Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Andy Borowitz

By Andy Borowitz   07:00 A.M.
Trump Bids Ben Carson Farewell Until Next Black History Month

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—On the final day of Black History Month, Donald J. Trump thanked Ben Carson for participating in a handful of photo opportunities during the month, and bade him farewell until Black History Month next year.

Saying goodbye to Carson at the White House, Trump praised him for "sitting or standing next to me" at various times over the past four weeks.

"At the beginning of Black History Month, you came to that breakfast we had, and last week you went with me to that museum or whatever," Trump said. "We'll do things like that again next year. Thanks again, Ben, and goodbye."

As the retired neurosurgeon turned to leave the White House, a reporter asked Carson, who is Trump's nominee for hud Secretary, whether he had any plans beyond standing near Trump during Black History Month.

Suddenly furious, Trump lashed out at the press corps, accusing them of "not giving as much credit to Ben Carson as you've given Frederick Douglass."

"Ben went to a bunch of Black History things with me, and where was Frederick Douglass, seriously?" he said. "You media people have treated Ben Carson very unfairly, and you're the lowest form of life."

He dominates the news like a fart dominates a car

- John Oliver on Trump

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Some More to Know - 25 February

I just can't help it; I gotta RANT!   This editorial from the NY Times explains it plain and simple.   Prisons for Profit donated big money to Trump's campaign, and now, they are about to get their return for investment in multiples of thousands.   Detain deportees, increase arrests, make more laws that criminalize.   The industry of incarceration is big business, and where there is a profit from it, you better believe that the underbelly of Capitalism will be there in its corruptive greed:


Few profited more immediately from Donald Trump's election than the private-prison industry. On Nov. 9, the day after Mr. Trump won, the Corrections Corporation of America (now CoreCivic), the nation's biggest operator of private prisons, saw its stock price jump 43 percent; its leading competitor, the GEO Group, rose 21 percent. Stocks in those companies are up more than 100 percent since Election Day.

There was good reason for the optimism. During the campaign, Mr. Trump spun tales of crime-wracked cities and uncontrolled violence that, even though mostly divorced from reality, appealed to public fears. He also called the nation's prison system "a disaster" and said: "I do think we can do a lot of privatizations and private prisons. It seems to work a lot better." The industry responded by giving hundreds of thousands of dollars in support of Mr. Trump's candidacy.

On Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions scrapped an order issued last August by President Barack Obama's Justice Department to phase out the government's use of private prisons, which increased substantially as exploding prison populations strained the capacity of state and federal facilities in the 1980s. At their peak, privately run prisons housed 30,000 federal inmates, or about 15 percent of the total federal prison population; by this May, they will hold around 14,000.

This policy reversal is indefensible given the track record of private prisons. Like a parasite, the industry fed off harsh and shortsighted sentencing policies, such as mandatory minimums and three-strikes laws, that resulted in the largest prison population in the world. By 2014, the top two companies had revenues of $3.3 billion, nearly double what they made in 2006. They promised to provide incarceration at a lower price, but it didn't work out that way.

Horror stories abound of corruption and abuse at private prisons and detention facilities, where violence is common, and where underpaid and undermonitored guards act with impunity. Privately operated prisons compare poorly with government facilities on most key measures, as Sally Yates, Mr. Obama's deputy attorney general, explained in a memo accompanying last summer's order. They aren't as safe or secure for staff members or inmates. They don't provide the same level of rehabilitative services, like educational programs and job training, that help people lead law-abiding lives after prison. They don't even save substantially on costs.

Of course, the whole idea of privatized incarceration is morally repugnant. Imprisoning people should never be entrusted to those whose primary concern is profit and shareholder return.

One would think a hard-nosed executive like Mr. Trump, who won the White House in part because of his assurances that he would run government more like a business, would be loath to reward a contractor that does a bad job while saving no money. But for Mr. Trump, appearing tough on crime has always been the point, no matter what the facts are.

For now, the Justice Department's new policy will affect a relatively small number of people. Tens of thousands more state prisoners are housed in private prisons, and the federal prison population has been shrinking for four years. But private facilities are sure to start expanding again under the Trump administration, thanks in part to mass detention of undocumented immigrants and increased enforcement of federal laws against recreational marijuana use.

That's bad for communities, taxpayers and justice. But it's a boon for the private-prison industry, whose entire business model is built on locking up as many people as possible.

He dominates the news like a fart dominates a car

- John Oliver on Trump

Something to Know - 25 February

Much of the stuff submitted lately has been me ranting to pass on a supporting column.   This one came to me as I was reading the mountain of available Internet literature.   This is from the Nation Magazine, and I was initially drawn to the subject matter of NY Times columnist David Brooks.   So, I figured, heck I'll go ahead and read it, without paying any attention to the author of the article.  When I finished, I was in a different frame of mind than when I started reading.  I then saw that Andrew Bacevich wrote it.  Now, I completely understood.  This would be a good read for you:

It's Time for David Brooks to Reckon With David Brooks
The New York Times columnist once worshipped at the altar of American "greatness," too.
By Andrew J. Bacevich
FEBRUARY 23, 2017

Apart from being a police officer, firefighter, or soldier engaged in one of this nation's endless wars, writing a column for a major American newspaper has got to be one of the toughest and most unforgiving jobs there is. The pay may be decent (at least if your gig is with one of the major papers in New York or Washington), but the pressures to perform on cue are undoubtedly relentless.

Anyone who has ever tried cramming a coherent and ostensibly insightful argument into a mere 750 words knows what I'm talking about. Writing op-eds does not perhaps qualify as high art. Yet, like tying flies or knitting sweaters, it requires no small amount of skill. Performing the trick week in and week out without too obviously recycling the same ideas over and over again—or at least while disguising repetitions and concealing inconsistencies—requires notable gifts.

David Brooks of The New York Times is a gifted columnist. Among contemporary journalists, he is our Walter Lippmann, the closest thing we have to an establishment-approved public intellectual. As was the case with Lippmann, Brooks works hard to suppress the temptation to rant. He shuns raw partisanship. In his frequent radio and television appearances, he speaks in measured tones. Dry humor and ironic references abound. And like Lippmann, when circumstances change, he makes at least a show of adjusting his views accordingly.

For all that, Brooks remains an ideologue. In his columns, and even more so in his weekly appearances on NPR and PBS, he plays the role of the thoughtful, non-screaming conservative, his very presence affirming the ideological balance that, until November 8 of last year, was a prized hallmark of "respectable" journalism. Just as that balance always involved considerable posturing, so, too, with the ostensible conservatism of David Brooks: It's an act.

In terms of confessional fealty, his true allegiance is not to conservatism as such but to the church of America the Redeemer. This is a virtual congregation, albeit one possessing many of the attributes of a more traditional religion. The church has its own Holy Scripture, authenticated on July 4, 1776, at a gathering of 56 prophets. And it has its own saints, prominent among them the Good Thomas Jefferson, chief author of the sacred text (not the Bad Thomas Jefferson who owned and impregnated slaves); Abraham Lincoln, who freed said slaves and thereby suffered martyrdom (on Good Friday, no less); and, of course, the duly canonized figures most credited with saving the world itself from evil: Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt, their status akin to that of saints Peter and Paul in Christianity. The Church of America the Redeemer even has its own Jerusalem, located on the banks of the Potomac, and its own hierarchy, its members situated nearby in high temples of varying architectural distinction.

This ecumenical enterprise does not prize theological rigor. When it comes to "shalt"s and "shalt not"s, it tends to be flexible, if not altogether squishy. It demands of the faithful just one thing: a fervent belief in America's mission to remake the world in its own image. Although in times of crisis Brooks has occasionally gone a bit wobbly, he remains at heart a true believer.

In a March 1997 piece for The Weekly Standard, his then-employer, he summarized his credo. Entitled "A Return to National Greatness," the essay opened with a glowing tribute to the Library of Congress and, in particular, to the building completed precisely a century earlier to house its many books and artifacts. According to Brooks, the structure itself embodied the aspirations defining America's enduring purpose. He called particular attention to the dome above the main reading room decorated with a dozen "monumental figures" representing the advance of civilization and culminating in a figure representing America itself. Contemplating the imagery, Brooks rhapsodized:

The theory of history depicted in this mural gave America impressive historical roots, a spiritual connection to the centuries. And it assigned a specific historic role to America as the latest successor to Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome. In the procession of civilization, certain nations rise up to make extraordinary contributions…. At the dawn of the 20th century, America was to take its turn at global supremacy. It was America's task to take the grandeur of past civilizations, modernize it, and democratize it. This common destiny would unify diverse Americans and give them a great national purpose.

This February, 20 years later, in a column with an identical title, but this time appearing in the pages of his present employer, The New York Times, Brooks revisited this theme. Again, he began with a paean to the Library of Congress and its spectacular dome with its series of "monumental figures" that placed America "at the vanguard of the great human march of progress." For Brooks, those 12 allegorical figures convey a profound truth.

"America is the grateful inheritor of other people's gifts. It has a spiritual connection to all people in all places, but also an exceptional role. America culminates history. It advances a way of life and a democratic model that will provide people everywhere with dignity. The things Americans do are not for themselves only, but for all mankind."

In 1997, in the midst of the Clinton presidency, Brooks had written that "America's mission was to advance civilization itself." In 2017, as Donald Trump gained entry into the Oval Office, he embellished and expanded that mission, describing a nation "assigned by providence to spread democracy and prosperity; to welcome the stranger; to be brother and sister to the whole human race."

Back in 1997, "a moment of world supremacy unlike any other," Brooks had worried that his countrymen might not seize the opportunity that was presenting itself. On the cusp of the 21st century, he worried that Americans had "discarded their pursuit of national greatness in just about every particular." The times called for a leader like Theodore Roosevelt, who wielded that classic "big stick" and undertook monster projects like the Panama Canal. Yet Americans were stuck instead with Bill Clinton, a small-bore triangulator. "We no longer look at history as a succession of golden ages," Brooks lamented. "And, save in the speeches of politicians who usually have no clue what they are talking about," America was no longer fulfilling its "special role as the vanguard of civilization."

By early 2017, with Donald Trump in the White House and Steve Bannon whispering in his ear, matters had become worse still. Americans had seemingly abandoned their calling outright. "The Trump and Bannon anschluss has exposed the hollowness of our patriotism," wrote Brooks, inserting the now-obligatory reference to Nazi Germany. The November 2016 presidential election had "exposed how attenuated our vision of national greatness has become and how easy it was for Trump and Bannon to replace a youthful vision of American greatness with a reactionary, alien one." That vision now threatens to leave America as "just another nation, hunkered down in a fearful world."

What exactly happened between 1997 and 2017, you might ask? What occurred during that "moment of world supremacy" to reduce the United States from a nation summoned to redeem humankind to one hunkered down in fear?

Trust Brooks to have at hand a brow-furrowing explanation. The fault, he explains, lies with an "educational system that doesn't teach civilizational history or real American history but instead a shapeless multiculturalism," as well as with "an intellectual culture that can't imagine providence." Brooks blames "people on the left who are uncomfortable with patriotism and people on the right who are uncomfortable with the federal government that is necessary to lead our project."

An America that no longer believes in itself—that's the problem. In effect, Brooks revises Norma Desmond's famous complaint about the movies, now repurposed to diagnose an ailing nation: It's the politics that got small.

Nowhere does he consider the possibility that his formula for "national greatness" just might be so much hooey. Between 1997 and 2017, after all, egged on by people like David Brooks, Americans took a stab at "greatness," with the execrable Donald Trump now numbering among the eventual results.

Say what you will about the shortcomings of the American educational system and the country's intellectual culture, they had far less to do with creating Trump than did popular revulsion prompted by specific policies that Brooks, among others, enthusiastically promoted. Not that he is inclined to tally up the consequences. Only as a sort of postscript to his litany of contemporary American ailments does he refer even in passing to what he calls the "humiliations of Iraq."

A great phrase, that. Yet much like, say, the "tragedy of Vietnam" or the "crisis of Watergate," it conceals more than it reveals. Here, in short, is a succinct historical reference that cries out for further explanation. It bursts at the seams with implications demanding to be unpacked, weighed, and scrutinized. Brooks shrugs off Iraq as a minor embarrassment, the equivalent of having shown up at a dinner party wearing the wrong clothes.

Under the circumstances, it's easy to forget that, back in 2003, he and other members of the church of America the Redeemer devoutly supported the invasion of Iraq. They welcomed war. They urged it. They did so not because Saddam Hussein was uniquely evil—although he was evil enough—but because they saw in such a war the means for the United States to accomplish its salvific mission. Toppling Saddam and transforming Iraq would provide the mechanism for affirming and renewing America's "national greatness."

Anyone daring to disagree with that proposition they denounced as craven or cowardly. Writing at the time, Brooks disparaged those opposing the war as mere "marchers." They were effete, pretentious, ineffective, and absurd. "These people are always in the streets with their banners and puppets. They march against the IMF and World Bank one day, and against whatever war happens to be going on the next.… They just march against."

Perhaps space constraints did not permit Brooks in his recent column to spell out the "humiliations" that resulted and that even today continue to accumulate. Here in any event is a brief inventory of what that euphemism conceals: thousands of Americans needlessly killed; tens of thousands grievously wounded in body or spirit; trillions of dollars wasted; millions of Iraqis dead, injured, or displaced; this nation's moral standing compromised by its resort to torture, kidnapping, assassination, and other perversions; a region thrown into chaos and threatened by radical terrorist entities like the Islamic State that US military actions helped foster. And now, if only as an oblique second-order bonus, we have Donald Trump's elevation to the presidency to boot.

In refusing to reckon with the results of the war he once so ardently endorsed, Brooks is hardly alone. Members of the church of America the Redeemer, Democrats and Republicans alike, are demonstrably incapable of rendering an honest accounting of what their missionary efforts have yielded.

Brooks belongs, or once did, to the church's neoconservative branch. But liberals such as Bill Clinton, along with his secretary of state Madeleine Albright, were congregants in good standing, as were Barack Obama and his secretary of state Hillary Clinton. So, too, are putative conservatives like Senators John McCain, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio, all of them subscribing to the belief in the singularity and indispensability of the United States as the chief engine of history, now and forever.

Back in April 2003, confident that the fall of Baghdad had ended the Iraq War, Brooks predicted that "no day will come when the enemies of this endeavor turn around and say, 'We were wrong. Bush was right.'" Rather than admitting error, he continued, the war's opponents "will just extend their forebodings into a more distant future."

Yet it is the war's proponents who, in the intervening years, have choked on admitting that they were wrong. Or when making such an admission, as did both John Kerry and Hillary Clinton while running for president, they write it off as an aberration, a momentary lapse in judgment of no particular significance, like having guessed wrong on a TV quiz show.

Rather than requiring acts of contrition, the church of America the Redeemer has long promulgated a doctrine of self-forgiveness, freely available to all adherents all the time. "You think our country's so innocent?" the nation's 45th president recently barked at a TV host who had the temerity to ask how he could have kind words for the likes of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Observers professed shock that a sitting president would openly question American innocence.

In fact, Trump's response and the kerfuffle that ensued both missed the point. No serious person believes that the United States is "innocent." Worshipers in the church of America the Redeemer do firmly believe, however, that America's transgressions, unlike those of other countries, don't count against it. Once committed, such sins are simply to be set aside and then expunged, a process that allows American politicians and pundits to condemn a "killer" like Putin with a perfectly clear conscience while demanding that Donald Trump do the same.

What the Russian president has done in Crimea, Ukraine, and Syria qualifies as criminal. What American presidents have done in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya qualifies as incidental and, above all, beside the point.

Rather than confronting the havoc and bloodshed to which the United States has contributed, those who worship in the church of America the Redeemer keep their eyes fixed on the far horizon and the work still to be done in aligning the world with American expectations. At least they would, were it not for the arrival at center stage of a manifestly false prophet who, in promising to "make America great again," inverts all that "national greatness" is meant to signify.

For Brooks and his fellow believers, the call to "greatness" emanates from faraway precincts—in the Middle East, East Asia, and Eastern Europe. For Trump, the key to "greatness" lies in keeping faraway places and the people who live there as faraway as possible. Brooks et al. see a world that needs saving and believe that it's America's calling to do just that. In Trump's view, saving others is not a peculiarly American responsibility. Events beyond our borders matter only to the extent that they affect America's well-being. Trump worships in the church of America First, or at least pretends to do so in order to impress his followers.

That Donald Trump inhabits a universe of his own devising, constructed of carefully arranged alt-facts, is no doubt the case. Yet, in truth, much the same can be said of David Brooks and others sharing his view of a country providentially charged to serve as the "successor to Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome." In fact, this conception of America's purpose expresses not the intent of providence, which is inherently ambiguous, but their own arrogance and conceit. Out of that conceit comes much mischief. And in the wake of mischief come charlatans like Donald Trump.

An intellectual is a man who takes more words than necessary to tell more than he knows
Dwight Eisenhower
     ""—Dwight Eisenhower

Friday, February 24, 2017

Something to Know - 24.5 February


In December, Spicer said barring media access is what a 'dictatorship' does. Today, he barred media access.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer barred reporters from several large media outlets from participating in a scheduled press briefing Friday. Two months ago, in a panel discussion, he insisted that open access for the media is "what makes a democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship."

While conservative outlets such as Breitbart, One America News and the Washington Times were allowed into Friday's briefing, Politico, the New York Times and CNN were not, according to the Times' Michael Grynbaum. The White House Correspondents' Association, representing the White House press pool, released a statement indicating that it was "protesting strongly" against the way the briefing was handled. The New York Times' executive editor, Dean Baquet, told his paper's reporter that "nothing like this has ever happened at the White House in our long history of covering multiple administrations of different parties." CNN called it "an unacceptable development" that was "how they retaliate when you report facts they don't like." On Twitter, The Washington Post's executive editor, Marty Baron, called the move "appalling."

Andy Borowitz

By Andy Borowitz   12:30 P.M.
Republicans Accuse Voters of Using Town Halls to Express Themselves

Republicans Accuse Voters of Using Town Halls to Express Themselves
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Saying "Enough is enough," Republican senators on Friday angrily accused their constituents of "intentionally and opportunistically" using recent town-hall meetings as vehicles to express themselves.

One of the angriest Republicans, Senator Tom Cotton, of Arkansas, said he was "disgusted and offended" by the "flagrant exercise of freedom of speech" he witnessed at his town hall.

"The spectacle of people standing up, asking their elected representatives questions, and expecting them to answer is the most disgraceful thing I've ever experienced," Cotton said. "This will not stand."

Cotton accused "outside agitators" of sending voters to the town halls "to cynically exploit an obscure provision in the Constitution called the First Amendment."

"I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but isn't it a little suspicious that, in town hall after town hall, all these voters were so well-versed in one tiny sentence in the Constitution?" he said. "It doesn't pass the smell test."

While Cotton said that he would consider participating in future town halls, he warned that some modifications to the town-hall format were necessary, such as banning voters from the events.

"We need to send a strong message to these people," he said. "A town-hall meeting is not a time for everyone in town to come to a hall and meet."

He dominates the news like a fart dominates a car

- John Oliver on Trump

Something to Know - 24 February

Last night, a story broke that the White House contacted the FBI to have them kill and "knock down" reports about Trump and associates constant communications with the Russians during the campaign.   The FBI in effect blew it all back and said NO.   There is an existing protocol and law that prohibits the Executive Branch of our government from meddling with the FBI on any on-going investigation.   Apparently there is substance to the suspicions and the FBI continues to investigate, but not yet release its findings.  If this behavior had occurred with anyone in the Obama administration, the Republicans would have already started a Congressional Investigation.   We should be interested in what the FBI is investigating and finding.  Please recall, that Watergate started out from a night watchman finding an unlocked door being held open by a piece of tape to prevent it from closing.   I want to hear the Spice guy dance around this one, and we will miss Kelly Anne Gonaway inventing new terms and words to explain this one.  Melissa McCarthy will have more material to work with, that's for sure.  What is interesting, is that the NY and LA Times, and the Washington Post have no mention of this, while CNN (exclusive story below), ABC News, and Huffington Post have it front and center:

FBI refused White House request to knock down recent Trump-Russia stories

Washington (CNN)The FBI rejected a recent White House request to publicly knock down media reports about communications between Donald Trump's associates and Russians known to US intelligence during the 2016 presidential campaign, multiple US officials briefed on the matter tell CNN.

But a White House official said late Thursday that the request was only made after the FBI indicated to the White House it did not believe the reporting to be accurate.
White House officials had sought the help of the bureau and other agencies investigating the Russia matter to say that the reports were wrong and that there had been no contacts, the officials said. The reports of the contacts were first published by The New York Times and CNN on February 14.
The direct communications between the White House and the FBI were unusual because of decade-old restrictions on such contacts. Such a request from the White House is a violation of procedures that limit communications with the FBI on pending investigations.
    Late Thursday night, White House press secretary Sean Spicer objected to CNN's characterization of the White House request to the FBI.
    "We didn't try to knock the story down. We asked them to tell the truth," Spicer said. The FBI declined to comment for this story.
    The discussions between the White House and the bureau began with FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on the sidelines of a separate White House meeting the day after the stories were published, according to a US law enforcement official.
    The White House initially disputed that account, saying that McCabe called Priebus early that morning and said The New York Times story vastly overstates what the FBI knows about the contacts.
    But a White House official later corrected their version of events to confirm what the law enforcement official described.
    The same White House official said that Priebus later reached out again to McCabe and to FBI Director James Comey asking for the FBI to at least talk to reporters on background to dispute the stories. A law enforcement official says McCabe didn't discuss aspects of the case but wouldn't say exactly what McCabe told Priebus.
    Comey rejected the request for the FBI to comment on the stories, according to sources, because the alleged communications between Trump associates and Russians known to US intelligence are the subject of an ongoing investigation.
    The White House did issue its own denial, with Priebus calling The New York Times story "complete garbage."
    "The New York Times put out an article with no direct sources that said that the Trump campaign had constant contacts with Russian spies, basically, you know, some treasonous type of accusations. We have now all kinds of people looking into this. I can assure you and I have been approved to say this -- that the top levels of the intelligence community have assured me that that story is not only inaccurate, but it's grossly overstated and it was wrong. And there's nothing to it," Preibus said on "Fox News Sunday" last weekend.
    CNN has previously reported that there was constant communication between high-level advisers to then-candidate Trump, Russian officials and other Russians known to US intelligence during the summer of 2016.
    Several members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees tell CNN that the congressional investigations are continuing into those alleged Russian contacts with the Trump campaign, despite Priebus' assertion that there is nothing to those reports.
    It is uncertain what the committees will eventually find and whether any of the information will ever be declassified and publicly released. But the push to investigate further shows that Capitol Hill is digging deeper into areas that may not be comfortable for the White House.
    The Trump administration's efforts to press Comey run contrary to Justice Department procedure memos issued in 2007 and 2009 that limit direct communications on pending investigations between the White House and the FBI.
    "Initial communications between the [Justice] Department and the White House concerning pending or contemplated criminal investigations or cases will involve only the Attorney General or the Deputy Attorney General, from the side of the Department, and the Counsel to the President, the Principal Deputy Counsel to the President, the President, or the Vice President from the side of the White House," reads the 2009 memo.
    The memos say the communication should only happen when it is important for the President's duties and where appropriate from a law enforcement perspective.
    A Department of Justice spokesman said Attorney General Jeff Sessions is reviewing the memos and that "the Department is following the guidelines in its communications with the White House."
    The effort to refute the CNN and New York Times stories came as increasing numbers of congressional members were voicing concern about Russia's efforts to influence individuals with ties to Trump.
    On February 17, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence held a briefing with Comey. It's unclear what was said, but senators suggested there was new information discussed about Russia.
    "Every briefing we go through we gain new information," said Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, a member of the committee. Lankford declined to be more specific about the briefing.
    Sen. Angus King of Maine also declined to reveal what was discussed during the Comey briefing. In response to a question on Priebus' strong denial of the claims, King said he was "surprised" that Priebus would be "that categorical."
    Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, said the goal of his panel's inquiry is to follow "leads wherever they go even if they may be uncomfortable to Republicans."
    "The American public will want to know if the President had personal or financial ties to the Russian government," Swalwell said.
    UPDATED: This story has been updated to reflect new information and comment from the White House.