Category Archives: Politics

“the Muller investigation just paid for itself” Is Ferguson, Missouri Justice

You’ve probably seen this tweet:

@Pappiness: As part of Paul Manafort’s plea deal, he’ll forfeit bank accounts and properties worth about $46 million dollars. Someone should let Trump know that the Muller investigation just paid for itself.

This is an understandable but unprincipled way to view a criminal investigation. It’s fighting the battle on Trump’s chosen terms. He’s good at getting people to do that. Stop playing his game.

Criminal investigation isn’t about making money. It’s a service, a public good, that is paid for by taxes. Money it generates should go into general revenue.

What it costs to investigate a crime is often well out of proportion with the monetary cost of that crime, and that can be a just expenditure of money. We recognize the injustice of measuring the value of justice by its cost…in principle–even as we tolerate it in practice! The murder of a rich woman should not get a bigger, better investigation than that of a poor man. There isn’t any just way to say one death is worth more than another. Wealthy neighborhoods get better police protection and investigation than others. These practices have to change.

We’ve seen what happens when money from investigations is given to the investigating unit. It often leads to fraud, both outright criminal fraud leading to convictions and casual fraud of the everyday sort. For instance: Seizing a muscle car and letting that unit keep the car for use in “investigations”. That’s legal but not legit.

We all know of towns that fund themselves with speed traps. We all know of rich people walking away from DUIs in ways that poor people can’t.

You know who else walks away from big-ass felonies by forfeiting money? The finance industry. Look at the number of charges which get dropped because the company involved agreed not to fight and to forfeit a lot of cash. Do the responsible individuals get punished? Sure. They feel it in their reduced bonuses or golden parachutes. Does it hold down financial crime? Does it deter or incapacitate the perpetrators, provide retribution or restoration? Does it do any of that? Or does it make getting caught at financial crime against ordinary citizens just a routine risk of business to be figured into ever-increasing interest rates and noted in a cheery stockholders’ report?

What it comes down to is that making revenue generation the goal of law enforcement–especially making the argument for a particular investigation by how it pays for itself, rather than how much truth and justice it delivers–is Ferguson, Missouri justice.

Ferguson discriminatorily squeezed some of its citizens under color of law to pay for a government the rest of its citizens wouldn’t pay enough in taxes to run. Whether it was pure racial oppression or simple class warfare–it’s harder to parse them apart than it is to separate salt from sugar–does not change our judgement that it is wrong.

That doesn’t mean seizing Manafort’s money wasn’t just. Getting money back from crooked financial institutions is just, even if it isn’t sufficiently just or perfectly just. If it’s a good start, I say live with that and improve later on.

“We got the money!” is a lousy justification for seeking criminal justice in the first place. Whether it’s profitable to investigate my murder shouldn’t determine whether my killer is found. Getting the money to fund government through prosecution is an unjust way of providing government. These are basic principles. Let’s respect them.

Are There Clean Dollars In A Dirty System? And If There Aren’t, What Then?

I don’t believe there are any clean dollars in a dirty system. If you buy sportswear–or almost anything not directly from the producer’s hands, and even then sometimes–someone is getting exploited. So Nike isn’t unique in exploiting working people. It’s not like the New Balance shoes I wear are morally any different. And good for Nike for putting some money in Colin Kaepernick’s pocket and some positive images of him into the world.

If there’s an active boycott going on–not a “moral disgust” boycott, but a “change your ways or we’ll do our best to put you out of business” boycott–that should be respected, as the Nike boycott was by so many back when it was in force.

And now it’s not, so go buy some, if you want to.

But there’s something very sick about a society that turns its ethics over to the market.

The market has a clear and unambiguous answer for every question of value. When it is asked, “What is the worth of a human life?” it has an answer, in the form of another question: “What am I bid?”

So if you don’t have a deep, deep pocket, you’d best watch your ass in the coming years, or overturn some tables now.

The Assistance

I hit peak McCain on reading this: John McCain’s Funeral Was the Biggest Resistance Meeting Yet.

Let’s call the roll of that gathering, shall we? From the article, in order: Meaghan McCain, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney–and at this point, let’s quote a paragraph:

For a moment, at least, they still lived in the America where Obama and Bush and Bill Clinton and Dick Cheney could all sit in the same pew, in the same church, and sing the same words to the patriotic hymns that made them all teary-eyed at the same time.

To continue the roll call: John Boehner, Elizabeth Warren, David Petraeus, Leon Panetta, Al Gore, Madeleine Albright, Paul Ryan, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner–I understand no one slapped either of them, or threw a drink in either one’s face, but I suppose that’s to much to expect from a member of The Resistance–John Bolton, John Kelly–are you getting that warm, runny feeling yet?–and Jeff Flake.

Does that sound like The Resistance to you? It sounds to me like the people who got us into this mess in the first place. Which of those people has actually gotten in Trump’s way? Elizabeth Warren. The Obamas are taking a well-earned vacation, so they get a pass from me. The Clintons are out pimping their books. Leon Panetta and Al Gore are doing something, I suppose, even if it’s just shutting up because they don’t have anything useful to contribute. Madeleine Albright wrote a book that’s on topic but not going to motivate people to action, judging by the people I know who read it and recommend it, but she means well, bless her heart. And that’s the Democrats in the room!

And you know who else was at that memorial and gave a very moving speech? America’s Funniest War Criminal, Henry Kissinger! I shit you not: The very man who directed years of the criminal Vietnam War which John McCain got injured fighting. The only place we should see Kissinger hanging around is Nuremberg. But there he was, Resisting.

It’s possible to feel admiration for the personal virtues of a man like John McCain, who spent five years in a hellish prison and never finked on his comrades, and still despise the acts that put him in that prison in the first place. I realize that systematic mass murder of civilians is only a war crime these days if you don’t do it with a Very Expensive Weapon provided by one of the Major Powers, and that we’re supposed to pretend that strategic bombing isn’t terrorism. I myself figure anyone on any side of any fight who commits mass murder of civilians is a mass murderer. It’s awful hard to bomb a village in self-defense, but that doesn’t stop armies from trying, right?

The difference between McCain and Kissinger, then, is that one man had admirable personal virtues and the other did not. Kissinger’s virtues were turned exclusively to Evil purposes. It was his and Nixon’s policy to violently overthrow democratically elected governments they didn’t like. One can’t admire intelligence turned to that purpose.

So on reading that article, then hearing about Kissinger’s appearance, I realized there was a better word for that crowd: The Assistance.

The Assistance is the political creatures who thrived in a corrupt, self-serving political environment. They are the Ancien Règime of America, on an old road rapidly changing. And you know what? They don’t see any point in lending a hand, because it’s you who are in their way, as they ping little spitballs of tut-tuts at a man who exemplifies the system they are frantically trying to put back together. They are doing the absolute least they can do in defense of your interests–condemning in the strongest terms!–as they try to protect their own.

They are working to preserve the corruption that pays for their foundations and stuffs speaking fees strung with beads of zeroes on the end up their well-deserving buttholes. They get that money from the rich because it is the rich who they serve. When the rich yank the string on those speaking fees, you bet those political asses respond.

So don’t expect much from The Assistance. As always, we will have to save ourselves. And if you have to run one of The Assistance over in the process? It’s not like they weren’t warned:

Mysteries Revealed! A Simple Typo, Now Corrected, Makes It All Clear.

I finally figured out one of the Great Mysteries of TrumpWorld. It was a simple typo anyone, even the President Of This United States, could make, which I can now interpret. Here’s the original tweet, in full:

Despite the negative press covfefe,

Now here’s my corrected version:

Despite the negative press kayfabe,

He wrote covfefe when he meant kayfabe. It’s just that simple and it explains so much!

Respectable People Can’t Fight Trump Effectively. Who can? The Answer May Surprise You!

A dozen assorted National Security Officials issued a Stern Statement against Donald Trump this week. The text follows:

It’ll do nothing against him. What does work?

What works is people you, Gentle Respectable Reader, probably don’t approve of.

The first person to touch Trump as President and not come away soiled was national punching bag Kim Kardashian. She went in to negotiate the freedom of an unjustly imprisoned woman and won, and didn’t look like a fool or a thief afterwards.

The next person to touch Trump, and actually draw blood was porn star Stormy Daniels. She’s managed to make him look like the foolish old man he is. She’s also opened up a one of the few lines of criminal inquiry which is likely to score.

And now we have reality television figure Omarosa:

Reality-TV folks don’t build their brands on respectability—their freedom from conventional constraints like being predictable and well-liked is their power—but they can pull off One Big Pivot in their careers. Usually, it’s where they claim that, yes, they were part of the circus, but things have finally gone too far and gotten so bad that even they must shine a light on it! Only those who’ve been in the muck know what to fix.

This was the substance of Donald Trump’s own campaign message, and now Omarosa is using it against him.

That message isn’t available to Respectable People, and rightly so. The essence of being a Respectable Person is being a fake real person. That’s true of almost every major politician.  The Hillary Clinton of political appearance is a fake pretending to be real. You could see that most clearly after the election, when this funny, slightly sarcastic, human being went on television to plug her book. It was a Hillary Clinton I could have voted for willingly instead of at Trumppoint. She was visibly human, real real, not fake real.

What the women who beat Trump have in common is that they are, like him, real fakes. They really are something very close to those images they project. When you see one of them, you don’t wonder, “Are they really like that?” You know, yes, they are.

Trump does poorly against women who don’t have much interest in pretending to be something they’re not.

This is why he’s able to steamroll Respectable People. He sees, as most of us who are Not Respectable see, the lying and faking and fronting and bullshitting that goes into being Respectable. And he makes it visible, which he can do, being Not Respectable.

Since hardly anyone can maintain both the sort of self-reflective ability that goes into seeing these things and the will to act effectively on them, very few Respectable People can see what those of us who are Not Respectable know by heart.

still the sweet darling mouse who can't quite see the cat coming

A Modest Proposal for Democratically Packing the Supreme Court in the Interest of Its Institutional Legitimacy

Bob Bauer, former counsel to Barack Obama, makes the standard case against packing the Supreme Court as well as it can be made in (what else?) Don’t Pack the Courts. It’s short–read it.

He is right on principle and correct about the pragmatics, which has blinded him to the correct solution. Assuming a Democratic Congress and President in 2020 (a stretch, I grant you, but roll with it), on their first day in office, the new President should send the Senate two nominations to the Supreme Court: Merrick Garland and H. Cusrog Lien–the Bizzaro World Neil Gorsuch, whose faithful duty will be to vote exactly the opposite from Neil Gorsuch on every occasion. The announcement should go something like this:

“My fellow Americans, we all know the truth of the matter, whether we admit it or not: The Republican Party stole a seat on the Supreme Court. They violated its integrity and turned the highest court in the land into a political body. This cannot stand. This must be reversed.

“We have a temporary advantage, during which we now have the power to act as ruthlessly and unethically as the Republican Party has acted. We have it in our means–and many of us have it in our hearts–to go beyond simply evening the scales. I feel that temptation myself, every time I think of one of the many, many people  damaged needlessly by arbitrary cruelties enabled by this corruptly-composed court.

“And yet, I will not be party to further degrading the Supreme Court. Enemies of rule of law depend on its defenders sinking to their level. As we do so, with sincere yet premature desperation, we degrade ourselves. We damage the justice of our cause. This we will not do.

“Instead, we will go forward to restore the Court’s integrity. We will not press our advantage. We will simply undo their corrupt act, and no more. We have proposals for reforming the Supreme Court, with which we hope to depoliticize the nomination process.

“In that spirit, I present to you tonight, not one, but two nominees for the Supreme Court:

“Merrick Garland, whose nomination was stolen from him by the Republican Party, and H. Cusrog Lien, who will make Neil Gorsuch’s stolen vote disappear. Until the the day Mister Gorsuch leaves the Supreme Court, Mister Lien will vote for whatever Mister Gorsuch is against, and against whatever Mister Gorsuch is for, even down to whether to call out for Chinese or barbecue during late-night conferences. Their votes will cancel each other’s out, and Justice Garland will be heard, as justice and democracy demand.

“I hope Mister Gorsuch likes anchovies on his pizza.

“Thank you, and good night.”

If you believe in the institutional legitimacy of the Supreme Court*, attacks on its legitimacy which follow the letter of the law and yet violate its spirit present a dilemma: Escalate and worsen the bind, or submit and invite further violation.

This proposal threads that needle. It nullifies a previous Bad Act. It does not submit to injustice. It reverses it. Yet it does not escalate. It doesn’t use temporary political advantage to pack the court full.  It offers a compromise.

So tell everyone you know: Garland and Lien/Supreme Court 2021! It’s perfect for some clever presidential campaign.

*Or any such institution. We are in a legitimacy crisis. Whether the Surpreme Court (for example) is still legitimate is being decided now.

Life During Wartime: A Video Soundtrack

Armagideon Time?

That Talking Heads song is about touring. It took me a long time to realize that. It’s still not just about touring for me, which I guess comes from Romantic childhood delusions not being properly corrected at an early age. But it’s worked out for me.

Anyway, I’ve been keeping track of song videos that have struck me as right for this moment in time for a year now. The first four:


20-JUN-2017: Who am I to disagree?

Oh, to be seventeen forever. Oh, to be thirty-four forever.


24-SEP-2018: You think they’re dumb, you think they’re so funny.

Just wait until they got you running to those…


20-MAY-2018: Johnnie wants to think of a joke.

Johnnie’s an American. Johnnie’s an American.


01-JUL-2018: If you want to teach ’em how to fight, you gotta treat ’em all alike.

I hate tear gas. Don’t you?


More to come!

Good Riddance to Anthony Kennedy, Who Was Not Going To Save You

It might be better if Anthony Kennedy stayed on the Supreme Court, but things would still be so dire that better is not quite the right word for it.

With Kennedy on the court, this week was still one long bummer. A single Fourth Amendment case was firmly decided on the side of liberty. Every other case was either decided for bad or was sent back to return another day, to a more conservative court. One political gerrymandering case was crafted to show that its target matched Kennedy’s detailed description of a gerrymander that violated First Amendment rights. Kennedy voted to send the case back on narrow grounds. If it returns to the Supreme Court, he won’t be there.

Some say Kennedy punted.  That’s fair.

Who will win this game?

I say he went onto the field on third down, seconds remaining, to win the game with an easy field goal. The snap is good. Kennedy runs. And he kicks half a yard to the left of the ball, missing it completely as the other team swarms the holder.

TIme runs out! Kennedy leaves the field untouched, his dignity held high. He’s kept himself above the fray, yet determined the outcome.

The team doctor is still working on the holder. Poor Charlie Brown. Poor you.

Kennedy is a conservative and a believer in civility and compromise. He’s spent his career on the Supreme Court splitting differences in the interest of compromise.

(Except on issues which determine who controls the government. There he votes consistent conservative.)

In his last term, he gave up on compromise. As Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern point out:

There have been 13 5–4 decisions so far this term that have pitted the conservative justices against the liberals. Kennedy went with the conservatives all 13 times.

This is the true Anthony Kennedy: A Reagan appointee whose older, more genteel style of conservatism is next-door neighbors with hard-right radicalism, when push comes to shove, when it comes to who holds power. As Dahlia Lithwick says,

To the extent we wrote paeans to Kennedy, it was for his occasional defections in areas that materially affect the lives of millions of people—women, minorities, LGBTQ couples, voters, Guantanamo detainees. And to be sure, each of those votes was well worth it. But we knew that for each such vote, there was a Bush v. Gore, a Citizens United, a Shelby County.

Each of those cases was about who holds power. There, Kennedy was a conservative’s conservative, yet in “fan fiction…Justice Anthony Kennedy was a moderate centrist”. Does any other living conservative politician besides John McCain have such a hold on the wishful liberal imagination? And so here we are, “In Nineteen-Nineties Orlando with Trumpy and Stormy!

Mark down Justice Anthony Kennedy as one more thing which will not save you. Institutional power will not save you, either. We will have to save ourselves.

The UUA Call for the Abolition of ICE and This Weekend’s March

Last weekend, the Unitarian Universalist Association’s 2018 General Assembly passed this Action of Immediate Witness: End Family Separation and Detention of Asylum Seekers and Abolish ICE.

It includes a call to “Participate in the June 30th nationwide Mass Mobilization”, whose lead organization is Families Belong Together. In Little Rock, several organizations, from mainstream liberal to near left, are sponsoring a rally at the State Capitol.

I spent Thursday afternoon at a spirited  demonstration at the State Capitol, sponsored by local groups and the national group Mijente, with whom the UUA is partnering, as part of their Chinga La Migra/Abolish ICE* tour.

They and we are calling for the Abolition of ICE:

#AbolishICE

Families Belong Together is calling for Defunding ICE:

#DefundICE

The UUA has been most successful in producing justice over the years when it has taken a visionary approach to issues. Line 51 in the Action of Immediate Witness, in which we are called to “Host interfaith vigils to lift our prophetic voices”, claims a theological grounding in our Second Source, “Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion and the transforming power of love.”

We have a choice about how we participate in this weekend’s rallies. We can pick up the call to #AbolishICE or to Defund ICE or make some more general call. We can show up and blend in and not be visibly Unitarian Universalist. We don’t even have to show up.

What are you going to do? What is your congregation going to do?

Have you spent time working together to discern what you believe in common? Where you differ? What you can do? What you will do?

If not, then you have another chance to do so, this time under the pressure of time and events. It won’t get any easier if you wait.

*A language note: “Chinga” does not literally translate to “Abolish”.

It’s Not A Silver Lining. It’s Just Hope.

Over a decade ago, I first read about the rock-bottom level of W’s support at 28% as a rough estimate of current bugfuck crazy levels. I took that to heart and have repeated it as wisdom, so I’m not shocked that there are people cheering for caging children.

(Afraid? Yes. Still.)

What has been a pleasant surprise is seeing people building capacity to resist. That capacity wasn’t nearly enough during 43’s term to hold him back, and it wasn’t there to sustain the Occupy movement.*

Now we’re a third of the way through a Presidential term, and people successfully pushed hard enough to make a public policy change. It’s still a bad policy–I’ll still be at a pro-immigration rally after work today–but the spiritual boost people get from publicly backing an authoritarian down and the corresponding morale drop on the other side is pure power. If it’s used well, if politicians don’t drain all the effort into electoral politics only, this can be a turning point.

It’s not a position I’d’ve chosen to get into. The suffering at the border and elsewhere isn’t “worth it” for change. But it’s not a position we chose, is it? It’s where we’ve been forced to by cruel humanoids. That suffering is on their heads.

If we miss this moment, if we fail to learn electoral politics can’t be won without a robust non-electoral political movement to maintain us during the times we are out of power–and to remind politicians who claim they are on our side that they can’t pee on our leg when they are in power and expect us to thank them for the rain–then the suffering from that will be on our heads, and quite a few of us will fully deserve what we get from it (though most of us will not).

This is not the 2018 I’d hoped for, but it has great potential. Or you can call it high stakes. Pretty much the same.

*The Occupiers themselves weren’t the problem. They were plenty determined. It was a support failure.