Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Wednesday, September 19, 2018 7:58 pm

“What do we owe her now?”

Filed under: Evil,Say a prayer — Lex @ 7:58 pm
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After I read this story, a deeply reported and insightful examination of a 2006 rape case that happened to a classmate of the writer, Washington Post columnist Elizabeth Bruenig, when they were in high school in Texas, I was warned by some online acquaintances not to share it (even though they admit the story is excellent) because the reporter, Elizabeth Bruenig, supposedly is extremely anti-abortion, believes misogyny is caused by demon possession, and thinks the patriarchy doesn’t exist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, September 16, 2018 4:53 pm

Anita Hill Redux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Friday, September 7, 2018 1:11 pm

Dead SCOTUS nominee walking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Monday, July 23, 2018 7:31 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Monday, June 18, 2018 10:15 pm

The crying of the lambs

First, listen to this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The American Psychological Association adds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 28, 2018 7:32 pm

Some stuff matters more than manners

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

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

Well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018 6:57 am

Thought for the day

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

Hasta la vista, Zuckerberg

My last Facebook post, from last night:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 24, 2018 9:12 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018 5:57 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m going to have that drink now.

 

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.

 

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, 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.

 

 

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 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 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.

 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017 8:07 am

A fledgling coup?, cont.

Looks like I went to bed too soon last night. I woke up a little while ago to learn that several staffers of the House Judiciary Committee worked with the White House on the wording of Trump’s executive order on immigration.

Now, the White House and Congress work together on legislation all the time, and much of that work is done by staffers. That much is totally normal. What’s not normal in this case is that 1) the staffers didn’t tell the committee chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., or their respective House bosses what they were doing, and 2) they signed a nondisclosure agreement about their work.

As Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo points out:

To be clear on one point, Goodlatte isn’t some moderate or softy. He’s an immigration hardliner. It’s unlikely he would have disagreed with at least the broad outlines of the executive order, though perhaps he might have disagreed with some of the particulars.

Still, as a result, Congress knew nothing about the order until the White House announced it on Friday, although work apparently began during the transition period after the November election. That’s not the kind of move that is likely to further a good working relationship between the White House and Congress, as Politico points out:

“Their coordination with the Hill was terrible,” said one senior GOP source on the Hill, who seemed flabbergasted that congressional Republicans didn’t receive talking points from the White House on the executive order until late Saturday night, about 24 hours after President Donald Trump signed it. “We didn’t see the final language until it was actually out.”

The fumbled roll-out serves as a cautionary tale to Trump officials who decide to go it alone in enacting controversial policies without help from Congress. Indeed, the lack of consultation has set off a wave of resentment on Capitol Hill. GOP insiders believe that the White House and Goodlatte staffers could have avoided the drama that unfolded over the weekend had they looped in relevant lawmakers on the front end.

The episode also has instilled a wariness among GOP aides about the White House.

“These executive orders were very rushed and drafted by a very tight-knit group of individuals who did not run it by the people who have to execute the policy. And because that’s the case, they probably didn’t think of or care about how this would be executed in the real world,” said another congressional source familiar with the situation. “No one was given a heads-up and no one had a chance to weigh in on it.”

When I read about this, I immediately wondered whether AG nominee Jeff Sessions, a bigot of long standing, had had something to do with it. Per Politico, I was right:

Insiders told POLITICO that the botched roll-out of the immigration executive order was coordinated for the most part by White House policy director Stephen Miller, a former Sessions staffer, and Trump senior strategist Stephen Bannon.

So why is this all a big deal? If you’ll recall, Congressional Republicans said during the presidential campaign that they would serve as a check on Trump’s worst ideas, just as the Constitution envisioned that Congress would do to the executive branch. But Trump and his staff now have demonstrated that they are willing to seek to bypass congressional oversight, just as they are defying federal court orders. And like all bullies, they’ll keep going until they get smacked.

We’re about to find just how constitutionally oriented the Republican Party is. Given the GOP’s voting record over the past 20+ years, I don’t think we’re going to like what we find.

 

 

 

Monday, January 30, 2017 6:48 pm

A fledgling coup?

Scary, and illegal, as Donald Trump’s executive order limiting immigration was, it was still a conventional policy initiative.

But there was nothing conventional — or legal, or constitutional — about what happened after a federal judge, Ann Donnelly in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, issued a ruling on the order. (A federal judge in Alexandria, Leonie Brinkema, later issued a similar ruling in a similar action on behalf of some people who were detained upon arrival at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C. Brinkema’s order went further than Donnelly’s, mandating that those people at Dulles be allowed to talk with lawyers.)

Customs and Border Patrol agents kept stopping and preventing people covered by the executive order from entering the United States, detaining them in direct violation of the judges’ orders. CBP agents at Dulles, informed by representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union that the detainees were entitled to legal counsel, responded, “That’s not happening.”

That means one of two things: Either the judges will hold a federal official, likely someone with CBP, in contempt, or the rule of law is dead in this country. And I’m not sure even a contempt citation with actual jail time would convince the Trumpites not to do what they’re doing.

As Yonatan Zunger writes at Medium:

That is to say, the administration is testing the extent to which the [Department of Homeland Security] (and other executive agencies) can act and ignore orders from the other branches of government. This is as serious as it can possibly get: all of the arguments about whether order X or Y is unconstitutional mean nothing if elements of the government are executing them and the courts are being ignored.

Zunger asks whether this is the beginnings of a coup. When executive-branch officials directly disobey a federal judge’s orders, I think the answer is probably yes.

The judges’ rulings empower the U.S. Marshal’s Service to enforce those rulings. Were I Judge Donnelly or Judge Brinkema, I’d have whoever was overseeing the CBP at JFK Airport and Dulles, respectively, in jail, and possibly higher-ups as well.

And even if the judges did that, I don’t know whether it would be enough. I honestly do not believe the Trumpites are going to stop until they are forced to. And it is clear that the Republican Party in Congress, supposedly a check on executive power, does not have the will to force them to.

And if that didn’t bug you, consider this: Steve Bannon, the unreconstructed Nazi who is now Trump’s top advisor, has been given a seat on the National Security Council — and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation’s top military officer, has been booted out of the group.

My friend David Gwynn said this on Facebook:

Steve Bannon is basically your crazy alcoholic uncle who lives in a broken down trailer on the outskirts of Merced. And he tells the President what to do. This should frighten just about everyone.

This is true, but it’s even more appalling, as one member of the Facebook group Indivisible Concord posted:

Bannon has no government, intelligence, or high-level military experience; his experience is leading a propaganda outlet (Breitbart News) that peddles nationalist and white nationalist viewpoints.

This would be deeply concerning in and of itself. But one of the jobs of the NSC is to oversee a secret panel that authorizes the assassination of “enemies of the United States Government” – including American citizens. These targeted killings are fully authorized by law under the Congressional military authorization act following 9/11. There is no trial, no due process, and no public record of the decision or the assassination itself.

Just to recap the absurdity: the President of the United States has appointed a known propagandist, nationalist, and white supremacist to replace the highest military advisor in the country on a council that authorizes secret, legal, targeted killings of American citizens (and others) without due process.

And if you’re thinking, “Oh, they’d never do that to a U.S. citizen,” well, they already did, when President Obama ordered the extrajudicial assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki. I said at the time that Obama should have been impeached for it.

So, you folks who like to say, “If I’d been there back then, I’d’ve …,” here we are. It’s time to do whatever you would have done.

UPDATE, 8:06 p.m. 1/30: A federal judge in Los Angeles, apparently annoyed that ICE deported a man in violation of HIS order, has ordered ICE to go bring him back, per the L.A. Times. That’s good, but holding some people in contempt, too, would’ve been better.

UPDATE, 9:35 p.m. 1/30: Earlier today, Sally Yates, the acting attorney general, announced that the Justice Department would not defend Trump’s executive order on immigration in court. A few minutes ago, Trump fired her. He said in his statement that she had “betrayed the Department of Justice.” This is, of course, bullshit of the purest ray serene. She swore an oath to uphold the Constitution — not the Justice Department or any president or administration — and that’s what she did.

Trump and Bannon are basically claiming that they are the Constitution. This is officially the biggest constitutional crisis since Iran-contra, if not the 1973 Saturday Night Massacre.

UPDATE, 8 a.m. 1/31: Steve Benen at MSNBC reminds us of some fairly recent history. Scene: Sally Yates’s confirmation hearing in March 2015 after being nominated to the post of deputy attorney general:

At the time, none other than Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), now Trump’s nominee to be attorney general, reminded Yates that she’ll have to be prepared to stand up to the White House should a president urge her to do something she considers unlawful. From the transcript:

SESSIONS: Well. you have to watch out, because people will be asking you to do things you just need to say ‘no’ about. Do you think the attorney general has a responsibility to say no to the president if he asks for something that’s improper? [„,] If the views the president wants to execute are unlawful, should the attorney general or the deputy attorney general say no?

YATES: Senator, I believe the attorney general or the deputy attorney general has an obligation to follow the law and the Constitution, and to give their independent legal advice to the president.

Two years later, Yates did as she promised. For her trouble, Donald Trump fired her and accused her of “betraying” the Justice Department.

History will remember only one of them kindly.

Monday, January 9, 2017 10:26 pm

Acculturation

Earlier today on Twitter, I stumbled across an interesting rant, which starts here. You can read it for yourself, and I encourage you to do so. But basically it’s an attack on the notion that Donald Trump won the Electoral College because liberal coastal elites didn’t thoroughly understand and sympathize with the concerns of the white working class.

The writer, who claims to have grown up poor and white in Texas, makes a number of good points:

  • Conservatives don’t really care about people like him.
  • People like him “are not worth romanticizing.” (Honestly, who among us is?)
  • Impoverished white Americans “are used as a political cudgel by rich Republicans against blacks, against women, against Muslims, against Jews and LGBTQ folks … “
  • Those Republicans “have gotten a shit ton of mileage from impoverished and blue-collar white folks by claiming the people in power live in some ‘bubble’ in Washington and are out of touch with ‘real Americans.'”

It goes on. And it’s really worthwhile, a big slice of both self-aware and more broadly aware understanding of just how America came to be under the control of a sociopath, someone with narcissistic personality disorder and a symptomatic Alzheimer’s patient who surrounds himself with Nazis and is empowered and protected by the most corrupt Congress in the nation’s history.

Well, enter a guy on Twitter who objects to it because of the language.

This individual’s bio describes him as a “philologist and dog trainer,” which is sweet. This individual has four followers, which is unsurprising inasmuch as this individual’s account was created on Dec. 31.

Now, I think I know who this individual is. I think he’s somebody local, somebody who has blogged for years about an obscure but (to me) interesting local subject. I’ve not met him in real life, but I know where he works and I’ve interacted with him on his blog, and he on mine. I could be wrong about this, which is why I’m not naming him. But I’m about 99% certain.

He characterized this rant as “hysterical” and added, “Well, repeated use of derivatives of ‘f***’ and ‘moron’ give the rant a certain cheap discourse continuity.” He also called the rant “just a vomit of self-aggrandizing outrage.”

Well.

This individual has been on Twitter for nine days. I’ve been on it for nine years. So here’s an observation he might find useful: If Facebook is more or less an online family restaurant, Twitter is a dive bar, complete with frequent spilled drinks, vomiting, and the occasional knife fight. Don’t like it? Don’t go in.

Oh, and you’re a philologist? Well. I’m impressed. Perhaps, being a philologist, you have some familiarity with the language of the ancient Greek comedists. If so, then you know for a fact that 1) clean language wasn’t at the top of their list of concerns, and 2) humor flows, and satire races, uphill only.

And if you find language objectionable, count your blessings. Because apparently you’ve been able to live for decades a life free from the kind of desperation that makes the author of that thread use language you find so offensive. Because a lot of people use that kind of language out of desperation because they are so utterly lacking in resources, options, opportunities and luck that they can’t do anything else.

Also, pro tip: When the country is being taken over by someone who was not legitimately elected president, someone who has narcissistic personality disorder and early-stage Alzheimer’s AND is an agent of a hostile foreign power (update 1/10/17: additional evidence has surfaced that the Russians are blackmailing him), someone who surrounds himself with Nazis, someone who gives every indication of intending to use the office of the presidency to grift and who is empowering his blood and marriage relatives to do the same with all the power of the United States executive branch behind them, someone whose actions to date, from firing the supervisors of the country’s nuclear-weapons program to nominating a Cabinet full of inept and/or corrupt scumbags, someone who clearly poses a threat to the future of freedom and democracy in this country, well, your concern with how often someone says “fuck” is just a tad precious.

More to the point, son: Not despite but because of your education, you’re going to be one of the first people they come after. And all your learning, all your pretentiousness, all your decades of voting Republican, and all your concerns about objectionable diction aren’t going to save you when they do.

So if you want to live, you’d better wake up.

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017 8:03 pm

When the watchers are doing the pillaging

The Associated Press, noted for its balance and sobriety, seldom uses the word “eviscerate” in the lede of any story not datelined from a butcher shop. So when it announced that, in the dark of night on a national holiday, House Republicans had voted Monday to “eviscerate” the Office of Congressional Ethics, I sat up and paid attention.

The vote, in a closed-door meeting the night before the new Congress was sworn in, was to severely weaken that office, ending its independent status and placing it under the partisan (and therefore Republican-controlled) House Ethics Committee. The measure, authored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the Virginia Republican who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, was part of a larger package of House rules covering the 2017-2018 legislative session that was to be voted on today. (There is no corresponding Senate office. You might wonder why that is.)

Not the least of the reasons for paying attention was that the whole reason the office was made independent in the first place, by House Democrats in 2008, was in response to the congressional lobbying scandals created by Jack Abramoff, who went to prison on corruption charges. The Abramoff case demonstrated that the House Ethics Committee was either unable or unwilling to police the House. Last night’s vote was so bad that Abramoff himself strongly criticized the measure today. (I believe it was one of Charlie Pierce’s commenters who said that if Jack Abramoff says you’re corrupt, you should strongly consider the possibility that you are corrupt.)

In addition to stripping the office of its independence, the measure also would have prevented staff from making public statements independent of the Ethics Committee and would have prevented it from investigating anonymous tips. It even would have prevented the office from reporting crimes, even crimes against children, which is not just a hypothetical:

Last year, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison for fraud charges linked to allegations that he sexually abused boys while he was a high school wrestling coach more than 30 years ago.

During Hastert’s tenure as Speaker, congressional Republicans turned a blind eye to Florida Republican Rep. Mark Foley’s inappropriate relationship with an underage male page. Foley resigned after text messages he sent to the page were leaked to the press.

A number of media outlets reported that this package passed over the objections of senior GOP leadership, including Speaker Paul Ryan. That’s bullshit of the purest ray serene, as well known Marxist political analyst Norm Ornstein of the radical-hippie American Enterprise Institute points out:

Rules packages get up or down votes, and are top priority for the majority leadership. They are not rejected by the majority party. The package is put together by the leadership; nothing gets included or excluded without the say-so of the speaker.

My local daily, which is also my former employer, didn’t post a story until 10:26 this morning. But a good number of news outlets did last night, and the issue went viral. Both independently and at the urging of Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo, citizens nationwide bombarded their GOP representatives’ offices with calls and emails demanding to know how their reps had voted, and why. Many also insisted that the measure be reversed. (It should be noted here that Talking Points Memo’s similar response to an initially secret GOP plan to privatize Social Security in 2005 smoked that plan out, and ultimately strangled it in its cradle, in much the same way.)

Earlier today, the measure was stripped from the House rules package in response to public pressure, although there’s nothing that would keep Republicans from sneaking or ramming it through at any future point. President-elect Donald Trump issued a statement objecting to the timing of the measure but not the substance. Naturally, he later took credit for its reversal.

Worse, The New York Times and some other media outlets also wrongly credited Trump for bringing about the change, with CNN saying Trump had “dramatically strong-armed” the change.

So what have we learned from all this?

First, and once again for those who aren’t paying attention, we as a nation are screwed because the people in charge of the executive and legislative branches of government for at least the next two years simply cannot be trusted. They cannot be trusted to make policy in the public interest. They cannot be trusted to police themselves. And they cannot be trusted to attack public corruption on the part of others. That’s just not what they do. That’s just not who they are. And you should not believe anyone who tells you differently.

Second, and worse, it is clear that the agenda of both executive and legislative Republicans right now is plunder, pure and simple. Trump and his family show no intention of doing anything but using the presidency to fill the family coffers to bursting. The Congressional Republicans appear inclined let them do that so long as, in return, he allows them to plunder public resources and what remains of the wealth of the middle and working classes, by gutting Social Security, Medicare, and the Affordable Care Act and selling off public assets for cheap to cronies, all of which will result in huge upward transfers and concentration of wealth.

As Ornstein wrote:

Given Ryan’s solidarity with President-elect Trump on Russian hacking—preceded by his deep-sixing any bipartisan statement during the campaign warning against foreign attempts to influence our elections—along with Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz’s indifference to any investigation of conflicts of interest or ethical problems with the president-elect and his cronies, this is chilling evidence that we are headed for a new age of official embrace or at least acceptance of unethical and illegal behavior. The core of America’s political system depends on real checks and balances, on a Congress that puts country ahead of party. The House leadership showed this week that party comes first.

Third, and unsurprisingly, Trump shows no compunction whatever about telling whatever lies he thinks he needs to tell to inflate his public image and feed his own ego, no matter how demonstrably untrue they are. This isn’t news.

Fourth, and more dismayingly also not news, is that even major-league mainstream news outlets like CNN and The New York Times appear uninterested in fighting Trump’s lies. As I said before, the media will not help us. We’re going to have to fix this ourselves.

Which brings us to Point 5: Encouragingly, we have seen evidence once again that if Middle America pitches a bitch at Congress, Congress — even this Congress, saturated in its own pustulence — will, at least temporarily, take a hint. Screaming at the top of your lungs all the time gets tiresome, and it’s hard on a body. But when the evidence shows that it works at least some of the time and other available tools appear to lie thin on the ground, maybe that’s just what we have to do.

 

 

Lindy West, Gamergate, and the alt-right Nazis

Feminist writer and educator Lindy West quit Twitter today because Nazis:

Twitter, for the past five years, has been a machine where I put in unpaid work and tension headaches come out. I write jokes there for free. I post political commentary for free. I answer questions for free. I teach feminism 101 for free. Off Twitter, these are all things by which I make my living – in fact, they comprise the totality of my income. But on Twitter, I do them pro bono and, in return, I am micromanaged in real time by strangers; neo-Nazis mine my personal life for vulnerabilities to exploit; and men enjoy unfettered, direct access to my brain so they can inform me, for the thousandth time, that they would gladly rape me if I weren’t so fat.

 

That wasn’t why she quit though, or wasn’t what prompted her to pull the trigger. No, that was something rather more than personal:

I hate to disappoint anyone, but the breaking point for me wasn’t the trolls themselves (if I have learned anything from the dark side of Twitter, it is how to feel nothing when a frog calls you a cunt) – it was the global repercussions of Twitter’s refusal to stop them. The white supremacist, anti-feminist, isolationist, transphobic “alt-right” movement has been beta-testing its propaganda and intimidation machine on marginalised Twitter communities for years now – how much hate speech will bystanders ignore? When will Twitter intervene and start protecting its users? – and discovered, to its leering delight, that the limit did not exist. No one cared. Twitter abuse was a grand-scale normalisation project, disseminating libel and disinformation, muddying long-held cultural givens such as “racism is bad” and “sexual assault is bad” and “lying is bad” and “authoritarianism is bad”, and ultimately greasing the wheels for Donald Trump’s ascendance to the US presidency. Twitter executives did nothing.

On 29 December, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted: “What’s the most important thing you want to see Twitter improve or create in 2017?” One user responded: “Comprehensive plan for getting rid of the Nazis.”

“We’ve been working on our policies and controls,” Dorsey replied. “What’s the next most critical thing?” Oh, what’s our second-highest priority after Nazis? I’d say No 2 is also Nazis. And No 3. In fact, you can just go ahead and slide “Nazis” into the top 100 spots. Get back to me when your website isn’t a roiling rat-king of Nazis. Nazis are bad, you see?

Well, yes, Nazis* are bad, and Twitter isn’t the only medium or social medium wrestling with what, exactly, to do about that. Still, Twitter has been almost unique in its ratio of encouraging talk to gross inaction. And I suspect that, as with most problems, it probably comes down to money.

What I mean by that is this. I’ve been online in various ways for going on 30 years, and in all that time I have yet to see an online community that wasn’t ruined by, for lack of a better term, trolls in the absence of moderators. (For the first decade or so of my life online, I wasn’t convinced moderators were necessary; not for the first time, I admit I was wrong.) But moderating takes time, and time takes money, and over its life as a public company (i.e., since late 2013), Twitter has, per generally accepted accounting principles, never made money. Since its 2006 founding, it has burned through more than $2 billion. And its user growth has slowed to the point at which near- to medium-term profits look unlikely.

More to the point, though, CEO Jack Dorsey has never said anything publicly that suggests to me that he truly understands that he has a problem. But he does. As Leigh Alexander (no relation) wrote in the context of Gamergate, “When you decline to create or to curate a culture in your spaces, you’re responsible for what spawns in the vacuum.”

Dorsey, his executives and his board absolutely have a moral obligation to users of their service not to let that service become a sinkhole of Nazi shit. And for a lot of people who don’t look like me — a cishet middle-aged, white, until-recently-Republican male — it already is.

Moreover, I would argue that they have an obligation to their shareholders not to let the service become a sinkhole of Nazi shit, because while that might give you a profitable quarter or two, it spells doom for the business’s long-term financial interests and those of its shareholders.

And, finally, I would argue that they have an obligation to the public in general, in the U.S. and abroad, not to allow their service to become a sinkhole of Nazi shit because Nazi shit is gaining popularity and causing problems around the world. It is competing with Vlad Putin right now as the No. 1 danger to small-l liberal democracy worldwide. And it should be denied any foothold it attempts to seek. Twitter isn’t just a medium anymore; it’s also an organizing and fundraising tool. Dorsey et al. need to deny its benefits to Nazis and their backers.

And it’s especially important to do so here in the U.S., where an illegitimate president-elect is backed by Nazis. As an article a month ago in the Guardian by Matt Lees explains, what happened in Gamergate absolutely predicted what has happened in the past year, and is happening now, with Donald Trump:

The similarities between Gamergate and the far-right online movement, the “alt-right”, are huge, startling and in no way a coincidence. After all, the culture war that began in games now has a senior representative in The White House. As a founder member and former executive chair of Brietbart News, Steve Bannon had a hand in creating media monster Milo Yiannopoulos, who built his fame and Twitter following by supporting and cheerleading Gamergate. This hashtag was the canary in the coalmine, and we ignored it. …

n 2014, the media’s reaction was often weak or overtly conciliatory – some sites went out of their way to “see both sides”, to reassure people that openly choosing to be affiliated with a hate group did not make them in any way responsible for that hate. Olive branches were extended, but professional lives continued to be ruined while lukewarm op-eds asked for us to come together so we could start “healing”. The motivations may have been sound, but it’s the language Trump and his supporters have used post-election to obliterate dissenting voices.

In 2016, new wave conservative media outlets like Breitbart have gained trust with their audience by painting traditional news sources as snooty and aloof. In 2014, video game YouTube stars, seeking to appear in touch with online gaming communities, unscrupulously proclaimed that traditional old-media sources were corrupt.

Everything we’re seeing now, had its precedent two years ago. …

Looking back, Gamergate really only made sense in one way: as an exemplar of what Umberto Eco called “eternal fascism”, a form of extremism he believed could flourish at any point in, in any place – a fascism that would extol traditional values, rally against diversity and cultural critics, believe in the value of action above thought and encourage a distrust of intellectuals or experts – a fascism built on frustration and machismo. The requirement of this formless fascism would – above all else – be to remain in an endless state of conflict, a fight against a foe who must always be portrayed as impossibly strong and laughably weak. This was the methodology of Gamergate, and it now forms the basis of the contemporary far-right movement.

We have no idea where this will lead, but our continued insistence on shrugging off the problems of the internet as “not real” – as something we can just log out of – is increasingly misled. 2016 has presented us with a world in which our reality is being wilfully manipulated. Fake news, divisive algorithms, misleading social media campaigns. The majority of people who voted for Trump will never take responsibility for his racist, totalitarian policies, but they’ll provide useful cover and legitimacy for those who demand the very worst from the President Elect. Trump himself may have disavowed the “alt-right”, but his rhetoric has led to them feeling legitimised. As with Gamergate, the press risks being manipulated into a position where it has to tread a respectful middle ground that doesn’t really exist.

Prominent critics of the Trump administration need to learn from Gamergate. They need to be preparedforabuse, for falsified concerns, invented grassroots campaigns designed specifically to break, belittle, or disgrace. Words and concepts will be twisted, repackaged and shared across forums, stripping them of meaning. Gamergate painted critics as censors, the far-right movement claims critics are the real racists.

Perhaps the true lesson of Gamergate was that the media is culturally unequipped to deal with the forces actively driving these online movements. The situation was horrifying enough two years ago, it is many times more dangerous now.

Obviously, Jack Dorsey and Twitter aren’t responsible for all of this. But within his own lane, Dorsey and the organization he leads have an obligation to the service’s users and their fellow Americans to run a service that, if it doesn’t facilitate the best that America on the Internet can be, at least doesn’t allow the worst to prey on everyone else.

 

*In this post, and on this blog generally, I do not use the term “alt-right.” That’s Orwellian nonsense. These people are Nazis, just as their dads were when I was covering the Klan and other right-wing white-nationalist groups back in the ’80s. They’re not even “neo-Nazis”; there’s nothing neo- about them.

Monday, January 2, 2017 1:15 pm

Mean(s) testing

Sadly, this is “normal,” but it is not OK:

Food stamp recipients in North Carolina soon will lose benefits unless they prove they’re working, volunteering or taking classes for at least 20 hours a week.

That federal requirement – which applies to adults under 50 who don’t have children – was suspended in 2008 as the recession hit and unemployment rates rose. But the exemption ended Jan. 1 for 23 mostly urban counties across the state, including Wake, Durham and Mecklenburg.

While the 77 other counties are seeing a slower economic recovery and could continue the federal exemption, the state legislature acted last year to restore the work and education requirement statewide starting July 1.

The change affects 115,000 North Carolinians who will have to document work, volunteer or education activities or lose their food stamp benefits. Recipients can still get up to three months of benefits without meeting the requirement. …

What is the purpose of imposing, or reimposing, such a requirement?

Sen. Norman Sanderson, a Republican from Pamlico County, said the change would push unemployed people on food stamps to look for work. “I think you’re going to see a lot of them go and get that 20-hour-a-week job, or they’re going to enroll in some sort of higher education to improve their job skills,” he said before the September vote.

The legislature also voted separately to increase requirements for unemployment benefits. As of Jan. 3, unemployed people filing new claims must make five “contacts” with prospective employers or they won’t receive an unemployment check. The job inquiries can be made online or in person.

“Short of telling them, ‘You can sleep all week,’ how much more reasonable can it get?” said Rep. Michael Speciale, a New Bern Republican, in August when that bill passed the House.

Ah, I see. We want to make sure that people who are on food stamps and/or unemployment are not just sitting around, not trying to do anything to improve their situation. Well, that’s certainly a very important message to convey, so I guess the legislature also provided ways and means to make sure that the people who need to receive this message do so, right? Not so much, it turns out:

Nancy Coston, director of Orange County Social Services, said her staff has to speak with 700 people who are affected there.

They have to determine “who’s working, who’s in school, and we can’t tell that without interviewing them all,” she said. “Many of them probably are not aware of this because the waiver has been in effect for a while.”

Well, at least the legislature made the measure a prominent issue when it enacted it, right?

The July 1 change for 77 counties was tucked into an unrelated immigration bill that passed the legislature in September. The changes for food stamp recipients were overshadowed by the outcry from immigration groups concerned about a ban on “sanctuary cities,” where local governments choose not to enforce federal immigration laws.

[Rick] Glazier [leader of the liberal advocacy group N.C. Justice Center] said sponsors of the bill probably knew the immigration provisions would distract attention from the food stamp changes.

“Those who ran it very much calculated where it was being put,” he said.

I see.

But, certainly, the legislature wouldn’t impose harsh or impractical requirements on some of our society’s most vulnerable citizens, right? They wouldn’t unduly burden the people Jesus calls “the least of these,” would they?

“It’s part and parcel of a ripping away of the safety net,” said Rick Glazier … . “The legislature is going to have to revisit these decisions.”

While state leaders can’t change the requirements for the 23 counties that no longer qualify for a federal exemption, Glazier said it’s irresponsible to apply the same standards to the 77 counties that aren’t recovering as well.

“There’s no data that those 77 counties’ economic conditions are likely to change,” he said.

Alexandra Sirota, director of the Justice Center’s Budget and Tax Center, said some people will struggle to meet the requirements because they don’t have transportation or might not have volunteer opportunities available in their communities.

Oh, c’mon. How tough could this be? After all, all 100 N.C. counties have excellent public transit, don’t they?

Nonprofits, [Sirota] said, “very rarely get a 20-hour-a-week slot for anybody.” And workforce training programs fill quickly.

“If they’re in a rural place, it’s hard for them to drive to the community college,” she said.

People who lose food stamp benefits probably will turn to food banks, which expect more demand for emergency food supplies because of the change.

Jennifer Caslin, a spokeswoman for the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, said the nonprofit already serves food stamp recipients who need additional help.

“Our system has been stretched for a while, and this is going to stretch it even more,” she said.

The kindest thing that can be said about this proposal is that it betrays a stunning ignorance of what it’s like to be poor and unemployed in North Carolina. But even granting that possibility ignores some pretty damning context. After all, Bill Clinton’s welfare reform is now 20 years old. There is, and has been for some time, a ton of information available to policy makers on how well different policies work. Put less charitably, there’s no excuse for ignorance.

And after all, if the real goal were to ensure that public dollars are being spent wisely, wouldn’t some similar sorts of means testing be applied to other public benefits, particularly those on which much more public money are spent?
Wouldn’t government contractors be banned from making political contributions, so as to ensure that the taxpayers enjoy a true arms-length relationship with their vendors?
Wouldn’t corporations granted charters by the states be required to operate at least minimally in the public interest — and at the very least be barred from acting against the public interest by, say, bribing politicians or polluting — as they were when corporate charters first became a thing?
If we’re going to drug-test welfare recipients, shouldn’t we also drug-test the lawmakers who require it?
I’d be all in favor of steps like those.
But the real goal isn’t to ensure that public dollars are being spent wisely, just as lawmakers’ ignorance of poverty isn’t what led to this measure. No, the real issue simply is that conservatives like to punish poor people for being poor. They have a sociopathic need to punch down. They do it, as we say here in the South, out of pure meanness. They have neither empathy nor shame. They need to be called out on it, and they need to be punished at the ballot box for it.

 

 

Friday, December 23, 2016 1:13 pm

Think North Carolina doesn’t feel like a democracy? There’s a reason for that.

The political dystopia of my home state has made international news, primarily because of the autocratic behavior of the Republican-controlled legislature. Deeply and safely gerrymandered, our senators and representatives are free to disregard the public will almost completely and act not just in their own interests but also in direct opposition to the public interest. And if that weren’t enough fun for your Friday, thanks to the theft of the presidency by Donald Trump and the vote-suppressing GOP, we’re about to enjoy the same experience on the national level.

That is what makes this piece in the Raleigh paper today so eye-opening and important:

In 2005, in the midst of a career of traveling around the world to help set up elections in some of the most challenging places on earth – Afghanistan, Burma, Egypt, Lebanon, South Africa, Sudan and Yemen, among others – my Danish colleague, Jorgen Elklit, and I designed the first comprehensive method for evaluating the quality of elections around the world. Our system measured 50 moving parts of an election process and covered everything from the legal framework to the polling day and counting of ballots.

In 2012 Elklit and I worked with Pippa Norris of Harvard University, who used the system as the cornerstone of the Electoral Integrity Project. Since then the EIP has measured 213 elections in 153 countries and is widely agreed to be the most accurate method for evaluating how free and fair and democratic elections are across time and place.

When we evolved the project I could never imagine that as we enter 2017, my state, North Carolina, would perform so badly on this, and other, measures that we are no longer considered to be a fully functioning democracy.

In the just released EIP report, North Carolina’s overall electoral integrity score of 58/100 for the 2016 election places us alongside authoritarian states and pseudo-democracies like Cuba, Indonesia and Sierra Leone. If it were a nation state, North Carolina would rank right in the middle of the global league table – a deeply flawed, partly free democracy that is only slightly ahead of the failed democracies that constitute much of the developing world.

Indeed, North Carolina does so poorly on the measures of legal framework and voter registration, that on those indicators we rank alongside Iran and Venezuela. When it comes to the integrity of the voting district boundaries no country has ever received as low a score as the 7/100 North Carolina received. North Carolina is not only the worst state in the USA for unfair districting but the worst entity in the world ever analyzed by the Electoral Integrity Project. (emphasis added)

That North Carolina can no longer call its elections democratic is shocking enough, but our democratic decline goes beyond what happens at election time. The most respected measures of democracy — Freedom House, POLITY and the Varieties of Democracy project — all assess the degree to which the exercise of power depends on the will of the people: That is, governance is not arbitrary, it follows established rules and is based on popular legitimacy.

The extent to which North Carolina now breaches these principles means our state government can no longer be classified as a full democracy.

Yeah, you read that right. Now, it’s one thing for me to say that the U.S. is a fascist country, even if I’m right about that. But here, some of the world’s leading experts on democracy — people who have worked in and studied democratic government, and its lack, in countries around the world, people who have objective standards for determining whether or not a government is democratic — say North Carolina isn’t a democracy.

(And all y’all morons who are about to jump in, screaming, “But we’re NOT a democracy, we’re a REPUBLIC!” need to sit down and shut the fuck up.)

Definition of democracy

plural

democracies

  1. 1 a :  government by the people; especially :  rule of the majority b :  a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections

Put another way, if North Carolina were a foreign country and the U.S. weren’t being taken over by autocrats at the moment, America might well be pondering ways to bring about regime change here.

This isn’t just differences on policy, however substantive those differences might be. This is a clinical diagnosis by some of the most knowledgeable people on the planet that our state government is deeply, systemically broken. Here is just some of the evidence:

First, legislative power does not depend on the votes of the people. One party wins just half the votes but 100 percent of the power. The GOP has a huge legislative majority giving it absolute veto-proof control with that tiny advantage in the popular vote. The other party wins just a handful of votes less and 0 percent of the legislative power. This is above and beyond the way in which state legislators are detached from democratic accountability as a result of the rigged district boundaries. They are beholden to their party bosses, not the voters. Seventy-six of the 170 (45 percent) incumbent state legislators were not even opposed by the other party in the general election.

Second, democracies do not limit their citizens’ rights on the basis of their born identities. However, this is exactly what the North Carolina legislature did through House Bill 2 (there are an estimated 38,000 transgender Tar Heels), targeted attempts to reduce African-American and Latino access to the vote and pernicious laws to constrain the ability of women to act as autonomous citizens.

Third, government in North Carolina has become arbitrary and detached from popular will. When, in response to losing the governorship, one party uses its legislative dominance to take away significant executive power, it is a direct attack upon the separation of powers that defines American democracy. When a wounded legislative leadership,  and a lame-duck executive, force through draconian changes with no time for robust review and debate it leaves Carolina no better than the authoritarian regimes we look down upon.

What do we do about it? The author has some suggestions, but at least some are problematic:

The first step to recovery is self-awareness. We need to put aside the complacent hyperbole and accept that in North Carolina we no longer live in a functioning democracy worth its name. We have become one of those struggling developing world states that needs to claw its way slowly toward democratic integrity.

Practically we need to address the institutional failures which have cost us our democratic ranking – districting, equal access to the vote and the abuse of legislative power. An independent commission is the sine-qua-non of democratic districting (no democracy in the world outside of the U.S. allows the elected politicians to draw the lines). Voter registration and poll access should make voting as easy as possible and never be skewed in favor of any one section of society. Last, elected officials need to respect the core principles of democracy – respect the will of the voters, all the voters and play the game with integrity.

Those are nice thoughts. Unfortunately, they presume good will on the part of our current leaders, who have demonstrated amply that they have none. To the extent that those leaders are aware that we “have become one of those struggling developing world states,” they see that as a feature, not a bug. Despite absolute power, they have not lifted a finger to implement independent redistricting; indeed, they have defended their unconstitutional and deeply dishonest gerrymandering in court at enormous expense to all the state’s taxpayers. They have cut back on access to the franchise and intend to do more despite judicial rebuke. And the behavior and public comments of outgoing Gov. Pat McCrory, Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, have not demonstrated respect for the will of voters or integrity, but only contempt and corruption.

Three-quarters of a century ago, when countries fell under the sway of governments like ours, America spent blood and treasure to liberate them. Now, America will be spending treasure — and, I predict, blood — to become more like them.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016 1:55 pm

“When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”

Former President Richard Nixon made the argument above in an interview with David Frost. He tried to elaborate by saying that a president has to balance concerns of national security with the law, but honestly, all he did was repeat himself.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has gone even further, using the specious claim that we’ve never had a president like Donald Trump before to argue that Trump should simply pardon advisers (including his kids) who do wrong and, further, that Congress should change conflict-of-interest laws to benefit him:

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich suggested that Donald Trump could pardon members of his administration who break the law.

Referring to a law that could prevent Trump from hiring his daughter and son-in-law to serve in his administration, Gingrich said on “The Diane Rehm Show” Monday morning: “In the case of the president, he has a broad ability to organize the White House the way he wants to. He also has, frankly, the power of the pardon.”

“It is a totally open power, and he could simply say, ‘Look, I want them to be my advisers. I pardon them if anyone finds them to have behaved against the rules. Period.’ Technically, under the Constitution, he has that level of authority,” he said, according to Politico.

Gingrich also suggested that Congress change ethics laws so Trump can avoid any conflicts of interest that his global business empire may pose.

“We’ve never seen this kind of wealth in the White House, and so traditional rules don’t work,” he said.

What’s the technical term for this? Oh, yeah, horseshit.

“We’ve never seen this kind of wealth in the White House”?? Objection, Your Honor; assumes facts not in evidence.

For starters, we don’t know that Trump is all that wealthy. Indeed, as Josh Marshall has said, there are some very good reasons to think he’s not a billionaire at all.

Moreover, even if he is as wealthy as he says, there is no obviously good reason to change ethics laws on his behalf, and plenty of good reasons — indeed, reasons in the national interest, such as keeping the President of the United States free from any potential pressure from foreign debt holders — not to change them.

Moreover, changing an ethics statute wouldn’t change the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which basically forbids the president from receiving anything of value (or certain things of intangible value, such as appointments to the nobility) from foreign countries. The Framers had very good reason for inserting that provision; they had seen how nobles in Europe sometimes enriched themselves in endeavors and arrangements of questionable, or less, benefit to their own countries. They wanted the president to be both able and obliged to act in the national interest, not his own.

Gingrich, having been a history professor (as he loudly and frequently reminds us), knows all this, and yet he doesn’t even pretend to offer any kind of factual or logical basis for his notion that because Trump is supposedly so rich, he should get a pass on ethics requirements that were imposed post-Watergate for very good reasons.

That’s bad enough. What’s markedly worse is his insistence that Trump should simply allow his advisers, including his children, to do as they like and then pardon them if they run afoul of ethics laws. That, folks, is how we transition from a republic under the rule of law to a dictatorship, because history is (ahem) replete with examples of folks who got get-out-of-jail-free cards and then went on to live selfless lives of duty and sacrifice for the greater good.

Gingrich’s notion is, quite simply, appalling to anyone who believes in the rule of law. Moreover, it clearly sets Gingrich apart as someone who does not, which is pretty fucking funny coming from the guy who impeached Bill Clinton. Gingrich’s new role in the Trump administration appears to be as a cheerleader for kleptocracy. The guy who used to brag about his patriotism has become the cheerleader for its destruction and the destruction of the rule of law in this country.

Thursday, December 15, 2016 8:06 pm

… and the fuckery continues

fuckerydeptI don’t have all the facts and don’t yet know where to tell you to go to get them. But, apparently, both the State House and the State Senate cleared their galleries today, turned off the microphones to negate the audio feed in the building and on the Internet, and did, or attempted to do, the public’s business in private.

In case you’re wondering, yes, that’s a clear violation of North Carolina law. Sadly, it’s only a civil law. It should be a crime with mandatory jail time.

Some protesters were arrested. My friend Joe Killian, a former colleague of mine at the News & Record who now reports for N.C. Policy Watch, was arrested as he attempted to cover those arrests. In other words, he was arrested for doing his job. As I write this, he hasn’t been released yet.

If you’re wondering how fascism comes to a democratic republic with a long history of free self-governance, this is your answer.

The battle is joined

My friend Beau Dure, who, among other things, writes for The Guardian, both sounds and heeds the call to battle against fake news:

Let’s be absolutely clear. This is not “left wing” vs. “right wing.” The two sides here are not equivalent. This is truth vs. lies. In this case, it’s an attempt to label demonstrable facts on border crossings as “fake news,” lumping it in the same category as the websites that have made Weekly World News look rational.

And it’s part of an ongoing deliberate attack on the nature of truth, one that leads to many Americans going against overwhelming scientific consensus on everything from climate change to vaccines (with creationism still lurking in there somewhere). It leads to the propagation of absurd conspiracy theories like the one that prompted a North Carolina man to walk into a D.C. pizza place armed to the teeth in what we would call an act of terror if a Muslim did it.

Do Democrats sometimes bend the truth? Yes. Call them out on it. We all should.

But don’t pretend that it’s the same as what you’re seeing here, where the powers-that-be don’t just want to spin something but want to undermine the very forces that hold them accountable.

And we cannot allow that to happen.

Like Pichard in the “Star Trek: Next Generation” episode in which he is captured and tortured by the Cardassians, we are about to be placed under enormous pressure to believe things that simply are not true and, worse, are lies told with malicious intent. Journalists are the first line of defense. Their bullshit meters will need to be sensitive, high-capacity, durable, and loud, or else the U.S., after 240 years of relative freedom, will emerge as an autocracy within the next four years.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016 8:27 pm

At this hour, world-class fuckery is afoot in Raleigh

fuckerydept

The Republicans must figure they are not long for control of North Carolina, because apparently they’ve decided to set the state on fire.

After concluding the special session in which it approved disaster-relief funding for parts of North Carolina, the GOP-controlled General Assembly called itself a new special session today. And in the past few hours, no fewer than 21 House bills and seven Senate bills have been introduced.

I haven’t even had a chance to look at them all yet. But the few I have seen are both alarming and infuriating, both in terms of substance and in terms of how they’re being ramrodded through: Not one of them couldn’t have waited for the next regular session, in January, when they could have been debated fairly. No, this is one big, fat fuck you to give to Republican Gov. Pat McCrory to sign as he leaves office after having been voted out.

Per my friend and former colleague Joe Killian, who’s covering the session for the N.C. Justice Center, the bills include (but are not limited to) measures that would:

  • Combine the State Board of Elections with the state ethics commission.
  • Make it a 4-4 Dem/GOP split, rather than the current 3-2 with the majority being of the governor’s party.
  • Make Supreme Court elections partisan again. (The prevailing theory here is that Mike Morgan beat Republican incumbent Bob Edmunds this year in what was otherwise a pretty big year for Republicans in N.C. because not enough Republicans knew that Edmunds was a Republican.)
  • Repeal the sales tax exemption for sales of certain properties used in wastewater dispersal systems — basically a way of making environmentally friendly land use more cost-prohibitive, although Joe suggests that this esoteric subject may be just a placeholder bill to be amended to another subject entirely.
  • Allow McCrory to name the chair of the state Industrial Commission before leaving office. Currently, it would be left to the incoming governor, Democrat Roy Cooper.
  • Eliminating vehicle emissions inspections in some smaller counties.
  • Change the appeal process when a lower court finds that the General Assembly has violated the Constitution or federal law.
  • Allows judicial appointments and the Industrial Commission chair appointment now, rather than after Jan. 1 when Cooper takes office. Joe notes that this measure drew hisses and boos and that House Speaker Tim Moore warned the assembled gallery about that.
  • Moves the state Information Technology out from under the governor’s office and places it under the lieutenant governor, currently batshit insane Republican Dan Forest.
  • Increase maximum class sizes in grades K-3.
  • Increase the state’s financial commitment to provide school buses and road improvements for charter schools as well as public schools.
  • Require the governor’s Cabinet appointments to receive Senate confirmation.
  • Make criminal mug shots no longer a public record.
  • Reduce from about 1,500 to fewer than 300 the number of state employees who serve at the pleasure of the governor — a number lower than when it was first expanded under McCrory.

So, basically, they’re stripping the gov of much of his powers before Cooper takes office, taking this opportunity to steer more state taxpayer money to private interests in the charter-school sector, eroding open government, screwing public education (again), screwing the environment (again), and putting the fox in charge of the ethical henhouse.

The one good development is that Tricia Cotham, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, took the shooting license given by the GOP leaders as an opportunity to file a bill that would kill the I-77 toll-lanes project north of Charlotte. Opposition to that project in affluent northern Mecklenburg, normally a hotbed of Republican votes, was one of the main reasons McCrory lost re-election.

Note that there’s not a GOT-damn thing on this list that couldn’t have been dealt with in the regular legislative session, which begins in January. No, this is the Nazis blowing up Rhine River bridges as they retreat.

This is what gerrymandering and a “fuck you” attitude toward the public have allowed Republicans in this state to do. And this is why they must all be flushed from state government. The 4th Circuit’s ruling that current legislative districts are unconstitutionally gerrymandered won’t help us tonight, but the new elections ordered for 2017 might help restore some order and balance to the Statehouse. We can hope. But for now, some seriously bad shit is going down tomorrow, and Democrats and the public can only march with torches and pitchforks. They sure can’t stop it.

 

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