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Week's End Thoughts & Reflections, April 28, 2018

I enjoyed watching Kareem Abdul-Jabbar play basketball, first in college at UCLA as Lew Alcindor, then in the NBA with the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers. He played the game with exceptional skill and conducted himself with uncommon grace. These days those qualities are on display in his commentary as a regular contributing columnist for The Guardian and in articles for other publications.

Earlier this week he offered a thoughtful, and some think contrarian, take on calls for a boycott of Starbucks in response to the incident at the Philadelphia store where two African-American men were arrested for loitering and for a fan boycott of the San Antonio Spurs basketball team because of Coach Gregg Popovich's outspoken criticism of Donald Trump. Here are Abdul-Jabbar's salient points:

  • Both boycotts are legitimate in that they express the frustrations of people fed up with certain behavior they find offensive. The problem is that both boycotts are misguided and therefore ultimately ineffective at creating positive change.

  • ...launching widespread boycotts unjustly or without any specific attainable goal is like throwing away the scalpel and attacking the body with a jackhammer. In the end, these unnecessary and unsuccessful boycotts can have the opposite results because they interfere with the boycotts that can actually improve the country. (Starbucks and the San Antonio Spurs: a tale of two misguided boycotts)

The column is worth reading in its entirety.

Judy Woodruff at the PBS Newshour interviewed Sally Yates earlier this week. You may recall that the president dismissed Yates from her position as acting US attorney general after she refused to defend his first travel ban. Yates comes across as thoughtful and principled. I was particularly struck by these remarks:

Well, you know, there are a lot of important policy issues confronting our country right now.

But, from my perspective, the most important issue isn’t any one of those. You know, people of good will can have different views about the best policies.

It’s really the assault on our democratic institutions and norms. And that includes an independent judiciary and the rule of law and a free press, among others. (Sally Yates on Trump’s travel ban and protecting the rule of law)

The country loses when people like Sally Yates are forced out of government.

On the other hand, Sarah Huckabee Sanders. I do not know what to make of SHS. Maybe she is a good mother, faithful wife, loving daughter, and all-around decent person away from the job. Is it possible she really believes the unmitigated stuff she dishes out at White House press conferences? It seems that she does, at least in some sense.

Jason Schwartz at Politico Magazine tries to unravel The Puzzle of Sarah Huckabee Sanders: How a bright, competent and likable young operative became the face of the most duplicitous press operation in White House history. A former Trump regime official told Schwartz, "When she says something, it's totally sincere. It can be crazy, but it's totally sincere." That may be accurate, but it doesn't explain much.

A White House reporter compared SHS to Sean Spicer, her hapless predecessor: "She’s a calm, competent professional. She may lie, but she’s just a lot more unflappable and calm when she’s doing it.... She doesn’t seem to have the angst that he had about it." Is this supposed to be a praiseworthy quality?

To be fair, she has an impossible job. And like some others in Trump's orbit, she is diminished by her service to him and his agenda.

The article includes a list of SHS's misadventures with the truth along with a glimpse at another side of the press secretary:

Behind the scenes, Sanders also has come to enjoy a better reputation than you might imagine with White House reporters. When they go to confirm something with her off-camera, she has a reputation for dealing honestly, typically waving them off inaccurate stories and not pushing back on true ones. Some reporters—especially those from smaller outlets—complain that she ignores them and comes off as contemptuous, but others find her to be accessible and understanding of their role. "It’s different than the show, what you see on TV," says one, who added that Sanders is often helpful in facilitating logistics.

Schwartz sheds some light on SHS, but at bottom she remains as unfathomable to me as I imagine I would be to her.

A new word found its way into my vocabulary by way of an article about the release of a new tranche of text messages exchanged between googly-eyed FBI agents and notorious Trump loathers Peter Strzok and Lisa Page (Betsy Woodruff, Scott Bixby, FBI Texts: ‘Catastrophuck’ Trump Nearly Drove Agents to Quit, The Daily Beast, April 27, 2018):

tranche : a division or portion of a pool or whole ; specif : an issue of bonds derived from a pooling of like obligations (as securitized mortgage debt) that is differentiated from other issues esp. by maturity or rate of return

Aha. I have come across the word before and gotten some sense of its meaning from context but never nailed it down. It's always nice to add a new one.

I have not taken a deep dive into l'affaire Strzok-Page. My sense from what I have read is that the line put out by the Trump camp that they are part of some conspiracy, "deep state" or other, to undermine the president or to go further and launch a coup is beyond far-fetched. Yes, in a boatload of ill-advised texts, they called the president "an idiot" and "a douche," among other insults, and minced no words about their disdain for him and their horror at the prospect of a Trump presidency. They expressed grave concern about Trump's attempts to delegitimize the Justice Department and FBI. These concerns has been legitimized by Trump's actions right up to the present week's reference to "my Justice Department" in that rant for Fox & Friends (Ella Nilsen, 4 key moments from Trump’s freewheeling rant on Fox & Friends this morning, Vox, April 26, 2018).

Strzok and Page reportedly also criticized Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Chelsea Clinton, Eric Holder, and some of their own colleagues. Sounds a lot like two people venting and blowing off steam, as people are wont to do via text and email. It is not irrelevant that Robert Mueller dismissed Strzok from his team when he learned of the texts, before their existence became public. The texts, ill-advised as they were, do not reflect on his investigation.

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