Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Of babies and bathwater

January 15, 2018

Libertarians tend to be skeptical toward government because it too often uses sledgehammers to kill ants, throws babies out with bathwater, and punishes the many for the sins of a few. (Like TSA, incapable of smart targeting, punishes all air travelers; confiscating, because of some past liquid bomb plot, the coffee bottle my wife forgot was in her bag.)

Advocates of free market economics do not actually call for “unfettered” capitalism. Just like we’re all subject to laws against jaywalking and murder, etc., the same principle applies to businesses, to protect us from harm. But there can be too much of a good thing.

India is a clear lesson, having suffered, since independence, from its founders’ infatuation with the idea of socialism, producing an excess of government and regulation. It’s been called the “Licence Raj.” Whatever notional harm this thicket of rules supposedly protected the public against, that was far outweighed by suffocating the economy and thereby keeping Indians a lot poorer than they need have been. (Another sardonic Indian expression for this was “the Hindu rate of growth.”) Thankfully, India started undoing all this after a 1991 financial crisis, and Narendra Modi’s government, elected in 2014, promised to do more to let business do business.

But two recent episodes show that India hasn’t unlearned its bad habits.

Government’s main economic role should not be constraining businesses, but facilitating them, by creating the conditions for commerce to thrive. For example, a sound judicial system wherein legal disputes can be fairly and efficiently resolved. Another critical role is providing a money supply, the lubricant of commerce.

Modi’s government thought it had a problem with tax-evading business people hiding cash. Maybe it did. Its answer was an attempt to catch them out by invalidating, on short notice, the highest value banknotes — 86% of the money in circulation! Economic chaos ensued with citizens queuing for hours outside banks trying to exchange their old notes — with strict limits — for new ones that were in short supply — prompting a mad scramble to find other ways to buy, sell, and get paid. While many poor people lost savings.

Punishing the many for the sins of a few; a sledgehammer to kill an ant; a baby thrown out with bathwater. (Meantime, it doesn’t even seem that black marketeers were inconvenienced much. Unsurprisingly, they found ways around the restrictions.)

Now a second Indian tale. Another problem is rampant car crashes, often caused by drunk driving. India’s latest brilliant answer: a Supreme Court ruling barring alcohol sales within 500 meters (about 1500 feet) of a state or national highway. Location near a highway used to be advantageous for such businesses. No longer. Indeed, the ruling could potentially close 100,000 bars, costing a million jobs.

Punishing drunk driving makes sense. Punishing an entire legitimate industry– indeed, the entire country — does not. More sledgehammers and ants; babies and bathwater. The victims of this insanity also include state and local governments, which stand to lose billions in alcohol taxes. But many are taking evasive action, by hastily reclassifying state highways into district or municipal roads. Some wags say the true reading of the new rule is “No road shall be classified as a highway within 500 meters of a bar.”

Maybe India will next literally require throwing out babies with bathwater. As a population control measure, of course.

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I applaud President Trump!!

January 4, 2018

President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order yesterday for which I stand up and cheer!

His order disbanded the “Voter Fraud Commission” he’d set up at the start of his administration.

The commission had two purposes. First, to massage Trump’s meshugas over having lost, by nearly 3 million, the popular vote — with the preposterous lie that those 3 million were fraudulent votes. Of course the commission failed. Voter fraud in fact is virtually nonexistent.*

The commission’s second purpose was the sinister one of creating a pretext for more stringent voter ID requirements. The Republican party, having given up on winning over poor and minority voters, instead strives to keep them from voting. Some GOP-ruled states have instituted ID requirements especially crafted to stymie those voters in particular. Shame on them!

But Trump’s commission combined two salient characteristics of his administration: meanness and incompetence. Mean though it was, it couldn’t get its act together sufficiently to gin up the phony evidence of voter fraud it was meant to concoct. Or maybe that was just too heavy a lift even for these prodigious liars.

Anyway, they’ve given up, and I applaud that.

When I mentioned it to my wife at breakfast, she asked, “Does this mean Trump has grown from a three-year-old to a five-year-old?” Alas, no. Even while announcing this, he still tweeted, “System is rigged.”

* Voter rolls do include many names of people who’ve died or moved away. But those names don’t get voted. Trump focused particularly on New Hampshire, where hordes supposedly invaded the state to vote. Turns out those were all people lawfully entitled to vote in New Hampshire.

The Mueller Investigation Scandal

December 31, 2017

The Kremlin has warned the U.S. against meddling in Russia’s presidential election. (Or its rigging; chief Putin opponent and recent acid attack victim Navalny is barred from the ballot.) While the U.S. president denies Russia meddled in America’s own election!

Despite, please remember, an official U.S. intelligence finding, a year ago, that it happened. And it was no mere “attempt.” Since then we’ve learned its audacious breadth* — surely enough to swing just a few thousand votes in three key states and thus the outcome. America’s top foreign enemy threw our election to its preferred candidate. That’s huge. Our hair should be on fire.

But Republicans’ hair is on fire about . . . the investigation.

I previously predicted a smear campaign trying to discredit Robert Mueller and his probe, because Republicans expect it to uncover some very bad stuff about Trump and his fellow creeps. Mueller is a highly respected former FBI director, and happens to be a Republican, appointed by a Republican. Yet the GOP (and their shameless shills at Fox Fake News) are now in full shoot-the-messenger mode, waging pre-emptive war against not only Mueller but also the FBI, Department of Justice, and intelligence services, flinging charges of corrupt partisanship. And muddying the waters with irrelevant old red herrings about Hillary. This is all blatant rubbish. It’s the GOP itself (and Fox) being corruptly partisan.

Their Exhibit A is one Peter Strzok, briefly on Mueller’s team, who wrote some anti-Trump personal e-mails. When that became known, Mueller promptly fired him. A Big Nothing. (Government investigators are actually allowed to have political opinions; even to contribute to campaigns. Mueller’s critics themselves certainly do.) But that doesn’t stop them from exploiting this stuff to beat on Mueller.

Focus on what’s happening. A foreign enemy subverted our presidential election, and the investigation thereof is being subverted by Republicans with phony smears aimed at tearing down our own institutions of government and law. Compounding the damage to our increasingly fragile democracy. That’s the scandal here, and it too is huge.

Any fair-minded, objective observer could see this reality. Like so much of the Trump dumpster fire. I myself was a longtime GOP stalwart until I saw the reality, of the party’s dive to the dark side. I’m reminded of the disgusting old line, “if you’re being raped, lie back and enjoy it.” That’s how Republicans have responded to Trump’s grabbing them by the pussy. Now they’re “all in” with him.

Trashing everything they ever stood for. Make America great again? Those red hats should be stuffed down their throats.

Happy New Year.

*One example: fake ads misdirecting blacks to vote on the internet.

What is populism?

December 28, 2017

“Populism” is the political word du jour. America has its first president so labeled, and “populist” parties are thriving throughout Europe. What exactly does “populism” mean?

It (like the word “popular”) comes from the Latin “populus,” meaning “people.” During the Roman Republic, politics was divided between “Populares” and “Optimates;” not organized parties as we know them, but factions. The Optimates (“best ones”) represented the elites and the status quo; the Populares, as the name implies, aimed to represent the interests of the common folk.

“Populism” connotes the people ruling and getting what they want. Of course, all democratic politics is supposed to entail the people (a majority) having their way, that’s what voting is all about. But today’s populism reflects a notion that somehow “the people” have not been getting what they want, because the system is rigged against them by elites, who have to be pulled down. A theme of both the right and left.

America had a “People’s Party” in the late 1800s, also called “Populist,” whence we get the modern usage. Those Populists too stood against the elites, representing mainly farmers. One of their key policies was free silver coinage, championed by William Jennings Bryan (“you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold”). This might seem an arcane issue, but it was really about “easy money” and favoring debtors (mostly farmers) against creditors. It was at least a coherent and basically rational program which, if enacted, would have achieved its stated aims.

Sigmund Freud divided the mind among the super-ego, the rational moral cogitator; the id, the primal instinctual unconscious; and the ego which pragmatically mediates between them. Modern populism is id-based politics — the politics of the gut, not the brain. Emotion does have a legitimate role, of course, indeed it’s an inextricable part of our functioning. But it has to be moderated by our higher executive intellect. Otherwise the result is policies which are not coherent and rational, often actually running counter to the ostensible objectives.

This is epitomized by modern populism’s xenophobia, racialism, and economic nationalism. They manifest in hostility toward immigrants, toward ethnic and cultural diversity, and toward free trade. And in favor of misguided and counterproductive policies that will not “make America great again,” but worse. Likewise Britain’s vote to leave the European Union — quintessential populism. This is the id, not reason, in charge.

“Optimates” versus “populares” type class conflict is actually an eternal political phenomenon. But in America, until recently at least, the elites were seen to have a certain moral authority, were accorded a certain deference, were looked to for guidance. The nation had a sense of common purpose. However, all that has been eroded by a populist ethos of egalitarianism and individualism, with Joe Sixpack deeming himself equal, and maybe even in a down-to-earth way superior, to the “optimates.” And woe betide any “leader” who tells him nay. Politicians are cowed from making the case for anti-populist policies like liberal immigration and free trade.

But true leaders like Lincoln, FDR, and JFK summoned Americans to their highest values, ideals, and aspirations. “The better angels of our nature.” In contrast, today’s populism — Trump’s populism — panders to and enflames our baser nature. Appealing to the id, our primal engine of raw instinct, rather than our rational moral minds. Trump’s America is not a shining city on a hill, but a squalid slum in a swamp.

America’s state capture

December 24, 2017

               “The world sees how bad the United States is.”

                                           — Donald J. Trump, 2017

The tax bill is heralded as Trump’s big legislative win. In fact — having built his fortune as a grifter — it’s his biggest scam. At over a trillion dollars, probably the biggest heist in history.

Republican lawmakers duly performed a leader-worship extravaganza sickening for a democracy. One commentator called it ring-kissing; but what was kissed this Emperor’s clothes don’t cover. These sycophants do it because Trump laps it up. Foreign governments too have figured out how flattery turns him to jelly.

“State capture” means looting the state for private benefit. The term was coined in South Africa, where President Jacob Zuma and his business cronies, the Gupta brothers, hardly even bother to hide their corruption.

Zuma

Zuma was the example I cited when, after our 2016 election, I wrote that giving bad men power never makes them better. That such men have a golden opportunity to prove doubters wrong, and become heroes. But they never do. Creeps only become creepier.

The latest is Zimbabwe’s Mnangagwa. Following one of the baddest baddies ever, he too had a golden opportunity.

Mnangagwa

So awful was Mugabe that it wouldn’t have taken much for Mnangagwa to look like Gandhi by comparison. And he promised a new leaf. But already it has the same putrid stench as the old leaf.

In South Africa, Zuma’s presidency has nearly ruined the achievement of the country’s transition to democracy. But there’s hope. The ruling ANC party met recently to choose Zuma’s successor, and he failed to swing the vote to his ex-wife (or to derail it). The winner — by a whisker — is Cyril Ramaphosa — just possibly a good man.

Trump is not. He too could have proven naysayers wrong; instead he’s proven we underestimated his badness. Yet a third of Americans still love him. Compare Brazilian President Temer’s approval rating of just three percent. Three! And he’s much less bad. But the difference is that Brazilians see clearly, not blinded by the disease afflicting America: partisanship trumping everything.

And so we get this tax bill — probably the foulest legislation in U.S. history, combining cravenness of intent with hugeness of impact. Looting the Treasury to the tune of over a trillion, mainly to benefit fatcats like Trump himself. His saying it will actually cost him money — “believe me, believe me” — is a stupendous lie. Among the bill’s biggest beneficiaries are what are called “pass-through” business entities. Of which Trump owns approximately 500.

And in the debates, Trump said the “carried interest” loophole, which also benefits him, should surely be scrapped. Was it? Of course not.

The entire bill is one big lie. No, two. First the lie that it’s a gift to “the American people” when it’s overwhelmingly for corporations and the richest, ultimately paid for by the rest. And the lie that it will pay for itself, and benefit the less affluent, by stimulating the economy.

Mnuchin’s teeth

No serious economist agrees. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin lied through his teeth (literally; his normal speech mode) about his own department’s analysis of the bill’s impact.

As both economic and social policy this is insane. Republicans railed against Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill as a budget buster, at a time when the economy was desperate. Today’s economy is, in contrast, humming nicely, with unemployment less than half, yet Republicans slate an even bigger unneeded stimulus. One that in fact will eventually harm the economy by increasing the megatonnage of our national debt bomb.

I mentioned social policy. Ever hear the word “inequality?” Trump was elected, in large part, because of middle- and working-class economic anxiety. Yet it’s the rich this tax bill coddles.

And it sets the stage for worse to come. Targeted next is “entitlement reform.” Indeed, the long looming fiscal hemorrhage of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc., is worsened by the tax giveaway, making reform even more imperative. What’s needed is curbing welfare for the rich. But will Republicans do that? If their tax heist is any clue, they’ll instead use that very legislation — which slashes the money available for social programs — as a pretext for a “reform” cutting those programs for the neediest while preserving hand-outs for the people who . . . donate to their campaigns.

Merry Christmas! Make America great again!

Decency wins in Alabama

December 13, 2017

How great it feels that the America I love and believe in still lives. Even in Alabama. Even if only by a 50-49 vote.

Doug Jones & Roy Moore; from The Economist

It was a vote for decency and dignity. It’s actually sad that we’ve come to such a pass where that’s the bottom line. Sad that anybody, let alone 49%, voted the other way. At least decency and dignity did manage to scrape through. And we didn’t have to suffer creeps like Roy Moore, Steve Bannon, and Donald Trump crowing over a triumph.

Moore (taking a leaf from Trump) stonewalled his history of sexual predation. But the evidence — testimony by multiple credible witnesses — would convict him in any court. It got him banned from a local mall! So to the sin of venery he adds the sin of lying. His whole life, steeped in God-talk, is one big lie. Belief in God may be excusable; believing Roy Moore is not. Most Alabamans didn’t, even many who held their noses and voted for him.

And please no “what-about-ism.” What someone else did doesn’t sanitize sex criminals like Moore — and Trump (or voting for them). At least Al Franken (whose offenses were minor in comparison) had the decency to man up and resign. While Trump and Moore compound injury to their victims by slandering them as liars.

And please don’t call him “Judge Moore.” He has the brass to so style himself despite having been twice kicked off the bench for defying the law. (I was not, and some still call me “judge,” but I don’t myself.)

Moore also said 9/11 was God punishing America’s sinfulness; homosexuality should be illegal; no Muslim should be allowed to serve in Congress; the First Amendment doesn’t protect a “false” religion like Islam; all amendments after the tenth created a lot of problems; and America was great when we had slavery!

This is who Alabama Republicans wanted to send to pollute the United States Senate.

In contrast, Democrat Doug Jones courageously prosecuted the KKK bombers of a Birmingham black church. Electing him may have signified some atonement for Alabama’s past sins, turning the page on what Roy Moore represents. Doug Jones last night quoted Martin Luther King that the moral arc of the Universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

I wrote recently that we’re experiencing a social revolution with sexual abuse viewed much more severely than in the past. But actually this applies only to a part of America. Another part is in fact doubling down on the old paradigm. The part that supports a pedophile Senate candidate and pussygrabber president. The part that shrugs off all their lies. And nevertheless preens as godly moralists.

They justify their political behavior by invoking, among others, abortion as a moral issue. It’s actually a very difficult one (unlike lying and sexual abuse). And many fetishize “right-to-life” for fetuses but not gun victims; their moralism rings hollow. But more importantly, embracing the likes of Moore and Trump goes whole hog on ends justifying means, crossing a moral Rubicon into perdition.

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his soul?”

Thank goodness I quit the Republican party months ago — once a principled and honorable party, now the party of pious frauds, lies, ignorance, xenophobia, Russia-dupes, more lies, criminals, creeps, cruelty, bigotry, vulgarity, and depravity. I am still working at scrubbing off the stench.

New depths of depravity

December 3, 2017

“Believe me,” he says, “believe me.”

A constant verbal tic. As if his subconscious knows he won’t be believed. You might think a man widely called a liar might try to avoid lies. But au contraire. He shoves his thumb in our eye.

“Believe me,” he said, regarding the tax bill, “This is going to cost me a fortune. This is not good for me. Believe me.” He said the “wealthy and well connected” aren’t benefiting and are actually mad at him because the bill is ending a lot of their loopholes. “I don’t care,” he said.

All huge lies. Does he think people are fools? Well, his supporters, yes.

Or does he delude himself that having concealed his tax returns he can now deny the nevertheless obvious fact that this legislation will benefit him personally, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars? What mental disorder is this?

But the big lie is claiming to help the middle class. In reality (yes, reality still does exist) middle class people will get crumbs at best, many will actually pay higher taxes, while the wealthiest, and corporations, make out like bandits. Moreover, while the latter give-aways are permanent, the benefits for the less wealthy expire in five years, so most of them will be paying more. This will happen, conveniently, in the next administration. Do they imagine the next president will get the blame?

It’s also a brazen political hit, targeted against wealthier states like New York, California and Massachusetts, which happen to have higher state and local taxes — and happened to vote against Trump.

And the idea that the tax cuts will trickle down to the less wealthy because businesses will hire more and pay more is another big lie. American businesses are already sitting atop piles of excess cash. And meantime, whatever stimulatory effect these tax cuts might have will be cancelled out by their blowing up deficits and national debt, which will ultimately wreck our economy.*

Then Trump re-tweeted stupid phony videos disseminated by an extreme right-wing British hate group to smear Muslims. Talk about fake news! A disgusting witless act by the President of the United States. Almost the entire British nation (including even Nigel Farage!) came together in shock to condemn it. (In response Trump tweeted an insult at Britain’s prime minister.)

The irony is that if he’d wanted to show Muslim atrocities, instead of this fake garbage he could have used pictures of children tortured by the Syrian regime; or James Foley’s head sawed off; or the Jordanian pilot burned alive; or, for that matter, 9/11; and the New Jersey Muslims celebrating it. (Oops, that was another Trump lie.)

Even more disturbing is that, despite everything, Trump’s approval rating still holds in the high thirties. In any other country, or in our own past, a leader behaving so egregiously would have forfeited all support. But today’s America is afflicted by extreme partisan tribalism.

Fools will say I should just shut up already, give it up, suck it up (and what about Hillary). Sorry, this is not normal politics. My beloved country is being defiled, and it breaks my heart.

* Only one Republican senator, Bob Corker, had the sense and integrity to vote no — literally the last man standing.

The Soul of the First Amendment

November 27, 2017

How far should free speech go?

Floyd Abrams is the country’s leading First Amendment lawyer. I bought his book, The Soul of the First Amendment, at the recent symposium on the post-truth culture (mainly for the opportunity to shake his hand).

The book’s introduction discusses my favorite painting: Norman Rockwell’s Freedom of Speech (in his “Four Freedoms” series). If not an artistic masterpiece, it’s a gem of conveying an idea that’s very dear to me. Abrams explains that it illustrates an actual event Rockwell witnessed, at a Vermont town meeting. The speaker was a lone dissenter against a popular proposal. He’s an ordinary working class Joe. A telling detail is the paper protruding from his pocket. It suggests he’s not talking through his hat, but has gathered some information — a point of particular resonance today. And even more so is the painting’s other key feature — the respectful listening by the man’s fellow citizens. For me this painting captures America — and civilization — at its best.

Freedom of speech in America is enshrined by the First Amendment — “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech or of the press . . . .” (The Fourteenth Amendment made it applicable against state governments too.) A key point of the book is how unique this actually is, not only in history, but in today’s world. In fact, no other country so exalts the inviolability of free speech. All others subject it to varying restrictions. And mostly they involve what are basically political concerns — the very sphere wherein freedom of expression is actually the most consequential.

People have been jailed in Europe for the crime of Holocaust denial. That is, advocating a certain interpretation of history. Europe also has many laws against “hate speech,” quite broadly (if vaguely) defined. Abrams cites a Belgian member of parliament prosecuted for distributing leaflets calling for a “Belgians and European First” policy, sending asylum seekers home, and opposing “Islamification.” His sentence included a ten year disqualification from holding office. It was upheld by the European Court of Human Rights! And such a case is not unusual in Europe. Actress Brigitte Bardot was fined 15,000 Euros for writing a letter objecting to how French Muslims ritually slaughter sheep.

America is a free speech paradise in comparison not only to such other places, but to our own past. The First Amendment actually played almost no role in our law and culture until around the mid-20th century. Abrams cites a 1907 Colorado episode. A lame-duck governor, defeated for re-election, exploited a newly passed law to pack the state supreme court with judges who thereupon ruled that he’d actually won the election. A newspaper published an editorial criticizing this ruling. The Colorado court held the editor in contempt. And that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, in an opinion written by the famed Oliver Wendell Holmes.

The idea underlying all these cases is that rights are never absolute, being always subject to a balancing against the public interest. I myself have written that the Second Amendment’s “right to keep and bear arms” does not mean you can possess howitzers or nuclear weapons. And freedom of religion doesn’t cover human sacrifice. So it’s similarly argued that freedom of speech and press must be balanced against other public goods, and may sometimes be required to give way.

Abrams argues, however, that the First Amendment’s language, absolute on its face, reflects its authors having already performed such a balancing. The benefits to society, to the kind of polity they aspired to create, of unfettered freedom of expression were balanced against what public good might otherwise be promoted. And in that balancing, freedom of expression won out, being found the weightier. It’s more important to have a society with such freedom than, for example, one where religious sensibilities are protected from insult — or where judges are shielded from editorial criticism. That’s why we have the First Amendment, and why it actually does not permit the kind of balancing underlying that 1907 Colorado case. Justice Holmes himself came to repent his decision there, dissenting in similar future cases, and eventually the Court overturned its Colorado ruling.*

As Abrams stresses, the issues raised by the Belgian and Colorado cases go to the heart of the matter: free expression with regard to issues of public concern. This is crucial for meaningful democracy, which requires open debate and dissemination of information, with contesting advocates each subjecting the other’s views to critical scrutiny. Without that, voting itself is meaningless.

The exact same considerations were central to a case Abrams argued before the Supreme Court, which he discusses. He there contended that the government, because of the First Amendment, may not criminalize distribution of a film critical of a presidential candidate. (I quoted Abrams about it on this blog.) He won the case. And given our common understanding of free speech in America, that might seem a no-brainer.

The case was Citizens United, where the movie in question had corporate funding. Abrams is unrepentant and defends the Court’s decision, which has been ferociously assailed for affirming that businesses have the same rights to free speech and public advocacy that individual citizens have, and for allowing them to spend money in such endeavors. Abrams rejects the effort to make a distinction between money and speech, arguing that no right can be meaningful without the concomitant right to spend your money in its exercise. And he insists that businesses, being part of society, must have the right to participate in public debate.

Abrams cites here a case in which Nike was accused of corporate misdeeds and sought to rebut the charges with press releases and publications. For that, the company was sued in California state court under a consumer protection law barring false advertising and the like. The real issue was whether the First Amendment protects Nike’s freedom of speech. When the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, the New York Times submitted a brief which Abrams quotes: “businesses and their representatives have just as much a right to speak out on any public issue as do interest groups and politicians . . . .” And because issues concerning businesses “are increasingly fundamental to the world’s social and political landscape, the withdrawal of corporate voices on those issues from the media would deprive the public of vital information.” Abrams deems the newspaper’s stance there starkly at odds with the position it later took on Citizens United, where the issue was really the same. Issue advocacy, and backing candidates for office, stand on identical ground as far as the First Amendment is concerned.

For me personally, all this is not abstract, but essential to my being. Abrams discusses the landmark case of Times v. Sullivan, which particularly protects criticism of public officials. That saved my butt in 1973 when I was sued for millions by guys whose misconduct I mentioned in a book on local politics. I love the freedom to express myself like that, and in this blog. I’ve been called fearless but the fact is, in America, there’s nothing to fear. In most other places blogging like mine requires a courage I probably don’t have. People literally risk their lives, and some have been killed.

Abrams notes Europe’s “right to be forgotten,” with search engines being required to erase true information about people when requested, such as reports on criminal convictions. I blogged about this in 2009 (again quoting Abrams), when two convicted German murderers, Wolfgang Werle and Manfred Lauber, sued to erase their names from Wikipedia. In defiance of that affront to freedom of information, I made a point of putting their names in my blog post, and do so again here. God bless America and the First Amendment!

* Yet even this right isn’t actually absolute. The First Amendment doesn’t protect libel or slander, child pornography, or shouting “fire!” in a crowded theater (as the same Justice Holmes famously explained).

Trump’s depraved disregard for truth undermines democracy

November 23, 2017

Mary McCarthy famously said of Lillian Hellman, Every word she writes is a lie, including “and” and “the.”

Tuesday Trump said, about Alabama Senate candidate Doug Jones, “I’ve looked at his record. It’s terrible on crime. It’s terrible on the border. It’s terrible on the military.”

“I’ve looked at his record.” Every word in that sentence is a lie. Trump never looks at any records. He only looks at TV.

“Terrible on crime?” Jones was a federal prosecutor. He prosecuted crimes. Roy Moore, Trump’s candidate, commits them.

Doug Jones prosecuted perpetrators of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, which killed four young girls. That redeemed rule of law in Alabama. Roy Moore defied rule of law, resulting in his removal from the bench, twice. He has molested underage girls (based on credible testimony of more than a few victims).

Yet it’s Jones who’s “terrible on crime?” I want to throw up.

And “terrible on the border?” And “terrible on the military?” How, exactly? Trump doesn’t say. Because he can’t. There’s nothing there. He just flings out these slippery, slimy accusations. The loathsome creep spewed exactly the same pus at Arizona Senator Jeff Flake. (And he’s never retracted his idiotic lie that President Obama wiretapped him.)

“All politicians lie,” is a common refrain. It isn’t true, though some bend and shade the truth. But none, in American history, has ever shown such depraved disregard for truth as Trump. He simply could not care less whether anything he says corresponds to reality. Recently he deemed it “disgusting” that the press can say whatever it wants. Yet mainstream press is very careful about reporting truthfully. It’s Trump himself saying whatever he wants, truth be damned. That’s disgusting.

I may sound like a broken record, but this is so important that every fresh travesty compels my bearing witness. This — like a computer program that’s corrupted and scrambles information — corrupts the public discourse and debate vital to democracy. They fundamentally depend upon a concept of what a fact is. Upon words themselves having meaning. In Trump’s mouth they do not; the concept of “fact” has no meaning.

And the words “president of the United States” used to carry a certain dignity. Now they convey the howl of the madhouse; the stench of the sewer.

Moore, Franken, Trump, sex, and power

November 18, 2017

Harvey Weinstein. Bill Cosby. Bill O’Reilly. Bill Clinton. Kevin Spacey. Louis C.K. Michael Oreskes. Roy Moore. Donald J. Trump.

Abusing power to get sexual jollies is as old as humanity. After all, what is power for​?

“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” How much Roy Moore smoke must choke Alabama before it sets off a fire alarm?

Of course, this is politics, and as I’ve recently written, for many Americans today, politics trumps everything. And so we come to this: Alabama Republicans sticking behind a sexual predator and molester of underage girls, because it’s their team, their side. They can’t vote for the other guy. Can’t give the other side a win.

One Alabaman I heard interviewed said he believed Moore because Moore has always been an upright man of God. But how does he know that? Well, Moore has always postured as a man of God. I’m reminded of the old Soviet joke: “They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work.” Moore pretends to be godly, and Alabama Republicans pretend to believe him.

And now Al Franken. In case you haven’t seen it, here’s the photo. It’s obvious he thought he was just being funny (he was a professional comic); not taking sexual advantage, but mocking that. It was stupid and juvenile, but that’s all it was. (There was also a kiss — while rehearsing a script that included a kiss.) Franken has acknowledged behaving badly, and has apologized.

President Trump — while refusing to condemn Moore — tweeted: “The Al Frankenstein picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps?”

Really bad? Did Trump forget this little bagatelle: “I moved on her like a bitch. I couldn’t get there and she was married. Then all-of-a-sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything . . . I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything . . . grab them by the pussy.”

(Trump said that was just talk, he’d never actually done it. The number of women saying otherwise has reached 16. Only seven have accused Roy Moore, so far.)

“People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. The pot calling the kettle black.” Trump’s attacking Franken for sexual misbehavior shows, yet again, that he suffers from a severe psychological defect. Self-perception divorced from reality.

Some have seen the Weinstein story as triggering a witch-hunt. Well, some real evil has been exposed, including Roy Moore’s, but when Al Franken gets sucked in, with what is really a very trivial transgression, then it does start to look like a witch-hunt. But meantime, with all the men who have lately been punished and made pariahs for their sexual misdeeds, why not Trump? Former “family values” Republicans continue supporting him. Politics trumps everything.

There is no comparison between Franken’s behavior and Trump’s own. Asked about it, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made this remarkable statement: “Senator Franken has admitted wrongdoing and the President hasn’t. I think that’s a very clear distinction.”

I agree with her.

This is the world we live in.