Silencing A King, Twice

“America was legally an apartheid state in living memory.”

——The New York Times, April 2, 2018

by now everyone who wants to has had something to say on this 50th anniversary of the murder of a man of the people, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Not only have we heard what a civil rights champion he was, but some have tried to make it clear he was more than that. He stood strongly against the Vietnam War. He stood strongly for those whose lives were pigmented with poverty, that most awful of colors found on the palette of laissez-faire economics. In fact, he was in Memphis fifty Image result for sanitation workers’ strikeyears ago to support striking sanitation workers, unionism being a good way to escape poverty. Those city workers were low-paid, had no health insurance, weren’t paid overtime, and weren’t entitled to workers’ compensation. Dr. King was on their side.

King was silenced by a convicted felon who had escaped from the Missouri penitentiary the previous year. The felon hated King and admired Hitler, and one of his lawyers, who was eventually convicted in 1980 for the bombing of a black church in 1958, was a white supremacist and life-long member of the Ku Klux Klan. The felon’s family said he wanted to kill Dr. King. He did. That murder was the first silencing. The second was to come.

The New York Times editorialized a few days ago about King’s “moral clarity” in calling America to “Be true to what you said on paper.” The editorial continued:

As Dr. King knew well, the history of voting in the United States was, and is, in large part the history of white people in power devising endless ways to keep black people from casting a ballot.

It’s been true all along, from the complete disenfranchisement of slavery to the effective silencing of the Jim Crow era up to now, when a welter of clever and at times subtle laws operates to make it harder for minorities to get to the polls, and to have an equal voice — or any voice at all — in the choice of our representatives and policies.

Most white folks think that the voting rights issue has been settled by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which did have a huge positive effect on black registration and voting. However, as the Times points out, the Act “still requires frequent care and tending by the federal courts, especially the Supreme Court.” And we know the reactionaries on the Court are a problem:

Unfortunately, the court’s conservative majority has severely weakened the protections the law was intended to provide. The biggest blow came in a 2013 decision, Shelby County v. Holder. In that case, the five conservative justices, led by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., gutted the heart of the act, which identified several states with long histories of voting discrimination, most in the South, and required them to get federal permission before changing their voting laws. While that remedy may have been a necessary response to 1960s-era racism, the chief justice wrote, “things have changed dramatically.”

Clearly things haven’t changed dramatically. We now have Tr-mp and what the Times says is “the resurgence of overt racism and white nationalism that has followed, with no meaningful pushback from the president [sic].” And we have a concerted effort by Republicans all over parts of the country under their control to make it harder for people of color to vote:

Poll taxes and literacy tests have given way to voter-ID laws, cutbacks to early voting and same-day registration, polling place closings, voter-roll purges, racially discriminatory redistricting and felon disenfranchisement laws — most of which, though justified on race-neutral grounds, harm minority voters more.

This represents the second silencing of Dr. King. He believed that black votes could “transform the entire country.” Apparently, Republicans do too.

Those of us who believe in an inclusive democracy have to speak for a silenced Dr. King. And, oddly, the most noise we could possibly make is by voting every single Republican—every last one of them—out of office.

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Those Who Can, Teach. Those Who Can’t Afford It, Join A Movement

Today in Tr-mp-red Oklahoma, teachers by the tens of thousands are engaging in a rally-walkout. Following the success that Tr-mp-red West Virginia teachers had with their two-week strike, tens of thousands of low-paid Oklahoma educators are getting together in Oklahoma City to demand from right-wing Republicans an increase in education funding even oklahoma public employees association photobeyond what they recently approved— passed in fear of such an uprising. Thousands of teachers in Kentucky are rallying, too. And Arizona teachers are contemplating taking action. Marry these developments with the student-led movement to change our gun laws and we can say that something is happening in America. Something good.

Because Republicans have waged war on collective bargaining, particularly collective bargaining by public employees, in some cases teachers have had to march “ahead of their unions,” as an NPR story put it. One of those teachers getting out ahead of too-timid or too-weak teachers’ unions is a Tulsa English teacher named Larry Cagle. He is a co-founder of Oklahoma Teachers United (OTU), a group that was birthed at a Starbucks last year. The initial plan, according to OTU’s group’s Facebook page, “began with coordinated teacher sickouts” all around “the Tulsa metropolitan area and in some smaller rural schools.” The resulting widespread media coverage gave the group exposure enough to attract others around the state interested in the cause, and the establishment of “secret channels” allowed the group’s leaders “to communicate with active protesters.”

Thus, here we are today watching something many of us didn’t think we’d ever see, a “wildcat walkout” (as OTU calls it) that has helped push not only Oklahoma teachers’ unions into concerted action (the unions are involved and are ultimately crucial to the movement’s success), but in some cases has school management on board. It truly is a remarkable moment.

But there is something a little troubling about a few of the things I have heard teachers in Oklahoma and elsewhere say on television and express on their placards regarding what they are doing. A variation goes something like this: “We aren’t doing this for ourselves, but for our kids, for our students.” Now, no matter how admirable it is that teachers do have such high regard for their students, there is no need for them to apologize for wanting higher wages and better benefits for themselves. There is absolutely no shame in wanting adequate compensation for the arduous work of getting a teaching degree, obtaining certification, running up a large student loan debt, and working long hours at home and weekends grading papers and preparing lesson plans. Oh, and besides all that, teachers are required to pursue “continuing education” in order to keep their certification. And what do they get for their trouble? As Larry Cagle said to NPR,

I’m 54 years old and my paycheck is $1,980 [a month]. I can’t afford fucking health insurance.

The fact that an Oklahoma teacher that age or any age can’t afford health insurance, largely because of tax giveaways to wealthy Oklahomans and oil companies, is a moral outrage. Consider Oklahoma’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Shawn Sheehan. He finally had enough of “Things will get better soon, we promise.” In 2017, the Teacher of the Year moved to Texas for the money. “We are joining many other teachers who have either already left or plan to do so over the next year,” he said without shame. And he wasn’t finished:

I’ve done everything I know how to do to try and make things better. We could stay, but it would cost our family – specifically our sweet baby girl. My wife and I are not willing to do that. We, like you, want what’s best for our children and she deserves to grow up in a state that values education. And so do your children.

Most Americans “value” education by paying lip service to it. They say things like, “Teaching is a very noble profession,” while running to the polls to vote for Republicans who will gut the profession by cutting taxes. But Oklahoma’s 2016 Teacher of the Year had something to say to people who think he should be content with the “nobility” of his profession:

There are teachers in this state who say things like, “I’m just in this for the students. If you’re not in it for the kids, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” This was oImage result for shawn sheehan familyne response from a teacher who vehemently disagreed with my statements.

Do other teachers out there really think we aren’t in this for the students? Who in their right mind teaches in Oklahoma for the money? Of course I’m here for my students, their families, and this community, but I won’t apologize for demanding a livable wage…

Oftentimes, I find these are the same teachers who vote against legislation and/or legislators who would help our cause. If my reality isn’t yours, is there a need discredit my and OUR colleagues’ stories? How many times will they excuse these budget cuts and “proudly” declare that they’d teach one hundred students in a classroom with no supplies and that they’d do it for free because it’s all about the kids?

You can’t spend nobility at the grocery store. Blue Cross won’t let you purchase health insurance at “noble profession” rates. Teachers shouldn’t have to beg at the statehouse door for food or healthcare or, for God’s sake, for classroom materials. They should, as they are doing today in Oklahoma and Kentucky, demand what they most clearly deserve.

Image result for teachers in oklahoma on strike

[Top photo: @okea; middle photo: @CathyBenge1; Shawn Sheehan photo: Tulsa World]

Roseanne And White Lives Matter

The country managed to survive without Roseanne for more than two decades. The question is will we survive now that the white-lives-matter show is back on the air?

I have my doubts, but hope persists.

ABC supposedly resurrected Roseanne, starring right-wing conspiracy nut and Tr-mper, Roseanne Barr, as part of its “Heartland Strategy After Tr-mp’s Victory,” to use the New York Times’ phrasing. The paper told us:

On the morning after the 2016 election, a group of nearly a dozen ABC executives gathered at their Burbank, Calif., headquarters to determine what Donald J. Trump’s victory meant for the network’s future.

“We looked at each other and said, ‘There’s a lot about this country we need to learn a lot more about, here on the coasts,’” Ben Sherwood, the president of Disney and ABC’s television group, said in an interview.

They began asking themselves which audiences they were not serving well and what they could do to better live up to the company name — the American Broadcasting Company. By the meeting’s end, they had in place the beginnings of a revised strategy that led the network to reboot a past hit centered on a struggling Midwestern family, a show that had a chance to appeal to the voters who had helped put Mr. Trump in the White House.

The rest is history, of course. Roseanne’s premiere this week was, in today’s shrinking old-school-broadcasting world, more popular, and lucrative, than ABC executives could have ever hoped for. In fact, the president of Disney (and, thus, ABC TV), Ben Sherwood, thought the Nielsen ratings were so high that there must have been some kind of mistake made. But there was no mistake. Just brilliant timing and marketing to, in many cases, a less-than-brilliant demographic.

All of that would be fine, I suppose, if it weren’t for some of the ridiculous comments people like Ben Sherwood have subsequently made. He simply could have said that Disney and ABC are in the business of making money and, well, there is money to be made by pandering to a group of white conservatives, among whom are many, like Roseanne, who believe in weird conspiracies and don’t like work-hungry immigrants all that much. But instead Sherwood said to the Times about the Roseanne clan:

People gather round and they see themselves in this family. It speaks to a large number of people in the country who don’t see themselves on television very often.

Are you effing kidding me? Has Mr. Sherwood ever turned on cable news? The champion of the Roseanne fans of the world is “on television” each and every day, sometimes each and every minute. And if Tr-mp himself isn’t on, the cable news networks often feature a group of “Tr-mp supporters” or “Tr-mp voters” who are endlessly questioned by a curious host as to whether those ignorant or bigoted or gullible folks have, as Tr-mp stumbles through the months, abandoned their ignorance or bigotry or gullibility. The answer, to no one’s surprise, is nope. They’re still happily culting away.

This morning, MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski also said something ridiculous, which really isn’t new or news. But this morning she was part of a segment on Morning Joe that featured talk about the success of Roseanne and what that success might mean culturally and politically. Brzezinski said:

The Democrats definitely forgot about those 18 million people who watched Roseanne, for sure, and it’s a good lesson.

Forgot about them? Who is “them”? If by them one means working-class Americans, well, Democrats didn’t forget about them. In fact, the Democratic Party’s main message last election was designed around lifting up the working class beyond what Obama, who encountered fierce Republican opposition, managed to do. And Hillary Clinton got a majority of the working-class vote. Yes, you read that right. She did.

The real message folks like Ben Sherwood and Mika Brzezinski are sending is that Hollywood executives and Democratic politicians ought to pay more attention to white working-class Americans. Let me say that again in a way you can hear me: PAY ATTENTION TO WHITE FOLKS WITHOUT COLLEGE DEGREES! is the message. Its corollary is: STOP PAYING SO MUCH ATTENTION TO PEOPLE OF COLOR BECAUSE IT SCARES WHITE PEOPLE!

Well, this is a good time to remind everyone that despite Hillary Clinton’s many personal challenges and the Russia-Tr-mp conspiracy to poison the electorate with stolen emails and Facebook-fueled lies, she did win the popular vote decisively. And she only lost the Founder-rigged Electoral College game by a flimsy margin across a few key states. Clearly she failed, though. Clearly the Democratic Party failed, too. But that failure can’t be fixed by somehow telling Roseanne fans only what they want to hear. Because what too many of them want to hear is a validation of their prejudices and a stoking of their cultural fears, which are partly rooted in those prejudices. What some significant number of them want is a recognition that their color matters too. What some of them want the rest of us to recognize is that they are anxious about a future in which people who look like them won’t necessarily be privileged to run everything and call every shot.

In short, what that Roseanne folks want is to be identified as fed-up WHITE PEOPLE.

Well, how should Democrats handle these folks, these fellow Americans, if not by pandering to their faults? How should Democrats speak to people who seem to be holding the country hostage by sticking an AR-Tr-mp assault weapon in our faces? What can you say to people in so much identity pain that they think a disturbed white grifter is their salvation?

Well, Democrats do have a message, an economic and cultural message, and perhaps they can possibly talk some of those white voters into putting down the assault weapon that is Donald Tr-mp. The economic message is simple: Republicans always favor the rich and will conspire—a true conspiracy—to do everything they can to make the lives of the rich even better than it is. It’s simply who Republicans are and what they do. Democrats, flawed as they are, exist to make lives better for everyone else, no matter their color. And that’s where the Democrat Party’s cultural message comes in.

Anand Giridharadas, a writer and political analyst for NBC News, was on Morning Joe this morning and spoke during the Roseanne segment. Hear him:

I’m not a fan of Roseanne the person. I did enjoy that one episode. That may be the only one I watch, but I enjoyed it. And I think it raised a truth and a question. I think the truth that it illustrated is working-class white people may claim to be against identity politics, but they actually crave identity politics. They want to be part of it. They want to be seen and witnessed the way women and people of color are demanding representation. And part of what was great about the show—the apnea machine, Maxwell House coffee, prescription meds, insurance that doesn’t work, football-stitched kitchen towels—there was an effort to kind of pay respect and pay attention to the details of a certain demographic’s life. I hope those folks will understand that other people also want to be represented, and that’s what those demands and identity politics have been about.

I think the question the revival raises is: Is it only…demagogues like Donald Tr-mp and peddlers of conspiracy theories like Roseanne who can speak to these people? Can there be good, elevated, smart, thoughtful, future-oriented political leaders who can speak to these people, make them feel witnessed, seen, and understood, but actually elevate them and lead them to a better place instead of make them hate people and try to shut down the post-war global order?

In time we shall see if Democrats can raise up such leaders who can take the Democrats’ economic-cultural message to reachable scared white folks, and tell them that Democrats will have their backs so long as they don’t turn their backs on other folks who also want to be seen and heard and have their grievances addressed by the country and its culture.

Our ongoing experiment in democracy will only work if we quit experimenting with democracy and actually start practicing it.

What If Gerrymandering Were On The Other Foot?

We Democrats have been very vocal about gerrymandering. Republicans have kicked our behinds with it, over and over again. And we have lamented the “loss” of genuine democracy, in which political power is distributed fairly. Such genuine democracy is what many of us, rightly, stand for. And that principled stand often works against us.

Josh Kraushaar is the political editor for the National Journal. He used to work for Politico as a congressional campaign reporter and also covered elections through its “Scorecard” blog. He suggested something this morning that I would like to comment on, but before I do I need to set it up.

The New York Times published a piece yesterday (“America’s Warped Elections”) about how “giddy” some Democrats are about their chances of winning back the House this November and how that giddiness needs “a big reality check.” Why? Because:

Even the strongest blue wave may crash up against a powerful structural force in American politics: extreme gerrymandering.

The authors of that Times article are Michael Li and Laura Royden, who work for the Brennan Center for Justice, a progressive think tank and “part advocacy group” whose mission is “to reform, revitalize – and when necessary defend – our country’s systems of democracy and justice.” The Brennan Center has filed an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs in a redistricting case (Benisek v. Lamone) the Supreme Court will hear on Wednesday. You would be expected to think that the case the Court will hear this week is about Republican gerrymandering of districts, since that’s been a grievous and ongoing problem created by those dreadful, white angst-inspired 2010 election results. But it’s not. The plaintiffs in the case, the ones the progressive Brennan Center sided with, actually claim it was Maryland Democrats who so unfairly gerrymandered the state’s 6th congressional district in 2011. After the 2010 election, in which the incumbent Republican had won reelection in the district by a 28-point margin, Democrats redrew the district. The result was that the incumbent Republican lost to the Democrat in 2012 by a 21-point margin. That’s a 49-point swing, friends. And Maryland Democrats did that to Maryland Republicans—on purpose. Keep that in mind as we move forward.

Now back to that New York Times article for a moment. The authors note that the Court already heard a redistricting case in October (Gill v. Whitford), for which we await a ruling. In that case the bad guys are Republicans in Wisconsin who gerrymandered the hell, and many of the Democrats, out of that state. One of the points that Li and Royden make is that “no matter how the high court rules,” in either the Wisconsin or Maryland case, “its decision will almost certainly come too late to affect the 2018 vote.” That leaves us with what, then? This:

That means most Americans will participate in this year’s elections under gerrymandered congressional maps that were created in the wake of the 2010 Tea Party wave.

Yikes. But here’s the technical point the authors want to make:

We conducted an analysis to measure how hard it would be for Democrats in each state to win additional seats under these gerrymandered maps. The results are sobering. In 2006, a roughly five-and-a-half-point lead in the national popular vote was enough for Democrats to pick up 31 seats and win back the House majority they had lost to Newt Gingrich and his Contract With America 12 years before.

But our research shows that a similar margin of victory in 2018 would most likely net Democrats only 13 seats, leaving the Republicans firmly in charge. Just to get the thinnest of majorities in the House, Democrats would need around an 11-point win in the national popular vote. They haven’t come close to winning by that much in a midterm election since 1982.

If you follow this kind of stuff, you know there is considerable debate about how much Democrats have to win by in November—how large the “big blue wave” needs to be—in order to sweep the bad guys from power in the House. I don’t want to get into the numbers debate because I’m not that good with numbers. Suffice it to say here that the climb up is a steep one and the GOP has put many, many obstacles in the way—on purpose. Democrats have to fight like hell, fight like hell some more, and then end this election season fighting like hell in order to win control. It is that tough.

But let me get back to the National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar. He started a discussion on Twitter related to the New York Times article (here’s Nate Silver’s take on it) that tangentially included the question I want to focus on, to wit: What would good-government Democrats actually do if the party overcame the odds and won back not only the House, but also a number of significant down-ballot races? Kraushaar wrote, sarcastically:

When Ds win back some state legislatures and governorships and draw lines to their own advantage, will be very interested to see if gerrymandering remains a cause celebre 🙂

In other words, should those of us who are now outraged at Republican gerrymandering turn around and, if we have the chance, do the same thing to Republicans?

You’re damn right we should.

If Democrats can get into a position to gerrymander districts in our favor, there is no question we should do so. We should take advantage of every victory. Republicans would do it, as the aftermath of the 2010 elections demonstrated. One of the reasons Democrats tend to get ass-whipped by the opposition, even after Related imageRepublicans cut rich people’s taxes (2001-2003) and then ruined the economy (2007-2008), is partly because people like Josh Kraushaar, wittingly or unwittingly, use our good-government sentiments against us. They try to make us feel guilty for bringing a knife to a knife fight, even as we demand no fight at all. Simply put, you have to defend yourself politically, if you are to not only survive, but thrive, in the kind of electoral environment that Republicans have shown they will create if given the chance. The fact that Democrats have to overwhelmingly outperform Republicans this November in order to just break even is a testament to how earnestly the GOP plays this game.

And until Republicans everywhere, in every state and at the national level, agree to independent redistricting commissions—which should be the goal of every democracy-loving, good-government citizen—then Democrats had better play the game the same damn way Republicans play it, just as Maryland Democrats did in 2011. As Martin O’Malley, who was governor of the state when Democrats played gerrymandering hardball, admitted in a deposition connected to Benisek v. Lamone :

Everyone was aware that I would be drawing those districts in a way that was more advantageous to our party, and that’s what I did.

That’s the attitude every Democrat should have until Republicans truly embrace democracy.

 

Stay Outraged At The Lies

“President [sic] Tr-mp boasted in a fundraising speech Wednesday that he made up information in a meeting with the leader of a top U.S. ally, saying he insisted to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that the United States runs a trade deficit with its neighbor to the north without knowing whether that was true.”

—Washington Post, 3/15/2018

You could say, as the Washington Post did in a headline, that “Tr-mp says he made up trade claim in meeting with Justin Trudeau.” Or you could put it like USA Today did in a headline, “Trump, on tape, admits making up trade facts in talks with Canadian PM Justin Trudeau.” Or you could simply and honestly put it like Vox did in its headline this morning:

Caught lying about trade with Canada, Tr-mp tweets some new lies about trade with Canada

One would think that at this point all news outlets worth their weight in megabytes would prefer the honest approach and call Tr-mp’s lies lies. You know, like when he says, and keeps saying, that the U.S. has “a Trade Deficit with Canada” when we in fact have a $12 billion surplus.

But on we go. Some journalists, or their editors, still refuse to call lies lies. Others have, apparently, just come to accept the fact that “Tr-mp lying” is rather normal behavior and just not that shocking, not a big deal anymore. In a discussion on CNN this morning about the trade deficit lie, host John Berman asked Mark Preston, CNN’s Senior Political Analyst, this question: “When you brag about not knowing, brag about lying, what message does that send?” Here was Preston’s answer:

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: …I don’t find it egregious that he lied to the Prime Minister, in the sense that we know this now. The idea that we think that he’s not going to lie would be more of a story at this point.

Preston goes on to say that what he finds egregious is that Tr-mp would admit that he lied in front of a bunch of people at a non-public fundraiser.

That’s where we are. Some journalists (Preston did get some pushback from The Atlantic’s Ron Brownstein during the segment) are correct in saying that the “news” these days would be if Tr-mp didn’t utter a lie every time he opens his mouth. But these jImage result for liarsournalists are wrong to say that we should essentially normalize such predictable lying. We absolutely can’t get used to the idea, no matter how often it happens, that being lied to by the man pretending to be the president is baked in the cake, that such lying is not an “egregious” act. We simply can’t let that happen.

CNN’s Mark Preston was right, of course, that Tr-mp’s willingness to admit, behind closed doors and to the ears of fat-cat donors and other cultists, that he lied to the leader of one of our closest allies is outrageous in and of itself. But we must never lose sight of or get accustomed to the fact that the original sin is and always has been this: the Electoral College installed a buffoonish pathological liar in the Whites’ House.

A Bad Hair Day

It was, of course, quite predictable.

After yesterday’s surprise announcement—that the world’s two most powerfully ridiculous haircuts would meet with each other somewhere, sometime, and for some reason—it was inevitable that talking heads on cable news and elsewhere would give Tr-mp credit for his “Call Him Rocket Man” bluster that, the argument goes, brought Kim Jong-un to the bargaining table.

Here’s a typical example of what I mean. This morning on CNN, host John Berman did a segment on the Tr-mp-Kim meeting, mentioning that “the administration wants to take credit for the North Korea summit.” Berman then quoted from Mike Pence’s fresh statement, which gave the broad-shouldered Tr-mp credit for his “strategy to isolate the Kim regime” and asserted that this amazing feat was accomplished “despite the United States making zero concessions.” Berman, who is normally a pretty good journalist, should have injected the obvious: the U.S. did give a concession, a big one. The idea that, say, Obama would have met with Kim in the way it appears Tr-mp will meet with him would have caused Republican heads to pop like cheap balloons. But Berman didn’t mention that it was a very big concession to normalize Kim with the highest-level-meeting possible. It apparently wasn’t on his mind.

Instead, the CNN host, who had already said something ridiculous, namely that “you may not think the North Korea meeting is good, but it’s an accomplishment, nonetheless,” continued by engaging one of his conservative-pundit guests, Matt Lewis, this way:

BERMAN: What the White House wants to do, though, is to suggest that [Tr-mp’s] rhetoric, the “fire and fury” rhetoric, you know, calling Kim Jong-un “fat,” that that’s part of it. Is it because of that, or in spite of that, though, Matt, that this is happening?

Okay. Here we go with the careful conservative spin, as opposed to the more outrageous conservative spin.

LEWIS: First I think, look, this thing, we don’t know how it’s gonna play out. And the fact is Donald Tr-mp is even meeting with Kim could—there’s an argument that it’s a bad idea, that it’s being done without preconditions, that it’s gonna be a propaganda coup, so, uh, but I don’t think that plays in Peoria. I think the average American is optimistic, hopeful. Maybe it’s the triumph of hope over experience but the average American I think does like this.

The idea that Matt Lewis, who used to write for one of the slimiest conservative rags around, The Daily Caller, knows what the “average American” thinks is one thing. But what made his take on all this so ridiculous is what he said after he spoke for average Americans:

So, I think it is good politics for Donald Tr-mp. The question is does he deserve credit for it? I think he actually might. Look, I don’t know what North Korea is up to here. Maybe they’re just buying time. Maybe they’re just trolling us. But there is a possibility that we have spooked them. Maybe they’re afraid of Donald Tr-mp.

That is pretty much what I have heard, in some form or another since last night.

Now, far from wanting to meet with Tr-mp because he’s afraid of him, it is infinitely more plausible that the reason Kim wants to meet with Tr-mp is because he has never kim and tr mp.jpgseen a Western “leader” so stupid and manipulable. One could argue that Kim senses that his best option right now is, before Mueller tries to take him away, to take advantage of Tr-mp’s pathological need to satiate his insatiable desire for attention and approval, which would come from such an unprecedented meeting. Kim in the meantime would not have to agree to anything verifiable, would buy more time for developing his nuclear capabilities, and would get what the North Korean himself seems to have a pathological need for: recognition as a genuine, world-class player.

Another more frightening possibility is that Tr-mp will get pushed into a corner by Kim’s refusal to de-nuke, and Tr-mp, then out of diplomatic options, would be made to look and, more important, feel weak, leaving his disturbed mind no option but to order a preemptive military strike that will start that part of the world on fire.

This is our existence these days, one in which two disturbed and disturbing people with strange heads get to meet together to determine the fate of millions, while host and pundits on TV talk of “accomplishments.”

 

 

Finally, The Kansas Election Fraud Lie Is On Trial

Another man whose face should be on a wanted poster for the damage he’s done to our democracy will go to federal court today to essentially defend not himself, but his dark political philosophy. His name is Kris Kobach, the secretary of state of Kansas, who is now running for, uh, governor. God must really, really hate Kansas for some reason. Maybe the Almighty doesn’t like sunflowers or meadowlarks. Or maybe he doesn’t like the fact that people there stepped on his creative toes by  making up their own bird and calling it a jayhawk. I don’t know just what it is, but the Big Guy clearly is raising up one asshole politician after another to torment Kansans. Problem is, though, Kobach hasn’t just hurt his state. He has spread his poison all around the country.

From NBC News:

Kris Kobach, Kansas’ secretary of state and President [sic] Donald Tr-mp’s chosen election fraud expert, will defend his claims of widespread election fraud Tuesday in kobach wanted postera major voting rights case that could put the president’s unsubstantiated assertions on trial, too.

Kobach is facing off in federal court against the American Civil Liberties Union, which argues that the Kansas law requiring voters to prove their citizenship with documents like passports or birth certificates violates the 1993 National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), the law that standardized the federal voter registration form and made it available at Department of Motor Vehicles nationwide.

“Kris Kobach has been the nation’s chief purveyor of false things about voter fraud,” Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said. “Now it’s time to prove it, and I don’t think he’s going to.” […]

“If we lose, it sends a signal to other states that Motor-Voter is really just a suggestion and you can impose any requirements on registration application that you want,” Ho said.

That NBC News article doesn’t really get at just what an asshole Kobach is, but this excerpt from the ACLU website will help make that point:

The ACLU will have the opportunity to show in open court how the documentary proof-of-citizenship law has blocked the voter registrations of more than 35,000 Kansans. The ACLU will also demonstrate at trial that Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is personally defending it in these proceedings, has not been able to produce evidence showing the law is necessary for the state to enforce its voter qualifications. Although the Tenth Circuit’s order blocking the Kansas law is in effect pending the outcome of the trial, the ACLU has had to file a motion charging Secretary Kobach with contempt for repeatedly refusing to comply with that and related orders. A federal court has already sanctioned Secretary Kobach for making “patently misleading representation to the court.”

Since that snippet also doesn’t quite do the job of indicating Kobach’s political depravity, I should mention how Kobach has been in bed with ALEC, the far-right “American Legislative Exchange Council” that has done, and is still doing, much to hurt the lives of people without lots and lots of money. To put it succinctly, ALEC’s mission is to radically transform the country via reactionary policymakers in the several states, policymakers like Kris Kobach. Here’s how The Nation’s John Nichols described its mission several years ago:

ALEC’s model legislation reflects long-term goals: downsizing government, removing regulations on corporations and making it harder to hold the economically and politically powerful to account. Corporate donors retain veto power over the language, which is developed by the secretive task forces.

And here’s how Nichols described the Kobach-ALEC corruption:

Kansas Republican Kris Kobach, who along with ALEC itself helped draft Arizona’s anti-immigration law, has warned of “illegally registered aliens.” ALEC’s magazine, Inside ALEC, featured a cover story titled “Preventing Election Fraud” following Obama’s election. Shortly afterward, in the summer of 2009, the Public Safety and Elections Task Force adopted voter ID model legislation. And when midterm elections put Republicans in charge of both chambers of the legislature in twenty-six states (up from fifteen), GOP legislators began moving bills resembling ALEC’s model.

That model, Nichols pointed out,

is also determined to ensure that citizens do not have the final say on who is elected president, an agenda outlined in such documents as its Resolution in Support of the Electoral College and its ardent opposition to the National Popular Vote project (which it has warned would “nationalize elections and unravel Federalism”).

The truth here is that Republicans now assume that a national majority of Americans will continue to reject their economic voodoo, so methods must be developed to ensure they can continue to run the country without that majority. One way of doing that is through election voodoo.

And the high priest of that election voodoo is Kris Kobach.

 

The Two Unforgivable Sins Of Mitch McConnell

A couple of crooks—“true friends” one of them says—met in the Whites House today. For all I know, Tr-mp and Benjamin Netanyahu discussed legal strategies to fend off the law. Or discussed war strategy against Iran. Or simply discussed how messy democracy is and, gosh, wouldn’t it be nice to be rid of it.

In any case, whatever the two scoundrels talked about, we can rest assured that not much talk among the Washington press corps today will involve Mitch McConnell, a crook of a different sort. He is one scoundrel who never faces that much scrutiny, and certainly not much scrutiny proportional to the outrageousness of his transgressions.

When you do hear talk of McConnell in the non-opinion press, it usually begins, and often ends, like this: “McConnell is a master of the Senate, a real legislative genius.” Well, maybe he is. But if so he uses such mastery and genius in a corrupt fashion, as when he deprived Obama voters of the power of our vote by stealing from us a Supreme Court nomination and appointment in 2016. I repeat: he stole that nomination and appointment not just from Obama, but he stole it from We The People who voted for Obama. Our vote for the winning presidential candidate in 2012 entitled us to a justice chosen by the winner of that election, not one essentially chosen by Mitch McConnell a year later. That, admittedly, is a special kind of crookedness, Image result for mitch mcconnell and trumpbut in some ways it is a worse kind of crookedness than the corruption that most certainly is behind the crimes Tr-mp and Netanyahu are credibly accused of.

So, at the heart of McConnell’s theft of that Court seat was a disdain for democracy: Obama voters expected and were democratically entitled to one kind of justice and we ended up with a judicial monster, in terms of Neil Gorsuch’s zealous reactionary conservatism. McConnell’s anti-democratic deed was just part of his attempt to sabotage Obama’s presidency, of course. But that dirty deed was particularly prophetic, as we learned of what else McConnell did in 2016.

Although you wouldn’t know it from the press coverage it hasn’t much received, but we have known since December 9, 2016—just one month after the election—that Mitch McConnell and other Republican leaders refused to join with Democrats and warn the public about Russian interference in the election while it could have possibly done some good. As The Washington Post reported at the time,

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

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

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

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

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

I remind you that we learned of McConnell’s non-action and subversive threat shortly after that fatal or near-fatal election. And from time to time, there have been a few straight news reports about it, mainly if someone like Joe Biden speaks up, as he did in January of this year, when he said McConnell “wanted no part of having a bipartisan commitment.” Mostly, though, the relatively small amount of noise made over this naked, anti-democratic partisanship has been made by opinionators like Brian Beutler at The New Republic, who tweeted last July:

McConnell ran interference for Tr-mp during the campaign to stop Obama from warning the country about things Tr-mp was lying publicly about.

Only one Republican that I know of has recently called into question McConnell’s behavior. John Weaver, who has worked as a top adviser to John McCain, as well as a chief strategist for Jon Huntsman and John Kasich, wrote just last month:

We need to revisit why refused to join in warning America the Russians had attacked us.

And the one time that I know of that McConnell was openly asked about this moral failure was, as Steve Benen noted, in July of 2017, right after the Junior Tr-mp meeting with the Russians was all the rage. NBC’s Kasie Hunt asked McConnell if he regretted his “course of action” of not warning the public before the 2016 election. McConnell, apparently a man without regrets of any kind, didn’t answer that question. Instead he said this:

What I have a lot of confidence in is the Intelligence Committee handling this whole investigation. Senator Burr and Senator Warner have ball control, and we’ll hear from them later.

Yeah, well.

The matter of McConnell’s crookedness came up again yesterday on Meet The Press, during an interview Chuck Todd did with Denis McDonough, who was Obama’s Chief of Staff for the entire second term. (McDonough also served as the Chief of Staff for Obama’s National Security Council and then Deputy National Security Advisor. So, this man has an understanding of the intelligence business.) Todd, playing into Tr-mp’s deflective accusations against President Obama, asked McDonough whether the Obama administration had done enough about the Russian interference by asking him,

Did you choke?

Now, that kind of provocative question is fine with me, so long as it goes both ways. Like, if Todd interviewed McConnell and he asked him, “Did you shit on our democratic values by depriving Obama of a Court pick and by using your Russia silence to aid the Russians who were aiding Tr-mp?” You know, that sort of evenhandedness I can stomach. But for some reason, it never quite comes out that way.

In any case, McDonough tried to defend what the Obama administration had done, including he claimed, getting Vladimir Putin to back away from actually tampering with voting mechanisms:

We had great fear that that was what they had in mind during the course of the summer of 2016. We had great fear that we needed to take significant steps to stop them from doing it: A direct confrontation with President Putin when they were both in China; we went to the bipartisan leadership of Congress to ask them to work with us to ensure that the states had what they needed—and by the way, Chuck, the lack of urgency that we saw from the Republican leadership in 2016, we continue to see to this day today. It’s beyond time for Congress to work with the administration, to work with the states, to ensure that our electoral systems are ready to go. This is not a game.

It’s not a game to some of us, but it is to Mitch McConnell. And he plays to win, no matter the cost of winning. I will here insert the back-and-forth between Todd and McDonough that leads directly to McConnell’s involvement. The exchange began after Todd played Joe Biden’s remarks from January, when he said that McConnell “wanted no part of having a bipartisan committment”:

mcdonough on meet the pressCHUCK TODD: Do you stand by what he said, that Mitch McConnell is the reason why everything was a lower grade, sort of everything that you did in ’16, that you couldn’t be as robust in a bipartisan sense because Mitch McConnell didn’t sign on?

DENIS MCDONOUGH: What I know is that the intelligence community approached the, the entire leadership of the Congress—

CHUCK TODD: So called Gang of Eight.

DENIS MCDONOUGH: —in the early August, 2016. Several members of that group did not take the briefing until early September, 2016, indication number one of a lack of urgency. Number two, the president asked the four leaders in a bipartisan meeting in the Oval Office to join him in asking the states to work with us on this question. It took over three weeks to get that statement worked out. It was dramatically watered down. You can ask Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, even the Speaker—

CHUCK TODD: And it was watered down on the insistence of Mitch McConnell?

DENIS MCDONOUGH: Yes.

CHUCK TODD: And nobody else?

DENIS MCDONOUGH: Yes.

CHUCK TODD: Okay. Do you have any understanding as to why?

DENIS MCDONOUGH: I don’t.

I do.

The Truth About Democrats And The Gun Meeting

It isn’t often that I vehemently disagree with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell. Last night was one of those times. In fact, O’Donnell’s “Rewrite” segment may have been the single Image result for lawrence o'donnell and rewriteworse segment any progressive or liberal on television has ever put together, as well-meaning as it was.

The segment was essentially O’Donnell’s editorial take on the bipartisan meeting yesterday between various members of Congress and Tr-mp that was supposed to be a brainstorming session designed to come up with ways to stop the carnage in America’s killing fields, especially our schools. Instead the made-for-TV meeting, sometimes weirdly featuring giggling and guffawing, was a dazzling display of ignorance and authoritarian stupidity on the part of Tr-mp, which was predictable and therefore fatiguing, and an embarrassing display of impotence and groveling on the part of Democrats, which was unwarranted and therefore disheartening.

But let me give you a little bit of what O’Donnell, who was once a top staffer in the U.S. Senate, said in defense of those Democrats, including two senators who have been our champions on gun control, Dianne Feinstein and Chris Murphy:

The Democrats clearly made a calculation before the meeting started to approach the meeting professionally in the hope of actually getting something done. Any one of the Democrats could have become a big media star tonight by repeatedly explaining to the president [sic] how wrong he is, how ignorant he is, and how much of a problem he and his party have been for gun legislation.

So, every Democrat in the room resisted the urge to attack the president for his own position on gun policy after all previous mass murders because it was a meeting in which there was cause for some hope of strengthening background checks, which everyone in the meeting including the president [sic] seemed to be in favor of.

Now, leaving aside O’Donnell’s ridiculous and too-cynical assertion that any Democrat who would have stood up to Tr-mp in that widely covered meeting would have done so merely to “become a big media star,” let us quickly look at the bill most discussed during yesterday’s meeting that would strengthen background checks, known as the Manchin-Toomey amendment.

All the Joe Manchin (D)-Pat Toomey (R) bill, which failed to pass in 2013 almost entirely because of Republicans, would essentially do about strengthening background checks is expand existing checks to include gun shows and Internet sales (while, incredibly, expanding the interstate sale of guns). That is just about it. The bill does not restrict the sale of any type of weapon between private parties. And, as a tribute to the NRA, the bill goes out of its way to outlaw any type of gun registry, even though a gun registry is already outlawed.

I ask Democrats in Congress this: Is the Manchin-Toomey legislation, in this moment of increased pressure on Republicans to act, really the best you can hope for? Huh? Is Manchin-Toomey what you are going to bring back home to your fired-up and fired-on constituents and ask for votes?

O’Donnell later commended Senator Feinstein for playing the role of the Proper Senator, which he said was, “to never give up hope that there can be some progress, even minor progress, even in the age of Tr-mp.” Then the former Senate staffer said something stunning:

The job of Senator, done well, is never easy. But in the age of Tr-mp the job of being a Democratic senator has never been more difficult. Never. The easiest thing for Democratic senators to do in the room with the president [sic] today would be to attack him, to show how much smarter they are than he is. But the Democrats didn’t do that. They chose professionalism over grandstanding in the very slim hope that they might actually get Donald Tr-mp to sign something, the slim hope that Donald Tr-mp might force the Republicans in the House and Senate to take a baby step in the right direction…

For people who hate Donald Tr-mp and wanted to see him attacked by those Democrats today it was probably a difficult meeting to watch. But if you know what professionalism looks like in the Senate and the House, you know that what you saw today was Democrats whose oath of office obliges them to never give up hope.

First of all, there are hard jobs in this life. But being a U.S. Senator isn’t one of them, for Democrats or Republicans. It may be a frustrating job, but it ain’t hard. And, in fact, for Democrats “in the age of Tr-mp,” the job is much easier, if they stop being Proper Senators while meeting with Tr-mp in front of TV cameras and stop pretending that Tr-mp is a person they can do business with. If DACA didn’t teach them that lesson, then they are unteachable. The job is easier for Democrats not only because they don’t have to defend the indefensible Tr-mp like Republicans have to do, but because they are dealing with a principle-less know-nothing in the Whites’ House whose words uttered in a meeting staged for television are only worth something because they are worth ignoring.

Secondly, it is shameful, in this powerful cultural moment in which the momentum is swinging in the right direction, to merely cling to a “very slim hope” and beg Tr-mp and the Republicans for a relatively tiny victory like Manchin-Toomey. I mean, I am typically an incrementalist regarding most things, but the “slim hope” strategy is absolutely shameful right now. This is the time to aim high, much higher than a bill, which itself is a compromise of a compromised bill, that fails to do a damn thing about the availability of battlefield weapons on American streets.

Joe Manchin said this morning that his bill represents an opportunity to get “meaningful change.” Well, the meaning of “meaningful” has changed. And Democrats need to shout that truth to Tr-mp and to all Republicans who seem to be in a state of permanent prostration before Wayne LaPierre and the gun lobby. And if Republicans stay prostrated, that will make it easier for newly energized gun control voters to roll over some of them in November, so long as there is a tough gun control Democrat on the ballot.

Finally, as for O’Donnell’s claim that alleged Tr-mp-haters “wanted to see him attacked by those Democrats,” he’s wrong on two counts. Most of us don’t hate Tr-mp. Or at least we shouldn’t. He’s clearly a disordered human being whose mental disturbances should arouse in us something much more akin to pity than hatred. What we should hate, though, is the undemocratic system that initially empowered him and the Republican Party that keeps him in power. What we should hate is the Tr-mp administration’s corruption and incompetence, even as we fear the public is getting used to it.

And most of us didn’t want Democrats to attack Tr-mp yesterday just for the sake of attacking him. We wanted Democrats to attack the phoniness and hypocrisy of the entire enraging spectacle. We wanted Democrats to defend President Obama, who himself was attacked and slandered by Tr-mp at that meeting. We wanted Democrats to show a skeptical country, particularly skeptical young folks who are just getting their first taste of political activism, that there is at least one party willing to fight for bold—bold—reforms like reinstating the assault weapons ban and implementing truly universal background checks, even if the fight is hard and the outcome uncertain. What we wanted was a group of Democrats who refuse to initially and meekly settle for “baby steps in the right direction.” 

But we got none of that at yesterday’s bizarre meeting. What we got was weird talk about mental health and phony talk from Tr-mp about “comprehensive” legislation that will never, never, never happen. What we got was talk of banning bump stocks and of passing the “Fix NICS,” legislation, neither of which should even be the slightest bit controversial, but for some NRA-related reason is. We got talk of making kids wait until they’re 21 before they can legally buy weapons of war and do God-knows-what with them.

We also got a familiarly confused Tr-mp who seemed to embrace an assault weapons ban as he was playing his self-created and always poorly acted role of “dealmaker.” What we got was an authoritarian Tr-mp openly urging the subversion of due process under law, an assertion that if it had ever exited the lips of President Obama would have gotten him impeached or lynched or both.

And, perhaps most disturbing of all, we got some giddy and “optimistic” Democrats who think yesterday’s meeting somehow put Tr-mp in a bind, as if his ethically-empty words could ever bind him to anything.

In short, it was an embarrassing, pathetic, and unhelpful hour in American politics.

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Good To Be A Dick’s

At last, some progress:

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