Clear The Shelters Day Is August 17

Yes, I know I do not write enough lately. I may return to the absolutely faux impeachment shenanigans Nadler is perpetrating soon, we shall see. Those caveats aside, there are some important real life things going on this weekend

The Clear The Shelters day is coming this weekend on August 17. It is an awesome and worthy effort. Please give it consideration and a try. You will get a new family member and enjoy unconditional love, even if there is the traditional pet rambunctiousness.

Marcy has been fantastic, forever, in adoption doggies. I will fully admit to being bad in this regard because many decades ago (no I will not say how many, because it is a lot), a college roommate in Boulder brought home a Samoyed puppy. I fell in love with and, upon return to Arizona, I got a Sammy. The third in succession, Kiki, is still alive and kicking, though quite old. I stubbornly stuck with kind of a rare dog that you don’t find at the shelter. Our dogs have been fantastic. But dogs are almost always fantastic, and saving them is truly a wonderful and admirable act.

So, I have not done so well at adopting and rescuing dogs. Yet. But, hopefully, that will change with the next critter.

But you can.

Saturday August 17, 2019, is Clear The Shelters Day. You feel low about all the outrageous bunk going on in America, much less the world lately? A pup will help you deal with it. Pups are universal, and they will love you as much as you love them, if not more.

Go get a pup, and Clear The Shelters.

On a parting note, I’d like to commend and support the effort that Glenn Greenwald and David Miranda are doing in Brazil to not only rescue dogs, but homeless people as well. It is a fantastic thing. And, done correctly, maybe something that could, and should, be done here in the United States.

Ahab As Randian Hero

I’ve finished Moby Dick, and it’s a fitting tale for a Summer’s reading. If, as I wrote here, Ishmael is the All-American Boy, Ahab is a hero fit for an Ayn Rand novel.

In the last third of the book, Ahab continues his search for the Great White Whale despite an increasingly obvious series of omens warning him off, and of other ships warning of the dangers. Ishmael paints a broader picture of Ahab by relating several soliloquies. They show a more ruminative side of Ahab, one alert to the real world around him, and the pity and terror it inspires. There’s a poetic meditation inspired by a dying whale in Chapter 116, for example.

… life dies sunwards full of faith; but see! no sooner dead, than death whirls round the corpse, and it heads some other way.

But this inner life does not touch Ahab’s intent to kill Moby Dick. He ignores all the omens and warnings, omens so clear that his crew are muttering. He drives them on til they first see the great whale. That night, Ahab gives his final soliloquy, this one to Starbuck (Chapter 132). Here’s a brief excerpt:

“Oh, Starbuck! it is a mild, mild wind, and a mild looking sky. On such a day — very much such a sweetness as this — I struck my first whale — a boy-harpooner of eighteen! Forty — forty — forty years ago! — ago! Forty years of continual whaling! forty years of privation, and peril, and storm-time! forty years on the pitiless sea! for forty years has Ahab forsaken the peaceful land, for forty years to make war on the horrors of the deep! … the madness, the frenzy, the boiling blood and the smoking brow, with which, for a thousand lowerings old Ahab has furiously, foamingly chased his prey — more a demon than a man! — aye, aye! what a forty years’ fool — fool — old fool, has old Ahab been! Why this strife of the chase? why weary, and palsy the arm at the oar, and the iron, and the lance? how the richer or better is Ahab now?

Starbuck urges Ahab to turn back and to live his life on the land. Ahab doesn’t seem to hear. Another excerpt:

“What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time; recklessly making me ready to do what in my own proper, natural heart, I durst not so much as dare? Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm?

Ahab has no answer to this question, and doesn’t even try to find one. Ahab just knows he is driven to extract whale oil by killing every single whale. Ishmael even asks in Chapter 105 if humans can kill all the sperm whales in their insatiable search.

What does drive Ahab? Ishmael doesn’t say. Maybe the lust for money has blended with the bloodlust of killing whales into a single inhuman force, coupled with an insane anger directed at the single whale that cut away his leg.

To me Ahab seems like an Ayn Rand character: a capitalist driven to produce whale oil by grit and determination, overcoming every obstacle placed in the way of every truly productive person, and bending others to do the same. Ahab, like other capitalists, is driven to extract every last drop of money from every last layer of nature and human beings. RAtional thought, contemplation of the consequences, these have no place in this crazed struggle.

Of course, in an Ayn Rand novel, on the third day Ahab would have slain Moby Dick, flensed it, and found enough sperm oil and ambergris to float a boat, bringing fame and profit for Ahab and confounding the socialist whale protectors.

Ahab ignores every warning. And everyone but Ishmael drowns. And all the oil they had extracted went to the bottom of the sea.

RIP Damon Keith, The Once And Forever Crusader For Justice

It is with a heavy heart I report that one of the finest, and most righteous, judges in American history has passed away. Judge Damon Jerome Keith was a giant. In a field of giants, Judge Keith stood tall as a special giant. I wish I knew a better and smarter way to put it, but I do not. Damon Keith was not just born on the Fourth of July, but literally tutored by Thurgood Marshall, and never forgot the lessons he learned.

From the Detroit News (Please, do read the whole obituary; you will be glad you did):

Long-serving federal Judge Damon Keith, who decided cases that involved some of America’s most controversial political and social issues, died early Sunday morning, family members said. He was 96.

Keith, a grandson of slaves whose judicial career spanned five decades and 10 presidents, decided cases that involved some of America’s most controversial political and social issues, from school desegregation to government surveillance of citizens.

I will come back to it in a bit, but Damon Keith was central to a lot of what this blog did when we started.

One of Keith’s rulings, in 1970, led to the busing of students in the Pontiac schools to racially desegregate the district, sparking a backlash.

Keith recalled receiving death threats, and the year after his decision, 10 Pontiac school buses were firebombed by members of the local Ku Klux Klan.

Keith also ordered the U.S. government, under President Richard Nixon, to stop wiretapping defendants without judicial approval in a case involving the anti-war group the White Panthers and the bombing of a CIA building in Ann Arbor.

Damon Keith issued a lot of decisions, up until nearly his dying day, as evidenced by his participation in a Sixth Circuit decision finding tire chalking to be a 4th Amendment violation, issued just a mere six days ago. When he was 96 years old. Damon Keith was a stand up man and judge, that never flinched up to the end. That is a hero.

A few of you have been around long enough to remember when Marcy and I used to occasionally do Book Salons while we were still at FDL. The proudest one I ever did was shortly before we left, and was hosting the Salon and discussion for “Crusader For Justice”, the incredible book by Trevor Coleman and Peter Hammer, about the life, and love of law of Damon Keith. It is an incredible book about an incredible man. Please find it and read it, you will be a better person for having done so.

As Professor Henry Louis (Skip) Gates said in his blurb for Crusader For Justice:

No one will ever forget Judge Keith’s bold declaration in Detroit Free Press v. Ashcroft: “Democracies die behind closed doors”. Nor will they forget his contributions to achieving social justice and racial justice through his decisions involving discrimination, national security, and civil liberties. Judge Keith came from humble roots in Detroit. Having suffered racial injustice first hand, he had the bravery to take the phrase “equal justice under law” literally. Life experience matters, which is why diversity on the bench cannot be forsaken. Crusader For Justice, above all else, is the story of judicial courage – the story of a man unafraid to do what he knew was right.

As I said back in 2011 in the into to that Book Salon:

Fittingly, Damon Jerome Keith was born on the Fourth of July, in 1922. But Crusader For Justice opens with Keith, a graduate of Howard University Law School, working as a janitor while studying for the bar exam. The humble willingness to work to achieve is a mirror for the subsequent journey through the childhood, family background, military service in WWII and educational progression of a social justice giant. But the true Damon Keith starts to emerge with his work with the Detroit NAACP, which he helped grow to stability and significance.

From a friendship with a young Senator from Massachusetts named John F. Kennedy through the pain of the ashes from the Detroit fires and riots of 1967 summer, Coleman and Hammer portray the growing conscience for justice and equality in Keith that leads to his appointment in late 1967 to the federal bench in the Eastern District of Michigan by Lyndon Johnson.

From there, the real heart of the judicial lion roars.

Again, this is from when we did a Book Salon for “Crusader For Justice”. I cannot tell you what a great and important book it is, about a truly great and important man.

Okay, now, just for a moment, going to get back to why Damon Keith was so important to this blog. It was not just me and Marcy. Nope. It was Mary. And it is pretty fitting that, as we approach Derby Day, we get back to Mary. She wrote a three part explainer on the “Keith Case”. The formal caption was always “United States v. United States District Court”. That IS the “Keith Case”. Because of Judge Damon Keith. Here are the pertinent, and seminal, posts from Mary back in 2010.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

There is a lot to digest here. I understand this. But, if you do, you will be better off for having done so.

Thank you. Thanks forever to Mary. And thank you Judge Damon Jerome Keith. This nation owes you a debt of gratitude.

The Strongbad Bite, Ack!: Kagan’s Neocon Hypocrisy

[NB: Note the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

Neoconservative Robert Kagan’s recent op-ed in the Washington Post — The Strongmen Strike Back — made me think of a classic episode of MST3K:

Pick one of Dave Ryder’s many names — Big McLargeHuge is my personal favorite — and then imagine Kagan’s op-ed as a cheesy, sweeping space opera. A production which the screenwriter and director took far too seriously, expecting the audience to treat it as if it were Oscar worthy.

Yes, authoritarians abound around the world. The U.S. has unfortunately called some of them allies though it shouldn’t cater to authoritarian leaders given its values based upon liberal democracy.

While fretting about the emergence of autocrats, Kagan is blind to his own role in the promulgation of authoritarianism. Has he forgotten neoconservatives’ insistence the U.S. launch the Iraq War, relying on increased nationalism and authoritarianism in response to 9/11? What blindness; what hypocrisy.

Far worse though, is Kagan’s difficulty facing mounting autocracy here at home. To say the rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are responses to problems here while ignoring the white nationalist impulse behind them is shallow and uninformed.

— Sanders had the benefit of 20-plus years of anti-Clinton propaganda and eight years of anti-Obama racism greasing the way for him to carpetbag into the Democratic Party.
— Trump had more than 13 years of glitzy production effort by former General Electric property NBC to construct his BigBlond McStrongboss persona on top of his appeal to the racist element pervasive in white American culture.

Ignoring these factors combined with a feckless GOP field of also-rans is just plain stupid.

Not to mention the role of the GOP-majority Congress’ strategy of stifling all rational legislation after they took the reins in 2010.

What’s particularly galling in Kagan’s overlong and droning piece whining about the rise of authoritarian strongmen is that he doesn’t mention Putin by name at all with regard to free and open elections and voting whether in Russia or in the U.S. Not once. Zero. Nada.

Not as a killer of Russian journalists. Not as an assassin of Russian dissidents and political opponents. Not even as the propagandistic image created we might call Punch BigSixPack.

He makes rather thin observations about Putin’s autocratic regime, but makes no mention of how this particular strongman interfered with the very thing Kagan wants us to be believe he is defending — our liberal democracy.

No acknowledgment at all that this particular strongman made a concerted effort not only to interfere with our democratic processes but to seat a kleptoautocrat as our nation’s leader.

Further, Kagan fails to mention the steady attack by the Republican Party at state and national level on our voting rights and infrastructure. The GOP has systematically attacked the foundation of the United States’ liberal democracy in which every citizen possesses the right to vote, by way of suppressive voter identification laws to implementation of hackable and inauditable electronic voting machines, to failure to renew the Voting Rights Act and denying voters at the polls by way of fake software check systems.

Yes, fake — when a system does exactly the opposite of what it is allegedly designed to do as in the case of Crosscheck, it’s fake. And the GOP pushed its use across the country, especially where minority citizens lived in greater concentrations.

And none of this was Robert Kagan’s concern when bemoaning the alleged decline of liberal democracy.

But he’s a historian and he wrote looking at world history, one might say. As if history hasn’t also informed us about blind spots in ideology or the possibility historians have their own hidden agendas.

This bit is egregious:

…The world’s autocracies, even the “friendly” ones, are acquiring the new methods and technologies pioneered by Russia and China. And, as they do, they become part of the global surveillance-state network. They are also enhancing the power and reach of China and Russia, who by providing the technology and expertise to operate the mechanisms of social control are gaining access to this ever-expanding pool of data on everyone on the planet. …

The only attribution he makes to the origin of the digital panopticon is a link in that paragraph to a January 17 article in WaPo, How U.S. surveillance technology is propping up authoritarian regimes. Yes, us, the U.S., we are the progenitor of the ubiquitous surveillance state — but not only because of intelligence and defense technology. Our internet platforms offering search tools and social media provide the base on which surveillance thrives.

Kagan never calls out these privately-owned companies, from Facebook to Google, though these companies also played a role in Russia’s interference with our elections. Their role is purely incidental, accidental, while Kagan holds China up as an example of social surveillance ubiquity:

Developments in China offer the clearest glimpse of the future. Through the domination of cyberspace, the control of social media, the collection and use of Big Data and artificial intelligence, the government in Beijing has created a more sophisticated, all-encompassing and efficient means of control over its people than Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler or even George Orwell could have imagined. What can be done through social media and through the employment of artificial intelligence transcends even the effective propaganda methods of the Nazis and the Soviet communists. At least with old-fashioned propaganda, you knew where the message was coming from and who was delivering it. Today, people’s minds are shaped by political forces harnessing information technologies and algorithms of which they are not aware and delivering messages through their Facebook pages, their Twitter accounts and their Google searches.

What a lack of insight and imagination. Kagan wants us to look abroad to condemn authoritarianism, gear up our foreign policy with defense against ‘strongmen’ in mind, while failing to live our values here at home on an individual, collective, society-wide basis. The U.S. can’t be a legitimate democratic leader when it not only blindly spawns surveillance-as-an-incidental-product, but when creating new forms of old suppressions.

For example:

— North Dakota’s GOP-led state legislature demanded the Sioux acquire physical street addresses before they could vote during the midterm election year;
— Florida’s Republican legislators submitted a proposal to deny voting rights to former convicts if they have not paid all their fines and fees, constituting a poll tax on former felons after voters chose to restore rights after imprisonment;
— Georgia’s secretary of state (now governor) refused to recuse himself while running for governor after having conducted racially-biased voter roll purges;
— Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused to take up bill H.R. 1 after it passed the House. The bill bolstered voting rights and improved accountability by candidates and incumbents to voters.

If we truly wanted to promote liberal democracy abroad, we need to practice it here at home — put on our own oxygen mask before helping others.

One person who advocated for an improved democracy here was John Dingell. In one of his last op-eds he called for

— the abolishment of the Senate, which dilutes the votes of individuals in populous states;
— automatic and comprehensive voter registration at age 18, to encourage full participation of citizens in voting;
— protection of the press because an electorate can’t make informed decisions without free and open access to information;
— elimination of money from campaigns as it has a corrupt influence on candidates and unduly shapes opinions of the electorate.

Do read Dingell’s op-ed because he expanded upon each of these points I have only summarized. He did far more to encourage liberal democracy here in the U.S. in that one instructive essay as BigJohn TwitterDean than Kagan did in his space opera-ish piece hyping the Autocrat McStrongbads abroad.

This is an open thread.

The Ghosts Of Christmas Eves Past

Here we are, heading into Christmas. Everybody, is slowing down and heading into the holidays. We all are. Things often get a tad scarce this time of year, but we would like to say Hi, Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Mele Kalikimaka and any other greeting applicable. Thank you for being here with us.

It has been a couple of years…I think…since I have done the remembrance section at this time of year. Many of you are old-timers going back to when we were at TNH, even before the FDL years, but so many are new and really do not know the history. We have been at this a good long while now. The years float by, but the people are what sticks.

In that regard, I want to return to thanking those that contributed much, but are now gone. If you are new here, you never would have known the names of Mary, Bob Schacht, Mad Dog, Free Patriot, Skdadl and a host of others that were not only our blog friends, but that we often met and knew in real life too.

They are gone, but not forgotten heading into this Christmas Eve. But this always, at least for me, I think Marcy too, comes back into focus on this date because of our friend and beloved colleague, Mary Perdue. Mary passed away on Christmas Eve 2011. She, like all the others, was the best of what this blog had, and has, to offer. So, in memory of all who are gone, but not forgotten, here is the original in memorium for Mary.

You all, each and every one, rock. Thank you for being here and supporting us. Happy Holidays everyone:

…………..

The internet is a strange and wonderful thing. Just about everyone and everything in the world is on it, even though it is nothing but data in the form of binary computer code traversing by random electrons. Yet thought is crystalized, and friendships born and nurtured, through commonality of interest and purpose. And so it is here at Emptywheel, where many of us have been together since the days at The Next Hurrah, through years at Firedoglake, and now at our new home. Just because it germinates via the net does nothing to detract from the sense of community, friendship and admiration for each other gained over time.

With profound sadness, I report we have lost a true friend, and one of our longest tenured contributors, Mary. Mary Beth Perdue left us on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2011.

Mary Beth Perdue, 52, of Robards, KY, formally of Newburgh, passed away at her home.

She graduated Order of Coif from University of Kentucky Law School and from University of Evansville with an accounting degree. She was a member of the Indiana Bar Association. She was in house counsel at Mid-Central Land Services, Inc. and served as an attorney for firms in Indiana and Kentucky. She owned and operated the Horse and Hound (a pet supply store) in Newburgh. Mary was a lover of all animals with a special place in her heart for horses, dogs and cats. She was involved in numerous equestrian sports and organizations.

Here at Emptywheel, she was just Mary; and she was so much more than a simple obituary can convey. She was funny, kind, and, most of all, razor sharp in analysis of extremely complex issues surrounding torture, indefinite detention, international human rights, illegal wiretapping and executive branch overreach. Mary had a steel trap index in her mind for even obscure torture and rendition cases and facts. To the day she died, Mary was one of the very few people commenting in America that remembered, and would never miss a chance to point out, how the children and extended families of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Aafia Siddiqui were used and/or disappeared by the US as pawns in our immoral torture in the name of the so called “war on terror”. Mary’s dissection of Jack Goldsmith terrorist detention policy, complete with with a comparison to the Ox Bow Incident, was a thing of passion and beauty.

One of Mary’s favorite, and most important, hobby horses was the seminal case of Ex Parte Milligan, on which she beat the drum loudly long before the critical 2008 decision in Boumediene v. Bush and the 2009 release of the torture memos. She was, as usual, right. Here she is taking John Yoo apart at the seams over his intellectual duplicity regarding Ex Parte Milligan. And then there was Mary’s three part opus on the history and meaning of Ex Parte Milligan (Parts One, Two and Three), which is one of the best primers anywhere on the case that has finally come back into renewed significance in the critical issues of the war on terror. Mary played a part in keeping that significance alive, and in the discussion mix, until it took hold again.

Mary did not talk much about her real life family and work, and as another still practicing attorney, I can fully understand the maintenance of that separation. It is quite likely, like me, that her friends and family had little idea of the true depth and importance of her knowledge and dedication to the interests she expressed here, both in front page posts authored, and in her consistent critical contribution in the discussion comments. But, make no mistake, Mary was not just an invaluable contributor, and affected not just me and Marcy, but key players in the larger discussion. I know for a fact, because I talk to the different people and discussed it with them; Mary’s posts and comments were seen and known by actors from the ACLU, to EFF, to other think tanks and attorneys in the field. She left a mark.

As I said at the start of this post, the internet is a curious, if compelling and wonderful place; in all the furiously teeming milieu of people and issues, it is easy for one voice to not be missed for a brief time. All of us take time away every now and then, and Mary was no exception; often being scarce for a period due to pressing duties with work and her beloved horses and land.

I had not talked to Mary since a few days before Christmas. With the rush of the holidays, and a busy work schedule for me in January I have been a tad scarce myself and I had not particularly noticed Mary’s absence. A little over a week ago, I emailed her some irresistibly cute pictures of the one of a kind racehorse Rachel Alexandra and her new foal. Mary loved Rachel Alexandra. Realizing she had not responded to that catnip, I checked yesterday and found the terrible news. There are a lot of things Mary might be too busy with real life to respond to, but not that. And so life became a little less full and enjoyable. Mary’s family has indicated:

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to a local humane society or other animal rescue.

And that would indeed be Mary, and fit her, to a tee. Here is a secure link to do so for the national Humane Society; but by all means, if so inclined, give to your local chapter and let them know it is for Mary.

Emptywheel will not be the same without Mary Beth Perdue, but her work and memory will live in our hearts, minds and archives as a testament to who and what she was and stood for. We shall close with the picture Mary never got the opportunity to see, but would have been the epitome of the horses, animals and children which she truly loved, Rachel Alexandra and foal.

Vaya con dios Mary, you will be missed.

….

Cheers to all, and to all a good night and wonderful Christmas Day.

Kavanaugh Confirmation Standards of Nonsense

Okay, in case you have not already guessed, Marcy is away, mostly, for a couple of days. Even a prolific presence like her is entitled to that. So, you get me for today. Sorry!

Now, because I have been a little involved in trying to figure what is the “real standard of proof” for people in the shoes of, say, Susan Collins and Jeff Flake, I have been a tad predisposed this morning. But let us for now go back to Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh, Collins, Flake, Grassley and the “standard of proof”.

An executive branch nomination is NOT a criminal trial. Any talk about “presumed innocent” and “beyond a reasonable doubt” is asinine and duplicitous. There is no set standard for a nomination consideration, much less one for the Supreme Court. Senators, especially those on the screening Senate Judiciary Committee, get to make their own individual assessments. In a perverse kind of way, it is like impeachment’s “high crimes and misdemeanors”, it is easy for people to argue, but the net result is that it is whatever strikes Congress as being applicable.

Frankly, I think the argument over what Susan Collins’ standard was is kind of silly and diversionary. Collins stated on the record:

“This is not a criminal trial, and I do not believe that claims such as these need to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Nevertheless, fairness would dictate that the claims at least should meet a threshold of more likely than not as our standard.”

This is bullshit. As David Graham, again, pointed out:

Citing the lack of corroboration of Ford’s account as well as lacunas in Ford’s own recollection, Collins said she did not believe the “more likely than not” standard had been met.

Although she did not use the phrase, the standard that Collins offers appears to be the same as “the preponderance of the evidence,” which is the burden of proof required in civil trials—as opposed to the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard in criminal cases. This is also the standard that many colleges now use in evaluating sexual-violence claims under Title IX. Obama-era guidance required schools to use a preponderance-of-evidence standard, though the Trump Education Department has granted schools greater leeway, instructing that “findings of fact and conclusions should be reached by applying either a preponderance of the evidence standard or a clear and convincing evidence standard.”

So, what is the relevant standard? As propounded earlier, there is no set one in these circumstances. It certainly is not “beyond a reasonable doubt” as is in criminal trials. Anybody using that language, including most of the geriatric white geezers in the SJC, is lying.

“Clear and convincing evidence”? Nope, there is no precedent for that either. Preponderance of the evidence/more likely than not? Again, there is scant authority to establish that as a relevant standard. Bottom line is Susan Collins manufactured her own “standard” and then cynically applied it, all without any legitimate basis. And, maybe, that is the kind of intellectual malleability these SJC determinations engender, but, if so, people like Collins, and the journalists that cover her charade, should acknowledge it.

So, what is the real “standard”? Again, there is none I can find. But if the course and scope of “background investigations” conducted by the FBI at the behalf of an Article II Executive Branch request is any indication, it is far different than being duplicitously portrayed by both the White House and Senate Judiciary Republicans.

Here is a specialist in clearance and background investigation issues, Brad Moss:

Um, not totally true. It happens for high level national security operatives working for the NSC and related White House components. Those individuals have to hold TS/SCI access and often times can be subject to invasive polygraph screenings.

Actual vetting, not that Kushner BS.

Here is another, Kel McClanahan, of National Security Counselors:

The White House can’t order @FBI to just rummage through a random person’s life. They can definitely AUTHORIZE FBI to rummage through a person’s life who has agreed to be subjected to a background investigation.

If this is true, it was McGahn & not Trump who was playing games…

Yes. Exactly. And, as a Senator who was one of the maybe 115 American citizens able to actually read the “FBI Investigation” work product, for Susan Collins and Jeff Flake to blithely sign off on the limited, restricted and choked off nonsense, is beyond craven. It is straight up duplicitous. And the New York Times article is kind compared to the chicanery that was clearly afoot from Don McGahn, a close friend and Federalist Society gang member for decades with Brett Kavanaugh.

In short, it is NOT about the relative “standard of proof” used by Susan Collins. She used “more likely than not” standard (effectively a preponderance of evidence standard). When she said that was the standard, she was lying. It never has been, and never will be. That was manufactured bullshit.

People have also argued that the standard should have been “reasonable accusation” or “credible accusation”. And those are even lesser than than the preponderance/more likely than not” standard Collins artificially, self servingly and cynically utilized.

Is clearance on a Background Investigation warranted? Does anybody, including the high holy Brett Kavanaugh, have any god given right to have a clean BI and be elevated to the Supreme Court? Of course not (See Title 32 of the CFR), that is gibberish propounded by old white conservative and misogynistic demagogues, like Grassley, Hatch, Cornyn and Graham in the Senate Judiciary Committee. And it is pure rubbish.

And, so too is the manufactured “standard” Susan Collins magically announced in her drama queen dog and pony show yesterday that seemed to narcissistically go on forever.

The bottom line is that whether under Collins’ manufactured and elevated standard, or even lesser ones such as reasonable or credible allegations, Brett Kavanaugh was not fit for passage and subsequent confirmation.

As Mark J. Stern detailed in Slate, Susan Collins’ manifesto announced with all the drama of a royal wedding, was in incredible bad faith. Her “standard” was nonsense and nowhere close to any applicable standard. It was a joke.

But, even more so, under ANY standard Susan Collins could have cited, her “finding” thereunder was garbage. Even in criminal sex cases, not just occasionally, but often, finders of fact (usually juries), decisions come down to weighing the relative credibility of an accuser versus the accused. And, given the relentless series of outright lies Brett Kavanaugh stated under oath, there is no way that a sentient human could see his testimony as more credible than the measured, and admitting as to gaps, honesty of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. And, again, credibility of witnesses is what criminal trials, much less less than even civil litigation burdens, as here, are decided by every day.

This is because there are usually zero other witnesses to such kidnapping, molestation and attempted rape cases as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford credibly alleged, but also because time and reticence of victims is often a factor. And, yet, cases are filed and determinations made on just such “he said/she said” allegations every day. The implication by Susan Collins, Chuck Grassley, the other wrinkled old entitled white men like Hatch in the SJC, not to mention their cynically hired criminal prosecutor, Rachel Mitchell, are complete baloney.

Somebody go ask Rachel Mitchell, and the sad old men that hired her before they fired her, how many times she has operated off of an accuser’s words. The answer will be a lie, because it happens all the time. And, yeah, that is enough to generate a full and meaningful “background investigation” despite the bullshit being proffered by the White House, Don McGahn and the SJC.

Food for Thought

Those of you who have seen my recent Twitter posts are aware that I went to Wilmington, NC to volunteer with Operation BBQ Relief. We provided meals for people affected by the massive flooding in the Wilmington region resulting from Hurricane Florence. I helped from Sunday, September 23 through Friday, September 28. It was an exhilarating  experience. But I was far from alone. The massive civilian response to this natural disaster clearly rivaled, and in some cases appeared to exceed, the response by FEMA. On September 30, OBR reported having provided 314,575 meals during its time in Wilmington. Similarly, World Central Kitchen, affiliated with Chef José Andrés, reported on October 1 that they had prepared 300,000 meals for the Wilmington area. Many rescues as the floodwaters rose were carried out by the Cajun Navy, which sent over 300 volunteers and responded to over 1500 calls for help during the flooding. They kept a smaller group of volunteers in the region after the initial rescues so that they could deliver food and supplies to neighborhoods that remained cut off by the persistent floodwaters.

That such a massive civilian response is needed is vexing. I lament that government has been so shrunken and so populated with rogues ranging from the merely inept (Heck of a job, Brownie!) to straight up grifters (Scott Pruitt and even Donald Trump himself) that we have to fulfill a primary government function (provide for the common defense) through ad hoc volunteer networks.

At the same time, that such networks of volunteers DO come together is a wonderful affirmation of the compassion and empathy that unite all that is good in humanity. I will admit to a bit of trepidation in choosing to work with OBR. After all, it’s barbecue in the South. I wondered if I would be surrounded by people in MAGA hats. But I chose OBR over WCK because I know barbecue and I’m not a professional chef, so I felt I had more to offer there. I also chose to go there because I realized that it would be likely I would be working alongside many conservatives (I saw no MAGA hats there, by the way), but wondered if they would experience a bit of cognitive dissonance if they realized the empathy they were showing for the flood victims was mostly lacking in the policies they choose to endorse.

While I of course did not find out if any of the volunteers had an epiphany and chose to support more generally empathetic policies, I did feel that a genuine breaking of normal barriers occurred during the busy times producing so many meals.  Working the production lines, simple backyard barbecue enthusiasts like me worked shoulder to shoulder with successful barbecue competition team leaders and owners of barbecue restaurants. They shared information and tips freely, so I learned a huge amount. It turns out that a couple of the leaders for our work also lecture in the BBQ Boot Camps offered by the North Carolina Barbecue Society, and I’ve added attending one of those to my bucket list.

The clear high point of my time there was on Monday, September 24 when we paused our work to commemorate the 2,000,000th meal prepared by OBR since its inception in 2011 following the massive tornado in Joplin, MO. The person chosen to receive that special meal is described in the video OBR posted here (the heart of the story begins around the 4 minute mark if you want to skip ahead). There were very few dry eyes under the tent by the end of the story even though the smokers surrounding us were finished cooking for the day. There was a magical feeling of compassion in the air, along with a sense of awe for what people working together could accomplish. With any luck, that feeling will creep into other aspects of life for some of those who were there.

I did come away with a feeling that perhaps for a few folks, doing volunteer work of this sort may well be a case of “walking the walk” that goes along with talk of very limited government. I still don’t see how that could mesh with the utter lack of empathy displayed by the gentleman behind the check-in desk one morning who wore a shirt proclaiming “Stand for the flag, kneel for the cross” or the lack of empathy for victims of sexual assault that it takes to continue to support Brett Kavanaugh. But at least on the front of caring for one another when disaster strikes, our country is still infused with a compassion that overcomes all barriers. If only we can find a way for it to spread to other fronts.

 

The Mouse That Roared, The Bigotry Roseanne Perpetrated and Ignorant Racism Of Trump

Tonight, the ABC network, obviously owned and controlled by the Disney Mouse, has fired Roseanne Barr. It is a fine step. The better question is why they ever rebooted her ignorant racist act. The answer is, like the relentless quest of the New York Times to connect with “real America Trump Country voters”, they were more concerned about selling shit and getting eyeballs than they were about morality and truth.

Yeah, it is that simple.

ABC knew exactly what kind of ignorant racist bigot Roseanne Barr was, but they rolled the dice on the crap table of television because they cravenly thought there was a market for low brow bigotry in the age of Donald Trump.

For a bit, it seemed they were right. Heck, maybe they still are, maybe this country has fallen that far.

But when the pet star of ABC and Donald Trump, Roseanne, compared an accomplished woman like Valerie Jarrett to things I will not even cite here, even the Disney Mouse of ABC canceled her on the spot. How heroic.

It is fine to harsh on Roseanne. She has earned it for a long time. A long enough time that ABC and the oh so socially responsible “Disney Mouse” completely understood and, still, signed up to renew the platform for gross bigotry that Roseanne Barr represented in a heartbeat when they though they could catch the wave of Trumpian bigotry and racism.

It was like candy for the media monsters, much like the acceptance of the New York Times and other major media, although to a less obviously crass extent. Make no mistake though, it is all of the same cloth of go along to get along “let’s get maximum eyeballs” theory by major media that feeds the message fed to the United States and world. They know better, and they owe better. And, yes, I am talking to you Maggie Haberman. She is certainly not the only one, just a common and un-rehabiltated symbol at this point. But Mag Habs and the Times “political team” have come to this point the old fashioned way: They have earned it.

But, hey, the Times are not alone, CNN is similarly still sending out Salena Zito to interact with revanchist bigotry in “real America” like that bunk should be celebrated and normalized, not scorned and attempted to be informed.

This country should not celebrate ignorance, bigotry and stupidity. We should fight and overcome that.

ABC and the Disney Mouse may be unconscionably late to this game as to the attempt to ride the ignorance and bigotry of Roseanne Barr, but maybe there is a better day ahead.

Today, Howard Schultz and Starbucks took the step back to rethink and do better. ABC and the Mouse made a late, but needed step.

One step at a time. It is better than the original knee jerk reaction of the ABC network to piggyback on the bigotry of Roseanne Barr.

Belated Update: The title to this post was not meant just to be descriptive of the Disney action as to Roseanne, it was also an homage to the thoroughly wonderful classic movie “The Mouse That Roared”. If you have not seen it, you should. I think it is occasionally on TCM, but not sure. It is a wonderfully subtle early tour de force by the great Peter Sellers.

[Photo: Annie Spratt via Unsplash]

What Happened To The Cultural Elites: Changes in the Conditions of Production

My series on Trumpian Motion concluded with the question “What happened to the cultural elites?”; meaning why did they not do a better job of resisting the conditions that produced Trump and the ugly Republican party. Of course there is no single answer, but there are several contributing explanations. It’s worth examining these partial explanations, if for no other reason than the hope that open discussion might lead to changes.

I use the term cultural elites in the sense of Pierre Bourdieu as explained in David Swartz’ book Culture and Power: The Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu. Swartz says Bourdieu believed that culture is largely created by cultural producers such as artists, writers, academics, intellectuals; movie and TV writers, actors and producers; and both social scientists and physical scientists. I assume today Bourdieu would include technologists, especially computer tech workers who design and produce web sites, games, and platforms and much else. The products of these workers shape our interactions with the world and society, and provide a structure through which we understand ourselves and our roles in society.

In the US we don’t have a separate category for intellectuals. We have experts, who have mastered a chunk of knowledge and are able to use it to advance that knowledge and to offer specific guidance where their knowledge is relevant. And we have pundits, who aren’t experts but who have great confidence in their ability to explain things to the rest of us. They too are cultural producers and maybe even cultural elites, people like Tom Friedman, and David Brooks and others I won’t mention; they aren’t all old, you know. There are plenty of these people scattered across the political and ideological spectrum.

In a section discussing the relationship between workers and intellectuals, based in large part on a book on French intellectuals Bourdieu wrote in the late 1980s,Swartz offers an idea that seems relevant to the issue of why cultural elites did not forcefully resist the rise of neoliberalism.

Finally, Bourdieu points to changes in the conditions of intellectual production as a source of ambiguity in political attitudes and behaviors among highly educated workers. He notes a significant decline in the numbers of French intellectuals working as self-employed artisans or entrepreneurs and their increasing integration as salaried employees within large bureaucratic organizations where they no longer claim full control over the means of their intellectual production. P. 239, cites omitted.

This change might encourage more aggressive efforts against the dominant culture, because cultural producers might rebel against their dominated status. But this seems more likely:

These new wage earners of research, [Bourdieu] charges, become more attentive to the norms of “bureaucratic reliability” than act as guardians of the “critical detachment from authority” afforded by the relative autonomy of the university. Moreover, their intellectual products bear the imprint of the “standardized norms of mass production” rather than those of the book or scientific article or the charismatic quality traditionally attached to the independent intellectual. P. 239-40, cites omitted.

This seems like a good partial explanation of the failure of cultural elites to respond to neoliberalism. It also partially explains a point Mike Konczal raised in his article Why Are There No Good Conservative Critiques of Trump’s Unified Government? And, it helps explain the rise of Trumpism as discussed here.

The trend Bourdieu describes is obvious in the US; in fact integration of research workers into the ranks of salaried workers seems even stronger than Swartz’ description. The trend is perhaps worse here because colleges and universities have become so infused with neoliberal business practices, primarily the use of adjuncts (the gig economy for teachers) who have little stability, little opportunity for sustained research, little protection from the gatekeepers of orthodoxy, and much less “critical distance from authority”. Nevertheless, I think (hope) there is still a large amount of independence in academia, especially among tenured faculty. That independence is centered around expertise in fields of study, where depth of knowledge in small areas is paramount. Many of those areas of study are far too specialized for the general public, and for policy-making.

Much of academic study is intermediated for the public and for policy-making by and through think tanks and similar groups. Of course, those organizations do some interesting research, but most of the worker’s time and energy is spent extracting useful ideas from the bowels of journals and academic books and rewriting it so that the rest of us can understand and maybe act on it.

These organizations are dependent on their rich donors, and don’t tolerate much from workers that conflicts with the interests of their donors. As an example, Barry Lynn was at New America Foundation, a prominent democratic think tank for years. He wrote often on the problems of monopoly and lack of competition in the US economy. Then he wrote an article critical of Google, one of the big sponsors of New America, and was driven out. He and a few of his associates started Open Markets Institute with funding from George Soros, another wealthy donor with his own agenda.

Charles and David Koch tried to take over the Cato Institute, which they funded, and which claims to be a libertarian think tank. This effort which was not completely successful, causing a lot of distress on the conservative side. Not much critical detachment from authority there.

Perhaps we should read this as an example of another phenomenon Bourdieu describes, the attempt to exchange cultural capital for economic capital. There is nothing inherently wrong with this of course. For example, in the university setting, getting tenure should involve both teaching and research. Competition for status and other resources in one’s field should be driven by these skills, and so should be a net gain. Good teachers and researchers should be rewarded with tenure and a steady income to support further study and teaching.

3It isn’t obvious that this will happen in the think tank world. Further it’s hard to imagine how the kind of competition we see in academic fields would work in the private sector, where there are powerful forces at work to limit the scope of intellectual activity and control access to influence.

There are similar patterns in other areas of cultural production: journalism, movies, TV, magazines, book publishing, and large parts of the music industry. Consolidation and business failures have increased the control of the few over cultural production. Where once there were many outlets for culture producers, today there are fewer, and most of them are more rigidly ideological.

It’s easy to see how people can lose their independence in these settings. They see themselves as brain workers, employees responding to the cues of their work environment, trying to do good work and advance themselves in a bureaucratic system. Institutional pressures dominate independent thinking critical of existing authority. It isn’t necessary to attribute bad motives to them to despair at the outcome.

We Have to Build the Future Out of the Past

(Drew Kadel points out an omission in this piece about the need for a strength of values in comments: 

“It’s important to own our own values, to know why we hold them and to have the character to hold those values in the face of opposition… you are discussing having integrity while loving people who do bad things… love (can) become sentimentalized and involve letting people off the hook (“Give him another chance”, “He’s really a good guy underneath, he doesn’t mean to always beat me”)… in loving those who violate our values, it’s important to know those values and keep them front and center. If empathy with self-pity becomes sympathy with self-pity we spiral down into moral vacuity.” Thank you for catching this, Drew!)

Science suggests to me this article may be doomed. This is because this article is about the best supported strategies for changing people’s minds, and I’m relying on facts, which studies show may be the least effective strategy.  But there’s little more I can do than give you this truth, and hope you can make it emotionally real for you. And that idea is this: we must give love to those whom the gods put in our paths. I am agnostic about who or what you call the gods. I am fundamental about love, and that love is truth.

Amongst my friends (and family) I’ve counted people who kill for money, drug dealers, criminals living on the run, fucked up teenagers, Ren faire runaways, alcoholics, rapists, alcoholic rapists, more people who kill for money (but also get praised for it), employees who routinely break monopoly law, homeless psychotics, an FBI agent, a whole troop of gutter punks, a couple of private investigators, several delinquent parents, sex addicts, a passel of sociopaths, people cheating on their spouses, and probably a bunch more ne’er-do-wells I can’t think of right now. And, of course, a lot of idiot hackers. Almost everyone I know enacts violence on the world. As Americans, we don’t even get a choice in that. The fact of our very lives is used as a justification for endless wars and global plunder. I have a friend who moved to Spain so that he could say at least his tax dollars didn’t go to fuel that violence, even if his existence still does — a choice few have the advantages or courage to make.

Most of my more reprehensible friends hide the things that make people hate them, but I have one who flaunts his worst qualities. I know him as weev. I know him from the hacker scene, and since being jailed and released he’s become famous for publicly embracing neo-nazi ideology. I talk about being friends with weev not because I’m proud of being friends with weev in particular, but because I believe I should model publicly the behaviors that I want others to take up, and this is one of them. I want other white people to be friends with the weevs, racist relatives, and bigoted co-workers in their lives. I want people to reach out to the abusive toxic men and senior executive vice presidents in their lives, because it’s the most scientifically sound way that we fight bad ideas. White people can fight white racism, men can fight toxic masculinity, we all can oppose the evil ideas that harm us. It doesn’t stop with race and gender. I want rapists to be confronted by their friends, and alcoholics to be held accountable by people who love them. I want sociopaths to find people who can be their moral compasses when they can’t build their own. Sometimes it means you can be that compass for a broken person. Doing that means you reduce the harm they do to others by standing in the way of people you care for.

At the moment it is popular to say that the only allowable engagement with poisonous thinking is intellectual: arguments and statistics, emotions restricted to admonition and demands for better behavior. But this approach is a failure, and we see that failure on every level. Study after study show that facts, statistics, and news reports only entrench people’s existing beliefs, whether those beliefs are in truth or lies.

The engagement that works is a combination of personal connection, empathy, reciprocity, and then, only then, high quality information. If it sounds like you’ve probably got to care about the person, invest in them, then you’re right, you do. That means you can’t do it with everyone on Facebook or Twitter. For me, my community is technology and science. That means it’s largely white, male, and full of hidden and overt racism and sexism. I have three choices: leave my community, ignore these faults in my community, or engage with the people who have these terrible false beliefs. Sometimes it means marshaling facts in passionate arguments, but over dinner and drinks, not verbal sparring in front of a soi-disant audience. Sometimes you do this for months or years. Sometimes it means letting someone see how much their beliefs hurt you. I’ve walked out of the room openly sobbing because of a friend who insisted on a racist stance. I’ve confessed to my own pain and humiliation as a woman while a crowd looked on. But mostly it’s not that dramatic, it just means being a thorn, always prickly about it, just bringing up that thing you’re not supposed to talk about. Sometimes when you fight with one person, another person who cares for you watches, and something in that second person’s soul begins to shift. Sometimes you don’t know for years and a friend buys you a coffee one day, and tells you that you changed their life.

Sometimes you’ll never get to know.

Healing communities takes practicing community. Just being difficult isn’t enough on its own, or Twitter would have fixed all our social ills years ago. When you start from the point of having things in common, and build on it by giving things to each other, even if it’s no more than a meal, it becomes much harder to talk about something like sexism or racism. That feeling is key, that feeling is what you’re looking for. When confrontation becomes difficult, awkward, and distressing, it means you’re invested. That’s the moment to bring it up, that’s when it’s going to matter the most. Being genuine in that moment, and confronting false beliefs, is so much harder than making an argument online or pointing at research on its own. You need to have those things in hand, but you also need to have skin in the game. That is how you kill the racism, without killing the racist. It’s how you take the toxic out of masculinity. This — and education — are the only things that work. Even if you wanted to solve the problem by killing the bad people, it doesn’t scale. That’s a blood-soaked fantasy world, and the world has soaked in enough blood already.

Shunning, like violence, often entrenches false beliefs. When we reject a person we’ve known, especially without any personal confrontation or explanation, it seems like betrayal. This only pushes that false belief farther into the world, where it can grow and do more harm.

What I have found is that listening, confrontation, and love are the most effective ways to fight the lies someone you care for is telling themselves.

The first part of facing another person’s false beliefs is to listen. Not quietly — actively. Ask questions, and stop them when you don’t understand and seek clarity. Be ready to hear anything, or the other person will hold back. Somewhere in their story of how they came to a poisonous perspective you will find out what scared them. That moment — or moments, is always there. There is always a toxic core of shame and fear. They’ll tell you where they got the belief, and why they feel they need it. Sometimes even that simple articulation can start to unwind that deadly core. Be honest with how you feel in the process, while remembering that this isn’t about your feelings. No matter what you hear, never lose sight of the person you’re with, their pain, and their potential to exceed it.

Don’t be afraid to connect their beliefs with consequences in their lives. Hateful beliefs very often come with shameful moments, but speaking that shame can take its power away, especially when you’re still there after you’ve talked about it. You’re still holding on, and that’s key. If you’re going to tell them their belief is wrong, be ready with the evidence, but also be ready to affirm them as worthy of love, and be ready to help them imagine other futures beyond what they could have hoped for at the beginning of the conversation.

This is very rarely a single conversation. These are threads to be woven into every conversation, and pushed on, but only rarely to the point of exhaustion or tears, as much for your own sake as theirs. Keep coming back, keep unwinding the shame, keep affirming the love. Be ready to have this process change you in ways you don’t expect.

People I have confronted have confronted me back with my own shame, my own failings, and my own fears. When I learned to listen, two great things happened: I got to confront and clarify my own thinking, and I got to show my friends an example of someone changing and growing because of our friendship. They’ve called me a hypocrite and been right. When I’ve faced that, and seen to my own pain and fear and shame, they’ve given me the chance to change for the better myself.

When you can face your bigoted friend, and thank them for calling you on your bigotry, they may not be that far behind you for long. The project of becoming better people is something we do in community.

None of this is comfortable, and it’s likely to make people angry. I know this not just because of the data, because it made me angry too. Examining my own false beliefs has never been particularly fun, be they about how relationships work, or race, or class, or my own family. But doing this, and the people who helped me do this, gave me a strength that is not fragile, a capacity to love and seek truth that carried me through hell and back.

St Augustine said, “Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum,” translated by Gandhi as: hate the sin and not the sinner. This beautiful phrase has been so often used as a put-down in recent years, but the sentiment it reflects saves worlds. When we’ve held false beliefs, succumbed to addictions, became sick in the mind and hated ourselves or others, the people who held us up did so by loving us and rejecting the lies we were clinging to, all at once.

In the case of my friend weev, I see a tragedy. I believe he is trying to strike out at the people who hurt him, but by propping up the same white supremacy that gave them their power in the first place. What he’s doing supports the very people who ordered violence on him, who took away his freedom, and tortured him. The same power structure that hurt him pays him a wage and gives him an attaboy now, as long as he keeps hurting people, just as he was hurt. The situation of his birth primed him to fall for a trick, and he did. He is falling for a con that’s been working in my country of birth for more than 400 years, and it hurts me to see it working again, still one person at a time, long after its original inventors are dead and dust. Torturing one group and then paying them to be guard labor over an even more tortured group is the first trick in the racism handbook.

It’s an effective lie, with its own life, and it’s hurting billions of people right now. But it is a lie. This false belief not only hurts the victims of racism, it hurts the people who hold the belief as well, robbing all of us of a future. It’s an angry and broken world that doesn’t realize there’s no point to the things we were taught to hate for. This idea keeps us fighting over scraps on a planet full of stunning abundance. I have sat with this thing all my life, and I have found it empty, hungry, and meaningless.

I have no need or desire to bring more hate and anger into this world. What’s more, I have science that can help me develop techniques to diminish the anger and hate that’s here now. Science, like all forms of truth, is a form of love.

We live for barely any time in the one tiny bit of the universe where we’ve found life. There’s no great other and opposite side in our fights, there’s only entropy, waiting to swallow everything we know back up into the chaos of the unaware and unfeeling universe. That we waste even a moment of our brief time hating each other is madness. But we do, and it’s a madness we have to deal with. Stop hating people, there’s no time for it, no possible rhyme or reason to it. Fight people’s false beliefs about the world, because they threaten not only to kill us, but also to make our extraordinary existence trivial and rob the meaning from our lives.

When we sit with our white supremacists and our addicts and abusers, we sit with our own flaws. If it weren’t so then they wouldn’t be any scarier than the open sky, or gravity, or a gun on the table, or getting old. The flaws that make us so angry are the ones that seem so close to eating us, an anger that feeds on us and turns us, like vampiracism for violence. We are not afraid of the other when we look at broken people, we are afraid of looking at ourselves and seeing the other, and then tearing ourselves apart.

Patriarchy, genders, whiteness and blackness were born as the abused children to first aristocracy, and then colonialism. They were set to fight for centuries. This is our legacy. My life, my existence and circumstance, is the product of genocide and rape, and most likely, so is yours. We all came from victims and aggressors, from slaves and slave masters going back thousands of years. Humans have been marking time in blood very possibly from the decline of all the other hominids. Now we have smart phones and social media and regularly look at ourselves from space. We watch movies about superhero powers and fractured families, and I think it’s no mistake. This is the myth of the truth of the moment — that we are powerful beyond our own understanding, and broken and angry within our dysfunctional family.

Proceed with truth and love.


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