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.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Short Takes

Austria: The racist xenophobic right-wing candidate narrowly lost the presidential election.

Baltimore: One of six officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray was acquitted in a bench trial.

The U.S. Supreme Court tossed the conviction of a black man found guilty by an all-white juror based on overwhelming evidence of racism.

That’s Hot: Temperatures in India hit 123.8 F.

Tropical Update: It’s a little early, but there’s something brewing in the ocean.

The Tigers beat the Phillies 5-4.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sunday Reading

Not Acceptable — Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker of the danger of accepting Donald Trump.

“Vice is a monster of so frightful mien, / As, to be hated, needs but to be seen,” the poet Alexander Pope wrote, in lines that were once, as they said back in the day, imprinted on the mind of every schoolboy. Pope continued, “Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face, / we first endure, then pity, then embrace.” The three-part process by which the gross becomes the taken for granted has been on matchlessly grim view this past week in the ascent of Donald Trump. First merely endured by those in the Republican Party, with pained grimaces and faint bleats of reluctance, bare toleration passed quickly over into blind, partisan allegiance—he’s going to be the nominee, after all, and so is our boy. Then a weird kind of pity arose, directed not so much at him (he supplies his own self-pity) as at his supporters, on the premise that their existence somehow makes him a champion for the dispossessed, although the evidence indicates that his followers are mostly stirred by familiar racial and cultural resentments, of which Trump has been a single-minded spokesperson.

Now for the embrace. One by one, people who had not merely resisted him before but called him by his proper name—who, until a month ago, were determined to oppose a man they rightly described as a con artist and a pathological liar—are suddenly getting on board. Columnists and magazines that a month ago were saying #NeverTrump are now vibrating with the frisson of his audacity, fawning over him or at least thrilling to his rising poll numbers and telling one another, “We can control him.’

No, you can’t. One can argue about whether to call him a fascist or an authoritarian populist or a grotesque joke made in a nightmare shared between Philip K. Dick and Tom Wolfe, but under any label Trump is a declared enemy of the liberal constitutional order of the United States—the order that has made it, in fact, the great and plural country that it already is. He announces his enmity to America by word and action every day. It is articulated in his insistence on the rightness of torture and the acceptable murder of noncombatants. It is self-evident in the threats he makes daily to destroy his political enemies, made only worse by the frivolity and transience of the tone of those threats. He makes his enmity to American values clear when he suggests that the Presidency holds absolute power, through which he will be able to end opposition—whether by questioning the ownership of newspapers or talking about changing libel laws or threatening to take away F.C.C. licenses. To say “Well, he would not really have the power to accomplish that” is to misunderstand the nature of thin-skinned authoritarians in power. They do not arrive in office and discover, as constitutionalists do, that their capabilities are more limited than they imagined. They arrive, and then make their power as large as they can.

And Trump announces his enmity in the choice of his companions. The Murdoch media conglomerate has been ordered to acquiesce; it’s no surprise that it has. But Trump’s other fellow-travellers include Roger Stone, the Republican political operative and dirty-tricks maven, while his venues have included the broadcasts of Alex Jones, a ranting conspiracy theorist who believes in a Globalist plot wherein “an alien force not of this world is attacking humanity”—not to mention Jones’s marketing of the theory that Michelle Obama is a transvestite who murdered Joan Rivers. These are not harmless oddballs Trump is flirting with. These are not members of the lunatic fringe. These are the lunatics.

Ted Cruz called Trump a pathological liar, the kind who does not know the difference between lies and truth. Whatever the clinical diagnosis, we do appear to be getting, in place of the once famous Big Lie of the nineteen-thirties, a sordid blizzard of lies. The Big Lie was fit for a time of processionals and nighttime rallies, and films that featured them. The blizzard of lies is made for Twitter and the quick hit of an impulse culture. Trump’s lies arrive with such rapidity that before one can be refuted a new one comes to take its place. It wasn’t his voice on that tape of pitiful self-promotion. O.K., it was—but he never mocked the handicapped reporter, he was merely imitating an obsequious one. The media eventually moves on, shrugging helplessly, to the next lie. Then the next lie, and the next. If the lies are bizarre enough and frequent enough, they provoke little more than a nervous giggle and a cry of “Well, guess he’s changed the rules!”

He’s not Hitler, as his wife recently said? Well, of course he isn’t. But then Hitler wasn’t Hitler—until he was. At each step of the way, the shock was tempered by acceptance. It depended on conservatives pretending he wasn’t so bad, compared with the Communists, while at the same time the militant left decided that their real enemies were the moderate leftists, who were really indistinguishable from the Nazis. The radical progressives decided that there was no difference between the democratic left and the totalitarian right and that an explosion of institutions was exactly the most thrilling thing imaginable.

The American Republic stands threatened by the first overtly anti-democratic leader of a large party in its modern history—an authoritarian with no grasp of history, no impulse control, and no apparent barriers on his will to power. The right thing to do, for everyone who believes in liberal democracy, is to gather around and work to defeat him on Election Day. Instead, we seem to be either engaged in parochial feuding or caught by habits of tribal hatred so ingrained that they have become impossible to escape even at moments of maximum danger. Bernie Sanders wouldn’t mind bringing down the Democratic Party to prevent it from surrendering to corporate forces—and yet he may be increasing the possibility of rule-by-billionaire.

There is a difference between major and minor issues, and between primary and secondary values. Many of us think that it would be terrible if the radical-revisionist reading of the Second Amendment created by the Heller decision eight years ago was kept in place in a constitutional court; many on the other side think it would be terrible if that other radical decision, Roe v. Wade, continued to be found to be compatible with the constitutional order. What we all should agree on is that the one thing worse would be to have no constitutional order left to argue about.

If Trump came to power, there is a decent chance that the American experiment would be over. This is not a hyperbolic prediction; it is not a hysterical prediction; it is simply a candid reading of what history tells us happens in countries with leaders like Trump. Countries don’t really recover from being taken over by unstable authoritarian nationalists of any political bent, left or right—not by Peróns or Castros or Putins or Francos or Lenins or fill in the blanks. The nation may survive, but the wound to hope and order will never fully heal. Ask Argentinians or Chileans or Venezuelans or Russians or Italians—or Germans. The national psyche never gets over learning that its institutions are that fragile and their ability to resist a dictator that weak. If he can rout the Republican Party in a week by having effectively secured the nomination, ask yourself what Trump could do with the American government if he had a mandate. Before those famous schoolroom lines, Pope made another observation, which was that even as you recognize that the world is a mixed-up place, you still can’t fool yourself about the difference between the acceptable and the unacceptable: “Fools! who from hence into the notion fall / That vice or virtue there is none at all,” he wrote. “Is there no black or white? / Ask your own heart, and nothing is so plain; / ’Tis to mistake them, costs the time and pain.” The pain of not seeing that black is black soon enough will be ours, and the time to recognize this is now.

Where You Go Matters — The New York Times on how a personal issue became a national cause.

The people of Palatine, Ill., a middle-class suburb of Chicago marked by generic strip malls and tidy cul-de-sacs, had not spent much time debating the thorny questions of transgender rights. But in late 2013, a transgender high school athlete, so intent on defending her privacy that she is known only as Student A, took on her school district so she could use the girls’ locker room.

After the federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights ruled in her favor last fall, the two sides cut a deal: Student A could use the locker room and the school would install private changing areas. Some in the community denounced the arrangement; others joined the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which represented the girl, in declaring a victory for civil rights.

Now the whole nation is in a pitched battle over bathroom access, with the Obama administration ordering all public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice. Across the country, religious conservatives are rebelling. On Friday, lawmakers in Oklahoma became the latest group to protest, proposing one measure to effectively overturn the order, and another calling for President Obama to be impeached over it.

How a clash over bathrooms, an issue that appeared atop no national polls, became the next frontier in America’s fast-moving culture wars — and ultimately landed on the desk of the president — involves an array of players, some with law degrees, others still in high school.

The sweeping directive to public schools seemed to come out of nowhere. In fact, it was the product of years of study inside the government and a highly orchestrated campaign by advocates for gay and transgender people. Mindful of the role “Whites Only’’ bathrooms played in the civil rights battles of more than half a century ago, they have been maneuvering behind the scenes to press federal agencies, and ultimately Mr. Obama, to address a question that has roiled many school districts: Should those with differing anatomies share the same bathrooms?

The lobbying came to a head, according to people who were involved, in a hastily called April 1 meeting between top White House officials — led by Valerie Jarrett, Mr. Obama’s senior adviser and one of his closest confidantes — and national leaders of the gay and transgender rights movement. North Carolina had just become the first state to explicitly bar transgender people from using the bathrooms of their choice.

“Transgender students are under attack in this country,” said Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington-based advocacy group that is active on the issue, summing up the message he sought to convey to Ms. Jarrett that day. “They need their federal government to stand up for them.”

Ms. Jarrett and her team, he said, listened politely, but “did not reveal much,” including the fact that a legal directive on transgender rights that had been in the works for months was about to be released.

When — or precisely how — Mr. Obama personally weighed in is not clear; the White House would not provide specifics. But two days before that meeting, scores of advocacy groups sent Mr. Obama a private letter, appealing to his sense of history as he nears the end of his presidency, in which he has already advanced gay and transgender rights on multiple fronts.

“Too many students — including every single transgender, intersex, and gender-nonconforming student in North Carolina — will go to sleep tonight dreading the next school day,” the groups wrote, telling him that “your legacy will be defined by the tone you have set and the personal leadership you have shown on these issues.”

The dispute in Palatine came amid increasing confusion for school districts over how to handle questions about bathroom access for transgender students. Officials at the Department of Education said it had received hundreds of requests for guidance — so many that advocates for gay and transgender rights, frustrated by the Obama administration’s failure to issue specific policy guidelines, decided to act on their own.

In August, several groups seeking protection for transgender people — including the Human Rights Campaign, the National Education Association and the National Center for Lesbian Rights — issued a 68-page guide for schools, hoping to provide a blueprint for the White House.

At the Department of Education, Catherine E. Lhamon, 44, a former civil rights litigator who runs the agency’s Office of Civil Rights — and has made aggressive use of a federal nondiscrimination law known as Title IX — was taking the lead. The department’s ruling in favor of Student A in November was the first time it had found any school district in violation of civil rights over transgender issues.

For Student A, the federal intervention has been life changing. Her mother, who requested anonymity to protect the privacy of her daughter, said she was close to finishing her junior year and had just gone to the prom with a group of friends. (She wore a “nice, expensive dress” with a lot of sparkles, her mother said.) Student A is starting to think about which college she might attend.

“She’s in her own teenaged world right now,” her mother said.

The ruling in Palatine reverberated across the Midwest. In the South Dakota Legislature, Republicans were so alarmed by the situation in Palatine that, in February, they passed a measure restricting bathroom access for transgender students — similar to the one that later became law in North Carolina. Opponents sent transgender South Dakotans to meet with Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Republican, and they believe that influenced his veto of the bill.

Among the visitors was Kendra Heathscott, who was 10 when she first met Mr. Daugaard, then the executive director of a social services organization that treats children with behavioral problems. In his office to lobby against the bathroom measure, she reintroduced herself. “He remembered me as a little boy,” she said.

In Wisconsin last year, another Republican-sponsored bathroom bill began to work its way through the Legislature, but was beaten back by transgender rights activists, many of them teenagers.

Remember 2008 — Tim Murphy at Mother Jones reminds us of the intense Democratic primary race eight years ago and how that turned out.

After last weekend’s chaotic Nevada Democratic convention, where supporters of Bernie Sanders tossed chairs and later sent death threats to the state party chair, leading Democrats called on the Vermont senator and his supporters to settle down. They wanted Sanders backers to quit complaining about a “rigged” nominating process and to lay off the threat to take the fight to the July convention if—as looks almost certain—Hillary Clinton locks up the nomination next month. At the Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky chastised the Vermont senator for not rebuking his supporters and asked if Sanders “wants to destroy the Democratic party.” He depicted Sanders and his wife, Jane Sanders, as Thelma and Louise, driving off a cliff.

But, in a way, the party has been at this precipice before. The fretting over what a Sanders schism might mean for the party’s chances in November against Donald Trump is not without justification. And many Democrats had cause to freak out over a New York Times article that reported that Team Sanders was bent on causing Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, much harm in the weeks up to and at the convention. But Sanders’ decision to push for the Democratic nomination all the way to the convention is not unprecedented. This is sort of what happened the last time there was a Democratic presidential primary, when Clinton was in the never-give-up role.

The comparison isn’t perfect. At this point in 2008, Clinton, running second to then-Sen. Barack Obama, had a statistically better shot at the nomination than Sanders does now. The gap in pledged delegates was much smaller, and there was an unsettled issue of how harshly Michigan and Florida would be penalized for holding early primaries against the party’s orders. (Clinton won both states, Obama had chosen not compete, and it was unclear how many delegates each state would have at the convention.) Still, Clinton was a long shot, and Obama backers wanted her to go away quietly, or at least to quit attacking the likely nominee. She and her supporters chose the opposite course, pitching superdelegates to switch sides based on a racially tinged argument that Clinton would fare better than Obama in the general election.

Here are some flashbacks to that tense period in 2008:

May 8: After narrowly beating Obama in Indiana, Clinton says, “Senator Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again.” This was an argument that superdelegates should support her because her black opponent wouldn’t be able to win white voters in November.

May 9: Sixteen pro-Clinton House members send a letter to superdelegates touting Clinton’s “ability to connect with voters we must deliver in the fall, including blue collar Democrats who can sway this election as they have in the past.”

Mid-May: Bill Clinton frantically tries to convince superdelegates to switch their allegiances. According to Game Change, “Clinton’s message, sometimes implicitly, sometimes explicitly, was that the country wasn’t ready to elect an African American president.”

May 23: Hillary Clinton tells the Sioux Falls Argus Leader that she’s staying in the race because anything can happen. “We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California,” she says. She pledges to fight until the convention and challenges Obama to more debates. Obama supporters howl at Clinton’s fear tactic.

May 31: The Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee meets to settle the fate of the Michigan and Florida delegates. It decides to cut both states’ delegations in half—a death blow to Clinton’s chances. Angry Clinton supporters outside the meeting tell the Huffington Post‘s Sam Stein that an ex-Senate majority leader (Tom Daschle) had “rigged” the South Dakota primary, that Obama was in the pocket of a billionaire megadonor (George Soros), and that his base of supporters was little more than an “anti-woman cult.”

Early June: Rumors circulate of a secret video, known as the “whitey tape,” in which Michelle Obama supposedly shares a stage with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and denounces white people. According to Game Change, the Clinton campaign clung to the video as its last best hope: “[Top Clinton aide Sidney] Blumenthal was obsessed with the ‘whitey tape,’ and so were the Clintons, who not only believed that it existed but felt that there was a chance it might emerge in time to save Hillary. ‘They’ve got a tape, they’ve got a tape,’ she told her aides excitedly.”

There was no tape, and Clinton dropped out of the race on June 4, shortly after the last Democratic primary. On June 27, she and Obama held their first joint appearance together, in Unity, New Hampshire.

Sanders may yet pursue a different course. (His aides are talking about trying to transform the Democratic Party and its rules.) But for now, his decision to stay in the race and keep the pressure on the front-runner is not extraordinary. It’s déjà vu.

Doonesbury — Found money.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Short Takes

Senate confirms Eric Fanning, first openly gay Secretary of the Army.

TSA apologizes, promises hundreds of new staffers at O’Hare.

Senate passes bill to allow 9/11 families to sue Saudi Arabia.

Human error, high speed blamed for deadly train wreck in Philadelphia last year.

Better late than never: Court orders Mississippi school district to desegregate.

Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau introduces bill to protect transgender rights.

The Tigers beat the Twins 7-2.