Friday, August 09, 2019

Mission Accomplished

Proud Melania holds baby whose parents were killed in El Paso mass murder by Trump follower who wanted to kill as many Mexicans as he could, while beaming President gives thumbs up. (Source: The Independent)

Sunday, August 04, 2019

The National Cathedral On Decency

It can be too easy to break today's deterioration of American culture down into quibbles about what some politician "really meant" when they said something terrible-sounding, and we see actual American people arguing in defense of authoritarianism, racism, assaulting women, political corruption, and a multitude of instances of rudeness and ignorance. These quibbles address one thing at a time, as they rise to the nation's awareness -- he didn't really mean "go back to the country you came from," he meant, "go help the country you came from and come back." He didn't really mean Mexico would pay for the wall. He doesn't literally grab 'em by the pussy. He didn't mean that China was going to pay the tariffs. It's just a coincidence that he uses the word "infested" only for black and brown people. And so on. I saw someone once describe this as being like someone throwing a handful of dirt at you, and you have to swat away every particle of dust individually. You have to address each absurdity but there are so many of them you can't keep up. And even if you do try to keep up, there is no time for anything else in your life.

But of course all these individual things are part of one ugly pattern. The National Cathedral issued a statement this past week, and I think this might be a good perspective. Call it decency.
Have We No Decency? A Response to President Trump
July 30, 2019

The escalation of racialized rhetoric from the President of the United States has evoked responses from all sides of the political spectrum. On one side, African American leaders have led the way in rightfully expressing outrage. On the other, those aligned with the President seek to downplay the racial overtones of his attacks, or remain silent.

As faith leaders who serve at Washington National Cathedral ¬– the sacred space where America gathers at moments of national significance – we feel compelled to ask: After two years of President Trump’s words and actions, when will Americans have enough?

As Americans, we have had such moments before, and as a people we have acted. Events of the last week call to mind a similarly dark period in our history:

“Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. … You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?”

That was U.S. Army attorney Joseph Welch on June 9, 1954, when he confronted Senator Joseph McCarthy before a live television audience, effectively ending McCarthy’s notorious hold on the nation. Until then, under the guise of ridding the country of Communist infiltration, McCarthy had free rein to say and do whatever he wished. With unbridled speech, he stoked the fears of an anxious nation with lies; destroyed the careers of countless Americans; and bullied into submissive silence anyone who dared criticize him.

In retrospect, it’s clear that Welch’s question was directed less toward McCarthy and more to the nation as a whole. Had Americans had enough? Where was our sense of decency?

We have come to accept a level of insult and abuse in political discourse that violates each person’s sacred identity as a child of God. We have come to accept as normal a steady stream of language and accusations coming from the highest office in the land that plays to racist elements in society.

This week, President Trump crossed another threshold. Not only did he insult a leader in the fight for racial justice and equality for all persons; not only did he savage the nations from which immigrants to this country have come; but now he has condemned the residents of an entire American city. Where will he go from here?

Make no mistake about it, words matter. And, Mr. Trump’s words are dangerous.

These words are more than a “dog-whistle.” When such violent dehumanizing words come from the President of the United States, they are a clarion call, and give cover, to white supremacists who consider people of color a sub-human “infestation” in America. They serve as a call to action from those people to keep America great by ridding it of such infestation. Violent words lead to violent actions.

When does silence become complicity? What will it take for us all to say, with one voice, that we have had enough? The question is less about the president’s sense of decency, but of ours.

As leaders of faith who believe in the sacredness of every single human being, the time for silence is over. We must boldly stand witness against the bigotry, hatred, intolerance, and xenophobia that is hurled at us, especially when it comes from the highest offices of this nation. We must say that this will not be tolerated. To stay silent in the face of such rhetoric is for us to tacitly condone the violence of these words. We are compelled to take every opportunity to oppose the indecency and dehumanization that is racism, whether it comes to us through words or actions.

There is another moment in our history worth recalling. On January 21, 2017, Washington National Cathedral hosted an interfaith national prayer service, a sacred tradition to honor the peaceful transfer of political power. We prayed for the President and his young Administration to have “wisdom and grace in the exercise of their duties that they may serve all people of this nation, and promote the dignity and freedom of every person.”

That remains our prayer today for us all.

The Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington
The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, Dean of Washington National Cathedral
The Rev. Canon Kelly Brown Douglas, Canon Theologian of Washington National Cathedral
It's not about any particular thing, not about immigration or guns or trade wars or racism or greed or ignorance. It's a matter of decency. It is not hard to be kind, to be fair, to be decent.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Mueller: Not Made for TV

I got comfortable in the easy-chair and watched six or seven hours of Mueller yesterday. It started slow and warmed up a little, but this was not a made-for-TV, tl;dr, sound-bite moment in American entertainment. The guy isn't working the social media, he isn't competing for the audience's attention, he clearly does not seek a post-retirement career in show business. He's a lawyer: methodical, unbiased, objective, deliberate, boring.

Mueller was dull, slow, concise, and painfully accurate. He said "I will refer you to the report on that" and "that was not within our purview" more than anything. He did not appear to have the entire nearly-five-hundred-page report memorized. He did not have sarcastic and politically biting responses to dumb questions and point-scoring from Congresspeople, and seemed to be equally annoyed by members of both parties. He had said he did not want to testify, he had said the report was his statement and he would not go beyond it. And he was not going to be pushed into running his mouth in public.

But still, there was something better about seeing him there, and hearing his voice. You know he sat in an office for a couple of years, meeting with lawyers as rich and powerful people lied to them, tried to manipulate them, refused to cooperate, and the team laboriously put the pieces together. They arrested, charged, and convicted a lot of white-collar crooks.

And in the end the report came out, and hardly anybody read it. Instead, the public chose to get it through the filter of the media. The President got in front of the cameras and said, "No collusion, no obstruction," even though that was not what the report said. He claimed to be "totally exonerated" even though Mueller's report said the opposite. Every day the news played contradicting stories and partisans discussed their favorite interpretations, and finally yesterday the author himself sat in front of two committees of Congress and stuck to the facts.

Here is the story that came out. Obama had imposed severe sanctions on Russia, and the oligarchs were losing a lot of money as the Russian economy collapsed, and they wanted to be sure we would elect a President who would lift the sanctions. At the same time, Trump was ... this close ... to closing a deal on a gigantic real-estate project in Moscow, but he needed the approval of Vladimir Putin. For some reason he had decided to run for President right in the middle of getting those papers ready to sign. He knew he can't legally profit from his position as President, so he had to keep the deal quiet. The Russians knew he was breaking the law, but he lied to the American public.

In the meantime, a gang of bottom-feeders joined up with him, people who either owed money to Russians or had some kind of underbelly deals going on with Russia and other authoritarian countries. They ran Trump's campaign, advised him, and went back and forth between Trump and various Russians -- more than a hundred interactions are described in the report. The Russians had some technological skills, which they used to plant propaganda in American media and to break into the Democratic Party's email system, and the rest is history.

Here is a summary, the close of the Intelligence Committee hearing, from Vox with a few edits gleaned from the C-SPAN video:
Schiff: Director Mueller, I want to close out my questions, turn to some of the exchange you had with Mr. [Peter] Welsh [D-VT] a bit earlier. I want to see if we can broaden the aperture at the end of your hearing.

From your testimony today, I’d gather that knowingly accepting assistance from a foreign government during a presidential campaign is an unethical thing to do.

Mueller: And a crime in certain circumstances.

Schiff: To the degree that it undermines our democracy and our institutions, we can agree that it’s also unpatriotic.

Mueller: True.

Schiff: And wrong.

Mueller: True.

Schiff: The behavior of a candidate shouldn’t be merely whether something is criminal. It should be held to a higher standard, you would agree?

Mueller: I’m not going to answer that because it goes to the standards applied by other institutions besides ours.

Schiff: I’m just referring to ethical standards. We should hold our elected officials to a standard higher than mere evidence of criminality.

Mueller: Absolutely.

Schiff: You have served this country for decades, you have taken an oath to defend the Constitution, you hold yourself to a standard of doing what’s right.

Mueller: I would hope.

Schiff: You have. I think we can all see that. Befitting the times, I’m sure your reward will be unending criticism, but we are grateful. The need to act in an ethical manner is not just a moral one, but when people act unethically it also exposes them to compromise particularly in dealing with foreign powers, is that true?

Mueller: True.

Schiff: Because when somebody acts unethically in connection with a foreign partner, that foreign partner can expose their wrongdoing and extort them.

Mueller: True.

Schiff: That unethical conduct can be of a financial nature if you have a financial motive or illicit business dealing, am I right?

Mueller: Yes.

Schiff: It could also just involve deception. If you are lying about something that can be exposed, then you can be blackmailed.

Mueller: Also true.

Schiff: In the case of Michael Flynn, he was secretly doing business with Turkey, correct?

Mueller: Yes.

Schiff: That could open him up to compromise that financial relationship.

Mueller: I presume.

Schiff: He also lied about his discussions with the Russian ambassador and since the Russians were on the other side of the conversation, they could have exposed that, could they not?

Mueller: Yes.

Schiff: If a presidential candidate was doing business in Russia and saying he wasn’t, Russians could expose that too, could they not?

Mueller: I leave that to you.

Schiff: Let’s look at Dmitry Peskov, the spokesperson for the Kremlin, someone that the Trump organization was in contact with, to make that deal happen. Your report indicates that Michael Cohen had a long conversation on the phone with someone from Dmitry Peskov’s office. Presumably the Russians could record that conversation, could they not?

Mueller: Yes.

Schiff: And so if candidate Trump was saying I have had no dealings with the Russians, but the Russians had a tape-recording, they could expose that, could they not?

Mueller: Yes.

Schiff: That’s the stuff of counterintelligence nightmares, is it not?

Mueller: It has to do with counterintelligence and the need for a strong counterintelligence entity.

Schiff: It does indeed. And when this was revealed that there were these communications notwithstanding the president’s denials, the president was confronted about this and he said two things. First of all, that’s not a crime. But I think you and I have already agreed that shouldn’t be the standard, right, Mr. Mueller?

Mueller: True.

Schiff: The second thing you said was why should I miss out on all those opportunities. I mean, why indeed merely running a presidential campaign, why should you miss out on making all that money, was the import of his statement. Were you ever able to ascertain whether Donald Trump still intends to build that tower when he leaves office?

Mueller: Is that a question, sir?

Schiff: Yes. Were you able to ascertain, because he wouldn’t answer your questions completely, whether or if he ever ended that desire to build that tower?

Mueller: I’m not going to speculate on that.

Schiff: If the president was concerned that if he lost his election, he didn’t want to miss out on that money, might he have the same concern about his reelection?

Mueller: Speculation.

Schiff: The difficulty with this, of course, is we are all left to wonder whether the president is representing us or his financial interests. That concludes my questions.

Mr. Nunes, do you have any concluding remarks? [Nunes, oddly, did not]

Schiff: Director Mueller, let me close by returning to where I began. Thank you for your service and thank you for leading this investigation. The facts you set out in your report and have elucidated here today tell a disturbing tale of a massive Russian intervention in our election of a campaign so eager to win, so driven by greed, that it was willing to accept the help of a hostile foreign power in a presidential election decided by a handful of votes in a few key states.

Your work tells of a campaign so determined to conceal their corrupt use of foreign help that they risked going to jail by lying to you, to the FBI and to Congress about it and, indeed, some have gone to jail over such lies.

And your work speaks of a president who committed countless acts of obstruction of justice that in my opinion and that of many other prosecutors, had it been anyone else in the country, they would have been indicted. Notwithstanding the many things you have addressed today and in your report, there were some questions you could not answer given the constraints you’re operating under.

You would not tell us whether you would have indicted the president but for the OLC opinion that you could not. So the Justice Department will have to make that decision when the president leaves office, both as to the crime of obstruction of justice and as to the campaign finance fraud scheme that individual one directed and coordinated and for which Michael Cohen went to jail.

You would not tell us whether the president should be impeached, nor did we ask you since it is our responsibility to determine the proper remedy for the conduct outlined in your report. Whether we decide to impeach the president in the house or we do not, we must take any action necessary to protect the country while he is in office.

You would not tell us the results or whether other bodies looked into Russian compromise in the form of money laundering, so we must do so. You would not tell us whether the counterintelligence investigation revealed whether people still serving within the administration pose a risk of compromise and should never have been given a security clearance, so we must find out.

We did not bother to ask whether financial inducements from any gulf nations were influencing this US policy since it is outside the four corners of your report, and so we must find out. But one thing is clear from your report, your testimony from director Wray’s statements yesterday. The Russians massively intervened in 2016 and they are prepared to do so again in voting that is set to begin a mere eighth months from now.

The president seems to welcome the help again and so we must make all efforts to harden our elections infrastructure, to ensure there is a paper trail for all voting, to deter the Russians from meddling, to discover it when they do, to disrupt it and to make them pay. Protecting the sanctity of our elections begins however with the recognition that accepting foreign help is disloyal to our country, unethical and wrong.

We cannot control what the Russians do, not completely, but we can decide what we do and that this centuries-old experiment we call American democracy is worth cherishing.

Director Mueller, thank you again for being here today.
Mueller would not say the word "impeach" in the hearings, but it became clear that he felt the report had presented sufficient evidence for Congress to use in impeachment, since DOJ does not allow a sitting President to be subjected to the normal justice system. The depth and breadth of the Trump criminal enterprise was brought to light in the hearings, and it seems that the House of Representatives is obligated to consider the feasibility of impeachment, especially since the Trump administration is refusing to comply with subpoenas.

Monday, July 01, 2019

Western Liberalism

I don't really like the new kind of journalism where a "reporter" simply transcribes a TV interview or repeats some tweets, but the bit below tells the story of today's federal government as efficiently as it can be told.

Here is a text-copy of a Twitter thread posted by CNN Chief Washington Correspondent Jake Tapper.
@jaketapper

ICYMI: Putin told FT that Western liberal had run its course, that "the so-called liberal idea...has outlived its purpose...Our Western partners have admitted that some elements of the liberal idea, such as multiculturalism, are no longer tenable."

https://www.cnn.com/2019/06/28/europe/g20-putin-end-of-liberalism-intl/index.html ... [NOTE: bad link fixed - read summary in The Post]

2/ FT ed board disagreed: "Liberal, market-based democracy remains the organising principle in most non-petrostate countries with the highest living standards — and vital to the dynamism that generated their prosperity."

3/ EC president Tusk said "strongly disagree with President Putin that liberalism is obsolete. What I find really obsolete are authoritarianism, personality cults, the rule of oligarchs."

Retweet of Donald Tusk/ Verified account / @eucopresident
I strongly disagree with President Putin that liberalism is obsolete. What I find really obsolete are authoritarianism, personality cults, the rule of oligarchs.
My press statement at #G20OsakaSummit: https://europa.eu/!Gp89kF

@jaketapper
4/ @peterbakernyt asked President Trump about Putin's "comments to the Financial Times right before arriving here was that Western-style liberalism is obsolete...."

5/ Trump: "Well, I mean he may feel that way. He’s sees what’s going on,... if you look at what’s happening in Los Angeles, where it’s so sad to look, and what’s happening in San Francisco and a couple of other cities, which are run by an extraordinary group of liberal people.

6/"... I don’t know what they’re thinking, but he does see things that are happening in the United States that would probably preclude him from saying how wonderful it is....

7/'...I’m very embarrassed by what I see in some of our cities, where the politicians are either afraid to do something about it, or they think it’s votes or I don’t know what. Peter, I don’t know what they’re thinking...

8/"... But when you look at Los Angeles, when you look at San Francisco, when you look at some of the other cities — and not a lot, not a lot — but you don’t want it to spread. And at a certain point,...

9/"... I think the federal government maybe has to get involved. We can’t let that continue to happen to our cities."

The president seemed to think "Western-style liberalism" was the same as "liberal Democrats." It isn't.
Our enemy states that the fundamental principle of American democracy is obsolete, and our President is unaware of his opponent's intention, and of the principle itself. He literally thinks Putin is talking about California Democrats. The world's leaders are talking over his head. How can we defend ourselves under this kind of leadership?

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Two Sides

Recently in the news, a fairly unsurprising type of story. Some women had to sue in order to get their rape kits processed. Instead of pursuing the cases, police and judges had been saying things like, "You shouldn't have been out alone at night."

I know, I know, but I want to think about it for a minute. The country right now is in a state of deep division, and it is because some people think like this, and some people think you should blame the rapist and not the victim.

These are two very different ways of thinking, two assumptions about why we are here and how we should handle ourselves as citizens and as human beings.

First is the belief that bad people are an inevitable reality of the world, and it is commonsense to avoid being hurt by them. For instance, if women stayed indoors and dressed modestly and avoided alcohol and went out in groups there would be fewer opportunities to rape them, and they would be safer. If gay people stay closeted it is less likely that rednecks will harass them. Also black people, if they stayed "in their place," stayed on their side of town and worked in their kind of jobs, police wouldn't shoot them so much and white people wouldn't keep dangling nooses near them. If Mexicans just stayed in Mexico, you get what I'm saying. There is danger, and the solution is to avoid it by staying where you belong and doing what you should do.

To many, it is simply realistic to assume that there are bad people who will do bad things, and the rational approach is to take care not to provoke them. Some of those bad people are very powerful and, again, the smart thing is to be careful not to upset them. To people who think this way, that's just reality, and it's crazy not to accept it.

The other view is that bad behaviors should be eliminated or reduced, and bad people should be responsible for what they do. Say a gay person or a black person, a Hmong or a Sikh or a Jew, ventures into a hostile suburb and gets beaten up. From this second point of view you would blame the racists or homophobes who committed the violence, and take steps to stop them from behaving in this way. If this sort of thing is a common problem you could address it as a social issue and try to change it through norms or even laws. The idea would be that people should be able to walk around in public and do what they need to do without being harassed or discriminated against. From this point of view it seems that the problem is intolerance, and society's goal is to reduce activities based on intolerance that affect the recipient (aka victim) of such behaviors.

Two different points of view, and we all see it both ways, depending on context and our own motives. Life is frightening and we should be careful, life is good but it could be better.

Friday, May 24, 2019

A New New Low

I don't post as often here as I should. Every crazy thing that happens is followed by a thing that is even crazier, and I hate to fall behind. The government has become so chaotic that you cannot keep up with the actual crimes committed, never mind the horrible policy decisions, the lies, the absurd things that are said. The standard is set low, and then every day they set it lower.

For example, yesterday the President was asked by an NBC reporter, “Sir, the Constitution says treason is punishable by death. You’ve accused your adversaries of treason. Who specifically are you accusing of treason?” The President thought for a few seconds and then mentioned James Comey and Andrew McCabe, and “People probably higher than that.”

This is nothing, just another day in Washington. Let's execute my political enemies, shall we?

Yesterday, too, Trump posted a video on the Internet that was heavily edited to make it seem to show Nancy Pelosi slurring her words, with his descriptor: “PELOSI STAMMERS THROUGH NEWS CONFERENCE.”

The Washington Post has a video showing how the video was altered. The voice was slowed down to 75 percent of its original speed, and then the pitch was shifted back up to Pelosi's natural range -- slowing the video, of course, lowers the pitch. WATCH HERE. This seems to be a pretty effective way to make somebody look bad. It is not a good way to run a government.

There was also another altered video of Pelosi speaking, which was shared online by Rudy Giuliani, and the edited videos were discussed on Fox News as if they were real, as if Pelosi was either drunk or maybe aging ungracefully.

By the time the President posted the video, the news had been out for hours that it was fake. He knew it was fake.

Millions of Americans have seen these videos. Since Trump followers are generally not people who follow the news outside their bubble, we can assume that many people who saw this stuff actually believe there is something wrong with Nancy Pelosi. In fact, she was extremely lucid and articulate in the briefing and had some important things to say about Trump storming out of the infrastructure meeting. Yes, she is trolling him, of course. She has completely gotten under his skin. Pelosi, it turns out, is the one politician who can stand up to Trump and win. She is not speaking drunkenly in public, and she is aging quite well, thank you.

The idea that the President of the United States posted a fake video of the Speaker of the House is off the rails. We have seen people twist words, misquote, misconstrue, and so on, this is old political stuff. We have even seen fake videos get traction in Washington, causing heads to roll. But this President sets a new low standard, posting this on his official Presidential Twitter account. No President before would have done this, and nobody thinks it's okay, to borrow Adam Schiff's wording. This sort of stuff embarrasses the whole country.

The Post's fact-checkers this week announced that Trump has made more than 10,000 false or misleading claims.

Ten thousand.

The President of the United States.

I understand the reluctance to impeach but hopefully as the public becomes aware of the contents of some of these ongoing investigations, impeachment will become a priority for Republicans as well as Democrats. This President's behavior is dangerous, it is embarrassing, and it undermines our American democracy.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Lock Him Up Like You Would Anybody Else

Donald Trump Jr. has been subpoenaed to appear in a Senate hearing, and Reuters is saying that he does not intend to show up for it.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Donald Trump Jr. is unlikely to comply with a U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee subpoena to testify about his contacts with Russia, two congressional sources said on Thursday as the president publicly defended his eldest son.

The sources said Trump Jr is expected to cite his Fifth Amendment constitutional right to avoid self-incrimination, a day after reports that the Republican-led panel had issued what is the first publicly known subpoena for a member of the president’s family. Donald Trump Jr. seen resisting Senate committee subpoena: sources
Note that Trump Junior does not hold any position in the government. He does not have executive privilege or, apparently, a security clearance, or anything else that would make his testimony inappropriate or even controversial, nothing that would raise Constitutional questions about the checks and balances in our system of government.

He is just a guy who made some statements to Congress which were contradicted by findings of the Mueller report. The Senate committee will want Junior to explain some statements from his last visit.

The committee is chaired by a Republican, in a Republican-dominated chamber of Congress, and so it is likely they will toss him some softballs and let him go. But still, this is a subpoena, it is not a party invitation.

If you or I got such a subpoena and didn't appear, do you know what would happen? Yeah, they'd come find us and throw our butts in jail until Congress could schedule another hearing, and then they would drag us down there and make sure we sat in the chair and answered the questions.

I don't know about you, but I want to see how this works. Donald Trump Junior is a regular private citizen, just like you and me. Handcuffs fit around his wrists just like they fit on the rest of us. The jail door can clank shut behind him just like it clanks shut on anybody else who disobeys the law. I don't actually hope anybody goes to jail but it's totally his own choice at this point.

This administration routinely breaks the law with everything from emoluments to nepotism to giving clearances to a bunch of traitors. And the thing is, nothing happens. It's like there is no law, or it doesn't apply to the Trump family, business, or government administration. So once, just once, I'd like to see one of those smug crooks go sit on a metal bench in a room with a concrete floor and steel bars for walls. Maybe just overnight. Give one of them a taste of what the other ninety-nine percent experiences when we break the law.

I don't have any problem with Junior asserting his Fifth Amendment rights. The good ol' Constitution protects him. Of course, we understand you only need to be protected from self-incrimination if you have done something incriminating in the first place. I expect this the first of many.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Sumpn Sumpn the Rule of Law

It is too complicated for me to figure out everybody's motives in Trump's government. People are trying to keep their jobs, keep Trump from doing nutty stuff, they are responding to the atmosphere around them, to bribery and financial opportunities. So for instance, it is impossible to understand what Rod Rosenstein is doing. He gave a talk to an Armenian group recently where he spoke in Armenian and said how much he loves Armenians, and all the Armenian friends he has... okay, maybe that's what you do.

But he tossed in a comment (in English) that stood out. He said: As President Trump pointed out, “we govern ourselves in accordance with the rule of law rather [than] … the whims of an elite few or the dictates of collective will.”

So, look, what is the chance that President Trump would ever have said such a thing? It might have appeared in a press release or some mission statement on a web site, but can you imagine for a minute that Donald Trump opened his mouth and uttered those words? (I see, it was from a "proclamation" on Law Day, a year ago. I doubt the President even read it.)

It is not complicated to figure out Trump's motives, which are to make money and aggrandize himself relative to others. The "rule of law" is really no part of it. Not a concept he is familiar with.

Now he is refusing to cooperate with any subpoenas. A court or legislative body may request the appearance of a witness, in which case the witness has a choice and may decline the invitation. Or they can subpoena the witness, which gives them the choice of complying or paying a penalty, often jail time -- commonly IRL noncompliant individuals are imprisoned until their time to testify.

Trump has declared that he will "fight all the subpoenas." And as investigations pile up, there could be a bunch of them.

I'm losing track. Trump is suing House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) to block a subpoena requesting financial records from his accountant. John Gore, the principal deputy attorney general for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, refused a subpoena to appear for a deposition before the Oversight and Government Reform Committee that was scheduled for Thursday, and the administration had convinced Carl Kline, the former director of White House personnel security, not to testify about granting security clearances, but they announced late Friday that they will allow Kline to record an interview for the House Oversight Committee. Meanwhile some Democrats are threatening fines or jail time if Trump officials refuse to comply with congressional subpoenas.

By the time I post this there will be more.

Congress is assigned the responsibility under the Constitution to provide oversight of the executive branch, and the executive branch is required to cooperate. That's how the separation of powers work, that is one way the Founders arranged to prevent tyranny. It is hard to take over the government when two other branches of it can checkmate you at any move.

According to news reports, the Trump administration will lose these challenges in court, but they hope to drag it out until after the 2020 elections, so Americans will not know for sure if they are voting for a bunch of criminals. Well, they'll know, they just won't have the documentation in front of them.

And of course, if the House decides to initiate impeachment proceedings, the foot-dragging becomes irrelevant. It is distinctly possible that Trump & Co. are going to bring that on themselves, if that's what it takes to get witnesses to testify.

And Rosenstein quotes Trump saying we need to govern ourselves in accordance with the rule of law. Hoo boy.

Here's a reminder of what "scandal" used to mean.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Conservatives Wonder Why Democrats Are Upset

Here is a conservative site with a classic (not classy) question -- Red State: Why Are Democrats Upset At Illegal Aliens Being Sent To Their Sanctuary Cities?

The story, as you have probably heard, is that President Trump had the bright idea of taking migrants from the border, shipping them to sanctuary cities in Democratic states, and dropping them off there. Some liberals think this is a terrible idea.

Red State thinks Democrats are being hypocrites.
Why would any Democrat oppose this? Why would any member of the left-wing media be outraged over this? Why wouldn’t they be fully supportive of sending illegals in need of sanctuary to their own self-described sanctuary cities?

We’ve been told for years by these people that illegal immigrants are a net positive. They supposedly commit less crime (they don’t), do the jobs Americans won’t do, and provide valued diversity. The Democratic party believes that so much that they refuse to do anything to stem the tide...
...and so on.

The author of this piece, "Bonchie," thinks Democrats should be happy to implement this plan. This reminds me of when Trump fired James Comey and then was surprised that Democrats did not approve. Both are cases of inappropriately-used binary logic. Because we all see the world in black and white, and because Comey did something that hurt the Democratic Presidential candidate, we -- Democrats -- should automatically rejoice when something bad happens to him. Reports were that Trump was genuinely surprised that we saw the firing as a cheap political stunt and obstruction of justice.

In this case, we lefties love immigrants this much!, and so if you load up a few cattle-trucks with them and dump them in our downtown we should just be happy as could be. Yay, we will have more people speaking Spanish! We love them so much! Welcome, comrades!

Huh, well maybe some Democrats see it from the migrants' point of view. Maybe some of the 50,000 people currently in federal custody have relatives here that they plan to reunite with, that is, maybe they already know where they're going. People entering the country can currently decide where they want to go, and probably have a destination in mind. So maybe this plan does not work for them. In other words, maybe white American citizens -- Republicans or Democrats -- do not have the only possible point of view in this matter. Maybe it's not really about us.

Or, weird I know, but maybe some lefties think the idea of dumping truckloads of people with no money, no food, no home, who don't speak the language, in the middle of a big city in a new country sounds a little inhumane, unkind, and, actually, mean.

Even from the host city's point of view, dropping thousands of homeless people in the middle of a town without warning will put a burden on resources. A sudden influx of migrants is something a city would want to prepare for -- stock up on supplies, identify shelters and homes, translators, set up medical services, counseling, facilities for processing the paperwork. Democrats seem to have this crazy belief that before you undertake a big project it is good to have a plan. Sorry if I'm talking dirty.

But of course overwhelming the host cities is all part of the joke. Ha-ha, those Democrat-voting urban elites won't know what hit 'em. Poverty, starvation, homelessness, sickness -- it'll be hilarious!

It is possible that a couple of Democrats think that only the lowest kind of scum would use desperate and poor refugees as pawns in a petty partisan political prank. The idea that these are bad or dangerous people and that nobody would actually want them, and so Republicans are going to ship them to states that voted blue as punishment, is some of the most depraved and emotionally numb thinking we have ever seen in the leadership of the United States.

It is bad enough to keep thousands of asylum seekers and immigrants in concentration camps. It is bad enough to split up families intentionally, "losing" children and then saying it might take years to find them again. It is bad enough for officials and volunteers to sexually molest children and young adults at will with no accountability. It is bad enough to send the military to the border instead of immigration officials who can sort out the paperwork and get incoming migrants started on the correct process for entering the country or being sent back. It's already bad enough.

I think the dichotomy here is between those who see the refugees as human beings and those who see them as enemies or worse, vermin. If you recognize them as people with a need for safety then there are a number of ways to deal with them. Seeing them as vermin leads to more concentration camps, more torture, and the unthinkable.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

It's Not Nuthin'


The press is acting as if the Mueller investigation struck out. We don't know the details yet, since they have not released the report, but it appears that Mueller decided that he did not have evidence to charge anyone in the campaign with 1.working with the Russians to fill US media with fake news and propaganda, and 2.working directly with Russians to hack the DNC email system.

I think it is likely that we will discover there is more to the obstruction of justice issue than AG Barr is suggesting in his summary. But again, we haven't seen the report.

Also, remember, the number is not known exactly but twelve to nineteen other investigations have spun out of Mueller's narrowly focused project. These involve dirty business with the Russians as well as crime in Trump's real estate businesses, security violations in the awarding of clearances, fraud and money-laundering, emoluments and profiteering by the Trump family taking advantage of his political office, and more.

Many of us thought that Mueller was going to chase down the many criminal threads that he uncovered while investigating the narrow topic of Trump campaign collaboration with Russia, but instead he passed them off to other agencies. Republicans can crow that Mueller found "nothing" but that is not what history is going to remember.

In the meantime, here is a list culled from Buzzfeed of the people Muller has charged.
George Papadopoulos Charged: July 28, 2017
Status: Sentenced and served 14 days in prison

Paul Manafort Charged: Oct. 30, 2017
Status: Sentenced and serving nearly seven years in prison

Rick Gates Charged: Oct. 30, 2017
Status: Cooperating and awaiting sentencing

Michael Flynn Charged: Nov. 30, 2017
Status: Cooperating and awaiting sentencing

Alex van der Zwaan Charged: Feb. 16, 2018
Status: Sentenced and served 30 days in prison

Internet Research Agency Charged: Feb. 16, 2018
(two other Russian entities, and 13 Russian individuals)
Status: One defendant fighting the charges

Richard Pinedo Charged: Feb. 7, 2018
Status: Sentenced and serving six months in prison

Konstantin Kilimnik Charged: June 8, 2018
Status: Charges pending, never participated in court

Viktor Netyksho and 12 members of the Russian intelligence agency GRU Charged: July 13, 2018
Status: Charges pending, never participated in court

Michael Cohen Charged: Nov. 29, 2018
Status: Sentenced and about to serve three years in prison

Roger Stone Charged: Jan. 24, 2019
Status: Fighting the charges
As others have pointed out, if Mueller had saved these up and announced them when he released the report, nobody would be saying it's nuthin'.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Another Massacre in the Name of White People

The killing in New Zealand leaves us with an especially hopeless feeling. Even as the ambulances were still arriving at the mosques the news announcers had to mention that Christchurch is a beautiful city. New Zealand has always seemed to us like a pristine, peaceful little paradise nation, healthy and happy. And yet the death toll now has reached fifty, as another festering boil of hate pops.

The killer left a 74-page document explaining why he was doing what he did. It all makes sense to him, and in fact the tone of the manifesto is perfectly calm, articulate, it's well-organized. The problem, as he sees it, is that white Europeans are being "invaded" by other groups. He didn't care what other groups; he is opposed to all of them, unless they stay in their own territory. I think it is important for understanding the problem to note that he also didn't care that New Zealand was once Maori land, colonized by English-speaking outsiders. As long as the invaders are his own group, he is okay with it. It's all about us versus them as absolutes, all about seeing the world from your own point of view, exclusively.

If you are to take a larger view of the situation, a "God's-eye view," as they call it, it is clear that you cannot have every group of people who call themselves "us" killing off every other group of "them." Mathematically that doesn't work; the answer is zero. The beauty of the human species is that we are able to adopt the Gods-eye view sometimes, to see the other side's point of view, and to negotiate agreements where "we" get what we need and "they" do, too. Sometimes it even happens that we join together in a bigger, better "us." Individuals who are heavily invested in their own group's identity might resist such a merger, seeing it as a loss of identity or denigration of their existing in-group. For some this is such a threat that mass violence and even war seem like a reasonable reaction. It is tragic when innocent people who have never considered such perverse thoughts are gunned down randomly while living their routine lives.

A few quotes from the New Zealand murderer's statement:
We are experiencing an invasion on a level never seen before in history. Millions of people pouring across our borders, legally. Invited by the state and corporate entities to replace the White people who have failed to reproduce, failed to create the cheap labour, new consumers and tax base that the corporations and states need to thrive.

... we must deal with both the invaders within our lands and the invaders that seek to enter our lands.

... We must crush immigration and deport those invaders already living on our soil. It is not just a matter of our prosperity, but the very survival of our people.

... [I carried out the attack] to most of all show the invaders that our lands will never be their lands, our homelands are our own and that, as long as a white man still lives, they will NEVER conquer our lands and they will never replace our people... To directly reduce immigration rates to European lands by intimidating and physically removing the invaders themselves.
(I am not going to link to his manifesto.)

The word "invader" appeared fifty-five times in the assassin's statement.

Later in the day, our President adopted the killer's language in describing the us-versus-them viewpoint that white nationalists bring to the American discourse.
People hate the word “invasion,” but that’s what it is. It’s an invasion of drugs and criminals and people. We have no idea who they are, but we capture them because border security is so good. But they’re put in a very bad position, and we’re bursting at the seams. Literally, bursting at the seams.

...You can only do so much. And the only option then is to release them, but we can’t do that either. Because when you release them, they come into our society, and in many cases they’re stone-cold criminals. And in many cases, and in some cases, you have killers coming in and murderers coming in, and we’re not going to allow that to happen. Remarks by President Trump on the National Security and Humanitarian Crisis on our Southern Border
Pundits have wondered whether Trump intentionally used the killer's language, or if it was just a coincidence. It's a pretty good question, but we have no way of knowing what Trump had heard when he delivered these remarks -- I would bet that he had not read any seventy-four-page manifesto, but maybe an aide had quoted a few lines to him. His mention that "people hate the word 'invasion'" suggests he was consciously referring to the New Zealand manifesto. And maybe not, maybe Trump and the New Zealand murderer are simply two mouthpieces expressing the same ideology, and happened to pick the same easy words to describe their beliefs.

In describing a world in which "we" are being invaded by stone-cold criminals, killers and murderers, the obvious inference is that "we" need to defend ourselves. Invasion is a military term, and it calls for counterattack. Latent domestic terrorists in the United States and around the world hear his message and understand what he is saying they have to do. This is going to get worse before it gets better.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

A Civil War Would Be Complicated

The Washington Post had an article noting that a few Americans are talking about having a civil war.
At a moment when the country has never seemed angrier, two political commentators from opposite sides of the divide concurred last week on one point, nearly unthinkable until recently: The country is on the verge of “civil war.”

First came former U.S. attorney Joseph diGenova, a Fox News regular and ally of President Trump. “We are in a civil war,” he said. “The suggestion that there’s ever going to be civil discourse in this country for the foreseeable future is over. . . . It’s going to be total war.”

The next day, Nicolle Wallace, a former Republican operative turned MSNBC commentator and Trump critic, played a clip of diGenova’s commentary on her show and agreed with him — although she placed the blame squarely on the president.

Trump, she said, “greenlit a war in this country around race. And if you think about the most dangerous thing he’s done, that might be it.” In America, talk turns to something unspoken for 150 years: Civil war
The article goes on to quote other commentators who seem to be trying to stir up the violence of a civil war. Well, it does seem like the country is pretty divided.

But I have a couple of questions about how this would work. Like, the first Civil War had some geographical boundaries, for instance the Mason-Dixon line, and those above the line were fighting against those below the line. Union states, Confederate states, with borders between them. So what are you gonna do now, say, "Bill next door and I, and the guy in the house on the other side of him, and also the people across the street, are on one side, and the other people next door, the guy in the green house over there, and the family on the corner are on the other side..." I don't see that working somehow. It's not going to be red states against blue states, because the percentages are 60/40-ish in a lot of places. Never mind the Trump guy down the block with the liberal wife. What you gonna do, fight your own kids?

My other question is: what do they want? This is a serious question. I understand being against stuff, against taxes and bureaucracy and political correctness, but it does not appear that conservatives have proposed any alternative. For example, you hate Obamacare, okay, so what do you have that's better? Just "getting rid of it" sounds good on paper, the peasants with their pitchforks love the idea, but what happens when your own family member needs medical attention? Are there parts of the country where people really want the government to be one branch of a New York crime syndicate, laundering money and cheating people and lying? What is it they want?

Whatever they want, they do not seem to be able to say it out loud. Maybe it's just because of political correctness and the liberal media, but they obviously want racism back -- so why don't they say so? Why don't they just say, we want a Second Amendment for white people but not black people? We want women to be required to live as sex objects or unpaid domestic servants -- if that's what they want then they should just say so. Why not just say out loud, we want more black people in prison and more white people -- especially white collar criminals -- let out? Can they say, we want Mexicans to work in our yards and hotels and harvest our vegetables but we don't want them to have any of the benefits of citizenship (and we don't want to have to mix with them socially)? Why don't they just say, we want to be ruled by the rich, who should not be bound by the laws that apply to the rest of us? Then we would know what the alternative is that they are going to fight this civil war over.

They are willing to push the country to the point where a civil war seems possible, yet they are afraid to say out loud what they really stand for. If there is a civil war and the conservatives win, "owning the libs" does not provide guidance for running a country.

Here's where I think this civil-war idea is going to break down. I think that as we get closer and closer, conservatives will realize that they would not want to live in a country that conforms to their beliefs. The stable state for America is a somewhat liberal government that disaffected and resentful white conservatives can complain about.

Trump did not expect to win the the election, and conservatives do not really know what to do with the power they have now. Even with both houses of Congress and the Presidency they could not pass any of their favorite bills -- they did not make anything better, even by their own standards. They just want to complain. They can rebel against the government if they want, and we can have a civil war, but they will be sorry, whether they win or lose.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Shifting Left

The Democratic hopefuls are announcing their intentions, Congress has a new crop of young Representatives, and these days the news is about "shifting left."

I'm not a very political person but when I hear this sort of thing often enough it does make me wonder what it means. It seems to have started with Bernie Sanders running in the 2016 primary, calling himself a socialist. Besides being a kindly and patient old curmudgeon, he said things that everybody was already thinking. Like, for example, let's not destroy the earth. Is that really a "lefty" thing, and if it is, what kind of insane world do the "center" and the "right" live in? I saw a conservative lady in the news the other day who is pro-measles -- and I admit, I just don't understand some of it. Measles are good for us, she said. Are there people who believe in destroying the environment, just because? I know there are, but it is a crazy thing to want. Normal people want the world to continue in its natural balance. That is not a "shift left," it is obvious and sensible not to destroy our own planet.

Health insurance for all -- come on, who in America actually wants to pay to go to the doctor? Nobody else does it, in other countries. Are there actually people who say, when I get sick -- even when I'm healthy -- I want to take my hard-earned money and give it to some insurance company so they can make cheapskate, profit-driven, cynical decisions about the care I get? The rest of the civilized world has free healthcare, why is it a "shift left" to want that here, too?

Guns -- the NRA manages to get their people on the news, but really, what normal person really wants teachers to have guns in their own kid's classroom? There is a lot of industry money keeping this issue alive but ordinary people feel bad when bunches of people are killed in a school or a factory. You don't have to be a lefty to wish that people could live without fear of random bullets. There can be a balance where people who will be responsible with firearms can have them; no other country in the world has the kind of problem we do with guns. You don't have to be a leftist or a socialist to wish the world was safer for innocent people.

I mean, is it too fluffy for some people, too soft, cowardly somehow, to think you should be able to walk down the street without being shot by some random nut? Is that just too "leftist" for some people?

It does not make sense to anybody for a few billionaires to have more money than they can spend, while everybody else shops around for gas two cents a gallon cheaper. You don't have to be a lefty to see that that's crazy, it is just regular common sense. Do you know how much a billion dollars is? Jeff Bezos could end the homeless problem tomorrow if he wanted, and he'd make the money back in a week. Is that a crazy socialist idea? There is enough money for everybody to be comfortable, so why are most people struggling while a few live in incomprehensible wealth? This is not "shifting left," it's just plain common sense.

Oh my favorite: "regulation." Man, it sounds bad, doesn't it: government regulation. This is supposed to be an evil concept, the government regulating businesses. Yeah, it means your food is edible. It means you can drink the water. It makes it harder for your bank, or your grocery store, or your employer, to cheat you. "Deregulation" is good for corporations who want to make more money by cutting corners on safety and honesty. Other than that, it is bad for actual people. You don't have to be a lefty to see that, everybody is glad the government regulates things. Are we "shifting left" when we want dishes that don't poison us with crazy hormones, buildings and bridges that don't collapse randomly, medicine that is what it says it is?

I don't think the United States is going to have a situation where the workers take over the means of production or overthrow our government in some revolution. We're just not like that. American workers are happy to work hard for a fair salary, and yet asking for a living wage signifies "shifting left." Encouraging the formation of labor unions is "shifting left." You're a lefty if you think it is wrong for American companies to use slave labor and terrible working conditions around the world. But what kind of person wants that? Ask a Republican, would you want to be forced to work in a factory for thirty cents a day? The answer is, of course not. Everybody knows that is wrong. Even Republicans.

All of these things are just common sense. Nobody wants to work all week and get a paycheck that doesn't pay the bills -- nobody. It would be dumb to want that. Nobody really thinks it is a good idea for cops to shoot black people for having a broken taillight or for being in the wrong part of town. Nobody thinks that the government should take people's kids away from them and put them in strangers' homes, or put them in cages, or lose them. Nobody really minds if two men or two women fall in love, as long as they're happy. All this is just common sense and human nature.

Somehow the news media depict these normal, human ideas as "shifting left," and worry about going too far. The pundits talk like you're an extremist if you believe in being nice to people, fair, kind. I don't see how it can persist the way it is -- nobody wants this authoritarian stuff that's destroying our government now. What the pundits call "shifting left" is just plain commonsense, live-and-let-live, normal human nature. I'm looking forward to a vibrant and healthy primary season.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Ugly Americans in America

Park Hills, Kentucky, home of Covington Catholic High School, is 1.65% African American, according to the Census, and 96.64% white. If you do the math, there are about forty-six black people there. Oh, and it's 0.07% Native American, which means there are two Indians in that town.

The Black Hebrew Israelites are an SPLC-certified hate group found in Eastern cities. They're a rude, offensive, off-the-wall, sometimes funny and weird cult. They've been around for more than a century, if you live here you've seen them at Gallery Place or somewhere, quoting scripture and insulting passersby. It's part of the sound of the city.

Black guys on the street giving snot-nosed, privileged white Covington boys a hard time? Back home in Park Hills this is impossible. These Kentucky kids had never seen that. In the city, when this happens you walk past it or you stand back and watch to see what's going to happen. In Park Hills you would need to put somebody in their place.

I've said this before -- the problem, the reason we have a "Trump," is that Americans don't travel. There is nothing like that feeling in another country where the locals look at you like you're the dumbest person ever born. You don't know how to count the money, what the food is called, you stare like yokels when they strip at the beach. The lesson you learn is, our "way of life" is one of many.

If you lived your whole life in an isolated colony like Park Hills, Kentucky, you would not learn that lesson. Thrown into a diverse community -- and this situation was comically diverse, between the lily-white MAGA anti-abortion mob, the insult-hurling street-tough Black Hebrew Israelites, and the tom-tom beating Native Americans -- these teenagers continued to act like they were back home, like this was a skit or a pep rally or something. A couple hundred of them thought they could cheer and jeer and mock people in the foreign land of Washington DC, like an audience seated in the dark, like it didn't matter.

These boys treated our city like it was their private toilet, without learning how we live here. They were stereotypical ugly Americans in an America they did not know or respect.

Four percent of DC voters supported Trump, which rounds to zero. We are the nation's capital and are well aware of political differences, but we know where we stand individually. DC is 40.4 per cent Caucasian -- a minority, in case that math is too hard. These obnoxious boys in their stupid MAGA costumes did not know their place in the big city.

BTW, of course DC gets a lot of tourists, and they don't know where to stand on the escalator or when to talk to a stranger on the Metro, or whatever. Nobody minds that. Locals roll their eyes and try to be polite and helpful. There's nothing wrong with being out of your element, if you're respectful and a little humble about it.

The middle of the country doesn't look like DC. In the diverse, mostly coastal, cities of the US there are all kinds of people, and you don't survive if you don't adjust to encountering people from every continent, with every philosophy and religion, every belief and attitude and bizarre idea that exists. They aren't going to change to be like you in your stupid MAGA uniform, they don't even want to be like you. The locals will tolerate you, but don't try to force your expectations on anybody else, because nobody cares.

That kid should have stepped aside when the Omaha elder came through, but he could not appreciate being in the presence of a kind of power clearly superior to his own. His young-Brett-Kavanaugh smirk was disgusting. The whole disrespectful mob was disgusting. The situation was more complicated than it first seemed but in the end you have to believe your own eyes.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Lawsuit Filed to Allow Conversion Therapy in Maryland

Conversion therapy, which attempts to transform gay people into heterosexuals, is illegal for minors in Maryland. But a rightwing religious group has filed a lawsuit to allow it.
Baltimore Sun:
A psychotherapist filed a federal lawsuit Friday seeking to overturn Maryland’s ban on treating minors with conversion therapy, a controversial practice that attempts to change clients’ homosexual orientation.

Christopher Doyle is suing Gov. Larry Hogan and Attorney General Brian Frosh in U.S. District Court in Maryland, saying the ban violated his rights to free speech and the practice of religion, as well as the rights of clients “to prioritize their religious and moral values above unwanted same-sex sexual attractions, behaviors, or identities.”

Federal lawsuit seeks to overturn Maryland's ban on conversion therapy
Christopher Doyle is somebody we have seen before. In 2013 he organized a big "Ex-Gay Pride" demonstration on Capitol Hill. You might remember -- they had announced that "thousands" would be coming, but fewer than ten people showed up.

Doyle claims to have "overcome unwanted same-sex attraction" himself, but actually his story is pretty bizarre, and there is some question as to whether he was ever actually gay himself. He told PFOX that when he was ten years old his thirteen-year-old female cousin began molesting him about once a week for a year. He told PFOX, "I wasn't getting enough attention from my parents, and it felt good to be close to my cousin in this way."

Doyle also told PFOX that when he was older, "I tried to have sex with the little girls that my mother watched in her daycare, and eventually, one of the girls told her parents what I was doing." It does not appear that he was criminally charged for abusing preschool girls, or that there were any consequences.

Then, he said, through adolescence, "Any way I could receive love, with girls or boys, I would take it. I soon learned that boys, however, were a lot easier to have sex with than girls." He told PFOX that "I had girlfriends in high school" but "took every opportunity" to have sex with boys.

Doyle claims that praying did not help him but he got a job and joined a Bible study group after college and then, without explanation, his interest in male sex partners disappeared. He told Queerty, "I never really went to therapy to try and eliminate same-sex attraction, it just happened automatically."

Doyle told The Sun that the conversion therapy ban prevents him from counseling minors who have an “unwanted same sex attraction.” He told them, “If your goal is to change your sexual attraction, that’s not a goal you can have in Maryland. You’ll have to work on something else until you’re 18.”

I would say: good, and let's keep it that way. This guy is a mess, he doesn't have any business "curing" anybody in our state. I can think of lots of ways to improve our legal system; making it easier for this man to have intimate personal time with children and adolesecents is not one of them.

To be clear: conversion therapy does not change anybody's sexual orientation. It is, first and foremost, a hoax. It is, beyond that, dangerous to young gay and lesbian people who feel there is something wrong with them when there is not. Society has passed the point where we need to inflict shame on people because of their sexual orientation.

Our Maryland legislators get it, they have made this sort of fake "therapy" illegal in our state, but this character is suing to try to get the courts to allow him to come here and engage in the harmful practice. The Republicans have been packing the courts with conservative judges, maybe he will get lucky and win this case -- I'm no lawyer and don't know what the odds are or the legal subtleties. But you have to admit, these are crazy times, and anything can happen. Let's keep an eye on it.
He is represented by the Florida-based Christian group, Liberty Counsel, which has challenged conversion therapy bans elsewhere in the country. The group is opposed to abortion rights and same-sex marriage, and represented Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to marry such couples. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated it an anti-LGBT hate group.

Mark Procopio, executive director of FreeState Justice, an LGBT advocacy group, said the legislation banning conversion therapy “is based on sounds medical and psychological research and expertise.”

“Existing federal case law shows that legislation like this seeking to protect minors from these harmful practices are constitutional and do not infringe on religious freedoms,” Procopio said. “No religious belief allows state-licensed practitioners to harm children under Maryland law."

Friday, January 11, 2019

MoCo Hunkers Down

You hear the number 800,000 federal employees out of work, but it is a little more complicated than that. More than half of those are still going to work, even though they are not being paid for it. Note that being forced to work without pay is known, normally, as "slavery."

Lots of federal employees are not working. They are hoping their pay will be reimbursed, as it always has in past shutdowns, but there is no guarantee. A couple of weeks ago the President canceled their scheduled pay raise for 2019. And now, imagine how his base will love him when he says, "Why should they be paid for not doing anything?" They love to hate federal employees, depicted as a bunch of lazy bureaucrats burning up taxpayers' hard-earned dollars doing nothing. The President's following would be happy if he could cancel furlough back-pay.

Mortgage is due on the first, Pepco wants their share, the bank wants your car payment. You want your gas to stay on. Today is payday on the calendar but there isn't going to be any pay. The zero-dollar pay-stub is today's Internet meme.

And contractors have it the worst. In a lot of agencies contractors run all the IT, they are the programmers, editors, subject-matter experts, help desk, security, building operations and cleaning people, and they know they aren't going to be paid. This shutdown is a pure loss for most of them. Hopefully they understood the risks and put some money away when they took the gig, because they are only going to go deeper into the hole, the longer this thing drags on. I have not seen any numbers for contractors affected, so far. I don't know if anybody knows how many there are. In the past couple of decades the government has tried to save money by replacing federal employees with contractors, but I don't see the numbers out there, and they don't get mentioned in most discussions of the effects of this shutdown.

Our little county in Maryland is full of people who work for the federal government, either as federal employees or contractors. Most of us have been through this before, but this time is different. There was always a sense of process, an understanding that the two sides were going to work out an agreement and we would all get back to work and everything would be fine. You could never treat a shutdown like a vacation because, one, you never knew when they would call you back, and two, you really were not getting paid in the meantime, so you couldn't spend anything. And now three, you don't know if Trump is going to try to block pay for your furlough time. A lot of us don't have a ton of savings -- a GS job is pretty good but it's is not, let's say, the golden path to wealth. I used to say the best thing about working for the government was the stability.

So here in Montgomery County we are feeling the brunt of this foolishness. I tend to agree with those who are saying that Trump doesn't even really want a wall. He is just trying to keep the attention away from his own catastrophes. You notice the news surrounding the Mueller investigation has a lot of Russian names in it these days, and the idea that there was "no collusion" is not even mentioned any more. Trump can't do anything about the legal troubles that are about to rain down on his criminal organization, but he has always been good at manipulating the public perceptions of people who are not really paying attention. The wall, the shutdown, this will keep Mueller off the front pages. I don't think he'll make it through this term. The question now is the "President Pence" problem. Well, we'll see how tightly he is interwoven with Manafort. Maybe they'll be cellmates. I really doubt President Pelosi will pardon either of them.

Figure with contractors and other federal support, a million people are being directly hit by unemployment at this point, never mind the cascading effects of money those out-of-work people aren't spending in their communities. This is all to support the vanity of one sad man whose life of corruption unfortunately landed him in the White House. When he says he "relates" and says the federal workforce will adapt and be okay, it is clear he has no idea how widespread the damage is. His own sense of self-importance is so magnified that real people with real bills are like ants to him.

And it's not just the plight of the federal workforce -- it's also the work that they do. Right now, research projects are stopped, federal law enforcement is stripped down to a minimum, the weather models are not maintained, economic models, trade policy, the courts are running out of money, food isn't being inspected, the statistics that measure progress and decline in the population and the economy, the parks are going to hell, infrastructure maintenance, fire prevention. The federal government does a lot of things. If you have a political belief that it is too big or does too much then fine, you can vote for conservatives who will trim it down; this is not the way to do it.

[Update: Mother Jones says there are three million contractors, and that Congress is trying to arrange back pay for them. Nice.]

Friday, December 28, 2018

Drowning Accomplished

Conservatives wanted to drown government in a bathtub. Now they are doing that.

I think everybody understands: Trump is not serious, he is a troll. He doesn't know anything about running a government but knows how to amplify the resentment of ignorant people and create a populist smokescreen for international organized crime. "The wall" is trolling, it's not a grown-up idea, it's not for real. It started as a campaign skit to get crowds worked up about immigration. As Joshua Green explained in his book, Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency, Roger Stone and Sam Nunberg take credit for it:
“Roger Stone and I came up with the idea of ‘the Wall,’ and we talked to Steve [Bannon] about it,” said Nunberg. “It was to make sure he talked about immigration.”

Initially, Trump seemed indifferent to the idea. But in January 2015, he tried it out at the Iowa Freedom Summit, a presidential cattle call put on by David Bossie’s group, Citizens United. “One of his pledges was, ‘I will build a Wall,’ and the place just went nuts,” said Nunberg. Warming to the concept, Trump waited a beat and then added a flourish that brought down the house. “Nobody,” he said, “builds like Trump.” The Guy Who Thought Up ‘the Wall’ Says Trump Should Shut Government to Fund It
It is fine to negotiate and compromise on bipartisan differences, but this is not a real proposal, it is just trolling and no compromise is possible. You can't win by opposing it, by reasoning about it, because the idea of a border wall does not meet the criteria for being included in a logical argument. All you can do it ignore it.

Walls were fine in Medieval times when barbarians were shooting arrows at your castle, but the function of "the wall" as an idea in the twenty-first century is to isolate and ridicule those who still believe in objective reality, and who believe that a democratic government can be effective.

If they can't literally drown it in a bathtub then conservatives can at least mock government, ridicule it, propose absurd ways to waste tax money, and while they're at it they can mock and ridicule people who take government seriously. Drown the libs in a bathtub, too. Conservatives hope to get everybody worked up in an absurd debate while the government ignores real crises; this will prove that government deserved to be drowned. They are hoping this shutdown does it. There is no hurry to re-open, no real need to as long as they still have control of both houses of Congress and the Presidency. This is it: there is no federal government. Drowning accomplished.

The Democrats will fail completely if they attempt to debate "the wall." It would be like Elizabeth Warren showing us her DNA report -- playing the game is losing. The Democrats need to stay focused and positive; they have a bipartisan plan to manage border security, they have the votes in Congress for it, and they cannot let themselves be distracted from that. Don't argue about the strengths and weaknesses of a Medieval wall. It doesn't matter why it wouldn't work, or how tall it is, or if it has slats, or spikes, it is just a dumb idea.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Flynn Free, Trump Continues to March Off the Edge

The news is coming too fast and furious to blog about -- something posted in the morning is old news by afternoon. This morning Trump let go a series of Twitter statements that defy mental health. He is worse than an 8-year-old. It is pathetic. Later today a report is expected from Robert Mueller, new details about the crimes of the Trump mob family will come to light and it is actually frightening, as the stock market crashes with our international reputation and the lucidity of domestic policies and decisions.

It comes back to this video and the smug belief that they are better than the rest of us. There is no justification or even explanation for it, conservatives simply believe that they are good people and deserve power. Liberals are not just mistaken or misguided individuals, but criminals who should be jailed or shot, or thrown from helicopters. I have posted this before but you can never watch this video too much, and it is appropriate this week as we reflect on Michael Flynn's sentencing memo -- dark with redactions as multiple investigations continue. Here is Flynn at the 2016 Republican Convention, giving a speech supporting Donald Trump. Even while he was speaking, Flynn was a traitor and a criminal who was actively working to undermine the interests of the USA.

This isn't some schmoe sittin' in a bar somewhere complaining about the gummint. This is a retired Lieutenant General of the United States Army who would soon be appointed National Security Advisor to the US President, and was, while he spoke, actively working with foreign governments to sabotage American democracy. And don't forget, Trump knew all this when he appointed him National Security Advisor, he had been briefed by the Obama administration.



Flynn is leading a chant of "Lock her up," accusing Hillary Clinton of crimes involving her email use. Clinton, Trump's opponent in the election, had been under nearly constant political persecution by conservatives since the 1990s, and no matter how well-funded the Republicans were or how bloodthirsty they were to nail her on something, anything, the government repeatedly established that Hillary Clinton is not a criminal. If she had spit on the sidewalk once in the past thirty years they would have caught her at it, but there was nothing. The Republican Party was successful in creating a sort of aura of suspicion around her through a steady stream of accusations, but the worst they had was the fact she wore pant-suits sometimes, or was shrill and bitchy, that is, spoke her mind while female.

Flynn on the other hand was setting up backchannel deals with the Russians, arranging to undermine our presidential election and compromise our American sovereignty once Trump was in office. Things did not go as planned, and Flynn -- after being installed by Trump as the National Security Advisor -- has pleaded guilty of making "false, fictitious, and fraudulent" statements to the FBI.

The federal prosecutor recommended no prison time for him, which is incredible for someone who has been a leader in treason at the highest of levels of government. But Flynn talked, he talked a lot, and they are rewarding him for cooperating.

I know you've seen it, but watch this video again. Watch the face of nationalistic commitment, the eagle eyed intensity of a traitor who is arguing that his political opponent should be jailed for her beliefs. Look at how happy the Republicans are, chanting, cheering. Tearing down our country has been fun for them.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Democracy is More Like a River than a Rock

There is currently a Republican body of discourse, and it is nonsense. Desperate refugees are described as dangerous terrorists; video is altered to weaken journalists' ability to monitor authorities; election fraud is charged where voter suppression policies failed to protect unpopular candidates; abortion is described as, simply, bad and immoral, though more than a quarter of American women have found a need for it; as a matter of faith there need to be more guns out there; Christians need more religious freedom and other religions need to be eradicated; transgender people cost too much; they say Democrats are pro-crime, pro-terrorism, and want "open borders," whatever that is; fair access to healthcare as practiced in other civilized countries is called "socialism" and blocked; these people will tell you that climate change is a hoax by the Chinese intended to make us less competitive; "tax reform" means lower taxes for the rich; black people deserve to be killed by the cops-- well I could go on. You've heard it. All of this is nonsense. It is not intended to make sense but only to push emotional buttons.

On the Democratic side there is not universal agreement on much of anything. There are discussions about how we should deal with refugees and other immigrants who want to enter the United States to live or work -- what plans can we establish and manage, how do we select who will qualify, how will we deal with those who violate regulations, and how can we define citizenship in a way that is fair and good for the country? There is discussion about the best ways to ensure that all citizens get to vote and that their vote is counted -- should we use paper ballots and count by hand or can we make automation secure, can we make sure voting locations are accessible and available to poor people as well as rich ones, and are there better alternatives to our current voting methods? Is journalism in a free country a competitive business where reporters should censor their questions in order to maintain access to publicly elected authorities or is it an institution that should be protected, and that forces authorities to answer questions and explain themselves? To what extent does the right to free speech mean that an organization is obligated to provide a platform for hate, and what is the best way for private citizens to respond to fascism, sexism, racism, and other forms of bigotry? How can we best provide women with the specific healthcare needs they have, including cancer screening, contraception, and abortion? Should the government regulate gender, romance, and family practices, and if so, why and to what extent? These are real questions where it is difficult to find answers that suit the society as a whole while meeting the needs of individuals in particular circumstances. But through open discussion and a full accounting of the facts, it is presumed that equitable outcomes can be reached.

In other words, we have one party that is talking nonsense and propaganda, doing what it can to instill fear and control voters, and we have another party that is divided between what are called "moderates" and "progressives," and is debating -- at times heatedly -- the best ways to provide security and prosperity to the nation.

To be fair, the Republican party does have a mission and a goal, and that is to further enrich and empower those who are already advantaged. The political goal is the installation of the super-rich in positions where they can influence the domestic economy and world markets in ways that will increase their profits even more. In a democracy this means cultivating a population of voters who are innumerate, functionally illiterate, and do not trust or follow the news except as it is served through particular plutocratic propaganda media outlets.

I am in an optimistic mood at the moment, and am willing to hope and to speculate that the oligarchs will be voted out after the current experiment, and that public debate will come to focus on the real issues that presently occupy moderate and progressive liberal thought. If there are two parties, then let one take the moderate, more conservative position (just as the Republicans are suddenly big defenders of pre-existing conditions), and let the other take the more progressive position on issues, and let's haggle out solutions from there.

When you talk to real people in the modern world, you find their opinions almost always fall somewhere between moderately and progressively liberal. Nobody at all wants to give up their house and possessions to pay their medical bills when they get sick, or wants other people to; there is almost nobody who really thinks mass murder is a fine and normal part of daily life and that the problem is that there are not enough guns on the street, or actually thinks that schoolteachers should be armed in the classroom (or rabbis in the synagogue); there is almost nobody who really thinks that only white people should be able to vote; all our hearts go out to starving children in our country and in foreign lands and we would like to help them; nobody actually believes that elected authorities should be able to do any self-serving thing with our tax dollars in secret, and without being accountable. Everybody realizes that war is hell and would do all they can to prevent it. And so on. American people are pretty sensible. They are inherently kind and caring, and do not mean to do anyone harm without justification. There are some nuts out there, but mostly those have, let's say, mixed motives.

It is possible that the US will go over the brink and follow the way of our currently governing party, and that critical thinking will simply vanish, especially if we let journalism and education die. It has happened in the past -- remember the Dark Ages? -- and there is no law of nature that says it can't happen again. Democracy is a difficult path to take, it includes a fundamental requirement that every person needs to respect every other person and make concessions to maximize everyone's freedom. This is hard, and there are people who are unwilling to do it. Democracy is a kind of steady-state dynamic system that requires constant adjustment, constant vigilance, maintenance; it is not a static thing that you put in place and it persists. It is more like a river than a rock. Our democracy will always need to make adjustments to 1.allow innovation and the introduction of new processes, personalities, and ideas and 2.prevent selfish actors from taking advantage of the need for consensus. We gotta keep our eyes open.

This week's election resulted in a strong push by the people to return to a sensible system of government. The President and his party have done lasting damage, they have plundered the treasury and undermined the budget, they have undercut civil rights, destabilized relationships around the world, and energized the darkest forces of our own society. And they are not going to release control voluntarily, that much is clear; for one thing, criminal prosecutions are a real probability once they lose power. The most powerful authoritarians in the US are not going to bend to the will of the people without a fight. So it is up to us, the people, to stand up and fight for ourselves and our democracy.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Today's News

The Washington Post sends out a daily news summary in email. Today of course the lottery is a big story. I thought the list of headlines themselves represented a pretty good snapshot of our time (though the proposed federal reversal of gender identity equality is not mentioned today). This nightmare would not have seemed possible a couple of years ago.

I split them into groups just to make it more readable.
He won Powerball’s $314 million jackpot. It ruined his life.
Check your Mega Millions tickets. Here are the winning numbers.
A single Mega Millions jackpot winner is reported, in South Carolina

‘In the service of whim’: Officials scramble to make Trump’s false assertions real
White nationalist Richard Spencer accused of physically abusing wife throughout their marriage
A 14-year-long oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico verges on becoming one of the worst in U.S. history

A quarter of college students could develop PTSD because of the 2016 election, a new study suggests
‘The President . . . says it’s ok to grab women by their private parts’: Man accused of groping woman on flight invokes Trump
‘I thought it was very nice’: VA official showcased portrait of KKK’s first grand wizard

Trump officials aggressively bypass appeals process to get issues before conservative Supreme Court
Trump says there’s ‘no proof’ that Middle Easterners have joined migrant caravan, although there ‘could very well be’
A witches’ brew of over-the-top Trump attacks

After Khashoggi’s killing, Turkey’s leader seeks to weaken Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince
Trump says Saudis engaged in ‘worst coverup ever’ as U.S. imposes penalties
Apple’s Tim Cook delivers searing critique of Silicon Valley

The world’s longest bridge-tunnel brings China even closer to Hong Kong. Not everyone is pleased.
You’ve won the Mega Millions jackpot! Time to hide.
Blue-collar men are riding America’s economic wave. Women? Not so much.

U.S. stocks rattled as two industrial giants warn of trouble
Lockheed Martin executives break silence over Khashoggi killing and their business with Saudi Arabia
iPhone XR: The best $250 you ever saved on a new phone

Money vs. morals: Khashoggi killing raises questions in Silicon Valley about Saudi investment
Amazon met with ICE officials over facial-recognition system that could identify immigrants
This CEO allegedly stole millions from low-income phone subscribers to pay for a Ferrari, a private jet and a Florida condo

Carolyn Hax: As my messy daughter’s landlord, should I evict her over cleanliness?
Many intermittent fasters skip breakfast. Here’s why that’s not a good idea.
Elle Mills is the celebrity every YouTuber wants to be. But her fame came at a price.
Megyn Kelly asked ‘what is racist?’ about blackface on Halloween. Plenty of people had answers.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Ignore High and Low

There seems to be some confusion lately about civility, and Michelle Obama’s 2016-ish idea that “When they go low, we go high.” Some prominent liberals — Hillary Clinton, Eric Holder, Michael Avenatti, among them — are having second thoughts about this lofty-sounding idea, which is, intrinsically, a losing strategy. When they hit us below the belt we are going to be nice back to them, uh huh. The problem arises when you think there are only two options, that is, we “go high” by turning the other cheek or we “go low,” like conservatives do.

Going low would mean lying, using dirty tricks such as voter suppression, manipulating the press, falsely associating your opponent with negative groups. Well, liberals could do that, we could go low. There is nothing inherently wrong with working the system to further a higher cause, except for one thing. When your cause is reason, fairness, and kindness, and the other side’s cause is to gain power for power’s sake, guess what — the power-seekers are gonna win. Winning power is conservatives' whole goal and they will be dedicated to it: winning at any cost. There is no belief system behind that, they don’t have a plan for what to do once they’ve won power, they just mean to win. Lying and manipulating people is inconsistent with liberals’ goals, and it wouldn’t work for us, anyway. So, as far as I can tell, “going low” is not a liberal option. A liberal who goes low is, technically, a "conservative." BTW, the concern with looking like hypocrites affects only one side of the national debate.

Another option is to fight back. But you can hardly do that. Here’s a term for you: Gish Gallop. Wikipedia explains:
The Gish gallop is a technique used during debating that focuses on overwhelming an opponent with as many arguments as possible, without regard for accuracy or strength of the arguments. The term was coined by Eugenie C. Scott and named after the creationist Duane T. Gish, who used the technique frequently against proponents of evolution.
You cannot “fight back” against the Gish Gallop. Trump is a troll supported by an army of trolls, and this is what they do: the Gish Gallop. They throw out accusations and ridiculous falsehoods too fast to keep up with. Trump’s lies have accelerated lately, almost every statement he utters contains a falsehood, and you simply cannot find the facts and refute every lie as fast as he can generate new ones. Never mind his supporters. The lies come so fast that you cannot in a lifetime disprove all of them. Fighting back is futile. There is also a tactical advantage for the person who makes a statement, relative to the person who counters it. So don't bother.

Oh, you could “go high.” WTF does that mean? You could talk in calm tones, stick with facts, make reasonable statements and follow through with them. Uh huh. You could bore people to death. The media will treat you like you don’t exist, people will ignore you. Picture Hillary in the debates, “going high” against Trump, talking about policies and decisions she would implement if elected, with him snorting and pawing behind her, stalking and distracting. In today’s attention economy, nobody cares about the high road. It should work, we should be able to discuss issues rationally, but in the current environment this is simply a losing tactic. You can take the high road all day if you want, to a room full of empty chairs.

Here’s a crazy idea — how about playing good, positive, assertive offense? What if liberals went out and talked about what they actually stand for. Don’t bother saying, “Tax fairness isn’t socialism,” or “My brother-in-law did not work for such-and-such borderline controversial group” or “I do not support crime,” or “I do not want an unregulated border…” or whatever. What do you stand for? A decent minimum wage? International relations? Climate issues? Gender equity? Making clear, un-watered-down progressive assertions will be controversial enough, the cameras will follow you. Wolf Blitzer's eyeballs may pop out, but they will pop out on national television and it will draw a great audience.

Say what you say, and ignore what the authoritarians say you say.

Liberal politicians, and liberal voters for that matter, should deliver their message, clearly and loudly. Act like the ridiculous accusations don’t exist. If somebody is so stupid that they think, say, that Eric Holder is literally going to kick a Republican, then they are a lost case anyway. Make a joke if you must address the issue, and move on to your own talking points. This isn’t “going high,” and it isn’t “going low.” The media will pay attention to you if you make bold and clear statements of your beliefs and your intentions as a candidate.

The truth is, most Americans hold progressive values; you might find thirty percent are haters, the rest are good, reasonable, caring people. A liberal candidate may advocate a single-payer healthcare system, and another may recommend another way to enact coverage for everyone — let that be our debate. Almost all Americans would want to have their health needs taken care of without cost, there is nothing controversial about that idea. The question should be, what approach will we take? What is the best way to do it? Who cares if pharmacy and insurance lobbyists are freaking out? Not our problem. Let them figure out what their role is in America’s better future — I am confident they will figure out how to rake a buck off the top.

Similarly, most Americans are not racists, or sexists, they may hold traditional values and stereotypes that bias their attitudes but they do not mean to block women from being successful and do not approve of rape and harassment, they do not believe that Hispanics and black people are inferior and less deserving that white people; they might not understand gay people but they don’t really have anything against them. Fairness and equality are not radical ideas, you don’t have to “go high” to say out loud that discrimination needs to be eliminated, and that there need to be programs that lend a hand up. Most people believe that. It is a winning argument. Just say it. Abortion, too. Most people know that sometimes a woman needs an abortion. If one American woman in three has had one, then that means everybody knows a woman who has had an abortion. It is your wife, your sister, your neighbor. It is legal, it is medical care, and it needs to be protected; everybody knows that. Don’t pussyfoot around, don’t let the nuts define the topic, just say what is obvious. It’s not “going low” and it’s not “going high” to say that decisions about a necessary medical procedure need to be made by a patient and her doctor, not some religious terrorists. It is saying what needs to be said.

It may seem to be a little rude sometimes to refuse to go along with the topic that the authoritarian right and their media pundits believe we should be discussing, well we can be nice about it, but firm. We don’t need to talk about giving guns to teachers — it’s a dumb idea, we don’t even have to argue why it’s dumb, the idea is not realistic and it was only suggested to throw reasonable debate out the window. People do not want to take little kids away from the parents and lock them up or put them up for adoption, there is nothing "bold" about opposing that. Nobody in America actually wants lower taxes for rich people — we all hate having to give our money to the government, but we do it because we all know we are going in together on the costs of services that only government can provide. So why are America’s oligarchs getting away with paying nothing? Liberals should not have to argue about whether they are socialists or not when they oppose tax cuts for the rich, it’s a stupid criticism and we should ignore it. Anybody who thinks it is “socialist” to expect the rich to pay taxes is a goner already anyway.