Monday, January 30, 2023

Calculated Omission

At the beginning of the "Overtime" segment of Friday evening's Real Time, a viewer asked one of Bill Maher's guests, whistleblower Frances Haugen "why did Congress fail to hold social media companies accountable for their role in the January 6 attack on the Capitol?" Haugen, the data engineer who exposed Facebook documents in 2021, blamed Facebook for its slow response in turning on safety measures on 1/6/21, noted she testified extensively before the Committee. She stated also

I believe none of that was included- the final write-up report, like it wasn't one of the attributable things. I think part of it was cut. The January 5 committee felt it needed to educate the public on a very broad set of issues and that I think they had to pick and choose on, like, how many things are we going to walk people down that road.

The proper answer is "Liz Cheney." However, while Haugen's reply was mildly disappointing, Bill Maher's response was really bad. The host responded

Which was smart. That committee was smart. I mean, it didn't do anything. No, I've seen interviews with the Republicans and nothing changes anybody's mind about anything. But you can't blame the committee. They put on a show and it was a good show. That was a smart decision-  I'm sorry but they had a lot of fish to fry and that one, O.K.

A good show or, when the media was less interested in performance, what would have been called a "cover-up." The National Commission to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol Complex was directed to "investigate the facts, circumstances, and causes relating to the domestic terrorist attack on the Capitol" to include "activities of intelligence agencies, law enforcement agencies, and the Armed Forces, including with respect to intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination and information sharing" within the government. The committee, as led by the de jure chairperson and de facto chairperson, wanted no part of examining these "branches and other instrumentalities of government."

In a PBS report shortly before release of the final report of the committee, correspondent Laura Barron-Lopez seemingly made the case for a September 11- style commission to study the Capitol attack. Having held no person or agency ultimately responsible for the nation being unprepared for the attack on the World Trade Center, that committee itself has been overrated ever since.

Barron-Lopez spoke to two individuals familiar with the nation's intelligence apparatus. Former Secret Service agent Evy Pompouras remarked "you should see this information was passed to this person at this rank, and what did that person do with that information? You do really need to see names and ranks."  Former FBI agent Tracy Walder explained

I think, in the final report, what I would really like to see is accountability.  I think that's the bottom line, whether it's the Secret Service or the FBI or local police, for not taking some of these threats seriously. And they need- either need to have new training in place, in terms of how to understand some of these threats, or we need to look at creating a federal domestic terrorism statute.

There may have been merely a breakdown in communications, as the 9/11 commission found in the period preceding 9/11/01.  However, January 6 committee member Adam Schiff noted "The Secret Service had advance information more than 10 days beforehand regarding the Proud Boys' planning for January 6. We know now, of course, that the Proud Boys and others did lead the assault on our Capitol building."

Donell Harvin, who oversaw the Fusion Security Intelligence Center for the District of Columbia on 1/6/21 and testified thrice before the committee, noted

The committee report surmises that going forward, “the best defense against [the danger to the Capitol] will not come from law enforcement, but from an informed and active citizenry.” This is poetic at best, misleading at worst. The thoughts and actions of those who want to incite or commit violence can’t be controlled, especially when they use the First Amendment as a shield. The “best defense” against that danger is a physical defense posture informed by the intelligence and directed by competent leaders.

Actually, misleading and reprehensible at worst. Harvin concludes

Two years after a deadly assault on our democracy, we are no closer to correcting the system processes and cultures that turned an obscure and mundane day on the electoral calendar into a massive failure of government o be immortalized in the history books.

Liz Cheney is a conservative Republican and institutionalist with a fierce, justified hatred of Donald J. Trump. She did not want the committee to dilute its single-minded focus on the 45th President with an inquiry into the failure of the defense apparatus or of law enforcement, and de jure Chairman Bennie Thompson, no bold progressive he, gladly obliged.  Analysis of financing of the attempted coup was left on the cutting room while Republicans Mike Pence and Bill Barr (the latter a Maher favorite) were favorably treated by the committee. It is its legacy to have exposed the danger posed by one insurrectionist President- and nothing else. Bill Maher and other people of wealth and influence, especially those with friends in high places, must be pleased and satisfied.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Another Reason to Ask "Why Kamala"?

There must be a nationwide shortage of Kamala Harris flavored Kool-Aid because this guy is hoarding and drinking it all.

WGBH in Boston on January 27 reported that upon being asked, Senator Warren stated that President Joe Biden should run for re-election. However

Her response to a follow-up question of whether Harris should be his running mate was less concrete.

 “I really want to defer to what makes Biden comfortable on his team,” she said. “I’ve known Kamala for a long time. I like Kamala. I knew her back when she was an attorney general and I was still teaching and we worked on the housing crisis together, so we go way back. But they need — they have to be a team, and my sense is they are — I don’t mean that by suggesting I think there are any problems. I think they are.”

Whatever Warren's reasoning, that was not only a defensible answer, it was the only answer that would make any sense. Speaking in the Florida capital of Tallahassee on January 22 to honor the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Vice President had remarked (at 2:28 of the video below)

So we are here together because we collectively believe and know America is a promise.  America is a promise.  It is a promise of freedom and liberty — not for some, but for all.  

A promise we made in the Declaration of Independence that we are each endowed with the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

Be clear.  These rights were not bestowed upon us.  They belong to us as Americans.


Harris is correct that the rights of liberty and the pursuit of happiness- however they exist at varying times and in varying contexts- were not bestowed upon us but belong to us specifically as Americans. In most nations they do not exist or do so only in limited measure.

Nevertheless, Harris' statement was an unforced error and politically tone-deaf. It enabled the right wing to jump on her for leaving out a portion of the phrase "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Of course, opposition to abortion rights is not grounded in a pro-life sensibility but in a preference for forced-birth. Nevertheless, conservatives label themselves "pro-life" or "for life" and the media gladly obliges them this myth. 

As transcribed above, the Vice-President's first and the third paragraphs were good while the second should have been promptly flagged as seriously problematic. With her periodic gaffes and mediocre record before becoming Vice President, an obvious question is "why, Kamala?" or as Elizabeth Warren may be- and should be- thinking "why Kamala?" 

Friday, January 27, 2023

Daily Brutality

As virtually everyone across the nation and- if center/left cable news media has had anything to do with it- across the world knows by now

Five former Memphis police officers were indicted Thursday on murder charges in the death of Tyre Nichols, whose beating after a traffic stop was captured on video that “sickened” a top Tennessee law enforcement official.

Police had said that Nichols was supposedly stopped for reckless driving, but Memphis Police Chief C.J. Davis said early Friday morning an investigation and review of available camera footage had found "no proof" of that.

The officers involved — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith — were fired after, Davis said, they violated department policies during the Jan. 7 stop that led to Nichols' death.

All five former officers were charged with second-degree murder, two counts of official misconduct, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, one count of official oppression and one count of aggravated assault, prosecutors announced.

But it shouldn't stop there, George.

All those disposed toward prayer should pray for the comfort of the family and the victim's loved ones, though the individuals calling for "prayers" after murders and tragedies typically are individuals who wouldn't pray if their lives depended on it.

It appears Harry Dunn is calling for guilty verdicts for the five officers, now ex-officers, charged with murdering Tyre Nichols. However, justice should be the highest priority and there have been few details thus far revealed, let alone a trial (or plea) or a guilty verdict.  If Dunn is suggesting that we can assume that the Memphis Police Department and Shelby County prosecutors have it right and there has been no overcharging, there is at least one lesson we haven't learned from the black lives movement of two-and-a-half years ago.  A need for vengeance should apply in some capital cases, though I'm sure that's not what Dunn/Conway are referring to, especially being this is not a first degree murder case.

Certainly, police brutality can never be acceptable and it is safe to assume from what little we know that considerable brutality was applied by police to the victim. This, and this sort of thing, also should not be acceptable:

A barber who had just became a father for the second time was shot dead while cutting hair last weekend, according to police in Tennessee.

Darwin Hill, 29, was on a house call in southeast Memphis when he was shot at about 1:30 a.m. on Saturday, January 21.

Detectives said Hill and a woman had been hit when a gunman fired into the home. The woman, who has not been named, was critically wounded, according to CBS affiliate WREG.

The Gun Violence Archive, which collects information about shootings all over the country, states that 17 people have been shot dead in Memphis since January 1. There have been 53 fatal shootings in Tennessee since the start of the year.

Seventeen fatal shootings occurred in the first 26 days of the year in Memphis. In that city alone, seventeen people now are dead who should not be. The circumstances of each were unique  However, a killing such as that of Darwin Hill- minding his own business and struck down while working in a house pierced by a bullet-  is especially tragic. As the attention of the nation and to a lesser extent, the world, turns toward the evidently horrific killing of Tyre Nichols, we should remember, mourn, and address the victimization endured, and largely tolerated, every day of innocent Americans.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Responding Passively

Dana Bash interviewed Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin on Sunday's edition of CNN's State of the Union.  Conceding "the White House response to this nothingburger has been slow-footed and dull," Charlie Pierce remarks

Into this manufactured melee have come some of the president's fellow Democrats. From the AP:

Biden should be “embarrassed by the situation,” said Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, adding that the president had ceded the moral high ground on an issue that has already entangled former President Donald Trump. Special counsels appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland are investigating both cases. “Well, of course. Let’s be honest about it. When that information is found, it diminishes the stature of any person who is in possession of it because it’s not supposed to happen. ... The elected official bears ultimate responsibility,” Durbin said.

"Ceded the moral high ground" implies that El Caudillo del Mar-A-Lago now occupies a piece of that "moral high ground." The former president* hasn't been within an area code of any "moral high ground" since he took his first breath of air. Lord, why did you make Democrats so dim?

Truth be told, the Senator never stated (full transcript of segment below) that President Biden has "ceded the moral high ground." Bash asked him asked him whether the President "has kind of lost the high ground" and Durbin responded

Well, of course. Let's be honest about it. When that information is found, it diminishes the stature of any person who is in possession of it, because it's not supposed to happen. Whether it was the fault of a staffer or attorney, it makes no difference. The elected official bears ultimate responsibility. And we have to worry, since this new group that has taken over control of the House of Representatives has promised us endless investigations, confrontations, impeachments and chaos, what is going to happen.

Still, Durbin did generally agree with the thrust of Bash's question and maintained "it diminishes the stature of any person who is in possession of it." Durbin did get around to contrasting the responses of Donald Trump and of Joe Biden to discovery of documents, noting 

what happened and followed from it is significantly different. Donald Trump defied those who knew the documents were in place and ultimately led to, involuntarily, a court order and a search of his Mar-a-Lago hotel resort to find out how many documents were there.

Contrast that with Joe Biden. Embarrassed by the situation, as he should have been, he invited the government agencies in to carefully look through all the boxes he had accumulated. It's a much different approach.

That's not good enough. American voters aren't going to be impressed with Joe Biden cooperating with a Department of Justice and an FBI it no longer holds up in such high respect (in part due to Trumpy attacks).  It's a mere legal matter- except insofar as there was a motive for the former President to obstruct an investigation in contrast to the cooperation thus far demonstrated by the current President and former Vice President Pence, who has now reported the existence of documents in his Indianapolis home.

Since the Biden difficulties emerged, there has been no discussion and virtually no speculation about the reasons either possessed classified documents in insecure locations. That is the major distinction between Biden and Trump. No one suspects that Joe Biden squirreled away documents to barter with the Saudis, the Russians, or the North Koreans. But Donald Trump may have done so. No one suspects that Joe Biden is possessing them so that if he is indicted, he has collateral in negotiations with the Justice Department, state or city authorities. But Donald Trump may have done so.

Nonetheless, now the American people think that the only difference between Biden and Trump is that Biden played nice with the federal government. They believe this because Durbin and other Democrats have encouraged them to believe that. Democrats refuse to suggest nefarious motives on the part of Donald Trump, which virtually every Democrat and most independents believe characterize the former President.

And another thing- please stop with this "embarrassed" thing. In a fair and just world, this would account for something. Americans would appreciate their leaders recognizing their wrongdoing and feeling guilty about it. However, not only do people realize this is not a fair and just world, most voters of the left or the right, whatever their reasons, no longer believe this even of the USA. Not only does an admission of embarrassment come off as weak, it is a virtual   admission of guilt.

We have here a classic example of Democrats believing the press is their friend. Dana Bash plays a video clip of Durbin labeling the hoarding of documents at Mar-a-Lago "an outrage, a literal outrage," asks if Biden's behavior "was also an outrage," and the Senate's second leading Democrat replies "and its heart, the issue is the same. Those documents should not have been in the personal possession of either Joe Biden or Donald Trump."  If media personalities suggest Joe Biden=Donald Trump, the question should be turned back on them.

The response of the two men been dramatically different, but the track record and  motives very likely are, also.  Some Democrats such as Dick Durbin much prefer to play defense rather than offense, to admit guilt, error, or embarrassment rather than focusing on their opponents. It's a defeatist media strategy and losing one.




And, Senator, I just should say sorry in advance if I have to interrupt you to go to that press conference. But we will go back.

And, while we are waiting, I want to turn to the new classified documents that the FBI found at the president's house in Delaware. It was a 13-hour search. That happened on Friday. It's just the latest revelation of the president having classified items that he shouldn't have.

You have been in Congress for 40 years. You have handled classified material for a lot of those years, probably most of them. How concerned are you about this?

DURBIN: Well, I'm concerned.

There's a standard that we follow when it comes to members of Congress and classified information. The door to my office is closed. The person who presents the document to me takes it out of a locked briefcase, hands it to me and watches as I read it, when I finish reading it, and he takes it back and puts it in the briefcase and leaves the scene.

I mean, that's how carefully we review these documents. To think that any of them ended up in boxes in storage one place or the other is just unacceptable.

But, having said that, let me make this point clear. Joe Biden has said from the start: We are going to be totally transparent about this. Let the chips fall where they may. I'm going to open my home voluntarily to a search, not the first search, I'm sure, of his offices and home.

He has shown total cooperation in this effort. That is a sharp contrast to President Trump.

BASH: Well, I want to -- speaking of former President Trump, I want to play something that you said last year about the classified documents found at his Mar-a-Lago resort.


DURBIN: It's an outrage. It's a literal outrage. For the president to take this important information down to his home in Florida, and then store it in a closet with traffic, people back and forth in his resort and golf course, is an outrage.


BASH: Is it also an outrage for the current president to have what appears to be multiple classified documents in multiple locations?

DURBIN: At its heart, the issue is the same. Those documents should not have been in the personal possession of either Joe Biden or Donald Trump.

But what happened and followed from it is significantly different. Donald Trump defied those who knew the documents were in place and ultimately led to, involuntarily, a court order and a search of his Mar-a-Lago hotel resort to find out how many documents were there.

Contrast that with Joe Biden. Embarrassed by the situation, as he should have been, he invited the government agencies in to carefully look through all the boxes he had accumulated. It's a much different approach.

It is outrageous that either occurred. But the reaction by the former president and the current president could not be in sharper contrast.

BASH: They are. They're very different, no question about that.

Having said that, you are a politician. You have been around for a while, and you understand how these things play out. Do you fear that, because of that, the current president has kind of lost the high ground on this notion of classified information being where it shouldn't be?

DURBIN: Well, of course. Let's be honest about it.

When that information is found, it diminishes the stature of any person who is in possession of it, because it's not supposed to happen. Whether it was the fault of a staffer or attorney, it makes no difference.

The elected official bears ultimate responsibility. And we have to worry, since this new group that has taken over control of the House of Representatives has promised us endless investigations, confrontations, impeachments and chaos, what is going to happen.


I only have one word for those who are dubious as to whether that will happen, and the word is Benghazi. How long did we spend going through Benghazi hearings in the Republican-controlled House in the past? Now imagine the MAGA Republicans and what they're setting out to do. I'm sure that they are going to have investigations to our heart's delight.

BASH: I want to turn to the debt ceiling, sir.

The White House insists they are not going to negotiate with Republicans who are demanding spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt limit, so America doesn't default on its debt. Do you think the president should negotiate?

DURBIN: No, absolutely not.

Let's get to the bottom line here. Those who are posing for holy pictures as budget balances, the MAGA Republicans, should note one important fact. Almost 25 percent of all of the national debt accumulated over the history of the United States, 230 years, was accumulated during the four years of Donald Trump.

So, the notion that there is some partisan holy position that they're taking and that they're going to fight this battle of the matter of principle, when they enacted tax cuts for the wealthiest people of America during the Trump administration, they added dramatically to the national debt which we are now facing.

Having done that, they need to face the responsibility of paying for it. That is what the debt limit is about. And if we play games with this, if we delay this, if we have short-term extensions of the national debt, we run the very risk of a recession in this economy, millions of Americans out of work and interest rates going even higher, denying people an opportunity to buy a home or a car. And this economy will be stalled.

We shouldn't play games with the national debt.

BASH: When Joe Biden was vice president, I'm sure you remember, back in 2011, he was the lead negotiator on negotiations for spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.

But you think -- you're saying you think it's different because of what happened during the Trump years?

DURBIN: I think it's different, not just because of the Trump years being the origin of much of this debt, but by the new House of Representatives, 15 ballots, Dana. You were there. You saw it, or at least witnessed it on television, 15 ballots to choose the speaker.

And he gave the authority to each member of the House to initiate a vote of no confidence on a daily basis. I mean, this is a House of Representatives which is under control of the MAGA Republicans at this point. And I'm fearful that very few constructive things will emerge.

BASH: Before I let you go. I have to ask about the Supreme Court. You are, of course, Senate Judiciary chairman.

You saw what happened at the court. They announced this week that they were unable to determine who leaked the draft decision overturning Roe vs. Wade last year. Clerks had -- and employees had to sign a sworn affidavit saying that they didn't leak the draft opinion.

The justices -- neither the justices nor their spouses actually had to sign affidavits. So, do you believe that that was a mistake? Should they have to do so to figure out where the leak comes -- came from?

DURBIN: Listen, the universe of people who are suspects in this leak of an opinion of the Supreme Court is really a small universe.

It includes the justices and their families, if they had access to this opinion, which I assume some of them did. They should have gone into the -- at least a position of assertions by each one of the justices as to what they did or did not do when it came to these opinions.

But I find it hard to imagine, with the small group of people who had access to this opinion, they couldn't come up with more information.

BASH: Are you going to try, in your capacity as Judiciary chair?

DURBIN: No, I don't think this is an area where we can go in with any kind of force and make for a changed result at this point.


Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, thank you so much, and, I should say, the Senate whip. Thank you so much for joining me this morning. Appreciate it.

DURBIN: Thanks, Dana.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

In Spirit, Still a Trump Attorney General

This was not Bill Maher's finest two minutes. But it may have been Bill Barr's finest hour.


It may have been the finest hour of the former Attorney General because he proved a skillful prevaricator throughout but most notably when talking of the Mueller report. Andrew Weissman, who worked under Special Counsel, Mueller, puts on those bones meat which Mariotti was unable to do with the 64 characters of a tweet. He explains

Here’s the now-familiar backstory: After Barr on March 24, 2019, released a summary of the Mueller report on President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia’s interference in that election, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III sent him a letter complaining that the summary failed to “fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of his report and its conclusions. When the report itself came out the next month, it became clear that Barr’s summary had indeed been misleading in some significant ways. And eventually a federal judge — a Republican-appointed one, no less — issued a scathing review of the matter that called Barr’s “candor” and “credibility” into question.

Barr has given media interviews since the end of the Trump administration. But unlike his appearances on Fox News, Barr’s discussion with Bill Maher on HBO this weekend paired him with a potentially more critical host.

In what was otherwise a relatively chummy interview, Maher did briefly press Barr on the subject of the summary, saying the way he “mischaracterized” the Mueller report was “shady.”

Barr defended his handling of the matter. But in doing so, he rolled out some of the most misleading aspects of his summary all over again.

“I felt that I had to say something to give the bottom line of what [Mueller] had decided,” Barr said. “Number one, I said that he had found there was no collusion.”

This isn’t strictly accurate now, just as it wasn’t strictly accurate back when Barr first said it. In fact, as we came to find out, Mueller said explicitly in his report that he wasn’t examining the nonlegal concept of collusion.

“Collusion is not a specific offense or theory of liability found in the United States Code, nor is it a term of art in federal criminal law,” the Mueller report reads. “For those reasons, the Office’s focus in analyzing questions of joint criminal liability was on conspiracy as defined in federal law.”

Barr’s use of the “no collusion” phrasing was suspect not just because the report didn’t directly address it, but because it matched Trump’s own mantra and defined the amorphous term in a way Trump surely approved of. And it’s arguably even more jarring today, given that a later bipartisan Senate report, released in August 2020, detailed perhaps the most significant example to date of a high-ranking Trump campaign aide working with someone it described as a “Russian intelligence officer.”

As the federal judge noted in his opinion, issued a few months before that revelation:

Attorney General Barr’s summary failed to indicate that Special Counsel Mueller “identified multiple contacts — ‘links,’ in the words of the Appointment Order — between Trump [c]ampaign officials and individuals with ties to the Russian government” … and that Special Counsel Mueller only concluded that the investigation did not establish that “these contacts involved or resulted in coordination or a conspiracy with the Trump [c]ampaign and Russia” … because coordination — the term that appears in the Appointment Order — “does not have a settled definition in federal criminal law.”

In his interview this weekend, Barr proceeded to defend his summary of the second portion of Mueller’s report, having to do with whether Trump obstructed justice during the investigation.

Mueller “states, colon, that he does not find there was obstruction, but he is not exonerating the president. Okay? I used his exact language,” Barr said. “Then I said he punted but I’m making the decision, and I say, based on the report, there was no obstruction. And the discussion about how there was no obstruction was not me characterizing Mueller, but me stating my conclusion. So those are the facts.”

Again, the issue here isn’t so much inaccuracy as spin.

Perhaps the main problem with Barr’s initial summary and his news conference on the day the Mueller report was released is that he elided the reason Mueller didn’t accuse Trump of obstruction. Barr’s implication was clearly that Mueller had examined the evidence and could not come to a conclusion. But Mueller’s report was explicit that he believed it wasn’t his place to accuse Trump of a crime, regardless of the evidence — because of long-standing Justice Department policy against charging a sitting president. Barr did not mention this. And in fact, when asked at the news conference whether Mueller punted because of that policy, Barr talked around the question. (This was the other main part of Barr’s summary the judge deemed to be misleading.)

On Maher’s show, Barr again oversimplified. He pitched the report as Mueller saying he didn’t “find there was obstruction.” In fact, Mueller laid out five instances in which he suggested Trump’s conduct appeared to satisfy the criteria for an obstruction charge. Mueller at one point did say that “this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime” — but in the context of an extended discussion about why he felt he wasn’t even allowed to make such a conclusion.

Instead, Barr focused on the fact that the final no-obstruction call was his own, which is indeed how it was presented at the time. But the problem was always about how he described Mueller’s views and findings and how they fed into Barr’s own.

Four years later — and even after creating some distance between himself and Trump — Barr seems to still fail to “fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of the report.

Trump campaign officials in 2016 engaged in extensive contacts with Russia and/or WikiLeaks, did not report them to law enforcement, then lied about to investigators about the contacts.  Despite its failings, the Mueller report never denied there was collusion and laid out an extremely strong case that what non-lawyers call "collusion" was present.   Bill Barr remains a deeply dishonest and clever individual while Bill Maher had a very bad evening.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Almost Completely Right

Lawyer and radio and television broadcaster Michael Smerconish, once a Republican and now an enthusiastic Independent, weighed in on his weekly CNN show Saturday on a controversial LGBTQIA matter. The transcript:

SMERCONISH: An NHL defenseman under fire because he's uncomfortable with those who play for the other team. But did he deserve to be benched? Ivan Provorov is a 26-year-old Russian national who plays for the Philadelphia Flyers. Last Tuesday was pride night for a home game, and when the flyers took the ice for their pre-game skate before facing the Anaheim Ducks, players were wearing LGBTQ pride night warm up jerseys and using sticks wrapped in rainbow tape.

But Provorov stayed in the locker room. He cited his Russian Orthodox faith. I've talked here about the Russian Orthodox Church, which is part of the larger communion of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, its Patriarch Kirill has a close association and friendship with Vladimir Putin.

The church maintains that homosexuality is a sin and will not bless same sex unions. In fact, Patriarch Kirill has used homosexuality as a justification for the Russian invasion of Ukraine. After the game, Provorov was asked about his decision.


IVAN PROVOROV, DEFENSEMAN, PHILADELPHIA FLYERS: I respect everybody and I respect everybody's choices. My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion. That's all I'm going to say.


SMERCONISH: Many are saying the Provorov should have been benched for that night's game and are calling for his punishment. Philadelphia Inquirer Columnist Marcus Hayes had this blunt reaction. He said, "So let's not complicate the issue. Provorov refused to warm up Tuesday night against Anaheim because he does not support the right of LGBTQ people to even exist. He cites his devotion to the Russian Orthodox Church. In his eyes, their life is a sin.

I read again Hayes' column because it's hard to believe that a legitimate, even somewhat respected, columnist for a more-respected news outlet would state without proof that an individual "does not support the right of LGBTQ people to even exist." Remarkably, the columnist did inaccurately and dishonestly charge Provorov with opposing the existence of LGBTQ individuals. Had the Flyer been asked, he probably would have explained, simply or otherwise, that all human beings are God's creatures and nothing more needs to be said.  Smerconish continued to quote Hayes:

About that, Patriarch Kirill, the church's leader in Russia and reportedly a former KGB agent, in in May justified Russia's invasion of Ukraine because Ukraine allows Gay Pride parades. And if Russia and other homophobic states do not oppress LGBTQ persons, then human civilization will end there.

This is homophobia at its most extreme. And if you subscribe to this belief, you're a homophobe. A little rainbow tape on Provorov's hockey stick wasn't going to send them to hell. So yes, if the Flyers were staunch in their advocacy, Provorov should have been benched."

Provorov never suggested that any of this has anything to do with anyone going to hell. Smerconish commented 

To give you a sense of the widespread public fallout on this issue, some have even hurled nasty comments at the Instagram page of the adorable golden retriever belonging to Provorov's girlfriend. She felt compelled to post, this is a dog's page, please stop sending me hateful messages.

As is often the case, the facts are straightforward here, but the issue is a little bit complicated. It has echoes in several recent cases that have reached the United States Supreme Court. You'll remember that in December, the Court heard the case of a devout Christian website designer from Colorado who didn't want to make a website for a same sex wedding, notwithstanding that she had not even been asked to do so.

Which was similar in many respects to another Colorado case, the baker who didn't want to bake the wedding cake for the same sex couple, who the Court ruled in favor of by a seven to two margin. The website designer is challenging a Colorado public accommodation law that prohibits most businesses from discriminating against LGBTQ customers. She argues that requiring her to create websites for same sex couples that would violate her freedom of speech.

And it seemed from the argument and the reaction to the argument that the six three conservative court is poised to support the wedding designer. On one hand, you had liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor saying, hey, allowing the designer to refuse would be, quote, the first time in the court's history that it would rule a commercial business open to the public, serving the public, that it could refuse to serve a customer based on race, sex, religion, or sexual orientation.

But Chief Justice Roberts countered. He said, to force the designer to build the website for the same sex couple, that would be compelling her to speak. And he then asked, quote, "In what other case have we upheld compelling speech. In other words, not simply restricting speech but actually compelling an individual to engage in speech contrary to their beliefs?"

We don't know the outcome yet of the website case. My hunch is that the court is going to distinguish between service and speech. In other words, the baker, the website developer, the florist will be treated like artists who speak through their work. And therefore, are allowed to refuse business or service.


The guy who delivers the tables and chairs to the wedding, not so much. My own view is that if you're a baker of wedding cakes, it's your responsibility, it's your obligation to bake a cake for all wedding couples. The same with the wedding Web site designer or the pharmacist, for that matter, who has qualms about distributing birth control.

You signed up for the gig. You cannot now stand behind your religion as a shield when you discriminate. Instead, maybe you need a career change.

Religious views must not be used as a shield to discriminate and that would be the case even if Jesus Christ had told a group of Jews or Gentiles "thou are to persecute sexual and racial minorities." He didn't, but even if we had, we should know well enough that it isn't acceptable in modern society. Now making a distinction both sensible and legally defensible, Smerconish adds

But I see the hockey player differently. Provorov was hired to play hockey which he's doing. I personally wish that he had skated with the Pride Night jersey and stick during the warm ups. But in not doing so, unlike the baker, unlike the Web site developer, he's not discriminating against anybody. He's not denying service.

I think we need to distinguish between discriminatory acts and discriminatory beliefs. Provorov is free to think what he wants and should not be compelled to wear a hockey jersey with a political viewpoint that he finds objectionable. Now, if he takes up baking or Web site design in his retirement that will be a different story. 

This is indeed a strange time in history, one in which discriminatory acts and discriminatory beliefs are commonly conflated with one another. My only quarrel with this commentary is that Provorov was right not to have skated with the Pride Night Jersey. He not only acted in a manner consistent with his beliefs but also was willing to stand out from the crowd, not to conform with what all others were doing, 

It is odd also that among many people on the left, a worker who doesn't have the same values toward a socio-political movement as does his employer must do as he/she is to told.  He's not to question the bosses even if- perhaps especially if- he is being used as a prop.  Virtue signaling is all the rage, and if the employee (albeit a well-paid one) dares to have a different opinion and not join the employer's political cause, he is condemned for being "patently homophobic and, frankly, rather ignorant."  As Michael Smerconish recognizes,  "Provorov is free to think what he wants." Or should be.


Saturday, January 21, 2023

A Different Story in Europe

In the Real Time "Overtime" segment on January 20, Bill Maher was joined by author and blogger Andrew Sullivan, former Attorney General Bill Barr, and US Representative Nancy Mace, Republican from South Carolina. Mace made an interesting remark, at the 13:04 mark of the discussion but in fairness to her and the need for context, I began at 11:46 when the congresswoman remarked

You know, when Roe vs. Wade was overturned, we just turned our backs on women across the country and that's an issue. I was raped at the age of 16 and something I've been very passionate about. I'm pro-life but I also see that we got to find middle ground and with Americans about 89% of people are in the middle and we've got to protect women's rights and the right to life and there's a way to work together on many of these issues.

It's difficult to determine how Mace got the notion that nearly 9 of 10 Americans are "in the middle" on abortion rights. Soon after the Supreme Court overturned Roe, Forbes noted that an Ipsos poll in May 2021 found "66/% of Americans believe abortion should be permitted in at least some circumstances." Assuming the poll's accuracy, nearly 34% of individuals opposes abortion in all circumstances, and at least a few of that 66% no doubt supports a right to the procedure in any circumstance. Clearly, something over a third of Americans is nowhere near the middle on abortion. Mace continued 

Cannabis is one other issue. I have a bill called the States Reform Act on that and uh, takes, takes that issue and makes it one way that's bipartisan that Republicans and Democrats can get on. Republicans have been on the wrong side of cannabis. We've been on the wrong side of Roe vs. Wade. We- on birth control and gay marriage and all these issues that are important. Environmental issues.

I can't argue with the congresswoman on the GOP being on the wrong side of Roe vs. Wade. However, when Maher asked her what she would support regarding abortion, Mace responded

Well, I think gestational limits should be part of that conversation. In Europe, if you're even allowed to have one, it's twelve to fifteen weeks on average. That would be where you would....

That simplifies and misrepresents the state of the law and the practical reality of abortion in Europe.  In an opinion piece in The Washington Post in September, Leah Hoctor explained

Apart from the very few European nations that retain highly restrictive laws on abortion — Andorra, Lichtenstein, Malta, Monaco and Poland — no other European country “bans” abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Instead, almost all European countries allow abortion throughout pregnancy on a range of grounds, including where there are risks to a patient’s physical or mental health, and in situations involving severe or fatal fetal impairment.

Elective abortion is only one of the grounds on which abortion is legal in most of Europe, and time limits for this differ per country. When these time limits end, abortion almost always remains legal for a much longer period on other grounds, such as broadly framed socioeconomic or health grounds, or grounds of severe or fatal fetal impairment.

In support of calls for a 15-week ban on abortion — with carve-outs merely for highly restrictive exceptions, extending only to situations of physical risk to a patient’s life and pregnancy resulting from rape or incest — U.S. lawmakers referred to six European countries in particular (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway and Spain) and falsely stated that such a ban in the United States would be similar to policies in these nations.

Although these countries set a first-trimester time frame for elective abortion, they all allow abortion thereafter on other grounds. For example, laws in Denmark and Norway allow abortion for social, economic or family reasons until fetal viability (the definition of which is not specified). German law allows abortion on grounds of serious risk to health throughout pregnancy, explicitly noting that this covers both physical and mental health.

Moreover, unlike in the United States, many of these countries include abortion under national health insurance policies, as do most other Northern and Western European countries, meaning that patients do not have to finance the costs of abortion care themselves.

Even more problematic is the underlying assertion that new bans and restrictions on access to abortion dovetail with a European approach to abortion. This is highly disingenuous.

The fact is that most European countries are moving to expand access to abortion, not limit it. In the majority of countries, European lawmakers have moved steadily forward for decades on the issue of access to abortion. They have removed bans, increased abortion’s legality and taken steps to ensure laws and policies on abortion are guided by public health evidence and clinical best practices.

Honestly or not, Nancy Mace tries to portray herself as "in the middle" on several issues, a loyal Republican but not at odds with the 21st century, a potential darling of the mainstream media.  She doesn't stimulate the erogenous zones of the Republican base but, if she continues to be dishonest about abortion, she may sometime emerge beyond the First Congressional District of South Carolina.


Friday, January 20, 2023

Glimpse Into Possible Future

If there is any validity at all to these remarks, the operative term is partisan.

If elected President again, Trump probably would go after a few Democrats, ones which he finds threatening or particularly annoying. But his prime motivation for conducting witch hunts, or completely baseless investigations, probably would not be partisan. He has told us as much:

How about preventative detention for exercising freedom of the press? Take it away, Mr. ex-President!

On a positive note, Mr. Trump is not Matt Gaetz, who suggests Democrats staged the document crisis to get a "younger crop of candidates engaged in the next presidential race."  On a negative note, a President Donald Trump evidently would do whatever he could to get around that pesky First Amendment.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Prime Target

The Independent reports

Republican Representative Rick Allen of Georgia defended his position on raising the age when seniors can receive Social Security by saying people want to work longer.

Advocacy group Social Security Works posted a video of Mr Allen walking through the tunnels of the House of Representatives where he was asked about why he wants to raise the age of retirement.

“You know, that’s interesting that you ask that question,” he said. “People come up to me, they actually want to work longer.”

Currently, senior citizens collect Social Security and Medicare at the age of 65. But some have proposed the idea of raising the age to 67.

The person asking him the question asked if that proposal was on the table at the moment.

“Well, you know, if people want to work longer, maybe you need an incentive to do it,” Mr Allen said. “That’s the way to solve every one of these problems, by the way, and actually grow wealth at the same time.”

Mr Allen sits on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, which deals with health care legislation. Mr Allen’s remarks come as Republicans took control of the majority in the House of Representatives earlier this month.

Responding to Allen's comments, at 1:39 of the video below, The Young Turks' Ana Kasparian remarks

When they say they want to raise the retirement age, don't be tricked into thinking that this isn't cutting Social security. It's just raising the retirement age because Americans are living much longer- except that's actually not true. The life expectancy of Americans has actually been going down in recent years and life expectancy in the United States is comparable to that of people living in Cuba.


To paraphrase a old saying, nobody died and made me a fact checker. However, if I had to rate the accuracy of the latter statement of Kasparian on a scale of 0 to 10 (with D. Trump at 0.5 and G. Santos at 0.0), I'd give it an 8.

Life expectancy in the USA had been rising until it declined in 2020. It declined further in 2021, and appears to have remained the same in 2022.  Presumably, that is due to SARS-CoV-2. However, we can be sure neither that it will rebound after the pandemic vanishes nor that there will not be repeated coronaviruses into the indefinite future. Moreover, in 2021 "life expectancy at birth began to rebound in most comparable countries while it continued to decline in the U.S.," suggesting that a decline in life expectancy is not inevitable after the peak of a major health crisis has passed.

Worse even than being "comparable," life expectancy at time of birth in 2021 was 2.9 years lower in the USA than in Cuba. That may be unsurprising because the single-payer health care system in Cuba is superior provides significantly greater benefits than provided in the USA, with its largely market-based system. Undoubtedly unsurprising is the lower age at death in the USA than in other, comparable developed nations.

The fallacy that Americans are living dramatically longer lives than ever before is central to the effort to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits.  On January 12, House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy, fresh off selling his soul and more to be elected to the position, vowed "one thing I will tell you, as Republicans, we will always protect Medicare and Social Security. We will protect them for the next generation going forward. But we are going to scrutinize every single dollar spent."

Hold on to your wallet.  It may be a nod and a wink, but when politicians threaten to protect Social Security and Medicare, it means the programs are on their hit list.  The theory is that the programs are on the cusp of  bankruptcy (they're not) so the only way to "protect" them is to reduce benefits, raise the eligibility age, lower the cost-of-living adjustments, or means-testing benefits. The "scrutinize every single dollar spent" makes it obvious. (McCarthy is not talking about the defense budget or corporate giveaways.)

So when Republicans balk at raising the debt ceiling, it's not only to try to bring the nation's economy to its knees. It's a continuation of a decades-long effort to uproot the social safety net and if the elderly are among its casualties, so be it.


Monday, January 16, 2023

Race, and Beyond

Judd Legum makes a good point: One-sided portrayals can rival comic books in their simplicity but are often unreliable. If you can see his (16) tweet thread, you'll see that Legum notes (emphasis his) "the idea that today, MLK would advocate IGNORING racial and economic inequality is absurd." 

We would do well to remember- heck, even merely to acknowledge, as the mainstream media strives to avoid- that King believed that racial and economic justice are interwoven. In the video below from eleven years ago, journalist John Nichols makes that point.  Thus referring in 1961 to right-to-work laws, Reverend King stated

In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights.

Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone…Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights. We do not intend to let them do this to us. We demand this fraud be stopped. Our weapon is our vote.

In its 2017 decision in Janus whose majority opinion was written by Antonin Alito, the five GOP Justices ruled "states and public sector unions may no longer extract agency fees from non consenting employees."  The number of states with right-to-work laws has grown from 20 to 27. Elizabeth Warren has thrice submitted bills to outlaw such laws, the latest last autumn and co-sponsored by several Democratic senators. 

The failure of legislation to gain traction, combined with the Supreme Court decision, should underscore continuing opposition by Republicans to the rights of workers.  And that the GOP remains hostile not only to Martin Luther King's vision of racial, but also of economic, rights.



An Actual Interview

This took place on May 1, 2022:

Tweeters and, it appears, comedians love to take shots at Chuck Todd for allegedly going easy on guests. From time to time, Nicole Wallace, Rachel Maddow, and  Lawrence O'Donnell- the most popular personalities on MSNBC- ask a follow-up question, rather easy when your practice is to interview or chat with guests they agree with.  On the same network, Brian Williams had quite a run- until he voluntarily retired- in prime time rarely, if ever, asking any question, let alone a follow-up question. 

If Noah's charge were accurate, there certainly are notable exceptions. If there weren't, Republican Senator Ron Johnson wouldn't have melted like a snowflake 8 or 9 months later.

The relevant exchange from Meet the Press on January 16, 2003:

CHUCK TODD: Senator, senator, do you have a crime that you think Hunter Biden committed because I've yet to see anybody explain. It is not a crime to make money off of your last name.

SEN. RON JOHNSON: So, Chuck, you ought to read the Marco Polo report, where they detail all kinds of potential crimes. You know, Senator Grassley has certainly uncovered the --

CHUCK TODD :Oh, hold on, let me stop you there. Potential. This is -- senator, potential is innuendo.

SEN. RON JOHNSON: About, about, about, about, $30,000 --

CHUCK TODD: This is why you do investigations.

SEN. RON JOHNSON: I mean, Chuck, is it a crime to be soliciting and purchasing prostitution in potentially European sex trafficking operations? Is that a crime? Because Chuck Grassley and I laid out about $30,000 paid by Hunter Biden to those types of individuals over December of 2018, 2019, about $30,000. That's about the same time that President Biden offered to pay about $100,000 of Hunter Biden's bills. I mean, again, that's just some information. I don't know exactly if it's a crime.

CHUCK TODD: Here's what I don't get. All right, Senator --

SEN. RON JOHNSON: It doesn't really look -- it sounds sleazy as you know what.

CHUCK TODD: I’ll -- I'll take you, I’ll take you at your word that you're ethically bothered by Hunter Biden. I'm curious, though, you seem to have a pattern --

SEN. RON JOHNSON: Are you not? Are you not?

CHUCK TODD: You seem to have a pattern. I'm a journalist. I have to deal in facts.

SEN. RON JOHNSON: Are you not?

CHUCK TODD: I deal in facts. Senator, my question to you is, I'm always worried, I have skepticism of both parties. I sit here with skepticism of a lot of people's work --


CHUCK TODD: -- and I'm curious, are you, were you at all concerned? This -- Senate Democrats want to investigate Jared Kushner's loan from the Qatari government when he was working in the government negotiating many things in the Middle East. Are you not as concerned about -- are you not concerned about that? And I say that because it seems to me if you're concerned about what Hunter Biden did, you should be equally outraged about what Jared Kushner did.

SEN. RON JOHNSON: I'm, I’m concerned about getting the truth. I don't target individuals, target individuals. I target the truth.

CHUCK TODD: You don't? You’re targeting Hunter Biden multiple times on this show, Senator.

SEN. RON JOHNSON: My concern -- my -- my --

CHUCK TODD: You're targeting an individual.

SEN. RON JOHNSON: Chuck, Chuck. My concern -- you know, Chuck. You know, part of the problem, and this is pretty obvious to anybody watching this, is you don't invite me on to interview me, you invite me on to argue with me. You know, I'm just trying to lay out the facts that certainly Senator Grassley and I uncovered. They were suppressed. They were censored. They interfered in the 2020 election. Conservatives understand that. Unfortunately, liberals in the media don't. And that's part of the things that -- part of the reasons our politics are inflamed is we do not have an unbiased media. We don't. It's unfortunate. I'm all for free press.

CHUCK TODD: Well, Senator --

SEN. RON JOHNSON: It needs to be more unbiased.

CHUCK TODD: Senator, look, this is --

SEN. RON JOHNSON: There's misinformation on both sides --

CHUCK TODD: Look, go to partisan --

SEN. RON JOHNSON: -- but the censorship and suppression --

CHUCK TODD: Senator -- Senator -- look, we’re trying to do issues here and facts.

SEN. RON JOHNSON: -- primarily occurs on the left.

CHUCK TODD: Partisan cable --

SEN. RON JOHNSON: It's frustrating.

CHUCK TODD: Look, you can go back on your partisan cable cocoon and talk about media bias all you want. I understand it's part of your identity. Let me move to what happened in Brazil. And I want to play something that Former Vice President Mike Pence said about what happened in Brazil. "It is evident that what happens in the United States has repercussions around the world. I have no doubt that that tragic day in January of 2021 in this country played some role in sowing the seeds of what's taking place in Brazil." Do you agree with Mike Pence?

The questioning wasn't perfect. Before Todd concluded the topic with righteous indignation, he charged "you can go back on your partisan cable cocoon," a "part of your identity." Prior to that, he had remarked "if you're concerned about what Hunter Biden did, you should be equally outraged about what Jared Kushner did." When Johnson objected, Todd charged him with "targeting Hunter Biden multiple times on this show." The Senator interjected, and Todd repeated "you're targeting an individual."  

Evidently this got under Johnson's skin, because the Senator complained "you don't invite me on to interview me, you invite me on to argue with me." Perhaps Johnson knew of Todd's reputation- partially deserved- of going easy on interviewees. Or maybe he has seen other shows on MSNBC, where the host rarely asks a difficult question of the guest and, if one guest disagrees with another, typically is loathe to seek a clarification (apologies here to Chris Hayes, a notable exception).

So this was among Chuck Todd's finest hours. It's what should be expected of the venerable Meet the Press. However, though Todd often falls short, so, too, does virtually every host on MSNBC. And on this occasion he did as far too few cable news hosts do.

On a Positive Note, It's What He Believes

During the War of 1812, Master Commandant Oliver Perry wrote to Major General William Henry Harrison " we have met the enemy and they ...