The Light and the Dark

I’ve really enjoyed all of the tributes to Rush Limbaugh that have been written since his passing last Wednesday. I’ve already paid my respects and feel that my lengthy blog entry written a year ago after the public announcement of his cancer diagnosis paid the appropriate homage. But something was missing from my tribute. Aside from the obvious factor of Donald Trump, I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what changed in Rush’s approach that started to put me off, even before The Donald descended on his escalator in 2015.

Dan McLaughlin of National Review and David French of The Dispatch both nailed it. In the ‘90’s, when Bill Clinton was his chief nemesis, Rush was a happy warrior. On that fateful day in 1990 when my dad picked me up from school and took me to lunch and I first heard Rush, I could tell he was having fun. Even though his program was based upon an aggressive offense against all things liberal, Rush did it with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his lips. Every syllable uttered from his articulate mouth that transmitted over the air reverberated with exuberant joy.

By 2016 when Trump conquered the GOP, much of the mirth and optimism was gone from Rush’s style. The clever parodies, cheeky witticisms and light banter with occasional callers had been replaced by undiluted, mean-spirited bombast. The fun fellowship of Dan’s Bake Sale in Fort Collins, held shortly before I graduated high school in May of 1993, slowly gave way to a spurious comparison of those who stormed the capital to American revolutionaries in January of 2021.

What happened? Why did Rush get so angry?

Could it have been because, in spite of his success, Rush felt he was winning battles, but losing the war? I’m referring to the culture war. Despite all of the accomplishments of my lifetime, including decisive victories in America’s war against communism and Al-Qaeda, conservatives have lost ground on other fronts.

Or could Rush’s anger have been grounded in things more personal? Rush lost his hearing in 2001 and began using a cochlear implant. In 2003, he underwent treatment for addiction to painkillers after a very public scandal. In 2004, he went through his third divorce. Could all of these traumas have inflicted a collective toll?

The hearing loss alone would be a major blow to a man who works in an audio-driven medium. Even though those of us in the disabled community tend to gloss over the long term effects, untreated grief over the loss of a basic faculty is a very real thing that can fundamentally transform a person. Whatever it was, I regret his surrender to the dark forces of the human soul.

Over the past year, we have all been steeped in anger, depression and anxiety. It seems that reflexive outrage can be found everywhere you look. I don’t want to live the rest of my life that way. Whether I die with millions in the bank and a superficial fan base, or destitute and forgotten in a nursing home, I don’t want anger and resentment to be my primary reasons for getting out of bed every morning.

Therefore, my response to Rush’s passing is simply to try to live with more optimism and less anger. Despite all evidence that seems to point to the contrary, we have much to be grateful for in this country. I will try to do a better job of reflecting that gratitude and joy back toward the rest of my fellow humans. Sure, there is a lot to be angry about, but I prefer to be a happy warrior laughing at my opponents, rather than a shrieking gladiator trafficking in personal abuse and violence.

In other words, I want to go hang out at more Dan’s Bake Sales, not more “Stop the Steal” rallies.

Goodbye, Rush, and God bless you. Thank you for everything.

Here is Dan McLaughlin’s article published in National Review:

Rush Limbaugh and the End of the 1990s Right
By Dan McLaughlin
February 17, 2021 5:23 PM

R.I.P. to a vital voice, a monumental talent, and a comfort to millions for decades.
There is much to say, upon the death of Rush Limbaugh, about his career and his landmark role in talk radio and in conservative politics. Few men have ever been as important to the direction of an entire medium as Rush was to AM radio for decades. After the decisive shift of music radio to FM by the mid 1980s, many people gave up on radio in general and AM in particular as an old, declining technology. Rush’s rise after the Reagan FCC’s repeal of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 not only led the reversal of that trend, it also symbolized and helped bring about the end of a top-down media landscape dominated by a handful of center-left establishment outlets, and inaugurate an era when conservatives had their own mass-communication platforms.

His death also marks the decisive end of another era: the post-Reagan, post–Cold War Right of the 1990s, in which he was a central figure. For conservatives of varying stripes, the years from the mid 1960s to the late 1980s had been a dizzying ascent. Conservatives went from deep in the political wilderness to winning the White House and a 49-state landslide in 1984. Ronald Reagan’s first landslide, in 1980, flipped twelve Senate seats. The Right was brimming with ideas, movements, and new institutions. The one big thing that held everyone together, but also often forced other priorities aside, was the fight against Soviet Communism. And then, faster than even the greatest optimists could imagine, it was gone. The Berlin Wall fell in 1989. The Soviet Union itself unraveled in 1991. And a weighty question loomed over the Right: Now what?
With Reagan and the Soviets gone, domestic policy and culture came to the fore, and the formal leadership of the Republican Party passed mainly to uninspiring figures who could not sell conservative ideas, and in some cases did not believe in them, notably George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, and Bob Michel. New leaders were needed, and new battles needed to be fought.
Five towering figures, all of them fairly fresh to the fight in the mid to late 1980s, led the way on different fronts. All of them were converts to Reaganism, but each had come of age in the darker Nixon years. Newt Gingrich led the populist-conservative revolt that wrested the House back from the Democrats in 1994 for the first time in 40 years. Rudy Giuliani, elected mayor of New York in 1993 after a narrow defeat in 1989, led the battle against urban crime and decay, taking conservative policy onto the most hostile domestic turf and winning. Antonin Scalia led the intellectual movement to restore legitimacy and rigor to the interpretation of the Constitution, beating the academy at its own game. Former Bush consultant Roger Ailes started Fox News in 1996, creating a television platform for ideas and perspectives that had previously been limited to radio and print.

The fifth, and as important as any of the other four, was Rush Limbaugh.

American conservatism, like any other political movement or tendency, is a mix of the light and the dark; of hope and fear, optimism and pessimism, altruism and self-interest. These are the stuff of humanity, all of it legitimately the subject of politics, but too much darkness can poison a movement. Reagan had his own share of the darkness — witness his battles with Hollywood communists in the Fifties and campus radicals in the Sixties — but he had made an art of elevating the light in conservatism: economic opportunity, the bedrock importance of family, the blessings of liberty, the stirrings of patriotism, the sacredness of human life, the shining city on the hill as a beacon of hope for the world’s oppressed.

Rush always understood, at an instinctive level, how to tap into both light and darkness. If you are not a conservative, or if you listened to Rush only in his last years, it may surprise you today to see quite what a variety of people on the right were fans of his at one point or another in their careers. I was an active Rush listener mainly in the early 1990s, after one of my college roommates turned me on to him. He was at his peak then, and a great evangelist for Reaganite optimism at a time when Reaganism and populism were allies, not enemies.
As caustic as Rush could be against Democrats and the Right’s various cultural foes, the essential thrust of his program in those days — and for many years thereafter — was upbeat, hopeful, even jaunty. Rush could thunder with a smile. He truly believed his ideas, but he also winked at the audience: He was an entertainer doing shtick, blowing smoke up his own rear, and you were in on the joke. Conservatism, Rush wanted you to know, was good for everybody, more people should try it, and it didn’t have to be stuffy or dour; it could be fun.
Consider his first book, with its oddly utopian tongue-in-cheek title, The Way Things Ought to Be, published in late 1992 at the tail end of a terrible election year for Republicans, with glowing blurbs from Bill Buckley and Oliver North. Rush concluded the introduction by noting that some readers were sure to be offended, but:
Believe me when I say that my purpose is not to offend. In fact, it bothers me when someone is honestly offended because I don’t consider myself an offensive guy. I am just a harmless, lovable little fuzzball. So, take some advice. Lighten up. We should all laugh more at ourselves . . . . And if you can’t laugh at yourself, turn these pages and laugh at me laughing for you.
Rush lauded Ronald Reagan as “my hero” and thanked Pat Buchanan for “destroy[ing] David Duke’s so-called Republican candidacy” and “dispatching Duke to the ash heap of irrelevance.” Then, from the final chapter, “We Are Winning”:
Many times I get calls on my show from people who rail against one liberal outrage or another and complain that the country is going down the tubes. “The liberals are winning, Rush,” they mournfully conclude. “America is never going to be as great as it once was.” I have one word for such defeatism: NONSENSE . . .
Conservatives are an ever-growing majority. So take heart, dear reader. Don’t get down. Remember how I handle them. I laugh at their outrageous statements and I ridicule their latest lunacies. So should you. Laugh and move on. They are the past. We conservatives are the future. . . . Be confident. This country has not run out of opportunity. Your children can live in an America that is better, safer, more moral, and more prosperous.
You can understand why a lot of my generation of twentysomething conservatives found this an inspiring message, delivered by a man in his early forties who brimmed with wit, energy, and zest for his job. You could be a Reaganite or a Buchananite or a moderate; there was something for everyone on Rush’s show. He even had a lot of liberal listeners, some of whom he converted over the years, others of whom he just entertained. He was current on the day’s arguments, he knew how they all fit in his framework, and his three-hour time slot gave him the space to go further in depth than anything you would find on television. Rush was populist in his style even then — a style that fits the intimacy of radio — but he never talked down as if he thought his audience was stupid.
Those of us seeking a deeper intellectual grounding and tradition for our conservatism could and did find one elsewhere — I stopped listening regularly to Rush once I had a full-time office job by the middle of the 1990s — but we never quite left behind the common spirit of the Rush Limbaugh program and the knowledge that it united millions of Americans listening to Rush give ‘em hell with a smile and half his brain tied behind his back. Like a lot of conservative writers, I had the thrill a couple times of having Rush read things on the air that I wrote. He was generous with attributions, especially in the Internet age, and made his “Stack of Stuff” available to his listeners. His durability and continuing relevance on AM radio as the technological landscape moved from the age of UHF to the age of AIM and Netscape to the ages of blogs, streaming, Twitter and podcasts is a testament to his talent and adaptability.
Of course, a collection of Rush’s lowest moments on air makes for grim reading. But some context is in order. Anyone who has done even a small amount of talk on radio, TV, or even on a podcast must come away with a new appreciation for Rush’s monumental talent. Yes, he put his foot in his mouth more than a few times — ranging from factual errors and political misjudgments to things that were mean, offensive, or in poor taste. Sometimes he apologized, took correction, or changed what he was doing; other times, he stuck to his guns or tuned out the critics. But when you think about what it takes to be on the air, live, mostly alone, 15 hours a week for 33 years, and be consistently interestingthat whole time, you realize how hard the job really is. Anybody who is any good at it will occasionally say things that were best left in the silent part of their brain. Multiply “occasionally” to 20,000-odd hours on the air, and you’re going to cross a lot of lines, especially when you are as combative as Rush. Yet, despite an Ahab-like decade-long campaign by Media Matters and other left-wing agitators to run Rush off the air, he was too big to cancel. Only returning the talent on loan from God could take Rush away from his beloved EIB microphone.
The passage of time is remorseless, and in politics, the world turns over, and then it turns again. Rush’s talent and his vast audience never left him, but as I tuned in or caught excerpts of the show in his later years, there was more darkness and less light. The “we’re the majority, and we’re winning” optimism of the early 1990s was harder for anybody on the right to sustain over the setbacks of the late 2000s in particular, and in light of the past few years of cultural madness. It is harder still to sustain that optimism as you grow older and more unwell.
We live today in the political aftermath of September 11, the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, the 2008 financial crisis, Obamacare, same-sex marriage, cancel culture, #MeToo, Donald Trump, a revival of socialism, Black Lives Matter, and a global pandemic, among other things unforeseen in the 1990s. Adjusting and adjusting again to the shifting sands of new controversies and new trends in the culture has gradually stripped away the landscape that Rush originally thrived in. His audience grew older with him. The Right has fractured into many warring camps, and Rush did not always make the same choices as others. He supported Trump with enthusiasm, having been old friends with The Donald from well before his political debut in 2015. But then, populism naturally appealed to Rush’s faith in people and his mistrust of the elite gatekeepers who would have taken him off the air decades ago if they could. Some of Rush’s old fans grew disenchanted with his stances — I did, at times — but he never stopped mattering, or attracting new ears.
The Trump campaign in 2020 had the air of a last ride for the 1990s generation. Scalia and Ailes are both dead, and Ailes’s career had ended especially ingloriously. Rush, despite a public battle with terminal cancer, threw himself into the fray with everything he had remaining. Giuliani and Gingrich played their own parts, both clearly now past their primes. With Rush gone now from the scene, it is time for that generation to take the gold watch and give way to voices that embody the hope and optimism that fueled the early Rush Limbaugh show. But as conservatives, we do not burn down our forebears simply because their moment has passed, or because they made some mistakes or left some things unfinished. Such could be said of every generation. Rush Limbaugh was a vital voice on the right in his time, who brought a lot of people into the fold. He was an entertainer and a comfort for millions for decades.

R.I.P.

Devil’s Brew

In my previous entry regarding sexual misconduct within the National Federation of the Blind, I said that sexual predation is not a partisan issue. I misspoke (or mistyped as the case may be.) What I wish I’d written was that sexual misconduct should not be a partisan issue. I guess I could pull a New York Times or Newsweek and go back and edit my entry to make myself look better, but I’ll let it stand. Yes, sex and sexual violence is definitely a partisan hot potato.

Why? Why should a base crime that affects everyone equally be so polarized.

My answer comes in the form of political observations gleaned since I was old enough to take an interest in politics. With my lifetime serving as the parameters of the scope of the high-lights of the politics of sexual misconduct in the public eye, let me give you some prominent examples that will serve to illustrate why this topic is so divisive.

1991 (I was 16)

On July 1, Judge Clarence Thomas was nominated to the Supreme Court by President George H. W. Bush to fill the pending vacancy of Thurgood Marshall. During Thomas’s confirmation hearings, Anita Hill, a former employee, accused him of sexual harassment while he was her supervisor at the Department of Education and at the EEOC in the early 1980’s. Thomas declared his absolute innocence, but said little else. It was a classic ‘he said/she said’ affair, with everyone from Nina Totenberg to Rush Limbaugh staking out their ideological territory.

After Hill came forward, Committee Chair Senator Joe Biden reopened Thomas’s confirmation hearings, which quickly became contentious with many people testifying both in support of Thomas and Hill. On October 15, the Senate finally took up the vote and Thomas was confirmed with a close margin of 52/48. The vote fell along party lines.

In 1992, a record number of women were elected to various political offices, causing feminists and the media to call it, “The year of the woman,” or, “The Class of Anita Hill.” Hill was celebrated as a modern feminist icon who brought the issue of workplace sexual misconduct out of the shadows and into the light.

In his autobiography, My Grandfather’s Son, Thomas put forth the theory that the Democrats went after him due to his well-known stances in opposition to abortion and affirmative action; two issues that were and are central to the DNC platform.

The battle lines had been drawn. Conservatives who supported Thomas saw the allegations as an opportunistic political hatchet job designed to keep an originalist conservative off of the Supreme Court. Liberals who supported Hill saw her as a brave survivor who came forward and told her story in the face of hostility. Both parties wrote autobiographies, published 10 years apart, that dealt with the issue. Two made-for-cable movies have been aired featuring the event. In the last 30 years, the socio-political boundaries have not changed with respect to the case.

1998 (I was 23)

President Bill Clinton was no stranger to scandal. Throughout his two terms in office, several women accused him of sexual misconduct ranging from verbal harassment to rape. Victims included Kathleen Willey, Juanita Broaddrick and Paula Jones. In 1994, Jones filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Clinton. The suit took time to wind its way through the court system, but in 1997, Pentagon employee Linda Tripp began surreptitiously recording phone conversations with her friend and former coworker, Monica Lewinsky, in hopes that evidence of an affair with Lewinsky would aid in Jones’ legal effort.

On January 17, 1998, future conservative internet warrior Matt Drudge published allegations of Clinton’s affair with his former intern Lewinsky on his website. This forced the mainstream media to run with the ball. It was a story that would dominate the news cycles for the next year. It was a tawdry business that involved an independent council, denials, an incriminating blue dress, retraction of said denials, perjured grand jury testimony from the president of the United States and impeachment proceedings.

In December of 1998, the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Clinton on two articles. The vote fell along party lines. In February of 1999, the Senate acquitted him on both charges. The vote also fell along party lines. IN April of 1998, Paula Jones’ lawsuit was thrown out, but she appealed. Later that year, Clinton quietly settled with her, but admitted no wrongdoing.

During the scandal, the issue of character was front and center. Republicans, led by Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and conservative talker Rush Limbaugh, claimed that character matters first and foremost in a president. The Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution stating that God blesses a country based upon its morality. Democrats downplayed the character issue, claiming that the GOP was engaging in a witch hunt against Clinton. In March of 1998, feminist icon Gloria Steinem wrote a now-controversial column in the New York Times defending the president and minimizing the plight of his victims. The controversy translated into thousands of arguments over dinner tables, around water coolers and at parties as to whether or not Bill Clinton was fit to serve as president.

After Clinton was acquitted in 1999, his reputation was bloodied, but not broken. Clinton left office in January of 2001 with a fairly high approval rating. Everyone with even the slightest of political inclinations knew that his wife Hillary would soon be angling for higher office. Matt Drudge’s website, The Drudge Report, became a mainstay for conservatives in the following decade. During the investigation, software entrepreneurs Joan Blades and Wes Boyd founded MoveOn.org, a website dedicated to the censuring of Bill Clinton rather than the more drastic course of impeachment. The site became a mainstay for progressive activism in the following decade.

2006 (I was 31)

On March 15, rape and assault allegations against three lacrosse players at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina exploded across the media. The alleged victim was an African-American college girl who was working as a stripper. She had been invited to a private party at a home owned by Duke U and occupied by two of the captains and accused perpetrators. The accuser claimed that she was gang raped and beaten in a bathroom by three of the players. An Email sent by one of the players hours after the party seemed damning.

Even as the players were arrested and indicted, the case was unraveling. In the subsequent months, the firestorm of controversy would shift from issues of race and sexual violence to those of police and prosecutorial misconduct. The shift was due to the actions of District Attorney Mike Nifong, who acted as lead prosecutor on the case. Over the months between the party and the eventual dismissal of the charges against the players, investigators uncovered gross misconduct on the part of Nifong, who was charged with withholding crucial DNA evidence that would have exculpated the accused. Investigation of the Durham police also unearthed wildly varying accounts of the assault by the alleged victim, as well as several problematic photo ID’s by the police.

The cracks in the case didn’t stop the media dog pile. In the ‘90’s, Americans had their choice between the three broadcast networks, CNN, print media delivered to their doors or bought at the stand, or Rush Limbaugh. By the mid 2,000’s, their options had increased to four broadcast networks, three major cable news networks, dozens of internet news sites and a veritable army of A.M Limbaugh clones. The fault lines were partisan and predictable. Limbaugh, Michael Savage and the entire pundit wing at Fox News pre-judged the case in favor of the defendants. Nancy Grace, Rolling Stone and feminist blogger Amanda Marcotte were among those quick to pre-judge in favor of the accuser. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and the NAACP were quick to emphasize the racial angle of the case by stoking the narrative of three rich white college kids raping a black single mother who was only stripping to put food in her child’s mouth.

But the most disturbing attack came from the so-called, Gang of 88; various faculty members at Duke U who signed an open letter and published it in the Durham Chronicle. In the letter, they condemned racism, sexism and other forms of oppression that were rife at Duke. Their bias in favor of the alleged victim was obvious and shameless.

Nearly a year after they were arrested, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper dropped all charges against all three players. He went a step further, declaring them innocent. In June, 2007, Mike Nifong was disbarred over his handling of the Duke Lacrosse Case. The three players subsequently went elsewhere, but sued both Duke U and the Durham police department for its handling of the case.

2011 (I was 36)

On April 4, Vice-President Joe Biden stood in front of a group of college kids in New Hampshire and proclaimed that sexual violence was no longer merely a crime, but a violation of a woman’s civil rights. This announcement was immediately followed by the issuance of a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter from the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education to all colleges and universities across the country. The letter contained strong language suggesting new guidance on the enforcement of Title 9, the federal statute prohibiting any sex discrimination under any education program receiving federal financial assistance. The letter emphasized the point that Title 9 requires any institution that is aware of sexual violence to take swift and forceful action on the matter. The letter went on to suggest that consideration of a sexual assault case should entail a preponderance of the evidence, which is a lesser legal standard than the reasonable doubt measure that is used in a court of law. The hammer falls at the conclusion of the document, when institutions are warned that a failure to comply with the guidelines may likely result in the withholding of federal funding. This is the kiss of death to all institutions of higher learning.

Unsurprisingly, conservatives and libertarians stood aghast at the directives, but objections were also raised in unexpected quarters. Two professors from Harvard suggested that the new guidelines resulted in a, “sex bureaucracy,” placing more and more normal behavior under federal scrutiny. Legal theorist Janet Halley also expressed concerns about the fairness of the process, worrying about the trampling of the rights of the accused, particularly men of color.

2014 (I was 39)

On November 19, Rolling Stone Magazine published an article by Sabrina Rubin Erdely entitled, “A Rape on Campus.” It told the story of a female student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, who claimed she had been gang raped by several members of a fraternity while at a party. The story received much media attention and predictable partisan reaction from the pundit class. It also resulted in the president of UVA suspending all fraternities. However, other independent journalists found notable discrepancies in the accuser’s story.

On January 12, 2015, Charlottesville police officials told UVA that their investigation resulted in no corroboration of her story. The Columbia School of Journalism performed an audit of Rolling Stone’s editorial processes. On April 5, Rolling Stone issued a full retraction of the story and published the audit report from Columbia.

2016 (I was 41)

On July 21, Roger Ailes, CEO of Fox News, resigned in the wake of more than a dozen allegations of sexual harassment brought forth by female employees including Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly. Media figures who despised Ailes and his so-called right-wing propagandist network rubbed their hands together with glee. FNC pundits such as Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity circled the wagons.

On October 7, the Washington Post dropped the granddaddy of all October Surprises when it released 11-year-old audio of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump blatantly admitting to sexual assault. The video was recorded while Trump and television host Billy Bush were preparing to record a segment of Access Hollywood. Trump described how he had unsuccessfully tried to bed Bush’s co-host, Nancy O’Dell. Then he saw an actress outside the bus and said:

“I’ve got to use some tictacs, just in case I start kissing her. You know…I’m automatically attracted to beautiful. I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet…just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything…grab ‘em by the pussy…you can do anything.

Even before the Washington Post released the bombshell, Trump’s campaign learned of the audio and had gone into crisis mode. The following weekend was full of GOP officials disavowing Trump and his remarks. Paul Ryan very publicly disinvited Trump from speaking at a fundraiser in Wisconsin. Mitt Romney, Mitch McConnell and Chris Christie all distanced themselves. Every political operative and big-name donor forecast doom for the Trump campaign. Trump laughed them off. The only person who’s opinion concerned him was his running mate, Mike Pence. Pence dropped off the radar on Saturday, spending time alone with his wife in prayer at his home in Indiana.

On October 8, Trump posted a short video to his Facebook page in which he apologized for his remarks. He then deflected, accusing the Clintons of doing far worse.

On October 9, just two hours before his second presidential debate with opponent Hillary Clinton, Trump held an unannounced press conference in which he appeared with Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey and Juanita Broaddrick. During the debate, Trump and Clinton exchanged verbal barbs. She accused him of being unfit to serve, while he accused her of enabling her husband’s bad behavior. When pressed by Anderson Cooper about his comments on the tape, he dismissed them as, “Locker room talk.”

Over the next two weeks, Trump’s poll numbers cratered, but then began to rebound in the days before the election. On November 8, Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton and became the 45th president of the United States. The reason for Trump’s ultimate success with his voting base in the face of initial opposition from the GOP machine can best be summarized by a quote from Tim Alberta’s book, American Carnage:

“Trump may have been a shameless deviant, but in the eyes of conservatives, he was running against the first family of perversion.”

Since the discovery of the Hollywood Access tape, 26 women have come forward and accused Trump of sexual harassment and assault during his time on the NBC reality show, The Apprentice, as well as in connection with the Miss U.S.A. beauty pageants. Trump denied all of the allegations and threatened to sue his accusers, as well as the New York Times for publishing their accounts. As of this writing, no lawsuit has been forthcoming.

2017 (I was 42)

On April 11, Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly announced that he would be taking a hiatus from his nightly show, The O’Reilly Factor. This was the flagship program for the cable network and the highest rated program in its time slot. O’Reilly claimed he was taking his annual Easter vacation, but the true reason was transparent. Earlier that month, the New York Times had published an expose in which it unearthed the settlement of five lawsuits against Fox News and O’Reilly for sexual misconduct. Backlash against O’Reilly was immediate, with 60 percent of advertisers withdrawing their sponsorship for the program. On April 19, FNC announced that Bill O’Reilly had been dismissed from the company. On April 21, The O’Reilly Factor was canceled.

On October 5, the New York Times published a bombshell report alleging over 30 years of sexual abuse and misconduct by Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Five days later, Ronan Farrow published another article in the New Yorker in which 13 women alleged sexual abuse at the hands of Weinstein. The most damning portion of the New Yorker piece was a leaked audio recording in which Weinstein admitted to groping Ambra Gutierrez. Farrow claimed that he wanted to break the story months earlier, but was stonewalled by NBC, where he worked as a reporter.

Since the initial reports in October, 2017, over 80 women have come forward to accuse Weinstein of harassment, assault or rape. Weinstein initially tried to downplay the scandal, but the rising number of accusers resulted in his ejection from The Weinstein Company, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and nearly all of his other professional associations. Conservative pundits were quick to blast Democrats in general and feminists specifically, claiming that Weinstein was a typical Hollywood figure who had poured millions of dollars into various Democrat-friendly causes and candidates in exchange for the political machine looking the other way with a wink and a nod at Weinstein’s criminal behavior.

The toppling of Harvey Weinstein soon gave rise to a social media phenomenon known as the #MeToo Movement, in which thousands of survivors of sexual violence across the globe came forward to share their stories. On January 1, 2018, over 300 actresses published an open letter in the New York Times that gave birth to the Hollywood-based Time’s Up initiative. In the wake of the Weinstein allegations, a number of high-profile men were subsequently accused of sexual misconduct and were terminated from their professional positions. Casualties included Kevin Spacey, John Besh, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Al Franken, Les Moonves and John Conyers. Judge Roy D. Moore was credibly accused of sexual misconduct by eight victims while running for the Senate seat in Alabama. Though the Republican Party endorsed him, he lost his election to Democrat Doug Jones.

In 2018, both the New York Times and the New Yorker received the Pulitzer Award for their coverage of the Weinstein story. In 2020, Harvey Weinstein was found guilty of rape in the third degree and sentenced to 23 years in prison.

2018 (I was 43)

On July 9, President Trump announced the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, filling the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Anthony Kennedy. The pundit class immediately began to incessantly chatter about the impact of the nomination. Kennedy had been an unpredictable swing vote, while Kavanaugh was more solidly conservative. Everyone knew that Kavanaugh’s nomination, if successful, might change the philosophical bent of the court for at least a generation.

On September 16, the Washington Post reported that Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault by Christine Blasey Ford when they were in high school in the summer of 1982. Ford claimed that Kavanaugh and a friend locked her in a bedroom during a party and that Kavanaugh tried to rip off her clothes before she managed to escape. Questions arose over the conduct of Senator Diane Feinstein, who apparently knew about Ford’s allegation but sat on it until it was finally leaked to the media.

One week after the Washington Post report, a second woman accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct in 1983. Subsequently, two more women came forward and accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault, but their claims were discredited by investigating journalists. The already contentious confirmation process became explosive, inflamed by flagrant grandstanding by various senators on the Judiciary Committee, tweets by President Trump engaging in rampant victim-blaming and the behavior of Michael Avenatti, the attorney representing one of the accusers.

On September 27, both Kavanaugh and Ford testified separately in front of the Judiciary Committee. Reaction in pundit circles was partisan and predictable, though conservatives were generally impressed with Ford’s composure and consistency on the stand. Democrats pounced on Kavanaugh’s emotional testimony, particularly a combative exchange with Senator Amy Klobuchar. After the hearing, several GOP senators and the entirety of the Democrat minority called for a delay in the full senate vote so that the allegations could be investigated by the FBI. More controversy ensued when the White House attempted to limit the scope of the FBI investigation.

On October 6, Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court with a narrow majority. The vote was 50/48 and fell along party lines.

Reaction to the Kavanaugh drama was predictable. Kavanaugh accused the Democrats of orchestrating a political hit job on him, suggesting a revenge motive for his role in the Ken Starr Report and Bush v. Gore. Many right-leaning pundits were skeptical of the timing of Ford’s allegations, noting strategic parallels to the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill affair. Democrats were indignant, particularly in the wake of the burgeoning #MeToo Movement, claiming that Kavanaugh was another powerful predator who was going to get away with it, while Christine Blasey Ford was a hero for coming forward.

2020 (I was 45)

During the Democratic presidential primaries, former Vice-President Joe Biden was accused of sexual harassment and assault by former staffer Tara Reade. In an interview with Katie Halper on her morning radio show on March 25, Reade alleged that Biden had pushed her against a wall and penetrated her with his fingers when she worked as a senate staffer for him in 1993. She made the same accusation in subsequent interviews with NPR, Newsweek and Politico. Biden flatly denied the accusations. In an interview on MSNBC on May 1, he touted his accomplishments on behalf of women by passage of the Violence Against Women Act. Subsequent investigative efforts by journalists turned up a mixed record on Reade’s credibility; some viewed her as a hero, while others claimed she was manipulative and duplicitous. A probe into Biden’s past uncovered a series of women who felt uncomfortable with the level of touching that Biden engaged in, but none of the concerns rose to the level of Reade’s claim.

Conservatives noted the relative lack of outrage in media and DNC circles over Reade’s allegations. Even though various journalism outlets did background work, the general consensus was that they went easier on Christine Blasey Ford than they did on Tara Reade. By late Spring, the issue had disappeared from public conversation, replaced by the ongoing pandemic and racial unrest.

On November 4, Joe Biden was elected as the 46th president of the United States.

On December 14, Governor Andrew Cuomo was accused of sexual harassment by former aid Lindsey Boylan.

WHAT!!! YOU NEVER HEARD ABOUT THAT? I’M SHOCKED!

Sidebar: I have painted each of these events in very broad strokes. If you want more nuance and detail, I encourage you to research all of these stories for yourself.

Conclusion:

Why have the politics of sexual assault become so divisive? There are many reasons, I guess, but in my view, it all comes down to one big one. The stakes.

If Clarence Thomas is right, Democrats opposed his nomination, not because he sexually harassed Anita Hill, but because they didn’t want an anti-abortion judge on the court. If Democrats and the media ignored Hillary Clinton’s role in enabling her husband’s predatory behavior, it was because America really needed to obliterate the glass ceiling by electing the first female president. If Republicans reversed their earlier position on character and morality playing a central role in the presidency in order to defend Donald Trump, it was because the alternative of President Clinton 2.0 was far worse than rank hypocrisy. If the DNC and the mainstream media sought to downplay the possibility of the fact that Tara Reade was telling the truth, it was because the idea of a President Biden was far preferable to that of four more years of President Trump.

In all cases, the devil we know is better than the devil we don’t. Everyone from high-level staffers to political pundits to keyboard warriors across the social media spectrum have the same internal and external conversations. Ok, maybe I don’t like what Trump says and does, but I like him better than Hillary! Or socialists! Ok, maybe the timing of Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations are a little iffy, but we just can’t let the Supreme Court transform America into Gilead!

When scandals like these flair up, reaction is always immediate and very partisan. Those in the camp of the accusers will point to Harvey Weinstein or Roger Ailes as an example of a man who got away with sex crimes for decades. Those in the camp of the accused will point to the Duke Lacrosse players or the UVA fraternity students as evidence that men can be falsely accused. There is plenty of evidence on both sides. People cherry pick their facts, build them into talking points and go forth into the arena of social media armed for battle. Names are called. Fingers are pointed. Labels are attached. Everyone wages war on the bad guys, all while the victims continue to suffer. The spirit of unhealthy partisanship festers and coalesces into an unholy devil’s brew that is poisonous, but tastes so, so sweet on the tongue of righteous gladiators.

The thing that struck me as I journeyed down memory lane to put this thread together is how often the victims of these crimes are blatantly used for the purposes of others. Donald Trump’s pre-debate press conference with three of Bill Clinton’s accusers was a transparent attempt by him to use them for political leverage. They, in turn, allowed themselves to be used, ostensibly for payback. Al Sharpton was clearly using the alleged victim of the Duke Lacrosse players for his own ends, just as he used Tawana Brawley in 1987. It is entirely possible that Diane Feinstein used Christine Blasey Ford to further her political agenda. I seriously doubt that Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer are great vessels of empathy and compassion. Who wouldn’t want a Pulitzer? When are we going to see the journalistic blockbuster vindicating Juanita Broaddrick? Five months after Bill O’Reilly was fired from Fox News, Sean Hannity hosted him on his program and gave a very sympathetic interview. A month later, Hannity was excoriating Democrats for giving Harvey Weinstein a pass for decades.

This is a vicious cycle that will keep repeating as long as we as a society view this issue through the lens of tribalism. Honestly, I don’t know if it will change in my lifetime.

More on the NFB and #MarchingTogether

In recent days, the following articles have been published concerning the subject of sexual misconduct within the National Federation of the Blind. With apologies to the Washington Post and the Des Moines Register, and in the interest of the blindness community at large, I am circumventing their pay walls by posting the text of both articles here on my blog for your perusal.

From the Washington Post:

Advocacy group for the blind apologizes for allegations of sexual misconduct

Mark Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind, in an online speech Jan. 4. (National Federation of the Blind)
By
Justin Wm. Moyer
Jan. 15, 2021 at 8:14 a.m. CST
An organization that lobbies for the rights of blind people has formed a task force and hired an outside consultant after apologizing for allegations of sexual misconduct in its programs, which surfaced in an open letter last month.
The letter was sent to the Baltimore-based National Federation of the Blind and the National Blindness Professional Certification Board, a Louisiana-based organization that certifies instructors for the blind. It includes hundreds of signatures from people the letter describes as “victims, survivors, and witnesses of sexual and psychological abuse at programs, conventions, and blindness rehabilitation centers . . . and their allies and supporters.”
The letter calls for an investigation into sexual misconduct allegations and the institution of new policies by Aug. 31 to prevent misconduct, among other demands. Advocates said they were motivated to come forward amid a movement to shine a light on sexual assault.
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“We are writing this open letter to urge action to be taken to reduce and eliminate the widespread instances of emotional/psychological abuse, sexual assault/harassment, racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, and all other forms of abuse within these agencies,” the letter said.
In a speech this month, National Federation of the Blind president Mark Riccobono said the organization has partnered with the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network “to assist us in furthering a safe, inclusive and welcoming culture free of sexual misconduct.”
RAINN will help the organization create a mandatory sexual misconduct training program and review its code of conduct, Riccobono said, as the federation launches a “survivor-led task force” to “implement a sustainable, positive culture change.”
The National Federation of the Blind is the oldest and largest nationwide organization of blind Americans, according to its website. Founded in 1940, it works to expand blind people’s access to the ballot and paperwork for federal disability benefits, among other initiatives.
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Riccobono, who apologized in a Dec. 16 letter for the federation’s handling of sexual misconduct, said in an interview that the organization “wanted to be very aggressive and bring in as many experts as we can.” The task force will not investigate individual complaints, he said, but did not rule out providing financial assistance to those who have endured misconduct.
“The survivors are going to lead this and guide us on this,” he said. “I’m completely open.”
Sarah Meyer, a member of the task force, said the effort would “amplify survivor voices.”
RAINN confirmed the partnership with the federation but declined additional comment.
The National Blindness Professional Certification Board said it is reviewing its code of ethics to ensure the highest standards for professional behavior.
“We have proactively encouraged anyone with knowledge of any professional we certify who may have behaved inappropriately to contact us so that we can gather all relevant information and take the necessary actions,” the board said in a statement. “We remain committed to ensuring that those we certify conduct themselves both professionally and ethically.”
Disabled residents in the D.C. region face obstacles when searching for housing, report says
Stacy Cervenka, a 40-year-old consultant for a Nebraska state rehabilitation agency who helped to write the letter, said advocates were concerned the National Federation of the Blind “will not address rooting out the many past offenders and those who have covered acts of sexual misconduct for years.” She said she was sexually assaulted at federation events in 2000 and 2008.
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“It’s important and necessary to put new systems and policies in place, but there is a lot of distrust,” she said.
Danielle Montour, a 23-year-old assistive technology specialist from Texas who signed the letter, said in an interview with The Washington Post that she was raped in a Boston hotel room in 2012 at a federation-affiliated student seminar when she was 15.
Montour, who was blinded during infancy by the rare cancer bilateral retinoblastoma, said she grew up in New Hampshire with few blind peers. She fought with her parents, who were concerned about her safety, to attend the Boston conference.
“It was my first opportunity to meet an organized group of blind people” in an academic setting, she said. “I was really excited.”
Montour said her assailant was a 19-year-old fellow student who had more functional vision and whom she was asked to mentor during the conference, even though he was older. She said she reported the rape to the federation and to law enforcement in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, but nothing was done, and her assailant still attends federation events.
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Federation spokesman Chris Danielsen declined to comment on specific allegations. Boston police said they do not release complaints involving victims of sexual assault, while New Hampshire state police, citing privacy concerns, said they could not confirm the existence of the report.
Montour said society views blind people as asexual “cherubs” — people who are routinely touched by strangers who want to help them navigate the world when, often, they need no such help. Partly for this reason, Montour said, the blind community does not get sufficient sex education, particularly about consent.
“We’re taught our bodies are not just our property,” she said. “If that’s how it is in public, imagine how it is when it comes to sex and people aren’t educated.”
Other sexual misconduct allegations were linked to federation training centers, which teach students life skills like Braille, home economics and use of the organization’s signature long white canes, which can improve blind people’s ability to travel without assistance. The centers, which host months-long programs, are known for a strict philosophy that challenges students to become independent.
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In an interview, Maria Salazar, 25, who also signed the letter, said she moved from Los Angeles to Littleton, Colo., in 2019 to join a training center. She was born blind, she said, and also has poor hearing in one ear and a kidney problem that has left her on dialysis for seven years. She wanted to improve her mobility and learn to live in her own apartment.
“I can take care of myself at the very least,” she said. “I don’t see blindness as a problem — as a reason not to do something.”
Former students allege decades-old sexual abuse at Maryland private school
At the program’s conclusion she sought to stay in Colorado, where she thought she had a better chance of getting a kidney transplant. She said the training center pressured her to move out of its housing and into an apartment with another student — a middle-aged man who raped her in November, she said.
Salazar reported the incident to police. Littleton police declined to release a report or other details, citing the nature of the complaint.
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Riccobono, who attended the Colorado center 21 years ago, said the centers “are committed to protecting blind people.” He added: “The boards of those centers are committed to making sure that the environment is challenging and safe and healthy.”
Now living with her parents in Los Angeles, Salazar said she is waiting for her federal coronavirus stimulus payment to she can return to Colorado.
“Everything is just a disaster, honestly,” she said. “I’m just hoping that something good can happen.”
5 Comments

Justin Wm. Moyer
Justin Wm. Moyer is a breaking news reporter for The Washington Post. After a long stint as a contributing writer at the Washington City Paper, he came to The Post in 2008, becoming an editor in Outlook and for the Morning Mix, The Post’s overnight team. He became a reporter in 2015.Follow

End of article.

From the Des Moines Register:

When Katy Olsen was 20, she won her first scholarship to attend a national convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Orlando, Florida.

The opportunity — afforded to students across the country who excel in academics, community involvement and leadership — meant she would be in the running for a college scholarship ranging from $3,000 to $12,000 and a chance to represent Iowa in the nation’s oldest and largest organization serving blind Americans.

But beginning that week in 2016, the Madrid, Iowa, native said she experienced something similar to what many other blind and low-vision women have come forward to say happened after they became involved with the nationwide nonprofit.

It began with a new friend and mentor she’d met the year before becoming increasingly controlling and touchy, making her feel uncomfortable. The longtime member, Jerad Nylin, would become president of Iowa’s affiliate of National Federation of the Blind later that October.

“He constantly reminded me that I would not be at the convention as a finalist if it wasn’t for him, because he was the one who pushed me to apply for it,” said Olsen, who won a $5,000 scholarship that year.

Olsen said she rejected Nylin’s advances and attempts to kiss her at another national federation seminar in Washington, D.C., in 2017. And she tried to avoid him at the federation’s next national convention in Orlando the same year — until Nylin asked her to come to his hotel room one night to meet some new friends.

After they left, she said, Nylin pressured her to stay and assaulted her, “pushing me back, kissing me, trying to put his hand down my pants,” she said.

Other incidents — groping and touching at times when other blind people in their presence couldn’t be aware — would happen at other gatherings over the next two years, she said.

Olsen filed a complaint with the organization in 2018. She also discussed with Iowa federation leaders in 2019 uncomfortable behavior by Michael Harvey, an older federation member and co-worker at the Iowa Department for the Blind, although she did not file a formal complaint. She said he got too close to her and touched her during a department gathering the same year.

Harvey, the subject of other complaints from female employees, was fired in March 2020, state records show.

“But that time in the hotel room was the time I felt the most attacked,” Olsen said.

Nylin, who did not return phone and Facebook messages seeking comment, voluntarily resigned his position as head of the Iowa affiliate in November 2018, after a three-person panel assembled by the national federation investigated Olsen’s formal code-of-conduct complaint.

His membership in the national federation was suspended, and he was told to refrain from contacting Olsen, according to the letter national federation President Mark Riccobono sent to Olsen outlining the panel’s decision.

“He has been advised that if further credible complaints arise, he may be subject to expulsion from the organization if the complaints are verified,” Riccobono wrote.

Olsen, a former University of Iowa student and youth counselor at the Iowa Department for the Blind who now attends college in Ruston, Lousiana, has since learned of numerous recent allegations of sexual misconduct in connection with the National Federation of the Blind, its affiliated training and rehabilitation programs, and its state affiliates, including the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa.

Emboldened by the MeToo movement, blind women across the country, who have relied on the federation’s advocacy, funding, programming and services to have more independent lives, have taken to Facebook and Twitter to report their encounters of sexual assault, groping and sexual harassment, using #MarchingTogether.

Amid the disclosures, a group of more than 500 survivors and supporters signed an open letter in December demanding action from the Baltimore-based National Federation of the Blind and the National Blindness Professionals Certification Board in Ruston.

The letter said those who have come forward have suffered retaliation, alienation and “serious damage to personal and professional relationships and reputations.”

Stacy Cervenka, a Lincoln, Nebraska, public policy expert for the blind and member of the national federation until 2018, helped circulate the open letter after she said leaders at the national organization, including Riccobono, failed to address widespread reports of problems more than two years ago.

Married to a supervisor at the Nebraska Commission for the Blind, Cervenka became involved after she said a man who had been fired twice for sexual misconduct received promotions despite being reported to the National Blindness Professionals Certification Board.

Since then, Cervenka said, she has collected dozens of stories of rape, groping, harassment and assault from women who attended federation training centers, conventions and other events.

The stories have led to ongoing discussions on social media about how little has changed over a period of decades in an insular community where federation-sponsored conventions, training programs and gatherings are focal points of socialization for young blind and low-vision people.

Members have complained that men have received little training or guidance on sexual behavior, while women have been encouraged to be passive or silent about widespread groping, harassment or even rape. Many have commented on Facebook about the difficulty of trying to expose deeply rooted problems within a member-led organization that so many people rely on. Others have lashed out at those who have spoken up in support of women who have told their stories.

“I honestly thought that things would be handled if victims would just tell leaders and tell training center directors.,” Cervenka wrote on her Facebook page. “… I came to know that leadership at the highest levels of NFB knew that this was a huge problem.”

‘I’m hoping to see justice for survivors’

The widespread allegations also have created a firestorm of controversy for a national advocacy and watchdog nonprofit that has sued universities, retailers, software companies and other organizations for discriminatory practices on behalf of blind and low-vision Americans.

Cervenka said she wants the organization to stop burying accusations from women, weed out abusers who remain in the federation’s ranks and take meaningful steps to stop sexual misconduct.

“I’m hoping to see justice for survivors,” she said. “I’m hoping those who have perpetrated abuse will be relieved of their positions. I’m hoping those in national leadership will face consequences for all the covering up and the silencing.”

Last month, Riccobono wrote a long letter of apology to the federation’s membership, saying he had made many mistakes and accepted responsibility.

“I am profoundly sorry that anyone has been harmed by experiences in our movement,” he wrote. “As a husband, father of three children, and leader who tries to live by a strong set of ethical values, I hurt for the survivors, and I deeply regret that I have made mistakes along the way.”

Riccobono said the campaign to expose sexual misconduct prompted the national federation this month to form a task force of survivors and engage a national anti-sexual violence organization to train its membership and rework its code of conduct. The organization also is working to enhance its reporting practices and training.

But Cervenka, Olsen and other women say the organization and its affiliates continue to retain members who have been accused of sexual assault and other misconduct, including some in leadership roles.

Nylin, who lives in Iowa City, was reinstated at the Iowa affiliate last year after a year’s probation and was invited to serve on a state nominating committee to elect new board members.

Olsen said she never received any notice of his reinstatement. But when she talked with Iowa affiliate president Scott Van Gorp in emails and over Zoom, she said, he told her the national federation was responsible for reinstating Nylin.

That decision was made even though Janae Peterson, a member since high school who currently works at Iowa State University, told the federation that she also was sexually assaulted and harassed by Nylin in the same year as Olsen’s report.

Peterson said she had known Nylin for years and tended to dismiss his questionable behavior until the summer of 2018, when she said he tried to grab her genitals beneath her shorts while the two were at Johnny’s Hall of Fame, a downtown Des Moines sports bar.

Peterson, 31, said she wasn’t aware of Olsen’s complaint until the code of conduct panel contacted her in fall 2018 during its sexual misconduct investigation.

She said the group sent her a letter after hearing about her case and asked her to outline what happened. But she said the outreach seemed very process-driven and lacking in any concern for what had happened to her.

At that point, she said, she decided not to take part in that investigation.

But she said she later contacted state and national leaders about her case, expressing great disappointment at the way they had gone about trying to investigate Nylin.

In a November 2018 letter to Riccobono, she said she had declined to make a written statement because she feared it would be shared with Nylin, as happened in Olsen’s case.

“In the past month, I have learned a lot about our organization’s history regarding sexual misconduct. If we make victims think twice about coming forward by requiring them to write long letters, relive their experiences in writing, and then send that information to the accused, it will send the message to predators that sexual harassment is acceptable, tolerable, and easily dismissed,” she wrote.

Riccobono replied to her in an email, saying he would reflect on what she wrote and “will take the actions that I believe best serve the members of our organization and creating the culture that we want to have in the future. I hope that you might be willing to take a moment to consider that my intention in this process might actually come from a place of love.”

Riccobono declined to comment on any specific sexual misconduct allegation. In a statement to Watchdog, he said:

“The National Federation of the Blind has a zero tolerance for abusive or violent behavior of any kind. Last week we announced a comprehensive program, in addition to our existing Code of Conduct internal review process. This includes an on-going partnership with RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, to assist us in furthering a safe, inclusive, and welcoming culture as part of all our programs and activities, as well as a survivor-led task force to help advise and guide our efforts.”

Peterson has since posted her story on Facebook. She said it makes her angry the federation reinstated Nylin and put him in another leadership committee position in Iowa.

“I was a pretty prominent member, serving on some of the federation’s national boards. So it’s not like I was a nobody,” she said. “No one has invited either (Olsen or me) to be a part of things again, but they will call Jerad.”

Lynn Baillif, a longtime federation member living in Baltimore, said she got involved in the movement because she believes the federation’s scholarship structure has for decades made students vulnerable to more powerful members and mentors who might take advantage.

A former national scholarship committee member, she said students who attend the national convention are beholden to those who mentor them at conventions because those mentors have sway over the size of their college scholarships.

Bailiff, 51, said she experienced an incident similar to what Olsen said happened to her when she was 17, attending a national federation convention.

Bailiff said she also met the man in his hotel room and he told her he would help get her a college scholarship if she slept with him. She refused him.

She said she reported the man, and he was kicked off the federation’s scholarship committee “in a fairly public way.”

So she was flabbergasted when he was later allowed to rejoin the national federation’s scholarship committee in the late-1990s, when she was also a member, she said.

“I was told he had grown out of it, so they had put him back on,” she said.

Riccobono declined to comment on the allegation.

Bailiff said the man she reported — whom she did not want to name publicly — has been working for the national federation on alleged sexual misconduct cases for years.

Emails related to sexual misconduct cases and the federation’s tax filings show he continues to work for the federation.

Two Iowa Department for the Blind workers fired

Those who signed the open letter have demanded the national federation put in place by Aug. 31 clear policies to “swiftly and thoroughly investigate allegations.” They also want to ensure victims don’t lose services or funding or get kicked out of programs after reporting accusations.

They have asked that perpetrators be removed from their jobs at local rehabilitation centers or any leadership posts in the organizations.

Iowa women say they also have reported sexual misconduct to the Iowa Department for the Blind, which often partners with the National Federation of the Blind and its affiliates with programming.

Since August 2019, two department employees who have been accused of sexual misconduct — Harvey and Michael Hoing — have been fired, state records obtained by Watchdog show.

Hoing could not be reached for comment. Reached by phone, Harvey said he would have to call Watchdog back, but did not.

Olsen, now 24, said she discussed Harvey’s behavior with Van Gorp, the current president of the Iowa affiliate of the national federation, telling him she believed Harvey should be monitored because she knew he had been accused of harassing other women as well.

At that point, she said, Van Gorp told her the only way action could be taken was to file another formal code of conduct complaint to the national federation.

“But I had just done that process the year before with (Nylin). That was traumatizing, and I didn’t want to do it again,” she said.

She said she stepped down last fall as second vice president of the state affiliate after Harvey was tapped by a nominating committee to become first vice president last fall.

She said she told Van Gorp she would have to work closely with Harvey, and she did not feel safe.

“But he kept saying the past is in the past, and we have to keep moving forward,” she said. “But that’s not possible when you’ve been through trauma like this.”

Niah Howard, 29, a former Department for the Blind employee who is also a student now at Louisiana Tech University, said she is one of the people who made formal complaints about Harvey’s inappropriate behavior.

She did so in early summer 2019, she said, after participating in blindness immersion training at the Iowa Department for the Blind’s orientation center in Des Moines.

In the complaint to the National Blindness Professional Certification Board, Howard said Harvey, her braille and technology instructor, asked if he could demonstrate how to track a line of braille by touching her shoulders and back during one of her lessons.

“He proceeded to track his fingers across my back. It felt inappropriate to me, but as a new professional in the field, I was not certain of this,” Howard wrote.

She said she later spoke with another instructor in the training center a few weeks later and was told that the behavior was inappropriate.

“I spoke with (Emily Wharton), director of the Iowa Department for the Blind about the incident, and again it was confirmed that this had been inappropriate behavior of an instructor and she encouraged me to report the incident to the Department of Administrative Services.”

Harvey wasn’t removed from his position as president of the Des Moines chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa until it began a formal code of conduct investigation into several complaints in December 2020. He was first vice president of the state affiliate until October.

Wharton, director of Iowa’s Department for the Blind, said: “Unfortunately, our attorney says we are not able to release the reason for Michael Harvey’s termination.”

But Wharton did confirm that Michael Hoing, a summer worker at the department, left the department in 2019 after a state Department of Administrative Services sexual harassment complaint against him was deemed founded.

Wharton said she wished she “could legally say more” about reports of sexual misconduct within the department, but that she could not elaborate on specific reports.

However, she said, all complaints are referred to the Department of Administrative Services and investigated. All of the complaints the department has received involved employees, she said.

“I can tell you we’ve taken complaints very seriously,” she said. “As a rule or as a policy, we do act on them.”

On Jan. 13, Van Gorp sent the following message to all members of the federation’s affiliate in Iowa:

“In light of recent events within the blindness community and discussions surrounding the Code of Conduct, several members throughout the affiliate have approached me and other leaders with questions that I would like to address at this time. The questions have surrounded allegations regarding one specific individual in the affiliate.

“After coordinating with our national president earlier this week, I am sharing the following information in an effort to be as transparent as possible. A grievance has been filed under the Code of Conduct of the National Federation of the Blind against Michael Harvey. This grievance is still going through the Code of Conduct process, and I have not received any additional information. In the meantime, Michael has been advised not to participate in Federation activities while this grievance is pending.

“In addition, you may see stories in media outlets throughout the country and here in Iowa. We are not commenting on any specific individuals or incidents.

“We in the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa stand with survivors and are doing everything we can to prevent incidents from happening to others while ensuring a safe space for survivors’ voices to be heard. We support the efforts of the survivor task force and look forward to the changes that will be implemented by our national organization in partnership with RAINN as well as from recommendations from the task force.

“In the meantime, as President Riccobono alluded to in his Presidential release on January 4, we need to keep moving forward while continuing to deal with these issues in a compassionate and constructive manner. I look forward to seeing where we go from here. Let’s consider where we’ve been, look at where we are now, and continue to look forward to the future to put these issues behind us and make the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa a safe place for all. To borrow the title of a recent newsletter, Federation Forward!”

Lee Rood’s Reader’s Watchdog column helps Iowans get answers and accountability from public officials, the justice system, businesses and nonprofits. Reach her at lrood@registermedia.com, at 515-284-8549, on Twitter at @leerood or on Facebook at Facebook.com/readerswatchdog.

Willful Blindness

Let’s start with some basic table-setting before we get to the main banquet.

Sexual predation is not a partisan issue. It is not a Republican issue, though the GOP did try to monopolize it in the late ‘90’s. Nor is it a Democrat issue, though the Party of the People has tried to monopolize it since late 2017.

Sexual predation is a criminal issue. If a man has sex with a woman without gaining her consent, that is sexual assault. If a man touches a woman inappropriately, or compels her to render sexual favors to him under the threat of professional or personal penalty, that is sexual harassment. It is black-letter law.

Nor is sexual violence a feminist issue, though some radical elements of the feminist movement might claim otherwise.

The issue concerns everyone. Men will often hear words such as, “Rape,” “Sexual harassment,” or “#MeToo,” and one of three things will usually occur. Either they will dismiss the issue as a, “Women’s issue,” or they will become defensive. They say to themselves, “I wouldn’t rape anyone. I’m not guilty.” Often times, men will decide that it is easier just to shut up, smile and nod. If they speak out, they run the risk of being labeled as insensitive at best, or a rape apologist at worst. Why bother to engage with the topic at all when any struggle you might incur is unwinnable?

There are understandable reasons for these dismissive or defensive reactions from most men, but they are misguided. Sexual predation is a criminal issue that affects everyone. Every man has in his life a mother, a daughter, a sister, a cousin, an aunt, a friend or a coworker buddy who has likely been a victim of this crime. I can appreciate why many men want to reflexively back away from something they perceive as an emotional minefield, but now is not the time to change the channel. Men can and must be participants in the ongoing battle against this cancerous scourge.

I have been a political conservative since I was old enough to vote. I hold many views consistent with the canons of conservatism, including a traditional tough-on-crime stance. I also believe that victims’ rights are and always have been a core plank in the conservative platform.

I also believe in due process. I don’t believe that they are mutually exclusive. Under the Constitution, everyone is innocent until proven guilty. This truth is constrained to our legal system and is often disregarded in the court of public opinion. In my view, this is folly. Americans of all political stripes would do well to carry the principle into every area where sexual predation has crept. They would do well to adhere to the principle on college campuses, in the workplace, in social settings, in the home, and in the National Federation of the Blind.

I came into the NFB 25 years ago. I was attracted by their message of equality and full autonomy for the blind. During my 25 years of involvement, I have served in various leadership roles, including as the president of the Nebraska Association of Blind Students, as the Secretary of the Nebraska State Board of Directors, as the NFBNewsline Coordinator in both Nebraska and Colorado, and as a counselor at a summer youth program at the Colorado Center for the Blind. I currently hold no elected office or paid position at the national, state or local level. I give you my bona fides so that you can lend the proper amount of credibility to my following observations and conclusions.

Almost from the beginning of my involvement in the movement, I heard whisperings about certain leaders who had a bad habit of putting their hands where they didn’t belong. Several years after my entrance, I heard a story from a survivor who was and is a close friend and who continues to be a member in good standing. I believed her. Thus began my slow awakening to the reality of a darker side of the Federation. In subsequent years, other women who are also good friends confided in me with their stories of violations they suffered at training centers, conventions, seminars and other official NFB functions. It became clear that sexual predation was not only a latent problem in the Federation, but an open secret.

I believe the survivors who have now come forward in their social media campaign.

Several weeks ago, survivors began to write openly about their experiences at the three NFB training centers (the Colorado Center for the Blind in Littleton, CO, Blind, Incorporated in Minneapolis, MN, and the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Rustin, LA), on various social media platforms. The voices multiplied and gathered, forming an angry undercurrent on social media that grew with the passage of time.

The first inkling I got that something was afoot came on December 8 in the form of a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter from the National Blindness Professional Certification Board (NBPCB), with an attached copy of their code of conduct and grievance process. I thought it odd that they would dispatch the message to the entire NFB network. The picture became clearer three days later on Friday, December 11, when the National Office sent out a communique to all members across all platforms. The message reaffirmed that the NFB stands in solidarity with survivors of sexual assault. I think I’m being charitable when I describe the nature of the message as weak tea.

The communique was received by the campaign with skepticism at best, derision at worst. As the weekend progressed, the stories continued to mount in number and detail. The posts ranged from chillingly subtle to shockingly graphic. Many posters chose to keep their abusers anonymous, but some of them named names. The most disturbing aspect of the stories was the fact that some of the accusers had been minors under the care of the NFB at the time of the alleged assaults. It is not a stretch to suspect that the boiler plate response from Baltimore may have actually fueled the spreading fire.

The tactics of the #MarchingTogether movement, as they came to be known, proved effective. Five days after the initial response from Baltimore, on Wednesday, December 16, President Mark Riccobono issued a mass communication to the membership. Its subject line was, “An Open letter of Apology from President Riccobono.” The letter was appropriately conciliatory in its tone. Riccobono handled the subject matter with political deftness, never once criticizing the victims, their tactics or their credibility. He also called for empathy and understanding for those who may be defending the NFB in good faith, while simultaneously employing language that would mollify the social justice elements of the campaign. He seemed genuine in the assumption of ownership of his mistakes and sincere in his regret over the lack of transparency in the leadership’s efforts to combat this pervasive problem. Most significant was the fact that he outlined six concrete steps the Federation intends to take to deal with the problem.

I admit that I was skeptical when I read Riccobono’s words. My view was that the president and the leadership were attempting to cover their hindmost parts in an effort to stem the fiery tide.

Hours after Riccobono issued his apology, the survivors posted their own letter. It was a complex document that seemed as if it had been in the drafting for weeks, so it was likely not a direct response to Riccobono’s apology statement. It came with a list of counter recommendations that took aim, not only at the lax culture and protocols surrounding the perpetration and reporting of sexual assault and harassment, but at the general culture of the NFB training centers.

I seriously considered adding my signature to the letter, but while I stood in awe of the courage of the victims who came forward and signed it, I found certain recommendations to be problematic. In my view, they go beyond the scope of the problem of sexual violence and address areas that would be better served in a separate conversation. Discussions I’ve held with other potential signatories takes us all to the same conclusion. Many people stand in solidarity with the victims, but feel that elements of the letter seem to strike at the very heart of the structured discovery curriculum that distinguishes NFB training centers from other orientation centers for the blind.

This is where matters stood on the week leading up to Christmas, 2020. In a tumultuous year rife with general discontent and mounting anxiety and anger, this is the appropriate capper for our little corner of the world.

After the weekend of December 11, the first-hand accounts of assault by survivors seemed to dwindle to a trickle (at least on my social media feeds.) The subsequent argument mutated to a proxy version of “good Federationists,” versus “Good allies.” The face of the pro-NFB viewpoint, of course, is President Riccobono. The most prominent “good ally,” (and the biggest target) is the apparent founder of the survivors’ campaign, Stacy Cervenka. After his open apology, Riccobono went dark on social media with respect to the issue, though many of his surrogates have continued to defend the president and the organization at large. Meanwhile, Cervenka was readily available in all quarters, vociferously defending herself against mounting criticism.

Sidebar: I have never met either President Riccobono or Stacy Cervenka directly. I have never taken the measure of either on a human level. I have observed both of them from a distance. I had a brief acquaintanceship with Cervenka on Facebook in 2019, but disengaged after I found some of her viewpoints and comments to be problematic.

I have met Marc Maurer, President Emeritus of the NFB, on multiple occasions. I took an instant dislike to him when we first shook hands in 2000. Nothing in the intervening 20 years has altered my view of the man. My opinion (and it is only my opinion) is that the problems we now face are largely a result of his non-responsiveness to them during his 28 years as our president.

I am laying out my biases clearly so that no one will misinterpret or misattribute my words and motives the things I write going forward.

Now that I have given you the background, I will tell you the truth as I see it. In my view, the problems and solutions are very complicated and will not be easily remedied with a quick fix.

The National Federation of the Blind has had this coming. Frankly, we’ve had it coming for decades.

Given the nature and structure of our leadership, it is easy to see how predators and predatory behavior can flourish. The organization functions under the guise of a Democracy, complete with elections on the national, state and local levels. It’s true that local and state competitions are usually fair and open, with multiple candidates being allowed to run if they so choose.

The story is entirely different on the national stage. In my 20 years of attending and streaming national conventions, I have never witnessed an election in which a national officer or board member was opposed by another candidate in an open contest. In theory, the convention body elects the national board. In actual practice, the general body is a rubber stamp for the nominating committee, who is appointed by the state affiliates and who in turn selects the national president. It has always been implicitly but firmly understood that the current president will hand-pick his successor, and that said successor will ascend to the presidency unquestioned and unencumbered with no electoral challenge or protest from the general membership. In other words, Marc Maurer and Mark Riccobono were not elected to the presidency. They were appointed. The election was mere window dressing. If you are unfamiliar with the NFB and if this strikes you as a system that bears a resemblance to that of a monarchy, you aren’t far wrong.

The NFB has been the largest, strongest and most influential movement in the blindness community since its inception in 1940. There are sound reasons for this. We are well organized, we have a respectable treasury and, as a movement, we are driven by our philosophical convictions. The top-down nature of the movement insures that we are quickly motivated and easily mobilized when necessary. When it comes to blindness, the NFB has had a positive and undeniable impact on legislation, rehabilitation policies, the culture and in the legal arena. Aside from our home page, one need only google us to find long lists of our accomplishments on behalf of the blind.

The down side of this autocratic-leaning form of governance is the systematic minimization and, in some cases, outright smothering of reformation efforts. It is indeed true that it Is useful in squelching those who possess genuine mal intent toward the NFB and our goals, but it is equally poisonous when members with legitimate grievances, such as survivors of assault, attempt to petition the leadership for a redress of those grievances.

Some critics of the survivor campaign are faulting them for posting their stories on social media. I catch a whiff of victim-blaming in these criticisms, but more to the point, social media was the obvious avenue for this campaign to take after years of being denied a proper and fair hearing. It is inexcusable that Riccobono and company did not foresee something like this when they first implemented the Code of Conduct in 2018 in the wake of #MeToo. Social media gives survivors what they never had before; a platform on which to speak without fear of being suppressed or controlled and the ability of their supporters to instantly share their stories with the entire world.

I can’t say for certain that Marc Maurer knew about wide-spread sexual predation and covered it up during his 28 years as president, but frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. Based on what I’ve experienced of the man, I can easily envision him justifying the squashing of complaints of indecent behavior by powerful members in leadership roles in the name of the greater good. I attended a leadership seminar at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore on Labor Day weekend, 2001. Maurer was overt in his desire to “use” budding leaders such as myself for the cause in any manner he saw fit. This is a man who used Ramona Walhof to speak in glowing terms of his willingness to be in absentia during the birth of his first child in order that he might fight for the cause in court. Some of his audience found him inspiring, but he made my skin crawl. It is not difficult to imagine him turning a willfully blind eye to the complaints of those whom he might find to be inconvenient to the advancement of the righteous and necessary cause of the organized blind.

There is only one real way to bring about a cultural change from the top down. I believe the solution is term limits for all national and state board members. This includes the members of the board of directors for all three of our training centers. I believe that all members interested in substantive internal reform should begin to investigate the process of amending the national and all state constitutions.

My friends will chuckle when they read this. They will remember how I used to argue against term limits. We’ll just say that I have evolved on the question. Our current situation in our state and on the national level demands reform. I believe that elected leadership in perpetuity breeds complacency, willful blindness and a rigidity of thought under the notion that the old ways always work. I’m speaking of the people mired in board culture, not the underpinning philosophy that guides our movement. I believe that term limits for elected leaders at the upper levels will force current leaders to do a better job of recruiting and grooming upcoming members for leadership roles. It will also insure that those who are providing safe harbor for predatory behavior through nepotism and cronyism cannot wield intractable power.

I know that term limits are not a perfect answer, but I believe that at this point in time, they are the best answer for our current difficulties.

As for President Riccobono, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for the time being. All matters of justice and willful blindness aside, he inherited this problem. Yes, he has mishandled the crisis thus far, but he appears to have taken ownership of the issue. Whether this is through a genuine concern for the victims, or out of political reaction from social media shaming, he deserves the opportunity to implement real and lasting change. In spite of his tardiness, if he has not adopted clear, demonstrable reform measures through a transparent process by the time of convention in July of 2021, he should step down.

Heads must roll.

I’m not talking about the French Revolution here. There is no benefit to beheading an innocent seamstress. My assertion is informed by political pragmatism, not blood lust. I want to see justice for the survivors and real, substantive change in the Federation, but justice and retribution do not have to be synonymous.

The hard fact of it is that people will not have real confidence that the leadership is serious about fundamental change until someone who seems untouchable is publicly excised from power and permanently expelled from the organization. In my years of service, I’ve heard the same half-dozen names come up over and over again. Some of these names have been prominent in the movement since the ‘70’s. If the NFB is serious about investigating claims, they will unearth these serial offenders and excise them from the movement and turn them over to the criminal justice system. If the membership in general and the survivors in particular see this happen, it will go a long way toward establishing the credibility that is necessary to facilitate the healing process.

I’ve been watching certain members of the NFB elite power class preen and posture on social media. They are saying all the right things, their verbiage dripping with woke sincerity designed to soothe and disarm. Deep down, they are frauds. In fact, they are part of the problem. I’m not speaking in extremist terms here. I believe that this is rank opportunism. I believe that many of them have been active enablers of the current situation. I think these people know who the serial predators are and have either actively or passively covered it up, thereby allowing them to find new victims. I’m not in favor of a witch hunt by any means, but I genuinely believe that these leaders need to be pushed back from positions of prominence if the evidence warrants it. Term limits would go a long way in solving this problem.

The numerous stories on social media do indeed show a clear pattern of predation at all three of our training centers. These stories alone should warrant investigations into the directors of those centers. If the investigators can demonstrate that any or all of the directors knowingly perpetuated a climate in which predators could seek out victims, they should be terminated and expelled from the NFB. If they are cleared, they should go on about their important work with a clean slate.

In recent days, a campaign of direct accusation and whispered innuendo has been mounted against Stacy Cervenka on social media. Some are questioning her motives, her methods and her exact role in the campaign of the survivors. I too am dubious of her motives and her tactics, particularly her personal conduct on social media. As a former member of the NFB for nearly two decades, Cervenka should have anticipated and been prepared for such attacks and criticisms when she first undertook this fight.

However, whatever I, or the leadership, may think of Cervenka and her overt and covert objectives, the stark fact is that the leadership invited such repercussions when they chose to ignore this growing blight. Sexual misconduct has been in our societal consciousness since the 1970’s. Even if you accept that the problem could not be properly handled due to a smothering blanket of cultural autocracy, you cannot avoid the pivot point of the code of conduct. Once that was implemented, the Federation as a whole validated the fact that sexual predation is a real and troublesome phenomenon in all aspects of our culture.

When you’re not at the table, you’re on the table.

One charge leveled against Cervenka runs, “Why doesn’t she stop attacking us and come to the table? Help us implement the positive change we all want.” Experience teaches me that this charge has a sinister tint to it. It is more likely that some leaders would draw Cervenka back into the fold by giving her the illusion of influence in hopes of seeking a way to effectively neutralize her. There are members of leadership who might even view her words and deeds as a declaration of war upon the Federation.

Moreover, according to screen shots of texts and Emails posted to Cervenka’s Facebook page, she tried to raise this issue two years ago when she contacted President Riccobono about these matters in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Riccobono responded with a combination of saccharine platitudes and hurt feelings.

Aside from the odd fact that Riccobono did not immediately try to engage in a constructive dialogue with her, he should’ve foreseen the fact that Cervenka, or someone like her, would eventually mount this sort of campaign. The crisis the leadership now faces was mostly avoidable. Yes, sooner or later, this kind of thing would have become public, but the NFB might have been better able to control the spread of the wildfire if they had gotten out ahead of it earlier. Now, Cervenka and the survivors hold the stronger hand and Riccobono and the leadership appear to be reactive in the seeking of solutions, rather than proactive.

Despite the leadership’s desperate need to control the situation, there is only one group that will decide how much power Cervenka holds. It is not the leadership of the National Federation of the Blind. It is not observers with a vested interest like myself. It is the victims. Thus far, Cervenka has proven to be their ally and an effective advocate. Her efforts to create a network for survivors to begin the healing process is particularly laudable. They, and only they, will have to decide what role she will play going forward.

For everything, there is a consequence.

When I was a youth counselor at the Colorado Center for the Blind in the summer of 2014, I tried to impart one important lesson to my students. Every decision has consequences.

Compare and contrast that to a lesson that Marc Maurer tried to teach me as I sat in front of his desk with 30 other young and hopeful NFB leaders, just 10 days before the tragedy of 9/11. As I chomped away on Peanut M N M’s like Pac-Man going after Power Pellatts, Maurer asked all of us to rank the five most important things that leaders in the NFB should accomplish. After he delivered the assignment, he bounced a coin on his massive desk and said, “Mrs. Walhof, I’ll bet you a quarter that none of them get it.”

We all wrote down our answers and read them later. They ranged from the usual; fundraising, membership recruitment, fundraising, insuring philosophical solidity, fundraising, legislative impact, legal victories in court and fundraising.

After we were finished, he collected his quarter from Mrs. Walhof and said, “The most important mission in the Federation is the selection and grooming of the next president of the movement.”

That tells you all you need to know about NFB culture at the highest levels. We are an organization that places a good deal of emphasis on leadership. I understand why this happens. I do believe in the ‘great man’ view of history. Riccobono leveled up in 2018 when he dedicated his annual banquet speech to the contributions of women to the Federation. If there’s one thing that NFB leaders know how to do, it is deliver a good speech. The response of the survivors campaign has proven that pandering woke lip service is no longer enough.

Leaders in the organization will find no shortage of praise and celebration once they come to power. If they pay proper homage to our core philosophy, engage in the quotidian drudgery of fundraising, membership recruitment and pounding the halls of their state capital, and if they proffer respect to the state and national leadership, they will find a path to greater glory.

I don’t think this is entirely unreasonable. Yet, when serious problems come to light as has happened now, the leadership must also bear the consequences of their actions and inactions. If the Federation rises upon the shoulders of its leaders, then it must also fall upon the actions and inactions of its leaders.

I want to make it clear that I am not in favor of a ‘burn it down’ approach. The NFB has done a great deal of good in its 80 years of existence. We can still continue to stand at the forefront of the advancement of the blind in society. But the time has come for an open and honest dialogue about the plague of sexual violence within our ranks and how to best combat it. That dialogue and subsequent change cannot occur without meaningful alterations to our top-down style of leadership.

I am an unapologetic defender of the structured discovery model of training for the blind. I firmly believe that our three centers are monuments to the words and intangible beliefs of the Federation put into tangible action. The blindness community would be worse off if our training centers do not remain as a viable option for blind people. As is so often the case, the flaws in the centers do not rest with the philosophy, but with the people in charge.

I also want to clarify that, as a conservative, I am opposed to much of the platform of the social justice movement. I believe that many of their viewpoints and strategies veer too close to fascism for my taste. It is far easier to detect injustice than it is to develop and implement viable solutions that result in true equity.

I will grudgingly acknowledge the irony that, while I am skeptical of the social justice movement, this topic would not have been pushed into the open without their dogmatic relentlessness. I also acknowledge the deep irony that, if we were to replace our current form of leadership in the NFB with the principles of social justice, we would ultimately be replacing one form of repressive governance with another.

I do not believe that silence is complicity. That is an absolutist slogan designed to force people into a binary choice while ignoring nuance and gray areas. Yes, sexual violence is an uncomfortable topic. With its emergence into the limelight, we all need to feel a little bit uncomfortable as we grapple with it. But certain elements of the “Social Justice Warrior” crowd will use this discomfort more as a blunt force cudgel rather than as an instrument of education and persuasion. This represents a serious error in strategic judgment and emotional temperament. If you want to implement real and lasting change, you cannot do so while alienating a vast swath of those whom you hope to persuade.

Castigating the leadership is one thing, but the general membership is another matter. I understand why many members have stayed silent over the years with regard to this issue. Many may have felt ill equipped to properly deal with the facts. Others may have been apathetic or unaware of the problem. A great number of members probably knew about the issue but stayed silent out of fear for their own personal or professional wellbeing.

Whatever the case, the truth is now out in the open. As members, we have the choice of either perpetuating the problem by continuing to sweep it under the rug, or grappling with our discomfort together in hopes of bringing about a positive and productive resolution for the survivors.

Honestly, this was the toughest essay I’ve ever had to write. It has forced me to stand in front of a metaphoric mirror and take a hard look at myself and my past actions. I am mindful of the fact that I may have hurt some of you with the words that I have written here. I have many friends who are Federationists and who are true believers in our cause. If you are reading this and are pained by it, I would respectfully ask you to compare your feelings to those of the victims who have gone unheeded for these many years. If your first instinct is to downplay the problem or to adopt a ‘circle the wagons’ mentality, I would implore you to consider the fact that our president has already acknowledged that the problem of systemic sexual predation exists and that our leadership has done too little to rectify it. There is no real question as to the nature and scope of the problem. The only question that remains now is, what can we do about it as we go forward?

This takes me back to where I started; the survivors.

I see the word, “empathy,” used a lot when having discussions of this nature. I am suspicious when this word is employed. I believe that its current day ubiquity has dulled its meaning. As a man who has never experienced full-blown sexual assault, it would be disingenuous for me to claim that I feel empathy for those who have undergone it. When I read the words written on social media from authors whom I don’t know, my heart hurts for them, but I can’t walk in their shoes.

That said, God bless you for your courage. Whatever happens, I hope you keep up the good fight. You won’t have an easy road ahead of you. This is an issue that cuts to the bone. Battle lines will be drawn, friendships will be lost, charges and countercharges will be leveled and lives will be drastically altered. Some will be your allies, others with ulterior motives will claim to be your allies and still others will attack you openly. I can’t know the future, but whatever happens, I pray that you can muster the strength to stay the course until you see the change wrought that you are fighting for.

While I can’t feel empathy for the survivors whom I don’t know, I do feel genuine compassion for my close friends who have been victimized. When the tide broke on social media, I spent a good deal of time on phone calls with friends who are trauma survivors. They are the reasons why I take this issue seriously and why I am choosing to break my silence. Whatever happens in the coming months and years, I want all survivors of sexual assault to know that I hear you and I support your calls to be heard.

To all of you predators out there who think you’ve gotten away with it, sleep with one eye open. When you wake up every morning, ask yourselves, is today the day?

Now that we’ve ingested our banquet entree, here’s your meager sliver of cheesecake. It is intended for everyone invested in the current debate. There is no intoxicant more potent than raw, unbridled power. Just ask the Republican Party.

Happy New Year.

Now, let’s go repair the Federation.

All Hail the Mother Ship

“In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups. The police who investigate crime, and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.

DUHN-DUHN!!!”

That was the monologue that opened every single episode of Law & Order. That was the premise; straight forward and uncomplicated. For 20 years, Law & Order served as the template for how to do a crime procedural on ‘90’s TV. It wasn’t just a police procedural, but a legal drama as well. The first half of the program concerned the police investigation of a crime (usually murders.) In early seasons, viewers would follow the cops as they investigated the occasional rape, kidnapping or political corruption case. The second half of the story concerned the prosecution of the bad guys. Created by veteran TV producer Dick Wolf of Hill Street Blues and Miami Vice fame, Law & Order was the perfect animal for ‘90’s network crime comfort food.

I first encountered Law & Order in 1995 at around 2AM. I was in my dorm room at UNL, wide awake as I suffered the ravages of Non-24 Hour Sleep-Wake Disorder. I was eating cold Domino’s Pizza and channel surfing when I came across the show on A&E right at the beginning. The opening monologue hooked me.

The plot of the episode concerned an apartment building superintendent who was murdered during an apparent break-in. As the show unfolds, it becomes evident that the guy’s son killed him. The son claims that the father was abusive and he killed him in self-defense, but the cops uncover the fact that the kid is actually guilty of parental abuse.

Parental abuse!? Who the hell ever heard of that? I’m sure my mom felt as if she was being subjected to parental abuse every time my brother fired up Guns N’ Roses on his big basement speakers, but that’s a far cry from being beaten to death with a hammer, which is what the son did to the father in the story.

So the cops finally arrest the kid, but then the D.A. has to convince a jury that he was actually the abuser, not his dear dead dad.

I loved the idea that one group of characters would appear in the first half of the show, then another group would carry the ball home for the finish. So, I got hooked. Every night at 10PM, I had a date with Law & Order. It didn’t matter if I was hanging with the guys on the dorm floor, or having Lil’ Ryno tended to by a frisky cafeteria worker. Whatever the case, Law & Order was on.

L&O was quintessential network fare, which was why it was right for syndication. There was no ongoing story to follow with climactic cliffhangers to keep the viewer coming back week after week. It didn’t matter if you jumped in at season one, or season 14, or mixed the episodes up in a blender. With a few exceptions, the narrative of each episode stood alone. It was also the textbook example of a plot-driven show. The stories almost never followed the personal lives of the characters. Viewers would have to rely on random bits of dialogue or conversations to gain insights into the minds and hearts of the protagonists.

One might wonder how a show can last for 20 years and maintain its freshness. Actually, it can’t. L&O ran a creatively uneven spread. But a lack of source material wasn’t the reason. Part of the gimmick of the show was its self-proclaimed, ‘ripped from the headlines’ angle. Each case the cops and lawyers dealt with involved situations based on real events. “Extended Family,” was based on the Michael Jackson abuse charges. “Nullification,” was based on the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. “Apocrypha,” was a fusion of the first World Trade Center bombing and the Branch Davidian cult. There was a major three-part series in the seventh season based on the most famous news event of the ‘90’s, O. J. Simpson. And those were just the high-profile cases.

Despite what pundits on both sides of the aisle claimed, L&O had no political axe to grind. The cops and prosecutors chose targets of all political stripes and ideologies; from gun manufacturers to environmental terrorists, from pro-life murderers to anti-death penalty activists, from radical fundamentalist Muslims to radical fundamentalist Christians. The only constant political message L&O sent over its 20-year run was that extremists are bad.

More interesting than the show’s formula were the revolving door of cast changes that occurred over the 20-year life span of the series. In the debut season, stars included Michael Moriarty as crusading ADA Ben Stone, George Dzundza as Sgt. Max Greevy, Steven Hill as DA Adam Schiff and, long before he was Mr. Big on Sex and the City, and long, long before he was Julianna Margulies’s wayward politician husband on The Good Wife, a relatively young Chris Noth as Det. Mike Logan.

Dzundza left the show after the first season because he was unhappy working in NYC while his family lived in Hollywood. Actor and opera singer Paul Sorvino (of Goodfellas fame) took over as Sgt. Phil Cerreta. Sorvino wasn’t any happier and left during the show’s third season.

That’s when the legendary Jerry Orbach entered the scene as Det. Lenny Briscoe. Yup… The dad from Dirty Dancing classed up the L&O set. I’m disgusted with myself that I know this tidbit. I’d rather get caught wearing panties with my friend Ross’s face engraved on the bum than admit that I know anything about Dirty Dancing.

World-weary, wise-cracking, recovering alcoholic cop Briscoe was a calming influence on the younger, volatile Logan. According to all reports, Orbach was just as much of a soothing presence to his fellow actors on the turbulent set. Even in interviews, you can tell that he’s one hell of a nice guy.

Beginning with the fourth season, the network powers that were delivered an edict that estrogen be infused into the traditionally all-male cast. S. Epatha Merkerson took over the reins from Dann Florek’s grizzled Captain Cragen as Lt. Anita Van Buren. Long before she starred on Crossing Jordan, Jill Hennessy took up the role of Clair Kincaid, becoming the first of many women to fill the second chair in the courtroom on the ADA team. It wasn’t a coincidence that Hennessy was easy on the eyes, as were her many successors.

Florek was lucky. Six years after he was unceremoniously let go from the Mother Ship in favor of identity politics, he was hired to play the same character of Don Cragen on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Richard Brooks, who played Paul Robinett, the original series’ first and only African-American ADA, was not so fortunate. He was let go at the same time as Florek, but only reappeared later on the Mother Ship in occasional guest spots. Neither of the characters were given a proper on-screen send-off.

On the other side of the aisle, Michael Moriarty reportedly was no picnic to work with. He left the series at the conclusion of the show’s fourth season after a very public dispute with real life Attorney General Janet Reno and First Lady Tipper Gore over censorship of violence on TV. The character of Ben Stone resigned in a fit of guilt after one of his witnesses in a criminal trial was killed by the Russian mob.

Sidebar: Moriarty may be a nut, but he was right about Reno. Law & Order had very little on-screen violence. The subject matter could often be heavy with its hot button socio-political themes, but even by ‘90’s network standards, the show was not bloody or gratuitous by any stretch.

In season five, The Mother Ship delivered another major upgrade in the person of Sam Waterston as ADA Jack McCoy. Ben Stone had been rooted in righteousness and a puritan’s love of the law, but Jack McCoy was a different animal who played the game primarily to win. His methods were often more extralegal and ruthless than those of his predecessor. He also had a very Clintonesque habit of bedding down his female assistants; a fact that came back to bite him later more than once.

Many long-time fans of the series would agree that the show’s fifth season represented the best cast mix of the entire 20-year run; Briscoe, Logan, Van Buren, McCoy, Kincaid and Schiff. But, as the L&O gods would often decree every season or two, chemistry did not insure endurance.

At the end of season five, Chris Noth demanded a salary bump during his contract renewal negotiation. Wolf refused, so Logan was history. In the most colorful exit from the series, Logan punched a homophobic politician in the face during a clash with an angry mob.

Sidebar: Thanks largely to the burgeoning internet, the popularity of Mike Logan’s character endured through reruns and fan fiction. To that end, Logan received a TV movie three years after his departure. Its title was, Exiled: A Law & Order Movie. Six years after that, he began a semi-regular stint on Law & Order: Criminal Intent after Vincent D’Onofrio kept having nervous breakdowns over Bush, the Iraq War, Dick Cheney, etc. Logan lasted for two seasons before he quit the force in disgust; a very Loganesque thing to do.

After his first series partner was ejected from the Mother Ship, Briscoe received a downgrade in the personage of Benjamin Bratt as Renaldo ‘Rey’ Curtis. The character was too straight-laced and vanilla to be interesting. Meanwhile, Hennessy left the role as Jack McCoy’s partner and romantic interest in the sixth season climax when Clair was killed by a drunk driver in a car accident.

Sidebar: Clair’s fate was eventually addressed in the eighth season episode, “Under the Influence,” when McCoy goes overboard in the prosecution of a drunk driver.

And so it continued. They eye candy portion of the entertainment was filled over the next 14 seasons by the likes of Carey Lowell, Angie Harmon )pre-Rizzoli and Isles), Elizabeth Rohm, Annie Parisse and Alana de la Garza. Bratt left the series after the ninth season and enjoyed a fling with Julia Roberts and a moderately successful movie career. Briscoe got an upgrade in the form of Jesse L. Martin as Det. Ed Green. Green wasn’t quite as cool as Logan, but a latent gambling addiction and better street smarts made him more entertaining than Curtis.

Steven Hill, the show’s most veteran actor, lasted 10 seasons before he called it quits. He was replaced by Dianne Wiest as D.A. Nora Lewin. She lasted two seasons. Then, producers made their biggest casting blunder. They took the series title too seriously and pandered to the right. In the wake of the election of George W. Bush, as well as 9/11, they decided that the show needed an injection of good ol’ southern conservatism. It came in the form of Fred Dalton Thompson as D.A. Arthur Branch. You remember the late Fred Thompson? He ran unsuccessfully for president in 2008. That’s actually why the actor left the show after the 17th season. Branch premiered in the 13th season and Thompson stuck out like a Viagra trip gone wrong. Branch’s folksy-drenched dialogue seemed as if it had been penned by Colonel Potter or Matlock! He was not at all believable as a New York City district attorney. Angie Harmon’s character of Abbey ‘hang ’em high’ Carmichael was a believable conservative character. Branch was merely a walking cliché.

In another major loss for the show, Briscoe retired at the end of the 14th season. Jerry Orbach announced that he had been battling cancer for years shortly after he exited the show. In December of 2014, Jerry Orbach passed away, and the entire L&O universe took a moment of silence and shed a tear. He was replaced in season 15 by Dennis Farina (of Crime Story fame) as Joe Fontana, but it was another downgrade. No one could fill Briscoe’s shoes.

No series can last 20 years and maintain its peak. When Law & Order: SVU came along in 1999, it seemed that the Mother Ship took a hit in quality. The reasons were obvious. The best writers and producers from the Mother Ship were transferred to what would prove to be the first of five spin-offs in a budding franchise. For those of us who remained loyal to Big Mama, the results were telling. Briscoe’s wisecracks got lamer. The dialogue lost much of its East Coast zing. The plots, which had always stripped true crime for parts, became more transparent in the theft of their source material.

I quit watching regularly in favor of more complex fare such as 24, The Sopranos, The Shield and Deadwood. Yet, I would often have dinner at Audra’s apartment. She would make beef stroganoff or parmesan chicken and we would marathon a few L&O reruns on TNT. Audra always got annoyed with me for eating all of her Oreos. Thank God she didn’t prosecute me for theft.

This tradition lasted until 2007, when I left Nebraska for Denver. But every May, I would wait to hear that the original series had been canceled. Every May, it survived.

In the show’s 18th season, the Mother Ship was rejuvenated. Jack McCoy was promoted to interim D.A. in the wake of Branch’s departure. Linus Roache came on board as ADA Michael Cutter, with de la Garza continuing as Connie Rubirosa. The dynamic between McCoy, Cutter and Rubirosa was a nice reset for the series, with McCoy flip-flopping and assuming the role as the curmudgeonly mentor/authority figure and Cutter as the sometimes rebellious assistant. Bowing to pressure from serialized competitors, writers infused the 19th season with political intrigue as McCoy ran for a full term as D.A. and also ran afoul of the governor.

On the cop side, Jeremy Sisto became Ed Green’s ex-military partner, Cyrus Lupo. Their bond lasted for 14 episodes, until Green became the suspect in a murder and eventually quit the force after clearing himself. Anthony Anderson played an Internal Affairs investigator who dogged Green at first, but ultimately, transferred to the precinct in the wake of Green’s departure and fell in as Lupo’s partner.

Sidebar: Jesse Martin left the show amicably in order to revive his theater career. Did you guys know that theater is a big thing in New York City? I mean… Besides Hamilton.

And that’s how the series stood for its final two seasons. The cast was fresh, had good chemistry and brought back some of the old spark from the glory days of season five.

Reportedly, NBC gave the Mother Ship the axe in favor of Law & Order: L.A. Three spin-offs weren’t enough, and a sacrifice had to be made. After all, the CSI franchise was giving NBC quite the competition. Wolf tried to convince TNT to take the series, but they refused. So, Law & Order tied Gunsmoke as the longest running scripted dramatic series to that date. There was no grand finale. But for a subplot involving Van Buren’s cancer diagnosis, no loose ends were tied up neatly or left dangling. The show went out the way it came in, with McCoy and company battling the NYC teachers’ union to catch a murderer. Some villains never change.

Sidebar: When it was all said and done, the Mother Ship spawned five spin-offs. They were, in order of appearance:

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit – 1999-Present
Law & Order: Criminal Intent – 2001-2011
Law & Order: Trial by Jury – 2005
Law & Order: L.A. – 2010-2011
Law & Order: True Crime – 2017

COMING SOON:

Law & Order: Organized Crime
Law & Order: Hate Crimes

I’m not making that up.

Sometime before Thanksgiving, I ran out of books to read and needed something to watch with dinner, so I just randomly played, “Conspiracy,” (season 3) in the name of all the ‘election fraud’ jugheads out there. I’ve been binging ever since. The beauty of it is that I could binge from now until June when the pandemic will be over and I’ll never watch the same episode twice.

Despite its formulaic nature, I really enjoy this series. Some of the plots are standard cookie-cutter procedural fare. The better stories are those with some legal, political or philosophical quandary at the center. Many of them hold up very well today, despite the fact that the final episode is 10 years old.

Out of the 456 episodes, I have compiled my top 10 favorite stories.

You will notice two things:

One is that none of the episodes that make my list come from past the seventh season.

The other is that, despite the minimal amount of character arcs in this series, the episodes that tend to attract hard-core fans like myself always centered around some personal aspect of one of the characters.

So, here we go.

“DUHN-DUHN!!!”

10. “Aftershock”: (Season 6)

This was the only experimental episode of the entire series that broke format. It proved to be as controversial as the Fly episode of Breaking Bad or Tony Soprano’s infamous black screen.

A man is executed by lethal injection for raping a woman and beating her to death with a tire iron. Briscoe, Curtis, McCoy and Kincaid make the mistake of watching it. The execution has a profound impact on all four of our heroes. Briscoe has lunch with his estranged daughter, then falls off the wagon after years in recovery. Curtis picks up Jennifer Garner in the park and has an affair. McCoy goes to a bar, gets drunk and reminisces about his abusive father. Kincaid agonizes over the morality of the death penalty with her father.

The episode’s shocking climax occurs when Clair goes to the bar to pick up a drunken McCoy, who has already left. She gives Briscoe a ride home instead and is killed in a car accident.

9. “Coma”: (Season 5)

Larry Miller is great at playing bad guys. Maybe you remember him from Patch Adams. In this one, he plays a husband who may or may not have shot his wife and made it look like a carjacking. While the wife hovers between life and death in a coma, McCoy must decide whether or not to order a risky operation that will either kill her or save her life.

8. “Indifference”: (Season 1)

Even for jaded viewers of crime shows, nothing makes your skin crawl like child abuse and murder. This one features an upper class family with a monstrous father who sexually and physically abuses his family. When dad gets done with the kids, mom starts in. It hits the fan when the little girl doesn’t wake up from Kindergarten nap time.

Note: Based on the Lisa Steinberg case.

7. “House Council”: (Season 5)

It starts as an investigation into the murder of a juror who may have been bribed while deliberating over the case of a mafia don. Things get personal for McCoy when his old college buddy turns out to be a mob lawyer. This story helps explain McCoy’s win-at-all-cost mindset.

6. “Bad Faith”: (Season 5)

The first of two episodes in this list to center around Mike Logan. When a cop buddy of Logan’s commits suicide, the trail leads to the dark side of Logan’s childhood when he must confront a pedophile priest.

5. “Corruption”: (Season 7)

Curtis gets suspicious after a questionable shooting by a shady cop, who also happens to be a friend of Briscoe’s. When McCoy goes after the crooked cop, he accuses Briscoe of being dirty in order to save himself from a head-hunting anti-corruption task force.

4. “Mad Dog”: (Season 7)

It’s the classic L&O scenario of individual civil rights versus the protection of society. McCoy pushes the envelope when he pursues a post-Rocky Burt Young as a serial rapist and murderer who is released on parole after the body of a young girl is found in her basement.

3. “Helpless”: (Season 3)

This is one of those episodes that was shocking on the Mother Ship, but is just run-of-the-mill on SVU. Carolyn McCormick had a recurring role throughout the series as police psychologist Elizabeth Olivet. In this one, she goes from consultant to victim when she is raped by her gynecologist. It’s particularly disturbing, because Olivet captures the rape on tape.

Note: The actor who plays the sadistic OBGYN is Paul Hect. Many of us blind folks know him as the narrator of audio books. Many old-time radio fans will remember him from the CBS Radio Mystery Theater. Carolyn McCormick is best known to us blind folks as the lady who narrated the audio book versions of The Hunger Games trilogy.

2. “Confession”: (Season 2)

The second Logan-centric episode. Mike’s first partner Greevy is due to testify in a racketeering case when he is shot down in the driveway of his home in front of his family. Does Logan eventually catch the shooter? Of course. He even extracts a confession from the killer. Problem is, he does it at gunpoint, which makes the confession inadmissible at trial, much to Stone’s fury.

Note: There’s a reason that Logan is the favorite junior partner of the series. The scene when Logan hears the screams of Greevy’s wife over the phone as she witnesses Max’s murder, punctuated by Logan screaming, “MARIE!!! MARIE!!!” have never been matched for dramatic value.

1. “Sanctuary”: (Season 4)
If you had to pick one episode that encapsulates all the good things about this series, this one is it.

It starts with a young black boy being killed in a hit-and-run. The driver is a wealthy Jewish man who is subsequently given a slap on the wrist and sent home. Race riots then consume the city, resulting in an innocent white man being dragged from his car and beaten to death. The ensuing trial is fraught with racial tensions as the defense lawyer offers a justification based on mob psychology.

Note: This was one of Ben Stone’s final episodes and features another clash with his best nemesis, Public Defender Shambala Green (Lorraine Toussaint.) It was based on the Rodney King riots and the killing of a truck driver by Reginald Denny.

And, that does it. This entry was about as long as the series. HEY! I forgot about Milena Govich! Does that speak more to my bad memory, or her forgettable character?

What? You guys want me to talk about Elizabeth Rohm’s exit line, “Is this because I’m a lesbian?” No way! I’d rather break out the webcam and model the Ross panties.

Thanksgiving

My friends, it is truly a time for thanksgiving in America. I say that with the full knowledge of the fact that this year has rendered us more than our share of dark days. Yet, we endure.

Yes, I am thankful. I am thankful to be living in a country that is bringing us a vaccine for the worst pandemic we have seen in a century. With all due deference to those of Chinese descent living within our borders, and for the millions of innocents living in true oppression under the yoke of the Chinese Communist Party, I declare unto you that China brought us this virus, and the good old U.S.A. is going to kick its microscopic ass straight to hell where it belongs. This in spite of a president, a congress and local officials of all political stripes who do not take mitigation as seriously as they should. I believe that the vaccine, spawned from American ingenuity that emerged from a health care system that incentivizes creativity, will mark the end of this grim chapter in our lives.

I write these words mindful of the nearly 300,000 souls we have lost to the virus, as well as the disruption of countless other lives left in its brutal wake. I am also well aware that we have dark days ahead of us, but I strongly believe that we will prevail together as a nation despite our divisions.

I love America. I love it in spite of its flaws. I love it more now than I did 20 years ago when I basked in a cocoon of naïve assumptions that afforded the illusion of perfection that does not exist. There is nowhere else on God’s green earth that I would care to live as a human being, nor as a blind man.

I am also thankful for an electoral system that is fair and just. Recently, our president has called the integrity of the process into question, not for any valid reason, but only due to a broadside delivered to his massive ego by the voting public. Much can and will be said about Donald Trump’s presidency over the past four years, but whatever you may think of the things he has done or not done, America has engaged in a course correction through legal and legitimate means and we will continue to move forward. Despite what the president may say or tweet, I believe America will have a peaceful transition of power come January. We will do so because of a series of constitutionally guaranteed checks and balances that many of us take for granted or poo-poo with nary a thought. And yes, I include a free press in that equation.

I am thankful for my job. Many people cannot work right now, but this year, I have been blessed by a steady income uninterrupted by the virus. Moreover, I am blessed to work in a job that I love and to work alongside three coworkers for whom I feel a genuine affection that is not professionally compulsory. I am also deeply thankful for our volunteers who have stepped up and given us their best during this crisis. They did not have to stick with us, but they did. God love them for it!

I am thankful for my friends. I am not a man with a large cadre of close, trustworthy confidants. I do not bemoan this fact. I am grateful for the small core group of friends with whom I can trust my life. Thanksgiving hugs to all of you close to me who have enriched my life. If a hug makes you uncomfortable, imagine an elbow bump instead.

I am grateful for Kylie the cat. I still miss Mags every day and will always hold her close in my heart. But Kylie has been a welcome addition to my family for three months now. I say this as she is jumping on the keyboard yet again, trying to get my attention because she doesn’t think that I’ve played with her enough today. BAD KITTY!!!

Speaking of family, I am thankful for my immediate family. I am not with them this Thanksgiving Day, but I am heartened that, with one exception, none of them have been touched by the virus or the resulting financial storm that has swept the country. This is not an early celebration. I know any one of them could contract COVID if we don’t maintain vigilance, but God willing, we will all be together at Christmas time. If not, we will try for next year.

Many of you who read this have likely been offended by something I’ve written. You may think I’m too critical of Trump, or not critical enough of America, or whatever. All due respect…go tuck into your turkey and deal! I am grateful to express this on a platform and in a country that still tolerates divergent viewpoints. Here’s hoping that we continue to live in a society that guarantees the free expression of ideas. If you didn’t like this post, I’ll see if I can get Ben Sasse to write it for me next year

Here’s to brighter days ahead. Happy Thanksgiving, America!

PS: Hey, Rona… They don’t have masks in hell. They don’t socially distance in hell. There is no vaccine in hell.

Ode to Cocaine Mitch

For those of you who did not accept my offer of a free trial subscription to The Dispatch, here is a sample of what you are missing.

Another snapshot in time from the incomparable Jonah Goldberg:

The Only Adult in the Room
How Mitch McConnell has navigated the Trump era.

Jonah Goldberg

Oct 28

Amy Coney Barrett makes three. Three Supreme Court justices and 220 judicial appointments in all. Regardless of your ideological commitments, it’s a monumental achievement. And if “judges” was your overriding reason to vote for Donald Trump in 2016, it’s hard to argue with the claim that your decision was vindicated.

But ask anyone in Washington who knows anything about how Washington actually works, they will tell you that while Trump’s election was necessary, it was not sufficient. The indispensable man in this regard, and perhaps of the Trump presidency, was Mitch McConnell.

Starting with his decision to refuse consideration of Obama’s nominee to replace Antonin Scalia, Merrick Garland, McConnell has been the decisive factor. That one decision arguably—I would say, probably—got Trump elected.
Of course, as I often note, Trump’s victory was so narrow that any factor that attracted even a statistically tiny number of Trump-reluctant voters can be credited with his victory.

Mathematically, if only the people who were excited about voting for Trump had cast ballots for him in 2016, he would have lost. Remember: 7 percent of Trump voters told Pew that they would be disappointed if their candidate won. So you can point to Jim Comey’s press conference, or to Hillary’s refusal to campaign in places—most famously, Wisconsin—as the decisive factor. Heck, weather alone could explain it.

But holding all those other things constant, I think Trump’s decision to outsource his list of nominees to the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation was essential to putting together a coalition that could pick the lock on the Electoral College. Of voters who said the Supreme Court was “the most important factor” in their decision, 56 percent voted for Trump. Meanwhile, 26 percent of Trump voters surveyed by the Washington Post said that the Supreme Court was the basis of their decision. I don’t think the real number is that high, but even if it was a tenth of that, it would mean the Supreme Court won the presidency for Trump.
And if Mitch McConnell hadn’t made the decision he did on Garland—whether you think it was outrageous or courageous—Trump would have lost.

And yet for the first two years of Trump’s presidency, McConnell was Public Enemy No. 1 in MAGA World.

Night after night, Lou Dobbs, Sean Hannity, and the rest hammered McConnell as a Deep State stooge, an establishment fossil, an indefensible obstructionist of the glorious MAGA agenda. “So, Sen. McConnell, my message to you, if all you’re going to do is whine like a 10-year-old and complain and make excuses and blame the president for your failure after eight months of him now being in office and you having the House and Senate, guess what, it really is time to drain the sewer and swamp,” proclaimed Hannity in one typical jeremiad.

“The fact of the matter is, McConnell and [Paul] Ryan—they look like troglodytes that somehow have survived eons, and they have, if you will, been Darwined [sic] out, but just they and the conference don’t realize it,” explained Lou Dobbs. Hating McConnell became the organizing principle of Breitbart.

But no one was more committed to destroying McConnell than Steve Bannon. He told the New York Times in 2017, “Mitch McConnell has to go.” When asked whether McConnell would be majority leader in 2018, Bannon replied, “I absolutely do not think he will be majority leader. … It’s not my personal mission, but it’s an objective. … And I believe it’ll be done before this time next year.”
At this point the narrator should have intruded to say, “Actually, it was his personal mission.” Bannon soon organized primary challenges to every single Republican senator (except for Ted Cruz—who, by the way, famously refused to endorse Trump in 2016) in an explicit attempt to strip McConnell of the majority leader job. He cobbled together a ragtag cadre of MAGA gargoyles to take out incumbent Republican senators (as well as some House candidates, including the anti-Semite goon Paul Nehlen, who lost to Paul Ryan by 70 points). The most infamous of these candidates was Alabama crank and mall-cruiser Roy Moore. To McConnell’s credit, he made it clear that even if Moore won, he would be shunned by the party.

Bannon’s failure was as complete as McConnell’s success.

Governance is for grownups.

McConnell has his critics, and some make perfectly defensible points. But here’s what I admire about McConnell: He’s a grownup and an institutionalist. The two things go together. It will win me no points with populists to say this, but populism often manifests itself as childishness. “Childish” has a slightly different connotation than “childlike.” Childlike conveys sweetness and innocence. Childishness is defined by a refusal to accept the rules. Childish people are quick to take offense. They are the Veruca Salts of the world, who want it now. They don’t care about the rules, and they think manners are for other people. They are reluctant to listen and eager to shout. Childish pranks are their own reward, and consequences for their actions are always unfair. Grownups think about consequences. They remember mistakes and adjust for them.
Children think serious arguments are unfair obstacles to wish fulfilment. As the great populist William Jennings Bryan said, “The people of Nebraska are for free silver, so I am for free silver. I will look up the arguments later.”

McConnell is a rare creature in Washington, particularly in the Senate: a man who isn’t president and doesn’t want to be. He is where he wants to be. Sure, he is an ideological conservative, but he’s also an institutional one. He opposed campaign finance reform because he believed it would damage the political system—and he was right. He opposed Harry Reid’s lifting of the judicial filibuster for non-Supreme Court nominees because he believed it would damage the Senate—and he was right. You can argue that his decision to escalate the practice was wrong, but only if you subscribe to the childish notion that Democrats are allowed to change the rules without consequence. McConnell warned Reid that there would be consequences for Reid’s decision and, like a grownup, he was true to his word.

It’s a talking point of the left that McConnell is just another Trump supplicant who does the president’s bidding. This nonsense overlooks the fact that the primary reason the MAGA right hated him—other than his reluctance to spout flattery in Trump’s direction—was his refusal to abolish the legislative filibuster. As both a grownup and an institutionalist, he understood that the “I want it now” caucus has all the foresight we associate with children. He knew that Democrats would be back in power again, and the cost of abolishing the filibuster for some short-term “win” for Trump would guarantee far greater losses in the future. Politics is often called “the art of the possible,” and that’s McConnell’s métier. Yes, he looks like a tortoise, but the tortoise won the race because the childish rabbit lacked foresight.

The inestimable Kevin Williamson writes:
One of the many perversities of Trump’s presidency is that Donald J. Trump’s core deficiencies as a chief administrator—his ignorance and his laziness—are the chief practical virtues of his presidency. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know and doesn’t want to know, and this has created the opportunity for some of the people in his administration to get some useful things done. For this reason, the conservative advances that have accompanied the Trump presidency (and it won’t do to pretend that these do not exist) mostly have been in the fields in which the president has the least engagement and interest, whereas the catastrophes of the Trump presidency (and it won’t do to pretend that these do not exist) are strongly associated with those few areas of policy in which he takes an active interest or is personally and strongly engaged with ex officio.

Kevin goes on to note that perhaps the best illustration of this has been Trump’s utter disregard for the Constitution. “Trump’s principal success has been as a rubber stamp to the very ‘establishment’ at which Trump and his admirers like to sneer.”

This is a point I’ve hammered for years now. Trump believes his best friends are the ones who lavish him with praise and celebrate his biggest mistakes as brilliant victories. But, from the vantage point of history, his best friends are the conservatives who constrained him—or simply ignored him—to get important things done. In the summer of 2016, Trump was talking about his steadfast support for “Article 12” of the Constitution and boasting that he might put his sister on the Supreme Court. Some grownup somehow convinced him that this could cost him the election. So he had to persuade voters that he would substitute a serious group’s judgement for his own. But it was only because he never cared about the conservative legal movement that he was perfectly happy to outsource judicial appointments to people who do.
I shudder to think what kind of judges we’d have if Trump felt as invested in who sits on the bench as he is about who sits in the attorney general’s chair.

If Trump had outsourced the pandemic to the experts in his own administration as if it were a medical Federalist Society, he might well be poised for re-election (every governor, Democrat or Republican, and virtually every foreign leader, liberal or conservative, who took the pandemic seriously benefitted in the polls). But the appeal of “free media” to childishly perform during COVID press conferences was too seductive, and the allure of fighting his own medical “establishment” was too great.

What amazes me is how so many of the people who rail against “the establishment” for all of Trump’s failures always place blame at the feet of the “establishment” but assign credit for all of the “establishment’s” successes in Trump’s column. The Federalist Society, Heritage, and McConnell handled the judges, but Trump gets the laurels. Trump took the ball from Fauci and Birx, but it’s their fault Trump scored in the wrong end zone.

There are conservatives—and people who merely claim to be conservative—who so detest Donald Trump that they think the entire GOP should be “burned to the ground.” I certainly understand the detestation, and I definitely think a price should be paid (and it looks like it will be). But letting your passion run roughshod over reason is itself a form of populist childishness. McConnell didn’t want Trump to become president. But grownups adjust to reality when they don’t get what they want. That’s what McConnell did. He said “No” to Trump when he could, and when he thought he should. You can defensibly complain that he should have and could have done it more. But at a moment when Gaetzian childishness is the reigning definition of ideological purity, I am grateful for what few grownups are left in the room.
Photograph by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

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The Only Adult in the Room
How Mitch McConnell has navigated the Trump era.

Jonah Goldberg

Oct 28

Amy Coney Barrett makes three. Three Supreme Court justices and 220 judicial appointments in all. Regardless of your ideological commitments, it’s a monumental achievement. And if “judges” was your overriding reason to vote for Donald Trump in 2016, it’s hard to argue with the claim that your decision was vindicated.
But ask anyone in Washington who knows anything about how Washington actually works, they will tell you that while Trump’s election was necessary, it was not sufficient. The indispensable man in this regard, and perhaps of the Trump presidency, was Mitch McConnell.
Starting with his decision to refuse consideration of Obama’s nominee to replace Antonin Scalia, Merrick Garland, McConnell has been the decisive factor. That one decision arguably—I would say, probably—got Trump elected.
Of course, as I often note, Trump’s victory was so narrow that any factor that attracted even a statistically tiny number of Trump-reluctant voters can be credited with his victory.
Mathematically, if only the people who were excited about voting for Trump had cast ballots for him in 2016, he would have lost. Remember: 7 percent of Trump voters told Pew that they would be disappointed if their candidate won. So you can point to Jim Comey’s press conference, or to Hillary’s refusal to campaign in places—most famously, Wisconsin—as the decisive factor. Heck, weather alone could explain it.
But holding all those other things constant, I think Trump’s decision to outsource his list of nominees to the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation was essential to putting together a coalition that could pick the lock on the Electoral College. Of voters who said the Supreme Court was “the most important factor” in their decision, 56 percent voted for Trump. Meanwhile, 26 percent of Trump voters surveyed by the Washington Post said that the Supreme Court was the basis of their decision. I don’t think the real number is that high, but even if it was a tenth of that, it would mean the Supreme Court won the presidency for Trump.
And if Mitch McConnell hadn’t made the decision he did on Garland—whether you think it was outrageous or courageous—Trump would have lost.
And yet for the first two years of Trump’s presidency, McConnell was Public Enemy No. 1 in MAGA World.
Night after night, Lou Dobbs, Sean Hannity, and the rest hammered McConnell as a Deep State stooge, an establishment fossil, an indefensible obstructionist of the glorious MAGA agenda. “So, Sen. McConnell, my message to you, if all you’re going to do is whine like a 10-year-old and complain and make excuses and blame the president for your failure after eight months of him now being in office and you having the House and Senate, guess what, it really is time to drain the sewer and swamp,” proclaimed Hannity in one typical jeremiad.
“The fact of the matter is, McConnell and [Paul] Ryan—they look like troglodytes that somehow have survived eons, and they have, if you will, been Darwined [sic] out, but just they and the conference don’t realize it,” explained Lou Dobbs. Hating McConnell became the organizing principle of Breitbart.
But no one was more committed to destroying McConnell than Steve Bannon. He told the New York Times in 2017, “Mitch McConnell has to go.” When asked whether McConnell would be majority leader in 2018, Bannon replied, “I absolutely do not think he will be majority leader. … It’s not my personal mission, but it’s an objective. … And I believe it’ll be done before this time next year.”
At this point the narrator should have intruded to say, “Actually, it was his personal mission.” Bannon soon organized primary challenges to every single Republican senator (except for Ted Cruz—who, by the way, famously refused to endorse Trump in 2016) in an explicit attempt to strip McConnell of the majority leader job. He cobbled together a ragtag cadre of MAGA gargoyles to take out incumbent Republican senators (as well as some House candidates, including the anti-Semite goon Paul Nehlen, who lost to Paul Ryan by 70 points). The most (in)famous of these candidates was Alabama crank and mall-cruiser Roy Moore. To McConnell’s credit, he made it clear that even if Moore won, he would be shunned by the party.
Bannon’s failure was as complete as McConnell’s success.
Governance is for grownups.
McConnell has his critics, and some make perfectly defensible points. But here’s what I admire about McConnell: He’s a grownup and an institutionalist. The two things go together. It will win me no points with populists to say this, but populism often manifests itself as childishness. “Childish” has a slightly different connotation than “childlike.” Childlike conveys sweetness and innocence. Childishness is defined by a refusal to accept the rules. Childish people are quick to take offense. They are the Veruca Salts of the world, who want it now. They don’t care about the rules, and they think manners are for other people. They are reluctant to listen and eager to shout. Childish pranks are their own reward, and consequences for their actions are always unfair. Grownups think about consequences. They remember mistakes and adjust for them.
Children think serious arguments are unfair obstacles to wish fulfilment. As the great populist William Jennings Bryan said, “The people of Nebraska are for free silver, so I am for free silver. I will look up the arguments later.”
McConnell is a rare creature in Washington, particularly in the Senate: a man who isn’t president and doesn’t want to be. He is where he wants to be. Sure, he is an ideological conservative, but he’s also an institutional one. He opposed campaign finance reform because he believed it would damage the political system—and he was right. He opposed Harry Reid’s lifting of the judicial filibuster for non-Supreme Court nominees because he believed it would damage the Senate—and he was right. You can argue that his decision to escalate the practice was wrong, but only if you subscribe to the childish notion that Democrats are allowed to change the rules without consequence. McConnell warned Reid that there would be consequences for Reid’s decision and, like a grownup, he was true to his word.
It’s a talking point of the left that McConnell is just another Trump supplicant who does the president’s bidding. This nonsense overlooks the fact that the primary reason the MAGA right hated him—other than his reluctance to spout flattery in Trump’s direction—was his refusal to abolish the legislative filibuster. As both a grownup and an institutionalist, he understood that the “I want it now” caucus has all the foresight we associate with children. He knew that Democrats would be back in power again, and the cost of abolishing the filibuster for some short-term “win” for Trump would guarantee far greater losses in the future. Politics is often called “the art of the possible,” and that’s McConnell’s métier. Yes, he looks like a tortoise, but the tortoise won the race because the childish rabbit lacked foresight.
The inestimable Kevin Williamson writes:
One of the many perversities of Trump’s presidency is that Donald J. Trump’s core deficiencies as a chief administrator—his ignorance and his laziness—are the chief practical virtues of his presidency. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know and doesn’t want to know, and this has created the opportunity for some of the people in his administration to get some useful things done. For this reason, the conservative advances that have accompanied the Trump presidency (and it won’t do to pretend that these do not exist) mostly have been in the fields in which the president has the least engagement and interest, whereas the catastrophes of the Trump presidency (and it won’t do to pretend that these do not exist) are strongly associated with those few areas of policy in which he takes an active interest or is personally and strongly engaged with ex officio.
Kevin goes on to note that perhaps the best illustration of this has been Trump’s utter disregard for the Constitution. “Trump’s principal success has been as a rubber stamp to the very ‘establishment’ at which Trump and his admirers like to sneer.”
This is a point I’ve hammered for years now. Trump believes his best friends are the ones who lavish him with praise and celebrate his biggest mistakes as brilliant victories. But, from the vantage point of history, his best friends are the conservatives who constrained him—or simply ignored him—to get important things done. In the summer of 2016, Trump was talking about his steadfast support for “Article 12” of the Constitution and boasting that he might put his sister on the Supreme Court. Some grownup somehow convinced him that this could cost him the election. So he had to persuade voters that he would substitute a serious group’s judgement for his own. But it was only because he never cared about the conservative legal movement that he was perfectly happy to outsource judicial appointments to people who do.
I shudder to think what kind of judges we’d have if Trump felt as invested in who sits on the bench as he is about who sits in the attorney general’s chair.
If Trump had outsourced the pandemic to the experts in his own administration as if it were a medical Federalist Society, he might well be poised for re-election (every governor, Democrat or Republican, and virtually every foreign leader, liberal or conservative, who took the pandemic seriously benefitted in the polls). But the appeal of “free media” to childishly perform during COVID press conferences was too seductive, and the allure of fighting his own medical “establishment” was too great.
What amazes me is how so many of the people who rail against “the establishment” for all of Trump’s failures always place blame at the feet of the “establishment” but assign credit for all of the “establishment’s” successes in Trump’s column. The Federalist Society, Heritage, and McConnell handled the judges, but Trump gets the laurels. Trump took the ball from Fauci and Birx, but it’s their fault Trump scored in the wrong end zone.
There are conservatives—and people who merely claim to be conservative—who so detest Donald Trump that they think the entire GOP should be “burned to the ground.” I certainly understand the detestation, and I definitely think a price should be paid (and it looks like it will be). But letting your passion run roughshod over reason is itself a form of populist childishness. McConnell didn’t want Trump to become president. But grownups adjust to reality when they don’t get what they want. That’s what McConnell did. He said “No” to Trump when he could, and when he thought he should. You can defensibly complain that he should have and could have done it more. But at a moment when Gaetzian childishness is the reigning definition of ideological purity, I am grateful for what few grownups are left in the room.

Bad Choice Road

In 2014, I spent three months as a counselor at a summer program for blind and visually impaired youth. My time there was largely an exercise in futility. It was, among other things, a stark reminder of why I have no desire to be a parent. I did, however, try to impart certain universal truths to my teenaged students.

One of those truths was, for every action, there is a consequence. Every time you sneak out after curfew to smoke a joint, there will be consequences. Every time you get freaky with another student because you think your blind counselor is clueless as to his surroundings, there will be consequences. Every time you cheat with your sleepshades, there will be consequences.

Six years later, I have no idea whether my message took or not, but I get an A for effort.

Rush Limbaugh always said, “Elections have consequences.” The election of 2016 was no exception. The country chose to elect a man whose professional credentials included bankruptcy, beauty contests, gambling casinos and a successful reality TV show. His personal credentials included open sexual predation, a string of high-profile divorces and unashamed boorish behavior. Four years ago, the GOP (the party of family values) made a collective choice that personal character in a president no longer matters. Four years later, we have seen the consequences of these choices.

Yes, President Trump has enacted some public policies and made some judicial appointments that are favorable to conservatism, but they are overshadowed by chaos wrought by his erratic behavior. His contraction of COVID-19 and the infection of many prominent Republicans in his orbit is merely the latest (and most ironic) example of consequences befalling a leader and a base of supporters too incompetent and thickheaded to affect a course correction.

I think Ben Sasse is exactly right. We are in for a political blood bath. I think Trump is going to lose next month. I think Republicans are going to lose the Senate. I think local races in red states will feel an impact as well. Trump supporters love to tout the so-called, “shy Trump vote.” This is the phenomenon in which those who are secretly supportive of Trump don’t admit it openly to close associates or anonymous pollsters. I think the opposite will and is occurring. I think we’re in for a Trump fatigue vote. I think many voters who did take a chance on Trump four years ago are now exhausted with his antics, particularly in light of COVID-19, and are ready for a return to normalcy at the top of the electoral chain. Given the nature of many of Trump’s supporters who tread a very thin line between persuasion and bullying, it’s easier for these quietly exhausted voters just to smile, nod and go with the flow when pressed. This includes everyone outside of the base from operatives inside the D.C. Beltway to fellows and gals at the local pub who just want to have a beer in peace without being inundated by the MAGA crowd.

Sidebar: I’m not talking about the opportunistic huxters who are raking in the eager suckers through sham operations such as The Lincoln Project. I’m talking about average voters.

I don’t know, of course. Two weeks is an eternity with Trump at the helm and the chaos factor is always high. If the GOP loses, it will be a loss much deserved by a party that was all too quick to abandon its long-held principles for short-term victories. Yes, they’ll successfully appoint Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, but it will come with a very large price tag.

I take no pleasure in this forecast.

The Democrats have also squandered much of their credibility. They refused to loudly and roundly condemn the mob violence that has erupted in the wake of George Floyd’s death. They insulted the intelligence of the electorate by equating racism as a comparable disease to the Coronavirus. They constantly move the definitional goal posts of long-held terms such as, “court packing,” “sexual preference,” and “white supremacy,” all in the name of a strategy of domination and cultural subjugation in the public arena of ideas. Their ‘blame and shame’ tactics with respect to all things white is reactionary, short-sighted and it will prove to have a very short shelf life before the public at large cries, enough!

Moreover, the Democrats have chosen as their candidate a man whose chief claim to the White House was won upon the coat tails of Barack Obama. Joe Biden was never a politician known for his deftness, and he now seems decrepit in comparison to his glory days in the ‘90’s. His running mate is a woman who is clearly an authority junkie, given to her own fits of political hyperbole. When they win and enact their leftist policies, whether it be packing the Supreme Court or implementing the quixotic Green New Deal, there will be consequences.

The left is lampooning Trump for holding rallies while numbers of new COVID cases are spiking around the world. This is a valid criticism. Yet, as I type this, the Women’s March is holding a national protest in Washington D.C. This protest is populated mostly by the blue state, pro-lockdown crowd. The CDC is advising people to reconsider Thanksgiving holiday dinner with family, but they are happy to go out and flaunt CDC guidelines when it suits their purposes.

Whatever happens in November, neither candidate has won my vote. Both men are singularly unfit for office. I miss the GOP, but I plan to remain an Independent voter for the foreseeable future.

To any of my former students, have you guys figured it out yet? Have you learned the lessons that the GOP forgot on election night, 2016, and the Democrats forgot after Memorial Day Weekend, 2020? Have you realized that the Bad Choice Road really exists and it only gets harder and harder to steer away from the further along you travel upon it?

If you’re reading this, I will try to impart one final lesson as a nod to the ghost of Ryan O, teacher. At some point in your life, you will face a test. Someone (likely someone you know, love and respect), will ask something of you that you know is wrong. They will have seemingly good and sound reasons for asking you to do, think or speak something that you know in your heart and mind not to be true. At that moment, the courage of your convictions will be tested. You will be standing at a fork in the road of life. One path leads to a road shrouded by the mists of uncertainty, unpopularity and disenfranchisement. The other leads to the bad choice road.

Both political parties have stood at this fork in the past four years and both have taken the wrong path. But then, who am I to judge? I have faced this test more than once and I too have failed.

Take heart, former students. When your time comes, rejoice in the knowledge that you were warned beforehand.

Ben Sasse for Senate!!!

Don Bacon for Congress!!!

Jean Stothert for Mayor!!!

Optimus Prime for President!!!

Ballad of a Modern Day Gunfighter

“Ya make me pull, I’ll put ya down.”

That is the rattlesnake whir of U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), protagonist of the underappreciated FX series, Justified. Givens is a laconic lawman with a slow tongue and a lightning-fast draw. He is the stereotypical western cowboy living in the modern world. Yet, his black-and-white moral code is thrown off kilter when he comes up against a world of criminals who dwell in the gray areas of life; criminals including his childhood friend, his ex-lover and even his own father.

Such is the premise for Justified, a show based on two novels written by iconic crime author Elmore Leonard. The series pilot, “Fire in the Hole,” is based upon a subsequent short story written by Leonard. The pilot is very faithful to the source material, but for one important detail. In the story, Raylan kills the bad guy at the climax of the story. In the TV series, said bad guy lives and ultimately becomes Raylan’s most prominent adversary.

In the opening scene of the premier, Raylan’s desire for justice (or is it vengeance) propels him into a rooftop confrontation in Miami with a very bad man. Raylan prevails, of course, but his renegade actions force his superiors to transfer him to his home state of Kentucky. This is a true punishment for Raylan, as he makes it clear that he has no desire to go home. Yet, home he goes, and soon runs up against a white supremacist who, in Raylan’s own words, “Loves to rob banks and blow shit up.” The wrinkle comes when we learn that said bank robber is Raylan’s childhood friend, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins.) They weren’t close when they dug coal together in the mines of Harlan, but as both men note at various times throughout the six-year run of the series, mining coal together forges a bond that can never be entirely broken.

The hook that brings the viewer along for the ride of Justified is that, once he is sent home, things become personal for Raylan. His repeated confrontations with Boyd Crowder are personal. His meeting with Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter), Boyd’s sister-in-law, becomes personal. From the time of the pilot, everything in Raylan’s world becomes personal, particularly when he attempts to reconcile with his ex-wife, and is forced into an unhappy reunion with his wayward father.

Every colorful criminal Raylan meets throughout the course of the show gets under Raylan’s skin. He hates the bad guys because he grew up around criminals and knows how poisonous they are, particularly in an impoverished community such as his home town of Harlan. This is why he refuses to change his occupation or his behavior, even after he faces the consequences of his actions in Miami. In Raylan’s world, every criminal has a simple choice. “Ya make me pull, I’ll put ya down.” Raylan can easily put head to pillow each night, knowing that the world is better off with one less bad guy to further blight the already bleak landscape of Harlan.

Raylan’s outer trappings harken back to the age of John Wayne, Gary Cooper and Clint Eastwood. Unlike the square-jawed cowboys from the golden age of cinema, Raylan is far from perfect. He is not an anti-hero, though some of his choices throughout the series stray into anti-heroism. He has a temper. He has difficulty maintaining personal relationships. Sometimes, he has a blind spot to the character flaws of those closest to him. Yet, in other circumstances, he is too cynical to allow for the possibility of change for the better in people. He is quick to warn criminals of dire consequences for their actions, yet he is too slow to realize that his own actions also garner consequences. In many ways, he is the typical protagonist of the 21st century. As the series progresses, Raylan is forced to develop a stronger sense of self-awareness when he faces the prospect of fatherhood. Raylan ultimately must choose between the voice of his wicked father, or his gentler mother when he too becomes a parent.

Raylan’s nemesis, Boyd Crowder, serves as the opposite side of the same coin. He too grew up exposed to a criminal element, but his personality forces him down a different, more circuitous path. During the show’s six seasons, Boyd undergoes several transformations, changing from a white supremacist to a religious zealot to a lost soul, before he finally embraces his father’s legacy; that of his rightful place as the criminal kingpin of Harlan. Raylan proves to be an inflexible man who is mostly incapable of change, while Boyd seems to be in a constant state of flux as he struggles to come to terms with his true nature. The scenes that Olyphant and Goggins share together are the show’s best and it quickly becomes evident that each man is the dark alter ego of the other.

Justified is not a flawless series. Very few shows can achieve what Breaking Bad did in its near-perfect execution. One of the problems of the show is how it treats its female characters. In a crime saga like Justified in which the two main characters are male, the primary purpose of the female characters seem only to be to drive the storylines of the men.

Ava Crowder is the best example. When we first meet Ava, Raylan visits her shortly after she kills her abusive husband at the dinner table. Boyd wants revenge on Ava for her husband’s murder, since he was Boyd’s brother. This conflict serves as the climax of the pilot. Once the story is resolved, Ava remains as a presence in Raylan’s life. At first, they become lovers, which proves detrimental to Raylan’s career. Later, after Raylan becomes re-involved with his ex-wife, Ava switches sides and becomes involved with Boyd. Her allegiance to Boyd serves as a centerpiece for the remainder of the series, particularly in the show’s final season, but it never feels entirely authentic. It’s as if the writers loved Joelle Carter’s work and didn’t want to lose her, so they contrived a plot twist in which Ava becomes romantically involved with Boyd as a means of continuing her presence. Ava is a strong woman (all women on Justified are strong), but that doesn’t mean that all of their choices are intelligent, or that the writers do a good job of illustrating Ava’s reasoning in an organic fashion. This defect becomes particularly stark in the show’s fifth season, in which Ava is given a jailhouse storyline that separates her from Boyd for the duration.

Raylan’s afore-mentioned ex-wife Winona is another example. From the moment we first see Winona (Natalie Zea), it is clear that Raylan is still in love with her. Winona is more of an intermittent presence throughout the series than is Ava. She and Raylan seem to be locked in a dance wherein neither can decide if they want to truly commit to the other. Their rapport is interesting early on, but becomes tiresome as the series progresses.

Another female character that is criminally underused is U.S. Marshal Rachel Brooks (Erica Tazel.) She is an African-American law enforcement officer in the Deep South. One would think that, over the course of 78 episodes, the writers could give Rachel at least one substantial plot. The most we get is a stand-alone episode in the show’s second season in which we learn a little about Rachel’s family. Aside from that, Rachel usually just serves as back-up for Raylan. The same is true for Raylan’s other Marshal sidekick, Tim Gutterson (Jacob Pitts), who served as an Army Ranger sniper in Afghanistan.

The character of Art Mullen (Nick Searcy), Raylan’s boss in the Lexington office, is far better served. Raylan’s father Arlo (Raymond J. Barry) is a hardened criminal and the two men have no love for one another. As Raylan and Art continue to work together, Art takes on the role of Raylan’s surrogate father. This often serves as a burden to Art, who is usually exasperated by Raylan’s off-book methods, even though they yield results.

In the first two seasons, Justified suffers from a mild identity crisis. It can’t quite decide if it wants to be a series of stand-alone procedural stories ala Law & Order, or more serialized ala Breaking Bad. It finally settles on the latter by the third season and is better for it. The best of the stand-alones is the fourth episode, “Long in the Tooth,” in which Raylan chases a former mafia bookkeeper masquerading as a dentist into the desert.

The plotting of Justified is uneven and overly convoluted at times. In true Elmore Leonard fashion, there are periods in which viewers will find themselves watching three or four separate groups of characters, all working across purposes. I mean… I was able to keep up with the dense plotting of Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones, for God sake, and there are still times when I will finish an episode of Justified and ask, what the hell was that all about? This flaw is particularly evident in the show’s third and fourth seasons. In times like this, it is best for the viewer with a mid-range I.Q. simply to sit back and enjoy the eccentric characters and colorful dialogue for which the late Mr. Leonard was so notable.

This leads me to the biggest strength of Justified; the colorful cast of villains and supporting players that litter the barren landscape of Harlan, Kentucky. Elmore Leonard was always known as a master of dialogue and nuanced characters. The fact that showrunner Graham Yost worked closely with Leonard until Leonard’s death before the show’s fifth season is reflected in every scene of Justified. The accents range from perfect to passable, the dialogue is laced with wit and humor and the characters feel real.

Yeah… The characters. It may be true that Justified adheres to the ‘baddy of the season’ formula, but what baddies they are! Wynn Duffy (Gere Burns), mercurial mid-level hit man for an organization known as the Dixie Mafia. Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman), one of Boyd’s henchmen with a Nazi tattoo on his neck and nothing in his head. Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough), psychotic Detroit mobster in a business suit with more up his sleeve than a scheme to conquer Kentucky. Ellstin Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson), an African-American crime boss with murky motives. Avery Markham (Sam Elliott), a pothead kingpin who seems to growl more than he talks.

No review of Justified would be adequate without a prolonged and respectful nod to Mags Bennett and her boys. They emerge as the chief villains of the show’s second season and, in hindsight, they are the best. Mags (Margo Martindale) is the ruthless matriarch of a crime family who deals in pot and homemade moonshine. She shows no mercy to those who seek to undercut or betray her. When Raylan is forcibly returned to Kentucky, he finds himself smack in the middle of a decades-old feud between the Givens’ and Bennett clans. Raylan holds particular animus for Mags’ son Dickie (Jeremy Davies.) Dickie is crippled as a result of a childhood fight with Raylan. In typical Justified fashion, Dickie is the dumbest of Mags’ three sons, though he believes himself to be the smartest. Of course, this only serves to make him the most dangerous.

The current conflict, which centers on a teenage orphaned girl named Loretta (Kaitlyn Dever), serves as the show’s best season finale. It also illustrates why Martindale was one of only two actors to win an Emmy; Davies being the other.

Sidebar: I was so impressed with the character of Mags that I named my beloved cat after her.

… And I haven’t even addressed the rich cast of supporting characters who aren’t criminals. If you want to meet Judge Mike ‘The Hammer’ Reardon, Constable Bob, Ellen May, Pastor Billy and Raylan’s Aunt Helen, watch the show!

Justified does have an occasional misfire with respect to casting and characters. In the show’s fifth season, generally agreed upon by fans and critics alike as its worst, the producers made the unfortunate choice to cast New York native Michael Rapaport as Darryl Crowe, Jr. The only thing worse than the meandering, tangled plot of the fifth season is Rapaport’s glaringly hideous southern accent. Some fans lament that Yost and company chose to pull the plug after the show’s sixth season, despite pleas from FX president John Landgraf for more. Yet, when I try to rewatch the fifth season, it becomes sadly evident that Justified probably ran one season too long.

It is also worth noting that Timothy Olyphant came to Justified several years after his starring role on another celebrated postmodern western series, HBO’s Deadwood. Olyphant was tailor made for western roles, and fans of both series always wondered who might be next to transfer from the Old West of Deadwood to the Modern West of Harlan. As it turned out, Deadwood regulars W. Earl Brown, Jim Beaver, Garret Dillahunt, Sean Bridgers, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Brent Sexton, Gerald McRaney, Stephen Tobolowsky, Ray McKinnon and Peter Jason all had either single-shot or multi-shot guest stints on Justified. Fans were hoping that Ian McShane might make an appearance, given his electric on-screen chemistry with Olyphant, but it never materialized.

Sidebar: If you want to learn more about Deadwood, I wrote an extensive review of it elsewhere in these hallowed pages. Also, Walton Goggins costarred on another FX masterpiece, The Shield, which I hope to review in the future. Sadly, none of his costars appeared on Justified, mainly because they were all being used over on the inferior Sons of Anarchy.

Compared to its contemporaries such as Breaking Bad, Mad Men and Game of Thrones, Justified was underrated. As is usually the case with shows of this kind, it had a loyal but small fan base and was adored by critics. Yet, it never really caught on as cubical conversation. Luckily, it is available for streaming and on home media. If you’re stuck with no place to go in the midst of the pandemic and need something new to binge, and if you like noir crime dramas with a western flavor, try Justified.

As for the source material furnished by the late Elmore Leonard, I always found him to be an acquired taste; a taste that I never really warmed to. Still, his body of work is undeniable and he did have a flair for quirky characters and off beat dialogue. Leonard did claim that Justified was one of his favorite screen adaptations. This is high praise indeed from an author. God bless him and those who made Justified a reality for six years.

“It was already in the glass… Not in the jar.”
Mags Bennett

“Next one’s comin’ faster.”
Raylan Givens

“Raylan, the whole world’s a tree. I’m just a squirrel tryin’ to get a nut.”
Boyd Crowder

“I been married for 28 years. I don’t get the pole out as much as I used to.”
Art Mullen

Schadenfreude

This article comes from David French at the newly-formed Dispatch. Everyone who cares about fact-driven conservative journalism should subscribe. It is so important that I am placing it here as a snapshot in time.

As Tara Reade’s Evidence Against Joe Biden Builds, All the Chickens Come Home to Roost
When everyone abandons norms, who is left to trust?

David French
Apr 28

I’m not generally a person given to schadenfreude. I try to be empathetic and sympathetic. I really do. But there are times when the consequences of terrible ideas become so plain, and the partisan boxes we build become so confining, that it’s hard not to take at least a degree of pleasure in the sudden public realization that old standards of fairness, due process, and personal character just might have some merit.
Exactly two weeks ago, I wrote a rather lengthy assessment of the Tara Reade’s case against Joe Biden and the conservative case for media hypocrisy in the coverage of Reade’s claims. My verdict was simple. Reade’s claims were shaky. The claims against key media outlets were strong. They did, in fact, apply different reporting standards to claims against Brett Kavanaugh and Biden.
Regarding the claims against Biden, here was my summary:
At the end of the day, however, we’re left with a 27-year-old claim with a single anonymous corroboration that’s inconsistent with the claimant’s own previous accounts and is (so far) unsupported by any other claim of similar behavior. I’m troubled but unconvinced. Based on the current state of the evidence, I don’t think it’s likely that Biden assaulted Reade.
Since I published the newsletter, however, the evidence against Biden has grown stronger. Last week we learned that Reade’s mother apparently called in to the Larry King show in 1993 and made the following, rather vague claim:
“Yes, hello. I’m wondering what a staffer would do besides go to the press in Washington?” she asks. “My daughter has just left there after working for a prominent senator, and could not get through with her problems at all, and the only thing she could have done was go to the press, and she chose not to do it out of respect for him.
It’s not proof of sexual assault by any means, but it’s at least evidence that Reade told her mother that something untoward had happened. Then, Business Insiderupped the ante, locating two additional sources who substantiated Reade’s claims:
Now two more sources have come forward to corroborate certain details about Reade’s claims. One of them — a former neighbor of Reade’s — has told Insider for the first time, on the record, that Reade disclosed details about the alleged assault to her in the mid-1990s.
“This happened, and I know it did because I remember talking about it,” Lynda LaCasse, who lived next door to Reade in the mid-’90s, told Insider.
The other source, Lorraine Sanchez, who worked with Reade in the office of a California state senator in the mid-’90s, told Insider that she recalls Reade complaining at the time that her former boss in Washington, DC, had sexually harassed her, and that she had been fired after raising concerns.
The New York Times’s Michelle Goldberg summed up the effect of these new disclosures nicely:
Michelle Goldberg @michelleinbklyn
This is the most persuasive corroborating evidence that has come out so far. What a nightmare.
Rich McHugh @RichMcHugh
NEW: A former neighbor of Joe Biden’s accuser Tara Reade has come forward, on the record, to corroborate her sexual assault account, saying Reade discussed the allegations in detail in the mid-1990s. https://t.co/EyhJDd0qNJ
April 27th 2020
1,317 Retweets6,741 Likes

What a nightmare indeed, for everyone. Every single side of this story is now living with the consequences of dreadful mistakes. Joe Biden is now confronting the “believe women” movement he helped build. Key media outlets and multiple media figures are now face-to-face with their own, post-Kavanaugh double standards. And, finally, the GOP is left without an arrow in its quiver against the Democratic nominee because of its own profound moral compromise.
Let’s start with Biden’s dilemma. There’s of course the easy contrast with the statements he made during the Kavanaugh controversy, when he said a woman’s claims should begin with a presumption of truth:
“For a woman to come forward in the glaring lights of focus, nationally, you’ve got to start off with the presumption that at least the essence of what she’s talking about is real, whether or not she forgets facts, whether or not it’s been made worse or better over time. But nobody fails to understand that this is like jumping into a cauldron.”
But lest you think this is a one-quote gotcha, we can’t forget that Biden was an advocate for Obama administration policies that systematically dismantled due process protections for college students accused of sexual misconduct. It’s a brutal story—one that I’ve covered time and time again.
To make a long story short, in 2011 the Obama Department of Education published a “Dear Colleague letter” that dramatically reduced due process protections for accused students at campuses from coast-to-coast. The administration mandated a low burden of proof (preponderance of the evidence), expanded the definition of sexual misconduct, and failed to preserve for the accused even the most basic right to confront their accuser with cross-examination.
The result was a legal disaster. Hundreds of accused students have sued their schools, courts all over the country have overturned sexual misconduct findings and struck down deficient campus procedures. The system was so broken in California that its progressive judiciary halted proceedings in more than 70 sexual misconduct cases to fix the broken process.
Yet as Emily Yoffe wrote last year in Politico, Biden repeatedly spoke about the campus sexual assault controversy in crude caricatures, supported the administration’s Title IX reforms, and then directly attacked proposed Trump administration reforms that restored traditional due process protections in campus adjudications, including the right of cross examination.
To put it another way, the Obama administration broke campus due process to favor sexual assault accusers, Biden championed that effort, and he opposed the restoration of the most basic due process rights. And now he’s in the crosshairs of a serious complaint.
But Biden of course isn’t the only party sleeping in the beds they made. I don’t need to belabor the stunning differences in the way the New York Times, The New Yorker, and many other outlets covered the claims against Biden compared with their coverage of claims against Brett Kavanaugh. I wrote about the double standard two weeks ago:
Writing in The New Yorker, Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow published the completely unsubstantiated claim that Kavanaugh exposed himself to a woman named Deborah Ramirez. Not only did she confess to drinking heavily and to memory gaps, she said that she only came forward “after six days of carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney.”
Even worse, The New Yorker stated that the magazine “has not confirmed with other eyewitnesses that Kavanaugh was present at the party.” (Emphasis added.) That’s extraordinary. The claim never should have made it to print. Not only did it reach The New Yorker’s prestigious pages, but virtually every other prestige media outlet carried the claims immediately.
But the negligence surrounding Ramirez’s claims is nothing compared to the widespread press negligence and outright recklessness in reporting Michael Avenatti client Julie Swetnick’s fantastical and grotesque claims that she saw Kavanaugh “waiting his turn” for gang rapes after facilitating them by spiking or drugging the punch at high school parties. The mainstream media reporting on the claim was immediate and prominent. On Twitter, journalist after journalist immediately credited her claims.
To be perfectly clear, the care that media outlets have taken with the Biden allegations should be the standard. When a claim is made, investigate it carefully and comprehensively before rushing it to print. And in the absence of solid evidence, claims should not generate an avalanche of “I believe women” think pieces based on unrelated experiences, teen movies (Vox actually published a piece that used the John Hughes movie Sixteen Candles to bolster the rape claim against Kavanuagh)or shaky social science (like unverifiable statistics claiming very low rates of false rape allegations).
The rush to convict Kavanaugh represented one of the most disturbing media moments of my career, and I’m hardly conservative America’s harshest media critic.
Finally, let’s talk about the GOP. What is it going to do, pray tell, with the Biden allegation besides harp on about media hypocrisy? Can it claim in any way that Reade’s allegations are material to Biden’s bid for the presidency? After all, more than a dozen women have accused Donald Trump of various forms of misconduct, there’s a tape of Trump bragging about grabbing women by the genitals, and his lawyer is currently sitting in prison for his participation in a criminal scheme to conceal hush money payments to a porn star.
Moreover, while the allegations against Trump vary in credibility, some are supported by considerable corroborating evidence. For example, former Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos accused Trump of kissing her without consent in 2007, grabbing her breast, and thrusting his genitals up against her. She filed a defamation case against Trump after he said that he never “met her in a hotel or greeted her inappropriately a decade ago.”
She not only claims that she told “family and friends” about the incident and that she reached out to legal counsel to consider legal action as early as 2011, but discovery in the case has produced phone logs and itineraries that Zervos claims corroborate her timeline and her account of communication with Trump. And that’s but one claim.
It is so painfully obvious that each and every error outlined above would have painful consequences. No one should think that norms of due process and presumptions of innocence that have been built up over centuries of painful human experience can be cast aside by any person or political party without soon facing their own challenge in responding to presumptions of guilt and lowered burdens of proof.
Media organizations that set irresponsible precedents when confronting a conservative judicial nominee should not be surprised when critics rightly highlight the care they take in reporting on a Democratic presidential candidate.
Finally, a political party that thoroughly discards any meaningful character test for president—including by discarding any real concern as to whether its nominee has abused women—cannot then be surprised when the press and the public ultimately treat accusations against a political opponent with a yawn and a shrug. “Character for thee, but not for me” persuades no one.
And so, here we are, reminded once again that presumptions of innocence are important, careful reporting is a professional necessity, and personal integrity is of paramount importance in national leaders. Yet few of our leading national institutions are well-equipped to make that case. Is it any wonder that Americans deeply distrust virtually every significant player in the American political system?