Saturday, March 28, 2020

Murder

Tweet of the day: "Are you better off than you were four years ago?"

A: No

There is so much going on, as we hunker down in our houses, social distancing, living in fear and dying by the tens of thousands. America was unprepared for the pandemic, intentionally so, as our elected leadership first fired the country's pandemic experts and then watched without responding as the epidemic began to flare up in China. No preparations were made, as the President insisted US cases would quickly go from fifteen to zero and the coronavirus would vanish "like a miracle." States and municipalities did what they could but resources were not, and are not, available. There are no masks, ventilators, hospital beds. Nobody imported them, manufactured them, ordered them. Our ability to address the epidemic diminishes as medical staff are exposed to the virus, getting sick, dying. I don't need to tell you this. It's bad. It affects all of us personally.

This morning we are reading about the federal government's decision not to send medical supplies to Michigan or Washington state. In Exchange for Aid, Trump Wants Praise From Governors He Can Use in Campaign Ads

In a press conference, the President reported what he had said to Mike Pence, who leads the pandemic response team:
“I tell him — I mean I’m a different type of person — I say, 'Mike, don’t call the governor in Washington, you’re wasting your time with him. Don’t call the woman in Michigan' ... If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call. ... When they’re not appreciative to me, they’re not appreciative to the Army Corps, they’re not appreciative to FEMA, it’s not right.”
The governor of Michigan has told the press that federal officials have told medical supply vendors not to deliver critically necessary equipment to her state.

"When the federal government told us that we needed to go it ourselves, we started procuring every item we could get our hands on," [Michigan governor Gretchen Esther] Whitmer said Friday on WWJ 950AM. "What I've gotten back is that vendors with whom we had contracts are now being told not to send stuff here to Michigan. It's really concerning." Whitmer: Feds told vendors not to send medical supplies to Michigan

We are used to the president's pettiness. He surrounds himself with sycophants. He likes to be "appreciated," he cannot stand to be criticized. We know that, it is all part of the reality-TV life we live now.

But this is murder. There is nothing cute or funny about it. He's not draining the swamp or speaking for the voiceless, he is simply arranging for people to die. It's just wrong. No American life should depend on whether they or their governor "shows appreciation" for someone in Washington DC. I know there are people who will defend him, but this does not meet the standard of a modern civilized society.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Coronavirus, Wages, Healthcare

The really nasty thing about this particular virus is that it is very contagious and sometimes the symptoms are not very bad; someone can infect others even if they don't realize they themselves are infected. The death rate for this virus is terrifyingly high, but lots of infected people do not get very sick.

If you've got a job without paid sick leave then when you feel bad you have to decide whether this is bad enough to give up a whole day's pay. Given that jobs without benefits don't tend to pay that much to start with, people living hand to mouth, it is a certainty that many will decide to go to work. And as their co-workers catch the infection they will do the same thing. The company's cheapskate policy of making people work when they are sick can cause a destructive infectious cascade. First the company is going to collapse and then the surrounding community will be overtaken in ever-widening circles of infection.

If that company had had a sick leave policy, maybe they would have had to pay for some days off over the years, but the impact on the company as a whole would be buffered in an emergency. You can't realistically tell employees to live without money, but it is good for the company to have a policy that keeps people from coming in when they are contagious.

Similarly, consider the millions of Americans who do not have good health insurance. It costs hundreds of dollars to be tested for coronavirus, never mind being treated if it turns serious. Who do you know that is going to reach into their pocket for cash to pay for that test? To the individual it doesn't matter what kind of virus you have, it's a respiratory infection with fever, and if it turns into pneumonia or super-high fever you're going to have to be treated in the hospital no matter what germ it is. If it doesn't, you don't have to go to the hospital and it doesn't matter to you personally what particular virus you had. People won't spend their savings on medical expenses unless it's justified. The result is that your ordinary American without good health insurance is not going to be diagnosed and will not be isolated. Maybe you'll be okay, but two percent of the people you pass the virus to are going to die from it. Ever-widening circles add up to a lot of people.

In the meantime, while people avoid medical costs the authorities will not be able to assess how widespread the epidemic is. Without diagnoses there will be no statistics, no tracking, without engagement of doctors there will be no insights for how to control it. Scientifically, it will be like the Dark Ages again, the Black Death.

Some smarty on Twitter yesterday described us as a "country where a key source of healthcare is GoFundMe." If we had universal coverage then cases could be diagnosed, quarantines and treatment could be implemented rationally, the progress of the epidemic could be monitored, and catastrophic damage could be kept to a minimum. But when people pay their own medical bills the fact is that they are not going to spend thousands of dollars on something that might seem like a bad cold to them, even though it might kill the next person.

This is a case where we are all interdependent. Anyone you pass close to, anyone who has been in a room before you or handled something that you pick up, can spread the virus to you, no matter how good your health insurance is. It is in your personal best interest to be surrounded by strangers who can be diagnosed, treated, and isolated as appropriate, in a rational and well-coordinated manner.

You might be one of the lucky ones, and you might not be. We don't know who will get sick and who will die. But we are all safer in a society where everyone has paid sick leave and full access to comprehensive healthcare. The cost is shared, and the payoff is shared.

Saturday, February 01, 2020

Stopping the Runaway Train

The November election is the last opportunity for reasonable Americans to stop the runaway train of fascism. Trump's support hangs around forty percent no matter what, and that is a beatable mark. Of course the electoral college distributes the impact of votes, overweighting unpopulated areas, but that is all just a matter of strategy. The party leaders and the candidate, whoever it might be, need to have a plan to win key electoral-college states, and they know what those are.

We are currently in the chaos of primary season, and Democrats have a gang of wannabes striving to win the nomination. They range along many dimensions, including some interestingly unique choices, each has a set of priorities and favorite policies, each brings a personal history of decision-making and acting and old videos of them saying things they wish they hadn't said, and they vary in charisma, speaking styles, the ability to listen. You know this, everybody understands this. You might have a favorite right now but many people do not. There is some nastiness going on as candidates maneuver to reach the top of the pyramid, but basically all are on the same page.

There is a bumper sticker: "Any adult in 2020."

I don't know how they will pay for universal health coverage, or whether we should support the Kurds or the Palestinians or anything else. I just want somebody who will get the facts, listen to the experts, consider what America stands for in the world and what the country needs, and make a good rational decision. Maybe they will declare or end a war, or sanctions, and maybe they will penalize Wall Street, or subsidize them. I don't care, as long as they are taking all the facts into account and making decisions based on the country's best interests. Any adult.

Sometimes politicians make promises and fail to deliver. Sometimes they say something palatable even when they plan to do something that might be controversial. Sometimes they nod and seem to agree with people when they don't really. I don't like any of that, but it's okay, it's normal, the world is dynamic and crazy and sometimes you gotta float and adapt to unanticipated changes. But normal, non-fascist politicians do not lie when everyone can see the truth, they do not steal from the populace like we are a bunch of suckers, normal politicians are held to an ethical standard and are censured or removed when they violate it. The Republicans are trying to establish a new normality, a system where oligarchical leaders have unquestionable power, and we have to stop that. This sham impeachment trial proves that the problem exists across the party, it is not just Trump. The whole bunch of them denied reality in order to support him, poked their own eyes out so they wouldn't see the truth. Forty percent of Americans prefer a dictatorship over democracy.

I do not want a travel ban based on religion. I do not want federal diplomacy, policies, and funds used to boost the president's political support and profits. I don't want the president's unqualified family members put into important roles. I don't want a cabinet full of donors and scam artists who are ignorant about their Department's responsibilities and are getting rich off the job while they plunder our nation's natural resources and human capital. I don't want tens of thousands of outright lies and moronic tweets, I don't want the president calling people names and interfering in court cases and trying to promote his own businesses from the Oval Office. I don't love dictators and I don't think my kind of people are superior to black people or gay and transgender people, or women, or Chinese people, or Mexicans, I want to see fair and equal treatment for everyone. I want to see sensible international policies that increase our national security and standing in the world order, that benefit our businesses and spread freedom and democracy to places that have never had it. I'd like to see the temperature drop a degree or two, clean water in American cities, gun violence controlled somehow.

You get that already. I am pretty much the same as everybody in these ways.

All of the Democratic candidates meet that standard. We can fight among ourselves now, we have our favorite and our person will probably not win the nomination. You might think the DNC is crooked and maybe it is, but all of the people running right now would be great in the presidency. You might want to focus on winning Senate seats, and that's a good idea too, it does not conflict with presidential goals. Reasonable people have to stop this train at all levels of government, top to bottom.

I am not concerned right now about "unification." We will have to stand together when the time comes, but now we have a sifting process where we need to pick a candidate. This is the time to argue among ourselves, to select a candidate who we think will best serve the country. If they are called a "socialist" or an unprincipled centrist, well, if that's our candidate then that's the choice; you and I might have a preference but either kind of candidate can lead the country back to freedom, democracy, stability.


Wednesday, January 22, 2020

A Warning from the Past

Earlier today, I was in an American Legion hanging up posters and they had the TV on. Well they had two TVs on, actually, Gunsmoke over the bar and the impeachment proceedings behind the pool tables. A bad guy in a black hat was threatening a woman in the bar, and in the billiard room Adam Schiff was addressing the Senate.

As I listened, I thought, man, Adam's been working on his speechifying -- them's some purty words there. He seemed to be describing President Trump, but in nearly poetic terms, brutally direct but at the same time the language was decorous and genteel. I saw some writing at the bottom of the screen and as I came closer to the TV I discovered that Schiff was reading a quote from Alexander Hamilton, writing to George Washington in 1792. Here it is:
When a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, having the advantage of military habits—despotic in his ordinary demeanour—known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty—when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity—to join in the cry of danger to liberty—to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion—to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day—It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may 'ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.'
Donald Trump is not a new or unique phenomenon, people like him have always existed. More than two centuries ago the Founders recognized the danger this kind of person posed to democracy and the way of life in our new country.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Literacy

I have a simple theory about Trump and his followers. It's all about reading. Trump doesn't read, and his followers don't read.

That's all. You can divide America into two halves, the half that reads and the half that doesn't read.

Do you think any Trump voter at all read the Mueller report? No, of course, he didn't read it either, but announced that it exonerates him and they believe him, though it explicitly does not. How about the six pages of dotardic whining he sent to Nancy Pelosi yesterday? His followers will think it says whatever he tells them it says.

Trump is not very smart but he knows how to manipulate people. When he doesn't want his people to know what is in a document, he tells them what he wants them to believe the document says.

The greatest example is the incriminating transcript of his phone call with the Ukrainian president, which by the way isn't even a transcript, it's some notes. But still, Trump released them and said, see, it proves I'm innocent. And so his followers believe the so-called transcript proves his innocence. Trump has made it a kind of mantra: "Read the transcript, read the transcript." The more he says it, the more people who can't read think it must say something that is good for him. It doesn't.

The transcript is an admission of guilt. He is quoted breaking the law, violating the Constitution and the people's trust. But you'd have to, actually, read it to know that. The Daily Show went to a Trump rally and talked to people about this. (Warning, they use the word "bullshit" sometimes.) The relevant part starts at about 4:05 into it.



To me, the question is not whether there is quid pro quo or pressure applied, none of that. As far as impeachment goes, I know this is hard to quantify but if you read this transcript or quotes of any Trump speech or comments, you come to the certain conclusion that the guy doesn't know anything, he cannot think logically, he can barely manage to form a sentence. He watches TV and ... that's it. I do not mean he is handicapped with an inferior brain or a low IQ, I mean that he nurtures his own ignorance by avoiding exposure to facts and reason and diverse perspectives.

I think this was the part of the phone call that got me: "I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike ... I guess you have one of your wealthy people... The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation ..." Listen, who talks like that? The "whole situation with Ukraine," That is a country and he is talking to the President of it; the "whole situation" is Zelensky's job and it includes everything from pedestrian casualties and food safety to extortion in the oil industry. "Your wealthy people?" What? Which ones? What about them? "The server--" how could Zelensky possibly know what he is talking about? "The whole situation..." again, he is assuming this Ukrainian politician knows what he means and this is just the way a stupid person talks. This is definitive. It is incoherent. Never mind quid pro quo, a person whose thoughts are this loosely connected should not be running any country.

Unfortunately, it seems that Republicans think this is normal conversation between two presidents, Archie Bunker and his Ukrainian counterpart grunting in monosyllables.

Yesterday's letter to Pelosi will go into the history books. It demonstrates over and over that Trump has no idea what impeachment is, how it works, what is in the Constitution, what his duties and responsibilities are as President, and he has no idea what he has done wrong. He just thinks Democrats are picking on him for political gain. He watches Fox and accepts whatever they say as fact, instead of consulting his experts or reading for himself what others have written. The letter proves that he is simply mentally unqualified to preside.

Reading is a direct way to learn about points of view that might not follow from your own personal experience. An author may live very differently from you and have insights you would not have discovered on your own. The facts, for instance, the facts of electoral interference by foreign countries, are well documented from many perspectives, and if you read thoroughly you can see when someone is trying to fool you, and you can read other points of view and put the pieces together yourself. You can form your own conclusions based on facts and consideration of many sources of information. It is not actually hard to "know who to believe," as we hear people complaining now. Read a lot, learn a lot, the facts will be clear to you.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Elitism and Education

It was a cool move for the House Judiciary Committee to invite a panel of law professors to their first hearing. It seems obvious on the face of it, we are talking about impeaching a President, we should understand the legal standards and precedents as we consider our decision.

With this gesture the Democratic majority gave the Republicans an opportunity to state, clearly and on the record, their hypocritical support for ignorance and disrespect for education. Remember that fifteen of the seventeen Republicans on the committee are lawyers, they have been to law school themselves. But, for instance Rep. Matt Gaetz -- who holds a JD from William and Mary -- told Stanford Law School Professor Pamela Karlan that she was unable to see from “the ivory towers of your law school,” and how condescending she was being to “actual people in this country.”

Paul Taylor, the chief counsel for Republicans on the committee (Harvard Law '94), suggested that liberals control the legal profession as a whole -- which to me is an amazing accusation. He claimed, and we don't know if this is true, that 97 percent of 2016 presidential campaign campaign contributions from lawyers went to Hillary Clinton while Trump received only 3 percent. To them, this means that lawyers are biased against them. To me it means that if you understand how the country works you will tend to hold so-called "liberal" beliefs. A good education teaches you to seek out facts and reject old wives' tales, and the result is a liberal belief system. It is just weird to suggest that some group called "liberals" is controlling them.

This is why Betsy DeVos is so important. If the Republicans want to win future elections, it is in their interest to keep the public uninformed and uneducated. They need to make education as expensive and as ineffective as they can, because education is the enemy of conservatism as it is known today.

Their line in the sand is "us" versus "elites." Def: "A select group that is superior in terms of ability or qualities to the rest of a group or society." Think for a minute about what it means to oppose superior abilities and qualities.

Even the mainstream press plays along with this, tossing the concept of "elites" around as if it meant snobs or some kind of lace-cuffed, powder-wigged aristocrats. There's nothing wrong with working with your hands for a living, but there is also nothing wrong with being smart, with speaking clearly, with keeping yourself informed of objective facts. These two things are not opposed.

Kellyanne Conway said this on Fox yesterday:
If you went to work today to manicure nails, to manicure a lawn, if you went to work with a jackhammer or a welding machine or mechanic's tools or a carpentry belt and not three degrees from Yale, that woman yesterday looks her nose down on you. She thinks that you are less than her. And I've had it. Do you know why that man ran for President in the first place, for the forgotten man, the forgotten woman? You know why I'm still here at the White House? For you. For people who are looked down upon by people with three Yale law degrees had the audacity, the audacity to say that liberals like to cluster together and live together while conservatives can't even stand to be together, that's why they're scattered. Who the hell are you, lady? Look down at half of the country."
To which the Fox & Friends guy said, "That's a good point."

And ... I know hypocrisy is not something that conservatives worry much about but Kellyanne Conway herself earned a Juris Doctor with honors from the George Washington University Law School. She is counting on Fox watchers to be too dumb to look that up.

Our country has a Constitution and a couple hundred years of history to test it and toughen it up, and the ordinary doofus like you and me doesn't know the details. We don't have time to know everything about everything; we need some elite professors to come in and tell us how the vague wording of the founders came to be, what they intended, how it has been interpreted in the centuries since the words were first composed. You don't have to make fun of them. It is not "boring" or irrelevant. The actual problem is that our President is himself an ordinary doofus when it comes to these things, but does not respect the elites, the academics, people who are knowledgeable, well enough to ask their opinion before he shoots his mouth off. He doesn't know and he doesn't care. Doofusism is not better than actual knowledge.

Last summer, Trump said “I have an Article Two where I have the right to do whatever I want as president.” In a country of uneducated people who resent expertise and knowledge, that is, to Republicans, this might hold water. But in fact Article Two is written where anybody can read it, and we are lucky to have educational institutions full of elite professors who can explain the nuances to us. Article Two defines an executive who is not a king, who cannot do whatever he or she wants. You can count on Fox viewers to be too dumb to look that up.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

What Do They Want?

So here's my question -- what do they want? We know what Democrats want. They want cheaper, better, or even free health care. Affordable and good education. They want lawful, regulated, and fair immigration. Equal treatment for all citizens regardless of who they are. Everybody votes. They want to promote democratic ideals in foreign policies and discourage authoritarianism, injustice, and genocide. They want to regulate guns in a way that protects gun-owners' rights but keeps insanely deadly weapons out of the hands of potential murderers. And so on.

And the Republicans, as far as I can tell, are ... against that. We don't all have to agree on everything, and I am sure there are reasonable alternatives to all of the above, but we just have not heard any of them. Say, Obamacare. Republicans are against it. Okay, I get that it's got "Obama" right in the name. Reminds them that they lost a few elections, and the black guy won. But what is their plan, instead? Deregulation is something they like, do they think insurance companies, pharmacy corporations, and big hospital conglomerates should operate without regulation? It looks like it. Do Republicans really like the idea of breaking up families and keeping children in cages, in violation of clear legal standards for seeking amnesty, traveling, and immigrating? Is that something they believe in? Do Republicans think that mass murder is just a fact of life and it is just fine to live with mass shootings nearly every day? Is that part of their platform? To them, the "gun problem" is that there are not enough guns.

They mutter about a civil war, like they are ready to rise up against the tyranny. But look, for two years the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and the Presidency. Why would they need to rebel against that? Okay, now it's only one house of Congress. Still, they can do a lot with that, just look at the courts. The government is theirs, what's this civil war thing about? You've got it, you're running things, now show us what it is you want to do. Then we will be able to see if it works or not. The victim thing doesn't work when you are on top. Have Trump and his Republican Congress done anything? If they have, I can't think of it. And the deal is, if you can't run the country then you will have to get out of the way and let some professionals take it over.

The liberals are fighting back, of course. They are not threatening civil war, but instead are following Constitutional guidelines to hold the President accountable for "high crimes and misdemeanors." They are focusing on one serious violation and letting the others go. Of course the President realizes that whether he resigns or is kicked out, he will be criminally liable for all those crimes that are not included in the impeachment proceeding, and there are a lot of them. So impeachment is about one little ol' extortion scheme involving little ol' Ukraine. Trust me, the fraud and money laundering, racketeering, tax evasion, perjury, and crimes against the United States are coming. He might even get pardoned for the Ukraine stuff, if Pence is able to squirm out of the net. I am pretty sure President Pelosi will not pardon him. But in any case he cannot be pardoned for the things he was not charged with in the impeachment process. When he steps out of the White House the sheriff'll be waiting.

And I am just wondering, what is this for? Is it really that gratifying to own the libtards, such a great feeling that you would trash the whole country for a snort of it?

If there were such a thing as "conservative principles," I would love to hear about it. We could debate them, negotiate, compromise, give speeches about principles, comparing ours to the other guy's. But it does not seem that there are any. It is just greed, rudeness, lying, belligerence, and simmering resentment. Is that what they want?

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Dictators

Dictatorship is not alway a bad thing, y'know. A dictator can strip away the red tape and get things done. If the Metro is too slow, the dictator can order it to run faster. If your cable company is gouging you, he (it is alway a he) can order them to lower prices and give customers free services and extra channels. If your medicine costs too much he can lower the price, just like that. You put a strong authoritarian in charge and he can get a lot of stuff done. Why was health care in Cuba better than ours after decades of Castro's rule? When the beaches of Boracay were too polluted for tourists, Filipino President Duterte sent troops there to shut the whole island down for six months and clean it up. If you put one guy in charge, and he gives orders, where the alternative is to be executed on the spot, guess what -- you can get a lot of stuff done.

Lots of Americans like the idea of dictatorship. There are problems in the country, so why don't we just go ahead and put somebody in charge to fix them? The logic is obvious.

Our system of government is based on the premise that people can govern themselves. We vote on stuff, debate issues in public, elect leaders. If the people are running things they can make choices that are fair to themselves as a whole. So, like, if you are accused of a crime the government doesn't just take you out back and shoot you. A dictator can do that, Duterte himself has gone out and killed "drug dealers" without a trial or any justice process. When the people are in charge they don't like the idea that they might be shot by authorities for attracting suspicion, or that they will be disappeared for holding an opinion that their leader disapproves of. So in the USA we pass laws and set up processes to treat people fairly and allow ordinary people to prosper. We call it "freedom."

That means, generally, that government programs are expensive and take a lot of time. Democracies want to hear from all interested parties, they want to do studies of the possible effects of decisions, they want to debate and discuss all aspects of a change so that policies are good for the people. A government needs a detailed plan and a budget before they start anything. Sometimes it happens that a leader meets with their diplomats and military experts and subject-matter experts and makes a decision that the relatively uninformed general public doesn't very well understand; maybe there is a decision to declare a war, or to decline to respond to some aggression, or maybe the government invests in a sagging industry or lets one fail. If the people really don't like the decisions they can elect a new leader. The public understands that situations are complicated and that leaders have detailed knowledge that the rest of us don't have. It's our job to elect someone we can more-or-less trust.

Trump was elected to be a dictator, and he would be one if he could. He tries to cut the experts out of his decision-making and works "from the gut," under the theory that it is best to do something, even if it is wrong. Unfortunately that means that his decisions are often foolish and unworkable, as he fails to take important factors into account. It also means that his decisions almost always enrich himself and his circle of friends, and oddly his most important decisions tend to benefit Russia more than the US. We don't have any way to know how he comes to any decision, and he does not feel it's any of our business.

Our country's founders recognized these weaknesses in a dictatorial form of government, and they worked long and hard to figure out a plan to avoid it. So far the system is holding. Though Trump and his accomplices in the Republican Party have packed the courts with sympathetic judges, even conservative judges still have to rule in accordance with the Constitution and the laws. The result was that, with Republican majorities in both houses of Congress who would approve anything he wanted, Trump still could not get anything done. And with the House going to the opposition party, he is being held accountable for his crimes and faces impeachment, as provided for by the Constitution.

Everybody understands the frustration of red tape, of having to look at all sides of an issue before you decide what to do, of having to consider things that are not important to yourself personally but might affect others. It might seem needlessly complicated, when you know that a simple decision is all you need. But there are good reasons to do it this way. I hope that enduring a few years of Trump's attempted dictatorship will teach us a lesson that we remember for a generation, at least.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Cowardice

Afraid to defend the Constitution and American values.

“The Republican party has got to get a grip on itself,” Former Secy. of State Colin Powell on the state of the current GOP. “Republican leaders and members of the Congress… are holding back because they’re terrified of what will happen [to] any one of them if they speak out."

Mike Murphy, a former senior adviser to Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and John McCain:
“One Republican senator told me if it was a secret vote, 30 Republican senators would vote to impeach Trump,” Murphy said.

"I heard someone say if there were a private vote there would be 30 Republican votes. That's not true," [Republican former Senator Jeff] Flake said on Slate's "What Next" podcast. "There would be at least 35."

“Nobody wants to be the zebra that strays from the pack and gets gobbled up by the lion,” a former senior administration official said in assessing the current consensus among Senate Republicans. “They have to hold hands and jump simultaneously … Then Trump is immediately no longer president and the power he can exert over them and the punishment he can inflict is, in the snap of a finger, almost completely erased.”

et cetera

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Impeachment

The House of Representatives has finally reached the point where it seems necessary to consider impeachment of the President. As I write this, the Congressional committees still don't know what is in the "whistleblower memo," but that fact itself is evidence that the White House is trying to obstruct the inquiry -- the memo was written more than a month ago and is required by law to be given to Congress. It may describe more benign or worse behaviors than those that have been leaked to the press regarding the request to the Ukrainian president to influence our US election. But the memo is just the tip of the iceberg; the list of already-known impeachable offenses Trump has committed is long.

We elected a criminal in a fair or at least normal election. The President's behavior has been an embarrassment and many have thought the Democrats' response was overly timid. This period in our history has revealed some weaknesses in our system of checks and balances; I hope the next few years, at least after the next election, comprise a time of rebuilding, and that the Congress addresses some of the vulnerabilities that have been exposed.

It will take a long time to un-do the damage that has already been done.

As the walls close in on Trump we can expect to see him struggle. It could get wild. He's filled the executive branch with sycophants whose loyalty is to him personally and not the Constitution or the people. They are getting rich from their government positions and will try to keep the money flowing as long as they can. I doubt they will turn on him but they might abandon him when the flames begin licking at their own feet. Trump Republicans have filled the courts with sympathetic judges, and we can expect some ... inexplicable ... rulings to come out in the heat of this process.

Prosecutors have respected a questionable DOJ rule that says that Presidents can't be indicted while in office. This is a good motivation for him to try to stay in office as long as he can -- dying while President is probably the only thing that can keep him out of prison. So he is going to fight for re-election by hook or by crook, and he is going to fight impeachment as hard as he can. Hold on to your horses.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Anti-Gay Therapy Leader Is Gay

In the years since we have had this blog, we have seen a parade of born-again preachers and gay-loathing Republicans caught with their britches down. We used to comment on it but it really is pretty much the norm. Those who are really really really opposed to homosexuality are often the ones who can't allow themselves to love as God intended.

One of the last remaining frontiers of hate has been so-called "conversion therapy." A lot of states have outlawed this kind of fake therapy which is supposed to turn gay people straight, but it keeps popping up and it has become sort of the last gasp for anti-gay ideology.

"What about people who don't want to be gay? Shouldn't they be allowed to live their lives however they want?" Sure, if it worked we'd have a whole different situation. The deal is: it doesn't work. The therapy is a hoax. A hateful hoax. They go in gay, and they come out gay. And guilt-ridden, ashamed, despondent.
The founder of one of the nation’s largest conversion therapy programs, who spent decades leading the organization, now says he is gay, apologizing for his role in the practice.

McKrae Game, who founded and led Hope for Wholeness in South Carolina, publicly announced he was gay in early June, more than two years after the organization’s board of directors abruptly fired him.

In a Facebook post last week, Game, 51, said he was “wrong,” adding: “Please forgive me.”

“I certainly regret where I caused harm,” he wrote. “Promoting the triadic model that blamed parents and conversion or prayer therapy, that made many people believe that their orientation was wrong, bad, sinful, evil, and worse that they could change was absolutely harmful."

“It’s all in my past, but many, way TOO MANY continue believing that there is something wrong with themselves and wrong with people that choose to live their lives honestly and open as gay, lesbian, trans, etc.,” he added. “Learn to love yourself and others.”

In an interview with The Post and Courier published Saturday, Game called conversion therapy “a lie” and “false advertising” and called for the dissolution of conversion therapy practices or ex-gay ministries.

Game is one of several former gay conversion therapy leaders who have since cut ties with the movement and have come out as LGBTQ.

Conversion therapy group founder comes out as gay, apologizes
We actually do have problems in this world. Gay people are not one of them. Let's move on.



Dumbest ever?

With so much going on, any blog post will immediately be out of date, so I am just going to post a comment from Twitter to open a discussion thread.

This is Silver Spring resident, sorta-Internet-celebrity, Oliver Willis, comparing our current President with a previous one:


"I'll never apologize for hating George W. Bush, who is still by far the worst president in history. But Bush is no longer the dumbest."

Ex: Trump appears to be too dumb to implement actual war crimes.

Discuss.

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.