Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Saturday, December 3, 2016 9:54 pm

Knowing fascism when you see it; or, If the jackboot fits — Part 2

Eighth in a series

First installment
Second installment
Third installment
Fourth installment
Fifth installment
Sixth installment
Seventh installment

When we left off last, we had just reviewed the question of whether, by Mussolini’s definition, the U.S. is a fascist system. I concluded that it isn’t, but I also thought Mussolini’s perspective on what fascism was wasn’t necessarily the only one with which we should concern ourselves. Another important perspective to consider is an essay written more than 20 years ago by the Italian postmodern novelist and critic Umberto Eco, perhaps best known for the novel “The Name of the Rose.” Eco had been active in the Resistance as a child during World War II and was there for the liberation of Italy by the Americans. In 1995, Eco wrote an essay for The New York Review of Books in which he posited the characteristics of what he called Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. Of them he writes, “These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.” (emphasis added) In other words, as few as one of these features could lead to fascism.

I’ll list his 14 features, and we’ll talk about each in terms of whether and how it applies to the U.S.

1.The Cult of Tradition: Eco elaborates:

In the Mediterranean basin, people of different religions (most of them indulgently accepted by the Roman Pantheon) started dreaming of a revelation received at the dawn of human history. This revelation, according to the traditionalist mystique, had remained for a long time concealed under the veil of forgotten languages—in Egyptian hieroglyphs, in the Celtic runes, in the scrolls of the little known religions of Asia.

This new culture had to be syncretistic. Syncretism is not only, as the dictionary says, “the combination of different forms of belief or practice”; such a combination must tolerate contradictions. Each of the original messages contains a silver of wisdom, and whenever they seem to say different or incompatible things it is only because all are alluding, allegorically, to the same primeval truth.

As a consequence, there can be no advancement of learning. Truth has been already spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message.

One can argue that this applies to the U.S. The country’s founding documents — primarily the Federalist papers, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution — often are treated by Americans as a revelation. And, yes, they’re sometimes contradictory, most obviously in the original sin of this country, combining aspirations toward freedom with institutionalization of slavery (and native genocide, and denial of rights to most women). And, yes, to some Americans — perhaps most notably the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia — truth already has been spelled out once and for all. Other interpretations, even — indeed, perhaps, particularly — in the light of new historical and scientific discoveries, are irrelevant.

Do all Americans think this way? Of course not. But many do, and some of them hold or are about to hold real power.

2) The rejection of modernism. Eco notes that while Nazi Germany was proud of its scientific, technological and industrial advances, its culture was a much more ancient strain of Blut und Boden (blood and earth) and sees the Enlightenment as “the beginning of modern depravity.” Similarly, much of the U.S., including many now in power, have rejected efforts by the country to cash checks the country wrote to itself in 1776 and 1787, and while some of the conservative movement’s opposition to, say, the notion of global warming is driven purely by economic gain and political convenience, a nontrivial part is based on the absolute rejection of science, or, as Eco describes it, irrationalism.

3) Embrace of action for action’s sake and denigrating thought and reflection. Action is seen as beautiful in itself, particularly when undertaken without prior reflection and even when reflection might give us an edge on our adversaries. This trend is exemplified, in Trump’s embrace of torture even though professional interrogators find it generally unproductive and perhaps even leading to false information. Eco writes:

Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism, from Goering’s alleged statement (“When I hear talk of culture I reach for my gun”) to the frequent use of such expressions as “degenerate intellectuals,” “eggheads,” “effete snobs,” “universities are a nest of reds.”

The U.S. conservative movement has been anti-intellectual for at least the past 50 years. Today, as I write, the current target on Twitter is #liberalelites. (Some people who value thought and reflection are embracing that hashtag while posting such things in response as, “If expecting that my POTUS [president of the United States] is better-educated and better-informed than me makes me #liberalelite, so fucking be it.”

4) Rejection of analytical criticism. Remember in Item 1 when Eco said that a fascist culture must not just incorporate things from different sources but also tolerate contradictions? The problem this creates, of course, is that analytical criticism exposes and highlights contradictions. As Eco puts it:

The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.

This characteristic might help explain a phenomenon discovered in recent years by researchers: When people believe something false and are exposed to correct information that exposes that falsity, they often cling to the false belief even more tightly:

Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

This bodes ill for a democracy, because most voters — the people making decisions about how the country runs — aren’t blank slates. They already have beliefs, and a set of facts lodged in their minds. The problem is that sometimes the things they think they know are objectively, provably false. And in the presence of the correct information, such people react very, very differently than the merely uninformed. Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper.

“The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong,” says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. …

Most of us like to believe that our opinions have been formed over time by careful, rational consideration of facts and ideas, and that the decisions based on those opinions, therefore, have the ring of soundness and intelligence. In reality, we often base our opinions on our beliefs, which can have an uneasy relationship with facts. And rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions. Worst of all, they can lead us to uncritically accept bad information just because it reinforces our beliefs. This reinforcement makes us more confident we’re right, and even less likely to listen to any new information. And then we vote.

Sound like the U.S. to you? Sounds like it to me.

5) Fear of difference: 

Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity. Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks for consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.

Slavery is often described as America’s original sin, but racism underlay slavery and made it possible, as Ta-Nehisi Coates and others have pointed out. Every fascist movement — indeed, every American populist movement — sooner or later (and usually sooner) advances and grows by exploiting fear of The Other. The presidental campaign just past differed from other recent campaigns only the explicitness of Trump and followers of his such as Steve Bannon.

6) Appeal to a frustrated middle class:

Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration. That is why one of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups. In our time, when the old “proletarians” are becoming petty bourgeois (and the lumpen are largely excluded from the political scene), the fascism of tomorrow will find its audience in this new majority.

As I’ve noted before, polling data strongly suggests that racial animus was the primary driver of political support for Trump (see characteristic 5 above) and also shows that enough affluent people supported him to suggest that economic frustration also was not a main driver. Yes, there is some frustration, and it does have real causes — real wages haven’t grown, for example, and although nominal unemployment is now under 5 percent, demand for labor still hasn’t risen enough to boost labor-force participation to pre-recession levels. But the American conservative movement opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, has opposed periodic reauthorizations of the act since, and as noted in the second installment of this series, it has fought to keep the very young, the very old, recently naturalized citizens and especially minorities from voting. So, yes, America, this is you.

7) Obsession with a plot:

To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country. This is the origin of nationalism. Besides, the only ones who can provide an identity to the nation are its enemies. Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia. But the plot must also come from the inside: Jews are usually the best target because they have the advantage of being at the same time inside and outside. In the US, a prominent instance of the plot obsession is to be found in Pat Robertson’s The New World Order, but, as we have recently seen, there are many others.

Again, Eco wrote in 1995; more recently, Trump and other prominent Republicans including white nationalists have made targets out of not only Jews, but also African Americans, Mexicans, immigrants generally, and particularly Muslims.

8) The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies:

When I was a boy I was taught to think of Englishmen as the five-meal people. They ate more frequently than the poor but sober Italians. Jews are rich and help each other through a secret web of mutual assistance. However, the followers must be convinced that they can overwhelm the enemies. Thus, by a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak. [Remember, as noted in characteristic 1, contradictions are embraced.] Fascist governments are condemned to lose wars because they are constitutionally incapable of objectively evaluating the force of the enemy.

Yep, that’s us, and I worry that Trump and his “brain trust” to date are incapable of objectively evaluating any enemy, be it ISIS or climate change.

9) Life is permanent warfare:

For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle. Thus pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. It is bad because life is permanent warfare. This, however, brings about an Armageddon complex. Since enemies have to be defeated, there must be a final battle, after which the movement will have control of the world. But such a “final solution” implies a further era of peace, a Golden Age, which contradicts the principle of permanent war. No fascist leader has ever succeeded in solving this predicament.

By one calculation, the U.S. has been “at war” for 233 of the 240 years of its history. Most Americans might disagree with that assessment, either through ignorance or because they do not accept certain types or scales of military operations as “war.” (We’re flying air combat missions in Syria, now, for example, but are we at war in Syria now? Certainly the people on the other end of our bombs would say so.) What is true, however, is that the Framers’ fears of a standing army have been ignored since at least the Civil War, and inarguably since World War II, and that the military-industrial complex against which President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us in his 1961 farewell address is more powerful than ever. Trump’s cavalier attitude toward the use of nuclear weapons will make all Americans — indeed, all the world — less safe, a fact voters chose to ignore.

10) Popular elitism:

Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology, insofar as it is fundamentally aristocratic, and aristocratic and militaristic elitism cruelly implies contempt for the weak. Ur-Fascism can only advocate a popular elitism. Every citizen belongs to the best people of the world, the members of the party are the best among the citizens, every citizen can (or ought to) become a member of the party. But there cannot be patricians without plebeians. In fact, the Leader, knowing that his power was not delegated to him democratically but was conquered by force, also knows that his force is based upon the weakness of the masses; they are so weak as to need and deserve a ruler. Since the group is hierarchically organized (according to a military model), every subordinate leader despises his own underlings, and each of them despises his inferiors. This reinforces the sense of mass elitism.

Welp, the U.S. scores here not only in popular elitism but also in aristocratic elitism, inasmuch as modern Republicans have indeed evinced contempt for the weak, not only in attitude but also in policy. To want to repeal Obamacare — even some Republicans are now admitting that “replace” is a joke — means being OK with the fact that millions of Americans will once again be uninsured and that, as a result, thousands of them will die prematurely.

11) A cult of the hero, inextricably bound with a cult of death:

In such a perspective everybody is educated to become a hero. In every mythology the hero is an exceptional being, but in Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death. It is not by chance that a motto of the Falangists was Viva la Muerte (in English it should be translated as “Long Live Death!”). In non-fascist societies, the lay public is told that death is unpleasant but must be faced with dignity; believers are told that it is the painful way to reach a supernatural happiness. By contrast, the Ur-Fascist hero craves heroic death, advertised as the best reward for a heroic life. The Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die. In his impatience, he more frequently sends other people to death.

Some on the left would argue that Memorial Day alone is a U.S. practice that ties in with this characteristic of fascism. I think that’s a reach and that this characteristic has not been a characteristic of America, by and large. And I can’t point to anything Trump has said or promised to do that qualifies. But, again, Trump’s remarks about nuclear weapons should chill us.

12) A culture of machismo:

Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters. This is the origin of machismo (which implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality). Since even sex is a difficult game to play, the Ur-Fascist hero tends to play with weapons—doing so becomes an ersatz phallic exercise.

*U.S. raises hand* I mean, just Google “war on women.” Moreover, Trump has pledged to appoint Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade, the case that established a constitutional right to an abortion for women. He has been less aggressive in challenging LGBTQ rights, calling the constitutionlity of same-sex marriage “settled law,” but there’s no reason he couldn’t appoint justices who would overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, the same-sex marriage case, and little reason to suspect that he wouldn’t.

13) Selective populism:

Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective populism, a qualitative populism, one might say. In a democracy, the citizens have individual rights, but the citizens in their entirety have a political impact only from a quantitative point of view—one follows the decisions of the majority. For Ur-Fascism, however, individuals as individuals have no rights, and the People is conceived as a quality, a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will. Since no large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Leader pretends to be their interpreter. Having lost their power of delegation, citizens do not act; they are only called on to play the role of the People. Thus the People is only a theatrical fiction. To have a good instance of qualitative populism we no longer need the Piazza Venezia in Rome or the Nuremberg Stadium. There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.

Because of its qualitative populism Ur-Fascism must be against “rotten” parliamentary governments. One of the first sentences uttered by Mussolini in the Italian parliament was “I could have transformed this deaf and gloomy place into a bivouac for my maniples”—“maniples” being a subdivision of the traditional Roman legion. As a matter of fact, he immediately found better housing for his maniples, but a little later he liquidated the parliament. Wherever a politician casts doubt on the legitimacy of a parliament because it no longer represents the Voice of the People, we can smell Ur-Fascism.

Oh, hi! We like to talk a good game about the American public and its power in elections, but making that argument means confronting at least two significant problems: 1) About half of Americans don’t take part, and 2) One major party has made disenfranchisement the central part of its plan for survival; 3) Gerrymandering, particularly by the GOP, has been perfected to the point at which voters do not now select their representatives, but representatives select their constituents. Thus it has come to pass, as Eco said, that “citizens do not act; they are only called on to play the role of the People.”

Moreover, we’ve had throw-the-bums-out congressional elections in recent years in 2002, 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2014, benefitting both major parties. But Trump’s pledge to “drain the swamp” was the simplest, clearest call of 2016, and already he is populating his cabinet (as noted in the fifth installment of this series) with some of the very alligators he campaigned against.

14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak:

Newspeak was invented by Orwell, in 1984, as the official language of Ingsoc, English Socialism. But elements of Ur-Fascism are common to different forms of dictatorship. All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning. But we must be ready to identify other kinds of Newspeak, even if they take the apparently innocent form of a popular talk show.

“You’re fired!”, anyone?

So, by my count, we’re 14-for-14 on fascism characteristics as identified by Eco, which makes some of his closing words even more important:

We must keep alert, so that the sense of these words will not be forgotten again. Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be so much easier, for us, if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, “I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Black Shirts to parade again in the Italian squares.” Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances—every day, in every part of the world. Franklin Roosevelt’s words of November 4, 1938, are worth recalling: “I venture the challenging statement that if American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, fascism will grow in strength in our land.” Freedom and liberation are an unending task.

* * *

I also wanted to see how the U.S. stacks up against Lawrence Britt’s “14 Characteristics of Fascism,” published in the Spring 2003 edition of Free Inquiry magazine — after 9/11 and as the U.S. was invading Iraq. Britt, a political scientist, compared Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia), and Pinochet (Chile), and found 14 traits those regimes had in common. They are:

  1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism
    Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays. 
  2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights
    Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc. 
  3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause
    The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc. 
  4. Supremacy of the Military
    Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized. 
  5. Rampant Sexism
    The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Opposition to abortion is high, as is homophobia and anti-gay legislation and national policy. 
  6. Controlled Mass Media
    Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common. 
  7. Obsession with National Security
    Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses. 
  8. Religion and Government are Intertwined
    Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions. 
  9. Corporate Power is Protected
    The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite. 
  10. Labor Power is Suppressed
    Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed . 
  11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts
    Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts is openly attacked, and governments often refuse to fund the arts. 
  12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment
    Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations. 
  13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption
    Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders. 
  14. Fraudulent Elections
    Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections

As you can see, there’s some overlap with Eco’s list, but that’s not really important. What’s important is how many of these conditions obtained in the U.S. even before Donald Trump’s election.

Nos. 1, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 were pervasive even before 9/11. Since then, Nos. 2, 3, 6, 7, 13, and 14 have come into play or grown more powerful. Once again, we’re 14-for-14, and slated to become even more of a fascist state once Trump and his cronies assume power in January.

Which, finally, leaves us the question of what to do about it. I’ll address that next, in (whew) the final installment of this series.

 

Knowing fascism when you see it; or, If the jackboot fits — Part 1

Seventh in a series (first installment, second installment, third installment, fourth installment, fifth installment, sixth installment)

A lot of people, myself included, have called Donald Trump a fascist and/or have said the U.S. will become a fascist society under Trump. But what does that mean?

The word is most closely associated with Benito Mussolini’s dictatorial reign in Italy from 1922 until he was ousted, briefly reinstalled by the Nazis, and then captured and killed in 1943 1945 (thanks, Fred). Mussolini frequently is said to have defined fascism simply as “the marriage of corporation and state,” but the truth is a little more complicated. In 1932, Mussolini wrote this definition of fascism:

Fascism, the more it considers and observes the future and the development of humanity quite apart from political considerations of the moment, believes neither in the possibility nor the utility of perpetual peace. It thus repudiates the doctrine of Pacifism — born of a renunciation of the struggle and an act of cowardice in the face of sacrifice. War alone brings up to its highest tension all human energy and puts the stamp of nobility upon the peoples who have courage to meet it. All other trials are substitutes, which never really put men into the position where they have to make the great decision — the alternative of life or death….

…The Fascist accepts life and loves it, knowing nothing of and despising suicide: he rather conceives of life as duty and struggle and conquest, but above all for others — those who are at hand and those who are far distant, contemporaries, and those who will come after…

…Fascism [is] the complete opposite of…Marxian Socialism, the materialist conception of history of human civilization can be explained simply through the conflict of interests among the various social groups and by the change and development in the means and instruments of production…. Fascism, now and always, believes in holiness and in heroism; that is to say, in actions influenced by no economic motive, direct or indirect. And if the economic conception of history be denied, according to which theory men are no more than puppets, carried to and fro by the waves of chance, while the real directing forces are quite out of their control, it follows that the existence of an unchangeable and unchanging class-war is also denied – the natural progeny of the economic conception of history. And above all Fascism denies that class-war can be the preponderant force in the transformation of society….

After Socialism, Fascism combats the whole complex system of democratic ideology, and repudiates it, whether in its theoretical premises or in its practical application. Fascism denies that the majority, by the simple fact that it is a majority, can direct human society; it denies that numbers alone can govern by means of a periodical consultation, and it affirms the immutable, beneficial, and fruitful inequality of mankind, which can never be permanently leveled through the mere operation of a mechanical process such as universal suffrage….

…Fascism denies, in democracy, the absur[d] conventional untruth of political equality dressed out in the garb of collective irresponsibility, and the myth of “happiness” and indefinite progress….

…iven that the nineteenth century was the century of Socialism, of Liberalism, and of Democracy, it does not necessarily follow that the twentieth century must also be a century of Socialism, Liberalism and Democracy: political doctrines pass, but humanity remains, and it may rather be expected that this will be a century of authority…a century of Fascism. For if the nineteenth century was a century of individualism it may be expected that this will be the century of collectivism and hence the century of the State….

The foundation of Fascism is the conception of the State, its character, its duty, and its aim. Fascism conceives of the State as an absolute, in comparison with which all individuals or groups are relative, only to be conceived of in their relation to the State. The conception of the Liberal State is not that of a directing force, guiding the play and development, both material and spiritual, of a collective body, but merely a force limited to the function of recording results: on the other hand, the Fascist State is itself conscious and has itself a will and a personality — thus it may be called the “ethic” State….

…The Fascist State organizes the nation, but leaves a sufficient margin of liberty to the individual; the latter is deprived of all useless and possibly harmful freedom, but retains what is essential; the deciding power in this question cannot be the individual, but the State alone….

…For Fascism, the growth of empire, that is to say the expansion of the nation, is an essential manifestation of vitality, and its opposite a sign of decadence. Peoples which are rising, or rising again after a period of decadence, are always imperialist; and renunciation is a sign of decay and of death. Fascism is the doctrine best adapted to represent the tendencies and the aspirations of a people, like the people of Italy, who are rising again after many centuries of abasement and foreign servitude. But empire demands discipline, the coordination of all forces and a deeply felt sense of duty and sacrifice: this fact explains many aspects of the practical working of the regime, the character of many forces in the State, and the necessarily severe measures which must be taken against those who would oppose this spontaneous and inevitable movement of Italy in the twentieth century, and would oppose it by recalling the outworn ideology of the nineteenth century – repudiated wheresoever there has been the courage to undertake great experiments of social and political transformation; for never before has the nation stood more in need of authority, of direction and order. If every age has its own characteristic doctrine, there are a thousand signs which point to Fascism as the characteristic doctrine of our time. For if a doctrine must be a living thing, this is proved by the fact that Fascism has created a living faith; and that this faith is very powerful in the minds of men is demonstrated by those who have suffered and died for it.

That’s a fairly lengthy passage, so let’s hit some of its high points; to wit, Mussolini says that he believes:

  • Fascism considers perpetual peace not just impossible but also pointless; moreover, war “ennobles” its participants.
  • Fascism doesn’t believe in economic motives (such as, but not limited to, those of Marxism).
  • Fascism repudiates democracy and universal sufferage and believes that humans are inherently unequal.
  • The 19th century was the century of democracy; the 20th will be that of the State.
  • People are to be conceived of and understood only in terms of their relationship to the State.
  • That (fascist) State decides how much liberty individuals are to have and which freedoms are “useful,” granting those few and withholding the rest.
  • States must grow, imperially, or they are dying, particularly if, like Italy at the time, they are recovering from “abasement and foreign servitude.” This movement in Italy, which he calls both spontaneous and inevitable, can, nonetheless, only be brought about in his view by punishing opponents severely.

So let’s just take these at face value. Does the U.S. think perpetual peace pointless? Not pointless, I think — just damn hard to get to but still worth trying for.

Does the U.S. think war “ennobles” its participants? Less so now than in other points in our past; we have mixed feelings about that now that we didn’t have after, say, World War II. That’s to be expected. During that war, our moral aims and purposes seemed pretty clear. But in every conflict in which we’ve engaged since, moral clarity has been various shades of hard to come by; indeed, many respected scholars believe our invasion of Iraq in 2003 was both illegal and immoral.

Does the U.S. believe in economic motives? It would be difficult to argue otherwise. Economists study both people and institutions as rational actors in pursuit of rational economic interests, although in recent years some are acknowledging that the field might have overstated the rationality of the decision-making processes of both people and institutions. Public policy certainly has been debated and implemented with economic motives in mind.

Does the U.S. repudiate democracy and universal sufferage and believe human beings unequal? On paper, it has embraced those things from the beginning; in real life, of course, progress toward that position has been a process. The official policy of the state now is that it supports democracy and near-universal sufferage, and human equality under the law is enshrined in the Constitution. However, nontrivial numbers of Americans have always repudiated democracy, universal sufferage and the equality of human beings, with women, racial and ethnic minorities, some religions, and LGBTQ people, among others, being singled out for lesser status and less advantageous treatment. Such disparate treatment has been reduced greatly in the past half-century or so, although it still remains. What is alarming about the ascension to power of Trump and his cronies is that they appear intent on making that lesser status and less advantageous treatment state policy and rolling back some of the gains of the past half-century.

The U.S. does not conceive of and understand people only in terms of their relationship to the state; indeed, for least some of its citizens, the U.S. has done a pretty fair job through its history of having let people alone. That’s in significant part because of a law-review article, “The Right to Privacy,” published in 1890 by the Harvard Law classmates and law partners Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis. (Brandeis would go on to serve on the Supreme Court.) That article literally defined privacy primarily as “the right to be let alone.” The meaning of privacy has evolved over the years along with, among other things, technology. Indeed, government today has such enormous surveillance powers at its fingertips that claiming a right of privacy in practical terms is much harder than ever. Still, though the government probably has the capability of surveilling everyone at once, it is not clear that it has the will to do so in any meaningful way: Machines can gather all the data in the world, but at some point, at least for now, human beings still have to decide what it means and what, if anything, to do about it. The danger is that a group in power can choose to use these vast capabilities to oppress and harm its political opponents, and that is a legitimate fear with Trump and at least some of his backers.

Does the State pick and choose which freedoms we Americans will have? Again, on paper, no; although the Constitution spells out certain rights we Americans have, it also says that we have other, “unenumerated” rights. The State has circumscribed some of those rights, even the most fundamental. We have freedom of speech but cannot shout “Fire!” in a crowded theatre; we may keep and bear arms, but not everywhere or all the time. Still, the State’s control over our rights is not, at least for now, anywhere near broad enough as to suggest that we live in a fascist regime.

Must a state grow to be vital? The U.S. has not accepted a new state into the union in more than half a century, and the likeliest possible candidates for admission, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, seem nowhere near it. And yet the U.S. does not see itself as in a declining state for lack of growth. (Some Americans see it that way for other reasons.) That might be because it has in no meaningful way been “abased” or “under foreign control” since the British burned Washington in 1813. And yet Trump, with his campaign rhetoric has argued exactly the opposite: that the U.S. is getting screwed by other countries on trade deals and that he alone can fix it. His backers frequently buy into this argument, although he and they seem to insist that his relationship with Russian dictator Vladimire Putin will somehow help this problem, not make it worse.

So, as Mussolini defines fascism, is the U.S. a fascist country? Hardly. It has some fascist tendencies, some of which appear likely to become more pronounced as Trump and his backers take power, but it is not, or not yet, a fascist country.

But one must ask: Is Mussolini a reliable narrator of his own philosophy and practice? The question answers itself. And so it is useful to consider other perspectives, which I’ll do in the next post.

 

 

The media and Trump

Sixth in a series (first installment, second installment, third installment, fourth installment, fifth installment)

So what is to be done about the president-elect and the executive branch he is forming? I’ll get to that in the next installment, but I first want to make a point that I believe is crucial: Whatever we try to do, we will get no help from most news media. They are hobbled by the interests of ownership and, worse, their own blinkers as they confront what faces us.

The concentrated corporate control of most of the largest news media outlets has been covered in great detail elsewhere, and I won’t rehash that fact except to say that it is the rare outlet where the financial interests of the owner or chief executive does not, from time to time, interfere with news judgement in a way that disadvantages the less powerful. Does that happen every day, at every outlet? With the possible exception of a few outlets like Fox News, and with the obvious exception of propaganda mills like Breitbart, I’d say no, but it happens often enough even at outlets, like The New York Times, that are perceived as left-leaning. (In point of fact, true leftists in other countries — we have few here in the U.S. — would consider the Times center-right, but that’s a subject for another day.)

Moreover, I’ve argued off and on for 20 years or more that news media need to be more forthright about defining their interests in more detail than vague platitudes such as “all the news that’s fit to print” or “provide a free people the information they need to govern themselves.” For example, I think that, if pressed, most mainstream news outlets would concede that they have an interest in requiring government at all levels to do its business in the open, and the more advanced among them would frame this discussion not just as an interest of the news outlet but also as an interest of the public.

But I have thought for some time — and the ascension of Trump, I think, demands — that news outlets also must explicitly state additional values, in particular equal justice under the law and the Constitution, and should make clear that upholding those values means opposing all who would oppose them. If someone wants to make an argument for changing the Constitution for this reason or that, that’s a perfectly legitimate political argument to make, and news outlets should cover it like any other. But if someone wants to ignore the Constitution, U.S. statutes, and Supreme Court precedents, news outlets should, at the least, take the position in editorials and news reports alike that the individual supports positions that would be at odds with the oath of office and therefore is unfit for office.

That’s a radical position for most U.S. journalists for a couple of reasons.

For one thing, for most of the past century, U.S. journalism has embraced what journalism scholar Jay Rosen and others have called “the view from nowhere” — in perhaps too short, objectivity carried to the point that it omits even the most relevant context.

For another, journalists have a mostly-well-justified fear of becoming “part of the story.” Avoiding that is a good way to try to achieve fairness and accuracy, but sometimes it is not sufficient to deliver to the reader/viewer a fully accurate story. For example, extraordinary efforts by bureaucrats to hinder journalists’ access to records essential to documenting a story should indeed become part of the story, even if that means including steps journalists had to take to obtain those records, such as suing.

And for another, news journalism has almost by definition sought to avoid advocacy. But in America, I would argue, in some cases, advocacy journalism is essential to preventing the destruction of what makes America America and/or what makes journalism journalism. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson (formerly the chief U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremberg war-crimes trials after World War II) famously observed that the Constitution is not a suicide pact. Well, neither is journalism, in that it should not just report on but also should actively oppose that which would make journalism difficult or impossible, not only for the sake of the outlet but also for the sake of the citizens that outlet purports to serve.

But American journalism has not just the right but also an affirmative moral duty to oppose that which would destroy our constitutional form of government and/or the journalism that provides the information that citizens of our democratic republic need to govern themselves. And not only must American journalism take this position, it must hold it without compromise.

Unfortunately, doing so directly endangers the financial interests of most owners of journalism outlets. So we’re back to Square 1, even if individual journalists try here and there to do the right thing.

And most journalists won’t.

There have been signs of this from the very beginning of Trump’s campaign. Cable news, in particularly, gave Trump large chunks of free air time to spew his views to American viewers, without editing, curation or context, even though their executives knew that doing so gave Trump a huge advantage over the rest of the large and ungainly Republican field.  And they did it for one reason: ratings. As Les Moonves, CEO of CBS, stated, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

Media outlets also have proven themselves unable to resist outside forces, from Trump himself to the Russians. Worse, they’re making unforced errors. The broadcast networks, for example, devoted far less time in 2016 to coverage of issues than they did in the seven previous presidential campaigns dating back to 1988 — and devoted more than three times that amount of coverage to Hillary Clinton’s emails, a “scandal” that, despite numerous Justice Department and congressional investigations, never amounted to so much as a credible allegation of wrongdoing, let alone an indictment or conviction.

Print and online media did no better, UNC sociologist Zeynep Tufekci found: Her survey of pre-election coverage by The New York Times, The Washington Post and Politico found that they devoted five times as many stories to Clinton’s emails, 1,372, as to Trump’s conflicts of interest, 279 — again, despite numerous Justice Department and congressional investigations, never amounted to so much as a credible allegation of wrongdoing, let alone an indictment or conviction.

Since the election, there has been no sign that things are getting any better. New York University professor Jay Rosen highlights one example of news media’s inability to grapple with Trump’s numerous, outrageous lies: The media provide what he calls “accusation-driven” journalism rather than what is needed: evidence-based journalism.

And the news media, with little education, perspective or background and no fucking sense of history, is utterly ignorant of Hannah Arendt’s trenchant observation about the Nazis’ lies and the German newspapers’ failed 1930s efforts to fact-check: The Nazis don’t lie to tell you what they think is true. They lie to explain what would have to be true to justify what they’re doing. For example, Trump didn’t claim on Twitter that millions of people had fraudulently voted for Hillary Clinton because it was true. He claimed it to lay the groundwork for even worse restrictions on minority voting once he takes office. It was his Reichstag fire.

Some journalists are ready to admit defeat. Others are at least suggesting ways in which journalists might combat Trump effectively; Ned Resnikoff at Thing Progress has done better at this than most. (I personally think that every time journalists at a Trump rally are derided by the president-elect, they ought to respond with birds and wanking gestures, just as a start.)  But none of them, with the honorable exception of Jamelle Bouie at Slate, seem willing or even able to grasp the reality that Arendt laid out a half-century ago.

Which leads us to a poignant question raised just this morning by the editorial-page editor of my local paper, a paper where I once worked for 22 years. Allen Johnson asked on his blog: Are we out to get Donald Trump?

My response was pretty simple:

First, he didn’t win the election “fair and square.” A large, multi-state effort coordinated by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach illegally purged large numbers of voters — primarily voters from demographics statistically likely to vote Democratic — from rolls in several swing states, as documented by journalist Greg Palast on his website and in his new book. Forget allegations of Russian interference and voting-machine tampering; we know for a fact that this happened and that its effect was more than large enough to have swung the Electoral College vote. See Palast’s website and book “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy” for more information.

Second, Trump is doing and and has announced plans to do things that are not just mean-spirited, destructive and dangerous, but also unconstitutional. Opposing such an individual is the highest form of patriotism.

But for reasons outlined above, the media almost certainly aren’t going to be any help.

So where does that leave us, as a nation and as individuals? I’ll discuss that in my next post an upcoming post — sorry, but the next post got so big it needed splitting into pieces.

 

 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016 9:36 pm

People are policy — and Trump’s people are poison

Fifth in a series (first installment, second installment, third installment, fourth installment)

“People are policy,” President Ronald Reagan used to say. He was right. And Trump’s people are poison. These are not people who have equal justice under the law, fairness, or even simple, human decency in mind. Consider, in no particular order:

Vice-President-Elect Mike Pence: For God’s sake, just Google “bad things about Mike Pence.” If Trump dies, becomes incapacitated, gets impeached, or just gets bored and quits, Pence, policy-wise, will be every bit the disaster that Trump will be. From opposing abortion to supporting fake “religious freedom” laws that legalize discrimination against LGBTQ people, Pence is a darling of those who want to remake the United States as a Christianist fascist nation. While governor of Indiana, he tried to start his own news service and wasted $365,000 of state money on a PR contractor, he dilly-dallied and allowed an AIDS outbreak to grow exponentially,  approved an education budget that cut funds to public schools while boosting charters and a sketchy voucher program, fought the settling of Syrian refugees in Indiana and also tried unsuccessfully to cut off federal aid to those already in the state, fought to de-fund Planned Parenthood (which, remember, provides not just reproductive health care but also affordable primary health care to many women), signed limits on abortion (including requiring women who had them to hold funeral services for their fetuses) that were so extreme a federal court blocked them, fought increases in the minimum wage (surprisingly or not, two-thirds of workers who make minimum wage are women), said, in the face of all logic, research and reason, that increased gun ownership increases public safety, and fought to reimpose mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses despite the documented problems they cause and lack of proof that they work. Mike Pence is a vicious human being who is particularly vicious toward women. He has no business anywhere near a position of public trust. (In fairness, I should note that Snopes.com casts doubt on the widespread claim that he supported electroshock therapy as a means of turning gay people straight.)

Chief political counselor Steve Bannon: On Nov. 22, Trump expressed puzzlement that the racist, anti-Semitic white nationalist movement should have been in any way encouraged by his election. If he was sincere — unlikely, but work with me here — he need have looked no further than this staff choice for the reason. Bannon, formerly head of the right-wing “news” site Breitbart.com, was a focus of the racist movement even before Trump picked him; indeed, Trump had to have been familiar with his work. Bannon’s Breitbart called conservative Jewish pundit Bill Kristol “a renegade Jew” in a headline. Bannon’s ex-wife accused him during their divorce trial of having made anti-Semitic remarks. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks racist hate groups in the U.S., has called Breitbart “part of the extremist fringe of the conservative right.”  And Bannon’s elevation was cheered by the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and other white-nationalist groups, The Hill reported. One would think that Bannon’s documented tenure at Breitbart would leave no doubt in anyone’s mind, but in case there is any doubt left, his former screenwriting partner, Julia Jones, says that Bannon once said that limiting African American voting might be “not such a bad thing.” When Jones pointed out that Bannon’s longtime executive assistant, Wendy Colbert, was black, Bannon replied, “She’s different. She’s family.” Insert groan here.

Trump has said that if white nationalists — racists and Nazis — are energized by his campaign, he wants to find out why. As Jon Ralston has written, that’s like O.J. Simpson vowing to find the real killer.

And as if Trump cashing in on his own presidency weren’t bad enough, Bannon will be cashing in on it, too.

Attorney General-designee Jeff Sessions: Here’s all you need to know about Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III: He was so racist that a Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee rejected him for a federal judgeship in 1986. But there’s more you probably will want to know. He once called the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union “Communist-inspired” because they “forced civil rights down the throats of people.” He once said of civil-rights cases, which he would have to litigate as attorney general, “I wish I could decline on all of them.” He opposes immigration reform. Sessions also has suggested increasing the segregation of disabled students in public schools, calling the inclusion of students with significant disabilities “the single most irritating problem for teachers throughout America today.” If Senate Democrats are looking for a hill to die on, or on which to sacrifice the filibuster, this nomination would be an outstanding one.

Health and Human Services, U.S. Rep. Tom Price: I’m guessing Trump picked Price because of Price’s opposition to Obamacare, which is well-documented. But Price also is an awful choice because he supports “privatizing” (which means “killing”) Medicare; Igor Volsky said on Twitter that Price’s nomination is a big “screw you” to seniors who voted for Trump because had had promised not to touch their Medicare. Make no mistake; enacting such a policy would bankrupt a large percentage of America’s seniors; as such, although it has lots of competition, it might be the single most immoral policy priority of the new administration — and certainly indicate that Democrats of good faith have NO common ground with that administration. As Esquire’s Charlie Pierce says:

For progressives of any stripe, Medicare has to be a bright, hot line. One of the great triumphs of progressive government in the 20th century was its virtual elimination of hopeless poverty among the elderly. Because of Medicare, and Social Security before that, old people were freed up to have the opportunity to consider their quality of life, rather than living from one can of catfood to another. And there was no more shame in them than there was in young Paul Ryan when he was living off Social Security survivor benefits after the death of his father. (You’re welcome, by the way.) There can be no backsliding on this one, no attempts to “work across the aisle,” no appeals to “civility” or “bipartisanship.” Loyalty to Medicare has to be a defining characteristic of a Democratic politician and any Democratic politician who doesn’t like it deserves to be primaried out of office.

Myron Ebell to oversee the transition at the Environmental Protection Agency: It’s truly hard to know exactly what Trump thinks about climate change; he generally says he doesn’t believe in it, but occasionally drops hints to the contrary. There’s no doubt about the guy he has tasked with handling the administrative transition at the EPA, however: Myron Ebell not only doesn’t believe in climate change, he doesn’t even believe in science. Take it away, Business Insider:

Ebell is not a scientist and has no degrees or qualifications in climate science. But he serves as director of global warming and environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a libertarian advocacy group in Washington, DC.

In practice, that means he spends his time rejecting and trying to discredit scientists who work to understand the global climate.

Ebell believes climate scientists are part of a coordinated ‘global warming movement’
In an interview with Business Insider in August, Ebell repeatedly referred to climate scientists as “global warming alarmists” and suggested that climate research is in fact an arm of a coordinated political movement.

“I think that the global warming movement has three parts,” he said. “One is to exaggerate the rate of warming, one is to exaggerate the potential impacts of warming and how soon they may occur, and the third is to underestimate wildly the costs of reducing our emissions by the magical amount that they have picked.”

Business Insider spoke with several climate scientists who described Ebell as a kind of gadfly — someone’s whose views they must occasionally stoop to address in forums and debates where he’s brought in to represent a discredited anti-climate-change perspective, but not a particularly serious person.

“He doesn’t really know anything about science,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a top Earth scientist at NASA who has faced off with Ebell in the past. “He uses science like a talisman.”

Ebell’s technique, Schmidt said, is to point toward “some little fact” and use it to extrapolate some larger irrelevant and scientifically incorrect point.

As for Ebell’s current employer, CEI, it used to be funded by ExxonMobil. Now it’s funded by a group called Donors Trust, which, according to The Washington Post, “is staffed largely by people who have worked for Koch Industries or nonprofit groups supported by the conservative Koch brothers.” The Koch brothers, of course, own Koch Industries, which is heavily into extraction and which spends a lot of money trying to convince people that climate change isn’t real, when more than 99% of climate scientists are convinced that it’s real and that people are causing it.

CIA director: U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan.: Not only is Pompeo a Benghazi truther, he also encouraged sedition within the military:

“It’s unconscionable to put our military leaders in this position, where the commander-in-chief asks of them something that is unlawful,” Pompeo told [Frank] Gaffney. “And my intention was not to put pressure on those amazing soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, but rather to inform everyone that you can’t ask folks in the military to execute an unlawful order. And I hope that they understand that there are members of Congress that have their back in the event that they choose to make a decision that comports with their duty.”

And maybe I’m weird, but I’d prefer my CIA director not see himself and the country as being in a religious war with Islam, because that’s exactly what ISIS wants Muslims worldwide to think.

Mike Flynn to head the National Security Agency: Colin Powell, who may have turned out to be a big ol’ ho’ but has never been credibly accused of stupidity, thinks Flynn is a nutball.   You also would like to think that a guy picked to head the National Security Agency would be concerned about, you know, security, but you would be wrong.

Ben Carson for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development: One of the main jobs of this position traditionally has been fighting discrimination in housing, but Carson, who demonstrated during his inept presidential campaign that he has all the smarts of a paving stone, wants to gut housing anti-discrimination law, even though fighting such discrimination is a key component of fighting poverty.

Betsy DeVos, Education Secretary: The difference between your gun and your public schools is that someone really is coming for your public schools, and that someone is Betsy Devos. She never attended public school, and her kids have never attended public school. She is a front for for-profit interests who want to use charter schools to scam taxpayers. If that weren’t enough evidence of what a jewel she is, she also wants to bring back child labor.

Secretary of State: As I write, Trump apparently is considering naming as Secretary of State Gen. David Petraeus, who, you will remember, lied to the FBI about giving classified material to his mistress. Trump was all “lock her up” about Hillary Clinton possibly having mishandled classified emails (she basically didn’t), so this pick strongly suggests that he isn’t a serious person.

There are many more, but I had to draw a line somewhere. Still, no examination of Trump’s personnel picks is complete without at least a quick look at the extent to he is giving his kids and son-in-law roles in things that should be none of their goddamned business. To wit:

  • Son Donald Trump Jr. met in October with a Syrian politician with strong ties to Russia, in defiance of current U.S. foreign policy, which supports certain Syrian dissidents. Someone needs to explain to me how this was not a felony violation of the Logan Act.
  • Daughter Ivanka Trump sat in on Trump’s talks with Japan’s prime minister as well as with officials from Turkey and Argentina. While not felonious, this does raise questions of how a child of Trump’s who is supposed to run Trump’s business affairs while he’s president without conflicts of interest can actually, you know, do so. Or, as The New York Times puts it:
    • Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who is in charge of planning and development of the Trump Organization’s global network of hotels, has joined in conversations with at least three world leaders – of Turkey, Argentina and Japan – having access that could help her expand the brand worldwide.
  • Son-in-law Jared Kushner is widely described as having played a key role in Trump’s campaign. His dual role as a key player in the transition and as publisher of The New York Observer contains some inherent conflicts of interest that so far aren’t attracting much attention, but should.

These are the people who will be making public policy, America. If you think that public officials should pursue the public interest and scrupulously avoid self-aggrandizement and self-enriching at the public trough, well, you’re pretty well fucked.

Sunday, November 27, 2016 2:05 pm

You go to war with the president-elect you have

Fourth in a series (first installment, second installment, third installment)

So we’re left not only with an illegitimate president-elect, but also, by temperament, background and training, the least qualified man ever to win, or “win,” the office.  He simply doesn’t know things a president ought to know. Worse, he either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that he doesn’t know them; he is proudly, aggressively ignorant and incurious, Idiot America incarnate.

He understands nothing about the economy. His tax plan would raise taxes on many middle-income Americans, including a majority of single-parent households and most married-couple households with three or more children,  while giving breaks averaging $317,000 to millionaires. His plan also will add more than $7 trillion to the national debt over the next decade.

He understands nothing about foreign relations, particularly the crucial role of NATO in maintaining peace since World War II.

He knew nothing about the nuclear triad, something I read about in seventh grade. And his other comments on the subject of nuclear weapons — asking why we have nukes if we can’t use them, suggesting that nuclear proliferation is not something to worry about — should have been disqualifying.

He had telephone conversations with foreign officials on unsecured phone lines in Trump Tower without having been briefed by the State Department.

He either doesn’t know or doesn’t care anything about global warming, a position that puts him at odds not only with most climate scientists but also with most of the world’s leaders.

He has invited with open arms into American discourse a way of thinking and of treating others that we spent 425,000 American lives to purge, and 50 million lives worldwide, within the lifetimes of many now still living.

His business affairs appear to conflict, at times sharply, with the nation’s best interests, if not with statutory law and the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. His involvement with Russia includes both loans from Russian banks and Russian payments to his de facto campaign manager, Paul Manafort. His overall indebtedness, including loans from the state-owned Bank of China, totals more than $650 million, twice what he reported earlier on his federal disclosure form.

Trump displays a smug contempt for the very idea of constitutional law, as legal scholar Garrett Epps summarizes:

Donald Trump ran on a platform of relentless, thoroughgoing rejection of the Constitution itself, and its underlying principle of democratic self-government and individual rights. True, he never endorsed quartering of troops in private homes in time of peace, but aside from that there is hardly a provision of the Bill of Rights or later amendments he did not explicitly promise to override, from First Amendment freedom of the press and of religion to Fourth Amendment freedom from “unreasonable searches and seizures” to Sixth Amendment right to counsel to Fourteenth Amendment birthright citizenship and Equal Protection and Fifteenth Amendment voting rights.

And, finally, he sees and treats other people, whether employees, business partners, customers, or voters, purely as marks to be grifted.

So this is the person who is going to become our 45th president. Whether he will try to do everything he says, no one knows: Trump has said he likes being unpredictable, but how does that manifest? He “can be swayed by the last person he talked to.”

But as Ronald Reagan regularly said, people are policy, meaning that the people Trump is appointing to various positions in his administration are likely to have a big influence on policy, given Trump’s incurious approach to it. That prospect ought to keep you up nights, and I’ll talk more about that in the next installment.

Friday, November 25, 2016 7:51 am

… but no one will do anything about the stolen presidential election

Third in a series (First installment, second installment)

I would dearly love to be wrong about this one.

But unfortunately for the country, no one is going to do anything about the fact that the U.S. presidential election was stolen.

There are a lot of reasons for this.

One is Americans are awful at math. Accordingly, no matter how good a case the researchers at, say, the University of Michigan’s Center for Computer Security and Society might be able to make that vote totals in certain swing states were monkeyed with (and again, as of this writing, I remain agnostic on that whole question), Americans won’t buy it because they can’t follow the math.

(I realize that the trolls’ next question is, “Well, if you can’t follow the math, why should you believe them?” And the answer is that I didn’t have to be a computer programmer or an advanced mathematician to believe that, say, America could send people to the moon. I just had to look at what these same people already had accomplished and make reasonable inferences about what else they might be capable of, using the same skills.

Another is that Americans have an unwavering ability to ignore facts and research if those facts and that research conflict with strongly held beliefs, however untrue those beliefs might be.

But the biggest reason is that fixing a stolen election would be a lot of hard work. What do I mean by that? Well, let’s say that a miracle happens and America reaches the consensus that not only are some of the voting-machine totals squirrely, but also that enough of them are squirrely in the right way that it proves Trump stole the election. Or let’s say, per Greg Palast’s journalism, tens of thousands of likely Democratic voters really were purged illegally from the voting rolls in a number of swing states, and that if even a tiny percentage of them had cast ballots it would have been enough to change the outcome. What would be the solution?

Even with the foregoing hypothetical consensuses, there’s no way America would reach consensus on simply awarding the presidency to Hillary Clinton. And even if it did, consensuses aren’t self-enforcing. There would have to be a legal mechanism of some kind to overturn the Nov. 8 results and award the presidency to Clinton. I Am Not A Lawyer™, and real lawyers can feel free to jump in here and correct me, but the only mechanisms I see are the Electoral College and, maybe — barely maybe — the courts.

Let’s look at the Electoral College first. If the Electoral College, which votes on Dec. 19, decided in this case to affirm the national popular vote, that would be a way, but 1) that ain’t likely even if Donald Trump was shown on video standing in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shooting someone, and 2) that mechanism would be available only if proof emerged and a consensus was reached before the Electoral College vote on Dec. 19.

That leaves us the courts. I suppose it’s just barely possible that someone could file a lawsuit on behalf of the voters who supported Hillary Clinton, address all challenges to standing, provide proof of harm, and so on and so forth and get the case to the Supreme Court. (I realize the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction in some cases, and perhaps this would be one, but I don’t want to bet on that.) We’d then most likely lose on a 4-4 tie and Trump would become president anyway.

Beyond those two options? We’ve got nothing. This is election theft on a scale we have not seen in the modern era and perhaps ever. The imagination of the thieves here far surpassed the imagination of those who were robbed and the few who have even tried to anticipate a theft such as this, let alone prevent or undo it. Our system of government appears to have left us utterly defenseless against such a ruthless and effective attack as this.

And I say that before we even get to the Republican Party. Republican politicians, as an almost ironclade rule, no longer respect the rule of law, particularly when it comes to elections. In Republican-controlled states, it’ll take a federal court order to get all the provisional ballots counted unless, as here in North Carolina, a Republican candidate (like our apparently one-term governor, Pat McCrory) is behind. No Republican-controlled legislature is going to intervene and force a recount, let alone a true audit, where vote totals are flaky. Not only do they not respect the rule of law anymore, neither do they recognize the notion of country over party anymore — indeed, they don’t recognize even elected Democrats as legitimate leaders and haven’t since Bill Clinton’s first election.

If you’re wondering how a dwindling minority of white Christian males manages to hang onto an outsized share of power in a country that is becoming less white, male and Christian every year, now you know. As I say, I’d love to be wrong about this. But I don’t think I am.

(And don’t expect the media to help on the theft. More on them later.)

Thursday, November 24, 2016 12:34 am

The presidential election was stolen

Second in a series (first installment here)

One way or another, and maybe in more ways than one, the 2016 U.S. presidential election was stolen. There are several ways it could have happened — not did happen, but could have happened — so let’s look at them first.

We’ll start with FBI director James Comey’s late-October announcement that investigators were examining “additional evidence concerning Clinton’s use of a private email server.” And if we’re going to start there, we need to look at the context of that issue.

Yes, it was a dumb goddamned thing to do for Clinton to have used a private email server for government business. But some of her predecessors had done the same, including Colin Powell under President George W. Bush. And the W. Bush White House ran tens of millions of emails through a private server at the Republican National Committee without many complaints from the media or any complaints from Republicans. Meanwhile, Republicans conducted multiple congressional investigations in hopes of finding evidence of a crime, as did the FBI itself. And what did they all come up with? Bupkus.

Still, Comey’s 11th-hour announcement did affect Clinton’s standing in the polls:

An ABC/Washington Post tracking survey released Sunday [Oct. 30], conducted both before and after Comey’s letter was made public on Friday, found that about one-third of likely voters, including 7 percent of Clinton supporters, said the new e-mail revelations made them less likely to support the former secretary of state.

The poll found that Clinton received support from 46 percent of likely voters to Trump’s 45 percent, suggesting the race is a toss-up. That contrasts with the 12-point advantage that Clinton held in the same poll a week ago.

And what Comey did wasn’t just damaging, it was also wrong. He caught hell from some of his Justice Department colleagues for having spoken out so close to the election on a matter likely to influence it (such matters usually aren’t supposed to be discussed by federal investigators or prosecutors within 60 days of an election):

“I got a lot of respect for Jim Comey, but I don’t understand this idea of dropping this bombshell which could be a big dud,” said former federal prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg, a veteran of politically sensitive investigations. “Doing it in the last week or 10 days of a presidential election without more information, I don’t think that he should because how does it inform a voter? It just invites speculation … I would question the timing of it. It’s not going to get done in a week.”

Nick Akerman, a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, was more critical: “Director Comey acted totally inappropriately. He had no business writing to Congress about supposed new emails that neither he nor anyone in the FBI has ever reviewed.”

“It is not the function of the FBI director to be making public pronouncements about an investigation, never mind about an investigation based on evidence that he acknowledges may not be significant,” Akerman added. “The job of the FBI is simply to investigate and to provide the results of its investigation to the prosecutorial arm of the U.S. Department of Justice. His job is not to give a running commentary about any investigation or his opinion about any investigation. This is particularly egregious since Secretary Clinton has no way to respond to what amounts to nebulous and speculative innuendo.”

That was also a theme of a former Justice Department and former Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Matthew Miller.

“The Justice Department’s longstanding practice is don’t do anything seen as trying to influence an election. That’s usually interpreted as 60 days, let alone 11. … It’s completely unfair to Secretary Clinton and it’s really unfair to the voters. There’s no reason he had to send this letter,” Miller told POLITICO.

So what Comey did was wrong and damaged Clinton’s chances. Was what he did solely responsible for her Electoral College loss? I won’t say that because I don’t think anybody has proved it, and I doubt anyone can. What I am confident in saying is that it eroded Clinton’s lead significantly, possibly enough to have contributed to some swing-state losses and enough to have hurt some downballot Democrats’ chances as well.

What else hurt Clinton, or might have? For the first time, we have credible evidence that Russia tried to interfere with the outcome of a U.S. presidential election. The most spectacular accusation is that Russia hacked enough voting machines to give Trump the win, and let me say right up front that I don’t necessarily buy it. I am, for the moment and pending further research, agnostic as to whether the Russians hacked any voting machines and/or vote-counting systems at all, let alone enough in swing states to tip the election to Donald Trump in the Electoral College. I just don’t know. But what do we know?

We’ve known since at least as far back as my work on “Black Box Voting: Ballot-Tampering in the 21st Century” more than a decade ago that electronic voting machines simply are not secure. We know that hackers breached voter-registration databases in Illinois and Arizona this summer, and that Sen. Dianne Feinstein, vice-chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, claimed before the election that based on briefings she and other congresscritters had received, Russia was trying to influence the outcome of the election. And we know, from the Russians themselves, that Trump’s folks and Putin’s folks, if not the principals themselves, were in contact during the campaign, which should raise Logan Act red flags irrespective of questions about hacking.

There were things about the differences between vote totals and exit polls — more on those in a second — that simply weren’t explainable by random chance, whether you think Russians were involved or not. Journalist Bill Palmer summarizes them pretty well here. As he says, they don’t conclusively prove that the election was rigged, but if the polling really was simply off, it should have been off in a different way.

And we also know, thanks to journalist Greg Palast (and more about him below) that electronic voting machines in Ohio had an audit security feature — which a Republican judge allowed Republican state election officials to turn off for the Nov. 8 election. That still blows my mind: A judge basically issued an order making it possible for machines to be hacked without detection.

And there are other discrepancies. A group of prominent computer scientists affiliated with the University of Michigan’s Center for Computer Security and Society is pressing Clinton to seek a recount in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, which went to Trump, and Michigan, where votes are still being counted and it’s too close to call. Flipping those three states to Clinton would give her the White House. Again, the experts are not claiming they have proof of fraud, but they have found what they consider statistically suspicious differences in voting patterns in areas with electronic touch-screen machines compared with areas with other forms of vote tabulation. As I wrote this tonight, Jill Stein, former Green Party candidate for president, was pressing for a recount in those three states.

Now, about exit polling: The exit polls failed to match up with vote tallies in a number of key states, particularly Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, any three of which — or, with Florida, any two — would have swung the Electoral College to Clinton. Exit polling is generally more accurate than pre-election polling, for obvious reasons. In pre-election polling you’re asking people to tell you what they’re going to do, which they might not get around to doing or might change their mind on, or what-have-you. In exit polling, you’re asking people what they actually did, right after they did it. Exit polling generally is so reliable that the U.S. has used it as a gauge of voting integrity in other countries around the world. It could be wrong here, but its record here and in other countries makes that less likely. That said, Election Day-only exit polling fails to account for early voting in states that have it, and, like all election polling, is only as strong as its computer models.

So although I am suspicious that the vote totals may have been monkeyed with by agents foreign and/or domestic, I grant that all the evidence — and there is a lot — is circumstantial, not directly probative. Therefore, as I said, I remain agnostic on that point, subject to the discovery of new information one way or the other.

So why am I stating as a fact that the election was stolen? Because while there’s some doubt about the shenanigans I’ve listed above, I am much more certain about another effort: Republican officials conspired to purge the voter rolls of a number of states in ways that overwhelmingly affected people likely to vote Democratic.

Journalist Greg Palast, whom I mentioned above, first documented in Chapter 1 of the first (2004) edition of his book “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy” how this approach was used in the run-up to the 2000 election to kick enough minority and other likely Democratic voters off the Florida voter rolls improperly — and I’ll explain “improperly” in a second — to have swung the vote totals there, and thus the 2000 election, to George W. Bush.

I say “improperly” for this reason. The purging was supposed to remove from the rolls primarily convicted felons who had not yet had their civil rights restored and people who were, inadvertently or otherwise, registered to vote in two different places at once. However, the database query used only the loosest matching criteria, so that fathers ended up being purged because of their felon sons with the same name and vice versa, the John Smith on Main Street was purged when it was the John Smith on Elm Street who was the felon, John Adam Smith got purged when the felon was actually John Benjamin Smith, and so on. This work was done by a contractor with ties to the family of George W. Bush and retained by W’s brother Jeb Bush, then governor of Florida.

The scheme worked then, so the Republicans decided to take it national. No sooner had the Supreme Court struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act, Palast has found in an updated version of his book, than in 2013 a group of Republicans led by Kris Kobach, secretary of state in Kansas (and more about him to come), developed a system called Crosscheck to apply the technique to more than a dozen other states (most controlled by Republicans), looking for people who were, or who appeared to be, registered in two different states. From Palast’s article in the Aug. 24 issue of Rolling Stone:

The data is processed through a system called the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, which is being promoted by a powerful Republican operative, and its lists of potential duplicate voters are kept confidential. But Rolling Stone obtained a portion of the list and the names of 1 million targeted voters. According to our analysis, the Crosscheck list disproportionately threatens solid Democratic constituencies: young, black, Hispanic and Asian-American voters – with some of the biggest possible purges underway in Ohio and North Carolina, two crucial swing states with tight Senate races. (snip)

On its surface, Crosscheck seems quite reasonable. Twenty-eight participating states share their voter lists and, in the name of dispassionate, race-blind Big Data, seek to ensure the rolls are up to date. To make sure the system finds suspect voters, Crosscheck supposedly matches first, middle and last name, plus birth date, and provides the last four digits of a Social Security number for additional verification.

In reality, however, there have been signs that the program doesn’t operate as advertised. Some states have dropped out of Crosscheck, citing problems with its methodology, as Oregon’s secretary of state recently explained: “We left [Crosscheck] because the data we received was unreliable.”

In our effort to report on the program, we contacted every state for their Crosscheck list. But because voting twice is a felony, state after state told us their lists of suspects were part of a criminal investigation and, as such, confidential. Then we got a break. A clerk in Virginia sent us its Crosscheck list of suspects, which a letter from the state later said was done “in error.”

The Virginia list was a revelation. In all, 342,556 names were listed as apparently registered to vote in both Virginia and another state as of January 2014. Thirteen percent of the people on the Crosscheck list, already flagged as inactive voters, were almost immediately removed, meaning a stunning 41,637 names were “canceled” from voter rolls, most of them just before Election Day.

We were able to obtain more lists – Georgia and Washington state, the total number of voters adding up to more than 1 million matches – and Crosscheck’s results seemed at best deeply flawed. We found that one-fourth of the names on the list actually lacked a middle-name match. The system can also mistakenly identify fathers and sons as the same voter, ignoring designations of Jr. and Sr. A whole lot of people named “James Brown” are suspected of voting or registering twice, 357 of them in Georgia alone. But according to Crosscheck, James Willie Brown is supposed to be the same voter as James Arthur Brown. James Clifford Brown is allegedly the same voter as James Lynn Brown.

And those promised birth dates and Social Security numbers? The Crosscheck instruction manual says that “Social Security numbers are included for verification; the numbers might or might not match” – which leaves a crucial step in the identification process up to the states. Social Security numbers weren’t even included in the state lists we obtained.

We had Mark Swedlund, a database expert whose clients include eBay and American Express, look at the data from Georgia and Virginia, and he was shocked by Crosscheck’s “childish methodology.” He added, “God forbid your name is Garcia, of which there are 858,000 in the U.S., and your first name is Joseph or Jose. You’re probably suspected of voting in 27 states.”

Swedlund’s statistical analysis found that African-American, Latino and Asian names predominate, a simple result of the Crosscheck matching process, which spews out little more than a bunch of common names. No surprise: The U.S. Census data shows that minorities are overrepresented in 85 of 100 of the most common last names. If your name is Washington, there’s an 89 percent chance you’re African-American. If your last name is Hernandez, there’s a 94 percent chance you’re Hispanic. If your name is Kim, there’s a 95 percent chance you’re Asian.

This inherent bias results in an astonishing one in six Hispanics, one in seven Asian-Americans and one in nine African-Americans in Crosscheck states landing on the list. Was the program designed to target voters of color? “I’m a data guy,” Swedlund says. “I can’t tell you what the intent was. I can only tell you what the outcome is. And the outcome is discriminatory against minorities.”

Confronted by Palast, Kobach lied about his purge lists being publicly available and insisted that what was manifestly happening couldn’t possibly be.

In addition, some voters about whose eligibility someone raised a question were forced to cast provisional ballots which, in many cases, were never counted and which, in some cases, were simply thrown out, Palast found.

Palast also has evidence of widespread, illegal vote caging; indeed, thousands of North Carolina voters successfully sued just a few weeks ago to have their voting eligibility restored after an incidence of attempted caging here by the state GOP in a process the federal judge in the case called “insane.” But similar efforts went on elsewhere and most likely were successful.

And that’s on top of the efforts by states to impose onerous voter-ID requirements and limits on early voting, both of which disproportionately affect young and senior voters, minorities and the poor — who disproportionately vote Democratic. The courts threw out some, but not all, of these changes, which carried the force of law and helped provide at least a small bit of help for the Republican ticket.

Palast has an updated version of his book out that discusses some of the 2016 fuckery, along with an identically titled documentary film that you can order on DVD from GregPalast.com or rent on Amazon or Vimeo.

Despite all of this, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2 million votes (and counting, at this writing). She won more popular votes than anyone in history not named Barack Obama. But the GOP efforts provided a narrow edge — 1% or less — in a few key swing states to give the Electoral College vote, wrongly, to Trump. The question, which I’ll address in an upcoming post, is what can be done about it.

Thursday, October 13, 2016 9:42 pm

A tale of two speeches

If you needed any more proof that Godwin’s Law has been repealed, Donald Trump’s speech today should be all you need. Substitute “the Jews” for “the establishment,” “the Clinton machine,” or “the media,” and Adolf Hitler could have given this speech himself, albeit more elegantly. Hell, all it needed was “Goldman Sachs” and “the Sulzbergers,” as Adrastos pointed out. You could practically hear the Nuremberg crowds roaring as Trump all but concluded with, “Ein Volk! Ein Reich! Ein Fuhrer!

Coincidentally, the Committee to Protect Journalists, a nonprofit that normally worries more about journos in the war-torn Middle East than here in the U.S., issued an unprecedented statement today, which it had approved several days ago, criticizing Trump for his anti-press statements and positions:

This is not about picking sides in an election. This is recognizing that a Trump presidency represents a threat to press freedom unknown in modern history.

Amen. History is going to ask a lot of pointed questions about who stood where in this year’s election season. And what has mattered to me, this time around, hasn’t been so much policy specifics — Trump’s “policy positions” are chimerae anyway — as a very simple test: What choice will enable me to look myself in the mirror? This year, the choice has been more stark than at any other time in my conscious life. And if I have done nothing else, I have made good and goddamned sure that my grandchildren will never have to ask me, “Grandpa, why are people calling you a good German?” And you can bet your ass that in years to come, I’mma be pointing my finger at the Trump supporters and shouting, “J’accuse!”

Adrastos also had this to say:

The good news is that Trump is going to lose; bigly. The bad news is that right-wing extremists have captured one of our major political parties. The B3 Brownshirts are infinitely worse than the teabaggers. I’m not alone in being concerned what happens if a less self-destructive, more intelligent demagogue *continues* the takeover of the Republican Party. It *can* happen here. I never thought I’d say that but I just did.

I think it’s important for those of us who know history to take a firm stand against Trumpism. That’s why I’ve started comparing him to Hitler at his least disciplined. Hitler had the good sense to *keep* the ugly underneath until he had enough support to enact his racist program. Trump has no self-control but he is every bit as ugly, which is why he needs to lose in a landslide. Some of us are worried that he’ll refuse to concede on election eve, whip his supporters into a frenzy, and provoke a sort of American Kristalnacht. The good news is that most Trumpers are, well, pussies and are unlikely to riot if it’s a blow-out. Let’s hope so.

(Honestly, and I admit I am a bad person for thinking this, there is a very small part of me that hopes that these “pussies” pull some shit after the election. The U.S. military is still by far the strongest on Earth, and my government lately has shown, as was illustrasted in January, a refreshing reluctance to kiss seditious white ass. Inasmuch as we don’t get a do-over on the botched Reconstruction, there’s a small part of me that thinks watering the Tree of Liberty with the blood of some bigoted, would-be tyrants of the so-called alt-right — and can we just call the “alt-right” what it really is, racists and neo-Nazis? — would have a salubrious effect on the body politic.)

Sadly but unsurprisingly, that speech wasn’t all Trump did today. He also had his lawyer send The New York Times a letter demanding retraction of an article about two women claiming Trump had sexually assaulted them and threatening a libel suit.

A couple of things about that letter. First, although some states require would-be libel plaintiffs to send such a letter before filing suit, to the best of my knowledge, New York is not one of those states, so this is probably bullshit. Second, and more importantly, as an investigative reporter and editor, I’ve seen real libel-suit letters. What with all the whining about anti-Trump media conspiracies, this letter was not the letter you send when you’re seriously considering a libel suit. No, this letter was the letter you send when you want the rubes you are grifting to think you’re going to file a libel suit. In other words, it’s the letter you send to keep the rubes donating, which harkens back to Lex’s First Law of the 2016 Campaign: Grifters gonna grift.

(Worth reading: The New York Times VP/general counsel’s letter in response, particularly the second paragraph and the final sentence. I haven’t smoked in more than 30 years, but after reading this, boy, howdy, did I want a cigarette. The TL;DR version: Your boy hasn’t got a reputation left to damage, but if you want to dance, we brought our stiletto heels.)

I know: Pretty depressing, all in all. But lest we all succumb to the sweet and seductive incantations of the Sweet Meteor o’ Death, I should point out that there was another speech today, by First Lady Michelle Obama. And I probably am not the first person to suggest that this was the opening shot of the 2024 campaign:

The fact is that, in this election, we have a candidate for president of the United States who over the course of his lifetime, and the course of this campaign, has said things about women that are so shocking, so demeaning that I simply will not repeat anything here today. And last week, we saw this candidate actually bragging about sexually assaulting women. I can’t believe that I’m saying that a candidate for president of the United States has bragged about sexually assaulting women. And I have to tell you that I can’t stop thinking about this. It has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn’t have predicted.

So while I’d love nothing more than to pretend like this isn’t happening and come out here and do my normal campaign speech, it would be dishonest and disingenuous to me to just move on to the next thing like this was all just a bad dream. This is not something that we can ignore. This is not something that we can sweep under the rug as just another disturbing footnote in a sad election season because this was not just a lewd conversation. This wasn’t just locker room banter. This was a powerful individual speaking freely and openly about sexually predatory behavior. And actually bragging about kissing and groping women, using language so obscene that many of us worried about our children hearing it when we turned on the TV. And to make matters worse, it now seems very clear that this isn’t an isolated incident. It’s one of countless examples of how he has treated women his whole life.

And I have to tell you that I listen to all of this, and I feel it so personally. And I’m sure that many of you do, too, particularly the women. The shameful comments about our bodies. The disrespect of our ambitions and intellect. The belief that you can do anything you want to a woman. It is cruel. It’s frightening. And the truth is, it hurts. It hurts. It’s like that sick, sinking feeling you get when you’re walking down the street, minding your own business, and some guy yells out vulgar words about your body. Or when you see that guy at work that stands just a little too close, stares a little too long, and makes you feel uncomfortable in your own skin. It’s that feeling of terror and violation that too many women have felt when someone has grabbed them or forced himself on them, and they’ve said no, but he didn’t listen. Something that we know happens on college campuses and countless other places every single day. It reminds us of stories we’ve heard from our mothers and grandmothers about how back in their day the boss could say and do whatever he pleased to the women in the office. And even though they worked so hard, jumped over every hurdle to prove themselves, it was never enough. We thought all of that was ancient history, didn’t we?

And so many have worked for so many years to end this kind of violence and abuse and disrespect but here we are. In 2016 and we’re hearing these exact same things every day of the campaign trail. We are drowning in it. And all of us are doing what women have always done. We’re trying to keep our heads above water. Just trying to get through it, trying to pretend like this doesn’t really bother us. Maybe because we think that admitting how much it hurts makes us as women look weak. Maybe we’re afraid to be that vulnerable. Maybe we’ve grown accustomed to swallowing these emotions and staying quiet because we’ve seen that people often won’t take our word over his. Or maybe we don’t want to believe that there are still people out there who think so little of us as women. Too many are treating this as just another day’s headline. As if our outrage is overblown or unwarranted. As if this is normal. Just politics as usual.

But New Hampshire, be clear: This is not normal. This is not politics as usual. This is disgraceful. It is intolerable and it doesn’t matter what party you belong to — Democrat, Republican, Independent — no woman deserves to be treated this way. None of us deserve this kind of abuse. And I know it’s a campaign, but this isn’t about politics. It’s about basic human decency. It’s about right and wrong and we simply cannot endure this or expose our children to this any longer. Not for another minute, let alone for four years. Now is the time for all of us to stand up and say “enough is enough.”

This has got to stop right now, because consider this: If all of this is painful to us as grown women, what do you think this is doing to our children? What messages are little girls hearing about who they should look like, how they should act? What lessons are they learning about their value as professionals, as human beings? About their dreams and aspirations? And how is this affecting men and boys in this country because I can tell you that the men in my life do not talk about women like this and I know that my family is not unusual. And to dismiss this as everyday locker room talk is an insult to decent men everywhere. The men that you and I know don’t treat women this way, they are loving fathers who are sickened by the thought of their daughters being exposed to this kind of vicious language about women. They are husbands and brothers and sons who don’t tolerate women being treated and demeaned and disrespected. And, like us, these men are worried about the impact this election is having on our boys who are looking for role models for what it means to be a man. …

And in this election, if we turn away from her, if we just stand by and allow her opponent to be elected then what are we teaching our children about the values they should hold, about the kind of life they should lead? What are we saying? In our hearts, in our hearts, we all know that if we let Hillary’s opponent win this election then we are sending a clear message to our kids that everything they’re seeing and hearing is perfectly okay. We are validating it. We are endorsing it. We are telling our sons that it’s okay to humiliate women. We’re telling our daughters that this is how they deserve to be treated. We’re all our kids that bigotry and bullying are perfectly acceptable in the leader of their country. Is that what we want for our children?

And remember, we won’t just be setting a bad example for our kids, but for our entire world. Because for so long America has been a model for countries across the globe — pushing them to educate their girls, insisting that they give more rights to their women. But if we have a president who routinely degrades women, who brags about sexually assaulting women, then how can we maintain our moral authority in the world? How can we continue to be a beacon of freedom and justice and human dignity? Well, fortunately, New Hampshire, here’s the beauty: We have everything we need to stop this madness. You see while our mothers and grandmothers were often powerless to change their circumstances, today we, as women, have all the power we need to determine the outcome of this election. We have knowledge. We have a voice. We have a vote. And November the 8th, we as women, we as Americans, we as decent human beings, can come together and declare that enough is enough, that we do not tolerate this kind of behavior in this country.

That, bitchez, is what leadership sounds like.

Don’t misunderstand me: Whether Hillary Clinton wins or loses in 2020, I will support Elizabeth Warren to be the Democrat to succeed her. But if Warren chooses not to run in 2024, a speech like this, calling Americans to be our best selves and not to tolerate anything less, would be a damn fine thing to line up behind.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016 8:21 pm

The trade publication Law Enforcement Today is making the Internet dumber

You can’t make this up, y’all. This is an editorial by Jim McNeff that was posted today on the LET website:

With the NBA season around the corner, and more athletes indicating they plan to join the “sit-in” during the National Anthem, I feel compelled to send a message to athletes and coaches alike, since peace officers are asked to provide protection, security, and traffic related functions at these events. And ironically they are ultimately protesting the institution of law enforcement, but track with me for a minute.

The ultimate authority in America is the United States Constitution. The Bill of Rights are part of this authority. The First Amendment, which grants us the right to protest, is part of the Bill of Rights. The American flag is the foremost symbol of America and the ultimate governing authority—the Constitution. The Star Spangled Banner is the National Anthem, which declares our support and allegiance to the flag, our Constitution, and the United States of America.

Consequently, I believe anyone who protests the American flag, or the National Anthem, is actually protesting the right to protest. It’s illogical.

Son, please. That sauce wouldn’t pass muster in any sixth-grade debating club. You are conflating tangible symbols with intangible values, and you’re not even particularly clever about it. I read this passage to my wife, who once taught at Yale and was a Fulbright Scholar, and she paused and said, “That made my brain hurt.”

He goes on to say:

If someone wants to protest oppression, real or imagined, that is fundamentally American. But shaking a fist at the symbols representing the rights being exercised is a misunderstanding of civics and demonstrates a principal lack of knowledge and understanding.

Uh, no, just the opposite, as the Supreme Court has found in numerous cases, including its 1989 Texas v. Johnson decision finding flag burning constitutionally protected speech. Damn, son.

Oh, but he’s not done:

One problem we have in America is that we’ve lost a sense of reality regarding governmental oppression. I am pictured in the photo below with a group of people that have experienced human atrocities at the hands of their respective governments and terrorist organizations. I worked with these people (refugees) for a short time in Mullheim, Germany. I had a chance to hear their gut wrenching stories from Afghanistan, Syria, Gambia, and Eritrea. I am not trying to sensationalize my experience. I simply want you to know, the people in this picture would literally sacrifice their life if it meant family members would be able to enjoy the rights and privileges that are taken for granted in the U.S.

This dimwit is literally arguing that violations of constitutional rights in this country don’t matter because people in other countries have it worse. I’d like to know which Supreme Court ruling or statute he’s basing that opinion on, because it sure as hell isn’t found in the Constitution.

He also appears to be presuming that everyone in the U.S. takes their rights and privileges for granted. But not everyone does. Why not? Because not everyone can — particularly not when U.S. law enforcement has engaged in patterns of abuse for years that recent, widespread availability of hand-held video technology is only now bringing to light. No, not every cop does it, but too many do, and too many more remain silent about what they observe.

Law enforcement has a public-relations problem because it has a behavior problem that is so bad that even relatively safe, relatively content conservative middle-aged white guys like me have taken notice. Publishing takes like this that evince utter ignorance of the law that officers swear an oath to uphold is not going to increase public trust and confidence in law enforcement; to the contrary, it will provide at least circumstantial evidence that many of the bad things that people are saying about cops are true.

Cops have a dangerous enough job as it is without allowing people like Jim McNeff to make them look foolish. So the National Police Association, which posted a link to this piece on Facebook, and the people who run Law Enforcement today ought to think long and hard about who speaks for cops and whether those individuals understand the first damn thing about what they’re writing about. Because Jim McNeff doesn’t; what he writes makes cops look absolutely stupid. That stupidity will result in a loss of already-fragile public trust in law enforcement, thus making a dangerous job even more so.

Besides, it makes the Internet dumber, and nobody should be allowed to do that.

 

 

Saturday, September 24, 2016 10:48 am

After protests, the next step is a boycott — but of what?

The problem with protests is that while they can raise awareness, they’re much less effective tools for bringing about real change. And some of the people most involved with protests against the killing of unarmed people of color by U.S. law enforcement are beginning to talk about that.

Shaun King in the New York Daily News:

… we’ve crossed a line in America. Police brutality and racial violence have pushed people far past a reasonable or compassionate human standard.

For the past two years, we’ve protested all over the country, and my gut reaction used to be that it hadn’t accomplished as much as it should have — that the energy required for those protests didn’t meet the meager reforms that we’ve achieved.

I no longer feel that way. In two years, in great part because of those protests, the fierce injustice of the United States has now become known to the entire world. That’s no easy feat. The world knows the names and stories of our victims and they care.

Furthermore, we have built consensus among tens of millions of people in America who are fully fed up with police brutality and demand a better way.

It is time that we organize a passionate, committed, economic boycott. It must be painful. It must be unified. And we must continue with it until we see change. This country is clearly willing to continue killing unarmed men, women and children without ever making any serious efforts at reforms. This economic boycott can change that. …

I’m going to be listening for the best ideas on how we proceed. We have to all be on the same page here or it won’t work. I’m in and I hope you are too.

(If you want to contact King directly, he’s on Twitter at @ShaunKing.)

For the purpose of discussion, and because I live in the real world, I’m going to stipulate the following: 1) We do have a problem with law enforcement killing unarmed people of color; 2) state and local governments, which oversee the overwhelming majority of law enforcement in this country, do not perceive this problem; do not think the lives lost are as important as other considerations, which may range from retraining cost to fears over loss of political support of LEOs; or perceive the problem and are just fine with it; 3) protests alone have achieved most or all of what any reasonable person could expect, i.e., they have raised awareness but have not led to widespread political or policy change.

King draws parallels with the Montgomery bus boycott, led by Martin Luther King and others, which lasted for more than a year. Closer to home and closer to now, there have been protests about the N.C. legislature’s ill-considered House Bill 2, but real pressure for change didn’t build until businesses, associations and entertainers started boycotting the state (and REALLY didn’t build in this college-sports-crazy state until the Greensboro-based Atlantic Coast Conference pulled all its conference championships out of the state and hinted that it might move its headquarters out as well).

King concludes not with a specific call to action but with a call to discussion, because he acknowledges, however briefly, a critical truth: To work, boycotts need a clearly identified target related in some way to the boycott’s goal. Here in North Carolina, business leaders who have legislators’ ears are seeing economic-development opportunities fly out of the window — and they also know that there undoubtedly more opportunities passing us by that we never even see, company formations or expansions for which we’re never even considered, because of the bigotry among the Republicans who control the Lege.

What might such a dynamic look like with respect to getting the police fully back under civilian control — because they are only nominally there now in many jurisdictions — and making the political changes, not just law-enforcement changes, necessary so that law enforcement officers can truly work for justice, rather than merely function as tools for keeping what one privileged segment of society considers to be order?

I have one suggestion. It might not be the best. It might not even be particularly good. And God knows whether it’s workable. But it identifies a clear target that is related directly to the goal of changing the policial framework that dictates how law enforcement operates, so that law enforcement will operate in the interests of true justice:

A tax boycott.

People of color and their allies could stop paying their state and local income and property taxes until state and local governments and their police forces take specific, quantifiable steps to reduce that violence.

People of color pay taxes, just like anyone else, to support a government that is required by law to provide equal protection under the law. Yet it is abundantly clear that that government does not provide equal protection. Further, the majority-white power structure in most jurisdictions doesn’t care, or else more steps would have been taken before now.

What might the steps that people demand look like? That would be up to each community or state to decide. For purposes of discussion, I’ll throw out some possibilities:

  • Mandatory, periodic training, retraining, and certification in de-escalation techniques.
  • Mandatory, periodic training, retraining, and certification in dealing with subjects with mental illness.
  • An increased commitment to community policing. A lot of departments are doing a lot of this now. We need more. It is in officers’ own safety interests to be seen as part of the community, someone you run into every day, and not as an occupying army.
  • Repeal of the new state law, HB 972, which permits release of police body-cam and dashcam video only with the permission of a judge. Here in N.C., those videos should be treated the same as any other public record under North Carolina law, which is to say that they should be presumptively public.
  • Civilian police review boards with subpoena power.
  • Demilitarization of state/local law enforcement and return of military-grade equipment to the federal government. (This one in particular I’m not on board with; there are so many firearms and other weapons on the street that a lot of departments need at least some of this stuff to avoid undue risk to officers. But there also are a lot of places that will never in a million years need it.)

Such a boycott would have a clear target. The target would be related directly to the problem. I have no idea if it would work. And the consequences for at least some potential participants could be devastating — and these are people who already have endured devastating consequences.

But if that many people took part — tens of millions of Americans in all 50 states — governments couldn’t jail/foreclose on all of them.

Again, to be clear, I am not advocating this specific course of action. But I think people of good will do need to talk about what it will take to force the kind of lasting political change that will, if not end this phenomenon, at least make it much rarer. This suggestion is one idea about what an effective course of action might look like.

But Shaun King is right: Protests alone, while serving a valuable purpose in raising awareness, aren’t effecting change. History suggests that money, almost alone, talks. So money must find its voice if lives are going to be saved.

(h/t Jill Williams for bringing King’s column to my attention and prompting my thoughts on this subject.)

Thursday, September 22, 2016 8:45 pm

So much pain. And so much horseshit.

I was born in Charlotte in 1960 and grew up there, so I lived there through the disturbances surrounding Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968 and surrounding the busing for desegregation in the early 1970s. I graduated from high school there and from nearby Davidson College. And for all but 18 months of my adult life, I have lived within an hour or two’s drive. My stepmother and brother live there today, as do other relatives. I grieve at what has happened there, but I also know there is no reason why it shouldn’t have happened there, just as there is no reason why it shouldn’t happen here in Greensboro or, really, anywhere else in this country.

What we know is that Charlotte-Mecklenburg police shot and killed an African American man, Keith Lamont Scott, Tuesday afternoon. We have wildly differing accounts as to why, and this morning, the police chief said that police video of the shooting does not provide “definitive” evidence that Scott was pointing a gun. That’s important: North Carolina is an open-carry state, so Scott was permitted to have a pistol in public, as the NRA would be shouting from the rooftops if it weren’t a racist organization. Only if Scott were an “imminent” threat — if he were pointing the gun at someone — would his shooting have been legally justified.

Without definitive video evidence, we are left only with the word of police officers. They might be telling the God’s honest truth, but a lot of people won’t believe them because if there’s one thing the smartphone era has made clear, taking cops’ word for it in any and all situations is a fool’s errand. Just today, a police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was charged with manslaughter for shooting an unarmed African American man who had his hands in the air and, clearly, on video, posed no threat. Absent the video, there’s every reason to believe that the officer who shot him would have skated. So you don’t need a PR expert to know that if all you have to go on is the word of police officers, a whole lot of people simply aren’t going to believe you.

And so there were demonstrations Tuesday night and Wednesday night in Charlotte, and follow-on rioting both nights. Gov. Pat McCrory has called in the National Guard. Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts, at this twilight-fading-to-dark writing, has not imposed a curfew. And as my friend Ed Hardin from Charlotte writes, a lot of people are hoping tonight for rain.

We don’t know exactly what happened on Tuesday in Charlotte, and absent dispositive video evidence, we likely never will. That’s awful for all involved. But here are some things we do know, in no particular order:

This country has a problem with its law enforcement. Disproportionately more unarmed African Americans die at the hands of police than do whites. Meanwhile, a lot of white criminals, such as the suspect in last weekend’s terrorist bombing in New York, can actually shoot at police and still be taken alive. (And, critics, stop linking to that New York Times article — you know the one. It says in so many words that the study it describes does not focus on the killing of unarmed people of color by law enforcement. And that is the issue here. So that article is irrelevant.) Whether the problem is individual racism, flaws in training, both, or something else entirely, we need to find it and fix it. But before we can do that, we have to admit it, and way too many people are in denial about this.

Law enforcement needs to take a long, hard, critical look at itself. One of the patterns we’ve observed in many cases of law-enforcement violence against people of color is that while one individual officer may be the proximate perpetrator, others frequently lie to support the perp’s version of events or, at the least, fail to report the criminal behavior of their co-workers. That culture is radioactive. It needs to be ended. And if a whole lot of cops have to lose their jobs to make it happen, I will not shed a tear. I don’t want corrupt cops on my payroll, not only because it’s wrong on the merits but also because if my city or county or state gets sued because of their corrupt behavior, I, the taxpayer, will have to pay the judgment. And cops who fail to report and help prosecute their criminal co-workers are corrupt, full stop.

This problem with law enforcement, which is resulting in too many prematurely dead African Americans, is more important than property damage. And yet way too many commenters are focusing on the rioting at the expense of the dead people. Stop it. You’re exposing yourselves as moral midgets. Yes, both are wrong, but one is a lot more wrong than the other.

Too may critics are conflating “demonstrators” — and even “the black community” — with “rioters.” This one is almost, but not quite, self-explanatory. An uncomfortable truth is that demonstrators often serve as unwitting stalking horses for rioters, in this sense: Rioters almost never show up in situations in which a demonstration is not already happening. That’s because rioters are cowards coasting on the courage of others. Any fool can throw a brick through a window. It takes guts to stand up publicly against a militaristic law-enforcement apparatus one perceives as corrupt, armed only with one’s convictions and maybe a sign — guts that rioters simply do not have. If would-be demonstrators stayed home, so, too, would the rioters. And yet people have the constitutional right to demonstrate, and, indeed, an obligation to do so, inasmuch as major social change in this country seldom happens without demonstrations of some kind. It therefore behooves everyone else to properly distinguish between demonstrator and criminal, and way too many people — including some in the media who damned well ought to know better — are failing in this obligation.

In a weird way, HB2 is to blame. OK, we don’t actually know this, but: I can’t help thinking that Gov. Pat McCrory, a former Charlotte mayor, and current Mayor Jennifer Roberts would be on better terms if not for HB2, and that the governmental response to the situation would be better organized and coordinated. But from all I’ve seen, the two aren’t really on speaking terms right now — which is McCrory’s fault, with HB2 the proximate cause.

Some incredibly ignorant people are going to say that MLK wouldn’t have approved of all this uproar. To which I respond, probably not, but he damn sure would have understood it. Here he is speaking, about two weeks before he died:

It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.

And in 1965, in Montreat, N.C., even while the Watts riots in Los Angeles were still going on:

I say to you my friends this afternoon that I am convinced in so many instances that people of ill will have used time much more effectively than the people of good will. It may be that we will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people who would bomb a church in Birmingham, Alabama, or who would shoot down an Episcopal theological student in Lowndes County, Alabama, but also for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around as they wait on time. Somewhere along the way, we must realize that human progress never rolls in on the heels of inevitability, it comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be coworkers with God….

We must realize that the time is always right to do right. (h/t John Burns for both quotes)

 

I fear that this will get worse before it gets better, but here’s something else I know: White people need to sit down, shut the fuck up, and listen to their brothers and sisters of color. Unarmed black men getting gunned down in the streets while white wanted terrorists who shoot at cops get taken alive isn’t something you can explain away from the comfort of your wood-paneled suburban den, and it is a mark of moral retardation that people are even trying.

Instajackass

Apparently there is no situation so bad that Glenn “Instapundit” Reynolds cannot make it worse.

Once upon a time, one could argue that Reynolds was at least an interesting and iconoclastic thinker from time to time, but he passed his sell-by date a long time ago.

 

Monday, September 12, 2016 6:32 am

The normalization of Donald Trump

If Donald Trump is elected our next president, there will have been several reasons why, but the most important one by far will have been the national news media’s performance. The media have both beaten up Hillary Clinton over nonexistent “scandals” and ignored or downplayed aspects of Trump’s character and actions that in any sane society would render him fundamentally unfit to be a major party’s nominee for the highest office in the land.

Examples of the former date back at least as far as the original New York Times story on the Whitewater real-estate deal in 1992, in which Bill and Hillary Clinton were suspected of having somehow benefitted improperly — the fact that they lost money notwithstanding. In Hillary Clinton’s case, they have included allegations of wrongdoing over investing in cattle futures, misplacing documents, and mishandling emails, and in no case was Clinton found to have committed wrongdoing.

Most recently, the Associated Press purported to prove that donors to the Clinton Global Foundation had somehow benefitted improperly with their relations with Hillary Clinton while she was Secretary of State. In point of fact, none of them did. Two weeks after it tweeted that it had found “pay for play” in those relationships, a claim the AP’s own reporting did not bear out, the AP took that tweet down with no explanation or apology that I’m aware of.

And just this weekend, the media, following as always the lead of their GOP sources, have acted outraged that Hillary Clinton referred to half of Trump supporters as a “basket of deplorables.” Only here’s what Clinton actually said:

You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic—you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people (and) now have 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive, hateful, mean-spirited rhetoric. Now, some of those folks — they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America. But the other basket — and I know this because I see friends from all over America here — I see friends from Florida and Georgia and South Carolina and Texas — as well as, you know, New York and California — but that other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for change. It doesn’t really even matter where it comes from. They don’t buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroine, feel like they’re in a dead-end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.

Was it scandalous that Clinton said this? On the contrary, polling shows that she is understating the problem. Hell, The New York Times found that almost 20 percent of Trump supporters thought freeing the slaves was a bad idea and another 17 percent weren’t sure. They’re not just a basket of deplorables, they’re a kettle of vultures and a gen-u-wine Bucket o’ FAIL. Hell, Trump himself frequently retweets people who are white supremacists themselves and/or follow some of the leading white-supremacist Twitter accounts.

And yet somehow Republicans and the media alike thought Clinton owed these people some kind of apology, with CNN describing Clinton’s assertion as a “shocking statement.”

Meanwhile, the media continue to normalize Trump’s bullying, narcissism, and bigotry, which has been blatantly obvious since he started his campaign more than a year ago with this assertion:

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Oh, some are good people. How big of him.

Trump has proven himself to be a serial liar of world-historical proportions. He has lied about tariffs, reporters, his own political performance, the economy’s performance, and whether he was self-funding his campaign. He has lied, bigly, about his charitable givingHe even has lied about who was the biggest liar in the GOP nomination race. And one finding of the independent fact-checking site Politifact is that not only is Trump the most dishonest major politician on the U.S. scene today, Hillary Clinton is second only to Barack Obama in honesty.

His temperament, which some professionals have identified as narcissistic personality disorder, makes him a significant threat to place in charge of the nation’s nuclear weapons.

Yet despite clear evidence that Trump is too deeply flawed to be qualified for president, cable news gave him far more free air time than it gave his GOP opponents for the nomination:

According to The New York Times, Trump has received $1.9 billion worth of earned media, which includes coverage of the candidate on television and social media, and in newspapers and magazines. That is more than twice the amount of earned media Democratic Party front-runner Hillary Clinton has received and more than six times the amount received by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the second-biggest earner of free media among Republicans.

Meanwhile, print/online pundits have persisted in reassuring the American people that he would “pivot” away from such views after winning the nomination to appeal to more moderate voters. This is staggering, for there has been no evidence whatever that such a transformation was ever in the cards. Trump has lied voluminously, but he has said one thing that the media need to take to the bank: “I am who I am. It’s me. I do not want to change.”

As I write, Trump trails Clinton by 5 percentage points in national polls, and, also at this writing, the way to 270 electoral votes appears shorter and straighter for Clinton than it does for Trump. But given the dramatic difference in qualifications of the two major-party nominees, the gap ought to be much wider.

Part of the problem is that about three in four white evangelical Christians say they’ll vote for Trump. That group makes up almost half the Republican primary vote and, on the basis of Christ’s teachings, might be expected to reject Trump’s bullying and bigotry. A number of prominent evangelical leaders have done so, but the rank and file appear almost all in (and some other evangelical leaders are just cashing in).

But I think a significant segment of the blame also lies with U.S. news media, who seek to create equivalence between Trump and Clinton when there simply is none.

Why? I don’t know. I suspect sexism plays a nontrivial role. In addition, perhaps the people who run news media are, as a group, Trump supporters. Perhaps they simply want to see a close race, figuring that that would generate higher ratings and readership (and possibly increased political-ad revenue as well). Perhaps reporters and pundits are in a rut of adhering to narratives that either were never true or, if they once were true, no longer are. Perhaps all of the above.

But whatever the reason, it adds up to journalism that is at best lazy and incompetent and at worst dishonest and dangerous, given the stakes for the Republic if Trump wins. And that will be the big takeaway of news-media coverage of this campaign, whatever the outcome of the election.

 

 

 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016 7:44 pm

Kathleen Parker, Elon University, free speech, and …

The Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker has been in the news here because some students at nearby Elon University are not happy that she has been booked to speak there.

To be clear, my reaction to the anti-Parker petition has been and remains: Grow up, kids. College, of all places, should be where you are confronted from time to time by views different from your own. Besides, if I had to sit through William F. Buckley’s faux-philosophical bullshit (which cost us $7,500 in student fees back in the day, not that I am bitter), you can survive Kathleen Parker. Even if she does lean conservative, she’s right from time to time — she despises Donald Trump, for example, and unlike a lot of conservatives, she isn’t afraid to say so — now, at least. Granted, she’s not right THAT often — typically, it happens so seldom that when she is right, I email her to tell her so — but it does happen.

That’s not to say I think she will be a great inspiration or even particularly useful. Like most other big-league journalists, she has missed the biggest political story of the past 50 years in our country, which is this: Liberals have been right about damned near everything, even while taking ungodly amounts of shit for it.

That’s bad enough, but what makes Parker worse is that she somehow acts like she hasn’t contributed her fair share of the ungodly amounts of shit. Brother Driftglass elucidates:

… thanks to the magic of fiction and the genius of Billy Wilder, this particular corpse [in the movie “Sunset Boulevard”] floating face-down in a swimming pool is able to ruefully narrate the story of every craven compromise and mercenary decision that led to his own demise.
And, amazingly, so does Ms. Parker.
Because when she runs down an abridged but accurate list of the craven compromises and mercenary decisions that led to her party’s demise–
The party of Lincoln, a sometimes laughable bragging point for diehards whose racial attitudes survived the Civil War intact, is long gone. Its dissolution began at least with Richard Nixon, who embraced a Southern strategy that pandered to racists and set the course for today’s GOP.
The party of angry men and patient women tried to add a little sugar and spice, plunging itself ever lower on the curve when it embraced a cute little winkin’, blinkin’ and noddin’ gal-gov from Alaska as vice-presidential running mate to John McCain — and a heartbeat away from the presidency.
Next came the tea party movement, to which Sarah Palin briefly attached her Winnebago, followed by the government shutdown, and culminating with the glittering, twittering Tower of Trump.
— she shows that she has clearly known all along that what Liberals have been saying about the GOP all along has f—–g well been true all along.
But there has never been any profit in telling that truth, has there?
And so Ms. Parker played ball and played ball and played ball right up until the monster that Richard Nixon began raising in a flower box on the Truman Balcony grew big enough to eat the whole party — Lincoln, Burke, Eisenhower and all.
And now, from the safety of her overpriced column in the Washington Post, she is having a good pout over it.
Parker has spent about the past 30 years as a defender of and apologist for the very things that gave rise to the Trump candidacy she finds so objectionable. Now, possibly too late and certainly way behind a lot of people she considers her intellectual inferiors, she realizes that she was wrong and they were right, even if she can’t quite bring herself to say so.
So, Elon students, yes, you should quit whining and go hear what Parker has to say. But know that your speaker has, for most of her career, had a huge moral and practical blind spot of which she only now is becoming aware, and judge her remarks accordingly. And by all means, question her ruthlessly about it when you get to the Q-and-A portion of the festivities.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016 8:28 pm

Odds and ends for June 8

The House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives was set up to “investigate” claims that Planned Parenthood was selling fetal tissue for profit, despite the fact that four federal and a dozen state investigations have found that PP did no such thing and despite the fact that the video fraudsters who raised those allegations have themselves been indicted. Now that committee has just — oops! — “accidentally” released information on several researchers and Planned Parenthood clinic staffers. This, of course, has happened in an era in which people working in any way with the abortion-rights movement are being threatened and even killed. Accident, my bony ass; this was a deliberate move by the committee chair, U.S. Rep. Marcia Blackburn, R-Tenn., to endanger and thereby intimidate people involved with Planned Parenthood. No, really; there is no other logical interpretation of her behavior. A House of Representatives with any ethics would expel anyone who willingly placed another human being in such danger, but that’s not the House of Representatives we have.

Former CIA agent Sabrina de Sousa has lost a court fight and will be extradited from Portugal to Italy to serve a four-year sentence for having taken part in the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” kidnapping/torture program there. A number of legalities aren’t clear to me on this. But from a standpoint of responsibility, if not legality, if de Sousa is being held legally accountable, so must everyone above her in the chain of command who was involved. Otherwise, there’s no point.

Apparently sedition is the new right-wing hobby. A bunch of Utah yahoos is trying to prevent President Obama from designating historic, federally owned land, Bear Ears, as a national monument, which he has a perfect legal right to do. Naturally, Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Republicans from that benighted state, are giving aid and comfort to those who would violate the law. I almost hope these yahoos do push this. This president showed at Malheur that he is not inclined to dance with seditionists, and the country approved of his actions by a wide margin. If a few traitors get shot behind it, I’ll sleep just fine, and if Hatch and Chaffetz get charged with giving aid and comfort to the enemy, so much the better. My government has been kissing seditious white ass for way too long.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016 7:19 pm

Well, that was different

I didn’t plan this blogging hiatus; it just happened. So what messes have y’all gotten into during my absence?

Trump and Clinton are now their party’s presumptive nominees. (Sorry, Bernie backers — of whom I am one — but math is math, and you know as well as I do that the superdelegates aren’t going anywhere.) Clinton is everything wrong with modern politics except that she’s not a racist or bigot, she doesn’t hate women (or men), and she’s not anti-science. Trump? Well, as some guy on Twitter said, I am voting against Trump because I am a single-issue voter, and my single issue is not opening the seventh seal and ushering in the Apocalypse.

Related to Trump, it is fascinating to watch all the GOP leaders like Paul Ryan condemn Trump’s racist remarks and then say they’re going to support him anyway. Oh, it’s simple enough to understand. The GOP has spent the past 50 years whipping its base into a frothy mix of bigotry and know-nothingism. Donald Trump is the natural, predictable and predicted outcome of that approach. Now, GOP politicians who don’t embrace Trump lose their base. And given our current political schism — as a country, we’re more divided than we’ve been since 1860 — without that base, their careers are over.

Relatedly, #OneAndDone N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory has officially endorsed Donald Trump for president, which, as Facebook commenter Mike Conway sagely noted, is like two albatrosses wearing each other around their necks.

Also here in North Carolina, the GOP’s ill-begotten HB2 “bathroom bill” is not looking long for this world. Earlier, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a very similar Virginia law. Then, last week, the full 4th Circuit refused to hear additional arguments. So, for the 4th Circuit, which includes North Carolina, equality is settled law. The problem is that there are parts of that law as evil or worse that aren’t within the scope of the Virginia law the 4th Circuit ruled on. To fix that, I fear, we’re going to need a Raleigh housecleaning, and I don’t think even the prospect of losing billions in federal aid will be enough for that this time around.

In my neighborhood but not where I can do anything about it, Eric Fink is trying to get onto the ballot to face otherwise-unopposed Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger. All best to Fink; Berger’s an evil little shit, and it is a mark of the state Democratic Party’s ineptitude that it could find no one to face him in a year when Trump may lead the GOP to the biggest defeat since Mondale. (No, it won’t be as big a defeat as Mondale’s; the political chasm is too big for that. But Clinton wins with 310+ electoral votes and will have some coattails, I bet.)

I have watched with a combination of outrage, horror, and fascination, as the Brock Turner rape case has gone viral. He’s an entitled, sociopathic little shit, enabled by an entitled, sociopathic little shit of a father and a mother who thinks that posting a Facebook photo of a teenage girl fellating a kid in a Franzia box-wine costume while her son’s case is being adjudicated is somehow a good idea.

The judge in the case, Aaron Persky, could have given Turner 14 years; he gave him six months, which was much too much for Daddy, who bemoans the fact that Brock no longer enjoys eating steak or some such shit. The judge is unopposed for re-election (why are the shits of the world always unopposed for re-election?), but there’s a recall movement afoot. And just today we learned that Judge Persky also is a Stanford graduate and was captain of the lacrosse team there. I suppose it’s possible there’s no white male athlete privilege going on in this case, but, Lord, it sure don’t LOOK that way, do it?

Related to that case, it took until yesterday — after Turner’s sentencing and many months after his arrest — for Turner’s mug shot to finally show up on social media. That’s because the arresting agency, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department in California, played a shitty little public-records game until national media finally called them out on it. I’ve argued for years that intentional withholding of public records ought to be a crime, and episodes like this are Exhibit A for the prosection. Maybe when cops start losing law-enforcement certification and (and they and bureaucrats start doing time) behind this shit, they’ll start doing their jobs right.

Oh, if you’re considering asthmatic bronchitis as a hobby, I strongly recommend you pursue something else instead.

 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016 5:40 am

The Big Lie: Andrew Sullivan on Donald Trump

You can tell people who actually think from the poseurs by what they think of Andrew Sullivan’s new piece for New York magazine.

Sure, Sullivan’s main point is unassailable: The rise of Donald Trump puts America closer to tyranny than it ever has been (except, maybe, immediately after Pearl Harbor and 9/11, I would add). But how he gets there is shot through with errors and omissions large and small, not least of them the fact that Sullivan has both enabled and defended what gave rise to the situation he now decries.

He places an inordinate amount of faith in Plato’s take on democracy: that it is probably the only path to tyranny, and that a democracy gets closer to tyranny the more democratic it becomes. Uh, Andy, just within living memory of a nontrivial number of Americans and Britons, let us examine the examples of Weimar Germany, which turned to tyranny after just 15 years of not-particularly-accelerating democracy, and Russia, which has lurched from tyranny to tyranny in the past century with barely a few years of anything resembling democracy.

Which wouldn’t matter if he didn’t then go on to blame “our own hyperdemocratic times.” But, of course, he does, because in Sullivan’s worldview, democracy is part of the problem:

And so, as I chitchatted over cocktails at a Washington office Christmas party in December, and saw, looming above our heads, the pulsating, angry televised face of Donald Trump on Fox News, I couldn’t help but feel a little nausea permeate my stomach. And as I watched frenzied Trump rallies on C-SPAN in the spring, and saw him lay waste to far more qualified political peers in the debates by simply calling them names, the nausea turned to dread. And when he seemed to condone physical violence as a response to political disagreement, alarm bells started to ring in my head. Plato had planted a gnawing worry in my mind a few decades ago about the intrinsic danger of late-democratic life. It was increasingly hard not to see in Plato’s vision a murky reflection of our own hyperdemocratic times and in Trump a demagogic, tyrannical character plucked directly out of one of the first books about politics ever written.

Yeah, about that book: See above.

He goes on to blame hyperdemocracy for the emergence of such ultimate presidential losers as Ross Perot, Jesse Jackson, Steve Forbes, Herman Cain, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and Trump, ignoring the fact that in every case but Jackson’s, personal wealth and/or corporate backing was the only thing that made the candidacy anywhere near viable (and Jackson at least had a history of leading a movement, which the others lacked). For reasons known only to Sullivan and God, Sullivan characterizes this trend as “our increased openness to being led by anyone; indeed, our accelerating preference for outsiders,” without mentioning the role money plays.

Indeed, he actually argues that money plays no role:

But the past few presidential elections have demonstrated that, in fact, money from the ultrarich has been mostly a dud. Barack Obama, whose 2008 campaign was propelled by small donors and empowered by the internet, blazed the trail of the modern-day insurrectionist, defeating the prohibitive favorite in the Democratic primary and later his Republican opponent (both pillars of their parties’ Establishments and backed by moneyed elites). In 2012, the fund-raising power behind Mitt Romney — avatar of the one percent — failed to dislodge Obama from office. And in this presidential cycle, the breakout candidates of both parties have soared without financial support from the elites. Sanders, who is sustaining his campaign all the way to California on the backs of small donors and large crowds, is, to put it bluntly, a walking refutation of his own argument. Trump, of course, is a largely self-funding billionaire — but like Willkie, he argues that his wealth uniquely enables him to resist the influence of the rich and their lobbyists. Those despairing over the influence of Big Money in American politics must also explain the swift, humiliating demise of Jeb Bush and the struggling Establishment campaign of Hillary Clinton. The evidence suggests that direct democracy, far from being throttled, is actually intensifying its grip on American politics.

True as far as it goes, which is not far: He ignores the toxic effect of money, particularly corporate money, on Congress and statehouses, where fact-based action on issues ranging from climate change to education are stymied by corporate cash. And he continues to blame “hyperdemocracy” for our current problems:

But it is precisely because of the great accomplishments of our democracy that we should be vigilant about its specific, unique vulnerability: its susceptibility, in stressful times, to the appeal of a shameless demagogue.

Oh, please, Andy. Ronald Reagan, whom you so idolize, was the epitome of a shameless demagogue. (Tell me what in the pluperfect hell else kicking off one’s presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Miss., is supposed to be besides a dog whistle to white racists.) And George H.W. Bush with his Willie Horton ads. And George W. Bush with his shameless cautions against “terra” after blatantly ignoring warnings that might have saved us from it. And Mitt Romney with his “job creators” and “job takers” bullshit. Hell, the only GOP presidential contender of the past 36 years who wasn’t a demagogue was Bob Dole in ’96, and even he ultimately, and desperately, caved on the topic of tax cuts in a vain effort to win an election he already had lost.

These candidates and presidents did nothing more or less than what the GOP in general has done for the past 50-plus years: They trafficked in racism, sexism, other forms of bigotry, xenophobia, voting restrictions, anti-elitism, and class warfare, all of which helped create the conditions in which we now find ourselves. Democracy didn’t create Trump; to the contrary, the GOP’s own antidemocratic tendencies did.

Sullivan also blames part of our current problems on the Internet, which, Andy, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but the Internet did not create or cause “feeling, emotion, and narcissism, rather than reason, empiricism, and public-spiritedness.” They were always there, and one party, the GOP, has trafficked in them far more than the other. The narcissism that enables people to believe that their common sense trumps the informed opinion of disinterested researchers is almost exclusively a GOP product. Hell, Andy, it enables you to pose as historian and philosopher when you are neither. “Yes, occasional rational points still fly back and forth, but there are dramatically fewer elite arbiters to establish which of those points is actually true or valid or relevant,” Sullivan writes. “We have lost authoritative sources for even a common set of facts.”

What horseshit. We haven’t “lost” authoritative sources; the GOP has abandoned them when they didn’t serve the party’s purposes. Supply-side economics was exposed as a hoax by David Stockman within a year of Reagan’s taking office and confirmed as such by hundreds of economists since, but it remains a staple of GOP platforms from Greensboro to Raleigh to Washington. The scientific community is roughly 99.9% convinced that human activity is causing global warming; it is the Republicans who take money from the carbon industry (which has roughly 27 trillion reasons still in the ground to lie about this subject) to pretend there’s any question about it.

Where  Sullivan fails most greatly, however, is to blame “hyperdemocracy” for Trump without analyzing that without which Trump never could have become so popular: the GOP electorate. It is bigoted, obtuse, fact-averse, and often sociopathic. And how did it get that way? Because the GOP has spent the past 50 years encouraging it to be so. Sullivan grants that Trump has played a role in this —

Trump assiduously cultivated this image and took to reality television as a natural. Each week, for 14 seasons of The Apprentice, he would look someone in the eye and tell them, “You’re fired!” The conversation most humane bosses fear to have with an employee was something Trump clearly relished, and the cruelty became entertainment. In retrospect, it is clear he was training — both himself and his viewers. If you want to understand why a figure so widely disliked nonetheless powers toward the election as if he were approaching a reality-TV-show finale, look no further. His television tactics, as applied to presidential debates, wiped out rivals used to a different game. And all our reality-TV training has conditioned us to hope he’ll win — or at least stay in the game till the final round. In such a shame-free media environment, the assholes often win. In the end, you support them because they’re assholes.

— without acknowledging that it wasn’t just Trump, but the whole damned GOP, that built this Frankenstein’s monster of a voting base. And he doesn’t get to whine like a little bitch now that the monster has decided that it will make the decisions.

Sullivan to the contrary, it is not the pro-democratic and progressive movement that has given rise to Trump. That movement has expanded the rights of minorities, women, LGBTQ folks, immigrants, even convicted felons, and in no instance has it given rise to demagoguery. Bernie Sanders has correctly identified real problems — problems affecting many people in the GOP base, for that matter — and while his solutions strike the media as outside the mainstream, they are hardly demagoguery. Indeed, they work well in some of the most successful democracies on the planet.

Having misused Plato, Sullivan goes on to misuse Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer:

In Eric Hoffer’s classic 1951 tract, The True Believer, he sketches the dynamics of a genuine mass movement. He was thinking of the upheavals in Europe in the first half of the century, but the book remains sobering, especially now. Hoffer’s core insight was to locate the source of all truly mass movements in a collective sense of acute frustration. Not despair, or revolt, or resignation — but frustration simmering with rage. Mass movements, he notes (as did Tocqueville centuries before him), rarely arise when oppression or misery is at its worst (say, 2009); they tend to appear when the worst is behind us but the future seems not so much better (say, 2016). It is when a recovery finally gathers speed and some improvement is tangible but not yet widespread that the anger begins to rise. After the suffering of recession or unemployment, and despite hard work with stagnant or dwindling pay, the future stretches ahead with relief just out of reach. When those who helped create the last recession face no consequences but renewed fabulous wealth, the anger reaches a crescendo.

The deeper, long-term reasons for today’s rage are not hard to find, although many of us elites have shamefully found ourselves able to ignore them. The jobs available to the working class no longer contain the kind of craftsmanship or satisfaction or meaning that can take the sting out of their low and stagnant wages. The once-familiar avenues for socialization — the church, the union hall, the VFW — have become less vibrant and social isolation more common. Global economic forces have pummeled blue-collar workers more relentlessly than almost any other segment of society, forcing them to compete against hundreds of millions of equally skilled workers throughout the planet. No one asked them in the 1990s if this was the future they wanted. And the impact has been more brutal than many economists predicted. No wonder suicide and mortality rates among the white working poor are spiking dramatically.

“It is usually those whose poverty is relatively recent, the ‘new poor,’ who throb with the ferment of frustration,” Hoffer argues. Fundamentalist religion long provided some emotional support for those left behind (for one thing, it invites practitioners to defy the elites as unholy), but its influence has waned as modernity has penetrated almost everything and the great culture wars of the 1990s and 2000s have ended in a rout. The result has been a more diverse mainstream culture — but also, simultaneously, a subculture that is even more alienated and despised, and ever more infuriated and bloody-minded.

This is an age in which a woman might succeed a black man as president, but also one in which a member of the white working class has declining options to make a decent living. This is a time when gay people can be married in 50 states, even as working-class families are hanging by a thread. It’s a period in which we have become far more aware of the historic injustices that still haunt African-Americans and yet we treat the desperate plight of today’s white working ­class as an afterthought. And so late-stage capitalism is creating a righteous, revolutionary anger that late-stage democracy has precious little ability to moderate or constrain — and has actually helped exacerbate.

For the white working class, having had their morals roundly mocked, their religion deemed primitive, and their economic prospects decimated, now find their very gender and race, indeed the very way they talk about reality, described as a kind of problem for the nation to overcome. This is just one aspect of what Trump has masterfully signaled as “political correctness” run amok, or what might be better described as the newly rigid progressive passion for racial and sexual equality of outcome, rather than the liberal aspiration to mere equality of opportunity.

Much of the newly energized left has come to see the white working class not as allies but primarily as bigots, misogynists, racists, and homophobes, thereby condemning those often at the near-bottom rung of the economy to the bottom rung of the culture as well. A struggling white man in the heartland is now told to “check his privilege” by students at Ivy League colleges. Even if you agree that the privilege exists, it’s hard not to empathize with the object of this disdain. These working-class communities, already alienated, hear — how can they not? — the glib and easy dismissals of “white straight men” as the ultimate source of all our woes. They smell the condescension and the broad generalizations about them — all of which would be repellent if directed at racial minorities — and see themselves, in Hoffer’s words, “disinherited and injured by an unjust order of things.”

And so they wait, and they steam, and they lash out.

Not a word about how Republican policies of the past 35 years have, with occasional Democratic assistance, created this misery. Not a word about retrograde tax policies. Not a word about releasing the hounds of unfettered corporatism. Not a word about so-called free-trade treaties with toothless or nonexistent job protections or retraining measures. Not a word about Big Government spying. Not a word about ongoing, deadly racism and sexism. No, what we get is a Bizarro World in which the white working class is somehow the only victim, and these victims are being mocked by progressives. Whatever else voting for Bernie Sanders might mean, it also is a recognition of the white working class’s problems and an effort to bring about a means of fixing those problems, a possibility that never crosses Sullivan’s mind.

Again and again, Sullivan casts Trump as not a real Republican, as part of The Other and somehow a uniquely dangerous proposition:

And so after demonizing most undocumented Mexican immigrants, he then vowed to round up and deport all 11 million of them by force. “They have to go” was the typically blunt phrase he used — and somehow people didn’t immediately recognize the monstrous historical echoes.

Well, gee, Andy, that couldn’t possibly have been because the party has been saying only slightly milder variations of this very thing for 50 years, could it? That couldn’t possibly have been because almost every other Republican candidate in the whole damn Klown Kar was saying the same damn thing, could it?

Sullivan even insists that threats of violence are unique to Trump —

And while a critical element of 20th-century fascism — its organized street violence — is missing, you can begin to see it in embryonic form. The phalanx of bodyguards around Trump grows daily; plainclothes bouncers in the crowds have emerged as pseudo-cops to contain the incipient unrest his candidacy will only continue to provoke; supporters have attacked hecklers with sometimes stunning ferocity. Every time Trump legitimizes potential violence by his supporters by saying it comes from a love of country, he sows the seeds for serious civil unrest.

— apparently having forgotten that t-shirts bearing the words “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.” were widely available years before Trump became a candidate.

And having misread Plato and Hoffer, Sullivan turns to Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here to suggest that “the elites” are to blame —

An American elite that has presided over massive and increasing public debt, that failed to prevent 9/11, that chose a disastrous war in the Middle East, that allowed financial markets to nearly destroy the global economy, and that is now so bitterly divided the Congress is effectively moot in a constitutional democracy: “We Respectables” deserve a comeuppance.

— once again without pointing out that in almost every single instance, the problems of the “American elite” he’s talking about are overwhelmingly the fault of the GOP. The massive debt was caused primarily by the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and the debt is now falling as a percentage of the economy and so is not as pressing a problem as it was), the failure to prevent 9/11 lies squarely with George W. Bush and his cabal, the hands-off attitude toward Big Finance was the direct, predictable, and predicted result of GOP deregulation in the ’90s, and the “bitter division” is actually unprecedented GOP obstructionism that began the night President Obama was elected.

Sullivan concludes as he began and continued, with a deluded implicit belief that the GOP somehow is not the problem:

… those Republicans desperately trying to use the long-standing rules of their own nominating process to thwart this monster deserve our passionate support, not our disdain. This is not the moment to remind them that they partly brought this on themselves. This is a moment to offer solidarity, especially as the odds are increasingly stacked against them. Ted Cruz and John Kasich face their decisive battle in Indiana on May 3. But they need to fight on, with any tactic at hand, all the way to the bitter end. The Republican delegates who are trying to protect their party from the whims of an outsider demagogue are, at this moment, doing what they ought to be doing to prevent civil and racial unrest, an international conflict, and a constitutional crisis. These GOP elites have every right to deploy whatever rules or procedural roadblocks they can muster, and they should refuse to be intimidated.

And if they fail in Indiana or Cleveland, as they likely will, they need, quite simply, to disown their party’s candidate. They should resist any temptation to loyally back the nominee or to sit this election out. They must take the fight to Trump at every opportunity, unite with Democrats and Independents against him, and be prepared to sacrifice one election in order to save their party and their country.

What universe is Sullivan living in? On what planet would the GOP actually stand up for the good of the nation and not simply fall in line behind Trump? Sullivan knows this. He’s not earnestly pleading with his party to do the right thing. He’s simply trying to save his own skin, hoping desperately that no one will notice that he has been one of the GOP’s most slavish apologists and defenders. Sorry, Andy, but come the revolution, you, too, are going up against the wall.

In short, Sullivan’s dishonesty is staggering, and the chutzpah that lets him believe he can fool people with this crap is breathtaking. But it is all of a piece with the Republican Party’s past 50 years of profoundly anti-democratic secrets and lies. The party built the electorate it wanted, and in a natural progression, that electorate has chosen the candidate it wanted. That candidate will win the nomination, and the party will fall in line behind it. And no matter what Sullivan, or David Brooks, or Chuck Todd, or any other Apostle of Both-Siderism has to say, America’s Democrats and independents had nothing to do with it. The fact that Sullivan can be well paid to suggest otherwise merely shows how willing — indeed, desperate — Americans are to mistake cunning for wisdom.

Thursday, April 7, 2016 12:04 pm

Sure, Jesse Helms could be cordial. So could Reinhard Heydrich.

The Charlotte Observer is moving to a new building, and in the process of moving, political reporter Jim Morrill uncovered a number of letters between then-U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms and the publisher and editors of the time (roughly 1978-93). The Observer’s spin on these letters is that they reveal a cordial, even humorous side of Helms.

And you know what? That’s probably true.

And you know what else? Reinhard Heydrich, the notorious Nazi SS officer considered second in bloodthirstiness only to Hitler himself, also had a cordial side. Hitler himself was a vegetarian and loved children. Big woop.

For all his public embrace of “Christian values,” Jesse Helms got his start by purveying white-lightning-quality racism in his editorials for Raleigh’s WRAL-TV. His bigotry was his brand, and he was proud of it. But worse than that, although he didn’t pioneer it, he perfected the Republican art of punching down against the least among us — the poor, women, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ folks — not just for political advantage but for the pure, unadulterated meanness of it. For every instance of his ostensible cordiality, there were 20 instances in which he stomped Christ’s Second Great Commandment into the dust.

What’s worse is that his brand of punch-down politics has now become de rigeur among Republican politicians, not least because the GOP base has grown to expect it. From Trump to Cruz to Kasich to the leaders of the N.C. General Assembly who passed HB2 (which punches not only LGBTQ folk but also anyone who might have been discriminated against), Republicans now believe that they must attack the most vulnerable to be seen as tough and therefore trustworthy. That, not his cordiality or his professed Christianity, is his real legacy.

Helms has been dead for a while now, and a political generation has come of age to whom Helms is a story, not a person. And stories can change. But the person never did. Helms died as he had lived, an evil, hateful, degenerate son of a bitch. Remember that, because it’s important to understand how we got where we are today.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016 1:40 pm

All not-so-quiet on the Oregon front; or, The Tree of Derpitude must be fertilized with the blood of morons

After 26 days — which was, in my not-so-humble opinion, 25 days, 23 hours and 45 minutes too long — federal and state law enforcement finally moved against the leadership of the militants currently holding the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon. When those morons headed to a town meeting 70 miles away — 70 miles away! — they were stopped, and at least some of them attempted armed resistance. LaVoy Finicum, the group’s self-appointed spokesman, was shot dead. All the survivors, including leader Ammon Bundy, are in jail; Ammon’s brother Ryan was wounded in the shootout.

And as this is written, a lot of heavy vehicles are converging on the wildlife refuge, setting up roadblocks and telling journalists in the area to pull back because their safety cannot be guaranteed. So sometime soon, something is going down. It’s about damn time. The remaining insurrectionists, for their part, are calling for supporters to shoot police who are blockading the refuge. So this is unlikely to end peacefully, although I do hope it ends with no more loss of life, especially on the government’s part.

This situation never should have been allowed to fester. We knew from the start that while the Bundy brothers and their associates were largely just clowns, they were attracting some very dangerous people, just as happened when their father, Cliven Bundy, threatened federal agents in Nevada who were attempting to shut down his freeloading on the backs of the taxpayers by using federal land without paying for it. (I believe that’s called wingnut welfare.) I said at the time that the failure to hold Cliven Bundy accountable would lead to more such incidents, and that is what has happened. I don’t think it’s too late to circle back and charge the elder Bundy for his crimes. If it’s not, that’s exactly what the government should do.

I’m sure Finicum has family and friends who will miss him. But he had sworn that he would be arrested or surrender to the government only over his dead body, and I am content — not happy, but content — that the government found his terms acceptable. Finicum, who by all accounts was not mentally ill but simply stupid, had decided to commit suicide by cop; in such situations, one’s sympathy should go to the cop who is forced to pull the trigger to protect himself, his partners, or innocent third parties.

I think one can quibble over whether the people who occupied the wildlife refuge were terrorists — an argument can be made that if you’re armed but take over an unoccupied federal building, as that building was on New Year’s weekend, then it’s not terrorism — but they absolutely were guilty of the federal crime of seditious conspiracy. And they need to go to prison, all of them. And if they forcibly resist, well, they had better be prepared for the consequences.

And not for nothing, but the Bundy brothers and their compadres were shown more consideration by law enforcement than some 12-year-old African American children. That ain’t just a talking point; it’s a legitimate and serious issue. Government at all levels has gotten in the habit in the past 25 years or so of kissing seditious white ass while treating African Americans as the enemy. It needs to stop both, which means we voters need to pressure it to as part of a larger effort to cash that check America wrote itself in the 14th Amendment, that all people are entitled to equal protection under the law.

 

 

Monday, January 4, 2016 3:55 pm

None dare call it treason. But sedition? Oh, yeah, I’ll go straight there.

Over the weekend, some armed right-wing activists took over a federal building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon and announced they intended to stay for months or years. Why they did it is a long story I’ll touch on (but not thoroughly rehash) in a bit.

Now a lot of people on social media have had a bit of fun with this, denouncing the perps and their actions with such hashtags as #YallQaeda and #VanillaISIS and #YeeHawdists who are intent on building and expanding a #cowliphate. I am one of those people. But at bottom, this is no laughing matter.

Is this treason? Almost certainly not. Treason is the one crime defined in the Constitution, in Article III, Section 3:

Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

In all fairness, I don’t know of anyone who would, or could, argue honestly that these guys with guns have levied war against the United States at this point.

I also question whether it is domestic terrorism, the statutory definition of which can be found at 18 USC 2331(5):

the term “domestic terrorism” means activities that—

(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;

(B) appear to be intended—

(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and

(C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.

A reasonable person can argue that occupying a federal building while it was unoccupied over a holiday weekend does not “involve acts dangerous to human life,” so I’ll grant for the sake of discussion that what the gunmen have done does not constitute domestic terrorism.

But it is seditious conspiracy, per 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. (emphasis mine)

In other words, what these guys have done is a crime, and a big one, against the U.S. government, which is to say, against the people of the United States.

Now, we got to this point via two converging roads. Road No. 1 had to do with Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who doesn’t believe he should have to pay the government the required fees for grazing his stock on public land. When the Bureaul of Land Management showed up to claim what was rightfully the taxpayers’ due, he got a case of the ass, and a bunch of his gun wielding buddies showed up in support. Rather than arresting the lot of them, which is what the government should have done, it let him off.

Bundy has a son, Ammond, who holds similar anti-government (read: believing it’s OK to steal from the taxpayers what is rightfully the taxpayers’) views. This brings us to Road No. 2. Ammond Bundy and some of his gun-sucking friends showed up to protest the imprisoning of two other anti-government nuts, the father and son Dwight and Steven Hammond, who had 1) killed game unlawfully on federal land and 2) unlawfully set a fire on federal land to cover up evidence of their crime, claiming they had done so to drive out invasive species. The courts took a dim view of this, convicting and sentencing them for arson. But in a misguided attempt to be reasonable or something, the court sentenced the Hammonds to less than the mandatory minimum in prison, an accommodation extended to, I believe, no African American drug dealers ever (and more on this angle in a moment). The state appealed the sentence, seeking longer terms; an appeals court agreed with the state; and the Supreme Court ultimately decided not to overturn the appeals court’s decision.

The Hammonds, meanwhile, had served the original part of their sentence, and when the part they originally should have been sentenced to was finally upheld, they were ordered to report back to prison. This, in the insane or drug-addled perception of Ammond Bundy and friends — not, it should be noted, in the eyes of the Hammonds, themselves, who at last report intended to report back to prison on time — constituted “double jeopardy” or some other such bullshit, and provided an excuse — I won’t call it a justification — for sedition. So the younger Bundy and an undetermined number of his armed friends took over the federal building, claiming to be prepared to stay there for months or years.

Let’s be very clear on several points here.

  • The Hammonds were duly charged, tried, and convicted. Their sentencing was messed up, but had it been handled correctly from the outset, there would be no issue here. As it is, there’s no REAL issue.
  • Cliven Bundy should have gone to prison, and so should his butt buddies who were able to point firearms at federal agents with impunity because the government has gotten into the unfortunate habit of kissing the asses of white gun-toting seditionists. Had they been dealt with appropriately at the time, this Oregon situation never would have happened.
  • What do these two things have in common? The government extended a consideration to right-wing white Christianist men that it has never, and would never, extend to the Occupy movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Moral Mondays movement here in North Carolina, or any other “leftist” protest, not to mention Muslims in general whether they’re protesting or not.

I, for one, am tired of my government’s kissing the ass of armed white seditionists. So here’s what I think should happen.

Cliven Bundy can still be charged, I believe, for his earlier actions. He should be charged and tried. If convicted, he should go to prison.

The 12, or 150, or whatever the actual number is of armed men who have taken over the federal building at the Malheur Federal Wildlife Refuge in Oregon should be arrested, charged, tried, and, if convicted, imprisoned and fined. And I mean now, not months from now after they run out of food or whatever. Give them a chance to come out, and if they don’t, tear-gas the building, go in and get them. Because make no mistake: If black protesters or Muslims had occupied that same building in the same way for other reasons, they’d be in custody by now. Hell, for all we know, the building would have been napalmed by now. There’s no legal or practical reason why white men who claim to be Christians should be treated any differently.

Despite heavy right-wing political pressure, the government correctly has identified right-wing anti-government types as the biggest single terrorist threat in this country. Whether these participants actually are terrorists — see above — they definitely are widely engaging in seditious conspiracy. And that needs to be nipped in the bud.

And one other thing: Stop calling these groups “militias.” Artice I, Section 8 of the Constitution makes clear that the power to call, charge, train, arm and discipline militias rests with the Congress, not with the states or any individual. And Article II, Section 2 makes clear that militias are under the command of the President of the United States. If you and your gang weren’t called, charged, trained, armed and disciplined by the Congress and are not under the command of the President, you’re not a militia. You’re just a gang of thugs.

 

 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015 7:58 am

Earl and Skip vs. the News & Record

Updated 12/1/2015; see below.

According to Courthouse News Service, the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in downtown Greensboro has filed a libel suit against Greensboro’s daily newspaper, the News & Record. Per that story, the museum accuses the paper of publishing false and damaging info about the museum’s finances.

Long story short: This suit will never see the inside of a courtroom.

Forget the question of whether the N&R knowingly or recklessly published something false and defamatory. Forget the question of whether the N&R published anything false at all. Here’s all you need to know:

For this suit to go forward, the museum’s books would have to be opened to the N&R’s attorneys — and probably a forensic accountant or two. And the museum’s founders, Earl Jones and Melvin “Skip” Alston, would have to be deposed — that is, answer questions under oath from N&R attorneys about the museum’s finances and their handling of those finances.

Three words: Nah. Guh. Happen.

Update, Dec. 1: Greensboro’s mayor, who sits on the museum’s board as an ex-officio member, says the suit will be withdrawn, and that’s not all. Thanks to Roch Smith Jr. for this follow-up:

Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan, who sits on the ICRC&M board as an ex officio member, says the ICRC&M board did not vote on suing the News & Record at any of the board meetings she attended. She says she contacted the ICRC&M attorney Doug Harris to see if a vote was taken at any of the meetings she did not attend and Harris told her no vote had been taken to file the lawsuit.

Vaughan did say, however, that she was aware of dissatisfaction with the News & Record’s reporting at the ICRC&M. Vaughan said the concern was that the News & Record did not adequately explain the nature of the center’s debt in the Moffet article and that the misrepresentation of the size of the debt hampered ICRC&M’s fund raising efforts.

As Vaughan explained it, approximately $23 million of the center’s total debt is for tax credits which will be dismissed upon the completion of payments of a couple hundred thousand more dollars. Once the final payment is made in 2016, the balance of that debt will “evaporate,” Vaughan said. Vaughan explained that a recent grant by the City of Greensboro to the ICRC&M is set aside to cover those payments and that they are in an account that requires the signature of City Manager Jim Westmoreland for disbursements.

Vaughan says the ICRC&M had been discussing their concerns about the reporting of the debt with the N&R for “months” and attempting to get it to publish a correction or clarification. Vaughan says she did not know what prompted the suit to be filed without a vote by the board, but understands that after the suit is served on Tuesday, the ICRC&M intends to withdraw it without prejudice — meaning, they can file it again if they choose — and that they will return to negotiations with the News & Record.

As it was written (by me), so shall it apparently be: This suit is going No. Where.

And just as well. The museum’s whining notwithstanding, the News & Record explained the museum’s debt in a good bit of detail in an article that ran last January. It’s archived on the N&R website.

And if Skip and Earl are really worried about public trust and confidence in their institution, they might think hard about stunts like filing a lawsuit without the knowledge and approval of the governing board. I’m sorry, but, Jesus, as running a nonprofit goes, it really gets no stupider than that without embezzlement or sex crimes being involved. I sure as hell wouldn’t contribute a dime to a charitable nonprofit run that laxly.

And, finally, before we get sucked in by Skip and Earl’s bid for sympathy, let’s remember, as this July N&R article reminds us, what the museum’s own long-time auditor said in his 2014 audit report:

In their review [of auditor Oliver Bowie’s 2014 audit report], city auditors Len Lucas and Mickey Kerans noted several areas that point to the museum’s dire financial situation, which officials have sought to downplay in recent years.

According to Lucas and Kerans, museum officials:

• Drained in January its operating reserve, which is required to contain $1 million.

• Have zero working capital and zero contingency money.

• Owe Carolina Bank nearly $782,900 and the city as much as $1.25 million for the first installments of the forgivable loan — minus whatever money it raised toward the loan.

The city auditors also noted a warning about the museum’s future raised by Bowie, who has audited the museum since 1995. Bowie noted that the museum hasn’t paid $500,000 to one of the businesses it was required to set up as a condition of receiving millions in historic tax credits in 2010.

Bowie said “those conditions raise substantial doubt about the project’s ability to continue as a going concern.”

Again, that’s not the News & Record saying that. That’s the museum’s independent outside auditor. I’ll let those of you who are CPAs weigh in on what “substantial doubt about the project’s ability to continue as a going concern” means with respect to the museum. But when I was covering the PTL criminal case, civil lawsuit and bankruptcy case in the late 1980s, CPAs explained that language to me as meaning that auditors didn’t know whether the organization would still be in business in 12 months or not.

I don’t want to let the N&R off the hook completely, however. As of this writing, the paper and its website have published nothing about the lawsuit. I get not wanting to comment on the suit — particularly at this early stage, that’s only prudent. But failing to cover it is bush-league and strongly suggests that Publisher/Executive Editor Jeff Gauger is out of his depth.

Fortunately for him, the available evidence suggests Earl and Skip are even more out of theirs.

Thursday, November 5, 2015 9:36 pm

RIP J. Howard Coble — by Sam Rayburn’s standards, the last honest congresscritter

“Son, if you can’t take their money, drink their whiskey, screw their women, and then vote against ’em, you don’t deserve to be here.” — attributed to U.S. House Speaker Sam Rayburn, c. 1950.

Howard Coble, who represented North Carolina’s 6th Congressional District for 30 years, died late Tuesday evening — Election Night here in Greensboro, as it happened — and a tsunami of respect and even love has flooded the Internet as a consequence.

The News & Record’s news story called Coble a Republican icon who also was “beloved by area Democrats.” The News & Record’s editorial page said that Coble, popular though he was, “wasn’t appreciated enough.” My Facebook feed was filled with tributes from local folks from both parties and no party at all.

Like almost anyone who has lived in the district any length of time, I have my own Howard Coble story to tell, one that goes beyond our interactions as politician and journalist. He was extremely helpful to me when I was job hunting after I took the News & Record buyout in 2009 even though he had no particular reason to be. He got in touch on my behalf with people whose names you see regularly in the paper and on TV. I don’t owe my current jobs to him, but it certainly wasn’t because he wasn’t working for me.

And, yes, even by the standards of Congress, where good constituent service is considered the bare performance minimum for a congresscritter to have a hope of re-election, Coble’s constituent service — or, more precisely, that of the staff he hired and oversaw — was legendary.

But there was a big and important contradiction at the heart of Coble’s politics that all this outpouring overlooked. My friend Lynn Holt-Campbell, who runs an insurance agency in High Point with her husband, wrote something on Facebook that sums it up: ” I met Howard a few times (and yes, he told me to call him “Howard”) … though we were just about polar opposites on a lot of political issues, he was a very, very nice man who deeply loved his state.”

In a nutshell, Coble cultivated a tone of bipartisanship — arguably a necessity for a Republican politician who came of age when Democrats were still in control and who won his second term by only 79 votes — but from 1989 on he voted a very conservative line in Congress; if you look at his record, you’ll see that he was pretty much straight Gingrichite/Tea Party without the idiotic rhetoric. The result was that while he professed to love the people of his district, he voted for many things that hurt most of them.

He supported trade policies that ultimately decimated the 6th District’s predominant industries of furniture and textiles. A former N.C. state revenue secretary, he professed an emphasis on a balanced budget but voted consistently for budget-busting GOP tax cuts that benefited the very wealthy to the detriment of an overwhelming majority of his constituents. He once told me on the record that Congress ought to use its constitutional power of interstate-commerce regulation to ban the use of tax-paid economic incentives to lure employers across state lines, but in all his time in the House he never lifted a finger to do anything about it. And American intellectual-property law, with its gifts to behemoth content creators, became, on his watch as the chairman of the House subcommittee overseeing it, the place where creativity goes to die.

Moreover, a former federal prosecutor, he voted for Bill Clinton’s impeachment even when he knew (or should have known) that not all the elements for a perjury charge were present, but he utterly ignored the far more thoroughly documented war crimes (including torture) and crimes against humanity committed by the Bush administration after 9/11. He cast himself as favoring small government, but there was no big-government overreach he didn’t back, from the PATRIOT Act to warrantless domestic wiretapping. He never took sometimes declined to take a public position on gay marriage — ostensibly because, as a lifelong bachelor, he felt himself unqualified to do so. In point of fact, during his tenure Congress never had to vote on the issue he voted for a number of anti-gay marriage measures, including the Defense of Marriage Act..

But you have heard little of that these past couple of days. The Howard Coble who voted to screw the middle class and working class, who pushed the interests of big business over small business, who signed on to some of the government’s worst post-9/11 excesses, who consistently pushed tax and economic policies detrimental to the interests of the overwhelming majority of the 6th District’s residents, and who kept his mouth shut while supporting some of the most wild-eyed initiatives of the Gingrich crew and the Tea Party, didn’t make an appearance. The most the News & Record could bestir itself to say was that Coble was “a reliable conservative” who “voted for tax cuts and championed restrictive intellectual property bills beloved by large corporations.” That was it.

The contrast between Coble and the current crop of Republican presidential candidates is striking. They’re all talk, and they’re going nowhere. Coble talked rationally, even in nonpartisan fashion at times, but his votes did and are continuing to do enormous damage to his district and the people of North Carolina on behalf of a few wealthy backers, damage that will long outlive his 30-year tenure in Congress.

In short, I don’t know about drinking our whiskey and screwing our women, but he took our money and voted against us over and over and over again. And that, in the post-Citizens United era, is what being an honest politician has come to mean, and how low the bar has sunk.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015 5:45 pm

Odds and Ends for Oct. 6

First things first: Here in Greensboro, the polls are open until 7:30 p.m. If you haven’t already voted, vote! It annoys the bastards.™

So did the Lions lose to the Seahawks last night because the officials knew the rule but made the wrong call? Or did they lose because the officials didn’t know the rule?

No one ever has paid me to be a campaign manager, but I cannot see any upside for Hillary Clinton to pulling out of New Hampshire. Bernie Sanders may lead her there now, but it’s months until the primary. The state awards delegates proportionately, so a loss could be almost as good as a win. The Clintons have a lot of history there; indeed, Hillary won there in 2008 after being left for dead. And is anyone seriously arguing that a campaign that took in $32 million in the third quarter can’t campaign there and on more promising turf? I think this is just a case of Politico doing what it does best, which is to let any old fool say any damnfool thing that comes to mind and treating it like a story.

So 87% of frequent flyers are annoyed by the TSA. The good news is, those 87% are at least 153% annoyed.

I don’t know why the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, got bombed by U.S. planes. All I know is that it did and that the organization is pulling out of the area, taking northern Afghanistan’s last trauma-care hospital with it. This needs investigating. If it was an accident, the U.S. government needs to be issuing abject apologies and paying reparations. If it was intentional, some people need to be charged with war crimes. Either way, some heads need to roll — and I mean commanders and civilian bureaucrats, not pilots.

An EU court has ruled that EU-based companies that store their data in U.S. servers are illegally exposing their customers’ data to snooping by the U.S. government. So not only is that snooping unconstitutional, it’s also bad for business. Maybe that will get the Republicans’ attention.

So once upon a time, South Carolina’s five Republican representatives and two Republican senators voted against federal disaster relief for the Northeast after Superstorm Sandy. Now, with all the flooding in South Carolina, they’re all, including presidential contender Lindsey Graham, seeking federal disaster relief for South Carolina. This is hypocrisy, but it’s more than that: It’s a bone-crushing level of stupid. Because when they were extending the middle finger to New Jersey and New York, did these intellectual ceiling tiles not think that tropical weather — or ice storms, for that matter — could make a huge mess of South Carolina?

Charlie Pierce has more:

Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in the path of the destruction, certainly. (To paraphrase Will McEvoy, nobody’s thoughts and prayers are with the flood.) But my memories go back to 2013, when a survey warned us that the country is chockfull of aging, obsolete dams, many of them of the earthen variety, like the ones that gave way in South Carolina today. That same survey found South Carolina’s performance on dam safety as leaky and unsafe as the dams themselves. I mean, 4.3 fulltime employees to monitor and inspect 550 dams, 162 of which were classified as “high-hazard.”

Talking fence post Ben Carson thinks the Oregon community-college shooting was as bad as it was because not enough people attacked the attacker and assures us he would have behaved differently. By his logic, not enough cavalrymen shot at Injuns at Little Big Horn and we must not have shot back at Pearl Harbor. His candidacy poses an interesting question: How dumb can a presidential candidate be before Republican voters notice?

Florida Senate candidate Augustus Sol Invictus once sacrificed a goat and drank its blood, which I not only am OK with, I also find it one helluva lot less bizarre than believing in supply-side economics.

A TV reporter asked a Dothan (Ala.) city commissioner a question and got hit twice in the face for his trouble. Commissioner Amos Newsome faces assault charges and is lucky not to have a high-def video camera stuck where the sun doesn’t shine.

 

 

 

Saturday, September 12, 2015 7:49 am

Giving the government a do-it-yourself proctological exam

Hi, kids. Ever want to live the glamorous life of an investigative reporter but also wanted to, you know, eat? Well, know, Logickull.com and I are placing a powerful investigative tool in your hands, absolutely free. It’s the Freedom of Information Act! This graphic will tell you most of what you need to know to place a Freedom of Information Act request, what to do if your request is denied, and generally how to go about using this wonderful and powerful tool.

A couple of caveats, based on my experience:

The FOIA is not a panacea for several reasons. First, it applies only to the federal executive branch, not to Congress or the federal courts, nor to any level of state or local government. (Here in North Carolina, the law that applies to state/local governments starts at N.C. General Statute 132.1 and goes forward from there; that’s a subject for another post.)

Second, some agencies handle FOIA requests a lot more quickly and sincerely than others, which leads me to caveat 2A: sometimes you can get what you need a lot more quickly and easily by checking the agency’s website, or even chatting up a friendly clerk or secretary, than by going through the FOIA hoops, if you happen to be physically close to the federal agency you need info from. (For local folks, some regional U.S. government agencies are around here, notably the V.A. in Winston-Salem and the Department of Labor in Greensboro.)

Third, there ARE exceptions to the act; it’s not a blank check.

Fourth, your own FOIA request becomes a public document that someone else can request a copy of, so if you don’t want anyone to know you’re looking into something, you’ll want to think twice about going the FOIA route.

And then there’s the fact that if you can’t get into the agency’s face live and in concert, filing a FOIA request can be like flying a paper airplane into the Grand Canyon. True story: In 1991, I filed a FOIA request with the Health Care Finance Administration seeking information regarding federal payments to a local medical practice, Southeastern Eye Center. I nursed that request, calling and writing every few months, from then until I got out of the newspaper bidness in 2009. Southeastern Eye Center is now in receivership. My FOIA request technically remains open, to the best of my knowledge.

But don’t let that scare you. I once got a useful response from the Federal Aviation Administration within 48 hours. (Faxes were involved.)

So, hey, if you want to know what a federal executive-branch agency has been doing, knock yourself out. Why should starving reporters have all the fun? Besides, the National Security Agency, at the least, probably already knows everything you’ve been doing, so turnabout is fair play, right?

foia-request-infographic

Wednesday, July 15, 2015 8:27 pm

Odds and ends for July 17

Greetings. Been busy.

Eight years ago, ExxonMobil pledged to shareholders that it wouldn’t spend company money to block efforts to fight climate change. Since then, it has spent at least $2.3 million trying to block efforts to fight climate change. If I were a shareholder, I’d be filing a civil suit against the officers and board for fraud and breach of fiduciary duty, but I’m obnoxious like that.

After a two-year legal battle, police video was finally released that showed that the L.A.P.D. shot and killed an unarmed suspect who posed no threat. Even if you want to argue that the officers were merely doing what they were trained to do, you have to admit that when training leads to this result, it’s wrong and needs changing.

In another installment of our ongoing series, Police Behaving Badly, the police department in Bal Harbour, Fla., and the sheriff’s department in Glades County, Fla., combined to launder $55.6 million for drug cartels over three years, leaving no arrests but hundreds of thousands in cash missing.

And in yet another installment, two Georgia cops kill an unarmed woman and get away it it.

I’ve seen several good pieces criticizing Republicans for their opposition to the Iran deal. This is just one of them.

Some antiabortion yahoos released video claiming that it proves Planned Parenthood profits from the sale of fetal organs. In point of fact, PP and its patients donate the organs for research, and PP may be reimbursed for such expenses as shipping costs related to the donation. The New York Times kinda sorta debunked the story. The mythbusting site Snopes.com did a much better job even though it characterized the story as “uncertain” rather than true or false — noting where the Times did not, for example, that the instigator of this stunt is tight with conservative fake journalist James O’Keefe.

Unsurprisingly, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump can be an idiot even when he doesn’t open his mouth. An image of himself that he tweeted contained pictures of re-enactors dressed as Nazi-era German soldiers, not U.S. GIs. Naturally, the campaign threw an unnamed “young intern” under the bus. (And don’t even get me started on who would want to dress up as a Nazi-era German soldier as a game.)

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who’s about to enter the presidential race, says it’s OK that the banksters who blew up the economy haven’t been punished in this life because they probably will be in the next. If he’s that good at seeing the future, why’s he running a race he’s going to lose? Also: Bite me.

Filmmaker Laura Poitras has the quaint notion that if she’s not a terrorist, maybe the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security shouldn’t be hassling her all the damn time, so she’s suing them for records of the six years of stops she has endured on more than 50 occasions in airports.

Are ya thirsty yet?

Here in N.C., a trial has started in the lawsuit challenging the state’s vote-suppression efforts. Good.

I’m starting to think that the only question remaining about State Board of Elections member Paul Foley here in N.C. is whether he’ll resign before or after he gets indicted. Gov. Pat McCrory wants him to resign (but can’t make him); Foley refuses.

A two-year State Board of Elections investigation into political contributions to state officials from the sweepstakes industry won’t lead to a criminal probe. But, as Michael Kinsley famously said, it’s what’s legal that’s the problem.

Former UNC star Ty Lawson, now with the Denver Nuggets, just got his fourth DUI, and his second this year. His off-court behavior led to his early exit from UNC, and if he doesn’t get help, he’ll be out of the NBA, too.

As gigabit Internet service becomes a reality in some North Carolina metros (But not mine. Grrrr.) (Edit: See comments.), Time Warner Cable announces “TWC Maxx,” which is a blinding … 300 megabits. And people think newspapers don’t get it?

And, finally, hello, Pluto! And tell me that light-colored area doesn’t look like Pluto the Disney dog’s head, complete with the darker area indicating his right ear.

Pluto

Friday, July 10, 2015 10:28 pm

On the evil of niceness

It has been suggested to me on more than one occasion that my ideas might get a better reception if I would say them a little more … nicely.

I get it. I am a Southerner, after all, and I was not born in a barn. I was raised and remain a Christian ( albeit, as shall become obvious in a moment, a deeply flawed one).

But I am, shall we say, disinclined to respond with niceness to those whose governmental policies carry a nontrivial body count, particularly when those bodies are defenseless.

I am, shall we say, disinclined to respond with niceness to bullies. Bullies deserve nothing more or less than a kick in the teeth.

I am, shall we say, disinclined to respond with niceness to sociopaths. Sane societies lock their sociopaths up where they can never harm anyone else again. Our society, by conscious choice, is not sane, and whatever else that is, it certainly isn’t nice.

And I am, we definitely shall say, disinclined to respond with niceness toward people who meet all three criteria.

There are a couple of reasons for my disinclination.

One is that, being from the South, I know firsthand how the premium we place on getting along and being civil is still, even today, used way too often to paper over legitimate grievances. The Duke University historian William Chafe literally wrote the book on that topic with respectd to my adopted hometown, “Civilities and Civil Rights.”

My 80-year-old mother grew up in Charleston. Girls of her generation were brought up to “be sweet.” Being sweet meant  not only being civil, courteous, and polite, but also, “Don’t rock the boat.” That was the case even if that boat needed torpedoing.

Long story short, my mother decided a good while back that being sweet was overrated, and my sibs and I are all better off for that decision.

Another reason for my disinclination is that in my experience in covering and living with the consequences of politics, I have found that pleas for civility are too often the last refuge of a scoundrel who, as they used to say in pro wrestling, desperately needs to be hit with the chair.

Which brings me to Pat Buchanan’s latest screed for one of the right wing’s more virulent fever swamps, World Net Daily, known among the sane as Wing Nut Daily for demonstrable reasons. For a former speechwriter, Pat has not the first goddamned idea what a topic sentence is, so he’s kind of hard to excerpt. So I’ll paraphrase, and feel free to click the link, read behind me, and tell me if I got this badly wrong:

He is predicting, and calling for, civil disobedience against the Supreme Court’s striking down of bans on same-sex marriage. And he is saying that such a movement would be morally equivalent to, among others:

  • Harriett Tubman’s work as part of the Underground Railroad.
  • Northern abolitionists’ support of John Brown.
  • The original 13 colonies’ rebellion against the English crown — to which, he goes out of his way to claim, the Confederate rebellion was morally identical.
  • The civil rights movement, particularly Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. Yeah. He went there.

He concludes:

But are people who celebrate the Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village as the Mount Sinai moment of their movement really standing on solid ground to demand that we all respect the Obergefell decision as holy writ?

And if cities, states or Congress enact laws that make it a crime not to rent to homosexuals, or to refuse services at celebrations of their unions, would not dissenting Christians stand on the same moral ground as Dr. King if they disobeyed those laws?

Already, some businesses have refused to comply with the Obamacare mandate to provide contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs to their employees. Priests and pastors are going to refuse to perform same-sex marriages. Churches and chapels will refuse to host them. Christian colleges and universities will deny married-couple facilities to homosexuals.

Laws will be passed to outlaw such practices as discrimination, and those laws, which the Christians believe violate eternal law and natural law, will, as Dr. King instructed, be disobeyed.

And the removal of tax exemptions will then be on the table.

If a family disagreed as broadly as we Americans do on issues so fundamental as right and wrong, good and evil, the family would fall apart, the couple would divorce, and the children would go their separate ways.

Something like that is happening in the country.

A secession of the heart has already taken place in America, and a secession, not of states, but of people from one another, caused by divisions on social, moral, cultural and political views and values, is taking place.

America is disuniting, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote 25 years ago.

And for those who, when young, rejected the views, values and laws of Eisenhower’s America, what makes them think that dissenting Americans in this post-Christian and anti-Christian era will accept their laws, beliefs, values?

Why should they?

I’ll give Buchanan the benefit of this doubt: As the late Molly Ivins said of his speech at the 1992 GOP National Convention, this piece probably sounded better in the original German. Leaving aside for a moment his claim that some things will happen that are by no means certain — ministers and chapels being “forced” to perform same-sex marriages being the big kahuna among a bunch that contains few small ones — what kind of moral illiterate equates the denial of rights with the expansion of rights? The phrase “Arbeit Macht Frei” comes to mind.

Scot Eric Kaufman poses that question and related ones in this essay at Salon, which I linked to earlier today on Facebook. My doing so brought a rebuke from a friend of mine, who wrote that Kaufman “sounds like one bigot bashing another.” Apparently he took that position because Kaufman dared to allude to the fact that we do not have conclusive proof that the man many of us (myself included) worship as the Son of God actually lived on Earth.

The implication of his remark, upon which I challenged him and to which he has not responded as I write, is that because Kaufman said something that hurt his feelings with respect to his Christian faith, nothing that Kaufman said about Buchanan is valid. Because Kaufman wasn’t nice enough.

That notion merits three words of basic Anglo-Saxon: Bull. Fcking. Shit.

Part of the reason that evil runs as unchecked in this country as it does is that too many people, including my friend, are too nice to call out evil for what it is. Too many are far too nice to do anything but accept any vice whatever as long as it is clothed in Christianity. And too many are willing to be so nice that they will accept the dangerous notion that false equivalence, particularly false moral equivalence, is still equivalence.

Pat Buchanan worked eagerly for, and to this day defends, Richard Nixon, the most soul-sickened individual to inhabit the White House in the 20th century. Buchanan’s entire career is a testament to bigotry, anti-Semitism — a word that, unlike many people all along the political spectrum, I do NOT use lightly — and opposition unto death to all of the highest and best aspirations this country ever has had for itself. As I observed earlier today, Buchanan seems hell-bent on becoming the first person to ruin his party’s presidential nominee’s chances singlehandedly in two different millennia. If there is anyone in America outside of a few neo-Nazi groups who deserves to wear the brown shirt, it’s Buchanan. And Buchanan has been richly rewarded for this evil. He writes columns. He publishes books. He appears on TV. He commands princely speaking fees.

For all I know, Kaufman is just as evil. But the odds are against it. Moreover, he has nowhere near Buchanan’s reach and platform, even if Buchanan’s reach isn’t (thank God) what it once was.

But some smart people who ought to know better, including my friend, apparently think that what Kaufman did is exactly as bad as what Buchanan did, because Kaufman dared to raise the same question that millions of honest, educated Christians already struggle with every day. Their position seems to be that not only was what Kaufman wrote “bigoted,” it also was just as bigoted, and just as morally flawed, as what Buchanan wrote and what Buchanan has been pretty much every day of his long and benighted adult life.

If you think this way, you are intellectually silly and morally obtuse. It is literally laughable to think that raising a question about the physical existence of Jesus Christ equates in any moral way with Buchanan’s likening of legalizing gay marriage to slavery and Jim Crow. And if you think this way, you don’t deserve “nice.” You deserve mocking. You deserve ridicule. And here in this little corner of the Interwebz and whatever other digital real estate I control, you’ll get it.

Because I’m a nice guy, but even nice guys can only tolerate so much bullshit before they turn mean.

Thursday, June 4, 2015 7:44 pm

Odds and ends for June 4

Ex-FIFA VP Jack Warner says there’s a connection between FIFA and the outcome of the 2010 elections in Trinidad and Tobago. He didn’t say what that connection was, but he says there is one. Meanwhile, the rest of us have legitimate reason to worry that FIFA, having ruined soccer, might be diversifying.

Sen. Bernie Sanders might be a socialist, but there’s one economic issue that 80% of Republicans agree with him on.

I would have thought that the Duggars would’ve lawyered up after son Josh Duggar publicly admitted to having molested some of his sisters, one as young as 5. But if they’ve got a lawyer, either he’s crazy or they’re not listening to him, because last night’s interview didn’t win them any friends.

Republican-turned-Democrat Lincoln Chafee, the governor of Rhode Island, announces he’s running for president. But of all the issues he could make a campaign centerpiece — jobs, inequality, global climate change, and on and on — what does he choose? The metric system.

On the GOP side, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry also is announcing. But, as with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, it’s even money whether he begins 2017 in the White House, in Paint Creek, or in prison.

Gov. Pat McCrory has pardoned two men who had been in prison for 30 years for a rape and murder that DNA evidence now shows they could not have committed. But the two men were ruled innocent in a court hearing nine months ago. What took the governor so long?

Speaking of our benighted gov, he now says he plans to sign HB 465, a bill passed by the legislature that would extend the waiting period for an abortion from 24 to 72 hours. Not only does this decision suck on the merits, it also violates a very broad pledge McCrory made when running for governor in 2012. Asked by WRAL-TV what additional restrictions on abortion he would approve if elected, he answered flatly, “None.” Since then, he has broken that promise not only in this instance but also in 2013.

Finally, in honor of my fellow Davidson alum Steph Curry on the occasion of his first NBA Final (see what I did there?), this piece from Grantland on the beauty of Curry’s shots:

During the regular season, Curry broke his own NBA record by draining 286 3s. Over half of those came off the dribble, and nobody in NBA history has ever been able to generate — and convert — his own looks like this. It’s not just that Curry is a great shooter, it’s that Curry is the most creative great shooter ever.

Selah.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015 8:30 pm

Odds and ends for June 3

Thirty years ago today, what is still the weirdest true-crime story you’ll ever read concluded horrifically. My friend and former colleague Margaret Moffett checks in with some of the survivors. (EDITED to add: My friend Chris Knight, who grew up near some of the characters in this drama, adds his perspective.)

Perv, meet thief: Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, the insufferable pecksniff whose most recent pronouncement was that he wishes he’d “felt like a girl” in high school so that he could have gotten to watch girls shower naked, makes it clear he’ll do anything to get close to Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s donors. Scott, of course, led the company that committed history’s largest Medicaid fraud.

No links with this one, just a thought: What if the Obama Justice Department had put as much effort into investigating banksters as it has into investigating FIFA?

Relatedly, no, South Africa, I’m sure your 2008 payment of $10 million had nothing to do with your getting the 2010 World Cup and was in no way a bribe. Perish the thought.

Every so-called “gay-conversion” operation in this country needs to be sued. Saying you can “convert” someone who’s gay is like saying drinking motor oil can cure cancer.

This week’s revamp of U.S. national security laws was a sorely needed first step — and never would have happened without Edward Snowden. So why is Snowden still a wanted criminal?

The first step in fixing a problem is admitting you have a problem. The U.S. government doesn’t want to admit that we have a problem with killer cops.

After seeing her in “Easy A,” I would watch Emma Stone in just about anything. But even I thought casting her as part-Asian in “Aloha” was boneheaded. Better late than never, director Cameron Crowe agrees.

N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory is staking his re-election effort in 2016 on $2.8 billion in transportation and infrastructure bonds. The only reason I’m not saying that the legislature is throwing McCrory under the bus by refusing to put them on the November ballot is that legislative Republicans don’t believe in mass transit.

And our lite gov, Dan Forest, is a moron. (Previously. Also previously.)

Speaking of morons, the legislature has overridden McCrory’s veto of HB 465, the “ag-gag” law. A court will toss it out eventually, but a lot of animals, and quite possibly some people as well, are likely to suffer before that  happens. So much for McCrory’s attempt to position himself politically as a moderate keeping the Visigoth right at bay. I would say that the legislature threw McCrory under the bus on this one, but that would imply that legislative Republicans favor mass transit.

And the Lege has given committee approval to a bill that will gut background checks on private in-state pistol sales by 2021, a bill so bad that many of the state’s sheriffs opposed it.

And lastly, my local paper and former employer, Greensboro’s News & Record, has laid off a bunch more people, including some true stalwarts, one of whom was just months from retiring. At this point, I think it’s fair to conclude that BH Media is no longer even trying to cut its way to profitability. It is now simply milking what it can for as long as it can, at which point it will shut down the papers one by one and sell off the real estate, some of it quite valuable, that those papers sit on. And it’s past time we in Greensboro start thinking about who or what will be able to provide the journalistic firepower to truly hold the powerful accountable in this community.

 

 

 

 

Monday, June 1, 2015 7:38 pm

Odds and ends for June 1

So the Orange County (CA) DA’s office handled a slam-dunk murder case so corruptly that all 250 prosecutors in the office have been barred by a judge from having any further to do with the case. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, which is a big ol’ ugly ball of law-enforcement and prosecutor malfeasance so big that all sorts of very bad types may be set free before they should’ve been, or may never face trial, because of it. Coda: If you think that’s the only place this kind of cheating is going on, you’re kidding yourself.

Quasi-relatedly, we don’t just have cops killing unarmed African Americans, we now have repeat offenders.

Some of the most intrusive parts of the Patriot Act expired at midnight last night and ZOMG SHARIA LAW OH NOES!!11!!1!!ELEVENTY!!1! Wait, what? That didn’t happen? Oh. (pause) OK. But this could.

Presented, without snark, some seriously hopeful news about treating cancer.

Microsoft will release Windows 10 — for free — July 29. But you’ll take away my Windows 7 Pro when you pry my cold dead hands from it stop offering security upgrades for it like you stopped for Windows XP, I guess.

Airlines aren’t just greedy, they’re also stupid. Exhibit A: United Airlines.

Gosh, an elected official in North Carolina can’t even engage in a little public bigotry anymore without people complaining about it.

The mayor of Belhaven, N.C., Adam O’Neal, is walking almost 300 miles to Washington, D.C. — again — to — again — try to draw attention to lack of health care in rural areas.

An American tourist visiting a lion preserve in South Africa rolled down her car window just like she’d been told not to do and got mauled to death. Commenters on the article are overwhelmingly in favor of the lion, and I’ve got to say, so am I. Lady, what part of “nature, red in tooth and claw” didn’t you understand?

The News & Record unveiled its newly redesigned website today. It’s still butt-ugly and it still doesn’t have RSS feeds. Bright side: They resurrected the URL Greensboro.com, which they never should have stopped using in the first place.

92-year-old Harriette Thompson of Charlotte finished a marathon Sunday, so I really don’t want to hear about your bad back or your sore feet.

 

Friday, May 29, 2015 7:37 pm

Odds and ends for May 29

Apparently, the Texas floods show that the state is et up with witches and sodomites. Who knew?

Even though he won re-election, FIFA head Sepp Blatter is hearing the hellhounds on his trail. Couldn’t happen to a nicer corrupt sports executive besides Roger Goodell. Relatedly, the organization’s big sponsors are starting to get restless. About time.

The government’s handling of deadly microbes might be suboptimal. I’ve seen this movie before. It didn’t end well.

More proof, were more needed, that banning abortion doesn’t end abortion, it only makes some desperate women even more desperate.

More proof, were more needed, from the TPP debate that campaign contributions have the highest ROI of any form of investment.

More proof, were more needed, that John McCain has passed his sell-by date.

Relatedly, if Congress and legislatures really wants to mess around with public health policy in a useful way (I know, but humor me), they could stop trying to ban abortion and start banning “gay-conversion” “therapy.” 

Speaking of Congress and gays, it now looks as if former House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s indictment this week pertains to the fact that he was being blackmailed by a man with whom he apparently had sexual relations back when he was a teacher and wrestling coach, before he got into Congress. Indeed, one of the L.A. Times’s two (unnamed) sources for this information claims that Hastert’s conduct amounted to “sexual abuse,” suggesting that the blackmailer, “Individual A” in the indictment, may have been a former student. The crimes Hastert is charged with pertain to financial transactions and lying to the FBI and have nothing to do with what he was being blackmailed for. This all raises many, many questions, among them: Is the guy who was blackmailing him being prosecuted also?

The legislative whores who are screwing up N.C.’s renewable energy policy on behalf of Duke Energy and the extraction industry get called out by Apple, Google, and Facebook. I love it when large, greedy corporations turn on each other.

The 4th Circuit has smacked down the GOP legislature’s 2013 gerrymandering of Wake County school-board districts. The gerrymandering isn’t dead, unfortunately, but it’ll face higher hurdles in the trial court. Now if someone would sue over its redistricting of the Wake County commissioners …

Relatedly, a new lawsuit has been filed against the GOP-controlled legislature’s 2011 gerrymandering of the state’s legislative districts. The U.S. Supreme Court already has ordered the N.C. Supreme Court to look at them in light of its ruling in a similar case in Alabama that found that racial gerrymandering there had been inappropriate.

Gov. Pat McCrory, in a rare display of leadership and common sense, has said he’ll veto SB2, which would allow magistrates to claim religious reasons for “opting out” of their duty to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Not only that — and this is a stunner — he has vetoed HB 405, the “Ag-Gag” bill. When McCrory said yesterday he’d veto SB2, Kirk Ross at the Carolina Mercury joked on Facebook that McCrory had announced his 2016 re-election campaign. But I think that’s dead accurate. McCrory is more scared of his likely Democratic opponent in 2016, Attorney General Roy Cooper, than he is of being primaried.

Now McCrory needs to veto the abortion bill (which adds a medically unnecessary and burdensome 72-hour waiting period), but I think he probably won’t: After vetoing two measures near and dear to his right-wing base, he has to demonstrate to them that he’s still capable of punching down, and those pregnant women aren’t going to punch themselves. Besides, it’s a lot easier for the guv to punch defenseless women than, say, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (in the case of SB2) or the AARP (in the case of HB 405).

Book banners gonna keep trying to ban books. This time, the place is Buncombe County and the book is the awesome “Kite Runner.”

DavidsonNews.Net, a shining example of hyperlocal journalism done right, closes for lack of funds after nine years. A damned shame.

El Nino means we’ll likely have a less-active-than-normal hurricane season. Thanks, kid.

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