A Species of Extremely Venomous Snake

There’s the snake:

The black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis) is a species of extremely venomous snake, a member of the family Elapidae native to parts of sub-Saharan Africa. First formally described by Albert Günther in 1864, it is the second-longest venomous snake after the king cobra…

And there was Kobe Bryant:

Opposing teams designated “Kobe stoppers,” or dedicated shadows, to frustrate the Lakers’ lone weapon. He was the Black Mamba, a nickname he gave himself after watching Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill,” in which the snake, known for its agility and aggressiveness, was used as a code name for a deadly assassin. “I read up on the animal and said, ‘Wow, this is pretty awesome,'” Bryant recalled. “This is a perfect description of how I would want my game to be.”

White folks didn’t get it, or they got it and didn’t like it. Bryant’s play was hyper-aggressive and deadly, and after a bit of a nasty scandal he was tired of apologizing for himself. He’d win. He’d carry the team if he had to. Some called him a ball-hog. So what? He got the job done, with deadly precision. He was the Black Mamba, and for a bit, he was the best there was, and oddly enough, off the court he was a thoughtful and courteous gentleman. He mentored young players. He had a quick smile – but he wasn’t going to apologize any longer.

Some would say he didn’t know his place. Others say that’s exactly what he knew. But it was the same with Barack Obama. Race has always been an issue in this country. Donald Trump is still angry with Colin Kaepernick and that Black Lives Matter business. Donald Trump began his run for the presidency with the Birther stuff – Barack Obama didn’t know his place. But now Kobe is gone:

Kobe Bryant, the retired Los Angeles Lakers basketball star who was one of the greatest to play the game, and his 13-year-old daughter were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday outside Los Angeles, rocking the sports world and generating an outpouring of grief and shock across the country…

It was a moment of national mourning, coast to coast. Thousands of people converged at Staples Center, the Lakers’ home arena in downtown Los Angeles; condolences poured in from presidents, celebrities and sports luminaries; and several entertainers paid tribute to Mr. Bryant at the Grammy Awards, which took place at the arena hours later. A shrine emerged at Mr. Bryant’s high school alma mater in suburban Philadelphia.

The rest is detail about who reacted with what words, and this was why:

Signing with the league right out of high school in 1996, he changed the way the NBA identified, groomed and developed its youngest stars… Yet he was far more than a basketball giant. He was among the world’s best-known athletes, a star on the order of Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, swarmed by fans whether he was in Beijing or Beverly Hills. It is not uncommon to hear young people in some quarters shout out, “Kobe!” when they hit a jump shot.

He won an Oscar in 2018 for an animated short film on his life, and was a largely beloved figure, though sexual assault charges in 2003 cast a shadow over his image. Mr. Bryant publicly admitted to having consensual extramarital sex with his 19-year-old accuser, but insisted he had not committed a crime. The charges were ultimately dropped as the woman declined to testify, and she and Mr. Bryant reached a civil settlement, allowing him to resume his storied career.

There were more championships, and Mr. Bryant evolved into a father and a man with business interests that stretched far beyond his sport… In retirement, Mr. Bryant was busy becoming a modern Renaissance man who wrote and produced films and cultivated friends in the technology and venture capital sectors to help him with his investments.

That seems to have angered many people, many of whom immediately posted items like this on Facebook:

Thirty Marines and one Sailor from the 1st Marine Division and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing of the I Marine Expeditionary Force died Jan. 26 when their CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter crashed near Ar Rutbah in the Al Anbar Province while conducting security and stabilization operations.

That was from 2005 but that wasn’t the point. A celebrity’s death gets hours of play, when those protecting our freedom get little notice, if any – and that’s because the media hates the military. And from there the comments morphed into how the media hates Donald Trump. And soon some were demanding that Trump shut down CNN and MSNBC and the New York Times and the Washington Post and whatnot. And this man had called himself the Black Mamba! Why don’t these people know their place?

It got ugly early out there. It was one more chance to choose sides in the culture wars. But who’s the extremely venomous snake here? There was this:

Two days ago, NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly revealed that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had berated her with expletives after she asked him about the Ukraine scandal. Today, President Donald Trump chimed in – by appearing to threaten to cut off NPR’s federal funding.

Trump retweeted a comment from right-wing radio host Mark Levin, who had highlighted a Fox News story about the Pompeo controversy and asked: “Why does NPR still exist? We have thousands of radio stations in the U.S. plus Satellite radio. Podcasts. Why are we paying for this big-government, Democrat Party propaganda operation?” Trump added that Levin’s tweet raised a “very good question!”

But they’re not paying for much of anything here:

Only a small portion of NPR’s funding actually comes from tax dollars. According to its latest financial report, just one percent of its annual operating budget consists of “grants from Corporation for Public Broadcasting and federal agencies and departments.” Most of its funding comes from corporate sponsorships and dues paid by member stations across the country. Those member stations in turn receive about 12 percent of their funding from the CPB and other federal, state, and local government sources. Some stations also receive money from colleges and universities.

Still, if Trump did decide to retaliate against NPR because of its coverage of his administration, he could do some serious damage – at least if he can convince Congress to go along. “Elimination of federal funding would result in fewer programs, less journalism – especially local journalism – and eventually the loss of public radio stations, particularly in rural and economically distressed communities,” NPR notes on its website.

That might be the idea here, because someone got very angry:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attacked a National Public Radio reporter in a blistering statement Saturday after the network said the top U.S. diplomat admonished her using expletives, called her a liar and demanded she find Ukraine on a map.

The incident has drawn sharp criticism of Pompeo, but he accused NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly of lying, even while not disputing her account of his tirade.

That is, she lied, so he had every right to scream at her:

Kelly interviewed Pompeo Friday morning at the State Department in Washington, pressing him on the Trump administration’s Iran policy before turning to Ukraine and former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. The career diplomat who still works under Pompeo was reportedly surveilled and possibly threatened by associates of President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, but Pompeo has never issued a public statement of support for her.

That line of questioning angered Pompeo, according to Kelly, who stared her down after the interview was ended by a staffer and then called her back to his offices.

There, he berated her using the f-word, asked whether Americans cared about Ukraine and demanded that she find the eastern European country on a map, she reported Friday on NPR’s “All Things Considered”.

After pointing it out, she said Pompeo abruptly dismissed, and she thanked him for his time.

The encounter was not off the record, according to Kelly, who said she wouldn’t have agreed to it being so if anyone asked her.

All the relevant emails bear that out now but that was after the fact:

Pompeo disputed that fact, claiming Kelly “lied to me, twice.”

“First, last month, in setting up our interview and, then again yesterday, in agreeing to have our post-interview conversation off the record,” he said Saturday in a statement.

He went further, saying it was “another example of how unhinged the media has become in its quest to hurt President Trump and this Administration.”

“It is no wonder that the American people distrust many in the media when they so consistently demonstrate their agenda and their absence of integrity,” he said.

His statement didn’t dispute any of the contents of their tense, post-interview exchange, including his use of expletives or him asking about American interest in Ukraine.

But then he jumped the shark:

He also insinuated that Kelly, who was born in Germany and has a master’s degree in European Studies from Cambridge University in the U.K., misidentified Ukraine on an unmarked map as Bangladesh.

“It is worth noting that Bangladesh is NOT Ukraine,” he concluded his statement.

She pointed to Bangladesh! She pointed to Bangladesh! It was just the two of us. It’s my word against hers! She pointed to Bangladesh!

Yeah, well, whatever:

NPR’s senior vice president for news Nancy Barnes stood by Kelly in a statement to ABC News.

“Mary Louise Kelly has always conducted herself with the utmost integrity, and we stand behind this report,” Barnes said.

And of course Mike is who he is:

In October, he accused Nancy Amons, a correspondent with Nashville’s WSMV television station, that she has her “facts wrong” and “sounds like you’re working, at least in part, for the Democratic National Committee” when she asked whether Trump’s hold on security assistance to Ukraine was contingent on Ukraine’s president announcing an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden.

He also used that attack – of working for the DNC – against PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff in October, when she asked similar questions about whether it was appropriate for Trump to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden.

It’s all about choosing sides, and about punishment:

President Trump escalated his attacks on Rep. Adam B. Schiff on Sunday, issuing what appears to be a veiled threat against the California Democrat one day before Trump’s team is expected to deliver the crux of its defense in the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history.

“Shifty Adam Schiff is a CORRUPT POLITICIAN, and probably a very sick man,” Trump tweeted Sunday morning. “He has not paid the price, yet, for what he has done to our Country!”

Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is the lead impeachment manager in the Senate trial.

That seems to be the problem, but this was an odd solution to that problem:

Schiff responded in an interview on NBC News’ Meet the Press, saying he believes Trump’s remarks were intended as a threat.

“This is a wrathful and vindictive president; I don’t think there’s any doubt about it,” Schiff said in the interview. “And if you think there is, look at the president’s tweets about me today, saying that I should ‘pay a price.'”

“Do you take that as a threat?” host Chuck Todd asked.

“I think it’s intended to be,” Schiff replied.

A wrathful and vindictive president may be a new species of extremely venomous snake, or maybe not:

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said it was “ridiculous” for Schiff to claim that Trump was threatening him. In an appearance on Fox News Channel’s Media Buzz, she accused the California Democrat of “grandstanding,” although she acknowledged that she hadn’t had an opportunity to ask Trump what he meant by the tweet.

“I think he means … [Schiff] hasn’t yet paid the price with the voters,” Grisham said.

But she’ll check with the boss, maybe it was a death threat, and there was this:

She also echoed Trump’s attack earlier Sunday on Schiff, saying, “I mean, it seems he’s having a little bit of a mental issue when you sit on the floor for hours and hours and hours. He’s obsessed with this president and trying to take him down.”

Schiff delivered his remarks on the floor while standing, but this was Fox News so he was sitting on the floor the whole time, and maybe he was pointing to Bangladesh too, and really, it doesn’t matter:

Some Republicans on Sunday defended Trump’s remarks about Schiff. In an interview on CNN’s State of the Union, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said he was not troubled by Trump’s declaration that Schiff “has not paid the price.”

“I don’t think it’s a death threat. I don’t think he’s encouraging a death threat,” Lankford said.

Host Jake Tapper responded by saying that “people who are supporters of the president have heard his rhetoric and then actually tried to bomb and kill politicians and the media.”

Sure, but is that Trump’s problem? And there was this:

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who is also an impeachment manager, called Trump’s tweet about Schiff “really unfortunate” and said the president has said things before “that seem threatening to people.”

“He really ought to get a grip and be a little more presidential,” she said on State of the Union.

That might be difficult, given those who advise this president:

A Florida pastor and longtime spiritual adviser to President Trump says she was speaking in metaphor when she recently prayed in a sermon for all “satanic pregnancies” to end in miscarriage.

In video of the Jan. 5 sermon, posted by the libeal advocacy group Right Wing Watch, televangelist pastor Paula White breathlessly calls on Jesus Christ to “command all satanic pregnancies to miscarry right now.”

“We declare that anything that’s been conceived in satanic wombs, that it will miscarry, it will not be able to carry forth any plan of destruction, any plan of harm,” White said before an auditorium of congregants.

As of Sunday morning, the clip, which was just under two minutes long, had been viewed more than 2.5 million times.

Oops:

White’s words are largely being interpreted literally – that she wishes for evil women to have miscarriages – but she shared a rare response to the criticism in which she explained that she was speaking in metaphor, praying for evil plans to be foiled in her congregants’ lives.

It was too late for that:

“So Paula White wants everyone at @WhiteHouse to know she is praying for abortion,” tweeted Jennifer Gunter, an obstetrician and gynecologist who writes a column on women’s reproductive health for the New York Times.

“No pregnancies are satanic. Every child is a gift from God,” tweeted James Martin, a prominent Jesuit priest. “No one should ever pray for any woman to miscarry. No one should ever pray for evil or harm to befall another person. Jesus asked us to pray for our persecutors, not to curse them. To love our neighbors as ourselves.”

No, no, no, this wasn’t a death threat! But it was this:

The 53-year-old megachurch pastor, who recently joined the White House Office of Public Liaison as a religious adviser, delivered the remarks during a sermon in which she inveighed against a variety of forces, including anyone who sought to harm Trump.

“We come against the marine kingdom, we come against the animal kingdom,” said White, eyes closed. “We declare that any strange winds – any strange winds that have been sent to hurt the church, sent against this nation, sent against our president, sent against myself, sent against others – we break it by the superior blood of Jesus right now.”

She also condemned “any hex, any spell, any witchcraft, any spirit of control, any Jezebel,” and “anything that the enemy desires through spells,” according to the footage.

But at least she didn’t condemn the black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis) at the time, or Kobe Bryant. Still, one should worry about extremely venomous snakes, those extremely venomous people out to punish all others.

Maybe they shouldn’t be in charge. That’s the premise of Fred Kaplan’s new book The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War as shown in this excerpt:

As senators try President Donald Trump for impeachment and some of them call for placing limits on his ability to wage war against Iran, it is worth recalling that, early on in his term, lawmakers of both parties raised fearful concerns about Trump’s war powers more broadly – specifically whether he should have the power to start a nuclear war all on his own.

On Oct. 30, 2017, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on whether the president needed new congressional authorization to use military force against terrorists around the world. When his turn came to ask questions, Democratic Sen. Edward Markey asked the witnesses whether Trump could launch a nuclear first strike without consulting anyone from Congress.

At first, the witnesses, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, hesitated, calling the question “hypothetical,” but Markey wouldn’t relent, and finally, Mattis allowed that the president could order a first strike if an adversary was seen “preparing” to launch an attack.

That is a worry:

Markey, a longtime advocate of nuclear arms treaties, knew the answer before asking the question, but some of the senators were surprised. Among them was the Republican chairman, Bob Corker. A businessman from Tennessee, Corker was deeply conservative, but he was also agitated by stories he’d been hearing about Trump’s mental state. Recently Corker had made a stir by likening the White House to an “adult day center” and warning that Trump’s reckless threats toward other countries could pave a “path to World War III.”

After the hearing, Corker told his staff that he was “riled up” by Markey’s exchange with the two secretaries and that he wanted to hold a separate hearing on the subject as soon as possible – “something real sober,” as he put it, “pointing out that the president has the power to basically destroy the world.”

There was a separate hearing on the subject, and it was just as frightening, but there was nothing much that was new:

There was a history of senior officials and underlings maneuvering around an untrustworthy chain of command. Back in the summer of 1974, amid reports of President Richard Nixon’s frequent drunkenness under the pressures of Watergate and his imminent impeachment, Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger quietly asked the Joint Chiefs of Staff to call him if they received any “unusual orders” from the president. (Neither Schlesinger nor the chiefs, then or now, were in the chain of command for nuclear orders, so this would have technically been an act of insubordination.)

In late 1973, Maj. Harold Hering, a Minuteman missile launch officer in training, asked his instructors, “How can I know that an order I receive to launch my missiles came from a sane president?” And, more broadly, “What checks and balances exist to verify that an unlawful order does not get in to the missile men?” Hering, a proud Air Force officer, had served multiple tours as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. He simply wanted assurances that, if he ever got the signal to launch nuclear missiles against a foreign country, he would be following legal orders as military law required. For his devotion to the law, he was instantly yanked out of missile crewman class, given a desk job, and, after a review board meeting, drummed out of the military.

Nobody wanted to answer Hering’s questions, in part because they couldn’t be answered without raising doubts about the whole system of command and control over nuclear weapons. They aroused suspicions that the elaborate process of consultation over the decision to launch nuclear weapons might be fragile.

And then there’s C. Robert Kehler, former head of U.S. Strategic Command, which is in charge of plans and policies on nuclear weapons:

“The human factor kicks in,” as Kehler testified. There was no safety switch in place, no circuit breaker that someone could throw, if the human in charge turned out to be crazy.

And if the human in charge turns out to be a new species of extremely venomous snake the world could end. And that might happen. But our own Black Mamba, gone now, was a good man. Damn.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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