Blog on the Run: Reloaded

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.

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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
Tags:

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.

 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017 1:01 pm

World Mental Health Day

Hi. I’m Lex, and I have chronic, severe depression and generalized anxiety disorder. I bring this up because today is World Mental Health Day.

I’d had depression since my mid-teens, but it wasn’t formally diagnosed until I was 36. I’d probably had the anxiety all along, too, but it wasn’t diagnosed until I was 52. Thank God it was, and thank God for Lexapro and Buspar. Depression made me want to feel dead. Anxiety made me start thinking about ways to make it happen.

I’m lucky. I got, and continue to get, good care (except when the meds don’t work, which still happens occasionally), and I’m lucky to be employed by a place that provides decent health insurance. I’m also lucky to have family, friends, and an employer that, for the most part, understand at least the basics of mental illness and don’t stigmatize me.

Mental illness is a brain disorder, just like brain cancer. It needs to be treated, not stigmatized. And health insurance needs to cover that treatment. Anyone who argues that mental-health issues should be penalized as a pre-existing condition is literally arguing to make it easier for me and people like me to die. And I don’t take death threats kindly.

If you’re suffering, get help. If you’re in crisis, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). They’re there to listen and help, 24 hours a day. And get help, where and however you can. Mental illness is a chronic illness, but it doesn’t have to be a chronic crisis.

Thanks for listening. And now back to the usual foolishness.

 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017 6:11 am

RIP, Tom Petty

Filed under: Sad,Salute!,Say a prayer — Lex @ 6:11 am
Tags: ,

As much as I have idolized rock musicians over the years, dating back to when I saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show when I was 4, I can’t point to any I actually wanted to be. Indeed, there were plenty whom I would not have been for love or money — Bruce Springsteen, for example; my own father was bad enough.

But of all the musicians I have appreciated over the past 50+ years, the one who was most like me was Tom Petty.

We both were Southern and cognizant of it — and, therefore, carried with us the weight of what was good and what was bad about that, right down to our evolving views on the Confederate battle flag. We both appreciated the classics. We both struggled with difficult — and, in some ways, abusive — father figures. (Weirdly, both our dads sold insurance.) We both struck out professionally and personally in directions of which those father figures did not approve. And neither of us forgot where we came from or lost our appreciation for the classics in our fields, even as we forged new work for new audiences in those respective fields.

Obviously, we’re not completely alike; just for starters, although a more than competent journalist, I’ll never wind up in anybody’s Hall of Fame. But I did do some pioneering work in database journalism and social media. Tom Petty didn’t ever get that innovative. He didn’t have to. He just kept mining a rich vein of classic rock and found ways of making it relevant to multiple generations. He lived and created long enough to become one of those artists whom parents and children go to see together. I was fortunate enough to see Petty and the Heartbreakers on their “Damn the Torpedoes” tour with Tony, and it was one helluva show.

Petty’s songwriting alone would have gotten him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but it also is not coincidence that he spent most of his career with most of the same musicians with whom he first worked, years before he had a recording contract. The working relationship he developed with those musicians, primarily guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench, anchored a 40-year career, and hit song after hit song resulted from Petty’s lyrics applied to a tune Campbell or Tench had given him.

Petty’s songwriting touch was so universal that parents and children alike could describe his work as “the soundtrack of my life.” You didn’t have to be female or from an anonymous Midwestern state to identify with the subject of “American Girl” — you only had to yearn for something you hadn’t yet gotten. “Learning to Fly” could apply to 22-year-olds on one level and the middle-aged on a wholly different one, but in exactly the same way. Indeed, you have to work hard to peruse Petty’s catalog for any dated references; about the closest I can get is from “Even the Losers”:

Well it was nearly summer, we sat on your roof
Yeah we smoked cigarettes and we stared at the moon
And I showed you stars you never could see
Babe, it couldn’t have been that easy to forget about me

Not that many people, even young adults, smoke anymore. Otherwise, the sentiment is timeless.

I remember reading about 20 years ago a piece handicapping the likelihood of Petty and other artists’ being inducted into the then-new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (that happened for Petty in 2002). I don’t remember the exact percentage the piece placed on Petty’s chances, but I do remember it was in the 90s, with the lone comment: “The songs will suffice.” And so they did. And so, now and forever, they must.

 

 

 

 

Monday, October 2, 2017 7:31 pm

An immodest but entirely justified proposal

If you think that 58 dead and 200+ wounded and 273 mass-shooting incidents in just three-quarters of a year are “the price we pay for freedom,” for God’s sake just kill yourself.

Sunday, October 1, 2017 11:49 am

Journalists, here’s a story idea at no charge

Last night, five people were killed here in Greensboro when a stolen car being pursued at high speed by a sheriff’s deputy ran a red light and crashed into another car crossing the intersection of Battleground Avenue and New Garden Road.

Around midnight, a Guilford County sheriff’s deputy spotted a suspicious vehicle that turned out to be stolen from Greensboro, according to a news release from the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office.

The deputy turned on his blue lights and the suspect vehicle sped south on Battleground Avenue. The deputy was about ¼-mile behind when the vehicle ran a red light at the intersection of New Garden Road and Battleground.

The stole car struck a car crossing Battleground that had the right of way.

Five people in the two vehicles were killed  two females in the vehicle crossing Battleground and two males and one female in the suspect’s vehicle.

As far as I know, the deputy was following departmental procedure, although I’ve been out of the game now for most of a decade and don’t know what policy changes might have taken place since I left the News & Record.

At the same time, anyone with a lick of compassion has to ask: Granted, this case is kind of a black swan as law enforcement goes, but was this chase really worth five human lives, at least two of whom, and possibly up to four of whom, were wholly innocent?

This brings up an idea I had in my reporting days that I never got to execute: What if news outlets did comprehensive cost-benefit- analyses of high-speed chases by law enforcement in their area and used those findings to advocate for changes, if any be needed, to local law-enforcement policy on high-speed changes?

As I see it, such an analysis would look something like this: Journalists partner with experts in cost-benefit analysis to total up the cost of such chases, assigning a dollar value to everything from damaged vehicles, fences, mailboxes, etc., to human lives. And also assign a dollar value to the benefits of such chases: the dollar value to society of getting a murderer — or, in this case, a suspected car thief — off the street. And then calculate how those costs and benefits add up.

Is catching an auto-theft suspect worth one life, let alone five? If so, current policy stands. If not, then ideally, policy would be amended accordingly.

News outlets are uniquely situated to carry out this research, but I invite any journalist, pro or citizen, to take this idea and run with it. If we’re paying too high a price to apprehend fleeing suspects, we need to know that. And if we’re not, we need to know and accept that, too.

 

Saturday, September 16, 2017 12:56 pm

ESPN, journalism, and what the network owes people of color

The question isn’t why Jemele Hill said what she said. The question is why ESPN isn’t saying the same thing.

ESPN, which is not known for having the most perspicacious and nimble PR department, got into hot water again this week for its treatment of Sports Center host Jemele Hill. And the way in which it handled the situation raises some questions about ESPN’s perceived and actual roles in our media culture and what it owes the people, predominantly people of color, who make ESPN possible.

It started on Sept. 11, when Hill tweeted, “Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.” She elaborated on that tweet here, here and here.

Now, this is a fact, as Erik Wemple of The Washington Post points out in a short but damning bill of particulars:

  • As a candidate for president, Donald Trump retweeted bogus statistics massively exaggerating the rate at which blacks murder whites. When asked about that move by then-Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, Trump replied, “Bill, I didn’t tweet, I retweeted somebody that was supposedly an expert. … Am I going to check every statistic? I get millions and millions of people @realDonaldTrump. All it was is a retweet. It wasn’t from me.”

  • As a very public private citizen, Trump appealed for the reinstatement of the death penalty in New York after the Central Park rape case made headlines. “I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes,” wrote Trump in a 1989 ad that ran in various newspapers. The “Central Park Five” — a group of black and Latino teens — were later convicted of the crime, and years later exonerated. After the Central Park Five reached a settlement with the city in 2014, Trump wrote an opinion piece calling it a “disgrace.”

  • As a publicity-seeking reality TV star, Trump led the “birther” campaign against President Barack Obama, one of the most racist escapades in this century. As the Republican presidential nominee, Trump said in September 2016, “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it. I finished it. You know what I mean. President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period. Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.”

  • As a brilliant self-taught campaign strategist, Trump said at his kickoff event, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. … They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Pressed later by CNN’s Don Lemon about the offensiveness of those comments, Trump responded, “Somebody’s doing the raping, Don.”

One could question whether it’s appropriate for Hill, who co-hosts a sports show that generally doesn’t touch on politics, to raise that point, at least on company time, but, yes, it’s a fact.

That fact notwithstanding, the right-wing media Wurlitzer picked up on the item and started demanding that Hill be fired. ESPN publicly went only so far as to issue a statement Tuesday saying only that

The comments on Twitter from Jemele Hill regarding the President do not represent the position of ESPN. We have addressed this with Jemele and she recognizes her actions were inappropriate.

But Hill’s fact drew the attention of White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who declared on Wednesday that Hill’s remarks constituted “a fireable offense” (video).

(Fun fact: Title 18, Subsection 227 of the U.S. Code makes what Sanders did a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. She should go to prison. But I digress.)

While there’s no evidence in the public record that ESPN has threatened to fire Hill, we do know that the network intended to substitute for her in her regular 6 p.m. timeslot on Wednesday. And in a move that’s cynical even by the standards of cable networks, they tried to find another person of color to replace her.

At 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday evening, just three hours after the White House encouraged ESPN to fire her, Jemele Hill sat next to her co-host Michael Smith on the set of their daily SportsCenter show and, after a warm welcome to her live broadcast audience, began discussing the Cleveland Indians’ historic 21-game winning streak.

Hill — who was caught in the middle of a firestorm of controversy that began on Monday night when she tweeted that President Donald Trump was a white supremacist, which escalated when ESPN issued a statement on Tuesday reprimanding her comments and which exploded when White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Hill’s tweets were a “fireable offense” — was calm and composed throughout the hour, and the show went on as usual.

However, two sources familiar with the situation told ThinkProgress that this was not the original plan.

ESPN originally tried to keep Hill off the air on Wednesday evening, but Smith refused to do the show without her, the sources said. Both sources also said that producers reached out to two other black ESPN hosts, Michael Eaves and Elle Duncan, to ask them to serve as fill-ins for the show — but Eaves and Duncan did not agree to take the place of Hill and Smith, either. …

Faced with the possibility of having to replace Hill and Smith with white co-hosts, the sources said, ESPN then called Hill and asked her to come back on her show.

(It’s worth noting that while Hill has apologized for putting ESPN in the position she did, she has stood by her remarks about Trump.)

Now, given a nascent revolt by announcers of color, one would think ESPN might rethink its position on this issue. And one would be wrong, even though I would argue that they should.

Because here’s the thing: Although most people see sports as entertainment — which is what the “E” in ESPN stands for — ESPN has fashioned and marketed itself as a journalism outlet. It also has executed some respectable journalism, too, particularly, although not exclusively, on the show “Outside the Lines.” And it takes itself seriously enough as a journalism outlet to have created the position of public editor. Typically, in a news outlet, the public editor, or ombudsman, advocates for the reader/viewer, seeking answers to questions that audiences have about coverage and explaining why the outlet does what it does from a journalistic standpoint.

The incumbent at ESPN is Jim Brady, and to judge from his tweets this week, he has not covered himself with glory on this issue (and he didn’t improve heading into the weekend). Give him credit for engaging deeply with his audience, but he’s trying to have it both way on the question of journalism and even on the question of whether Trump’s a white supremacist.

And much as it might like to, ESPN can’t have it both ways. ESPN’s whole existence is based on athletes, particularly in major sports like football, basketball and baseball, who are disproportionately people of color. It can’t call itself a journalism outfit, and don the trappings of one, and then ignore societal conditions that place those people at a disadvantage, particularly when the president of the United States might be the most formidable obstacle to addressing those conditions.

Yeah, there probably are a lot of racist white people who watch ESPN, and with its audience already dwindling because of such factors as cable cutting and concern about brain injury in football, the network obviously doesn’t want to contribute further to the fall-off. But those people aren’t the only ones in ESPN’s audience; doesn’t it owe something to its audiences of color? Moreover, sometimes journalism means telling your audience something they need to know but don’t want to hear.

And yes, ESPN’s a business, and it doesn’t want to alienate advertisers when its audiences, which set the rates advertisers pay it, are dwindling. But you know what? Sometimes, if you’re a journalism outlet, you have to publish stuff your advertisers don’t like. Tough; they don’t get a vote in the newsroom (or, at least, they shouldn’t).

I don’t expect ESPN to report on, say, the crisis with North Korea. But many stories out there — immigration and race relations (which are related), to name just two — offer ESPN a way to carry out its journalistic mission while remaining true to its sports mission. It can report on the effects of trends and retrograde policies on athletes, coaches, and audiences of color. It can look into what led Las Vegas police to arrest and threaten to kill Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett when he and others in a crowd were fleeing gunshots. It can resist political pressure. As a network, it can do its job in a way that would lead Jemele Hill to think that anything she could add on Twitter would be superfluous. And if it’s going to continue to think of itself and market itself as being in the journalism bidness, that’s what it needs to do.

 

 

Monday, September 11, 2017 7:20 am

“For thou art with us …”

Filed under: Sad — Lex @ 7:20 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 3, 2017 3:57 pm

Blood and dirt; or, Why one cop’s illegal attempt to draw blood suggests a culture of corruption

The case of the Salt Lake City cop who arrested a nurse who refused to break the law for him looks bad on the surface.

Underneath the surface, it looks a lot worse.

Detective Jeff Payne of the Salt Lake City Police Department demanded that blood be drawn from an unconscious patient at the University of Utah medical-center burn unit. Burn-unit nurse Alex Wubbels correctly refused because the patient had not given (and, being unconscious, could not give) consent and because Payne did not have a search warrant for the blood sample.

On the police body-cam video, portions of which were played Friday by an attorney for Wubbels, Payne appears to lose his temper, grab Wubbels and take her into custody. The video shows University of Utah police, who provide security for the hospital, doing nothing to stop Payne.

(While this shouldn’t matter, the video also captures the fact that Wubbels is an attractive, blonde, white lady; she’s also fairly well-known in the area by virtue of having been an Olympic skier in 1998 and 2002.)

As a trained phlebotomist and someone who draws blood as part of his job, Payne should have known that just more than a year ago, the Supreme Court ruled 7-1 that drawing blood without a warrant is unconstitutional unless the patient is under arrest, which this patient was not, or (correction: EVEN IF patient is under arrest, a warrant is still required; h/t Amy Crittenden) consents, which this patient had not and could not.

Payne has been temporarily relieved of his phlebotomist duties with the department but otherwise remains on the job with pay.

That’s bad enough. But there’s more.

The patient from whom Payne wanted blood was William Gray, an off-duty reserve police officer for the Rigby, Idaho, Police Department who drives tractor-trailers when not working as a cop. He had been in a head-on collision in which he was not at fault; a pickup truck being pursued at high speed by the Utah Highway Patrol crashed into Gray’s rig, causing an explosion and fire. The driver of the pickup died at the scene; the Highway Patrol had begun pursuing him after other drivers reported him driving recklessly.

So if Gray was not at fault, why did a detective with the Salt Lake City P.D. want a sample of his blood? Payne says he received a request from the Logan, Utah, P.D. to obtain a sample of Gray’s blood to test for controlled substances. I haven’t been able to find anything one way or another as to whether that request actually was made. But even if it had been, the law is the law. Payne argued that Gray had given implied consent, which has not been the law in Utah since 2007 — another fact Payne should have known.

The Rigby P.D. issued a statement thanking Wubbels for trying to protect Gray’s rights. And she wasn’t just doing that. She also was upholding the law — indeed, had she complied with Payne’s request she might well have lost her nursing license.

There may be another reason why Payne wanted Gray’s blood badly enough to break the law to get it. Owen Barcala, a Massachusetts litigator, argues in a thread on Twitter that the cops hoped to find something in Gray’s blood that would allow them to disparage or discredit Gray — and thus get the Highway Patrol off the hook for instigating a high-speed chase that ended up seriously injuring an innocent person.

It’s not clear whether that pursuit was within Highway Patrol policy. This 2007 article in the Salt Lake Tribune suggests that state troopers there have pretty wide latitude to start a chase, and I couldn’t find anything more recent. But given that the Highway Patrol began pursuing a suspect wanted for the relatively minor charge of reckless driving, and that Gray ended up seriously injured as a result, Gray might well be in position to sue the Highway Patrol and win big — UNLESS, Barcala points out, the Highway Patrol could somehow prove that Gray had in some way contributed to the wreck through his own negligence, such as driving while impaired. Then, any award Gray might receive from a court might be reduced by a percentage equivalent to the percentage to which Gray “contributed” to the accident — or Gray might not recover anything at all. And Barcala points out that Payne might have intended to use whatever showed up in Gray’s blood to dissuade him from filing suit at all.

In all fairness to Payne, the Salt Lake City P.D.’s investigation is ongoing, and there may be more to this story than seems apparent right now.

But what is clear is that the public almost certainly will never know the whole truth, because almost no states or localities in this country have wrapped their heads around the fact that law enforcement officers — and public employees generally — are not morally entitled to any expectation of privacy with respect to performance of their professional duties. Salt Lake City’s civilian police review board’s role is merely advisory to the police chief, and while the board is assigned a full-time investigator, that investigator is from the police department. The board does not appear to have subpoena power.

Law enforcement needs public trust to be able to operate with the public’s confidence and support. Behavior like that of Payne undermines that trust and confidence, making the job of other cops harder.

And police departments aren’t even acting in their own best interests. Consider that this incident happened on July 26, and the department reviewed the relevant body-cam video within 12 hours, according to the Tribune. But the department did nothing about it until the video went viral five weeks later. That tells us that this isn’t just one rogue cop. At best, it is a gross misservice to Wubbels, Gray, and the larger public the department serves. At worst, the events and delay in responding to them suggest that this is a department whose culture is corrupt to the core.

Update 9/6: Payne has been fired from his part-time paramedic job after he said on the video that he’d bring transient patients to the hospital and take the “good patients” elsewhere to retaliate against nurse Alex Wubbels.

Update 9/8: Local prosecutors have asked the FBI to join the investigation into the cops.

 

 

 

Sunday, August 20, 2017 5:24 pm

“Be nice to me or I won’t support impeachment.”

So today on Facebook I stumbled across a butthurt Republican woman complaining that someone else had pointed out the obvious fact that the Republican Party has been dining out on racism and other forms of bigotry for 50 years. I didn’t respond directly to her, and I’m not gonna name her because women have a hard-enough time online without having hell unleased on them by total strangers, but I do want to address her idea.

After reading another Facebook poster’s long history of GOP racism, dating from Barry Goldwater’s opposition to the Civil Rights Act to Trump’s comments last week, she responded:

Wow. What a great way to support us moderate, anti-Trump Republicans. … Should the Mueller and other investigations prove Trump colluded with an active foreign enemy, you DO realize you will need us lowly Republicans to pass articles of impeachment?

May I make a suggestion to any Republicans who think like this? Well, it’s my blog, so of course I may:

Leave the party. I did 18 months ago after 38 years of membership when it became clear that it was going to nominate Trump.

Because here’s the thing: In Congress and in the N.C. legislature, THERE. ARE. NO. MORE. MODERATE. REPUBLICANS. There aren’t even any SANE Republicans. Oh, moderate Republicans who aren’t politicians like to think that there are, and the news media find it useful to pretend that there are, and a Republican here or there will occasionally SAY something constructive. But when it comes to actual voting, no. They’re. All. Gone. Even John McCain, who voted to kill ACA repeal, was fine with torture when it came time to try to hold the torturers accountable. And he’s as good as it gets; Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, for all their anti-ACA accolades, are no better.

Robert Mueller could produce evidence that Donald Trump murdered a 6-year-old boy in broad daylight in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue and had sex with the corpse, and there still will be not one single Republican vote to impeach him. Nah. Guh. Happen. Hell, you haven’t even seen a single Republican sign onto the measure to censure him for supporting actual Nazis, let alone call for his impeachment.

Donald Trump has narcissistic personality disorder and early dementia. He is a serial liar of world-historical scale, he is a confessed sexual assaulter, he is a con man of decades’ standing, and he’s never going to change. All of this was a matter of broad public record in July 2015. CONGRESSIONAL REPUBLICANS DIDN’T CARE THEN AND DON’T CARE NOW. And neither do most other Republicans. There’s no pony under all that sh*t, lady. For the love of God and the good of the country, stop pretending otherwise.

Finally, if there’s anyone else out there who thinks that the rest of us need to be NICE to you if you’re going to support Trump’s impeachment, how dare you. If you were a patriot, you’d’ve been fighting him from the day he announced his candidacy two years ago. That’s the LEAST you could have done. Instead, it’s the fault of people like you that we have to deal with this at all, and you want us to pat your head and tell you what a good person you are? No, I expletiveing well think not. A decent respect for the opinion of mankind ought to impel you to repent and try to expiate what you’ve done without expecting anything in return. Now shut up and get busy. When you’ve earned a pat on the head, we will damned well let you know.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017 7:39 pm

Trump assumes the chancellorship

It took a tragedy, but we now know, finally and forever, who Donald Trump is: He’s a Nazi.

We learned this as the result of the “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville, Va., during which a counterdemonstrator was killed and 19 others injured when a Dodge Challenger rammed into a crowd, then rapidly accelerated away in reverse. James Alex Fields Jr., 20, of Ohio, has been charged with second-degree murder and other felonies. Fields has been described by former teachers and others who knew him as obsessed with Hitler and Naziism, and he was photographed with a fascist group shortly before the car incident.

The march ostensibly was to protest the planned removal of a Robert E. Lee statue from a park in Charlottesville. So let’s talk for a minute about that statue and the many other statues and monuments ostensibly erected to honor the Confederacy. You know when the bulk of them were actually erected? Fifty or so years after the war, at the height of Jim Crow, with another spike in construction during the civil-rights era about a century after the war. In other words, these statues and monuments didn’t honor the Confederacy, they honored white supremacy. So what should we do? Seems pretty clear to me: take them all down, melt them down so as to make something truly useful of them, and display pictures of them in museums alongside images of the lynched bodies of African American victims of Jim Crow.

But taking them down would be illegal here in North Carolina, where the legislature a couple of years ago passed a law, enthusiastically signed by ex-Gov. Pat McCrory, that no such statue or monument could be taken down. This fact calls to mind something often attributed to Thomas Jefferson that he didn’t actually say: “When laws become unjust, resistance becomes duty.” Irrespective of authorship, it’s a damn good thought. And so it was that a number of people took it upon themselves Monday to pull down a Confederate statue on the grounds of the Durham County Courthouse an hour or so from me. The sheriff’s department is filing felony charges, which strikes me as adherence to the letter of the law while defecating on its spirit.

Meanwhile, Trump went quite a while before saying anything about the death of Heather Heyer and the injuries of 19 other people. Finally he said, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides,” and added, “What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives.”

So many things wrong with that.

For starters, Trump equates the few skirmishes caused by counterdemonstrators with the terrorist act of a Nazi of driving a car at speed — 35 to 40 mph — into a crowd of people he disagreed with politically. He also made sure to include “law and order,” which has been a racist dogwhistle since Nixon’s Southern Strategy in the 1968 campaign and also has been a mantra of the extremist right.

Not just anti-Nazis but even some of Trump’s own staff asked him to speak more forcefully against the white supremacists. He finally did on Monday, but as many an observer noted, he did so with the affect of someone making a hostage video.

And, indeed, earlier today, he returned to his original position and then some, basically defending the Nazis in his first news conference in basically forever:

TRUMP: Okay, what about the alt-left that came charging at [indiscernible] – excuse me – what about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?

REPORTERS YELL INDISTINCTLY

TRUMP: What about this? What about the fact that they came charging – they came charging with clubs in their hands swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do.

REPORTERS YELL INDISTINCTLY

TRUMP: As far as I’m concerned, that was a horrible, horrible day. Wait a minute, I’m not finished. I’m not finished, fake news. That was a horrible day.

REPORTERS YELL INDISTINCTLY

TRUMP: I will tell you something. I watched those very closely, much more closely than you people watched it. And you had, you had a group on one side that was bad. And you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now. You had a group – you had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit, and they were very, very violent. [emphasis added]

TRUMP: Those people – all of those people, excuse me – I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups, but not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch.

Earlier this year, when Trump managed to give a speech without defecating all over both of his own feet, some idiot pundit said, “Tonight was the night Trump became president.” Well, today was the day Trump became either Grand Kleagle or chancellor, setting himself clearly on the side of the white nationalist movement, his voting base.

A lot of people of good will have argued that the Nazis and other white supremacists have First Amendment rights, too, and, yes, they do. But let’s keep something in mind that Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s future Minister of Propaganda, said upon becoming one of the first Nazis elected to the German Reichstag, in 1928 (h/t to Dan Conover for the reminder of this):

We enter parliament in order to supply ourselves, in the arsenal of democracy, with its own weapons. If democracy is so stupid as to give us free tickets and salaries for this bear’s work, that is its affair. We do not come as friends, nor even as neutrals. We come as enemies. As the wolf bursts into the flock, so we come.

I’m not sure exactly how you balance those competing interests. For the sake of the country, we had damned well better balance them in favor of preserving democracy, but it is clear from their actions that neither Trump nor many of his backers are interested in that. They’re here to mess us up as the wolf bursts into the flock.

One of the disturbing tidbits to come out of the Charlottesville incident was that state and local law enforcement adopted a mostly hands-off attitude toward the white supremacists in part because they felt outgunned. Look, there are two and only two possible responses to this: Up-arm your police or, preferably, tell the marchers they must disarm. The ultimate responsibility of law enforcement is to protect the public, and that means mitigating the threat at the source.

And if it takes a rifle to fend off the wolf, so be it; democracy is that valuable. As I’ve said before, if the tree of liberty must be refreshed with the blood of seditious white jackasses, I’ll cheer on the National Guard and not lose a minute’s sleep.

 

 

Monday, July 31, 2017 6:50 pm

What I would like to do on my summer vacation

The summer of 1981 should have been so much better for me than it was. But it could have been so much worse than it was, too.

As Tony, who has his own take on it, describes, he and I were sharing an apartment in Chapel Hill, trying to hold down jobs while also raising as much hell as humanly possible. At least that was the plan. Go read his post; it’s worth it, and I’ll wait.

You back? Good.

As he says, I only lasted about a month. He’s correct that being a day laborer didn’t agree with me, but I’ll add something to that: With the exception of 1980, when I got to be a full-time disc jockey in air-conditioned comfort, I’d spent every summer for the previous decade doing manual labor in the hot sun or slaving over deep fryers in fast-food joints at Carowinds that either weren’t air-conditioned or may as well not have been. Hard physical work wasn’t the issue.

Another thing he’s not telling you, because he’s such a good friend: I bailed on him. In the middle of the night, while he was at work, leaving him in the lurch rent-wise. Without, as I recall, even leaving a note. It was a dick move, no question. But I did it because at that point, I saw that as one of only two options, the other being suicide.

Depression runs in my father’s family. In hindsight I had had symptoms as early as age 12, and I’d already thought a great deal about suicide, including exactly how to go about it so as to minimize the mess I’d leave behind for whoever found me, well before graduating from high school.

Many years later, I was talking with my mother about that, and said, “Well, son, it was the ’70s, everybody was crazy, and frankly, you just didn’t stick out all that much.” She was joking, but there was more than a kernel of truth to that. Even in my fairly well-off, fairly well-adjusted neighborhood, I saw and heard things.

And in 1981, the summer before our senior year of college, I was still 15 years from being formally diagnosed (and farther still from getting on the medications that have kept me alive). And there you have it: the context in which I experienced my worst depressive episode yet, without even the words to say what was going on.

Sure, some events in my life contributed. That spring I broke up with a woman, regretted it immediately, then couldn’t walk it back. The woman I started dating after that dumped me unceremoniously within weeks. I ran for three different positions in my fraternity and lost all three. I drew dead last in the frat-house room lottery, leaving me with no place to live for my senior year. My full-time deejaying hours, which I had been counting on to allow me to graduate from college with merely manageable student-loan debt instead of the bankrupting kind, got cut back by half. I’d have been having a tough time even without chronic depression. With it, I was lucky I lived.

So, yeah, I took off in the middle of the night, leaving what was supposed to have been an idyllic summer in Chapel Hill with my best bud to try to figure out which disastrous aspect of my life I was going to try to fix first IF I didn’t kill myself. And I left Chapel Hill because I figured the closer I was to home, the less likely I was to kill myself. I can’t explain that logic, but it made sense at the time.

Long story short, I didn’t kill myself — not because I got help, but because, by luck or fluctuations in brain chemistry or the grace of God or a combination of all three, the pit I was in got a little shallower. Not a lot, but enough for me at least to climb a little farther from the darkness.

Tony also was kind enough not to mention that we didn’t speak for months after that. I think I finally called him that fall because another friend of mine nagged me into it; God knows I was too ashamed to do it on my own. Let’s just say he was way more gracious about it than I deserved.

And, slowly, bit by bit, piece by piece — and, again, with luck, fluctuations of brain chemistry, and/or the grace of God — I started pulling things back together. A couple of my frat brothers who had won a room in the house ahead of me bailed, and the alumni board offered me the double room as a single to cut their losses. The chapter treasurer bailed, and the alumni board offered me that gig, too — an executive for what’s now Bank of America made the pitch in New Orleans later that summer at my frat’s national convention; I remember I was drinking tequila when he made the offer and I about snorted it out my nose. My social life, well, it took more time and more work, but long story short, I ended up having an uneven but pretty sociable senior year. And I got enough work hours back that by the time I graduated, my student-loan debt was still manageable even for a kid with an English degree.

I tell you all of this not to justify my behavior at the time, but as a kind of public-service announcement. Behavioral disorders — things like bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and so on — often manifest in really severe ways for the first time in people who are of college age. (I noted that my depression wasn’t formally diagnosed for another 15 years. Well, my generalized anxiety disorder, which in hindsight was manifesting quite nicely even in my teens, thank you very much, wasn’t diagnosed for another 32.) If you’re a college student, you need to know that. If you’re the parent of a college student, you really need to know that. I don’t recall that this was common knowledge in 1981; certainly, I didn’t know it, and I don’t think my well-educated parents did, either. But people need to know it. They need to be aware. And, particularly if such disorders run in the family, they should be on the watch for signs and get help, or see that a loved one gets help, when those signs become evident.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). And there are a lot of other resources on the Internet for people with these problems, or who think they might have these problems, that didn’t exist when I was 21. If you’re in the pit or think someone you care for might be, say something, do something, anything. I never believed that college is the best years of your life, but it shouldn’t be the worst, either, and God knows it shouldn’t be the end.

As for the idyllic summer month in Chapel Hill that Tony advocates, I long for it, too, and I’m fortunate to have a job now where, if he and I can get all the moving parts lined up, we might even be able to make it happen next year or the year after — to do 1981 over again and do it right this time. Or maybe that’s a pipe dream. The point is, we’re both here and in a position at least to see if it’s doable. As it is, this weekend or soon thereafter, we’ll be toasting 40 years of friendship, our wives with us and the shadows, at least for now, at bay.

Saturday, July 1, 2017 8:29 am

The best election money can steal

Dolt 45’s poll numbers continue to tank, and the Senate Republicans’ “health care” plan is polling down around the levels of cat poop: As of earlier this week, only 12% of Americans supported it. But Republicans don’t seem overly worried about the 2018 or 2020 elections. There are a couple of reasons for this: They’re pretty confident they can use Trump’s new election commission to steal the elections, and they may even be relying on voting-machine hacking.

When Trump signed an executive order in May to form an election commission, he said it was “to promote fair and honest elections.” It’s not. Trump himself continues to say (if not believe) that he lost the popular vote because 3 to 5 million people voted illegally. (That’s despite the fact that documented cases of voter fraud in the U.S. are vanishingly rare — law professor Justin Levitt found 135 cases of vote fraud nationally out of 1 billion ballots cast between 2000 and 2014, while the Washington Post found four cases out of 135 million ballots cast in 2016.) He clearly wants this commission to try to find evidence to back up his claim.

To do that, he named perhaps the country’s most notorious vote suppressor, Kansas Secretary of State (and gubernatorial candidate) Kris Kobach, vice chair of the commission. Kobach made headlines this week by demanding voter registration data from all 50 states; more on that below. Let’s be blunt: If you’re interested in fair and honest elections, you don’t hire Kris Kobach. If, on the other hand, you’re interested in suppressing the votes of people who might be disproportionately inclined to vote Democratic, Kobach’s your guy.

As this New York Times profile from a couple of weeks ago indicates, Kobach is basically a Klansman without the n-bombs. (Hey, in his spare time he provides legal counsel to a hate group, as one does.) He’s also a committed ideologue who has never allowed the facts to get in the way of a good delusion, on voting or anything else. (Read that profile. Kobach is the kind of scary true believer who could get us into a nuclear war if he ever got elected president.)

Since being elected Secretary of State, he has enacted four measures in Kansas to restrict voting, and the ACLU whipped his ass in court on all four. Not only that, a federal judge fined him $1,000 for lying to the court about the contents of some of his documents. (I’d’ve jailed him for contempt and referred the matter to the state bar for additional sanctions, as well.)

Moreover, Kobach was the driver of the GOP’s notorious “Crosscheck” program in the 2016 elections. Crosscheck, in place in swing states including Wisconsin, Michigan, and North Carolina, ostensibly was intended to search voter-registration data for people who were registered to vote in multiple places and states, to ensure they voted only once. But in real life, its matching parameters were so loose — just a name and a date of birth — that the program generated roughly 200 false positives for every duplicate registration it detected.

Here’s how it worked in North Carolina:

Crosscheck has led to outrageous headlines that make double voting seem far more common than it is. In 2014, after North Carolina joined Crosscheck, the head of the state board of elections reported that in the 2012 general election, there were 35,750 voters in the state whose first and last names and dates of birth matched those of individuals who voted in the same election in a different state. Republican leaders of the North Carolina Legislature called it “alarming evidence of voter fraud,” and the conservative political strategist Dick Morris told Sean Hannity on Fox News, “It’s the most important data I’ve read in a year,” adding that it was “the first concrete evidence we’ve ever had of massive voter fraud.” But when North Carolina investigated the numbers using additional data like the last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers, eight cases of potential double voting were referred to prosecutors and two people were convicted.

So, as we see, this is not a man who is disinterestedly pursuing free and fair elections. This is a man who is attempting to strike likely Democratic voters from the rolls, even when they are legally entitled to vote; indeed, as noted by former Justice official Sam Bagenstos, it appears Kobach intends for the commission to sue the states to force them to purge their voter rolls in the manner he favors. I note for the record that 18 USC 241 makes it a crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, to conspire to deny people their civil rights. And Kobach has been so wrong for so long on voting rights that it is difficult to understand his actions as anything other than intentional.

Also on the commission: Hans von Spakovsky, a former member Bush 43-era Justice Department official who also has a long history of vote suppression efforts under the guise of preventing vote fraud — indeed, Democrats successfully blocked his nomination to the Federal Election Commission in 2008 because of it. Like Kobach, von Spakovsky also has a certain morally casual attitude, as this 2006 Post article highlights:

When he was a senior lawyer in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Hans von Spakovsky played a central role in approving a controversial Georgia voter identification program over the objections of staff lawyers.

But now, after leaving Justice for the Federal Election Commission, von Spakovsky has acknowledged writing a law review article that endorsed photo identification, which was Georgia’s approach, before the state’s proposal was even submitted to Justice for review. He also took the unusual step of using a pseudonym, “Publius,” in publishing the article, which appeared in the spring 2005 issue of the Texas Review of Law & Politics.

The article and its unusual authorship prompted a letter of complaint to the Justice Department last week from the Voting Rights Project, an arm of the American Civil Liberties Union that is opposed to Georgia’s voter identification plans. The group said the article shows von Spakovsky had already made up his mind on the issue and that his attempt to hide his views may have violated Justice Department guidelines.

In addition, a link to the Publius article suddenly disappeared this week from the FEC Web site, which had featured the article among a list of von Spakovsky’s writings.

“There appears to have been an intentional desire to prevent the public and, in particular, advocates with business before the Voting Section, from knowing the views of one of the senior officials involved,” Neil Bradley, the ACLU group’s associate director, wrote in his letter to Justice.

Whether or not von Spakovsky did anything to merit discipline, this is not the behavior of someone with a disinterested desire for free and fair elections.

Earlier this week, as noted above, Kobach asked all 50 secretaries of state, who oversee voter registration in most states, for voter registration data, including not only such things as names, addresses and dates of birth but also political party, last four digits of Social Security number, and voting history since 2006.

It is hard to avoid the inference that Kobach intends to apply Crosscheck nationwide — basically doing for the country what he did for North Carolina and possibly illegally disenfranchising millions of Americans.

(Even if Kobach’s motives were above suspicion, Kobach appears to know nothing about how to transmit, store, and analyze data safely and securely — you don’t transmit sensitive data files by email, just for starters. In short, this national database, even if it weren’t being used for partisan purposes, would be an identity-theft catastrophe just waiting to happen, particularly given the unseemly closeness of others in this administration to the Russian government.)

Fortunately, close to half of the secretaries of state are resisting, and not all of them are from blue states. Mississippi’s Republican Secretary of State, Delbert Hosemann, literally invited the commission to jump into the Gulf of Mexico. Even another member of the commission, Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson, a Republican, is refusing to provide anything more than what’s already public in Indiana: a voter’s name, address, and congressional district.

It remains to be seen what, if anything, the commission will accomplish, but one thing it manifestly will not do is probe fully the question of whether our elections are truly honest.

For one thing, neither the commission nor anyone else in the Trump administration appears interested in the question of whether Russians — or anyone else — hacked voting machines in 2016. The Department of Homeland Security says it hasn’t examined a single voting machine and does not intend to. And Trump, who could insist upon it, has been silent on the issue.

To be clear, there is as yet no proof that anyone ever has successfully hacked a voting machine to alter or delete a ballot in a U.S. election. That’s a topic I’ve followed ever since editing the 2004 book “Black Box Voting: Ballot Tampering in the 21st Century,” by Bev Harris and David Allen (more on that here). But I’ve always believed it possible — the evidence that it’s doable is just too overwhelming. And that’s why you need robust election auditing, including but not limited to examining machines.

For another, an election commission truly interested in election integrity would be examining a lot of topics this commission isn’t. Some of them, as suggested by Vermont’s Secretary of State, Jim Condos, include:

  • Foreign interference and attacks on our voting systems;
  • Funding for the Election Assistance Commission, which, among many other virtues, is the only U.S. government agency currently empowered to look into voting-machine hacking.
  • Partisan gerrymandering
  • Updating election equipment
  • Automatic voter registration
  • Requiring paper ballots instead of hackable machines
  • Requiring election audits
  • Expanding early voting opportunities
  • Expanding voting by mail
  • Increasing the convenience and accessibility of voting places
  • Reducing long lines and wait times at the polls.

 

Anyone seriously interested in helping authorized voters exercise their right to vote would be working on these issues. But that ain’t what Kobach’s commission is about. And that’s why it must be resisted. Otherwise, the Republicans will steal the upcoming elections and our 240 years as a democratic republic will be over.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017 7:58 pm

American Gulag

This is a first for Blog on the Run: a guest post. The author is a contemporary of mine who has top academic credentials in German and Soviet history. Her comments refer to this article, published earlier today by The Guardian. An excerpt:

Behind two rows of high fencing and winding coils of razor wire, and surrounded by thick forest in central Louisiana, hundreds of miles from the nearest major city, stands a newly created court the Trump administration hopes will fast-track the removal of undocumented immigrants.

Hearings take place in five poky courtrooms behind reinforced grey doors where the public benches, scratched with graffiti, are completely empty. There is no natural light. The hallways are lined with detainees in yellow jumpsuits awaiting their turn before a judge. The five sitting judges were quietly flown in by the US justice department from cities across the United States and will be rotated again within two weeks.

The new setup is part of Donald Trump’s attempts to ramp up deportations by vastly expanding the arrest powers of federal immigration enforcement and prioritising more vulnerable groups of detained migrants in new court locations around the country. It has received little scrutiny since its introduction following a presidential order in January, and the Guardian is the first news organisation to observe proceedings here.

My friend comments:

This is a black hole of a prison, devoid of civil rights, humanitarian observers, and legal aid, although it’s on American soil. It is in Louisiana, the state where I was born, in the middle of nowhere. Maybe some nutria and waterbirds notice what is going on.

What did the Bush administration call what they did in the early ’00s? “Extraordinary rendition,” a/k/a kidnapping and transport to prison and interrogation (and sometimes torture), the transportation being generally from one country to another. The Bushies maintained that the people subjected to this were under suspicion of great crimes. A significant number were found to be innocent of terrorist activity.

Now this “rendition” (bland word for abduction) happens to people who have behaved lawfully, deceived no one, paid taxes, and generally behaved better than the troll who inhabits the White House. TrumpsterFire can’t be allowed to create his own GULAG. And as a scholar of German and Soviet history, and of totalitarianism, I make that comparison with full understanding.

Monday, May 15, 2017 8:56 pm

Grounds for impeachment

The Washington Post’s newest story on Donald Trump makes a good time to stop and assess where we are right now. And where we are right now is damned depressing.

Were I a member of the U.S. House, right now I could introduce no fewer than four articles of impeachment regarding Trump, any one of which would be grounds for removing him from office.

  1. He retained a foreign agent (Michael Flynn) as national security advisor for days after being advised that Flynn was a foreign agent.
  2. He obstructed justice by firing FBI director James Comey, who was leading an investigation into Trump’s Russia ties (more on which below).
  3. He has committed serial violations of the Emoluments Clause.
  4. As documented in the Post article linked above, he has not only leaked highly classified (“codeword”) intelligence to the Russians, he also blew an anti-ISIS intelligence source managed by another country in doing so. This was information so sensitive we weren’t even sharing it with our other allies. Indeed, it is hard to read about this disclosure and not wonder why Trump isn’t being indicted for treason.

Any or all of these actions are grounds for impeachment and removal from office, even before the investigation of Trump’s Russia ties really gets going. That investigation, I am convinced, will at the least find evidence that Trump laundered Russian money, if not evidence of other crimes as well. And I’m almost as sure that it will implicate a number of Trump associates, among them Vice President Pence and House Speaker Ryan in the line of succession.

The Republicans control the House and Senate, so, naturally, Congress is doing nothing about these crimes, even though if President Hillary Clinton had committed them, she would have been impeached before sundown. But Congressional Republicans, to a man and woman, are accomplices in treason, nothing but Putinesque cockholsters.

Some commenters have drawn comparisons between the Comey firing and Watergate. But Watergate was just the cover-up of a third-rate burglary. What Trump is doing is much worse, and this time around we haven’t a single Congressional Republican willing to put country before party.

For 38 years, I was a law-and-order Republican, and here’s what I think: Trump needs to hang for treason. And Congressional Republicans need to hang alongside him.

 

 

Friday, April 28, 2017 7:02 pm

What colleges and universities DON’T owe would-be speakers

I’m one of those weirdoes who thinks that, once invited by a Berkeley student group in good standing, Ann Coulter should have been allowed to speak at Berkeley, or at least given the same consideration and attempts at accommodation as anyone else so situated. And it should go without saying that all groups at any college should be treated equally in this regard, but Imma say it anyway.

I’m weird like that.

And I don’t approve of disinviting someone from speaking at a college once they’ve been invited to speak by someone with the standing to issue such an invitation. Absent genuine safety concerns, which may or may not have been present in the case of Coulter at Berkeley, rescinding a speaking invitation seems the coward’s way out. By extension, if you’re in a position to invite a speaker, you need to do your due diligence on that speaker before issuing an invitation (and I’ll talk more in a bit about what that due diligence should include).

But there’s another angle to Coulter Agonistes that I haven’t seen explored much.

No college, private or public, is legally, morally or ethically obligated to provide a venue to just any speaker who wants one. But more importantly, colleges are the most important bastions of free speech in the country and the shapers of future participants in our civil life. As such, I would argue, they have a special duty to do their due diligence to pick carefully the people to whom they give a venue. Specifically, they have a duty to pick people, irrespective of their viewpoint on any particular issue, who have a track record of exemplifying speech that illustrates, supports, and, ideally, enhances free speech and the free exchange of ideas in this country.

OK, so what does that look like? Glad you asked.

First and foremost, colleges should look for speakers who trade in objectively verified and verifiable facts and only the best-supported theories, unless the speaker is pushing a theory for the specific purpose of engendering more disinterested research into whether it is supported and supportable. I don’t mean that speakers should limit themselves to reciting facts, of course; opinions can be just as enlightening. But colleges should be looking to provide speaking venues only to people who have a record of proceeding from objectively verifiable facts and premises, and who have a record of opining on the basis of objectively verified and verifiable facts and premises. The Earth is round (or, at least, an oblate spheroid), the Confederacy was about slavery, human carbon combustion is responsible for global climate change, vaccines do not cause autism, cutting taxes on the wealthy does not consistently — and might not ever — increase government revenue, the Democratic National Committee did not steal the 2016 nomination from Bernie Sanders, and colleges have an affirmative duty to screen out speakers who (absent, let’s say, breakthrough, peer-reviewed new research of their own into climatology or vaccinations) claim otherwise.

This is critical because shared information — shared factual, verifiable information — is fundamental to civilization. It is critical because, as one obscure blogger has observed, reality will not ignore YOU, and society must deal in reality to solve its problems and achieve its goals. And providing resources to help support and enhance civilization and solve society’s problems is at the core of what colleges do. (On a personal level, I find dealing with delusional people really fucking annoying, but that’s neither here nor there as regards my larger point.)

Second, colleges should vet speakers for their adherence to the rules of logic, because facts alone aren’t enough and facts alone can be dangerous, particularly in isolation and without context. At the very least, colleges should avoid providing venues for speakers who routinely engage in the most common logical fallacies. They key word there is routinely; pretty much every speaker engages in the occasional logical misdemeanor. But colleges and universities have an affirmative duty not to squander their venues and forums on people who routinely trade in ad hominem attacks without also engaging with their victim’s arguments, people who trade in straw-man argumentation, and so on.

Third, colleges should provide a venue only to speakers who argue in good faith. That sounds subjective, I grant, but it can be understood as an outgrowth of points 1 and 2, combined with this standard: Does the speaker appear to sincerely believe what he/she says? One cannot read a speaker’s mind, of course, but speakers who sincerely believe what they say tend to frame their arguments in ways that speakers who don’t do not. To return to Ann Coulter, she frequently says things she manifestly does not believe, simply to get a rise out of people (consider these examples); if she actually believed these things, she would behave differently from how she actually behaves. I will refrain from speculating on why; I simply will observe that she makes a good living doing it. Milo Yiannopoulos, the Breitbart editor, is another example; “I hope to offend every reader,” he told Business Insider, which is manifestly untrue because if he actually did offend every reader, he’d have no readers and thus no money. I realize that sincerity is considered childish in an era in which irony is king, but if civilization is to benefit, colleges must limit their venues to those speakers who advocate honest ideas honestly (or who, if they trade in irony, do so in service of a larger truth, e.g., Stephen Colbert).

I note for the record that all three of these standards are agnostic with respect to location along the Left-Right political spectrum, to the extent that that concept even has any meaning.

At a minimum, colleges should use these three standards in determining to whom to extend speaking invitations. Would use of these standards solve all our problems? Nah; probably not. I suspect a number of people to the left of me politically would claim, for example, that internal arguments over whether a prospective speaker deals in facts or avoids logical fallacies would inevitably be resolved to the detriment of more marginalized voices. And I think there’s some truth to that. But I also think that this approach would work far more often than not and certainly is preferable to opening college venues to people who willfully and intentionally use lies and flawed logic to try to exert influence over public discourse and, by extension, public policy. Such people are rhetorical grifters, and neither any self-respecting college nor any self-respecting citizen owes them so much as a moment’s attention.

Free societies require informed, rational, logical discourse to function and to progress. It is a mission and a duty of colleges to provide it, and they can only do so by imposing behavior-based standards on speakers who would speak under their aegis. And that, and not any argument about the First Amendment, is what is so important about who gets to speak on our campuses.

UPDATE:  In light of The New York Times’s hiring of Bret Stephens to be its newest op-ed columnist, I’m going to argue a little further that the same standards I’m recommending for colleges should apply to any curators of esteemed speaking platforms … like, oh, say, The New York Times op-ed page.

Stephens is a climate-change denier. He thinks that if a lot of college women are getting raped, then maybe women shouldn’t go to college, a bit of “logic” that defies not only law but also basic common sense. He denies that 1 in 7 Americans are food-insecure, in the face of unassailable government research to the contrary. He dismisses Black Lives Matter’s issues in favor of the discredited “all lives matter” argument and argues for the existence of the nonexistent “Ferguson effect,” which even the Fraternal Order of Police has dismissed.

And what did Marc Lacey’s national editor of The New York Times, have to say about Stephens’s hiring? This:

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That is some weapons-grade stupid right there. It leaves us with the well-supported belief that the national editor of the most widely respected news outlet on the planet is dumber than my cat’s chewed-up catnip toy. Lacey is asking us to believe that freedom of speech is synonymous with a six-figure gig on his paper’s op-ed page. He is asking us to believe that supporting freedom of speech requires not just tolerating falsehood and willful ignorance but lucratively rewarding it. He is further asking us to believe that the most qualified candidate for a coveted spot on that op-ed page is a bigoted dudebro who pulls “facts” out of his ass.

Since Trump’s election, the Times has been selling a lot more subscriptions, based on the belief among prospective subscribers that the Times will be a reliable and insightful source of news, analysis and opinion. If the Times doesn’t want to worry about trafficking in accurate information, maybe it will want to worry about the fact that climate scientists are canceling their subscriptions in protest.

Friday, April 14, 2017 3:07 pm

Report of sorts on the town hall held this morning by my congresscritter, U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, R-NC13

First, a bit of background for those who aren’t from ’round here.

The congresscritter: Freshman GOP Rep. Ted Budd of the newly redrawn 13th CD of North Carolina. Ran a gun shop before getting elected. In a GOP-leaning district, the political newcomer emerged almost literally out of nowhere from a crowded GOP primary field mainly because he got a boatload of Club for Growth money. Club for Growth is a 501c4 that represents the tax-cuts-for-the-rich-and-steal-middle-class-wealth-by-any-means-necessary wing of the GOP, which is to say the party mainstream.

The district (into which I was placed recently after having spent almost 30 years in NC06): Encompasses about the southwestern third of Guilford County, along with Davie and Davidson counties and most of Iredell County. All but Guilford are heavily Republican (and I cut my reporting teeth in Iredell almost 35 years ago writing about Ku Klux Klan activities there); Guilford was the only part of the district Budd didn’t carry. N.C. districts were redrawn after the 4th Circuit threw out the pre-existing congressional districts on the grounds that they’d been racially gerrymandered, targeting African American voters “with almost surgical precision.” The districts redrawn since still gerrymander to the enormous benefit of Republicans; their constitutionality is in question, too.

The venue: 9 a.m.-noon today in a conference or dining room in the Marriott Hotel on North Greene Street in downtown Greensboro. (If you’re interested, Budd just opened a district office in Greensboro, at 4400 Piedmont Parkway.) For most of that time, between 100 and 200 people were in the room at once. Some came and some went, so I have no idea what total attendance was.

The town hall format: Other than the fact that there was decent free coffee, a fustercluck. More on this below.

# # #

First, let’s give Ted Budd credit for even showing up. That’s a low bar, but it’s one a significant percentage of his GOP House colleagues so far haven’t cleared.

Second, let’s give him credit for being in the moment. He already had started talking to people when I arrived about 8:45, and he was still going (although he’d been warned by an aide that time was up) when I left at 12:10. During all that time, he was on his feet and talking to people without so much as 3-minute bathroom break. He shook hands, looked people in the eye, really seemed to be listening attentively, didn’t interrupt anyone at all that I recall, referred people to staffers if the issues they were raising were ones with which staff reasonably could be expected to assist, and seemed to treat everyone — Democrat, Republican, unaffiliated, male, female, etc. — pretty much the same, which is to say, in a word, courteously, and he did that whether each conversation ran to two minutes or 10.

It is here, however, that I pretty much run out of credit to give Budd.

Let’s start with the format. It was great … if you were Budd. For the rest of us, it sucked. Here’s what I mean.

When you think of a town hall, you generally think of a large room with the congresscritter down in front with a microphone and constituents in seats, stepping up one at a time (ideally to another microphone) to ask a question or state an opinion on an issue. The whole room gets to hear the question, and the whole room gets to hear the congresscritter’s response.

That’s not what this was. This was more like a cocktail party (without cocktails, sadly), with Budd holding serial one-on-one conversations with attendees. He did not use a microphone. He moved around the room a fair bit, surrounded by a cluster of people (often including TV people with large cameras) who wanted to talk to him and therefore were forced to move with him. Often, only Budd and his interlocutor could hear what was being said. There were almost no chairs in the room until some of the attendees prevailed on hotel staff to bring a few more.

The format favored the tall and the people who were fit enough to stand in one place for extended periods, who, probably not coincidentally, also were the most likely demographic to be Budd supporters. I got close enough to take my turn with Budd several times but instead invited others who didn’t seem to be doing so well physically to go ahead of me.

It also made it very difficult — and I believe this was intentional — for others to record what Budd was asked and what he said in return. A lot of people, including me, tried, but based on what I was able to record, which wasn’t much, I doubt very many people got much that was usable. This deliberate strategy is intended to minimize the risk that a recorded statement, question, or possible gaffe by Budd could go viral.

Several attendees directly criticized Budd for this approach; he ignored them. A large number of us tried to encourage everyone else to sit on the floor and force Budd to address us as a group; the effort worked a little at first but then fizzled out. One large, loud guy (not me) on the edge of the scrum directly questioned Budd over everyone else’s head about health-care policy; the question got applause but Budd didn’t really answer it, so no progress there. (My friend and former colleague Joe Rodriguez of the News & Record captured that exchange on video; I’m hoping it’ll be up later at greensboro.com. UPDATE: Here it is. His colleague Kate Queram also got some of it here.)

I would suggest to anyone going to such an event in the future that you try to organize the crowd to insist that the congresscritter speak to the crowd as one.

Finally, there was Budd’s substance on the issues, which was, by and large, deplorable.

The guy did, in fact, oppose the Republicans’ American Health Care Act (AHCA), the would-be replacement to the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). The AHCA would have given the top 1% of this country’s earners a $3.8 trillion tax cut while removing up to 24 million Americans from the insurance rolls over the next 10 years, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office It also would have eliminated many popular and efficient provisions of the ACA, such as requiring coverage for mental-health care, allowing children to remain on their parents’ plans until age 26, requiring coverage for pre-existing conditions, and so on. But Budd opposed the AHCA not because it went too far in enriching the rich and screwing over the middle class and poor, but because it didn’t go far enough. And in at least one exchange near the end of the event, he was forthright enough to say so.

Budd at least gave lip service to the notion of Congress as a watchdog on the executive branch. But in response to my asking him why he opposed an independent special prosecutor to examine Trump’s Russia ties, Budd continued to insist that a bipartisan congressional investigation is the best method for finding out the truth there. There is, of course, nothing in the past 16 years to suggest that congressional Republicans have the slightest interest in holding a Republican executive branch accountable, even when a president goes on live TV and admits to having ordered torture or begins violating the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause on his first day in office, and plenty to suggest that they’re eager to abuse the process if it can persecute a Democrat.

Budd strongly supports cutting off all federal funding to Planned Parenthood, even though federal law already bans spending federal dollars for abortion services and even though many poor women can only get primary medical care through Planned Parenthood. Budd argued that 1) because money is fungible, ANY money given to Planned Parenthood is helping pay for abortions, and 2) there are alternative outlets for available, affordable medical care for Planned Parenthood’s patients, although when challenged to name even one in Greensboro, he couldn’t do it. UPDATE: He apparently asked an aide to provide such a list for the constituent who asked him about it; I’ll be surprised if such facilities exist.

(And the thing about that fungibility argument is that it is, itself, fungible: I can use the same argument as a basis for saying I shouldn’t pay federal taxes because they’re going to enrich Trump by paying for his $3-million-a-week visits to his private, for-profit Mar-A-Lago compound. Indeed, I would have the better case.)

Budd believes with Trump that we need to spend even more on the military and less on government programs that help people. At this point, it is hard to think of anyone who still holds this position as anything other than a sociopath.

Budd believes the science of climate change has been, in his word, “politicized,” although he offered no proof. He argued that state, rather than federal, environmental control is best, even though (as I pointed out under my breath at the time) tainted air and polluted water cross state lines; much of North Carolina’s air pollution problem until recently was caused by coal-burning power plants in the Midwest. He argued that environmental regulations are “choking” businesses, even though 1) there’s little research to prove that and 2) we DO have research showing that most such research undervalues human life by a factor of about six.

Budd, an evangelical Christian, reiterated the old canard that the phrase “separation of church and state” is not to be found in the Constitution, a literal truth joined at the hip to a contextual lie: It ignores the existence of the establishment clause of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion …”

To conclude: Budd is polite and courteous enough, but he is a dangerous ideologue who will pursue measures that weaken the United States strategically, economically, spiritually and as the world’s last, best hope for freedom. He’s smart enough not to behave like a total dick (see, inter alia, Berger, N.C. Sen Phil) in one-on-one interactions. But when you’re a congresscritter, your votes are your morals, and his past votes (he has sided with the GOP all but once in more than 200 recorded votes to date, per one of his aides) put him squarely on the side of screwing the middle class and the poor, imposing a brand of Christianity on this country that tens of millions of Christians find appalling, and actively harming the people whom Christ called “the least of these.” Based on his stated positions, his future votes appear likely to ignore science to do the bidding of Big Carbon even at the expense of killing the Earth (or at least human civilization as we know it), and supporting agents of a hostile foreign power in the White House, to the detriment of U.S. freedom and the country’s global interests and those of its allies. Indeed, Budd seems to have no problem with a “president” who, as I type this, may be getting us into an unnecessary war with North Korea in which millions on the Korean peninsula alone could die.

And don’t even get me started on the gun industry.

Budd strikes me as a younger version of Howard Coble — not the Howard Coble you read about in the media, but the real one: a man who cunningly used an affable personality and nonpartisan affectation to deflect attention from his cold-blooded pursuit of a partisan and dangerous agenda with his votes. The 13th District Democratic Party needs to find at least one qualified candidate to run against Budd, and it needs to do it today.

UPDATE: Reporter Kate Queram also covered the event for the News & Record and was livetweeting it, starting here. Her story is here.

UPDATE: Jordan Green’s report for Triad City Beat is here.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017 8:20 pm

Rachel Maddow and Trump’s 2005 tax return (redux)

Immediately after Rachel Maddow’s show ended last night on MSNBC, I jotted down a few thoughts on Facebook, which follow:

1) Maddow tweeted she had “returns,” plural. That implied she had both full returns and multiple years. Neither was true.

2) We learned not much substantive from one year’s 2-page Form 1040. Without the schedules, we don’t know WHERE he got his income, which is much the more important question.

3) The long intro at the top of the show ground on a lot of people’s nerves, including mine, and for people who don’t watch Maddow regularly it probably was almost unwatchable. But she often has long intros that serve valuable purposes. In this case, it was valuable for two reasons: to provide background to low-info viewers, and to suggest future avenues of inquiry for other reporters.

All of that said, this was a 30-minute segment that someone unwisely stretched into an hour.

4) It’s a start. It’s a bloody start.

I had more thoughts, but I also wanted to go to bed, so I did. The additional thoughts follow, in no particular order:

While I’m sure MSNBC scored high if not record viewership on Maddow’s show last night, it did so at the cost of a big chunk of its credibility. It grossly overhyped what it had in terms of substance. Although Maddow (or the $25,000-a-year production assistant who actually runs her Twitter account) tweeted only twice before the show started, as noted in Point 1 above, even she implied that she had more substance than she really did. Maddow’s unspoken schtick has been that her show isn’t like the rest of cable news. That schtick took some big hits below the waterline last night.

Although I am not confident that Johnston’s source for his copy of the Form 1040 was Trump himself, as Johnston suggested it might have been, the two pages almost certainly were sent to him with Trump’s knowledge. (Johnston explains here how he got the return.) It smacked of what the Watergate-era Nixon folks called a “limited, modified hangout,” meaning they would admit to the absolute minimum truth that they could admit to without further damaging themselves. Because, after all, what did we learn about this? Trump earned about $153 million and paid about $37 million in taxes. Those numbers aren’t abnormal for people presumed to be rich. So for a lot of low-info viewers and voters, this release was the equivalent of Trump saying, “Here, see? There’s no THERE there! Lying media! Fake news! Thorax!” And a lot of those people will believe that. (More in a bit on what else we learned, most of which will fly over the heads of low-info viewers despite Maddow’s best efforts.)

Johnston’s own reporting on the Form 1040 is much less breathless and more substantive. Among his findings and observations:

  • “Donald Trump was paid that year like a member of the 0.001%, but he paid taxes like the 99%. And by at least one measure, he paid like the bottom 50%.”
  • “There is one clear expense, however, that can be discerned because portions of Trump’s 1995 state tax returns became public last fall. Trump got out of repaying nearly $1 billion he borrowed for his failed casino business. When you don’t repay a loan Congress says that money is income and you owe taxes on it immediately. Instead, Trump made use of an abusive tax shelter that Congress soon closed to newcomers. Like magic, the tax shelter converted what should have been a tax bill of about $360 million into future tax breaks. Ten years later, on his 2005 return, Trump was still saving tax dollars thanks to that tax shelter.”

Johnston also finds that the only reason Trump paid as much in income taxes as he did was because of the Alternative Minimum Tax, which he has said he wants Congress to abolish — a move from which he would benefit directly. And, he says, the return tells us more about the $916 million tax write-off contained in his previously-released 1995 state tax return — the write-off that led to suspicions that Trump had paid no income taxes for 18 years thereafter. Johnston explains it like this:

To understand the Trump tax returns it’s important to realize that America has two income tax systems. The regular income tax was supplemented by a parallel tax system, signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, called the Alternative Minimum Tax or AMT.

How these two systems interact is central to understanding the Trumps’ taxes.

Viewed in terms of the regular federal income tax system, here is what Trump did:

Trump reported $152.7 million of income. He also reported $103.2 million of negative income, the remainder of the roughly $918 million tax shelter he bought in 1995. That deal was disclosed earlier in three summary pages of his 1995 Connecticut, New York and New Jersey state income-tax returns.

That Trump had only $103 million of his $918 million tax shelter left in 2005 also tells us something about his past income. Using up the other $815 million of negative income in the tax shelter indicates that he earned an average of $81.5 million annually during the 10 years from 1995 through 2004.

Deducting the negative income lowered Trump’s adjusted gross income or AGI to $48.6 million. AGI is the last figure on the bottom of the front page of a federal tax return.

From that, the Trumps took $17 million in itemized deductions, which are not specified. That left  $31.6 million of taxable income.

The Trumps paid just $5.3 million of regular federal income tax. Measured against their cash income of almost $153 million their federal income tax rate was 3.48%.

That figure is slightly lower than the tax rate paid by the poorest half of Americans. The half of taxpayers whose income was less than $33,485 that year paid 3.51% of their money in federal income taxes.

Trump’s total federal tax bill was larger, though, because of the Alternative Minimum Tax or AMT.

The President, in writing, has called for eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax. Now we know one reason why—he lives like a king, but wants to pay taxes like a Walmart cashier.

All high-income Americans must calculate both their regular income tax and their AMT income tax and pay whichever is larger.

Most of that $103 million of negative income was ignored under the AMT, which meant that for tax purposes Trump’s income was larger than under the regular system.

The Trump income subject to AMT was $111.7 million, according to Daniel Shaviro, a New York University law professor who as a Congressional staffer helped draft the AMT three decades ago.

The Trumps paid $31.3 million in AMT which, together with the regular tax, made their total federal income tax $36.6 million.

Viewed in terms of their positive income of almost $153 million the total Trump tax bill came to 24%. That’s in the range paid by two-income career couples who both work all year to earn about $400,000. The Trumps income was $418,460 per day.

So Trump is, to be kind, manipulating the tax system to pay a lot less tax than a person earning as much as he might be expected to pay. But you know what? A lot of rich people do that. It shouldn’t be legal, but it is, and it probably always will be as long as rich people are the only ones writing the tax code.

Still, this wasn’t a non-story. Seth Abramson, in this thread on Twitter, wrote last night that we actually learned some other important things:

  • We got confirmation that Trump has been lying about not being able to release his 2005 and other returns because they’re being audited.
  • We therefore have reason to believe that if the White House has reason to think other returns might be released soon, it may do so on its own.
  • Someone, somewhere who had access to at least some part of Trump’s tax returns was able and willing to send them to a reporter, with or without Trump’s knowledge. (And I would add that he knew to send them to Johnston, perhaps the most qualified reporter on the planet to address them.)
  • Maddow’s and Johnston’s publication of the return proves that the press is willing and able to publish the material despite allegations that doing so is illegal. (The 1971 Supreme Court case on the Pentagon Papers backs this up, by the way.)
  • Trump made only $150 million or so in 2005 despite the housing market’s still being way up at that point. (I have said all along that Trump’s claim of a $10 billion net worth is bullshit; Abramson thinks this return confirms my suspicions.)
  • Trump may have lied to the FEC at some point, which would be a crime. (Maddow touched on this too last night, but I admit she was talking so fast I wasn’t clear on the details.)
  • The White House now has a “tell” that the press and public can use to gauge its responses to any future revelations regarding Trump’s taxes: “The WH’s willingness to talk about this return sets a standard we can use later on if/when the WH balks at discussing other returns. Indeed, the moment the WH reacts differently to the possible release of a tax return than it did tonight, we’ll know something’s up.”

One last thing: My friend Dan Romuald wonders whether the White House might have made a copy of this one particularly nonthreatening 1040 available to certain White House staffers suspected of leaking to the press, to see whether they could catch a leaker in the act. That, too, is possible and would not be out of character for this administration. I like my modified-limited-hangout scenario better. But that’s just a gut feeling. I could be wrong.

So where do we go from here? In search of more tax returns — the whole things, not just the two-page summaries. I would not encourage anyone to do anything illegal to get them, but in the unlikely event Congress gets sufficiently incensed, that wouldn’t be necessary: Congress, as we saw during the Clinton and Obama years, can subpoena anything it damn well pleases and probably get it. And if more news outlets get returns in their mailboxes with no return addresses, they need to publish them (after verifying their authenticity, of course). It’s perfectly legal and it would be a huge public service.

Because at the end of the day, there’s still a huge question hanging over this country: To what extent do our so-called president’s financial and political ties to the Russians allow Russia undue influence over American policy? Keep in mind that 1) for all Trump’s praise, Vladimir Putin is and always has been a dictatorial, murdering fuckhead (to quote Eddie Izzard), and 2) the Russian government, the Russian banks and the Russian Mafia are all pretty much the same thing.

Trump’s tax returns — in full, all of them — would be the quickest, easiest way to answer that overarching question. And I’m not the only one willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that that’s why he has been keeping them hidden.

 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017 9:05 pm

In which your news media attempt to polish a turd

A couple of months ago, I warned you that whatever came of Donald Trump’s likely disaster of a presidency, the news media would be of no use in helping us fight it. We got proof of that last night and today in the media’s coverage of Trump’s joint address to Congress.

To begin with, as several media fact-checking outlets reported, practically every factual assertion made by Trump was a lie. Despite having an army of researchers at his disposal, the president of the United States stood before Congress and told lie after lie after lie. One can only conclude that the lies were intentional, and that alone should have led to universal condemnation of the address.

But, no, it gets worse.

Trump highlighted his executive order directing the Department of Homeland Security to create something called the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement office, to work with people who are victims of crimes created by immigrants. He did this despite the fact that immigrants commit crimes and are incarcerated at a rate significantly lower than native-born Americans. He also did this despite the fact that it is quite reminiscent of the practice of Nazi Germany of publicizing crimes committed by Jews.

If the lies didn’t turn off the media, the Nazism should have. And if Trump had stopped there, it would have been bad enough.

But no.

As the grotesque centerpiece of his speech, Trump “honored” Carryn Owens, who was widowed in late January when her husband, Navy SEAL Senior Chief William “Ryan” Owens, was killed on a mission in Yemen.

Keep in mind that this mission was launched without adequate intelligence, one result of which was that both Ryan Owens and numerous civilians were killed. As commander-in-chief, Trump bears the ultimate responsibility for the outcome, yet earlier Tuesday he had tried to throw military officers under the bus:

“This was a mission that started before I got here,” the president said. “This is something that they (his generals) wanted to do. They came to see me; they explained what they wanted to do.

“My generals are the most respected we’ve had in many decades I believe.”

Indeed, The Washington Post quoted Trump as saying of his generals, “The y lost Ryan.”

Trump touched all the bases of appallingness in this set piece.

He insisted that the military had obtained actionable intelligence from the raid, a claim the military insists is not true.

He overlooked the fact that not only was Ryan Owens’s father, William, not present, William Owens has strongly criticized Trump’s handling of the raid, had refused to meet with Trump when his son’s body arrived back in the United States, and has called for an investigation of the raid.

And then, as applause for Carryn Owens filled the chamber, Trump added, “And Ryan is looking down right now, you know that, and he’s very happy because I think he just broke a record” with that applause.

I am running out of words to say how vile this construction is. He was using  Carryn Owens as a hostage, a human shield against his manifest mishandling of the raid. And he managed, by remarking on the level of applause, to make it all about him, not Carryn Owens or her late husband.

One would think that a perceptive and competent media would recoil at this performance. And as I predicted, you would be wrong. While there were a few dissenters, many commentators focused purely on Trump’s tone — which was, in fact, significantly more reserved than in his previous speeches — in saying that he had been “presidential.”

I would expect a toad like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to say something like that, even if, in doing so, he was admitting that up until now, Trump has not been presidential. McConnell is about GOP power, not the public interest.

But CNN commentator Van Jones, normally a liberal stalwart, announced, “He became President of the United States in that moment. Period,” and added that if Trump can conjure more moments like that, “He’ll be there for eight years.”

Perhaps the second-worst offender behind Jones was Chris Cilizza, who writes for The Washington Post’s political column The Fix:

1. Trump rapidly grasped that this was a real moment — and he didn’t step on it by trying to immediately return to his speech. Lots of politicians, obsessed with making sure they got the speech out in the allotted time, would have moved on too quickly — missing the resonance of the cascades of applause that washed over the rawly emotional Carryn Owens. Trump understands moments; he stepped away from the podium, looked to Owens and just clapped. For the better part of two minutes, the only thing you heard in the room was loud applause and the only thing you saw was Owens crying and looking heavenward. Very powerful stuff.

Critics will say — and have already said — that Trump was using a widow’s emotion for political gain. But Owens willingly agreed to come to the speech knowing Trump would single her out. And, politicians of both parties regularly use these tragic moments to make broader points about our country and its policies. That’s politics. To suggest that Trump somehow broke with political norms here is to turn a blind eye to virtually every speech like this given by any recent president of either party.

2. Trump showed some grace. There has never been any question that Donald Trump is happiest when people are talking about, looking at and generally obsessed with Donald Trump. He’s never shown much grace in the public eye, often exhibiting a sort of ham-handedness in situations where some delicacy is required. But not Tuesday night. Trump, dare I say, gracefully handed the spotlight to Owens — even taking a few steps back to let her have that moment. For a candidate, a man and a president who has shown a stunning inability to ever make it about anyone other than him, it was a very deft move.

Well, no. As regards Point 1, Cilizza is engaged in the perennial DC media both-siderism that deprives the American people of an honest understanding of what is causing our problems. It’s true that both parties have used widows/widowers of fallen heroes in political appearances, but no one — no president ever — has used a newly minted, grieving widow as a human shield the way Trump did. As for Cilizza’s Point 2, the “grace” Trump showed was that of a person with narcissistic personality disorder who, for perhaps 30 seconds, became asymptomatic. Applauding that is like cheering a grown man for not deliberately shitting on the carpet.

Cilizza must have been stung by some of the comments, because he then posted on Twitter, “I ask again though: Why can’t Trump be praised for delivering a good speech full stop?”

SpecialKindOfStupid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But his column did not hide him, nor his Twitter feed give him shelter. Among some of the Twitter responses:

“Because speech as performance is meaningless to non-pundit human beings deeply impacted by the substance of a president’s policies.”

“Because you eat up everything he says, no matter how dangerous it is, as long as he leaves you out of it.”

“Only reason you think it’s ‘good’ is Trump avoided saying Jewish bomb threats = false flags. You know, like he did EARLIER THAT DAY.”

“Gee, Chris, you know who ELSE gave nationalist speeches while hating on immigrants?”

You get the idea: There were dozens, maybe hundreds, of people who aren’t employed by the Washington Post who were just happy to point his errors out to him.

But that’s not good enough. The errors do damage, and corrections or walkbacks, if any, don’t undo that damage. The media need to be calling out this bullshit for what it is, and they need to be doing it in the moment.

But that’s not going to happen. The earlier post I linked to at the top of this post goes into most of the reasons why, and the media’s performance after last night’s Trump speech merely confirms what I predicted months ago: We are well and truly on our own.

 

Saturday, February 25, 2017 12:39 pm

Friday Random 10, Saturday Edition

Filed under: Friday Random 10 — Lex @ 12:39 pm

The Ties That Bind – Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
The Boys of Summer – Don Henley
Dream All Day – The Posies
Stand by Me – Ben E. King
Long View – Green Day
Round Here – Counting Crows
You Really Got Me – Van Halen
Alex Chilton Down and Out (The Replacements vs. Cam’ron vs. Kanye West) – The Hood Internet
I Got the Blues – Rolling Stones
House of Flint – Amor de Dias

lagniappe: Second Golden Age – Meredith Bragg

Tuesday, February 21, 2017 7:42 pm

What we have learned this week about U.S. conservatism

I would not have bet a beer on the likelihood that Nazi provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos could do anything useful. But this week, and quite by accident, he did: He found that the moral depravity of U.S. conservatism does, apparently, have a bottom. I just wish it were not as deep as it is.

Milo (normally I’d use his last name on second reference, but I’m lazy) had been invited to be not just a speaker at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, but the keynote speaker. The conference provides a lot of entertainment and amusement for people who are not batshit, but it also serves as a canary in the coalmine for U.S. politics by offering a beauty contest of current and future GOP political candidates.

So this was the guy who was to get this week’s main spotlight. A guy who had risen to fame by fomenting “Gamergate,” a huge harassment campaign against women in gaming. Who led a racist harassment campaign against Leslie Jones, who appeared in the all-female “Ghostbusters” reboot. Who, though not a U.S. citizen himself, reviles immigrants. Who’s openly gay, yet mocks efforts to make life better for LGBTQ people.

So what did Milo do to be shown the door so ungraciously? A video surfaced in which he suggested that, hey, just maybe pedophilia had gotten a bad rap.

To hear him tell it, he was just engaging in freedom of speech. And there’s a certain truth to that. He has the absolute right to say that. And everyone else has the absolute right to recoil in moral revulsion, which pretty much everyone else did. CPAC, the biggest GOP event short of the quadrennial Republican National Convention, revoked its speaking invitation. Simon & Schuster, which had offered Milo a book deal, rescinded it. And Breitbart, whose then-editor, Steve Bannon — yes, the same Nazi who now advises the president* –had hired Milo, fired him. (Which, by the way, means that Milo, who’s here on an O visa, no longer has a job and has to leave the country. I wonder how this has affected his views on immigration.)

In 1983, Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards supposedly quipped to reporters that the only he could lose an election would be to be caught with a dead girl or a live boy. To judge from what has happened to Milo, Edwards is right; a live boy is too much for U.S. conservatives. We still don’t know about the dead girl, and given everything else that the GOP and the intellectually bankrupt American conservative movement generally will sit still for, I’m afraid some girl, somewhere, actually is going to have to die before we find out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, February 19, 2017 5:50 pm

Friday Random 10, Porch-Weather Sunday/Global Warming Edition

Filed under: Friday Random 10 — Lex @ 5:50 pm

Burn – Dream Syndicate
Green Grow the Rushes – R.E.M.
Ego Maniac – Chris Mars
Back to Base – Fugazi
Even Heroes Have to Die – Ted Leo & the Pharmacists
New Kid in Town – Eagles
I Am a Cliche – X-ray Spex
Black – Pearl Jam
Jackson Cage (live in Chicago 1/16/2016) – Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
54 46 (That’s My Number) – Toots & the Maytals

lagniappe: Surfin’ Bird – Trashmen

Friday, February 17, 2017 6:25 pm

Friday Random 10, Feb. 17, 2017

Filed under: Friday Random 10 — Lex @ 6:25 pm
Tags:

My Shit’s Fucked Up – Warren Zevon
Paris (Ooh La La) – Grace Potter & the Nocturnals
Texarkana – R.E.M.
I Can’t Read – Tin Machine
Pulling Teeth – Green Day
No Expectations – Rolling Stones
Tryin’ Just to Please You – Lyres
Four Horsemen – Clash
Waitin’ on a Friend (live) – Pearl Jam
With or Without You – 2Cellos

lagniappe: Crooked Eyes – Black Telephone

Friday, February 10, 2017 8:48 pm

Friday Random 10, Feb. 10, 2017

Filed under: Friday Random 10,Uncategorized — Lex @ 8:48 pm

Louisiana Rain – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Tampa to Tulsa (live) – Jayhawks
El Clavo y la Cruz – The Plugz
Champagne and Riffer – Rolling Stones & Buddy Guy
Betterman – Pearl Jam
Promises – Fugazi
Johnny B. Goode – Jimi Hendrix
1,000 Years – The Gaslight Anthem
Down South Jukin’ – Lynyrd Skynyrd
Gloria – Them

lagniappe: Ain’t No Fun (Waiting ‘Round to be a Millionaire) – AC/DC

Friday, February 3, 2017 1:20 pm

Friday Random 10

Filed under: Friday Random 10 — Lex @ 1:20 pm

Stop, Stop, Stop — Hollies
Wild Horses — Rolling Stones
Evenflow — Pearl Jam
Underneath the Bunker — R.E.M.
Gloomy Monday Morning — Black Hollies
The Sweetest Thing — Camera Obscura
In Quintessence — Squeeze
Graduate — Third Eye Blind
Oh Caroline — Cheap Trick
Radio Radio — Elvis Costello

lagniappe — Temporary Beauty — Graham Parker

Wednesday, February 1, 2017 8:33 pm

Where are we going from here?

Former Bush speechwriter David “Axis of Evil” Frum, having lately had the scales fall from his eyes, has written an article about how America can transition, and likely already is transitioning, to authoritarianism under Trump, and what that might look like.

Donald Trump, however, represents something much more radical [than any previous president]. A president who plausibly owes his office at least in part to a clandestine intervention by a hostile foreign intelligence service? Who uses the bully pulpit to target individual critics? Who creates blind trusts that are not blind, invites his children to commingle private and public business, and somehow gets the unhappy members of his own political party either to endorse his choices or shrug them off? If this were happening in Honduras, we’d know what to call it. It’s happening here instead, and so we are baffled.

He arrives at his prediction via a speculative 2020 re-election win by Trump whose basis assumes facts not in evidence (e.g., growing real domestic wages), but that’s less important than his plausible scenario for what America becomes under Trump. Given Trump’s already-demonstrated penchant for using the power of the presidency to enrich himself and his family — and to hurt his enemies financially, as he did with a single tweet — Frum thinks Hungary’s ongoing slide into kleptocracy is a likely model for what we can expect:

The transition has been nonviolent, often not even very dramatic. Opponents of the regime are not murdered or imprisoned, although many are harassed with building inspections and tax audits. If they work for the government, or for a company susceptible to government pressure, they risk their jobs by speaking out. Nonetheless, they are free to emigrate anytime they like. Those with money can even take it with them. Day in and day out, the regime works more through inducements than through intimidation. The courts are packed, and forgiving of the regime’s allies. Friends of the government win state contracts at high prices and borrow on easy terms from the central bank. Those on the inside grow rich by favoritism; those on the outside suffer from the general deterioration of the economy. As one shrewd observer told me on a recent visit, “The benefit of controlling a modern state is less the power to persecute the innocent, more the power to protect the guilty.”

He provides more detail on what he expects:

It is essential to recognize that Trump will use his position not only to enrich himself; he will enrich plenty of other people too, both the powerful and—sometimes, for public consumption—the relatively powerless. Venezuela, a stable democracy from the late 1950s through the 1990s, was corrupted by a politics of personal favoritism, as Hugo Chávez used state resources to bestow gifts on supporters. …

Trump will try hard during his presidency to create an atmosphere of personal munificence, in which graft does not matter, because rules and institutions do not matter. He will want to associate economic benefit with personal favor. He will create personal constituencies, and implicate other people in his corruption. That, over time, is what truly subverts the institutions of democracy and the rule of law. If the public cannot be induced to care, the power of the investigators serving at Trump’s pleasure will be diminished all the more. …

A mistaken belief that crime is spiraling out of control—that terrorists roam at large in America and that police are regularly gunned down—represents a considerable political asset for Donald Trump. Seventy-eight percent of Trump voters believed that crime had worsened during the Obama years.

In true police states, surveillance and repression sustain the power of the authorities. But that’s not how power is gained and sustained in backsliding democracies. Polarization, not persecution, enables the modern illiberal regime.

By guile or by instinct, Trump understands this.

As it happens, I have been thinking along a separate but related line: What happens if Republican gerrymandering and vote suppression cannot be stopped? I think that’s a real possibility. Here’s why.

For starters, earlier today Trump demanded that Senate Republicans “go nuclear” if Democrats oppose his Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, meaning end the filibuster. Aside from the hypocrisy — the filibuster, which appears nowhere in the Constitution, was the Republicans’ main tool of opposition during the eight years of the Obama administration — that means that Republicans can put anyone they want on the Supreme Court. And given the ages of Justices Kennedy, Breyer and Ginsburg, he might be able to do that real soon. That means we can expect, fairly soon, a Supreme Court overwhelmingly against advancing voting rights and willing to tolerate vote-suppression measures many federal judges do not now find constitutional.

Because lower courts are bound by the Supreme Court’s decisions, that means we can expect judicial defeat of all efforts to expand and protect voting rights and likely all efforts to end gerrymandering for partisan political purposes. (It *might* remain possible to toss out gerrymandered districts based on rights, but I doubt it. Chief Justice John Roberts once clerked for then-Associate Justice William Rehnquist, whose antipathy to minority voting concerns dated back to his early political days in Arizona, and his work in the Justice Department during the Reagan years offers little encouragement.)

I think, then, that America will become a de facto one-party country. There will be no remaining checks and balances, because there will be no one in power in the White House, Congress or the Supreme Court who believes in them. As Frum describes above, business leaders will pledge fealty to, if not Trump himself, then at least the GOP, either out of hope for goodies or fear of retribution. Sure, some people will remain Democrats, and some Democrats will continue to get elected, almost exclusively to local office, but as a national party, and as statewide parties in most states, they’ll be done.

And once America becomes a one-party country, we’re screwed. If the Affordable Care Act hasn’t already been repealed, it will be, with all the deaths and other human suffering appertaining thereunto. Wage-and-hour regulations, meant in many cases to protect worker health and safety, will be destroyed. As for equal rights, the Republican Party already has demonstrated that it doesn’t believe in the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment, and several sitting justices already have ruled in ways that make clear that they are disregarding it, a trend that will only grow worse as Trump or a GOP successor appoints more justices.

An assault on individual rights will almost certainly commence, because that is what has happened everywhere else. Speaking publicly and critically about the government might not become a crime, but it likely will have serious effects on one’s career.

Our economy will become a kleptocracy. Wealth will no longer be created by ingenuity and entrepreneurship, but by getting a piece of Trump’s Big Grift.

And the pie will grow smaller, not least because the world’s best and brightest entrepreneurs, engineers, software developers, and other talent, put off by the U.S.’s xenophobic immigration policies, will choose to go elsewhere, so that wealth creation in the U.S. slows. Our store of intellectual capital will diminish as the world’s best and brightest students choose to study in other countries, while more and more of our own students will be unable to afford college because of declining real wages, rising costs, and cuts in federal aid.

And so we will enter a whirlpool of declining economic activity and personal freedom. It won’t be an apocalyptic hellscape, at least at first, but in many ways the U.S. will become what we once referred to with smug superiority as a Third World country.

Can any of this be stopped? Maybe. If the Democratic Party finally finds its spine, some of the worst might be avoided. But I have no confidence at all that 1) the Dems will find their spines, and 2) it’s not already too late.

I’d love to be wrong about this. I hope I am. But current facts certainly point in this direction, and hope is not a plan.

 

 

 

 

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