Friday, November 17, 2017

And The Same To You, Sheriff

A sheriff in Texas has an issue with the First Amendment.

Karen Fonseca was booked into the jail shortly after 2 p.m. on Thursday for a fraud charge. Her bail is set at $1500.

Her arrest comes after Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls on Wednesday created a social media firestorm with a Facebook post threatening to bring disorderly conduct charges against the driver of a truck displaying a profane anti-Trump message on its rear window.

Nehls told the Houston Chronicle that he had received calls, texts and emails in recent days from people who took offense at the language in bold, white lettering: “F— TRUMP AND F— YOU FOR VOTING FOR HIM.”

The sheriff, a Republican who is weighing a bid for Congress shared a photo on his official Facebook page in hopes that it would help to identify the truck owner. The license plate is not visible in the image.

Turns out, Fonseca said she used to work for Nehls in the county jail.

Karen Fonseca said the truck belongs to her husband but that she often drives it. They had the sticker made and added it to the window after the billionaire real estate magnate and reality TV star was sworn into office.

The sticker has attracted attention many times before, Fonseca said. People shake their head. They take photos of it. Officers have pulled her over but failed to find a reason for writing a ticket.
Now the sheriff is taking it on, but Fonseca did not plan to contact him.

“It’s not to cause hate or animosity,” said Fonseca, 46. “It’s just our freedom of speech and we’re exercising it.”

I’m sure its a coincidence that the outstanding warrant search popped after she went public.  One way or another, they find you if you say the wrong thing in front of the right people.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Sunday Reading

Deadly Serious — John Cassidy on Robert Mueller’s mission.

On Friday night, CNN reported that a grand jury in Washington, D.C., has approved the first charges arising from the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign and the Russian government. Citing “sources briefed on the matter,” the network said that a judge had ordered the charges kept under seal, but that at least one arrest could take place as early as Monday.

Details were scant. The CNN report didn’t specify what the charges were or whom they had been brought against. But the news created an immediate furor, as other news organizations sought to follow up the story, and people on television and social media began speculating about the nature of the charges. Shortly before midnight, the Wall Street Journalconfirmed CNN’s scoop, without providing any additional details.

Speaking on CNN, Michael Zeldin, a lawyer who served as a special assistant to Mueller when he was director of the F.B.I., suggested that Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, might be the person charged. Zeldin imagined Mueller taking such a step to pressure Manafort to coöperate. “There is a lot of pressure on people who are under investigation to coöperate with Mueller after this indictment,” Zeldin said. Well before Mueller was appointed special counsel, the F.B.I. had been investigating Manafort’s financial ties to a pro-Russia party in the Ukraine. Mueller took over that investigation after he was appointed, in May. In July, F.B.I. agents staged a pre-dawn raid on Manafort’s home in Alexandria, Virginia.

Manafort isn’t the only name being speculated about. Other commentators suggested that Carter Page, a former adviser to the Trump campaign who had his own extensive Russian ties, or Michael Flynn, the former national-security adviser who was ousted from the White House over his post-election contact with Russia, might be subjects of the charges. It has been reported that the former F.B.I. director James Comey, when he was leading the Russia investigation, secured permission from a secret court operating under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to tap the communications of Page and Manafort. It has also been reported that Mueller’s team demanded White House documents about Flynn.

A key political question is whether these charges are related to things that happened as part of the Trump campaign, or whether they relate to alleged wrongdoings that occurred before it began or separate from it. If there are direct ties between the charges and the campaign, that will obviously have huge ramifications on Capitol Hill and elsewhere. But if the charges concern alleged actions on the part of Manafort or others that were unrelated to the 2016 campaign, the White House may well accuse Mueller of moving beyond his remit. That allegation wouldn’t be accurate—the terms of Mueller’s appointment gave him license to investigate “any matters that arose or may arise directly” from the Russia probe—but accuracy has never concerned Trump much.

One thing we can say for sure is that the news of the charges has moved the Mueller investigation firmly into the media spotlight, where it is likely to stay. Since Mueller’s appointment, his team of prosecutors and investigators has operated largely out of the public eye. One of the few known facts was that it had convened a grand jury in Washington. Friday night’s CNN report said that earlier in the day, “top lawyers who are helping to lead the Mueller probe, including veteran prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, were seen entering the court room at the D.C. federal court where the grand jury meets to hear testimony in the Russia investigation.”

There was no immediate comment from the White House about the CNN story. But it was published less than twelve hours after Donald Trump tweeted, “It is now commonly agreed, after many months of COSTLY looking, that there was NO collusion between Russia and Trump. Was collusion with HC!”

For days, the White House and conservative media organizations have been touting a Washington Poststory that revealed that Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee helped to pay for the controversial Russia dossier written by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer. “I think this further proves if there was anyone that was colluding with the Russians to influence the election, look no further than the Clintons, look no further than the D.N.C.,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House spokeswoman, told Fox News on Thursday. “Everything that the Clinton campaign and the D.N.C. were falsely accusing this President of doing over the past year, they were actually doing themselves.”

After CNN published its story on Friday night, some Democrats and commentators suggested that the Trump Administration may have known the Mueller indictments were coming and leaked the Steele story to create a smokescreen. “So clearly target is in crosshairs, alerted Trumpsville, right wing media & Trump engineered mass diversion &main stream media fell for it,” Neera Tanden, a former adviser to Hillary Clinton who is the president of the Center for American Progress, tweeted.

Plausible as that theory sounds, it, too, is conjecture. What isn’t speculation is the fact that, five months into his investigation, Mueller has brought a first set of criminal charges. By the standards of recent special prosecutors, that is fast work, and it confirms Mueller’s reputation as someone who doesn’t like to dally. Now that he has started arresting people, there is no reason to suppose he will stop. And that is precisely the message he wants to send.

Hurricane Recovery — Nathalie Baptiste and Mark Helenowski on how nature is reclaiming itself five years after Sandy.

Five years ago, Superstorm Sandy—a monstrous post-tropical cyclone with hurricane force winds—struck New York, bringing record-breaking wind gusts and deadly flooding. In New York City, 53 people diednearly half of them were from Staten Island. The Ocean Breeze, Midland Beach, and Dongan Hills communities were especially hard hit, with 11 fatalities.  A few months after the storm, WNYC reporter Matthew Schuerman described the square mile that makes up parts of these communities as “the most dangerous place to be in New York City” during Sandy.

Joe Herrnkind, a middle-aged man who moved to Ocean Breeze in 2000, remembers those days, as he walks through the deserted streets of his once tight-knit beach community. Most of the homes have been torn down, and a few are boarded up waiting to be demolished. The homes that do remain are surrounded by empty plots of land where wild turkeys wander. Unlike many other New York victims of Sandy who have rebuilt their communities, those from these neighborhoods knew that rebuilding was not the best option. Some sold their land to developers, and a few others, like Herrnkind and his neighbors, sold their land to the governor’s office so it can be returned to its natural state.

“We’re a low-lying community,” he says. “We had constant flooding and wildfires. You hear all this and you’re saying, ‘Why would you want to live there?’”

Recent hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria have all raised the same question: What is to be done with the dozens of towns and cities in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico that have developed infrastructure on vulnerable flood-prone land that routinely requires massive cleanup and rebuilding efforts after each disastrous storm? Altogether, the recent storms could costup to nearly $400 billion in damages. But some communities and local leaders are starting to realize that this model won’t break the cycle. In Ocean Breeze, instead of rebuilding on vulnerable flood plains, some residents have chosen to leave old neighborhoods behind and let nature take its course.

In 2012, when Sandy approached New York, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered evacuations of nearly 375,000 people in low-lying communities ahead of the storm. Herrnkind gathered his two dogs and left to stay with a friend in New Jersey. Most of his neighbors followed the evacuation orders, but eight or nine families stayed behind. Two of his neighbors died.

Sandy’s peak winds were recorded at 115 miles per hour and Staten Island saw wind gusts of up to 80 miles per hour. Father Cappodano Boulevard, the main road separating Ocean Breeze from the Atlantic, rises several feet above the side streets. Sandy’s unprecedented 16-foot surge overtopped the roads and poured into homes. A few days later, when Herrnkind was able to return, he had no idea if his home was going to be standing. The city estimated that more than 300,000 homes were damaged by the storm’s flood.

“An officer told me, ‘You can’t go down there,’” Herrnkind recalls. When he finally arrived the water was still nearly waist deep. “It’s still there,” he remembers thinking when he first saw his house. “I have something to work with.” The watermark on a lamp post today shows that the storm surge reached far above his head, which explains why his furniture and all his personal belongings were gone.

Local leaders struggled to respond to the crisis. New York City created Build It Back, a program for rebuilding destroyed and damaged homes. There are more than 8,000 participants and by 2017, the mayor’s office estimates 87 percent of those who enrolled have received compensation, completed construction, or had their homes acquired by the city. But the program has come under criticism. Many homeowners dropped out due to delays. City Controller Scott Stringer and City Councilman Mark Treyger who represents parts of Brooklyn have been fierce critics of the program. In a letter to Build It Back director Amy Peterson, the two wrote that the number of dropouts “raises serious questions about our City’s ability to mount an efficient and effective recovery operation in the event of a future disaster.” Herrnkind jokingly refers to it as “Build It Wrong.”

After six months of living in his car, which he had parked in front of his abandoned house, and disappointed by the city’s program, Hernnkind realized “the land itself should never have been built on.” Much of the region was a salt marsh, particularly vulnerable to storm surge and floods. “It was a very low, natural, spongy salt marsh, and it was filled to create homes,” Robert Brauman, a project manager for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection told Curbed New York in 2016, “and that was where the problems started.”

Another option for some homeowners was a program from the Governor’s Office for Sandy Recovery, which has been buying houses that were destroyed or substantially damaged and transforming them to open space and wetlands. The goal is to create a natural coastal buffer that can protect communities from future storms. In late 2013, more than a year after the storm Gov. Cuomo announced that Ocean Breeze would join Oakwood Beach as a town eligible for state buyouts, and Hernnkind’s entire block was included. Reluctant to “put someone else in harm’s way,” Hernnkind concluded that he and his neighbors should take advantage of the state buyout program. He was able to sell his home to the state at pre-storm value and move elsewhere on the island.

So far, more than 600 homes have been purchased through the buyout program. Once the sale goes through, the state government demolishes the home and lets nature reclaim the land. Today, Ocean Breeze is mostly empty, but complicating matters are the residents who refuse to leave. In Oakwood Beach where most of the land is going back to nature, remaining residents struggle with lack of trash pick-up and crumbling roads. One of Herrnkind’s former neighbors who stayed behind is an elderly woman who feared her children would put her in a nursing home if she left. Some opted out of the program because they didn’t have the proper paperwork required to sell their homes. Others didn’t want to give up their homes in a community they loved.

But staying behind comes with a cost. According to the New York Timesflood insurance premiums could rise up to 25 percent for homes that were damaged by Sandy.

On Hernnkind’s section of the street, only one home remains out of eight. “Around here, 90 percent of each block went,” he says, “and only one or two people stayed.” Just down the street from where Herrnkind used to live, more turkeys mill about on empty lots where homes used to be.

Hernnkind’s former neighbor Frank Moszczynski, a tall man with a large presence, took the state buyout and moved to another neighborhood on Staten Island. He doesn’t have much sympathy for someone who willingly stays in a vulnerable area. “Why should someone emergency workers have to go out and risk their lives for someone who chose to stay in harm’s way?” he asks pointedly. Today, the only thing protecting the Ocean Breeze from another storm is a four-foot hill of sand.

Across the street from the vacant lot he used to call home, Hernnkind stands on the beach looking at the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and Brooklyn’s Coney Island, a view he used to be able to see from his bedroom window. “If it weren’t for Sandy,” he says, “I’d still be here.”

How Twitter Killed the First Amendment — Tim Wu in the New York Times.

You need not be a media historian to notice that we live in a golden age of press harassment, domestic propaganda and coercive efforts to control political debate. The Trump White House repeatedly seeks to discredit the press, threatens to strip broadcasters of their licenses and calls for the firing of journalists and football players for speaking their minds. A foreign government tries to hack our elections, and journalists and public speakers are regularly attacked by vicious, online troll armies whose aim is to silence opponents.

In this age of “new” censorship and blunt manipulation of political speech, where is the First Amendment? Americans like to think of it as the great protector of the press and of public debate. Yet it seems to have become a bit player, confined to a narrow and often irrelevant role. It is time to ask: Is the First Amendment obsolete? If so, what can be done?

These questions arise because the jurisprudence of the First Amendment was written for a different set of problems in a very different world. The First Amendment was ignored for much of American history, coming to life only in the 1920s thanks to the courage of judges like Learned Hand, Louis Brandeis and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Courts and civil libertarians used the amendment to protect speakers from government prosecution and censorship as it was practiced in the 20th century, such as the arrest of pamphleteers and the seizure of anarchist newspapers by the Postal Service.

But in the 21st century, censorship works differently, as the writer and academic Zeynep Tufekci has illustrated. The complete suppression of dissenting speech isn’t feasible in our “cheap speech” era. Instead, the world’s most sophisticated censors, including Russia and China, have spent a decade pioneering tools and techniques that are better suited to the internet age. Unfortunately, those new censorship tools have become unwelcome imports in the United States, with catastrophic results for our democracy.

The Russian government was among the first to recognize that speech itself could be used as a tool of suppression and control. The agents of its “web brigade,” often called the “troll army,” disseminate pro-government news, generate false stories and coordinate swarm attacks on critics of the government. The Chinese government has perfected “reverse censorship,” whereby disfavored speech is drowned out by “floods” of distraction or pro-government sentiment. As the journalist Peter Pomerantsev writes, these techniques employ information “in weaponized terms, as a tool to confuse, blackmail, demoralize, subvert and paralyze.”

Our distressing state of public discourse stems from the widespread use of these new tools of censorship and speech control, including by the White House. The administration habitually crosses the line between fact and propaganda. Instead of taking action itself, it demands that others punish its supposed enemies. To add to the mess, it is apparent that the Russian government and possibly others hope to manipulate American political debate, as its exploitation of Facebook and Twitter in the last election shows.

What can be done? It is time to recognize that the American political process and marketplace for ideas are under attack, and that reinvigorating the First Amendment is vital. First, it is an imperative that law enforcement and lawmakers do more to protect journalists and other public speakers from harassment and threats. Cyberstalking is a crime. And as the Supreme Court has made clear, threats of violence are not protected speech. A country where speaking one’s mind always results in death threats is not a country that can be said to be truly free.

Second, too little is being done to protect American politics from foreign attack. The Russian efforts to use Facebook, YouTube and other social media to influence American politics should compel Congress to act. Social media has as much impact as broadcasting on elections, yet unlike broadcasting it is unregulated and has proved easy to manipulate. At a minimum, new rules should bar social media companies from accepting money for political advertising by foreign governments or their agents. And more aggressive anti-bot laws are needed to fight impersonation of humans for propaganda purposes.

Finally, the White House needs to be held accountable when it tries to use private parties to circumvent First Amendment protections. When it encourages others to punish its critics — as when it demanded that the N.F.L., on pain of tax penalties, censor players — it is wielding state power to punish disfavored speech. There is precedent for such abuses to be challenged in court.

Some might argue, based on the sophomoric premise that “more speech is always better,” that the current state of chaos is what the First Amendment intended. But no defensible free-speech tradition accepts harassment and threats as speech, treats foreign propaganda campaigns as legitimate debate or thinks that social-media bots ought to enjoy constitutional protection. A robust and unfiltered debate is one thing; corruption of debate itself is another. We have entered a far more dangerous place for the republic; its defense requires stronger protections for what we once called the public sphere.

Doonesbury — Walled off.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Declaration of Independence

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Sunday Reading

Al Franken, the Anti-Trump — Joan Walsh profiles the Minnesota senator in The Nation.

Torrential rain came down on the late May afternoon I interviewed Senator Al Franken about his new book, Al Franken: Giant of the Senate (yes, he’s still funny). Thunder and lightning jolted our conversation, along with laughter, much of it his. (Staffers say they can always find him at events by following the laugh.) Having won reelection in 2014 and endured the nightmare of 2016, he has decided to Let Franken Be Franken Again: Hilarious. Sometimes, I told him, the book reads as though he saved up all the jokes his staff wouldn’t let him tell over the last decade. “There were a few of them,” he admits. “That [Antonin] Scalia’s dissent [on marriage equality] was ‘very gay…’ I really fought for that one! I’d already been reelected. I will argue my case, but if my people say absolutely not, I pay attention almost all the time.”

As a demoralized Democratic Party looks for new leadership, Franken has written the kind of thoughtful, bracing book that will make people say: “Al Franken is running for president in 2020.” He resolutely says he’s not—but Giant of the Senate is enough to make you wish he’d change his mind, in part because of the way Franken is an ideal foil to Donald Trump. Superficially, they both entered politics as TV stars. But, as he chronicles in Giant, Franken worked hard to become a senator who happens to be a comedian, rather than a comedian who unexpectedly became a senator, earning the respect of his colleagues in the process. Trump has resolutely and dangerously refused to do the same.

Now, with this book, Franken is both resistance leader and family counselor. Giant sometimes reads like a pep talk for Democrats devastated by Hillary Clinton’s loss and Trump’s victory. Yet it was mostly written before November 8, when Franken, like virtually everyone in public life, believed Clinton would be the next president. “I was essentially finished with the book,” he admits. “So then I had to figure out what to do with Trump. I decided I’d tie it into what was already there. My pep talk to the troops is actually about what happened between the 2004 presidential loss and 2008. I mean, [Karl] Rove was talking about a permanent GOP majority.”

But Democrats pushed back, and Franken was part of that resistance, eviscerating the right with best-sellers like Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, then hosting a popular three-hour daily Air America radio show where he deconstructed the lies in real time.

Trump seems the culmination of everything Franken wrote about in Lying Liars, I note. “Don’t you find that depressing?” I ask him.

He sighs. “You can’t allow yourself that,” he warns me. Remember, he says, that the work of the left in 2005, in organizations from the late, great Air America to the Center for American Progress, beat back a Bush plan to privatize Social Security and led “to [Democrats taking back the House in] 2006. Then 2008 and then boom, there’s the reversal.”

Boom. He makes it sound easy. He knows it’s not.

Franken’s mission for Giant is serious: to use his personal story to illuminate and entertain, and ultimately reorient the nation around progressive priorities that direct government to help families and businesses rebuild the middle class. In many ways, the book’s moral center is the story of his family and the family of his wife, Franni. He was born in the middle of the country in the middle of the 20th century in the middle of the greatest middle class ever created; Franni grew up poor.

“I felt like the luckiest kid in the world—and that’s because I was,” he told me. “Then I met Franni, and she didn’t grow up that way. She grew up poor, because her dad died when she was 18 months old. Her mom was 29 years old with five kids and a high-school education. They were hungry; they had the heat turned off and the phone turned off. But they made it. And they made it because of Social Security survivors’ benefits. They made it because of Pell Grants and scholarships. They made it because of the GI Bill. My mother-in-law took out a GI Bill loan [as the widow of a veteran] and went to college and had all of her loans forgiven because she taught Title I kids. That’s the story: Every one of her kids made it into the middle class. They tell you to pull yourself up by the bootstraps? But first you have to have the boots. And the government gave them the boots.”

The book is not all tributes to the hard-working middle class or detailed economic prescriptions, though there’s some of that. Franken also tells his own personal story with candor. He puts all his drug use on the record, for example, going beyond the Barack Obama political-memoir standard (weed and cocaine) to LSD. There’s a chapter titled: “Saturday Night Live (The Drug Part),” which is funny and bawdy and ultimately heartbreaking, as you watch the cast lose not just John Belushi but Chris Farley to addiction.

Franken also talks about the late Tom Davis, his beloved comic partner from high school into the 1990s, who struggled with addiction to alcohol and drugs. Franni, the soul of the book, also developed a reliance on alcohol as she raised their two kids. Franni got sober, and her husband went to Al Anon, where he learned he could be sort of a judgmental jerk. His Stuart Smalley SNL character—“You’re good enough, you’re smart enough and doggone it, people like you!”—was a comic tribute to the simple wisdom of the recovery movement on what it takes to face down life’s hard knocks without relying on alcohol or on being an asshole.

I came of age with early SNL, so all of this was like candy to me. The chapters on Franken’s post-SNL career, and the way he transitioned first to truth-telling, best-selling author, then Air America host and finally Senate candidate, were just as absorbing for someone who survived the Bush presidency. His recounting of those years really does help remind us that we can organize our way through dark times. For Franken, maybe the darkest day was when Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash right before his election, with his wife, daughter, three staffers, and two pilots. The lying liars on the right depicted the public Wellstone tribute as a crude, menacing partisan rage-fest, infuriating Franken.

But it’s when Wellstone’s successor, Republican Norm Coleman, boasted that he’s “a 99 percent improvement” over Wellstone that Franken started to feel the stirrings of political ambition.

From that point on, the book is a hilarious guide to what happens when a comedian runs for Congress. Franken can change his shtick, tell fewer jokes, show a serious side, give 45-minute orations on the skyrocketing costs of college or health care. The one thing he can’t do is erase the jokes that are already out there. Some GOP hit pieces took his gags out of context; those didn’t land a blow.

But Franken suffered over three: first, an apparent Holocaust joke about the worst gift to give Anne Frank (the answer: drums). It turns out that Franken didn’t even write or tell that joke, but he was in close proximity, and it made some Minnesota establishment politicians a little anxious. (It made Harry Reid, however, cry with laughter, when Franken called to tell him about the controversy over the phone.)

He gets in more trouble with a spoof he wrote for Playboy headlined “Porn-O-Rama,” about visiting a virtual-sex institute. But the worst was a joke attributed to Franken from a 1994 2 am SNL writers’ room rewrite session, working on a sketch in which cornball 60 Minutes staple Andy Rooney goes from banal to berserk. Franken suggested that Rooney find an empty bottle of sedatives and give the pills to show correspondent Lesley Stahl, and then he’d “take her to the closet and rape her.” In the book, Franken has the space to give the context for the joke: that he knows it’s terrible, that it was never meant to be aired, that it was the kind of free-associative crazy idea intended to jolt everyone’s psyches and inspire better (and less offensive) jokes. His SNL pal Conan O’Brian commiserates, telling Franken: “If I was on the stand at a trial, and the prosecutor asked me, ‘Mr. O’Brien, have you ever joked at a rewrite table about defiling Lincoln’s body immediately after he was shot? I’d have to throw myself on the mercy of the court.”

But rewrite-room excuses didn’t fly in the 24/7 reality of the campaign, and the “joke” almost killed Franken’s campaign. It landed on the eve of the Minnesota convention where he hoped to be chosen as the Democratic nominee to face Coleman. He made the dangerous move of addressing the controversy in a raw convention speech. “It kills me that things I said and wrote sent a message to some of my friends in this room and people in this state that they can’t count on me to be a champion for women, a champion for all Minnesotans, in this campaign and in the Senate,” he told the crowd. I’m sorry for that.” He went on to acknowledge he’d written and told some “offensive” jokes over the years, that he’d made some folks “uncomfortable,” and ended: “But I’m in this race because there are some people in Washington who could afford to feel a little less comfortable.” And he promised the first person he’d make uncomfortable was Norm Coleman.

He won the nomination, but the GOP continued to depict him as a “rape-joking pornographer,” though he had the strong support of women’s groups and his campaign was run by Stephanie Schriock, who now run’s Emily’s List. Candidate Obama refused to campaign with him when he came to Minnesota for his own race, though Hillary Clinton did, twice. Even after his formal state nomination, the head then of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, Senator Chuck Schumer, tried to shop around for a new candidate. Franken had to promise that if he couldn’t cut his deficit with Coleman to 5 percent by Labor Day, he’d drop out and let a Schumer-picked Minnesota Democrat take his place.

Franken did what he had to do, but trailed Coleman in tracking polls into October. “That’s when Franni saved the campaign,” he writes. His wife, who’d been private about her struggles with alcoholism, did an ad about it. “When I was struggling with my recovery, Al stood right by my side and he stood up for me.” The ad diluted the GOP’s toxic claims that Franken disrespected women. He won, after a recount, by 312 votes. But Coleman fought the results by every means possible, and Franken didn’t take his Senate seat until July.

The trauma of being accused of disrespecting women made it even more incredible, to Franken, that Trump could be elected. “My experience in ’08 was really having to agonize about this stuff,” he recalls, “stuff that was only a joke.” “And then Trump got elected in ’16, with all this awful stuff about him that was real!”

Arriving late to the Senate, Franken won a seat on the Judiciary Committee, where he’s made news with his dogged questioning of Supreme Court nominees and now Trump cabinet appointees. He had one of his finest moments dragging Justice Neil Gorsuch over his ruling against a trucker who abandoned his nonfunctioning vehicle in subzero weather, basically to save his life. “What would you have done?” Franken asked fiercely, and Gorsuch bleated, shamelessly: “Oh, Senator, I don’t know what I would’ve done—I wasn’t in his shoes.”

Franken’s tough questioning also led, ultimately, to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s having to recuse himself from the investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia, after he essentially perjured himself by telling Franken he’d never had contact with Russian officials, though he’d met with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the campaign.

Some progressives, I note, worry that the Russia investigation is distracting Democrats from other pressing issues. Some see it as a way for Clinton supporters to cover over the troubles in her campaign that led her to lose to a misogynist joke like Trump. Franken disagrees. “The Russia investigation is incredibly important—it’s about a foreign power interfering with the very basis of our democracy. So we shouldn’t lose sight of that. But we have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time—health care being a prime example.”

There’s only one topic on which Franken is tight-lipped: the Democratic Party divisions that linger since the bruising 2016 primary battle between Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders. Franken endorsed Clinton early, and I asked if he regretted that, given what came later (the Minnesota Democratic caucus went for Sanders). I got a quick and resounding “No.”

We talked about single-payer health insurance–there’s a bill in California to establish a statewide single payer system, and some on the left want to make supporting it a litmus test for California Democrats. Is he worried about that?

“Vermont tried it and they couldn’t quite get to it,” he observed. Franken writes positively about single payer in his book, noting that it would have been a “much simpler” solution than the ACA. “But I also wrote that we needed 60 votes to pass something, and single payer was about 50 votes short. There are many ways to get to universal health care coverage; the problem is we don’t have a health care system, we have systems.”

Franken is as pro-choice as senators come, so I ask him about the tensions over the place in the party of so-called pro-life Democrats, which flared in the unsuccessful Omaha mayoral campaign of Heath Mello. Does he worry the party is in danger of putting the pursuit of white working-class guys over the women and people of color that make up its base?

“We do have to pay attention to them, clearly—but not at the exclusion of anybody else.” He repeats himself. “Not at the exclusion of anybody else. We have to talk about economic issues. It’s clear from the budget that Trump was talking out of one side of his mouth and he doesn’t care about those people, because if he did, this wouldn’t be his budget. So we need to take that message to them.”

But Clinton talked about economic issues, I remind him. Still, she fell short—in places like Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin; even his own state of Minnesota was a tighter contest than many expected.

“I think part of it was the Bernie problem,” he replied. “These people are angry. And they’re angry because they feel the system is rigged—and it is rigged, but not in the way they think.

“And we have the problem of people segmenting themselves in terms of where they get their news, and they just don’t wanna hear the other side of it. But you have to go there. I represent rural Minnesota, and I go there all the time. I co-chair the rural health caucus. I toured around there after the first [version of AHCA], and people up there hated it. The rural hospitals? They know how bad this bill was. But you gotta go everywhere, and reach them with the same message. Wellstone had the message: We all do better when we all do better.”

Franken is fairly optimistic the Senate can beat back the so-called American Health Care Act. “Even Mitch McConnell says he doesn’t know if he can get 50 votes.” I ask if he saw the news that House Freedom Caucus chair Mark Meadows cried when talking about how the amendment his caucus sponsored might threaten people with preexisting conditions. “He cried? I gotta tell you, I’m sometimes aghast at some of my Republican colleagues who really don’t understand how this stuff works.” He shares the story of a Republican Senate colleague, who he won’t name, who didn’t understand the way the House bill hurt people with preexisting conditions until Franken explained it.

The most clueless may be Donald Trump. “The quote of the year has to be ‘nobody knew how complicated healthcare was.’ Everybody knew. That is such an enormously dumb thing to say.”

Soon a staffer warns us we’ve only got five more minutes, so I throw out a last few bonus questions: Who in the Senate could have been a Saturday Night Live cast member?

“No one,” he answers immediately. “No one. Remember, I wasn’t a cast member, I wanted to be a cast member. I was just a featured player!” (Obviously, this still rankles.)

Could any of his SNL colleagues be senators?

“Oh yeah. A lot of them. Conan [O’Brien], definitely.”

And then, while we’re talking about role switching, I ask the question he’s already answered dozens of times, while talking about the book and elsewhere: Does he ever think about running for president against Trump? “No,” he says, again decisively. Why not?

He laughs. “It’s a really, really hard job!”

So there are no circumstances?

“No. None.”

I warn him that a lot of people may finish the book and either think he’s running—or wish he was. He shrugs.

“What I think is funny about the book—remember I started writing it in 2015, I’d basically finished it when Trump was elected—is some people are gonna read it now and go: ‘Oh, Franken really cracked the code of what kind of a memoir to write in a post-Trump world! He’s clearly playing three-dimensional chess and he’s four moves ahead of anyone else!’ And I’m like, ‘No, no, no!’”

Our time is (long past) up, but Franken waits with me for my ride to arrive. He is still talking when I turn off my tape recorder; I warn him I have to pay attention; once I hit delete instead of save because I was distracted; I confess I’m too embarrassed to say who I was interviewing.

“Nelson Mandela!” he deadpans, and we crack up.

My car arrives, he walks me to the door, and I make peace with the fact that Franken may never be president, but he’ll continue to be an excellent senator from Minnesota. We just need another dozen folks like him to begin to roll back what the GOP has wrought.

Attack on the First — David Snyder in Mother Jones looks at Trump’s war on free speech.

On May 17, while delivering a graduation speech to cadets at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, a scandal-plagued President Donald Trump took the opportunity to complain, yet again, about the news media. No leader in history, he said, has been treated as unfairly as he has been. Shortly thereafter, when the graduates presented Trump with a ceremonial sword, a live mic picked up Homeland Security chief John F. Kelly telling the president, “Use that on the press, sir!”

Kelly was presumably joking, but the press isn’t laughing. Presidents have complained bitterly about reporters since George Washington (“infamous scribblers“), but Trump has gone after the media with a venom unmatched by any modern president—including Richard Nixon. At campaign rallies, Trump herded reporters into pens, where they served as rhetorical cannon fodder, and things only got worse after the election. Prior to November 8, the media were “scum” and “disgusting.” Afterward, they became the “enemy of the American people.” (Even Nixon never went that far, noted reporter Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame. Nixon did refer to the press as “the enemy,” but only in private and without “the American people” part—an important distinction for students of authoritarianism.)

On April 29, the same day as this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner (which Trump boycotted), the president held a rally in Pennsylvania to commemorate his first 100 days. He spent his first 10 minutes or so attacking the media: CNN and MSNBC were “fake news.” The “totally failing New York Times” was getting “smaller and smaller,” now operating out of “a very ugly office building in a very crummy location.” Trump went on: “If the media’s job is to be honest and tell the truth, then I think we would all agree the media deserves a very, very big, fat failing grade. [Cheers.] Very dishonest people!”

Trump’s animosity toward the press isn’t limited to rhetoric. His administration has excluded from press briefings reporters who wrote critical stories, and it famously barred American media from his Oval Office meeting with Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador to the United States while inviting in Russia’s state-controlled news service.

Before firing FBI Director James Comey, Trump reportedly urged Comey to jail journalists who published classified information. As a litigious businessman, the president has expressed his desire to “open up” libel laws. In April, White House chief of staff Reince Preibus acknowledged that the administration had indeed examined its options on that front.

This behavior seems to be having a ripple effect: On May 9, a journalist was arrested in West Virginia for repeatedly asking a question that Tom Price, Trump’s health secretary, refused to answer. Nine days later, a veteran reporter was manhandled and roughly escorted out of a federal building after he tried (politely) to question an FCC commissioner. Montana Republican Greg Gianforte won a seat in the House of Representatives last week, one day after he was charged with assaulting a reporter who had pressed Gianforte for his take on the House health care bill. And over the long weekend, although it could be a coincidence, someone fired a gun of some sort at the offices of the Lexington Herald-Leader, a paper singled out days earlier by Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, who likened journalists to “cicadas” who “don’t actually seem to care about Kentucky.”

Where is all of this headed? It’s hard to know for sure, but as a lawyer (and former newspaper reporter) who has spent years defending press freedoms in America, I can say with some confidence that the First Amendment will soon be tested in ways we haven’t seen before. Let’s look at three key areas that First Amendment watchdogs are monitoring with trepidation.

Abusive Subpoenas

The First Amendment offers limited protections when a prosecutor or a civil litigant subpoenas a journalist in the hope of obtaining confidential notes and sources. In the 1972 case of Branzburg v. Hayes, a deeply divided Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution does not shield reporters from the obligation of complying with a grand jury subpoena. But the decision left room for the protection of journalists who refuse to burn a source in other contexts—in civil cases, for instance, or in criminal cases that don’t involve a grand jury. Some lower courts have ruled that the First Amendment indeed provides such protections.

Unlike most states, Congress has refused to pass a law protecting journalists who won’t burn their confidential sources.

The Constitution, of course, is merely a baseline for civil liberties. Recognizing the gap left by the Branzburg ruling, a majority of the states have enacted shield laws that give journalists protections that Branzburg held were not granted by the Constitution. Yet Congress, despite repeated efforts, has refused to pass such a law. This gives litigants in federal court, including prosecutors, significant leverage to force journalists into compliance. (In 2005, Judith Miller, then of the New York Times, spent 85 days in jail for refusing to reveal her secret source to a federal grand jury investigating the outing of Valerie Plame as a CIA agent. The source, Miller eventually admitted, was Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby.)

Trump will almost certainly take advantage of his leverage. He and his innermost circle have already demonstrated that they either fail to understand or fail to respect (or both) America’s long-standing tradition of restraint when it comes to a free press. During the campaign, Trump tweeted that Americans who burn the flag—a free-speech act explicitly protected by the Supreme Court—should be locked up or stripped of citizenship “perhaps.” In December, after the New York Times published a portion of Trump’s tax returns, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski declared that executive editor Dean Baquet “should be in jail.”

Trump took over the reins from an executive branch that was arguably harder on the press than any administration in recent history. President Barack Obama oversaw more prosecutions of leakers under the vaguely worded Espionage Act of 1917 than all other presidents combined, and he was more aggressive than most in wrenching confidential information from journalists.

Over the course of two months in 2012, Obama’s Justice Department secretly subpoenaed and seized phone records from more than 100 Associated Press reporters, potentially in violation of the department’s own policies. Thanks to the rampant overclassification of government documents, Obama’s pursuit of whistleblowers meant that even relatively mundane disclosures could have serious, even criminal, consequences for the leaker. Under Obama, McClatchy noted in 2013, “leaks to media are equated with espionage.”

The Obama administration went after leakers with zeal. One can only assume Trump will up the ante.

One can only assume Trump will up the ante. His administration’s calls to find and prosecute leakers grow more strident by the day. He and his surrogates in Congress have repeatedly tried to divert public discussion away from White House-Russia connections and in the direction of the leaks that brought those connections to light. It stands to reason that Trump’s Justice Department will try to obtain the sources, notes, and communication records of journalists on the receiving end of the leaks.

This could already be happening without our knowledge, and that would be a dangerous thing. Under current guidelines, the Justice Department is generally barred from deploying secret subpoenas for journalists’ records—subpoenas whose existence is not revealed to those whose records are sought. But there are exceptions: The attorney general or another “senior official” may approve no-notice subpoenas when alerting the subject would “pose a clear and substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation.”

The guidelines are not legally binding, in any case, so there may be little to prevent Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department from ignoring them or scrapping them entirely. Team Trump has already jettisoned the policies of its predecessors in other departments, and it’s pretty clear how Trump feels about the press.

The use of secret subpoenas against journalists is deeply problematic in a democracy. Their targets lack the knowledge to consult with a lawyer or to contest the subpoena in court. The public, also in the dark, is unable to pressure government officials to prevent them from subjecting reporters to what could be abusive fishing expeditions.

As president, Trump sets the tone for executives, lawmakers, and prosecutors at all levels. We have already seen a “Trump effect” in the abusive treatment of a reporter in the halls of the Federal Communications Commission, the arrest of the reporter in West Virginia, and the attack by Congressman-elect Gianforte.

We are also seeing the Trump effect in state legislatures, where the president’s rants may have contributed to a spate of legislative proposals deeply hostile to free speech, including bills that would essentially authorize police brutality or “unintentional” civilian violence against protesters and make some forms of lawful protest a felony. A leader who normalizes the use of overly broad or abusive subpoenas against journalists could cause damage all across the land.

Espionage Laws

A second area of concern is the Espionage Act of 1917, a law that has been used for nearly a century to prosecute leakers of classified information—from Daniel Ellsburg and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning. The government hasn’t ever tried to use it to prosecute the journalists or media organizations that publish the offending leaks—possibly because it was seen as a bad move in a nation that enshrines press protections in its founding document. But free-speech advocates have long been wary of the possibility.

The successful prosecution of a journalist under the Espionage Act seems unlikely—a long string of Supreme Court decisions supports the notion that reporters and news outlets are immune from civil or criminal liability when they publish information of legitimate public interest that was obtained unlawfully by an outside source. “A stranger’s illegal conduct,” the court’s majority opined in the 2001 Bartnicki v. Vopper case, “does not suffice to remove the First Amendment shield about a matter of public concern.” But like any appellate decision, the Bartnicki ruling is based on a specific set of facts. So there are no guarantees here.

Litigious Billionaires

Very, very rich people with grievances against the press are as old as the press itself. But the number of megawealthy Americans has exploded in recent years, as has the number of small, nonprofit, or independent media outlets—many of which lack ready access to legal counsel. In short, billionaires who wish to exact vengeance for unflattering coverage enjoy a target-rich environment.

Win or lose, a billionaire with an ax to grind and a fleet of expensive lawyers can cause enormous damage to a media outlet.

Trump did not create this environment. But from his presidential bully pulpit, he has pushed a narrative that can only fuel the fire. The Trumpian worldview holds that the media deserves to be put in its place; the press is venal, dishonest, and “fake” most of the time. It should be more subject to legal liability so that, in his words, “we can sue them and win lots of money.”

Win or lose, a billionaire with an ax to grind and a fleet of expensive lawyers can cause enormous damage to a media outlet, particularly one with limited means (which, these days, is most media outlets). Some lawsuits by deep-pocketed plaintiffs, like the one filed against Mother Jones by Idaho billionaire Frank VanderSloot (a case I helped defend), are ultimately dismissed by the courts. Others, such as Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker Media—funded by Silicon Valley billionaire and Trump adviser Peter Thiel—succeed and put the media outlet out of business. Another recent suit, filed by Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson against a Wall Street Journal reporter, ultimately settled.

Regardless of the outcome of such cases, the message to the media is clear: Don’t offend people who have vast resources. Even a frivolous lawsuit can stifle free speech by hitting publishers where it hurts (the wallet) and subjecting them to legal harassment. This is especially so in the 22 states that lack anti-SLAPP statutes—laws that facilitate the rapid dismissal of libel claims without merit.

The VanderSloot lawsuit is instructive. Although a court in Idaho ultimately threw out all the billionaire’s claims against Mother Jones, the process took almost two years. During that time, VanderSloot and Mother Jones engaged in a grueling regimen of coast-to-coast depositions and extensive and costly discovery and legal motions. Along the way, VanderSloot sued a former small-town newspaper reporter and subjected him to 10 hours of depositions, which resulted in the reporter breaking down in tears while VanderSloot, who had flown to Portland for the occasion, looked on. VanderSloot also deposed the journalist’s ex-boyfriend and threatened to sue him until he agreed to recant statements he had made online.

Trump has not brought any libel lawsuits as president—but his wife has.

Victory did not come cheap for Mother Jones: The final tab was about $2.5 million, only part of which was covered by insurance. And because Idaho lacks an anti-SLAPP statute, none of the magazine’s legal costs could be recovered from VanderSloot.

Despite his threats, Trump has not brought any libel lawsuits as president—but his wife has. First lady Melania Trump sued the Daily Mail in February over a story she said portrayed her falsely “as a prostitute.” The Daily Mail retracted the offending article with a statement explaining (a) that the paper did not “intend to state or suggest that Mrs. Trump ever worked as an ‘escort’ or in the sex business,” (b) that the article “stated that there was no support for the allegations,” and (c) that “the point of the article was that these allegations could impact the U.S. presidential election even if they are untrue.”

So which billionaire will be next to sue, and who will the target be? The question looms over America’s media organizations like a dark cloud. That is an unacceptable situation in a nation whose Constitution guarantees “robust, uninhibited and wide-open” discussion of public issues, as Supreme Court Justice William Brennan wrote in the landmark First Amendment case New York Times v. Sullivan.

Trump has yet to act on his most outrageous rhetorical attacks on the media and free speech, but it’s likely only a matter of time. When he does act, it will be important to remember that constitutional protections are quite broad, and that there’s only so much any White House can do to the press without the backing of Congress or the courts. Such cooperation is hardly out of the question, though. Stranger things have already happened in this strangest of political times.

Farewell, My Lovely! — From The New Yorker in May 1936, E.B. White pays tribute to the Model T.

I see by the new Sears Roebuck catalogue that it is still possible to buy an axle for a 1909 Model T Ford, but I am not deceived. The great days have faded, the end is in sight. Only one page in the current catalogue is devoted to parts and accessories for the Model T; yet everyone remembers springtimes when the Ford gadget section was larger than men’s clothing, almost as large as household furnishings. The last Model T was built in 1927, and the car is fading from what scholars call the American scene—which is an understatement, because to a few million people who grew up with it, the old Ford practically was the American scene.

It was the miracle God had wrought. And it was patently the sort of thing that could only happen once. Mechanically uncanny, it was like nothing that had ever come to the world before. Flourishing industries rose and fell with it. As a vehicle, it was hard-working, commonplace, heroic; and it often seemed to transmit those qualities to the persons who rode in it. My own generation identifies it with Youth, with its gaudy, irretrievable excitements; before it fades into the mist, I would like to pay it the tribute of the sigh that is not a sob, and set down random entries in a shape somewhat less cumbersome than a Sears Roebuck catalogue.

The Model T was distinguished from all other makes of cars by the fact that its transmission was of a type known as planetary—which was half metaphysics, half sheer friction. Engineers accepted the word “planetary” in its epicyclic sense, but I was always conscious that it also meant “wandering,” “erratic.” Because of the peculiar nature of this planetary element, there was always, in Model T, a certain dull rapport between engine and wheels, and even when the car was in a state known as neutral, it trembled with a deep imperative and tended to inch forward. There was never a moment when the bands were not faintly egging the machine on. In this respect it was like a horse, rolling the bit on its tongue, and country people brought to it the same technique they used with draft animals.

Its most remarkable quality was its rate of acceleration. In its palmy days the Model T could take off faster than anything on the road. The reason was simple. To get under way, you simply hooked the third finger of the right hand around a lever on the steering column, pulled down hard, and shoved your left foot forcibly against the low-speed pedal. These were simple, positive motions; the car responded by lunging forward with a roar. After a few seconds of this turmoil, you took your toe off the pedal, eased up a mite on the throttle, and the car, possessed of only two forward speeds, catapulted directly into high with a series of ugly jerks and was off on its glorious errand. The abruptness of this departure was never equalled in other cars of the period. The human leg was (and still is) incapable of letting in a clutch with anything like the forthright abandon that used to send Model T on its way. Letting in a clutch is a negative, hesitant motion, depending on delicate nervous control; pushing down the Ford pedal was a simple, country motion—an expansive act, which came as natural as kicking an old door to make it budge.

The driver of the old Model T was a man enthroned. The car, with top up, stood seven feet high. The driver sat on top of the gas tank, brooding it with his own body. When he wanted gasoline, he alighted, along with everything else in the front seat; the seat was pulled off, the metal cap unscrewed, and a wooden stick thrust down to sound the liquid in the well. There were always a couple of these sounding sticks kicking around in the ratty sub-cushion regions of a flivver. Refuelling was more of a social function then, because the driver had to unbend, whether he wanted to or not. Directly in front of the driver was the windshield—high, uncompromisingly erect. Nobody talked about air resistance, and the four cylinders pushed the car through the atmosphere with a simple disregard of physical law.

There was this about a Model T: the purchaser never regarded his purchase as a complete, finished product. When you bought a Ford, you figured you had a start—a vibrant, spirited framework to which could be screwed an almost limitless assortment of decorative and functional hardware. Driving away from the agency, hugging the new wheel between your knees, you were already full of creative worry. A Ford was born naked as a baby, and a flourishing industry grew up out of correcting its rare deficiencies and combatting its fascinating diseases. Those were the great days of lily-painting. I have been looking at some old Sears Roebuck catalogues, and they bring everything back so clear.

First you bought a Ruby Safety Reflector for the rear, so that your posterior would glow in another car’s brilliance. Then you invested thirty-nine cents in some radiator Moto Wings, a popular ornament which gave the Pegasus touch to the machine and did something godlike to the owner. For nine cents you bought a fan-belt guide to keep the belt from slipping off the pulley.

You bought a radiator compound to stop leaks. This was as much a part of everybody’s equipment as aspirin tablets are of a medicine cabinet. You bought special oil to prevent chattering, a clamp-on dash light, a patching outfit, a tool box which you bolted to the running board, a sun visor, a steering-column brace to keep the column rigid, and a set of emergency containers for gas, oil, and water—three thin, disc-like cans which reposed in a case on the running board during long, important journeys—red for gas, gray for water, green for oil. It was only a beginning. After the car was about a year old, steps were taken to check the alarming disintegration. (Model T was full of tumors, but they were benign.) A set of anti-rattlers (98c) was a popular panacea. You hooked them on to the gas and spark rods, to the brake pull rod, and to the steering-rod connections. Hood silencers, of black rubber, were applied to the fluttering hood. Shock-absorbers and snubbers gave “complete relaxation.” Some people bought rubber pedal pads, to fit over the standard metal pedals. (I didn’t like these, I remember.) Persons of a suspicious or pugnacious turn of mind bought a rear-view mirror; but most Model T owners weren’t worried by what was coming from behind because they would soon enough see it out in front. They rode in a state of cheerful catalepsy. Quite a large mutinous clique among Ford owners went over to a foot accelerator (you could buy one and screw it to the floor board), but there was a certain madness in these people, because the Model T, just as she stood, had a choice of three foot pedals to push, and there were plenty of moments when both feet were occupied in the routine performance of duty and when the only way to speed up the engine was with the hand throttle.

Gadget bred gadget. Owners not only bought ready-made gadgets, they invented gadgets to meet special needs. I myself drove my car directly from the agency to the blacksmith’s, and had the smith affix two enormous iron brackets to the port running board to support an army trunk.

People who owned closed models builded along different lines: they bought ball grip handles for opening doors, window anti-rattlers, and de-luxe flower vases of the cut-glass anti-splash type. People with delicate sensibilities garnished their car with a device called the Donna Lee Automobile Disseminator—a porous vase guaranteed, according to Sears, to fill the car with a “faint clean odor of lavender.” The gap between open cars and closed cars was not as great then as it is now: for $11.95, Sears Roebuck converted your touring car into a sedan and you went forth renewed. One agreeable quality of the old Fords was that they had no bumpers, and their fenders softened and wilted with the years and permitted driver to squeeze in and out of tight places.

Tires were 30 x 3 1/2, cost about twelve dollars, and punctured readily. Everybody carried a Jiffy patching set, with a nutmeg grater to roughen the tube before the goo was spread on. Everybody was capable of putting on a patch, expected to have to, and did have to.

During my association with Model T’s, self-starters were not a prevalent accessory. They were expensive and under suspicion. Your car came equipped with a serviceable crank, and the first thing you learned was how to Get Results. It was a special trick, and until you learned it (usually from another Ford owner, but sometimes by a period of appalling experimentation) you might as well have been winding up an awning. The trick was to leave the ignition switch off, proceed to the animal’s head, pull the choke (which was a little wire protruding through the radiator), and give the crank two or three nonchalant upward lifts. Then, whistling as though thinking about something else, you would saunter back to the driver’s cabin, turn the ignition on, return to the crank, and this time, catching it on the down stroke, give it a quick spin with plenty of That. If this procedure was followed, the engine almost always responded—first with a few scattered explosions, then with a tumultuous gunfire, which you checked by racing around to the driver’s seat and retarding the throttle. Often, if the emergency brake hadn’t been pulled all the way back, the car advanced on you the instant the first explosion occurred and you would hold it back by leaning your weight against it. I can still feel my old Ford nuzzling me at the curb, as though looking for an apple in my pocket.

In zero weather, ordinary cranking became an impossibility, except for giants. The oil thickened, and it became necessary to jack up the rear wheels, which, for some planetary reason, eased the throw.

The lore and legend that governed the Ford were boundless. Owners had their own theories about everything; they discussed mutual problems in that wise, infinitely resourceful way old women discuss rheumatism. Exact knowledge was pretty scarce, and often proved less effective than superstition. Dropping a camphor ball into the gas tank was a popular expedient; it seemed to have a tonic effect on both man and machine. There wasn’t much to base exact knowledge on. The Ford driver flew blind. He didn’t know the temperature of his engine, the speed of his car, the amount of his fuel or the pressure of his oil (the old Ford lubricated itself by what was amiably described as the “splash system”). A speedometer cost money and was an extra, like a windshield-wiper. The dashboard of the early models was bare save for an ignition key; later models, grown effete, boasted an ammeter which pulsated alarmingly with the throbbing of the car. Under the dash was a box of coils, with vibrators which you adjusted, or thought you adjusted. Whatever the driver learned of his motor, he learned not through instruments but through sudden developments. I remember that the timer was one of the vital organs about which there was ample doctrine. When everything else had been checked, you “had a look” at the timer. It was an extravagantly odd little device, simple in construction, mysterious in function. It contained a roller, held by a spring, and there were four contact points on the inside of the case against which, many people believed, the roller rolled. I have had a timer apart on a sick Ford many times, but I never really knew what I was up to—I was just showing off before God. There were almost as many schools of thought as there were timers. Some people, when things went wrong, just clenched their teeth and gave the timer a smart crack with a wrench. Other people opened it up and blew on it. There was a school that held that the timer needed large amounts of oil; they fixed it by frequent baptism. And there was a school that was positive it was meant to run dry as a bone; these people were continually taking it off and wiping it. I remember once spitting into a timer; not in anger, but in a spirit of research. You see, the Model T driver moved in the realm of metaphysics. He believed his car could be hexed.

One reason the Ford anatomy was never reduced to an exact science was that, having “fixed” it, the owner couldn’t honestly claim that the treatment had brought about the cure. There were too many authenticated cases of Fords fixing themselves—restored naturally to health after a short rest. Farmers soon discovered this, and it fitted nicely with their draft-horse philosophy: “Let ‘er cool off and she’ll snap into it again.”

A Ford owner had Number One Bearing constantly in mind. This bearing, being at the front end of the motor, was the one that always burned out, because the oil didn’t reach it when the car was climbing hills. (That’s what I was always told, anyway.) The oil used to recede and leave Number One dry as a clam flat; you had to watch that bearing like a hawk. It was like a weak heart—you could hear it start knocking, and that was when you stopped and let her cool off. Try as you would to keep the oil supply right, in the end Number One always went out. “Number One Bearing burned out on me and I had to have her replaced,” you would say, wisely; and your companions always had a lot to tell about how to protect and pamper Number One to keep her alive.

Sprinkled not too liberally among the millions of amateur witch doctors who drove Fords and applied their own abominable cures were the heaven-sent mechanics who could really make the car talk. These professionals turned up in undreamed-of spots. One time, on the banks of the Columbia River in Washington, I heard the rear end go out of my Model T when I was trying to whip it up a steep incline onto the deck of a ferry. Something snapped; the car slid backward into the mud. It seemed to me like the end of the trail. But the captain of the ferry, observing the withered remnant, spoke up.

“What’s got her?” he asked.

“I guess it’s the rear end,” I replied, listlessly. The captain leaned over the rail and stared. Then I saw that there was a hunger in his eyes that set him off from other men.

“Tell you what,” he said, carelessly, trying to cover up his eagerness, “let’s pull the son of a bitch up onto the boat, and I’ll help you fix her while we’re going back and forth on the river.”

We did just this. All that day I plied between the towns of Pasco and Kennewick, while the skipper (who had once worked in a Ford garage) directed the amazing work of resetting the bones of my car.

Springtime in the heyday of the Model T was a delirious season. Owning a car was still a major excitement, roads were still wonderful and bad. The Fords were obviously conceived in madness: any car which was capable of going from forward into reverse without any perceptible mechanical hiatus was bound to be a mighty challenging thing to the human imagination. Boys used to veer them off the highway into a level pasture and run wild with them, as though they were cutting up with a girl. Most everybody used the reverse pedal quite as much as the regular foot brake—it distributed the wear over the bands and wore them all down evenly. That was the big trick, to wear all the bands down evenly, so that the final chattering would be total and the whole unit scream for renewal.

The days were golden, the nights were dim and strange. I still recall with trembling those loud, nocturnal crises when you drew up to a signpost and raced the engine so the lights would be bright enough to read destinations by. I have never been really planetary since. I suppose it’s time to say goodbye. Farewell, my lovely!

Doonesbury — Short-Term Memory aid.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sunday Reading

Happy Mother’s Day — Brandon E. Patterson in Mother Jones reports that Black Lives Matter is bailing out women for Mother’s Day.

Black Lives Matter has a big gift for some moms this Mother’s Day—their freedom. Groups affiliated with the police and criminal justice reform movement have been bailing black women out of jail ahead of the holiday on Sunday. The nationwide effort, dubbed National Black Mamas Bail Out Day, seeks to reunite the women with their families and raise awareness of the disparate impact of incarceration and the bail system on black women.

So far, more than 50 women around the country have been bailed out by the Mother’s Day effort. Organizing groups in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, New York City, Oakland, and 13 other cities, have been raising money through an online fundraising campaign. So far, they have brought in nearly $500,000 for the campaign, with $25,000 set aside for use in each city. The average bail paid off has varied widely; organizers in Atlanta bailed out 19 women with their pot of money, whereas 4 women have been bailed out in Oakland.

Activists have also raised money individually as well. Members of the Atlanta chapter of Southerners on New Ground (SONG), an LGBT-focused racial justice group, canvassed neighborhoods and collected small donations in a hat, according to Mary Hooks, an organizer with the chapter who came up with the idea for the nationwide initiative. “Black people have a tradition of using our collective resources to buy each other’s freedom,” she says, referring to the slavery-era practice of free black people saving money to purchase the freedom of their enslaved family members and friends. “We have an opportunity to do that when we understand how the cash bail system works. The sooner we can get folks out, the ability for them to mitigate their cases increases and the less collateral damage they are likely to incur.”

The organizers have drawn on their existing relationships with other criminal justice organizations to identify women to bail out of jail. In Oakland, the public defender’s office sent organizers names of women in jail, says Gina Clayton, an organizer with Essie Justice Group. Essie Justice organizers also sat in on arraignment hearings to identify women who would need to be bailed out. One of the people bailed out in Oakland was a mother of two who was jailed on a $10,000 bail about a week earlier, Clayton says. When organizers visited the woman to tell her they were paying her bail, she cried. Organizers with the Oakland office of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, an immigrants’ rights group that focuses on black migrants, bailed out a Haitian woman who had been held in a detention facility in Southern California. The woman had fled domestic abuse in her home country, according to Devonte Jackson, an organizer with the group. BAJI bought the woman a bus ticket to Florida so she could visit her family for Mother’s Day.

The term “mama,” as it’s used by the National Black Mamas Bail Out Day campaign, is broadly defined to include not just women with biological children, but all women—including trans women—who are linchpins for their families and neighborhoods. “It’s about knowing and naming that black women play such a critical role in our communities,” Hooks says.

The number of women behind bars in the United States has increased 700 percent since 1980, according to the Sentencing Project. More than 100,000 women are currently in jail. Many have not been convicted of anything but are unable to make bail, and a disproportionate number of them are black. Eighty percent of incarcerated women are mothers, according to the Vera Institute of Justice.

Nationally, the median bail set for a felony charge is $10,000, almost a year’s income for the average person unable to meet bail, according to the Sentencing Policy Initiative. Nearly 90 percent of inmates awaiting trial can’t afford bail; The average bail amount in felony cases has nearly tripled since 1990.

Bail reform is a key part of the national policy platform released last summer by the Movement for Black Lives, a broad coalition of groups affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement. Many of the groups bailing out women this week are also working on efforts to pass local and state legislation that would abolish cash bail in their jurisdictions. Earlier this year, New Orleans and New Jersey eliminated cash bail requirements for a range of low level offenses.

This weekend, organizers in some cities are holding events to welcome newly freed women back home. In Atlanta, organizers are hosting a picnic for the women and their families on Mother’s Day. Volunteers will help connect the women with resources for housing, employment, and legal assistance, Hooks says. The groups are also raising money for a possible bail-out effort to commemorate Father’s Day on June 18.

He Is What He Is — David Roberts in Vox on the tendency to overanalyze Trump.

We are not accustomed to having someone so obviously disordered in a position of such power. Trump is surrounded by people — not only members of his administration but Congress, the press, pundits, conservative ideological groups, industry lobbyists — eager to invent stories to make sense of his behavior.

Politicos and journalists need a story in which Trump’s stumbling and grasping can be construed as a savvy media strategy, a “distraction” from some other wrongdoing he has going on, or a “pivot” from his current omnishambles. Those are all versions of political maneuvering with which they are familiar. They need for Trump to want things, to be after things, to have a plan.

Politicians, journalists, analysts, the public — everyone wants some kind of story, some Theory of Trump. And so Trump surrogates try to provide it, scrambling to weave a coherent narrative around his careening, erratic lies.

But there’s no there there. He’s lunging this way and that, situation by situation. Firing Comey? Trump just got mad. He wanted Comey and the Russia investigation off his TV. There’s no deeper story than that.

This is an utterly terrifying conclusion. A Machiavellian Trump — one who was merely acting the fool, manipulating the public and media in service of some diabolical long-term agenda — is less frightening than a purely narcissistic and impulsive one.

No agenda guides him, no past commitments or statements restrain him, so no one, not even his closest allies (much less the American public or foreign governments) can trust him, even for a second. He will do what makes him feel dominant and respected, in the moment, with no consideration of anything else, not because he has chosen to reject other considerations, but because he is, by all appearances, incapable of considering them.

This makes him, as many others have noted, extremely vulnerable to being manipulated by whoever happens to talk to him last, whoever butters him up and makes him feel important. (And that includes the TV.)

It’s one thing when that involves a wild Twitter accusation or the firing of a staff member. All Trump’s crises so far have been internal and self-inflicted, more or less.

But what will happen when he gets into a confrontation with North Korea, when Kim Jong Un deliberately provokes him? Will his response be considered and strategic? Will he be able to get information and aid from allies? Will he be able to make and keep commitments during negotiations?

There’s no sign of hope for any of that.

More likely he will prove, as he has in literally every confrontation of the past several years, congenitally unable to back down or deescalate, even if doing so is clearly in everyone’s best interests.

More likely he will be desperate to maintain face and will listen to whatever his security staff whispers in his ear.

More likely he will make rash and fateful decisions with insufficient consultation and no clear plan.

That’s who he is: a disregulated bundle of impulses, being manipulated by a cast of crooks and incompetents, supported by a Republican Party willing to bet the stability of the country against upper-income tax cuts. We need to stop looking for a more complicated story.

Expletive Not Deleted — Alan Burdick in The New Yorker on why swearing is good for you.

By several accounts, Donald Trump has spent a decent amount of time in recent weeks screaming at his television. Almost certainly he’s been swearing at it; what else do you scream at your television but expletives? Besides, the President doesn’t often censor himself, even in public. On the campaign trail, he vowed to “bomb the shit out of ISIS,” suggested that U.S. companies that move their operations overseas should “go fuck themselves,” and proposed to begin trade negotiations with China by saying, “Listen, you motherfuckers.” As he told the audience at February’s National Prayer Breakfast, “The hell with it.”

Melissa Mohr, the author of “Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing,” has noted that cursing can be a handy rhetorical strategy: it’s common parlance, so employing it makes Trump seem more like a man of the people. But perhaps the President has also been reading about the analgesic benefits of profanity. In 2009, Richard Stephens, a psychologist at Keele University, in England, asked a group of volunteers to plunge one hand into a bucket of ice-cold water and keep it there for as long as they could. Sometimes Stephens instructed them to repeat an expletive of their choice—one that “they might use if they banged their head or hit their thumb with a hammer,” according to an article he wrote about the study. Other times he had them repeat a neutral word, like “wooden” or “brown.” With few exceptions, the volunteers could hold their hand in the water for longer when they cursed—about forty seconds longer, on average.

Swearing, Stephens thinks, may be a form of pain management, maybe even empowerment. Last week, he and a colleague, David K. Spierer, of Long Island University, described a new study in which swearing seemed to bolster physical strength. One group of volunteers pedalled an exercise bike for thirty seconds against intense resistance; sometimes they repeated a curse word, and other times they repeated a neutral word. “It’s a hugely difficult task,” Stephens told me. “Your heart rate goes through the roof.” A second group was challenged with a hand dynamometer, which measures grip strength. Swearing improved the performance on both tasks—between two and four per cent for the cyclists, and eight per cent for the squeezers.

It’s perhaps not so surprising that profanity has these occult powers, since it differs from the rest of language in a number of ways. For one thing, as Benjamin K. Bergen, a cognitive scientist at U.C. San Diego and the author of “What the F,” has pointed out, vulgarity bends the usual rules of grammar. For instance, the common expression “Fuck you!” is the rare sentence in which the verb has no subject. It’s not like “Curse you!” in which the “I” is understood; who’s fucking you in this case? The expression isn’t even a proper imperative. (That would be “Fuck yourself.”) Or consider the sentence “There’s too much work in this fucking class.” Is “fucking” an adjective? An adverb?

Swears are also unique in their effect on the human body. In 2011, researchers at the University of Bristol found that saying aloud the words “fuck” and “cunt” (but not the words “glue” and “dumb”) prompted a silent emotional reaction from the people who said them, detectable as an increase in the conductivity of their skin. One leading idea about swearing is that it is the fundamental language of emotion, and it seems to be generated by the parts of the brain from which emotions arise.

Indeed, sometimes, when the rest of language is stripped away, profanity is all that’s left. One of the earliest studied cases of aphasia, from 1843, involved a French parish priest who had suffered a stroke. He could say just two words: je (“I”) and foutre (“fuck”). In a similar case from the nineteen-nineties, a patient known as R.N. was left with a vocabulary of six words: “well,” “yeah,” “yes,” “no,” “shit,” and “goddammit.” Language is assembled in different parts of the brain, but obscenities seem to occupy a bin of their own; so long as neurological damage is limited to the regions governing intentional speech, the obscenity bin stays intact. In “What the F,” Bergen describes the case of a patient, E.C., who had the entire left half of his brain removed. In the process, he lost most, but not all, of his language abilities. He would open his mouth, say a few words, struggle to string them together, and then, with a burst of emotion, clearly express a series of expletives, including “goddammit.” “You don’t need your left hemisphere to talk as long as you’re swearing in frustration,” Bergen writes.

Stephens took an interest in swearing a dozen years ago, while his wife was giving birth in the hospital. The labor was prolonged—more than twenty hours—and her swearing was profuse. Afterward, she was “a bit embarrassed,” Richards said; she apologized to the midwives and doctors, but they kindly brushed it off. “‘They said, ‘We hear this all the time. This is a completely normal part of giving birth.’ That made me start thinking about swearing and pain. People instinctively swear when they hurt themselves. They must do it for a reason.”

Stephens’s first major study on the subject was the 2009 ice-bucket challenge. In the course of it, he found that the heart rates of the volunteers who swore went up relative to those who didn’t—an indication that swearing had indeed engaged the parts of the brain involved in emotion. Notably, the volunteers weren’t shouting the curse word but were merely repeating it, without affect. The physical effect seemed to result from the word itself, not from the manner in which it was expressed.

Next, Stephens turned the logic around: if swearing increases one’s tolerance for pain, and if swearing is ultimately emotional language, then making volunteers emotional should increase their pain tolerance. To test this idea, Stephens had one group of subjects play a first-person-shooter video game—Medal of Honor—for ten minutes and a second group play Tiger Woods P.G.A. Tour 2007. Afterward, the Medal of Honor players reported feeling more aggressive; when Stephens submitted them to the ice-bucket challenge, they could withstand it longer than the golfers could. In January, Stephens and his colleagues published a related study showing that Medal of Honor players also did better on what’s called a swearing fluency test: they could list more swear words in a minute than they could after playing the golf game. (All told, the test subjects came up with sixty swear words, although the paper notes that nineteen of them—including “feck,” “fuckaroo,” “asstaxi,” “wanko,” and “penis”—were “deemed not to be a recognized linguistic form of swear word.”)

Both studies were consistent with Stephens’s theory that swearing eases pain by triggering aggressive emotions, much in the way that the mere act of smiling can make a person feel happier. The aggression, in turn, triggers a fight-or-flight stress response, releasing adrenaline, which is known to increase physical performance. But his latest study, involving handgrips and stationary bicycles, complicates that story somewhat. In previous physical-challenge experiments, volunteers who swore had higher heart rates than those who didn’t—telltale signs of the fight-or-flight response. In the recent study, however, they didn’t. “Our latest findings are an effect but without an explanation for it,” Stephens said. There are at least two possibilities, he added. One is that swearing aloud may distract people from their pain, enabling them to better tolerate it. Or “it could be that swearing brings about a general disinhibition,” he said. “People feel less uptight when they’ve been swearing, and that lets them go for it a little bit more.”

Either way, Stephens said, the profanities traditionally considered most vulgar are losing their power to shock. Even the Democrats are trying to capitalize on the trend. Bernie Sanders has publicly denounced the President’s “shitty budget.” Politicorecently highlighted a New York magazine profile of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand that “included one ‘fuck,’ two ‘fucking’s, one ‘bullshit,’ one ‘pissed off,’ one ‘they suck,’ and a ‘what the hell is going on?’ ” In April, with children standing behind him, Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told a crowd that Trump “doesn’t give a shit about health care.” (For thirty dollars, the D.N.C. is also selling a T-shirt that reads, “We give a shit about people.”) Feigning offense, Fox News has complained that Democrats want to “make using profanity a new normal.”

Will profanity lose its pain-relieving magic along the way? At one point in his research, Stephens found that people who swore more in the course of an average day didn’t gain as much of an edge in the ice-bucket challenge, but he’s since had trouble replicating that finding. Odds are, though, that if profanity begins to fail us, we’ll find a way to upgrade it. “We’re getting to the point where the four-letter words are diminishing very much in their meaning,” Stephens said. “But there will always be new taboo words and phrases. We might be in a kind of plateau at the moment, before new oaths and profanities and whatever come along. But they will.”

 Doonesbury — No clue.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Voting Rights Are A Commie Plot

Trump appointed a commission to look into allegations of voter fraud.  He named one of the most notorious opponents of voting rights to co-chair the commission:

Via Booman:

On paper, Kris Kobach is the kind of guy you’d like to marry your daughter. An Eagle Scout who graduated summa cum laude and first in his department at Harvard, went on to get M.A. and Ph.D. in Politics from Oxford and a law degree from Yale, Kobuch also did missionary work in Uganda, clerked for a federal judge, and obtained a White House Fellowship to work for the Attorney General of the United States.

On the other hand, the Minority Leader of the Kansas Senate Anthony Hensley once stated that Kobach is “the most racist politician in America today,” and with plenty of justification. Kobuch is the brains behind both Arizona SB 1070 and Alabama HB56, the two most notorious anti-immigrant bills to be produced in this country in recent decades. He’s the country’s most famous proponent of bogus voter fraud theories and has boasted of successful efforts to suppress the minority vote both during his time as chairman of the Kansas Republican Party and as Kansas’s Secretary of State.

He’s also a classic John Bircher-style nutcase who has referred to both the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters as “communists.”

Well, to look on the bright side, Trump once considered appointing him as Attorney General (but settled on Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, preferring to go with an old-style racist rather than a Gen X’er).  So I suppose we can count our blessings that this nutjob isn’t running the Department of Justice.

There is no evidence of “massive voter fraud” in America.  The Republicans like to say there is by confusing the public into believing that voter registration, which by its very nature is inherently inaccurate — people die, people move, people change their names when they get married — is the same thing as people actually going into a polling place and pretending to be someone they are not.

This task force is just another thinly-veiled attempt by Trump and the Republicans to suppress voting by minorities who overwhelmingly register as Democrats.  This is part of the GOP philosophy that if you can’t win an election based on the merits of your candidates and platform, you have to cheat.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Sunday Reading

Lessons Not Learned — Russell Berman in The Atlantic on what the Republicans should have learned from the Democrats.

Appearing on “Morning Joe” on Friday morning, Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana didn’t flinch when host Willie Geist asked him a direct question about what would happen if the American Health Care Act—which the House narrowly approved a day earlier—became law.

“So everyone with a pre-existing condition right now who is covered under Obamacare will continue to have coverage?” he asked the congressman, who as House majority whip is the third-ranking Republican in the chamber.

“Absolutely,” Scalise replied.

“Everyone?” Geist pressed him.

“Everyone,” Scalise confirmed.

From off camera, Mika Brzezinski let out a sound that was somewhere between a groan and a gasp. In the interest of reassuring the public about the GOP’s plan, Scalise had made the kind of blanket commitment that could come back to haunt the party in the future. While Republican leaders were careful to maintain the federal requirement under Obamacare that insurers offer coverage to anyone, including those with pre-existing conditions, their bill would allow states to wriggle out of the mandate that insurers charge those customers the same price. As a result, people with pre-existing conditions could find insurance unaffordable in states that get a waiver to opt out of the federal law.

Did Republicans learn nothing in the last eight years?From making unrealistic promises to cutting back-room deals, Republicans are ignoring many of the lessons they should have taken from the Democrats’ experience selling a complicated health-care plan to the public.

Don’t Over-Promise

“If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.” That one concrete pledge repeated dozens of times by former President Barack Obama—and many other Democrats at the time—became an albatross for his party once the Affordable Care Act took effect in 2013. They had made the commitment to try to sell the public on the plan and get it passed initially, having seen how the fear of change illustrated in ads by the fictional couple “Harry and Louise” torpedoed the Clinton health-care bill 20 years earlier. But although Obamacare did not directly force people off their insurance, many had to change their plans because insurers stopped selling due to the new coverage requirements under the law. That broken promise helped the GOP expand its House majority and retake the Senate in the 2014 elections.

Republicans, however, have ignored that lesson repeatedly in 2017, making all kinds of assurances about their health-care bill that will be all but impossible to keep. Most egregiously, President Trump told The Washington Post in January that his Obamacare replacement plan would provide “insurance for everybody.” In fact, Republicans made no attempt at universal coverage; their bill cuts Medicaid deeply, and the Congressional Budget Office projected that it would result in 24 million fewer people having insurance after a decade.

In recent days, House Republicans like Scalise have made claims about people with pre-existing conditions that are unlikely to stand up over time. Like Democrats before them, GOP lawmakers may genuinely want their assurances to bear out, but they are putting themselves at political risk by not being forthright about the tradeoffs involved in health policy and the potential consequences of a sweeping new law. If the American Health Care Act never gets enacted, it’ll be a moot point. But if it does, Republicans better watch out.

Read the Bill

Or at least don’t admit publicly that you didn’t.

After Democrats enacted the Affordable Care Act in 2010, Republicans succeeded in making a couple of key quotes infamous as they rallied opposition to the law. Then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi uttered one of them just two weeks before final passage: “We have to pass the bill,” she said during a speech, “so that you can find out what’s in it.”

No matter the context, the comment perfectly encapsulated the GOP’s criticism of the bill—that at nearly 1,000 pages, it was too long for members of Congress to read and understand, much less the general public, and that Democrats were intent on jamming it into law before people found out what it would actually do. (Just watch then-House Minority Leader John Boehner make the case right before the final vote.)Republicans did take heed of Obamacare’s length when they wrote its replacement. As Sean Spicer passionately demonstrated, the American Health Care Act is just 124 pages, and even after the amendments Republicans added, it comes in at less than 200 as passed by the House.

But even that was too long for some GOP lawmakers. “I fully admit, Wolf, I did not,” Representative Chris Collins of New York told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer when he was asked if he had read the complete and final text of the AHCA. Two other Republicans admitted as much to CNN, although they noted that their staff read the bill and briefed them on its content.

The lawmakers have a point when they say they rely on policy experts on their staff to fully read and summarize to them the legislative text of legislation, particularly when it comes to massive spending bills that the House and Senate vote on just days after they are unveiled. But it seems that Collins’s team didn’t even fully explain the impact of the GOP health-care bill to him. As the Buffalo Newsreported, the congressman was unfamiliar with a provision that could decimate a state health plan that serves 635,000 New Yorkers.

Unlike staff, it’s the members of Congress themselves who are elected by the public and accountable to their constituents, and it’s not too much to ask that they personally read bills that could affect health care for the entire country. Failure to do so just feeds the perception that Republicans rushed the AHCA to passage without sufficient scrutiny, especially after the House adopted late changes that had only been public for a few hours before the vote and after the GOP spent years accusing Democrats of doing the same thing.

Avoid Back-Room Deals

The Cornhusker Kickback.

The Louisiana Purchase.

Democrats relied on these side agreements benefiting individual states to secure the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate’s version of Obamacare in late 2009. The additional Medicaid money for Nebraska wasn’t even included in the final bill, but the back-room deals helped sour the public on the new law. Republicans seized on them to argue that Democrats were buying off senators in secret, undermining a bill that actually went through months of public scrutiny and debate.Eight years later, the GOP resorted to the same kind of tactic in the “Buffalo Bribe” (or, if you prefer, the “Tammany Haul”)—a provision the House leadership added to the AHCA at the urging of five members of the New York delegation that would shift the Medicaid tax burden away from upstate counties.

But there’s a reason this kind of horse-trading is a time-honored, if unsavory, part of legislative politics: It helps to win votes, and members of Congress have a legitimate responsibility to look out for their constituents. The New York lawmakers publicized their victory, so it wasn’t a secret, but the provision’s inclusion after Republicans reported their bill out of committee underscored the legislation’s relative lack of public hearings or lengthy formal debate.

Just Stay Away From Health Care Entirely (Or Don’t Tackle It Alone)

Maybe Republicans were doomed from the start. “The mover on health care loses; to do something is to lose,” the always-blunt Democratic strategist James Carville reportedly told party donors earlier this year. Twice now, Democrats have lost their House majority in the next election after pursuing a major overhaul of the health insurance system. With their vote on Thursday, Republicans could be at the same risk next year.

As the president recently discovered, health care is incredibly complicated. But more than that, it is intensely personal. The trade-offs between cost and coverage will always cause controversy. The economics of private insurance necessarily require younger, healthier people to subsidize the care of those who are older and needier. And changes in policies will almost always mean some will pay more so others can pay less.

Republicans may be missing a lesson the Democrats learned in another way. The party that controls government might not be able to avoid touching health-care policy entire, but it doesn’t have to do so alone. Bipartisanship doesn’t guarantee a better result, and it can’t happen if both parties don’t agree to cooperate. But like insurance itself, it’s at least a way to share the risk.

Equal Rights Under The Law — Michelle Chen in The Nation on why the Equality Act is essential.

Segregated schools were outlawed long ago, so why are trans students still shut out of the bathroom? And why, if sex discrimination is illegal, are workers fired because their spouses are the “wrong” gender? The language of the Constitution in many cases fails to contemplate gay, trans, and queer identities, and rights advocates say an update is way overdue.

So a much-needed addendum to the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act has been reintroduced in Congress, providing explicit protections against discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, in line with the framework that has applied to categories of sex and race for decades.

The Equality Act would leave no ambiguity that the fundamental foundation of equality under the Constitution applies equally to LGBTQ communities as it does to women, people of color, immigrants, and religious groups. Moreover, the legislation would amend the existing 1995 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which rolled back civil-rights mandates for individuals and institutions claiming religiously based exemptions, so that the new law could prevent religion from being used as a pretext for discrimination “on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.” While the RFRA remains on the books, the Equality Act would at least shift the burden of proof onto the employer or institution claiming a religious exemption rather than on the individual to prove they’re entitled to full constitutional protection.

The amendment would effectively change the Civil Rights Act, along with the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Jury Selection and Services Act, and other anti-discrimination laws related to public-sector employment and access to public facilities, to cover “sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics.” It would officially expand protections for public spaces and ensure equal access to federally funded programs, including health and social benefits.

It would both simplify and complicate our current legal crisis surrounding the rights of, for example, trans teens shut out of the locker room that fits their gender, or same-sex couples barred from insurance coverage, under an administration that has shown unprecedented hostility to the idea of equal justice.

The struggle for equal protection is more acute than ever because Trump has just signed a major executive order on “religious freedom” aimed at expanding the power of the religious right to influence federal politics. A more sweeping leaked draft version that The Nation published earlier this year had aimed to grant broad legal exemptions for legal and workplace discrimination under the pretext of acting on religious belief. Though the version signed by Trump today does not include those most severely discriminatory provisions, it would enable religious institutions to participate more directly in electoral campaigns, potentially opening the path to further rollbacks on LGBTQ rights, driven by religious hard-liners fueling Trump’s Christian, right-wing support base.

The Equality Act would not, of course, remedy the worst violations that disproportionately impact the poor, people of color, and youth and the elderly within the LGBTQ community. It would, however, provide basic legal recourse for the estimated half of LGBTQ individuals who reside in states without any civil-rights protections that include their gender or sexual identity categories.

Currently, fewer than half of states explicitly protect people against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and just 19 maintain explicit anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.

So in most states it’s often perfectly legal to get fired for insisting that your boss identify you by the right gender at work, or facing unequal access to medical care for a gender transition, or being denied equal rights as a married couple or adoptive parents in a same-sex relationship. For youth facing abuse at school, only 14 states protect their rights explicitly in the education system. Trump’s anticipated executive order, if fully implemented, would pose an even more direct threat to the hard-won but limited rights LGBTQ communities have fought for through civil litigation and public advocacy.

The act would also underscore the ongoing legal resistance to discrimination laws and practices targeting the LGBTQ community. While the courts have in recent years upheld LGBTQ protections under existing laws—most recently with a landmark Appeals Court ruling affirming that anti-LGBTQ workplace discrimination against an Illinois college professor is a form of sex discrimination under federal law—Lambda Legal says it is “ready to take the fight to the courts” for further legal challenges to Trump’s “religious refusal” decree.

According to Sharon MacGowan, director of strategy with Lambda Legal’s DC office, the Equality Act, previous versions of which have won bipartisan support, “makes clear that Congress agrees that these terms should really be understood as just a subset of what sex discrimination already covers.”

While Trump purports to champion a silent majority of cultural conservatives, the Equality Act articulates what rights advocates see as a generational culture shift toward embracing LGBTQ identities. That, MacGowan argues, is undeniable, regardless of Washington’s current political clashes:

To stand in the way of this clarification and development in the law is symptomatic of the fact that there is a small, really ideologically driven group of people who are getting in the way of progress that this country as a whole is squarely behind.

While other marginalized groups, including women, Muslims, and immigrants, have been more blatantly targeted through Trump’s demonizing rhetoric, MacGowan warns that the Trump administration is imposing a kind of “death by a thousand cuts” through subtler policy changes—for example, cutting back on demographic data collection for LGBTQ groups. So rights advocates seek to affirm both within and outside the LGBTQ community that defending their rights remains as crucial as ever to defending the basic tenets of equal protection. While bracing for an attack parallel to those Trump has waged against other marginalized groups, MacGowan warns that activists need to affirm their allies and know their common enemy.

Whether or not the legislation advances, “now more than ever it’s important for those who stand on the side of equality to plant the flag, to make sure that everybody knows who’s on the side of this issue,” MacGowan says, and in Washington and beyond, “keep up the conversation about…how the values that are embodied in the Equality Act are really who we are as a country and not what we hear coming out of the White House.”

Don’t Let Facebook Make You Miserable — Seth Stephens-Davidowitz writes about the social media grip.

IT is now official. Scholars have analyzed the data and confirmed what we already knew in our hearts. Social media is making us miserable.

We are all dimly aware that everybody else can’t possibly be as successful, rich, attractive, relaxed, intellectual and joyous as they appear to be on Facebook. Yet we can’t help comparing our inner lives with the curated lives of our friends.

Just how different is the real world from the world on social media? In the real world, The National Enquirer, a weekly, sells nearly three times as many copies as The Atlantic, a monthly, every year. On Facebook, The Atlantic is 45 times more popular.

Americans spend about six times as much of their time cleaning dishes as they do golfing. But there are roughly twice as many tweets reporting golfing as there are tweets reporting doing the dishes.

The Las Vegas budget hotel Circus Circus and the luxurious hotel Bellagio each holds about the same number of people. But the Bellagio gets about three times as many check-ins on Facebook.

The search for online status takes some peculiar twists. Facebook works with an outside company to gather data on the cars people actually own. Facebook also has data on the cars people associate with by posting about them or by liking them.

Owners of luxury cars like BMWs and Mercedeses are about two and a half times as likely to announce their affiliation on Facebook as are owners of ordinary makes and models.

In the United States, the desire to show off and exaggerate wealth is universal. Caucasians, Asian-Americans, African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans are all two to three times as likely to associate on Facebook with a luxury car they own than with a non-luxury car they own.

But different people in different places can have different notions of what is cool and what is embarrassing. Take musical taste. According to 2014 data from Spotify Insights on what people actually listen to, men and women have similar tastes; 29 of the 40 musicians women listened to most frequently were also the artists most frequently listened to by men.

On Facebook, though, men seem to underplay their interest in artists considered more feminine. For example, on Spotify, Katy Perry was the 10th most listened to artist among men, beating Bob Marley, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar and Wiz Khalifa. But those other artists all have more male likes on Facebook.

The pressure to look a certain way on social media can do much more than distort our image of the musicians other people actually listen to.

Sufferers of various illnesses are increasingly using social media to connect with others and to raise awareness about their diseases. But if a condition is considered embarrassing, people are less likely to publicly associate themselves with it.

Irritable bowel syndrome and migraines are similarly prevalent, each affecting around 10 percent of the American population. But migraine sufferers have built Facebook awareness and support groups two and a half times larger than I.B.S. sufferers have.

None of this behavior is all that new, although the form it takes is. Friends have always showed off to friends. People have always struggled to remind themselves that other people don’t have it as easy as they claim.

Think of the aphorism quoted by members of Alcoholics Anonymous: “Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides.” Of course, this advice is difficult to follow. We never see other people’s insides.

I have actually spent the past five years peeking into people’s insides. I have been studying aggregate Google search data. Alone with a screen and anonymous, people tend to tell Google things they don’t reveal to social media; they even tell Google things they don’t tell to anybody else. Google offers digital truth serum. The words we type there are more honest than the pictures we present on Facebook or Instagram.

Sometimes the contrasts in different data sources are amusing. Consider how wives speak about their husbands.

On social media, the top descriptors to complete the phrase “My husband is …” are “the best,” “my best friend,” “amazing,” “the greatest” and “so cute.” On Google, one of the top five ways to complete that phrase is also “amazing.” So that checks out. The other four: “a jerk,” “annoying,” “gay” and “mean.”

While spending five years staring at a computer screen learning about some of human beings’ strangest and darkest thoughts may not strike most people as a good time, I have found the honest data surprisingly comforting. I have consistently felt less alone in my insecurities, anxieties, struggles and desires.

Once you’ve looked at enough aggregate search data, it’s hard to take the curated selves we see on social media too seriously. Or, as I like to sum up what Google data has taught me: We’re all a mess.

Now, you may not be a data scientist. You may not know how to code in R or calculate a confidence interval. But you can still take advantage of big data and digital truth serum to put an end to envy — or at least take some of the bite out of it.

Any time you are feeling down about your life after lurking on Facebook, go to Google and start typing stuff into the search box. Google’s autocomplete will tell you the searches other people are making. Type in “I always …” and you may see the suggestion, based on other people’s searches, “I always feel tired” or “I always have diarrhea.” This can offer a stark contrast to social media, where everybody “always” seems to be on a Caribbean vacation.

As our lives increasingly move online, I propose a new self-help mantra for the 21st century, courtesy of big data: Don’t compare your Google searches with other people’s Facebook posts.

 Doonesbury — Nice tweet.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

That’s Not How It Works

Yet another patriot doesn’t understand the basic foundation of our laws.  CNN decided not to air an ad from the Trump campaign (yes, he still is campaigning) touting his “accomplishments” over the first 100 days because it was full of shit.

That got RNC Chair Ronna McDaniels’ tail all puffed up.

The network’s clearly biased decision to block President Trump’s message to the American people is incredibly troubling,” said Chairwoman McDaniel. “Freedom of speech is a hallmark of our nation’s founding, and it is concerning that CNN, who I assume to be a strong supporter of the first amendment, would stifle speech that they disagree with. CNN should allow the ad to be aired and apologize for their attempt to block the President’s message.”

The First Amendment prohibits Congress from regulating freedom of the press.  Last time I checked, CNN was not the Congress.  They are a private corporation, and they can run — or not run — whatever they want.  They’re a cable channel, so even the FCC can’t regulate what they put out.

Chances are Ms. McDaniels knows this, but she’s counting on the ignorance of her constituents to lap it up.  Now that’s troubling.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Now They’re Going After The First Amendment

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told ABC’s Jonathan Karl that it would be a good idea to abolish or amend the First Amendment because the press is being mean to Trump.

I’m not kidding.

KARL: I want to ask you about two things the President has said on related issues. First of all, there was what he said about opening up the libel laws. Tweeting “the failing New York Times has disgraced the media world. Gotten me wrong for two solid years. Change the libel laws?” That would require, as I understand it, a constitutional amendment. Is he really going to pursue that? Is that something he wants to pursue?

PRIEBUS: I think it’s something that we’ve looked at. How that gets executed or whether that goes anywhere is a different story. But when you have articles out there that have no basis or fact and we’re sitting here on 24/7 cable companies writing stories about constant contacts with Russia and all these other matters—

KARL: So you think the President should be able to sue the New York Times for stories he doesn’t like?

PRIEBUS: Here’s what I think. I think that newspapers and news agencies need to be more responsible with how they report the news. I am so tired.

KARL: I don’t think anybody would disagree with that. It’s about whether or not the President should have a right to sue them.

PRIEBUS: And I already answered the question. I said this is something that is being looked at. But it’s something that as far as how it gets executed, where we go with it, that’s another issue. [Emphasis added.]

These bastards should be impeached and thrown out of office just for saying it out loud.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Short Takes

U.S. blames Assad for chemical attack in Syria; Trump blames Obama.

North Korea launches missile into the sea.

ISIS calls Trump “idiot” in its first message acknowledging him.

New GOP healthcare plan undercuts popular provisions of Obamacare.

Russia to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremist” group.

The Tigers opened the season by beating the White Sox 6-3.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Monday, February 27, 2017

There’s Protest and Then There’s Protest

Via Booman:

In Arizona, the Senate just passed a bill that would “would open up protests to anti-racketeering legislation, targeting protesters with the same laws used to combat organized crime syndicates.”

The same bill would “allow police to seize the assets of anyone involved in a protest that at some point becomes violent.”

A Florida Republican introduced a bill that would make it easier to run over protesters with your car without being legally liable. North Dakota and Tennessee Republicans have done the same.

In Minnesota, Republicans are pushing a bill that would allow the police to charge protesters for the cost of policing their rallies and marches.

Not to be outdone, Mississippi Republicans want to make blocking traffic a crime punishable by a $10,000 fine and five years in prison.

There are also a bunch of bills coming out of states like South Dakota, Colorado, and Oklahoma aimed at greatly stiffening penalties for interfering in the operation of pipelines.

So far, none of these bill have become law, and most of them are unconstitutional. But they indicate a certain mood.

When the Tea Party was doing their rallies back in 2009 and 2010, the Republicans loved the unfettered exercise of FREEDOM!  Now they’re all worked up because these traitors are showing disrespect to their Dear Leader.

Or maybe it’s because the crowds of protestors are a whole lot bigger than what the Tea Party could muster and they don’t like that, either.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Too Much For Yoo

John Yoo was a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department under George W. Bush, and he became famous — or infamous — for, in his words, “advising that President George W could take vigorous, perhaps extreme, measures to protect the nation after the Sept. 11 attacks, including invading Afghanistan, opening the Guantánamo detention center and conducting military trials and enhanced interrogation of terrorist leaders.”  In other words, torture such as waterboarding and other such measures were fine with him; they fell well within the president’s power to protect the country.

So you’d think he’d be on board with Trump’s rampages against immigration and his sweeping use of the executive orders.

Guess again.  Via his op-ed in the New York Times:

But even I have grave concerns about Mr. Trump’s uses of presidential power.

During the campaign, Mr. Trump gave little sign that he understood the constitutional roles of the three branches, as when he promised to appoint justices to the Supreme Court who would investigate Hillary Clinton. (Judge Neil M. Gorsuch will not see this as part of his job description.) In his Inaugural Address, Mr. Trump did not acknowledge that his highest responsibility, as demanded by his oath of office, is to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.” Instead, he declared his duty to represent the wishes of the people and end “American carnage,” seemingly without any constitutional restraint.

[…]

A successful president need not have a degree in constitutional law. But he should understand the Constitution’s grant of executive power. He should share Hamilton’s vision of an energetic president leading the executive branch in a unified direction, rather than viewing the government as the enemy. He should realize that the Constitution channels the president toward protecting the nation from foreign threats, while cooperating with Congress on matters at home.

Otherwise, our new president will spend his days overreacting to the latest events, dissipating his political capital and haphazardly wasting the executive’s powers.

When you’ve lost the chief proponent president’s use of whatever means possible, including torture, you’ve got a problem.

Friday, January 13, 2017

No Extra Rights

Via the Hill:

Trump Cabinet pick Ben Carson reiterated his belief Thursday that LGBT Americans don’t deserve “extra rights.”

During Carson’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) pressed the Housing and Urban Development nominee about whether he would enforce LGBT protections in the public housing sector.

“Of course, I would enforce all the laws of the land,” Carson responded. “Of course, I think all Americans should be protected by the law.”

“What I have said before is I don’t think anyone should get ‘extra rights,’” he added.

Carson’s remarks mirror those from his 2014 CPAC speech: “Of course gay people should have the same rights as everyone else, but they don’t get extra rights,” Carson said at the time. “They don’t get to redefine marriage.”

No one is asking for “extra rights,” Dr. Carson.  I’m certainly not; I have enough trouble exercising the ones I already have.  I just want to have the same rights as everyone else, like the right not to be fired for whom I’m married to or whose picture I have on my desk; not to be denied housing because of whom I share the house with; not to be denied the right to visit a sick friend in the hospital; and not be denied the dignity of not having to make a big deal out of the fact that should I ever be fortunate enough to meet someone and fall in love and get married, buying a wedding cake doesn’t require a court order.

According the LGBTQ community the same rights as everyone else isn’t a zero-sum game.  When we have them, they’re not taken away from the non-LGBTQ folks.

What is both ironic and telling is that within my lifetime people such as Dr. Carson were routinely denied the very rights I’m seeking assurance of.  He of all the people in Trump’s world should be especially mindful of just what is at stake when we demand equal rights under the law.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Sunday Reading

If It Goosesteps… — Peter Dreier in the Huffington Post.

Donald Trump isn’t Hitler. The United States is not Weimar Germany. Our economic problems are nowhere as bad as those in Depression-era Germany. Nobody in the Trump administration (not even Steven Bannon) is calling for genocide (although saber-rattling with nuclear weapons could lead to global war if we’re not careful).

That said, it is useful for liberals, progressives and radicals to think and strategize as though we face that kind of situation. None of us in our lifetimes have confronted an American government led by someone like Trump in terms of his sociopathic, demagogic, impulsive, thin-skinned and vindictive personality (not even Nixon came close), his right-wing inner circle, his reactionary and dangerous policy agenda on foreign policy; the economy; the environment; health care; immigration; civil liberties; and poverty; his willingness to overtly invoke all the worst ethnic, religious, and racial hatreds in order to appeal to the most despicable elements of our society and unleash an upsurge of racism, anti-semitism, sexual assault, and nativism by the KKK and other hate groups; his lack of understanding about Constitutional principles and the rule of law; and his lack of experience with collaboration and compromise. All this while presiding over a federal government in which all three branches are controlled by right-wing corporate-funded Republicans. We may be lucky to discover that Trump might be an incompetent leader and unable to unite the Republicans, but we shouldn’t count on it.

In such a situation, progressive movements, journalists and Congressmembers face a dilemma and some strategic choices:

On the one hand:

  • Treat Trump and his administration as “normal” politicians and government officials?
  • Try to negotiate compromises to get the best deal to make life less desperate for vulnerable people?
  • Encourage Trump to be “pragmatic,” as President Obama (trying to look sincere) did the other day, and, as some Democrats are suggesting, “give Trump a chance”?
  • Allow Trump to use the media as a megaphone to announce his appointments and his policy ideas as though he was a “normal” President with a consistent ideology and a willingness to compromise?
  • Cover Trump with the typical “he said/she said” journalistic formula — he makes an announcement and the press finds a Democrat or a liberal to provide the “other” perspective, as though they were equally valid (ie climate change is a “hoax” (Trump) versus climate change is real (99.9% of scientists)? (The current phrase for this misleading approach is “false equivalence”)

Or:

  • Refuse to treat Trump as a “normal” politicians and refuse to legitimate his regime?
  • Refuse to cover Trump in the media as though his ideas were legitimate, but rather assume that almost everything he says is a lie or a half-truth?
  • Maintain an all-out effort to constantly remind the public of Trump’s ugly and outrageous views and his sociopathic and sexist behavior, including full coverage of all the criminal and civil lawsuits against him?
  • Be prepared to take advantage of his character flaws that will likely lead to lots of outrageous and embarrassing comments?
  • Refuse to compromise on legislation and instead make him and the GOP own his agenda so he takes the blame when people suffer?
  • Develop and constantly promote a clear, easy-to-understand progressive policy agenda as an alternative to Trump’s agenda — a kind of shadow cabinet — to remind Americans that there IS a better way to run the country and win the support of many Americans who failed to vote or who voted for Trump?
  • Spend the next two and four years mobilizing opposition to obstruct almost everything he seeks to do, while laying the groundwork to win a majority in the House in 2018 and win back the White House in 2020 by raising money and investing in organizing campaigns in key swing districts and states ASAP?
  • Try, as best we can, to avoid the left’s proclivity to fragment and divide itself via issue silos, organizational turf battles, personality disputes, and constituency rivalries?

In the not-too-distant future, we can try to translate our progressive policy agenda into actual policies — adopting campaign finance reform, immigration reform, stronger environmental regulations, stricter rules on Wall Street, and greater investment in jobs and anti-poverty programs; turning Election Day into a national holiday, reforming our labor laws, protecting women’s right to choose, expanding LGBT rights, making our tax system more progressive, reforming our racist criminal justice system, investing more public dollars in job-creating infrastructure and clean energy projects; adopting paid family leave, and expanding health insurance to all and limiting the influence of the drug and insurance industry.

But, at the moment, our stance must be one of resistance and opposition.

The Trump presidency and Trumpism is a new phenomenon in our country’s history. Never before has such an authoritarian personality been president. We’ve had demagogues in the House and Senate, but never in the Oval Office. The best primer to understand what we’re facing is Philip Roth’s 2004 novel, The Plot Against America, a counter-factual history in which Franklin Delano Roosevelt is defeated in the 1940 presidential election by the pro-Hitler, anti-Semitic aviator Charles Lindbergh.

It is not enough simply to proceed with caution. We must view Trump as a real threat to our institutions, to our democracy, and to our future.

The Morning After — David Remnick of The New Yorker rode along with President Obama during the last days of the campaign.  Here’s a portion of the article.

My longest recent conversation with Obama came the day after he first met with President-elect Donald Trump, in the Oval Office. I arrived at the West Wing waiting area at around nine-thirty. There was a copy of USA Today on the table. The headline was “RISE IN RACIST ACTS FOLLOWS ELECTION.” It was accompanied by a photograph of a softball-field dugout in Wellsville, New York, spray-painted with a swastika and the words “Make America White Again.” The paper reported other such acts in Maple Grove, Minnesota, at the University of Vermont Hillel Organization, and at Texas State University, in San Marcos, where police were trying to determine who had distributed flyers reading “Now that our man Trump is elected and Republicans own both the Senate and the House—time to organize tar & feather VIGILANTE SQUADS and go arrest and torture those deviant university leaders spouting off all this diversity garbage.”

Below that story was an account of Obama’s encounter with Trump. Obama had steeled himself for the meeting, determined to act with high courtesy and without condescension. His task was to impress upon Trump the gravity of the office. He seemed to take pains not to offend the always-offendable Trump, lest he lose what influence he might still have on the political future of the country and the new Administration. Obama was also trying to engage the world in a willing suspension of disbelief, attempting to calm markets and minds, to reassure foreign leaders and, perhaps most of all, millions of Americans that Trump’s election did not necessarily spell the end of democracy, or the rise of an era of chaos and racial enmity, or the suspension of the Constitution. This is not the apocalypse.

And yet even in the West Wing few could put up the same front. That much was clear when, the morning after the election, Obama and Denis McDonough, his chief of staff, had met with groups of staffers. (The two acted “almost like grief counsellors,” one source said.) Obama told his staff not to lose their spirit, to keep their eyes on “the long game.” Soon after the election had been called for Trump, Obama told them, Ben Rhodes had e-mailed to say that sometimes history zigzags. Obama seized on that.

“A lot of you are young and this is your first rodeo,” Obama told the staffers in the Oval Office, a source recalled. “For some of you, all you’ve ever known is winning. But the older people here, we have known loss. And this stings. This hurts.” It’s easy to be hopeful when things are going well, he went on, but when you need to be hopeful is when things are at their worst. That line reminded one senior aide of Obama’s last speech to the U.N. General Assembly, a defense of the liberal order that was willfully optimistic at a moment when illiberal currents were coursing all over the world. Now, in his own home, Obama sought to buck his people up and get them into a professional frame of mind. He praised the Bush Administration, which he had criticized so sharply throughout the 2008 campaign, for the generosity and efficiency with which its people had assisted in the transition, and he told his people to do the same, to be “gracious hosts” of the most well-known address in the United States. He asked them to make sure that even their body language radiated a sense of pride and coöperation.

But there was little that could soften the blow, either inside the White House or in the great world beyond. Trump’s victory did not merely endanger Obama’s legacy of progressive legislation or international agreements. It unnerved countless women, African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, and L.G.B.T. people, as well as professionals in national security, the press, and many other institutions. (And this was before Trump appointed Stephen Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News, as his senior counsellor.)

The outcome of the election was also a blow to those who anticipated major advances for the Democratic Party: it wrested over-all control of just one additional state legislature, and remains a minority in both houses of Congress, having gained only a handful of new seats in the House of Representatives, and only two in the Senate. Democrats saw a net loss of two governorships, leaving fewer than a third of the states with Democratic governors. The party of F.D.R. and Robert Kennedy was at its weakest point in decades and had been cast as heedless of the concerns of white working people.

Nor was there any secret why Vladimir Putin and the Russian political élite were so tickled by Trump’s ascent. Yes, Trump represents, to them, a “useful idiot,” a weak, discombobulated, history-less leader who will likely be content to leave Russia to its own devices, from Ukraine to the Baltic states. But Putin may also think of himself as the chief ideologist of the illiberal world, a counter to what he sees as the hypocritical and blundering West. He has always shown support for nativist leaders such as Marine Le Pen, in France; now he had a potential ally in the White House. Suddenly, Germany, led by Angela Merkel, was the lonely bulwark of Europe and Atlanticism. And even she faced a strong nativist challenge, for the sin of admitting thousands of Syrian refugees into the country.

The White House was, as one staffer told me, “like a funeral home.” You could see it all around: aides walking through the lobby, hunched, hushed, vacant-eyed. In a retrospective mood, staffers said that, as Obama told me, Clinton would have been an “excellent” President, but they also voiced some dismay with her campaign: dismay that she had seemed to stump so listlessly, if at all, in the Rust Belt; dismay that the Clinton family’s undeniable taste for money could not be erased by good works; dismay that she was such a middling retail politician. There was inevitable talk about Joe Biden, who might have done better precisely where Clinton came up short: in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio. And there was the fury at James Comey, who had clearly stalled Clinton’s late momentum, and at the evidence that Russia had altered the course of an American election through a cyber-espionage mission that was conducted in conjunction with Julian Assange and warmly received by the Republican candidate.

Three days after Trump’s victory, Obama was scheduled to go to Arlington National Cemetery and deliver the annual Veterans Day address to thousands of vets and their families. The President’s limousine, the Beast, and a long line of black vans and security vehicles were lined up and waiting on the south drive of the White House. It was hard not to see it, considering the mood of the previous few days, and the destination, as a kind of cortège.

The official line at the White House was that the hour-and-a-half meeting with Trump went well and that Trump was solicitous. Later, when I asked Obama how things had really gone, he smiled thinly and said, “I think I can’t characterize it without . . . ” Then he stopped himself and said that he would tell me, “at some point over a beer—off the record.”

I wasn’t counting on that beer anytime soon. But after the sitdown with Trump, Obama told staff members that he had talked Trump through the rudiments of forming a cabinet and policies, including the Iran nuclear deal, counter-terrorism policy, health care—and that the President-elect’s grasp of such matters was, as the debates had made plain, modest at best. Trump, despite his habitual bluster, seemed awed by what he was being told and about to encounter.

Denis McDonough strolled by with some friends and family. The day before, the person Trump sent to debrief him about how to staff and run a White House was his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. They had taken a walk on the South Lawn.

I asked McDonough how it was going, and he gave me a death-skull grin. “Everything’s great!” he said. He clenched his teeth and grinned harder in self-mockery. McDonough is the picture of rectitude: the ramrod posture, the trimmed white hair, the ashen mien of a bishop who has missed two meals in a row. “I guess if you keep repeating it, it’s like a mantra, and it will be O.K. ‘Everything will be O.K., everything will be O.K.’ ”

What Will You Sacrifice? — Zaineb Mohammed, a Muslim woman, asks her white Christian friends if they will stand up for her.

I keep reading these Facebook posts apologizing to Muslims, to queer people, to immigrants, to people of color for the election of Donald Trump. I know these posts are meant in solidarity, but right now they just make me feel like I am already being mourned: The worst has happened, the world is ending, and I will not save you—I will just lament the loss of your existence.

In two weeks, three months, a year, when these white allies who are outraged and appalled and disgusted realize that a Trump presidency will not significantly impact their day-to-day lives, are they going to abandon us?

When these white allies who are outraged and appalled and disgusted realize that a Trump presidency will not significantly impact their day-to-day lives, are they going to abandon us?

Will they put their bodies between us and the deportations, the bans, the databases, the imprisonment, the torture, the threats to our existence? Or will they post an apology for what has happened, and what is yet to come?

I am so worried about the normalization and inevitable complacency that will set in. Already, it is happening. And yet, even as I worry about it, I understand.

I am an anxious person, and all I want in this moment is to be reassured. My desire for comfort has never been this intense. So when I read the headlines saying that Trump is reconsidering repealing Obamacare, and that it will be much harder for him to implement all of his campaign promises than he thinks, I feel a momentary sense of relief.

It is hard to worry about all of the things there are to worry about, to maintain a feeling of horror, and I look for signs that my life is not going to change. I have a job; I have financial security; I am Muslim but am not easily identifiable as a Muslim; I live in the Bay Area—I will be okay.

This is how it happens.

Comfort is an indulgence we can’t seek out now. Because, for so many people, there is no comfort. For many, there never has been.

A friend posted an article in which Trump said he would absolutely require Muslims to register and a couple of people responded clarifying that the article was actually from 2015. I felt reassured for a moment. But what has become of the world when we can be comforted that the president-elect’s demand for a religious group to register came a year ago and not yesterday?

A Facebook friend suggested that if Trump actually calls for Muslims to register, everyone in the United States should do so as well to overwhelm the authorities. This is a beautiful sentiment. Would you do it?

Normalization is happening. Complacency is happening.

Another Facebook friend who posted that same article suggested that if Trump actually calls for Muslims to register, everyone in the United States should do so as well to overwhelm the authorities. This is a beautiful sentiment. Would you do it?

Too often, we let ourselves off the hook. How will we purposefully make ourselves uncomfortable when comfort is within reach?

I’m reminded of a self-defense class I took back in the summer, when a white woman mentioned feeling guilty about crossing the street when a black man is walking toward her. The instructor said racism is systemic, not something an individual can solve, and she shouldn’t feel bad for valuing her personal safety.

Racism is systemic. Racism is individual. We have to stop letting ourselves off the hook.

When your life is not on the line, and when what’s required is sacrificing so many of the comforts you are accustomed to, what will you give up for the rest of us? I am asking myself this too. If I am being honest, the answer so far is very little, if anything at all.

Protesting is important and donations are important and volunteering is important. But when you know that you can leave the protest whenever you want to return to a safe home and a warm bed and a hot shower, that is privilege, not sacrifice.

What will you sacrifice? What will you give up?

I hope the answer is a lot. Because we will need it.

Doonesbury — A hairy situation.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

First Things First

If you think calling Donald Trump a dictator-in-waiting is over the top, then what would you call someone who thinks that the First Amendment needs to be changed because freedom of the press is ruining his campaign?

In an interview with WFOR, CBS’ Miami affiliate, Trump was asked if he believes the First Amendment provides “too much protection.”

Trump answered in the affirmative, saying he’d like to change the laws to make it easier to sue media companies. Trump lamented that, under current law, “our press is allowed to say whatever they want.”

Yes, they are.  That is the point.

Funny (not really) how certain amendments, like the Second, are sacrosanct to Mr. Trump while others, like the First, Fourth, and Fifth are a threat to Law ‘n’ Order.  These are the same people who are calling for less government and more freedom.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Whites Only

Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post:

If you are a black man in America, exercising your constitutional right to keep and bear arms can be fatal. You might think the National Rifle Association and its amen chorus would be outraged, but apparently they believe Second Amendment rights are for whites only.

In reaching that conclusion I am accepting, for the sake of argument, the account given by the Charlotte police of how they came to fatally shoot Keith Lamont Scott on Tuesday. Scott’s killing prompted two nights of violent protests that led North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) to declare a state of emergency. Last Friday, police in Tulsa shot and killed Terence Crutcher — an unarmed black man — and the two incidents gave tragic new impetus to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Scott’s relatives claim he was unarmed as well. But let’s assume that police are telling the truth and he had a handgun. What reason was there for officers to confront him?

North Carolina, after all, is an open-carry state. A citizen has the right to walk around armed if he or she chooses to do so. The mere fact that someone has a firearm is no reason for police to take action.

This is crazy, in my humble opinion. I believe that we should try to save some of the 30,000-plus lives lost each year to gun violence by enacting sensible firearms restrictions — and that the more people who walk around packing heat like Wild West desperados, the more deaths we will inevitably have to mourn. In its wisdom, however, the state of North Carolina disagrees.

In open-carry states such as Florida or Texas, if a group of white men walked down the street toting semi-automatic rifles and strolled into Wal Mart, they would be seen as Americans exercising their rights.  Change the adjective “white” to “black,” however, and you’d have SWAT in the parking lot and a BREAKING NEWS crawl on CNN as their correspondent did a stand-up a block away under the glare of a searchlight from the police helicopter.

That’s the subtext behind Donald Trump’s call for “stop and frisk;” take away the guns from the non-white people.  You would think the NRA would be against that, too.  But so far they’ve been silent.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Rights, Shmights

Donald Trump on due process:

The “bad part” about bombing suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami being captured alive is that now he’ll be treated to “amazing” medical care and an “outstanding” lawyer, Donald Trump said Monday.

After praising the efforts of law enforcement, Trump bemoaned how this “evil thug who planted the bombs” in New York and New Jersey over the weekend is now receiving medical attention after being wounded in a shootout with police earlier in the day.

“But the bad part, now we will give him amazing hospitalization. He will be taken care of by some of the best doctors in the world,” the GOP nominee told the crowd at a rally in Estero, Florida. “He will be given a fully modern and updated hospital room. And he’ll probably even have room service knowing the way our country is.”

Trump added that “on top of all of that, he will be represented by an outstanding lawyer,” saying Rahami’s case would take years to work its way through the criminal justice system until his eventual punishment is diluted. The Sixth Amendment ensures the right to a fair and speedy public trial and the right to a lawyer for all criminal defendants.

“What a sad situation. We must have speedy but fair trials and we must deliver a just and very harsh punishment to these people,” Trump said, to big cheers from the crowd.

This from the guy who wants to stand up in front of the world and solemnly swear to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Short Takes

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) endorsed Hillary Clinton.

The Falluja offensive against ISIS goes on.

U.S. service member injured in car bomb attack in Syria.

Poland moves to extradite Roman Polanski to the U.S.

Virginia appeals court won’t re-hear transgender bathroom case.

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.