Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Wednesday, October 23, 2019 6:22 pm

Sure, you can riot … if you’re a white Republican

Once again, the GOP has proven itself literally lawless. Let’s be very clear about what happened today. The Republicans who attempted to get into the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility in which three House committees are taking depositions and testimony from witnesses in the impeachment investigation BROKE THE LAW. Several took their cell phones into the facility and even “broadcast live,” violating security regulations.

Republicans are fond of talking about a “secret impeachment,” and unfortunately, even a few journalists have started using that phrase. There is no secret impeachment. There is a secret impeachment INVESTIGATION, just as there was before articles of impeachment for Bill Clinton were publicly discussed and voted upon. The only difference is that Clinton’s investigation was conducted by a special prosecutor (which the GOP-controlled Congress sought and the Clinton Justice Department granted), while Democratic House members and staff are conducting the investigation by themselves because the Trump/Barr Justice Department would not appoint a special prosecutor.

(Republicans also are insisting that for an impeachment investigation to be “official,” the full House must vote on it. The Constitution says no such thing. They’re counting on your not knowing that.)

If the investigation recommends articles of impeachment, any discussion or vote on those articles, in committee or in the full House, will be conducted on live TV, and Republicans know it. They just hope you’re not as informed as they are.

Moreover, both Republican and Democratic members of all three committees already are present in the SCIF, and Republicans are getting equal time to ask witnesses questions. They complain of leaks by Democrats, and that’s a legitimate complaint. But the absence of leaks by Republicans, even to such reliably Trump-friendly outlets as Fox & Friends, Breitbart or Tucker Carlson tells you all you need to know about the substance of what the committees are hearing.

Knowing this, and having no other way to stop the hemorrhage of damning information about Trump, Republicans today simply rioted to disrupt the hearing.

This isn’t the first time such a thing has happened. During the disputed Florida election of 2000, Republicans sent Congressional aides to literally throw a temper tantrum (when it’s not white boys doing it, we say “riot”) outside one location where recounts were under way. The so-called Brooks Brothers Riot in Florida during the 2000 election recount actually succeeded in stopping a recount that was finding more and more unread ballots actually to have been votes for Democratic candidate Al Gore.

The Republicans stole the presidency in 2000. They stole the presidency again in 2016. They’re trying to do it again in 2020. We cannot allow that.

In impeachment, remember, the House acts as a grand jury, considering whether to effectively indict the president (or other high federal officials) on charges, on which the Senate acts as jury in holding a trial. An ordinary defendant with an ordinary grand jury doesn’t even get to see or hear witnesses, let alone confront and cross-examine them. In an impeachment proceeding, the Republicans will be able to cross-examine witnesses and perhaps even offer their own, if the Democratic majority allows them to subpoena them.

They shouldn’t bother. Trump’s Emoluments Clause violations are a matter of public record, and his abuse of office in hinging military aid to Ukraine on that government’s willingness to dig up dirt on the son of a possible Democratic challenger was nailed down as a quid pro quo by former Ambassador Bill Taylor in his testimony Tuesday. No witness can exculpate him.

But just as important is the Republicans’ willingness to break the law to bring about their desired political result. House Democrats should vote to censure every Republican who took part in today’s disturbance, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi should order suspended for a week without pay any congressional staffers who took part in the disturbance. She needs to make clear that we, the American people, will have law and order, Trump’s gangster instincts and corrupt government cronies like Bill Barr be damned.

Sunday, September 15, 2019 6:36 pm

Brett Kavanaugh, redux

A new New York Times story brings forward another account of Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual assaults, illustrates just how badly the GOP tried to prevent a through investigation of the allegations against him, adds evidence that Kavanaugh lied to Congress during his confirmation hearings, and illustrates just how pustulently corrupt the 21st century GOP has become.

New York Times reporters Robin Progrebin and Kate Kelly published a story in Saturday’s New York Times about Deborah Ramirez, a woman who alleges that when they were students at Yale in the winter of 1984, future Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh “pulled down his pants and thrust his penis at her, prompting her to swat it away and inadvertently touch it.”

The story points out that another woman, Christine Blasey Ford, accused Kavanaugh of more serious behavior, saying that Blasey Ford “claimed that he pinned her to a bed, groped her and tried to remove her clothes while covering her mouth.”

Blasey Ford’s accusation was more serious, the Times pointed out, but Ramirez’s allegation proved easier to corroborate:

During his (2018) Senate testimony, Mr. Kavanaugh said that if the incident Ms. Ramirez described had occurred, it would have been “the talk of campus.” Our reporting suggests that it was.

At least seven people, including Ms. Ramirez’s mother, heard about the Yale incident long before Mr. Kavanaugh was a federal judge. Two of those people were classmates who learned of it just days after the party occurred, suggesting that it was discussed among students at the time.

We also uncovered a previously unreported story about Mr. Kavanaugh in his freshman year that echoes Ms. Ramirez’s allegation. A classmate, Max Stier, saw Mr. Kavanaugh with his pants down at a different drunken dorm party, where friends pushed his penis into the hand of a female student. Mr. Stier, who runs a nonprofit organization in Washington, notified senators and the F.B.I. about this account, but the F.B.I. did not investigate and Mr. Stier has declined to discuss it publicly. (We corroborated the story with two officials who have communicated with Mr. Stier.)

Kavanaugh denied these and other allegations at his truncated Senate confirmation hearing, and he was confirmed by the narrowest vote in more than a century. But this report reaffirms not only how the GOP greased the skids of Kavanaugh’s confirmation by preventing a full and through investigation, but also how likely it is that Kavanaugh committed perjury during that confirmation hearing:

Ms. Ramirez’s legal team gave the F.B.I. a list of at least 25 individuals who may have had corroborating evidence. But the bureau — in its supplemental background investigation — interviewed none of them, though we learned many of these potential witnesses tried in vain to reach the F.B.I. on their own.

Two F.B.I. agents interviewed Ms. Ramirez, telling her that they found her “credible.” But the Republican-controlled Senate had imposed strict limits on the investigation. “‘We have to wait to get authorization to do anything else,’” Bill Pittard, one of Ms. Ramirez’s lawyers, recalled the agents saying. “It was almost a little apologetic.”

Of course the Republicans didn’t want Kavanaugh thoroughly investigated, because here’s just a little of the damning information about him that I was able to assemble from public sources on Sept. 7, 2018:

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.

Sen. Patrick Leahy

@SenatorLeahy

BREAKING: Kavanaugh testified he never received any docs that even “appeared to … have been drafted or prepared by Democratic staff.” Well, he got 8 pages of material taken VERBATIM from my files, obviously written by Dem staff, LABELED “not [for] distribution”.

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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.

Republicans’ responses to both the old and the new information have generally divided themselves into these categories:

Americans are tired of the mob justice based on 3rd &4th party witnesses coming out decades later, near an election. Just stop. Yeah, except for the part where Americans not tired of it in 2018 — indeed, they were so not tired of it in 2018 that they unseated 29 Republican congresscritters and seized another 14 open seats previously held by Republicans.

Are we really going to call exposure a crime now? Yeah, we are. Welcome to the 21st century. Hell, welcome to 1984, when it was also a crime.

Should we all be held accountable decades later for stupid behavior? Yes, we should! Because that’s how we stop the “stupid behavior” — the sexual assault, which isn’t just “stupid behavior,” it’s a goddamned crime.

And then there’s this: Kavanaugh was asking to be seated not just to any federal court, but to the highest court in the land. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect any candidate for a seat on the federal bench, and on the high court in particular, to have led a blameless life. Not “perfect,” because nobody is perfect. But blameless. There were plenty of other Republican candidates for that seat who have led demonstrably blameless lives. But it has been a particular characteristic of the Trump administration to appoint people to all sorts of federal jobs who have NOT led blameless lives — whether because Trump wants to be able to manipulate them or simply whether criminals love company, I don’t know. Nonetheless, it’s an obvious tend that needs to be called out.

#MeToo is hurting real sexual-assault victims more than it’s helping. Prove it. Read “She Said,” by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey. Read “Catch and Kill,” by Ronan Farrow. Educate yourself.

What about “innocent until proven guilty”? Oh, THROW me in that briar patch. Lying to Congress is a crime, whether you’re under oath (18 USC 1621) or not (18 USC 1001). So let’s do this. Let’s have a complete, full, thorough, FAIR investigation of the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh. Republicans didn’t allow that in 2018 because they knew damned well where it would lead: with Kavanaugh under indictment and likely a number of them charged as co-conspirators.

And one other thing: A Senate confirmation hearing is not criminal court. “Innocent until proven guilty” in this context, while not completely irrelevant, is not a bedrock standard. In such a hearing, U.S. senators are asked to decide — on the basis of what, more often than not, is an incomplete and perhaps even manipulated record — whether the president’s nominee is fit for office. They have to ask themselves, on the basis of incomplete information, “Based on what I know, do I believe that this individual will serve the long-term public interest?”

In point of fact, the overwhelming majority of presidential appointments subject to confirmation since 1789 have been confirmed, and the number of those appointments who were damaging, while not trivial, has been a remarkably small portion of the whole. But there is plenty of room in constitutional jurisprudence for senators who suspect malfeasance, or who simply just aren’t sure, to vote no.

Anyone who’s not comfortable passing judgment on Brett Kavanaugh for incidents that happened 35 years ago is welcome to pass judgment on Brett Kavanaugh for incidents that happened ONE year ago, when he, a grown-ass man and a candidate for the highest court in the land, lied under oath to Congress. Now, Congress could impeach him, or it could refer his case to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation because sitting SCOTUS justices, unlike sitting presidents, can be impeached. Given Attorney General William Barr’s absolute determination to treat DOJ like Donald Trump’s personal law firm, I honestly don’t know which is the best way to go. But the evidence in the public record suggests pretty strongly that Brett Kavanaugh is a perjuring sumbitch who belongs in prison.

Oh, and, hey? It suggests the same thing about Clarence Thomas. So let’s have full, fair, thorough investigations of both, while the witnesses are still alive.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019 9:40 pm

If you have to cheat to win, your ideas suck, Part 8,264

So this morning, on the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Democrats in the N.C. General Assembly went to a 9/11 memorial. While they were doing that, the Republicans who control the General Assembly, having told the Democrats that no substantive votes would take place this morning, voted anyway to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the GOP’s state budget.

It is important to note that the Republicans could not have won on this issue without cheating. Republicans had sought for weeks to get Democrats to join them in voting to override by offering pork-barrel spending for their districts. Even that dishonesty failed to get them the necessary majority, so they simply cheated.

One of the biggest lessons of this decade’s low, deceitful politics has been that norms and customs are meaningless unless they are codified into criminal law with harsh penalties. That has been true at the federal level, with everything from the GOP theft of a Supreme Court seat to serial contempt of Congress, and it obviously is now true at the state level as well. Henceforth, here in North Carolina, deceiving the legislative minority about when substantive votes will occur must be treated as a capital crime, because apparently being hanged on the steps of the Old Capitol Building is the only deterrent that will keep Republicans from cheating.

And the thing about cheating? If you have to cheat to win, your ideas suck, which is relevant not only in this case but also in the case of the special election for U.S. House District 9, held on Tuesday. Republican Dan Bishop appears to have pulled out a very narrow win in a district Trump carried by 12 points in 2016, but here’s the thing: Anyone who knows jack about Robeson County politics knows that this massive shift among Native American voters from pro-Democratic in 2018 to pro-Republican in 2019 is simply inexplicable. I’m not saying that this proves election theft, but I am saying that we badly need a thorough election audit, and that that audit should start from the defensible presumption that the statistical odds against such a pro-GOP shift in Native precincts in just eight months are astronomical.

One last lesson for Dems and unaffiliated voters: You can never, ever, EVER again, in your lifetimes, assume the honesty of Republicans, not in Washington and not in Raleigh. Just assume that they are lying. About everything.

Monday, September 2, 2019 11:07 am

911 says you can’t call them anymore

Brock Long, who served as Dolt 45’s head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency from June 2017 to May of this year, says FEMA can’t do its job and that it’s up to us:

“we have to refocus the training” to better equip citizens in terms of disaster preparedness, including emphasizing that “insurance is the first line of defense.”

“Until Congress starts to incentivize putting building codes in place and land use planning in place, incentivizing states and locals for ensuring their public infrastructure, FEMA’s job is impossible,” Long said.

“We have to set realistic expectations for the agency and really bolster the capability from neighbor helping neighbor all the way to the Federal Emergency Management Agency,” he added.

Insurance is the first line of defense against a Cat 5 hurricane? Brock, son, you’re gonna have to ‘splain that to me. Use small words, because it sounds a lot to me like sending Paul Revere out after the British have already landed, burned our farms and slaughtered our livestock.

See, FEMA has a history — an uneven history that has varied significantly depending upon who was in the White House and which party controlled Congress. FEMA sucked under Bush I (cf. Hurricane Andrew in 1992), got dramatically better under Clinton, got lousy again under Bush II (cf. Katrina in 2005), got better again under Obama, and is being sabotaged once again by Dolt 45, as residents of Puerto Rico and southeastern North Carolina know all too well.

This is part of a larger trend by post-Nixon Republicans: They tell Americans that government is the problem rather than the solution, and when they get power, they work very hard to turn that statement into reality by under-funding agencies, staffing them with incompetent administrators hostile to the agencies’ missions, and, in the case of Trump, forcing key agency personnel to leave in droves by planning on short notice to move agencies’ work a long distance for no reason.

Currently, FEMA is incompetent and has no interest in becoming competent, and this “president” not only has no interest in their being competent, he just stole $155 million from FEMA to try to spend it on his war on immigrants at the Mexican border,  and everyone, including FEMA, just stood around and let him do it.

Rather than fixing FEMA, Dolt 45, Congressional Republicans and FEMA itself tell us that we must adjust our expectations downward instead. Well, hell, no. This is one of the most basic tasks of government: People’s LIVES are at stake. Yes, building codes should be improved to face the stronger storms that global warming will bring, although developers and the construction industry will scream bloody murder about that and probably bribe Congress and state legislatures to keep it from happening. Yes, people should prepare for hurricanes. But not everyone can; moreover, some disasters, like tornadoes, allow little or no time for prep.

FEMA indeed DOES have to be kind of like 911, and a competent FEMA is only one of many factors people should think about when choosing a president and deciding which party should control Congress.

Sunday, September 1, 2019 1:49 pm

Hit ’em with the chair

When I was a kid in Charlotte in the 1960s, my brothers, my friends and I watched a lot of pro wrestling on TV, which fact is essential context for what I’m about to say next: In this era, pleas for civility are the last refuge of people who desperately need to be hit with the chair.

As the journalist Eve Fairbanks points out in The Washington Post, conservatives, almost as if they’d all been sent the same list of talking points, have been on and on lately about being “reasonable” and “civil.” She links to many, many examples, almost all of which are premised on a fundamental misunderstanding about what’s actually going on in our society. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Fairbanks, as a senior at Yale, wrote a thesis on the rhetoric of Abraham Lincoln and his political rivals on both sides of the issue of slavery. And today’s conservative rhetoric sounded so familiar to her that she thought she must have heard it somewhere before. Sure enough, there it was in her old research: The language of conservatives in 2019 is almost identical to that of antebellum defenders of slavery. She lays it out in her Post column.

I see another parallel: Both before the Civil War and today, the people defending the indefensible are the ones most insistent upon civility and reason and are trying very hard to cast their opponents as unreasonable and uncivil. In both instances, the people defending the indefensible are able to do so as the result of having amassed great power, much of it unmerited and obtained through dubious, if not evil, means.

The slavery example is self-evident. But what about today?

For the past 40 years, American conservatives, though a minority, have used their greater wealth to get even more money and more power, often at the expense of everyone else. They got the Supreme Court, in Buckley v. Valeo (1976) to declare that money is speech, a category error that likely will be the downfall of the Republic if climate disaster or the Sweet Meteor of Death don’t get us first. They bought themselves congresscritters and legislators who have passed a number of huge tax cuts primarily benefiting the wealthy. The effect of those tax cuts has been the greatest upward transfer and concentration of wealth in history and the greatest income inequality in U.S. history. They have raped the planet, privatizing the profits while socializing the costs and making damn sure they had bought themselves a government that would let them do that, in search of more wealth — there’s roughly $27 trillion of proven carbon reserves still in the ground, and they will be damned if they’ll just write it off, just as slave owners insisted they were entitled not to write off the value of their slaves. They have insisted that health care is not a human right, but rather a consumer good on which they can profit as on few others. In what can only be called modern-day slavery, they are profiting off our correctional systems. They have sought to roll back the civil-rights advances we finally won a century after the 14th and 15th Amendments were ratified. And on and on. All of THAT is “unreasonable.” All of THAT is “uncivil.”

The people who opposed antebellum slavery were portrayed as radical, and indeed some of them were. But they weren’t wrong. And given the horrors of slavery, complaining about their incivility and lack of reason displayed nothing but moral stillbirth.

And so it is today.

Conservatives are pursuing policies that literally threaten the lives of me, my family, and more than 100 million other Americans who have pre-existing conditions and/or are people of color and/or are LGBTQ. And yet they want us to be reasonable and civil.

Screw that noise sideways. Pleas for civility are the last refuge of someone who desperately needs to be hit with the chair. Moreover, any Republican who thinks we need more civility needs to take it up with Newt Gingrich, whose GOPAC began the trend of instructing Republican political candidates to publicly characterize their unremarkable Democratic opponents as “extremist,” “sick” and “un-American.”

Moreover, as Fairbanks points out, conservative writer Ben Shapiro, to name just one example, likely knows and certainly doesn’t care that “ascrib(ing) right-wing anger to unwise left-wing provocation,” as Fairbanks says he does, is the blame-the-victim language of the domestic abuser.

(A note on that: Conservatives are trying to smear those who oppose white nationalists as “antifa,” which they believe to be an organized and violent movement. “Antifa” is simply short for “antifascist,” and the term encompasses everyone from the first wave at Omaha Beach to any American today who opposes the joined forces of fascism and white supremacy. You will seen the term thrown around even by journalists who should know better, but you can safely dismiss anyone who uses it in that way as at best a propagandist and at worst a fascist, particularly if that person works for the Trump administration.)

I’ve said for a long time that anyone doubting the existence of eternity need only ponder the capacity of conservatives for playing the victim. Indeed, I’ve thought for a long time that that might be the most important, and is certainly the most enduring, dynamic of postwar American politics.

I was wrong. Fairbanks’s column shows that it’s the most enduring dynamic of American politics, period. She doesn’t remark on it in her column, but it’s visible throughout so many of the sources she cites (and in fairness, she may have thought it was so obvious she didn’t even need to mention it) — an overweaning mentality of victimhood among conservative antebellum “thinkers” and modern-day conservatives alike.

And why do they feel that way? The answer is in the old saying, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” That’s the fundamental misunderstanding I referred to up at the top of the post. They do it because they can feel their privilege slipping and/or because they can hear and feel the rest of us coming for it. And on some level they’re terrified that we’re going to treat them the way they have treated us. I have no intention of doing this, but given the outrages they have foisted upon us in the past 40 years, from destroying the middle class to sacrificing our children to the Baal of the NRA to lighting the planet on actual fire, I can offer no guarantee regarding anyone else.

And at this point nothing would surprise me. Because when you call things like decent, affordable health care and a strong public education system “socialism” long enough, eventually socialism starts to sound like a good idea. And when you work your ass off for a lifetime and still can’t manage to obtain adequate food, clothing, shelter, and education for your family and equal treatment in society because of every way the system has been rigged by conservatives in the past 40 years, so does “eat the rich.”

UPDATE, 9/1: This was posted before I became aware that Democratic presidential Beto O’Rourke had been quoted as saying, “Yes, this is fucked up,” talking about the federal government’s inaction on mass shootings such as the one Saturday in Odessa, Texas, that claimed eight lives. When the inevitable criticism came, he had the perfect response:

 

Friday, August 30, 2019 6:50 pm

A belated but sincere obituary for David Koch

I was a Republican for about 40 years, so here is where I am on this:

David Koch used his wealth to buy government policies that are wiping out the middle class, to keep government from mitigating the deaths his industries cause to thousands of Americans annually, to socialize the costs of his businesses while privatizing the benefits, and for his last act, to light the planet on actual fire. Had he lived, he almost certainly would have bought himself a constitutional convention in which the United States would be turned from a constitutional democratic republic into a kleptocracy in which tens of millions of citizens would lose basic human rights, and his surviving family and a few of their friends may yet bring this about. Society was so utterly unable to contain his serial sociopathy that hundreds of millions if not billions of people on this planet would have had legal standing to kill him in self-defense. In short, David Koch was a goddamned monster. Anyone who can’t see that is morally stillborn, and anyone wishing to defend him is welcome to follow him straight to hell.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019 9:35 pm

Sure, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez could be lying. But what if she’s not?

“Now I’ve seen the inside of these facilities. It’s not just the kids. It’s everyone. People drinking out of toilets, officers laughing in front of members Congress. I brought it up to their superiors. They said ‘officers are under stress & act out sometimes.’ No accountability.” — U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeting after visiting a camp where CBP is holding migrants prisoner.

This tweet asserts horrible things, about line CPB officers, about the agency and its culture, and about our government and our country. Some of the responses to it are quite skeptical. Leaving aside the disingenuous tone of some of the skeptical responses (and the ridiculous calls for video when CBP agents took the Congress members’ phones before allowing them in), I get it. No one wants to believe that these horrible accusations are true. And AOC certainly wouldn’t be the first person not just to politicize an issue but to outright lie about it for political gain.

Let’s suppose she is lying. If that’s the case, she should be expelled from the House. I doubt she could be sued successfully, inasmuch as she’s not saying anything defamatory about any particular individual. (Agencies can be defamed, but it’s tough to do.) But she certainly would deserve our opprobrium and condemnation.

That said, let’s ask ourselves a question. If she IS lying, whom does it hurt? An agency doesn’t have feelings, and she identifies no culpable individual.

So, then, let’s ask ourselves another question: What if she’s NOT lying?

And another: If she’s not, then whom does THAT hurt, particularly if the rest of us do not act on what she is telling us?

I’ll tell you whom it hurts.

It hurts suffering human beings, children of God just like you and me, people driven here in large measure by circumstances beyond their control and for which our country bears a significant measure of responsibility.

And our border officers are making them drink toilet water. In our name and paid by our tax money.

And it hurts public trust and confidence in CBP specifically and government in general at a time when both need more, not less.

It hurts the reputation and image of the United States around the world at a time when the world needs a powerful, honest broker more desperately than at any time since the day after Nagasaki.

And, finally, regarding the issue of trust and confidence, who has, and deserves, more of it? AOC, who has made mistakes and admitted them and also caught powerful people out on their mistakes and lies and is pushing policies that are at least intended to benefit most Americans? Or this administration, which lies like it breathes and seeks to screw over every American it can find to screw who’s not a rich white man?

If you ever wondered how German concentration camps became death camps, AOC is right here telling you and showing you. And if you’ve ever wondered what you would have done if you’d been a German in the early Nazi era, whatever you’re doing now is probably an excellent indicator.

“A Face in the Crowd” and the MAGATs

Over the weekend I got to see, for the first time, “A Face in the Crowd.” The 1957 film, written by Budd Schulberg (“The Harder They Fall,” “On the Waterfront”) and directed by Elia Kazan (“A Streetcar Named Desire,” “East of Eden”), was North Carolina icon Andy Griffith’s first starring role. In it, Griffith portrays Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, an Arkansas yokel propelled to national stardom as the “voice of the people.” Ahead there be spoilers, so don’t read the jump if you want to watch the movie first. (Apparently it’s available on Amazon if you’re curious.)

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Thursday, May 30, 2019 9:48 pm

Thought for the day, freedom-of-religion edition

If Americans can claim religious freedom to refuse to bake a cake or even provide medically necessary abortion, they certainly should be able to claim religious freedom to provide an alien dying of thirst at the border a goddamned bottle of water.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019 7:29 pm

Mueller to U.S. House: Saddle the hell up

Robert Mueller all but begs Congress to impeach Donald Trump and implicitly tears a deserving news media a big new orifice in the process.

Outgoing special counsel Robert Mueller made several critical points today in his roughly eight-minute statement at the Department of Justice.

First (and I’m not necessarily going in chronological order here), he emphasized at both the beginning and the end of his statement that the evidence is crystal clear that Russian military intelligence sought to interfere with the 2016 presidential election for the benefit of Donald Trump and that they are continuing to try to interfere with U.S. elections even today.

Second, he emphasized that the Mueller report speaks for itself, which was a polite way of saying that if the people whose jobs it was to tell us what was in the report had done their jobs and read the damned report, we wouldn’t be nearly so confused about the way forward and we wouldn’t have wasted the past two months. Instead, he implicitly pointed out, journalists covered what people (i.e., Attorney General William Barr) SAID about the report, rather than what the report itself said, to the detriment of the American public. As The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer put it, “Mueller’s statement is an indictment of a press that focused more on what people had to say about the report than what the report said, because the former was easier to cover. No one has learned anything.” (The first three rules of investigative reporting are “Follow the money,” “follow the money,” and “follow the money,” but Rule 4 is, “Always read the documents” and Rule 5 is “Always do the math.”)

Third, he said that he did not seek charges against Trump because Justice Department policy, while authorizing investigations of a sitting president “while memories are fresh and documents are available,” forbade charging a sitting president. (For what it’s worth, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley went on CBS immediately after the statement to say that, constitutionally speaking, Mueller was “dead wrong,” that Trump indeed could have been indicted.) Mueller clearly implied that had Trump been anyone but the sitting president, he would have been indicted.

Fourth, he fleshed out that point by observing that, contrary to what Donald Trump and Barr have said, the report is not an exoneration. Indeed, he said, “As set forth in our report, after that investigation, if we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that.”

Fifth, he emphasized that that obstruction definitely had hampered his campaign: “When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of their government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.” The implication, though it is only that, might explain why he failed to find enough evidence to indict people on the conspiracy charge. Because while Vol. 1 of the report said Mueller’s team found insufficient evidence to indict Trump on a conspiracy charge, notwithstanding Trump’s lies, you can’t swing a dead cat in it without running across multiple instances of collusion, a concept that has real-world meanings but no legal significance.

Fifth, he re-emphasized that in his view and given Justice Department policy, it was not for Justice to accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing; rather, that responsibility fell to Congress. Combined with the documentation in Vol. 2 of the Mueller report of up to 10 instances of obstruction of justice on Trump’s part, he seemed to be practically begging the House to begin impeachment hearings.

He said a few other noteworthy things, such as that even if he were to appear before Congress to testify, he would not go beyond what’s already in the report. Legally and constitutionally, that’s a dubious claim, particularly if the House opens impeachment hearings. If the House subpoenas him and asks him questions and he refuses to answer, he can be held in contempt and spend up to a year in jail. Moreover, as Esquire’s Charles Pierce observed:

He has no excuse left. He is a private citizen now. And if he only repeats what’s in the report, on television, in front of the country, it will contribute mightily to the political momentum behind the demands that Congress do its damn job or shirk its duty entirely. He still needs to testify. He still needs to take questions. He’s only a citizen like the rest of us now, and he has a duty to do the right thing. We all do.

And Mueller said that our ongoing election-security weaknesses “deserve the attention of every American.” That assertion must be weighed against Republicans’ outright hostility, and particularly that of Mitch McConnell, to taking the slightest action to make elections more secure, such as, oh, I don’t know, even holding a vote on H.R. 1.

But his main points make clear what I and many others, from Laurence Tribe of Harvard Law School to Rep. Justin Amash, Republican of Michigan, already have been saying: It is past time for the House to begin formal impeachment hearings. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her second-in-command, Steny Hoyer, publicly have been reluctant to acknowledge that the need exists. But House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, whose committee would be the one to hold such hearings, said today:

Although Department of Justice policy prevented the Special Counsel from bringing criminal charges against the President, the Special Counsel has clearly demonstrated that the President is lying about the Special Counsel’s findings, lying about the testimony of key witnesses in the Special Counsel’s report, and is lying in saying that the Special Counsel found no obstruction and no collusion. Given that Special Counsel Mueller was unable to pursue criminal charges against the president, it falls to Congress to respond to the crimes, lies, and other wrongdoing of President Trump — and we will do so. No one, not even the President of the United States, is above the law.

Democrats have talked tough before only to fold, and there’s no guarantee they won’t fold again. But I believe at this point that whether or not Democrats actually pull the trigger on impeachment hearings, they at least have heard and understood that that is what the outgoing special counsel is asking, if not begging, them to do. I won’t reiterate the many reasons why I think it’s important to do so, except to say this: Thanks in large part to our mealy-mouthed news media, Trump has been able to spend the past two months lying with impunity about the findings of the Mueller investigation. Anyone who saw and heard Mueller speak today now knows that Trump has been gaslighting the American public — and that televised impeachment hearings aren’t just a constitutional necessity but also a necessary news and public relations corrective to Trump’s gaslighting. I hope and trust that Nadler and other House committee chairs, currently on Memorial Day recess, will make this happen soon.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019 7:36 pm

NPR: Your so-called liberal media at work

When NPR lets a war criminal like John Yoo defend the Trump administration’s defiance of subpoenas and contempt of Congress, it is neither liberal nor news media.

Today was long and full of aggravations, from morning to evening. And to end it this afternoon, like a rancid cherry atop a shit sundae, we got a 5 p.m. report from NPR on the White House’s claim of executive privilege in withholding the full Mueller report, with underlying evidence, from the U.S. House, which has subpoenaed it.

Now, let’s be very clear here. The U.S. House, as a co-equal branch of government, has an almost absolute right to subpoena any document or person in either of the other two branches for the purpose of conducting oversight. There are a few limited exceptions, but no one has offered any that such constitutional experts as Laurence Tribe of Harvard take seriously.

But NPR calls today’s vote by the House Judiciary Committee to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt “a major escalation of a battle between President Donald Trump and the House Democrats investigating his administration.” That framing almost makes it look as if the House is at fault. At the least, that’s misspelling “a perfectly justified and long overdue attempt by the House to bring this lawless administration to heel” so badly you can’t even hardly recognize it.

Yeah, House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler is quoted as saying, “If allowed to go unchecked, this obstruction means the end of congressional oversight.” But the segment treats this conflict as a normal and unremarkable contest between White House and Congress in which both sides are more or less equally at fault and nothing particularly significant is at stake. In fact, the framers of the Constitution viewed legislative oversight, including impeachment when appropriate, as essential to preventing a runaway executive. Having lately fought a war to rid themselves of one runaway executive, they wanted to make damn good and sure there would never be another.

And that’s the just the intro. Reporter Kelsey Snell’s report is in the worst tradition of mainstream reporting, offering a very careful one-side-says-this, the-other-side-says that take that manages to be almost 100% journalism-free, particularly the failure to note that some of the limitations Justice attempted to place on access to the unredacted report had no basis in law whatever.

“It’s partially political, partially symbolic, but it’s also pretty high-stakes,” Snell said, not even bothering to mention that one and only one side in this dispute is, you know, breaking the law.

That was bad enough. But made me actually pull my car over to the side of Walker Avenue, stop dead, and shriek like a banshee at the radio was that NPR’s next segment devoted a huge 7.5 minutes to the legal stylings of alleged law professor John Yoo and his resurrection of the corpse of the “unitary executive.”

Who is John Yoo and what is the “unitary executive,” you ask? Yoo, now at Berkeley, was deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel under President George W. Bush. He wrote the so-called “torture memos” justifying torture as an instrument of national policy under Bush. For that alone, he should have been hanged at The Hague, particularly inasmuch as he wrote in 2002, by which time the U.S. already was engaged in torture, meaning he wrote it to try to provide justification in hindsight for a crime against both U.S. and international law.

To put it plainly, Yoo’s support for torture was so unhinged that even some of his most powerful co-workers in the Bush administration thought it was nuts. Secretary of State Colin Powell flatly insisted that Yoo’s position violated the Geneva Conventions, while Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora called Yoo’s position “catastrophically poor legal reasoning.”

As for the “unitary executive theory,” well, to hear Yoo tell it in today’s segment, it is a theory of executive power, running from Lincoln down through FDR and so on until today, that claims that unlike enumerating individual powers, which is what most conservatives profess to claim Article II of the Constitution does for the executive branch, that article actually creates a “pool,” in Yoo’s word, of unspecified executive powers.

In fact, “unitary executive theory” is bullshit. Yoo decided that his boss, Bush, during the so-called Global War on (some) Terror, ought to be able to do anything he wanted, including interpreting treaties like the Geneva Conventions as he pleased, with Congress’s only control being the power of the purse. So he cobbled together this sorry excuse for legal theory and cherry-picked from history to try to make it look as if this legal Frankenstein’s monster had a long and honorable legal tradition.

Those of you keeping score at home also will note that this assertion flies in the face of everything that conservatives have traditionally said about executive power and the “original intent” of the framers of the Constitution, but Yoo and the Republicans have never let that hypocrisy stop them except when a Democrat occupied the Oval Office.

Anyway, NPR, whose mission is supposed to be journalism, actually devoted pretty much 11 full minutes of prime afternoon drive time to Trumpian propaganda at the expense of educating and informing its audience, and coming at the end of a day such as today, it was just more than this listener could take.

And as Trump and the Republicans try to dismantle our democracy, this is one of the biggest problems we face: Not only are Trump and the Republicans and Fox News and Breitbart trying to gaslight the American public, a ton of mainstream journalists are doing the same. Yes, they’re trying — I believe we have long since passed the point at which we can as ascribe performances like NPR’s this afternoon just to incompetence. (Also, and not for nothing, competence is an ethical issue.)

So this is just one of the many reasons why we need immediate, televised impeachment hearings: to counteract the fire hose of unmitigated bullshit emanating not only from the criminals in this case but also from their co-conspirators in the so-called liberal media. (I have heard some people say that’s actually what the House is doing right now, they’re just not calling them “impeachment” hearings. To which I respond: You HAVE to call them impeachment hearings to get the news media to broadcast them live and the American public to pay the appropriate amount of attention.) Accordingly, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi needs to lead or get the hell out of the way.

Sunday, May 5, 2019 2:35 pm

With all due respect to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, time has run out. We must begin impeachment hearings now.

If House Democrats do not begin immediate, televised impeachment hearings and begin jailing immediately any administration figure who refuses to comply with a duly issued subpoena, we could be mere weeks from one-party GOP rule.

A lot of y’all fail to understand two things: how close we are to effective one-party GOP rule and how electoral politics works.
Look, I supported Nancy Pelosi for speaker for three reasons:
  1. Her superior record, relative to the other candidates, of being able to wrangle the notoriously fractious House Dem caucus, move legislation, and raise money.
  2. The fact that her most viable opponents were WAY too cozy with a Republican Party that long ago demonstrated that it doesn’t give a damn about the Constitution.
  3. The likelihood that, when Trump’s obfuscation over the Mueller report and his and his administration’s inevitable contempt of Congress against the inevitable House subpoenas finally manifested, she would have a logical and effective plan for responding.

I supported her despite serious misgivings about her spine. She unilaterally took impeachment of George W. Bush off the table despite the fact that Bush and his inner circle had ordered torture in violation of both U.S. and international law. My father, an Army infantry officer in the Korean War who won a Bronze Star and who had been a lifelong Republican voter, cast the last ballot of his life in 2004 against Bush specifically because of the torture. As an amateur student of the Holocaust for decades, I thought then that Bush had crossed the one line besides first-strike nuclear war that could never be crossed. And I was horrified to watch how Democrats under Pelosi threw away their opportunity to bring about justice. Still, you vote for one of the candidates you’ve got, and she was head and shoulders above the rest.

Problem is, I turned out to be badly wrong on item No. 3 above. She had and has no plan to deal with a president intent on becoming a dictator and a major party that is all in with him on this effort. Indeed, in this New York Times article, she makes clear in her own words that she is drawing exactly the wrong conclusions given the facts before us:

In recent weeks Ms. Pelosi has told associates that she does not automatically trust the president to respect the results of any election short of an overwhelming defeat. That view, fed by Mr. Trump’s repeated and unsubstantiated claims of Democratic voter fraud, is one of the reasons she says it is imperative to put roadblocks in the way of Mr. Trump’s efforts, with the full support of the Republican party, to become a dictator.
See, that makes sense. Unfortunately, that’s not what she actually said. What the article actually reports her as saying is:
In recent weeks Ms. Pelosi has told associates that she does not automatically trust the president to respect the results of any election short of an overwhelming defeat. That view, fed by Mr. Trump’s repeated and unsubstantiated claims of Democratic voter fraud, is one of the reasons she says it is imperative not to play into the president’s hands, especially on impeachment.
Opposing a would-be dictator’s efforts to become dictator is “playing into the president’s hands, especially on impeachment”? With all due respect, Madam Speaker — and in my case, that’s a lot of respect — that’s 180 degrees wrong.
Pelosi insists we have plenty of time. And a lot of people, noting that she is an expert in American politics, agree with her. But here’s the thing: We’re not faced with a conventional political opponent. We’re faced with a would-be dictator, and Pelosi is IN NO WAY an expert on dealing with that because America has never had one before. And the people who ARE experts in authoritarianism and dictators — historians, diplomats, war-crimes investigators, some members of the intelligence community, even Holocaust survivors? Almost all of them are waving red flags. A number are saying that if Dems don’t respond forcefully to the GOP’s concerted effort to ignore the subpoenas of a co-equal branch of government, then we will effectively become a one-party GOP government within weeks.

Now, what if they’re wrong? No harm, no foul, and we may yet see the impeachments we want with strong public backing and a clean and fair 2020 election. And I sincerely hope they, and I, are wrong.

But what if they’re right? No, serious question. I want you to stop and think for a minute about what that would mean — and not just for the country as a whole, although a stolen election is just about guaranteed, and not just for comfortable, privileged WASPS, but also for Jews, for poor people, for women (particularly women’s health care), for children, for racial and ethnic and religious minorities, for LGBTQIA people.

The safest bet — which also has the advantage of being the House’s constitutional duty — is for House Dems to: 1) Stop asking and start subpoenaing. Asking just leads to needing to subpoena anyway with this administration, and time is of the essence. 2) Begin jailing for contempt immediately any member of the administration who refuses to testify and/or produce records pursuant to a subpoena. 3) Begin holding televised impeachment hearings immediately. The hearings can begin with the multiple instances of Trump’s obstruction of justice documented in Vol. 2 of the Mueller report and expand from there, or they can begin with other high crimes and misdemeanors already in public view such as Trump’s serial violations of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, and expand from there. The important thing to remember is that we already have evidence in the public record that Trump has obstructed justice, abused his office, and behaved in legal contempt of Congress. Those were the three articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon that led him to resign, and Trump’s violations have been even more egregious.

And why are the televised hearings so important? As with Watergate, given what we already know about this administration, they are likely to reveal the kind of information to the public that will build public support for impeachment. Moreover, they are essential to counteracting the gaslighting of the American public now being carried on by this administration, particularly Attorney General William Barr, and its henchmen at Fox News, Breitbart, and some of the darker media neighborhoods such as 8chan and VDare. Believe it or not, a large number of Americans still aren’t paying very close attention to this, so Dems need to give them a reason to. And even the mainstream media have largely treated this issue as a conventional Democrats-vs.-Republicans partisan political issue rather than the constitutional crisis that it is. The Times article linked above contained information that should have been the lede headline for every mainstream news outlet in the country: House Speaker Doubts President Will Leave Office If Defeated. And yet it was not.

Now some of you have expressed concerns about how robust opposition to, and even attacks on, Trump’s people and policies might affect the 2020 elections. A couple of thoughts on that:

  • In constitutional terms, impeachment’s effect on the 2020 election shouldn’t even be a consideration. A president is carrying out high crimes and misdemeanors in full public view; as the Framers’ contemporaneous writings make clear, impeachment in such circumstances is not just option but duty.
  • But let’s say it is a consideration. A lot of people with elementary math skills but no political understanding have pointed out that the GOP-controlled Senate won’t convict. I cannot say this too many times or strongly enough: So what? Dems must make Republicans run in 2020 on defending this criminal (as well as on such other issues as trying to kill people’s health insurance and supporting environmental despoliation). Dems made Republicans run in 2018 on their desire to destroy insurance protections for people with pre-existing conditions, and Dems generated the biggest blue wave since Watergate. The biggest political risk attached to the 2020 election is not that more Trump supporters will turn out if Dems impeach — Republicans already are going to turn out. No, the biggest political risk is that if Dems do NOT impeach, a big chunk of the Democratic base is likely to stay home in 2020, as it did in 2010 and 2014 when Dem caution also prevailed over the need for action. And without that base, not only will Trump win re-election, the Republicans also will regain the House.
  • For the folks, including Pelosi, who have expressed concern that Trump might not leave office if he doesn’t win in 2020, I’ve got news: That’s Trump’s plan no matter how large or narrow the Dems’ margin of victory. Guaranteed. And it is far from sure that the Secret Service would do its duty at noon on Jan. 20, 2021: arrest him for trespassing and drag him from the White House. I mean, I think they will? But given Trump, assuming the worst generally is the most accurate method of forecasting.

Folks, we’re in very dire straits here; the attempted coup against FDR in the 1930s is the only thing that comes close and this is way worse than that. House Dems need to act now, and not only is there no good reason to wait, there are some chilling reasons why we cannot afford to. Whether we do or not act will determine whether this country is still a democratic republic come sunset on Jan. 20, 2021. So if your rep is a Democrat, call him/her and demand: 1) That House Dems stop asking nicely and start issuing subpoenas from the git-go. 2) That administration officials who refuse to immediately comply with subpoenas be jailed for contempt the FIRST time. (That legal mechanism hasn’t been used for decades, but it’s still on the books.) 3) That the House immediately begin televised impeachment hearings on Trump and AG Barr, who lied to Congress about the contents of the Mueller report and Mueller’s dissatisfaction with Barr’s summary of it. Those hearings MUST include the subject of election security and the Russians’ election-theft efforts in 2016 and 2020, and should hear from former President Obama and some of his officials as well as current administration officials if need be to get the full picture.

The next year and a half are going to be ugly politically no matter what choices Dems make. And the ugliness might extend beyond the halls of Congress and the White House and into the streets. But rest assured that 1) the most vulnerable will suffer the most, and 2) Republicans couldn’t give less of a damn about the most vulnerable.

Citizenship is not a spectator sport. History has pointed down the bench at us, swatted us on the asses and ordered us into the game. We need to play hard and play to win, because the cost of defeat would be too great for any of us to bear.

UPDATE, 5/5: For some excellent historical perspective on the rise of authoritarianism in America, read Teri Kanefield’s piece here. She’s an author and lawyer.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019 5:34 pm

In which Attorney General William P. Barr crumples his career and sets it on actual fire

In testimony today before the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee, the attorney general firmly established himself as the worst AG since John Mitchell and equally deserving of prison time.

Dumpster fire

The 85th attorney general of the United States walked into the ostensibly friendly confines of a Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today, and when his questioning was over, he had left no bed unshat and no pooch unscrewed. The Republicans might have come to dissemble and distract, but the Democrats came to prosecute and for once showed no mercy.

Not only did he present himself as clearly guilty of multiple counts of perjury, he also made a credible case that he himself should be prosecuted for obstruction of justice as well. It is crystal clear now that he must be impeached and removed from office and prosecuted and sent to prison. And he did his “client,” Donald Trump, no favors either, implicitly implicating Trump in abuse of office under questioning from committee member Kamala Harris, D-Calif.

The only real question remaining about what Barr did is why he did it. Why did he tell lies to Congress about special counsel Robert Mueller’s report that any sentient human being who read the report would realize were lies?

Why would he decide the report cleared Trump when he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein hadn’t read the underlying evidence — and why would he admit that to the committee? As committee member Harris, California’s former attorney general and a current candidate for president in 2020, pointed out, no sane prosecutor would make such a decision one way or another without reviewing all the evidence. (Maybe that’s just a Republican thing. The committee chair, Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, admitted that he hadn’t fully read the Mueller report. The guy. Who chairs the committee. And who called the hearing. Hadn’t. Read. The report. And as for what else Graham said, let’s just say it’s a darned good thing for him that he was not under oath.)

Why would Barr lie in his April 9 testimony to the House and say that he was unaware of Mueller’s concerns about his characterization of the report when, at that point, Barr had had Mueller’s letter to that effect, which was made public today, in his possession for more than a week?

And why couldn’t Barr answer Harris’s big yes-or-no question:

Gaping kitten illustrates the bomb Kamala Harris dropped during her questioning

Has the president or anyone else at the White House asked you to open a criminal investigation on anyone? Doing so likely would not be a crime, but as Richard Nixon’s case showed, it certainly would be an impeachable offense. That Barr either couldn’t or wouldn’t flatly deny that it had happened was damning of both Trump and Barr.

And under questioning from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Barr insisted that he had never discussed Trump-related matters with anyone at the White House. That was so plainly perjury that he immediately tried to walk it back, saying he didn’t remember any such “substantive” conversations.

Barr also committed at least one huge unforced error: He insisted that there were no underlying crimes documented in the Mueller report and that, based on that, an innocent president had the right to interfere in or kill an investigation of his activities. You following that? An innocent president has the right to kill an investigation — that’s going to prove his innocence.

Not only is that absurd on its face as legal theory, it also presumes facts not in evidence: The Mueller report did indeed surface underlying crimes. Indeed, Trump was named an unindicted co-conspirator in an indictment for one of them along with his former attorney/fixer, Michael Cohen.

The Republican senators were little better, if news reports are to be believed. Hell, Jon Cornyn of Texas really did bring up Hillary’s emails. None showed any interest in getting at the truth; instead, they tried to change the subject to (undocumented) claims of wrongdoing by the intelligence community under President Barack Obama — anything but deal with the dumpster sitting right there before them.

If we learned anything today, it’s the following:

  • Barr is guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice; he has violated the terms of his oath of office to become the personal defender of a corrupt president. He must be impeached, removed from office, and prosecuted, and unlike with the president, indictment could come before impeachment.
  • Trump almost certainly has been abusing his office to criminally investigate political enemies, just as Richard Nixon did. It became an article of impeachment for Nixon; it should for Trump as well.
  • The next president is going to have to be a Herakles to cleanse the Aegean stables of this administration. Or else will have to burn it with fire. That’s how bad things are in this, the 243rd year of our country, and there is no guarantee whatsoever that things will get better anytime soon. Indeed, there is a nontrivial likelihood that they’ll get worse: Barr is scheduled to testify Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee — but his reluctance to be questioned by committee staff means he might well be in contempt of Congress before lunchtime.

UPDATE, 5:52 p.m.: Barr is now refusing to testify Thursday. The Dems really need to just stop asking and start subpoenaing from the git-go, because asking clearly is never going to do them a damn bit of good with this administration. And if anyone tries to jerk them around, they need to hold them in criminal contempt and send them to jail for a year. That’s the only language the mob family in the White House understands.

 

 

Friday, December 21, 2018 5:14 pm

Bill Kristol, Davidson College, and ethics

In public life some sins really are both disqualifying and unforgivable. Bill Kristol is guilty of at least two, and Davidson should have recognized that fact and chosen differently.  

I’m going to be very up-front about Bill Kristol: I do not like him. I never have. And despite his Billy-come-lately effort to vault to the front rank of never-Trumpers, I never will.

So what am I to do with the news that my alma mater, Davidson College, has named him its inaugural visiting Vann Professor of Ethics in Society for 2019? I think the college has made a big mistake.

First, let’s make clear what this ISN’T about. It’s not about censorship or free speech, which is an issue of government regulation, not private regulation. (Davidson is a private school.)

It’s not about exposing students to a broad range of views; Davidson already does that and has for many, many years. You’d have to have gone there to understand how truly laughable we alums find it that conservative critics on occasion have criticized Davidson as liberal.

For me, the mistake here, by Davidson and by the Vann family, who are funding this initiative, is to hold Bill Kristol up as someone from whom the rest of us can learn about applied ethics. Because unless the college were to identify Kristol specifically as a negative example, that certainly isn’t true.

One can disagree with Kristol about plenty, and that’s fine, and it wouldn’t disqualify him from speaking at Davidson or even holding a guest professorship in applied ethics. But I can point to two huge tests of applied ethics that Kristol failed, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of lives and of world-historical consequences that humanity still will be grappling with long after he and I are dead. Those tests were the use of torture as an instrument of U.S. governmental policy and the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

I’ve written a great deal on this blog over the years about the ineffectiveness and evil of torture — not just what it does to the victim but also what it does to the torturer and to the nation that sanctions the use of torture. You can plug “torture” into the search box over there on the right and find it all; it is, as the lawyers say, incorporated by reference.

Not only did Kristol support torture, , he also continued to support it even after all previous arguments for its use during the War on Some Terror had fallen flat. Why would Kristol — why would any human being — continue to support the use of torture even after all the practical arguments on its behalf have been weighed and found wanting? Is there an argument for supporting it other than a practical one? The War on Some Terror is 17 years old, and I have yet to come across such an argument. That Kristol has not repented of his views that I can find suggests he continues to support torture, and for what? For its own sake? That, I suspect, is a question for him and his counselor, but the fact that it exists ought to be disqualifying for a person expected to provide guidance to others in the field of applied ethics.

The other huge test of applied ethics that Kristol failed was the U.S invasion of Iraq in 2003. He and Robert Kagan were among the nation’s leading advocates for that invasion, and the only reason they weren’t the most effective was that George W. Bush, and not they, got to be the one to lie to Congress about the possibility of an Iraqi nuclear-weapons capability. To refresh your memory, most of Congress wasn’t buying what the Bush administration was selling about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction as a justification for invasion. The so-called “16 words” in President George W. Bush’s State of the Union address — the suggestion that Iraq was working on nuclear weapons, though the country in fact had no evidence that that was so — got Congress to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which, unlike Desert Storm in 1991, was illegal under the United Nations charter and international law.

Tens of thousands of U.S. service members were killed and wounded, along with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and the grossly mismanaged occupation of Iraq gave rise to ISIS.

As with torture, Kristol has never repented.

I don’t have a real slam-bang ending here. But in public life some sins really are both disqualifying and unforgivable. Kristol is guilty of at least two, and Davidson should have recognized that fact and chosen a different visiting professor of applied ethics.

 

 

 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018 7:58 pm

“What do we owe her now?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

***

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.

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