Saturday, October 3, 2020

Thursday, September 24, 2020

No What-Ifs About It

There is a lot of talk about Barton Gellman’s article in The Atlantic considering the very likely possibility that Trump will not concede if he loses and in fact will do everything he can to cling to power.

There is a cohort of close observers of our presidential elections, scholars and lawyers and political strategists, who find themselves in the uneasy position of intelligence analysts in the months before 9/11. As November 3 approaches, their screens are blinking red, alight with warnings that the political system does not know how to absorb. They see the obvious signs that we all see, but they also know subtle things that most of us do not. Something dangerous has hove into view, and the nation is lurching into its path.

The danger is not merely that the 2020 election will bring discord. Those who fear something worse take turbulence and controversy for granted. The coronavirus pandemic, a reckless incumbent, a deluge of mail-in ballots, a vandalized Postal Service, a resurgent effort to suppress votes, and a trainload of lawsuits are bearing down on the nation’s creaky electoral machinery.

Something has to give, and many things will, when the time comes for casting, canvassing, and certifying the ballots. Anything is possible, including a landslide that leaves no doubt on Election Night. But even if one side takes a commanding early lead, tabulation and litigation of the “overtime count”—millions of mail-in and provisional ballots—could keep the outcome unsettled for days or weeks.

If we are lucky, this fraught and dysfunctional election cycle will reach a conventional stopping point in time to meet crucial deadlines in December and January. The contest will be decided with sufficient authority that the losing candidate will be forced to yield. Collectively we will have made our choice—a messy one, no doubt, but clear enough to arm the president-elect with a mandate to govern.

As a nation, we have never failed to clear that bar. But in this election year of plague and recession and catastrophized politics, the mechanisms of decision are at meaningful risk of breaking down. Close students of election law and procedure are warning that conditions are ripe for a constitutional crisis that would leave the nation without an authoritative result. We have no fail-safe against that calamity. Thus the blinking red lights.

“We could well see a protracted postelection struggle in the courts and the streets if the results are close,” says Richard L. Hasen, a professor at the UC Irvine School of Law and the author of a recent book called Election Meltdown. “The kind of election meltdown we could see would be much worse than 2000’s Bush v. Gore case.”

A lot of people, including Joe Biden, the Democratic Party nominee, have mis­conceived the nature of the threat. They frame it as a concern, unthinkable for presidents past, that Trump might refuse to vacate the Oval Office if he loses. They generally conclude, as Biden has, that in that event the proper authorities “will escort him from the White House with great dispatch.”

The worst case, however, is not that Trump rejects the election outcome. The worst case is that he uses his power to prevent a decisive outcome against him. If Trump sheds all restraint, and if his Republican allies play the parts he assigns them, he could obstruct the emergence of a legally unambiguous victory for Biden in the Electoral College and then in Congress. He could prevent the formation of consensus about whether there is any outcome at all. He could seize on that un­certainty to hold on to power.

Trump’s state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for postelection maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states. Ambiguities in the Constitution and logic bombs in the Electoral Count Act make it possible to extend the dispute all the way to Inauguration Day, which would bring the nation to a precipice. The Twentieth Amendment is crystal clear that the president’s term in office “shall end” at noon on January 20, but two men could show up to be sworn in. One of them would arrive with all the tools and power of the presidency already in hand.

“We are not prepared for this at all,” Julian Zelizer, a Prince­ton professor of history and public affairs, told me. “We talk about it, some worry about it, and we imagine what it would be. But few people have actual answers to what happens if the machinery of democracy is used to prevent a legitimate resolution to the election.”

Let’s just go with the foregone conclusion that no matter what the vote count is on Election Night or in the days after as the mail-in and absentee and overseas and military ballots are counted, Trump will never concede. He will not do what every losing candidate has done in living memory: take the stage in some hotel ballroom or some gathering in front of somber supporters and staff and say in some fashion that he called the president-elect to congratulate him and mutter some platitude about how the system works and God bless America. He is mentally and physically incapable of doing that. Indeed, he’s admitted as such with his ominous threat yesterday about “we’ll have to see” about the outcome. And we can be sure that he’s already drafted an army of lawyers to challenge every mail-in vote in every state — except, of course, his own — and there’s even talk about going to the various state legislatures where he has allies to overturn the electors that will be the ones who actually cast the votes that matter in the Electoral College in December to try to persuade them to vote for him regardless of the actual vote count in the state. He could drag this out to January 20, 2021 when he shows up — maskless, of course — and demand that Chief Justice Roberts swear him in to a second term, even if Joe Biden is standing there. So, what do we do?

What we do is show up at the polls in early voting where it’s done and on Election Day in such overwhelming numbers for Biden and the Democrats that no matter what Trump says or does, the landslide we deliver makes the 1980 Reagan/Carter election night look like a close one. We fight back with every lawyer who ever passed the bar that still believes in the Constitution to be ready to counter every argument in court, and we have to make sure that the “what-ifs” about this election and the nightmare of four more years of Trump are the stuff of apocalyptic political pot-boilers that you find in paperback novels at the airport.

We have to win this election as if our lives depend on it.  Because it does.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Politicizing The Air

It’s inevitable in an election year.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden excoriated President Trump on Monday over his environmental record as wildfires continued to burn through much of the West and as the president used a trip to California to question the scientific consensus that climate change is a leading cause of the devastating blazes.

Biden said during a speech in Wilmington, Del., that the “undeniable, accelerating, punishing reality” of global warming was playing out in the wildfires and hurricanes that have marked the end of summer, arguing it is a problem that “requires action, not denial.”

Across the country in California, Trump sought to pin the blame for the fires on another culprit — forest management — while shrugging off warnings that human-caused climate warming will continue to make Western states a tinderbox with annual fires that destroy communities.

“It will start getting cooler. You just watch,” he said during a briefing with state and local leaders in McClellan Park, Calif.

Yeah, funny how that works. It’s called “change of seasons.” Trump has a habit of waiting for nature to take its course, just as he did with Covid-19: “It will go away when it gets warm.”

Yeah. How’d that work out? Let’s ask my dad.

As for “poor forest management,” the overwhelming majority of forest land that is on fire is under the management of the federal government, either the Department of the Interior for the parks and the Department of Agriculture for the national forests. California has control over about 3%. And yet somehow it’s Gov. Newsome’s fault for not sweeping the forest floor.

The dueling appearances injected the issue of climate change squarely into a presidential campaign that has been dominated by the coronavirus pandemic, a faltering economy, racial justice protests and questions about which candidate has the character to lead. But the warming of the planet and its impact on daily life are now difficult to ignore, with millions of acres burning in California, Oregon and Washington state, leading to dozens of deaths, tens of thousands displaced and skies filled with a smoky, dangerous haze that blocks out the sun.

Biden called Trump a “climate arsonist” who had belittled the factors worsening the wildfires, and he likened the president’s stewardship of natural disasters to his handling of the pandemic and racial tensions across the country that flared this summer following police shootings of Black people.

“Donald Trump’s climate denial may not have caused these fires and record floods and record hurricanes,” Biden said Monday. “But if he gets a second term, these hellish events will continue to become more common, more devastating and more deadly.”

While heavily criticizing the president for what he called a lack of vision, Biden stuck to promoting climate policies with wide support and avoided addressing politically thorny topics like the Green New Deal many liberal activists have demanded.

Joe Biden has no real need to propose anything new or radical other than going back to what he and President Obama and the rest of the world agreed to in the Paris Accords. It’s pretty obvious that the only reason Trump and the Republicans reject that policy is because it was put forth by Obama because he’s Obama.

Monday, August 31, 2020

That’s Insane

From the Washington Post:

Trump on Sunday amplified his call for federal forces to help subdue protests in American cities, denouncing local Democratic leaders and fanning partisan tensions a day after a deadly clash between his supporters and social justice protesters in Portland, Ore., underscored the threat of rising politically motivated violence.

Scenes of Trump faithful firing paint and pellet guns at protesters during a “Trump cruise rally” caravan through downtown Portland — a liberal bastion that has been the site of weeks of street demonstrations — raised the specter that the nation’s summer of unrest had entered a new phase in which the president’s backers are rallying to defend businesses and fight back against Black Lives Matter and other groups he has labeled “anarchists” and “terrorists.”

One man, thought to be a member of a pro-Trump group, was shot and killed Saturday night during the Portland unrest.

In tweeting a video of the caravan on the move, Trump called the participants “GREAT PATRIOTS!” The reaction marked a sharp contrast to his silence during a large and peaceful civil rights march on Friday in Washington that drew thousands to the Mall, where some speakers denounced his leadership.

This is after he went on a Tweet-rant Sunday morning — and we’re talking before sunrise — where he sounded more like a raving lunatic than someone in the position to blow up the world.

Trump on Sunday morning posted or reposted a barrage of tweets about the clashes in Portland, with many of them assailing the city’s Democratic mayor, Ted Wheeler. The president retweeted a video showing his supporters shooting paintballs and using pepper spray on crowds in Portland before the fatal shooting. Mr. Trump wrote that “the big backlash going on in Portland cannot be unexpected,” a remarkable instance of a president seeming to support confrontation rather than calming a volatile situation.

Any rational person, regardless of political affiliation, would do whatever it takes to stop the violence and the killing. Not Trump; he’s actually working actively to make it worse and using the baffling argument that in order to make things better in America, keep the people in power who caused this situation in the first place.

One can speculate as to why, to quote Tennessee Williams, he chose this particular moment to lose his mind, assuming he was rational in the first place. Bad ratings from the convention? Sinking poll numbers in battleground states? Too much mustard on his Whopper? But trying to figure out why is a waste of time. That would require rational thinking of irrational acts, and it doesn’t work that way.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

It’s Not The Sex

I don’t care what someone else does in the privacy of their own home and life to get their rocks off, and if Jerry Falwell, Jr. and his wife need to have a hot 20-year-old pool boy to get to le petit mort, then knock yourself out.  But when you spend your life and scam millions of tax-free dollars from gullible and useful idiots to carry on like white trash in a hurricane to raise a stink about other peoples’ sex lives, then you deserve the karma and the mockery and the public shaming that comes with it.

Jerry Falwell Jr. agreed to resign as president of Liberty University on Monday, according to the university’s general counsel, after a series of sordid scandals rocked the school he has led since 2007.

Falwell, a real estate developer who became a passionate defender of President Trump, took over the Christian university his father helped found to evangelize the world in 2007. His leadership dramatically increased the school’s growth and clout, but critics increasingly worried he had lost sight of the university’s spiritual mission.

Falwell agreed to resign from the school’s presidency and board of directors Monday but then reversed course, according to a statement from David M. Corry, the university’s general counsel, telling his attorneys not to tender the letter for immediate resignation.

The school’s executive committee met Monday and plans to meet again Tuesday morning, followed by a conference call with the full board of trustees.

Opposition to his presidency had been growing but came to a dramatic head after two new reports about a young man Falwell and his wife befriended at a Florida pool, went into business with and who allegedly was sexually connected to the couple. One report painted Falwell as the victim of an obsessive affair, the other as an eager participant manipulating a naive young man. On Monday night, Falwell said that a Reuters report, which described him as having watched his wife having sex with another man, is false.

This sort of shenanigans is nothing new for televangelists and con men — often the same thing — and the number of them who have been caught in a love nest with rent boys and prostitutes is legion. It’s the hypocrisy and the fleecing of the flock that is the scandal, not to mention the fact that they have been able to do all of it while not paying a dime in taxes.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Sunday Reading

Losing It Over Kamala — Molly Jong-Fast in Vogue.

Since Joe Biden named Kamala Harris as his running mate, the last week has seen an onslaught of alternating sexism and racism from both the president and the Trump industrial-media-complex (Fox News, The Federalist, OANN, the lunatic-fringe conspiracy site The Gateway Pundit). Ditto the Republican office-holders who increasingly seem to compete with each other over who can out-Trump Trump. Example A: Soon after Harris was added to the Democratic ticket, John Kennedy, the U.S. senator from Louisiana, went on Fox and joked that his Senate colleague was like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez “but without the bartending experience.”

I shouldn’t be surprised – but I am furious, in a way that I don’t think I was back in 2016 when Trump beat Hillary Clinton for the presidency. In 2016, I was “with her” but I was a sweet summer child filled with the belief that sexism was a problem that we could overcome.

What a difference the Trump administration makes. The last three days have been absolutely infuriating. But they’ve also seemed kind of pathetic, with Trump trying to figure out how he can make his attacks land on Harris, in ways that worked for him in 2016 with the risible chants of “Crooked Hillary”and “Lock her up.” Harris is not as easy a target, which Trump knows. (Despite a tweet he sent out saying Harris was “the kind of opponent everyone dreams of!”, White House insiders have been telling reporters he would have preferred either Susan Rice or Karen Bass on the ticket.) And, as a former prosecutor, Harris can give as good as she gets. She flashed a glimpse of what Trump can look forward to on the campaign trail this fall when she declared on Wednesday that, based on their mishandling of the pandemic, “The case against Donald Trump and Mike Pence is open and shut.”

A few hours after she had been announced as Biden’s running mate, Trump used term “nasty” four times to describe the presumptive Democratic nominee. The president’s dumbest child Eric “liked” a tweet referring to Kamala as a “whorendous pick.” The Trump fundraising campaign sent a New York Times reporter an email calling Harris “the meanest, most disrespectful, MOST LIBERAL of anyone in the U.S. Senate.” And later, Trump himself called her a “madwoman” for her questioning of Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings, adding, “she was so angry and — such hatred with Justice Kavanaugh. I mean, I’ve never seen anything like it. She was the angriest of the group and they were all angry.” The idea of a woman doing her work the she was elected to do  and not being motivated by her emotions seemed inconceivable to Trump.

It took only a day for Trumpworld to bring back birtherism, which Trump used as his foray to originally get into politics. It all started with an opinion piece in Newsweek, written by John Eastman, who a few years earlier wrote a piece about how Ted Cruz could be president despite the fact that he was born in Canada. (An aside: The opinion section of Newsweek is now run by Josh Hammer, who writes for the far right blogs Amgreatness and Townhall and was described in one profile as someone who “has spent years stoking anti-Palestinian sentiment and is now fighting Black Lives Matter.”) Trump ran with this immediately discredited claim during one of his daily “coronavirus” briefings, saying “I heard today that she doesn’t meet the requirements.” And then, later,  Marc Short, the chief of staff to Mike Pence. suggested during an appearance on Fox Business that Harris has “imported” socialist policies “from overseas.” This idea that Kamala is “the other” plays to the fundamental racism that lies deep in the heart of Trumpism.

And that’s not where it ends. Trumpworld is furious! Earlier this week, I watched Tucker Carlson during his basement studio meltdown about mispronouncing Kamala’s name, and then becoming even more apoplectic when he was corrected, as if the vice presidential candidate didn’t merit having her name pronounced correctly. Then, Trump’s favorite TV pundit, Judge Box of Whine (aka Jeanine Pirro) said “I believe Joe Biden isn’t even going to be on the ticket in the end because I can’t believe he would pick this woman.” The implication here is that Kamala is being controlled by some other force or that Biden is being controlled by some other force or that Judge Box of Whine is being controlled by some other force.  And that’s not the only disgusting attack against Kamala. After all the coverage about her being the first Black woman to join a national ticket, members of the conservative media immediately hit back, saying she wasn’t really Black, which for those of you keeping track at home is what we call racism and also something the right wing media did to Obama.

But I think these sexist racist assaults on the senator from California are going to backfire. It’s possible that American women have finally had enough of the racism and the sexism and the being put in our place by the president with all the sexual assault allegations. You know, the president who paid off two women during his campaign. The president who is currently being sued by the E Jean Carrol for defamation. The president that his former fixer, Michael Cohen, is about to come out with a new book about that, according to The New York Times, promises “stories involving the president and everything from ‘golden showers in a sex club in Vegas, to tax fraud, to deals with corrupt officials from the former Soviet Union.’” Yes, that president.

It’s been an extremely annoying four years for American women. We saw Dr. Christine Blasey Ford harassed, degraded and ignored, while, in the end, Kavanagh was confirmed by just two votes, the narrowest margin for a Supreme Court justice since 1881. Trumpworld still heralded this as an enormous victory, but for a lot of us women it was yet another moment of degradation, of humiliation – of Trumpworld saying women’s voices don’t matter. (Are you listening Susan Collins?)

And it’s not like white men have been killing it or anything. For the last almost four years we have been governed a government made up almost entirely of white men, and they have been a complete disaster. They have been corrupted like Scott Pruitt who spent his time in the Environmental Protection Agency ordering tactical pants and used mattresses. They have been moronic, like the comically inept Jared Kushner, who predicted the economy would be “really rocking again” by July. (Hey, Jared, it’s August. Have you seen the latest unemployment figures?) They have ignored a pandemic, they have refused testing, they have focused on making themselves and their friends richer. Now they are furious by the idea that they may actually be replaced by people who know what they’re talking about. And one of them is a woman and she’s Black!

Payback is a bitch. On 2016, we did not get the first female president that many thought was an inevitability. Instead we got a reality television host with a raft of sexual assault allegations. Well, now we have Kamala Harris, and Kamala Harris is brilliant and tough and smart and very forceful in a way women of the older generation might have been afraid to be. I, for one, am counting down the days until Kamala Harris gets to question Mike Pence during the October 7th vice presidential debate, because Trumpworld is really going to melt down and I will drink a one big cup of their tears.

Signal to Noise: How Trump Plans to Sabotage the Election — Sasha Abramsky in The Nation.

The Noise? After Biden picked Kamala Harris as his running mate, Trump resorted to one of his favorite insults against female opponents: “nasty.”

What an extraordinarily worn soundtrack he’s falling back on.

In 2016, when Trump called Hillary Clinton “nasty,” he was an outsider, a mold-breaker, a shock-jock-style entertainer, an alt-right punk, and didn’t yet have the responsibilities that come with political power.

In 2020, Trump is president, the man who is, at least ostensibly, in charge of this country—the leader who is supposed to craft grand coalitions, alliances, and brain trusts to beat back a pandemic and bring economic relief to the tens of millions of families at risk of destitution in the face of Covid-19.

At a Wednesday afternoon campaign event with Biden, Harris issued a full-throttle call to conscience against the Trump administration. She used her prosecutorial skills to construct what sounded almost like the introduction to a legal case against this corrupt, nepotistic, incompetent, and cruel administration. It was succinct and powerful—and, I suspect, an opening shot in a campaign that will use Harris to brutal effect to concisely and clearly detail Trump’s failings.

It strikes me that calling Harris “nasty” will neither get under her skin nor scare off potential Biden-Harris voters.

Which brings me to the Signal: Trump isn’t just going to lob juvenile insults and then retreat. The insults may get the attention, but the actions behind the scenes will be far more consequential. He’s going to resort to every dirty trick under the sun in the next 11 weeks to retain his hold on power.

Hence his campaign’s ludicrous efforts to help Kanye West get on the ballot in swing states, in the hope that he will siphon votes away from Biden. Jared Kushner has met with the rap star, and the two reportedly talk frequently to discuss strategy.

Hence the ratcheting up of Trump’s rhetoric against voting by mail. He has recently threatened to withhold federal funds from states that make it easier to vote by mail, and on Thursday he openly admitted that he refused to sign off on desperately needed funding to shore up the US Postal Service because he knew it would inhibit voting by mail. Trump has even alleged that household pets are being sent ballots in a nefarious animal-Democrat alliance to rob him of power.

Hence Ted Cruz and Donald Trump Jr.’s recycling of Russian-troll-generated misinformation about alleged Bible-burning episodes among Portland protesters.

Hence Trump’s overtly racist appeals to “suburban housewives,” whom he believes can be scared into supporting him if he tells them often enough that Biden wants poor Blacks to move into their neighborhoods. He’s upped the ante by averring that Senator Cory Booker (yes, a Black man, horrors!) might be put in charge of these alleged efforts to eviscerate the suburbs.

Meanwhile, as Trump fiddles and faffs, Rome continues to burn. Last week marked the 20th week in a row that more than 1 million Americans filed new unemployment claims. Trump has no coherent anti-poverty strategy, and no ability or desire to force the GOP-led Senate to negotiate with House Democrats to forge a relief package. What he does have, in abundance, is animus.

In addition to the funding crisis afflicting the Postal Service, an even bigger funding crisis is about to swamp USCIS, the agency responsible for passport, visa, and naturalization services. At month’s end, absent an injection of cash that the Senate and White House are in no hurry to grant, the agency is going to have to furlough more than half of its staff. Analysts predict the entire immigration system will grind to a halt—which would suit Trump, Stephen Miller, and the other anti-immigration hard-liners in their orbit just fine.

Want to renew that passport? Prepare for a months-long wait. Want to get that visa processed so you can visit loved ones or arrive in time to start work at your new job? Don’t hold your breath. Want to naturalize in time to vote in the election? That’s almost certainly not going to happen.

Meanwhile, the administration is mulling something extraordinary even by its debased standards: It wants to allow border officials discretion to deny entry into the country to any US citizen who officials believe might have been exposed to Covid-19.

Not surprisingly, their efforts are reportedly focused on the border with Mexico. As a result, hundreds of thousands of US citizens who live south of the border could find themselves at the mercy of officers at ports of entry.

Doonesbury — You gotta believe…

Friday, August 7, 2020

Racism Up North

What we’re up against in trying to end the pandemic and get back to some form of normal:

A local road commission meeting in northern Michigan on Monday started with one commissioner asking another why he wasn’t wearing a mask amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The unmasked official responded with a racist slur and an angry rant against the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Well, this whole thing is because of them n—–s in Detroit,” Tom Eckerle, who was elected to his position on the Leelanau County Road Commission in 2018, told his colleague at the start of the public meeting.

The commission chairman, Bob Joyce, immediately rebuked his colleague, but Eckerle continued his diatribe.

“I can say anything I want,” Eckerle said at the meeting, which the public could listen to via a dial-in number, the Leelanau Enterprise first reported. “Black Lives Matter has everything to do with taking the country away from us.”

Eckerle’s remarks came the same week Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-Mich.) declared racism a public health crisis because of the disparate impact the coronavirus pandemic has had in Black, Native American and Latino communities. Michigan has reported at least 94,656 cases and 6,506 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

[…]

The racist remark spurred widespread condemnation of Eckerle, who is Republican, and calls to resign from party officials. Despite the backlash, Eckerle doubled down on his comments on Thursday, defending his position and using the slur repeatedly in an interview with the local public radio station.

“I don’t regret calling it an n—-r,” Eckerle told Interlochen Public Radio. “A n—-r is a n—-r is a n—-r. That’s not a person whatsoever.”

About 93 percent of Leelanau County’s 21,761 residents are white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Fewer than 1 percent of the people who live there are black.

“It’s horrible,” Joyce told the Detroit News. “It’s absolutely horrific.”

He told the News that the other three road commissioners are pressing Eckerle to resign.

“We do not tolerate that,” he told the newspaper. “That’s not who we are.”

But Eckerle has not wavered. State Rep. Jack O’Malley (R), who represents Leelanau County, said he had a conversation with Eckerle and also asked the commissioner to step down.

I spent summers of my childhood in Leelanau County, and I lived in that part of Michigan year-round for seven years. Mr. Eckerle and his views are not an anomaly. Certainly not everyone is like him, but they’re there. They may not be on the record and spoken so bluntly, but it was my experience that racism and those kinds of epithets are an undercurrent in a part of the state that is over 90% white. I knew a number of people who moved there not only for the natural beauty but to get away from what they called the “mess” in downstate Michigan, meaning Detroit. Along with putting up with the “fudgies” — the local term for tourists who came in search of the legendary chocolate confection — getting away from Other people was a fair price to pay for living Up North.

This wouldn’t be news — gee, a racist on a county board in a snow-white community in rural Michigan — except for the fact that his hatred and racism is helping spread Covid-19 and kill people in the process.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

But Her E-mails

Dana Milbank in the Washington Post:

Nearly 5 million covid-19 cases in the United States. One-hundred fifty-seven thousand dead. Thirty-two million out of work. Tens of millions facing eviction, foreclosure and hunger.

What do we do now?

Simple: We talk about Hillary Clinton’s emails!

“During the investigation of Hillary Clinton over her email server, James Comey, the FBI director, had a press conference, as you know, on July 5 where he . . . said ‘no reasonable prosecutor’ would prosecute that case,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said at Wednesday’s hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Did you know before July 5, 2016, that he was going to do that?” Cornyn asked.

The witness, Sally Yates, a former Obama administration deputy attorney general called before the panel to testify, told Cornyn she had not known.

Cornyn pressed on. “When he reopened the case after Anthony Weiner’s computer was looked at, did you know he was going to reopen the case beforehand?”

“That was more than four years ago now,” Yates replied, “and I didn’t go back and try to review any of that.”

But Cornyn was not to be disturbed from his time warp. He went on about Comey’s conduct, Loretta Lynch’s tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton, and Rod Rosenstein’s memo justifying Comey’s firing. “Director Comey was out of control,” the senator concluded.

Maybe so. But you know who’s out of control now? Cornyn — and Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and all the others trying to change the subject from the crises now gripping the nation to their greatest hits from 2016. As the Trump administration drifts and millions lose their unemployment benefits, the Senate Judiciary Committee staged yet another hearing Wednesday about the Steele dossier, Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Peter Strzok, Andrew McCabe, Bruce Ohr, Fusion GPS and other golden oldies.

Graham, the committee chairman, seemed defensive about his choice of hearing topic, for he kept posing and answering rhetorical questions: “So what’s the purpose of this hearing? . . . And to the public, why does this matter to you? . . . Why are we having these hearings? . . . And again, why does it matter?” And those were just the ones from his opening statement.

[…]

It’s much the same with “Obamagate.” An inspector general concluded that the Trump-Russia probe had a legitimate basis, and he found no evidence of political bias. Yet even now, in the midst of national crises and collapse, Trump’s allies are still talking about Anthony Weiner’s laptop.

“BIG NEWS!” Trump tweeted in response to Wednesday’s hearing. “The Political Crime of the Century is unfolding. ObamaBiden illegally spied on the Trump Campaign, both before and after the election. Treason!”

In reality, Yates testified that President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden “did not in any way attempt to direct or influence any kind of investigation” and she repeatedly asserted that a genuine “counterintelligence threat,” not politics, was behind the Trump-Russia investigation.

Not that it mattered. “What I want to let the American people know,” Graham said after three hours of questioning Yates, “is I don’t buy for a minute that there were only two people at the FBI who knew the dossier was garbage.”

The nation, because of a worst-in-the-world pandemic response, is on the cusp of depression — and that’s what Graham wants Americans to know?

God help us.

What’s worse is that both Cornyn and Graham are up for re-election this year. And they will probably be re-elected.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Beyond Petty

From the Washington Post and HBO:

As three former presidents gathered in Atlanta last week to offer stirring tributes to John Lewis, President Trump was absent. And in a new interview that aired on Monday night, Trump had few kind words of his own for the former Democratic congressman and Civil Rights leader, who died July 17.

Asked by interviewer Jonathan Swan how history would remember Lewis’ contributions to the nation, Trump demurred.

“I don’t know. I don’t know John Lewis,” Trump said in the “Axios on HBO” interview. “He chose not to come to my inauguration.”

Pressed by Swan on whether he found Lewis “impressive,” Trump was likewise noncommittal.

“I can’t way one way or another,” Trump said, before noting again that Lewis had skipped his inauguration and his State of the Union speeches, adding, “Nobody has done more for Black Americans than I have. He should have come.”

This is pathetic.

It should be noted that John Lewis didn’t attend the inauguration of George W. Bush. Mr. Bush came to the funeral,

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Speaking Of Demons

Someone who is now unfriended posted the video mentioned in the article on my Facebook page.  That was annoying and easily dealt with.  Too bad America cannot instantly unfriend Trump.

After social media companies removed a viral video showing doctors spreading unsubstantiated information about the novel coronavirus, a phrase inspired by one doctor’s past claims began trending on Twitter: demon sperm. It turns out Stella Immanuel has a history of making particularly outlandish statements — including that the uterine disorder endometriosis is caused by sex with demons that takes place in dreams.

The video showed a group that has dubbed itself America’s Frontline Doctors, standing on the steps of the Supreme Court and claiming that neither masks nor shutdowns are necessary to fight the pandemic, despite a plethora of expertise to the contrary. It was live-streamed by the conservative media outlet Breitbart and viewed more than 14 million times — fueled by a tweet by Donald Trump Jr. and multiple retweets by President Trump, which have since been deleted.

Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have removed the various iterations of the video. Twitter told The Washington Post that they were “in violation of our covid-19 misinformation policy.”

The true authority on having sex with demons is Stormy Daniels.

What About These Guys?

Attorney General William Barr carried on yesterday about “protestors” (his air-quotes) who are threatening life, liberty, and the pursuit of white bread by a Wall of Moms.  They are, according to him, real threats so they must be met with tear gas and rubber bullets.  But when a bunch of armed ammosexuals stormed the Michigan state capitol and threatened to kill the governor, he knew nothing about it, and besides, that’s Michigan’s problem.

So don’t expect federal troops to respond to these guys.

Before his political awakening this spring, Peter Diaz lived a quiet life near this leafy liberal bastion at the base of the Puget Sound. He ran a tree-trimming service and a business that built office cubicles. He was 37 and had never voted.

Now he has formed his own political party and is the leader of American Wolf, a roving band of civilians who have anointed themselves “peacekeepers” amid months of tense protests over racism and policing. In the name of law and order, members of his informal group have shot paintballs at demonstrators and carry zip ties and bear spray as they look for antifascists. Diaz has done “recon” in Minneapolis and Seattle’s “autonomous zone,” and drove his American Wolf mobile home to Mount Rushmore to celebrate Independence Day with President Trump.

America’s summer of anxiety and rage has swept up men like Diaz, energizing conservatives who are deploying to the front lines of the culture war. Across the country, conservative armed civilians have surged into public view — marching on statehouses, challenging Black Lives Matter protests, chasing Internet rumors — and bringing the threat of lethal force to local politics. Their emergence has prompted congressional hearings on the surge in anti-government militias and domestic extremism and has alarmed researchers who track hate groups.

Unlike the old image of militiamen as fringe elements motivated by a desire to overthrow the federal government, these groups often rally in defense of the president and see themselves as pro-government allies of local law enforcement.

“We’re the silent majority,” Diaz said, standing outside his house with a .45-caliber Remington handgun on his belt. “It’s time to act.”

[…]

The federal agents clashing with protesters in Oregon are “our Portland heroes,” Diaz wrote on Facebook last week — not performing illegal arrests, as critics have alleged, but making “strategic detentions” of high-value targets. Diaz visited Portland, Ore., earlier this month to offer federal agents free beer and homemade medals of valor as a show of his appreciation.

Gun-toting civilians have stormed the Michigan Capitol demanding the state lift coronavirus restrictions, and rushed to the battlefield in Gettysburg following a flag-burning hoax. After a member of a civilian militia in New Mexico shot and critically injured a man, a prosecutor in Albuquerque earlier this month sued the militia in an attempt to stop it from showing up as a military unit at protests and assuming law enforcement duties.

With a hodgepodge of military garb and over-the-counter assault rifles, such self-styled “patriots” come from lots of backgrounds, but they are predominantly white and male. They are often veterans who say the mission now is to defend the Constitution and the freedoms they fought for in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yet a naked lady and a guy with a leaf blower are the real threat to Democracy.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

It’s Like They Want To Lose

The GOP version of the stimulus bill to replace the one that expires on Friday has some interesting elements in it.

“The American people need more help, they need it to be comprehensive and they need it to be carefully tailored to this crossroads,” McConnell said. “That is what this Senate majority has assembled.”

But the GOP legislation contains a number of provisions not directly related to the coronavirus, including $1.8 billion for construction of a new FBI headquarters in Washington. President Trump has taken a personal interest in this project, but White House officials have not stipulated why they believe the language needed to be inserted in the coronavirus bill. Critics have alleged Trump is trying to keep the FBI building at its current location, which is diagonal from a Trump hotel property in downtown D.C.

The Trump administration previously squashed a plan to relocate the FBI building to the suburbs, which could leave the lot near the Trump hotel open for development.

“That’s a good question,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), when asked what the FBI project had to do with the coronavirus. He said the administration had sought its inclusion.

McConnell and his team worked for days to try to put together a $1 trillion package that could unite Republicans in a way that would strengthen their negotiating power with Democrats, but there were signs Monday that Republicans remain split over how to proceed. Congress already pumped $3 trillion into the economy in March and April, a level that many Republicans believe is sufficient.

“There is significant resistance to yet another trillion dollars,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). “The answer to these challenges will not simply be shoveling cash out of Washington; the answer to these challenges will be getting people back to work. And as it stands now, I think it’s likely that you’ll see a number of Republicans in opposition to this bill and expressing serious concerns.”

[…]

In the new GOP plan, Senate Republicans propose cutting weekly emergency unemployment benefits from $600 to $200 until states can bring a more complicated program online. The $600 weekly jobless benefit expires in a few days, and House Democrats have proposed extending it until January because the unemployment rate remains very high.

Senate Republicans want to put the $200 in place until states can implement a new approach that would pay the unemployed 70 percent of the income they collected before they lost their jobs. The states are supposed to phase in the new formula within two months under the new GOP plan, though it’s unclear how cumbersome that process could prove to be.

So their idea of “help” is a boondoggle construction project to boost the property values in Trump’s neighborhood while cutting the emergency relief benefit by 2/3 because they want to encourage people to “get back to work,” which means go out there and expose yourself to the pandemic that’s killed over 145,000 Americans because it’s socialist to stay home.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say that the Republicans are doing everything they can now to tank their re-elections so that they don’t have to deal with the pandemic and the economic collapse, and under it all, be bound to the cratering flaming meteor strike that is Trump. It’s like they want to guarantee that he loses by such a big margin that only the looniest of the QAnonistas will claim it’s some vast conspiracy. They can then slink home in January 2021, collect their fat pensions, and yell from the cheap seats or a gig at Fox News — same thing — at how terrible things are now that Joe Biden is in charge and it’s all Obama’s fault and rally the surviving MAGA’s for another Confederate flag-draped march the take their country back to those heady days of graft, corruption, and choke-holds on those uppity Others.  But only if they can stay home.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Fatal Attraction

It’s not uncommon for a governor of a state to want to get along with a president.  After all, the federal government can be helpful and even a lifesaver in tough times like a hurricane or some event that requires more than just what the state can provide.  It’s not uncommon for a governor of the opposition party to do his or her best to be on good terms with that president; politics should stop when the emergency declaration is signed.  Of course, in recent years we’ve seen governors of the opposition staunchly refuse to go along with the president because of political consideration even at the peril of their citizens.  Gov. Rick Scott’s (R-FL) bullheaded refusal to accept the benefits of Obamacare and Medicare expansion in a state where a lot of the citizens (including this writer) count on Medicare was done for no other reason than it was coming from President Obama, and Scott would face electoral backlash from his base of right-wingnuts if he accepted it.

In 2018 Scott got himself elected to the Senate, and while it would be far more preferable that someone else was in office, at least he’s out of Tallahassee and can’t cause any further immediate damage to the state.  But he was replaced by someone worse; someone more craven, more ignorant, and a bigger toady to Trump and his proto-Fascist base than Rick Scott.  In ordinary times, all it would mean is that he spends his weekends on his knees in Palm Beach.  But as we are reminded every day, these are no ordinary times, and his sycophancy and political ambition are killing Floridians in record numbers.

As Florida became a global epicenter of the coronavirus, Gov. Ron DeSantis held one meeting this month with his top public health official, Scott Rivkees, according to the governor’s schedule. His health department has sidelined scientists, halting briefings last month with disease specialists and telling the experts there was not sufficient personnel from the state to continue participating.

“I never received information about what happened with my ideas or results,” said Thomas Hladish, a University of Florida research scientist whose regular calls with the health department ended June 29. “But I did hear the governor say the models were wrong about everything.”

DeSantis (R) this month traveled to Miami to hold a roundtable with South Florida mayors, whose region was struggling as a novel coronavirus hot spot. But the Republican mayor of Hialeah was shut out, weeks after saying the governor “hasn’t done much” for a city disproportionately affected by the virus.

As the virus spread out of control in Florida, decision-making became increasingly shaped by politics and divorced from scientific evidence, according to interviews with 64 current and former state and administration officials, health administrators, epidemiologists, political operatives and hospital executives. The crisis in Florida, these observers say, has revealed the shortcomings of a response built on shifting metrics, influenced by a small group of advisers and tethered at every stage to the Trump administration, which has no unified plan for addressing the national health emergency but has pushed for states to reopen.

DeSantis relies primarily on the advice of his wife, Casey, a former television reporter and host, and his chief of staff, Shane Strum, a former hospital executive, according to Republican political operatives, including a former member of his administration.

“It’s a universe of three — Shane and Casey,” said one Republican consultant close to DeSantis’s team who spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment.

The response — which DeSantis boasted weeks ago was among the best in the nation — has quickly sunk Florida into a deadly morass. Nearly 5,800 Floridians have now died of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus — more deaths than were suffered in combat by Americans in Afghanistan or Iraq after 2001. One out of every 52 Floridians has been infected with the virus. The state’s intensive care units are being pushed to the brink, with some over capacity. Florida’s unemployment system is overwhelmed, and its tourism industry is a shambles.

DeSantis began the year as a popular governor, well-positioned to help his close ally President Trump win this crucial state in November’s election. DeSantis is now suffering from sagging approval ratings. Trump is polling behind Democrat Joe Biden in recent polls of Florida voters. And both men, after weeks of pushing for a splashy Republican convention in Jacksonville, succumbed to the reality of the public health risks Thursday when Trump called off the event.

Trump asked DeSantis in a phone call in May whether he would require masks for the convention and whether the virus would be a problem, according to a person with knowledge of the conversation. DeSantis said he would not require masks and the virus would not be a major problem in August in Florida.

“You were elected to be the governor of our state and make decisions about what is best for us in Florida,” Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernández said of DeSantis. “If he was more concerned with what the president thought of him, the outcomes are here.”

The good news — if there is any — is that DeSantis’s political future at the state and federal level is, to quote Col. Potter, lower than a gopher’s basement, and for the first time in nearly 100 years, Florida is on the verge of becoming a state that the Republicans will lose with a GOP incumbent. If Trump loses Florida, Gov. DeSantis will become the Bobby Jindal of 2024, assuming he can get re-elected in 2022.  Despite the fact that the Florida Democratic Party has basically been running on fumes since Lawton Chiles was in office (Bill Nelson was a cypher his last term), they have a real shot of at least winning the governor’s seat, and they may even make inroads in the state legislature, depending on how many un-masked Freedum-shouters make it out of The Villages alive.

It’s one thing to try to curry favor.  It’s another thing to be complicit in depraved indifference for the sake of your job.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Sunday Reading

A Lesson on Decency — David Remnick in The New Yorker.

One could be forgiven for thinking that rhetorical dynamism long ago vanished from the hallways and chambers of the United States Congress. It has been a hundred and sixty-four years, for example, since Charles Sumner, the anti-slavery Republican from Massachusetts, rose in the humid air of the Old Senate Chamber to unleash a five-hour, fully memorized onslaught against the idea of Kansas joining the Union as a slave state. Along the way, Sumner paused to lash two of his Senate colleagues, calling Stephen Douglas, of Illinois, a “noisome, squat, and nameless animal,” and accusing Andrew Butler, of South Carolina, of taking up with a “polluted” mistress—“I mean the harlot, Slavery.” You can still hear such acidic flourishes in other legislatures around the globe, but the language of the U.S. Congress is rarely so vivid. Generally, it is as flavorless as day-old gum.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a first-term Democrat from New York, provided a rare exception Thursday as she stepped to the microphone in the House chamber to make a hash of Ted Yoho, a veterinarian, Tea Party member, and veteran Republican from Florida.

The story began earlier this week, when Yoho reportedly approached Ocasio-Cortez on the Capitol steps to inform her that she was, among other things, “disgusting” and “out of your freaking mind.” His analysis was directed at her (hardly novel) public statements that poverty and unemployment are root causes of the recent spike in crime rates in New York. On matters of criminal-justice reform, Yoho is of a decidedly conservative bent. Not long ago, he voted against making lynching a federal hate crime, saying that such a law would be a regrettable instance of federal “overreach.”

According to a reporter for The Hill, Yoho did not cease in his expressive disdain for Ocasio-Cortez even as she walked away. Once he believed her to be out of hearing range, Yoho reportedly described his colleague as a “fucking bitch.”

On Wednesday, once the news of the encounter had circulated, Yoho delivered a statement that could best be described as the sort of non-apology apology that begins, “I am sorry if you understood me to be saying. . . .” Yoho began by explaining that he wanted “to apologize for the abrupt manner of the conversation I had with my colleague from New York.”

But his remorse was, at best, confined. “No one was accosted, bullied, or attacked,” he went on. “This was a brief policy discussion, plain and simple, and we have our differences. . . . The fact still remains, I am not going to apologize for something I didn’t say.” With confused logic, Yoho invoked his wife and daughters and said that he objected to Ocasio-Cortez’s views because he had experienced poverty when he was young. “I cannot apologize for my passion or for loving my God, my family, and my country,” he said. It was unclear who had asked him to apologize for his religious faith, his patriotism, or his love of family, but he was ardent all the same.

In all, Yoho’s was at best a deflective, jittery performance that was in no wise enhanced by his spokesman, Brian Kaveney, who e-mailed the Washington Post to say that Yoho “did not call Rep. Ocasio-Cortez what has been reported in the Hill or any name for that matter. . . . Instead, he made a brief comment to himself as he walked away summarizing what he believes her policies to be: bulls—.”

As a first-termer, Ocasio-Cortez has been a star, even if she has had her stumbles, including an initially troubled relationship with the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. Ocasio-Cortez has been at the forefront of major issues, including climate change, immigration, campaign-finance reform, and income inequality. Her ability to skewer a balky witness in committee hearings has proved as uncanny as it is entertaining. She came to the House floor Thursday to rebut Yoho, insisting that, after delivering a short retort via Twitter, she might have kept her counsel had he not delivered such a lame non-apology. Her speech, which was then echoed by other colleagues from the Democratic caucus, was not in the Charles Sumner category in either length or style—she favored righteous sincerity where Sumner employed florid invective—but the devastation was of a similar scale. The sporting equivalent might be Billie Jean King’s measured yet unmistakable destruction of Bobby Riggs. The video of Ocasio-Cortez’s speech is available online, of course; it should be studied for its measured cadence, its artful construction, and its refusal of ugliness.

She began with narrative, setting the scene: “I was minding my own business, walking up the steps, and Representative Yoho put his finger in my face. He called me ‘disgusting.’ He called me ‘crazy.’ He called me ‘out of my mind.’ And he called me ‘dangerous.’ ” Then she broadened her scope: “This issue is not about one incident. It is cultural. It is a culture of lack of impunity, of accepting violence and violent language against women and an entire structure of power that supports that.” Ocasio-Cortez made it clear that she was not going to fall down and faint. She had heard it all before, on the subway and as a bartender. But she wasn’t going to let this pass, not from a fellow-member of Congress: “I could not allow my nieces, I could not allow the little girls that I go home to, I could not allow victims of verbal abuse, and worse, to see that. To see that excuse, and see our Congress accept it as legitimate and accept it as an apology and to accept silence as a form of acceptance. I could not allow that to stand.” What’s more, she was not going to allow Yoho, in his clumsy way, to use his family as a “shield” for his barrage.

“Having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man. And when a decent man messes up, as we all are bound to do, he tries his best and does apologize,” she said. “I am someone’s daughter, too.”

The politics of our moment are dominated by a bully of miserable character, a President who has failed to contain a pandemic through sheer indifference, who has fabricated a reëlection campaign based on bigotry and the deliberate inflammation of division. His language is abusive, his attitude toward women disdainful. Trump is all about himself: his needs, his ego, his self-preservation. Along the way he has created a Republican Party in his own image. Imitators like Ted Yoho slavishly follow his lead. On the House floor Thursday, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez exemplified a different sort of character. She defended not only herself; she defended principle and countless women. And all in just a few short minutes on the floor of the House of Representatives.

As Good A Time As Any — Charles P. Pierce on the possibility that we’ve been visited from afar.

OK, 2020, why the hell not?

Pentagon officials will not discuss the program, which is not classified but deals with classified matters. Yet it appeared last month in a Senate committee report outlining spending on the nation’s intelligence agencies for the coming year. The report said the program, the Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force, was “to standardize collection and reporting” on sightings of unexplained aerial vehicles, and was to report at least some of its findings to the public every six months…Eric W. Davis, an astrophysicist who worked as a subcontractor and then a consultant for the Pentagon U.F.O. program since 2007, said that, in some cases, examination of the materials had so far failed to determine their source and led him to conclude, “We couldn’t make it ourselves.” The constraints on discussing classified programs — and the ambiguity of information cited in unclassified slides from the briefings — have put officials who have studied U.F.O.s in the position of stating their views without presenting any hard evidence. Mr. Davis, who now works for Aerospace Corporation, a defense contractor, said he gave a classified briefing to a Defense Department agency as recently as March about retrievals from “off-world vehicles not made on this earth.”

Excuse me?

Mr. Reid, the former Democratic senator from Nevada who pushed for funding the earlier U.F.O. program when he was the majority leader, said he believed that crashes of vehicles from other worlds had occurred and that retrieved materials had been studied secretly for decades, often by aerospace companies under government contracts. “After looking into this, I came to the conclusion that there were reports — some were substantive, some not so substantive — that there were actual materials that the government and the private sector had in their possession,” Mr. Reid said in an interview.

We are overdue in this weird, disastrous year for some unalloyed Good Weirdness. Let it all out. If there ever was a time in history to learn we’re not alone, this is it.

Doonesbury — Nice work if you can get it.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Where Are They?

Via the Washington Post:

Appearing at an event with top federal law enforcement officials and the family members of crime victims, Trump delivered fiery talking points that took direct aim at those who have advocated redirecting funding from law enforcement to other endeavors. He blamed the recent increases in violence in some cities on leaders who have endorsed such steps and said he planned to increase federal law enforcement’s presence to reduce crime.

The remarks seemed likely to exacerbate tensions between his administration and local officials and residents already wary of militarized U.S. officers roving their streets. Soon after he finished speaking, Chicago’s mayor accused Trump of seeking to distract from his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The NRA has steadfastly clung to their guns because they were deathly afraid of the possibility that at some point we’d have a tyrannical government rise up. Okay, ammosexuals, here’s your chance. Go on, take to the streets!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Dumb Show

So now he decides that Covid-19 might be serious.

Trump struck a more concerned tone about the virus — at least by the standards of his previous run of briefings. “It will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better,” he said. He encouraged people to wear masks, stay apart when possible and to “avoid packed bars.” He said he carries a mask with him and puts it on if he’s in an elevator.

But he also fell back on political attacks and misleading or false statements to downplay the virus and cast blame away from him. He called the virus “the China virus” and repeated his false claim that the United States has one of the lowest mortality rates in the world. He said again that the virus “will disappear,” for which there is no scientific evidence, even if there is a vaccine.

And he refused to acknowledge widespread problems with testing in the United States, including test shortages and slow turnaround times for results. Even some top Senate Republicans have said that testing isn’t working as is. The Post has reported the Trump administration wants to block billions of dollars in federal money going to states for testing and contact tracing in a new coronavirus relief bill.

What is the over/under on how long this will hold his attention before the next shiny object or “Oh, look, a kitty!” I’ll be hopeful and say that he’ll make it to around noon today before he gets bored again and starts going after baseball coaches taking a knee or sending best wishes to the girlfriend of Jeffrey Epstein who is accused of being his procurer. And his passing approval of wearing masks won’t stop the nutsery from attacking store clerks who are politely enforcing company policy to wear them.

Meanwhile, over 1,000 deaths from the virus were recorded yesterday.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Shock Troops

Via NPR:

Oregon officials are lashing out at President Trump for sending federal agents into Portland amid the ongoing protests against police brutality and racism. Both the governor and Portland’s mayor told NPR the administration’s actions are nothing more than political theater meant to appeal to Trump’s political base in an effort to win reelection.

“As best as I can tell, this is an effort — a last gasp effort — by a failed president with sagging polling data, who’s trying to look strong for his base,” Mayor Ted Wheeler told NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro on Sunday. “He’s actually using the federal police function in support of his candidacy.”

For more than 50 nights, hundreds have gathered in the city’s downtown to protest racism and police brutality, following the killing of George Floyd. Last week Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that federal agents wearing camouflage and tactical gear had been pulling some protesters into unmarked vans.

In response, the state of Oregon said it would sue the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and other federal law enforcement agencies. And multiple Democratic members of Congress demanded internal government watchdogs investigate the Trump administration’s “use of violent tactics” against peaceful protesters.

Portland’s mayor, Oregon’s governor and both of the state’s U.S. senators have said federal agents aren’t needed to deal with the civil unrest. Gov. Kate Brown has asked the Trump administration and the head of DHS to take their federal officers off the streets of Portland. “The Trump administration needs to stop playing politics with people’s lives,” Brown told NPR’s Michel Martin. “We don’t have a secret police in this country. This is not a dictatorship. And Trump needs to get his officers off the streets.”

If you think “shock troops” is too harsh a term, try this on and see if it fits.

“Shock troop” is a calque, a loose translation of the German word Stoßtrupp. Military units that contain assault troops are typically organized for mobility with the intention that they will penetrate enemy defences and attack into the enemy’s vulnerable rear areas. Any specialized, elite unit formed to fight an engagement via overwhelming assault (usually) would be considered shock troops, as opposed to “special forces” or commando-style units (intended mostly for covert operations). Both types of units could fight behind enemy lines, by surprise if required, however.

This is happening America in 2020, not Berlin in 1938.

What’s Worse

We’ve known for as long as he’s been a public figure that Trump can’t open his mouth without lying.  That’s a given.

What’s worse is that it will kill people.

What’s worse is that it will destroy the economy.

What’s worse is that it will alienate our allies and give comfort to our enemies.

What’s worse is that it will weaken our government and engender distrust in the institutions that we rely on for everyday life.

What’s worse is that there seem to be about 40% of the population of America who believe every word he says.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Losing It

From Peter Baker in the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — In theory, President Trump summoned television cameras to the heat-baked Rose Garden early Tuesday evening to announce new measures against China to punish it for its oppression of Hong Kong. But that did not last long.

What followed instead was an hour of presidential stream of consciousness as Mr. Trump drifted seemingly at random from one topic to another, often in the same run-on sentence. Even for a president who rarely sticks to the script and wanders from thought to thought, it was one of the most rambling performances of his presidency.

He weighed in on China and the coronavirus and the Paris climate change accord and crumbling highways. And then China again and military spending and then China again and then the coronavirus again. And the economy and energy taxes and trade with Europe and illegal immigration and his friendship with Mexico’s president. And the coronavirus again and then immigration again and crime in Chicago and the death penalty and back to climate change and education and historical statues. And more.

“We could go on for days,” he said at one point, and it sounded plausible.

At times, it was hard to understand what he meant. He seemed to suggest that his presumptive Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., would get rid of windows if elected and later said that Mr. Biden would “abolish the suburbs.” He complained that Mr. Biden had “gone so far right.” (He meant left.)

Even for those who follow Mr. Trump regularly and understand his shorthand, it became challenging to follow his train of thought.

For instance, in discussing cooperation agreements with Central American countries to stop illegal immigration, he had this to say: “We have great agreements where when Biden and Obama used to bring killers out, they would say don’t bring them back to our country, we don’t want them. Well, we have to, we don’t want them. They wouldn’t take them. Now with us, they take them. Someday, I’ll tell you why. Someday, I’ll tell you why. But they take them and they take them very gladly. They used to bring them out and they wouldn’t even let the airplanes land if they brought them back by airplanes. They wouldn’t let the buses into their country. They said we don’t want them. Said no, but they entered our country illegally and they’re murderers, they’re killers in some cases.”

But wait, there’s more.

Mr. Trump added to his long record of racially inflammatory comments during an interview with CBS News, in which he brushed off a question about Black people killed by police officers, saying that white people are killed in greater numbers.

Mr. Trump reacted angrily when asked about the issue, which has led to nationwide protests calling for major law enforcement changes.

“Why are African-Americans still dying at the hands of law enforcement in this country?” the interviewer, Catherine Herridge of CBS News, asked the president.

“What a terrible question to ask,” Mr. Trump responded. “So are white people. More white people, by the way.”

Statistics show that while more white Americans are killed by the police over all, people of color are killed at higher rates. A federal study that examined lethal force used by the police from 2009 to 2012 found that a majority of victims were white, but the victims were disproportionately Black. Black people had a fatality rate at the hands of police officers that was 2.8 times as high as that of white people.

If this was a movie, at this point a couple of well-muscled guys in white jackets would slowly approach him, talk soothingly, and then gently but strongly take him by the arms and escort him off the stage.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Sunday Reading

Robert Mueller Speaks — The former special counsel breaks his silence on the commutation of Roger Stone.

The work of the special counsel’s office — its report, indictments, guilty pleas and convictions — should speak for itself. But I feel compelled to respond both to broad claims that our investigation was illegitimate and our motives were improper, and to specific claims that Roger Stone was a victim of our office. The Russia investigation was of paramount importance. Stone was prosecuted and convicted because he committed federal crimes. He remains a convicted felon, and rightly so.

Russia’s actions were a threat to America’s democracy. It was critical that they be investigated and understood. By late 2016, the FBI had evidence that the Russians had signaled to a Trump campaign adviser that they could assist the campaign through the anonymous release of information damaging to the Democratic candidate. And the FBI knew that the Russians had done just that: Beginning in July 2016, WikiLeaks released emails stolen by Russian military intelligence officers from the Clinton campaign. Other online personas using false names — fronts for Russian military intelligence — also released Clinton campaign emails.

Following FBI Director James B. Comey’s termination in May 2017, the acting attorney general named me as special counsel and directed the special counsel’s office to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The order specified lines of investigation for us to pursue, including any links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign. One of our cases involved Stone, an official on the campaign until mid-2015 and a supporter of the campaign throughout 2016. Stone became a central figure in our investigation for two key reasons: He communicated in 2016 with individuals known to us to be Russian intelligence officers, and he claimed advance knowledge of WikiLeaks’ release of emails stolen by those Russian intelligence officers.

We now have a detailed picture of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. The special counsel’s office identified two principal operations directed at our election: hacking and dumping Clinton campaign emails, and an online social media campaign to disparage the Democratic candidate. We also identified numerous links between the Russian government and Trump campaign personnel — Stone among them. We did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government in its activities. The investigation did, however, establish that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome. It also established that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.

Uncovering and tracing Russian outreach and interference activities was a complex task. The investigation to understand these activities took two years and substantial effort. Based on our work, eight individuals pleaded guilty or were convicted at trial, and more than two dozen Russian individuals and entities, including senior Russian intelligence officers, were charged with federal crimes.

Congress also investigated and sought information from Stone. A jury later determined he lied repeatedly to members of Congress. He lied about the identity of his intermediary to WikiLeaks. He lied about the existence of written communications with his intermediary. He lied by denying he had communicated with the Trump campaign about the timing of WikiLeaks’ releases. He in fact updated senior campaign officials repeatedly about WikiLeaks. And he tampered with a witness, imploring him to stonewall Congress.

The jury ultimately convicted Stone of obstruction of a congressional investigation, five counts of making false statements to Congress and tampering with a witness. Because his sentence has been commuted, he will not go to prison. But his conviction stands.

Russian efforts to interfere in our political system, and the essential question of whether those efforts involved the Trump campaign, required investigation. In that investigation, it was critical for us (and, before us, the FBI) to obtain full and accurate information. Likewise, it was critical for Congress to obtain accurate information from its witnesses. When a subject lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government’s efforts to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable. It may ultimately impede those efforts.

We made every decision in Stone’s case, as in all our cases, based solely on the facts and the law and in accordance with the rule of law. The women and men who conducted these investigations and prosecutions acted with the highest integrity. Claims to the contrary are false.

Suckers — Peter Wehner in The Atlantic on how evangelicals were betrayed by Trump.

The closest thing social conservatives and evangelical supporters of President Donald Trump had to a conversation stopper, when pressed about their support for a president who is so manifestly corrupt, cruel, mendacious, and psychologically unwell, was a simple phrase: “But Gorsuch.”

Those two words were shorthand for their belief that their reverential devotion to Trump would result in great advances for their priorities and their policy agenda, and no priority was more important than the Supreme Court.

Donald Trump may be a flawed character, they argued, but at least he appointed Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

And then came Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia.

That is the case decided in mid-June in which the majority opinion, written by Justice Gorsuch, protected gay and transgender individuals from workplace discrimination, handing the LGBTQ movement a historic victory.

“An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law,” Gorsuch wrote for the majority in the 6–3 ruling.

It was a crushing blow for the religious right, and it must have dawned on more than a few of Trump’s evangelical supporters that if Hillary Clinton had won the presidency, the outcome of the case would have been the same; the only difference is that the margin probably would have been 7–2.

The Bostock case was not the only major legal setback for social conservatives and evangelical Christians. By a 5–4 margin, the Court—in June Medical Services v. Russo—delivered a significant defeat to the pro-life movement, striking down as unconstitutional a Louisiana law that could have left the state with only a single abortion clinic. This dashed the hopes of those who were counting on Trump’s appointees to lead the Court in overturning Roe v. Wade. (Both of Trump’s Supreme Court choices were in the minority.)

Social conservatives can point to some important religious-liberty victories. But overall, this term was a judicial gut punch for the president’s evangelical supporters. The “but Gorsuch” argument has not been destroyed, but it has been substantially weakened.

“The GOP gives social conservatives little or nothing legislatively, and hasn’t for a very long time,” the conservative blogger Rod Dreher told Vox’s Jane Coaston. “True, they have blocked some bad things over the years. That’s not nothing. But I think we’ve always known that judges are the real deal here.”

“Every institution—the media, academia, corporations, and others—are against us on gay and transgender rights, and GOP lawmakers are gutless. The only hope we had was that federal judges would protect the status quo. Now that’s gone.”

Legislatively, Trump, compared with other presidents, has not achieved all that much for the pro-life cause and religious-liberties protection. For example, George W. Bush’s pro-life record is stronger and Bill Clinton achieved more in the area of religious liberties, signing into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. (Trump has done a fair amount administratively for the pro-life cause.) Trump has also achieved next to nothing in terms of enacting education reforms.

Elsewhere, Trump has engaged in a bromance with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, the worst persecutor of Christians in the world, and established more intimate and admiring relationships with many of the world’s despots than with leaders of America’s traditional allies. And on issues that have traditionally concerned conservative evangelicals, such as fiscal responsibility and limited government, Trump has been awful: The deficit and the debt exploded under his watch, even pre-pandemic.

Based strictly on the standard of advancing causes that conservative evangelicals most care about, a fair-minded assessment of the Trump record is that some important things were achieved, especially in appointing federal judges. That clearly would not have happened in a Hillary Clinton presidency. But in virtually every other area, including the outcome of several key Supreme Court decisions, Trump has fallen short of the promises and expectations.

Now think about what the cost has been of the uncritical support given to Trump by evangelical Christians. For now, focus just on this: Christians who are supporters of the president have braided themselves to a man who in just the past few days and weeks tweeted a video of a supporter shouting “white power” (he later deleted it but has yet to denounce it); attacked NASCAR’s only Black driver, Bubba Wallace, while also criticizing the decision by NASCAR to ban Confederate flags from its races; threatened to veto this year’s annual defense bill if an amendment is included that would require the Pentagon to change the names of bases honoring Confederate military leaders; referred to COVID-19 as “kung flu” during a speech at a church in Phoenix; and blasted two sports teams, the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Indians, for considering name changes because of concerns by supporters of those franchises that those team names give undue offense.

These provocations by the president aren’t anomalous; he’s a man who vaulted to political prominence by peddling a racist conspiracy theory that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States—he later implied that Obama was a secret Muslim and dubbed him the “founder of ISIS”—and whose remarks about an Indiana-born judge with Mexican heritage were described by former House Speaker Paul Ryan as “the textbook definition of a racist comment.”

The white supremacist Richard Spencer, describing the neo-Nazi and white-supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, told The Atlantic, “There is no question that Charlottesville wouldn’t have occurred without Trump. It really was because of his campaign and this new potential for a nationalist candidate who was resonating with the public in a very intense way. The alt-right found something in Trump. He changed the paradigm and made this kind of public presence of the alt-right possible.” And David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader, called the march a “turning point” for his own movement, which seeks to “fulfill the promises of Donald Trump.”

For his whole life, before and since becoming president, Trump has exploited racial divisions and appealed to racial resentments. The president is now doing so more, not less, than in the past, despite the fact—and probably because of the fact—that America is in the grips of a pandemic that he and his administration have badly bungled and that has claimed more than 130,000 American lives.

As The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman pointed out on July 6, “Almost every day in the last two weeks, Mr. Trump has sought to stoke white fear and resentment.”

White evangelicals are the core of Trump’s political support, and while the overwhelming number of the president’s evangelical supporters may not be racist, they are willing to back a man who openly attempts to divide people by race. That would be enough of an indictment, but the situation is actually a good deal worse than that, since Trump’s eagerness to inflame ugly passions is only one thread in his depraved moral tapestry.

My hunch is that at the beginning of this Faustian bargain, most evangelicals didn’t imagine it would come to this, with them defending the indefensible, tarnishing their reputations, and doing incalculable damage to their causes.

This is the worst year for America in more than a half century; a stunning 87 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the way things are going and only 17 percent feel proud when thinking about the state of the nation, while 71 percent feel angry and 66 percent are fearful. Donald Trump’s presidency is so polarizing and such a catastrophe that a plurality or outright majority of Americans now oppose much of whatever he supports. The mood of the public is the most progressive it’s been in nearly 70 years. During the Trump era, the nation has moved to the left on a whole series of issues, including those that matter most to evangelical Trump supporters.

The Trump presidency, which has produced few significant legislative or governing achievements, has inflicted gaping wounds on the Republican Party, conservative causes, and the evangelical movement.

IN HIS MARVELOUS book The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis, Alan Jacobs tells about the theater critic and essayist Kenneth Tynan, who, after reading Lewis’s That Hideous Strength, said, “How thrilling he makes goodness seem—how tangible and radiant!” (At Oxford, Lewis was a tutor to Tynan, who was not himself a believer.)

Tynan perceived something essential about Lewis. One of his most impressive qualities was his ability to present the good life—and his Christian faith, which shaped his understanding of the good—as tangible and radiant, a thrilling and captivating journey, a way to find joy and fulfillment.

That was hardly the whole story. Lewis faced a crisis in faith late in his life, when he was overwhelmed by grief after his wife, Joy Davidman, died of cancer—a crisis he recovered from, but that left its mark. Still, because of his faith, Lewis’s life was more alluring, more captivating, more vivifying. It was said of Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien that they never lost their enchantment with the world.

The greatest cost of the Trump years to evangelical Christianity isn’t in the political sphere, but rather in what Christians refer to as bearing witness—showing how their lives have been transformed by their faith.

Much of the evangelical movement, in aligning itself with Donald Trump, has shown itself to be graceless and joyless, seized by fear, hypocritical, censorious, and filled with grievances. That is not true of all evangelicals, of course, and it’s not true of all evangelicals who are Trump supporters. But it’s true of enough of them, and certainly of the political leadership of the white evangelical movement, to have done deep injury to their public witness.

I know this firsthand, from pastors around the country who have talked about the catastrophic effects of the unholy alliance between evangelicals and Donald Trump. One pastor of a large church on the Pacific Coast told me: “There are many reasons why young people are turning away from the Church, but my observation is, Trump has vastly accelerated that trend. He’s put it into hyperdrive.”

This pastor, a lifelong Republican who declined to be quoted by name because of the position he occupies, wrote that “for decades Hollywood has portrayed conservative Christians as cruel, ignorant, greedy, and hypocritical. For 20 years I have worked, led, and sacrificed to put the lie to that stereotype, and have done so successfully here … Because of how we have served the least of the least, city officials, school officials, and many atheists have formed a respect for Jesus and his church. And I’m watching all that get washed away.”

He added, “Yes, Hollywood and the media created a decidedly unattractive stereotype of Christians. And Donald Trump fits it perfectly. Made it all seem true. And sadly, I now realize that stereotype is more true than I ever knew. It breaks my heart. In volleyball terms, Hollywood did the set, but Trump was the spike that drove the ball home. He’s everything I’ve been trying to say isn’t what the church is all about. But sadly, maybe it is.”

In the midst of the wreckage, Trump’s evangelical supporters will undoubtedly comfort themselves with this thought: They got Gorsuch.

Doonesbury — Tolls for polls.