Political Skullduggery, Hot Heds, and Killer Cocoa
When the going gets tough, the tough get sneaky; Giuliani takes a satirical bath; and a good hot drink for cold weather.
More experimentation here, as I feel my way around creating this newsletter. This issue includes a new occasional section: Hot Heds (journalistic jargon for headlines), in which some news event generates good tongue-in-cheek telegraphic editorial commentary. It may not be the fact check section that my son asked for, but—who knows?—that too may come.
Last evening, I was listening to a rebroadcast of a Terri Gross interview of Stephen Kinzer. (Obscure autobiographical point: I interviewed him for half an hour in late 1979 on MIT’s community radio station, WMBR, when Kinzer was the South America correspondent for the Boston Globe. A very smart and knowledgeable guy.)
Originally recorded in 2019, when Kinzer’s book Poisoner in Chief came out in hardback, he discussed the MK Ultra program, run for the CIA by a monster, Sidney Gottleib, who directed experiments that used drugs like LSD and mescaline to destroy minds to hopefully control them. (They didn’t have social media at the time.)
A must listen if you’re not familiar with secretly funded trials (Ken Kesey and Grateful Dead musician Bob Weir got their first tastes of LSD through them) as well as deceitful experimentation that tortured prisoners, including infamous Boston gangster Whitey Bulger. (Bulger only started murdering people after being administered 50 doses of LSD in his first prison sentence.)
Or you could mention Richard Nixon’s war on drugs, which was knowingly false and only an attempt to undermine youth and Black activists in the 1960s. The Tuskegee Experiment that deliberately infected Black sharecroppers with syphilis and watched them go blind or insane over years—even when a cure via penicillin became available for treatment. Or U.S. actions to overthrow governments around the world. Or so many other events.
All this by long way of saying that when people believe in conspiracy theories, no matter how outrageous, remember these historical acorns from which delusional oaks grow.
Or as Joseph Heller wrote, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.”
Some take seriously the many crazy lawsuits Trump’s legal team has brought.Virtually all the challenges have lost in court. It might seem like the last desperate moments of a cornered political animal.
But there’s another way to look at what is happening, as Barton Gellman suggested in The Atlantic’s November issue. His theory was that Trump might attempt to keep things ambiguous up until Inauguration Day.
Here’s a simpler version: disrupt things just enough to prevent a clear 270 electoral vote victory for Biden when the Electoral College meets in December and then depend on a Republican majority of states in the House to throw the election to him.
It’s very unlikely. But when you see one lawsuit after another occur, you know the lawyers aren’t telling clients, “This will be the time it works.” No, these are attempts to slow an otherwise occurring process. I’m no election law expert, but it seems to me that Trump and company want to upend things for long enough that swing states wouldn’t have final slates of electors and that legislatures would end up choosing.
An aid to side of reason and sanity is, ironically, the Trump legal team itself, which has shown itself to be careless and inept. For example, to contest results in Michigan, they pointed to parts of … Minnesota. So long as lawsuits get quickly tossed, there is a limit to their ability to delay.
And, as the attorney general of Pennsylvania noted on Twitter, the legislature there has no role in choosing electors. Instead, it’s the Democratic governor.
Even the attempt to woo election officials in Michigan happened too late because the targeted Republicans had already signed off on results, which were forwarded to the state for certification.
In political comedy, timing is everything.
Right now, there’s what seems a stalemate, albeit temporary, approaching in the next Senate that starts on Monday, January 4. There are 48 Republicans and an equal number of Democrats, rather than the commanding lead the latter thought they’d get.
Control of the Senate rests with two seats in Georgia that are up for a January 5 runoff. (And heaven knows how much contention after.)
I may be wrong about this, but if Democrats decided to take advantage, they could push through an unthinkable amount of significant legislation, foiling Mitch McConnell’s likely decision to stymie any initiatives. It starts with remembering that two independents—Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine—caucus with the Democrats. The split on the 4th, 48-48-2, is effectively is 50-48.
Not that they’d ever do this, and not that I’d necessarily think it was a good idea—plus, there might be some twist in the current rules of the Senate that would make this difficult or impossible and it would require absolutely discipline on the part of the Democrats. But here’s the thought.
On the 4th, the Democrats use Senate rules to question who has the majority and seize temporary control. Then Democrats, with the majority leader directing legislative action, introduce a motion that, passed on the 5th, before the polls in Georgia close, make a number of changes to official rules. The main one is to make any issues through January 20th subject to only majority votes, temporarily ending the filibuster. Get a majority of the body at the vote, assuming a quorum, in favor and something passes.
Next, if the Georgia seats split, one to a Republican and the other to a Democrat, they’re set. If both go to Republicans, they refuse to seat the new Senators (which is allowed under the Constitution, which leaves it to the Senate and House to “judge the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members”) through January 20.
Democrats in the Senate and House prepare (or pick up what they worked on over the holidays) major legislation on healthcare, Covid-19 stimulus, civil rights, or what have you. There must be one single version of the bill, without amendments, that Democrats in both bodies are willing to pass.
On Monday, January 11, the House pushes the bills through committee and takes a vote by mid-week. The Senate then does the committee work on Tuesday, January 19 (the 18th is Martin Luther King Day). On the 20th, a special session of the Senate then passes all the same bills and adjourns at noon, when Biden is sworn in.
The bills go to the president, now Biden, who then signs them.
Again, not a chance it will happen, but an interesting thought.
The day might never come when a news outlet tops the famous New York Post tabloid 1983 winning banner, “Headless Body in Topless Bar,” written by the late Vincent Musetto. But we can salute the zingers that try.
There have been a number of attempts this last week concerning Rudy Giuliani’s press conference when he quoted My Cousin Vinny while some dark substance ran down the sides of his face. There were largely dull. Like the New York Times with the tepid “Whatever It Is, It’s Probably Not Hair Dye,” or the predictable “I Can’t Stop Laughing About Rudy Giuliani’s Dripping Hair Dye” from MotherJones.
But there were better ones: The Washington Post with “Rudy Giuliani’s post-election meltdown starts to become literal,” and, my favorite from the New Yorker, “Rudy Giuliani Is a Hot Mess.”
Managing simultaneous literal and figurative assessments, impressive.
Killer Hot Cocoa
For those who were here for the hot cocoa, this requires you to make it from scratch, which is really pretty easy. For 10 ounces:
5 ounces of milk
5 ounces of good eggnog
1/5 ounce (6 grams) of dark chocolate
1 TBS sugar (demerara or turbinado are good, but plain is fine)
1 TBS cocoa
Combine the milk and eggnog in a small pot over a medium heat.
As you see a bit of steam rise, add the chocolate, sugar, and cocoa and stir until everything is dissolved. Serve with whipped cream, marshmallow topping, or both. And maybe a jigger of an adult addition.
Thanks for reading and let me know what you think.