Sunday, January 28, 2018

Do White Nationalists Deserve a "Seat at the Table?" Ross Douthat Thinks So.

Donald Trump didn't create an era of white nationalism. He just discovered that white racists are out there waiting to be used politically, just as Nixon realized the South could be used as a block to underpin Republicanism, which is now Conservationism 101. But give white nationalists a seat at the table? You've got to be shitholing me.

Stephen Miller actually sitting at a table. Can un-American activities be
far behind? Or is it deeply American to be aggrieved at brown people?
Maybe so, or definitely so? I'm thinking definitely so, and that's not good.

Not a few people took offense at Ross Douthat's Sunday column suggesting that we get nowhere if the anti-immigrationists don't get to be part of the negotiations on the  immigration bill that has become front and center in the national debate. Yet Douthat pressed on:
The present view of many liberals seems to be that restrictionists can eventually be steamrolled — that the same ethnic transformations that have made white anxiety acute will eventually bury white-identity politics with sheer multiethnic numbers.

But liberals have been waiting 12 years for that “eventually” to arrive, and instead Trump is president and the illegal immigrants they want to protect are still in limbo. So maybe it would be worth trying to actually negotiate with Stephen Miller, rather than telling Trump that he needs to lock his adviser in a filing cabinet, slap on a “beware of leopard” sign, and hustle out to the Rose Garden to sign whatever Durbin and Graham have hashed out.
Now, the least funny part of this view isn't that, as usual, liberals could solve a lot of problems if, I don't know, they'd be more conservative. No, the least funny part of this is that letting Stephen Miller have a "seat at the table" is like saying that Hitler would make a seriously bad president but could maybe not ruin the world as secretary of state.

Of course, I just violated somebody's view of journalism that if you bring Hitler into it you've already lost the argument, especially because, it turns out, Stephen Miller is now being referred to as an "un-Jewish" Jew. Who knew that this descendant of immigrants -- as nearly all Americans are -- would become the Trump administration's face of white nationalism (when his boss isn't playing the lead role)?

But there's no escaping that Stephen Miller has bulled his way into the heat of the immigration battle with clear Nazi overtones to his rhetoric (oops, broke rule number two). Why would I label him so? First, because his waving of the white-nationalist flag has earned him such derision, and second, there's only a qualitative difference between concentration camps and not letting "the others" into the country in the first place.

Also, I'm not trying to win an argument. I'm just trying to buttress the view that Stephen Miller doesn't deserve a place in it. And he doesn't, unless you subscribe to the notion that being exclusionary, especially of people from shithole countries, is quintessentially American. If you do, you agree with Ross Douthat, and should go sit at a table with him.

Friday, January 19, 2018

A Snapshot of Why Most Americans Disapprove of Trump

I caught this news report of a Joni Ernst town hall meeting where she got a earful from disenchanted voters. It demonstrates what Trump's GOP minions are up against in 2018.

Dude: One is the loneliest number. But do you have to be such a dick?

Yes, in most ways, "Trump is such a dick" sums up both his essential style and opens up a view into what might be his Waterloo, which is that people -- or some -- might envy or even admire dicks, but they rarely like them. Most Americans don't.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump ends his first year in office with 39 percent of Americans approving of his job performance, according to the latest national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll — the lowest mark in the poll’s history for any modern president ending his first year.
Fifty-seven percent disapprove of Trump’s job, including a majority of respondents — 51 percent — who now say they strongly disapprove, which is a record high for Trump in the survey. That’s compared with 26 percent of Americans who strongly approve of the president’s job.
Conservative Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa got a scolding from the dissatisfied at a meeting with constituents:

Senator, you might want to listen to your people. So far, it doesn't seem you do. That might be your Waterloo.

Trump: The Epitome of a Spoiled Child (and Why They Shouldn't Rule Countries)

Why shouldn't a spoiled man-child rule a country, let alone America? Because his utter disregard for the common good -- What is it to me? -- can only end in ruin. He's positive it won't be his, because when was it ever?

Trump's essential pose -- the shrug -- epitomizes his empathy
toward people who aren't him.

Donald Trump blew up politics -- and its essential quality, polity -- when he was convinced by his least empathetic advisors that we shouldn't care a whit for people from "shithole countries." So what was an uncharacteristic civil negotiation on a Tuesday became a "I want my Wall, I want my Wall!" temper tantrum by Thursday. Now, a week later, he's willing to blow up the government.

Why? The answer is clear to Elizabeth Bruenig of the Washington Post:
President Trump apparently had an affair with a porn star while his model wife was home with their newborn son. No surprise there. Keeping the affair out of the newspapers before the 2016 election reportedly cost him $130,000, around a measly 0.004 percent of his claimed net worth of $3.1 billion — nothing to him. The fact that you might be unsettled by this news also means nothing to him. Trump is impervious to scandal and immune to social censure. He is insulated from consequence by power, money and fame in a way not imaginable to the ordinary person. He is the freest man alive.
Americans like to think we invented freedom, but we really only extended it to an absurd conclusion in the person of Trump.
Trump is at his most furious when the exceptions arise — say, when complicated political maneuvering in Congress subverts his whims, or when the Constitution stops him from exercising autocratic caprice. “I’m not supposed to be doing the kind of things that I would love to be doing. And I’m very frustrated by it,” Trump said of meddling with the Justice Department and the FBI in November. In May, he mused about eliminating legislative procedure and the filibuster, dismissing it all as “an archaic system.” Those checks on wild, wanton exercises of individual power must seem old-fashioned to Trump indeed, and they do echo ancient fears about the limitless exercise of the human will. James Madison had read his Aristotle, and Aristotle was right in the end about what the unbound will can do to a polity. But what did they know? When you’re a star, you can do anything.
Sounds about right -- and despicably wrong. In the end, he's grabbing us all by the pussy. It's what he does.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Trump Shows Chief Justice Roberts Was Wrong. We Don't Live in a Post-Racial World.

Chief Justice John Roberts, in what may be an historic act of actual judicial activism, struck down important parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in his 2013 Shelby decision, claiming, essentially, that there's not enough racism to justify laws to protect against it. Trump's shithole world is proving him wrong.

Post-racial world, Chief Justice? Might want to rethink that.

We've seen time and again since the Shelby decision that one effect of it has been a never-ending string of attempts to limit minority voting through voter ID laws, limits on early voting, reduced voter access in minority precincts, etc. Republicans have even been caught bragging about it.

Now that Donald Trump has moved American racism out of the closet and back into the spotlight with his host of horribly blatant racist remarks crowned by his "shithole countries" outburst, John Roberts is looking something less than prescient with his Shelby ruling.
In 1965, the States could be divided into those with a recent history of voting tests and low voter registration and turnout and those without those characteristics. Congress based its coverage formula on that distinction. Today the Nation is no longer divided along those lines, yet the Voting Rights Act continues to treat it as if it were.
Not to impune Roberts motives in his stripping of core protections from the Voting Rights Act, but I doubt he'd go back and undo his decision if he could. It's long been a conservative goal to wrestle political control from liberals by undercutting their strength-through-diversity voting advantage gained from supporting minority causes. It was apparent at the time that the Shelby majority opinion was based not on the truth but rather on five white conservatives grabbing the brass ring of "fuck you, blacks" because they could, not because we really were finding ourselves in a post-racial world.

Jelani Cobb, whose New Yorker article provided the above Roberts' quote, described quite succinctly what was so wrong with Roberts', and the majority's, actions:
Tuesday’s ruling hinged upon the idea that the V.R.A. applies current legislative power to what is essentially a problem of the past. There’s a curious logic undergirding the decision, one that suggests a kind of judicial engineering if not activism. The Court’s argument that the election and reĆ«lection of an African-American President are evidence that the V.R.A. is no longer needed is roughly akin to arguing that declining crime rates mean we can comfortably strike down laws forbidding robbery. Minority voting turnout and registration rates “approach parity” in these places precisely because the V.R.A. serves as a deterrent to and recourse for voting discrimination. The violent subjugation of black voters in the South has all but vanished, but that overt kind of racism isn’t the best barometer of progress. Simple political interest—not raving negrophobic bigotry—has too often been enough to inspire efforts to diminish black turnout. [Boldface mine]
The now visible reality that racism is far from dead in this country and in fact has found it elevated by a real and unashamed racist managing to inhabit the Oval Office is an abrupt and shocking reminder of how far we in fact haven't come. Donald Trump will inevitably go down in history as the shithole president, but not before plenty of damage is done. That damage, unfortunately, was unleashed at least in part by the regrettable Roberts' opinion in Shelby County v. Holder, and the truth is now readily apparent.

We're not in a post-racial world, far from it.

Good Morning, America: Yes, Trump's Racism Reflects America's. Did We Have to Remind the World?

No, we shouldn't be surprised that Donald Trump's "shithole countries" remark galvanizes his support among white nationalists that populate, especially, rural America. We should be disgusted and repulsed at the reminder of our racist past, present, and future.

Think, open mouth, disgust two thirds of the population. The other third? your base.

Full disclosure: I'm a racist. Why? Because I'm an American of nominal privilege. What's that privilege? I'm white in America. Like Lady Gaga says, I'm born this way. As a relatively enlightened (I hope) American, I work to catch myself and my racism in order to be a better person.

This is not a confession. I've recognized this about myself -- and, generally speaking, all white Americans -- for years. It comes with the territory. Also, I lived in the South and was married, for a time, to someone who hailed from Mobile, Alabama. It's not hard, then, for me to grasp the racist heritage of much of our country.

Okay. Awareness of self and country doesn't prepare your to get mugged by your president's behavior. Nor is it easy when you realize that Trump's shithole racism ignites fervor in the hearts of his white nationalist fans. It's disappointing, though, when the Washington Post says another "one true thing" we wished weren't true.
Trump’s slur Thursday against the “shithole countries” from which he would rather the United States take fewer immigrants sparked a louder-than-usual tempest Friday, but the storm took a very familiar shape.
Each side reacted more or less according to script: evermore frustrated expressions of outrage from those who believed that the president had confirmed his racism; and evermore fervent defenses from those who supported Trump in the first place because, as many of them have argued for two years, he says what many Americans think.
There it is. We're disgusted but not surprised. But this "Yes, this is America after all" moment isn't taking place in a vacuum: It's playing out on the world stage and undoing, if nothing else, the illusion that America is something other than a shithole of racism. And we certainly could have done without that. Too late.

Update. John Judis of TPM offers similar reflections.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Only Fraud the Voter Fraud Commission Uncovered Was Its Chairman, Kris Kobach

In what may be the starkest example of zero accomplishment, Trump's commission on election integrity is shutting down and destroying its voter data, but not before turning over the results of its investigation to Homeland Security. Trouble is, there is no voter data and therefore no results. Neat trick.

Kansas Secretary of State would be a deer in the
headlights if he was a deer or had headlights.

Trump's voter fraud commission closed down for good, mostly because it couldn't find any voter fraud. It didn't help that election officials in the various states said "fuck off" to virtually all and any requests for voter data.

So when Kris Kobach made a big show of handing the investigation over to the Department of Homeland Security, he neglected to mention there was nothing left over to hand over:
In a court filing on Tuesday, the White House announced that it had not uncovered any preliminary findings of voter fraud in the 2016 election and that it would be destroying confidential voter data initially collected for President Trump’s controversial voter fraud commission, which was disbanded on January 3.
“The Commission did not create any preliminary findings,” White House Director of Information Technology Charles C. Herndon said. “In any event, no Commission records or data will be transferred to the DHS or another agency, except to NARA [the National Archives and Records Administration] if required, in accordance with federal law.”
He added that “no Commission member was provided access to the state voter data prior to the Commission’s termination and none has access now.”
This is another blessed example of harm that didn't happen because the Trump administration is so incompetent. I wish that were so in every case.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Trump DACA Flub Initially Scrubbed in Official Transcript

Trump's televised immigration meeting -- meant, among other things, to rehabilitate his image post-Michael Wolff book -- contained enough policy confusion that his most confusing, and confused, statement apparently got snipped.

Trump's initial agreement on a clean DACA bill was flagged by Majority Whip
Kevin McCarthy (3rd from right), after which Trump kinda, sorta retreated.

I, too, noticed it when Donald Trump said to Sen. Dianne Feinstein's request for a clean DACA bill, "Yeah, I would like to do it." Very quickly, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy stepped in to correct the president. The White House's official transcript didn't include the flub.

The White House's initial response to the discovered rescission was, "Meh, huh?" Later, according to CBS News, the White House slipped the language back in. I guess the Trump administration isn't quite yet ready for wholesale rewriting of history. Not yet.

Oh, and good luck with that rehab business.

Update. For some lol, check what post-rehab Trumps sounds like:

Just so you know, the released testimony, which the GOP has refused to release in a bipartisan fashion, is unclassified, so nothing stood in Feinstein's way. But, hey, it's Trump, so saying some random thing to happify his base is de rigueur. BTW, Donald, Sneaky Dianne Feinstein? Schtick is getting old...

Absolutely Fabulous: Judge Rules in Favor of DACA Because Trump Praised It in a Tweet

A presidential tweet is a presidential statement. So it has been determined. Soooo, Trump bites himself on the ass again.

"Whaddya mean I should shut up? Talking's all I got."

Earth to Trump: Quit with the tweets. Court to Trump: Your tweet is gold, so DACA stays.

No fooling, ninth circuit court judge ruled that HHS illegally ended the DACA program when it said it was an illegal Obama executive order. Only courts can do that, silly! And anyway, Trump likes DACA, he said so himself, so the fact that the country's highest executive like it means it stays, pending adjudication. Snap!
[Federal District Court Judge] Alsup was tasked with, among other things, determining whether it would serve the public interest to leave DACA in place while litigation over the decision to scrap the program proceeds.
On this point, he had an easy answer: Trump himself had expressed support for DACA on Twitter in September, just days after Department of Homeland Security officials rescinded it.
So what does Donnie do? Of course he tweets something stupid. Like clockwork.

On and on it goes.

Update. I found another article pointing out that Judge Alsup referenced in his ruling another Trump tweet that proved legal necessity wasn't the reason for shutting down DACA but that it was political maneuvering:

Just completely rich.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Face Up to It: America Isn't Great (as in Not Even Close)

As I've said before, we kick ass at music, especially since the late 19th century til now, but the rest of it, man, we've got some real work to do.

Sure, this is Baltimore, and sure, this is a black school. Glad it's not systemic racism!

I don't often link to blogs (h/t Atrios), but this is an important exception. Letting kids freeze in public schools sucks beyond comprehension.
The [Baltimore] city school system closed four schools all day Wednesday and dismissed students early from Frederick Douglass High School and Cecil Elementary School, which also had heating problems.
The four that were closed all day were Calverton Elementary/Middle School, Elementary/Middle Alternative Program, KIPP Harmony Academy and Lakeland Elementary/Middle School.
But parents, teachers and students said heating and piping troubles were far more widespread.
Fucking U.S.A.

Trump and His Lawyers Are Their Own Worst Enemies

When you can't have it both ways.

Hey Trumpkins: the worst legal advice money can buy.

Yeah, piling on, but hilarious:

It's said that eight or more law firms turned Trump down before he settled on his current crew. Good luck, Donnie! (Too bad Mueller isn't available, in more ways than one.)

 Update. Also courtesy Klain: a five-year old tweet that shows Trump doesn't really believe he's producing very many jobs, considering he doesn't even measure up to his own prior standards. But hey, truth and Trump?

The Question Is Rapidly Becoming, "Can We Survive Trump?"

What does that say about America, 2018?

Yes, shades of Mussolini, but scarier because now.

The U.S. has, in good times and bad, for better or worse, muddled through, achieving greatness in the arts and music. We invented the blues, jazz, soul, R&B, rock 'n' roll, and hip hop. That counts for something, and I didn't even mention country. Hell, we created the Blockbuster Movie, for pete's sake. But now we've given rise to Donald Trump as president. The fun's over, and Michelle Goldberg gets it.
But most of all, the [Michael Wolff] book confirms what is already widely understood — not just that Trump is entirely unfit for the presidency, but that everyone around him knows it. One thread running through “Fire and Fury” is the way relatives, opportunists and officials try to manipulate and manage the president, and how they often fail. As Wolff wrote in a Hollywood Reporter essay based on the book, over the past year, the people around Trump, “all — 100 percent — came to believe he was incapable of functioning in his job.”

According to Wolff, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Reince Priebus, the former chief of staff, called Trump an “idiot.” (So did the media mogul Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News, though he used an obscenity first.) Trump’s chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, compares his boss’s intelligence to excrement. The national security adviser, H. R. McMaster, thinks he’s a “dope.” It has already been reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump a “moron,” which he has pointedly refused to deny.
Most of this falls in the tell-me-something-I-don't-already-know category, but, good grief, it's a bit much to see it crammed into a couple of succinct paragraphs. Just rurn that phrase through you mind a time or two: "...what is widely understood -- not just that Trump is entirely unfit for the presidency, but that everyone around him knows it." Triple good grief.

It's hardly just the mainstream press. Here's Bandy Lee, assistant professor in forensic psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, interviewed by Vox:
The special counsel’s indictments started a crisis — a mental health crisis in a president who is not able to cope well with ordinary stresses such as basic criticism or unflattering news.
His trip to Asia brought a lot of ceremonial deference and customs of flattery that kept him doing better for a while. But that indicated a greater danger to us — that someone [was] that susceptible to fawning pointed to instability that would make him more volatile when he returned. And that’s exactly what happened.
When he returned and faced the progress of the special counsel’s investigation, he became more paranoid, returning to conspiracy theories that he had let go of for a while. He seemed to further lose his grip on reality by denying his own voice on the Access Hollywood tapes.
Also, the sheer frequency of his tweets seemed to reflect the frantic state of mind he was entering, and his retweeting some violent anti-Muslim videos showed a concerning attraction to violence. And then there were the belligerent nuclear threats this week.
What Dr. Lee is talking about is what we're all witnessing and worrying about. Her recommendation -- as a professional -- is something like a forced intervention, something common in the real world, known in cop parlance as a 5150, taking someone into temporary custody if thought to be a danger to themselves or others. Lee thinks Trump qualifies for such treatment.

I place myself considerably on the left of the political spectrum, yet there's nothing political about my concern that Trump is capable of acting out to avoid prosecution -- starting a war or going on a shocking rampage of deregulation just to fuck with liberals and distract the media -- for crimes associated with his grotesque scramble for power and money. Thousands or millions of dead Koreans is too high a price to pay for Trump's paranoia. Simply destabilizing the world order through contemptuous treatment of allies is destructive enough. Heaven forbid a nuclear holocaust.

The thought -- not a wild fantasy! -- that we rely on three rational generals, who all think Trump is an idiot, to stay in place to avert Trump's irrationally leading us into war should be enough to scare the pants off of the average American citizen. After all, it was a surprising minority of voters in just the right states that led to this accidental presidency, the least popular in polling history. I wish we could afford to wait until 2020 to reverse this historic mistake. Here's hoping we have that long or find a way to make it shorter. Many of us are actually holding our breath awaiting that day.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Trump's Chaotic Dysfunction Is Everybody's Serious Problem

As Donald Trump and his Bannon-inspired tenure rolls on -- and regardless of the Trump/Bannon split, there's no doubt that it was Bannon who inspired the blow-Washington-up unraveling we're witnessing --more than just the political life of the nation is at stake. We are on a very dangerous ride.

This man in his comfort zone was always a wack job. But increasingly cornered
by Robert Mueller? We should all fear what may lie ahead.

This editor's blog post by Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo is ostensibly about the absurdity of suing Steve Bannon and eventually Michael Wolff for their commentary on Trump's first days/months in office, but I was drawn to the last two paragraphs for the larger implications.
Have you ever seen a coiled hose that suddenly has hugely pressurized water run through it? We all have. It swings and jerks violently this way and that. It gets everyone wet. There’s violence and chaos but no real plan. It’s reflex. That’s our President. But it’s not water. It’s fire. This instinctive, peristaltic kind of chaotic action is the way to understand him. Not any theory. That’s what’s happening today and will continue for every day of his Presidency, albeit with lulls of lethargy and torpor here and there.
He is likely the most reviled and mocked man in the entire world today. He is also the most powerful, because of the unique attributes and powers of the American presidency. He’s tossing around nuclear threats with another man on the other side of the globe who has power similarly because he was born into it. Another legacy kid with nuclear weapons. The whole situation is comical, mind-boggling and deeply dangerous.
Read the whole fascinating thing. But the implication that this is what democracies slipping into autocracies look like is horrifying.

AG Sessions Goes Back to the Future on Pot Criminalization.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who doesn't get that the War on Drugs™ was an expensive and violent flop, will rescind the Obama order to lay off the pot legalization states. If Sessions wants to outlaw something and have a positive effect, he should try guns.

Hey, Jeff, "Lock 'em up" doesn't work anymore.
It's too expensive and gets us nowhere.

Still, Jeffy-Jeff has to try:
WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions is rescinding the Obama-era policy that had paved the way for legalized marijuana to flourish in states across the country, two people with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press. Sessions will instead let federal prosecutors where pot is legal decide how aggressively to enforce federal marijuana law, the people said.
Generally, I'm an optimist -- hard to be in the Trump era! -- but I see U.S. attorneys in the pot states looking at the new guidance and basically saying, "Meh." The first few test cases will go badly (if they go forward at all), and the rest of federal law enforcement will go into a holding pattern, waiting to sniff the wind. Time will pass, and the feds will realize that sniffing the wind they find the soft aroma of pot smoke and move on.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Passing Tax Cuts When the Country Is Doing Well Is Pure Lunacy

The recovery from the 2008 crisis has been painfully slow, but it's still a full-throated recovery (minus wage growth, unfortunately). With the recovered wealth we throw a tax-cut party for the well-off. But what's happens when the economy goes south again? We should shudder at the thought.

We just lowered taxes (on the rich) bigly. What happens when the economy goes down bigly? Because it will, sooner or later. Former Treasury Jack Lew explains:
“It’s a ticking time bomb in terms of the debt,” Lew said in a Bloomberg Radio interview with Tom Keene and Jonathan Ferro. “You cannot run a fiscal policy by spending trillions of dollars you don’t have at a time that the economy is doing well.”
And, as Lew points out, the Republican solution to this dilemma is to cut services to the poor and needy. The first hurt are children and the elderly. But nobody has ever accused the GOP of having a heart.

What's worse is what happens when a major recession arrives.

I know there's an easy feeling that "I've got mine, screw them, I'm okay, they're not my job," but the problem is economic degradation affects all of society. It's why people live under freeway overpasses, for heaven's sake. When the next crash comes, down will become downer really fast, because there's no there there to catch us.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Life in 21st Century America: White Mortality Rates Increase as Education Goes Down

A disturbing trend in white-non-Hispanic mortality rates among those with a high-school diploma or less -- as uneducated whites die of drug and alcohol abuse and suicide at an alarming rate -- looks connected to growing income inequality since 1980 and the ascent of Reagan and conservatism.

Here's the Brookings Institute that backs up the data above. Read it and weep, or not. A pertinent question might be: Why are poorly-educated American non-Hispanics dying at nearly twice the rate as Swedes, while African-American and Hispanic mortality rates continue to track downward?

Answer: Poorly-educated American whites are killing themselves with bad behavior, while blacks and Hispanics, along with all other OECD citizens, are not. Hmm.