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The Steele Report, Revisited

The Steele Report, Revisited

by John Sipher @ Slate Articles

This piece was originally published on Just Security.

Recent revelations of Trump campaign connections to Russia have revived interest in the Steele dossier. The dossier is composed of a batch of short reports produced between June and December 2016 by Orbis Business Intelligence, a London-based firm specializing in commercial intelligence for government and private-sector clients. The collection of Orbis reports caused an uproar when it was published online by BuzzFeed just 10 days before Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Taken together, the series of reports painted a picture of active collusion between the Kremlin and key Trump campaign officials based on years of Russian intelligence work against Trump and some of his associates. This seemed to complement general statements from U.S. intelligence officials about Russia’s active efforts to undermine the 2016 election. The greatest attention was paid to the first report, which conveyed salacious claims about Trump consorting with prostitutes in Moscow in 2013. Trump himself publicly refuted the story, while Trump associates denied reported details about their engagement with Russian officials. A lot of ink and pixels were also spent on the question whether it was appropriate for the media to publish the dossier.

Almost immediately after the dossier was leaked, media outlets and commentators pointed out that the material was unproven. News editors affixed the terms “unverified” and “unsubstantiated” to all discussion of the issue. Political supporters of President Trump simply tagged it as “fake news.” Riding that wave, legendary Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward characterized the report as “garbage.”

For professional investigators, however, the dossier is by no means a useless document. Although the reports were produced episodically—almost erratically—over a five-month period, they present a coherent narrative of collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. As a result, they offer an overarching framework for what might have happened based on information from individuals on the Russian side who claimed to have insight into Moscow’s goals and operational tactics. Until we have another more credible narrative, we should do all we can to examine closely and confirm or dispute the reports.

Many of my former CIA colleagues have taken the Orbis reports seriously since they were first published. This is not because they are not fond of Trump (and many admittedly are not) but because they understand the potential plausibility of the reports’ overall narrative based on their experienced understanding of both Russian methods and the nature of raw intelligence reporting. Immediately following the BuzzFeed leak, one of my closest former CIA colleagues told me that he recognized the reports as the obvious product of a former British Secret Intelligence Service officer, since the format, structure, and language mirrored what he had seen over a career of reading SIS reports provided to CIA in liaison channels. He and others withheld judgment about the veracity of the reports, but for the reasons I outline further below they did not reject them out of hand. In fact, they were more inclined for professional reasons to put them in the trust but verify category.

So how should we unpack the Steele dossier from an intelligence perspective?

I spent almost 30 years producing what CIA calls “raw reporting” from human agents. At heart, this is what Orbis did. They were not producing finished analysis, but were passing on to a client distilled reporting that they had obtained in response to specific questions. When disseminating a raw intelligence report, an intelligence agency is not vouching for the accuracy of the information provided by the report’s sources and/or subsources. Rather it is claiming that it has made strenuous efforts to validate that it is reporting accurately what the sources/subsources claim has happened. The onus for sorting out the veracity and for putting the reporting in context against other reporting—which may confirm or disconfirm the reporting—rests with the intelligence community’s professional analytic cadre. In the case of the dossier, Orbis was not saying that everything that it reported was accurate, but that it had made a good-faith effort to pass along faithfully what its identified insiders said was accurate. This is routine in the intelligence business. And this form of reporting is often a critical product in putting together more final intelligence assessments.

Steele’s product is not a report delivered with a bow at the end of an investigation. Instead, it is a series of contemporaneous raw reports that do not have the benefit of hindsight. Among the unnamed sources are “a senior Russian foreign ministry official,” “a former top-level intelligence officer still active inside the Kremlin,” and “a close associate of Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump.” Thus, the reports are not an attempt to connect the dots, but instead an effort to uncover new and potentially relevant dots in the first place.

Let me illustrate what the reports contain by unpacking the first and most notorious of the 17 Orbis reports, and then move to some of the other ones. The first two-and-a-half page report was dated June 20, 2016, and entitled “Company Intelligence Report 2016/080.” It starts with several summary bullets and continues with additional detail attributed to sources A through E and G (there may be a source F but part of the report is blacked out). The report makes a number of explosive claims, all of which at the time of the report were unknown to the public.

Among other assertions, three sources in the Orbis report describe a multi-year effort by Russian authorities to cultivate, support, and assist Donald Trump. According to the account, the Kremlin provided Trump with intelligence on his political primary opponents and access to potential business deals in Russia. Perhaps more importantly, Russia had offered to provide potentially compromising material on Hillary Clinton, consisting of bugged conversations during her travels to Russia, and evidence of her viewpoints that contradicted her public positions on various issues.

The report also alleged that the internal Russian intelligence service, FSB, had developed potentially compromising material on Trump, to include details of “perverted sexual acts” which were arranged and monitored by the FSB.

The report stated that Russian President Putin was supportive of the effort to cultivate Trump, and the primary aim was to sow discord and disunity within the U.S. and the West. The dossier of FSB-collected information on Hillary Clinton was purportedly managed by Kremlin chief spokesman Dimitry Peskov.

Subsequent reports provide additional detail about the possible conspiracy, which includes information about cyberattacks against the U.S. They allege that former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort managed the plot to exploit political information on Hillary Clinton in return for information on Russian oligarchs outside Russia, and an agreement to “sideline” Ukraine as a campaign issue. According to the report, Trump campaign operative Carter Page is also said to have played a role in shuttling information to Moscow, while Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, reportedly took over efforts after Manafort left the campaign, allegedly providing cash payments for Russian hackers. In one account, Putin and his aides expressed concern over kickbacks of cash to Manafort from former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, which they feared might be discoverable by U.S. authorities. The Kremlin also feared that the U.S. might stumble onto the conspiracy through the actions of a Russian diplomat in Washington, Mikhail Kalugin, and therefore had him withdrawn, according to the reports.

In late fall 2016, the Orbis team reported that a Russian-supported company had been “using botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data and conduct ‘altering operations’ against the Democratic Party leadership.” Hackers recruited by the FSB under duress were involved in the operations. According to the report, Cohen insisted that payments be made quickly and discreetly, and that cyber operators should go to ground and cover their tracks.

What should be made of these leaked reports with unnamed sources on issues that were deliberately concealed by the participants? Honest media outlets have reported on subsequent events that appear to be connected to the reports, but do not go too far with their analysis, concluding still that the dossier is unverified. Almost no outlets have reported on the salacious sexual allegations, leaving the public with very little sense as to whether the dossier is true, false, important, or unimportant in that respect.

While the reluctance of the media to speculate as to the value of the report is understandable, professional intelligence analysts and investigators do not have the luxury of simply dismissing the information. They instead need to do all they can to put it into context, determine what appears credible, and openly acknowledge the gaps in understanding so that collectors can seek additional information that might help make sense of the charges.

In the intelligence world, we always begin with source validation, focusing on what intelligence professionals call “the chain of acquisition.” In this case we would look for detailed information on (in this order) Orbis, Steele, his means of collection (e.g., who was working for him in collecting information), his sources, their sub-sources (witting or unwitting), and the actual people, organizations and issues being reported on.

Intelligence methodology presumes that perfect information is never available, and that the vetting process involves cross-checking both the source of the information as well as the information itself. There is a saying among spy handlers, “vet the source first before attempting to vet the source’s information.” Information from human sources (the spies themselves) is dependent on their distinct access to information, and every source has a particular lens. Professional collectors and debriefing experts do not elicit information from a source outside of the source’s area of specific access. They also understand that inaccuracies are inevitable, even if the source is not trying to mislead. The intelligence process is built upon a feedback cycle that corroborates what it can, and then goes back to gather additional information to help build confidence in the assessment. The process is dispassionate, unemotional, professional, and never-ending.

Faced with the raw reports in the Orbis document, how might an intelligence professional approach the jumble of information?

The first thing to examine is Christopher Steele, the author of the reports, and his organization Orbis International. Are they credible?

Steele was the president of the Cambridge Union, and was a career British intelligence officer with service in Moscow, Paris, and Afghanistan prior to work as the head of the Russia desk at British intelligence HQS. While in London he worked as the personal handler of Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko. He was a respected professional who had success in some of the most difficult intelligence environments. He retired from SIS in 2009 and started Orbis Business Intelligence along with a former colleague. Prior to his work on the Russian dossier for Orbis, he was best-known for his investigation of the world soccer association FIFA, which provided direct support to the FBI’s successful corruption case. Steele and Orbis were also known for assisting various European countries in understanding Russian efforts to meddle in their affairs.

Like any private firm, Orbis’ ability to remain in business relies on its track record of credibility. Success for Steele and his colleagues depends on his integrity, reliability, and the firm’s reputation for serious work. In this regard, Steele is putting his reputation and his company’s continued existence on the line with each report. Yes, as with anyone operating in the murky world of intelligence, he could be duped. Nonetheless, his reputation for handling sensitive Russian espionage operations over the years suggests that he is security conscious and aware of Russian counterintelligence and disinformation efforts. His willingness to share his work with professional investigative agencies, such as the FBI and the British Security Service, also suggest that he is comfortable opening his work to scrutiny and is seen as a serious partner by the best in the business.

The biggest problem with confirming the details of the Steele “dossier” is obvious: We do not know his sources other than via the short descriptions in the reports. In CIA’s clandestine service, we spent by far the bulk of our work finding, recruiting and validating sources. Before we would ever consider disseminating an intelligence report, we would move heaven and earth to understand the access, reliability, trustworthiness, motivation, and dependability of our source. We believe it is critical to validate the source before we can validate the reliability of the source’s information. How does the source know about what he/she is reporting? How did the source get the information? Who are his/her sub-sources? What do we know about the sub-sources? Why is the source sharing the information? Is the source a serious person who has taken appropriate measures to protect their efforts?

One clue as to the credibility of the sources in these reports is that Steele shared them with the FBI. The fact that the FBI reportedly sought to work with him and to pay him to develop additional information on the sources suggest that at least some of them were worth taking seriously. At the very least, the FBI will be able to validate the credibility of the sources, and therefore better judge the information. As one recently retired senior intelligence officer with deep experience in espionage investigations quipped, “I assign more credence to the Steele report knowing that the FBI paid him for his research. From my experience, there is nobody more miserly than the FBI. If they were willing to pay Mr. Steele, they must have seen something of real value.”

As outsiders without the investigative tools available to the FBI, we can only look at the information and determine if it makes sense given subsequent events. Steele did not have the benefit of knowing Trump would win the election or how events might play out. In this regard, does any of the information we have learned since June 2016 assign greater or less credibility to the information? Were the people mentioned in the report real? Were their affiliations correct? Did any of the activities reported happen as predicted?

To a large extent, yes.

The most obvious occurrence that could not have been known to Orbis in June 2016, but shines bright in retrospect is the fact that Russia undertook a coordinated and massive effort to disrupt the 2016 election to help Donald Trump, as the U.S. intelligence community itself later concluded. Well before any public knowledge of these events, the Orbis report identified multiple elements of the Russian operation including a cyber campaign, leaked documents related to Hillary Clinton, and meetings with Paul Manafort and other Trump affiliates to reportedly discuss the receipt of stolen documents. Steele could not have known that the Russians stole information on Hillary Clinton, or that they were considering means to weaponize them in the U.S. election, all of which turned out to be stunningly accurate.

The U.S. government only published its conclusions in January 2017, with an assessment of some elements in October 2016. It was also apparently news to investigators when the New York Times in July published Donald Trump Jr.’s emails arranging for the receipt of information held by the Russians about Hillary Clinton in a meeting that included Manafort. How could Steele and Orbis know in June 2016 that the Russians were working actively to elect Donald Trump and damage Hillary Clinton unless at least some of its information was correct? How could Steele and Orbis have known about the Russian overtures to the Trump Team involving derogatory information on Clinton?

We have also subsequently learned of Trump’s long-standing interest in, and experience with Russia and Russians. A February New York Times article reported that phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Trump’s campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian officials in the year before the election. The Times article was also corroborated by CNN and Reuters independent reports. And even Russian officials have acknowledged some of these and other repeated contacts. Although Trump has denied the connections, numerous credible reports suggest that both he and Manafort have long-standing relationships with Russians, and pro-Putin groups. Last month, CNN reported on “intercepted communications that US intelligence agencies collected among suspected Russian operatives discussing their efforts to work with Manafort … to coordinate information that could damage Hillary Clinton’s election prospects” including “conversations with Manafort, encouraging help from the Russians.”

We learned that when Carter Page traveled to Moscow in July 2016, he met with close Putin ally and chairman of the Russian state oil company, Igor Sechin. A later Steele report also claimed that he met with parliamentary secretary Igor Divyekin while in Moscow. Investigative journalist Michael Isikoff reported in September 2016 that U.S. intelligence sources confirmed that Page met with both Sechin and Divyekin during his July trip to Russia. What’s more, the Justice Department obtained a wiretap in summer 2016 on Page after satisfying for a court that there was sufficient evidence to show Page was operating as a Russian agent.

While the Orbis team had no way to know it, subsequent reports citing U.S. officials claimed that Washington-based diplomat Mikhail Kalugin was an undercover intelligence officer and was pulled out of the Embassy and sent home in summer 2016.

The Orbis documents refer repeatedly to Manafort’s “off-the-books” payments from ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s pro-Russian party, and Russian concerns that it may be a vulnerability that could jeopardize the effort. According to the Orbis report, the Russians were concerned about “further scandals involving Manafort’s commercial and political role in Russia/Ukraine.” And, indeed, there have been further scandals since the Orbis reports were written. Those include Manafort being compelled in June to register retroactively as a foreign agent of a pro-Russian political parties in Ukraine, and special counsel Robert Mueller’s and the New York attorney general’s office reported investigation of Manafort for possible money laundering and tax evasion linked to Ukrainian ventures.

We do not have any reporting that implicates Michael Cohen in meetings with Russians as outlined in the dossier. However, recent revelations indicate his long-standing relationships with key Russian and Ukrainian interlocutors, and highlight his apparent role in a previously hidden effort to build a Trump tower in Moscow. During the campaign, those efforts included email exchanges with Trump associate Felix Sater explicitly referring to getting Putin’s circle involved and helping Trump get elected.

Further, the Trump administration’s effort lift sanctions on Russia immediately following the inauguration seems to mirror Orbis reporting related to Cohen’s alleged promises to Russia, as reported in the Orbis documents. A June Yahoo News article by Isikoff described the administration’s efforts to engage the State Department about lifting sanctions “almost as soon as they took office.” Their efforts were halted by State Department officials and members of Congress. Following the inauguration, Cohen was allegedly involved, again with Felix Sater, in back-channel negotiations seeking a means to lift sanctions via a semi-developed Russian–Ukrainian plan—which also included the hand delivery of derogatory information on Ukrainian leaders. This also would fit with Orbis reporting related to Cohen.

The quid pro quo as alleged in the dossier was for the Trump team to “sideline” the Ukrainian issue in the campaign. We learned subsequently that the Trump platform committee changed only a single plank in the 60-page Republican platform prior to the Republican convention. Of the hundreds of Republican positions and proposals, they altered only the single sentence that called for maintaining or increasing sanctions against Russia, increasing aid for Ukraine and “providing lethal defensive weapons” to the Ukrainian military. The Trump team reportedly changed the wording to the more benign, “appropriate assistance.”

Consider, in addition, the Orbis report saying that Russia was utilizing hackers to influence voters and referring to payments to “hackers who had worked in Europe under Kremlin direction against the Clinton campaign.” A January Stanford study found that “fabricated stories favoring Donald Trump were shared a total of 30 million times, nearly quadruple the number of pro–Hillary Clinton shares leading up to the election.” Also, in November, researchers at Oxford University published a report based on analysis of 19.4 million Twitter posts from early November prior to the election. The report found that an “automated army of pro-Trump chatbots overwhelmed Clinton bots five to one in the days leading up to the presidential election.” In March 2017, former FBI agent Clint Watts told Congress about websites involved in the Russian disinformation campaign “some of which mysteriously operate from Eastern Europe and are curiously led by pro-Russian editors of unknown financing.”

The Orbis report also refers specifically to the aim of the Russian influence campaign “to swing supporters of Bernie Sanders away from Hillary Clinton and across to Trump,” based on information given to Steele in early August 2016. It was not until March 2017, however, that former director of the National Security Agency, retired Gen. Keith Alexander, in Senate testimony said of the Russian influence campaign, “what they were trying to do is to drive a wedge within the Democratic Party between the Clinton group and the Sanders group.” A March news report also detailed that Sanders supporter’s social media sites were infiltrated by fake news, originating from “dubious websites and posters linked back to Eastern Europe,” that tried to shift them against Clinton during the general election.

John Mattes, a former Senate investigator who helped run the online campaign for Sanders, said he was struck by Steele’s report. Mattes said, Steele “was writing in real time about things I was seeing happening in August, but I couldn’t articulate until September.” It is important to emphasize here that Steele’s source for the change in plan was “an ethnic Russian associate of Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump [who] discussed the reaction inside his camp.”

A slew of other revelations has directly tied many of the key players in the Trump campaign—most notably Manafort, Page, Cohen, and Michael Flynn—who are specifically mentioned in the Orbis reports to Russian officials also mentioned in the reports. To take one example, the first report says that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was responsible for Russia’s compromising materials on Hillary Clinton, and now we have reports that Michael Cohen had contacted Peskov directly in January 2016 seeking help with a Trump business deal in Moscow. This was after Cohen received the email from Trump business associate Felix Sater saying “Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putin’s team to buy in on this.”

To take another example, the third Orbis report says that Manafort was managing the connection with the Kremlin, and we now know that he was present at the June 9, 2016 meeting with Trump, Jr., Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, and Rinat Akhmetshin, who has reportedly boasted of his ties to and experience in Soviet intelligence and counterintelligence. According to an Aug. 21 New York Times story, “Akhmetshin told journalists that he was a longtime acquaintance of Paul J. Manafort.”

The Orbis reports chronicle, and subsequent events demonstrate, that the Russian effort evolved over time, adapting to changing circumstances. When their attack seemed to be having an effect, they doubled down, and when it looked like negative media attention was benefiting Clinton, they changed tactics. The Orbis reports detail internal Kremlin frictions between the participants as the summer wore on. If the dossier is to be believed, the Russian effort may well have started as an anti-Clinton operation, and only became combined with the separate effort to cultivate the Trump team when it appeared Trump might win the nomination. The Russian effort was aggressive over the summer months, but seemed to back off and go into cover-up mode following the Access Hollywood revelations and the Obama administration’s acknowledgement of Russian interference in the fall. Perhaps they realized they might have gone too far and were possibly benefitting Clinton.

However, when Trump won, they changed again and engaged with Ambassador Kislyak in Washington to get in touch with others in the Trump transition team. As this process unfolded, control of operation on the Russian side passed from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to the FSB, and later to the presidential administration. It should be noted in this context, that the much-reported meetings with Ambassador Kislyak do not seem to be tied to the conspiracy. He is not an intelligence officer, and would be in the position to offer advice on politics, personalities and political culture in the United States, but would not be asked to engage in espionage activity. It is likewise notable that Ambassador Kislyak receives only a passing reference in the Steele dossier, and only having to do with his internal advice on the political fallout in the U.S. in reaction to the Russian campaign.

Of course, to determine if collusion occurred as alleged in the dossier, we would have to know if the Trump campaign continued to meet with Russian representatives subsequent to the June meeting. As mentioned, in February, the Times, CNN, and Reuters, reported that members of Trump’s campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian officials in the year before the election, according to current and former American officials. Subsequent reports cite receipt of intelligence from European security agencies reporting on odd meetings between Trump associates and Russian officials in Europe. And perhaps the best clue that there might be something to the narrative of meetings in summer 2016 was former CIA Director John Brennan’s carefully chosen phrase in front of the Senate intelligence committee about the contacts—“frequently, people who go along a treasonous path do not know they are on a treasonous path until it is too late.” This period will likely be the one most closely scrutinized by FBI investigators.

There is also information in the Steele reports that appears wrong or questionable. For example, the notion that Steele and his team could develop so many quality sources with direct access to discussions inside the Kremlin is worth serious skepticism. The CIA and other professional intelligence services rarely developed this kind of access despite expending significant resources over decades, according to published accounts. It is also hard to believe that Orbis could have four separate sources reporting on the alleged sexual incident at the Moscow hotel. The reputation of the elite hotel in the center of Moscow depends on the discretion of its staff, and crossing the FSB is not something taken lightly in Russian society. A source that could be so easily identified would be putting themselves at significant risk.

Further, additional information in the reports cannot be checked without the tools of a professional investigative service. Of course, since the dossier was leaked, and we do not have additional follow-up reports, we don’t know if Orbis would have developed other sources or revised their reporting accordingly as they were able to develop feedback. We also don’t know if the 35 pages leaked by BuzzFeed is the entirety of the dossier. I suspect not.

So, more than a year after the production of the original raw reports, where do we stand?

I think it is fair to say that the report is not “garbage” as several commentators claimed. The Orbis sources certainly got some things right—details that they could not have known prior. Steele and his company appear serious and credible.

One large portion of the dossier is crystal clear, certain, consistent, and corroborated. Russia’s goal all along has been to do damage to America and our leadership role in the world. Also, the methods described in the report fit the Russians to a tee. If the remainder of the report is largely true, Russia has a powerful weapon to help achieve its goal. Even if it is largely false, the Kremlin still benefits from the confusion, uncertainty and political churn created by the resulting fallout. In any regard, the administration could help cauterize the damage by being honest, transparent and assisting those looking into the matter. Sadly, the president has done the opposite, ensuring a Russian win no matter what. In any event, I would suspect the Russians will look to muddy the waters and spread false and misleading information to confuse investigators and public officials.

As things stand, both investigators and voters will have to examine the information in their possession and make sense of it as best they can. Professional investigators can marry the report with human and signals intelligence, they can look at call records, travel records, interview people mentioned in the report, solicit assistance from friendly foreign police and intelligence services, subpoena records and tie it to subsequent events that can shed light on the various details. We, on the other hand, will have to do our best to validate the information at hand. Looking at new information through the framework outlined in the Steele document is not a bad place to start.

Trump’s First U.N. Appearance Was a Clunker

Trump’s First U.N. Appearance Was a Clunker

by Fred Kaplan @ Slate Articles

President Trump got off to an underwhelming start at the U.N. General Assembly on Monday morning. He sat on a panel flanked by various diplomats, including Ambassador Nikki Haley, who introduced him before he delivered some brief remarks, and it would be charitable to describe the welcoming applause as “light.”

Then came the clunker. Haley had told the assembled that the new American president sees “tremendous potential” in the U.N.—a cold enough slap at an organization that’s been around for 72 years and, for all its flaws, has accomplished quite a bit. But Trump followed that dig with a face-splash of ice water, saying that the real “potential” he saw was “right across the street”—a reference to one of his East Side real-estate projects—and noted that the U.N.’s presence was what gave it such potential.

It’s so typical of Trump to view the rest of the world, even the official assembly of the world’s leaders, as a footnote to the saga of his own wealth.

Trump’s remarks, which he read from notes, were brief and inconsequential. U.N. reform was the topic on the agenda, and Trump spoke of the need to “focus more on people and less on bureaucracy” and to ensure that no one member-state “shoulders a disproportionate share of the burden … militarily or financially.”

In that last line, he may have flashed a glimpse of his “America First” theme, which is expected to shine front and center in his longer address to the General Assembly—his first as president—on Tuesday.

The issues facing the leaders and delegates from the 193 member-states this year are especially varied and complex: terrorism, climate change, cyberattacks, refugees, North Korean missile and nuclear tests, the chaos across the Middle East and North Africa, Russian threats to Ukraine, Chinese expansionism. And the question on the minds of many is whether this new eccentric president will step into America’s traditional leadership role or retreat to a mix of military unilateralism and diplomatic isolation—and if he does take a stab at leadership, whether he has the slightest talent for it.

Monday’s ceremonies held no high promises, and not just because of Trump’s tepid welcome. Bureaucratic reform generally tops an agenda when the heads of an organization—whether national, international, or corporate—don’t know how to grasp the substance of their crises. Yes, the U.N. is an inefficient maze with diffuse and cumbersome procedures. But sleeker organizational charts and zero-based budgeting aren’t going to solve the problems that the United Nations was founded to solve.

It is bizarre that, after Trump read his brief remarks Monday morning, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said that when he can’t sleep at night, it’s because he’s worried about “bureaucracy.” This is a strange thing for the head of the U.N. to have on his mind when he should be worried and brooding about so many other things, including things that are not merely wasting money but killing people.

Guterres’ statement was reminiscent of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s obsession with management initiatives and reorganization schemes for Foggy Bottom. No one should be puzzled by any of this. In both cases, their bureaucratic mindsets reflect a lack of imagination, an impoverishment of ideas.

At a moment when the United Nations could play a major role at least as a prodding forum for creative negotiations, its managers seem to be engaged in little more than shuffling the deck chairs on a ship of fools.

Sofia Richie & Scott Disick Look Totally Smitten on Boat Trip

by Just Jared Jr @ Just Jared Jr.

Sofia Richie and Scott Disick flaunted some major PDA during their boat ride today! The reality TV star and the model only had eyes for each other as they enjoyed the water with their pals on Saturday (September 23) in Miami. Sofia showcased her her toned midriff in a black crop tank and dark blue [...]

Jun 17, Wood Sandpiper | North American Birds | Birds of North America

by @ Birds of North America Blog

Wood Sandpiper is a Eurasian shorebird, that has been seen occasionally as a vagrant in North America. This medium size sandpiper can be found in grassy areas containing water.

No Pardoning This Offense

No Pardoning This Offense

by Jed Handelsman Shugerman @ Slate Articles

This piece was originally published on Shugerblog and Just Security.

After President Donald Trump pardoned former Sheriff Joe Arpaio last month, observers feared that the president was just warming up his pardon pen for members of his inner circle who may be targets of criminal investigations. Many legal experts have said there would be no recourse other than impeachment, but at least these pardoned defendants would lose their Fifth Amendment privileges against self-incrimination, and as a result they could be forced to testify against Trump in some forum.

Those experts are wrong on both counts. These defendants, if pardoned by the president, do not lose their Fifth Amendment privileges, precisely because presidential pardons affect only federal criminal liability but not state prosecution. Based on what we know now, all of these defendants could face state prosecution for many of the same alleged acts. Individuals pardoned by Trump may thus still claim they cannot be forced to say anything to incriminate themselves and that they remain exposed to criminal prosecutions at the state level.  

Some legal experts have doubted that states have jurisdiction over crimes committed in a federal presidential campaign, but they miss the bigger and longer-term picture of the Russia investigation, and they overlook the details of how that collusion likely happened.

I have argued before that in trying to block special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, Trump can’t escape the states. If Trump fires Mueller and his team, state attorneys general and state prosecutors can hire them. If Trump succeeds in pardoning the defendants or himself, state prosecutors can step in without violating the rule against double jeopardy because of the legal concept of “dual sovereignty”: States and the federal government have overlapping but separate sovereignty, and each can bring its own prosecutions for the same acts as long as those acts violate both federal and state laws. For example, in the Rodney King case, police officers were found not guilty in California state court, but they were later convicted in federal court for federal crimes that covered the same set of acts.

One major recent development is that Mueller and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman are talking and cooperating in their investigations. This legal background of dual sovereignty is what makes this news so important. Here’s why.

Double jeopardy under state law

Even if the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Fifth Amendment’s double jeopardy clause allows states to follow the feds with their own prosecutions, some states (including New York) have a special statute that can occasionally prevent a state from bringing its own prosecution after a federal prosecution has advanced to trial. In New York, a state statute prohibits separate prosecutions for “two offenses based on the same act or criminal transaction” in many cases, and the statute appears to apply to separate state and federal prosecutions, even though there are several exceptions.

The next question is when double jeopardy applies. You don’t need a full trial or conviction to count as a first prosecution. In 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court held that jeopardy attaches once a jury is sworn in (or for a bench trial, when the judge swears in the first witness). Of course those points in time are based on an interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, and states may interpret their statutes’ applicability differently.

These state statutes raise the possibility that Trump might, intentionally or unintentionally, issue pardons only after federal prosecutions have advanced to a certain stage. It is not hard to imagine his doing so with the defendants in those cases well aware in advance that he plans to pardon them (so they need not plea bargain or cooperate). Such scenarios can be eliminated if Mueller coordinates with Schneiderman, and if New York prosecutors go first. Then Mueller’s team can coordinate with New York prosecutors to work out a deal for these defendants to cooperate. The same coordination can work with other state prosecutors, as well, because many states may have jurisdiction to prosecute many of the crimes listed in the next section.

Possible state crimes

What are the strongest kinds of cases that state prosecutors could bring against Trump’s circle?

1. Tax fraud. Other major Mueller news is that he is working with the Internal Revenue Service, suggesting that the special counsel may already be moving toward tax fraud prosecutions starting with Paul Manafort, and probably Michael Flynn and anyone with unreported income. Considering how many Trump campaign figures may have hidden foreign income, tax fraud cases may be relatively strong and straightforward. The key point here is that if they violate federal tax laws by not reporting income, then they have most likely violated state tax laws as well. In fact, Georgetown Law’s Greg Klass has already wondered if Trump himself may have been violating New York tax laws for a long time in manipulating tax breaks.

2. Money laundering. Trump entities have been fined repeatedly for failing to abide rules to prevent money laundering and for their involvement in money laundering. There are serious concerns that the Trump Organization may have used real estate deals with Russian oligarchs to launder their assets, and the Trump Justice Department’s recent low-ball settlement in a case of Russian money laundering raises additional questions. Deutsche Bank, the only Western bank that continued to loan Trump money, is infamous for its own money laundering links to Russia and former Soviet states. Manafort is reportedly a target of Mueller’s money laundering investigation, and he probably isn’t the only one suspected. Mueller and Schneiderman are reportedly already cooperating in the money laundering portion of the investigations into Trump officials.

The U.S. Treasury Department describes three steps to money laundering:

[Step one,] the illegitimate funds are furtively introduced into the legitimate financial system. Then, the money is moved around to create confusion, sometimes by wiring or transferring through numerous accounts. Finally, it is integrated into the financial system through additional transactions until the “dirty money” appears “clean.”

New York state statutes also criminalize money laundering for these steps in Penal Law Art. 470. Trump’s entities cross several state lines, making those states’ laws potentially relevant too.

3. Conspiracy in computer hacking (and stolen property). Did any members or affiliates of the Trump campaign solicit or conspire with Russians to hack the Democratic National Committee’s computers and John Podesta’s emails? Congress has criminalized computer hacking in the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986. New York has similar criminal statutes for computer tampering (Public Laws 156.20, 156.25, 156.26, and 156.27, punishable by up to 15 years prison) and computer trespass (Public Law 156.10, punishable by up to four years in prison). In June 2016 in Trump Tower, Donald Trump Jr., Manafort, and Jared Kushner met with Russians, who allegedly brought opposition research material that may have been acquired through illegal hacking. One of these Russians has already testified before a grand jury.

Many states could bring prosecutions for computer hacking, because their jurisdictions can be based on the residence of the victims. If someone conspires in Maryland to murder someone in Virginia, Virginia has jurisdiction based on the victim’s residence. The same is true if someone in New York conspired to hack computers, and the victims were foreseeably in Virginia and Maryland, as well as in many other states.

There’s also a wild card: States criminalize the solicitation, possession, receipt, and aiding in the concealment of stolen property, so there may be a basis for treating the theft of valuable personal information and company documents as a kind of stolen property.

4. Conspiracy to violate privacy. There is already a strong civil lawsuit against the Trump campaign for allegedly conspiring in the violation of privacy rights through the Russian computer hacking and dissemination of emails. There’s also an immediate question of criminal liability. These same privacy allegations could be the basis for criminal enforcement of privacy protections, even though many states like New York have only narrow definitions of privacy violations under criminal law. Because the alleged conspiracy violated the privacy of so many victims in so many states, some states with more robust criminal protections of privacy rights will have jurisdiction.

5. Loan fraud and mortgage fraud. New York criminalizes loan fraud and mortgage fraud. Jared Kushner’s disastrous purchase of 666 Fifth Ave. for $1.6 billion in 2008 and his desperate effort to refinance it has generated many questions. One of them: How did Kushner manage to secure a $1.6 billion deal with only $50 million down? All of these transactions and attempted refinancing arrangements could raise the possibility of investigations into any potential fraud and quid pro quo bribery.

6. Quo warranto powers. Every state attorney general has the power to investigate “ultra vires” wrongdoing by corporations in his or her state and to dissolve those corporations, as a modern extension of the English “quo warranto” writ. Delaware and New York can investigate the Trump Organization for emoluments, as the Trump Organization is incorporated in those states. Other states like California have the power to investigate other entities like Trump hotels (as limited liability companies). This power does not itself involve criminal enforcement, but it does empower the states to investigate any fraud, which may turn into criminal prosecutions.

7. Witness tampering and obstruction of justice. Trump’s corrupt influence over the Russia investigation not only likely violates federal law. It also likely violates New York state law (Penal Law 195.05)

Perhaps a state prosecution for firing James Comey is a stretch, but there may be other acts—like the destruction of evidence, witness tampering, or lying to investigators—that would be closer to obstruction in New York or in other states. “Misprision of a felony,” which I have explained in this post is the federal crime that puts the vice president in jeopardy, may also apply in Virginia, but such a state charge also may be a stretch of a criminal statute that already is obscure and rarely charged.

Legal hurdles

Finally, are there any legal obstacles to this approach? One skeptic, Frank Bowman, suggested in Slate that the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause might be a barrier but offered no case law to support such an interpretation. The existence of the dual sovereignty doctrine and the precedents of federal and state prosecutions for the same act demonstrate that the Supremacy Clause has not limited these state powers. His questions are more about the politics and traditions of prosecutors, but if Trump is contemplating pardons to thwart justice, prosecutors in many states will have public opinion on their side, and many would find that the traditions of federalism and the rule of law more compelling than a tradition of deference to federal prosecutors. Sometimes federal pre-emption principles prevent a state from treading into federal territory, but I haven’t seen any evidence that Congress considered pre-empting state law in these areas.

There are questions about how state prosecutors can coordinate with federal prosecutors. In past cases of investigating and prosecuting organized crime, state and federal law enforcement often cooperated and coordinated closely. (And there may be ties to organized crime in this investigation). Grand jury testimony, even if it is kept secret from the general public, can be shared by federal prosecutors with state prosecutors. There is a general practice for state prosecutors to defer to federal prosecutors when the offense is primarily a federal one, and conversely, federal prosecutors have a general policy not to bring federal charges after a state has already prosecuted, called the Petite policy. But both sets of practices are based on norms and guidelines, with lots of exceptions. In these cases, if there is a question about Trump using federal pardons to impede the investigation, Mueller and Schneiderman (and perhaps other state prosecutors) have good reason to make exceptions here, and have justification for a very unusual step: a state prosecutor bringing the first charges involving the investigation of a U.S. president and his campaign.

Aug 8, Pigeons | Birds of Cuba | Birds seen in Cuba

by @ Birds of North America Blog

Pigeons are in the same family as doves and has all the same characteristics as doves too. The pigeon group on average is a larger bird than a dove and has the same appearance and plumage markings as the dove, birds of Cuba.

The Angle: Death Knell Edition

The Angle: Death Knell Edition

by Rebecca Onion @ Slate Articles

Narrowing paths: John McCain says he’s a “no” on the Graham-Cassidy bill, which means, Jim Newell writes, that the bill is in serious trouble. And rumored plans to buy off Lisa Murkowski would likely be in violation of the Constitution, as Brian Galle argues.

Why, though?: Fred Kaplan can see no reason why Trump would want to kill the Iran deal, except for the one the president won’t say out loud: Because Obama built it, he wants to break it.

Too good to be true: MoviePass, which offers unlimited tickets for a very low price per month, could actually work to rekindle millennials’ interest in seeing movies in theaters. Chris Lee reports that despite the product’s rocky start, MoviePass’ leadership is convinced everyone else making money off of movies will come to see things their way.

Thinking ahead: Here’s Annalee Newitz on the process she went through trying to write a plausible, interesting version of 2144 into existence. She started by assuming that lots of things might stay the same.

For fun: Kimmel vs. Cassidy, round 3.

Not even close,


Trump 'Kneel' Attack Gives His Base Reason to Stand

Trump 'Kneel' Attack Gives His Base Reason to Stand

by Jonathan Allen @ NBC News Top Stories

President Donald Trump is getting exactly what he wanted from a racially charged confrontation with professional athletes and sports team owners: a morale boost for his base and a fight with those who see the refusal to stand for the national anthem as an appropriate form of dissent.

Jun 13, Chimney Swift | Birds of Cuba | Birds seen in Cuba

by @ Birds of North America Blog

Chimney Swift is the most commonest swift found in North America. This plain grey coloured bird is seen over all areas of eastern North America, has been a vagrant in Cuba.

Cake Wreck

Cake Wreck

by Mark Joseph Stern @ Slate Articles

On Thursday afternoon, the Department of Justice filed an amicus brief in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Civil Rights Commission, a constitutional challenge to LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws. The DOJ urged the Supreme Court to rule that laws barring businesses from refusing to serve gay couples may violate the First Amendment’s free speech guarantee. Its brief is an exercise in cynical dishonesty, one that’s difficult to read as anything less than politicized bigotry dressed up in inane legalese.

Masterpiece Cakeshop centers around a Colorado statute that prohibits sexual orientation discrimination in public accommodations. In 2012, Charlie Craig and David Mullins asked Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips to make them a wedding cake. Phillips refused, explaining that he did not sell cakes to same-sex couples. Craig and Mullins filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which ordered Phillips to stop discriminating against gay people. Phillips appealed, alleging that the commission’s decision violated his First Amendment rights. The Colorado courts sided with the commission, but in June, the United States Supreme Court agreed to review the case.

Phillips alleges that Colorado is violating both his right to free speech and his right to free exercise of religion. The latter claim is frivolous: For decades, the Supreme Court has held that a neutral law of general applicability does not run afoul of the First Amendment if it imposes incidental burdens on religious freedom. The former claim should be frivolous, too: Courts have long assumed that states have an overriding interest in eradicating discrimination, and may require businesses to treat all customers equally without violating freedom of expression. But in recent years, anti-gay activist groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom have asserted that nondiscrimination laws infringe on free speech when they are used to protect same-sex couples.

ADF is representing Phillips, which is no surprise: It opposes LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws and has also argued for the criminalization of homosexuality and the mandatory sterilization of transgender people. Masterpiece Cakeshop is just another chapter in its long-standing effort to strip LGBTQ people of all legal protections.

It’s more shocking that the Justice Department is weighing in on this case. The DOJ’s involvement is utterly gratuitous, likely a political ploy designed to shore up support among President Donald Trump’s anti-LGBTQ base. Indeed, a close reading of the DOJ’s brief reveals that it makes no sense as anything other than partisan pandering. If its goal is to persuade the court, it will likely backfire: The brief’s dismissive attitude toward the dignity of same-sex couples will certainly alienate Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose vote will be necessary for ADF to triumph.

The DOJ’s basic argument is twofold. First, it says that baking a cake in exchange for money is “expressive conduct” and “association” that raises First Amendment concerns, and a state’s interest in protecting gay residents is not strong enough to justify “compelling” this “creative process” for same-sex couples. Put differently, Phillips doesn’t want to create a cake for a same-sex couple or to be associated with that couple’s wedding, and the First Amendment protects his right not to do so.

Even if we assume that baking a cake involves genuinely expressive conduct and association under the First Amendment—a highly contestable supposition—there’s a huge flaw in this logic. The Supreme Court has never held that for-profit businesses have a free speech right to discriminate against anybody. And for good reason: Carving out a First Amendment exception to nondiscrimination laws would blow a hole through the modern civil rights regime, fatally undermining legal protections for all minority groups.

Nondiscrimination laws, after all, regulate many forms of expression. Racist restaurateurs cannot put up a sign that reads “no blacks allowed.” Sexist bosses cannot make crude comments about women. Anti-Semitic professional photographers cannot refuse to shoot a bar mitzvah. The First Amendment protects freedom of association, but employers cannot refuse to associate with racial, religious, or sexual minorities. Private organizations like the Boy Scouts may have a constitutional right to discriminate against groups they dislike. For-profit businesses, though, must open their doors to everyone.

There is a principled libertarian argument to be made that nondiscrimination laws should not supersede businesses’ free speech rights. Barry Goldwater deployed this reasoning to explain his vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, insisting that the government should not force businesses to associate with certain people. But the courts have never adopted this argument, and the DOJ does not make it. Instead, the agency attempts to carve out a single exception to civil rights law to permit discrimination against same-sex couples.

Why? Homophobia, the brief asserts, is not as bad as racism. To bolster this claim, the brief cites a portion of Obergefell v. Hodges which states that “[m]any who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises.”

The brief conveniently excludes the remainder of this passage, probably because it contradicts the very argument the DOJ is attempting to make. Obergefell continues:

But when that sincere, personal opposition becomes enacted law and public policy, the necessary consequence is to put the imprimatur of the State itself on an exclusion that soon demeans or stigmatizes those whose own liberty is then denied. Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right.

Ironically, were the court to adopt the DOJ’s position, it would inflict the kind of harm that Obergefell forbade, demeaning same-sex couples by subjecting them to discriminatory rules.

Even worse, the brief does not explain why homophobia deserves special respect under the law. The Supreme Court has said that homosexuality is immutable, like race. Why, then, should animus toward same-sex couples be treated differently from animus toward interracial couples? And what about religious bigotry? Can a devout baker refuse to sell a cake to an interfaith couple, and can an atheist one say a Christian can’t buy cupcakes for a christening? Can a sexist baker refuse to serve a female customer? What if his misogyny is derived from religion? And why stop at a cake? Shouldn’t the preparation of other foods qualify as expressive conduct, too? Doesn’t every good or service involve some measure of expressive conduct or association that the First Amendment could theoretically protect?

In its brief, the DOJ implicitly raises all of these questions without answering them because it can’t answer them—not honestly, at least. The reality is that the courts cannot, with any logical coherence or consistency, deny civil rights protections to some groups but not others. Either nondiscrimination laws are constitutional or they aren’t. The First Amendment does not grant greater rights to homophobic bakers than racist or sexist ones. Plenty of bigoted business owners wish they could assert a constitutional privilege not to associate with specific groups. If the courts open the door to one, they’ll open the door to all. Shopkeepers do not have a special right to turn away gays from their stores.

The brief strives to avoid this problem because it is, at bottom, a political document. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently gave a speech to ADF thanking the organization for its “important work” defending “religious liberty.” Through Sessions, President Trump is discharging his obligation to appease the bigots in his base. The DOJ’s efforts, however, may prove counterproductive. This brief will delight the court’s reactionaries who favor religious supremacy and disdain gay rights. But it can only estrange Kennedy—who notably, has allowed an LGBTQ nondiscrimination policy to trump a First Amendment claim in the past. Kennedy is always eager to protect the “equal dignity” of same-sex couples; the DOJ now seeks to undermine it. The Trump administration might score political points with this brief, but it won’t win enough votes at the court.

“There’s No Office Left to Run For”

“There’s No Office Left to Run For”

by Isaac Chotiner @ Slate Articles

On this week’s episode of my podcast, I Have to Ask, I spoke with David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker. Remnick began editing the magazine in 1998; before then, he was a staff writer for the magazine and a Moscow correspondent for the Washington Post. His coverage of the fall of communism later became the book Lenin’s Tomb, which won the Pulitzer Prize. In addition to editing the magazine, Remnick, now 58, continues to write frequently on Russia, Israel, music, and Donald Trump. He also hosts the New Yorker Radio Hour. His most recent piece was a long profile of Hillary Clinton.

Below is an edited transcript of part of the show. In it, we discuss whether Hillary hatred has gone too far, the race versus class debate about Trump’s victory, and why Obama is cashing in on Wall Street. (Next week’s podcast will be the second half of our conversation.)

You can find links to every episode here, and the first half of the interview is also below, in audio form. Please subscribe to I Have to Ask wherever you get your podcasts.

Isaac Chotiner: What did you make of Hillary Clinton, and what did you make of her book?

David Remnick: Her previous books were almost willfully, assertively uninteresting. They were products. They were either to create an image or to reach out to a constituency or something like that.

She did what politicians had been doing since the year Z, since Andrew Jackson and the myths of the log cabin: Politicians try to create a mythos for themselves infused with the truth and true stories. They were boring books written by committee.

This book is pretty raw, and not just by Hillary Clinton standards. There’s no office left to run for. She certainly is not the first person to lose an election to write a book. A lot of people have lost elections and written a book. And it’s angry and it’s self-lacerating and it’s questioning. I thought there was a lot of humanity in it. A lot of people are so angry at what happened in the election, understandably—I think we share that—so at a loss when it comes to Donald Trump, that they just want to blame everything on her and tell her to shut up and go away and disappear from the political scene.

What did you make of her critique of the press?

When I was at the Washington Post, the legendary Ben Bradlee was the editor. Every time we got criticized in some way, he used to say, “Now, don’t get into a defensive crouch,” so I won’t. But I think the idea that the only thing that anybody ever covered about Hillary Clinton in this whole campaign was emails is just demonstrably wrong. But the larger points about email obsession, which was a colossal mistake. Make no mistake of it—she made a colossal mistake with that private email server for reasons we can mull over.

Although, in hindsight, it seems minor.

Exactly. Totally. Point well-taken. She’s seeing it all through the prism of, understandably, the behavior of the other guy, whose vacuousness and dishonesty and cynicism, his encouragement and an inflammation of the ugliest currents of American politics and psychology, are indisputable, to say nothing of Russian involvement in the election. We don’t know all the details of this, but even the frame of it is like some horrific movie. She’s writing in that atmosphere. I have to say people who are utterly dismissive of her and who just want her to go away—there’s something ugly about it.

There’s been a debate about why she lost. Broadly speaking, that debate has come down to people looking for racial and cultural explanations and people looking for economic explanations. I know some of your writers like George Packer have weighed in on this subject. Ta-Nehisi Coates has a big essay in the Atlantic about this. What have you made of that debate, and where do you find yourself?

To me, what it is is a list of empirical reasons. The question is how you cut it up into the pie chart of which is the dominant reason. There I have no great answer for you. Ta-Nehisi Coates believes that race is the predominant reason. I think it would be a caricature of his position to say he thinks it’s the only reason. Others are focused on other reasons. I don’t know how to carve that pie chart up. I don’t even know the dimension of some of the reasons, but I do know this: You have to start by admitting the following, that 40-odd percent of the population automatically votes Republican no matter who it is, whether it’s Donald Trump or Mitt Romney or Gorilla Monsoon, and 40-odd percent of the population votes for the Democrat no matter who it is, Barack Obama, Michael Dukakis, or …

Sean Penn.

… or Sean Penn. Yeah.

I can’t answer, Isaac, whether it’s 86 percent race and 14 percent misogyny and da, da, da Russia. I just don’t know. I don’t think you do, and I don’t think Ta-Nehisi or George or anybody really knows.

I do know that it’s very clear from empirical evidence and reporting and watching and listening and hearing that racism, misogyny, xenophobia, the harnessing of certain kinds of rage were exploited by the man who’s the president of the United States.

You have written a lot about race in America, going back many years. You’ve written a lot about John Lewis and Barack Obama. Did this fundamentally change the way you thought about it or thought about American history?

I think any sentient person, even the most optimistic, has to wrestle with the reality that ugliness and evil and prejudice are not going to disappear from the face of the Earth. What in history would tell us it would disappear entirely? Is America so exceptional that it can overcome a legacy of its original sins, slavery and then Jim Crow and Jim Crow redux, absolutely and completely? I don’t think so. I’m an optimist. If anything, the two books that I wrote about race—one about Muhammad Ali, one about Obama—can be criticized more from the side of me being too optimistic and writing into certain historical moments that had optimism written all over it than being a pessimist, but I think you have to grapple with that all the time.

What have you made of this new strain of writing at places like the New Yorker or the Atlantic, writing about race in a different way, even when I was growing up, which was more recent than when you were growing up? (Sorry, that sounded aggressive.)

It’s OK. I think what it is is a function of having more African American writers at places like the New Yorker. When I first got here as a writer, there was the late Jervis Anderson, who wrote a biography of Bayard Rustin and a very good book about Harlem. Hilton Als followed. Jamaica Kincaid had written for the New Yorker. There had been black writers, but as staff writers, as real presences now on the web as well as in print, it was de minimis. I think you can look around at other publications and say the same.

This is not by way of patting myself or ourselves on the back, but there’s just more. Among those African American voices, they disagree. Kelefa Sanneh does not agree in all ways with Jelani Cobb or Vinson Cunningham or Alexis Okeowo or Doreen St. Félix or a lot of people who write for us, but that’s why you do this. That’s why you seek out people who are not your lunch buddies at the college you went to to come write.

What have you made of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ writing—especially as you said about yourself was sort of fundamentally optimistic?

That Ta-Nehisi is fundamentally an optimist?

No, you said that about your writing.

He was on the first broadcast of the New Yorker Radio Hour. That was the conversation we had. It was in the wake of his second book. I think Ta-Nehisi is a terrific, terrific writer. If you ask me about competition with the Atlantic, of course, I’m jealous of Ta-Nehisi Coates. Any sane person would be. It doesn’t mean I have to agree with him in every groove.

I guess the thing I was thinking about was that when I was growing up, that when you read things by liberal writers or conservative writers about race in America, it always had this tone of “things are going to get better.” There was this optimism about where we’re going. I think the dialogue has really changed.

I think it has gotten better. When you press Ta-Nehisi on the overall, I think he thinks things have gotten better. It’s just a question of what kind of time period are you talking about? Ta-Nehisi is an extremely intelligent man. He knows very well where things have gotten better, but he also knows how to read prison statistics. He knows very well the facts of where we are dreadful in this country, still, on matters of race.

You obviously have written a lot about Obama, spent a bit of time with him. Did Trump’s election and just what we’ve seen in America and American politics in the last two years—

It’s a repudiation in some quarters. Again, we’re talking about what the margin of difference is in an election. Let’s not talk about it as the nation was 100 percent pro-Obama and then went 100 percent pro-Trump. Let’s stipulate that in the beginning, some part of the pie chart that we’re talking about has to do with some percentage of people who are rebelling against eight years of a black president. Ta-Nehisi was writing about this.

Does it make you change the way you look at Obama and Obama-ism that this could follow him, about what he was able to do as a political figure or wasn’t able to do?

How do you mean? What specifically?

I think a lot of people like myself thought that after 2008, it would be very difficult, that the country was in a place and that he represented a brand of politics that following it up with someone like Trump was unlikely to happen. I think I was very naïve in that view. But in some ways I was thinking about this in the context of Obama giving these speeches to Wall Street, which I’m sure you’ve—

I read about it in Slate this morning.

Oh, was it in Slate? Thanks for the plug, but it does make me think that he represents a technocratic style of government and politics to some degree. He also has something else to him that in some way is insufficient to the current moment.


Not so much ideologically. Maybe just tonally and that you need a certain sort of populism, which is obviously a very broad word.

It’s a hugely broad word. It ranges from Huey Long and Donald Trump and some really ugly figures in American history. I think it’s a little racially coded, too, to someone who might do better at a factory-floor rally in Scranton. Is Joe Biden a populist, really? It doesn’t seem to me he is. Does he have a slightly better rap when it comes to working-class people? Maybe. I don’t think that makes him a populist.

Again, let’s keep one thing in mind: Donald Trump won. Donald Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million votes. He won the Electoral College election on the margins in the states that we know. I think we should, those of us who have the opportunity in the press or in civil society and do what we can … in the case of the press is to put pressure, to put pressure on hatred, to expose what’s wrong, all the things that we’re supposed to do. But let’s not think that the country itself has gone from one extreme of goodness and beauty and milk and honey and light to something polar opposite. This is political struggle. This is political struggle, political argument. We lost colossally. It’s ugly, and the results are yet to be known and could be just catastrophic in some ways, but this happens in politics. This just happens to be the struggle of our time.

Has this changed the way you think about Obama or his style of politics? Granting that this is around the margins, and Trump only got 46 percent, but just the moment we’re in—

Would I prefer that Obama be heroic in all ways and right on all questions? Sure. It would be great if all he did was do good works now, but I don’t see any president doing that. With the exception for the most part of Jimmy Carter, they all cash in. It’s disappointing.

Does it surprise you about Obama?

I don’t think Obama was immune to lures of the new class of wealth. I think he’s very interested in Silicon Valley, stars, and show business, and sports, and the rest. He finishes the presidency, and the next thing you know, he’s on a private island with Richard Branson. That doesn’t make him John Lewis.

Look, this is what these guys do, and it’s disappointing. It’s impure.

The Richard Branson thing, I was surprised.

It’s not just Richard. That’s the circle. I’ll tell you this: It’s overrated in the literary sense because of the role it played in politics, but he wrote a very good book as a young man. It was a meld of—what would you call it, memoir? A fictionalized memoir, and pushed into the shape of this becoming story. The second book was just an ordinary political book by what I thought was—and I still do think—a very decent liberal. He has the chance to write the first good presidential autobiography. People say that Ulysses S. Grant did with Mark Twain’s help, but it’s probably kind of overrated, and all the rest of them are mostly garbage.

He could do a great service by writing a great book and not do it with speechwriters and teams and all the rest. I’d love to see him write something that grapples not only with his place in history and racial progress and all the rest, but even the most difficult questions and the most detailed. Whether it’s health care or Syria, we’re still wrestling with it—questions of intervention, nonintervention, how we deal with the disadvantage in this country. He could make a great contribution by writing a serious book or series of book. I hope it’s not just a product.

The way you said Syria to me just now, I sense that maybe you think that that’s a place where he needs to address his legacy and what did or didn’t happen under his term. Is that how you feel, or am I overreading it?

I think he has to. I think, even if in the end you agree with what he did and did not do, you have to also agree that when you have a situation in which hundreds of thousands of people are killed—how many refugees? A million refugees, the destabilization not only of the Middle East but Europe essentially and Europe’s politics—

I think here too.

The empowerment of Russia and Russian power, that can’t be considered a good outcome. What’s the rationale for nonintervention? It’s clearly in the wake of Iraq. We’re reacting to our justified self-disgust with Iraq and in a more complicated way with Afghanistan, but a true grappling with that from the person who made the series of decisions would be of value. It doesn’t solve anything. It doesn’t bring back the dead. It doesn’t undo the decisions and nondecisions, but that would be of some importance.

Dove’s Class | Dove's Bodies

Dove’s Class | Dove's Bodies

Dove's Bodies

Dove’s class is an amazing energetic group experience, consisting of aerobic muscle sculpting drills.

The Angle: I, Radical Edition

The Angle: I, Radical Edition

by Rebecca Onion @ Slate Articles

Flying solo: Donald Trump has been talking about North Korea like he alone has the power to defend our allies or launch a pre-emptive strike. Such actions would constitute an impeachment-worthy violation of the War Powers Act, Bruce Ackerman writes. In fact, Trump should probably start talking to Congress about North Korea right now.

My extremist twin: In the latest installment of his video series on being a Muslim in America, Aymann Ismail talks to a young man who radicalized and feels like he’s looking into a mirror.

Give us our due: Meteorologist Mike Smith wants you to know: Weather forecasting in 2017 is actually really, really great.

Sounds familiar: Overprepared, sincere woman vs. blowhard jerkface? Battle of the Sexes is a serious election 2016 triggerfest, Rachel Withers warns.

Honest art: Benjamin Frisch was a caricaturist in an amusement park. He thinks it’s one of the most difficult customer service jobs out there.

For fun: Boy, Nic Cage has been busy.

Gotta pay The Man,


Merkel’s Legacy

Merkel’s Legacy

by Isaac Chotiner @ Slate Articles

This Sunday, German voters are expected to comfortably re-elect Angela Merkel as their Chancellor. But Merkel’s popularity in Germany should not overshadow how unsettled the continent’s politics remain. The German far-right is expected to garner its highest vote totals since the rise of Nazism, and the European project remains hotly contested, facing a number of challenges: Vladimir Putin, a refugee crisis, Brexit, and the aftershocks of the financial crash.

To discuss all this, I spoke by phone recently with William Drozdiak, the former foreign editor of the Washington Post and author of a new book, Fractured Continent: Europe’s Crisis and the Fate of the West. During the course of our conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, we discussed the rise of the far-right in Germany, Merkel’s successes and failures as a bulwark against darker strains of European populism, and how the fraught history of Germany affects its role in Europe.

Isaac Chotiner: People tend to view Merkel as the only thing standing between western democracy and the abyss, but how much do you think the different crises facing Europe are actually the result of her actions, and German actions more broadly?

William Drozdiak: The fact is that she was left alone, basically, to solve all these problems with the absence of leadership from other European countries and even from the Obama administration. She’s dealing with the debt crisis. She singlehandedly had to negotiate the Greek situation with her finance ministers, and then Obama outsourced to her dealing with Putin on Ukraine. She had no support from the feckless leadership in France. She was just overwhelmed and literally exhausted when I saw her.

But the Germans did make big mistakes. I think they pressed too hard on austerity and so now the income gap between North and South in Europe is worse than ever. They did not have a coherent policy on Ukraine because a lot of Europeans, even though they went along with sanctions, were grumbling about all the lost trade and, indeed, even within Germany that was the case. On Brexit, they could have had a deal in which they could have talked David Cameron back from doing his referendum, but not enough was done to let him off the hook. A lot of these problems, I think, resulted from basically Merkel just being overwhelmed.

On refugees, she showed great moral and humanitarian courage, but she hadn’t thought through the consequences, and she didn’t have any support, or much to speak of, from other European leaders. So as a result, you had this huge influx of people coming into Germany, and the Eastern countries, like Poland and Hungary, refusing to take any refugees. Germany stuck with 1 million and now you have this right-wing, xenophobic backlash, which is fueling the rise of the neo-Nazi party, Alternative für Deutschland, which may get more than 10 percent in the election this Sunday.

There seems to be this weird situation where the Europeans don’t want America to be too involved, they resent German power, and yet no other countries step up. How do you think Merkel views having to take on this role?

The reason why Merkel was ambivalent about taking the reins and showing dominant, forceful leadership, is that Germans are very uncomfortable in wielding too much power. They know how much resentment that fuels with their neighbors, partly from the history and the legacy of the war. As you see now, Poland is raising the issue of war reparations with Germany, so that relationship is really going south. The Germans are very nervous about being too arrogant and bullying. They really shy away from the exercise of power and for 70 years, they’ve outsourced their security to the United States. Now there’s a sense of being adrift because, for the first time, they have an American president who treats Europe more as a commercial rival than a strategic ally. That’s why she says we have to take our destiny in our own hands, but Germans are reluctant to do that.

How do you understand Merkel’s refugee decision? What do you think drove it?

Her personal background plays an enormous role in this. She was raised by a Lutheran pastor who ran a disabled center, who drilled in her every day, “The most important thing you can do is to help people who are in need.”

Unless they’re Greek.

She woke up on this Saturday and she couldn’t reach other leaders and she saw the horrible scenes in the Budapest train station and she just said, “We have to let them in.” She opened the gates and let them come into Germany. Initially it was applauded by the German people. They were greeting the refugees as they arrived in the Munich train station etc. But then the backlash started setting in and saying, “Well, wait a minute. Where does all this end? Are we going to have a million people flooding in?” I think that the fact that she hadn’t worked out a strategy to deal with this was a big part of her problem.

Why hasn’t it hurt her more politically, even if it has helped the far-right?

Well, I think a lot of people admired her and respected her for doing that and showing such humanitarian courage, but they also started grumbling after a few months saying, “Hey, wait a minute. Hasn’t she thought through the consequences?” Then when it started being reflected in the polls, she started adopting a much stricter line on immigration, deporting those who were clearly economic refugees and only allowing those who suffered political persecution to stay. That basically helped her regain the momentum in the polls and regain control over her party, but there was a time there where a lot of people thought that she was going to be forced to the brink of resignation.

To broaden this out a little, where do you think Europe is today compared to where it was several years ago? We have a lot of new leaders, and we have Brexit.

Right, I think there’s a certain degree of complacency and even cautious optimism that has settled over Europe in recent months. There has been a positive economic recovery in many places, including Spain, over the last few months, and so people think, “Aha, the crisis is ending and Europe is coming out of this.” But I would argue that this is very fragile and could fall apart very quickly.

The political landscape is very fragmented. The negotiations with Britain are really going to turn ugly and poisonous. The North–South economic gap is worse than ever. The argument had been that a single European currency would create convergence. If anything, it’s done just the opposite. Then you have this political gap between the East and the West with Poland and Hungary cracking down on dissent, on the free press, on an independent judiciary, adopting what they say is an illiberal form of democracy, which is at odds with European Union values. And then on Oct. 1, let’s not forget, there’s an important vote on Catalonian separatism. If that is more than 50 percent, they said within 48 hours they’re going to declare an independent state and that will feed the separatist movements in Scotland and elsewhere.

Nobody is paying attention to this because they’ve all got North Korea on their minds, but I think this could blow up in a big way, particularly if there’s a surprise in the German election on Sunday. Half the people say, according to the polls, that they haven’t made up their minds. If the neo-Nazi party scores more than 10 percent, that will be a real shock because under the German system, they will then receive government financial support. If there are a continuing wave of terrorist attacks and problems with these refugees, it’s going to feed this—for the first time since Hitler, we [might have] a neo-Nazi party in the German Parliament. That’s kind of scary.

There was hope after Emmanuel Macron was elected in France that Germany would start to go easier on European countries as a reward for the French not choosing Marine Le Pen, and because, as the thinking went, Merkel would recognize that she needed to lighten up on the austerity to prevent this sort of rise in populism.

You started this conversation by saying Merkel was forced into this a little bit against her will, but do you think she has a sense of how Germany has helped cause these problems and why a somewhat new approach on economic issues on the continent is needed?

I think, first of all, this will be her last term. In a way, she is going to be using this to establish her legacy. She realizes that what has been driving her is that she wants Europe to move forward. The question will be whether she challenges people within her party and even her own voting constituency to say, “Look, in order to save Europe, we are going to have to change our policies dramatically.” Macron has sided, basically, with the other southern states who are saying, “If you’re going to save Europe from populist nationalism, you need to do everything you can to create jobs, especially for young people, and cast aside this austerity drive.”

The German view has been, well, we can’t. They have to engage in austerity to reform their economies, otherwise we’re just going to waste this money that we’re throwing at them. So there’s a lot of that sentiment in Germany. A lot of Germans, because it’s an aging population, say, “We’re trying to save for our retirement and meanwhile we see the Greeks still retire at the age of 55 and sail around the Aegean on their yachts, and here we have to work until 67.” So there’s a lot of resentment that has built up.

It’s going to be a real challenge after this election to see what Merkel does in terms of building her legacy, and she has said on repeated occasions, “I want to establish Europe on firmer ground.” If Macron fails, I think she realizes that this will bring back Le Pen or somebody even worse on the populist nationalist front. She told me that France’s weakness is one of Germany’s biggest problems.

What did you make of her?

She’s shy, but she has a very impish sense of humor in talking about other leaders such as Putin and even George W. Bush and others. She doesn’t say anything undiplomatic, but she loves to laugh. When I saw her, what struck me was just the sense of exhaustion that is weighing down on her after 12 years in power.

What did she say about Putin?

That he either continues to lie congenitally or just refuses to accept reality. She said that in a lot of the conversations she has with him, he just engages in this persistent lying. She would say, “Look, you have troops in Eastern Ukraine.” And he’d go, “Absolutely not.” She’d say, “We have proof.” Once she shows proof—“Here are pictures of Russian soldiers” etc.—he’d finally say, “Well, yes, maybe a little bit.” But that’s time and time again, she says, that he just lies systematically so you can’t trust him or depend on him in any way.

Trump Says Dreamers “Have Nothing to Worry About”

Trump Says Dreamers “Have Nothing to Worry About”

by Mark Joseph Stern @ Slate Articles

President Trump tweeted an odd reassurance Thursday morning to the DACA beneficiaries whose lives he recently threw into uncertainty. Just two days earlier, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the end of the policy, to come after a six-month phase-out. Trump informed Dreamers “that are concerned about your status during the 6 month period” that “you have nothing to worry about - No action!”

Some commentators quickly slammed the tweet as a misleading falsehood; MSNBC’s Chris Hayes called it “dangerous and irresponsible,” and the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman claimed it was untrue. But Trump isn’t necessarily lying. If Dreamers follow the guidelines laid out Tuesday by the Department of Homeland Security, they can maintain their Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program status through at least the next six months. However, these rules—laid out in a memo and FAQ—are rather dense. On Wednesday, I spoke with DHS press secretary David Lapan to unpack the details of the new timeline. Here is a clearer FAQ outlining the parameters of DACA’s wind-down, which will be carried out by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the DHS agency responsible for implementing the policy.

I am eligible for DACA and submitted my application last month. Will USCIS process it?

Yes. USCIS will process all new DACA applications that were accepted as of Sept. 5. Your DACA status will last for two years, as usual.

I don’t have DACA yet, but I’m eligible. Can I still apply?

No. USCIS began rejecting all new applicants from Sept. 5 onward.

I have DACA status, but it expires sometime in the next six months. Can I apply for a renewal?

Yes, but you must apply soon. USCIS will process renewal requests made by individuals whose DACA status expires between now and March 5, 2018. But it will only process applications received by Oct. 5, 2017. The window is closing fast.

If I meet these criteria and apply for a renewal, is USCIS required to grant it?

No, but barring another major policy shift, it almost certainly will. DACA is technically a “discretionary determination” meaning that, in theory, USCIS agents can deny your application if they choose to. In practice, though, USCIS has granted DACA status to everyone who is eligible and provides the necessary documentation. Currently, the agency only promises to “adjudicate” renewal applications “on an individual, case-by-case basis.” But it has not indicated that it will begin denying applications arbitrarily.

I have DACA and my status won’t expire until 2019. Will USCIS cancel it before then?

Probably not. USCIS shouldn’t cancel any existing DACA statuses without cause, though the Trump administration argues that it can.

What would give USCIS cause to cancel my DACA status?

Dreamers who are convicted of a felony, a “serious misdemeanor,” or three “other misdemeanors” may lose their DACA status. A serious misdemeanor includes domestic violence, sexual abuse or exploitation, burglary, unlawful possession or use of a firearm, drug distribution or trafficking, and driving under the influence. It also encompasses any crime for which an individual is sentenced to imprisonment for more than 90 days, not including a suspended sentence. USCIS can also revoke DACA status if it concludes that you “pose a threat to national security or public safety.” The Trump administration has asserted broad leeway to detain and deport Dreamers it deems are dangerous.

My DACA status expires on March 1, 2018. If I renew now, will it be extended through March 1, 2020?

No. USCIS will start the clock as soon as your renewal request has been granted. If your request is granted on Dec. 15, 2017, for example, it will expire on Dec. 15, 2019.

My DACA status expires on March 6, 2018. Can I renew it now?

No. You cannot renew your DACA status if it expires after March 5, 2018.

What will happen to me when my status expires?

You will lose your work permit. If you attend a public college, you may lose in-state tuition or be expelled altogether, depending on your state. It is not yet clear whether the military will discharge enrolled DACA beneficiaries. You will also be subject to deportation. USCIS will not voluntarily provide your information to immigration enforcement agents. But if these officers ask for your information, USCIS will give it to them. The White House has said that former Dreamers will not be “a priority for deportation.”

I previously received approval to travel out of the country. Will DHS still honor it?

Possibly, but there’s no guarantee. USCIS has declared that DACA beneficiaries with permission to leave and re-enter the country—known as “advance parole”—will “generally retain the benefit until it expires.” But it added that Customs and Border Protection “will retain the authority it has always exercised in determining the admissibility of any person presenting at the border.” Moreover, USCIS may “revoke or terminate an advance parole document at any time.” This ominous language suggests that Dreamers should try to remain in the United States if possible.

My DACA status lasts through 2019, and I would like to apply for advance parole to leave the country next year. Can I?

No. USCIS will not grant any new advance parole. Dreamers who leave the country without permission may be denied re-entry and could see their DACA status permanently revoked.

I applied for advance parole but haven’t heard back yet. Might it still be approved?

No. USCIS will close all pending applications for advance parole and refund the fees.

What is the Trump administration’s advice for DACA beneficiaries whose statuses will expire in 2018?

In the administration’s talking points, DHS urges Dreamers to “prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States” once their status expires.



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Trump’s Real Campaign

Trump’s Real Campaign

by William Saletan @ Slate Articles

Every time President Trump and his aides deny secret transactions with Russians, we find out later that they were lying. First it was the December 2016 phone conversation about sanctions between Russia’s U.S. ambassador and Trump’s then–incoming national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Then it was the June 2016 meeting, based on a promise of dirt that could be used against Hillary Clinton, between Russian government emissaries and Don Jr., Jared Kushner, and Trump’s then–campaign manager, Paul Manafort. Along the way, we discovered Manafort’s Putin-supporting work, additional Russian meetings with Kushner, and much more. We never know what the New York Times or the Washington Post will find next. All we know, from consistent experience, is that Trump’s people are lying.

The latest news, broken by reporters for the Post and Times, is that from September 2015 to January 2016, as Trump was running for president, he was also trying to get approval from the Russian government to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. This exposes one more lie: Trump’s routine declaration, made at least five times during his campaign, transition, and presidency, that he had “nothing to do with Russia” as a businessman. Now Trump and his company have retreated to a new alibi. They say Trump dropped the project because he didn’t get Russian approval, and that’s the end of the story. But it isn’t.

Trump has been trying to build a hotel in Moscow for decades. Until this week, the most recent attempt his company had acknowledged was in 2013. But now, thanks to pressure from congressional Russia investigators, the Trump Organization has coughed up emails and a statement about the project. Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, confirms that he talked to Trump about the project three times and that in October 2015, Trump signed a letter of intent to move forward with it. Trump’s business team had an investor and a licensing plan. They talked to architects and sought financing.

But they needed one more thing: help from Vladimir Putin’s government. On Nov. 3, 2015, Cohen’s business associate, Felix Sater, told Cohen in an email: “I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected. … I will get all of Putin’s team to buy in on this.” Two months later, ostensibly at Sater’s request, Cohen wrote to Putin’s aide, Dmitry Peskov, requesting “assistance” in “arranging meetings with the appropriate individuals” to facilitate the project. In a statement to congressional investigators, Cohen writes that he sent the email to Peskov because “the proposal would require approvals within the Russian government that had not been issued.”

These emails debunk the White House spin that Trump was a passive recipient of overtures from the Russian government, which was a retreat from the previous White House spin that the June 2016 meeting was only about adoptions—which was a retreat from the White House’s initial denials of secret contact with Russia. (Get ready for the next plot twist: NBC News reported Thursday afternoon that in Manafort’s notes from the June meeting, the word “donations” appears near a reference to the Republican National Committee.) These new emails show that Trump, in a business context, was reaching out to Russia.

So now Trump’s defenders have concocted yet another alibi. The approvals sought from Peskov “were never provided,” Cohen writes. “In late January 2016, I abandoned the Moscow proposal because I lost confidence that the prospective licensee would be able to obtain the real estate, financing and government approvals necessary to bring the proposal to fruition.” And that, he insists, is the end of the story.

But it’s not an end. It’s a loose end: Cohen and the Trump Organization are asking us to believe that Trump, having angled throughout his career to build in Moscow, dropped this project and turned away for lack of Russian government approval. That makes no sense. If there’s money to be made, and if what you lack is a relationship with the host government—illustrated in this case by Cohen’s use of a public email address to contact Peskov—then the next logical step is to cultivate a relationship. And that’s exactly what Trump proceeded to do.

Trump has long spoken kindly of Putin. But that fall, he escalated his flattery. He called Putin “a nicer person than I am” and “a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.” “I’ve always had a good feeling about him,” said Trump. In December 2015, Trump denied there was “any evidence” that Putin had arranged the deaths of journalists. “At least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country,” Trump told Joe Scarborough. He added: “Our country does plenty of killing also.” The flattery didn’t end in January, when Cohen says the project was abandoned. Trump continued to praise Putin as “a strong leader” and to deny evidence of Putin’s complicity in political killings.

In June 2016, when Don Jr. received the offer of Russian dirt on Clinton, it came from an agent of Aras Agalarov, a Russian oligarch who had worked with Trump on a separate proposal in 2013 to build a Moscow tower. The Agalarov proposal was nominally “on hold” during Trump’s presidential campaign, but Agalarov’s company sent a representative to the June 2016 meeting with Don Jr., Kushner, and Manafort. In other words, these real-estate deals are never dead.

The disclosure of Trump’s latest bid for a Moscow tower confirms that he was still courting Russian business and help from Russia’s government, even as he ran for president. Everything that followed—the June meeting, Trump’s flattery of Putin, Trump’s refusal to accept the U.S. intelligence assessment of Russia’s interference in the election—has to be understood in that light. We don’t yet know where the story ends. But it certainly didn’t end in January 2016.

Welcome Back, Congress

Welcome Back, Congress

by Jim Newell @ Slate Articles

Congress returns from its summer vacation this week with a long list of straightforward legislative tasks it needs to complete to keep the country’s trains running on time.

You should be terrified.

In addition to reauthorizing various federal agencies and programs, Congress’ most pressing tasks will be funding the government and raising the debt ceiling by the end of the month. If the former doesn’t happen, we’ll face the first government shutdown since 2013; if the latter doesn’t happen, the creditworthiness of the United States will go to the dump, and with it, the economy.

At the moment, Hurricane Harvey seems to have taken some of the fire out of certain actors’ desire for brinksmanship. And the need to pass a disaster relief package has provided congressional leaders with some potent tactical options for moving the rest of the agenda through with it. The only thing that could change this sudden détente is … the brief passage of time, when our nation’s fine legislators and president forget about Harvey and decide they want to fight each other to the death again.

These are some of the key variables that will determine whether Congress can get through the month smoothly, or at least smoothly for Congress.

Will President Trump agree to delay his fight for border wall money?

Our main man is sick and tired of the delays and wants his wall, and he needs the American taxpayer to pony up for it.

Two weeks ago at his Phoenix rally, Trump said that he would be willing to shut down the government if Congress did not appropriate wall money in the September funding fight. Harvey, though, may have given him an out from that threat: He can secure disaster funding from Congress and take that as his “win” for the month instead. This is what Congress, and members of his administration, seems to be urging him to do. Even the far-right House Freedom Caucus recognizes that shutting down the government over a pet project amid a still-unfolding national crisis in Texas would be poor stewardship of the country.

All signs point toward the White House agreeing to sign a three-month stopgap funding bill without wall money. The shutdown fight would be postponed, then, to December, when Congress will engage in a larger appropriations battle over the rest of the fiscal year’s funding. (Though a shutdown in December would still not be “fun” for the country, at least it wouldn’t be tied up with a far more dangerous debt ceiling fight.)

The only thing that could derail this defusing of tensions is Trump changing his mind in an instant. Who’s to say that on the day Congress plans to move its stopgap bill, Trump won’t tweet a veto threat at 6:30 a.m. because some dingbat on Fox & Friends suggested he might look weak? You can’t say that. I can’t say that. No one can say that.

How seriously does Speaker Paul Ryan take Freedom Caucus threats?

The great thing about bipartisan legislation—such as either a “clean” stopgap spending bill, or a “clean” debt ceiling hike, meaning bills that aren’t mucked up with extra provisions—is that leaders don’t need to worry about appeasing irritating voting blocs within their caucus in order to get a majority of votes. When Speaker Paul Ryan was trying to pass party-line legislation to repeal Obamacare, he was left to the whims of the Freedom Caucus, and those guys know how to wield their leverage. If you have the votes of a whole other party to play with, you don’t need to worry about servicing 40 or so ideologues.

The only leverage those ideologues can wield, then, is threatening the speaker’s job.

Some Freedom Caucus members have threatened that if Ryan were to move a “clean” debt ceiling bill to the floor—i.e., one without corresponding reforms or spending cuts, like the most conservative in his party want—he might not be able to rely on the Freedom Caucus’ support for his job. Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, in an interview with the Washington Post last week, warned leaders against logrolling Harvey relief and a debt ceiling hike into the same package, which leaders are very much thinking about doing. “The Harvey relief would pass on its own,” Meadows said, “and to use that as a vehicle to get people to vote for a debt ceiling is not appropriate.”

Ryan could bring a clean debt ceiling bill (and whatever’s attached to it, like Harvey aid) to the floor and likely pass it with the aid of Democrats’ votes. It would save him a lot of drama, but it would hurt his standing among conservatives. It’s his choice to make.

Will Democrats make demands?

We sort of assume that Democrats won’t go out of their way to be annoying on these must-pass bills. Usually if a “clean” bill, for either a continuing resolution or a debt ceiling increase, is on the table, they’ll vote yes. It’s not in their nature to push for brinksmanship, especially on the debt ceiling.

Two things, though.

Democrats understand that they have leverage on the funding bill. If there’s a shutdown, voters will most likely lay blame on the unified governing party for incompetent management. And though shutdowns suck, they’re not the end of the world. So Democrats have all the incentive to make demands of their own, at the very least to apply countervailing pressure against Republican demands.

Breaching the debt ceiling would be more akin to the end of the world, and Democrats are more hesitant to wield it as leverage because they understand that. But they also don’t want their votes to be taken for granted. And reasonably enough. Typically the governing party is the one that sucks it up and provides most of the votes for raising the debt ceiling. If Speaker Ryan comes to Democrats asking for a bailout because he can’t get his party in line, it makes good sense for Democrats to demand something in return.

In my conversations with Democratic aides this week, they’re keeping their powder dry, saying that they’ll make decisions on how to play this once Republicans come forward with an offer. One point they make is that they don’t want to provide free votes to lift the debt ceiling knowing that Republicans then will immediately pivot to blowing up the deficit via tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. I don’t know exactly what they can extract via this messaging—get Republicans to promise … not to pursue their signature legislative goal of tax cuts?—but they will at least try to create the appearance that their “yes” votes can’t be assumed. Still, it seems difficult to imagine that Democrats would really try to play hardball over the debt ceiling in the end. They’re Democrats!

How to Stop the Panic Over Violent Crime

How to Stop the Panic Over Violent Crime

by Rebecca McCray @ Slate Articles

Donald Trump wants to save us from violent crime. From promising to “liberate our communities” from cartel violence, to vowing to “send in the feds” to crack down on homicide rates in Chicago, to repeatedly (and incorrectly) claiming the murder rate in the U.S. is the highest it’s been in 47 years, the president—with Attorney General Jeff Sessions at his side—has vowed to put an end to “American carnage.”

The trouble with Trump’s posturing is that there is no national crime wave. This week’s data on projected crime rates for 2017 from the Brennan Center for Justice, which anticipates a slight decrease in overall and violent crime rates in 30 major cities, is a good reminder that it’s essential to take the long view when it comes to crime statistics. Using one or two years of data to make policy changes, claim victory, or incite anxiety in a frightened public doesn’t make sense—especially when overall crime rates remain at historic lows.

The panic over rising crime didn’t come out of thin air. In 2015 and 2016, violent crime rates, specifically murder rates, did rise slightly overall. According to data from 30 major cities analyzed by the Brennan Center for Justice, that rise can be attributed to upticks in violent crime in a handful of major cities, such as Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington. Naturally, those details—that the stats focused on 30 major metropolitan areas and that the increase only reflected an increase in a few of those—were set aside by Trump and much of the media in favor of alarmist headlines. That makes sense: A Trump campaign grounded in the reality that crime has been steadily falling for decades would have been far less compelling.

The same should be noted when considering the latest numbers from the Brennan Center. The organization predicts a 2.5 percent drop in the murder rate by the end of 2017 driven largely by declines in Houston, New York, and Detroit. Chicago, too, is forecasted to see its murder decline by 2.4 percent. The overall crime and violent crime rates are also likely to fall, per the Brennan Center’s analysis. These numbers, considered by themselves, seem like cause for celebration.

But the fluctuations in crime rates—and the variables that may or may not cause them—are notoriously fickle, and a year’s worth of data isn’t very instructive. Researchers and statisticians have struggled to agree on what’s caused the decline in crime rates that began in the early 1990s. Theories abound. It’s employment rates. It’s economic inequality. It’s lead abatement policies or divorce rates or mass incarceration. The only thing everyone seems to agree on is that there is no single variable we can point to: that myriad factors contribute to the ebb and flow of crime.

Further, crime rates are an inherently local issue. A focus on national trends risks overlooking the unique issues that influence crime in each city and county. Further, the Brennan Center’s data is again focused on just 30 major cities. When analyzing the crime rise between 2015 and 2016, Fordham law professor and statistician John Pfaff found that just 44 percent of the rise in murder rates over this time could be attributed to cities with populations larger than 250,000. In other words, it’s not possible to illustrate the entire picture of violent crime in the U.S. with an analysis that excludes smaller cities. It’s also worth noting that year-to-date data projections like the Brennan Center’s latest don’t always hold up when the end of the year rolls around.

In July, Sessions stood before a room of prosecutors at the summer meeting of the National District Attorneys Association and gave a speech that relied heavily on sweeping declarations about national trends. The rise in violent crime, he said, is “not a blip, not an aberration. Capitulating to this trend is not an option for America, [and] it’s not an option for us.” This wasn’t the first time Sessions had made ominous warnings about the creeping violent crime rate, and it wouldn’t be the last. In late August, he cautioned the National Fraternal Order of Police that “violent crime is back with a vengeance.”

These kinds of grandiose warnings led to the creation of a violent crime task force and continue to fuel the disproven theory that immigrants commit more crime than U.S.-born citizens. It’s possible that Sessions and Trump don’t understand that the administration’s war on violent crime is both unnecessary and shortsighted. It seems more likely that the administration knows it doesn’t need to ride in on its law-and-order horse and save us. Trump and Sessions misrepresent what crime stats say and what they mean because it serves their agenda to do so. The president doesn’t want to save us from American carnage. He wants us to wallow in it.

Robert Mueller, Meet Mark Zuckerberg

Robert Mueller, Meet Mark Zuckerberg

by Jennifer Taub @ Slate Articles

Folks at Facebook need to lean in and lawyer up. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s legal dream team is likely exploring whether the tech company has liability for political ads sold to a Russian firm. It’s time for Facebook to share what it knows.

We learned last week that a Russian company paid Facebook $100,000 to place political ads. The Washington Post reported that this firm also disseminated pro-Kremlin propaganda, while the Daily Beast wrote that the ads may have reached as many as 70 million Americans. Some were circulated before the election and mentioned candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump by name. The purchase of these political ads by the Russian company could be a federal crime, and members of the Trump campaign and Facebook could be implicated.

The candidate ads look like independent expenditures by a foreign national in a U.S. election in violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act. Under FECA, the term “foreign national” includes corporations organized under the laws of a foreign county or with a principal place of business in a foreign country. If done knowingly and willfully, such spending by a foreign national is a crime.

But what about the First Amendment? That should not be a concern in this case. In 2012, after Citizens United v. FEC, the Supreme Court confirmed in Bluman v. FEC that barring foreign nationals from spending in our elections does not violate the First Amendment.

The Department of Justice has successfully prosecuted FECA cases. In 2014, conservative writer Dinesh D’Souza pleaded guilty to charges that he violated FECA by making campaign contributions to a Senate campaign using straw donors. And in 2015, a political consultant was convicted for illegal campaign coordination in violation of FECA and sentenced to 24 months in prison.

Assuming the Russian company is criminally liable for purchasing political ads, what does this have to do with the Trump campaign and Facebook? Let’s focus on the Trump campaign first.

On June 9, 2016, Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., and Jared Kushner met in Trump Tower with, among others, a Kremlin-linked lawyer and a Russian American with an alleged expertise in cyberattacks. Trump Jr. expected to obtain opposition research on Hillary Clinton—as go-between Rob Goldstone told him via email, “This is very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump.” Trump Jr. gushed in response, “If it’s what you say I love it.”

That meeting might be part of a criminal conspiracy to violate federal election law. FECA broadly prohibits foreign nationals from contributing any “thing of value” in connection with a federal, state, or local election. Campaign staff also cannot solicit, accept, or receive any “thing of value.” The “high-level” information at issue in the Trump Tower meeting, especially as it was offered in the context of a discussion about the easing of sanctions on Russia, is arguably a “thing of value.”

This we have heard. Now, let’s toss in the Facebook ads.

Let’s say a conspiracy in the form of an agreement to violate FECA was established before or during that Trump Tower meeting. And let’s assume that after the meeting, someone involved in that conspiracy helped make the Facebook ad purchases. Assume that the distribution of political ads was either one of the original goals of the conspiracy or foreseeable. Then paying for (or aiding and abetting or causing) those ads is likely a federal crime. Therefore, all members of the conspiracy (including Trump Jr., Kushner, and Manafort) may be criminally responsible. Importantly, such crimes could be attributable to members who knew nothing about buying the ads. That’s how conspiracy works.

There are still many blank spaces. Did anyone in the campaign help decide which ads to run and where to target them geographically? Even if there was no conspiracy at Trump Tower, this assistance could also be a felony.

So, what about Facebook?

Generally speaking, political ads on Facebook should have disclaimers indicating who paid for them. It’s not likely that the lack of disclaimers in and of itself will give rise to a criminal offense. But it’s important nevertheless because given that legal requirement, employees of Facebook who sold the ads either knew or should have known that a foreign national paid for them.

In 2006, the Federal Election Commission issued a rule stating that “communications placed for a fee on another person's website” are “public communications” subject to disclaimer requirements. In 2011, Facebook requested an advisory opinion from the FEC, arguing that including disclaimers from political committees on ads that qualified as “small items” was “impracticable.”

Because an affirmative vote of four members is required, and only three of the six agreed with Facebook’s assessment, the FEC concluded without issuing an opinion on the matter. As FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub explained, “The fact that three commissioners may have announced that they may not be prepared to enforce the law does not negate the law that’s on the books.”

So, back to the potential crime scene. Facebook could be criminally liable for violating FECA. This would be the case if it was found to have knowingly and willfully aided, abetted, counseled, commanded, induced or procured, or willfully caused the purchase by the Russian company of political ads.

Facebook has recently claimed that no one on its sales team communicated with individuals who purchased the political ads. This may not absolve the firm of responsibility as conscious avoidance can be a theory for establishing liability. Ultimately, it will be up to Robert Mueller to answer these murky questions. In the meantime, it would be wise for Facebook to tell the special counsel everything it knows about how the ad purchases were made and who made them.

Niall Horan & Louis Tomlinson Rep 1D Separately at iHeartRadio Music Festival 2017

by Just Jared Jr @ Just Jared Jr.

Niall Horan lets out a big smile during his performance on night two of the 2017 iHeartRadio Music Festival on Saturday night (September 23) in Las Vegas. The 24-year-old musician wasn’t the only One Direction member performing – Louis Tomlinson also took the stage to perform his song “Back to You” with Bebe Rexha. Thomas [...]

One Cheer for Betsy DeVos

One Cheer for Betsy DeVos

by Mark Joseph Stern @ Slate Articles

Betsy DeVos is not especially qualified to perform any aspect of her job. The secretary of education got her current gig by donating oodles of cash to Republicans, including many of the senators who voted to confirm her. Her tenure thus far has been a calamity. In her first month on the job, she revoked protections for transgender schoolchildren and praised America’s segregated education system. After those early mishaps, DeVos largely retreated from the public eye and has allowed her agency to drift into aimless irrelevance.

Last Thursday, however, DeVos roared back into the spotlight with a trenchant speech promising to overhaul federal rules regarding campus sexual assault. Most progressives understandably rolled their eyes: Given DeVos’ glaring inadequacies, it may be difficult to imagine she will approach this topic in good faith or make genuine improvements to the current rules. While this cynicism is perfectly rational, the reality is that our current system is so terrible that DeVos probably can’t make it much worse. She may be an unqualified oligarch, but liberals should hear out her proposals before dismissing them out of hand.

DeVos’ Thursday speech focused on a federal law, Title IX, which prohibits schools that receive federal funding from discriminating on the basis of sex. Sexual abuse and harassment qualify as sex discrimination, and universities that fail to properly prevent and address sexual violence may lose their funding or be sued by victims. In 1997, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights promulgated guidelines explaining how universities should evaluate and respond to sexual harassment on campus. These instructions included a broad outline of “prompt and equitable grievance procedures” that institutions should use when students report sexual abuse.

In 2011, OCR issued a “Dear Colleague” letter laying out more specific rules for campus sexual assault investigations. The OCR letter asserted that universities must use a “preponderance of the evidence” standard to evaluate guilt, meaning the accused must be disciplined if a fact-finder is 51 percent certain he is guilty. The letter also stated that schools should allow a student to appeal if her alleged abuser is found not guilty. Moreover, OCR discouraged schools from allowing the accused to cross-examine accusers because this experience “may be traumatic or intimidating” to the alleged victim. Finally, the letter clarified that schools can forbid the accused from using a lawyer throughout the Title IX process.

OCR later claimed that this guidance letter merely “reminded” schools of their Title IX obligations. In reality, however, it imposed stringent new requirements upon schools and sharply limited the rights of the accused. Universities quickly adopted the letter’s procedures, often to disastrous effect. DeVos detailed some of the most egregious injustices in her Thursday speech, while a recent article by the Atlantic’s Emily Yoffe details how universities’ Title IX hearings have become kangaroo courts. And Laura Kipnis’ new book Unwanted Advances vividly illustrates how students can use current Title IX rules to retaliate against innocent professors.

The core problem with Title IX, as interpreted by the OCR in 2011, is that it strips any semblance of due process from the accused. In criminal proceedings, due process encompasses the right to an attorney, the right to cross-examine accusers and witnesses, protections against double jeopardy, and the presumption of innocence. The 2011 letter jettisoned these safeguards because disciplinary proceedings are not criminal; the most a school can do is expel a student. But expulsion is a serious penalty that interrupts students’ lives, tarnishes their academic record, and diminishes their future job opportunities. And the Constitution does afford at least some due process protections for public university students. Shouldn’t Title IX procedures ensure that students and professors accused of sexual misconduct are given a real opportunity to defend themselves?

A concern for due process is not an inherently partisan issue, and it’s not just conservatives who have objected to the new regime. A number professors from top law schools have urged OCR to revise Title IX rules. Liberal law faculty have also exhorted their schools to reintroduce fairness into disciplinary proceedings. On Friday, feminist law professor and Slate contributor Lara Bazelon cautiously praised DeVos’ effort to “get it right,” and Harvard Law’s Jeannie Suk Gersen, also a liberal feminist, lauded her for “proceeding exactly as an agency head should.” Both writers offer some eminently reasonable reforms: Raise the standard of proof to “clear and convincing evidence”; allow cross-examination of witnesses; provide the accused with an advocate; and create an independent appellate process. These should not be objectionable proposals.

But for the broader American left, the deck is already stacked against DeVos—and for good reason. The president who appointed her has bragged about committing sexual assault, and DeVos herself has met with “men’s rights activists” who dismiss claims of sexual abuse. More troublingly, Candice Jackson, the acting head of OCR, has claimed that “90 percent” of campus rape accusations “fall into the category” of “we were both drunk” and “she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.” Jackson quickly apologized, but her comment indicated an unjustified skepticism toward assault victims that could infect the office’s investigations.

So, no, DeVos and her staffers are not the people whom progressives would choose to rewrite Title IX rules. But the fact remains that the current regime is broken and that DeVos has an opportunity to fix it. Liberals have plenty of reasons to distrust her, but they shouldn’t reject her stab at reform without hearing what she has to offer. Nor should they bemoan the demise of the 2011 guidelines. Those rules deserved to die. It’s just unfortunate that DeVos has to be the one to kill them.

Why Democrats Should Love the GOP Health Care Plan

Why Democrats Should Love the GOP Health Care Plan

by Reihan Salam @ Slate Articles

Want to listen to this article out loud? Hear it on Slate Voice.

If Graham-Cassidy is signed into law, it just might represent the death knell of today’s GOP. Needless to say, that is not the message we’re hearing from the Republican senators who back the legislation, who insist it instead represents the last, best chance for the party to fulfill its promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. If you’ve promised voters something for long enough, they will surely punish you for failing to follow through, or so the theory goes. We can’t dismiss this possibility out of hand. However, we also can’t neglect the possibility that Graham-Cassidy will create an entirely new post-Obamacare politics, a set of circumstances that will leave the GOP in a far less favorable position.

How will Graham-Cassidy change our politics? By shifting billions of dollars in federal health expenditures to state governments, the latest Republican effort to replace Obamacare will leave state politics forever transformed. Once state legislatures are fully in charge of Medicaid and premium subsidies on the individual insurance market, health care will go from one issue among many in state politics to the No. 1 issue by far.

While none of this ensures that Democrats would be the party to gain the upper hand in the Graham-Cassidy era, I’d say it’d be a pretty good bet. Though opinion on health care fluctuates a decent amount, recent surveys find that four-fifths of voters have disapproved of previous efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare. This is not an ideal starting point for Republicans, and it speaks to a lingering distrust of the GOP on health care policy.

This is a bigger deal for the future of our politics than you might think. If Graham-Cassidy merely meant that, say, Democrats would take back the House in 2018, then Republicans could potentially just claw their way back in 2020 or 2022. But if Democrats start winning back state legislatures, they can change the entire congressional landscape. Whereas Republicans now hold an overwhelming advantage in the states—they control 32 legislatures to 12 for the Democrats, with six split between the two parties—expect that to change. Barring a hitherto unforeseen transformation of the GOP into the party of health care socialism, it will be the Democrats, the party most committed to expanding public insurance programs, who’ll be in the best spot if control over health care decisions moves from the nation’s capital to state capitals. If Democrats do indeed start winning back state legislatures, they will be in a position to control the congressional redistricting process in the wake of the 2020 census, and to put their congressional candidates in a somewhat more favorable position. That is, they’ll be able to do something much like what Republicans did in numerous state legislatures after the 2010 census.

I want to stress that all of this could be true even if you believe Graham-Cassidy has some merit. To its defenders, the bill represents sound conservative principles. One of the chief conservative objections to Obamacare was that it amounted to a centralized, one-size-fits-all solution to the problems plaguing individual insurance markets across the country, despite the fact that those problems weren’t always the same. Regulations that might be a good fit for rich Massachusetts might not work so well for poor Mississippi, and so on. Graham-Cassidy loosens Obamacare regulations, with an eye toward giving state governments more discretion. Rather than prescribing a set formula for how federal subsidy dollars should be used, Graham-Cassidy gives state legislatures a much freer hand.

Moreover, Graham-Cassidy aims to equalize federal Medicaid spending. Because Medicaid is structured as a federal matching grant tied to state spending, states that spend more of their own money on Medicaid get more federal funds than states that don’t. This puts rich states, which by definition are in a better position to raise tax revenue, in a more favorable position than poor states, even though poor states get a more generous federal match. The Medicaid expansion worked a bit differently, with all states subject to the same federal match. (At first, the federal government covers 100 percent of the cost of covering all newly eligible beneficiaries before ticking its contribution down to 90 percent.) The net result is that states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare got a much better deal than states that chose not to do so. By leveling out federal Medicaid spending over time, you could argue that Graham-Cassidy is doing right by poorer states, especially those that did not expand Medicaid. Or you could say it’s unfair to punish states that expanded their Medicaid programs while rewarding those that did not. No matter which side you come down on, it’s inarguable that if Graham-Cassidy passes, it will have a profound impact on state budgets.

Let’s give Graham-Cassidy’s champions the benefit of the doubt and accept that their approach will empower state lawmakers to craft health care solutions that meet the needs of their communities. What that would mean for state lawmakers in practice is that the complaints they could once deflect to Congress would land firmly on their doorsteps. Every single person employed in the health care sector and every single person who depends on subsidized medical care, whether directly or indirectly, would have a vested interest in ensuring that local health systems are generously funded and that funding grows robustly from year to year. They would soon learn that their livelihoods depend on the outcome of state legislative races, and they would vote accordingly. All of this is perfectly consistent with the conservative commitment to decentralizing health care policy. It is also perfectly consistent with Republicans losing elections.

As sympathetic as I am to the conservative critique of Obamacare—that it is too centralized and too prescriptive—there is no question that Republicans in Congress have struggled to unite around a compelling alternative. And it’s not at all clear that Republicans in state legislatures are better equipped to make the case for a move toward catastrophic insurance or for getting tough with price-gouging hospitals, which are often the biggest and most politically influential employers in their vicinity.

So in the medium term, at least, Democrats campaigning on boosting health care spending would almost certainly gain ground. While the tax hikes that would inevitably follow would halt their momentum, that would take a while to come to pass. In the meantime, Democratic-controlled legislatures would start redrawing congressional districts to give Democratic candidates a much-needed assist.

Of course, all of this hinges on Graham-Cassidy actually passing. That might not happen, as some of its regulatory provisions might not pass muster under the Byrd Rule, and because Sens. Lisa Murkowski and John McCain might break ranks with their fellow Republicans while Sens. Rand Paul and Susan Collins show no signs of softening their opposition. If the Republican dissenters continue to hold out, they will almost certainly stand accused of party disloyalty. But in a roundabout way, they might be doing their fellow Republicans a huge favor.

Hillary in My Head

Hillary in My Head

by Katy Waldman @ Slate Articles

The thing about audiobooks is that they rarely occupy 100 percent of your attention. They become background music, melting sneakily into your subconscious thoughts, so that you’re not sure whether the voice you’re hearing belongs to you or to some narrator who’s quietly hijacked your stream of consciousness. This Tuesday a woman in my head was calling Donald Trump a “clear and present danger” to American democracy. I assumed that woman was me. But then she started recounting how one of her staffers phoned the manager of the New Yorker Hotel in midtown Manhattan at 4:00 on the morning of Nov. 9 to arrange for the use of the space; this person couldn’t muster the strength to deliver her presidential concession speech in the soaring glass heart of the Javits Center. Oh, I realized, my own heart sinking. Hillary Clinton. Of course.

The experience of listening to the audiobook of What Happened, Clinton’s bracing autopsy of her 2016 electoral campaign, literalizes one aspect of the experience of being a left-leaning human in a country that for nearly a year has been wobbling along under the tiny hand of Donald Trump. Some disbelieving piece of you can’t stop going back over the past. How could Comey reopen the email investigation? Why didn’t Americans acknowledge the role of sexism? Had Clinton truly failed to articulate an economic vision for the middle class, or were her ideas just drowned out by, for instance, Trump’s idiot feud with Khizr Khan? When you download the 16-plus-hour tome, read by Clinton herself, and let it flow out of your earbuds into your brain, it feels like you are not so much entering exotic tell-all territory as surrendering to the ambient arguments of your own smashed hopes.

Hillary Clinton haunts us. I listened to her while walking to Dupont Circle. (She was laying into the twentysomething women who approached her after the election and apologized for not voting.) I listened to her while I fed the dog. I tried to listen to her at the gym, but the combination of an image of her lying in bed and staring at the ceiling after Trump’s acceptance speech plus the elliptical machine was too depressing, so I turned it off.

What Happened does not, as many reviewers have observed, offer much in the way of dishy gossip or game-changing insight. It is an engaging, beautifully synthesized page-turner that expresses what we already knew in Clinton’s uniquely exasperated, earnest, and studious words. There’s grim fan service: The candidate recalls a moment of prolonged eye contact with Michelle Obama right before Trump’s “American carnage” speech. There’s also score-settling: Neither James Comey nor Joe Biden emerges with dignity entirely intact, though few come off looking as petty and foolish as former Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who tweeted cruelly about Clinton on Inauguration Day, or Ryan Zinke, who stupidly called her the “Antichrist.” Others will surely litigate (and have litigated) whether Clinton has apportioned fault with perfect exactitude and justice. (At any rate, for all her irritation and dismay around the press, the Russians, and the “deplorables,” she reserves a towering helping of blame for herself.) But to listen to What Happened as an audiobook is to brush up intimately against what may be the work’s main virtue. The memoir expertly conveys Hillary to her audience—a slightly looser and less inhibited version of Hillary, maybe, but still the same person our trauma compels us to revisit. As she comes to terms with 2016, so do we.

What Happened feels familiar in both content (we basically know what happened) and tone (it summons the writer in all her wonky, prim, chortling conscientiousness and pragmatism). And here, that familiarity is weirdly therapeutic. It makes sense of the past we’ve got rather than unearthing new facts to assimilate. Listening to Clinton relive her defeat is like entering the psychoanalytic situation, in which the patient strings together unruly bits of personal history while the therapist pays respectful attention. (Electing Trump “meant handing a lit match to a pyromaniac,” Clinton moans at one point. “Mmm hmm,” you want to reply, nodding sympathetically.) But, of course, the listener is a patient too. And the book’s time-capsule quality—it deftly captures what life was like on the campaign trail, how it felt to be a woman running against Donald Trump in 2016—turns it into a touchstone, a transitional object to help liberals process their own humiliation. No listener will be surprised to hear that Clinton contextualized her own disappointment by scrolling through the stinging electoral routs of the 19th and 20th centuries. (Poor John Adams!) She hopes we will be OK, too. “Tried alternate nostril breathing,” this master of hard-won Zen confides helpfully at one point. “I highly recommend it.”

Clinton is not known for the expressivity of her voice, but of course no other narrator would have sufficed. She infuses the words she wrote with warmth, annoyance, and Chablis-dry humor. She is clearly performing—to narrate a book is to read a script—but she comes off less as someone acting out the drama of her own life than as a person who prefers to have collected and arranged all of her thoughts before she speaks them. (What Happened plays up the candid, curtain-raising parts of the project—“I didn’t go public with my feelings,” Clinton says, approximately 90 times—but the book still feels mindfully composed.) You can hear how she has practiced the laugh on the first syllable of “Twitter” when she mocks Trump’s social media obsession. That rueful vocal shrug when she muses that she’s “just not wired” to stir up voters’ resentment might have taken a few tries. But Clinton’s latest efforts to connect, she suggests, have their place in a lifelong struggle to redefine her carefulness as a genuine way of being in the world, not as a cynical shield. Anthony Scaramucci dutifully reading from his autobiography would be ridiculous. A less studied Clinton would feel like a less authentic Clinton.

“They Were Catalan Boys”

“They Were Catalan Boys”

by Darren Loucaides @ Slate Articles

RIPOLL, Spain—Núria Perpinyà a city council employee in rural Catalonia, was descending the stairs outside her apartment when she ran into two teenaged brothers who lived in her building. Perpinyà had watched the boys grow up and was keen to know how they were getting on. “We talked about life, how things were going. They were normal kids,” she says. They said adéu and went their separate ways.

Three days later, on Aug. 17, one of those brothers—Younes Abouyaaqoub, 22—drove a van into pedestrians in Las Ramblas, a busy tourist street in Barcelona, killing 14 and injuring more than a hundred. The other—Houssaine Abouyaaqoub, 19—was shot dead along with four other members of the terrorist cell in the early hours of the following morning, after the group rammed a second van into pedestrians in the seaside town of Cambrils and then approached police wearing fake suicide vests.

Ever since details emerged over the identities of the Barcelona attackers, people have been baffled by how ordinary they seemed. Described as studious and well-behaved, they had no previously known links to terrorist groups or criminal activity. The small town of Ripoll where they were from is relatively affluent and well-integrated. So what led these normal young men to commit the biggest terrorist attack in Spain since the 2004 Madrid train bombings?

Perpinyà has been talking over just this question with an older Abouyaaqoub brother, who still can’t believe or make sense of what has happened. He conceded that Younes was more introverted, “But the youngest brother [Houssaine], he was completely normal,” Perpinyà says. “All his friends had Catalan surnames,” she adds. “I say Catalan surnames, but really they were Catalan, too. The press call them ‘Moroccan boys.’ But they were Catalan boys.”

Although their family roots were Moroccan, the young men had grown up in or were born in Catalonia, a region in northeastern Spain with its own language and traditions. Yet both the local and English-language media have largely referred to them as Moroccan. It’s become a familiar narrative during the recent wave of attacks in Europe: young Middle Eastern or North African men alienated and eventually radicalized in response to a society that never fully accepted them. Yet the suspects weren’t raised in monocultural ghettos like those of Brussels and Paris blamed for breeding previous attackers. By all accounts, they were fully integrated into their communities. And so we’re left with a conundrum.

* * *

The climb through heaving woodland toward Ripoll feels like entering the Catalan equivalent of Twin Peaks. The tiny town is buried in the foothills of the Pyrenees, 70 miles north of Barcelona, and has less than 11,000 inhabitants. There’s a Romanesque monastery, some pretty squares with pastel-colored buildings, and two rivers whose handsome bridges make for idyllic views. And that’s it. Shadowy mountains loom up between the buildings as you walk five minutes from one end of the town to the other. Crossing the confluence of the rivers just south of the town center brings you to the main road out of town, beyond which lies countryside.

It’s the last place you’d expect Spain’s worst terrorist attack in 13 years to have been hatched.

Naturally, the town is still coming to terms with what’s happened. In a bar on the edge of the main square, a group of old men discuss recent events. One with faded tattoos on his forearm gestures at the television behind him that beams live footage of the Catalan police chief giving a press conference about the attacks. People here are generally friendly, if lately a bit wary of outsiders. Ripoll was in no way prepared for the swaths of journalists who descended on the town in the aftermath of the attacks, not to mention the heavy police presence in the days following. This is a town where nothing much ever happens and everyone knows one another. On the morning of the attacks, one of the local paper’s top stories heralded an imminent visit from a circus.

Now the town is busy recovering from a tragedy it never dreamed possible.

“Our work has changed a lot, because there’s a social crisis when something like this happens,” says Perpinyà. “There’s a crisis of coexistence.” Despite her workload, Perpinyà has agreed to meet in the city hall, where she is responsible for programs promoting social cohesion and inclusion. Hanging over the building’s façade is a huge Estelada, the Catalan flag with a white-on-blue star symbolizing the campaign for independence, a reminder of the upcoming referendum in which the region will vote on whether to separate from Spain. Inside there’s feverish activity as the city council copes with the fallout of recent events.

Perpinyà didn’t just live in the same building as two of the suspects. She helped bring them up. The boys all attended an IT education program she used to run for youngsters without computers or internet access at home (back before smartphones became ubiquitous).

“They used to come to do their homework or to get help with school. If one day they weren’t feeling great, they would come to see you. They came here like any other kids,” she says. They went to the same schools, played soccer together, participated in the usual after-school activities. “Sure, there were differences,” Perpinyà says, adding that the boys were more independent than other children from the town. “In Morocco, from when they’re very small children play in the street on their own, they go home from school on their own. Before it was the same here—now Spanish parents go more with their children. Not to say one is good or bad—it’s their culture. Besides which, the boys had structured families. The parents worked, the children studied.”

Perpinyà remained in close contact with the boys after they grew up and stopped attending the program. “We were neighbors; we always ran into each other. We had a friendly relationship. They were always nice, helpful—there was nothing strange. They weren’t the typical gang smoking joints all day. They were young men who worked, had a good salary at the end of the month,” she says. Close friends of the suspects have said that they noticed changes in the last month or so—one had left his job suddenly, for example. “But that doesn’t make you think that they’re about to commit a terrorist attack,” Perpinyà says. “There was nothing to indicate they would end up like this.”

She wasn’t the only one who had known the young men who felt this way. When the first photo of one of the suspects circulated soon after the Las Ramblas attack, Maria, their former high school classmate whose name has been changed at her request to protect her privacy, immediately recognized him. “At first, I thought that it was a mistake,” she says. “I still find it hard to believe.” The photo was of Driss Oukabir, 28, whose documents were found in the van. Oukabir turned himself in shortly afterward, claiming to have had nothing to do with the attacks. “When he said that they stole his documents, I believed it,” Maria says. Oukabir has since changed his story, admitting that he hired the car for the cell but that he thought they wanted it for a move. Oukabir remains in custody. His brother Moussa Oukabir, 17, died in Cambrils.

Maria says that Driss Oukabir hung around with the gamberros, the naughty kids at school who played pranks and skipped class but never did anything seriously bad. Another schoolmate says that Oukabir could be edgy and was, for example, prone to confrontation during soccer matches. Friends say he was not remotely religious, with one saying: “He did what he did for whatever reason, but not for religion, because he never prayed.”

Maria says she saw Oukabir less after high school but still ran into him on nights out and often saw him and a group of friends at the bar next to her house. “When I came back from nights out, they were always there,” she says, adding that she saw him there as recently as a month before the attacks. “He was no saint,” she adds, “but he didn’t have malice in him. He was essentially a good guy.”

According to townspeople, the young suspects were very much part of the community. Youths of Moroccan background tend to split off together after they finish schooling, locals say, but there are no ethnically oriented zones in Ripoll. The Abouyaaqoubs’ apartment block is a bit out of town but hardly run-down, with a mix of families living there, not only people of Moroccan background. It boasts a dramatic backdrop of verdant hills.

Ripoll only has about 500 Muslim inhabitants, or 5 percent of the population. Luis de la Corte, a professor at the Autonomous University of Madrid who specializes in security and terrorism, can’t think of a single case in Europe, let alone Spain, where perpetrators of an attack hailed from such a small, rural town. “The smaller the place, the easier it is to detect something strange, because everyone knows each other,” he says. “It’s always easier to carry out clandestine activity in a big city.” Abdelbaki Es Satty, the 42-year-old imam and ringleader of the cell, had difficulties finding a position in mosques elsewhere and perhaps came to Ripoll because he thought he could avoid suspicion, says de la Corte. For now, though, this is only speculation.

While de la Corte believes that problems with integration can contribute to radicalization, he cautions against drawing simplistic conclusions. “If you apply the example of one individual being radicalized to the whole Muslim community, it’s an abusive generalization,” he says, pointing out that the vast majority of Muslim Spaniards do not turn into Islamist radicals, even those who are not well-integrated. “It’s true that second- or third-generation Muslim immigrants in European countries seem to have a confused identity,” he says, which makes them vulnerable to radicalization but still very unlikely to actually be radicalized.

In the view of de la Corte and others, the level of integration in Spain is strong—even superior to other European countries. There are nearly 2 million Muslims living in Spain, many of them with Moroccan heritage. Around half a million live in Catalonia, where the levels of integration are at least as good as elsewhere in Spain. Racism and Islamophobia certainly exist—the disparaging term moro is heard frequently to describe people with Moroccan roots—but there are few Muslim-only ghettos seen in other places in Europe. A 28-year-old from Ripoll of Moroccan heritage who grew up with the suspects casts doubt on the links drawn between discrimination and terrorism. “If someone says, ‘[They did it] because they called them moro,’ that’s a lie. Because Catalan, Moroccan—we all grew up together,” he says.

Wafa Marsi, 30, a friend of the suspects’ families, sees a more nuanced picture of integration and identity in Spain. “They were youths like any others,” she says of the suspects, “with the built-up conflict of living between two worlds and two cultures.” But she thinks that integration is the wrong word to use with regard to the young men “because they studied and spoke Catalan—they were as integrated as I am,” she says.

Marsi, who also speaks Arabic, previously worked for the city council as a mediator for Moroccan immigrants, helping them adapt to life in Ripoll and Spain. She recognizes that at a certain age young people, and especially those from immigrant backgrounds, start questioning who they are and where they’re from. “I’m practically sure that these youths were vulnerable because their personality and identity were still forming,” she says. “My identity is clear—Arab and Moroccan blood runs through my veins, and my culture is Catalan. They still lacked that forged identity, and so they were caught in limbo.”

Perpinyà notes that while youngsters like the suspects are called Moroccans in Ripoll, when they travel to Morocco, they are called Catalans. “The result is that they’re neither Catalan nor Moroccan. This affects you,” she says. “Everyone needs to feel like they’re from a place.” Perpinyà thinks that such conflicted identity creates a weakness that can be preyed upon, which partly explains how the young men were radicalized. Indeed, ongoing police investigations have suggested that Es Satty directed the terrorist cell much like the leader of a sect.

Sarah Lyons-Padilla, a psychology expert at Stanford, points to research that belongingness is key to people feeling significance. “And [that’s] extremely relevant to immigrants straddling cultural words,” she says. “My colleagues and I found that first- and second-generation Muslim immigrants in the U.S. who felt torn between cultures—marginalized or culturally homeless—felt this lack of significance in their lives. This was, in turn, associated with greater sympathy for extremist groups and causes.”

* * *

A week after the attacks, representatives from Barcelona’s different communities gathered at the assembly hall of the Maritime Museum in a show of interreligious solidarity. There were readings from the Bible and Quran, after which youths from more than a dozen religions (and no religion) paraded in pairs up to the stage to deliver flowers to a giant bouquet, all to the moving strains of the Arab Orchestra of Barcelona. Later, the multifaith congregation marched in unison toward Las Ramblas, leaving the bouquet among the many flowers and tributes to the victims that have accumulated there.

An hour-and-a-half’s drive away, Ripoll is also trying to come together after the attacks. Aside from solidarity demonstrations and a protest against terrorism by the town’s Muslim community, a concert was held on the steps of the monastery this weekend aimed at healing the town’s wounds. A new neighborhood network has also been set up called Som Ripoll, “We Are Ripoll,” designed to combat terrorism and Islamophobia and promote coexistence. Meanwhile, the mayor of Ripoll has announced measures to improve detection of radicalization in the town.

Back at the city hall, Perpinyà thinks that the attitude toward immigration hasn’t been right “since day one,” because the objective has been to assimilate immigrants rather than welcome them and try to understand traditions. “And I don’t just mean in Ripoll, but in the whole of Spain,” she says. “We’ve always lived together, but with two parallel rivers,” she says, reminding me of Ripoll’s twin rivers. “Now is the time to mix the rivers, to be proactive, to learn from each other,” says Perpinyà. “What we have to do is work towards a real coexistence, and work at it together.”

Jun 17, Wilson's Phalarope | North American Birds | Birds of North America

by @ Birds of North America Blog

Wilson's Phalarope, this attractive bird is becoming more and more common in southeastern Canada. Like all other types of phalaropes, the females have more colourful plumage than the males plumage.

The Angle: Devil’s Bargain Edition

The Angle: Devil’s Bargain Edition

by Rebecca Onion @ Slate Articles

What’s the point?: Should Democrats really be making bargains with Trump? Positive Polly Ben Mathis-Lilley looks at the upside. Negative Nancy Osita Nwanevu sees mostly drawbacks.

Be honest: Jim Newell believes in single-payer. But he thinks the Democrats need to do a much better of job of owning its problems if they ever want to have a chance of making it happen.

System failure: Christina Cauterucci looks at the recent sexual harrassment scandal at the University of Rochester and finds that the murkiness of the university’s policies on sex between students and faculty probably let this situation go on for far too long.

Not funny: Irma left poop all over Florida, and it’s not a joke, Emily Atkin writes. People are going to get sick—and given our aging infrastructure, this could start happening many more places soon.

For fun: KKK or Breitbart?

It’s not easy,


Facts Win

Facts Win

by Mark Joseph Stern @ Slate Articles

On Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump’s “election integrity” commission was preparing to meet in New Hampshire when a state court issued a major ruling: New Hampshire’s harsh new voting restrictions, which would impose fines and jail time on voters who fail to provide certain documentation, cannot be enforced in Tuesday’s special election. According to the court, the law’s penalties likely violate the state constitution, which guarantees all adult residents “an equal right to vote in any election.”

The court’s order constituted an oblique rebuke to the commission’s very purpose. New Hampshire’s GOP-controlled legislature passed its voter suppression law in response to Trump’s allegations that mass voter fraud swung the state against him in 2016. Trump formed his voter fraud commission to prove that such fraud gave his opponent millions of illegal votes in the Granite State and beyond. Just last week, commision co-chair Kris Kobach claimed he had “proof” that votes were stolen in the state. Now a court has examined the evidence—and found no such proof. The decision is a well-timed reminder that this administration’s wild claims of voter fraud cannot stand up to even the slightest scrutiny.

SB 3, the New Hampshire law at issue, was designed from the start to intimidate voters so severely that some decide it is not worth the trouble to cast a ballot. Its sponsor, Republican Sen. Regina Birdsell, asserted that college students and “people coming over the border” from Massachusetts are swinging state elections—almost exactly what Trump has alleged. Her bill took aim at same-day registration, a long-standing tradition in New Hampshire and a perennial target of Republicans who maintain that it is susceptible to fraud. (In reality, the GOP’s fixation is probably due to the fact that many same-day registrants are college students who lean Democratic.)

Although SB 3 did not eliminate same-day voting, it did make registration significantly more onerous—and risky. Under the law, those who register to vote within 30 days of an election, including on Election Day, must provide proof of their New Hampshire “domicile.” If they forgot to bring such proof, they can still register, but they must submit the necessary documentation no more than 10 days after the election. (Residents have 30 days to submit their documents in towns where the clerk’s offices are open part-time.) If voters fail to provide this documentation within the time limit, they are subject to $5,000 fines and up to one year in jail.

Voters who have no domicile documentation face different hurdles. These individuals can still register—but to do so, they must consent to have their domicile “verified.” Following the election, the New Hampshire Department of Justice may send state investigators to these voters’ houses and demand confirmation of residency. Police officers also retain authority to show up on voters’ doorsteps demanding proof that they live there. Anyone who fails to provide the necessary evidence may be fined and prosecuted for voter fraud.

The New Hampshire Democratic Party and the League of Women Voters challenged these penalties as an infringement upon the state constitution, which protects voting rights. In his Tuesday decision, Superior Court Judge Charles Temple agreed, issuing a restraining order to prevent the state from enforcing SB 3’s punishments. The law, Temple wrote, imposed “severe restrictions on the right to vote.” These restrictions must be “narrowly drawn to advance a state interest of compelling importance” in order to withstand constitutional scrutiny. They were not, Temple concluded—“by any stretch of the imagination.”

The judge continued: “To the Court, these provisions of SB 3 act as a very serious deterrent on the right to vote, and if there is indeed a ‘compelling’ need for them, the Court has yet to see it.” Here, Temple subtly but firmly rejected the state’s contention that SB 3 is necessary to prevent unlawful “drive-by voting,” as New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner put it. Politicians can make whatever wild claims they want—but Temple needed actual evidence of fraud to uphold SB 3’s restrictions. New Hampshire couldn’t provide it.

Gardner’s unsubstantiated allegation should not be surprising considering that he sits on Trump’s voter fraud commission alongside Kobach. Last week, Kobach—who has used false allegations of voter fraud to justify disenfranchising thousands—purported to verify claims of New Hampshire fraud in a Breitbart column. He was promptly debunked but still praised SB 3 at Tuesday’s meeting, just hours after the law was blocked in court as unjustified disenfranchisement.

This juxtaposition of fact (in Temple’s ruling) and fiction (from Gardner and Kobach) highlights an important problem in the litigation of voting rights. Temple applied strict scrutiny to SB 3 because plaintiffs sued under the New Hampshire Constitution, which explicitly guarantees the right to cast a ballot. Unfortunately, the United States Constitution does not provide this right so clearly. Various constitutional provisions certainly imply a right to vote—but the Supreme Court has interpreted these stingily. Currently, federal courts apply a balancing test to burdens on voting, weighing the purported benefits of a restriction against the burdens. This lenient standard allows states to defend voter suppression laws in federal court by arguing that vague benefits such as “confidence in elections” offset any disenfranchisement.

Hucksters like Kobach and the serial fabricators on Trump’s commission triumph when courts do not demand evidence of real fraud before approving voter suppression measures. Temple’s decision provides a model for how other state courts should evaluate such laws; Perry Grossman,  the Voting Rights Project attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union, told me on Tuesday that most state constitutions “have clear and robust language protecting the right to vote.”

The United States Supreme Court also should apply stricter scrutiny to any law that restricts access to the ballot, even if state courts are the safer bet. But in recent years, the court has assumed that tough registration requirements, early voting cuts, and voter ID rules are passed with no intent to disenfranchise citizens. Tuesday’s meeting, coupled with Temple’s ruling, demonstrates that, in the Trump era, this judicial presumption of good faith toward Republican-backed restrictions on the right to vote should be obsolete.

Donald + Chuck + Nancy

Donald + Chuck + Nancy

by Jim Newell @ Slate Articles

One day after President Donald Trump shocked the Capitol by accepting Democrats’ three-month debt ceiling extension over the strenuous objections of both Republican leaders and his treasury secretary, most congressional Republicans are saying they’re not panicking. Yet.

“I don’t think it’s the last deal he’ll cut with Schumer and Pelosi,” North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, told me on Thursday, “but I don’t think it sets a precedent necessarily, that it’s going to happen all the time.” His fellow Freedom Caucuser, Virginia Rep. Dave Brat, also isn’t worried, telling reporters that he’s not sweating over Trump’s sudden buddy-buddy relationship with Democratic leaders.

“I’m a Calvinist,” he said. “I don’t panic.”

Though many Republicans disagree with the decision, which will force Congress to revisit the debt ceiling in December and give Democrats leverage in that month’s appropriations battle, most seemed to accept Trump’s one-off rationale: that he wanted to avert a September mess while massive hurricanes were battering the country every week—and that this shouldn’t be taken as a sign that he is done with Republican leadership.

“You have to accept (the deal) for what it was, and it’s a very short-term solution to an immediate problem, and I don’t foresee that being a pattern in the long term,” South Dakota Sen. John Thune said. “I think the president wanted to show unity, and it’s important given the circumstances facing Texas, Louisiana, and Florida that we show unity.”

Most Republicans are describing Trump’s agreement as the legislative equivalent of a total eclipse: a set of factors aligned in historically rare sequence—his interest in unity, his interest in getting the debt ceiling raised without drama, his personal pique with Republican leaders’ performance this year—that caused the president to arrive at this abnormal conclusion.

I, too, don’t expect Trump to become a reliable Democratic voice after one chummy meeting with “Chuck and Nancy,” as he called them. But it’s hard to ignore how pleased he’s seemed with himself since then. In the absolute worst sign for conservatives, the president has been basking in the positive reinforcement the media’s offering him. For the first time in forever, he has the mainstream media praising him—or at least laying off of him for a hot minute—over his surprising bipartisan turn. And he also has what we’ll call the Trump media, such as Fox Business Network host Lou Dobbs, complimenting him for “taking Paul Ryan to the woodshed.” Trump’s base hates the Republican congressional leadership, so anytime he knocks Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell down a peg—even if doing so empowers Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi at the expense of conservative goals—they’ll reliably commend the move as shrewd executive leadership.

Trump called both Pelosi and Schumer on Thursday morning to brag about the coverage. He was in such a giving mood that Pelosi asked him to tweet some reassurance to Dreamers, and he did. The Washington Post reported Thursday that during their meeting, Trump and Schumer also “agreed to pursue a deal that would permanently remove the requirement that Congress repeatedly raise the debt ceiling.” Trump and Schumer met again on Thursday to discuss infrastructure.

As others have observed, Trump and Schumer seem far more comfortable together, as New York deal-makers who’ve known each other for decades, than Trump ever has with true-believing conservatives like Ryan or expressionless party men like McConnell. It’s a wonder it took Trump this long to recognize he might feel more comfortable as a nonpartisan broker than as a disengaged executor of the conservative movement’s ideological wish list.

One Republican who would acknowledge to me that conservatives have been whispering concerns to one another since Wednesday was North Carolina Rep. Mark Walker, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the House’s largest conservative caucus.

“You kind of tapped into some of our backroom conversations,” Walker told me when I asked if conservatives were concerned about a new Trump-Schumer-Pelosi axis of deal-making. “The perception may be that if our Republicans won’t work with the president … then maybe he goes and finds somebody who’s willing to.” That fear, he said, is “coming out of some of our conservative circles.”

The pushback to Trump aligning with Schumer and Pelosi, I should note, wouldn’t strictly be from conservatives. Democrats, you may have noticed, hate Trump. It would not be an easy sell to the Democratic base for Pelosi and Schumer to work regularly with this president—the one whose political appeal and actions draw from nativism and nod to white supremacists—on big-ticket issues that might deliver him a smoother path to re-election. (Indeed, the opportunity to make congressional Democrats sweat for the first time is another reason why it’s in Trump’s interest to pursue more deals with them.) These jitters are already noticeable in some quarters. Though most congressional Democrats are fine with the debt ceiling deal, some are furious that Pelosi didn’t push harder to ensure that the DREAM Act was part of negotiations.

My suspicion is that the era of camaraderie between Trump, Schumer, and Pelosi will last a matter of days. Trump will throw another bone to his base, and Schumer and Pelosi will condemn him. The tax reform package that congressional Republicans unveil this fall will inevitably be a partisan wealth transfer from top down, and players will return to their trenches. Maybe the debt ceiling deal, and the sight of the United States government functioning briefly without the usual brinkmanship, was the legislative equivalence of a total eclipse. Don’t look too hard into it.

Health Benefits Of Ashwagandha Essential Oil: Ayurvedic Medicine Explained

by Nate M @ Maple Holistics

Ashwagandha essential oil shares many of the same properties as the Ginseng root, which is why it is often referred to as Indian Ginseng. It is a potent natural antioxidant and can be used to increase your body’s natural immunity to infections and diseases - especially helpful during those cold winters, as well as being able to treat a number of other health related issues.

The post Health Benefits Of Ashwagandha Essential Oil: Ayurvedic Medicine Explained appeared first on Maple Holistics.

The “Alaska Purchase” Is Probably Unconstitutional

The “Alaska Purchase” Is Probably Unconstitutional

by Brian Galle @ Slate Articles

As Republican leadership searches for the 50th vote in favor of Graham-Cassidy, their apparently randomly chosen vehicle for repealing the Affordable Care Act, rumors abound of a sweetheart deal aimed at securing Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s vote. The so-called Alaska Purchase would maintain existing premium federal tax credits for those purchasing health insurance on the individual market, but only in Alaska and Hawaii. Sen. Mike Lee’s office told the Daily Beast that he’s been assured there will be no “Alaska Purchase,” but that same report describes the “Alaska Purchase” as an “offer” that has been made that would create this tax carve-out for multiple smaller states. Can Congress do that?

Probably not. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution says “all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.” Former Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, writing in 1834, thought that the point of that provision was to prevent coalitions of states from ganging up, in Congress, to benefit themselves at the expense of others. While the “uniformity clause” has been watered down over time, it should still be enough to swamp the “Alaska Purchase” proposal. Ironically, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham—the Graham of “Graham-Cassidy”—recognized the potential constitutional problems inherent in such a scheme seven years ago during the Obamacare debates: In 2010, he reportedly asked his state’s attorney general to look into the constitutionality of a similar proposal known as the “Cornhusker Kickback” that would have benefited Nebraska.

The leading recent authority on the Uniformity Clause is, coincidentally, also a case from Alaska, U.S. v. Ptasynski. In 1980, Congress imposed a “windfall profits” tax on domestically extracted oil but exempted some “Alaskan oil.” The court explained in its 1983 ruling that it had historically taken a pretty narrow view of the Uniformity Clause, allowing Congress to enact taxes that have disproportionately benefited specific states, as long as the taxes applied “at the same rate, in all portions of the United States where the subject of the tax is found.” That left open the question whether a tax that on its face imposed different rates on different states could survive.

That question, the court decided, would be subject to something that looks like elevated scrutiny. “Where Congress does choose to frame a tax in geographic terms, we will examine the classification closely to see if there is actual geographic discrimination,” the court ruled. To survive that scrutiny, Congress would have to show “neutral factors” that would justify the distinction. A purpose to “grant … an undue preference at the expense of other … states” would flunk the test.

Based on that standard, the court upheld that tax exemption for Alaskan oil. It observed that Congress “had before it ample evidence of the disproportionate costs and difficulties—the fragile ecology, the harsh environment, and the remote location—associated with extracting oil from this region.” And, also seemingly importantly, it noted that only about 20 percent of Alaska’s oil qualified for the exemption, so that the rule also disfavored many Alaskan extractors.

A more recent precedent challengers of any potential Alaska Purchase could point to would be the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder. That was the case in which the court struck down the pre-clearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Those rules had required Southern states (and a handful of non-Southern counties) to obtain permission from federal authorities before adopting local laws affecting certain voting procedures. This “disparate geographic coverage,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “must be sufficiently related to the problem it targets.” Since a majority of the justices concluded that pre-clearance no longer was needed to protect minority voting rights, they struck it down.

It’s hard to know how broadly the court thinks Shelby County will apply. Probably just about every federal statute impacts one state more than another. As my old constitutional law professor Michael Dorf has explained, the key, as in Ptasynski, seems to be the fact that the VRA tied its treatment explicitly to geography—that states were burdened by name without a clear policy justification in the eyes of the court.

At the very least, by the Ptasynski criteria, the “Alaska Purchase” looks like it would be in trouble. Reportedly, the justification for retaining credits for Alaska and Hawaii is that they are high-cost health markets. But they aren’t the highest-cost; that’s D.C. Massachusetts and Delaware, meanwhile, are very close to Alaska. If we’re talking insurance costs, not health costs, Alaska has higher reported insurance premiums for marketplace plans, at least, than other states. But Hawaii is the middle of the pack, which makes the cost justification for the proposal just nonsensical. Some reports have also said that Montana, not Hawaii, might be the state tied together to Alaska, but Montana has lower 2017 insurance costs than eight other states, including its rural neighbor Wyoming. These kinds of failures of internal logic are often grounds for the court to find evidence of discriminatory intent.

Of course, the central premise of the Alaska Purchase is obvious to everyone. The point of the scheme is to ensure that Alaska is a net winner in the massive reshuffling of federal health dollars affected by the latest Trumpcare bill. Graham’s comments about taking money from “big blue states” is unlikely to be helpful on that front if there is ultimately a constitutional challenge.

The Uniformity Clause is rarely litigated, and it seems like a provision the court is reluctant to give much life to. There’s undoubtedly a fun Con Law I class discussion to be had about whether courts should make the kinds of judgments an expansive reading of the clause might call for. But, either way, the Alaska Purchase seems to fall inside the tiny circle of statutes prohibited by even the current minimalist reading of the clause.

Ultimately, the bigger lesson here is probably that Congress shouldn’t draft enormously complicated and deeply important legislation like sophomores clawing out a final paper at the last minute with a can of Red Bull in hand. Even if the Alaska Purchase were to eventually survive a legal challenge, the mere threat that a lower court might enjoin Alaska’s premium credits could well lead to crippling uncertainty in its health insurance markets. And there are probably a half-dozen other time bombs just as perilous lurking in the pile of cocktail napkins that is the bill’s current text. As the ACA’s original architects learned to their sorrow, it’s not always easy to go back and make even simple fixes with legislation this contentious.

Trump Is Playing Two-Dimensional Chess

Trump Is Playing Two-Dimensional Chess

by Reihan Salam @ Slate Articles

Donald Trump is feeling desperate. The president is at long last reckoning with the fact that he is profoundly unpopular, which has proven a tough pill to swallow for a man with a yearning desire to win the approval of the hosts of various cable news programs. To the dismay of immigration hardliners, he seems to have concluded that the surest way to resuscitate his presidency is to broker a deal with congressional Democrats on protecting the Dreamers, or some smaller or larger subset of unauthorized immigrants. As is typical of Trump, he is walking into an obvious trap. A short while from now—my guess is that it’ll be about a week—he will need to make another move to keep everyone in America from hating him. The good news is that I know exactly what he has to do.

To make an obvious point, there is a big difference between Trump putting forward a narrowly tailored solution for those who are currently eligible for DACA versus throwing his support behind a more expansive measure, like the latest iteration of the DREAM Act, sponsored by Sens. Richard Durbin and Lindsey Graham. I can promise that if the president backs a more narrowly tailored solution, his intimations that it would be horribly cruel not to protect young Dreamers from deportation will be thrown back in his face. Yet if Trump makes too many concessions, he risks antagonizing some of his core supporters.

Trump has said he wants protections for the Dreamers to be part of a package deal that will include increased spending on immigration enforcement, but not spending for his long-promised border wall. Fair enough. This is a deal at least some restrictionists might find acceptable, provided the immigration enforcement measures are meaningful. Scholars at the restrictionist Center for Immigration Studies often emphasize the importance of tightening workplace enforcement, to help ensure that firms are not hiring unauthorized immigrant workers. Is there any prospect that congressional Democrats would accept such concessions? My guess is that although they might accept token spending increases, they’d balk at a serious workplace enforcement effort. So too would Republican lawmakers solicitous of the interests of unscrupulous low-wage employers.

You might think Trump could just walk if he doesn’t get a good enough deal. The president, though, has staked his reputation on his supposed dealmaking prowess. If he fails to secure a deal, and if Morning Joe loses patience with him, he is liable to bug out.

At this point, I find it highly unlikely Trump will be able to cut a deal that will satisfy immigration hawks. It’s possible he’s concluded that they’ll stick with him regardless of how much he betrays them, out of tribal loyalty if nothing else. The trouble is that opinion on immigration is asymmetrical. As a general rule, immigration hawks care more about the issue than immigration doves. Even if the president shifts hard to the left on immigration, it’s unlikely immigration doves will suddenly decide the man who accused Mexican-born immigrants of being murderers and rapists is in fact a chill dude. It’s Trump’s hateful language about immigration from the campaign that they’ll remember, not that he caved on the issue as president. Immigration hawks, meanwhile, will be hopping mad if the president sells them out. Although they’re unlikely to abandon him completely—they’ll still prefer Trump over Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris, who will no doubt take far more dovish positions on immigration—they’ll be less inclined to forgive future transgressions.

That brings me to Trump’s next move. Right now, Republican lawmakers are wrangling over all manner of tax policy questions: how low the corporate tax rate should go, whether pass-throughs should get even more favorable treatment than they do under the current tax code, how exactly to rejigger the marginal tax rate schedule, and more. One flank of the GOP wants 1986-style revenue-neutral tax reform, which will inevitably mean angering tons of people who will lose out as their deductions and credits are trimmed, consolidated, or eliminated outright. Another favors a George W. Bush–style temporary tax cut, which will involve a lot less pain, but that will also be less likely to spur the kind of long-term behavioral changes on the part of investors and employers that could boost long-run economic growth. On substantive grounds, reform is the better way to go. But passing a serious tax reform measure is also next to impossible, not least because the Trump White House is utterly incapable of knocking heads together to make it happen.

Trump’s path of least resistance, then, will be to champion a temporary tax cut aimed at the ultrawealthy, which will jibe with the sensibilities of his top economic advisers. But if he really wants to be loved, and to change the perception of his presidency for the better, he should instead back a progressive payroll tax cut aimed at low- and middle-income earners and an increase in the earned-income tax credit for childless workers. He should also push for a massive expansion of the child credit, one that would make it refundable against payroll taxes, which are far more burdensome than income taxes for most working- and middle-class parents, as Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review has noted. And as an added bonus, Ivanka Trump has emerged as the No. 1 champion of the idea inside the White House.

Taken together, these seemingly small tax tweaks would undoubtedly cause the deficit to increase. While it’s not hard to imagine how these tax cuts could be offset by well-targeted hikes elsewhere, let’s be serious: Trump isn’t going to want to raise taxes. What he cares about most is goosing his approval ratings, and this delectable little prix fixe of budget-busting tax cuts should do wonders in that department.

Kelsea Ballerini & Fiance Morgan Evans Couple Up at iHeartRadio Festival!

by Just Jared Jr @ Just Jared Jr.

Kelsea Ballerini had a super special guest watching her iHeartRadio Festival performance – fiance Morgan Evans! The 24-year-old country/pop songstress took the stage during the fest’s Daytime Village on Saturday afternoon (September 23) in Las Vegas. Kelsea and Morgan, who are set to tie the knot this year, shared a sweet kiss backstage before her [...]

Aug 8, Vireos | North American Birds | Birds of North America

by @ Birds of North America Blog

Vireos are insect-eating birds. Their singing is heard above the other birds in the forests, especially in the springtime when they sing non-stop.

Aug 12, Ruddy Quail-Dove | Birds seen in North America| North American Birds | CCNAB

by @ Birds of North America Blog

Ruddy Quail-Dove has been a visiting vagrant from south of the Rio Grande and the Caribbean Islands. This small attractive dove can be found in the tropical forests.

Slate News Quiz

Slate News Quiz

by Ray Hamel @ Slate Articles

Welcome to Slate’s weekly news quiz. It’s Friday, which means it’s time to test your knowledge of the week’s news events. Your host, Ray Hamel, has concocted questions on news topics ranging from politics to business, from culture to sports to science.

Questions are multiple-choice, and time is of the essence: You have 50 seconds to answer, and as the seconds tick away, the question’s point value drops from 50 all the way down to zero, so you’ll want to click on your answer as fast as you possibly can. There’s no penalty for an incorrect answer, so feel free to take a guess.

At the end of the quiz, you’ll be able to compare your score with that of the average contestant, as well as with the score of a Slatester who has agreed to take the quiz on the record. This week’s contestant is audience engagement editor Evan Mackinder.

Can you ace the quiz and beat Mackinder? Good luck!

The Asian Dove That Ate Europe Alive

The Asian Dove That Ate Europe Alive

Scientific American Blog Network

The story behind one of Europe's most familiar columbiforms...

Time to Protect Our Democracy

Time to Protect Our Democracy

by Palma Joy Strand @ Slate Articles

Next month, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the partisan gerrymandering case Gill v. Whitford. In Gill, the state of Wisconsin will argue that partisan gerrymandering is not “justiciable”—that this type of districting decision is not subject to judicial oversight. The court held more than 30 years ago in Davis v. Bandemer, however, that partisan gerrymandering challenges are, in fact, justiciable. That opinion, which I worked on as a clerk for Justice Byron White, provides crucial insight into the court’s choices in this case, which has the potential to revolutionize our political system. If the court follows the precedent and logic of Justice White, it will recognize that the time has come to rein in partisan gerrymandering, which has run amok in the years since the court issued its Davis opinion.

Back in 1986, Davis put the Supreme Court in a difficult position. On the one hand, judges respect the prerogatives of the political branches of government. On the other hand, the court had previously held that reapportionment cases and cases involving gerrymanders based on race were justiciable, and logic did not readily distinguish partisan gerrymandering.

In Davis, a solid majority of six justices voted for justiciability, which rendered partisan gerrymandering a legal as well as a political question. There was less clarity as to what level of partisan gerrymandering might rise to the level of unconstitutionality, with the court ultimately overturning a district ruling that had struck down the Indiana redistricting scheme in question.

The insights that I recall gleaning from Justice White’s comments during the drafting of his opinion highlight the complexity of determining whether legislative districts can be said to achieve fair—or unfair—representation. One insight was simply that, unlike race, people’s political affiliations change over time. Another was that under our political system a court should presume, absent evidence to the contrary, that an elected official in fact represents all of his or her constituents no matter what their party.

Finally, a critical insight was that there was tension between equal protection at the individual-district scale and at the party-state scale. Justice White walked me through the scenario of a state having 100 percent competitive districts. In that situation even a slight shift in the overall electorate from one election year to the next could lead in theory to radical swings that might result in one-party control of a delegation in a given state. In this view, a certain amount of gerrymandering might be considered essential to ensuring roughly proportional partisan representation.

Carefully navigating a path among these markers, the language that eventually made its way into Justice White’s opinion asserts: “[A] group’s electoral power is not unconstitutionally diminished by the fact that an apportionment scheme makes winning elections more difficult, and a failure of proportional representation alone does not constitute impermissible discrimination under the Equal Protection Clause.”

So what characteristics of partisan gerrymandering do constitute such impermissible discrimination? 

Here’s what Justice White wrote: “[U]nconstitutional discrimination occurs only when the electoral system is arranged in a manner that will consistently degrade a voter’s or a group of voters’ influence on the political system as a whole.”

In Davis, a plurality of four justices signed on to this standard and to the conclusion that the plaintiffs had not met it. Two more justices, in a strongly worded dissent written by Justice Lewis Powell, argued that a constitutional violation had occurred in Indiana. This left Justice White’s “consistent degredation” touchstone as the crucial portion of the Davis precedent over the years.

When the court returned to partisan gerrymandering in the 2004 decision Vieth v. Jubelirer, a new plurality of four justices led by Justice Antonin Scalia stormed dismissively that “no judicially discernible and manageable standards for adjudicating partisan gerrymandering claims have emerged [in the years since Davis v. Bandemer].” Without such standards, Scalia wrote, “we must conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims are nonjusticiable and that Bandemer was wrongly decided.”

But Justice Anthony Kennedy was not so quick. With Davis having opened the judicial door, he declined to provide the fifth vote for closing it. Looking ahead, Kennedy wrote, “[t]hat no … standard has emerged in this case should not be taken to prove that none will emerge in the future.” Wouldn’t it be unfortunate, Justice Kennedy wondered, for the court to act so hastily if indeed “suitable standards … did emerge”? Oh and by the way, might not the First Amendment have something to say about this kind of claim? It is unclear why, having voted to keep the judicial door open more than a decade ago, Kennedy would now vote to close that same door.

In considering what role the Davis precedent ought to play now, it’s worth noting that Justice White was a small-d democrat (in addition to being a Democrat). As another former White clerk observed on the occasion of his retirement from the court, Justice White had “confidence in the good faith and capabilities of democratic institutions.” In such a view, “government power is limited by the very forces that legitimate it: the people acting through fair and free elections, and a Constitution that both authorizes and specifically checks government actors.” His belief in democracy, though, did not translate into laissez-faire deference, especially to state political actors.

The story about Davis that Scalia attempted to spin in Vieth was this: Because a clear standard for adjudicating a partisan gerrymandering claim hadn’t yet emerged, justiciability was obviously foolish and the court should withdraw what was essentially a chimera of judicial review.

Here’s a different story:

In 1986, Davis provided an early warning signal to the court that state legislatures were moving toward new, highly sophisticated partisan gerrymandering using methods with an unprecedented level of effectiveness.

While the court saw that justiciability in Davis flowed logically from the prior wave of redistricting cases, the district court in that case had relied on outdated measures of districting distortion—compactness, following jurisdictional lines, and more—which had been rendered less germane by the one-person, one-vote requirement. There had not yet been multiple lower court rulings, which might provide the court important perspective about a potential pattern of degradation of fair representation. It wasn’t clear from the Davis record how much the gerrymander in Indiana was a relative flash in the pan. As Justice White was at pains to tell me, there is a fair amount of “give” in redistricting.

Davis served as a placeholder for the court to enter the institutional conversation about the parameters for redistricting if and when partisan gerrymandering itself—and also analysis of partisan gerrymandering—evolved to the level of entrenched partisan dominance. If none of this ever came to pass, Davis would languish from disuse. If, however, that consistent degradation did emerge, the court would be poised to participate in an essential conversation about one of the most fundamental attributes of our democracy. That is where we are now.

Although Davis was an equal protection case, Justice Kennedy’s suggestion about the First Amendment in Vieth recognizes, as I have written previously, that “the fundamental issue presented by partisan gerrymandering … is voice, [which] is about meaningful conversation and power.” But the standard for unconstitutionality articulated by the Davis plurality actually resonates most with the Guarantee Clause of Section IV of the Constitution, which assigns to the United States the responsibility “to guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.” The essence of a republican form of government is the reflection of the people’s perspectives in their government, and “consistently degrad[ing] a voter’s or a group of voters’ influence on the political process as a whole” interferes with that essence.

The court in Gill now faces precisely the kind of entrenched political distortion that Justice White saw on the horizon and that he took care to ensure was within the court’s power to curtail. Though the arguments in Gill center on equal protection and political voice, what is at stake in Wisconsin, as in much of the country, is the fundamental character of our government. The Davis court laid the foundation for judicial control of partisan gerrymandering run riot. The Vieth court wrung its hands. With Gill, the time has come for the court to fulfill its responsibility to protect small-d democracy, as well as small-r republicanism.

The Angle: Expensive Rooms Edition

The Angle: Expensive Rooms Edition

by Rebecca Onion @ Slate Articles

We have receipts: The transparency group Property of the People has proof that the National Security Council paid taxpayer money to stay at Mar-a-Lago in March of this year. That's the strongest evidence yet, April Glaser writes, that Trump is directly profiting from the presidency.

Get mad: Michelle Goldberg read Hillary Clinton's What Happened and thinks it's actually not angry enough. “She's more engaging when she's a little mean,” Goldberg writes.

Lololol: Ted Cruz now thinks “the media and the left seem obsessed with sex,” and believes that everyone should just lay off, man. Ruth Graham finds that pretty hilarious.

A lot to swallow: Darren Aronofsky's new movie Mother! is a real trip, Dana Stevens writes. The trailer makes it seem a little bit like a haunted-house horror flick, but it's deeply allegorical and “flamboyantly weird.” See it with a viewing companion who's down for a post-showing dissection.

For fun: That's a lot of centerfolds.

I'm exhausted,


Who Are You Calling Lawless?

Who Are You Calling Lawless?

by Mark Joseph Stern @ Slate Articles

The Trump administration’s latest attempt to punish sanctuary cities hit a snag on Friday when a federal court ruled the Justice Department cannot withhold public safety grants from jurisdictions that refuse to assist federal immigration authorities. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had attempted to prevent cities and states from receiving these funds unless they cooperated with immigration officials’ crackdown on undocumented immigrants. The court held that Sessions in fact has no power to attach new restrictions to the grants, rendering most of his new rules unlawful.

Friday’s decision marked the second time a court has blocked Sessions’ attempts to penalize sanctuary cities by depriving them of federal grants. It also comes on the heels of a sweeping ruling that froze the most controversial provisions of Texas’ new anti–sanctuary cities bill. Earlier this month, the White House declared that Donald Trump is “restoring law and order to our immigration system.” But in their haste to adopt a restrictionist immigration regime, Trump, Sessions, and their fellow Republicans have shown a consistent disdain for federal statutes and constitutional protections.

Consider Sessions’ latest sanctuary cities imbroglio. In July, the attorney general created new criteria for Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance grants, which dispense hundreds of millions of dollars to state and local law enforcement. Under these rules, jurisdictions would not be eligible for Byrne grants unless they collaborate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. Most pertinent here, law enforcement officials would have to give ICE agents access to local jails and, if the agency is interested in detaining an undocumented immigrant, notify ICE 48 hours before that person is set to be released. Chicago sued, alleging that the new rules were illegal.

Where does Sessions get the authority to impose these conditions on Byrne grants? Nowhere, as Judge Harry D. Leinenweber of the Northern District of Illinois pointed out in his ruling siding with Chicago. The Constitution grants Congress, not the executive branch, authority to impose conditions on federal funding. And Congress has never authorized the Justice Department, which is part of the executive branch, to force Byrne grantees to work with ICE. Sessions simply usurped Congress’ authority to make new rules.

When Chicago sued Sessions over the Byrne conditions in August, the attorney general put out a Trumpian statement asserting that the city “proudly violate[s] the rule of law” by protecting undocumented immigrants. But as Leinenweber explained on Friday, it was Sessions, not Chicago, who was acting lawlessly.

It’s surprising that Sessions would try to meddle with Byrne grants given that his first foray into sanctuary city–bashing failed so spectacularly. In Trump’s first days in office, the president issued an executive order directing the attorney general and Homeland Security secretary to withhold all federal grants and funding from sanctuary jurisdictions. Multiple cities quickly filed suit to defend their sanctuary policies. Sessions’ Justice Department, which apparently realized this order would violate multiple constitutional provisions, told a federal court that in reality, the order was nothing more than a narrow warning to sanctuary cities that the government would enforce current grant conditions.

In April, U.S. District Judge William Orrick blocked the order as an unconstitutional abomination. In his decision, Orrick essentially mocked the Justice Department, writing that he would not accept the DOJ’s “implausible” interpretation as it would transform Trump’s order into “an ominous, misleading, and ultimately toothless threat.” Instead, he analyzed the text of the order and found that it infringed upon constitutional separation of powers; coerced and commandeered local jurisdictions in violation of the 10th Amendment; and ran afoul of basic due process principles.

The White House promptly complained that Orrick “unilaterally rewrote immigration policy for our Nation” in an “egregious overreach.” Ironically, that is almost exactly what Trump had done through his executive order, illegally attaching new conditions to federal funds without congressional approval. Orrick had merely enforced the law; it was Trump who tried to change it unilaterally.

Neither of the Trump administration’s unlawful immigration power-grabs is as startling as SB 4, a Texas bill targeting sanctuary cities that Sessions’ Justice Department has defended in court. Confident in their measure’s legislative success, Texas Republicans turned SB 4 into a compendium of the most draconian possible attacks on sanctuary jurisdictions. The bill compelled local police to enforce immigration law, cooperate with ICE agents, and detain potentially undocumented immigrants; it also censored local officials who wished to speak out against the law. Law enforcement officers who ran afoul of SB 4 would face massive fines, jail time, and removal from office. Government employees who criticized the measure could also be fined and stripped of their positions.

Predictably, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia blocked these provisions in a lengthy August ruling, holding that SB 4 is nowhere close to constitutional. The gag order plainly infringes upon freedom of speech, “punish[ing] speakers based on their viewpoint on local immigration enforcement policy” in violation of the First Amendment. A provision forcing jails to keep individuals locked up if they are suspected of lacking documentation would trammel the Fourth Amendment. The section that penalizes any official who “materially limit[s]” law enforcement from “assisting or cooperating” with ICE is too vague to comport with due process. And the requirement that local police implement federal immigration law is pre-empted by federal statute. SB 4 would circumvent that federal law, illegally thwarting the will of Congress.

This is a law that Jeff Sessions says his Justice Department “fully supports.”

When Sessions and Trump talk about sanctuary cities, they tend to tout the concept of “law and order,” alleging that these cities—and the immigrants within them—undermine “the rule of law.” But as their repeated judicial trouncings indicate, the administration and its allies don’t much care for the rules themselves. For a purported effort to restore the rule of law, the Trump administration’s assault on sanctuary jurisdictions is remarkably lawless.

Skylar Stecker Spills on What It Was Like to Be on 'Austin & Ally'

by Just Jared Jr @ Just Jared Jr.

Remember when Skylar Stecker was a guest star on Austin & Ally? The 15-year-old singer is spilling on her experience filming the hit Disney Channel show back in 2015 and her plans for the future. “My favorite part of filming was the process of learning how to become the character. As a songwriter its about [...]

Harvard’s Shame

Harvard’s Shame

by Fred Kaplan @ Slate Articles

Harvard University, whose seal bears the motto “Veritas” (Latin for truth), is having a very bad week.

First, on Wednesday, the New York Times and the Marshall Project revealed the damning story of Michelle Jones, a convicted murderer recently released from prison after “a breathtaking feat of rehabilitation.” Jones, who is black and now 45, spent two decades behind bars in deep study of American history, earning a college degree and, last year, winning the Indiana Historical Society’s award for best research project. She applied to the Harvard history department’s Ph.D. program and was among the 18 students admitted from a pool of more than 300 applicants. But then the graduate school’s brass—including its president, provost, and dean—took the unusual step of reversing the admission, “out of concern,” the Times reported, “that her background would cause a backlash among rejected applicants, conservative news outlets, or parents of students.”

Elizabeth Hinton, one of the Harvard historians who backed Jones’ admission, called her “one of the strongest candidates in the country last year, period.” Hinton added that the case “throws into relief” the question of “how much do we really believe in the possibility of human redemption?” In the case of the heads of Harvard’s graduate studies department, it seems, not much. (Jones has since been admitted at New York University.)

Then on Friday came the news that Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government was revoking a visiting fellowship that it had, only days earlier, granted to Chelsea Manning, the transgender Army private who had served one-fifth of a 35-year sentence for providing secrets to WikiLeaks. (In his final days, President Obama commuted her sentence after seven years in a military prison.) The rebuke came hours after Mike Morell, a former deputy director of the CIA, resigned in protest as a senior fellow at the Kennedy School, and Mike Pompeo, the current CIA director (and a Harvard Law School alumnus), canceled a speech at Harvard, saying that Manning’s appointment tells “students that you too can be a fellow at Harvard and a felon under United States law.”

It seemed to many that Harvard had caved under CIA pressure. Manning tweeted:

Let us dispel a couple of notions. First, if Manning thinks that her treatment is the action of a “military/police/intel state,” or that the CIA has an iron grip on Harvard’s academic practices, she had no business getting the fellowship to begin with.

Second, a visiting fellowship at the Kennedy School is not as grand as it may sound. It is not an academic appointment; rather, a fellow comes to talk to a forum of students and faculty for a few days. Manning’s deal was to come for one day and to receive an honorarium of $1,000, according to a source familiar with the arrangement.

Still, a statement released on Friday by Douglas Elmendorf, dean of the Kennedy School, raises eyebrows. “I now think that designating Chelsea Manning as a Visiting Fellow was a mistake,” he wrote. Visiting fellowships, he explained, are offered to people who “significantly influenced events in the world even if they do not share our values and even if their actions or words are abhorrent to some members of our community. We do this not to endorse those actions or legitimize those words, but because engaging with people with fundamentally different worldviews can help us to become better public leaders.”

He went on, “I see more clearly now that many people view a Visiting Fellow title as an honorific, so we should weigh that consideration when offering invitations. … I think my assessment of that balance for Chelsea Manning was wrong. … This decision now is not intended as a compromise between competing interest groups but as the correct way for … recognizing that the title of Visiting Fellow implies a certain recognition.” (Italics added.)

It is hard to believe that the dean of the Kennedy School sees only now that the title of visiting fellow—or, for that matter, any title bestowed by the hallowed halls of Harvard—might imply a form of recognition and a badge of legitimacy. True-blue Harvardians understand the equation implicitly; they know it in their bones.

This was why Morell, who was a senior fellow attached for a year-term appointment to one of the Kennedy School’s centers, protested the title bestowed to Manning. Morell was a career CIA officer, imbued with the agency’s trademark abhorrence of anyone who leaks secrets. He and Pompeo exaggerated when they said Manning’s leaks put American troops in danger; a few senior military-intelligence officers have admitted to me that the leaks were embarrassing but not really damaging to national security. Manning’s bad luck was that she underwent trial in the military court system, which is explicitly designed to enforce discipline at least as much as justice. By that standard, a leak is a leak, and Manning leaked a lot. (Even presidents pay some fealty to this distinction; it’s worth emphasizing that Obama didn’t pardon Manning but rather commuted her sentence.) Morell’s statement prodded Elmendorf to rethink Manning’s fellowship; talk things over with fellow faculty, students, and prominent alumni; and very quickly come down on the other side.

The real lesson of this story is that it may be time to rethink the whole vaguely corrupting business of visiting fellows. The difference between a guest speaker and a visiting fellow is that guest speakers don’t get paid (presumably they accept the invitation for the honor of speaking at Harvard). Visiting fellows at Harvard do get paid, albeit a pittance, and they get to lace their résumés with a title that sounds a lot more glorious than it actually is. In this sense, Elmendorf’s statement is true: People do misperceive the title as an honorific. But he’s also being disingenuous: Surely he knows that the title is meant to sound like an honorific; it’s a way of luring people—some of them worthy, others merely headline-worthy—to campus.

Manning was clearly one of the headline-worthy names bestowed the title for the coming semester. Others in the same category (but, obviously, for different reasons) include Sean Spicer, President Trump’s first press secretary, and Corey Lewandowski, one of Trump’s campaign managers. Both rank among the most disreputable figures of the Trump era in American politics. The fact that they’re allowed the Harvard imprimatur while a genuine reformed scholar such as Jones is denied it speaks poorly for the university’s judgment and even its decency. Presumably Spicer and Lewandowski could teach students of government a thing or two about the way things work, if they told the truth. The problem is that their time as public figures suggests that they’re not in the truth-telling business.

So much for Veritas.

Good Religion

Good Religion

by William Saletan @ Slate Articles

Last Friday, friends and admirers of Michael Cromartie gathered in Virginia for his memorial service. Cromartie was a devout Christian, a vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and in one of his many gregarious exploits, a one-time mascot for the Philadelphia 76ers. Reporters knew him as the founder and organizer of the Faith Angle Forum, which brought together journalists and scholars twice a year to talk about religion, politics, and society.

Cromartie was an ambassador from religion to journalism. Those of us who attended the Forum were supposed to communicate, in turn, with the wider world. I could have taken the opportunity, as a representative from Slate, to build a dialogue between faith communities and the secular left. I didn’t. But as believers say, there’s always time to repent, and the truest repentance is action. So here’s what I learned from my years with Michael Cromartie: In a world full of religious hatred, religious violence, religious oppression, and religious stupidity, there’s a better kind of faith. It’s rich, sane, and healthy. It can teach us to think critically, not just about society at large, but about religion itself.

Good religion is sensible about science. It doesn’t treat evidence of climate change, evolution, or sexual orientation as a threat. It opens its mind to what science reveals, and it asks this question: Given what we are learning about the world, how can faith be true? Often, this question requires reinterpretation of Scripture. Most of my secular friends believe, for instance, that there’s no such thing as a reasonable creationist. They’re mistaken. At Faith Angle, I’ve been introduced to many Christian scholars who interpret creation as a process authored by God but guided by nature and illuminated by Charles Darwin. These scholars are working not on a faith-based reality, but on a reality-based faith.

Good religion has integrity. Christianity, like other traditions, is full of liars, hypocrites, and opportunists. You can point to self-serving televangelists, cardinals who cover up sexual abuse, and Christian-right leaders who worship President Trump. Faith Angle has always been a venue not for celebrating these people, but for exposing their corruption. That’s where I met Russell Moore, an official at the Southern Baptist Convention who nearly lost his job for denouncing the cult of Trump. Even at the height of the cult, you couldn’t find a Trump supporter at a Faith Angle conference. And our last session in May featured an unsparing takedown of prosperity preachers. The most powerful criticisms of sin in the name of religion come from within religion itself.

Good religion pursues justice. At Cromartie’s memorial service, there was a lot of talk about heaven. But at Faith Angle, he focused on the work to be done on this earth. After Dylann Roof murdered nine congregants at a Charleston, South Carolina, church in 2015, Cromartie brought in Albert Raboteau, a Princeton professor and son of a black man killed by a white man, to give a wrenching talk about forgiveness and reform. At other sessions, scholars in Catholic social teaching laid into anti-immigrant politics and economic inequality.

Good religion is humble. It understands that belief and virtue are bigger than any one faith. Cromartie was an evangelical Protestant. At Faith Angle conferences, he hosted speakers who were Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, and of other traditions. The point of getting together was never proselytization or vindication. It was to learn about one another. When you accept that you’re fallible and that God is beyond your comprehension, you begin to understand that other people may come to God in ways different from yours.

Above all, good religion is more about questions than about answers. Prophets, missionaries, and hucksters often promise that belief will settle your doubts, ease your anxieties, or end your suffering. But Faith Angle was always about inquiry. It didn’t just bring religion to journalists; it brought journalists to religion. We interrogated speakers with the same skepticism we’d bring to a press conference: If your savior says he loves you, check it out. The scholars, for their part, brought a spirit of academic exploration. The soul of each session was in the seminar, not the lecture, and the biggest questions were never resolved. The deeper you go, the more you find that at the core of everything is mystery.

Some of these lessons apply not just to religion as we normally understand it, but also to the secular ideologies many nonbelievers have adopted: atheism, progressivism, environmentalism, feminism, multiculturalism. We all have belief systems, and we can practice them well or poorly just as a Christian, Jew, or Muslim can. When we substitute dogma for thought, dismiss other points of view, or excuse violence in the name of righteousness, we’re practicing bad religion. We, too, must reflect and learn.

The Faith Angle Forum will go on. Pete Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is taking up the baton from Cromartie. At the memorial service, as I listened to promises of a heaven in which I don’t believe, I stewed about the cancer that killed Mike. He was 67, vigorous, and doing God’s work. He was a wonderful man. Meanwhile, at 71, Trump continues merrily along, wrecking whatever he can. What kind of God would do that? To an atheist, that question is the end of the matter. To a believer, it’s just the beginning.

The Angle: Gaping Chasm Edition

The Angle: Gaping Chasm Edition

by Rebecca Onion @ Slate Articles

Bad to worse: The new Republican health care proposal is “the most extreme yet,” according to Jordan Weissmann. Its passage would be a disaster: The bill “repeals Obamacare but doesn’t replace it in any meaningful sense.”

Pulling away: The racial wealth gap is getting worse. Jamelle Bouie looks at a report on the last three decades of widening differences between black, white, and Latino median household wealth and wonders how anyone can say we’re “post-racial.”

Behind the hard hat: Is “Iron Stache” candidate Randy Bryce a rising politician of substance? Or have the Democrats hitched their hopes to an extremely compelling working-class image? David Freedlander looks into it (and several commenters wonder why, in the age of Trump, this question even matters).

Won’t say it: The Emmys were full of implicit rebukes to Trump and Trumpism. But when the producers let Sean Spicer onstage, and The Handmaid’s Tale cast kept their acceptance speech politics-free, did those subtweets suffice? Willa Paskin wonders.

For fun: “No problem”? No problem.

No problem!


Independence Day

Independence Day

by Joshua Keating @ Slate Articles

There’s a popular saying in Kurdistan that the Kurds’ only friends are the mountains, meaning that when they need to fight back against occupiers or invaders, the only support they can count on is their forbidding terrain. This isn’t quite fair: The United States has been a pretty good friend to the Kurds of Iraq for the past 25 years. But as we’re likely about to see as Kurdish voters head to the polls for a controversial independence referendum on Monday that friendship has limits.

Few groups in the world get as much good will from Washington as Iraq’s Kurds. Iraqi Kurdistan, in northern Iraq, is a pocket of safety and political stability in a very dangerous region. Its leaders are staunchly pro-American (and even pro-Israel). Most Kurds practice a moderate brand of Islam, and the region has shown a remarkable commitment to gender equality. Its armed forces, the Peshmerga, have been an effective fighting force on the ground against ISIS, and the area has hosted a significant number of refugees and displaced people from Syria and elsewhere in Iraq. In short, it’s the sort of Middle East ally American politicians dream about.

Iraqi Kurdistan—distinct from other large Kurdish regions in Syria, Turkey, and Iran—is to a significant degree already independent. Under customary international law, the minimum threshold for statehood is a government, a permanent population, a defined territory, and the capacity to enter relations with other states. Kurdistan has all four. Most Kurds don’t identify as Iraqi. Like every U.S. citizen, I was able to travel there last year without an Iraqi visa.

This state of affairs is in large part thanks to the U.S. After decades of persecution under Saddam Hussein, a no-fly zone enforced by the U.S. and its allies after the first Gulf War allowed the Kurdish political experiment to take place. Kurds largely backed the 2003 U.S. invasion and have been one of that war’s rare beneficiaries. It was ISIS’s invasion of Kurdish territory in August 2014 that finally prompted the reluctant Obama administration to launch a military intervention against the group. (A concerted lobbying effort by the Kurdish government in Washington has also kept Kurdish concerns at the forefront of U.S. politicians’ minds.)

And yet, successive U.S. administrations have stopped just short of backing Kurdistan’s ultimate goal, full independence, typically arguing that the time is not right for the break-up of Iraq. After Kurdish President Masoud Barzani visited the White House in 2015, for instance, the Obama White House affirmed its support for a “united federal and democratic Iraq.” The Trump administration has maintained a similar position, urging Kurdistan to delay its referendum until after the final defeat of ISIS in Iraq. “We strongly oppose the planned September 25 referendum on Kurdish independence,” State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez told me in an emailed statement. “We urge Baghdad and Erbil to continue their cooperation to defeat ISIS, which has led to the liberation of Mosul and other areas.”

This makes some sense. It’s been hard enough to build the fractious and mistrustful coalition of countries battling ISIS, and Kurdish independence risks throwing another combustible element into the mix: Baghdad opposes the referendum as does nearly every country in the region with the exception of Israel.

But Kurds argue that the ISIS situation proves that they will never be safe as long as they’re part of Iraq. “After a century of trying, it is time to recognize that the forced inclusion of the Kurds in Iraq has not worked for us or for the Iraqis,” Barzani wrote in a recent op-ed for the Washington Post. Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the Kurdish Regional Government’s representative in Washington, told me she regularly hears the argument that Kurdistan ought to delay its referendum until after the fighting against ISIS is complete. “We might consider postponing it if there was a guarantee that the U.S. would eventually support it,” she said. “When you’re talking about Iraq, it’s very hard to find a window when Iraq is either not at war with itself or with some foreign entity. When is Iraq at peace? If we’re going to wait for Iraq to be Switzerland, I will never see a referendum in my lifetime.”

Peter Galbraith, a former U.S. diplomat and longtime advocate of Kurdish independence who has advised the Kurdish government and used to have business interests in the region, put it to me this way: “Why is the U.S. committed to keeping a country that is very pro-American and our ally under a government that is dominated by Iran? It’s perverse. Why aren’t we with our friends?”

No matter how sympathetic the U.S. might be to Kurdish aspirations—President Trump has described himself as a “big fan of the Kurds”—it’s actually not surprising that the U.S. is wary about backing a new state in the Middle East. With a few notable exceptions—Kosovo and South Sudan most recently—the U.S. has nearly always opposed the break-up of existing countries, including Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, fearing (with some justification) the potential for instability. And while it’s undoubtedly stable and prosperous compared to the rest of Iraq, there are some reasons to be wary about an independent Kurdistan’s prospects. The region has been mired for years in a financial crisis caused by both the ISIS situation and the low price of oil. It’s internally divided—the two main cities of Erbil and Suleymaniah are controlled by rival political parties whose clashes have turned violent in the past. There are also the tricky areas outside of the Kurdish Regional Government’s formal control, most notably the oil-rich, ethnically diverse city of Kirkuk, that were captured by the Peshmerga after the collapse of Iraqi security forces in the fight against ISIS. Neither Erbil nor Baghdad is likely to give these areas up without a fight.

There’s also a very real fear that, as unstable as the region has been, Kurdish independence could make things worse. “If [Barzani] unleashes momentum that can’t be checked and declares independence, there will be blood,” says Michael Rubin, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute and author of Kurdistan Rising. “Iran has already given the Kurds a red line and fearing the precedent of Kurdish independence, I fully expect them to uphold it. The fact that the Kurds are holding the referendum in disputed areas will make likely conflict with Baghdad.”

Despite these concerns, Kurds will almost certainly vote for independence in the referendum. Nearly 99 percent of them did the last time a similar vote was held—a nonbinding referendum in 2005. What comes next is less certain.

Kurdistan won’t be recognized as independent overnight, and Barzani has made clear that the timing of when Kurdistan actually becomes independent is subject to negotiation with Baghdad. Rahman compares the situation to Brexit, “where the British voted to get out of Europe and now the British government has to negotiate with Brussels.” But unlike the European Union, Iraq may refuse to even negotiate with Kurdistan, and in doing so would have the backing of most of the international community.

And what will the United States do? The U.S. has on several occasions paid lip service to Kurdish aspirations only to sell them out when they were no longer politically convenient. In the 1970s, the Nixon administration helped facilitate arms shipments to Kurdish rebels fighting Saddam only to cut off aid after it normalized relations with Iraq. A campaign of ethnic cleansing that killed around 100,000 Kurds followed. During the Gulf War in 1991, President George H.W. Bush openly encouraged “the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside.” Kurds, along with Iraqi Shiites, did rise up, but the U.S. never had any intention of openly backing the uprising or forcing Saddam from power. After the war, the dictator was allowed to keep his attack helicopters, which he quickly turned on Kurdish villages.

A betrayal on this scale is unlikely now. Still, the House Armed Services Committee has already threatened to withhold funding to the Peshmerga if Kurdistan breaks away from Iraq. Kurds can be forgiven for suspecting that their friends in Washington only support them when it’s convenient.

“The United States has played a very important role in Kurdistan. We’re grateful to the United States for many things,” says Rahman. ”We like to see this as a disagreement among friends.”

After Monday, we’ll see just how deep that friendship really goes.

Good Riddance, Benedict Arnold

by @ Slate Articles

On Sept. 11, 1775, during the pre-treason portion of Benedict Arnold’s career, he led a force of over 1,000 men on an extremely ill-advised trek through the Maine wilderness and attempted to mount a surprise attack on Quebec City. It didn’t go well. You may use the comment thread on this page to assess Arnold’s military record or to pursue other points of freewheeling, off-topic discourse.

Find previous discussions in the Open Thread archive.

Excepting the entreaty that you remain on topic, all of Slate’s usual commenting policies apply.

If you depend on this community and Slate’s journalism, please consider joining Slate Plus. We appreciate your support!

Steve Bannon’s Intellectual Reputation Is a Charade

Steve Bannon’s Intellectual Reputation Is a Charade

by Jamelle Bouie @ Slate Articles

As both chairman for Donald Trump’s campaign and onetime chief strategist for his White House, Steve Bannon cultivated a reputation for a kind of vulgar brilliance—the erudition of an intellectual matched with the instincts of, in his words, a “street fighter.” And the political press has obliged this image. Joshua Green, author of Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency, approvingly quotes one scholar who says that Bannon is “someone who comes out of a very serious intellectual tradition,” not “just some weird guy who likes playing politics.” On Twitter, New York Times political reporter Glenn Thrush argued that “Whether [you] respect him or not Bannon is a deep if narrow reader who is trying to create an ideological/intellectual foundation for Trumpism.”

It is true that Bannon crafted the attacks that helped sink Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race. But once you step outside the narrow world of election-year messaging (or, alternatively, propaganda), it’s not obvious that Bannon deserves his reputation for deep thinking or even tactical brilliance. Just the opposite. His recent statements and White House record show someone skilled at self-promotion but unable to advance a coherent (or even accurate) narrative or take advantage of political opportunity.

Steve Bannon’s reputation for deep thinking rests on his reference points. To read an interview with Bannon is to absorb constant references to history, philosophy, and religion. You saw some of this in his recent appearance on CBS’s 60 Minutes with interviewer Charlie Rose, where Bannon articulated his vision of “economic nationalism,” defending it as a return to the approach that made the United States dynamic and prosperous in the 19th century.

America’s built on our sys—on our citizens. Look at the 19 th century. What built America’s called the American system, from Hamilton to Polk to Henry Clay to Lincoln to the Roosevelts. A system of protection of our manufacturing, financial system that lends to manufacturers, OK, and the control of our borders. Economic nationalism is what this country was built on. The American system. Right? We go back to that. We look after our own. We look after our citizen, we look after our manufacturing base, and guess what? This country’s gonna be greater, more united, more powerful than it’s ever been.

On the surface, this is almost interesting—the kind of reference that makes its wielder seem erudite. The “American system” was a program for the development of the nation’s infrastructure (financed by high tariffs for selected industries and sustained by a national bank), a project of the Whig Party and its leaders, like Kentucky’s Henry Clay. Abraham Lincoln was an admirer of this system and promoted key elements as president. And one could say that the Roosevelts, or at least Franklin Roosevelt, were pioneers of a second American system, whose ideas were contiguous with the first. But that’s where the actual history ends.

Bannon’s opening declaration that America was “built on our citizens” is pure ideology, with little relationship to the facts of the matter. It ignores the critical role enslaved Africans played in building—and through the trade in their bodies, financing—the nation’s infrastructure. It ignores the labor of Chinese immigrants who performed backbreaking labor to help build the transcontinental railroad. It ignores those immigrants, none of them “citizens,” who fought to preserve the union in the face of secession. And to say that this America was built on the control of borders is to imagine a regime of immigration control where none actually existed.

Part of the story of the 19th century is how the men and women who lived under the flag of the United States, citizen and noncitizen alike, forged and fought over ideas of citizenship and what it meant to be an “American.” The process of Reconstruction and the fierce battle over the status of freed slaves exemplifies this integral part of America’s history. To a great extent, Bannon’s framing is a presentist error, an overlay of modern notions of citizenship and national boundaries over a time when those very things were still fluid and contested. Which is to say that Bannon fundamentally mischaracterized an era in a way that ought to challenge (if not topple) his constructed image.

As for Bannon’s alleged tactical genius? His ability to craft potent messages against Hillary Clinton lost its utility on the day after the election. What we should judge instead is his seven months as “chief strategist,” where, far from bolstering the president, he led him into a series of missteps and blunders, including a de facto “Muslim ban” that immediately mobilized large parts of the public against him. You can see the fruits of Bannon’s influence in Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, a response that earned near-universal condemnation from both parties and large numbers of Americans. What has Steve Bannon helped President Trump accomplish? Nothing, save a low and sinking approval rating.

Bannon’s carefully cultivated reputation obscures the truth. Far from being a mastermind or a “street fighter,” he is simply a provocateur, skilled at manipulating and exploiting prejudice—hence his success with Breitbart—but unable to do much else. Perhaps he will carry out his threat to challenge the Republican establishment and hold it accountable for what he views as insufficient fealty to the president. But if the past tells us anything about the future, that is doubtful.

Pigeon & Dove Friendly Rescues in the US | Palomacy

by @ Palomacy

Aug 12, Ruddy Quail-Dove | Birds of Cuba | Birds seen in Cuba

by @ Birds of North America Blog

Ruddy Quail-Dove has been a visiting vagrant from south of the Rio Grande and the Caribbean Islands. This small attractive dove can be found in the tropical forests, and is common in Cuba.

What Is Alternate Nostril Breathing?

What Is Alternate Nostril Breathing?

by Molly Olmstead @ Slate Articles

At a Thursday event at a church in New York, Hillary Clinton told attendees about how she coped with her loss to Donald Trump. She spoke of prayer and the support of friends and family. And then she mentioned her stress-relief practices: “I did some yoga,” she said. “Tried alternate nostril breathing; I highly recommend it. It kind of calms you down. And yes, I had my fair share of chardonnay.”

The wine, we might have expected. Clinton has used the Chardonnay line before. But what about the “alternate nostril breathing”?

According to the website for the Chopra Center, a wellness center co-founded by the alternative medicine guru Deepak Chopra, alternate nostril breathing is a technique meant to calm the mind and alleviate stress. Breathing exercises are a fundamental part of yoga. Pranayama, the specific discipline that deals with controlling your breathing, comes from classic Indian yoga and has been around for centuries. It can be translated to “the control of the life force.” Apart from alternate nostril breathing, there are also practices to breathe in deeply and expel the breath quickly; ones that focus on feeling the motions of your stomach while you breathe; and ones in which you hum or chant while exhaling.

These are varied methods, but all have a focus on deep breathing. And health experts agree that deep, slow breathing can help with stress, which in turn eases symptoms associated with anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and attention deficit disorders. Although the mechanics behind these benefits aren’t known precisely, it seems consciously moving into deep controlled breathing sends a calming message to your autonomic nervous system, lowering stress levels and the production of stress hormones, as well as potentially slowing your heart rate and aiding digestion.

So what exactly was Clinton doing when she practiced this technique?

What it looks like, according to YouTube tutorials, is this: Using one finger, you cover one nostril and slowly inhale through the other. Then you switch. You cover the other nostril with a different finger on the same hand and slowly exhale through your now-uncovered nostril. You breathe back in, and then switch again for the exhale. You repeat this process several times, presumably until you feel sufficiently calm. It’s just breathing in one nostril and out the other, as straightforward as the name suggests.

It might sound strange to hear Hillary Clinton use the words “alternate nostril breathing,” but it seems she simply focused on a yogic practice she found particularly calming. Maybe in her new book, What Happened, we’ll read about even more of Clinton’s stress-fighting tips. In the meantime, it might be worth considering trying out yogic breathing exercises. After all, in the Trump era, we all could use some stress-fighting tips.

Trump Has No Good Reason to Scrap the Iran Deal

Trump Has No Good Reason to Scrap the Iran Deal

by Fred Kaplan @ Slate Articles

President Trump seems determined to wiggle out of the Iran nuclear deal, but all the rationales that he and his top aides have put forth to justify the move are specious and self-destructive.

The main thing about the deal—which was signed in 2015 by the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany, as well as Iran—is that it really did cut off all of Iran’s possible paths to a nuclear weapon, at least for the duration of the agreement and as long as Iran doesn’t cheat.

Not even the deal’s critics contest this point any longer, except possibly Trump himself, who in his U.N. address on Tuesday called it the worst, most one-sided transaction in our history. He’s filed the charge many times: Iran got billions of dollars, and we got nothing. He persists in ignoring that the billions Iran received were in fact their own assets, which had been frozen as punishment for their illegal nuclear program; with that program dismantled, the freeze is lifted. That’s how sanctions work, and it’s how the Iran nuclear deal was done. As for the U.S. getting nothing: Preventing the rise of a nuclear-armed Iran, with its heightened possibilities of war, is, I think anyone else would agree, far from nothing.

Compliance is an urgent issue, because after the deal was signed the Senate passed a bill demanding that every 90 days the president must certify whether Iran is abiding by its terms. If Iran were cheating, Congress could vote to reimpose sanctions. The bill’s Republican sponsors figured that, at some point, Iran would cheat and that this requirement would put the president—either Obama or his successor, then widely assumed to be Hillary Clinton—on the spot.

The problem, from the Republicans’ point of view, is that the International Atomic Energy Agency—which the deal gave extensive rights to inspect Iran’s facilities—has concluded repeatedly that the Iranians are in compliance. Trump has threatened to decertify its compliance anyway. He almost did so in July, the most recent time he had to sign (or not sign) a statement, until his aides convinced him that he couldn’t simply say that day was night.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, also at the U.N., came up with another reason for scotching the deal. Yes, he conceded, Iran “is in technical compliance with the agreement,” but—as the New York Times paraphrased his words—it is “violating the larger aspirations of the deal by engaging in destabilizing activities not directly covered by it,” such as funding terrorists and developing ballistic missiles.

This is shamefully dishonest. The Iran nuclear deal was a carefully worded deal; it is what it says it is, and nothing more. Neither directly, indirectly, nor in any other way does it cover, or aspire to cover, anything beyond Iran’s nuclear program—any more than the decades of nuclear arms-control treaties with the Soviet Union were meant to cover Moscow’s communist ideology, suppression of human rights, or occupation of Eastern Europe. Nor did Moscow suffer the illusion that they might have some impact on America’s bombing of North Vietnam or its entente with rival China.

President Obama said repeatedly that he hoped the deal would strengthen the moderate factions in Tehran, paving the way to political reform and more harmonious relations with the West. But he stressed that the deal was in our interests even if wider relations didn’t improve—in fact, if relations remained dismal, the deal would be more vital.

Iran’s ballistic missile program is another worry that makes the nuclear deal more, not less, attractive. This was a contentious issue during much of the negotiations. In the end, the United States and the other powers in the talks agreed to let it drop for two reasons. First, unlike Iran’s nuclear program, which was outlawed by the Non-Proliferation Treaty and some U.N. Security Council resolutions, there was nothing illegal about the missile tests. Second, the missiles were viewed as a threat only if they carried nuclear weapons; if the deal halts the nuclear program, the missiles wouldn’t be a threat—at least not in any way that this agreement encompassed.

Besides, sanctions against Iran for these specific activities—supporting terrorism and developing ballistic missiles—are still in place; they were not affected by the lifting of sanctions related to its nuclear program. It is not the case that we are letting the Iranians off easy on those counts.

Finally, there are the deal’s sunset clauses. Its critics object that the deal expires in 10 years, meaning that Iran could just wait around, regain its strength and wealth in the international economy, then build a bomb with—as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once warned—“the snap of a finger.”

A few notions here are mistaken. First, without the deal, Iran could have built some nuclear bombs in one year, not in 10 years. Second, only a few aspects of the deal have 10-year limits—the production of advanced centrifuges, monitoring of Iranian civil nuclear procurement, the automatic U.N. “snapback” of sanctions if Iran cheats. But many other critical aspects of the deal expire in 15 years. These include the 3.67 percent cap on enriched uranium (far below what’s necessary for bomb-grade material), the stockpile cap on even that level of “low”-enriched uranium (which means that, even if they enriched it to weapons-grade levels, they wouldn’t have enough to turn it into a bomb), and the ban on heavy-water reactors (which would be needed to turn enriched uranium into a bomb). The IAEA is allowed to continue inspecting centrifuge production for 25 years. And critical pledges that Iran made in the agreement—to abide by other sorts of IAEA inspections, to reprocess spent fuel (rather than turn it into weapons), and to continue abiding by the Non-Proliferation Treaty—have no expiration date at all.

Given all of the above, neither Iran nor any of the deal’s other signatories will see the need to open it up for renegotiation (many who were involved in the monthslong process agree that it was the best deal that could be had), much less scuttle it altogether.

One intriguing proposal, made by some, is to start negotiations toward a supplemental agreement without tearing up the original. This idea has precedent. The 1974 Vladivostok Accord stiffened the limits on offensive nuclear weapons that had been set in the 1972 Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty. The 1997 Additional Protocol added inspection procedures to the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty. It might not be a bad idea for the six powers and Iran to sit down for talks on improving the deal. One product of the agreement was a permanent “joint commission” to discuss compliance issues, which could be the forum for extended talks.

But if anyone is to take the idea of new talks seriously, President Trump needs to accept the existence—and widespread acceptance—of the deal as it stands. This means not only stopping talk of scuttling it for no good reason; it also means doing more to abide by the deal himself.

At the G-20 summit in July, Trump pressured allied leaders to refrain from doing business with Iran, even though the lifting of the sanctions allowed them to do so. This pressure was a direct violation of the nuclear agreement’s Article 29, which states:

The EU and its Member States and the United States, consistent with their respective laws, will refrain from any policy specifically intended to directly and adversely affect the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran inconsistent with the commitments not to undermine the successful implementation of the JCPOA.

Trump’s persistent threats to pull out of the nuclear deal are also impeding “trade and economic relations,” especially among American banks, which hesitate to get involved with Iranian businesses, lest the resumption of sanctions force them to close the loans or investments they’ve made, losing them money. New York banks and investment funds have almost no relations with any entities in Iran. It would be hard to make a case that, by threatening to pull out of the deal, Trump has “intended” to set back the normalization of trade and economic relations—but the effect does “undermine the successful implementation” of the deal.

Iran has its own house to clean in this regard. During the decade when nuclear sanctions were in place, Iranian banks became routers for money laundering—it was the only way to stay in business—and the managers built up habits that they haven’t managed to kick in the two years since the sanctions were lifted.

If the United States were serious about normalizing relations, it would offer to send over specialists to help the Iranian banks adjust to global standards and practices. That isn’t happening either. Meanwhile, European banks—trading in euros, not dollars—are making more of a go at working out terms.

In any case, scuttling the deal—a nonstarter to begin with—is no way to build trust.

More to the point, even if Trump isn’t interested in building trust, it would also severely damage U.S. security interests.

Tyler Posey & Dylan O'Brien Spill on Their Final Days on the 'Teen Wolf' Set

by Just Jared Jr @ Just Jared Jr.

We can’t believe that the Teen Wolf finale is actually happening TONIGHT! We’re not crying, you’re crying. Longtime co-stars Tyler Posey and Dylan O’Brien recently opened up about what it was like during their final days on set. Dylan explained that his last days weren’t about his character’s story line but about his cast. “At [...]

The Real Political Correctness

The Real Political Correctness

by Jamelle Bouie @ Slate Articles

Want to listen to this article out loud? Hear it on Slate Voice.

The ideology that put Donald Trump in the White House is one of victimhood as much as it’s one of resentment. As a candidate for president, Donald Trump did more than attack presumed outsiders like Muslims and Hispanic immigrants; he also quenched a thirst for a large group of Americans indignant about what they have suffered at the hands of others. But these supporters weren’t victims of any real oppression or exclusion—they saw themselves as victims of political correctness, living in a world where a liberal media suppressed truth in the name of supposed fairness.

But what they called truth was simply prejudice. The media won’t talk about immigrant crime or “radical Islamic terrorism,” argued Trump in a year’s worth of rallies and events—grossly distorting the reality of immigrant communities and violence in the Muslim world—but I will. When his supporters praised his honesty and bluntness, aka his political incorrectness, what they meant was his willingness to air bigotry as truth. For them, his public prejudice was a kind of liberation from an oppressive atmosphere of conformity.

The irony is that, the occasional high-profile backlash notwithstanding, few people are actually punished or ostracized for expressing Trump-like attitudes. This is clearly true in everyday life, where a sizable number of Americans hold and express white nationalist views but retain their jobs and relationships. It’s also true in the public sphere. Donald Trump is emblematic of this. Five years after stoking a racist conspiracy theory about the legitimacy of the U.S. president, he won the presidential nomination for the Republican Party, with only modest dissent from GOP elites. Put differently, Americans overestimate how much anyone is ever sanctioned for explicit prejudice and racism. The political correctness so decried by Trump and other conservatives is more chimera than scourge.

There is, however, a different, stronger form of political correctness at work in American life, with real consequences for those who violate it. This political correctness targets those who speak frankly about the force and effects of racism. It’s a political correctness based on the offense felt by white Americans, and it’s pervasive and powerful.

The most prominent recent example involves Jemele Hill, an ESPN personality who last week tweeted that President Trump was a white supremacist who has surrounded himself with “other white supremacists.” The tweet was a sensation, and after White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called Hill’s statement a “fireable offense,” inserting the presidency into matters of private employment, ESPN rebuked Hill, saying she crossed a line. Trump then took to Twitter to blast the network itself.

ESPN’s public editor also weighed in. “I think Hill made an error in judgment in those tweets,” he said, arguing that while Hill is a commentator, she erred by “ignoring company guidelines,” which hold that political discussion should center on topics “impacting sports” and which ask employees to avoid “personal attacks and inflammatory rhetoric.” He added, as well, that calling the president a “white supremacist” pushes that line.

Others disagreed, including the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates during an interview on All In With Chris Hayes.

I think if you own a business that attempts to keep black people from renting from you, if you are reported to say that you don’t want black people counting your money; if you say—and not even reported, just come out and say—that someone can’t judge your case because they are Mexican; if your response to the first black president is that they weren’t born in this country, despite all proof ... if that’s the essence of your entire political identity you might be a white supremacist, it’s just possible.

In this reading, white supremacist isn’t a pejorative; it’s a description of President Trump’s ideology, a judgement drawn from his actions. In the same way that a journalist might look at Barack Obama’s record and label him a liberal, or do the same to George W. Bush’s and label him a conservative, Coates, like Hill, is drawing a conclusion from the accumulated evidence.

The problem for Hill isn’t that the conclusion lacks a factual basis. The problem is that it offends certain groups of white Americans. It is, in a phrase, politically incorrect. But whereas Trump’s politically incorrect affirmation of white racism is rewarded, Jemele Hill’s was punished. For the past year, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been maligned for kneeling during the U.S. national anthem, which began in 2016 as a protest of police violence against black Americans. Barack Obama sparked controversy whenever he spoke bluntly and honestly on racism, whether it was criticizing police for arresting a black historian at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, or expressing sympathy for the family of Trayvon Martin, the black teenager killed by George Zimmerman after a confrontation in a Florida suburb. In neither case did Obama misrepresent the facts, but he did treat racism as a real force, expressed by real people, that burdened black people. This, to many white Americans, was intolerable.

If liberal political correctness is overstated, then its mirror image, the force that shuts down frank discussions of racism and racist acts, is understated. Yet it’s this latter force that more powerfully shapes our politics, either in the spectacle of the White House demanding retaliation against critics, or in writing and thinking that seeks to absolve white Americans from any responsibility for racism.

The president and other conservative voices rail against liberal political correctness. But on the whole, the burden posed by “P.C. culture” is light. The pervasive discrimination in hiring, housing, and schooling is evidence there are relatively few spaces where prejudice is adequately countered and openly punished. What is punished is anti-racism or even just the identifying of racist beliefs, practices, and actions. Protesting racism might make you a pariah. Indulging it might put you in the Oval Office.

Donald Trump Is Not an Independent

Donald Trump Is Not an Independent

by Jamelle Bouie @ Slate Articles

It was just last year that Donald Trump ran for president promising cheaper health care for his supporters and greater trade protections. He rejected cuts to Medicare and Medicaid and pledged a new national commitment to infrastructure. In other words, though on paper Trump was the Republican nominee, in reality he was a kind of independent who ignored conservative dogma to forge a message of welfare statism and racial demagoguery.

As president, however, Trump has kept the racial demagoguery but abandoned everything else, linking his fortunes, and his domestic policy agenda, to a right-wing Republican establishment. His personal volatility aside, Donald Trump has governed as an almost doctrinaire conservative Republican.

This fact has not prevented a spate of claims that with his unorthodox style and messaging, President Trump is largely independent of the traditional two-party system. “Although elected as a Republican last year, Mr. Trump has shown in the nearly eight months in office that he is, in many ways, the first independent to hold the presidency since the advent of the current two-party system around the time of the Civil War,” wrote Peter Baker for the New York Times. He wasn’t alone; an Associated Press analysis declared that “Trump the independent” had “emerged in full.”

It’s not hard to see why. Throughout August, Trump singled out Republicans for attack, blasting them on his Twitter feed and saving particular fury for Sens. Mitch McConnell and Jeff Flake. And last week, Trump threw the GOP into disarray when he backed a Democratic proposal—from leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi—to fund the government, provide hurricane disaster relief, and raise the debt ceiling for only three months, rather than the 18 months requested by Republican leaders.

If the test for independence is merely a willingness to upend partisan governance, then that decision fits the bill. It was an independent moment. But it’s far too much to say that Donald Trump is an independent president, or that he’s challenged the “duopoly.” (If one moment is all it takes, then who wouldn’t qualify as an “independent” president?) For as much as Trump has been publicly antagonistic toward Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, and other Republicans, his priorities are the party’s. He may not act or speak like a typical Republican president, but he governs like one.

For the first six months of his presidency, Trump pursued dramatic cuts to the social safety net. Both Republican bills to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act—the American Health Care Act in the House and the Better Care Reconciliation Act in the Senate—would have cut subsidies and slashed Medicaid to the bone, leaving millions of Americans without health insurance. President Trump called the House version “mean” but never wavered in his support.

In his budget proposal, Trump asked Congress to take a knife to essential programs for poor and working Americans—far from a fulfillment of his campaign promises to protect the working class. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program would be cut by nearly $200 billion over 10 years, while Temporary Assistance for Needy Families—an already barebones program—is cut by $21 billion. He cuts $800 billion from Medicaid, and asks for cuts to Social Security Disability Insurance.

His zeal for tax cuts is a central pillar of the GOP. Trump is yet to produce a detailed plan for tax reform, but we know that about half the benefits of Trump’s $3.5 trillion tax cut would go to the top 1 percent of households, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center at the Brookings Institute. This is almost indistinguishable from tax plans produced by his rivals during the Republican presidential primaries. Jeb Bush, for example, proposed an estimated $3.4 trillion tax cut with most of the benefits going to high earners. Marco Rubio called for an even pricier tax cut—$6.8 trillion over 10 years—with similar distributional effects.

Everywhere you look, Trump has adopted Republican dogma as his own. His business-friendly policies on education and the environment reflect GOP orthodoxy, and his judicial nominees meet the ideological standards imposed by party activists. Neil Gorsuch, confirmed to the Supreme Court earlier this year, is a model conservative judge. Trump may praise himself for the Gorsuch pick, but any Republican president would have made it.

If one looks at presidential politics as a story of individuals, then Trump is a kind of independent whose alliance with Republican leaders is tenuous and opportunistic. But this discounts his relationship with the Republican Party as a whole. Trump is the leader of the party, and by virtue of this is inextricably tied to the party infrastructure. Every choice he makes, from proposals and policies to the people he nominates and appoints, is drawn from a well constructed by the Republican Party and built to its specifications. Trump might not be a product of the party, but the same can’t be said of his White House.

And his personal independence has its limits. Trump didn’t buck the GOP on judicial nominees or tax cuts: He did so to strike a narrow budget deal with few repercussions for the Republican Party’s larger priorities. As a party leader, Donald Trump is a little more flexible—more willing to challenge and criticize his allies. But we shouldn’t read too much into it. Trump is a Republican, and this is a Republican administration.

Riding the Madaraka Express

Riding the Madaraka Express

by Melissa Lefkowitz @ Slate Articles

Each week, Roads & Kingdoms and Slate publish a new dispatch from around the globe. For more foreign correspondence mixed with food, war, travel, and photography, visit its online magazine or follow @roadskingdoms on Twitter.

I sit on a train, halfway between Mombasa and Nairobi, on Kenya’s brand new Standard Gauge Railway. As we wait for another train to pass on the line’s single track, riders begin to stand up and peer through the closed square windows. Within minutes, a blur of white and orange flies past us, and a wave of whooping and laughter ripples through the coach. A grinning passenger turns to me and explains, “You can’t feel the speed from the inside of the train.”

The Standard Gauge Railway is the fastest train Kenya has ever seen. It operates at an average of 75 miles per hour. This is nearly double the speed of the country’s only other train line, the now-defunct Kenya–Uganda Railway, built in 1901 during the colonial era. As if to emphasize the point, the SGR opened 18 months ahead of schedule on Kenya’s annual anniversary of self-rule: Madaraka Day on May 31. The train line, which has been labeled the Madaraka Express, has been sold out every day since.

The passenger train runs between Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi, and the Indian Ocean port city of Mombasa; the trip takes five hours. This provides a much-needed alternative to buses that can take up to 11 hours to shuttle between the two cities. Traveling by bus means enduring a relentlessly bumpy ride over potholed highways. Also, Kenya has one of the highest road-death rates in the world, so there’s the very real potential of being among the casualties of a passing cargo truck.

The railway was primarily built to help ease the transport of 22 million tons of imports, which arrive every year at Mombasa’s ports and are hauled, mainly on those passing cargo trucks, to destinations around Kenya and as far away as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda.

Despite its obvious benefits, the new train line, the country’s most expensive infrastructure project to date, is controversial. In 2014, President Uhuru Kenyatta signed a $3.8 billion contract with the China Roads and Bridges Corporation, a Chinese state-owned construction company, to build phase one of a railway that will eventually extend to Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, and Ethiopia. The disputes started almost immediately: overfinancing, land acquisition, and the project’s environmental impact.

Critics of the railway question whether the benefits are worth the debt the government now owes to the China Export-Import Bank, which financed 85 percent of the project. The government had to purchase large swaths of the 295 miles of land that the SGR traverses, resulting in disputes over land valuation and compensation for displaced residents, which together cost another $290 million. This alone was more than double the original budget.

Finally, the line runs through two national parks. Although the Chinese construction company incorporated environmental protections into its design, conservationists have voiced concerns over animal safety in Tsavo National Park, where a large embankment has threatened elephants’ migration routes.

The new train runs once a day in each direction, and when I purchase same-day tickets on a rainy Friday morning in Nairobi, I feel that I have accomplished the impossible. Tickets are only available three days in advance of departure and are only sold at the train station. (An online booking system is still in the works.)

The Nairobi train station is 11.5 miles from the city center. When I arrive at the station in early August, throngs of people are lined up outside, their luggage in rows next to them. Station security paces up and down as guard dogs sniff at our luggage. Security measures are heightened in anticipation of the upcoming general elections on Aug. 8; elections have caused concern ever since 2007, when post-election violence caused the deaths of more than 1,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands.

After five minutes in the security line, I enter the ticketing area only to find at least 70 people waiting in multiple lines by the ticket booths. A large monitor, nearly identical to those I’ve seen in Chinese train stations, shows that there are just two tickets left in first class and none left in economy.

When I reach the counter, I ask for a first-class ticket, which costs 3,000 Kenyan shillings (about $30 USD), and an economy return ticket, which cost 700 shillings ($7). After five minutes, I am informed that the credit card readers are not working. I don’t have any cash.

The attendant asks if anyone will give me cash that I could then pay back with M-Pesa. M-Pesa is Kenya’s innovative mobile money service, which allows people to make payments with mobile phones. After pacing up and down the lines for several minutes, a quiet elderly man hands me 4,000 shillings. I thank him profusely, send him the money on my phone, and run back to the window.

The attendant quickly hands me the ticket and urges me to run as my train is leaving in 15 minutes. After two more security checks, I descend onto a huge platform and race to my coach. I am on the Madaraka Express.

The train leaves promptly at 9 a.m. As it pulls out of the station, I notice that Kenyan and Chinese staff are standing outside waiting for the train to leave. Worried about implementation issues, Kenya Railways recently subcontracted 400 Chinese nationals to help operate the train over the next 10 years.

Inside the train, passengers are seated in wide red seats. At the front of the car, placards depicting the flags of Kenya and China hang side-by-side. An announcement comes over the sound system warning parents to watch their children as train speeds will be quite high and the dangers of running through carriages may not be immediately apparent to first-time riders. Then “Chandelier” by Sia begins playing. I look out the window as the train passes through Athi River, a town where the first of the train’s seven intermediate stations are located.

Around 30 minutes into the trip, I decide to check out the dining car. I buy coffee, chips, and a banana for 250 Kenyan shillings (about $2.50). The coffee is served “white,” which means a cup full of piping hot milk and a packet of instant Nescafé.

Sipping my coffee—which I rather like—I sit down across from a man and a woman seated cozily next to each other in a four-seater booth. They are a couple taking a weekend away from Nairobi, where they both work as clerical administrators. This is their first time taking the train.

The man, Anthony Rugutt, is laughing at the wrapping on his chicken salad sandwich, which reads “Nas Airport Services.” Rugutt assures me that it’s a good sandwich. He and his girlfriend, Monica Mutemi, are taking the train because it is fast, convenient, and safe.

But more importantly, it is an experience. “You enjoy the scenery, get to see the countryside, the wildlife, and you get to pass through the park,” Rugutt says. Looking out the window as the train passes through Machakos County, where herds of goats and cows idle in fenced areas alongside the train tracks, Rugutt and Mutemi observe that taking the train is a good way of seeing Kenya. You can’t get this experience on an 11-hour overnight bus.

The bus figures prominently in my conversations with passengers. Martin Simiyu, a business consultant from Nairobi, says that if the train didn’t exist, 90 percent of the passengers would be on a bus right now. Even though there are more than 10 flights a day between Mombasa and Nairobi, they cost between $60 and $150—prohibitively expensive for most Kenyans.

Three-quarters of the way to Mombasa, an announcement comes over the train’s sound system telling us that we’re entering Tsavo National Park. We might see elephants, zebras, and giraffes, the voice says, as though we are on an amusement park ride. Some people, such as my neighbor Simiyu, respond excitedly. Standing up, he looks out for elephants and spots many in the distance.

The new train line is not the first manmade interference in the park’s natural habitat. The Nairobi–Mombasa highway splits the park into two sections, and the Kenya–Uganda Railway tracks run through sections of the park as well. But the large embankment built for the SGR presents particular dangers to the park’s 12,000 elephants. There are only six openings for elephants to pass, and eight elephants have died as a result since March 2017.

As we near Mombasa, the yellow savannah gives way to the lush landscape of the coast. We arrive at the Mombasa Terminus nearly five hours since we departed Nairobi. The Mombasa station is a striking structure with open staircases and a tall central pillar topped by several windowed disks. It’s located in a quiet residential area of Mombasa, at the top of a hill 7 miles west of Mombasa proper. Almost immediately, I realize I have no sense of the distance between the terminus and my destination: a hostel on the coast.

As passengers pile into buses and waiting cars, I open my Uber app in the hopes of landing a ride, but there are no drivers in the area. Slightly panicked, I look around at my options. The buses have all left the station, but vehicles are still scattered throughout the parking lot. A young driver named Edward offers his services. He suggests I pay 1,500 Kenyan shillings ($15) for the ride down to the hostel, and after some negotiating, we head to his tuk-tuk.

On our way down to Mombasa I realize why there are no Ubers available: A convoy of cargo trucks line the road leading to the train station, and traffic is at a standstill. Edward cuts through side streets lined with vegetable stalls to avoid the gridlock.

I chat with another passenger, Helen Ndune. Ndune has taken the train to drop her children off with her family in Mombasa, where she thought they would be safe during the election. This turns out to be a smart decision: A week later, disputes over the election results will lead to clashes in Nairobi’s city center.

I arrive at the hostel an hour and a half later. Grateful to be near Mombasa Beach, I spend the remaining hours of the day walking on the beach, eating octopus at an oceanside restaurant, and laying in a hammock in the hostel’s neon-lit courtyard. Late into the night, cheers from a rally for the Jubilee Alliance, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s multiparty coalition, penetrate the hostel’s walls: “Tuko pamoja! UhuRuto!” they chant. “We are together! President Uhuru and Deputy President Ruto!”

I wake up early the next morning for a shuttle that has been making daily trips to and from the train station. This time, it will cost me 400 shillings ($4) to go up the hill to the station. Along the way, I sit next to Andrew Kiptanui, a 30-year-old from Mombasa who is taking the train just for the experience.

Kiptanui was 7 years old the last time he took a passenger train, in 1994. The old train, Kiptanui says, was virtually unusable. Indeed, the Kenya–Uganda Railway, known locally as the Lunatic Express for the number of people who died during its construction, was never affordable or fast. The overnight train took 12 to 13 hours to travel between the capital and Mombasa. Those who weren’t lucky enough to afford a bed in a first- or second-class compartment would often stand or sleep on the floor of the perennially overcrowded train. Its last journey was in April 2017.

As we pick up passengers on the way to the station, Kiptanui shows me videos his friend had sent of people waiting in line at the Mombasa Terminus at 4:30 a.m. The limited booking system, Kiptanui says, means people are making a killing reselling tickets to desperate passengers. Since July, seven people have been charged for illegally reselling tickets, but that hasn’t stopped the hawking.

As we approached the station, Kiptanui points to the tarmacked road below. “They hadn’t finished this when the train opened,” he tells me. Along with the booking system, the road had been another casualty of the SGR’s early launch. Chatter in the shuttle centers on the political elements of the train’s construction: Recent improvements to the country’s infrastructure, of which the railroad is the centerpiece, feature heavily in Kenyatta’s campaign for re-election. (He wins the election the following week, but the results are annulled by the Supreme Court; a new election is scheduled for Oct. 24.)

A man sitting next to Kiptanui is skeptical, positing that Kenyan citizens’ taxes would all go toward repaying the government’s debt to China. (The China Export-Import Bank loaned the Kenyan government $3.23 billion in total.) Kiptanui, agreeing with the man, adds that ticket prices will probably go up following the election.

We arrived at the station in good time. Thirty minutes later, I take my seat in one of the train’s 11 economy coaches. The economy-class seats are arranged in blue-upholstered pews that face each other with small tables in the middle.

During the ride I learn that, unlike in first class, most passengers are not taking the train for the pure pleasure of it. Many are going home where they are registered to vote. (Kenya does not have an absentee ballot system.)

Others are riding for work. Moses Kimani, a chemist with Kenya’s Ministry of Health, is taking the train for the fifth time. He paid a scalper in Mombasa’s city center 1,200 shillings ($12) for an economy-class ticket. For him, traveling to the station just to get a ticket would have been too burdensome: “Even if a broker sells me a ticket for 1,500, I’ll buy it because you can’t compare five hours with 12 hours.”

For many, the train is convenient, but flawed. Unlike the bus, the train has no Wi-Fi, no entertainment (buses typically show movies), and extremely high food prices. Ann Wanguri, who is going home to vote, points out that a mandazi—a type of square donut made of fried dough, coconut, cinnamon, and nutmeg—costs 100 shillings ($1) on the train but just 10 shillings on the bus.

Just 15 minutes before we reach the Nairobi Terminus, I finally see some animals. To the west of the train is Nairobi National Park, a 45.3 square-mile sprawl of grass plains located just 4 miles south of the city. Looking down from a high overpass, I spot zebras and giraffes wandering through yellow brush like ants in high grass. I could gaze at them forever, but the train pushes on.

No Truth, No Consequences

No Truth, No Consequences

by Jamelle Bouie @ Slate Articles

On Wednesday, in a discussion of the latest Republican health care bill, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley told the truth. “You know, I could maybe give you 10 reasons why this bill shouldn’t be considered,” he said on a conference call with reporters. “But Republicans campaigned on this so often that you have a responsibility to carry out what you said in the campaign. That’s pretty much as much of a reason as the substance of the bill.” More blunt was Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts who, earlier in the week, told a Vox reporter that “If we do nothing [on health care], I think it has a tremendous impact on the 2018 elections. And whether or not Republicans still maintain control and we have the gavel.”

This honesty was noteworthy—it was newsworthy—because it pierces a cloud of dishonesty. We know what Graham-Cassidy, the Republican health care bill, would do. It would slash Medicaid and other federal health care spending, ending health coverage for tens of millions of Americans. To Democrats, this is intolerable. To many Republicans, this is what it means to have a “small government” society; this is the system working. But it’s at odds with the party’s promises of the past seven years: repeated pledges to repeal Obamacare and replace it with something cheaper, better, fairer, and more comprehensive. Republicans can’t square that circle, so instead, they’ve opted to lie and hope, amid the scramble, they get away with it.

One of the most egregious lies comes from Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, namesake (along with South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham) of the bill in question. Cassidy, who is also a physician, was a rare Republican voice to express concerns about the Better Care Reconciliation Act, the Senate counterpart to the House’s American Health Care Act. In a May appearance on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night show, Cassidy supported the comedian’s belief that “no family should be denied medical care, emergency or otherwise, because they can’t afford it.” Deeming this the “Jimmy Kimmel test,” Cassidy said he would reject legislation that couldn’t meet it. The BCRA couldn’t (though Cassidy would later vote for the notorious “skinny repeal”), and as Kimmel pointed out in a recent monologue, Graham-Cassidy can’t either. It works by ending Obamacare regulations on insurers and replacing federal subsidies with block grants, giving states the “flexibility” to build their own health insurance systems. But for most states (especially those that accepted Medicaid expansion) those grants are smaller than what the states had been getting under the Affordable Care Act. The effect, according to one projection from the Commonwealth Fund, is massive coverage losses, with an estimated 32 million people losing health insurance over a 10-year period.

Cassidy’s proposal doesn’t meet his own criteria. But rather than own this, Cassidy lied. “I’m sorry he does not understand,” said the Louisiana lawmaker in an interview on CNN in response to Kimmel’s criticism. “More people will have coverage, and we will protect those with pre-existing conditions. States like Maine, Virginia, Florida, Missouri—there will be billions more dollars to provide health insurance coverage for those states who have been passed by Obamacare, and we protect those with pre-existing conditions.”

This is false. The only states “passed by” the ACA are those that refused to implement its provisions; depending on state actions, people with pre-existing conditions could be turned away from insurance, and even if they weren’t, they may not be able to afford the price. It is telling, in all of this, that Graham and Cassidy are pushing their bill without an official “score” from the Congressional Budget Office—they didn’t leave the CBO enough time to produce one. It suggests they know their claims won’t stand to scrutiny.

The most visible and vocal Republican to lie about the provisions of Graham-Cassidy is President Donald Trump. “I would not sign Graham-Cassidy if it did not include coverage of pre-existing conditions,” he said on Twitter. “It does! A great Bill. Repeal & Replace.” It doesn’t. Although, in fairness to a president not known for his grasp of policy, he may not know the details of the bill. If true, he wouldn’t be alone. When Vox asked several GOP senators to explain what Graham-Cassidy does and how it affects the public, they fell short, leaning heavily on platitudes about small government. “More state innovation. More input from the states,” said Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson when pressed on what he liked about the bill, giving a typical answer.

But it’s not just Graham-Cassidy: Republicans have had a hard time telling the truth about their health care plans with every attempt since Trump took office.

From the moment they introduced it in March, House Republicans lied to sell the American Health Care Act, their version of Obamacare repeal. “We’re not taking a benefit away. Nobody on Medicaid is going to be taken away,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. After Republicans amended the bill to let states waive key regulations protecting consumers with pre-existing conditions, Speaker Paul Ryan insisted that the opposite had happened and that the AHCA protected sick people from being overcharged for health insurance.

Later in the summer, when Senate Republicans were rushing to pass the Better Care Reconciliation Act, key lawmakers lied about its major provisions. “The Senate bill will codify and make permanent the Medicaid expansion,” said Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, an architect of the proposal, when pressed on its details. “And, in fact, we will have the federal government pay the lion’s share of the cost. … No one loses coverage.” Only legalese kept this from being a lie. No, the BCRA didn’t directly end the expansion. But it capped the amount of money Washington gives to states to pay for each Medicaid patient and changed the funding formula, slowing the increase over time. The result, in practice, was a massive cut to the tune of more than $800 billion. In that world, yes, people would lose coverage.

To the extent that Republicans like Grassley and Roberts have been honest about Graham-Cassidy, it’s to state plainly their single-minded pursuit of Obamacare repeal. And with most of the Republican caucus behind the bill, it’s clear that they aren’t alone. They have to pass the bill because they have to pass the bill. Everyone knows this, or, at least, everyone behaves as if it were true. Which, perhaps, is why these two veteran senators felt confident enough to state that truth. The political motivations are so transparent that it’s practically clear to everyone that the lie doesn’t even matter.



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The NFL Protests Are Patriotic

The NFL Protests Are Patriotic

by John Legend @ Slate Articles

The president of the United States loves to drape himself in the symbols of patriotism, but fails to respect the ideals at the core of our Constitution and national identity. Trump may love the flag, but he doesn’t love anything it’s supposed to stand for. He actively encouraged a hostile foreign power to infiltrate our electoral process. He wants to suppress millions of Americans’ right to vote because they didn’t vote for him. He routinely undermines freedom of religion with his rabid Islamophobia, attacks the free press with disturbing regularity, and is now attacking the rights of the people to peacefully protest.

Protest is patriotic. Protest has played a critically important role in elevating the voices of the most vulnerable in our nation. Protest in America has been essential to ending war, to demanding equal rights, to ending unfair practices that keep citizens marginalized. If we quell protest in the name of patriotism, we are not patriots. We are tyrants.

Would there have been a Civil Rights Act without the Birmingham protests? When Bull Connor unleashed his fire hoses and dogs on the schoolchildren taking to the streets, racial disparities and the violence facing people because of the color of their skin became the issues of the times. With savage images of the brutal attack in the news every day, President John Kennedy had little choice but to push for a Civil Rights Act that demanded equal services and equal rights.

Protests in Selma, Alabama, changed the trajectory of this nation and catapulted the Voting Rights Act into being. Soon after images of Bloody Sunday flooded television sets, President Johnson presented to Congress the Voting Rights Act, which would remove barriers to voting like literacy tests. If you think these protests were irrelevant, consider Johnson’s words to Congress: “[A]t times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom ... So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama.”

These are some of the most iconic protests in our history, but they are simply chapters in the great American novel where protests and social activism push us into a better and more just reality. There are the anti-war demonstrations of that decade, demanding that our soldiers be treated better in this country, that young men not be sent to their deaths for an unjust cause. The day before Woodrow Wilson’s election, thousands of suffragists marched down the street demanding the right to vote. Massive protests from steelworkers and coal miners propelled safer working conditions and better wages for millions of Americans. And where would we be, of course, without the Boston Tea Party?

These protests woke Americans up from complacency. And combined with other forms of social activism, they helped to show citizens, policymakers, and anyone listening that there could be a better way. That hope was not just an idea—a better future was both necessary and possible.

The NFL protests carry on in this tradition. They are not some arbitrary statement about a flag. They are a demand that we Americans make this country’s reality match its proud symbolism. They are an attempt to educate the public that criminal justice—mass incarceration, lengthy sentences, police brutality—is the civil rights issue of our time. Colin Kaepernick, Michael Bennett, and Marshawn Lynch are demanding that this country again take a breath, self-reflect, and recognize that we fail a large and important population in this country by investing in prison systems rather than education and housing, by using the criminal system as a first rather than last resort, and by failing to punish police officers who engage in illegal racial profiling and police abuse. They are insisting that we do better.

To be clear, this is not the end of their activism. Malcolm Jenkins, who has raised a fist, and retired player Anquan Boldin are co-leading a “Players Coalition” of 40-plus players, working with grassroots activists and talking with legislators to demand police accountability and push for change in this country’s bail and juvenile sentencing scheme. Jenkins recently spent an afternoon watching bail hearings with the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and Boldin left the league to devote all of his time to reform and humanitarian work. Colin Kaepernick has donated at least $900,000 to causes that work to better the lives of the most vulnerable. Chris Long is donating his first six game checks to fund scholarships to poor kids from his hometown of Charlottesville.

But even without this activism, the players’ protests are important. Because of them, almost every day of the week, we talk about racial disparities. People across this country are suddenly thinking about what it must feel like to be a person of color, watch an officer shoot an unarmed man, and walk away with a pension. And every time someone takes a knee or raises a fist, viewers must grapple with the why—with the uncomfortable reality that our country daily marginalizes thousands of people in impoverished communities.

I sing for a living—no one would want me on their NFL team. But if I could, I’d take a knee on Sundays. Because these conversations are necessary for progress. Because these protests are their own form of a pledge-of-allegiance—allegiance to the ideals that are our nation’s founding principles, which many heroes have given their lives to defend. They are the definition of patriotism.

Slate News Quiz

Slate News Quiz

by Ray Hamel @ Slate Articles

Welcome to Slate’s weekly news quiz. It’s Friday, which means it’s time to test your knowledge of the week’s news events. Your host, Ray Hamel, has concocted questions on news topics ranging from politics to business, from culture to sports to science.

Questions are multiple-choice, and time is of the essence: You have 50 seconds to answer, and as the seconds tick away, the question’s point value drops from 50 all the way down to zero, so you’ll want to click on your answer as fast as you possibly can. There’s no penalty for an incorrect answer, so feel free to take a guess.

At the end of the quiz, you’ll be able to compare your score with that of the average contestant, as well as with the score of a Slatester who has agreed to take the quiz on the record. This week’s contestant is culture writer and editor Dan Kois.

Can you ace the quiz and beat Kois? Good luck!

Patricia Williams Isn’t Joking

Patricia Williams Isn’t Joking

by Mike Pesca @ Slate Articles

Listen to Episode 824 of Slate’s The Gist:

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members: Get your ad-free podcast feed.

Standup comic Ms. Pat is used to getting follow-up questions about her jokes. Did your mom really shoot a gun in the house? Did you really get pregnant when you were 13? Did you really have fleas? It’s all true, and now it’s even been fact-checked. Patricia Williams tells Mike about what it was like to write her book, Rabbit: The Autobiography of Ms. Pat.

In the Spiel, a special statement from the president of Equifax.

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Join the discussion of this episode on Facebook.

Twitter: @slategist

You Snooze, She Wins

You Snooze, She Wins

by Yascha Mounk @ Slate Articles

The big story about the upcoming elections in Germany is (supposedly) that there is no story.

In just a little over a year, Britain has voted to Brexit, and America has elected Donald Trump. In France, extremists on the far left and the far right took nearly half of the vote in the first round of the presidential election. In the second round, French voters coalesced around a candidate who is moderate yet shot to victory on the back of a new movement that pulverized the political landscape. Every one of these elections thus had one crucial thing in common: It represented a huge shock to the system. So it is all the more striking that the story heading into Germany’s vote on Sept. 24 seems to be one of continuity rather than change.

With less than two weeks to go, it is very likely that Chancellor Angela Merkel will be re-elected for a fourth term in office. And at a time when politics seems to be downright histrionic in many parts of the world, Germany’s election campaign has felt surprisingly soporific. After the only TV debate between Merkel and her main challenger, Social Democrat Martin Schulz, a Berlin paper headlined: “0–0.” Neither of the contestants, the soccer metaphor implied, had scored any goals. Indeed, the accompanying text added, for long stretches it hadn’t even seemed as though Schulz was especially interested in beating his adversary.

But it was a satirical magazine that best captured the overall feel of Merkel’s bid for re-election. With campaign spending tightly limited, German parties traditionally rely on billboards to get their messages out. On the fakes designed by Titanic, though, the slogan of Merkel’s party simply reads: “As if we even had to bother putting up billboards!”

There are a few factors that explain why Merkel has barely had to sweat—even though establishment politicians in other Western democracies have been besieged by populist challengers from the right and left. For one thing, Germany’s economy has done comparatively well for the past decade. In light of its past, Germans may also have a deeper aversion to radical political experiments. Finally, Merkel has undoubtedly been a competent chancellor: Calm, moderate, and highly deliberate, she remains one of the world’s least divisive leaders. As George Packer, quoting the German columnist Georg Diez, wrote in the best profile of her to date, she “took the politics out of politics.” If voters are willing to put Merkel back in charge, the reason is in good part because, unlike her brash predecessor, she is minimally invasive. So it is perfectly understandable that most journalists have focused on the remarkable stability of Germany’s political system or celebrated Merkel’s imminent re-election as a healthy sign for liberal democracy. And yet, the German election campaign has been much more eventful than most foreign observers have noticed: If you scratch the surface, it quickly becomes apparent that populism is making significant inroads in Germany—and that Merkel herself is, at best, a highly imperfect defender of liberal values.

For all of modern Germany’s supposed immunity from the far right, extremist parties have celebrated significant successes in local or state elections at several points in the history of the federal republic. But when general elections rolled around, these parties reliably failed to garner the 5 percent of the vote they needed to win seats.

This is now likely to change. Four years ago, the far-right, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany, or AfD, narrowly fell short of the votes it needed to enter the national parliament. Since then, it has entered 12 out of 16 state parliaments. Polling at just under 10 percent nationally, it is now virtually certain to enter the Bundestag—becoming the first right-wing extremist party to do so since World War II.

And though the AfD likes to appear more moderate than its far-right predecessors, there can be little doubt that it is indeed extremist. This is in part a matter of policy. The party wants to take most powers back from Brussels or (failing that) leave the European Union. It wants to abolish the euro. It wants to close American Army bases. It wants to ban the burqa and abolish minarets. And of course it wants to curtail immigration and stop refugees from reaching Germany.

But if the party’s proposed policies are radical, its rhetoric is even more so. Alexander Gauland, one of the party’s leaders, has called Merkel a “dictator” and suggested that Aydan Özoguz, a Social Democratic politician with roots in Turkey, should be “disposed of in Anatolia.” Meanwhile, Alice Weidel, the party’s other leader, reportedly wrote an email in which she lamented that Germany is being “overrun by foreign peoples like Arabs.” The “pigs” who govern Germany, she suggested, “are just puppets of the victors of World War II and have the task of keeping down the German people by getting so many foreigners into the country that our cities will erupt into small civil wars.”

Even if it does better than expected, the AfD will, in the short run, have little direct influence on public policy: Germany’s mainstream parties will continue to shun it. And yet, the AfD is already setting the terms of the debate: In their only TV matchup, for example, Merkel and Schulz spent about half of their time talking about refugees, Muslim immigrants, and Germany’s relationship to Turkey.

Once the AfD is represented in the Bundestag, its ability to set the agenda will only keep growing. And if the experience of other European countries is any guide, this will give people like Gauland and Weidel a big opportunity to expand their base over the coming years. Though its success so far is less spectacular than that of similar parties in other parts of the continent, it would be bizarre to see the AfD’s breakthrough as anything other than a potential turning point in Germany’s postwar history.

But doesn’t it count for something that Angela Merkel can keep standing up for liberal values over the next four years?

It is easy to understand why Merkel has been invested with such high hopes. In a famous photograph from the spring of 2016, Merkel is pictured standing between Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President François Hollande, and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi at a G-8 summit. All four of the others have long since left office. As the last woman standing, Merkel has quickly come to be seen as “the new leader of the free world.” But this fundamentally misunderstands both Germany’s ability and its willingness to defend liberal values around the globe.

Since Merkel has always relied on coalition partners to cobble together a parliamentary majority—and will likely have to keep doing so after this election—these limitations are in part imposed by the views of her allies. Her current coalition partner, the center-left Social Democratic Party, for example, has abandoned all sense of responsibility over the course of the campaign. Gerhard Schröder, the party’s most recent chancellor, recently accepted a position on the board of Rosneft, the state-owned Russian gas giant—essentially joining the class of Russian kleptocrats. Meanwhile, Sigmar Gabriel, the current foreign secretary, joined Schröder and Vladimir Putin for a secret dinner in St. Petersburg, Russia; around the same time, he attacked the notion that Germany might one day spend 2 percent of its GDP on its military, as required by NATO, as “absurd.” To complete the trifecta, Hubertus Heil, the party’s general secretary, takes every opportunity to rail against “autocrats like Erdogan and Trump”—but remains strangely silent on Vladimir Putin. So the better her current coalition partner does, the more difficult it will prove for Merkel to hold a tough line on Russia.

Unlike the SPD, Merkel does not harbor any illusions about the threat Putin poses. But when it comes to other key issues on which German leadership would be desperately needed in the world, she has been little better than them.

For one, Merkel has been blatantly unwilling to take a principled stance on the populist strongmen who are increasingly undermining liberal democracy in neighboring countries like Hungary. Shockingly, for example, the Fidesz party led by Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s increasingly autocratic leader, is still a member of the “European People’s Party,” the same grouping in the European Parliament to which Merkel’s Christian Democrats also belong.

For another, Merkel has so far proved unwilling to reform the European Union in a meaningful way. While she has done just enough to stop Greece from crashing out of the eurozone, she refused to countenance the structural changes that would be needed to solve the lingering problems of the single currency. By proposing to give the eurozone a lot more freedom—including a budget and an independent finance minister—Emmanuel Macron has raised hopes that the EU might finally address its flaws. As in the past, Merkel has signaled her willingness to consider these plans. But as in the past, her deep reluctance to go beyond the realm of the immediately necessary makes it unlikely that she would allow Macron’s proposals to turn into reality. And so her lack of political vision may once again doom a valiant effort to make the euro sustainable.

With Merkel set to return to the chancellery this month, Germany is, for the next four years, unlikely to slide into the kind of political crisis that is now consuming Britain and the United States. In highly turbulent times, this is something to savor—and for Germans to take pride in.

But the political calm that has so widely been celebrated both within and outside Germany is rather more vulnerable than it seems. The forces of populism are rapidly rising within the country. The next government will likely find it just as difficult to promote liberal democracy, or to fix Europe’s problems, as the previous one. While the crisis is not yet imminent, discontent with the status quo goes much deeper than most observers have acknowledged.

Thinking about Germany’s political situation over the past days, an old German saying has kept coming back to me: “aufgeschoben ist nicht aufgehoben”—to put something off is not to cancel it. The storm that so many people had predicted is, thank God, being postponed; but there is every reason to fear that the country’s current calm won’t hold forever.

All men really do smell the same - this is why

All men really do smell the same - this is why

The Independent

Man smell. Whether a man or a woman, you know it. And no, we don’t mean the just-got-back-from-the-gym-and-a-long-day-at-work smell, but rather the underlying scent in practically all male fragrances that just makes them smell like, well, man. Man, with a hint of ocean freshness, we like to think. But why is it that all male scents have that same base smell? We spoke to master perfumer Roja Dove with the hope of finding out.

It Wasn’t Gridlock

It Wasn’t Gridlock

by Jim Newell @ Slate Articles

On Tuesday evening, Sen. Lamar Alexander—chairman of the Senate HELP Committee—released a statement declaring that his bipartisan negotiations on a narrow Obamacare stabilization bill had failed.

“During the last month, we have worked hard and in good faith,” the statement read, “but have not found the necessary consensus among Republicans and Democrats to put a bill in the Senate leaders’ hands that could be enacted.”

But the ranking member of the committee, Washington Sen. Patty Murray, did not seem to feel that the talks were quite so doomed. In recent days, she had even “made some tough concessions to move in Chairman Alexander’s direction when it comes to giving states more flexibility,” she said in her own statement Tuesday night. In other words, she had agreed to let states loosen some of Obamacare’s regulations, which had been the major sticking point in negotiations.

When Murray’s concessions—ones that would not have gone over splendidly with the Democratic base—were first announced Monday night, I had speculated that Senate Republicans’ sudden, last-minute push for the Graham-Cassidy repeal bill was a play to get more leverage over Democrats on the stabilization bill. But that underestimated the commitment Republicans had made to Graham-Cassidy, or overestimated their commitment to finding a bipartisan solution. By folding the bipartisan talks, even when they had Murray on the run, Republicans are actually making a leverage play against members of their own caucus to get them on board with Graham-Cassidy. Republicans killed the bipartisan negotiations to box senators like Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and Arizona’s John McCain into supporting Graham-Cassidy.

So long as the stabilization talks were alive, McCain and Murkowski, who have each called for replacing Obamacare’s flaws through the Senate’s regular process and on a bipartisan basis, would have had a fallback option on fulfilling health care promises. The stabilization bill and Graham-Cassidy weren’t technically competing proposals—the former would address individual markets in 2018 and 2019 while the bulk of the latter wouldn’t snap into place until 2020—but they were treated as such politically.

On Sunday’s Face the Nation, McCain directly contrasted the two approaches. “Are we going to ram through our proposal? That’s not the way to do it,” he said. “The way to do this is have a bill, put it through the committee. We have Patty Murray and Lamar Alexander doing fine. Bring it to the floor.” And when I asked Murkowski what was next on health care when the repeal effort (seemingly) died in July, she told me it needed to go to “the committee room, where it should have started in the first place.” The Alexander and Murray negotiations were McCain and Murkowski’s best option for showing to voters that they were serious about repairing individual insurance markets even if they weren’t willing to go along with repeal.

And that’s why leaders had to shut it down.

It wasn’t just Lamar Alexander or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, either. Politico reported on Monday that both House Speaker Paul Ryan and the White House informed Senate leaders that they opposed the Alexander-Murray negotiations. The justification from House aides was that the speaker believed his chamber “would not be able to pass a bailout of insurers.” (A translating tip for the foreseeable future: When Ryan says that his chamber won’t be able to “pass” a bipartisan bill, he’s really saying that he’s not willing to call up said bipartisan bill, since it would anger the conservatives who’ve been plotting a rebellion against him.) With its path beyond the Senate foreclosed, Alexander called off the process on Tuesday night.

The pressure campaign that the White House and Republican leaders and whips in both chambers are using is to make the choice as close to a Machiavellian binary as possible: It’s either Graham-Cassidy or Obamacare. And that can be whittled down further: It’s either Graham-Cassidy or an Obamacare that the House and White House have committed to sabotaging, either through active measures or by refusing to shore it up.  The contrast can be heightened more yet: It’s either Graham-Cassidy or it’s Berniecare. “Here’s the choice for America: socialism or federalism,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, a good buddy of McCain’s, said on Tuesday. His bill, he added, is “the only process available to stop a march toward socialism.”

The scrapping of stabilization talks is a way of telling hesitant members of the Senate Republican conference that there is no out for them. They’re either with Graham-Cassidy or they’re with the socialists. It’s not a pleasant position for a Republican to be in.

“But I Have Cats” – Cats, Dogs & Birds, Oh My!

by Elizabeth @ Palomacy

Editor’s Introduction Many birds, wild, stray and pet, are killed by cats and dogs. (Stray domestic pigeons and doves are at terrible risk from pets and predators and must be brought into safety!) There is a very real risk involved … Continue reading

America's Most Effective Anti-ISIS Allies Want Their Own Country

America's Most Effective Anti-ISIS Allies Want Their Own Country

by Alexander Smith @ NBC News Top Stories

Experts say Iraqi Kurds will likely vote for independence — but what that will actually mean in reality is still unclear.

Captain Jack’s Amazing Rescue Story

by Elizabeth @ Palomacy

Guest Post in 2 Parts by Mallika Upadrasta & Melne Murphy PART 1 Mallika Upadrasta: I was getting out of my friend’s car in a hurry to catch the train at Ashby BART station. I saw him land on one of … Continue reading

Health Benefits Of Peach Kernel Essential Oil: Life Is Peachy!

by Nate M @ Maple Holistics

There are few oils quite as unique as peach kernel essential oil. Not because of its specific ability to heal some rare condition, but specifically because of how many diverse uses it actually has.

The post Health Benefits Of Peach Kernel Essential Oil: Life Is Peachy! appeared first on Maple Holistics.

Jun 16, White-tipped Dove | North American Birds | Birds of North America

by @ Birds of North America Blog

White-tipped Dove lives mostly in the forest, feeding on the forest floor. This light coloured dove can sometimes be difficult to find because its habitat among the foliage and undergrowths.

Obergefell Is Already Under Attack

Obergefell Is Already Under Attack

by Mark Joseph Stern @ Slate Articles

Donald Trump’s presidency will last, at most, for eight years. His administration can do a great deal of damage in that time. But the judges he appoints to the federal judiciary will serve for the rest of their lives. If history is a guide, some of Trump’s hundreds of judges will still be serving in 2067. That gives them ample time to wreak all sorts of havoc on civil rights. Less than a year into this administration, it is clear that a key agenda item for Trump’s judges is the rollback and eventual reversal of marriage equality.

The latest confirmation of this goal arrived on Wednesday, when CNN revealed that a new Trump district court nominee, Jeff Mateer, recently condemned LGBTQ people in dehumanizing terms. In 2015, Mateer called transgender schoolchildren part of “satan’s plan” and described same-sex marriage as “disgusting” “debauchery,” comparing it to “people marrying their pets.” He also endorsed conversion therapy, a discredited practice that attempts to turn gay people straight, often using gruesome psychosexual torture.

Trump nominated Mateer to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas earlier this month. On the same day, the president also nominated Matthew J. Kacsmaryk to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas. Mateer and Kacsmaryk are colleagues at First Liberty Institute, a conservative legal advocacy group that opposes LGBTQ rights, including nondiscrimination measures that protect gay and trans people. Although Kacsmaryk’s public statements are not flamboyantly bigoted, his choice of employment suggests that he shares Mateer’s beliefs about LGBTQ rights. A third nominee, Stephen S. Schwartz, has devoted much of his career to defending anti-trans measures in court. Trump wants to place him on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

Will the Senate confirm Mateer, Kacsmaryk, and Schwartz? I don’t see why not. In July, Senate Republicans pushed through John K. Bush, an anti-gay blogger and conspiracy theorist who used the word faggot in a speech. Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have also approved Damien M. Schiff, a lawyer who declared in 2009 that a California law prohibiting bullying falsely taught “that the homosexual lifestyle is a good, and that homosexual families are the moral equivalent of traditional heterosexual families.” If these nominees are not too extreme for Senate Republicans, it isn’t clear who would be.

Trump has farmed out the job of judicial selection to the Federalist Society, as well as to the Heritage Foundation, a conservative, anti-LGBTQ Washington think tank. Heritage’s most extreme picks, such as Mateer, make headlines. But in truth, virtually all of Trump’s judicial nominees subscribe to an ideology that is hostile to LGBTQ rights. Just consider Neil Gorsuch—who, the New York Times assured us, had many gay friends and was not “so easy to pigeonhole” on gay rights. Actually, he was: Despite having “openly gay clerks” and attending a church in “liberal Boulder” that “welcomes gay members,” Gorsuch ruled against gay parents’ rights within months on the bench. His cramped interpretation of equality easily trumped his putative personal affection for gay people.

Heritage’s intentions are not mysterious: The organization would ultimately like Trump’s judges to help overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, which brought marriage equality to every state. Of course, Heritage also wants to reverse Roe v. Wade and a plethora of other progressive decisions—but it recognizes that Obergefell is more vulnerable in the lower courts. That’s because full marriage equality still requires some judicial implementation: Many state laws pertaining to legal parentage and spousal benefits are gendered, and in red states, it is typically the courts that must bring them in line with Obergefell.

Some lower courts have done an admirable job of reinterpreting state statutes to recognize the constitutional rights of same-sex couples. Others, however, have intentionally misconstrued Obergefell in an effort to perpetuate the legal inferiority of gay people. Gorsuch has more or less encouraged the lower courts to play this game, and Trump’s judges will likely accept his invite. And so, when Texas refuses to recognize a child’s legal parent because she is a lesbian or withholds spousal benefits from gay state employees, these judges can permit the state’s discrimination by warping Obergefell.

This trick only works if Justice Anthony Kennedy, or one of the judges from the court’s liberal wing, dies or retires under Trump, allowing the president to create an anti-gay majority on the Supreme Court. The new majority could then uphold each form of discrimination, chipping away at Obergefell until it’s ready to reverse it outright. But even if Kennedy hangs on, judges like Mateer can temporarily make life miserable for gay plaintiffs, denying them their rights until a higher court has the opportunity step in. The best case scenario here is that LGBTQ people will continue to face hostility in the courts through the 2060s. Less likely, but still chillingly plausible, is that Trump’s judges will either weaken marriage equality bit by bit or overturn it entirely well before then.

Mark Cuban: Trump Needs to 'Be Able to Take the Blowback'

Mark Cuban: Trump Needs to 'Be Able to Take the Blowback'

by Kailani Koenig @ NBC News Top Stories

Dallas Mavericks owner and businessman Mark Cuban lashed back at President Trump's criticism of NFL players and Golden State Warriors' NBA star Stephen Curry.

Unilateral Rocket Man

Unilateral Rocket Man

by Bruce Ackerman @ Slate Articles

Want to listen to this article out loud? Hear it on Slate Voice.

During his address at the United Nations on Tuesday, President Donald Trump went further than he ever had before in threatening military action against North Korea. “If [the United States] is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” Trump told the gathering at the U.N.’s annual General Assembly.

In issuing this threat, the president spoke as if he alone could determine the fate of tens of millions of civilians on the Korean Peninsula. He is wrong. Not only did the Founders explicitly give Congress, not the president, the power “to declare war,” but the ground rules for war-making in the modern age as established by the War Powers Act of 1973 would prohibit this sort of unilateral action from the executive.

Indeed, Trump’s threat triggers the act’s requirement that he consult with the House and Senate before following through. If he refuses, this act of defiance would amount to an impeachable offense far more serious than any that Robert Mueller is reported to be currently investigating.

To set the stage, it’s worth considering the way in which the War Powers Act balances realism with a commitment to democratic deliberation.

Realism first: The act recognizes that, in the nuclear age, the president should not be required to consult Congress before responding to “an attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.” If Kim Jong-un did launch his missiles in the direction of Guam, for example, Trump would indeed be authorized to let loose “fire and fury” against North Korea.        

But Trump has been asserting a far broader prerogative. At the U.N. on Tuesday, he also claimed unilateral authority to make war in defense of our allies. He does not have that authority.

On other occasions, he has threatened a pre-emptive strike unless Kim halted his entire nuclear initiative.

On such issues, the War Powers Act requires the president, “in every possible instance,” to “consult with Congress before introducing” our armed forces into a “situation where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances.” Lest there be any doubt as to the “imminence” of involvement in this instance, Gen. Robin Rand, commander of the Air Force’s Global Strike Command, followed up Trump’s speech by declaring, “We’re ready to fight tonight.” Emphasizing this imminence, he added: “We don’t have to spin up, we’re ready.”

Under such circumstances, the War Powers Act requires the president to trigger a process of congressional consultation by notifying the House and Senate within 48 hours that there is an imminent prospect of hostilities. Indeed, the administration’s lawyers understand this point perfectly well. When Trump ordered a military strike against Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime in April following a reported chemical weapons attack against civilians, these administration lawyers promptly sent the requisite notice, expressly noting that the administration was acting “consistent[ly] with the War Powers Resolution.”

The president should take his own precedent seriously and trigger the consultation process immediately. Not only does the statute expressly include “imminent” as well as actual “hostilities” within its scope, but its demand for consultation makes even more sense in such “imminent” cases—since it will require the administration to make a sober case for a pre-emptive strategy at a time when Congress could intervene to call it to a halt if it were unpersuaded.

Moreover, the act establishes special procedures that enable Congress to impose limits on Trump’s powers as commander in chief with great speed—after as few as three days of floor debate under some plausible relevant scenarios. Even if, in the end, the House and Senate refused to limit the president’s authority, the final decision would be made after an open and democratic debate.

It is imperative, then, for the president to explain whether he intends to comply with the notifications requirements of the War Powers Act—and if not, why not.

If Trump chooses to ignore the act, it would have serious consequences even if we manage to avoid nuclear catastrophe this time around. It would allow the president to assume that he could engage in future acts of unilateral brinkmanship without concern for legal niceties involving the Constitution and the War Powers Act. If Trump does try to duck the issue, senators and representatives of both parties should forcefully bring it to his attention.

If he then insisted on evading congressional prerogatives, this would constitute an impeachable offense. It was precisely President Andrew Johnson’s defiance of Congress’ statutory efforts to limit his command of the army that provoked his impeachment, and near-conviction, in the aftermath of the Civil War. A similar act of defiance by Trump would no less represent a classic example of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

The Angle: Temple of Paranoia Edition

The Angle: Temple of Paranoia Edition

by Rebecca Onion @ Slate Articles

The worst place: Airports make us jangly for a reason, Henry Grabar writes as part of our new project, Terminal. In their halls can be found all of our most upsetting feelings of powerlessness, and our most potent sources of discontent.

Bad for him, too: Mark Joseph Stern thinks the slow-roll destruction of DACA will be terrible for the president, politically speaking. (Tiny violins!)

Without precedent: Meteorologists watching the approach of Irma are confounded. Eric Holthaus breaks down the terrifying forecasts.

Dangerous hero: The international community is notably slow to respond to reports of a bloody refugee crisis in Myanmar. Josh Keating thinks uncritical appreciation of leader Aung San Suu Kyi is a major source of the delay.

Go away, creep: Dana Stevens swears she wasn’t too scared of the new It’s clown. She just wanted to see more of that delightful gang of misfit kids.

For fun: All the Stephen King adaptations, from worst to best.

The Mangler! Awesome.


No One Becomes a Cop Because It’s Safe

No One Becomes a Cop Because It’s Safe

by Leon Neyfakh @ Slate Articles

A student at Georgia Tech was shot dead by a police officer Saturday night after refusing to comply with orders. 21-year-old Scout Schultz, who identified as gender nonbinary and used they/them pronouns, was in the midst of what their family’s lawyer says was a mental health crisis. A video of Schultz’s final moments, filmed from a window shortly before midnight, shows police officers pointing their weapons and shouting “drop the knife!” and “do not move!” Scout Schultz responds, “Kill me.”

While the shooting is still being examined by state investigators, it’s not too early to make an informed prediction about how the Georgia Tech police will attempt to justify Schultz’s death. They will almost certainly argue that this was a clear-cut case of police officers facing a potentially lethal threat and making the reasonable decision to protect themselves from lethal risk.

Some version of this argument has been used to defend countless police officers in the wake of shootings that have struck many Americans as avoidable. Timothy Loehmann said he was scared for his life when he shot Tamir Rice in Cleveland; he thought Rice, who was holding a toy gun, was brandishing a real weapon. Randall Kerrick said he was scared, too, when he shot Jonathan Ferrell outside Charlotte, North Carolina; he thought Ferrell was lunging toward him with an object in his hand. Dante Servin was also scared when he shot Rekia Boyd in Chicago; he thought one of her friends had pulled out a weapon.

In each of those cases, a prosecutor, jurors, or a judge accepted the premise that an on-duty shooting can be justified as long as the officer in question had a reasonable (if objectively unwarranted) fear of losing his life if he didn’t apply lethal force. There’s a certain pragmatism embedded in this logic. Police officers need to make instantaneous high-pressure decisions. If we insist on punishing them for sometimes making the wrong call, we’ll hinder their ability to do their jobs. The logical conclusion of this line of argument, then, is that we have to tolerate a few bad, even fatal, decisions in order to make it possible for police to make good ones.

That’s the theory. The facts on the ground are that, according to the Washington Post, 963 people—including 44 who had toy weapons, 48 who were unarmed, and 241 who were known to suffer from mental illness—were shot and killed by police in the United States last year. It may be true that some of those shootings happened because well-intentioned, well-trained officers were forced into impossible situations. It’s also true that a lot of those shootings might have been avoided if American police officers weren’t trained to be so afraid of the citizens they’re supposed to be protecting.

In May 2015, I wrote about the “grim canon of videos” shown to police officers during training. These videos, many of which are shot with dashboard cameras, show a succession of officers being murdered because they waited too long to use deadly force. As I wrote at the time, the videos are meant to serve as “a chilling reminder to never lose sight of the unpredictability [officers] face on the street—and to resist any political pressure they might feel to forget their training in the face of danger.”

One particularly famous video in law enforcement circles shows the 1998 murder of Deputy Kyle Dinkheller of Georgia’s Laurens County Sheriff’s Office. The three-and-a-half minute “Dinkheller tape” shows the deputy pulling over a car on the side of a highway and getting a rifle pulled on him. After ordering the man to put the gun down five times, Dinkheller gets shot, and the man runs back into his truck and drives off.

“There were multiple times when he would have been justified in using deadly force against that individual with the rifle, and he either hesitated or chose not to do it,” said Dave Grossi when I interviewed him in 2015. Grossi, a former police lieutenant in upstate New York who spent 12 years as a private law enforcement trainer, told me videos like the Dinkheller tape teach recruits to avoid making tactical mistakes.

The most striking conversation I had about these videos was with Emanuel Kapelsohn, who sits on the board of directors of the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors. “One of the biggest problems we have in police training today,” Kapelsohn told me, “is getting officers to understand when they need to use force and getting them to be willing to use it.”

He pointed to a news story about an officer who declined to fire his gun at a suspect who was running toward him while holding his hand in his pocket. Although the officer was feted in the press for his restraint after successfully making the arrest, Kapelsohn sharply criticized his approach after watching body-cam footage of the incident. “From a professional point of view, the officer made an extremely poor tactical decision and needs to be retrained, not commended,” he said. “Whether Ferguson was going through his head, I don’t know. Whether Staten Island was going through his head, I don’t know. But an officer has to be prepared and trained and capable of shooting someone even though he doesn’t want to. This was someone who needed to be shot, should have been shot.”

That’s the mindset of a person whose job it is to train police officers on how to use their guns. As I wish I’d emphasized when I originally wrote my 2015 story, it’s a mindset that is undermined by the relative infrequency with which police officers are killed in the line of duty. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, firearms-related officer fatalities peaked in 1973, when 156 officers were shot and killed, then dropped to an average of 87 per year in the 1980s, 68 per year in the 1990s, and 57 per year in the 2000s. In 2016, 64 officers were fatally shot, five of them during the sniper attack in Dallas that July and three more 10 days later during a Missouri man’s rampage in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

No doubt one of the reasons these numbers are not higher is that police officers are trained to fear for their lives. It’s thanks in part to the Dinkheller tape and others like it that officers who think they might be in fatal danger tend to act quickly to neutralize the threat. But it is impossible to draw this connection, or to say that police training keeps officers safe, without considering the trade-offs involved, and what those trade-offs mean for civilians—particularly black people and the mentally ill, both groups that are shot by police at a disproportionate rate.

I’m reminded of a December 2015 piece written by my colleague Jamelle Bouie after prosecutors announced that the officers responsible for killing Tamir Rice wouldn’t be charged. He wrote:

Part of policing is risk. Not just the inevitable risk of the unknown, but voluntary risk. We ask police to “serve and protect” the broad public, which—at times—means accepting risk when necessary to defuse dangerous situations and protect lives, innocent or otherwise. It’s why we give them weapons and the authority to use them; why we compensate them with decent salaries and generous pensions; why we hold them in high esteem and why we give them wide berth in procedure and practice.

Along these same lines, Dallas Morning News columnist Steve Blow wrote a piece in March 2015 interrogating an oft-repeated mantra that has been called “the first rule of law enforcement”: that the “No. 1 duty of a police officer is to go home to his or her family at the end of the shift.”

Blow wrote:

[It] sounds so obvious at first that of course we nod along.
But wait. Really? Is that the No. 1 duty of a police officer?
If so, then an officer is always right to shoot in any dangerous encounter. Or potentially dangerous. Or conceivably dangerous. Or most any time.
If self-preservation is the first and foremost priority of a police officer, then you get what we have seen in recent months and years—a series of unsettling police shootings.

After acknowledging that he lacks the courage to do what police officers do, Blow continued:

I so appreciate their willingness to assume the risks of the job.
But there’s the crux of the matter. They have willingly taken a job that involves personal risk. It also requires split-second decision making that must go beyond simple self-preservation.
If going home safely becomes the overriding priority, that can become another way of saying, “Shoot first and ask questions later.”

How much risk is it fair to ask a police officer to take? Speaking as someone who has never patrolled a dark alley, answered a 911 call, or raced to the scene of a shooting spree, my first inclination is to say, “I don’t know and it’s not for me to judge.”

My second inclination, though, is to say that it’s a police officer’s job to take risks the rest of us are unable or unwilling to take. That is why the vast majority of police officers, the ones who perform their duties admirably and selflessly, deserve our respect and admiration. The reason we revere cops isn’t their dedication to protecting their own lives. It’s their dedication to protecting ours.

The Birth of Grey Owl

by @ Slate Articles

Archibald Belaney was born on this day in 1888. You may use the comment thread on this page to remark upon the legacy of the man who became better known as Grey Owl, or to pursue other points of off-topic, freewheeling discourse.

Find previous discussions in the Open Thread archive.

Excepting the entreaty that you remain on topic, all of Slate’s usual commenting policies apply.

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No, But Seriously, Dove Soap Is Bad

No, But Seriously, Dove Soap Is Bad

The Concourse

So yesterday, BuzzFeed's editors, in a super duper blatant breach of the tenets of their Editorial Standards And Ethics Guide, deleted a post in which staff writer Arabelle Sicardi criticized toiletries brand Dove for its sleazy, exploitative advertising. Dove, you see, is owned by Unilever—the multinational consumer goods behemoth last seen being an oversensitive penis over the definition of mayonnaise—which happens to be one of BuzzFeed's major advertising partners.

Dove Company History and Review: Real Beauty, Real Soap!

Dove Company History and Review: Real Beauty, Real Soap!

Maple Holistics

Looking to spread your wings and learn how to fly? Learn from Dove! Check out our Dove Company History and Review feature here at Maple Holistics!

The Info Wars to Come

The Info Wars to Come

by Fred Kaplan @ Slate Articles

The more we learn about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, the clearer it becomes that this was, if not quite an act of war, then certainly an act utilizing techniques of warfare—specifically, the branch of combat known as “information warfare.” The operation raises questions about whether social media should be subject to stricter regulation, especially whether the anonymity of Twitter might be hurting democracy more than helping it.

Much is already known about the hijacking of the Clinton campaign’s email and its select distribution through WikiLeaks. Scott Shane’s front-page story in Friday’s New York Times reveals the extensive effort to amplify these leaks (as well as a good deal of made-up information) through social media. The Russians, the Times reports, created hundreds or thousands of fake Facebook and Twitter accounts “to spread anti-Clinton messages and promote the hacked material they had leaked.”*

Essentially, what the articles calls “the vanguard of a cyberarmy”—“a legion of Russian-controlled impostors” and bots—turned the most popular social media sites into “engines of deception and propaganda.”

In June 2016, Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU, created a site called, which posted the first samples of the campaign files stolen by Russian hackers. Very soon after, swarms of messages hit the internet—from usurped or phony names on Facebook, and from anonymous or automated accounts on Twitter—urging people to take a look at the site.

The goal was to flood social media—and, from there, broader media—with material that damaged Hillary Clinton’s image and thus helped Donald Trump win the election. The U.S. intelligence community made this observation in a report late last year, concluding with “high confidence” that the operation was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The report also noted that the Russians hacked Trump’s campaign as well but—tellingly—did not release any of those materials.

This is the essence of “information warfare,” defined in a 1997 U.S. Air Force pamphlet as “any action to deny, exploit, corrupt, or destroy the enemy’s information and its functions,” with the aim of “degrading his will or capability to fight.” This might involve severing communications between the commanders and their troops in the field. Or it might involve hacking those communications and deleting, distorting, or inventing messages, misleading a commander’s judgment or sowing doubts in his mind about whether the orders, intelligence, and other reports that he’s seeing are true.

In a political operation, information warfare could involve throwing a candidate’s campaign into disarray, twisting the media coverage of that candidate, or instilling distrust in the minds of voters—distrust of a certain candidate or of the entire political system. The U.S. intelligence report on Russian hacking concluded that the point of Russia’s info war campaign against Clinton was to weaken her as a candidate—and, if she won the election anyway, to weaken her legitimacy as president, thus dampening support for her policies and weakening U.S. power in the world.

Over the years, the U.S. military has tried to block enemy info warfare campaigns in several ways: isolating crucial systems from the public internet as much as possible; equipping computers with intrusion-detection systems; creating agencies that monitor suspicious traffic, trace its path, identify its source, and take action if necessary. Bad guys still get inside the network anyway, but not as often as before, and their movements are spotted more quickly.

Can similar steps be taken to ward off info war operations against election campaigns—against, to put it another way, American democracy?

The operations uncovered in the Times story—swamping social media with phony Facebook and Twitter accounts that spread propaganda—are particularly hard to stop because they exploit the internet’s central trait: its openness. This has been the net’s strength and also its weakness. Openness allows the free exchange of ideas and expression of dissent but also leaves the system, and everyone in it, prey to criminals, terrorists, and, in this case, foreign spies and propagandists: all of them shrouded in anonymity.

It may be time to impose some regulations on this system. Yes, there are dangers down that road, a slippery slope to the kind of political censorship that authoritarian regimes now impose on many sites and users. But those who maliciously exploit the net’s laissez-faire nature are now threatening the democracy that undergirds those broader freedoms.

There are ways to clamp down the exploiters without snuffing those freedoms.

The first step, as was the case with the military in its attempts to ward off intruders, is to start acting like this is a problem. This means, above all, exercising cyberhygiene. The Clinton campaign was hacked when one of its senior advisers fell for a pretty simple phishing expedition. Political campaigns should also install intrusion-detection systems and hire good security firms that can do real-time digital forensics—tracking malware, tracing it to its source, and expelling it from the network. CrowdStrike did that for the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee; FireEye nabbed the fake Facebook accounts for the New York Times. But they did their work long after the fact—too late to affect the outcome of the battle. These security firms are costly, what they do is very much in the public interest, and so should be publicly funded.

But things have already got out of hand if you need to bring in the likes of CrowdStrike and FireEye to solve your problem. The basic problem is with the system, and it may be time to change the system. For starters, it may be time for Twitter to prohibit anonymous and automated accounts.

I say it may be time because I understand the drawbacks. Anonymity allows dissidents and whistleblowers to have a say, but there are other forums for such activists to get out their message (they existed long before the internet was invented). The execs of Twitter and Facebook say they have stepped up efforts to remove fraudulent accounts—a clear statement that they don’t endorse such things. And yet, owing to their policies and procedures, fraudulent accounts are to some degree inevitable. Maybe they should change their policies and procedures in a way that makes fraud harder to commit and easier to spot. One idea floating around is to require bots to have a human ID and to prohibit, say, an officer or hacker in Russia from pretending to be a housewife in Ohio.

This is an urgent matter. The United States coined the term information warfare, and our intelligence agencies have practiced it in various ways, but Moscow sees this domain of warfare as central to its post­–Cold War competition with the United States. In February 2016, just four months before the GRU set up, a senior Kremlin adviser named Andrey Krutskikh gave a speech at an info warfare conference. In a Washington Post column two days before Trump’s inauguration, David Ignatius quoted the notes from Krutskikh’s speech, which was given to an entirely Russian audience:

You think we are living in 2016. No, we are living in 1948. And do you know why? Because in 1949, the Soviet Union had its first atomic bomb test. And if until that moment, the Soviet Union was trying to reach agreement with [President Harry] Truman to ban nuclear weapons, and the Americans were not taking us seriously, in 1949 everything changed and they started talking to us on an equal footing. I’m warning you: We are at the verge of having “something” in the information arena, which will allow us to talk to the Americans as equals.

It may be no coincidence, comrades, that four months after Krutskikh’s speech, the GRU created the website. In any case, the 2016 election was the first time the Russians tried to sway an American presidential election with the full range of information warfare techniques. It won’t be the last time. The next time, we should come to the contest prepared.

*Correction, Sept. 8, 2017: This article originally misstated that the Times reported that Russia created hundreds of thousands of fake Facebook and Twitter accounts. It was hundreds or thousands of accounts. (Return.)

Could Father Mychal Judge Be the First Gay Saint?

Could Father Mychal Judge Be the First Gay Saint?

by Ruth Graham @ Slate Articles

When Salvatore Sapienza saw the small classified ad in the back of OutWeek, a gay news magazine in New York, he thought it seemed like a sign. “In the spirit of Francis of Assisi,” the ad read, “serving our brothers and sisters affected by AIDS.” At the bottom was the address of the St. Francis AIDS Ministry on West 31st Street in Manhattan. Sapienza was gay—he had been out for years—but he was also a Marist Brother, a Catholic office similar to the priesthood. New York City in 1989 was not an easy place to be both gay and Catholic. The AIDS crisis would claim more than 5,000 people in the city that year, and the church was vocally opposed to condoms and homosexuality. Sapienza felt like that little bulletin, appearing among pages advertising sex phone lines and astrologists, was written just for him. A black-and-white drawing showed the 13th-century saint, a symbol of charity and humility, overlooking a pastoral landscape as skyscrapers loomed in the background. Sapienza found himself wondering who’d placed the ad.

The address for the St. Francis AIDS Ministry turned out to be the Church of St. Francis of Assisi. Four people answered the ad, including Sapienza, and soon they were visiting AIDS patients in hospital rooms, praying for them and holding their hands. When Sapienza first showed up at the soaring 19th-century church, he was led inside to a tiny office on the ground floor of the attached friary. The beaming man who greeted him seemed big in every way: tall, loud, boisterous, and joyful. His name was Father Mychal Judge.

Nearly three decades later, Judge is best known as the fire department chaplain who died on Sept. 11, 2001, after rushing into the north tower of the World Trade Center to help. His life quickly took on an almost mythic stature. A documentary crew’s camera found him praying in the lobby of the north tower, wearing a white helmet reading “F.D.N.Y. Chaplain.” (Firefighters would later present the helmet to Pope John Paul II.) A story spread that he had died not just in the north tower but while administering the last rites to a firefighter who was hit by a jumper. A striking Reuters photo of first responders carrying Judge’s body out of the dust has been referred to as a “modern Pietà” and has been turned into sculptures in crystal and bronze. By 2002, New York City had renamed his stretch of West 31st Street “Father Mychal F. Judge Street” and christened a public ferry the Father Mychal Judge. In New York, hundreds of firefighters and others participate each September in a Stations of the Cross–style procession that retraces Judge’s journey between the Church of St. Francis on West 31st Street and the World Trade Center. Speaking at Judge’s funeral on Sept. 15, 2001, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said simply: “He was a saint.”

But to Sapienza, Judge is deserving of that honorific for reasons that are less widely known. At a time when some doctors were still afraid to touch or even treat AIDS patients, Judge cradled dying men in his arms, administered the Eucharist and the last rites, spoke at their funerals, and comforted their families and friends. “Mychal really knew that gay Catholics were being treated like second-class citizens by the church,” Sapienza said. Judge “loved being Catholic,” Sapienza said. But he also “loved being gay.”

Being a saint in the colloquial sense—a mensch, a hero, a faithful Christian—is one thing. Becoming a Catholic saint, formally recognized by the Vatican, is another: a long, expensive, and politically fraught process that involves a lengthy investigation and proof of literal miracles. There are two broad categories of saints: “martyrs,” who died specifically for their faith, and “confessors,” who demonstrated a lifetime of what the church defines as “heroic virtue.” Historically, the entirety of a person’s life was subject to strict scrutiny on the path to canonization.

But in July, the Vatican announced that it had expanded its criteria for sainthood, creating a new category for people who willingly sacrifice their lives for others: oblatio vitae, the “offering of life.” This new category of saints does not need to have been killed directly because of their faith, and they need display only “ordinary” virtue. As Mathew Schmalz, a religious studies professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, put it, “Now saints can be persons who lead a fairly ordinary life until an extraordinary moment of supreme self-sacrifice.” It’s a category that seemed custom-built for Judge.

It was the Rev. Luis Escalante, an Argentinian priest living in Rome who’d never met Judge, who pushed the idea of Judge’s canonization just weeks after the new criteria were announced. Escalante works part time as an independent “postulator,” a role something like a lawyer who represents a potential saint’s candidacy. He decided to start gathering stories and documents from people in America who knew Judge—the first step toward establishing his fitness for canonization. Escalante told me that he thought of Judge’s story as soon as he heard about the new category, in part because his death was such a moving example of Christian self-sacrifice in the midst of violence—an illustration of the idea that “only God can produce sanctity in a terrorist attack.”

Sapienza and others who knew Judge describe him as a man of almost supernatural charisma, an extrovert who enveloped everyone he met into his aura. But few in the wide circle who adored him and relied on him were aware during his lifetime that he was gay. “I was one of Mychal’s 9,412 best friends,” said Michael Daly, a former New York Daily News columnist who wrote a 2008 biography of Judge, The Book of Mychal. “And 9,406 of us didn’t know he was gay.” After Judge died, some whom he had confided in began to speak openly about it, including Thomas Von Essen, the city’s fire commissioner during the Giuliani years. Daly, who had access to Judge’s diaries, reported in his book that Judge had written about being gay and had a long-term romantic relationship with a nurse named Al Alvarado who was 30 years his junior. Sapienza, too, wrote a book that frankly discussed the priest’s sexuality.

On paper, Judge’s sexual orientation should be no barrier to official sainthood. There’s no known evidence that Judge ever broke the vows of chastity that he took in the late 1950s. “Even to traditionalist Catholics, he should be perfectly acceptable because he lived what the catechism taught,” said James Martin, a priest and editor-at-large of the Jesuit magazine America. When it comes to the prospect of canonizing the first gay saint, Martin said, “Mychal Judge is a perfect test case.”

But just because Judge seems to fit perfectly the expanded definition of sainthood does not mean he is destined for the canon. A saint is not just someone who has ticked off certain boxes of Catholic virtue. He is also someone who, in the words of Pope Francis, as he canonized two former popes in 2014, “gives direction and growth to the Church”—a church that, in 2017, still regards homosexuality as “objectively disordered.” In Judge’s embrace of his own sexuality—even if it was a celibate embrace—he presents an implicit challenge to Catholic orthodoxy. Sixteen years after Mychal Judge’s death, what would it mean for the Catholic Church to elevate an LGBTQ person to sainthood and all the honors that come with it?

* * *

Throughout his life, Judge had a complicated relationship with the Catholic Church. He sometimes gave Communion to non-Catholics; he abridged requirements for things like premarital counseling and training of lay ministers; he strayed from standard prayers while celebrating Mass; and at least once he discouraged a willing convert from abandoning her Judaism. For a man known for his selflessness and decency, he could be prickly when it came to the church hierarchy, whom he referred to as BFMs, or big fat monsignors. He once wrote to a fellow friar, “I often feel I’m in a different church than them.” He had a particularly contentious relationship with Cardinal John O’Connor, who served as archbishop of New York during almost all of Judge’s years in the city. In Daly’s account, O’Connor, a more conservative, rule-bound Catholic, bristled at Judge’s popularity among both politicians and firefighters’ families. “Did you ever see Amadeus?” Daly asked. “Mychal was Mozart. Cardinal O’Connor wanted to be a great priest, but he didn’t have it. Mychal just had it.”

Judge started training to become a priest at age 15, choosing to join the Franciscans, an order known for their simple lifestyle and ministry to the poor. The new priest spent most of the early years of his career serving parishes in New Jersey, before being assigned in 1986 to St. Francis of Assisi Church in Manhattan. He lived at the church’s friary for the rest of his life. He was not a diocesan priest, the kind who celebrates Mass at Sunday morning services. St. Francis of Assisi is a “service church,” open to commuters and confessors but without its own parishioners. Instead, Judge worked with the homeless, the hungry, and addicts. When the Archdiocese of New York banned a Manhattan church from offering a regular special Mass to a gay Catholic group, Dignity, Judge invited the group to operate out of St. Francis of Assisi Church—one of the perks of operating outside diocesan control.

In the early 1990s, he became a chaplain for the fire department, an agency historically dominated by Catholics. The job demanded that he rush around the city when fire broke out and comfort firefighters and their families afterward in burn units. Long after the Catholic Church released priests and nuns from the obligation to wear formal habits that set them apart, Judge continued to wear the traditional brown hooded robe and rope belt of the Franciscans. “This is my uniform,” he told Sapienza, who preferred to think of himself as too hip for the habit. “People know to come to a police officer or a firefighter for help. People know to come to me for help.”

Judge ministered to populations who often did not feel particularly warm toward each other. In 1993, he marched in both the St. Patrick’s Day Parade—whose organizers were then engaged in a legal battle to prevent gay groups from marching—and the Pride Parade, which proceeded down Fifth Avenue in the opposite direction. There’s no evidence that Judge broke the vow of celibacy he made when he entered the priesthood, despite his close, decadelong relationship with Alvarado.

In 1999, Judge wrote in his diary about how he struggled as a gay man.
“No one, absolutely no one lives two fuller separate lives than I do,” he wrote, before veering back toward his bedrock optimism. “Well, I am so blessed and my life is so good. … Thank you Lord for all that you have given me, for all you have taken away and for all that is left.”

On the morning of Sept. 11, a fellow priest who had witnessed the plane fly into the north tower rushed to tell Judge the news. He immediately put on his collar and drove downtown with an off-duty captain and a firefighter. As he knelt in the north tower’s lobby, firefighters streamed to stairways, and bodies crashed down as office workers jumped from higher floors. “You should go, padre,” one firefighter told him. “I’m not finished,” he replied. He was somewhere near the north tower’s blown-out windows when the south tower collapsed at 9:59 a.m. When the dust cleared, firefighters stumbled over his body as they began to evacuate. Four men picked him up, later joined by other first responders as they carried the body outside and along Vesey Street. Eventually his body arrived at the chief medical examiner’s office, where a clerk numbered his death certificate “DM0001-01.” The “DM” stood for “Disaster Manhattan”: Judge, 68, was the attack’s first official victim. At his funeral, when St. Francis of Assisi overflowed with mourners, Alvarado was not allowed inside because no one knew who he was.

* * *

In some ways, the time now feels right for Judge’s canonization. While Pope Francis has made no dramatic moves to dismantle Catholic orthodoxy regarding homosexuality, he is widely perceived as having taken a gentler tone than his predecessors. “Who am I to judge?” he famously asked in 2013, answering a reporter’s question about gay priests; he later expanded on the comment, explaining that he applied it to all gay people. “There’s a real opening under Francis, but the door will only remain open for so long,” Schmalz said. “If you’re going to push things publicly, now’s the time to do it.”

Within a week of the Vatican’s announcement about the new sainthood criteria, Escalante reached out to Francis DeBernardo, an American and longtime activist on behalf of gay Catholics, and asked him to help find people who knew Judge. “For the sake of this heroic priest who literally gave his life for others,” DeBernardo wrote on his organization’s website, “please spread the word!” Escalante has heard from about 40 people so far. “That’s a sign that he has devotion,” he said. “There is a reputation for sanctity.”

There are currently at least 10,000 Catholic saints, but the exact number is squishy. Until around the year 1000, local bishops named their own saints without much oversight. Those “saints” include folk heroes like St. Christopher, who may never have actually existed; in one case, a rural French community venerated a dog. As the papacy consolidated its power, canonization become more orderly—and baroque. Today, the process involves a detailed investigation of candidates’ lives, including examination of their writings to see if they are consistent with Catholic doctrine. If the pope then declares the candidate “venerable,” the person must be found responsible for a miracle occurring after that point, typically a healing investigated by a nine-member medical board.

Pope Francis has canonized 838 people—the most of any pope by far—but about 800 of them were a single group of 15th-century martyrs. The full process can take centuries, though newer cases often move more quickly. After his death, Pope John Paul II went through the full process in nine years, which was the most expeditious canonization in history.

Escalante will ultimately need the support of Judge’s group of Franciscan friars in New York; he has not heard from them, and he acknowledges that Judge could be a “challenging candidate,” in part because of his conflicts with local church authorities. A representative for the group confirmed to me they are not working on his “cause,” a position they have maintained since his death: “Father Mychal would be glad people are interested in the work he did, but he wouldn’t have wanted to be singled out in any way.” Then again, surely the Catholic Church shouldn’t be too eager to nominate a saint who was desperate for sainthood. The explanation that “he wouldn’t have wanted to be singled out,” Schmalz told me, “doesn’t pass the smell test.” “I think they’re worried about the sexuality issue and potential conservative Catholic responses,” he said.

As of now, there are no Catholic saints who are known to be gay. But Mychal Judge would not be the first saint who could be described plausibly as LGBTQ. There’s Joan of Arc, who dressed as a male soldier to do battle in the Hundred Years’ War, and the early martyrs Sergius and Bacchus, who some historians say had a romantic relationship. The 19th-century British Cardinal John Henry Newman, beatified in 2010, left explicit instructions that he was to be buried in the same grave as his lifelong companion, a fellow priest. (As Newman progressed toward sainthood, the church ordered his body exhumed, purportedly to move him to a more accessible location. It had disintegrated too much to move.) The hints of queerness in their stories are cherished by some Catholics and hotly debated by others. “The sad thing is when you bring this up, it’s as if you’re casting aspersions,” said Martin, the author of a recent book on the relationship between the church and the LGBTQ community. “It’s not an insult to a saint to say he or she was attracted to the same sex and still lived celibately or chastely. Why can’t an LGBT person be considered holy?” But the question for the Catholic Church is not whether an LGBTQ person could be considered holy in a general sense. It’s whether Catholicism is ready for a saint whose sexuality could not be ignored or dismissed as a matter of historical interpretation—a modern gay man who, as Sapienza put it, loved being gay and loved being Catholic.

Although American Catholics as a group are relatively progressive on sexuality issues, the growing church in the global South is much less accepting. The issue is fraught for the church hierarchy, too. Even as Pope Francis has hinted at a new relatively laissez-faire approach, the Vatican confirmed last year that “persons with homosexual tendencies” should not be admitted to train as priests at Catholic seminaries. For now, most consider Judge a long shot for sainthood, in part because his religious order has so far declined to take up his cause. “I would pray for his canonization but I wouldn’t bet on it,” Schmalz said. “If you look at the church worldwide and church hierarchy, [Judge’s canonization] would be incredibly problematic,” he explained. “It’s a kind of litmus test as to how deep the culture wars in Catholicism go, and whether they can be transcended.”

For gay Catholics, the results of that litmus test matter. Judge’s canonization “would be a much clearer statement that you have a place in the church, and the church doesn’t judge you by your temptations but by living a life of obedience,” said Ron Belgau, a celibate gay Catholic who has urged the Vatican to be more welcoming to LGBTQ people. “Even to those who disagree with church teaching, it would help to change the idea that there’s no place for them in the church, that they’re outsiders.” In a way, canonizing Judge—who obeyed the rules, even as he chafed at them—would be a deferral of more difficult questions about how the Catholic Church deals with LGBTQ people. “Oftentimes when someone is canonized, all the rough edges are sanded down,” said Martin. “Would the Franciscans allow him to be known as a gay man? That’s the question. We tend to tame the saints.”

In 1999, Judge contemplated in his diary whether he could come out someday by writing a book. “Every group can have an advocate,” he wrote. “Maybe, maybe a chapter in a book by Mychal Judge—well respected, loved by many, faithful to his profession, loyal to his community and friends … well if he is gay there must be something okay about ‘them.’ ” Judge never got around to writing that book. Maybe he was afraid to, or maybe he simply ran out of time.

A decade before Mychal Judge knelt in the lobby of the north tower, Sal Sapienza left the Catholic Church. Today, he is married and works as the pastor of a Protestant church in Michigan. Even if Judge is never elevated to sainthood, Sapienza says, his legacy is hard to overestimate. But what appeals to Sapienza most about the prospect of canonization is that it would “bring Mychal to millions more people.” “As a young idealistic person, I thought I could be this bridge between the gay community and the Catholic community,” he said. “Mychal worked to the end of his life to be that bridge.”

Top image: Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photo of Father Mychal Judge by Jim Lord/Getty Images, background via Met Museum.

The Wealth Gap Between Whites and Blacks Is Widening

The Wealth Gap Between Whites and Blacks Is Widening

by Jamelle Bouie @ Slate Articles

Want to listen to this article out loud? Hear it on Slate Voice.

Most Americans believe active discrimination is a declining concern. They believe that despite the challenges our society currently faces, we are at least past the era of outright and explicit exclusion. The case for this belief rests on the fact that black Americans and other nonwhites have seen increased opportunities for professional advancement since the civil rights movement, as well as a growing prominence in American life. Our culture has also by now generally accepted inclusive principles. It helps, too, that this belief fits our national narrative of progress: our broad sense that, despite lingering conflicts and resentments, the present is a more just and humane place than the past and that the future shows the same promise.

But it isn’t true. Things may actually be getting worse, and not just in the casual interactions that comprise daily existence. There is hard evidence that explicit racial discrimination remains a major part of American life in the early 21st century.

Just look at the startling results of a recent meta-analysis of available research into job market discrimination that found “no change in the level of hiring discrimination against African Americans over the past 25 years.” After identifying all existing field experiments (published or unpublished) on labor market discrimination in the U.S, the researchers narrowed their field of inquiry to 24 studies containing 30 different estimates of discrimination against blacks and Latinos since 1989—a data set representing tens of thousands of applications submitted for tens of thousands of jobs. In analyzing that data, what they found was stasis. Throughout the period, whites received an average 36 percent more job callbacks than blacks, and 24 percent more than Latinos. “Contrary to widespread assumptions about the declining significance of race, the magnitude and consistency of discrimination we observe over time is a sobering counterpoint,” they conclude, while offering the caveat and possibility that discrimination diminished in the two decades prior to 1989. If true, that still leaves the United States with pervasive discrimination in hiring, a phenomenon that may explain part of the racial employment gap, which leaves black Americans with double the unemployment of white Americans, in good times and bad.

How do we square this reality of discrimination with the acceptance of racially egalitarian views among white Americans? The short answer is that there’s a disconnect. Many white Americans express opposition to the most hateful forms of racism while holding prejudiced views and facilitating racist behavior. A new Reuters-Ipsos poll, taken in the aftermath of August’s violent neo-Nazi protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, illustrates this paradox, showing both wide condemnation of white supremacists and substantial support for white nationalist slogans. Although 89 percent of respondents agreed that “all races should be treated equally”—and 70 percent agreed that “all races are equal”—35 percent of whites said that America must “protect and preserve its White European Heritage” and 47 percent agreed that “white people are currently under attack in this country.”

It’s possible this disconnect stems from the profound segregation that still shapes and defines life in the United States. Even if they live in diverse metropolitan areas, most white Americans still live in largely white neighborhoods and suburbs (some white by circumstance, others by policy, intimidation, and worse), send their children to white schools, and attend white churches. Their actual contact with nonwhites is minimal and circumscribed, an environment that can inculcate discriminatory beliefs, habits of mind, and behaviors, even as they endorse America’s egalitarian civic creed.

More pressing than the sociology of white racism, however, is its practical effects: a widening wealth gap between blacks and whites. Between 1983 and 2013, according to a new report from the Institute for Policy Studies, the wealth of the median black household declined 75 percent (from $6,800 to $1,700), and the median Latino household declined 50 percent (from $4,000 to $2,000). At the same time, wealth for the median white household increased 14 percent from $102,000 to $116,800. It’s an almost unbelievable contrast, and by 2020, black and Latino households are projected to lose even more wealth: 18 percent for the former, 12 percent for the latter. After those declines, the median white household will own 86 times more wealth than its black counterpart, and 68 times more wealth than its Latino one. This isn’t a wealth gap—it’s a wealth chasm.

If nothing is done, that chasm will grow larger. By 2024, “the continued rise in racial wealth inequality between median black, Latino and white households is projected to lead White households to own 99 and 75 times more wealth than their black and Latino counterparts, respectively.” Even black incomes are stagnant and declining: The median black household makes substantially less today than it did in 2000. And if the wealth gap is left unaddressed, then by 2053, median household wealth for whites will grow to $137,000, while that for blacks will hit zero.

The myth of “post-racialism” has by now largely been dispelled, in part because of movements like Black Lives Matter—as well as the rise of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States. And there seems to be a growing awareness that “colorblindness” does more to entrench racial disadvantage than rectify it. Thankfully, there are policies that can begin to address this profound racial wealth gap. But we have yet to have any kind of discussion about it, even as we barrel toward a world where most blacks and Latinos live on the edge of immiseration. The racial wealth gap isn’t yet a national priority. It needs to be.

Health Benefits Of Oregano Essential Oil: Alexander Fleming Vs. Oregano

by Nate M @ Maple Holistics

Fast forward to Oregano oil and you’ve found nature’s most well-balanced antibacterial treatment. It’s widely hailed as being better than antibiotics (by doctors and users alike) because it effectively treats the formation and spread of bacteria whilst boosting your body’s overall immune system.

The post Health Benefits Of Oregano Essential Oil: Alexander Fleming Vs. Oregano appeared first on Maple Holistics.

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Trump the Triangulator

Trump the Triangulator

by Reihan Salam @ Slate Articles

Now that he’s done an end-run around the Republican leadership in Congress on a short-term debt limit increase, what’s stopping Donald Trump from hammering out bipartisan agreements with his new pals Chuck and Nancy on amnesty for Dreamers, money to stabilize the Obamacare exchanges, or if we really want to start thinking big, a trillion-dollar, deficit-financed infrastructure package?

There are many things stopping him. Although the president has subjected GOP leaders Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell to yet another humiliating climbdown, they still have the power to set the congressional agenda. There’s also no way the president can become a bipartisan dealmaker if congressional Democrats balk at the prospect, which they very well might. And given the antipathy rank-and-file Democratic voters feel for the commander in chief, it’s hard to imagine their elected representatives getting away with too much chumminess.

So yes, there are obstacles. But like the first daughter, who has carefully positioned herself as a champion of paid family leave, the Paris Agreement on climate change, and Planned Parenthood among other unconservative causes, Trump is desperate to win over a hostile press corps. I have no doubt that Trump is going to at least try to reinvent himself as Trump the Triangulator, or if you prefer, as President Ivanka.

To understand why, consider that the major party coalitions are in flux. Not long ago, one could safely say that while the Democratic Party was a big, fractious, and unwieldly coalition divided between liberals and moderates, Republicans were a relatively cohesive coalition of conservatives who mostly agreed on the important issues of the day. But that’s changing. Democrats are more ideologically unified than they’ve been in years. Republicans, meanwhile, find themselves ideologically split between Reaganite conservatives and working-class nationalists and, when it comes to temperament, between enraged doom-mongers and placid pragmatists.

The neat trick Trump pulled off during his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination was to simultaneously appeal to enraged doom-mongers and working-class nationalists—constituencies that don’t entirely overlap, and that when unified were enough to get him over the top. Once in office, however, he has found it exceedingly difficult to navigate the as-yet undrained swamp. While working-class nationalists were an essential part of Trump’s electoral coalition, they are massively underrepresented among Republican lawmakers. The result is that with the exception of immigration, where Sens. Tom Cotton and David Perdue have advanced soft-nationalist immigration reform, there hasn’t been a groundswell of populist Republicans willing and able to back Bannon-esque legislation on trade, taxes, and infrastructure, and the skeletal policy team in the Trump White House hasn’t exactly filled the breach.

To make matters worse, while Trump appeals to the GOP’s enraged doom-mongers, congressional Republicans are for the most part led by people who are at once placid pragmatists and Reaganite conservatives, which is to say his opposites in every respect. By all accounts, Ryan and McConnell and the people closest to them see the president as a reckless ignoramus. It’s hardly surprising that they’ve found working with him exceedingly difficult. The House speaker and the Senate majority leader have both done their best to Trumpify their pre-existing domestic policy agenda of cutting taxes for the rich and paring back the safety net in various ways—with little success. Trump hasn’t helped matters by distancing himself from their efforts by, for example, declaring their profoundly unpopular Obamacare overhaul “mean,” and most recently by gleefully going over their heads on the debt limit. One gets the impression that the president wouldn’t mind all that much if Ryan and/or McConnell were booted from office, or if Republicans lost the House.

What Trump really cares about is claiming credit for concrete policy victories, and he’s not especially fussy about the details. Because Republicans have proved incapable of getting big, bold, brag-worthy legislation to his desk, it’s natural that he’d turn to congressional Democrats. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer recognize that the president isn’t super attuned to the finer points of domestic policy and that he just wants wins. The more-united Democrats are thus in a position to maneuver the president into achieving some of their short-term goals on immigration (at a minimum, amnesty for the Dreamers) and spending (more of it, please). In return, Trump would get his triumphant signing ceremonies in the White House Rose Garden.

Yes, you’d need more pliable GOP leaders to make this scenario come to pass. But Republicans in Congress are so bitterly divided that a majority of them might be willing to isolate purist partisans and join in the bipartisan frenzy, if only on some issues.

The question for Democrats is whether the benefits of teaming up with Trump outweigh the almost certainly high costs. By cutting deals with the president, Democrats in Congress implicitly acknowledge that he is not History’s Greatest Monster, which is an affirmation that he wants (and I’m guessing Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner want) very badly, yet which risks muddying the party’s anti-Trump message. And how will cutting deals with Trump affect Democratic chances in 2018? There’s a case to be made that embracing Trumpian triangulation could shore up vulnerable Democratic senators in states Trump won in 2016, and that it would make for an appealing contrast with do-nothing Republicans. However, it’s also possible that cutting deals with Trump would demotivate the Democratic base and fuel a wave of anti-establishment challengers.

Do I believe Trumpian triangulation will save the Trump presidency? Probably not. But given Trump’s poisonous relationship with Ryan and McConnell and how badly he wants positive news coverage, he’d be foolish not to give it a shot.

The Angle: Pricing the Future Edition

The Angle: Pricing the Future Edition

by Rebecca Onion @ Slate Articles

Price of misery: How can we account for the damage climate change (and other dangers) might do to our children, grandchildren, and far-flung descendants? As a part of our new Future of the Future series, Will Oremus looks at the academic debate over the maybe-not-quite-useful theory of social discounting.

Nothing to be done: Could engineers have prevented Harvey-scale damage by building Houston's dams differently? Adam Rogers looks into it, and finds out that the answer is “Probably not.”

Ridiculous: School supplies lists are lengthening and becoming more arcane and specific as the years pass. Ruth Graham gathers a few, and finds that moms seem to be bearing the brunt of the task of filling schools' requests for specific soaps and markers.

It's serious: There's a new school of violence in rap, and it has Craig Jenkins worried, not least because the bloody lyrics carry over into an unusually confrontational atmosphere at live shows.

For fun: A pie crust for people scared of pie crust.

That's me,


Luci Fancypants Pigeon; a Story for Children of All Ages

by Elizabeth @ Palomacy

Guest Post by Kyra Richter If there are two things that define me, it is my love of nature and my love of illustration. I have my mother to thank for inciting that passion for all living things. Growing up, … Continue reading

The Strongest Evidence Yet Donald Trump Is Violating Constitutional Anti-Corruption Clauses

The Strongest Evidence Yet Donald Trump Is Violating Constitutional Anti-Corruption Clauses

by April Glaser @ Slate Articles

Since Donald Trump took office in January, his presidency has been dogged by concerns about how he may be profiting off the executive office. Now, thanks to receipts obtained by the transparency group Property of the People via the Freedom of Information Act, there’s evidence that the White House’s National Security Council paid more than $1,000 for a two-night stay at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, on March 3 and 4 of this year. Trump owns the resort, and the profits are stored in a trust managed by Donald Trump Jr. and Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen H. Weisselberg that the president can pull funds from at any time. As a consequence, these receipts may be evidence of a violation of the Domestic Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits the president from receiving any compensation from federal, state, or local governments beyond the salary he earns as chief executive.

The Mar-a-Lago documents, which Property of the People obtained through the Coast Guard (a division of the Department of Homeland Security), show the National Security Council paid full price—the “rack rate”—for the rooms using a government travel charge card. The room cost $546 a night, according to the receipt. The Trump administration has at times referred to the Mar-a-Lago estate as the “Winter White House” or the “Southern White House.”

On Saturday, March 4, the second of the two days in question, President Trump was seen mingling at a lavish charity ball hosted by the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at Mar-a-Lago, where he reportedly had dinner earlier that evening with then Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, John Kelly, former Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, and White House counsel Don McGahn. This was Trump’s third visit to his Palm Beach golf estate since his inauguration in January and two days after Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Justice Department’s investigation into the president’s ties with Russia. Saturday, March 4, was also a prolific day for President Trump on Twitter; he found the time to lodge an unfounded claim that President Obama had wiretapped Trump’s office at the White House and take a jab at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “bad (pathetic) ratings” on the television show Trump used to host, Celebrity Apprentice.

The documents obtained by Property of the People also show that a government travel charge card was used to pay a March hotel bill at the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas at a cost of $186. Trump himself owns 50 percent of the property. The documents also detail three February charges totaling $62, also paid by government card, at the restaurant at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

The documents obtained by Property of the People further show that the U.S. Embassy paid $632 for four nights in June at the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Panama. Though Trump does not own this property, he collected more than $800,000 in fees from his Panamanian hotel management corporation, which he does own. That $632 bill was paid for with a government travel charge card. For competitive reasons, businesses do their best to keep the specifics of such licensing and management deals private, but court records have shown that Trump has struck deals connected to similar properties in which his payout was tied to the project’s success.

In February, the Washington Post reported that the State Department had spent $15,000 to rent 19 rooms at a Trump property in Vancouver shortly after Trump took office. That property isn’t directly owned by Donald Trump but rather by a Canadian company called the Holborn Group. Still, Trump makes money from licensing the Trump brand. According to his 2017 financial disclosure, which covers the period from January 2016 through April 2017, Trump earned $5 million in royalties from the Vancouver hotel.

Under the Domestic Emoluments Clause, “it doesn’t matter whether the benefit results from a payment made in the United States or outside it,” said Brianne Gorod, chief counsel at the Constitutional Accountability Center. “Likewise, any payment made to a business owned, in whole or in part, by the president raises serious questions under the clause because the president will ultimately enjoy a portion of any financial benefit these businesses receive.”

On June 14, the Constitutional Accountability Center filed a lawsuit against Trump for violating the Foreign Emoluments Clause. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, is the lead plaintiff in that suit, and 200 additional members of Congress have also joined the case. The Foreign Emoluments Clause states that anyone holding office in the United States cannot accept any benefit or gift from foreign governments without the consent of Congress. But Congress can’t waive the Domestic Emoluments Clause, according to Gorod.

In addition to the Blumenthal lawsuit, the attorneys general of Washington, D.C., and Maryland sued Trump over alleged emolument violations in June. The attorney general of Washington argues that the Trump International Hotel is taking away business from the taxpayer-owned convention center, as foreign embassies are opting to hold events and rent rooms at the Trump hotel instead. The Maryland attorney general likewise says Trump’s D.C. hotel is drawing business out of the state. And in January, the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a lawsuit accusing the president of violating the Foreign Emoluments Clause by accepting money from foreign governments at his Washington hotel. The CREW case is moving forward with oral arguments next month.

Ryan Shapiro, the co-founder of Property of the People, said, “We’re targeting government charge card records at numerous federal agencies.” He noted that while the Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security were responsive with handing over federal records, others have been less forthcoming. Those less-responsive agencies, he said, “include the Secret Service, the State Department, the Department of Commerce, Customs and Border Patrol, the General Services Administration, and the Department of Defense.”

The Wrong Side of the Law

The Wrong Side of the Law

by Jamelle Bouie @ Slate Articles

When President Trump pardoned former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio—then under contempt of court for bucking a federal injunction—he defended the action as necessary for the preservation of law and order. Lawmakers and advocacy groups expressed outrage, and for good reason. Arpaio hadn’t been a force for either law or order. Throughout his career, he repeatedly and flagrantly violated the constitutional rights of the men and women in his jails, to say nothing of his racial profiling, measures that consumed resources at the expense of actual crime in his community. Celebrated for his cruelty, Arpaio embodied a homegrown authoritarianism defined by its racism. And in shielding the Arizona sheriff from the legal consequences of his actions, Trump undermined actual rule of law, subjecting it to his whims and prejudices.

It was ironic, then, to see the president cite the rule of law in criticizing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama-era executive decree that shielded unauthorized immigrants who had come as children from deportation provided they paid a fee, met certain requirements, and registered with the government. Announced in 2012, almost two years after a successful Republican filibuster of legislation that would have the same effect, the consensus among legal scholars is that the action was legal. But President Trump disagrees. “As President, my highest duty to defend the American people and the Constitution of the United States of America,” he said in an official statement. “At the same time, I do not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents. But we must also recognize that we are [a] nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws.”

His attorney general, Jeff Sessions, echoed Trump’s concerns in announcing the end of DACA. “No greater good can be done for the overall health and well-being of our republic, than preserving and strengthening the impartial rule of law,” said Sessions. “To have a lawful system of immigration that serves the national interest, we cannot admit everyone who would like to come here.”

But both odes to the rule of law are difficult to square with the rationale for the Arpaio pardon, even if the pardon was clearly permissible under the president’s broad powers. The former sheriff didn’t just break the law: He violated the constitutional rights of American citizens and disobeyed a court order to cease that conduct. A president seriously concerned with rule of law would not claim Arpaio as an ally (as Trump did) much less pardon him of his offenses.

The natural explanation for this inconsistency is that “rule of law” is a smokescreen meant to obscure the actual reason for ending DACA. That reason is Trump’s own nativism—a driving force of his campaign for president, reflected in the cultural and racial anxiety of his voters—and the anti-immigrant ideologies of key advisers like Sessions and Stephen Miller (who was mentored by Sessions in the Senate). Both men hold deeply nativist worldviews and highly restrictionist agendas for immigration, with the goal of limiting and removing as many immigrants as possible, and creating an inhospitable environment for those who remain.

The official statements from Sessions and the White House illustrate those views. The attorney general, for example, stated that DACA—which he called an “open-ended circumvention of immigration laws”—denied jobs to “hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens,” a claim with no basis in fact but in the myth that immigrants take jobs from Americans. Later, Sessions declares that the failure to enforce immigration laws puts “our nation at risk of crime, violence and even terrorism.” This may be true in the general sense, but it has no relevance to the actual policy in question, which deals with those undocumented immigrants who came to the United States through no act of their own, and who seek to live and work in peace. The statement simply serves to associate immigrants with crime and disorder.

The White House statement is even more reliant on anti-immigrant myths. Trump says that DACA contributed to a “massive surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America” that included “young people who would become members of violent gangs throughout our country, such as MS-13.” This, my colleague Mark Joseph Stern finds, is simply false, an allegation “touted by far-right xenophobes.” Later, the president—like Sessions—connects DACA to a “decades-long failure” to enforce immigration law that has led to “the illicit entry of dangerous drugs and criminal cartels” in addition to other ills. Again, there’s little to support this claim other than familiar anti-immigrant tropes.

These tropes define the White House’s message on DACA, and in turn, they show how “rule of law” isn’t the actual concern of the president or his attorney general. If it were, then similar restraint would have accompanied Trump’s travel ban from Muslim-majority countries. Instead, the administration claimed absolute authority and discretion even as the January order itself brought a wave of legal challenges. “The president’s powers here are beyond question,” said Stephen Miller in defense of that measure. Speaking on ABC news, the adviser expressed views that have clearly informed White House policy on immigration. “There is no constitutional right for a citizen in a foreign country, who has no status in America, to demand entry into our country.”

The actual goal in suspending DACA is exclusion. When the law serves that key purpose, as Trump and his advisers have argued with the travel ban and ending DACA, they hail “rule of law” and constitutional restraint. But when the Constitution and the law interfere with exclusion, when they preclude the abuse of immigrants and other vulnerable groups, then Trump ignores them, as we saw with his pardoning of Arpaio.

In his statement, Jeff Sessions warned of societies where “the rule of law is subject to political whims and personal biases,” decrying them as “societies afflicted by corruption, poverty, and human suffering.” The attorney general is right: The law cannot be arbitrary and should not rest on caprice. The irony is that this warning applies best not to supporters of unauthorized immigrants, but to himself and a president who knows no other way to govern.

Trump’s Secret Letter

Trump’s Secret Letter

by William Saletan @ Slate Articles

On May 11, two days after he fired FBI Director James Comey, President Trump admitted that the White House’s initial story about the firing—that it was prompted by a memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein—was bogus. Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt that he had planned to fire Comey anyway and that while doing it, he had thought about the Russia investigation. Now we’re getting a clearer picture of what Trump meant.

It turns out that before consulting Rosenstein, Trump dictated a long letter in which he outlined his gripes about Comey. Last weekend, several news organizations reported details about the letter and why we never saw it. The articles don’t give conclusive answers, but they do clarify important questions.

1. What were Trump’s motives? Nobody has published the letter, but it’s said to be four pages long single-spaced, “emotional and critical” with an “angry, meandering tone.” Aides who have seen the letter say most of it isn’t about Russia. The part about Russia, they claim, is just what Trump was upset about in the dismissal letter he later released: that Comey wouldn’t say publicly, as he had said privately, that Trump wasn’t under investigation. (The Washington Post says the letter includes complaints about Comey’s investigation of Hillary Clinton. That would be interesting especially if Trump, consistent with his public statements, wrote that Comey was too soft on Clinton—and then tried to pin the firing on Rosenstein, whose memo argued the opposite.)

Trump’s surrogates say the story of the letter exonerates him. Trump couldn’t have fired Comey to stop the Russia investigation, they argue, because when aides saw the president’s letter, they warned him that firing the FBI director wouldn’t end the investigation and might prolong it, yet he went ahead with it anyway. But that’s only part of the story. If you read articles about the letter more thoroughly, you also learn that Trump went after Comey for disloyalty and impeding the administration’s agenda—in short, for behaving like an independent law enforcement officer rather than a flunky.

Politico, citing “aides and advisers,” reports that in the weeks leading up to the firing, “Trump was increasingly obsessed with Comey and concerned that he was disloyal to the administration.” The Wall Street Journal, quoting an administration official, says that Trump complained to associates about Comey’s “arrogance”—and that in his letter, the president wrote that Comey’s refusal to clear him was “hampering the country.” The Journal adds that according to its sources, Trump wanted to get rid of Comey “because he saw the lingering investigation as a weight on his presidency.” These quotes paint a picture of a president who saw any threat to himself as a threat to the country.

The Journal also notes that on May 5—the same day on which Trump, according to CBS News, “began talking to lawyer friends and senior staff about Comey” and getting rid of him—the president also “dressed down two of his top aides—White House counsel Don McGahn and Steve Bannon, then his chief strategist—over Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision, two months earlier, to recuse himself from the Russian investigation.” So Trump wasn’t just irked by Comey’s independence. He was also stewing that Trump loyalists had surrendered control of the investigation. From what we know now about the letter, the chronology behind it, and previous evidence, it’s clear that Trump wasn’t Richard Nixon. He didn’t have a detailed understanding of the case against him and how to undermine it. Trump operates more on a gut level: attacking unfavorable narratives, getting rid of troublemakers, and using leverage, such as patronage, to gain control of any institution that might threaten him. That’s why he fired Comey. It’s different from Nixon’s style of obstructing justice. But it’s still obstructing justice.

2. Who knew what when? The reports about Trump’s draft letter don’t just tell us about Trump. They tell us who in his circle knew and concealed the truth about his motives. The New York Times reports that the first people Trump “consulted” about firing Comey, apparently between May 4 and May 7, were his daughter Ivanka, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and aide Stephen Miller. The part about Ivanka is new and raises the question of whether she, like her husband, endorsed the idea of ousting the FBI director.

A second group of aides was reportedly told about the firing decision on May 8, after Trump had made the decision and had finished his letter. This group included McGahn, then–Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, and Vice President Mike Pence. The Times says that at this meeting, Pence was given a copy of Trump’s initial letter. So when the vice president told reporters on May 10 that Trump had simply acted on Rosenstein’s May 9 memo, he wasn’t just misinformed. He was lying.

3. Who directed the cover-up? The person who comes out looking guiltiest isn’t Trump or Pence. It’s McGahn. All sources agree that on May 8, when Trump presented the letter to aides at the White House, McGahn tried to spike it. But apparently, McGahn also edited it. The Times reports that on May 8, McGahn gave Miller “a marked-up copy” of the letter “highlighting several sections that he believed needed to be removed.” The Associated Press adds that Trump’s main criticism of Comey—that “he would not say publicly that the president was not under investigation”—was “excised” from Trump’s original letter before being “partially restored in the final letter at Trump's behest.”

You can argue that McGahn was just doing his job. But none of his moves were designed to change Trump’s decision. By May 8, according to Politico, Trump had made up his mind, and aides were focusing on how the firing would be explained. To the extent that McGahn tried to edit out or prevent the exposure of Trump’s true motives—and to the extent those motives were central to the president’s obstruction of justice—McGahn was engaged in a cover-up.

In that respect, the most damning revelation about McGahn is that he set up Trump’s May 8 meeting with Sessions and Rosenstein to create a defensible rationale for firing Comey. The Post says McGahn asked Trump to “consult the two Justice officials, who were Comey’s supervisors, before moving forward.” The Times is blunter: McGahn “arranged for the president to meet in the Oval Office that day” with Sessions and Rosenstein because he knew that Rosenstein had recently complained about Comey to a White House lawyer. CBS News adds that “McGahn told the president that the Justice Department had already begun documenting problems with Comey that might justify his dismissal.” That’s a pretty clear offer of a pretext.

4. What was Rosenstein thinking? Rosenstein has acknowledged that he learned on May 8, before writing his memo, that Trump was going to fire Comey. This has led many people to wonder why Rosenstein—reputed to be an upstanding, apolitical prosecutor—wrote the memo at all. The articles about Trump’s initial letter tell us something about that. They say that Rosenstein was sent a copy of Trump’s letter by McGahn, and was given a copy by Trump, before writing his memo. This means that when Rosenstein wrote the memo at Trump’s request and submitted it the next day, he did so with explicit knowledge that Trump had a prior and completely different rationale for firing Comey. Rosenstein knew he was being used. And that raises the next question: Did Rosenstein then begin the process of arranging for a special counsel—whose appointment he announced on May 17—because he believed he had witnessed a crime?

What we’ve learned about Trump’s letter, to this point, solves none of these mysteries. But it does sharpen the questions that need answering. Trump wanted to fire Comey for reasons he didn’t tell us about. The people around Trump knew his thinking and concealed it, and they enlisted the Justice Department to create a cover story. The text of the letter, when it’s released, may tell us more about the nature and extent of this conspiracy. But what we know already is bad enough.

It’s Time to Talk to North Korea

It’s Time to Talk to North Korea

by Fred Kaplan @ Slate Articles

The complaint about the U.N. Security Council’s new sanctions against North Korea is that they aren’t strict enough to force Kim Jong-un to dismantle his nuclear program. But here’s the thing: Nothing is going to force him to do that.

It’s time to recognize that North Korea is a nuclear power—small and not fully tested but a nuclear power nonetheless—and that, as with other nuclear powers, the most effective ways to deal with it are through deterrence and diplomacy. Any other course is the stuff of delusions.

There are several reasons why Kim would be loath to give up his nukes. First, they are all he has. For a tiny, impoverished country amid several large, rich ones (“a shrimp among whales,” as Kim Il-sung, the country’s founder and Kim Jong-un’s grandfather, put it), nukes can stave off a wide range of threats.

Second, Kim follows the news. He saw what happened to Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi when they gave up their nuclear programs, whether through force or conciliation: They were invaded or overthrown anyway. Kim is no doubt also aware of what’s happening with the Iranian nuclear deal: The Iranians agreed to dismantle the country’s nuclear program, in exchange for lifting sanctions; the International Atomic Energy Agency has verified that they’re abiding by the deal’s terms, yet President Donald Trump says that he might claim they’re not and reimpose the sanctions anyway. Given all this recent history, no one in Kim’s position would outright surrender his one source of leverage and power.

Finally, economic sanctions have their limits, especially with a dictator who has little concern for the health or wealth of his citizens. Kim, his entourage, and certain party officials enjoy luxuries, while most of his country’s 25 million people live in abject poverty. Two million are believed to have died in a famine in the 1990s. The Kim dynasty did not suffer.

The sanctions levied by the U.N. Security Council on Monday are far-reaching. They ban textile exports from North Korea and the sale of natural gas to North Korea; set a cap on refined petroleum imports, to the point of cutting the country’s current consumption by about 10 percent; and allow inspections of ships suspected of carrying fuel or weapons into North Korean harbors.

These measures fall short of what the Trump administration had pushed for: a ban on refined petroleum imports, the right to board suspected ships with arms, and a freezing of Kim’s personal assets. But Trump’s tougher sanctions were never going to pass, and since the United States conducts no trade with North Korea, we need the approval of those who do conduct trade, especially China. The dilemma here is that China wants to punish North Korea for its atomic antics but not so much that the regime might collapse. If it did collapse, China would face a humanitarian crisis in its scantly populated northeast territories, as millions of North Koreans would stream across the border. A collapse would also mean U.S. air and naval forces would no longer be holed up in northeast Asia and could thus redeploy to the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait, which are China’s most vital areas.

Conceivably, Kim might do or say something so reckless that Chinese leaders recalculate their strategic priorities. But according to U.S. military and intelligence officials who follow China closely, there’s no evidence that any such shift is in the offing.

In other words, given the geostrategic context, sanctions are always going to be halfhearted at best.

The Washington Post’s David Ignatius reported recently that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been holding quiet discussions with his counterparts in China and Russia about resuming some sort of talks with North Korea about its nuclear program. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that, if these talks do get underway, she wants a seat at the table too.

This makes sense. If North Korea is now a nuclear power, having tested high-yield bombs and missiles with the range to strike our Asian allies and possibly slices of the continental United States, then we need to talk, even if talking doesn’t yield much.

In a fascinating article for the New Yorker, Evan Osnos described a recent trip to Pyongyang, where, among other things, he talked at length with senior officials of the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s Institute for American Studies. What struck me most was how little even these officials understand about American politics, culture, and attitudes. And, of course, this ignorance and misapprehension is reciprocated in the Trump administration, which, besides other shortcomings, has not yet nominated an assistant secretary of state or defense for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

The United States could deploy an impressive array of military forces designed to persuade Kim not to attack us or our allies. In other words, we can mount an effective deterrent. The South Korean government, which otherwise advocates peaceful détente between the two countries, announced on Sept. 4 that it was creating a “decapitation unit”—a special brigade whose sole mission is to kill Kim in the event of war.* The Seoul officials announced this publicly because the very knowledge of this brigade could have a deterrent effect on Kim’s actions.

But wars sometimes erupt through accidents and misunderstandings, and one way to ward off that possibility is diplomacy. Trump and Kim are never going to be friends (and if Trump thinks they might be, he should forget about it at once), but talks have their value—if just to explore what the various sides in the talks want.

Also, even if we can’t force or persuade the North Koreans to get rid of their nuclear arsenal, maybe we can push them to freeze or otherwise limit its size. They are said to have about 20 nuclear weapons (or the making of 20 weapons). Better 20 than 100 or 200, which wouldn’t be impossible if they keep churning them out unabated.

China has suggested North Korea might freeze its nuclear program in exchange for a suspension of U.S.–South Korean military exercises.* This is a bad idea: What the U.S. needs to do, now that North Korea has nuclear weapons, is to shore up its cooperation—military and otherwise—with its allies in the region, especially with South Korea, which the North has long wanted to weaken.

But maybe there are other lures for which the North would agree to freeze its program. There’s no way to find out but to find out. The guaranteed way not to find out—or to accomplish anything that might keep Pyongyang in check—is to pretend that nothing has changed. There’s no magic chokehold to make Kim Jong-un scream “Uncle!” and succumb to all our wishes.

Correction, Sept. 13, 2017: This post originally stated that the South Korean government announced the creation of the “decapitation unit” on Sept. 12. It announced the unit on Sept. 4. It also misstated that North Korea said it would freeze its nuclear program in exchange for a suspension of U.S.–South Korean military exercises. Chinese officials suggested North Korea might do so.

Advice for Democrats on Single-Payer

Advice for Democrats on Single-Payer

by Jim Newell @ Slate Articles

On Wednesday, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced the Medicare For All Act of 2017, his long-awaited single-payer health care proposal that (as of this writing) has earned 16 Democratic co-sponsors. That’s a 16-senator improvement on the last single-payer bill he introduced in the Senate. It’s not just fellow lefties, like Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, supporting the Sanders plan. The bill has also earned the co-sponsorship of more typically cautious Democrats like New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, as well as one senator, Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin, who’s up for re-election in a state Donald Trump won. It has become difficult for any Democratic senator considering a 2020 presidential bid not to co-sponsor Sanders’ bill, a sign that support for single-payer will be the default position.

But how committed will that support be?

Single-payer supporters shouldn’t just take these supposed believers in government-sponsored health care at their word. Until they answer the difficult questions the Medicare for All Act of 2017 evades—omissions that were made specifically to earn their buy-ins—their support should be treated as posturing and not a true commitment to push for single-payer if and when they have the chance. The politicians latching onto single-payer to score points with the Democrats’ progressive base don’t owe those answers to Washington’s scolding policy wonk class. They owe a full litigation of the process to single-payer’s supporters, who deserve to know that their representatives aren’t making them promises they’re not willing to keep.

The Medicare for All Act is built on a compromise that works well in the short-term for both Sanders and his co-sponsors: the decision not to include financing details within the bill itself and instead offer a separate white paper with some financing options to “begin that discussion.” By separating out the spending, Sanders makes co-sponsorship an all-gain, no-pain decision. As Vox’s Jeff Stein explains, structuring the bill this way “will make it easier for Senate Democrats to co-sponsor the legislation and win over Sanders’s supporters, but also not co-sign their names to legislation calling for billions in new personal income taxes.”

The push for single-payer is a long project, and Sanders and his co-sponsors don’t need to commit to a financing model now. “We’d rather give the American people options,” Sanders said in an interview with the Washington Post. “The truth is, embarrassingly, that on this enormously important issue, there has not been the kind of research and study that we need.” Further study is a reasonable enough excuse for the moment, since it’s not like this bill is going anywhere in Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell’s Congress. And there’s value, in terms of expanding the Overton window, in showing that an idea once relegated to America’s leftist fringe now has mainstream party buy-in.

But the process gets much harder from here, and it takes more than a chummy press conference for these members to show they’re serious.

Introducing single-payer—which would eliminate most existing insurance arrangements in a country where two-thirds of people are satisfied with their coverage—is always going to be the steepest of steep political tasks. The only way I’m certain it will never, ever happen, though, is if the politicians who promise they’ll support it don’t reckon with the difficult challenges that single-payer presents until the moment they’re forced to.

I spent the first half of this year writing about what happens when a party rides the wave of a promise it’s made to its base without bothering to address the trade-offs required to keep that promise. By ignoring those questions during the many years when they didn’t control every lever of government, Republicans ensured that the country would learn at the last possible moment that repealing Obamacare might make some stuff Americans care about a whole lot worse. Politicians got scared, the bill died, and Republicans lost whatever credibility they ever had on health care. There is a lesson here. That lesson is: Don’t do that.

I have never not supported single-payer. Though it is striking, and welcome, to hear more than one-third of the Senate Democratic caucus lay out a case for why for-profit insurance needs to go, that alone is not commitment. Commitment means educating the public on the whole product, including the specific levels of tax increase that will be necessary, and explaining why they’re worth it. It means telling voters directly that their taxes will go up, and not by a small amount—but by less than they had been paying in annual premiums.

This means having the courage to risk collapsing single-payer’s polling support and only then determining whether it’s a product worth pushing for legislatively. Anything else is opportunism and a guarantee that whoever wins the Democratic nomination in 2020 will stop talking about single-payer the moment he or she emerges from the primaries. Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Kirsten Gillibrand don’t need to commit to a funding model now, or even next year. But they do need to make a commitment well before they have unified Democratic control of government and have to make good on a promise to the base. They need to tell people who are satisfied with their employer coverage that they will no longer have that coverage, and convince them that what they’ll get from a government-sponsored system will be better. They need to show, in short, that they’re not duping single-payer supporters to get their votes—that they care about single-payer health care as a government program they’re serious about implementing, and not just as a talking point.

What Steve Bannon Is Up To

What Steve Bannon Is Up To

by Jim Newell @ Slate Articles

Grandiose former White House chief strategist, Breitbart leader, and chaos Muppet Steve Bannon will use his connections and influence to challenge five incumbent GOP senators, Politico reports. It is part of his “war” against the Republican establishment, members of which will “be held accountable if they do not support the President of the United States,” as he told 60 Minutes during his interview Sunday night. But a lack of support for Trump is not what binds the five together.

Some of the senators Bannon is targeting have had moments of rhetorical disloyalty to the president. Atop Bannon’s list are Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake and Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, the two most endangered Senate Republican incumbents this fall. Bannon is supporting their challengers, Dr. Kelli Ward and Danny Tarkanian, respectively. If the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee were to create, in a test tube, beatable candidates in battleground states, they would end up with Ward and Tarkanian. And yet Bannon and his allies, most notably right-wing billionaire Robert Mercer, will support them. The supposed reason? Flake, in between voting for anything that Donald Trump wants, sometimes criticizes Trump’s tone. And Heller briefly flirted with voting against repealing Obamacare, but then voted for it.

Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, similarly, is with the president on most if not all major votes and was close enough to the president to merit serious consideration for the secretary of state post. He did, however, tell reporters following Trump’s botched Charlottesville response that “the president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.”

Trump does want Flake gone. But does Bannon care that Flake has criticized Trump’s tone? Does Bannon really care about the minor fleeting moments of displeasure Trump has had with Heller or Corker? It might be that Bannon, an immigration hawk (to put it gently), is trying to exact revenge against Flake, Heller, and Corker for supporting the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill that included “amnesty.”

The ruse is further revealed with the other two targets on Bannon’s list, with whom Trump has zero evident problem.

Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker is a nice Southern gentleman who, as far as I can tell, has never said a cross word against the president or challenged him in anything approaching a meaningful way. But he’s on the list. The reason, I suspect, is because Bannon and Breitbart are close to Chris McDaniel, the far-right candidate who challenged (and very nearly defeated) Mississippi’s other senator, Thad Cochran, in 2014 and wants another shot at taking out a reliable establishment vote.

The most ridiculous and revealing member of the group, though, is Alabama Sen. Luther Strange. Strange’s special election campaign has been devoted almost exclusively to the worship of Donald Trump. Trump, in turn, has endorsed him. That’s right: Bannon, self-imagined guardian of the president’s image, is joining the crusade against the Trump agenda item of electing Luther Strange.

A clue as to why is buried in the Politico piece: “A Strange loss would be an embarrassment for McConnell and open the floodgates for other GOP primary challenges, Bannon has argued,” Politico reports, noting that Bannon met just last week in Washington with Strange’s primary runoff opponent, Roy Moore. It would be an embarrassment for McConnell—and will be, if recent polling is correct. It will also be an embarrassment for Trump, which is why Trump has been keeping his distance of late. But just as many Republicans in Trump’s base seemed OK with Trump joining the Democrats in the debt deal simply because that was sticking it to House Speaker Paul Ryan, maybe Bannon is OK hurting a Trump-endorsed candidate if it hurts McConnell and the establishment more.

Trump may want some of the senators Bannon is targeting gone, but he doesn’t care about others. Trump may hate Jeff Flake, but there’s a not-insignificant chance that he has no idea there’s a United States senator named Roger Wicker. The only thing linking these targets, then, is not disloyalty to the president and his agenda, but to some set of peeves Bannon himself holds. He’s doing it for himself.

The Angle: Obergefell Next Edition

The Angle: Obergefell Next Edition

by Rebecca Onion @ Slate Articles

It’s coming: Slowly but surely, the Trump administration is nominating judges to the federal judiciary who will undermine, and eventually challenge, the 2015 Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage. Mark Joseph Stern profiles a few of the most dangerous nominees.

Silver lining: If Graham-Cassidy passes, Reihan Salam argues, people will become highly engaged with state-level politics, since that’s where decisions will be made about health care spending. That’s a change that can only be good for Democrats.

Dangerous woo-woo: Louise Hay, a New Ager who recently died at the age of 90, swindled and betrayed a generation of people suffering from AIDS, David Groff writes. Her kind of pseudoscience was far from harmless.

So many hours: Netflix is paying many stand-up comedians big bucks to record specials for the streaming service. This sounds great for comedy, but the strategy is flooding the market in ways that could eventually result in harm to stand-up overall, Jesse David Fox argues.

For fun: When Trump goes flowery.

Sometimes you have to laugh,


Trump Can’t Score a Win

Trump Can’t Score a Win

by Jamelle Bouie @ Slate Articles

Donald Trump was destined to have a difficult first year as president. He wasn’t just a minority president, selected by quirk of the electoral process; he was a political novice with no experience of public office and a uniquely divisive figure, who stoked white racial resentment to fuel his ascendancy. And while he had the advantage of a Republican Congress (with a decisive majority in the House of Representatives), he was ill-equipped to use it, entering office with few plans or proposals outside of executive actions.

But every president has challenges to overcome. Trump’s promise was that he could bring his business acumen to bear on America’s problems, substituting raw deal-making talent for knowledge and experience.

Far from accomplishment, however, what we’ve seen from Trump and Congress is failure and dysfunction. For comparison’s sake, at this point in his presidency, Barack Obama had signed a major stimulus package and was barreling ahead on health care reform. George W. Bush had signed his first round of tax cuts and was shepherding education reform through Congress. And Bill Clinton had worked successfully with Congress to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans and expand the Earned Income Tax Credit.

President Trump, by contrast, has nothing. Obamacare repeal is a bust, his infrastructure plan doesn’t actually exist, and his push for comprehensive “tax reform”—meaning a series of upper-income tax cuts—has yet to translate to an actual plan or proposal. That might be manageable if it were the only item on the agenda, giving Trump and Congress time to work on a package acceptable to all sides within the Republican Party. As it stands, the president’s tax ambitions are competing with three contentious and must-pass efforts: relief for Hurricane Harvey, a bill to fund the government through the end of the year, and a bill to lift the debt ceiling and allow the government to pay its obligations. Trump has issued little guidance for Republican lawmakers on these issues, deferring to Congress—and as we saw with health care—opening the door to confusion and infighting. He is an ignorant president, unaware of his ignorance and unable to address it. And so he refuses to put in the time to understand an issue and do the hard work of hashing out solutions with his policy aides, or sitting down with Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell to hammer out a strategy.

Further weighing down his legislative priorities are Trump’s own scandals and controversies. The FBI’s Russia investigation continues to loom in the background of his presidency. His statements in Charlottesville—first blaming “many sides” for the violence that shook the small Virginia city and then defending the white supremacists who provoked it—harmed his job approval rating, and prompted real criticism from fellow Republicans. His most recent action fits this mold. In a distinctly unpopular move, Trump plans to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, making hundreds of thousands of unauthorized immigrants—all brought to the United States as children—vulnerable to deportation on account of their legal status, or lack thereof. This too has brought condemnation from within his party. “President Trump’s decision to eliminate DACA is the wrong approach to immigration policy at a time when both sides of the aisle need to come together to reform our broken immigration system and secure the border,” said Arizona Sen. John McCain in a statement.

A tense legislative fight over these immigrants—sometimes called “Dreamers” on account of the stillborn DREAM Act, which would grant them a path to permanent legal residency—could split congressional Republicans and further shrink the space for Trump’s agenda on taxes and the border wall. It’s not just that a handful of Republicans, like McCain, support a solution for these unauthorized immigrants; it’s that the White House is being antagonistic toward Congress in a way that could hurt its own priorities. “If Congress doesn’t want to do the job they were elected to do, maybe they should get out of the way and let someone else do it,” said Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders at Tuesday’s press briefing. (Although, if Democrats and Republicans managed to pass a permanent solution for Dreamers—which, barring some trade, would represent a deep compromise—it would ironically give Trump the legislative win he needs.)

Despite the likelihood that they will scramble his legislative efforts for the rest of the year, Trump’s actions on DACA do get to a fact of his presidency. For as much as he lacks legislative accomplishments—thus harming the Republican Party and its ideological priorities—he has hardly been stymied at every turn. At present, he is using the executive branch to reward corporate allies and further feed the racial resentment that powered his presidential bid. His Department of Education and Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, have been turned wholesale over to industry interests, with political appointees using their influence to reward for-profit colleges and fossil fuel producers. And in addition to his actions against Hispanic immigrants and Muslim Americans, Trump has used the power of the White House and the Justice Department to attack affirmative action and defend the worst abuses of American law enforcement, going as far as to pardon a serial violator of the constitutional rights of prisoners.

Donald Trump has been a strikingly ineffective president vis à vis Congress, and with just more than 60 days left in the legislative calendar, there’s a strong chance the self-proclaimed dealmaker will finish the year with no substantive policy deals made. But his failures to be productive don’t preclude him from being destructive. And as we’ve just witnessed with DACA, Trump will not hesitate to take that path.

Too Little Integrity, Too Late

Too Little Integrity, Too Late

by Ruth Graham @ Slate Articles

MANCHESTER, N.H.—Last week, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach wrote a column for Breitbart in which he asserted that more than 5,000 people voted fraudulently in New Hampshire in the 2016 election, enough to sway the state’s tight Senate race and perhaps even its presidential election results. “It has long been reported, anecdotally, that out-of-staters take advantage of New Hampshire’s same-day registration and head to the Granite State to cast fraudulent votes,” Kobach wrote. “Now there’s proof.”

Tuesday morning, Kobach arrived in New Hampshire for the second meeting of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which he effectively heads. (Vice President Mike Pence technically chairs it, but he was not present on Tuesday.) He was seated next to commission member Bill Gardner, who has served as New Hampshire’s secretary of state since 1976 and is thus the man Kobach was accusing of overseeing a system so dysfunctional that its results were invalid. Gardner didn’t look happy.

President Trump created the “election integrity” commission in May, apparently to bolster his delusional claims that “millions” of people voted illegally in the 2016 election. The stated purpose of the commission is to “strengthen the integrity of elections” by studying vulnerabilities, namely voter fraud. In fact, the commission is an elegant example of the observer effect: Its mere existence seems designed to destabilize public confidence in the American democratic process.

There was something surreal about watching a government commission discuss a problem that essentially does not exist. Panelists displayed slides with mathematical models that predict voter turnout, the distribution of election jurisdiction size, and historical polling data. Two New Hampshire town moderators wheeled out wooden ballot boxes used in their local elections, a slide reading “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” looming over them. (The slide was somewhat undercut by their folksy anecdotes about how the paper ballots often become almost unreadably crumpled in the boxes, and how various elements are broken or held together by duct tape.) A Fox News commentator and independent crime researcher testified that election officials should conduct background checks on voters using the same Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives database used to vet gun buyers. Democrats seem to have perfect faith in the background-check system for gun purchases, he pointed out, so why not use it on voters?

What no one did was demonstrate that voter fraud is a widespread problem. Ken Block, the president of a data-mining company used by government agencies, testified about his new report about duplicate voting. Paul Gronke, director of the nonpartisan Early Voting Information Center at Reed College, estimated this week that even the report’s overly broad definition of voter malfeasance found a fraud rate of 0.000323741007194, or three ten-thousandths of 1 percent—almost exactly the chance that a person will be struck by lightning in the course of their lifetime.

Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation, a commission member, also testified about that organization’s “database” of fraud cases. The list includes cases going back to 1948. Just 105 of its 749 cases took place in the last five years, and the authors could identify only 10 cases in which one person impersonated another at the polls. (Total number of proven fraud cases in New Hampshire: six, involving seven people.) Von Spakovsky has been deeply involved in promoting the myth of widespread voter fraud. On Tuesday, an advocacy group released a February email in which he complained to a Justice Department employee about rumors that the commission, then in development, would be bipartisan. “There isn’t a single Democratic official that will do anything other than obstruct any investigation into voter fraud and issue constant public announcements criticizing the commission,” von Spakovsky wrote. (His name was redacted in the email, but the Heritage Foundation confirmed that he wrote it.)

Kobach’s characteristically disingenuous Breitbart column, based on an analysis of voters who used out-of-state driver’s licenses in the 2016 election, clearly rankled several of his fellow commission members. The column failed to mention that New Hampshire law allows out-of-state college students to vote in Granite State elections. An earlier analysis by New Hampshire Public Radio found that the towns with the highest rates of out-of-state ID use at the polls last year were all home to college campuses. But the column likely pleased President Trump, who lost the state’s 4 electoral votes to Hillary Clinton and alleged “serious voter fraud” there in late November. He later privately complained to members of Congress that “thousands” of people took buses in from Massachusetts to vote illegally in the state. Busloads of Massachusetts residents at polling places are New Hampshire’s version of Bigfoot: often claimed to be spotted, yet somehow never photographed.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Kobach soft-pedaled the column, emphasizing that it was only 800 words and saying he struggled over certain verb choices. That wasn’t enough for commission member Matthew Dunlap, Maine’s Democratic secretary of state. Saying “that somehow people not updating their driver’s license is indicative of voter fraud is like saying the fact that you have cash in your wallet is indicative that you robbed a bank,” he said. “I have an awful lot of faith in the integrity of elections in New England.” Gardner sat with his eyes downcast and told Kobach that the election results in New Hampshire are “real and valid,” drawing the first applause of the day. Kobach later said he stands by the column.

Outside the meeting, which took place on the campus of Saint Anselm College, about 150 protesters yelled “Sham!” as commission members pulled into the parking lot. Jim Forrest, who serves as supervisor of the voter checklist in Franconia, New Hampshire, drove two hours to get there. He’s deeply familiar with the voting process in the state, and “this is just crazy,” he said. “Anything you do to inhibit the vote is going to inhibit the vote.” After New Hampshire Republicans passed a voter ID law in 2012, Forrest saw people enter the polling place, realize they forgot their ID, and turn around to leave, despite the fact that the law allows a voter who doesn’t have ID with her to cast a ballot if she fills out an affidavit and has her picture taken.

It’s fair to say that Trump’s commission is split between opportunists like Kobach and legitimate public servants who should know better than to associate themselves with a body that is indeed a sham. Many of the protesters mentioned their disappointment in Gardner specifically. The 68-year-old secretary of state, a Democrat who has served under 11 governors of both parties, is widely liked and respected within the state. His main legacy is his fierce protection of New Hampshire’s status as the “first in the nation” primary, and even that seems perilous now. On Tuesday, former Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean told the Daily Beast that the party would consider stripping the state of that honor over Gardner’s support for a new state law designed to crack down on “fraud.” The law, known as SB 3, would impose high fines and jail time on people who vote without proper ID and then fail to follow up with proof they live in the state. As the commission assembled at Saint Anselm, a state court ruled that the law’s penalties could not be enforced in that day’s special election.

State Democrats, including both of New Hampshire’s U.S. senators, are now calling for Gardner to step down from the commission, and local activists are furious; one sign at the protest read “Shame on you, Bill Gardner.” Veteran activist and one-time congressional candidate Dudley Dudley stood in the shade with friends who were carrying signs reading “Vote Free or Die.” “Bill Gardner should be ashamed,” she said. “I bet he is.”

He should be. It is blazingly clear that the panel is uninterested in real election integrity and is only serving to bolster the legitimacy of people like Kobach and von Spakovsky. It’s time to isolate them, not sit next to them and politely hear them out.

The Secret History of America’s Oldest Tofu Shop

The Secret History of America’s Oldest Tofu Shop

by Heather Arndt Anderson @ Slate Articles

Each week, Roads & Kingdoms and Slate publish a new dispatch from around the globe. For more foreign correspondence mixed with food, war, travel, and photography, visit its online magazine or follow @roadskingdoms on Twitter.

In the prehistoric days before everyone got all orthorexic, soy and gluten were staple proteins for vegetarians. During my own decadelong foray into vegetarianism, I was thankful for the wide variety of meat analogues, a good century in the making (thanks, Seventh-day Adventists!), but my biggest revelation was learning to cook with tofu. It could be mashed into pancake batter, scrambled with vegetables and twisted into tortillas, and of course, tossed into a stir fry.

Back then, I knew that my town, Portland, Oregon, was the birthplace of the Gardenburger, but I had no idea that I’d also grown up in the same city as the longest-standing tofu shop in the United States. I hadn’t realized that local hippie ready-to-eat food companies like Higher Taste and King Harvest had been using this venerable tofu in their respective Golden Slice sandwich and Grinning “Chicken” Tofu Curry (the now-defunct pita pocket satisfyingly overflowed with savory cubes of curried tofu, topped with shredded carrots and a solitary black olive).

For Ota Tofu Company, the process of making tofu hasn’t changed significantly in more than a century. The beans are rinsed and ground to pulp before cooking and flushing the soy milk from the slurry through a cloth bag. Today, the nigari salt is purchased from a supply company instead of made from evaporated seawater, but it still turns creamy soy milk into chubby curds. Instead of cobblestones set upon planks, stainless steel hydraulics gently press the water from the tofu; the process still converts the loose coagulum into cottony, semi-solid bricks, and these delicate bricks are still carefully cut and packaged by hand.

* * *

Standing at about 5-foot-2, Eileen Ota is strictly business, wearing an apron and white rubber boots, a kerchief to hold back her bobbed, salt-speckled hair, and wire-framed glasses perched on her nose. The phone rings off the hook. A Vietnamese restaurateur comes in, wheels his hand truck past me, and another worker loads it with buckets of tofu. I try to stay out of the way.

Ota hands me a paper hairnet and tells me that I need to ask permission before photographing anyone. I put it on and with my nicest manners, head into the tofu shop’s work space.

Back in the tiny, fluorescent-lit factory, the women massaging the curds into the cheesecloth-lined boxes are shyly smiling and ducking my camera, but reluctantly allow me to include their gloved hands in a few shots. Ota’s elderly husband, Ko, allows me to snap a few from behind his station at the soybean cooker.

I’m taken with the efficiency of the small operation. Everyone has a job to do, and they do it well. After more than a century, the kinks have been ironed out. The machines in the factory can crank out 500 pounds of tofu an hour, but much of the work still requires the touch of human hands.

* * *

Between 1890 and 1910, Portland’s Japanese population grew from just 20 to nearly 1,500 people. In addition to Nihonmachi (Japantown) just north of the city’s urban center, a second, suburban community emerged in the Montavilla area of East Portland. At first they were mostly men, settling in the fertile foothills of Mount Tabor to farm berries and vegetables. Later women began to arrive to the city, taking out ads in the local paper seeking domestic work in private family residences. In 1905, the local YWCA began offering Saturday evening cooking classes to Japanese women, giving inexperienced nikkei a leg up in American cookery.

With a more gender-balanced population in the mid-aughts, people married and started families, and Nihonmachi went from a seedy district of drifting laborers (and the caterers to men’s vice) to a blossoming neighborhood. Sukiyaki hot pot restaurants (a Japanese analogue to the then-trendy chow mein parlors run by Chinese cooks), bath houses, grocery stores, and a fish market opened in service to the growing Japanese community, and Saizo Ohta (the original Anglicized spelling of the family’s name) arrived from Okayama with his two older brothers.

Much mystery surrounds the origins of the company. One of the elder Ohta brothers opened the tofu shop in partnership with a Mr. Nagaro in 1911, whose given name and place of origin are unknown. It’s not even clear if the Ohtas had been tofu-makers back in Okayama, or if they’d merely seized an opportunity to fill a need in their new city. The brother (whose first name is also not known) then returned to Japan, leaving his half of the business to Saizo. Originally called Asahi Tofu, the tofu-ten, as a tofu shop is known in Japan, was first located on NW Third and Davis, sharing an address with a Japanese laundry. When Saizo and his wife, Shina, took over the business, they moved it around the corner to a new location, and the name of the business was changed from Asahi (meaning “morning sun”) to the family name. No one knows what happened to mysterious Mr. Nagaro.

While Sukiyaki was slowly gaining popularity throughout the U.S., Japanese cuisine was still largely misunderstood and unappreciated. Portland directories in the 1920s and ’30s listed the tofu shop as a bakery, the “soy bean cakes” evidently having been confused for pastry by the directory’s publishers. However, one gushing restaurant review published in the Oregonian in 1932 got it right, noting that the Tokio Sukiyaki House, located a block away from the Ohtas’ shop, included ingredients such as bamboo shoots and celery sprouts imported from faraway lands, “while the soy bean cake is made locally.”

Although their Chinese neighbors had always formed a good portion of the Ohtas’ customer base, the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 brought growing tensions between the Chinese and Japanese communities to a head. Japanese business owners tried to keep their heads down, but Chinese customers stopped coming in. From their tiny shop, the Ohtas carried on, making silky tofu, puffy and golden-fried aburaage, and gelatinous, bruise-hued blocks of voodoo lily paste called konnyaku. Then, Pearl Harbor changed everything.

* * *

Anti-Asian racism wasn’t new, but Pearl Harbor changed everything. In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, allowing people with Japanese, German, or Italian ancestry to be incarcerated in concentration camps. Those with Japanese ancestry—nearly 70,000 American citizens—were forcibly evacuated to the assembly center (located at a decommissioned cattle stockyard) for detention before being shipped off to an Idaho concentration camp called the Minidoka Relocation Center. With only 48 hours’ notice in some cases, Japanese businesses were liquidated and property sold off for whatever amount they could get. Whatever property hadn’t been sold was confiscated. Nihonmachi slowly converted to Portland’s second Chinatown as Chinese residents and business owners took advantage of the newly vacated properties, but there were no longer any tofu-makers in town.

Life in Minidoka was demoralizing, with families forced into barracks within barbed wire enclosures, living in cubicles divided by a thin sheet. They were fed Army rations that attempted to erase their Japanese identities, supplemented with hot dogs and Spam. If they were cooperative and proved their loyalty, adults and teens might earn the privilege of working in potato and sugar beet fields to break up the monotony of their daily lives. Nonetheless, people carried on, trying to make the most of things by writing newspapers, creating schools for their children, and growing gardens.

* * *

On Jan. 2, 1945, the War Department declared that the Japanese at last were free to leave the camps, but about a third of Japanese-American Oregonians never returned to their former hometowns. Of those that did return to the state, most tried to return to farming but were met with racist resentment.

Saizo Ohta died at Minidoka in 1943, leaving Shina to take over the shop and run it herself after the war ended. Mercifully, the building’s landlord had been sympathetic during the war and had saved the tofu equipment and the shop space (where the Ohtas also lived), and Shina reopened the shop as Soybean Cake Company. Though Japantown had been transformed into New Chinatown, there was still a customer base in the neighborhood who bought tofu.

Saizo and Shina’s daughter, Matsuno, had been in Japan receiving her education for several years when the war broke out, and she stayed put until well after the war ended. She returned to Portland in 1955 with her husband and their three children (during which time the spelling of their name was updated to Ota). Two years later, Shina suffered a stroke, leaving the care of the shop to her son-in-law and her grandson, Koichi (usually called Ko).

Over time, things began to settle back down somewhat for Portland’s nikkei. Japanese grocery stores like Anzen reopened soon after the war, and restaurants like Bush Garden slowly resurfaced. By 1970, a community cookbook produced by the ladies of my great-aunt Ruby’s (mostly white) church included a few recipes provided by Harriet Uchiyama, a Chinese American whose Japanese husband had spent a chunk of his childhood at Minidoka. Her recipe for “roast chicken,” while benignly named, is teriyaki in disguise, flavored with hoisin and soy sauce (a marriage of Chinese and Japanese flavors), brown sugar, honey, and garlic. Japanese food was finally coming out of hiding.

* * *

In the 1970s, anti-Japanese sentiments faded as Americans became enrapt with health foods. Like granola and sprouts, tofu was on trend. Now it wasn’t just Japanese restaurants and markets that bought the Otas’ wares. Health food stores, hippie co-ops, and vegetarian-friendly cafés (like King Harvest) were popping up all over town. Even mainstream stores like Safeway began carrying tofu on their shelves.

It was about this time that Ko, then owner-operator of the shop, married Eileen (a Japanese American Portland native), and a few years later they moved the shop across the river to their current location on SE Eighth and Stark, with a few modernizations in place. Though he has slowed down somewhat, Ko still works the soybean grinder and cooker.

Over the past few years, a couple of Vietnamese tofu shops have opened in Portland, selling firmer tofu with different flavors. In Japan, the method of making nigari-style tofu like Ota’s has largely fallen out of fashion, mostly relegated to mom-and-pop tofu-ten in neighborhoods and Japan’s countryside, but its flavor is considered the finest, with a subtle sweetness coming through. Tofu this good can be eaten plain, or drizzled simply with soy sauce and a sprinkle of sliced scallions.

Though she is a font of patience and kindness, Eileen and I lamented the youthful rejection of labor-intensive traditional foods. Younger generations prefer convenience, and are less interested in outdated techniques, both in America and Japan. It’s the older immigrants who’ve been settled here for decades that prefer traditional ways and foods, whereas today’s immigrants bring their modernity with them.

As Ota’s new Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese customers acclimate to American foodways, they tend to come in less frequently. But for immigrants, language and food are like time capsules; by maintaining traditional recipes and techniques as the city rapidly changes around them, Ota Tofu honors this. For white Portland natives like me, Ota keeps me linked to my city’s history.

Anzen was Ota Tofu’s longest-standing customer until it closed in 2014 (after 109 years in business). Today, a distributor in eastern Washington is the shop’s longest-standing account—around since Ko’s parents’ day—thanks to Andy’s Market in College Place, catering to the students at Seventh-day Adventist–affiliated Walla Walla University. Most of Ota’s business comes from wholesale accounts held by local restaurants and stores, but it still graciously sells its tofu to people like me, regular folks who wander in off the street with a few bucks in their pocket. If you bring a bucket, the pressed-out soybean meal called okara is free (it’s great mixed with ground pork and fried into patties or meatballs, to eat with ramen). Ota Tofu Company does this as a service to the community. Anyone who has tasted tofu made only hours ago knows what a service this is.

Was Trump’s Pardon of Joe Arpaio Unconstitutional?

Was Trump’s Pardon of Joe Arpaio Unconstitutional?

by Dahlia Lithwick @ Slate Articles

Want to listen to this article out loud? Hear it on Slate Voice.

Sometimes it’s easy to believe that the only lawyers trying to hold the Trump administration in check work for Bob Mueller. But keep your eye on the other attorneys who keep popping up in unlikely places. This week, they migrated south to a federal court in Arizona to try to slap back the obscene pardon that Donald Trump recently handed out to one of his vilest cronies.

In July, former Sheriff Joe Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt for willfully violating a 2011 court injunction barring his Maricopa County officers from stopping Latino drivers solely on the basis of suspicion that they were in the country illegally. In his 24 years as the state’s most powerful local law enforcement officer, Arpaio reigned over a Bermuda Triangle of civil rights violations. He incarcerated suspected “illegals” in a tent city, forcing them to wear pink underwear and live in intolerable weather conditions. His inmates died, gave birth in restraints, and were underfed and humiliated. And Arpaio preened and boasted while leaving hundreds of reported sexual assault cases unresolved.

In defiance of that 2011 court order to stop the racial profiling, Arpaio continued his old practices. When federal Judge Susan Bolton found him guilty of criminal contempt in July, she said, “Not only did [Arpaio] abdicate responsibility, he announced to the world and to his subordinates that he was going to continue business as usual no matter who said otherwise.”

Trump pardoned Arpaio on Aug. 25 as he awaited sentencing for his contempt of court, referencing his work “protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration.” The pardon wasn’t just a rejection of the civil rights claims of his victims, but a shocking insult to every judge in America who has ever attempted to enforce a court order against someone who believes he answers to nobody. As Joan Biskupic wrote at the time, the American judicial branch has been largely silent in the face of Trump’s latest assault on judicial authority, even as their own power was being undermined.

The courts have hung back. As the Arizona Republic explains, Bolton canceled Arpaio’s sentencing but declined to vacate the conviction altogether, instead ordering Arpaio and Department of Justice prosecutors to file briefs on the matter. This week, federal prosecutors who had won that conviction for criminal contempt against Arpaio switched course and dropped the case against him entirely, claiming Trump’s pardon had resolved the matter.

When the DOJ stepped back, a small army of legal advocates stepped in, filing a raft of briefs seeking to have Bolton reconsider tossing the case, with some arguing that the pardon itself is illegal. This began with an effort spearheaded initially by Ron Fein, the legal director of Free Speech for People, who co-authored a letter last month to the Justice Department asking them not to vacate the conviction.

What followed was an extraordinary series of amicus briefs, filed by various interest groups, arguing that Trump’s pardon is so outside the realm of his legitimate pardon power that it cannot be allowed to stand. One representative filing, submitted by the MacArthur Justice Center at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, lays out the essential argument: “The pardon is invalid and unconstitutional because it has the purpose and effect of eviscerating the judicial power to enforce constitutional rights.”

A group of teachers, human rights lawyers, and legal scholars, in a brief filed by Erwin Chemerinsky, Michael Tigar, and Jane Tigar argues the pardon was unconstitutional as it exceeded the authority granted the president in the Constitution. The brief cites Madison, in Federalist 45, guaranteeing that the Constitution would renounce the “impious doctrine in the Old World, that the people were made for kings, not kings for the people.” Urging that there is a distinction between offenses prosecuted by the sovereign, which may be pardoned, and punishments imposed by courts to protect individual rights, they argue that Arpaio’s victims have a right—rooted in Article III of the Constitution—to have their claims adjudicated, and to receive a remedy enforced by a court. These scholars conclude:

No President till now has proclaimed that a public official who violated the Constitution and flouted court orders was ‘doing his job.’ The purported pardon is an attempt to exercise a power that even the King of England did not possess in 1787.

Another group, the Coalition to Preserve Protect and Defend, argues similarly in its amicus brief that the Arpaio pardon must be deemed unconstitutional to preserve the role of the judicial branch. Due process requires courts to enforce their own constitutional rules, they write:

If the President may employ his pardon power to relieve government officers of accountability and risk of penalty for defying injunctions imposed to enforce constitutional rights, that action will permanently impair the courts' authority and ability to protect those inalienable rights. The result would be an executive branch freed from the judicial scrutiny required to assure compliance with the dictates of the Bill of Rights and other constitutional safeguards.

Yet another amicus brief, this one filed by Protect Democracy—a nonprofit founded by former Obama administration alums seeking to curb executive overreach—argues that the pardon “violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.”

Like other prerogatives assigned to the Executive Branch, the pardon power cannot be read to negate other provisions of the Constitution. The President could not, for instance, declare pardons for all white people and only white people who had been or might be convicted of federal gun offenses. That would fail to read the pardon power in harmony with the Equal Protection Clause. Similarly, here, the pardon power in Article II must be read in harmony with the later-enacted Due Process Clause.

Protect Democracy also makes the point that the Arpaio pardon violates core principles of the rule of law, writing that “it sends a signal that public officials, so long as they are allies of the President, need not execute the law at all.”

These parties are all aware that this situation has little legal precedent. They understand that the pardon itself has little historic analogue. They see this as a feature, not a bug. As Protect Democracy puts it, “We are aware of no case in this Court, the Ninth Circuit, or the Supreme Court that has upheld a pardon matching the extraordinary circumstances here, where the contempt is used to enforce court orders protecting the rights of private litigants.” They contend that the fact that nobody truly understands the boundaries of a constitutionally intolerable pardon allows the parties to argue for that redress in Bolton’s courtroom.

In light of the Sessions Justice Department’s about-face in this years-long litigation, Protect Democracy entered another filing Tuesday morning asking Bolton to appoint a private attorney on behalf of all the amici to argue against vacating Arpaio’s conviction. They contend that the federal rules of criminal procedure call for such an appointment if the executive branch won’t prosecute the case.

On the Arpaio side, a Tuesday evening filing asked Bolton to toss the whole stack of Amicus briefs, based at least partly on the theory that “the filers are groups and/or persons who are outspokenly opposed to the President, or who are anti-law enforcement, and/or who are not specially qualified or interested in the outcome of this case.” Arpaio’s lawyers call Judge Bolton’s contempt finding an “evident mistake,” then brush off the amicus briefs as “a bitter soup that is too hard to swallow, being mixed with one part irrelevant English history, one part political bile, and a broth of ‘Chicken Little syndrome,’ to taste.” This would be a funny line were it not filed on behalf of a man who made it a point of pride that the prisoners in what he called his “concentration camps” weren’t afforded sufficient time to refill their water containers and were given only two meals each day, with Arpaio boasting that the food they ate was rotten and that they spend so little on prisoner food that “it costs more to feed the dogs.”

Arpaio’s lawyers also asked Judge Bolton to reject Protect Democracy’s request for a lawyer to be appointed to replace the Justice Department attorneys who ghosted last week, arguing that “this ‘room’ already has enough lawyers in it, and amici’s arguments have already been briefed to beyond (anyone’s) satisfaction.”

There is certainly an argument to be made that Judge Bolton does not want her courtroom to become the place in which a roomful of lawyers litigate the constitutionality of the president’s pardon power. But as this fleet of lawyers has now carefully articulated, for the founders’ vision of checks and balances to prevail, there needs to be some room somewhere in which the insanity that is Trump law is litigated.

Jennifer Rubin makes the point that these filings are certainly a legitimate forum in which to challenge Trump’s pardon of Arpaio, which she says violates his oath of office by signaling that no friend of the president is bound by the rule of law. As such, these filings form the very spine of an impeachment claim against the president. Rubin adds that these legal pleadings may also sound a warning to any Trump team member facing prosecution: The road to a blanket pardon may not be as smooth as they currently believe.

In case this all seems of limited consequence to Judge Bolton or the rule of law, another filing by Arpaio’s lawyers came in Thursday evening, seeking to deny yet another Amicus brief on behalf of Arpaio civil rights victims. Arpaio’s lawyers now complain that his contempt conviction was for violating court orders in an “ambiguous” area of law about what constitutes “cooperation” with the Department of Homeland Security.

His lawyers here argue for the presumptions of innocence and lenience for Arpaio—presumptions he never afforded his own victims. A concluding sentence, quoting Fyodor Dostoyevsky, points out that “[t]he degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” Lawyers for the man whose prisoners died in restraints tells Judge Bolton that “the Court always sets its more powerful example when it follows the law to show mercy and integrity, than when it bucks the law to show pettiness or spite.” That the true victim of injustice here is Joe Arpaio is an argument that can only be advanced in this litigation, at this moment, in this America.

Indicating that she was at least open to considering this, late Thursday Judge Bolton issued a new filing suggesting that she was considering dropping the criminal case against Arpaio but allowing his guilty verdict to stand. She ordered briefing on whether she has the power to vacate the conviction. Citing Nixon v. United States she wrote, “The granting of a pardon is in no sense an overturning of a judgment of conviction by some other tribunal; it is an executive action that mitigates or sets aside punishment of a crime.” At the very least she will entertain the possibility that vacating Arpaio’s conviction is not required.

The predicate belief of the judicial system is that nothing should be resolved in any but the narrowest possible ways. Drama and grand gestures are anathema. The predicate belief of the Trump administration is that fomenting disruption and chaos be done on the grandest scale. Because who’s going to stop you? No courtroom wants to be the courtroom in which Trump’s upside-down legal worldview is adjudicated. But unless it’s assessed and evaluated someplace, the courts themselves will continue to be a casualty of his actions.

I asked Ian Bassin at Protect Democracy why his group chose this particular room in this moment to litigate this fight. “Joe Arpaio began this saga by trampling on the Bill of Rights and President Trump joined in by stomping on it himself,” he told me. “Thankfully, in America it’s the courts who get the last say on what the Constitution allows.”

Jun 17, Whooper Swan | North American Birds | Birds of North America

by @ Birds of North America Blog

Whooper Swan is one of the largest swan species in the world. This Eurasian waterfowl has been seen on the North American continent on a regular basis in the far northwestern regions.

Jun 16, Virginia's Warbler | North American Birds | Birds of North America

by @ Birds of North America Blog

Virginia's Warbler is found in the southeastern regions of North America. This small gray and yellow bird is commonly seen in the mountains of Arizona.

Demi Lovato Spills on the House Party That Inspired Her 'Sorry Not Sorry' Music Video

by Just Jared Jr @ Just Jared Jr.

Demi Lovato is opening up about the epic house party that led to her even more epic “Sorry Not Sorry” music video. While recently stopping by The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, the singer told the host that party was triggered by her breakup with MMA fighter Guilherme ‘Bomba’ Vasconcelos. “One day I was like, [...]

Why Isn’t Hillary Clinton Even Angrier?

Why Isn’t Hillary Clinton Even Angrier?

by Michelle Goldberg @ Slate Articles

A few weeks after the election, I was hit by a sickening realization. Not only would my children have to learn about Donald Trump in school, but by the time they are old enough for college, there will probably be whole academic departments devoted to the study of him. (That is, assuming we still have colleges, and America, by then.) Before Trump was elected, the United States was a deeply imperfect democracy. Afterward, it became a shitty kleptocracy, run, against the will of the majority of the American citizenry, by a cruel, gaudy, grandiose lunatic. Overnight, the very texture of reality changed, becoming surreal and dystopian, like an episode of Black Mirror or a far too on-the-nose imitation of a Don DeLillo novel. Whether or not this new dispensation is here to stay, many of us will spend the rest of our lives trying to figure out one thing. What happened?

What Happened, of course, is the title of Hillary Clinton’s new book about the 2016 election. It is, by turns, fascinating and boring, enjoyably caustic and irritatingly insipid, frank and guarded. But as a historical record, the book seems undeniably important, which is why it’s bizarre that so many people who are interested in politics seem angered by its existence. In a Los Angeles Times piece headlined “Hillary, I Love You. But Please Go Away,” author Melissa Batchelor Warnke allows that the book is “much better than I expected” but laments Clinton’s divisive re-emergence onto the political scene. In a Chicago Tribune column titled “Hillary: How Can We Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?” John Kass writes, “The vibe I’m getting is that Democrats wish someone would just lock her in the basement indefinitely.”

For many pundits, there’s only one key question at stake in Clinton’s version of events: Will she accept total and unconditional responsibility for our current calamity? “The Hillary Clinton ‘I-take-full-responsibility-but-here-are-all-the-other-reasons-I-lost’ tour continues to be intrinsically problematic,” tweeted CNN’s Dylan Byers. “A Brief List of People Clinton Blames for Her Election Loss, Part 3,” said a Vanity Fair headline. There’s something faintly medieval in this need to make an epic civilizational disaster wholly the fault of one person and to demand that she retreat into internal exile until she has sufficiently flayed herself.

The fact is: No one knows exactly why Clinton lost. We’ll never untangle precisely what combination of Clinton’s personal failures, Democratic campaign missteps, Russian intervention, FBI sabotage, media malpractice, misogyny, xenophobia, and nihilistic social breakdown led to our current nightmare. But the struggle to understand all these interrelated factors will be ongoing. Clinton was at the center of a uniquely terrible and baffling episode in American history. She has a perspective no one else does. Why shouldn’t she share it?

Despite the carping of her critics, Clinton does in fact lacerate herself for losing. “I blamed myself,” she writes of the shattering moments after Trump gave his victory speech. “My worst fears about my limitations as a candidate had come true. I had tried to learn the lessons of 2008, and in many ways ran a better, smarter campaign this time. But I had been unable to connect with the deep anger so many Americans felt or shake the perception that I was the candidate of the status quo.”

But her limitations as a candidate are not the whole story. For Trump to become president, many different people and institutions—the Republican Party, the press, the FBI—had to fail. In What Happened, Clinton directly takes on the obsessive demand that she assume monocausal responsibility. “If it’s all my fault, then the media doesn’t need to do any soul searching,” she writes. “Republicans can say Putin’s meddling had no consequences. Democrats don’t need to question their own assumptions and prescriptions. Everyone can just move on.”

But we can’t move on. We don’t even know if the election was fully legitimate. “After a presidential campaign scarred by Russian meddling, local, state, and federal agencies have conducted little of the type of digital forensic investigation required to assess the impact, if any, on voting in at least 21 states whose election systems were targeted by Russian hackers,” the New York Times reported earlier this month.

In her book, Clinton describes how, amid the all-consuming work of the convention, her campaign tried to sound the alarm about Russian interference. It was hard, she writes, “to stop and focus on the gravity of what was happening. But I realized we had crossed a line. This wasn’t the normal rough-and-tumble of politics. … I told my team I thought we were at a ‘break glass’ moment.” Her staff tried to alert journalists to what was happening, but they couldn’t get the story to take hold. She writes, “The media was accustomed to Trump peddling crazy conspiracy theories—like that Ted Cruz’s dad helped kill John F. Kennedy—and it acted as if the Russian hacking was ‘our’ conspiracy theory, a tidy false equivalency that let reporters and pundits sleep well at night.” That might sound bitter. She has a right to be.

Indeed, I wish the book were even more biting. Clinton says she’ll never run for office again, but What Happened nevertheless sometimes feels like a campaign tome, with detailed policy proposals and wistful descriptions of what she’d have done as president. There are lots of inspirational quotes and moments of canned uplift. Clinton doesn’t seem like a naturally introspective person—if she were, she probably wouldn’t be so indomitable in the face of so much loss and pain. She never interrogates the purity of her own motives and seems surprised when anyone else does.

Discussing her Wall Street speeches, she writes, “I didn’t think many Americans would believe that I’d sell a lifetime of principle and advocacy for any price. When you know why you’re doing something and you know there’s nothing more to it and certainly nothing sinister, it’s easy to assume that others will see it the same way,” she writes. Clinton’s unquestioned belief in her own obvious rectitude didn’t serve her well as a politician, and it’s not a great quality in a writer, either.

She’s more engaging when she’s a little mean. Clinton realizes her “deplorables” comment during the campaign was a mistake, but it’s also pretty clear that she meant it. Toward the end of the book, she has a great takedown of all the postelection calls for liberals to better understand and empathize with Trump supporters. “Bullying disgusts me,” she writes. “I look at the people at Trump’s rallies, cheering for his hateful rants, and I wonder: Where’s their empathy and understanding? Why are they allowed to close their hearts to the striving immigrant father and the grieving black mother, or the LGBT teenager who’s bullied at school and thinking of suicide? Why doesn’t the press write think pieces about Trump voters trying to understand why most Americans rejected their candidate? Why is the burden of opening our hearts only on half the country?”

Clinton doesn’t end there; she concludes that when it comes to empathy, the rest of us “have no choice but to try.” But she’s not a candidate anymore, and she doesn’t have to pretend to not be disgusted by Trump’s movement. Maybe her inability to hide that disgust was part of what cost her the election; people who hate her often describe her as condescending and imperious. Yet her contempt is warranted. “It drove me crazy that since the election, pundits had fetishized stereotypical Trump supporters to such a degree that they had started dismissing anyone who lived on the coasts and had a college education as irrelevant and out of touch,” she writes. My God, me too.

What Happened concludes with Clinton’s 2017 trip to speak to the graduating class of Wellesley, her alma mater. “My advice would be simple: Don’t let the bastards get you down,” she writes. This might go over the heads of hostile male readers, but many feminists will read it as a reference to The Handmaid’s Tale, a book Clinton has spoken about in the past. That story’s heroine, Offred, finds a Latin version of this phrase illicitly scratched into the floor of a closet, and it helps keep her going in a hellish, patriarchal totalitarian state. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. With all the people yelling at Clinton to shut up and disappear, I hope she keeps those words in mind.

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton. Simon & Schuster.

Read all the pieces in the Slate Book Review.

Aug 9, Kingbirds | Birds of Cuba | Birds seen in Cuba

by @ Birds of North America Blog

Kingbirds are members of the flycatcher family. These birds are typically seen perched on service lines along roads or on top of trees which gives them a wide open view to see flies or insects, birds of Cuba.

Jun 13, Chimney Swift | North American Birds | Birds of North America

by @ Birds of North America Blog

Chimney Swift is the most common swift found in North America. This plain grey coloured bird is seen over all areas of eastern North America.

Little Mix Performs Without Perrie Edwards After She's Rushed to the Hospital

by Just Jared Jr @ Just Jared Jr.

Little Mix had to take the stage as a trio after Perrie Edwards was rushed to the hospital! The group was set to perform during the iHeartRadio Festival on Saturday (September 23) in Las Vegas. While Jade Thirlwall, Jesy Nelson and Leigh-Anne Pinnock all took to the stage, Perrie was in the hospital for a [...]

This Dove Father's Day Ad Will Give You All The Feelings

This Dove Father's Day Ad Will Give You All The Feelings


It's a lighthearted tribute to all the dads out there being everyday heroes.

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Keeping the Oath

Keeping the Oath

by Yascha Mounk @ Slate Articles

On his eighth day as president of the United States, Donald Trump invited FBI Director James Comey to have dinner at the White House. After some small talk about the size of the crowd at his inauguration (huge, he insisted), Trump demanded a personal pledge of loyalty. As Comey later testified, “the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship.”

In keeping with his constitutional duties, Comey demurred. Less than four months later, the president fired him.

Trump’s demand of loyalty, and Comey’s refusal to grant it, calls attention to a delicate balancing act on which the survival of democracy has always depended. Elected leaders need to be able to impose the will of their constituents on the military and the civil service. If generals refuse to obey civilian commands that run counter to their interests, or if unelected public employees refuse to carry out policies with which they happen to disagree, elections become meaningless. The people may be free to vote for their preferred candidate every few years but are unable to make their preferences count.

But it is just as dangerous for soldiers and civil servants to obey their elected masters blindly. If a president can command the military and the civil service to break the law, there’s nothing to stop him from arresting his critics or falsifying an election. Even a president who has been democratically elected would then be in danger of overriding the will of the people once he falls out of favor.

This is precisely why the Founding Fathers insisted that the primary duty of American citizens should be to a set of ideas and institutions, not to a particular person. And so any immigrant who wishes to become a U.S. citizen, any soldier who wishes to enlist in the military and any civil servant or political appointee who wishes to take up office must, to this day, swear to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” It is this fundamental tradition that Trump—acting more like an Old World monarch who is used to demanding fealty from his subjects—was attacking when he asked Comey to pledge his personal loyalty.

As Ian Bassin, a former White House lawyer and the founding director of Protect Democracy, told me, “The understanding in our society is that certain institutions are expected to be independent of any administration’s partisan or personal preferences. And we’re at a moment right now where this independence is being challenged—not just in individual cases like the Comey firing, but as a concept. So maintaining that we in America believe in the importance of that independence is one of the key challenges we face right now.”

To that end, Bassin’s group, a nonprofit that has been playing an increasingly important role in the fight to defend basic democratic norms over the past year, has recently launched a project that is as simple as it is powerful: #UpholdTheOath invites more than 2 million public servants in the United States to take and share a simple video of themselves reciting their oath of office—thereby reaffirming that, as intended by the Founding Fathers, their overriding loyalty is to the Constitution and not to any one political leader.

Over the past months, reporting on low morale at federal agencies including the State Department and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have shown just how desolate the situation has become since the start of the year. So part of the project’s purpose is simply to build community and boost morale. At a time when the general public rarely acknowledges the importance of their work and the president regularly denigrates their integrity, many public servants are cherishing the opportunity to express pride in their work. As Steve Lenkart, CEO of Government Executives International, one of more than a half-dozen nonprofits and federal-employee unions and associations supporting the project, told me, “This is a great, spontaneous way for federal employees to celebrate what they’re doing to serve their country.”

And yet, it is clear that the project will be perceived as a little more pointed than that. One of its early backers, for example, is Khizr Khan, the lawyer who spoke so movingly about his son and his own commitment to the Constitution at last year’s Democratic National Convention. “Twice in my life, I have lived under martial law,” Khan, an immigrant from Pakistan, told me. “Now, it’s clear that the rule of law is under attack here in the United States. Anybody who benefits from constitutional values must stand up and do their part.”

Public servants, as Khan sees it, are an important and frequently neglected actor in that fight, “Bureaucrats are an essential part of a functioning democracy. … This oath can be a reminder to themselves, and to others, that they stand in defense of the constitutional values they have sworn to serve.”

Khan sees the danger to the American republic as acute. And yet he ultimately believes that the American people will be able to fend off the current attack on the rule of law: “A majority of Americans are in favor of democracy, rule of law, and basic fairness. This is what the public servants taking this oath are recommitting themselves to.”

It is unfortunate that, as Khan’s comments make clear, any attempt to stand up for the neutrality of state institutions will by highly contentious at a time when the president is regularly attacking civil servants as disloyal or traitorous. But that makes it all the more important for defenders of the Constitution to insist that a contentious act need not be a partisan one.

A partisan act would be for civil servants, in their official capacity, to oppose policies of the Trump administration of which they happen to disapprove. Even liberals should be horrified by such behavior: For once civil servants feel emboldened to act on their partisan preferences, no elected politician would be able to enact his or her political program. One need only recall the case of Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue licenses for same-sex marriages in 2015, to realize that democracy could be seriously impaired if civil servants were empowered to override decisions taken by courts and parliaments.

By contrast, civil servants who recommit themselves to basic democratic principles in the face of concerted attacks on their independence are taking a bold public stance in the best sense. Even conservatives should applaud the courage to do so: For once civil servants become willing to do the president’s bidding even when his commands violate the Constitution, any elected politician would gain the power to turn himself into a tyrant. This, too, would seriously endanger democracy.

This is why Bassin, the organizer of this initiative, is right to insist that the initiative can make an important contribution without violating the neutrality to which public servants rightly commit themselves. Faced with a president who is prone to demanding personal loyalty from them, Bassin explains, “It’s all the more important for civil servants to show that their ultimate loyalty is to the Constitution. When they are put in a difficult position, it helps to know that there are thousands of colleagues standing shoulder to shoulder with them. Celebrating people for reaffirming this oath is not a partisan act—it’s a patriotic act.”

The Angle: Bizarre Trump Triangle Edition

The Angle: Bizarre Trump Triangle Edition

by Rebecca Onion @ Slate Articles

Short-lived: President Trump’s “deal” with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer this week is but a fleeting instance of bipartisan cooperation, Jim Newell writes. It can’t last, Reihan Salam agrees; among other factors, Democrats will eventually see little advantage in cozying up to such an unpopular leader.

It won’t be you: Henry Grabar runs down Amazon’s long list of desiderata for a city to host its new headquarters and finds it hard to see how any town will be able to fulfill the behemoth’s desires.

Where retail thrives: The airport is the one place where people reliably buy things in person, Daniel Gross writes. That’s why retail categories that have been flailing everywhere else—books, electronics—are booming in terminals.

Don’t shelve it: Gone With the Wind is a monument to the Confederate way of life, and it’s full of racism. Angelica Jade Bastién thinks we should watch it anyway and learn from its contradictions.

For fun: Rush Limbaugh, hurricane expert.

A smooth evacuation to all,


The United States Cannot Be Trusted

The United States Cannot Be Trusted

by Mark Joseph Stern @ Slate Articles

Shortly after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Tuesday that the Trump administration will end the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program, the Department of Homeland Security released an FAQ that confirmed immigration advocates’ worst fears. To receive DACA benefits, applicants had to turn over a huge amount of personal information to the government. Now, the FAQ explained, the government will provide this information to immigration enforcement agents if they ask for it. Undocumented immigrants who applied for DACA placed an enormous amount of faith in the government. On Tuesday, the government revealed it will betray their trust.

President Donald Trump has performed this kind of bait-and-switch before. In July, the president announced he would ban transgender individuals from the military just one year after the Pentagon invited trans troops to serve openly. Trans service members who revealed their gender identity may soon be purged based on information they provided. DACA beneficiaries and transgender service members thus find themselves in the same bind: encouraged to provide sensitive information to a government that may now use that information against them. This duplicity is plainly unfair—so radically unfair, in fact, that it may cross a constitutional line.

The Supreme Court has long said that the Constitution’s Due Process Clauses enshrine certain principles of fundamental fairness, including the assumption that individuals can reasonably rely on the government’s promises. In 1959’s Raley v. Ohio, the court deployed this doctrine to reverse the conviction of several people who testified before Ohio’s Un-American Activities Commission. While the commission allowed these witnesses to assert their privilege against self-incrimination, the state later prosecuted them for refusing to answer questions. To sustain these convictions, the court explained, “would be to sanction the most indefensible sort of entrapment by the State—convicting a citizen for exercising a privilege which the State clearly had told him was available to him.” Due process protected the witnesses from punishment.

In 1965’s Cox v. Louisiana, the court drew upon Raley’s reasoning in overturning the conviction of a civil rights protester. Police officials had informed the man, the Rev. Ben Elton Cox Sr., that the law permitted him to protest across the street from a courthouse. But when he held a demonstration in that precise spot, he was arrested, charged, and convicted of obstructing public passages and breach of the pass. The Supreme Court reversed the conviction, holding that it constituted entrapment in violation of due process.

These cases revolved around criminal prosecutions, whereas the trans ban and DACA involve civil disputes. But as law professor Zachary Price has argued, the same basic principles should apply when the government coaxes individuals into offering up sensitive, potentially damaging information. The Trump administration, Price wrote, “cannot use information from these immigrants’ own [DACA] applications against them.” The government’s “request for information based on promise relief” undoubtedly “invites reliance” in a constitutionally significant manner reminiscent of Raley and Cox. Price continued:

Had DACA never existed, the government would have had to do gumshoe detective work to identify and apprehend DACA beneficiaries. It shouldn’t be spared that burden by virtue of having tricked those same immigrants with false promises of relief. To allow the government to perform such a bait and switch would be an outrageous form of entrapment that the Due Process Clause should prevent.

DACA recipients turned over their personal information based on the government’s promise not to use it against them. And while deportation is not technically a criminal matter, the Supreme Court has recognized that its can be more severe than criminal penalties. Under Raley and Cox, then, DHS should be barred from sharing any DACA information for the purposes of initiating or assisting in deportation attempts.

Opponents of Trump’s trans ban have made a similar argument. In their motion to block the policy, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders assert that any adverse action against trans troops would infringe upon their due process reliance interests. “Many transgender service members publicly identified themselves as transgender, undertook medical treatment, and changed their gender markers” in response to the Pentagon’s trans-inclusive policy, the motion explains. They “came out as transgender to their chain of command in reliance on official policy. The profound unfairness of now penalizing them for doing so” runs afoul of the “due process guarantee against unjustly penalizing those who reasonably rely on the government’s representations.”

When the Supreme Court addresses reliance interests, it often speaks broadly with few helpful guidelines. But at a minimum, the court has clarified that laws which “unsettle expectations and impose burdens on past conduct” may run afoul of due process. Trump’s trans ban would seem to fall into this category. In addition to being arbitrary and malicious, the policy would punish service members who came out because the Pentagon encouraged them to do so. This betrayal of trust only exacerbates the ban’s troubling constitutional infirmities.

As a general matter, new presidents get to reverse the policies of their predecessors. Trump can, for instance, lawfully repeal an executive order barring LGBTQ discrimination by federal contractors, and he has already revoked a rule that protected equal pay for women. But when these reversals hurt individuals who relied on the old rules, the Constitution may limit the president’s leeway. Trump can kill DACA, but his administration should be barred from using DACA data to punish its former beneficiaries. And though Trump is commander in chief, he should not be able to purge troops who revealed their gender identity at the invitation of his precursor. Presidents come and go, but due process will always place limitations on executive caprice.

The Angle: New Phone, Who Dis? Edition

The Angle: New Phone, Who Dis? Edition

by Rebecca Onion @ Slate Articles

The next big thing: Apple introduced the new iPhones in a presentation complete with demonstrations of creepy animojis and tone-deaf vows to further monopolize our vanishing public sphere. April Glaser runs down what you'll get in the new models and explains why you'll convince yourself it's OK to pay $1,000 for the highest-end version.

One-man guy: Steve Bannon's Sunday-night 60 Minutes interview showed that the former presidential adviser saw blind loyalty to Trump as a sine qua non of serving him. Will Saletan explains that this is one of many of Bannon's fascist tendencies.

Blame game: Right-wing media is gloating over Evergreen State's drop in enrollment, attributing it to the "Mizzou Effect"—the supposed influence of student activism on a school's fortunes. Dan Engber explains that the connection may not be quite so easy to make.

Default futurist: Margaret Atwood doesn't really believe in predictions. Ed Finn interviews an author whose work has become life.

For fun: How Ted Cruz's account might've liked That Tweet.

I vote for the Lonely Senator,


Trash dove: how a purple bird took over Facebook

Trash dove: how a purple bird took over Facebook

the Guardian

First Thailand, now the world – Trash Dove is everywhere. We asked the creator, Syd Weiler, about the sticker that is all over Facebook comment threads

What the ACLU Should Stand for in Trump’s America

What the ACLU Should Stand for in Trump’s America

by Dahlia Lithwick @ Slate Articles

In the aftermath of Charlottesville’s deadly “Unite the Right” rally, the American Civil Liberties Union has been cast by some as an enabler and colluder in white supremacy and racial violence. Suddenly, the venerable group, which has enjoyed a surge in donations and popularity since the election of Donald Trump, finds itself at the center of a struggle over how gun rights inflect upon speech rights in Trump’s America.

In the days before the Aug. 12 white supremacist rally, the city of Charlottesville made the decision to move the march to a larger park where it could be policed more effectively. It was the ACLU, together with the Rutherford Institute, who joined in the white supremacist group’s case, taking the position that city officials moved the venue in large part due to the ralliers’ ideological views. When that argument prevailed in federal court, it set the stage for a horrifying day of street violence and racial harassment that culminated in the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer and the injuries of many other nonviolent counterprotesters.

On the night of the rally, Waldo Jaquith posted a series of heartfelt tweets explaining why he was stepping down from the board of the ACLU of Virginia.

In the last month, the ACLU has done a considerable amount of soul-searching, with some members demanding that the group stand down from defending armed white supremacists. The ACLU’s California affiliate also issued a statement backing away from the long-standing line that all speech is created equal, writing, “If white supremacists march into our towns armed to the teeth and with the intent to harm people, they are not engaging in activity protected by the United States Constitution.” The national ACLU seemed to adopt that posture as well, with director Anthony Romero telling the Wall Street Journal, “If a protest group insists, ‘No, we want to be able to carry loaded firearms,’ well, we don’t have to represent them. They can find someone else.”

This week, I asked Jaquith via email whether this was the outcome he’d been hoping to achieve. Our conversation, which has been condensed and edited for clarity, is below.

Dahlia Lithwick: What brought you to the ACLU of Virginia board in the first place? What values were you seeking to protect and promote, and what does this organization—that has stood alongside Nazis and Klansmen and provocateurs not infrequently throughout its history—mean to you?

Waldo Jaquith: The ACLU of Virginia and the national ACLU have provided me with legal representation in three separate First Amendment cases throughout my life, beginning as a teenager. I am [indebted] to the organization. When I was asked to join the ACLU of Virginia board, I regarded that service as a chance to repay that debt. I admire 90 percent of the cases that the ACLU takes and the remaining 10 percent, I respect. A good example of the latter category is the organization’s defense of the Washington football team’s trademark on the word Redskins. The team’s name is odious, but it is also protected as free expression and merits a vigorous defense. It is crucial that we have the ACLU to take such cases.

Talk a bit about the run-up to the “Unite the Right” rally. I know you were watching this unspooling for weeks and advocating against precisely the scenario that unfolded that day. What were your concerns and how did you square them with your own First Amendment values?

I’d paid only peripheral attention to the Unite the Right rally until a KKK rally was held in Charlottesville in early July. The state police did not handle that well, which was troubling. Modern-day KKK rallies don’t present any serious risk of physical violence, so it should have been a slam dunk for law enforcement. Insofar as that was a test run for how officials would handle the Nazi rally planned for a month later, that seemed like a bad sign.

Local activists paying closer attention than I was, notably Emily Gorcenski, had started to document some of the alarming online chatter from Unite the Right organizers. As I read through white nationalist discussion boards and listened to interviews with rally organizers, it became entirely obvious that the purpose of the event had nothing to do with statues, or free expression, and everything to do with the intent to draw an audience of opponents who they could violently assault. It later emerged that the Department of Homeland Security did the same research and came to the same conclusion, informing Charlottesville of organizers’ intent three days prior to the Aug. 12 rally.

The First Amendment guarantees “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” Peaceably. When it became clear that the organizers’ goal was violence, that left me with no qualms about their lack of First Amendment rights in this matter.

When you tweeted that the ACLU bore some of the blame for the violence that ensued, were you being hyperbolic, or do you still believe that they were a cause of the deaths and injuries on the streets of Charlottesville? Needless to say the national ACLU strongly disputes that view of things, although it does seem to have adjusted its position to preclude the very thing you were objecting to. What do you tell your critics who contend that you have now allowed the government to be the arbiter of which unpopular voices get to gather and protest?

I was not being hyperbolic. I do think that we bear some of the blame. We knew that the organizers’ intended to commit violence (although no doubt some board members did not believe that despite the strong evidence). There’s no alternate reality in which we can see what would have happened if organizer Jason Kessler was not able to file a lawsuit to stop his Nazi rally from being moved. So the degree to which we helped to make this possible is not actually knowable. (I say “we” here because I was on the board at the time and, as such, any blame lands on my shoulders as well.)

To be clear, a lot of people, governments, and organizations bear blame here. It was infuriating to see Gov. Terry McAuliffe blaming the ACLU of Virginia when he surely bears more blame for his inaction than the ACLU does for its own actions. But I wasn’t on the board of the federal court (were that a thing) or on the Charlottesville City Council, etc. I was only on the board of the ACLU of Virginia, and, as such, bear fault insofar as the organization helped to facilitate this rally and the three resulting deaths.

The ACLU gets to pick which cases that it takes. There are important legal cases that the organization does not take, for lack of adequate resources, or because it’s a fight it just chooses not to have. You will not see the ACLU taking on any Second Amendment cases, as that is a part of the Bill of Rights that it prefers not to defend. We chose to take this case. We could have chosen not to, knowing that doing so would facilitate violence, as the ACLU chooses not to take so many other cases. Not taking the case wouldn’t have left the ACLU silent on the matter of free expression or the right to assemble—it would have just meant not getting involved in this one case. The ACLU decides, literally every day, not to take cases. This could have been one of them.

But, really, it’s not me that critics need to argue with: It’s the ACLU. In response to Charlottesville, the ACLU’s executive director recently declared that they will no longer represent protest groups who insist on carrying loaded firearms. That’s not an ideal litmus test for who to represent, but it’s better than anything that I can come up with.

I think you and I agree that this isn’t just a speech problem. This is a guns-plus-speech problem and we have no clear doctrinal lines with which to manage this, which is one of the reasons Charlottesville spiraled out of control last month. As Dara Lind ably summarized in Vox recently, “there isn’t an obvious bright line about what kind of speech is turned into a threat or an incitement when there’s a gun involved.” Do you have in your head some principled line between permissible speech with guns and that which leads to intimidation and violence?

No, I have no concept as to where the line is here. I’m not an attorney. It was clear to me that Unite the Right was over that line. On the other hand, it’s clear that National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie was nowhere near that line since there was no threat of violence. Smarter people than I will devise a test about what to do when the First Amendment meets the Second Amendment. It is not an easy problem. I hope that the ACLU will help to find that line.

In the wake of Charlottesville, universities like Texas A&M and Michigan State have restricted speakers such as Richard Spencer from campus visits, rooting their decisions in claims about safety and fear of violence. But if these events are pure speech, and not armed rallies, they are closer to the Nazi march in Skokie than the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, correct? Or is there something about Spencer or the alt-right that requires less First Amendment solicitude for them?

It is a la mode to say the First Amendment simply shouldn’t apply to Nazis, et al. I disagree with that position entirely. There is nothing about Nazi speech that is somehow more dangerous than any other speech. If the First Amendment is to mean anything in the United States, then it must protect the speech of Spencer and his ilk, and we need the ACLU to stand up for those rights. Unless Spencer is holding an armed rally of Nazi militias, in which case, I’m glad to know that the ACLU now won’t take the case.

The Victorious Ghibellines

by @ Slate Articles

What Wikipedia records as medieval Italy’s bloodiest battle was fought on this day in 1260. You may use the comment thread on this page to discuss the warring Guelphs and Ghibelllines, or to pursue other points of freewheeling, off-topic discourse.

Find previous discussions in the Open Thread archive.

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Aug 12, Plain Pigeon | Birds of Cuba | Birds seen in Cuba

by @ Birds of North America Blog

Plain Pigeon as the name suggests is a plain gray pigeon. This moderately large pigeon is seen in small numbers on the island of Cuba and some surrounding Caribbean islands.

Lexxi Saal Spills on Performing With Demi Lovato and Fifth Harmony!

by Just Jared Jr @ Just Jared Jr.

Up-and-coming singer Lexxi Saal has already some pretty incredible opportunities in her career! The 20-year-old musician exclusively spilled to JJJ about what it’s been like to perform alongside mega artists like Demi Lovato and Fifth Harmony. “I have listened to these acts on the radio and Internet for hours so to actually open up for [...]

Liam Payne Is Dropping His New Single 'Bedroom Floor' on October 20!

by Just Jared Jr @ Just Jared Jr.

Get ready: Liam Payne‘s coming through with a bop called “Bedroom Floor” soon! The 24-year-old “Get Low” pop sensation confirmed the super exciting news on Twitter on Saturday (September 23) that his new track will arrive on October 20. (As some One Direction fans already pointed out, yes – it’s the same day as Niall [...]

The 'Teen Wolf' Cast Will Definitely Be Keeping In Touch After the Show Ends!

by Just Jared Jr @ Just Jared Jr.

Over the past six years, we’ve fallen in love with the cast of Teen Wolf and they totally love each other too! The cast recently opened up about keeping in touch with each other after the show’s finale. “I’m not worried at all about keeping in touch with everybody…There’s an odd uniqueness to our show [...]

Vaccine Skeptic Message Gets Bolder

Vaccine Skeptic Message Gets Bolder

by Maggie Fox @ NBC News Top Stories

Vaccine skeptics, often called anti-vaxxers, are getting bolder with their message that vaccines are the product of a coverup by industry, government and media.

Trump’s Dark Vision for the World

Trump’s Dark Vision for the World

by Fred Kaplan @ Slate Articles

President Trump’s address to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday may have been the most hostile, dangerous, and intellectually confused—if not outright dishonest—speech ever delivered by an American president to an international body.

It began—as all Trump speeches must begin, it seems—with a boast of how much better life in America has been since his election: stock market up, unemployment down, military stronger. This was a clue that the speech, though sometimes couched in the language of international principles (and dotted with thanks to the U.N. for helping out here and there), was really going to be about Trump—and Trump’s dark vision of what the world should look like.

In surprisingly stark terms, he warned that if “Rocket Man” (his new nickname for Kim Jong-un) doesn’t dismantle his nuclear program, the United States “will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.” He all but announced the abrogation of the Iran nuclear deal, repeating his utterly false claim that it’s “one of the worst and most one-sided” deals the U.S. has ever made. He singled out Cuba, Venezuela, and (again) Iran for their horrid human rights records and, in the case of Iran, support of terrorist groups.

Yet he said nothing about the similarly dreadful records of Russia, Saudi Arabia, or Turkey. In fact, he praised Saudi Arabia—where, he noted, he was “greatly honored” to speak earlier this year—for its agreement to stop “radical Islamic terrorism,” ignoring the Saudis’ longtime support for certain terrorist movements and the country’s cruel bombing of civilians in Yemen, with our own shameful abetting.

Several times in the speech, Trump listed the “pillars of peace” as “sovereignty, security, and prosperity,” but he evinced little understanding of what those terms mean. He was particularly contradictory about sovereignty. At times, he expressed the concept clearly: “In America,” he said, “we do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to watch.” And: “We do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions, or even systems of government. But we do expect all nations to uphold these two core sovereign duties: to respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation.”

He even went so far as to say that the “true question” for the United Nations and for people all over the world is this: “Are we still patriots? Do we love our nations enough to protect their sovereignty and to take ownership of their future?”

These are good questions, consistent with the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, which consecrated the sovereignty of nation-states as the basis for diplomacy. But if Trump believes what he’s saying here, he should know he has no business threatening to “completely destroy” North Korea, a country of 25 million people, because its leaders are testing missiles and nuclear weapons. Certainly the emergence of a Pyongyang nuclear arsenal is a worrisome development, but from the North Koreans’ point of view, it may be a way—perhaps, as they see it, the only way—to guarantee their own security and sovereignty in a world that they see as threatening.

Trump vaguely threatened action against Cuba and Venezuela, attributing their economic failures to the inherent shortcomings of socialism. But, again, if respect for sovereignty is a pillar of world order, should anyone care what ideology or economic system a country decides to pursue, as long as it doesn’t seek to impose it on others?

Especially since the rise of al-Qaida and the safe harbors its militias found within the territories of failed states, politicians, scholars, and diplomats have debated whether sovereignty has, or should have, limits—whether certain circumstances justify regime change or some other form of intervention within a foreign country. But Trump seemed unaware of this debate. He invoked sovereignty when it suited his purposes—and proposed violating sovereignty, without a thought, when it didn’t.

And Trump’s main purpose in this speech was to tout the doctrine of America First. “As president of the United States, I will always put America first,” he said, “just like you, as the leaders of your countries, will always—and should always—put your countries first.” Unless, of course, your country is North Korea, Iran, Cuba, or Venezuela—in which case Trump insists that your country’s real interests lies in aligning those interests with our interests: with his interests.

Some of Trump’s statements were salutary. In his one jab at Russia and China, he called for the respect of borders in Ukraine and the South China Sea. He was right in saying the United States shoulders a disproportionate burden for the U.N.’s budget. He was right in reminding the assembled that the U.N.’s main purpose, when it was founded after World War II, was to provide collective security against aggressors.

But his specific calls for actions were not at all in the spirit of the U.N. charter; beyond that, they posed as much danger as any actions by the leaders that he criticized and threatened. Even if you believe that Kim’s nuclear program warrants a military response, it is senseless—strategically risky and morally appalling—to threaten the total destruction of North Korea if Kim continues on his course. Even if you have problems with some aspect of the Iran nuclear deal (though, in fact, the deal was far-reaching and equitable), it is senseless to scuttle it, not just because Iran is abiding by its terms but also because doing so would harden Kim’s will to push on with his nuclear program. Why should he negotiate limits on his nukes, much less give them up, when Iran did the same—and the United States seems set to pull out of the deal anyway?

Finally, the Iran deal was a multinational pact—signed not only by the U.S. and Iran but also by Britain, France, Russia, China, Germany, and a delegation from the European Union. Why should anyone, anywhere, trust the United States if it pulls out of such a pact simply because of a president’s ignorance and pique?

Here and there in his speech, Trump scattered words of praise on the member states of the U.N.—for their offerings of assistance to the victims of American hurricanes, for the Security Council’s sanctions against North Korea, for their general principles. He talked, in the end, about the need to “fight together” and “sacrifice together,” but his actual vision held no place for the bonds of collective security. He painted a picture of the world as a dark place of anarchy and aggression—and his vision of a desired future was no brighter or more orderly.

The Dove & the Wolf - Tickets - Baby's All Right - Brooklyn, NY - July 17th, 2017

The Dove & the Wolf - Tickets - Baby's All Right - Brooklyn, NY - July 17th, 2017


The Dove & the Wolf are led by Paloma Gil and Louise Hayat-Camard, who craft reflective indie rock that seems to fall in the unlikely territory between dream pop and '70s soft rock. The French son

Trump Sides With the Democrats

Trump Sides With the Democrats

by Jim Newell @ Slate Articles

“I think that’s a ridiculous idea,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said Wednesday morning during a press conference. He was referring to the offer that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had just floated, in a joint statement, to increase the debt ceiling for three months.

“Let’s think about this,” Ryan said. “We’ve got all this devastation in Texas, we’ve got another unprecedented hurricane about to hit Florida, and they want to play politics with the debt ceiling?” It was the first of three times in the span of roughly one minute that Ryan lobbed the “playing politics with the debt ceiling” line at his Democratic counterparts. He called the offer “ridiculous and disgraceful,” and “unworkable,” and claimed it put hurricane relief in jeopardy.

“I hope they don’t mean it,” he scoffed.

Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. Republicans felt confident that Democrats were bluffing and wouldn’t really oppose a long-term debt ceiling increase if forced to vote on it. But now we’ll never know. Because a few hours after Ryan’s press conference, President Trump accepted the Democrats’ offer.

Thanks to the deal cut by Trump “and the Senate and House Democratic leadership,” as a less-than-amused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would call it during his Wednesday afternoon press conference, the initial relief for Hurricane Harvey, a three-month stopgap government funding measure, and a three-month extension of the debt ceiling will be rolled into one package for a vote expected this week. It’s not even a “deal” in the sense of give-and-take between two sides. It is, to the letter, the request that Democrats had made and that Ryan and the leadership team had decried as an affront to God immediately after. Trump’s move forces congressional Republicans to have to make multiple, painful debt ceiling votes ahead of the midterms, and it preserves the Democrats’ leverage in the December spending negotiations. Democrats can’t believe it, either.

“It is fair to say we are surprised,” a Democratic aide familiar with the discussions told me afterward.

The plan that House GOP leaders had been not-so-secretly pushing this week was to hold a standalone vote on the Harvey relief package on Wednesday—they did, and it passed around noon, 419–3—and send it to the Senate. The Senate would then tack on a clean 18-month debt ceiling extension and send the combined package back to the House. Then Ryan, under cover of the popular emergency Harvey aid bill, would bring the package to the floor. Conservative Republicans, who loathe clean debt ceiling increases, had been making threats about Ryan’s future as speaker if he made such a move. But if Ryan had Trump’s support, it would give him the excuse he needed.

“I think a lot of people are waiting to hear from the president on this,” Alabama Rep. Bradley Byrne told me after the House GOP conference meeting Wednesday morning. Byrne added he heard the White House was driving the strategy.

And he was right. According to the Democratic aide, Ryan made his case for the 18-month debt ceiling extension at the late morning White House meeting between Trump and congressional leaders. Democrats rejected it. Then Ryan offered six months. Democrats rejected that, too, and then Trump—who only has so much patience for long meetings—agreed to Democrats’ three-month extension. If passed, the debt ceiling extension and government funding bill will both expire on Dec. 15. Now Ryan will be bringing a bill to the floor that conservatives don’t want and he doesn’t want, either.

At his press conference on Wednesday afternoon, a gleeful Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was asked why he thought Trump went along with Democrats’ strategy instead of his own party’s.

“The bottom line is the president listened to the arguments, we think we made a very reasonable argument, a strong argument,” Schumer said, “and to his credit, he went with the better argument.”

But if Trump cared about the political priorities of his party, then he definitely did not choose the better argument. This is why there was a partisan fight over this in the first place. Democrats floated the three-month debt ceiling extension because they wanted it to align with the big end-of-year appropriations fight coming in December. As a senior Democratic aide told me, Trump’s need to usher through the debt ceiling in December with Democratic help might force him to cut deals on other priorities in the appropriations negotiations. It could help Democrats secure a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program replacement to their liking, for instance, or health care spending, or whatever else they want. As a Republican close to leadership told Axios Jonathan Swan after the news broke, “Schumer has inserted himself into all negotiations in the winter.”

When asked a similar question about why Trump went with the Democrats, McConnell said that the president felt it would be improper to create divisiveness during a time of national crisis. That doesn’t sound a whole lot like our president, either. So what was Trump thinking? Here are two broad but possible explanations.

The first is that he was confused, and this was the latest expression of how he doesn’t understand Capitol Hill. If that’s the case, he could always change his mind on Twitter within a matter of hours, or just push through it and order his aides to retrofit explanations for how of course he knew what he was doing. The latter process appears to be underway.

The other is that he’s done, or toying with the idea of being done, with congressional Republicans. He has relied on them to push through all of his top priorities, and how’s that worked out for him? At his core, he doesn’t care about what wins he gets, so long as he gets wins. Trump may be recognizing that if you want to get something done on Capitol Hill, your best bet is to bypass Republicans altogether and go straight to Nancy Pelosi.

Not Even Close to Constitutional

Not Even Close to Constitutional

by Mark Joseph Stern @ Slate Articles

On Wednesday night, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia blocked major portions of SB 4, Texas’ assault on “sanctuary cities.” The Republican-backed measure requires local police to enforce federal immigration law, cooperate with federal immigration officials, and detain individuals suspected of being undocumented. It also gags local officials from speaking out against SB 4 or federal immigration enforcement; those who do are subject to massive fines and removal from office. Garcia found that major provisions of the law likely violate the United States Constitution’s guarantees of free speech, due process, and freedom from unreasonable searches or seizures. He also ruled that federal law pre-empts SB 4’s most controversial components.

Garcia’s decision is a significant blow to the Republican-led effort to coerce local governments into joining President Donald Trump’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants. On Thursday, I spoke with Lee Gelernt, the deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project who represented some of the plaintiffs challenging SB 4, to explore the potential influence of the ruling. Our conversation has been edited and condensed.

Mark Joseph Stern: SB 4’s overarching goal is to compel all Texas law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration law. Why is that illegal?

Lee Gelernt: SB 4 says that local entities, which are very broadly defined, cannot engage in a practice or adopt a policy that would “materially limit” federal immigration enforcement. We sued on behalf of a mayor and sheriff who were concerned that this provision meant they’d lose local control over their police force—and turn their police into adjuncts to the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement. Complying with SB 4 would drain resources and cause the community to lose trust in the police: Every time community members reported a crime, they’d be concerned that an officer would ask them about their immigration status. We already saw anxiety about that build during the recent hurricane.

Judge Garcia blocked this requirement because Congress has already laid out the procedure through which local law enforcement can become authorized to enforce immigration law. That procedure imposes numerous requirements on local law enforcement. SB 4 circumvents those requirements, which means it’s pre-empted by federal law.

The Trump administration argued that SB 4 did not conflict with federal law. Does that matter?

No. SB 4 conflicts with congressional statutes. It’s Congress that decides what the states can do, and Congress did not allow for a law like SB 4. The Trump administration cannot dictate the meaning of federal law.

One of SB 4’s most startling provisions effectively bars public officials from opposing the measure: No officer or employee of a local government may “endorse” a policy limiting the enforcement of federal immigration law. Each violation incurs a fine of $25,500, and violators may be removed from office. The court blocked this provision on First Amendment grounds. My biggest question is what in the world was Texas thinking?

In court, Texas didn’t really make a full-throated defense of that provision. The state’s lawyers tried to argue that the provision doesn’t actually prohibit speech. But of course it does, even though the statute doesn’t define “endorse.”

The court wrote that “endorse” could mean “a recommendation, suggestion, comment, or other expression in support of” limiting local immigration enforcement.

Right. The provision seems to bar local officials and employees from criticizing SB 4 even when they’re not acting in their public capacity. Police officers and mayors aren’t even sure if they can testify against SB 4 in court. This prohibition is so cryptic—but the penalties are extreme.

The court also blocked a provision that punishes any official who “materially limit[s]” law enforcement from “assisting or cooperating” with federal immigration officers. Anyone who violates this requirement is subject to both criminal and civil penalties. Why is that illegal?

Due process requires fair notice of what a law forbids or requires, and Judge Garcia ruled that this provision is simply too vague to comport with that rule. For instance, imagine a sheriff gets a call from a federal immigration officer who says, “We need your help.” Does the sheriff have to allow his officers to go? If he doesn’t, he could face tens of thousands of dollars in fines as well as jail time and removal from office. In court, Texas argued that the attorney general would never move against a sheriff in a case like that. But a lawyer’s promises aren’t good enough for people on the ground who have to make these decisions in real time.

SB 4 compels local law enforcement to honor “ICE detainers”—federal requests to detain possibly undocumented individuals for up to 48 hours after they should be released so that Immigration and Customs Enforcement can retrieve them. ICE detainers are contentious because they seem to infringe upon the Fourth Amendment’s bar on unreasonable detention.

We believe it is unconstitutional to detain an individual without probable cause of an actual crime. Living in the United States without documentation is not a crime but a civil violation, which raises concerns about the lawfulness of ICE detainers.

But even assuming that the Fourth Amendment allows states to detain individuals based on probable cause of a civil violation, SB 4 is illegal. Local jail officials must be able to make their own assessments of detainees to determine whether there is probable cause that they’ve committed a civil immigration violation. And SB 4 allows officials almost no discretion. It forces them to honor ICE detainers and detain an individual even if they think that detention is unlawful. SB 4 puts jail officials in a bind: Either honor the ICE detainer and act unconstitutionally, or don’t honor the detainer and subject yourself to jail time and removal from office.

That’s why the court wrote that SB 4 would “inevitably lead to Fourth Amendment violations”: Officials are forced to honor groundless ICE detainers, leading to unlawful detentions.


What impact do you think this decision will have outside of Texas?

Obviously, other states are constantly thinking about passing anti-immigration measures, and they’re looking to see what happens with SB 4.

But the issues with SB 4 really go beyond immigration. One principal legal issue is the relationship between a state and its political subdivisions, like towns and counties. That’s playing out beyond immigration. You see conservative state legislatures trying to pre-empt local governments from protecting a vulnerable group: a racial minority, LGBT people, low-income workers, and so on. A lot of people are watching SB 4 very closely for reasons unrelated to immigration as more conservative states try to pre-empt local officials’ ability to protect their own vulnerable communities.

Mourning Doves Habits - Mating, Eating, Nesting, Lifespan

Mourning Doves Habits - Mating, Eating, Nesting, Lifespan

Mourning Doves, Do They Mate for Life, Eating and Nesting Habits

Jun 16, Vaux's Swift | North American Birds | Birds of North America

by @ Birds of North America Blog

Vaux's Swift is one of the smaller swift family members seen in North America. Usually, seen west of the Rocky Mountain range, from California to British Columbia.

This very distressed purple bird is derailing conversations across Facebook

This very distressed purple bird is derailing conversations across Facebook

The Verge

Seemingly out of nowhere, every post on The Verge’s Facebook page (and several other Facebook pages, including Vox, Polygon, Business Insider, and I Fucking Love Science) has been flooded with GIFs...

The Angle: Dream-Killers Edition

The Angle: Dream-Killers Edition

by Rebecca Onion @ Slate Articles

True colors: Jeff Sessions’ announcement today that President Trump will end DACA showcased the real reasons why the administration is trying to kill the program, Mark Joseph Stern writes. At its core, this is a racist pander to the base. (And Jim Newell is uncertain Congress will do much to help the Dreamers.)

Even us: The Chaldean community of Iraqi Christians in Michigan were huge supporters of Donald Trump in 2016, but ICE has been taking them away, anyway. Chris Gelardi chronicles a series of heartbreaking removals.

Access denied: John Ashbery, who died on Sunday, was a poet of impenetrable language. That was what was wonderful about him, Katy Waldman writes: His writing was an invitation to revel in the opacity of other people’s thoughts.

What a trip: Twin Peaks: The Return, is over, and it was just as legendary and weird as the rest of Twin Peaks. Laura Miller reviews Sunday night’s finale, and Corey Atad speculates on what inspiration David Lynch’s fellow creators might take from the series this time around.

For fun: Peppa Pig vs. Australia.

Spiders win,


Luci Fancypants Pigeon; a Story for Children of All Ages | Palomacy

by @ Palomacy

Don’t Panic About North Korea

Don’t Panic About North Korea

by Fred Kaplan @ Slate Articles

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is doing a lot of reckless things these days, but he poses no threat to the United States—or at least no sort of threat that we can’t readily handle. If he deploys a nuclear-tipped missile with the range to strike U.S. territory (as he’ll likely be able to do soon), that will complicate national security policy but in a completely manageable way. It won’t mean that he’s about to attack some American city—or that we need to attack North Korea pre-emptively.

In short, it’s time to pipe down about North Korea—not because Kim is benign or powerless (he’s neither), but because the hysteria coming out of Washington these days is overwrought and is making things worse.

There are two reasons not to be so nervous about North Korea’s recent tests of missiles and nuclear explosives. First, nuclear deterrence—the theory that Country X won’t fire nukes at Country Y if Country Y has nukes it can fire back—works. In the annals of international relations, there are fewer theories that have a better track record than this one. Second, we have thousands of nuclear weapons—stationed worldwide, on land, at sea, and in the air—and there’s no way Kim could launch an attack on us without facing an annihilating retaliatory blow.

In an interview with ABC in August, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, challenged that notion. “The classical deterrence theory,” he said, does not apply “to a regime like the regime in North Korea.” His reasoning: The North Korean regime poses “a continuous threat to its neighbors,” imposes “unspeakable brutality against its own people,” and imprisons or murders “anyone who seems to oppose that regime,” including members of Kim’s own family.

This may be the most puzzling remark McMaster has uttered in his entire career. First, the description of Kim’s brutal behavior matches that of Soviet leaders during the Cold War, yet we managed to deter them for decades when they—like us—had tens of thousands of nuclear weapons. (North Korea is believed to have maybe a dozen.)

Second, as McMaster himself said, Kim has been murderous toward “anyone who seems to oppose that regime.” In other words, whatever else Kim may be, he’s not suicidal; to the contrary, his chief motive, in everything he does, seems to be self-preservation. Classical deterrence theory tends to work very well against that kind of leader.

Deterrence is probably the reason Kim is rushing to attain the status of a nuclear power—he is trying to deter us and other countries from attacking him. If North Korea were ruled by the sanest person imaginable, he would very likely be building a nuclear arsenal as fast as he can. The Kim dynasty—dating back to the country’s founder and the current leader’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung—has long understood that its country is a “shrimp among whales” and that the key to survival is to play the whales off one another. Nuclear weapons—combined with ideological controls and fierce rhetoric to match—have long been a valuable tool to that end.

“They have used nukes for 20 years to extract all kinds of things,” says Daniel Sneider, lecturer of East Asian studies at Stanford University. “The regime should have collapsed in the ’90s, when it spun into systemic failure and suffered a famine.” Instead, the Kims used their then-nascent nuclear program as a bargaining chip to get food, oil, and other forms of assistance. Now they have some nuclear weapons, and they’re still in the business of extracting.

The acquisition of ICBMs—long-range nuclear-armed missiles that can hit the United States—gives them, at least in theory, more leverage still. Since Cold War times, the United States has offered security guarantees to its allies in Europe and Asia. Our ultimate statement of guarantee—known as “extended deterrence”—is that we will respond to an attack on those allies in the same way that we’d respond to an attack on our own territory. This could include firing nuclear weapons against the attacker.

In the early days of the NATO alliance, some began to doubt this guarantee after the Soviet Union built its own long-range nuclear weapons. If the Soviets invaded Western Europe, many wondered, would the Americans really launch nukes against Russia, likely resulting in Russia launching nukes against America? As many posed the question at the time: Would an American president sacrifice Boston for Berlin?

Similarly, America’s ultimate guarantee of Asian security will be thrown into doubt if North Korea has the capability to hit the United States with nuclear weapons. To update the question: Would an American president sacrifice San Francisco for Seoul?

Again, the threat here is not that North Korea will actually attack San Francisco any more than the Soviet Union would have deliberately attacked Boston. Moscow’s motive was (and, under different circumstances, still is) to dissolve NATO—to sever the trans-Atlantic ties between the United States and Europe. Similarly, Pyongyang’s motive seems to be to sever the trans-Pacific ties between the United States and Eastern Asia, especially U.S. ties with South Korea.

Throughout the Cold War, U.S. leaders didn’t deal with Moscow’s threat by going to war against the Soviet Union—though there were many right-wingers who argued for a preventive nuclear attack against Moscow’s nascent nuclear arsenal in the early 1950s (and many more who argued to do the same against China, when Mao Zedong, who was seen at the time as more reckless than Joseph Stalin or Nikita Khrushchev, started to build nukes in the mid-1960s). Rather, American leaders responded by building up U.S. military forces (especially conventional military forces) in Europe and in Asia—in short, they responded by shoring up the U.S. deterrent.

Deterrence, in a sense, is a confidence game. To be effective, you have to convince the leaders you’re trying to deter that, if they step over the line, you really would do the things you say you’d do. Moscow had to believe Washington would defend Berlin or London as it would defend Boston or New York. Pyongyang has to believe Washington would defend Tokyo or Seoul with the same commitment. Or at least we needed (and need) to make them fear that we might do as we say—enough so that they don’t take any aggressive chances.

President Trump is doing a poor job at building up this necessary confidence. Repeatedly he has done what he and others accused President Obama of doing in Syria: He has drawn red lines, then done nothing when they were crossed. He threatened “fire and fury” against Kim Jong-un if North Korea tested another missile—then did nothing when Kim tested another missile, then another after that. After this happens a couple of times, Kim—quite rationally—will get the idea that he can get away with anything.

This is not to say that Trump should have bombed Pyongyang after a North Korean missile test. It is to say, however, that Trump sauntered into the ring with no idea of what he was up against, what his (and North Korea’s) stakes were in the contest, and no plan of what to do if things went south.

A few times, Trump has laid the problem in China’s lap. After their “chocolate cake” summit at Mar-a-Lago in April, he seemed to think that he’d charmed Chinese President Xi Jinping into doing him the favor. He didn’t realize—and hasn’t yet seemed to learn—that personal relationships count for little in global politics, that serious leaders base their policies on interests. North Korea relies on China for 85 percent of its trade; Xi could shut down Kim’s regime with a finger snap. But, for a variety of reasons, Chinese interests require a stable North Korea, and that means putting up with Kim’s atomic antics (though also, presumably, standing by to contain them if the hermit king of Pyongyang goes too far).

What should Trump do, now that it’s clear China won’t do enough?

The solutions and slogans that he’s put forth at odd hours in recent days are nonstarters. On Sunday, he tweeted: “The United States is considering, in addition to other options, stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea.” This would spark a trade war with China, wreak havoc with global markets, and disrupt or destroy supply chains across U.S. industries. It would also mean stopping trade with India and Saudi Arabia, among other nations with which Trump is cultivating good relations. The first lesson in Diplomacy 101: Never make threats you’re not willing to carry out. The second lesson: Never make threats that the person you’re threatening won’t believe.

In another tweet, Trump accused the South Korean government of “appeasement” toward the North (a strangely extreme way of describing an ally that would like to avoid war, if at all possible, with a neighbor with thousands of artillery rockets within firing range of its capital). In a separate tweet, out of the blue, he threatened to revoke the U.S.–South Korean free trade agreement. At just the moment when the Asia-Pacific allies needed assurances of America’s security commitment (preferably its calm commitment), Trump railed against the ally poised on the front lines. Kim must have gasped at the good fortune he’d fallen into.

As often happens in these awkward moments, Trump’s aides moved swiftly to repair the damage. On Tuesday, the State Department and the South Korean government issued a “Joint Statement on the Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group,” pledging that North Korea’s “dangerous and destabilizing pursuit of nuclear-armed ballistic missiles … will not alter the ironclad commitment of the United States … to defend” South Korea.

On Wednesday, minutes after Trump ruled out contacts with North Korea, declaring, “Talking is not the answer,” Secretary of Defense James Mattis told reporters, “We’re never out of diplomatic solutions.” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a conservative but sensible politician, has also cultivated good relations with Trump—the two have talked on the phone four times in the past week alone—for the purpose of talking him down from his tirades.

So, war, trade war, and helping Pyongyang break up our alliances aren’t good answers to our problem. But there are still useful things he could be doing.

First, and above all, don’t make such a fuss—but do take visible steps to shore up extended deterrence. Send more advanced fighter planes, perhaps even dual-use fighter planes (those capable of dropping conventional or nuclear bombs), to bases in the region. Send a second aircraft carrier battle group to the region, too. North Korean spokesmen have hinted they might be amenable to freezing their nuclear program if we canceled joint military exercises with South Korea. This would be a terrible idea, weakening the alliance, which is what North Korea wants to accomplish.

But ultimately we are going to have to start talking with Pyongyang again. Sneider says that such talks should include South Korea and other regional powers, but he wouldn’t be opposed to an exploratory bilateral session—just the U.S. and North Korea. “We need to make clear to them what we are ready and able to do if they attack us or our allies,” Sneider said. “And it would be useful to ask them: What do you want?” There might be something we would do in exchange for a North Korean nuclear freeze. It’s worth exploring what that is.

Unfortunately, some Japanese and South Koreans don’t trust Trump to hold such a meeting. When they’re not fearing that his erratic behavior and impatience might excite him into war, they fear that his overconfidence as a deal-maker might lead him into making a terrible deal.

On Sunday, Trump held a meeting with his top advisers to discuss North Korea, and it is telling who attended: Mattis, McMaster, White House chief of staff John Kelly, and Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—all of them retired or active-duty generals. Smart as these men might be, they are military men; when they think of options, military options naturally come first to mind. All of them might say that diplomacy must be a factor, but none of them has ever conducted diplomacy.

There were no diplomats at that meeting. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson participated by telephone from his home in Texas, according to one official—yet another sign of the former Exxon Mobil chairman’s maddening passivity at his job of top diplomat. If James Baker, Robert Gates, David Petraeus, or any number of other people I could think of were secretary of state, they would have chartered a plane to be in that meeting.

Meanwhile, Trump has still not nominated an ambassador to South Korea, an assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, an assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, or an undersecretary of state for the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs. This doesn’t have to be a crisis if we handle it in the way that American diplomats have handled such moments for decades, yet those sorts of diplomats are not within reach.

If war erupts from all this, it will come as much from Donald Trump’s stumblings as from Kim Jong-un’s rantings, and that in itself is a tragic statement.

The Angle: Pseudosmart Edition

The Angle: Pseudosmart Edition

by Rebecca Onion @ Slate Articles

What a joke: Steve Bannon is supposed to be a Serious Person who cares about history and philosophy. Jamelle Bouie unpacks part of his recent 60 Minutes interview to show just what a Potemkin village Bannon’s supposed erudition really is.

Bad news: The Supreme Court has just blocked two federal district court rulings that would have forced Texas to redraw gerrymandered districts. The decision will have dire consequences for the 2018 election, Mark Joseph Stern worries.

One more norm: Republicans now want to get rid of the “blue slip” tradition that lets senators slow down presidential nominations of judges to courts in their states. That’s just one more bit of hypocrisy on the part of a party that used blue slips liberally in the Obama era, Dahlia Lithwick writes.

Really lovely: Hillary Clinton’s book makes for a wry, knowing, expressive self-narrated audiobook. Katy Waldman was listening.

For fun: old photos of Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer.



What Mueller Might Have on Manafort

What Mueller Might Have on Manafort

by Asha Rangappa @ Slate Articles

This piece was originally published on Just Security, an online forum for analysis of U.S. national security law and policy.

The Trump­–Russia saga has more characters than War and Peace and plot twists harder to follow than Game of Thrones. So making sense of the latest news—that the FBI had taken out not one but two surveillance orders under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort—can be difficult to put into context. But this new information can help connect the counterintelligence and criminal investigations that special counsel Robert Mueller is overseeing, and it could show how a FISA warrant may have played a role in each.

I have already provided a detailed description of the (onerous) process of obtaining a FISA order and the legal standards it requires. The only thing to add in Manafort’s case is that since he is a U.S. person (or USPER, in intel slang), the standards to obtain a FISA warrant on him are slightly higher than the generic process I described previously. First, for Manafort, the probable-cause standard required the FBI to provide evidence that he was “knowingly engaging in clandestine intelligence activities,” rather than merely being “an agent of a foreign power.” In other words, the bureau had to show some proof that he wasn’t just acting on behalf of a foreign power but that he was doing so with full knowledge that this work involved spying. Second, in order to continue monitoring Manafort, the FBI would have been required to check in with the FISA court every 90 days and show that its surveillance had, in fact, produced foreign intelligence information. Only with this continuing, additional evidence would the FISA order be renewed for an additional 90 days at a time.

Keeping these factors in mind, let’s look at what we know. We know that the FBI had one FISA surveillance order on Manafort in or around 2014. This order was in relation to his consulting work on behalf of the pro-Russia ruling party in Ukraine at the time. We also know that the surveillance ceased at some point before Manafort joined President Trump’s campaign in 2016. It then recommenced at some point after that, based on his connections with Russian intelligence and evidence suggesting that he was encouraging those connections to interfere in the presidential election. That surveillance continued into at least early 2017. The “gap” covered the period of time when Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., and Jared Kushner met with Russians at Trump Tower to discuss—depending on whose version you believe—“adoptions” or incriminating information the Russians claimed to have on Hillary Clinton.

According to reporting, the initial FISA surveillance ceased after a court found that the FBI was no longer collecting foreign intelligence based on that order. This likely would have occurred at one of the 90-day renewal points after the surveillance began. Why would the FBI have stopped watching Manafort? One conclusion might be that there was no foreign intelligence activity actually happening—or perhaps that the basis for this first order was somewhat flimsy. However, if the order had been renewed at least once since it commenced, which would be likely even if it began in late 2014 or early 2015, that was probably not the case. After all, in order to renew the order at any point prior to it ceasing, the FBI would have had to produce an ongoing foreign intelligence collection.

There’s another possibility. If Manafort was already being developed by Russian intelligence agents since 2014 and was approached in a more concrete, operational way around summer 2016, then they would likely want him to begin communicating with them through other means than he was already using. If this happened, intelligence collected on the lines, accounts, or facilities targeted by the initial FISA order would go dry and would explain why the surveillance ceased. In other words, perhaps there was no longer any foreign intelligence activity happening on the first FISA—but that’s because it was happening somewhere else.

(It’s worth noting here that a FISA order would not necessarily need to cover only phone lines, or even a single mode of communication; as long as the FBI could prove that the mode of communication was being used by the target and likely to produce foreign intelligence, multiple communication channels could be authorized in the same order. You don’t need to obtain a separate FISA warrant for a phone number and an email address, for example, as long as you can demonstrate that both belong to and are used by the target.)

That the first FISA order might have ceased because Manafort became “operational” is purely speculative. But based on my experience working against foreign intelligence targets, this would be consistent with the timeline in several respects. First, the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting has been characterized by many intelligence experts as a “test run”—an experiment to see how open members of the Trump campaign might be to engaging in some potentially illegal behavior in order to benefit the campaign. Having Manafort already on board would make sense in this scenario: Even if this might have been only an initial approach to Trump Jr. and Kushner, the Russians would know they had at least one person in the campaign—Manafort—at that point who was “all in” and could make the meeting less threatening for the newbies.

Second, it helps explain why a second FISA order was brought before the FISA court. It would make sense that after the initial FISA surveillance ceased and Manafort “went dark,” the FBI would be trying to determine what he was up to. We know that in this period the FBI obtained new intelligence that Manafort was in contact with the Russians and that the bureau had enough evidence to substantiate a second FISA application. The new intelligence may have formed the basis to go back to monitoring the same lines or accounts as in the initial FISA. But if the FBI uncovered new channels or modes of communication that Manafort was using with the Russians, this could also be the reason for the second FISA warrant: Just because the FBI went up for a second time on the same target does not mean that they recommenced surveillance on the same channels as before. (This latter possibility implies some uncharacteristic operational sloppiness on the part of the Russians, but considering that Manafort was taking notes from the Trump Tower meeting on his iPhone and emailing directly with a Russian oligarch in code about offering secret briefings on the Trump campaign, this is not necessarily a stretch.)

Third, this theory would explain Mueller’s keen interest in Manafort in particular. Mueller’s investigation is first and foremost a counterintelligence investigation. Regardless of whether Trump Jr. or Kushner had any subsequent meetings or contacts with the Russians or colluded with them in their active measures, the FISAs suggest that Manafort holds the real keys to the kingdom. Namely, how was election interference plan conceived? What operational measures were involved? Was there any quid pro quo? Who else was in on it? Mueller may be just as—if not, more—interested in Manafort spilling the identities and methods of the Russians in this whole scenario as in those of any American members of the Trump campaign who were involved. After all, we know that with the Facebook search warrant that Mueller is potentially interested in pursuing Russians living in Russia who tried to disseminate disinformation in the U.S. He would surely be as interested in identifying and nailing the Russian operatives who participated in active measures to influence the election here in the States.

Which brings us to Mueller’s criminal investigation on Manafort. To get Manafort to talk, Mueller needs some, shall we say, “incentives.” The prospect of serious jail time for not cooperating is usually effective. The problem is that, for all of Manafort’s red-flaggy behavior with the Ukrainians and the Russians, there aren’t really a lot of laws against spying. There’s the Espionage Act, which relates to defense and classified information and doesn’t apply in the current scenario. And there’s the Foreign Agent Registration Act, which as Steve Vladeck explains is a procedural statute: People or entities officially designated as foreign agents must register if the Department of Justice asks them to, but if they comply with that request, they may be out of the crosshairs of criminal prosecution. Manafort retroactively registered as a foreign agent in June. Even if Mueller chose to prosecute Manafort’s failure to register earlier, FARA carries a weak penalty—only a five-year maximum—and has a low likelihood of being able to prove willful evasion of the law. Because of that combination, FARA alone likely wouldn’t create enough leverage for Mueller.

Financial crimes, by contrast, carry significant penalties, particularly when multiple charges are added together. Here is where the FISA orders could have come into play again. It’s important to emphasize that the goal of using a FISA warrant is not to collect evidence of a crime; it’s to collect foreign intelligence information. However, since 9/11 and the passage of the Patriot Act, evidence of criminal activity that is obtained through the course of a FISA investigation can be used to open a criminal case, as long as a “significant purpose” of the FISA inquiry was to obtain foreign intelligence. Here, the FISA warrants on Manafort were based on his intelligence connections. But if he was engaging in financial shenanigans, related or unrelated to his alleged intelligence activities, signs of it may have become apparent during the FISA monitoring, allowing the FBI to open a separate criminal case on Manafort—which is where we are now.

We don’t know the content of the communications monitored under the FISA orders, which might really add the missing links to what connections, if any, existed between the Trump campaign and Russia. But the existence of the FISA warrants themselves on Manafort, and their timing, gives us a way to understand the facts so far. So even if, like me, you’ve never made it all the way through War and Peace (I don’t even watch Game of Thrones), you can still follow along with Mueller: There’s a method to his madness against Manafort.

*This piece has been updated since publication with additional information about the implications of the Foreign Agent Registration Act.

No Good Reason

No Good Reason

by Daniel Hemel @ Slate Articles

The Trump administration announced on Tuesday that it would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program because, according to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Department of Homeland Security lacks legal authority to continue carrying out the Obama-enacted policy. But it’s the Trump team—and not the Obama administration—that has bungled the legal analysis with respect to DACA. And as a result federal courts can, should, and likely will block Trump’s phase-out from taking effect.

The official explanation for why the administration is ending the program is startlingly incoherent. On the one hand, the Trump administration says that it cannot grant deferred action status to immigrants who arrived in the United States before age 16 because Congress has not authorized the practice. On the other hand, the administration says it will continue to renew deferrals for eligible immigrants who apply in the next month, thus allowing those immigrants to obtain work permits and remain in the country for another two years. How can the administration keep on doing what it says it lacks the statutory authority to do?

This is not only a logical flaw in the Trump administration’s decision, but a legal flaw too. The Administrative Procedure Act, a 1946 law, empowers federal courts to set aside agency actions that are “arbitrary” and “capricious.” That same law requires agencies to show that their policies are the “product of reasoned decisionmaking.” Federal courts have held that agencies flunk this test when their policies are “internally inconsistent and inadequately explained.” The Trump administration’s DACA rollback is the epitome of inconsistency. For that reason, the courts should send the administration back to the drawing board.

There is a further flaw in the Trump administration’s explanation for its decision to repeal DACA. The claim by Jeff Sessions that the administration lacks legal authority to grant deferrals is contradicted by the Justice Department’s own Office of Legal Counsel, which produced an exhaustive 33-page memo under Obama in 2014 explaining why DHS does indeed have such authority. The OLC reasoned as follows: The Supreme Court has recognized deferred action as a “regular practice”; Congress has enacted a number of statutes that assume the availability of deferred action; and the Department of Homeland Security’s long-standing rules reflect its deferral authority. Neither Sessions nor any other Trump administration official has explained why the OLC’s original conclusion was erroneous.

Consistent with OLC guidance, the Obama administration initiated the DACA program as a way to grant temporary relief to immigrants who came to the country as children, are pursuing or have earned high-school diplomas, or served honorably in the military, and have not been convicted of a felony or serious misdemeanor. Deferrals last for two years, after which eligible immigrants—commonly known as Dreamers based on the failed attempt to enshrine the policy in legislation known as the DREAM Act—must reapply. Deferred action status does not open up a pathway to citizenship, but it does allow Dreamers to obtain work permits and potentially receive Social Security and Medicare benefits down the road. More than 800,000 Dreamers have been granted deferrals since the program’s start.

To be sure, the fact that the Department of Homeland Security has the legal authority to grant deferrals to Dreamers does not mean that it must continue the Obama administration’s DACA program. But as the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts have held, an agency’s action cannot stand if it is based on a mistaken view of the agency’s own power. If the Department of Homeland Security says that it lacks the authority to grant deferrals when in fact it has that authority, then federal courts can set aside the agency’s action until it comes up with a better justification.

As for now, the Trump administration’s explanation does not meet the Administrative Procedure Act’s “reasoned decisionmaking” standard. The Department of Homeland Security says that it will reject all new requests for deferred action status filed after Wednesday, but that it will continue to process certain renewal requests received before Oct. 5. The decision to continue renewals for another month amounts to an implicit acknowledgement that—consistent with the Office of Legal Counsel’s conclusion—the Department of Homeland Security has the power to grant deferred action status. And yet the agency’s only explanation for winding down the policy is that it lacks the authority that it simultaneously seems to be exercising.

Hopefully, Congress will promptly pass legislation that protects Dreamers from deportation and offers them a pathway to citizenship. In the interim, though, Dreamers can look to the federal courts for short-term relief. Fortunately, the Administrative Procedure Act gives federal courts the tools to stop the Trump administration’s unreasoned decision from taking effect.

NFL Players Link Arms, Kneel After Trump Criticizes Protests

NFL Players Link Arms, Kneel After Trump Criticizes Protests

by Max Burman and Phil McCausland @ NBC News Top Stories

Nearly all players from the Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens either locked arms in a show of unity, or knelt before a game in London on Sunday.

A New Standard for Sexual Consent

A New Standard for Sexual Consent

by Isaac Chotiner @ Slate Articles

Over the past several years, Vanessa Grigoriadis—a contributing editor to the New York Times Magazine and Vanity Fair—has been researching and reporting on the fraught subjects of sex and sexual violence on college campuses. The result is Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power, and Consent on Campus, her sure-to-be-controversial new book.

Grigoriadis talked to scores of college students and administrators, as well as experts on sexual assault. The book is meant to convey somewhat of an all-encompassing picture of college sexual life, but the primary question she keeps going back to is about the idea of consent, and how it has changed and continues to change. And although she notes in her introduction that activists trying to tackle sexual assault have “left questions in their wake … some of which call the finer points of their ideology and tactics into doubt,” she also expresses support for the “yes means yes” consent standard, and offers a full chapter of suggestions for cutting down on assault. (Examples include shutting down certain parties, especially early in the school year, affirming Title IX, and even lowering the drinking age to take alcohol “out of unsupervised frat basements and into public.”)

I spoke with Grigoriadis by phone recently. During the course of our conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, we discussed why sex is so much different for college students than everyone else, whether porn and social media are making the sexual assault situation worse, and how Trump’s election might have exacerbated the toxic culture on campus.

Isaac Chotiner: In the book, you question the ideology and tactics of some of the activists you write about. What specifically are you disputing?

Vanessa Grigoriadis: One tactic of the young activists who are primarily responsible for bringing sexual assault at colleges to some mainstream media is to make all sexual assault sound extremely violent. To make them sound like they are done by a very small group of serial predators, and to frighten Americans into thinking that if we don’t change something at this exact second, people’s daughters are in extreme danger.

That was a great first step, and that got it into the limelight, but sexual assault is something that has a lot more nuance than that. And at a time when we have Betsy DeVos’ deputy, Candice Jackson, saying that 90 percent of the cases are bogus, and then we have that other side saying that sexual assault, even a butt grab, is the most horribly traumatic thing that could ever happen to a woman in her lifetime, you’re getting a lot of people who are like, “I don’t get it. One side here is not being truthful.” I really think now is the moment to have a deeper conversation about it, basically.

Even if you’re calling some tactics into question, it seems like your reporting has made you think that there are fundamental things about college and university life that are fucked up and contribute to assaults and need to change.

Oh, yeah. I mean, I’m 100 percent on the side that 1 out of 5 is not a bogus number. Even if you want to go down the road of looking at the surveys and picking out the words that make you think that a girl could say she was raped when she wasn’t, there’s no question that we’re having an upsurge in our culture of women saying, “I feel violated by the way that I had sex in college.”

The bottom line is that this sexual assault problem is happening at four-year universities that are residential, that have dorms that are like block housing. Frat and sorority membership are up by 50 percent in the last decade. What’s happening on college campuses is really a lot like what’s happening in the rest of America. It’s this weird microcosm where you have on one hand this very cemented gender norm stuff going on in these frats and sororities, and on the other hand you have this upsurge of activism like there hasn’t been since 1969. I interviewed a lot of girls at Syracuse and they had the biggest pledge class of their history in 2015, which was the same year that Syracuse was called the No. 1 party school in America, and the same year that students sat in for 18 days in like the basement of a campus center to protest against every phobia of modern life.

Are those different groups of students? Or do you think that there is a certain contradiction there between people who at one level want to protest all these forms of discrimination, but also are going along with this college culture that has these really negative consequences?

I think generally, those are two different groups of people even though there are a lot of sorority girls who are going to give lip service to progressive ideals. Still, the activists are a different crowd.

The problem really does exist not only in the fraternities, but the fact is that only fraternities can have parties when sororities can’t. Thereby, they control the space. They serve the alcohol. If they have rules about alcohol, they get to say which girls get to come up to the third floor and drink with them. Everybody goes to the football game, which kind of generates this very stereotypical kind of male aggression on the weekend. A lot of youth culture is male-dominated. Generally, straight guys don’t go with their female friends to the mall to go shop for T-shirts.

Speak for yourself.

Yeah. I know. Seriously. But girls do sit around and they smoke pot with guys while guys are playing video games and ignoring them. Youth clubs are still male-dominated even today when we have this upsurge of feminism. I made a little too much out of that. Like, “It’s college itself!” It’s definitely cultural and gender norms and they are reinforced by the structure of college.

There’s always a lot of handwringing about any new technology and what effect it’s having, but it did seem like you thought, from your reporting, that the sexualization that goes along with photos and social media was having an effect.

First of all, I never had a kid take out a phone while I was interviewing him, which I think is kind of amazing. I think they can concentrate, and everybody should stop being worried about that.

It wasn’t like I just saw all these zombies on their phones. Kids are sitting in the campus center, doing their homework. Adults look like zombies with their phones so much more than kids at college, because they’ve actually got like a full day of awesome stuff to do. I think definitely at night, there’s no question that they’re looking for likes. Trying to figure out all of these things that ... all the gossip, and sexual tension, and flirting that used to be done in person. At least half of that is now done on the phone, which definitely gives you a different perception of where your relationship is with the person you’re flirting with when you see him or her, right?

There were certainly people I interviewed where they barely had a conversation with the person before, but because they had been texting so much, they felt fine with hooking up with that person that night.

You also write about porn, and although the statistics are unclear about what effect it’s having, how do you think it has changed young people’s sex lives or even the rate of sexual assault?

There’s no proven clear line between sexual assault and even slightly violent porn, but when you have researchers saying, “OK. Well, we know that hair pulling has increased. Slapping has increased,” and you’ve got a low-level meanness in porn that women are portrayed as liking or not really reacting to, I think that’s got to ... I mean, we’re all obviously influenced by the images that we see around us, particularly young people who are learning about how to have sex from porn.

I know a lot of girls that are like, “It’s so fucked up that I have to give guys blowjobs. Like, all through middle school and high school. Like, what about me? Now I’m in college, and I just don’t feel that was right.” That’s not just because of Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton. That’s because porn has kind of normalized blow jobs and normalized anal sex to a degree, because to be honest, blow jobs and anal sex are not awesome for girls. You’re not going to find 100 percent of girls being like, “Yes. That’s what I want to do.” It goes back to this idea of girls feeling violated and pressured into having sex that they don’t want to have.

I think women feel pressured a lot. You’re a married woman, you know you’re going to have sex sometimes when you don’t want to, and if you’re in a long term relationship, you’re going to have that too, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about kids who are 19 or 20 and may have never had sex before, probably have only had sex once or twice, and they’re going into situations where they feel uncomfortable vocalizing what they want, and they’re coming out of it feeling like, “That was not a boost to my self-esteem. That actually made me feel kind of shitty.” We’re never going to stop guys from having an orgasm and then rolling over and going to sleep. It’s not like we’re going to mandate cuddling or something.

I certainly hope not.

I mean, please. [Laughs.] There is a little bit of a nanny state going on here. We have to be honest. There is a little bit like colleges are telling kids how to have sex, but again, the survey numbers indicate that too many people are saying—too many women specifically—and you know there are men as well, of course, saying that their early sexual experiences are really negative ones. We can’t just say this is all a learning experience. How can I have friends that are 40-years old that are telling me about things that happened to them in college that they still remember vividly like it happened yesterday? They still feel really shitty about that.

One of the things you advocate for is a “yes means yes” standard. Why specifically after being on these college campuses did you feel that was so important?

Again, these are 19 or 20 year olds. These are not adults who have had a ton of sex and feel like it’s not hot to have to ask somebody what they want. There’s definitely a lot of adults who feel that way, right? Like, “That just takes the fun out of everything.” If you think about a promiscuous woman who wants to have sex and be in the mile-high club, versus a 19-year-old girl who’s had sex once, these are like apples and oranges. I feel like that argument is just ... you can kind of brush that aside. Let’s not compare it with what a 50-year-old might want to do it on an airplane.

OK. Once you’re there, you have to say, I feel this is manna from heaven that there’s an answer here. Amazing. You could just ask what you want! Of course there’s always going to be a certain segment of guys who don’t care, who are truly serial predators. You know, one of the Baylor victims said that when they had sex, she kept saying no, and he liked that. He liked that energy. He got off on that. OK. We’re not talking about those guys because nobody can really figure out how to reach those guys, but for this other percentage of guys that seem to begin committing assault in college, I think asking could really kind of snap them out of the idea that, “Oh, this girl wants it.” You know what I mean? “Even though she seems like she’s not into it, she’s turning her face away, but I think she really wants it. I mean, she came to this party, dressed like that and at two in the morning she came over to my house. She’s really wasted.” For Gen X, we all used this question of “should I get a condom?” Right?

That was a really interesting comparison in the book, because that’s been so normalized that we don’t think about saying, “Should I get a condom?” as a mood killer. It’s just part of the experience.

Exactly. And that was not really a question only about protection. It was really a permission question. Girls could be like, “Well, no.” Sometimes the reverse: A girl could say it and a guy could be like, “I don’t know.” I think that this is a great way of clarifying intent.

One of the ideas you raise in the book is that maybe one of the reasons that sexual assaults are happening is because men feel constricted by the rise of feminism and can’t express themselves. But sexual assaults have actually gone down over the past couple decades, at a time we’ve seen more equality in the society at large. Is there any contradiction there?

Where do I say that? I don’t think I say that feminism is making guys ... I mean, I throw that out as an idea, but no, I don’t really believe that.

You write, “Guys might be asserting themselves in the bedroom because they can’t in other places.”

Yeah, I know. I know. I said that. [Laughs.] It was a weird idea. Look, I don’t know. We’re talking about these young millennials. If young girls are getting better grades than guys, if they’re playing sports really well, if they’re way more represented at prestigious universities than guys are, if they’re potentially going to be more employable than guys are, then why is it that so many of them are being violated, or at least feel violated, in the bedroom? That honestly isn’t a conversation that has gone on, and a lot of that is because America is a fucked up place and people don’t get sex ed. They don’t have any way to talk about this with their parents, because their parents are really deeply conflicted about sex and don’t want to bring it up with their kids and all that shit. That’s part of what it is. But it is true that it seems like sexual equality is kind of lagging behind this other gender equality for 20-year-olds, despite what they show on social media, that they’re all sexy all the time and feel so comfortable with it and “I tell guys what I want.”

So you’re saying that even if overall rapes are down, that sexual equality is still lagging behind other areas?

Jessie Ford, who’s like this great sociologist at NYU, said what you have now is girls saying, “I felt equal when I went to elementary school and high school. I felt equal when I applied to college. I felt equal in the classroom, but then I had sex, and I don’t feel equal anymore. Now I feel like an object. I feel a way I’ve never felt before. I feel really uncomfortable with that.” Is she right for all cases?* No. But there’s a lot of truth to what she’s saying. We should be having incredible sexual parity, right?

We know girls fake orgasms. It’s like half and half or something like that. All these girls are so empowered. We’re at this great feminist moment where we have not only pop-feminism, but incredibly radical feminist rhetoric in Cosmo. In Cosmo! If you’re a cool 20-year-old woman, you’re going to subscribe to ideas that were pretty fucking marginal five years ago. And yet what’s happening in the bedroom is not OK, so what’s going on?

This is a good segue into my next question. You reported this book between 2014 and 2017, which coincides with misogynist Donald Trump’s rise. To what degree did that filter down to the people you were reporting on?

Well first of all, on a policy level, it affects things dramatically because we’re now at a phase where I’d put my money on Betsy DeVos blowing up as many of the advances that Obama put into motion as she can. As sexual assault at college became a major mainstream issue, it got politicized as everything does, and it definitely became like a stalking horse for all these larger themes of misogyny for the alt-right, and it’s just so ironic that Trump got elected in part because of the way he went after Hillary Clinton. Candice Jackson, who is DeVos’ deputy, who’s the head of the [Department of Education’s] office for civil rights now, is the one who brought the three Bill Clinton accusers to the debate. She was like deeply involved in that, and now she’s the one they put into power to destroy all the advances that were made during Obama. It’s pretty insane.

I interviewed students, and as I started to talk to guys about Trump, some guys were like, “Yeah. Maybe I don’t even support Trump, really. Maybe I really am more like a Mitt Romney guy. But I look at Hillary Clinton, and Hillary Clinton is a bitch, and I don’t want her to be president.” This guy at USC was like, “The bitch is dead. We won. We’re back. We’re mad. Men are back on top.” Really talking about it in this gender war way that was completely shocking to me.

Do you have one big takeaway from reporting this book, or one way your opinion changed?

I think it is just so fucking complicated. What we’re really talking about is a new standard for consensual sex. That the way that we’re talking about sexual assault now. I was always taught that rape is only about power, and not about sex. But no, not in this area. Not in the kind of sexual assaults we’re talking about. We really have to talk about sex itself, and the way that post-adolescents are having it, and get into that conversation that nobody really wants to have in order to kind of make substantial changes here, because the programs that they’re running for orientation really don’t work. The campus courses obviously have a ton of problems, even though I think they should stay open. Really kind of cultural change is what has to happen, which is exactly what Biden and Obama and even Milo Yiannopoulos understand. You can really make cultural change on college campuses. They’re almost like a Petri dish. You can fuck with them. You could actually do something. You could make like a whole new generation. A whole new set of ideas in there. Don’t ever write a book about rape. That’s my No. 1 tip.

*Correction, Sept. 5, 2017: This piece originally misidentified Jessie Ford as male. (Return.)

Sep 3, Cassin's Vireo | North American Birds | Birds of North America

by @ Birds of North America Blog

Cassin's Vireo is a grey-coloured bird seen mostly in the conifer forests of the west. This vireo has some of the same features as the Plumbeous and Blue-headed Vireoes. There are tmes when these other vireos will be seen in the same regions, especially during migration periods.

Aug 9, Cuban Parrot | Birds of Cuba | Birds seen in Cuba

by @ Birds of North America Blog

Cuban Parrot is a native bird to Cuba. This parrot can now be sesn in the Bahammas in small numbers.

Slate News Quiz

Slate News Quiz

by Ray Hamel @ Slate Articles

Welcome to Slate’s weekly news quiz. It’s Friday, which means it’s time to test your knowledge of the week’s news events. Your host, Ray Hamel, has concocted questions on news topics ranging from politics to business, from culture to sports to science.

Questions are multiple-choice, and time is of the essence: You have 50 seconds to answer, and as the seconds tick away, the question’s point value drops from 50 all the way down to zero, so you’ll want to click on your answer as fast as you possibly can. There’s no penalty for an incorrect answer, so feel free to take a guess.

At the end of the quiz, you’ll be able to compare your score with that of the average contestant, as well as with the score of a Slatester who has agreed to take the quiz on the record. This week’s contestant is editorial intern Aaron Mak.

Can you ace the quiz and beat Mak? Good luck!

When ICE Came for the Chaldeans

When ICE Came for the Chaldeans

by Chris Gelardi @ Slate Articles

On the afternoon of Sunday, June 11, a 29-year-old finance lawyer named Wisam Naoum stopped at a gas station to stock up on beer. It was a sunny, hot afternoon, approaching 90 degrees, and Naoum had a leisurely day planned at his sister’s backyard pool. Earlier that morning he had heard rumblings of trouble in his community, but nothing was confirmed, and Naoum was wary of unverified rumors, so he kept his plans with his sister and her family.

Naoum is a well-known figure in his religious community: metro Detroit’s Chaldeans, a sect of Christianity affiliated with the Catholic Church and particular to ethnic Assyrians from Iraq. And the troubling rumors he had been hearing were of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents rounding up Iraqi-born Chaldeans for deportation.

Estimated at 121,000-strong, Michigan’s Chaldean community is the largest in the world outside of Iraq, from where these Aramaic-speaking Mesopotamians claim their ancient roots. It’s a result of multiple waves of immigration, mostly starting in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when many came to the United States as refugees fleeing anti-Assyrian killings and the chaos of the Iran–Iraq War. Since the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, sectarian violence, civil war, and the rise of ISIS have killed or displaced more than two-thirds of Iraq’s Christians.

The Chaldeans of Michigan have a conservative history, consistently supporting the Republican Party with votes and donations, and they voted heavily for Donald Trump in the 2016 election, helping him win Michigan by fewer than 11,000 votes. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence inspired many Chaldeans to show up at voting booths with unprecedented enthusiasm by promising to protect persecuted Christians in the Middle East. A Chaldean priest publicly blessed Trump while he was on the campaign trail, and conservative Christians praised Trump’s commitment to Christian minorities on Facebook. Few in the community expected that Trump’s immigration crackdown—touted in part as a means to protect the country from radical Islamists—would come to target them.

But while at the gas station, Naoum received a call from a friend, a prominent Detroit-area attorney. ICE had detained some of his Chaldean clients.

By the time Naoum got to his sister’s house and spent some time with her kids, he was getting messages from family and friends reporting dozens of detainments. At one point, he got a call from a friend from college: “They got my brother,” the friend said. So Naoum locked himself in his brother-in-law’s home office and started making calls.

He called friends from law school who work at the International Refugee Assistance Project, a legal nonprofit that has been a leader in the fight against the Trump administration’s travel ban executive orders, who in turn contacted the National Immigration Law Center. Naoum also called other young Michigan Chaldean community leaders, including a lawyer named Nadine Yousif Kalasho.

Kalasho was having dinner with her fiancé when she started hearing news of the raids. Together with her legal partner, the 27-year-old runs a clinic called Counseling, Opportunity, Deliverance, and Education, or CODE, Legal Aid, which acts as a family resource center for refugees and immigrants. The clinic is housed inside Kalasho Empowerment of Young Scholars, or KEYS, Grace Academy, a 2-year-old charter school in Madison Heights, Michigan, founded and run by Kalasho and her two brothers.

Complete with a community garden, therapy services for refugee children dealing with trauma, a full busing system, and a curriculum that includes Mesopotamian studies and Aramaic language, KEYS Grace and CODE provide a one-stop shop for refugee and immigrant families, particularly Chaldeans, to preserve their culture while adapting to life in the United States.

As soon as Kalasho got up to speed on the situation, “We all went into panic mode,” she said. Together, she, Naoum, and other members of their community network opened up shop at KEYS Grace that very evening in order to provide support for families and begin shaping the skeleton of what would be their legal response to the detentions. Naoum’s contacts at the larger legal nonprofits, as well as experts Kalasho had called at the ACLU, urgently advised them to start gathering as much information on as many detainees as possible so they could start organizing a class-action lawsuit.

In addition to wanting to avoid family separation, Chaldean community members worried that their loved ones—many of whom don’t speak any Arabic—would be kidnapped, tortured, or killed if they were sent back to Iraq. Immigrants with removal orders can only win lasting legal relief from deportation by way of an individual case in immigration court, where there are more than half a million backlogged cases countrywide, and rumors were starting to circulate that planes to Iraq could leave any day. So, in a class-action suit, Kalasho sought to argue that detainees faced immediate physical danger in Iraq in order to compel a district judge to delay deportations until everyone had a chance to argue their case in immigration court.

By the time Naoum and Kalasho got to KEYS Grace, families had started gathering at the ICE field office in downtown Detroit to protest. Some recorded Facebook Live videos, one of which captured the moment people realized that agents were loading their loved ones onto buses headed for detention facilities. In it, a man strained his voice yelling frustrated curses at ICE and we-love-yous to the detainees while two women wailed, asking, “Where’s Maher?” between gasps.

Amid the chaos, Kalasho’s brother and Naoum’s close friend, Nathan, went down to the field office to be with families and tell them about the legal organizing efforts at the school. Meanwhile, Naoum spread the word about the detentions and the lawsuit via Facebook.

Later that night, a handful of volunteers, mostly in their 20s; pro bono lawyers; and dozens of relatives of those who had recently been detained descended upon the K–8 academy. In the CODE Legal Aid office and the school’s adjacent library, volunteers compiled information into a Google spreadsheet until 4 in the morning while others comforted families amid the library’s toys, children’s books, and a treehouse-themed play area with branches painted on the wall by a refugee father.

It later turned out that the raids were the result of a quiet deal between the Trump administration and the Iraqi government. Trump had included Iraq on the original list of seven Muslim-majority countries in his January travel ban, to the consternation of national security officials who were counting on Iraq’s support in the ongoing fight against ISIS. But when the Trump administration issued a revised version of the travel ban in March, Iraq was removed from the list. In a conference call to reporters the morning of the revised ban’s release, a senior administration official admitted that the Iraqi government—which for years had been uncooperative in taking back Iraqis the U.S. wanted to deport—agreed “to enhance some of their travel documentation capabilities” and “to the timely return and repatriation of its nationals who are subject to finals orders of removal” from the United States.

By the time the raids were finished, Kalasho’s spreadsheet revealed that ICE had detained 114 Iraqis across three counties in Michigan—almost exclusively men, mostly Chaldean. Naoum and Kalasho also later found out that roughly 85 more had been detained around the same time across the country, including a group of Kurds in Tennessee and other Muslims and Christians in New Mexico and Southern California. ICE also had a list of about 1,200 more deportable Iraqis who, possibly until now, were never prioritized for deportation.

* * *

One of the people who came into KEYS Grace that night was Robin, whose 67-year-old father, Adel, had been detained. (Their last names have been withheld to protect their privacy.)

Adel moved to Michigan with his wife, mother, and siblings as a refugee from a camp in Greece in 1980, after his father and father’s family were murdered during bouts of anti-Assyrian killings in Iraq. His wife gave birth to Robin, their first of five children, in 1981, and in 1987, Adel was arrested on drug transportation charges. According to his lawyer, Milica Filipovic of CODE Legal Aid, Adel’s arrest three decades ago was “nonviolent, no weapons involved,” adding, “He didn’t know what he was delivering.” At the height of Ronald Reagan’s war on drugs, the judge sentenced Adel to 3½ to 20 years in prison. He was released on parole after two.

Although Adel came to the United States with refugee status and was a legal permanent resident, he never went through the full naturalization process to become a citizen, for which he was eligible starting in 1985. According to Filipovic, for many non-English-speaking refugees who come to the U.S. with little money or possessions, the naturalization process—which can cost thousands of dollars and involves taking a test in English—seems out of reach. And without naturalization, a felony conviction can render immigrants deportable—even refugees.

This is the situation in which most detained Iraqis have found themselves. Although many of the detainees came as refugees, and most came to the United States legally, almost all committed crimes that made them deportable. In a statement, ICE’s Detroit field office director, Rebecca Adducci, described the raids as an effort “to address the very real public safety threat represented by the criminal aliens arrested.” But according to data collected by CODE Legal Aid, half of the 114 Iraqis arrested in Michigan were convicted of drug-related crimes, and roughly 3 in 4 of nonviolent crimes.

After his release from prison, Adel established a career working at a used car lot, and then a pizzeria, keeping free of any further trouble with the law. He often spent his free time with his six grandchildren, especially the oldest, Robin’s 16-year-old son, whom he recently taught how to drive. Adel received his first order of removal informing him that he was deportable in 1992.

The night before his detention, Adel slept at Robin’s house because he wasn’t feeling well. He has a laundry list of diagnosed health issues, including diabetes, high blood pressure, anxiety, and peripheral artery disease, which leaves him with little feeling in his legs, so he walks with a cane.

That Sunday morning, Robin recalls getting a call from her brother who lives with Adel, saying agents in what looked like SWAT gear were looking for their father. So Robin put her 16- and 7-year-old sons in the car and drove Adel to his home, where she found half a dozen agents, wearing uniforms that said police, ready to take him away.

Robin peppered the officers with questions for more than an hour before they took Adel, asking if he was going to be deported and trying to show them paperwork proving his compliance with immigration orders. Like many in the Chaldean community who’ve had run-ins with ICE this summer, Robin claims that agents were deceptive and played mind games with her.

At first, agents said that they merely needed to take Adel to update his paperwork and outfit him with an electronic monitoring device and that Robin could pick him up at the field office in two or three hours. One agent, who would only identify himself as Austin, gave Robin what he called his “desk number” to call if she had any trouble, which she immediately typed into her phone. When she called the number after the agents had left with her father, a clerk at a Marriott hotel in downtown Detroit answered, with no knowledge of any ICE agents or any officer named Austin.

Austin also told Robin that she shouldn’t worry about Adel, because “even if he were to get deported, we’re going to send him to a five-star hotel called Abu Ghraib,” referencing the now-closed prison in Iraq infamous for physical and sexual torture committed by U.S. troops during the Iraq war. At that, Austin and an officer who only identified himself as Paul laughed.

Despite numerous calls and emails, ICE declined to answer any questions for this story.

“These people are like—they’re not human,” said Robin in the KEYS Grace library while her hands shook. “My dad feels like he was born here. He feels like this is his country. He teaches my kids how to become good American citizens. That’s what he says—‘America is our home. This is where you can build a future.’ ”

Adel is not allowed to have his cane at the Michigan county jail where he has spent more than two and a half months, so he has trouble walking and circulating blood through the clogged arteries in his legs, and his blood sugar has been sporadic, leaving him feeling constantly ill. His incarceration is scheduled for a 90-day review, and his attorney has petitioned for his release, but Robin has no idea whether that will happen.

And, according to Robin, Adel doesn’t have much of a future in Iraq: “We all know that if he goes there, they’re gonna kill him.”

* * *

In the days following the Sunday raids, rumors started to circulate that the Department of Homeland Security had scheduled a plane to transport detainees to Baghdad as soon as that Friday. On Tuesday, a local nonprofit, the Chaldean Community Foundation, held a community meeting to try to figure out what to do.

From the time the news of the raids spread through the Chaldean community, responses saw a clear generational divide. Many older, more traditional community members—who had for decades been politically conservative and took Donald Trump on his word that he would protect Middle Eastern Christians—felt more of a betrayal than their younger counterparts. The “old guard leadership,” as Naoum describes it, wanted to fall back on a strategy of political pressure, even though Michigan Republicans were mostly silent on the issue, and attempts by Democratic Congressman Sander Levin and Chaldean lobbyists in Washington to engage the Trump administration fell on deaf ears. On the other hand, some younger community leaders, led by Kalasho and her legal partner, Nora Youkhana, saw the situation as much too urgent to rely on politics.

“A plane could leave tomorrow,” Kalasho remembered thinking at the meeting. “We need to stop this right now. We need to put a TRO [temporary restraining order] in order. And the only people who have the man-girl power and the knowledge to do that is the ACLU. So we pushed for the ACLU to be at the forefront of this.”

Persuading the rest of the community to put their trust in the ACLU wasn’t easy, as many viewed it as a champion of liberal causes. But by the end of the meeting, Kalasho and Youkhana had convinced enough people that the class-action lawsuit was the best first step toward keeping their loved ones out of danger.

“This is a traditional, patriarchal society,” said Naoum, who was at the meeting. “To see two young women leading the fight on the legal side has been a revelation. It’s been a real changing of the guard through this stuff.”

ACLU and CODE lawyers quickly drafted a class-action complaint, which they filed before the end of the week, successfully halting the deportation of the detainees from Michigan. And over the next month, they successfully expanded the suit to include all 1,400 Iraqis prioritized for deportation. They also won a temporary restraining order, and eventually a preliminary injunction that will allow all detainees to argue their cases in immigration court. Now CODE has taken up the cause of ensuring that all Iraqi detainees from Michigan have quality legal representation for their individual immigration cases, which has proved difficult considering that ICE has dispersed them among county jails and private detention facilities not only in Michigan, but also in Ohio, Louisiana, and Arizona.

* * *

Like most of the Iraqis detained that Sunday, Adel’s criminal conviction makes him ineligible to apply for standard asylum-based protection against deportation, according to Filipovic, his attorney. Instead, his only hope for relief has to be based on other legal grounds.

Adel has been down this road before. Between 1992 and 2012, he filed four different motions in immigration court seeking protection for if he ever became an ICE priority for deportation, all of which were eventually denied. Most recently, he appealed based on an international treaty known as the Convention Against Torture, which grants special protections to immigrants who can prove under certain criteria that “it is more likely than not” that they’ll face torture if they’re deported.

In the most recent case, Adel’s attorney made a convincing argument that he would likely be tortured in Iraq, firmly establishing the issue of the persecution of Christians in the country. But the Convention Against Torture as it’s applied in U.S. immigration law dictates that proving likely torture isn’t enough to prevent deportation; one must also prove that the government of the country in question is either participating in or willfully turning a blind eye to the persecution, a concept termed “government acquiescence.”

Two years after Adel’s lawyer originally filed the motion, the judge in Adel’s case ruled that the Iraqi government’s public statements calling for acceptance of all religions was evidence that “the Iraqi government is not acquiescing, but it is indeed attempting to protect the diminishing Christian population with the resources it has available.”

“While the court is concerned that if respondent, in fact, returns to Iraq, he will be in danger,” the judge announced in his October 2012 oral decision, “he will not be in danger from the Iraqi government or with the acquiescence of the Iraqi government.” Even though the judge conceded that Adel would be in peril, he couldn’t stop Adel’s deportation if ICE came after him.

This double burden of proving both the likelihood of torture and the government’s acquiescence to existing torture is the legal struggle for most of the detainees CODE Legal Aid is trying to help, according to Filipovic. With cases like Adel’s that have already been denied based on the Convention Against Torture, lawyers are filing motions to reopen based on new evidence of government acquiescence and changes in “country conditions.” And with the preliminary injunction in place, Filipovic, Kalasho, and their team are trying to compile stock research and arguments for all of the individual lawyers to use in their respective immigration court cases.

The most internationally recognizable threat to Christians in Iraq is ISIS, which vows to eradicate religious minorities, specifically Christians and Aramaic speakers in areas under its control. But with that area shrinking after ISIS’s recent battlefield defeats, detained Chaldeans plan to argue that they still face an abundance of threats in Iraq—threats the Iraqi government is not only powerless to stop but that it willfully ignores.

Local militias have been commonplace in Iraq since the 1980s, especially Shia groups seeking unofficial local control in what used to be a minority-Sunni-governed country. These militias grew in power and notoriety in the 2006–08 civil war and when they picked up the slack of the failing Iraqi army, with the endorsement of the Iraqi government, after the rise of ISIS in 2014. Documentarians and human rights organizations have increasingly reported that these militias have taken to religious and political violence outside of the war against ISIS. And Filipovic’s stock research includes a 2015 report by the Center for Victims of Torture, which documents cases of often-unknown or unnamed armed factions threatening, injuring, kidnapping, or killing Christians. “When interviewees were asked whether they reported their attacks to the government,” the report says, “the most common answer was ‘the government is as afraid of the militias as we are.’ ”

It’s only if lawyers are able to satisfactorily prove this fearful form of government acquiescence that they will have any chance of saving their clients from deportation. But with immigration courts’ extreme backlog of cases, no one knows when they might get that chance. And with almost all of the Iraqis from Michigan still incarcerated, the stress of the passing weeks is taking its toll on family members like Robin, her mother, and her kids.

“We’re not happy-go-lucky people anymore,” Robin said.

* * *

While Kalasho and her team at CODE Legal Aid have been thinking about legal strategy since the raids, Wisam Naoum, the finance lawyer, has been reflecting on the long-term implications they will have on his community. Aside from families being torn apart and middle-aged and old men facing what they perceive to be death sentences, Naoum recognizes that Chaldeans in Michigan have been thrust into uncertainty about their deeply held social and political loyalties.

“The community is not going to forget who came to our aid and who didn’t,” he said, referring to the largely silent Michigan Republican establishment. “And we have voting power.”

To Naoum, Sunday, June 11, transformed politics for his community. “This is not partisan. This is a family issue. This is a life or death issue,” he said.

White Elephant

White Elephant

by Jamelle Bouie @ Slate Articles

Seven months into his presidency, Donald Trump is deeply unpopular. In Gallup’s latest poll of presidential job approval, he’s down to 34 percent, a level unseen by most presidents outside of an economic disaster or foreign policy blunder. In FiveThirtyEight’s adjusted average of all approval polling, he stands at 37 percent. And yet, few Republican lawmakers of consequence are willing to buck him or his agenda, in large part because their voters still support the president by huge margins. What we have clearer evidence of now is why. From polling and the behavior of individual politicians, it’s become harder to deny that people support the president not just for being president, but for his core message of white resentment and grievance—the only area where he has been consistent and unyielding.

You see broad Republican allegiance to Trump in the polling. Nearly 70 percent of Republicans say they agree with Trump on the issues. And 78 percent of Republicans say they approve of the president’s overall job performance. Republicans who have bucked or criticized Trump, like Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, have jeopardized their political futures as a result.

You also see the degree to which white racial resentment is a key force among Republican voters. Most Republicans, remember, agreed with President Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he held both sides—white supremacists and counterdemonstrators—responsible for the chaos that claimed the life of one anti-racist protester. In an analysis of recent polling, my colleague William Saletan observes that, across a number of questions gauging racial animus, Republicans generally (and Trump supporters specifically) are most likely to give answers signaling tolerance for racism and racist ideas. Forty-one percent of Republicans, for example, say that whites face more discrimination than blacks and other nonwhite groups (among strong Trump supporters, it’s 45 percent). Ten percent of Republicans and 19 percent of strong Trump supporters have a favorable impression of white nationalists, while 13 percent of the former (and 17 percent of the latter) say it’s “acceptable” to hold white supremacist views.

And, importantly, you see these ideas expressed not just in polls but on the ground, as well. In 2014, Ed Gillespie ran for Senate as a Virginia Republican in the mold of figures like John Warner and Bob McDonnell—conservative but not a bomb-thrower. The kind of Republican politician who could make ground in Northern Virginia and other Democratic-leaning parts of the state. Gillespie tried to run that campaign in this year’s Republican primary for governor, and he might have won without trouble if not for the presence of Corey Stewart, an otherwise obscure county official who backed Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election and challenged Gillespie as a Trump-like figure. Vocally standing in defense of the state’s Confederate monuments, Stewart ran as the candidate of white anger and racial resentment, and he almost won, losing by fewer than 5,000 votes.

Gillespie learned his lesson. In an August ad against his Democratic opponent Ralph Northam, he blasts “sanctuary cities.” In the past month, he’s hired a former Trump campaign aide—Jack Morgan, infamous for his warning that the country is on the brink of a second civil war—and has pledged to defend Confederate statues from local efforts to remove them. Donald Trump may have lost Virginia to Hillary Clinton, but Virginia Republicans are committed to the president and expect the same from their candidates.

It’s true that it’s rare for a president to lose anything more than a small minority of his partisan base. But Gillespie’s recent turn shows there is more than simple partisanship at play. There’s nothing about partisanship that forces a figure like Gillespie to go beyond simple Trump support to embracing the most inflammatory, racially reactionary parts of his appeal. In theory, it should be possible to maintain allegiance to Trump without pantomiming the resentment that fuels his presidency.

But this isn’t true in practice. Signaling allegiance to Trump requires embracing white identity politics, because those beliefs reflect the views of many Republican voters.

White identity politics have always been dominant in American life, one of the key forces that shape much of the nation’s political and social landscape. It’s not that Trump is new; it’s that he’s explicit, and in making his open appeal to white identity and its supposed endangerment, he has raised its salience. Before Trump, white resentment was part of Republican politics. In the age of Trump, it increasingly defines it.

Slate News Quiz

Slate News Quiz

by Ray Hamel @ Slate Articles

Welcome to Slate’s weekly news quiz. It’s Friday, which means it’s time to test your knowledge of the week’s news events. Your host, Ray Hamel, has concocted questions on news topics ranging from politics to business, from culture to sports to science.

Questions are multiple-choice, and time is of the essence: You have 50 seconds to answer, and as the seconds tick away, the question’s point value drops from 50 all the way down to zero, so you’ll want to click on your answer as fast as you possibly can. There’s no penalty for an incorrect answer, so feel free to take a guess.

At the end of the quiz, you’ll be able to compare your score with that of the average contestant, as well as with the score of a Slatester who has agreed to take the quiz on the record. This week’s contestant is Faith Smith, executive producer of Slate’s live programming.

Can you ace the quiz and beat Smith? Good luck!

Health Benefits Of Bulgarian Lavender Essential Oil: Lavandula Vera

by Nate M @ Maple Holistics

Bulgarian Lavender essential oil is particularly useful because it's a highly concentrated form of the of the plant and is rich in phytochemicals and naturally occurring compounds.

The post Health Benefits Of Bulgarian Lavender Essential Oil: Lavandula Vera appeared first on Maple Holistics.

Aug 10, Doves | Birds of Cuba | Birds seen in Cuba

by @ Birds of North America Blog

Doves are some of the most interesting birds in Cuba. These high speed flyers are considered game in some countries. Doves are also domesticated for racing and trained as homing pigeons, birds of Cuba.

Our Demagogue

Our Demagogue

by William Saletan @ Slate Articles

Want to listen to this article out loud? Hear it on Slate Voice.

On Tuesday, as world leaders addressed the United Nations General Assembly, diplomats were lectured by an authoritarian, a torture apologist, a pillage enthusiast, a race-baiter, and a sectarian demagogue. At the U.N., that’s an ordinary day. But this time, the despot, the demagogue, and the war-crimes advocate had something unusual in common. This time, they were all the president of the United States.

Most Americans, in both parties, like to think of our country as the good guy. Yes, we have an ugly history of racism, we’ve cut deals with dictators, and we’ve fought bad wars. But we’ve also promoted democracy and human rights, and on more than one occasion, we’ve helped to save the world. Every year, our president goes to the U.N. to talk about values. We don’t always live up to the talk. But it’s still a worthy mission statement.

That tradition ended Tuesday. For the first time, the American president was just another populist thug. Donald Trump used his 40 minutes not to make a case for universal rights, but to glorify nationalism. He appealed not to justice, but to the volk.

Eight months into Trump’s presidency, we’ve gotten used to such barbarism. We mustn’t forget how different our country used to be. In November 2001, when George W. Bush delivered his first address to the U.N., he was speaking in a city that had just been struck by the worst terror attack the nation had ever seen. Nevertheless, Bush embraced people of all nationalities. He spoke about three 9/11 victims: a Gambian, a Mexican, and a Pakistani Muslim. “The war against terror must not serve as an excuse to persecute ethnic and religious minorities in any country,” said the president. “Innocent people must be allowed to live their own lives. … And every nation must have avenues for the peaceful expression of opinion and dissent.”

Bush defined the United States not by national origin or ethnic heritage, but by respect for political freedom and human rights. He noted that terrorists sought to challenge “the tolerance of openness and creative culture that defines us.” The best response to 9/11, Bush argued, was to preserve our ethics: “Unlike the enemy, we seek to minimize, not maximize, the loss of innocent life.”

Eight years later, Barack Obama began his first U.N. address by reaffirming America’s commitment to international law:

For those who question the character and cause of my nation, I ask you to look at the concrete actions we have taken in just nine months. On my first day in office, I prohibited, without exception or equivocation, the use of torture by the United States of America. I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed, and we are doing the hard work of forging a framework to combat extremism within the rule of law. Every nation must know: America will live its values, and we will lead by example.

As a presidential candidate, Trump renounced these principles. He openly advocated oil theft, religious discrimination, mob violence, retributive torture, and the lethal targeting of civilians. As president, he has subverted the rule of law by endorsing police brutality, pardoning a sheriff who defied court orders, and firing an FBI director who defied Trump’s attempts to corrupt him.

In his speech to the General Assembly, Trump all but ignored human rights. He focused instead on “sovereignty, security, and prosperity,” avoiding questions of freedom or fairness. The perils he addressed—“decay, domination, and defeat”—were about national weakness and humiliation, not justice. “The nation-state remains the best vehicle for elevating the human condition,” Trump declared. He called for “strong, sovereign, and independent nations—nations that are rooted in their histories and invested in their destinies … nations that are home to patriots, to men and women who are willing to sacrifice for their countries.” In Trump’s mind, the purpose of individuals, other than himself, is to serve the state.

In a moment of lip service, Trump averred, “America stands with every person living under a brutal regime.” But he scoffed at “international tribunals” and signaled that the United States, on his watch, would do nothing about domestic oppression by allied governments. “We do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions, or even systems of government,” said the president. He emphasized the autonomy of nations and peoples, not of individuals. “We must protect our nations, their interests, and their futures,” said Trump. “We must reject threats to sovereignty. … We must uphold respect for law, respect for borders, and respect for culture.”

Like previous American presidents, Trump cited the Constitution as a model for other nations. But he ignored the Bill of Rights, framing the document instead as an assertion of collective power:

The greatest [phrase] in the United States Constitution is its first three beautiful words. They are: “We the people.” Generations of Americans have sacrificed to maintain the promise of those words, the promise of our country, and of our great history. In America, the people govern, the people rule, and the people are sovereign.

A libertarian might have heard these words as a declaration of people’s rights against their government. Trump, however, construed them as a duty to fight for the American public, as a unit, against other nations. “Our government’s first duty is to its people, to our citizens—to serve their needs, to ensure their safety, to preserve their rights, and to defend their values,” he argued. “I will defend America’s interests above all else.” Trump is right, of course, that defending America is his job. But it’s bizarre to tout our Constitution as just another country’s statement of nationalism, ignoring the freedoms it pioneered.

Past presidents recognized moral standards as obligatory, even if America often fell short. But to Trump, every concession to international law is an indulgence. “It is an eternal credit to the American character that even after we and our allies emerged victorious from the bloodiest war in history, we did not seek territorial expansion,” he told the General Assembly. Those nice-guy days are over, the president suggested. He boasted that he had “totally changed the rules of engagement” in Iraq—ignoring (or perhaps implicitly embracing) reports that these changes have increased civilian casualties.

In his closing remarks, Trump turned Bush’s moral code upside down. Bush had argued that war should be constrained by human rights, not just by national will. Trump said the opposite:

We must never forget that those heroes who fought against evil also fought for the nations that they loved. Patriotism led the Poles to die to save Poland, the French to fight for a free France, and the Brits to stand strong for Britain. … The true question for the United Nations today, for people all over the world who hope for better lives for themselves and their children, is a basic one: Are we still patriots? Do we love our nations enough to protect their sovereignty and to take ownership of their futures? Do we revere them enough to defend their interests, preserve their cultures? … We are calling for a great reawakening of nations, for the revival of their spirits, their pride, their people, and their patriotism. History is asking us whether we are up to the task. Our answer will be a renewal of will, a rediscovery of resolve, and a rebirth of devotion.

Culture, spirit, national will. We’ve heard those appeals before. We know where they led. That’s why we have a United Nations.

Trump understands none of this. Reading from his script, he uttered just one sentence about human rights, in mockery of his hosts. “It is a massive source of embarrassment to the United Nations,” he said, “that some governments with egregious human rights records sit on the U.N. Human Rights Council.” Yes, it is. Bush made the same point 16 years ago. But now there’s a new embarrassment: The president who stands before the General Assembly, flaunting his disregard for human rights, is ours.

One Killed, Seven Wounded in Church Shooting in Tennessee

One Killed, Seven Wounded in Church Shooting in Tennessee

by Daniella Silva and Ali Galante @ NBC News Top Stories

Police in Tennessee were investigating the scene of a church shooting early Sunday afternoon. Officials called it a "a mass casualty situation."

Move Over, Sheep. Doves Are Returning Home To Tiny Island Of Socorro

Move Over, Sheep. Doves Are Returning Home To Tiny Island Of Socorro

On an island where sheep, cats and mice thrive, the doves died off. But scientists have a plan to reintroduce the Socorro dove to its ancestral home.

Dove ads with 'real' women get attention

Dove ads with 'real' women get attention

Gina Crisanti was taking out the trash at work one day when a stranger approached her with an odd request. It was a talent scout who wanted her to try out for an ad campaign to sell Dove beauty products _ wearing nothing but her underwear.

The Murder That Won’t Die

The Murder That Won’t Die

by Thomas L. Dybdahl @ Slate Articles

In June 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court denied any relief to seven Washington, D.C., men who were convicted for the 1984 killing of Catherine Fuller. It seemed that this decision might finally mark the end—after 33 years—to what was perhaps the most notorious criminal case in the city’s history. Fuller, a 49-year-old wife and mother, was sodomized with a pole and kicked and beaten to death, for $40 and the cheap jewelry she wore.

Despite its legal finality, the 6–2 ruling left unanswered questions about the possible impact of evidence favorable to the defense that the prosecution had hidden. Now, an upcoming Netflix documentary about the murder—streaming on Sept. 8 as part of a series called The Confession Tapes—argues that the video statements at the heart of the government’s case were false, coerced confessions.

The brutality of the attack made the lead detectives determined to find whoever had done it. After a street vendor found Fuller’s body in an empty garage in Northeast D.C. around 6 p.m. on Oct. 1, 1984, a medical examiner, conducting an autopsy the next day, termed her injuries “hideous.” “She had been impaled,” he later said. “I never saw anything like that.”

The detectives quickly settled on a theory, from an anonymous phone tip. A gang of young men from the neighborhood, the “8th and H Crew,” had pushed Fuller into a nearby alley to rob her. When she resisted, they went wild. Within hours, the investigation “switched from gathering evidence to ‘Oh my God, this is it!’ ” former D.C. homicide detective Jim Trainum says in the documentary.

They had a riveting narrative, but turned up little proof of a gang attack. No useful forensic evidence was recovered from the scene. Despite more than 400 interviews over nearly a year, officers never found a single civilian witness—someone unconnected to the accused—who had information supporting their theory. But they did get three teens to confess on tape. And based on those statements, they charged 17 young people with the murder.

* * *

The Netflix film’s primary focus is on Clifton Yarborough, whose confession likely sealed the fate of the accused, as well as his own. He was just 16, slim and quiet, with a baby face and a “Philly” haircut: short on the sides but longer on the top. He was also barely literate, a special education student at Eastern High School, with a verbal IQ in the bottom 1 percent. A perfect target.

Cliff and four others were arrested early on Dec. 9, 1984. The officers didn’t tell his mother he was being charged with murder, or suggest that a lawyer or parent accompany him. They just said they needed to “talk to him.” The two lead detectives, Patrick McGinnis and Ruben Sanchez-Serrano, acknowledged afterward that they keyed on Cliff because he was the youngest and weakest of their suspects. They figured he would “roll before the older ones.”

At the homicide office, they kept Cliff handcuffed and locked in an interrogation room. After about 40 minutes the detectives came in and played good cop–bad cop. Sanchez screamed and pounded on the table and called Cliff a liar for saying he knew nothing. He tore off his shirt, and acted like he was going to attack if Cliff didn’t confess. Cliff said they also pushed him around the room, slammed him into the wall and a cabinet, and put his head in a toilet bowl. Later Sanchez would admit that he yelled and ripped his own shirt but rejected any claims of physical abuse. There’s no record of that long morning.

Cliff repeatedly denied having anything to do with Fuller’s murder. But as the time passed, the detectives wore him down. At 12:07 p.m., nearly five hours after his arrest, they turned on the recorder and Cliff confessed.

* * *

In a case like this, with minimal evidence aside from confessions, proving if they’re true or false is tricky. On the one hand, the lack of supporting information makes them suspect. The only proof of guilt is words: manufactured evidence. At the same time, there’s no DNA or neutral eyewitness testimony to clearly contradict them. And even with a highly vulnerable subject, like Cliff, a confession is always mesmerizing.

On his hourlong video, Cliff looks subdued and often tentative and speaks softly. But he seems to understand the questions and answers directly. He says no force has been used against him. He says he saw the crime, and identifies pictures of the alleged participants he knows from the neighborhood. There’s no flow to the story, though, just a flat series of assertions.

“Monk ripped her blouse off her.”

“Snotrag hit her and dragged her.”

“Derrick stomped her.”

“Levy stuck a pole in her.”

* * *

Standing alone, his statement is powerful and damning. The detectives—who declined interview requests from the filmmakers—have said in court they never fed him information. Everything on the tape came from Cliff.

Trainum, the retired D.C. detective who now works as an expert on false confessions, and has reviewed the case files and the statements, disputes that claim. He says Cliff’s tape is what police call a “recap video”—a summary that was rehearsed repeatedly off camera and recorded only after careful preparation. He says that’s why the story comes out in such a cold, cryptic way. Cliff can be easily led because of his age and fear and impairment. And he doesn’t realize the import of what he’s saying.

Later, under oath at his sentencing, Cliff told the judge that “[t]he videotape that has been made by me, I was afraid, and that is why I said … some statements that someone else made and then asked for me to say it, and I just said it because I thought it would get me out.”

Cliff’s youth, his deficits, and his denials all cast doubt on his video. And several factual errors, noted in the film, are further evidence of unreliability. He says Fuller was repeatedly stomped, but the autopsy report shows no injuries of that type. He says Fuller’s blouse was torn off, but she was wearing a sweater that was still on her body. He says he watched the incident from the Ninth Street end of the alley, but from that location he could not have seen inside the garage where she was sodomized. He says two different men shoved a pole into Fuller, but there was only a single wound track in her rectum.   

Once Cliff understood what he’d done, he never spoke to police again. He ignored plea offers that would have greatly cut his sentence. He wouldn’t testify for the prosecution, so at the trial his confession was played in a redacted form, with the names edited out. After seven days of deliberations, with no verdicts, the jurors asked to watch his videotape again. Soon after, they voted to convict six of the defendants, including Cliff.

Two other teenage suspects also made recorded statements after hours of questioning. Unlike Cliff, both testified for the government at the trial. Both later said they lied on the stand in exchange for leniency. One of the men died last year of a suspected drug overdose.

The other, Calvin Alston, explained his actions in words similar to Cliff’s. After being raped in his first two months in jail, Alston said he was desperate and depressed. No matter what he or anyone else said, he felt “we was gonna go down for that case.” So he “said what they [the police] wanted me to say. Everything that they said that happened in that alley they had me say that in front of the court.” In the trial’s most dramatic moment, he knelt in the well of the courtroom and acted out the sodomy. He said he “had” to do it to get a lesser sentence.

* * *

The total lack of neutral witnesses has troubled everyone familiar with the case, including the police. The killing occurred during rush hour on a Monday. Row houses backed onto both sides of the alley where Fuller’s body was found, and there was lots of foot traffic past each end. The detectives believed that 20 to 25 young people were involved, either taking part or cheering the others on.

“Because of the neighborhood as I knew it,” McGinnis said, “someone had to see the lady go back in the alley.” Sanchez agreed: “How could 25 people be in the alley and nobody saw anything?” Michael Hedges, the Washington Times reporter who covered the trial, wrote that the question of “how Mrs. Fuller could be struck down on a drizzly afternoon within sight of dozens of her neighbors,” with no one seeming to notice, was “never sufficiently answered.”

The film offers an answer: No one had seen anything related to a gang attack because there had not been one; the killing was much more likely committed by a man named James McMillan, with a single accomplice. But the defense lawyers couldn’t make that argument because the evidence supporting it was deliberately hidden by the prosecutor.

While the vendor who found Fuller’s body waited for police to arrive, he noticed two young men next to the garage. When the first police car pulled up, they both fled. As they ran, one of the men seemed to be holding an object under his coat. The instrument used to sodomize Fuller was never found.

Some months later, the vendor looked at photos and identified the runners as McMillan and an associate. McMillan was the one hiding something. Later, three more independent witnesses also put McMillan in the alley around the time of the assault. He was living in a house that backed onto the alley just steps from where Fuller’s body was. McMillian himself has said he was on the scene at the time of the crime, though he has never confessed or said anything further.

The film explains why McMillan made a very likely killer. Not only was he on the scene, within two weeks of Fuller’s murder he viciously robbed two women walking alone in the same area. And eight years later, within weeks of his release from prison for those crimes, he committed “the exact same murder” as Fuller’s: sodomizing a young woman and beating her to death just blocks from Eighth and H NE. He’s currently serving life without the possibility of parole for that crime. Trainum says that if the Fuller case was open today, McMillan would be his “No. 1 suspect.”

In fact, he’d been on police radar. But by the time officers confirmed his suspicious presence at the garage, they had already arrested 15 other young people for the crime, and their gang story was front-page news. McMillan didn’t fit that theory. So the prosecution hid the evidence and the identifications and pressed ahead with their case.

Because the information was buried, the accused had no counterstory to present. The best their lawyers could offer was a “not me, maybe them” defense—blaming one or more co-defendants for the killing. Rather than attacking the confessions, they endorsed them, and did the prosecutor’s job for him.

After a trial in the fall of 1985, eight young men were convicted for Fuller’s murder and sent to prison for life. Fifteen years later, a dogged reporter found the hidden evidence. It took 13 more years to win a hearing, then the case went all the way to the Supreme Court. Three reviewing courts agreed the prosecutor had cheated by withholding the McMillan information. But it didn’t matter, they said, because with the confessions he would have won convictions anyway. Tough luck for the men who—despite their claims of innocence—are still locked up.

* * *

The film makes a strong case that Cliff’s confession, and those of the two snitches, were untrue; that the convictions were built on lies. Given all we now know, it’s easy to believe that. False confessions are far more common than we used to think, especially from juveniles under stress, especially from those with deficits. All three confessors have recanted under oath. (Cliff did so at a hearing for a new trial in 2012, but the officers also testified that they had done nothing improper in obtaining his statement.)

But in the end, we can’t know. Ultimately, the documentary is an extended argument for taping all interactions between the police and their suspects. D.C. began doing that in 2006, and about half the states now mandate the practice, either by law or court action. If we had video of the entire encounter, we’d see what happened, what was said, what led Cliff to finally talk. We’d know what to believe. As it is, all we know for sure is that six men are still in prison for the crime. And there are more doubts about their guilt today than ever before.

One final, quiet argument that the confessions were false, and that the men are innocent, is their lives. Parole has always been their best hope for release. Now it is their only hope.

All six have maintained good records in prison and would have been paroled years ago but for one thing. For a convicted man to earn parole, he must show that he’s been rehabilitated. And a key part of that, under release guidelines, is “taking responsibility”—a euphemism for admitting guilt. So far, none of them have done so.

So they remain behind bars. Even now, 33 years on, they will not sell their integrity for their freedom.

Should a Judge Rely on the Law or His Own Common Sense?

Should a Judge Rely on the Law or His Own Common Sense?

by Joel Cohen @ Slate Articles

Slate is running a series of monthly dialogues between two of the nation’s most esteemed jurists, Richard A. Posner and Jed S. Rakoff. These conversations will be moderated by Joel Cohen, author of the book Blindfolds Off: Judges on How They Decide. The subject of their previous conversation was whether judges should use their roles to push for social change. This month’s conversation is about legal pragmatism and finding the “sensible” solution. (Note: Judge Posner unexpectedly resigned his seat on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this month.)

Joel Cohen: Before you left the bench you said that, in deciding a case, you look for “the sensible solution.” That’s nice, of course. Once you’ve found that, “I ask whether it’s blocked by an authoritative precedent of the Supreme Court or by some other ukase that judges must obey. If it’s not blocked (usually it’s not—usually it can be got around by hook or by crook), I say fine—let’s go with the commonsense solution.”

Now whether you call that the school of “legal pragmatism” or something else without a doctrinal name, it seems to me somewhat ass-backward. It allows the judge, who has first decided how he would want the case to come out, to then search the law to see if he can finagle it to the result he wants.

You call it “pragmatism,” but it’s the “by hook or by crook” element of the process that would make many people—myself included—concerned. If I were a litigant or litigator appearing before you who had the law, but perhaps not the sympathy, on my side, I’d worry that a brilliant judge like yourself, but probably a not-so-brilliant judge as well, could find a way around the existing law.

Richard Posner: Joel, to be pragmatic just means to focus on consequences. What are the likely consequences of each of say two alternative rulings that are within the judge’s authority to make? You say I want “the judge, who has first decided how he would want the case to come out, to then search the law to see if he can finagle it to the result he wants.” That’s not well put; the “first” is ambiguous—you make it sound as if the judge decides the case before hearing it! And “finagle” is wrong; having found the pragmatic result, the judge asks whether it’s blocked by some authoritative ruling, principle, rule—whatever. There is no “finagling” involved in a search for answers to questions. As for “find[ing] a way around the existing law,” what is permissible is for the judge to brush away existing law that doesn’t actually govern the case at hand, though one of the parties might argue that it does.

So who were the great judges who were not pragmatists? Holmes was a pragmatist. Hand, Cardozo, Jackson, Friendly, Traynor, Kozinski, Wilkinson—I could keep going, but tell me who are the judges you admire who were/are not pragmatists? Any current member of the Supreme Court?

Cohen: Judge Rakoff, we have the Posner way of going about deciding a case as a legal pragmatist. Obviously, there are constraints upon you as a trial judge that might not exist for an appeals judge like Posner. That aside, do you look for a sensible solution to a case and then determine if the law allows it?

Jed Rakoff: As they preside over courts of first instance, federal district judges pride themselves on their pragmatism. There’s an old joke that illustrates this point. Three federal judges—a Supreme Court justice, a Court of Appeals judge, and a District Court judge—went hunting, with a permit that allowed them to shoot only ducks. A first flock of birds flew by. The Supreme Court justice raised his gun as if to shoot, but then put it down. “I’m not sure whether any of these birds qualifies as a duck under the original meaning of the Constitution,” he said. “I’ll need to consult the Federalist Papers before I can shoot.” Then a second flock of birds flew by. The Court of Appeals judge raised her gun, but then she, too, put it down. “While those look like ducks to me,” she said, “I don’t think I can shoot until I ask two other Circuit judges for their opinions.” Finally, a third flock of birds flew by. The District Court judge raised his gun and, bang, he shot and killed one of the birds. As he ran to retrieve the dead bird, he could be heard muttering to himself, “Sure hope it’s a duck!”

As this story illustrates, a district judge doesn’t have the luxury to treat every case and every issue with the total attention it might theoretically deserve. District judges’ busy dockets demand they get on with the job, and that often requires arriving at a tentative “common sense” solution to the underlying dispute presented by a case before they have had a chance to fully plumb every legal nicety. But there are two dangers in this approach that every district judge, in my experience, is aware of and tries to avoid. The first danger is to prejudge the case at or near the outset, by the judge’s saying to himself “Oh, yes, it’s one of those ‘X’ kind of cases that I’ve seen before.” A significant percentage of cases that seem at first blush to fit a familiar pattern prove, on reasonable inquiry, to be materially different from the familiar pattern, and a judge must therefore discipline himself not to jump to conclusions before he has heard enough of the evidence and arguments to know what the case is really about. The second, and somewhat related, danger is to fail to listen carefully to what the parties have to say. Unlike the “civil law” systems in Europe, our Anglo-American system of justice relies very heavily on the parties to bring the relevant facts and law to the judge’s attention, and so a judge who ignores what the parties present is a judge very likely to miss what the case is really about.

But having said all that, I think that there are more cases than not where there is something to be said for both sides, and where a wise judge will therefore try to fashion a result that may be different from what either party is suggesting. But where the judge is contemplating a novel result, he should, in my view, first tell the parties what he is thinking of doing, so that they can object if they wish and tell him, if they want, whether it goes outside what the law permits. By raising the proposed solution with the parties before it is final, the judge both gives the parties their due process right to be heard and also, if they consent, avoids further litigation. To give a familiar example, judges are often asked to issue, on a highly expedited basis, preliminary injunctions requiring a party to take certain actions or to refrain from taking certain actions, in order to prevent irreparable harm. But the judge, after hearing from the parties, may feel that the most practical solution is to order the party to take different actions from those requested. Such “creativity” by the judge should be encouraged, not discouraged, but it is imperative that he hear from the parties before making it final.

Posner: I’m not a judge any more—I retired on Sept. 2 because of disagreements with a number of the other judges. All I would add to what Judge Rakoff wrote is that over the years, beginning I think within a month or two after I started in as a judge in December 1981, I have conducted trials, both civil and criminal (though only two of the latter because our District Court has a shortage of criminal cases!) without feeling I was doing anything significantly different from what I did as an appellate judge. I voir dired the jury (most of my cases were jury cases), gave instructions (always my own instructions, never pattern instructions, because they’re legalistic), ruled on objections (if to documents, I ruled on all those before trial), allowed jurors to ask questions, and gave judgments (convictions in my two criminal cases, followed by a nominal sentence in one, because I didn’t think the government should have prosecuted the defendant). I think that’s about it. I enjoyed the trials but didn’t feel any strong discontinuity between trials and appeals.

Cohen: Judge Posner, of course the parties (and the public to the extent that it, or some subgroup, is particularly interested in the case or issue) should want a sensible outcome to the case. The problem I see with reaching that solution (after hearing the case), and then checking to see if the law blocks it is this: What may be sensible to the three of us might not be sensible to the judge(s) presiding over the case. His or her individually “sensible” solution, possibly influenced by what you label “priors”—one’s personal backgrounds and beliefs—may be abhorrent to us. You have been particularly strident in your writings about some sitting judges and even justices. Isn’t there a significant risk in giving some judges too much latitude to reach poor results by using the practice you used more ably?

Posner: But you haven’t offered any alternative, have you?

Cohen: This is the real problem I see. The greatest value of a body of law and the hallmark of the legal system is predictability. A litigant, on either side of the v, needs to be able to realistically appraise the potential outcome of a case. The traditional way judges have decided cases—with largely predictable outcomes—accords those litigants confidence in assessing how a case will turn out. I don’t have the alternative you ask of me. But aren’t you afraid of according judges with lesser degrees of “sensibility” the capacity to go off the rails when they can first choose what is “sensible” to them?

Posner: You say, “A litigant, on either side of the v, needs to be able to realistically appraise the potential outcome of a case. The traditional way judges have decided cases—with largely predictable outcomes—accords those litigants confidence in assessing how a case will turn out.” I don’t agree. If both parties to a case can realistically appraise the potential outcome, or the cases judges decide have largely predictable outcomes, there are no more judicial decisions, just settlements.

Cohen: Judge Rakoff, I understand your point about judging at the District Court level: Sometimes decisions need to be made quickly and pragmatically. Nazis are planning to march in Skokie; a president orders an immediate travel ban; a hurricane threatens to disrupt Election Day; a civil litigant wants a sitting president’s deposition. A practical solution must be reached right away. But most lawyers wouldn’t think that’s the typical situation facing an appeals judge—he often has more time to ponder the case. You have sat (by designation) on appeals panels, too. When you sit as an appeals judge, are you troubled if the trial-level judge’s “sensible” solution is not so sensible to you?

Rakoff: At the risk of being a bit pedantic (a robe that judges love to wear), much of the answer to your question, Joel, turns on what is called the “standard of review.” Many decisions of trial judges are subject to reversal on appeal only if they involve “clear error,” “abuse of discretion,” or other lenient standards that accord great leeway to trial judges (and juries) to choose among plausible alternatives. But some lower court decisions are subject to “de novo” review, which means that the appellate court decides the matter for itself, without any deference to the trial court’s decision. “De novo” review is largely reserved for “pure issues of law,” such as, for example, determining what the words of a statute mean. In a way, this is an institutional embodiment of the approach Judge Posner describes above as the way he personally approaches a case. The trial judge figures out a pragmatic solution of the dispute before her, and the appellate court reverses her only if some “authoritative ruling, principle, or rule” requires otherwise.

To my mind, this division of authority makes sense, and the result is that, when I sit as an appellate judge, I try hard not to “second guess” the trial judge as to what is “sensible,” as long as the result is neither lawless nor patently unreasonable. In this respect, I may be a little more forgiving of trial judges’ idiosyncrasies than Judge Posner has been. But it is worth noting that the legal systems of many nations accord appellate courts much greater authority to overrule a trial court’s factual findings and discretionary rulings than does the U.S. (and, more generally, the “Anglo-American”) system. Ironically, this may make these other legal systems less “predictable” than the U.S. system, in the sense that, in the U.S. system, a trial judge’s final decision is, more than 9 times out of 10, the final decision, whereas in many other systems it is just the start of the proceedings.

I wouldn’t want to conclude without expressing my personal regret that Judge Posner is retiring from the judiciary, as it will be a tremendous loss to the reasoned development of the law from within. Of course, I suspect he will now start effectuating the development of the law from without!

The Angle: Alt-Net Edition

The Angle: Alt-Net Edition

by Rebecca Onion @ Slate Articles

Where hate will go: As various gatekeepers of the internet have begun to deny alt-right groups their services, those groups have started to build their own internet, April Glaser reports. They swear they just want to be able to speak freely! They swear!

Inconsistent: The GOP swings back and forth in voting for federal disaster relief, depending on whether the disaster happens in a red state. That’s because of self-interest, Jamelle Bouie argues, but also because Republicans simply don’t seem to believe in helping those hurt by such “acts of God.”

No density: “Houston flooded because it's zoned so poorly” is the dominant narrative of most reporting on Hurricane Harvey. It’s a little bit more complicated than that, Henry Grabar argues. “Better zoning” (as people who value urban density would define it) might not have made any difference at all.

Still no job: Josh Levin takes a good look at the rationales of NFL execs explaining why they won’t employ Colin Kaepernick and finds a bounty of coded racism.

For fun: Colbert’s alter egos for the Trumpies.

Good old spying pixie,


Unbecoming Conduct

Unbecoming Conduct

by Dahlia Lithwick @ Slate Articles

On Tuesday evening, in keeping with the finest traditions of the Trump administration’s legal team, the president’s special counsel sent off a string of expletive-laden emails to a total stranger. It was like Groundhog Day for lawyers with huge egos and seemingly no self-control. Earlier this summer, Marc Kasowitz, then the lead lawyer for Trump’s outside legal team, upped his ethical lapse game when he issued an obscenity-laden late-night rant at a random email correspondent. Kasowitz’s threats included the memorable phrase: “Watch your back, bitch.” Kasowitz apologized, blamed his late hours, and eventually saw his role on Trump’s legal team diminished. That’s when the notably named Ty Cobb stepped in as lead lawyer and White House special counsel.

But—as if it is now a prong in any Trump lawyer’s hazing regime—we have since learned that Cobb has also engaged in protracted, nasty email battles. As Natasha Bertrand of Business Insider reported on Wednesday, Trump’s lawyer went several rounds with Jeff Jetton, a citizen-journalist and celebrated D.C. restaurateur who’s made a name for himself by befriending strange characters in Trump’s orbit and occasionally scooping the rest of the press corps with information on Trump-Russia connections. After Jetton sent an email to Trump’s attorney asking how he could stand to work for this president, Cobb wrote back from his official White House account, justifying his legal work in the Trump administration with claims that he and John Kelly were the “adults in the room.” “I walked away from $4 million annually to do this, had to sell my entire retirement account for major capital losses and lost a shitload to try to protect the third pillar of democracy,” he told Jetton. “Your hate I will never understand as an American. Hope you get help!”

Two comments: The first is that being a millionaire, it appears, is no longer just a prerequisite for a high-level Trump job. It’s now also the moral justification for it. Additionally, why is it that Trump and Trump alone never had to sell off retirement accounts or step away from his millions to work in the Trump administration?

In any event, Cobb went on to reject any Russia­–Trump collusion allegations as “bullshit Russian bullshit that hurts us now and is totally political limiting Russian cooperation against NK.” He continued: “This shit is real and real time.”

In Lawyer Land, profanity-laced emails from White House attorneys to private citizens still manage to horrify. But in Trump Lawyer Land, we have come to dismiss such conduct as “it’s just Tuesday.” This latest outburst, though, also raised questions about whether any professional standards had been violated. Despite the ugliness of the entire episode, which was punctuated on Thursday with a new report from Bertrand that Cobb had joked about droning her, it seems as though Cobb broke no official rules of any relevant bar association.

The New York State Bar Association’s particularly stringent ethics rules, which would have applied to Kasowitz, include provisions that preclude attorneys from engaging “in illegal conduct that adversely reflects on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer” or anything “that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.” Another ethics rule prevents attorneys from doing anything to “embarrass or harm a third person.” But legal ethics experts at the time were mostly of the view that Kasowitz’s conduct didn’t seem likely to engender disciplinary action.

Since Cobb is not a member of the New York bar, he is subject to less rigid rules but still is formally bound by the American Bar Association’s rules of professional conduct, which prohibit lawyers from “engag[ing] in conduct that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know is harassment.” Georgetown University Law Center’s ethics expert David Luban explained to me that what Cobb wrote to Jetton was gross but not an ethics violation. “The only rules governing what a lawyer says (outside of court and official documents) to someone other than his client are the rule of confidentiality and the catch-all rule against ‘conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation,’ ” he told me over email. No confidences were revealed here and “Cobb’s emails don’t seem to be true-false statements except in the most innocuous sense,” so Cobb should be fine.

Later in the week, though, Cobb came closer to revealing some confidences but still appeared to be fine after being tricked by a British email prankster. Bertrand reported that the prankster, posing as White House social media director Dan Scavino, got Cobb to reveal a potential legal strategy in the Russia case: pin the blame on former campaign boss Paul Manafort and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

“I have great confidence there is nothing there implicating the President or the White House,” Cobb wrote in an email to the fake Scavino. “Manafort and Flynn have issues separate and apart from the WH that will cause the investigation to linger but am hoping we get a clean bill of health soon.”

Again, this conduct came closer to the line but still didn’t cross it. Luban notes, however, that the D.C. bar association “warns lawyers sending electronic communications to be scrupulous in insuring that they don’t inadvertently reveal confidences or secrets of the client.”

More from Luban:

The underlying principle is that confidentiality requires being really careful about what you reveal through electronic media. Now I think Cobb’s emails would violate this principle if he was representing Manafort or Flynn, or if he had reason to believe that Manafort or Flynn’s legal woes might rub off on the president. But they aren’t his clients, and it seems from the content that he is telling “Scavino” that Manafort and Flynn’s legal woes don’t tar the president, who is not implicated. That doesn’t reveal any confidences or secrets (i.e., privileged information or embarrassing information about his client). … Of course, it’s remarkably bad judgment for Cobb to be so profligate in his emails and careless about who he sends them to.

Of course, the idea that White House lawyers don’t casually swear at strangers from their official White House accounts, or carelessly reveal legal opinions to an email prankster, is merely a norm. As every last norm around civil and sober conduct collapses during this administration, though, the only recourse when lawyers behave like Real Housewives seems to be sadness for the reputation and esteem of the profession.

Aug 10, Doves | North American Birds | Birds of North America

by @ Birds of North America Blog

Doves are some of the most interesting birds in North America. These high speed flyers are considered game in some areas. Doves are also domesticated for racing and trained as homing pigeons.

The Racist Map Wins

The Racist Map Wins

by Mark Joseph Stern @ Slate Articles

On Tuesday evening, the Supreme Court blocked two rulings by a federal district court that would have required Texas to redraw its state and federal congressional districts. The lower court had ruled that the Texas Legislature illegally gerrymandered these districts along racial lines and ordered new maps for the 2018 election. But by a 5–4 vote, the Supreme Court put that order on hold, ensuring that the gerrymander will remain through 2018. The decision may also indicate that the five Republican-appointed justices will eventually reverse the district court’s decisions altogether.

The Supreme Court’s abrupt intervention is a devastating blow to the years-long fight against race-based voter suppression in Texas. Since 2011, federal courts have ruled nine times that Texas intentionally discriminated against minority voters. Before Tuesday, civil rights advocates had good reason to believe that the judiciary would finally put a stop to the Texas GOP’s anti-democratic chicanery. Now it seems that the high court’s conservative bloc may thwart this progress and force Texan minorities to continue suffering under a self-perpetuating and racist system of vote dilution.

Voting rights activists have been suing Texas over its discriminatory legislative districts since 2011. They claim that Texas’ GOP-dominated legislature intentionally gerrymandered the state after the 2010 census to dilute the voting power of minorities, particularly Latinos. Both the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act prohibit race-based vote dilution. Thus, the plaintiffs in these cases have argued that either the Texas Legislature or a federal court must redraw these maps to remedy their unlawful gerrymandering. Texas has fought these lawsuits tooth and nail, recognizing that a race-blind map would contain fewer seats for Republicans in both the state legislature and the federal House of Representatives.

Earlier this year, a three-judge district court issued a series of opinions and orders that seemed, at long last, to vindicate the plaintiffs’ claims and mitigate the current gerrymander. By a 2–1 vote, the court ruled that Texas had engaged in intentional discrimination when drawing two federal congressional districts. The court also held, by the same vote, that 11 of Texas’ state House districts were impermissibly tainted by the intentional dilution of minority votes. Moreover, the court found that another House district constituted outright racial gerrymandering. Finally, the court ruled that nine House districts violated the “one person, one vote” principle of the Equal Protection Clause.

To back up its conclusions, the majority wrote two lengthy opinions and released a comprehensive 151-page findings of fact. It directed the legislature to draw new maps that would remedy the current plan’s legal defects. If the legislature proved unable or unwilling “to take up redistricting,” the majority noted that the court would draw remedial maps itself.

Texas promptly appealed these decisions to the Supreme Court. As election law expert and Slate contributor Rick Hasen notes, this appeal was arguably premature, as the court had not even drawn up remedial maps yet. But the court’s five conservatives decided to weigh in anyway, putting the lower court’s rulings on hold until the justices resolve the case. (All four left-leaning justices dissented from the orders.)

This “aggressive” intervention, as Hasen puts it, is an ominous sign. Progressives have been hoping that Justice Anthony Kennedy might join the liberals to curb both partisan and racial gerrymandering. But Kennedy already voted with the conservatives in a 5–4 decision to block a lower court order compelling Wisconsin to fix its partisan gerrymander. Now he has voted with them once again to block an order compelling Texas to fix its racial gerrymander. Kennedy’s eagerness to let both states maintain their unfair redistricting schemes may suggest that he does not want the courts to enter this political thicket. Or it might simply indicate that he wants the chance to hear a full argument and weigh in himself—probably decisively—before they do.

Still, Tuesday’s decision is troubling for two other reasons. First, the court’s conservatives have, for the time being, denied Texas voters their lone recourse to bring democratic elections back to the state. By “packing and cracking” Latino voters—concentrating most in a few safe Democratic districts, then distributing the rest in safe Republican districts—Texas has largely done away with contested races. The result of many elections is preordained; even though the state is increasingly diverse, most districts are gerrymandered to protect the incumbent party. Latino voters who were placed in a dark-red district cannot cast meaningful ballots for a Democrat as it is certain to be outweighed by Republican votes. Only the courts can put an end to this cycle. They should not abdicate their duty out of fear that partisans will attack their legitimacy.

Second, the Supreme Court’s intervention is a powerful reminder of how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s blockade of Judge Merrick Garland continues to damage American democracy. As political scientist Daniel Nichanian points out, this blockade continues to help Republicans salvage their other illegitimate power-grabs, like Texas’ gerrymander. McConnell ensured that arch-conservative Neil Gorsuch would take Garland’s seat, maintaining a five-justice conservative majority. And of course, on Thursday, Gorsuch provided the fifth vote to preserve Texas’ racial redistricting. McConnell held that seat for a reason. And Gorsuch is voting exactly as McConnell hoped he would.

Tuesday, in short, was a terrible day for voting rights, for genuinely contested elections, and for basic democratic principles. The Supreme Court’s conservatives have cast serious doubt on the judiciary’s capacity to alleviate gerrymanders—including race-based redistricting—that turn general elections into a joke. And with Gorsuch’s help, they have guaranteed that at least one more election cycle in Texas will take place under a map that was gerrymandered with the intent to dilute Latinos’ voting power. If Republicans maintain control of the House of Representatives next year, they could have this decision from the Supreme Court to thank.

The Angle: Texas Isn’t Ready Edition

The Angle: Texas Isn’t Ready Edition

by Rebecca Onion @ Slate Articles

Now what?: Texas, a place where libertarians have managed to codify many of their principles into law, seems supremely ill-equipped to recover from a catastrophic event like Harvey. Dan Gross counts the ways.

Be skeptical: FEMA’s flood maps—very powerful documents that dictate whether or not people have to buy flood insurance, and how secure they feel in their homes—have all kinds of problems, Ramin Skibba writes.

Don’t worry so much: Fred Kaplan promises that the theory of deterrence, which is supposed to be irrelevant in the North Korean situation, will keep Kim Jong-un from starting a war—so long as Trump plays things right. (Insert rictus emoji here.)

40-something anthems: Carl Wilson listens to LCD Soundsystem’s new album and finds it moving and absorbing, as frontman James Murphy musters all available self-awareness to avoid falling into the pit of midlife nostalgia.

For fun: Trump’s lawyer said what?



How Dove's 'Real Beauty Sketches' Became The Most Viral Video Ad Of All Time

How Dove's 'Real Beauty Sketches' Became The Most Viral Video Ad Of All Time

Business Insider

Details on the media plan behind it.

“I Am a Working-Class Guy”

“I Am a Working-Class Guy”

by David Freedlander @ Slate Articles

It’s a hot July evening in downtown Manhattan, and Von, a dimly lit cocktail bar, is packed. Three executives from Uber drink gin and tonics at the bar. A volunteer checks people in after a day spent working at a New York publishing house. Downstairs, the basement is a sea of Brooklyn hipsters, national political operatives, and crusty old labor leftists. Also, Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon is here.

All of them have come out for Randy Bryce, a Wisconsin ironworker who is running against House Speaker Paul Ryan in 2018. Bryce is one of a record number of Democrats who have declared their candidacy this year in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, more than 200 of whom had reported raising at least $5,000 by the end of June, double the previous high-water mark set in 2003. Among them is a law professor and expert on economic policy aiming to be the second Korean American in Congress; the former head of the NAACP, who is running to be Maryland’s first black governor; a retired fighter pilot who as a child wrote a letter to her senator urging him to push the U.S. Navy to allow women to fly planes in combat; a former Obama administration official of Mexican and Palestinian descent running in California; and a transgender chemist and former Air Force pilot running in a swing district in Texas.

These candidates and hundreds of others like them are pushing for progressive policies like a higher minimum wage, increased access to health care, and more spending on education and the environment. But none of them have received a fraction of the attention that Bryce has enjoyed since June 18, when his campaign released an ad on YouTube that turned him into a national Democratic Party star. Wearing a literal blue-collar shirt and hard hat, with a tool belt slung over his shoulder, Bryce is shown welding, pushing steel joist girders into place, and leaning on a work truck. “Let’s trade places,” Bryce declares at the end of the spot, as construction dust and dirt rises behind him. “Paul Ryan, you can come out and work the iron, and I’ll go to D.C.”

The ad generated $430,000 in donations and earned Bryce a mountain of press: multiple appearances on CNN and MSNBC, as well as warm profiles in GQ, Esquire, People, the Guardian, the Daily Beast, and the American Prospect. Whoopi Goldberg even gave him a shoutout on The View. Bryce’s campaign estimates the video has now received 24 million views on YouTube, social media, and television—unheard of for someone not running for national office. Bryce has already received more than 31,000 contributions, roughly equivalent to what Rob Zerban, Ryan’s challenger in 2012 and 2014, received in the entirety of each of his campaigns. Fundraising numbers, this early in the cycle, can be a blunt instrument, since some candidates self-fund or come with a rich network of donors, but Bryce’s $430,000 puts him in the top 10 challengers for 2018, despite the fact that he only started fundraising four weeks before the Federal Election Commission’s filing deadline.

Bryce has achieved the rarefied kind of political celebrity that enables him to call actual celebrities, like Cynthia Nixon, and invite them to his fundraisers, and that permits him to raise money in the Bel Air home of Chelsea Handler, as he’s scheduled to do next month. So, how did the Wisconsin ironworker become the Democratic it candidate of the moment? And what does his popularity tell us about the state of the party, desperately fumbling for a way forward against a political map that reveals large swaths of the country have rejected it?

Bryce is a two-time failed candidate for local office—one of those races was a Democratic primary—and the ad that catapulted him to fame is remarkably devoid of substance. “I decided to run for office because not everybody is seated at the table, and it’s time to make a bigger table,” Bryce says at one point. When I met him the day before his fundraiser at a Brooklyn diner, I asked the man in the ad why he was taking time off from his job on the iron to take on Ryan. “I am a working-class guy,” Bryce answered, as if that was all the explanation necessary. “That is what I do for a living.”

Bryce’s political vision borrows heavily from his experience on the job. He said he would serve his constituents in much the same way a foreman keeps conditions safe for workers on a job site, or the way “a shop steward makes sure people are looked after.” His time looking out for his union brothers, he said, prepared him to look after the needs of the people of Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District.

The working class, according to Bryce, should be the alpha and omega of the Democratic Party platform. Everything else is a distraction.

“Personally, I don’t think anybody ever could talk enough about it,” he said. “So even if they talk about it 99 percent of the time, I want 100 percent. Let’s talk about working people’s issues because we are the ones that are responsible for building and maintaining everything we have.”

Bryce didn’t originally come to the attention of Wisconsin Democrats because of his job as an ironworker. After Gov. Scott Walker rammed through a series of anti-union bills in 2011, Bryce became politically active, testifying before the legislature and becoming a regular at rallies and on picket lines. “Here’s a guy that comes from the heartland of Wisconsin, has got that great Wisconsin accent, is the real deal as a laborer, a worker who packs his lunch every day,” explained Marina Dimitrijevic, the head of the Wisconsin Working Families Party, an umbrella group of unions and progressive groups that have backed Bryce enthusiastically.

It was the WFP that convinced Bryce to run against Paul Ryan. “You are the kind of person we want,” they told him, as Bryce recounted to the crowd that night at the Manhattan bar. “We want a working person.”

Bryce enters the national political arena just as a debate is roiling the Democratic Party over whether the Democrats should stake their future on the “Obama coalition” of black Americans, Hispanics, and culturally liberal millennials, or if they should instead strive to reclaim the white working-class vote that defected to Donald Trump. It’s a choice between being the party of the ascendant, or the party of the despondent, as the Atlantic’s Franklin Foer put it in one memorable essay. In a much-discussed New York Times op-ed and a subsequent book, Columbia professor Mark Lilla argued that the “age of identity liberalism” should be brought to an end, since a “fixation on diversity” had led well-meaning liberals to remain indifferent to the challenges of the white working class. This demographic cohort, steeped in a mythology of honest work done far from elite coastal bubbles, is central to the Democratic Party’s conception of itself, even as the people who belong to it are, according to pollsters, increasingly turned off by the party’s focus on racial and sexual civil rights.

That so much excitement—in the form of money, YouTube views, cable appearances, and celebrity endorsements—has centered around a guy whose only real political achievement is starring in a well-shot ad shows the debate about the future of the party might be tipping to a particular side. The Democratic grass roots aren’t writing small-dollar checks to black, Hispanic, Asian, Arab, and gay candidates in the same way they are to Randy Bryce.

It takes only the slightest amount of political sophistication to see how Bryce emerged as a huge Democratic star. As interest groups, polling firms, super PACs, and state and national party organizations began conducting autopsies of the Dems’ devastating November loss, Bryce emerged as a reassuring figure: proof that members of the working class could still be convinced to like a Democratic candidate, no matter what the exit polls said. Bryce’s candidacy suggests Democrats don’t have to choose between cultural liberalism and economic populism. Bryce believes not just in a $15 minimum wage and Medicare for all but is also, he told me, “very pro-choice,” pro–gay marriage, pro the Paris climate accords, pro path to legalization for undocumented immigrants, and against the war on drugs. “I don’t understand why people can’t have an ‘I Back the Badge’ sign next to a ‘Black Lives Matter’ sign,” he said.

If you’re a coastal progressive who’s stressed about the divisions in your party or about the red bleeding over the 2016 electoral map, Bryce provides a welcome balm. He insists Democrats have it wrong about the white working class. His fellow ironworkers are too pressed for a decent paycheck to get as wrapped up in social issues as coastal liberals imagine, he says, while noting that there remains a suspicion that Nancy Pelosi will go door to door in a white van relieving Wisconsinites of their firearms. Yet even here, Bryce’s views aren’t that different from those of Mike Bloomberg; he favors a reasonable waiting period after a background check.

Bryce’s campaign team likes to contrast him with another candidate in whom Democrats invested their hopes and dreams: Jon Ossoff, the 30-year-old former congressional aide and documentary filmmaker who ran for the Georgia House seat vacated by Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price. With his clean-cut visage and Capitol Hill pedigree, Ossoff seemed to point a way forward for Democrats that would compensate for the loss of white working-class voters by winning in prosperous suburbs populated by right-leaning, college-educated Trump haters. While Ossoff raised an impressive $23 million, his vagueness on economic issues led to distrust among the party’s liberal base. Ossoff came away with 48.1 percent of the vote in his runoff against Republican Karen Handel, precisely what he’d garnered in the Democratic primary eight weeks prior—proof that there’s likely a hard ceiling for Democrats in the right-leaning district.

“Ossoff was such a debacle—such an enormous waste of money for a district that we were never going to win, certainly not with a spoiled … kid who worked on the Hill,” said David Keith, a veteran Democratic operative who serves as Bryce’s campaign manager. “Randy [is] the anti-Ossoff.”

Bryce could still end up being a hard sell in southeastern Wisconsin, where boasting of working on the iron might not carry the same cultural frisson that it does out East. Even though Obama carried the district in 2008, no Democrat has gotten more than 43 percent of the vote against Ryan since he was first elected 20 years ago. The Speaker of the House also has a $10 million war chest and the ability to bring in much, much more. “So you have a hard hat. How does that qualify you go to go to Washington?” said Brandon Scholz, a long-time Wisconsin Republican strategist. “People don’t want to know what your job is. They want to know what you are going to do for them.”

Bryce’s massive fundraising success, Scholz noted, will be dwarfed by whatever Ryan raises. More to the point, most of his money so far has come from outside Wisconsin. “All that tells me is that there are a lot of people who Chuck Schumer represents who want to see Paul Ryan gone.”

Even if Ryan does end up cleaning Bryce’s clock, the ironworker’s run could nevertheless prove consequential. By giving the speaker a run for his money, he could help goose turnout and improve the chances that Democrats defeat Gov. Scott Walker. Win or lose, Bryce’s heart is clearly in the right place, and so far he hasn’t let his newfound political celebrity get to his head. But authenticity is the slipperiest of footholds, one that traffics in the cachet of lifestyle choices and political innocence over expertise or political skill. Bryce is a star primarily because he is a symbol—one that is reassuring to Democrats who want to believe the white working class can still be convinced to like them. Republicans have made similar moves while trying to appeal to constituencies that have rejected them: As the New York Times reported in 2009, a big part of why Michael Steele was made the chairman of the Republican National Committee in the wake of Obama's 2008 win was that GOP leaders “saw selecting an African-American chairman as helpful in redefining the party’s image.”

With or without a working-class guy from central casting in their corner, Democrats were always going to face an uphill battle in their quest to defeat Ryan. They do, though, have plenty of ammunition to work with, including Ryan’s steadfast loyalty to the maniac in the White House and his support for a tax plan that massively rewards the country’s wealthiest people. Just as Ryan’s lack of working-class bona fides isn’t anywhere close to the most objectionable thing about him, Bryce’s blue-collar background shouldn’t be his major selling point. By relying on their candidate’s salt-of-the-earth image, the Democrats who are rallying around Randy Bryce risk embracing a strategy that looks as nakedly political and opportunistic as the superficial and substance-free politics they’re supposedly trying to oppose.

Three Days With Liberty

Three Days With Liberty

by Shae @ Palomacy

Guest Post by Shae Irving On a clear morning in May, Elizabeth sent an email to a group of Palomacy volunteers in the North Bay: A woman had unexpectedly passed away leaving a flock of doves with no one to care … Continue reading

“You Have to Side With Him”

“You Have to Side With Him”

by William Saletan @ Slate Articles

Steve Bannon, the former Trump campaign CEO and White House counselor, has a lot to say. In a 60 Minutes interview that aired Sunday night, Bannon unloads on the media, the Republican establishment, and everyone else who gets in President Trump’s way. Bannon fancies himself a teacher of history, policy, and strategy. But what he really teaches, by example, is the psychology of the fascist intellectual.

The term “fascism” is thrown around too casually by the left, as “socialism” is by the right. But fascism has a genuine meaning based on past cases, and you can see its themes in Bannon’s interview. Fascism’s core idea is allegiance to a leader in the name of national greatness. What distinguishes fascism from republicanism is how he responds to conflicts between the leader and countervailing principles or institutions. A republican welcomes such conflicts as ways to challenge and check the power of the executive. A fascist, perceiving these conflicts as obstacles to national unity, seeks to obliterate them and to consolidate power.

Bannon takes the latter approach. In the 60 Minutes interview, Charlie Rose asks him about the infamous video in which Trump boasted to Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush about groping women. Bannon only sees it as a loyalty issue:

Bannon: They [voters] don’t care.
Rose: They do care about respect for women.
Bannon: They do, but—
Rose: And it’s not just locker-room talk.
Bannon: That’s locker-room talk. The Billy Bush thing is locker-room talk. … Billy Bush Saturday to me is a litmus test. … When you side with a man, you side with him. OK? The good and the bad. You can criticize him behind [closed doors], but when you side with him, you have to side with him. And that’s what Billy Bush weekend showed me.

What’s striking here isn’t that Bannon tries to justify Trump’s remarks, but that he thinks justification doesn’t matter. Siding with the leader is more important than whether the leader’s behavior is “good” or “bad.” And if you don’t side with the leader, you must be purged, to illustrate the price of dissent. Bannon signals that he blocked New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie from an administration job because Christie failed this litmus test. “Christie, because of Billy Bush weekend, was not looked at for a Cabinet position,” says Bannon.

When fascist movements trample countervailing principles or institutions, vulnerable populations often suffer the consequences. One day the target might be women; the next, it’s minorities. In the interview, Bannon rejects neo-Nazis and the Klan, but he says Trump was right to defend people who assembled with them to defend a Confederate statue in Charlottesville:

All Donald Trump was saying is, “Where does it end? Does it end in taking down the Washington Monument? Does it end in taking down Mount Rushmore? Does it end at taking Churchill’s bust out of the Oval Office?” My problem, and I told Gen. Kelly this, [is] when you side with a man, you side with him. I was proud to come out and try to defend President Trump in the media that day.

This invocation of national heritage, in defiance of frightened minorities, echoes fascist movements of the past. But obsession with heritage, coupled with loyalty to the leader, is only part of the equation. Another part is ruthlessly attacking anyone who gets in the leader’s way. Historically, religious organizations have created headaches for fascist movements and have been dealt with accordingly. In the case of the Catholic church, Bannon seems prepared to do the same.

In the interview, Bannon, who identifies as Catholic, says illegal immigrants should be forced to self-deport. Rose reminds him that Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York has denounced Trump’s decision to rescind the DACA program, which protects undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. “The bishops have been terrible about this,” Bannon scoffs. “You know why? Because, unable to really come to grips with the problems in the church, they need illegal aliens … to fill the churches.” He goes on: “They have an economic interest in unlimited immigration, unlimited illegal immigration.”

To Dolan, immigration reform is a matter of transcendent values. “We are all children of God,” he writes in his statement on DACA—and this gives all of us, “immigrant or native born,” an “inalienable dignity that no person or government can ever take away.” But in Bannon’s ideology, any institution that makes such claims against the leader must be discredited as treacherous and self-serving.

At one point in the interview, Bannon shows a flash of what looks like respect for checks and balances. He confirms that while he was in the White House, he opposed the firing of then–FBI Director James Comey. At first glance, Bannon seems to be acknowledging that the president should respect the independence of law enforcement. But he goes on to explain that he counseled against the firing only because it wouldn’t stop the FBI’s Russia investigation. Other institutions, such as the House and Senate, “can be changed if the leadership is changed,” Bannon argues. “I don’t believe that the institutional logic of the FBI, and particularly in regards to an investigation, could possibly be changed by changing out the head of it.”

Sure enough, it didn’t work. In fact, it backfired. “If James Comey had not been fired, we would not have a special counsel,” Bannon observes. “We would not have the Mueller investigation [with] the breadth” that it now covers. Bannon opposed Comey’s ouster not to protect the FBI, but to protect Trump. Bannon wants less presidential accountability, not more.

Throughout the interview, Bannon presents himself as the scourge of corrupt institutions. He lambastes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan, the Republican “establishment,” the federal bureaucracy, and the media (which he again calls “the opposition party”) for standing in Trump’s way. Returning to his post as executive chairman of Breitbart News, Bannon pledges to aid the president by leading a “war” on these villains. But one thing we’ve learned from the history of fascism—or at least we should have—is that the strongman who pledges to take down every villain in sight is the most dangerous villain of all.

Bye-Bye, Blue Slip?

Bye-Bye, Blue Slip?

by Dahlia Lithwick @ Slate Articles

Republicans in the Senate may continue to sour on Donald Trump for the foreseeable future, but there is one reason they will never fully turn on the president: The ability to pack the federal courts with life-tenured hyperconservative jurists is worth whatever pain Trump may cause in other quarters. To that end, and working faster than presidents who have come before him, Trump has nominated 50 very young, very conservative judges to fill 143 vacancies on the federal courts, with 16 named just last week. Already, Trump has had six of his nominees confirmed to the federal courts. His new offerings included his own deputy counsel, Greg Katsas, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. This opportunity, along with that at the Supreme Court, has always been one of the biggest long-term threats to progressivism of the Trump presidency and the most compelling reason to just look the other way for Trump-skeptical conservatives.

In their desperation to find any way to fight back, Democrats are turning to a century-old Senate tradition that was a staple of Republican obstructionism during the Obama era to derail—or at least slow down—the progress of some of these confirmations. According to this practice, known as the blue-slip process, any judicial nominee’s home-state senator must give consent to the Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing on a nomination. When a home-state senator turns in an innocuous-sounding blue slip, it means that senator has no objection to a hearing. Without a blue slip from both home state senators, the Judiciary Committee chair typically puts the nominee on hold.

The rule has applied in both district and circuit court judicial selections. A Democratic Senate during the Obama administration kept the blue-slip process intact, even though it meant that in certain jurisdictions seats remained unfilled for years. To be clear: Not one Obama district or circuit court nominee received a hearing unless both of his or her home-state senators returned blue slips. GOP senators also used the leverage of their blue slips to delay or block potential candidates from even getting to the nomination stage. For example, a seat on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals—covering Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas—has been vacant for more than five years. This is, in fact, one of the reasons Trump has so many empty seats to fill. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn of Texas objected to potential nominees for two 5th U.S. Circuit seats, as well as those for six district court vacancies.*

This past spring, though, Republican senators who had spent years using the blue-slip process to block Obama nominees threatened to do away with the practice if Democrats used them to block Trump’s. In May, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton warned that “we can’t allow Democratic senators to continue to obstruct this president’s agenda.” And a GOP proposal was floated this summer to end the blue-slip tradition at the circuit court level. This is mostly hilarious hypocrisy. It’s also, unfortunately, an attempt to limit one of the few remaining powers Senate Democrats have left in their arsenal. Until now, Trump has focused on picking judges from states with red-state senators. That changed last week, setting up a high-stakes fight.

Like the baroque senatorial details that animated the Merrick Garland and Neil Gorsuch debacle, this process is both arcane and tremendously consequential. That’s why Senate Democrats seem prepared to use it ruthlessly. Minnesota Sen. Al Franken announced late last week that he wouldn’t return a blue slip for David Stras, nominated for a seat on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In addition to his objections to Stras’ record, Franken also voiced concern over the fact that the White House had not bothered to consult with him over the nomination. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota’s other Democratic senator, urged Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley not to gut the blue-slip process but also said she believed Stras should have a hearing before the committee before she makes a decision on his fitness and qualifications.

Asked for comment, Franken offered me this:

When the [blue-slip] process works as it should, the White House joins with home state senators to identify qualified, consensus nominees. And when the president and the senators are of different parties, that should mean identifying judicial moderates. Unfortunately, President Trump has demonstrated that he is less concerned with working collaboratively to fill judicial vacancies than his predecessor, which is not surprising given the fact that he has outsourced the job of identifying potential judges to the far-right Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation.

It doesn’t sound like Franken plans to relent on this one, even if some of his Democratic colleagues have been apt to bend. If other Democratic senators take a cue from him, it could mean either another high-volume political fight over the judiciary or another norm meant to defend minority party rights permanently shattered.

Last Thursday, another potential nominee ran into a blue-slip problem only hours after he was nominated to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. By tradition, Oregon usually has two seats on the 29-judge 9th Circuit, and by tradition, those judges are chosen by a bipartisan selection committee. Both Democratic senators from Oregon, Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, announced they would block Ryan Bounds, an assistant U.S. attorney in Oregon and Trump’s pick to fill a vacancy on the 9th Circuit. The pair explained in a letter to White House Counsel Don McGahn that they would not be turning in blue slips for Bounds because he had not been approved by that selection committee.

“As you are aware, in May we wrote you to explain Oregon’s long bipartisan tradition of working together to identify the most qualified candidates for judicial vacancies,” the two senators wrote. They added that the bipartisan committee, which has existed since 2009, would be willing to consider names and would be willing to expedite the elevation of a sitting federal judge who was a Republican appointee. “Unfortunately, it is now apparent that you never intended to allow our longstanding process to play out,” the senators wrote to the White House.

In states such as Oregon or Washington, where well-established bipartisan merit selection panels have taken down the temperature on judicial nominations under both Republican and Democratic administrations, use of the blue slip isn’t merely obstruction of a president. It’s also a protection of long-standing state prerogatives and protocols. The whole point of the blue-slip tradition, whether it’s used by Cruz or Wyden, is to shore up the notion that the states still matter.

If you are a Republican concerned about nothing but seating heaps of young pro-life judges on the courts before the Trump presidency implodes, these old prerogatives no longer matter (just as they didn’t for Garland). All that matters, according to this view, is the win. Preventing a wide series of norms from systematically collapsing is of no interest or utility to people enamored with court-packing. But for Senate Republicans, who are slowly coming to realize that this president is uniquely dangerous, reckless, and uninterested in their own best interests, giving away every last check on the executive seems somewhat short-sighted. Preserving the institution that is the judicial branch shouldn’t require the destruction of norms and traditions preserving everything else, including the Senate itself.

Update, Sept. 20, 2017: This paragraph has been updated to clarify that Republicans used the leverage of their blue slips, rather than the blue slips themselves, to keep a seat on the 5th Circuit open.

Correction. Sept. 20, 2017: This post originally misstated that Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn of Texas had refused to sign off on any Obama nominees. They objected to two potential 5th Circuit nominees as well as those for six district court vacancies. (Return.)

Jun 17, Yellow Rail | North American Birds | Birds of North America

by @ Birds of North America Blog

Yellow Rail is the second smallest rail found in North America. As the name suggest, this small yellowish marsh bird, slightly larger than a sparrow, spends its life concealed in a grassy habitat.

All Tribes Are Not Equal

All Tribes Are Not Equal

by Isaac Chotiner @ Slate Articles

In a thought-provoking new essay in New York magazine titled “America Wasn’t Built for Humans,” Andrew Sullivan takes account of our tribal moment, seeking to explain how the country became divided into two, warning of the grave dangers division represents, and offering a solution for reuniting us. Sullivan’s piece is better-argued and more coherent than Mark Lilla’s recent attempt to offer a shared vision for bringing America together, which roughly called for our politicians to embrace a common ethos. But like Lilla, Sullivan is ultimately undone by failing to distinguish between the different strands of tribalism that ail us and refusing to reckon with the depths of right-wing pathology.

The core of Sullivan’s thesis is that America has—with the exception of slavery and the Civil War—been blessedly free of tribal violence and hatred, and that the divisions in America today threaten to destabilize our democracy. “When three core components of a tribal identity—race, religion, and geography—define your political parties,” he writes, “you’re in serious trouble.” That’s exactly what we have in 2017: elite, secular coastals and nonwhite Americans looking down on their nonbrethren in the center of the country, and Christian Southerners and Midwesterners feeling contemptuous of elites, minorities, and educated liberals.

The broad outlines of that divide are familiar by now, but Sullivan adds the crucial point that our political system actually encourages it. There are no power-sharing agreements to be made between parties; elections here are winner-take-all. The result, he writes, is a “zero-sum politics, which drags the country toward alternating administrations bent primarily on undoing everything their predecessors accomplished, or the kind of gridlock that has dominated national politics for the past seven years—or both.” Moreover, he argues, partisans look at policy through one lens when people from their own “tribe” try to enact it and a different lens when it’s coming from the other tribe (undeniably true). The result is weak, blinkered thinking and a distaste for logic and common sense. But why exactly have politics gone off the rails over the past seven years, a time frame that began when Republicans took over Congress?

One clue to where Sullivan begins to go awry comes in an early reference to the Civil War, which was of course a conflict where blame could not be apportioned evenly between the two sides. Although Sullivan acknowledges that our current divisions mirror the ones from 1861 (“a fault line that closely resembles today’s tribal boundary”), he seems more interested in comparing rather than contrasting today’s two tribes. So on the subject of tribal irrationality, he writes, “As for indifference to reality, today’s Republicans cannot accept that human-produced carbon is destroying the planet, and today’s Democrats must believe that different outcomes for men and women in society are entirely a function of sexism.”

The problem here, which recurs throughout the essay, is that one tribe’s pathologies have infected our political system (and in this case endanger the planet). The other tribe’s supposed pathology is not reflected in the policies of its party. Even if your average Democrat or your average Democratic politician believed there were no genetic differences between men and women (an odd idea in its own right), it is not a public policy issue, and I have no idea what its inclusion here has to do with anything. (Combating sexism is probably discussed more than genetic differences because there are ways to mitigate misogyny via public policy.) Sullivan’s argument here is uncomfortably close to Lilla’s, who defines the two “dominant” ideologies of our age as, essentially, mainstream Republicanism and relativism on college campuses.

This same problem arises when Sullivan discusses immigration. He says that Democrats “cannot say the words illegal immigrants” or “concede that affirmative action means discriminating against people because of their race.” The latter complaint is a semantic issue; the former, however, sits oddly with Sullivan’s contention earlier in the piece that one sign of liberal tribalism is an unwillingness to criticize President Obama for deporting so many illegal immigrants. Notice the contradiction: He wants to say liberals are PC nuts about immigration, but in another context he happens to mention that Democratic voters were happy with a president who was tough on illegal immigration. In short, the supposed “pathology” of the Democratic tribe is not actually infecting Democratic politics. This is a far cry from the Republican pathologies—or “indifferences to reality”—Sullivan lays out in the piece, including the belief in trickle-down economics and President Bush’s support for war crimes.

Sullivan eventually turns to possible solutions, and here the essay takes a surprising turn. Near the end of the piece, he writes, “In fact, the person best positioned to get us out of this tribal trap would be … well … bear with me … Trump.” He goes on to argue that President Trump is an opportunist who has recently made bipartisan noises, so he could really become a bipartisan president. This seems like wishful thinking—at the very least—and doesn’t at all jibe with Sullivan’s other (often first-rate) writing about Trump, which correctly captures his authoritarian tendencies and pathological solipsism. Just because Trump doesn’t know policy doesn’t mean he is a blank slate.

In addition to pinning his hope on Trump, Sullivan writes that “mutual forgiveness” could help turn things around. He concedes that the “right bears the bulk of the historical blame,” but he argues we all must show a healthy respect for our ideological opponents and a recognition of our own descent into tribal thinking. In its own way, though, Sullivan’s call for “empiricism and moderation” is as out-of-touch as the campus elites whose relativism he scorns; a good chunk of the country just loudly stated that it desires neither empiricism nor moderation. Perhaps they should be ignored to implement Sullivan’s fix, but his essay is otherwise about listening to all sides.

Indeed, it should tell Sullivan something that his call for empiricism and moderation has a lot in common with the governing agenda and temperament of the president—one whom Sullivan, a self-described Catholic conservative and independent, passionately supported—whose eight years culminated in the election of a racist demagogue as his successor. Obama and Obamaism have several virtues, but those didn’t include the weakening of tribalist bonds in 21st-century America. And I think we know the crucial reason why.

I suspect Sullivan would label my argument against his the result of tribal thinking itself; this paradox is another sign of how entrenched the problem we face remains. Sullivan’s impulse to preach togetherness as a balm for divisiveness and forgiveness as a cure for rage is understandable and even laudable. But it’s not an accurate diagnosis of our moment. The alternative of an all-out blame game and a heightening of tribal tensions admittedly doesn’t sound great either; I possess no solution. Sullivan has written a very bleak essay that may not be bleak enough.

Flirtation by Rita Dove

Flirtation by Rita Dove

Poetry Foundation

After all, there’s no need

Berkeley’s Bind

Berkeley’s Bind

by Osita Nwanevu @ Slate Articles

Ben Shapiro arrived in Berkeley on Thursday night to a militarized zone. Large sections of the campus and six buildings were closed off due to his scheduled appearance. A sizeable contingent of police, recently empowered by the local City Council to use pepper spray against protesters, was on hand to quell demonstrations in anticipation of the kind of violence that rocked the campus when Milo Yiannopoulos tried to speak in February. The L.A. Times reported that costs for security preparations ranged in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, an investment against antifa protesters who Shapiro, a fairly mainstream conservative commentator, called “pathetic, lying, stupid jackasses” in his speech. “All of America is watching because you guys are so stupid,” he said. “It’s horrifying.”

There were few if any antifa black blockers in Berkeley to hear him. Nine people were arrested but UC–Berkeley police chief Margo Bennett told reporters afterward that the protesters who gathered outside the event were mostly peaceful. “For the most part it was an orderly event,” she said, “attended by respectful, orderly people.” But the brouhaha in anticipation of Shapiro highlighted the difficult position Berkeley administrators now find themselves in—trying to maintain calm at a time of political upheaval while protecting students and free speech rights, all under the extremely watchful eye of a right-wing media eager to pounce. And now they are preparing to do it all again.

Later this month, Yiannopoulos, along with Ann Coulter, anti-Islam activists David Horowitz and Pamela Geller, Breitbart’s Alex Marlow, and Steve Bannon will arrive on campus for what Yiannopoulos has dubbed “Free Speech Week.” The event is already disrupting campus life. According to an open letter circulating on social media from frustrated members of the anthropology department to Berkeley’s chancellor Carol Christ, the department has voluntarily rescheduled its Annual Distinguished Lecture due to security measures that will be in place for Yiannopoulos’ speech on Sept. 25. When the professor slated to give the lecture, Anna Tsing, delivers her rescheduled lecture in November, she’ll be unable to meet with graduate students beforehand as originally planned. “Our regular academic activities have been curtailed to accommodate Milo Yiannopoulos,” the letter reads, “and thus the university administration has not honored its own stated commitment to the principles of community.”

A group of 76 other Berkeley professors has written its own open letter, calling for the cancellation of more, if not all classes and campus events during the week of Yiannopoulos’ visit:

Since Inauguration Day, Alt-Right followers have shot someone at the University of Washington, stabbed two people to death on public transport in Portland, stabbed to death a college senior in Maryland, beaten numerous nonviolent protesters at the University of Virginia, and most recently murdered a peaceful protester with an automobile in Charlottesville
[…]As faculty we cannot ask students and staff to choose between risking their physical and mental safety in order to attend class or come to work in an environment of harassment, intimidation, violence, and militarized policing. The reality is that particularly vulnerable populations [...] have already been harmed, and are reporting increased levels of fear and anxiety about the upcoming events, the increased police presence on our campus, and how all this will impact their lives and their studies.

Berkeley administrators thus have to make a choice: shuffle or shutter academic business, angering those who’d like life to go on when Yiannopoulos brings his circus to town; let business continue as usual, angering those who say academic life can’t go on; or thwart Yiannopoulos with event restrictions or outright cancellations, opening itself to legal challenges given its status as a public university with clear First Amendment obligations, all the while inviting ridicule of what many conservatives believe to be its delicate student body.

For instance, days before Shapiro even arrived, Berkeley’s administration had come under fire for a campuswide email sent by Berkeley executive vice chancellor and provost Paul Alivisatos that outlined the logistics of the event and reminded any potential protesters to demonstrate peacefully and in accordance with the university’s Code of Conduct. The email also mentioned the availability of counseling services on campus, drawing predictable responses from conservative writers. “Yup, those dainty, fragile students who cannot countenance views that differ from their own are being offered counseling because of the possible psychological damage incurred by Shapiro’s rhetoric,” a post last week at the Daily Wire read. “It just shows, Ben, how much they need you there,” Fox News’ Ainsley Earhardt said in an interview with Shapiro on Fox and Friends.“These kids are going to counseling? I mean, grow up.”*

But Berkeley’s assistant vice chancellor for public affairs Dan Mogulof told me that counseling was not, in fact, specifically being offered to those troubled by the prospect of hearing Shapiro speak. He says that the email simply highlighted counseling services that are regularly available to Berkeley students out of concern for those troubled by the possibility of violence, including campus conservatives who had reported being targeted with “verbal abuse” in recent days.

None of this matters a whit to Yiannopoulos or the campus conservatives who’ve repeatedly invited him to Berkeley and elsewhere. In August, Elliot Kaufman wrote a piece in the National Review citing a meeting of Stanford’s conservative publication, the Stanford Review, over whether to host an appearance by Yiannopoulos, as indicative of the mindset of conservative groups that do so. “As one influential editor put it: ‘Best-case scenario is that the SJWs freak out and we get another Berkeley,’ ” Kaufman wrote. “We all knew what he meant: Inviting Yiannopoulos could bait the Left to do something silly and destructive, drawing media coverage that would allow us to act as martyrs for free speech on campus. That is, the left-wing riots were not the price or downside of inviting Yiannopoulos—they were the attraction.”

The relative calm that greeted Shapiro at Berkeley on Thursday night suggests that those bringing in Yiannopoulos might ultimately be disappointed. It will be a circus either way.

*Correction, Sept. 16, 2017: This article originally misidentified Ainsley Earhardt as Elisabeth Hasselbeck. It also misspelled Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s first and last names. (Return.)

Secret Police

Secret Police

by Leon Neyfakh @ Slate Articles

Cameron Mease, a senior staff attorney with Brooklyn Defender Services, was walking in downtown Brooklyn, New York, on Thursday morning when he saw a group of six or seven men shove someone against a fence, put him in handcuffs, and drag him into an unmarked van. The men were dressed in jeans and T-shirts. Given their behavior and attire, a passerby would’ve had good reason to think he’d just witnessed a kidnapping.

But Mease had seen such scenes unfold before, and he was pretty sure he knew what he’d just seen. He believed these were plainclothes agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and that they’d come to the Brooklyn courthouse to take someone into custody who they knew would be there for a court date. After witnessing the arrest, Mease asked one of the men to identify himself. He got no reply. “He kind of looked at me derisively, like he was annoyed, and sort of waved his hand at my face,” the lawyer told me later.

Mease then watched as some of the men drove off with their apparent suspect while others stayed behind. “I heard them talking about how they had two more people to get,” Mease said.

Mease’s instinct was right. The men were ICE officers, and the agency confirmed that it made four arrests at the courthouse on Thursday, all of them involving undocumented immigrants suspected of participating in criminal gang activity. According to Gothamist, the four arrestees had come to the courthouse Thursday morning to face misdemeanor charges stemming from a trespassing incident in July.

The presence of ICE agents at a New York courthouse was not, in and of itself, news. A report by the Immigrant Defense Project noted that the agency had arrested 53 people at courthouses across the state as of early last month. What made Thursday different was that Mease was able to brief his colleagues at Brooklyn Defender Services quickly enough for one of them, Scott Hechinger, to blast it out over Twitter. Hechinger asked journalists to come watch, and he urged “all noncitizens with court dates” to “stay away” from the courthouse and contact their lawyers.

When I arrived at 120 Schermerhorn St. around 11 a.m., some of the men Mease had seen a few hours earlier had moved inside and gone up to the eighth floor, where they stood in a public hallway. I recognized one of the men from a photo Brooklyn Defender Services had posted on Twitter and approached him. Dressed in a bright blue shirt, with an Apple Watch on his wrist, and tattoos peeking out from under his sleeves, he stood in a group with three others, including one older man in a suit whom I later identified as Michael Ryan, the bureau chief of the Kings County District Attorney’s Office.

When I asked the men if they were ICE agents, they did not say yes; one of them, in fact, stated unequivocally that he was not. When I asked what they were doing at the courthouse, they declined to respond, and Ryan told me I should call the DA’s office if I wanted more information.

Lawyers in the hallway all seemed certain these guys were with ICE, but I could see no identifying markers: Not only were they in plainclothes, but they wore no badges or nametags, and carried no walkie-talkies or other law enforcement equipment. Aside from their conspicuously self-assured and imposing manner, they were indistinguishable from the people standing around them. Quite literally, these men were secret police.

As far as I could tell, the men from ICE made no arrests during their visit to the eighth floor; after a few minutes of conversation with Ryan, they headed for the elevator bank. As they rode down to the first floor, two of them discussed plans to watch a boxing match together on Saturday night. In this video shot by Mic’s Andrew Joyce, you can see them filing out of the courthouse one by one and getting into a pair of unmarked cars:

A source who declined to speak for attribution later told me that the hallway conversation between Ryan and the three men had been a confrontational one. Ryan had arrived after hearing reports of ICE agents in the courthouse and informed them that if they were planning to arrest anyone, he needed to know about it. According to the source, the ICE agents hadn’t just been reticent with me because I was a reporter: They also refused to confirm they were with ICE when Ryan—a representative of the DA’s office—asked them directly. Maybe that shouldn’t be surprising. Acting Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzales has publicly condemned ICE for staking out courthouses, saying at a recent press conference that the practice makes witnesses and victims of crime feel it’s unsafe to come to court. “ICE should treat courthouses as sensitive locations, like it does schools and houses of worship, to allow everyone free access to our justice system and stop the chilling effect felt by victims and witnesses,” Gonzales said.

Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the State of New York Office of Court Administration, told me in an email that statewide protocol requires all law enforcement agents, including ICE officers, to inform courthouse personnel when they show up to make arrests. Chalfen said that didn’t happen on Thursday—the agents did not check in or show any warrants before entering the courthouse.

The stonewalling Mease, Ryan, and I got from the men we encountered at the courthouse doesn’t seem to be a consequence of strict departmental policy. When one of Mease’s colleagues from Brooklyn Defender Services, Nathaniel Damren, asked one of them on Thursday morning if he was with ICE, the officer replied “yes, sir”—an exchange Damren captured on video and shared with me. Rachael Yong Yow, a spokeswoman for ICE’s New York field office, said in an email that she was not certain what ICE’s policy was about officers identifying themselves; this article will be updated if I receive any additional information.

We can’t expect all law enforcement officers in all situations to identify themselves when asked to do so: In some cases, it could put them in danger or blow their cover. But those circumstances should be the exception, not the rule. In a free society, a law enforcement officer should state clearly that he or she represents the state and wields its power in all but a few exceptional circumstances. What I witnessed on Thursday did not come anywhere close to clearing that bar.

After the agents left the scene, a group of journalists asked one of the lawyers from Brooklyn Defender Services what distinguished Thursday’s events from the other times ICE agents had come to the courthouse.

“The fact that you guys were able to make it down here to document it is what makes it different,” Theodore Hastings said. “Usually they just come, they snatch people up, and they’re gone before anybody even knows.”

Slate intern Aaron Mak contributed reporting to this article.

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