Saturday, February 01, 2020

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

The Abdication of Senate Republicans

McConnell - lead betrayer of the Constitution.
I've mentioned a book "Mortal Republic" which looks at the end of the Roman Republic and the rise of imperial rule in Rome.  A major player in the demise of the Roman Republic was the Roman Senate which ultimately abdicated it authority and gave way to Octavian - later Augustus - the first Roman emperor.  The Senator's motives 2000 years ago parallel what we are witnessing as the Republicans in the United States Senate throw away any allegiance to their oaths of office and telegraph to Donald Trump (and by way of precedent, future presidents) that government will be by presidential fiat and that there are no restraints on presidential power.  Avoiding a primary and re-election - and self-enrichment for those like Mitch McConnell - is all that matters in the short term, with there being no long term agenda.  Given Trump's extreme narcissism and desire to be an American equivalent to Vladimir Putin, this abdication of authority should be terrifying to every American of good will who believes in democracy.  Senate Republicans have made it clear that to them, the rule of law, facts, and morality mean absolutely nothing. All that matters is avoiding Trump's wrath and that of his increasingly ugly base of support in order to stay in power.  An editorial in the Washington Post looks at Senate Republicans betrayal of all their party once claimed to stand for.  Here are highlights: 
REPUBLICAN SENATORS who voted Friday to suppress known but unexamined evidence of President Trump’s wrongdoing at his Senate trial must have calculated that the wrath of a vindictive [Trump] president is more dangerous than the sensible judgment of the American people, who, polls showed, overwhelmingly favored the summoning of witnesses. That’s almost the only way to understand how the Republicans could have chosen to deny themselves and the public the firsthand account of former national security adviser John Bolton, and perhaps others, on how Mr. Trump sought to extort political favors from Ukraine.
The public explanations the senators offered were so weak and contradictory as to reveal themselves as pretexts.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)  . . . . Apparently she preferred a bad trial to a better one — but she did assure us that she felt “sad” that “the Congress has failed.”
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said the case against Mr. Trump had already been proved, so no further testimony was needed. But he also said, without explanation, that Mr. Trump’s “inappropriate” conduct did not merit removal from office; voters, he said, should render a verdict in the coming presidential election. How could he measure the seriousness of Mr. Trump’s wrongdoing without hearing Mr. Bolton’s firsthand testimony of the president’s motives and intentions, including about whether [Trump] the president is likely to seek additional improper foreign intervention in that same election?
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) echoed Mr. Alexander’s illogic, only he lacked the courage even to take a position on whether Mr. Trump had, as charged, tried to force Ukraine’s new president to investigate former vice president Joe Biden, or whether that was wrong. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) managed to be even more timorous, telling reporters that “Lamar speaks for lots and lots of us” and refusing to elaborate.
So cowed are most of those “lots and lots” of Republicans that few of them dared to go as far as Mr. Sasse. Some have echoed the president’s indefensible claims that there was nothing wrong with the pressure campaign. Their votes against witnesses have rendered the trial a farce and made conviction the only choice for senators who honor the Constitution.
Americans who object to Mr. Trump’s relentless stonewalling and Republicans’ complicity can take some comfort in the prospect that most or all of the evidence the White House is hiding will eventually come out. A reminder of that came Friday in a New York Times report about Mr. Bolton’s unpublished book, which describes how Mr. Trump ordered him last May to tell Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to meet with his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani. Mr. Giuliani said publicly at the time he wanted to induce Mr. Zelensky to investigate Mr. Biden because it would be “helpful to my client,” Mr. Trump.
[T]here will surely be more reminders in the weeks and months ahead. We can hope only that voters who wanted that evidence to be heard in the trial will respond by showing incumbent senators they are a force to be reckoned with, as much as the bully in the White House.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Are Senate Republicans Setting the Stage for Dictatorship?

Watching Senate Republicans in the impeachment proceeds makes it clear that one thing is nowhere in their thoughts, namely living up to their oaths of office and defending the constitutional order.  Indeed, they seem poised to say that a president is above the law and can do literally whatever he/she wants. Even if the nation survives the Trump regime, the precedent may well come back to haunt Republicans should the Democrats capture the White House with an equally narcissistic, megalomaniac.  Sadly, Republican senators have put their own re-election and avoidance of upsetting Trump's white supremacist, Christian extremist base above the interest of the nation and the constitutional order.  A column in the Washington Post looks at Senate Republicans' abandonment of the oaths and concern for the nation.  Here are highlights:
[Trump's] The president’s lawyers this week floated their catch-all impeachment defense, one tailor-made for President Trump. It is, in essence, that a narcissistic president can do no wrong.
Like most of [Trump's] the president’s arguments, it’s erroneous. But no argument could have presented the issue more starkly to Republican senators: Will they follow their oaths to defend the Constitution and to do impartial justice? Or will they once again show fealty to Trump personally, thereby accepting his conflation of his personal interests with those of the nation?
Leave it to Alan Dershowitz to drive the point home with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.  If “a president does something which he believes will get himself elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment,” Dershowitz contended.
For a president psychologically incapable of distinguishing between his own personal interests and the nation’s, that amounts to the ultimate get-out-of-impeachment-free card. Trump already believes that “I have an Article II” — Article II of the Constitution — “where I have the right to do whatever I want as president.” This self-described very stable genius, he of “I alone can fix it,” is convinced that his reelection, achieved by whatever means necessary, serves the interests of the country. In short, anything goes.
But the argument is a lie. It’s another example of how Trump corrupts all around him. Following the lead of the political aides and allies who came before them, during the past two weeks it has been the lawyers who have debased themselves. Defying their own obligations of candor to the tribunals before which they appear, they’ve lied to and misled the court of impeachment about the House proceedings and underlying facts, peddled conspiracy theories about the Russia investigation, and of course about Ukraine and the Bidens. Their legal position is likewise false. It’s just not true that good motives, when mixed with bad ones, compel acquittal under the law. If a politician takes a bribe to do what he thinks would have been best for the public anyway, he still goes to jail. If he’s president, under a Constitution that refers to impeachment specifically for “bribery,” as well other “high crimes and misdemeanors,” he should still be removed.
It’s also not true that “abuse of power” is not impeachable, or that a statutory crime is necessary for impeachment. And it’s not true, as Dershowitz argued Wednesday, that the Framers’ rejection of “maladministration” as a basis for impeachment means that abuse of power isn’t impeachable. The Framers rejected the word “maladministration” because it covered mistakes and incompetence, not because it also could mean abuse of power. In fact, they swapped “high crimes and misdemeanors” into the final document precisely because it does cover such abuse.
[I]f a president conditions another official act — releasing security assistance to a foreign country — on a requirement that the foreign country smear the president’s political opponent. That’s not politics; that’s corruption. And corruption, for all the Trump lawyers’ attempt to muddy the waters with tortured interpretations of the Constitution, is what this impeachment is all about. Trump acted with corrupt intent to damage a political opponent. Testimony from former national security adviser John Bolton seems certain to underscore that point. 
Which is precisely why Republican senators seem so desperate not to hear it and so willing to entertain a false reading of the Constitution that would effectively render the impeachment clause a nullity. Should they do that, they will have sacrificed their own oaths to protect their own electoral prospects, and the country and the Constitution will have been saddled with a terrible precedent. The Senate will have told Trump that, indeed, he can do whatever he wants.

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Coronavirus: the World Pays for China’s Dictatorship

Dictatorships and authoritarian regimes suffer from two phenomenon which are being showcased by the Coronavirus sweeping China and perhaps gaining a foothold in other nations: (i) inconvenient facts and problems are buried/silence rather than have them reflect badly on the dictator's rule, and (ii) dictators typically find themselves surrounded by ass kissers and sycophants who keep critical information from the ruler rather than upset him.  As a column in the New York Times lays out, China's dictatorship completely botched the handling of the Coronavirus and set the stage for a far worse epidemic seemingly out of a desire to stifle anything that might reflect negatively on the ruling regime.  Now, that regime faces fury from citizens at home and anger from other nations who now find themselves with a possible contagion.  This situation ought to be a wake up call to Americans as the Trump/Pence regime drives scientists and experts from government agencies and replaces them, if at all, with lackeys who will spout the dictated regime story line.  Here are column highlights: 

China’s leaders sometimes seem 10 feet tall, presiding over a political and economic juggernaut that has founded universities at a rate of one a week and that recently used more cement in three years than the United States did in the entire 20th century.
[W]e’re now seeing the dangers of Xi’s authoritarian model, for China and the world.
The first known coronavirus infection in the city of Wuhan presented symptoms beginning on Dec. 1, and by late December there was alarm in Wuhan’s medical circles. That would have been the moment for the authorities to act decisively.
And act decisively they did — not against the virus, but against whistle-blowers who were trying to call attention to the public health threat. A doctor who told a WeChat group about the virus was disciplined by the Communist Party and forced to admit wrongdoing. The police reported giving “education” and “criticism” to eight front-line doctors for “rumormongering” about the epidemic; instead of punishing these doctors, Xi should have listened to them.
China informed the World Health Organization of the virus on Dec. 31 but kept its own citizens in the dark; as other countries reported infections even as China pretended that it had confined the outbreak to Wuhan, Chinese joked grimly about a “patriotic” virus that only struck foreigners.
Wuhan’s mayor said he wasn’t authorized to discuss the virus until late this month. In that time, people traveled to and from Wuhan and didn’t take precautions.
The government finally ordered a lockdown on Jan. 23 that effectively quarantined people in Wuhan. But by then, according to the mayor, five million people had already fled the city.
Partly because the government covered up the epidemic in the early stages, hospitals were not able to gather supplies, and there are now major shortages of testing kits, masks and protective gear.
One reason for the early cover-up is that Xi’s China has systematically gutted institutions like journalism, social media, nongovernmental organizations, the legal profession and others that might provide accountability. These institutions were never very robust in China, but on and off they were tolerated until Xi came along.
I conducted a series of experiments on Chinese blogs over the years beginning in 2003 and was sometimes surprised by what I could get away with — but no longer. Xi has dragged China backward in terms of civil society, crushing almost every wisp of freedom and oversight.
For the same reason that Xi’s increasingly authoritarian China bungled the coronavirus outbreak, it also mishandled a swine flu virus that since 2018 has devastated China’s hog industry and killed almost one-quarter of the world’s pigs.
Dictators often make poor decisions because they don’t get accurate information: When you squelch independent voices you end up getting just flattery and optimism from those around you. Senior Chinese officials have told me that they are routinely lied to on trips to meet local officials and must dispatch their drivers and secretaries to assess the truth and gauge the real mood.
For this or other reasons, Xi has made a series of mistakes. He mishandled and inflamed the political crisis in Hong Kong, he inadvertently assured the re-election of his nemesis as president of Taiwan, and he has presided over worsening relations with the United States and many other countries.
The coronavirus has already reached the Xinjiang region in the Far West of China, and one risk is that it will spread in the internment camps where China is confining about one million Muslims with poor sanitation and limited health care.
[L]et’s get over any misplaced admiration some Americans have for Xi’s authoritarian model.
The Chinese social contract has been that citizens will not get ballots but will live steadily better lives, yet China’s economy is now as weak as it has been in three decades — and the coronavirus will sap growth further. Xi is not living up to his end of the bargain, and this is seen in the anger emerging on Chinese social media despite the best efforts of censors.
I don’t know if Xi is in political trouble for his misrule, but he should be. He’s a preening dictator, and with this outbreak some citizens are paying a price.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Electoral College’s Racist Origins

Having been born in New York State and living there through high school, many in the South will never consider me a Southerner despite my maternal grandmother being a New Orleans belle. Nonetheless, I have lived in Virginia the majority of my life (I arrived not long after the Supreme Court's final ruling in Loving v. Virginia) and as a history major I am well aware of Virginia's conflicting legacy of on the one hand of having been the home of many of the Founding Fathers who espoused liberty and equality while on the other hand always time protecting white power/privilege and later serving as architect of the Jim Crow laws. A piece in The Atlantic by a legal scholar that I seemingly missed at the time looks at the Electoral College and how, when examined in the light of history, it has a racist origin originally aimed at maintaining the political power of southern slave holding states such as Virginia. As numerous posts on this blog have argued, the Electoral College needs to be eliminated. This article and the facts presented further bolster why that elimination needs to occur sooner as opposed to later. Here are article highlights: 

Is a color-blind political system possible under our Constitution? If it is, the Supreme Court’s evisceration of the Voting Rights Act in 2013 did little to help matters. While black people in America today are not experiencing 1950s levels of voter suppression, efforts to keep them and other citizens from participating in elections began within 24 hours of the [U.S. Supreme Court's] Shelby County v. Holder ruling and have only increased since then. 
In Shelby County’s oral argument, Justice Antonin Scalia cautioned, “Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get them out through the normal political processes.” Ironically enough, there is some truth to an otherwise frighteningly numb claim. American elections have an acute history of racial entitlements—only they don’t privilege black Americans.
For centuries, white votes have gotten undue weight, as a result of innovations such as poll taxes and voter-ID laws and outright violence to discourage racial minorities from voting. (The point was obvious to anyone paying attention: As William F. Buckley argued in his essay “Why the South Must Prevail,” white Americans are “entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally,” anywhere they are outnumbered because they are part of “the advanced race.”) But America’s institutions boosted white political power in less obvious ways, too, and the nation’s oldest structural racial entitlement program is one of its most consequential: the Electoral College.
Commentators today tend to downplay the extent to which race and slavery contributed to the Framers’ creation of the Electoral College, in effect whitewashing history: Of the considerations that factored into the Framers’ calculus, race and slavery were perhaps the foremost.
Of course, the Framers had a number of other reasons to engineer the Electoral College. Fearful that the president might fall victim to a host of civic vices—that he could become susceptible to corruption or cronyism, sow disunity, or exercise overreach—the men sought to constrain executive power consistent with constitutional principles such as federalism and checks and balances. The delegates to the Philadelphia convention had scant conception of the American presidency—the duties, powers, and limits of the office. But they did have a handful of ideas about the method for selecting the chief executive. When the idea of a popular vote was raised, they griped openly that it could result in too much democracy. With few objections, they quickly dispensed with the notion that the people might choose their leader.
But delegates from the slaveholding South had another rationale for opposing the direct election method, and they had no qualms about articulating it: Doing so would be to their disadvantage. Even James Madison, who professed a theoretical commitment to popular democracy, succumbed to the realities of the situation. The future president acknowledged that “the people at large was in his opinion the fittest” to select the chief executive. And yet, in the same breath, he captured the sentiment of the South in the most “diplomatic” terms:
There was one difficulty however of a serious nature attending an immediate choice by the people. The right of suffrage was much more diffusive in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of the Negroes. The substitution of electors obviated this difficulty and seemed on the whole to be liable to fewest objections.
Behind Madison’s statement were the stark facts: The populations in the North and South were approximately equal, but roughly one-third of those living in the South were held in bondage. Because of its considerable, nonvoting slave population, that region would have less clout under a popular-vote system. The ultimate solution was an indirect method of choosing the president, one that could leverage the three-fifths compromise, the Faustian bargain they’d already made to determine how congressional seats would be apportioned. With about 93 percent of the country’s slaves toiling in just five southern states, that region was the undoubted beneficiary of the compromise, increasing the size of the South’s congressional delegation by 42 percent. When the time came to agree on a system for choosing the president, it was all too easy for the delegates to resort to the three-fifths compromise as the foundation. The peculiar system that emerged was the Electoral College.
Right from the get-go, the Electoral College has produced no shortage of lessons about the impact of racial entitlement in selecting the president. History buffs and Hamilton fans are aware that in its first major failure, the Electoral College produced a tie between Thomas Jefferson and his putative running mate, Aaron Burr. What’s less known about the election of 1800 is the way the Electoral College succeeded, which is to say that it operated as one might have expected, based on its embrace of the three-fifths compromise. The South’s baked-in advantages—the bonus electoral votes it received for maintaining slaves, all while not allowing those slaves to vote—made the difference in the election outcome. It gave the slaveholder Jefferson an edge over his opponent, the incumbent president and abolitionist John Adams. To quote Yale Law’s Akhil Reed Amar, the third president “metaphorically rode into the executive mansion on the backs of slaves.” That election continued an almost uninterrupted trend of southern slaveholders and their doughfaced sympathizers winning the White House that lasted until Abraham Lincoln’s victory in 1860.
In 1803, the Twelfth Amendment modified the Electoral College to prevent another Jefferson-Burr–type debacle. Six decades later, the Thirteenth Amendment outlawed slavery, thus ridding the South of its windfall electors. Nevertheless, the shoddy system continued to cleave the American democratic ideal along racial lines. In the 1876 presidential election, the Democrat Samuel Tilden won the popular vote, but some electoral votes were in dispute, including those in—wait for it—Florida. An ad hoc commission of lawmakers and Supreme Court justices was empaneled to resolve the matter. Ultimately, they awarded the contested electoral votes to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, who had lost the popular vote. As a part of the agreement, known as the Compromise of 1877, the federal government removed the troops that were stationed in the South after the Civil War to maintain order and protect black voters.
The deal at once marked the end of the brief Reconstruction era, the redemption of the old South, and the birth of the Jim Crow regime. The decision to remove soldiers from the South led to the restoration of white supremacy in voting through the systematic disenfranchisement of black people, virtually accomplishing over the next eight decades what slavery had accomplished in the country’s first eight decades. And so the Electoral College’s misfire in 1876 helped ensure that Reconstruction would not remove the original stain of slavery so much as smear it onto the other parts of the Constitution’s fabric, and countenance the racialized patchwork democracy that endured until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
What’s clear is that, more than two centuries after it was designed to empower southern whites, the Electoral College continues to do just that. The current system has a distinct, adverse impact on black voters, diluting their political power. Because the concentration of black people is highest in the South, their preferred presidential candidate is virtually assured to lose their home states’ electoral votes. Despite black voting patterns to the contrary, five of the six states whose populations are 25 percent or more black have been reliably red in recent presidential elections. Three of those states have not voted for a Democrat in more than four decades. Under the Electoral College, black votes are submerged. It’s the precise reason for the success of the southern strategy. It’s precisely how, as Buckley might say, the South has prevailed.
Among the Electoral College’s supporters, the favorite rationalization is that without the advantage, politicians might disregard a large swath of the country’s voters, particularly those in small or geographically inconvenient states. Even if the claim were true, it’s hardly conceivable that switching to a popular-vote system would lead candidates to ignore more voters than they do under the current one. Three-quarters of Americans live in states where most of the major parties’ presidential candidates do not campaign.
More important, this “voters will be ignored” rationale is morally indefensible. Awarding a numerical few voting “enhancements” to decide for the many amounts to a tyranny of the minority. 
Critics of the Electoral College are right to denounce it for handing victory to the loser of the popular vote twice in the past two decades. They are also correct to point out that it distorts our politics, including by encouraging presidential campaigns to concentrate their efforts in a few states that are not representative of the country at large. But the disempowerment of black voters needs to be added to that list of concerns, because it is core to what the Electoral College is and what it always has been.
The race-consciousness establishment—and retention—of the Electoral College has supported an entitlement program that our 21st-century democracy cannot justify. If people truly want ours to be a race-blind politics, they can start by plucking that strange, low-hanging fruit from the Constitution.

Trump’s Legal Team Confederacy of Dunces

When one is an attorney, one does not have any obligation to take a legal case if you are conflicted as to the morality of the case and/or the guilt of defendant. Indeed, in a normal court setting, it is unethical for an attorney to argue a defense he/she knows is false so as to work a fraud on the tribunal. Sadly, some attorneys turn a blind to this ethical obligation.  We are now witnessing, in my opinion, a huge ethical fail on the part of Trump's impeachment defense team.   In the case of Jay Sekulow and Pam Bondi, the ethical lapse is no surprise given their histories.  Ditto for Alan Dershowitz who is now arguing the exact opposite of what he argued during the Clinton impeachment leaving one to wonder whether the man has any shame since publicity and whatever Trump is paying him would seem to be all that maters. A column in the Washington Post by former Republican Joe Scarborough looks at Trump's shameless (and, in my view, morally bankrupt) legal defense team.  Here are excerpts:
A confederacy of dunces stumbled onto the Senate floor this week to launch their bewildering defense of President Trump. This misfit band of lawyers brought with them arguments so stunningly stupefying, logic so fatally flawed and a cynicism so brazenly transparent that one suspects Baghdad Bob was viewing the entire spectacle with grudging respect.
On day one of Trump’s impeachment defense, [Trump's] the president’s team dismissed his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani as a minor player in the Ukrainian affair. Trump lawyer Jane Raskin said he was little more than a “shiny object designed to distract you.” Never mind that Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to contact Giuliani, assuring him that “Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you.”
Before Trump made the not-so-perfect call that would eventually lead to his impeachment, Giuliani ran frequent strategy sessions from the second floor of the [Trump's] president’s Washington hotel that were focused on getting Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. Giuliani repeatedly pressured U.S. diplomats and State Department employees to push his “drug deal” (as former national security adviser John Bolton described it). At the same time, America’s Mayor kept feeding Trump a steady diet of conspiracy theories that played into the president’s preexisting prejudices against Ukraine. Far from being a bit player and “shiny object,” Giuliani helped build the Democrats’ case for Trump’s impeachment better than anyone else in the president’s inner circle.
 If the claims about Giuliani were not preposterous enough, senators were also forced to endure Kenneth Starr’s self-righteous and hypocritical warnings regarding “the culture of impeachment.” Starr had, after all, once run a four-year investigation into obscure land deals, suicide conspiracy theories and intimate sexual details involving President Bill Clinton. Starr would later claim that Clinton’s abuse of power was the “capstone” of his impeachment case, but that did not stop the former independent counsel from mournfully warning senators Monday that “the commission of a crime is by no means sufficient to warrant the removal of our duly elected president.”
As Lawfare’s Benjamin Wittes said, “Does Ken Starr know he’s Ken Starr?” That embarrassing performance seemed only to confirm Trump’s previous assessment of the former Clinton prosecutor as a “lunatic” and a “disaster.”
Such insults were never thrown in the direction of Pam Bondi, another member of the president’s legal team. Bondi had safely placed herself in Trump’s good favor by refusing to pursue claims of fraud against Trump University when she was Florida’s attorney general. In 2013, the Orlando Sentinel reported that Bondi’s office was deciding whether to join in the lawsuit against Trump. Four days after the article went to print, Bondi’s reelection efforts were boosted by a $25,000 check from Trump’s foundation. Soon after, Bondi announced she would be not suing the reality TV star.
[N]either Bondi nor Starr can be shamed. The same holds true of the other attorneys on the president’s defense team, who sullied their reputations this week defending a shameless huckster, and whom history will judge harshly as those whose dunce routines continued to enable this dangerously unbalanced man.

Wherever these attorneys are admitted to the bar, it might be appropriate to commence disbarment proceedings.   They have definitely violated the code of ethics. 

More Wednesday Male Beauty

Running Bernie Sanders Against Trump Would Be an Act of Insanity

Having watched the Virginia Republican Party self-destruct by moving ever towards more extreme right wing positions and ignoring the moderate middle bizarrely thinking this would increase its electoral chances (it did not), I now see the left of the Democrat Party on a national level doing the same thing as it appears, based on recent polls, to coalesce behind Bernie Sanders.  Like the Virginia GOP that increasing lived in a bubble detached from the moderate middle, the extreme left of the Democrats appear to be living in their own echo chamber, oblivious to the reality that in a Trump/Sanders contest, they are greatly enhancing the chances of  a Trump re-election and the continuation of policies anathema to what they claim to support.  A piece in New York Magazine lays out how running Sanders as the 2020 Democrat nominee would be an act of political insanity, a message Sanders' cult-like followers will not want to hear.  Here are highlights:
In the field of political forecasting, almost nothing is a matter of certainty, and almost everything is a matter of probability. If Democrats nominate Bernie Sanders — who currently leads the field in Iowa and New Hampshire, and appears to be consolidating support among the party’s progressive wing, while its moderates remain splintered — his prospects against Donald Trump in November would be far from hopeless.
That said, the totality of the evidence suggests Sanders is an extremely, perhaps uniquely, risky nominee. His vulnerabilities are enormous and untested. No party nomination, with the possible exception of Barry Goldwater in 1964, has put forth a presidential nominee with the level of downside risk exposure as a Sanders-led ticket would bring. To nominate Sanders would be insane.
Sanders has gleefully discarded the party’s conventional wisdom that it has to pick and choose where to push public opinion leftward, adopting a comprehensive left-wing agenda, some of which is popular, and some of which is decidedly not. Positions in the latter category include replacing all private health insurance with a government plan, banning fracking, letting prisoners vote, decriminalizing the border, giving free health care to undocumented immigrants, and eliminating ICE.
Not every one of these unpopular stances is unique to Sanders. Some have won the endorsement of rival candidates, and many of them have been endorsed by Elizabeth Warren, Sanders’s closest rival. . . . . Sanders probably wasn’t trying to undermine Warren by luring her into adopting all his policies, but it has worked out quite well for him, and poorly for her. But Warren at least tries to couch her positions in a framework of reforming and revitalizing capitalism that is intended to reassure ideologically skeptical voters. Sanders combines unpopular program specifics in the unpopular packaging of “socialism. Compounding those vulnerabilities is a long history of radical associations. Sanders campaigned for the Socialist Workers’ Party and praised communist regimes. Obviously, Republicans call every Democratic nominee a “socialist.” But it’s one thing to have the label thrown at you by the opposition, another for it to be embraced willingly, and yet another thing altogether to have a web of creepy associations that make it child’s play for the opposition to paint your program as radical and dangerous. Viewing these attacks in isolation, and asking whether voters will care about Bernie’s views on the Cold War, misses the way they will be used as a stand-in to discredit his entire worldview. . . . . Vintage video of Bernie palling around with Soviet communists will make for an almost insultingly easy way for Republicans to communicate the idea that his plans to expand government are radical. Sanders has never faced an electorate where these vulnerabilities could be used against him.
Nor, for that matter, has he had to defend some of his bizarre youthful musings (such as his theory that sexual repression causes breast cancer) or the suspicious finances surrounding his wife’s college. Democrats are rightfully concerned about attacks on Hunter Biden’s nepotistic role at Burisma, but Sanders is going to have to defend equally questionable deals, like the $500,000 his wife’s university paid for a woodworking program run by his stepdaughter.
[P]olitical science has generally found that, all things being equal, the electorate tends to punish ideologically extreme candidates. You can peruse studies finding such a conclusion here, here, and here. Again, none of this says the more extreme candidate always loses, merely that extremism creates a handicap.
For obvious reasons, the Democratic Party’s left wing has always resisted this conclusion (as has the Republican Party’s right wing.) But Hillary Clinton’s surprising defeat created an opportunity for the party’s left to promote an alternative theory for how the party could and should compete.
Yet this theory has had two clear tests, and failed both of them spectacularly. Numerous activists and intellectuals in the Sanders orbit held up Jeremy Corbyn as proof of concept for his viability. Anticipating a Corbyn victory, they argued over and over that Corbyn was showing how socialism would attract and mobilize, not repel, voters. Corbyn is more extreme than Sanders, but Sanders enthusiasts themselves drew a connection between the two, and his massive defeat obviously casts serious doubt on the model he was supposed to vindicate.
A second example, closer to home, is even more relevant. In the months leading up to the 2018 midterm elections, the Democratic Party was the subject of bitter and widespread criticism from its left wing. The party’s strategy was to flip the House by recruiting moderate candidates who would avoid controversial left-wing positions and instead focus attention on Trump’s agenda, especially his effort to eliminate Obamacare. The left predicted the strategy would fail — only an inspiring progressive agenda could mobilize enough voters to win back the House.
As we now know, it was a good strategy to win the House. Democrats flipped 40 seats. Tellingly, while progressives managed to nominate several candidates in red districts — Kara Eastman in Nebraska, Richard Ojeda in West Virginia, and many others — any one of whose victory they would have cited as proof that left-wing candidates can win Trump districts, not a single one of them prevailed in November. Our Revolution went 0–22, Justice Democrats went 0–16, and Brand New Congress went 0–6.* The failed technocratic 26-year-old bourgeoise shills who were doing it wrong somehow accounted for 100 percent of the party’s House gains. At this point there is hardly any serious evidence to believe that the best strategy to defeat Trump is to mobilize voters with a radical economic agenda. Public satisfaction with the economy is now at its highest point since the peak of the dot-com boom two decades ago. Trump has serious weaknesses of issues like health care, corruption, taxes, and the environment, and a majority of the public disapproves of Trump’s performance, but he does enjoy broad approval of his economic management. Therefore, his reelection strategy revolves around painting his opponents as radical and dangerous. You may not like me, he will argue, but my opponents are going to turn over the apple cart. A Sanders campaign seems almost designed to play directly into Trump’s message.
Whatever evidence might have supported a Sanders-esque populist strategy for Democrats after the 2016 election, it has since collapsed. But in the ideological hothouse of the Sanders world, no setbacks have been acknowledged, no rethinking has taken place, and the skeptics are dismissed as elitist neoliberal corporate shills, as ever. The project moves forward even as the key tests of its viability have all failed.
For the socialist left, which has no other standard-bearer to choose from, Bernie is too big to fail. The question is whether the Democratic Party, the only political force standing between Donald Trump and his authoritarian ambitions, will risk failing with him.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Remembering the Holocaust and That Evildoers' Looks Can Be Deceiving

SS personnel, including commandant Franz Reichleitner and deputy commandant
Johann Niemann, gather on a patio at Sobibor in 1943, drinking from glasses that
historians say could have been stolen from murdered Jews.
There is much media coverage of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp and other atrocities of the Holocaust.  The coverage is needed for multiple reasons, not the least of which are (i) far too many Americans know little about the Holocaust - an indictment of America's education system - (ii) hate is on the rise among right wing political and terrorist groups, and (ii) America is currently mistreating thousands of Central American refugees in conditions that are little better than concentrations camps even as the Trump/Pence regime (with the blessing of the right wing majority on the U.S. Supreme Court) is reviving immigration restrictions like the ones used to bar European Jews from finding refuge from Nazi controlled Europe.  One of the things most disturbing about the Holocaust and those who murdered millions of other humans is that they looked so ordinary,  not like horrific monsters.  Indeed, they look no different than many in Trump's base who vary from indifferent to the suffering of others to those who are motivated by hate and racism.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at newly released photos of Nazi SS personnel and death camp commanders that urgently need to remind us that looks can be deceiving and that one's actions and/or willingness to be complicit in (or not actively oppose) evil are the true signs of moral bankruptcy.  Here are article highlights:
Historians in Germany have unearthed hundreds of photos of the notorious Sobibor death camp and other key sites in the Nazi extermination machine, stashed for decades in albums belonging to the camp's deputy commandant and in the attic and cupboards of the family home.
Previously, only two images of Sobibor existed in the archival record. The SS bulldozed the death camp — in a swampy, wooded area about 120 miles southeast of Warsaw — to hide evidence of mass murder.
The photos, made public in Berlin on Tuesday following the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, for the first time show SS leaders and their auxiliaries at Sobibor.
The images do not document the atrocities that went on there — how, in a period of 17 months, at least 167,000 Jews were killed in the gas chambers, their bodies later burned over an oven made of rail tracks.
Rather, historians in Germany and Washington describe the images as a devastating reminder of how life went on amid industrialized murder. The photos show smiling German officers posing with piglets and listening to an accordion player. Some sip from crystal glasses possibly stolen from their victims.
“It’s really disturbing,” said Andreas Kahrs, a historian with the Stanislaw Hantz Educational Center in Germany, which helped collect and analyze the photos. “You’d never guess that these SS officers drinking wine and beer are there at Sobibor. Then you realize the context. You know they are picnicking surrounded by the belongings of the Jews they murdered.”
One photo offers a glimpse of the roof of the gas chamber at Sobibor, along with a building where Jewish women were forced to shave their heads. Another shows the benign entrance of the death camp, where a fence stuffed with pine branches obscures what was happening inside. A third shows SS officers drinking and grinning on a patio of a mess hall known as the “Casino.”
The images belonged to Johann Niemann, one of the top SS officers at the death camp, who documented his rise through the ranks of the Third Reich in two photo albums: one bound in synthetic leather and embossed with the name of his previous SS unit, the other with an image of a sailing ship on the cover.
He died in October 1943, when the 600 remaining prisoners at Sobibor staged a revolt, killing more than a dozen German officers and auxiliary guards. Niemann, the acting commandant at the time, was lured to the tailor’s barracks with the promise of a leather jacket and killed by an ax to the head.
After a hero’s funeral, his belongings were sent to his wife.
The photos follow Niemann’s participation in Operation Reinhard, the secret SS plan to annihilate the Jews of occupied Poland. More than 1.7 million Jews were murdered between 1942 and 1943. Niemann’s photos of auxiliary guards from an SS training camp in the nearby Polish village of Trawniki were particularly intriguing to historians. Only a small number of German officers staffed the death camps. Instead, historians say, the SS relied on men from Trawniki to guard prisoners and operate the gas chambers. Historians in Germany said two photos of Trawniki guards may include accused Nazi collaborator John Demjanjuk, who was denaturalized in the United States and sent to Germany in 2009 to stand trial for his actions at Sobibor. Demjanjuk was convicted in 2011 and sentenced to prison for his role in the murder of more than 28,000 Jews at the death camp. He died a year later while the case was on appeal. Some of the photos recovered by historians show Niemann and Sobibor personnel on a field trip to Berlin. The group snapped photos on breaks by the side of the road, in beer gardens and at historical monuments. They are also pictured with high-ranking members of Hitler’s Chancellery. “They returned to the so-called normal world, the world of morals, of families, of more human ways of doing things, and then returned and continued doing this slaughter of human beings,” Friedberg said.

Frighteningly, we have would be Niemanns in our midst - Trump adviser Stephen Miller, a man condemned by his own relatives, immediately springs to mind.  

We must never forget and we can begin by voting out every politician who closes his or her eyes to evil being done by the current occupant of the White House and his sycophants and congressional enablers. 

Virginia's Largest Employers Urge Passage of LGBT Non-Discrimination Bills

For years Virginia Republicans claimed they were the "pro-business" party yet for decades made Virginia businesses less competitive in their ability to recruit top talent and employees by pandering to anti-gay hate groups like The Family Foundation and "Christian" extremists.  Now, with the change of control of the Virginia General Assembly to the Democrats, LGBT appear poised to gain long over due non-discrimination protections.  In a recent letter, 30 of Virginia's largest employers (locally, that includes Newport News Shipbuilding) have urged passage of the Virginia Values Act that would end anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodation and health care access.  The letter can be found hereVirginia Business Magazine looks at the development.  Here area article excerpts:
More than 30 Virginia employers — including Altria Group Inc., Inc., Capital One Financial Corp. and Dominion Energy — on Monday sent a letter to Virginia lawmakers asking for comprehensive lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) nondiscrimination protections.
The letter addressed to House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, and Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw, D-Falls Church, states that employees, their families and customers deserve equal opportunities at work and in daily life.
“Because many LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ workers prefer to live and work in communities with nondiscrimination protections, such a law will give Virginia’s employers tangible advantages in recruitment and retention,” reads the letter released by the Virginia Values Coalition, a statewide group pushing for passage of the Virginia Values Act, which would prohibit LGBTQ discrimination in Virginia.
“Business leaders know that a welcoming Virginia is crucial to their economic competitiveness,” said Kasey Suffredini, Freedom for All Americans CEO and national campaign director. “Nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Virginians and visitors will make it easier for businesses to recruit talented workers, to expand investments in the state, and to attract tourism business.” The crossover companies (companies that both signed the letter and were recognized as a best place to work for LGBTQ equality) included Altria, Capital One, Dominion Energy, Hilton and Nestlé USA Inc. “Virginians and businesses agree — it is past time for LGBTQ people in the commonwealth to have comprehensive nondiscrimination protections,” HRC President Alphonso David said in a statement. “These protections are good for business, good for tourism, good for the economy, and most importantly, vital for the 250,000+ LGBTQ adults living in Virginia. It’s heartening to see so many Virginia businesses publicly support these protections and push for equality for all.”

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty

Monday, January 27, 2020

Does John Bolton Have the Goods on Trump?

I have never liked John Bolton who I have long considered a dangerous foreign policy hawk who has learned nothing from America's previous disastrous wars, particularly in Vietnam and Iraq/Afghanistan. Yet between Bolton's huge ego and perhaps desire for revenge after his firing by Der Trumpenführer, now seems poised to derail Senate Republicans - think Mitch McConnell - to hold a sham trial and not even hear from witnesses or review additional evidence.  Of course, Bolton also is likely to make a fortune on his tell-all book of his time with Trump. Whatever Bolton's ultimate motivation, as the New York Times stresses in a column, Bolton just might force enough Senate Republicans to do the right thing that McConnell's planned Soviet style trial may fall apart.  Anything that will dash McConnell's scheme and make Lindsey Graham look like an ass will be most welcome.  Here are highlights from the Times piece:
It’s just possible that common sense and reality have a shot at prying open the doors to the Senate chamber after all. After Republican senators claimed that it was perfectly reasonable to put a United States president on trial without hearing from any witnesses, a few of them are showing signs of recognizing that the truth matters. Or, at least, that the American people believe it does.
What’s changed? Shocking but not surprising revelations from John Bolton’s book manuscript, which The New York Times reported over the weekend, have made impossible to ignore what everyone has known for months: President Trump withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine to benefit himself politically, and against the strenuous objections of his top aides and both parties in Congress.
On Monday morning, Mitt Romney, of Utah, said, “I think it’s increasingly likely that other Republicans will join those of us who think we should hear from John Bolton.”
It’s refreshing to hear those words. And yet the fact that such a statement is noteworthy at all tells you how far from responsible governance Republicans have strayed. They hold 53 seats in the Senate, and yet the nation is waiting on just four — four!— to do the right thing and agree to call Mr. Bolton, the former national security adviser, and other key witnesses to testify in Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial.
A far more representative attitude in the Republican caucus was expressed by Roy Blunt, of Missouri, who said on Monday, “Unless there’s a witness that’s going to change the outcome, I can’t imagine why we’d want to stretch this out for weeks and months.” With this tautology Senator Blunt gives away the game: All witness testimony to date — all presented as part of the House impeachment proceedings — has only strengthened the case against Mr. Trump, but Republicans will not vote to convict him under any circumstances. By definition, then, no witness in the Senate could possibly change the outcome.
The reporting on Mr. Bolton’s manuscript, which is scheduled for publication in March, has scrambled that strategy. Mr. Bolton’s foreign-policy disagreements with Mr. Trump have been public knowledge for months. Last fall, Fiona Hill, a Russia expert and former Bolton aide, testified in the House that Mr. Bolton was alarmed by Mr. Trump’s aid-for-investigations scheme, which Mr. Bolton characterized as a “drug deal.”
In the manuscript, detailed descriptions of which were leaked to The Times, he recounts nearly a dozen instances in which he and other top administration officials pleaded with Mr. Trump to release the aid, to no avail.
Mr. Bolton, a hard-line conservative with decades of service in Republican administrations, is no anti-Trump zealot, which makes his allegations against the president that much more devastating. And his decision to tell these stories publicly nearly certainly waives any claims of executive privilege Mr. Trump might try to assert over their communications.
Let’s not forget the newly revealed evidence that came to light on Saturday, in the form of a tape recording released by the lawyer for Lev Parnas, who had worked for Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, in the Ukraine scheme. Mr. Trump has denied even knowing Mr. Parnas, but on the tape the two men can be heard in conversation at a dinner in April 2018. “Get rid of her,” Mr. Trump said of Ms. Yovanovitch. “Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. O.K.? Do it.”
You know what would be a good way to figure out who’s telling the truth? Subpoena Mr. Bolton to testify under oath.
This isn’t a close call. A majority of Americans of all political stripes want to hear from Mr. Bolton, at the least. They believe, as do congressional Democrats, that you can’t vote on whether to remove a president from office without getting the fullest possible account of his alleged offenses.
But Senate Republicans have so far refused to hear from any witnesses or to demand any documents, following the lead of Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, who has never hesitated to undermine the country’s institutions if he thinks doing so will help his party.
This is a risky strategy. One reason good lawyers insist on deposing witnesses and subpoenaing documentary evidence is to avoid any unwelcome surprises at trial. Mr. Bolton has now provided the latest of those surprises. It is surely not the last. Back in September, Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican and one of Mr. Trump’s staunchest defenders, said: “What would’ve been wrong is if the president had suggested to the Ukrainian government that if you don’t do what I want you to do regarding the Bidens, we’re not going to give you the aid. That was the accusation; that did not remotely happen.”
Except that it did, as Mr. Bolton is apparently willing to say under oath. Republicans don’t want him to do that because they don’t want Americans to exercise the simple good judgment that Mr. Graham once did.