Thursday, November 21st, 2019


On Human Scum

These are the three most infamous politicians to describe opponents as human scum: Hitler. Stalin. Trump. As the simple truths spoken by impeachment witnesses backed him into a corner, the president repeated his use of one of history's most notorious phrases: "Corrupt politician Adam Schiff's lies are growing by the day. Keep fighting tough, Republicans, you are dealing with human scum." While Trump's command of history is limited, he is aware of the nature of this particular phrase because he has used it, and been admonished for it, before. The sick attacks on Schiff, particularly using a trope associated with two of history's most vile antisemites, calls into question when (if ever) Trump's defenders will finally say enough is enough. My son is named after my grandfather and my uncle, neither of whom I'd ever meet because of leaders who used phrases like human scum to describe the invented slights of their perceived enemies. I quite literally exist because my father had the courage to stand up and fight against such vile venom. So I said enough a long time ago. I'd urge other clear-thinking Americans to do the same now. I'm of course not talking to Trumpian henchmen, like Devin Nunes and Jim Jordan, who place wanton partisanship ahead of patriotism, and who love their miniature-handed grasp on power more than they love their country. I'm talking to those who enable the president in more subtle ways for more conflicted reasons. Maybe you're enabling this president because of the value you place on the appointment of like-minded judges or the benefit of lower corporate taxes. Maybe you believe you have a fiduciary responsibility to your company to help it avoid tariffs, or you're under pressure to keep your social networking juggernaut from being broken up. Maybe it's party allegiance or respect for the office regardless of who occupies it. Those pressures might seem singular to you. But trust me when I tell you that to a 90-something survivor sitting at home watching this all unfold, those reasons sound all too familiar. Admittedly, I have no such pressures or conflicts. Having lost his whole family in the Holocaust, my dad hid behind bales of hay as soldiers searched the barn where he hid; then escaped into the Polish forest and spent years fighting the Nazis. My mom escaped from Germany after her mother had to make a Sophie's Choice to determine which two of her three daughters most closely matched the false passports that provided a one way ticket to freedom. My only in pressure in life is to live up to my parents' ideals and to speak up when I hear the powerful describe a fellow Jew as human scum. This is an easy choice for me. It's the only choice. But I urge America's political and corporate leaders who have less stark biographies and more nuanced conflicts to put their personal pressures aside and say enough is enough, and to stop enabling and empowering a president who would drag America through the mud using the tired tropes of history's worst offenders. And if Adam Schiff needs someone to lock arms with or to stand between him and verbal assaults fired nonstop by his intellectual and moral inferiors, then consider this my official offer to volunteer. It's the least I can do. I exist because of people who were willing to do a hell of a lot more than that.

+ There is a web version of this piece here. Please share.


Hill Top

More witnesses appeared at the impeachment hearings, including Fiona Hill: remarkably smart, wildly non-partisan and even-handed, and with an unimpeachable character. While many of hours of hearings have been focused on the investigation into the Bidens, there was also a potentially more damaging, conspiracy theory-based demand to investigate Ukraine's imaginary hacking of our elections. Hill's opening remarks, and many of her answers, focused on this point. "Based on questions and statements I have heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country—and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did. This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves."

+ Those "Ukraine did it" talking points come directly from Putin. And he's happy to see they've been adopted by the most powerful person in America. "Thank God no one is accusing us of interfering in the U.S. elections anymore; now they're accusing Ukraine."

+ A reality (or unreality) check: "There are two impeachment hearings unfolding in the nation's capital. One, carried out by the Democrats, is designed to ascertain the truth as to whether Trump sought a "quid pro quo" deal with Ukraine to get the country to investigate Joe Biden and the 2016 presidential election in exchange for aid money. The other, being carried out simultaneously by the Republicans, is quite different. Instead of trying to learn the truth, it seeks to create not just a counternarrative but a completely separate reality." Buzzfeed: There Are Two Separate Impeachment Hearings Happening Right Now — And Republicans Are Winning Theirs. (Others who are winning include the Russian leader featured in the story above.)

+ Here's the latest from the impeach pit from CNN and WaPo. (Sidenote: From today on, I only have one rule for audiobooks. I'll only listen to one if Fiona Hill reads it.)


BiBi Gone?

"For the first time in Israel's history, a sitting prime minister is accused of bribery: Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit announced Thursday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be charged with bribery, fraud and breach in three corruption cases." Haaretz: Netanyahu Charged With Bribery, Fraud and Breach of Trust.

+ "Now, with the indictment formally filed, it will be easier for Netanyahu's rivals within the Likud to dump him and then join in coalition with Blue and White. So this announcement could very well spell double doom for Netanyahu: first losing his job, then losing his freedom." Vox with an overview of why this is a very big deal.


Get Your App Out of My Way

"What's also grown in that time is congestion in major cities. And while numerous factors obviously contribute to worsening traffic delays—population growth being number one, declines in transit ridership another—emerging research suggests that the mapping genie in your pocket may actually be one of them ... when just 20 percent of drivers were using apps, the total time that all drivers spent in traffic actually increased." CityLab: Killer Apps.

+ "The get-it-now age of Uber and Amazon has delivered something unexpected to Boston's doorstep — new traffic that worsens our soul-crushing snarl." A three-part series from the Boston Globe's Spotlight team: Seeing Red.


We (Don’t) Work

"As part of our renewed focus on the core WeWork business, and as we have previously shared with employees, the company is making necessary layoffs to create a more efficient organization." The Guardian: WeWork announces 2,400 employees to lose their jobs. (Maybe they should get to split up Adam Neumann's $1.7 billion severance package...)

+ "For an embattled CEO running a company on life support, being the subject of a takedown by the business paper of record would mean instant career death. But Neumann, characteristically, assured colleagues that the article was not much more than a speed bump. He controlled 65 percent of the stock and had the power to fire the board of directors if the board moved against him. (So confident was Neumann of his job security that he once declared during a company meeting that his descendants would be running WeWork in 300 years.)" Vanity Fair: "You Don't Bring Bad News to the Cult Leader": Inside the Fall of WeWork.


Don’t Come Canucking When Your Neighbor is a Sucking

"It's even confusing for a local to understand. Back when I was growing up, you could come across the border with a wave to the border agents." NPR on the new and different life along the border. No, not that border. The other one. U.S.-Canada Border Community's Culture Changes As Security Tightens.


Fire in the Whole

""When disaster strikes, rescuers like Thomas and Allen drive toward the danger the rest of us are desperate to escape. They're trained to find us when we're stuck somewhere — lost, injured, or worse. But a changing planet has raised the stakes: Avalanches, tornadoes, fires, and floods fill news cycles with counts of the missing and cell phone footage of neighborhoods turned to wilderness. The U.N. warns that climate catastrophes are now happening once a week across the globe. And unpredictable shoulder seasons — the busiest months for search and rescue calls — are getting longer. New kinds of disasters require new response plans and training, and bigger ones need more people who know what to do. Search and rescue teams train for the worst conditions. But the worst conditions are getting worse. Search teams are stretched. Rescuers are burning out. We are all less safe." Longreads: Burning Out.

+ Photos of Australia's Catastrophic Bushfires.


Sealed Fate?

"This case was handled very badly from the beginning ... Get back to business!" President Donald Trump insisted Thursday that the Navy 'will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher's Trident Pin,' inserting himself into an ongoing legal review of the sailor's ability to hold onto the pin that designates him a SEAL."

+ WaPo: Secret Service spent quarter of a million dollars at Trump's properties in first five months of his term.


Record (Button) Breaking

"Stokes recorded the nearly year-long news coverage of the Iran Hostage Crisis, and after the end of the incident, she continued to record the news with the advent of CNN in 1980 and other cable networks soon to follow. What began as a VHS recording of a single event grew into constant, simultaneous recordings of the news on multiple televisions, capturing coverage of the Rodney King trials and subsequent uprisings, the Iran-Contra Affair in the 1980s, the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton, 9/11, and the racially-motivated murder of Trayvon Martin." How one woman captured 30 years' worth of broadcast news. (Maybe we're related?)


Bottom of the News

"The sweetness is completely different — I knew with my first bite I had found a berry on a different level. The texture, then the burst of sweetness are such a pleasure that I decided to serve the strawberry whole as a dessert, not even cut." Meet the $50 Strawberries That NYC's High-End Chefs Are Fawning Over. (For an extra grand, you can get them served with cream.)

+ Now that you've made some room by tidying up your house, Marie Kondo wants to help you fill them back up with Marie Kondo products.

+ The 10 greatest cardigans. (I still remember a time when this would have been my lead story...)