The Voters are Coming

Either represent the people or get out. Stand for us or beware. The voters are coming.

Cameron Kasky, survivor of the Stoneman Douglas shooting

This week’s featured post is “The Return of the Chicken Hawks“.

This week everybody was talking about the March for Our Lives

The Washington Post estimates that “hundreds of thousands” of protesters marched on Washington Saturday to demand an end to gun violence. Hundreds of satellite demonstrations were held around the country. Mayor Bill de Blasio estimated New York City’s march at 175K. Even a capital as small as Montpelier, Vermont saw 2,500 marchers.

Time magazine has assembled “the most powerful speeches” from the rally.

This march, like the nationwide school walkout on March 14, rises out of the Stoneman Douglas shooting in Parkland, Florida on February 14.

I suspect Congress will do little to respond, though there are little tidbits in the spending package passed this week: For example, the ban on federal research into gun violence has ended. (Or has it?) The full significance of marches like this won’t be felt until the fall elections, which should challenge the widespread belief that it’s political suicide to challenge the NRA. Maybe we’ll see that there are large regions of the country where it has become political suicide to get too close the NRA. That would change things.

The Parkland students have become targets of conservative media, which has doctored photos to produce negative memes about them. They’ve also become targets of a huge amount of whataboutism, some of which has gotten picked up by well-meaning people. So: what about bullying? What about learning CPR? What about just being nice to everyone? What about anything that takes the focus off guns?

Students deciding to befriend outcasts who otherwise might someday seek revenge sounds like a good idea, and who really can be against it? But if it’s presented in terms of “if the Parkland kids really wanted to do something, they’d …”, it’s whataboutism.

A key feature of whataboutism is that support for the laudable or important idea it purports to advocate vanishes as soon as the discussion shifts away from guns or whatever other difficult topic it had been on. The point is to divert the conversation, not to discuss the new subject. The obvious example is the way that conversations about police killings of blacks get derailed by “what about black-on-black violence?” The conservatives who bring that up quickly lose interest as soon as public attention shifts away from police killings.

BTW: There’s been another outrageous police killing in Sacramento.

One of the common NRA pushbacks is to say that the kids are using their First Amendment rights to try to take away gun-owners’ Second Amendment rights.

As I explained a few weeks ago, there is absolutely no reason to believe that the Constitution guarantees a right to own an AR-15. The U.S. used to have an assault weapons ban; it wasn’t rejected by the courts, it just expired. Maryland has one now. An appeals court upheld it, saying that “assault weapons and large-capacity magazines are not protected by the Second Amendment.” The Supreme Court refused to review that decision, so it is the most current precedent.

In other gun-related news, Remington filed for bankruptcy.

and Cambridge Analytica

It’s a British political consulting firm started by the Mercers, the conservative donor family that also gave us Steve Bannon and Brietbart. According to whistleblowing insiders, it got hold of 50 million Facebook profiles illicitly, and used that data to target messages intended to persuade voters to pick Trump. It also gave a corporate client, sanctioned Russian mega-corp Lukoil, briefings on how to micro-target American voters. One mystery of the Russian internet campaign for Trump has been how it was so good at targeting voters in a foreign country. This might be the answer.

The Guardian has a page summarizing the story.

and John Bolton

Bolton is the center of this week’s featured post “The Return of the Chicken Hawks“.

In addition to what I say there, it’s interesting to observe the “Scoop. Denial. Scoop confirmed.” pattern at work: At the beginning of this month, CNN and NBC began reporting that H.R. McMaster’s days as National Security Advisor would soon end, perhaps within the month. Trump derided that as “fake news“:

“I was just with President Trump and H.R. McMaster in the Oval Office,” the spokesman, Michael Anton, said in a statement provided to pool reporters. “President Trump said that the NBC News story is ‘fake news,’ and told McMaster that he is doing a great job.”

On March 15, The Washington Post reported McMaster would soon be fired, and mentioned John Bolton as a replacement. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders denied it.

So Thursday, Trump tweeted the non-fake news: McMaster is out, Bolton is in.

The Bolton appointment also follows another pattern that I mentioned last week, of Trump hiring people he likes to watch on Fox News. I expect Judge Judy to be his next Supreme Court pick. (Seriously, I think Judge Napolitano might have a shot.)

and the $1.3 trillion spending bill

This is an omnibus spending bill that appropriates money through the end of the fiscal year (September 30). It’s two thousand pages long, so it’s very hard to summarize. It includes a lot of defense spending, and Republicans had to give Democrats some domestic spending in return. Trumped described that as “things that are really a wasted sum of money”. But it includes stuff like opioid funding, a rail tunnel connecting New York City with New Jersey, and funding for the states to bolster election security against stuff like, say, Russian hacking.

Like so much that has passed recently, the bill shows no concern about the deficit, so Trump wanted to both sign the bill and distance himself from it. That’s why he said he would “never sign another bill like this again.” To avoid facing that choice, he demanded the Senate end the filibuster (which isn’t going to happen) and that he be given a line-item veto (which is unconstitutional).

Trump blamed Democrats for the bill’s failure to address the situation of undocumented immigrants who were allowed to come out of the shadows under President Obama’s DACA program.

DACA recipients have been treated extremely badly by the Democrats. We wanted to include DACA. We wanted to have them in this bill — 800,000 people. And actually, it could even be more. And we wanted to include DACA in this bill. The Democrats would not do it.

This is a little like a kidnapper claiming that he wants to return your little girl, but he can’t because you’ve failed to come up with all the ransom he demanded. Trump is the one who cancelled DACA. In these negotiations, he was holding out for full funding of his wall, all $25 billion of it (which Mexico is contributing none of), in exchange for a temporary extension of DACA. If Democrats were going to pay that much ransom, they wanted a permanent solution for the DACA participants, but Trump wouldn’t agree to that.

Trump and the Republicans could restore DACA any time they want. Just offer a clean bill with no ransom demands, and every Democrat will vote for it.

Three other things struck me odd in Trump’s signing ceremony. First, he said:

I want to address the situation on border security, which I call national defense. I call it stopping drugs from pouring across our border. And I call it illegal immigration. It’s all of those things. But national defense is a very important two words. Because by having a strong border system, including a wall, we are in a position, militarily, that is very advantageous.

Are we anticipating a war with Mexico? If not, why are we seeking military advantages over it?


we’ve gotten just about a hundred percent of our land back from ISIS

Does the U.S. have territory in Syria or Iraq that I didn’t know about? Talking about “our” land can only remind Syrians and Iraqis of Trump’s assertion — both during the campaign and after he took office — that we should have stolen Iraq’s oil when we had the chance.

Third is something that I can’t find anybody else commenting on. Defense Secretary Mattis noted the big increase in defense spending, and said:

We, in the military, are humbled and grateful to the American people for their sacrifices on behalf of this funding. Now, it’s our responsibility in the military to spend every dollar wisely in order to keep the trust and the confidence of the American people and the Congress.

Here’s what’s wrong with that: I know Mattis is a retired general, but as long as he is Secretary of Defense he is not part of the military. The Secretary of Defense is a civilian, and civilian control of the military is a key principle of American government. Mattis had to get a waiver from Congress to accept the DefSec role, because previous law said Defense secretaries had to have been out of the military for at least seven years.

So if Mattis is still thinking of himself as part of the military, that’s yet another barrier against autocracy that the Trump administration has cast aside.

and Trump’s submissiveness towards Putin

In spite of briefing notes that said DO NOT CONGRATULATE in capital letters, Trump called Putin to congratulate him on his recent victory in what passes for a presidential election in Russia. He talked about meeting Putin in person soon (a surprise to everybody else in the White House), and didn’t bother to mention pesky details like Russian meddling in the 2016 election or Russia’s chemical weapons assassination of an ex-spy in the UK. He is reportedly furious that the press found out about his briefing notes, but hasn’t expressed any second thoughts about his conversation.

Since the Mueller investigation is refusing to leak, the most convincing publicly-available evidence of Trump/Russia collusion comes from the administration’s own behavior:

  • Whenever Trump’s people have been asked about their Russia contacts, they’ve lied.
  • Trump consistently behaves as if he is in Putin’s pocket.

Innocent people don’t act this way, as even Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy has noted.

There is a weird disconnect between Trump and his administration on this issue: This morning Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced that the U.S. is expelling 60 Russian diplomats in response to the UK poisoning. Reportedly, that was on Trump’s order, but once again Trump himself is nowhere to be seen. Both McMaster and Tillerson made strong anti-Russia statements just before they got fired. Should the world pay attention to what they said, or to the fact that they got fired?

Trump defenders have pointed to the time Obama congratulated Putin on an election win. I have two things to say about that:

  • It was also a mistake when Obama did it.
  • Obama’s mistake was much more excusable than Trump’s. In 2012, Putin hadn’t yet stolen Crimea from Ukraine, he wasn’t skirmishing with American troops in Syria, and he hadn’t just ordered a chemical-weapons assassination in the United Kingdom.

and tariffs

Trump is threatening to impose tariffs on $60 billion of imported Chinese products, but there’s a 30-day period to reach some other agreement. The stock market is bouncing up and down, because nobody knows how seriously to take all this. Is it a negotiating tactic, or is it the “economic nationalism” we hear so much about?

The Americans with the most to lose here are farmers, who don’t account for that many votes any more, but are still key to the economies of Trump-supporting states like Iowa and Missouri.

and the Austin bomber

23-year-old Mark Anthony Conditt left a cellphone confession before blowing himself up Wednesday morning. He is believed to have been responsible for six package bombs that he Fed-Exed to his targets in Austin and San Antonio. Two people died and five others were injured, but how he picked them is not clear.

Conditt apparently was part of a Christian survivalist homeschooling group from ages 8 to 13. He had correspondingly conservative social and political views, but it’s not clear that they motivated the bombings.

It’s interesting to watch how careful the media is being not to jump on some detail of Conditt’s life and use it to define him and explain his violent rampage. He is also not being characterized as a terrorist, because that would imply a political motive that he didn’t mention in his confession. Austin police Chief Brian Manley said:

He does not at all mention anything about terrorism, nor does he mention anything about hate. But, instead, it is the outcry of a very challenged young man talking about challenges in his personal life that led him to this point.

That caution might be appropriate, but at the same time it contrasts sharply with how black or Muslim attackers are treated. Imagine if the bomber had been at a Sunni madrassah from 8 to 13. I suspect that would be all the evidence anybody needed to proclaim him a jihadi terrorist. And I doubt we’d be hearing so many reports from his friends and relatives about what a nice young man they thought he was.

That’s a big chunk of white Christian privilege: No matter what you do, people will try to see your point of view.

but I couldn’t help myself and watched the Stormy Daniels interview

In the spirit of all those men through the decades who have bought Playboy for the articles, I’m paying attention to the Stormy Daniels story because of the questions it raises about campaign finance violations and abuse of power. So is Vox’ Dylan Matthews:

As Daniel’s interview on 60 Minutes Sunday night makes clear, this isn’t a scandal about sex. I don’t care if Donald Trump had consensual sex with a woman other than his wife; that’s a matter for him and Melania to handle privately. What I do care about is that the President is a bully, who attempts to silence through money and intimidation anyone (but particularly women) who stands between him and what he wants.

The Daniels interview came just days after Anderson Cooper interviewed Karen McDougal, a Playboy Playmate of the Year — I bet there were great articles in that issue — whose story of an affair with Trump was hushed up just before the election.

The other reason to pay attention to this issue is to watch Evangelicals explain why it doesn’t matter. At the very least, they owe Bill Clinton an apology, because during the Clinton scandals everything they said about moral principles and God’s eternal laws was clearly bullshit. There is no moral principle here for them; it’s just partisanship. Trump is on their side; Clinton was on the other side. End of story.

and you also might be interested in …

In addition to replacing McMaster with Bolton (see above), Trump also either lost or got rid of John Dowd as his lawyer in the Russia investigation, and hired Joseph diGenova, another Fox News talking head who is fond of promoting conspiracy theories without evidence, like his recent charge that “A group of FBI and DOJ people were trying to frame Donald Trump of a falsely created crime.” (It now looks like there might be a snag in the diGenova hiring.)

It’s been widely speculated that the Dowd-out/diGenova-in move points to a change in strategy. Dowd had advised cooperation with the Mueller investigation; perhaps Trump wants to be more combative. Thursday, Rachel Maddow added an ominous spin: She observes that Trump’s legal team is far from a top-flight group. (Major-league Republican lawyers like Ted Olson reportedly aren’t interested.) Maybe that’s because dealing with this case legally is not the plan.

Maybe this is the kind of team he thinks he needs to fight the fight with Mueller’s prosecutors. But, if we are being honest here, let’s get real. What he’s putting together is not the kind of team you put together to mount a legal defense for a president, or in fact to do any serious legal work at all. It appears that that part is over.

What the President is putting together is the kind of team a guy like him might put together to run a PR operation on TV explaining the President’s actions. As hilarious as the President’s D-list lineup of lawyers is starting to look, I’m pretty sure they’re not actually there to do legal work. Him putting these people in place makes it seem like he is going to try to end this by some other means, and they are going to be the team that explains it on Fox News.

It’s official: Republican candidate Rick Saccone conceded the Pennsylvania special election to Conor Lamb.

In Tuesday’s Illinois primary, a Nazi won the Republican nomination in Illinois’ 3rd congressional district. The 3rd is one of those oddly-shaped gerrymandered districts, this time working in the Democrats’ favor. (It includes a chunk of Chicago’s South Side, and then snakes down towards Joliet.) In 2016, Republicans didn’t bother to run a candidate, but this year Arthur Jones, a former head of the American Nazi Party, decided to run as a Republican. The state party denounced him, but didn’t come up with anybody to run against him.

Local media covered the race pretty extensively, so anybody paying attention knew what was going on. There was no cost for skipping that race on the ballot: Running unopposed, Jones was going to win the nomination anyway. But 20,000 Republicans voted for him. It will be interesting to see how much support he gets in November.

An interesting primary is coming up in West Virginia on May 8. One of three candidates running for the chance to challenge Democratic Senator Joe Manchin is Don Blankenship, the coal baron whose corner-cutting on safety led to the deaths of 29 miners in the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.

If there were justice in the world, Blankenship would still be in prison on a manslaughter charge. But he’s rich enough to afford the best lawyers, so instead he’s free after serving one year for conspiring to violate federal safety standards. So he’s running for the Senate, because, why not? I mean, what better way is there to thumb your nose at liberal do-gooders and their bureaucratic rules than to vote for a guy who defied those rules? Going to prison just makes him a martyr, unlike the 29 miners who are merely collateral damage.

Trump’s first attempt to ban transgender Americans from the military fell apart under a combination of legal problems and pushback from the Pentagon. So there’s a new version out. It’s not quite as sweeping as the first version, but accomplishes most of the purpose: getting transgender Americans out.

There’s really no military justification for this policy; the Pentagon isn’t asking for it. But trans people give Trump’s base the creeps, so they feel satisfaction when Trump aims a kick in that direction. Jennifer Finney Boylan writes in the NYT:

God forbid that these most marginalized, maligned and misunderstood Americans make anyone uncomfortable — while staying in a homeless shelter. God forbid that students in high school be free from the threat of violence and bullying. God forbid that trans soldiers be honored for their service, rather than ridiculed, demeaned and discharged by — in Senator Tammy Duckworth’s elegant phrase — “Cadet Bone Spurs.”

The only possible cause served by such unrelenting ignorance and cruelty is the cause of bigotry. For our president, it’s the only motivation he’s ever needed.

The new collective bargaining agreement at the Department of Education is unique in two ways: It wasn’t bargained and the union didn’t agree. The Washington Post’s reading of a union statement says the “agreement”

“guts employee rights, including those addressing workplace health and safety, telework, and alternative work schedules.” Provisions on workplace discrimination, performance appraisals, compensation, child care and training “have all been deleted and replaced with nothing.”

It looks like the Department entered negotiations with the proposal “We’re going to screw you.” The union answered “No you’re not.” The Department interpreted that response as the union failing to negotiate, which it claims allows it to impose the agreement it wants.

It’s not clear to me what leverage the union has: It could shut down the Department of Education with a strike, but the administration doesn’t care about education and would probably be happy to see the Ed Department go away. It’s easy to imagine something similar happening at all the other departments and agencies the administration doesn’t care about: HUD, EPA, HHS … basically everything but Defense, Treasury, and ICE.

and let’s close with something self-diagnostic

Do you suspect you might have a cognitive bias? This graphic (high-res version you might actually be able to read) claims to cover all of them.

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  • cgordon  On March 26, 2018 at 1:40 pm

    “They’ve…become targets of a huge amount of whataboutism, some of which has gotten picked up by well-meaning people. So: what about bullying? What about learning CPR?”

    Simple response: “Give me one reason why we can’t do both.”

    • Larry Benjamin  On March 27, 2018 at 8:49 am

      Not to mention, the same people who have been laughing at “snowflakes” for the past year, are now saying that everyone should be nicer to the weird kids.

  • Abby Hafer  On March 26, 2018 at 4:43 pm

    As a side issue, giving CPR to someone who is bleeding to death is a really bad idea.

  • Larry Benjamin  On March 26, 2018 at 8:51 pm

    I can’t get too excited about Cambridge Analytica. If people put their information online in a publicly-accessible forum, it shouldn’t be surprising if someone collects and analyzes it. The information is tempting because it’s so valuable.

    The person who should really be upset is Mark Zuckerberg – he makes his living selling targeted advartising based on the data he collects on Facebook users, so the idea of someone figuring out how to harvest it for free puts his entire business model in jeopardy. The reason this won’t happen again is Zuckerberg and those like him will make sure it won’t.

    • Kaci  On March 27, 2018 at 8:35 am

      My issue is that if people are told their info is only available to the people they choose to share it with, it should in fact only be available to the people they share it with. Maybe it’s naive for me to expect people not to lie for their own benefit, but I also think it’s a defensible moral position.

      I’m okay with targeted advertising on Facebook itself as a revenue stream, the the sense of FB knows that I’m, say a cat lover, the advertiser wants to target cat lovers, so FB shows those ads to me without the advertiser knowing who I am. (Though if they’re so good at targeting, why do I never see an ad for anything remotely interesting?), but not with the data being used by someone else to target them in other situations.

      • Larry Benjamin  On March 27, 2018 at 8:47 am

        If someone sets their profile to only be visible to their friends, then I agree, that information shouldn’t be available to anyone else. However, many people have theirs set to “public” (which may be the default), so they can’t complain if an organization (that is a member of the “public”) collects that information and uses it for their own purposes.

        Also, the targeted ads I see on Facebook are creepily specific. For example, if I look at something on Amazon, I’ll start seeing ads for it on Facebook.

  • Larry Benjamin  On March 26, 2018 at 9:27 pm

    I predict that there won’t be a strike. Like most civil servants, Dept. of Education employees are prohibited from striking (this is why the police protest with “blue flu” – everyone calling in sick on the same day – instead of striking conventionally. Reagan took a huge risk in firing the air traffic controllers – firing the DOE staff wouldn’t be anywhere near as risky for Trump, because it would give him a great excuse to shut down a department he doesn’t like anyway.

  • Sara McCutcheon  On March 27, 2018 at 3:07 pm

    Accidentally posted this on the wrong article:

    KGB was poisoning people in the UK even before Obama’s election

  • Charles Roth  On March 28, 2018 at 10:01 am

    I loved your (months ago) “Casey at the bat” parody/homage. Perhaps it’s time for another? Sings “Don’t know why / Donald Trump cannot deny / Stormy weather…”


  • By Playing Beanbag | The Weekly Sift on April 2, 2018 at 12:18 pm

    […] anyway, that’s the solution to a mystery I noticed last week: In Trump’s bill-signing ceremony, he claimed that a border wall would put us “in a […]

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