This week seems to have broken a lot of my friends politically. Lots of folks withdrawing, feeling despair, etc. Me too, only I may reached that point a week or two ago.
The final straw this week seems to be the new Republican tax law. Cynically creating an enormous new deficit to give tax breaks to the richest Americans. While raising taxes on middle class people, particularly in high tax states like California and New York. It is a terrible law that will cause significant harm to our country. Combined with the destruction of the Affordable Care Act it will bring misery to many Americans.
But there’s so much more awfulness. The sexual misconduct revelations are a constant reminder of how shitty so many men are. Topped off by our Sexual Predator in Chief and his not-quite endorsement of child botherer Roy Moore. Trump’s tweets of anti-Muslim hate propaganda. The reversal of net neutrality. Trump’s off the cuff insults against Native Americans. Ongoing efforts to suppress the vote. Lurching towards nuclear war with North Korea with a State Department stripped of competency.
The only “bright spot”, as it were, is Mueller’s investigation. As if discovering the President’s staff worked with Russian intelligence to subvert the US election is somehow a positive thing. It’s not, it’s terrible, and so far we’ve done nothing to make the 2018 election more secure. Also it’s not really not clear that Mueller can save the Republic even with ironclad evidence of Trump campaign collusion with Russia. The Republicans hold the power and have shown themselves completely uninterested in decency or the rule of law. Remember the outcome of the Iran-Contra affair?
It’s going to get worse. It may not get better. He may get us all killed.
One crucial political aim for 2018 and 2020 is making sure the vote is fair and representative. The GOP has a clear strategy for voter suppression. They also will try to further cement their control of the House starting in 2020 with gerrymandering. Here are some people working to protect voters’ rights.
Jason Kander is leading the fight against voter suppression with the organization Let America Vote. Right now that’s mostly agitation against Trump’s voter suppression committee but it’s backed by legal and political action. (Kander is hilarious on Twitter, I enjoy following his personal account.) The ACLU is also very active in protecting voting rights.
I’ve been spending a lot of time educating myself about gerrymandering. The #1 thing I’d recommend is the book Ratf**ked; the New Yorker review gives a summary. That book is mostly a report on REDMAP, the GOP districting effort in 2010 (and now 2020). The DNC’s districting effort in 2020 is the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, led by Eric Holder. They’ve been relatively quiet but that may be because it’s mostly a technical and per-state issue.
The big news in gerrymandering this fall is the Wisconsin case, to be heard in the Supreme Court in October. It is considering the question about whether an explicitly partisan gerrymander is legal. There’s a lot of excitement about a measure called the efficiency gap which quantifies partisan bias. I’m doing a little work in this area myself, there’s a fun statistics + maps problem there.
I’ve left out a third topic, protecting the vote from foreign influence. I’m not as up to date on that topic. Also it’s a bit different in that voting security should be a bipartisan issue. Unfortunately a bunch of Republicans are ignoring obvious evidence of Russian election tampering as a misguided attempt to protect Trump. Secure voting machines and easy auditability are important themes.
There’s a kerfuffle going on with an NYTimes article about Trump and Xi. Trump calls the article fake news, saying it doesn’t describe his phone call on Thursday with Xi. But the online article starts with that phone call! What’s going on?
The confusion is the print edition of the article does not include the call. You can see that in this screenshot of the front page I took from Newseum. The article was then later updated online to include more facts, including the call.
The current online article is excellent reporting and, I think, accurate. The print edition was probably also accurate at the time it was published; it seems likely the NYTimes had not yet been informed of the Xi call. The problem is the edit to the online article isn’t disclosed to readers. And so everyone’s left confused, including journalists. One of the article authors even retweeted a smug tweet from another NYT reporter mocking Trump’s reading comprehension. But it seems likely to me Trump simply read the older print article.
One of Trump’s weapons is creating distrust for the media. It’s important for newspapers of record to do everything they can to avoid confusion. The NYT really needs a policy of disclosing edits to online articles.
Update: Politico has a story about this.
Update 2: Newsdiffs has the edit history.
It’s been a terrible weekend politically, with Trump’s hateful and foolish immigration order and the backlash to it. But how bad is it really? I’ve been mulling over this terrifying essay by Yonatan Zunger that’s making the rounds of techies, Trial Balloon for a Coup?. And contrasting it to Larry Lessig's calm essay about the power of American constitutional process.
Zunger’s essay is powerful and, I think, well intentioned. He argues that the immigration circus this weekend was the Trump administration testing whether they could seize total political power. It takes some basic facts about the horrible things the Trump administration is doing and mixes them with some speculation such as the Rosneft deal and comes to a conclusion that the American Republic is about to end. If this essay is correct, the rational response is to flee the country immediately.
Lessig’s essay is a calm entreaty to resist Trump via normal legal and constitutional procedures. Specifically the need for Congress to step up and lead the fight. I agree the Democratic congressional leadership is very disappointing right now. I want Lessig’s worldview to be right, because it means my home is not about to explode in a civil war.
But which is true? I’m less certain than I’d like to be. I think the conclusion Zunger comes to is too extreme to be correct. It reads to me like “Obama’s comin’ for yer guns” or "FEMA orders $1B in coffins" rhetoric. There are some threads of truth there but they’re spun together in an inflammatory way to make the most terrifying conclusion. I think it’s bordering on irresponsible fearmongering and distracts us from meaningful resistance.
America is going to hell through constitutional means, no coup necessary. The Trump administration is using its authority to enact a series of policies that will greatly diminish this country. And they are doing so with complete contempt for truth, decency, or democratic norms. I really hope Lessig is right and that fighting back through legal means is possible. I’m not willing to believe a coup is coming, but this last weekend has me rattled.
I’ve been reading a lot about the Reichstag Fire lately.
Interesting pair of maps showing the route of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline
The upper map is the official map from Energy Transfer Partners. It is remarkably free of detail. Enter Carl Sack's map below, which contains a lot more detail and was designed explicitly to help oppose the pipeline. It's objectively a better map in many ways, particularly showing the locations of rivers and the Sioux Reservation.
It's also notable that Sack includes the "Unceded Sioux Territory". My understanding (and I could be wrong) is that land has disputed legal status today, the result of a broken treaty with the Sioux. The passing of this pipeline through that land is a key part of the dispute, though, and mapping it helps us understand the protest against the pipeline's passage through that land.
Donald Trump warned us the 2016 election would be rigged. Was it? I’ve seen no evidence the vote was subverted enough to change the presidential result. But there were plenty of problems with the election, problems we should fix to protect American democracy.
2016 was the first major election after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. Several states put new limitations on the right to vote such as North Carolina’s intentionally racist voter ID law. How many votes were suppressed in 2016? It’s too early to know (counting and analysis takes time), but voter suppression definitely had some effect. The right to vote is one of the most important rights we have in America, we must defend it for everyone.
Clinton won the popular vote by at least 1M votes but lost the election. That’s not “rigged,” the system is functioning as designed. But the Electoral College is curiously anti-democratic, Trump himself called it “a disaster for democracy.” A particular problem is that the way votes are allocated means there’s gross inequality. Voters from small states like Wyoming or Vermont have 2–3x the power as voters from big states like Texas or California. This bias disenfranchises racial minorities as well. The Interstate Compact is one possible way to reform the electoral college.
The FBI meddled in the election. Comey’s decision to bring up vague, irrelevant email evidence less than two weeks before the vote had a significant impact on public opinion. Comey’s handling of the email investigation had been unusually critical for months. The Trump campaign was tipped off about Comey’s October surprise before it happened; Giuliani even bragged of “a revolution going on inside the FBI”. The national police meddling in an election is something you expect in a tinpot dictatorship, not the US.
The Russian government hacked the Democratic National Committee to influence the election. The DNC emails WikiLeaks published ended up not containing much of significance but still hurt the Clinton campaign. Back in July Trump invited Russia to hack Clinton. After the election a Putin adviser bragged “maybe we helped a bit with WikiLeaks.” Foreign espionage threatens our independence.
Voting machine security has not come up as a specific concern this election. But it’s crucial to fair elections; a lot of computer voting to date is woefully insecure. A post-vote audit comparing electronic votes to verified paper votes would be a huge reassurance.
I have a lot of admiration for American democracy. Keeping our elections free and fair requires constant vigilance. We need to stop voter suppression, reform the electoral college, and prevent inappropriate influence both from US and foreign governments. Keeping democracy healthy is a non-partisan goal; it is American.
Were you offended by me calling Trump a racist? Perhaps you voted for Trump and resent the association? “I’m not a bigot”, you think, “I only voted for Trump because Clinton was so awful”. OK, I’ll accept that at face value. But only if you step up now.
If you are not a bigot now is the time for you to speak out against bigotry. When Trump demonizes Muslims, speak up. When Trump insults Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, call it out. When Trump supporters carry out racist attacks, condemn them. When Trump embraces misogyny, say something. When Trump appoints white supremacists to his cabinet, reject them. Publically.
These next few years are going to be very hard for vulnerable minorities. LGBT people, Muslims, immigrants (both documented and not), we all feel threatened. We need you to step up and defend us. If you supported Trump and the GOP in this election but are a decent person who is not a bigot we need you to act and speak.
There are things that are open for legitimate political debate. Trade policy, gun control, tax rates, healthcare, our response to global warming. I disagree with GOP positions on many of these topics but they are certainly open for civilized discussion. Overt bigotry against Muslims, Hispanics, African Americans, or LGBT people is not acceptable and must be firmly denied. We all need to speak out.
So Trump will be president. There’s been a rush to normalize the election, to embrace the new president, to make it seem all OK. It’s not OK. America elected a racist demagogue who is singularly unfit to be president. We should not normalize Trump’s monstrous campaign. It feels obvious (or pointless) to catalog his faults now, but perhaps in the coming years it will be useful to remember what Trump has been up to now.
Trump made numerous policy statements that should have disqualified him as a candidate. His advocacy of assassinating families of terrorists and torture are calls for war crimes. His proposals of a registry of Muslims and banning Muslims from visiting the US violate the First Amendment. His encouraging assault at his political rallies and his promise to jail Clinton are the threats of petty tyrants, not American Presidents.
Trump is personally odious. He bragged about sexually assaulting women. At least ten women publically accused him of sexual predation. His only response has been to threaten to sue them. He doesn’t pay his bills. He brags about paying no taxes, based on a dodgy tax scheme. He spearheaded a racist campaign trying to deny Barack Obama’s citizenship. He is a prodigious liar about things both big and small, like his non-existent charitable donations.
But 26% of eligible voters voted for Trump, he will be president. I don’t quite know how to sit with that, that so many Americans voted for a racist sexual predator. Voted for someone lacking even a basic understanding of American governance. In many cases people voted for him because of his racism and ignorance, not despite it. That’s America 2016.
So what next? We could ask 2012 Donald Trump for advice; back then he openly called for revolution against Obama. But that’s crazy. We have to live with his presidency. But we don’t have to pretend that he’s normal or acceptable. We don’t have to pretend he’s not the man he was in the campaign. As Gessen says, “Believe the autocrat. He means what he says.”
Today’s SF Chronicle has two remarkable opinion colums about state politics in California.
Debra Saunders, the token right-winger, reveals Carly Fiorina is a deadbeat. She owes $500,000 to her employees for her failed 2010 senate candidacy. What makes this laundry-airing remarkable is Fiorina is rumored to be running for President. And Saunders got Fiorina’s former campaign manager Marty Wilson on the record confirming the debt. Quite a takedown.
Also Slick Willie Brown’s normally terrible column is interesting this week in revealing the Democratic machine. He floats a trial balloon for how California’s top politicians might shuffle jobs in the next few years, with Harris for Boxer and Newsom for Jerry Brown. “The issue will be which of their clients they persuade to run for the Senate seat”; the “they” refers to consultancy Ace Smith. I guess they’re the ones calling the shots.