This Week’s PotUS Conflicts of Interest Round-up!

In the last seven days:

  • Kellyanne Conway (Counselor to President Trump) used a talk-show appearance to tell the nation to “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff,” violating Code of Federal Regulations §2635.702
  • The President himself likewise violated CFR §2635.702 when he scolded Nordstrom’
    C4PLzuOWYAUyoy0
    Code of Federal Regulations §2635.702

    s via Twitter on his personal account and then re-tweeted that scolding from the offical @potus account (see below).

  • The President is likely risking another violation of CFR §2635.702 by plugging his Florida country club as the “Winter White House” (as well as creating other serious ethical conundrums).
  • The President is still likely in breach of contract with the “Old Post Office” hotel.
  • The President’s use of revocable trust under his own SSN “to hold assets for the exclusive benefit of Donald J. Trump” and legally controlled by his son does nothing to insulate him from his international businesses—including hotels, which are currently a conduit for funds from foreign governments to directly benefit him personally.
  • (this one is sort of a sub-point of the above) The facile suggestion that “money from foreign governments will go to the U.S. Treasury, not the PotUS” is meaningless in the absence of a coherent and detailed question of how that would be done and a neutral, third-party auditing and verifying the same. Such a plan does not exist.
  • No one has a clue what the PotUS’s business dealings include, because he refuses to release his tax returns.

What you can do:

  1. Call your reps and ask them to support Rep. Bill Pascrell’s request that the House Ways and Means Committee subpoena Trump’s tax returns for private congressional review.
  2. Support Rep Jerry Nadler’s Resolution of Inquiry “directing the Department of Justice to provide the House of Representatives with any and all information relevant to an inquiry into President Trump and his associates’ conflicts of interest, ethical violations—including the Emoluments Clause—and Russia ties.”

 

 


 

UPDATE:

I know it feels sorta like our democracy is crumbling right now, so I want to reiterate that a lot of this craziness is actually a sign of the our system working, not failing.  Yes, we’re a month in and have yet to go a single business day without a new affront to decency and orderly government—but our institutions are still rooting out the weeds and shoveling the bullshit off the paths.  Yes, there is always a risk of those instutitons being debilitatingly buried, but your actions—your daily calls, your protests, your agitation—are keeping this front and center in the news, and keeping feet held to the fire.  

And as you make your calls and hold up yoursigns, let’s remember those good ole “High Crimes and Misdemeanors“:

High crimes and misdemeanors

Briefly On Neil Gorsuch and Compromise

I’m not super-duper enthusiastic about Neil Gorsuch joining the SCotUS—which is probably not much of a shocker—but some of his writing resonated with me, and I wanted to meditate on that.  Here’s a snippet from his book on assisted suicide and euthanasia:

All human beings are intrinsically valuable and the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong. We seek to protect and preserve life for life’s own sake in everything from our most fundamental laws of homicide to our road traffic regulations to our largest governmental programs for health and social security. We have all witnessed, as well, family, friends, or medical workers who have chosen to provide years of loving care to persons who may suffer from Alzheimer’s or other debilitating illnesses precisely because they are human persons, not because doing so instrumentally advances some other hidden objective. This is not to say that all persons would always make a similar choice, but the fact that some people have made such a choice is some evidence that life itself is a basic good.

That orange emphasis is mine, because I agree 100%.  I’ve double emphasized “private persons” because Gorsuch uses that to cop out of some things that I find absolutely essential to humanity leveling up from here, but I’ll let it slide because I believe something else: 

I’ve never seen a human action that was not undertaken by a “private person.”  That private person may have been acting on the orders of the State or a corporation or along the dogma of thier faith, but the actor in the moment—the human holding out the bowl of food, holding out the knife, holding out the gun, holding out the helping hand—has always been a private person choosing (perhaps under duress, perahaps in a situation where there are no good choices) to comply or to refuse.

But that’s my bit, not Gorsuch’s, and it’s beside the point, becasue what I diuscovered in reading this is the following:

Given these words, Gorsuch and I aren’t such different people (apart from a religious/superstitious disagreement about what constitutes a “human life.”)  And the thing is, I would accept living under the Christian supersition that a lump of potentially viable human cells entirely dependent upon staying embedded within the person of another human being is somehow a “unique human life” if that also meant no more death penety, no more war, no more state application of potentially deadly force, and actually fully funding and implementing “our largest governmental programs for health and social security” so that folks on these shores don’t just have an abstract “right to life,” but a true and concrete right to a decent life.

That’s both a logically consistent trade off, and one whose ramifications I would accept, even thought it would mean putting me in violation of the true and deeply held tenants of my faith.

But, of course, this isn’t the trade off I’m being offered.

According to the WaPo (all the blockquotes in this post are from this same article):

[Gorsuch] specifically avoids discussing war and capital punishment, saying they “raise unique questions all their own.”

In other words, we’re back to the cryptic American assertion that one murder by one man is horrible and to be avoided at all costs, but thousands upon thousands murdering thousands upon thousands is somehow A-OK.  It seems to me this is sort of our thing as a nation, right?  Your kid steals a candy bar, you ground him.  Your kid grows up to make millions stealing people’s homes, and he’s a captain of industry.  #America

So there we are:

All human beings are intrinsically valuable (even ones who don’t exist) and the intentional taking of human life is always wrong (except for when the government decides to do it).

The Washington Post goes on to note:

Gorsuch rejected that view [i.e., U.S. Court of Appeals Justice Posner’s assertion that there were situations where physician-asssisted suicide should be permitted], writing it would “tend toward, if not require, the legalization not only of assisted suicide and euthanasia, but of any act of consensual homicide.” Posner’s position, he writes, would allow “sadomasochist killings” and “mass suicide pacts,” as well as duels, illicit drug use, organ sales and the “sale of one’s own life.”

Again, sorta interesting that all of these consensual things are no-go—because all human beings are intrinsically valuable, even the ones who don’t want to keep being human—but if the state very much against your will decides to torture you to death with a crazy nonsense drug cocktail . . . well, I don’t need to belabor the point.

For what it’s worth, I was talking to some law school lawyers last week, and the second-hand inside-baseball from them (one of whom has a pal who clerks for Gorsuch) is that the dude is solid, fair-minded, and non-ideoligical when he’s on the bench—the sorta thing you want in a Supreme Court Justice, I’m told.

You need REST to #RESIST

If the last–what, two weeks(!?!)–are any indication, it’s going to be a long four years.  There are going to be plenty of set-backs and, more disheartening, plenty of near misses (the DeVos squeaker just now not the least of them).  Progress is slow, because by design these wheels grind exceedingly fine.

It is easy to lose faith, so remember these five things:

  1. Resistance works. As I write this, carefully vetted refugees are finding sanctuary here, the rights of LGBTQ federal workers have been preserved, the repeal of Obamacare has stalled, the great Federal Lands Rummage Sale is on hold—all things you accomplished with nothing but phone calls and poster-board signs.  We don’t need to shed blood or set fires or take up arms; we are doing this with cellphones and markers.  That is amazing and beautiful and the true cornerstone of this nation’s foundation.
  2. You can switch it up.  Calling your members of congress is important.  Showing up at the big protests is important.  So is hitting those town halls.  But they aren’t everything.  There’s a quieter undercurrent to social action, the part where you simply chat with folks in your community, letting them know you have each other’s backs.  I especially like the notion of “truth advocacy”—take time off from putting out energy (hitting the phones, hitting the streets, etc.) to read and research on your own, and to disseminate what you learn.
  3. You can take a break.  Take a day off.  Take a weekend off.  You’ll be shocked how much you’ll feel like diving back in after giving yourself a 24-hour break from talking politics, calling reps, reading the paper, or looking at social media.
  4. You can join at any time.  If you’ve never called your rep, you can do so for the first time right now.  If you can’t call daily, you can call weekly.  You are picking up the slack for someone who has reached that burnout point and needs a day off.  We need subs like you just as much as we need those every-single-day every-single-protest power players!
  5. We shall defeat them, one by one.☝️  Remember: The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice—provided that we keep putting our weight towards bending that mutherfucker. It ain’t gonna bend on its own.

usa-american-flag-waving-animated-gif-26

The Math I Should Not Have Done

There have been more than 60 bomb threats targeting U.S. Jewish Community Centers in the past month, more than 30 of them since the inauguration alone (i.e., in the last twelve days).  Most of these have been domestic in origin (I have that from several sources, include a JCC security head who was told this at an info session with the Detroit FBI office this week).

just another funny little joke, i guess
just another funny little joke, i guess

That number sounds bad—but you don’t really have a benchmark for this, right?  I mean, you ask yourself “Well, how often do folks call bomb threats into YMCAs or non-Jewish daycares?”, and the answer is “Basically zero”—so that sounds bad.  But then you poke around online, and find that U.S. schools get over a thousand bomb threats every year (in fact, I used to teach at an alternative school, and one of my students—a very sweet and peaceful kid when I knew him—had been kicked out of his last school for making a bomb threat).  And how often do schools get bombed?  (Actually, bombs are placed at schools more than you think: According to some old ATF numbers, nearly 100 devces are placed each year in schools).

So I started poking around the FBI UCR (Universal Crime Reporting) Hate Crime stats.  Here’s a representative sample of annual anti-Jewish “intimidation” crime tallies (“intimidation” is the UCR category that includes, but is not limited to, bomb threats).  You’ll note a predominantly downward trend:

  • 1996 had 363 such offenses 
  • 1997: 387
  • 1998: 380
  • 1999: 420
  • 2007: 201
  • 2008: 201
  • 2010: 201
  • 2011: 187
  • 2012: 87
  • 2013: 152
  • 2014: 93
  • 2015: 114

(My numbers above are spotty, owing both to gaps in the FBI stats and because I just can’t dedicate too much time to picking around UCR reports tonight.)

I’ve emphasized 1999 for three reasons:

  1. It is the peak of the available numbers by a significant margin.
  2. It’s the year of the Los Angeles Jewish Community Center shooting committed by Buford O. Furrow
  3. If January 2017 is indicative, then we can expect 600 bomb threats this year.  And if bomb threats generally correlate to the volume and volatility of anti-Semitic hate floating around out there . . . well, you can do the math.

“Won’t Somebody Think of the Children!!1!” (Yemen Edition)

“On the campaign trail, Trump endorsed killing relatives of terrorist suspects, which is a war crime. “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families,” he told Fox News in December 2015.” (source)

If your position is “Trump said we should kill the families of ‘terrorists’—an abominable, authoritarian war crime—and now he’s doing just that!” well, way back in 2016, when we had a President with a Noble Peace Prize on his mantle, we dropped thousands of bombs on Yemen (google it), and it isn’t like those somehow magically only killed sworn soldiers of AQAP.  A bomb dropped from a drone isn’t somehow more accurate than a highly trained SEAL with an excellent rifle standing in the same room as someone.  But, man oh man, do we suddenly give a fuck about Yemen, and military operations in Yemen, and civilian casualties in Yemen!  Better late than never, amiright?

Nawar al-Awlaki was 8 years old. Now she's dead. Don't forget to pay your taxes on April 18!
Nawar al-Awlaki was 8 years old. Now she’s dead. Don’t forget to pay your taxes on April 18!

I’m once again reminded of Penn & Teller’s Fishes and Loaves:

Penn and Teller were scheduled to appear on Letterman, and so they prepared a new twist on a classic “broken and restored watch” routine. In their improved version, they’d borrow Letterman’s watch, smash it, then wheel out a big aquarium and sprinkle the parts in the water, where they’d dissolve and the fish would eat them. Letterman would then freely select one of the fish, Teller would scoop it out with a net, they’d gut and and ta-da!, there would be the whole, ticking watch in the fish’s guts!

But the network standards and practices lawyers wouldn’t let them do that trick; it’d be too brutal to have an animal killed on screen. So Penn and Teller re-jiggered the routine: Instead of an aquarium full of live fish, they’d wheel out a fishmonger’s ice table with six dead fish on it. They’d take the host’s watch, smash it, sprinkle the bits in the ice, the bits would dissolve, the host would freely select a dead fish, and Teller’d fillet it to reveal the watch. Standards loved it, the host loved it, and that’s what went on live TV.

The point of the story—which is the sort of thing that belongs in an atheist’s Bible—is that everyone was more comfortable with six fish dying instead of one, provided they didn’t have to watch.

Same here: Dozens, hundreds, thousands of Yemeni kids are killed by bombs Made-in-the-USA, and we’re fine with it—as long as we don’t have to see her fucking picture, as long as it’s done from 36,000 feet by a drone piloted by some dude drinking a Sprite in a cubicle at Creech AFB and there’s no chance of one of “our boys” having to come home in a box in order to git ‘er done!  God forbid we should look at what our tax dollars are buying. 

It’s harsh, but it’s an apt summation of American foreign policy: Killing people’s families is our business model.

It was our business model in 2016, it will continue to be in 2017, the party, skin color, generation, and gender of the president notwithstanding.  If you don’t like that—well, you’re in decent company, because I don’t like it either.  But let’s be honest with ourselves, and just take a damned second to sort out of we really don’t like being in the Murder Business, or if we simply dislike it when a mouthy, pudgy, tactless New Yorker is the one murdering on our behalf.

Finally, if you’re suddenly worried about Trump triggering “World War III,” then I invite you to consider something: Maybe—just maybe—WWIII has been going on for the last 15 years.  We just outsourced all the suffering to developing nations—the same way we do with all the rest of our dirty work.

Maybe this is something else to talk about tomorrow, when you call your reps. I dunno; that’s between you and them.

I kinda miss the good ole days . . .

. . . back when Groundhog Day was a IMG_7123time for bickering about which Bill Murray characters were the right amount of rapey, and to what degree your childhood was “raped” by a bunch of millionaires remaking a mediocre ’80s comedy.

Anyway, gotta jet: I need to get on hold to wait and ask my congressfolk to try and keep the Shadow President from deporting my neighbors, touch base with the head of security at my local Jewish Community Center, then walk to a meeting for some pro-bono legal advice. Busy day!🇺🇸🔥

Plz take 5mins RIGHT NOW and call your reps about this presidential violation of common decency and religious liberty

If you haven’t settled on what you’re calling your reps about today, may I suggest the Second Place President’s Friday executive order banning Muslim immigrants from seven war-torn nations?

Mr. Trump also established a religious test for refugees from Muslim nations: He ordered that Christians and others from minority religions be granted priority over Muslims.

(Source: Trump Bars Refugees and Citizens of 7 Muslim Countries)

By Friday night that order was already being used to detain folks who had already been fully vetted, in addition to showing loyalty to the US for years in the global war in terror. We should be welcoming these guys as heros and ideal Americans, not sending them back to be tortured and murdered.

In any case, an executive order that “Christians be granted priority” should not rest easy with any American.

UPDATE: Was doing some research Sunday and found a phrase that might come in handy when you make those calls: “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” 

High crimes and misdemeanors

Clarification on Calling Your Reps, and Props to Senator Stabenow

Props to Senator Debbie Stabenow for Playing it Legit

First things first, I want to applaud my senator, Debbie Stabenow, for being hella legit. I just called her office for my daily check-in, and got a little insight on her process when it comes to the Second-Place President’s cabinet nominations:  Sen. Stabenow has been meeting with each nominee one-on-one, preferably face-to-face, to feel them out and attempt to get answers to the specific concerns being raised by her constituents.  None of the grand-standing or histrionics congressfolk are notorious for, just a straight-up, respectful Q&A.  This also means that when Stabenow announced that she would not support Jeff Sessions or Betsy DeVos, she had already told them this to their faces.  I respect the hell out of that, and knowing this bit about her process helps me feel less terrible.  Thank you, Sen. Stabenow!usa-american-flag-waving-animated-gif-26

Second, I want to clarify two things about calling your reps (which you should be doing daily.  Please!):

  1. Call your reps even if you know they already agree with you and are doing what you want done! Tell them “thank you!” If you feel even an iota safer knowing that they are going to bat for you, then say so.  This serves two purposes:
    1. It’s a numbers game.  They count calls, and those numbers mean something, not just in their office, but on the floor of the House and Senate. The Honorable Gentleman from BFE cares a helluva lot about 100 calls from folks in his district—at the very least, those people can fire him in a couple short years!—but he sure as hell doesn’t just ignore 10,000 calls in The Honorable Lady’s district over in Big City Metro Area, because he sure as hell doesn’t plan on representing BFE his whole damn life.  He wants to go places.  (This isn’t just my opinion; this is what Rep. Dingell’s office told me this morning:  The number one thing you can do as an individual citizen is keep calling.)
    2. Your reps have the worst job, and they need moral support.  They are going to get screamed at and threatened for sticking up for the things we want—that’s ludicrous, because you’d think all Americans should want well-funded schools, neighbors from all over the world, and safe drinking water, but here we are. Your reps have to get up every morning, put on uncomfortable shoes, and go get screamed at by weirdos.  It is a lot easier for them to hang tough if they can keep in mind how many hundreds of folks back home have their back.
  2. Making these calls is as much about your mental health as our nation’s stability.  Even when you’re on the losing end of an issue—and you will be, often—you are going to start feeling better if you take 10 minutes each day to talk to these staffers, to hear their confidence and enthusiasm and bravery and support of you, as a citizen and a fellow human.

So, go! Get out there!  Make your calls and then get on with your day!

Calling Your Reps: A Guide for the Timid (with “Quick Start” and “Power User” options!)

I am a for-real, diagnosed agoraphobe.  You may be “terrified” of calling usa-american-flag-waving-animated-gif-26folks on the phone, but I am legit terrified of calling strangers on the phone.  Like, panic attack terrified, sick-to-my stomach terrified, go to the doctor terrified, diagnosed with good ole “DSM-IV-TR 300.21: Panic Disorder With Agoraphobia” terrified.

If I can do this, you can do this.

Quick Start

This is so easy it should be a hoax:

  1. Goto the 5 Calls website.
  2. If it doesn’t auto-detect your location, then click “Change” in the big white “5 Calls” box on the top left and enter your zip code.
  3. Pick an issue from the menu that pops up and start calling.  They explain the issue, give you a script to use, and provide the phone number.  If you’re on your smartphone, then you can just tap the number to start the call.
  4. Repeat until you’ve made five calls; it’ll take you less than five minutes.

This is a great place to start: The folks at 5 Calls are highlighting important issues and their scripts look solid.  I really like that it goes beyond just calling Congress (for example, the first time I used the site it had me call the U.S. Army Core of Engineers about the Dakota Access pipeline; slick!)

But there are a couple things that I don’t like about this service:  1) it only gives your congressfolks’ D.C. phone numbers; 2) I don’t particularly like reading someone else’s script, because I worry that too many cookie-cutter calls lose impact; 3) I’m gonna level with you: I’ve started crying on these calls before, suddenly realizing how upset I am about these issues.  I don’t really like crying, I definitely don’t like crying on the phone with strangers, but I’ve got to believe that a grown man crying about Special Education and his kid’s school—that probably does indeed get relayed to your rep, and gets folks in that office fired up about the issue.

So, that brings us to …

Power User Mode

  1. Add your congressfolks’ numbers to your phone’s contact list.  Find out who your reps are and get both their D.C. numbers and their in-state numbers (most offices are easier to reach on one or the other; with my congressfolk I can always get through on their Michigan numbers, but rarely on the D.C. numbers). If you have no clue who your reps are, look it up by address or text your zip code to (520) 200-2223 and a robot will send you their numbers instantly (sadly, that service is mostly limited to D.C. contact info—but it’s so damn convenient, I can’t help but keep plugging it).
  2. Create a daily reminder in your calendar to call your reps.  Drive time is great for this, as is that dead zone just before or after lunch, or any time you know you’ll be sitting around waiting for your kid’s school bus or whatever.
  3. Take a glance at the front page of a reliable newspaper each day.  I like the New York Times and Washington Post.  The Wall Street Journal is fine for this, as are the Detroit News and Free Press (I’m a Michigander) or ugly-ass AP Wire homepage—even frikkin USA Today.  I’ve drawn away from Slate (their tone was too confident before the election, and is too panic-inducing now), but still think they get their facts right enough for these purposes.  The little NPR news-breaks are fine, too.  Avoid the op-ed pages of any of these papers, as well as polemical sites (e.g., HuffPo, Politico, etc.), Google News (which has proven too easily manipulated), and social media (where I’ve found—at least in my feed—items are frequently so compressed for character count and spun for impact that they come dangerously close to departing from fact).  The point here is that you want a pretty plain-vanilla factual account of what’s happened in the past day.
  4. Decide which thing on the front page bugs you most.  Today, for me, it’s this: “Sometime this week, Trump is expected to pause the flow of all refugees to the U.S. and indefinitely bar those fleeing war-torn Syria. The president’s upcoming order is also expected to suspend issuing visas for people from several predominantly Muslim countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen”  This bugs me for several reasons, but I think the biggest is this: Five out of those seven Muslim countries are places that the U.S. bombed every 20 minutes, 24 hours per day, for all of 2016.  To my mind, if you drop 20,000 bombs on some people who are minding their own business, you owe them something—like maybe a non-bombed place to live.
  5. Call your reps about it and tell them how you feel.  You don’t have to tell them what to do—vote for this, against that, whatever—you don’t have to suggest how to fix anything.  Figuring that part out is their job.  You just call, identify yourself and the city where you live, and say “The president said this…” or “I read in the paper that…” or “This rich person is arguing that we should do this other stuff…” and it scares the shit out of me.  Please help us.