‘Impeach the malefactor’ is way too polite

I was on the Blue Route last week, driving carefully to avoid being pulled over by the sort of sneaky cop who nailed me on Labor Day in a speed trap near Norristown. All was well until a Chevy Suburban doing 90 mph blew past my ancient Acura.

“Motherfucker!” I shouted, dashing my New Year’s resolution.

“Your favorite word,” said my friend Swamp Rabbit, who was riding shotgun and laughing. “I knew you couldn’t give it up.”

My resolution had been to substitute the word ‘malefactor’ for the other mf-word every time I got angry . If some wise guy got on my case I would say, “What’s it to you, malefactor?” Same number of syllables, same hard consonants, but no sex-with-relatives accusation.

“Where’d ya git that word, anyhow?” the rabbit said.

I told him ‘malefactor’ comes from the Latin and refers to one who breaks the law in a big way. Teddy Roosevelt famously used the word to criticize the greedy corporate chiefs who imperiled the economy in the early 20th century. “Malefactors of great wealth,” he called them.

“You can apply the word to all sorts of rotten people,” I explained. “It’s more polite than the dirty mf-word.”

The rabbit drank from his flask and said, “Tell it to that Congress lady who dissed Trump a few weeks back. She said ‘impeach the motherfucker,’ and she didn’t use no asterisks.”

“Trump bragged about grabbing women by the pussy,” I replied. “So I guess the Congresswoman figured it was okay to call him a dirty name.”

Swamp Rabbit took another drink and shook his head. “Talking like Trump just drags you down to his level, don’t you think?”

I pressed down on the gas pedal and stared into the dark up ahead. “The people who voted for Trump dragged all of us down to his level. We’re stuck there till the motherfucker is gone.”

That was two f-bombs in ten minutes, and I figured there would be many more. It was going to be a very long year, and I was already out of resolutions.

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The ultimate end-of-year list

I wanted to know why my friend Swamp Rabbit was hard at work writing down his worst blackouts of 2018.

“It’s New Year’s,” he said. “I need to take stock.”

He noted that we humans like to compile lists of things, to put these things in categories, in order of importance. We like to read other people’s lists and compare theirs to ours. List-making helps us feel like we’ve processed and understood all the information the media has bombarded us with.

“That’s ridiculous,” I said. “We don’t understand anything.”

“It don’t matter,” he replied. “All’s we need is the illusion of understanding, of staying on top of things.”

We especially need end-of-year lists, he continued, and it doesn’t matter how ridiculous the topics are — most uninspired movie sequels, hottest male and female pop tarts, most persistent political cliches, most dominant athletes, most submissive athletes, best ukulele players. We need to share these lists, to argue about them.

“I don’t see the point,” I said.

He paused to sip from a juice jar full of bourbon. “There ain’t no point, it’s just fun. Don’t you know what fun is, Odd Man?”

There was nothing fun about 2018, I told him. Humans set new records for killing off other species. Sea levels rose faster than had been predicted. Environmental protection laws were undone by our evil idiot president while floods and fires scarred the landscape. Do people not notice what’s happening?

“You got a good list going there,” he said, ignoring the question. “Ten news stories that prove humans are doomed. You should finish it up and post it on your blog, the peeps will love it.”

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Patti Smith to young artists: Brush your teeth

I was under-whelmed by Patti Smith’s landmark debut album Horses (1975), mostly because her voice was a mess and because I thought punk rock, stylistically, was a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing musical. But Smith wasn’t a punk rocker at heart. Her heroes included Dylan and the Stones, Robert Blake and Allen Ginsberg, and she deserves credit for remaining a genuine oddball poet/rocker long after the punk craze ran its course.

A recent radio interview of Smith cracked me up. She recalled living dirt-poor in NYC with Robert Mapplethorpe, making her mark at CBGB, getting married to MC5 alumnus Fred Smith, having and raising kids with him, getting back into music and activism.

Near the end of the interview, Smith was asked what advice she would give to young, aspiring artists. I think the radio host was inviting her to say something grand that would suit her shamanistic, godmother-of-punk image.

“Take care of your teeth,” she said.

The interviewer seemed disappointed, but my friend Swamp Rabbit and I knew from bitter experience that Smith had spoken words of wisdom.

After hearing the interview, we found this, from a commencement speech Smith gave a few years ago:

…You want at night to be pacing the floor because your muse is burning inside of you, because you want to do your work, because you want to finish that canvas, because you want to help your fellow man — you don’t want to be pacing because you need a damn root canal.

“That does it, I’m going to the dental clinic tomorrow,” Swamp Rabbit said, making his New Year’s resolution. “Gotta get my singing career back on track.”

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Christmas with Hendrix and the Beats


From an odd little Christmas story, well told:

I took a seat on one of the pews several rows back from the front. They began playing a tape Allen Ginsberg had sent from somewhere upstate for the occasion, reading his poetry in his distinctive cadences, cheerful no matter the subject matter. Ginsberg’s chant was filling the church when I smelled a woosh of patchouli oil to my right. I turned just as Jimi Hendrix slid in and sat down next to me.

What planet was Hendrix from? He didn’t hang around very long on this one, but his spirit still lingers.

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The flaw in the law regarding presidents

third douglass

Swamp Rabbit had commandeered my laptop and was reading aloud from a column by David Blight, who got rave reviews for his recently published biography of abolitionist orator and writer Frederick Douglass:

Douglass left a timeless maxim for republics in times of crisis: “Our government may at some time be in the hands of a bad man. When in the hands of a good man it is all well enough.” But “we ought to have our government so shaped that even when in the hands of a bad man we shall be safe.”

The bad man in Douglass’s world was President Andrew Johnson, an unreconstructed racist who was impeached and very narrowly avoided being kicked out of office.  But Blight, in his column, was also making a point about our current president — who is as bad as Johnson, or worse — and the flaws in the Constitution that allow truly rotten presidents like Donald Trump and Johnson to abuse the power of the office in a big way.

“Them Founding Fathers really blew it,” Swamp Rabbit said.

He explained that there’s no legal remedy for a president who sucks up to foreign dictators. A president who wants to scuttle healthcare reforms, stir up hatred of minorities and foreigners, sabotage efforts to slow climate change, and use the presidency as a vehicle for further enriching  himself.

Impeachment is supposed to be an option, but a corrupt and/or mentally imbalanced president isn’t likely to be kicked out of office while the party he belongs to controls the House or Senate. (So much for checks and balances.) And there’s the 25th Amendment, but that wouldn’t work either.

“Them legal scholars don’t even know if a president can be indicted for committing crimes while in office,” the rabbit said. ” Or how to keep him from blowing up the world if he’s in a foul mood.”

“So how do we fix the problem, rabbit?” I said. “Does everything depend on what Robert Mueller finds?”

He called up an article by a psychiatrist who, together with a bunch of other shrinks, devised a plan that would require a president-elect to take a fitness-for-duty exam before assuming office. She explained that the test would measure “trust, discipline and self-control, judgment and critical thinking, self-awareness and empathy,” just like the U.S. Army’s field manual.

“I saw that,” I said, “But how can a test prove what the shrink called psychological pathology? What if Trump’s bad behavior is part of a calculated effort to please the kooks and bigots that make up his base?”

“Them’s good questions,” the rabbit conceded. “The shrinks ain’t quite thought it through, I reckon.”

“So we’re stuck with a loose cannon who holds the nuclear codes,” I said. “What’s your solution?”

“I ain’t got one yet,” the rabbit said, closing my laptop. “I’d ask that Douglass dude, but he left the building in 1895.”

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Terrible humans hire terrible humans

File this one under “It takes one to know one” :

President Trump has named Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, as acting White House chief of staff.

In response to the announcement, Mulvaney tweeted: “This is a tremendous honor. I look forward to working with the President and the entire team. It’s going to be a great 2019!”

However, in a 2016 video surfaced by the Daily Beast, Mulvaney called Trump a “terrible human being,” just days before the presidential election.

Mulvaney is the pernicious little grifter appointed last year by Trump to sabotage the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which Sen. Elizabeth Warren helped create to prevent payday lenders and other bottom feeders from fleecing the poor. After Mulvaney’s mission was accomplished, Trump sent him to the OMB.

Now Mulvaney is replacing John Kelly, the four-star bigot who couldn’t keep a lid on his contempt for Trump. The new chief of staff is as terrible as Kelly and should feel right at home in Trump’s Cabinet, a who’s who of terrible humans hand-picked to wreak havoc on the federal government.

I mean people like Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, hired by Trump to help destroy the public school system; Andrew Wheeler, the former coal industry lobbyist (!) currently in charge of neutering the Environmental Protection Agency; Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin,  dubbed “the foreclosure king” after he made a fortune using deceptive business practices to help banks foreclose on legions of homeowners who fell behind on mortgage payments during the Great Recession.

There are many more, but I can’t go on, it’s too terrible. Pardon the Taxi Driver reference, but let’s just hope the Mueller probe and other investigations bring a real rain that washes Trump and all his scum out of the White House.

And let’s hope the rain comes before Trump does something really terrible in a last-ditch effort to stay in  office.


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Soup’s on, Manafort!

What’s up with the smooth operator in the ostrich-skin jacket? He made a deal to tell the truth to the special prosecutor, ostensibly to get some years shaved off his prison time, but then he continued to lie for Donald Trump. I think Charles Pierce is on the right track:

The question, of course, is whether Manafort is completely stupid, overwhelmingly confident that he will be pardoned, or simply frightened by something even more terrifying than the prospect of spending his declining years in the federal sneezer—something like, say, a lovely bowl of strontium-90, served up to him by a concerned former overseas client. I used to laugh the latter explanation off. I don’t do that anymore. Something is happening in Manafort’s brainbox that dwarfs in his mind anything Mueller can do to him.

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