Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Never-Ending Mission

Glenn Kessler, the Fact Checker at the Washington Post, has had to come up with a new measure for the number of lies a politician tells and how often they repeat them.

The scale used to be one to four Pinocchios: one Pinocchio was a fib; four was a blatant falsehood.  But now we’re in the Trump era and that quaint measurement is shot to hell.

To accurately reflect this phenomenon, The Washington Post Fact Checker is introducing a new category — the Bottomless Pinocchio. That dubious distinction will be awarded to politicians who repeat a false claim so many times that they are, in effect, engaging in campaigns of disinformation.

The bar for the Bottomless Pinocchio is high: The claims must have received three or four Pinocchios from The Fact Checker, and they must have been repeated at least 20 times. Twenty is a sufficiently robust number that there can be no question the politician is aware that his or her facts are wrong. The list of Bottomless Pinocchios will be maintained on its own landing page.

The Fact Checker has not identified statements from any other current elected official who meets the standard other than Trump. In fact, 14 statements made by the president immediately qualify for the list.

The president’s most-repeated falsehoods fall into a handful of broad categories — claiming credit for promises he has not fulfilled; false assertions that provide a rationale for his agenda; and political weaponry against perceived enemies such as Democrats or special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

The number of Bottomless Pinocchios is legion, ranging from Mexico building the Wall to car companies building new plants to the number of people that showed up at his inauguration, and on and on.

The problem with fact checking Trump is two-fold: it’s never-ending (as it should be for any public figure who can change our lives) and the lies never die.  They’re zombies; no matter how often they’re debunked, disproved, and even mocked, they still get repeated and passed on by the gullible or those who would rather repeat a flaming lie than accept the boring truth.  (And, like zombies, they’re in search of brains.)

So while I applaud Mr. Kessler and his mission to expose the lies and the lying liars who tell them, he’s like Voyager 2: there’s no end in sight to his mission.

Monday, December 10, 2018

It Cannot Stand

The release of the sentencing memos by the Southern District of New York for Michael Cohen has launched a flurry of data and expectations about what could or will happen to the people who surround Trump, and inevitably, what will happen to Trump himself.  Trying to summarize it all is very difficult, but I think Adam Davidson at The New Yorker has a pretty good handle on it.

Even if we never learn another single fact about Trump, his business and campaign, and any collusion with Russia, it is now becoming clear that Trump’s bid for the Presidency was almost certainly designed, at least in part, to enrich Trump, and that he was willing to pursue the political interests of a hostile foreign power in order to make money. This scheme was executed ineptly and in ways that make it highly likely that the intelligence agencies of Russia, as well as several other nations, have been able to ferret out most of the details. This means that Trump and the people closest to him have been at enormous risk of compromise.

We will learn more facts, no doubt—many of them. Mueller has revealed only a few threads of the case. He has established that Cohen spent the months between September, 2015, and June, 2016, actively engaging the Russian government to exchange political favors for money, and that, throughout this period, Cohen routinely informed Trump of his efforts (and presumably, though it’s unstated, received Trump’s blessing). This was the precise period in which Trump’s candidacy shifted from humorous long shot to the nominee of the Republican Party. Mueller’s filing also contains suggestions that people connected to the White House, possibly including the President, knew of Michael Cohen’s lies to Congress and federal investigators, and, also, that White House officials stayed in contact with Manafort, who had been revealed to be in close touch with a known Russian intelligence asset.

This is a lot. But it’s not the complete narrative. It is not clear what happened after the notorious Trump Tower meeting of June 9, 2016. Cohen appears to have been pushed aside, and no longer to have played the role of intermediary. Does this mean that Trump insisted that his team shut off all contact with Russia? Or did he hand the portfolio over to a more trusted staffer?

[…]

Mueller’s filings do mark a different sort of end. We are at the end of reasonable debate about whether Trump is hopelessly compromised. As Mueller’s filings encircle the President, the special counsel surely knows he is at ever-greater risk of being fired. Presumably, he wouldn’t have released memorandums as damning as these if he weren’t prepared to make a fuller case. Each filing fills in the over-all picture in ever more granular detail. It seems reasonable to assume that we haven’t yet learned the most disturbing facts. But, even if we learn nothing more, we are already in an unbearable condition. The President of the United States knowingly and eagerly participated in a scheme with a hostile foreign leader who he knew was seeking to influence the Presidential election. Trump sought to profit politically and financially, many of his closest subordinates executed this effort, and he then was aware of and, it seems likely, encouraged an illegal effort to hide these facts. His reckless, unpatriotic actions have left him compromised by at least one but likely many foreign powers and have left his election open to reasonable questions about its legitimacy. And, every day, he sets policies and makes decisions that have an impact on the lives of all Americans and the fortunes of the very autocrats who hold sway over him. It cannot stand.

The scary part of all of this is that we as a nation haven’t faced this sort of threat to the very foundation of our democracy in our collective lifetimes.  Watergate was big and dangerous, too, but at the least the central figure in it — Richard Nixon — still bore some allegiance to the system of our government and yielded to the rule of law, ultimately abiding by the rulings of the courts and the Supreme Court.  And when he went, he went without threatening to hole up in his office, daring armed officers to drag him out by his heels.

We can’t be that assured about Trump.  For one thing, he has an embedded media operation that will back him no matter what.  Second, we’re seeing that his supporters at various state and local levels are willing to cheat — albeit clumsily — to win an election, and of course he had an entire foreign government at his disposal to win the last one.

So dreaming about the chances of Beto O’Rourke or debating the ages and merits of Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are nothing compared to the fact that we are about to embark on a presidential campaign that has all the earmarks of one that kept Robert Mugabe in office for generations.

Which means that we need to win the next election or face the real possibility that it will be the last real one we have.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

A Long Slow Slog

Every time there’s a bombshell about the corruption in the Trump administration, pundits and those who get paid to put them on the air tell us that this is the last straw; the walls will come a-tumbling down and the whole sordid affair will, at long last, be over.

Not so fast, say Mikhaila Fogel and Benjamin Wittes in The Atlantic:

We need to stop thinking of it as a fragile structure waiting for the right poke to fall in on itself. Think instead of the myriad investigations and legal proceedings surrounding the president as a multi-front siege on a walled city that is, in fact, relatively well fortified.

Siege warfare is not a matter of striking precisely the correct blow at the correct moment at a particular stone in the wall. It is a campaign of degradation over a substantial period of time. While those inside the fortified city may rely only on the strength of their walls and their stored resources, the attackers can take their time. Volleys of projectiles—arrows or trebuchets—pepper the city walls and those atop them, while the strength of the defending army diminishes as soldiers slip away and food dwindles. Moreover, active conflict is an episodic, not a constant, feature of siege warfare; the enemy army can encamp outside the walled city and blockade it without firing a shot. Over time, the walls and defending forces become degraded to such a degree that the invaders are able to scale the walls and sack the city.

No, Mueller and his forces are not a Mongol horde, but the Trump White House is very much under siege.

[…]

So what will the big one look like, if not some Mueller-lobbed bombshell? When the walls are finally breached, how will we know that it really is the beginning of the end? Here’s a hint: The big one will not be a legal development, an indictment, or a plea. It will be a political development—that moment when the American political system decides not to tolerate the facts available to it any longer. What does that look like? It looks like impeachment. It looks like enough Republicans breaking with the president to seriously jeopardize his chances of renomination or reelection. The legal developments will degrade the walls. But only this sort of political battering ram can breach them.

I wouldn’t sit around waiting for the Republicans to break away from Trump unless they see that standing with him jeopardizes their own livelihood, and as long as there’s Fox Nation and the 40% who see nothing wrong with being a white nationalist and playing footsie with murderous thugs from Saudi Arabia and Russia, they’ve got no reason to turn on him.  Nixon had that much support on August 8, 1974; the only thing that convinced the Republicans on Capitol Hill to come to the White House and tell him to resign — and he acknowledged as much in his resignation speech — was that he had lost the support of the party.  The GOP was staring down the barrel of the 1974 mid-terms and a Democratic House that was ready to vote out articles of impeachment.  The GOP leadership didn’t give a damn about the rule of law; they saw their doom riding full force at them.  So it will take a similar situation — the GOP facing electoral carnage — that will make them turn on Trump.

And no, the 2018 mid-terms, at least to Trump and the GOP leadership, was not a warning, even though they lost 40 seats in the House and the Democrats will start issuing subpoenas next year.  Delusion and denial is a powerful cocktail, so if the Mueller investigation and the rest emanating from the Southern District of New York is the siege, then the White House becomes the bunker where the leader hunkers down and assures himself and his few remaining loyalists that they can still fend off the horde; troops are on the march to defend us!

The only way to truly win is by beating him and the rest of the GOP in an election.  There’s one coming up in less than two years.

The question then becomes, will Trump concede and actually leave?  That’s another question, but then, the Secret Service works for us, not him.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Trashing The Joint

I see this more as a fit of pique than anything else.

In Michigan, Republicans are hoping to push through laws slashing environmental regulations, reducing worker protections including the minimum wage and limiting the attorney general and secretary of state’s authority. Both offices were won by Democrats in the November midterms.

A similar push is underway in Wisconsin, where Republicans in the state legislature have teed up bills to weaken the authority of incoming Governor Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul, both of whom are Democrats.

It also tells us that the voters of Michigan and Wisconsin were right in voting those bastards out of office and laying the groundwork for getting the rest of them out the next time around.

Monday, December 3, 2018

All Is Calm

The GOP plan going forward is “What, we worry?”

With a brutal finality, the extent of the Republicans’ collapse in the House came into focus last week as more races slipped away from them and their losses neared 40 seats.

Yet nearly a month after the election, there has been little self-examination among Republicans about why a midterm that had seemed at least competitive became a rout.

President Trump has brushed aside questions about the loss of the chamber entirely, ridiculing losing incumbents by name, while continuing to demand Congress fund a border wall despite his party losing many of their most diverse districts. Unlike their Democratic counterparts, Republicans swiftly elevated their existing slate of leaders with little debate, signaling a continuation of their existing political strategy.

And neither Speaker Paul D. Ryan nor Representative Kevin McCarthy, the incoming minority leader, have stepped forward to confront why the party’s once-loyal base of suburban supporters abandoned it — and what can be done to win them back.

The quandary, some Republicans acknowledge, is that the party’s leaders are constrained from fully grappling with the damage Mr. Trump inflicted with those voters, because he remains popular with the party’s core supporters and with the conservatives who will dominate the caucus even more in the next Congress.

And considering how much they paid attention the last time they attempted introspection — remember the famous post-2012 election “autopsy” where they castigated themselves for not reaching out to minorities, women, and even promised to stop being the Stupid Party (oh, where is Bobby Jindal now?) — they’re even less likely now that they have an id-and-ego driven president and a House caucus that is only too eager to follow him and his neo-Nazi base into oblivion.

Please proceed, lemmings.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Throwing Them Their Lines

To the surprise of no one, the Daily Beast reveals that Fox News gives their Trump administration interview subjects the questions in advance and tailors them to their liking.

Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt was clearly taken aback last year when occasional Fox & Friends fill-in host Ed Henry grilled him about a number of ethical scandals facing his administration.

And Pruitt had a good reason to be surprised. In past interviews with President Trump’s favorite cable-news show, the then-EPA chief’s team chose the topics for interviews, and knew the questions in advance.

In one instance, according to emails revealed in a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the Sierra Club and reviewed by The Daily Beast, Pruitt’s team even approved part of the show’s script.

Fox & Friends has long been a friendly venue for Trump and his allies, but the emails demonstrate how the show has pushed standard cable-news practices to the extreme in order to make interviews a comfortable, non-confrontational experience for favored government officials.

Cable-news veterans told The Daily Beast that it is common for television producers to discuss topics in advance with their subjects; and, on occasion, producers will ask pre-interview questions to understand what a subject has to offer, and why their information is relevant.

However, it is widely frowned upon to offer public officials pre-interviews, as this can help the official avoid difficult questions.

And providing and seeking approval scripts is even more of a taboo.

Well, it’s only a taboo if you’re a real news outlet doing real journalism.  In the case of Fox News, it’s as well-scripted as your average Cub Scout skit with the same level of talent and theatrical integrity.  The only thing they’re missing is the den mother standing in the wings shouting out the lines to the poor kid who can’t remember them.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Raking It In

This is how you prevent forest fires?

With 76 people dead and nearly 1,300 unaccounted for and feared dead in California wildfires, President Donald Trump had a word of advice about stopping future blazes: “Raking.”

“You’ve got to take care of the floors. You know the floors of the forest, very important,” Trump noted Saturday surrounded by the devastation of the burned town of Paradise in northern California.

“I was with the president of Finland and he said, ‘We have a much different —we’re a forest nation.’ He called it a forest nation, and they spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things. And they don’t have any problem. And when they do, it’s a very small problem,” Trump said.

Critics were stumped by the raking solution.

They also pointed out the many extreme differences between warm, sunny, drought-stricken California with its annual destructive (and growing worse) fire seasons and Finland, land of marshes, cold temperatures and snow. A quarter of the nation is within the Arctic Circle.

But even with the fire-preventing advantages of far colder temperatures and precipitation, Scandinavia and Finland were hit with serious fires this year due to unusually hot and dry conditions, which scientists attributed to climate change.

Over to you, Finland:

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto later disputed this. He told a local newspaper that he had briefed Trump on Finland’s efforts to surveil and care for its forests, the Associated Press wrote, “but said he can’t recall anything being mentioned on raking.”

Maybe it wasn’t Niinisto who gave Trump the raking idea. Maybe it was something he saw on TV.

“I was watching the firemen the other day, and they were raking areas. They were raking areas!” Trump told Fox News from the Oval Office on Friday — before he left for California. “They’re raking trees, little trees like this — nut trees, little bushes, that you could see are totally dry. Weeds! And they’re raking them. They’re on fire.”

“That should have been all raked out,” he concluded. “You wouldn’t have the fires.”

The Fox host, Chris Wallace, asked whether climate change might not be a larger wildfire factor than unraked debris, but Trump didn’t think so.

Wherever Trump got the notion that raking parts of California — be it entire forest floors or the areas around little nut trees — could have prevented the Camp Fire, not many people seem to agree.

There is seriously something wrong when the leader of your country thinks that the way to solve one of the most serious environmental challenges is to do yard work because he once saw it on TV.

The way he sees it, if the Southwest is ever overrun by a feral roadrunner population, the ACME Company is going to be really busy.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Too Clever

Republicans seem to live for conspiracy theories, and the loopier the better.  Right now Florida and a bunch of other states are going through the final stages of counting very close races (see below), but for all the hard work and glitches that any large operation is heir to, the GOP thinks it all comes down to a very clever master plan dreamed up by George Soros and a bunch of Hollywood liberals: make the races so close that recounts are necessary and then swoop in and snatch the victory!

Steve M:

The governor’s race and Senate race in Florida are both very close. So is the governor’s race in Georgia. The Senate race in Texas was fairly close. And hey, you know what other races were close? The presidential races in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan in 2016.

The right-wing theory of Democratic voter fraud is this: Democrats cheat in such a sophisticated way that they almost win many key races on Election Night, and then they manipulate the vote count so they seize the lead some of the time. What a skilled set of crooks Democrats are! Dems could simply cook the books on Election Day or earlier, but I guess they’d rather do part of the work then and then manipulate the vote almost successfully afterward, when everyone’s paying attention. Because that’s how professional election thieves roll.

This is the dumbest conspiracy theory about Democrats since the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. You remember that conspiracy: Democrats had a sexual assault accusation against Kavanaugh all teed up, but deliberately held it until after the hearings were over, presumably because they wanted it to look suspicious and desperate. Holding back on the allegation for months was all part of Democrats’ sinister plan, the fiendish brilliance of which became clear when Kavanaugh was confirmed anyway.

It didn’t seem possible that Democrats could top that, but letting Stacey Abrams, Andrew Gillum, and Bill Nelson fall behind and then scrounging up probably not enough fake votes for them is even cleverer, isn’t it?

I’m sorry; I’ve been a registered Democrat for fifty years and I have yet to meet anyone in the party who is that clever.

Well, as I noted the other day, if you’re really going to steal an election, the way to do it is to commit such massive and well-hidden fraud that there would be no question about the outcome.  To rig it for a cliffhanger makes no sense.  But in the Republicans’ fevered imagination, that’s just how the Democrats wanted it to go so that when there was a recount, there would be all this drama and confusion and then the cheaters could slip in the few extra votes so the Democrat wins.  (Okay, that doesn’t even make sense to me, and I write fiction as a side gig.)

In reality, the whole thing plays to the GOP and right wing’s need to play the victim.  They’re always the ones being cheated, even when they win.  Trump will never get over Hillary Clinton getting more votes than he did in the popular tally, and to this day he still acts as if it’s late October 2016 and the troops have to be rallied.  White men were once in charge but now they have to share and it’s SO UNFAIR.  That and they know somehow, somewhere in what’s left of any moral compass they still have, they can only win by cheating or demonizing, and it eats away at them.  But hypocrisy and hubris are very powerful enablers, and as long as they can get away with it — and as long as there’s a gullible and weak-willed base to lap it up — they will keep doing it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Friday, November 9, 2018

A Good Fit

Matthew Whitaker, the acting attorney general, seems like a perfect fit for the Trump administration.

Before Whitaker joined the Trump administration as a political appointee, the Republican lawyer and legal commentator complained that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Russian interference in the election and of the Trump campaign was dangerously close to overreaching. He suggested ways it could be stopped or curtailed and urged his followers on Twitter to read a story that dubbed the investigators “Mueller’s lynch mob.”

Now — at least on an interim basis — Whitaker will assume authority over that investigation, an arrangement that has triggered calls by Democrats for him to recuse himself.

He also harbors interesting views on the role of the Supreme Court in the scheme of things, arguing that the landmark 1803 Marbury v. Madison case that affirmed the court’s role as the final arbiter of interpreting the Constitution was one of the worst decisions the court has rendered.

“There are so many,” he replied. “I would start with the idea of Marbury v. Madison. That’s probably a good place to start and the way it’s looked at the Supreme Court as the final arbiter of constitutional issues. We’ll move forward from there. All New Deal cases that were expansive of the federal government. Those would be bad. Then all the way up to the Affordable Care Act and the individual mandate.”

He also seems to think that our laws descend from a higher power.

During a 2014 Senate debate sponsored by a conservative Christian organization, he said that in helping confirm judges, “I’d like to see things like their worldview, what informs them. Are they people of faith? Do they have a biblical view of justice? — which I think is very important.”

At that point, the moderator interjected: “Levitical or New Testament?”

“New Testament,” Whitaker affirmed. “And what I know is as long as they have that worldview, that they’ll be a good judge. And if they have a secular worldview, then I’m going to be very concerned about how they judge.”

Religious tests for judges are barred by the Constitution, but I think we already know where he stands on interpreting it.

To round out the rest of the portfolio, as an attorney he’s been accused of defrauding clients.

When federal investigators were digging into an invention-promotion company accused of fraud by customers, they sought information in 2017 from a prominent member of the company’s advisory board, according to two people familiar with the probe: Matthew G. Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney in Iowa.

It is unclear how Whitaker — who was appointed acting attorney general by President Trump on Wednesday — responded to a Federal Trade Commission subpoena to his law firm.

In the end, the FTC filed a complaint against Miami-based World Patent Marketing, accusing it of misleading investors and falsely promising that it would help them patent and profit from their inventions, according to court filings.

In May of this year, a federal court in Florida ordered the company to pay a settlement of more than $25 million and close up shop, records show. The company did not admit or deny wrongdoing.

Whitaker’s sudden elevation this week to replace fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions has put new scrutiny on his involvement with the shuttered company, whose advisory board he joined in 2014, shortly after making a failed run for U.S. Senate in Iowa.

At the time, he was also running a conservative watchdog group with ties to other powerful nonprofits on the right and was beginning to develop a career as a Trump-friendly cable television commentator.

So, he’s got authoritarian-executive views of the basic laws of the country, he wants religious tests for judges, and he’s provided legal counsel to a fraudulent get-rich-quick scheme here in Florida.

My only question is why wasn’t he the first pick for Trump’s attorney general before Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III?

Bonus Track: According to two highly-respected legal scholars, Neal K. Katyal and George T. Conway III, Trump’s appointment of Mr. Whitaker as acting attorney general is unconstitutional.

What now seems an eternity ago, the conservative law professor Steven Calabresi published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal in May arguing that Robert Mueller’s appointment as special counsel was unconstitutional. His article got a lot of attention, and it wasn’t long before President Trump picked up the argument, tweeting that “the Appointment of the Special Counsel is totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL!”

Professor Calabresi’s article was based on the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, Article II, Section 2, Clause 2. Under that provision, so-called principal officers of the United States must be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate under its “Advice and Consent” powers.

He argued that Mr. Mueller was a principal officer because he is exercising significant law enforcement authority and that since he has not been confirmed by the Senate, his appointment was unconstitutional. As one of us argued at the time, he was wrong. What makes an officer a principal officer is that he or she reports only to the president. No one else in government is that person’s boss. But Mr. Mueller reports to Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general. So, Mr. Mueller is what is known as an inferior officer, not a principal one, and his appointment without Senate approval was valid.

But Professor Calabresi and Mr. Trump were right about the core principle. A principal officer must be confirmed by the Senate. And that has a very significant consequence today.

It means that Mr. Trump’s installation of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general of the United States after forcing the resignation of Jeff Sessions is unconstitutional. It’s illegal. And it means that anything Mr. Whitaker does, or tries to do, in that position is invalid.

I heard one conservative commentator suggest that the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 allows such appointments in the case of a vacancy or incapacity, but it is for a relatively short period, and besides, the Constitution has supremacy.  So if Mr. Whitaker tries to fire Robert Mueller, he may face a legal challenge.

PS: Karma strikes again: George T. Conway III, the co-author of the op-ed, is married to Kellyanne Conway.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Peak Freak

So we’re down to the last 24 hours before the polls open for the mid-terms and everyone is in the full-press mode to the end.  My e-mail box is stuffed with pleas from candidates all over the country (that’s because of posting the blog’s e-mail address), the cable channels are filled with warring ads from both parties and PAC’s, and even my phone is getting in on the act with texts urging me to vote early.  I only hope the enthusiasm and urgency was reciprocated by the early voters and will be tomorrow when the polls open.

Meanwhile, Trump is running around the country like his hair was on fire (okay, skip the cheap shot about flammable materials and accelerants) doing his best (or worst) to scare the crap out of the foolish and the weak, going only to places where he knows he’ll get a fawning reception, lying his ass off about what the Democrats will do when they get back in power; lying to the point that reporters aren’t couching their terms in quasi-objective modes but calling him a flat-out liar.

Trump has never been hemmed in by fact, fairness or even logic. The 45th president proudly refuses to apologize and routinely violates the norms of decorum that guided his predecessors. But at one mega-rally after another in the run-up to Tuesday’s midterm elections, Trump has taken his no-boundaries political ethos to a new level — demagoguing the Democrats in a whirl of distortion and using the power of the federal government to amplify his fantastical arguments.

In Columbia, Mo., the president suggested that Democrats “run around like antifa” demonstrators in black uniforms and black helmets, but underneath, they have “this weak little face” and “go back home into mommy’s basement.”

In Huntington, W.Va., Trump called predatory immigrants “the worst scum in the world” but alleged that Democrats welcome them by saying, “Fly right in, folks. Come on in. We don’t care who the hell you are, come on in!”

And in Macon, Ga., he charged that if Democrat Stacey Abrams is elected governor, she would take away the Second Amendment right to bear arms — though as a state official, she would not have the power to change the Constitution.

Unmoored from reality, Trump has at times become a false prophet, too. He has been promising a 10 percent tax cut for the middle class, though no such legislation exists. And he has sounded alarms over an imminent “invasion” of dangerous “illegal aliens,” referring to a caravan of Central American migrants that includes many women and children, is traveling by foot and is not expected to reach the U.S.-Mexico border for several weeks, if at all.

This kind of desperation usually presages a humiliation.  Those of us of a certain age remember the mid-terms of 1970 when the Nixon administration unleashed a barrage of lies and fear that backfired spectacularly to the point that when Nixon formed his reelection committee he instituted a mindset that amplified his inborn paranoia to the point that led to felonies and articles of impeachment.

To their credit, most of the Democrats have ignored the outrageous bullshit and focused on the things that matter to the voters such as the assault on healthcare and the grossly unfair tax cuts that left them holding the bag on the deficit.  They know — and hopefully the voters will too — that schoolyard taunts and conspiracy theory fantasies are distractions that work great in the MAGA mindset but are not solutions to the problems that they see everyday: sure, the economy is doing great (thanks, Obama!) but we still have lead in our water, red tide on the beach, crushing tariffs on steel and soybeans, and a promise to repeal the healthcare provisions that everybody needs.

We will know in 48 hours which way worked.  Being the optimist that I am, I think the voters of this country will deliver a resounding defeat to the voices of fear and loathing.  I believe the Democrats will take control of the House, they will win a number of governorships, and, most importantly, make deep inroads in state and local elections to begin to turn back the sea change, both literally and figuratively, that got us to this stage.  If not, we’re witnessing the unraveling of the promise of democracy and this could be one of the last elections where we really had a choice.

Good Question

A friend on Facebook:

You know what just struck me out of the blue? How New Orleans was abandoned for 5 days and it took a year to begin restoring electricity to Puerto Rico, but we can get 10,000 troops to the Texas border in a matter of days to protect us from a group of unarmed asylum seekers who are still 2 months travel away from our border. I am perplexed.

Yeah, how about that?

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Sunday Reading

Reigns Of Terror In America — Jill Lepore in The New Yorker on the legacy of fatal hatred in our nation.

On Friday, May 9, 1958, Rabbi Jacob M. Rothschild, of the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation, in Atlanta, delivered a sermon called “Can This Be America?” Crosses had been burned and men had been lynched, but Rothschild was mainly talking about the bombs: bundled sticks of dynamite tied with coiled fuses. In the late nineteen-fifties, terrorists had set off, or tried to, dozens of bombs—at black churches, at white schools that had begun to admit black children, at a concert hall where Louis Armstrong was playing, at the home of Martin Luther King, Jr. One out of every ten attacks had been directed at Jews, at synagogues and community centers in Charlotte, in Nashville, in Jacksonville, in Birmingham. In March, 1958, about twenty sticks of dynamite, wrapped in paper yarmulkes, had exploded in an Orthodox synagogue in Miami. The blast sounded like a plane crash.

“Our first duty is not to allow ourselves to be intimidated,” Rothschild told his congregation. Five months later, some fifty sticks of dynamite exploded at his temple, Atlanta’s oldest, blowing a twenty-foot hole in a brick wall, toppling columns, shattering stained-glass windows. “We bombed a temple in Atlanta,” a man claiming to be from the “Confederate Underground” said, when he telephoned the press that night. “Negroes and Jews are hereby declared aliens.”

Rothschild grew up in Pittsburgh, in Squirrel Hill. His family went to Temple Rodef Shalom, just blocks away from the Tree of Life Synagogue, where eleven people were recently shot and killed during services. Robert Bowers, the man charged in the case, had repeatedly posted on social media about a Jewish aid organization he thought was helping refugees cross the U.S.-Mexico border. The shooting followed a series of mail bombs sent to prominent critics of the President, allegedly by Cesar Sayoc, Jr., a Florida man whose white van was plastered with Trump stickers. In the days after these atrocities, Donald Trump announced his intention to end birthright citizenship—to declare, by executive order, that millions of U.S.-born children are aliens. Can this be America?

Rothschild, the liberal from Pittsburgh, moved to Atlanta to take up his pulpit in 1946, the year that a white-supremacist organization was founded in the city. The Columbians asked potential members three questions: “Do you hate Negroes? Do you hate Jews? Do you have three dollars?” On Yom Kippur in 1948, Rothschild sought to stir his congregation out of its silence. “There is only one real issue,” he said. “Civil rights.” The reign of terror Rothschild decried in 1958 had begun four years earlier, after the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, when White Citizens Councils began forming across the South to oppose desegregation. And then the bombings started, targeting the institutions that hold societies, and nations, together: schools, houses of worship, newspaper offices.

Standing at the site of the Atlanta temple blast, Mayor William B. Hartsfield declared, “Every political rabble-rouser is the godfather of every sneaking cross-burner and dynamiter at work in the South today.” In the Atlanta Constitution, the syndicated columnist Ralph McGill wrote, “To be sure, none said go bomb a Jewish temple or a school. But let it be understood that when leadership in high places in any degree fails to support constituted authority, it opens the gates to all those who wish to take law into their hands.” The F.B.I. investigated, as Melissa Fay Greene recounts in a book about the bombing, and five men were arrested. The American Nationalist, a California newspaper, ran a story that announced, “SYNAGOGUE BOMBING A FRAUD: Jewish Groups Use Bomb Incident to Confuse Gentiles.” Only one man, George Bright, was ever tried; he was acquitted. McGill won a Pulitzer Prize. “If you call that a prize,” Bright scoffed. “Pulitzer was just a Jew.”

America’s latest reign of terror began not with Trump’s election but with Obama’s, the Brown v. Board of the Presidency. “Impeach Obama,” yard signs read. “He’s Unconstitutional.” In 2011, Trump began demanding that Obama prove his citizenship. “I feel I’ve accomplished something really, really important,” Trump told the press, when, that spring, the White House offered up the President’s birth certificate. This fall, Senator Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, fell into the same trap. For the five years of Trump’s campaign for political attention, leading up to the 2016 election, and for the first two years of his Administration, attempts to fight Trump on his debased terms have only strengthened him.

Rothschild delivered a sermon to his congregation the Friday after the bombing, its title taken from the Book of Ezekiel: “And None Shall Make Them Afraid.” Eight hundred people crowded into the blasted synagogue. “Never did a band of violent men so misjudge the temper of the objects of their act of intimidation,” Rothschild said. “Out of the gaping hole that laid bare the havoc wrought within, out of the majestic columns that now lay crumbled and broken, out of the tiny bits of brilliantly colored glass that had once graced with beauty the sanctuary itself—indeed, out of the twisted and evil hearts of bestial men has come a new courage and a new hope.”

Courage and hope are not the language of Trump’s most vociferous political opponents. Blame and grievance are their language, the language of the times, the grammar of Twitter, the idiom of Trump, the taste of bile. Trump’s critics have often answered his viciousness with their own viciousness, his abandonment of norms with their abandonment, his fear-mongering with their fear-mongering, his unwillingness to speak to the whole of the country with their own parochialism.

But the bloody-mindedness of deranged and broken men can be countered only by principle and fortitude. Rothschild once introduced Dr. King at a banquet in Chicago. King, he said, had been met with “wild thunder.” Never did he speak with more thunder than during his Christmas Eve sermon in 1967, at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, in Atlanta, not far from Rothschild’s temple. “If we don’t have good will toward men in this world, we will destroy ourselves,” King said. “There have always been those who argued that the end justifies the means, that the means really aren’t important,” he said. “But we will never have peace in the world until men everywhere recognize that ends are not cut off from means, because the means represent the ideal in the making, and the end in process, and ultimately you can’t reach good ends through evil means, because the means represent the seed and the end represents the tree.” Another tree has been cut down. May a new seed be sown.

Only Going To Get More Extreme — Jonathan Chait in New York on what will happen if the GOP retains control of Congress.

Politics since Donald Trump’s election has felt like a static state of misery, as the president’s approval ratings have been surprisingly stable and the only apparent variable has been each party’s chances of gaining or consolidating power in the midterms. But that reading ignores something tectonic: the rapid decay of the institutional Republican Party. Everything that was terrible about the party that nominated Trump is significantly, terrifyingly worse today. Even more distressing: It is likely to lurch further rightward regardless of the outcome of the elections. This will happen right away.

It was not so long ago that most Republican professionals firmly believed the party was still theirs and Trump had merely borrowed it. The GOP Establishment, one congressional staffer told the reporter David Drucker earlier this fall, had “forced Trump to govern as a ‘conventional conservative.’ ” Ten months ago, when the Senate voted to pass a huge tax cut, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared, “If we can’t sell this to the American people, we ought to go into another line of work.”

They couldn’t. They tried convincing the public their tax cuts for the rich will mostly go to the middle class, but the middle class doesn’t believe them. “I would have bet you a lot of money going into this year that if you cut people’s taxes by thousands of dollars per year, that would be politically popular,” Republican consultant Ryan Ellis told Politico. “But it has not worked out that way.” As private Republican polling has confirmed, the party “lost the messaging battle” on taxes.

Rather than finding another line of work, however, McConnell’s colleagues have grasped a disturbing reality: They don’t need to sell their policies to the American people. They’re better off following Trump’s political formula of constructing an alternate reality in which their party is cast as one of economic populists. Recently, Trump has been insisting he has another plan to give the middle class a tax cut. A big one! A whopping 10 percent cut, just for the average taxpayer. “We’re doing it now for middle-income people,” Trump told reporters about a bill he claimed would pass before Election Day.

Reporters quickly noted this was impossible. Congress was out of session until after the election; it would need 60 votes to pass another tax cut, anyway. Trump then insisted he had a secret plan, which he would reveal soon, that would allow a huge middle-class tax cut without adding to the deficit. “We’re doing other things, which I don’t have to explain now, but it will be pretty much a net neutral,” he told reporters. No such tax proposal exists, and nobody actually believes anything like it will ever materialize. Yet Republican leaders are pretending to take Trump’s instructions seriously. “We will continue to work with the White House and Treasury over the coming weeks to develop an additional 10 percent tax cut focused specifically on middle-class families and workers,” promised House Committee on Ways and Means chairman Kevin Brady. Why shouldn’t they go along? What cost is there to sustaining the lie?

Republicans are attempting a similar trick to resolve their political liability on health care, where Trump has ramped up their strategy dating back to the beginning of the Obamacare debate: promise to do all the good stuff Obama­care delivered but without making anybody pay for it. The administration, joined by several Republican states, is suing to overturn Obamacare’s regulations preventing insurance companies from charging higher rates to people with preexisting conditions and, in the meantime, undermining those protections by allowing insurers to sell cheaper plans to healthy people. Yet the Republicans’ health-care message has betrayed not the slightest hint of their anti-regulatory fervor. Arizona’s Martha McSally, who as a member of Congress gave a pep talk to wavering Republicans urging them to vote to repeal Obama­care and not replace it, is running ads for her Senate campaign claiming she “led the fight” to “force insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions.” Florida governor and Senate candidate Rick Scott, whose state is currently supporting the Trump lawsuit, is declaring in an advertisement, “I support forcing insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions.” Trump himself has advanced this lie to its Orwellian conclusion. Not only does he promise to defend the regulations he is actively seeking to eliminate, he has accused Democrats of trying to destroy them: “Republicans will totally protect people with Pre-Existing Conditions, Democrats will not! Vote Republican.”

The defensive effort to steal the economic-populist mantle from Democrats, without making any substantive concessions toward that end, has been largely overshadowed by the louder cultural messaging that accompanies it.
Republicans have stoked white racial paranoia against a shifting array of targets. Kneeling football players and transgender bathrooms have momentarily given way to a convoy of Central American migrants that allegedly contains “unknown Middle Easterners.”

And Trump’s allies have gone from justifying his ­reality-show authoritarian persona as a necessary expedient to embracing it as a positive good. “It doesn’t matter if it’s 100 percent accurate,” a senior Trump-administration official told the Daily Beast, defending the president’s fearmongering attacks on a caravan of potential refugees. “This is the play,” Scott Reed, a strategist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told the Washington Post. “It’s a standard tactic to use fear as a motivating choice at the end of a campaign, and the fact is the fork in the road is pretty stark.” In Texas, when a fan at a Ted Cruz speech exclaimed about Beto O’Rourke, “Lock him up!,” Cruz answered, “Well, you know, there’s a double-­occupancy cell with Hillary Clinton.”

The degree to which Trump’s party has molded itself in his image is worth bearing in mind when contemplating what the next two years might bring.
If Democrats win the House but not the Senate, they will be working with an even more hardened foe: The Republicans who will have lost, or who are retiring, are those most vulnerable to outside pressure; the surviving core, from the reddest districts, will be the most Trumpian. They will be much less likely to abandon their president in the face of incriminating evidence than were Richard Nixon’s Republicans in 1974, and much more likely to escalate his attacks on the rule of law into a full-scale culture war.

In the event Republicans retain full control of Congress — improbable, but about the chances FiveThirty­Eight gave Trump toward the end of October two years ago — the transformation would be even more dramatic. The American people would be led not by a party learning to accommodate its unhinged leader but one trained by him, and the con job they have been enacting on the American people would swiftly come to completion.

Imagine Republicans waking up after Election Day and discovering their aging coalition has been given a new lease on life. They will instantly grasp the possibilities available by campaigning in opposition to reality: telling voters they are protecting popular social programs that Democrats are trying to cut and reinforcing this message through media channels their party effectively controls. What would stop them from launching the full-scale assault on the welfare state that Newt Gingrich and Paul Ryan never mustered the courage to fully enact? Why wouldn’t they go through with abolishing Obamacare and slashing funding to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid?

Though they control all branches of the federal government, Republicans have been held back for two years by the expectation of a backlash and a setback in the midterms. After not one but two expert-defying victories, the Trumpian cult of personality would grow exponentially. For all the unprecedented and brazen acts the past two years have brought, what we have not yet seen is a Trumpian party that feels invincible.

If The Trumpistas Win: Get the hell out.

It’s the ultimate fantasy: Escape the 9-5 by moving to a place where it’s so cheap you barely need to work — and could even retire early. The Panama-based Live and Invest Overseas advises people on how to do just that, and the company has just announced its list of the 10 best places in the world where you can move in 2018 and live very well for very little.

We caught up with Kathleen Peddicord, publisher of Live and Invest Overseas, who told us why each of these places made the coveted list. If want to find more cheap places to live abroad, check out “Quit Your Job: 5 Countries Where You Can Live For Under $1,500 A Month.”

Doonesbury:  He’s back!

Friday, November 2, 2018

Desperation

Trump at a rally in Columbia, Missouri, last night:

If you don’t want America to be overrun by masses of illegal aliens and giant caravans, you better vote Republican!

I think what’s happening is that Trump and a lot of Republicans see that they are about to get their heads handed to them by the voters on Tuesday and they’re trying everything they can possibly come up with to motivate their base to save them from complete ignominy.  That explains the blatantly racist commercial they’re running to try to scare voters about immigration.  That explains why Trump is sending 15,000 soldiers to defend the southern border against a slow-moving caravan that more resembles a new production of “The Grapes of Wrath” than it does an invading force.  That explains why Trump said that if they throw rocks (assuming they have the strength), the soldiers will shoot back, which would constitute a war crime, and remind people of a certain age of May 4, 1970 at Kent State.  That explains why he and his minions are flying around the country to campaign in safe districts only and speaking — or shouting — to crowds that are only friendly to them.  And that explains why the early voter turnout has surpassed the total number of voters in the last mid-term election.

It’s not the invasion of migrants that Trump’s worried about.  It’s the onslaught of voters who are going to the polls.  It’s not the rocks they’re going to throw that worries him, it’s the votes they’re going to cast.

The Democrats may not retake the Senate; the sheer number of seats they’d have to flip makes it unlikely (but hope springs eternal, etc).  But even with the mandatory grains of salt in the mix, it’s looking like the Democrats will not only gain a majority in the House, they may even exceed the needed 23 seats and go as high as 40.  That will do two things: put the kibosh on any policies the GOP hopes to get through Congress for the next two years, and paint a huge target on the Democrats as obstructionists who are bent on destroying the America that Trump was making so great again.  He’ll be on Fox and Twitter every ten minutes with more vitriol and outrage that makes the last three years look like a garden party.  If you think we had gridlock outrage under the Republicans versus Obama, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

But the scariest thing for Trump isn’t that he’ll lose control of the legislative branch; he doesn’t care about that.  What’s scary is that he will now appear to be vulnerable not just to the Democrats but to what’s left of the sane people in the GOP who know that there’s an expiration date on Trump’s tenure and that the future of their party is at stake.  You’re going to hear more whispers and rumblings about defying Trump, and not just from the ones who are safely out of electoral reach such as Bob Corker and Jeff Flake (who still voted for Trump’s shitty ideas anyway).  There may even be primary challengers starting to work backstage next week when Campaign 2020 kicks off: Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska has been trying to come off as the Jiminy Cricket of the GOP, and Nikki Haley didn’t resign as UN ambassador just to spend more time with her family.  If recent history is any guide, an incumbent president facing a viable primary challenge stands a good chance of losing re-election.  A huge election loss in the 2018 midterms will embolden those who were waiting for their chance to say that they were never really in favor of Trump all along.  The GOP has never missed an opportunity to be opportunists, after all.

So the stench of desperation from Trump and his acolytes in the GOP and on Fox News will be nearly overpowering.  Hold your nose and vote.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Doubling Down

Washington Post:

Trump said Wednesday that he would deploy as many as 15,000 military personnel to the border with Mexico in response to caravans of Central American migrants making their way northward, doubling the figure Pentagon officials have announced would be operating there.

“We’ll go up to anywhere between 10 and 15,000 military personnel on top of Border Control, ICE and everybody else at the border,” Trump said in remarks to reporters before departing Washington for a campaign rally in Florida. “Nobody’s coming in. We’re not allowing people to come in.”

As noted the other day, this number will change again once the election is over and the troops get bored decorating their tents for Thanksgiving, then Christmas, then New Years, then maybe Valentines Day by the time the “caravan” gets to the border.

This is going far beyond just appealing to the base of the GOP.  Now he’s enlisting the military in his political ploy, which, to be fair, is something every president looking down the barrel of ignominy has done to some degree.  But this is just ridiculous.

HT spocko.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Surefire Flop

Well, you’d kind of expect this sort of desperation from someone on the right wing, but the degree to where this all came together as a huge wet bloosh in the face of the perpetrator is almost Newtonian in its karmic comeuppance.

Earlier today news broke about a plot launched by a GOP operative, Jack Burkman, to manufacture and pay off at least one woman to lie and say that Robert Mueller sexually harassed her back in the 1970’s while she worked for him as a paralegal at a private law firm. As soon as the story hit the news, the Special Counsel’s representative confirmed that upon learning of this false story, they referred it to the FBI for investigation.

Jacob Wohl is another player in this story, a moron (or a “child” as Elle Magazine correctly describes him as) and failed hedge fund manager (who was reportedly banned for life from the National Futures Association early in his career).

Even though he denies it, Jacob associated with a company called “Surefire Intelligence”, a shady company that states it was “founded by two members of Israel’s elite intelligence community” and that they can be hired for “counter intelligence,” “private spies,” and “ethical hackers.”

Scroll through the pictures of the senior staff of Surefire and you come across stock shots of supermodels and actors’ headshots, plus resumes and bios that come right out of a cross between “Mission: Impossible” and “Get Smart.”  But the best part is this: Surefire’s official phone number redirects to a voicemail box registered to Jacob’s mom.

It’s all hilarity and ridiculous, but the FBI is not laughing.

A company that appears to be run by a pro-Trump conspiracy theorist offered to pay women to make false claims against Special Counsel Robert Mueller in the days leading up to the midterm elections—and the special counsel’s office has asked the FBI to weigh in. “When we learned last week of allegations that women were offered money to make false claims about the Special Counsel, we immediately referred the matter to the FBI for investigation,” the Mueller spokesman Peter Carr told me in an email on Tuesday.

The special-counsel office’s attention to this scheme and its decision to release a rare statement about it indicates the seriousness with which the team is taking the purported plot to discredit Mueller in the middle of an ongoing investigation. Carr confirmed that the allegations were brought to the office’s attention by several journalists, who were contacted by a woman who identified herself as Lorraine Parsons. Another woman, Jennifer Taub, contacted Mueller’s office earlier this month with similar information.

Oh, someone’s gonna get sent to bed without dessert.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

No, He Can’t

I may have only gone to John J. McCoy School of Law, but I do know that the president cannot change the Constitution by executive order.  Specifically, he cannot override the 14th Amendment and end birthright citizenship.  That requires amending the Constitution (see the 18th and 21st, respectively), and that requires passage in the Senate and ratification by the states.  See, I did pay attention in Grade 10 social studies.  Apparently Trump did not.

Aside from the fact that he can’t, and just for the sake of bullshit argument if he could, what’s to stop him or any other president from suspending any other amendment such as the 1st?  (Try it with the 2nd and see how that goes over with the MAGA crowd.)

This is just bait for the base and further proof he’s just playing them.

BTYFO, Joe

It’s a little mean to pile on Joe Scarborough when he finally, at long last, gets it.

I never believed what liberals said about us all along. I never believed there was this undercurrent in the Republican party of racism, nativism, anti-semitism. We spent our entire lives telling people it wasn’t true. I’ll be damned, I’m 55 years old. Bingo, they had us exactly right. They had the party exactly right. What are we to do now?

‘Bout time you found out, Joe.  Granted, at the age of 55 you weren’t really around to remember Nixon and Agnew and the Southern Strategy in all it’s George Wallace-emulating glory.  You came of age when it was all bundled up in the cozy and gauzy quilt of Ronald Reagan’s morning in America for white Christians, and so you don’t remember the distinction between the Southern Democrats of Strom Thurmond and the rest of the party when they split in the 1950’s and ’60’s over where a six-year-old black girl should go to school or where her father could go to the bathroom or stay the night while traveling.  Your Republican party happily picked up the torch from the cross-burning and ran with it, and fifty years later passed it on to a maniac.

Where were you, Joe?  You ran for Congress from a district in the Florida panhandle where the only distinction between there and Selma was the color of the license plates and the remnants of the old way of life are still visible in the two sets of bathrooms in the old courthouse in downtown Miami.  But you fell for the smaller government/more freedom line and smugly thought that the folks who bought your tactics of being scared of black people voting and women controlling their bodies could be controlled and mollified every election cycle.  It never occurred to you that they would one day find someone who could actually exploit them beyond the sop of cutting taxes and hating gays?

Yeah, it’s easy to pile on to Joe and any other Republican who is finding out to their horror that their party is just as mean and nasty as a lot more people than just “liberals” have been saying about them since the days of Joe McCarthy and Barry Goldwater.  But it’s about time, and it’s probably too late.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Touched

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.

Monday, October 22, 2018

It Isn’t Binary

I find this disturbing in a lot of ways.  From the New York Times:

The Trump administration is considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth, the most drastic move yet in a governmentwide effort to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people under federal civil rights law.

A series of decisions by the Obama administration loosened the legal concept of gender in federal programs, including in education and health care, recognizing gender largely as an individual’s choice and not determined by the sex assigned at birth. The policy prompted fights over bathrooms, dormitories, single-sex programs and other arenas where gender was once seen as a simple concept. Conservatives, especially evangelical Christians, were incensed.

Now the Department of Health and Human Services is spearheading an effort to establish a legal definition of sex under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance, according to a memo obtained by The New York Times.

The department argued in its memo that key government agencies needed to adopt an explicit and uniform definition of gender as determined “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.” The agency’s proposed definition would define sex as either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with, according to a draft reviewed by The Times. Any dispute about one’s sex would have to be clarified using genetic testing.

“Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” the department proposed in the memo, which was drafted and has been circulating since last spring. “The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”

The new definition would essentially eradicate federal recognition of the estimated 1.4 million Americans who have opted to recognize themselves — surgically or otherwise — as a gender other than the one they were born into.

“This takes a position that what the medical community understands about their patients — what people understand about themselves — is irrelevant because the government disagrees,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, who led the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights in the Obama administration and helped write transgender guidance that is being undone.

The move would be the most significant of a series of maneuvers, large and small, to exclude the population from civil rights protections and roll back the Obama administration’s more fluid recognition of gender identity. The Trump administration has sought to bar transgender people from serving in the military and has legally challenged civil rights protections for the group embedded in the nation’s health care law.

I will be the first to admit that I do not have the scientific, medical, or psychological background to speak about this in any way other than what I know based on my own life, but just in that experience I know that gender is defined in far more many ways than what equipment I was born with.  I also know that even within the area of defining male versus female there is such a range as to make it fluid — filling the vessel it is carried in — that a mere biological definition doesn’t begin to define one or the other.

But the biggest and most important part of all of this is: what business is it of the government to define it?  I thought we were all supposed to be treated equally regardless, and the laws should be blind to such factors as race or gender.  Or, to put it more succinctly, it shouldn’t matter.  Period.

Obviously, though, it has and it does to a certain group.  What Trump and his collection of ignorant tight-asses are worried about is the undoing of prejudice and fear so that we are not focusing on some kind of binary definition of gender so that they can be comfortable knowing who’s in the next stall when they go to pee.  And frankly, if my Grade 10 psychology text book was right, people who worry inordinately about how they perceive other people are having a great deal of difficulty accepting how they perceive themselves.

If they’re going to persist in demanding that people be defined by the kind of genitalia they are born with, then I suggest we also add that we define people by the color of hair they are born with and it cannot be changed “unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”