“Matthew Whitaker is a crackpot.” Ruth Marcus in the Washington Post

I’ve just read that President Donald Trump has appointed Matthew Whitaker as acting Attorney General after forcing AG Jeff Sessions out. Whitaker, who served as Sessions’ chief of staff, will now oversee Robert Mueller’s investigation. Mark Sumner, in the Daily Kos of November 9, writes that Whitaker “isn’t just a nut, he’s a dangerous nut.” Are Marcus (“crackpot”)  and Sumner (“nut”) right about our new Attorney General? Given the President’s previous disastrous Cabinet appointments he probably is as described by the journalists, and consequently it’s not looking good for the rest of us.

 
Here’s the piece from the Daily Kos:

When Jefferson Sessions stepped down, the next in line at the Department of Justice should have been Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. But putting Rosenstein in charge would have meant having someone who demonstrably had followed the rule of law instead of the edict of Trump, so he was bypassed in favor of Matthew Whitaker, a man whose qualifications literally consist of his demonstrated willingness to join Trump in the critical work of turning the American justice system to rubble.

Whitaker was so not considered the obvious replacement to Sessions, that there hadn’t been a lot of vetting of his background before his name appeared on Sessions’s “at your request” resignation. And now that people are looking at the man who is sitting in the AG office in violation of the Constitution, the ridiculousness of his appointment seems at least equal to that of Andrew Wheeler at EPA, or Rick Perry at Energy, or Ryan Zinke at Interior, or Scott Pruitt at EPA, or … name a Trump nominee.

But Whitaker is in a position, at a point in time, to be a special kind of crazy dangerous. As Whitaker explained to Caffeinated Thoughts, he believes the whole concept of judicial review has been wrong for the last 200+ years, right back to “the idea of Marbury v. Madison.”

Then there’s Whitaker’s role in setting up a company that was a scam from its inception. A role that Whitaker embraced by sending letters threatening legal action to anyone who complained of being taken for $2k, or $15k, or $70k while getting absolutely nothing in return. That company bilked some customers of their life savings—and Whitaker didn’t just profit from that theft, he made it possible. The Washington Post provides some details on the company where the new attorney general served as both board member and bullying lawyer….

How inferior does the current attorney general believe the courts to be? So inferior that following the law is optional. As part of the settlement after his fake company was called out by the FTC, Whitaker was ordered to repay the money he had been paid for serving on the board. But, as the Wall Street Journal reports, Whitaker did not respond to a demand letter. He not only kept his pay for working for the patent scam company, he also kept a $2,500 donation from the company to one of his failed campaigns.

The acting attorney general of the United States, the man running the Justice Department, is a man who believes the whole judicial branch is “the inferior branch” and who refused to pay back money he collected from a scam, even when ordered by the court. The nation’s chief law enforcement officer—does not believe in the law.


As Ruth Marcus put it in the Friday Washington Post, “Matthew Whitaker is a crackpot.”
Which is completely, and obviously true. But she’s left out a word in that description. Matthew Whitaker is a dangerous crackpot. He’s in a position, at a time when he can deeply impact not just the investigation into Donald Trump’s conspiracy with Russian oligarchs, but the structure of the Justice Department, the nature and quality of the FBI, and the possibility of dealing with any matter fairly, under the rule of the “inferior” law. With a lame duck Republican Congress that is pointedly remaining silent about Whitaker’s unconstitutional appointment, the Justice Department is in the cross-hairs of a crackpot.

Beto O’Rourke for Senator

Today is November 3, just three days before the Mid-Term Elections which many of us hope will be the very first step of tossing Trump out the door of the White House. And a very first step in this process would be that Beto O’Rourke beats Ted Cruz, he who was called Lying Ted by the earlier Trump although now he is one of Trump’s  most despicable toadies. For me that result, Senator O’Rourke instead of Senator Cruz, would mean that Democracy is not dying in darkness (the great fear of the Washington Post) but that we the people can get it together, turn on the lights, and find and  elect honest men and women to the House and the Senate.

Beto O’Rourke and Ted Cruz in the Final Stretch of the Texas Senate Race

By Emily WittNovember 2, 2018

Since he began his Senate campaign, Beto O’Rourke has made personal appearances in each of the two hundred and fifty-four counties in Texas.

At 7 a.m. on Monday, October 22nd, an hour before the polls for early voting were set to open in Texas, the parking lot of the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center, in central Houston, was full, and the line to vote began at the door and continued down the street. On the other side of West Gray Street, a crowd of two hundred or so people gathered near the palm trees at an entrance to the parking lot of the River Oaks Plaza, a mini-mall, waiting for Beto O’Rourke. The sun had barely risen; the Dressbarn and Dollar Tree had not yet opened. The smell of bacon, from Café Express, hung in the air. The crowd was cheerful, holding babies and wheeling strollers with sleepy children clutching stuffed animals. A woman held aloft a gilt-framed portrait of Barack Obama.

As the crowd waited for him to arrive, O’Rourke broadcast a live stream of his drive to River Oaks under the dawn sky. “What’s up, Texas?” he said. “First day of early voting!” In his 1948 Senate campaign, Lyndon B. Johnson famously crisscrossed Texas in a helicopter; in 2018, O’Rourke is known for his gray Dodge Grand Caravan. The van is unmarked by campaign signs, although someone had written “Grapevine Loves U” in the dust on the back windshield, and the word “Beto” inside of a heart.

As those who follow his Web streams know, O’Rourke usually drives himself, freeing his aides to do their texting and e-mailing on the long stretches of road between stops. His events and logistics director, Cynthia Cano, sits in the passenger seat. His communications director, Chris Evans, sits in back. That morning, they listened to

the Rolling Stones (“Happy”),
I need a love to keep me happy
I need a love to keep me happy
Baby, baby keep me happy
Baby, baby keep me happy… More

Willie Nelson (“Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die”)

Roll me up and smoke me when I die
And if anyone don’t like it,
just look ’em in the eye
I didn’t come here, and I ain’t leavin’
So don’t sit around and cry
Just roll me up and smoke me when I die.

and the Kinks (“20th Century Man”).
This is the age of machinery,
A mechanical nightmare,
The wonderful world of technology,
Napalm hydrogen bombs biological warfare, … More

“Look at what a beautiful scene this morning,” he said as he waited at a crosswalk outside an elementary school. He set the video feed outward to record the dads and moms holding the hands of small children with giant backpacks as they crossed the street. “I like that crossing guard making sure everybody’s safe.”

In the parking lot, shouts of “He’s here!” came from the crowd as they spotted the van. When O’Rourke steps out, people have a tendency to run toward him holding their phones, and he walks to and from his car surrounded by enthusiasts. Cano will intercede, taking the phones to snap portraits while also guiding the candidate toward whatever bench or stepladder he will be standing on that day to address the crowd. Evans follows them, broadcasting the live stream from a phone on a selfie stick. At River Oaks Plaza, O’Rourke stood on a bench and spoke into a bullhorn. “Good morning!” he said. “This is an extraordinarily beautiful day. I think you’ll agree with me, right? Look up at the sky—it’s cool, it’s fall.”

The crowd looked up.

“It’s voting day!” yelled someone happily.

“We’re going to vote,” O’Rourke said.

He outlined some points of his platform: universal health care, raising wages for teachers, ending the separation of families at the border, and granting citizenship to Dreamers. After his speech, he went to visit some college students who had spent the night in a tent to be first in line the next morning in the polls. They all climbed into the tent together, like children in a fort, and O’Rourke conducted a small meeting, during which he invited everyone to come camping outside of El Paso.

For the final two weeks of the campaign, O’Rourke has settled on what he called “in some ways the least sophisticated strategy you’ve ever seen,” which is, “literally just showing up everywhere all the time, and never discriminating based on party or any other difference.” Since he started running for the Senate, O’Rourke has made personal appearances in each of the two hundred and fifty-four counties in Texas, including the reddest and the bluest ones. During the past eleven days of early voting, he has been making as many as eight or nine stops a day within a single metropolitan area. Most of these are at gatherings of a hundred to two hundred people outside of early-voting centers, where his supporters are encouraged to “Go to the polls with Beto!” This strategy has put him face-to-face with more than a thousand people every twenty-four hours, plus appearances before larger crowds at rallies on many evenings. At every stop, he lets as many supporters as time allows take photographs with him and encourages them to share the photographs on social media. He live-streams his drives between stops, making a reality show of the highways and gas stations of Texas that people have watched by the thousands. His campaign has encouraged supporters to open pop-up offices in homes, offices, restaurants, and bars, from which volunteers organize block walks and phone banks. The campaign claims that volunteers have knocked on a million doors and made 8.7 million phone calls since October 5th.

 
Continue reading Beto O’Rourke for Senator

Orangutans and Tigers during the Trump years.

So far Donald Trump has said nothing about the tigers (nor has Donald Trump Junior yet displayed shot dead tigers on Twitter). So that’s all to the good. But, all to the bad, now in Trump time, is the environmental devastation as well as the numbers of animal extinctions (tigers and orangutans among others) for which not just unthinking and unfeeling people like Trump and friends, but all of us are responsible. Someone has said (I have this in my notes and can’t find it) that —

 Within two years we must commit to saving the web of life. Otherwise of course the web will be further torn and ultimately the tears becoming irreversible.

Mammal, bird, fish and reptile populations have fallen on average by 60% since 1970, finds a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report involving 59 scientists from around the world. “If there was a 60% decline in the human population, that would be equivalent to emptying North America, South America, Africa, Europe, China and Oceania. That is the scale of what we have done,” says Mike Barrett, executive director of science and conservation at the WWF.
Runaway human consumption is to blame: the biggest cause of wildlife loss is the annihilation of natural habitats, much of it to create farmland to feed humans and livestock, followed by killing for food. The WWF is calling on world leaders to strike a global deal at the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity in 2020, similar to the Paris agreement on climate change, to limit and reverse the destruction. “This is far more than just being about losing the wonders of nature, desperately sad though that is,” says Barrett. “This is actually now jeopardising the future of people. Nature is not a ‘nice to have’ — it is our life-support system.”

 

This from the Peanuts (Daily Pnut) that I love:

Now, of all the mammals on earth, 96 percent are livestock and humans and only 4 percent are wild mammals.

We Maniacs! We Blew It Up!

Last May a groundbreaking assessment of all life on earth was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The assessment revealed that while humans make up just 0.01 percent of all life, humanity has destroyed 83 percent of wild mammals, and half the plants. Now, of all the mammals on earth, 96 percent are livestock and humans and only 4 percent are wild mammals. Fast forward five months to the new estimate of the massacre of wildlife made in a major report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) involving 59 scientists from across the globe. This report shows the increasing consumption of food and resources by the global population is destroying the web of life billions of years in the making. It is that “web of life” upon which human society ultimately depends for clean air, water and everything else.
Just since 1970, less than 50 years ago, humans have wiped out 60 percent of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles. The world’s leading scientists are warning that while this huge loss is a tragedy in itself, what it really means is civilization’s very survival is threatened. WWF’s executive director of science and conservation Mike Barrett put it this way: “We are sleepwalking towards the edge of a cliff. If there was a 60 percent decline in the human population, that would be equivalent to emptying North America, South America, Africa, Europe, China and Oceania. That is the scale of what we have done.”
Worldwide, 60 percent of vertebrate animals are gone, but freshwater habitats are hit even harder, with populations having collapsed by 83 percent. South and Central America is the worst affected region globally. It’s the impact of unsustainable production models and wasteful lifestyles. “This is far more than just being about losing the wonders of nature, desperately sad though that is,” Barrett said. “This is actually now jeopardizing the future of people. Nature is not a ‘nice to have’ – it is our life-support system.” In other words, the destruction of nature is as dangerous as climate change.

So then, what’s happening to the orangutan?

sumatran_orangutan_8.6.2012_Hero_and_Circle_image_XL_257636

The conversion of tropical forests to unsustainable palm oil plantations destroys the habitat of species like this Sumatran orangutan. As a result over 50,000 of these strange and wonderful creatures on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra have died.  Orangutans whose habitats have been destroyed often enter villages and oil plantations in search of food where they are captured or killed by farmers who treat them as pests.

And finally there are the tigers, long time one of man’s favorite creatures. Well, in a word, what’s happened is captivity, there now being more of them in captivity than wild and free. These guys in the picture, in spite of appearances, are captive:

And what about this little guy below? Is he captive or is he free? Men without tigers, tigers free in the wild, will be different. Men everywhere, in tiger land or not, will have lost by their own neglect one more essential ingredient of their lives.

fullsizeoutput_d7c

If the Democrats cannot hammer him on this…

(From the Economist of 27th October.)

America is hardly being submerged by illegal immigrants. The estimated number in the country has fallen since 2008. Apprehensions at the border are less than half what they were in the early 2000s. Mass deportations that began under Barack Obama have continued under Mr Trump, albeit with more ostentatious cruelty. The border is as secure as a 3,000km land frontier between a rich country and a developing one can reasonably be. America can pick whom it lets in, welcoming much-needed fruitpickers and care assistants as well as entrepreneurs and coders. But Mr Trump rejects the idea that made America great in the first place—that anyone can become American. If Democrats cannot hammer him for that, they do not deserve to win.

 

Battle formations, no prisoners taken.

What now seems to be our nation’s destiny is to be sharply divided, even within our truly exceptional nation (our being an exception perhaps the only thing we do still agree about).

Over the issues we are hopelessly  divided. Over such as  the President himself (does he ever tell the truth?),  Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court, Immigration, Healthcare, Global Warming, Free Trade and Tariffs, Tax Cuts (these going to the richest among us), the Minimum Wage, Housing, Pharmaceutical,  and College Costs, (the need to fix a) Crumbling Infrastructure, and (the size of the) National Debt, to name the principal few that come to mind.

And I haven’t even mentioned the most divisive issues of all:  voting rights, religious freedom, same sex marriage, abortion, and the rights of LGBTQ people.

Our failure to satisfactorily  handle these and other such differences is driving what seems an insurmountable wedge or chasm between us. The irony is, of course, that we know what to do. The solution is staring us in the face, and that is to find a middle ground, a compromise somewhere between the extremes. But today regarding too many of the issues, much as in the time leading up to the Civil War, there seems no acceptable compromise out there between the opposing viewpoints.Almost everything seems like war or no war, to kill or not to kill the baby. No compromise to be found.

Our exceptional nation is clearly no longer all that exceptional, and seems to be going into terminal decline, the way of most, if not all ancient civilizations. Instead of compromise, as between, say, the Trump haters and Trump lovers whom we see almost daily at the Trump rallies, the only choice seems to be going into battle and in battle taking no prisoners, as during the recent Kavanaugh skirmish.

Trump at the wheel of a semi.
For me the most  interesting question  is what is it that enables our truly imperfect, terribly flawed president to hold onto his base of support among the Republicans, or what may be the same thing, how has he turned the Republican Party into a tribe of Trump lovers?

Well the answer most commonly given is  the  economy. Yes, the stock market has boomed during Trump’s presidency. And yes the economy is growing, going as it were at full speed, showing in the most recent quarter an astounding 4.2% growth. And yes, unemployment is down to 3.7 percent, also astounding. Although there is also in the economy some wobbling as the President’s trade wars take a toll. Also over 80 percent of the bullish stock market is owned by the richest 10 percent of Americans. And most important Trump’s economy doing well  is not lifting all boats.

Here follows a good example of what I’m talking about, the sharp divisions between us. For this I take several replies  from the hundreds of comments that followed David Gelernter’s recent op ed piece, “The Real Reason They Hate Trump.” (Mr. Gelernter is computer science professor at Yale. His most recent book is “Tides of Mind.”) Gelernter in his op ed argues that Trump “is an average, a typical American,” and that “what the left hates about Donald Trump is precisely what it hates about America.” This defense of Trump is the logical endpoint and the moral nadir of decades of right-wing anti-intellectualism. It’s a fact that the liberal and intellectual coast elites cannot stomach the ignorant, screaming God and Country patriots, pseudo conservatives, of Rural and Middle America. I know I can’t.

Trump Haters

“This is utter nonsense.  The average American is decent, while Trump shows no sense of decency whatsoever, and never has had any.  To say someone hates Trump because he/she hates the average American is ridiculous.  Sean

The average American is not a pathological liar or a shameless sociopath who was born on third base and claims to have hit a triple. The average American does not lack empathy or seek to divide people for their own benefit. The average American is not racist, homophobic or xenophobic and does not stoke fear of their neighbor for their own political gain. The average American does not cheat, steal and repeatedly declare bankruptcy to escape their horrible investment decisions while claiming to be a business genius. The average American does not grab women by the p—-y and brag about sexual assault. The average American does not repeatedly cheat on their spouse (after giving birth to their child) and then lie about it and pay hush money to cover it up. The average Americans I know do not respect or condone the abhorrent behavior and moral bankruptcy that is Donald Trump, regardless of their party affiliation. Don>/p>

Let me just ask the esteemed computer scientist, why did you completely ignore very important conservatives, like myself, who opposed Trump? The best minds in the conservative world can’t stand our current President, because he is a boor, because he is ignorant, and because he is reversing 70 years of very smart foreign policy. I appeal to the editors of the Wall Street Journal to ignore Gelernter from now on. —Elliot

I hate Trump because of his racism, sexism, and corruption.  The stock market can’t go up enough to make up for all the swastikas being drawn on Jewish cemeteries.  We know that the white nationalists are feeling empowered by Trump because they tell us that themselves.  —Sam

Trump Lovers

Great article.  Thank you David.  I will respectfully add one thing.  I have tons of very well-educated, white-collar friends and clients who, like me, proudly support President Trump.   His appeal is universal to all patriotic Americans who love our country and the principles upon which it was founded.  Freedom and opportunity for all. Trump may be the only president we have had who actually does what he says.  Lies?? No follows through on his what he says.  Exaggerates a little maybe.  Brings out his base because he does what America needs done.  He doesn’t apologize for being blunt and calling out misreporting.  He is as the article says, and yes I would like to have him as a friend and golf partner. — FP Trump gets stuff done, in sharp contrast to Obama.  He makes Obama look completely incompetent. —William Luckily he was hired to put America back on track after the Clinton, Bush, Obama years.    And he is doing it.    He was not hired for his good looks or his personality or its negative attributes.    Wow is he fixing stuff though. —Mike

Is anyone listening?

mara-cheetah

Today, thousands of species of wildlife sit on the verge of extinction because of our actions. We have destroyed their habitats, fundamentally altered the climate by pumping carbon into the atmosphere and hunted down once-massive populations to groups so small that we can count the surviving animals on our fingers. So great is this anthropomorphic threat that scientists argue that we’re currently in one of the worst mass extinction events in the history of the world — up there with a cataclysmic volcanic eruptions and collisions with asteroids.   (Robert Gebelhoff, Wash. Post, 10/17/18)

biodiversity-2_orig

Untruth in the Age of Trump

Michiko Kakutani’s book, The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump, begins:

Two of the most monstrous regimes in human history came to power in the twentieth century, and both were predicated upon the violation and despoiling of truth, upon the knowledge that cynicism and weariness and fear can make people susceptible to the lies and false promises of leaders bent on unconditional power. As Hannah Arendt wrote in her 1951 book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.” What’s alarming to the contemporary reader is that Arendt’s words increasingly sound less like a dispatch from another century than a chilling mirror of the political and cultural landscape we inhabit today—a world in which fake news and lies are pumped out in industrial volume by Russian troll factories, emitted in an endless stream from the mouth and Twitter feed of the president of the United States, and sent flying across the world through social media accounts at lightning speed. Nationalism, tribalism, dislocation, fears of social change, and the hatred of outsiders are on the rise again as people, locked in their partisan silos and filter bubbles, are losing a sense of shared reality and the ability to communicate across social and sectarian lines.

Has anyone of you ever attended a Trump rally? If you have, or have not, you can read about them here and here and here and at any number of other uTube and internet sites.

What interests me is who are the people who attend the rallies? They’re Americans, helas, but Americans for whom, in the words of Michiko Kakutani, “the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist. And if ever these people were to become a majority in our country we would surely lose our freedom no less than did the Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, who was brutally murdered on the orders of his Crown Prince and King.

Fred Barbash on the Rule of Law

I’ve written any number of times of the importance of the Rule of Law, along with the importance of the Enlightenment, or what is now referred to as Classical Liberalism:

“Classical liberalism” is the term used to designate the ideology advocating private property, an unhampered market economy, the rule of law guaranteeing the rights of the individual, constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion and of the press, and international peace based on free trade.

Well here are good examples of the Rule of Law in the America of Donald Trump, when the Judges are ruling, following the Law against the President, and thank goodness for that. —

The Trump administration’s crazy losing streak in the courts: No, Jeff Sessions, it’s not about the judges.


U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions attends a Trump Administration cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room at the White House on Wednesday. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
October 19
Litigation is like everything else in life, including sports and perhaps dating. You win some and you lose some. You can blame the refs, or the date, or the judge if things go bad a few times. If losing lawsuits becomes a pattern, especially when you’re the government, which is supposed to win, you have to start wondering: Is it you?

The Trump administration is on a staggering litigation losing streak, with restraining orders littering the legal battlefield from coast to coast. To be sure, some of these fights are not over. Most of the rulings have found plausible cases of constitutional or statutory violations, with trials and possible appeals yet to come. But getting that far against the government used to be a big hurdle. Now, not so much.

And in many instances, it’s not just one judge ruling on one issue. It’s a pile-on, in which multiple judges arrive at the same conclusion about the same issue.

Among those issues, for example, are the administration’s “sanctuary cities” crackdown, blocked by at least four courts; its attempt to rescind DACA, also held up by at least four courts; the proposed ban on transgender people in the military, blocked by no fewer than four judges, with two of the rulings upheld by appeals courts.

And not to be forgotten, the Trump administration’s travel ban, enjoined repeatedly by multiple rulings until the Supreme Court finally allowed its third iteration to go forward.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is blaming the judges.

In a speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation on Monday he bemoaned the losses, but attributed them to rampant “judicial activism,” and  judges who have forgotten about “the rule of law” and the “guardrails” that limit them.

Their activism, he said, “is a threat to our freedom and the democratic process.”

Some legal experts do believe that the judiciary is feeling bolder than it once did, perhaps because of what they see as presidential overreach, perhaps because of Trump’s open hostility to the federal courts, reflected in his comment in 2017 about the “so called” judge who first ruled against his travel ban and his reference to U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel’s “Mexican heritage” when he was presiding over a case against Trump University. “Context matters,” as former federal judge and now Harvard Law School’s Nancy Gertner wrote in an article called “Judging in a Time of Trump.” And some of the language in the rulings does indeed show a fired-up sense of mission. “It falls to us, the judiciary…to act as a check on such usurpation of power,” wrote Ronald Reagan appointee Judge Ilana Rovner in April as the Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit upheld an injunction against Sessions’s sanctuary cities policy on the grounds that it assumed authority delegated to Congress alone.

But there wasn’t a hint in Sessions’s speech of any fault with the administration, the way it does business and the impulsiveness of the president. No “mistakes were made” crossed his lips.

But reading the many rulings, from Republican and Democratic appointees alike, the decoupling of the Trump administration from the requirements of the law is clear.

When the government makes a decision, that law demands, at the very least, a legitimate explanation and some facts, studies and statutes to support it. Judges call it “considered reason” and “deliberation.”

It’s not complicated. If an agency gets its act together before making decisions, bringing in lawyers and experts to bulletproof it from lawsuits, it may still get sued. But it will stand a much better chance of prevailing. In most cases, the courts defer to solid judgments by the government.

But “considered reason,” “deliberation” and facts have not been hallmarks of the Trump administration, in the view of the judges in these cases.

Perhaps the most glaring example was the abrupt decision by President Trump to announce a ban on transgender people from serving in the military, reversing a carefully studied decision to the contrary by the Obama administration.

The news of the reversal came in a series of tweets by Trump on July 26, 2017, saying he was acting after consultation with top brass and “military experts,” followed by a presidential memorandum a full month later directing the Secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security t “return” to the military’s policy to discharge openly transgender service members and prohibit the admission of new ones.

Top military officials, who had indeed not been consulted, were taken by surprise.

What followed were lawsuits and courtroom scenes that have become all too familiar to the government lawyers into whose laps the cases fall after these decisions are made.

Wearing his good suit, and earnest, deferential courtroom demeanor, one such lawyer stood before U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman in Seattle four months after the Trump tweets attempting to defend the action.

“Good afternoon, your honor, may it please the court. Brinton Lucas for the United States,” he began in the case of Karnoski v. Trump.

A good afternoon it would not be.

His opening gambit was to try to convince Pechman that there was no ban, just a memorandum and a study of a ban. Nobody had been thrown out of the military yet, so there was no case to consider. The lawyer’s argument was routine and perfectly normal in regular circumstances.

But the Trump administration is not normal.

Roughly four minutes into his argument, Pechman interrupted.

“You’re gonna need to back up,” she said. You’re going to need to “address the president’s words,” in this case a tweet, “when he said that ‘after consultation with my generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military.”

She added: “There’s nothing ambiguous about that statement….I mean, what am I supposed to do with the president’s tweet if that’s not something you can rely upon?” At one point she made reference to “bone spurs,” the ailment which reportedly kept Trump from being drafted.

Nor was the decision entitled to any deference, she wrote. “The prohibition on military service by transgender individuals was announced by President Trump on Twitter, abruptly and without any evidence of considered reason or deliberation,” she added. She then issued a preliminary injunction against the ban, concluding that the plaintiffs were likely to prevail on the merits and show that the policy was an unconstitutional act of discrimination.

She was not the first judge to act. A court in the District had done the same three weeks before the hearing. Another in Maryland had done the same even as the hearing was underway. By September of this year, at least four district court judges agreed in separate cases. Pechman’s order had been upheld by a unanimous decision of a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit and the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia had upheld the District ruling.

By a very rough count, a grand total of some 40 to 50 federal judges have weighted in against the Trump administration in cases. Could they all be off-the-rails judicial activists?

The problem is not the judges, said Anthony S. Winer, a professor at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law who wrote recently about some of these cases in the Hamline Law Review.

“It’s a commentary on the legal methods” of the Trump administration, he told The Washington Post. The administration “advances policy goals on the basis of ‘things to be frightened of, and things to be wary of’….It relies on the emotional reaction of its audience and the emotional identification of its audience.

But when you’re in a courtroom, what matters is facts on the record,” he said, and those facts “don’t support the government’s justifications for what it has done.”

As for the lawyers for the U.S. government, Winer said they “probably did the best they could in defending these executive orders.”

Consider the litigation over the sanctuary cities crackdown, a favorite of Sessions.

Acting under a Trump executive order, Sessions has determined that the government will withhold funds from jurisdictions that are in his view insufficiently cooperative in handing over information about illegal immigrants they encounter in law enforcement. Sessions was backed up by Thomas Homan, then the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who went on Fox News in January and threatened to start “charging some of these politicians with crimes” for failing to cooperate with his agency. He was also supported by the president, who that same month accused California of protecting “horrible criminals” with it sanctuary policies, and said he was contemplating pulling ICE agents out of the state, saying California would then become a “crime nest.”

They then sent government lawyers into court when the state of California, the city of San Francisco and other jurisdictions sued. Like the lawyers in the transgender case, they argued that nothing was happening.

“Good afternoon, Your Honor. Chad Readler, on Behalf of the United States,” said one of the Justice Department’s top lawyers when he appeared in court in February to defend the administration.  

“Welcome back to San Francisco,” responded Judge William H. Orrick of the U.S. District Court.

Three minutes into Readler’s argument, however, Orrick interrupted.

What did Readler mean when he said there was no threat to these jurisdictions, he said. What about “the statements of the President last week threatening to take ICE enforcement out of the State, or the Acting ICE director’s threat to prosecute criminally public officials….?”

To which Readler replied that the comments weren’t relevant.

Orrick issued an order temporarily blocking the sanctuary cities policy and ultimately, on Oct. 5, an opinion declaring unconstitutional the law being used by the administration to block funds.

Nine judges have either issued or upheld opinions and/or temporary restraining orders against the administration’s sanctuary cities crackdown.

At least two, in California and the District of Columbia, have rejected its asylum and family separation policies.

Earlier this month, Judge Edward Chen in the Northern District of California blocked the decision to end temporary protected status for immigrants from selected countries. and six have ruled against the government in the census cases.

Some judges are openly astonished at what they’re seeing.

Again a refresher: when a typical federal agency makes a decision, particularly one abruptly reversing course, it owes an explanation. That’s the law. So when newly-installed Trump administration officials at a Department of Health and Human Services agency, suddenly under the sway of officials who championed abstinence as the best way to prevent teen pregnancy, suddenly cut off funding to 81 pregnancy prevention programs in July 2017, it was asking for lawsuits. The Office of Adolescent Health had provided no notice to the programs and no explanation.

Suits erupted across the country, aided by advocacy groups and local governments. Four government lawyers then found themselves in the courtroom of Judge Ketanji B. Jackson in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on April 18 for a hearing.

“Good morning, Your Honor, Michael Gerardi on behalf of Health and Human Services,” said the lead trial attorney. But it would not be a good morning for Gerardi either.

Jackson pressed him.

“So is it your position,” the judge asked incredulously, that “the agency can suddenly decide, ‘We’re not giving you this money anymore ….Too bad. So sad. Regardless of whether there’s cause or anything else….?”

To which Gerardi, replied at some length, yes, that was the position.

That’s “kind of weird,” replied Jackson. “Right?”

She joined at least four judges in separate courts around the country in rulings against the agency under the Administrative Procedure Act.

The case, she wrote, was “quite easy. Under the most elementary precepts of administrative law, an agency has no choice but to provide a reasoned explanation for its actions….”

With the Trump administration now filling scores of federal judicial vacancies, it’s luck may improve. But if history is any guide, Sessions shouldn’t count on it.

 

How relevant and helpful is the liberal/conservative polarity?

My greatest anger and frustration while experiencing the recent confirmation battle over the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court arose from having to listen to the conservative Republican Senators whose only interest seemed to be, not in getting at the truth of the allegations whatever they might be, past or present, but in blindly supporting their President, and turning the Kavanaugh nomination into a win for Trump. And in that way, of course, assuring their own eventual reelection to the Senate often from Trump country.

 

 

Were they even ever thinking that the Court ought to reflect the interests of the people. For example, the country by a large majority supports abortion and same sex marriage rights, (not to mention voting rights for minorities), and the Republican Senators would do away with both while clinging to the narrow interests of the Republican Party.

Did the Republican Senators consider anything other than their own selfish career goals while blindly supporting a demagogue president who admittedly doesn’t read and clearly doesn’t think?  Other than Kavanaugh being a conservative like them (whatever that may mean, and we were not told by the Senators what their being conservative means), and even minimally  qualified for the position given his 12 years as a judge on the US Court of Appeals DC circuit, and of course being a favorite of Donald Trump, what did Mitch McConnell et al. ever say of substance in support of Kavanaugh’s nomination? We know only that they did frequent the same social circles.

Now I ask myself, and have for years, is the liberal/conservative polarity, that which at least seems to separate the Senators into two political parties, still important, vital to the country, still somehow relevant to the functioning of our democracy?

I’m coming around to thinking it’s not but rather a Red Herring, something that keeps us away from addressing what’s much more important. In this case what’s more important than the  liberal/conservative differences, to the extent that they are even real, are not those differences but that which we share, that which we all, for some tens of thousands of years, have, with a preponderance of evidence revealed by the legions of evolutionary scientists, in common.

For from the time of the Enlightenment, if not before, aren’t there  liberal and conservative shared values, more or less,  those of a free press, free elections, representative government, individual rights and freedoms, freedom of religion while at the same time maintaining a wall of separation between church and state?

And I could go on with any number of others, tolerance of individual  differences, a respect for others with different views, and then one particularly important in the world today, given the huge movements of peoples looking for greater security, safety, homes and jobs, our supporting these movements of larger and larger numbers of immigrants, not turning away and excluding them as so many would now do, following the demagogic lead of Donald Trump .

In any case the  movements  of people are going on in spite of Trump and other leaders who would return us to the closed societies of the past.  And in fact today in the present time Trump is not making us great again, far from it, but by sealing off our borders to others he is making us not great but little, much less than we were through most of our history. Immigration, open societies, that sort of thing should be at the heart of both liberal and conservative discussions and programs. Why aren’t they?

And finally back to Kavanaugh, there is the great value of a federal court system staffed with strong and independent minded judges. Did the Senators ever tell us about how strong and independent minded was Brett Kavanaugh?  Are there liberals and conservatives, those freed from the unhealthy attachment to Trump, who wouldn’t agree about these kinds of things?

Aren’t the Enlightenment values shared by all of us, although the Republican Senators for their own selfish reasons, while publicly professing to be the only true conservatives (and again not saying what that means) have in fact bound themselves at the hip to an intolerant and thoroughly bigoted president who is probably without any personal knowledge of the historical movement called the Enlightenment, let alone the particular liberal and conservative values contained therein. This is apparently true for most if not all of the Republican Senators, certainly for Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn, Mike Crapo, John Thune, Roy Blount, Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz to mention just the first few Trump followers that come to mind.

Let’s look a bit now (although I’ll have more to say in a subsequent blog) at what we’re told are the real differences between liberals and conservatives, to determine  if they are in fact real and relevant to our public lives. I think we’ll see that other than single issues, such as the death penalty, same sex marriage, abortion, etc. about which people do strongly disagree, even liberals among themselves and conservatives also among themselves, that in fact, there are no substantial differences.

Take the size of the government. Don’t both liberals and conservatives agree that governments are too large, have taken on more than they can possibly chew, and need  to be cut down to a more manageable size? And taxes, don’t they all want to reduce taxes, and don’t they all want not to wage wars and not to increase the national debt? But, and alas, don’t they all go on waging wars and increasing our nation’s debt?

Equality and inequality. Do conservatives not believe that there are societal forces at work that make opportunities fundamentally unequal for certain classes of people? They would have to be blind like the President not to believe that. For instance, a student who has to work a job to support his family and goes hungry every night can’t reasonably be expected to make the grades and acquire whatever else he or she might need to get into a prestigious college or University.

On the importance of work, and individual effort. Do liberals not believe that people should be free to succeed and fail according to their own actions and choices, and in particular that with the free schooling, subsidized housing, college scholarships, medicaid, and the many other services established by the liberals in the government that one will still only succeed by one’s hard work?  And don’t liberals believe that successful people have mostly earned their success and should reap the benefits without being overly burdened by taxes….

To be continued.

Lke what we have done to the chickens…

Thriller writers, I like them, I read them, I read alot of them. While reading them have I ever lost control, blacked out? No! Not yet anyway.

There are some that I especially like, in particular Louis Lamour (OK, he’s a Western writer but he still thrills me), John Macdonald, Robert Parker, and Frederick Forsyth,  of these four Forsyth is the only one still alive. Still living also, are others that I read, detective fiction writers, Michael Connelly and Robert Crais being two of them.

Now there are thousands, tens of thousands of thriller writers. More than anyone of us could ever read in a lifetime of thriller reading. And there are millions, hundreds of millions of thriller readers. I give the thrillers only a small spot in my day or week, for otherwise I would never read or do anything else. The books I’m reading right now, all on my iPhone, at least the first 15 most recent of them, “recent” being a helpful Kindle category are:

 

  • John MacDonald’s A Purple Place for Dying,
  • Mikhail B Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita,
  • Martha Raddatz’s The Long Road Home.
  • Noah Feldman’s The Three Lives of James Madison,
  • Paul Davies’ The Goldilocks Enigma,
  • Charlotte Gordon’s Romantic Outlaws,
  • Martin Rees’ Just Six  Numbers that shape the universe,
  • John Irving’s The Cider House Rules,
  • Jack Higgins’Solo,
  • Simone de Beauvoir’s Pour une morale de l’ambiguité,
  • Edmond Taylor’s The Fall of the Dynasties,
  • Treasure Island (with my grandson),
  • Kenneth Miller’s Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul,
  • On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection,
  • Noah Yuval Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.

No I haven’t yet read them all.  And in fact, if I look at my own past reading history, I’ll never go beyond a chapter or two or an introduction. (Actually my own experience has shown me that non-fiction would do better to be not of book, but of essay length, and then I at least would have read many more of them.)

There are the thousands, not yet ten thousand, hard copy books here at home on our bookshelves most of which I haven’t read through. These few thousand books have for the most part stuck close to us, have “followed” us throughout our now long lifetimes (not followed rather but hauled along after us) from Paris to New York then to St John’s College in Annapolis and Santa Fe, 4 years later back to Rockport, MA, then onto Beverly, MA to the school that my wife and I founded in Rockport in 1972, and now, for the past ten years or so, since 2006, the books are here with us in Tampa, Fl. where we are helping to homeschool our grandkids.

While I recognize them, probably could say even when and where I purchased them, what they’re really doing now, at least from often passing their spines quite visible on my shelves, (where they stay since I no longer read them) is reminding me daily of what I would like to forget, the fact that I have never really read right through most of them, and that now in my 80s I never will. They remind me also that they will soon need a new home. I’m working on that.

 
So what is all this about? What am I saying? Yes I like books, I like to read books. But most books I acquire I don’t finish. Although I never tire of going back and reading the thrillers a second, third and fourth time, in particular Louis Lamour and John MacDonald, I’ve never read through even one time, Kant, Hegel, or more recently John Dewey. In fact probably the only books that I read from one end to the other are the thrillers. While I don’t think I’m alone in this way of doing things, I’m sure there are many also who do read the non-fiction books right through from beginning to end, or actually may even work on a good number of the problems in the calculus texts of which I have a good number and with which I no longer struggle. I admire them.

During my lifetime I have never stopped buying books and mostly not reading them. We don’t do that with clothes and technology and cars, and such, or at least not to the extent that we do so with books. If I had my life to do over would I do it any differently? Probably.

John Macdonald’s Travis McGee series is a favorite of mine. I’ve finished all his books, probably some 60 or 70 of them (ditto for Louis Lamour). Sure I’m caught up in the story, as with MacDonald and Lamour, and Parker, and Crais, and others, but it’s often from MacDonald that I also grow in my understanding, from his own powerful way of describing and seeing life. I felt this very strongly just today when I read the passage below (for at least the third time!).

In any case I don’t think we should get too hung up on our ways of classifying books, even as fiction and non-fiction, and that a more interesting and more helpful separation, would be that between the good writers and bad writers, and we have to decide, each one of us, those who are the good ones and read them, and avoid the others.

In my life MacDonald has been one of the good ones, and he gives us his profound thoughts and observations about much in our lives, as for example about what he calls the “why question,” as in the following passage from Chapter 3 of his A Purple Place for Dying.

 

State Western was one of those new institutions they keep slapping up to take care of the increasing flood of kids. It was beyond the sleepy-looking town. Hundreds of cars winked in the mid-morning sun on huge parking lots. The university buildings were giant brown shoeboxes in random pattern over substantial acreage. It was ten o’clock and kids were hurrying on their long treks from building to building.

Off to the right was the housing complex of dormitories, and a big garden apartment layout which I imagined housed faculty and administrative personnel. A sign at the entrance drive to the campus buildings read: NO STUDENT CARS. The blind sides of the big buildings held big bright murals made of ceramic tile, in a stodgy treatment of such verities as Industry, Freedom, Peace, etc.

The paths crisscrossed the baked earth. There were some tiny areas of green, lovingly nurtured, but it would be years before it all looked like the architect’s rendering. The kids hustled to their ten-o’clocks, little and young, intent on their obscure purposes. Khakis and jeans, cottons and colors.

Vague glances, empty as camera lenses, moved across me as I drove slowly by. I was on the other side of the fence of years. They could relate and react to adults with whom they had a forced personal contact. But strangers were as meaningless to them as were the rocks and scrubby trees. They were in the vivid tug and flex of life, and we were faded pictures on the corridor walls—drab, ended and slightly spooky. I noticed a goodly sprinkling of Latin blood among them, the tawny cushiony girls and the bullfighter boys. They all seemed to have an urgency about them, that strained harried trimester look. It would cram them through sooner, and feed them out into the corporations and the tract houses, breeding and hurrying, organized for all the time and money budgets, binary systems, recreation funds, taxi transports, group adjustments, tenure, constructive hobbies.

They were being structured to life on the run, and by the time they would become what is now known as senior citizens, they could fit nicely into planned communities where recreation is scheduled on such a tight and competitive basis that they could continue to run, plan, organize, until, falling at last into silence, the grief-therapist would gather them in, rosy their cheeks, close the box and lower them to the only rest they had ever known.

It is all functional, of course. But it is like what we have done to chickens. Forced growth under optimum conditions, so that in eight weeks they are ready for the mechanical picker. The most forlorn and comical statements are the ones made by the grateful young who say, Now I can be ready in two years and nine months to go out and earn a living rather than wasting four years in college.

Education is something which should be apart from the necessities of earning a living, not a tool therefor. It needs contemplation, fallow periods, the measured and guided study of the history of man’s reiteration of the most agonizing question of all: Why? Today the good ones, the ones who want to ask why, find no one around with any interest in answering the question, so they drop out, because theirs is the type of mind which becomes monstrously bored at the trade-school concept. A devoted technician is seldom an educated man. He can be a useful man, a contented man, a busy man. But he has no more sense of the mystery and wonder and paradox of existence than does one of those chickens fattening itself for the mechanical plucking, freezing and packaging.

 

 
About the Author John D. MacDonald was an American novelist and short story writer. His works include the Travis McGee series and the novel The Executioners, which was adapted into the film Cape Fear. In 1962 MacDonald was named a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America; in 1980 he won a National Book Award. In print he delighted in smashing the bad guys, deflating the pompous, and exposing the venal. In life he was a truly empathetic man; his friends, family, and colleagues found him to be loyal, generous, and practical. In business he was fastidiously ethical. About being a writer, he once expressed with gleeful astonishment, “They pay me to do this! They don’t realize, I would pay them.” He spent the later part of his life in Florida with his wife and son. He died in 1986.

Liberté, Égalité, et Fraternité