Wednesday, December 27, 2017

NPR's Top Political Story of the Year Bracket

NPR had a fun story today about the top political story of 2017. What made it fun was that they treated it like an NCAA tournament bracket, even seeding the stories in each division! (If you're unfamiliar with NCAA brackets, each division has 16 teams. The favored team in each division gets the Number 1 seed, on down to the 16th seed. In the early rounds, the #1 seed faces the #16, the #2 faces the #15, and so forth. That's a really simplified explanation, but I think you get the gist.)

Since I'm both a sports fan and a political junkie, I was all over that! I printed out my bracket and filled it out a moment ago. I think NPR did a good job with the seeds, giving the most significant stories the higher rankings. When I filled mine out, I tried to think about the long-term significance of each story, the impact it had, and the repercussions. I tried to focus on what happened in 2017 and not what will happen as we move into 2018 (and that has major significance when it comes to my pick for the winner, as you will see). I had a couple of lower seeds make it to the second round, but by the time I got to the Elite 8, I had nothing lower than a #5 seed, so NPR did a good job. 

I will freely admit that I am biased in some of my choices, but I really did try to evaluate in the terms of impact rather than my feelings. I'll explain my choices as I get into the Elite 8. You can click the pic to embiggenate and the original NPR story is "Pick The Biggest Political Story Of 2017."

My Sweet 16

1 Trump inaugurated vs 4 Women's March
3 Natural disasters vs 2 Undermine democratic institutions

1 Mueller probe vs 5 McCain thumbs down
3 Gutting Obamacare vs 2 Charlottesville

1 Sexual harassment fallout vs 8 Bannon out
3 Gun violence vs 2 "Alternative facts"

1 Comey fired vs 5 Paris deal withdrawal
3 Gorsuch to SCOTUS vs 2 Tax overhaul passes

My Elite 8

4 Women's March vs 2 Undermine democratic institutions
1 Mueller probe vs 2 Charlottesville
1 Sexual harassment fallout vs 2 "Alternative facts"
1 Comey fired vs 2 Tax overhaul passes

Now I'll start my commentary. I chose Undermine democratic institutions over the Women's March, although the latter was a personal favorite. While I feel that the Women's March the day after the inauguration was an energizing and important moment that galvanized us and made us realize that we had a powerful voice when raised with that of others, I think the undermining of democratic institutions is going to have a lingering and damaging effect on our democracy. We continue to see our judicial system, our law enforcement agencies, and our free press attacked. This is a major problem going forward even after we get rid of the orange stain that is marring our country. 

While Charlottesville was a big deal indeed, showing exactly where the "president's" sympathies lie, the Mueller probe has to be the winner here. It really has been a cloud over this administration and has hampered his ability to get anything done. This is also an ongoing issue, one that is not, as some people have deluded themselves into believing, going to "wrap up soon."

While "alternative facts" are significant in the same way that the undermining of democratic institutions is, I picked Sexual harassment fallout as the winner here. This represents a significant cultural change in how women are treated in our society and we've already seen political changes because of it. 

The passing of the tax bill was significant in that it was the first major legislative win for this administration, and while there will be repercussions that affect millions, this can be changed to be more progressive when we're back in the driver's seat. So Comey's firing was the obvious choice for me here. More about that as we move forward. 

My Final Four

2 Undermining democratic institutions vs 1 Mueller probe
1 Sexual harassment fallout vs 1 Comey fired

Gotta go with the Mueller probe in the first match-up. I mean, we're talking about an investigation of Russia's involvement in our presidential election and whether or not one of the campaigns colluded with the Russians. As Joe Biden would say, that's a big fucking deal. It also is touching on whether or not the "president" obstructed justice in firing James Comey, which could be an impeachable offense. 

So for the second match-up, I had to go with the firing of James Comey. Even Steve Bannon has said that firing Comey was probably the biggest political blunder in recent history. Since Comey didn't just fall off the turnip truck, he did a little maneuvering, which resulted in the appointment of a special counsel, one Robert Mueller.

That means that my championship game is...

#1 seed Mueller probe vs
#1 seed Comey fired

Wow! What a tournament finale! Two worthy stories that are woven together in significant ways. Two stoic, professional prosecutors, both former Directors of the FBI. Two cool customers who know their way around a courtroom and know how to get a conviction. I'd tailgate the hell out of that game! 

Okay, you guys probably know the story I'm going to pick as the winner. Yes, it's the firing of James Comey. However, it's not because of my Comey crush, and it does come with a caveat. Or an asterisk, if I want to continue with the sports metaphors. 

I chose it because I think it is the story that had the most impact and most significant repercussions for 2017. When you-know-who fired Comey, events were set into motion like a weird political Rube Goldberg machine. The intricacies of it fascinate me. Comey was directing the FBI probe into possible Yampaign collusion with the Russians, Comey knew that Jeff Sessions was going to recuse himself from that investigation, Comey knew something was seriously hinky with the way the "president" was acting and documented it all, Comey got fired, the "president" wouldn't shut up about it on Twitter, and when he mentioned possible tapes of the meeting with Comey, Comey strategically released one of the memos he'd written (in a deliberate manner so that it was unclassified) to a friend and asked him to contact a reporter, hoping that it would result in the appointment of a special counsel to investigate. 

And that is exactly what happened and how Mueller was appointed. Man, if that isn't some Zen master-level maneuvering, I don't know what is. The investigation hasn't just continued, it has ramped up and is going to get even more heated in 2018, in my opinion. I think there is plenty of shady stuff going on for Mueller to dig into and he's going to turn up a lot. 

Which brings me to my asterisk. While the firing of Comey is my pick for the political story of 2017, I think the Mueller investigation could very well be the political story of 2018. I tried to evaluate based on the impact in the current year rather than what might happen down the road. So if Mueller really does turn up some damning stuff on the "president," that wouldn't just be the political story of 2018...that would be the biggest political story since Clinton's impeachment hearings. 

I think the moral of this story would have to be: Piss off the Intelligence Community at your own risk. 

Monday, December 25, 2017

Lucy Saves The Day

And so this is Christmas....

"Happy Christmas (War Is Over)" by John Lennon

Happy Chrimbo, pals!

Technically, I started this entry on Christmas Eve, but you get the drift. Like a snowdrift, am I right?! Yes, we are having a white Christmas here at Nutwood. It really is pretty.

I found myself sitting here tonight feeling on the verge of melancholy. I had to ponder that for a while because I really don't get the blues around the holidays. I'm generally a cheery person, anyway, so I was at a bit of a loss as to why I was starting to feel this way.

I mean, our little silver tree is up and the color wheel is going and it makes me smile as much as it always does. All the wrapping is done and I can always count on Ken to find me some fun and unusual stuff, so we'll have fun opening our presents. We'll have mimosas as we open. Our niece Jen is visiting from San Diego and we get to see her tomorrow as well as be around the rest of my immediate family, and we get to eat lasagna.

Beyond my little sphere, I'm seeing wonderful pictures and holiday wishes from everyone, including my homey James Comey, who which us all, no matter what we believe or think, peace. His pal Benjamin Wittes, dismayed by the recent attacks by this administration on the FBI and the Intelligence Community, urged people to donate to the FBI Agents Association, which helps family members of agents in need and provides college scholarships to the children of slain agents. It looks as though they got tons of donations and I was happy to be a little part of letting the FBI know that the majority of us appreciate them.

So all of these are good things. Why the twinge of melancholy?

I finally realized what it was. It is the utter mean-spiritedness of the person currently occupying the Oval Office. Most of us try to set differences aside during the holidays and bask in the glow of kindness and generosity to others. Donating to the FBI Agents Association made me feel better than anything I'll receive on Christmas Da. Watching the political shows Sunday morning, Chuck Todd and Jake Tapper were throwing Merry Christmases and Happy Hanukkahs at everyone, and it was nice. Even if you disagree with someone politically, it's a good moment to set all that aside and just be kind to one another.

But not the "president." He's holed up in his stupid golf resort and posting shitty tweets about the FBI, Comey, Andrew McCabe, and "Fake News." Jesus Christ, man, can you set your ego and paranoia aside for one moment and just be KIND to people? Instead of tossing out schoolyard taunts? "Leakin' James Comey. For Pete's sake. Grow up already. (And the only think Comey's leakin' is integrity and stone cold foxitude. You know I'm right.)

So that's what was making me feel down. Nothing bad in my own personal life. It's that the person who is supposed to be the moral compass of our country is bringing our entire national discourse down with his stupid mean tweets. Instead of inspiring and uplifting us, he is doing his best to drag us down to his level. He is a demotivational poster come to life.

A totally unexpected person lifted me out of my looming funk. I had music on but still had the TV on after a football game, muted. As I started writing this, I looked up and saw that CBS was airing the colorized "I Love Lucy" Christmas special, so I had to turn off the music and watch Lucy. Within moments, I was laughing so hard I was crying. While I love the original black and white series (and have the whole thing on DVD, of course), there is something special about seeing her vibrant red hair and seeing them all as you would expect to see them in real life. The episode after the Christmas special was one set in Hollywood, and the colors of the hotel room and the dresses were a sight to behold.

Ken even came out of this office to take a short work break and watched a little bit and was laughing as hard as I was. In one scene, Lucy was trying to act cool in this chic Hollywood dress shop, and of course, she stumbles and falls walking up the stairs. I cracked up and said, "Do you understand why she's one of my idols?" Ken said, "Because she was clumsier than you?" I had to admit that that is part of it!

Thank you, Lucy. Even all these years later, you can still make me laugh and make me happy.

You see, that's what the best among us do. People can inspire us in many ways. FBI agents can work as a team to foil a terrorist plot planned for Christmas day. Others can wish people peace and happy holidays, despite their differing political or religious beliefs. Some might be gone from us but have left a legacy of laughter and can brighten our day when we need it the most. Some create art and music and stories that make us think and maybe even help us reflect on who we are and where we want to be.

The best among us uplift and inspire and do their best to help, inform, or entertain others. They make us want to be better people.

The worst among us?

They send out shitty tweets.