Bidzina Ivanishvili’s decision to return to a formal role as Chair of the Georgian Dream (GD) is more interesting for its timing than for the action itself. Ivanishvili, despite his protestations to the contrary, has never fully removed himself from Georgian political life since stepping down as Prime Minister in November of 2013. Over the last four and a half years his role has diminished somewhat, but major Georgian Dream, and government, decisions are rarely made without his input.
While Wolf’s comments may have been more offensive than any similar speech in the past, they are also a reminder that gatherings of the media political tribes, where animus can be put aside for an evening, like the White House Correspondents Dinner, no longer have a space in Donald Trump’s divided, hyperpartisan and mean spirited America. For those in conservative media who have always tried to keep one foot in mainstream respectability, Wolf’s speech is a reminder that is no longer possible. Spokespeople like Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and more importantly media enablers of Trump’s viciousness and democratic rollback from previously respectable or semi-respectable media outlets and even those from more moderate media outlets who simply profit from the fight, will no longer be given a free pass. For the huge majority of Americans who were not at the dinner and who don’t make their living talking about Trump (I do it on a volunteer basis), this is very good news.
Drury represents a different challenge. The Yankee brass remains relatively enthusiastic about him, but it is difficult to know how seriously that should be taken. Drury has established himself as a decent ballplayer with a solid glove and a career OPS+ of 96. Because he can play second third and the corner outfield positions reasonably well, he can bring value to the Yankees. He is also only 25, it is likely that if he stays healthy, he will improve as a hitter. It is, however, less likely that he will be as good a hitter and Andujar or Torres.
Because of how the race has shaped up so far, the Yankees would be wise to give Andujar and Torres enough time to prove themselves this season, rather than cede playing time to Walker and Brandon Drury, once the latter gets healthy. Walker is not as bad as he has been so far in 2018. His OPS this year of .463 is .310 points below is career number. Given more time, Walker’s numbers would almost certainly go up. Similarly, when healthy Drury is a proven and useful player. However, if the Yankees are going to make up a 6.5 game deficit, that could continue to grow, and catch up with a very good Red Sox team, they need to do it not with solid, useful players, but with higher ceiling players. Torres and Andujar might both fail to hit over the course of the season, but they both have the potential to become impact players this year. The same cannot be said of Drury and Walker. If the Yankees were not already 6.5 games back, an argument could be made for being risk averse and sticking with the veterans, but that argument is not persuasive anymore.
The Yankees are a good team now and came within a game of the World Series because they, albeit very briefly, stepped off the win now treadmill that had mired them in being a good but never good enough team for all but one of the years from 2001-2015. Jumping back into that position too quickly by trading off prospects for veterans who are no longer very good or losing confidence in young players too quickly would be a big mistake, but it is not hard to see the Yankees going down that road. They spent the offseason raising expectations. If the next month looks like the last two weeks, things could get ugly in the Bronx pretty quickly.
A big Democratic win in November will slow down the decline of American democracy, but unless the broader questions of how to create a new narrative about our society and economy that does not perpetually pit us against each other, how to create political and electoral laws and institutions that are consistent with contemporary realities of democracy, how to reinvigorate news outlets that have a somewhat more than tenuous relationship to the truth and how to train a population that has been addled by Fox News, Twitter and hyper-partisanship to distinguish between fact and fantasy are addressed, the downward spiral of American democracy will continue.
The Yankees this year have some obvious and very impressive strengths. Their right-handed power is the best in the game. Sanchez, Judge and Stanton could conceivably combine for 120 or more home runs. The bullpen, despite Betances rough first outing, is also good enough to play well into October. The rotation, while not the best in the game, is nonetheless strong. All this makes it difficult to process the potential weaknesses of this team. This is exacerbated by a New York media climate the turns every journeyman traded to the Yankees, at least at first, into a potential star, and refuses to recognize a hot spring by a second tier prospect for what it really is.
In this context, occasional statements by the people like Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) that if the President fired Robert Mueller, it would be the beginning of the end of his presidency or by the office of the Speaker Ryan urging Trump to let Mueller finish his job, should not be taken at face value. These are not principled statements by patriotic Americans. Rather they are last ditch efforts by ethically broken politicians to salvage their reputations by words that, if the last two years teach us anything, are extremely unlikely to be backed up by meaningful action.
In the last two weeks, the Yankees have added two infielders, Neil Walker and Brandon Drury. Drury was acquired for two second-tier prospects while Walker was a free agent who signed a one year four million dollar contract. Neither of these qualifies as major acquisitions, but they could have a significant impact on the team. Drury and Walker are both respectable big leaguers who can help a contending team. The Yankees could win the pennant with either of them in the starting lineup, but it is less clear they could win with both of them as regulars.
Regardless of Donald Trump’s intentions, his comments, despite being made in an informal setting are an apt reflection of the state of American democracy. When the leader of a powerful authoritarian regime moved his country further away from democracy while consolidating his power, the American president used that not as an opportunity contrast our political system with China’s but to indicate his preference for authoritarianism. This should make it clear just how imperiled our democracy is.
While seeing Kasky humiliate Marco Rubio by challenging him to stop taking NRA money or watching Emma Gonzalez similarly embarrass NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch is very encouraging for adults who support gun reform, there is much more to these young people’s message than that. In her most well-known speech, Gonzalez repeated the refrain “we call BS.” While most of that refrain was targeted at the gun lobby and their apologists, it was also aimed at pro-gun reform legislators who have not been aggressive, or successful, enough in their efforts to change American gun policy. Gonzalez, and her generation, are not just calling BS on the NRA, but on those who are cowed by arguments like the one that asserts that none of the proposed laws would have stopped the shooting.
In 1968, Mantle was one of the best hitters in the league who, while not the dominant player he once was, still was a valuable patience and power guy who was very valuable to the Yankees. None of this was evident at the time because front offices and management, although aware that it the game was dominated by pitching, did not fully understand its impact. Similarly, Mantle’ primary skill during his last two years was his ability to draw walks, something that was almost entirely unappreciated, even unrecognized, at the time.
Those who seek to craft policies to address the problem of easy and widespread access to extremely powerful firearms are confidently and dismissively told by legislators who receive generous support from the NRA that those efforts can never lead anywhere due the Second Amendment. This misinterpretation of the Second Amendment is wielded like some kind of magical trump card that can, and frequently does, end any conversation or debate about guns. In democracies, rational policy solutions must be discussed and debated not shouted down by a small minority of the American people hiding behind an extreme interpretation of a sentence written more than 200 years ago. Thus, for several decades now the Second Amendment has been wielded not as a way to guarantee individual freedom, but to make mass shootings easier and ultimately stifle democracy.
It is also the case that the season could end differently and bring disappointment to Yankee fans. In addition to the questions marks at second, third and the back of the starting rotation, there are many other possible ways 2018 could go wrong for the Yankees. This is true of every team and is pretty much part of the game, but it is useful to think of what those stumbling blocks might be. Luis Severino or Aaron Judge might regress from their breakthrough years in 2017. Gary Sanchez might prove unable to field hold well enough to hold down the catching job full time. Greg Bird and Giancarlo Stanton, who both have struggled to stay healthy throughout their career could lose significant time to injuries. Additionally, other key contributors like Didi Gregorius or Masahiro Tanaka could suffer serious injuries.
Nobody is chanting “lock him up” about the White House Chief of Staff, but the case that Kelly mishandled national security information almost makes itself. In a White House that can be charitably described as dysfunctional, one of the few seemingly competent people, Rob Porter, lacked the security clearance needed for his job, which involved a lot of access to important documents that the President needed to see. Kelly, perhaps just in the name of expedience, decided that ignoring Porter’s lack of security clearance was okay. This would be a problem for any administration but is particularly galling given that Kelly serves a President who made accusations of mishandling of classified data by his opponent one of the pillars of his campaign.
In Trump’s America, this is the no longer out of the ordinary, but it reveals that the erosion of American political institutions and the American people’s confidence in those institutions is not a peripheral effect of the Trump presidency, but is indeed the goal of the Trump presidency. The Nunes memo was an effort to discredit the FBI, Robert Mueller and indeed the rule of law in America. This may be essential for the survival of the Trump administration, but the impact on American democracy, and the American state, will be profound.
Jacoby Ellsbury is not a terrible ballplayer, but he is an extremely overpaid one. He is useful as a fourth or fifth outfielder who is no longer the offensive threat he once was, but who can still field reasonably well, has some speed left and is a left-handed bat on a team that tilts heavily to the right side. He would be a good player to sign in spring training to a one or two year deal for two or three, or even five, million dollars per year. Unfortunately, the Yankees owe him more than $21 million per year from 2018-2020.
A year into the Trump administration and the marches are still massive and widespread, if underreported, but marches do not translate directly into victories at the voting booth. This is not an issue of those who attend marches not voting. There is no reason to believe that is the case. However, although there were marches all over the country this year and last, the biggest demonstrations occurred in safely blue districts. The march in Manhattan was inspiring, but we New Yorkers have little ability to affect the 2018 election directly through our vote, as many New Yorkers, like San Franciscans or Angelenos are represented from the City Council to the US Senate by Democrats who rarely face competition.
Trump’s descents to into the most blatant forms of racism and anti-immigrant sentiment are now frequent enough that the responses are predictable. His apologists assert that he was misquoted or that he is simply saying what many Americans believe. The former approach is essentially dishonest, but the latter explanation is significant. There is a fair amount of truth to the belief that many Americans disparage countries whose populations are largely non-white, but that does not make Trump’s remarks less offensive. Instead it is evidence that racism is not some rare condition that Trump happens to have, but rather a widespread set of opinions that remains a cancer on American politics and society.
Since the trade that brought Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees, most of the speculation around the team has focused on second base, third base and the starting pitching. The rest of the lineup seems pretty set and very potent. Nonetheless, there are some mid-level questions that remain. As the season goes on, particularly if a player or two gets hurt and stops hitting.