Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Tales From The Dork Side

This Axios interview with Jared Kushner is like something out of SNL.

Discussing the horrific death of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in an interview with “Axios on HBO,” White House adviser Jared Kushner was noncommittal on whether Saudi Crown Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) must account for Khashoggi’s body.

Kushner said he’s still waiting for results of a U.S. investigation to assign blame, even though the CIA reportedly determined with a high degree of confidence that MBS ordered the murder, and the U.S. Senate unanimously declared that he was responsible.

Why it matters: Kushner, who shares the president’s view that Saudi Arabia is a crucial partner to counter Iran, has formed a close relationship with MBS and helped promote him as a great reformer. We see here that even eight months after Khashoggi’s death in a Saudi consulate, the White House still refuses to publicly hold the Saudi leader accountable.

  • Asked whether he would join Khashoggi’s fiancée in calling on the Saudi government to release his body (or identify where they put the body parts) so that his family might bury him, Kushner said: “Look, it’s a horrific thing that happened. … Once we have all the facts, then we’ll make a policy determination, but that would be up to the Secretary of State to push on our policy.”

Other highlights:

  • Kushner talked about how his grandparents came to America as impoverished refugees, after surviving the Nazis, and “they were able to build a great life for themselves.” He said, “It’s a great reminder of how great this country is, where my grandparents could be on the precipice of life or death and then come to this country and … 70 years later … their grandson’s working in the White House.”
  • I asked Kushner what he makes of President Trump’s decision to slash America’s refugee intake to the lowest level in 40 years. He defended that decision, saying the overall numbers are irrelevant given the scale of the global refugee crisis. Read Axios’ Stef Kight’s story on our exchange.
  • Kushner passionately defended Trump against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s charge that the president is a racist. I asked him whether Birtherism is racist. He wouldn’t answer the question — saying repeatedly that he wasn’t involved in Birtherism and that he knows who the president is. He also ducked whether Trump campaigning on a Muslim ban was an example of religious bigotry. Watch the clip.

Kushner said history will remember President Trump for two things above all else:

  1. Changing the types of people who come to work in Washington — “people who never would’ve been in Washington before who were not qualified by conventional standards … have brought great results to this country both economically and from a national security point of view.”
  2. Changing “how we think about America’s place in the world” — from a post-World War II era where everybody took advantage of America, to a new era of “rebalance” in trade and burden sharing. Kushner believes Trump has set America on a new course that will outlive his presidency.

It’s just mind-boggling.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Defining Treason

According to the United States Constitution, Article III, Section 3:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

So people, even FBI employees, making snarky comments about a presidential candidate do not constitute treason, Liz Cheney.

If that were the case, the entire line-up of Fox News would have been lined up and shot during the Obama administration.

What an idiot.  Oops, I guess I’m a traitor.  Come and get me.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Sunday Reading

Charles P. Pierce — It Didn’t Start With Trump.

Joe Biden kicked up a fuss the other day by saying something…un-smart. (Ex-tree! Ex-tree! Read allaboutit!) He suggested that the current president* is a historical one-off and that, once we are rid of him and have fumigated the White House thoroughly, the normal routine of governing the country will resume and everybody can have drinks with each other at the end of the day. If there is one issue that desperately needs litigating in the Democratic Party’s primary process it is this:

Resolved: this presidency* is the logical outcome of 40 years of modern conservatism and its effect on the Republican Party. If it wasn’t this guy, it would’ve been somebody else.

It is pointless for any Democratic candidate to run for any office without acknowledging this fact. We’ve been banging this tin drum around the shebeen here since it opened, but not enough people have embraced the truth of it. (An aside: I really like some of my Never Trump brethren, but they should go back to their own party and clean out the stables. During an election year, and especially during the Democratic primaries, as far as I’m concerned, they all can take a seat.) The problem is the party, and what it’s become.

The party is the problem, because of what it’s become—a vehicle for bigotry, religious fanaticism, rigged elections, retrograde social policies, renegade plutocracy, staggering wealth inequality, scientific ignorance, reflexive stupidity, violent populism, white supremacy, and a view of the American electorate that is all switch and no bait. (Did I miss anything?) Three times since 1981, the Republicans have produced a president who basically embodied all of these things, just to varying degrees. Ronald Reagan played fast and loose with the truth; is that business about trees causing air pollution really any nuttier than whatever it was that El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago tweeted at 5 a.m. this morning? George W. Bush launched a war on false pretenses and made this a nation that tortures people and is proud of it. Is that any better than what’s going on at the border now? The question isn’t how the Republicans produced this particular disaster of a president*. The question is what took them so long.

And it is a root and branch thing, too. The federal judiciary is salted thick now with judges who will reinforce in the law all that is destructive in conservative politics. That Alabama state legislature that passed that horrific assault on women’s rights? You watch. At least two of those cats will be in Congress within the next decade. These people and these policies have something close to an unbreakable lock on the United States Senate. And there is no sign within the Republican power elite that anyone is willing or able to control what the party has become. There’s no Frankenstein, hauling his ass over the polar ice to chase down the monster that has escaped the lab.

The only possible way to change the Republican Party is to force it to answer for itself, over and over again. One of the biggest mistakes ever made in American politics, as the redoubtable Driftglass reminds us almost daily, was the Democratic Party’s blunder in letting the Republican Party off the hook for the various catastrophes wrought by the administration of C-Plus Augustus. Iraq, Katrina, and the Economic Collapse should have been hung around Republican necks in the same way, and for the same reasons, that Democratic politicians had to talk for 20 years about the mannequin the Republicans made out of George McGovern, whom Bobby Kennedy once called the most decent man in the Senate.

This cannot be allowed to happen again. If a Democrat is elected in 2020, that person should use all the powers of the office to demonstrate once and for all that the prion disease afflicting the Republicans now has reached terminal stage and that the GOP is a mad dog, snapping at phantoms in midair, and endangering the public health and welfare. Mitch McConnell should be made an object of anger and ridicule, and that work should come from the top. The mad dog is at the door.

Can A Fetus Get A Passport? — Carliss Chatman in the Washington Post speculates on the legal ramifications of granting a fetus full personhood.

Alabama has joined the growing number of states determined to overturn Roe v. Wade by banning abortion from conception forward. The Alabama Human Life Protection Act, as the new statute is called, subjects a doctor who performs an abortion to as many as 99 years in prison. The law, enacted Wednesday, has no exceptions for rape or incest. It redefines an “unborn child, child or person” as “a human being, specifically including an unborn child in utero at any stage of development, regardless of viability.”

We ought to take our laws seriously. Under the laws, people have all sorts of rights and protections. When a state grants full personhood to a fetus, should they not apply equally?

For example, should child support start at conception? Every state permits the custodial parent — who has primary physical custody of the child and is primarily responsible for his or her day-to-day care — to receive child support from the noncustodial parent. Since a fetus resides in its mother, and receives all nutrition and care from its mother’s body, the mother should be eligible for child support as soon as the fetus is declared a person — at conception in Alabama, at six weeks in states that declare personhood at a fetal heartbeat, at eight weeks in Missouri, which was on the way to passing its law on Friday, but at birth in states that have not banned abortion.

And what about deportation? Can a pregnant immigrant who conceived her child in the United States be expelled? Because doing so would require deporting a U.S. citizen. To determine the citizenship of a fetal person requires examination of Section 1 of the 14th Amendment, which declares, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” The word “born” was not defined by the drafters. Presumably, they intended the standard dictionary definition: brought forth by birth. Our dates of birth are traditionally when our lives begin; we do not celebrate our dates of conception or the date of our sixth week in utero. But in states with abortion bans, “born” takes on new meaning. Now legislatures assign an arbitrary time during gestation to indicate when life, personhood and, presumably, the rights that accompany these statuses take hold. This grant of natural personhood at a point before birth brings application of the 14th Amendment into question and may thus give a fetus citizenship rights — but only in those states. There are no laws that allow the United States to deny citizenship rights to a natural-born citizen merely because they reside with, or in, a noncitizen.

Detaining any person without arraignment or trial violates the Constitution and international human rights laws. A fetus has not committed a crime, not been arraigned or charged, not weathered a trial by a jury of its peers, not had the opportunity to confront its accuser. These laws redefining personhood surely mean that a pregnant woman cannot be incarcerated, as doing so requires confining a second person without due process.

The Alabama state Senate passed the country’s most restrictive abortion legislation May 14 that could set a precedent for other legislative bodies.

If personhood begins in utero, a fetus will need a name and a Social Security number to begin exercising private rights and using public resources. A Social Security number is necessary to claim a child on taxes. It is also a requirement to act on behalf of a child privately, like opening a bank account, buying savings bonds or obtaining insurance coverage. Typically, parents apply for a Social Security number when they obtain a birth certificate, but if states declare that personhood begins at some earlier arbitrary point in time, they will need to provide evidence, perhaps through a life certificate, that this new person exists and resides in their state. Once the life is established, can a mother insure a six-week fetus and collect if she miscarries? Will the tax code be adjusted in these states to allow parents to claim their unborn children as dependents at conception? If so, can a woman who suffers more than one miscarriage in a fiscal year claim all of her children?

Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution requires a census every 10 years to count all persons residing within the United States. If a fetus is granted personhood, it should be included in the count. The census currently asks about the age and date of birth of each household resident. Will it now include the date of conception in select states so that fetuses may be counted? There is the potential to unfairly skew census data and disproportionately apportion representatives and resources to those states.

These questions highlight the unintended and potentially absurd consequences of sweeping abortion bans. At the heart of the issue is how the 14th Amendment’s definitions of personhood and citizenship should be applied. States have been allowed to define the personhood of unnatural creatures — such as corporations — since very early in our nation’s history. In exchange for this freedom, states are not permitted to go back on their deal. In other words, once personhood rights are granted, a state may not deny life, liberty or property without due process, nor may a state deny equal protection under the law. States have never had the right to define the personhood of people. This was a subject — influenced either by place of birth or by complying with immigration and naturalization requirements — for the Constitution and federal law. State grants of natural personhood challenge this norm.

When states define natural personhood with the goal of overturning Roe v. Wade, they are inadvertently creating a system with two-tiered fetal citizenship. This is because Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey create a federal floor for access to the right to choose — a rule that some ability to abort a fetus exists in the United States. If these cases are overturned, that eliminates only the federal right to abortion access. Overturning Roe would not prohibit a state from continuing to allow access. In a post-Roe world, in states like New York that ensure the right to choose through their constitutions and statutes, citizenship will begin at birth. In states that move the line to define life as beginning as early as conception, personhood and citizenship will begin as soon as a woman knows she is pregnant.

Trying to define citizenship and personhood based on the laws of each state creates some far-fetched and even ridiculous scenarios. If we follow that logic, we’ll tie our Constitution into a knot no court can untangle.

Doonesbury — House Rules.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Trade Marks

Via the New York Times:

Trump’s tariffs were initially seen as a cudgel to force other countries to drop their trade barriers. But they increasingly look like a more permanent tool to shelter American industry, block imports and banish an undesirable trade deficit.

More than two years into the Trump administration, the United States has emerged as a nation with the highest tariff rate among developed countries, outranking Canada, Germany and France, as well as China, Russia and Turkey. And with further trade confrontations brewing, the rate may only increase from here.

On Tuesday, the president continued to praise his trade war with China, saying that the 25 percent tariffs he imposed on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods would benefit the United States, and that he was looking “very strongly” at imposing additional levies on nearly every Chinese import.

“I think it’s going to turn out extremely well. We’re in a very strong position,” Mr. Trump said in remarks from the White House lawn. “Our economy is fantastic; theirs is not so good. We’ve gone up trillions and trillions of dollars since the election; they’ve gone way down since my election.”

He called the trade dispute “a little squabble” and suggested he was in no rush to end his fight, though he held out the possibility an agreement could be reached, saying: “They want to make a deal. It could absolutely happen.” Stock markets rebounded on Tuesday, after plunging on Monday as China and the United States resumed their tariff war.

Additional tariffs could be on the way. Mr. Trump faces a Friday deadline to determine whether the United States will proceed with his threat to impose global auto tariffs, a move that has been criticized by car companies and foreign policymakers. And despite complaints by Republican lawmakers and American companies, Mr. Trump’s global metal tariffs remain in place on Canada, Mexico, Europe and other allies.

The trade barriers are putting the United States, previously a steadfast advocate of global free trade, in an unfamiliar position. The country now has the highest overall trade-weighted tariff rate at 4.2 percent, higher than any of the Group of 7 industrialized nations, according to Torsten Slok, the chief economist of Deutsche Bank Securities. That is now more than twice as high as the rate for Canada, Britain, Italy, Germany and France, and higher than most emerging markets, including Russia, Turkey and even China, Mr. Slok said.

The shift is having consequences for an American economy that is dependent on global trade, including multinational companies like Boeing, General Motors, Apple, Caterpillar and other businesses that source components from abroad and want access to growing markets overseas.

While trade accounts for a smaller percentage of the American economy than in most other countries — just 27 percent in 2017, compared with 38 percent for China and 87 percent for Germany, according to World Bank data — it is still a critical driver of jobs and economic growth.

For now, the American economy remains strong, with rising wages and the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years. But with less trade, American jobs up and down the value chain that are seemingly unrelated to importing and exporting goods could suffer, including research and development, retail and marketing products.

Trump has promised, as he has in the past, to make it up to the farmers who lose money by having China hit back with retaliatory tariffs against their products.  In other words, he’s saying he’ll get them $15 billion in subsidies to keep them afloat because of something he did (as opposed to helping, oh, say, Puerto Rico recover from a hurricane or Flint get drinkable water).  He apparently thinks the farmers of America can be bought off like his one-night stands with women-not-his-wife.  And I think we all know how well he keeps his promises.

The sad fact is that the majority of the farmers who are hit by these tariffs in all likelihood supported Trump in the last election and are with him now even as he takes away their markets and promises to put them on the welfare rolls.  He’s seen it work before — frighten them with abstract fears about Others like undocumented immigrants (many of whom keep farms in business by doing the labor) or lesbians getting married in New York, unlike that nice couple who run the candle store in town — so why not try it again?  He knows his marks; he’s run his businesses that way for fifty years and gets his jollies — if not his profits — by getting away with the con.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Going After Mayor Pete

I was wondering when this sort of shit would start.  Via the Daily Beast.

A pair of right-wing provocateurs are being accused of attempting to recruit young Republican men to level false allegations of sexual assault against Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.

The details of the operatives’ attempt emerged as one man suddenly surfaced with a vague and uncorroborated allegation that Buttigieg had assaulted him. The claim was retracted hours later on a Facebook page appearing to belong to the man.

A Republican source told The Daily Beast that lobbyist Jack Burkman and internet troll Jacob Wohl approached him last week to try to convince him to falsely accuse Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, of engaging him sexually while he was too drunk to consent.

The source who spoke to The Daily Beast said Burkman and Wohl made clear that their goal was to kneecap Buttigieg’s momentum in the 2020 presidential race. The man asked to remain anonymous out of a concern that the resulting publicity might imperil his employment, and because he said Wohl and Burkman have a reputation for vindictiveness.

But the source provided The Daily Beast with a surreptitious audio recording of the meeting, which corroborates his account. In it, Wohl appears to refer to Buttigieg as a “terminal threat” to President Donald Trump’s reelection next year.

Neither Burkman nor Wohl responded to repeated requests for comment on this story. But after The Daily Beast contacted them last week, traces of the scheme disappeared from the web and social media.

This must be a good sign for Mayor Pete in that he’s not at the top of the polls but already getting the trolls and the Orcosphere energizing against him.  They can’t come up with any policy counterattack so they go for the gutter because he’s gay and, well, you know how they are.

This isn’t the first and certainly won’t be the last of the attacks against him — we’ve already seen the phony religious grifters going after him — and you can always count on rating points if you bring up sex.

HT to Adam L. Silverman at Balloon Juice.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Circular Firing Squad

Via the Washington Post:

National Rifle Association President Oliver North has been ousted amid internal strife and external pressure.

In a statement read at the NRA’s annual meeting in Indianapolis on Saturday, North said he would not seek a second term, citing confrontations with board members and donors over what they called exorbitant payments to a law firm, a lawsuit against the group’s longtime public relations firm and press reports about alleged financial mismanagement.

“There is a clear crisis,” North said in the letter, which was read by NRA Vice President Richard Childress. “It needs to be dealt with immediately and responsibly so the NRA can continue to focus on protecting our Second Amendment.”

The announcement by North, who said he created a committee to look into the organization’s finances, came a day after NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre issued his own letter to the NRA’s board claiming North had attempted to extort him.

According to that letter, North told LaPierre that he would send the board a letter alleging sexual harassment by a staff member, a “devastating account” of the NRA’s financial status and accusations of profligate spending on clothes and travel, unless La­Pierre resigned from his position and withdrew the NRA from a lawsuit it filed against Ackerman McQueen, the public relations firm it has used for decades.

“I believe the purpose of the letter was to humiliate me, discredit our Association, and raise appearances of impropriety that hurt our members and the Second Amendment,” LaPierre wrote in the letter, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal. “I believe our board and devoted members will see this for what it is: a threat meant to intimidate and divide us. I choose to stand and fight, and hope to bring 5 million members with me.”

The NRA’s board will meet Monday to determine next steps. Tom King, a board member and president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, said he supports LaPierre.

Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of nuts who took an organization that once advocated for sensible gun control and stayed out of politics and turned it into a screaming mob of thugs with the finesse of a jackhammer and the sense of humor and tolerance of the Taliban.

And of course it all comes down to money.  It always does.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Speaking Of Hypocrites

Franklin Graham on Pete Buttigieg:

As a Christian I believe the Bible which defines homosexuality as sin, something to be repentant of, not something to be flaunted, praised or politicized.

So this Trump-sucking grifter gets to define someone else’s faith?  This from someone who not only flaunts his religion but along with his fellow con artists Jerry Falwell, Jr, Pat Robertson, and any number of other so-called “evangelicals” who sold their souls and their robo-call operations for political expediency and exploitation of the foolish and the weak?  Are you fucking serious?

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Still Crazy After All These Years

Hey, remember Michele Bachmann, the batshit-crazy congress-critter from Minnesota with the look in her eyes that if you saw her on the Metro Rail you’d change cars?  Yeah, well, she’s still at it and claiming that we will never see a more godly and biblical president in our lifetime than guess-who.

Well, yeah, if by godly and biblical you mean adulterous, racist, buys-off-porn-stars creep, I think she’s on to something.  But then, she’s probably a few milligrams short on the Prozac, too.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Setting The Barr

I’m not at all surprised that Attorney General William Barr told the Senate that there may have been some “spying” during the 2016 campaign.  After all, he was hired by Trump to follow up on the right-wing nutsery claims about the Democrats doing it, and although he has no offer of proof, he basically echoed what Trump as been screaming about all along.

The fact that the FBI and other intelligence agencies may have had legitimate reasons to investigate the glaring clues that a foreign hostile power was trying to interfere with the electoral process doesn’t matter.  All these conspiracy whacks hear is “spying” and they’re over the moon.  Now the emboldened GOP will say “There should never have been an investigation of anybody at all!”  That’s tantamount to saying, “Yeah, it was fine with me if the Russians wanted to put Trump in office.”

Trump got the attorney general he really wanted in William Barr: a yes-man who does his bidding.

Backward, Christian Soldiers

Some religious nutjob in the Texas state legislature is trying to criminalize a medical procedure.

Men and women, young and old, native Texans and immigrants, they rose to ask lawmakers to protect life, describing a “genocide” and foreseeing the arrival of “God’s wrath.”

The act of public atonement they are seeking is passage of a bill that would criminalize abortion without exception, and make it possible to convict women who undergo the procedure of homicide, which can carry the death penalty in Texas. Though it faces steep odds of becoming law, the measure earned a hearing this week amid a larger legislative push in GOP-controlled states to curtail abortion rights, in a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.

The legislation is the brainchild of state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, a Republican from Arlington, Tex., who was placed under state protection because of death threats he received when he first introduced the bill in 2017. The Air Force veteran, who has been married five times, argues that the measure is necessary to make women “more personally responsible.” He said Tuesday that his intention is to guarantee “equal protection” for life inside and “outside the womb.”

Some of his supporters see the issue in even more fateful terms.

“God’s word says, ‘He who sheds man’s blood, by man — the civil government — his blood will be shed,’” said Sonya Gonnella, quoting the Book of Genesis and asking lawmakers to “repent with us.”

Announcing herself as a “follower of the lord Jesus Christ,” Gonnella was among hundreds of people who testified in a marathon hearing that stretched from Monday into early Tuesday before the Texas House’s Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence.

It was the first time in the state’s history, committee members said, that public testimony had been heard on a measure holding women criminally liable for their abortions. The legislation was left pending on Tuesday, as Democrats claimed there was a contradiction in the agenda advanced by its supporters, who call themselves “pro-life.”

These are more than likely the same people who got hysterical about “Sharia law” when a woman wore a hijab while shopping at Dollar General.  Irony, we hardly knew ye.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

“That Country”

Vox details the Trump administration’s odd and dangerous vendetta against Puerto Rico.

On the heels of the Senate’s failure to pass a disaster relief bill on Monday, President Donald Trump posted a string of factually inaccurate tweets defending his position that federal government aid to the hurricane-ravaged island of Puerto Rico should be limited to food stamp subsidies, and made clear he prioritizes the needs of US citizens living in flood-ravaged Midwestern states above those of US citizens living in Puerto Rico.

In his tweets Monday evening, Trump oddly referred to the US territory as a “place,” accused Puerto Rican politicians of being “incompetent or corrupt” — he referred to San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz as “crazed” — and framed the question of how much disaster relief funding to provide to the island and flood-affected farmers in the Midwest as a zero-sum game, writing that “the Dems wants to give [Puerto Rico] more, taking dollars away from our Farmers and so many others. Disgraceful!”

[…]

Trump, however, doesn’t seem to accept that Puerto Rico is really part of the United States. As a result, he frames providing emergency aid to the island as “taking dollars away from our farmers.”

And it’s not just him — during an MSNBC interview on Tuesday morning, White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley twice mistakenly referred to the US territory as “that country.”

The truth seems to be that Trump doesn’t understand that Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States and that the people who live there are citizens to the same degree as people who live in Iowa or Ohio, or, more importantly, Florida.  The one exception is that the people of Puerto Rico do not get to vote in the presidential election if they are living on the island.  But if they move to the mainland — and a lot of them did after Hurricane Maria — they can vote.  And they will.

Monday, April 1, 2019

April Fools

Wow, are they stupid.

On Sunday, “Fox & Friends” quickly jumped to news of the president’s plans to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to three Central American countries over the flow of migrants to the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump has already warned of closing the border.

As Henry talked about the president “going full-court press on Mexico” and co-host Pete Hegseth spoke of “cutting payments, aid payments, to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras,” a chyron — the caption superimposed over the video — characterized it slightly differently. It referred to them as “3 Mexican countries.”

[…]

Later in the show, Henry would apologize for the chyron, saying that “it never should have happened.”

Actually, this is par for Fox News, and I’m sure that the base that they play to saw absolutely nothing wrong with the chyron.  As one person on Twitter noted, all Latin American countries look alike to them, and another remarked this pretty much sums up the Trumpian view of the region.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Fast Action

It took New Zealand less than a week to immediately ban the weapons used in the mosque massacres last Friday.

Even if it could pass constitutional muster — which it probably could since the 2nd Amendment talks about “well regulated” — nothing like the swiftness and surety of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s actions could happen here.  American politicians are too enamored of the money — or the threat of the lack of it — from lobbyists and PAC’s to do any more than offer thoughts and prayers.  And even those come at a cost.

So while the thoughtful and caring people of the world deal with problems like this with dispatch, we worry where our next electoral victory will come from.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Speaking Ill Of The Dead

I was never a big fan of John McCain politically, and I think his nomination of Sarah Palin as his VP choice in 2008 led in part to Trumpism, but the man is dead.  Trump is a coward for attacking him.  But even more cowardly is the Republican leadership’s silence in response.

We always knew Trump was a jerk and a bully, so his craven bigotry and shallowness is no real shock.  But for the folks who less than ten years ago championed Sen. McCain and his “mavericky” style as the leader of their party to suddenly cower in the corner because a barroom drunk starts bellowing says a lot more about them than it does about the drunk.

It’s just more proof — as if we needed it — that Republicans will say anything, tolerate anything, and enable anyone, no matter how loathsome, who will somehow keep them in power.  And that’s more disgusting than Trump’s routine.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Keep Marching

Matthew Yglesias in Vox:

The Women’s Marches over-awed Donald Trump’s Inauguration. Protesters at airports checked the initial version of Trump’s travel bans. Ordinary Americans’ phone calls and door knocks defeated multiple attempts to roll back the Affordable Care Act. It all sent a clear message during Trump’s first two years in office: Resistance works.

Engaged protesters were not able to block the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act or Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, but they did render both toxically unpopular. The resistance spurred an unprecedented level of interest in special elections, swinging seats across the country, and powered Democrats to sweeping wins in the 2018 midterms.

And then it stopped. There was no mass mobilization to call senators in advance of the resolution blocking Trump’s border emergency declaration. There were no crowds on Capitol Hill. There are no reports of Republican senators canceling town halls because they’re afraid to face angry crowds demanding a floor vote on the anti-corruption bill HR 1. There are no protesters demanding that Trump accede to Congress’s request for his tax returns in part because no request has been made.

The resistance has demobilized. And for Democrats, it’s probably a huge mistake.

It’s perhaps more a matter of how people look at life in general that has led to this.  Conservatives not only see the glass half-empty, they’re on the lookout for someone, somewhere, to dash it from their lips.  They live in a world of suspicion and hyped-up tension; every stranger is a danger; every person that doesn’t look or sound like them is up to no good, so no matter what the reality is, you can’t trust anybody.  That explains why even after winning elections the right-wingers never stop complaining and campaigning.

Progressives see it the other way: everything has the potential for beauty and comity; we can just all get along if only we’d trust our inner goodness.  Electing their people will turn everything right and we can all take a deep cleansing breath and relax.

But you cannot stop and rest on your laurels and think the defeated will retreat, having learned their lesson.  They’ll be back with a vengeance because that is what they do.  That’s why after the election of the first African-American president so many people pronounced racism was dead and believed we had at last grown past the original sin of slavery and institutional bigotry, only to have it made abundantly clear that not only was prejudice and paranoia still alive and well, it could elect the most dangerous threat to American democracy since Fort Sumter.

It’s easier to scare people with a siege mentality, and it’s a great control mechanism; keep the followers in line (and getting their money) with fear and loathing.  (Organized religion figured that out thousands of years ago.)  The Democrats cannot let their guard down, and they don’t have to make up fake news or gin up paranoia to show the world that they need to keep up the marching.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Better Things To Do

You would think that with all of the things going on in the world today, including natural disasters such as flooding the Iowa and Nebraska, an entire fleet of aircraft grounded, North Korea rattling their sabre (again), white supremacists shooting up mosques in New Zealand, an American president would have more important things to worry about than a late-night comedy program on TV putting up a re-run that made fun of him.

But no.

Other U.S. presidents have decried horror abroad as an affront to values shared among liberal democratic allies, but Trump has made no major address to mourn those gunned down last week as they worshiped at mosques in New Zealand. He has not condemned the professed white-supremacist motives of the accused killer.

Instead, Trump has spent the past few days, including the hours before and after the church service, rallying his most loyal supporters around his nationalist agenda against illegal immigration, attacking a familiar list of perceived enemies and adding new ones, all while casting himself as a victim of unfair attacks.

It was a weekend of nonstop grievances from the leader of the free world.

“It’s truly incredible that shows like Saturday Night Live, not funny/no talent, can spend all of their time knocking the same person (me), over & over, without so much of a mention of ‘the other side,’ ” Trump tweeted just before 8 a.m. Sunday. “Like an advertisement without consequences. Same with Late Night Shows.”

SNL had rerun an episode Saturday that opened with a sketch lampooning Trump as a bitter and bewildered George Bailey from the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

The president suggested the federal government should target the show. “Should Federal Election Commission and/or FCC look into this? There must be Collusion with the Democrats and, of course, Russia! Such one sided media coverage, most of it Fake News. Hard to believe I won and am winning. Approval Rating 52 percent, 93% with Republicans. Sorry! #MAGA.”

Okay, stop right there.  The federal government can’t target the show; the FCC has no control over the networks.  And it sounds like he’s calling for the return of the Fairness Doctrine, which was abolished during the Reagan administration because gas bags like Rush Limbaugh complained that they were under the mistaken impression that they had to give equal time to opposite points of view.  You really want that back?  (Actually, it wouldn’t make any difference.  Most, if not all, of the news, fake or otherwise, comes via cable, and that’s not regulated by the FCC either.)

The point is that with all the shit going down in the world, we have an obsessed narcissist and coward in the White House who seems to think the only thing that matters is what other people think of him.  That’s not how you run a democracy.  It is, however, how you run a dictatorship.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Sunday Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ahem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doonesbury — Building.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Consequences

Trump’s defenders said the five-week government shutdown in December and January proved that we can get along without having all those bureaucrats wasting, frauding, and abusing the taxpayers’ hard-earned money.  Who needs government oversight anyway?  All they do is create red tape that hinders the capitalists from making money, and all those needless regulations just get in the way.

Uh huh.

A software fix to the MCAS flight-control feature by the FAA and Boeing had been expected early in January, but discussions between regulators and the plane maker dragged on, partly over differences of opinion about technical and engineering issues, according to people familiar with the details. Officials from various parts of Boeing and the FAA had differing views about how extensive the fix should be.

U.S. officials have said the federal government’s recent shutdown also halted work on the fix for five weeks.

The FAA concluded the delay was acceptable because its experts agreed with Boeing that there was no imminent safety threat, according to one person briefed on the discussions. The FAA also determined that steps taken after the Lion Air crash to inform pilots world-wide about the system’s operation were adequate to alleviate hazards.

So Trump’s temper tantrum about the mythical wall was just a harmless bit of theatre. What could have possibly gone wrong? All those out-of-work bureaucrats got their back pay, didn’t they? And besides, those two planes that crashed? They were from Indonesia and Ethiopia; it’s not like they were real Americans or anything…

People are dying because of Trump.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Little Twerp

Speaking of not worth it (see below), Tucker Carlson doubled down on his petulant adolescent act.

A day after releasing audio of Tucker Carlson making numerous misogynist remarks, Media Matters for America published a new video with clips of the Fox News host using racist and homophobic language to describe Iraqi people, African Americans, gay people and immigrants while speaking on a radio program between 2006 and 2011, according to a report published Tuesday by the nonprofit.

The self-described watchdog of “conservative misinformation in the U.S. media” published the audio from Carlson’s appearances on a Tampa-based radio program, the “Bubba the Love Sponge Show,” just 25 hours after releasing similar recordings in which he’s heard flippantly using sexist language to express his views on child rape, rape shield laws, underage marriage and other sensitive topics.

The new audio highlights about a dozen instances of Carlson using racist language on the “shock jock” show, which he apparently called into for about an hour per week. In 2008, Carlson lamented that “everyone’s embarrassed to be a white man,” before stating that white men deserve credit for “creating civilization and stuff.”

Fox will never fire him.  This is the kind of crap they live for and the more they can outrage normal people, the better it is for their audience that buys My Pillow and boner pills.  And he’s cheaper than Sean Hannity.