Contributors

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Collusion

Luke Harding is the former Moscow bureau chief of The Guardian. He has a new book called Collusion that documents the numerous connections between Donald Trump and the Russians. His interview with Terry Gross is very interesting.

What's most interesting is the sheer volume of connections that Trump has to Russia, both direct and indirect, that go back 40 years. The first of course, is his marriage to Ivana, a Czech immigrant (at the time Czechoslovakia was a Soviet puppet state). As Harding tells it:
Well, the KGB really forever has been interested in cultivating people, actually, who might be useful contacts for them, identifying targets for possible recruitments possibly to be agents. That's not saying that Donald Trump is an agent, but the point is that he would have been on their radar certainly by 1977 when he married Ivana, who came from Czechoslovakia, a kind of communist Eastern bloc country. And we know from Czechoslovak spy records de-classified last year that the spy agencies were in contact with Ivana's father, that they kept an eye on the Trumps in Manhattan throughout the 1980s. And we also know, from defectors and other sources, that whatever Prague learned, communist Prague, would have been funneled to the big guys in Moscow, to the KGB. So there would have been a file on Donald Trump.

But I think what's kind of interesting about this story, if you understand the kind of Russian espionage background, is Trump's first visit to Soviet Moscow in 1987. He went with Ivana. He writes about it in "The Art Of The Deal," his best-selling memoir. He talks about getting an invitation from the Soviet government to go over there. And he makes it seem kind of rather casual. But what I discovered from my research is that there was actually a concerted effort by the Soviet government via the ambassador at the time, who was newly arrived, a guy called Yuri Dubinin, to kind of charm Trump, to flatter him, to woo him almost. And Dubinin's daughter, sort of who was part of this process, said that the ambassador rushed up to the top of Trump Tower, basically kind of breezed into Trump's office and he melted. That's the verb she used. He melted.
After Trump's visit to Moscow, he suddenly got interested in politics:
There was no randomness about this. I mean, we know from Dubinin's daughters that they picked on Trump. And there's a kind of curious coda to this, which is, two months after his trip - actually, less than two months, he comes back from Moscow and, having previously shown very little interest in foreign policy, he takes out these full-page advertisements in The Washington Post and a couple of other U.S. newspapers basically criticizing Ronald Reagan and criticizing Reagan's foreign policy. Now, Trump is many things, but he is not an expert on international affairs, and this is curious. 
Trump's Anti-Reagan Ad
Trump coincidentally began being political, right after coming back from the Soviet Union. He spent almost $100,000 on ads in the Washington Post, New York Times and Boston Globe slamming Ronald Reagan.

It's almost as if Trump was acting on orders from the Russians. Or was being manipulated by them through flattery.

After several disastrous bankruptcies, American banks would no longer lend Trump money. So Trump turned to foreign banks, including Deutsche Bank -- which coincidentally was fined $630 million this past January in a Russian money-laundering scheme.

Trump's secretary of commerce, Wilbur Ross, is coincidentally involved with the Bank of Cyprus, which coincidentally involved with Russian money-laundering.

And then there's the $90 million Trump coincidentally got from a Russian Putin Pal for a moldy Florida mansion at the height of the financial meltdown:
It was a kind of seaside mansion bought by Trump in 2004 and then sold by him for $95 million at the height of the financial crash and giving him a profit of about $50 million. And I've tried to interview Rybolovlev. He won't meet with me, but I've talked to his press guy and - who says that Rybolovlev basically donned a pair of swimming trunks and never set foot in the mansion but kind of paddled along the territory and saw it from afar, decided to buy it.

When he did buy it, he realized it had a mold problem. He never, ever lived there. He demolished it, and it seems a kind of pretty disastrous piece of real estate acquisition, but one that massively enriched Trump. Now, his press guy says, nothing to see here, this was a reasonable investment, you guys are all conspiracy theorists. But it's very strange.
If Trump were a Democrat Republicans in Congress would be screaming bloody murder, calling Trump a Russian puppet and spy. They would be demanding his impeachment and execution for treason. They've called for Hillary Clinton to be jailed for far more tenuous connections to a Russian company that bought a Canadian company that owns uranium mines across the world, including the United States.

Trump has hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- of financial dealings with Russian investors, Russian oligarchs who own condos in Trump Tower, as well as connections to Russian mobsters. He (and Ivanka) has made hotel deals with several oligarchs across the world, including Canada and former Soviet Republics (most have failed to materialize or went into bankruptcy -- Trump is a bad businessman). He doesn't have any direct investments in Russia (though he has tried to build a hotel there for the last three decades), but Russians have literally put hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in his pockets.

This is why Trump will never say anything to piss off Putin and the Russians. They kept him afloat when he was down. They made him what he is today. And they've got all the dirt on him. Even if there isn't a golden shower video.

Voting "Yes" With Emojis


President Supports Accused Pedophile

No, that's not an Onion headline. It's real. Yesterday, President Trump threw his support behind Roy Moore yesterday, noting that "we don't need a liberal person in there."

As I have noted many times over the years, conservatives are so filled with hatred and anger towards liberals that they would rather support someone like Moore over the clearly better man for the job. They do this because they are so tribal, so petty, so fucking adolescent that they can't seem to bring themselves to vote for a Democrat. This is why their party is nearly dead.

Even if Moore somehow manages to eke out a win (which is possible given the demographics of who votes in special elections), the GOP will be saddled with supporting an accused pedophile going into the 2018 elections. Moore would also likely be booted from the Senate straight away, setting off a deeper civil war within the GOP. Those suburban white women that Trump carried last year will be gone and it's likely that both the Senate and the House will flip.

There are some fairly strong indicators that women have mobilized effectively and turned out to the polls. If that happens in the suburban areas of Alabama, Moore is toast and the GOP will still be stuck with the pedophile label. That's really the doomsday scenario.

Because if Trump actually goes down there and campaigns for Moore and then he LOSES, it's going to make the Luther Strange tantrums look like brief weeping.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Saturday, November 18, 2017

A Salacious Sex Story and a Pivot to Tax Policy!

Sex abuse of minors isn't limited to Republicans, or Democrats, or politicians, or Hollywood celebrities. It isn't even limited to men:
An Oklahoma teacher is accused of having sex with a high school student after the boy’s parents reported nude photographs and text messages on their son’s phone to authorities.

Hunter Day, a 22-year-old teacher at Yukon High School in Yukon, Okla., was arrested Wednesday after authorities said they used the boy’s phone to confirm a meeting and found Day sitting on her living room floor with the lights off and candles lit.
This woman isn't even a real teacher:
Day was hired to teach science at Yukon High School at the beginning of the school year, according to an October report by Oklahoma City-based News 9. She was among the state’s 1,500 emergency certified teachers hired without education training to help mitigate teacher shortages. It’s one of many ways Oklahoma is dealing with a deepening budget crisis that has forced class sizes to surge, art and foreign-language programs to shrink or disappear and — in many districts — schools to operate just four days a week. 
News 9 reported that Day had little to no teaching experience. She held a degree from Oklahoma Baptist University and at one point planned to go to medical school. Day had a 10-month contract to teach at the school, but said she planned to get her certification requirement so she could return next year.
That she's a Baptist like Roy Moore, the Alabama Senate candidate accused of molesting minors, is particularly humorous.

Child rape is one of the real consequences of the Republican fixation on cutting taxes for billionaires, particularly oil billionaires, who have a stranglehold on Oklahoma politics and have turned the state (along with Kansas) into an economic cesspit.

With their new tax plan, Republicans in Washington want to turn the rest of the country into Oklahoma: by removing the deduction for state and local taxes, they intend to get revenge on richer blue states and force them to reduce or eliminate their income taxes. Income taxes pay for education and infrastructure that make blue states much more attractive to businesses that pay higher salaries.

It's extremely hypocritical. One of the reasons that Republicans say that corporate taxes and the inheritance tax are "so unfair" is that they are "double taxation." The logic for inheritance taxes goes like this: the parent paid taxes on the original wealth, so when the heir is required to pay taxes on the inheritance it's "double taxation."

This is actually false, because most inherited wealth that exceeds the current $5 million threshold is in the form of real estate and capital investments, the value of which has typically increased over time, and those gains have not yet been taxed.

Eliminating the state and local tax deduction really will cause the double taxation problem that Republicans are always screaming about. If low-tax red states are angry that high-tax blue states have better education and infrastructure, then red states can charge income taxes, improve the lives of their citizens and increase their competitiveness.

Hypocritically, Republicans want to keep the charitable tax deduction. That means they won't pay taxes on money that they give to their churches. The vast majority of church donations are spent on their own church buildings, services for church members, pastor salaries, etc. Many churches have associated schools, and donations pay for school buildings, subsidize teacher salaries, etc. Some tiny amount of church money is an actual charity, i.e., spent helping the poor, but it's insignificant compared to the spending on their own infrastructure.

Republicans argue that churches and charities perform a public good that society should help subsidize.

My state and local taxes pay for charitable services to the poor, medical care for the poor, education for the poor, and thousands of other services that benefit everyone in the state, not just members of a particular religion.

If we allow tax deductions for donations to churches and other non-profit charities, then we should be able to claim the taxes we pay to states, counties and cities as charitable donations as well. They serve the public good far more than churches and religious universities that churn out hypocrites like Roy Moore and Hunter Day.

Friday, November 17, 2017

If Al Franken Was a Republican...

In light of Leeann Tweeden's accusation that Al Franken forcibly kissed and groped her in a USO skit, and his subsequent admission and apologies, and Trump's hypocritical tweet criticizing Franken, let us imagine how this would have gone down if Franken was a Republican.

Trump would ignore Leeann Tweeden's accusation completely and pretend it never happened, as he has ignored more than half a dozen credible allegations that Moore stalked and assaulted more than half a dozen underage girls at restaurants, malls and the YMCA.

When finally forced to comment on the incident in a press briefing Trump would proclaim that Tweeden knew what she signed up for when she agreed to do the skit. In a nonsensical aside, Trump would say that Tweeden is a has-been, has low ratings, is no longer a 10, and maybe isn't even a 9 or an 8 and is old and dried-up. He would say that this is a witch hunt, political correctness gone mad. People are trying to stop men from being men and women from being women.

Other surrogates would defend Republican Franken with various excuses: the kiss was just part of the skit. Any groping was accidental, or part of the act to make it seem more authentic and easier for the troops to identify with. This was for the troops, they'd emphasize, Republican Franken was a hero for devoting so much time to the USO!

The photo, they would say, is clear evidence that nothing untoward happened: who would mug for the camera like that if they were doing something wrong? They would claim that the whole thing was just "horseplay" being misinterpreted after the fact, like Trump's "locker room" talk when he bragged to Billy Bush about assaulting women.

Breitbart would invent a story that the photo was part of a campaign to prevent sexual assault in the military: the caption, they'd claim, was cropped when Tweeden posted it. It originally read, "DON'T DO THIS!"

Pundits on Fox News would attack Tweeden. They would claim that she is a model who has made a career inciting lust in men. Who could blame Franken? They would note that she was one of the Top Hooters Girls of All Time. That she appeared scantily clad in many magazines, including Stuff Magazine, FHM and Playboy, where she also posed nude in 2011.

Fox & Friends would endlessly play images of Tweeden in a bikini in a garage, on a car, by an engine, wearing lingerie and stiletto heels, wearing a sexy Santa's suit, wearing a top open to her navel, and wearing nothing with strategically placed elbows. And photos from her Playboy shoot with black rectangles hiding the naughty bits.

Various Fox News shows would find half a dozen men who claim that they slept with Tweeden. They would find a dozen more who would say that she was a terrible tease and led them on, only to turn around and accuse them of groping her when she had invited the attention in the first place.

The national Republican Senatorial committee would attack Tweeden's motivation, and claim this is a partisan hit job. They would point out that in the elections prior to the incident she voted for the president of the opposing party. They would say that at 44 years old, Tweeden's looks are fading, her career is lagging and she did this to get more attention.

If he were a Republican, Franken would never admit the incident had happened. He would never apologize. Like Roy Moore, he would go on the offensive. He would say that she was the aggressor. He would portray her reason for not reporting it earlier -- that he was famous and accusing him would hurt her career -- as false because at the time she was a famous supermodel and NASCAR idol, and he was just a has-been comedian on the path to oblivion, before the he saw the light while serving the troops and decided to run for higher office.

Republican Franken would appear on Sean Hannity's show to defend himself. In the same way that Roy Moore said he only dated teenagers with their mothers' permission, Republican Franken would say that he okayed the script with Tweeden's agent first. Then, while trying to dance around that red herring, he'd admit that if he had groped her -- and he hadn't! -- it would have been an accident or a momentary lapse in judgment. One lone mistake in a long career only trying to make people laugh and serve the troops.

Then, when he was finally forced to admit he touched Tweeden's boob because they found his fingerprints there, he would say -- like every Republican who's had an affair in his thirties or forties -- that it was just a "youthful indiscretion."

But Franken is a Democrat. So he admitted his mistake. He apologized. He called for an investigation. He's taking his medicine.

Many Democrats and feminists are angry and disappointed. But should he be forced to resign? Leeann Tweeden herself doesn't think so:
When asked whether she thought Franken should resign, Tweeden said, “I didn’t do this to have him step down. I think Al Franken does a lot of good things in the Senate. You know, I think that’s for the people of Minnesota to decide. I’m not calling for him to step down. That was never my intention.”

She continued, “I just wanted him to understand what he did was wrong and how he treated me and how abusers do that under the guise that it’s funny, or that ‘Oh, I can get away with it because I’m a comedian.’ That’s never funny. When you shine a light on it, that’s the culture of it — that’s the chance we need to make.”
Other women, such as author Kate Harding, concur:
As a feminist and the author of a book on rape culture, I could reasonably be expected to lead the calls for Al Franken to step down, following allegations that he forced his tongue down a woman’s throat, accompanied by a photo of him grinning as he moves in to grope her breasts while she sleeps. It’s disgusting. He treated a sleeping woman as a comedy prop, no more human than the contents of Carrot Top’s trunk, and I firmly believe he should suffer social and professional consequences for it.

But I don’t believe resigning from his position is the only possible consequence, or the one that’s best for American women.
The Senate should hold an investigation into sexual assault in general, using the Franken case as a prime example of how seemingly innocent shenanigans are really assaults on women's persons.

They should invite Leeann Tweeden to testify. Then they should censure Franken for his behavior. Let the people know that this kind of behavior is not to be tolerated. Turn Franken into an example of the kind of contrition that men should show when they treat women like objects instead of human beings.

But it shouldn't stop there. The Senate should invite the 16 women that Donald Trump forcibly kissed, fondled, groped and slammed into walls to testify. They should hear testimony from the women that Roy Moore tried to rape.

Al Franken should not just resign and go away. He should demand that every man who violates a woman get the same sort of scrutiny that he's getting. He should demand equal treatment for all abusers.

This whole Franken thing could backfire terribly on Republicans. Next thing you know, they'll start accusing Franken and Tweeden of collusion, manufacturing the whole thing to increase the pressure to impeach Donald Trump.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Is Our Military Too Big for Our Population?

When we talk about large the US military is, it's usually in terms of how much money we spend on it or how much hardware we have or how many times over we could destroy the planet with our nukes (the answer is 5 to 50).

Depending on when or who you ask, the United States spends as much on its armed forces as the next 7 to 10 countries. People as diverse as Rand Paul and Barack Obama have made this statement, and it's true. Our military budget is massive:



But two reports in The Hill on the same day about our nation's military readiness raise a serious question: do we have enough qualified people to staff the military, or has it grown larger than our population can support?

The first report is about John McCain's anger (what else is new?):
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is again threatening to hold up Pentagon nominees, this time over a news report about the Army granting mental health waivers to recruits.

At issue is a USA Today report that said the Army has lifted a ban on issuing waivers for recruits with a history of self-harm, bipolar disorder, depression or drug and alcohol abuse.
McCain is legitimately concerned that the Army is lowering standards for soldiers because it can't meet its recruiting goals. This is especially concerning in light of the recent mass murder in a Texas church: the shooter was booted out of the Air Force for domestic abuse and mental illness. The stress of military life is the last thing a person with preexisting mental health issues should be exposed to.

The second report was about the Air Force's pilot shortage:
Top Air Force leaders and lawmakers are warning that a pilot shortage of 2,000 could cripple the service, leaving it unready to handle its responsibilities.

“With 2,000 pilots short, it’ll break the force. It’ll break it,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said on Thursday during the annual State of the Air Force news conference.

The Air Force needs 20,000 pilots minimum to fly its wide range of aircraft, including fighter jets, helicopters, transport planes, support attack planes and cargo aircraft. At the start of the year, it said it had 18,500 pilots, well short of its minimum.
A big part of the problem is that we have been fighting wars nonstop for 16 years. Some military personnel have been deployed to war zones four, five, six and more times. This is the longest war we've ever fought, and it's taking a huge toll on the mental health, families and marriages of enlisted personnel.

At the same time, Donald Trump is quietly pushing through yet another troop surge in Afghanistan. Our troops are being kidnapped and executed in secret missions in Africa. And Trump is threatening North Korea with war.

At the same time, Trump is ending the DACA program, threatening to kick the Dreamers out of the country. There are almost a thousand service members in the US military who were brought to the United States illegally as children, and now their futures are in doubt.

People throw around a lot of solutions: reinstate the draft, institute higher pay, use more robots and drones, etc. But the real question is, why do we need such a gigantic military in Trump's age of America First, where we sacrifice our European and Asian allies to the Russians and the Chinese? We're the not the world's policeman anymore: why spend one out of every five federal budget dollars on the military?

If there was a path to "winning" militarily in Afghanistan we would have discovered it by now. In fact, we know exactly how to crush the Taliban in Afghanistan: destroy their bases in Pakistan. But that would unleash all kinds of hell, inciting more terrorists angry at American interference in the Muslim world.

We keep telling ourselves we have to intervene militarily across the world to protect ourselves from the people who hate us. But most of those people hate us because we keep intervening militarily across the world.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Are Trump Supporters Ashamed of Themselves?

Michael Kruse wrote a piece last week for Politico magazine that highlighted Trump supporters in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The testimonials were filled with the usual irrational nonsense like this.

“Everybody I talk to,” he said, “realizes it’s not Trump who’s dragging his feet. Trump’s probably the most diligent, hardest-working president we’ve ever had in our lifetimes. It’s not like he sleeps in till noon and goes golfing every weekend, like the last president did.” 

I stopped him, informing him that, yes, Barack Obama liked to golf, but Trump in fact does golf a lot, too—more, in fact. Del Signore was surprised to hear this. 

“Does he?” he said. 

“Yes,” I said. 

He did not linger on this topic, smiling and changing the subject with a quip. “If I was married to his wife,” Del Signore said, “I don’t think I’d go anywhere.” 

He added: “Some of these things are like that thing he said to Billy, Billy Bob, Billy Bud”—searching, unsuccessfully, for the name Billy Bush—“on the bus, that comment he made.” Del Signore shrugged. “He’s a human male. I’m glad he wasn’t saying, ‘Hey, I like little boys.’ You know? So he’s not perfect.” 

Del Signore said he’s been following politics far more than before because of Trump. Trump, he said, is just “more interesting.” So now he likes watching the news. “Ninety-nine percent of the time I watch Fox,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll be sitting there listening to all this Fox stuff, and I’ll say, ‘Maybe they aren’t right, maybe I’ll flip to CNN’—but every time I’ve found that Fox has been correct, and CNN is definitely fake news.”

Pretty typical.

But I guess your typical Trump voters are an embarrassment to the leaders of Johnstown because they penned a response to Politico that was just posted today.

It’s too bad, but not surprising, that Kruse instead focused on specific comments by a few people who fit a narrative he created before arriving. We wish Mr. Kruse would have taken the time to understand the context of the entire community, rather than simply using it as the convenient backdrop for a preexisting storyline. For readers outside of our region, his story depicted a community that does not reflect who we truly are and what we believe.

Oh, really?

It seems to me, Mr. Janakovic et al, that you have some really awful assholes that live in your town. Worried a little that perhaps people won't want to do business there now that your political slip is showing? It seems to me that your already hard hit economy would sink even further if people found out that guys like Del Signore were hanging around.

I guess Trump supporters aren't to proud of who they are. It speaks volumes when they have to hide and pretend that they are really just good people, right?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Everyone Is Wondering: Is Roy Moore Gay?

Since the news first broke about Roy Moore molesting underage girls when he was a 30-something district attorney, journalists have been flooding into Alabama.

All the major networks have boots on the ground. The New Yorker sent Charles Bethea, who discovered that not only did Moore haunt a local mall cruising for underage girls, but the mall had banned Moore due to numerous complaints about him badgering girls. Breitbart dispatched two reporters to Alabama to harass Moore's accuser but only succeeded in confirming the Washington Post's story.

But perhaps everyone is on the wrong track. So far there haven't been any reports of Moore actually having had heterosexual intercourse with any girls. The most detailed reports indicate that Moore had one girl touch his penis and he forced the head of a second girl into his lap. As we know from Donald Trump's bragging over his own harassment, heterosexual men generally put their hands all over women.

It makes you wonder: maybe Moore went after young girls not because he likes young girls, because they were the closest socially-acceptable alternative to boys.

That's not to say all gay men are pedophiles. Kevin Spacey was criticized for implying that in his confession for groping a boy 30 years ago. No, Moore is already a pedophile for molesting underage girls. But maybe he chose girls because they are more like boys than adult women are.

Consider: Moore has long been fixated on gays. He gained his fame -- and lost his seat on the Alabama supreme court for a second time -- by disobeying US Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage.

It's not uncommon for the loudest anti-gay voices to be closet homosexuals. Ted Haggard, an evangelical pastor in Colorado, constantly ranted about the evils of homosexuality, but paid to have sex with with a male escort and did crystal meth with him.

The Catholic Church has been unrelenting in its attacks against homosexuality for centuries. Yet estimates are that 15% to 50% of the priesthood is gay. As US News noted:
Father Gary Meier, a gay, St. Louis-based Catholic clergymen, says there's a wide range of statistics out there on gay priests, but jokes that in his experience, "30 percent are gay, 30 percent are straight, and 30 percent are in denial."
Then there is the question of Moore's choice of wardrobe. Take another look at that precious picture of Moore above, wearing a cowboy hat and toting that cute little gun. He looks like a gay parody of the sheriff in a Village People performance of YMCA.

Donald Trump and Fox News constantly spread innuendo and rumor by couching accusations against their opponents as questions of the form "Everyone is saying ..." or "Everyone is wondering ..." when only Donald Trump and Fox News are saying these things and are trying to get everyone else to echo the buzz they want started.

So, in the best tradition of right-wing slimeballs, I'll formulate the question the way they always do: "Everyone is wondering: is Roy Moore Gay?"

Maybe all those reporters in Alabama will figure it out if they start looking in the right places. Like gay bars, or the YMCA, which was apparently a gay hookup spot back in the day.

Everyone is wondering: was Moore a member of the YMCA in the 1970s and '80s?

Hiring the Fox to Guard the Henhouse

In another incredibly idiotic lapse in judgment, the Trump administration is hiring a security company started by a KGB agent to guard US embassies in Russia. 
To make up for the loss of security guards axed in the Russian-mandated staff cuts, Washington has hired a private Russian company that grew out of a security business co-founded by Mr. Putin’s former K.G.B. boss, an 82-year-old veteran spy who spent 25 years planting agents in Western security services and hunting down their operatives.

Under a $2.8 million no-bid contract awarded by the Office of Acquisitions in Washington, security guards at the American Embassy in Moscow and at consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok will be provided by Elite Security Holdings, a company closely linked to the former top K.G.B. figure, Viktor G. Budanov, a retired general who rose through the ranks to become head of Soviet counterintelligence.
The Trump administration is basically hiring Russian spies to guard our embassies. How can they be so stupid after the big scare over Kaspersky Antivirus, which the US government has now banned.

What will these Russian guards do?
Marines will continue to guard American diplomatic missions, but tasks previously handled by local guards hired directly by the embassy in Moscow, like screening visitors, will be taken over Elite Security employees. Hiring guards directly allowed closer monitoring of their backgrounds, but any Russian working for an American diplomatic mission, no matter how closely screened, is vulnerable to pressure from Russia’s state security apparatus. 
It doesn't say exactly what "screening visitors" means. I'm assuming that it means checking them for weapons, bombs, spying devices, stolen documents, etc. Does it make any sense at all to trust these guys after our embassies and consulates in Nairobi, Dar es Salaam and Benghazi were attacked by terrorists?

Are Trump and Rex Tillerson, Exxon's secretary of state, openly colluding with the Russians, or are they just fucking morons?

On Rand Paul's Injury

Last week Rand Paul's neighbor attacked Paul while he was sitting on his riding lawn mower. He broke six ribs. The neighbor was charged with fourth-degree assault and released. Both parties have characterized the incident as a minor disagreement between neighbors.

But because of the nature of the injury, some have speculated that something much more nefarious must be going on, especially since the neighbor is a Democrat! Exactly how serious is Paul's injury? This article discusses it.

But it doesn't really say anything about how common it is, or what sort of circumstances can cause such an injury. The thing is, this can happen to anyone in the most innocent of circumstances.

I have a friend who had pretty much the same injury as Paul. He was out for a walk with his wife. He tripped on a section of short lawn fencing. He fell and broke several ribs. He was in agonizing pain for weeks.

Minor falls can cause serious, even deadly injuries. A Minneapolis cop was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for throwing a single punch at a loudmouth in a bar. The victim fell backwards and cracked his head on the stone floor. He needed three brain surgeries.

This is why "minor" assaults and bar room brawls should never be treated lightly. Punch someone in the eye and they can go blind (detached retina). Hit someone in the chest and their heart can stop (commotio cordis).

The law recognizes several degrees of assault, but the fact is that a single punch or a single fall can kill you if it hits you in the wrong place at the wrong time, or you land wrong.

Pretty much every mass murderer in history started out with with some form of animal cruelty, domestic abuse or assault. Society needs to treat all forms of violence as potentially deadly threats, instead of pardoning the perpetrators with the lame "boys will boys" excuse.

Assault rates vary greatly by state: in 2014 Kentucky, Rand Paul's state, had an aggravated assault rate of 250 per 100,000 population, while Minnesota had a rate of less than half that: 123 per 100,000. Alabama's rate was 283, while Vermont's was a mere 69. Wisconsin had 170, California had 236, Illinois had 213, New York had 229, Texas had 245 and Florida had a whopping 366.

Violence is clearly concentrated in big cities and the South, implying that it has a lot to do with poverty, which breeds violence.

But culture has something to do with it as well: the South is clearly much more violent than the rest of the country. It seems that Southerners don't take insults well, and react violently. Which would explain why Rand Paul was attacked over seemingly nothing, and Paul and the local cops dismissed the attack as minor.

Maybe if we stopped condoning minor violence and stopped teaching our children that it's okay to beat people up in anger, we'd have mass shootings once a month instead of almost every day.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Will Alabama Sell Its Soul to the Devil?

Today Mitch McConnell -- Republican Senate majority leader -- called on Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for an empty Alabama Senate seat in a special election to be held next month, to leave the race. The head of the Republican Senate campaign committee called upon the Senate to expel Moore should he win.

Today George F. Will, the crotchety arch-conservative eminence, endorsed Moore's opponent, a Democrat with a history of supporting unions and prosecuting civil rights cases, including convictions of two men who bombed a church 40 years earlier, killing four black girls.

Today a fifth woman accused Moore of attacking her when she was a sixteen-year-old waitress:
“I tried fighting him off, while yelling at him to stop, but instead of stopping, he began squeezing my neck attempting to force my head onto his crotch,” Ms. Nelson said in a statement she issued at the news conference. She said Mr. Moore warned her that “no one will believe you” if she told anyone about the encounter in his car.
Two days ago one of Moore's former colleagues said everyone knew that the 30-something Moore had a fondness for jail bait:
"It was common knowledge that Roy dated high school girls, everyone we knew thought it was weird," former deputy district attorney Teresa Jones told CNN in comments aired Saturday. "We wondered why someone his age would hang out at high school football games and the mall ... but you really wouldn't say anything to someone like that."
The vast majority of Alabama voters are Christians, many of them evangelicals and Baptists. The state went for Trump in a big way, even though he openly bragged about forcing himself on women, and more than a dozen women confirmed that Trump's bragging was true.

Republicans and the religious right used to claim that character counts and morality matters. But when their candidates prove to be liars, womanizers and sexual predators, they no longer believe that criminal sexual behavior matters.

It should be clear to everyone that politicians like Moore and Trump, who trumpet the Bible but ignore its rules, are totally lacking any sort of morality and common decency. They're just con men mouthing the lies they think the voters want to hear. These liars are ridiculing the intelligence of Alabama voters.

Democrats and liberals have accepted the validity of allegations of sexual harassment against numerous media and Hollywood types, most of whom have lost their jobs and lucrative deals. After Fox News paid more than $100 million in settlements for similar allegations, why do Republicans insist that "their guys" are innocent? It's clear that sexual harassment has nothing to do with political affiliation: it's a power trip for men who think they can grab and bang whoever they want.

If Republicans are willing to accept the word of Weinstein's accusers at face value without a trial or due process, they have have to accept the accusations of Moore's victims.

Critics of the religious right have long believed that the Moralizing Majority were nothing but a lying bunch of hypocrites. Will Alabama prove them right by electing Moore?

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Good Guys with Guns: Stop Bad Guys from Getting Guns in the First Place

I am admittedly getting very tired of hearing myself whine about Republican inaction on gun violence. But Republicans seem to have an infinite amount of patience -- and gall -- repeating the same nonsense every time there's another mass murder by a guy with a gun.

This time the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Mac Thornberry (R-TX), is blaming the Air Force for the mass murder in Texas.
“I understand that [Air Force] Secretary [Heather] Wilson has initiated an investigation, but I don't believe that the Air Force should be left to self-police after such tragic consequences. Furthermore, I am concerned that the failure to properly report domestic violence convictions may be a systemic issue,” Thornberry said.
Republicans are now claiming that "mental illness" is the problem, and that the Air Force is blame for not reporting the shooter's domestic abuse.

But such reports are useless if you don't have a robust system that prevents people on that list from obtaining weapons. Republicans have consistently blocked attempts to require checks for gun show purchases and for private gun sales and gifts, and have often stymied efforts to disarm domestic abusers.

And even when men are cited for domestic abuse and prevented from buying new guns, many jurisdictions let abusers keep whatever guns they already have.

At the same time Republicans are still pushing to allow civilians to buy silencers and armor-piercing rounds -- also called cop-killer bullets.

If Republicans are serious about stopping these horrendous murders they should sponsor federal legislation requiring every person convicted of assault and every court-designated domestic abuser to have all their guns confiscated and to lose their right to own guns permanently.

Ditto for anyone on the terrorist watch list and the do-not-fly list. And local law enforcement -- who know these guys and have to deal with the aftermath of their anger -- should also be able to place people on this list, even if there is no conviction.

Naturally, there must be a legal proceeding to restore gun rights after the perpetrator has proved to stable enough to own guns again. But the public and local law enforcement must have ample opportunity to register any objections with the court.

Republican lawmakers should require every gun, ammunition and ballistic armor transaction to be checked against the federal database. That should include sales in gun stores, at gun shows, on the Internet, and all private transactions -- including sales and gifts.

Anyone selling or giving a gun to a person banned from gun ownership should be considered an accomplice, liable to prosecution as a co-conspirator for whatever crimes the shooter commits.

Republicans should require every gun -- including those currently owned -- to be registered. Every gun should be locked in a safe unloaded and separate from its ammunition. Every gun theft should be reported within 24 hours.

If a gun is stolen and is used in a crime, and the owner didn't report it, they should be charged as an accomplice (truly innocent victims of gun theft will never be charged, trials will sort out the rest).

Finally, transporting or selling guns across state lines which are subsequently used in a crime should be a major federal felony. Republicans like to complain about gun violence in Chicago and claim how useless gun laws are, but the fact is most of those guns are stolen or bought in southern states and then resold illegally in big cities.

The above laws would not stop every shooting death. Just like seat belts don't prevent every car crash death, and chemotherapy doesn't prevent every cancer death. But such laws would dramatically reduce the number of gun murders. And they would put a big dent in the number of gun suicides as well.

Since felons are already banned from owning guns, there is ample precedent for revoking Second-Amendment rights. If you don't want to lose your right to own a gun, take some personal responsibility, as Republicans are so fond of saying. Don't beat your wife. Or your girlfriend. Don't get in bar brawls. Don't beat up gays. Don't piss off the cops. If you do, and you keep your nose clean for a few years, you can have your guns back.

Republicans will complain that such laws put too much of a burden on law-abiding gun owners and gun dealers. But these people have the most control over guns, and the most to lose when they are misused. The federal government can't do everything: good guys with guns should do everything in their power to prevent bad guys from getting guns in the first place.

Republicans are intentionally derping their pro-gun talking points, hoping they will wear down good and honest Americans with their well-worn lies. And, yes, I too am tired of hearing myself complain about Republicans and guns.

But as long as Republicans keep condoning, excusing, enabling and abetting mass murder, I will complain about them.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Good Guy With A Gun Lie is Still a Lie

President Trump recently trotted out the good guy with a gun lie in relation to the Sutherland Springs, Texas shooting that was the worst mass shooting in the state's history. It's quite likely that he is completely unfamiliar with John Donohue's recent study that shows that states with right to carry laws generally have 13-15% higher gun violence rates.

Donohue uses additional statistical models than a similar report issued in 2004, and analyzes a further 14 years’ worth of data, from 2000-2014, during which 11 states introduced right-to-carry laws. He claims not only a statistical association between right-to-carry laws and increased violent crime, but a causal link. He uses statistical models to take into account other factors that could have an impact on violent crime rates to estimate what would have happened to those rates in various states if they had not introduced RTC laws when they did:

… [I]t might be the case that some states decided to fight crime by allowing citizens to carry concealed handguns while others decided to hire more police and incarcerate a greater number of convicted criminals. If police and prisons were more effective in stopping crime, the “no controls” model might show that the crime experience in RTC states was worse than in other states even if this were not a true causal result of the adoption of RTC laws. As it turns out, though, RTC states not only experienced higher rates of violent crime but they also had larger increases in incarceration and police than other states…RTC states did not have declining rates of incarceration or total police employees after adopting their RTC laws that might explain their relatively bad crime performance.

In short, the more guns, the more violent crime.