Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Thursday, September 27, 2018 8:04 am

Why things are so effed up

I keep hearing that there are Republicans out there whom we should take seriously because they believe in “good government.” I call bullshit. Here’s a very simple test. Name me one current, or even recent past, Republican holder of federal office who 1) deals in facts, 2) believes policy should comport with science and research, 3) believes in the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment, and 4) consistently acts and votes in accordance with these points.

That’s a goddamned low bar. That’s barely above “needs drool wiped from mouth.” And yet I cannot come up with a single name. Not Lisa Murkowski. Not Susan Collins. Not John Kasich, when he held federal office. Not Jeff Flake or Ben Sasse. I’m even gonna disinter and dust off John McCain long enough to say not him, either.

Here in North Carolina, the same is true of Republican state officeholders.

Now, are you still wondering why things are so effed up? Because there’s your answer.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2018 7:58 pm

“What do we owe her now?”

Filed under: Evil,Say a prayer — Lex @ 7:58 pm
Tags: , , ,

After I read this story, a deeply reported and insightful examination of a 2006 rape case that happened to a classmate of the writer, Washington Post columnist Elizabeth Bruenig, when they were in high school in Texas, I was warned by some online acquaintances not to share it (even though they admit the story is excellent) because the reporter, Elizabeth Bruenig, supposedly is extremely anti-abortion, believes misogyny is caused by demon possession, and thinks the patriarchy doesn’t exist.

That gave me pause because I generally try not to amplify the voices of people with whom I disagree on social issues. I follow Bruenig on Twitter, but I seldom see her posts and didn’t recall anything like that. So I spent a few minutes Googling this. I didn’t find conclusive information one way or the other except that Bruenig, a convert to Catholicism, opposes abortion. (In my short search I found no indication of whether she thinks abortion should be illegal).

But here’s the thing. Whether or not she holds those views is irrelevant, because if she holds these views, she very clearly kept them out of the story. Isn’t that exactly what we expect reporters to do?

She didn’t keep all her views out; she is, after all, a columnist. She obviously feels the need for expiation:

There were personal reasons, too, for my investigation. I wanted to understand why it had to be as bad as it was — why she wasn’t just doubted but hated, not simply mocked but exiled — and why it had always lingered on my conscience like an article of unfinished business, something I had meant to do but hadn’t. I wanted to look directly at the dark things that are revealed when episodes of brutality unfold and all pretense of civilization temporarily fades, and I wanted to understand them completely.

Otherwise, I thought, they could at any time pull me under. And I could watch mutely while something like this happened again.

Bruenig began work on this story three years ago. In addition to being a strong and damning piece of journalism, it also includes some insights drawn from this 2006 rape case that are frighteningly relevant in 2018. Consider:

Montaigne and Wordsworth lived near enough to the bloody indifference of nature to spare a thought for its victims. But the veneer of civility painted over modern life has paradoxically revealed a certain contempt for victims and the condition of victimhood. And perhaps, lurking in all the complaints about our putative culture of victimhood, there is something uglier than generalized contempt: a disdain for the weak.

That is absolutely true. And in recent years, driven largely though not exclusively by Republican politicians and out-of-control financiers, the “veneer of civility” has been chipping and flaking; since the ascent of Trump, it has begun falling away in chunks. Contempt for victims and disdain for the weak have become more socially acceptable; they are the stock-in-trade of many would-be iconoclasts. They think they are fighting political correctness, neither knowing nor caring that what they think of as political correctness, most people think of as just good manners.

This has always been the case for victims of sexual assault, and the way Senate Republicans are handling the credible allegation of Christine Ford against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh shows just how incredibly little progress we have made in preventing sexual assault and caring for its victims, even in 2018.

This isn’t just evil, it also is distinctly un-American. This country has always been at its best when, whether in good circumstances like moon landings or bad circumstances like Pearl Harbor and 9/11, we realized we were all in this together. But more and more people aren’t just ignorant of the less fortunate, they are actively trying to harm them even more than they already have been harmed. That goes against every ancient teaching, sacred and secular, that above all we must give a damn about one another. I haven’t the first idea how to reverse it, but it needs to be called out, and that is only one service among many that Bruenig has provided with this article.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018 6:51 pm

” … remember the ladies … “

Everyone remembers that as John Adams was working on what would become the Declaration of Independence, his wife, Abigail, wrote him a letter asking that he “remember the ladies.” What they don’t remember is the full quote, which is a lot more interesting and relevant:

I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, take note.

Sunday, September 16, 2018 4:53 pm

Anita Hill Redux

So now a woman has come forward to tell The Washington Post that Supreme Court nominee sexually assaulted and attempted to rape her when they were both in high school.

Read The Washington Post’s story. The accuser, Christine Braley Ford, comes across as credible — certainly more credible than Kavanaugh, who has committed serial perjury before the U.S. Senate.

As corroborating evidence, the accuser offers notes from a 2012 conversation involving her, her husband and a marriage counselor, which describes the incident but does not name Kavanaugh (or anyone else) as her attacker. What has the GOP to offer in response? A ham-handed effort to make us believe that they were able to round up 65 female character witnesses from Kavanaugh’s high-school years within just a few hours.

At the very least, the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is scheduled to vote Thursday on Kavanaugh’s nomination, ought to postpone the vote long enough to get any and all witnesses with relevant information under oath. But that appears unlikely to happen.

Senate Judiciary Republicans issued a statement calling the accusation “uncorroborated allegations” (despite the counselor’s notes) and criticizing the Democrats for not having brought the allegation forward sooner. Ford sent her congresswoman a letter in July, before Kavanaugh was nominated; she passed it on in July to Feinstein as a member of the Senate committee that would be vetting whomever Trump nominated. Feinstein has said she had kept the letter secret at the request of the writer, whose name had been redacted.

A lawyer close to the White House told Politico the nomination would not be withdrawn:

“No way, not even a hint of it,” the lawyer said. “If anything, it’s the opposite. If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried. We can all be accused of something.”

(I imagine it doesn’t bother the White House at all that their lawyer friend is basically conceding that the building is full of rapists.)

Those of us who were around for Clarence Thomas’s nomination to the Supreme Court know how the Republicans will handle this: stonewall on the accusation and attack the accuser. The possibility that there might be something here worth getting sworn testimony on doesn’t even seem to have crossed Republicans’ minds.

If all Senate Republicans toe the party line, as looks likely, Kavaugh will be confirmed with at least 51 votes. So, in all likelihood, Ford will be smeared and Kavanaugh, despite documented perjury, will be confirmed. Two sexual assaulters will be radically reshaping laws that affect all of us, particularly women and girls. And a formerly great major political party will be demonstrating again the staggering depths of its corruption and yet more justification for its utter ouster in November and in 2020.

 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018 7:00 am

“For thou art with us …”

Filed under: Sad — Lex @ 7:00 am
Tags:

As is my custom on this day, I’m going back to read Sarah “Sars” Bunting’s post-9/11 essay, “For Thou Art With Us,” and I strongly urge you to do the same.

Sunday, September 9, 2018 12:14 pm

On not voting

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 12:14 pm

Last night on Twitter, I stumbled into a discussion about why people don’t vote. I dared to agree, pointedly, with another poster that perhaps people who don’t vote because they don’t see a candidate they like need to get over themselves. I was not swarmed, exactly, but I did hear from a few people. Even at 280 characters, Twitter is not the best place to have that discussion, so I’m posting here to both address some specific points from my interlocutors and to make a more general case about why voting is good and not voting is bad even if you don’t like anyone on the ballot.

I was informed by @punksandwitch that my attitude was shitty. I pointed out, correctly, that the attitudes of nonvoters had helped give us both Bush 43 and Trump, by far the two worst presidents in our country’s history.

I was informed by @delmoi that nonvoters don’t need to give me excuses and don’t owe me anything. That’s his/her opinion. Mine is that as citizens in a democratic republic we all owe each other our best judgment, every election, every time, and that willfully choosing not to vote is an abdication of civic responsibility.

@delmoi also suggested that if I want to win elections, I should find out why people aren’t voting and correct the problem. @aimeedemaio helpfully added some data to further that effort:

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Now, voters listed a lot of reasons, some of which we absolutely can address by, for example, making Election Day a national holiday and enacting universal registration, as several states already have done. But the biggest chunk by far of 2016 nonvoters didn’t vote because they didn’t like the candidates and/or issues.

My critics’ take, if I may generalize, is that I (or the Democratic Party, of which I am not a member) need to come up with better candidates and/or issues if I wish to engage this 40 percent. And that’s where they have their heads firmly ensconced in their nether regions.

In 2016, most of us had a choice for president from among four flawed people. One was an authoritarian bigot with narcissistic personality disorder, a decades-long history of financial fraud and sexual assault and a nontrivial chance of being a Russian agent. One was a woman with an awful sense of PR who had nonetheless served with distinction as First Lady, U.S. senator and Secretary of State and, despite having been more throughly investigated than any other public figure in U.S. history, had never been found to be even close to guilty of a crime. The other two were minor-party candidates, one of whom also turned out to have ties to the Russians.

As @MadameOvary put it, “I’m not interested in why they don’t shell out money for the turd sandwich or the turd sandwich with extra diarrhea gravy. We gave them a choice!!!!” And @ald0_sax put it similarly: “Imagine if pepsi gradually changed it’s formula until eventually people started thinking it tasted like shit. Then imagine that for their new ad campaign, pepsi started going around lecturing people for not buying enough pepsi. You are pepsi. Stop being pepsi.” @OpinionatedLab agreed, albeit less colorfully.

Well, Republicans have been arguing for more than half a century that all government is bad and that therefore voting is a waste of time. You’d think people might stop and ask themselves, “If voting is so worthless, why are Republicans trying to stop people from doing it?” But they don’t.

As for candidate quality, despite insistences from such folks as @anthrogirl73 that not only was Hillary Clinton a lousy candidate, so was Al Gore, there is not a lot of evidence that Democratic candidates, at least, are any worse now than they’ve been at any point since the civil-rights era. (Republican candidates, on the other hand, have gotten a lot worse — more corrupt and more crazy. The last sane, noncriminal Republican candidate was Eisenhower.)

So, sure, if you’re uninformed or lazy or holier-than-thou, you can argue that all the 2016 candidates sucked. But you can’t argue that they all sucked equally and still display any intellectual integrity. Anyone with any historical perspective and understanding of the way our system actually works understood that 1) Donald Trump had to be defeated and that 2) the best, most likely way to do that was to vote for Hillary Clinton.

The survey above mentioned not only unsatisfactory candidates but unsatisfactory issues. @walking_fox tweeted, “If you want people to vote, you need to give them something to vote for, instead of promising them pain and then whining about how they are obligated to enable your abuse of them.” Well, here in the real world, in the 2015 general elections and in many special elections so far this year, Democrats have been running, and generally winning, not on pain but on health care and jobs. “The Democrats have no message” has been GOP propaganda mindlessly distributed by some godawfully lazy news media; I’m just sorry some people have been taken in by it.

Here’s the thing: You will never in your life get your perfect candidate for president. I’ve been doing this since 1980. Barack Obama was the only presidential candidate I ever voted for about whom I was genuinely enthusiastic. And even he was a letdown on a number of significant issues. He failed to hold responsible those who ordered torture and warrantless domestic wiretapping. He failed to hold accountable those who blew up the economy in 2008. And he personally ordered the extrajudicial assassination of a U.S. citizen.

But the bottom line is that our constitutional system of choosing a president (and most other office holders) is a winner-take-all system. Under a parliamentary system, or with ranked choice voting, voters might have more flexibility, but under the system we’ve got, we usually end up voting for, if not the lesser of two evils, then someone we’re just not all that enthusiastic about.

Certainly that’s a bad thing, but absent an overnight amendment to the Constitution, we’re stuck with it. Therefore, if you want more progressive candidates, the way to get them is to either find them or become them — and then turn out and vote for them in the primary. Sadly, it’s a fact nationwide that far fewer people vote in primaries than in general elections, partly because some primaries are closed but mainly because a lot of people just don’t bother. But simply demanding better candidates and staying home if you don’t get them is not a solution. Indeed, it plays right into the hands of some of the country’s most awful people and endangers many of its most vulnerable. It might make you feel better, but this isn’t just about you.

 

 

 

Friday, September 7, 2018 1:11 pm

Dead SCOTUS nominee walking

In any sane republic, Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination would have been pulled by now. Not only has he clearly perjured himself, more on which in a minute, he also appears to have a gambling problem and may himself have been involved in criminal activity.

But it hasn’t been and it almost certainly won’t be. That’s because the once-noble Republican Party has degenerated completely into a continuing criminal enterprise.

Let us start with perjury, which has been exposed by some of the very documents from Kavanaugh’s time in the Bush 43 White House that the Trump Administration has been so reluctant to release. (Those records are public under the law, by the way.)

He has denied receiving documents stolen from the Senate Judiciary’s Democratic staff by a GOP staffer, Michael Miranda, in 2002, only to have those copies of those documents sent to him from Miranda show up in his White House email. Yet in 2004 and 2006, he denied under oath ever receiving those documents. Sen. Patrick Leahy, ranking Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, personally called him out on it.

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Kavanaugh also in 2006 denied knowing anything about President George W. Bush’s (then-illegal) warrantless domestic wiretapping program until The New York Times first reported publicly on the existence of the program in 2001. Yet among documents released this week was this email from Kavanaugh to all-around Bush Administration war criminal John Yoo on Sept. 17, 2001, discussing the program.

Also in 2006, Kavanaugh denied under oath having been involved in any White House discussions related to torture. But Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the same senator to whom Kavanaugh gave his 2006 denial, said Thursday that released documents indicate that Kavanaugh took part in such discussions at least three times.

During his own 2004 confirmation hearing, Kavanaugh denied under oath any involvement in the selection of William Pryor for the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Once again, the documents show otherwise: Kavanaugh helped pick Pryor and get him confirmed.

Similarly, in 2006 Kavanaugh denied under oath having been involved in the selection of Charles Pickering for a federal judgeship, only to have documents pop up more recently that say otherwise.

Kavanaugh also may have misled a lot of people about his recent $200,000 in what he said was credit-card debt. That debt disappeared pretty quickly before his nomination, and because he and his wife both work for the government and don’t make a ton of money by Washington standards, it’s not clear how that happened.

That’s not the only question about that debt, though. This Kavanaugh email seems to suggest that he was a gambler. Frankly, that sounds a lot more plausible than his original story, which is that he ran up that debt because friends had been slow to repay him for purchases of Washington Nationals season tickets on their behalf. Who fronts friends $200,000 on an annual salary of only about $174,000?

Finally, Kavanaugh’s lies about the stolen Democratic records might not just leave him exposed to perjury charges, he may face other charges as well, such as receiving stolen property. Leahy explains it in this Twitter thread.

Finally, keep in mind that only a small fraction of the records pertaining to Kavanaugh’s tenure in the Bush White House has been made public. Given what we’ve learned from what little we have seen so far, it’s no surprise that Republicans have fought so hard to keep the records secret. And it also would be no surprise if more damaging information about Kavanaugh came to light as more records are released, as they will be.

So why haven’t senior Republicans tried to persuade Trump to pull the nomination, that we know of? Maybe they have, but given how badly this administration leaks, if that had been the case I suspect we’d have heard about it by now.

I suspect the reason they haven’t tried is because they’re JUST FINE with Kavanaugh? Why? Because Kavanaugh, like Trump, will advance their conservative agenda if confirmed, just as he has on the D.C. Circuit. He’ll vote to ban abortion and even birth control, approve their destruction of the establishment clause of the First Amendment, approve their gerrymandering, uphold their executive orders, and on and on. Character and probity mean nothing to them. They chose Kavanaugh precisely BECAUSE, for all their professed fealty to stare decisis, he will rewrite the Constitution from the bench. Given that opportunity, they would say nothing even if he shot someone dead at high noon in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Senate Democrats already should have referred these matters to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation. But let’s not kid ourselves: Jeff Sessions, or any other Trump-appointed attorney general, won’t allow that investigation to happen.

So his nomination, which by all rights should be dead, shuffles foward until the day, not long from now, when he can begin eating the brains of a lot of stuff that makes America such a wonderful country.

And so, because Republicans hold majorities on the Senate Judiciary Committee and in the full body, Kavanaugh probably will be confirmed before the leaves even start changing. But if the Democrats retake at least one house of Congress in November, Kavanaugh could be facing impeachment before midwinter. He probably wouldn’t be convicted – Republicans would need only 34 Senate votes to keep him in office, but he’d be permanently tarred. And that, in this era of diminished expectations, might be the best we can hope for.

So, to sum up: Not only has Kavanaugh lied under oath to the Senate at least five times, not only does his own email suggest he has a gambling problem, but Sen. Patrick Leahy also caught him lying about his involvement in the Republican effort to benefit from Russian interference in the 2016 election – the very investigation of which will come before him if he’s confirmed to the Supreme Court and which might well come before him on the D.C. Circuit even if he isn’t. This nomination is fatally flawed and should be pulled. If it isn’t, Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis should vote against it. But it won’t be, and they won’t, because the GOP is nothing anymore but a continuing criminal enterprise.

***

UPDATE, 9/8: My longtime friend Rob Campany writes on Facebook:

Bill Burck, the lawyer who has been deciding which of these documents about Kavanaugh are released to the committee and of those which documents the public is allowed to see, currently represents former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, former White House adviser Steve Bannon and the current White House counsel Don McGahn, specifically in the Russia matter, along with at least three other current or former Trump staffers.

He’s representing like six people in the Russia investigation and he`s deciding what we’re allowed to know about the nominee who appears to have been picked probably because of the Russian investigation.

It’s starting to feel like the Mueller investigation and the Kavanaugh nomination are not competing stories anymore. It is starting to feel like this is the same story.

Rob refers to this MSNBC story, which I encourage you to see. Not only are we on the verge of confirming a gambler and perjurer — and having a gambling issue is only one of many things that can keep you from even having a law license in most states — we may be confirming someone complicit in the Russia conspiracy.

 

Thursday, September 6, 2018 8:00 am

Narcissistic, extraconstitutionalist chickenshits

If an anonymous op-ed in The New York Times is to be believed, a few plucky White House staffers are trying to save America and the world from the worst impulses of Donald Trump and expect our support and gratitude.

Screw them.

Screw them because of their narcissism. They clearly are off on this trip in which they and they alone are preserving the country, protecting the rest of us from disaster. That isn’t how the system works, more on which in a minute. Moreover, their perception of disaster is WAY too selective. They pick and choose the papers they don’t like to sneak off the president’s desk, while allowing environment depredation, the caging of children and the evisceration of health care for millions of Americans, thousands of whom will die as a direct result.

Screw them because they swore an oath to uphold the Constitution and instead are operating way outside of what law and the Constitution require. Their duty requires them, if they believe the president is unfit, to resign, come forward publicly, and work for Trump’s impeachment, resignation, or removal from office under the 25th Amendment. The author says he (and the piece is so narcissistic it almost has to have been written by a guy) and his colleagues discussed trying to invoke the 25th Amendment but didn’t want to provoke a “constitutional crisis.” Dude. That horse has gotten out of the barn, over the hill, sired 25 Triple Crown contenders, died peacefully in his sleep and been buried with honors in the Pimlico infield.

Screw them for not having the guts to come forward publicly. Whoever wrote this seems determined to try to maintain some post-Trump viability. That suggests the author either already is a politician – Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, a former U.S. senator, and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, a former S.C. governor with national political ambitions, come immediately to mind – or is a staffer with political ambitions. Unfortunately, this situation is more important than one person’s political career, a fact the author and his confreres directly refuse to acknowledge.

And, finally, screw them for this:

The bigger concern is not what Mr. Trump has done to the presidency but rather what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us. We have sunk low with him and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility.

Oh, HELL, no. You don’t get to foist the responsibility for this disaster on everybody else. I didn’t “allow him to do [this] to us,” and neither did 65 million other Americans. YOU made this possible, and you need to understand that and own it. In public. By name. Now.

 

 

Sunday, August 26, 2018 8:25 pm

Trump and the week that was

Donald Trump had such an awful week that it has taken me until tonight to begin to write about it. No American president has taken so many body blows in a single five-day period without getting shot.

On Tuesday, his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was convicted on eight felony counts, with the jury hung on another 10. Juror Paula Duncan, a staunch Trump supporter, called the government’s case “overwhelming” and said only a single juror prevented the panel from convicting Manafort on all 18 counts.

The charges against Manafort, in the Eastern District of Virginia, didn’t have anything directly to do with the Trump campaign’s conspiracy with the Russians to throw the 2016 election. But Manafort, who is likely to die in prison unless he cooperates, also faces trial in the District of Columbia starting Sept. 17 on charges related to his foreign lobbying work and witness tampering. Some of those charges may relate more directly to the Trump campaign.

Also Tuesday, former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, whose phones and computer records the government seized months ago, was charged with and pleaded guilty to eight felony counts of tax fraud, making false statements to a bank, and committing campaign-finance violations to try to keep news of two Trump affairs out of the public eye. In his plea agreement, a sworn statement accepted by the judge, Cohen confessed that “in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office,” he kept information that would have been harmful to the candidate and the campaign from becoming public by paying two women who had slept with Trump “hush money.”

The “candidate for federal office” was Trump, who, by virtue of this plea agreement, becomes an unindicted co-conspirator. The last one of those we had in the Oval Office was Nixon.

Those two developments on the same day would have been bad enough. But the week wasn’t done with Trump yet. On Friday came the news that Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization chief financial officer, had been granted immunity. Publicly, the agreement was described as relating only to the payments Cohen described in his plea agreement.

But I’d be stunned if that’s all that the Southern District of New York was interested in, because witnesses don’t get blanket immunity from the government based on two discrete six-figure payments. Weisselberg originally was hired by Trump’s late father, Fred, in 1978 and has been with the organization ever since. He is a trustee of the trust that holds Trump’s personal holdings. He knows EVERYTHING about both Trump Organization finances and Donald Trump’s personal finances. And for him to have gotten the immunity he got means that he’s going to tell the government everything.

Also Friday, David Pecker, CEO of the National Enquirer’s parent company, was granted immunity in relation to the hush money payments Cohen made.

The Enquirer allegedly used a tactic known as “catch-and-kill” — when a publication buys the rights to a damaging story for the purpose of sitting on it and keeping that story out of the news.

The Associated Press reported Friday that the magazine even had a location where records of these payments were stored: a safe full of documents, not only relating to Trump, but similar “catch-and-kill” deals with other celebrities.

“By keeping celebrities’ embarrassing secrets, the company was able to ingratiate itself with them and ask for favors in return,” the AP reports.

And keep in mind that back in June, the New York Attorney General’s office sued the Trump Foundation and its board of directors (Trump family members), alleging violations of both state and federal law with respect to, among other things, illegal coordination with Trump’s presidential campaign and self-dealing. It is entirely possible that criminal charges against Trump and his kids will result from this lawsuit, and Trump can’t pardon anyone for state charges.

Taken together, these events make clear that whatever the government wants to know about support of the 2016 Trump campaign by the Russians, it is going to find out. The information already in the public record makes clear there’s plenty to find out.

Personally, I think that there already is enough evidence in the public record to impeach Trump — certainly on grounds of violation of the Emoluments Clause and the Take-Care Clause at least. But I’m realistic enough to know that most Americans don’t know that and that many of those who know don’t care. So I think that Democrats campaigning this fall should campaign on accountability for the administration generally rather than impeachment of Trump in particular. And I also think that any articles of impeachment should be based on one or more completed House investigative reports (assuming Democrats retake the House), a completed Mueller report, or both.

I think this week was less the beginning of the end than the end of the beginning for Trump. He has talked about firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from the Mueller investigation (properly so) after the November midterms. The idea would be for him to install a new attorney general who could oversee, and perhaps shut down, the Mueller investigation. I think he’ll do that and that nationwide protests will break out as a result. But I also suspect that Mueller has anticipated this course of action and planned accordingly. I don’t know what his response would look like, but I am confident that he has one. Even if he does not, it would be far harder for Trump to interfere with the investigation housed in the Southern District of New York than to interfere with Mueller. And, of course, Trump has no control whatsoever over the New York Attorney General’s office.

Trump’s avenues of escape are being closed off one by one. My wife has been saying from the beginning that all of this ends with Trump in Moscow, voluntarily or otherwise, and I think that’s right. But I also think Trump will face indictment, articles of impeachment, or both first. And I look forward to those as we work to oust this traitor and criminal from the presidency.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018 7:48 pm

So long, Silent Sam

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 7:48 pm

“Silent Sam,” the statue on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that was built to honor the university’s Confederate Civil War dead, was toppled last night. That act almost certainly was a crime, and the perpetrators should be prepared to pay the price. But it also was a righteous act of civil disobedience. Life is complicated.

The statue, paid for by university alumni and the United Daughters of the Confederacy, was a monument to a myth, the Confederate “Lost Cause”  — the notion that the Civil War was about anything except slavery and white supremacism — that has left toxic residue in our politics and culture even today. The Union won the war, but the Confederacy won Reconstruction, with results that reach even into today’s White House and the N.C. General Assembly.

It was erected not in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, but roughly 50 years later, in 1913, as the Confederacy and its leaders were enjoying a wholly undeserved reputational rehabilitation.

Similar statues and monuments were being built not only across the states of the late Confederacy but in other states as well. It is not a coincidence that the Ku Klux Klan was enjoying a great expansion of its ranks as well. And it doesn’t take inference to understand that white supremacy was behind it all. Julian Carr, the Civil War veteran and ardent white supremacist who gave the dedication speech, made it plain:

The present generation, I am persuaded, scarcely takes note of what the Confederate soldier meant to the welfare of the Anglo Saxon race during the four years immediately succeeding the war [that is, when former Confederate soldiers terrorized freed blacks and Republican whites across the South — Lex] when the facts are, that their courage and steadfastness saved the very life of the Anglo Saxon race in the South – When “the bottom rail was on top” all over the Southern states, and to-day, as a consequence the purest strain of the Anglo Saxon is to be found in the 13 Southern States – Praise God.

I trust I may be pardoned for one allusion, howbeit it is rather personal. One hundred yards from where we stand, less than ninety days perhaps after my return from Appomattox, I horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady, and then rushed for protection to these University buildings where was stationed a garrison of 100 Federal soldiers. I performed the pleasing duty in the immediate presence of the entire garrison, and for thirty nights afterwards slept with a double-barrel shot gun under my head.

People of color despised the statue not just because of what it symbolized but also because of what it celebrated. And it is understandable that they would do so: Statues aren’t just “history,” but also indicate those people and things that we as a society celebrate. Silent Same stopped doing that a long time ago — praise God.

But there had been efforts and discussions underway for decades about what to do with Silent Sam — leave him where he was on public ground or move him, perhaps to a museum or privately owned Confederate graveyard. Left to themselves, those discussions might have led to a solution that all sides could have lived with, if not been happy about.

But the Republicans in the N.C. General Assembly, who have never met a situation they couldn’t make worse, on race relations or pretty much anything else, passed a vague and ill-considered law in 2015 protecting all such monuments on public property. (My friend and former colleague Joe Killian posted almost exactly a year ago on this subject, after a Confederate monument in Durham had been toppled.) Democrats even filed a bill in the legislature earlier this year to move the statue, but Republicans wouldn’t even give it a hearing. So there was no outlet for rational discussion that might have led to a workable solution.

To be clear, I do not condone criminality, full stop. Those who committed the crime should be prepared to do the time. That said, tearing down the statue when all other avenues of addressing the issues it raised had been cut off fits squarely within the tradition of righteous civil disobedience. I hope the court in its wisdom recognizes these actions as such and imposes minimal punishment, should anyone be convicted.

And to those suggesting that the statue should be left in place because of history, I have a question: How many of you were worried about history when U.S. forces toppled the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad in 2003? Well, it’s about the same thing.

 

Friday, July 27, 2018 5:55 pm

God bless The Root, but: No, it has NOT proved the Russians altered 2016 vote totals

(Originally posted July 26, 2018, on Facebook; I’m reupping this here on the blog (with a few minor clarifications) to give it a little more reach.)

I’ve seen this article shared a great deal on social media today. Writer Michael Harriot claims to have found proof that Russia actually altered vote totals in the 2016 election to tilt the election to Trump. It proves a lot of things, but not that.

First, I’m not a computer scientist and don’t play one on social media. But I edited the 2004 book “Black Box Voting: Ballot Tampering in the 21st Century,” by Bev Harris and my good friend David Allen. (In a previous life, David did network security for banks. This is relevant because voting-machine maker Diebold also did bank networks.)

During that project I learned about the many vulnerabilities of electronic voting machines, and this Root article rehashes some of those. It also does a good job of documenting that the Russians had means, motive, opportunity and desire to alter the 2016 election results.

But despite the headline, this article does not provide any evidence, direct or circumstantial, that the Russians actually altered vote totals. It does not provide any evidence, direct or circumstantial, that the Russians deleted voter registration data so as to prevent a single person from voting.

To be clear, I think both those things probably happened. But this article doesn’t prove it, and neither has anyone else that I know of. And I’ve been looking for evidence of this since I started working on “Black Box Voting” more than 15 years ago.

And at this point, the question is irrelevant; the Constitution is silent on the question of undoing a stolen presidential election.

What is HIGHLY relevant, and quite urgent, is that we realize that it could happen (again) in 2018 and 2020 and take steps to prevent it. Off the top of my head, that means, among other things, paper ballots, publicly counted, and mandatory, rigorous election auditing up and down the ballot. These are things we still (barely) have time to make happen before November, and that’s where we ought to focus.

UPDATE, July 27: Having seen this Root article promoted on social media by such respected authorities as Sarah Kendzior, I’ve tried to contact her and a couple of others to make clear that, for lack of a better term, the headline writes a check the reporting can’t cash. I’ve gotten no response from anyone I contacted.

UPDATE, July 28: The Root has pulled the article pending review. Good.

Monday, July 23, 2018 7:31 pm

For the 4,683rd time: No, the two parties are NOT both equally bad

I see some version every day, usually multiple times a day, of this argument: “Both parties are to blame for our problems. They’re both equally bad.”

I’m not sure why today’s iteration, a point made in passing by someone I don’t know in the comments of a friend’s Facebook post, triggered me when all the others didn’t. There was nothing unique about his argument, and it wasn’t even his main point.

But he said it, and I reacted viscerally. After taking some time to boil down my thinking, here’s where I am.

Whoa, sorry, ” … the two parties … simply will not compromise for any reason whatsoever”?? No, sir. WRONG. ONE party will not compromise for any reason whatsoever, as a result of which actual Holocaust survivors are warning us that we’re heading down the same road Germany followed in the 1930s.

I’ll give you just one example, albeit a hugely important one. Obama was elected in 2008 with a clear mandate to do something about health care. Rejecting the pleas of his own base for single-payer, something many other Western industrialized democracies are quite happy with, he instead offered what became the ACA, which originated in the 1990s as the Republican/Heritage Foundation alternative to Hillarycare. Democrats accepted more than 130 Republican-sponsored amendments to the original bill. And still, it passed without one single Republican vote. I could cite many more examples.

Please stop repeating false storylines. Both parties are not equally bad. One and only one party has rejected science and truth. One and only one party has made itself an agent of a hostile foreign power and a perpetrator of treason — yes, treason; I’m well aware of the legal definition. One and only one party is pushing economic and tax policies that transfer vast quantities of wealth upward from the poor and middle class into the hands of a hyperwealthy few. One and only one party is campaigning on undisguised appeals to racism and other forms of bigotry. One and only one party is breaking down our democratic norms and our constitutional system of checks and balances. And it’s the party to which I belonged for 38 years: the GOP.

I think the reason why so many people adhere to this view is that no one ever challenges them on it, despite the abundance of grounds on which to do so. Another reason is that some people on cable TV say it, and they don’t get challenged either.

Well, we all know it’s bullshit. So it’s time to call it bullshit, out loud and without apology. If the Democratic Party were flawless I’d join it, and I haven’t done that for a reason. But the Republican Party has gone so far off the edge in so many policy and procedural areas that there isn’t any comparison, and anyone telling you otherwise is lying.

 

Monday, June 18, 2018 10:15 pm

The crying of the lambs

First, listen to this:

That’s the sound of 10 Central American children, recently taken from their parents by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol at the U.S. border with Mexico.

Listen again, dammit. That’s the sound of a human rights violation being committed in your name and with your tax dollars. That’s audio smuggled out of an office in which your government wouldn’t allow pictures, video or audio. What are they hiding?

They’re hiding a crime against humanity: the tearing of children from their parents, perhaps never to be reunited. Already, a sheriff’s deputy has been accused of sexually assaulting a 4-year-old girl and threatening her mother with deportation if she told police.

This administration started out in mid-2015 making brown people the enemy. It has only done more so since. In the tradition of murderous dictators before him, Donald Trump has insisted that would-be immigrants from Latin America aren’t human, but animals. And so we’re viciously ripping children, including nursing infants, from their parents. In many cases, the parents are being deported but the children kept here, for what nefarious purpose we’re left to guess. The policy is so distasteful that not only Democrat Rosalyn Carter but also Republican Laura Bush have criticized it.

Why? Republicans like to insist — lie — that this is the law of the land and has been since Bill Clinton. That’s horseshit. Although this was an option, it was one that Obama and Bush 43 alike refused to choose, not least because they had to know how bad it was and how bad it would look. This is happening because Attorney General Jeff Sessions invoked this policy in April 2018 (although it always had been part of the plan). Trump, despite claiming that Democrats must “change the law,” is Sessions’s boss and could overturn this policy with a phone call.

But he won’t, because he supports the policy. He supports it because he knows his base does: 58 percent of Republicans support it, as opposed to 5% of Democrats and 27% of independents. And he supports it because he believes he can use these kids as hostages to get funding for his border wall, which wouldn’t work and would only enrich his contractor buddies.

Overall, two-thirds of Americans oppose the policy. At least 48 Democratic senators have signed on to S. 3036, a bill that would overturn the policy, but at this writing not one Republican has signed on. (Jeff Flake and Lindsay Graham and Ben Sasse have expressed concern about the policy, but as usual none is putting his vote where his mouth is.)

At this writing, more than 2,000 children have been separated from their parents. And why? In many cases, the kids accompanied their parents as they came to the U.S. to seek political asylum from the violence in their home countries. Entering this country to seek political asylum is, Hello, absolutely legal.

But there’s a catch. Such immigrants must present themselves at a designated port of entry. And the Department of Homeland Security has been delaying immigrants on the Mexico side of the border for days on end at such ports, forcing some to seek to enter the country at places other than designated ports of entry.

Thus, immigrants fleeing gang violence and death squads are forced to commit a misdemeanor in order to try to enter our country. And it is on that “basis” that children are being separated from their parents. (Some children are taken from parents under the guise of getting a bath. You know where else did that? Auschwitz.)

And the current policy calls for prosecution in 100% of such cases, with parents being told that the only way they ever will see their children again is to plead guilty.

So far, roughly 2,000 kids have been separated from their parents, and that may be an undercount. Why is this bad? It isn’t just sad or inconvenient; it can do permanent brain damage to the children who experience it:

“It is a form of child abuse,” Dr. Colleen Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King. Kraft visited a Texas facility where children 12 years and younger are being held.

Kraft described seeing “very quiet” toddlers and one young girl under 2 years old “who was just sobbing and wailing and beating her little fists on the mat.”

“I was told that you couldn’t comfort or hold a crying child,” Kraft said. “And we all knew that this child was crying because she wanted her mother, and we couldn’t give that to her.”

Kraft explained how stress increases levels of cortisol, “our fight-and-flight hormones.”

“Normally that helps to protect us when there’s a dangerous situation. In the instance where children are separated from their parents, the one buffer they have against these fight-or-flight chemicals is gone and so these children are on red alert all the time and they’re not able to buffer these different hormones,” Kraft said. “And what this can do is disrupt the synapses and the neurological connections that are part of the developing brain.”

The American Psychological Association adds:

APA warned that trauma from family separation is a significant social determinant of mental and physical health, and referenced decades of documented research showing the harmful effects of parent-child separation on children and caregivers’ emotional and psychological well-being. APA implored the administration to reconsider this deleterious policy and commit to the more humane practice of housing families together pending immigration proceedings.

This is what is being done to children in our name. This is what Trump, lying, says is the result of a Democratic law. This is what we must do, says Attorney General Jeff Sessions, invoking Romans 13, despite the fact that the Bible says that unjust laws may not be obeyed, that the Torah says no fewer than 36 times that aliens must be treated hospitably and that Jesus, most famously in the parable of the Good Samaritan, constantly stresses hospitality; despite the fact that we are a secular republic and don’t use the Bible as a policy guide; despite the fact that Jeff Sessions’s own church says he’s wrong, wrong, wrong; despite the fact that a huge number of faith leaders from a wide variety of faith traditions agrees; despite the fact that Jeff Sessions ordered this to happen and Jeff Sessions could order it to stop. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Neilsen even insisted, laughably, that the U.S. had no such policy …
https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.

… even as White House staffer Stephen Miller said that it was a simple decision.

Welp. This is who we are, America in 2018. When Trump took office, tried to ban Muslims, and got hit with a barrage of lawsuits, we proudly boasted, “First they came for the Muslims, and we said, ‘Not this time, motherf*ckers.'” But, somehow, we have gotten very quickly to well past “First they came for …”

The Nazis are here, America, right here in 2018. Wake up and fight back. That means voting Democratic, every race, every time, and getting as many people as possible to the polls to do likewise. Mueller isn’t going to save us. Trump isn’t going to get bored and resign, and the current, Republican-controlled House will never impeach him. This will only stop when we elect enough Democrats to Congress to put a stop to this hideous practice, which the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has denounced and which Amnesty International has called “nothing short of torture.”

We have roughly 150 days to the election. If enough Democrats win, we can put a stop to this and many other inhumane and ill-advised policies. But if we do not, we will slip, as Winston Churchill warned in 1940, into the abyss of a new Dark Age.

And we had better move fast, because go listen to that audio again. Those kids are already there.

Monday, May 28, 2018 7:32 pm

Some stuff matters more than manners

A couple of days ago I had a conversation on Facebook with a relative of mine and a friend of his whom I didn’t know. It looks as if my relative has taken the thread down now, so I’m going from (potentially flawed) memory here, but it had to do with civil political discourse. In particular, the friend, whom I’ll call Al because that’s easy to type, argued that Trump supporters and Trump opponents should discuss their differences civilly.

I said then what I’ve said many times before here and in many other forums: I’m not interested in civil discussions with racists. Donald Trump is an unreconstructed racist. He ran on an unapologetically racist platform and was elected by racist people acting on their racism; the research, ranging from polls to focus groups, has been pretty much unanimous on that score. Accordingly, I believe that if you voted for Trump, you’re a racist, or you’re indifferent to his racism, which amounts to the same thing. Al, for his part, called people who can’t discuss politics civilly “immature.”

Well.

Those of you who know me know that I think that pleas for civility in political discourse are often the last refuge of people who desperately need to be hit with the chair. Sure, I think we ought to be able to discuss political differences civilly. But some things are more important than polite dialogue. Like racism. And torture. And genocide. And Nazism. And these things cannot be reasoned with, for they seek to overthrow the very rule of reason. They can only be defeated.

Al’s remark betrayed both a political naivete and a high level of privilege. While he wants to have civil discussions about Trump’s neo-Nazism, Trump’s minions are working to build a fascist government, separating children from their parents at our borders, perhaps never to see one another again, in some cases only because the families have committed the legal act of seeking political asylum in the United States. Moreover, in areas ranging from environmentalism to health care, Trump’s actions are literally putting thousands of American and other lives in jeopardy while people like Al insist that the real problem is the maturity level of Trump’s critics.

Here is what people like Al (and my relative, who, to be fair is a dedicated, decorated public-school teacher who’s usually way more sensible than this) need to understand.

In 1930s Germany, the Nazis used the tools of a free state against a free state. They used freedom of their own expression to destroy freedom of expression for others. They used the ballot to ultimately deny the ballot to others. And Trump and his minions are walking the same path today, using the same techniques, and pulling the same wool over the same people’s eyes, that the Nazis did 85 years ago.

About that: As it happens, being on vacation last week, I read a novel, Brandenburg Gate, by the English writer Henry Scott. It’s a spy novel set just before the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. The protagonist, Rosenharte (whose father had been a high-ranking SS officer during World War II), and his girlfriend, both former employees of the East German secret state police, the Stasi, have met an elderly German man, Flammensbeck, who served on the Eastern Front with the Nazis during World War II. Rosenharte asks Flammensbeck whether he thinks the current demonstrators against the East German government have legitimate grievances.

Flammensbeck blew out his cheeks and exhaled. He seemed to be weighing something. Eventually he addressed them both. ‘By the spring of 1945, I was in a prisoner of war camp in the East — we didn’t know where. I was lucky to be alive because they shot many of us when we surrendered. Then one day in April it was announced that the Fűhrer had committed suicide. We were stunned, but after a bit we fell to asking each other what it had all been about. So much death and destruction. Millions dead. And each one of us with innocent blood on our hands. What was it all about? No one could say. Then one in our group answered that it was about nothing. There was no point to it, no hidden meaning. Nothing! We’d been had.’

And with Trump, here we are again fighting Nazism. Think I’m wrong? Think there’s no comparison between the Trump administration and the Nazi regime? Grapple, then, with this 1996 7-page paper, “The 8 Stages of Genocide,” by Gregory H. Stanton, the James Farmer Professor of Human Rights at The University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, Virginia; president of Genocide Watch; chairman of The International Campaign to End Genocide; director of The Cambodian Genocide Project; and vice president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars. A guy who knows from genocide, in other words.

He posits eight stages of genocide: classification, symbolization, dehumanization, organization, polarization, preparation, extermination, and denial. The administration is unquestionably engaging in classification, symbolization, dehumanization, organization, and polarization of certain minorities. And with Trump’s decision to order ICE and the Justice Department to separate children from their parents at our borders, even when those families have come to request political asylum as the law allows, we arguably have entered the stage of preparation as well.

Wake up, people. Extermination and denial are all that are left.

Given those circumstances, Al and his ilk, and my relative for that matter, are going to have to forgive me for not wanting to reason with Trumpists. This country spent 425,000 lives and untold billions of dollars defeating fascism in World War II. That argument was supposed to have been done, just as our argument about slavery was supposed to have been done after the Civil War. And given the decades I have spent researching World War II and Nazism in particular, I’ll be damned if I’m going to be lectured to by a political virgin about my political maturity in the context of crimes against humanity. Indeed, Al had better wake the hell up before he finds himself either up against the wall or wearing a swastika himself.

 

Saturday, April 21, 2018 11:11 pm

Friday Random 10, Saturday Night Edition

Filed under: Friday Random 10 — Lex @ 11:11 pm

Girls – Iggy Pop
You’re Just What I Needed – Cars
Get Off of My Cloud – Rolling Stones
All My Friends – Counting Crows
The Future – Leonard Cohen
(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right to Party – Beastie Boys
Something to Say – Connells
Disorder in the House – Warren Zevon
Reconsider Me – Warren Zevon
What Are You Doin’ in My Life? – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

lagniappe: Please Send Me Someone to Love – Solomon Burke

Friday, March 30, 2018 6:56 pm

Friday Random 10

Filed under: Friday Random 10 — Lex @ 6:56 pm

“Kissin’ Dynamite” – AC/DC
“Letters” (live) – Laura Cantrell
“Love’s Got Me Doin’ Time” – Cinderella
“Private World” – New York Dolls
“Lost Mind” – Diana Krall
“Ridda” – Hornit
“Explode and Make Up” – Sugar
“In the Garden” – Dreams So Real
“Wonderful World” – Sam Cooke
“Wrecking Ball” – Neil Young

lagniappe: “Gimme Some Lovin'” – Spencer Davis Group

Sunday, March 25, 2018 5:07 pm

About face

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 5:07 pm
Tags: , ,

OK, I’m not getting off Facebook after all, at least not for now. A quick summary of why:

  • The horse is out of the barn. I haven’t indulged in those data-sucking quizzes, games and apps nearly as much a lot of users, but I’ve done it some. And even some was too much. (More on that in a bit.)
  • For some things, Facebook is far and away the most efficient tool. If it were just MY stuff I needed to worry about, that would be one thing. But from political involvement to organizing family events to commenting on any number of news sites, there often is no acceptable substitute.
  • Facebook has 2 billion users. It won’t miss me.
  • Related to that, Facebook friend Steve Harrison told me, “Your presence here actually improves Facebook. Maybe by only .00017%, but it helps.” And a number of others asked me to reconsider.

That’s not to say the problem with Facebook isn’t real. It’s real and it’s awful. Zuckerberg once promised in a televised interview not to share user data with third parties except pursuant to the fact that his business is basically an advertising agency. Well, we now know he did far more and far worse than that; just Google Facebook and Cambridge Analytica for details on that. The UK’s Information Commissioner is investigating CA on a number of related issues (indeed, Facebook’s own auditors, attempting to audit CA on whether it had deleted user data as claimed, were ordered by the British government to “stand down”).

In nearly 30 years of Internet usage, I’ve never advocated government regulation of the Internet, not even to protect user information privacy. But I’m damned well doing it now. Whether there’s any kind of forensic clawback that’s possible, I have no idea (I doubt it). But we can at least prevent more of this damage going forward, and perhaps limit the damage to a couple of generations of users, rather than all users for all time.

 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018 6:57 am

Thought for the day

As long as they don’t injure cops or anyone else in the process, I am totally here for this.

Hasta la vista, Zuckerberg

My last Facebook post, from last night:

Hi, all. I should’ve done this years ago, but this week’s reporting on Facebook and Cambridge Analytica has put an exclamation point on things: I’m getting off Facebook. I have another “Lex Alexander” account that I will use solely to administer the Greensboro College and Greensboro College Alumni pages. This personal account is going silent (and, eventually, away).

You can reach me at lex.alexander@gmail.com (personal), lex.alexander@greensboro.edu (work), on Twitter at @LexAlexander, or at my blog, www.lexalexander.net. If you really need my phone #, you probably already have it.

I understand that giving up Facebook is going to inconvenience me in a thousand little ways. Just for starters, a lot of media sites use Facebook for comments, so I won’t be doing that anymore; rather, if I feel so moved, I’ll be leaving my commentary here.

I also understand that for me, at least, the horse already has left the barn, run over the hill, spent 20 years siring Triple Crown winners, died, and been buried with honors in the Churchill Downs infield. I think I was among the first non-.edu users to get a Facebook account, which I needed for my social-media work with the News & Record at the time. A lot of my personal data is in the wind, irretrievable. Still, it seems like the right call.

One upside of this is that stuff I’ve previously been inclined to post to Facebook now will be going here on the blog, meaning I’ll be posting a lot more often than I have done in the recent past. Dave Winer, the godfather of blogging, has pushed people in this direction, and it was meet and right so to do.

I’m not under any illusions that my action, or even the actions of a few million people like me, will make any difference to Facebook; it has 2 billion users, with a “b,” so it won’t miss us. But I’ve been thinking about getting off it for at least four years, and this seems, if late, a good time to do so. And the level of bad acting on the part of CEO Mark Zuckerberg and the company — firing the chief security officer for worrying about what was going on with the Russians and Cambridge Analytica and then reducing that position’s staff from 120 to three — just seems both too arrogant and too incontinent to ignore.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 9:49 pm

God, how much would these people whine if they’d LOST?

There are a lot of voters out there who either have a lot to learn or who will never learn. I was reminded of this by the response of some Democrats to the (apparent, razor-thin) victory of Conor Lamb last night in the special election for Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District seat.

Lamb won by a couple of hundred votes — a small fraction of a percentage point — out of more than 210,000 cast in a district that went for Trump in 2016 by 20 percentage points. That’s remarkable in and of itself. What’s even more remarkable is that Lamb won despite the fact that the GOP spent $10 million against him and for his GOP opponent, Richard Saccone. (Fun fact: The GOP holds roughly 110 House seats that are more competitive than PA18, and they don’t have the money to spend $10 million on every one of them.)

How did he do it? He’s an ex-Marine (and as any Marine will tell you, there’s no such thing) and an ex-prosecutor, so at least on the surface, no one could question his patriotism or his stance on crime. (Surprise: He’s against it.) He says he’ll vote for women’s reproductive freedom. He supports the Affordable Care Act and believes in universal coverage. He wants to defend Social Security and Medicare. He explicitly supports unions, which even most Democrats hesitate to do anymore.

But some of the other ways he did it upset some on the far left edge of the Democratic Party, because Lamb had the temerity to vote for some things voters in his Pittsburgh-area district actually wanted. He supports fracking, which is big in PA18, albeit with strong government oversight. He supports gun rights, also big in PA18, where the opening of deer season is pretty much a national holiday. Although he says he’ll vote pro-choice, he’s personally anti-abortion.

I have one question for these people: Where was the pro-choice, pro-universal-health-care, pro-Social Security, pro-Medicare, pro-labor, anti-fracking, pro-renewable energy, pro-gun control, personally-OK-with-abortion candidate on the ballot in PA18 last night?

That’s right: There wasn’t one.

But you know who else WAS on the ballot last night? Rick Saccone: A guy who wants to cut taxes on the rich even more, who’s anti-labor, who thinks that the “free market” can “fix” the Affordable Care Act, who’s an anti-immigrant bigot, who claims to have “successfully negotiated with the North Koreans,” and who was endorsed by future defendant Donald J. Trump.

Those were the realistic choices in PA18. (A little-known independent candidate got a little over a thousand votes.) Your perfect candidate and mine were not on the ballot. So what are you going to do?

Here in the real world, you have these choices: 1) Vote for Lamb. 2) Vote for Saccone.

Yeah, you could vote for the independent candidate. But here in the real world, in 99.9% of cases, voting for the independent candidate really is a vote against the major-party candidate whose views align more closely with those of the independent candidate.

And you could have not voted at all. People do that. “The lesser of two evils is still evil,” you pout. But here in the real world, I spent most of my adult life in journalism, covering politics — two worlds in which pure black and pure white are incredibly hard to find. So maybe I’m missing something. But I’ve scoured the real world looking for what that might be and come up empty. If you find it — here in the real world — let me know.

And in this case, standing on that assertion would be a remarkably privileged thing to do, because one vote up or down on, say, the Affordable Care Act here in the real world could make an annual difference of thousands of Americans living or dead. Multiply that across such issues as gun control and climate change and pretty soon you’re talking about a lot of dead people. Add to that the fact that current GOP tax and economic policy are destroying the middle class, sending a lot of people into poverty here in the real world. If you’re morally retarded enough not to care about those deaths and that impoverishment, go to hell.

The time to go after your perfect candidate is in the party primary, but you need to know that whether your choice wins or not, whoever wins is not going to be your perfect candidate. That’s a unicorn. It’s a chimera. It doesn’t exist. You probably won’t even like the winner very much as a person. In more than 40 years of voting at all levels of government, I can point to maybe three people I voted for whom I didn’t want to just slap on a regular basis. THAT’S JUST LIFE. DEAL WITH IT.

The media spend a lot of time and effort telling you that there’s no major difference between the two major parties. That’s a lie. Research shows that in fact there’s a bigger gap between them than at any other time since 1860. It also shows that more than 80% of so-called “unaffiliated” voters reliably vote for one major party or the other more than 80% of the time.

There’s no perfect candidate. No savior. At this point in our history there is no middle. And just for grins, one of our two major parties, in its rejection of facts both economic and scientific, has gone batshit insane. But for God’s sake keep telling me how the lesser of two evils is still evil.

Conor Lamb was not my ideal candidate. But he was a good enough candidate for his particular House district to keep it out of the hands of someone who was a hell of a lot worse. By the lights of Lamb’s critics on the left it was an ugly win.

But you know what they call an ugly win? A win.

Now say “You’re welcome” and don’t whine again. And if you’re ever again tempted to whine, go down and file and run yourself.

Sunday, February 25, 2018 9:06 pm

Who ya got?

Anyone who is a hard-core Democrat may want to take what I’m about to discuss with a big ol’ grain of salt, inasmuch as I have been politically unaffiliated for a year, prior to which I was a Republican for 38 years.

However:

I have been seeing a whole bunch of discussion on the web, mostly but not all from BernieBros, arguing that Nancy Pelosi, by virtue of her age, should step aside as House Democratic leader in favor of someone, well, younger. And my gut response is: Who ya got?

Who among House Democrats is as reliably progressive? Who among House Democrats can wrangle the herd of cats that is the House Democratic caucus as well as Pelosi? Who among House Democrats can get a bill passed, or killed, as reliably as Pelosi? And, in acknowledgment of her historic status as the first female House speaker, who among House Democrats meets all those criteria and is a woman or a person of color?

I’ve asked this question across social media. And so far I haven’t gotten a single answer.

Oh, I’ve gotten plenty of insistence that her time is over and she needs to step aside. A lot of generalities, in other words. But generalities don’t run for caucus leadership positions, let alone the speakership. People do. Real people with real, assessable records, or the lack of them.

To be clear, I don’t think Pelosi is the ideal House Democratic leader. But as I said, elections don’t take place between ideals, but between real people with real records. I’ve looked pretty hard at the House leadership, as well as some other House Dems not in leadership. And at the moment I don’t see anyone, anyone, who is clearly superior to her.

So, for those who think she needs replacing, I would suggest you work on developing a better candidate. And for those who might want to replace her, I would suggest you create a record that strongly suggests you could replace her. You’ll want to keep in mind that the next Democratic House speaker isn’t just going to have to be speaker, but also is going to have to start cleaning up the mind-numbing list of disasters committed by Donald Trump and his fascist, bigoted, cosmically ignorant administration. That’s not a job for amateurs or poseurs. It’ll take a pro.

A flesh-and-blood pro, not some idealized conception. So: Who ya got?

Saturday, February 24, 2018 9:12 am

The kids are alright; or, finally getting some common-sense gun legislation

As I write, it’s been 10 days since the killing of 17 students at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. And to judge from social media, we’re still talking about that massacre in particular and gun legislation in general. That’s remarkable.

It’s remarkable because, after nothing happened in the wake of the Newtown slaughter of innocents, a lot of people resigned themselves to the inevitability that nothing would EVER happen to put a stop to mass killings in the United States. Now? Companies including several rental-car firms, Symantec, and the bank that issued NRA credit cards have dropped their affiliation with the NRA. And in a midterm election year that already was shaping up to be potentially a wave year for Democrats, gun violence has emerged as an issue that might finally drive a lot of blue voters to the polls.

There are a lot of reasons, but the single most important has been the determination of the Stoneman Douglas students themselves. They believe, correctly, that the older generation has been derelict in its duty to protect the younger. And, either already able to vote or on the cusp of being able to do so, they’ve decided to take matters into their own hands. From die-ins outside the Capitol to humiliating Fla. Sen. Marco Rubio on CNN, these young men and women have made it clear that they have decided to be the change they want to see. And it isn’t just Stoneman Douglas students; it’s high-school students nationwide (students at my own son’s high school walked out this week to protest gun violence). Former president Barack Obama acknowledged their leadership role in a tweet, adding that the rest of us should get behind them.

One beneficial consequence has been that we’re finally starting to talk about solutions. At least, the sane among us are. Obviously, that excludes the National Rifle Association.

In a generation, the NRA has mutated from sportsmen’s organization to industry lobbyist to batshit insane fascist propaganda outlet. Executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre gave an unhinged speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this week, insisting, despite the fact that exactly zero people in responsible positions are actually saying this, that there is a movement afoot to strip all guns from law-abiding citizens and warning of a “socialist agenda” intent on “eradicat[ing] all individual freedoms.”

The NRA’s solution to this is more guns: specifically, arming teachers. (If the NRA ever publicly agreed that global warming is a problem, its solution would be more guns. Its solution to global COOLING would be more guns.) But given the fact that well-trained, periodically retrained New York City police officers return fire accurately only 18% of the time (and open fire accurate only 30% of the time), it’s hard to picture teachers doing any better, to say nothing of the safety and liability issue of having a loaded gun in a classroom full of young kids.

(Also at CPAC, speaking of unhinged, NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch insisted:

Many in legacy media love mass shootings. You guys love it. I’m not saying that you love the tragedy, but I am saying that you love the ratings. Crying white mothers are ratings gold to you and many of the legacy media in the back [of the room].

(Here are the facts. Reporters cover mass shootings and other murders, as well as such other trauma as fires, wrecks, and industrial accidents, because people want to know about them and because, in many cases, it’s the only way the voiceless get a voice. Nobody loves it. In fact, quite a few public-safety reporters develop PTSD. But because the culture of most newsrooms is that it’s all part of the job and reporters just have to suck it up, most don’t get treatment for it and resort instead to self-treatment, often in unhealthy ways. For example, I dealt with mine for a long time just by drinking heavily. That Dana Loesch thinks reporters revel in this, or knows otherwise but is willing to lie about it, betrays a stunning depth of ignorance or depravity.)

Gun laws vs. gun deathsThe NRA’s protests to the contrary, the U.S. is alone among industrialized nations in its incidence of mass shootings. There are far more gun deaths in states without strong gun laws than in states with them (see chart at left). And getting military-grade weaponry out of the hands of civilians might be the single most important thing we can do to reduce the number of mass shootings.

Because here’s the thing: Well within the Second Amendment, we can absolutely have a rational conversation about what combination of objectively quantifiable qualities — caliber, muzzle velocity, magazine or clip capacity, reload rate, etc. — can provide sufficient stopping power for widespread gun ownership for self-defense or sport without putting military-grade hardware in the hands of crazy 19-year-olds like Nikolas Cruz, the Stoneman Douglas shooter. And if Democrats make big gains in this year’s elections, that conversation is going to start happening with or without the NRA at the table.

And it must. A lot of gun nuts (as opposed to sane gun-rights supporters) like to insist that AR-15s and similar assault rifles are a lot like other weapons. This account from a radiologist who helped treat some of the Stoneman Douglas victims gives the lie to that argument:

In a typical handgun injury that I diagnose almost daily, a bullet leaves a laceration through an organ like the liver. To a radiologist, it appears as a linear, thin, grey bullet track through the organ. There may be bleeding and some bullet fragments. …

The injury along the path of the bullet from an AR-15 is vastly different from a low-velocity handgun injury. The bullet from an AR-15 passes through the body like a cigarette boat travelling at maximum speed through a tiny canal. The tissue next to the bullet is elastic—moving away from the bullet like waves of water displaced by the boat—and then returns and settles back. This process is called cavitation; it leaves the displaced tissue damaged or killed. The high-velocity bullet causes a swath of tissue damage that extends several inches from its path. It does not have to actually hit an artery to damage it and cause catastrophic bleeding. Exit wounds can be the size of an orange. …

Handgun injuries to the liver are generally survivable unless the bullet hits the main blood supply to the liver. An AR-15 bullet wound to the middle of the liver would cause so much bleeding that the patient would likely never make it to a trauma center to receive our care.

After a mass killing in Australia in 1996, that country greatly restricted gun ownership. It has not had another mass killing since.

The Second Amendment would forbid measures as strict as Australia’s. But notwithstanding the lame protestations of NRA whores such as my own congresscritter, Ted Budd*, not only would a ban on military-style assault weapons be upheld as constitutional, we’ve already tried it and know that it works.

Congress enacted such a ban in 1994, with a 10-year sunset provision. It also banned magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds. What happened?

Compared with the 10-year period before the ban, the number of gun massacres during the ban period fell by 37 percent, and the number of people dying from gun massacres fell by 43 percent. But after the ban lapsed in 2004, the numbers shot up again — an astonishing 183 percent increase in massacres and a 239 percent increase in massacre deaths.

A ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines enjoys public support of 68 percent and 65 percent, respectively. Even among gun owners, almost half favor an assault-weapons ban.

We also could consider universal background checks for gun ownership (favored even by 87% of NRA members), excluding from ownership those with histories of domestic violence or mental illness as well as criminal records. We can raise the minimum age at which a civilian can buy certain kinds of weapons. We can require gun registration, gun training, and the purchase of liability insurance.

Those measures address gun violence more generally than they do mass shootings in particular. But with about 32,000 gun deaths (homicide, suicide and accident) per year, they’re worth pursuing anyway. It is true that most gun-owning Americans are law-abiding, but 32,000 deaths a year, many of them preventable, is unacceptable. And as any cops reporter can tell you, the American public is not, in any way, shape or form, a well-regulated militia.

We can’t continue to accept the status quo. And God willing, the kids are going to make sure we don’t.

*Ted Budd argues that the biggest problems with respect to gun violence are mental illness and radical Islamic terror, never mind the fact that mental illness exists in lots of countries without many mass shootings and never mind the fact that radical Islamism is implicated in passing few U.S. mass shootings. Budd must harbor an amazing contempt for his constituents’ intelligence to think these arguments persuasive.

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018 5:57 pm

Constitutional crisis: You’re soaking in it; or, The state of the union is shaky

Later tonight Donald Trump will give his State of the Union address. There’s no reason to think that he’ll say anything truthful; accordingly, I won’t be watching. One advantage of this is that rather than playing drinking games, I can just drink, thoughtfully, like a grownup.

But if you want to know the actual state of the union, right now it is goddamned shaky. We have not one but two constitutional crises going on right now, either one of which would be serious all by itself. Together, they’re frightening.

The first is that on Monday, Trump forced FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe out early. McCabe had been planning to retire in March. He’s gone now, taking accrued leave to get up to his retirement date. McCabe’s crime has been allowing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible Trump campaign ties to Russian interference in the 2016 election to proceed more or less without molestation.

Then, later Monday, Trump’s administration announced that despite being given a direct order by Congress, it would not be imposing additional sanctions on Russia. Congress approved those sanctions 419-3 in the House and 98-2 in the Senate specifically to punish Russia for meddling in the 2016 election. Trump’s refusal is a direct violation of the take-care clause of Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution: the president “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed …”

What’s the remedy for this refusal? Impeachment. But with the Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, that won’t happen. Why not? One or both of two possible reasons: 1) The Republicans, or a significant number of them, are complicit with the Russians, and/or 2) the Republicans have finally, completely given up on putting country before party, a road they’ve been heading down since at least the 1994 elections.

When a leader commits impeachable offenses and doesn’t get impeached or criminally tried, bad things inevitably happen down the line. Nixon should have been indicted and tried; he wasn’t, and some of his underlings went on to create more trouble in the Reagan era. Reagan and then-VP George H.W. Bush should have been impeached over Iran-contra. They weren’t, and Bush was free to pardon all those convicted, some of whom went on to serve in the Bush 43 administration. Bush 43 should have been impeached for torture if nothing else. He wasn’t, and now Trump is sucking up to torturing, murdering dictators like Putin, Erdogan and Duterte and attempting to emulate them in his governing style.

You say it can’t happen here? It is happening here. The firing last year of FBI director James Comey, the forcing out of McCabe, Trump’s attempt to fire Mueller last summer, and his reported desire to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing Mueller’s investigation, and his reported desire to have Attorney General Jeff Sessions prosecute Mueller and his team, are a slow-motion Saturday Night Massacre, and Congress and the press are sitting around with their thumbs up their hind ends. We’re very close to no longer being a nation under the rule of law, and once we pass that point, the state of the union may well be irretrievably broken.

I’m going to have that drink now.

 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018 7:30 am

Confess your unpopular opinion: Noprah

After media magnate Oprah Winfrey’s magnificent speech at the Golden Globes, which you should totally read, a lot of people on Twitter and other social media are calling for her to run for president in 2020. This wave of support has only been magnified by the comment from her longtime partner, Stedman Graham. Asked whether she would run, Graham said, “It’s up to the people. She would absolutely do it.”

My unpopular opinion? Not just no, but hell, no.

It’s not like I don’t get the appeal. She has phenomenal name recognition. She could finance her own campaign, if she chose (and unlike Donald Trump, she really is a self-made billionaire). She knows a lot of influential people. She exudes empathy even more than Barack Obama did — also unlike Trump, she got to her billions by way of an impoverished childhood — and if there’s one thing the current occupant of the Oval Office lacks, it’s the slightest trace of empathy. She also seems, at least, far more trustworthy than the liar-in-chief.

All of these things make her an attractive candidate — arguably the most attractive candidate the Democratic Party could put up.

But they won’t necessarily make her a great candidate, which is different from an attractive one. And they won’t necessarily make her a good president. Some people have argued that she’s more qualified than a number of men who have held the job, and that’s probably true. But that bar is way too low, particularly now. We can’t screw around with our choice of the next president. Way too much is at stake. The next president isn’t just going to be the president, a daunting enough job under any circumstances. No, the next president is going to have to clean up all the shit that Donald Trump and his cronies have inflicted upon this country. And there is every reason to doubt that Oprah could do that. Let me elaborate.

I said above that Oprah knows a lot of influential people. That’s great, but what we are going to need isn’t necessarily influential people, but smart people. We face huge challenges: Global warming. The existential threat of nuclear war with North Korea. An economy that stubbornly refuses to pay a living wage to too many people. Russian interference with our elections from abroad and GOP suppression of voting at home. Opioid addiction and deaths. Immigration. And, yes, sexual misconduct against women. And on and on and on. Oprah may know lots of influential people, but our lives may depend on whether she knows whom to name the next Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

Presidents deal with the toughest of questions. For all the bad raps government work gets, the facts are that career government workers are generally very good at what they do and good at solving problems. That means in many cases that when a problem lands on the president’s desk, some of the nation’s most talented people already have taken swings at it and we still don’t have a resolution everyone’s happy with.

Supporters say she would work collaboratively. Two former co-workers of mine worked for her, and let’s just say I fear the truth is a little different: The gag orders she imposed on employees do not bode well for open government, which we desperately need.

We also need to get away from the idea that a savvy businessperson will make a good president. Government is not a business, it has different aims and imperatives from business, it cannot be run like a business, and history shows that most efforts to do so have come to grief. Trump is only the worst example; almost as bad was Herbert Hoover, universally acknowledged as a great businessman but inarguably one of our worst presidents.

Finally, there are far more qualified candidates available. Just looking at Democratic women in the U.S. Senate, I can point to Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillebrand, and Elizabeth Warren. That’s before we even start looking at male senators or members of either sex in the U.S. House or at governors.

In addition to governing savvy, the next president is going to have to have political savvy as well. He or she won’t be able to wave a wand and clean stuff up; he/she will have to be able to work with Congress, which will require relationships with some of its key leaders. Oprah’s good at relationships, but this is no time to be establishing them on the fly.

If she knew anything about politics, she would know that now is not the time to be talking about the 2020 presidential race. Instead, now is the time to be talking about the need to elect Democrats to the House and Senate and governorships and state legislatures and local offices this year. Sure, if she’s gonna run in 2020, it absolutely would not hurt to start planning now, but in public statements, it’s critical that Democrats focus on this year’s elections and not look ahead.

And there’s one other thing about Oprah’s political savvy that bugs me perhaps more than it should, but it bugs me a lot so I’m gonna talk about it anyway: After that powerful speech about the plight of women and the need for change, she allowed the public conversation to become about her and not about the position she was championing. She made no effort that I can see to redirect the public conversation back to that issue, and she apparently didn’t coach Stedman Graham to do the same. No one gets where she has gotten without some ego, but I can’t help wondering whether she doesn’t harbor at least some of the narcissism that Trump does. And, boy howdy, narcissism is literally the last thing we need in our next president.

I think Oprah could and would inspire a lot of people if she ran for president, particularly women and girls, and I do not underestimate the effect that that inspiration could have on voter registration and turnout. But she could do that while raising money, raising awareness of issues, and campaigning for a more qualified candidate as well as for down-ballot Democrats.

So God bless Oprah, but, no. We don’t just have issues or problems, we have crises, and the stakes are far too high to roll the dice.

Edited to add, at the suggestion of my cousin Andrew Curry and my friend David Allen: Oprah’s judgment in people is not quite as unquestionable as some of her fans seem to think. After all, she foisted “Dr.” Phil, “Dr.” Oz and some anti-vaxxers on her audiences. Given the problems outlined above, we desperately need people with evidence-based approaches, not quacks.

Saturday, December 9, 2017 11:48 am

The diminishing view from the moral high ground

As Democrats work to align their practices with their stated principles, they — and women — risk losing a wider war.

Time magazine has dubbed them “The Silence Breakers” and named them Person of the Year: the women (mostly) who have come forward to allege sexual harassment, or worse, on the part of powerful men, many of them quite famous.

Politics having forever been a boys’ club, it’s no surprise that the trend is affecting official Washington. What has been striking, however, has been the difference in the ways Democrats and Republicans have handled allegations against their respective members.

Democratic Rep. John Conyers, the longest-serving member in the House, was forced to resign. Sen. Al Franken, the Minnesota Democrat who some Democrats believe should be the party’s 2020 presidential nominee, was forced to resign. (More on him in a moment.) Rep. Alcee Hastings, the Florida Democrat, is alleged to have used more than $200,000 in taxpayer money to settle allegations; at this writing he has not resigned, but his situation is tenuous.

Contrast that approach with the GOP’s: Rep. Blake Farenthold, a Texas Republican, also used taxpayer money to settle allegations; he hasn’t resigned and has no plans to. (UPDATE: There are new allegations against him, too.) Roy Moore, the former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice who has been accused of sexual assault by women including one who was 14 at the time, is running for the vacant Alabama seat in the U.S. Senate with the full support of the Republican National Committee, Alabama elected officials (who are mostly Republican) and President Donald Trump, himself currently being accused of sexual harassment or assault by almost 20 women. The Republicans who control Congress have expressed zero interest in expelling Farenhold, expelling Moore if he’s elected (legally, the Senate probably cannot prevent him from being seated if he wins), or even investigating Trump.

The Democrats, having long espoused equality of the sexes, and having argued at least since the 1991 Anita Hill case that women accusers should be believed, are now having to figure out exactly how that will work in practice, lest they be credibly accused of hypocrisy. There’s no road map; it’s being drawn now as they proceed. But they do seem to be acting, or trying to act, on the belief that the party’s practices should align with its principles, however painfully.

This is a particularly acute problem in Franken’s case. The allegations against him are generally far more minor in nature than those against, say, Moore or Trump. Franken has been an ally for women in the Senate. And, again, a lot of Dems would’ve liked to see him not just stay in the Senate but also go on to win the White House. But the party, publicly led by women senators, insisted he resign. And so he said he would.

But the Republicans, having not been a party that particularly favors women’s rights, have no such worries about hypocrisy. As has been abundantly clear at least since 1995, they care not about principles, only power. Accordingly, they’ve doubled down on support for Moore, primarily to protect their tenuous Senate majority.

Think about that. One of the two major parties in this country thinks it’s just fine for a credibly accused child molester to be a U.S. Senate candidate, and to be seated if he wins. And while the press hasn’t exactly endorsed Moore — indeed, Alabama’s three largest newspapers editorialized against Moore and in favor of his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones — neither has it made enough of a stink about the GOP’s appalling lack of a moral center. And Republican voters are all for him, and not just in Alabama.

Now think about this: Suppose Moore were a Democrat, and his Republican opponent would become the 51st Republican senator — enough to, say, overturn the Affordable Care Act or some other law favored by liberals. Would the Democrats take the “Democrats uber alles!” approach? It’s inconceivable that they would (I suspect most would sit the race out, which is as good as voting for the Republican). And in the unlikely event that they did, it’s inconceivable that the news media would accept that decision with the equanimity that it seems to be accepting GOP support of Moore.

Herein lies a major dilemma for Democrats: If they do the right thing — and punishing sexual harassers and abusers is indisputably the right thing — they’ll get, at best, nominal congratulations from their base (some of whom will argue, correctly, that this course correction is happening decades too late), nominal praise from the news media, and little to no political bump.

Republicans, on the other hand, have decided that they can brazen out anything — and that therefore, they will. If anything, this is enhancing the already-strong party support from the base. Moreover, Republicans are not paying a price either in news coverage or in public esteem; the country already is deeply divided along partisan lines, so any movement would be minimal to begin with, but even so, the latest disturbing news about GOP support for a sexual predator is having little to no discernible impact on voter registration.

So from a political standpoint, what’s the benefit to Democrats of doing the right thing? It keeps the base on board, which is important, but beyond that, benefits are hard to see. And why does that matter? Because the Republicans are actively hostile to women’s rights, and only the Democrats can stop them from their current path toward banning not just abortion but also birth control, halting efforts to ensure equal pay for equal work, and many other things — yes, including stopping sexual harassment. As Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick observes:

Is [Franken going while Moore stays] the principled solution? By every metric I can think of, it’s correct. But it’s also wrong. It’s wrong because we no longer inhabit a closed ethical system, in which morality and norm preservation are their own rewards. We live in a broken and corroded system in which unilateral disarmament is going to destroy the very things we want to preserve.

To see the double standard in action, watch Mike Huckabee making the case that Roy Moore should be welcomed into the Senate because Franken has stayed. Then keep watching and realize that in the next breath, he adds that Moore has “denied the charges against him vehemently and categorically” so they must be false. Franken and Conyers are deployed by the right to say Moore should stay, and then they are dismissed as suckers for crediting their accusers.

We see this dynamic in other areas of politics, too, such as to what extent Nazis should be given the same rights as everybody else: The problem is that Nazis aren’t playing by the same rules as everyone else; they intend to use their rights to get into a position in which they can deny the rights of others. And as Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, who presided at the Nuremberg war-crimes trials, has famously observed, “The Constitution is not a suicide pact.”

So what can the Democrats do? I don’t think playing the game the way the Republicans do is the right call; that way, no one wins, least of all the victims of sexual harassment and assault.

Beyond that, I would argue that the party needs to make this issue a priority, by which I mean Democrats in both houses of Congress, and particularly the women senators who brought about Franken’s resignation, ought to use the rules of their respective houses to throw enough wrenches into the works to bring business to a standstill until there’s a bipartisan investigation of the allegations (including alleged the rape of a then-13-year-old girl) against Donald Trump and against Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas for lying about his treatment of Anita Hill, and a standard procedure to follow in each house when a member is accused of sexual misconduct. If a government shutdown ensues, so be it. This matters (UPDATE: and if Vanity Fair is correct, it’s about to start mattering a whole lot more).

From where I sit, Al Franken had to resign. Yes, there’s some circumstantial evidence that the first accusation against him was by a Republican operative. But the accusations against him, though minor as these things go, were too serious, numerous and credible to ignore.

But rather than simply announcing he would resign — and even noting the irony of his resignation when Trump, accused by more people of having done worse things, remains in office — I wish Franken had said, “I will resign … right after you do, Mr. President.” That would help restore some of the moral and ethical balance now currently MIA in U.S. politics, and it would lessen the political costs and enhance the political benefits to the Democratic Party of redoubling its work on behalf of the victims of sexual misconduct, and on behalf of women generally.

Sunday, November 19, 2017 10:10 am

Meet the candidate: Adam Coker, NC13, U.S. House

Friday night I met one of two announced Democratic candidates in 2018 for the U.S. House seat from North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District, Adam Coker, at a meet-and-greet at the home of the daughter and son-in-law of a friend. Summary: I think he’d be a great replacement for GOP incumbent Rep. Ted Budd, but 1) he has an uphill climb in a predominantly Republican district and 2) his message, although fundamentally sound, needs some polish and is even problematic in a few areas.

(Here’s my take on Budd, derived from a quasi-town-hall meeting he held here in Greensboro this past April. That post also includes some background on the district. If you look at a district map, the 13th looks kindof like a labradoodle, with the dog’s head being where most of the district’s Democrats are clustered: western Greensboro and Guilford County. The rest of the district is mostly moderate to deep red territory and mostly rural.)

Coker’s bio, which he summarized at the gathering, would seem to make him a pretty good fit for this hybrid district. He’s descended from farmers, mill workers and small-business owners but grew up in Greensboro and became one of the first two people in his family to graduate from college. He’s been a small business owner and has traveled the country extensively.

He talked most, and most powerfully, about the need for universal health care, a game in which he has some serious skin because his young son was born with a heart condition. Even if that weren’t the case, given that Virginia voters in last week’s gubernatorial and legislative elections there told exit pollsters that health care was their top priority, he’s politically smart to lead with this issue, especially because, as I write, Senate Republicans are trying to take away health insurance from 13 million Americans as part of their tax cut for the rich.

Given the nature of the district, Coker talked about the need to focus on issues that unite people rather than dividing them. I agree in principle, but this raised a caution flag for me. As I’ve written here many times, and as polling data show, the national media have made far too much of the economic concerns of the white working class and not nearly enough of the racial resentment that drove them to vote for Trump. I think it’s perfectly appropriate to make appeals to our commonality on issues like health care. But I also think it’s a waste of time and money to try to get many Trump supporters converted; those resources are better spent registering new voters, particularly women of color, and getting them to the polls next May and November.

In response to a question about unifying the voters of the district, Coker acknowledged that abortion remains a divisive hot-button issue. From my standpoint, unfortunately, he failed to grasp just how dishonest anti-abortion activists have been in their arguments and thereby weakened his own.

He seems to believe, as Bill Clinton did before him, that a platform of making abortion safe, legal and rare will win the hearts and minds of conservatives. That was a dubious proposition even in 1992. Today there’s not a shred of evidence to that effect; if there were, conservatives would want to give Planned Parenthood, which provides contraception and prenatal services and therefore helps reduce the need for abortion, more money rather than trying to cut it off entirely on the basis of fabricated video, as the Republican health care plan tried to do and as some conservative GOP activists would like their tax plan to do.

And Coker appears to fail to grasp that conservatives aren’t just against abortion, they also want to overturn the Supreme Court’s 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut decision, which legalized birth control nationwide. (Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore recently said, “By 1962, the United States Supreme Court took prayer out of school. Then they started to create new rights in 1965, and now, today, we’ve got a problem.” Most media observers initially thought Moore was talking about that year’s Voting Rights Act, but it seems more likely he was talking about Griswold — voting wasn’t a new right in 1965, but contraception was.)

My own take on abortion is straightforward: Women should have autonomy over their own bodies just as men do; accordingly, abortion is a decision to be made between a woman and her doctor, full stop. Not only do anti-abortion activists have no legal or moral standing to get involved, they are not arguing in good faith and therefore shouldn’t even be listened to. I’m just one person, but I believe that that needs to be Coker’s position and he needs to embrace it loudly and strongly for two reasons: First, he’s not going to win over any anti-abortion activists. It just is not going to happen. And, second, anything less than full support of reproductive rights will demotivate his own base, which he needs not only at the polls but also to do all the work of winning prospective voters’ hearts and minds and then getting them to the polls.

Given the House’s recent approval of the appalling GOP tax bill — which will greatly accelerate the upward transfer and concentration of wealth in this country by effectively raising taxes on almost all but the very wealthy — I asked Coker what his tax bill would look like. (Poor choice of words on my part: I meant not necessarily that he should write his own bill, but rather, what kind of bill he would support.) He took me literally and said he doesn’t have one yet but is working with tax and economic advisors to develop a tax and economics platform. (He named one economic advisor whom I won’t name here because I don’t know if this individual is ready for his involvement in Coker’s campaign to be public yet, but it’s someone I’ve known and respected for years.)

Coker didn’t do a lot of Trump-bashing, but he also didn’t demur when some audience members did it for him. And he did say two things that resonated with me: First, that the system must be made to work for everybody, not just the hyperwealthy (my word) elites, and, second, that the current system is bullying the less powerful and that he, and we, must stand up to the bullying. The first point seems self-evident. The second point resonates with me because of what I have observed to be driving Trump policy in particular and GOP policy in general.

Trump’s decisions seem to be driven, to the extent he has any motivation, by three things:

  • Inurement — he’s cashing in, plain and simple. His serial violations of the Emoluments Clause will be studied by students of political science and law for decades to come and with any luck will lead directly to some legislative reform, such as requiring presidential candidates to make tax returns public and divest themselves of all assets before taking office.
  • His desire to undo the accomplishments of his predecessor, Barack Obama.
  • And finally, his desire to do things just to piss his political opponents off, a desire shared by Congressional Republicans and even by the GOP leadership in the N.C. General Assembly. That, in a word, is the bullying that Coker describes.

One example is the GOP willingness to end health insurance for millions of Americans to give the wealthy a massive and unneeded tax cut. As another example, I would point to the Trump administration’s announcement earlier this week that it would lift an Obama-era ban on importation of elephant parts, a ban intended to reduce poaching pressure on the animals. The ban would benefit Trump’s sons, who have proudly posed for photos after having killed elephants, it would undo part of Obama’s legacy, and it would piss off people working to protect elephants in particular and endangered species in general. Granted, late in the week Trump appeared to bow to political and media pressure and announce that the decision would be on hold pending a review. But the case neatly illustrates how Trump and the GOP think — and that’s something Coker appears determined to fight.

If in fact he is determined to fight it, then we can use him and many more like him.

Coker faces at least one other announced candidate for the Democratic nomination in the 13th District, Beniah McMiller. I hope to meet him and report on him soon.

Friday, November 3, 2017 8:11 pm

Friday Random 10

Filed under: Friday Random 10,Fun — Lex @ 8:11 pm
Tags:

R.E.M. – Green Grow the Rushes
Pressure Boys – A Chew and a Swallow
Jason & the Scorchers – White Lies
Goo Goo Dolls – Name
Bruce Springsteen – Blinded by the Light
The Who – Bargain
Fugazi – Argument
Was/Not Was – Spy in the House of Love
Carly Simon – You’re So Vain
Lynyrd Skynyrd – Things Goin’ On

lagniappe: Fountains of Wayne – The Summer Place

 

Monday, October 23, 2017 7:13 pm

From the Wayback Machine: Sinclair Broadcast Group

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 7:13 pm
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Sinclair Broadcast Group is one of the most important media entities you’ve never heard of. If they’re successful in buying Tribune, they’ll become one of the most influential local-TV-news companies in the country. Only they’re about propaganda, not news.

Here is a takeout I did on the company back in 2004. They’ve only gotten worse since.

 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017 7:58 pm

The bigoted Mr. Guarino

It was no surprise to me that Greensboro physician Joe Guarino, who blogs at Triad Conservative, was unhappy at the outcome of Tuesday’s primary elections for Greensboro mayor and City Council. Guarino sees commies in every corner, so the fact that most of the conservative candidates got waxed and that the lone conservative incumbent trails his challenger heading into the general election was disturbing to him, and he sees no good end for the city as long as it keeps electing people he thinks of as “cultural Marxists.”

He’s certainly entitled to his opinion as far as that goes. And if he had said nothing else, I’d’ve shrugged and moved on. But then he added:

The fact that we now have a majority-minority city is another bad prognostic indicator. It will be nearly impossible to elect good people here. In fact, it was already very difficult; but now it is even more difficult. The council we elect is a reflection of the demographics and values of our local population; and it ain’t pretty.

Read that again. He’s actually arguing that because whites are now a minority in Greensboro, Greensboro can’t elect good people anymore. Even if you give Guarino the greatest possible benefit of the doubt — which, frankly, he hasn’t earned in recent years — he’s saying that demographics makes it impossible to elect good people to the council. In other words, it’s those uppity colored folk keeping Greensboro from being what it can be.

He goes on to imply that “decent” white folk will move out of the city because of this. I say implied, but his meaning is pretty damned clear.

I met Guarino more than a decade ago at some blogging meet-ups. He struck me then as likable enough, if well to the right of me on the political spectrum — sincere but misguided. Either I completely misjudged him or he has migrated to a far darker place since we last met, because his anti-Semitism and racism have become too overt to deny.

 

What do you call a fired Salt Lake City police officer? A good start.

Detective Jeff Payne, the Salt Lake City police officer who handcuffed a nurse and dragged her, screaming, out of a hospital emergency room for (correctly) not allowing him to draw blood from an unconscious patient without a warrant, has been fired.

So far, so good. Now the Salt Lake City PD needs to take the next logical step and arrest him. I’m not conversant in Utah criminal law, but I would imagine some possible charges might be kidnapping and felony assault on an emergency worker.

And the charges mustn’t stop with Payne. As the original story showed (see first link above), some of Payne’s co-workers stood around and let it happen. While I don’t know that you could make a criminal case against them, they, too, should be fired. That’s the only way you’re going to fix the culture of corruption that obviously pervades the SLCPD.

And, finally, I hope the nurse, former two-time Olympic skier Alex Wubbels, takes Payne and the Department to court and takes them for a moderate fortune. The taxpayers need to understand that they, too, must pay a price for supporting a corrupt police department.

The local cops asked the FBI about a month ago to join the investigation; as nearly as I can tell, that investigation remains ongoing. Good. Several more shoes need to drop here.

 

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