Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Don't Worry Be Happy

It's a tale of two Ari's.... or of two Aris.

Media Matters has found former Bush 43 press secretary Ari Fleischer contending on Trump TV

There’s a bigger ethical issue I want to get to here, too. And I want to say this with a lot of sensitivity because these are sensitive issues. But high school behavior -- how much in society should any of us be held liable today when we lived a good life, an upstanding life by all accounts, and then something that maybe is an arguable issue took place in high school? Should that deny us chances later in life? Even for Supreme Court job, a presidency of the United States, or you name it. How accountable are we for high school actions, when this is clearly a disputable high school action? That’s a tough issue.

When a guy starts out "I want to say this with a lot of sensitivity," he should know to move his foot away from the open mouth it's about to enter, as when someone begins "I may be considered a racist for saying this but..."

One sharp tweeter noticed "when Brett Kavanaugh attempted to deny a 17-year-old immigrant an abortion, he believed that the decisions that you make as a minor ought to have lifelong consequences." Pondering whether committing sexual assault in high school should "deny us chances later in life," Will Bunch asks Bush's press secretary "how about attending the wrong wedding party during a U.S. drone strike?"

Fleischer maintained also

And if the right feels that Judge Kavanaugh is being a victim of something that's unfair and not provable, then it will probably fire up the right. If on the other hand if she comes across as eminently credible and he doesn't, then it's going to put a lot of pause into the right because you're going to think we just can't win. No matter what happens, it doesn't work.

In the Trump era, most Republicans would rather complain and whine (redundancy duly noted) than gloat. But gloat they may. Not only can the GOP win, it works the system to make sure as much as possible that it will.

Approximately nine months ago- for an article in its January/February 2017 issue- Mother Jones ran an article entitled "Rigged:How Voter Suppression Threw Wisconsin to Trump," Ari Berman evaluated the impact of Wisconsin's voter ID law, which required the registered voter to present a current driver's license, passport, or state or military ID. Enacted in 2011, it did not go into effect until the 2016 election because of court challenges. Berman writes

Neil Albrecht, Milwaukee’s election director, believes that the voter ID law and other changes passed by the Republican Legislature contributed significantly to lower turnout. Albrecht is 55 but seems younger, with bookish tortoise-frame glasses and salt-and-pepper stubble. (“I looked 12 until I became an election administrator,” he joked.) At his office in City Hall with views of the Milwaukee River, Albrecht showed me a color-coded map of the city’s districts, pointing out the ones where turnout had declined the most, including Anthony’s. Next to his desk was a poster that listed “Acceptable Forms of Photo ID.”

“I would estimate that 25 to 35 percent of the 41,000 decrease in voters, or somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 voters, likely did not vote due to the photo ID requirement,” he said later. “It is very probable that between the photo ID law and the changes to voter registration, enough people were prevented from voting to have changed the outcome of the presidential election in Wisconsin.”

According to a comprehensive study by MIT political scientist Charles Stewart, an estimated 16 million people—12 percent of all voters—encountered at least one problem voting in 2016. There were more than 1 million lost votes, Stewart estimates, because people ran into things like ID laws, long lines at the polls, and difficulty registering. Trump won the election by a total of 78,000 votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

A post-election study by Priorities USA, a Democratic super-PAC that supported Clinton, found that in 2016, turnout decreased by 1.7 percent in the three states that adopted stricter voter ID laws but increased by 1.3 percent in states where ID laws did not change. Wisconsin’s turnout dropped 3.3 percent. If Wisconsin had seen the same turnout increase as states whose laws stayed the same, “we estimate that over 200,000 more voters would have voted in Wisconsin in 2016,” the study said. These “lost voters”—those who voted in 2012 and 2014 but not 2016—”skewed more African American and more Democrat” than the overall voting population. Some academics criticized the study’s methodology, but its conclusions were consistent with a report from the Government Accountability Office, which found that strict voter ID laws in Kansas and Tennessee had decreased turnout by roughly 2 to 3 percent, with the largest drops among black, young, and new voters.

Sure, conservatives will be mad if Kavanaugh is defeated (highly unlikely) or has to drop out (much more likely). It's what they are. And maybe it will reinforce the paranoia of "we just can't win. No matter what happens, it doesn't work."  But the GOP has known for a few years now that they have two pathways to victory: a) win the votes of more minorities, especially hispanics; or b) get hispanics and young people not to vote. (B) won for them in 2016, and an honest Ari Fleisher would tell Trump TV viewers "Don't worry. We got this."

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Monday, September 17, 2018

Brett Kavanaugh, The Entitled

This is disturbing, or should be to anyone who believes Twitter should have a future. The Atlantic's David Frum tweeted
The response- now deleted, as you will discover- from the managing director of an asset management firm  was brief, unemotional, and something to the effect of "are you making the argument that all juveniles should be tried as adults?" Then Frum:
So far, a reasoned debate. However, Chovenac then replied "I have deleted my tweet because it is evident my opinion is unwanted and will only result in harassment."

In reply, Frum again:

Then Chovanec explained (in a tweet also now deleted, but caught here) "No, it became crystal clear within minutes that what was a sincere query about how and why we treat juvenile offenses differently was going to be twisted (not by you) into another evil white male’s apology for sexual assault. Not interested in playing that game."

Something is seriously off in the Twitter culture, and by extension in the larger culture, if someone erases his own remark because his "opinion is unwanted and will only result in harassment." This has been clear to most of you.

There is no reason to make a comment if it is wanted by all. Try "candy is sweet" or "most Democrats are liberal and most Republicans are conservative."  Or perhaps "God is good" (which everyone agrees on, except people have a different concept of "God"). Harassment obviously is appalling, and occurs too often on Twitter. Worse, some people will find questionable the notion that harassment is appalling.

Notwithstanding the sarcastic "another evil white male's apology," Chovanec's assurance that he expected Frum to play fair ("not by you") suggests the former's sincerity.

I personally disagreed with Mr. Chovanec and responded "In some circumstances- such as, oh, attempted rape or rape- the Prosecutor should have the option of requesting that the accused be prosecuted as an adult, in which case the decision as to whether to approve the motion should be made by the presiding Judge."

The obvious point, and Frum's, is that the story looks different from a girl's perspective than from a boy's perspective (man and woman now, but 17-year-old boy and 15-year-old girl then). However, there is another point.

When the letter from the woman, now identified as professor and clinical psychologist Christine Blasey Ford,“ became public, Brett Kavanaugh did not admit to misbehavior nor simply remain silent. Instead, he definitively declared "I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.”  Senate Judiciary Committee chairperson Chuck Grassley promptly released a letter attesting to the strong character of Kavanaugh and signed by 65 women who allegedly knew him in that period.

It now appears probable, though not certain, that something seriously untoward took place in a bedroom at a house in Montgomery County, Maryland. Though it was 36 years ago, it's hardly likely- despite the protestations of those 65 signatories- that the nominee "has always treated women with decency and respect. That was true when he was in high school, and it has remained true to this day."

Assuming Ford's story is not a total fabrication, Kavanaugh knows that is not true, at least as applied to "always" and "when he was in high school."  Given that the letter materialized so quickly, Grassley and/or Majority Leader McConnell very likely knew there was a serious allegation out there.

Still, Grassley- presumably with the acquiescence of Leader McConnell- applied a show of force with dozens of women asserting the Judge has "stood out for his friendship, character, and integrity" throughout those 35 years.

However, he may have "stood out" or appeared, Kavanaugh prior to this attempted rape allegation already had revealed a deficiency of rectitude. Although I disagree, Patrick Chovanec may be right to imply that juveniles never should be prosecuted as adults. But the issue is less what Brett Kavanaugh was decades ago at tony Georgetown Prep than a juvenile incident which may shed light on a pattern of deception he has exhibited as an adult.

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Saturday, September 15, 2018

Very Curious

What is there to do when the incident itself isn't the issue? The New Yorker's Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer on Friday revealed

The woman, who has asked not to be identified, first approached Democratic lawmakers in July, shortly after Trump nominated Kavanaugh. The allegation dates back to the early nineteen-eighties, when Kavanaugh was a high-school student at Georgetown Preparatory School, in Bethesda, Maryland, and the woman attended a nearby high school. In the letter, the woman alleged that, during an encounter at a party, Kavanaugh held her down, and that he attempted to force himself on her.

She claimed in the letter that Kavanaugh and a classmate of his, both of whom had been drinking, turned up music that was playing in the room to conceal the sound of her protests, and that Kavanaugh covered her mouth with his hand. She was able to free herself. Although the alleged incident took place decades ago and the three individuals involved were minors, the woman said that the memory had been a source of ongoing distress for her, and that she had sought psychological treatment as a result.

But the issue isn't what occurred over three decades earlier, among three high-schoolers, notwithstanding the seriousness of the charges. Don't take it from me, but from Hawaii Democratic senator Mazie Hirono, hardly a stout defender of a patriarchical, sexist culture. 

At Kavanaugh's recent confirmation hearing, Senator Hirono inquired "Since you became a legal adult, have you ever made unwanted requests for sexual favors or committed any verbal or physical harassment or assault of a sexual nature?" (Kavanaugh replied "no.") Inclusion of "since you became a legal adult" was not accidental.

Nor is it the candidate's denial of the allegation, whence he stated  “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time."  It is too much to expect that an individual who has exhibited such a low level of integrity to respond "The claim made against me is accurate- also, over thirty years ago, when I was immature and acted in ways for which I now profoundly regret, especially when I drank." "When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible" may not work anymore.

Yet, there is something creepy about the GOP's response to the scandal.

At 5:24 p.m. on Thursday The Intercept reported existence of a letter which they knew only "describes an incident involving Kavanaugh and a woman while they were in high school." The following morning, the spokesman for Judiciary Committee chairperson Grassley (R-Iowa) stated that his boss "is aware of Senator Feinstein's referral (to the FBI (but has not seen the letter in question."

White House counsel Don McGahn received the letter from the FBI "around noon" on Thursday, then relayed it promptly to Capitol Hill. Less than 24 hours later, on Friday morning,  Grassley released a letter signed by 65 women who claimed

We are women who have known Brett Kavanaugh for more than 35 years and knew him while he attended high school between 1979 and 1983. For the entire time we have known Brett Kavanaugh, he has behaved honorably and treated women with respect. We strongly believe it is important to convey this information to the Committee at this time.

Brett attended Georgetown Prep, an all-boys high school in Rockville, Maryland. He was an outstanding student and athlete with a wide circle of friends. Almost all of us attended allgirls high schools in the area. We knew Brett well through social events, sports, church, and various other activities. Many of us have remained close friends with him and his family over the years. Through the more than 35 years we have known him, Brett has stood out for his friendship, character, and integrity. In particular, he has always treated women with decency and respect. That was true when he was in high school, and it has remained true to this day.

The signers of this letter hold a broad range of political views. Many of us are not lawyers, but we know Brett Kavanaugh as a person. And he has always been a good person.

The letter was highly favorable, but also highly generic. It refers to the character he allegedly displayed through the years- but does not refer to the incident in question.

This was awfully quick work. Possibly, one or more of the signers knew of the incident contemporaneously or had heard about it shortly thereafter, suspect(s) the account is legitimate, but for their own reasons support Kavanaugh's nomination. ("Many of us are not lawyers" suggests many are, and may have a professional interest in approval of the nomination.)

More likely, they knew little of the alleged incident, and the letter had been written weeks or months before. And if it was, there are two questions which need to be asked: "why did the GOP believe a letter like this would have to be written," and "what other similar behavior has Brett Kavanaugh been involved in?"

There are better reasons to oppose Kavanaugh's nomination, including his determination to gut reproductive freedom, habit of lying to Congress, skepticism toward questioning presidential power, and financial improprieties.  But either the account from the female accuser is mostly fallacious- very unlikely- or there are things crawling under the rock that is Brett Kavanaugh.

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Friday, September 14, 2018

Uncomfortable Truth

At his confirmation hearing, in response to a question from Repub senator Ted Cruz, Brett Kavanaugh stated

That was a group that was being, uh, forced to provide certain kinds of health coverage, uh, over their religious objection to their employees and, uh, under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The question was, first, whether there was a substantial burden on religious exercise and it seemed to me quite clearly it was. It was a technical matter of filling out a form. In that way, they said, filling out the form would make them complicit in the provision of the, uh, abortion-inducing drugs, that they were as a religious matter objected (sic) to.

Anna North of Vox explained

Priests for Life argued in Priests for Life v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that they should not be forced to abide by the contraceptive mandate because their “sincerely held beliefs prohibit them from providing, paying for, or impermissibly facilitating access to abortion-inducing products, contraceptives, and sterilization.”

They said that the religious accommodation offered by the Obama administration, which allowed religious groups to opt out of providing coverage for birth control by notifying either their insurers or the federal government, was not sufficient because it forced them to “contract with third parties that will provide payments for the objectionable products and services” and “submit documentation that, in their religious judgment, makes them complicit in the delivery of such payments.”

The DC Circuit Court of Appeals rejected their argument in 2015, but Kavanaugh supported their claim in a dissenting opinion.

"In context," North maintains,' it’s not totally clear whether Kavanaugh is endorsing Priests for Life’s claim that birth control causes abortion, or merely repeating it."

And after Judiciary Committee member and California Democrat Kamala Harris charged "this is a dog-whistle for going after birth control," Politifact maintained

In Harris’ tweet, Kavanaugh appears to believe birth control is an abortion-inducing drug. Does he? We’re not sure what he believes. He hasn't said so in the confirmation hearings. Harris’ tweet takes Kavanaugh’s statement out of context. Harris cut an important second out of the clip — the attribution. Kavanaugh said, "They said filling out the form would make them complicit in the provision of the abortion-inducing drugs that they were, as a religious matter, objecting to."

Politifact is "not sure what he believes" and North is "not totally clear whether Kavanaugh is endorsing Priests for Life's claim that birth control causes abortion..."

Someone, however, is certain that the Judge believes birth control causes abortion. The plaintiff believes. Executive Director Janet Morana of Priests for Life writes

Abortion enthusiasts are in a huff because Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh referred to contraception as “abortion-inducing drugs” when asked about his dissent in Priests for Life’s case against the Health and Human Services mandate.

Morana's science is very poor but her reading comprehension is very good. Brett Kavanaugh graduated from Georgetown Preparatory School, Yale University, and Yale University Law School.  He has written a lot of briefs and opinions while serving as a Supreme Court law clerk, in the Office of the Independent Counsel under Kenneth Starr, White House counsel's office under Albert Gonzalez, in private practice, and as a judge.

Most significantly, Kavanaugh knows how to fudge an answer. He appeared before the Judiciary the Judiciary Committee before approval to become a US District Judge and was coached very  thoroughly for the recent hearing once President Trump nominated him for the Supreme Court.

He knows the difference between "in that way, they said, filling out the form would make them complicit in the provision of the, uh, abortion-inducing drugs" and "in that way, they said, filling out the form would make them complicit in the provision of what they believe are abortion-inducing drugs."  Alternatively, he could have stated "... in the provision of what are quote abortion-inducing drugs unquote."

If the nominee wanted to make that distinction, he could have and would have.

But he didn't want to.  He wanted to reassure forced-birth advocates that he is as staunchly opposed to reproductive freedom as they are. Yet, senators Collins of Maine and Murkowski of Alaska would need something they could grab hold of, something which would allow them to claim that the nominee is not committed to overturning Roe v. Wade.

Kavanaugh gave it to them. Further, he worded his response as not to alarm that portion of the media which finds it incomprehensible or inconceivable that a Supreme Court justice would be philosophically opposed to contraception.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh was tapped for the US Supreme Court by arguably the greatest con-man in the recent history of American politics. Perhaps Donald Trump saw a little bit of himself in the guy.

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Thursday, September 13, 2018

Mr. Big-Hearted

One may buy from Amazon a T-shirt reading "Not My President" or a "Donald Trump Is Not My President!" bumper sticker. They or things very similar are probably available elsewhere, perhaps even widely.

There is, inevitably, even a Donald Trump Is Not My President page on Facebook. The day after the election- before we fully learned of Russian meddling, nor fully understood the impact of the FBI or a media obsessed with Hillary Clinton's emials- Gloria Steinem declared "I'm not going to disobey the law, but I'm not going to pretend he represents me."

Steinem had an inkling of the potential damage of the Trump presidency before most of us did. Still, Donald Trump is President and does represent the American people.

Evidence that Trump is president comes, appropriately, from the realization that Trump does not himself fully understand the office he holds.

The official death toll from Hurricane Maria stands at 2,975 individuals (perhaps as many as 1670 more), which puts it merely 21 lower than the horrendous World Trade Center attacks of 9/11/01.  Still, Donald Trump on Thursday morning tweeted

3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000...

To that, Nate Silver responded

If only that were so. Admittedly, when four people are involved in a car accident, two die at the scene and two sometime thereafter, four have died because of the crash. However, Trump a little later on Thursday morning Trump upped the ante with

When a bill appropriating money for Puerto Rico is passed by Congress after the President remarks "We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!" said President cannot credibly claim credit for the money.

Nor does the President "raise" money for anything, let alone an insufficient amount. He is not "raising" money for charity.  It is his job as President and is not a handout from a benevolent dictator.

Except, of course, that Donald Trump views himself as a friendly dictator. "I love Puerto Rico," he says of a territory whose problems he considers "largely.... of their own making."

Donald Trump does not realize he is a president with powers restricted by the Constitution, and whose control of the federal government is shared with two other branches of government. So when a person claims Donald Trump is not his or her president, the comment is incorrect- but only because no asterisk is included.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Never Weak

Lawrence O'Donnell is wrong- probably. You can see and hear O'Donnell beginning at 37:00 of the video below remarking

And the one thing we know Donald Trump has never felt about 9/11 is grief. In his lifelong quest for attention, Donald Trump managed to get himself on local television in New York City on 9/11 after both of the World Trade Center towers fell and he had no idea how to even begin to express grief because of course couldn't feel any. Instead the feeling he had that day on 9/11, the thing he found in himself was pride- pride in himself that he believed he now had the tallest building in lower Manhattan now that the World Trade Center had collapsed.

(Video of World Trade Center smoldering while Trump comments on New York television.)

Did you hear any grief there? That was on 9/11. And it wasn't grief that the President felt today when he got off Air Force One in Pennsylvania to attend the 9/11 commemoration of Flight 93 that takes place there every year. There is only one President in our history who cold arrive at such a solemn and tragic commemoration and behave as if he were arriving at a rally.

But Trump's lack of grief probably is secondary to his fear of showing weakness. David Ignatius believes that Bob Woodward's tome "Fear" demonstrates

When Trump is on the verge of doing something conciliatory — apologizing for a racist or sexist comment, for example — he stops himself for fear that it will show weakness. Trump (prodded by his Iago-like deputy macho-man, Steve Bannon) keeps insisting that he must stay strong, regardless of how unprincipled it may seem.

Woodward’s narrative of the weakness phobia begins at the low point of the campaign, with the revelation of the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump boasts about grabbing women’s genitals. His aides have written a statement in which Trump would concede, “My language was inappropriate, not acceptable for a president.” But Trump protests: “I can’t do this. This is bull****. This is weak. You guys are weak"....

Anxiety about weakness mounts when Trump is in the White House. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has many faults in Trump’s eyes. He’s too friendly to Europe, too willing to accommodate Iran, too independent in his views. But Trump sums up the problem at a July 2017 meeting: “Rex, you’re weak.”

The most appalling instance of placing image above principle comes after Trump’s waffling comments about the August 2017 clash between white nationalists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. Rob Porter, Trump’s staff secretary, encourages the president to give a conciliatory statement.

Despite fears that it “looked weak,” Trump follows Porter’s advice and, using a teleprompter, tells the nation: “We must love each other, show affection for each other and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry and violence.”

When Fox News reports a “course correction” on Charlottesville, the president panics. “That was the biggest f***ing mistake I’ve made,” he tells Porter. “You never make those concessions. You never apologize. I didn’t do anything wrong in the first place. Why look weak?”....

In my own conversations with top White House aides, I’ve seen a similar obsession with shows of strength. Reversing long-standing positions on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is a “strong position.” Preserving the Iran nuclear agreement is a “weak position.” Perception is policy.

And what about Trump’s ruinous legal problems with special counsel Robert Mueller? They’re the fault of Trump’s chicken-hearted lawyers, of course. Woodward quotes the tough-guy-in-chief. “I don’t have any good lawyers. … I’ve got a bunch of lawyers who are not aggressive, who are weak, who don’t have my best interests in mind, who aren’t loyal. It’s just a disaster.

Unless done adroitly, there is a thin line between demonstrating sensitivity by expressing grief and sadness- and appearing weak.  In the instances Ignatius cites, Trump was afraid of evincing weakness. And so the man who should have retired the Oscar for his performance as a tough, no-nonsense executive in The Apprentice "stays strong, however of how unprincipled it may seem."

Or Donald Trump may be that extraordinarily unusual individual who doe not show grief because he does not grieve, in which case he should be prevailed upon to donate his mind and body to science. If done immediately, he would be doing science and the world a great service. However, it is a little more likely that the obvious lack of compassion or sensitivity is the great con man putting on an act and pretending to be the great alpha male.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

An Unintentionally Persuasive Phrase

You've heard the argument and maybe even made it yourself, particularly if you're a man or woman of the left. Here is "Contact Reporter" Dahleen Glanton explaining earlier this year

It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not anybody’s fault. There’s no need to get defensive about it.

The best thing to do is just acknowledge it.

Being privileged does not necessarily mean that you have a perfect life. It does not mean that you come from wealth or that you always obtain everything you want — or deserve.

It doesn’t give you a pass to be lazy and shiftless. It doesn’t automatically guarantee you success. White skin no more relieves you of taking responsibility for your life, working hard and thinking smart than it does for people with dark skin.

It just means that you have a head start over the rest of us.

White privilege means that you were born with an inherent advantage over every other race of people. The whiteness of your skin alone allows you to leave the starting gate quicker and to run the race with fewer obstacles. White skin comes with certain other perks, too, many of which are taken for granted.

While not directly addressing the issue of "white privilege," Steve M. on Monday blogged about the perception among whites about racism, including their belief in "reverse racism" and the notion (which he refutes) of "a bright line between mainstream conservatism -- or even mainstream American whiteness -- and ... white nationalism." He links to a paper titled "Whites See Racism as aZero-Sum Game That They Are Now Losing" by Samuel Sommers and Michael I. Norton, which appeared in 2011 in Perspectives on Psychological Science. The abstract (emphasis mine) reads

Although some have heralded recent political and cultural developments as signaling the arrival of a postracial era in America, several legal and social controversies regarding "reverse racism" highlight Whites' increasing concern about anti-White bias. We show that this emerging belief reflects Whites' view of racism as a zero-sum game, such that decreases in perceived bias against Blacks over the past six decades are associated with increases in perceived bias against Whites-a relationship not observed in Blacks' perceptions. Moreover, these changes in Whites' conceptions of racism are extreme enough that Whites have now come to view anti-White bias as a bigger societal problem than anti-Black bias.

If you are concerned that white people believe racism is a zero-sum game, you might want to rethink that "white privilege" thing (video below for entertainment purposes only).

The validity of the white privilege concept varies from person to person and is influenced by individual and family circumstances, especially wealth, but always infers that advantages are gained as a result of being white. The notion argues that being white grants unto people advantages from being white, and hence disproportionately disadvantages minorities. Assuming the prevalence and relevance of white privilege, non-whites cannot benefit without the withdrawal or termination of white privilege.

In this scenario, in which societal benefits are apportioned based on being white, the conclusion that racial justice is a zero-sum game is nearly inevitable. White privilege rules, minorities suffer; white privilege is eliminated, minorities benefit and whites are penalized. Breaking down the barriers of discrimination and ensuring equal access to education, housing, employment, and the like are utterly dependent upon ending white privilege- or so it goes.

The more whites hear of "white privilege," the more they see the game as one of zero-sum. That may be reflected in a belief that whites are victimized more than blacks by discrimination, that blacks are more racist than whites, by more overt hostility, or in other ways. However it's manifested, though, ungenerous views of blacks and their place in society will prevail among whites.

Many whites will simply conclude that a gain for minorities will be a loss for them.  Stuck in a bad job or bad marriage, suffering bad health or substandard housing, poor and lower-middle class whites nonetheless will avoid outward expressions of racism. Meanwhile, the left will continue to bandy about the term "white privilege," with extra points for the condescension of "there's no need to get defensive about it."  Donald Trump will be grateful.

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Monday, September 10, 2018

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

New York Times White House reporter Peter Baker recognizes

that the nation’s economic fortunes depend on more than the occupant of the Oval Office and his policies, driven as well by interest rates, technological innovation and the health of the global economy — trends beyond the control of any president. Voters and historians nonetheless assign credit and blame to presidents for the state of the economy. When it comes to economics, presidents would rather be remembered as Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton than Herbert Hoover.

Whatever the proper assignment of credit for a nation's economy, the debate between President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump (and their supporters) over favorable economic indicators may have political impact.  In his coming-outspeech at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on September 7, the former president argued

And then the reckless behavior of financial elites triggered a massive financial crisis, ten years ago this week, a crisis that resulted in the worst recession in any of our lifetimes and caused years of hardship for the American people, for many of your parents, for many of your families. Most of you weren't old enough to fully focus on what was going on at the time, but when I came into office in 2009, we were losing 800,000 jobs a month. 800,000. Millions of people were losing their homes. Many were worried we were entering into a second Great Depression. So we worked hard to end that crisis, but also to break some of these longer term trends. And the actions we took during that crisis returned the economy to healthy growth and initiated the longest streak of job creation on record. And we covered another 20 million Americans with health insurance and we cut our deficits by more than half, partly by making sure that people like me, who have been given such amazing opportunities by this country, pay our fair share of taxes to help folks coming up behind me.

And by the time I left office, household income was near its all-time high and the uninsured rate had hit an all-time low and wages were rising and poverty rates were falling. I mention all this just so when you hear how great the economy's doing right now, let's just remember when this recovery started.

I mean, I'm glad it's continued, but when you hear about this economic miracle that's been going on, when the job numbers come out, monthly job numbers, suddenly Republicans are saying it's a miracle. I have to kind of remind them, actually, those job numbers are the same as they were in 2015 and 2016.

It doesn't work. There are three strategic approaches to the economy, which Republicans and the "liberal media" (common slur before "Fake News" replaced it)  assure us is humming right along. One is to ignore the issue, figuring it's not going to be a positive in November to whatever extent it's discussed. 

That did not work for the GOP on immigration, which the party largely ignored, Romney's "self-deportation" being essentially kicking the matter down the road. The immigration issue cost the GOP net votes until Trump came along and put it front and center.

Still, every circumstance is different and in an environment otherwise mostly positive for Democrats, avoiding the whole issue may enable Democrats to retake the House of Representatives.

Or the Democrats could- with a unified message- emphasizing that inflation, gas prices, and interest rates are up and opiate addiction is not abating, reinforcing the perspective voters had in November, 2016 that something is not quite right.

The third option is the one taken by Obama, which might be simply rephrased as "the economy is doing well, but it's the  economy President Obama crafted and left for President Trump."

This is a political loser. Voters associate the economy of the present with the current president, whomever he may be.  

Some realize, as Baker explained, that the President of the USA has only a limited impact on the economy. Most, however, do not read The New York Times, a majority of whom either will assume President Trump is responsible or will want to give credit to someone for the good economic times they hear we're living in. That someone inevitably will be the President, the current occupant of the White House.

Barack Obama is nobody's fool (except maybe Vladimir Putin in the fall of 2006, but that's another matter).  Twice uttering the name of the individual most responsible for exploiting resentments and threatening democracy was helpful, especially because Obama and anti-Trump politicians have been frightened to mention the name "Trump." His call to arms, or rather the voting booth, was valuable, as was his reminder that what Charlie Pierce refers to as the "prion disease" did "not start with Donald Trump." (Unfortunately, that did lead Obama down the path to birthsiderism.)

But when Barack Obama remarks "let's just remember when this recovery started," it is self-serving. It's meant to restore a legacy that President Trump is trampling on and thereby rendering virtually useless. It's not intended to convince people to vote or to vote Democratic when they do.  Virtually no one cares when the recovery started, nor that jobs were created when Obama was President. They do care that it has continued under the incumbent, whatever the negligible impact of his policies, and that jobs have been created under the incumbent.

So Democrats have to skirt the issue or make the case that the lives of Americans have deteriorated since this president took office. Alternatively, the former President can continue to say "it's because of me, stupid" and preserve his legacy which, apparently, is what a lot of those eight years were about.

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Sunday, September 09, 2018

Fulfilling God's Will

In a profile early this year in The Atlantic, McKay Coppins laid out a description of Mike Pence that reinforces the article's title, "God's Plan for Mike Pence." Coppins notes that in 1992 Pence began in Indiana a talk show in which he :liked to describe himself as “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order,” and he was careful to show respect for opposing viewpoints."

Pence had lost two previous races for the US House of Representatives but

By the time a congressional seat opened up ahead of the 2000 election, Pence was a minor Indiana celebrity and state Republicans were urging him to run. In the summer of 1999, as he was mulling the decision, he took his family on a trip to Colorado. One day while horseback riding in the mountains, he and Karen looked heavenward and saw two red-tailed hawks soaring over them. They took it as a sign, Karen recalled years later: Pence would run again, but this time there would be “no flapping.” He would glide to victory.

And so he did, following which

to his colleagues on Capitol Hill—an overwhelmingly secular place where even many Republicans privately sneer at people of faith—everything about the Indiana congressman screamed “Bible thumper.” He was known to pray with his staffers, and often cited scripture to explain his votes. In a 2002 interview with Congressional Quarterly, for example, he explained, “My support for Israel stems largely from my personal faith. In the Bible, God promises Abraham, ‘Those who bless you I will bless, and those who curse you I will curse.’ ” He became a champion of the fight to restrict abortion and defund Planned Parenthood.

Pence later was elected governor but eventually became very unpopular, and sensed a grand opportunity to get the heck out of Dodge, or at least Indiana. Maneuvering for a place on the national ticket, during Independence Day weekend in 2016

True to form, Pence spent much of their time on the course kissing Trump’s ring. You’re going to be the next president of the United States, he said. It would be the honor of a lifetime to serve you. Afterward, he made a point of gushing to the press about Trump’s golf game. “He beat me like a drum,” Pence confessed, to Trump’s delight.

Having found a second god, one bearing little resemblance to the one of the New, or even the Old, Testament, Pence waxed enthusiastically about his leader:

On the stump and in interviews, Pence spoke of Trump in a tone that bordered on worshipful. One of his rhetorical tics was to praise the breadth of his running mate’s shoulders. Trump was, Pence proclaimed, a “broad-shouldered leader,” in possession of “broad shoulders and a big heart,” who had “the kind of broad shoulders” that enabled him to endure criticism while he worked to return “broad-shouldered American strength to the world stage.”

Also true to form, as vice-president the former talk show host, congressman, and governor has been- at least publicly- one of the President's most loyal sycophants. On Sunday he tweeted

Treating Trump in almost God-like fashion is a continuation of the pattern Coppins recognized when he pointed out that the President

does not always reciprocate this respect. Around the White House, he has been known to make fun of Pence for his religiosity. As Mayer reported in The New Yorker, he has greeted guests who recently met with Pence by asking, “Did Mike make you pray?” During a conversation with a legal scholar about gay rights, Trump gestured toward his vice president and joked, “Don’t ask that guy—he wants to hang them all!”

But taking abuse is a small price to pay. Coppins writes of one of Pence's fraternity brothers at Indiana's Hanover College:

Decades later, when (Dan) Murphy read about Pence vying for a spot on the presidential ticket with Donald Trump, he recognized a familiar quality in his old friend. “Somewhere in the midst of all that genuine humility and good feeling, this is a guy who’s got that ambition,” Murphy told me. And he wondered, “Is Mike’s religiosity a way of justifying that ambition to himself?”

While Pence's religiosity is probably much more than that, its public display serves as a rationalization of his ambition, which is boundless. Within hours of publication of the Access Hollywood tape in October, 2016

Pence made it clear to the Republican National Committee that he was ready to take Trump’s place as the party’s nominee. Such a move just four weeks before Election Day would have been unprecedented—but the situation seemed dire enough to call for radical action.

It's extremely unlikely that Vice President Pence wrote last week's anonymous op-ed in The New York Times, and somewhat unlikely that it was done on his behalf (although David Corn seems to disagree).

Still, when a guy who can convince himself that he is foremost a Christian and goes on to be obeisant to the most immoral and unethical politician of our era, he can turn on a dime and claim he is doing it with God's blessing. The most subservient servant sometimes turns out to be the handiest with a shiv, and if the opportunity presents itself, Mike Pence will make sure no amount of prayer or piety gets in his way.

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Saturday, September 08, 2018

Convenient Timing

Following release of excerpts from Bob Woodward's "Fear" etc. and publication in The New York Times of the piece by the anonymous staffer alarmed by President Trump's persona, The New Yorker's Susan B. Glasser wrote

As Thomas Wright, a Brookings scholar who has emerged as one of the most insightful analysts of Trump’s foreign policy, told me, “It’s the first time, maybe in history, key advisers have gone into the Administration to stop the President, not to enable him”—and that was back in January. The call has always been coming from inside the building.

Credit Wright with being right at the time he wrote that months ago. But fault Glasser for making the argument now.

Consider the ideological arguments made byAnonymous:

-To be clear, ours is not the popular “resistance” of the left. We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous.

-Although he was elected as a Republican, the president shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by conservatives: free minds, free markets and free people. At best, he has invoked these ideals in scripted settings. At worst, he has attacked them outright.

-Don’t get me wrong. There are bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of the administration fails to capture: effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more.

This piece was written by a right-winger, probably one pleased with the nomination to the US Supreme Court of Brett Kavanaugh.

Admittedly, once the identity of the author is revealed, he will not be labeled a right-winger, and in most circles, not even a conservative.  As a critic of the President's style, manner, and fitness for the job, one who has not criticized ethnic minorities, immigrants, or the gay community, he will not be tarred as extremist by either the left nor the centrist, establishment media. Republicans, who do nothing but defend the President, will not credit the dissenter as any kind of conservative.

(The pronoun "he" is used only because there are more men than women in the Administration, thus making it more likely- statistically- that the culprit is a man.)

But make no mistake. The remarks of Anonymous are the words and sentiments of someone on the far right rather than of a moderate, of whom there are close to zero in Washington. They are the words and sentiments also of, in the popular psycho-jargon, an "enabler.," 

That is in part because, as David Frum observes, "what the author has just done is throw the government of the United States into even more dangerous turmoil. He or she has enflamed the paranoia of the president and empowered the president's willfulness." This may have been unintentional on the part of  the author but it is almost inconceivable that he would be unaware of the impact of the op-ed given its timing.

The majority- nearly the entirety, if Democrats retake the House in November- of President Trump's agenda already has taken place. Erasing health and safety regulations, pushing income and wealth upward by a huge tax cut, weakening labor, emasculating the Affordable Care Act, and establishing the federal government as a tool of the powerful and privileged have been largely accomplished.

Not all, of course. While attention was focused on revelations of the chaos inside the Administration, placing a second right-wing judge on the Supreme Court took a step forward. This despite, as the Times editorialized, Brett Kavanaugh this past week

testified that Roe v. Wade is “settled as a precedent of the Supreme Court.” But he said essentially the opposite in a 2003 email leaked to The Times. “I am not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land at the Supreme Court level since Court can always overrule its precedent, and three current Justices on the Court would do so,” he wrote then....

At his 2004 confirmation hearing before the Judiciary Committee, he denied any involvement in the vetting of a controversial judicial nominee while serving as one of President George W. Bush’s White House lawyers. The nominee, William Pryor Jr., had among other things called Roe v. Wade “the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history.” In fact, Mr. Kavanaugh was more than a little involved, as emails from that period— which Senate Republicans had withheld until early Thursday morning — made clear.

In that 2004 hearing and again in 2006, when he was being considered for a seat on the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., Mr. Kavanaugh told Congress, under oath, that he knew nothing about the extensive theft of secret strategy documents from Democratic senators’ computers by Republican staffers. As it turns out, he did in fact receive those documents or summaries of them. But he now claims that he had no reason to believe that they had been stolen, even though one email he got had the subject line “spying” and began, “I have a friend who is a mole for us on the left.”

Kavanaugh's honesty is impressive only when compared to that of the man who nominated him, who himself may be shielded from the consequences of his actions by a judge who has "a monarchical view of the presidency."  The nominee, who in testimony compared birth-control to "abortion-induced drugs," is both a forced-birth and anti-labor extremist. He deftly combines cultural and economic radicalism in one package.

Of course it does. However, it doesn't matter because no one can hear it. Similarly, while testimony and documents released this past week demonstrated the danger posed by confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, there was almost no one around to hear it.  The country was transfixed (insofar as it could be on anything coming out of Washington) on Woodward's book and Anonymous' op-ed. The timing of the latter was unfortunate- and more than a little suspicious.

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Friday, September 07, 2018

Libertarian In Name Only

The other GOP senator from Kentucky- the one not running theUnited States Senate- has endorsed libertarian Gary Johnson  for the US Senate seat in New Mexico in which incumbent Martin Heinrich is opposed by Republican Mark Rich. Unsurprisingly, the Democratic chairperson in New Mexico is unimpressed and stated

Rand Paul is the least surprising DC endorsement Gary Johnson could get. Both put on a big show about their so-called independence, but at the end of the day, both are rubber stamps for the extreme agenda of today’s Republican Party. We know both would vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and both want to gut the types of programs that help New Mexico families thrive.

To be fair, Senator Paul was one of only ten senators who recently voted against the gargantuan, wasteful $717 billion National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019.

But that Democratic chairwoman is correct: Paul will vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh for a pivotal seat on the US Supreme Court, just as he voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act and in favor of the GOP's Corporate Tax Scam of 2017.

On Thursday, a leaked email confirmed suspicions that Kavanaugh does not believe Roe v. Wade is "settled law," and on the same day he referred during his Judiciary Committee hearing to contraception as "abortion-inducing drugs." That should please Senator Paul, who on July 2, 2018 was asked

whether he wants President Donald Trump to nominate a judge who thinks "an unborn child with a beating heart is a 'person' entitled to equal protection of the law under the 14th Amendment." Fetuses generally develop beating hearts roughly three weeks after fertilization.

"I think we do need a pro-life justice, and I've always been in favor of that," Paul responded.

"Equal protection of the law" is code for abortion should be flatly prohibited, no questions asked.

Once posing as a fighter for freedom against government, Paul never believed in liberty for the half of the population composed of women. This week he exploded any pretense to being a libertarian as

In the wake of the anonymous op-ed essay published in The New York Times on Wednesday written by a senior administration official who claimed to be part of a “quiet resistance” against the president, Republican Senator Rand Paul recycled the idea of administering lie detector tests. The Kentucky senator said anyone with a security clearance who works in the White House should be subjected to one, according to multiple media reports that were confirmed to Newsweek by Paul’s press office. 

“It’s not unprecedented for people with security clearances to be asked whether or not they’re revealing things against the law under oath and also by lie detector,” Paul said. “We use the lie-detector test routinely for CIA agents and FBI agents. If you have a security clearance in the White House, I think it would be acceptable to use a lie detector test and ask people whether or not they’re taking to the media against the policy of the White House.”

That argument might carry weight if this had anything to do with national security, rather than the right of Donald J. Trump to be shielded from criticism.

The President of the USA can fire the individual found to be responsible for the controversial op-ed. He can fire the individual he suspects. He can fire any individual he wants to fire by claiming that he or she wrote the piece. He can fire any appointee he wishes.

But a lie detector test- except possibly to eliminate someone not seriously suspected of being the culprit anyway- makes little sense. In the video below, Jason Miller, chief spokesman of Trump's 2016 campaign, criticizes the op-ed (beginning at 19:15 of the video below) as "effectively a soft coup" but adds (at 20:09)  "now, I think the whole idea of a lie detector is silly and a non-starter."

Silly, and ineffective. Liars, such as the consummate one in the Oval Office, know how to beat a lie detector while innocent individuals may inadvertently implicate themselves when strapped to a polygraph machine.

Whatever the dangers or even merits of a lie detector test, it is not administered (or ordered) by an executive branch with any interest in the individual liberty libertarians are allegedly obsessed with. It is time to do away with the idea that Rand Paul is anything but a right-wing Republican, turned toady to President Donald Trump.

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Thursday, September 06, 2018

Mistaking Pilate For Jesus

The author of the now-famous New York Times editorial blasting President Trump is a dangerous enabler and right-wing libertarian.  It's the dime store libertarian (but I repeat myself): excited about "free minds (and) effective deregulation, historic tax reform," yet giddy about "a more robust military."

At least he took a swipe at Trump's "mass-marketing of the notion that the press is the 'enemy of the people.'"

It would have been a glaring omission.  Early Wednesday morning, President Trump tweeted

Isn’t it a shame that someone can write an article or book, totally make up stories and form a picture of a person that is literally the exact opposite of the fact, and get away with it without retribution or cost. Don’t know why Washington politicians don’t change libel laws?

Washington Post syndicated columnist Ruth Marcus responded "Don’t know why Washington politicians don’t change libel laws? Let me help you out here. It’s called the First Amendment."

Wednesday evening, Trump regaled us with

To paraphrase Ruth Marcus: "Don't know why a media outlet won't turn someone over for prosecution for expressing an opinion about operation of the federal government? It's called the First Amendment." Six days earlier in Evansville, Indiana, Trump had told exuberant rally goers

All I can say is our Justice Department and our FBI, at the top of each because inside they have incredible people, our Justice Department and our FBI have to start doing their job and doing it right. What's happening is a disgrace and at some point — I wanted to stay out — but at some point if it doesn’t straighten out properly ... I will get involved.

He is not talking about offering someone up to the Department of Justice or the local county prosecutor. He's referring to himself as judge, jury, and executioner, less president than, say, a governor in ancient Rome.

A week earlier, evangelical Paula White had presented President and Mrs. Trump with a Bible "signed by over a hundred Christian evangelicals" and noted that the inscription read

First Lady and President, you are in our prayers always. Thank you for your courageous and bold stand for religious liberty, and for your timeless service to all Americans. We appreciate the price that you have paid to walk in the high high calling. History will reward the greatness that you have brought for generations. We pray this prayer. And if all of you agree with that, say "Amen."

signed by over a hundred Christian evangelicals (who) 

Those evangelicals might want to read that book themselves, and can start with Matthew 4:8-9 (hat tip to Suzanne Witzen):

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Wrong And Weak

Steve M. is characteristically cynical and correct when he says, in the wake of revelations from "Fear: Trump in the White House," "Trumpers will see (Bob) Woodward himself as a saboteur." Trump "will skate," he recognizes, even though he reportedly labeled Attorney General Jeff Sessions as "mentally retarded" and a "dumb southerner."

But he writes also

more confirmation that Trump is nasty, ill-informed, reckless, and dishonest. Terrible policy changes are prevented by aides who secretly remove papers from his desk. The president's aides and lawyers think he's a simpleton and a congenital liar. It's not a pretty picture.

Similarly, Rob Reiner tweets

We’re in the midst of a Constitutional crisis. Our government is rudderless. The President of the United States is ignorant and mentally unstable and  Republicans in Congress are cowards. Let’s pray the Ship of State doesn’t run aground before Nov.6.

Certainly, congressional Republicans are cowards. However, this is no "constitutional crisis," nor is our government (as Reiner probably would acknowledge in another context) is not rudderless but dedicated to extreme right-wing policy.

Additionally, Trump's support will remain at a decent level even if voters understand- as they already do- that Trump is ignorant, nasty, ill-informed, reckless, and dishonest.   (Most people, including some who charge it, don't know what constitutes "mentally unstable.")

What voters would not tolerate is if they realize that the President is... well, allow him to explain:

It's not that his "Administration has done more in less than two years" etc., etc., etc. The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court isn't popular, nor is the Corporate Tax Scam the President signed.

It is instead "I'm tough as hell on people & if I weren't, nothing would get done" with the accompanying- and reinforcing- "I question everybody & everything." 

Woodward quotes Defense Secretary James Mattis, after hearing from the President on Korea, as contending Trump "had the understanding of a fifth- or sixth- grader."   Trump allegedly told attorney Rudy Giuliani "Rudy, you're a baby. I've never seen a worse defense of me in my life. They took your diaper off right there. You're like a little baby that needed to be changed. When are you going to be a man?"

Chief of Staff John Kelly reportedly stated "We're in Crazytown. I don't even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I've ever had."

Mattis already known to be at odds with the President on policy. Kelly says Trump is the mayor of Crazytown. Trump is being represented in the media by a little baby. Trump believes the Attorney General of the United States of America is a "traitor."

They are still employed at the White House, and will be tomorrow, because Donald Trump is the antithesis of his image.

Trump said of Kim Jong-un "At a very young age, he was able to assume power. A lot of people, I'm sure, tried to take that power away, whether it was his uncle or anybody else. And he was able to do it." Following his news conference with Vladimir Putin, Trump praised Putin, remarking "I thought President Putin was very, very strong." He has called the USA "a very powerful company" before correcting himself with "We're a very strong, very strong country."

"When people are insecure," a savvy Bill Clinton once warned, "they'd rather have somebody who's strong and wrong than someone who's weak and right." Donald Trump recognizes insecure voters when he sees them.

Republicans were fond of accusing President Obama of conducting an "apology tour." Two years after slapping Obama's party in mid-term elections, the country decided in 2016 that it was finally done with the Party of Apology. Paradoxically, it expressed its frustration by electing what Bill Maher has identified as "a whiny, little bitch." It's a good characterization, but through all his whines fed by a phony sense of victimization, Donald Trump emphasizes that he's not little, but big; not soft, but tough. It's a con even Joseph Goebbels would have been impressed with.

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Don't Worry Be Happy

It's a tale of two Ari's.... or of two Aris. Media Matters has found former Bush 43 press secretary Ari Fleischer conten...