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

“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.

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

How to Smash Fascism without Really Trying

Here’s the thing about dictatorial violations (be they as outrageous as genocide or as comparably mild as yelling at a barista for wishing a “Happy Holidays!”):

They rarely have the support of the majority of the population—and certainly never start with even half the population on board.  Atrocities don’t require the majority’s active participation; they just need the majority’s active acquiescence.  And the majority will acquiesce even to the most terrible crimes as long as those aren’t too far outside the norm.  The wider the margin between “normal” and “atrocity,” the safer we all are; a pot that’s not allowed to even simmer can never boil over. 

So here’s a game plan for keeping the Melting Pot lukewarm:

  1. Learn these three sentences:
    1. An honestly curious “I’m not sure I follow you?”  (Other options: “Hunh; why do you think that?”)
    2. A bemused: “You don’t really believe that, do you?”
    3. A stern: “Not OK, dude.”  Not angry—never angry, because anger energizes the mob—but stern, like scolding a dog or child.
  2. Practice saying your sentences in a mirror. Make sure you’re getting the emotion right for each, and not getting angry.
  3. Use these in person—over the phone or in conversation, your voice in their ear, your eyes on theirs.  This tactic doesn’t work online or in print; it’s a matter of emotional connection, and that connection is made one-on-one, person-to-person.

Use this tactic with family and friends and coworkers and guys who are sorta being dicks in the coffee shop.  Use it freely and often and in good humor. Connect and connect and connect and connect with your fellow humans, always keep them a little nervous about that “off-color joke” or that “innocent” cat call or “telling it like it is.”

Note that 1.1 and 1.2 are questions—because you always want to knock people off balance, and oblige them to question their beliefs and justify them (even if only internally).  1.3 is simple, obvious, disengaged dissaproval.  You wouldn’t argue with a child about running out in the street or a dog about whether or not your leg is for humping; you give a sharp “Nope!” and move on with your life.  The same here.  No one ever argued their way out of a genocide, but plenty of awfulness has been prevented by scolding grannies and scoffing naysayers.

Remember: If the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing, then the only thing needed for evil to falter is for good folks to do something—shit, almost anything, just as long as you aren’t sitting on your hands, biting your tongues, and looking the other way.  Looking the other way is exactly what the lynch mob wants you to do.

(see also: We’re heading into dark times. This is how to be your own light in the Age of Trump)

“A Government which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance”

trump-tallit
The Second Place President-Elect, simpering like a douche, wearing a Jewish prayer shawl laid on him in a black church for God knows what reason.

I want to talk about why this picture absolutely breaks my heart, but fist I want to talk about that quote in the title. It comes from a “congratulatory address” penned by Rabbi Moses Seixas of the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, and presented to President George Washington.  Washington, in his reply, mirrors Rabbi Seixas’s language, but gives us the slightly more familiar formulation, callings ours a government “which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”  But I really like the full paragraph, so I offer it now:

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it was the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily, the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

I like that he starts to poke a whole in “tolerance” right from the birth of our nation—I myself am done with being “tolerated,” like a fart in an elevator or a tax you can’t dodge.  You can accept me as your fellow citizen, or deride me as a Jew, but I’m not going to be tolerated or indulged. And I like that he finishes by saying “all we want us for everyone—and anyone—to show up and be good citizens to all.”  I can pledge my allegiance to such words.

And, yes, America has done a crap job of giving bigotry no sanction over the years, but as a Vision Statement it’s solid, and viewed over the course of the centuries, we’ve pretty steadiy progressed.

Until now, and because of this man.  In the last year—and at an accelerating clip—we’ve raced backward.  Today—and I’m telling you this as a fact, based on my actual experience of actual events, and a lifetime of actually keeping an eye on actual trends in how folks think of Jews—we’ve slid back decades.  The sort of anti-Semitic garbage folks haven’t pulled since I was a kid are back and feisty as ever.

And President-Elect Tantrum hasn’t done shit. In the weeks following his “electoral triumph” he literally spent more time hassling actors than he did decrying hate crimes and all-around shittiness being done in his name and on behalf of his team.

And there’s the man himself, draped in a prayer shawl—something I wore at my bar mitzvah, that I wore at my own wedding and while officiating a wedding, that I wear on our High Holy Days—and it kills me.  Not just to see something sacred ripped from its context and used as a damned fashion accessory (and apart from the weird vein of quasi-crypto-Judaic cultural appropriation that has long pulsed through Detroit’s black Evangelical communities), but to see it on a man who can’t be bothered to extend the minimum effort toward Doing the Right Thing.

Jesus!  His most beloved daughter—the daughter that, bizarely, is I guess going to be First Lady somehow?—is Jewish! (she converted)  Yet even then, he can’t be bothered to speak out against anti-Semitism.  And if he can’t be bothered to speak out against a rising tide that would like to see his daughter killed, cremated, and scattered to the sea, what the hell can I possibly expect from him when it comes everyone else, the blacks and browns and queers and immigrants and whoevers with whom he seems to have absolutely no personal contact.

George W. Bush—a terrible president responsible for terrible suffering—did the right thing in situations like this.  It’s one of the very basic components of presidenting: Being reassuring and calming when the shit hits the fan. Obama has been fantastic at it; both Bushes had their moments, Clinton could do it, Reagan certainly did (sorry. that’s as far back as I personally go with presidents).

And yet this guy won’t.  And that’s unforgivable.

So what do I need for this to be good, for us to move forward and me to be able to grit my teeth and say “President Trump”?

When I’m wearing my tallit on Yom Kippur, I’m told that three things “soften the Lord’s harsh decree” as It considers our failings:

  1. Repentance
  2. Mindfullness
  3. Righteousness

And that’s what I want: A president who says “It was a cock-up not to get on this sooner,” gives some evidence of thinking meaningfully and deeply about how he’s fanned these flames and what he needs to do to stop doing so, and takes some sort of action to show solidarity with us, the people of all of the protected classes who are now checking our locks, keeping an eye peeled, and sleeping light every night.

RELATED:

I’m Pretty Sure It’s *Not* the Economy, Stupid

Listen: Basically all consumer goods are imported.  Go through your things now and look for labels: your phone, tv, and computer are Chinese; your shirts are Bangladeshi and Cambodian, your pants Mexican and Nicaraguan. There is exactly one U.S. factory making men’s underwear; those undies are awesome, and cost ~$28 each. 

art by DonkeyHotey https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/
(art by DonkeyHotey)

If Trump places a 35% tariff on foreign goods, you’ll need a $6,000/year raise in order to keep treading water (in that your spending on imported manufactured goods—about 38% of the average American household budget—will go up by 35%). Alternately, you can spend $28 for each pair of Made in the USA underwear, $12 for every pair of socks, and I guess not have an iPhone or TV or vitamin supplements or anything with a rare-earth magnet in it (i.e., a computer, a hybrid car, many power tools, many car covers…the list goes on). 

Inflation-Adjusted U.S. Household Income 1966–2015
Inflation-Adjusted U.S. Household Income 1966–2015 (source)

The only reason that most Americans haven’t noticed that our real (inflation-adjusted) household incomes have been flat since 1965 is because we’ve enjoyed the enormous savings on manufactured goods that comes with globalization. I’m foggy on why anyone wants to give that up—even if, by some crippled miracle, a huge tariff leads to t-shirt and underwear manufacturing returning to U.S. soil, we don’t have the capacity to produce those things at volume any more.  I think there’s only a single jersey cotton weaving mill left in the U.S.  It would take years to get factories retooled (or, hell, built; many of those old factories are now lofts, open-plan offices, and unoccupiable attractive nuisances).  In the meantime you have the same crappy job you did in October, and you’re paying 35% more for the same shoes and kids pajamas and phone chargers and disposable razors.

So what were Trump voters voting for if it wasn’t the economy, stupid?  I really can’t imagine; I didn’t vote for him.

The Final Test of the Electoral College

“The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States.”

That Guy in that Musical Everyone is Nuts Over

It seems like we finally have an excellent test as to whether or not the Electoral College is worth the inequality it introduces to an already highly unequal system[1]: 

On the one hand, we have a popularly elected candidate with an enormous margin of victory (roughly 2.5 million votes?) who is highly qualified, thoroughly vetted, and has spent so many decades as a public servant that she is a very thoroughly known quantity.  On the other we have a historically unpopular candidate who has continued to behave in alarmingly erratic fashion since his election—for example, threatening to dismantle the First Amendment and strip individuals of their natural-born citizenship, as well as questioning the legitimacy of the election he won—who keeps himself cloaked in secrecy, is drowning in conflicts of interest, and eked out electoral victory on a technicality almost certainly because of the concerted effort of a foreign power antagonistic to US interests.

(DISCLOSURE: The first clause of the top tweet is untrue—see graph below—and the second clause entirely unsubstantiated.  The lower tweet ignores two decades of judicial precedence and sorta suggests that the PotUS should be able to jail people at will; both overstep the bounds of the Executive Branch.)

I’ve previously envied against the Electoral College (see, for example, footnote #1 below), but Lawrence Lessig is making a compelling counter argument in defense of the much-maligned Electoral College:

“Instead, if the electoral college is to control who becomes our president, we should take it seriously by understanding its purpose precisely. It is not meant to deny a reasonable judgment by the people. It is meant to be a circuit breaker — just in case the people go crazy.”

Or, as in the case this year, that the system itself seems to have been substantially short-circuited (or, perhaps more chillingly, to have become so well understood that it is now a completely deterministic game, like checkers—see also “The Book“—and thus will evermore be owned by folks with the talent for low intrigue, the little arts of popularity, and the technology to leverage radical uncertainty in a cognitively exhausted populace).

Others think differently from Lessig—Orin Kerr being the standout example—but I don’t know that I’m persuaded by Kerr’s thinking, which seems extremely obtuse, mostly because it treats an actual matter of life and death (think I’m being hyperbolic?  Tell that to 100,000 dead Iraqis and Afghans, courtesy of President G.W. Bush) as though it’s a damned game of groundies.  If you’re more into fantasy fiction, this novel Electoral College solution strikes me as simultaneously both more realistic and more far-fetched than anything else I’ve seen—which is kinda par for the course this year, right?  Shit, given how 2016 has gone, I wouldn’t be shocked if we ended up with a Romney/Stein inauguration come January.

(source: Eric Rauchway)
(source: Eric Rauchway)

At any rate, taken at face value, we now will finally know:  If Trump is inaugurated next January—contrary to the will of a clear majority of Americans who cast votes which were counted (a number that is itself a subset of the total votes cast, and a sadly small subset of the total adult American population) and despite serious flaws in character and qualification—then the Electoral College has certainly outlived its usefulness, and it’s time to make a big change.

If someone else—hell, almost anyone else—is inaugurated in 44 days, then we’ll finally really and truly know what the Electoral College is for in the 21st Century.

Continue reading “The Final Test of the Electoral College”

It’s Better to Light a Candle than to Sit and Curse the Dark

If you see tweets like this:

and your gut drops with the sort of ice-water dread usually reserved for hearing phrases like “metastatic cancer,” then you are not alone.

Nicholas Kristof has some suggestions which I think are a super-duper solid starting place: “Are you traumatized by the election of Donald Trump? Here’s the program for you.

Here are a few additions/refinements:

  1. You can’t take care of anyone else if it takes all of your available energy just to keep your shit together and function.  I made myself this “survival” playlist and listen to it first thing every morning while I’m writing; I’m not sure all the choices make sense to the general public, but they all buoy my spirit.  Make your own survival playlist and listen to it religiously.  Keep your heart, kid!
  2. Wigged out that the erratic President-Elect—either through his business practices or bellicosity—will trigger (or maybe somehow worse, fail to trigger) a Constitutional crisis? Give monthly to the ACLU.
  3. Wigged out about the shouts to repeal Obamacare?  Call your congressional reps and call Paul Ryan, who has set up a sort of voice-mail straw poll to take the temperature of the electorate on this issue:  202.225.3031.  Doing both of these will only take you a few minutes, tops.
  4. Wigged out about voter suppression and election rigging? I talked to my state rep, Jeff Irwin, at the local coffee shop.  He pointed me to this very good project for fixing our damned-near broken electoral college system: http://www.nationalpopularvote.com/  He also suggest you should work in your state to support expansion (or creation) of early voting and a shift to “universal absantee ballot”  If you want to support the Greens’ recounts, you can still give money to fund that (recounts are paid for by whoever requests them—not the public at large; I’ve already kicked in).  More importantly, you can volunteer to help with the recount itself in MI, WI, and PA.  It looks like they’re maybe getting deluged with trolls spamming their forms, so I’m sure honest, legit volunteers are much appreciated right now.
  5. Wigged out about access to women’s health services?  I spoke to Sarah Erdreich—author of  Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement—and she noted that the best place to give is as locally as possible:  “A lot of the effects will be felt by women that need the services but won’t be able to afford them. … as long as the government is still funding non-[abortion]-related services at PP  [Planned Parenthood] health clinics, it has a guaranteed funding source. … Near-term, a lot of the issues women have with accessing PP’s [abortion] services as financial, so if the local PP has a way to accept donations targeted towards defraying the cost for patients, that would be the most immediate. If they don’t, check out NNAF—Nat’l Network of Abortion Funds—and see what independent clinics in the area have set up.” Here’s the direct link that allows you to give to state/regional/local Planned Parenthood organizations.  Sarah especially supports the Willie Parker Fund for Abortion Access in the South; the map on this page will help you find similar funds in your area.
  6. Wigged out about hate crimes? Wear the safety pin—but more importantly, cultivate a good natured and incredulous: “Hunh.  You don’t really believe that, do you?”  Practice saying it with a squint and smile, and deploy it frequently when someone gets out of line.  Gently obliging someone to articulate their feelings and acknowledge the repercussions of what they say, and to own those words—or, hopefully, to decide they don’t really want to own those words and where they lead.  The safety pin is a nice outward symbol, because I like the idea of “safety” in the safety pin, and of being a presence to help calm the nervous. But more importantly, for my own mental health, I like to dwell on what a safety pin is for: We use them in an emergency to hold our shit together long enough to get somewhere safe and really assess what repairs we need to move forward.  And, goddamned if we ain’t in that place right now, brothers and sisters.
  7. BONUS ROUND: Wear the flag, too—not with snark or irony or upside-down, but with pride.  Let us not cede our unified identity to the haters.  E pluribus unum; the Union forever.usa-american-flag-waving-animated-gif-26

“It’s Rigged, I Tells Ya! *Rigged*!!!” UPDATES

Just trying to get this all in one place, ’cause shit is kind of accelerating:

We live in interesting times, mutherfuckers!🇺🇸🔥