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11.Oct.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Land thieves to gather Permalink to this item

North of the Flathead, and west of the Blackfeet, LeRoy Finicum's widow, Cliven Bundy's scofflaw offspring, eastern Washington's wingnut legislator, and what's this, Idaho water law guy Norm Semanko? Are gathering for a weekend of patriotic fervor and domestic terrorism planning. I trust the FBI has a number of informants attending.

They're billing it as a "remarkable" one-day conference with an "array of speakers and subjects" to provide "an updated overview of “The Deep State” and its impact in the West, bureaucratic agency over-reach, federal Indian policy, public vs. private property rights, environmental and jurisdictional issues affecting our country and each of our communities. We will also have discussions on critical legislation impacting our western states."

Kind of an open-carry version of an ALEC conference? Front page on ThisWestIsOURWest at present, among the embedded documents is the Great Falls Tribune piece about critics of the anti-government gathering, and critics of the critics. (Everybody's a critic.) Former Montana Secretary of State and a state legislator for 27 years, Bob Brown:

"By inviting Ammon Bundy, organizers and participants of this event are attempting to normalize the seizure of public lands and to legitimize threats against federal and local law enforcement." He said the event "flies in the face of the values Montanans of all political persuasions share" and has no place in Montana.

Not featured on the TWIOW site is this GFT item about a study by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, showing the logical conclusion if land-grabbers such as the Bundy clan have their way: Study: This public land is your land but it's landlocked, as in "federally managed lands that can't be reached directly from a public road or adjoining public land." The story has a tally by state, which includes more than 6½ million acres in Wyoming, Nevada and Montana (but "only" a couple hundred thousand acres in Idaho).

9.Oct.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Down escalator Permalink to this item

Jennifer Rubin's searing, must-read opinion from the weekend (preceding the ceremonial swearing campaign event that further soiled the Supreme Court's legitimacy): They left no doubt what they think of women.

"You cannot say a party that embraces a deeply misogynistic president who bragged about sexually assaulting women and mocked and taunted a sex-crime victim; accepted a blatantly insufficient investigation of credible sex crimes against women in lieu of a serious one that the White House counsel knew would be disastrous; repeatedly insulted and dismissed sex-crime victims exercising their constitutional rights; has never put a single woman on the Judiciary Committee (and then blames its own female members for being too lazy); and whips up male resentment of female accusers is a party that respects women. Its members resent women. They scorn women. They exclude women. They use women to maintain their grip on power. But they do not respect them.

"What’s worse is that Republicans who would never engage in this cruel and demeaning behavior themselves don’t bat an eye when their party’s leaders do so. Acceptance of Trump’s misogyny – like their rationalization of the president’s overt racism – becomes a necessity for loyal Republicans. If it bothers a Republican, he or she dare not say so. One either agrees or ignores or rationalizes such conduct, or one decide it’s a small price to pay (”it” being the humiliation of women) for tax cuts and judges. It’s just words, you know.

"The Republican Party no longer bothers to conceal its loathing of immigrants, its contempt for a free press, its disdain for the rule of law or its views on women. Indeed, these things now define a party that survives by inflaming white male resentment. Without women to kick around, how would they get their judge on the court or their guys to the polls?

8.10.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

What goes around comes around Permalink to this item

The question I have after re-reading Adam Serwer's chilling piece in The Atlantic from last Wednesday—The Cruelty is the Point: Who is man—or woman—enough to step up and bring the Republican party back to a modicum of decency? Susan Collins seemed unlikely (but maybe) until she hit rock bottom with her blithe assessment that "it appears to be a very thorough investigation." (That was before she clarified that she had "not yet finished going through all the materials.")

And just last Thursday morning, the man who stopped the tide of history for just a moment, retiring Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, said he too thought that the investigation was thorough. Looking at what little there was to see, he said "we've seen no additional corroborating information."

Don McGahn made sure of that.

But just to make good and sure, they kept the one and only copy of the FBI report in a basement room where senators had to come and get a glimpse in shifts. So little time they had to have it read aloud to them, in groups.

As a plot device, any good director would have thrown this out as being too ridiculous. No one would believe it! The U.S. Senate? A Supreme Court nominee? A room in the basement? You cannot be serious.

That was also before Sen. Collins gave another go to the "mistaken identity" hypothesis, an equally ludicrous plot device. (PRO TIP for Ed Whelan: fingering an actual alternative suspect is a mistake.) She believed most of what Blasey Ford had to say. All but one little thing.

Collins also had to ignore the rather impressive list of Kavanaugh's lies under oath to get there. And to pin all of her own plans for the future on the "fervent hope" that he would turn out to be a different person than he just showed himself to be on Thursday morning.

Lisa Murkowski came through (never mind her "present" to keep the tally undisturbed by Steve Daines' "absent" to attend his daughter's wedding), quoting the code for judicial conduct that requires acting "at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary." It is a "really high" standard, and one that Kavanaugh failed to maintain last week.

But she was the only one to express doubt and break ranks. On the Democrat side, perhaps with the 50+Pence arithmetic and his West Virginia campaign in mind, but insisting it was not based on politics, and only on the carefully controlled diet of facts he'd been fed, Joe Manchin III stared down distraught protesters and put in a Yes vote to lend the faintest whiff of bipartisanship to the affair.

In the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sept. 27, 2018

Before his McGahn-induced, fraudulent WSJ op-ed walk-back, we heard from Kavanaugh himself, unplugged, in Biblical terms, his partisan rancor unmasked, just in case his work history for Ken Starr and George W. Bush hadn't made his bona fides crystal clear. (Never mind the "presidential privilege" Trump exerted on W.'s behalf to keep most of the secrets.)

As Kavanaugh said, "the consequences will be with us for decades." And that epitaph of judicial temperament, modesty, and impartiality: "What goes around, comes around."

"Due process" was the cry from the gallery of white men, indignant at the challenge to their authority. (As opposed to the favorite mob chant of "Lock her up" at the next Trump rally.) Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing "presented Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault as a long-familiar dialogue between her facts and his resume. As framed by him, the question was whether someone as valuable and accomplished as he would be denied advancement over something as dubious and negligible as the abuse against Dr. Blasey," Catharine A. MacKinnon put it in her contribution to the New York Times' one year retrospective on the #MeToo movement.

"Courts are typically more hidebound and less nimble than culture, although they are embedded in it. The norms of rape culture still infuse much existing law. Rape law largely uses a “consent” standard often consistent with acquiescence to unequal power. Sexual harassment law’s equality standard is unwelcomeness. Criminal law’s burdens of proof, difficult for survivors to meet, are often imported, tacitly or explicitly, into civil and administrative processes as standards for the credibility of the victim. Statutory law against discrimination has a statute of limitations that is measured in months, before almost any victim of sexual violation is past trauma, far less beyond post-traumatic stress. No movement to change it exists in Congress. ...

"#MeToo may be the first change toward women achieving human status since the vote. Indifference to sexual abuse contributed to electing this president, an election that in turn fueled the #MeToo movement against that indifference with a rage that the events surrounding Judge Kavanaugh will likely continue to focus and accelerate further."

Howard Zinn's take on the Supreme Court and its overestimated importance, from 2005, when John Roberts had just been made Chief, and Harriet Miers' bid for Sandra Day O'Connor's seat had been rejected for a failing questionnaire and stuff, and Samuel J. Alito had been nominated but not yet confirmed might provide some small comfort, and a reminder: Don't Despair about the Supreme Court. "It would be naive to depend on the Supreme Court to defend the rights of poor people, women, people of color, dissenters of all kinds." This had just happened:

"A district court judge in 2004 ruled that the detainees held in Guantánamo for years without trial were protected by the Geneva Convention and deserved due process. Roberts and two colleagues on the Court of Appeals overruled this."

And the Supreme Court, with Roberts recused, and Scalia inappropriately unrecused (given his prejudicial statements ahead of the case), reversed the Court of Appeals in Hamdan vs. Rumsefeld, 5-3. But here it is a 12 years later and there are still dozens of "detainees" deemed "too dangerous to transfer but who cannot be tried in a court of law." (Perhaps Justice Kavanaugh will feel solidarity for the due process they've been denied and put in a good word some time.) What Zinn said:

"[K]nowing the nature of the political and judicial system of this country, its inherent bias against the poor, against people of color, against dissidents, we cannot become dependent on the courts, or on our political leadership. Our culture—the media, the educational system—tries to crowd out of our political consciousness everything except who will be elected President and who will be on the Supreme Court, as if these are the most important decisions we make. They are not. They deflect us from the most important job citizens have, which is to bring democracy alive by organizing, protesting, engaging in acts of civil disobedience that shake up the system."

7.Oct.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Your primer on trade deficits Permalink to this item

Gregory Mankiw does a nice job of explaining a basic principle of economics, even if there is no reveal of suprising truths about trade deficits. Could've called it the simple truth. He also touches upon a couple other simple observations. About the the revised trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, announced on Monday:

"[I]t is hard to be sanguine about this accomplishment, in part because the changes are so modest but mostly because the president’s overall approach to international trade is so confused. ... If imports exceed exports, we are running a bilateral trade deficit, which Mr. Trump interprets as a sign that we are the relationship’s losers."

"Trade" is mostly about trading money for goods and services. Money isn't useful by itself, but it makes a useful medium of exchange. If you like goods and services more than money, it's not hard to strike a good deal. On a daily basis. We run a "trade deficit" with every local merchant.

A normal understanding of the value of money (which is to say exchange), and of fairness pretty much covers it. You can see why Trump could be so confused.

For good measure, Mankiw provides a rule for assessing this administration's changes to tax law and regulation in one paragraph:

"All this isn’t to say that the president’s policies are necessarily misguided. The tax bill should be interpreted on its own merits — whether it makes the tax system fairer and more efficient and whether it brings in enough revenue to finance the government. And each regulatory change should be evaluated based on its costs and benefits."

Fairer and more efficient, and sufficient to finance the government. That'd be three swings and misses, but to be fair, the GOP wasn't trying for any of those things.

3.Oct.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Just today Permalink to this item

Still from the video of Trump at a rally

Might need a healthier habit than checking Twitter in the morning. Starting right... IDK. Just the first couple that caught my eye, with accurate use of the words "wicked," "debase," "divide," "liar," "con man," "fraud," and "criminal." And "deplorable." Really deplorable.

It pains me to see a man of such power, our president, publicly mock an American woman who credibly claims to have been sexually assaulted before an audience of our fellow citizens who cheer him on. Please, my friends, let us not allow this wicked man to debase and divide us so. https://t.co/shTJUgRme2

— Evan McMullin (@Evan_McMullin) October 3, 2018

This is one reason why voters needed--and still need--to see Trump's tax returns. The Times masterful work shows Trump is a liar, con man, fraud, and criminal. He has cheated tenants and US taxpayers. And the GOP has embraced and enabled him. That's deplorable. https://t.co/yy1nQMvW9r

— David Corn (@DavidCornDC) October 3, 2018

Just that little snippet atop the story, my god. Why don't more women come forward? he asked. How can a man be as vile as this, and have women in his carefully chosen background claque hold up their signs and smile and laugh at his mockery? Charles P. Pierce captures the Zeitgeist, for Esquire and all of us:

"And comes now this hopeless, vicious buffoon, and the audience of equally hopeless and vicious buffoons who laughed and cheered when he made sport of a woman whose lasting memory of the trauma she suffered is the laughter of the perpetrators. Now he comes, a man swathed in scandal, with no interest beyond what he can put in his pocket and what he can put over on a universe of suckers, and he does something like this while occupying an office that we gave him, and while endowed with a public trust that he dishonors every day he wakes up in the White House.

"The scion of a multigenerational criminal enterprise, the parameters of which we are only now beginning to comprehend. A vessel for all the worst elements of the American condition. And a cheap, soulless bully besides."

The embedded link is to Pierce's cover letter for what would be the week's top top top story in any rational universe, the NYT's explosive reveal of how "the story Donald Trump has always told about himself may have been a literal fraud," as the subhead styles it, your latest Required Reading for our decline and fall.

"Did we all know that his endlessly repeated autobiographical tale was complete horse-hockey? Of course, we did. But now we have numbers. The famous mere $1 million that Papa Fred left him as a starter kit? It was closer to $60 million. He was making 200-large a year from the old man by the time he was 3."

You talk about a self-starter and hard worker, rags to riches from the get-go! A landlord at age 3. He alone could fix it.

2.Oct.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

What a tangled web we weave Permalink to this item

NBC News reports a wee problem with the Judiciary Committee's practice. Last week, minority member Richard Blumenthal submitted the summary of relevant information from Kerry Berchem, a Yale classmate of Kavanaugh and Ramirez to the committee, and it was kept from the light of day:

George Hartmann, a spokesman for Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said that “the texts from Ms. Berchem do not appear relevant or contradictory to Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony."

"This appears to be another last-ditch effort to derail the nomination with baseless innuendo by Democrats who have already decided to vote no," Hartmann said.

Text messages showing that "the judge and his team were communicating behind the scenes with friends to refute the claim" of Deborah Ramirez, before The New Yorker piece came around. Which was before Kavanaugh says he'd even heard about this thing that he claims never even happened. Berchem's been in touch with Karen Yarasavage, another classmate:

In a series of texts before the publication of the New Yorker story, Yarasavage wrote that she had been in contact with “Brett's guy,” and also with “Brett,” who wanted her to go on the record to refute Ramirez. According to Berchem, Yarasavage also told her friend that she turned over a copy of the wedding party photo to Kavanaugh, writing in a text: “I had to send it to Brett’s team too.”

Aaaand this:

"Kavanaugh told the Senate Judiciary Committee under oath that the first time he heard of Ramirez’s allegation was in the Sept. 23 article in The New Yorker."

1.Oct.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Q: Did you consume alcohol during your high school years? Permalink to this item

"Yes, we drank beer, uh, my friends and I, boys and girls, yes, we drank beer. I liked beer. I still like beer. We drank beer, the drinking age as I noted was 18 so the seniors were legal. Senior year in high school, people were legal. To drank. And we, yeah, we drank beer. And that said, sometimes, sometimes, probably had too many beers, and sometimes other people had too many beers. We drank beer, we liked beer."

Kavanaugh was born in mid-February, so for half his senior year, he would have been 17. The typical age-based progression through school in this country makes most high school seniors 17 when they start, and turning 18 along the way (or, for some of us, not until after graduation). Most people remember their 18th birthday.

Most teenagers know how old you have to be to obtain alcohol, in my experience. I certainly did. Where and when Kavanaugh grew up, the drinking age was not 18. Sucked to be him: on July 1, 1982, Maryland changed the drinking age from 18 to 21, pulling the starting line 3 years further away from the 17y 4½m old Brett.

For his "senior year in high school," people were way not legal in Maryland. Some—including Kavanaugh after mid-February—would have been legal in Washington D.C. But stocking up in the District and crossing into the state to consume would have been illegal.

Yeah, that was all so long ago. But this guy is a judge, a Yale-educated lawyer, supposedly Supreme Court caliber.

It beggars credulity. Among other things.

His half-minute answer to that Yes/No question is featured by John Oliver in the Last Week Tonight episode from this weekend, along with the remarkable range of creepy facial expressions produced by the judge last Thursday.

Sham wow Permalink to this item

Jamil Smith: "Thursday's hearing was a master class in Trumpian masculinity." Brett Kavanaugh’s Fragile Manhood. (Smith also toted up reasons not to trust Kavanaugh two weeks ago.)

"I doubt that Republicans care about institutions like the Supreme Court beyond their ability to bend them towards their policy aims, but it is important that the American public can trust the judicial branch. Ideally, there would be no men on the Court — perhaps I should stop there — who have been accused of sexual assault and harassment. But regardless of gender, there can’t be justices who lie to us. Well before Ford’s accusations surfaced, Kavanaugh had given us definitive reasons to question his ability to tell the truth. Whether or not you think that he tried to sexually assault a girl in high school, he had already disqualified himself on account of his falsehoods. What does a man have to do to not be believed?"

James Comey belabors some obvious truths in an op-ed for the NYT: the FBI is definitely capable of getting the job done, even on an inappropriate schedule: "Although the process is deeply flawed, and apparently designed to thwart the fact-gathering process, the F.B.I. is up for this. It’s not as hard as Republicans hope it will be." Except...

"F.B.I. agents are experts at interviewing people and quickly dispatching leads to their colleagues around the world to follow with additional interviews. Unless limited in some way by the Trump administration, they can speak to scores of people in a few days, if necessary."

Ay, there's the rub. As Carl Hulse points out, "provided the new investigation doesn’t turn up damaging information, the inquiry could ultimately make it easier for uncertain Republicans to back Judge Kavanaugh as soon as this week." Call me cynical, but isn't it obvious that the president is going to make damn sure that no damaging information is turned up? His "free rein" tweet is most likely just another snowman in the avalanche of Trumpian lies, not intended and not to be taken as actual instruction to those doing the work. As former U.S. Attorney and deputy A.G. Harry Litman noted, limiting the "investigation" to a short list of just four witnesses would be "very unusual, if not unprecedented." It would "sharply reduce the prospects that the bureau will generate the sort of information that the Judiciary Committee has requested and the country deserves to have."

A few whispers from Flake, Collins, and Murkowski were enough for this "pause" but as the writers for SNL put it, the GOP doesn't know the meaning of the word "stop."

The nomination should be over Permalink to this item

Interesting piece on 60 Minutes last night, Senators Flake and Coons appearing together to explain what happened at and around Friday morning's Judiciary Committee meeting that led to the "pause" in plowing through the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. Supposedly for a one week FBI investigation, will that be enough? It might be, if they were tasked with uncovering the truth, rather than coloring within some carefully drawn contours.

This nomination is reportedly Don McGahn's swan song, so the initial report from NBC News that the White House would direct the FBI to tiptoe through the tulips is completely believable, and POTWEETOH's insistence that the FBI would have "free rein," not so much. We may end up with another one of those "background checks" which didn't turn up any of what we've recently learned about this man's character in half a dozen tries.

Some form of "nothing to see here, now we can move along" seems nearly certain. But if there's nothing more to see, haven't we seen enough? Cut to the chase in that 60 Minutes segment, the last Q&A:

Scott Pelley: If Judge Kavanaugh is shown to have lied to the committee, the nomination is over?

Sen. Flake and Sen. Coons: Oh, yes. I would think so.

Q: Was the ralphing alcohol-related?
A: I went to Yale.

We don't need an FBI investigation to determine the remarkable breadth and scope of Brett Kavanaugh's lying to the Judiciary Committee. Nathan J. Robinson has the full catalog on Current Affairs. He lied about little things, and big things. He lied about his drinking, and he lied about sex. He never attended any event like that? He only drank on the weekend? His "very precise" calendar exonerates him? "None of those people, nor I, lived near Columbia Country Club"? His and his classmates "affection" for Renate Dolphin? Brand new definitions for all those dodgy terms in the yearbook? All those people who said they didn't remember X being cited as saying "it didn't happen"?

In everyday parlance that last one might be ordinary rounding error, but here, under oath, lawyers and judges talking in regard to the nomination for the Supreme court, that is a consistent, calculated, and essential deception.

BLUMENTHAL: [In law, there’s a Latin phrase that means] ‘false in one thing, false in everything.’ Meaning in jury instructions that [prosecutors tell] the jury that they can disbelieve a witness if they find them to be false in one thing. So the core of why we’re here today really is credibility. Let me talk...

KAVANAUGH: But the core of why we’re here is an allegation for which the four witnesses present have all said it didn’t happen.

Actually, no. There is only one person who has said "it didn't happen," and he's been false in too many things for us to accept his word as credible.

But never mind about the teenage drinking and "playful" sexual assaulting. Kavanaugh has a well-established record of lying to Senators. Just this, all by itself is disqualifying for any position as a judge:

Leahy recalled that Kavanaugh “testified under oath — and he testified repeatedly — that he never received any stolen materials, and that he knew nothing about it until it was public.” With the release of emails from the time when Kavanaugh served the Bush administration, Leahy said it is now evident that “there were numerous emails sent to him that made it very clear this was stolen information, including a draft letter from me.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has concluded: “Brett Kavanaugh used materials stolen from Democratic senators to advance President Bush’s judicial nominees. He was asked about this in 2004, 2006 and this week. His answers were not true.”

Update: Here's another useful compendium of Kavanuagh's lies.

Update #2: And one from Mari Uyehara, for GQ.

raveling

Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007