Today's Columbus Dispatch contains a story about a woman who has started a business making bulletproof inserts for backpacks as a means of protecting kids from school shootings.
I'm sure the woman in question means well, but this is another one of those sorts of stories that are cast as heartwarming and inspirational but which, in reality, stand as utter indictments of our society's abject failure to do the bare minimum to take care of its citizens. It is also a story about how we do more to encourage the monetization of our society's failures -- "Hey, this person has started a business premised on the fears parents have of their kids getting shot!" -- than we do to actually address those failures.
Imagine a society in which we keep guns out of the hands of would-be killers rather than sending our kids to school in body armor. Imagine a society in which people get the medical treatment they need rather than rely on GoFundMe drives that, luckily, got a celebrity retweet. Imagine a society in which needy children were fed rather than one in which a kid saved up money from mowing lawns to pay off "lunch debts."
We can do better, people. We must do better. Don't accept that the way things are is the way things must be.
In 1944, Franklin Roosevelt proposed a Second Bill of Rights, which guaranteed those things listed above. Winning the war, obviously, was a priority at the time, and FDR died before that ended, preventing him from ever getting to this. Truman attempted some form of this with his "Fair Deal," but with Republicans growing in power throughout the mid-late 40s and into the early 50s, he never had the political strength to carry it through and it was shelved.
It's obviously ambitious, and there have obviously been developments, both technological and societal, which would make so much of this difficult to practically enact. I'm not sitting here saying that it'd be easy or proposing some specific policies to do so. I'm merely pointing out that, at one time, leaders of this country had a vision for such things and had at least some constituency supporting them in this regard. The things listed above remain noble and necessary goals for a civilized and just society, even if achieving them presents challenges.
Until not terribly long ago I was naive enough to believe that most conservatives agreed about these goals in at least the broadest sense, with the disagreement being about how best to achieve them. Liberals believed doing so required a great deal of government intervention while conservatives, wary of large governmental expense and power, instead believed that the private sector would better deliver these things via markets. Those assumptions formed the basic domestic political debate which has animated American politics for the past 80-90 years or so.
It's apparent now that conservatives -- particularly those with some amount of wealth or power -- never actually believed any of that. They do not actually do not want a society that provides decent standards for everyone, and their central fear is that liberal policies will actually deliver them.
(h/t my friend Steve Treder, who voiced this basic sentiment on Facebook yesterday; he's a smart one).
American leaders declaring last night as "an act of war," without acknowledging that it came in response to our own, initial act of war perfectly echo America's history of decrying Iran's actions since 1979 without reference to our direct role there in the 26 years proceeding it. Or, for that matter, the 40+ years following it.
We overthrew their democratically-elected government and installed and propped up a tyrannical king who oppressed them for decades. We supported their mortal enemy in a war that devastated their country and killed half a million people. We entered into a treaty with them, reneged, and then placed crippling sanctions on them. We just assassinated their second most powerful leader who was beloved domestically.
While none of this erases or excuses the bad or destructive acts of Iran or its surrogates in the past several decades, there is no escaping the fact that those acts have largely come in response to our aggression and interference in a country and a region that is not ours.
Make no mistake: we are the aggressors here. We are the bad guys. If you chose to ignore that, you are doing so out of blind allegiance to the Trump Administration and willful blindness to history.
When I was young the older men I knew were World War II veterans. My grandfather. My great uncle Harry. Larry Alvord across the street. They wouldn't talk much about their experiences unless you asked them. When they did talk about it they were very matter-of-fact. War was scary and often ugly. They were often confused. Sometimes they were bored. But mostly they were just happy they came home alive.
They didn't have to justify it because it was a manifestly necessary war against a manifestly evil foe. They didn't have to glorify it because there was, by the time I was around, several decades of books and movies and TV shows and documentaries and lore that did it in their place, often by people who themselves were not involved in the war. Actual World War II veterans who produced such things tended to be a bit more ambivalent about it all.
All of that aside, when I was little, war as I understood it was a pretty straightforward concept: it was bad, but sometimes necessary, and eventually it ended.
There were younger men I knew who were also veterans. My uncle would never talk about his experience in Vietnam. He once got in a car and drove away for hours on the Fourth of July so he didn't have to be near the firecrackers my cousins and I were setting off.
I also had a teacher who, while not yet 40, had a limp and snowy white hair and who, some parents said, was not always well because, "you know, Vietnam." He always seemed fine to me, but I always remembered what my friends' parents said and wondered if he was unwell in some way.
Unlike my grandfather or Larry Alvord across the street, I'd never dare ask my uncle or my teacher about their experiences. It seemed too scary. I began to understand it, though, through books and movies and TV shows and the like. That war was different, I learned.
As the 1980s went on, people began to talk about that war more and more. They began to talk about its mistakes and how its soldiers had been mistreated. But rather than make up for that mistreatment in any substantive way, they began to talk more about how, if we had done things differently, that war could've gone differently. People who, again, had nothing to do with that war, began to play-act alternative outcomes to it as a means of trying to make everyone feel better about it all. I've always regretted not asking my uncle or my teacher how they felt about all of that.
As all this was going on, our country did a couple of little practice wars. Even as a kid I felt like we did them more to make ourselves feel better than anything else. To make up for losing in Vietnam by putting a quick couple of Ws on the board.
My brother joined the Navy in 1989. In late 1990 his ship was sent to the Red Sea as our country prepared for another war. It's hard to remember it now since history has declared it such a walkover, but during the run-up to the Gulf War there were predictions that, while U.S. victory was all but certain, the conflict could be protracted and Iraq would nonetheless inflict massive casualties until it was defeated. Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski forecast 20,000 casualties. Pat Buchanan predicted 30,000. Ted Kennedy estimated that there would be 3,000 U.S. casualties per week. It was not out of the question that a random ship could be sunk by an Iraqi missile.
Not that most people thought too hard about it. For most people, the prelude to the Gulf War played out like the week before the Super Bowl. Cable news assumed the stance of a pregame show. The coming war even had a theme song, by the same guy who did the Monday Night Football theme song. Jingoism ran amok.
I was a senior in high school and I had been awarded an ROTC scholarship. I wasn't sure I was going to take it, but I visited a couple of college ROTC programs to see how that all worked. On January 16, 1991 my dad and I drove from West Virginia to Columbus. We had an appointment to meet the Ohio State University ROTC commandant the next morning. That night, after we got to our hotel room, the fighting in Kuwait started. Dad and I ate pizza as we watched it unfold in real time. Sometimes CNN would cut to video of a ship firing a missile. We wondered if it was my brother's ship. We were both worried.
The next morning at the ROTC building we passed a student lounge with a television tuned into the war coverage surrounded by a dozen or so uniformed cadets. Cheers and high fives erupted with each bomb blast and Tomahawk missile strike. The cadets’ glee at the outbreak of war was unnerving.
We went on to meet the Commandant. He was a nice enough fellow but he couldn’t go three sentences without making excited reference to the previous night's carnage. Since everyone else in the country had suddenly assumed a quasi-military vocabulary and deified military officers as if they were intermediaries carrying forth the world of God, I think he thought all that war chatter would help him sell me on the scholarship and coming up to Ohio State to join his program. I got sick to my stomach as the conversation went on. By the time it was over only he and my dad were talking By the time we left late that morning I knew that I wasn’t going to be taking the ROTC scholarship.
Subsequent history has made the first Gulf War seem almost quaint, not unlike those practice wars in Grenada and Panama. And, sure, I suppose those who predicted thousands of American casualties were way off. How people still manage to gloss over the rank carnage the conflict inflicted, though, still astonishes me all these years later.
Twelve years later our country geared up for war again. Or, I should say, since we had already been fighting in Afghanistan for over a year at that point, our country geared up for a second war. It was in Iraq again. There seemed to be no justification for it at all this time apart from the people in charge of our country simply being hellbent on going to war in Iraq again. They made one up though, inventing the idea that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and were prepared to use them on us. Or something like that.
The war began just before I took off on a month-long road trip. On May 1, 2003 my trip took me to White Sands, New Mexico. At the White Sands Missile Range Museum there's a boneyard of old missiles, rockets, and bombs. A friend who had joined me for that leg of the trip and I got out and climbed on disarmed weaponry. Just days before the army had finished subduing a foreign country because it allegedly dared to acquire some of their own. That turned out to be a lie. The all-but-empty museum we were visiting had more weapons of mass destruction than all of Iraq did.
That night my friend and I camped just outside of Alamogordo. We listened to a news report on the radio which described how President Bush had, that very day, on the deck of an aircraft carrier, declared that the mission in Iraq had been accomplished. Not long after that guerrilla warfare broke out and an insurgency ramped up. The vast majority of casualties of the Iraq war, both military and civilian, occurred after the mission had, allegedly, been accomplished.
I found out I was going to be a father for the first time when I was in the middle of the road trip I was on at the time the Iraq War kicked off. Today I drove my son -- my second child, who was born more than two years after the "Mission Accomplished" banner flew -- to a job interview.
On the way there he, aware of the United States' assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, made some nihilistic "World War III" jokes, the sorts you probably saw floating around on social media today. I told him it wasn't a laughing matter. Chastened, he then more soberly wondered whether any of the kids he goes to high school with will be fighting in Iran or Iraq in a couple of years. It was a good question.
We've been at war, continuously, since before my kids were born. My kids who are now interviewing for jobs and thinking about what colleges they'll apply to. War that no one in power ever seems to seriously question. War that has killed millions and has cost trillions. War, a thirst for which those in power remain insatiable to this day.
War that, unlike the war of my grandfather and Larry Alvord across the street, no one seems to acknowledge is bad, no one ever asks if it was necessary, and one which will apparently never end.
A war we have all tacitly agreed that we will never seriously question because, somehow, we have convinced ourselves that to do so would be to once again mistreat my uncle and my teacher who went to Vietnam 50 years ago.
War based on the same arguments and lies and disingenuous prognostications which have been repeated and which have been proven wrong for two decades but about which no one learns anything.
I sometimes feel like I'm the only one aware of how ridiculous and absurd and tragic obscene all of this is. I'm not, of course. People see it and know it and feel it and have felt pain from it. Millions of them. Pain that almost no one in this country will ever feel and will never acknowledge.
Certainly no one in power will ever feel it. No one with the power to stop it. Those people are immune from the consequences of our forever war and are immune from learning a damn thing. It's a game to them and their surrogates and their cheerleaders. A domestic political problem at best, but one far easier to deal with than almost any other political problem because war is the only topic, it seems, on which both parties can find common ground. Everyone, to some degree or another, is for it. They dare not be.
I'm not for it. I'm tired of it. I'm disgusted by it. I'm disillusioned by it. It's impossibly sad and stupid. It's a ride I want off of. It's a nightmare from which I desperately wish I could wake. A nightmare that has now lasted most of my lifetime. And I am not a particularly young man.
Public impeachment hearings began yesterday and the first two witnesses confirmed that the President of the United States of America used his foreign policy powers to extort personal political favors. What's more, they testified to a previously unknown phone call in which the president personally attempted to direct the extortion scheme.
That's corrupt. It's an abuse of power. It, alongside President Nixon's attempts to manipulate law enforcement and the intelligence community to perpetrate and cover up a break-in, constitutes the most egregious abuse of presidential power in living memory and, perhaps, American history.
The press is less than impressed, however, because there were no fireworks and no "pizzazz":
This sort of media framing -- that something needs pizzazz or fireworks to be interesting -- influences public perception and gives people license to not care about what is, in fact, a critically important chapter in American history. It's horribly irresponsible. It's an utter abdication by journalists who should damn well know better.
I am resigned to the fact that, given our current political reality, Trump, at the absolute most, will be impeached by the House but acquitted by the Senate even if it is unequivocally and undeniably shown that he abused his office and committed high crimes and misdemeanors. I strongly believe it is necessary to do this despite that near-certain outcome, however, because it is important that those in power be required to either stand against or stand in complicity with Trump's corruption and illegality.
But as a journalist, I am deeply, deeply saddened by how irresponsibly the press has been and, apparently, will continue to be in covering all of this. They are failing in their jobs. They are failing democracy. They are failing the American people.
In the space of one news conference today, the president (a) announced he'd be using the power of his presidency to enrich him personally by holding the G7 summit at his own hotel; and (b) his Chief of Staff explicitly admitted that the president used his powers as Commander in Chief to extort a foreign country into interfering in an American election.
Both of these justify the president's impeachment and removal from office.
In the past two and a half years the President has repeatedly argued that he is not subject to legal process. That he is not required to make public information which is historically made public by presidents. That he is not constrained in any real way by either the enumerated, implied, or customary powers of his office. He has acted, in all practical ways, as a monarch.
Now, pursuant to a letter his lawyer sent to Congress yesterday -- a letter devoid of any actual substantive legal objection or defense to current proceedings by Congress -- the president has asserted a legally baseless, blanket assertion that neither he nor anyone who works under him will comply with Congress' constitutionally-authorized and constitutionally-mandated powers of oversight of the Executive Branch. He has made it clear that he believes he is not subject to impeachment or oversight of any kind, full stop.
Which means that we are now in a fully-blown constitutional crisis.
That term -- "constitutional crisis" -- gets thrown around from time to time, often irresponsibly. Usually it's invoked at a time of political gridlock or, perhaps, scandal. Rarely in our history has it actually been deployed accurately and specifically because rarely in our history have we come to a point where the very future of our country and its form of government has been thrown into question. Never has a sitting president rejected any and all constraints on the power of his office and acted as if he and he alone gets to decide how he should proceed. We have now, however, come to that point.
President Trump's declaration that he will not cooperate with a legitimate Congressional investigation will no doubt cause Congress to attempt to exercise formal legal process to compel the production of witnesses and documents. Trump will, apparently, fight those efforts by any means necessary, legal or otherwise. In the end, Trump will either be compelled by a court to comply with the Congressional investigation or he will not be.
The very act of getting to that point, however, risks destroying our system forever.
If the courts side with Trump's abject refusal to comply with Congress in the course of a legitimate investigation -- or if Congress loses its nerve and backs down in the face of Trump's intransigence -- the very concept of Congressional oversight of the Executive will be a dead letter and the notion that we have three co-equal branches of government will be definitively cast aside. Our Republic will, in such case, be transformed, for all practical purposes, into an Executive dictatorship.
If, on the other hand, the courts side with Congress, the president will no doubt intensify his defiant acts and rhetoric, casting Congress, the judiciary and the media as treasonous enemies of the state that have singled him out for persecution. He will no doubt be aided in this by a massively influential conservative media apparatus and, in all likelihood, virtually the entire Republican Party. The end product of this will be that a significant chunk of the population will agree with him that his power has been illegitimately usurped. That a coup has been perpetrated. In that case our Republic, though legally saved, will stand mortally wounded, perhaps for generations.
There are only two ways either of these disastrous constitutional outcomes can be avoided. One is an absolute impossibility and the other is a near-certain impossibility, at least based on everything we have seen:
1. President Trump, at some point, accepts that he must submit himself and his office to Congressional oversight and let that process play out however it plays out; or
2. Influential Republicans -- senators, party leaders, former office holders and those in the media -- call out President Trump's unlawful and irresponsible rhetoric and behavior, assert, unequivocally, that the current Congressional investigation is, in fact, legitimate, and demand for it to proceed accordingly, again, however it may play out.
Short of either of those things occurring, it's hard for me to see how our Constitution emerges from all of this without being mortally wounded and our country thrown into a state of autocracy.
Here it is in black and white: the Whistleblower Complaint is out and not only does it claim, as I noted yesterday, that President Trump abused his power for personal gain, but, in a nod the master, Richard Nixon, he attempted to cover it up is well.
The whistleblower says that Trump pressured a foreign country to investigate his political rivals in order to give him an advantage in the 2020 election and subsequently dispatched his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and the U.S. Attorney General, William Barr, to carry out his plan. All of this in circumvention of U.S. foreign policy, in a manner which the whistleblower characterizes as a "serious or flagrant problem, abuse or violation of law or Executive Order," and in a manner which "pose[s] risks to U.S. national security and undermine[s] the U.S. government's efforts to deter and counter foreign interference in U.S. elections."
What's more, White House officials moved to cover it up.
In the wake of the July 25th call, a summary memorandum of which was produced yesterday, the president's men realized how serious of a transgression Trump had committed. Their response:
Even those who work for Trump knew full well that he had abused his power and intended to continue to do so.
To the extent anyone doubts these allegations or who claims that the complaint is mere hearsay, know that there are multiple people mentioned in the complaint who are said to have supplied consistent, corroborated reports of that which is asserted therein. Reports which can be easily confirmed via the testimony of the people who relayed that which they witnessed to the whistleblower. Which is to say that a few simple hearings will transform this from a mere complaint to documented, admissible evidence that the President of the United States, his Attorney General, his personal lawyer and other senior White House officials violated the law and mounted a coverup.
President Nixon was forced to resign under threat of impeachment for orchestrating a domestic break-in to get dirt on his political rivals and orchestrating a coverup. Trump now stands credibly accused of abusing the power of his office to coerce a foreign government into digging up dirt on his political rivals and orchestrating a coverup.
The facts of the matter could not be more clear. Nor could their implications or the logical conclusion to this affair: President Trump must be impeached. Those who oppose such an effort are endorsing a blatant violation of the Constitution.
UPDATE: Trump seems to be taking this well:
Earlier today President Trump released a summary memorandum of his July 2019 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Its contents are damning. They justify Trump's impeachment, without question.
The summary -- which it should be remembered, was crafted by Trump and his aides in order to put Trump's words and conduct in the best possible light -- clearly shows Trump using his powers as Commander-in-Chief and Head of State to pressure a foreign actor into doing his domestic political bidding.
The critical context: Ukraine faces an existential threat from Russia, with which it has been in a virtual -- and sometimes active -- state of war for some time. Russia has annexed a portion of Ukraine and represents a constant military threat. In light of that, Ukraine desperately depends on foreign military aid, particularly from the United States.
In the call, Zelensky butters up Trump to no end, both personally and about how grateful he is for our help. He also plays into Trump's need to feel superior to other leaders and leans hard into how little help, comparatively, Ukraine receives from Germany and France, mentioning its leaders by name, as Trump is wont to do. Trump laps that up and then leans back into Zelensky, agreeing how important our military aid is to Ukraine's security.
It is against that backdrop that Zelensky makes his ask for FGM-148 Javelin missiles, which are essential for Ukraine in the event of a Russian invasion:
Trump's immediate response:
"I would like you to us a favor though."
Words mean things and the "though" is the smoking gun.
In this passage, Trump is putting an express condition on United States military aid to Ukraine: sure, we'll help you, but you need to help me in combatting my domestic political enemies.
The reference to investigating the “whole situation in Ukraine” and Crowdstrike, refers to the company hired to investigate the hack of the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 election. Trump went on to mention the “other thing." What other thing?
Here Trump is, plainly, asking Zelensky to look into unsubstantiated allegations against Hunter Biden, the son of the potential Democratic nominee.
Trump is asking for political dirt. He is doing so by using Zelensky's obvious desire for military aid as a lever. It could not be any more clear.
It's a shakedown, in which Trump is using his defense and foreign policy powers to aid his political prospects. And, again, it should be noted that this is via Trump's own, self-interested summary memorandum of the conversation. The surrounding context, other conversations, acts in furtherance of this initial exchange, and whatever else exists illuminating all of this likely casts it in a worse light.
President Trump has abused his power. His doing so is an impeachable offense. It could not be any more clear.
UPDATE: The Whistleblower Complaint has been released and it is damning.
It's about as straightforward as a thing can be: the President of the United States has used his powers as commander-in-chief of the armed forces and head of state to coerce another country -- one which relies on us for protection against a stronger, threatening neighbor -- to dig up dirt on his domestic political opponents. That's the textbook definition of abuse of power. One could not invent an example of an abuse of power more on-the-nose than this.
If Congress does not impeach the president for such an act, he is completely and utterly above the law.
It does not matter that the Senate will almost certainly not remove him from office. Doing noting establishes the most dangerous of precedents. Not only with respect to this particular abuse of power but with respect to the fundamental ability of Congress to exercise oversight of a president. If Congress does not impeach here, it is empowering future presidents to abuse their power in similarly brazen and destructive ways.
Force the president to at least to begin to answer for his illegal acts. Force his political allies to stop their ridiculous equivocating and vote, on the record, in support of this. History will look terribly upon this president regardless, but it will look even more terribly upon those who stood by, watched what he did, knew that he abused the power of his office, and let it pass without making even the slightest effort to hold him to account.
The Columbus Dispatch reports today that between 2016-17 the State of Ohio took drugs purchased by and intended for the state's Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and gave them to the prison system to be used in executions. This despite warnings from drug manufacturers not to do so under threat of having drugs millions of people depend on, some to simply live, cut off.
Put more simply: the state thought it was so important to execute people that it was worth putting the lives and health of the sick and those in need at risk to make it happen. This -- along with empowering police to commit violence with impunity -- is one of the logical, violent end-points of the "tough-on-crime" political ideology. The place one reaches when one elevates vengeance above all other purposes of the criminal justice system.
And yes, there are purposes of the criminal justice system other than vengeance.
Rehabilitating criminals and making them productive or, at the every least, non-harmful members of society was once thought of as a laudable goal, but now it is considered too soft. Supporting such a thing makes one vulnerable to political attack ads, so no politician dares to publicly say they are for it. This is why parole is harder to come by, draconian mandatory minimum sentences exist, and capricious "three-strikes" laws are passed.
Simply incapacitating criminals and keeping them from committing more crimes is another purpose of the system. This one is seen as less wimpy by the tough-on-crime crowd, but it's difficult and expensive to house the convicted and doesn't satisfy that eye-for-an-eye bloodlust that seems so important.
So we're left with vengeance.
The problem, though, is that those who adhere to a code of vengeance do so out of the belief that it is mandated by God or some higher, moral power. As such, there is no end seen as more righteous and thus there is no price too high to pay to achieve it. Even if it means harming the sick and needy to see that vengeance is done.
But it's morally abhorrent. Vengeance is not ours. I'm ashamed to live in a state that believes it is. I'm ashamed to live in a state that values state-sanctioned killing above helping those in need.
Over the weekend a report emerged detailing how Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation process was aided by a fast-tracked FBI investigation which failed to follow up with dozens of witnesses with potentially damaging information on the nominee. It also includes new allegations from a witness who says he saw Kavanaugh push his penis into the hand of a female student at Yale. It was an allegation the witness told the FBI about last year but which they failed to investigate.
The new report has led to calls for Kavanaugh's impeachment. Such calls will likely go nowhere given current political reality. I will reiterate, however, that no matter what comes of the current news cycle, Kavanaugh is unfit to be a mere lawyer, let alone a Supreme Court Justice. He should not only not have been confirmed last year but he should probably be disbarred.
Most people are viewing all of this, both last year and now, with reference to the standard of what one can get away with in politics. On that score, sure, Kavanaugh is probably fine in today's graceless and shameless political age. He had and still has sufficient support (i.e. the Republican-controlled Senate). In politics, especially these days, that's all that matters.
Kavanugh, however, is not merely beholden to political processes. As I wrote last year, as a lawyer and a judge, he's beholden to the standards of legal and judicial ethics, which presents a far higher bar.
It is manifestly clear -- and was clear a year ago -- that Kavanaugh lied under oath during his confirmation hearing. Partisans contend that they were lies about minor details on relatively unimportant matters. They contend that they fall short of the sorts of lies which would typically bring forth a perjury charge. All of that may be true. All of it is irrelevant, however, because the standard of candor before a tribunal for an attorney and a judge is far, far higher than "that which is legally actionable for perjury" and no exceptions are made for "lies regarding unimportant matters."
As I wrote last year, a person can be denied a law license for lying about something that happened in college or even high school. A lawyer who even hints at misleading behavior during the course of trying a case or who even shades the truth under oath is subject to disciplinary action. The penalties for lack of candor before a tribunal are severe, and include disbarment.
Which is to say: Brett Kavanaugh would be unfit for office even if this past weekend's report never emerged. He'd be unfit to merely practice law, in fact. That, despite all of this, he is now ensconced in the highest and most powerful position in the entire judiciary for the rest of his life is a stain on the legal profession and on the nation.
I'm often told by opponents of Medicare for All that we can't have a single payer health care system because people love their private insurance.
In other news: Whole Foods is eliminating health insurance benefits for 2,000 workers. Because it can.
Wouldn't life be way better if your health insurance was not controlled by your employer?
Joe Biden leads the polls primarily, I assume, because of name recognition and the fact that Democratic voters liked Obama and associate Biden with him. That's fine. There are a lot of reasons people like candidates, especially if they're not hyper-connected with the day-to-day of the campaign like obsessives can be. Biden, on the whole, has been likable for most of his career and everyone knows who he is. It'd be surprising if he wasn't leading.
In recent weeks he's been increasingly attacked by those pursuing him, however. It was especially noticeable in last night's debate, when the other candidates went after him with gusto. Which is also fine. It's part of the deal when you're the frontrunner.
Biden is not handling the attacks well. His responses to anything but the most basic questions have been rambling and at times nonsensical. He gets lost in his own answers. He's simply not performing well under even the slightest bit of pressure. It's not a good sign.
Biden, however, has a lot of friends in the media, and today we see the sorts of dividends that pays via a New York Times op-ed framed thusly:
This is complete bullshit.
Bernie Sanders is older than Biden. Elizabeth Warren is 70. They have their detractors, obviously, but hardly anyone is attacking them for their age in and of itself. The reason for that is because, unlike Biden, they are coherent, rhetorically nimble and are championing policies that are forward-looking while he stammers, talks in circles, references "record players" and literally dropped his dentures when trying to mount an argument.
Biden is being criticized because his brain doesn't seem to be working. Because he cannot articulate compelling arguments and cannot defend himself in anything approaching a competent manner when attacked. The problem with Joe Biden is not that he's old. It's that he's totally overwhelmed, out of his depth and, worst of all, almost wholly disinterested in advancing policies beyond "I want to be president because it's my turn." It'd be just as disqualifying if a 45-year-old did this.
Biden's inability to argue and defend himself with even a modicum of energy will allow Trump to carve him up when they go toe-to-toe. His unwillingness to advance a forward-looking agenda will sap the enthusiasm of the energetic base of the Democratic party. Both of those things risk making an election that should be an easy win against an unpopular incumbent anything but.
It's why I can't support Biden in the Democratic party, even if I'd support him in the general.
When Joe Biden or whoever talks about "reaching across the aisle" to work with Republicans, someone needs to smack them in the head with a printed-out copy of this editorial, reminding them that Republicans have zero interest in such things because they are ideologically at war with democracy.
My kids are studying 9/11 in school. Yesterday my son was talking about it and described a video they watched featuring victims, family members of victims, and witnesses as "old people talking about 9/11." He spoke of it in the same terms as we might've talked about History Channel shows featuring World War II veterans.
My son is a 14-year-old freshman. September 11 happened almost four years before he was born. On my timeline, the moon landing and Woodstock are equivalently remote historical events. Which is a reminder that while, for many of us, 9/11 seems like it happened quite recently, it's not viewed by younger people in the same way. This should be an obvious sort of observation. "Time marches on" and all of that, but I feel like we're not letting time march on naturally with 9/11.
Unlike so many historical events, 9/11 continues to dominate the zeitgeist in a host of ways, many of them unhealthy. Most obviously, we're still fighting wars, either in response to it or for which it served as a pretext. But it likewise continues to inform our country's policies, business practices, political rhetoric, and mood. Post 9/11 life is so thoroughly shaped by it that I think we often forget just how different things are now than they were 18 years ago today.
There's a balance to be struck between "never forgetting" and "respectfully moving on." I'm not sure anyone has a great grip on exactly how to do that, but it's probably tied up in the difference between simply, "remembering" and having historical events serve as the fulcrum around which most current events continue to turn.
It seems we should still be able to remember the history of 9/11 without it serving as a conversation-ender or political third rail. It seems that we, as adults, should begin to think of 9/11 more like my son and his classmates are thinking about it today. As an important historical event and tragedy. As something which should be remembered and something from which we should learn. But as something that is, in fact, in the past and something which should not so thoroughly dominate the culture that it keeps us from moving forward into the future.
School starts for my two high schoolers in a week. Today was pick-up-the-schedule day, and I was required to be there with them for various little administrative tasks. It all went well except for one thing: "E + R = O."
"E + R = O" is a motivational concept developed by Jack Canfield, the guy who came up with the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" books. The kids' school introduced it as some guiding concept of their own a year ago and, from the looks of things, it'll be back for the 2019-20 school year.
Why is a public high school in Ohio running with some motivational speaker's schtick? Probably because it was very prominently adopted by former Ohio State University football coach Urban Meyer, who made it part of his motivational schtick several years ago.
Meyer put it in his leadership book and won a ton of football games and a national championship while giving voice to the concept. If you're from central Ohio and understand just how insane people here are about Buckeye football, it's not hard to imagine how such a thing might be picked up by school administrators who want to associate themselves with success. I mean, there may be a lot of smart educational ideas floating around out there, but how many of them were used to go 7-0 against Michigan? Yeah, I thought so.
So what is E + R = O?
The letters stand for "Events + Response = Outcomes." Here's a short version of the idea, as put by Canfield:
If unlimited success is your goal, looking outside of yourself is a strategic error. The most important lesson you must understand that you are 100 percent responsible for your life – the good and the bad . . . The basic idea is that every outcome you experience in life (whether it’s success or failure, wealth or poverty, wellness or illness, intimacy or estrangement, joy or frustration) is the result of how you have responded to an earlier event in your life. Likewise, if you want to change the results you get in the future, you must change how you respond to events in your life … starting today.
Meyer has his own spin on it, but it's basically the same thing:
You can’t control the Es of life—the Events you encounter. And you don’t have direct control over the Os—the Outcomes. The only thing you do have total control over is the Rs—your Responses to the Events you encounter.
Meyer's version goes on to set forth six mental techniques to make sure your Responses to Events help you achieve optimal Outcomes. Things like "press pause" to give yourself time to think about how you react and "get your mind right" to focus on positive things rather than negative things. Taken together, these techniques are called "The R Factor." The idea is to use "The R Factor" to "Own your R," or your Response, and thereby achieve good Outcomes when confronted by life's Events.
My kids' school's version of this is basically identical to Meyer's. There's lots of talk about the R-Factor and "Owning your R." They had a months-long program about it last year, complete with video seminars and rallies and stuff. They hand out the wristbands shown above to kids who want 'em. They even had a damn logo.
Given the misuse of the word "everyday" on it, it's pretty clear that this is 100% a function of school administrators and that the English teachers were not consulted. Maybe more than just the English teachers should've been consulted, actually, because if they were, maybe someone would've pointed out how fucked up all of this really is.
It's fucked up because E + R = O is not just a means of supplying kids with problem-solving tools. As is made plain by Canfield and Meyer, with it comes an inherent promise -- you will be successful if you do this -- that cannot possibly be kept, it completely discounts the nature of the "Events" people face in the real world, and it demands that we ignore the advantages and disadvantages some people have to begin with, which changes the nature of the Events they face. Some people will fail in life, at least temporarily, no matter how much they "Own Their R." Others will succeed, no matter what, even if they do very little.
That's because not all "Events" are created equally. Nor, despite what we are so often told to believe, are all people. At least in terms of means and privilege.
In the real world, some kids wake up in the morning with no food to eat or go to bed at night having suffered abuse at the hands of those who are supposed to care for them. In the real world the deck is stacked in favor of the wealthy, white people, straight people and men while it is stacked against the poor, people of color, LGBTQ+ people and women. In the real world people get sick or suffer from chronic diseases. In the real world people suffer from mental illness. There's a lot of bad shit out there wrapped up in that "E."
People like Canfield and Meyer, however, would have us discount all of that. "You are 100% responsible for your life," says Canfield. "Unsuccessful people focus too much on the E part," says Meyer. I'm struggling to think of how anyone other than someone who has not had to deal with much in the way of adversity -- or someone who has far more non-self-motivational tools at their disposal to deal with it such as money, power or privilege -- could discount the potential power and magnitude of adversity so cavalierly.
Which, in some ways, makes it understandable why my kids' school so readily took up the E + R = O concept.
New Albany is a wealthy community. While not everyone here is rich, there is much more money here than in almost any town or any school district in the state. Yes, everyone is fighting a battle outsiders know nothing about, but it's also the case that most people in New Albany have much greater resources to fight those battles. Poverty or economic insecurity is not a concern for the vast majority of kids here. Neither is crime. It's an overwhelmingly white place too, so most of the kids at my kids' school have never and will never have to deal with discrimination or bigotry the way many kids do.
In light of all of that it's probably true that, in a great many cases here, some simple positive thinking and R-owning will result in a great many positive Outcomes. But that's because almost any techniques -- be it "getting one's mind right" or "calling Daddy for help" -- is going to result in a great many positive Outcomes for kids in New Albany. The deck is stacked in favor of most of them and most of them are going to be dealt a better hand regardless.
That state of affairs underscores just how pernicious E + R = O is as a philosophy. It demands that people forget external inputs such as basic inequality and biased institutions and credit themselves with all outcomes. When the idea is applied to a group of people who are inherently privileged, it serves primarily to reinforce that privilege by having its practitioners believe that they, and nothing else, are responsible for their success. It demands that they forget that they were born on third base while giving them permission to celebrate hitting a triple. Meanwhile, it demands that they look at those who are not so privileged -- those who may be crushed by a wave of Events far bigger than most New Albany kids will ever know -- and blame them for their failure to achieve good Outcomes. Studies have also shown that constantly telling disadvantaged kids that society is inherently fair can be harmful.
No, I don't think that's what New Albany school administrators had in mind when they adopted E + R = O. I don't think they rolled it out as an explicit means of reinforcing the plutocracy or whatever. To the contrary, I suspect that aspect of it wasn't dwelled on much if at all and, instead, the idea's proponents focused on the "R Factor" stuff which, boiled down to its essence, is some pretty straightforward power of positive thinking stuff.
And I'm sympathetic to that.
There are better and worse ways to respond to life's challenges. It's true that it's better to be positive rather than negative if possible. It's true that it's best to find constructive ways to address adversity if we can. I want my kids to be good problem-solvers and I want them to face adversity with as much rationality, determination and positivity as they can muster. I've spent their whole lives trying as best I can to instill those ideas in them and if the school wants to help me with that, I'm happy for them to do it.
But it's possible to do that without going all-in with a toxic, prepackaged and celebrity-endorsed philosophy like E + R = O. A philosophy that casts anyone who falls short of their goals as a failure and blames them for that failure when, often, they are not to blame, and credits anyone who has achieved success as responsible for and worthy of that success even when, often, they did nothing but be born to achieve it.
And I'd say that even if Urban Meyer wasn't suspended and then forced into an early retirement because he refused to Own his R in the face of a big E that happened with one of his employees about a year ago. God, screw that guy.
"Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed." -- Antonin Scalia, Doe v. Reed, 561 U.S. 186 (2010)
Yesterday Congressman Joaquin Castro -- who is also chairman of his brother Julian Castro's presidential campaign -- tweeted out the names of several notable people and business owners in his district who made maximum campaign donations to Donald Trump. Castro said he did so because "their contributions are fueling a campaign of hate that labels Hispanic immigrants as 'invaders,'" and said that people should know who in their community are giving financial support for that agenda.
A backlash to Castro's tweet has emerged. Some of it is predictable, with Republicans calling it "targeting" or "shameful" and the Trump campaign itself calling it "reckless and irresponsible." Some members of the media, most notably the New York Times' chief White House correspondent, Maggie Haberman, have also taken issue with it, calling it "dangerous."
This is absolutely crazy.
The notion that listing names from legally-mandated public lists of political campaign donors is somehow out-of-bounds is unadulterated insanity. The ENTIRE POINT of campaign donation disclosure laws is for people to know who donates to whom. The ENTIRE POINT is to make it clear who is, or who may be, beholden to whom as a result of financial support for one's campaign. It's a an essential means of fighting corruption and promoting transparency in our political system and has been so for centuries.
The Republican response is particularly nonsensical. Republicans have sought -- successfully, I will add -- to massively increase the amount of money in politics under the guise of free speech. Their argument: a campaign donation is an act of free expression under the First Amendment and thus should not be limited, even in the case of corporations, who likewise possess free speech rights. For them to now claim that those exercising their all-important free speech rights should be able to do so in anonymity is deliciously hypocritical. Or it would be if, as I suspect, this little bit of outrage isn't the opening salvo in an effort to have campaign donation disclosure laws repealed. Short of that, the outrage likely centers on Republicans wanting to be able to hide just how much they support Donald Trump, thereby allowing themselves to say, later, when he is gone, that they never supported such a disgrace of a president and a human being.
The media's discomfort with this is likewise ridiculous. Reporters routinely do stories on campaign donations and donors, using the very same freely-available data Castro used to do so. Indeed, the same New York Times for which Maggie Haberman works published an article with the names of each and every donor to the Clinton Foundation -- thousands upon thousands of people -- complete with a searchable database a couple of years ago. And they were fully within their rights to do it. For them to now be uneasy with this shows just how easily they are swayed by -- or just how much they fear -- Republican outrage on any given topic.
Back in my days as a lawyer I spent a lot of time handling campaign finance cases before the Ohio Elections Commission. Let me tell you, there is NOTHING a corrupt politician wants more than to be able to hide who his donors are. The campaign disclosure laws seek to prevent that. And, given that the campaign finance system is itself overseen by political actors, the public nature of such disclosures is an absolutely essential component of the system. Citizens and the press must have access to this information. Indeed, the more they read and disseminate about campaign donations the better the system will be understood, the more people will know about who has power and who seeks influence, and thus the better and more transparently the system will function.
Of course, I have no idea if Castro's use of this information is good politics. It may not be. It could backfire. Or someone could use the same tactic against him or his brother to their detriment. Who knows? But the mere fact that someone -- even someone with a political agenda like Castro -- is using this information should be of no concern to the rest of us whatsoever.
We don't debate whether anyone who says the things Trump says is a racist. It's obvious. I mean, if your neighbor told a black person to "go back to Africa" or a any other non-white, native-born person "go back to where you came from," the message would be loud and clear: a non-white person is less-than-American and unwelcome to them. It would be racism in its most naked form.
Yet, suddenly, when the guy who does it has some sort of political constituency, it's a matter of fine nuance, with the media choosing its mildly-at-best condemning language carefully and Republicans breaking out Webster's dictionary to parse the meaning of "racism" in a way that makes it OK for them to give Trump a pass.
It's patently ridiculous, of course. Trump is a racist. It's not even a close call and it's far, far from being a matter for debate. If you support him, you support a racist. It's pretty simple.
Now, to be clear, you can like some things presidents do and not like others and hedge support most of the time. But not when racism is involved. You don't get to pick and choose when the evil is so dire.
Racism -- via slavery, Jim Crow and everything that has flowed from it -- is our nation's original and lasting sin. It is that, above everything else, our nation has to answer for, then, now and forever. As such, all else should fall away when it re-emerges, re-ascendant. You don't get to pick and choose to say "sure, he's ushered in an age of white ethnonationalism, but the economy is good, so . . ."
People can have one view or another on any manner of issues and take the good with the bad in what will, inevitably, be imperfect leadership. But not when it comes to racism. When it comes to that, anything other than total rejection and opposition is morally and ethically unacceptable. Your tax cuts and deregulation and whatever the hell else you want from this administration can wait while you either oppose it fully or admit you stand complicit with racists, legitimizing them. Our nation's history has mandated that you make that choice.
Pick your side.
Last week the president dispatched his daughter, who is a professional fashion designer, to the G-20 summit and the DMZ.
This morning tanks and fighter jets are rolling into Washington as the president turns our nation's annual Fourth of July celebration into a show of military strength cum campaign rally.
A leader sending his hilariously unqualified children out on official state business and hosting strongman military parades on the streets of the capital are not things that happen in healthy democracies. It's what happens in autocracies. It's the stuff of would-be cults of personality. It's the stuff of banana republics.
That that's where we are right now -- and that no one in a position of power or influence seems interested in calling it out or doing a single thing to stop it -- pretty much says all that needs to be said about the state of America.