Steve Bannon among four people indicted in New York for fraud

August 20, 2020 • 9:45 am

Athough Steve Bannon was scheduled to speak here a while back, that never took place, though the University refused to ban him. Now it looks as if he won’t be here for a long while.

Hot off the press (click on screenshot for details):

Bannon, of course, was Trump’s former campaign manager. He and three others face one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Each count carries a maximum of 20 years in prison!

A few details from the report:

Bannon is among four people indicted for allegedly defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors to the online “We Build the Wall” campaign.

Manhattan federal prosecutors allege that Bannon, campaign leader Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea “received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donor funds from We Build the Wall, which they each used in a manner inconsistent with the organization’s public representations.”

“We Build the Wall” began as a GoFundMe campaign in late 2018, designed to raise money directly from the public to build a border wall in the face of Congressional opposition.

While Kolfage publicly guaranteed that he would not take salary or compensation, and that 100 percent of funds raised would go toward the wall, the indictment alleges he actually took more than $350,000 for personal use and took steps to conceal it.

It’s both ironic and horrific that a campaign designed to keep poor immigrants out was actually used to enrich the promoters.

h/t: Ken

Tennessee effectively bans abortions

June 20, 2020 • 11:00 am

Tennessee, by a majority vote of both its House and Senate (68-17 in the former, 23-5 in the latter) has effectively spit in the face of the Supreme Court, blocking abortions that were already deemed legal in Roe v. Wade. Read about it in this CNN report (click on the screenshot below). In fact, with its new regulations, Tennessee may have banned almost all abortions, since the threshold criterion (the presence of a fetal heartbeat) can occur as early as six weeks—before many women even know they’re pregnant.

Both chambers of the Tennessee legislature are, of course, Republican, but I don’t know how the vote along party lines, though I can bet that nearly all Republicans voted for the bill.

If you remember, Roe v. Wade tossed the regulations to the states, but ruled that abortions cannot be prohibited in the first trimester (12 weeks), might be subject to “reasonable health regulations” in the second (12-24 weeks), and can be prohibited by the states in the third trimester (24 weeks-term), so long as exceptions are allowed to preserve the mother’s life and health.

The new law makes hash of that. As CNN notes:

The legislation — which prompted immediate legal action from several abortion rights groups — effectively bans abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, as early as six weeks, through 24 weeks into a pregnancy. The bill would make exceptions to protect the life of the woman, but not for instances of rape or incest. Abortions after viability, which is around 24 weeks, are already illegal in Tennessee except in cases where the woman’s life is in danger.

The Tennessee bill punishes abortion providers with up to 15 years in jail and a $10,000 maximum fine. It also prohibits an abortion where the doctor knows the woman is seeking an abortion because of the child’s race, sex, or a diagnosis indicating Down syndrome.

Under the bill, a doctor would have to inform the pregnant woman of the gestational age, perform an ultrasound and display the images, and check for a fetal heartbeat and play it out loud before proceeding. The woman can decline to view the images or hear the heartbeat.

The bill also requires abortion providers who provide more than 50 abortions a year to post notices that medication abortion involving a two-drug process could be reversed if the second pill has not been taken, though claims of potential abortion reversal are “not based on science and do not meet clinical standards,” according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Six weeks is well before the fetus is viable, though of course that will inevitably change as medical advances allow us to keep embryos alive at earlier and earlier stages. But this bill, clearly designed to force a court test of abortion law, may also be designed to give judges some leeway to move the threshold earlier than the first trimester, though I don’t see the Supreme Court reversing its earlier decision.  The notion that this bill will give higher courts some “wiggle room” comes from this part of the CNN report:

The Tennessee bill comes as several red states have passed restrictive abortion laws with the hopes of forcing a broad court challenge to the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wadethat legalized abortion nationwide.
At least eight other states, with Republicans in control of the legislature, passed abortion restrictions last year based on gestational limits. Judges have blocked all of the laws that have been taken up in state-level challenges.
Tennessee Republicans acknowledged that this legislation is a “risk,” so to protect against legal challenges and if a court strikes down the six-week ban, the bill includes a “ladder” provision, which would generate new prohibitions, adding add two weeks of gestation if the previous bill is turned back by the courts.
Tennessee governor Bill Lee, who is a Republican, has ten days to sign the bill, veto it, or let it become law without signing it.

What’s for sure is that courts will intervene immediately to block the bill from going into effect until it’s adjudicated by higher courts, as on its face it is unconstitutional. Indeed, according to the WBIR article below, legal challenges have already been mounted by the ACLU and Planned Parenthood.  If appellate courts affirm the law, it will surely end up in the Supreme Court. But given the new “semi-liberal” Roberts court, which would have to reject the stare decisis of Roe v. Wade to change its decision, I’m not as worried about this as I used to be.

h/t: Ken

A large percentage of conservatives (indeed, of U.S. adults) subscribe to a bizarre Bill Gates conspiracy theory

May 24, 2020 • 9:30 am

It’s unbelievable what Trump supporters, Republicans, and conservatives can bring themselves to believe, but this new Yahoo/YouGov poll shows that bizarre and unevidenced beliefs are held by a substantial proportion of not just those on the Right, but of all U.S. adults. This article (click on screenshot below) centers on both Bill Gates and the coronavirus, particularly a vaccine. The poll was conducted in May, and you can link to the main results by clicking on the screenshot below.

 

The most bizarre contention, debunked by Snopes, is that Bill Gates is using his money and promoting Covid-19 vaccinations to create an authoritarian country where everyone will be surveilled via the implantation of microchips (presumably inserted surreptitiously during vaccination).  As Snopes notes,

primary focus of that foundation, and of Gates’ philanthropy in general, is the reduction of inequalities in health outcomes, with a focus on the developing world. Via these organizations, he also funds research into technological solutions to public health problems in the poorest communities globally. Since 2015, he has been raising alarms about the world’s potentially catastrophic lack of preparedness for a pandemic.

In part because of his advocacy for vaccines, Gates has also been a major recipient of the anti-vaccine movement’s vitriol for well over a decade. Years of manufactured animosity built by false claims from these anti-vaccine groups have, as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, combined with the dubious claims of doomsday soothsayers and cryptocurrency Youtubers to create a sprawling COVID-19 conspiracy theory centered on Gates.

The basic allegation against Gates goes like this: He is using the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to push a vaccine with a microchip capable of tracking you along with the rest of the world population.

Snopes debunks this, saying that Gates’s only remotely related argument is that perhaps people should have certificates of either immunity after having contracted the virus or after having been vaccinated, and those documents could be used for travel and entering new countries. Whether they will be required is up to the countries, not to Gates. That’s about it.

So that’s the basic allegation. How many Americans agree with it? See the chart below of the poll’s results, and weep copiously.

Yes brothers and sisters, friends and comrades, 44% of Republicans and 19% of Democrats—one in five Dems—accept this bizarre theory. Indeed, half of all those who get most of their news from Fox News accept the theory, while only 26% think it’s false. As expected, those who voted for Trump four years ago have statistics almost identical to those of Republicans in general. Those who are most sensible are the Democrats, those who get most of their news from the liberal station MSNBC, and those who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. But even the latter categories show more than a quarter of people saying that they aren’t sure whether the microchip implantation theory is true.

Why on earth does anybody believe such a palpably false myth, one supported by no facts at all? Well, for the Right, it’s tribalism, with right-wing tribalism going along with an antivaxer stance. It’s above my pay grade to dilate on why the right is so suspicious of vaccines given that many conservatives support them, but some how it’s taken hold. The Yahoo site gives details:

The new Yahoo News/YouGov survey shows that skepticism about a possible coronavirus vaccine is already taking root on the right. There is little partisan disagreement over vaccines in general: 83 percent of Americans consider childhood vaccines either “somewhat” or “very” safe, and more than 80 percent of Democrats, independents and Republicans share this view. The same goes for concerns over the safety of “fast-tracking” the vaccine through the typical research and regulatory process: 73 percent of Americans are at least somewhat concerned, with little difference by party affiliation.

But when it comes to actually getting vaccinated, Clinton voters are nearly 30 points more likely to say they will (72 percent) than Trump voters (44 percent). A majority of Trump voters say either that they plan to skip the shot (29 percent) or that they aren’t sure (27 percent), even though the president himself has been pushing hard for a vaccine. 

As a result, only half of Americans (50 percent) now say they intend to get vaccinated “if and when a coronavirus vaccine becomes available,” with nearly a quarter (23 percent) saying they won’t — a 5-point decline in the percentage of “yes” responses and a 4-point gain in the percentage of “no” responses since the previous Yahoo News/YouGov survey two weeks ago. The rest (27 percent) say they’re not sure.

With 83% of Americans considering childhood vaccination safe, half of us still won’t get vaccinated when there’s a safe coronavirus vaccine. This is the downside of all the doubt sowed by the conspiracy theorists: it makes people less likely to get vaccinated. And this isn’t the same as ignorant suspicion of evolution or advocacy of flat-earthism, for doubt about tested vaccinations leads to sickness and death. There are no fatal complications of creationism.

There’s more misinformation and tribalism concerning—yes, you guessed it—hydroxychloroquine, which has been unproven as a virus preventive and seems positively harmful when given to those already infected. Have a look at this:

Vaccines are not the only subject of misinformation. Another example with dire implications is hydroxychloroquine. A majority of Fox News viewers (53 percent), along with nearly half of Trump voters (49 percent) and Republicans (44 percent), think the antimalarial drug is an effective treatment against COVID-19 — even though study after study has not proved that to be true. In fact, a new study of 96,000 hospitalized coronavirus patients on six continents found that those who received the drug had a significantly higher risk of death compared with those who did not.

Far fewer Trump voters, meanwhile, say that hydroxychloroquine is ineffective (just 17 percent) or that they are not sure (34 percent) — an upside-down perspective that may have something to do with the fact that the president told reporters Monday that he has been taking the drug for the last “couple of weeks” as a preventive measure.

In contrast, only 5 percent of Clinton voters say hydroxychloroquine is effective. Seventy-three percent of Clinton voters say it is not.

The poll also found that a plurality of Trump voters (41 percent) say they would take hydroxychloroquine if it were available to them. Only 4 percent of Clinton voters say the same; 80 percent say they would not take the drug. The Food and Drug Administration has warned that hydroxychloroquine should be used only in clinical trials or hospitals because it can trigger fatal heart arrhythmia in COVID-19 patients.

Well, physicians who are responsible doctors won’t treat infected people with the drug, and I hope that they won’t write prescriptions for it as a preventive. But some will. The upshot is that trust in science in general will be eroded, as well, I think, as trust in vaccinations.

As we saw from the statistics above, the Left isn’t resistant to the blandishments of misinformation, either. For example, on the issue of “reopening” cities and states, we see this:

The left is not immune to picking and choosing its preferred version of events. Democrats (58 percent) are more likely than Republicans (33 percent) to believe that “coronavirus-related deaths have surged” in early-to-reopen red states such as “Florida, Georgia and Texas” — as are Americans in general (45 percent). Yet average daily deaths have declined in Georgia and Florida since reopening, while holding roughly steady in Texas.

The statistics for reopened states were given on the news last night, and, as the poll notes, they contravene the Left’s scenario that prematurely reopened states will suffer huge tolls from a resurgence of the pandemic. That hasn’t happened so far, and yet the Left believes it more than the Right. Again, tribalism. It is, of course, possible that these states will suffer another onslaught of the virus, and our best attitude should be a wait-and-see one.

There are a bunch of other results, all showing tribalism in belief about what’s true, even when we don’t have sufficient data yet (well, what did you expect in such a religious nation?):

But views on reopening are starting to diverge as well. Asked in previous Yahoo News/YouGov polls whether stay-at-home orders were the only way to stop the spread of COVID-19 or whether “the cure is worse than the disease,” majorities of Americans, both Democratic and Republican, said the former. Now for the first time, a majority of Republicans (53 percent) say the cure is worse. Among Trump voters and Fox News viewers, that number skyrockets to 59 percent and 66 percent, respectively.

On the right, nearly every question about reopening is trending in the same direction. Pluralities of Republicans (44 percent) and majorities of Trump voters (55 percent) and Fox News viewers (61 percent) now support the protesters demanding an end to lockdown measures. Wide majorities of these right-leaning groups also say they are more concerned about lifting restrictions too slowly than too quickly; most Americans — by a 61 percent to 39 percent margin — still say the opposite. And while 62 percent of Americans say they’re more worried about the impact of the coronavirus on people’s health than on the economy, the right disagrees: 63 percent of Republicans, 68 percent of Trump voters and 73 percent of Fox News viewers say they’re more worried about the economy.

This is going to cause another fractious election result, which we knew anyway. I still think Trump will lose, and have bet a few hundred bucks on that result; but I’m appalled at how many American continue to support a man who’s so obviously mentally ill—a narcissist of the first water—and how many still buy into his ridiculous statements. As I’ve said, I lived through the Sixties—through Nixon, Reagan, and W., but I never thought I’d live to see a President and an administration so dysfunctional. And, even worse, how many Americans support Trump. Do they really admire the guy, or are they using him as a cudgel against the Left and what it represents to them (lax immigration policy, more concern for racism, and so on)?

And I have no idea why tribalism has increased so much in the last decade or so. Even the Reagan years seem almost halcyon compared to the today’s seemingly irreparable divisions in the ideology of Americans. I’d be interested in hearing readers’ take on this.

Apropos, here’s a photo sent in by reader Barry:

h/t: Ken

Only in America: Paul Broun brandishes a semiautomatic rifle in his bid for Congress

April 13, 2020 • 1:15 pm

Paul Broun is a Tea Party Republican who was a state representative in Georgia until 2015; he lost in the Republican primary race for the U.S. Senate in 2014. He also lost in a 2016 Republican primary race for a seat in Congress.

He’s now running for Congress again this year, and here’s one of his campaign videos. Lest those of you who aren’t blessed enough to live in America think this is a fake, it isn’t. And in case you wonder what his gun is, an AR-15 is a semiautomatic weapon, classified as an “assault weapon.” These illegal in 7 states, though a few states allow ownership if you’re grandfathered in. Georgia, like all states south of Maryland, allows them.

Note the coded racism  (“looting hordes from Atlanta”, a largely black city), the characterization of socialism as satanic, and the reference to this gun as a “Liberty Machine.” He even offers to give one of those Liberty Machines to one “lucky person” who signs up for email updates from his campaign site.

This video could have been made by The Onion. But again—it’s real!

Wikipedia has a bit more on this ad:

A campaign video where Paul Broun offered to give away an AR-15 rifle to “to one lucky person who signs up for email updates” from his campaign website. The video showed him walking through grass and shooting a rifle. The video says that during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic that Americans might need an AR-15 to shoot “looting hordes from Atlanta”. Broun lives in Gainesville, a white majority city about an hour outside the state capital Atlanta, which is a majority African American city.

In a phone interview Broun said that the phrase “looting hordes from Atlanta” was “not racial”, saying “Only the liberal press would take that kind of position” and “There are a lot of white people in Atlanta as well.” Broun was dismissive of the idea that his rhetoric might concern Georgian African-Americans or that it might increase the risk of innocent African-Americans being shot in majority-white neighborhods, and claimed “it’s about black people having the means of protecting themselves just as much as white people or Hispanic people or Asian people”.

Watch and weep. 

Two congresspeople, including AOC, threaten to delay passage of stimulus bill

March 27, 2020 • 11:00 am

I’ve pretty much written off Republicans, but among us Democrats there’s one annoying snake in the grass, a snake who goes by the monicker of AOC. Truly, I am amazed at the number of people who admire her, and even suggest she’d make a good president. I see her as having some good positions. and is generally on the right side of issues (even though her solutions are often ludicrous), but someone who’s not that bright, and is following a script laid out by the Justice Democrats, who recruited her to run for Congress. I also believe she’s an anti-Semite and somewhat of a narcissist—as well as a social-media “influencer” along the lines of Trump. And now she (along with a Republican in the House) is threatening passage of the stimulus bill (see also here).

Passage of largest ever American relief bill could be delayed. 

With many lawmakers scattered around the country, House leaders will attempt on Friday to pass the $2 trillion economic stabilization plan by voice vote, but the plan could be delayed a day if any lawmaker insists on a recorded vote.

At least one Democrat and one Republican have suggested they might do so.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plan for a voice vote is highly unusual for a measure of such consequence. Leaders settled on it so that lawmakers who wanted to speak could make their views known and others would not be required to be physically present.

But there is a risk: Technically, the House cannot legislate without the presence of a quorum, defined by the Constitution as a simple majority. (The House currently has 430 members; 216 are required for a quorum.) If even one member asserted that the House lacked a quorum and called for a recorded vote, the House would have to cease its business until 216 lawmakers arrived.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, warned on Wednesday that she might do so. Representative Thomas Massie, Republican of Kentucky, has also hinted that he might try to slow the bill’s passage, stoking anger among fellow lawmakers.

“If you intend to delay passage of the #coronavirus relief bill tomorrow morning, please advise your 428 colleagues RIGHT NOW so we can book flights and expend ~$200,000 in taxpayer money to counter your principled but terribly misguided stunt,” Representative Dean Phillips, Democrat of Minnesota, wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

This will not endear Ocasio-Cortez to Nancy Pelosi or AOC’s home-state Senator Chuck Schumer, both of whom are supporting a voice vote that won’t require the Congress to be physically present at the Capitol.  AOC’s opposition to the bill, and desire to delay its passage, comes from her view that it gives too much to corporations. But the bill will pass, and AOC is making trouble as a kind of juvenile tantrum, something she’s quite adept at.

Retaining abortion rights through legislation

May 18, 2019 • 10:15 am

I wish I’d thought of this, but I didn’t think hard enough. While the Supreme Court can overturn state laws banning abortion because they’re unconstitutional (Roe v. Wade was decided on the grounds that abortion violated the right to privacy embodied in the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause), I don’t think the Supreme Court can overturn federal laws legalizing abortion. What bit of the Constitution could they use to do that? Well, I’m not a lawyer, but Elizabeth Warren, as recounted in Andrew Sullivan’s column this week, has proposed putting the specifications of Roe v. Wade (conventionally legal abortions during the first trimester) into a law, and a federal law can’t be overturned by the states.  Click on the screenshot to read (the other two items are the mendacious pardons handed out by Donald Trump and Game of Thrones, a show I’ve never watched and in which I have no interest.

Sullivan argues that on many issues, like interracial and gay marriage, the Court has led public opinion, with liberal approbation growing after the court legalized these once-controversial practices. But public approval for abortion rights hasn’t budged since Roe v. Wade; the good news is that public sentiment is pro-choice and, if anything, that is growing:

Roe was decided in 1973. Unlike many other progressive Court decisions, this one didn’t budge public opinion. In 1975, two years after Roe, some 22 percent favored a total ban on abortion in a Gallup poll; today that number is … 18 percent. Back then, 54 percent favored a middle ground: keeping the procedure legal under restricted circumstances. Now it’s 50 percent. Twenty-one percent believed in 1975 that abortion should be legal in every circumstance; today that number is 29 percent.

So yes, there has been some change, with a small shift toward public support for abortion rights.

Sullivan recounts his own conflict about abortions, one shared by Christopher Hitchens. He’s personally opposed to it (he calls it a “grave evil”, drawing on his Catholicism), but sees it as a public good: that is, society is better off letting women make the choice. And he argues, as I have, that it’s a losing proposition to argue for “choice” by saying “women have a right to an abortion because it’s their own body”.  Talk of rights won’t budge those who see abortion as murder, and so we have, and will always have, an impasse, especially with believers. When you assert that something is a “right”, you have to defend that right, and I’d prefer the pro-choice people to lay out their arguments for their views rather than declare abortion a “right.”

I happen to think that abortion should be allowed by a woman’s choice up to birth, as any line drawn will necessarily be arbitrary, and my own feeling is that fetuses don’t even begin to be sentient until they’re born,—at which time they can be adopted. Others will draw lines at other places, as most of them have. Sullivan mentions the laws in Europe—both Germany and Denmark don’t allow abortion after 12 weeks—and those seem even more arbitrary to me.

Sulivan on the impasse:

I can see why the court acted, although I think it made a big mistake. Abortion involves two fundamental and, in this case, directly conflicting American commitments: to life and liberty. We hold this truth to be self-evident: that life matters. We should affirm it always. And I have yet to read a single argument that clearly delineates with any objective authority when a human life, once initiated, becomes a human person. It’s an invisible line that is devilishly hard to draw. So although I have no doubt that a fertilized zygote is human life, I just can’t see that life the way I see a toddler or someone in their 80s. But I can grasp its basic humanness. To deny this reality seems to me to miss one key aspect of the debate.

At the same time, this is about the mother’s body. And in our ownership of our physical body lies our inviolability under the Constitution. We all have a natural right to our own bodies — and if we do not, then we have no natural right to anything, and America’s promise is a lie. The integrity of women’s bodies is therefore a core principle, inferentially buried in the Constitution. The right to life, in this case, is literally, physically, inside the bounds of liberty, i.e. within a woman’s body.

That’s my belief, after a lifetime of trying to think about this subject. And this is a particularly agonizing conclusion because the bodies involved are those of only half of humanity, women. This is not dispositive, but it behooves men to defer at least in part to the convictions of women who are in this predicament, or could be. For a gay man like me, this is doubly true. A certain humility is due.

I’m all for federal law saying something like “no state can restrict abortions before X weeks of pregnancy is over”, and yes, the American public does support Roe v. Wade in general. But would Congress support such a bill? I don’t think it could get through a Republican Senate, and surely Trump‚ or any Republican President, would veto it. But we can always hope for change a year from November.

This is sensible (is Sullivan still a conservative?):

. . . there was a reason that public opinion was moving in a pro-choice direction before Roe. The abstraction of ending abortion as a cause is far easier to support than the grim reality of enforcing an actual, tangible ban. And national legislation — or even a federalist outcome, where different states choose different options — would, in my view, highlight the government’s overreach in policing women’s bodies in the red states that would impose a restrictive regime, compared with the freedom in neighboring states. I think such a reality would move public opinion more firmly in a pro-choice position. It would certainly make the extremism of some of the anti-abortion laws crystal clear to voters. It’s astonishing to me, for example, that the Alabama law actually exempts fetuses used in IVF procedures. They don’t need to be protected, it appears. “The egg in the lab doesn’t apply. It’s not in a woman. She’s not pregnant,” explained a state senator in the debate. This is an enormous gift to pro-choicers. It really does prove that for some, this is not about human life. It’s about controlling women’s bodies. If that is revealed in a post-Roe era, the momentum will be with legal abortion.

I say this as someone deeply committed to the view that abortion is always a grave evil. I could not personally have anything to do with one. But I live in a pluralist society, I will never have to be involved in such a deeply personal decision, and I am equally dedicated to respecting the sincere convictions of my fellow citizens, and their unalienable right to sovereignty over their own bodies.

The bit about exempting IVF eggs from the law really is telling, isn’t it?

 

Andrew Sullivan on the Democrats and immigration

October 26, 2018 • 1:30 pm

In his weekly column in New York Magazine, Andrew Sullivan, inexorably moving leftwards, still chastises Democrats for failing to deal with immigration—something that Trump is making hay out of as the caravan from Central American inevitably heads northwards. Sullivan notes that the Democratic failure is promoting authoritarianism in the U.S. and putting a strain on liberal democracy, but not because of the burden of immigrants. It’s because the electorate sees illegal immigration as a problem, and until the Democrats address it one way or the other, and do so explicitly, the public, thinking Dems are in favor of open borders, are going to support Trump. Here’s his piece (click on screenshot). Read the whole thing, and you’ll see that Sullivan favors humane immigration laws, despises Trump’s policies, and abhors separating children from their families.

His analysis takes national sentiment about immigration as a given, but for the time being that’s something we simply must deal with. I’ll leave you with Andrew’s words, with which I agree, especially the bit in bold:

All of it is putting unprecedented strain on liberal democracy in the West itself. The connection between mass migration and the surge in far-right parties in Europe is now indisputable. Without this issue, Donald Trump would not be president. As we can see right now in front of our eyes, elections can turn on this. Which is why Trump is hyping this caravan story to the heavens — and why, perhaps, the last few weeks have seemed less promising for a “blue wave.” David Frum is right: “If liberals insist that only fascists will defend borders, then voters will hire fascists to do the job liberals will not do.” And unless the Democrats get a grip on this question, and win back the trust of the voters on it, their chance of regaining the presidency is minimal. Until one Democratic candidate declares that he or she will end illegal immigration, period, shift legal immigration toward those with skills, invest in the immigration bureaucracy, and enforce the borders strongly but humanely, Trump will continue to own this defining policy issue in 2020.

This is not a passing crisis. It is the new normal, and its optics do nothing but intensify the cultural panic that is turning much of the West to authoritarianism as a response. The porousness of the West’s borders are, in other words, becoming a guarantee of the West’s liberal democratic demise. This particular caravan will take a while to make it to the U.S. border, if it ever does. It will surely lose some followers on the way. It may peter out altogether.

But the caravan as a symbol? Its days are just beginning.

h/t: Simon

Tom Nichols explains why he’s leaving the GOP to become an Independent

October 8, 2018 • 1:45 pm

Tom Nichols is (or was) a “never Trumper” Republican who is a professor at the U.S. Naval War College and teaches at the Harvard Extension School. (Wikipedia also informs us that he’s “a five-time undefeated Jeopardy champion.”) He writes a lot for The Atlantic, and in its pages this week he tells us why he’s leaving the GOP (he left once before in 2012, but now is leaving for good). He’s not becoming a Democrat, but an Independent; still, this shows that some Republicans can change their minds.

And the article has a lot to say about both parties, with Nichols not leaving the Democrats unscathed. Click on the screenshot to see what he said:

His reasons are multifarious, but center on the Kavanaugh affair, which made Nichols realize that the GOP has no substantive goal beyond power itself.

It was Collins, however, who made me realize that there would be no moderates to lead conservatives out of the rubble of the Trump era. Senator Jeff Flake is retiring and took a pass, and with all due respect to Senator Lisa Murkowski—who at least admitted that her “no” vote on cloture meant “no” rather than drag out the drama—she will not be the focus of a rejuvenated party.

. . . Politics is about the exercise of power. But the new Trumpist GOP is not exercising power in the pursuit of anything resembling principles, and certainly not for conservative or Republican principles.

Free trade? Republicans are suddenly in love with tariffs, and now sound like bad imitations of early-1980s protectionist Democrats. A robust foreign policy? Not only have Republicans abandoned their claim to being the national-security party, they have managed to convince the party faithful that Russia—an avowed enemy that directly attacked our political institutions—is less of a threat than their neighbors who might be voting for Democrats. Respect for law enforcement? The GOP is backing Trump in attacks on the FBI and the entire intelligence community as Special Counsel Robert Mueller closes in on the web of lies, financial arrangements, and Russian entanglements known collectively as the Trump campaign.

And most important, on the rule of law, congressional Republicans have utterly collapsed. They have sold their souls, purely at Trump’s behest, living in fear of the dreaded primary challenges that would take them away from the Forbidden City and send them back home to the provinces. Yes, an anti-constitutional senator like Hirono is unnerving, but she’s a piker next to her Republican colleagues, who have completely reversed themselves on everything from the limits of executive power to the independence of the judiciary, all to serve their leader in a way that would make the most devoted cult follower of Kim Jong Un blush.

. . . But whatever my concerns about liberals, the true authoritarian muscle is now being flexed by the GOP, in a kind of buzzy, steroidal McCarthyism that lacks even anti-communism as a central organizing principle. The Republican Party, which controls all three branches of government and yet is addicted to whining about its own victimhood, is now the party of situational ethics and moral relativism in the name of winning at all costs.

These are truefacts, but, as I said, Nichols doesn’t spare the Democrats. And I have to admit that, as a registered Democrat, I was embarrassed at my own party’s behavior at the hearings, especially that of Dianne Feinstein, who seems to be in her dotage. For my party, too, it seemed to be more about getting revenge for their own failed Supreme Court nomination than about getting at the truth. It was grandstanding. Here’s Nichols, and I agree with him here on the Democrats’ behavior during the hearing.

As an aside, let me say that I have no love for the Democratic Party, which is torn between totalitarian instincts on one side and complete political malpractice on the other. As a newly minted independent, I will vote for Democrats and Republicans whom I think are decent and well-meaning people; if I move back home to Massachusetts, I could cast a ballot for Republican Governor Charlie Baker and Democratic Representative Joe Kennedy and not think twice about it.

But during the Kavanaugh dumpster fire, the performance of the Democratic Party—with some honorable exceptions such as Senators Chris Coons, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Amy Klobuchar—was execrable. From the moment they leaked the Ford letter, they were a Keystone Cops operation, with Hawaii’s Senator Mazie Hirono willing to wave away the Constitution and get right to a presumption of guilt, and Senator Dianne Feinstein looking incompetent and outflanked instead of like the ranking member of one of the most important committees in America.

Well, I won’t dwell on the Democrats’ missteps, as at least they were on the right side. And I’ll still keep voting for them. But if they ever want to regain power in at least one branch of the government, they have to clean up their act. Who’s running that railroad?

Lesson: there are some Republicans capable of reason and adhering to principle. They’re just very few. 

Saturday Night Live post-confirmation locker room celebration of Kavanaugh’s confirmation

October 7, 2018 • 9:45 am

Last night, just hours after Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Saturday Night Live broadcast a spoof of the Republican celebration. Appropriately, it takes place in a Senate “locker room.” (Clearly much of this was written in advance, as Kavanaugh’s confirmation wasn’t in much doubt.) It’s pretty good, though not as good as the skit with Matt Damon as Kavanaugh. Two Democrats show up at the end.

All the GOP principals (and principles) are there.