Thursday, February 21, 2019

Respect This

Incidents like this just make me sad.

For four years, Bailey Brazzel says, she had employed the same tax preparer, Nancy Fivecoate of Carter Tax Service in Russiaville, Ind. Fivecoate prepared the taxes without issue each time — until this year, when Brazzel brought her new wife, Samantha.

Fivecoate declined to serve the couple, citing her religious beliefs.

This was the first year the Brazzels, who wed in July, were filing jointly as a married couple. According to Samantha, Fivecoate explained that she believed marriage was between a man and a woman and that she would therefore not be able to prepare their taxes.

[…]

In a statement to NBC affiliate WTHR, Fivecoate presented a similar version of events and said that she “declined to prepare the taxes because of my religious beliefs.”

“I am a Christian and I believe marriage is between one man and one woman,” she said in the statement. “I was very respectful to them. I told them where I thought she might be able to get her taxes prepared.”

She added: “The LGBT want respect for their beliefs, which I give them. I did not say anything about their lifestyle. That is their choice. It is not my choice. Where is their respect for my beliefs?”

The last time I checked, there’s no place anywhere on the basic 1040 form that has anything to do with religious beliefs, “lifestyle,” or the respecting thereof.  (I’m sure there are forms that you fill out if you’re a religious organization so you can skip out paying taxes, but that’s for another post.)

What makes me sad is twofold: first, that the Brazzels had to take their business elsewhere through no fault of their own and were told “we don’t serve your kind here.”  People shouldn’t have to be forced to choose based on an irrelevancy, and the state of Indiana should be doing more to protect the basic human rights of its citizens than leaving it up to the locals.

The second sad is because this tax preparer is not doing her fellow Christians any favors by being a sniveling bigot.  Far be it from me to lecture them on how to behave in public — Quakers are silent on the matter [rimshot] — but proclaiming far and wide that Christians can be assholes even when it comes to accountancy says more about Fivecoates’ lack of compassion and understanding that are supposed to be key elements in that faith.

Or, to put it succinctly, if you want respect from others, respect them first.  And then do your job.

More Very Fine People

Via the Washington Post:

A U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant and self-identified white nationalist was arrested after federal investigators uncovered a cache of weapons and ammunition in his Maryland home that authorities say he stockpiled to launch a widespread domestic terrorist attack targeting politicians and journalists.

Christopher Paul Hasson called for “focused violence” to “establish a white homeland” and said, “I am dreaming of a way to kill almost every last person on the earth,” according to court records filed in U.S. District Court in Maryland. Though court documents do not detail a specific planned date for an attack, the government said he had been amassing supplies and weapons since at least 2017, developed a spreadsheet of targets that included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and searched the Internet using phrases such as “best place in dc to see congress people” and “are supreme court justices protected.”

“The defendant intends to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country,” the government said in court documents filed this week, arguing that Hasson should stay in jail awaiting trial.

Hasson, 49, of Silver Spring, is expected to appear before a judge for a detention hearing in federal court in Greenbelt at 1 p.m. Thursday.

Hasson was arrested Friday on ­charges of illegally possessing weapons and drugs, but the government said those charges are the “proverbial tip of the iceberg.” Officials with the U.S. attorney’s office in Maryland outlined Hasson’s alleged plans to spark chaos and destruction, describing in court documents a man obsessed with neo-fascist and neo-Nazi views.

“Please send me your violence that I may unleash it onto their heads,” Hasson wrote in a letter that prosecutors said was found in his email drafts. “Guide my hate to make a lasting impression on this world.”

He sounds like a very disturbed individual, and there are a lot of them out there who are like-minded.  They exist and fester no matter who’s in office.  They don’t care who the president is; they see everyone through the paranoid kaleidoscope of hate.  But it also doesn’t help matters if the current occupant of the West Wing is telling the world that the instruments of our democracy such as the press and law enforcement are the “ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!” or riddled with corruption.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Covering The Coverup

The New York Times is out with an analysis of how Trump and his minions have routinely tried to quash, silence, and intimidate anyone or any news organization trying to uncover the truth about whatever the hell is going in in his administration.

WASHINGTON — As federal prosecutors in Manhattan gathered evidence late last year about President Trump’s role in silencing women with hush payments during the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump called Matthew G. Whitaker, his newly installed attorney general, with a question. He asked whether Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York and a Trump ally, could be put in charge of the widening investigation, according to several American officials with direct knowledge of the call.

Mr. Whitaker, who had privately told associates that part of his role at the Justice Department was to “jump on a grenade” for the president, knew he could not put Mr. Berman in charge because Mr. Berman had already recused himself from the investigation. The president soon soured on Mr. Whitaker, as he often does with his aides, and complained about his inability to pull levers at the Justice Department that could make the president’s many legal problems go away.

Trying to install a perceived loyalist atop a widening inquiry is a familiar tactic for Mr. Trump, who has been struggling to beat back the investigations that have consumed his presidency. His efforts have exposed him to accusations of obstruction of justice as Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, finishes his work investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Mr. Trump’s public war on the inquiry has gone on long enough that it is no longer shocking. Mr. Trump rages almost daily to his 58 million Twitter followers that Mr. Mueller is on a “witch hunt” and has adopted the language of Mafia bosses by calling those who cooperate with the special counsel “rats.” His lawyer talks openly about a strategy to smear and discredit the special counsel investigation. The president’s allies in Congress and the conservative news media warn of an insidious plot inside the Justice Department and the F.B.I. to subvert a democratically elected president.

An examination by The New York Times reveals the extent of an even more sustained, more secretive assault by Mr. Trump on the machinery of federal law enforcement. Interviews with dozens of current and former government officials and others close to Mr. Trump, as well as a review of confidential White House documents, reveal numerous unreported episodes in a two-year drama.

White House lawyers wrote a confidential memo expressing concern about the president’s staff peddling misleading information in public about the firing of Michael T. Flynn, the Trump administration’s first national security adviser. Mr. Trump had private conversations with Republican lawmakers about a campaign to attack the Mueller investigation. And there was the episode when he asked his attorney general about putting Mr. Berman in charge of the Manhattan investigation.

Mr. Whitaker, who this month told a congressional committee that Mr. Trump had never pressured him over the various investigations, is now under scrutiny by House Democrats for possible perjury.

On Tuesday, after The Times article published, Mr. Trump denied that he had asked Mr. Whitaker if Mr. Berman could be put in charge of the investigation. “No, I don’t know who gave you that, that’s more fake news,” Mr. Trump said. “There’s a lot of fake news out there. No, I didn’t.”

A Justice Department spokeswoman said Tuesday that the White House had not asked Mr. Whitaker to interfere in the investigations. “Under oath to the House Judiciary Committee, then-Acting Attorney General Whitaker stated that ‘at no time has the White House asked for nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel’s investigation or any other investigation,’” said the spokeswoman, Kerri Kupec. “Mr. Whitaker stands by his testimony.”

The story of Mr. Trump’s attempts to defang the investigations has been voluminously covered in the news media, to such a degree that many Americans have lost track of how unusual his behavior is. But fusing the strands reveals an extraordinary story of a president who has attacked the law enforcement apparatus of his own government like no other president in history, and who has turned the effort into an obsession. Mr. Trump has done it with the same tactics he once used in his business empire: demanding fierce loyalty from employees, applying pressure tactics to keep people in line and protecting the brand — himself — at all costs.

It should be noted that the Justice Department’s denial of Mr. Whitaker’s actions is irrelevant.  It’s that Trump tried to get an attorney that was on his side to run the investigation.  Whether or not Mr. Whitaker complied isn’t the issue; that Trump tried is.

What emerges from this story is that Trump is obsessed with putting an end to any news coverage of him that isn’t fawning.  Given his past and his personality, that’s not surprising, but where it has gotten him in trouble is that in order to win over the base and win the election, he and his minions engaged in illegal acts, and now they’re trying to cover them up and intimidate and demonize anyone who is trying to get to the truth.  Innocent people don’t act like that.  If they’ve done nothing wrong, they don’t need to.

The other element in this story is the acknowledgment that the public is basically immune to being outraged or surprised by Trump.  That’s to be expected in a time when a viral meme can come and go with the lifespan of a fruit fly — this week’s media obsession is next week’s question in bar trivia contests — but whether or not the public cares or is aware of high crimes and misdemeanors really has no bearing on whether or not he should be held accountable.  Nor should the attempts by his leather-lunged supporters to distract our attention with yet another attempt to bring up Hillary’s e-mails or Barack’s birth certificate.  Those of us who are old enough to remember Watergate know that the public was far more interested in what happened to Patty Hearst than what Richard Nixon was doing in the West Wing.  It wasn’t until the Senate hearings interrupted “The Price Is Right” and soap operas that the average voter was even aware that crimes had taken place, and their response was typical: “When will I get my stories back?”

Fortunately that doesn’t matter.   Justice and the application thereof is not based on how it trends on Twitter, and no amount of threats and cries of “Fake News!” will put an end to it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Civics Lesson

Learning about the Constitution in practical ways.

A Florida student is facing misdemeanor charges after a confrontation with his teacher that began with his refusal to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and escalated into what officials described as disruptive behavior.

The student, a sixth-grader at Lawton Chiles Middle Academy in Lakeland, Fla., east of Tampa, refused to stand for the pledge in the Feb. 4 incident, telling the teacher that he thinks the flag and the national anthem are “racist” against black people, according to an affidavit. The teacher then had what appeared to be a contentious exchange with the boy.

If living in the United States is “so bad,” why not go to another place to live? substitute teacher Ana Alvarez asked the student, according to a handwritten statement from her.

“They brought me here,” the boy replied.

Alvarez responded by saying, “Well you can always go back, because I came here from Cuba, and the day I feel I’m not welcome here anymore, I would find another place to live.” She then called the school office, as she did not want to keep dealing with the student, according to the statement.

Officials said the situation escalated. The student yelled at the administrative dean and a school resource officer with the Lakeland Police Department after they came to the classroom, accusing them of being racist and repeatedly refusing to leave the room.

“Suspend me! I don’t care. This school is racist,” the student, who is black, told the dean as he walked out of the classroom with his backpack, according to the affidavit.

According to a statement from the Lakeland Police Department, the boy then “created another disturbance and made threats while he was escorted to the office.” He was later charged by police with disruption of a school facility and resisting an officer without violence.

I am sure there are plenty of people who think the teacher and the cops were right to bust this kid for being unpatriotic and refusing to give in to the demands that he salute the flag and recite the pledge.  Fortunately they are in flagrant disagreement with the United States Supreme Court that ruled in 1943 that no state official can compel anyone to be patriotic.

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.

This would also apply to those who think that football players showing their feelings in a non-disruptive and silent way should be fired.  The Constitution has your number, too.

Sixteen States

See you in court.

A coalition of 16 states filed a federal lawsuit Monday to block President Trump’s plan to build a border wall without permission from Congress, arguing that the president’s decision to declare a national emergency is unconstitutional.

The lawsuit, brought by states with Democratic governors — except one, Maryland — seeks a preliminary injunction that would prevent the president from acting on his emergency declaration while the case plays out in the courts.

The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, a San Francisco-based court whose judges have ruled against an array of other Trump administration policies, including on immigration and the environment.

Accusing the president of “an unconstitutional and unlawful scheme,” the suit says the states are trying “to protect their residents, natural resources, and economic interests from President Donald J. Trump’s flagrant disregard of fundamental separation of powers principles engrained in the United States Constitution.”

The complaint, filed by the attorneys general of nearly a third of the states and representing millions of Americans, immediately became the heavyweight among a rapid outpouring of opposition to the president’s emergency declaration. In the White House Rose Garden on Friday, Trump announced that he was instituting a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border because Congress did not provide enough money for a wall, that has stood as one of the most enduring promises from his 2016 campaign.

By the time this case actually gets to its final resolution, Trump will either be voted out of office or the presiding judge at trial will already be occupied by presiding over his impeachment in the Senate.  And this is just the first of many, many suits that will be filed in state and federal court on everything from eminent domain challenges to states’ rights.

Basically it comes down to Trump doing this to keep a campaign promise mnemonic about immigration and to keep Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh from turning on him.  And now we’ll find out how much it costs to feed an ego.

Old Times There Are Not Forgotten

An Alabama newspaper editor is calling for the Klan to rise again.

Goodloe Sutton — who is the publisher of the Democrat-Reporter newspaper in Linden, Alabama — confirmed to the Montgomery Advertiser on Monday that he authored the Feb. 14 editorial calling for the return of a white supremacist hate group.

“If we could get the Klan to go up there and clean out D.C., we’d all been better off,” Sutton said.

By “clean up,” he means lynching.

He’s what Trump would call “very fine people.”

Monday, February 18, 2019

Presidents Day

Today is Presidents Day, the federal holiday mashed together to honor Washington’s Birthday and Lincoln’s Birthday which used to be holidays on their own. This one generically honors all presidents and remembering the times when we had one, and it’s a mid-winter break for schools and a day off for those of us who work in them.

Things will be a little quiet around here.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Sunday Reading

Every Day Is A New Low — Andrew McCabe excerpts his new book “The Threat” in The Atlantic.

On Wednesday, May 10, 2017, my first full day on the job as acting director of the FBI, I sat down with senior staff involved in the Russia case—the investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. As the meeting began, my secretary relayed a message that the White House was calling. The president himself was on the line. I had spoken with him the night before, in the Oval Office, when he told me he had fired James Comey.

A call like this was highly unusual. Presidents do not, typically, call FBI directors. There should be no direct contact between the president and the director, except for national-security purposes. The reason is simple. Investigations and prosecutions need to be pursued without a hint of suspicion that someone who wields power has put a thumb on the scale.

The Russia team was in my office. I took the call on an unclassified line. That was another strange thing—the president was calling on a phone that was not secure. The voice on the other end said, It’s Don Trump calling. I said, Hello, Mr. President, how are you? Apart from my surprise that he was calling at all, I was surprised that he referred to himself as “Don.”

The president said, I’m good. You know—boy, it’s incredible, it’s such a great thing, people are really happy about the fact that the director’s gone, and it’s just remarkable what people are saying. Have you seen that? Are you seeing that, too?

He went on: I received hundreds of messages from FBI people—how happy they are that I fired him. There are people saying things on the media, have you seen that? What’s it like there in the building?This is what it was like: You could go to any floor and you would see small groups gathering in hallways, some people even crying. The overwhelming majority liked and admired Director Comey—his personal style, the integrity of his conduct. Now we were laboring under the same dank, gray shadow that had been creeping over Washington during the few months Donald Trump had been in office.

I didn’t feel like I could say any of that to the president on the phone. I’m not sure I would have wanted to say it to him in person, either—or that he would have cared. I told him that people here were very surprised, but that we were trying to get back to work.

The president said he thought most people in the FBI voted for him—he thought 80 percent. He asked me again, as he had in his office, if I knew that Comey had told him three times that he was not under investigation. Then he got to the reason for his call. He said, I really want to come over there. I want to come to the FBI. I want to show all my FBI people how much I love them, so I think maybe it would be good for me to come over and speak to everybody, like tomorrow or the next day.

That sounded to me like one of the worst possible things that could happen. He was the boss, and had every right to come, but I hoped the idea would dissipate on its own. He said, Why don’t you come down here and talk to me about that later?

After we agreed on a time to meet, the president began to talk about how upset he was that Comey had flown home on his government plane from Los Angeles—Comey had been giving a speech there when he learned he was fired. The president wanted to know how that had happened.

I told him that bureau lawyers had assured me there was no legal issue with Comey coming home on the plane. I decided that he should do so. The existing threat assessment indicated he was still at risk, so he needed a protection detail. Since the members of the protection detail would all be coming home, it made sense to bring everybody back on the same plane they had used to fly out there. It was coming back anyway. The president flew off the handle: That’s not right! I don’t approve of that! That’s wrong! He reiterated his point five or seven times.

I said, I’m sorry that you disagree, sir. But it was my decision, and that’s how I decided. The president said, I want you to look into that! I thought to myself: What am I going to look into? I just told you I made that decision.

The ranting against Comey spiraled. I waited until he had talked himself out.

Toward the end of the conversation, the president brought up the subject of my wife. Jill had run unsuccessfully for the Virginia state Senate back in 2015, and the president had said false and malicious things about her during his campaign in order to tarnish the FBI. He said, How is your wife? I said, She’s fine. He said, When she lost her election, that must have been very tough to lose. How did she handle losing? Is it tough to lose?

I replied, I guess it’s tough to lose anything. But she’s rededicated herself to her career and her job and taking care of kids in the emergency room. That’s what she does.He replied in a tone that sounded like a sneer. He said, “Yeah, that must’ve been really tough. To lose. To be a loser.”

I wrote a memo about this conversation that very day. I wrote memos about my interactions with President Trump for the same reason that Comey did: to have a contemporaneous record of conversations with a person who cannot be trusted.

People do not appreciate how far we have fallen from normal standards of presidential accountability. Today we have a president who is willing not only to comment prejudicially on criminal prosecutions but to comment on ones that potentially affect him. He does both of these things almost daily. He is not just sounding a dog whistle. He is lobbying for a result. The president has stepped over bright ethical and moral lines wherever he has encountered them. Every day brings a new low, with the president exposing himself as a deliberate liar who will say whatever he pleases to get whatever he wants. If he were “on the box” at Quantico, he would break the machine.


After Comey’s firing, the core of my concern had to do with what might happen to the Russia case if I were to be removed. I convened a series of meetings about that investigation—including the one interrupted by the call from the president—in which I directed an overall review of every aspect. Was the work on solid ground? Were there individuals on whom we should consider opening new cases? I wanted to protect the Russia investigation in such a way that whoever came after me could not just make it go away.

As requested, I went back to the White House that afternoon. The scene was almost identical to the one I had walked into the previous night. Trump was behind the Resolutedesk. He lifted one arm and jutted it out, fingers splayed, directing me to take a seat in one of the little wooden chairs in front of him. Reince Priebus, then the chief of staff, and Don McGahn, then the White House counsel, were in the other chairs.

The president launched back into his speech about what a great decision it was to fire Jim Comey, how wonderful it was that the director was gone, because so many people did not like Comey, even hated him—the president actually used the word hate.

Eventually he changed the subject. He said that he wanted to come to FBI headquarters to see people and excite them and show them how much he loves the FBI. He pressed me to answer whether I thought it was a good idea. I said it was always a good idea to visit. I was trying to take some of the immediacy out of his proposal—to communicate that the door was always open, so that he wouldn’t feel he had to crash through it right away. I knew what a disaster it could turn out to be if he came to the Hoover Building in the near future. He pressed further, asking specifically, Do you think it would be a good idea for me to come down now? I said, Sure.

He looked at Don McGahn. The president said, Don, what do you think? Do you think I should go down to the FBI and speak to the people?McGahn was sitting in one of the wooden chairs to my right. Making eye contact with Trump, he said, in a very pat and very prepared way, If the acting director of the FBI is telling you he thinks it is a good idea for you to come visit the FBI, then you should do it.Then McGahn turned and looked at me. And Trump looked at me and asked, Is that what you’re telling me? Do you think it is a good idea?

It was a bizarre performance. I said it would be fine. I had no real choice. This was not worth the ultimate sacrifice.

In this moment, I felt the way I’d felt in 1998, in a case involving the Russian Mafia, when I sent a man I’ll call Big Felix in to meet with a Mafia boss named Dimitri Gufield. The same kind of thing was happening here, in the Oval Office. Dimitri had wanted Felix to endorse his protection scheme. This is a dangerous business, and its a bad neighborhood, and you know, if you want, I can protect you from that. If you want my protection. I can protect you. Do you want my protection? The president and his men were trying to work me the way a criminal brigade would operate.

For whatever reason, the visit to the FBI never happened.


One of the regularly scheduled meetings with the attorney general, deputy attorney general, and some of their staff came two days later, on Friday, May 12. After the meeting, I asked the deputy, Rod Rosenstein, if he could stay behind. In part I wanted to talk with him about ground rules governing the separate investigations of the Russia case by the FBI and the Senate Intelligence Committee. Rosenstein had oversight because the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, had had to recuse himself owing to his own interactions with Russians during the campaign. But my main message was this: I need you to protect the process.

After speaking to these points, Rod shifted his gaze. His eyes were focused on a point in space a few yards beyond and behind, toward the door. He started talking about the firing of Jim Comey. He was obviously upset. He said he was shocked that the White House was making it look as if Jim’s firing had been his idea. He was grasping for a way to describe the nature of his situation. One remark stands out. He said, There’s no one that I can talk to about this. There’s no one here that I can trust.

He asked for my thoughts about whether we needed a special counsel to oversee the Russia case. I said I thought it would help the investigation’s credibility. Later that day, I went to see Rosenstein again. This is the gist of what I said: I feel strongly that the investigation would be best served by having a special counsel. I’ve been thinking about the Clinton email case and how we got twisted in knots over how to announce a result that did not include bringing charges against anyone. Had we appointed a special counsel in the Clinton case, we might not be in the present situation. Unless or until you make the decision to appoint a special counsel, the FBI will be subjected to withering criticism that could destroy the credibility of both the Justice Department and the FBI.

Rosenstein was very engaged. He was not yet convinced. I brought the matter up with him again after the weekend. On Wednesday, we would be briefing the Hill. As I saw it, by informing Congress of the bureau’s actions, we would be drawing an indelible line around the cases we had opened—the four cases known publicly and any others that may have gone forward. The four known publicly were those of Carter Page, a foreign-policy adviser to the Trump campaign and a man with many Russian ties; George Papadopoulos, another foreign-policy adviser, who had told a foreign diplomat that the Russians had offered to help Trump’s campaign by providing information on Hillary Clinton; Michael Flynn, for a brief period the president’s national security adviser, who had pursued multiple high-level contacts with the Russian government; and Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, who had shady business dealings with Ukrainians and Russians.On the afternoon of May 17, Rosenstein and I sat at the end of a long conference table in a secure room in the basement of the Capitol. We were there to brief the so-called Gang of Eight—the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate and the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. Rosenstein had, I knew, made a decision to appoint a special counsel in the Russia case. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic senator from New York, was to our right. Mitch McConnell, the Republican senator from Kentucky and the Senate majority leader, was to our left. The mood in the room was sober.After reminding the committee of how the investigation began, I told them of additional steps we had taken. Then Rod took over and announced that he had appointed a special counsel to pursue the Russia investigation, and that the special counsel was Robert Mueller. The Gang of Eight had questions. What was the scope of the inquiry? Who would oversee the special counsel? How could the special counsel get fired? Rod answered every question. Then it was over.

When I came out of the Capitol, it felt like crossing a finish line. If I got nothing else done as acting director, I had done the one thing I needed to do.

Doonesbury — Out with the old…

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Friday, February 15, 2019

It Can Happen Here

In 1935, Sinclair Lewis called it.

It Can’t Happen Here is a semi-satirical 1935 political novel by American author Sinclair Lewis,[1] and a 1936 play adapted from the novel by Lewis and John C. Moffitt.[2]

Published during the rise of fascism in Europe, the novel describes the rise of Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, a demagogue who is elected President of the United States, after fomenting fear and promising drastic economic and social reforms while promoting a return to patriotism and “traditional” values. After his election, Windrip takes complete control of the government and imposes a plutocratic/totalitarian rule with the help of a ruthless paramilitary force, in the manner of Adolf Hitler and the SS. The novel’s plot centers on journalist Doremus Jessup’s opposition to the new regime and his subsequent struggle against it as part of a liberal rebellion.

Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post today:

We have a national emergency, all right. Its name is Donald Trump, and it is a force of mindless, pointless disruption.

The president’s decision to officially declare an emergency — to pretend to build an unbuildable border wall — is not only an act of constitutional vandalism. It is also an act of cowardice, a way to avoid the wrath of Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the far-right commentariat.

It is an end run around Congress and, as such, constitutes a violation of his oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” — which gives Congress, not the president, the authority to decide how public money is spent. It does not give Trump the right to fund projects that Congress will not approve. Authoritarian leaders do that sort of thing. The puffed-up wannabe strongman now living in the White House is giving it a try.

If you think I’m being alarmist — what’s next, the Reichstag? — then remember that if Trump gets away with declaring a national emergency for a mythical wall, what’s to stop him from doing the same for banning Muslims?  Yeah, he tried that, and the courts basically let him get away with it.

The only thing that seems to be holding the Republicans from getting totally on board with this is the realization that the next Democratic president could declare an emergency on guns or climate change, which seems to be a particularly weak argument on their part: the other guys will come up with shit that’s crazier than our own guy.

The fact that former Deputy Director of the FBI Andrew McCabe, who filled in for the fired James Comey, considered the idea of invoking the 25th Amendment should awake you and us.  He’s not some left-wing socialist, but a career man who clearly believes in the rule of law.  And if he’s worried about who’s running the country, we all should be.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

That Moment Of Silence

There will be a lot of commemorations today to mark the first anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  Our school administration will hold a moment of silence in the entryway to our building that houses the offices of the fourth-largest school district in the country, and I am very sure that there will be sincere and meaningful words spoken to honor the memories of the people who were killed and comfort the families of the lost.  And well there should be; to forget them and the moment is as much as crime as the assault itself.

But we should also remember that not a whole lot has been done to prevent something like that from happening again, because since that horrible day in February, a lot more people have been killed or wounded in mass shootings both in schools and other places. Legislation has been passed in Florida to harden the schools so a gunman will find it harder to get in, and I know for a fact that millions of dollars are being allocated to beef up security, hire more school police, and buy closed-circuit TV equipment to see them coming before they enter the schoolyard.

That’s fine; I’m sure the people of Florida are all in favor of having safe schools, although based on some of the plans I’ve read about, the school is going to look more like a prison than a place of learning.  And in all the dollars being allocated for new door locks, new CCTV systems, new ID card readers, and new school resource officers (that’s “police” in educational lingo), I haven’t seen anything put up to prevent anyone from arming themselves and going off.

I don’t mean gun control; that’s not going to happen as long as the gun-rights people hold the strings of power in Tallahassee and Washington, and repealing the Second Amendment isn’t going to happen at all.  (We Americans love our anachronisms: the Second Amendment is from a time when the country was 98% rural and we had no standing army.  It has survived, just as our 18th century system of weights and measures has, and defiantly so.  We’re not giving an inch.)  And even if we did, it would only increase the black market for guns and ammo.  Take a lesson from Prohibition.  What I mean is that nothing is being done to seek out and get help for people who might commit harm to themselves and others.

That sounds hard to do, and it is, but in nearly every case after the horror and the smoke is clearing, someone steps up and says they saw signs that the shooter was having problems, but, and they always say this, “I had no idea they’d go this far.”

Does that mean we should all be paranoid and freaked out every time someone on the train starts talking to themselves or accosts you for whatever reason is causing their outburst?  Common sense can distinguish between someone listening to music on a Bluetooth or someone presenting a danger to themselves and others.  And we’re spending a lot of money to paper public places with “SEE SOMETHING SAY SOMETHING” posters.

I certainly do not have the answers, and I have yet to hear from anyone in or out of public office or in a position of authority come up with a way to stop a massacre before it happens.  But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.  So in the moments of silence that will be offered today, perhaps we should collectively seek out ways to end the torture, stop the carnage, and hold back the tears.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019