Owning the Problem

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.

President John F. Kennedy (3-13-1962)

If you’re more upset by an athlete kneeling on a sports field than a police officer kneeling on a black man’s neck until he dies, then you are the problem.

Brian Klaas

This week’s featured post is “The Three Stories of George Floyd“.

This week everybody was talking about George Floyd

The featured post is already too long, but a lot of stuff didn’t get included.

A low point in a week of low points was Trump’s tweets about the demonstrations around the White House and the Secret Service response. First, he just flat-out lied about D. C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) “who is always looking for money & help, wouldn’t let the D.C. Police get involved.” D. C. police did in fact protect the White House.

[The Secret Service] let the “protesters” scream & rant as much as they wanted, but whenever someone got too frisky or out of line, they would quickly come down on them, hard – didn’t know what hit them. The front line was replaced with fresh agents, like magic. Big crowd, professionally organized, but nobody came close to breaching the fence. If they had they would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen. That’s when people would have been really badly hurt, at least. Many Secret Service agents just waiting for action. “We put the young ones on the front line, sir, they love it, and good practice.”

You can just hear the glee in his imagining the protesters being “really badly hurt”. I also sincerely doubt that the young Secret Service agents were chomping at the bit to go hurt protesters, the way Trump makes it sound.

Some of the pleas that black local officials made for peace and an end to the destruction were really moving. Here’s Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

Trump’s tweet that

The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization.

is based on nothing. Designating a terrorist organization is a legal act based on legislation. There is no legislation that covers domestic groups. His claim that Antifa is promoting the riots is also pretty much vacuous. It’s possible, but Trump has presented no evidence, and he has a history of making Antifa into a general-purpose boogie man.

Finally, it’s not even clear that Antifa is an organization. There are small local groups that use the label, and they share certain ideas and texts and tactics. (The main idea is that fascists are violent, and they need to be met with violence. The subtext is that the police cannot be trusted to protect progressives from fascists.) But it’s not like there’s a Pope of Antifa somewhere sending out orders. Talking about Antifa as an organization is like talking about jazz or yoga as an organization.

Remember: During World War II, Americans were all anti-fascists.

An amazing column in the Washington Post yesterday. A daughter from the family that owns Gandhi Mahal in Minneapolis reports overhearing her father’s reaction to their restaurant burning down: “Let my building burn. Justice needs to be served. Put those officers in jail.”

The protests and the violence and the fires will stop once we’re rid of this system that oppresses, and maims, and kills people like George Floyd. So let it burn.

Somebody drove a truck through a bunch of protesters on a bridge in Minneapolis yesterday. The details are still vague.

and 100,000 Covid-19 deaths

Well, not everybody was talking about this death milestone. The President of the United States had nothing to say on the topic.

Joe Biden, on the other hand, said something very moving and appropriate. He posted a 2:21-minute video on Twitter in which he marked the 100,000th death and sympathized with those who have lost loved ones.

I can promise you from experience, the day will come when the memory of your loved one will bring a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye.

The video is only briefly political, and does not mention the President’s name.

It’s made all the worse by knowing that this is a fateful milestone we should have never reached, that it could have been avoided. According to a study done by Columbia University, if the administration had acted just one week earlier to implement social distancing and do what it had to do, just one week sooner, as many as 36,000 of these deaths might have been averted.

Biden also does not center his message on himself. That “from experience” is the only allusion to his own losses, particularly his first wife and baby daughter dying in a traffic accident in 1972.

OK, so where are we: Currently at 106K deaths, up from 99K last week. The 7K increase is down from the 8K increase last week.

Desperate for a scapegoat, Trump ended US membership in the World Health Organization Friday.

The Supreme Court denied a California church’s request to throw out the state’s emergency rule that houses of worship only open at 25% of the ordinary building capacity. It was a 5-4 ruling with Justice Roberts siding with the Court’s four liberals. Justice Kavanaugh wrote a dissent for himself and Justices Gorsuch and Thomas.

The established law in such cases was explained well by Vox’ Ian Millhiser:

The general rule when a state is accused of abridging “religious liberty” is that churches and other religious institutions may be subjected to the same laws as everyone else, but they cannot be singled out for inferior treatment. Churches must comply with the fire code, follow most labor laws, obey the criminal law, and so forth. As the Supreme Court explained in Employment Division v. Smith (1990), people of faith must still obey “neutral” state laws of “general applicability.”

Roberts and Kavanaugh disagree about which secular institutions are comparable to a church. Roberts writes:

Similar or more severe restrictions apply to comparable secular gatherings, including lectures, concerts, movie showings, spectator sports, and theatrical performances, where large groups of people gather in close proximity for extended periods of time.

Kavanaugh wants to clump churches with different kinds of institutions.

The basic constitutional problem is that comparable secular businesses are not subject to a 25% occupancy cap, including factories, offices, supermarkets, restaurants, retail stores, pharmacies, shopping malls, pet grooming shops, bookstores, florists, hair salons, and cannabis dispensaries.

You now know was much as I do, and you can make up your own mind, but I think Kavanaugh is just being ridiculous. A church resembles a movie theater much more than a pet grooming shop.

and Michael Flynn

Summaries and partial transcripts of the Flynn/Kislyak conversations have been released. These are the conversations that Flynn lied about to the FBI. And the transcripts make that lie crystal clear: He told the FBI he didn’t discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador, when he really did.

Marcy Wheeler (who writes the blog EmptyWheel) assesses:

They’re utterly damning. … [F]rom the very start of this Administration, Flynn willingly set up the relationship with Russia such that Russia and Trump’s Administration were allied against Democrats — and anyone else who believed it was wrong for Russia to tamper in our election.

and Twitter

Tuesday, Twitter attached a fact-check warning to a Trump tweet that was full of misinformation about vote-by-mail. This was long overdue. In fact, if Twitter applied the same standards to Trump that it applies to everyone else, his account would have been closed long ago.

Trump’s tweet was still there. He had not been censored in any way. But he claimed — in a tweet — that he had been.

Big Tech is doing everything in their very considerable power to CENSOR in advance of the 2020 Election. If that happens, we no longer have our freedom. I will never let it happen!

And he spread more threatening disinformation.

Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices. We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen.

As he so often does — see the bit about Antifa above — he’s making threats based on powers he doesn’t have.

But he attempted to follow through with an executive order that is itself full of misinformation. It talks about online platforms that “censor content and silence viewpoints that they dislike”. (Again, his tweet is still there. He was fact-checked, not silenced.) And it calls on the FCC to “clarify” the laws that don’t hold online platforms responsible for what users post there.

Lawfare comments:

The key language of Section 230—“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider”—leaves no ambiguity to enable FCC rulemaking or FCC action at all. Nor does language about good-faith removals limit this provision in any way. Rather, the statute simply lays out a standard for courts to review intermediary liability claims. Plus, even if the FCC could rewrite Section 230, that would not stop the Trump tweet fact-check—Twitter still enjoys First Amendment protection for what it says on its own platform. Regarding the FTC, the order wrongly interprets platforms’ merely aspirational guidelines on openness as mandatory promises; no one seriously believes that Twitter is totally neutral toward all content, no matter how horrible.

But the likelihood that the order won’t withstand judicial scrutiny misses the point. The threat of the order itself, even as wrong as it is, does exactly the damage Trump wants to do: It pressures companies into giving his content preferential treatment.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg told Fox News that he disagreed with what Twitter was doing.

I believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online.

Two Australian satire sites then posted headlines with false info about Zuckerberg. The Shovel posted “Mark Zuckerberg — dead at 36 — Says Social Media Sites Should Not Fact-Check Posts”. And The Chaser posted “Social media sites shouldn’t fact-check posts” says child molester Mark Zuckerberg, then followed with “Child molesters sue The Chaser after being compared to Mark Zuckerberg“.

Twitter did nothing about another Trump disinformation campaign.

In the annals of Trump’s many scurrilous slanders, this one stands out: He keeps pushing a conspiracy theory that accuses MSNBC host and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough of murder. A Scarborough congressional staffer, Lori Kaye Klausutis, died in the office 2001. She “died when she suffered a heart condition that caused her to fall and hit her head on a desk”. Scarborough “was 800 miles away at the time and the police ruled her death an accident.”

The woman’s husband, Timothy Klausutis, wrote to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. He quoted three Trump tweets, and then made a request:

Please delete these tweets.

I’m a research engineer and not a lawyer, but I’ve reviewed all of Twitter’s rules and terms of service. The President’s tweet that suggests that Lori was murdered — without evidence (and contrary to the official autopsy) — is a violation of Twitter’s community rules and terms of service. An ordinary user like me would be banished from the platform for such a tweet but I am only asking that these tweets be removed.

… I’m asking you to intervene in this instance because the President of the United States has taken something that does not belong to him — the memory of my dead wife — and perverted it for perceived political gain. … My wife deserves better.

But Twitter has not removed the tweets or banished Trump. When reporters asked Trump about the tweets Tuesday in the Rose Garden, he substituted his own imaginings about the family for the husband’s expressed wishes:

I’m sure that, ultimately, they want to get to the bottom of it and it’s a very serious situation. As you know, there’s no statute of limitations. So, [reopening the investigation] would be a very good, very good thing to do.

As usual, Trump has no new evidence that challenges the conclusions of the original investigation. He’s just stirring up trouble for Scarborough, who he views as an enemy. Tim Klausutis and the rest of the dead woman’s family are just collateral damage.

A handful of Republicans in Congress have denounced this unscrupulous attack on one of their own, but the great majority have remained silent. There seems to be literally nothing Trump could do that would result in widespread criticism from his party, much less any substantive discipline.

The WaPo’s Brian Klaas calls the intransigence of Trump cultists “the Fifth Avenue problem” and comments:

American democracy is badly broken if few people change their minds about a president who falsely accuses someone of murder or boasts about his TV ratings while 100,000 Americans lose their lives and nearly 40 million lose their jobs. And that says as much about the dysfunctional state of our country as it does about Trump.

and you also might be interested in …

SpaceX successfully launched two astronauts into space and then docked their vehicle with the International Space Station.

The National Hockey League has a plan for going straight to playoffs and crowning a champion in early autumn: 24 teams would play in two hub cities. The cities, the dates, and the final decision about whether this will happen at all are still pending.

Some for-profit colleges run a scam where students are conned into maxxing out their student loans, but are left without the marketable credentials or skills the college’s pitch promised. Fraudulent colleges find veterans particularly attractive because of their GI benefits.

The Obama administration made rules that forgave these student loans, but the Trump administration rolled those rules back. Congress passed a bill re-establishing the Obama rules, but Trump just vetoed it writing:

[The bill] sought to reimpose an Obama-era regulation that defined education fraud so broadly that it threatened to paralyze the nation’s system of higher education.

Unsurprising, I guess, that the founder of Trump University would have so much sympathy with education fraudsters.

Mitch Daniels was the Republican governor of Indiana before Mike Pence, and is now president of Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana. Last Monday, he wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post about why Purdue will reopen its campus in the fall.

I have too much to say about this, which I hope to get to next week. The gist of his argument is that most Purdue students are young and young people mostly don’t die from the virus, so “failing to reopen Purdue University this fall would be an unacceptable breach of duty”.

In other words, he’s using the magic of averages to make the victims of his policy — older students, janitors, secretaries, professors — go away. I can imagine a sound and anguished weighing of risks and benefits that concluded with opening Purdue. But this isn’t it, and the president of an institution of higher learning should be ashamed to give his students such a shoddy example.

The Lincoln Project is a group of never-Trump Republicans who have been making anti-Trump TV ads. This week they branched out and started going after Mitch McConnell as well.

and let’s close with something squirrely

Mark Rober apparently is something of a YouTube sensation, with 11.8 million subscribers, but I hadn’t heard of him before this video. He started out trying to protect his bird feeder from squirrels, but as they foiled one device after another, he came to have first a grudging admiration for their persistence and athleticism, and then a real fascination with them. At 20 minutes, his “Building the Perfect Squirrel Proof Bird Feeder” video is longer than my usual closing, but well worth it.

And while we’re talking squirrels, Christopher Moore’s new novel Shakespeare for Squirrels is an amusing way to pass the time while sheltering at home. This is the third Moore novel to follow King Lear’s former fool, Pocket of Dog Snogging upon Ouze. Pocket was introduced in Foole, which retold King Lear in a way that made Pocket the hero. He then moved on to The Serpent of Venice, and now shows up in the timeless Athens of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

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  • Abby  On June 2, 2020 at 1:06 am

    Well, Brett, maybe your church is different from mine. My church is arranged a lot like a theater. There’s that raised-up place at the front that we’re supposed to call the chancel, but most people call it a stage. Those seats are called pews, but we sit in them for concerts as well as for church services. But maybe your church is different. Maybe up at the front, you have a utility sink, like they do at a dog groomer’s. Maybe that aisle that brides walk down has boxes of Wheaties on either side, like at a supermarket. But I doubt it.

  • frankackerman0617  On June 2, 2020 at 5:01 pm

    Almost all of my information and opinion on current events comes from the liberal media. I’m open to getting information from conservative sources, but I’m usually not willing to spend any time or energy trying to winnow out all of the misinformation. Today from one of my investment newsletters I was pointed to this recent interview with President Trump (https://www.bucksexton.com/content/2020-05-28-trump-says-hes-engaged-in-george-floyd-death-calls-biden-a-lost-sheep/).

    If you can put yourself in to frame of mind of a Trump supporter, I maintain that it sounds pretty good. Of course you have to tune your mind and ears to accept unstructured, often meaningless, English, but if you do, and you try to hear this as a loyal Trump supporter I think you’ll find that it sounds pretty good, and the story it tells is quite the opposite of the story you, as a liberal, hear from the liberal media.

    Herein lies one of the reasons I’m not optimistic about defeating Trump in November. If you’ve followed my instructions to listen to this interview with a Trump supporter’s consciousness, you might well think, ”Why are the god-awful liberals trying so hard to besmirch good fellow Trump?”

  • Creigh Gordon  On June 4, 2020 at 2:40 pm

    “During WWII, Americans were all anti-fascist”

    Far from it.

    • pauljbradford  On June 4, 2020 at 10:06 pm

      The entire country was united in fighting two fascist opponents. The anti-war faction once war was declared was miniscule. What do you mean by “far from it”?

  • frankackerman0617  On June 5, 2020 at 5:05 pm

    Preview! Preview! Trump loses in November to a reasonable, but not overwhelming, electoral college majority. He charges large-scale mail-in voting fraud, and declares a national emergency while the FBI investigates. This ignites widespread protests around the country. Extremist use the opportunity to incite looting and arson. Trump declares martial law throughout the country, and moves as many of his battalions into as many cities as he has battalions. Troops in DC shut down Congress and detain congresspeople. Protestors are apprehended wholesale. Civil war has begun.

  • ccyager  On June 5, 2020 at 5:24 pm

    “We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen.”

    Trump doesn’t seem to realize what he’s said here. He complains about social media platforms silencing conservatives, so his solution is to silence social media platforms? Who’s censoring whom? Not that he has the power to do any of this.

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