Sunday, September 17, 2017

Huckabee, the Trump apologist

In an interview in The Atlantic, Mike Huckabee talks about both religious faith and Donald Trump in ways that highlight his enormous blind spots.

About Dear Leader's relationship to Christianity Huckabee has this to say:

Nobody pretends that he would be an ideal Sunday-school teacher, to be fair. I don’t think he is a person who is deeply acquainted with the Bible and he’s not known to set attendance records at church. But he’s very respectful of people of faith. And that’s really all people in the Christian community want. They don’t care whether or not the guy believes as they do. They just want someone who will respect their beliefs, and not denigrate them, and not try to use the power of government to silence them. And he’s been very adamant and clear that he believes in religious liberty, believes that people’s beliefs should be protected.
So for Huckabee the question is a leader's "respect" for "people of faith". That sounds nice and nondenominational, properly acknowledging the First Amendment's requirement that government neither promote nor suppress any faith. Yet in insisting that "people's beliefs should be protected", he ignores the possibility that the demands of different faiths might conflict with one another. How are such conflicts to be resolved without infringing on what one sect or another regards as its sacred rights?

Being concerned solely with "religious liberty", Huckabee also ignores the rights of those who claim adherence to no religious faith. What rights do the non-religious have in Huckabee's world? I strongly doubt he has ever thought seriously about that, or is in any way worried about it.

Now, about that pesky business of Trump's, um, let's call them moral transgressions — his misogyny and objectification of women, his decided difficulty rejecting white supremacist and neo-Nazi support, his easy embrace of violence in his rhetoric (and his absurd denials that his words amount to incitement), his flagrant profiteering in office (which is winding its way through the courts in little-watched lawsuits), etc. — well, Huckabee is prepared to wave them all off:

To me, character is if you’re the same in public as you are in private, and I think that in many ways, that’s what’s appealing about him. ... But some of the more harsh things that have been attributed to him were things that were said many years ago, and there’s been no indication that during his campaign and during his presidency has he said things that would cause people to just be aghast at what he had said. We’ve had presidents that have done things while they were in the Oval Office that frankly were very destructive and embarrassing. And I don’t think anybody has made those allegations about this president.
Wow. Talk about alternative facts.

Yes, many of the things that outraged people about Trump during the campaign were old statements dug up from years before. You know something? Time did not stale their outrageousness. More to the point, he kept saying outrageous and offensive things during the campaign! He kicked off his campaign by equating Mexicans to rapists, for pity's sake! He repeatedly denigrated the entire religion of Islam! He mocked John McCain for being a prisoner of war! (That would have been offensive even if he had served in the military, but he didn't.)

And nobody has alleged Dear Leader has done "destructive and embarrassing" things while in office? Now we've gone from Denial-ville into Liar-land. Dear Leader shared highly classified intelligence with the diplomatic representatives of a hostile nation, for crying out loud! He fired the head of the FBI for refusing to kill an investigation into allegations of foreign interference with the election! He has admitted doing these things, and they're just the tip of the iceberg!

Mikey, Mikey, Mikey, how stupid do you think we are? Or perhaps the question ought to be, how compromised are your own ethics, since you seem quite comfortable lying on Dear Leader's behalf?

Finally, let's unpack that business of "character". A moderately smart seven-year-old could find the flaw in Huckabee's characterization of "character" as "you’re the same in public as you are in private". I mean, Stalin by all accounts was as cold-blooded and indifferent to the well-being of others in private as he was in public. There is no evidence "Pharma Bro" Martin Shkreli is any more (or less) of a self-aggrandizing, self-justifying putz in private than in public.

Maybe Huckabee's focused on hypocrisy because it is one of the few vices Dear Leader arguably doesn't evince. Of course, the reason DL doesn't evince it is that hypocrisy requires that you honor a principle publicly but not privately, and DL doesn't honor principle at all: he is purely transactional in his beliefs (in fact, it's hard to say he has any).

Or maybe Huckabee's focused on hypocrisy because organized religion is rife with hypocritical leaders, so the foible is always on his mind. Your mileage may vary.

In any case, pretending that character can be reduced to not being a hypocrite is beyond laughable. That pretense delegitimizes Huckabee as a pundit. He's nothing more than a shill for Dear Leader.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Trump, Pelosi and Schumer

The headline says it all: "Pelosi and Schumer Say They Have Deal With Trump to Replace DACA".

For some reason this story has gotten a lot of attention. People seem to be treating it as a Big Deal (no apologies for the pun).

I'm not holding my breath.

Dear Leader doesn't honor anything he has said if doing so would hurt him. He doesn't even honor the contracts he signs.

Pelosi and Schumer, whatever their failings, aren't stupid enough to take Dear Leader's words at face value. Nor are they stupid enough to try passing off a bare-faced lie themselves: they, unlike Dear Leader, could never get away with it.

So they must have struck a deal they're confident he won't renege on, which means they must have given him something he wants. But what?

All I can imagine is that they promised Democratic support for administration priorities down the line. Tax reform is the most obvious possibility if only because it will be the subject of the last Congressional push of the year, but what could Pelosi and Schumer have promised that would both satisfy Dear Leader and not spark all-out rebellion among progressive members of the party?

Infrastructure spending offers much more room for common ground, but it's hard to see how a Republican-dominated Congress can be forced to tackle this before the midterms next year.

Moreover, any Democratic-supported proposals, whatever the issue, must attract enough support from moderate Republicans, that most endangered species, to overcome the intractable resistance of hardline right-wingers. Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell also have to be brought on board and it's hard to see how that will happen if they see themselves being rolled not just by the minority Democrats, but by Dear Leader as well. (Will Dear Leader switch party affiliations while in office? I'm long past thinking anything is beyond him.)

Finally, grass-roots Democrats are a looming threat. They — we — hated W. Our feelings toward Dear Leader, though, are an order of magnitude more hostile. He has been so much more antagonistic to minorities of all stripes, so much more ardent an authoritarian, so much more contemptuous of the rule of law, and so much cozier with bigots and anti-intellectual frauds than W, that he has accomplished the impossible by making 43 look good by comparison. Cutting deals with this most loathed of presidents carries the risk that progressives will mutiny.

Dear Leader is so unprincipled and feckless that it's impossible to imagine any lasting deal with him. He and the Democratic leadership were allies of convenience in the fight to raise the debt ceiling, but that alliance is not a basis for a lasting relationship. If Nancy and Chuck think otherwise, count on Donnie to disappoint them.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Glad to meet you, Louise Linton

Louise Linton, wife of Treasury Secretary and wealthy person Steven Mnuchin, mocked a critic of one of her Instagram postings.

She had gushed — there's no other word for it — about her trip to Kentucky with her husband and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. The post prompted Jenni Miller of Portland, Oregon to post the response, "Glad we could pay for your little getaway. #deplorable."

As it happens, "the Mnuchins reimbursed the government for the trip", according to the Treasury Department. I wouldn't have blamed Linton for acidly pointing that out to Miller. However, Linton went farther:

Do you think the US govt paid for our honeymoon or personal travel?! Lololol. Have you given more to the economy than me and my husband? Either as an individual earner in taxes OR in self sacrifice to your country?

...

I’m pretty sure we paid more taxes toward our day "trip" than you did. Pretty sure the amount we sacrifice per year is a lot more than you’d be willing to sacrifice if the choice was yours.

Congratulations, Louise. Those lessons at the Kanye West School of Entitled Deportment really paid off. It's a good thing Donald Trump explained the "sacrifices" the moneyed class makes, or we might have misunderstood you.

Miller's criticism was kind of rude. But Linton ... well, I'm just glad to know her true colors.

Linton has done us all a favor, by reminding us that a little revolution now and then is a good thing — if it rids us of people like her.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Don't hide the Confederate statues

In the rush to disavow the lingering ugliness represented by heroic statues of prominent Confederate figures, we risk hiding our history.

No question, glorifying Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and other military and civilian leaders of the Confederacy can only be defended if you believe in their gospel of white supremacy. They attempted to secede from the United States in order to preserve slavery, period, full stop. The idea that they were political philosophers selflessly committed to "states' rights" is utter nonsense. They and their allies wanted to preserve the privileged position of large slaveholders. Following the Civil War, Southern whites who still believed in the innate superiority of whites over blacks devoted themselves to ensuring that blacks could not participate fully and equally in civic life, giving rise to Jim Crow. It was the children and grandchildren of the Confederacy who exalted the losing side's military and civilian leadership, spinning for themselves and their descendants the comforting myths that the Civil War was about states' rights, an overbearing federal government, conspiracy by northern states to undermine the economies of southern states — that the war was about anything other than slavery and the postwar desire for white dominance and black subjugation, in practice if not in law. If not for this whitewashing (ahem) of history, the Confederacy would be seen for what it was: a rebellion by slaveholders to protect their economic and cultural interests.

Now, it's crucial that we stop thinking of the Confederacy as anything but what it was. To that end, we have to do something about all those monuments that uncritically exalt the Confederacy. But is simply tearing down the statues the right step?

Not if that's the end of the story.

Tearing the statues down and throwing them away would be almost as irresponsible as erecting them in the first place. It would be following a grotesque distortion of history with a denial of history. The history in question isn't so much the Civil War as the more than century-old effort to exalt white supremacy and to deny the reality of slavery's hold on the United States.

As bad as it has been to misrepresent the legacy of the Confederacy in the way the contested statues have done, it would be nearly as bad to deny that this misrepresentation ever took place.

One reason the Confederacy lingers as a romantic Lost Cause is that the U.S. has never confronted the meaning of the Civil War. The U.S. has never undertaken the kind of soul-searching that Germany did after World War II. (Granted, that soul-searching was mandated by the conquering powers.) Tellingly, Japan faces much the same challenge vis-à-vis World War II as the U.S. does with respect to the Civil War. That's why every so often U.S. leaders have to do an awkward dance regarding which Japanese war memorials they can visit: some of those memorials exalt the kind of culture of Japanese supremacy that prevailed before the war, a toxic culture Japan has not disavowed in the complete way Germany has disavowed Nazi ideology.

So the U.S. must grapple with the Civil War and what it meant in a real, painful way. But the U.S. must also grapple with what it has meant not to have come to terms with that war and its causes.

It has meant that those who fought to perpetuate slavery and to tear asunder the United States have not been portrayed as actually doing these things.

It has meant that millions of their descendants have embraced a toxic ideology that tells them they are superior to blacks and other non-whites.

It has meant that these same descendants have told themselves comforting myths that deny that this ideology motivated, and was at the heart of, the Confederacy's very existence.

To pretend that the Civil War's unconfronted and toxic legacy in the South (and elsewhere) never happened would compound the terrible error we've made by not confronting that legacy in the first place.

By all means, take the damned statues down (and while we're at it, rename all those schools named after the same Confederate leaders). But don't just send those statues to the nearest landfill. Send them to a museum where they can be contextualized properly — where we and our descendants can finally learn the truth about the Civil War and the toxic aftermath that resulted from not acknowledging that truth for so long.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Is inciting violence an impeachable offense?

So, Dear Leader, in the space of a day, has gone back to scolding the rest of us for ignoring violence allegedly perpetrated in Charlottesville by the so-called "alt-left". He insisted that many among those participating in the protest were quietly and peacefully protesting the removal of Robert E. Lee's statue, and then chidingly wondered where the statue-removing would end — would George Washington and Thomas Jefferson be next?

All this is catnip to the alt-right, of course, because it attempts to distract all of us from the primary issue: those protesting in support of Robert E. Lee were, whether they knew it or not, supporting white supremacy.

Lee was a white supremacist. You might not like that, but it's the truth. He defended slavery as an improvement over the living conditions of blacks in Africa. He participated in an insurrection against the federal government to defend the peculiar institution, and he never fully reconciled himself to losing the war. He treated his own slaves harshly before and during the war, and soft-pedaled brutality against blacks committed by students while he was president of a college after the war.

But what does all this have to do with Dear Leader?

I very much doubt Trump knows diddly about Robert E. Lee's true feelings toward blacks, or about the real origin of the Civil War being the South's insistence on keeping and expanding slavery. He therefore is like a lot of other people in this country who find the argument that Lee and other Confederates were romantic, doomed figures representing an honorable sort of heritage for today's (white) Southerners plausible.

But you know something? It's his fucking job to know the truth about Lee and the Confederacy. It's his fucking job to understand how corrosive white supremacy is to this country. It's HIS FUCKING JOB to know that people shouting the horrendously ugly things the protesters shouted must be reviled.

To unite the country, as Dear Leader frequently claims is his aim, you have to know what is beyond the pale. Here's a free clue, Donnie: white supremacy and neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism are BEYOND THE FUCKING PALE.

So fucking what if there were a handful of hopelessly naive "good" people in that protest? They were not the majority of protesters! The majority of the protesters were full-on, enthusiastic bigots who would love nothing better than to take away the civil rights of non-whites and anyone else they perceive to be threatening them.

Dear Leader's appalling press conference today at Trump Tower was, as somebody (maybe a lot of somebodys) said, a moral failure. To attempt to excuse white supremacists is the mark of someone with abso-fucking-lutely no sense of right and wrong. Actually he wasn't excusing white supremacists: he was and is encouraging them.

Not too long ago Dear Leader also encouraged police to treat suspects roughly after they've been arrested. In short, Dear Leader has a history of encouraging violence.

Does fomenting violence constitute a high crime and misdemeanor for which a president might be impeached?

Ultimately this is a political decision that must be made by members of Congress — particularly Republican members of Congress, given their majority in both legislative houses.

So, ladies and gentlemen of Congress, how do you feel about the President of the United States excusing white supremacists who committed homicidal violence?

Ball's in your court, Congress. The non-white supremacists and non-neo-Nazis among us are waiting to see where you stand.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Think about where we are

I had mentally tuned out Charlottesville and the attendant furor over Dear Leader's flaccid initial response. Then a CNN panelist this morning said something that gave me pause.

"I mean, Nazis! Right?"

She was expressing her incredulity that Dear Leader had been incapable (up to that time) of condemning the white supremacist-originated violence that led to the death of one woman and injuries to a score of others. And really, she brought me back to reality.

I've gotten so accustomed to writing off Donnie as a cancerous abcess on the body politic that I needed to be reminded of how aberrant he and his followers really are.

Do we really have a U.S. president who requires two days of nonstop condemnation on all sides before he'll appear before the camera to deliver a cautious, minimalist condemnation without any real conviction? (We know what Donnie looks and sounds like when his blood is up, as when he's pissed at so-called "fake news", and his address to the nation this morning sounded anything but convincing. He sounded like a schoolboy delivering an oral report that bores him.)

To express the panelist's thought a little more fully:

Do we really have a president whose first, instinctive response ISN'T to condemn neo-Nazis and racists?

Really?

[UPDATE: Not three days of condemnation, but two days.]

Thursday, August 3, 2017

This is a no-brainer

Use open-source software for voting machines.

Open-source software can be inspected by anyone. Increasing the number of eyes looking at source code increases the likelihood that subtle bugs will be unearthed. No company can bring as many eyes to bear as the Web can, so open-source software tends to be more robust and secure than closed-source software.

It's bad enough that vulnerabilities in consumer-grade software cost consumers and businesses millions, perhaps billions of dollars every year. The consequences of vulnerabilities in the software that controls our voting machines, or that counts the votes, could be the integrity of our elections.

For once, let's not wait for a disaster to occur. This is not a hard problem. Let's address it.