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Sunday, December 31, 2017

The show was supposed to bring black and white students together. It almost tore them apart.

"CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — From behind the curtain of the high school auditorium, miles from the university that the performers and most of the audience attended, Kinnawa Kaitibi marveled at the sight of a room filled with black faces.

It was October 2016, and this was the first step show that black fraternities and sororities at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga had decided to do on their own. They took the show off campus, abandoning a glitzy annual homecoming event that had long included black and white students — and produced a program they felt was a more authentic reflection of stepping’s African American origins.

“We’re honoring our heritage,” said Kaitibi, a 23-year-old recent UTC graduate who viewed the breakaway event he helped organize as a coup of consciousness. “We needed to go back to our roots.”

There were no more fancy light shows or acrobatic stunts. There was no theatrical makeup. And there were practically no white people.

At most every other university in the country, an all-black step show wouldn’t be cause for controversy. But things had been different at UTC, where white and black students had stepped together since the early 1990s. Back then, Alpha Delta Pi, an all-white sorority, asked a historically black sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, if they could participate in their annual event. In a burst of multicultural optimism, the Deltas agreed, hoping to build bonds across a largely segregated Greek system.

Over the ensuing years, the step show became a point of pride and annual excitement at UTC — the centerpiece of the big fall homecoming weekend. Black and white Greek organizations practiced together and stepped together, supporting one another onstage and off. The event grew so popular that it was moved from a tiny quad to a small amphitheater to a gym and finally, after a decade, to the school’s basketball arena, which holds 12,000.

In a country desperate to find bridges across the cultural divide, a generation of students at UTC felt they had found a way to do it. “To teach inclusion, you have to be inclusive,” said Lacretia Harris-Gay, a Delta and a 1992 graduate who helped create the original homecoming step show when she was a student.

By the time Kaitibi and his generation of black students arrived, the unified stepping show had morphed into something unrecognizable — and offensive — to them. White students were dressed as chain gangs and basketball players. They danced to hip-hop music and emulated steps that black Greeks deemed sacred. The show no longer felt like a sharing of tradition but, rather, was one more element of black culture and identity that had been usurped.

Event organizers Kinnawa Kaitibi, left, and Nate Harlan confer at the second annual Chattanooga Black Greek Weekend step show.
Photo by: Melissa Golden/for The Washington Post

“For us to listen to those steps and chants and see the similarities, it just rubbed us the wrong way,” Kaitibi said. “It felt like they were disregarding us.”

Without telling any school administrators, Kaitibi and others decided to create Chattanooga Black Greek Weekend, a step show featuring only black fraternities and sororities. In case their intentions weren’t completely clear, their event was to be held on the same date, around the same time, as the traditional on-campus show.

As homecoming neared, Jim Hicks, the dean of students, heard rumors that black students were planning a step show of their own. By then, there was little that could be done to stop it.

Hicks, who is white, was still taken aback when he walked into the basketball arena and noticed the university-sponsored step show had become virtually all white.

The crowds roared and cheered as usual, but Hicks knew he had a problem.

“We can’t do this,” said Hicks, 47, who has worked in student affairs at UTC for nearly 20 years. “We can’t have a white homecoming and a black homecoming. That’s just not healthy. It’s not who we are. It’s not who we want to be as an institution.”

A part of UTC’s strategic plan, adopted in 2014, was to “embrace diversity and inclusion as a path to excellence and societal change.” Now, instead of becoming a lab to create solutions to the country’s racial issues, the campus became a microcosm of them.

Ten percent of the student body is black, and administrators say that most of the campus population comes from racially homogeneous high schools. Many white students with whom Hicks said he spoke did not recognize issues of race on campus; those who did were afraid they would accidentally say something offensive. Meanwhile, black students told him they were trying to find a balance between self-affirmation and racial reconciliation.

“I quickly realized this is not just about a step show; this was a symbol,” Hicks said. “It was a very visible symbol of responding to the hurt they feel on campus and in the world. . . . I certainly thought about the issues surrounding the police brutality, the Black Lives Matter and those issues, and how those movements have informed or created a sense of advocacy among young African American students.

“I thought about how we as an institution had not heard them,” Hicks said. “And I thought about what we could do to fix it.”

The Delta Sigma Theta sorority performs a “Space Jam”-themed show at the second annual Chattanooga Black Greek Weekend step show in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Oct. 6.

A member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity prepares boots for the step show.
Photo by: Melissa Golden/for The Washington Post
The unified stepping tradition at UTC began after two popular depictions of the black college experience — in the Spike Lee movie “School Daze” and on the sitcom “A Different World.” The Deltas decided to take advantage of the heightened interest by moving their competition from the spring to the fall, for homecoming weekend. They called the event the StepDown.

Black Greeks use steps to show off chants about their history and to showcase their creativity. Over time, each organization developed distinct styles. Some fraternities stomp and clap with large and powerful movements; others prefer smaller, more fluid shifts in bodies. Each had signs and colors distinct to them. The Deltas, for example, ended many steps by connecting their index fingers and thumbs in a triangle formation, making the Greek sign for “Delta.”

As the black Greeks were putting their show together in 1991, Kari Hudson recalled she and her sorority sisters in predominantly white Alpha Delta Pi were trying to figure out their homecoming plans. Inside the ADPi house, one of her sisters joked about how funny it would be if a white sorority joined the step show. She pretended to stomp and clap, and they all laughed.

But then the joke kind of seemed like a good idea.

“We all had friends who were African American, and so it wasn’t a big deal to go up and ask how we could support them in the show,” Hudson said.

Harris-Gay, one of the Deltas organizing the StepDown, said her sorority was receptive to the idea, because “it was a special opportunity for the sorority to learn more about our culture.”

There was one little problem: The ADPi’s had no idea how to step.

So, one afternoon, Harris-Gay and the drum major for the school marching band, both Deltas, visited the ADPi house. Harris-Gay said she explained that stepping was a way to connect their sorority to their African roots. They started with easy steps, stomp-clap-stomp-clap on rhythm, Harris-Gay said. Once they ADPi’s started to get it, they taught them how each step, snap or stomp made a particular sound — though they refrained from sharing their signature steps.

Hudson said her sorority sisters would spend hours at a time practicing to get the moves right. Another white sorority began working with a black fraternity to join in, as well. A buzz began to build on campus.

“Everyone was just waiting, to see, okay, how are these white girls going to do?” Harris-Gay said.

Homecoming weekend 1991 came. Hudson and more than 20 of her sisters walked to the Boling Apartments, where a mostly black crowd had gathered in the quad.

The ADPi’s bent down to their knees, snapped and began to step.

“We probably looked a little silly,” recalled Hudson, who is now an optometrist in Chattanooga.

“The crowd was amazed,” said Harris-Gay, who lives in Atlanta and works in marketing for Delta Air Lines. “You could tell they worked hard to prepare these steps, and they didn’t embarrass themselves.”

A new tradition was born. By 1998, when Hicks arrived on campus, more than 2,500 people would show up for the show at an amphitheater built to accommodate 200.

“We would tell facilities to go clean up and make sure there were no ant hills or wasps’ nests or anything in the trees because students are going to be in the trees,” Hicks said.

Along the way, some of the black and white Greek organizations grew closer. In the early 2000s, after one black fraternity was suspended, a white fraternity, Lambda Chi Alpha, wore T-shirts supporting the members.

“We knew we had a link going years back,” said Clarence Shields, a 2009 graduate who was in Kappa Alpha Psi, the black fraternity that was suspended. “And it was cool to have that support.”

But by 2008, the fundamental nature of the StepDown was about to change. A woman pledging Delta Sigma Theta accused its members of assault in a hazing ritual, and the sorority was suspended from the university. Its signature step show was left without anyone to organize it.

The step show had become so integral to UTC life that the university decided to sponsor it to ensure that it continued. But under the university’s watch, it changed. The largely white fraternities and sororities started creating elaborate costumes and light shows, incorporating somersaults and pyramids and formations typical of cheerleading competitions. No longer did they work with black peers on steps. They hired coaches, instead. Or they copied steps from YouTube.

The black Greeks felt they had completely distorted the nature of stepping and its history.

“This isn’t just entertainment for us,” said Nate Harlan, now 26, a 2014 graduate and member of Kappa Alpha Psi and one of the last black performers in the on-campus step show. “When white students performed, it was just a performance. It had no greater meaning, or a sense of why. We don’t step without a ‘why.’ It connects us to something bigger.”

The students complained, and the university responded by limiting the amount of music played during the competition. But that did little. By that point, white students were using signature chants; one sorority even started flashing the Delta sign.

“They just didn’t get what we were saying,” Harlan said. “It was our tradition, and it had become something else.”

As the step show was becoming more contentious, relationships between races on campus were also becoming more strained. In 2015, the same fraternity that once wore a T-shirt supporting a black fraternity came under fire for another shirt. These were red and had an illustration of a boll of cotton, accompanied by the words, “History Does Repeat Itself.”

Black students feared it was a reference to resurrecting the Confederacy. The fraternity apologized but told university staff their shirts were only in reference to them winning an all-Greek competition.

Hicks began to fear a clash at UTC between two distinct movements spreading across college campuses around the country.

One was a growing frustration among conservatives that their views were being unfairly stifled. Another was a heightened sense of advocacy among black students, for whom the term “stay woke” meant to be aware of subtle racism and oppression that might surround you.

In the heat of last year’s presidential election, the campus reached its tipping point.

In spring 2016, a white student and her friends wrote “Make America Great Again” and “Build That Wall” — a reference to Donald Trump’s campaign slogan and his vow to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border — in chalk on campus grounds.

The campus was in an uproar. Minority students at UTC responded by saying that support for a wall was illustrative of the wall between races on campus.

Administrators thought the incident could finally present an opportunity to pry open lingering concerns about inclusion, so they began holding town halls about diversity.

The student who wrote the messages explained she came from a small town and didn’t understand how supporting Trump might be offensive.

This thinking only made some black students more skeptical, according to Simone Edwards, 20, who is vice president of the Black Student Alliance and editor of the online minority newspaper, the Torch:Reborn.

Whenever an issue is brought up, she said, white students plead ignorance. And black students, it seems, are asked to move past it.

“I just wonder why people don’t do their research before they say something,” Edwards said.

During that period, Kaitibi began raising the idea of retaking ownership of the step show. He challenged black Greeks to look to their history. Black fraternities had been founded after members were denied entry into white societies and used that experience to create powerful social networks of their own, dedicated to uplifting the community. Stepping could still be a way to show off their identity and share their history. They could even fundraise for community centers in Chattanooga’s worst neighborhoods.

Kaitibi’s classmates had demurred a year earlier when he made the same argument. But this time, they were ready.

Unable to bring all of the fraternities and sororities back together after last year’s split step show, Hicks canceled this year’s on-campus event altogether.

When the decision was made, Hicks convened another town hall for diversity and inclusion. About 70 students — mostly black — showed up, but others said they skipped it because they had grown tired of discussions about diversity.

At the meeting, a white student asked Hicks why the university would cancel something so meaningful to them.

“Stepping isn’t yours,” Hicks recalled responding. “This experience was so essential, and it’s so tied to the history of [black Greeks], and I think it just became something you have stolen and you are using it as your own.”

Kaitibi told the audience that the black Greeks wanted to do something to “preserve our heritage and honor our traditions.” It wouldn’t necessarily be bad if a white group wanted to do the same, “but we have to wonder: What traditions are you honoring?”

The white students thanked him for the explanation, and their leaders encouraged their chapters not to protest the changes. They partnered with black Greeks on other events through the year. Instead of stepping, the university encouraged white Greeks to participate in a lip-sync competition during homecoming weekend.

“Let’s put our energy into that,” Jared Ryan, 22, a white UTC senior and current president of the Kappa Alpha Order, recalled telling his brothers. Ryan’s fraternity was one of those that had been accused of stealing steps, which he said embarrassed him because it was “not meant to step on anyone’s toes.”

Grace Buford, 22, who is white and had learned step as a part of a majority-white dance team growing up, helped organize the on-campus step show in her last year on campus. Stepping on campus had become one of her favorite events, but Buford said she wanted to stay away from defending the event when it became so racialized. She didn’t want to offend someone. As a white person, she said, sometimes it’s better to be quiet. Still, she harbored disappointment.

“I think if you say to someone that you believe in equality and you want to make that happen, you should do everything you can to make it happen,” said Buford, a member of Alpha Delta Pi, the sorority that first started stepping at UTC. “I don’t think [canceling] is going to fix anything. It’s not going to make us all be best friends. It’s not going to alleviate the tensions that are there.”

Ignoring the problem didn’t make the deeper issues disappear. The Thursday before homecoming weekend in October of this year, thousands piled into the basketball arena to watch predominantly white fraternities and sororities perform choreographic dances for the lip-sync event. Groups dressed in elaborate makeup, and shimmied and twerked to songs by Yo Gotti and BeyoncĂ© and Rihanna.

Edwards, the editor of the Torch, took to Twitter and wrote:

“I love how y’all use black music for every performance but y’all voted for Trump lol.”

The next night, Kaitibi donned a maroon suit and grabbed a microphone in the Brainerd High School auditorium. He watched the crowd fill with high school students and grandparents dressed in their old Greek letter jackets, sitting alongside students currently attending UTC.

The crowd was mostly black, but there were a few rows of students from white sororities who just couldn’t fathom going a year without seeing a step show.

“White fraternities can come and watch,” Kaitibi said. “But that’s not the direction where we are trying to go. If we went back to campus, we’d have the same issue all over again.”

Hicks was there, too.

“It was clear to me that the students were saying you have not heard us,” the dean said of the step show controversy. “It hit me. I’m 47, but there’s still times when I realize that I have blind spots.”

He said he hoped one day the black students would feel comfortable bringing the step show on campus. But as the step show was about to start, Kaitibi couldn’t even dream of taking that risk. He didn’t think of the all-black step show as segregation, or even a division, but an “evolution.” Even though black and white students did not step together, he said the best solution to heal the chasm between races, in today’s climate, might be to find ways that engender respect between them.

Until they could come up with a better way, Kaitibi was okay with this way making people uneasy. “If the country learns to become more comfortable being uncomfortable, maybe we’ll figure out a better understanding,” he said.

Three hours of stepping routines would pass, and, in the end, judges declared the best steppers. The winners were Delta Sigma Theta, in its first year returning to UTC since the suspension. When the sisters collected their winner’s check, they posed for pictures and matched index fingers with their thumbs to create little triangles. It was the Delta sign, and everyone in the room recognized it as theirs, and theirs alone.

Alice Crites in Washington contributed to this report.

Republican Attacks on Mueller and F.B.I. Open New Rift in G.O.P. - The New York Times

Republican Attacks on Mueller and F.B.I. Open New Rift in G.O.P. - The New York Times

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Years of Attack Leave Obamacare a More Government-Focused Health Law - The New York Times

"WASHINGTON — The Affordable Care Act was conceived as a mix of publicly funded health care and privately purchased insurance, but Republican attacks, culminating this month in the death of a mandate that most Americans have insurance, are shifting the balance, giving the government a larger role than Democrats ever anticipated.

And while President Trump insisted again on Tuesday that the health law was “essentially” being repealed, what remains of it appears relatively stable and increasingly government-funded.

In short, President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement is becoming more like what conservatives despise — government-run health care — thanks in part to Republican efforts that are raising premiums for people without government assistance and allowing them to skirt coverage.

By ending the tax penalty for people who do not have coverage, beginning in 2019, Republicans may hasten the flight of customers who now pay the full cost of their insurance. Among those left behind under the umbrella of the Affordable Care Act would be people of modest means who qualify for Medicaid or receive sizable subsidies for private insurance.

“Republicans have inadvertently strengthened the hand of Democrats like me who prefer richer subsidies to a mandate and welcome the expanded federal role that will come with those subsidies,” said Joel S. Ario, a former insurance commissioner from Pennsylvania who worked in the Obama administration.

In days, the Trump administration is expected to carry out an executive order with proposed rules that would allow people to buy less expensive — and less comprehensive — coverage, through either business and professional associations or short-term private policies.

The Affordable Care Act’s success in reducing the number of uninsured owes more to Medicaid than to private health insurance. About 75 million people are now enrolled in Medicaid, a number that has increased by about one-third since the adoption of the Affordable Care Act. A smaller number, about 10 million, buy coverage from private insurers through the health law’s marketplace.

Among people ages 18 to 64, the proportion with private health insurance coverage is about the same today as in 2005, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. But the proportion with public insurance coverage has increased to more than 19 percent, from 11.5 percent in 2005, and the share of people in that age range who are uninsured has fallen to 12.5 percent, from about 19 percent.

In total, more than one-third of the population is covered with federal assistance, through Medicare, Medicaid, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the military and Affordable Care Act subsidies. (And that does not include the larger group of people who benefit from tax subsidies for health insurance provided by employers.)

Mr. Trump and Republicans in Congress failed this year in their efforts to cut Medicaid and could try again in 2018. Speaker Paul D. Ryan said this month that Republicans would try next year to slow the growth of federal health spending because “it’s the health care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt.”

But Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, has been leery of another run at health care in an election year, and it is possible that Medicaid could, in the near future, actually grow further under the Affordable Care Act. Maine voters approved a referendum last month to expand Medicaid in that state, though Maine’s Republican governor, Paul R. LePage, is dragging his feet. Mr. LePage will not be on the ballot in November, when the state could elect a governor more willing to accept the referendum’s results.

The governor-elect of Virginia, Ralph S. Northam, has vowed to expand Medicaid and could have an evenly split House of Delegates, depending on the outcome of a drawing of lots this week that will decide the winner of a tied race in southeastern Virginia.

A Democratic wave election in November could also shift the balance of power in a few other state capitals."

Years of Attack Leave Obamacare a More Government-Focused Health Law - The New York Times

Monday, December 25, 2017

Trump celebrates tax bill with Mar-a-Lago friends: “You all just got a lot richer.”

President Trump was in a celebratory mood on Friday night and told a group of his wealthy friends, “You all just got a lot richer” after he signed the tax cuts into law. Trump reportedly uttered the words to a group of friends who were having dinner nearby at Mar-a-Lago, including two friends who spoke to CBS News about the remark.
Anyone spending time at what has come to be known as the “Winter White House” is not exactly suffering economically, considering the initiation fee is $200,000 and annual dues are $14,000.
Trump’s words to his rich pals mark a stark contrast to what he has been saying for weeks now as he has insisted that the massive tax cut would benefit the middle class above all. “The rich will not be gaining at all with this plan. We are looking for the middle class and we are looking for jobs — jobs being the economy,” Trump had said in September, for example. In November, the president had gone as far as to say that the tax cuts would actually hurt the rich. “This is not good for me. Me, it’s not so — I have some very wealthy friends. Not so happy with me, but that’s OK,” Trump told a Missouri crowd. “You know, I keep hearing Schumer: ‘This is for the wealthy.’ Well, if it is, my friends don’t know about it."

The Trump Who Stole | The Nation

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The presidency survived the Watergate, Iran-contra and Clinton scandals. Trump will exact a higher toll. - The Washington Post


 "American presidents get the scandals they deserve.
Richard Nixon’s paranoia produced Watergate. Ronald Reagan’s indifference contributed to Iran-contra. Bill Clinton’s appetites led to impeachment. And Donald Trump’s delusions — about his singular abilities and the impunity of his office — are propelling the crisis of legitimacy threatening his presidency.

No matter how distinct presidential scandals appear in their origins, however, there is also a weary sameness to how presidents react to them, how Washington mobilizes for them, how history looms over them. Each crisis feels unprecedented at the time, yet some of the most detailed journalistic accounts of presidential disgrace in recent decades — “The Final Days,” Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s narrative of Nixon’s end; “A Very Thin Line,” Theodore Draper’s comprehensive look at Iran-contra; and “The Breach,” Peter Baker’s dissection of Clinton’s impeachment trial — reveal how uniformly White House crises can unfold, explicitly drawing from one another, reliving dramas and pivots, and affecting how future scandals are judged.

Investigations and revelations. Fury and denial. Indictments and firings. Today, the White House is in crisis mode once again, and all in Washington are playing their parts. What distinguishes the Trump scandal is how its central character appears to combine the worst qualities of his troubled predecessors. How, rather than evolving into scandal, this presidency was born into it. And above all, how perceptions of the president’s integrity and honor — which proved critical in the outcomes of past political and constitutional crises — are barely an issue for a man without moral high ground left to lose.

In the evenings, sitting alone in the White House residence, the president “surrendered to his distress, watching hours of television news or talk shows and phoning allies at home to vent.” And at a dinner with a small group of White House staffers and dwindling Capitol Hill allies, the president complained about how “the liberals and the press hated him, and so the rules were being changed and he was going to be made to pay.”

This is not President Trump in 2017, but rather descriptions of Clinton and Nixon, respectively, at the height of the Lewinsky and Watergate sagas. Indeed, one of the most recurring images of a White House in turmoil is the isolated and vengeful commander in chief, stewing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Trump may spend lonely nights and mornings with the remote and the phone, but historically speaking, he has plenty of company.
 (Simon & Schuster)During presidential scandals, the White House peddles the illusion that the president and top aides are undistracted, that the nation’s business remains foremost in their minds, when in fact the political challenges threaten to overpower all else. Nixon was “increasingly moody, exuberant at one moment, depressed the next, alternately optimistic and pessimistic,” Woodward and Bernstein write. He spent hours on end poring over his Oval Office tapes and pondering his survival. Though the president hoped that overseas trips and foreign policy moves might enhance his public standing, White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig confided to a former Pentagon colleague that Nixon was “distracted, spending so much time on Watergate, it’s destroying his ability to lead.” Haig even repeatedly urged a top telecommunications policy official to not bring anything substantive to Nixon’s attention. “The President isn’t in any shape to deal with this,” he explained.

Clinton’s famous ability to compartmentalize, to carry on amid the ever-expanding inquiry by independent counsel Kenneth Starr, was largely for show, Baker reports. “In private, Clinton was consumed with the Starr investigation and its collateral damage, sometimes so preoccupied that he appeared lost during meetings.” Clinton told Cabinet members that he had woken up “profoundly angry” every day for 41/2 years. Imagine what his morning tweetstorms would have been like.
Such presidential anger requires a focal point: For Nixon, it included special counsel Archibald Cox and former White House counsel John Dean; for Clinton, it was Starr and his Republican defenders. Trump’s wrath is less discriminating, targeting special counsel Robert Mueller as well as the FBI, the Justice Department and virtually all journalists save his loyal friends at Fox News. In the same way Trump says digging into his personal finances would be a red line Mueller should not cross, Nixon regarded Cox’s attempts to secure his tapes as “the ultimate defiance” meriting dismissal.
The effort by Trump and his supporters in the right-wing media to depict Mueller’s probe into Russian electoral interference as a partisan “witch hunt” — another common phrase across these scandals — is a time-honored tactic for any White House under siege. Haig and Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler agreed on the need to “place the impeachment issue in as partisan a light as possible,” and the Clinton team reached the same conclusion more than 20 years later. Baker describes the latter group’s strategy during the impeachment fight: “Attack the accusers, demonize the investigators, complain about partisanship while doing everything to foment it.”

Cracks invariably emerge among the true believers, the deeply conflicted and the suddenly departed members of each administration. Once a loyalist, Dean flipped and offered a catalogue of accusations against the Nixon White House before the Senate Watergate committee: wiretapping, secret funds, money laundering, cover-ups and more. The Reagan team split among senior officials who had opposed arms sales to Iran, such as Secretary of State George Shultz, and those dedicated to advancing the initiative, such as John Poindexter, the national security adviser. Poindexter, who saw himself as “the head of an American version of a Roman praetorian guard around the president, loyal and responsible to him alone,” Draper writes, was eventually convicted of lying to Congress and obstructing investigations of Iran-contra, though the convictions were reversed on appeal.
Disillusioned staffers try to make their peace with flawed presidents. Clinton aide Paul Begala “sank into a deep depression” during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Baker writes, and vowed never again to appear on television defending the president. (Spoiler: It was a vow he did not honor.) White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles sought to keep his distance from the nitty-gritty of the whole affair: When former United Nations ambassador Bill Richardson wanted to describe how he’d offered Lewinsky a job, Bowles interrupted: “I don’t want to know a f—ing thing about it!” And during Watergate, Haig and Nixon lawyer James St. Clair refused to read transcripts or listen to certain portions of the president’s tapes until late in the game. They didn’t want to know, either.

For Trump staffers and enablers, the dilemma is different. There are few illusions about their leader left to be shattered. Their true challenge is less about surviving Trump’s eruptions than simply living with the choice they’ve made, convincing themselves that service to the nation — passing a tax cut, forestalling a war, reducing immigration — is worth it.

What happened between Flynn, Trump and Comey? The Fact Checker's Timeline 0:00
President Trump, former FBI director James B. Comey and former national security adviser Michael Flynn's stories are entangled, to say the least. 

For the presidents involved, enduring a scandal means convincing yourself of a good many things as well. Trump’s refusal to accept the U.S. intelligence finding that the Kremlin sought to tilt the 2016 election in his favor mirrors the stubbornness of his predecessors. Reagan went along with the sale of arms to Iran in an effort to free American hostages, though “always telling himself that it was not an arms-for-hostages deal,” Draper writes. Nixon lawyer J. Fred Buzhardt concluded that the 37th president lied not just to others but to himself. It was an easy tell, Woodward and Bernstein explain: “Almost invariably when [Nixon] lied, he would repeat himself, sometimes as often as three times — as if he were trying to convince himself.” And the Clinton White House held political strategy sessions in the midst of the impeachment saga, meetings that had an “unreal feel,” Baker writes, because the president and his aides would cover everything except their most overriding political challenge: saving Clinton’s presidency.
It makes Trump’s fawning Cabinet meetings — in which department heads recite prayers and offer thanks for their leader — seem almost normal.

Attaching a “-gate” suffix to every minor White House scandal is an occupational hazard of political journalism. Some overzealous commentators compared Trump’s dismissal in January of acting attorney general Sally Yates to the 1973 “Saturday Night Massacre,” when Nixon’s order to fire the special prosecutor prompted both the attorney general and the deputy attorney general to resign. It was a premature comparison but not an unusual one. During Iran-contra and the Clinton impeachment trial, the memories of Watergate were ever present — a constant reference, yardstick and warning.

Edwin Meese, attorney general during Reagan’s second term, was “haunted” by Nixon’s attempted cover-up, Draper writes, and was “determined at all costs to avoid a repetition” with Iran-contra. Mike McCurry, Clinton’s press secretary, decided to leave the White House before the impeachment proceedings got underway, in part to avoid “becoming the Ron Ziegler of his era,” Baker explains.
 (Scribner)At times, Watergate became a call for restraint over hyperbole. House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, a Democrat, told House Republicans that Watergate should be the model for cooperation between both sides in the Clinton proceedings, Baker reports. Some took that model quite literally: The House Judiciary Committee lawyer charged with producing the first draft of the articles of impeachment was so taken by the Nixon precedent that he borrowed liberally from the Watergate-era draft, using the same three-paragraph introduction, the same wording at the start of each article and the same two concluding paragraphs. (“The Breach” notes that even a password to access committee computer files was an homage of sorts: “RODINO,” for Rep. Peter Rodino, the New Jersey Democrat who served as the Judiciary Committee’s chairman during Watergate.)
But by replicating the Watergate format, Baker argues, House Republicans were “implicitly raising the bar for the substance of the charges as well — lying under oath and covering up an affair might pale in comparison to paying hush money and using the CIA to thwart an FBI investigation of political espionage.” That was the case Democrats made. Baker summarizes in three words the argument by the White House lawyers defending Clinton before the House committee: It ain’t Watergate.
The Trump investigation is not Watergate, either, at least not yet. We are just two indictments and two guilty pleas into this thing, and The Washington Post reports that the Mueller investigation could last deep into 2018, no matter how soon the Trump White House expects it to conclude. It is precisely that longevity, however, that could exhaust the forbearance of a notoriously impatient president. Thus far, Trump and his supporters seem intent on discrediting Mueller’s inquiry rather than shutting it down. A latter-day Saturday Night Massacre or a wholesale pardoning of top aides would propel the crisis of the Trump presidency to far more precarious heights.

“Watergate was a series of discrete, unrelated transactions,” members of Nixon’s legal team concluded, according to Woodward and Bernstein. “There had been no grand strategy, just consistently bad judgment.” History’s judgment may have proved otherwise — certainly Woodward and Bernstein have come to see Watergate in far more expansive and insidious terms — but it’s not a bad description of Trump’s presidency to date, one driven not by ideology but by impulse, incompetence and the quest for loyalty and personal benefit. Henry Kissinger lamented that Nixon was “a man who let his enemies dictate to him, whose actions were often reactions.” Or as White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has said of Trump, “When he gets hit, he’s going to hit back.”

Trump appears Nixonian in his disregard for democratic norms, Clintonian in his personal recklessness and beyond Reaganesque in his distance from the details of policy. But where the parallels and parables of past scandals fall apart is with Trump’s well-documented disregard for truth. In Watergate, Iran-contra and the Clinton impeachment, views of the president’s honesty played a significant role for the public, for administration officials and for lawmakers torn over how to proceed.

Normally, revelations of presidential deceit are consequential. When Nixon speechwriter Patrick Buchanan, among the most devoted of the president’s men, explained to Nixon family members why a damning Oval Office recording meant that resignation was inevitable, he emphasized not law but dishonesty. “The problem is not Watergate or the cover-up,” he argued. “It’s that he hasn’t been telling the truth to the American people. The tape makes it evident that he hasn’t leveled with the country for probably eighteen months. And the President can’t lead a country he has deliberately misled.” When Sen. Susan Collins of Maine (one of a handful of Senate Republicans who ultimately voted against both articles of impeachment for Clinton) was agonizing over the decision, her misgivings centered on the president’s forthrightness. “She could not get over Clinton’s recklessness — it was as if he could not stop doing wrong, could not tell the truth,” Baker reports. And some of Reagan’s worst Iran-contra moments came in statements the president made in late 1986 and early 1987, when his questionable mastery of details and shifting rationales received tough scrutiny. In a March 1987 Oval Office speech, he finally (and mostly) fessed up. “A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages,” Reagan said. “My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.”

The current president does not even attempt to save face. Fact-checkers have documented so many of Trump’s false or misleading statements during the 2016 campaign and into the first year of his presidency that there is no presumption of honesty left to squander. Even when Trump dismisses the fact checks as fake news — in effect, being dishonest about his dishonesty — it doesn’t seem to matter. Trump’s relentless attacks against anyone seeking to hold him accountable help neutralize the impact on his supporters.

During Watergate, top Nixon aides worried that the material on the Oval Office tapes — not just the disclosures of wrongdoing but also the “amorality” of Nixon’s words and thoughts — would hurt the president and the presidency. Ziegler was adamantly opposed to releasing transcripts, Woodward and Bernstein write, because “there was rough language on the tapes,” candid discussions that would “offend Middle America, destroy his mandate.” Once certain transcripts were made public, Nixon lawyer Leonard Garment worried that president had “allowed America into the ugliness of his mind — as if he wanted the world to participate in the despoliation of the myth of presidential behavior. . . . That was the truly impeachable offense: letting everyone see.”

With Trump, we’ve already seen it, and we already know it. His tweets are his Nixon tapes; the “Access Hollywood” recording his Starr report; his heedlessness for checks, balances and the rule of law his Iran-contra affair. Offending does not destroy his mandate, it fulfills it. The expectation of integrity has given way to a cynical acceptance of deceit. As much as anything Mueller uncovers, this is the scandal of our time.
Follow Carlos Lozada on Twitter and read his latest book reviews, including:
A guide to presidential impeachment, but just in case. Not thinking of anyone in particular. really.
Sorry, but I don’t care how you felt on election night. Not anymore.

The presidency survived the Watergate, Iran-contra and Clinton scandals. Trump will exact a higher toll. - The Washington Post: ""

Saturday, December 23, 2017

How Stephen Colbert Used Trump to Win the Late-Night War


"… There are a number of factors that may have helped Colbert achieve this new level of dominance in the late-night sphere, but the biggest has to be his relentless and unflinching focus on all things Trump.
Whereas at the beginning of his Late Show run, Colbert made some futile attempts to fashion his monologue around a wide range of news stories in the mold of those who came before him, from Johnny Carson to Fallon, in 2017, those monologues were almost always about Trump and nothing else."

How Stephen Colbert Used Trump to Win the Late-Night War: "

Stoking Fears, Trump Defied Bureaucracy to Advance Immigration Agenda - The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Late to his own meeting and waving a sheet of numbers, President Trump stormed into the Oval Office one day in June, plainly enraged.

Five months before, Mr. Trump had dispatched federal officers to the nation’s airports to stop travelers from several Muslim countries from entering the United States in a dramatic demonstration of how he would deliver on his campaign promise to fortify the nation’s borders.
But so many foreigners had flooded into the country since January, he vented to his national security team, that it was making a mockery of his pledge. Friends were calling to say he looked like a fool, Mr. Trump said.

According to six officials who attended or were briefed about the meeting, Mr. Trump then began reading aloud from the document, which his domestic policy adviser, Stephen Miller, had given him just before the meeting. The document listed how many immigrants had received visas to enter the United States in 2017.

More than 2,500 were from Afghanistan, a terrorist haven, the president complained.
Haiti had sent 15,000 people. They “all have AIDS,” he grumbled, according to one person who attended the meeting and another person who was briefed about it by a different person who was there.

Forty thousand had come from Nigeria, Mr. Trump added. Once they had seen the United States, they would never “go back to their huts” in Africa, recalled the two officials, who asked for anonymity to discuss a sensitive conversation in the Oval Office.
As the meeting continued, John F. Kelly, then the secretary of homeland security, and Rex W. Tillerson, the secretary of state, tried to interject, explaining that many were short-term travelers making one-time visits. But as the president continued, Mr. Kelly and Mr. Miller turned their ire on Mr. Tillerson, blaming him for the influx of foreigners and prompting the secretary of state to throw up his arms in frustration. If he was so bad at his job, maybe he should stop issuing visas altogether, Mr. Tillerson fired back.

Tempers flared and Mr. Kelly asked that the room be cleared of staff members. But even after the door to the Oval Office was closed, aides could still hear the president berating his most senior advisers.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, denied on Saturday morning that Mr. Trump had made derogatory statements about immigrants during the meeting.

“General Kelly, General McMaster, Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Nielsen and all other senior staff actually in the meeting deny these outrageous claims,” she said, referring to the current White House chief of staff, the national security adviser and the secretaries of state and homeland security. “It’s both sad and telling The New York Times would print the lies of their anonymous ‘sources’ anyway.”
While the White House did not deny the overall description of the meeting, officials strenuously insisted that Mr. Trump never used the words “AIDS” or “huts” to describe people from any country. Several participants in the meeting told Times reporters that they did not recall the president using those words and did not think he had, but the two officials who described the comments found them so noteworthy that they related them to others at the time.

The meeting in June reflects Mr. Trump’s visceral approach to an issue that defined his campaign and has indelibly shaped the first year of his presidency.

Seizing on immigration as the cause of countless social and economic problems, Mr. Trump entered office with an agenda of symbolic but incompletely thought-out goals, the product not of rigorous policy debate but of emotionally charged personal interactions and an instinct for tapping into the nativist views of white working-class Americans.

Like many of his initiatives, his effort to change American immigration policy has been executed through a disorderly and dysfunctional process that sought from the start to defy the bureaucracy charged with enforcing it, according to interviews with three dozen current and former administration officials, lawmakers and others close to the process, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to detail private interactions.
But while Mr. Trump has been repeatedly frustrated by the limits of his power, his efforts to remake decades of immigration policy have gained increasing momentum as the White House became more disciplined and adept at either ignoring or undercutting the entrenched opposition of many parts of the government. The resulting changes have had far-reaching consequences, not only for the immigrants who have sought to make a new home in this country, but also for the United States’ image in the world.

“We have taken a giant steamliner barreling full speed,” Mr. Miller said in a recent interview. “Slowed it, stopped it, begun to turn it around and started sailing in the other direction.”

It is an assessment shared ruefully by Mr. Trump’s harshest critics, who see a darker view of the past year. Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice, a pro-immigration group, argues that the president’s immigration agenda is motivated by racism.
“He’s basically saying, ‘You people of color coming to America seeking the American dream are a threat to the white people,’” said Mr. Sharry, an outspoken critic of the president. “He’s come into office with an aggressive strategy of trying to reverse the demographic changes underway in America.”

Stoking Fears, Trump Defied Bureaucracy to Advance Immigration Agenda - The New York Times: ""


Trump reportedly said all Haitians have AIDS, Nigerians own huts - NY Daily News


Trump reportedly said all Haitians have AIDS, Nigerians own huts - NY Daily News: ""

Friday, December 22, 2017

Eric Schmidt to Step Down as Alphabet’s Executive Chairman

"No reason was provided for the change. In a statement, Mr. Schmidt said that he, Mr. Page, Mr. Brin and Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, “believe that the time is right in Alphabet’s evolution for this transition.”

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

This Ballot Initiative Could Restore Voting Rights to More Than a Million Floridians | The Nation


This Ballot Initiative Could Restore Voting Rights to More Than a Million Floridians | The Nation: ""

With Children’s Health Program Running Dry, Parents Beg Congress: ‘Do the Right Thing’ - The New York Times


With Children’s Health Program Running Dry, Parents Beg Congress: ‘Do the Right Thing’ - The New York Times: ""

Congressman Slams Trump With Dr. Seuss's "How The Grinch Stole Christmas...

The Republican Plan Isn’t Just About Taxes—It’s About Shredding the Safety Net | The Nation

"In a recent interview, Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) described the Republican approach to government as “survival of the fittest.”

“If you’re well off, great, if you’re not—too bad,” he said.

McGovern is right. The Republican tax bill, on which Congress is expected to vote on Tuesday, is effectively a bid to weed out people struggling to make ends meet. It could have dire consequences for the social safety net—and for the 70 percent of us who will turn to a means-tested program like Medicaid or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at some point in our lives. And it could impact millions who expect to rely later in life on Medicare and Social Security..."

The Republican Plan Isn’t Just About Taxes—It’s About Shredding the Safety Net | The Nation

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

A short history of UFOs in America: Aliens, flying discs and sightings

Groups dressed as aliens ride through downtown Roswell, New Mexico, in July 2000 as they participate in the annual UFO Encounter.

"(CNN) The mysterious flying object that one man saw looked like a "40-foot-long Tic Tac" and was maneuvering and shifting directions rapidly.

That claim doesn't come from a random townsperson, though. It comes from retired Cmdr. David Fravor and bears the Pentagon's stamp of approval. And it was one of many confounding examples of unidentified flying objects the Pentagon investigated in the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program.

"My personal belief is that there is very compelling evidence that we may not be alone," Luis Elizondo, a former Pentagon official, told CNN.

The belief in alien encounters has long been a prominent feature of American life. A 1997 poll from CNN/Time on the 50th anniversary of the Roswell incident found that 80% of Americans think the government is hiding knowledge of the existence of extraterrestrial life forms.

But instead of funding a $22 million project to get to the bottom of the issue, the US military could have spent its time reading some of the many tales of UFO sightings, abductions and alien encounters with humans over the decades.

There are thousands and thousands of reported UFO sightings, but in light of the Pentagon's extensive research into the possible existence of UFOs, here's a look back at some of America's closest encounters of the third kind."

A short history of UFOs in America: Aliens, flying discs and sightings

Bob Corker flips out over his vote-change flop - The Washington Post

Bob Corker flips out over his vote-change flop - The Washington Post

Paul Ryan says he’s staying where he is - The Washington Post

Paul Ryan says he’s staying where he is - The Washington Post

The DACA recipients interning in Congress: ‘Just being here is a statement' - The Washington Post

The DACA recipients interning in Congress: ‘Just being here is a statement' - The Washington Post

'Kill the messenger': how Fox News cried 'coup' over the Trump-Russia inquiry | US news | The Guardian

Robert Mueller’s investigation ‘is getting closer and closer not necessarily to the president but to Kushner’ says former Trump aide Sam Nunberg, ‘So they are taking the kill the messenger approach.’

"Fox News has long been considered an outlet friendly to conservatives, and its best-known hosts of opinion programs in the evening such as Hannity and former colleague Bill O’Reilly have long pushed rightwing issues. Owned by the Australian-born mogul Rupert Murdoch, the channel has a longtime viewer in Donald Trump, who often live-tweets its programming and has sat for 20 interviews with Fox News employees, far more than he has for any other outlet.

Fox has returned the favor by covering the Russia investigation in a positive light for the president. In recent weeks, it has focused on anti-Trump texts sent by Peter Strzok, an FBI agent involved in the investigations of both Trump and Clinton. Fox has focused on a text in which Strzok – who also sent derogatory texts about other political figures in both parties – referred to the Russia investigation as “an insurance policy” and interpreted that phrase to mean that the investigation was an alternative way to stop Trump’s presidency if Clinton lost.

Although the network had long dismissed the Russia investigation as an unnecessary distraction from what some Fox personalities viewed as the real scandals involving Hillary Clinton, the tone has changed in recent weeks with increased rhetoric about “a coup” and the threat to Trump posed by “the deep state”.

The growing criticism comes at a time when Mueller’s investigation has made further progress with the early December plea agreement by the former national security adviser Mike Flynn. However, with few exceptions, congressional Republicans have yet to join the attacks on Mueller.

And Fox News can play a critical role in how the investigation is perceived by supporters of Trump. It is predominantly watched by conservatives, and is a key source for much of Trump’s base. A July poll found that 33% of Republicans get their news only from Fox and indicated a deep distrust of mainstream news outlets among rightwing partisans.

“It reinforces the Trump base. It doesn’t get anybody outside the silo,” said Rick Wilson, a prominent conservative consultant and vocal “never-Trumper”. “Their purpose here is not to convince other Americans that Bob Mueller is corrupt and a Hillary Clinton supporter and needs to be fired.”

In his view, “the conservative media ecosystem has become a shield wall and a defense mechanism for Trump’s base rather than something that is changing everybody else’s opinions and attitudes.”

Although Trump’s counsel Ty Cobb has been urging calm inside the White House and has insisted the investigation will be over in the new year, outside advisers have been taking a different tack. Breitbart, the publication run by former top White House aide Steve Bannon, has been constantly hostile to Mueller, and Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for Trump outside the administration, has been an active surrogate casting doubt on the investigation.

Sam Nunberg, a former Trump campaign aide, agreed. He told the Guardian: “The issue is Fox News and that echo chamber helps keep Republican opposition against the investigation high.” He noted this was also critical in the 1990s to bolstering conservative support for Ken Starr’s investigation of Bill Clinton.

Nunberg noted: “From a practical point of view, this investigation is getting closer and closer not necessarily to the president but to [Jared] Kushner [the president’s son-in-law and adviser] and potentially damaging information. So they are taking the kill the messenger approach which is why you see all this loud hoopla over Mueller getting the emails” – a reference to a claim by Republicans that Mueller’s inquiry inappropriately gained access to messages from Trump’s transition team, which Mueller’s spokesman has denied....

'Kill the messenger': how Fox News cried 'coup' over the Trump-Russia inquiry | US news | The Guardian

The Politics of Branding, Meeting Obama & Trump's First Year: The Daily ...

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Poverty in America is a moral outrage. The soul of our nation is at stake. If we are to save the soul of this country from the poverty that is killing us, we must act, we must agitate, we must cause some righteous trouble | Rev William Barber and Rev Liz Theoharis | Opinion | The Guardian

‘So-called evangelicals should listen to Pope Francis, who called poverty a scandal.’

"In March of 1968, as part of a tour of US cities to shine a light on poverty and drum up support for the recently-launched Poor People’s Campaign, the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr visited the northwest Mississippi town of Marks. He saw a teacher feeding schoolchildren a meager lunch of a slice of apple and crackers, and started crying.

Earlier this month, officials from the United Nations embarked on a similar trip across the US, and what they observed was a crisis of systemic poverty that Dr King would have recognized 50 years ago: diseases like hookworm, caused by open sewage, in Butler County, Alabama, and breathtaking levels of homelessness in Los Angeles’ Skid Row, home to 55,000 people.

“I think it’s very uncommon in the first world,” UN special rapporteur Philip Alston said. “This is not a sight that one normally sees. I’d have to say that I haven’t seen this.”

The morally troubling conditions Dr King witnessed across the country cemented his call, along with leaders in the labor movement, tenant unions, farm workers, Native American elders and grassroots organizers, for a campaign to foster a revolution of values in America.

Half a century later, the conditions that motivated the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign have only worsened, making the need for a new moral movement more urgent than ever. Compared to 1968, 60% more Americans are living below the official poverty line today – a total of 41 million people. The gap between our government’s discretionary spending on the military versus anti-poverty programs has grown from two-to-one at the height of the Vietnam war to four-to-one today.

That’s why, this month, poor and disenfranchised people along with clergy and moral leaders nationwide launched the Poor People’s Campaign: a National Call for Moral Revival, to challenge the enmeshed evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation, and our distorted national morality.

The observations by the United Nations published this week are an urgent alarm bell for the moral emergency facing the country. As King did 50 years ago and Alston did earlier this month, we will travel the country to make sure the poor are not ignored. But it is not enough to bear witness. If we are to save the soul of this country from the poverty that is killing us, we must act, we must agitate, we must cause some righteous trouble.

The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, which will be highlighted by 40 days of direct action and nonviolent civil disobedience this spring, is not a commemoration. It’s an acknowledgment that, 50 years later, there is still so much work to do to foster a revolution of values in America.

There’s a strange irony in America when it comes to poverty. The states with the highest poverty rates are in the south. And those same states have the highest rates of voter suppression of black people. Through this racialized voter suppression, politicians who support policies that hurt the poor get elected. While a larger percentage of black people are living in poverty, in raw numbers, there are actually more white than black people below the poverty line.

So-called white evangelicals are omnipresent in the poorest areas of our country, and they say the least about systemic poverty, which is the foremost issue in authentic Christian religious theology. After our denominations splintered over the moral question of slavery and the nation stood on the brink of civil war, Frederick Douglas said, “Between the christianity of this land and the christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference.”

Sadly, his observations ring true today.

These so-called evangelicals should listen to Pope Francis, who called poverty a “scandal.” He said, “In a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone, it is unfathomable that there are so many hungry children, that there are so many children without an education, so many poor persons. Poverty today is a cry. We all have to think if we can become a little poorer, all of us have to do this. How can I become a little poorer in order to be more like Jesus, who was the poor Teacher?”

The most radical, progressive shifts in our country’s history occurred when concerned citizens across racial lines come together. This was the case after the civil war, during the civil rights movement and today, in the Moral Mondays Movement and the Fight for $15.

The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival will unite Americans across all races, creeds, religions, classes and other divides – because it’s going to take all of us to revive the soul of our nation."

The Reverend Dr William Barber and the Reverend Dr Liz Theoharis are co-chairs of The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival

Poverty in America is a moral outrage. The soul of our nation is at stake | Rev William Barber and Rev Liz Theoharis | Opinion | The Guardian

The Final Version of the G.O.P. Tax Bill Is a Corrupt, Cruel, Budget-Busting Hairball | The New Yorker

"For individual households, the bill contains some tax cuts and expanded family credits. But these provisions are temporary, and they are also partially offset by changes to the rules about deductions. Because the deduction for state and local taxes will be limited to ten thousand dollars a year, for instance, some upper-middle-class households in states like California and New York could end up paying more to the federal government.

Nowhere to be found in the bill are three elements that House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and their colleagues originally promised to deliver when they urged the American public to embrace tax reform: revenue neutrality, simplicity, and fairness. The final bill is a corrupt, budget-busting hairball.

According to its authors, the bill will increase the budget deficit by about $1.5 trillion over ten years. That’s a lot of money, obviously, but it’s an underestimate. If you adjust the numbers for a series of accounting gimmicks, such as expiration provisions that are unlikely to go into effect, the real cost seems likely to come out at more than two trillion dollars.

To insure that the final bill would have enough votes in both chambers, the conference committee larded the bill with various additional handouts. They reduced the top rate of income tax to thirty-seven per cent, compared to 38.5 per cent in the Senate bill. (Currently, the effective top rate is close to forty-one per cent.) And they did a big favor to large businesses by getting rid of the corporate Alternative Minimum Tax, which many of them could have ended up paying because their tax rates under the new system will be so low.

The principle of simplifying the tax code met the same fate as the principle of fiscal responsibility: it was jettisoned. Originally, the White House proposed reducing the number of tax brackets from seven to three. The final bill contains seven brackets: ten per cent, twelve per cent, twenty-two per cent, twenty-four per cent, thirty-two per cent, thirty-five per cent, and thirty-seven per cent. On the business side, the revised treatment of pass-through income is so complicated that most tax experts don’t yet fully understand it. One thing we do know is that it will create big incentives for highly paid employees to turn themselves into independent contractors or L.L.C.s, which qualify for the new low business tax rates.

As for fairness, that principle was junked a long time ago. The final bill reflects the same principle as the previous two G.O.P. bills: Dom Perignon for the plutocrats, cheap swill for the masses. The bill is also cruel. In abolishing the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to purchase health insurance, it will make individual plans even more costly and more difficult to obtain, especially for sick people. This isn’t just a tax bill. It is a backdoor effort to overturn the principle of universal access to health care."

The Final Version of the G.O.P. Tax Bill Is a Corrupt, Cruel, Budget-Busting Hairball | The New Yorker

What Doug Jones and the Democrats owe black voters.


What Doug Jones and the Democrats owe black voters.

Crime-fighting robot retired after launching alleged ‘war on the homeless’ - The Washington Post

"Like so many classic Western anti-heroes before him, he rolled (literally) into town with a singular goal in mind: cleaning up the streets, which had become a gritty hotbed of harassment, vandalism, break-ins and grift.

The only difference was that he was a slow-moving, 400-pound robot with a penchant for snapping hundreds of photos a minute without people’s permission, and this was San Francisco’s Mission District in 2017.

What could go wrong? Quite a bit, as it turns out.

In the past month, his first on the job, “K-9″ — a 5-foot-tall, 3-foot-wide K5 Autonomous Data Machine that can be rented for $6 an hour from Silicon Valley start-up Knightscope — was battered with barbecue sauce, allegedly smeared with feces, covered by a tarp and nearly toppled by an attacker.

As if those incidents weren’t bad enough, K-9 was also accused of discriminating against homeless people who had taken up refuge on the sidewalks he was assigned to patrol. It was those troubling allegations, which went viral this week, that sparked public outrage and prompted K-9’s employers — the San Francisco chapter of the animal rescue group SPCA — to pull the plug on their newly minted robot security pilot program.

“Effective immediately, the San Francisco SPCA has suspended its security robot pilot program,” Jennifer Scarlett, the organization’s president, wrote in a statement emailed to The Washington Post on Thursday. “We piloted the robot program in an effort to improve the security around our campus and to create a safe atmosphere for staff, volunteers, clients and animals. Clearly, it backfired.”

[Saudi Arabia, which denies women equal rights, makes a robot a citizen]

SPCA officials said the robot was hired to patrol the parking lot and sidewalk outside the animal shelter after the building had been broken into twice and employees had become fed up with harassment and catcalls. The robot, they said, would be able to snap photos, record security footage, and then notify shelter employees or police during an emergency.

The backlash began after an animal shelter spokeswoman, in an interview with the San Francisco Business Times this week, seemed to suggest that the robot was an effective tool for eliminating the homeless encampments outside the SPCA, leading to a sudden reduction in crime. SPCA officials now say they didn’t mean to imply that they wanted to be rid of the homeless and have pointed out that they partner with several local organizations to provide veterinary care for homeless pet owners.

Nevertheless, a public outcry, complete with calls for the robot’s destruction, quickly ensued. A flurry of attention-grabbing headlines implied that the robot was specifically employed to target the homeless.

“Robot wages war on the homeless,” a particularly inflammatory Newsweek headline read."

Crime-fighting robot retired after launching alleged ‘war on the homeless’ - The Washington Post
Crime-fighting robot retired after launching alleged ‘war on the homeless’ - The Washington Post

‘Trump, Trump, Trump!’ How a President’s Name Became a Racial Jeer - The New York Times

"The high school basketball squad from Eagle Grove, population 3,700, had traveled 60 miles up Highway 69 in Iowa to play the team from Forest City, population 4,100. It would be the Eagles against the Indians, a hardwood competition in the center of the country. For some people, this is as American as it gets.

At one point during the online streaming of the game last month, two white announcers for a Forest City radio station, KIOW, began riffing on the Hispanic names of some players from the mildly more diverse community of Eagle Grove. “They’re all foreigners,” said Orin Harris, a longtime announcer; his partner, Holly Jane Kusserow-Smidt, a board operator at the station who was also a third-grade teacher, answered: “Exactly.”

For some people, this is as American as it gets.

Mr. Harris then uttered a term occasionally used these days as a racially charged taunt, or as a braying assertion that the country is being taken back from forces that threaten it. That term is, simply, the surname of the sitting American president.

“As Trump would say, go back where they came from,” Mr. Harris said.

“Well, some would say that, yeah,” Ms. Kusserow-Smidt said. “Some days I feel like that, too.”

Last year’s contentious presidential election gave oxygen to hate. An analysis of F.B.I. crime data by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, found a 26 percent increase in bias incidents in the last quarter of 2016 — the heart of the election season — compared with the same period the previous year. The trend has continued into 2017, with the latest partial data for the nation’s five most populous cities showing a 12 percent increase."

‘Trump, Trump, Trump!’ How a President’s Name Became a Racial Jeer - The New York Times

Why Melania, Ivanka & Jared's mayoral election votes didn't count - NY Daily News. Ignorant, dumb and just plain stupid. Absentee ballots are easy to complete. I have done it a few times. Jeez, what a family.


"Good thing last month's mayoral election wasn't close because if New Yorkers needed the Trump family to decide the outcome, they would have been out of luck.

President Trump and his family of New Yorkers were not in the Big Apple Nov. 7 when voters went the polls, so they voted by absentee ballot.
Or at least they tried to.

Officials at the city's Board of Elections said the President signed and dated an absentee ballot along with an application on Oct. 19, checking a box that said he would be absent from the city on Election Day.
De Blasio shoots down question of 2020 presidential runFirst Lady Melania Trump did the same, submitting a handwritten form that had everything in capital letters.

But the First Lady did not sign the envelope she put the ballot in as required by BOE, so her vote wasn’t counted."

Why Melania, Ivanka & Jared's mayoral election votes didn't count - NY Daily News: ""

Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program - The New York Times

"The Defense Department has never before acknowledged the existence of the program, which it says it shut down in 2012. But its backers say that, while the Pentagon ended funding for the effort at that time, the program remains in existence. For the past five years, they say, officials with the program have continued to investigate episodes brought to them by service members, while also carrying out their other Defense Department duties.

The shadowy program — parts of it remain classified — began in 2007, and initially it was largely funded at the request of Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who was the Senate majority leader at the time and who has long had an interest in space phenomena. Most of the money went to an aerospace research company run by a billionaire entrepreneur and longtime friend of Mr. Reid’s, Robert Bigelow, who is currently working with NASA to produce expandable craft for humans to use in space.

On CBS’s “60 Minutes” in May, Mr. Bigelow said he was “absolutely convinced” that aliens exist and that U.F.O.s have visited Earth.

Harry Reid, the former Senate majority leader, has had a longtime interest in space phenomena. Credit Al Drago/The New York Times

Photo by: Al Drago/The New York Times

Working with Mr. Bigelow’s Las Vegas-based company, the program produced documents that describe sightings of aircraft that seemed to move at very high velocities with no visible signs of propulsion, or that hovered with no apparent means of lift.

Officials with the program have also studied videos of encounters between unknown objects and American military aircraft — including one released in August of a whitish oval object, about the size of a commercial plane, chased by two Navy F/A-18F fighter jets from the aircraft carrier Nimitz off the coast of San Diego in 2004.

Mr. Reid, who retired from Congress this year, said he was proud of the program. “I’m not embarrassed or ashamed or sorry I got this thing going,” Mr. Reid said in a recent interview in Nevada. “I think it’s one of the good things I did in my congressional service. I’ve done something that no one has done before.”

Two other former senators and top members of a defense spending subcommittee — Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, and Daniel K. Inouye, a Hawaii Democrat — also supported the program. Mr. Stevens died in 2010, and Mr. Inouye in 2012."

Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program - The New York Times

Trump administration prohibits CDC from using certain words. According to a Washington Post report, the Trump administration is banning the Center for Disease Control from using certain words in their official documents including fetus, transgender and diversity. | MSNBC

Trump administration prohibits CDC from using certain words | MSNBC

What are the grounds to impeach a President? Impeachment Clauses: Alexander Hamilton, Federalist, no. 65, 439--45

Alexander Hamilton, Federalist, no. 65, 439--45

7 March 1788

A well constituted court for the trial of impeachments, is an object not more to be desired than difficult to be obtained in a government wholly elective. The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or in other words from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself. The prosecution of them, for this reason, will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties, more or less friendly or inimical, to the accused. In many cases, it will connect itself with the pre-existing factions, and will inlist all their animosities, partialities, influence and interest on one side, or on the other; and in such cases there will always be the greatest danger, that the decision will be regulated more by the comparitive strength of parties than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.

The delicacy and magnitude of a trust, which so deeply concerns the political reputation and existence of every man engaged in the administration of public affairs, speak for themselves. The difficulty of placing it rightly in a government resting entirely on the basis of periodical elections will as readily be perceived, when it is considered that the most conspicuous characters in it will, from that circumstance, be too often the leaders, or the tools of the most cunning or the most numerous faction; and on this account can hardly be expected to possess the requisite neutrality towards those, whose conduct may be the subject of scrutiny.

The Convention, it appears, thought the Senate the most fit depositary of this important trust. Those who can best discern the intrinsic difficulty of the thing will be least hasty in condemning that opinion; and will be most inclined to allow due weight to the arguments which may be supposed to have produced it.

What it may be asked is the true spirit of the institution itself? Is it not designed as a method of NATIONAL INQUEST into the conduct of public men? If this be the design of it, who can so properly be the inquisitors for the nation, as the representatives of the nation themselves? It is not disputed that the power of originating the inquiry, or in other words of preferring the impeachment ought to be lodged in the hands of one branch of the legislative body; will not the reasons which indicate the propriety of this arrangement, strongly plead for an admission of the other branch of that body to a share in the inquiry? The model, from which the idea of this institution has been borrowed, pointed out that course to the Convention: In Great Britain, it is the province of the house of commons to prefer the impeachment; and of the house of lords to decide upon it. Several of the State constitutions have followed the example. As well the latter as the former seem to have regarded the practice of impeachments, as a bridle in the hands of the legislative body upon the executive servants of the government. Is not this the true light in which it ought to be regarded?

Where else, than in the Senate could have been found a tribunal sufficiently dignified, or sufficiently independent? What other body would be likely to feel confidence enough in its own situation, to preserve unawed and uninfluenced the necessary impartiality between an individual accused, and the representatives of the people, his accusers?

Could the Supreme Court have been relied upon as answering this description? It is much to be doubted whether the members of that tribunal would, at all times, be endowed with so eminent a portion of fortitude, as would be called for in the execution of so difficult a task; & it is still more to be doubted, whether they would possess the degree of credit and authority, which might, on certain occasions, be indispensable, towards reconciling the people to a decision, that should happen to clash with an accusation brought by their immediate representatives. A deficiency in the first would be fatal to the accused; in the last, dangerous to the public tranquillity. The hazard in both these respects could only be avoided, if at all, by rendering that tribunal more numerous than would consist with a reasonable attention to oeconomy. The necessity of a numerous court for the trial of impeachments is equally dictated by the nature of the proceeding. This can never be tied down by such strict rules, either in the delineation of the offence by the prosecutors, or in the construction of it by the Judges, as in common cases serve to limit the discretion of courts in favor of personal security. There will be no jury to stand between the Judges, who are to pronounce the sentence of the law and the party who is to receive or suffer it. The awful discretion, which a court of impeachments must necessarily have, to doom to honor or to infamy the most confidential and the most distinguished characters of the community, forbids the commitment of the trust to a small number of persons.

These considerations seem alone sufficient to authorise a conclusion, that the Supreme Court would have been an improper substitute for the Senate, as a court of impeachments. There remains a further consideration which will not a little strengthen this conclusion. It is this. The punishment, which may be the consequence of conviction upon impeachment, is not to terminate the chastisement of the offender. After having been sentenced to a perpetual ostracism from the esteem and confidence, and honors and emoluments of his country; he will still be liable to prosecution and punishment in the ordinary course of law. Would it be proper that the persons, who had disposed of his fame and his most valuable rights as a citizen in one trial, should in another trial, for the same offence, be also the disposers of his life and his fortune? Would there not be the greatest reason to apprehend, that error in the first sentence would be the parent of error in the second sentence? That the strong bias of one decision would be apt to overrule the influence of any new lights, which might be brought to vary the complexion of another decision? Those, who know any thing of human nature, will not hesitate to answer these questions in the affirmative; and will be at no loss to perceive, that by making the same persons Judges in both cases, those who might happen to be the objects of prosecution would in a great measure be deprived of the double security, intended them by a double trial. The loss of life and estate would often be virtually included in a sentence, which, in its terms, imported nothing more than dismission from a present, and disqualification for a future office. It may be said, that the intervention of a jury, in the second instance, would obviate the danger. But juries are frequently influenced by the opinions of Judges. They are sometimes induced to find special verdicts which refer the main question to the decision of the court. Who would be willing to stake his life and his estate upon the verdict of a jury, acting under the auspices of Judges, who had predetermined his guilt?

Would it have been an improvement of the plan, to have united the Supreme Court with the Senate, in the formation of the court of impeachments? This Union would certainly have been attended with several advantages; but would they not have been overballanced by the signal disadvantage, already stated, arising from the agency of the same Judges in the double prosecution to which the offender would be liable? To a certain extent, the benefits of that Union will be obtained from making the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court the President of the court of impeachments, as is proposed to be done in the plan of the Convention; while the inconveniences of an intire incorporation of the former into the latter will be substantially avoided. This was perhaps the prudent mean. I forbear to remark upon the additional pretext for clamour, against the Judiciary, which so considerable an augmentation of its authority would have afforded.

Would it have been desirable to have composed the court for the trial of impeachments of persons wholly distinct from the other departments of the government? There are weighty arguments, as well against, as in favor of such a plan. To some minds, it will not appear a trivial objection, that it would tend to increase the complexity of the political machine; and to add a new spring to the government, the utility of which would at best be questionable. But an objection, which will not be thought by any unworthy of attention, is this--A court formed upon such a plan would either be attended with heavy expence, or might in practice be subject to a variety of casualties and inconveniencies. It must either consist of permanent officers stationary at the seat of government, and of course entitled to fixed and regular stipends, or of certain officers of the State governments, to be called upon whenever an impeachment was actually depending. It will not be easy to imagine any third mode materially different, which could rationally be proposed. As the court, for reasons already given, ought to be numerous; the first scheme will be reprobated by every man, who can compare the extent of the public wants, with the means of supplying them; the second will be espoused with caution by those, who will seriously consider the difficulty of collecting men dispersed over the whole union; the injury to the innocent, from the procrastinated determination of the charges which might be brought against them; the advantage to the guilty, from the opportunities which delay would afford to intrigue and corruption; and in some cases the detriment to the State, from the prolonged inaction of men, whose firm and faithful execution of their duty might have exposed them to the persecution of an intemperate or designing majority in the House of Representatives. Though this latter supposition may seem harsh, and might not be likely often to be verified; yet it ought not to be forgotten, that the demon of faction will at certain seasons extend his sceptre over all numerous bodies of men.

But though one or the other of the substitutes which have been examined, or some other that might be devised, should be thought preferable to the plan, in this respect, reported by the Convention, it will not follow, that the Constitution ought for this reason to be rejected. If mankind were to resolve to agree in no institution of government, until every part of it had been adjusted to the most exact standard of perfection, society would soon become a general scene of anarchy, and the world a desert. Where is the standard of perfection to be found? Who will undertake to unite the discordant opinions of a whole community, in the same judgment of it; and to prevail upon one conceited projector to renounce his infallible criterion, for the fallible criterion of his more conceited neighbor? To answer the purpose of the adversaries of the Constitution, they ought to prove, not merely, that particular provisions in it are not the best, which might have been imagined; but that the plan upon the whole is bad and pernicious.

Impeachment Clauses: Alexander Hamilton, Federalist, no. 65, 439--45