Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Wall's Political Stake

Slate's Ben Mathis-Lilley acknowledges that polls underestimated Donald Trump's chances in 2016 and that polls 543 days ahead of an election are not predictive. (Add to that the possible effect, negative or positive, of a Special Counsel's report and the possibility that the standard-bearer will be President Pence.)

Still, he notes that surveys now show President Trump losing a matchup against Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden by a wide margin, and by less of a margin than against Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris. Moreover,

What’s most worrisome for Trump about these results is not just that Biden and Sanders are both very well-known—only 9 percent of Americans said they didn’t have an opinion about Sanders in a recent Gallup poll, and Biden is Biden—but that they’re well-known for being about as far apart ideologically as two Democratic presidential candidates could be. Biden is the guy strongly associated with the Democratic Party establishment who has a long record on issues like criminal justice and financial regulation that now qualify as conservative; Sanders is the fiery leftist outsider who wants to crush the banks and raise taxes to pay for universal health care and higher education. If both of those guys would trounce Trump, it suggests that there’s not much that voters could learn about Warren or Harris—or really anyone with a (D) next to their name—that they would find disqualifying.

And that’s in the context of a fairly strong economy. And in the context of Michigan voters believing their state is on “the right track” by a 19-point margin, according to the same poll.

The latter fact is either extraordinary or very misleading. Heading into the 2016 presidential election, a "satisfied"/"dissatisfied" poll indicated the American people were very displeased, indeed, and the challenger scored a surprising victory over the candidate of the incumbent party, who was well pleased with President Obama.

Mathis-Lilley concludes

Not good for the Trump man! But hey, there’s still time to turn it around. Maybe if he builds the wall? (WDIV and the Detroit News found that Michigan voters oppose Trump’s wall plan by a 21-point margin.)

But don't discount the impact approval by Congress of funding for a wall would have on the support for President Trump. His popularity would increase in the immediate aftermath of legislation reopening the federal government in return for money for a concrete or steel wall.

This may seem counter-intuitive because surveys have confirmed that most voters oppose a hard barrier between Mexico and the USA. Presumably, this is an accurate reflection of public sentiment, though it is likely that some respondents were wary of admitting that they support something which Nancy Pelosi has termed  "immoral" and others have characterized as "racist."  (Accordingly, in the off-chance that surveyors have a Spanish accent, all bets are off.)

However, there are more significant reasons that Donald Trump's re-election prospects soar if negotiations end with a wall provision which the President can credibly spin into a victory. A justified declaration of victory isn't necessary; only a legitimate declaration, one not patently absurd, is required.

President Trump will have fulfilled, or appear to have fulfilled, or appear on his way to fulfilling, a big campaign promise- his major campaign promise. And as if that would not be enough, Trump would come off as a winner- the consummate winner. That is the linchpin of his political strategy. Most of all, he wants his adversary to come off as a loser, but if he wins, he has demonstrated "the art of the deal."

During the shutdown, Senator Kamala Harris, currently the leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination (fortunately, subject to change), declares definitively (at 4:41) "it will not end with a wall."

Temporarily it did not, with negotiations ensuing in this next phase of the drama.  However, Harris, who appears to choose her words carefully, states the shutdown will not end with a wall.  And of course it won't, because the most which can result is (partial) funding for the wall.

"Perception is reality" goes the cliche, though if perception were reality, it would not be perception. Nonetheless, in politics perception can create reality.  If Donald Trump can reasonably claim that the wall is coming, he will brag that he has done what no other politician does or presidents have: keep the country safe and fulfill a big promise.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Bad Idea

"One thing we'll be talking about," Roland Martin states in the video below, "is a prosecutor using the threat of jail to deal with truancy. Is that a proper thing to do in this country?"

Martin was addressing remarks made by then-San Francisco District Attorney and now-US Senator and presidential candidate, Kamala Harris in a speech given to the Commonwealth Club on January 14, 2010. The prosecutor commented

I would not be standing here were it not for the education I received and I know many of us will say the same thing. And I believe a child going without an education is tantamount to a crime. So I decided I was going to start prosecuting parents for truancy. Well, this was a little controversial in San Francisco.

After chuckling at her great good humor, Harris continued

Frankly, my staff went bananas. They were very concerned because I didn't know at the time if I was going to have an opponent in my re-election race. I said "look, I'm done. This is a serious issue and I have a little political capital and I'm going to spend some of it."

And that is what we did. We recognized that in that initiative as a prosecutor in law enforcement, I have a big stick. The school district has got a carrot. Let's work in tandem around our collective objective and goal, which is to get those kids in school. So to that end, on my letterhead- now let me tell you something about my letterhead. 

When you're D.A. of a major city in this country, usually, the job comes with a badge and there often is an artistic rendering of said badge on your stationery. So I sent a letter out on my letterhead to every parent in the school district outlining the connection that was statistically proven between eliminating school truancy, high school dropouts, who will become a victim of crime, and who will become a perpetrator of crime. We sent it out to everyone. A friend of mine actually called me and he said "Kamala, my wife got the letter. She freaked out She brought all the kids in the living room, held up the letter, said "if you don't go to school, Kamala's going to put you and me in jail."

No one has been put under oath, so we'll have to assume that in a city of 806,000 people, Ms.. Harris had one friend naive enough to believe that the District Attorney was going to "put them in jail" because the youngster did not attend school. Alternatively, her friend was willing to con his children into believing they and their parents would be incarcerated.

That presupposes, of course, that the kind of child sufficiently irresponsible to skip school regularly would gather around the ol' living room with her siblings and not be delighted that her parents are being threatened with jail. It implies also that the typical truant has a stable home environment with two parents. That's a nice thought, and also unrealistic because if there are two parents in the home, one or both of them probably would already have kept the offspring in line.

As a prosecutor, Harris would know that truancy is not a crime, at least not in California. Yet, she proclaimed it "tantamount to a crime" and she must understand that one of the primary tenets of an effective criminal justice system is holding individuals accountable for their own actions.

The corollary is to hold accountable for actions only those actually responsible for those actions. If D.A. Harris believed that truancy is tantamount to a crime, she could have held required the youngster face the consequences of her actions. However, we do not know whether she did so, only that her friend told his children "if you don't go to school, Kamala's going to put you and me in jail."

If the district attorney did so, it was probably overly punitive. If she did not do so, she was laying out consequences she had no intention to enforce, ultimately encouraging further truancy once it became obvious that she was all bark, no bite.

Without knowing all the details, we cannot know for sure how it worked out in practice. What we do know, however, is that traditionally very few prosecutors lose any votes for appearing "tough," even in San Francisco. There, as elsewhere, it is the Judge- not the District Attorney- who can "put you and me in jail."  (Obviously, it is the law enforcement officer but the Judge issues the order.) In this case, Harris was either putting on act- which is likely- or implemented a policy which, given limited resources, was probably applied arbitrarily.

Kamala Harris may simply have been doing what elected prosecutors do to make sure they aren't turned out of office. But the policy was either stupid, not what it seemed, or both.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Not For The Votes

There are three reasons Democrats must not relent in their opposition to a hard, concrete or steel wall. They are: 1) the wall is a bad idea; 2) if blackmail works, it will be repeated, and Trump will demand something significant in return for agreeing to raise the debt limit in the future; 3) opposition to the wall is good politics because the Latino vote is pivotal.

Make that two reasons.  The first clue should have been the vote for President in 2016, soon after which Pew reported

Hillary Clinton won 66% of Latino voters on Election Day, according to updated National Election Pool exit poll data, a level of Democratic support similar to 2008, when 67% of Hispanics backed Barack Obama. However, Clinton’s share of the Latino vote was lower than in 2012, when 71% of Latinos voted to re-elect Obama.

While Clinton underperformed among Latinos compared with 2012, Republican Donald Trump won 28% of the Latino vote, a similar share to 2012, when Mitt Romney won 27%, and to 2008, when John McCain won 31%, according to exit polls.

When Donald Trump descended from the escalator and announced for the job in July of 2015, he claimed that Mexico is

sending people that have a lot of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

Candidate Trump's shtick was asking at his rally "who's going to build the wall" and with the audience answering "Mexico." President Trump still blames immigrants and refugees for America's crime and drug problem.

Contrast that to Mitt Romney's 2012 position, which he explained as

The answer is self-deportation, which is people decide they can do better by going home because they can't find work here because they don't have legal documentation to allow them to work here. And so we're not going to round people up.

Shorter Romney: Please leave- and if you don't, well, o.k. Not terribly threatening, there.

Not all Latino voters in the USA are of Mexican background. However, it is the largest group and it took no imagination for Latinos, whites, blacks, and Asian-Americans to conclude that candidate Donald Trump was not going to sit by passively while non-Hispanic whites of whatever background became a shrinking share of the population. Then, Trump improved upon Romney's share of the hispanic/Latino vote.  (Regrettably, Pew did not distinguish between Latinos and hispanics.)

That's not the only reason that a policy of goodwill toward Latinos, characterized by opposition to the Trumpian wall, may not be the great political strategy most of us have assumed it is.

In a Marist/NPR/PBS poll released Tuesday, 50% of Latinos stated that they approve of Donald Trump's performance as president.

Because the poll focused on the views of the electorate as a whole rather than specifically on those of Latinos or hispanics, only 153 "Latino Americans" were surveyed, and the margin of error was a whopping 9.9 percent.

So the percentage of Latinos/hispanics approving of Donald Trump's performance may be as low as 40.1%. Even this, however, is slightly higher than the percentage of voters (39,9%overall giving him a thumbs-up.

This survey took place while the biggest political issue in the nation was the shutdown/wall, and Latinos recorded greater support for Trump's job performance than did other Americans.  Bonus fact:  exit surveys in 2016 showed more support for Trump than did pre-election polls, suggesting that hispanics may be wary of admitting to pollsters their support of Donald Trump, perhaps because he is overtly anti-Latino. (He's kicking people like me in our rear ends. Sure, he's doing a good job.)

Local and state Democratic candidates have to do what they have to do. Variables may be different in November 2020 than they were in November 2016 or even are currently, and support for causes dear to the Latin-American community may possibly turn out to be determinative, especially in, say, Nevada. And the wall would be tremendously costly, under-achieving, and a lousy symbol for the nation.

However, it is not unreasonable to suggest of the Democratic Party, covetous of Latino voters: they're just not that into you.

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Monday, January 28, 2019

What Brokaw Got Right

On Sunday's Meet The Press roundtable discussion, Tom Brokaw (beginning at 45:20 of the video below) dared to speak his opinion, remarking

And a lot of this we don't want to talk about but the fact is on the Republican side a lot of people see the rise of an extraordinarily important new constituency in American politics- Hispanics, who will come here and will be Democrats. Also, when I push people a little harder, I hear "I don't know whether I want brown grandbabies." I mean, that's all a part of it. 

It's the intermarriage that's going on. It's cultures that are conflicting with each other and I also happen to believe that Hispanics should work harder at assimilation. It's one of the things that I've been saying for a long time. They ought not to be just codified in their communities but make sure that all their kids are learning to speak English and that they feel comfortable in their communities. That going to take outreach on both sides, frankly.

As I type this, "grandbabies" is being flagged, and like Spellcheck, I don't find the term in general use. However, your mileage may vary and it may be as common in your circle as it presumably is in Brokaw's.

Similarly, at the end of the video, Yamiche Alcindor is seen disagreeing with Brokaw, contending that second-generation Cuban-Americans in Miami typically speak English. That probably is accurate, though Alcindor refers to having grown up in Miami and presumably is less familiar with current practice there. Additionally, there are Hispanics in every state and the interest in assimilation in language and otherwise probably varies (though my experience some 1200 miles away is similar).

Unless more light than heat could be thrown onto the topic, that should have ended it. However, as long as we have politicians, we will have individuals prone to exploit remarks such as those of Brokaw. Politico reports

NBC News veteran Tom Brokaw apologized Sunday evening for comments he made earlier in the day on "Meet the Press" calling for Hispanics in the U.S. to “work harder at assimilation."

The comments from the former host of "NBC Nightly News" sparked a quick backlash both on social media and on set from PBS "NewsHour" White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor, who joined Brokaw on the "Meet the Press" panel. Hours after his comments aired on NBC, Brokaw apologized for them online.

"I am sorry, truly sorry, my comments were offensive to many. The great enduring American tradition of diversity is to be celebrated and cherished," he wrote on Twitter, part of a flurry of posts backtracking away from his earlier remarks. "I am sorry - I never intended to disparage any segment of our rich, diverse society which defines who we are... Finally, I am sorry I failed to convey my strong belief that diversity - dynamic and inclusive is what makes America"...

Among those who voiced their displeasure with Brokaw online was Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), whose twin brother Julián Castro is running for president.

“.@tombrokaw, for a celebrated @NBCNews journalist who spent years chronicling American society you seem stunningly ignorant of the Hispanic community in this country. Unfortunate to see xenophobia pass for elevated political commentary @MeetThePress,” he wrote on Twitter.

But in what sense does he believe Brokaw is "stunningly ignorant of the Hispanic community?" If you assume it is because he is arguing (as did Alcindor) that Hispanics are anxious to learn English, think again. Politico adds "The Texas congressman also retweeted users who had their own stories of being hit or feeling unwelcome for speaking Spanish in the U.S."

Alcindor implies that Hispanics already are assimilating (at least in the matter of language), which is a facet of becoming fully American. By contrast, Castro suggests "they're not- and what's so wrong about that?" (He is, however, right about references to "Mexicans.") Brokaw, at least initially, believed otherwise.  Encouraging outreach "on all sides," he is concerned  "all their kids are learning to speak English and that they feel comfortable in their communities."

Brokaw's perception of language amongst second-generation Hispanics is highly questionable. However, he is right that cultures are "conflicting with each other" and that there are a lot of Americans- probably a majority of non-Latinos- who are wary of being outvoted as the concentration of Hispanics rises. Brokaw should have limited his remarks to that.

He is right, also, that only with probing do people typically evince sentiments they believe would prompt a charge of "racism."  Pretend they don't exist, and someday these voters might elect a guy who portrays immigrants as rapists, drug pushers, and criminals.

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There is overwhelming evidence of collusion, a witch hunt which has so far corralled eight individuals who have been found guilty (and many more indicted), and a grand jury which doesn't meet on Thursdays but which did so on January 24, suggesting an arrest on Friday, January 25. Even aside from that, it was ludicrous (though hardly unpredictable) when President Trump tweeted

Lawyer and MSNBC contributor Barbara McQuade notes "this is how it is done when the FBI executes arrest and search warrants to prevent  destruction of evidence."  In an op-ed in The New York Times, Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute apparently agrees. (Although the Cato Institute is unworthy of being quoted favorably on taxation, business and financial regulation, and the like, this piece is less opinion than analysis and pertains to a somewhat civil liberties issue.) He explains

Mr. Stone’s early-morning arrest at his Florida home unsurprisingly dominated coverage, but reports also noted that federal agents were “seen carting hard drives and other evidence from Mr. Stone’s apartment in Harlem, and his recording studio in South Florida was also raided.” The F.B.I., in other words, was executing search warrants, not just arrest warrants. Even the timing and manner of Mr. Stone’s arrest — at the absolute earliest moment allowed under federal rules of criminal procedure without persuading a judge to authorize an exceptional nighttime raid — suggests a concern with preventing destruction of evidence: Otherwise it would make little sense to send a dozen agents to arrest a man in his 60s before sunrise.

The President is a late arrival to civil libertarianism. On July 28, 2017 in Brentwood on Long Island's Suffolk County

President Trump took a break from discussing gang violence and illegal immigration to give the law enforcement officers gathered for his remarks some advice on how to treat suspects.

“When you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over?” Trump said, miming the physical motion of an officer shielding a suspect’s head to keep it from bumping against the squad car.

“Like, don’t hit their head, and they just killed somebody — don’t hit their head,” Trump continued. “I said, you can take the hand away, okay?”

The hypocrisy would be stunning were it not Donald Trump, for whom hypocrisy is the norm (also lying, false bravado, narcissism, business failure, corruption, and- oh, never mind).

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Saturday, January 26, 2019

Fondness For Leaks

The owner, general manager, and head coach for Team Russia are all in place while several players are attending the tryouts for quarterback. One of them appears to be U.S. Representative Peter King of New York's mildly Republican 2nd congressional district, comprised of parts of Long Island's Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Right wing cyber-mag Newsmax reported that on Monday, January, 28

"That is disgraceful to have no evidence and to be investigating the president of the United States," said King. "To me, this is not an indictment of President Trump. This is an indictment of the FBI leadership."

Other reports during the weekend claimed that Trump hid the evidence of his meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and King said he does not blame Trump at all for concealing records of conversations, given the leaks that were occurring at the time.

The last thing President Trump would want was his conversations with any world leader ending up on The New York Times," said King. "I don't blame the president at are talking to a foreign leader, a person that can be an adversary, the last thing you want is that all over the news."

Republican King may be as slick as he is obsequious.  Maintaining Putin can be an adversary, the congressman will be able to avoid characterizing the President as a traitor once evidence of Trump's cozy relationship with the Russian president is fully revealed.

Nonetheless, the timing of King's assertion that President Trump is deeply concerned with leaks was really, really bad.  On Wednesday, Vanity Fair published anexcerpt from "Team of Vipers: by former White House aide Cliff Sims, who contends that there were several leakers in the Administration, though none so prolific as Counsel to the President Kellyanne Conway.  When Conway was accused by the Morning Joe team of Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski of heaping praise upon Trump publicly but privately ridiculing him, Sims was directed to respond and

I assumed this was because she feared Trump would believe the charges ... I had not brought my work laptop upstairs with me when she called, so Kellyanne pointed over to her personal MacBook sitting on the conference table on the other side of the room. “Just use that and type something up for me,” she said.

I sat down and started slowly pecking out a statement. ... I was also getting distracted by the nonstop stream of iMessages popping up on the screen. At that point, personal phones had not yet been banned in the West Wing, so Kellyanne was sitting at her desk texting away. And since her iMes­sage account was tied to both her phone and her laptop, ... I could inadvertently see every conversation she was having.

Over the course of 20 minutes or so, she was having simultaneous conversations with no fewer than a half­-dozen reporters, most of them from outlets the White House frequently trashed for publishing “fake news.”

Jour­nalists from The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, Politico, and Bloomberg were all popping up on the screen. ... As I sat there trying to type, she bashed Jared Kushner, Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, and Sean Spicer, all by name.

("The real leakers, past and present, get much more positive press than I do. While it’s rare, I prefer to knife people from the front, so they see it coming," Conway said in a statement shortly after publication.) ...

She also recounted private conversations she’d had with the president, during which, at least in her telling, she’d convinced him to see things her way, which she said was a challenge when you’re deal­ing with someone so unpredictable and unrestrained. She wasn’t totally trashing the president, ... but she definitely wasn’t painting him in the most favorable light. She was talking about him like a child she had to set straight. ...

I was supposed to be writing a statement, defending her against accusations that she had done almost exactly what I was watch­ing her do that very moment.

It is now several days since this incident was revealed, and Conway remains one of the President's most trusted advisers, as she will remain. There has been no censure, rebuke, or criticism because she is truly trusted by Donald Trump. She is trusted to leak like a sieve because that is what the President wants her to do.

If the President were as concerned about leaks as Representative King claims he is, he could direct one- and only one- adviser on his foreign policy team to join him with Vladimir Putin. It could be the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Adviser or any one lesser figure. If there then were a leak (which there likely would not be), the source would be obvious.

But he hasn't, and he won't.  Representative King may or may not understand why. However, the Speaker of the House (below, from last July, as Minority Leader) appears to understand:

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Friday, January 25, 2019

The Real Deal

Commenting on a remark about the new tax proposal from Senator Elizabeth Warren, Australian economist Cameron Murray tweets "Enforcing our existing tax law is the best bang for your buck investment available for government- >10x return on investment per year."

Australia in 2015 inaugurated a Tax Avoidance Taskforce, which reportedly increases its "focus on the top 1,000 multinational and public companies as well as the top 320 private groups and the high wealth individuals who control them." The federal government claims the taskforce in its first two years raised a little more than $5.6 billion and over $10 billion in tax liabilities at a cost of $679.9 billion.

The Senator's plan would feature a two percent wealth tax on individuals with assets greater than $50 million and a three percent wealth tax on persons with more than $1 billion. Additionally, as luck- or design- would have it

Warren’s proposal includes at least three new mechanisms to combat tax evasion, according to a person familiar with the plan. Those are a significant increase in funding for the Internal Revenue Service; a mandatory audit rate requiring a certain number of people who pay the wealth tax to be subject to an audit every year; and a one-time tax penalty for those who have more than $50 million and try to renounce their U.S. citizenship.

the Massachusetts Democrat is being advised by economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, who earlier this week penned (typed?) an op-ed in The New York Times defending and supporting a proposal by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez advocating a marginal tax rate of 70% on incomes above $10 million. Saez and Zucman sent to Warren a letter on January 14 and

The wealthiest 1 percent of families currently face a total tax burden, including state and local taxes, of about 3.2 percent relative to wealth, Saez and Zucman write in their letter.

The bottom 99 percent of families currently has a tax burden of 7.2 percent relative to their wealth, the economists say.

“One of the key motivations for introducing a progressive wealth tax is to curb the growing concentration of wealth,” Saez and Zucman wrote to Warren in their Jan. 14 letter. “The top 1 percent wealth share has increased dramatically from about 22 percent in the late 1970s to around 40 percent in recent years. Conversely, the wealth share of the bottom 95 percent of families has declined from about 50 percent in the late 1970s to about 40 percent today.”

Thus far, seven Democrats- Julian Castro, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Tulsi Gabbard, John Delaney, Richard Ojeda, and Andrew Yang- have either formally or informally entered the race.  The Democratic electorate deserves to hear from each of them, as well as from all others who become candidates, on Warren's idea.

Raising a vast sum of additional, necessary revenue and reducing wealth disparity among individuals and families are the two most important reasons to adopt Senator Warren's proposal, or something very similar to it. However, there is an additional though more subtle factor, as Jared Bernstein, former economic adviser to Vice President Biden, explains

The “miracle of compounding” is a tremendous force for those sitting on a large pile of large assets. It’s also terribly skewed away from minorities. As Valerie Wilson has shown, the black/white median income ratio is about 60 percent. For net worth, it’s 10 percent.

In addressing both income and wealth disparity, the plan has potential to improve substantially the financial outlook of black and Latino families and strike a blow for racial, as well as economic, opportunity. This is not the low-hanging fruit of criminal justice reform, which counts no one among its powerful opponents.

Tax reform of this magnitude goes to the heart of economic justice and powerful opponents lie in wait. The response of high-profile Democrats may be critical, and will be telling.

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Thursday, January 24, 2019

No On Joe

D-I-S-Q-U-A-L-I-F-Y-I-N-G. That's what the behavior of former President Obama's Vice-President should be.

Imagine yourself a Democratic nominee aiming to win a seat on the town council and play a role in flipping the governing body from Republican to Democratic, only to learn that a fellow Democrat and former mayor has given a de facto endorsement to your opponent. You might not be amused.

Alexander Burns of The New York Times reports

Joseph R. Biden Jr. swept into Benton Harbor, Mich., three weeks before the November elections, in the midst of his quest to reclaim the Midwest for Democrats. He took the stage at Lake Michigan College as Representative Fred Upton, a long-serving Republican from the area, faced the toughest race of his career.

But Mr. Biden was not there to denounce Mr. Upton. Instead, he was collecting $200,000 from the Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan to address a Republican-leaning audience, according to a speaking contract obtained by The New York Times and interviews with organizers. The group, a business-minded civic organization, is supported in part by an Upton family foundation.

Mr. Biden stunned Democrats and elated Republicans by praising Mr. Upton while the lawmaker looked on from the audience. Alluding to Mr. Upton’s support for a landmark medical-research law, Mr. Biden called him a champion in the fight against cancer — and “one of the finest guys I’ve ever worked with.”

Mr. Biden’s remarks, coming amid a wide-ranging discourse on American politics, quickly appeared in Republican advertising. The local Democratic Party pleaded with Mr. Biden to repair what it saw as a damaging error, to no avail. On Nov. 6, Mr. Upton defeated his Democratic challenger by four and a half percentage points.

These words would be understandable at a farewell dinner for a member of Congress who had announced his retirement. Similarly, they would be understandable if Vice-President Biden were aggressively courting the congressman's vote for an initiative of President Obama (were President Obama ever to have fought aggressively for a progressive initiative). Instead, they were a de facto  endorsement of Upton's re-election bid.

This did not go unnoticed. Eric Lester, chairperson of the Berrien County party during the midterms, said

he viewed Mr. Biden’s supportive remarks about Mr. Upton as a betrayal. Mr. Lester, who attended the speech, said he had confronted an aide to Mr. Biden in the hallway, telling him the former vice president had badly damaged the Democratic cause.

“It just gives Fred Upton cover and makes it possible for him to continue to pretend to be a useful, bipartisan fellow,” Mr. Lester recalled saying, adding, “I entered the hall with positive feelings about Mr. Biden and felt very frustrated.”

Frustration about a disloyal act is unavoidable. Still

Several people involved in planning the event said Mr. Upton, 65, had no role in arranging Mr. Biden’s appearance, and Mr. Upton said he was not involved. There is no evidence Mr. Biden was motivated to praise the lawmaker by anything other than sincere admiration, stemming from Mr. Upton’s role in crafting the 21st Century Cures Act after the death of Mr. Biden’s elder son, Beau, from cancer in 2015.

But Mr. Biden wants to be President and may seek the Democratic nomination for the office.    A far better play would have been to praise Representative Upton at some other time and venue.  He still would have expressed his gratitude, yet done so without undercutting his own party's candidate.

And Biden probably would have done that, had his sole purpose been to express his appreciation for a kind response to the death of the Vice-President's son.  Evidently not, for

The greatest impact of Mr. Biden’s speech, however, was outside the lecture hall. His remarks about Mr. Upton ricocheted through Michigan’s Sixth Congressional District. Mr. Upton alluded to Mr. Biden’s praise in a debate with Mr. Longjohn the next day, and his campaign sent out a mailer stressing Mr. Upton’s bipartisan streak, including Mr. Biden’s description of him as “the reason we’re going to beat cancer.”

A business-backed Republican group, Defending Main Street, ran digital ads on Facebook showing a grinning Mr. Biden and the crucial quote — “Fred Upton is one of the finest guys I’ve ever worked with” — above a mock version of the former vice president’s signature.

With Biden's help, Fred Upton, after facing "the toughest race of his career," won his 17th consecutive term in the US House of Representatives. His opponent, Matt

Longhohn, the former national health officer of the YMCA, said in an interview that he had been disappointed to see Mr. Biden “clap Mr. Upton on the back in an establishment political way.” He said his campaign had reached out to Mr. Biden’s staff through an intermediary, seeking to discuss his involvement in the race.

“There was nothing but silence,” Mr. Longjohn said. “We had just requested a phone call and there was no response.”

Longjohn was disappointed but should not have been surprised. Five female members of Congress in 1991 believed that Senate Judiciary chairperson Biden may not have shared their concerns about Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, who appeared to have engaged repeatedly in sexual harassment. One of the women, Senator Pat Schroeder of Colorado, later recalled

We went to see Biden. And he literally kind of pointed his finger and said, you don’t understand how important one’s word was in the Senate, that he had given his word to [Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.), Thomas’ chief sponsor] in the men’s gym that this would be a very quick hearing.

Joe Biden is still Joe Biden (Cenk Uygur's relatively generous take, below), tails you win, heads I lose Democrat.  He should not be disregarded because he's an old, straight, non-Hispanic white male. He should be disqualified because Democratic voters must select a Democrat to run for President.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Great Again?

It was circa 1975 and I was a liberal young man not long out of college living on the reasonably forward-looking East Coast. While tossing around a football, I was talking to a good friend about the great CBS sitcom :All in the Family," starring Carroll O'Connor as Archie Bunker.

I told Joe (not his real name) that I was pleased that Norman Lear's program, in portraying an obviously narrow-minded and bigoted "Archie," was ridiculing the culturally and politically backward.  To the best of my recollection- of a relatively insignificant incident 45 years ago- Joe told me roughly

You may think this is satire and that it portrays people similar to Archie in a bad light, as the leftist Lear no doubt does. However, there are a lot of people elsewhere in the country ("heartland" not yet a cliche) who are taking the Archie Bunker character seriously. And they agree with what he is saying.

It has been nearly a quarter of a century since I last talked to Joe, who had been raised in the same borough in which Donald Trump was taking the fortune left him by his father and turning it into- well, without his tax returns, we don't know (also, the borough in which the fictional Bunker family lived).

The conversation too place approximately 40 years before that celebrity, less of a family man than "Archie" but boasting similar rhetoric and bigotry, was elected President of the USA. It was at a time when television options were severely limited, with few networks and viewing limited to that one time it appeared on the air, other than a possible summer re-run. The immensely popular "All in the Family," on a major network, may have helped normalize the outrageous and obnoxious.

That made it particularly discouraging to view this segment from Monday's Jimmy Kimmel Live!

Aloe Blacc begins

It's Donald Trump's America in the USFandA, where Eagles fly and apple pie on Independence Day, where the children all say Christmas and the men don't take a knee.

It's prudent in my region to use "Merry Christmas" sparingly, I don't eat apple pie, and the only Eagles I like are from Philadelphia. However, in much of the country, people do say "Merry Christmas" and believe only swine on the coasts are trying to ban the phrase. And even if apple pie and the American eagle are not on their Independence Day menu- even if they disrespectfully call it the "Fourth of July"- those things may represent patriotism and the good old days which once existed, or they believe existed.

"Taking a knee" struck some of us as courageous, but there are 32 NFL owners who think they understand public sentiment in the 29 media markets they represent. Colin Kaepernick is still unemployed.

Blacc continues

We're great again, yeah, we're great again. We vanquish all our enemies.... We're great again, don't make me say it again, so suck it other countries 'cause we're great again. 

Donald Trump promised to make America "great again." Here, an accomplished, charismatic man with a great voice is eloquently declaring "we're great again.," notwithstanding we enlightened recognizing it as sarcastic. And for bonus points: he's black, which "proves" that blacks also like Trump, so he's not racist, and we're not racist for liking him.

It's counter-productive to sing this song, especially with patriotic imagery, to the country at-large. The song is tone-deaf, of which Jimmy Kimmel either has no clue or believes that the song and artist areis too attractive to ignore.  Perhaps in his circle of acquaintances, the 2016 election was a lesson unlearned.  However, 1970's Joe was right, probably even more so than he imagined.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Bleak Outlook

On Twitter, Matt Stoller recently claimed that Democrats need to come to grips with the reality that Barack Obama was a "badPresident."  An interesting exchange eventually developed:

In a modern version of realpolitik, Dean Steitz seems to say "sure, he was a severely flawed President but Democrats love him." 

Admittedly, with the popularity of former President Obama higher among Democrats than even the popularity of former President GW Bush among Republicans, a Democratic aspirant cannot complain about the first black President because.... well, if I continued I'd merely be redundant.

Others have explained some of the failures of the Obama Administration, among them: a weak recovery from the Great Recession while infrastructure reform was ignored in the stimulus package; promiscuous use of the Espionage Act to prosecute whistleblowers; absence of a public option in the Affordable Care Act, coupled with a severe rise in insurance rates; American forces bogged down in war in the Middle East (with American bombs raining down on Yemen).

Stoller, who has emphasized operation of the financial system, faults the 44th President because his Administration "let big bank executives off the hook for their role in the crisis," "encouraged foreclosures through "explicit" policy of the Treasury Department, and presided over "a record wave of mergers and acquisitions." 

 Voters were aware of the landscape.  Reuters reported that in a nationwide Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted on Election Day 2016 of 10,064 individuals who had already voted (with an incomplete tally of responses)

- 75 percent agree that “America needs a strong leader to take the country back from the rich and powerful.”

- 72 percent agree “the American economy is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful.”

- 68 percent agree that “traditional parties and politicians don’t care about people like me.”

- 76 percent believe “the mainstream media is more interested in making money than telling the truth.”

- 57 percent feel that “more and more, I don’t identify with what America has become.”

- 54 percent feel “it is increasingly hard for someone like me to get ahead in America.”

In a variation of the classic "right track, wrong track" survey, Gallup in the days before the 2016 election asked "In general, are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time?" While 37% were satisfied, 62% were dissatisfied. Surprise! Donald Trump was elected (albeit aided by racial and gender bias).

In the 2019-2020 primary season, while most Democrats will imply that all the ills of the nation arose during the previous 3-4 years, most if not all will strategically avoid criticizing the Obama Administration.

They will not, as we already can see, avoid criticizing any and all actions by Democratic presidents. It will be politically safe and personally validating to slam selected acts by previous Democratic Administrations. Thus, we have a journalist skilled at critiquing the financial services industry tweeting

The "Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994" (though it will not be referred to with its name) will be slammed indirectly and directly throughout the campaign. Largely renounced by its creator (President Clinton), it was enacted- under very different circumstances than prevail today- a quarter century ago, and is viewed as injurious to the most important segment of the party's base.

Condemnation of the law is low-hanging fruit, not to be defended by the nation's liberal-left party (whose members would imply racism on the part of any supporter) nor by Republicans.

A general election run against a President Trump or a President Pence might feature an incumbent party unable to escape revelations of criminal conduct and favoritism toward Russia or an economy plagued by recession. If not, however, the Democratic nominee will be confronted by voters who understand that the rich and powerful benefit at their expense, that the plague of drug addiction is dragging the nation down, life expectancy is not rising as they had been lectured it always would, natural disasters are posing an ever-greater threat, and workers are stuck in a gig economy in which they are devalued.  Prospects for a job which would sustain a middle-class life for the children of voters, themselves voters, are not improving.

Among the lessons the Democratic Party should have learned from the 2016 presidential and congressional elections was that no amount of support for immigrants and the rights of gender, sexual, or ethnic minorities can fully compensate for the discomfort and fear among voters. Nor can the crowing about the number of its members of Congress who are women, "of color," or Muslim.

Americans realize that history has not ended, that the upward trajectory of American life no longer prevails. This was the fertile ground upon which candidate Trump planted the gross exaggeration that the previous eight years had featured "possibly the worst president ever." The Democrat who wins the nomination will have to respond to widespread dissatisfaction by pivoting to a recognition that those years did not produce the paradise the party's politicians and officials seem to believe it did.

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Monday, January 21, 2019

More Than A Little Offensive

A fairly obscure fellow remarks

Thirty-seven year-old Ilhan Omar was born and raised in Somalia and was elected in November to replace Keith Ellison in Minnesota's fifth district. As a nutrition coordinator with Minnesota's Department of Education in 2012, Omar tweeted

The New York Times' Bari Weiss wrote Monday that Omar has been "dogged" by this sentence and

On Thursday, CNN’s Poppy Harlow pressed her again: “I wonder just what your message is this morning as the first on our Game Changer series to Jewish-Americans who find that deeply offensive.”

“That’s a really regrettable way of expressing that,” Ms. Omar said of the anchor’s question. “I don’t know how my comments would be offensive to Jewish Americans. My comments precisely are addressing what was happening during the Gaza War and I’m clearly speaking about the way the Israeli regime was conducting itself in that war.”

Well, first, as Omar (Weiss, also) doesn't understand, there is no such thing as "Jewish Americans" anymore than there are "Protestant Americans" or "Catholic Americans." Additionally, there is plenty of reason American Jews would not be amused. After briefly summarizing the history of "the myth of the wily Jewish manipulator of those in power," Weiss explains

the biggest “Jew” today in the demonology of modern anti-Semitism is the Jewish state, Israel. While there are perfectly legitimate criticisms that one can make of Israel or the actions of its government — and I have never been shy about making them — those criticisms cross the line into anti-Semitism when they ascribe evil, almost supernatural powers to Israel in a manner that replicates classic anti-Semitic slanders.

During the weeklong November 2012 war, which began when Hamas fired roughly 100 rockets at civilian targets, Israel “hypnotized” nobody. It was subject to the usual barrage of intense criticism in the news media and at the United Nations, and from the leaders of other nations, not to mention protesters across the world. That Israel continues to retain support in the United States among mainstream Democrats and Republicans is because — contrary to Ms. Omar’s tweet — the Jewish state is not engaged in “evil doings,” but defending itself against the enemies pressing on all of its borders, including Hamas, which has genocide of the Jews, and a belief in Jewish manipulative power, at the heart of its ideology. The original Hamas charter from 1988, only recently revised, claimed that the Jews orchestrated the French and Russian revolutions and both world wars.

Contrary to Mr. Elliot's implication, there is no suggestion from Ms. Weiss that Representative Omar stated or believes as she does because Omar is black.  Further, the suggestion that criticism of criticism of Israel as "evil" and duplicitous is contrary to the spirit of Dr. King is bizarre. Weiss notes

Those who call themselves anti-Zionists usually insist they are not anti-Semites. But I struggle to see what else to call an ideology that seeks to eradicate only one state in the world — the one that happens to be the Jewish one — while empathetically insisting on the rights of self-determination for every other minority. Israeli Jews, descended in equal parts from people displaced from Europe and the Islamic world, are barely 6.5 million of the world’s 7.7 billion people. What is it about them, exactly, that puts them beyond the pale?

(In the interest of full disclosure: Weiss criticizes Omar also for having implied that Senator Graham is being blackmailed because he is gay. I'm unconvinced the congresswoman is wrong.)

Stupid- or rather grotesquely misleading- comments regarding Martin Luther King are the province of conservative Republicans and a few random twitters such as Mr. Elliot.  Oklahoma Senator James Lankford, a loyal follower of Donald Trump, reducing the message of social and economic justice activist King to a boy scout helping little old ladies across the street, when he comments "If there's anything we should have learned from Martin Luther King Jr., [it] is: Hate doesn't drive out hate; only love drives out hate." Vice President Pence equated President Trump with Dr. King because both "inspired us to change."

But distorting the message of Martin Luther King Jr. is what are conservative Republicans do. It's disconcerting when the Democratic Party now counts as one of its own a United States Representative who made a fairly disgusting remark a few years ago and now claims she does not understand "how my comments would be offensive to" Jews. In this case at least, inexperience is no excuse for ignorance.

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Saturday, January 19, 2019

Nothing To Offer

As we head into the 29th day of the Trump Shutdown, Nancy Pelosi has recognized President Trump's demands as a "non-starter." As NPR explains, there are several components of the "proposal." However, the main ones are $5.7 billion for a wall which- because he was speaking to the nation beyond his supporters- he did not call a "wall." In return, there would be
Three years of legislative relief for some 700,000 recipients of the Obama-era initiative known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which protects some immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children from deportation. The Trump administration had moved to end DACA, but the decision was challenged in court and is currently held up in legal proceedings. Trump's proposal would give an extension of legal status;

A three-year extension of Temporary Protected Status for some 300,000 facing expiration;

Given that it was President Trump himself who took away protections for DACA and ended the Temporary Protection Status, this was no offer at all.  "Here," the President stated, "I'll give you back the television and the camera I stole from you, as long as you give me your new car."  A better analogy comes from Connecticut senator Chris Murphy, who tweets “Imagine a dude drove his truck into your house on purpose and then told you he’d fix the hole for $5 billion."

Nonetheless, in a move as surprising as the New England Patriots making the NFL's AFC playoffs, Trump's ploy was supported by Freedom Caucus chairperson Mark Meadows:

That's not negotiation, not when the GOP-controlled Senate (with Democratic support) voted on December 19 for a short-term spending bill, without money for any wall or fence. But in a radio interview the following day

Ann Coulter, a conservative who has criticized the lack progress on the wall, declared she won't vote for Trump in 2020 if the wall isn't built.

"They're about to have a country where no Republican will ever be elected president again," Coulter told the station WMAL. "Trump will just have been a joke presidency who scammed the American people, amused the populists for a while, but he'll have no legacy whatsoever."

Trump backed down. When the new Congress convened in January with Democrats in charge of the lower chamber, the same bill was approved by the House of Representatives. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, husband of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, has flatly refused to bring the bill to the Senate floor. It would pass easily- possibly with a veto-proof majority- but the President would veto it.

Though Meadow blames the Democratic Party and the mainstream media calls on both sides to "compromise,"Donald Trump wanted this shutdown.  In his famous Oval Office meeting (eight days before the Senate vote) in which he was owned by the Democratic leaders, the President boasted "I am proud to shut down the government for border security. ... I will take the mantle of shutting it down."

The President wants a shutdown or has convinced himself he does, because he's not willing to tell Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh "no." The Senate Majority Leader lacks the backbone to do anything other than what President Trump, taking his orders from right-wing talkers and authors, wants. The head of the Freedom Caucus, from which House leadership has been taking its marching orders the past few years, mistakes urges Democrats to capitulate.

This is one reprehensible bunch of men.

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Friday, January 18, 2019


A few days after the mid-term elections, Philadelphia Inquirer and PhillyNews blogger Will Bunch made the case for Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar, a bit left of Hillary Clinton and right of Bernie Sanders, as the Democratic Party's 2020 Democratic presidential nominee. He argued

What happened on Tuesday across America was historic in its own right, not just because of the awesome power of women and the gains for a diverse Congress that will look more like America than ever before, but because Democratic control of the House provides a glimmer of hope that the decline of democracy under Trump can be checked. But — like it or not — the sun also rose Wednesday on the start of the 2020 presidential race. The midterm election was a learning lab for what works in today's U.S. politics — and we learned quite a bit.

The opposition party showed on Tuesday that Democrats can win in the upper Rust Belt, starting at Philadelphia's City Line Avenue and spreading west all the way to Iowa and Minnesota, but it takes the right kind of candidate: Office-seekers whose belief that the goodness of a diverse and open society trumps non-stop blather about "American carnage," and a reform-minded approach to schools, health care and climate, And being a woman is a huge motivator.

In so-called "flyover country," voters seem to be clamoring to replace the crudest and meanest president in American history with "Midwestern nice." If you went into the lab and ran Tuesday's algorithms to design the perfect Democrat for 2020, she would look almost exactly like Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who won a landslide re-election in her purple (in more ways than one) state on Tuesday.

We learned Thursday from BuzzFeed News

President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.

Trump also supported a plan, set up by Cohen, to visit Russia during the presidential campaign, in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations. “Make it happen,” the sources said Trump told Cohen.

And even as Trump told the public he had no business deals with Russia, the sources said Trump and his children Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. received regular, detailed updates about the real estate development from Cohen, whom they put in charge of the project.

Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying about the deal in testimony and in a two-page statement to the Senate and House intelligence committees. Special counsel Robert Mueller noted that Cohen’s false claim that the project ended in January 2016 was an attempt to “minimize links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1” — widely understood to be Trump — “in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations.”

Now the two sources have told BuzzFeed News that Cohen also told the special counsel that after the election, the president personally instructed him to lie — by claiming that negotiations ended months earlier than they actually did — in order to obscure Trump’s involvement.

The special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents. Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interviews with that office.

Responding to this latest report, Kyle Griffin, producer of The Last Word on MSNBC, is now as impressed with Senator Klobuchar as is Mr. Bunch:

Respondents are similarly taken by the Minnesota senator, tweeting "What did Amy Klobuchar know and when did she know it? She rocks." Unlike the relatively patient Bunch, two people don't even want to wait: "Can we make her the 2020 nominee now? Thanks" and "I'd vote for her in a hot second."

Cool your jets. Hold on there, tiger. Don't get ahead of yourself. (Insert your own cliche here.) Klobuchar deserves credit for asking a question connecting perjury with obstruction of justice. However, she specifically asked

A president persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction. Is that right?.... You also said that a president — or any person — convincing a witness to change testimony would be obstruction. Is that right?

These set the bar lower than necessary.The "persuading a person to commit perjury" should have been replaced (initially, or added as a follow-up question) with "trying to persuade" (or "convince") or "suggesting to a person."

Many details must be filled in to the report of Donald Trump evidently trying to suborn perjury.It is possible that Trump's efforts themselves played little or no role in getting Cohen to lie to Congress. Trump probably played a role in perjury Cohen committed but may not have actually persuaded him.

That doesn't suggest that Senator Klobuchar's line of questioning wasn't worthwhile. Nonetheless, we shouldn't get too excited too quickly about a couple of semi-tough questions posed by Minnesota Nice.

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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Suspect Employee

The web page of Liberty (University) Worship Collective explains that it is

is made up of the most talented, next-generation worship leaders in the world, selected from over 1,200 competitors annually. The students selected have the privilege of leading worship at the largest weekly gathering of young people — Liberty University’s Convocation. From God-glorifying worship to world-class songwriting, the Liberty Worship Collective is the future of worship — now.

 (Rock out with what appears to be its signature tune. Or not.)

Oops. In a story first reported by The Wall Street Journal and not directly related to the Collective, The Daily Beast notes that then-Trump attorney and fixer Michael Cohen

Most are probably quite sincere, and possibly even effective witnesses for their religious convictions. Unfortunately, they appear to have missed a less-than-angelic employee at the University itself. In a story uncovered by The Wall Street Journal, the Daily Beast notes that then-Trump attorney and fixer Michael Cohen

promised to pay $50,000 to the small tech firm run by a Liberty University staffer to help distort online polls on CNBC and the Drudge Report.

Cohen has confirmed the bombshell report to CNN, and claimed it was carried out “at the direction and for the sole benefit of Donald J. Trump.”

The IT firm doesn’t appear to have been particularly good at the task. Cohen reportedly asked for its help in a January 2014’s CNBC poll to name the country’s top business leaders. RedFinch Solutions founder John Gauger reportedly wrote a computer script to repeatedly vote for Trump—but was still unable to get him into the top 100 candidates.

Gauger is chief information officer at Virginia’s Liberty University, the evangelical Christian college run by Jerry Fallwell Jr., a close Trump supporter. Cohen reportedly helped arrange Falwell Jr.’s endorsement of Trump in January 2016.

If the work performed at those "faith-based" institutions is not what we've been trained to believe, neither are the payment arrangements. When thirteen months later Cohen arranged

for help in a Drudge Report poll of potential Republican candidates—he only managed fifth place, with about 24,000 votes....

Cohen disclosed the work to the Journal after he received much less money for his efforts than he expected. Gauger said he believed he was due $50,000 for it- alongside a promise of lucrative work with the president-elect- but Cohen reportedly handed him "a blue Walmart bag containing between $12,000 and $13,000 in hash and, randomly, a boxing glove that Mr.Cohen said had been worn by a Brazilian mixed-martial-arts fighter."

Gauger evidently began to work at Red Finch in September 2016. However

An article on Liberty University’s website says that Gauger was hired by the school in August 2012. Gauger’s first role as the Director of Specialized Initiatives. That piece says that Gauger is a Liberty graduate, as part of the class of 2009. Gauger gained an M.B.A. and a B.S. in business from Liberty. The then-chief information officer, Matthew Zealand, said of Gauger, “John has consistently demonstrated a willingness and a drive to accomplish projects of any size. His collaborative spirit and ability to work well with a wide range of people has lead John to being the obvious candidate for this new role on my team. He has a positive energy and creative ability that has proven to be both effective and valuable to IT, and to Liberty University as a whole.”

Gauger claims to be also the chief information officer for a hospital in Virginia, so Liberty University- run by the far-right Jerry Falwell Jr.- was not the only institution to have been conned by him (assuming the University actually disapproves of his actions, which is arguable).  Nor is his behavior typical of the Liberty University Worship Collective nor of most evangelical Christian students, who differ from other students in that they are, well, evangelical Christian students.

But we should be wary of "faith-based" institutions of any kind, especially those which solicit government funding for any activity, however charitable it may sound. Most avoid doing so for reasons including a humble recognition of their own imperfections and a righteous desire not to be entangled with the state.

Those which do take money often escape scrutiny by media and others afraid of questioning anything or anyone claiming to be "faith-based."  The reticence to analyze their activities is understandable but as the story of John Gauger indicates, is alarming, or should be.

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The husband-wife (or, rather, wife-husband) duo of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and Martha-Ann Alito nee Bomgardner flew an upside do...