Friday, June 30, 2017

Donald Trump Then = Donald Trump Now

Following Donald Trump's vicious, misogynistic, and false tweets directed against Joe Scarborough sidekick and fiancee Mika Brzezinski, the MSNBC morning duo contributed an op-ed to Friday morning's Washington Post. While noting Trump's "mistreatment of women" and "unrelenting assault on women" was a staple of his presidential campaign, they argued

We have known Mr. Trump for more than a decade and have some fond memories of our relationship together. But that hasn’t stopped us from criticizing his abhorrent behavior or worrying about his fitness. During the height of the 2016 presidential campaign, Joe often listened to Trump staff members complain about their boss’s erratic behavior, including a top campaign official who was as close to the Republican candidate as anyone.

We, too, have noticed a change in his behavior over the past few years. Perhaps that is why we were neither shocked nor insulted by the president’s personal attack. The Donald Trump we knew before the campaign was a flawed character but one who still seemed capable of keeping his worst instincts in check.

To rework one of the most over-used (especially in this space) movie cliches of the past 70 years: "I'm shocked, shocked to find that Donald Trump is a bad guy."

Information has been out there about Donald Trump for a long time.  Writing shortly after Trump announced for president, David Marcus relied on information from investigative reporters. He explained Trump's past ties to La Cosa Nostra figures (video from 5/16) in both Atlantic City and New York City, in the latter city including

the use of undocumented Polish workers to demolish the Bonwit Teller building, which made way for the Trump Tower. Only a handful of union workers from Housewreckers Local 95 were employed on the site, the vast majority were illegal Polish alien workers, toiling under inhumane conditions, and wildly underpaid. Trump and his associates were found guilty in 1991 of conspiring to avoid paying pension and welfare fund contributions.

He was no stranger to the legal system, for in 1973, the 27-year-old Trump was sued by the federal government for violating the 1968 Civil Rights Act by refusing to rent apartments to blacks, a case settled out-of-court.

At the tail end (beginning at 5:32) of his opening monologue (worth watching, even now) on January 20, Bill Maher addressed the dossier of raw intelligence compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, quipping "I just wnat to say right now about our new president. I do not believe that Trump paid Russian prostitutes to pee on each other. I believe they did it, I just don't believe he paid for it." He may have been aware of the report from USA Today's Steve Reilly one year ago, twelve months before Trump sent Scarborough and Brzezinski into shock, that

At least 60 lawsuits, along with hundreds of liens, judgments, and other government filings reviewed by the USA Today Network, document people who have accused Trump and his businesses of failing to pay them for their work. Among them: a dishwasher in Florida. A glass company in New Jersey. A carpet company. A plumber. Painters. Forty-eight waiters. Dozens of bartenders and other hourly workers at his resorts and clubs, coast to coast. Real estate brokers who sold his properties. And, ironically, several law firms that once represented him in these suits and others.

Trump’s companies have also been cited for 24 violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act since 2005 for failing to pay overtime or minimum wage, according to U.S. Department of Labor data. That includes 21 citations against the defunct Trump Plaza in Atlantic City and three against the also out-of-business Trump Mortgage LLC in New York. Both cases were resolved by the companies agreeing to pay back wages.

In addition to the lawsuits, the review found more than 200 mechanic’s liens — filed by contractors and employees against Trump, his companies or his properties claiming they were owed money for their work — since the 1980s. The liens range from a $75,000 claim by a Plainview, N.Y., air conditioning and heating company to a $1 million claim from the president of a New York City real estate banking firm. On just one project, Trump’s Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, records released by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission in 1990 show that at least 253 subcontractors weren’t paid in full or on time, including workers who installed walls, chandeliers and plumbing.

Donald Trump may have gotten a little worse as President. But he is the same deal-making, deal-breaking confidence man. As President, he is getting some- still only some- of the scrutiny he should given him by Wayne Barrett, David Cay Johnstone, and a few other investigative journalists. He is now exposed, required to perform tasks far more difficult than he ever had to perform as a  real estate mogul Evidently good work if you can get it, it is businesss even a rude, crude, and inept individual can make a killing doing.

But rhe voters- or rather, the Electoral College- made its choice "They (the American people) knew what they were getting when they elected Donald Trump," Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared Thursday, unironically. Finally, something truthful out of the Administration.

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Must Not Question The Gun

Philando Castile was shot and killed by a police officer in Minnesto last summer during a routine traffic stop. Officer Jeronimo Yanez was found not guilty by a jury of his peers, was fired, and the mother of the deceased has settled a civil suit out of court for nearly three million dollars, to be paid by the insurance company.

Understandably, however, the tweets have continued, even as the National Rifle Association has remained virtually silent.  The silence of the guilty peeves Louis Dennard, who describes himself as "director for the state of Minnesota for the National African American Gun Assoication " and "president of the local chapter, the African American Heritage Gun Club." He decries "the hypocricsy of the NRA" and argues "this is a critical moment to take a stand for our Second Amendment right to own and carry guns."

Acquittal inspired numerous tweets from ordinary citizens. Here they include the factual: "until his death, Philandro Castile was stopped by police 46 times..."; the literate: Fannie Lou Hamer's famous "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired";  the simultaneously patriotic and profane: "this country, my home is breaking my f_ _ _ _ _ _ heart" (only here redacted); the simultaneously ludicrous and complacent:  "the most dangerous terrrorist cells in America are police departments;" and the obligatory "they," as in "still can't help but hope every time that they'll prove us wrong. They never do."

The well-known refused to be left out. Joy-Ann Reid tweeted in part "Shame on that cop. Shame on those jurors. Shame on this system."

Officer Yanez, whose behavior became infamous by viewing of the video coast-to-coast and beyond, was fired. Shame accomplished.  Whether the jurors, who largely suspended their lives while deliberating for four days, are shamed is debatable. And if Reid wishes to take a sledge hammer to the criminal justice system by radically reforming the grand jury system, she can tweet me or send an email to this blog. I'll be waiting.

But the trophy goes to journalist Shaun King, who, anxious to convince followers he is ignorant of real-life lynching, tweeted "the legal lyching of Philandro Castile. Video just released today."

He continued "an abomination. This officer is a murderer. Philando obeyed the law."

We cannot know for sure Officer Yanez is or was a murderer. The jury thought not, but that means only that he is not one in the eyes of the law- and juries are not infallible.

We also do not know whether Castile was at the time obeying the law because testimony pertaining to whether the victim had the weapon fully secured pursuant to Minnesota law was unclear. It appears that if the weapon was secured in a holster (and not visible), it was then legally possessed.  However, effectively requiring the firearm to be locked in the vehicle's trunk would prevent such situations.

We do know that Castile lied when he indicated on his permit application that he used no illegal drugs, though testimony that he was under the influence at the time of the incident was vigorously contested.

Nonetheless, it should be jarring to supporters of gun safety legislation that no one has questioned why a motorist would be armed for a trip to the grocery store, especially when his girlfriend, her daughter, and a controlled dangerous substance are in the car with him.

We should be able to agree that a drug- illegal or alcohol- and a firearm don't go together.  While unacknowledged by Dennard and other outraged critics, that suggests the NRA's muted response was driven not only because the deceased was a "good guy with a gun" but also because he had engendered a dangerous situation.  And because- yet again- the great equalizer became someone's tragic undoing.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Intolerance, Even From Vermont

Senator Bernie Sanders was enraged at remarks made at a confirmation hearing by President Trump's nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, Russell Vought.  The Atlantic's Emma Green wrote

Sanders took issue with a piece Vought wrote in January 2016 about a fight at the nominee’s alma mater, Wheaton College. The Christian school had fired a political-science professor, Larycia Hawkins, for a Facebook post intended to express solidarity with Muslims. Vought disagreed with Hawkins’s post and defended the school in an article for the conservative website The Resurgent. During the hearing, Sanders repeatedly quoted one passage that he found particularly objectionable:

Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.

“In my view, the statement made by Mr. Vought is indefensible, it is hateful, it is Islamophobic, and it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world,” Sanders told the committee during his introductory remarks. “This country, since its inception, has struggled, sometimes with great pain, to overcome discrimination of all forms … we must not go backwards.”

Later, during the question-and-answer portion of the hearing, Sanders brought this up again. “Do you believe that statement is Islamophobic?” he asked Vought. “Absolutely not, Senator,” Vought replied. “I’m a Christian, and I believe in a Christian set of principles based on my faith.”

"After an initial round of questions," Green observed, "Sanders began raising his voice and interrupting Vought as" the testimony moved to

Sanders: I don’t know how many Muslims there are in America, I really don’t know, probably a couple million. Are you suggesting that all of those people stand condemned? What about Jews? Do they stand condemned too?

Vought: Senator, I am a Christian—

Sanders: I understand that you are a Christian. But this country is made up of people who are not just—I understand that Christianity is the majority religion. But there are other people who have different religions in this country and around the world. In your judgment, do you think that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned?

Green continued

Vought tried to clarify how he thinks people of other traditions should be treated, referring to a doctrine known as imago dei. “As a Christian, I believe that all individuals are made in the image of God and are worthy of dignity and respect, regardless of their religious beliefs,” Vought said. “I believe that as a Christian, that’s how I should treat all individuals—”

Sanders interrupted again. “And do you think your statement that you put in that publication, ‘They do not know God because they rejected Jesus Christ the son, and they stand condemned,’ do you think that’s respectful of other religions?” Vought replied that he wrote the post as a Christian alumnus of Wheaton, which “has a statement of faith that speaks clearly with regard to the centrality of Jesus Christ in salvation.”

The senator concluded by remarking “I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about. I will vote no.”

It would be plucking the low-hanging fruit to point out that, in this portion of his questioning, Senator Sanders confused an OMB nominee with an applicant for Office of the Senate Chaplain, in which consideration of the individual's religious belief should be considered relevant. And it may be irrelevant that Sanders is displaying a textbook case of irony by opposing a candidate becuase of his intolerant religious beliefs.

But Green is more generous, explaining

Sanders and Van Hollen seemed to be reacting to something bigger than a year-old blog post about a controversy at a Christian college. Trump “is trying to divide this country up,” Sanders said. From their perspective, this is what the exchange was really about: the sense that bigotry and discrimination have become nastier and more commonplace in recent months, which poses a direct threat to the democratic institutions they’re tasked with defending.

In a statement on Thursday, a spokesman for Sanders said, “In a democratic society, founded on the principle of religious freedom, we can all disagree over issues, but racism and bigotry—condemning an entire group of people because of their faith—cannot be part of any public policy.” The nomination of a candidate like Vought, “who has expressed such strong Islamaphobic language," the statement said, “is simply unacceptable.”

Generous to a fault, Green nonetheless recognizes

It’s one thing to take issue with bigotry. It’s another to try to exclude people from office based on their theological convictions. Sanders used the term “Islamophobia” to suggest that Vought fears Muslims for who they are. But in his writing, Vought was contesting something different: He disagrees with what Muslims believe, and does not think their faith is satisfactory for salvation. Right or wrong, this is a conviction held by millions of Americans—and many Muslims might say the same thing about Christianity.

This is the danger of relying on religion as a threshold test for public service, the kind of test America’s founders were guarding against when they drafted Article VI. But that danger did not stop Sanders or Van Hollen from focusing on Vought’s religious beliefs during his confirmation hearing. It did not stop groups including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Muslim Advocates from sending out press releases condemning Vought’s comments. The American Civil Liberties Union also weighed in, saying that it was Vought’s views which threatened the principle of religious freedom. 

In this one instance, Sanders demonstrated a disturbing ignorance of the Constitution. He evinced also an ignorance - a less disturbing ignorance, for he is neither Rabbi Sanders, Father Sanders, nor Reverend Sanders- in Christianity and in the relationship between Christianity and Islam.  He does not understand, further, that religious Muslims also have a negative view of religions other than theirs, and Sanders (one would hope and expect) would not disqualify someone for office because she is a devout Muslim.  The First Amendment to the Constitution and Article VI, Section 3 of the document neatly dovetail.

Further, Vought did not exhibit "Islamaphobic language," for he expressed no phobia (fear) of, but simply a disagreement with, the religion. So did Jesus Christ, apparently, if the Gospel of John is to be believed. "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God," Jesus is reputed in 3:18 to have asserted. For those who might have missed it, in 14:6b he is said to have maintained "No one comes to the Father except through me."  (He did not lack for self-assurance.)

No one alive can legitimately state definitively whether these verses are accurate, and belief or refutation remains a matter of opinion, not of fact or of "fake news." But they are there, in a book lots of people in the USA and elsewhere believe, and they cannot be wished away, by a United States Senator or anyone else.

Bernie Sanders' interrogation of Mr. Vought (as well as Senator Van Hollen's support of it) reminds us, as does the Supreme Court's recent decision in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer, that there are powerful forces in this nation which do not recognize the dangers of entangling church and state.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017


By now, it's clear to any sentient human being that Donald Trump lies as a matter of course and tweets as a diversion.

Nonetheless, I'll take the bait and allow myself to be diverted.  Politico notes

CNN’s decision to retract a story published last week tying a member of President Donald Trump’s transition team to ongoing Russia investigations offered the president an opportunity Tuesday morning to attack perhaps his favorite media target, which he labeled “fake news” and questioned for publishing “phony stories.”

The story in question, published late last week, reported that the Senate Intelligence Committee was investigating the head of a Russian investment fund who met before the inauguration with Anthony Scaramucci, a financier and high-profile member of Trump’s transition team. CNN also reported that the Senate committee was looking into whether or not Scaramucci had suggested that sanctions against Russia might soon be lifted.

In addition to the story’s retraction, three CNN employees, including a Pulitzer Prize-winner, resigned from the company.

“Wow, CNN had to retract big story on "Russia," with 3 employees forced to resign. What about all the other phony stories they do? FAKE NEWS!” Trump wrote on Twitter Tuesday morning. "Fake News CNN is looking at big management changes now that they got caught falsely pushing their phony Russian stories. Ratings way down!" he added in a subsequent post.

Uh, no. It's not "fake news" when the reporter does not believe the information is inaccurate, the editor(s) believes it is accurate, and when the publication itself finds a mistake, it retracts the article, apologizes, and fires (accepts the resignation of) the offenders.  In the non-Trump world, we call that a "mistake."

And it turns out the report might not even have been inaccurate and wasn't broadcasted. CNN itself explains 

Three CNN journalists, including the executive editor in charge of a new investigative unit, have resigned after the publication of a Russia-related article that was retracted.
Thomas Frank, who wrote the story in question; Eric Lichtblau, an editor in the unit; and Lex Haris, who oversaw the unit, have all left CNN.

"In the aftermath of the retraction of a story published on, CNN has accepted the resignations of the employees involved in the story's publication," a spokesman said Monday evening.

An internal investigation by CNN management found that some standard editorial processes were not followed when the article was published, people briefed on the results of the investigation said.
The story, which reported that Congress was investigating a "Russian investment fund with ties to Trump officials," cited a single anonymous source.

These types of stories are typically reviewed by several departments within CNN -- including fact-checkers, journalism standards experts and lawyers -- before publication.

This breakdown in editorial workflow disturbed the CNN executives who learned about it.
In a staff meeting Monday afternoon, investigative unit members were told that the retraction did not mean the facts of the story were necessarily wrong. Rather, it meant that "the story wasn't solid enough to publish as-is," one of the people briefed on the investigation said.

So there were only seven or eight reasons the report wasn't the "fake news" Psychological Projection President claimed it was.

Contrast that to President Trump's approximately 101 falsehoods told from January 20-June 21 listed by The New York Times utilizing a "conservative standard." Compare CNN's not-fake news with the 337 "false things" President Trump has said as President which this Canadian newspaper recently catalogued.

Or take the visual approach and view the video below of the seven "lies," as Mika Brzezinski termed them, asserted in just one speech by the President recently in Iowa.

In context, credit Anthony Scaramucci, a subject of the CNN article, with a classy response. And enormous credit is due to the mainstream press generally, which has begun to identify President Trump's falsehoods while- devoted to objectivity- they have avoided noting that this sort of behavior has no purpose if not to take the nation down a long and very dark road.

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Monday, June 26, 2017

By Any Means Necessary

If the tens of millions whose health care would deteriorate because of the Better Care Reconciliation Act are disregarded, the The kabuki dance that is Mitch McConnell's effort to secure the votes of 50 Senators could be seen as entertaining, albeit with an outcome nearly inevitable.

The House approved a bill; Paul Ryan succeeded in his mission. Mitch McConnell will not fail in his assigned role to gain passage of a tax cut- uh, er, health care- bill, which would otherwise gain him the ire of Trump and the Presidential Stepfords.

The Associated Press reports Monday

"I would like to delay," said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., one of the five senators opposing the bill. "These bills aren't going to fix the problem. They're not addressing the root cause," he said, referring to rising health care costs. "They're doing the same old Washington thing, throwing more money at the problem."

Count Johnson as a "yes." "I don't have the feedback from constituencies who will not have had enough time to review the Senate bill," Johnson said on Meet the Press, adding "we should not be voting on this next week." He also stated "I'm not a 'yes' yet" (omitted from video below);

If he were a Democrat, thus willing to admit he believes in science, Johnson would have claimed he's "evolving." We have precedent, from a President who in 2010 contended "I have to this point unwilling to sign on to same-sex marriage primarily because of my understandings of the traditional definitions of marriage. But I also think you're right that attitudes evolve, including mine." All it  took for the evolution to be complete was a running mate in 2012 asserting that he himself had no problem with same-sex marriage.

Johnson is in, and it won't take an increase in Medicaid to get him there.  Last week, reportedly calling the Senate bill as written "mean," President Trump told a group of GOP senators "I really appreciate what you're doing to come out with a bill that's going to be a phenomenal bill for the people of our country: generous, kind, with heart. That's what I'm saying. And that may be adding additional money into it."

The man rails against "leaks" as if it were ISIL acquiring a nuclear weapon but said not a word about leaks. Nor did anyone ask what the "additional money" he allegedly cited actually referred to. But we have an idea now that the demagogue who allegedly decried the meanness of the bill says "we have a very good plan."

Of course they do, by the one conservative Republican criterion that counts.  Brian Beutler notes "the text of the no-longer-secret Senate bill provides ample proof that, as many critics including myself have noted, Republicans’ Obamacare repeal effort is actually a regressive tax cut plan disguised as health care legislation."

Beutler cites Section 119, entitled "repeal of net investment tax," which retroactively repeals the 3.8 percent tax on net investment income, and explains

The economic-growth argument for cutting capital-gains taxes is that taxing investment gains at a lower rate than other kinds of income creates an incentive for people to save and invest and thus grow the economy. In other words, the non-greedy justification for cutting capital gains taxes is all about the future. A retroactive cut spurs nothing, because it essentially refunds taxes already paid by the wealthy for gains they already realized. The reason there’s a give-money-to-rich-people provision in a bill called the “Better Care Reconciliation Act” is because it’s a millionaire tax cut bill dressed up as a health bill. Practically the only people taken better care of under its terms are people who already have it extremely good in life.

As a health care bill, the BCRA is a bad bill, a small consideration for GOP senators when it shovels much more money to the wealthy, Ron Johnson will be joined by Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Dean Heller grabbing onto that train before it leaves the tax cut terminal.  It may be passed after Independence Day- in the manner that Steve M. theorizes here- but Mitch McConnell was, sadly, born to this moment.

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Danger Lurking

Identifying "workarounds (which) are almost as dangerous to the American system of goverment as the Trump presidency itself," David Frum notes

The U.S. government is already osmotically working around the presidency, a process enabled by the president’s visible distaste for the work of governance. The National Security Council staff is increasingly a double-headed institution, a zone of struggle between Kushner-Flynn-Bannon types on one side, and a growing staff of capable, experienced, and Russia-skeptical functionaries on the other. The Senate has voted 97-2 to restrict the president’s authority to relax Russia sanctions. It seems the president has been persuaded to take himself out of the chain of command in the escalating military operations in Afghanistan. National-Security Adviser H.R. McMaster recently assured the nation that Trump could not have done much harm when he blabbed a vital secret to the Russian foreign minister in the Oval Office, precisely because the president was not briefed on crucial “sources and methods” information.

That may be the least of our problems, however. Frum claims "It’s not seriously disputed by anyone in a position of authority in the U.S. government—apart from the president himself—that Donald Trump holds his high office in considerable part because a foreign spy agency helped place him there."

That's inaccurate.  Though Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader McConnell have not explicitly denied Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election, neither has gone beyond expressing confidence in the nation's intelligence services.  And neither has come within a time zone of even implying Russian involvement played a role in the defeat of Hillary Clinton.

But the major problem lies in Frum's accurate phrase "anyone in a position of authority."  For the individual most likely to be President of the United States- Lord, help us- now is not in a "position of authority." And while he has been largely quiet, he is generally dismissive of the inquiry into Russian meddling.

On May 10, shortly before the President would admit he fired James Comey because of the Russia probe, Vice President Mike Pence maintained

that FBI Director James Comey was fired to restore “trust and confidence” in the law enforcement agency, and said the ongoing probe into ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government did not play any role in the decision.

The Russian probe “is not what this is about,” Pence said in brief comments to reporters at the U.S. Capitol.

This might be dismissed as a Vice-President simply wishing to avoid contradicting the President. However, Pence is something more, and not in a positive way. Appearing last week at the 40th anniversary of the right-wing evangelical Focus on the Family, Pence

announced that he would donate an ultrasound machine in his own name to a faith-based crisis pregnancy center. (These centers, which are marketed like typical abortion clinics, but are set up to persuade women to avoid abortions, make up a major part of Focus on the Family’s efforts).

Pence, devoted to the cause of frightening women in their most vulnerable moments, also claimed

Trump stood for the “vulnerable: the aged, the disabled, and the unborn.” He promised a full de-funding of Planned Parenthood, as well as a new post-repeal approach to health care based on “freedom,” “personal responsibility” and the free market — all to raucous applause.

At other times, however, Pence’s remarks seemed to subtly reassure evangelicals of his influence in the White House to bolster religiously-motivated policy. He told the story of how Trump “personally” sent him to the January anti-abortion March for Life highlighting that Pence first brought up the possibility of attending.

He didn't explain why children with cancer, elderly women in nursing homes, and the veterans who use Medicaid must assume "personal responsibility."  Nor did Pence explain his dedication to the roughly 48% of the unborn whose birth is paid for by Medicaid.

Whatever President Trump's views on health insurance, he wisely bought himself a pretty good impeachment insurance policy in Mike Pence.

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Careful Not To Offend Flynn

He may be crazy. He's certainly ignorant. But Donald Trump is not dumb. We have learned from The Hill

President Trump considered restoring former national security adviser Michael Flynn to his White House role after his resignation in February and still praises the former aide, The Washington Post reported Friday.

Flynn was forced to resign less than a month after stepping into the senior White House role amid revelations that he misled Vice President Pence and other administration officials about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Trump, according to the Post, has seemed to regret the decision to oust Flynn, in spite of mounting controversies surrounding the former adviser.

Trump has spoken fondly of Flynn, even after his ouster, saying in private that the retired lieutenant general "served the country well" and complaining that he has been treated unfairly by the news media, according to the Post.

Those comments echo Trump's comments shortly after Flynn left the White House, when he told reporters that Flynn was a "wonderful man" and that "it’s really a sad thing that he was treated so badly" by the media.

Very little said in private in Washington but made public was intended to remain private.  President Trump is sending a message through the media to General Flynn.  Realclearpolitics several days ago several days ago reported of the junior senator from Rhode Island, Sheldon Whitehouse:

"All the signals are suggesting [Flynn] is already cooperating with the FBI, and may have been for some time. First of all, they had him dead to rights on a felony false statement, on the statement they took from him at the White House on the Kislyak conversations. Second, Comey reported that one of the things the FBI does with cooperators is get them to go back and clean up areas of non-compliance. Flynn, who will never be hired by a foreign government again, went back and cleaned up his foreign agent filings. Third, all of the reporting of the Eastern District of VA on subpoenas is one hop away from Flynn. He is the hole in a donut of subpoenas," he sad. 

He continued: "One of the most talkative people in Trumpland [Flynn] has gone absolutely silent. That is exactly what a prosecutor would strongly encourage a cooperating witness to do... in order to avoid lengthy imprisonment."

"It could be a huge deal. Who knows what Trump has said to him?" Whitehouse speculated. "Both during the campaign and the early days of the presidency."

Trump is telling the former national security adviser to hang tough, that he supports him and still believes in him.... which is precisely what he should do. While it puts Trump legally into greater peril because we already know he asked FBI director Comey to back off investigating the lieutenant general, keeping Flynn from talking must be Trump's greatest priority.

The President waited 18 days to discharge Flynn after the White House counsel was informed that the President's appointee had lied to Vice-President Mike Pence and opened himself to blackmail,  Firing him at all, the President now appears to have concluded, was a mistake. He disregarded the adage (here modified): keep your friends close; and your friends who know where the bodies are buried, closer.

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Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Final Choke

Within the blockbuster report from Miller, Nakashima, and Entous of The Washington Post is a metaphor for the Obama legacy, if historians can put aside their bothsiderism. President Obama "and his top advisors" were

worried that any action they took would be perceived as political interference in an already volatile campaign. By August, Trump was predicting that the election would be rigged. Obama officials feared providing fuel to such claims, playing into Russia’s efforts to discredit the outcome and potentially contaminating the expected Clinton triumph.

On Aug. 15, Homeland Security chief Jeh

Johnson arranged a conference call with dozens of state officials, hoping to enlist their support. He ran into a wall of resistance.

The reaction “ranged from neutral to negative,” Johnson said in congressional testimony Wednesday.

Brian Kemp, the Republican secretary of state of Georgia, used the call to denounce Johnson’s proposal as an assault on state rights. “I think it was a politically calculated move by the previous administration,” Kemp said in a recent interview, adding that he remains unconvinced that Russia waged a campaign to disrupt the 2016 race. “I don’t necessarily believe that,” he said.

Stung by the reaction, the White House turned to Congress for help, hoping that a bipartisan appeal to states would be more effective.

Seven+ years as President and Barack Obama still believed that congessional GOP leadership would put country above politics. How quaint, and how futile as

In early September, Johnson, Comey, and Monaco arrived on Capitol Hill in a caravan of black SUVs for a meeting with 12 key members of Congress, including the leadership of both parties.

The meeting devolved into a partisan squabble.

“The Dems were, ‘Hey, we have to tell the public,’ ” recalled one participant. But Republicans resisted, arguing that to warn the public that the election was under attack would further Russia’s aim of sapping confidence in the system.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) went further, officials said, voicing skepticism that the underlying intelligence truly supported the White House’s claims. Through a spokeswoman, McConnell declined to comment, citing the secrecy of that meeting.

Key Democrats were stunned by the GOP response and exasperated that the White House seemed willing to let Republican opposition block any pre-election move.

Tax cuts for the wealthy, as featured in the GOP's American Health Deprival Act, now renamed, were at stake, as were more tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations, labeled in the "liberal media" as "tax reform." Thus

A week later, McConnell and other congressional leaders issued a cautious statement that encouraged state election officials to ensure their networks were “secure from attack.” The release made no mention of Russia and emphasized that the lawmakers “would oppose any effort by the federal government” to encroach on the states’ authorities.

"States' authorities" were for over a century known as "states rights," which took on a bad connotation when used to deny rights to black citizens, but is now used as an excuse to run a dirty election. Progress in fits and starts, at best.

But a President determined not to be attacked as partisan wasn't done, and

When U.S. spy agencies reached unanimous agreement in late September that the interference was a Russian operation directed by Putin, Obama directed spy chiefs to prepare a public statement summarizing the intelligence in broad strokes.

With Obama still determined to avoid any appearance of politics, the statement would not carry his signature.

Friday night, in a rant beginning at about 33:28 of the video below, Bill Maher can be seen criticizing Democrats for failing to defend environmental action and unions against Republican attacks. He noted "this debate, this fake debate, I think, about should the Democrats move left or right. It's not about that. It's about how you fight."

Generally accurate, it describes one Democrat especially. The Post quotes"a former senior Obama adminstration official involved in White House deliberations on Russia" as lamenting "It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend. I feel like we sort of choked.” He shouldn't be so hard on himself.  Ultimately, the President himself, as he did for eight years, called the shots on the reaction to Russian meddling. For eight years he "choked" and his timidity (probably) finally gave us President Donald J. Trump.

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Friday, June 23, 2017

There Is An Obvious Answer To Trump's Question. But It's Discomfiting.

Politico reported on Thursday

“Former Homeland Security Advisor Jeh Johnson is latest top intelligence official to state there was no grand scheme between Trump & Russia,” the president wrote on Twitter Thursday morning. “By the way, if Russia was working so hard on the 2016 Election, it all took place during the Obama Admin. Why didn't they stop them?”

Farmers farm drive, writers write, cooks cook, trainers train, painters paint, and Donald Trump lies. It's what he does, as effortlessly as breathing. Therefore, you won't be surprised that Jeh Hohnson had not said what Trump attributed to him. Nonetheless, the President asks a legitimate question: if Russia messed with the 2016 election, it was during the Obama Administration, so why wasn't it stopped?

In a December article Democrats, Republicans, and especially new wave centrists have found convenient to ignore, the Washington Post's Entous, Nakashima and Miller revealed

On Oct. 7, the intelligence community officially accused Moscow of seeking to interfere in the election through the hacking of “political organizations.” Though the statement never specified which party, it was clear that officials were referring to cyber-intrusions into the computers of the DNC and other Democratic groups and individuals...

Within the administration, top officials from different agencies sparred over whether and how to respond. White House officials were concerned that covert retaliatory measures might risk an escalation in which Russia, with sophisticated cyber-capabilities, might have less to lose than the United States, with its vast and vulnerable digital infrastructure.

The White House’s reluctance to take that risk left Washington weighing more-limited measures, including the “naming and shaming” approach of publicly blaming Moscow.

By mid-September, White House officials had decided it was time to take that step, but they worried that doing so unilaterally and without bipartisan congressional backing just weeks before the election would make Obama vulnerable to charges that he was using intelligence for political purposes.

Instead, officials devised a plan to seek bipartisan support from top lawmakers and set up a secret meeting with the Gang of 12 — a group that includes House and Senate leaders, as well as the chairmen and ranking members of both chambers’ committees on intelligence and homeland security.

Obama dispatched Monaco, FBI Director James B. Comey and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to make the pitch for a “show of solidarity and bipartisan unity” against Russian interference in the election, according to a senior administration official.

Specifically, the White House wanted congressional leaders to sign off on a bipartisan statement urging state and local officials to take federal help in protecting their voting-registration and balloting machines from Russian cyber-intrusions.

Though U.S. intelligence agencies were skeptical that hackers would be able to manipulate the election results in a systematic way, the White House feared that Russia would attempt to do so, sowing doubt about the fundamental mechanisms of democracy and potentially forcing a more dangerous confrontation between Washington and Moscow.

In a secure room in the Capitol used for briefings involving classified information, administration officials broadly laid out the evidence U.S. spy agencies had collected, showing Russia’s role in cyber-intrusions in at least two states and in hacking the emails of the Democratic organizations and individuals.

And they made a case for a united, bipartisan front in response to what one official described as “the threat posed by unprecedented meddling by a foreign power in our election process.”

The Democratic leaders in the room unanimously agreed on the need to take the threat seriously. Republicans, however, were divided, with at least two GOP lawmakers reluctant to accede to the White House requests.

According to several officials, McConnell raised doubts about the underlying intelligence and made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics.

Some of the Republicans in the briefing also seemed opposed to the idea of going public with such explosive allegations in the final stages of an election, a move that they argued would only rattle public confidence and play into Moscow’s hands.

It's a good question Trump asks, one which has been largely ignored because no one comes out looking good if it's answered. President Obama believed that Republicans, who have periodically pummeled Democrats since the end of World War II for being soft on Communism, would join him in a bipartisan "show of bipartisan support and unity" by exposing meddling by Russians in the election.  McConnell in essence responded "do that and our boys will tell the country you're rigging the election," which (ironically) was a major campaign theme of GOP nominee Donald J. Trump.

Obama could have raised in return. Assuming McConnell would not have folded, the issue would have become paramount in the upcoming presidential and congressional elections, with unknown results. Given that Clinton was a fairly heavy favorite to win re-election which would guarantee survival of Obacare even with a GOP Congress, Obama folded.

It was a major tactical mistake, one that ultimately did in Hillary Clinton and soon will result in the demise of the Affordable Care Act as we have known it. Had Obama himself headed the ticket, the error probably would not have been made, for he rarely made the wrong move in any election in which he was the candidate.

Obama was intimidated. McConnell put party over country. Obviously, the better strategy was to ditch hand-holding harmony.

Trump's question deserves to be answered, and the quick and dirty answer is:  President Obama was playing the bipartisan game, which would have benefitted the nation. Senate Majority Leader McConnell was exerting extreme partisanship.  The American people made their choice. Democrats, take notice.

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

In Other News Of Murder

The show must go on, and following the attempted murder of GOP members of Congress on a baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia, the annual congressional baseball game was held. The Washington Examiner reported

President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence did not attend the game, but Trump sent a message of unity and many other politicians of every stripe made appearances. The president's daughter, Ivanka Trump, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and Kellyanne Conway, counsellor to the president, were among those in the stadium to represent the administration. All four congressional leaders, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., led the crowd of nearly 25,000 in a "Play ball!" chant.

Throughout the game, which featured a lack of hitting ability, hordes of stolen bases, and echoes of Bruce Springsteen's 1984 hit "Glory Days," was a sense of togetherness. The two teams took a knee together around second base during the pregame ceremonies. After the game, the Democrats' manager, Mike Doyle, handed the trophy to GOP manager Joe Barton and revealed that it would stand in Scalise's office until he gets out of hospital and returns to the halls of Congress. The event raised a record $1.5 million for charity, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., revealed in a tweet late Thursday.

"Thoughts and prayers" and other fine gestures were the common response. At a concert Tuesday night in Hyattsville, Maryland, the politically correct Bono gave a shout-out to Representative Steve Scalise "and his comrades," then visited Scalise's Capitol Hill staff and signed a giant get-well card for the congressmen and the two wounded Capitol police officers.

By stunning contrast, few people heard about the three human beings killed in an incident in the streets of St. Louis on June 2; of the five individuals murdered in a warehouse by a former employee in Orlando June 5; of the three men killed inside and immediately outside of a home in Fresno on June 6.

Now a 17-year-old Muslim girl has been killed near a mosque in northern Virginia in what police thus far reportedly believe was not a hate crime but a case of road rage.  At least there have been vigils across the country for the victim, though the fire set to a makeshift memorial in the District of Columbia a few days later should stand in stark contrast to the universal shock and grief at the gunfire unleashed while Republican congressmen were practicing for their baseball game against Democrats.

After the attack targeting Washington politicians, David Frum noted that while mass shootings and other crime have decreased markedly in the USA since the early 1990s, they remain much more prevalent than anywhere else in the developed world.  He notes tht in response to violent crime by terrorists and others

Americans have developed a strong taboo against ever discussing or even thinking about them. When the killer strikes, it is “too soon.” The next day, it is “too late”; we have all moved onto the next topic. Then comes the next massacre, and it is “too soon” all over again.

Like ancient villagers, Americans accept periodic plagues as a visitation from the gods, about which nothing can or should be done. The only permitted response is “thoughts and prayers”—certainly never rational action to reduce casualties in future. Even to open the discussion as to whether something might not be done violates the taboos of decency: How dare you politicize this completely unpredictable and uncontrollable event! It is as if gun violence were inscrutable to the mind of man, utterly beyond human control.

Recognizing prayer, though possibly necessary, is not sufficient, Frum quotes Isaiah 1:15 (here, from the English Standard Version):

When you spread out your hands,
    I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
    I will not listen;
    your hands are full of blood.

We react to crime and violence with irrational fear, as typically practiced effectively by Donald Trump, or with studied apathy. A relative of the deceased in St. Louis asserted "it's senseless killing and it's got to stop."  It may be senseless but it doesn't have to stop, and there is little reason to believe it will.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017


The police officer who shot and killed Philandro Castile in Minnesota was acquitted by a jury on Friday and Trevor Noah of The Daily Show commented

Every time I watch that video, I ask myself "how does a black person not get shot in America?" Because if you think about it, the bar is always moving. The goal posts are always shifting.  It's always a different thing that explains why a person gets shot. The person was weaing a hoodie. The person wasn't wearing a hoodie. Or the person was running away from the police.  Or the person was running toward the police. Or the person was running around at night.  Or the person had an illegal firearm; or, no, the person didn't have a firearm.

But at some point you realize there's no real answer. Now you see this person and you see this video and go "how?"  There have been a lot of shootings; we talk about this a lot- so many things to say- racism, classism, systemic violence, violence in police forces that oppress people.

But this story is interesting because there is something different. And that is Philandro Castile wasn't just a man shot at a traffic stop. He was a legal gun owner. His family was in the car and had committed no crime - at all, In a story of a man being shot because he was lawfully armed.  You would think that one group one powerful group in America would say something about- one group you would expect would be losing its goddamn mind about this, the NRA.  But for some strange reason, on this particular case, they have been completely silent, completely silent. And yet, according to their rhetoric,this is everything they stand against, right? An officer of the state depriving a citizen of his life because he was legally carrying a firearm.  This is how vocal and fired-up the NRA gets when nothing has happened

(video of NRA's Wayne LaPierre saying)
"There is no greater freedom than the right to survive and protect our families with all the rifles, shotguns, and handguns we want."

"Unless you're black" is what it should say. It's interesting that the people who define themselves by one fundamental right- the right to keep and bear arms- that once race is involved, the only right they believe in is their right to remain silent.

As Noah notes, there have been many incidents of blacks being shot, with almost as many explanations.  But the police officer didn't shoot Castile because he was legally carrying a firearm.

The police officer pulled the trigger evidently because he believed- correctly or otherwise- that Castile may have been reaching for his weapon.   He was not targeted because he was legally carrying a firearm but rather because the weapon was perceived as a threat by, and to, the officer.

For an organization whose spokesman has claimed "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," the tragic, horrifying termination of the life of a good guy with a legal gun is extraordinarily problematic. For an organization which counts rank-and-file police officers as among its most influential supporters, it's especially inconvenient, and potentially damaging to its image.

Trevor Noah deserves credit for calling out the National Rifle Association. However, there is one fact clear and undeniable: if Philandro Castile hadn't been "carrying," he'd be alive today. You know that,I know that, all God's children know that. Drawing attention to the incident only reminds everyone, and the NRA doesn't want to remind you.

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Attention Not Always A Plus

At 9:23 p.m. Tuesday night, Nate Silver commented on his five-thirty eight blog

If we wind up with Handel winning by like 2 points and Norman winning by about 4 points, that’s by no means the worst outcome for Democrats. In fact, it’s a sort of par-for-the-course one, given expectations going in. But it’s just about the most annoying possible outcome for Democrats, closing the gap in a lot of places, but not winning anywhere yet.

That would have been almost the most annoying thing. Instead, the most annoying thing occurred. Silver's colleague Dave Wasserman a few minutes earlier had remarked

If Parnell loses South Carolina by 4 or 5 points, lots of Democratic activists will point fingers at the party’s hierarchy for not getting more involved (cough, cough Kansas 4). But it’s possible that Parnell is doing well tonight because he wasn’t hyped, not despite it.

As it turned out, Democrat Parnell lost by only 3.2% while Ossoff, in what was considered a far more winnable district, was defeated by 3.8%.  Steve M. (assisted by the phony ad below) argues

If Democrats actually did better in the race that didn't get national attention, I worry that it means Democrats struggle to overcome the relentless, 24/7/365 demonization of their party in the right-wing media, which is basically the mainstream media in much of white America. The South Carolina race was ignored by the rest of the country, which means that allegedly nasty nationwide Democrats were never a factor.

In Georgia, Handel voters weren't voting against Ossoff -- they were voting against evil coast-dwellers from New York and Massachusetts and California. They were voting against Nancy Pelosi, history's greatest monster. Watch this:

Ossoff was attacked for getting too much money from outside Georgia -- as noted in the attack ad above, which was paid for by the Congressional Leadership Fund, which is, um, not Georgia-based. Neither are the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Republican National Committee, which contributed massive amounts of money to elect Handel (more than comparable national Democratic organizations)....

On Handel's behalf, a D.C.-based organization made that ad to persuade people that outsiders were too involved in Ossoff's campaign. And it worked.

The Democrat lost a House race by 3.9% at a time when Donald Trump is more unpopular than he was when he defeated Hillary Clinton in the same district by 1%.The final 2016 presidential election polls had Clinton up by an average of 1.9% in the critical state of Pennsylvania, prior to her loss there by 1.2%. Lest we forget

With less than 24 hours to go before Election Night, Hillary Clinton proved on Monday night in Philadelphia that she could still draw a crowd. Or at least, she proved that she could draw a crowd if she appeared with Jon Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, and Barack and Michelle Obama all backing her up.

Many who tried to see the presidential hopeful didn’t get the chance, as cars full of would-be attendees lined up for blocks around the venue.

After an opening from Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen got the crowd gathered in front of Independence Hall on its feet, regaling them with some of his biggest hits. “The choice tomorrow couldn’t be any clearer,” Springsteen said. “Hillary’s candidacy is based on intelligence, experience, preparation, and an actual vision of America where everyone counts.”

Springsteen even changed the lyrics to “Thunder Road” and sang, to cheers: “It’s a town full of losers, tonight we’re pulling out of here to win.”

It was a night designed to please, boasting stars from both the music and political worlds. Clinton had just one more rally planned, for midnight in North Carolina, where she would be joined by Lady Gaga.

Bill Clinton, appearing alongside his daughter, did what he does best. He delivered a soaring, patriotic speech, drawing on Independence Hall for inspiration. “This country began here,” he said, calling on everyone to get out and vote “to form a more perfect union.”

Michelle Obama, perhaps the biggest draw of the night, spoke proudly of her husband’s legacy, saying, “We have a duty to ensure that this country is handed over to a leader that we all can trust.”

Before the candidate herself appeared, there were Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, Bill Clinton, Michelle Obama and finally "President Obama, who showed Springsteen he’s not the only one with a catalogue of oldies to repurpose. He led the crowd in one of his most popular chants from 2008: “Fired up, ready to go!”

Hillary Clinton had widespread celebriy support and often brought out the big guns, but no more so than Jon Ossoff, attacked by Karen Handel as practically the love child of Nancy Pelosi and "Hollywood celebrity Alyssa  Milano."  The attention and support from individuals perceived as outsiders did no good for either. How that should translate into strategy is difficult to determine but it now appears to be a factor Democrats must contend with.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Lag At Your (Our) Own Risk

The US Department of Justice "fact sheet" on the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 asserts it "reflects the bipartisan product of six years of hard work." And in a helpful guide to the law, this BBC article describes it as "a lengthy crime control bill that was put together over the course of six years."

The bipartisan nature of the legislation is reflected in the support of former New Hampshire governor and Bush 43 adviser John Sununu for the act while the "six years" is a critical factor in assessing the Republican's remarks in a recent interview. Salon's Matthew Rozsa questions the impact upon President Bush's legacy of the "millions of African-Americans and Hispanics (who) have suffered becasue of the draconian policies involved with the war on drugs."  Sununu, father of the former New Hampshire senator with the same name, responds

I think if you go back and look at what the president put forward as his crime bill, it was a little bit different than what Bill Clinton expanded it to be. But I actually give them both credit for passing legislation that was critical at the time in the country. That legislation probably has to be rehoned and I would not oppose a smart reform of that legislation, but at the time the country really was going through an inner-city crisis with a lack of resources in local police departments, county departments, municipal departments.

Though various items, including a boost in resources to state and local law enforcement, were included in the legislation. Still, Sununu's argument bears critical assessment. He agrees, realistically, that the "legislation probably has to be rehoned and I would not oppose a smart reform of" it.  He maintains "at the time the country really was going through an inner-city crisis with a lack of resources...."

Major cities at the time were in fact hamstrung by a lack of resources not only because of a decline in their revenue base but also because of a sharp rise in crime the previous 2-3 decades.  Further, as the graph below indicates, fear was widespread because the nation's residents believed the USA was undergoing an explosion of what was commonly dubbed "crime in the streets."

The term "crisis" is here artfully applied to explain why the legislation "was critical at the time in the country." The first graph below suggests that the rate of violent crime, property crime, and crime overall peaked in 1991, the mid-point year of the process of enacting the 1994 act.  The second graph, evaluating only the number of violent crimes per 1,000 people 12 years or older, indicates that the violent crime rate peaked at 51.2 in 1994- the year of passage of the bill.

The three graphs taken as a whole demonstrate that the catalyst for the legislative process, begun in or near 1988, was the legitimate- and even justified- fear of street crime.  Following passage of the act, the rate continued its downward trajectory begun during the period of congressional consideration.  (If the last graph is to be relied upon, violent crime began to drop around the point of passage, a change so abrupt it is very likely coincidental.)

It continued to drop, and dramatically through at least 2014. (More recent statistics are not as favorable.)

However, the impact of mass incarceration and aggressive policing upon the incidence of crime is controversial. In April, 2014 Bill O'Reilly seemed to attribute it to imposition of "tough mandatory drug sentencing" and two years later to "tough sentencing for violent offenders (which) drove crime down in the USA, big time."  Reviewing a wide range of evidence for sixteen likely reasons, Vox in 2015 estimated that increased incarceration had accounted for a "fraction of the drop" and increased police presence for "up to 10%."

The "get tough" approach (testosterone rising), whatever its externalities, contributed to the safety of Americans, though it is unlikely it was the major reason.  However, the timing of the 1994 Act, which played a major role in criminal justice policy throughout America, was more than suspect. It was born from justified concern and legitimate panic of the American people,but was poorly timed.

There is a problem of lag time in law enforcement policy. The positive changes in reduction brought about by the Bush 41-Clinton legislation were minimal but would have been maximized had the legislative process begun years earlier.

That's why a response to mass incarceration must view crime not as it is at the moment but as it is likely to be down the road. It requies prescience and consideration of the trends which have contributed to its reduction over the last quarter-century.  It's not as sexy as railing against "mass incarceration" and racial disparities, nor wearing an "NYPD" hat and blasting reformers as anti-police, but such factors cannot be overlooked.

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Monday, June 19, 2017

And This Guy Works For A Federal Judge

Peter N. Salib, a judicial clerk to Judge Frank Easterbrook of the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit,  has written "Why Prison? An Economic Critique."

In an interview with Vox's German Lopez, Salib argues

There’s a fair amount of research that there’s actually a causal relationship between years of imprisonment and lifetime crimes committed. We think prison as reducing crime, because it takes people who we think would commit crimes and puts them away so they can’t commit them. But it actually has the opposite effect: Maybe you can’t commit a crime while you’re in prison, but you commit a bunch more [crimes] once you get out.

So for many people who commit crimes, it may be possible to stop them from committing more crimes while they’re out in the world, working and contributing to society, because we have all this cool technology now that we didn’t have before. We have very good location-detection technology. We can really make sure people are where they’re supposed to be using biometric technology. We can monitor them. Our smartphones have every kind of data transfer you’d like, from voice to video to pictures to text.

Lopez there links to a summary by the National Institute of Justice of a summary by the National Institute of Justice. In the NIJ summary to which that links, the NIJ argues (emhasis its)

Certainty has a greater impact on deterrence than severity of punishment.

Severity refers to the length of a sentence. Studies show that for most individuals convicted of a crime, short to moderate prison sentences may be a deterrent but longer prison terms produce only a limited deterrent effect.

The NIJ's evidence does not indicate that prison encourages crime- only that a long term has "only a limited deterrent effect."  The community can be well-served when a defendant is sentenced to prison, then subjected to Salib's "cool technology."

Or not. The technology theoretically, technically, exists. The technology for driverless cars exists, also. However, the market for driverless cars remains miniscule while the technology is improved. So, too, is there location-detection technology, biometric technology, and all sorts of fun to be had with smartphones. In the meantime, some felons must be sentenced to prison and thereafter serve a period of supervised parole in the conventional, unsexy fashion utilizing the advantages of human labor.

Among those not sentenced to prison but to probation, there is a large number who run afoul of the requirements imposed by the court in sentencing. Remarkably, these do not bear even a mention by Salib, presumably because there can be few alternatives to prison for them. Instead, when asked if there "are some people who need to go to prison," Salib responds

There are at least some murderers — I’m thinking of, at the very least, the kind of psychotic serial killers, the Ted Bundys of the world — that probably we really should keep away from society. Insofar as there is some percentage of people who really are an irreparable danger to society, the paper concedes that okay, maybe those people really do need to be locked up.

There are in fact "psychotic serial killers." There are, thankfully, few of them. There are far more individuals who murder out of circumstance, perhaps incited by an argument with someone they have known. Instances of extreme domestic violence come to mind, but they are of varying kinds. Less often, a stranger may be the victim of violence which does not end in death.

There also are individuals who kill in the process of committing another offense, such as the sale of drugs or robbery.  Consider when in January, 2014, in a still-unsolved crime

A young Philadelphia architect was shot to death in front of her mother late last night while the two walked from the train to their car in one of Philadelphia’s trendy neighborhoods.
Amber Long, 26, and her mother, 50, were walking along the 900 block of Front Street in the Northern Liberties section of the city when they were ambushed by two robbers.

"One of the males snatched the mother's purse from off of her shoulder and fled on foot. The second male, who was attempting to snatch the purse from the daughter, during the struggle, pulled out a gun and fired it one time, striking her in the chest," said Captain James Clark who heads up the homicide division.

Officers rushed Long to Hahnemann Hospital where she died around 11:15 p.m.

Evidently, our judicial clerk does not believe such a criminal, if caught, should be incarcerated. Instead, he argues

It might not be everyone who commits a violent crime, but there are certainly some people for who prison is the right answer. But it’s almost certainly a small fraction of the millions we incarcerate in America now.

Well, no.   The judicial clerk probably would argue that drug users should not be imprisoned, and with marijuana users, he would have a point. But there are many other people currently locked up for using far more serious drugs and/or for selling these substances.  Further, there are individuals who commit very serious offenses aside from murder, such as sexual, and aggravated, sexual assault; weapons offenses; robbery; and some occasions of theft, such as when last November we could read

Two people have been arrested in an attempted purse snatching at an Acme store in Northeast Philadelphia. And now police are trying to connect the pair to similar crimes in the area.

Thirty-three-year-old Justin Pope and 33-year-old Tiffany Groves are facing multiple charges, including theft-unlawful taking, theft-receiving stolen property, criminal conspiracy and retail theft.

A young man and woman have been captured on surveillance at several stores, but police say these two are not your average customers. Instead of shopping for groceries, investigators say they are scoping out the place, looking to snatch purses.

"Oh my goodness, it leaves me speechless. Like I'm scared to get out of my car now. I'm scared with my purse. Leave my purse in the car, and put it in the trunk," said Leslie Galarza of Northeast Philadelphia.

Eventually, both individuals were sentenced to a short jail term and one also to a period of supervision.

This would not be a range of offenses which Salib would imagine warrants a jail sentence. He concludes

It might not be everyone who commits a violent crime, but there are certainly some people for who prison is the right answer. But it’s almost certainly a small fraction of the millions we incarcerate in America now.

There are almost always extenuating circumstances and even some violent offenses, such as the stereotypical bar fight between two "friends" in which physical injury is negligible, would not warrant jail time. But some good people commit horrific crimes short of psychotically-induced serial killing and some people are just plain evil.    While research into proper prison terms and more effective community supervision continue, imprisonment will- and must- remain an option, however naive some of our judicial clerks are.

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Death Of A Good Guy With A Gun

Slate's Leon Nefkayeh explains

Philando Castile received his permit to carry a firearm from the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office on June 4, 2015. A year later, Castile had a gun in his pocket when a Minnesota police officer named Jeronimo Yanez pulled him over and shot him dead. According to dashcam footage, Yanez decided to open fire after Castile told him, truthfully and calmly, that he had a gun on him. During a three-week-long trial that ended Friday in an acquittal, Yanez testified that he shot Castile because he believed Castile was reaching for his weapon and therefore presented an imminent threat to the officer’s life.

The jury’s decision to acquit Yanez, who had been charged with second-degree manslaughter and dangerous discharge of a firearm, left Castile’s loved ones angry and heartbroken, sparked a 1,500-person protest in St. Paul, and provoked a profound outpouring of grief on social media.

Staying conspicuously silent on the Yanez verdict so far is an organization that can typically be counted on to offer extreme and uncompromising advocacy on behalf of licensed American gun owners: the National Rifle Association. As of Saturday afternoon, the NRA had issued no statement addressing the verdict, its pugnacious chief spokesman Wayne LaPierre had not been quoted in any media stories about it, and an email from Slate requesting comment had not received a response. For those who remember the aftermath of Castile’s death, this should come as no surprise: The NRA was almost completely silent then, too, putting out a tepid statement only after coming under intense pressure from some of its members. As was widely noted at the time, whoever wrote the statement—most likely LaPierre himself—couldn’t even bring himself to mention Philando Castile’s name.

On its face, the Castile case would seem to have all the trappings of a cause célèbre for the NRA. The group’s most fiercely held belief is supposed to be that law-abiding citizens shouldn’t be burdened—let alone killed in cold blood—by repressive agents of the government just because they want to protect themselves and exercise their Second Amendment rights. Castile should be a martyr for the NRA, while Yanez—who reached for the holster of his service weapon as soon as Castile mentioned he was armed—should be its bogeyman.

Nefkayeh believes that one of the reasons the NRA has been nearly mute is because Castile is black. However, he believes it's also

true that the organization is aligned with law enforcement in certain ways that partially explain its reluctance to get in the middle of a police shooting case. (For one thing, most of the NRA’s 5 million members, like most police officers across the country, are white and conservative.) It’s also true that, while many law enforcement leaders view the gun lobby’s most extreme policy goals—like concealed carry reciprocity—with serious unease, most rank and file cops do seem to believe that having more people around carrying legal guns would reduce, rather than increase, crime rates.

So maybe that’s why the NRA’s leaders are staying quiet on the Yanez verdict: They know that speaking up on Castile’s behalf would antagonize some corners of a law enforcement community whose good side they want to stay on. But even if that’s true, it doesn’t make the organization’s calculus any less craven, or less revealing about the hypocritical flimsiness of its supposed principles.

Those are two of the three reasons. But there is a third. Following the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut

“The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun,” LaPierre said.

LaPierre says that the lack of mental health reform and the prevalence of violent video games and movies can lead to these types of tragedies.

The mental health "reform" LaPierre supports is one which would make it easier for mentally ill individuals to obtain firearms. The notion that more guns equal fewer deaths was unpersuasive to Timothy Egan, who after the shooting of Gabby Giffords and twelve others, six fatally, in Tucson in 2011 wrote in a New York Times op-ed

On the day of the shooting, a young man named Joseph Zamudio was leaving a drugstore when he saw the chaos at the Safeway parking lot. Zamudio was armed, carrying his 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistol. Heroically, he rushed to the scene, fingering his weapon, ready to fire.

“When everyone is carrying a firearm, nobody is going to be a victim,” said Arizona state representative Jack Harper, after a gunman had claimed 19 victims.Now, in the view of the more-guns proponents, Zamudio might have been able to prevent any carnage, or maybe even gotten off a shot before someone was killed.

“I wish there had been one more gun in Tucson,” said an Arizona Congressman, Rep. Trent Franks, implying like Harper that if only someone had been armed at the scene, Jared Lee Loughner would not have been able to unload his rapid-fire Glock on innocent people.

In fact, several people were armed. So, what actually happened? As Zamudio said in numerous interviews, he never got a shot off at the gunman, but he nearly harmed the wrong person — one of those trying to control Loughner.

He saw people wrestling, including one man with the gun. “I kind of assumed he was the shooter,” said Zamudio in an interview with MSNBC. Then, “everyone said, ‘no, no — it’s this guy,’” said Zamudio.

To his credit, he ultimately helped subdue Loughner. But suppose, in those few seconds of confusion, he had fired at the wrong man and killed a hero? “I was very lucky,” Zamudio said.

Philando Castile was not so lucky as Zamudio, also a good guy with a gun.  He legally possessed a weapon, notified a police officer he was carrying it, and was shot to death. He was one more individual whose experience demonstrated, tragically, that a good guy with a gun in a tense situation is usually the worse off for it.

If Philandro Castille had not been in legal possession of a firearm, he would be alive today.  It is no surprise that Wayne LaPierre and his society of death wants this one to go away.

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Literally big, a former New York Giants offensive tackle is coming up big figuratively : So theres an active shooter and trump tells h...