Sunday, May 20, 2018
Other than Donald Trump, one of the biggest liars and frauds in Washington, D.C., is soon to be former House Speaker Paul Ryan, a man who never deserved to be treated as a serious conservative voice. His relentless efforts to slash funding for the less fortunate in order to shower massive tax cuts on the obscenely wealthy while feigning to be a devout Catholic demonstrate Ryan's rank hypocrisy. Worse yet, since January 20, 2017, Ryan has put the interest of the nation and the rule of law beneath rank partisanship and protecting an occupant of the White House who is likely guilty of obstruction of justice, if not actual treason. Ryan should never have been given respect much less treated as someone honest. With Ryan leaving at the end of his current term, a column in the Washington Post by a former Republican looks at Ryan's foul legacy. Here are column excerpts:
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s last year in office is proving disastrous, a fitting end to the speakership of a man once considered a principled conservative reformer. His refusal to fulfill his constitutional role as leader of the House but rather play the role of presidential poodle and Republican attack dog for his increasingly unhinged caucus has had dire consequences for the GOP House majority, the intelligence oversight process and the broader conservative movement.
Among his most egregious failures has been his refusal to rein in House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who, in concert with the White House, created a phony “unmasking” scandal and released a misleading memo casting aspersions on the FBI and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in connection with the warrant to conduct surveillance on suspected spy Carter Page. As Nunes’s crowd, together with the president, now threatens to reveal a secret FBI and CIA source, in an unprecedented breach of the House’s intelligence oversight responsibilities, the extent of Ryan’s reckless disregard for his oath becomes clear.
There is no evidence the FBI behaved improperly. (“The FBI commonly uses sources and informants to gather evidence and its regulations allow for use of informants even before a formal investigation has been opened. In many law enforcement investigations, the use of sources and informants precedes more invasive techniques such as electronic surveillance.”) . . . . had the FBI failed to follow up on evidence that a presidential campaign was engaged in secret communications with a foreign government, it would have been excoriated for dereliction of duty. Moreover, none of this was revealed during the campaign — in stark contrast to the airing of the allegations against Hillary Clinton for misuse of email, an action that looks downright trivial in comparison with a far-flung Russian plot to boost Trump, a scheme that at critical points was eagerly greeted by top members of the Trump campaign.
At any stage in this outrageous attack on American intelligence operations and the Justice Department, Ryan could have stepped in to replace members of the Intelligence Committee, to reprimand them and/or to rebuff the president’s attempt to interfere with and smear investigators seeking to uncover an attack on our democracy.
Ryan’s legacy will be not only of someone who politically enabled an unfit president, but also of someone who presided over the erosion of trust required for a proper intelligence oversight process. Ryan has done his party no favors in permitting it to become irrational conspiratorialists and antagonists of our intelligence community. His passivity has only encouraged Trump to abuse his powers, which may, when the facts are laid bare, amount to obstruction of justice.
This week Ryan completely lost control of his own troops, watching the farm bill go down in humiliating fashion as he tried to stave off an immigration compromise that might actually pass. He is no longer doing the people’s business . . . . . Perhaps he should retire now. Any temporary replacement could hardly do a worse job for the remaining months of the GOP majority.
In the wake of one mass shooting after another the Republicans in Congress have blocked any meaningful effort to pass common sense gun control measures - an even better move would to remove gun manufacturer immunity from lawsuits by those harmed by their deadly products - many Millennials seemingly are waking to the reality that the only way to create change is to register to vote and "vote the bastards out." Data reveals that the young are registering at an accelerated rate and, if they actually get to the polls, could achieve the goal of sending politicians bought and paid for the gun lobby into forced retirement. A piece in the New York Times looks at the phenomenon. Here are highlights:
The pace of new voter registrations among young people in crucial states is accelerating, a signal that school shootings this year — and the anger and political organizing in their wake — may prove to be more than ephemeral displays of activism.
They could even help shape the outcome of the midterm elections. If voters in their teens and 20s vote in greater numbers than usual, as many promised during nationwide marches for gun control this spring, the groundswell could affect close races in key states like Arizona and Florida, where there will be competitive races for governor, the Senate and a number of House districts in November.
The deadly shooting on Friday at Santa Fe High School in Texas will probably add urgency to the efforts. Hours after the carnage, young organizers mobilized by the February mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., were vowing a political response.
“Santa Fe High, you didn’t deserve this,” Emma González, an organizer from Parkland, posted on Twitter. “You deserve peace all your lives, not just after a tombstone saying that is put over you. You deserve more than Thoughts and Prayers, and after supporting us by walking out we will be there to support you by raising up your voices.”
The question is whether they will vote. Even some Republicans are beginning to believe they will.
“The shooting at Parkland high school was the tipping point for these kids,” said Christine Matthews, a Republican pollster. “The bravery and activism of the Parkland kids ignited their peers across the country, and these newly minted 18-year-old voters are already motivated. The school shooting in Texas surely adds to their resolve but, honestly, they didn’t need any more motivation.”
Voter data for March and April show that young registrants represented a higher portion of new voters in Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, among other states. In Florida, voters under 26 jumped from less than 20 percent of new registrants in January and February to nearly 30 percent by March, the month of the gun control rallies.
In North Carolina, voters under 25 represented around 30 percent of new registrations in January and February; in March and April, they were around 40 percent.
In Pennsylvania, voter registrations across age groups increased sharply in March and April before the primary last week, but registrations of young voters increased the fastest, jumping to 45 percent in March and more than half in April, from fewer than 40 percent of voters in January and February.
And those new registrants lean Democratic. Of the new voters ages 25 and under in the state, a third registered as Democrats; 21 percent signed up as Republicans; and 46 percent registered as either unaffiliated or with another political party.
In addition to the registration figures, new polling of younger voters from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics found a significant jump from two years ago in those who say their involvement will make a difference. Such optimism indicates a voter is more likely to actually turn out.
“What I have seen is what I am calling a once in a generation attitudinal shift about the efficacy of participating in the political process,” said John Della Volpe, the director of the institute, who has specialized in polling younger voters for nearly two decades. “I am optimistic that the increasing interest we have tracked in politics will likely lead to increased participation in the midterms.”
So far, the Harvard polling indicates that Democrats are the more likely beneficiary of the increased commitment to voting, with half of voters 18 to 29 saying they will vote Democratic. The remainder are divided between Republicans and independents.
“Also, just the sheer number of individuals who say they will definitely vote, 37 percent, is as high as it’s ever been,” Mr. Della Volpe said. “That’s likely to only grow stronger. The number among Democrats is 51 percent saying they will definitely vote.”
Younger voters were not moved by either President Trump or Hillary Clinton, but Mr. Trump’s election reawakened them “only to be brought to life in more powerful ways in the last two months, post-Parkland shooting,” Mr. Della Volpe said. “This now has the potential to turbocharge that.”
The deaths in Texas may only add more fuel.
Several groups are working to help that happen. NextGen America, a group funded by the activist billionaire Tom Steyer, is targeting voters ages 18 to 35 in 10 traditional battleground states, in addition to Arizona. The group reported on Monday that it had registered 36,789 voters, including 8,459 in Florida, its top state.
Another group, Inspire U.S., has been concentrating on registering high school students in their classrooms. They have registration drives in 10 states and more than 200 high schools and have registered more than 41,000 students since the group started three years ago. Inspire also uses a texting app to remind users to vote.
Many governors are promoting voter registration drives in their state’s high schools, including Virginia in recent weeks.
Let's hope the registrations continue, that these newly registered voters actually vote, and that the midterms turn out to be a bloodbath for Republicans.
Saturday, May 19, 2018
Satan is sometimes referred to as the "Lord of Lies." In 2018 America, the name also applies to the occupant of the White House who - like his evangelical supporters - must be assumed to be lying if his lips are moving. Sadly, the same applies to most of the Republican leadership in Congress. The latest lie being circulated is that somehow the FBI plotted to "entrap" Trump and his minions in a scandal of Russian collusion. Never mind the issue that if one has no criminal or sinister intent, it is hard to be entrapped in the first place. Plus, as a piece in New York Magazine lays out, the key to the supposed plot - an "October surprise" - never occurred. If anything, James Comey's baseless letter in October about reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton, shows that Trump and devin Nune' latest manufactured conspiracy theory is absolutely ridiculous. Not, of course, that Trump's mindless base of support will ever be swayed but the baselessness of the newest effort to undermine the FBI and the Russiagate investigation. Here are article excerpts:
There has been no more barometrically reliable insight into the Trump administration’s defense strategy on Russia than Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel. Her weekly missives, essentially transcribed straight from the fevered mind of Devin Nunes, bring the readers up to date on every twist and turn in the developing conspiracy theories about the nefarious Deep State plot to frame the innocent president.
Strassel’s latest missive brings into view the latest working theory. It holds that James Comey planted a spy in the Trump campaign, in order to set in motion an investigation that would be used to smear Trump as a Russian tool, and thereby to hand the election to Hillary Clinton. This is the theory Trump is referring to when he rages about a plot that is “worse than Watergate.”
Put aside for a moment whether it is actually scandalous for the FBI to use an informant to uncover evidence of criminal conduct. The argument is that the clear purpose of this maneuver was to influence the 2016 election.Except there’s one tiny flaw in this theory: They never sprang the October surprise. The FBI kept a tight lid on the investigation — so tight, in fact, they floated a misleading story in the New York Times conveying the false impression that they saw no ties to Russia. Clinton did help finance Christopher Steele’s investigation, but also did not publish his reporting. And the Obama administration also kept a tight lid on the disturbing details that emerged. The farthest Obama went was to ask leaders of both parties to join in a bipartisan statement warning Russia not to interfere with the election — and when Mitch McConnell refused, they did nothing. When voting took place in November 2016, as far as the public was concerned, Clinton had been under FBI investigation and Trump had not.
This alleged secret plan to smear Trump only works if you actually let people know about it.
The details of the FBI investigation and Steele’s report did begin to leak out in January 2017. But there’s a reason the trick is called “October surprise” and not “January After the Election surprise.”
Yesterday saw another deadly school shooting that took ten (10) lives and left another dozen physically injured and many, many more left emotionally and psychologically harmed. How could it happen again so soon after the Parkland massacre? Simple, the United States is the sole advanced nation that has ridiculous and insane gun laws which, combined with a perverse gun mania among too much of the citizenry, nearly guarantees endless pools of blood. No other country has the level of gun violence and, contrary to the talking points of the National Rifle Association, study after study have documented that more guns makes people less safe. Indeed, later in the day after a high school graduation near Atlanta, Georgia, a shooting claimed a life when a dispute broke out and an armed individual used a gun at a venue where no gun ever should have been present. When will the insanity stop and when will the Supreme Court clamp down and interpret some sanity into the 2nd Amendment. An editorial in the New York Times looks at the unique irresponsibility of America's gun laws and continued failure of Congress to act as the blood continues to flow. It's time to make change happen. Enough with the bullshit of "thoughts and prayers" which do absolutely nothing constructive. Here are editorial highlights:
Inevitably, predictably, fatefully, another mass shooting breaks our hearts. This time, it is a school shooting in Texas.But what is perhaps most heartbreaking of all is that they shouldn’t be shocking. People all over the world become furious and try to harm others, but only in the United States do we suffer such mass shootings so regularly; only in the United States do we lose one person every 15 minutes to gun violence.
So let’s not just mourn the dead, let’s not just lower flags and make somber speeches. Let’s also learn lessons from these tragedies, so that there can be fewer of them. In particular, I suggest that we try a new approach to reducing gun violence — a public health strategy.
The first step is to understand the scale of the challenge America faces: The U.S. has more than 300 million guns – roughly one for every citizen – and stands out as well for its gun death rates. At the other extreme, Japan has less than one gun per 100 people, and typically fewer than 10 gun deaths a year in the entire country.
Gun enthusiasts often protest: Cars kill about as many people as guns, and we don’t ban them! No, but automobiles are actually a model for the public health approach I’m suggesting.
We don’t ban cars, but we work hard to regulate them – and limit access to them – so as to reduce the death toll they cause. This has been spectacularly successful, reducing the death rate per 100 million miles driven by 95 percent since 1921.
The left sometimes focuses on “gun control,” which scares off gun owners and leads to more gun sales. A better framing is “gun safety” or “reducing gun violence,” and using auto safety as a model—constant efforts to make the products safer and to limit access by people who are most likely to misuse them.
What would a public health approach look like for guns if it were modeled after cars? It would include:
Background Checks: 22 percent of guns are obtained without one.
Protection Orders: Keep men who are subject to domestic violence protection orders from having guns.
Ban Under-21s: A ban on people under 21 purchasing firearms (this is already the case in many states).
Safe Storage: These include trigger locks as well as guns and ammunition stored separately, especially when children are in the house.
Straw Purchases: Tighter enforcement of laws on straw purchases of weapons, and some limits on how many guns can be purchased in a month.
Ammunition Checks: Experimentation with a one-time background check for anybody buying ammunition.
End Immunity: End immunity for firearm companies. That’s a subsidy to a particular industry.
Ban Bump Stocks: A ban on bump stocks of the kind used in Las Vegas to mimic automatic weapon fire.
Research ‘Smart Guns’: “Smart guns” fire only after a fingerprint or PIN is entered, or if used near a particular bracelet.If someone steals my iPhone, it’s useless, and the same should be true of guns. Gun manufacturers made child-proof guns back in the 19th century (before dropping them), and it’s time to advance that technology today. Some combination of smart guns and safe storage would also reduce the number of firearms stolen in the U.S. each year, now about 200,000, and available to criminals.
It is true that guns are occasionally used to stop violence. But contrary to what the National Rifle Association suggests, this is rare. One study by the Violence Policy Center found that in 2012 there were 259 justifiable homicides by a private citizen using a firearm. . . . . The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence finds that states where guns are more regulated tend to have lower gun death rates.
The evidence is overwhelming that overall more guns and more relaxed gun laws lead to more violent deaths and injuries. One study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that a gun in the house was associated with an increased risk of a gun death, particularly by suicide but also apparently by homicide.
[R]emember that although it is mass shootings that get our attention, they are not the main cause of loss of life. Much more typical is a friend who shoots another, a husband who kills his wife – or, most common of all, a man who kills himself. Skeptics will say that if people want to kill themselves, there’s nothing we can do. In fact, it turns out that if you make suicide a bit more difficult, suicide rates drop.
For skeptics who think that gun laws don’t make a difference, consider what happened in two states, Missouri and Connecticut. In 1995, Connecticut tightened licensing laws, while in 2007 Missouri eased gun laws. The upshot? After tightening gun laws, firearm homicide rates dropped 40 percent in Connecticut. And after Missouri eased gun laws, gun homicide rates rose 25 percent.
In many places, there is more rigorous screening of people who want to adopt dogs than of people who want to purchase firearms.
There’s simply a scandalous lack of research on gun violence, largely because the N.R.A. is extremely hostile to such research and Congress rolls over. When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did try to research gun violence, Congress responded by cutting its funding.
[T]he blunt, damning truth: Friday’s school shooting was 100 percent predictable. After each such incident, we mourn the deaths and sympathize with the victims, but we do nothing fundamental to reduce our vulnerability. . . . more Americans have died from gun violence, including suicides, since 1970 (about 1.4 million) than in all the wars in American history going back to the Revolutionary War (about 1.3 million). And it’s not just gang-members: In a typical year, more pre-schoolers are shot dead in America (about 75) than police officers are.
So let’s not just shed tears for the dead, give somber speeches and lower flags. Let’s get started and save lives.
Friday, May 18, 2018
As I and many other former Republicans have noted, one of the ironies in politics today is the allegiance of so-called "Christian conservatives" and evangelical Christians to Donald Trump and the Republican Party. Trump embodies everything that a true Christian should reject - greed, indifference to the plight of others, gluttony based on his obesity, and general cruelty and racism - and the agenda of the GOP to destroy the social safety net is the antithesis of the Gospel's call to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, care for the sick. The result? More than of Millennials have rejected religion and the term Christian has become synonymous with hypocrisy, hatred of others and cruelty in general. Seemingly, no one within the GOP sees this ugliness for what it is or, if they do, they are too fearful of a primary challenge to call out horrific behavior. Sadly, Trump is normalizing reprehensible behavior - at least within the Republican Party, which is why many of us walked away from the GOP. The descent of the GOP into a moral cesspool did not happen overnight. I saw the beginning of the trend two decades ago and left the GOP after years of activism. The catalyst for the GOP's embrace of the ugly and reprehensible? The rise of evangelicals in the party base. They, not the leadership, brought the bigotry and open racism with them. The leadership out of shortsighted opportunism merely embraced the values evangelicals brought with them. Trump is merely the result of the mainstreaming of these ugly values within the GOP. A column in the Washington Post by a former Republican White House official bemoans what has become of the GOP. Here are column excerpts:
In Georgia, Republican gubernatorial candidate Michael Williams drives around in a bus he promises to fill with “illegals” who will be deported to Mexico. On the rear is stamped: “Murderers, rapists, kidnappers, child molestors [sic], and other criminals on board.” In Arizona, Republican Senate candidate (and former Maricopa County sheriff) Joe Arpaio is a proud “birther” with a history of profiling and abusing Hispanic migrants. Vice President Pence recently called Arpaio “a great friend of this president, a tireless champion of strong borders and the rule of law.” In Wisconsin, Republican House candidate Paul Nehlenruns as a “pro-white Christian American candidate.”In the Republican Party, cranks and bigots are closer to legitimacy than at any time since William F. Buckley banished the John Birch Society.
For some of us, this was a concern from the beginning of
PresidentTrump’s rise — not just the policies he would adopt but also the attitudes he would encourage and the passions he would provoke.
The problem is one of social psychology. Human beings are wired to favor their ingroup and to view people in outgroups as interchangeable and dispensable. We are willing to form ingroups at the drop of a hat, based even on minor characteristics. We tend to believe that bad things that happen to people in our ingroup are bum luck, while bad things that happen to people in outgroups are evidence of a just universe. Because we are inherently predisposed toward stereotyping, we are particularly vulnerable to propaganda.
Whatever else Trumpism may be, it is the systematic organization of resentment against outgroups. Trump’s record is rich in dehumanization. It was evident when he called Mexican migrants “criminals” and “rapists.” When he claimed legal mistreatment from a judge because “he’s a Mexican.” . . . When he attacked Muslim Gold Star parents. When he sidestepped opportunities to criticize former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. When he referred to “very fine people” among the white-supremacist protesters in Charlottesville. When he expressed a preference for Norwegian immigrants above those from nonwhite “shithole countries.”
This is more than a disturbing pattern; it is an organizing political principle. And it has resulted in a series of radiating consequences.
First, it has given permission for the public expression of shameful sentiments. People such as Blankenship, Williams, Arpaio and Nehlen are part of a relatively (and thankfully) small political group. But the president has set boundaries of political discourse that include them and encourage them. Even when Trump opposes their candidacies, he has enabled the bolder, more confident expression of their bigotry. . . . Trump’s Christian supporters in particular must be so proud.
Second, Trump’s attacks on outgroups have revealed the cowardice of a much broader faction within the GOP — those who know better but say little. Some Republican leaders (see House Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin) have been willing to criticize specific instances of Trump’s prejudice. But few — and very few with a political future — have been willing to draw the obvious conclusion that Trump is prejudiced, or to publicly resist the trend toward prejudice among the GOP base.
In Republican Senate primaries such as the one in Indiana, candidates have engaged in a competition of who can be the most exclusionary. Mainstream attitudes toward refugees and legal immigration have become more xenophobic. Trump has not only given permission to those on the fringes; he has also changed the Republican mean to be more mean.
As I have noted before, nowadays I do not believe a decent and moral person can be a Republican. Those who remain in the GOP are little better than the "good Germans" who sat by as Hitler rose to power. Bad things happen when decent, moral people do nothing.