Saturday, April 22, 2017

A Horrible Human Being Rises to the Top: AG Jeff Sessions Adopts All-Out Lying as a Legal Tactic

Hearing that Miami-Dade may have collapsed under the contemptible pressure tactics of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions was disheartening. I hold out hope and expectations that other urban areas will be savvy enough to understand that Sessions' club is made of paper mâché.

What makes guys like this tick? Utter, outright racism. It's not complicated.

No, it's not complicated finding the motivation for an attorney general who was once denied the federal bench for being the racist that he is. But what stretches the imagination is that Sessions would imitate his boss, Donald Trump, whose pathological lying has gotten him to the White House with little other gear to help him get anything done.

And yet here we are, with Sessions threatening to withhold federal grants and such from jurisdictions that make themselves sanctuaries for undocumented workers. Nothing less than the Supreme Court has weighed in on such tactics -- on a number of cases -- and so Sessions should understand that he's already on thin ice. But that's not stopping him:
We’re familiar with President Trump’s dystopian vision of an America in chaos, preyed on by foreigners and awash in citizens violated by feral criminals and “illegals.” Through last year’s campaign and into this year, Trump has repeatedly lied about the national crime rate, murder rates and much more. Here though is a case where anti-immigrant policies continue to be justified by at least deliberately misleading statements and what can only be called incitement.
Here’s a statement released today by the Justice Department, justifying a letter sent out to nine so-called “sanctuary cities” threatening loss of federal funds if they don’t collaborate and assist Trump administration immigration policies.
Here’s the second paragraph (emphasis added) …
Additionally, many of these jurisdictions are also crumbling under the weight of illegal immigration and violent crime. The number of murders in Chicago has skyrocketed, rising more than 50 percent from the 2015 levels. New York City continues to see gang murder after gang murder, the predictable consequence of the city’s “soft on crime” stance. And just several weeks ago in California’s Bay Area, after a raid captured 11 MS-13 members on charges including murder, extortion and drug trafficking, city officials seemed more concerned with reassuring illegal immigrants that the raid was unrelated to immigration than with warning other MS-13 members that they were next.
The second highlighted sentence doesn’t explicitly say the murder rate continues to rise in New York City. But that is certainly the intended impression, along with the dig at ‘soft on crime’ policies.
Read the rest of Josh Marshall's piece to discover what obvious horseshit these claims are. Crime and murder are way down, especially in New York City, and in any event undocumented workers commit crimes at a lower rate than native-born Americans.

Just to be clear, there's method to the madness of sanctuary cities. Not only is it a humane way to deal with a problem that's not going away anytime soon, but it's actually a law enforcement tool to reduce crime. NPR had a good piece on this:
But the available data on crime, immigration, and safety in cities does not support the premise for the president's actions. News outlets and researchers pointed out during the presidential campaign that immigrants who are in the country illegally are less likely to commit crimes or be incarcerated than the general population. The American Immigration Council noted in a 2015 study that the recent period of rising immigration to the United States from 1990 to 2013 also corresponded with plummeting crime rates across the country.
This past Thursday, a new study conducted Tom K. Wong, a political scientist at the University of California-San Diego, found that there are broad benefits for local jurisdictions that resist cooperating with federal immigration enforcement — they are safer in the aggregate and enjoy stronger economies. "For the first time we're kind of seeing that crime rates are lower when localities stay out of the business of federal immigration enforcement," Wong said.

You'd think an attorney general would want that. You'd be wrong.

We'll see if Sessions pulls off this corrupt bit of Kabuki theater. I say no. Will he become the newest resident of Bullshit Mountain, as Jon Stewart used to call it? It's pretty obvious he already has.


Friday, April 21, 2017

Telling Sanctuary Cities to Enforce Federal Immigration Law: Just How This Works

Umkay. The 10th Amendment more or less says what powers aren't handed to the federal government in the Constitution -- or rightfully given to the federal branch by an act of Congress -- devolves to the states. What's more, the Supreme Court basically said you can't force states to expand Medicaid, under Obamacare, through threat of withholding federal money. And yet Jeff Sessions shall try. Again, and again.

Mr. Attorney General, beat dead horse.

Nobody is going to accuse Jeff Sessions of refusing to swim upstream, or piss into the wind, for that matter. As the chief law enforcement of the United States, enforcing the law is rightfully his business. What should not be his business is engaging in futile pissing contests with the states. And yet:
The Justice Department wrote to eight cities Friday afternoon that have declared themselves sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants, demanding they submit proof of compliance with federal immigration law and threatening their federal grant money if they fail to do so.
In a statement accompanying the letter to Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Miami, Milwaukee, New York, and Sacramento, the Justice Department erroneously equates the cities’ policies limiting information sharing with federal immigration officials with a spike in crime in those areas.
(No spike in crime, lowest crime across the nation in more than four decades, immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than native-born...)

This is not the first time Jefferson Beauregard has issued this threat or, possibly, even the second. Who can count amid the general chaos that is the Trump administration? And yet here we are.
Many legal experts believe this would violate states’ 10th Amendment rights, as well as a number of Supreme Court rulings that held that the federal government cannot coerce local governments to adopt a certain policy by withholding federal funding.
Ya think? So how do you think this will go? Here's my take:
  1. Sessions says what he just said.
  2. Bunch of cities say no.
  3. Sessions finds a willing department that will deny federal funds for something (will he actually find any departments willing to do that? Hmm.).
  4. The cites sue his ass.
  5. A judge issues a stay against the cutoff of funds.
  6. ??? (we wait however long)
  7. A judge rules against Sessions, who appeals and loses, and then appeals and loses, and the Supreme Court rules against him.
  8. ???
  9. Trump gets impeached (or not), or it's 2020 and they're all chased out on their butts.
Something like that. Meanwhile, Jeff and Donald and the meanies act all screw you (mostly) Mexicans, and America rises yet again in the eyes of the world.


GOP Folly Redux: Tax Cuts Pay for Themselves!

Oh my. Here we go again. Reagan tried. Clinton didn't. George W. Bush tried. Obama didn't. Sam Brownback in Kansas and Scott Walker in Wisconsin tried and got the usual "oops, we're broke" result. (Oh, well, slash universities!) Now it's Trump's turn in the barrel? No, it's not. It's our turn.

Who'd a thunk it? Steve Mnuchin plays the trickle-down card. We're screwed.

With any luck, they're screwed instead of us because even some GOPers realize that the last time this song made the charts, it blew up in their faces. But they keep singing it:
“The plan will pay for itself with growth,” Mnuchin said at an event hosted by the Institute of International Finance.
Assuming economic growth based on changes to the tax code is known as “dynamic scoring,” and many conservatives embrace its use when arguing for lower rates. But estimating the future economic impact of tax cuts is very difficult to do, as it requires policy makers to rely on economic forecasts that are often imprecise.
And even if the White House has rosy estimates about the economic impact of the tax cuts, the administration could run into trouble as any plan moves through Congress. That’s because Congress relies on tax analyses performed by the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation, which tend to have a more restrained view on the macroeconomic effect of tax cuts.
“We have some evidence about how big these effects can be,” said Donald Marron, a former CBO official who is director of economic policy initiatives at the Urban Institute. “They are not zero, but they are modest.”
Gad, I can't wait to hear Donald Trump with his "We've got the best tax cuts. You've never seen tax cuts until you see how we cut them, that I can tell you."

Actually I can wait. We probably all will. There's no telling when and if this motley crew of pretenders will manufacture a plan that can get through this hyper-dysfunctional Congress. With any luck we'll be spared by the usual suspects: incompetence, chaos, and (gulp, I hope not!) the need to fund Trump's new war.


Note. I assume everybody with an ounce of intelligence and native honesty knows this, but I still should have slipped it in: TAX CUTS NEVER PAY FOR THEMSELVES.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Being a Horrible Human Being Has Its Rewards.

Fox News has been an odious and unending component of the Limbaugh-Drudge-Murdoch triumvirate, and, I suppose, is not going away anytime soon. Still, the idea that horrible men -- and their actions and ideas -- rate this kind of payday just to get rid of them is beyond horrid. It's an indictment of what the sordid underbelly of our society has become and a reminder of what it's always been.

"Fuck these guys" is too weak a send-off but might be all we can manage.

Bill O'Reilly behaved badly and got paid goodly:
Former Fox News star Bill O’Reilly will receive $25 million as part of his settlement to leave the network in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal, according to a source familiar with the matter. 
O’Reilly’s most recent contract provides that he can receive a maximum of one year’s salary upon departure, according to a second source familiar with the matter. The news host’s most recent contract is said to be worth $25 million a year.
Welcome to our world. No wonder "grab them by the pussy" is a battle cry, not a surrender, in an American presidential race.


Thursday, April 13, 2017

The GOP Is Not Even Good at Destroying Healthcare, Let Alone Making it "Better."

In light of the new letter by leaders in the healthcare industry -- that includes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce! -- How is it that the controlling Republicans are still trying to figure out how to fuck up healthcare for as many Americans as possible? (It's how they roll.)

People waiting in line for a flu shot.

As we speak, California Democrats are visiting Canada to see how their single-payer system works, and several states, including California, are thinking about going it alone with their own healthcare systems.

And yet the U.S., stymied by the dithering of our GOP-dominated Congress, can't even agree on just how bad we can make it for our citizens. The GOP wants more misery and death; Democrats want less misery and death. You'd think no misery and death would be the goal, but go figure.

Speaking of going and figuring, The conservative-led UK, once of the vaunted National Health Service, have recently been chipping away at the universality of its own healthcare system. The culprit? Underfunding:
The body that represents hospitals across England has issued a startling warning that the NHS is close to breaking point because of its escalating cash crisis.
Years of underfunding have left the service facing such “impossible” demands that without urgent extra investment in November’s autumn statement it will have to cut staff, bring in charges or introduce “draconian rationing” of treatment – all options that will provoke public disquiet, it says.

In an unprecedentedly bleak assessment of the NHS’s own health, NHS Providers, which speaks for hospital trust chairs and chief executives, tells ministers that widespread breaches of performance targets, chronic understaffing and huge overspends by hospitals mean that it is heading back to the visible decline it last experienced in the 1990s.
So even a leading developed nation can unravel a system that's known for universality. As for the U.S., we're in a life-and-death battle just to preserve what we've got. An excerpt from a letter from leading healthcare insurers, healthcare providers, and even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:
A critical priority is to stabilize the individual health insurance market. The window is quickly closing to properly price individual insurance products for 2018.
 
The most critical action to help stabilize the individual market for 2017 and 2018 is to remove uncertainty about continued funding for cost sharing reductions (CSRs). Nearly 60 percent of all individuals who purchase coverage via the marketplace – 7 million people – receive assistance to reduce deductibles, co-payments, and/or out-of-pocket limits through CSR payments. This funding helps those who need it the most access quality care: low- and modest-income consumers earning less than 250 percent of the federal poverty level.  If CSRs are not funded, Americans will be dramatically impacted...
Read the whole letter here. Those CSRs are currently the football the Trump administration and Congress are tossing back and forth. Anti-ACA hawks, like HHS Secretary Tom Price, want to toss them out altogether, which would cause Obamacare to collapse. Trump is considering dangling them in front of Democrats in hopes of getting them to vote for some form of ACA repeal. Minority Leader Chuck Shumer is leaning toward a "go ahead, make my day" position on Trump's threat. TPM has a good recap of the back and forth:
Trump, in his Wall Street Journal interview, hinted that he is ready to hold Republicans in a separate vice, of similarly questionable construction, by vowing to withhold releasing the White House’s tax reform plan until a health care bill is passed.
To recap: Trump, in his kamikaze-style of political hard ball, is currently a man on an island. He stands alone – apart from congressional Republicans, the health care industry and even the Chamber of Commerce – in holding a gun to the head of a subsidies program that benefits 7 million people.
And in stating those intentions explicitly, Trump made it hard to blame anyone else for pulling the trigger.
Donald Trump, for all the private tutors working the Oval Office, hasn't learned much -- or accomplished much -- in his first 100 days. He's getting nowhere fast, and as Martha Stewart used to say, it's a good thing.


Note.  I've concluded recently that the reason so many Americans -- and possibly now Brits -- are against universal healthcare, even though it would be good for them, is that they don't want to see the wrong people get services they don't "deserve." By this I mean black and brown people, or even "white trash." As for Brits, I think Brexit, as well as the declining NHS, is the result of not wanting those foreigners or Muslims to get what is rightfully reserved for "their own."

This is self-defeating thinking, but tell that to the rubes that have so far propped up Donald Trump and the Republican congresspeople. But that time is coming to an end. A majority of Americans support Obamacare, and a majority would support single-payer. People want their healthcare now, which it's why the GOP was so fired up against Obamacare in the first place, knowing that once people got it they'd never give it back. The genie may be out of the bottle, making repeal-and-replace doubly hard, if not impossible. Let''s hope so.


Monday, April 10, 2017

If America Is Messed Up, Who Can Fix It? Is That Even the Right Question?

In a world in which quite nearly everything imaginable has already been imagined, it's not surprising that what could solve our problems is right in front of our faces.

So, why did you go back to sleep?

Who can fix it isn't the right question. And, no, in my intro I don't mean to suggest we've discovered all we're ever really going to discover. There is so much undiscovered country.

But I do mean to suggest that we know enough about how to live, about how to get along, about how to navigate toward a world that celebrates the common good and away from one that encourages narcissistic, greedy individualism.

The who should do it is answered. Us. It's the how that needs to be rediscovered, reembraced. I was reminded of that in a Jacob Sugarman interview of the British documentarian Adam Curtis in Salon.

Curtis, who says his favorite theme is "power and how it works in society," hit several strong notes in this interview. First, was the notion of "hypernormalisation."
AC: The term was created by a guy called Alexei Yurchak, who wrote a book about the last days of the Soviet Union in the 1980s. What he described was a world where everyone knew that the system in place wasn’t working and that the politicians didn’t believe it any longer. Yet at the same time, because they didn’t have any alternative, everyone just accepted it as normal even though they knew it was abnormal. So he gave it this term hypernormalisation. I’m not trying to say that the West is in any way like the Soviet Union at all. It’s very different. What I was trying to argue, or imply in this film gently, was that we may be in a very similar situation where we know that the system has become somewhat corrupted. But more than that, we know that those in charge don’t really believe in the system any longer, have no vision of the future. And what’s more, they know that we know that.
This is a great insight. Liberals, in a sense, can be defined as those who have come to understand the corruption of capitalism in a sea of under-regulated, dysfunctional markets, which, by the way, is the system conservatives have come to appreciate as the way it's supposed to be, even if it's essentially the way the greedy elite continue unabated to line their pockets. Conservative politicians thrive in this system. The donor class sustains the political class, which in turn feeds the donor class. Crafty closed loop.

A few years back, Occupy Wall St. came along with, according Curtis, most but not all of what it takes to be a positive force for real change. Part of the problem with the Occupy movement was the milieu in which it arose, but that was only part of the problem.
JS: I can’t help but notice that the kind politics you’re advocating sound a lot like those Obama ran on in 2008. Do you think he failed to live up to the promises of that campaign? Is Donald Trump a part of his legacy now?
AC: I don’t know, but I don’t think so. I think Obama was a very decent guy. Since the early 1990s, real power has shifted away from politicians to all sorts of institutions that we almost don’t have the perception apparatus to see or understand. Frankly, a journalist doesn’t. I think Obama found himself facing a lot of that. But it’s us as well. At the same time that Obama came to power, we, the liberals, the Democrats, the progressives retreated to digital playgrounds owned by five or six very giant corporations. I think they left Obama quite isolated, actually. So far from snarling and spitting at him, which much of the left has done, they should actually turn around and look at themselves and wonder, possibly did we go down the wrong avenue believing all that internet utopianism? I just think that it’s time for a little humility among some of the progressives in their attitude to Obama.
As I point out in Hypernormalisation, the Occupy movement had a fantastic slogan and the goodwill of lots of people who would normally never support a rebellious movement like that. Yet when they actually got together, they found they had no ideas. I think it’s pretty rich that they then turned around and tried to blame Obama for not having a picture of the future when, quite frankly, they didn’t. If you want to change the world, A, you’ve got to work at it very hard, and B, you’ve got to challenge power, and that’s quite frightening and quite difficult, and you have to have a very strong idea of what you want.
"They found out they had no ideas." Wow. Nail, hit on head. It reminds me of two of the key threads of the countercultural movement into which I emerged out of high school. One was the anti-war movement, and the other was the civil rights movement that immediately preceded it. Both were totally immersed in and powered by action, positive, take-to-the-streets action, which of course could describe the Occupy movement. But what we had back then were concrete ideas: War in and of itself was bad, and if it wasn't outright bad, then the concept of a bad war was. With civil rights, again, we had the concrete: Discrimination was wrong. The first focus was race, but that moved quickly to sex, religion, gender, creed. These are powerful, concrete ideas upon which to base action.

Occupy had a problem: Carrying signs decrying the 1% wasn't enough. Basically what Occupy was saying was, "Give us back a big chunk of our money, or we're going to stay in this park and repeat after each other."

Liberals do have ideas, concrete ideas, but putting these into action is hard, not undoable, just hard. And, as Occupy proved, having no leaders is a drawback. Bernie Sanders is a leader, and he essentially has the right ideas -- so does Thomas Picketty in his Capital in the Twenty-First Century. So does Paul Krugman and a dozen or more other liberal economists who write and talk about social justice and income inequality regularly.

Basically we need an active movement, with strong leaders, that moves away from individualistic greed and towards the common good, which involves a wholesale redistribution of wealth. To accomplish this we need to abandon unfettered markets and embrace communitarianism. That will be a hard sell in this country. But it's what's needed. We have the ideas, and, after the election of Trump, we may have the bodies. Time to get to work.
 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

When Can Civil Rights Truly Become Civil Rights? Right Now. (Don't Tell Gorsuch.)

I've noticed this trend in a few recent rulings, and I've wondered if it has legs, meaning will the Supreme Court buy it? I say no, now that Neil Gorsuch is around to rule that religious liberty means denying liberty to others. Thanks, Trump.

I've got a feeling only religious assholes are going to like this guy.
Or, as Mike Pence might say, mission accomplished.

Salon featured a new decision by an en banc panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals that reimagines a precedent using today's meaning of words. This flies in the face of originalist, or strict constructionist, interpretations of our laws. Generally, precedent has been set by an "original" reading of a law. But what good is a precedent if its meaning is locked in stone but our society is not?

Conservative judges would argue that locking archaic moralistic judgments in stone is the goal of originalism. What's the best way to interpret law? Why, as if it's 1787 all over again.

The best way to treat the LGBT? As if sex is only between a husband and his obedient wife. The best way to treat a gun issue? As if an AR-15 is the same as a flintlock.

But the Seventh Circuit just reminded us there is a newer, better way: What's the situation here and now, today, between modern people employing modern meanings of words? That's a different kettle of fish, as it should be.

So civil rights should include all rights, not just those referred to in the Constitution as if it were still 1787, and not just those rights according to dictionaries in the 1960s. In Salon:
An appeals court ruled in support of LGBT rights this week, reversing decades of interpretation that largely allowed companies to discriminate against workers on the basis of sexual orientation.
In their groundbreaking decision, nine of 12 judges in an en banc panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals said that gay and lesbian workers are protected under Title VII. The Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College decision marks a major break from an interpretation that excluded sexual orientation, except in instances where one could make an argument of gender nonconformity. That meant that, previously, in order for workers to prove discrimination under Title VII, they had to allege that they were being discriminated against because they were not acting according to the stereotype associated with their gender.
[...]
She then filed her case in federal district court, again bringing forward the simple argument that Title VII should protect a worker from being discriminated against on the basis of her sexual orientation. The district court was sympathetic to her claim, but explained that Title VII prohibits discrimination “because of sex,” and explained that the court’s precedent “has held that Congress intended the term ‘sex’ to mean ‘biological male or biological female,’ and not one’s sexuality or sexual orientation. Thus, ‘harassment based solely upon a person’s sexual preference or orientation . . . is not an unlawful employment practice under Title VII.’”
The appeals court rejected this longstanding reading, stating that “it would require considerable calisthenics to remove the ‘sex’ from ‘sexual orientation.’ The effort to do so has led to confusing and contradictory results, as our panel opinion illustrated so well.”
The court further explained that whatever Congress meant in 1964 when it passed the law, or however courts have interpreted the law in the intervening decades, it was no longer tenable to exclude sexual orientation.
Famously, it was the Supreme Court that opened the door to this dismissal of precedent when they, under the leadership of Anthony Kennedy, decided in favor of same-sex marriage. And lower courts have increasingly found their way clear to say, as it were, that civil rights apply to all, not just those defined at the time a law was written.

When "sex" was inserted in a list of things for which one shouldn't be discriminated against, legislatures who wrote these laws, courts that interpreted them, and executive branches that enforced them envisioned sex between biological opposites. But when the meaning of sex changes, the civil rights afforded individuals must change, as well.

It's not that complicated, but tell that to Clarence Thomas or Samuel Alito. It will make their eyes bleed. Thus we have the refuge of originalism or strict constructionism, or, as I would prefer it, the last refuge of legal scoundrels.

Parenthetically, this is the one last debate that controls much of our debates: Trump was elected by white Christian men to preserve the prerogatives of white Christian men. Though they represent that same 30-35%, at most, of Americans who have managed, inexplicably, to bring Republicans to power across the country, they are in fact a declining minority. It's depressing the amount of damage they've managed to cause in the meantime. What once was the shining hope of the world has been reduced to a crude joke of a nation, held in suspicion and contempt by an increasingly dubious world. And that is pretty messed up.