Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Sunday, December 15, 2019 9:53 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I had a second criterion as well.

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

And after that? Elizabeth Warren stands alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that would be a good thing.

Friday, December 13, 2019 4:30 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 10, 2019 7:56 pm

Bill Barr is the worst attorney general ever.

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 9, 2019 9:08 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Republicans: Nothing left but bullshit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 23, 2019 6:22 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 11, 2019 7:36 pm

End of an era: Shepard Smith quits Fox News #ShepSmith

I wonder to what extent Bill Barr’s recent meeting with Murdoch influenced Smith’s thinking. That said, he has been a small ray of sanity at an otherwise diseased news outlet for a long time. Put another way, journalistically speaking, he has served his time in hell. I admire his decision and wish him all the best in the future.

Thursday, October 3, 2019 7:48 pm

Turn the lights on when you do it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Wednesday, May 29, 2019 7:29 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 16, 2019 7:17 pm

These two things are not the same

It is hard to believe that there are still people around who think that both major political parties in the United States are the same and that they are equally bad. But I ran into one today.

Truth is, they’re not, and here’s some proof:

One and only one party has relied on appeals to bigotry, with decreasing subtlety, for more than 50 years.
One and only one party supports a fact-free economic and tax policy, one that further enriches the already very rich mainly by hoovering up what remains of the wealth of the middle class and the working class.
One and only one party has made torture an instrument of national policy.
One and only one party wiretapped its own citizens without a warrant in felony violation of the law and then, when the news became public, retroactively changed the law to escape punishment.
One and only one party wants to funnel money to for-profit prisons.
One and only one party denies the existence of anthropogenic global warming.
One and only one party supports energy policies that will make global warming worse, not better, even as scientists say we have roughly 10 years, at best, to do some pretty drastic things just to level it off.
One and only one party is imprisoning children at the border.
One and only one party is pushing to reduce LEGAL immigration by 50%, which would be economic suicide.
One and only one party is working actively to weaken our international economic and military alliances and gutting our State Department.
One and only one party is tolerating more than 30,000 firearm deaths per year, many of them absolutely preventable.
One and only one party is just fine with Saudi Arabia assassinating a U.S. journalist.
One and only one party is acting as an agent, or at least an asset, of a hostile foreign power.
 
I could go on, but I hope you get my point: Both parties are not the same. Republicans are demonstrably worse for the country than Democrats and have been since no later than 1992 and arguably since the early 1960s. Anyone who says the two parties are equally bad is lazy, ignorant or lying. There’s no other option.

Friday, January 4, 2019 1:03 pm

Election 2020: I do not like the whole idea of likability

Ignore anything and everything you read about a presidential candidate’s “likability,” particularly if that candidate is a Democratic woman. Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin left office Thursday with an honest-to-God favorability rating of 12%. During gardening season, actual cowshit is more popular.

On Monday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts became the first Democrat to announce that she was forming a 2020 presidential-campaign exploratory committee. And just like that, the political press served notice that it was going to be just as sexist and idiotic as it had been in 2016.

Politico, whose reporting frequently is essential but whose analysis and opinion seems to be at least 50% pro-Republican horseshit, popped up noon Monday with “Warren Battles the Ghost of Hillary,” which suggested that Warren might be just as “unlikable” as Hillary Clinton had been in 2016 and therefore doomed as a candidate.

The anti-Elizabeth Warren narrative was written before the Massachusetts senator even announced she was exploring a presidential run.

She’s too divisive and too liberal, Washington Democrats have complained privately. Her DNA rollout was a disaster — and quite possibly a White House deal-breaker. She’s already falling in the polls, and — perhaps most stinging — shares too many of the attributes that sank Hillary Clinton.

In the year of the woman, it adds up to one unwelcome mat for the most prominent woman likely to be part of the 2020 field. But it also presents an unmistakable challenge: How does Warren avoid a Clinton redux — written off as too unlikable before her campaign gets off the ground?

Man, there is so much horseshit here that you probably would need dynamite to unpack it.

  • First of all, how is it that there is any “anti-Elizabeth Warren narrative” at all just hours after her announcement? Answer: People have been lying in wait for her for a while. And who would do that? People who are anti-Elizabeth Warren. Duh. There is no organic “anti-Elizabeth Warren narrative” at this point, only propaganda.
  • And how is it that there is an “anti-Elizabeth Warren narrative” that is similar to Hillary Clinton’s? After all, Hillary Clinton has been in the public eye for 35 brutal years, whereas five years ago most Americans had no idea who Elizabeth Warren was. Answer? Sexism: The implicit message of this comparison is that no female candidate, or at least no Democratic female candidate, can be trusted.
  • Too divisive? How? How does one quantify “divisive”? Sophisticated polling can sort of, kind of get at that — more on that in a bit — but as of Monday, not very much had been done on Warren, and certainly nowhere near as much as has been done on Clinton.
  • Too liberal? First, there’s always the tiresome and mostly unanswerable question of how one defines “liberal.” And if you can’t define that, how does one quantify how much liberalism is enough vs. too much? And “too much” on what scale? An ideological scale? As opposed to other candidates? Of course, Warren being the first, there were no other candidates when this piece was written.
  • And who are these “Washington Democrats” who call her too divisive and liberal? I may have spent my career with daily newspapers and their admittedly stodgy websites rather than online creations of the Kewl Kids, but we didn’t let political opponents snipe at each other anonymously, for good reason: It isn’t ethical, and even more importantly, it adds nothing to the reader’s understanding. Half-competent journalists should make political opponents call one another out by name, with all agendas out where the public can see them. That enhances reader understanding, which is, or ought to be, the point of it all.
  • Warren’s “DNA rollout” was a forthright response to a libelous criticism from a sitting president of the United States. To call it a “disaster” is pure editorializing: I am in no way an expert on this, but to the extent that Native Americans themselves have criticized her for having had her DNA tested, they appear to be privileging custom over science, arguing that without her name on a tribal roll, a DNA test means nothing. (If I’m missing something on this point, I’m happy to be corrected.) In any event, given Donald Trump’s apparently being an agent of a hostile foreign power, his tax fraud, his serial violations of the Emoluments Clause, his history of serial sexual assault, to be suggesting that a DNA test fatally damages a candidate for president is to display both practical ignorance and moral stillbirth. I am somewhat sympathetic to the argument that her timing, during the Blue Wave, suggests she put self ahead of party, but 1) absent additional information that is hardly the only explanation, and 2) If you’re going to make putting self ahead of party a criterion (and you should), there are far greater offenders. Bernie Sanders and Corey Booker come immediately to mind.
  • “Shares too many of the attributes that sank Hillary Clinton”? And what are they, pray tell? An electoral college founded in not just slavery but also in cosseting the whiny, bitchy, gimme attitudes of the slave states? A grossly bigoted electorate? Enemies in the Kremlin? Republican vote-suppression efforts in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina? Third-party candidates secretly supported by the Russians? Because those are the “attributes” that sank Clinton. By 65 million to 62 million, American voters favored her.

And that’s just three paragraphs. Holy shit. The piece goes on for many paragraphs more, laden with sexism and editorializing and almost unburdened by fact, all predicated on the notions that likability is real, that it matters, that it can be quantified, and that Elizabeth Warren has less of it than other Democrats and perhaps even less than Trump.

And that’s just one candidate. Multiply this bullshit across the dozen-plus likely 2020 Democratic presidents, candidates, many of them women, and you would be forgiven the urge to burn down every single U.S. news outlet.

Well, here are some facts.

“Likability” is incredibly subjective. It cannot be quantified or measured except in the most relative of terms. It is subject to pollution from bias, from lack of information, from lack of context. The closest we can quantifiably get to it is the favorability/unfavorability ratings of polls. The same recent Quinnipiac University poll that scored Warren’s favorability/unfavorability ratings at 33%/37% scored Donald Trump’s at 39%/52%, and yet somehow Warren’s “unlikability” gets all the attention.

And if you Google likability with respect to politicians, you’ll find that the subject comes up WAY more often in articles about women than in articles about men. There’s a reason for that, and it’s not a good one.

And here’s another fact, even more to the point:

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin left office Thursday with an honest-to-God favorability rating of 12%. During gardening season, actual cowshit is more popular. And yet our news media are convinced that Elizabeth Warren 1) is unlikable and 2) cannot be elected president because of it. That ought to adjust your attitude regarding any “analysis” you read about Democratic candidates for the rest of the 2019-2020 election cycle for offices at any level.

So what to do about it? I covered politics for 25 years, some years better than others, so here are my modest suggestions for consumers of news in general and people wondering which Democratic presidential candidate to support in particular:

  • For now, DO NOTHING. The actual voting doesn’t begin for another 13 months. As of this writing, Warren has formed an exploratory committee and Washington Gov. Jay Insbee has said he intends to. No one else is even close to being a formal candidate. If you were utterly undecided on a candidate a week or a month ago, there is no reason for you to even think about picking a candidate until 1) everyone who is going to run has formally announced and filed their paperwork, and 2) at least some of the Democratic presidential debates, which start in June, have come and gone. You can wait at least six months without sacrificing a thing, and unless you have some kind of personal attachment/connection to a candidate, you probably want to see how the candidates perform in several debates before picking one to support.
  • At least until the number of remaining Democratic presidential candidates is reduced to two, avoid the temptation to criticize a candidate or candidates you do not support. Instead, talk up the candidate you favor. Send him/her money. Find a way to volunteer for his/her campaign, even if it’s only making phone calls.
  • Whether you are talking up your candidate or talking down an opponent, do so with both factual and contextual accuracy. That’s harder than it sounds. You might mean quite well, but there are many, many sources of misinformation on the Web with respect to every declared candidate and plenty of potential ones. The Russians messed with what you saw on social media in 2016 and are likely to do so again in 2020. And conservative “news” outlets frequently take bullshit rumors that originate on conservative message boards and give them a patina of legitimacy, so be particularly careful not to amplify that bullshit. Check and double-check the information you choose to use. Factcheck.org and Politifact.com are excellent sources for vetting information, as is Snopes.com.

(And what do I mean by “contextual accuracy”? Remember that nothing happens in a vacuum. Where numbers are concerned, remember that one number is meaningless without at least one other number as a scale. Where facts about a political candidate are concerned, ask questions like, “What other candidate(s) is this fact true about, and to what extent?” Be wary of claims like “first,” “greatest,” “best” or “worse”: As one of my old editors used to say, there’s always a faster gun. Even mainstream outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post that are generally reliable with regard to factual accuracy frequently commit mistakes and omissions with regard to contextual accuracy. One big example: The Times’s 2016 focus on Hillary Clinton’s emails — yes, she made mistakes, but she did not commit a crime — while ignoring, for another two years, a long string of evidence that Donald Trump was a crook. And when a news outlet purports to examine any candidate’s “likability,” examine their methods for quantifying it and see to what extent they attempt to assess all candidates or likely candidates in the same manner.)

So, to sum up, I don’t like “likability,” and you shouldn’t either. At this point in the race, and pretty much from now until November 2020, news outlets should be focusing primarily on candidates’ policy proposals — what they are, how they will work, what they will cost, how we will pay for it, and what their outcomes are likely to be. And if the news outlets on which you rely try to dabble in it, hammer them hard. It’s just a pity Facebook doesn’t offer a “don’t like” button.

P.S.: One more thing about likability. George W. Bush won in 2000 because a lot of reporters thought he was “the kind of guy you’d like to have a beer with.” Screw that. On both literal and metaphoric levels, I am realistic enough to know that I will never have a beer with even a former president of the United States, let alone a sitting one. So I will vote for a competent, empathetic jackass over a charming sociopath for any office, any day. You can ask the people of Iraq and Puerto Rico and Flint what we get when we elect sociopaths.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, July 23, 2018 7:31 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sunday, February 25, 2018 9:06 pm

Who ya got?

Anyone who is a hard-core Democrat may want to take what I’m about to discuss with a big ol’ grain of salt, inasmuch as I have been politically unaffiliated for a year, prior to which I was a Republican for 38 years.

However:

I have been seeing a whole bunch of discussion on the web, mostly but not all from BernieBros, arguing that Nancy Pelosi, by virtue of her age, should step aside as House Democratic leader in favor of someone, well, younger. And my gut response is: Who ya got?

Who among House Democrats is as reliably progressive? Who among House Democrats can wrangle the herd of cats that is the House Democratic caucus as well as Pelosi? Who among House Democrats can get a bill passed, or killed, as reliably as Pelosi? And, in acknowledgment of her historic status as the first female House speaker, who among House Democrats meets all those criteria and is a woman or a person of color?

I’ve asked this question across social media. And so far I haven’t gotten a single answer.

Oh, I’ve gotten plenty of insistence that her time is over and she needs to step aside. A lot of generalities, in other words. But generalities don’t run for caucus leadership positions, let alone the speakership. People do. Real people with real, assessable records, or the lack of them.

To be clear, I don’t think Pelosi is the ideal House Democratic leader. But as I said, elections don’t take place between ideals, but between real people with real records. I’ve looked pretty hard at the House leadership, as well as some other House Dems not in leadership. And at the moment I don’t see anyone, anyone, who is clearly superior to her.

So, for those who think she needs replacing, I would suggest you work on developing a better candidate. And for those who might want to replace her, I would suggest you create a record that strongly suggests you could replace her. You’ll want to keep in mind that the next Democratic House speaker isn’t just going to have to be speaker, but also is going to have to start cleaning up the mind-numbing list of disasters committed by Donald Trump and his fascist, bigoted, cosmically ignorant administration. That’s not a job for amateurs or poseurs. It’ll take a pro.

A flesh-and-blood pro, not some idealized conception. So: Who ya got?

Saturday, February 24, 2018 9:12 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Sunday, October 1, 2017 11:49 am

Journalists, here’s a story idea at no charge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Saturday, July 1, 2017 8:29 am

The best election money can steal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how it worked in North Carolina:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Friday, April 28, 2017 7:02 pm

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

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

I’m weird like that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 9, 2017 10:26 pm

Acculturation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Thursday, December 15, 2016 7:42 pm

The battle is joined

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

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

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

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

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

And we cannot allow that to happen.

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

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.

 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016 7:35 pm

Why Colin Kaepernick is right and you are wrong and need to sit down

San Francisco 49ers quarterback — for the moment — Colin Kaepernick got a whole bunch of people’s panties in a twist when he sat down during the national anthem this past Friday. But, to paraphrase Esquire’s Charlie Pierce, at least he’s shouting at the right buildings:

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

“Getting away with murder.” That is the issue. Please to focus.

Kaepernick, who is himself of multiracial ancestry, has more than just his literal skin in this game: At this writing, it’s unclear whether he even still has a job with the 49ers independent of his protest (although he’s slated to start the final preseason game), and his protest makes it less likely that another NFL team might hire him and makes him a less likely prospect for endorsement deals. That’s a ton of money to be potentially walking away from, but he has made it clear that he couldn’t care less.

I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. … If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.

First things first: Is what he is doing “legal”? Yes. There’s no First Amendment issue here because government is not involved, and there’s no law against what he did. The NFL does not require players to stand for the national anthem. 49ers coach Chip Kelly told reporters, “It’s not my right to tell him not to do something.” And the team itself issued a statement:

The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.

DeMaurice Smith, head of the players’ union, the NFL Players Association, made clear that the union stands behind Kaepernick even though Smith said the form Kaepernick’s protest took made him personally uncomfortable:

I’m not sure that any father, son, mother, you know, brother whose family member is on that playing field would want to hear that their family member should just shut up and play, because that reduces you to something less than human.

Next question: Is his cause justified? Based on the facts, on the merits, absolutely. Even in recent years, discrimination against African Americans and other minorities has been documented in employment, housing, lending, and other areas. And the recent cases of unarmed African Americans being killed by police, to which Kaepernick spoke directly, speak for themselves. This country wrote itself some huge checks in 1776 and 1787, checks that we are still struggling to cash today. That’s a fact, and Kaepernick is not wrong at all to point it out. And I’ll have more to say on that in a bit.

Next question: Was his method “appropriate” — i.e., the best way to get his message across? A lot of people don’t think so. Former 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, now at the University of Michigan, initially said, “I don’t respect the motivation or the action,” before later “clarifying,” “I apologize for misspeaking my true sentiments. To clarify, I support Colin’s motivation. It’s his method of action that I take exception to.” And New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees told ESPN, “there’s plenty of other ways that you can do that in a peaceful manner that doesn’t involve being disrespectful to the American flag.” Brees particularly thought Kaepernick’s protest was disrespectful to the military even though Kaepernick specifically said that what he did was not intended to disrespect the military. And the San Francisco police union wants an apology (more on that in a bit, as well).

But here’s the thing about protest: It’s meant to make people at least a little uncomfortable, because comfortable people usually don’t often get involved in unpopular but positive change. From the Boston Tea Party to the Pullman strike, from the March on Washington to the Greensboro sit-ins and beyond, Americans have stood up, or sat down, for all kinds of issues, most of which resulted in the betterment of society and some of which made this country possible. Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play in major-league baseball, felt the same way as Kaepernick:

There I was, the black grandson of a slave, the son of a black sharecropper, part of a historic occasion, a symbolic hero to my people. The air was sparkling. The sunlight was warm. The band struck up the national anthem. The flag billowed in the wind. It should have been a glorious moment for me as the stirring words of the national anthem poured from the stands. Perhaps, it was, but then again, perhaps, the anthem could be called the theme song for a drama called The Noble Experiment. Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first world series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only a principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.”

And of course there’s the case of Muhammad Ali, who was stripped of his heavyweight title in 1966 because, as a conscientious objector, he refused to be drafted. He was convicted of draft evasion, but he took the U.S. government all the way to the Supreme Court and whipped it like a rented mule. Upon Ali’s recent death, he was hailed as an activist and a man of conscience for his actions. Kaepernick is getting a lot of criticism, but his action was less disruptive than Ali’s and sits squarely within the same long tradition.

And here’s another thing about protest: You don’t get to choose the means for protesters to protest. That’s their call, and as long as it’s within the law (or, for civil disobedience, as long as protesters are willing to pay society’s price), you don’t get to say anything about it. You have no — what’s the word? — standing.

Beyond all that perspective on protest, there’s the particular nature of what’s behind objection to this particular protest: political idolatry. God commands the Israelites in the Second Commandment not to worship graven images. But that’s what a lot of Americans do when it comes to patriotism. They’ve tried to ban flag burning (the Supreme Court, including the late Antonin Scalia, held it to be protected political speech). They seek to enforce conformity in how people express their patriotism, either not knowing or not caring that to do so is the very opposite of political freedom. In short, they confuse patriotism’s idols — the flag, the anthem, even the U.S. military — for the actual qualities we say we embody. Meanwhile, issues like discrimination, poverty, and abusive police officers continue to go unaddressed without a whole lot of complaint, or even caring, by the majority of Americans. Kaepernick was pointing out an inconsistency, if not a hypocrisy, between what we say about ourselves and what we actually do. Yeah, it stings — but it stings because he’s right.

Moreover, there is racism in the national anthem itself, as this excellent article at TheRoot.com shows:

To understand the full “Star-Spangled Banner” story, you have to understand the author. Key was an aristocrat and city prosecutor in Washington, D.C. He was, like most enlightened men at the time, notagainst slavery; he just thought that since blacks were mentally inferior, masters should treat them with more Christian kindness. He supported sending free blacks (not slaves) back to Africa and, with a few exceptions, was about as pro-slavery, anti-black and anti-abolitionist as you could get at the time.

Of particular note was Key’s opposition to the idea of the Colonial Marines. The Marines were a battalion of runaway slaves who joined with the British Royal Army in exchange for their freedom. The Marines were not only a terrifying example of what slaves would do if given the chance, but also a repudiation of the white superiority that men like Key were so invested in.

All of these ideas and concepts came together around Aug. 24, 1815, at the Battle of Bladensburg, where Key, who was serving as a lieutenant at the time, ran into a battalion of Colonial Marines. His troops were taken to the woodshed by the very black folks he disdained, and he fled back to his home in Georgetown to lick his wounds. The British troops, emboldened by their victory in Bladensburg, then marched into Washington, D.C., burning the Library of Congress, the Capitol Building and the White House. You can imagine that Key was very much in his feelings seeing black soldiers trampling on the city he so desperately loved.

A few weeks later, in September of 1815, far from being a captive, Key was on a British boat begging for the release of one of his friends, a doctor named William Beanes. Key was on the boat waiting to see if the British would release his friend when he observed the bloody battle of Fort McHenry in Baltimore on Sept. 13, 1815. America lost the battle but managed to inflict heavy casualties on the British in the process. This inspired Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner” right then and there, but no one remembers that he wrote a full third stanza decrying the former slaves who were now working for the British army:

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

In other words, Key was saying that the blood of all the former slaves and “hirelings” on the battlefield will wash away the pollution of the British invaders. With Key still bitter that some black soldiers got the best of him a few weeks earlier, “The Star-Spangled Banner” is as much a patriotic song as it is a diss track to black people who had the audacity to fight for their freedom. Perhaps that’s why it took almost 100 years for the song to become the national anthem.

Some opponents, including Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, have suggested that Kaepernick is hypocritical for complaining about a country in which he has achieved professional and financial success, saying, “Maybe he should find a country that works better for him. Let him try. It won’t happen.” These people miss another point Kaepernick made clear in interviews: It’s not just about Colin Kaepernick, but also about a lot of other people who are less fortunate. Kaepernick has a platform, at least for now, and he has chosen to use it in that way. Donald Trump, of all people, is utterly unqualified to lecture Kaepernick about anything.

And, finally, to get back to Kaepernick’s original point: We have too many cases in this country of African American people dying wrongly at the hands of police without anyone being held accountable. From 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cincinnati to Freddie Gray, who died while being transported in police custody, it’s happening and not enough is being done about it. Rogue officers are not being held accountable. That’s about as serious a problem of political governance as they come, yet large numbers of Americans don’t even see a problem. The San Francisco police union apparently doesn’t see a problem, so don’t talk to me about a “few bad apples.”

In a democratic republic, the government is us, and those police officers are acting in our name and with our tax dollars. Do we really want this to be a country in which people die unnecessarily at the hands of police? If not, I grant you, there may not be a hell of a lot any one individual can do. But the least you can do is to sit down and stop shoveling shit at the guy who’s pointing out the problem.

 

 

 

 

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.

Monday, October 12, 2015 8:17 pm

Odds and ends for Oct. 12

Stop the presses: Countries that spend money to reduce poverty actually reduce poverty. Go figure. (The Great Society, by the way, cut the U.S. poverty rate in half until retrenchment began in the ’70s under Nixon.)

So we deport migrants back to their Central American “homes,” where they are murdered shortly after. Great policy we’ve got there.

Angus Deaton, today’s winner of the Nobel Prize in economics (and congratulations to him!), warns that inequality is a big threat to our long-term economic well-being. Also? He says it’s a threat to democracy, as well.

The constitutional illiterates who want a 6-foot-tall 10 Commandments monument at the Oklahoma capitol apparently are more keen on wanting it than paying for it.

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson once said of then-Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw that he couldn’t spell “cat” if you spotted him the C and the A. Which still makes Bradshaw, now a Fox Sports commentator, smarter than Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

Speaking of the Dallas Cowboys, they certainly are hateworthy, but their fans are making a fair case for liquidation.

Louisiana Gov. (and GOP presidential candidate) Bobby Jindal thinks we should impose a no-fly zone on ISIS in Syria. Which would be peachy if, you know, ISIS had any aircraft.

Speaking of Louisiana, the only thing worse than the fact that U.S. Sen. David “Diapers” Vitter is running for governor is the fact that the Times-Picayune newspaper in New Orleans endorsed him.

Some good news for a change: California has become the second state, after Oregon, to automatically register people to vote when they are issued a driver’s license. This should happen nationwide so that legislators never have the chance to get up to the kind of vote-suppression fkery they’re up to here in N.C.

The American South lost the Civil War, but in so many ways, the former Confederacy has been winning the ensuing peace. Now it’s winning the battle to keep wages low … worldwide.

Speaking of the American South, since the flooding began in South Carolina, we’ve heard that some dams burst or had to be opened before they burst, and we’ve learned that the state’s dams are in pretty crummy shape. Well, no surprise, the same is true here in North Carolina.

The first rule of legislating ought to be “First, do no harm.” And would that the N.C. General Assembly had stuck to that with respect to the solar-energy industry. But it didn’t. And that will have real costs.

In North Carolina, the labor commissioner is best known as the name and face on elevator inspection placards. But the position must do other things, too, like seek restitution for unpaid workers — which incumbent Cherie Berry has pretty much failed to do.

The fascists at ALEC are now trying to water down American history as it is taught in North Carolina. My friend Mark Barrett (Governor’s School ’77, Davidson ’82) shines some light on the subject.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015 8:56 pm

Odds and ends for Aug. 12

Now where were we …?

There might be no more dangerous example of how corporate money corrupts politics than the case of the fossil-fuel industry giving money to candidates who are global-warming skeptics and/or opposed to increasing our renewable-energy supply.

Relatedly, today’s quote, from David Simon, creator of “The Wire” and “Treme”:

You know, I wasn’t offended that the Supreme Court decided that a corporation is a person. We crossed that river a long time ago. What freaked me out was money being equated to speech. That f—-d me up. Speech is speech. Nothing will make people say more stupid shit than money. When money is actually transformed into actual words, the words are, by in large, quite stupid, self-serving and disastrous. So money is speech — that to me was an obscenity.

If you doubt there’s a war against women, well, here it is.

Wisconsin Gov. and presidential candidate Scott Walker not only hates women, he also hates free speech.

I said after last week’s Republican presidential debate that Ohio Gov. John Kasich was the only one out of the 17 who sounded both sane and competent to govern. I spoke too soon.

The Civil War was about slavery. But don’t take it from me. Take it from the head of West Point’s history department.

Aldona Wos finally has resigned as N.C. Secretary of Health and Human Services. It’s about damn time.

The N.C. Senate wants to take us into thermonuclear Koch budgeting mode, thus locking us into perpetual budget crises. Oh, goody. Also, they want to do it without any public hearings. Say it with me, kids: TABOR is the reason we can’t have nice things. Like, you know, roads and schools.

Relatedly, N.C. General Assemblyyou had one job: Pass a budget by July 1. But that was beyond you then, and apparently it’s still beyond you. Morons.

I don’t have a happy kicker with which to wrap up today, so y’all are dismissed. Go have a drink.

 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015 8:34 pm

SB 36: Baby, meet bathwater

A couple of folks in the local blogosphere — e.g., George Hartzman, here — have suggested that SB 36, State Sen. Trudy Wade’s misbegotten monkeying around with the city of Greensboro’s election system, will be good for Greensboro because it will rid the city of a corrupt City Council. Their thinking is that because the redistricting that SB 36 calls for would place several council members in one district, forcing them to run against each other, several inevitably would be voted off the council.

If in fact most or all council members are corrupt, then this is a legitimate point. So let’s examine it.

Caveat: I’m not prepared right now to say as a fact that one or more members of the council are corrupt — or not corrupt, for that matter. So, for the purposes of this post, let’s posit that all nine of them are dirtier than a ’57 Buick’s oil pan. Let’s further posit that, for whatever reason, law enforcement cannot or will not deal with the corruption for us.

SB 36 still would be the wrong solution to the problem.

Why? Simple. Although it might get rid of some incumbent council members, there’s no guarantee that it would get rid of those who actually are corrupt. Moreover, because it would give voters a say over fewer seats on the council (one district member plus a mostly-non-voting mayor, as opposed to a district member, three at-large members and a voting mayor on the nine-member panel under the current system), it would make unseating future corrupt council members even more difficult than it is now — to say nothing of the fact that council members would face voters only every four years, instead of every two as they do now.

So SB 36 would be, at best, an uncertain and temporary solution to a problem that, history shows, tends to recur among politicians. And it would make dealing with recurrences of the problem even harder.

Look, if you think that a council member is corrupt, your path is clear: WORK TO GET HIM/HER VOTED OUT. Unlike congressional and legislative districts, Greensboro City Council districts aren’t gerrymandered. Nobody’s seat is safe, particularly if he or she is corrupt. We already have a sufficient mechanism in place to replace corrupt council members. SB 36 remains what it always has been: a solution in search of a problem and an attempt by anonymous corporate interests to win through their puppet legislature what they cannot win in Greensboro’s ballot boxes.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 7:17 pm

Boy Scouts, you keep using that phrase, “morally straight.” It doesn’t mean what you think it means.

Most days, all I ask of the world is that I not be forced to respond to outright asshattery before I’ve finished my first cup of coffee. Today, my modest request outstripped the capabilites of the Boy Scouts of America.

I received the weekly e-newsletter from my son’s Boy Scout troop, No. 101 here in Greensboro. And the very first item in it was an editorial titled, “California Supreme Court on the Offensive against the BSA.” It read:

Can we agree to disagree? Not in California, where self-appointed arbiters of public morality have chosen to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Ignoring the legacy of a century of service to the country, the California Supreme Court unanimously chose to join the ranks of those who have chosen to vilify the Boy Scouts. In this, they join the current federal administratation, which has effectively barred Boy Scouts from using military bases for camping and travel, using the same argument that the BSA is “discriminatory.” In the corporate world, Disney has not given the Boy Scouts funding for many years. The company does, however, allow employees to do volunteer work in exchange for cash donations to the charities of their choice. That is, unless their charity of choice is the Boy Scouts. I, for one, do not have to agree with every administrative edict or policy statement issuued by BSA National. The core purpose of the BSA remains the same – building young men of character who will be responsible to their families and communities. The program as it stands today seeks to carry this out in a fair and good-hearted manner. It has been an integral part of the fabric of American life for years. Can it continue to be so in the face of mounting opposition?

This editorial, which seems to be purely local in origin, appeared to be a response to the California justices’ recent, unanimous vote to bar California state judges from belonging to all organizations that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. That rule had been in effect since 1996, but with an exception for nonprofit youth groups. In February 2014 the state bar’s ethics advisory committee recommended scrapping the exception on the grounds that there was no good reason for it, and the high court unanimously agreed.

There was a link from the newsletter to, presumably, more of the editorial on the troop’s website. When I clicked the link, it appeared, however, that the page had been taken down. (And quickly; it looks as if no cached version is available.) I presume this means that cooler, by which I mean “less oxygen-deprived,” heads prevailed.

The first thing I did was email one of the troop’s longtime leaders (a friend of mine for 35 years) to express my concerns. But I also decided pretty much immediately that I wasn’t going to let this drop.

When you wade through the flawed logic, Orwellian diction and legal ignorance of the paragraph above, what you get to is this: The author doesn’t like gay people and, for whatever reason, thinks the Boy Scouts ought to be able to discriminate against non-hetero adults in its leadership ranks even though there’s no sound legal, scientific, or sociological reason for such a ban.

And this is just one small example of a much larger problem with American conservatives: They think that when the rights of others are protected, their own rights are threatened. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: Anyone who doubts the existence of eternity need only ponder the conservative capacity for playing the victim. You see it in this editorial:

  • The California Supreme Court is “on the offensive” against the BSA. Actually, it is holding itself and the state’s other judges to a clear standard of fairness that is consistent with the law and the Constitution. It is not interfering with the Boy Scouts or the organization’s mission in any way that any sentient human being would notice.
  • Duly elected California Supreme Court justices are “self-appointed arbiters of public morality” (no, that’d be YOU, jackass).
  • The justices have “thrown the baby out with the bathwater.” In fact they have protected the rights of adults not to be discriminated against by a non-church tax-exempt organization without materially affecting, let alone damaging, the organization’s mission or its ability to carry out that mission.
  • The justices have “ignored the legacy of a century of service to the country.” In fact, the justices are protecting the rights of all Americans to take part in, and add to, that legacy of service.
  • Upholding the rights of all equates to “vilifying the Boy Scouts.” (No, that’d be what I’m doing right here, and for damned good reason.)
  • The Boy Scouts seek to carry out their mission in a “fair” manner. In fact, the author is defending the right of the organization to behave UNfairly.
  • The Boy Scouts cannot carry out their mission “in the face of mounting opposition” — which isn’t opposition at all, but rather a demand that the organization comport with the laws and principles of the country it claims to love and support.

Jesus H. Christ on a turbocharged sidecar, I do SO wish stupid were painful.

I’m no one’s idea of Father of the Year, but I’ve tried very hard to raise my kids not to discriminate against people on the basis of inherent characteristics. I believe enough in fairness that I put my life on the line for it early in my journalism career. And God bless ’em, my kids have responded very well. Indeed, unknown author, let me give you a clue about today’s Boy Scouts, and today’s kids in general.

They know that people differ in their sexual orientations, and you know what? It’s only a big deal to them to the extent that their parents make it a big deal. In other words, in complying with both the law of the land (as enunciated in the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment) and its spirit, not only are the kids all right, they’re a damn sight better than you. They are the leaders. And you need to get in line.

Scouts take an oath to keep themselves “physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.” You missed on two out of three, dude: Not only do you make nonfactual, illogical arguments, you also are trying to call yourself morally straight while discriminating. That’s ridiculous.

And what’s the Boy Scout motto? “Be prepared.” Your lack of preparedness for changing times is showing.

And so’s your ass.

Thursday, October 9, 2014 8:31 pm

No, both sides DON’T do it, Part the Infinity

Every time I or anyone else correctly points out the disproportionate influence of conservative spending on the American electoral process at both the federal and state levels, someone — either a liar or a useful idiot — usually pipes up with, “But the liberals do it, too!” In point of fact, a quick visit to OpenSecrets.org will show you that while both sides might do it, one side does it far more than the other, and that just happens to be the same side that also has been working for more private money and less transparency with respect to money in the political system. That money, in turn, leads to necrosis of our one-person, one-vote system.

In particular, every time I or anyone else points out the disproportionate influence of the Koch Bros.’ spending on the system, someone — either a liar or a useful idiot — usually pipes up with, “But … but … SOROS!” And, yes, billionaire George Soros does contribute a fair bit of money to liberal candidates and causes.

But nowhere near as much as do the Kochs. From an objective, mathematical standpoint, the comparison is just silly.

So, all you both-siders: You now know that you’re wrong. If you’re going to continue to insist on being a both-sider, I’d like to know: Which are you, liar or useful idiot?

Monday, September 29, 2014 8:19 pm

Why English majors are the hot new hires. (And, no, that not an Onion headline.)

Hey, take it from the American Express website.

I never had a lot of patience with people who asked me why I was majoring in English.

For one thing, I enjoyed it. Duh.

But for another, the skills you develop as an English major are the skills American business always says it needs more of: critical thinking, analytical ability, and the ability to communicate clearly. That was true 32 years ago and it remains true today. Those skills will prepare you for jobs that don’t even exist yet. I know that’s true because they did for me.

In fact, American business’s global competitors are finding they need the same skills, and that their job-focused college educations aren’t providing the people they need who have those skills. So they’re retooling their higher education along the U.S.’s traditional liberal-arts model.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t major in STEM if that’s what sings to you and/or you’re really serious about getting a particular job in that field straight out of school.

But it does mean that an English degree has a world of applications in a broad variety of business contexts. So does practically any liberal-arts degree, because they all teach the same skills, just in different contexts. And that, Pat McCrory, is why English majors (and Art History majors and Women’s Studies majors and on and on) are the hot new hires.

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