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19.June 2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Serendipity abundance Permalink to this item

There are inevitable slights and bruises in travel, and away from home, they capture more attention. But we go to encounter the new, the longed-for, the imagined, and we always find less, and much more than we bargained for.

Yesterday morning, our second stop at a small shop selling meat and cheese, the same clerk with good English who had waited on us on Saturday greeted us as if we were old friends, accommodated our order and listened to what we had done and were going to do, and gave a friendly suggestion to put on some sunblock for the day.

After the morning grocery shopping, and the circuituous walks of Metro connections, the Plaça de Catalunya, wandering through passages brought us to the surprise of the Església de Santa Anna, nearly swallowed by the city growing up around it, still announcing its presence with a well-timed bell. (We were aiming for it, actually, but had no idea how subtle the path, and entrance before coming upon it.) One of the fellows inside—living there, perhaps?—brought a smile to my face and a reason to introduce myself by his WISCONSIN shirt. (He was from Senegal, in fact; and I suspect had no idea where or what my home state was like.) No chance to sing there, but the acoustics were on display with lovely enough recorded music playing.

Out on the Avinguda del Portal l'Àngel, chi chi shopping, the high-end hotel district, and best locale for pickpockets, we rode the elevator to the top of the department store for a peek out the cafeteria windows, and escalatored down the levels of lovely, no price tagged goods, and then the next Metro jump, after an impossible maze of tunnels and stairs. Close to one of our destination attraction, we sat down on a shady bench too close to a busy street, had an early bit of lunch (which is to say around noon here). Consulting our guide book, we saw that the "retreat" of 20th c. industrialist Rober Suris now housed the Catalan Tourist Agency, and it was just up the street. In Palau Robert we read that "you can see exhibits in one of three exhibition spaces," and found that we could in fact see exhibits in three spaces, numbered 1, 3 and 4.

Per què? Carme Solé Vendrell is on through most of September, and a charming tour of the life and work of the illustrator of more than 800 books. Upstairs, there was a retrospective of Antoni Bernad, "the Catalan fashion and portrait photographer" we'd never heard of, but found quirky and delightful, especially after enjoying the video interview of him (with English subtitles). Not something we would have sought out, but a gem.

We found room 4 after enjoying a stroll around the lovely palm-shaded garden (where we might have enjoyed our lunch stop), and the Testimonis de l'oblit #2 exhibit sans English. The photographic visit to "four major crisis areas and the people who endure them," the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Niger, Ethiopia and Colombia was amply powerful beyond the languages we don't read well. Exiting through the open air passage in front of the Gallery Hotel, we realized we had made a loop back to the same corner where we'd sat for lunch.

Just down the street, our nominal destinations, Casa Milà and Casa Batlló, with intentions to enjoy only the exterior, in favor of the Big Goal of the day, the incomparable and unfinished masterpiece of the Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família. For that, the modest, but not insignificant discovery that the Metro change between L2 and L4 does not involve an unpleasant underground walk through a long, unadorned tunnel (as some do) and a series of stairway descents and ascents (as nearly all do).

Inside La Sagrada Família

Awaiting our ticketed entry time, we grabbed the first shady bench spot available in the park across the street, and quietly conversed without engaging the fellow we were sharing it with. Just before it was time to get up, Jeanette thought we should talk to him, and struck up a conversation. (This would have happened sooner if I had not sat in the middle, I'm sure.) He turned out to have excellent English (taught English, he said), was from Egypt, worked in Kuwait, and travelled about... on his own? Not sure. But he seemed on his own here, and for the third time in Barcelona, had yet to go into the Sagrada Família for reasons we did not get to. The €30 entry is no small thing, but by his account of where all he'd visited, it didn't seem it could be just that.

Not his religion, presumably (nor ours, for that matter), but such remarkable architecture... and here he was, near its shadow sitting in quiet contemplation in the afternoon. We said friendly good-byes and proceeded to the entry queue, where we found the ticket control system not terribly fussy about early arrivals. We made it through the main entry, and the tower entry scans 10 minutes or so ahead of schedule, and had all the time we wanted (on average, between us). If you could tune out the heavy foot traffic surrounding you, you might like to come early in the morning and stay all day to watch the light shift from cool blue through the nativity façade's windows to fire-red in the afternoon passion.

17.June 2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Party of one Permalink to this item

Raúl Labrador gets a nice sendoff, I guess it is, from Politico. The Friday Cover is headlined with Idaho's outgoing Congressman's epigraph: "This Is a Place That Just Sucks Your Soul."

He seemed ever-focused on ideology and symbolism (and TV time) to me; his lamentations about everyone else's shortcomings neatly misses any of his own. He's more disillusioned, is he? He thought the messianic fervor of a gaggle of inexperienced freshman could bring back small government? Everything is broken. Except Don Quixote's indomitable spirit and self-certainty.

Detail of the Korond Unitarian church

"It’s an understatement to say Labrador has failed to fit in. He is, in the words of one friend, “the angriest man in Congress,” an abrasive critic of Washington whose time here only darkened his outlook. He is a loner, even by House Freedom Caucus standards, a Mormon who doesn’t drink and has no interest in socializing. Hardly any member of Congress has been tougher on his own party’s leadership, and less popular on Capitol Hill as a result. There were surely no tears shed in Speaker Paul Ryan’s office when Labrador announced last year that he would leave and run for governor of Idaho, and no small celebration at Boise’s chamber of commerce when, in May, Labrador lost the Republican primary to Brad Little, the lieutenant governor and party favorite."

The initial run at making the federal government smaller was to cut a relatively modest $100 billion from the get-go. It was a nice, round number, but a bridge too far. (As Idaho's Governor, if only, he promised to do even more, which is to say less. 25%? 30% was it? When you're taking pie out of the sky it doesn't have to make actual sense.)

It's not just a "fair critique," but a damning summation of Labrador's pointless time in office that "many Tea Partiers were more committed to headline-grabbing obstruction than the diligent pursuit of policy changes." Credit where due: it was more than a "perception" that "he specialized in creating problems rather than solving them."

With the rest of his party, working together after a fashion, he ensured that the Affordable Care Act's implementation would be hamstrung in every way imaginable, that the economic recovery from the creative finance real estate bubble would be as tepid as possible; that there would be no compromise of any sort on immigration; and that the GOP would be ripe for takeover by a demagogue campaigning on all the failures of the system that Labrador abetted.

There is some magical thinking in that disgruntled back bench. Take it from his pal, Tom Cole of Oklahoma, after Labrador had been easily dispatched in his bid for Majority Leader, after Eric Cantor was deposed by a no-nothing far right primary challenger:

"[W]e don't have many communicators in our conference as good as Raúl. He's very, very persuasive."

To a very select group, it turns out.

7.June.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The coming disaster Permalink to this item

H/t to Frank Rich for tweeting a link to Andrew Cohen's Monday take for the Rolling Stone: A Memo to Manafort and Trump: Mueller Already Knows the Truth. We've been at a bit of a remove from the news for a couple of days, so there may be new chapters written already? A few things struck a chord for me, in light of my recent work as a witness in a legal case with nothing whatsover to do with politics. That has involved lots of documents, lots of history, lots of legal verbiage, and lots of hours in practice sessions for two depositions (done) and trial (later this month). Much, much less interesting than the Big Show, which goes like this (with my emphasis):

When we last got a glimpse of this secret interview preparation, from earlier this spring, it was not a pretty picture. The Wall Street Journal reported in May: "In an informal, four-hour practice session, Mr. Trump's lawyers were only able to walk him through two questions, given the frequent interruptions on national-security matters along with Mr. Trump's loquaciousness, one person familiar with the matter said." Loquaciousness is one word for it. Bullshit is another. The Journal's report continued: "'Anyone can see he has great difficulty staying on a subject,'" one person familiar with the legal team's deliberations said."

Next up is former Governor, and former federal prosecutor Chris Christie, supposedly going to be asked "to turn Donald Trump into a cautious, measured, honest deponent," as Cohen put it.

If you've ever given a deposition, you might recognize that as exceptionally dry wit worthy of a laugh-out-loud. You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, as we say.

5.June.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Your face here Permalink to this item

Snippet of Jason Henry's photo for the NYT

The story is all about how Apple is still thinking different, and have you noticed that "we might not even recognize how distracted we've become" by gadgets, while up on the screen, OMG WE CAN TURN OUR OWN FACES INTO EMOJI THAT KNOW WHEN WE'RE STICKING OUR TONGUES OUT!

Ok, that's actually been a thing for like four years already, but OMG PEOPLE.

My friend P Permalink to this item

There are so many distractions these days. As we wakened to the dawn's early light, and the local birds had their Executive time, there was talk about pardons, and don't you have to be guilty before you get pardoned? You know, like Richard Nixon, and Oliver North, and Joe Arpaio ("America's contemptible sheriff," unless that's David Clarke I'm thinking of). Anyhow.

As the wheels of justice grind, the measureable results come out slowly. Here's one: Paul Manafort, out on bail, accused of violating the terms of his release.

"Prosecutors said that Mr. Manafort tried to contact witnesses by phone, through an intermediary and through an encrypted messaging program. One witness told the F.B.I. that Mr. Manafort was trying to “suborn perjury,” prosecutors said. Two witnesses provided the texts to the F.B.I., which also searched Mr. Manafort’s cloud-based Apple account, according to court records."

It's not easy letting go of privilege. For his part, the president says he hardly knew the guy who was in charge of his campaign for half of 2016, and what me worry if they throw the guy in jail? "Mr. Trump’s lawyers say Mr. Manafort has nothing incriminating to provide."

Are you sure?

"Mr. Trump has tried to distance himself from Mr. Manafort and repeatedly noted that the charges are not related to Mr. Manafort’s time as campaign chairman. And they do not address the central question of Mr. Mueller’s investigation: whether anyone with the campaign conspired with Russia to try to influence the outcome of the 2016 election. Nevertheless, Mr. Trump’s lawyer has floated the idea of a pardon for Mr. Manafort."

Floated. If you take that jump to NYT reporting in late March, you'll find they said the trial balloon went up before Manafort was indicted. Not that there's... anything wrong with that? Weirdly enough, it's under discussion. Take your pick of pro (Jack Goldsmith, opining about how "absolute" the power is) and con (Samuel W. Buell, professor of law at Duke University):

“The framers did not create the power to pardon as a way for the president to protect himself and his associates” from being prosecuted for their own criminal behavior, he said.

Where are all those Originalists when we need them, to tell us whether the Framers did, or did not envision the President as All-powerful? It's hard to imagine the Framers could have envisioned a Congress as supine as the not-fighting 115th under the "leadership" of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell.

3.June 2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Admiral Akbar, paging Donald Trump Permalink to this item

Today's left lead story: EPA Chief has Cozy Ties to Coal Baron (and have you heard the one about the administration preparing to invoke emergency powers from the Cold War to order grid operators to buy electricity from ailing coal and nuclear power plants?).

And right lead story: TRUMP IS EXEMPT FROM QUESTIONS, HIS LAWYERS SAY. Somehow, this country that was impelled to separate itself from a long train of abuses and usurpations, and a tyrant who refused his Assent to Laws has come to the point where a couple of lawyers can opine that l'État c'est Lui.

As reported by Michael S. Schmidt, Maggie Haberman, Charlie Savage and Matt Apuzzo, a 20 page letter that was sent to Special Counsel Robert Mueller in January, insists "that he cannot be compelled to testify" and what's more, "that he could not possibly have committed obstruction because he has unfettered authority over all federal investigations." (Said letter should be on everyone's summer reading list, don't you think?)

"Mr. Trump’s lawyers fear that if he answers questions, either voluntarily or in front of a grand jury, he risks exposing himself to accusations of lying to investigators, a potential crime or impeachable offense."

The original Admiral Akbar

Or as Trump lawyer extraordinaire Rudy Giuliani put it, "the reality is, we're not going to sit him down if this is a trap for perjury." Given the constancy of Trump's lying—on the record in the 2006 libel suit he brought against the author of TrumpNation over his inflated claims of net worth, and lost, for one remarkable example—there is zero percent chance Trump could testify for 4 minutes let alone 4 hours without committing perjury. Said author, Timothy L. O'Brien, told the story a year ago: My lawyers got Trump to admit 30 times, under oath, that he lied.

When a reporter asked Trump if he would testify about his version of events "under oath" with the Justice Department's special counsel in the Russia probe, Robert Mueller, the president said, "One hundred percent." And Trump elaborated, "I would be glad to tell him exactly what I just told you."

Since it's almost summer, time for reruns. Take yourself back to May 11, 2017, just after Trump fired James Comey and kicked his obstruction of justice into high gear (and long before James Comey's book, and book tour, from which we could all see for ourselves what sort of person Comey is), to that amazing NBC News exclusive interview of the president with Lester Holt.

"Look, he's a showboat, he's a grandstander, the FBI has been in turmoil, you know that, I know that, everybody knows that."

Anything else, Mr. President?

Firing Comey was absolutely his decision. Never mind the supposed justification penned by the Deputy Attorney General. "I was going to fire regardless of recommendations."

But what about that Rod Rosenstein fellow, the Deputy Attorney General?

"He's highly respected, very good guy, very smart guy, the Democrats like him, the Republicans like him. ...

"When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said 'you know, this Russiar [sic] thing, with Trump and Russia, is a made-up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.'"

Ok, so much for that showboatin' Jim Comey, but what about the Russia investigation then?

"Look, look, let me tell ya, as far as I'm concerned, I want that thing to be absolutely done properly. When I did this now, I said, I probably, maybe, will confuse people, maybe I'll expand that, you know I'll lengthen the time, because it should be over with, it should, in my opinion, it should've been over a long time ago, because all it is, is an excuse, but [sniff] I said to myself, I might even lengthen the investigation, but I have to do the right thing for the American people."

Fast forward 8 months, Timothy O'Brien published another opinion about having watched Donald Trump testify under oath, the day after the president popped into a meeting of reporters and his chief of staff to volunteer that he would "love to" to talk to Mueller under oath.

"I'm looking forward to it," he said. Maybe in the next couple of weeks. That was January 24, 2018.

The letter from John M. Dowd and Jay A. Sekulow wrote as Counsel to the President (with the helpful annotation by the NYT reporters) was dated January 29, 2018. In it, you may read about how "candor and engagement" have been encouraged, as opposed to "adverserial hostility." Also the President's "desire for transparency."

But.... actually testifying, you know, under oath, the legal team wanted to make it very, very clear that that's out of the question, because, you know, there would be perjury. For sure.

In case you wondered: it took 5 years for Trump to lose that libel suit against O'Brien.


Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007