Tuesday, December 20, 2022

To Sum Up

It’s Unprecedented — David Rohde in The New Yorker.

The House select committee investigating the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, formally recommended to the Justice Department on Monday that former President Donald Trump be criminally prosecuted. The committee accused him of violating four federal laws: inciting insurrection, obstructing an act of Congress, conspiring to defraud the United States, and conspiring to make a false statement. The committee’s action is unprecedented. No President in American history has ever before been referred by Congress for criminal prosecution.

In a hundred-and-fifty-four-page executive summary of its findings, the committee said that Trump—more than any other individual—was responsible for the storming of the Capitol by a violent mob that tried to disrupt the certification of his defeat in the 2020 election.“The central cause of Jan. 6th was one man, former President Donald Trump, who many others followed,” the report states. “None of the events of Jan. 6th would have happened without him.”

The committee also identified five Trump allies for potential prosecution for their roles in aiding his effort to overturn the 2020 election: the former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and four lawyers: Rudolph W. Giuliani, Jeffrey Clark, John Eastman, and Kenneth Chesebro. Among other findings, the committee concluded that the attempt by Eastman, a Trump legal adviser, to submit slates of fake, pro-Trump electors to Congress and the National Archives constituted making “materially false statements to the federal government.”

In November, Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel, Jack Smith, to take over the Justice Department’s own investigations of Trump’s actions on January 6th and of his alleged mishandling of classified documents. The House select committee has no formal prosecutorial authority, so the referrals have only symbolic power. Law-enforcement officials, however, told me that the most important contribution that the committee can make to the ongoing Trump investigations is to immediately give prosecutors access to the more than a thousand witness interviews the committee conducted over the past year. The committee has also gathered more than a million documents related to the January 6th attack. “We have been very clear in saying that we want everything,” one law-enforcement official told me. “We still don’t have all of them.”

The report contains new information that could aid prosecutors. It describes a text sent by the Trump adviser Hope Hicks to a campaign aide, in which she stated that, before the riot, aides had repeatedly pressed the President to urge his supporters to remain peaceful. “I suggested it several times Monday and Tuesday and he refused,” Hicks wrote. She said that another senior adviser, Eric Herschmann, told her that he had made the same recommendation to Trump, but the President had refused to speak out against violence.

In a conversation with his adviser Kellyanne Conway, which took place the day after the riot, Trump downplayed the significance of the attack. Conway said that after she had described the situation as “terrible” and “crazy” Trump deflected. “No, these people are upset,” he said. “They’re very upset.”

The executive summary also includes new evidence demonstrating that Trump knew his claims about the 2020 election were false. Robert C. O’Brien, who served as Trump’s last national-security adviser, said that he dismissed the theory that voting machines had been hacked, during a December 18th call to the Oval Office. “Somebody asked me, was there—did I have any evidence of election fraud in the voting machines or foreign interference in our voting machines,” O’Brien said. “And I said, no, we’ve looked into that and there’s no evidence of it.” The White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, said that she tried to dissuade Trump as well, by “waving him off” the theory, but Trump subsequently tweeted about it anyway.

Legal experts have said that such evidence would bolster prosecutors’ chances of convincing a jury that Trump was intentionally defrauding the U.S. when he tried to block the certification of the results. The referrals, depending on their exact content, will be reviewed by the office of the special counsel or by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Washington D.C., which has prosecuted hundreds of rioters who entered the Capitol.

Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University, told me that he believed the committee’s referral has increased the odds that Trump will face prosecution. “While it’s still not completely certain that Trump will be prosecuted, I think the referral and the appointment of the special counsel make it more likely that it will happen,” he said.

For the purposes of the committee, whether its referrals result in actual prosecutions may not matter. A congressional committee has very different goals from a criminal prosecutor. Investigations by Congress are, by their nature, designed to unearth facts that sway public opinion. Some of the January 6th committee’s methods, including its effective use of snippets of testimony in videos produced for public airing, have prompted complaints about selective editing. But any committee’s ends are inherently political. A criminal prosecutor faces far more restrictions and must convince a jury, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a defendant committed a crime.

The poor performance of Trump-backed candidates in the midterms suggests that the committee’s public hearings have already tarnished Trump politically, particularly among independents and moderate Republicans. And, now, with its criminal referrals, the committee has placed Trump in a position of political ignominy occupied by no other American President.

Over to you, Mr. Garland.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Inevitable Discovery

There is a principle in legal circles known as inevitable discovery.  According to Wikipedia:

Inevitable discovery is a doctrine in United States criminal procedure that permits admission of evidence that was obtained through illegal means if it would “inevitably” have been obtained regardless of the illegality.[1] It is one of several exceptions to the exclusionary rule, or the related fruit-of-the-poisonous tree doctrine, which prevent evidence collected in violation of a defendant’s constitutional rights from being admitted in court.[1]

This doctrine occurred to me when Talking Points Memo dropped the bombshell of a shitload of texts between the conspirators in the White House and Congress after the 2020 election and leading up to January 6.  Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows neither knew or cared that what he was doing with his thumbs and his iPhone was potentially illegal, or thought that even if it was, the Department of Justice would never be able to present the evidence in court because of…  Well, I have no idea what legal principles he thought were in play because it’s apparent he’s never watched an episode of Law & Order where Ben Stone or Jack McCoy has argued that while the detectives may have not had a warrant to search a perp’s car or closet, they would have found the smoking gun by other legal means.  That, or he’s just an arrogant sumbitch.

I know that posting from Charlie Pierce for two days in a row seems lazy, but his summation is worth reading.

Ever since I discovered the intertooobz, Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo has been a go-to stop every morning and afternoon. On Monday, TPM‘s Hunter Walker struck gold. He obtained a motherlode of texts submitted by former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to the House select committee investigating the events of January 6. According to the introduction to the series posted Monday (and absent further clarification), these texts pretty much seem to fit Meadows for a shroud and make it damned near impossible for other activists and politicians to explain their way out of an involvement in outright sedition.

TPM is kicking off this series with an exclusive story showing that the log includes more than 450 messages with 34 Republican members of Congress. Those texts show varying degrees of involvement by members of Congress, from largely benign expressions of support for Trump to the leading roles played by Reps. Jim Jordan (R-OH), Jody Hice (R-GA), Mo Brooks (R-AL), and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in the plot to reverse Trump’s defeat. We reached out to all these legislators, and will be detailing their roles and responses to our questions in the first installment of the series, which is coming later today.

The text messages, obtained from multiple sources, offer new insights into how the assault on the election was rooted in deranged internet paranoia and undemocratic ideology. They show Meadows and other high-level Trump allies reveling in wild conspiracy theories, violent rhetoric, and crackpot legal strategies for refusing to certify Joe Biden’s victory. They expose the previously unknown roles of some members of Congress, local politicians, activists and others in the plot to overturn the election. Now, for the first time, many of those figures will be named and their roles will be described — in their own words.

Just a pile of nonsense that would have been left on the floor of the X-Files writers’ room, with a dusting of 1776 cosplay. These were the leaders of the oldest surviving democratic republic on Earth, and they apparently turned its government into a Chuck E Cheese of sedition. For example, let me introduce you to one Brian Babin, an actual member of the actual Congress, who, according to very reliable sources, is 74 years old.

Mark, When we lose Trump we lose our Republic. Fight like hell and find a way. We’re with you down here in Texas and refuse to live under a corrupt Marxist dictatorship. Liberty! Babin

Mike Kelly—also an actual member of Congress from an actual state (Pennsylvania)—is a mere lad of 74.

We’re in Philadelphia suing Pa. Sec. of State for her illegal meddling in this election and will continue to expose fraudulent actions. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to fight these MF’ers in Pa.? Our President is heroic !! Thank you for all you’ve done and please let the President know just how much he’s loved and appreciated in Pennsylvania! Sincerely, Mike Kelly

What a terrible horde of complete clowns nearly overthrew this government.

Many of them appear to be primo examples of People Who Do Their Own Research On The Internet. Here’s a turn in the spotlight for Greg Murphy, an actual Congressman from an actual state (North Carolina), who allegedly will turn 60 next March.

The next day, Rep. Greg Murphy (R-NC) sent Meadows a couple of texts with another version of the state legislature strategy gleaned from the far-right website Revolver, which is run by Darren Beattie, a former Trump White House speechwriter who was fired from that post in August 2018 after it was revealed he participated in a 2016 conference with a high-profile white nationalist. Murphy’s text was largely copied and pasted from a Revolver article that claimed “The Vote Has Been Hopelessly Contaminated. Republican State Legislatures Must Now Move to Appoint Pro-Trump Electors[…]”Why are we not pursuing this strategy?” Murphy asked before sharing text from the Revolver article, and adding, “Please pay close attention to the very last paragraph.”

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, ‘Hey, where’s Louie Gohmert, outgoing Padishah Emperor of the Crazy People?” You know we can count on the man.

Mark, Club for Growth wanted me to help in GA Dec 11& 12 on their bus tour, I’ve also been asked to help this wkend (while I’m still trying to spur people to get REAL winner of Pres recognized since without the Pres OFFICIALLY re-elected, we’re done). Would it be possible to ride AF One to GA Saturday? I’d only need a ride down since I’d stay there longer. Also if Pres had anytime I could drop by today, would love to see u both. Thanks. Louie

One of the main contenders for the empty throne certainly will be Rep. Paul Gosar, the representative from Arizona who will not be joining any of the family for the holidays. Gosar shared a theory about how Dominion Voting Machines were tied into China. And like any good investigator, according to Walker, Gosar went to primary sources.

The claim made by Gosar reportedly originated with far right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ website, InfoWars. Gosar also included a link to an executive order signed by Trump in 2018 that called for the director of national intelligence to “conduct an assessment of any information indicating that a foreign government” attempted to interfere with the election within 45 days of ballots being cast. Gosar also sent Meadows a link to a fringe blog called “Some Bitch Told Me” and a since-deleted set of files that he said showed “Massive fraud coming out of AZ.” In total, the log shows Gosar sent Meadows 13 messages, nearly half of which came between Dec. 16-17, 2020. Based on the log, Meadows did not respond to any of them. Despite Gosar seemingly gleaning his assertions from InfoWars and “Some Bitch Told Me,” Anthony Foti, a spokesperson for the congressman insisted, “at no time did he share a conspiracy theory.”

Maybe Some Bitch really did Tell Him. Who can say?

But things really get rolling when Jim Jordan, incoming chair of the House Judiciary Committee, floats a rough model of the independent state legislature theory, which got a respectable hearing before the Supreme Court of the United States last week. Jordan turns both Alexander Hamilton and judicial precedent into pretzels in making his case.

No legislative act, wrote Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 78, contrary to the Constitution, can be valid. The court in Hubbard v. Lowe reinforced this truth: That an unconstitutional statute is not a law at all is a proposition no longer open to discussion. 226 F. 135, 137 (SDNY 1915), appeal dismissed, 242 U.S. 654 (1916). Following this rationale, an unconstitutionally appointed elector, like an unconstitutionally enacted statute, is no elector at all.

Got it? Hamilton wrote that no law can be valid if unconstitutional. Electors awarded to candidates Jim Jordan doesn’t like are prima facie unconstitutional. Therefore, the election was unconstitutional. This is logic being treated as though it were in an Ohio State shower room.

Nevertheless, Meadows replied, “I have pushed for this. Not sure it is going to happen.”

Take heart, Mark. The Supreme Court can still prove you wrong.

There is, delightfully, more of this to come.

I can hear their lawyers at the trial claiming that the texts were either illegally obtained or that they are under executive privilege or attorney/client, or perhaps the truest legal principle they seem to believe in: Someone said we could do it.

The idea that they want to overturn a free and fair election is one thing, but the more galling thing is that these fucking idiots would then put themselves in charge of the government.  It’s bad enough that there are fools in their own district who elected them.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Justice Served

From the Washington Post:

The United States has killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda and one of the world’s most-wanted terrorists, who, alongside the group’s founder, Osama bin Laden, oversaw the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President Biden announced Monday evening.

Zawahiri was killed in a CIA drone strike in Kabul over the weekend, according to U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence.

When U.S. forces withdrew from Afghanistan last August, Biden administration officials said they would retain capability for “over-the-horizon” attacks from elsewhere on terrorist forces inside Afghanistan. The attack against Zawahiri is the first known counterterrorism strike there since the withdrawal.

Speaking in a live television address from a balcony at the White House, Biden announced that days ago he had authorized a strike to kill Zawahiri. “Justice has been delivered, and this terrorist leader is no more,” Biden said.

The strike occurred at 9:48 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the operation. A drone fired two Hellfire missiles at Zawahiri as he stepped onto the balcony of a safe house in Kabul, where he had been living with members of his family, the official said.

And then there’s this:

The first U.S. Capitol riot defendant convicted at trial was sentenced to more than seven years in prison Monday, the longest punishment handed down to date over the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on Congress.

Guy Reffitt, a recruiter for the right-wing Three Percenters movement in Texas, was convicted March 8 of five felony offenses, including obstruction of Congress as it met to certify the 2020 election result, interfering with police and carrying a firearm to a riot, and threatening his teenage son, who turned him in to the FBI. Prosecutors said Reffitt led a mob while armed at the Capitol and asked a judge to sentence him to 15 years after applying a terrorism sentencing penalty.

U.S. District Judge Dabney L. Friedrich condemned Reffitt’s conduct in handing down an 87-month sentence, saying in a nearly six-hour hearing that his views espousing political violence were “absurd,” “delusional” and “way outside of the mainstream.”

What Reffitt and others did at the Capitol “is the antithesis of patriotism,” Friedrich said, adding: “Not only are they not patriots, they are a direct threat to our democracy, and will be punished as such.”

Reffitt, who has proclaimed himself a “martyr” from prison, sought to legitimize efforts by himself and others to foment a rebellion against so-called government tyranny, “believing he was going to forcibly remove [state and federal] legislatures and install a new government that will be approved by judges and the Constitution,” the judge said.

“Nothing could be further from the truth. Nothing. And to this day, he has not disavowed these comments,” said Friedrich, a 2017 Trump appointee.

One was an Egyptian surgeon, the other a Fox-addled gun nut from Texas. Other than that, they’re basically the same: terrorists with no respect for human life.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Of Course It Was Political

Rarely do I post the same columnist two days in a row, but Charles P. Pierce deserves it.

Not to employ yet another cliche that was devalued under the previous administration*, but Thursday was the day that Joe Biden became president. He became president because he called out his predecessor for the threat to the American republic that he continues to be, and, just as important, he arraigned the political party from which this presidential* thuggery emerged.

A president had not just lost an election, he tried to prevent the peaceful transition of power as a violent mob reached the Capitol. But they failed. We saw with our own eyes: rioters menaced these halls, threatening the life of the Speaker of the House, directing to hang the Vice President of the United States of America. What did we not see? We did not see a former president, who had just rallied the mob to attack, sitting in a private dining room off the Oval Office in the White House, watching it all on television and doing nothing for hours as police were assaulted, lives at risk, the national Capitol under siege.

At the beginning of his speech, the president shouted out our old pal Clio, Muse of History, also known by her MCU superhero identity, The Proclaimer (!), who must have been scribbling furiously during this peroration.

We must be absolutely clear about what is true and what is a lie. And here is the truth: the former President of the United States of America has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election. He has done so because he values power over principle. Because he sees his own interest as more important than his country’s interest, then America’s first. And because his bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution. He cannot accept he lost. Even after what 93 United States senators, his own attorney general, his own vice president, governors and state officials in every battleground state have all said. He lost. That is what 81 million of you did as you voted for a new way forward. He has done what no president in American history, the history of this country, has ever done. He refused to accept the results of an election and the will of the American people. Some courageous men and women in the Republican Party are standing against it. Too many others are transforming that party into something else.

This was unprecedented in my lifetime, but it was so obviously richly deserved that the inevitable struck-dog yelping from the targets of his wrath seem like voices from another time and place, a time and a place before the artificial “unity” and “civility” that so enervated our politics was shown so vividly to be an impotent, cowardly dumbshow. Speaking of which, here’s Senator Lindsey Graham on the electric Twitter machine:

What brazen politicization of January 6 by President Biden. I wonder if the Taliban who now rule Afghanistan with al-Qaeda elements present, contrary to President Biden’s beliefs, are allowing this speech to be carried?

Was the speech political? Of course, it was. The violence of a year ago was political violence with a distinctly political goal. The president’s trade is politics. What did people expect, a novena?

Was the speech divisive? God, I hope so. It should have been. There should be a division between democratic self-government and the violence of the mob. That division should be stark. That division should be permanent—or, at least, it should continue to exist until political violence again is delegitimized. It was a political and divisive speech, and I thank god for it. It was also a challenge to people in my business—and to all American citizens—to take seriously the continuing peril to the republic. From Mt. Helicon, Clio is watching, and she takes no mess.

And about damn time, too.

You can almost hear the quavering whine in Lindsey Graham’s twitterpation, which is a tell that he knows he’s facing down the goddam truth and squealing like a stuck pig that it’s political and divisive — as if the insurrection wasn’t? — is the equivalent of a kid caught filching cookies.  And his toadying to Trump and the base that supports him is not just embarrassing for him, it is a threat to any semblance of justice.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Code Red Drill

As if teaching isn’t hard enough already, now schools and school boards have to face yet another threat: from right-wing nuts who object to trying to prevent the spread of Covid-19.  From the Washington Post:

Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday ordered the FBI to work with local leaders nationwide to help address what he called a “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence” against educators and school board members over highly politicized issues such as mask mandates and interpretations of critical race theory.

In a memorandum to FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and federal prosecutors, Garland wrote that the Justice Department will hold strategy sessions with law enforcement in the next 30 days and is expected to announce measures in response to “the rise in criminal conduct directed toward school personnel” in the nation’s public schools.

“While spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution, that protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views,” he wrote. “Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation’s core values. Those who dedicate their time and energy to ensuring that our children receive a proper education in a safe environment deserve to be able to do their work without fear for their safety.”

Garland’s order comes days after the National School Boards Association, a group representing school board members across the United States, pleaded with President Biden for federal assistance to help investigate and stop the recent threats against educators. The group said in a letter to Biden that much of the vitriol has involved policies focusing on mask mandates to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The NSBA likened the harassment and abuse over face coverings in schools to domestic terrorism.

“America’s public schools and its education leaders are under an immediate threat,” the group wrote to Biden.

I’m old enough to remember the hatred and the violence against desegregation in the 1960’s, and this is getting to be on the same level of vitriol and terror. There were also more than a few local officials and governors who backed the thuggery, claiming “freedom” as a cover for their blatant racism. It’s the same chant now, but this time it’s a contagious disease that is already spreading among the unvaccinated students. Of course headline-grabbing and base-grubbing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is leading the charge.

“Attorney General Garland is weaponizing the DOJ [Department of Justice] by using the FBI to pursue concerned parents and silence them through intimidation,” DeSantis’ post read. “Florida will defend the free speech rights of its citizens and will not allow federal agents to squelch dissent.”

The school where I work has regular drills for fires and tornadoes. In recent years in light of the massacre at Parkland, we’ve added Code Red drills for active shooters. Now it looks like we’ll have to include ones against wing-nuts and politicians who exploit stupidity and ignorance.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Happy Friday

Is anyone really surprised by this news in the New York Times?

WASHINGTON — As the Justice Department investigated who was behind leaks of classified information early in the Trump administration, it took a highly unusual step: Prosecutors subpoenaed Apple for data from the accounts of at least two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, aides and family members. One was a minor.

All told, the records of at least a dozen people tied to the committee were seized in 2017 and early 2018, including those of Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, then the panel’s top Democrat and now its chairman, according to committee officials and two other people briefed on the inquiry. Representative Eric Swalwell of California said in an interview Thursday night that he had also been notified that his data had subpoenaed.

Prosecutors, under the beleaguered attorney general, Jeff Sessions, were hunting for the sources behind news media reports about contacts between Trump associates and Russia. Ultimately, the data and other evidence did not tie the committee to the leaks, and investigators debated whether they had hit a dead end and some even discussed closing the inquiry.

But William P. Barr revived languishing leak investigations after he became attorney general a year later. He moved a trusted prosecutor from New Jersey with little relevant experience to the main Justice Department to work on the Schiff-related case and about a half-dozen others, according to three people with knowledge of his work who did not want to be identified discussing federal investigations.

The zeal in the Trump administration’s efforts to hunt leakers led to the extraordinary step of subpoenaing communications metadata from members of Congress — a nearly unheard-of move outside of corruption investigations. While Justice Department leak investigations are routine, current and former congressional officials familiar with the inquiry said they could not recall an instance in which the records of lawmakers had been seized as part of one.

Moreover, just as it did in investigating news organizations, the Justice Department secured a gag order on Apple that expired this year, according to a person familiar with the inquiry, so lawmakers did not know they were being investigated until Apple informed them last month.

To give you an idea of how serious this is, check and see how outraged the Republicans are by this. The quieter they are, the deeper the shit.

Friday Soother: Where I’ll be heading in a week.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Sunday Reading

John Cassidy in The New Yorker on confronting the rise of right-wing terrorism.

Brenton Harrison Tarrant, the twenty-eight-year-old Australian who allegedly carried out a racially motivated gun massacre, in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Friday, appeared in court on Saturday morning and was charged with one count of murder. According to a report from the New Zealand Herald, Tarrant “appeared in white prison clothing, with manacled hands, and barefoot. He smirked when media photographed him in the dock, flanked by two police officers.” He didn’t enter a plea and was remanded in custody. The court hearing, at the Christchurch district court, was closed to the public, but the judge allowed some members of the media to report on the proceedings.

As they were taking place, surgeons were still operating on some of the victims of the shootings, which occurred at two mosques, and the confirmed death toll rose to forty-nine. More horrifying eyewitness accounts emerged, and the whole of New Zealand, a remote island nation of about 4.9 million people that had only thirty-five murders in all of 2017, was in a state of deep shock. “I honestly thought somebody was carrying a water pistol—this is New Zealand, you know—or a showing of a pellet gun or something,” Omar Nabi, a Christchurch man whose father was shot dead at one of the two mosques that were attacked, told reporters. “We feel safe here because it’s multicultural. We’re accepted no matter who we are.” Tragically, it took just one heavily armed fanatic to upset this equilibrium.

Tarrant grew up more than fourteen hundred miles away from Christchurch, in Grafton, New South Wales, a small city located about three hundred and eighty miles north of Sydney. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald reported that, when Tarrant lived in Grafton, he was known “as someone who was dedicated to fitness and ran free athletic programs for children.” He lived in a modest home, and, after leaving high school, in 2009, he got a job at a local gym. “He never showed any extremist tendencies in conversations I had with him,” Tracey Gray, the owner of the gym, told the Herald. In social-media posts, Tarrant said that he quit his job in 2011 and set off to travel the world.

It’s not known yet when he settled in New Zealand, but recently he had been living in Dunedin, a coastal city about two hundred and twenty miles south of Christchurch. “This individual has travelled the world with sporadic periods of time spent in New Zealand,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, on Saturday. “This individual was not on the radar of either the New Zealand intelligence agencies or the Australian agencies.”

Somewhere along the line, Tarrant got radicalized and became a hateful racist who was consumed by alt-right conspiracy theories and historical nonsense. The manifesto he posted online showed that he was consumed with Australia’s European heritage, and it made reference to incidents that European white nationalists cite to vilify Islam and Muslims, including the long-running child-sexual-abuse scandal in Rotherham, England, and the sexual assaults in Germany, in 2015 and 2016. “It was not immediately clear whether Tarrant was involved in far-right neo-Nazi groups in Australia,” the Herald’s Michael Koziol wrote. “However, imagery from Tarrant’s now-removed Twitter profile bears striking similarity to those used by an extreme-right, anti-immigration group called The Dingoes. In his writing, Tarrant echoed views expressed by Anders Breivik, the Norwegian right-wing terrorist who killed 77 people with a van bomb and gun massacre in Norway in 2011. He specifically mentioned Breivik by name, claiming he had ‘brief contact’ with the mass murderer and had received a ‘blessing’ for his actions from Breivik’s associates.”

So much for Donald Trump’s absurd response, on Friday, when he was asked whether he thought that white nationalism was a rising threat around the world. “I don’t really,” Trump said. “I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. It’s certainly a terrible thing.” Of course, Trump had good reason to try to minimize the threat from the extreme right. In his manifesto, Tarrant praised Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose,” while also criticizing his leadership skills. “As a policy maker and leader? Dear god no,” Tarrant wrote.

Of course, right-wing terrorism is now a very real and deadly threat in many Western countries, the United States included. Last October, Robert Bowers, a forty-six-year-old Pittsburgh man who ranted online about the threats presented by “illegals” and “the overwhelming Jew problem,” allegedly gunned down and killed eleven worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue. Just last month, federal agents arrested Christopher Paul Hasson, a lieutenant in the U.S. Coast Guard who had called for “focussed violence” to “establish a white homeland.” Like Tarrant, Hasson had been inspired by the Norwegian terrorist Breivik, and, according to the prosecutors, he was intending “to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country.”

These are just the most visible recent examples of the ongoing violence perpetrated by white supremacists and other right-wing nuts. “Right-wing extremists were linked to at least 50 extremist-related murders in the United States in 2018, making them responsible for more deaths than in any year since 1995,” the Anti-Defamation League noted in January. Even the Trump Administration’s own report, “National Strategy for Counterterrorism,” which was published last year, acknowledged that “domestic terrorism in the United States is on the rise,” and it cited “racially motivated extremism” as one of the causes.

Another factor, undoubtedly, is the role that social media plays in cultivating the growth and amplifying the impact of extremist groups. In this case, Tarrant not only inhaled hatred and bigotry from the online world: he also live-streamed his murderous attack on Facebook, and the giant social network didn’t even know about it until they were informed by the police in New Zealand. By that stage, the gruesome video had gone viral. “The attack was teased on Twitter, announced on the online message board 8chan and broadcast live on Facebook,” Kevin Roose, a columnist for the New York Times, wrote. “The footage was then replayed endlessly on YouTube, Twitter and Reddit, as the platforms scrambled to take down the clips nearly as fast as new copies popped up to replace them.”

What can we do about all this? In the face of all the hatred, the violence, and the enabling digital technology, it is easy to feel helpless. But some things can be done. To begin with, as Simon Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, argued in a recent analysis, politicians from all parties, the President included, need to openly acknowledge the scale of the threat represented by right-wing terrorism, and to commit to tackling it in a number of different ways. One obvious step is to beef up the law-enforcement resources devoted to tracking right-wing extremism and investigating possible plots to carry out threats. In addition, the Trump Administration “needs to understand how overheated rhetoric—including the president’s own words—can lead to violence,” Clark wrote.

In addition, the Republican Party must face up to the responsibility it bears for refusing to accept that lax gun laws are another enabling factor for domestic terrorists of all ideological stripes. When Australia tightened its gun laws some years ago, following a gun massacre, New Zealand chose not to follow suit. That was a terrible error. On Saturday, New Zealand’s Attorney General, David Parker, said that the government would now ban semi-automatic weapons of the type that were used in Friday’s attack.

Parker also pointed a finger at the U.S. technology giants, saying, “How can it be right for this atrocity to be filmed by the murderer using a go-pro and live-streamed across the world by social media companies? How can that be right? Who should be held accountable for that?” At the very least, the big tech enterprises—such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter—must redouble their efforts to monitor hate speech on their platforms, take it down rapidly, and ban the people and groups who are spreading it. But, at this stage, it is too dangerous to leave this task to the companies, which, ultimately, are motivated by the desire to maximize traffic on their platforms. It is time for some collective action, also.

Perhaps, as my colleague Evan Osnos suggests, part of this could be a collective decision on the part of all of us to deny the terrorists the publicity and attention they crave. But how would that work in practice? Like it or not, it is big news when some embittered human shell goes out and kills fifty or a hundred innocents. People demand to hear about it. Perhaps refusing to name the shooter and blacking out his or her face in news photographs will discourage some future attackers, but that seems like a lot to hope for. Even if it had some effect, there would still be an urgent need to crack down on racial incitement and right-wing extremism generally. Only governments have the power to do this effectively.

Around the world, we are being confronted with the rise of a murderous and hateful ideology that targets minorities, glorifies violence, and thrives on modern communications technology. The response needs to be commensurate with the threat, which is spreading ominously, and to the most unlikely of places. Even bucolic New Zealand, a place where Silicon Valley billionaires are buying personal retreats in case it all comes down closer to home, couldn’t escape the plague.

Leonard Pitts, Jr. on money and morality in college admissions.

If you think you’re angry now, wait till you read the court documents.

Not that the summaries of a college cheating scandal so massive it briefly bumped Donald Trump from the “Breaking News” chyrons were not enough to make a nun cuss. Indeed, the story offered a perfect storm of outrage: the wealthy, well-known and well-connected gaming the system, lying, fixing tests and paying bribes to get their kids into prestigious colleges. It didn’t hurt that two of those arrested were famous actors: Felicity Huffman of “Desperate Housewives” fame and Lori Loughlin, who played “Aunt Becky” in that masterwork of saccharine banality, “Full House.”

But there is something about the tawdry details found in the affidavit by FBI agent Laura Smith that is truly infuriating. In its 204 pages, you get William “Rick” Singer, the scam’s mastermind, coaching his clients on lies they can tell to get a different ACT or SAT test site or some accommodation the testing services reserve for kids with learning disabilities. You get him soothing parents whose kids have entered school as purported athletic standouts and now worry that those kids will be asked to actually do something athletic. You get him scheming with parents who want their kids to think they did well on tests, when actually, one of Singer’s confederates secretly substituted his correct answers for their wrong ones.

And you get attorney Gordon Caplan, as captured on an FBI wiretap, fretting about what might happen if his daughter gets caught. “To be honest,” he says, “I’m not worried about the moral issue here.”


I am an alumnus of the University of Southern California, one of the schools — Harvard, Yale and Georgetown are among the others — Singer helped people like Caplan cheat their children into. Me, I got in because my mom and my counselor, Mr. Isaacs, moved Heaven, Earth and all the precincts in between to get my application approved and my tuition paid.

So forgive me if I am unable to dismiss “the moral issue here” as airily as Caplan does. Forgive me if I find these people and their scheme disgusting. But there is an object lesson here beyond disgust.

We live in a nation where equality is the official creed, but hardly the lived reality. To the contrary, people are jailed here because they cannot afford justice, ignorant here because they cannot afford learning, hungry here because they cannot afford food, dead here because they cannot afford health.

And the worst thing is, we accept that as somehow preordained, beyond our capacity to fix. Meantime, Forbes reported last year that the average CEO pulls down a salary 361 times more than his workers. In the 1950s, he earned “only” about 20 times more. How well do you live on your salary? How well could you live on your salary, times 20?

Yet when working-class people demand a wage large enough to simply sustain themselves — $15 an hour — it’s regarded as a radical idea and an existential threat. As perhaps it must be in a nation where poverty is structural, where the routes up and out are increasingly constricted and workers are kept distracted from their own plight by fights over race, religion and sexuality.

So this should be a wake-up call. While poor people fight internecine wars, while they choose between lights and food, while their services are cut and their industries disappear, rich people — some, at least — are writing large checks to lie their children into college. Every advantage in the world, and they take more.

If that’s not a moral issue we all should worry about, I don’t know what is.

Doonesbury — Building.

Monday, October 29, 2018


After the events of the last week — the capture of a mad bomber and the murders in the synagogue — it isn’t hard to imagine that a person would want to tune out and walk away.  To witness so much raw hatred and violence roaring at us, attacking us at the core of our beliefs, be they political or religious.  Both acts combine to touch all of us, to challenge us, and not just on those levels; they touched and harmed us all.

For me, there’s a very good chance that one of the victims at the shooting in Pittsburgh was a relative of friends of mine from my years at camp.  That hasn’t been confirmed, but even if she was not, she was someone’s family and they have been torn from the comfort of their faith and devastated at the most vulnerable level.  As for the bomber based in the suburbs of Miami and sending out his missives of hate, once again we’re seeing a distillation of differences of opinion turned into raw emotion, egged on by a heedless and self-centered narrative that only seeks to amplify the differences and make them poisonous.  And the ones who turned up the volume, provoked the anger, then stood aside as the rage built and turned to the rest of us and trotted out the false equivalencies, the “now is not the time,” or the maddening “yeah-but-what-about”-isms that include people being rude in restaurants as the same thing as mailing a pipe bomb.  Their cowardice and blame-shifting only makes it worse, and if you think the solution to murder in a synagogue is more guns, you have no business offering solutions.

Now is not the time to not talk about this and do something about it, and both karma and the calendar have brought us to the point where we can do something meaningful.  Eight days from today we have our moment to do something positive that will, at least in theory, make a change, and that’s voting.  It’s already going on in many places; I am getting bombarded with texts and e-mails reminding me that early voting is already underway here in Florida.  But this time I’m waiting until Election Day; I need to read up on the various amendments and local races because I do not intend to leave a single vote uncast.  So wherever you are, I recommend you do the same.  And if you’ve already voted, either in person or by mail, know that you have already done something that will make more of a difference and bring about more change than all the bombs and raging and murderous anti-Semites ever will.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Does It Really Matter?

Another mass shooting, another day of endless video loops from helicopters and long shots of police cars and emergency vehicles lined up, and another ceaseless round of people on cable TV trying to come up with new ways of saying they have no new information but here’s the same clip over again.

This time it’s the Capital Gazette of Annapolis, Maryland.  This time it’s five journalists dead at the hands of a man with a shotgun.  This time he’s alive and in custody, and this time the authorities are telling us that he had a grudge against the paper: he lost a defamation suit against it in 2015.

Without diminishing the horrific act itself and the loss of life, let me ask a simple question: does it really matter what the shooter’s motive was?  Does knowing why he did it somehow lessen the pain or amplify it?  We’re always asking “Why?” but the answer, even if we know it, doesn’t make any difference to the dead, and in comparison to the result, it often seems trivial or even insulting to the memories of the lost to wonder why.  The result is endless speculation and, like the live TV coverage, an endless loop of non-information.

But in this time of polarization, of meaningless attempts to control the madness of guns and death through legislation or “thoughts and prayers,” there is one simple reason why a man with a gun can walk into a newspaper office, or a mall, or a school, or a movie theatre, or a church, or a church basement, and in less time than it takes to write it, kill or wound people and scar the rest of us: Because he can.  What more do you really need to know than that?

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Looking Back/Looking Forward

Here we go with my annual recap and prognostication for the year.  Let’s see how I did a year ago.

  • I have no earthly idea what will happen with Trump in the White House.  But I can say that for the first time in my life — and I will hit 65 this year — I am frightened both for myself and my country.
  • At some point in 2017 elements of the electorate will realize that they got conned into voting for Trump and that they were played for fools.  The backlash will begin when they find out he can’t follow through on his bullshit promises, and reach a peak when they find out that repealing Obamacare and deporting 11 million people effects them personally.  When it happens, it will not be pretty.

I’m still frightened.  Nothing — not the Mueller investigation, the revelations coming from various sources, or chatter about impeachment or invoking the 25th Amendment — has calmed my fear that he is still capable of doing something that puts us and the rest of the world in peril.  As for the second bullet point, we are seeing faint glimmers that disillusionment is happening in the nooks and crannies of America where he can do no wrong, and no amount of tweeting and bullshit from Fox News can turn around his dismal approval numbers.  But that just means that fully 1/3 of the electorate still approve of him.  Even his failures — Obamacare yet survives and the deportations haven’t happened — haven’t dimmed the hopes of the dim.

  • There will be a downturn in the economy thanks to the cyclical nature of economics and the instability in the market by the Twitter-In-Chief. He will, of course, blame it on Barack Obama.

Obviously I’m not an economist because if I was I would have known that the economy lags behind and the continued growth and low unemployment rate are a result of Obama’s policies.  Of course Trump is taking credit for it.

  • A year from now the Syrian civil war will still be dragging on.  ISIS will still be a factor, and if Trump does what he says he will do with the Iran nuclear deal, expect to see them re-start their nuclear program.  “Dr. Strangelove” will be seen by historians as a documentary.
  • The refugee crisis will continue and fester once nativists and right-wing elements win majorities in western European countries.

The Syrian civil war goes on but it’s not dominating the news cycles, and ISIS is a lessening factor.  I don’t know if it’s sheer exhaustion.  The refugee crisis goes on but with a lesser magnitude.

  • Our diplomatic thaw with Cuba will freeze as the attempts to end the blockade will not get through Congress. Only until Trump gets permission to open a casino in Varadero Beach will there be any progress.

Trump rescinded some of the Obama administration’s changes in our relations with Cuba but not enough to return us to Cold War status.  The blockade, such as it is, enters its 57th year.

  • Violence against our fellow citizens will continue and take on a more xenophobic tone as the white supremacists think they are now in control. The attorney general will do nothing to put an end to it because, in his words, “they had it coming.”

Charlottesville and Trump’s tacit support of the Nazis proved that to be true, more’s the pity.

  • We will lose the requisite number of celebrities and friends as life goes on. 2016 was an especially painful year. As I always say, it’s important to cherish them while they are with us.

I lost two uncles and a nephew since I wrote that.

  • The Tigers will finish second in their division.

They traded Justin Verlander.  Yeah, he helped the Astros win the World Series, but…

Okay, now on to predictions.

  • There will be indictments at a very high level in the administration as the Mueller investigation rumbles on.  Plea bargains and deals will be made and revelations will come forth, and by summer there will be genuine questions about whether or not the administration will survive.  But there won’t be a move to impeach Trump as long as there are Republican majorities in the Congress, and invoking the 25th Amendment is a non-starter.
  • The Democrats will make great gains in the mid-term elections in November.  This is a safe bet because the party out of power usually does in the first mid-term of new president.  The Democrats will take back the Senate and narrow the gap in the House to the point that Speaker Paul Ryan with either quit or be so powerless that he’s just hanging around to collect pension points.  (No, he will not lose his re-election bid.)
  • There will be a vacancy on the Supreme Court, but it won’t happen until after the mid-terms and Trump’s appointment will flail as the Democrats in the Senate block the confirmation on the grounds that the next president gets to choose the replacement.
  • There will be irrefutable proof that the Russians not only meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, but they’ve had a hand in elections in Europe as well and will be a factor in the U.S. mid-terms.  Vladimir Putin will be re-elected, of course.
  • Raul Castro will figure out a way to still run Cuba even if he steps down as president, and there will be no lessening of the authoritarian rule.
  • The U.S. economy will continue to grow, but there will be dark clouds on the horizon as the deficit grows thanks to the giveaways in the GOP tax bill.  If the GOP engineers cuts to entitlement programs and the number of uninsured for healthcare increases, the strain on the economy will be too much.
  • This “America First” foreign policy will backfire.  All it does is tell our allies “You’re on your own.”  If we ever need them, they’re more likely to turn their backs on us.
  • The white supremacist movement will not abate.  Count on seeing more violence against minorities and more mass shootings.
  • A viable Democratic candidate will emerge as a major contender for the 2020 election, and it will most likely be a woman.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren is considered to be the default, but I wouldn’t rule out Sen. Kamala Harris of California or Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York just yet.  (Sen. Gillibrand would drive Trump even further around the bend.  She was appointed to the Senate to fill Hillary Clinton’s seat when she became Secretary of State in 2009.)
  • On a personal level, this will be a busy year for my work in theatre with a full production of “All Together Now” opening in March and several other works out there for consideration.  I will also be entering my last full year of employment in my present job (retirement happens in August 2019) but I’ll keep working.
  • People and fads we never heard about will have their fifteen minutes.
  • I’ll do this again next year.

Okay, friends; it’s your turn.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Monday, July 3, 2017

Monday, June 26, 2017

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Tuesday, June 20, 2017