Recently in politics Category

Colonel Ralph Peters (the "strategic analyst" at Fox who became infamous for calling President Obama "a total pussy" a while back) is now done with Fox:

Col. Ralph Peters was a vocal and vitriolic critic of President Obama, but even he has had enough. In an email sent by Peters to the Fox News staff and obtained by Buzzfeed, Peters explained his decision not to renew his contract.

Here is an excerpt from the full email:

Today, I feel that Fox News is assaulting our constitutional order and the rule of law, while fostering corrosive and unjustified paranoia among viewers. Over my decade with Fox, I long was proud of the association. Now I am ashamed.

In my view, Fox has degenerated from providing a legitimate and much-needed outlet for conservative voices to a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration.

It's about time that a conservative recognizes the truth...

Jason Easley reports at Politicus USA that a second woman has sued to be released from a Trump NDA:

Karen McDougal, the former Playboy model who claims to have had an affair with Trump, is suing the Trump allied National Enquirer to break her NDA so that she can talk publicly about Trump. [...]

The National Enquirer bought the rights to McDougal's story and then buried it while keeping her silent through an NDA.

"America is witnessing the disintegration of the Trump presidency," Easley writes, "as the Trump loose ends are coming undone." It appears that stormier weather is ahead...

Politicus USA's Jason Easley writes that this fall, many of us will be voting, in effect, for an investigation into Cambridge Analytica:

The man who may be leading the House Russia investigation in a matter of months, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), said that the connections between Russia, Trump, and Cambridge Analytica need to be investigated.

Here is part of the transcript from ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos:

SCHIFF: We need to find out what we can about the misappropriation of the privacy, the private information of tens of millions of Americans. That misappropriate information used by this digital arm of the Trump campaign to manipulate American voters and, of course, the links between Cambridge Analytica and Julian Assange. We know Nick's (ph) reached out to Assange to try to acquire stolen Clinton emails. The links between this Russian researcher and Cambridge Analytica and the links between Russian Analytica and a Russian oil company Lukoil that wanted information about reaching American voters.

All of that needs to be investigated. And the premature conclusion of this investigation doesn't allow us to do our job.

As Easley remarks:

As the Special Counsel investigation widens and investigates Trump's businesses and potential money laundering, it is crystal clear why House Republicans rushed to shut down their investigation and issue a glowing report clearing the president of any wrongdoing. The pieces are coming together. Trump's data firm worked with Russians and the Trump campaign to target and manipulate voters to get Trump elected.

Axios analyzes the Cambridge Analytica blowback, as "The number of calls for investigations into Trump-linked Cambridge Analytica's illicit gathering of Facebook data grew on Sunday:"

There are concerns over Cambridge Analytica, which did work for the Trump campaign, gathering the data on millions of Facebook users. And there are also worries that the social platform didn't handle the incident properly, prompting lawmakers to raise their voices over the past few days on both sides of the pond.

Slate's Jacob Metcalf and Casey Fiesler explain some of the problems:

In a 2013 paper ["Private traits and attributes are predictable from digital records of human behavior"], psychologist Michal Kosinski and collaborators from University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom warned that "the predictability of individual attributes from digital records of behavior may have considerable negative implications," posing a threat to "well-being, freedom, or even life." This warning followed their striking findings about how accurately the personal attributes of a person (from political leanings to intelligence to sexual orientation) could be inferred from nothing but their Facebook likes.

This trove of reporting shows how Cambridge Analytica allegedly relied on the psychologist Aleksandr Kogan (who also goes by Aleksandr Spectre), a colleague of the original researchers at Cambridge, to gain access to profiles of around 50 million Facebook users.

Back then, "Facebook's API (the portal that allows third parties to make use of Facebook software and data) by default allowed third parties to access not only your own profile with permission, but also the full profiles of all of your friends," and this was exploited by Cambridge Analytica and their commercialized research:

It appears that Kogan deceitfully used his dual roles as a researcher and an entrepreneur to move data between an academic context and a commercial context, although the exact method of it is unclear. The Guardian claims that Kogan "had a licence from Facebook to collect profile data, but it was for research purposes only" and "[Kogan's] permission from Facebook to harvest profiles in large quantities was specifically restricted to academic use." Transferring the data this way would already be a violation of the terms of Facebook's API policies that barred use of the data outside of Facebook for commercial uses, but we are unfamiliar with Facebook offering a "license" or special "permission" for researchers to collect greater amounts of data via the API.

"Ultimately," the piece concludes, "researchers and platforms need each other:"

Platforms have a vast, unprecedented trove of data about human behavior, but they cannot understand it and build the best possible products without external researchers' critical insights. The worst possible result of this scandal is a reduction of access. The best possible result is the development of equitable, open, and transparent access to research data with user consent.

Trump had senior White House officials sign NDAs, reports WaPo's Ruth Marcus:

Back in April 2016, when the notion of Donald Trump in the White House still seemed fanciful, The Post's Robert Costa and Bob Woodward sat down with Trump, and Costa, at one point, raised the subject of the nondisclosure agreements for employees of which the candidate was so fond.

Costa: "One thing I always wondered, are you going to make employees of the federal government sign nondisclosure agreements?"

Trump: "I think they should. [...] But when people are chosen by a man to go into government at high levels and then they leave government and they write a book about a man and say a lot of things that were really guarded and personal, I don't like that.

Marcus continues:

In the early months of the administration, at the behest of now-President Trump, who was furious over leaks from within the White House, senior White House staff members were asked to, and did, sign nondisclosure agreements vowing not to reveal confidential information and exposing them to damages for any violation. Some balked at first but, pressed by then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and the White House Counsel's Office, ultimately complied, concluding that the agreements would likely not be enforceable in any event.

"This is extraordinary," writes Marcus:

Every president inveighs against leakers and bemoans the kiss-and-tell books; no president, to my knowledge, has attempted to impose such a pledge. And while White House staffers have various confidentiality obligations -- maintaining the secrecy of classified information or attorney-client privilege, for instance -- the notion of imposing a side agreement, supposedly enforceable even after the president leaves office, is not only oppressive but constitutionally repugnant. Unlike employees of private enterprises such as the Trump Organization or Trump campaign, White House aides have First Amendment rights when it comes to their employer, the federal government. If you have a leaker on your staff, the cure is firing, not suing.

"This is crazy," said attorney Debra Katz, who has represented numerous government whistleblowers and negotiated nondisclosure agreements. "The idea of having some kind of economic penalty is an outrageous effort to limit and chill speech. Once again, this president believes employees owe him a personal duty of loyalty, when their duty of loyalty is to the institution."

"Now we know," continues Marcus, "that he imported these bullying tactics into the White House:"

Which raises the obvious question: Why is he so consistently frantic to ensure that no one knows what goes on behind closed doors?

H/t to Digby for mentioning Michelle Goldberg's "Burn it down, Rex:"

Since the beginning of this nightmare administration, we've been assured -- via well-placed anonymous sources -- that a few sober, trustworthy people in the White House were checking Donald Trump's worst instincts and most erratic whims. A collection of generals, New York finance types and institution-minded Republicans were said to be nobly sacrificing their reputations and serving a disgraceful president for the good of the country. Through strategic leaks they presented themselves as guardians of American democracy rather than collaborators in its undoing.

What has happened as the nightmare continued?

Over the past 14 months we've also seen monstrous levels of corruption and chaos, a plummeting of America's standing in the world and the obliteration of a host of democratic norms. Yet things could always be worse; the economy is doing well and Trump has not yet started any real wars.

Increasingly, however, the people who were supposed to be the adults in the room aren't in the room anymore [but] The self-styled grown-ups are, for the most part, being replaced by lackeys and ideologues.

"This new stage of unbound Trumpism," Goldberg says worrisomely, "might make the administration's first year look stable in comparison:"

That would partly vindicate the adults' claims that things would be even messier without them. But it would also mean that by protecting the country from the consequences of an unhinged president, they helped Trump consolidate his power while he learned how to transcend restraints.

The Alt-Right is literally killing people, writes Kate Harveston:

The Southern Poverty Law Center recently counted more than 100 victims injured or killed by members of what is being dubbed the "alt-right." All of the perpetrators hold some common characteristics: white, male and under 40 years old.

On the surface, the majority of the alt-right's "members" appear to be politically disillusioned individuals encouraged to believe that their voices have been drowned out by a left-leaning mainstream news apparatus. Many other strong cultural movements have spawned from these same conditions, though.

From the civil rights struggle of the 1960s to the 1980s punk scene and beyond, movements found success through their ability to cater to a specifically disenfranchised group. These movements historically offer a sense of solidarity and organization to individuals who feel they have otherwise been scorned by society.

"However, this time seems different," Harveston writes, "as the violent alt-right is becoming increasingly empowered and dangerous. How will we counteract this threat in the coming years?"

Our country is undergoing an epidemic of mass shootings unrivaled by any other democracy today. And while these violent acts seem entirely random, almost all the shooters are white men under or around 30 years old -- awfully consistent with the alt-right. [...]

This is a movement fed on misinformation and toxic online forums. How, then, can we begin to strip the violent power from a movement that is fractured, independently operating and widely anonymous?

"A few ideas have been floated," she continues:

We should consider the positive aspects of the internet and our ability to share moving and convincing stories with all members of the community. [...] Gun control legislation is seen as the primary means by which our country can prevent future violent incidents. [...]

Directly confronting members of the alt-right has resulted in violence -- Charlottesville being the clearest example. Other indirect forms of confrontation, including censorship and "outing" online users or alt-right event participants, have been more effective.

"One thing we know," Harveston concludes, is that "The American epidemic of gun violence will continue if nothing changes:"

Since Columbine in 1999, there have been endless mass shootings. Now, a fresh wave of violence is sweeping the nation, and it seems to be most prevalent in a particular demographic: young white males. This issue won't disappear with the older generation. We need to be discussing actionable legislation that will help pave the way for a safer future -- because what we're doing clearly isn't working.

NYT discusses the Maine Republican who ended his candidacy after making a number of derogatory remarks about the Parkland survivors:

A Republican candidate for the Maine State House who disparaged two teenage survivors of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., dropped out of the race after drawing heavy criticism and challengers from both political parties.

The candidate, Leslie Gibson, had been running to represent District 57 in central Maine unopposed, according to The Sun Journal, which first reported the comments he made on Twitter. Mr. Gibson called one Florida student, Emma González, a "skinhead lesbian," and another, David Hogg, a "moron" and a "baldfaced liar."

Later, after the negative attention, "Gibson acknowledged that his responses were "harsh and uncivil" and said it was 'inappropriate to single out' the students." As survivor David Hogg remarked:

"We need good people in office -- people who are actually human and have an ounce of empathy," he continued. "It's hilarious because its ridiculous. They're only proving our point that there are so many bad politicians out there. We almost let somebody that would say something like that win and run unopposed."

NRA spokes-bullshitter Dana Loesch is becoming remarkably consistent at attaining worst-person status for her remarks about Wednesday's "March for Our Lives" protest and walkout. Loesch asserts, "let's be clear -- gun control wouldn't have prevent what happened yesterday," but C&L offers this correction:

In fact, a new Florida gun control law that raises the age to buy a rifle to 21 would have prevented the 19-year-old Parkland shooter from purchasing the gun he used to kill 17 people.

MediaMatters reminds us that the rest of conservative media isn't much better, as they provide platforms for her screeds:

National Rifle Association national spokesperson Dana Loesch told Fox & Friends hosts that the protests were the result of some in the "political class ... trying to exploit this six ways to Sunday."

Chauncey DeVega observes that Hillary is right about states that voted for Trump. "Hillary Clinton has a problem. She tells impolitic truths at inopportune times," and not just her "basket of deplorables" remark. "Clinton let slip another truth about Trump's voters and the 2016 presidential election," DeVega writes:

She continued by saying that "all that red in the middle" of the nation, where Trump and the Republicans tend to dominate, was deceptive because "what the map doesn't show you is that I won the places that represent two-thirds of America's gross domestic product. So I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward." Trump's campaign, she said, "was looking backwards" by playing to white voters who "didn't like black people getting rights" or women leaving the home and getting jobs.

Republicans attacked Clinton's latest comments, of course, as an example of how the Democrats are supposedly "isolated," "elitist" and "out of touch." Some of her fellow Democrats piled on with complaints that Clinton is being "unhelpful" by "re-litigating" the 2016 presidential election instead of looking to the future.

These voices of protest have provided little if any evidence to disprove Hillary Clinton's central thesis. Why? Because the facts are on her side.

"One can still endorse Hillary Clinton's truth-telling," he continues, "while demanding that she should be more precise in her observations:"

It should not be overlooked that Clinton and her team made strategic and tactical errors by paying little attention to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, the states that gave Trump the White House.

Most important, there are many liberals, progressives and other members of the Democratic Party's constituency (nonwhites, gays and lesbians and younger voters) who live in red-state America. They should be embraced and mobilized, rather than being marginalized because of geography.

His conclusion? "The Republican Party is a masterful machine of deception:"

For at least the last 50 years its leaders and media have consistently lied to the American people about almost every issue, including the economy, the environment, international relations, civil rights, crime and health care. This strategy created the poisoned swamp from which Donald Trump and his proto-fascist movement emerged.

The question now becomes whether the Democratic Party will tell the American people the truth in order to win back power, or rely instead on reassuring lies? It is a provocative question. Fighting fire with fire sometimes works. The trick is not to be burned alive in the conflagration.

Jeremy Adam Smith asks at SciAm, why are white men stockpiling guns?

Since the 2008 election of President Obama, the number of firearms manufactured in the U.S. has tripled, while imports have doubled. This doesn't mean more households have guns than ever before--that percentage has stayed fairly steady for decades. Rather, more guns are being stockpiled by a small number of individuals. Three percent of the population now owns half of the country's firearms, says a recent, definitive study from the Injury Control Research Center at Harvard University.

So, who is buying all these guns--and why?

"The American citizen most likely to own a gun is a white male," he observes, "and "the kind of man who stockpiles weapons or applies for a concealed-carry license meets a very specific profile:"

These are men who are anxious about their ability to protect their families, insecure about their place in the job market, and beset by racial fears. They tend to be less educated. For the most part, they don't appear to be religious--and, suggests one study, faith seems to reduce their attachment to guns. In fact, stockpiling guns seems to be a symptom of a much deeper crisis in meaning and purpose in their lives. Taken together, these studies describe a population that is struggling to find a new story--one in which they are once again the heroes.

Additionally, a 2013 paper ["Racism, Gun Ownership and Gun Control: Biased Attitudes in US Whites May Influence Policy Decisions"] by UK researchers "found that a one-point jump in the scale they used to measure racism increased the odds of owning a gun by 50 percent." Sociologists Paul Froese and F. Carson Mencken (from Baylor University) made these comments:

For these economically insecure, irreligious white men, "the gun is a ubiquitous symbol of power and independence, two things white males are worried about," says Froese. "Guns, therefore, provide a way to regain their masculinity, which they perceive has been eroded by increasing economic impotency." [...]

"Put simply, owners who are more attached to their guns are most likely to believe that guns are a solution to our social ills," says Froese. "For them, more 'good' people with guns would drastically reduce violence and increase civility. Again, it reflects a hero narrative, which many white man long to feel a part of." [...] Unfortunately, the people most likely to be killed by the guns of white men aren't the "bad guys," presumably criminals or terrorists. It's themselves--and their families. [...]

As a new study published this month in JAMA Internal Medicine ["State Firearm Laws and Interstate Firearm Deaths From Homicide and Suicide in the United States: A Cross-sectional Analysis of Data by County"] once again shows us, restrictive gun laws don't prevent white men from defending themselves and their families. Instead, those laws stop them from shooting themselves and each other.

AlterNet also looks at who likes guns and why, and suggests 6 steps the media could take to stop gun violence. In contrast to absurd schemes such as gun-slinging gym teachers, suggests Liz Posner, "We should turn our attention to the ways in which gun violence and mass shootings are covered by mainstream corporate news."

1. Don't use the killers' names.

2. Publish crime scene photos.

On the flip side, while avoiding glamourizing these crimes can help prevent copycats, the media could fully leverage its power by depicting the true devastation of these shootings.

3. Cover the whole story, and don't abandon the issue after the news cycle moves on. ["too soon" to talk about policy quickly becomes "too long ago to talk about"--and that must change]

4. Report shootings in non-white neighborhoods.

5. Include Black Lives Matter in the gun violence conversation.

Gun violence doesn't occur in a racial vacuum. If we talk about preventing shootings, we need to talk about the availability of guns in cities like Chicago and the record number of kids killed there last year, without delving into a racist conversation about so-called "black-on-black crime." Black kids are 10 times more likely than white kids to be killed by gun violence, making gun control indisputably a race issue. This needs to be included in the mass media's portrayal of the gun debate.

6. Talk about toxic masculinity and domestic violence.

We clearly have a great deal of work to do, on many fronts, to address this epidemic.

hollow points

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The Federalist's Dan Weber worries about Millennials not respecting their elders' Second-Amendment interpretations, specifically the Parkland-inspired student activists:

Their enthusiasm is admirable. But their trivial knowledge of firearms and the Second Amendment is not. Before they try to change every Americans' constitutional rights forever, perhaps these eager young men and women might want to learn something from their elders on these matters.

According to Weber, the "right to keep and bear arms" crowd is supposed to be fearful during their "sunset years:"

The elderly are especially vulnerable to violent crime and, as a result, the number of senior citizens carrying firearms is on the rise. Nearly 23,000 people over 65 took basic firearm training courses from NRA-certified instructors in 2015, four times the number five years earlier. Since 2010, seniors' demand for firearms training climbed 400 percent.

These are realities of life that the vast majority of the young people clamoring for gun control do not appear to grasp.

Does Weber grasp the quarter-century decline in violent crime? Could he "learn something" from statisticians? Apparently not, because he asserts that "gun violence has become more and more of a problem, despite fewer and fewer people possessing firearms." Facts aside, he insists that "student activists don't get the moral dimension of the Second Amendment, a failure of education that will likely devastate our democracy:"

The right to keep and bear arms is about self-defense, of course. But it's more than that, which should be obvious, because the overwhelming majority of guns in this country will never -- thank goodness -- be used in act of self-defense. It's about responsibility, and lack of ownership (not only of firearms, but of anything) breeds irresponsibility. And it's young Americans who especially would benefit from getting to know a right that's primarily about obligation, obligation to oneself as well as to one's neighbors.

According to the Second Amendment, we're not obligated to join the (ostensibly) well-regulated militia, and gun ownership is not an impediment to "getting to know a right." (Indeed, gun ownership seems to create an emotional investment in perpetuating gun culture.) To get back to Weber's piece, however, he claimed that millennials "still can't figure out why older Americans can't take them seriously as fully-formed adults. It's not entirely their fault though:"

With the pervasive influence of progressivism, they are indoctrinated in school to believe there's very little, if anything, to be learned from the past. Each generation is wiser than the previous one. So history is merely a saga of bigotry, racism, hatred, misogyny, and xenophobia. That by extension means that those who lived before us are not be trusted, as they are products of an enlightened era.

If millennials were willing to accept that they could learn something from their grandparents, they would learn a lot about firearms, about which they claim to care passionately.

Millennials' grandparents were behind the disastrous Heller decision, which exacerbated America's gun problem.

I applaud the student activists for getting off the couch, putting down their iPhones, and getting involved in the public square. But if saving lives as well as our democracy is genuinely their aim, their time would be better spent more effectively reading a civics textbook or sitting down with their grandparents for an afternoon.

Perhaps some books on the Second Amendment--such as Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz's Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment--would be more appropriate. Until then, Weber's argument rings hollow.

In a piece addressed to the dear annoying Parkland kids, Robert Tracinski looks at US violent-crime rates and worldwide war deaths--both of which are near all-time lows--but then (deliberately) neglects to compare US gun deaths with gun deaths in the rest of the world. Is he afraid to tell his audience that we fare poorly when compared to other countries, and that stronger gun regulation would help prevent many of these tragedies?

Tracinski claims that "we can't stop every tragedy like the Parkland shooting" [so let's not try to stop any of them?], and deplores the young activists' efforts as "ignorant ranting," snarkily suggesting that they "show a little humility, kids:"

You're still learning, and you would be well served not to be content to repeat what you learn at school, but to go do your own reading and research and listen to people who disagree with you. It's not as traumatic an experience as you have been led to believe. When you can show that you understand what's good about the world we are giving you, and you have some idea of how it got to be that way--then we'll listen to your ideas for changing it.

As if that weren't insulting enough, he then targets the media by asserting that "The hyping of the Parkland kids is one giant appeal to emotion:"

The approach is to go to a school where a shooting happened and carefully select a small number of kids who are reasonably articulate and willing to go along with the full gun-control agenda. Ignore the ones who don't. Then give these kids the backing of well-funded and well-connected advocacy groups. Fly them around the country and book them on cable TV shows.

Which of those advocacy groups is as well-funded and well-connected as the NRA, you might wonder. Putting a human face on the incessant gun tragedies (enabled by the NRA and its weaponization of everyday life) is hardly a nefarious deed, yet he stumbles onward:

While the gun-banners are busy convincing themselves they've now got a winning issue for a "blue wave" in November, they don't realize that they are also mobilizing pro-Second-Amendment voters who feel a very different set of emotions when they are accused of being child-killers and are told they should be turned into criminals.

Tracinski's follow-up at The Federalist about putting reason over emotion is just as disingenuous, as similarly claims that "The hyping of the Parkland kids is one giant appeal to emotion." Interestingly, it is the emotionality of gun nuts that is the roadblock here, with their desire to protect guns instead of people. Absent the fear-filled tirades promoted by the NRA, as exemplified by Tracinski's screeds, establishing "well-regulated" militias would be immensely easier.

An interesting counterpart to Tracinski is Sohrab Ahmari, who complaints about unhappy liberalism while listing "all the material benefits their philosophy has produced:"

...massive reductions in global poverty rates; near universal education and literacy; unprecedented connectivity and mobility; myriad gadgets and scientific wonders; and on and on.

"Liberal democracy's self-appointed guardians are left feeling," he writes, "unhappy:"

Consider four recent developments, from four disparate places, which upend contemporary liberalism's expectations for the world as it should be:

In China, President Xi Jinping has purged rival power centers, cracked down against religious liberty [because] China's rulers-and, crucially, the country's rising middle classes-aren't prepared to take the leap into political freedom that is supposed to come with capitalist prosperity.

Saudi Arabia offers a second example:

Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) is pursuing an ambitious program of liberalization. He has granted women the right to drive and to enter soccer stadiums, brought movie theaters back to the Kingdom, and pushed young Saudis off the petro-dole and into the private economy. At the same time, however, MBS has centralized power-with himself at the very center.

A third is Italy, "where last weekend's general election handed a sweeping victory to populist, anti-immigration and Euroskeptic parties:"

The Silvio Berlusconi-led center right, meanwhile, plays second fiddle to hard-right leaders, who take a much tougher stance on questions of immigration and integration.

The final example of Trump, he declares, "decisively rejects the vision of a borderless world underpinning the Democrats' immigration agenda." Capital must be free, but workers might need to be chained--as the unspoken implication of Ahmari might read were it more honest:

China and Saudi Arabia show that civilizations and cultures really are different, sometimes radically so, and in politically significant ways. In most of the world and across most of human history, moreover, the desire for stable authority is much more potent than the demand for individual freedom or representative government.

The Italian and American examples, meanwhile, are a reminder that even in liberalism's Western heartlands, people want order and meaningful communion.

He writes that "community makes possible a common life and a shared vision of the common good" [as long as those "other" commoners are kept out], and even admits that "liberalism has achieved remarkable things:"

Free societies are the only kind I would wish to live in, which is why I remain a practical liberal.

But preserving the highest achievements of liberal civilization calls for a humbler, more chastened liberalism. Yelling at the ingrates won't do.

Speaking of yelling at ingrates, however, we see the example of MAGA whackjobs threatening a California bookstore:

A male Trump supporter, wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat, called the staffer "commie scum" and told her that "we're going to burn down your bookstore."

The staffer informed them that she had video of them threatening to burn down the store and told them to "please leave" the premises.

"This is America, f*ck you!" the man shouted at her.

Later in the video, the man can be seen telling people outside the store that, "Trump is going to get rid of all you pieces of sh*t."

He called the woman who worked at the book store an "anti-white racist piece of sh*t" and said that the only people who shopped at the store were "Antifa pieces of sh*t."

Here's the video:

Tracinski and Ahmari would likely blame the bookstore staffers for being unhappy about being threatened; I contend that the Right tends to be both more emotional and more unhappy--in far too many instances, unhappy enough to threaten violence. (No doubt the NRA would suggest "more guns" as a remedy...)

NRAtv

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PoliticusUSA's Jason Easley has a nice video clip of John Oliver talking about the NRA's dirty little secret--feeding the fear that I mentioned earlier:

The highlight might well be Loesch's comment that "The only way we save our country and our freedom is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth" being mocked by Oliver as "just a little past the bent elbow of nonsense and hiding in the overstuffed pocket of overly aggressive metaphors." As Easley continues, "NRATV is QVC for guns:"

NRATV isn't interested in protecting the rights of gun owners. The network is set up to do one thing, and that is to motivate people to buy more guns. The NRA hides behind the Second Amendment and bogus claims that they are a membership organization for gun owners, but what kind of membership organization is only interested in moving more merchandise?

Liberal America comments that,

Oliver's biting commentary on the NRA's naked attempts at brainwashing women into buying guns is just one example of how the gun lobby has burrowed into every aspect of American society like a gluttonous tick with an insatiable appetite for blood.

Crooks and Liars remarks that,

At this point the NRA is trying the double down move, which is a sure sign that their "silence after a shooting incident until it blows over" habit isn't working.

and The Nation's Scot Nakagawa writes that NRA TV is no joke:

NRA TV is directly speaking to the group Donald Trump referred to as "Second Amendment people" in a campaign speech many read as an incitement to violent action from gun advocates if the election were "rigged" and Hillary Clinton won.

Trump's "Second Amendment people" include the Patriot Movement, a network made up of groups like the Bundy bunch that famously staged a 41-day armed occupation of the Malheur County Wildlife Refuge in Burns, Oregon, in January 2016. The animating, radicalizing core ideology of that movement is violent white nationalism. NRA TV ideologically trains these front-line troops, which many believe will only grow more dangerous as the Trump presidency continues, particularly if he is perceived to be under attack, scandalized, and humiliated. That's no joke.

Trump is like a fetish object for far right, whose rage is not really animated by corrupt banks, failing government, the rise of the 1 percent, and globalization. These forces may create the underlying conditions for the rise of radical movements, but what animates movements on the right--the demons that drive them to action and keep them tucked into Trumpist foolishness--is their hatred of people like us. We are the targets of their rage specifically because they're losing cultural currency as we grow in cultural influence. We have become proxies for all of the ills of society. For these radical elements of the white-identity movement, the stockpiling of guns is one way of signaling in-group belonging, their commitment to the past in a world where they are losing the future, and, of course, their possession of the ultimate tools of the bully.


Henry Giroux discusses killing children in the age of disposability at TruthOut:

Trump's proposal to arm teachers suggests that the burden of gun violence and the crimes of the gun industries and politicians should fall on teachers' shoulders, foolishly imagining that armed teachers would be able to stop a killer with military grade weapons, and disregarding the risk of teachers shooting other students, staff or faculty in the midst of such a chaotic moment.

"In his call to arm 20 percent of all teachers," writes Giroux, "Trump is suggesting that 640,000 teachers be trained and given guns:"

The Washington Post estimates that the costs of training teachers sufficiently could reach as high as $718 million while the cost of providing teachers with firearms could amount to an additional $251 million. According to the Post, "the full-price, more expansive training and the full-price firearm ... creeps past $1 billion." Furthermore, putting 640,000 more guns in schools is not only a reckless suggestion, it also further enriches the profits of gun makers by adding millions of dollars to their bottom line. Why not invest this amount of money in providing support staff and services for students -- services that could meaningfully support those facing mental health issues, bullying, homelessness and poverty? [...]

Gun violence in the US is not simply about a growing culture of violence, it is about the emergence of a form of domestic terrorism in which fear, mistrust, lies, corruption and financial gain become more important than the values, social relations and institutions that write children into the script of democracy and give them hope for a decent future.

"A culture of cruelty, silence and indifference to the needs of children, built on the backs of the conservative media politicians and the gun industry and lobby," he continues, "has become a central and ethically disturbing feature of American society:"

This is a culture of political corruption and social abandonment that "has a remarkable tolerance for child slaughter, especially the mass murders of the children of others." This culture of violence has a long history in the United States, and has become increasingly legitimated under the Trump regime, a regime in which lawlessness and corruption combine to ignore the needs of children, the poor, elderly, sick and vulnerable. In the age of neoliberal brutality, protecting guns and profits have become more important than protecting the lives of young people. [...]

As Brad Evans and I have argued in Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of the Spectacle, violence has now become the defining organizing principle for society in general. It is also worth noting that the spectacle, marketing and commodification of violence powerfully mediates how the American public both understands the relations of power that benefit from the production of violence at all levels of society and how the visceral suffering that is produced can be neutralized in a culture of immediacy and "alternative facts." [...]

The message to students is clear. They are not worth protecting if they threaten the profits of the gun industries and the purses of the politicians who have become the lackeys for them.

We should regulate weapons like we do in the military, says Joshua Lott in a Reuters piece:

I'm a Regular Army officer and have served in frontline positions in Iraq [and] My niche perspective is this: in the Army, firearms are much more heavily regulated than in civil society. How can so many enthusiastic gun owners say that they hold the military as a model, and yet not accept the strict regulations that go with the military's use of firearms? [...]

In the Army, firearms are stored under lock, key, and sometimes guard, and god help you if one goes missing--the post shuts down and a frenzied search bordering on a religious quest begins. After basic training, soldiers are required to go through a few hours of refresher training with practical drills before they are even allowed on a range for individual shooting qualification. [...]

Clearly, with several hundred million firearms in circulation, mass confiscation is not practical, politically toxic, and as a sporting man myself, I would say culturally undesirable. But simple steps such as limiting high-capacity magazines, stringent background checks (lets's not pretend they hold water now), and a licensing process are all good starts. After a certain list of tangible steps is exhausted though, the question becomes a nebulous one of cultural norms. Is there going to be a shift toward seeing firearm ownership as innately bound up in social responsibility? One can hope. [...]

Will most Americans grow up and out of the fairy tale that their right to bear arms is without nuance or burden of responsibility? Will they realize they are probably not Lone Rangers waiting for their moment to save the day in their home or school?

War correspondent Arnold Isaacs comments that:

...these guys who want teachers to pack heat are the same people who yell at us nonstop that mass shootings happen because people are crazy, nothing to do with how easy it is in this country to buy AR15s. At the same time they're positive that those otherwise crazy people will be perfectly rational in just one way and will stay away from a school if they think a teacher might have a gun.

It would be funny if it weren't so sad

Also worth noting are these comments from "a gun-fancier who lives (and shoots) in Canada:"

And I don't understand why one needs a license to drive a car or fly an aircraft, which each offer lots of opportunity for tragedy, but somehow owning and using a firearm is somehow completely unregulated. It's illogical. Ironically, in the case of the automobile and the aircraft it is illegal to use both under the influence of alcohol, but one can shoot a gun pissed to the gills and violate no state or federal statutes.

I'm afraid I think much of this firearm stuff truly is wrapped up in white-guy-anxiety-about-blacks-and-'others'. I know so many Americans with whom I sit on Boards (which in theory should mean they're reasonably bright and well-informed) who keep a handgun in their cars or pickups. It's apparently for 'self-defense' but none of them can point to a previous need for such a measure. They're just scared.

Their audience is scared, proving that the NRA's tactics have worked...

Alvin McEwen writes that Mike Huckabee's whining about resigning from the Country Music Association Foundation is becoming insufferable, as when Huckabee complains that "If the industry doesn't want people of faith or who hold conservative and traditional political views to buy tickets and music," whines Huckabee, "they should be forthcoming and say it:"

Until recently, the arts was the one place America could set aside political, geographical, racial, religious, and economic barriers and come together. If the arts community becomes part of the polarization instead of bridging communities and people over the power of civil norms as reflected in the arts, then we as a civilization may not be long for this earth.

Huckabee, of course, has a long history of making slanderous comments about molestation and scouting, "claiming that we want to 'criminalize Christianity'," and supporting the harmful "reparative therapy" fraud. As McEwen continues, "I don't want to mince words here:"

Mike Huckabee is a lying sack of garbage who seems to think that he is privileged to say anything he feels about the LGBTQ community without any expectations of us raising an objection. He minimizes the severity of his slurs and then plays the victim when the targets of his words refuse to play his game.

He is indicative of the ignorance some people have in thinking that LGBTQs are supposed to so grateful about society's so-called tolerance of us that we raise no objections when our lives, our children, and our families are besmirched and disrespected. It's not enough for people like Huckabee to insult us. According to them, we are supposed to accept the insults and the second-class status prescribed to us by those harsh words and ugly inaccuracies about our lives. If we don't accept those things, then we are intolerant hypocrites.

No.

We are human beings. And that means we are intolerant of certain things, such as disrespect, lies, attacks, and especially people who attempt to reshape who we are based upon their ignorance and religious beliefs.

It's not a matter of "tolerance" or "intolerance."

It's a matter of self-respect.


Conover Kennard smacks down a GOP lawmaker over the "thoughts and prayers" dodge:

A Florida state senator [Kelli Stargel (R)], who is obviously, like, a totally stable genius, said the only thing that is going to stop "the evil" behind mass shootings is "thoughts and prayers." That didn't work after the Columbine school massacre and it won't after the most recent mass shooting in Parkdale, Florida. Maybe God is trying to tell right-wing Christians to do something.

As the gun-lobby's lackey said:

"When we say 'thoughts and prayers,' it's frowned upon. And I take real offense at that because thoughts and prayers are really the only thing that's gonna stop the evil from within the individual who is taking up their arms to do this kind of a massacre."

"It's not the weapon that matters," Stargel insisted, but it's "the evil from within." [...]

"In my opinion, the one thing that will actually change this the most is the one thing that has become fighting words, which is to say 'thoughts and prayers,'" she said. "So that's something I'm gonna continue to add to my comprehensive plan so we can hopefully stop the evil that is happening from within our world."

Does the author of this "comprehensive plan" comprehend anything as relevant as universal background checks, waiting periods, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, or the "well-regulated" part of the Second Amendment?

Asking for a nation tired of getting shot up...

N+1 magazine looks at gun violence and the war on terror, pointing out that the more things change,

There was something unsettling or self-serving about the excess of praise adults heaped on the Stoneman Douglas students who boarded charter buses bound for the Tallahassee statehouse just a few days after watching their classmates die. "This shooting is different from the other ones," a 16-year-old boy told a Times reporter. "I just have a gut feeling--something is going to change." It's understandable that he should feel this way; insofar as no previous school shooting had happened in his school, to his friends and teachers, this time was different. But his representatives quickly demonstrated that it was not different enough. Florida's legislature voted down a motion to debate an assault weapons ban.

they more they remain the same:

That traumatized children had to learn this about their government in front of national news reporters struck me as a continuation of the shooting, not a response to it. The shooting shows us that the US is a place where children either grow up in fear of random, catastrophic violence or else don't grow up at all. The debate that has followed the shooting shows us that things are going to stay that way.

In a sense, this is reminiscent of terrorism, as "Today's mass shooters have all grown up in a country that lives in a constantly reinforced fear of a certain kind of violent spectacle:"

No other violent act is more feared, more discussed, more capable of causing society to change itself--nothing gets more attention and recognition. The mass shooting is our domestic variant of the jihadist terrorist attack. Were the US to abandon the specter of terrorism as the organizing principle of the country's foreign policy, travel laws, and security procedures, the mass shooting would lose much of its dark appeal. But during this century so far, America has responded to terrorist attacks by deepening its fears and by entrenching itself in militarism and surveillance. It is responding to mass shootings in much the same way. So long as that pattern holds, angry and unstable young men will continue to act in accordance with the world that was made for them to grow up in.

Considering that we, as Americans, are 124 times more likely to die from a gun assault than from a foreign-born terrorist incident, the problem can seem intractable. The media (especially those on the Right) are fixated on the wrong problem, while ignoring the fact that, as In These Times' Leonard C. Goodman reminds us, it's never been about the Second Amendment--it's about corporate profits:

Parkland teenagers are smart enough to understand that the real impediment to sensible gun laws is not the Second Amendment but lawmakers who take industry money through groups like the NRA.

"A familiar pattern has emerged after mass shootings," he observes:

Lawmakers offer thoughts and prayers and then quietly shoot down any restrictions on gun sales, citing their fealty to the Second Amendment.

There is a chance that this time will be different, thanks largely to the teenagers from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who are fighting back against lawmakers who protect industry profits over the lives of their constituents.

One relevant example is Senator Marco Rubio, who has received $3,303,355 from the NRA over the course of his career:

Unable to discuss their NRA funding, gun industry lackeys like Rubio fall back on the excuse that the Second Amendment ties their hands and prohibits restrictions on gun sales. This is nonsense.

"Corporate-owned politicians," Goodman concludes, "don't care about the Constitution:"

How many of them have even read it? They make it easy for mass-killers to buy assault rifles because this helps their patrons in the gun industry sell more guns and maximize profits.

Thank you, Parkland teenagers for finally calling them out.


WaPo's Robert Barnes discusses the upcoming Pennsylvania redistricting process, noting that SCOTUS refuses to block the PA high court's ruling:

The Supreme Court on Monday denied a request from Pennsylvania Republicans to delay redrawing congressional lines, meaning the 2018 elections in the state will probably be held in districts far more favorable to Democrats. [...]

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court last month ruled that the congressional map drawn by the Republican legislature in 2011 "clearly, plainly and palpably violates" the commonwealth's Constitution. It demanded a quick redrawing of the lines so that 2018 elections could be held in fairer districts.

Pennsylvania's Supreme Court justices are elected, and with Democrats in the majority, voted along party lines in demanding a change to the districts. Republicans hold 13 of the 18 congressional seats in what is usually considered a swing state. The ruling gives Democrats a chance to win more of those seats as they try to tip the balance in the House.

PA's League of Women Voters, who challenged the plan, commented of the GOP that: "Their stay applications are just a ploy to preserve a congressional map that violates Pennsylvania's Constitution for one more election cycle." Politicus USA reminds us that the GOP-controlled state legislature has until 9 February to redraw the map, or the state Supreme Court will draw one for the 15 May primary:

A new map would make Democrats competitive or favored in 5-7 seats that are currently controlled by Republicans. The Sixth District, Seventh District, Eighth District, Eleventh District, 15th and 16th Districts could all move to the left with a non-gerrymandered map. Considering that Democrats were already looking at favorable situations for House seat pickups in New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and California, a redrawn map in Pennsylvania could wipe out Republican control of the House.

In a time when the good news keeps coming for Democrats ahead of the midterm election, the end of the gerrymandered map in Pennsylvania could go down as some of the best news of all.

Jon Chait writes about the Nunes memo and the GOP plot to undermine neutral authority, noting that "Once again, as the facts have emerged in full, the underlying conclusions hyped by conservatives have melted away:"

The memo does not discredit the Russia investigation. It charges that one of the figures in the investigation, Carter Page, had been surveilled in part on the basis of a dossier that had been funded by Democrats, and that the FBI had not adequately disclosed this to the judges who approved the surveillance. If true, the accusation would be legally unimportant (courts frequently approve surveillance on the basis of biased sources), and in any case, the FBI had been investigating Page for years before. The miniscule claim turns out not to be correct anyway -- as the Washington Post reports, the court that approved the surveillance of Page "was aware that some of the information underpinning the warrant request was paid for by a political entity."

But, also like in Climategate, the collapse of the factual underpinnings beneath the conservatives' claims left no impression on them whatsoever. There is no sense of chastening or remorse on the right. To the contrary, Republicans retain all of their initial fervor to use the memo to prosecute their targets in the deep state.

"It might seem perverse," Chait continues, "that Republicans would respond this way in the wake of a high-profile humiliation:"

Yet, from their perspective, it is not a humiliation at all. Republican voters have absorbed the intended message. The rank and file, which once considered support for law enforcement a definitional trait, has quickly turned against the FBI:

20180205-fbi.jpg

"Cultivating distrust in institutions that are designed to play a neutral, mediating role," he reminds us, "is one of the central functions of conservative politics:"

It is a game that conservatives know how to win, because they are waging asymmetric warfare. There is no good way for an institution to withstand partisan attack when its existence relies upon maintaining some distance from partisanship. [...]

Indeed, the FBI finds itself in its current straits in part because it's already attempted to placate conservative distrust. In 2016, the bureau broke its policy and publicized its investigation of Hillary Clinton because the leadership feared the withering attacks they would face from the congressional GOP after a presumed Clinton victory. (They had no such fear of Democrats, which is why they kept their investigation of Trump's connections with Russia secret before the election.) Trump even used the FBI's demonstrated unfairness toward Clinton as a pretext to fire its director last year.

At best, the Republican attacks will clear the way for Donald Trump to close down the Mueller probe or turn federal law enforcement into a weapon of partisan control. At worst, they will supply his followers (including a critical mass of congressional Republicans) with a rationale for ignoring any incriminating conclusions the investigation yields.


the GOP's budget

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Forbes explains the real reason the GOP doesn't want to do a budget this year:

The White House and congressional GOP insisted the big tax cut bill would pay for itself so there would be no negative impact on the federal deficit or national debt. They also said the Trump/GOP economic plans would result in a balanced budget within 10 years. The fiscal 2019 budget resolution -- the one Congress is supposed to debate and adopt this year -- would be the first one considered since the tax bill was enacted and, therefore, the first with projections that should validate and confirm those promises.

That means House and Senate Republicans should be rushing to get it done, take another victory lap and prove themselves to be budget seers, sages, oracles and truth tellers.

But the GOP is doing the exact opposite.

"So," wonders Forbes, "why isn't the GOP going to do a budget?"

Because the vote on the 2019 budget -- the last one Congress will consider before the 2018 midterm elections -- will reveal that all the Republican promises on the deficit and debt, including its blind belief on dynamic scoring, were completely bogus. [...]

But no budget resolution will mean no hearings in the budget committees, no floor debate, much less media attention and, most importantly, no votes. That makes it a great..and maybe the best...way for congressional Republicans to avoid talking about or taking responsibility for the spiking deficit and debt they said wouldn't occur.


Trump called the idea of $1000 bonuses "a lot of money" for employees, while Nancy Pelosi noted the disparity between "the bonus that corporate America received versus the crumbs that they are giving to workers," [and got pilloried for it] and later remarked that "it's not a question of $1,000, it's a question of the billions of dollars, the banquet that they have put for the top 1 percent." [For example, consider AT&T's $1,000 bonus for 200,000 employees, which "is only 6 percent of the $3 billion tax windfall."]

In a related incident, Samuel Warde quotes Paul Ryan's since-deleted tweet, where he suggested that $1.50 per week is some sort of windfall for the working class,

A secretary at a public high school in Lancaster, PA, said she was pleasantly surprised her pay went up $1.50 a week ... she said [that] will more than cover her Costco membership for the year. https://t.co/yLX1Bod1j0

-- Paul Ryan (@PRyan) February 3, 2018

and then remarks:

Now, I don't really know which planet Paul Ryan comes from; but on the planet where he dwells at the moment, a $1.50 raise per week is more likely to bring tears of sorrow than ones of the kind of joy that Ryan seems to be experiencing.

NYT provides a higher-level view:

According to an analysis of the bill by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, "in general, higher income households receive larger average tax cuts as a percentage of after-tax income." Middle-income taxpayers would receive an average tax cut of $930 this year, and those in the top 1 percent would receive an average cut of $51,000.

"their own facts"

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Kellyanne Conway claims that "the American people [by which she means GOP voters] have their own facts," writes Salon's Charlie May. Mark Simone (from a New York radio station) started things off by claiming that "liberals seize more and more control of the infrastructure, they control the newspapers, they control the networks:"

He added, "In the last few years, they've taken total control of the fact checking sites, and they're very slanted. Something's got to be done about this." [...] "Americans are their own fact checkers," Conway said. "People know, they have their own facts and figures, in terms of meaning which facts and figures are important to them."

"Conway's bizarre interviews may make for appealing soundbites and headlines," May continues, "but it is also truly stunning to see how disconnected the Trump administration, and pro-Trump media punditry are from reality:"

American politics have become increasingly, and dangerously, polarizing in recent years, but Conway's doublethink Orwellian rhetoric has made it near impossible to get people to even agree on an establish set of facts in order to have a productive debate or conversation about the issues. Instead, we have opinions masquerading as truths in a dialogue where even simple math is beginning to be denied in order to fit into a political agenda.

Forget "alternative facts" the Trump administration is establishing their own alternative reality through it's own Ministry of Truth.


Steve Benen has exposed the GOP's deficit scam at MSNBC:

Up until fairly recently, federal officials believed the nation would have to raise the debt ceiling by late March or early April. Yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office said action will be required even sooner - because the Republican's $1.5 trillion tax cut is already starting to affect U.S. finances.

[The effect is negative, as expected.]

A separate New York Times report added this week that annual budget deficits "are creeping up to $1 trillion and the national debt has topped $20 trillion." The Treasury Department "will need to borrow $441 billion in privately held debt this quarter," which is the largest sum in eight years.

And yet, Republicans - ostensibly, the nation's fiscal hawks and stalwarts of fiscal responsibility - have nothing to say about this. The issue has largely disappeared.

"The underlying issue here," he continues, "is one of the most cynical political scams Americans have ever seen or will ever see:"

Remember the Tea Party movement? According to many of its leaders, one of its principal goals was deficit reduction: annual budget shortfalls, they said several years ago, threatened the future of the nation, its families, and its security.

And because Republicans have an amazing ability to dictate the public conversation, everyone played along, taking the deficit seriously throughout the Obama era. To reject the fiscal argument was to condemn our children and grandchildren to future misery.

Under Obama, however, the deficit shrunk in his first seven years by a trillion dollars - that's "trillion" with a "t" - at which point the issue quietly lost its potency.

At least in theory, for those who care about the deficit, the issue should be back with a vengeance. But it's not: even as the deficit gets significantly larger, due entirely to deliberate Republican choices, the public conversation largely ignores the issue.

It's almost as if--to provide yet another example--the allegedly "liberal" media is in actuality a generally conservative presence in our lives.

Trump's ratings

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Well, that didn't take long: Politico points out that Trump is already lying about the size of his SOTU audience, claiming that its 45.6 million people was "the highest number in history." However, the facts are somewhat different:

Obama's early speeches before Congress significantly outdrew Trump's: his first address to a joint session of Congress, in 2009, drew 52.3 million viewers and his first State of the Union address, in 2010, attracted 48 million.

Former President George W. Bush also delivered State of the Union addresses that attracted more viewers than Trump's. Bush's 2003 speech, which took place weeks before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, drew 62 million viewers, while his 2002 speech, months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, attracted 51.7 million.

Former President Bill Clinton's 1993 joint address to Congress, meanwhile, drew 66.9 million viewers.

TPM snarks that "Trump may have been confused while watching the "Fox and Friends" morning broadcast:"

Co-host Steve Doocy noted that Trump pulled in more viewers than Obama's final state of the union, but he offered the caveat that "fewer people watch" the longer a president is in office. He then boasted about Fox News' ratings for the speech, which were the network's highest ever. Trump also noted this in his tweet.

NYT's look at Resistance at the Grammys observes that Hillary Clinton "read a passage from the new book Fire and Fury that claimed President Trump liked pre-made McDonald's food because he was afraid of being poisoned:"

Her cameo lasted less than 20 seconds. She read just one sentence from a 336-page book.

Although "Democrats see opportunity in awards season [...] as a way to reach critical constituencies of young, Latino and African-American voters," there are caveats. "Democrats and Republicans alike," the piece continues, "said Monday that the organized, concerted effort by the Grammys, topped off with Mrs. Clinton's appearance, could only make the nation's red state-blue state divide more pronounced:"

"When a famous person can use their celebrity to spread information about why someone should get off the sidelines and vote, that's a good thing," said Rebecca Katz, a Democratic strategist from the party's progressive wing.

But, she added it's a fine line. "You never want a celebrity to make a voter feel like they're wrong or that opinion's stupid."

Digby alleges that Trump is killing democracy one tweet at a time with his relentless imprecations against the legal investigations into his cesspool:

Today those of us who consider ourselves civil libertarians find ourselves in the unusual position of defending law enforcement institutions about which we have deep skepticism, due to their secretiveness and the tremendous power they hold over average Americans. But in this case they're the ones under assault by a rogue group of equally powerful lawmakers and the president of the United States. These elected officials are deeply authoritarian by instinct, ideology and temperament. They are clearly using their authority to undermine the rule of law and democratic norms and practices, not uphold them.

"It's fairly obvious," she continues, "that this is about race, secularism and modernity:"

Both parties used to be predominantly white and now we have one that is almost entirely white and Christian, while the other is a diverse and largely secular mixture of religions, races and ethnicities.

Ominously, she concludes that "It's entirely possible that we are sliding backwards into a new authoritarian system one tweet at a time without even knowing it."

WaPo examines conservative magazines and their stances (to varying degrees) against Trump, particularly Rich Lowry's National Review, which WaPo calls "the country's preeminent conservative magazine:"

Lowry reached out to a wide range of conservatives, hoping to hit Trump from as many angles as possible. The eventual collection [from all the way back in January 2016], titled "Against Trump," featured essays by 22 contributors -- many of them editors of other conservative publications, including William Kristol, then editor of the Weekly Standard; John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary; R.R. Reno, editor of First Things; Yuval Levin, editor of National Affairs; and Ben Domenech, co-founder of the conservative website the Federalist. The issue came out on Jan. 21, 2016, 11 days before the Iowa caucuses, and it generated enough notice that Trump himself felt compelled to respond. "National Review is a failing publication that has lost it's way," he tweeted. "It's circulation is way down w its influence being at an all time low. Sad!"

In addition to Rich Lowry's National Review (100,000 circulation), there is also The Weekly Standard (65,000 circulation), John Podhoretz's Commentary (26,000 circulation), American Affairs (12,000 circulation), and The American Conservative (5,000 circulation), also-rans such as Modern Age, and New Criterion are mentioned--but The American Spectator, home of the infamous Arkansas Project, did not make the list.) "Two surprising stars of the Trump era," WaPo writes, "have been the Claremont Review of Books and the religious journal First Things:"

It was in the normally restrained Claremont Review of Books that someone going by the name "Publius Decius Mus" (later revealed to be Michael Anton) published "The Flight 93 Election," an influential essay arguing that the election of Trump [see my analysis here], however extreme the risks, was the only hope of preventing a complete surrender to the cultural left.

I still read these magazines on occasion--CRB foremost among them--but the general decline of conservative magazines has been clear for some time, paralleling the decline in conservatism itself. WaPo's summation is replete with a backward-looking mawkish naïveté:

As much as their contributors may differ in opinion or even dislike one another, what unites these magazines -- and distinguishes them from right-wing outlets like Breitbart -- is an almost quaint belief in debate as an instrument of enlightenment rather than as a mere tool of political warfare. [...]

With so many Americans today engaged in partisan war, any publication with a commitment to honesty in argument becomes a potential peacemaker. It also becomes an indispensable forum for working out which ideas merit a fight in the first place. This is what, in their best moments, the conservative magazines are now doing.

Manafort's hustle

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Franklin Foer's lengthy Atlantic piece on Paul Manafort starts with his low point--2015 intimations of suicide, and then backtracks through his association with Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych and hints of millions stashed in overseas tax havens. "Nine months after the Ukrainian revolution," Foer notes, "Manafort's family life also went into crisis:"

The nature of his home life can be observed in detail because Andrea's text messages were obtained last year by a "hacktivist collective"--most likely Ukrainians furious with Manafort's meddling in their country--which posted the purloined material on the dark web. The texts extend over four years (2012-16) and 6 million words. Manafort has previously confirmed that his daughter's phone was hacked and acknowledged the authenticity of some texts quoted by Politico and The New York Times. Manafort and Andrea both declined to comment on this article. Jessica could not be reached for comment.

Foer writes that "The previous November, as the cache of texts shows, his daughters had caught him in an affair with a woman more than 30 years his junior. It was an expensive relationship." Manafort saw the campaign of Donald "TEN BILLION DOLLARS" Trump campaign as a way back into the game:

When Paul Manafort officially joined the Trump campaign, on March 28, 2016, he represented a danger not only to himself but to the political organization he would ultimately run. A lifetime of foreign adventures didn't just contain scandalous stories, it evinced the character of a man who would very likely commandeer the campaign to serve his own interests, with little concern for the collective consequences.

Over the decades, Manafort had cut a trail of foreign money and influence into Washington, then built that trail into a superhighway. When it comes to serving the interests of the world's autocrats, he's been a great innovator. His indictment in October after investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller alleges money laundering, false statements, and other acts of personal corruption. [...] That he would be accused of helping a foreign power subvert American democracy is a fitting coda to his life's story.

The story goes back some three decades:

When Congress passed tax-reform legislation in 1986, the firm [Manafort and Stone] managed to get one special rule inserted that saved Chrysler-Mitsubishi $58 million; it wrangled another clause that reaped Johnson & Johnson $38 million in savings. Newsweek pronounced the firm "the hottest shop in town."

Whether the thug in question was Angolan guerrilla leader Jonas Savimbi or Lebanese arms dealer Abdul Rahman Al Assir, Manafort was their PR man:

Manafort's exploration of the outermost moral frontiers of the influence business had already exposed him to kleptocrats, thugs, and other dubious characters. But none of these relationships imprinted themselves more deeply than his friendship and entrepreneurial partnership with Al Assir. By the '90s, the two had begun to put together big deals. One of the more noteworthy was an arms sale they helped broker between France and Pakistan, lubricated by bribes and kickbacks involving high-level officials in both countries, that eventually led to murder allegations. [...]

Manafort's lifestyle came to feature opulent touches that stood out amid the relative fustiness of Washington. When Andrea expressed an interest in horseback riding, Manafort bought a farm near Palm Beach, then stocked it with specially bred horses imported from Ireland, which required a full-time staff to tend. John Donaldson, Manafort's friend, recalls, "He was competing with the Al Assirs of the world--and he wanted to live in that lifestyle."

Rumors swirled about the effects of that hunger:

Stories about Manafort's slipperiness have acquired mythic status. In the summer of 2016, Politico's Kenneth Vogel, now with The New York Times, wrote a rigorous exegesis of a long-standing rumor: Manafort was said to have walked away with $10 million in cash from Ferdinand Marcos, money he promised he would deliver to Ronald Reagan's reelection campaign (which itself would have been illegal). [...] His unrestrained spending and pile of debt required a perpetual search for bigger paydays and riskier ventures.

"Of all Paul Manafort's foreign adventures," Foer continues, "Ukraine most sustained his attention, ultimately to the exclusion of his other business:"

Yanukovych's party succeeded in the parliamentary elections beyond all expectations, and the oligarchs who'd funded it came to regard Manafort with immense respect. As a result, Manafort began spending longer spans of time in Ukraine. One of his greatest gifts as a businessman was his audacity, and his Ukrainian benefactors had amassed enormous fortunes. The outrageous amounts that Manafort billed, sums far greater than any he had previously received, seemed perfectly normal. [...]

Meanwhile, a Russian oligarch named Oleg Deripaska had been after Manafort to explain what had happened to an $18.9 million investment in a Ukrainian company that Manafort had claimed to have made on his behalf.

The 2008 financial crisis hit, and then "in 2011, Manafort stopped responding to Deripaska's investment team altogether:"

Deripaska wouldn't let go of the notion that Manafort owed him money. In 2015, his lawyers filed a motion in a Virginia court. [...] But it was one thing to hide from reporters; it was another to hide from Oleg Deripaska. Though no longer the ninth-richest man in the world, he was still extremely powerful. [...]

For years, according to his indictment, Manafort had found clever ways to transfer money that he'd stashed in foreign havens to the U.S. He'd used it to buy real estate, antique rugs, and fancy suits--all relatively safe vehicles for repatriating cash without paying taxes or declaring the manner in which it had been earned.

But in the summer of 2014, in the wake of the revolution that deposed Viktor Yanukovych, the FBI began scrutinizing the strongman's finances.

"To finance his expensive life," Foer continues, "he began taking out loans against his real estate--some $15 million over two years:"

This is not an uncommon tactic among money launderers--a bank loan allows the launderer to extract clean cash from property purchased with dirty money. But according to the indictment, some of Manafort's loans were made on the basis of false information supplied to the bank in order to inflate the sums available to him, suggesting the severity of his cash-flow problems. [...]

With the arrival of Donald Trump, Manafort smelled an opportunity to regain his losses, and to return to relevance. It was, in some ways, perfect: The campaign was a shambolic masterpiece of improvisation that required an infusion of technical knowledge and establishment credibility.

"All of Manafort's hopes," notes Foer, "proved to be pure fantasy:"

Instead of becoming the biggest player in Donald Trump's Washington, he has emerged as a central villain in its central scandal. An ever-growing pile of circumstantial evidence suggests that the Trump campaign colluded with Russian efforts to turn the 2016 presidential election in its favor. Given Manafort's long relationship with close Kremlin allies including Yanukovych and Deripaska, and in particular his indebtedness to the latter, it is hard to imagine him as either a naive or passive actor in such a scheme--although Deripaska denies knowledge of any plan by Manafort to get back into his good graces. Manafort was in the room with Donald Trump Jr. when a Russian lawyer and lobbyist descended on Trump Tower in the summer of 2016, promising incriminating material on Hillary Clinton. That same summer, the Trump campaign, with Manafort as its manager, successfully changed the GOP's platform, watering down support for Ukraine's pro-Western, post-Yanukovych government, a change welcomed by Russia and previously anathema to Republicans. When the Department of Justice indicted Paul Manafort in October--for failing to register as a foreign agent, for hiding money abroad--its portrait of the man depicted both avarice and desperation, someone who traffics in dark money and dark causes.

"Helping elect Donald Trump," Foer concludes, "represents the culmination of Paul Manafort's work:"

The president bears some likeness to the oligarchs Manafort long served: a businessman with a portfolio of shady deals, who benefited from a cozy relationship to government; a man whose urge to dominate, and to enrich himself, overwhelms any higher ideal.

Tomi Lahren gets pilloried by Crooks and Liars as "Fox News' blonde-haired, blue-eyed millennial Jeanine Pirro-in-training" for this bizarre tirade:

"The left, which dictates popular culture, brainwashes young people into believing they live in a world where 64 gender options are up for selection, everything is free, Beyonce is a god-queen, and eating detergent is funny!," she ranted.

"I know what you're thinking -- the Tide Pod Challenge couldn't possibly be political, could it?" Lahren asked.

Preaching with an air of wisdom she does not possess, Lahren waggled her rhetorical finger and said, "Actually, yes it is. It's just the latest symptom of a larger problem -- the breakdown of the American family. It's what happens when kids aren't taught boundaries, respect, consequences, or logic."

Crooks and Liars wonders "who it is in the political sphere who might be sending kids a message about boundaries, respect, consequences, or logic:"

Behold! It was not liberals! I think about Donald Trump being elected after bragging about grabbing women by the pussy, and wonder why there were no consequences, and there was no respect shown to those women.

I think about the idea of Nazis and misogynists occupying high-ranking positions in our school systems and how there are no consequences, boundaries, or respect.

I think about how Fox News uses its platform to spout venom and poison the body politic. It's almost as if they shovel poison pods into the minds of their viewers daily, addicting them to fear, hate and more venom. Always more venom. And I think, where are their boundaries, respect, consequences or logic.

Salon summarizes Lahren as "a 25-year-old who only just got off her parents' health insurance and has never been responsible for the sole care of so much as a sugar glider and still has the temerity to lecture parents on how they're failing their children and their country. Learning is beyond her."

Counterfire's Sean Ledwith commemorates International Holocaust Day in surviving the death factory, about the Combat Group Auschwitz (KGA):

Communist activists from different parts of Europe who found themselves in that living hell somehow managed to assemble a covert network of resistance that sought to provide physical and mental support to fellow prisoners in the blackest pit of the Holocaust. [...]

As the German war machine rampaged across Europe, leftist prisoners from other countries arrived in massive numbers. The KGA made an explicit effort to overcome nationalist prejudices within the prisoner population, even though the instinct to prioritise self-preservation must have been overwhelming for most.

"In October 1944," Ledwith writes, "the KGA became aware that members of the Sonderkommando (Jews forced to bury the bodies) were planning an insurrection:"

The Communist cell considered that the action was doomed to defeat and did not want to jeopardise their fragile operation in a lost cause. However, neither was the KGA willing to turn its back on fellow-prisoners making a stand against arbitrary terror. Therefore, when the Sonderkommando launched their attack on the SS, it was with machine guns, knives and grenades supplied to them by the KGA's network outside the camp. Tragically, the entire 450-strong force of insurrectionists lost their lives-but they did manage to take four SS guards down with them. [...]

The astonishing heroism and daring of the KGA may seem to some like a drop of resistance in an ocean of horror; but their defiance of the most malicious regime the world has ever seen is a powerful antidote to the stereotype of all victims of the Holocaust trudging helplessly to their fate. We should also take away the message that if revolutionary activism was possible there, it is possible anywhere.


Last night's revelation from the NYT that Trump tried to fire Robert Mueller last year in sensational:

After receiving the president's order to fire Mr. Mueller, the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, refused to ask the Justice Department to dismiss the special counsel, saying he would quit instead, the people said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified discussing a continuing investigation.

Mr. McGahn disagreed with the president's case and told senior White House officials that firing Mr. Mueller would have a catastrophic effect on Mr. Trump's presidency. Mr. McGahn also told White House officials that Mr. Trump would not follow through on the dismissal on his own. The president then backed off.

Trump, meanwhile, dismissed it as "Fake news. A typical New York Times fake story." Politico observes that other White House flacks are issuing similarly Trumpian denials:

"Well, clearly The New York Times is stirring up these months' old Russian conspiracy stories and quite frankly, you know, I have not spoken to the president about it," White House Director of Strategic Communications Mercedes Schlapp told Fox News's "Fox & Friends" Friday morning. "The reality is, is that the president and this White House has been cooperative with the special counsel. And as we continue to see, there's no evidence of collusion. There's no evidence of wrong doing. The white house turned over 20,000 records to the special counsel. Again, we want an expedited end to this investigation. As we've seen thus far, there's no evidence of collusion or wrongdoing."

"Nonetheless," the NYT continues, "Trump has wavered for months about whether he wants to fire Mr. Mueller, which is an omnipresent concern among the president's legal team and close aides:"

The White House has denied nearly a dozen times since June that Mr. Trump was considering firing Mr. Mueller. The president's lawyers, including Mr. Cobb, have tried to keep Mr. Trump calm by assuring him for months, amid new revelations about the inquiry, that it is close to ending.

The Atlantic calls the incident the Saturday Night Massacre that wasn't, writing that "The episode adds new intrigue to the already transfixing dance between the president and the special counsel's probe:"

Attempting to fire a special counsel would immediately bring back memories of the October 1973 "Saturday Night Massacre," in which President Richard Nixon moved to dismiss the special prosecutor investigating Watergate. He was successful, but only after the attorney general and deputy attorney general resigned rather than dismiss Archibald Cox. A judge later ruled the firing was illegal, but at that point the greatest damage had already been done in political terms, and the firing came to be seen as the beginning of the end for Nixon's presidency.

"News of the attempted firing," the piece continues, "comes as Trump's lawyers negotiate the terms on which the president would offer testimony to Mueller:"

While the president has long said he didn't think he'd need to testify, he changed his tune on Wednesday. "I'm looking forward to it, actually," he said. "I would love to do that--I'd like to do it as soon as possible." [...]

It is up to Mueller to decide whether Trump's actions constitute a crime of obstruction of justice, but for Congress and the public, the central question remains what it is that has made Trump so anxious to suffocate the probes examining his campaign, presidency, and finances.

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