Wednesday, May 4, 2022

What’s Next

In the opinion of Charles P. Pierce, the end of Roe v. Wade is just the beginning.

The leak of a draft opinion from the Supreme Court to Politico would have been an earthquake beneath the surface civility of Washington in any case. But to have the first such leak be Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion demolishing Roe v. Wade was beyond even that. This was not an earthquake. It was Krakatoa. The reputation of the Supreme Court lies in ruins at the bottom of the sea. The lives of millions of American women have been immiserated. The basic topography of the American republic has been rearranged. Again.

You want to see the part of the leaked draft opinion that is the most vivid demonstration of the majority’s bad faith? It’s a reassurance that I wouldn’t trust as far as I could throw Antonin Scalia, and that’s after digging him up. In this, it’s pure Alito. It’s this passage right here.

“We emphasize that our decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right. Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.”

God above, what a crock.

They’re coming for Griswold, and for Obergefell, and for Lawrence, and for Loving, for all I know. I have read too many conservative essays concerning the illegitimacy of a constitutional right to privacy, all of them emerging from the same thickly manured intellectual garden that produced at least four of the justices, including all four of the justices who were appointed by presidents who were elected with fewer popular votes than their opponents. None of the four give a rip for the concept of unenumerated rights. (Justice Amy Coney Barrett wouldn’t even defend Griswold as legitimate precedent at her confirmation hearing.) And Alito’s fig leaf is shredded by its own self-contradiction. If his logic in this draft opinion regarding Roe is sound, then none of the decisions based on a right to privacy are legitimate either.

What Alito’s reassurance does remind me of is the claim within the decision in Bush v. Gore that it was “limited to the present circumstances.” As ProPublica pointed out two years ago, Bush v. Gore has been cited as precedent in nearly 200 cases. Even if I had a scintilla of trust in Alito’s reassurance, which only a fool would countenance, he wouldn’t be able to follow through on it if a state, say, wanted to outlaw gay marriage, or restrict the sale of contraception. Not without sounding like the worst kind of political hack. Which he already is anyway.

Remarkably, this blockbuster came at the end of a day that began with a story in the Washington Post about how the anti-choice forces in Congress were already planning to propose a nationwide ban on abortion should the Republicans carry the midterm elections this fall. That’s for any of you who believe that Alito and the apparent majority are sincere about letting the states make up their own minds.

Activists say their confidence stems from progress on two fronts: At the Supreme Court, a conservative majority appears ready to weaken or overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that has protected abortion rights for nearly 50 years. And activists argue that in Texas, Republicans have paid no apparent political price for banning abortion after cardiac activity is detected, around six weeks of pregnancy.

While a number of states have recently approved laws to ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy — the limit established in the Mississippi legislation at the heart of the case pending before the high court — some activists and Republican lawmakers now say those laws are not ambitious enough for the next phase of the antiabortion movement. Instead, they now see the six-week limit — which they call “heartbeat” legislation — as the preferred strategy because it would prevent far more abortions.

Somebody knew something, I’m thinking.

Meanwhile, as I said, I have immense confidence that the leak is legitimate. The reason I have such confidence is that the text is pure Alito. The tone is smug and condescending and nobody does smug and condescending better than Alito does. He contemptuously hand-waves away the political and social consequences of what he’s doing—which is to say, the human consequences of his decision.

We cannot allow our decisions to be affected by any extraneous influences such as concern about the public’s reaction to our work. We do not pretend to know how our political system or society will respond to today’s decision overruling Roe and Casey. And even if we could foresee what will happen, we would have no authority to let that knowledge influence our decision.

And he has a lip-curling hostility to the authors of Roe and Casey, the decisions that his opinion overturns. In this, his opinion reads like a comment thread on some ridiculous wingnut website.

As has become increasingly apparent in the intervening years, Casey did not achieve that goal [of finally settling the question] Americans continue to hold passionate and widely divergent views on abortion, and state legislators have acted accordingly.

Alito, of course, elides the fact that these laws are being passed through gerrymandered legislatures and signed by Republican governors, and that their position is a minority one all over the country. But Alito has never cared about the little people affected by his legal genius. Women are going to die. Politics is going to get immeasurably uglier. The reputation of the Supreme Court is going deeper into the dumpster. But Justice Samuel Alito, the sole occupant of his own universe, is the smartest guy in the room, so that’s all that matters.

Are we really going back to “When they came for the women, I did nothing…”?

We know how this ends.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Church + State = Tax Audit

From the New York Times:

Evangelical churches have long been powerful vehicles for grass-roots activism and influence on the American right, mobilized around issues like abortion and gay marriage. Now, some of those churches have embraced a new cause: promoting Donald J. Trump’s false claim that the 2020 election was stolen.

In the 17 months since the presidential election, pastors at these churches have preached about fraudulent votes and vague claims of election meddling. They have opened their church doors to speakers promoting discredited theories about overturning President Joe Biden’s victory and lent a veneer of spiritual authority to activists who often wrap themselves in the language of Christian righteousness.

For these church leaders, Trump’s narrative of the 2020 election has become a prominent strain in an apocalyptic vision of the left running amok.

“What’s going on in our country right now with this recent election and the fraudulent nature of that?” Mr. Cowart, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment, asked in a sermon last year. “What is going on?”

It’s difficult to measure the extent of churches’ engagement in the issue. Research suggests that a small minority of evangelical pastors bring politics to the pulpit. “I think the vast majority of pastors realize there is not a lot of utility to being very political,” said Ryan Burge, an assistant professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University and a Baptist pastor.

Still, surveys show that the belief in a fraudulent election retains a firm hold on white evangelical churchgoers overall, Mr. Trump’s most loyal constituency in 2020. A poll released in November by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 60 percent of white evangelical respondents continued to believe that the election was stolen — a far higher share than other Christian groups of any race. That figure was roughly 40 percent for white Catholics, 19 percent for Hispanic Catholics and 18 percent for Black Protestants.

Among evangelicals, “a high percentage seem to walk in lock step with Trump, the election conspiracies and the vigilante ‘taking back of America,’” said Rob Brendle, the lead pastor at Denver United Church, who recalled that when he criticized some Christians’ embrace of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol in a sermon the Sunday after the riot, he lost about a hundred members of his congregation, which numbered around 1,500 before the pandemic.

I have no problem with the churches engaging in political activism; they’ve been doing it since Peter dropped in on the Romans, and the Quakers were founded basically as a resistance to a political situation in England. But here in the United States, there’s the little matter of being a tax-exempt organization engaging in partisan politics: it’s pretty much a no-no.

The ban on political campaign activity by charities and churches was created by Congress more than a half century ago. The Internal Revenue Service administers the tax laws written by Congress and has enforcement authority over tax-exempt organizations. Here is some background information on the political campaign activity ban and the latest IRS enforcement statistics regarding its administration of this congressional ban.

In 1954, Congress approved an amendment by Sen. Lyndon Johnson to prohibit 501(c)(3) organizations, which includes charities and churches, from engaging in any political campaign activity. To the extent Congress has revisited the ban over the years, it has in fact strengthened the ban. The most recent change came in 1987 when Congress amended the language to clarify that the prohibition also applies to statements opposing candidates.

Currently, the law prohibits political campaign activity by charities and churches by defining a 501(c)(3) organization as one “which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”

So, yeah.  Campaign all you want for a fraud, liar, moral reprobate (based on your own screeching preaching).  But knock off the tax-exempt status and cough up like all the other PAC’s.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Sunday Reading

About That Grooming — Charles P. Pierce.

Friend of the blog Dr. Kenneth Starnes, who works emergency medicine down in  the Winter’s Bone country where Missouri and Arkansas pile into one another, hipped us to this story by Gregory Holman in the Springfield News-Leader. It is long. It is ugly. It has been going on for years. It has nothing to do with the gospels, but everything to do with what we’ve learned, to our horror, about organized religious activities.

It has to do with the sexual abuse of children at the Kanakuk Kamps, a Branson-based chain of sports camps tightly wired into the conservative evangelical network. For several years now, the camps have been riddled with allegations of sexual abuse on the part of several of their counselors. Central to the scandal was a former counselor named Peter Newman who, in 2010, was sentenced to two life sentences plus 30 years.

On June 9, 2010, Newman, then 34, pleaded guilty in Taney County court to eight charges of sexually abusing six children in connection with his role as a counselor and director at nearby Kanakuk. He worked there from 1995 until he was fired in 2009. He was sentenced to prison for two life sentences, with an additional 30 years.

A prosecutor told the News-Leader at the time that Newman admitted to sexual activity with as many as 13 other minors. A civil lawsuit filed later against Newman stated that Newman abused 57 underage victims linked to Kanakuk. (Last year, Newman was found liable for more than $5 million in damages in that case, Missouri court records show.) Victim advocates and prosecutors have also said the number of Newman’s victims could be in the “hundreds.”

The camps are an institution among the vast evangelical community, and have been for nearly 100 years. (Ken Starnes says that practically every Southern Baptist kid he grew up with went to one of the camps at one time or another.)

It welcomes tens of thousands of campers to five overnight “kamps” each summer — more than 500,000 to date, Kanakuk says. It also offers an all-ages family resort, along with day camps in eight states including Missouri, Illinois and Texas. One of its two main campuses sits on 42 acres near Lake Shore Drive, across Lake Taneycomo from the lights of downtown Branson. The other is located near Table Rock Lake in the Lampe area.

Camp officials reportedly rub elbows with powerful people, and have done so for a long time: In “Pure Excitement,” a “righteous” guide to sex, love and dating for teenagers first published in 1996 by camp owner Joe White, White tells of his friendship with “an heir to the Coors brewery throne,” Shane Coors. White described Coors as a “well-buffed athlete,” “tall and as handsome as a model.”


This is also a gold mine for the owners. In 2019, as Holman reports, the camps estimated their yearly income at $31.5 million. Camels, needle’s eye, and all that.

The people running the camps also are big wheels in Branson, a place that struck me as very weird at the beginning and hasn’t seemed any less so as the years have gone by. As Evan Hoffpauir, one of the victims, told Holman:

They were popular. They were rich. They were outspoken, they were athletic, they were the people you wanted to be, the kids you couldn’t be, at least, because I didn’t have money growing up.

Hoffpauir’s family couldn’t afford the $4,800 a month that it cost to attend the camp, but Newman found him anyway.

Newman was “just a fun dude,” Hoffpauir said: “He invited me to hang out with him. He would bring me along to sporting events. He’d take me out for ice cream, one-on-one. I went on many speaking engagements with him. I went to California with him. We went together, stayed in the cabin together. And he spoke two nights, and I was his minor, little-kid helper. (…) Those are red flags in itself, but for some reason, it was just OK to bring your 13-year-old boy (companion) with you on overnight trips…It was just things that are not normal,” Hoffpauir said. “That ministry” — Kanakuk — “should have caught on.”

One might even call this…grooming.

It is too easy to point out that many of the most notorious examples of actual grooming with the eventual goal of sexual abuse have at their heart otherwise censorious religious institutions, or publicly abstemious political conservatives, and other important figures in the movement that is now using “grooming” as an all-purpose political bludgeon. It is the latter point itself that represents a real threat to the political and social life of the country.

In recent days, “grooming” has come to represent a number of things far removed from crimes like those that occurred at Kanakuk camps. For this, alas, we have to examine the latest from Glenn Beck, whose sell-by date I assumed had passed at a point half-past Trump. He’s back now, though, and he sees another path to yet another lucrative turn in the spotlight. In a recent video, Beck made the following signifying point:

Whatever the mumbo-jubbo gibberish topic of the day is, they’re doing it. As seen here, the entire brainwashing program starts at pre-school, evolves through the entirety of a child’s schooling — and remember, this program is designed to be integrated in every class: math, English, history, everything! While we send our most precious off to school every morning, they are getting Progressive Crazy 101.

They’re being lobbied now to make SEL the dominant form of curriculum at publical schools. Leftist activists are lobbying for it right now, right under our noses. And what are we doing about it? We can see what turning unqualified teachers into brainwashing psychiatrists are doing to our kids. Child suicides are spiking, and the left says, “It’s a mystery! It’s mystifying!” No, it’s not! It’s quite plain!

See the pea moving under the shells? They know that Critical Race Theory isn’t being taught in kindergarten, so they’ve blended it with Social-Emotional Learning in a generalized ooggedy-boogedy charge of, you guessed it, grooming. Again, Beck:

The left doesn’t like the term “groomer.” Well, what do you call an adult that thinks it’s their moral duty to stand between a parent and their kids on ideological matters when it comes to Marxism and sex and gender preferences? They’re grooming our children for their own warped ideological views, and they are doing it without our consent, and they’re doing it with our taxpayer dollars. They are groomers, period!

And, my darling sheep, remember in the back of your tiny minds what “grooming” actually is, the preface to a horrific crime, and I’m not saying that CRT and SEL and books in your library are the same thing. I would never say that. I’d rather you came to that conclusion yourselves. Please buy my books.

We should familiarize ourselves with this sleight-of-hand, because it is going to be pretty much the entire game plan of Republican candidates in the upcoming midterm elections. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has already made it plain that he will run on the Grooming Is Whatever I Say It Is platform if and when he runs for president in two years. (See also: “woke.”) The bamboozlement already is well underway. And one of the minor tragedies is that it has drowned out stories of actual grooming in the old, accepted meaning of the term.

No More Victims, whose organizers have not been made public, recently issued an open letter to Kanakuk and its owner, White. The letter demands Kanakuk admit that numerous allegations of sex abuse by people linked to the camp are true. As the News-Leader reported last month, the unsigned open letter argued that Kanakuk should agree to an external, independent investigation by a law firm.

The letter also demands that Kanakuk release all victims from legal non-disclosure agreements, which civil parties often sign when they settle a lawsuit out of court. The letter-writers called Kanakuk’s reported use of NDAs one of many “intimidation tactics” the camp uses to stifle allegations of sexual assault and protect its reputation.

The political use of the word “grooming” drains its actual meaning of its power and further dehumanizes and marginalizes its victims and their families. I don’t expect that any of this will occur to the people who are doing all this damage in service to their own cheap grab for power. Shame caught a bus out of Republicantown long ago.

Doonesbury — Company.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Tucker Goes Full Manhood Monty

Via TPM:

Twitter appears to be having a field day over the homoerotic nature of Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s trailer for his supposed “documentary” about what he deems as a “collapse” of testosterone levels in men.

A trailer for “Tucker Carlson Originals” on Fox Nation featuring a supercut of shirtless and muscular white men went viral over the weekend after Nikki McCann Ramirez of Media Matters posted a clip of it on Twitter.

The full clip of the trailer begins with a recording of late former President John F. Kennedy promoting physical fitness, with Carlson himself whining about the supposed “total collapse of testosterone levels in American men” and griping that the NIH does not care enough about what he views as a crisis among men.

“We think it is a huge deal, so we wanna know what’s causing it and what we can do about it,” Carlson said in the trailer.

The clip of the trailer that went viral, however, focuses on men who are portrayed as Adonis-like creatures who can chop wood, fire up a grill, shoot a gun and wrestle to their heart’s content to … prove their masculinity.

The trailer only beefs up its brow-raising spectacle from there — it cuts to a naked man who is seen with his arms outstretched and standing behind a post illuminated with red light (perhaps a nod to Carlson pushing so-called “testicle tanning” with red light therapy as an unfounded treatment for “falling testosterone”).

It’s so gay that it would be banned in Florida classroom.

Read the original post at TPM for some great responses on Twitter.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Math For Dummies

I swear this is not from The Onion.

In its latest attempt to be the nation’s leader in restricting what happens in public school classrooms, Florida said it has rejected a pile of math textbooks submitted by publishers in part because they “contained prohibited subjects,” including critical race theory.

The Florida Department of Education announced on Friday that Richard Corcoran, the outgoing commissioner of education, approved an initial adoption list of instructional materials for math, but 41 percent of the submitted textbooks were rejected — most of them in elementary school.

Some were said not to be aligned with Florida’s content standards, called the Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking, or BEST. But others, the department said, were rejected for the subject matter. “Reasons for rejecting textbooks included references to Critical Race Theory (CRT), inclusions of Common Core, and the unsolicited addition of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in mathematics,” it said in an announcement on the department’s website.

Although the department described the textbook review process as “transparent,” it did not mention which textbooks had been rejected or cite examples from the offending passages.

“It seems that some publishers attempted to slap a coat of paint on an old house built on the foundation of Common Core, and indoctrinating concepts like race essentialism, especially, bizarrely, for elementary school students,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) was quoted as saying in the announcement.

Really, Ron? As Mrs. Burget, my Grade 8 math teacher, said, “Show your work.”  Seriously.  I want to know where in the quadratic equation, the Pythagorean theorem, and the never-ending quest for the last number of π, there is any discussion of the real history of American civilization.

Critics immediately attacked the rejection. State Rep. Carlos G. Smith (D) tweeted: “@EducationFL just announced they’re banning dozens of math textbooks they claim ‘indoctrinate’ students with CRT. They won’t tell us what they are or what they say b/c it’s a lie. #DeSantis has turned our classrooms into political battlefields and this is just the beginning.”

“No, this is not 1963,” state Sen. Shevrin D. “Shev” Jones (D) tweeted, “it’s 2022 in the ‘Free State of Florida.’ ”

DeSantis has been leading the charge in Florida to restrict what teachers can say and discuss in class on topics including race, racism, gender and history. He recently signed legislation that bans classroom discussion on LGBTQ issues from kindergarten through third grade and, for all students, says any such discussion must be “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate.”

Last year, his administration set new rules banning “critical race theory,” and DeSantis is expected to soon sign into law the “Stop Woke Act” that codifies his executive order but also goes further, affecting not only what happens in schools but also the labor practices of private companies by restricting how they can promote diversity, equity and inclusion.

This guy wants to be president.

The worst part is that I have to work with these idiots.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

They Are What They Are

Charles P. Pierce on the continuing saga of Republicans being colossal asses simply because they can.

One of the more under-examined facets of the modern American conservative movement is the tactic of being a colossal dick simply for the sake of being a colossal dick. (Some experts trace this phenomenon back to former Senator Rick Santorum.) The energy behind this tactic is very often the inherent structural racism that has charged American conservative politics ever since it allied itself with the remnants of American apartheid in the mid-1960s. It has been a long march, but recent events have made clear that the time of those remnants has come around at last. So American conservatives can be colossal dicks just to be colossal dicks.

On Tuesday, a proposal seemed to be sailing through the House of Representatives that would name a Florida federal courthouse after Joseph Hatchett, the first Black man to serve on that state’s supreme court. The measure was supported by the entire Florida congressional delegation, and it is the kind of legislation that House members don’t even have to be fully awake to support. But this is 2022, and there is absolutely nothing normal about the House Republican caucus. From the New York Times:

But in a last-minute flurry, Republicans abruptly pulled their backing with no explanation and ultimately killed the measure, leaving its fate unclear, many of its champions livid and some of its newfound opponents professing ignorance about what had happened. Asked what made him vote against a measure that he had co-sponsored, Representative Vern Buchanan, Republican of Florida, was brief and blunt: “I don’t know,” he said.

Back to sleep, Vern.

Explanations were quickly forthcoming.

With little notice and nothing more than a 23-year-old news clipping, a right-wing, first-term congressman mounted an 11th-hour effort on the House floor to persuade his colleagues that Judge Hatchett, a trailblazing judge who broke barriers as the first Black State Supreme Court justice south of the Mason-Dixon line, was undeserving of being honored. The objector was Representative Andrew Clyde of Georgia. Shortly before the House vote, he began circulating an Associated Press article from 1999 about an appeals court decision that Judge Hatchett wrote that year that struck down a public school policy allowing student-approved prayers at graduation ceremonies in Florida. The decision, which overruled a lower court, held that the policy violated constitutional protections of freedom of religion.

In other words, the Republicans in the House killed a bill that would honor a true pathfinder because, as a judge, he enforced the First Amendment. They did so in order to mollify the same idiot rookie who referred to the January 6 insurrectionists as an “ordinary tourist group.” Expect a lot more of this ass-showing if the Republicans take over the House in the fall, and don’t expect Kevin McCarthy to do anything about it whether he’s speaker or not.

What’s to stop them?

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Draw Your Own Conclusion

If there was ever a glimmer of hope that Florida’s redistricting would actually represent the population, forget it.  From TPM:

For months, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has pressured the state’s Republican-majority legislature to eliminate a plurality-Black congressional district in the state.

And on Monday, Republicans in the legislature rolled over for the governor, saying that they would do whatever he wished — even letting his office take the highly unusual step of drawing the map himself.

No, really: The legislature, after having its first proposed congressional map vetoed by DeSantis, was set to begin a special session next week to take another stab at the congressional districts.

But then, Republican leaders announced they would just do whatever DeSantis wanted.

“At this time, Legislative reapportionment staff is not drafting or producing a map for introduction during the Special Session,” the state Senate president and House speaker said in a memo.

“We are awaiting a communication from the Governor’s Office with a map that he will support. Our intention is to provide the Governor’s Office opportunities to present that information before House and Senate redistricting committees.”

So what does the governor want? He’s said it himself: The elimination of a plurality-Black district in North Florida.

If they had their way — and they will do everything to ensure that they get it — there would be no majority minority districts in the state at all because, well, you know how those people vote.

The new map will be challenged in court, which means that it will go to a federal court and work its way up to the Supreme Court where, with its 6-3 right-wing majority, will have the chance once and for all to finally overturn the last vestiges of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  And Ron DeSantis will be leading the charge as the named defendant in the lawsuit and he’ll wear that as a badge of honor as he runs for president of MAGA-world, proving once again that of course the country should be run by white Christian men.  God said so.

Meanwhile, back here in Florida, the districts that are already tilted for the GOP will still be in place in the 2022 and 2024 elections because the lawsuits will still be in court.  So DeSantis will have gotten what he wants without actually having to do anything.

Monday, April 11, 2022

You First

Gary Abernathy is a conservative columnist contributor to the Washington Post, and I make sure that I read — if not share — his columns because I believe in listening to what people with a different point of view might have to offer.

His most recent column is on tolerance, specifically that on culture-war issues, tolerance should be a two-way street.

We live in a world that by nature becomes more liberal with each generation. Conservatism serves to slow, never stop, the steady march to the left. Legal barriers to gay couples enjoying the same rights as their straight counterparts took generations to tear down, but they were always based primarily on religious doctrine and entrenched traditions more than logic or sound legal precepts. In a pluralistic society where religious beliefs are protected but not imposed, it was right that the barriers fell to the wayside.

By contrast, many of the progressive demands being made today are seen by conservatives not so much as a challenge to the old order as an assault on basic logic and common sense.

These are complicated topics with serious implications, and decency and mutual respect should guide us. Loving each other, even as we strongly disagree, is crucial to coexisting, and so tolerance is the better goal than some unattainable universal agreement.

I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment. Some of the demands by certain elements of the progressives are silly and self-defeating. But let’s take a step back and remember how it all got started in the first place.

A lot of the ginning up of angst and paranoia about civil rights was started as purely political fodder to advance the campaigns of certain candidates, most notably the Southern Strategy embraced by Richard Nixon in his run for the presidency in 1968: pitting the white patriarchy against the inevitable tide of racial equality.  The Republicans seized upon the passage of the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and 1965 as their cue to sweep up the Southern Democrats who were the remnants of Strom Thurmond’s Dixiecrats of 1948.

Nixon was never an original thinker, but he knew an opportunity when he saw it.  Ronald Reagan did much the same thing when he ran in 1980, pulling in the grifters of the Moral Majority who were scaring the crap out of their flock because The Village People were popular on the radio.  In each case it was never about the religious doctrine or entrenched traditions: it was all about the money and the power that came with it.

Today we have the poor man’s version of Thurmond, Nixon, and Reagan in the likes of Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who conveniently forgets that he was somehow elected the governor of all the people, not just those who voted for him.  He and others like him — Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas and senators such as Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and of course the AK down in Palm Beach — know that no one ever lost an election by exploiting the greed, fear, and paranoia of the electorate.  Pick out an issue, regardless of what it is or who it effects, find someone to blame for it, and then swear that you are the only one who can fix it, at least until the check clears.

We’ve lived through this for as long as there has been political discourse, and to a degree Mr. Abernathy is right that it doesn’t help when there’s shouting.  But let us also remember that the things he calls “culture-war issues” were started not by the people who were putting them out there but by the knee-jerk and over-the-top reaction by those who had no interest in discussing it but saw a way to make a buck off it.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Sunday Reading

The Legacy and the Debris — Amy Davidson Sorkin in The New Yorker on the aftermath of the confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Just before the Senate Judiciary Committee voted, this week, on Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court—one of the final hurdles before her confirmation by the full Senate, on Thursday—Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina, offered a personal reminiscence from the hearings. “I got an opportunity during one of the breaks to go up to her parents, and I told them that they clearly raised her right,” Tillis said. “They should be very proud.” Then he voted against her, after a multiday spectacle during which Republican senators portrayed Jackson as a “dangerous” judge engaged in an extremist mission to undermine public safety on behalf of child-sex offenders, terrorists, and shadowy moneyed figures on the far left. Indeed, Tillis’s admiration for parents who had reared such a purported threat to the Republic would be befuddling if the falsity of the attacks against her were not so evident. The real mystery is why the senator thought that he had the standing to offer Jackson’s parents anything other than an apology.

Ellery and Johnny Brown, two teachers who became, respectively, a high-school principal and a lawyer, raised a daughter who is now the first Black woman confirmed to the Supreme Court in its two-hundred-and-thirty-three-year history. (She will not be sworn in right away; Justice Stephen Breyer, whom she will succeed and for whom she once clerked, plans to serve until the end of the Court’s term this summer.) None of her achievements, from her Harvard degrees to her time as a federal public defender and a judge, is news to them. She is a highly qualified jurist who has the respect of liberal and conservative colleagues. Jackson and President Joe Biden watched together from the White House as the Senate voted, and their expressions as the ayes came in—the final tally was 53–47—conveyed joy and relief that the ugly part was over, at least for Jackson.

The rest of the country may not be so lucky. The manner in which the Republican Party’s elected leaders approached the confirmation—feverishly and recklessly, with little regard for the costs—offered a dispiriting prelude to how Congress may operate if, as seems all too possible, the G.O.P. takes control of either chamber, or both, in the midterm elections this fall. Republicans’ claims about Jackson’s sentencing in child-pornography cases were especially detached from reality: her record is well in the mainstream relative to that of other federal judges. In attempting to slander her, Republican senators may also have done damage in the broader area of criminal-justice reform, dismissing all notions of judicial discretion and proportionality, let alone rehabilitation. At times, they seemed more like a focus group testing Democrats-are-soft-on-crime campaign ads than like legislators providing advice or consent. At one point, Ted Cruz suggested that supporting Jackson was comparable to calling for the police to be abolished.

If some senators, such as Cruz and Josh Hawley, seemed especially eager to enmesh themselves in conspiracy theories (the concept that the Democratic Party is one big child-trafficking ring is a QAnon tenet), the attacks were a group effort. The hearings further erased the distinction between senior Republican members of the Judiciary Committee, such as Chuck Grassley, and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, who said that the three G.O.P. senators who voted to confirm Jackson—Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Mitt Romney—were “pro-pedophile.”

In a speech on the Senate floor the day before the confirmation vote, Tom Cotton, after a mini-rant about the sentencing issue, said, “Judge Jackson has also shown real interest in helping terrorists.” By this he meant that, as a federal public defender and, to a lesser extent, in private practice, she had worked on the cases of four men detained at Guantánamo Bay. None of them was ever put on trial. Cotton was particularly exercised that some of the briefs she filed on the men’s behalf contained allegations that they had been subjected to “American war crimes.” The crimes alleged were torture, something that the Senate itself has documented with regard to a number of Guantánamo detainees—raising the question of whether Cotton thinks that torture isn’t a crime, or if he believes that a lawyer who wants to be on the Supreme Court should pretend that such things never happen. Either position is perilous. Cotton continued, “The last Judge Jackson”—Robert H. Jackson—“left the Supreme Court to go to Nuremberg and prosecute the case against the Nazis. This Judge Jackson might have gone there to defend them.”

Gary Bass, a professor at Princeton who has written extensively on war crimes, observed that Cotton invoked Robert Jackson “understanding nothing about what he did at Nuremberg. Justice Jackson negotiated the rules which gave the Nazi defendants the right to defense counsel, and in his opening address emphasized that they would get ‘a fair opportunity to defend themselves.’ ” One of his most enduring opinions was his passionate dissent in the Korematsu case, from 1944, in which the Supreme Court, to its shame, effectively sanctioned the internment of Americans of Japanese descent. (The Court finally renounced the decision in 2018, when Donald Trump’s efforts to institute a “Muslim ban” made it newly relevant.) Robert Jackson called the internment “racial discrimination,” and warned of the danger of putting aside constitutional rights in the name of wartime exigency. It’s Ketanji Brown Jackson who is carrying on his legacy—not Cotton.

Some senators used the hearings to practice other electoral gambits, including those related to gender identity, a topic currently providing campaign fodder for Republicans such as Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis. Senator Marsha Blackburn asked Jackson to define “woman.” After the judge demurred—a reasonable move, given the biological and legal complexities—Blackburn and her colleagues practically exulted. Cruz asked Jackson how she could possibly rule on cases involving gender if she couldn’t “determine what a woman was.”

“Senator, I know that I am a woman,” Jackson told him. “I know that Senator Blackburn is a woman. And the woman I admire most in the world is in the room today—my mother.” It was an answer that reached not only back to her childhood but to Sojourner Truth’s declaration “Ain’t I a woman?” and forward to what, with any luck, will be decades on the Court. Amid all the partisan noise, Jackson had her own message. She knows who she is, and doesn’t need any senator to tell her.

Doonesbury — Getting the band back.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Toxic Mix

This is some scary stuff from the New York Times:

They opened with an invocation, summoning God’s “hedge of thorns and fire” to protect each person in the dark Phoenix parking lot.

They called for testimonies, passing the microphone to anyone with “inspirational words that they’d like to say on behalf of our J-6 political prisoners,” referring to people arrested in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, whom they were honoring a year later.

Then, holding candles dripping wax, the few dozen who were gathered lifted their voices, a cappella, in a song treasured by millions of believers who sing it on Sundays and know its words by heart:

Way maker, miracle worker, promise keeper
Light in the darkness, my God
That is who you are …

This was not a church service. It was worship for a new kind of congregation: a right-wing political movement powered by divine purpose, whose adherents find spiritual sustenance in political action.

The Christian right has been intertwined with American conservatism for decades, culminating in the Trump era. And elements of Christian culture have long been present at political rallies. But worship, a sacred act showing devotion to God expressed through movement, song or prayer, was largely reserved for church. Now, many believers are importing their worship of God, with all its intensity, emotion and ambitions, to their political life.

At events across the United States, it is not unusual for participants to describe encountering the divine and feel they are doing their part to install God’s kingdom on earth. For them, right-wing political activity itself is becoming a holy act.

These Christians are joining secular members of the right wing, including media-savvy opportunists and those touting disinformation. They represent a wide array of discontent, from opposing vaccine mandates to promoting election conspiracy theories. For many, pandemic restrictions that temporarily closed houses of worship accelerated their distrust of government and made churchgoing political.

Aligning political ambition with religious fervor has always ended in body counts, and in this instance you have fascism brewing with throwbacks to Huey Long and Father Coughlin.   (Hollywood has already given us previews of coming attractions: “Elmer Gantry,” “A Face in the Crowd” and “All The King’s Men.”)  Magnified by social media platforms that only Long and Coughlin could dream of in their day, we have the off-the-rack parallels with Trump and his shouters at Fox News, not to mention the rabble-rousing hucksters who don’t give a flying fuck about geopolitics or economics except to know how to grift and pluck the pigeons who will turn over their life savings to a Jesus-shouter quicker than some e-mail scammer from Nigeria.

Unlike another great film, “The Sting,” where the mark must never know that he’s been conned, the folks taken in by this movement will believe anything that the grifters will tell them and still back them even if they are busted and jailed.  The hardest thing to convince them of is that they were made a fool.  The con men know this and are relying on their fervent faith in superstition and wild conspiracies to see them through until the checks clear and they can get out of town.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Hungarian Goulash

I’m old enough to remember the American conservative movement was all about liberty, freedom, down with dictators and fluoridated water, and rah-rah America right-or-wrong.  It was annoying and often based in patriarchy and racism, but at least it was home-grown.

Now that’s changed.

April 5 (Reuters) – America’s most prominent conservative gathering, founded on ideals of personal liberty and limited government, convenes in Budapest next month to celebrate a European leader accused of undermining democracy and individual rights.

The May meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is seen by some Republicans as a test of how closely American conservatives are willing align themselves with a global movement of far-right, Russia-friendly strongmen embraced by former U.S. President Donald Trump.

The event’s keynote speaker is Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a longtime supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The European Union has accused Orban, who won re-election by a large margin on Sunday, of curbing media and judicial independence, enriching associates with public funds and recasting election laws to entrench his power.

Hungary joined in the EU sanctions imposed on Moscow in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But Orban has stopped short of criticizing Putin directly, barred weapons shipments through Hungary to neighboring Ukraine and opposed proposals for EU sanctions on Russian natural gas.

The Hungary meeting reflects a years-long push by CPAC’s organizers, the American Conservative Union (ACU), to promote Trump’s divisive brand of nationalist populism to foreign audiences. Last fall, a similar CPAC-branded meeting was held in Brazil, spotlighting Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right leader and Putin admirer.

A Trump spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. An Orban spokesperson called the EU’s criticism of him “politically-ideologically based” and part of a long-running “provocation campaign and witch hunt” by liberal elites.

The Hungary gathering spotlights an emerging split among Republicans. While some have grown more tolerant of Putin and other foreign leaders with authoritarian tendencies, others are alarmed at the association.

Anne Laurie at Balloon Juice has a good idea: change the locks before they come back.

I’m trying to imagine what the reaction would be on the right-wingers sites if a major PAC that supports the Democrats decided to hold a meeting in Havana in 1968 at the height of the Vietnam War; hang out with Fidel and the gang, smoke Cohibas and cruise the Malecon while discussing ways of supporting like-minded candidates back in the states.

Many U.S. conservatives have come to envy Orban’s use of government power to impose a conservative cultural agenda, said Kim Lane Scheppele, a Princeton University professor of sociology and international affairs who studies Hungarian politics. “Hungary has become, for the Trumpist Republicans, what Sweden used to be for the social democrats – it’s proof of concept,” Scheppele said.

Orban touts what he calls “illiberal democracy” and depicts himself as a Christian defender of European heritage. He uses anti-immigration policies to repel Muslim migrants and rejects liberal European positions on social issues, such as adoption by gay couples.

Sounds like a guy Ron DeSantis would love to emulate.

Not all conservatives are amused.  S.E. Cupp on Twitter:

This has been one of the most disorienting, insanity-driving, head-spinning evolutions of the Fox-right and far-right, among so many. To go from “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” to “Why should I hate Putin?” is truly a mind-f*ck.

But if you take a long view of the history of the American conservative movement, they’ve always harbored a secret lust for strong leaders with an authoritarian daddy’s-in-charge approach to governing: freedom means you can do whatever you want as long as I say so, and they’re always turned on by power… or the illusion of it.  That’s why they went hard for Trump’s “I alone can fix it” line, and probably were willing to accept the idea of dictatorship as long as it benefited them and kept the riff-raff — minorities, women, non-believers — in their place and out of sight.  So it’s not really a surprise that the Trumpists would gravitate to someone like Orban; he’s their kinda guy.

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Sunday Reading

The Looneys with the Fringe on the Top — Charles P. Pierce.

There is one sure way to know that the former president* and his apparently deathless enablers are getting worried, and that is that the tub-thumping about Hunter Biden and his laptop is getting louder and more frenzied.

On Monday, at a committee meeting, Rep. Matt Gaetz went bananas, waving around a flash drive that he said contained the contents of the famous laptop. He tried to get it entered into the record, only to be blocked by the chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler. Gaetz responded by leaping to the electric Twitter machine with a barbered video in which Nadler appears to allow the contents of the flash drive to be placed in the record. There is no reason to believe that the flash drive contains what Matt Gaetz says it does. There are two good reasons not to believe it: 1) there is no chain of evidence, and 2) Matt Gaetz’s lips are moving.

Fox News is running a clock on how many days the other networks have gone without mentioning this little diversionary vaudeville. All of their teevee superstars are on the case, as are most of their “contributors.” (Miranda Devine, another Aussie import at the New York Post, seems to be the point person in print.) So far, the more respectable press seems to be busy covering a ground war in Europe and the investigation into an actual coup over here. Laudable. However, you know what story has disappeared? Ginni Thomas’ cheerleading for the coup. Hell, her husband is back at the Supreme Court like nothing happened. Indeed, the Republicans in DC are going out of their way to tut-tut her past as irrelevant to the special committee’s mandate. From The Hill:

“Justice Thomas is a great American and an outstanding Justice. I have total confidence in his brilliance and impartiality in every aspect of the work of the Court,” [Mitch] McConnell said in a statement. [Kevin] McCarthy, during a press conference at a House GOP retreat, said that he didn’t think Thomas should recuse himself from future Jan. 6-related cases. “No, I think Justice Thomas could make his decisions like he’s made them every other time. It’s his decision based upon law,” McCarthy said. 

Even liberal hero Rep. Liz Cheney gets tender-hearted on this subject. From the New York Times:

In the Thomases, the committee is up against a couple that has deep networks of support across the conservative movement and Washington, including inside the committee. The panel’s Republican vice chairwoman, Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, has led the charge in holding Mr. Trump to account for his efforts to overturn the election, but has wanted to avoid any aggressive effort that, in her view, could unfairly target Justice Thomas, the senior member of the Supreme Court.

I’ve always believed that Cheney’s primary brief during her apparent apostasy is to pry the deadweight of Donald Trump off of the radical movement conservatism that made him not only possible, but inevitable, and through which Cheney came up as a legacy politician. At the hearing to hold Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino in contempt of Congress, Cheney seemed to take her opportunity to speak as a call to remind us what heroes some Republicans have been.

The committee has heard from many of these individuals, including Republicans appointed by President Trump to posts in the Department of Justice. Republicans who stood firm, who threatened to resign and refused to participate in efforts to corrupt the Department with the stolen election lies that led to January 6. We have heard from leading Republicans who also stood firm, who resisted pressure from the former president, and did their constitutional duty.

We have heard from Republicans who were serving in the Trump White House, including those who warned in advance that the president’s plans were unlawful. And those who tried to intervene with the president to get him to halt the violence when it erupted on January 6. In a time when many Republican members of Congress have abandoned their obligation to our Constitution and are putting politics above duty, each of the individuals I mentioned by contrast demonstrated a firm and unwavering commitment to this nation and to our constitutional republic.

Of course, Democratic politicians have been fighting this fight since the days when Liz Cheney was defending torturers. There are Democratic politicians who now advocate for the kind of voting-rights protections for which Liz Cheney will never vote, because the Republican Party in all its factions is dead-set on a nationwide strategy of voter suppression, and it’s more than halfway to its completion. They just have to get the deadweight off their necks so that it’s easier to get there.

By all accounts, Ginni Thomas, the wife of a Supreme Court justice, has imbibed deeply from the Well of the Crazy and gone back several times for a refill. When her text messages to the then-White House chief of staff were revealed, the most startling thing about them was Thomas’ apparent belief in fringe conspiracies and speculation straight from the wild and uncharted wastes of the Internet. For example:

“Watermarked ballots in over 12 states have been part of a huge Trump & military white hat sting operation in 12 key battleground states.”

“Biden crime family & ballot fraud co-conspirators (elected officials, bureaucrats, social media censorship mongers, fake stream media reporters, etc) are being arrested & detained for ballot fraud right now & over coming days, & will be living in barges off GITMO to face military tribunals for sedition.”

“The majority knows Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History.”

“Sounds like Sidney [Powell] and her team are getting inundated with evidence of fraud. Make a plan. Release the Kraken and save us from the left taking America down.”

All of this has precisely the same relation to reality as an accusation that Joe Biden is actually an illusion placed in our minds by the zookeepers on Talos IV. It is a banana-nut sundae of the mind. And somewhere between 25 and 40 percent of our fellow citizens believe this bafflegab either whole or in part, and they vote accordingly. And every Republican politician knows it, and they act accordingly.

Without the support of the far fringes of both the conservative worldview and, it should be said, of human cognition, the Republican Party has no natural mass constituency anymore. And that’s a situation that the party has spent decades fashioning. The “watermarked ballots” are no more real than were the lagoons of poisons that Colin Powell assured the UN were dotting the Iraqi landscape. The prison barges off Gitmo are no more real than Ronald Reagan’s welfare queens with their multiple identities and their Cadillacs. They’ve sold this bunkum—and succeeded politically while doing so—for decades. At this point, why wouldn’t the working assumption for any ambitious conservative politician be that the voters most critical to his success will believe any goddamn thing you tell them, so long as it paints Democrats as evil and minority citizens as freeloading thieves? Why wouldn’t our ambitious conservative politician lean heavily on the strategic use of projection to create an illusory version of what they were actually doing? Why wouldn’t Ginni Thomas believe what she believes?

There are days when I believe that the former president* is the only Republican politician who actually understands all of this. Without question, he is a natural liar and conman; both are essential skills for anyone in Manhattan real estate. That has enabled him to see the dangerously deranged conservative Republican mind as an opportunity rather than a threat. And, in a roundabout way, we have come back to Hunter Biden’s laptop, which has become a kind of totem for the conservative faith, one last station of the cross before which all must genuflect. In an interview this week, the former president* recited the current litany in all its paranoid glory. And he prayed once again for the intercession of Our Father, who art in the Kremlin.

“How is it that the mayor of Moscow, his wife gave the Biden family three and a half million dollars? I think Putin now would be willing to probably give that answer,” Trump said. “I’m sure he knows.”

It is possible that Vladimir Putin has gone, in the felicitous phrasing of the late George V. Higgins, as soft as church music in the splendid isolation of his Kremlin digs. The Ukraine debacle might be proof enough of that. But I think, no matter how deeply he has sunk into delusion, he must look at this country and think we’ve all gone around the bend.

Doonesbury — Drawing on the past.

Friday, April 1, 2022

Happy Friday

A federal judge has ruled that a lot of Florida’s Jim Crow 2.0 voting law is unconstitutional.

In a sweeping 288-page order declaring the right to vote “under siege,” U.S. District Judge Mark Walker on Thursday forbade lawmakers from passing future laws involving drop boxes, third-party voter registration or efforts to limit “line warming” activities at polling sites without the court’s approval for the next 10 years.

All three provisions were part of Senate Bill 90, passed by lawmakers and signed by DeSantis last year.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit has been filed in federal court challenging DeSantis’s “don’t say gay” law.

Three days after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the measure, LGBTQ-advocacy groups, parents, students and a teacher filed a federal lawsuit Thursday challenging a new law that includes barring instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in early school grades.

The lawsuit, filed in the federal Northern District of Florida, seeks to block Florida from moving forward with the law, which is set to take effect July 1. While DeSantis and Republican lawmakers titled the bill the “Parental Rights in Education,” critics dubbed it the “don’t say gay” bill.

DeSantis, the State Board of Education, the state Department of Education and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran are named as defendants, along with the school boards in Manatee, Sarasota, Miami-Dade, St. Johns and Jackson counties.

See you in court, Ron.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

These People Are Weird

It’s practically a cliché to say that when you read about some wingnut carrying on about something like banning books that mention gay parenting or Heather having two mommies, they’re really looking in the fun-house mirror.  So this latest bit of social commentary from this dude doesn’t surprise me in the least.

It takes a lot to get Republican members of Congress angry at one of their own. But Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) managed to do it, not just by being a uniquely repugnant figure, but also by claiming to reveal the dark underbelly of official Washington in a way that Republicans apparently found offensive.

What’s important is the particular tale Cawthorn offered. It shows how far-right systems of thought can boomerang on those who try to benefit from the political energies unleashed by them — while still maintaining distance from their sources to avoid getting too tainted.

Cawthorn told a podcast host that the “sexual perversion” in Washington is so rampant that even Republicans are involved. His fellow Republicans are aghast, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has vowed to discipline him.


At the far end, QAnon believers think Democratic leaders run a transnational pedophile ring. While “respectable” Republicans won’t say that, they will badger a Supreme Court nominee for hours about child pornography, in apparent awareness of how deep QAnon sentiments run within the GOP base.

But Cawthorn went too far when he responded to a question about whether the over-the-top melodrama “House of Cards” accurately depicted Washington:

The sexual perversion that goes on in Washington, I mean being kind of a young guy in Washington, where the average is probably 60 or 70. You look at all these people, a lot of them that I’ve looked up to through my life, I’ve always paid attention to politics … Then all of a sudden you get invited to, “Well hey, we’re going to have kind of a sexual get-together at one of our homes, you should come.” What did you just ask me to come to? And then you realize they’re asking you to come to an orgy. Or the fact that some of the people leading on the movement to try and remove addiction in our country, and then you watch them do a key bump of cocaine right in front of you.

While we can’t prove Cawthorn made this up, let’s just say the idea that he’s being invited to orgies by lawmakers in their 60s and 70s strains credulity. And Cawthorn’s long history of making up stories is precisely what turned him into a right-wing superstar.

True or not, Politico reports that at a meeting of GOP representatives, many were angered with Cawthorn for portraying his own colleagues as “bacchanalian and sexual deviants.” One complained that he’s fielding questions about orgies from constituents.

So when the nutjobs support overturning the government to keep their creepy authoritarian former guy in office and have no problem rigging the laws in various states to ensure that only the right people get elected, you hear nothing but crickets.  But they get their collective tits in an uproar about some wacky story about “orgies” involving old white guys?

Dr. Freud, you’re back in business.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Here Comes The Judge

From the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — A federal judge ruled on Monday that former President Donald J. Trump and a lawyer who had advised him on how to overturn the 2020 election most likely had committed felonies, including obstructing the work of Congress and conspiring to defraud the United States.

The judge’s comments in the civil case of the lawyer, John Eastman, marked a significant breakthrough for the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The committee, which is weighing making a criminal referral to the Justice Department, had used a filing in the case to lay out the crimes it believed Mr. Trump might have committed.

Mr. Trump has not been charged with any crime, and the judge’s ruling had no immediate, practical legal effect on him. But it essentially ratified the committee’s argument that Mr. Trump’s efforts to block Congress from certifying Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s Electoral College victory could well rise to the level of a criminal conspiracy.

“The illegality of the plan was obvious,” wrote Judge David O. Carter of the Central District of California. “Our nation was founded on the peaceful transition of power, epitomized by George Washington laying down his sword to make way for democratic elections. Ignoring this history, President Trump vigorously campaigned for the vice president to single-handedly determine the results of the 2020 election.”

The actions taken by Mr. Trump and Mr. Eastman, Judge Carter found, amounted to “a coup in search of a legal theory.”

The Justice Department has been conducting a wide-ranging investigation of the Capitol assault but has given no public indication that it is considering a criminal case against Mr. Trump. A criminal referral from the House committee could increase pressure on Attorney General Merrick B. Garland to do so.

The judge’s ruling came as the committee was barreling ahead with its investigation. This week alone, people familiar with the investigation said, the panel has lined up testimony from four top Trump White House officials, including Jared Kushner, the former president’s son-in-law and adviser, whose interview was scheduled for Thursday.

The committee also voted 9 to 0 on Monday night to recommend criminal contempt of Congress charges against two other allies of Mr. Trump — Peter Navarro, a former White House adviser, and Dan Scavino Jr., a former deputy chief of staff — for their participation in efforts to overturn the 2020 election and their subsequent refusal to comply with the panel’s subpoenas. The matter now moves to the Rules Committee, then the full House. If it passes there, the Justice Department will decide whether to charge the men. A contempt of Congress charge carries a penalty of up to a year in jail.

I’d like to think that this matters, but when “Morning Joe” leads off with headlines about Will Smith and Chris Rock, I don’t think the public is paying attention.

In a way, it’s understandable.  The ruling came from a civil court regarding whether or not John Eastman had to turn over documents to the House committee investigating the insurrection, so his opinion on criminal matters are tangential to the case.  But as the article noted, this puts pressure on the Justice Department to consider criminal charges.

There’s a chorus of folks who think that Attorney General Merrick Garland isn’t doing enough to bring Trump and his minions to justice.  At least they’re not hinting that they’re doing anything.  But unlike some prior administrations, this DOJ seems pretty leak-proof, and the House Committee is moving along at a legal pace that may frustrate those who expect the episode to wrap up in an hour including commercials.  And even if the Republicans take over Congress in November and disband the committee, they will have referred their materials and evidence to the DOJ, and they’re not going anywhere just yet.

Waiting this out may be maddening, especially those of us who would love to see a frog-march across the lawn at Mar-a-lago.  But haste can screw things up; they need to make the case solid enough to stand up to whomever is on the next team of lawyers that draw the short straw to defend Trump.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Sunday Reading

She Made It Through — Amy Davidson Sorkin in The New Yorker.

It was Wednesday, the third day of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearings for a seat on the Supreme Court, and Senator Ted Cruz had finally run out of time. Each member of the Judiciary Committee had been given a ten-minute opening statement, a half hour to ask questions in a first round, and twenty minutes more in a second. (Since there are twenty-two committee members, that added up to a marathon.) Cruz had used his time to wave in the air children’s books on a reading list at the private school that one of Jackson’s daughters attends, and where the judge sits on the board, demanding to know whether she thinks “that babies are racist”; asking her to speculate about whether he could sue Harvard if he were to “decide I was an Asian man”; and, most of all, to claim that he had discerned a disturbing “pattern” in the sentences that Jackson had handed down, as a federal judge, in cases involving child pornography. He had brought a chart, with several of the cases listed, on which he made various calculations. He wasn’t getting anywhere—perhaps because Jackson’s sentencing record is not, in fact, radical or outside the mainstream, and also because she had done a good job of standing up to him—but that didn’t stop his hectoring.

That was the situation when Senator Dick Durbin, the committee chair, banged his gavel. Cruz gestured as if to wave him away, and demanded more time. “I know you don’t like this line of questioning,” he said. Durbin answered, “I just want you to play by the rules.” He tried to recognize Senator Chris Coons, but Cruz kept at it—“You can bang it as loud as you want!”—with each sentence he directed at Durbin seeming to move to a more accusatory, more conspiratorial, and more irresponsible level: “You don’t want her to answer that question?”; “Why do you not want the American people to know what happened in the Stewart case, or any of these cases?”; and “Apparently, you are very afraid of the American people hearing the answer to that question.”

Tell Ted Cruz to be quiet and he’ll insinuate that you’re part of a scheme to hide the truth about the sexual abuse of children from the American public. As it happens, that is one of the key themes in the QAnon family of conspiracy theories, as Cruz and his fellow-Republicans certainly know. Similarly, they know what they are doing in trying to paint Jackson, who would be the first Black woman on the Court, as someone whose sympathies and loyalties are with criminals, not victims—and who perhaps has some hidden agenda regarding the exploitation of children. There has always been something off-putting, to say the least, about Cruz’s self-important approach to peddling muck, but his performance at the Jackson hearings was sordid even by his standards. (He blithely recited descriptions of the materials in the various cases, for example “sadomasochistic images of infants and toddlers.”) And he was not alone: Senator Josh Hawley had taken an early lead in hyping the question of Jackson’s child-pornography sentencing record, and the Republican senators on the committee jumped in, with most at least referring to that concocted issue.

Cruz and Hawley are both potential 2024 G.O.P. Presidential contenders; the fact that they see this line of attack as an opportunity says something about the current market of ideas in their party. Senator Mitt Romney (who is not on the committee) said, of Hawley’s charge, “There’s no there there.” This doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll vote for Jackson—he opposed her the last time she was confirmed, for the D.C. Circuit. She will likely be confirmed again, but perhaps without a single Republican vote, requiring Vice-President Kamala Harris’s vote as a tiebreaker.

The issue of child-pornography sentences is ripe for bad-faith partisan exploitation for several reasons. It is hard to talk about, or perhaps too easy to speak about demagogically—as when Senator Lindsey Graham, in the hearing, interrupted Jackson to say that he’d be happy to see anybody caught looking at any quantity of child pornography on a computer sent to prison for fifty years—and added, in reference to that criminal behavior itself, “You don’t think that’s a bad thing.” (She noted that, of course, she thinks it’s a horrible thing; she also noted that each of the perpetrators they’d been talking about was someone whom “I sent to jail.”) When Jackson noted that the tools judges have when sentencing include supervised release, Graham expressed amazement that she would think such a measure was “a bigger deterrent . . . versus putting them in jail.” “No, Senator, I didn’t say ‘versus,’ ” Jackson said. “That’s exactly what you said!” Graham responded. (It is not what she said.)

Graham had prefaced his questioning on Wednesday with an outburst that he said was provoked, oddly enough, by an encounter with Representative Al Green, the Democrat from Texas, who had come to observe. Green had apparently told Graham that he thought an exchange between Jackson and Senator Patrick Leahy that morning had been powerful. (Jackson, who is fifty-one, reflected on the contrast between the constraints that her parents had faced and the opportunities that had been open to her, the “lucky inheritor of the civil-rights dream.” Leahy, who is eighty-one, spoke about how proud he had been the first time he’d voted for a Justice—John Paul Stevens, in 1975—and about how proud he was now, listening to her.) Something about it all didn’t sit well with Graham. And so, with Jackson before him, he mentioned Representative Green’s comment, then demanded to know where Green had been in 2003, when Democrats filibustered the nomination of a conservative Black woman named Janice Rogers Brown to a lower court. (She was eventually confirmed.) “We’re not going to live in an America like that any longer,” he said. It wasn’t quite clear what he was trying to say, although he referred elsewhere to what he portrayed as Democratic excesses in the confirmation hearings for Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. Mostly, Graham projected a skittish, blinkered notion that Jackson was somehow interchangeable with Janice Rogers Brown. He added—absurdly, given his own approach—“If you’re a person of color, a woman, supported by liberals, it’s pretty easy sailing.” Throughout, Graham, too, interrupted Jackson and cut her off. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Leahy told reporters afterward. He said that he didn’t know what Graham’s “political motivation” might be, “but to see the badgering of this woman as she’s trying to testify, I thought, was outrageous.”

Other Republicans also seemed to view Jackson as a convenient focus for their grievances. Marsha Blackburn, of Tennessee, said that the judge had “attacked pro-life women.” The inaccurate basis for this was a brief that Jackson had worked on, while in private practice, regarding a “buffer zone” around an abortion clinic, which described the protesters confronting patients—not pro-life women in general—as “a hostile, noisy crowd.” “When you go to church, and knowing there are pro-life women there, do you look at them, thinking of them in that way, that they’re noisy, hostile, in-your-face?” Blackburn asked. “Do you think of pro-life women like me that way?” (Jackson said she did not.) As expected, Jackson declined to explain her own position on reproductive rights, given that the issue is currently before the Court. (Indeed, there is a good chance that Roe v. Wade will be overturned by the time she takes her seat on the bench.)

Senators raised a range of issues, including the question of increasing the size of the Court, which Jackson declined to comment on, but the hearings kept returning to sentencing in child-pornography cases, at times because the Democrats wanted to give her room to address the questions without interruptions and innuendo. More than once, Jackson reminded the senators of the “horrific” nature of such cases, how much care she had taken with them, and how hard it was that doing her job meant she had to actually look at the images. She mentioned how she often thought of one victim who suffered from agoraphobia: she was afraid to go outdoors, fearing that people she encountered might have seen her at her most vulnerable. Jackson has several relatives who have worked in law enforcement, including her brother, and she drew on their experience, too. She took on the task of explaining why most federal judges impose sentences in these cases that, on paper, are below the federal sentencing guidelines for child-pornography crimes. The guidelines are badly outdated; to take one example, they were written before computers became the usual venue for transmitting pornography, and thus treat a computer as the sort of aggravating factor associated with extreme cases. Just following one formula can result in outcomes in which the worst crimes don’t get the worst sentences. Congress itself, she reminded the senators, had directed judges to consider other factors, including proportionality, and she had. (“This is our fault?” Graham said.) The perpetrator in one case before her was eighteen years old. Of course, the idea that there might be any gradations of severity—or even gray areas—is alien to today’s Washington. But as Jackson put it, in a strong riposte to Hawley, “Judges are doing the work.”

There seemed to be a lack of comprehension on the Republican side about the possible human costs of their hearing strategy. Ten of the Republicans on the committee—all except Senator Ben Sasse—signed a letter that Cruz organized, asking that they be given access to confidential pre-sentencing reports in the child-pornography cases, documents that can contain highly personal information about not only the perpetrators but the victims and their family members, and whose release could do real damage. “I would not want it weighing on my conscience,” Durbin said. “It’s gone way too far.”

Jackson, if she is confirmed, will be the only Justice other than Sotomayor with any experience as a federal trial-court judge. She has other kinds of experience, too, notably as a federal public defender. In that role, she assisted four Guantánamo Bay detainees in filing habeas-corpus petitions—a fact that put both Graham and Senator Tom Cotton into a near frenzy. Graham had ended his first round of questioning, on Tuesday, by storming off in a fit of pique at what he seemed to perceive as a general lack of support for the indefinite, eternal detention of “enemy combatants” on the basis of secret evidence. Cotton—who, in his first round, had demanded to know whether Jackson supported catching “more murderers or fewer murderers”—asked, on Wednesday, if she thought that the country would be more or less safe if all the Guantánamo detainees were released. As Cotton likely knows, of the some seven hundred and eighty people who have passed through the prison, thirty-eight remain; only twelve of these have been charged, and only two have been convicted. Guantánamo has been a failure, legally, practically, and morally. Another contretemps in the hearings came when Senator John Cornyn said that Jackson had called President George W. Bush and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld “war criminals”; in fact, they were named as respondents by virtue of their jobs in a petition that she filed on behalf of one of her clients, alleging that he had been tortured in U.S. custody, as some prisoners were. (After President Barack Obama’s Inauguration, he became the named respondent.) The proceedings against the five men charged in the 9/11 attacks (none of whom were Jackson’s clients), who have been in custody for more than fifteen years, have stalled. Earlier this month, Carol Rosenberg and Charlie Savage, of the Times, reported that plea-deal talks are under way.

Jackson had begun to explain some of that history, but when Cotton interrupted to press his point she agreed that it would be safer to have fewer “terrorists out running around attacking our country—absolutely.” She added, “America would also be more safe in a situation in which all of our constitutional rights are protected. This is the way our scheme works. This is the way that the Constitution that we all love operates. It’s about making sure that the government is doing what it’s supposed to do in a time of crisis.” Her Guantánamo work is a prime example of how experiences that may have left her exposed in confirmation hearings will help to equip her as a Justice.

Confirmation hearings are often said to be shadow plays in which nominees concentrate on giving noncommittal answers. The haranguing, besmirching, and condescension directed at Jackson called for something more. The various moments when she seemed to decide that she was not going to let herself be bullied were fascinating to watch. Facing Cruz, she didn’t just dodge his questioning. She firmly, calmy, smartly pushed him away, rhetorically speaking. (Interestingly, the two of them overlapped on the Harvard Law Review; Jackson, who is a member of Harvard’s Board of Overseers, said that, if confirmed, she planned to recuse herself from a case involving affirmative action and the university.) She took the opportunity to show who both she and Cruz are. And yet, the experience must have been rough.

Enter Senator Cory Booker, who represents New Jersey but seemed, at this grim juncture—he spoke after Cotton—to have hailed from a magical land of cheer. He reminded Jackson that even National Review had called Hawley’s sentencing attacks baseless “demagoguery”; he held up a letter from a victims’ group in support of her; he listed the police organizations that had endorsed her. He reminded her that the real world was outside the committee room and, he said, “I’m not letting anybody in the Senate steal my joy.” In a fugue-like emotional soliloquy, he reminded her of the victories at every stage of her life, about her family and what her presence on the Court would mean for Black women, with notes mixed in about Beyoncé, Venus Williams, Ginger Rogers, Irish and Chinese immigrants, Stonewall, “my ancestors and yours,” love, astronauts, and Harriet Tubman looking for the North Star in the sky. He told Jackson, “Today, you are my star.” When he finished, she still had five more senators to hear from. She made it through.

Doonesbury — I’ve wondered about that, too.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Run Roughshod

Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post was not impressed by the hapless response by the media and Democrats to the behavior of Republican bullies.

The only thing more stunning than the off-the-rails Republican badgering and constant interrupting of Ketanji Brown Jackson at her Supreme Court confirmation hearing on Wednesday was the utterly inaccurate and inapt media coverage. “Tense.” “Heated.” “Confrontational.” “Tough.” Was that really the proper way to describe the hearings?

From much of the mealy-mouthed coverage of the circus, one would have a hard time guessing that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) angrily interrupted Jackson over and over again and shouted over hapless Senate Judiciary Chairman Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) as he lamely pleaded, “at some point you have to follow the rules.” (Was he not responsible for enforcing those rules?)

Similarly, from the media descriptions, one might not have understood the extent of the nonstop bullying from Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and his disgusting accusation that Jackson, a mother of two and circuit court judge, did not think child pornography was a “bad thing.” And one might have never imagined that Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) plowed over the same debunked allegations about her being “soft” on child pornography defendants. Jackson, after hearing the same disingenuous questions repeatedly, eventually resorted to saying that she stood by her prior answers.

How is it that the first Black woman nominated to the Supreme Court was treated so shabbily? Let’s first dispense with the typical whataboutisms from Republicans. Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett M. Kavanaugh, during their confirmation hearings, were given the chance to answer questions without persistent interruptions. (And it was Kavanaugh who lost his cool, not the Democrats questioning him.)

Let’s also acknowledge the obvious: Cruz, Hawley and other Republicans operate as content providers for right-wing media, generating clips designed to upset and anger the MAGA base. They are competing to be the most aggressive in anticipation of possible presidential runs.

The rage machine exists because “normal” Republicans do not put an end to it. What if, for example, more than a couple Republicans denounced the mockery their colleagues made of a serious process? What if they acknowledged that Jackson is eminently qualified and voted for her?

It is not the fault of Republicans alone. Durbin failed to enforce the Senate Judiciary Committee’s rules, allowing members to constantly badger Jackson. While tough questioning is entirely appropriate, the obnoxious manner and utter irrelevance of topics (Cruz harped on a schoolbook on racism in an attempt to pull Jackson into an utterly inappropriate debate on critical race theory) suggested the judge was not entitled to the same level of courtesy and respect shown to other nominees.

Rather than intervene, Democrats on the committee went on with their prepared list of questions. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) made a strong objection, but outside the hearing room where most Americans would not hear it. “You had a Republican member who went way over the time allotted to him, ignored the rules of the committee, badgered the nominee, would not even let her answer the questions,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like that. I’ve been here 48 years.”

Not until Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), the only African American on the committee, spoke did Republicans get their deserved pushback. He excoriated Hawley for his misleading line of questioning, reading from a National Review column that deemed his allegations “meritless to the point of demagoguery.” To Jackson, he said, “You have sat with grit and grace” and stressed that her “joy” would not be taken away from her. “God has got you!” His sermon-like tribute brought tears to her eyes, a rare show of emotion on her part.

The media might be able to curtail such haranguing if they accurately described what had happened. For reasons that confound me, reporters often play down the extraordinarily obnoxious behavior of Republicans, instead casting it as the normal back-and-forth nominees encounter. The refusal to call out Republicans for departing the bounds of civilized conduct allows the MAGA crowd pleasers to escape the judgment of average people who might be offended by their conduct.

The media in particular fails to convey the visual image of angry White men screaming and interrupting a Black woman, who dares not show anger for fear of being labeled unprofessional or lacking the correct temperament. Combined with the insinuations about her “softness” on child pornography and the hysterics on critical race theory, the aggression barely masked the Republican outpouring of White grievance.

It behooves Republicans who do not approve of this travesty to speak up. Meanwhile, Democrats should use their majority position to put an end to such conduct (cut off Republicans’ microphones or conclude the hearing until they act appropriately), and the media should not provide camouflage for it. The refusal to afford a historic nominee with respect she deserves and to denounce baseless accusations speaks volumes about our collective failure, still, to reckon with the original sin of racism.

Fun fact: Sen. Ted Cruz, who cared on about “critical race theory,” the 1619 Project and books about gender identity like a banshee in heat, sends his daughters to a school in Houston where those books are on the shelves of the library and are part of the curriculum. Hypocrisy much?

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Send In The Clowns

Yesterday would have been Stephen Sondheim’s 92nd birthday, so it’s appropriate that the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee sent in the clowns.

The demagogue doubled down.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), the insurrectionist lawmaker who voted to overturn the 2020 election results and pumped a fist in solidarity with those rallying outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, last week launched a scurrilous attack against Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson. “I’ve noticed an alarming pattern when it comes to Judge Jackson’s treatment of sex offenders, especially those preying on children,” he said of the mother of two daughters, accusing her of “a pattern of letting child porn offenders off the hook for their appalling crimes.”

The accusations were discredited as out of context and misleading. Denunciations rained on Hawley, including on Sunday in National Review from conservative legal writer Andrew C. McCarthy, who opposes Jackson but said Hawley’s “allegation appears meritless to the point of demagoguery.”

So what did Hawley do next? With the klieg lights on him at Monday’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he repeated the discredited allegation — even using as examples the same seven cases he cited before. “In each of these seven, Judge Jackson handed down a lenient sentence that was below what the federal guidelines recommended and below what prosecutors requested,” he said.

Once again, he left out the all-important details that Jackson followed the probation office’s sentencing recommendations in five of the seven cases — and that, in the United States overall, only 30 percent of sentences in such child pornography cases are within “federal guidelines.”

Jackson is within the mainstream of judicial behavior. In portraying her as having a soft spot for sex offenders “preying on children,” Hawley is outside the mainstream of honorable behavior.

The pedophilia smear put the lie to Republicans’ assurances that they would conduct the hearings with dignity.

“We won’t try to turn this into a spectacle,” proposed Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), the committee’s ranking Republican.

“It won’t be a circus,” promised Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.).

Even Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), a regular ringmaster, said “this will not be a political circus.”

Then the clown car rolled in. Republicans used their opening statements to portray Jackson, the first Black woman nominated to the high court, as not just a pedophile enabler but also a terrorist sympathizer with a “hidden agenda” to indoctrinate Americans with the “racist vitriol” of critical race theory.

The Republicans on the panel piously announced they would not have a repeat of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation, during which he was accused of past sexual impropriety. Instead, they hit Jackson with factual impropriety.

Just one minute into the first remarks by a Republican on Monday, Grassley congratulated Republicans in the audience for their civility. “We’re off to a very good start. Unlike the start to the Kavanaugh hearings, we didn’t have repeated, choreographed interruptions. … Democrats interrupted me for more than an hour during my opening statement.”

Graham echoed that, during the Kavanaugh hearings, “Chairman Grassley couldn’t get the first word out of his mouth before they shut down the place. … I hope that doesn’t happen.”

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) agreed that “it’s at least good that this one got kicked off without a bunch of yokels having to be arrested and carried from the room.”

There was a good reason for that: As the senators surely knew, the Jackson confirmation hearing is entirely closed to the public. There are only 26 seats for the press (one-third the usual number) and 60 for senators’ personal guests.

The only yokels in the hearing room were on the dais.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) scolded Jackson, a former public defender, for the way she represented “people who have committed terrorist acts against the United States,” saying her “zealous advocacy has gone beyond the pale.”

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) seemed to be trying to associate the nominee with a host of evils in an inchoate tirade about “anarchists, rioters and left-wing street militias,” the “breakdown of society,” and “Soros prosecutors” who “destroy our criminal justice system from within.”

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), the final Republican to speak, accused Jackson of providing “free legal services to help terrorists get out of Gitmo and go back to the fight,” supporting “the radical left’s attempt to pack the Supreme Court” and harboring a “hidden agenda … to let violent criminals, cop killers and child predators back to the streets.”

As the Republican National Committee sent out multiple press releases during the hearing trying to tie Jackson to the phantom menace of critical race theory, Blackburn suggested that the Black nominee sees the United States as a “fundamentally racist country” and has a “personal hidden agenda to incorporate critical race theory into our legal system.”

Republicans were right. When you mix race-baiting with slanderous accusations about terrorists and pedophiles, it’s not a circus. It’s an auto-da-fé.

Don’t bother, they’re here.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Questions For Judge Jackson

The Republicans, like lazy lions on the savanna, are lying in wait for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson at her confirmation hearings starting this week.

In the weeks since the White House launched its full-court offensive on Capitol Hill to get Jackson confirmed, Republicans have struggled to land an attack on Jackson, who even the Senate GOP leader has said will probably be confirmed. Interviews with more than a dozen Republican senators, aides and advisers involved in the nomination fight make it clear that Republicans are largely pursuing their own individual strategies ahead of the hearing, with no overarching theme.

Firebrands such as Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) will be in high dudgeon about her career as a public defender despite the fact that the Constitution guarantees all defendants the right to counsel. Well, yeah, that’s what the law says, but did she have to be so competent?

George F. Will, who imagines himself as a latter-day William F. Buckley and providing polite cover for racists and patriarchy, has questions for her, too, about things like affirmative action and laws that pointedly discriminated against minorities, and then gets down to the really important question:

James Madison said the powers delegated by the Constitution to the federal government “are few and defined.” If, however, Congress “finds” that broccoli enhances public health, and that health has a “substantial effect” on interstate commerce, may Congress constitutionally mandate buying broccoli? If not, why not?

Oh, George, you’re so clever.

I have a question for these folks: Did you ask these questions of Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Comey Barrett? If not, why not?

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