Sunday, September 23, 2018
Trump Administration Aims to Sharply Restrict New Green Cards for Those on Public Aid - The New York Times
"WASHINGTON — Trump administration officials announced Saturday that immigrants who legally use public benefits like food assistance and Section 8 housing vouchers could be denied green cards under new rules aimed at keeping out people the administration deems a drain on the country.
The move could force millions of poor immigrants who rely on public assistance for food and shelter to make a difficult choice between accepting financial help and seeking a green card to live and work legally in the United States.
Older immigrants, many of whom get low-cost prescription drugs through the Medicare Part D program, could also be forced to stop participating in the popular benefits program or risk being deemed a ‘public charge’ who is ineligible for legal resident status.
The move is not intended to affect most immigrants who have already been granted green cards, but advocates have said they fear that those with legal resident status will stop using public benefits to protect their status. The regulation, which the administration said would affect about 382,000 people a year, is the latest in a series of aggressive crackdowns by President Trump and his hard-line aides on legal and illegal immigration. "
Saturday, September 22, 2018
Friday, September 21, 2018
"WASHINGTON — The deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, suggested last year that he secretly record President Trump in the White House to expose the chaos consuming the administration, and he discussed recruiting cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Mr. Trump from office for being unfit.
Mr. Rosenstein made these suggestions in the spring of 2017 when Mr. Trump’s firing of James B. Comey as F.B.I. director plunged the White House into turmoil. Over the ensuing days, the president divulged classified intelligence to Russians in the Oval Office, and revelations emerged that Mr. Trump had asked Mr. Comey to pledge loyalty and end an investigation into a senior aide.
Mr. Rosenstein was just two weeks into his job. He had begun overseeing the Russia investigation and played a key role in the president’s dismissal of Mr. Comey by writing a memo critical of his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. But Mr. Rosenstein was caught off guard when Mr. Trump cited the memo in the firing, and he began telling people that he feared he had been used.
Mr. Rosenstein made the remarks about secretly recording Mr. Trump and about the 25th Amendment in meetings and conversations with other Justice Department and F.B.I. officials. Several people described the episodes, insisting on anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. The people were briefed either on the events themselves or on memos written by F.B.I. officials, including Andrew G. McCabe, then the acting bureau director, that documented Mr. Rosenstein’s actions and comments..."
Rod Rosenstein Suggested Secretly Recording Trump and Discussed 25th Amendment - The New York Times
Thursday, September 20, 2018
"...Meanwhile, the FBI never told Trump or anyone at the White House it doesn’t want to be involved in investigating the allegations against Kavanaugh, and it could investigate the matter if directed to do so by the White House, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. Trump claimed on Tuesday that the bureau isn’t interested in investigating the allegations.
The FBI in 1991 investigated Anita Hill’s claims as part of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s confirmation that he had sexually harassed her repeatedly..."
FBI Flexes Independence From Trump Over Kavanaugh, Russia Fights - Bloomberg
'No accident' Brett Kavanaugh's female law clerks 'looked like models', Yale professor told students | US news | The Guardian
I really disliked Amy Chua's book. She is a shallow person.
"A top professor at Yale Law School who strongly endorsed supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as a “mentor to women” privately told a group of law students last year that it was “not an accident” that Kavanaugh’s female law clerks all “looked like models” and would provide advice to students about their physical appearance if they wanted to work for him, the Guardian has learned.
Amy Chua, a Yale professor who wrote a bestselling book on parenting called Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, was known for instructing female law students who were preparing for interviews with Kavanaugh on ways they could dress to exude a “model-like” femininity to help them win a post in Kavanaugh’s chambers, according to sources."
'No accident' Brett Kavanaugh's female law clerks 'looked like models', Yale professor told students | US news | The Guardian
"As soon as Christine Blasey Ford came forward as the woman accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when both were in high school, it felt like we were hurtling toward something women in this country have wanted for decades: a chance to fix what had gone so horribly wrong during the disastrous Anita Hill hearings of 1991. Statements from Senate Republicans—among them Jeff Flake, Susan Collins, and Lindsey Graham—forced Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley to grant Ford a public hearing. Grassley sent invitations to both parties involved, and we waited.
Kavanaugh almost immediately expressed his willingness to participate, while also categorically denying that the event in question had ever happened. On Tuesday night, Ford’s lawyers released the letter they sent back to Grassley. It is neither a definitive acceptance or rejection of his invitation. Rather, it states that their client requests that, before she agrees to testify, her claims be investigated by the FBI. (This, as it happens, is the same move Sen. Dianne Feinstein requested last week before Ford stepped forward.) Republicans see this as nothing more than a stalling tactic. Graham tweeted on Wednesday that “an FBI investigation of a 36 year old allegation (without specific references to time or location) before Professor Ford will appear before the Judiciary Committee is not about finding the truth, but delaying the process till after the midterm elections.” Grassley has essentially affirmed that view, giving Ford a take-it-or-leave-it deadline of 10 a.m. on Friday to decide if she wants to participate in the hearing...."
Christine Blasey Ford’s request for an FBI investigation makes perfect sense.
"Twice in less than a year, the federal government has lost track of nearly 1,500 migrant children after placing them in the homes of sponsors across the country, federal officials have acknowledged.
The Health and Human Services Department recently told Senate staffers that case managers could not find 1,488 children after they made follow-up calls to check on their safety from April through June. That number represents about 13 percent of all unaccompanied children the administration moved out of shelters and foster homes during that time.
The agency first disclosed that it had lost track of 1,475 children late last year, as it came under fire at a Senate hearing in April. Lawmakers had asked HHS officials how they had strengthened child protection policies since it came to light that the agency previously had rolled back safeguards meant to keep Central American children from ending up in the hands of human traffickers.
“The fact that HHS, which placed these unaccompanied minors with sponsors, doesn’t know the whereabouts of nearly 1,500 of them is very troubling,” Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, the panel’s chair, said Wednesday. “Many of these kids are vulnerable to trafficking and abuse, and to not take responsibility for their safety is unacceptable.”
HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley disputed the notion that the children were “lost.”
“Their sponsors, who are usually parents or family members and in all cases have been vetted for criminality and ability to provide for them, simply did not respond or could not be reached when this voluntary call was made,” she said in a statement.
Since October 2014, the federal government has placed more than 150,000 unaccompanied minors with parents or other adult sponsors who are expected to care for the children and help them attend school while they seek legal status in immigration court.
On Tuesday, members of a Senate subcommittee introduced bipartisan legislation aimed at requiring the agency to take responsibility for the care of migrant children, even when they are no longer in its custody.
An Associated Press investigation found in 2016 that more than two dozen unaccompanied children had been sent to homes where they were sexually assaulted, starved or forced to work for little or no pay. At the time, many adult sponsors didn’t undergo thorough background checks, government officials rarely visited homes and in some cases had no idea that sponsors had taken in several unrelated children, a possible sign of human trafficking..."
Federal agency says it lost track of 1,488 migrant children
"In 1991, at the direction of President George H.W. Bush, the F.B.I. looked into Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas, who had gone through his confirmation hearings weeks earlier. The investigation took three days. The resulting report was provided to the White House, which said it showed that Ms. Hill’s allegations were “unfounded.” The Judiciary Committee reconvened a few weeks later, and heard from nearly two dozen witnesses, including Ms. Hill and Justice Thomas. Does Mr. Grassley now want to set an even lower standard for taking a woman’s claims seriously than the committee did when Ms. Hill appeared before it?
In an Op-Ed published by The Times on Tuesday, Ms. Hill called for a thorough investigation by a neutral body with experience in sexual-violence cases, and said it should not be rushed. “A week’s preparation is not enough time for meaningful inquiry into very serious charges,” she wrote.
Yet Mr. Grassley has rejected calls to involve the F.B.I. and offered to hear only from Dr. Blasey and Judge Kavanaugh themselves, even though there are numerous people who might be able to shed light on what may have happened on the night in question. First among these is Judge Kavanaugh’s high school friend Mark Judge, who Dr. Blasey said was in the room where she said the assault occurred, and who has given shifting answers about his recollections.
Speaking of unreliable memories, it’s laughable for Republicans to complain, as some do, that Dr. Blasey’s claim is too old to be considered. The Senate Judiciary Committee is not a court of law; it’s an arena of politics. Remember that less than a decade ago, Republican senators were happy to grill Sonia Sotomayor, President Barack Obama’s first pick for the court, about positions taken 30 years earlier by a legal-defense fund whose board she had once sat on.
Certainly there’s no statute of limitations preventing the committee from weighing allegations of attempted rape against a nominee to a lifetime seat on the highest court in the land. Besides, since Judge Kavanaugh has flatly denied the accusation, his honesty now — not as a teenager — is at issue.
The committee should ask probing questions of all parties. Just as Mr. Judge has given inconsistent statements to the press, there are discrepancies in the accounts of how Dr. Blasey has described the alleged events. It’s possible that she is misremembering events or even making them up, although it’s hard to see how people could imagine themselves benefiting from doing that. In the few days since Dr. Blasey’s name became public, she has already suffered, as she knew she would. She’s been forced into hiding with her family after receiving death threats.
But so far, Senate Republicans seem more concerned with getting Judge Kavanaugh confirmed than in getting to the truth of the accusation against him. Republicans know that their Senate majority is at risk on Nov. 6, and they want to seize their chance to give the court a solid right-wing majority for years to come.
“This has been a drive-by shooting when it comes to Kavanaugh,” Senator Lindsey Graham told reporters on Tuesday, giving the cynical game away in one compact statement. “I’ll listen to the lady, but we’re going to bring this to a close.”
Opinion | Everyone Deserves Better Than This Senate Spectacle - The New York Times
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
'No one comes to help us': Florence cleanup highlights Wilmington's stark social divide | World news | The Guardian
Life in America. "In the largely black neighborhood of Northside, the power is out and resources are scarce. In wealthier Monkey Junction, it’s a different story."
'No one comes to help us': Florence cleanup highlights Wilmington's stark social divide | World news | The Guardian
Kavanaugh hearing: Neither Republicans nor Democrats want Christine Blasey Ford to testify on Monday.
"The most high-stakes Senate hearing of the year has been scheduled, but no one really wants to have it.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that “we want to give the accuser,” Christine Blasey Ford, “an opportunity to be heard.” That’s supposedly why he and Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley decided late Monday afternoon that they would hold a public hearing featuring testimony from both Ford and the man she said assaulted her in high school, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, in a week.
Rest assured, though, that McConnell does not want to “give the accuser an opportunity to be heard” out of any sense of moral responsibility. He’s doing it because he doesn’t have the votes otherwise. Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake specifically told leadership that he would vote “no” in committee on Kavanaugh’s nomination without a public hearing. Even if McConnell chose to bypass the committee process, he would run into interference from other key senators, like Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Rarely is a surface-level moral posture from Mitch McConnell anything more than a reflection of a poor whip count.
Most Republicans would have preferred not to have an open hearing, which is why Grassley tried earlier this week to satisfy senators by arranging private phone calls with Kavanaugh and Ford instead. There are a couple of obvious reasons why: In public, Ford could deliver credible testimony that would be covered widely, making the option of advancing Kavanaugh’s nomination even more politically toxic than it’s already become. And it wouldn’t help the all-male Republican membership of the Judiciary Committee to aggressively attack Ford’s credibility or character, either. (HuffPost reports that Republicans are considering having their female staff do the questioning, an unorthodox move that would just draw more attention to the problem.)
You might think, then, that Senate Democrats would be pleased with how Flake, Collins, Murkowski, and others forced Grassley and McConnell’s hands into providing Ford the opportunity for a public hearing. Instead, at a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Senate Democrats called the proposed hearing a “sham.”
“Scheduling the hearing for Monday, a week from when Dr. Ford made her accusations public,” Washington Sen. Patty Murray said, “is a shameful attempt to jam this through without giving anyone the time they need to investigate and put together the questions that need to be asked.” Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Judiciary Committee member, said that “Republican leadership has completely disrespected this survivor.”
Rarely is a surface-level moral posture from Mitch McConnell anything more than a reflection of a poor whip count.
“This proceeding is more like something out of Russia than the United States of America,” Blumenthal, pressing his luck, declared.
Democrats listed several conditions that Republicans would need to meet. They should first wait until the FBI completes a full investigation into the matter so that senators aren’t, as Blumenthal told me, just “shooting in the dark” during their questioning. Democrats are also apoplectic that Grassley has refused to call Mark Judge, the lone witness to the alleged assault Ford described in her letter and to the Washington Post, to testify. Judge has a rather unfortunate trail of writings.
There are a few reasons why Democrats might be throwing cold water on the sort of hearing that Republicans have offered. The first is political: The longer this confirmation process can be delayed, the less likely Senate Republicans would be to confirm a replacement ahead of the midterms. Yes, Republicans could and likely would try to complete it during the lame-duck session, especially if Democrats take back the Senate. But Democrats have some hope—a hope I don’t put much faith in—that a couple of retiring or “Never Trump” Republicans might balk at such an aggressive power grab.
But this isn’t all politics. For instance, there’s zero nonpolitical reason that an alleged eyewitness shouldn’t be heard. Judge’s lawyer sent a letter to Grassley on Tuesday afternoon saying that he did not “wish” to speak any further publicly, as if this committee should care about his wishes. But Grassley seems content to honor them. And it’s not unreasonable to think that having an outside investigation into the matter—“preparation,” the Democrats call it—ahead of the hearing is best for a fair outcome.
The Democrats’ objections also serve as a pre-buttal—that this hearing was rigged against Ford from the start—in the event that Ford doesn’t appear. Because, as of Tuesday afternoon, Ford’s lawyers still hadn’t confirmed that she would attend next Monday’s spectacle and have offered sparse commentary on what’s the holdup.
It could be that there’s a simple scheduling issue for either Ford or her legal team. As various Democrats noted in their press conference, Grassley didn’t ask Ford if she was free next Monday before making his announcement. Ford could also have cold feet. In either case, as California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, told reporters Tuesday morning, “We don’t even know if Dr. Ford is able to make it.”
The possibility that Ford might not appear put a bit of a spring in Republicans’ step by Tuesday afternoon. Grassley’s office sent out numerous statements about how eager it was to hold the hearing—if only Ford’s team would call back. Texas Sen. John Cornyn’s did the same. “So far, Dr. Ford’s lawyer has refused to respond to invitations to participate,” Cornyn said at a GOP press conference. “We certainly hope that she takes advantage of this opportunity if she still would like to.”
Of course he doesn’t. Republicans would love nothing more than if Ford didn’t appear. They could still hold a hearing for Kavanaugh to deliver his denials while Democrats spin their wheels, and then vote on him in committee on Wednesday. Even Flake, who demanded the hearing, told CNN on Tuesday that he would support advancing Kavanaugh’s nomination if Ford didn’t show up. His colleagues agreed.
“The committee should move on,” Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker said, should Ford “have the opportunity to be heard, and not be heard.”
“It would be viewed very negatively by many,” he continued, “for someone to be given an opportunity after making serious allegations and then not coming.” It’s clear that Republicans would treat that as an effective withdrawal of the allegations. This is the most obvious way Republicans would salvage Kavanaugh’s nomination, which they showed no signs of wanting to abandon on Tuesday.
So each party does want a hearing after all. Republicans want one immediately where Ford doesn’t show up and Kavanaugh just denies everything. Democrats want one with Ford, but maybe in several weeks, months, or years down the road, following a complete outside investigation, and with a roster of witnesses, preferably once they control the Senate, or maybe never. Everyone’s on the same page, as usual.
Kavanaugh hearing: Neither Republicans nor Democrats want Christine Blasey Ford to testify on Monday.
Attorney Sent Letter to Chuck Grassley and Dianne Feinstein Claiming Federal Court Employees Willing to Speak About Brett Kavanaugh
"THE TOP REPUBLICAN and Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee were both approached in July by an attorney claiming to have information relevant to the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. The attorney claimed in his letter that multiple employees of the federal judiciary would be willing to speak to investigators, but received no reply to multiple attempts to make contact, he told The Intercept.
Cyrus Sanai made his first attempt to reach out to Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in a letter dated July 24.
Sanai told the committee leadership that ‘there are persons who work for, or who have worked for, the federal judiciary who have important stories to tell about disgraced former Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, and his mentee, current United States Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. I know that there are people who wish to speak out but fear retaliation because I have been contacted by more than a half-dozen such persons since Judge Kozinski resigned in disgrace.’
Sanai is the California attorney who blew the whistle on Kozinski years before a series of articles in the Washington Post in December finally brought about the resignation of the former chief judge of the 9th Circuit Court over sexual harassment revelations. Sanai has long challenged the judiciary and was deemed a ‘vexatious litigant’ by one trial court, an attempted designation that was overturned on appeal.
Since Kozinski’s resignation, questions have been raised about what Kavanaugh knew or did about such behavior, given the close relationship between the two. Kavanaugh clerked for Kozinski in the 1990s, a post that led directly to his clerkship with Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who recommended Kavanaugh to President Donald Trump as his replacement. Kozinski and Kavanaugh remained close and both vetted prospective clerks for Kennedy.
Kozinski’s son recently clerked for Kavanaugh.
The Sanai letter was overnighted and emailed to Grassley’s office on July 25, and Sanai provided a copy of the receipt. He dropped the letter off by hand to Feinstein’s office in West Los Angeles, he said, after being told over the phone that was the most efficient route to delivery.
Grassley’s spokesperson provided the following statement after publication:
Senator Grassley’s office received correspondence, which was also addressed to Sen. Feinstein, from Mr. Sanai in July. As we always do, the office reviewed the content and claims in the letter to determine how best to assess and use the information. The contents of the letter concerned the actions and behavior of former Judge Alex Kozinski and, to a lesser extent, his relationship with Judge Kavanaugh. This topic was discussed significantly at Judge Kavanaugh’s hearing.
Feinstein did provided comment by the time of publication.
During his confirmation hearings, Kavanaugh told the Judiciary Committee that he had no knowledge whatsoever of Kozinski’s behavior and was stunned to learn of the misconduct allegations. ‘When they became public, the first thought I had: No one should be subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace ever, including in the judiciary, especially in the judiciary,’ Kavanaugh said under oath during his confirmation hearing, responding to a question from Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. ‘When I heard, it was a gut punch. It was a gut punch for me. It was a gut punch for the judiciary. I was shocked, and disappointed, angry, swirl of emotions.’
In a follow up question, Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, asked him to search his records and in a written response, he backed off his certainty, saying only, ‘I do not remember receiving inappropriate emails of a sexual nature from Judge Kozinski.’
Sanai told The Intercept that at least two federal employees had information to provide the committee about Kavanaugh, including one who spoke directly with Kavanaugh about it. Sanai said that he did not hold Kavanaugh responsible for Kozinski’s behavior, but rather that his claim of ignorance was not credible and could be contradicted by witnesses. Kavanaugh’s credibility has become a central issue in his confirmation, as he has ‘unequivocally’ denied allegations that he sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford when both were in high school.
Apart from interviewing witnesses, Sanai also suggested that the Judiciary Committee ‘subpoena all intra Court emails and messages between Kavanaugh and Kozinski and all emails to and from Kozinski with links to his website.’
The fact that Kozinski hosted pornography on his website and forced some clerks to view it was one of the exposed behaviors that led to his resignation.
‘The only way these important stories can be told is if Congress moves the spotlight from abstract procedures and statements of intent to the judges who made the judiciary safe for Judge Kozinski to satisfy his deviant needs. If this Committee, or the Judiciary Committee, does so, I have assurances that more people will step forward,’ Sanai wrote.
He also mailed copies of the letter to Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Reps. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., and Ted Lieu, D-Calif., he said, but can’t be sure that they received them.
Feinstein and Grassley, he said, were the only two he made sure received the letter. ‘I spent quite a bit of time trying to get Feinstein to address it,’ he said.
Feinstein was also contacted in July by Ford, a California professor who said that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while both were in high school.
‘I am writing with information relevant in evaluating the current nominee to the Supreme Court. As a constituent, I expect that you will maintain this as confidential until we have further opportunity to speak. Brett Kavanaugh physically and sexually assaulted me during high school in the early 1980’s,’ Ford wrote to Feinstein on July 30. ‘I have received medical treatment regarding the assault. On July 6 I notified my local government representative’ — Anna Eshoo — ‘to ask them how to proceed with sharing this information. It is upsetting to discuss sexual assault and its repercussions, yet I felt guilty and compelled as a citizen about the idea of not saying anything. I am available to speak further should you wish to discuss.’
The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer later reported that after her dealings with Feinstein’s and Eshoo’s offices, Ford stepped back. Feinstein, Farrow reported, ‘acted out of a sense that Democrats would be better off focussing on legal, rather than personal, issues in their questioning of Kavanaugh.’
After the interactions with Eshoo’s and Feinstein’s offices, the woman decided not to speak about the matter publicly. She had repeatedly reported the allegation to members of Congress and, watching Kavanaugh move toward what looked like an increasingly assured confirmation, she decided to end her effort to come forward, a source close to the woman said. Feinstein’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
Feinstein’s decision to handle the matter in her own office, without notifying other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, stirred concern among her Democratic colleagues. For several days, Feinstein declined requests from other Democrats on the Judiciary Committee to share the woman’s letter and other relevant communications.
Ford’s attorney Debra Katz has since said that Feinstein handled the situation as well as she could have. ‘We do think that Feinstein did well by her, and we do think that people took this decision away from her, and that’s wrong,’ Katz said. ‘If the #MeToo era teaches us anything, it’s that a person gets to choose when, where and how, and now this person is going to be injected into a life-altering blood bath.’
"Interfering in an ongoing federal investigation with the purpose of subverting the inquiry represents a classic case of obstruction of justice.
When the president of the United States engages in such meddling, his wrongdoing affronts the separation of powers and the system of checks and balances that was developed by the founders of the American experiment in order guard against any American repetition of what they had so recently revolted against: “the exercise of the Kingly Office” in a manner that could “pervert the same into a detestable and insupportable Tyranny.”
The essential response to such abuse is impeachment. It is the answer to the questions that George Mason posed in this regard to the Constitutional Convention on July 20, 1787: “No point is of more importance than that the right of impeachment should be continued. Shall any man be above Justice? Above all shall that man be above it, who can commit the most extensive injustice?”
This all matters today because Donald Trump has just meddled in an ongoing investigation—seeking to force the declassification of documents and text messages that are relevant to the inquiry into Russian influence on his campaign and his presidency. The president has ordered the Justice Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence to begin the “immediate declassification” of key sections of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act application for Carter Page, who once served as a foreign-policy aide to Trump. The president has also ordered the declassification of “all FBI reports of interviews prepared in connection with all Carter Page FISA applications” and “directed the Department of Justice (including the FBI) to publicly release all text messages relating to the Russia investigation, without redaction, of [former FBI director] James Comey, [former acting director of the FBI] Andrew McCabe, [former chief of the FBI’s Counterespionage Section] Peter Strzok, [former FBI lawyer] Lisa Page, and [former associate deputy Attorney general and former director of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force] Bruce Ohr.”
The White House is busy peddling the fantasy that the president is acting in the interest of “transparency.” But, as the Columbia Journalism Review has wisely noted, transparency talk is hypocritical coming from “our 45th president—who calls journalists ‘scum,’ refuses to release his tax returns or fully disclose his business ties, and calls for media ‘blackouts’ at executive agencies…”
The truth is that Trump is not promoting transparency. This is, as The Washington Post editorial board explains, an “obvious abuse of presidential power in a matter implicating himself.”
Former acting director of central intelligence John McLaughlin describes Trump’s unprecedented interference as “wrong on so many levels for Justice, law-enforcement, intelligence,” and argues that “This probably qualifies as the President’s most serious assault on the Justice system yet.”
Donald Trump Is Actively Obstructing Justice | The Nation
"While some argue that the truth about this incident will come down to a “he said, she said” situation, that’s not how it looks to us. Prosecutors and investigators are confronted with these scenarios frequently and don’t just throw up their hands and say, “We can’t decide.” Instead, prosecutors look for corroborating evidence — and there are strong indications already that Ford is telling the truth about her attack. Here are some of those indicators:
First, there is corroboration. Ford’s therapist’s notes in 2012, provided to The Washington Post, generally record her account of the attack. To believe that this is a made-up tale to prevent Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Ford would have had to plant the seeds of this story in 2012. That makes no sense.
Second, while not determinative, the fact that Ford passed a polygraph administered by a former FBI agent lends credence to her claims. Polygraph exams are inadmissible in court because they are not always reliable, but the FBI and other law enforcement agencies frequently use polygraph tests to assess the credibility of witnesses and defendants.
In addition, consider the motives of Ford, who by all accounts is not a particularly politically active person, to go public with allegations of sexual assault. It appears that she did not want to speak publicly at all, but that reporters discovered her identity and pursued her. Ford knew that she would be personally attacked in front of her children, colleagues, students and friends. There is no reasonable explanation for why she would subject herself to such humiliation other than the reason she has given: that she felt she had a duty as a citizen to speak up.
Many people have pointed to Ford’s delay in going public as evidence that she is lying. As prosecutors, we have learned that victims of sexual assault do not always come forward immediately — and often never do — because they are shamed by society, fear not being believed, worry that they will be blamed for the attack or just want to move on with their lives. Delay in reporting — particularly in the area of sexual assault — does not mean a report is false. And difficult as it is to come forward now, it would likely have been even more daunting for a 15-year-old girl in the 1980s, when Ford says she had this experience.
If you are still inclined to believe that Ford is lying, ask yourself: Why would she create a defense witness by identifying Mark Judge, who was and still is indisputably a friend of Kavanaugh’s, as being present and participating in this attack? Why would she place at the scene an individual who could, because of loyalties to his friend, contradict her account if she were making this up? She wouldn’t."
The allegations against Brett Kavanaugh are not simply a 'he said, she said' situation
"Christine Blasey Ford’s claims that Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers while he was drunk have drawn attention to a speech he gave four years ago in which he discussed heavy drinking at Yale Law School — and to an offhand remark about his high school days that he made during another speech.
Earlier this week, a transcript of a 2014 speech Judge Kavanaugh apparently gave at a banquet for the Yale Law School Federalist Society surfaced via a Washington Post reporter on Twitter; some of it was later transcribed and posted by the magazine Mother Jones.
The speech, in which he imparted lessons to students and reminisced about his time at school, contained one section in which Judge Kavanaugh, now 53, fondly recalled some debaucherous — if seemingly harmless — nights of heavy drinking and revelry as a Yale Law student.
In one episode, he described taking a bus with his classmates to Boston for a Red Sox game and a night of barhopping, which ended with the students “falling out of the bus onto the front steps of Yale Law School at about 4:45 a.m.”
“Fortunately for all of us, we had a motto: ‘What happens on the bus stays on the bus,’” the speech said.
Judge Kavanaugh then went on to describe a “good run” in his third year of law school, in which he and his classmates “got our work done, but we had our share of fun.” He discussed a class party and mentioned a nearby bar, which he summarized by saying: “We had a memorable evening. It is fair to say that we had a few drinks. Indeed, as a classmate of mine and I were reminiscing and piecing things together the other day, we think we had more than a few beers before the banquet. Might have been at Toad’s. Not a good idea.”
Then, on Tuesday, an apparently truncated video clip of Judge Kavanaugh giving another speech emerged. Referring to his high school in 2015, he again modified the frequently used cliché: “What happens at Georgetown Prep, stays at Georgetown Prep.”
He added: “That’s been a good thing for all of us, I think.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, tweeted the video of Judge Kavanaugh making the quip and said: “I can’t imagine any parent accepting this view. Is this really what America wants in its next Supreme Court Justice?”
Dr. Blasey has accused Judge Kavanaugh of sexual assault, saying that during a high school party in the early 1980s, he pinned her on a bed, groped her and covered her mouth to keep her from screaming."
Accusations Draw New Attention to Kavanaugh’s Remarks About Drinking - The New York Times
"(CNN) The woman accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault says the FBI should investigate the incident before senators hold a hearing on the allegations.
In a letter addressed to Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and obtained by CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360," Christine Blasey Ford's attorneys argue that "a full investigation by law enforcement officials will ensure that the crucial facts and witnesses in this matter are assessed in a non-partisan manner, and that the Committee is fully informed before conducting any hearing or making any decisions."
Ford wants FBI investigation before testifying - CNNPolitics
Tuesday, September 18, 2018
'I'm not on the menu': McDonald's workers strike over 'rampant' sexual harassment | Business | The Guardian
"When Teresa Cervantes entered her manager’s office at a Chicago McDonald’s, a different manager asked what she wanted, as Cervantes recounted in Spanish during a one-day strike of McDonald’s workers, outside the Chicago corporate headquarters on Tuesday.
The manager asked if she was there for “pito” – a word for male genitalia – since Cervantes’ boss was known for pressuring workers to have sex in the office or store bathrooms, said Cervantes, who worked at the city’s famous Rock ‘N’ Roll McDonald’s and other locations.
“I told her I’m not that kind of worker, I was just trying to be a responsible worker,” requesting a schedule change since her two kids were starting school, she explained.
Workers who spoke at the rally – billed as a #MeToo moment for McDonald’s – described sexual abuse, coercion and harassment as everyday occurrences in the restaurants. They said McDonald’s has done little to address the problem, despite complaints filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of 15 workers in 2016 and 10 more filed earlier this year.
Workers at McDonald’s in 10 cities nationwide walked off the job on Tuesday to demand that McDonald’s address sexual abuse and harassment, including by forming a committee comprised of workers, corporate and franchise representatives, and national women’s groups. Organizers said this was the first nationwide strike ever called specifically to protest sexual harassment.
“We’re breaking our silence, we’re making history,” said Cervantes, whose daughter also works at McDonald’s. “So youth will have a better future.”
'I'm not on the menu': McDonald's workers strike over 'rampant' sexual harassment | Business | The Guardian
Stormy Daniels' tell-all book on Trump: salacious detail and claims of cheating | US news | The Guardian - We all knew this was coming. The Guardian leaves out the most lurid details but Esquire magazine details much of the "minutia".
“In a tell-all memoir, the pornographic actor Stormy Daniels details salacious descriptions of her time with Donald Trump, wonders if he is fit to be president and claims he offered to cheat for her in his reality TV show.
A copy of the book, Full Disclosure, was obtained by the Guardian. In it, Daniels describes her mounting disbelief as Trump began to win primary contests in 2016 for the Republican presidential nomination. Former castmates whom she had not heard from in years, but who had heard her story about sleeping with Trump in 2006, would call her up to marvel at the news. “It will never happen, I would say,” Daniels writes. “He doesn’t even want to be president.” But as Trump kept winning, Daniels writes, she began to think she might be in danger. The story she had to tell about Trump seemed more sensitive the more he won. And she had already been threatened once, years earlier, and warned never to tell the story about Trump, she has claimed…."
"By Charles M. Blow, www.nytimes.com September 16th, 2018
In the midterm elections, the resistance will finally have a chance to push back against Trump.
They told us that we suffered from Trump Derangement Syndrome, an emotional and illogical obsession with opposing and unseating Donald Trump.
They saw our principled stand against corruption and criminality, against immorality and hatred, as born of hyper-partisanship and the bruises of defeat.
They were unable to see that our objection to Trump was an achingly particular phenomenon that transcended party tribalism and went to the core of who we are as a people and a country.
For us, it was clear: This man was wholly unacceptable, as a matter of character. And true patriotism demanded that we say so, without equivocation, and unrelentingly.
Trump had become the president by a complex web of occurrences: white racial anxiety, reaction to the first black president, unease about the possibility of the first female president, voter suppression and voter apathy, and an attack on our elections by the Russians.
This presidency has been haunted by the specter of illegitimacy from its inception.
And yet, the markets didn’t crash. The economy kept humming. We entered no new major foreign conflicts, although we have cozied up to people who should be enemies and spat in the faces of people who used to be friends.
The Trump presidency was not the cataclysm that many had feared, but the possibility of damage hovers over us. What would he do if Robert Mueller’s Russia probe inched too close to him, his family or his fortune? What would happen if one of his children were indicted? (Donald Trump Jr., I’m looking at you.) What if Mueller produced a damning report? What if Congress used that report to begin impeachment proceedings?
We know that Trump is volatile, uncontrollable and unpredictable. So, we live a life with nerves frayed and bodies pushed to the edge of our seats. We know that he remains defiant because there are people who support him without hesitation and without question. They are the deranged, not us.
This constant state of chaos and anxiety has been exhausting and nearly unbearable, but it is all coming to a head in November when the defiant, the resisters, the never-Trumpers, will get to have their voices heard in a way that reaches beyond protests and rallies.
It will be the rest of America’s first chance at the polls to show just how unacceptable and repulsive we view Trump and his Republican enablers in Congress. It will be the first time for people to shift power away from him and his cronies and toward people willing to hold him accountable.
And it looks like people are champing at the bit for the chance. There has been extraordinarily high voter turnout in primary races across the country, including in New York, Michigan, Arizona, Vermont and Iowa.
Last month, the Minnesota secretary of state, Steve Simon, tweeted after that state’s primary:
“Minnesota, you crushed it last night! With 100% Reporting: 902,119 people voted in the primary; the highest number of primary voters since 1982. Overall turnout was approximately 22.7%; the highest turnout percentage in a primary since 1994. Amazing!”
Most of that energy is coming from people opposed to Trump and his corrupt administration, thereby benefiting Democrats.
Trump’s already low approval rating has taken a hit in recent weeks with Mueller’s investigation making steady progress: the guilty plea and now apparent cooperation of Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime lawyer; the plea and cooperation of his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort; the explosive new book by Bob Woodward and the damning anonymous op-ed written by an administration official and published in The New York Times.
This is the worst possible scenario for the president and his party less than two months from Election Day.
As Gallup pointed out last week:
“The president’s party almost always suffers a net loss of U.S. House seats in midterm elections. However, losses tend to be much steeper when the president is unpopular. In Gallup’s polling history, presidents with job approval ratings below 50 percent have seen their party lose 37 House seats, on average, in midterm elections. That compares with an average loss of 14 seats when presidents had approval ratings above 50 percent.”
Trump’s approval rating is at 40 percent, and unlike his predecessors, he is not a normal president. He is a divisive lightning rod.
Democrats are not only likely to win control of the House of Representatives; they also have a long-shot chance of taking control of the Senate, although the map is working against them.
FiveThirtyEight gives Democrats a five-in-six chance of taking control of Congress and Republicans a one-in-six chance of holding it. Their average estimate for the number of seats Democrats will pick up is 39; they only need to gain 23 to take control.
Resistance up to this point has largely been a statement of principle, but when we vote in November it will be an expression of power. We’re not deranged; we’re determined!
Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter (@NYTopinion), and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter."
Opinion | Not Deranged. Determined! - The New York Times
"Anita Hill: How to Get the Kavanaugh Hearings Right
The Senate Judiciary Committee has a chance to do better by the country than it did nearly three decades ago.
Ms. Hill is a professor at Brandeis University.
Anita F. Hill, right, is sworn in to testify before the United States Senate Judiciary Committee on the confirmation of Judge Clarence Thomas by Chairman Joseph Biden in October 1991.
Photo by: Arnie Sachs/picture-alliance -- dpa, via Associated Press
There is no way to redo 1991, but there are ways to do better.
The facts underlying Christine Blasey Ford’s claim of being sexually assaulted by a young Brett Kavanaugh will continue to be revealed as confirmation proceedings unfold. Yet it’s impossible to miss the parallels between the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing of 2018 and the 1991 confirmation hearing for Justice Clarence Thomas. In 1991, the Senate Judiciary Committee had an opportunity to demonstrate its appreciation for both the seriousness of sexual harassment claims and the need for public confidence in the character of a nominee to the Supreme Court. It failed on both counts.
As that same committee, on which sit some of the same members as nearly three decades ago, now moves forward with the Kavanaugh confirmation proceedings, the integrity of the court, the country’s commitment to addressing sexual violence as a matter of public interest, and the lives of the two principle witnesses who will be testifying hang in the balance. Today, the public expects better from our government than we got in 1991, when our representatives performed in ways that gave employers permission to mishandle workplace harassment complaints throughout the following decades. That the Senate Judiciary Committee still lacks a protocol for vetting sexual harassment and assault claims that surface during a confirmation hearing suggests that the committee has learned little from the Thomas hearing, much less the more recent #MeToo movement.
With the current heightened awareness of sexual violence comes heightened accountability for our representatives. To do better, the 2018 Senate Judiciary Committee must demonstrate a clear understanding that sexual violence is a social reality to which elected representatives must respond. A fair, neutral and well-thought-out course is the only way to approach Dr. Blasey and Judge Kavanaugh’s upcoming testimony. The details of what that process would look like should be guided by experts who have devoted their careers to understanding sexual violence. The job of the Senate Judiciary Committee is to serve as fact-finders, to better serve the American public, and the weight of the government should not be used to destroy the lives of witnesses who are called to testify.
Here are some basic ground rules the committee should follow:
Refrain from pitting the public interest in confronting sexual harassment against the need for a fair confirmation hearing. Our interest in the integrity of the Supreme Court and in eliminating sexual misconduct, especially in our public institutions, are entirely compatible. Both are aimed at making sure that our judicial system operates with legitimacy.
The Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh during the Senate Committee Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill last week.
Photo by: Doug Mills/The New York Times
Select a neutral investigative body with experience in sexual misconduct cases that will investigate the incident in question and present its findings to the committee. Outcomes in such investigations are more reliable and less likely to be perceived as tainted by partisanship. Senators must then rely on the investigators’ conclusions, along with advice from experts, to frame the questions they ask Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Blasey. Again, the senators’ fact-finding roles must guide their behavior. The investigators’ report should frame the hearing, not politics or myths about sexual assault.
Do not rush these hearings. Doing so would not only signal that sexual assault accusations are not important — hastily appraising this situation would very likely lead to facts being overlooked that are necessary for the Senate and the public to evaluate. That the committee plans to hold a hearing this coming Monday is discouraging. Simply put, a week’s preparation is not enough time for meaningful inquiry into very serious charges.
Finally, refer to Christine Blasey Ford by her name. She was once anonymous, but no longer is. Dr. Blasey is not simply “Judge Kavanaugh’s accuser.” Dr. Blasey is a human being with a life of her own. She deserves the respect of being addressed and treated as a whole person.
Process is important, but it cannot erase the difficulty of testifying on national television about the sexual assault that Dr. Blasey says occurred when she was 15 years old. Nor will it negate the fact that as she sits before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dr. Blasey will be outresourced. Encouraging letters from friends and strangers may help, but she cannot match the organized support that Judge Kavanaugh has. Since Dr. Blasey and Judge Kavanaugh have the same obligation to present the truth, this imbalance may not seem fair.
But, as Judge Kavanaugh stands to gain the lifetime privilege of serving on the country’s highest court, he has the burden of persuasion. And that is only fair.
In 1991, the phrase “they just don’t get it” became a popular way of describing senators’ reaction to sexual violence. With years of hindsight, mounds of evidence of the prevalence and harm that sexual violence causes individuals and our institutions, as well as a Senate with more women than ever, “not getting it” isn’t an option for our elected representatives. In 2018, our senators must get it right.
Anita Hill is university professor of Social Policy, Law, and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass."
Opinion | Anita Hill: How to Get the Kavanaugh Hearings Right - The New York Times
Monday, September 17, 2018
"When researchers first discovered a link in the late 1990s between childhood adversity and chronic health problems later in life, the real revelation was how common those experiences were across all socioeconomic groups.
But the first major study to focus on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) was limited to a single healthcare system in San Diego. Now a new study — the largest nationally representative study to date on ACEs — confirms that these experiences are universal, yet highlights some disparities among socioeconomic groups. People with low-income and educational attainment, people of color and people who identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual had significantly higher chance of having experienced adversity in childhood.
The study finds three out of five adults across the U.S. had at least one adverse experience in their childhood, such as divorce, a parent's death, physical or emotional abuse, or a family member's incarceration or substance abuse problem. A quarter of adults have at least three such experiences in childhood, which – according to other research — increases their risk for most common chronic diseases, from heart disease and cancer to depression and substance abuse.
"This is the first study of this kind that allows us to talk about adverse childhood experience as a public health problem in the same way we talk about obesity or hypertension or any other highly prevalent population risk factor," says Adam Schickedanz, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, who was not involved in the research. "Up until now, we haven't really had a study that takes a national look."
The study researchers, led by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researcher Melissa T. Merrick, analyzed data from 214,157 adults in 23 states between 2011 and 2014. The participants answered 11 questions about whether they'd experienced what have now become well recognized as ACEs: parental separation or divorce, child abuse (physical, emotional and sexual), domestic violence and living with someone who has been incarcerated or has a mental illness or a substance use disorder.
Nearly 62 percent of respondents had at least one ACE and a quarter reported three or more. The remaining respondents had at least two ACEs, including 16 percent with four or more such experiences.
Those identifying as black or Latino and those with less than a high school education or an annual income below $15,000 were more likely to have more ACEs. But a relatively new finding was that multiracial and gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals carried the greatest burden.
Multiracial participants reported roughly 2.5 ACEs, and bisexual adults reported 3.1, both the highest scores reported. Women, younger adults, unemployed people and those unable to work also tended to have higher scores.
But Schickedanz cautions that, while the disparities are real, it's important to recognize how common these experiences are among all people, including white and middle class families.
"This [study] shows that ACEs affect people from all walks of life everywhere," he says.
The link between trauma and health
The original ACE study, published in 1998, analyzed data from more than 9,000 primarily middle class adults in the San Diego area, starting in 1995-1997. Its publication opened people's eyes to how common adverse experiences are even among children in seemingly more privileged homes. Nearly 40 percent of participants had at least a college degree, and 75 percent were white.
More than a quarter of those original participants reported physical abuse in childhood, and one in five reported sexual abuse. And the study identified the link between adverse childhood experiences and poor physical and mental health decades later.
Since that study, an increasing number of states have begun collecting data on ACEs with the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, the database used by the new study's researchers. All states use the system, and 32 states since 2009 have collected ACEs data.
The CDC tracks the many ACE-related studies published on a website section specifically about ACEs. Studies have linked a greater number of ACEs with greater risk of heart disease, cancer, bone fractures and chronic lung or liver diseases, diabetes and stroke. Those with the most ACEs, four to six or more, tend to have higher rates of mental illness.
Scientists have just begun understanding the social and biological mechanisms that might explain how highly stressful experiences in childhood could translate to greater risks for heart disease or diabetes. One way has to do with the stress response itself: the body produces and releases the hormones cortisol and adrenaline while increasing blood sugar and blood pressure — all of which help with the body's need for fight or flight.
But chronic stress means chronically high levels of these substances, which isn't healthy in the long term. Consistently high blood sugar, for example, increases the risk of diabetes, and high blood pressure is linked to heart disease.
Opportunities for intervention
This new study suggests a need to target prevention resources where they can help most, says Jack Shonkoff, a professor of child health and development at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. This also requires identifying what makes some people more susceptible than others to the effects of adversity.
"Nobody is immune to adverse experiences in childhood but for some population groups, they're a larger burden of childhood adversity than others," he says. "We need to focus on targeting limited resources to the people at greatest risk and making sure those resources go into programs that reduce or mitigate adversity."
Doing that will require developing tools to screen for people's sensitivity to adversity, he says. He also notes that ACEs alone don't account for health disparities. Genetics play a key role in health outcomes as well, he explains.
"Environmental risk factors are only part of the story. You can't separate genetics from environment," Shonkoff says.
To address the consequences of childhood adversity, it will be important to develop programs that help children learn healthy coping mechanisms and strengthen families and communities overall, says Andrew Garner, a clinical professor of pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland.
"Our objective is not to put kids in a bubble but teach kids how to deal with adversity in a healthy manner," Garner says. "If parents are in survival mode, their kids are in survival mode too, and they're not going to learn as well and learn coping mechanisms. Those poor coping mechanisms are what we think links adversity to poor health outcomes."
For example, youth who cope by using drugs, alcohol, sex or other risky behaviors are increasing their risk of substance abuse problems, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, all of which increase risk of other chronic diseases later on.
Garner and Schickedanz both pointed to increasing levels of social isolation documented by other researchers as a substantial likely contributor to the health outcomes linked to ACEs.
"If you look the very highest risk group, it's bisexuals, and we know they may feel isolated. The second highest is multiracial people who may not necessary feel they belong in any particular group," Garner says. "We know from biology that it's really bad to be socially isolated and we're seeing that disparities in adversity are mirrored in health outcomes later on."
But Garner emphasizes that an ACE score is "not destiny." In addition to social programs that address underlying income and racial disparities, it's vital to teach kids resilience.
"Resilience reflects using skills, and the beauty of that is that skills can be learned, taught, modeled, practiced and reinforced, and kids learn better when they're in relationships," he says. "We need to do better job of primary prevention by focusing on emotional learning and promoting safe, stable, nurturing relationships."
New Data Confirm Adverse Childhood Experiences Are Widespread : Shots - Health News : NPR
Sunday, September 16, 2018
Saturday, September 15, 2018
"By winning the Democratic primary to be New York’s next attorney general, Tish James is now virtually guaranteed to become the state’s top legal officer this November. That position will almost immediately make her into a national figure—and perhaps the most influential state official in the country who isn’t a governor..."
New York Elects Its Next Anti-Trump Warrior | The New Republic
Friday, September 14, 2018
Paul Manafort Agrees to Cooperate With Special Counsel; Pleads Guilty to Reduced Charges - The New York Times
"WASHINGTON — Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, agreed on Friday to cooperate with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, as part of a deal in which he pleaded guilty to reduced charges stemming from consulting work he did for pro-Russia political forces in Ukraine.
Appearing in United States District Court in Washington, Mr. Manafort entered guilty pleas on two conspiracy charges. Andrew Weissmann, the lead prosecutor, told Judge Amy Berman Jackson that there was a cooperation agreement with Mr. Manafort but provided no details.
It was not immediately clear what information Mr. Manafort might provide to prosecutors or how the plea agreement might affect Mr. Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and related questions about possible collusion by the Trump campaign and obstruction of justice by Mr. Trump.
The plea deal is another unsettling development for Mr. Trump. For months, Mr. Trump has praised Mr. Manafort for fighting the charges. In private discussions with his lawyers, Mr. Trump has raised the possibility of pardoning Mr. Manafort."
Paul Manafort Agrees to Cooperate With Special Counsel; Pleads Guilty to Reduced Charges - The New York Times
Thursday, September 13, 2018
Indulging Steve Bannon is just a form of liberal narcissism. White supremacy and fascist flirtations are not ideas that need to be ‘exposed’. We just need to fight them. | Nesrine Malik | Opinion | The Guardian
"I grew up in the long shadow of a military coup. To be a child in a country where relatives and friends suddenly disappeared, were detained indefinitely without trial, or in some instances executed, was to grow up very quickly. But the most difficult thing to process was seeing those who had lost family to the government’s brutality scramble to make peace with its members, or even join it, once it became clear the military regime was staying. It’s still a depressing thing to return to Sudan and see men who I remember as a child returning from prison gaunt and hollowed out with starvation and torture, sit among the government’s ranks, fatted, safe, and soft with power.
But it taught me an important lesson: the fate some politicians fear most is not defeat, it is irrelevance. And as the Donald Trump administration functions largely like an African dictatorship, it has been a lesson that has been helpful in shedding light on the complicity of formerly moral Republicans, and in turn, the normalisation of Trump and his associates by liberals.
Once you see relevance and proximity to power or influence as a basic motivator of elites, you cannot unsee it. When David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker, invited Steve Bannon to headline the magazine’s Festival of Ideas, an invitation he later rescinded because he had “changed his mind”, it was not an aberration. The liberal media, so in the thrall to the power of narrative, spun Bannon’s myth before he had even properly set foot in the White House, and wrote hagiographies after.
His brief association with Trump – by all accounts a coincidental move after a peripatetic career – was written into something of far more consequence by those fascinated by a man who should have been one of their own but took the dark path, like an evil twin in a Hollywood movie. He is constantly remade, even though since he was fired he has done little but bait and agitate in culture wars. The New Yorker attributes an entire school of thought to him, and calls it “Bannonism”.
In another such outing of Bannon as a dark knight, this weekend he will be interviewed by Zanny Minton Beddoes, the Economist’s editor in chief, at the magazine’s Open Future festival. A few months ago Bannon also enjoyed a cosy interview with Lionel Barber of the Financial Times, where they traded (dull) DC war stories of Barber waiting in cafes around the White House until Bannon could come and get him. At one point Bannon says “well I’ve dealt with you before” with a sort of conspiratorial leer. The interview revealed a particular kind of rapport between them, something the French call “complicité”: a word that has a deeper meaning than the English “complicity”. It implies not only the bond of two people who are in on something the rest of us are not, but an intimate affinity based on something shared.
There is now a liberal media checklist when it comes to defending the hosting of Bannon. In a letter standing by her decision to invite him, Beddoes ticks some of them off. They want a “vibrant discussion”, a “robust argument”, not an “echo chamber”; ideas should be “tested”, a debate will “expose” bigotry and prejudice.
This is a delusion. Just as Bannon baits liberal media for his own propaganda purposes, so liberals benefit from engaging with him because he is really quite an easy person to engage. He is like a scratching pole for the Oxbridge- or Ivy League-style debaters at the helm of such establishments. They can come away from a polite joust with him having challenged racism and also having stood up to the hoard by protecting freedom of speech. To use a favourite phrase of Bannon himself, interviewing him is a perverse form of virtue signalling. To indulge him is an egotistical misreading of freedom of speech. It is about boasting liberal commitment to the value, rather than engaging with the evils that hide behind it.
This is a narcissism that many cannot afford. White supremacy, banning Muslims from entering countries and fascist flirtations are tangible issues for those not cushioned by the comforts of being of the correct race, religion or skin colour. They are not ideas that need to be “exposed”, or interrogated, or challenged. They are simply to be fought.
This is not philosophy, it is real life. But those who carry such concerns are excluded from the “robust debate” because what popular successful movements are they at the centre of? They did not campaign for Brexit, they did not put Trump in the White House, and they are not pushing back far-right gains in Europe. They are losing, and so the perceived architects of their disenfranchisement – the Nigel Farages and Steve Bannons and all the other dissimulating career nativists – will be entertained for as long as they are relevant. Even though in reality they are part-actors in the grand scheme of things, cast in a central role because that way they, and the story, sell better.
That is the real echo chamber: the one that leaves those at the sharp end of these debates out in the cold, even as they are accused of demanding a sanitised “dinner party” politics. Bannon is on the inside, because his views are seen to be successful. The echo chamber isn’t one of ideology, it is one of establishment.
It does not matter that what he stands for is essentially white nationalism, a racism that he said at a French far-right rally should be worn “as a badge of honour”. All that is relevant is that he is relevant, that he has become someone of consequence due to his brush with power, and seems to be at the centre of something that, in the words of Beddoes, “worryingly large numbers of people are drawn to”. And so that is the benchmark for what constitutes something worth entertaining and validating via prestigious invitations to intellectual festivals. Bannon will not be a rogue element, invited to be challenged and exposed. He will be among his people, fatted, safe, and soft with power."
• Nesrine Malik is a Guardian columnist
Indulging Steve Bannon is just a form of liberal narcissism | Nesrine Malik | Opinion | The Guardian