy question to answer: even before Facebook decided to ignore its complicity in aiding and abetting Russians attempting to influence the outcome of U.S. elections and not even bother trying to figure out what constitutes a credible news source worth sharing with its more than two billion users, The Curmudgeon was thinking about news sources and their credibility.

How do we know whether a news source is credible?

Some are easy – at least to The Curmudgeon. If you read a news story – we’re talking about news here, not commentary and editorials – in the New York Times or Washington Post or Wall Street Journal or even USA Today, you can be pretty sure it’s accurate. The same is true for something that comes from Bloomberg, the Associated Press, Reuters, and probably Time, too – although most of us are too young to remember when Time was pretty much an organ of the Republican party under that magazine’s founder, Henry Luce (The Curmudgeonly Sister gave her big brother a biography of Luce when The Curmudgeon was eighteen or nineteen and he’s had a hard time taking that magazine seriously ever since even though it’s obviously changed over the years). The major television news organizations are a mile wide and about an inch deep when it comes to reporting the news, but what they do report, mostly borrowed from real reporters working in print, seems pretty accurate, too: we’re talking ABC, NBC, CBS, and CNN.

Sure, they all make mistakes, although not many, but those are mistakes – virtually always quickly corrected – and in no way “fake news,” which is an utterly meaningless term.

MSNBC, Fox News, and NPR news reports seem reasonably accurate but they often select their stories based on their respective biases – that is, to support those biases. So when you tune into Fox News and it’s interviewing some poor schlump of a college kid who doesn’t have any friends and doesn’t get invited to any of the cool kids’ parties because he’s conservative, The Curmudgeon doesn’t think the kid is lying about his sad story. Fox News may have had to search far and wide to find this needle in a haystack, but the story itself is probably true but it was broadcast to make a political point. The same is true of MSNBC, especially in the evening, when it clearly works overtime to bring in experts and observers whose role is to confirm the opinions of the network’s hosts. The HBO series The Newsroom offered a brief glimpse into how this works; see it for yourself here.

But what about some other sources?

The Curmudgeon’s been thinking about this lately for three reasons.

First, Mrs. Curmudgeon watches a lot of MSNBC in the evening and that network features a veritable parade of reporters, experts, and authorities who come on the air and ostensibly tell us what the real stories are behind the stories we’re learning about from other, generally more conventional sources.

Second, The Curmudgeon has taken to spending a few minutes on his iPhone most evenings with Apple News in search of information about what’s going on in the world and for material he might use in this space.

And third – and this really seems trivial, but it annoyed him to no end – The Curmudgeon recently read an item off Mrs. Curmudgeon’s Facebook news feed (sorry, he refuses to call it a “newsfeed”) about stores to visit and places to eat in the town in which he currently resides. One of the recommended restaurants was a storefront festooned with a big “coming soon” sign for the better part of a year, followed by several months as a very slowly developing construction site, and at the time The Curmudgeon read this particular piece the restaurant still hadn’t opened. That, however, didn’t deter some “reporter” from recommending it to readers. Surprised and, well, irked by this, The Curmudgeon did a little digging and tracked down the person who wrote the article. She’s not a professional reporter, just a kid a few years out of school, and her response to him was that she drove past the restaurant and saw the sign, assumed it was open, and recommended it because it has stores in other places and she likes them. That was some pretty poor logic and pretty poor reporting, if you even want to call it reporting, so he asked her if she was paid for the plug (surely you don’t have trouble imagining this). She said she wasn’t, didn’t seem at all insulted by the question, and was absolutely unapologetic about the inaccuracy of her “reporting.”

So together, these three things got The Curmudgeon thinking about the quality of the reports he is consuming.

Some of the sources, as noted, he trusts. Others? He wonders.

When you run across a piece from the Daily Beast or see someone from that site speaking her piece on MSNBC or elsewhere, how do you judge the reliability of that source? Is the Daily Beast a credible source?

How about BuzzFeed? Should we believe what we read from BuzzFeed or hear on television from one of its reporters?

Vox News clearly has a liberal bias in its commentary but its news reporting appears to be credible – at least so it seems, in much the way that Wall Street Journal reporting is generally impeccable even as its editorials are somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun.

Breitbart we know about. Don’t believe a word you read.

What about Axios? It’s fairly new and seems credible but how do we really know?

The…what?

The Curmudgeon’s not entirely sold on Politico, which tries to be serious but seems to go for the sensational, but it seems reasonably reliable, as does The Hill, but what about The Verge, which The Curmudgeon never even heard of until earlier this year?

What about Vanity Fair? When The Curmudgeon thinks of Vanity Fair he thinks about that cover with Demi Moore showing off her baby bump, but that was – ready to feel old? – in 1991, nearly 27 years ago. Is it the same magazine? It certainly publishes serious pieces about serious subjects, although with a sort of “pop” slant, but should the reporting itself be trusted?

Or Yahoo News: does Yahoo employ real reporters of its own or just glom off the work of others? And are those reporters any good or are they people better publications/sites didn’t want?

Finally, The Curmudgeon has noticed that most television news programs use a lot of retired government officials as experts in some discussions: retired generals, retired FBI agents, retired CIA agents, former prosecutors (some dating back to the Watergate days), alumni of the Obama, Bush, Clinton, and even Reagan administrations, and more. Some of these people still seem to be plugged in to the organizations they were once part of but some appear to be completely winging it, speaking hypothetically based on how things w ere in their good old days but with little direct knowledge of what’s actually happening in the here and now beyond what they read in the newspapers like the rest of us. Many of them seem mostly clueless, out of the loop, and theorizing about what they think might be going on without making it clear that they’re just making it up as they go along.

MSNBC uses a fellow it describes as “a former double agent.” Double agent for whom? For us or for them – and if for them, which them? And are viewers really supposed to believe a word that comes out of the mouth of a person who is, when you think about it, a professional liar?

Should we believe what these folks write?

The Curmudgeon has tried looking for commentary on the biases and reliability of some of these sources and sites but with only limited success. Some of the sites, like The Verge, haven’t been around for very long and others, like BuzzFeed and the Daily Beast, have undergone makeovers that may – or may not – render past commentary about them outdated. Then there are our own prejudices: The Curmudgeon, for example, long ago concluded that the primary purpose of Huffington Post was to entertain and that nothing it says should be taken as fact. If his wanderings through Apple News lead him to a Huffington piece – he hasn’t visited the Huffington site directly since he stopped doing the monthly news quiz and was desperate for things to write jokes about – the only way he considers writing about it in this space is if he can find another source that says the same thing. But is his perception of Huffington Post outdated? He has no idea.

The Curmudgeon wishes he had a solution to offer for this problem but he doesn’t beyond the old expression caveat emptor: let the buyer beware. There’s a lot of news to consume, if you’re the kind of person who likes to follow what’s going on in the world, and there are a lot of people out there who either are intentionally seeking to deceive or manipulate us or who are simply not qualified to comment on whatever they’ve been put on the air or given a few column inches or a blank screen to comment about – and The Curmudgeon includes himself in that latter group. Figuring out who’s worth listening to and who’s not is hard, and with the way new internet news sources come and go and change on the fly, that’s probably going to be harder, not easier, for the foreseeable future.

The President’s Highly Personal Appointments

Last month President Trump nominated his personal pilot to head the Federal Aviation Administration.

And just this week he nominated the White House physician to be Secretary of the Veterans Administration.

Neither is remotely qualified for the job.

Now, we should probably cross our fingers and hope that the new Secretary of Health and Human Services sticks around for a while because if Trump holds to form, he might nominate – no, he wouldn’t – surely he wouldn’t, would he? – his – oh, no, it’s not conceivable that he…