Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Wednesday, April 14, 2021 4:39 pm

America doesn’t value journalism’s values, and why that’s a bad thing

For America to function well as a democracy, more Americans need to adopt the values of journalists rather than disdaining them.

Media columnist Margaret Sullivan of The Washington Post brings news of a new study that finds that when you ask Americans what they think of common journalistic values, without telling them that the values are from journalism, people don’t think much of them.

The study tested five core journalistic values — oversight, transparency, factuality, spotlighting wrongdoing, and giving voice to the voiceless — and found that only one, factuality, enjoyed support by a majority of Americans surveyed (about 70 percent). Sullivan also notes:

The value drawing the least support is the idea that a good way to make society better is to spotlight its problems. Only about 3 in 10 agree.

And only about 1 in 10 Americans fully support all five of the journalism values that were tested.

Researchers believe the lack of support is attributable more to people’s moral instincts than to their politics.

The report divides respondents into four groups, according to their various moral principles: Upholders, Loyalists, Moralists, and Journalism Supporters. Alas, that last group is the smallest of the four. But we have a chance of making inroads with some of the others.

Upholders, for example, put a high value on respect for leaders and groups [and therefore do not rate the journalistic value of oversight highly]. “They worry that some of the things journalists believe in can be intrusive and get in the way of officials doing their jobs,” the report notes. They would like to see more stories about what works, not just what is going wrong. In general, there is an appetite for more solutions-oriented journalism.

I was doing solutions-oriented investigative journalism back in the ’90s, and I wasn’t alone, for whatever that insight is worth.

The study couches its findings in the context of public trust in the news media, which, Sullivan notes, has dropped from about 70% in the early 1970s to about 40% today. And she raises the question: If journalism’s values aren’t popular with the public, does journalism need new values?

I’m going to argue just the opposite: For America to function well as a democracy, more Americans need to adopt these values of journalists rather than disdaining them. The fact that Journalism Supporters were the smallest identified group among study subjects explains a helluva lot about what’s been going wrong in our country over the past 50 years. There is some corroborative evidence in the report, which finds that support for journalistic values correlates with education level, for example.

You also cannot talk about American trust in news media without talking about the unrelenting conservative campaign against news media that dates at least to the Nixon administration. When conservatives haven’t been trying to squelch news media, they’ve been trying to co-opt it, as the Reagan administration’s Michael Deaver did, or discredit it entirely, which has been Donald Trump’s approach as he developed the concept of “fake news” — news that reported information that he didn’t like or that made him look bad. His epithet had its roots in the Nazi phrase lugenpresse, or “lying press.” So Trump, in the memorable phrase of Trump advisor Richard Bannon, set out to “flood the zone with shit” — so much shit that our news media, as big and wealthy as they are, literally could not keep up. Nor could our institutions, such as the Congress and the courts.

Relatedly, you cannot talk about that trust without acknowledging that the real decision makers in U.S. news media — the people who decide how much money there will be for news coverage and where that coverage money will go — are almost all wealthy people who identify with the wealthy and powerful, not the man or woman on the street and certainly not with racial/ethnic minorities, LGBTQ folks, and so on. They are not about giving voice to the voiceless, and the people whom journalists try to hold to account frequently are their friends.

But the Framers of the Constitution understood how badly the nation they had created would need these journalistic values. That’s why they included freedom of the press in the First Amendment. And they did so even though the press of the day was in many ways as antagonistic, partisan, and virulent as it is today; it is no coincidence that among quotes about journalism attributed to Thomas Jefferson is at least one that praises newspapers and at least one that damns them. The Framers envisioned that in the nation they were creating, any man — at least, any propertied white man — might function as a journalist. Societal moves toward more equity as time passed and the advent of the Internet and portable devices have brought what the Framers envisioned into full view.

And can anyone seriously argue that the country would be better off if journalists did not value oversight, transparency, factuality, spotlighting wrongdoing, and giving voice to the voiceless? Can anyone argue that the country would be more democratic without those values? Certainly the Framers would not.

If we are to keep the Republic the Framers vouchsafed to us, the country needs journalism more than journalism needs the country. Journalism and its values should be taught as early as elementary school, and American citizens who are serious about protecting and improving our democratic republic should embrace these values not just in their own lives but also in their political and moral choices.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021 5:04 pm

We told you this would happen

Republicans on a dangerous antidemocratic path since 1994 today conjured violence in the people’s U.S. Capitol.

As I write, hundreds or thousands of pro-Trump supporters have breached the U.S. Capitol — for the first time since the War of 1812, according to the Capitol historian — and forced the suspension of what should have been a pro-forma, if lengthy, counting of Electoral College ballots. TV news shows evidence of at least five injuries and is reporting that at least one person has been shot and critically wounded (UPDATE, 5:48 p.m.: she died) inside the Capitol. Moreover, at least one explosive device was found at the Capitol. These rioters — yes, rioters — were there at the urging of President Donald Trump, who spoke at the protesters’ rally earlier today and urged them to march on the Capitol, raving falsely that the election had been stolen from him.

So many of us told you this would happen. You laughed, or demurred, or insisted that we were taking Trump too seriously. Not so much, it turns out. Welcome to the banana republic, population: you.

MSNBC’s Chuck Todd calls this “unfortunate.” But it is seditious conspiracy. U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, called it “sedition” and said, correctly, “This is what the president has caused.”

Here is the seditious-conspiracy statute, 18 USC 2384:

“If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.”

The rioters conspired to oppose by force the authority of the U.S. government and by force prevented, hindered, and delayed the execution of U.S. law, and took and possessed the Capitol contrary to the authority of the U.S. government. Every single one of them needs to go away for 20 years. So does Trump himself for inciting this sedition.

It’s not just Trump who has brought us to this pass. It also is the Republican Party. Republicans have been marching down an antidemocratic, minority-rule path since at least 1994. Republicans rioted in 2000 to interrupt the vote recount in Florida — not one of them was arrested, and a recount was unlawfully stopped — and Republicans have ignored decade-old warnings that the likeliest source of domestic violence and terror was not Islamicist terrorism but homegrown right-wing white nationalists.

And so here we are.

It’s not clear now why the Capitol Police weren’t prepared for this, but they weren’t. The protest had been talked about on social media for days, and Trump had been egging his right-wing nationalist followers on. Moreover, its lack of preparedness raises the question of how it is going to ensure security and safety at President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration in two weeks.

It’s also important to note that if this had happened in any state, that state’s governor could have called out the National Guard immediately. But in D.C., that request must be relayed up the Department of Defense chain of command, which delayed the Guard response today. If you’re looking for another argument for statehood for the District of Columbia, welp, here you go.

How did Capitol Police allow this to happen, and how are they going to ensure safety at the presidential inaugural in two weeks? One of those questions has a long-term answer, but one needs to be answered right away.

How do we prevent this from happening again? For one thing, swift enforcement of the criminal law, and, yes, some people need to be made examples of. For another, Donald Trump must be impeached immediately and removed from office to ensure he never again holds a position of trust and responsibility within the U.S. government. He also needs to be criminally charged after leaving office for inciting this riot, for it wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t egged the protesters into rioting and sedition. He eventually gave in to requests from Republicans to urge the rioters to stand down, but even in doing that, he made clear where his sympathy lay, calling Biden supporters names and telling the rioters, “We love you.”

Three other Republicans, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, and Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, bear particular responsibility for today’s insurrection. They were the prime movers behind the efforts of some Congressional Republicans to overturn the valid, duly certified electoral-college ballots submitted by some states that Biden carried. They knew that under our Constitution and the law, they had zero chance of success, but Cruz and Hawley, at least, both hoped to win the approval of the Trumpite base as they plan their respective runs for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. Gohmert, after his joke of a lawsuit was dismissed, went on the far-right-wing outlet Newsmax to say that the correct response to the dismissal of his suit was “violence in the streets.” All three should be expelled from Congress and indicted and prosecuted, as well.

The government must begin taking white-nationalist terrorism seriously, devoting resources to undermining and punishing it swiftly and harshly when it manifests. Biden, in his remarks, emphasized that the rioters were a tiny minority, and perhaps they are. But they look more numerous than that — and a number of rioters told MSNBC reporters today, “This is not over.”

But we’re not going to be out of the woods until American voters start holding Republican politicians responsible for sedition. And I see zero likelihood that that is going to happen anytime soon. So it’s entirely possible we could see sedition like this again, perhaps as soon as at Biden’s inauguration.

Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Saturday, December 12, 2020 2:01 pm

Punish them, or they’ll just keep coming back

The Constitution specifies how sedition by American officials should be treated. Let’s follow the Constitution.

Ever since the pardon of Richard M. Nixon by Gerald Ford, we in America have been letting GOP criminals off the hook. Ford pardoned Nixon. Reagan and Bush the Elder got away with Iran-contra. Not only that, on his way out of office, Bush the elder pardoned Iran-contra conspirators with the assistance of Bill Barr, then as now an attorney general who believes there are no legal constraints on the executive branch. Bush the Younger, and his minions, Dick Cheney, Condi Rice, Don Rumsfeld, et al., got away with torture.

And what do we have to show for all this lenience? The worst batch of GOP criminals yet.

It remains to be seen whether Donald Trump and his minions will be held to account. But as bad as their crimes were, there’s one even bigger issue implicating Trump, 18 state attorneys general, and more than half of House Republicans: seditious conspiracy, an attempt to overturn the lawful and fair outcome of a presidential election.

Earlier this week, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued four other states, arguing 1) that they had violated their own constitutions/laws by allowing executive-branch officials rather than legislators to change election laws and 2) that Texas somehow had been harmed by this. Notwithstanding the fact that Texas did some of the same things that it was accusing other states of doing, 17 Republican attorneys general filed amici briefs signing on to the suit, as did more than half of House Republicans.

The suit was the most egregious of more than 50 legal actions Trump’s lawyers have taken since the election to try to overturn the will of the people. Joe Biden won the election popular vote by 81 million to 74 million and the Electoral College by 306 to 232. Had all the votes been counted on election night, people would be talking about Biden’s comfortable margin of victory. Vote tallies eventually were certified throughout the United States, and Biden won fair and square. Even Bill Barr who has served in office more as Trump’s personal attorney than as attorney general for all the people, admitted finding no significant issues in the election, let along anything approaching the wild accusations of cheating that Trump supporters had leveled. (That has led to renewed talk that Trump might fire him — imagine, not being corrupt enough for Trump.)

But because it took most of a week to count the ballots — because of Republican-approved measures, but that’s a long story — Trump could screech about “election theft” and his backers believed him, the fact that he is, at this writing, 1-56 1-58 in court notwithstanding. Many of those suits were almost literally laughed out of court.

The attorney general of Pennsylvania, one of the states sued by Texas, didn’t laugh at the suit. He snarled at it instead, calling it “seditious abuse” of the legal process. And he was right: The lawsuit was a seditious conspiracy of the type barred by 18 U.S.C. 2384:

If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.

The suit struck the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, at least, as in violation of this statute, at least as far as conspiring to overthrow a duly elected government went. (And there’s precedent for documents being acts of sedition: Consider the articles of secession of the Confederate states.) And believe it or not, the Constitution has something to say about that. From Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment:

No Person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

“No person SHALL.” That means that the House has an affirmative duty not to seat for the 117th Congress (which opens Jan. 3) any House member who signed on to the “seditious abuse” of the Paxton lawsuit. And IANAL, but as I read this, residents of the states whose AGs signed on may sue in federal court to have their respective AGs removed. I hope at least some of them will. (Paxton himself has more immediate problems: He has been under indictment since 2015 on securities-fraud charges, and some top aides who recently left his office have accused him of taking bribes and abusing his office. I speculate, and I am not alone, that he started this whole thing just to catch Trump’s eye in hopes of being pre-emptively pardoned before Trump leaves office.)

Refusing to seat that many House members at once would be unprecedented and would heighten the already huge conflict between Republicans and Democrats. And I’m not under any illusions that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would have the guts to do it, even though the language of the 14th Amendment appears to give her no choice. And I get the idea that Biden and his team, as well as congressional Democrats, will face so much Trumpian damage come Jan. 20 that their triage of the many crises we face may not allow time to be devoted to this.

But the Republicans have been playing with the fire of fascism since at least 1994 and arguably since the early 1960s. Their doing so has damaged the country repeatedly in significant part because they are never held to account. It is high time they got burned by their own flame, in public fashion, to discourage anyone else from engaging in sedition. Otherwise, history suggests, it’ll happen again. And next time, the perps might be just as evil and unpatriotic as Trump and his allies — and nowhere near as stupid.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020 5:51 pm

There must be prison

If President-elect Joe Biden doesn’t appoint an attorney general who is inclined to investigate and prosecute at least the biggest crimes of the Trump administration, then he is being derelict in his duty.

Donald Trump has committed so many crimes — not just impeachable offenses, but outright crimes — in broad freakin’ daylight that it seems impossible to consider that perhaps he shouldn’t be investigated and prosecuted for them once he leaves office.

But apparently it’s not impossible for Joe Biden to consider. NBC News reported today that Biden has told aides that he’s concerned that investigations would divide the country, but that he would leave decisions up to an independent Justice Department.

On the one hand, this was predictable, given how Biden campaigned as a uniter and not a divider. And, sure, everyone wants to dial down the partisanship a little, right?

But on the other hand, OH COME ON.

I can’t believe we’re even having to say this, but, hell, YES, he should be criminally investigated, prosecuted if probable cause is found, and sent to prison if convicted. Biden says he wants the Justice Department to be independent — and that’s good! But if he doesn’t appoint an attorney general who is inclined to investigate and prosecute at least the biggest crimes of the Trump administration, Biden, who as president has a constitutional duty to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed,” is being derelict in his duty.

Here’s the thing: For 50 years, we have been letting criminal Republicans off the hook. What do we have to show for these 50 years of letting GOP criminals off? More and worse GOP criminals. The normalization of everything from political dirty tricks to torture and treason. And a republic that was at the edge of the abyss before Biden beat Trump and is still one hell of a long way from out of the woods. If we are to avoid anything like a Trump administration again, which everyone who believes in democracy thinks would be a good thing to do, then we must punish Trump and his minions.

The sins of Donald Trump and his minions have been so many, varied and spectacular that if I were to list them all I’d be writing this blog post for the rest of my life. Just for starters, let’s look at the stuff he did right out in the open, like permanently separating immigrant children from their parents at the border — at least 666 that we know of. I am not a lawyer, but that appears to me to constitute one form of genocide under the U.S. genocide statute, 18 USC 1091(a)(6). And it’s not just Trump who is culpable; other investigative targets should include Alex Azar, then and now Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Kirstjen Nielsen, then Secretary of Homeland Security, as well as Trump White House aide Stephen Miller, who has been reported as being behind the separation plan.

In addition, federal prosecutors in Manhattan named “Individual-1,” later identified as Trump, as an unindicted co-conspirator in the conspiracy to violate election law by funneling hush money to Stormy Daniels. Currently, a Watergate-era Justice Department policy precludes indictment of a sitting president, but that protection evaporates once Trump leaves office Jan. 20.

Vol. 2 of the Mueller Report indicated that Trump obstructed justice up to 10 times during the investigation. Indeed, Special Counsel Robert Mueller made it clear that if not for that Justice Department policy, he would have indicted Trump on a number of those counts. (Some more clearly include all three statutorily defined elements of the crime than others.)

And those are just what is out in the open. Subjects crying out for either new or renewed criminal or counterterrorism investigation include the 2016 Trump campaign’s relationship with Russian leader Vladimir Putin and Trump’s finances, of which the little that has come to light has suggested the possibility of tax fraud, bank fraud (or both), and conspiracy. Trump’s former CFO cooperated with the Mueller investigation and is now cooperating with state and local prosecutors in New York.

It’s not just that the crimes themselves are bad, although they are. Trump’s entire administration was full of grifting (almost $200 million in tax money to his resorts for golf alone), and he ran the government not like a chief executive, but like a mobster. Every relationship was purely transactional, with nothing undertaken in the nation’s best interests. He didn’t even try to govern in the interests of states that had not voted for him in 2016.

The reason that prosecution would be so symbolically important is that it would send the signal that that’s not how you faithfully execute the office of president — and that no one else should try it ever again.

Joe Biden also would be wise to ponder his decision in the context of the 2022 midterms. Voters in the 2018 midterms indicated strongly that they wanted Trump held accountable, and a majority of Americans approved his impeachment earlier this year. If Biden doesn’t at least look like he’s trying to seek justice for Trump’s crimes, a lot of the Democratic base will sit home in 2022, just as they did in 2010, with disastrous results for the party, for the country as a whole, and for many states. They shouldn’t — I get it; it would be stupid and self-destructive — but they probably will.

Finally, if Trump and at least some of his minions do not go to prison for their crimes, then the country will be admitting that we are no longer a nation under the rule of law. And if we’re not that, then what good are we?

Sunday, August 16, 2020 10:04 pm

An open email to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy

via email: louis.dejoy@usps.gov

Dear Postmaster General DeJoy:

You need to undo all the changes you have made that have hampered delivery of mail generally and mail-in ballots in particular.

Failure to do so, given Trump’s statement on Fox Business News Thursday morning that he is cutting funding to the USPS to prevent delivery of mail-in ballots, implicates you in conspiracy to deny U.S. voters their civil rights, a felony violation of 18 USC 241 punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine.

Failure to do so also would constitute a violation of 18 USC 595, election interference, punishable by a year in prison and a fine.

It also would constitute a violation of 18 USC 1703, which makes interference in mail delivery by an officer of the USPS a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine.

You’re trying to help Trump steal an election, and we’re not going to let that happen.

Sincerely,

Hooper “Lex” Alexander IV
Greensboro, NC 27403

Friday, August 14, 2020 7:00 pm

Here’s how to get Postmaster General Louis DeJoy fired and charged for his role in Trump’s attempt to steal the election

UPDATE: Added all members of the Board of Governors (h/t @DataAndPolitics)
UPDATE: Corrected email address (h/t @C0URTNEE)
Robert M. Duncan: mduncan@inezdepositbank.com
John Barger: barger.jm@gmail.com
Ron Bloom: ron.bloom@brookfield.com
Roman Martinez: roman@rmiv.com
Donald Moak: lee.moak@moakgroup.com
Wiliam Zollers: directoraccessmailbox@cigna.com

Dear Members of the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors:

I write to you in your capacity as members of the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors to ask you to remove Louis DeJoy as Postmaster General and refer his case to the U.S. Department of Justice for criminal prosecution.
As postmaster general, DeJoy has introduced slowdowns in mail delivery and removal of sorting equipment and postal boxes without adequate explanation. He has done this, according to President Donald J. Trump, for the express purpose of hindering delivery of mail-in ballots for the Nov. 3, 2020, general election.
In so doing, he has committed criminal violation of 18 USC 241 (felony conspiracy to deny civil rights), 18 USC 595 (election interference) and 18 USC 1703 (felony interference with mail delivery by a member of the U.S. Postal Service), whence my request for a criminal referral.
I look forward to the board’s prompt attention to this matter.
Sincerely,
Hooper “Lex” Alexander IV
(address)
Greensboro, NC 2740X
(phone)

Wednesday, July 15, 2020 5:57 pm

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis: “Look! A squirrel!”

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote both of my congresscritters, demanding to know what they were going to do about Trump letting Russia get away with putting bounties on the heads of U.S. service members in Afghanistan. My senior senator, Richard Burr, who says he will retire after the 2022 elections, responded almost immediately but said he was still waiting to find out more about the situation. Inasmuch as he is chairman of the Senate Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, I seriously doubted that there was much more he needed to know, but at least he responded — a low bar, but significant for a guy who’s retiring.

My junior senator, Thom Tillis, who’s running for re-election this year, took a while longer to write back. And I’ll let you read what he wrote verbatim:

Dear Mr. Alexander:

Thank you for taking the time to contact me about the reports that Russian military operatives offered bounties to Taliban and Taliban-affiliated militants to attack United States and coalition servicemembers in Afghanistan. I appreciate hearing from you.

As you may know, on June 26, 2020, the New York Times published an article alleging Russian GRU operatives provided “bounties” to Taliban and Taliban-affiliated militants as payment for attacking U.S. and other Western coalition forces deployed in Afghanistan. According to the New York Times article, the anonymous American officials based their assessment primarily on intelligence obtained from interrogations of captured Afghan militants and criminals.

While American Intelligence agencies have not yet been verified these reports, I take them incredibly seriously. No nation or terrorist group should escape retribution after targeting American troops or civilians.

Therefore, I called for the United States to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, if the intelligence community corroborates and verifies the allegations made in the New York Times report. Designating Russia as a state sponsor of terror is one of the strongest actions the administration could take against Putin, and it would instantly force Russia into pariah status with the international community.

As the intelligence community works to verify the intelligence, I will continue to carefully monitor the U.S. operations in Afghanistan and our national security interests in the broader region. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I will continue to attend any classified briefings on this matter.

Moving forward, it is imperative the United States continues to oppose Putin’s destabilizing tactics designed to divide and mislead us. Russia remains an authoritarian police state committed to undermining the interests of the United States and our allies and partners. In recent years Putin has illegally annexed the Crimean Peninsula, waged expansionist wars against Georgia and Ukraine, attempted to interfere in elections in the United States and other democracies. He now threatens our North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) partners Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Poland. Russia has also shamefully chosen support the foremost state sponsor of global terror, Iran, a regime that continues to support war criminal Bashar al-Assad and his grip on power in Syria.

For these reasons, I support taking tough punitive actions against Russia, including the use of crippling financial sanctions to pressure Putin to stop continued Russian aggression.

Thank you again for contacting me, and I will keep your views in mind. Please do not hesitate to get in touch with me again about other issues that are important to you.

 

Sincerely,

Thom Tillis

U.S. Senator

We’ll talk in a minute about what he said, but first I’d like to talk about what he didn’t say.

He never mentioned Trump’s name.

He never mentioned the president in any way.

He basically ignored the thrust of my question in the hopes that I wouldn’t notice or wouldn’t care.

In so doing, he made it clear that he is ride-or-die Trump, that there is nothing Trump could do that would cost him Tillis’s support.

Uh-oh. I noticed. (And now, so have you.)

And there is nothing Tillis can do that would lead me to do anything but vote for his Democratic opponent, Cal Cunningham. If you can’t vote for Cal, please send him money. This race could dictate control of the Senate come 2021. And I don’t have to tell you how important that is.

 

 

 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020 6:28 pm

Today is the day the United States became an autocracy

We are in a very bad place. We need to vote Trump out in November. And God help us if we do not, because no decent person will be safe.

I’ve said, on here and on social media, that there is no bottom to what Trump and the GOP are willing to do, and today we got proof of it.

Longtime GOP dirty trickster Roger Stone who has thumbed his nose at the law pretty much his entire adult life and who was convicted of lying and obstructing justice in the Mueller investigation, is going to be sentenced. Federal prosecutors recommended a sentence within the appropriate sentencing guidelines — a range of roughly seven to nine years.

Then, later today, after tweets from Trump that the proposed sentence for Trump was far too excessive, the Justice Department said it would be recommending a much lower sentence for Stone. It also said that what the career prosecutors had recommended had never been communicated to their higher-ups.

Obviously, the safest course in any situation is to assume that Bill Barr’s Justice Department is lying. But that was particularly obvious in this case because not only did all four career prosecutors assigned to the case withdraw from it after Justice’s statement, one of them also quit the Justice Department entirely. Lawyer Twitter seems to have never seen anything like it. Neither have I.

Make no mistake: Trump and Barr are using the power of the Justice Department to protect their political friends. And if you think they won’t also use that power to attack and punish their political enemies, you are 12 different kinds of stupid. Trump, particularly has a vengeful streak a mile wide, a product of his malignant narcissism. And Barr has shown no inclination to press his boss to stay within law and ethics. To the contrary, he has facilitated his boss’s every illegal desire.

Today is the day the United States became an autocracy. Newspapers and cable news won’t say that, but I will because it’s true. We are in a very bad place. We need to vote Trump out in November. And God help us if we do not, because no decent person will be safe.

UPDATE: Senate Republicans just blocked three election-security bills. Sleep well, America.

Thursday, December 19, 2019 12:52 pm

Impeachment is only the beginning

I know you don’t want to, but please do me a favor and watch the three-minute pre-impeachment speech given last night by U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., because I think you need to see and hear it to understand just how much danger the country would remain in even if Donald J. Trump disappeared tomorrow.

After the votes last night to impeach Trump, MSNBC commentator Nicolle Wallace, a former Bush 43 administration official, decried the “cheap tribalism” of Congressional Republicans, calling it “sad.”

Well, don’t be sad, be terrified, because the problem with Republicans goes way further than “cheap tribalism.” The party has been on an unbroken 50-year slide toward dictatorship, and it shows no signs whatever of being ready to get off the ride. Trump is merely the logical, predictable, and predicted result of that slide, a symptom and not the disease.

Indeed, Trump could be gone tomorrow and we would still have to reckon with the fact that one of our two major parties has forsworn constitutional democracy in pursuit of absolute, dictatorial power. The GOP is now the party of treason, not nearly enough Americans understand that, and not nearly enough of those who understand it are saying so, including our so-called liberal media.

Again, if you doubt me, welp, just watch Nunes’s speech (or Mitch McConnell’s much longer speech from this morning, embedded below), in which Nunes ludicrously insists that it was the Democrats, not the Republicans, who colluded with Russia. While Nunes was last seen suing an imaginary cow, he cannot be underestimated because his speech is weapons-grade batshit and Reichstag-fire evil — and there’s not a Republican man or woman in the House or Senate who doesn’t agree with him.

I don’t know how you fight an entire party, but I do know that it starts with not giving them a single vote and denouncing them at every opportunity. But if we don’t fight it, America’s 232-year experiment with constitutional republican government could be over not in years, but in months.

(Here’s McConnell’s speech.)

 

Sunday, December 15, 2019 9:53 pm

I’m supporting Elizabeth Warren for president. Here’s why.

I set a simple but high bar for my choice for president in 2020. The only person who cleared it is U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

I posted on Twitter in March 2019 that I wouldn’t be picking a Democrat to support for president in 2020 until at least October 2019. I ended up waiting longer than that, figuring that circumstances would make a lot of my decisions for me. And so it has come to pass.

I’m supporting U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, for the Democratic nomination for president. The selection process wasn’t so much a weeding through of candidates as it was a very simple process of elimination.

Here’s what I mean: I decided well before the 2018 elections that my choice for president in 2020 was going to have to be able to get enough stuff done in the way of cleaning up after Dump so that by, say, June 2022, Democratic congressional candidates not only would have made big progress toward de-Trumping the government but ALSO would have a solid platform on which to run and win.

Accomplishing that was going to require a president who had two traits: a solid record of knowing how to move the levers of the federal government to GET SH*T DONE, and a long list of IOUs from Congressional Democrats in order to GET SH*T DONE.

Those criteria effectively filtered the field for me: It left Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden. That’s it. Nobody else met those criteria. So it’s not like I have to go negative on anyone else in the field, even if I were so inclined.

But I had a second criterion as well.

My choice for the Democratic presidential nomination needed to have grasped, beyond any doubt and without any hesitation, just how big an existential threat to the Republic the current Republican Party is. My candidate had to understand that the GOP is now the party of treason and be under no illusions about the possibility, let alone advisability, of “working with” the GOP as it is currently constituted.

And after that? Elizabeth Warren stands alone.

Your own criteria for a candidate might differ, and that’s fine. And I’m not going to say much negative about other candidates, except for: 1) cleaning up after Donald J. Trump is no job for a federal-government virgin, and 2) serving as president of the United States is no job for a narcissistic billionaire dilettante, of whom the Democrats allowed WAY too many into the race.

I could say a lot of nice things about many of the other Democratic candidates. And given that the base of the Democratic Party is basically women of color now, I would be remiss if I, an old white guy, didn’t admit I’m not entirely comfortable ruling U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris out.

But my criteria were my criteria before any candidate announced, I stand by them, and Sen. Harris made her own call for her own reasons. I understand if you don’t share my preference, but I hope you will.

And, finally know this: I understand that the chances that Warren won’t be the nominee are nontrivial. But I pledge, right here and right now, to support the eventual Democratic nominee with my time, my money, and my vote, whoever he or she turns out to be, because voting for that nominee is the ONLY way to ensure that we make Donald Trump a one-term president and turn him over to the tender mercies of the criminal-justice system — which defending the Republic demands we do. He needs to die in prison in a diaper, his following in the GOP needs to be not just discredited but sentenced to spend at least 40 years in the wilderness, and voting blue is the best and only way to make sure that happens.

So, what happens if Trump gets convicted, or loses in 2020, and refuses to leave?

No one sane wants to think about what might happen, and what might have to be done, if Trump gets convicted or loses in 2020, but refuses to leave office. But the sane people had better start thinking about it, because for damn sure the insane people already are.

I know I would welcome reporting from national news outlets that, without disclosing classified details, makes clear that if Trump refused to leave when the time came, he would be evicted with dispatch and he and anyone who helped him would be prosecuted for sedition. I think it would do a lot to tamp down all this talk by Trump backers of revolting if things didn’t go his way.

And that would be a good thing.

Saturday, December 14, 2019 2:12 pm

We’re not nearly as worried about 2020 election security as we should be

Earlier today I started a Twitter thread on this subject. It ended up being long enough that Twitter was a cumbersome format for reading it, so I’m combining the thread and reposting the content here, with a bit of editing and formatting to make it more like a regular blog post.

A thread of uncertain length on 2020 election security:

I think that up to now, GOP attacks on an honest voting system have been attenuated: They wanted just enough votes to win without, they hoped, attracting much attention. And I think it’s fair to say that that’s what they’ve gotten.

When Jeb Bush and his Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, illegally kicked a bunch of Florida voters off the rolls just before the 2000 election, the attention in the immediate aftermath of the election wasn’t on that act. Rather, it was on recounts, stopping recounts, and hanging ballot chads – all of which were important but missed the bigger picture. It took the investigative work of reporter Greg Palast to bring the voter-roll purge to detailed light in a chapter of his 2002 book, “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.”

In 2004, the issues seemed to revolve around the state of Ohio rather than Florida, and its secretary of state. There were reports of voting-machine malfunctions and other irregularities that seemed to suggest the possibility of sabotage. But nothing was ever conclusively proven.

Then Obama got elected, and the Republicans seemed to recognize the need for more and better ways to fix the vote. Vote suppression seemed the way to go, which is why Chief Justice John Roberts practically went case-shopping to get Shelby County v. Holder before the high court.

(It didn’t help that Dems stayed home in droves in 2010 because they were mad that Obama didn’t give them a rainbow single-payer health-insurance unicorn or whatever. That temper tantrum put a lot of psycho Republicans in power at all levels and, in Congress, often at the cost of Dems who had voted for the Affordable Care Act.)

Immediately after Shelby County — and I mean “immediately”; some of the bills were pre-written — GOP legislatures across the country began enacting vote-suppression measures. One was voter ID, based on fictitious claims that in-person vote fraud was a widespread problem. Such requirements, of course, usually were accompanied by measures that severely limited the types and availability of complying ID. No state university ID cards, for instance. Availability was limited by limiting the number of locations where one could obtain valid ID, which put a huge burden on people without reliable transportation — the people who disproportionately are minorities and vote Democratic.

And voter-roll purging became more widespread, led by transparent opportunists like then-Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, whose “Crosscheck” program – a sloppy way of matching voter names against lists of convicted felons, say – was adopted by Republicans in more states. (The fact that such efforts appeared to be felony violations of 18 USC 241 was widely overlooked.)

But even that wasn’t enough for the Republicans, so Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign accepted the fruits of Russian hacking of Democrats’ computers.  (The Russians also hacked GOP computers, and while there’s no proof, it’s a popular theory that they found info with which to blackmail some GOP officials into doing their bidding.) And let us not forget Russian manipulation of social media to influence public opinion, using messages targeted to many different relatively small groups of people to try to influence outcomes at the margins.

The result, of course, was that while Trump lost the 2016 popular vote by almost 3 million votes, he won the Electoral College by a mere 80,000 votes divided among just three states: Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

(And don’t get me started on the Electoral College: Its purpose, per the Federalist Papers, was to prevent the election of a demagogue. It has failed in that purpose twice in the past 20 years. Its real purpose was to get slave-owning states to ratify the Constitution, and it serves no useful purpose today and should be scrapped lest our future be that of minority governance. But that’s an issue for a different thread.)

So we know what happened in 2016: Far from being an awful candidate, Hillary Clinton could be defeated only by a perfect storm of a slave-era election mechanism, Russian election sabotage in cahoots with Trump’s campaign, GOP vote suppression, and possible machine hacking.

(The lousy news media coverage of the campaign also immeasurably helped Trump, as did James Comey’s bogus announcement of possible new evidence against Clinton right before the election. But those, too, are subjects for another thread.)

So Trump got in and started criming on Day 1 with violations of the Emoluments Clause. He has crimed away since while weakening our global standing, viciously attacking our most vulnerable Americans, betraying our national security and our allies, and ignoring the existential disaster that is climate change. His popularity remains underwater, and a slight majority of Americans favors his impending impeachment.

Regarding that impeachment: I am under no illusions that the GOP-controlled Senate will vote to convict. McConnell and his party are too corrupt. So our only way of getting rid of this agent of a hostile foreign power is at the polls on Nov. 3.

The problem for the Republicans is that they have become so corrupt, and their corruption so thoroughly intertwined with Trump’s, that they cannot allow Trump to be beaten. If he is, not only is it game over for him, with indictments likely the instant he leaves office, but it’s also game over for them — their tax cuts, their appointment and confirmation of inept and corrupt judges, their profiting from the school-to-prison pipeline and for-profit corrections, and so many, many other scams, particularly if Warren or Sanders wins.

So Republicans must win in 2020 by any means necessary. Any. Means. Necessary. And that means not just stealing the presidency again. That means congressional races, legislative races, you name it. The alternative is too frightening for them to contemplate.

And why shouldn’t they? It’s not like we have a lot of ways to detect and stop it even after the fact, let alone in real time. For example, international voting-rights groups have found that comparing exit polling against ballot counts is a reliable way to detect cheating. But we don’t do that in the U.S. Because of Republican opposition, we have enacted no protections against foreign sabotage of our elections. We do not routinely audit voting machines and elections. We have mandatory recounts in far fewer situations than robust election security would call for. We need to be using voter-hand-marked, voter-verified, hand-counted paper ballots to prevent electoral sabotage and fraud. But because our elections are governed by state and local governments, almost nowhere are we doing so.

Which all brings me to my concern: If the Republicans decide to steal big in 2020 — so big that it becomes obvious to most people, not just interested parties like me — what’s to stop them? We have no standard mechanism for election do-overs. (The do-over this year in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, which was ordered after widespread absentee-fraud ballot by employees of a Republican candidate, is an exception.) We have no constitutional mechanism for undoing fraudulent elections,  let alone mechanisms for undoing the consequences of fraudulent elections. We can’t fire all the bureaucrats appointed by a fraudulently elected president. We would have to impeach them (and all the judges), one at a time, and then hold individual Senate votes to remove them from office — again, one at a time.

So what’s to stop Republicans from going so big on election theft that everyone is aware of it? Because no one will be able to do anything about it but demonstrate. And the GOP has an answer for that, too. From Trump’s executive order this week about Judaism down to bills in state legislatures, Republicans are seeking to criminalize our First Amendment right to peaceably assemble and petition our government for redress of grievances. So while I have no evidence that suggests the GOP WILL do this, I look at our situation and their corruption and think, well, why WOULDN’T they?

If Americans protested and Republicans tried to put down those protests, we might have riots. And, having no answers to how to fix this, I have to confess that I don’t know which I’m more afraid of: that we might riot, or that we might not.

Friday, December 13, 2019 4:30 pm

Want to know how crooked the Senate Republicans are? Here’s how crooked the Senate Republicans are.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made clear that Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial will be a sham. That would mean that Republican senators would be violating the Constitution, their existing and upcoming oaths to support the Constitution, and the Senate’s own rules. When that happens, Democrats must hold not just Republican senators but all Republican candidates accountable across the board.

With the full House of Representatives scheduled to vote Wednesday on the two articles of impeachment against Donald Trump, The Washington Post has reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Republicans plan on “holding a short impeachment trial early next year that would include no witnesses,” with an immediate vote to acquit.

That would mean that all the witnesses who testified before the House Intelligence, Oversight, and Foreign Affairs committees in recent weeks would not be able to repeat their testimonies in a Senate trial. It also means that Donald Trump would be unable to call witnesses in his own defense; he has said he wants to call House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff, former Vice President Joe Biden, Biden’s son Hunter, and possibly other witnesses. This would be to create a narrative suggesting that rather than abusing his office to try to get Ukraine to announce a corruption probe of the Bidens, as one article of impeachment alleges, Trump actually was urging Ukraine to investigate alleged corruption on the part of the Bidens, the younger of whom sat on the board of a Ukrainian business.

But Republicans, the Post says, would rather just reject the articles and go home.

Can they do that? Probably; Article I, Sec. 3, clause 6 of the Constitution gives the Senate the sole power to try cases of impeachment. Chief Justice John Roberts would preside, but unless an actual lawyer wants to argue otherwise, it looks to me as if the Senate can do as they damned well please in this regard. (That said, I think Roberts would be fine with the Republicans’ plans anyway; he almost always is. His reputation for caring about his and the Supreme Court’s places in history have always struck me as overblown.)

But there’s something else that affects this dynamic, something Senate Republicans really hope you don’t know about: the Senate Rules in Impeachment Trials. This article in The Bulwark helpfully explains how and why the Framers decided that the Senate, rather than the Supreme Court, should try impeachment cases, and how those rules come into play:

Hamilton reported that the Court lacked the political fortitude to weather the storm that would attend any verdict: the Court’s legitimacy as a final tribunal for ordinary legal disputes would be undermined if it took on the issue of high politics as well. The Court might be able to mitigate partisanship, but it would risk its own legitimacy in doing so.

The Senate, on the other hand, was a more promising venue because it was a political body, but not as tightly tethered to factionalism and political passion as the House. It was designed to take a longer view and was therefore a promising site for such extraordinary trials.

But, you say, today’s Senate is tightly tethered to factionalism. And you’re right. But the Framers thought about that, too:

The idea was that rather than lowering the Supreme Court down to high politics, the Senate would be raised up. To raise the Senate up to the demands of high politics, the Framers decided that the Senate would need to recompose itself into a new institution—an impeachment court. (Emphasis in the original — Lex)

This transformation was serious enough that senators would have to take a new oath of office.

According to Article I, section 3, clause 6 of the Constitution, senators, when sitting on a trial of impeachment, “shall be on Oath or Affirmation.” When they are elected to the Senate, all senators swear a general Oath to uphold the Constitution.

But the Oath taken in an impeachment trial is different. It is a juror’s oath and a judge’s oath—not a legislator’s oath. Rule XXV of the Senate Rules in Impeachment Trials provides the text: “I solemnly swear (or affirm) that in all things appertaining to the trial of ____, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help me God.”

For an impeachment trial of a president, the chief justice of the Supreme Court presides. He can be overruled by a majority vote of the other judges/jurors—which is to say the senators. But it is vital to remember that the Constitution asks them to remember that they are not sitting as senators, but now as judges and jurors.

So much so that for this brief period the senators are all equal. For the course of the trial the roles of Majority and Minority Leader, President Pro Tem, Committee Chairs, Whips, and so forth no longer exist. For the duration of the trial the Senate is a literally new institution with new rules, new norms, and new responsibilities.

The more people who understand that, the more people will see that any attempt by Senate Republicans not to have a full and fair airing of the facts — or to acquit Donald Trump in the face of these facts — is constitutionally flawed and violates the Senate’s own impeachment rules. Democrats need to point that out in real time during the trial as well as afterwards.

And afterwards, Democrats in every 2020 race, from president down to dogcatcher, need to hang that corruption, that violated oath, like a putrescent albatross carcass around the neck of not just every Republican senator, but every Republican running for office in 2020, from Dump down to dogcatcher.

I am not optimistic that Democrats will win the White House in 2020. I think it’s entirely possible that the Democratic nominee can win the popular vote by 5 million and still lose the Electoral College through a combination of Russian sabotage, hacked voting machines, and GOP vote suppression in key swing states including North Carolina. But if there’s a way to win this election by a margin too big to steal, this is it.

A pep talk when the good guys badly need one

My friend Dan Conover posted something on Facebook Thursday that was so good that, with his permission, I’m sharing it. I’ll have a minor footnote of my own at the end.

* * *

The news is awful these days. Or should I say, the Republican *response* to the news is awful. Grinds the soul. Shreds hope. And the natural reaction is to retreat into pessimism. After all, what can we do?

Well, here’s a pep talk from history, and it’s as much for me as you.

On March 15, 1781, a fragile and reconstituted American Army under General Nathaniel Greene — a Quaker — finally turned to fight a pursuing British Army commanded by Lord Cornwallis at a place called Guilford Courthouse.

Greene’s army outnumbered Cornwallis’ redcoats, but that barely concerned the British commander. His army was comprised of battle-hardened professionals. The bulk of Greene’s force were simple militiamen. Locals with no experience or training. The kind of unreliable amateur fighters Cornwallis had routed time and again in the South.

How would such men stand up to cannon fire and bayonet charges in a major battle?

Greene, who understood both the limitations and the value of his militiamen, deployed them as the first defensive line the British would encounter. Before the battle commenced, he visited those nervous citizen soldiers, and gave them simple instructions: Hit the enemy hard once once or twice, then run like hell.

When I was a kid visiting the battleground in Greensboro, N.C., I felt disappointed to read that plaque. Reports that many of the militia fled the field after just one volley didn’t exactly fill me with Tar Heel pride in those days.

Now I understand Greene’s wisdom. He knew untrained irregulars under untested leadership couldn’t be counted on to hold up through the prolonged chaos of battle. But he also knew that he couldn’t win without them. That’s why he put them up front and kept things simple. Hit the Redcoats one good lick.

And brother, did they.

Cornwallis sent his best, most veteran infantry unit marching across the field toward that Carolina militia, bayonets affixed to enormous Brown Bess muskets. Just the sight of the Empire’s fearsome soldiers had sent previous backwoods militias running for home.

But those untrained Tar Heels stood their ground until the enemy was right in front of them — and unleashed a devastating 1,500-gun volley. An officer in the Scottish infantry unit that received that volley, the 71st Regiment of Foot, later described how it mowed down half of his proud Highlanders in an instant.

Some of those Carolina farmers ran off after that. Others stuck around to reload and try again. Some stood their ground and died on it.

But they did the job that was needed. And it mattered.

By the time the advancing Redcoats reached Greene’s Continental regulars, the British casualties were so high, and their tactical situation was so dire, that Cornwallis did the unthinkable. He ordered his cannon to fire, point blank, into the hand-to-hand melee in front of him.

Again, Greene was wise. Rather than have his precious Continentals cut to shreds by cannon, he ordered a retreat. Cornwallis slaughtered as many of his troops as ours with that order, but that’s why history records Guilford Courthouse as a British victory.

A truly Pyrrhic victory. Modern historians consider Guilford Courthouse to be the decisive battle of the Southern Campaign — and the singular disaster that forced Cornwallis to Yorktown, where his surrender to General George Washington seven months later effectively ended the American Revolution.

Like the militiamen of 1781, we don’t have to be superheroes. We don’t have to win every battle. We just have to show up when it counts, and do the job.

And we’ve been doing it, too. Instead of shrinking from the clear and present danger last year, we showed up in force in November 2018. That’s how we won back the House of Representatives, and our votes 13 months ago are why Trump’s Ukraine treason is bound for an impeachment trial in the Senate.

Sure, Trump’s base still doesn’t get it. But there were plenty of Lindsey Graham-ish Tories in the Carolinas during the Revolutionary War, too. They were on the wrong side then. They’re on the wrong side now. Fuck ’em. March on.

And no, we’re not likely to remove Trump from office in the Republican Senate. But so what if Trump wins a sham trial in that McConnell-controlled chamber? As British politician Charles James Fox wrote after learning of Cornwallis’ “win” at Guilford Courthouse, “Another such victory would ruin the British Army!”

It’s not going to be easy between now and the election. Our enemies know they’re outnumbered, which means they’re going to pull every dirty trick they know to break our morale and keep us away from the polls on Nov. 3, 2020.

Our side is going to make mistakes, too. It’s nature of conflict. Get your mind right for it.

But if we show up and vote when it counts? Like those nervous North Carolina farmers taking their one shot in 1781, we’ll make history.

Don’t we owe them that?

* * *

Lex again. I have lived in Greensboro for more than 30 years. Not only have I visited the battleground site numerous times, as a reporter I covered the commemoration of the battle more than once. Yet never before has anyone explained to me how and why the Continental troops achieved what they did as well as Dan has. Thanks, pal.

 

In which a UMich law professor blows up every single House GOP defense of Trump

In one handy Twitter thread, law professor Barb McQuade demolishes the bullshit “defenses” Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee have been offering against Trump’s impeachment. She shows that the Republicans really do have nothing, zero, zilch, zip, nada.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019 7:56 pm

Bill Barr is the worst attorney general ever.

What should be crystal clear after today is that not only is Donald Trump dangerous to the Republic, so is Attorney General Bill Barr. Pursuing a propaganda theory that started with the Kremlin, Barr directed the Justice Department’s Inspector General to investigate the beginnings of the department’s 2016 investigation of Trump campaign connections to the Russians. Trump partisans thought this probe would come up with all sorts of derogatory information. But on Monday, the IG reported: Nope, all clean. Some procedural mistakes, but no hint of bias, and all standards for a proper Justice investigation were properly met.

Barr responded immediately that “in my view,” the IG investigation was inadequate and that the original investigation had been flawed, and never mind that what matters legally isn’t his view but whether departmental standards had been met — which, the IG determined, they had.

So Barr, still intent on pushing Kremlin propaganda to protect the criminal in the White House, has commissioned U.S. Attorney John Durham of Connecticut to do ANOTHER investigation. And THIS time, he’s convinced, he’ll find proof that the original investigation of the Trump campaign was flawed all along. As former FBI assistant director Frank Figliuzzi told MSNBC, “He’s shopping for outcomes, not searching for facts.”

The definition of insanity is doing something over and over and expecting a different result. But Barr isn’t insane, and the real goal here isn’t the result. It’s the APPEARANCE that the original Trump investigation was somehow flawed. THAT is what Barr is trying to sell to Trump voters, and he’s violating his oath of office to do it. We’ve had a run of mediocre to bad attorneys general since John Mitchell under Nixon, but Barr is by far the worst of them all. The nation’s chief law enforcement officer is using the powers of his office to protect a criminal. He, too, must be impeached, and abuse of office, obstruction of justice and obstruction of Congress should be only the starting point for his articles of impeachment.

Monday, December 9, 2019 9:08 pm

If I’d wanted a take this stupid, I’d have subscribed to the Times, not the Post.

Some people have asked me why I found Matt Vizer’s Washington Post story on Elizabeth Warren’s legal work (which I’m not going to link to) so objectionable. The short answer is that both factual accuracy and contextual accuracy matter, and while the story appeared to be factually accurate, it was wildly flawed from a contextual standpoint.

What do I mean by that? Well for starters, the article started out by saying Warren had made $2 million from her legal work. What it should have said in the headline and the same sentence was that she earned that $2 million over about 30 years, so that her average annual income from that work was about $66,000.

The article also should have pointed out that by the standards of corporate lawyers, Warren was grossly underpaid. Top corporate lawyers today command in excess of $1,000 per hour, or more than $2 million per year, not over 30 years.

Contextual accuracy also demands that before anyone stars hinting at impropriety, Warren’s earnings be compared with those of the Clintons and Obamas, who can command several times more money for a one-night speech than Warren averaged pear YEAR during her 30 years of legal work.

It’s fair to ask questions about some the clients Warren chose to represent. But contextual accuracy also requires pointing out that even as she was representing them, she was working to make it more difficult for them to behave in predatory fashion. And in the context of the presidential election, that matters a lot: As one lawyer, Warren couldn’t do much to change the system. But as president of the United States? She might be able to do quite a lot, particularly if Democrats hold the House and retake the Senate. (So could a couple of other current Dem candidates, and I’m reasonably sure that Kamala Harris, who has dropped out, would’ve been able to as well.)

Finally, contextual accuracy demands that the story point out that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, WHILE ON THE WHITE HOUSE PAYROLL, earned between $29 million and $135 million in outside income in 2018. (The reporting requires only ranges, not specific amounts, be reported.) In the face of that level of corruption, the Post’s absurd focus on Warren looks not just misguided but slanted. Indeed, I’ll wager that if the facts had been the same and Warren had been a man, the story wouldn’t even have been conceived, let alone published.

In short, this was the kind of contextually stillborn story that the New York Times specializes in — it was a Hillary’s-emails-type story about Warren. And that’s not just wrong, it’s insulting. If I wanted a take like that, I’d subscribe to the Times. Matt Viser and his editors should be ashamed.

Republicans: Nothing left but bullshit

Because I have a job and a life, I caught only a few snippets of today’s Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing, but this is how stupid and contradictory Republicans are. The committee’s ranking minority member, Doug Collins, and several others called this a “focus-group impeachment” and said no president ever had been impeached so early in his tenure. Well, calling it a focus-group impeachment implies that there’s public support for it – but Republicans keep insisting that the issue is a loser with voters. (How much of a loser is it? Support for impeachment is at 50% in Ohio. Let me say that again: IN. OHIO.)

Republicans also argue that Trump can’t be impeached because he didn’t succeed in completing a quid pro quo. (He did, but set that aside for now.) But they also argue that he can’t be impeached because there’s no evidence because his obstruction of Congress and obstruction of justice DID succeed. Sorry, kids, but you don’t get to have it both ways.

And today, committee member John Ratcliffe reached up into his descending colon and pulled out the notion that the whistleblower had somehow perjured himself in his complaint.

Not to be outdone, the committee’s Republican counsel, Stephen Kastor, lied under oath to the panel, stating that the readout of Dump’s July 25 telephone call with Ukrainian president Vlodymyr Zelensky made clear that there was no quid pro quo. In fact there was — read it for yourself. Problem is, if chair Jerry Nadler makes a criminal referral to the Justice Department, as might normally happen, Attorney General Bill Barr will just quash it.

They’re not arguing facts, except to insist that what clearly exists doesn’t. They aren’t arguing the law; they’re arguing a manufactured version of the law. They’ve got nothing but bullshit. No facts. No law. No logic.

And that news media aren’t saying that, simply and forthrightly, is just one more illustration of how much danger this constitutional republic is in.

Saturday, November 2, 2019 6:33 pm

So much for “no collusion”

Thanks to a lawsuit filed by Buzzfeed News, CNN and other outlets, some of the FBI interview forms (Form 302s) and emails that formed the basis for the report by special counsel Robert Mueller have been made public. Reporters for those outlets have been digging through them all afternoon, tweeting one nugget after another. (More will be released each month for what could take years.)

But here’s the big picture: There is documentary evidence of presidential candidate Donald Trump telling his staff in 2016, “Get the emails,” referring to the emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee’s server. The records show that those emails were known to be the work product of Russian-allied entities, e.g., Wikileaks.

So what does that mean?

Telling your staff, “Get the emails” is the same thing as telling your staff, “Go collude.” Which is one HELL of a long way away from “no collusion.” It’s almost as much a long way from “no conspiracy.”

So why was this fact — excuse me, this SMOKING GUN — omitted or redacted from the Mueller report? And was the omission Mueller’s work, or FBI Deputy Director Rob Rosenstein’s, or then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s, or someone else’s? Because it looks like Trump’s guilty of conspiracy and whoever covered that fact up is guilty of obstruction of justice. And those documents still have been public for only a few hours.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019 7:05 pm

U.S. Rep. Katie Hill, #MeToo and GOP hypocrisy

U.S. Rep. Katie Hill, D-Calif., abruptly resigned Sunday after news broke, and revenge porn surfaced, showing that she had had a sexual relationship with a campaign staffer. The lurid part, in addition to the aforementioned revenge porn (and more on which anon), was that the relationship apparently at least started out as a “throuple,” that is, with Hill and her husband, Kenny Heslep, jointly and willingly inviting the staffer to join them for sex.

Democrats immediately and properly decried the revenge porn. But a lot of them also said Hill shouldn’t have been so quick to resign. They argued that the revenge porn made Hill the victim in this scenario and that her soon-to-be-ex-husband, who Hill has said was “abusive” in their relationship, should be punished for distributing it. And they argued that the “success” of this revenge porn made it more likely that others would use the same tactic in the future.

Well, they were half right.

In light of the #MeToo movement, which sprung up about two years ago, Congress enacted a new code of conduct barring relationships between members and staff. (Campaign staff aren’t covered, but the inherent dangers are real whether the staffer is House or campaign. Besides, “Katie Hill shouldn’t resign because she slept with a campaign staffer rather than a Congressional staffer” is not a hill any half-smart Democrat should be willing to die on.) Hill admitted she had had such a relationship. That alone merits her resignation, or her expulsion had she not resigned, whether there had been nude photos or not. Indeed, her behavior had become the subject of a House Ethics Committee investigation by the time she resigned.

If Hill and Heslep had invited some consenting adult with no employment ties to the U.S. Congress or any member, I would have no problem with that and would argue that she should stay in office if she wanted to. That’s because I try to mind my own business when the public’s business isn’t compromised or potentially compromised or when a politician isn’t demonstrating rank hypocrisy in the juxtaposition of his public deeds and positions with his private actions. (Those who argue that Hill could have become the victim of blackmail probably didn’t realize, or care, that the blackmailer here was, according to Hill, her own husband. They’re also unconsciously validating our society’s practice of shaming women doing some of the same things men are applauded for in the sexual arena.)

But Democrats also are right to claim that there has been a significant double standard and point to U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who has been indicted on campaign-finance charges and who allegedly used campaign funds to support extramarital affairs with at least five women, including lobbyists and congressional staffers. Hunter’s problems became apparent in 2018, when he was indicted. They grew worse when his wife pleaded guilty in June and named Hunter as a co-conspirator. Hunter has sat tight in his congressional seat, though. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi should have held an expulsion vote no later than when his wife turned on him this past summer, and that she has not properly grates on a lot of Democrats (and at least one unaffiliated voter).

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., resigned from the Senate in January 2018 after several women accused him of touching them inappropriately prior to his Senate career. He was right to do it. But he resigned when Republicans like Hunter are staying in Congress after far worse abuses.

And then there’s the abuser-in-chief, who has admitted on video to serially sexually assaulting women (“When you’re a star, they let you”) and has been credibly accused of it by no fewer than 25 women. Granted, there’s no rule that a president should resign because of sexual misconduct. But why should Donald J. Trump be held to a lesser standard than members of Congress?

No one, irrespective of sex or gender orientation, should ever be forced by an employer to engage in unwanted sexual activity, or have unwanted sexual activity be made a condition of continued employment or promotion. The House rules, broadly but wisely, ban any kind of sexual relationship not just with members’ own staffers but also with ANY congressional staffer, so as to preclude even the possibility of sexual harassment. That’s as it should be, and Hill must live with the consequences, irrespective of the fact that she was the victim of revenge porn.

Oh, you thought I’d forgotten about that. I don’t know why any woman would allow herself to be photographed in a compromising position (actually, I do, but that’s a subject for another post). But those who do should be guaranteed the security of their privacy by those who possess the pictures, and betrayal of that privacy, already a crime in California, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, should be a felony with mandatory prison time.

(Conservative news outlets are having a field day with this story, not least because they like giving women no benefit of any doubt. Hill, the first openly bisexual person to serve in Congress, was a natural target. Anna North of Vox does a good job of examining this double standard at the end of this article.)

 

 

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.

Friday, October 11, 2019 7:22 pm

Saudi stupidity

So Orange Julius is sending more U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia. I would point out that 1) U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia is what brought about the 9/11 attacks in the first place, 2) Saudi Arabia funded those attacks, 3) the House of Saud are some of the vilest people on the planet, which is saying something; 4) Saudi Arabia can damned well afford its own military defense, and 5) Saudi troops were definitely not with us at Normandy.

Also: Not one American voted for this. #ImpeachNow #LockHimUp #HangHimHigh

Thursday, October 3, 2019 7:48 pm

Turn the lights on when you do it

I don’t know where the notion arose that the Senate, were Dolt 45 to be impeached, should cast secret ballots on whether or not to convict him. But it’s an awful idea.

Would it be constitutional? Apparently. Although Article I, Sec. 5 requires Congress to “keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same,” it also exempts “such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy.” So Senators apparently could vote in secret, although, importantly, it would take a vote of only one-fifth of senators present to record “the Yeas and Nays of the Members of either House on any question” into the journal of proceedings, known today as the Congressional Record.

But why would anyone want the Senate to hold a secret vote in an impeachment trial?

The reason is that some Democrats — I have no idea how many — believe that if the vote were secret, enough Republican senators (at least 20 would be required) would join with the Democrats in voting to convict and remove Trump. This idea holds that the only thing keeping these 20+ Republicans from so voting is fear of being primaried.

Now, this is a fine notion except for the fact that there’s not a shred of a reason to believe it is true. Not one Senate Republican has done anything more than suggest that maybe Trump shouldn’t be doing some of the things he’s doing — and not many have done even that. Mitt Romney of Utah has mildly criticized some of Trump’s actions, but he has taken no position on impeachment and is bloody unlikely to. The notion that 20 or more Republican senators are just waiting for a cloak of anonymity under which to convict and expel Trump is a pretty fairy tale, nothing more, and those spreading it clearly haven’t paid attention to the behavior of the Republican Party since 1994 and particularly since 2008.

I further suspect that pro-Trump Senate Republicans would insist on a recorded vote to scare their colleagues into voting to acquit Trump. That’s a legit concern, and if all 100 senators are present, it would take only 20 out of the 52 Senate Republicans to force a recorded vote.

But there’s a principle here that outweighs the practical and political decisions.

An impeachment vote in the Senate competes with a declaration of war as the most important vote a senator ever will cast. Citizens deserve to know who voted how so that they can reward their senators or hold them accountable, as they see fit. It is not the kind of people’s business that should be conducted in the dark, ever. On a matter of such import, every senator should be prepared to defend his/her vote publicly. Anything less makes us less than the democratic republic the Framers bequeathed us and should be rejected, even if it really would make it more likely that history’s worst U.S. president would be removed from office.

 

 

 

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.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019 7:30 pm

UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media: $25 million — for a mission or a mess of pottage?

I’m not going to lie: The naming gift of $25 million to my alma mater, the University of North Carolina’s journalism school, got my attention. Even for UNC, this is a big gift, something to celebrate, and so much more so for the j-school, with its invaluable mission of public service. Dean Susan King and the faculty, staff, students and alumni should be very proud. The school will be known henceforth as the Hussman School of Journalism and Media.

Before today I had never heard of the donor, Walter Hussman Jr., chairman of WEHCO Media Inc., which owns newspapers, cable television systems, and magazines in a number of states. I had, however, heard of the work of some of the WEHCO newspapers, notably the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and the Chattanooga Times Free Press. To my knowledge and that of some friends in those markets, those papers have tried to maintain credible news coverage at a time when creditors and banksters have been forcing a lot of other papers to eat their seed corn and worse. So, maybe he really understands the value of aggressive accountability journalism and its indispensability in a constitutional republic and intends to help the j-school better teach students how to carry out that mission.

He says his top goal is “restoring the bond of trust between media and the public,” and he says he believes that the way to do that is to abide by the “core values” that undergird, and are printed daily in, his newspapers. They are:

Impartiality means reporting, editing, and delivering the news honestly, fairly, objectively, and without personal opinion or bias.

Credibility is the greatest asset of any news medium, and impartiality is the greatest source of credibility.

To provide the most complete report, a news organization must not just cover the news, but uncover it. It must follow the story wherever it leads, regardless of any preconceived ideas on what might be most newsworthy.

The pursuit of truth is a noble goal of journalism. But the truth is not always apparent or known immediately. Journalists’ role is therefore not to determine what they believe at that time to be the truth and reveal only that to their readers, but rather to report as completely and impartially as possible all verifiable facts so that readers can, based on their own knowledge and experience, determine what they believe to be the truth.

When a newspaper delivers both news and opinions, the impartiality and credibility of the news organization can be questioned. To minimize this as much as possible there needs to be a sharp and clear distinction between news and opinion, both to those providing and consuming the news.

Sounds nice, right? Well, as always, the devil is in the details.

Devil the first: “Objectivity” is a myth; true objectivity is rarer than true love. The best a journalist can do is to be aware of his/her own biases and test them whenever possible.

Devil the second: “Impartiality” has remained, for decades too long, an imperfect goal because in so many cases “impartiality” has been interpreted as the need to provide a platform for nonsense. Pointing out that gravity is “only a theory,” while true, isn’t impartial: If you step off the ledge, you’re going to fall to your death no matter what you think of that theory. Pointing that out not only does not make one partial; it fulfills the journalist’s duty to the reader not only to produce accurate journalism but also to filter out dangerous bullshit. (This Twitter thread, which I just happened upon today, is a fine example of the latter.)

Accordingly, devil the third: Impartiality is NOT the greatest source of credibility. Truth-telling, without fear and particularly in the face of hostile opposition, is the greatest source of credibility. When your reporting accurately reflects people’s lived, experienced realities, that is when you are seen as credible. This is particularly crucial for journalists who report on the communities in which they live; if they get something wrong, they’re  likely to hear about it, quite possibly live and in concert.

Which brings us to devil the fourth: Hussman says that truth is “not always apparent or immediately known.” Two responses to that: 1) Yeah, sometimes it is. Frequently, it is. It only seems like it isn’t because this era is rife with grifters who will blithely say to journalists and the public alike, “Who you gonna believe, me or your lyin’ eyes?” Journalists must not ever allow themselves to be misled or intimidated by them. 2) A good journalist will always tell readers not only what he/she knows but also what he/she does not know but needs, or has tried unsuccessfully, to find out. He/she might even enlist the public’s help in getting it.

Devil the fifth: Hussman says, “Journalists’ role is therefore not to determine what they believe at that time to be the truth and reveal only that to their readers, but rather to report as completely and impartially as possible all verifiable facts so that readers can, based on their own knowledge and experience, determine what they believe to be the truth.” Well, no; not all possible verifiable facts are relevant. But grifters have spent decades convincing the American public, and way too large a segment of American journalism, that they are; thus the rise of the tu quoque logical fallacy known as “whataboutism.”  Journalists do not owe their readers all the facts; rather, they owe their readers contextual accuracy and must ensure not only that their facts are accurate and complete but also that the context in which they place those facts accurately reflects the conditions in which those facts occur.

Devil the sixth: Hussman insists on keeping a sharp and clear distinction at all times between news and opinion, “both to those providing and consuming the news.” In general that is true, but it is not a universal truth. Indeed, it ignores the strong tradition in the past half-century or so of advocacy journalism. For just one example, no one ever will accuse the late Hunter S. Thompson of keeping a sharp and clear distinction at all times between news and opinion, but Nixon scholars still read Thompson 50 years after Nixon took office and will still be reading Thompson 100 years after Nixon died. Such journalism is hard to pull off well, particularly for new journalists, but as long as journalists are forthcoming with their readers about their sources, methods, and motivations, readers of good will will find their reports credible even if they don’t agree with the message. (And for readers who lack good will? Nothing a journalist can do will ever be enough to convince them. Give up on them.)

Which brings us to devil the last: Perhaps I am wrong, but I fear it is but a short step from Hussman’s “core values” to the kind of journalistic silence that is ethically insupportable. If the First Amendment means anything, it means that the people — and not just working journalists, but all of us — are to use our powers of expression to hold the powerful to account for their actions. But for too many people in and outside of journalism, objectivity too often means silence, even when silence is assent. Any news outlet that remains silent in the face of attempts to deny human beings their human rights, to convert our country to fascism, to lead us down the road to genocide, to ignore the apocalyptic climate change that likely will destroy much of civilization, is intellectually exhausted, morally bankrupt, and unworthy of the freedoms and powers granted it by the Framers.

If Hussman has given a second’s thought to the media ecosystem in which we now live — one that blurs news and entertainment, one that skews heavily toward the perspectives of the wealthy, one in which politicians and media figures alike happily work to destroy the notion of objective reality in which Hussman places such value, one in which news-media officers are perfectly happy to mislead the public to rob that same public and damage our democratic underpinnings — his values do not reflect it. Sure, pointing a live TV camera at a Donald Trump and letting him rant for an hour is “impartial” and “objective,” but it’s awful journalism. Recall what CBS CEO Les Moonves said in 2016 of his network’s coverage of then-presidential candidate Trump, which ran long on live shots of Trump’s racist, fact-free ravings without any sort of challenge or attempt to contextualize: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

We live in an era in which our own intelligence services believe that the Oval Office is occupied by an agent of a hostile foreign power. We live in an era in which $27 trillion in proven carbon resources remain in the ground, with industry bribing the government to be able to monetize every last bit and lying to the public without consequences about the likely damages. We live in an era in which actual Holocaust survivors, as well as Ben Ferencz, the last surviving prosecutor from the Nuremberg war-crimes trials, and most Holocaust experts, believe that not only are we on the same road Nazi Germany traveled, we are farther down it than most people understand. Our journalism has a constitutional duty to be more than equal to those challenges.

Does Hussman intend to see to it that the journalists and academicians he employs and the students his money helps train will not only be truthful, fair and accurate, but also be morally and ethically upright — and that they will push their respective bosses, instructors, students, and institutions to be as well?

If so, then his $25 million gift will end up being worth far more than that. But as they say, if your mother says she loves you, check it out.

 

 

 

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 7:38 pm

“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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