Friday, February 16, 2018


It's amazing that the GOP has successfully spun "collusion" in a way that it's largely accepted that, unless Donald Trump himself personally spoke to Russian officials about the election, there were was no "collusion". It's a triumph of semantics and legal technicalities.

Whether or not the Special Counsel finds sufficient evidence to meet the very hard legal standards of "collusion", we know for a fact that it happened. Even President Trump himself now admits-- in light of today's indictments-- that the Russians interfered with the election (though he claims we know it didn't affect the outcome). Goal-posts moved!

We know the following:
1. The Russians worked with internet trolls, hackers like Wikileaks, and more to harm Hillary Clinton's campaign and poison our democracy in an effort to aid the GOP. That effort continues in 2018. A coordinated propaganda machine of epic proportions.

2. The Trump campaign was filled with shady actors, such as Paul Manafort... who worked for Trump FOR FREE, and was receiving $$$ from overseas scum like Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, the Russia-backed president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych, and others. Trump is no fool. He had knew that there was a reason Manafort did not require a campaign salary. He accepted his help until it became a big story.

Another figure was Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos who was told, around April 2016, that high-level Russian officials had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton and "thousands" of her emails. He did not contact authorities to report this crime, and instead this knowledge affected a lot of the campaign's behavior afterward.

3. Trump openly welcomed the Russian efforts, praising Wikileaks countless times during the campaign, and even stating in July of 2016 at a public event, “I will tell you this, Russia: If you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”.

4. Wikileaks had been in contact with Donald Trump Jr, GOP operative Roger Stone, and others. They all claim the exchanges were innocuous.

5. Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort (the latter, still then campaign manager) attended a private meeting at Trump Tower in July 2016 with a Russian lawyer and others. The meeting was arranged after Trump Jr. was promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton. The Trumps continued to lie about the meeting well into 2017. There is no way that this meeting was arranged with Don Sr's blessing.

So, again, what does all this mean legally? Who knows. We will see, either way. But there is no doubt that the Trump campaign was aware-- well before the general public-- that the Russians were working illegally to sabotage the election, and they actively participated in (and encouraged) these efforts. We should not allow that to be spun away.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Truth Matters

The Nunes memo is one of the clearest examples on how the media's obsession with the idea that all stories have two valid sides is destroying our democracy.

Rep. Nunes-- who worked on the President's transition and was supposed to recuse himself from all aspects of the investigation into the Russia matter-- wrote a memo based on a FISA warrant he admits he never even saw. The House Republicans who *did* see the memo state explicitly his assessment of it is wrong. The purpose of this "memo"-- claiming that the surveillance of Trump campaign foreign-policy adviser Carter Page was a political scam (an easily-disproved lie)-- is to turn the entire Special Counsel investigation into another he said-she said partisan debate. Note: it has already had its intended affect. The GOP cult/base now hate the DoJ and FBI and they, and Congressional leaders, will immediately discard the Special Counsel's final report later this year.

But the Nunes saga has a clearer example... a few days ago, Nunes stated, "As far as we can tell, Papadopoulos had never even met with the President". (Papadopoulos was another member of the foreign policy advisory panel for Trump's campaign; he pled guilty to lying to the FBI about contacts he had with the Russian government in 2016) This is easily disproved... a fast Google search will bring up photos of GP meeting with Trump. So Nunes' statement is unequivocally false. Truth isn't an opinion matter.

We can take one of two conclusions from this: 1) Nunes is a straight-up liar, using his power in the House to protect a guilty President (the more obvious answer), or 2) the chairman of the House *Intelligence* Committee is extremely bad at his job, and everything he says should be treated as suspect. Neither option allows you to take Nunes or his memo as a credible news story. To avoid that, if you ask the MAGA base or media, Nunes' statement about Papadopoulos & Trump is true. Doesn't matter if you can easily disprove it. They say Nunes was correct, and so he was. Truth doesn't matter. Protecting their reality does.

But the media should not play along. The headlines about this memo or the whole saga shouldn't be about a "controversy" or a he said-she said. The headlines should be that Nunes is a liar whose memo is an already-disproved political hit job. But that's rarely been the case. Because "neutrality" means that truth is not important. And that is how we ended up here, and why it's only getting worse.

Conservatives and the Cult of Trump

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Four More Years.

On this week's Left, Right and Center show on KCRW, the panelists looked ahead to the second term of President Obama and what they expected from it. The question of a President's legacy is a complicated one. Does one piece of legislation define a President? Or a larger narrative (such as FDR's push for a New Deal, or Reagan's anti-government verbiage)?

Let's look at the most recent Presidents. For George W. Bush, the legacy seems easy... a runaway national security state and a country in a permanent state of war. Bill Clinton? For all his lingering popularity, I doubt many can satisfactorily answer this question. Sadly, in the long run, his legacy may be a financial sector freed from the protections in place since the New Deal. In terms of impact on the nation, I can't think of anything bigger. So, not a great past 20 years so far.

Now, for President Obama. Legislatively, for the first term, there's nothing bigger than the Affordable Care Act (whose ultimate legacy can't yet be known). Narratively, unfortunately, he has been obsessed with chasing the bipartisanship dragon and the idea of "fixing Washington", not by achieving some specific policy agenda, but by making everyone more polite.

To guess at his real legacy, it's important to remember what he inherited-- an economy teetering on the edge of depression, on top of an existing trend of growing economic inequality. Yes, technically speaking, the economy has recovered... albeit in a way that has only exacerbated and exposed that growing economic gap for many. In the end, I fear that is what the Obama legacy will be judged on. Did we turn back the tide on what many people see as the dissolving of the American dream? Or were we satisfied just to keep the ship afloat a little while longer?

Four years ago, on the eve of his first inauguration, I wrote about my cautious optimism for the Obama presidency, given his seeming unwillingness to make any radical changes to the nation. Four years later, with mostly a series of budget fights with Congress on the horizon, my caution remains, with slightly less of the optimism.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Militia America

After recent (endless) tragedies, the issue of gun control went front-and-center in the American political dialogue... before being buried in an avalanche of fiscal cliff puff pieces and general holiday rest. But advocates should not wait until the next mass murder to reawaken the debate. The dialogue must continue now.

A good friend of mine recently posted online his anger at the notion that the government might come and "disarm" him, and steal his property. I focus on this because this general type of statement is the predominant sentiment you hear from gun rights people. This blog post was my rebuttal.

Firstly, regarding the notion that hypothetical gun control laws could be equated with a neighbor stealing another's property, it must be stated that the relationship between the citizens and their government versus the one between citizens and their neighbors isn't really comparable. I don't expect my neighbor to repair roads, fight wars, and send my Nana her Social Security checks, but I do expect the government to.

More importantly, the government is constitutionally allowed to regulate commerce. We accept-- and even want-- this all the time because we are a first-world society (requiring food/drinks to be tested and free of poisons, pollution laws, automobile safety standards, workplace safety, consumer & banking protections, etc)... but we think of guns as different because of the culture around them. What type of guns/ammo can be sold, and how, is well within the regulatory authority of legislatures. Even constitutional literalist Supreme Court Justice Scalia, while upholding gun rights overall, defended this concept, even noting that the Founders themselves imposed limitations as was seen fit.

It is no more unconstitutional to regulate guns than it is for the government to tell a car company they can't sell cars with faulty brakes. And if gun control laws were passed-- which, really, there is little chance of, given the cowards in the Capitol-- no one is coming for anyone's guns. Let's use my car example. If you bought/own a car that is later made illegal and it's in your garage, is someone "coming" for it? No. If you are seen using that illegal item out in public, then yes, you are subject to legal action.

Of course, all gun control proposals on the table are about banning assault weapons, automatics/semis, high-capacity magazines, etc... weapons whose only design is mass murder. No one is talking about banning self-defense handguns or hunting rifles. This is the huge misnomer here.

(For instance, here is what we know about the guns the Newtown killer had in his possession. I can't see any justification for why someone needs this weapon for self-defense or hunting or any rational reason. What scenario do people fear where they need such an arsenal? Zombie apocalypse?)

We also already have have gun regulations in place-- background check rules, things like that-- that even most gun owners in polls agree with. So there is zero disagreement on whether legislatures have constitutional authority to regulate guns... just a general and fair debate on what regulations we as a society want.

That's my substantive retort.

As an aside, though, I reject this culture around people feeling they need to have major arsenals (like the Lanzas had) in their home to protect their family. Why is it that the supposed tough guys are more afraid of the world around us than us supposed cowards? The heroic tale where someone kills a madman or home invader is exceedingly rare. Not as rare? Situations where someone kills themself, a loved one, or bystander by accident.

Just doing a quick search right now for stories in the past several weeks, I found the following: a man who killed his 7-year-old when his gun accidentally went off in his hands; a woman who killed her brother while posing with a gun for photos; a dad accidentally killed his 8yo son while cleaning his gun; two young kids injured when a gun was brandished about during a domestic dispute between two adults; a 16yo girl shot by her grandpa who mistook her for an intruder; a 3yo who found his dad's gun and shot himself to death; an elderly man who shot himself in the chest at a shooting range; a man who shot himself & a friend while trying to load a gun at a gun show; a man in VT who accidentally killed himself with his gun; a man who shot/killed his brother when he mistook him for an intruder; a man accidently kills a 15yo while showing him a gun, and a woman killed by her brother who was playing with his gun while drunk. That was a quick search of stories from the past month!

Not as many stories about heroes using their guns to save the day.

Now, let me just say that I support peoples rights to own guns, while also supporting the government's right to regulate (the word "regulated", of course being in the 2nd Amendment) that area of our commerce no different from any other.

And I really get frightened when the main pro-gun arguments I come across on Twitter or blogs are from people who seem to want American homes to become a series of self-made militias preparing for some fantasy revolution.... and then think the only reason their fellow citizens might object is because we are freedom-hating Nazis. Maybe we're just more afraid of the unstable people who think they are protecting everyone than we are of the phantom boogeymen hiding behind every corner.

In the end, that is the problem: this boils down to a difference in how people see the world. And the people who see it that way are in control of the debate.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Fantasy Debate

It's the debate period of election season, and people are asking... who won? Was that a gaffe? What did the focus groups say? Less asked is whether these debates are really a helpful exercise for the average American. In last night's VP debate, ABC's Martha Raddatz got a lot of praise for her moderating skills (which, while excellent, benefited greatly from the low bar Jim Lehrer set the week before). But, while she did facilitate a good dialogue between the two candidates, the scope of her questions was rather limited (and Lehrer even moreso). As Grist's David Roberts lamented on Twitter, "They got asked about God, civility, and their souls, but not immigration, education, energy, or climate change. Travesty."

If you only watched these debates, you would think the top economic priorities for Americans are the top marginal tax rates for millionaires, and the budget deficit. Foreign policy? The hypothetical state of Iran's nuclear ambitions, and the state of security at U.S. embassies abroad. Seems rather narrow for a country as famously diverse of opinion as ours.

So I will attempt to do better. If I were hosting a debate, what are the top 10 questions I would want answered? While I come at this from the left, I believe these questions would elicit answers most conservatives would find helpful as well. I did my best to word them as neutral and academic as possible. Feedback is welcome.

1. Four years ago, we had a global economic crash brought on by a housing bubble and risky bets by large banks and the financial sector. This crisis is not only being felt by Americans, but has wrecked havoc across Europe and beyond. Why have there been no prosecutions in the financial sector for this? And with Too-Big-To-Fail still intact, how can we ensure this won't happen again?

[Potential follow-up: If we reject regulation in a free market society, are potential economic crashes and recessions a natural consequence we must accept?]

2. While many actions have been taken to heal the wounds of the crisis, unemployment remains high, with many having to settle for part-time or temporary jobs. Given additionally how much the economy is changing globally, what new ideas can we turn to to reverse these trends? Or, with many large companies choosing to keep their payrolls low (even with so many needing work) to boost profits, is 5-8% unemployment going to become a new normal for the immediate future?

[Potential follow-up: If tax cuts are proposed, note growth of tax cuts & credits as job growth declined... ask what difference there would be this time.]

3. One other big trend in terms of the economy over the last few decades has been a sharp rise in income inequality. In 2010, for instance, 93 percent of income gains went to the top 1 percent... in addition to the larger trend of flat-lining wages for the average worker as CEO pay and tax breaks for investment earners grew. What policies do you see as accounting for this?

And how do we fix this, if you believe we should at all.

4. While partisan differences here remain sharp, the scientific consensus on climate change has never been stronger. With the potential to disrupt ecosystems, cause economic shockwaves, and global resource conflicts, why has this issue been ignored? Given the global scale of the problem, what needs to be done?

If this isn't a problem, what did the scientific community get wrong?

5. Between existing programs (Medicare, Medicaid, private plans) and new (the 2010 Obama law), more Americans are getting access to healthcare. However, the costs of healthcare across America continue to rise, affecting all Americans, in these programs or not. Medical bills are now the #1 cause of personal bankruptcy in America. What can be done to resolve this?

[Potential follow-up: If candidate proposes to repeal or change one of these existing programs, ask how what replaces it will be more cost-effective for the gov't and taxpayers.]

6. Money and politics have always been bed-fellows. But critics insist the recent Citizens United decision has opened the flood-gates of secret money from special interests in elections. How does this spending affect the legislative process?

What controls or limits would you support on this spending? Be specific.

7. Issues of minority rights are a growing concern across America. Women are seeing a growing effort to roll back previous victories on reproductive freedom issues. Minority groups are seeing new attacks on the Voting Rights Act, and affirmative action is now being reviewed by the Supreme Court. Latino groups feel they are unfairly targeted by new laws, and that documented and undocumented immigrants are being conflated and scapegoated.

Can you comment on each of these issues? Where will your administration stand on pending (and/or new) legislation related to these groups?

8. There has been a growing, though not yet majority, consensus that the drug war, as we know it, has been a failure... wasting police resources, and ballooning our prison systems with small, one-time offenders. Is it time to re-think the laws and policies that make up the drug war?

If yes, what is the new direction? If no, what costs can we allow in maintaining this status quo?

9. Moving on to foreign policy, the United States has been at war now for over 11 years. How has a decade+ of non-stop war affected the country?

Furthermore, what would constitute a victory in the war on terror? If it, by definition, cannot end, how do we factor the ever-increasing costs when evaluating other priorities? What sacrifices is your administration willing to make in service of this?

10. Finally, a growing concern for Americans across the left-right spectrum has been the rise in the use of drones... both overseas and here at home.

For use in foreign policy, does the use of drones (which eliminate the pain of asking Americans to sacrifice ground troops, or notify us at all) make it too easy for a President to engage in military action? What about the costs of civilian deaths in the countries we engage in?

For use at home, what assurances can your administration give about Americans' privacy and civil liberty concerns?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Job Creators.

Rolling Stone has a piece in their new issue taking on Mitt Romney's bane... well, Bain Capital. The subtitle of the article is not subtle: "How the GOP presidential candidate and his private equity firm staged an epic wealth grab, destroyed jobs – and stuck others with the bill".

This got me thinking about one of the Republican Party's great lies of the Obama era... the myth of the mighty, god-like "job creator". This is the #1 (of many) buzzword to protect the rich from any of the "shared sacrifice" we are told that we all have to endure.

The economy is issue #1 for Americans and, while Republicans don't really have any honest plans to fix it, they have mastered how to talk about it (as seen by their cynical 'We Build It' convention this week).

The GOP has been complaining since President Obama took office (but not before) about high unemployment, which is a real issue that I'm not dismissing. So why haven't the mighty 'job creators' been, well, creating jobs? We get a litany of excuses... they need their taxes lowered endlessly, vague 'uncertainty', environmental laws are mean to them, Obamacare, etc (No one was more ridiculous on the latter than the CEO of Papa John's).

We hear the "job creator" line particularly in regards to the coming expiration of the Bush tax cuts (note: Bush & the GOP passed those cuts with the expiration in the law... now they're whining). But those tax cuts aren't a new proposal... they've been in place for over a decade. They're in place now. So where are the jobs? Hidden under the excuses.

The inconvenient truth is that the "job creators"-- or, at the least, the wealthy ones that Congress caters to-- don't want to create jobs. It's just simply not to their benefit... creating jobs cuts into their profits. Fact #1: As both Romney and Obama have acknowledged, Big Business is doing just fine (alt link). Fact #2: although companies have shed jobs, worker productivity is at an all-time high in America. So companies have learned that they can make greater profits with less (but harder-working) workers. Why would they mess with that success? They won't, but if they can blackmail more tax cuts & deregulation out of Congress with false promises of 'job creation', they certainly will.

Finally, regarding Bain specifically, Romney tries to paint this picture of himself investing in, and rescuing, struggling companies. Bain very rarely did this, though. Why would they? They're a profit-driven company; not a charity. For the most part, Bain invested in, and bought up, already healthy and profitable companies. Then they proceeded to load that company up with debt, suck out all the $$$ they could, lay off workers to squeeze out a little more $$, watch as the company falls into bankruptcy, and throws the husk to the taxpayer. In one view, this certainly made Romney a success. In another view, it did what the "job creators" have really been doing... destroyed the economic well-being of middle-class workers so that America's economic elite can further grow and consolidate their wealth. Then the poor and working-class get blamed for their own failures.

Will voters fall for this? The GOP is certainly worried, which is why so much of their rhetoric is aimed at dividing the middle-class against itself (hard workers vs. the lazy poor; private sector vs. public, etc). But a unified, and angry, middle-class is what they-- especially the 'job creators-- fear most.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

The Tea Party, and Know-Nothing Politics

Once again I find myself cobbling together a blog post out of something I wrote on Facebook. In this case, a response to this article: "Reminder: 44 Percent of Tea Partiers Are on Medicare". It (partly) attacks the hypocrisy of this movement, specifically wondering at the end, "Cutting government spending is all well and good when it's happening in the ghettos; what happens when austerity comes to their door?"

Someone responded to the posting of that link, first saying that it is wrong to paint the Tea Party as one homogeneous movement (point taken... after all, that's how they view everything), but also adding that "in this instance, if they've paid into Medicare over their lifetime there certainly is some significant rationale for wanting to see that returned in some fashion."

Absolutely. But that proves the hypocrisy rather than disproves it.

The underlying hypocrisy(*) is this idea that the Tea Party believe in that the government is some vague, shapeless boogeyman... and this leads them to believe even the most mundane things (ie. the census) are conspiracies to rob them of freedom.

Yes, Medicare is a service that they (and we) have paid in to our entire working lives... and they want it. Why? Because it's a much better deal, and much more efficient system, than private insurance.

And that is the point. This is what government does- it provides services to us that we want (whether police, firefighters, roads, schools, libraries etc on a local level... or entitlements, the EPA, military, FDA, Pell Grants, etc on a federal level), and we pay for those services in the form of taxes (which are at a post-WWII low). This is not oppression, or some Orwellian conspiracy. It's just basic governance in a modern, first-world nation.

Part of people's aversion to government is not taking into account the many things it does for them-- that we take for granted-- believing instead in the boogeyman version that the GOP has manufactured through top-rate spin ("job creators" is my new favorite buzzword). See this chart to see how big that disconnect is:

Of course, government-- like any entity, public or private-- is not perfect. Ours has made some very bad choices in the last decade. The answer to that, though, is to fight to make government better and more responsive to the needs of the many... not to try and kill it by attrition, which has been the Tea Party governing philosophy. Moreover, a movement that fights to elect people who privatize/corporatize vital public services and continue America's upward redistribution of wealth can hardly be called "populist" by any honest definition of that word.

To me, the Tea Party is simply a mix of misdirected populist anger, and a rebranding of old Birch Society or Know-Nothing right-wing politics. That it has gained such a strangle-hold on our national politics is as much a failure of the left (to form its own populist movement) as it is a success of the right.

[*And that's ignoring the hypocrisy of a Republican Party which ran to the left of Democrats on Medicare in 2010 (by misrepresenting, once again, the healthcare reform bill) and then voted en masse in 2011 to support turning it in a privatized voucher system. Spoiler alert: They're planning the same trick again for 2012.]