Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Gun For Hire

Naming Oliver North as the president of the NRA is basically like naming Keith Richards as the head of Pfizer.

Charlie Pierce:

The jokes, they write themselves. A trade association for the arms industry now will be headed by the most famous arms-trafficker in American history. An organization that wears patriotism as though it were the masque of the Red Death will be headed by a guy who sold missiles to one of the world’s leading sponsors of terrorism. An organization that claims to represent the best in American values will now be headed by a guy who sold out a beloved conservative icon so he could keep his felonious hindquarters out of jail, and who was roundly condemned by that icon’s iconic wife.

If it wasn’t for George H.W. Bush, he’d be making gravel at Leavenworth and telling his fellow inmates that selling missiles to Iran was just what America needed.

Now you know why I spend my off-hours writing fiction.  I’m doing my level best not to find a reason to drink again.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

They Both Have To Go

Getting Trump out of office is an admirable goal, but if he goes, the rules say that Mike Pence would take over, and in many ways, he’s a lot worse.  He at least has rock-steady and immutable right-wing views and would do his come-to-Jesus best to implement them.

A case could be made that by defending the administration and supporting like-minded felons such as the flaming racist Joe Arpaio, Pence is an accessory and abettor to Trump’s actions before and after assuming office.

In Pence, Trump has found an obedient deputy whose willingness to suffer indignity and humiliation at the pleasure of the president appears boundless. When Trump comes under fire for describing white nationalists as “very fine people,” Pence is there to assure the world that he is actually a man of great decency. When Trump needs someone to fly across the country to an NFL game so he can walk out in protest of national-anthem kneelers, Pence heads for Air Force Two.

Meanwhile, Pence’s presence in the White House has been a boon for the religious right. Evangelical leaders across the country point to his record on abortion and religious freedom and liken him to a prophet restoring conservative Christianity to its rightful place at the center of American life. “Mike Pence is the 24-karat-gold model of what we want in an evangelical politician,” Richard Land, the president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary and one of Trump’s faith advisers, told me. “I don’t know anyone who’s more consistent in bringing his evangelical-Christian worldview to public policy.”

It’s no great shock to find that the evangelical right wing is a massively hypocritical collection of political opportunists who are as adept at fleecing the foolish and the weak of their money as they are at updating their Grindr profiles and paying for their mistresses’ abortions.  To them Trump is a useful idiot; they can explain away his flagrant lack of morality with the wave of a hand in the same way they blessed Newt Gingrich — the road company version of Trump — and the same way they came down on Bill Clinton.

But Pence is one of their own, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the right-wing nutsery had it in their heads all along to get Trump elected and Pence as his second so they could bide their time and let him self-destruct so Pence could step in and begin to implement their real agenda.

So Pence has to go along with Trump.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Former GOP Rep Convicted

Ah, justice.

Steve Stockman, a Republican former congressman from Texas, has been convicted of defrauding two conservative mega-donors and funneling their $1.25 million into personal and campaign expenses as part of what prosecutors have described as a “white collar crime spree.”

A jury in federal court in Houston ruled Thursday afternoon that Stockman is guilty of all but one of the 24 felonies he was charged with last March. After about 16 hours of deliberations over three days, the 12-person panel only declined to convict on one of four counts of wire fraud.

Stockman will appeal the verdict, his defense team said.

This may become a pattern.  One could only hope.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Civil Discourse

From the Washington Post:

A conservative commentator at a Sinclair Broadcast Group-owned television station in St. Louis has resigned after a statement he made threatening to sexually assault David Hogg drew harsh criticism and sparked the beginnings of an advertiser boycott.

Jamie Allman, who hosts a nightly news show on KDNL, a Sinclair-owned ABC affiliate in St. Louis, as well as a morning FM radio show, wrote on Twitter that he was “hanging out getting ready,” to sexually assault David Hogg with “a hot poker.”

“Busy working. Preparing,” read the March 26 tweet, which is too vulgar to print here in full. An image of it was published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, as the remark began to draw more scrutiny in recent days.

Advertisers, including Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, St. Louis health center Palm Health, and local real estate office the Gellman Team, announced they would stop advertising on Allman’s shows, spurred on by activists who took to social media to highlight the commentator’s remarks, as well as Democratic state lawmaker Stacey Newman and others.

“We have accepted Mr. Allman’s resignation, and his show has been canceled,” said Ronn Torossian, chief executive of the PR firm 5W, who is acting as a Sinclair spokesman, said in response to questions sent to the media company by The Washington Post.

So Allman’s defenders will claim his First Amendment right to free speech is being violated the same way he wanted to violate David Hogg, to which rational people will reply that the Constitution doesn’t protect you from being fired for being a cretin.  And a perv.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Republicans Talking Impeachment

Don’t get your hopes up; it’s not like it sounds.

As Republican leaders scramble to stave off a Democratic wave or at least mitigate their party’s losses in November, a strategy is emerging on the right for how to energize conservatives and drive a wedge between the anti-Trump left and moderate voters: warn that Democrats will immediately move to impeach President Trump if they capture the House.

What began last year as blaring political hyperbole on the right — the stuff of bold-lettered direct mail fund-raising pitches from little-known groups warning of a looming American “coup” — is now steadily drifting into the main currents of the 2018 message for Republicans.

So far I haven’t heard of any Democrats planning on bringing it up in the mid-terms, and it’s slightly ironic that the Republicans think it’s such a drastic measure when it wasn’t that long ago that they rallied their troops around impeaching Bill Clinton.  (How’d that work out?)

It’s also common practice for the GOP to go completely batshit when it comes to fund-raising appeals; they’re still working off Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, and raising the spectre of Trump in the dock in the Senate is a sure-fire way to shake down the base.  But it may become problematic when they try to get support and votes from those who don’t watch Fox News or get their millinery from Reynolds Wrap.  I’m not so sure they won’t drive a lot of voters into the arms of the Democrats with “Vote Republican or Trump Will Be Impeached!”

Friday, April 6, 2018

Short Takes

Oklahoma teachers continue their march to the state capital.

Pruitt under pressure: EPA chief’s problems keep growing.

Yeah right: Trump says he was unaware of payment to Stormy Daniels.

Cyclist fired for flipping off Trump sues her former employer.

New Russia sanctions go after oligarchs.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Today In Double Standards

Hillary Clinton used a private e-mail server when she was Secretary of State to basically innocuous purposes and the nutsery chanted “Lock her up!”

Scott Pruitt, now head of the EPA, used a private e-mail server when he was Attorney General of Oklahoma for official business (and lied about it when questioned by Congress) and now it looks like he was doing some shady business with political donors.  He also hires cronies and pays them huge salaries.  He has the full support of the nutsery.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Going After The Messengers

Since the NRA and their gun-stroking minions haven’t got a cogent or rational response to the the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students leading the marches for gun law reform, they naturally go after the people who are delivering the message, including David Hogg, who has emerged as the spokesperson for the students.

Most of the complaints about Mr. Hogg center around his call for a boycott of advertisers on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News program.  Aside from the fact that conservatives routinely call for a boycott of any company or entity that offends them, they seem to forget that the First Amendment, which apparently they haven’t studied as well as the Second, doesn’t remotely come close to protecting the job of a TV pundit.

I think what really chaps their asses is that David Hogg comes off as intelligent and rational whereas the spokesfolks for the pro-gun side come off as deranged spittleflecked cranks (vide Ted Nugent and Dana Loesch).

HT to LGM.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Escape From The Ministry Of Propaganda

Last month I posted about Sinclair Broadcasting and their “must read” commentary sent out to all their stations.  Basically it’s Trump-tilted railings about, ironically, “fake news” that the corporate office requires be put on the air by their local news anchors.

Recently Deadspin did a compilation of all the Sinclair local anchors reading a promo for their corporate message, and it comes across as a version of either a North Korean filler or a hostage video.

So what’s it like to work at a Sinclair station?  Aaron Weiss worked at a Sinclair station and fills us in on the soul-crushing details via Huffinton Post.

I was a Sinclair news director. For a few months, at least.

In 2013, I was a young news director at a struggling small station in the Midwest, having worked my way up the ranks as a producer in larger markets. I’d uprooted my family the year before and moved from the West Coast to “earn my stripes” running a newsroom. I had a small team with a handful of veterans and eager new reporters I enjoyed mentoring.

That fall, Sinclair Broadcast Group bought the station. Sinclair was not a household name at the time, but it did have a reputation in the business for being heavy-handed in station operations and for having a conservative editorial lean. The company first made national headlines when it forced all its stations to run an anti-John Kerry documentary just before the Democratic nominee lost the 2004 presidential election.

Still, I went in with an open mind. As Sinclair prepared to purchase my station, I emailed a colleague to say, “From everything I’ve seen so far, it’s not the evil empire some people think.”

It took just a few months to realize how wrong I was.

It began with the “must run” stories arriving in my inbox every morning. “Must-run” stories were exactly what the name suggests: They were a combination of pre-produced packages that would come down from corporate, along with scripts for local anchors to read. We had to air them whether we wanted to or not.

On the way to a meeting of company news directors, someone whose station had been acquired a few months earlier explained that the arrangement wasn’t that bad — you just had to bury the “must-run” corporate stories and commentary in early-morning newscasts where few viewers would see them. Shortly after that, an executive made it clear to us that the “must-run” stories were not optional and that corporate would be watching to make sure they weren’t getting buried at 5 a.m.

Sinclair knows its strongest asset is the credibility of its local anchors. They’re trusted voices in their communities, and they have often been on the air for decades before Sinclair purchased their stations.

The must-run stories, however, barely passed as journalism. More than one script came down that, had it come from one of my fresh-out-of-college reporters, I would have sent back for a complete rewrite. But Sinclair executives made it clear that the must-run scripts were not to be touched by producers or anchors.

I didn’t last long after that. I soon realized I would have trouble looking myself in the mirror if I put stories and commentary like that on the air. I couldn’t in good conscience ask young reporters and anchors to sign multi-year contracts knowing what they’d be forced to say on the air and face severe financial penalties if they left early.

So I quit, and once again uprooted my family in search of a company with ethical and news standards I could be proud of. I was fortunate enough to find a new position with another station group that, unlike Sinclair, had a true commitment to local journalism.

Over the course of my 14-year career in broadcasting, I worked for multiple corporate owners, large and small. I have good friends who are anchors, reporters and executives at other station groups across the country. Only Sinclair forces those trusted local journalists to lend their credibility to shoddy reporting and commentary that, if it ran in other countries, we would rightly dismiss as state propaganda.

In the four years since I left, Sinclair has doubled down on its “must-run” strategy. Segments like the Islamophobic “Terrorism Alert Desk” and commentary from Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn have started running in markets from Seattle to Washington, D.C. If the Federal Communications Commission approves Sinclair’s purchase of Tribune Broadcasting, it will get a foothold in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Denver and other major markets. I know several journalists who preemptively left Tribune stations after the sale was announced. They’re the lucky and principled ones.

When Deadspin’s genius supercut of Sinclair’s latest promo went viral last weekend, my heart broke for the anchors who were used to make the equivalent of a proof-of-life hostage video. They know what they’re being conscripted to do, but most of them have no choice in the matter. They’re trapped by contracts, by family obligations and by an industry that is struggling to stay relevant in an era of changing media habits.

The anchors who were forced to decry “fake news” put their own credibility on the line, accusing “some members of the media” of pushing “their own personal bias and agenda,” when nothing could be further from the truth. The only ones pushing a personal bias in local broadcasting today are the corporate executives at Sinclair, who leverage the trust that those anchors have developed in their communities over years and often decades of hard work.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with journalism that wears its bias on its sleeve. At some point, local news may transform into something more like the cable news landscape, with hosts who are paid to share their perspective and commentary. But that requires honesty on the part of station owners, and it requires embracing a diversity of viewpoints on the air. That’s the exact opposite of what Sinclair is doing to local broadcasting today.

During my time with Sinclair, while on a conference call with other news directors, someone asked if we could ever run local commentary during newscasts. The answer was a firm “no.” The only opinions Sinclair allows on air are the opinions that come out of headquarters, because the company will not risk giving local audiences a dissenting view.

That “no” was telling. Being afraid of a variety of viewpoints is, in the words of Sinclair’s now-infamous “must-run,” extremely dangerous to a democracy.

I had a short — nine months — career in doing radio news for a small-town station in northern Michigan in the late 1970’s.  It was owned by a group of local businessmen, all of them conservative Republicans, but to a man they all made it clear that the news was the news and that there would be no “corporate” interference in how I did my job and they never imposed any “must read” commentary or point of view.

Those were the days.

HT to CLW.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Trumpier Than Trump

Frank Bruni interviewed Ann Coulter for the New York Times.  (Remember her?  She’s the other blonde snarky right-wing pundit often confused with Laura Ingraham.)

Currently she’s calling herself a Former Trumper because that wall hasn’t been built and she’s suddenly figured that it was all a con by Trump to get elected.  Oh, she’s pissed.

That should be terrifying to the president. Maybe he’ll actually keep his promises. Unlike Marco Rubio. Unlike the rest of them. Unlike Mitch McConnell. We have been betrayed over and over and over with presidents promising to do something about immigration. If he played us for suckers, oh, you will not see rage like you have seen.

So that’s her big make-or-break point; that if Trump doesn’t build the wall, the party’s over and she’ll go after him like the complete troll that she is that made her bones on Fox News.

Guess what.  That wall won’t be built, and even if it is, it won’t be what she has in mind; think Korean DMZ or the late Berlin Wall.  And she’ll back someone else in the GOP primary in two years.

Steve M notes that if there’s going to be a successful GOP challenger to Trump, he’s gotta be even more hard core than Trump.

The base might accept someone other than Trump, depending on the circumstances — but only if that alternative candidate seems meaner and nastier than Trump. It’s not going to be someone like Jeff Flake, Ben Sasse, or John Kasich — the political equivalents of the persona non grata pundits listed above. If another candidate is going to take the nomination from Trump, it’s going to be a candidate who talks like Ann Coulter. That’s still the only variety of anti-Trumpism that’s acceptable to the base.

If Trump is successfully challenged, it’ll be by someone who says that Trump isn’t tough enough or angry enough or pitiless enough. We just need to watch Fox if we want to know what arguments the Republican base finds plausible. The only anti-Trump argument that qualifies is the one Ann Coulter makes.

So who would be better than Trump in appealing to the baser instincts of his base?

Steve Stockman’s Wacky World Of Crime

TPM reports on the trial of former Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) and the wacky world he lives in.

The far-right Republican firebrand is accused of using hundreds of thousands in charitable donations from two conservative mega-donors for personal expenses in what prosecutors call a “white-collar crime spree.” They say he’s used the money to spy on political rivals with Inspector Gadget-style tools, to pay off his credit card debt, to go on dolphin boat rides, and to buy up copies of pop-up Advent books published by his brother.

Stockman, who served in the U.S. House from 1995 to 1997 and again from 2013 to 2015, earned a reputation as a tea party favorite eager to buck his party’s establishment. He invited Ted Nugent to President Obama’s State of The Union speech, and his campaign once produced a bumper sticker saying: “If babies had guns, they wouldn’t be aborted.”

Stockman is facing multiple counts of mail and wire fraud, conspiracy to make false statements, and money laundering, among other charges. Federal prosecutors have compiled reams of evidence, including texts, emails, and records of bank transactions and wire transfers. Their case has been aided by cooperation from two of Stockman’s former aides, who struck plea deals with the government.

But Stockman is fighting the charges while free on $25,000 bond. An anonymous private benefactor is ponying up the funds for his trio of defense lawyers after he told a judge last year that he had only $17 in his bank account.

There’s full details at the link, but here’s the scary part: he convinced the majority of people in his district to vote for him.  Twice.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Sunday Reading

Lest We Forget — Michael Eric Dyson on how we have forgotten what Martin Luther King, Jr. believed in.

Photo by Morton Broffman/Getty Images

In June 1966, less than two years before he was killed, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached from his Atlanta pulpit of the dynamic dance between Good Friday and Easter, between death and resurrection, between despair and hope.

“The church must tell men that Good Friday is as much a fact of life as Easter; failure is as much a fact of life as success; disappointment is as much a fact of life as fulfillment,” he said. Dr. King added that God didn’t promise us that we would avoid “trials and tribulations” but that “if you have faith in God, that God has the power to give you a kind of inner equilibrium through your pain.”

From nearly the moment he emerged on the national scene in the mid-1950s until his tragic end in 1968, 10 days before Easter, Dr. King was hounded by death. It was his deep faith that saw him through his many trials and tribulations until the time he was fatally shot on that motel balcony at 6:01 p.m. on April 4 in Memphis.

Faith summoned Dr. King, an ordained Baptist preacher, to the ministry. It made him a troublemaker for Jesus and it led him to criticize the church, criticize the world around him and, in turn, be criticized for those things. In honoring his legacy today, we must not let complacency or narrow faith blind us to what needs to trouble us too.

Dr. King passionately believed that a commitment to God is a commitment to bettering humanity, that the spiritual practices of prayer and worship must be translated into concern for the poor and vulnerable. Dr. King would want us to live his specific faith: work to defeat racism, speak out in principled opposition to war and combat poverty with enlightened and compassionate public policy.

In his lifetime, he was disappointed in the complacency of both black and white churches. He would be as disappointed today. The white church largely remains a bastion of indifference to the plight of black people. White evangelicals continue to focus on personal piety as the measure of true Christianity, while neglecting the Social Gospel that enlivens Jesus’ words for the masses. Dr. King saw faith as an urgent call to service, a selfless ethic of concern that, he said, quoting the Hebrew prophet Amos, made “justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Today, in the midst of resurgent bigotry and deep divisions in this country, faith is too often viewed as an oasis of retreat, a paradise of political disengagement. On this Easter Sunday, as we mark 50 years since Dr. King’s death, it is a perfect and necessary time to remember his faith — and rekindle its urgency.

Dr. King often declared his preacher’s vocation by citing something like a biblical genealogy of black sacred rhetoric that traced through his family: “I grew up in the church. My father is a preacher, my grandfather was a preacher, my great-grandfather was a preacher, my only brother is a preacher. My daddy’s brother is a preacher. So I didn’t have much choice.”

But Dr. King’s faith underwent significant change. At first, he was discouraged from the ministry by a strain of black preaching that was long on emotion and short on reason. Then, at Morehouse College, his encounter with preachers like the school’s president Benjamin Mays convinced him that the ministry was intellectually respectable.

A midnight kitchen experience over a cup of coffee after he received phone calls threatening to blow out his brains and blow up his house during the Montgomery bus boycott gave the fear-stricken Dr. King a sense of God’s unshakable presence. He said that instead of inherited faith, he had to forge the terms of his own relationship to the Almighty.

“I had to know God for myself,” he explained. “I could hear an inner voice saying to me, ‘Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness, stand up for justice, stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you, even until the end of the world.’”

For the rest of his life Dr. King did just that. His faith propelled him to fight Jim Crow, the ugly hatred it bred in the white soul and the haunting inferiority it left in black minds. It led him to speak valiantly against the lynching, bombing and shooting of black people who merely wanted what white people took for granted: a cup of coffee at any lunch counter, a room at any hotel they could afford, a drink at any water fountain they passed, a seat on a bus wherever they pleased and a desk in the nearest schoolhouse.

Dr. King’s faith put him at odds with white Christians who believed it was their mission to keep separate the races — the same people whose forebears believed it was their duty to enslave Africans and punish blacks who sought to escape their hardship. Dr. King realized that he wasn’t simply in battle against a society built on legal apartheid, but that he also had to fight against a racist culture that derived theological support from white Christianity.

White evangelicals were opposed to Dr. King because they conveniently divided body and soul: Race was a social issue that should be determined by rules in society and laws generated by government. Such a view meant that the racist status quo was sacred. The point of religion was to save the souls of black folk by preaching a gospel of repentance for personal sin, even as segregation often found a white biblical mandate. After Dr. King spoke at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1961, the most prominent institution of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, many white churches in the South withheld financial contributions to the school.

If rabid racists were a clear threat to black well-being, it was the white moderates who claimed to support civil rights but who urged caution in the pursuit of justice who proved to be a special plague. In 1963, eight white Alabama clergymen issued a statement pleading for black leaders to slow their aggressive campaign against segregation in Birmingham, Ala. The clergymen cited “outsiders” who had come to Birmingham to lead demonstrations that were “unwise and untimely.”

The white clergymen blamed the black protests for inciting hatred and violence through their “extreme measures,” arguing that their cause “should be pressed in the courts and in negotiations among local leaders, and not in the streets.”

Showing The Way — Sophia Steinberg, a high school student, reports in The Nation how the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High are leading the way for her generation.

Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Minu smiled as she saw my homemade sign, finished in a rush to get to the march. We boarded the subway, surrounded by people who were clearly traveling to the same place we were. On our way to demonstrate against gun violence in America, we discussed our SAT scores and her upcoming trip to Japan. While we talked about the minor dramas of our junior year, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were preparing to speak in front of an international audience about the trauma they experienced during a school shooting.

Until late February, no major news source was giving a platform to Generation Z. Now, images of Emma González and her fellow survivors are ubiquitous. A classmate of mine at Beacon High School, Etta Gold, thinks “most kids are scared of the bureaucracy because they don’t believe they can actually change the law,” but the teenagers from Parkland are “inspiring when it comes to enforcing change.” I was impressed by their capacity to organize a national march, amid their own trauma and despite their age. Beacon junior Sam Sheridan echoed Etta’s sentiments: “Seeing people your own age [speak] makes a difference.” I wasn’t shocked to see that some of the few public figures who shared my views on privilege, gun control, and the president were high-school victims of gun violence.

During the march, I held my sign high as I listened to the solemn, empowering words of survivors and activists. Parkland student Meghan Bohner spoke about her firsthand experience with the shooter when I noticed tears streaming down my face. Around noon, we began our march around Central Park, booing President Trump’s New York properties along the way. My eyes were fixed on the crowd as protesters raised their fists and demanded change.

Watching Emma González’s speech later that day, I understood her power. She captivated the nation with silence. Etta agreed: “Something about González compelled [her] to keep watching.” Her bravery, so unwavering, makes change viable. If she could face the world with her questions, so could I. Her extraordinary speech rejected the mundane thoughts and prayers of so many politicians. Her very presence has created a path for teenagers to follow. Those of us who chose to walk that path have a chance at ending gun violence in black communities, preventing the sale of assault rifles, and most of all—saving lives. In González’s gut-wrenching silence, audiences could search for the solution and perhaps find it within themselves.

Soon after the march, Minu, who is a year older than me, found out she was eligible to become a registered voter. It will “feel good to really participate, she told me.” Before the March for Our Lives, I felt as though America could make its teens feel invisible. As I watched Minu join the thousands of newly registered voters, I realized that our teen spirit can no longer be ignored.

Laura’s “Vacation” — Brian Schatz in Mother Jones on Laura Ingraham’s sudden decision to take some time off.

Laura Ingraham, the Fox News host of The Ingraham Angle, announced late Friday that she is going on vacation for a week as advertisers continue to abandon her show.

Ingraham is leaving amidst ongoing controversy and boycotts. Earlier in the week, she took to Twitter to mock Parkland school shooting survivor David Hogg—the 18-year-old senior who has become prominent in the student movement for gun control—for not getting into some of the colleges he had applied to, saying that he whined about the rejections.

In response, Hogg called on his followers to contact her top advertisers. After two advertisers pulled their support, Ingraham, claiming to be moved by “the spirit of Holy Week,” apologized. Hogg didn’t buy it:

As Ingraham leaves for vacation, more than a dozen advertisers have now dropped her show. We’ve seen this kind of vacation before.

Bill O’Reilly took a “pre-planned vacation” last April amid advertiser cancellations after the New York Times detailed his settlements following harassment allegations from five women, totaling at least $13 million. He was fired soon after.

“Fear not,” Ingraham told her viewers on Friday. “We’ve got a great lineup of guest hosts to fill in for me.”

At Home With The Cohens — Calvin Trillin on the domestic side of Trump’s lawyer.

As the breakfast dishes were cleared away, both Cohens remained at the table with their coffees. Mrs. C, who had been gathering material for the family’s tax return, was looking through a pile of financial documents. Michael Cohen was studying his daily list of people to threaten.

“I see here that the electric bill is up a bit this year,” Mrs. C said.

“Mmmm,” Mr. C murmured. He was trying to decide whether the first person on his list would be frightened more by “I will take you for all the money you still don’t have” or “What I’m going to do to you is so fucking disgusting”—both of which phrases he’d used to threaten a Daily Beast reporter (to no avail) in 2015.

“The bill from that gardener who replaced the rose bushes seems pretty reasonable,” Mrs. C said.

“Mmmm,” Mr. C murmured again. He was considering using another phrase from that same Daily Beast encounter—“I’m going to mess your life up for as long as you’re on this fuckin’ planet.” That threat, he thought, had a nice mob-enforcer ring to it, particularly if he used what he sometimes referred to as his “Corleone voice.”

“Michael,” Mrs. C continued. “Here, stuck to the receipt from those people who repaired the washing machine, is a payment of a hundred and thirty thousand dollars to Essential Consultants. What is that all about?”

“That was hush money to a porn star,” Mr. C said.

“Michael,” Mrs. C said, in a weary voice, “I’ve told you before: people with no humor should not try to tell jokes.”

“That wasn’t a joke,” Mr. C said. “A porn star claimed to have had an affair with D.J.T., and, just before the election, I gave her a hundred and thirty thousand dollars to keep her mouth shut.”

“An affair with who?”

“With Mr. Trump. You might have seen Don, Jr., on television referring to his father as ‘D.J.T.’ We thought that would make him sound right up there on the level of Presidents like F.D.R. and J.F.K.”

“Donald Trump had an affair with a porn star?” Mrs. C asked.

“Definitely not,” Mr. C said. “D.J.T. is a happily married family man. He is a man of honor and integrity and one of our great Presidents. In fact, I’ve retained a fellow in South Dakota to do a title search on what seems to be some unused space on Mount Rushmore, just to Lincoln’s left. We could buy it secretly through a shell corporation—I know how to do that—and hire our own sculptor.”

“Let me get this straight,” Mrs. C said. “You paid a hundred and thirty thousand dollars to a porn star so that she’d remain quiet about something that didn’t happen? “

“Well, not directly. I paid the hundred and thirty thousand dollars through a shell corporation so it would stay secret.”

“Then how come we have here a Certificate of Formation for Essential Consultants, issued by the Delaware Secretary of State’s Corporation Division, and signed by you?” Mrs. C said, holding up a document.

“Well, it turned out to be not quite as secret as it might have been,” Mr. C said. “I made up really neat alliterative pseudonyms for D.J.T. and the porn star, but I couldn’t think of a really neat alliterative pseudonym for myself.”

“How about Danny Dumbass?” Mrs. C said.

“I don’t want you to be upset about this,” Mr. C said. “I’m sure we’ll be reimbursed.”

“You believe that Donald Trump, known to every subcontractor, supplier, and banker in New York as the King of the Deadbeats, is going to pay you back?”

“As I was saying,” Mr. C replied, “We prefer to refer to him as D.J.T. It sounds more Presidential.”

Doonesbury — Everything new is old again.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Pounding The Table

An attorney friend of mine reminded me of this legal axiom:

“If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.”

That seems to be the case with the Orcosphere and their response to the student leaders from Marjory Stoneman Douglas such as David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez.  They can’t counter their powerful pleas for commonsense gun control legislation and taking action against politicians who are on the take from the NRA, so they go for the personal attack.

Six months ago, the conservative radio host and blogger Erick Erickson wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times, inspiringly titled “How to Find Common Ground.”

“We owe it to one another to disagree agreeably, without anger or intimidation,” he wrote, noting that social media has put us all in polarized bubbles.

“A little more grace among us would go a long way toward healing the nation.”

Erickson is one of many who hasn’t done a great job of taking that advice since the massacre of 17 students and school staffers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month in Parkland, Fla.

“David Hogg Is A High School Bully,” was the headline of a blog post Erickson wrote soon after the shooting, referring to one of the student survivors who has become a leader in pushing for gun-control legislation. He didn’t mean Hogg was looting the lockers of his schoolmates, but, as the sub-headline claimed, “He is using his status as victim to inappropriately and ridiculously attack people while going unchallenged.”

This week, Erickson made it worse: He tweeted to his mass following what turned out to be an utter falsehood, based on an article on the RedState website speculating that Hogg may not have even been at school the day of the shooting.

He urged his audience to believe it, writing this “isn’t a fake news Gateway Pundit story.”

When that report was thoroughly debunked and RedState recanted, Erickson deleted his original tweet and posted an “update.” He did not apologize.

“I spread misinformation from someone that was credible,” Erickson told me by phone, praising the reporting of RedState writer Sarah Rumpf.

“But I didn’t double down on it, and that’s the difference between someone responsible and someone who’s not responsible.”

Erickson stands by his harsh criticism of Hogg and others.

“I do think David Hogg has been a bully,” he told me, particularly in claiming that the National Rifle Association’s leadership has “blood splattered all over their faces” and in criticizing in strong language the NRA’s spokeswoman, “my friend Dana Loesch.”

Being called a bully by the denizens of the right-wing media signals yet another death rattle of irony in this great land.  Erick Erickson is Steve Bannon with a better wardrobe, and his inability to retract or apologize for publishing proven falsehoods shows that he’s got the bully act down pat and lacks the maturity to act more like an adult than the teenagers he’s denigrating.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Sunday Reading

Beyond Parkland — Elaine Godfrey in The Atlantic on the students marching yesterday to raise awareness of gun violence beyond the mass shootings.

Hundreds of thousands of people rallied in Washington, D.C. on Saturday to express outrage at recent mass shootings in American schools, and to push Congress to enact stricter gun laws. But for many students in the U.S.—and especially students of color—gun violence at school isn’t the only problem. Rather, it’s the violence they face regularly in their homes and yards, in their neighborhoods and communities.

There hasn’t yet been a worldwide march focused on that kind of violence—so they made this one their own.

“I came all the way from Chicago to help change the violence that’s going on with school shootings,” said 16-year-old Kaiseona Lockhart. “And to let everyone know that there’s violence in Chicago.” Lockhart, who lives in Englewood, on Chicago’s south side, recently lost an uncle to gun violence. She’s part of a violence-prevention youth group affiliated with St. Sabina Church. “They trying to put us against each other. They’re trying to say that mass shootings and shootings, they don’t connect, but in reality, they both happen by a gun. We both want to change that.”

In the past month, the gun-control movement has found its voice in a ragtag group of eloquent, Twitter-savvy teenagers from suburban Florida. They survived the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School this past Valentine’s Day that killed 17 of their peers and teachers and have since appeared on countless cable-news segments and magazine covers calling for stricter gun legislation.

Each of the recent mass shootings in the U.S. have followed a similar pattern—after the killings, there’s a nationwide pang of sadness, a hot flash of anger; but then, after several days of thoughts and prayer and Facebook debates, the conversation dies down. This one, though, seems to have had more staying power. That has a lot to do with the Parkland students themselves. “They’re photogenic and they’re loved by the media. They have a real message,” said David Hemenway, an economist and a professor of health policy at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, in an interview on Friday. “They were born in the Columbine-era, so their whole lives…they have to be trained to protect themselves against mass-killings. It’s crazy.”

But mass shootings, we know by now, are only a small fraction of total gun deaths in the United States. Roughly 1,077 people have been killed in mass shootings since 1966—176 of them children and teenagers. In 2017 alone, Chicago had nearly 3,000 shooting incidents, and 3,457 shooting victims. Between 2006 and 2015, more than 14,500 people were shot in Philadelphia, a rate of one shooting every six hours. About 20 percent of firearm homicides occur in the country’s 25 largest cities. And within cities, the Centers for Disease Control found that black Americans are, on average, eight times more likely to be killed by guns than white Americans.

Black Lives Matter and other groups have been advocating for stricter gun laws similar to those the marchers are demanding for years. But one of the reasons the march has gotten so much attention has to do with where mass shootings typically take place. “The massacre gives the opportunity to do something about this,” Hemenway said, adding, “I think the power structure is mostly white, and when white people are killed, it gets a little more attention.”

Jamin Cash, a 15-year-old at Parkway Center City Middle College in Philadelphia, told me he thinks the attention mass shootings receives is frustrating. “Not to sound insensitive, but it’s unfair that we have to go through this every day, and then something that happens just once [in] a while gets so much attention,” he said, sighing. “But we came.” Cash and several others from his school came to the march clad in matching white t-shirts with the words “Parkway for Parkland” emblazoned on the front above a red heart. On the back of the shirts were the results of a survey his teacher, Maureen Boland, had given to him and his 120 classmates. “56% have witnessed a shooting,” one line read. “60% have lost a blood relative to gun violence. 63% regularly worry about their safety because of guns.”

Cash told me that he’s actually been shot at more than once in his neighborhood. His classmate, Courtney Daniels, another 15 year old, said she recently had a close family friend fatally shot. “I’m hoping people notice that we need to be heard too, that we’re going through the same struggles those Parkland students went through,” Daniels told me. “Youth in general, not just those kids.”

In just one month since the Parkland shooting, the gun control movement has made some small gains: The Florida state legislature passed new firearm regulations, and the federal spending bill signed by President Trump on Friday contains modest steps toward tightening the nation’s gun laws, including the Fix NICS Act, which  strengthens the background-check system for gun purchases. Part of the package also includes a report clarifying that the CDC can conduct research on gun violence reversing a 22-year-old prohibition.

The March for Our Lives organizers, though, are pushing for bigger changes. They want elected officials to pass a federal ban the sale of so-called “assault weapons” like the AR-15s used in recent mass shootings in Parkland and Las Vegas, and prohibit the sale of high-capacity magazines. While legislation like that might have prevented some mass shootings, those two proposals wouldn’t necessarily be top priority for reducing gun violence in urban areas, like Chicago or Philadelphia. After all, Cook County already has a ban assault weapons; semi-automatic handguns are the kind of weapon most commonly used in shootings.

The final item on the march organizers’ petition, though, could potentially reduce gun violence substantially. The organizers want legislators to require anyone purchasing a gun privately—through an individual exchange or a gunshow—to undergo a background check. Because so many guns are purchased privately by individuals and brought into Chicago from places with more lax gun laws like Indiana, experts say universal background checks could actually make a difference in reducing gun violence in cities. “This is an opportunity to get laws which can help everybody,” Hemenway said. “This is not, ‘Oh, let’s just try to protect white kids in white high schools and white areas.’ No, this provides the opportunity to really do something, to try to reduce gun trafficking.”

I watched the march on a jumbotron with Cash, Daniels, and the students from Philly under a cluster of magnolia trees near the rally site. One of the students, another ninth-grader named Brandon Palmer, had told me earlier about how his mother was recently held at gunpoint at the local bank where she works. “In our neighborhoods, this is our daily life,” he explained, his white Parkway for Parkland t-shirt tied around his head like Rambo. Palmer told me he was angry that it took a shooting like Parkland to get people energized about gun violence.

But when I asked if he was excited to be there, his face broke into a grin. “I feel like this is gonna be in the history books in the next couple years,” he said. “The future generations are gonna be learning about this.”

The Tragedy of Hubert Humphrey — Michael Brenes in The New York Times on what America would look like if Humphrey had won in 1968.

On Feb. 17, 1965, Vice President Hubert Humphrey sent President Lyndon B. Johnson a memorandum stating the United States must begin an exit strategy in Vietnam: “It is always hard to cut losses. But the Johnson administration is in a stronger position to do so now that any administration in this century.” Johnson had trounced Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election — and thus, no longer had to prove he was tough on Communism — and the conflict had not developed into a full-blown war. “Nineteen sixty-five is the year of minimum political risk,” Humphrey wrote.

Humphrey gave Johnson the opportunity to change the course of history: By pulling out of Vietnam, he could have avoided opposition from his own party and seeing his vision for the Great Society jeopardized by a foreign war and his aspirations for nuclear disarmament between the Soviet Union and the United States thwarted.

Johnson ignored Humphrey’s advice. In fact, he was described as infuriated with the vice president; the day after receiving the memo, Johnson told his national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy, that Humphrey should “stay out of the peacekeeping and negotiating field” on Vietnam.

The president went further, and more or less banned him from the Oval Office for the remainder of 1965. Humphrey lost his responsibilities in the administration on civil rights — the subject that elevated him to the Senate in 1948, when he told the Democrats at their national convention they needed to “get out of the shadow of states’ rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.”

Humphrey, who had long been the most prominent and productive liberal in the Senate — and the Democrat (other than Johnson) most responsible for the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, seemingly vanished from the public eye overnight, In August 1965, the comedian and musician Tom Lehrer sang to a raucous audience, “Whatever Became of You, Hubert?”:

Whatever became of you, Hubert?
We miss you, so tell us, please:
Are you sad? Are you cross?
Are you gathering moss
While you wait for the boss to sneeze?

Vietnam destined Humphrey to a miserable four years as Johnson’s vice president. For his dissent against the war (his “disloyalty”), Humphrey suffered the brunt of Johnson’s unpredictable wrath. Humphrey’s advisers felt Johnson’s intimidating, dismissive treatment was the reason Humphrey reversed his position on Vietnam a year later: why he defended the war as a necessary fight against Communism that provided jobs, hope and prosperity to suffering Vietnamese. It was his only way back into his boss’s good graces.

Humphrey’s support for the war condemned him in history as a supporting player in the tragedy of Vietnam. The war alienated Humphrey from liberals, civil rights activists and young Americans — the same people who, for decades, had loved Humphrey for his support of racial justice, full employment and the labor movement — and ultimately cost him the presidency in 1968. Voters thought Humphrey meant continued war, while Richard Nixon promised “an honorable end to the war in Vietnam.”

But given what we now know the history of the Vietnam War after 1968, Hubert Humphrey — both his life and political career — deserves re-examination. Humphrey forces us to consider the history that might have been: the possibility of ending the Vietnam War before 1973, an expansion of the Great Society in the 1970s, a different America. Without Vietnam (and his being Johnson’s vice president), Humphrey might have won in 1968. The country — and the world — would be drastically different.

Hubert Humphrey arrived in the Senate in 1949 as a liberal in an illiberal institution. Southerners held the reins of power in Congress, and they hated Humphrey for his opposition to Jim Crow segregation and “that speech” at the Democratic National Convention.

While he was determined in his quest for social justice, his legislation often stalled in committee. He gravitated toward the one man who could help him: Lyndon Johnson. By 1954, Johnson needed Humphrey too — Johnson had become Senate majority leader and wanted liberals to fall behind his leadership; Johnson concluded Humphrey was the brightest and most pragmatic of them. It was a devil’s bargain: Johnson helped Humphrey with his relationships with Southerners, and Humphrey vowed to keep the liberals in line.

The partnership between Johnson and Humphrey was as close as that of two antagonists could be. When Johnson became president in November 1963, Humphrey ensured that the Civil Rights Act overcame the Senate filibuster the following summer. Johnson recognized Humphrey’s talents as a legislator and orator (“There are so many ways I envy you,” Johnson said in 1951), and chose Humphrey as his vice president in 1964 — but not before asking Humphrey for his backing (“unswerving loyalty,” as Humphrey recalled) on all his decisions. When Mississippi civil rights activists tried to force the Democratic Party to recognize them over the state’s official, segregationist delegation at the 1964 national convention, it was Humphrey who, on Johnson’s orders, made them back down.

Once in office, Humphrey tried to keep his commitment to Johnson, but on Vietnam his convictions conflicted with his promises. Humphrey had been suspicious of American involvement in Vietnam since the mid-1950s, but became more incredulous of the war’s success after meeting with the veteran intelligence officer Edward Lansdale in 1964, who argued that a political solution to the war was possible. Humphrey sent several memos to Johnson in 1964 implying Johnson should pull back on the conflict, and that he meet with Lansdale. Johnson dismissed each one.

Then, on Feb. 7, 1965, American forces were attacked at Pleiku and nine Americans were killed. Bundy, the national security adviser, sent panicked cables to Johnson demanding the United States retaliate. When Johnson asked Humphrey his thoughts on bombing North Vietnam, Humphrey responded, “Mr. President, I don’t think we should.” Johnson ordered the bombing anyway. Then Humphrey wrote his Feb. 17 memo, and his fate was sealed for 1965.

But Johnson gave Humphrey one last chance to prove his loyalty, sending him to South Vietnam in February 1966 (almost one year to the date of his memo). On that trip, after meeting with Gen. William Westmoreland, American and Vietnamese soldiers, and South Vietnamese civilians, Humphrey convinced himself of the truth he wanted to believe: Vietnam was winnable; it was a war for democracy; it represented a global mission for peace and prosperity.

Humphrey’s adviser Thomas Hughes recalled that Humphrey returned from Vietnam “saying things that were crazy” about the virtues of the war. In a meeting of the National Security Council in June 1966, Humphrey said, “I have come around reluctantly to accepting the wider bombing program.”

For two years, Humphrey seemed to genuinely believe that Vietnam was a necessary war, that it represented a fight against global poverty and Communist tyranny. Humphrey convinced Johnson he believed this, that he had changed, and was welcomed back into Johnson’s good graces. (After Humphrey encouraged Johnson’s staff members to send the president his speeches supporting the war, Humphrey was admitted to the president’s luncheons on Vietnam.)

But as he promoted the war to the American people (his main task after 1966), Humphrey was increasingly taunted by the antiwar movement. When Humphrey emerged as the Democratic candidate in 1968 — after the assassination of Robert Kennedy and the upheaval at the Democratic National Convention — “Dump the Hump” became a common motto. Signs with slogans such as “Killer of Babies” and “Humphrey’s Johnson’s War Salesman” regularly greeted him on the campaign trail.

The protests agonized Humphrey. “All I had ever been as a liberal spokesman seemed lost, all that I had accomplished in significant programs was ignored. I felt robbed of my personal history,” he recalled.

On Sept. 30, 1968, Humphrey had enough of Johnson and his war, and in a speech in Salt Lake City he demanded a halt to the bombing. Humphrey called Johnson to warn him of the speech hours before. Johnson reacted coldly: “I take it you are not asking for my advice. You’re going to give the speech anyway.” Johnson then shunned Humphrey for the remainder of 1968 — indeed, the question remains whether Johnson favored Richard Nixon over Humphrey in the election, and whether Johnson’s hatred of Humphrey led to his loss.

But what if Humphrey had not been Johnson’s vice president — what if Humphrey remained in the Senate? What if Eugene McCarthy received the vice-presidential nomination in 1964 as he wanted? McCarthy would have become Humphrey: forced to defend America’s policy in Vietnam, and painted as a patsy for Johnson’s War. Humphrey would be the skeptic on Vietnam, and eventual vociferous critic — but also more palatable to the party establishment than McCarthy ever was. Divisions within the party would be united under a Humphrey candidacy in 1968, the wounds Vietnam opened among “New Democrats” healed by a Cold War liberal.

Humphrey could have won in 1968 under these circumstances. Would Humphrey have faced the same pressure as Nixon to end the war with “peace through honor?” Most likely, and certainly during his first term. But Humphrey would have immediately searched for a political solution to the war — for the conflict to end peacefully, and without further military commitment. Needless to say, he also would have continued to expand the Great Society, and not begin its long demolition, as Nixon did.

For these reasons, Humphrey represents the possibilities for a different history for the United States after 1968, particularly for Democrats looking today to rebuild their party and understand the mistakes of the past. Vietnam turned America’s leading liberal into a personification of liberalism’s failures. This is the tragedy of Hubert Humphrey and his Vietnam War — one that shapes Americans today.

Banned From Forbes: Why White Evangelicalism Is So Cruel — By Chris Ladd.

*This was originally posted to Forbes on Sunday, Mar 11. Forbes took it down today. This is the explanation I received from the editor. Here is the original article in full:

Robert Jeffress, Pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and an avid supporter of Donald Trump, earned headlines this week for his defense of the president’s adultery with a porn star. Regarding the affair and subsequent financial payments, Jeffress explained, “Even if it’s true, it doesn’t matter.”

Such a casual attitude toward adultery and prostitution might seem odd from a guy who blamed 9/11 on America’s sinfulness. However, seen through the lens of white evangelicals’ real priorities, Jeffress’ disinterest in Trump’s sordid lifestyle makes sense. Religion is inseparable from culture, and culture is inseparable from history. Modern, white evangelicalism emerged from the interplay between race and religion in the slave states. What today we call “evangelical Christianity,” is the product of centuries of conditioning, in which religious practices were adapted to nurture a slave economy. The calloused insensitivity of modern white evangelicals was shaped by the economic and cultural priorities that forged their theology over centuries.

Many Christian movements take the title “evangelical,” including many African-American denominations. However, evangelicalism today has been coopted as a preferred description for Christians who were looking to shed an older, largely discredited title: Fundamentalist. A quick glance at a map showing concentrations of adherents and weekly church attendance reveals the evangelical movement’s center of gravity in the Old South. And among those evangelical churches, one denomination remains by far the leader in membership, theological pull, and political influence.

There is still today a Southern Baptist Church. More than a century and a half after the Civil War, and decades after the Methodists and Presbyterians reunited with their Yankee neighbors, America’s most powerful evangelical denomination remains defined, right down to the name over the door, by an 1845 split over slavery.

Southern denominations faced enormous social and political pressure from plantation owners. Public expressions of dissent on the subject of slavery in the South were not merely outlawed, they were a death sentence. Baptist ministers who rejected slavery, like South Carolina’s William Henry Brisbane, were forced to flee to the North. Otherwise, they would end up like Methodist minister Anthony Bewley, who was lynched in Texas in 1860, his bones left exposed at local store to be played with by children. Whiteness offered protection from many of the South’s cruelties, but that protection stopped at the subject of race. No one who dared speak truth to power on the subject of slavery, or later Jim Crow, could expect protection.

Generation after generation, Southern pastors adapted their theology to thrive under a terrorist state. Principled critics were exiled or murdered, leaving voices of dissent few and scattered. Southern Christianity evolved in strange directions under ever-increasing isolation. Preachers learned to tailor their message to protect themselves. If all you knew about Christianity came from a close reading of the New Testament, you’d expect that Christians would be hostile to wealth, emphatic in protection of justice, sympathetic to the point of personal pain toward the sick, persecuted and the migrant, and almost socialist in their economic practices. None of these consistent Christian themes served the interests of slave owners, so pastors could either abandon them, obscure them, or flee.

What developed in the South was a theology carefully tailored to meet the needs of a slave state. Biblical emphasis on social justice was rendered miraculously invisible. A book constructed around the central metaphor of slaves finding their freedom was reinterpreted. Messages which might have questioned the inherent superiority of the white race, constrained the authority of property owners, or inspired some interest in the poor or less fortunate could not be taught from a pulpit. Any Christian suggestion of social justice was carefully and safely relegated to “the sweet by and by” where all would be made right at no cost to white worshippers. In the forge of slavery and Jim Crow, a Christian message of courage, love, compassion, and service to others was burned away.

Stripped of its compassion and integrity, little remained of the Christian message. What survived was a perverse emphasis on sexual purity as the sole expression of righteousness, along with a creepy obsession with the unquestionable sexual authority of white men. In a culture where race defined one’s claim to basic humanity, women took on a special religious interest. Christianity’s historic emphasis on sexual purity as a form of ascetic self-denial was transformed into an obsession with women and sex. For Southerners, righteousness had little meaning beyond sex, and sexual mores had far less importance for men than for women. Guarding women’s sexual purity meant guarding the purity of the white race. There was no higher moral demand.

Changes brought by the Civil War only heightened the need to protect white racial superiority. Churches were the lynchpin of Jim Crow. By the time the Civil Rights movement gained force in the South, Dallas’ First Baptist Church, where Jeffress is the pastor today, was a bulwark of segregation and white supremacy. As the wider culture nationally has struggled to free itself from the burdens of racism, white evangelicals have fought this development while the violence escalated. What happened to ministers who resisted slavery happened again to those who resisted segregation. White Episcopal Seminary student, Jonathan Daniels, went to Alabama in 1965 to support voting rights protests. After being released from jail, he was murdered by an off-duty sheriff’s deputy, who was acquitted by a jury. Dozens of white activists joined the innumerable black Americans murdered fighting for civil rights in the 60’s, but very few of them were Southern.

White Evangelical Christians opposed desegregation tooth and nail. Where pressed, they made cheap, cosmetic compromises, like Billy Graham’s concession to allow black worshipers at his crusades. Graham never made any difficult statements on race, never appeared on stage with his “black friend” Martin Luther King after 1957, and he never marched with King. When King delivered his “I Have a Dream Speech,” Graham responded with this passive-aggressive gem of Southern theology, “Only when Christ comes again will the little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with little black children.” For white Southern evangelicals, justice and compassion belong only to the dead.

Churches like First Baptist in Dallas did not become stalwart defenders of segregation by accident. Like the wider white evangelical movement, it was then and remains today an obstacle to Christian notions of social justice thanks to a long, dismal heritage. There is no changing the white evangelical movement without a wholesale reconsideration of their theology. No sign of such a reckoning is apparent.

Those waiting to see the bottom of white evangelical cruelty have little source of optimism. Men like Pastor Jeffress can dismiss Trump’s racist abuses as easily as they dismiss his fondness for porn stars. When asked about Trump’s treatment of immigrants, Jeffress shared these comments:

Solving DACA without strengthening borders ignores the teachings of the Bible. In fact, Christians who support open borders, or blanket amnesty, are cherry-picking Scriptures to suit their own agendas.

For those unfamiliar with Christian scriptures, it might helpful to point out what Jesus reportedly said about this subject, and about the wider question of our compassion for the poor and the suffering:

Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.

What did Jesus say about abortion, the favorite subject of Jeffress and the rest of the evangelical movement? Nothing. What does the Bible say about abortion, a practice as old as civilization? Nothing. Not one word. The Bible’s exhortations to compassion for immigrants and the poor stretch long enough to comprise a sizeable book of their own, but no matter. White evangelicals will not let their political ambitions be constrained by something as pliable as scripture.

Why is the religious right obsessed with subjects like abortion while unmoved by the plight of immigrants, minorities, the poor, the uninsured, and those slaughtered in pointless gun violence? No white man has ever been denied an abortion. Few if any white men are affected by the deportation of migrants. White men are not kept from attending college by laws persecuting Dreamers. White evangelical Christianity has a bottomless well of compassion for the interests of straight white men, and not a drop to be spared for anyone else at their expense. The cruelty of white evangelical churches in politics, and in their treatment of their own gay or minority parishioners, is no accident. It is an institution born in slavery, tuned to serve the needs of Jim Crow, and entirely unwilling to confront either of those realities.

Men like Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy group, are trying to reform the Southern Baptist church in increments, much like Billy Graham before him. His statements on subjects like the Confederate Flag and sexual harassment are bold, but only relative to previous church proclamations. He’s still about three decades behind the rest of American culture in recognition of the basic human rights of the country’s non-white, non-male citizens. Resistance he is facing from evangelicals will continue so long as the theology informing white evangelical religion remains unconsidered and unchallenged.

While white evangelical religion remains dedicated to its roots, it will perpetuate its heritage. What this religious heritage produced in the 2016 election, when white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump by a record margin, is the truest expression of its moral character.

You will know a tree by its fruit.

Doonesbury — Appointment TV.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Random Thought

There are at least 20,000 people in the state of Illinois who are not only okay with a Nazi running for Congress, they actually made the effort to vote for him.

I seriously think we need to make an effort to encourage people like Arthur Jones to run for office.  That way we’ll eliminate the dog whistles and the wink-wink nudge-nudge that racists and anti-Semites used to sneak into office.  Let’s have them heil their way out onto the stage of American politics so we at least know they’re out there.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Friday, March 9, 2018

Ministry Of Propaganda

Sinclair Broadcasting wants you to know that everything is wonderful under the Trump regime and any news that doesn’t reinforce that line is fake, left-wing, and not nice.

Sinclair, one of the biggest owners of local TV stations in the U.S., with 193 outlets in 89 markets, sent scripts of the promos to news directors, instructing that they be produced “exactly as they are written,” according to CNN.

“I’m [we are] concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country,” the spot begins. “The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media. More alarming, national media outlets are publishing these same fake stories without checking facts first. Unfortunately, some members of the national media are using their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think’ … This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.”

It concludes that reporting facts ― which are neither “left nor right” ― is their duty as journalists. All Sinclair stations had to run an almost identical segment last year as well, The New York Times reported.

“I felt like a POW recording a message,” one anchor at a Sinclair-owned station told CNN.

Sinclair has a history of advancing a conservative agenda. Another recent iteration of right-wing bias came in the form of a requirement that its stations air pro-Trump segments featuring Boris Epshteyn (a former Trump White House official) nine times per week.

The media giant is trying to expand its reach in major cities with a proposed deal to acquire 42 stations currently owned by Tribune Media.

Here’s a list of stations owned by Sinclair.  If one of them is in your area, you should know it.  As Charlie Pierce suggests, there’s always a Law & Order rerun on somewhere.