You’ve seen clips on TV, but you should watch the whole thing.
Thursday, March 18, 2021
Thursday, March 4, 2021
Dr. Seuss isn’t being censored. His estate and rights holder is withdrawing six of his books from publication because times have changed since they were originally published.
It’s censorship when someone else does it. It’s “cancel culture” when people shame others for noting that the images in those old books are racist.
Thursday, November 5, 2020
It has been a bit of a trope, especially during the last few months of the presidential campaign, to hear people say something along the lines of “we can disagree without being disagreeable,” as if the differences between their candidate and yours is merely a matter of policy differences or which fork to use for dessert. Yes, there are some issues where we can come to a point of “toe-may-toe” vs. “toe-mah-toe,” but as my friend and playwright Scott Sickles noted, it comes down to more than just unfriending someone on social media.
Democrats are going to be criticized for wanting people who voted for the incumbent president out of their lives.
A friend made this declaration and got criticized for his intolerance to non-Biden voters, to which I sardonically responded, “How dare you not accept people who empower those who try to destroy you?”
One of his critics posed the question, “Disagreeing with people is trying to destroy them?”
This afforded me the chance to clarify. I replied:
“No. this has nothing to do with disagreeing with people.
This has to do with people taking action through voting or exercising power given to them by voters… to destroy people.
People trying to take the rights away from others and make it so their marriages are invalidated; denying those people the right to adopt or maintain custody of children, purchase a home or keep their jobs because of who they are; allowing police to kill Blacks and others with impunity while they’re protesting, talking on the phone, or sleeping in their beds; supporting white supremacist agendas; taking away access to health care that’s keeping people alive; withholding information about a pandemic while spreading misinformation about how dangerous it is; disenfranchising voters by administratively sabotaging the postal service; betraying our allies abroad by leaving them defenseless at the hands of dictators; separating children from their families at the border which Obama never did (those children were unaccompanied minors meaning they were already separated and crossed the border without an adult); basically denying the humanity of anyone not straight, white and allegedly Christian… THAT’S destroying people.
It’s not about you disagreeing with me. It’s about you supporting people in power who are trying to dehumanize and disenfranchise people because they’re not like you.
My rights aren’t here for you to disagree with.”
Amen. Or, as we say in theatre, END OF PLAY.
Sunday, October 18, 2020
Say Freedom — Michael Tomasky in the New York Times.
Donald Trump is now back on the road, holding rallies in battleground states. These events, with people behind the president wearing masks but most others not, look awfully irresponsible to most of us — some polls show that as many as 92 percent of Americans typically wear masks when they go out.
Trumpworld sees these things differently. Mike Pence articulated the view in the vice-presidential debate. “We’re about freedom and respecting the freedom of the American people,” Mr. Pence said. The topic at hand was the Sept. 26 super-spreader event in the Rose Garden to introduce Amy Coney Barrett as the president’s nominee for the Supreme Court and how the administration can expect Americans to follow safety guidelines that it has often ignored.
Kamala Harris countered that lying to the American people about the severity of the virus hardly counts as “respect.”
It was a pretty good riposte, but she fixed on the wrong word. She could have delivered a far more devastating response if she’d focused on the right word, one that the Democrats have not employed over the past several months.
The word I mean is “freedom.” One of the key authors of the Western concept of freedom is John Stuart Mill. In “On Liberty,” he wrote that liberty (or freedom) means “doing as we like, subject to such consequences as may follow, without impediment from our fellow creatures, as long as what we do does not harm them even though they should think our conduct foolish, perverse or wrong.”
Note the clause “as long as what we do does not harm them.” He tossed that in there almost as a given — indeed, it is a given. This is a standard definition of freedom, more colloquially expressed in the adage “Your freedom to do as you please with your fist ends where my jaw begins.”
Now, conservatives revere Mill. But today, in the age of the pandemic, Mill and other conservative heroes like John Locke would be aghast at the way the American right wing bandies about the word “freedom.”
Freedom emphatically does not include the freedom to get someone else sick. It does not include the freedom to refuse to wear a mask in the grocery store, sneeze on someone in the produce section and give him the virus. That’s not freedom for the person who is sneezed upon. For that person, the first person’s “freedom” means chains — potential illness and even perhaps a death sentence. No society can function on that definition of freedom.
Joe Biden does a pretty good job of talking about this. At a recent town hall in Miami, he said: “I view wearing this mask not so much protecting me, but as a patriotic responsibility. All the tough guys say, ‘Oh, I’m not wearing a mask, I’m not afraid.’ Well, be afraid for your husband, your wife, your son, your daughter, your neighbor, your co-worker. That’s who you’re protecting having this mask on, and it should be viewed as a patriotic duty, to protect those around you.”
That’s good, but it could be much better if he directly rebutted this insane definition of freedom that today’s right wing employs.
There are certain words in our political lexicon that “belong” to this side or the other. “Fairness” is a liberal word. You rarely hear conservatives talking about fairness. “Growth” is mostly a conservative word, sometimes the functional opposite of fairness in popular economic discourse, although liberals use it too, but often with a qualifier (“balanced” or “equitable” growth, for example).
“Freedom” belongs almost wholly to the right. They talk about it incessantly and insist on a link between economic freedom and political freedom, positing that the latter is impossible without the former. This was an animating principle of conservative economists in the 20th century like Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman.
It’s manifest silliness. To be sure, when they were writing, it was true of a place like the Soviet Union. But it is not true of Western democracies. If they were correct, the Scandinavian nations, statist on economic questions, would have jails filled with political prisoners. If they were correct, advanced democratic countries that elected left-leaning governments would experience a simultaneous crushing of political freedom. History shows little to no incidence of this.
And yet, the broad left in America has let all this go unchallenged for decades, to the point that today’s right wing — and it is important to call it that and not conservative, which it is not — can defend spreading disease, potentially killing other people, as freedom. It is madness.
One thing Democrats in general aren’t very good at is defending their positions on the level of philosophical principle. This has happened because they’ve been on the philosophical defensive since Ronald Reagan came along. Well, it’s high time they played some philosophical offense, especially on an issue, wearing masks, on which every poll shows broad majorities supporting their view.
Say this: Freedom means the freedom not to get infected by the idiot who refuses to mask up. Even John Stuart Mill would have agreed.
Extreme Restraint — Amy Davidson Sorkin in The New Yorker.
On the second day of Amy Coney Barrett’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for a seat on the Supreme Court, she and Cory Booker had an exchange that indicated that both the Court and the country are nearing a precarious point. Did she believe, Booker asked, that “every President should make a commitment, unequivocally and resolutely, to the peaceful transfer of power?” Barrett raised her eyebrows, and chose her words carefully. “Well, Senator, that seems to me to be pulling me in a little bit into this question of whether the President has said that he would not peacefully leave office,” she said. “And so, to the extent that this is a political controversy right now, as a judge, I want to stay out of it and I don’t want to express a view.”
A President should absolutely make such a commitment; it’s in the job description. Yet, even when Booker reminded Barrett, who has described herself as an originalist and a textualist, of the importance of the peaceful transition of power to the Founders, the most she would allow was that America had been lucky that “disappointed voters” had always accepted election results. To say that a disappointed President might have an obligation to do so was apparently too far for her to go. What Barrett did offer was a study in the extent to which not giving an answer can be an expression of extremism. Her demurrals were more, even, than those of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, in their hearings, a measure of how thoroughly President Trump has moved the margins of our political culture.
It’s no surprise that the hearings would be characterized by some level of evasiveness: no nominee, particularly these days, wants to say something that will rally the opposition. Barrett, as a member of Notre Dame’s University Faculty for Life, had signed an ad that called Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision affirming a woman’s reproductive rights, “infamous.” But, in the hearings, she asserted that she really couldn’t say what her position on Roe might be—the decision was controversial, and a case that threatened to overturn it might someday come before her. She attributed the principle that nominees should not comment on potential cases to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But that principle doesn’t mean that the confirmation process should be a charade of non-answers; Ginsburg, in her own hearings, in 1993, acknowledged that she was pro-choice.
Barrett’s hearings weren’t just the latest reminder that the tiresome confirmation process is due for an overhaul; there were two novel, and alarming, aspects of the evasions in her testimony. The first was how many established principles she considers to be still open to debate. When Kamala Harris pressed her on the reality of climate change, and its consequences, Barrett protested that the Senator was “eliciting an opinion from me that is on a very contentious matter of public debate,” adding, “and I will not do that.” More startling, Barrett seemed to suggest that core elements of our electoral democracy are up for grabs. Dianne Feinstein asked her if the Constitution gives the President the power “to unilaterally delay a general election.” The answer is no, but Barrett replied that she didn’t want to give “off-the-cuff answers”—that would make her a “legal pundit.”
The scenarios that Barrett declined to address were not wild hypotheticals that the Democrats had dreamed up in an attempt to trick her. Donald Trump has repeatedly refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses. He has also mooted delaying the election, or maybe excluding ballot tallies he doesn’t trust, and said that he wants this Court seat filled quickly, so that his appointee can be on the panel deciding any election disputes. What he’s proposing is a clear attack on American democracy and the rule of law. Barrett, though, spoke as though the fact that the President tweets about something means that it is within the realm of reasonable constitutional interpretation. What she conveyed throughout was not so much conscientiousness as a combination of deference to, alignment with, and, perhaps, fear of Trump.
And that was the second warning that emerged from the hearings: none of the Republican senators in the room seemed shocked at what the President deems possible, or interested in hearing what the Court’s role might be in countering any President who abuses his power. Instead, they echoed Trump’s intimations of fraudulent voting, media lies, and left-wing plots. Ted Cruz claimed that many Democrats had made a decision “to abandon democracy.” Thom Tillis said it was understandable that gun sales had increased in recent months, because Democrats, “including people on this committee,” had made Americans fear for their safety. Josh Hawley appeared to think that the real problem was Hunter Biden. It can be hard to tell whether the Republicans are extremists or opportunists, or have just retreated into passivity.
In one of the most notable exchanges in the hearings, the Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy tried, unsuccessfully, to get a straight answer from Barrett on whether a President could refuse to comply with a Supreme Court order, and whether such a refusal would be “a threat to our constitutional system of checks and balances.” A President defying the Supreme Court is the definition of a constitutional crisis, but Barrett would say only that the Court “can’t control” a renegade President. The Constitution, though, offers a clear course of action in such an event: impeachment. It seemed odd that Barrett, who spent much of her time commending committee members for their power as legislators—saying, repeatedly, “That’s your job”—didn’t emphasize that point.
Textualists often adopt a posture of “restraint” that masks their tendency to be true activists, which is what Barrett was when, in a dissent last year, she called Wisconsin laws limiting gun purchases by felons unconstitutional. Similarly, in suggesting that Justices, when faced with a President who rejects election results—or their authority—would just dither or shrug, she was making a radical statement, not a restrained one. Perhaps Barrett believes that such a crisis will never come to pass, and honestly doesn’t know what she would do if one did. In which case it might be prudent for her to begin thinking about how she would respond. The full Senate is on track to vote on her nomination as soon as October 26th. Eight days later, Donald Trump will be watching the election results come in, and he may not like what he sees.
Doonesbury — Can you hear the music?
Sunday, August 2, 2020
Doing Right Isn’t Wrong — Alexander Vindman in the Washington Post.
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman (Ret.), a career U.S. Army officer, served on the National Security Council as the director for Eastern European, Caucasus and Russian affairs, as the Russia political-military affairs officer for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and as a military attaché in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
After 21 years, six months and 10 days of active military service, I am now a civilian. I made the difficult decision to retire because a campaign of bullying, intimidation and retaliation by President Trump and his allies forever limited the progression of my military career.
This experience has been painful, but I am not alone in this ignominious fate. The circumstances of my departure might have been more public, yet they are little different from those of dozens of other lifelong public servants who have left this administration with their integrity intact but their careers irreparably harmed.
A year ago, having served the nation in uniform in positions of critical importance, I was on the cusp of a career-topping promotion to colonel. A year ago, unknown to me, my concerns over the president’s conduct and the president’s efforts to undermine the very foundations of our democracy were precipitating tremors that would ultimately shake loose the facade of good governance and publicly expose the corruption of the Trump administration.
At no point in my career or life have I felt our nation’s values under greater threat and in more peril than at this moment. Our national government during the past few years has been more reminiscent of the authoritarian regime my family fled more than 40 years ago than the country I have devoted my life to serving.
Our citizens are being subjected to the same kinds of attacks tyrants launch against their critics and political opponents. Those who choose loyalty to American values and allegiance to the Constitution over devotion to a mendacious president and his enablers are punished. The president recklessly downplayed the threat of the pandemic even as it swept through our country. The economic collapse that followed highlighted the growing income disparities in our society. Millions are grieving the loss of loved ones and many more have lost their livelihoods while the president publicly bemoans his approval ratings.
There is another way.
During my testimony in the House impeachment inquiry, I reassured my father, who experienced Soviet authoritarianism firsthand, saying, “Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.” Despite Trump’s retaliation, I stand by that conviction. Even as I experience the low of ending my military career, I have also experienced the loving support of tens of thousands of Americans. Theirs is a chorus of hope that drowns out the spurious attacks of a disreputable man and his sycophants.
Since the struggle for our nation’s independence, America has been a union of purpose: a union born from the belief that although each individual is the pilot of their own destiny, when we come together, we change the world. We are stronger as a woven rope than as unbound threads.
America has thrived because citizens have been willing to contribute their voices and shed their blood to challenge injustice and protect the nation. It is in keeping with that history of service that, at this moment, I feel the burden to advocate for my values and an enormous urgency to act.
Despite some personal turmoil, I remain hopeful for the future for both my family and for our nation. Impeachment exposed Trump’s corruption, but the confluence of a pandemic, a financial crisis and the stoking of societal divisions has roused the soul of the American people. A groundswell is building that will issue a mandate to reject hate and bigotry and a return to the ideals that set the United States apart from the rest of the world. I look forward to contributing to that effort.
In retirement from the Army, I will continue to defend my nation. I will demand accountability of our leadership and call for leaders of moral courage and public servants of integrity. I will speak about the attacks on our national security. I will advocate for policies and strategies that will keep our nation safe and strong against internal and external threats. I will promote public service and exalt the contribution that service brings to all areas of society.
The 23-year-old me who was commissioned in December 1998 could never have imagined the opportunities and experiences I have had. I joined the military to serve the country that sheltered my family’s escape from authoritarianism, and yet the privilege has been all mine.
When I was asked why I had the confidence to tell my father not to worry about my testimony, my response was, “Congressman, because this is America. This is the country I have served and defended, that all my brothers have served, and here, right matters.”
To this day, despite everything that has happened, I continue to believe in the American Dream. I believe that in America, right matters. I want to help ensure that right matters for all Americans.
Biden’s Big Tent — John Cassidy in The New Yorker.
Earlier this week, there was a telling moment when Joe Biden spoke in Wilmington, Delaware, about the need to combat systemic racism and foster racial equality in the American economy. His speech was the latest in a series of public appearances in which the Presidential candidate has rolled out his Build Back Better economic agenda; earlier discussions were devoted to strengthening American manufacturing, addressing climate change, and building up the caring economy. “This election is not just about voting against Donald Trump,” Biden said. “It’s about rising to this moment of crisis, understanding people’s struggles, and building a future worthy of their courage and their ambition to overcome.”
The giveaway was the phrase “not just about.” Since capturing the Democratic nomination, Biden has repeatedly acknowledged, implicitly and explicitly, that, for many Americans, the 2020 election is mainly about getting rid of his opponent. This dynamic was clear during the primaries, when a majority of Democrats told pollsters that their top priority was selecting someone who could defeat Trump. It’s evident today in the endorsements that the former Vice-President has picked up, from groups ranging from the Lincoln Project, an organization of Never Trump Republicans that is running ads attacking the President and supporting Biden, to Indivisible, a group of progressive activists whose home page blares, “BEAT TRUMP AND SAVE DEMOCRACY.”
To the members of these groups, and to many other Americans, Biden’s role is to serve as a human lever to pry a disastrous President out of the White House. Defying the concerns of some political professionals who watched his primary campaign, the former Vice-President is shaping up to be an effective crowbar. Since wrapping up the nomination, in March, he and his campaign team have successfully navigated at least three significant political challenges.
The first was uniting the Democratic Party after a chaotic primary season. To this end, Biden has reached out to the Party’s progressive wing and tacked to the left in some of his own policy proposals. He created a Unity Task Force—including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other supporters of Bernie Sanders—that released a lengthy set of recommendations earlier this month. Biden now supports Elizabeth Warren’s bankruptcy plan, which would make it easier for financially strapped people to discharge their debts. He has put forward a proposal to insure free tuition for many students at public colleges, modelled on an earlier Sanders plan. His climate-change strategy sets a target of 2035 for the creation of a zero-emissions power grid, which is just five years later than the deadline laid out in the Green New Deal. Some Sanders supporters are still scornful of Biden, but there has been no repeat of the internecine conflict that occurred in 2016.
The second task facing Biden was to fashion a coherent response to the tumultuous events of 2020. That’s where his Build Back Better plan comes in. The members of his policy team have worked on the assumption that the coronavirus-stricken economy will need substantial financial support for years. They think that this presents an opportunity to make it greener, more worker-friendly, and more racially inclusive. Biden’s proposals include spending two trillion dollars on projects to move beyond fossil fuels; seven hundred and seventy-five billion dollars on expanding care for preschoolers and the elderly; and a hundred and fifty billion dollars on supporting small, minority-owned businesses. He’s also promised to insure that forty per cent of the investment in green-energy infrastructure benefits disadvantaged communities, to expand rent subsidies for low-income households, to facilitate labor-union organizing, and to introduce a national minimum wage of fifteen dollars per hour.
Many progressive policy experts still think that Biden’s proposals don’t go far enough, but some of them are also issuing qualified praise. “When you look at all four elements of his economic platform, I think some of them have been very good—the climate plan in particular,” Felicia Wong, the president of the Roosevelt Institute, told me. Wong also said that the speech Biden gave this week about the economy, race, and the coronavirus was an effective one. “He recognized that people of color suffer the most in economic downturns, and also bounce back last,” she said. “It’s hard for a lot of people to make the race and economic arguments together, and he laid it out eloquently.”
The third challenge that Biden faced was to avoid giving Trump an easy target. The pandemic has made the dodging part easier. Hunkered down in Wilmington, Biden largely has left the President to dig his own hole—which he has done, ably. But Biden has also reached out to Trump Country. The first of his Build Back Better speeches was delivered in Rust Belt Pennsylvania: it included calls to restore American manufacturing and “buy American.” As well as adopting some of the language of economic nationalism, Biden has rejected certain progressive proposals, such as defunding the police and enforcing a complete ban on fracking, that might alienate moderate whites in battleground states.
This is smart politics, Ruy Teixeira, a polling expert and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, told me. Despite the changing demographics of the United States, whites who don’t have a college degree still make up about forty-four per cent of the eligible electorate, according to Teixeira; in some places, such as parts of the Midwest, the figure is even higher. “You cannot cede massive sections of the electorate if you want to be successful politically,” Teixeira said.
In 2016, Trump carried the white non-college demographic by thirty-one percentage points at the national level, according to Teixeira’s analysis of exit polls and election returns. Biden has narrowed the gap to twelve points, Teixeira said, citing a recent survey. That is similar to the margin in 2008, when Barack Obama defeated John McCain and the Democrats increased their majorities in both houses of Congress. As it is often defined, the Obama coalition consisted of minority voters, college-educated white liberals, and young people. Teixeira pointed out that Obama’s ability to restrict McCain’s margin in the white non-college demographic was also important, and if Biden matched that feat in November, he said, it could be of enormous consequence. “This is not the only thing that is going wrong for Trump,” Teixeira said, “but it is the thing that could give the Democrats the big victory that they need to govern effectively.”
None of this means that Biden is a lock for the Oval Office. Between now and November 3rd, something could conceivably shift the momentum against him, such as a Vice-Presidential pick that backfires, a major slipup in the debates, or a surprising economic upturn. Right now, though, the challenger’s strategy of keeping the focus on the incumbent and pitching a broad tent that accommodates anyone who wants to see the back of Trump is working well.
Doonesbury — Trading Places.
Sunday, February 9, 2020
The Firing of Lt. Col. Vindman — Benjamin Wittes in The Atlantic.
In 2018, Donald Trump waited to move against Attorney General Jeff Sessions until the day after the midterm elections—but he didn’t wait a day longer than that. No sooner were the elections over than Trump dismissed Sessions, who had upset the president by recusing himself from the Russia investigation. Sessions, Trump believed, was “supposed to protect” him. The first senator to endorse Trump’s bid for the presidency never regained his favor.
Trump managed to wait two days after his Senate acquittal before taking care of family business, as Michael Corleone would put it, with respect to those who had upset him in the Ukraine affair.
Yesterday, he removed from the National Security Council staff Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman—along with Vindman’s twin brother, who served as an NSC attorney, for good measure. Lieutenant Colonel Vindman had had the temerity to object to Trump’s “perfect” phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and then committed the unforgivable sin of telling the truth about the matter when the House impeachment investigation sought his testimony. The brothers were, according to reports, escorted out of the White House complex.
Explaining himself this morning on Twitter, Trump, of course, went on the attack:
Fake News @CNN & MSDNC keep talking about “Lt. Col.” Vindman as though I should think only how wonderful he was. Actually, I don’t know him, never spoke to him, or met him (I don’t believe!) but, he was very insubordinate, reported contents of my ‘perfect’ calls incorrectly, & was given a horrendous report by his superior, the man he reported to, who publicly stated that Vindman had problems with judgement, adhering to the chain of command and leaking information. In other words, “OUT”.
Trump also fired Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, who had tried to play both sides—testifying in a fashion that upset Trump while being cagey at first and thus raising questions to House members about his candor. Sondland had managed to please nobody, and his presence on the scene at all was, in any event, a function of his large donation to the presidential inaugural committee. He had bought his way into service at the pleasure of the president and, having done so, proceeded to displease the president. Most eyes will, I suspect, remain dry as Sondland blusters his way back to the hotel business.
But Vindman is another story.
His was not a political position. He is an active military officer, rotating through the NSC on assignment. The president can put quotation marks around lieutenant colonel, as he did in today’s tweets, in an effort to demean Vindman’s service, but there is nothing to demean about his service, which has been in all respects honorable. The conduct for which his career has been attacked, what the president calls Vindman’s “insubordination,” was exceptionally brave truth-telling—both in real time and later when Congress sought to hear from him. When that happened, Vindman did not shrink from the obligation to say what had happened.
Unlike his boss, John Bolton, he did not withhold information from Congress, nor did he cite potential privileges that could be resolved only by court order or by book contract. Unlike Sondland, he didn’t waffle when called. Rather, along with a group of other public servants at the NSC, the State Department, and the Defense Department, he went up to Capitol Hill and told the truth.
And thus did Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman join a very special club—a motley crew of public officials who have drawn the public ire of a president of uncompromising vindictiveness for the crime of doing the right thing. It’s a club composed of former FBI officials, including two former directors of the bureau; American ambassadors; a former attorney general; some lawyers and investigators; even the former ambassador to the United States from the United Kingdom—anyone who has a line he or she won’t cross to serve Trump’s personal needs or who insists on doing his or her job by not hiding unpleasant realities.
Membership in this ever less exclusive club entitles Vindman to a number of, uh, benefits: unending, random attack by the most powerful man in the world using any of his available means of communication with the entire globe; mockery and derision by his associated media outlets, a category of abuse that in Vindman’s case includes anti-Semitic insinuations and frivolous allegations of inappropriate liaison with a foreign power; the security threats that inevitably come with such unwanted attention; damage to a distinguished career, a dramatic example of which happened yesterday; and, perhaps most unnerving of all for people who are used to anonymity, a kind of notoriety that leaves club members wondering if the person catching their eye on the street recognizes them with hatred or admiration or something else.
It is all part of a civil-liberties violation so profound that we don’t even have a name for it: the power of the president to suddenly point his finger at a random person and announce that this is the point in the story when that person’s life gets ruined.
Membership in this particular club has some genuine benefits, too. They are hokey things, such as honor and patriotism and duty. Because one thing all of the members of this particular club have in common is that—in very different ways—they all tried to do their jobs. They sought the truth. And they told the truth when called upon to do so.
In his congressional testimony, Alexander Vindman promised his father, “I will be fine for telling the truth.” It is the solemn obligation of the Pentagon and the military brass not to make a naïf of him for saying this. It is the job of the Washington policy community and the private sector to make sure that he is employable when he leaves military service—a role the community has not always played effectively with respect to members of this particular club.
And it is all of our jobs to make sure that Trump’s stigmatization does not work, to push back against his ability to turn public servants into nonpersons when honor and truth-telling displease him.
Thirteen (well, ten) Ways of Looking at an Impeachment — Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker.
(With apologies to Wallace Stevens, and in descending order of despair—though, perhaps, ascending order of importance.)
1. Impeachment was, despite it all, essential.
The purpose of impeachment was never political. It was never meant to be undertaken, and never should have been undertaken, with an eye to the Democrats being in a better political position after it was over. On those grounds it was, as Nancy Pelosi clearly felt, up to the very brink, a gamble not worth taking. The reasonable argument for why it had to be attempted was that to not impeach Donald Trump was not, well, reasonable. To allow obvious heedlessness to pass unchallenged was to collaborate in it. Impeachment was undertaken out of principle—the principle that the rule of law matters, and the corollary principle that political parties are not put in office to practice passivity. And it was, it must always be remembered, undertaken not at the political behest of a few radicals but in response to the collective and appropriate panic of national-security and intelligence professionals within the executive branch, who blew whistles and gave testimony because they believed that the President’s behavior was as wrong as wrong could be. Whether it was politically advantageous or not in the short run, it would have been politically disastrous in the long run to crawl away from such a conflict begun in such patriotic good faith. Right really should matter here.
2. Yes, but Trump won, and the consequences are terrifying.
As some people said at the time, the one good thing about an attempted impeachment was that at least the Republican senators, who all know exactly who and what Trump is, would at last be forced to own their bad consciences. What no one properly understood was that they had no consciences left to own—that their recognition of Trump’s obvious guilt would be overwhelmed by their fear of his opposition and that of his followers; exactly because they knew how bad he was, they would be compelled to redouble their irrational allegiance. They could not even look at any evidence, because they knew what it would show. Bad money always gets thrown in after good, as the gamble becomes ever more desperate. The trouble is that Trump is now left in firmer control of a party made passive by adherence to him, with his wounded narcissism leaving him more evidently deranged than before. His behavior during his post-impeachment appearances might have seemed extreme to Ludwig II of Bavaria, or caused Caligula to raise an eyebrow. Meanwhile, Attorney General William Barr will protect Trump while allowing the Justice Department to be used as a weapon against his enemies. Of all the truly frightening moments of the process, the worst might have been the attempt at reassurance by Senator Lamar Alexander, who insisted that, though Trump might have been mistaken to ask a foreign President to investigate his political rivals, he will now know that the right thing to have done would have been to ask his Attorney General to start investigations. That this idea—in itself a betrayal of every imaginable American constitutional principle—was proposed as more appropriate is a true mark of the defeat of the rule of law. Nothing now stands between Trump’s id and Trump’s actions.
3. Actually, Trump won, but it’s trivial.
Trump is an inherently weak President—one with a narrow base of support and zero persuasion skills, and, as of now, one who is too chaotic to be much good at suppressing dissent. His acts and their intended consequences are further apart than our fears and his unhinged rages make us believe. Imagine if the plot had succeeded and the President of Ukraine actually announced investigations into the Bidens—would anyone have actually been fooled about the origins of those investigations, aside from those among Trump’s followers who live to be fooled by him? The true pattern of Trumpism—oafish chaos with self-defeating results, evil talk, and impotent action—will continue. Nothing has altered. The best efforts of Trump are horribly ugly but ultimately meaningless. All that has happened is that we are exactly where we were before, but with one side marginally less passive and the other marginally more enraged. Allowing Trump to have gotten away with his “perfect” phone call would seem to us now far worse as policy, while having exactly the same effect of creating an ever more unbounded Trump. A Trump not called to order would be no different than one who has been.
3. And you know what? Actually, Trump lost.
The idea of a “verdict of history” is an absurdity. But the verdict of verdicts is not. In this regard, Mitt Romney’s speech was, however impotent judicially, dispositive morally. Scoffing at the idea that Trump’s behavior was not impeachable, showing that it obviously was, Romney ended all ambiguity and spoke for the truth, and to history.
4. Adam Schiff’s eloquence will always be remembered.
Certainly, the most permanent moment of the entire impeachment lay in Schiff’s performance before the Senate as the lead House manager. Often speaking extemporaneously, with a sobriety and a carefully paced intelligence that one might have thought had vanished entirely from the American lectern, let alone American politics, he was, without exaggeration, Lincoln-like. Lincoln-like, that is, in a highly specific, formal way: he laid a careful, even tedious foundation of elaborate law and evidence, and then rose to moral exhortation only on that basis. He turned legal argument into moral practice. It may be too late for anyone to act on this truth, but, if the Democratic Party could vote its conscience and its honor right now, it would surely end, en masse, by nominating Schiff for President.
5. And so will Romney’s courage.
John F. Kennedy’s famous book “Profiles in Courage” would be better off called “Profiles in Collaboration,” since, as all now know, it was largely written by his doppelgänger, Theodore Sorensen, albeit from J.F.K.’s ideas, while the courage of many of Kennedy’s subjects, especially those who voted to acquit Andrew Johnson in his impeachment trial, now seems less conclusive than it once did. No matter—the central idea is that democratic politics, though designed to conform legislator to constituency, sometimes demand a legislator who refuses to conform. This idea, of nonconformity through principle, is essential to the difference between demagogic democracy and liberal democracy, and Mitt Romney, whatever his flaws and faults, defined it for his time. (It was made all the more moving by his being inspired by that most echt American of scriptures, the Book of Mormon.)
6. There was a truly shocking collapse of conscience.
The real story was not the complete collapse of conscience among the Senate Republicans. That was to be expected—after all, the first vote for impeachment ever offered by a senator of the same political party as the President was Romney’s. The real collapse was among the higher-ranking politically appointed military and national-security professionals who had been part of Trump’s inner circle before departing it, voluntarily or not. John Bolton’s behavior, in particular, was inexplicable. Clearly filled with contempt for Trump’s manifest unfitness, he refused to speak openly against him, apparently out of some bizarre mix of distaste for the Democratic Congress and a will to sell books in the fall. The passivity of the Republicans was to be expected; that of Bolton was not. Nor was that of other high-ranking former officials, including respected retired generals like James Mattis—and H. R. McMaster and John F. Kelly, who spoke softly, but not sharply. Though they weren’t in the White House at the time of the Ukraine phone call, they know the character of the President. Yet they remained largely silent, seemingly out of a misplaced sense of professionalism and discretion. (Misplaced because of the unique gravity and urgency of the circumstance. Though it’s good for soldiers to be discreet, there are moments when their duties as citizens are more important than their habits as officers.)
7. It’s over, and Trump will win.
An overwhelming number of vectors now point toward Trump’s reëlection this year: the state of the economy, the disarray of the Democrats, and the general truth that incumbent Presidents win. How the Constitution will survive in the face of a second victory, given the speed with which Trump is demolishing it now, is hard to imagine.
8. It’s not over, and Trump will lose.
Trump’s disadvantages remain enormous. No incumbent President before him has done so little to win over even a small part of the opposition. The Democrats just need to nominate someone capable of understanding and acting on the basic truth of all liberal-democratic politics—that what is needed is the broadest possible coalition, the biggest imaginable tent in which to gather the forces against the autocrat. It should not really be as hard as it is threatening to be.
9. History has its eyes on you.
This quote from “Hamilton,” and the very fact that, not long ago, that work, with its image of glorious diversity, was the one great American entertainment, should remind us of how rapidly and suddenly political waves can crest and take over. The contingencies and chances that come with political life are far greater than its destinies and certainties. Any attempt to trace our current crisis to some inexorable pattern laid down in 1964 or 1980 or even 2007 is absurd. It was not very long ago when the natural culmination of the cycles of history seemed to be the Presidency of Barack Obama—a Presidency that had seemed to many impossible to imagine, and that, as hard as it is for progressives to accept, was sufficiently radical to inspire the wild reaction that we are living through now. History is made by lost regiments, late-arriving cavalry, or, in this case, by tens of thousands of votes hived off here and there in Midwestern states. Nothing is written, or fated, or certain, and, as momentous as this election will be, no one knows its outcome, which will depend as much on the tiny fractals of chance as on some inexorable plot in history.
10. History is happening.
One last quote from “Hamilton,” again, to coax us all out of the sudden, enforced numbness that many feel. There has been, perhaps, in the past three years, an undue lack of passion in the opposition to Trump’s degradation of democracy into Putin–Orbán-style autocracy. Too much trust, perhaps, was placed in the workings of constructional processes, culminating in the impeachment and acquittal. During Trump’s term, there has been no march on Washington as large as the first Women’s March, right after the Inauguration, no turn to mass protest as the fundamental anti-democratic nature of the Administration deepens. History will forgive us our failures; it will never forgive us our passivity. The coming months are fateful for our democracy; everyone will be tested, and every vote will count if all these American ambiguities are, somehow, to be resolved.
Doonesbury — Surf you must.
Monday, January 20, 2020
Today is the federal holiday set aside to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday.
For me, growing up as a white kid in a middle-class suburb in the Midwest in the 1960’s, Dr. King’s legacy would seem to have a minimum impact; after all, what he was fighting for didn’t affect me directly in any way. But my parents always taught me that anyone oppressed in our society was wrong, and that in some way it did affect me. This became much more apparent as I grew up and saw how the nation treated its black citizens; those grainy images on TV and in the paper of water-hoses turned on the Freedom Marchers in Alabama showed me how much hatred could be turned on people who were simply asking for their due in a country that promised it to them. And when I came out as a gay man, I became much more aware of it when I applied the same standards to society in their treatment of gays and lesbians.
Perhaps the greatest impression that Dr. King had on me was his unswerving dedication to non-violence in his pursuit of civil rights. He withstood taunts, provocations, and rank invasions of his privacy and his life at the hands of racists, hate-mongers, and the federal government, yet he never raised a hand in anger against anyone. He deplored the idea of an eye for an eye, and he knew that responding in kind would only set back the cause. I was also impressed that his spirituality and faith were his armor and his shield, not his weapon, and he never tried to force his religion on anyone else. The supreme irony was that he died at the hands of violence, much like his role model, Mahatma Gandhi.
There’s a question in the minds of a lot of people of how to celebrate a federal holiday for a civil rights leader. Isn’t there supposed to be a ritual or a ceremony we’re supposed to perform to mark the occasion? But how do you signify in one day or in one action what Dr. King stood for, lived for, and died for? Last August marked the fifty-fifth anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech. That marked a moment; a milestone.
Today is supposed to honor the man and what he stood for and tried to make us all become: full citizens with all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship; something that is with us all day, every day.
For me, it’s having the memories of what it used to be like and seeing what it has become for all of us that don’t take our civil rights for granted, which should be all of us, and being both grateful that we have come as far as we have and humbled to know how much further we still have to go.
Today is also a school holiday, so blogging will be on a holiday schedule.
Sunday, January 19, 2020
Spoiler Alert: No Justice for Trump — Susan B. Glasser in The New Yorker.
Shortly after 2 P.M. on Thursday, ninety-nine of the hundred members of the United States Senate raised their hands and swore en masse to do “impartial justice” in the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump. That, of course, is an impossibility in the political world they inhabit. Neither impartiality nor justice is on offer in this proceeding. Three years into Trump’s tenure, there is precisely no one in the U.S. Capitol who is undecided about the President, on the subject of his impeachment or any other. And yet there is real suspense, in the way that the Trump Presidency has conditioned us to expect: Will there be wild new revelations? (There already have been in the past twenty-four hours.) Will there be inappropriate tweeting by the defendant in the White House? (A given.) Will even a single senator break from the calcified partisan battle lines? (Who knows?)
This Senate trial is only the third such proceeding in American history, and, despite what appears to be its preordained acquittal of the President by his fellow-Republicans, it is starting out with such great uncertainty that it’s still not even clear if there will be witnesses called and evidence submitted. How can it be a trial without them? The Democrat-controlled House voted to impeach Trump in a party-line vote in December, and yet key facts about the President’s aborted scheme to pressure Ukraine for his personal political benefit remain unknown (although they are very much knowable), owing to an executive-branch information blockade ordered by Trump. Will those facts come out before the Chief Justice of the United States bangs down the gavel on the trial’s seemingly inevitable outcome?
In today’s brutally dysfunctional capital—in which institutions of government are controlled by feuding clans that communicate with each other almost exclusively via hostile tweets and cable-news sound bites—anything can turn into an exercise in raw power politics. Even the ministerial matter of transmitting the articles of impeachment from the House to the Senate and beginning the Senate trial became the subject of an entire holiday season of made-for-TV drama. For weeks, Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused to turn over the articles until she’d received assurances from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell about what kind of trial he planned to run. No such assurances were forthcoming, although Pelosi arguably succeeded in one respect—turning the debate away from her side’s forthcoming defeat in the Senate to the matter of what would constitute a fair trial. Democrats have redefined victory to mean not necessarily winning the case but merely getting a proper hearing for it. For now, at least.
On Wednesday, after Pelosi finally ended her hold on the articles of impeachment, she named seven members of the House as managers who will prosecute the case in the Senate. On Thursday, at the stroke of noon, the House managers marched across the Capitol and physically presented the articles to the Senate in a self-consciously anachronistic twenty-first-century enactment of a process dreamed up by our eighteenth-century founders. There was gravitas, solemnity, talk of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” There were “wherefore”s and “hear ye, hear ye”s. Chief Justice John Roberts was summoned over from the Supreme Court to administer the senatorial oath and take up his duties as the trial’s presiding officer. The Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, later said that, as Roberts entered the chamber, “I saw members on both sides of the aisle visibly gulp.” “The weight of history,” as Schumer put it, was visibly upon the Senate. “God bless you,” Senator Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican, who was sitting in the chair, told Roberts after he swore him in.
But even now that the constitutional formalities have been dispensed with, McConnell has not revealed whether and how there will even be votes on requiring the testimony of new witnesses and the submission of documents that the White House refused to provide to the House, a stonewall more complete than any Administration’s in history. If such votes do happen, they are not likely to be until a week or more into the proceedings. Meanwhile, new revelations continue to spill out about Trump’s Ukraine machinations, including a series of sensational interviews this week by the indicted Trump contributor Lev Parnas, who said that Trump knew of Parnas’s efforts with Rudy Giuliani to pressure Ukraine into investigating former Vice-President Joe Biden. The suspense surrounding the trial mixes the dread certainty that today’s Senate is ill-equipped to handle its constitutionally dictated obligation with a lingering curiosity about whether a handful of Republican senators will force McConnell to hold a proceeding that is something other than a sham.
“The Senate is on trial as well as the President,” Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said at the press conference where Pelosi introduced him and six others as the impeachment managers. It was a seemingly self-evident observation that nonetheless bears much repeating. The Senate trial could take between three and six weeks, according to one estimate, though Trump’s advisers are pushing Republicans for a much more abbreviated proceeding. However long it lasts, the trial will essentially consist of a hundred senators sitting silently at their desks, stripped of their cell phones and laptops and all the other accoutrements of modern political life, listening to the presentation of evidence in a case about which they have presumably already made up their minds. We listeners will have plenty of time to contemplate the Senate itself and what it has become in the Trump era.
“I understand that the politics of impeachment are difficult for many Senators,” Val Demings, one of the House managers, from Florida, tweeted soon after Pelosi appointed her to the job. “But I have not written off the Senate. Each Senator still has the power to do the right thing.” But this Senate is no closer to a real jury than the proceeding is to being a real trial. On Wednesday, Politico counted twenty-six Republican senators who had already put out statements or otherwise publicly indicated that they would vote against conviction and twenty-four more who probably would; Democrats were equally united around planned votes to convict. Republican sources have said that they don’t expect a single Republican defection on the final trial verdict, just as there was not a single Republican defection in the House on the impeachment itself.
For the past three years, the Senate has been one of the main arenas in which it has become clear just how totally and completely Trump has taken over the Republican Party. He has not only vanquished doubters; he has dominated them. Skeptics have been purged. Senators have abased themselves again and again. Those who stood up to Trump inside his own party have been exiled, silenced, or flipped. The President is on trial for holding hundreds of millions of dollars in congressionally appropriated aid to Ukraine hostage for his own personal political ends, and, indeed, the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan government watchdog, announced on Thursday, as the trial began, that the aid holdup was an illegal abuse of executive power. But Republican senators who claim an interest in national security have been loath even to acknowledge that there might be anything wrong with Trump’s behavior, even as an abstract matter of principle.
The suspense surrounding the trial, then, is not about the possibility that Republicans might suddenly change their minds about Donald Trump and his misdeeds. Lindsey Graham is not going to revert to his 2016 Trump-bashing self. Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer are not miraculously going to start talking and produce a plan for the trial that everyone can get behind. The Senate that voted 100–0 on the rules governing the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton, twenty-one years ago, is a thing of the distant past. Today’s uncertainty is about the nature, shape, and contours of the trial that will result from this more intemperate political moment. Mitt Romney, of Utah, and a few other so-called moderates—Lamar Alexander, of Tennessee; Susan Collins, of Maine; Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska—may yet force their colleagues to vote on bringing in Administration witnesses, such as Trump’s former national-security adviser John Bolton, whom the White House does not want to testify. But it is doubtful that even a single one of them will ultimately vote to convict. This is why the real uncertainty remains what it has been since the day Pelosi and the House embarked upon this impeachment course, last September: it is an uncertainty about what comes after the trial—after Democrats have taken their shot at Trump and, in all likelihood, failed.
Soon after the day’s ceremonial start to the Senate trial had wrapped up, Trump appeared before the cameras to call the case against him a “big hoax,” “a witch-hunt hoax,” “a complete hoax,” and “a phony hoax.” What will he talk about when the trial is over and he is completely and totally vindicated in the greatest acquittal of all time? How will he govern then?
Did Virginia Amend the Constitution Last Week? — Russell Berman in The Atlantic.
The commonwealth of Virginia [on Wednesday] voted to amend the U.S. Constitution, becoming the 38th and final state needed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. Virginia’s action could be a momentous day in the nation’s history, heralding far-reaching changes in the law and capping a nearly century-long fight to enshrine women’s equality in the Constitution.
Or it might mean nothing at all.
Whether the Constitution has actually been amended for the 28th time—and for the first time in more than a quarter century—is now officially in question and a matter for the courts to decide. Even before the two Democratic-led chambers of the Virginia legislature voted today, supporters and opponents of the ERA had filed dueling federal lawsuits, launching a legal battle that could wind up in the Supreme Court.
A deadline that Congress originally imposed (and later revised) for ratification of the amendment by the states has long since passed. ERA backers are trying to get the deadline invalidated, while foes want not only to keep the lapsed due date intact but to prevent Congress from retroactively eliminating it.
As a generation of American schoolchildren learned from Schoolhouse Rock, a bill becomes a law when the president signs it (or Congress overrides his veto). But the endpoint for affixing an amendment to the Constitution is a bit murkier. Congress, through a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber, proposes changes, and then three-quarters of the state legislatures must ratify them. But then what happens?
There is no assigned role for the president in constitutional amendments, nor one, directly, for the Supreme Court. Instead a relatively little-known federal official, the archivist of the United States, collects the documents from the states, certifies an amendment’s ratification, and publishes it in the Federal Register.
The current archivist is David Ferriero, an appointee of former President Barack Obama who has held the position since 2009. The bulk of Ferriero’s job is to oversee the National Archives and Records Administration, but he now finds himself caught in the middle of a rekindled fight over the Constitution as a named defendant in both federal lawsuits. Attorneys general for the states of Alabama, Louisiana, and South Dakota have asked a judge to prevent Ferriero from certifying the ERA’s ratification and to acknowledge that five states rescinded their ratifications and should not be counted among the 38. Two pro-ERA advocacy groups, meanwhile, are asking a different federal court to invalidate the 1979 deadline that Congress originally attached to the amendment, ignore the states that have tried to rescind their ratifications, and force Ferriero to certify the ERA as ratified once Virginia submits its paperwork.
In the past, Ferriero seems to have taken the position that the ERA is a viable amendment, the lapsed congressional deadline notwithstanding. He accepted the post-deadline ratifications of Illinois and Nevada and included both states on a list of those that had ratified the amendment. A National Archives and Records Administration spokesperson, Laura Sheehan, told me it was the archivist’s “responsibility to document the actions that have been taken by the states with respect to any proposed constitutional amendment. The [Office of Legal Counsel] opinion has separately determined that the recent state approvals cannot serve to cause the Equal Rights Amendment to be adopted.” (Ferriero was not available for an interview.)
Virginia was poised to become the 38th state to ratify the ERA in November once Democrats ousted Republicans from the majorities in the state House of Delegates and Senate. Party leaders immediately confirmed that they would make good on a campaign pledge to approve the amendment.
Facing a crucial decision and having already been sued preemptively by ERA foes, Ferriero asked the Department of Justice for legal guidance. Not surprisingly, the Trump administration came down on the side of the amendment’s opponents: In a 38-page opinion, the Office of Legal Counsel basically declared the ERA dead and said that in order to revive it, supporters would have to start from scratch. “Even if one or more state legislatures were to ratify the proposed amendment, it would not become part of the Constitution, and the Archivist could not certify its adoption,” the opinion states. “Congress may not revive a proposed amendment after a deadline for its ratification has expired. Should Congress wish to propose the amendment anew, it may do so through the same procedures required to propose an amendment in the first instance, consistent with Article V of the Constitution.”
In a statement last week, the National Archives and Records Administration said it would abide by the Justice Department’s opinion, “unless instructed otherwise by a final court order.”
Virginia Democrats knew that their votes today might be for naught, but they celebrated anyway. “We’ll see what happens, but from my perspective we have done what we needed to do to become the 38th state needed for ratification,” Delegate Charniele Herring, the majority leader of the Virginia House, told me by phone after the vote.
In addition to the courts, ERA backers are looking to Congress, where House Democrats hope to pass legislation that would remove the deadline for ratification altogether. Still, even action by Congress would provoke a certain legal challenge from ERA opponents who contend that lawmakers should not be able to remove a deadline long after it expired.
For now, however, Virginia Democrats are trying to tune out the obstacles, treating their votes today as a history-making moment. State Senator Jennifer McClellan told me she felt “a combination of joy and relief,” as well as the presence of a century’s worth of women activists “on my shoulders.” As for the possibility that the courts will block the ERA, leaving its adoption no closer than it was decades ago, McClellan sounded a note of optimism instead. “I don’t think that’s going to happen,” she told me. “I still have faith that this is going to happen sooner rather than later.”
Doonesbury — Jiminy Cricket!
Monday, August 5, 2019
According to the New York Times, the two shootings over the weekend that killed 29 people — 20 in El Paso and nine in Dayton, have shaken the nation to its core.
On Sunday, Americans woke up to news of a shooting rampage in an entertainment district in Dayton, Ohio, where a man wearing body armor shot and killed nine people, including his own sister. Hours earlier, a 21-year-old with a rifle entered a Walmart in El Paso and killed 20 people.
In a country that has become nearly numb to men with guns opening fire in schools, at concerts and in churches, the back-to-back bursts of gun violence in less than 24 hours were enough to leave the public stunned and shaken. The shootings ground the 2020 presidential campaign to a halt, reignited a debate on gun control and called into question the increasingly angry words directed at immigrants on the southern border in recent weeks by right-wing pundits and President Trump.
“It’s outrageous,” said Terrion Foster, who works in accounting and lives in Kansas City, Mo., where he was out shopping at a farmer’s market near downtown on Sunday afternoon. “It’s really sad because I feel like you can’t go anywhere and be safe. I’m 50 years old and I didn’t think I’d be alive to see some of the things that are going on today.”
The shootings prompted Republicans, including Mr. Trump, to condemn the gunmen’s actions and offer support to the people of Dayton and El Paso. Democrats urged Congress to take action and pass stricter gun laws. “We have a responsibility to the people we serve to act,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.
I would really like to believe that the massacres this weekend will be the final straw. That finally the NRA and their Republican minions along with the rest of the gun lobbyists realize that enough is enough and something really has to be done to not just deal with the proliferation of weapons that can be purchased legally, but with the mindset that one amendment to the Constitution outweighs all the others.
But if the slaughter of kindergartners in Connecticut and a shooting spree at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas and a garlic festival in Gilroy and on and on and on, going back in a year, a decade, and a century didn’t do anything but generate thoughts and prayers and blaming outside agitators like violent video games — which are just as popular in Canada and Australia and Great Britain and Japan but have fewer deaths from guns in a year than we have in a weekend — or nebulous catch-phrases like “mental health” — again, also existing in other places without the same carnage — then why should the headlines and the BREAKING NEWS and the shock and horror result in anything more than what we’ve seen for the last fifty years?
We have already heard and will continue to hear that “now is not the time to talk about gun control,” which is one of of those phrases that is meant to deflect our attention until the next shiny object pops up on Facebook or Instagram and the dead are buried and the debris swept away. But when someone says that now is not the time, it reveals their core value, which is to say that there is never the time because to do so would mean they truly have to tell the truth: that they view human life as expendable in favor of some mythology that the right to keep and bear arms is the only core value we have, setting aside the rest of those that this idea of a nation were built on: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They are absolute in their grasp of one amendment to the detriment of all others, and like other fundamentalists, never allow for any other interpretation. And when you pose the obvious rejoinder — When is the time to talk about gun control? — they will, in some way, shape, or form, tell you Never.
If we are truly shaken to our core, than we can expect to see a massive uprising in this nation the likes we have never seen before and action from our representatives in such a way that would truly change the world we live in. If we can outlaw child pornography and saying “fuck” on national networks in contravention of the First Amendment; if the Supreme Court can waive the Fourth and Fifth Amendments in the hunt for terrorists; if we can consider the death penalty to be within the limits of the Eighth Amendment, and if citizenship can be questioned in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, then what makes the Second sacrosanct?
As long as our core values make it acceptable to slaughter people in a shopping mall and claim that the uninfringed right to own the tool that did the job is one of those core values as well, the nation will go on being bewildered, and people will still die.
Sunday, July 14, 2019
Advice For Immigrants — The ACLU has guidance should ICE show up at your door today, or any day.
How to stay reduce risk to yourself
- Stay calm and keep the door closed. Opening the door does not give them permission to come inside, but it is safer to speak to ICE through the door.
- You have the right to remain silent, even if officer has a warrant.
- You do not have to let police or immigration agents into your home unless they have certain kinds of warrants.
- If police have an arrest warrant, they are legally allowed to enter the home of the person on the warrant if they believe that person is inside. But a warrant of removal/deportation (Form I-205) does not allow officers to enter a home without consent.
What to do when the police or ICE arrive
- Ask if they are immigration agents and what they are there for.
- Ask the agent or officer to show you a badge or identification through the window or peephole.
- Ask if they have a warrant signed by a judge. If they say they do, ask them to slide it under the door or hold it up to a window so you can inspect it.
- Don’t lie or produce any false documents. Don’t sign anything without speaking with a lawyer first.
- Do not open your door unless ICE shows you a judicial search or arrest warrant naming a person in your residence and/or areas to be searched at your address. If they don’t produce a warrant, keep the door closed. State: “I do not consent to your entry.”
- If agents force their way in, do not resist. If you wish to exercise your rights, state: “I do not consent to your entry or to your search of these premises. I am exercising my right to remain silent. I wish to speak with a lawyer as soon as possible.”
- If you are on probation with a search condition, law enforcement is allowed to enter your home.
Learning To Write, Doggy Style — Ann Patchett on her most influential inspiration.
I first found Snoopy in Paradise, Calif., the tiny town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada that was erased by fire last fall. As a child in the late 1960s, my sister and I spent our summers there with our grandparents. We found the place to be perfectly named.
“We’re on our way to Paradise,” we would say, and “We’ve been in Paradise all summer.”
The sharp detail with which I can remember my grandparents’ house is overwhelming to me now — the room where my grandparents slept in twin beds, the room where I shared a bed with my sister. I remember the cherry trees, the line of quail that crossed the back lawn in the morning to the ground-level birdbath my grandmother kept full for them, “Family Affair” on television. Everything about those summer days is tattooed on my brain. I was an introverted kid and not a strong reader. My grandmother had a stock of mass-market “Peanuts” books she’d bought off a drugstore spinner. Titles like “You’ve Had It, Charlie Brown” and “All This and Snoopy, Too” were exactly my speed. I memorized those books. I found Snoopy in Paradise the way another kid might have found God.
Influence is a combination of circumstance and luck: what we are shown and what we stumble upon in those brief years when the heart and mind are fully open. I imagine that for Henry James, for example, the extended European tour of his youth led him to write about American expatriates.
I, instead, was in Northern California being imprinted by a beagle. When the morning newspaper came, my sister and I read the funnies together, always “Peanuts” first. Even when I was old enough to know better, I was more inclined toward “To the Doghouse” than “To the Lighthouse.” I was more beagle than Woolf. I did the happy dance, and it has served me well.
My formative years were spent in a Snoopy T-shirt, sleeping on Snoopy sheets with a stuffed Snoopy in my arms. I was not a cool kid, and Snoopy was a very cool dog. I hoped the association would rub off on me.
Which is pretty much the whole point of Charlie Brown’s relationship with Snoopy: The awkward kid’s social value is raised by his glorious pet. Anyone could see what Charlie Brown got out of Snoopy, even when Snoopy was blowing him off — he raised Charlie Brown’s social stock. But what did Snoopy get out of it? I’m guessing it was the loyalty, the dog-like consistency, which of course makes Charlie Brown the dog in that relationship. I had no problem with this. I would have been thrilled to be Snoopy’s dog.
Not only was Snoopy a famous World War I flying ace who battled the Red Baron and quaffed root beer in the existential loneliness of the French countryside, he was also Joe Cool on campus. He pinched Charlie Brown’s white handkerchief to become a soldier in the French Foreign Legion and was a leader of the Beagle Scouts, a motley crew of little yellow birds. He was a figure skater and hockey player in equal measure, an astronaut, a tennis star, a skateboarder, a boxer and a suburban pet whose doghouse contained a Van Gogh. This wasn’t just a dog who knew how to dream, this was a dog who so fully inhabited his realities that everyone around him saw them, too. Snoopy heard the roar of the approving crowd as clearly as he heard the bullets whizzing past his Sopwith Camel. Having ventured fearlessly into the world, he could come back to the roof of his doghouse and sit straight-backed in front of his typewriter, to tap out the words that began so many of his stories: “It was a dark and stormy night.”
Wait, am I seriously discussing Snoopy, a cartoon dog, as a writer?
Am I believing in him as he was drawn to believe in himself? Did I want to be a novelist because he was a novelist?
I am. I do. I did.
Snoopy worked hard up there on the roof of the doghouse. He saw his own flaws. He typed: “Those years in Paris were to be among the finest of her life. Looking back, she once remarked, ‘Those years in Paris were among the finest of my life.’ That was what she said when she looked back upon those years in Paris . . . where she spent some of the finest years of her life.” Which was followed by the thought bubble, “I think this is going to need a little editing . . .”
Snoopy didn’t just write novels, he sent them out. In those dark days before electronic submissions, he taught me what it would mean to stand in front of a mailbox, waiting to hear from an editor. Snoopy got far more rejection letters than he ever got acceptances, and the rejections ranged (as they will) from impersonal to flippant to cruel.
Later, I could see we’d been building up to this. It wasn’t as if he’d won all those tennis matches he played in. The Sopwith Camel was regularly riddled with bullet holes. But he kept on going. He was willing to lose, even in the stories he imagined for himself. He lost, and he continued to be cool, which is to say, he was still himself in the face of both failure and success.
Linus rings Charlie Brown’s doorbell and says, “Ask your dog to come out and play ‘chase the stick.’ ”
Snoopy comes out and hands him a note: “Thank you for your offer to come out and play .. We are busy at this time, however, and cannot accept your offer .. We hope you will be successful elsewhere.”
I would be hurt and I would get over it. That’s what the strip taught me. Snoopy walked me through the publishing process: ignoring reviews, being thrilled and then realizing the thrill doesn’t last:
“It’s from your publisher,” Charlie Brown tells Snoopy. “They printed one copy of your novel .. It says they haven’t been able to sell it .. They say they’re sorry .. Your book is now out of print ..”
It was painful, yes, but Snoopy loved his job.
“Joe Ceremony was very short,” Snoopy types. “When he entered a room, everyone had to be warned not to stand on Ceremony.” At which point Snoopy falls off his doghouse backward, cracking himself up, only to climb up again and look at his typewriter lovingly. “I’m a great admirer of my own writing.”
Oh, beagle, isn’t it the truth? That moment when you write a single, perfect sentence is worth more than an entire box of biscuits.
I probably would have been a writer without Snoopy. I know without a doubt I would have loved dogs, though my love for writing and dogs might not have been so intertwined. Of all the “Peanuts” koans I live by, the one that contains the deepest wisdom may well be “Happiness is a warm puppy.” Thanks to Snoopy, I have ascribed an inner life to all the dogs I’ve known, and they’ve proved me right. I have lived with many dogs who were my equals, and a couple I knew to be my betters, but I’ve never been able to name a dog Snoopy. It’s a recipe for failure, because no matter how great your dog is, his ears will never turn him into a helicopter. I did, however, name the dog I have now for Charles Schulz, whose nickname was Sparky.
Sparky is a small gray-and-white rescue who comes with me to the bookstore I co-own in Nashville and stands straight up on his back legs to greet customers. Surely he has the talent and the patience to write a novel of his own; I’m just glad he’s never wanted to. I’ve accepted the fact that my dog is cooler than I am, but it would be hard to deal with if he were also the better writer. And anyway, it would take too much time away from our relationship.
Life could have been different. I could have cut my teeth on “The Portrait of a Lady” — but then again, I could have been stuck reading “Archie” comics. Fate and circumstances stacked the deck in my favor, leaving me to be influenced by a cartoon beagle. It turned out to be exactly the guidance I needed.
Doonesbury — Getting the cue.
Sunday, April 14, 2019
John Cassidy in The New Yorker argues that the indictment of Julian Assange is a threat to journalism.
Imagine that, in the summer of 2014, the Justice Department had indicted Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, charging that, in 2010, he engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Chelsea Manning, the former U.S. Army intelligence analyst, to “facilitate Manning’s acquisition and transmission of classified information related to the national defense of the United States so that WikiLeaks could publicly disseminate the information on its website.”
How do you think the editorial page of the New York Times would have reacted? (In July, 2010, the Times joined with the Guardian and Der Spiegel to publish tens of thousands of the documents that Manning provided to WikiLeaks.) What about the editorial page of the Washington Post, which published extensive stories about the leaked material? This material included video footage from 2007 of a U.S. Army Apache gunship carrying out an attack in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Iraqi civilians who were working for Reuters.
We can’t know for sure, but it seems unlikely that the Times would have published an editorial that said, “The administration has begun well by charging Mr. Assange with an indisputable crime.” It also seems unlikely that the Post would have published an editorial that said, “Mr. Assange’s case could conclude as a victory for the rule of law, not the defeat for civil liberties of which his defenders mistakenly warn.” Both of these statements were contained in editorials that the Times and the Post, respectively, published on Thursday, after Assange was arrested, in London, and Donald Trump’s Justice Department unsealed a federal indictment that federal prosecutors filed in Northern Virginia, last year.
Of course, a great deal has happened since 2014, much of it awful. During the 2016 Presidential election, Assange and WikiLeaks repeatedly published information that was damaging to the Democratic Party and to Hillary Clinton, timing the releases for maximum political damage. Assange denied that the Russian government was the source of this information, but, last summer, the special counsel, Robert Mueller, charged twelve Russian intelligence operatives with hacking D.N.C. servers and the e-mail account of John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign manager. Mueller’s indictment said that the Russian spies “used the Guccifer 2.0 persona to release additional stolen documents through a website maintained by an organization (‘Organization 1’),” which was WikiLeaks.
Whether he knew it or not, Assange was a key participant in an outrageous Russian effort to sow division inside this country and help Donald Trump. It is understandable that the events of 2016 have heavily colored perceptions of Assange’s arrest and possible extradition to the United States. (“Once in the United States, moreover, he could become a useful source on how Russia orchestrated its attacks on the Clinton campaign,” the Times editorial noted.) But it is important to recognize that the legal charges against him have nothing to do with Russia or the 2016 election. They relate exclusively to his dealings with Manning, in 2010. As numerous media watchdogs and civil-rights groups have already pointed out, they amount to a dangerous attack on the freedom of the press and on efforts by whistle-blowers to alert the public of the actions of powerful institutions, including the U.S. government.
In explaining the charges against Assange, the indictment’s “manners and means of the conspiracy” section describes many actions that are clearly legitimate journalistic practices, such as using encrypted messages, cultivating sources, and encouraging those sources to provide more information. It cites a text exchange in which Manning told Assange, “after this upload, that’s all I really have got left,” and Assange replied, “Curious eyes never run dry in my experience.” If that’s part of a crime, the authorities might have to start building more jails to hold reporters.
The indictment, and some of the commentary it engendered, also makes much of the fact that Assange offered to try to crack a computer password for Manning. The Department of Justice claims that this action amounted to Assange engaging in a “hacking” conspiracy. Even some independent commentators have suggested that it went beyond the bounds of legitimate journalism—and the protections of the First Amendment.
But did it? On Thursday, my colleague Raffi Khatchadourian, who has written extensively about Assange, pointed out that, as of now, it looks like Assange didn’t do much, if anything, to crack the password once Manning sent the encrypted version. Khatchadourian also pointed out that federal prosecutors have known about this text exchange for many years, and yet the Obama Administration didn’t bring any charges. “As evidence of a conspiracy,” Khatchadourian writes, “the exchange is thin gruel.”
Even if Assange had succeeded in decoding the encryption, it wouldn’t have given Manning access to any classified information she couldn’t have accessed through her own account. “Cracking the password would have allowed Manning to log onto the computers using a username that did not belong to her,” the indictment says. “Such a measure would have made it more difficult for investigators to identify Manning as the source of disclosures of classified information.” So the goal was to protect Manning’s identity, and Assange offered to assist. But who could argue that trying to help a source conceal his or her identity isn’t something investigative journalists do on a routine basis?
Robert Mahoney, the deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, described the indictment as “deeply troubling” because of the precedent it sets. “With this prosecution of Julian Assange, the U.S. government could set out broad legal arguments about journalists soliciting information or interacting with sources that could have chilling consequences for investigative reporting and the publication of information of public interest,” Mahoney warned.
The editorial in the Times did ultimately acknowledge “that the prosecution of Mr. Assange could become an assault on the First Amendment and whistle-blowers.” The Post’s editorial didn’t even go that far. Instead, it ended by saying Assange “is long overdue for personal accountability.” Many people would agree with that statement. But it is important not to view absolutely everything through the prism of 2016.
Putting The Picture Together — Marina Koren in The Atlantic on how the pieces came together to get the picture of the black hole.
The picture of a black hole, captured for the first time, shows a ring as radiant as gold against the darkness of space. At its center, the charcoal shadow of a void so powerful, nothing can escape its pull.
The dreamy photograph represents a tremendous technological achievement, assembled using eight radio telescopes in four continents—two each in Hawaii and Chile, and one each in Arizona, Mexico, Spain, and Antarctica—all synced together to scan the skies for several days in a row.
But the picture would not exist without technology much less sophisticated: computer disk drives.
The telescopes’ data had to go to two astronomy institutions to be processed, MIT’s Haystack Observatory in the United States and the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany. An email attachment wasn’t going to work. The observatories had collected five petabytes of data. The average iPhone has 64 gigabytes of data storage. One million gigabytes are in one petabyte. It would have taken years for the data to cross the internet.
And so the data were carried on hundreds of hard disk drives, shipped to and from the observatories through plain old FedEx. Which is kind of marvelous, when you think about it. In a world where transferring information from one end of the world to another takes only a click, some things still have to be done the old-fashioned way. Humanity owes its first glimpse of one of the most mysterious objects in the universe not to something flashy and high tech, but a technology that has been around since the late 1950s, and transportation methods far older.
And to find out how it’s done, you have to talk with Don Sousa.
Sousa is a computer-support specialist at the Haystack Observatory. He’s also the shipping guy. He handled virtually every shipment for the Event Horizon Telescope, the effort to photograph a black hole.
Sousa grew up a few towns over from Haystack and has the trademark Boston-area accent to prove it. Over decades at the observatory, he has packaged equipment, put in orders, wrangled foreign customs regulations, and filled out reams of paperwork so that all kinds of hardware, from atomic clocks to disk drives, gets where it is needed. Before disk drives became widely available, he shipped reels of magnetic tape. “It’s amazing the differences from the mid-eighties, when I started, to what we do now,” Sousa says.
For the Event Horizon Telescope, Sousa packaged the disk drives in groups of eight. (“These are off-the-shelf hard drives,” he says. “You could buy them for your own personal computer if you wanted.”) The stacks were placed inside custom cases that allowed data to be recorded on all eight drives at once. Each module—eight disks, plus their custom coating—weighed about 23 pounds. Sousa shipped them in boxes labeled fragile and lined with a two-inch layer of foam, with cutouts in the middle to snuggle the modules, like precious jewelry in an antique box.
Sousa says he uses mostly FedEx and UPS. Some routes were trickier than others. Chile and Mexico had stricter rules about what could cross their borders. Sousa had to obtain a special license from the U.S. Department of Commerce to ship a particular piece of equipment to Mexico.
The toughest destination was the South Pole Telescope in Antarctica. Without a nation to decide customs law, the continent relies on shipping agencies in Christchurch, New Zealand, which dispatch cargo ships and planes to the ice. Sousa had to coordinate with the National Science Foundation, which operates the research station where the telescope is based. Shipments had to meet very detailed specifications; Haystack had to build a wooden crate to carry the modules, because plastic containers weren’t allowed. “If it gets to Christchurch and something’s wrong, your equipment just sits there,” Sousa says.
The journey to the eight observatories was fine. It was the return trip that was worrisome. There were too much data to go through the burden of making extra copies; the disks that flew out of the stations were the only ones they had. “Going out there, they’re just blank,” says Mike Titus, the researcher who operated the supercomputer that helped synthesize all the data into a single, composite image. “Coming back, they’re precious commodities.”
I asked Titus whether the team considered asking a file-sharing service like Dropbox to build them something capable of transferring all those petabytes. “Don’t tell me that Amazon Cloud and Google Cloud, they wouldn’t love to have our data and store it for us,” Titus said, laughing. But even groundbreaking scientific teams don’t have that kind of budget. “Too much data and too much money—that’s why we don’t do it that way. Nothing beats the bandwidth of a 747 filled with hard disks.”
The return of the disks from the South Pole was particularly welcome. The shipment arrived months after all the rest thanks to the Antarctic winter, which had prevented anyone from flying in. The staff at Haystack was jubilant when FedEx arrived with a truck full of cosmic goodies from the bottom of the Earth. “It’s like they thought we were expecting penguins to jump out of the box or something,” says Nancy Wolfe Kotary, the communications officer at Haystack.
Sousa understood the concern, but he wasn’t too worried himself. “I’ve shipped to every continent,” he says, and in his 32 years on the job, he hasn’t lost one package.
Well, there was one, but it wasn’t his fault, or even the fault of any shipping company. The equipment, bound for a new research station in South Africa, cleared customs in Johannesburg and was loaded onto a truck. On the road, the truck was hijacked, and its contents stolen. “To this day, we figure it’s sitting somewhere on a coffee table as a conversation piece,” Sousa says.
Sousa plans to retire in three years and enter a new phase of his life that doesn’t require checking tracking alerts every day. He doesn’t have a background in science; before joining Haystack, he worked as a police officer for the state of Massachusetts. For him, the photo is the culmination of years’ worth of effort by astronomers and shipping experts alike. But the actual shot, he says, is pretty impressive, too.
Doonesbury — That’s Headley.
Monday, December 10, 2018
Michigan and Wisconsin Republicans are doing their best to kneecap incoming Democratic governors and state officials with lame-duck laws. Now Florida Republicans, even though they maintained control of the governorship and state legislature, are trying to subvert a clear election result that they fear could result in bad news for them in future elections.
A month after Florida voters approved a measure to restore the franchise to about 1.4 million former felons—the largest expansion of voting rights in decades—a battle over implementing that change is already beginning.
The state’s Republican elections chief is resisting swift implementation of the measure, which was approved by nearly 65 percent of Florida voters on November 6 and is scheduled to take effect on January 8. He’s asking the state Legislature, dominated by Republicans, to interpret the ballot initiative. As a result, the dismantling of one of the harshest disenfranchisement schemes in the country could be subject to delays, confusion, and lawsuits.
To those who crafted Amendment 4, the ballot language was straightforward. It read, “This amendment restores the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation.” It stipulated an exception for people convicted of murder or a sexual offense.
“On January 8, anybody who has completed the terms of their sentence for an offense other than murder or felony sexual assault had their rights restored by the voters on Election Day,” said Howard Simon, who as director of the Florida ACLU helped craft and shepherd Amendment 4 to passage. But Simon, who retired last week after 21 years leading the Florida ACLU, predicted that there might be trouble ahead. “I’m not naive,” he said in an interview with Mother Jones on the day he stepped down. He predicted that the state Legislature, which does not convene until March 5, might try to muddy the waters. Legislation could bog down rights restoration or sow enough confusion that some ex-felons are deterred from registering.
Gee, what a shock… not that they’re doing this, but that it’s taken them more than a month to rear up on their hind legs and say “Hey, the language in the amendment isn’t clear.” Which is cynically funny since the Republicans are famous for crafting ballot measures and amendments that read like one of those software user agreements you click through on your way to download an app.
But they know that the majority of people affected by this amendment are minorities who, in their mind, don’t deserve to vote regardless of their record, and that if they are given back their constitutional rights, will vote for the other guys.
So here we go again.
Thursday, August 30, 2018
Now that they have got an outright racist running for governor in Florida, the Trump regime is moving on to clear the border of people they suspect aren’t really ‘Murican because they’re Hispanic.
PHARR, Tex. — On paper, he’s a devoted U.S. citizen.
His official American birth certificate shows he was delivered by a midwife in Brownsville, at the southern tip of Texas. He spent his life wearing American uniforms: three years as a private in the Army, then as a cadet in the Border Patrol and now as a state prison guard.
But when Juan, 40, applied to renew his U.S. passport this year, the government’s response floored him. In a letter, the State Department said it didn’t believe he was an American citizen.
As he would later learn, Juan is one of a growing number of people whose official birth records show they were born in the United States but who are now being denied passports — their citizenship suddenly thrown into question. The Trump administration is accusing hundreds, and possibly thousands, of Hispanics along the border of using fraudulent birth certificates since they were babies, and it is undertaking a widespread crackdown.
Well, they’ve got to find a use for all those concentration camps now that they’ve been busted for separating parents from their children.
Hey, you — yeah, you — can you prove you’re a citizen? Do you remember being born? Where was it? Where’s your birth certificate, and how do we know it wasn’t doctored up back when you were born to make it appear you were born here and not in Juarez or Kenya?
Monday, August 20, 2018
Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, yesterday on “Meet the Press:”
“I am not going to be rushed into having him testify so that he gets trapped into perjury,” Giuliani said, repeating a frequently made point. “And when you tell me that, you know, he should testify because he is going to tell the truth and he shouldn’t worry, that’s so silly because it’s somebody’s version of the truth, not the truth.”
“Truth is truth,” [moderator Chuck] Todd responded, exasperated.
“No it isn’t truth! Truth isn’t truth!” Giuliani said, adding: “Donald Trump says I didn’t talk about Flynn with Comey. Comey says you did talk about. So tell me what the truth is!”
Some pills make you larger, and some pills make you small…
What’s remarkable about this exchange is not just the Orwellian peace-is-war / Lewis Carroll “Through the Looking Glass” framing of reality. It’s that there will be any number of Republicans who, either because of fear or convenience or their own self-interest, will shrug it off and go on about their business because Trump is their leader and Republicans always follow their leader, even if it’s down the rabbit hole or over the cliff.
The real news of the past few weeks isn’t that Trump is a wannabe Mussolini who can’t even make the trains run on time. It’s the absence of any meaningful pushback from Congressional Republicans. Indeed, not only are they acquiescing in Trump’s corruption, his incitements to violence, and his abuse of power, up to and including using the power of office to punish critics, they’re increasingly vocal in cheering him on.
Make no mistake: if Republicans hold both houses of Congress this November, Trump will go full authoritarian, abusing institutions like the I.R.S., trying to jail opponents and journalists on, er, trumped-up charges, and more — and he’ll do it with full support from his party.
The point is that once you’ve made excuses for and come to the aid of a bad leader, it gets ever harder to say no to the next outrage. Republicans who defended Trump over the Muslim ban, his early attacks on the press, the initial evidence of collusion with Russia, have in effect burned their bridges. It would be deeply embarrassing to admit that the elitist liberals they mocked were right when they were wrong; also, nobody who doesn’t support Trump will ever trust their judgment or patriotism again.
They are counting on two things: the short-term memory of both the news cycle and those who maintain it, and the rabidness of the base of the party that embraces the racism, the sexism, the anti-democratic instincts that lie within the heart of all hard-core cults of personality. Both of those come together to make it perfectly plausible for Trump to stand up at an airport hangar rally in some mid-size city in the Midwest and say, to the adoring cheers and prompted jeers at the news media, that the truth about him is all lies and that the things that America stands for such as equal rights under the law and freedom of the press are the real threats to our way of life. He’ll sell a million red hats with that emblazoned on it. He will be able to count on the complicity and indifference of the Republican party because what they stand for is “keep us in power so we can make money and keep the nice things for ourselves. As for the rest of you, well, you’re on your own.”
And that’s the truth.
Thursday, August 16, 2018
Editorial boards across the country and even overseas are joining the Boston Globe to speak out against Trump’s attacks on the media as, to quote Josef Stalin, “the enemy of the people.” The Miami Herald, as a part of the McClatchy chain of papers, printed their thoughts.
No American president, or any city council member, for that matter, has ever unreservedly delighted in the way he or she was presented in the press. “I so appreciate the accuracy of their reporting on my perceived flaws!” said no official ever. “And good for them for holding me accountable.”
But President Donald Trump has veered into unfamiliar and perilous territory with his unceasing all-out assault on the free press and the First Amendment. Of course, the irony of Trump’s attacks on the “SICK!” and “very dishonest people” in “the fake media” he accuses of purveying, yes, “fake news” is that he himself is a product of the New York tabloids. He’s as savvy about manipulating his coverage as he is adept in undermining it.
But today the consequences of the president’s perpetual battle against journalists extend far beyond the Manhattan gossip pages. And the animus you see directed at CNN’s Jim Acosta isn’t just reserved for the White House press corps. Everywhere in the country, any matter that an official doesn’t want to talk about or that a reader doesn’t want to hear about is “fake news” now.
In our business, we know how much words matter. We know, too, that Trump’s references to us as the “enemy of the American People” are no less dangerous because they happen to be strategic. That is what Nazis called Jews. It’s how Joseph Stalin’s critics were marked for execution.
Every reporter who has ever covered a Trump rally knows the scratch of a threat that’s conveyed during that ritual moment when he aims the attention of the crowd to reporters, many of whom no longer stand in the press pen in the back for that reason.
And as real as the threat of physical violence is, especially after the murder of our colleagues in Annapolis, Maryland, Trump’s aggressive posture toward the First Amendment worries us even more.
That’s why nearly all of McClatchy’s 30 daily newspapers, which almost never speak with one voice, are doing so now. That’s why we’re joining with fellow journalists across the country in calling for an end to the president’s war of words against our free press.
It’s an affront to the U.S. Constitution when President Trump threatens to eliminate the First Amendment protections the Supreme Court has built into our nation’s libel laws — or when he suggests revoking the FCC licenses of broadcast news organizations whose reporting he doesn’t like.
The White House’s besmirching of journalists who are doing their jobs is dangerous to the public as well as to the press. It’s not just that we dislike being called “fake news.” That misnomer discredits facts and creates what Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway called “alternative facts,” making reasoned and informed debate basically impossible.
We all — as citizens — have a stake in this fight, and the battle lines seem pretty clear. If one first comes successfully for the press as an “enemy of the American People,” what stops someone for coming next for your friends? Your family? Or you?
Not even President Richard Nixon, whose original “enemies list” of the 20 private citizens he hoped to use his public office to “screw” included three journalists, tried to incite violence against reporters. While stewing privately about Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as “enemies … trying to stick the knife right in our groin,” not even Nixon tagged the lot of us, Soviet-style, as “enemies of the people.” Nor did even he dare to take on the idea that our free press is worth protecting.
Donald Trump swore on Abraham Lincoln’s Bible to uphold the Constitution. And the First Amendment’s guarantee that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press” implies that no branch of government will do so.
That 44 percent of Republicans polled recently said Trump should have the autocrat’s power to shut down news outlets shows how successful his efforts have already been.
Like Nixon, Trump still pines for the kind of coverage his behavior makes impossible. But his place in history will be far less mixed than Nixon’s if he continues to menace James Madison’s best work.
Having worked, however briefly in the news business (nine months), I know all too well the pressure reporters are under to get the story, get it right, and make sure that it is reported as fairly and without bias as possible. That’s all you can hope for, and there’s never time to sit back and try to spin it or slant it. You ask questions, you do your research, and if someone tells you something, you check it out. The people you report on may have an agenda, but the only one you have is to the truth as best you can find it. In other words, it’s too hard to come up with “fake news;” getting the real news is hard enough, and anyone who voluntarily takes the low pay, the long hours, and the countless attempts to prove you wrong are truly dedicated to their mission.
Trump’s attacks on the press and the people who report the news stink of desperation and consciousness of guilt. Granted, no one likes seeing their faults printed or being called out for falsehoods, but that’s human nature. The true sign of maturity and of civilized society is the ability to either accept it, laugh it off, or make amends.
The real enemy of the people are those who would try to repress the true expression of the truth or the attempts to do so.
Wednesday, May 30, 2018
Rather than add to the bonfire of outrage over Roseanne Barr and the fact that ABC knew full well what they were getting and were probably ready for her Twitterpation (they were not caught off-guard; they had the press release and the firing orders in draft when they signed the contracts last year), I will simply remind us all that “freedom of speech” doesn’t mean you get off scot-free for saying something hideous.
It should be noted, however, that if every celebrity that tweeted racist and conspiracy shit were fired in three hours and banished from the public stage with such expeditious dispatch as ABC showed Ms. Barr, Trump would have never made it past his descent on his golden escalator in 2015.
Tuesday, February 27, 2018
Deadly storms kill five in the South and Midwest.
Court rules against Trump’s attempt to kill DACA for now.
New York court rules that civil rights laws protect sexual orientation.
San Francisco Fire Department sees rise in breast cancer rates.
DeVos orders probe of how MSU handled sex-abuse investigation.
Thursday, November 30, 2017
Friday, November 17, 2017
A sheriff in Texas has an issue with the First Amendment.
Karen Fonseca was booked into the jail shortly after 2 p.m. on Thursday for a fraud charge. Her bail is set at $1500.
Her arrest comes after Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls on Wednesday created a social media firestorm with a Facebook post threatening to bring disorderly conduct charges against the driver of a truck displaying a profane anti-Trump message on its rear window.
Nehls told the Houston Chronicle that he had received calls, texts and emails in recent days from people who took offense at the language in bold, white lettering: “F— TRUMP AND F— YOU FOR VOTING FOR HIM.”
The sheriff, a Republican who is weighing a bid for Congress shared a photo on his official Facebook page in hopes that it would help to identify the truck owner. The license plate is not visible in the image.
Turns out, Fonseca said she used to work for Nehls in the county jail.
Karen Fonseca said the truck belongs to her husband but that she often drives it. They had the sticker made and added it to the window after the billionaire real estate magnate and reality TV star was sworn into office.
The sticker has attracted attention many times before, Fonseca said. People shake their head. They take photos of it. Officers have pulled her over but failed to find a reason for writing a ticket.
Now the sheriff is taking it on, but Fonseca did not plan to contact him.
“It’s not to cause hate or animosity,” said Fonseca, 46. “It’s just our freedom of speech and we’re exercising it.”
I’m sure its a coincidence that the outstanding warrant search popped after she went public. One way or another, they find you if you say the wrong thing in front of the right people.
Sunday, October 29, 2017
Deadly Serious — John Cassidy on Robert Mueller’s mission.
On Friday night, CNN reported that a grand jury in Washington, D.C., has approved the first charges arising from the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign and the Russian government. Citing “sources briefed on the matter,” the network said that a judge had ordered the charges kept under seal, but that at least one arrest could take place as early as Monday.
Details were scant. The CNN report didn’t specify what the charges were or whom they had been brought against. But the news created an immediate furor, as other news organizations sought to follow up the story, and people on television and social media began speculating about the nature of the charges. Shortly before midnight, the Wall Street Journalconfirmed CNN’s scoop, without providing any additional details.
Speaking on CNN, Michael Zeldin, a lawyer who served as a special assistant to Mueller when he was director of the F.B.I., suggested that Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, might be the person charged. Zeldin imagined Mueller taking such a step to pressure Manafort to coöperate. “There is a lot of pressure on people who are under investigation to coöperate with Mueller after this indictment,” Zeldin said. Well before Mueller was appointed special counsel, the F.B.I. had been investigating Manafort’s financial ties to a pro-Russia party in the Ukraine. Mueller took over that investigation after he was appointed, in May. In July, F.B.I. agents staged a pre-dawn raid on Manafort’s home in Alexandria, Virginia.
Manafort isn’t the only name being speculated about. Other commentators suggested that Carter Page, a former adviser to the Trump campaign who had his own extensive Russian ties, or Michael Flynn, the former national-security adviser who was ousted from the White House over his post-election contact with Russia, might be subjects of the charges. It has been reported that the former F.B.I. director James Comey, when he was leading the Russia investigation, secured permission from a secret court operating under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to tap the communications of Page and Manafort. It has also been reported that Mueller’s team demanded White House documents about Flynn.
A key political question is whether these charges are related to things that happened as part of the Trump campaign, or whether they relate to alleged wrongdoings that occurred before it began or separate from it. If there are direct ties between the charges and the campaign, that will obviously have huge ramifications on Capitol Hill and elsewhere. But if the charges concern alleged actions on the part of Manafort or others that were unrelated to the 2016 campaign, the White House may well accuse Mueller of moving beyond his remit. That allegation wouldn’t be accurate—the terms of Mueller’s appointment gave him license to investigate “any matters that arose or may arise directly” from the Russia probe—but accuracy has never concerned Trump much.
One thing we can say for sure is that the news of the charges has moved the Mueller investigation firmly into the media spotlight, where it is likely to stay. Since Mueller’s appointment, his team of prosecutors and investigators has operated largely out of the public eye. One of the few known facts was that it had convened a grand jury in Washington. Friday night’s CNN report said that earlier in the day, “top lawyers who are helping to lead the Mueller probe, including veteran prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, were seen entering the court room at the D.C. federal court where the grand jury meets to hear testimony in the Russia investigation.”
There was no immediate comment from the White House about the CNN story. But it was published less than twelve hours after Donald Trump tweeted, “It is now commonly agreed, after many months of COSTLY looking, that there was NO collusion between Russia and Trump. Was collusion with HC!”
For days, the White House and conservative media organizations have been touting a Washington Poststory that revealed that Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee helped to pay for the controversial Russia dossier written by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer. “I think this further proves if there was anyone that was colluding with the Russians to influence the election, look no further than the Clintons, look no further than the D.N.C.,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House spokeswoman, told Fox News on Thursday. “Everything that the Clinton campaign and the D.N.C. were falsely accusing this President of doing over the past year, they were actually doing themselves.”
After CNN published its story on Friday night, some Democrats and commentators suggested that the Trump Administration may have known the Mueller indictments were coming and leaked the Steele story to create a smokescreen. “So clearly target is in crosshairs, alerted Trumpsville, right wing media & Trump engineered mass diversion &main stream media fell for it,” Neera Tanden, a former adviser to Hillary Clinton who is the president of the Center for American Progress, tweeted.
Plausible as that theory sounds, it, too, is conjecture. What isn’t speculation is the fact that, five months into his investigation, Mueller has brought a first set of criminal charges. By the standards of recent special prosecutors, that is fast work, and it confirms Mueller’s reputation as someone who doesn’t like to dally. Now that he has started arresting people, there is no reason to suppose he will stop. And that is precisely the message he wants to send.
Hurricane Recovery — Nathalie Baptiste and Mark Helenowski on how nature is reclaiming itself five years after Sandy.
Five years ago, Superstorm Sandy—a monstrous post-tropical cyclone with hurricane force winds—struck New York, bringing record-breaking wind gusts and deadly flooding. In New York City, 53 people died—nearly half of them were from Staten Island. The Ocean Breeze, Midland Beach, and Dongan Hills communities were especially hard hit, with 11 fatalities. A few months after the storm, WNYC reporter Matthew Schuerman described the square mile that makes up parts of these communities as “the most dangerous place to be in New York City” during Sandy.
Joe Herrnkind, a middle-aged man who moved to Ocean Breeze in 2000, remembers those days, as he walks through the deserted streets of his once tight-knit beach community. Most of the homes have been torn down, and a few are boarded up waiting to be demolished. The homes that do remain are surrounded by empty plots of land where wild turkeys wander. Unlike many other New York victims of Sandy who have rebuilt their communities, those from these neighborhoods knew that rebuilding was not the best option. Some sold their land to developers, and a few others, like Herrnkind and his neighbors, sold their land to the governor’s office so it can be returned to its natural state.
“We’re a low-lying community,” he says. “We had constant flooding and wildfires. You hear all this and you’re saying, ‘Why would you want to live there?’”
Recent hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria have all raised the same question: What is to be done with the dozens of towns and cities in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico that have developed infrastructure on vulnerable flood-prone land that routinely requires massive cleanup and rebuilding efforts after each disastrous storm? Altogether, the recent storms could costup to nearly $400 billion in damages. But some communities and local leaders are starting to realize that this model won’t break the cycle. In Ocean Breeze, instead of rebuilding on vulnerable flood plains, some residents have chosen to leave old neighborhoods behind and let nature take its course.
In 2012, when Sandy approached New York, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered evacuations of nearly 375,000 people in low-lying communities ahead of the storm. Herrnkind gathered his two dogs and left to stay with a friend in New Jersey. Most of his neighbors followed the evacuation orders, but eight or nine families stayed behind. Two of his neighbors died.
Sandy’s peak winds were recorded at 115 miles per hour and Staten Island saw wind gusts of up to 80 miles per hour. Father Cappodano Boulevard, the main road separating Ocean Breeze from the Atlantic, rises several feet above the side streets. Sandy’s unprecedented 16-foot surge overtopped the roads and poured into homes. A few days later, when Herrnkind was able to return, he had no idea if his home was going to be standing. The city estimated that more than 300,000 homes were damaged by the storm’s flood.
“An officer told me, ‘You can’t go down there,’” Herrnkind recalls. When he finally arrived the water was still nearly waist deep. “It’s still there,” he remembers thinking when he first saw his house. “I have something to work with.” The watermark on a lamp post today shows that the storm surge reached far above his head, which explains why his furniture and all his personal belongings were gone.
Local leaders struggled to respond to the crisis. New York City created Build It Back, a program for rebuilding destroyed and damaged homes. There are more than 8,000 participants and by 2017, the mayor’s office estimates 87 percent of those who enrolled have received compensation, completed construction, or had their homes acquired by the city. But the program has come under criticism. Many homeowners dropped out due to delays. City Controller Scott Stringer and City Councilman Mark Treyger who represents parts of Brooklyn have been fierce critics of the program. In a letter to Build It Back director Amy Peterson, the two wrote that the number of dropouts “raises serious questions about our City’s ability to mount an efficient and effective recovery operation in the event of a future disaster.” Herrnkind jokingly refers to it as “Build It Wrong.”
After six months of living in his car, which he had parked in front of his abandoned house, and disappointed by the city’s program, Hernnkind realized “the land itself should never have been built on.” Much of the region was a salt marsh, particularly vulnerable to storm surge and floods. “It was a very low, natural, spongy salt marsh, and it was filled to create homes,” Robert Brauman, a project manager for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection told Curbed New York in 2016, “and that was where the problems started.”
Another option for some homeowners was a program from the Governor’s Office for Sandy Recovery, which has been buying houses that were destroyed or substantially damaged and transforming them to open space and wetlands. The goal is to create a natural coastal buffer that can protect communities from future storms. In late 2013, more than a year after the storm Gov. Cuomo announced that Ocean Breeze would join Oakwood Beach as a town eligible for state buyouts, and Hernnkind’s entire block was included. Reluctant to “put someone else in harm’s way,” Hernnkind concluded that he and his neighbors should take advantage of the state buyout program. He was able to sell his home to the state at pre-storm value and move elsewhere on the island.
So far, more than 600 homes have been purchased through the buyout program. Once the sale goes through, the state government demolishes the home and lets nature reclaim the land. Today, Ocean Breeze is mostly empty, but complicating matters are the residents who refuse to leave. In Oakwood Beach where most of the land is going back to nature, remaining residents struggle with lack of trash pick-up and crumbling roads. One of Herrnkind’s former neighbors who stayed behind is an elderly woman who feared her children would put her in a nursing home if she left. Some opted out of the program because they didn’t have the proper paperwork required to sell their homes. Others didn’t want to give up their homes in a community they loved.
But staying behind comes with a cost. According to the New York Times, flood insurance premiums could rise up to 25 percent for homes that were damaged by Sandy.
On Hernnkind’s section of the street, only one home remains out of eight. “Around here, 90 percent of each block went,” he says, “and only one or two people stayed.” Just down the street from where Herrnkind used to live, more turkeys mill about on empty lots where homes used to be.
Hernnkind’s former neighbor Frank Moszczynski, a tall man with a large presence, took the state buyout and moved to another neighborhood on Staten Island. He doesn’t have much sympathy for someone who willingly stays in a vulnerable area. “Why should someone emergency workers have to go out and risk their lives for someone who chose to stay in harm’s way?” he asks pointedly. Today, the only thing protecting the Ocean Breeze from another storm is a four-foot hill of sand.
Across the street from the vacant lot he used to call home, Hernnkind stands on the beach looking at the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and Brooklyn’s Coney Island, a view he used to be able to see from his bedroom window. “If it weren’t for Sandy,” he says, “I’d still be here.”
How Twitter Killed the First Amendment — Tim Wu in the New York Times.
You need not be a media historian to notice that we live in a golden age of press harassment, domestic propaganda and coercive efforts to control political debate. The Trump White House repeatedly seeks to discredit the press, threatens to strip broadcasters of their licenses and calls for the firing of journalists and football players for speaking their minds. A foreign government tries to hack our elections, and journalists and public speakers are regularly attacked by vicious, online troll armies whose aim is to silence opponents.
In this age of “new” censorship and blunt manipulation of political speech, where is the First Amendment? Americans like to think of it as the great protector of the press and of public debate. Yet it seems to have become a bit player, confined to a narrow and often irrelevant role. It is time to ask: Is the First Amendment obsolete? If so, what can be done?
These questions arise because the jurisprudence of the First Amendment was written for a different set of problems in a very different world. The First Amendment was ignored for much of American history, coming to life only in the 1920s thanks to the courage of judges like Learned Hand, Louis Brandeis and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Courts and civil libertarians used the amendment to protect speakers from government prosecution and censorship as it was practiced in the 20th century, such as the arrest of pamphleteers and the seizure of anarchist newspapers by the Postal Service.
But in the 21st century, censorship works differently, as the writer and academic Zeynep Tufekci has illustrated. The complete suppression of dissenting speech isn’t feasible in our “cheap speech” era. Instead, the world’s most sophisticated censors, including Russia and China, have spent a decade pioneering tools and techniques that are better suited to the internet age. Unfortunately, those new censorship tools have become unwelcome imports in the United States, with catastrophic results for our democracy.
The Russian government was among the first to recognize that speech itself could be used as a tool of suppression and control. The agents of its “web brigade,” often called the “troll army,” disseminate pro-government news, generate false stories and coordinate swarm attacks on critics of the government. The Chinese government has perfected “reverse censorship,” whereby disfavored speech is drowned out by “floods” of distraction or pro-government sentiment. As the journalist Peter Pomerantsev writes, these techniques employ information “in weaponized terms, as a tool to confuse, blackmail, demoralize, subvert and paralyze.”
Our distressing state of public discourse stems from the widespread use of these new tools of censorship and speech control, including by the White House. The administration habitually crosses the line between fact and propaganda. Instead of taking action itself, it demands that others punish its supposed enemies. To add to the mess, it is apparent that the Russian government and possibly others hope to manipulate American political debate, as its exploitation of Facebook and Twitter in the last election shows.
What can be done? It is time to recognize that the American political process and marketplace for ideas are under attack, and that reinvigorating the First Amendment is vital. First, it is an imperative that law enforcement and lawmakers do more to protect journalists and other public speakers from harassment and threats. Cyberstalking is a crime. And as the Supreme Court has made clear, threats of violence are not protected speech. A country where speaking one’s mind always results in death threats is not a country that can be said to be truly free.
Second, too little is being done to protect American politics from foreign attack. The Russian efforts to use Facebook, YouTube and other social media to influence American politics should compel Congress to act. Social media has as much impact as broadcasting on elections, yet unlike broadcasting it is unregulated and has proved easy to manipulate. At a minimum, new rules should bar social media companies from accepting money for political advertising by foreign governments or their agents. And more aggressive anti-bot laws are needed to fight impersonation of humans for propaganda purposes.
Finally, the White House needs to be held accountable when it tries to use private parties to circumvent First Amendment protections. When it encourages others to punish its critics — as when it demanded that the N.F.L., on pain of tax penalties, censor players — it is wielding state power to punish disfavored speech. There is precedent for such abuses to be challenged in court.
Some might argue, based on the sophomoric premise that “more speech is always better,” that the current state of chaos is what the First Amendment intended. But no defensible free-speech tradition accepts harassment and threats as speech, treats foreign propaganda campaigns as legitimate debate or thinks that social-media bots ought to enjoy constitutional protection. A robust and unfiltered debate is one thing; corruption of debate itself is another. We have entered a far more dangerous place for the republic; its defense requires stronger protections for what we once called the public sphere.
Doonesbury — Walled off.