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The Court of Public Opinion

On episode 159 of the More Perfect Union, my co-hosts and I talked about the sexual misconduct accusations against Chris Hardwick. He stands accused of mistreating a past girlfriend who published her version events, albeit without naming him, last week. Someone put the pieces together and Mr. Hardwick suffered swift social and professional consequences.

On our podcast, Kevin remarked that the internet should not be the place where justice is meted out against sexual predators. He says – not without reason – that the place for hashing out the details and exacting punishment is in the court system. Kevin has serious misgivings this kind of phenomenon, saying that the public square isn’t the venue for discussing consequences for sexual misconduct.

As I listened to the playback of the episode, I found myself thinking “Isn’t it?”

Before I go on, let’s stipulate a few facts. First, we should stipulate the judicial system is, as I said on the podcast, often hostile to victims of sexual assault. The statistics on sex crimes that go either unreported, un-prosecuted, or un-convicted are staggering. Next, we must stipulate that rape culture exists. Finally, we must stipulate that the existence of rape culture leads to the failure of the judicial system to protect victims of assault.

If you cannot agree to those basic facts, the rest of what I’m going to say is going to piss you way off. Be forewarned.

We cannot improve judicial outcomes for sex crimes without first dismantling rape culture. It is not possible to get a fair trial for a rape if any person in the room is thinking “Well, but what was she wearing?” or “How much did they drink?” or “But he had sex with him the previous weekend.” Those thoughts are omnipresent and insidious and we are all guilty of them. Don’t lie to yourself, my fellow feminists. Even we have to slap our reptilian brains back into line when they pop off with an idea like that before our more enlightened angels remind us that VICTIM BLAMING IS WRONG.

Thank heavens many of us do have the capacity to check ourselves before we go too far down the path of judging the victim in any sex crime case. But not everyone does and that’s why known-assailant sex crimes are still rampant. There are too many people – both victims and perpetrators – who think a particular outfit is permission to grope a person or that accepting an invitation to dinner is tantamount to consenting to sex. And because the system is weighted toward believing rape culture over rape victims, the consequences of being an assailant, on whatever scale, are not as severe as they should be.

In other words, there is no incentive for the judicial system or rape culture to change.

But what if, just what if, there was an understanding that sexual crime could always become public and there was always a social consequence to committing them? What if committing a sex crime could conceivably lead to loss of job, loss of friendships, loss of romantic prospects in the future, loss of social standing in general? What if being held accountable for sexual misconduct was so common that everyone had to think to themselves “What will happen to me if I lay hands on this person right now? Will I be ruining my life?”

Would that level of consciousness be a bad outcome?

We are not a society that has ever been shy about judging the sexual actions of others, particularly the sexual actions of women. Monica Lewinsky comes to mind. The things Rudy Giuliani recently said about Stormy Daniels. Even the woman who was brutally raped by Brock Turner was judged for the amount she had to drink that night. Most women will tell you that they approach sexual situations with a voice in their head saying “What will be the consequence if anyone finds out about this?” because we know that slut-shaming is real and so are the barriers to accessing true criminal justice through the courts.

Someone reading this is now picturing a matriarchal dystopia where any woman can demand extra-judicial punishment for any man on the most spurious grounds. They probably even think I would welcome that. Would I? Well…

I kid! I’m no vigilante and I don’t want to derail the justice system. But the justice system we have isn’t stopping sex crimes and neither is the culture we’ve had up until now. Maybe…maybe this is what it’s going to take. Maybe a few men need to be toppled off the throne of privilege in order for other would-be assailants to realize that sexual assault has very real consequences.  Maybe it should be standard for everyone to take a moment to consider the possibilities before we attempt to touch another person’s body and maybe the possibility of becoming a pariah should be a valid concern.

If anything good comes out of this latest set of allegations against a celebrity, I hope that it’s this: I hope that somewhere, a person who might otherwise try to force or coerce a partner into bed stops and thinks “What will happen if anyone finds out about this? Will I lose my job? Will I lose my friends? Would it be better to stop? Yes. It would.”

That’s the change I want to see.

 

“Zero Tolerance” on the Border: Not Just Heartless, but Also Thoughtless

by D.J. McGuire

So much ink has been spilled and bandwith used on the “zero tolerance” policy initiated at the border with Mexico that I wondered if I really could add anything of significance. It turns out I can, for there is so much (understandable) outrage at the utter heartlessness of family separation and industrial-building-size holding pens for children that very little attention has been paid to just how stupid this policy is – and how anything requiring an actual, long-term solution will require America to ditch her present isolationist funk and return to the robust interventions of her past.

First up, though, is the initial stupidity. One can only assume that those still clinging to a defense of “zero tolerance” without resorting to outright racism are concerned about security and crime. I would humbly submit that these issue (rather than racism) are likely the most pertinent and powerful reasons for people to become immigration restrictionists in the first place (after 9/11, these reasons pushed me into restrictionism for roughly a decade). Yet it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes of thought to recognize that (1) asylum seekers and those escaping violence in their homelands are hardly security threats to the nation, and (2) that splitting families apart and keeping children in holding pens is a near-perfect way to encourage anger at America and her laws. If there is a better way to prime young people for MS-13, I honestly can’t come up with one at the moment.

Ending “zero tolerance” is merely a short-term answer. In the long run, the dissolution of order and peace in Central America needs to be addressed. For too long, Americans have been taught and told, repeatedly, that our historical interventions in region have caused more trouble than they were worth. To be fair, not every action America took was in the best interest of the people there (or even here). However, we are now seeing one our border (and one could argue have been seeing since 2014 at least) the effect of a quarter-century of not playing a role in the region: Guatemala and Honduras in chaos, El Salvador suffering under a left-wing ex-Communist government (where the opposition is a party whose founder is best known as a death-squad leader), and Nicaragua back under Sandinista control – and suffering under violent tyranny once more.

This is a far cry from the situation in the early 1990s, after three Administrations (Carter, Reagan, and Bush the Elder) that understood the importance of building and supporting stable, democratic governments in Central America. They also saw those who did reach our shores (or the Rio Grande) from that region as victims – and potential allies in our efforts to help those left behind.

There is no such fore-sighted vision in the current Administration, but the opposition (yes, fellow Democrats, I’m talking to you) seems to share this myopia. However much Democrats are willing to fight “zero tolerance” (and they deserve credit and support for that), they need to recognize that people don’t just start suffering when they are within reach of an American border official. Central America needs our help, and it needs our help now.

What we are seeing at the border is the wage of isolationism. Our growing refusal to engage with the rest of the world does not allow us to ignore their suffering. It simply comes to our doorstep.

The Trump Administration is doubling down on keeping its head in the sand with “zero tolerance” – and if polling is any indication, most Republicans are following suit. The Democrats need to do more than just try to reverse this policy, they need to attack the isolationism that led to it.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described “progressive conservative” – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015.

Pop Goes The Political Culture Week of June 11

Bald eagle judging Donald Trump for his immigration policies.

By Rebekah Kuschmider, MPU Co-host

 

Do you know how hard it is to write  a pithy and relevant pop culture round up after a week where pop culture took a determined backseat to the horrors  being committed at the southern border of the US? Every time I get online to see what’s going on the world, I’m smacked in the face with news like this:

You can’t just click away from that kind of information and start scrolling on TMZ’s feed to see what Kanye is up to.

I’m sure my compatriots and I will talk at length about what’s going on but I also know that the four of us at MPU already agree that the new policy of family separation is inhumane and can and should be stopped by the stroke of a presidential pen. We also know that it won’t be stopped that way because that’s not how things work in the age of Trump. Instead, I strongly recommend that each of you take some action to prevent the further traumatization of children and families. Slate published a good round-up of things we can all do so click on over and find a way to do you part.

Now that we’ve touched on that, here’s the news that’s not fit to ‘cast!

The Bible Says Nope: Speaking of people protesting the treatment of families on the border, major religions are weighing in and they’re not echoing Jeff Sessions’ bizarre contention that establishing a legal system that’s deliberately cruel is Biblically supported. This video features representatives of numerous Christian denominations calling out the moral crisis our nation is in and imploring others stand against bigotry.

You Lie!: After months of being castigated for letting the president lie and lie and lie right to their press-pass-hungry faces, members of the White House press corps are finally starting to challenge the Liar in Chief. This week he once again tried to tell reporters that the policy of family separation at the border was the Democrats’ fault. Trump expected the usual Hannity-esque acceptane of his version of reality from the crowd of reporters so imagine his surprise when they started clapping back. Needless to say, he didn’t take kindly to it.

 

It’s like Nasty Woman 2.0.

Lawrence O’Donnell praised another reporter for calling attention to a lie and led to this Twitter exchange:

It really is astonishing that he was the only one asking the question but perhaps he won’t be alone as time goes on.

Gossip Guy: Well, maybe some reporters will start talking about lies but probably not the ones at supermarket checkout staples In Touch, Life & Style and Closer. The three tabloids were purchased this week by AMI, owners of The National Enquirer, among other publications.

This is important, first of all, because media consolidation of any kind is troubling. Think about the Sinclair Broadcasting buy up of tv stations. That’s been practically dystopian. We need a diverse and unbiased base of media outlets in order to get to the heart of important news.

Now, you might say that the exploits of the celebrities that grace glossy gossip rags hardly need unbiased coverage but let’s not forget that AMI is the company behind shutting down embarrassing stories about Trump. Remember how AMI bought exclusive publication rights to Karen McDougal’s story about her affair with Trump, then never published it? Yeah. That’s why this matters.

We want more major media companies, not fewer. This news and news of other mergers in the telecom industry plus the end to net neutrality an mean changes to the way we get information. And when you have a president who openly admires the methods of Kim Jong Un, a dictator notorious for keeping his citizens cut off form information, you should really be concerned about retaining your access to news because you can be pretty sure he’d be just as happy to take that access away.

Until the day Donald Trump actually finds a way to shut us down, all of us at MPU will continue talking about the hard hitting news and the news that doesn’t hit very hard at all. Tune in to the podcast to hear more!

Pop Goes The Political Culture Week of June 4

Actual photo of Rebekah preparing to defend Samantha Bee.

It’s been a busy week in politics with Donald Trump destroying our relationships with our allies and trying to replace them  with with relationships with regimes that aren’t welcome in polite society. He’s also been busy not preparing for the summit with Kim Jong Un. Melania reappeared to a select audience of Gold Star families but no press was present so we know very little about the event. And Samantha Bee apologized to everyone except men.

I’m sure we at the More Perfect Union will have a robust argument about whether Sam Bee needs to worry about the feelings of men. Until then, here’s all the news that’s not fit to ‘cast!

Fox & Friends With Benefits: Here in my state of Maryland, gubernatorial candidate Rich Madaleno may be having more fun than anyone else in his campaign ads. This week, the State Senator and progressive leader released an ad that talks about all the ways in which he has countered the Trump agenda in Maryland. He cites his work on funding for Planned Parenthood, school funding, and gun control.  The end is a shot of Madaleno with his family, where he says “The biggest way I’m pissing off Trump?” He then leans over and kisses his husband Mark Hodge on the mouth. And did I mention their kids are African-American but Madaleno and Hodge are not? Yeah.

To say the ad is pandering to a liberal base would be an understatement but that’s not why it’s so much fun. No, Madaleno isn’t running it as a web ad on the MoveOn site and ginning up left-wing support. He’s bought space during Fox & Friends so he can troll Trump directly.

Well played, sir. Well played.

Depression Lies: The fashion world is mourning designer Kate Spade, who died as the result of an apparently suicide this week. her husband Andy released a statement explaining that she has long struggled with severe depression. In a second shocking suicide, we learned of the death of Anthony Bourdain, the iconic chef and television host who took his life just a few days after Spade.

Depression in a common condition and many people will face it in their lifetime. Therapy and medications can be very effective in treating depression. If you or someone you know is suffering form depression, please reach out for help. The number for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255 and you can get help from them at any time. Or talk to your doctor – even if your doctor is just a clinician at an urgent care facility or someplace like Planned Parenthood. Any medical professional you see will help refer you for treatment that you can access and afford. You aren’t alone and you matter too much not to ask for help.

Go Team Go: The Caps are freakin’ awesome and this has nothing to do with politics at all. I’m sticking it in here because I’m in the DC area and we are #ALLCAPS about our Stanely Cup champs and if Kevin, Greg and D.J. don’t like it, they can take it up with Alex Ovechkin.

Pardon Me?: Donald Trump quipped to reporters that he may pardon Muhammed Ali. The Greatest was convicted of draft dodging in 1967. In the years since the Viet Nam war we’ve come to understand the Ali’s position was a moral one, so pardoning him would be an honorable thing to do, right?

Yeah, the Supreme Court agreed in 1971 when they overturned his conviction. See, the DoJ at the time hadn’t mentioned that his refusal to serve was a contentious objection based on his Muslim faith. The American government was bad at Islam even back then.

To add to the justice for the boxer, President Jimmy Carter pardoned all draft dodgers in 1977.

So, this potential pardon of Trump’s is redundant. But what can you expect from a guy who thought Canada burned down the White House in the war of 1812?

No Girls Allowed: While Trump might be all about pardoning great male athletes, whether they need pardons or not, he’s forgotten about some amazing female athletes this spring. The White House has not issued an invitation to the WNBA champs the Minnesota Lynx. The players have been invited to the White House after previous championships but this administration is apparently not fans of women’s basketball.

But no worries. The team will show their championship colors in another way: by spending a day doing community service. In advance of a game against the Washington Mystics, they connected with a DC area charity called Samaritan’s Feet to distribute shoes to kids in a need.

The White House hasn’t commented about the Lynx’s actions or why they haven’t gotten a call but the Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr had some choice words about the situation.

Patriotism as good deeds. I like it. I like it a lot.

So, stay well out there, listeners, and have a nice weekend.

A Handmaid’s Double-Standard

by Kevin Kelton

Yesterday I joined the national chorus applauding ABC and Disney for firing Roseanne Barr after her tweets about Valerie Jarrett and George Soros. Today I am reconsidering my stand.

I think I was wrong, and I think ABC was, too.

In light of the Samantha Bee’s controversial c**t comment about Ivanka Trump, and considering other recent controversial jokes in the news, we need to decide on one national standard. Either we have freedom of expression or we don’t.

Thirty-eight years ago comedian Charles Rocket was summarily fired from Saturday Night Live for ad-libbing the word “fuck” in the goodbyes segment. Sixteen years ago Bill Maher lost his ABC late night show, Politically Correct, after suggesting the 9/11 attackers were “not cowardly.” Last year, Kathy Griffin was fired from CNN’s New Years Eve coverage (and lost millions of dollars in bookings) for a photo of her holding the dismembered head of the president. SNL writer Katie Rich was suspended for tweeting a joke about Barron Trump. And ‘lest we forget, Sen. Al Franken was hounded out of office over a joking photo (and some unverified allegations of mild misogyny). 

I was opposed to all those forms of politically correct censorship, so I have to be in Roseanne’s case, too, as awful as her tweets were. 

Though I give ABC and Disney executives great credit for trying to do the right thing under very difficult circumstances, I now think in the light of another day that maybe there was a more appropriate punishment for Roseanne Barr – one that didn’t unfairly punish her fellow cast members, crew and fans. 

Maybe ABC should have instead insisted on the first episode of season two of “Roseanne” addressing the tweet controversy in some positive light. What if Roseanne Connor were shown taking to Twitter for the first time and sending that exact same tweet about Valerie Jarret or Michelle Obama or Oprah or another high-profile woman of color. And suppose that person were somehow brought face to face with the TV Roseanne to explain why the comment was hurtful to all black people and especially young black girls. What if Roseanne’s character actually learned and grew from the experience, much as was done with Archie Bunker when he met Sammy Davis Jr.

Obviously, this consequence would not have hit home with Roseanne the way cancelling her highly profitable series did. And it could have been written off as a cheap publicity stunt. But it also might have had more lasting social impact to show an avowed Trump supporter coming face to face with her own ingrained racism. Wouldn’t that have potentially made a more positive cultural shift than simply firing their right-wing icon?

If there needed to be a harsher consequence for Roseanne’s actions, it should be handed out by the market place of advertisers and ratings. If Americans want to punish her for her actions, they can do it with their remote controls. That is the jury that should be making these decisions, not a C-suite of entertainment executives trying to impose morality on all of us. They are TV programmers, not ministers or ethicists. I like Bob Iger, and I’d probably like ABC President Channing Dungey, but beyond the bounds of what they put on their airwaves, I’m not sure I want them determining what’s acceptable public conversation and what’s not. We don’t give the power of public censorship to elected officials. Let’s not give it to corporate bosses.

If we give private citizens that power, they will take it and they will use it. If Roseanne can be summarily fired for one misstep of poor judgment, so can you. Anything your employer deems inappropriate can be brought back to haunt you, and maybe derail your career forever. I know we have “at will” employment already, but this current trend will only magnify it. Yesterday it was Roseanne. Today it is Samantha Bee. Tomorrow it may be your spouse, your child, your parent, or you. If you think you are so infallible that you are immune from such a fate, guess again. So did Barr, Bee, Griffin, Franken, and the others.

The steps between our world today and the world of A Handmaid’s Tale are incremental and often imperceptible in the moment. Little individual rights that get taken away. Little individual injustices that no one else stands up against. Until we ask, how did we get here? We got here because we allowed it.

I’m not ready to turn a generation of comedians and other celebrities into handmaidens.

Valerie Jarrett and Ivanka Trump will be fine in the morning. But our culture is on life support. Let’s not keep tugging on the plug.

Kevin Kelton is a former Saturday Night Live writer. He is currently a cohost of The More Perfect Union podcast and founder of Open Fire Politics on Facebook.

The Mueller Report NOT To Expect


                                                     
           

September 1, 2018

 

The Honorable Rod J. Rosenstein, Deputy Attorney General
United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.

 

          Re:  Final Report from the Office of Special Counsel

 

Dear Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and Members of Congress,

          It is with great regret that I must issue this Final Report from the Office of Special Counsel announcing that we hereby close our investigation into Russian Interference with the 2016 Presidential Election with no finding of wrongdoing in this matter. I am sorry to say that after fifteen months of rigorous investigation by the nation’s premier team of criminal investigators and prosecutors, and at a cost of millions of dollars to U.S. taxpayers, our efforts were all for naught. Quite simply, we were stymied by the superior intelligence and cunning of Donald J. Trump and his campaign cohorts. In short, we failed.

          Specifically, while my team was successful at chasing down thousands of leads and obtaining some 19 indictments and five guilty pleas from individuals and companies who worked together to elect Mr. Trump, we were helpless to build a case proving their illicit actions really happened. Even with bank records, wire-tapped conversations, thousands of emails, and other incontrovertible evidence of their web of conspiracy to affect the 2016 election, we have decided to hang it up and call it quits without attempting to make a case to the American people, the task we were specifically assigned and sworn to carry out.

          While there is ample evidence that campaign staffers Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos and Carter Page met with Russian operatives to discuss publishing materials meant to discredit candidate Hillary Clinton in exchange for a more favorable foreign policy toward Russia once the election was over (including changes to the RNC platform made at the behest of campaign manager Paul Manafort to benefit Russia in the Ukraine), we are stymied about how to prove said quid-pro-quo conspiracy so that rural voters and GOP Senators might comprehend it.

          Further, despite thousands of documents showing unreported illicit financial transactions and favors of influence between Russian oligarchs and Mr. Trump’s family, we were unable to connect the dots of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, even though the President himself is on public record asking for their help to smear Mrs. Clinton with illegally hacked emails, and even though the President’s son, son-in-law and campaign associates met and spoke repeatedly with Russian operatives in furtherance of their efforts to illegally obtain and release her emails, and even though Mr. Trump and family would have been the sole beneficiaries of said collusion to affect the outcome of the election.

          Moreover, while we have documented proof through emails, tweets and sworn witness testimony that Trump confidant Roger Stone personally engaged Julian Assange and the Russian hacker Guccifer 2, who went on to procure and release DNC and John Podesta emails to damage Clinton’s campaign only days after Stone predicted those events on multiple media outlets, we felt we had no choice but to accept his explanation that he was merely joking and the timing and specificity of his “jokes” was a coincidence. True, we could have called Mr. Stone to testify under oath and catch him in multiple changes in his story, but why bother? He said it was a misunderstanding and we have to take an upstanding man like him at his word. To have done less would have been a perjury trap.

          Similarly, the fact that the President attempted to obstruct justice by firing FBI Director James Comey and through other documented efforts to derail our investigation is simply beyond our capacity to prove in court. As you know, the President claims it was all a misunderstanding, and the American people would surely believe a sitting U.S. president with a 13% “honest and trustworthy” rating over contemporaneous FBI memos, the sworn testimony of multiple eye witnesses, and every single officer of the U.S. Department of Justice.

          I know you and the American people were hoping to find closure through our investigation. But frankly, the only way to do that would have been to put the key witness on the stand. And any effort to subpoena the President to testify under oath, as was done in Clinton v. Jones and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, would have been an unconscionable perjury trap and may have insulted the President’s feelings as well. No president of the United States can be expected to testify truthfully and get his multiple different stories straight under that kind of pressure.

          In all candor, it appears that Mr. Trump and his team of neophyte political amateurs were just too cagey and sinister for us. For that, and for all the negative press generated by the President’s disinformation campaign while we professionally and meticulously investigated this case out of the public eye as we were constitutionally charged to do, I humbly apologize. And if you’ll authorize it, I would like to testify in front of Congress so I may publicly clear the President’s good name and admit the folly of our partisan attempt to reverse his magnificent electoral mandate.

          Oh wait!… No, I take that all back. I don’t know what I was thinking. It was 2 in the morning and I was Ambien writing.

          We are still investigating. Further criminal indictments and referral for impeachment forthcoming.

Sincerely,

 

 

Robert S. Mueller III

(As dictated to Kevin Kelton, cohost, The More Perfect Union podcast)

Who the “Australian Diplomat” Is and Why It Matters

by D.J. McGuire

The revelations in The New York Times about the initial phase of the Trump-Russia investigation has been noted for the president’s assertion (without evidence) that the Obama Administration planted a “spy” in the Trump campaign and for the argument over whether an FBI informant should be burned for purposes of transparency (he shouldn’t be, IMHO). For me, however, it was how the probe began that got my attention – in particular, the name of the “Australian diplomat” who tipped off Washington. While he was first revealed several months ago, I saw his name for the first time in the NYT story (run in the Seattle Times).

Within hours of opening an investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia in the summer of 2016, the FBI dispatched a pair of agents to London on a mission so secretive that all but a handful of officials were kept in the dark.

Their assignment, which has not been previously reported, was to meet the Australian ambassador, who had evidence that one of Donald Trump’s advisers knew in advance about Russian election meddling. After tense deliberations between Washington and Canberra, top Australian officials broke with diplomatic protocol and allowed the ambassador, Alexander Downer, to sit for an FBI interview to describe his meeting with the campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos.

For most Americans, Alexander Downer is just another barely-known Australian, but for me – with my admittedly bizarre obsession with politics in other countries – that name meant a lot more.

Alexander Downer is no civil service functionary; nor is he some politically-connected donor who got the post of Ambassador to the UK as a favor (these are the most commonly perceived reasons for ambassadorial appointments here in the US). He was a major figure in the Australian Liberal Party – the leading party of the coalition currently in power, and a party on the right in Australian politics – for decades. He even led the party briefly in the 1990s. He served as Foreign Minister – the equivalent of Secretary of State here – for over 11 years; he is still the only person to ever serve in that role for more than a decade.

In short, the fellow to whom Mr. Papadopoulos made his boasts is a very experienced politician – who would understand the enormity and the explosiveness of informing a democratically elected government that its opposition may have been compromised by a hostile foreign power – let alone possibly cooperating with said foreign power.

Yet Downer did it anyway, and even agreed to be interviewed by the FBI himself in the summer of 2016. That, if anything, reinforces just how serious this investigation is. An apolitical functionary might be too naive to notice they would be playing with fire; a politically-connected patronage appointee might be too focused on a political angle. A man of Downer’s experience would clearly understand the risks of what he was saying. That he felt he needed to say it anyway should bring even more credibility to the investigation – much more.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described “progressive conservative” – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015.

Pop Goes The Political Culture Week of May 14

Actual photo of MPU host financial records.

By Rebekah Kuschmider, MPU Co-host

All of us here at the More Perfect Union have spent the week reviewing our financial records to make sure we didn’t accidentally fail to disclose six figure payments to people with whom we had illicit affairs. We figure we need to get our paperwork in order before someone refers us to the Justice Department. Then we remember that we aren’t the president and no one at the Justice Department cares about our finances or our sex lives.

Too bad Trump didn’t think about that before he ran for president, huh? Coulda saved himself all kinds of trouble.

Now that we know that we won’t be fined for massive campaign finance violations, we’re getting ourselves ready for another fun-filled podcast. But until that drops, here’s the news that’s not fit to ‘cast!

Gimme Shelter – Without Trump’s name On It: Possibly one of the most bizarre effects of the Trump presidency is the collision between the White House and the world of entertainment. Obviously, there have been presidents with celebrity connections before – JFK and Marilyn ring any bells? – but Trump’s relationship with Hollywood is somehow different. He’s not been a patron of the arts like the Obamas tried to be nor is he a true member of the Hollywood elite like Reagan was. Instead he’s somewhere between a starfucker and a guy who fucks with stars. You can’t tell if he loves celebrities or hates them.

Whatever the case, there are a lot of celebs with Trump stories in their past. Just look at Kanye West’s twitter feed for proof.

 

But this week we got a celebrity Trump Tale that is pure rock and roll from none other than Kieth Richards.

In an interview with the BBC, Richards told a story about Trump being the promoter on a show the Rolling Stones did in Atlantic City in 1989. When the Stones got to the venue, they saw that Trump had given himself top billing on the marquee, with the Rolling Stones listed lower and in smaller letters.

That’s right. Trump gave himself top billing over the Rolling freakin’ Stones.

Richards told the BBC he was having none of it saying “I got out my trusty blade, stuck it in the table and said: ‘You have to get rid of this man!’”

He went on to say “Now America has to get rid of him. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!” 

It’s Laurel, Dammit: In the history of the nation there have been many conflicts that divided our populace. The crown versus the revolutionaries. North versus South. Betamax versus VHS. Clinton versus Trump. But not since the blue dress/white dress debate of 2015 have we seen an internet phenomenon that has driven such a wedge through our society.

I speak, of course, of a bizarre sound clip that’s circling the internet globe featuring a robot voice repeating a word. Some people hear the world “Laurel”. Other people are wrong.

OK, fine, they legitimately hear the word “Yanny” but “Yanny” isn’t a real world, unlike Laurel, which is the name of a very nice town about a half an hour away from where I live.

OH COME ON NOW!

The difference has to do with pitch and how your ear perceives things. There’s science behind it. But people all over social media are lightheartedly arguing with friends and family over the whole debate. 

I expect that any minute we’ll find out that Kim Jong Un hears “Laurel” and he’ll finally cancel talks with the US after finding out that Trump hears “Yanny”. It’s that kind of phenomenon and it’s that kind of week.

Rhymes With “Smasmortion”: In a move typical of errant supply-side thinking, the Trump administration handed down a rule that forbids clinics that receive Title X family planning funds from performing or discussing abortion with patients in the same building as non-abortion services. Basically, if you say the word “abortion” in a building that houses an organization that receives grants from HHS under Title X, you lose your funding.

This reveals the mistaken idea that awareness of abortion is what drives people to seek abortions. In reality, people seek abortions because they want to stop being pregnant. It’s all about demand for abortions. There are proven ways of reducing the abortion rate but forcing doctors to stop telling people that abortions exist isn’t among them.

 

You know what does help? Providing a financial safety net for people considering abortion due to concerns about the cost of raising a child. So clearly, the Trump administration will be increasing programs that help with that concern, right?

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.  No.

According to the Washington Post, the US currently ranks third to last among developed nations on anti-poverty spending for children. And the House is trying to make it even harder to get safety net services. The Farm Bill is loaded up with all kinds of new obstacles to obtaining SNAP services. No food for you, poor people! Stop being poor if you want to eat!

Welcome to America in 2018, folks. we’ll force you to have an unwanted baby but we won’t help you feed it.

Note: The Farm Bill went down in flames in the House today because the Freedom Caucus wouldn’t get in line and support it. They wanted to get to immigration first. Since they didn’t get what they wanted, they embarrassed their own leadership by killing a bill in a recorded floor vote. Ok, then.

Harry and Meghan Menstrual Heroes: I wasn’t going to say anything about the royal wedding here because I thought that literally everything has already been said. I mean, until we actually see the dress, it’s all just hot air and fancy hats, right? But then a fascinating tidbit came across my feed.

It seems that Harry and Meghan have asked guests not to bring gifts, instead directing them to donate to a few charities they have selected. The only non-UK charity they chose is the Myna Mahila Foundation, an organization in India that provides menstrual supplies to women.

What’s that? Some of you are guys and you don’t want to be thinking about menstruation? Gosh. Must be nice to go through life being able to not think about menstruation.

Women in poverty-stricken part of India don’t have the luxury of not thinking about menstruation because many of them have to menstruate every month and lack access to supplies for keeping themselves clean during their periods. According to CNN, the Myna Mahila foundation “employs 15 local women to make the pads, providing them with stable and safe work, while busting myths and taboos. Another 50 women distribute the pads in the slums.”

Women without access to feminine hygiene products use whatever is at hand, such as rags or paper. In many cases, the lack of menstrual supplies combined with lack of toilet facilities can mean women cannot attend school or work during their periods. It’s a significant barrier to equality in India.

The other charities elected by the couple are Chiva, the Children’s HIV Association; Crisis, which focuses on ending homelessness; Scotty’s Little Soldiers, a charity for bereaved children of the armed forced; StreetGames, which brings sports to disadvantaged communities; Surfers Against Sewage, a conservation charity working to protect oceans; and the Wilderness Foundation UK.

So thank you to Meghan and Harry for making your special day that much more special. I’m sure Harry’s famously compassionate mother Diana would approve.

I’m sure there will be more exciting news to discuss by the time the gang gathers to record. Until then, you can catch up with The More Perfect Union at our website!

 

Trying to Square the Abortion Circle

by D.J. McGuire

Few issues in American politics are as divisive as abortion, largely because the two sides are driven by dramatically opposing points of view, namely…

The pre-born child is a human being deserving of rights, especially the right to live.

…and…

A woman’s right to personal autonomy must be respected.

For over forty-five years – ever since the Supreme Court determined the latter was important enough to prevent legislatures from acting only on the former – the arguments have centered on which is the more important “right” – and the argument has been winner-take-all. Any movement toward pre-born protection has been challenged as a step toward eliminate a woman’s right to choose – and indeed, just about every supporter of a “pro-life” position holds that said “right” is either a judicial or moral fabrication. I should know: I still consider myself pro-life, and I spent a quarter-century insisting that the “right to choose” was either fictional or less important than the right to life. My opponents in that long-running debate always held to the reverse. Indeed, it seemed that one could not hold both truths simultaneously. One had to trump the other, period.

I don’t hold to that false choice anymore. I realized in examining local property law (particularly easements and eminent domain), that governments and property owners don’t hold to this mutual exclusivity of views, and I don’t think we should on abortion either.

Why Pro-Life Efforts Usually Fail

From a national perspective, Americans have long been indecisive on abortion. Usually “pro-choice” holds a plurality view, but not the majority view; on occasion, “pro-life” takes the plurality, but not the majority. That said, as the status quo is largely in favor of “pro-choice,” it has been “pro-lifers” who have been pushing for changes – usually without success.

Looking beyond the constitutional issues, the political reality makes it difficult for pro-lifers. In economic terms, pro-life policies have diffuse and indirect benefits to Americans (or at least those who can speak for themselves), but the cost is concentrated among women of child-bearing age. That is not an equitable distribution of cost, and those on whom that burden falls have rightly been frustrated by it. For pro-life policies to win over Americans who currently disagree – or even those unsure of where their views land – the cost must be fairly distributed. The pro-life movement has never addressed this, and that has fueled their – our – political failure.

Why recognizing women’s rights is not a roadblock

Of course, most of my fellow pro-lifers would respond by noting the judicial branch’s assertion that a woman’s “right to privacy” includes abortion rights. They will insist that unless that is addressed, there is little that can be accomplished.

I no longer agree. This assertion is driven by the assumption that a constitutional right is absolute and can never be infringed. Any property owner near a road, or powerlines, will tell you otherwise. Local governments place easements on land for power and utilities repeatedly; local and state governments similarly take property for road construction. Yet no one insists that the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments make property rights inviolable. Moreover, no government in America assumes they can simply take or use private property without compensation. Even the Kelo decision – which in my view mistakenly gave government the authority to use eminent domain to give land to a private entity – did not allow governments to avoid compensating affected property owners.

Acknowledging Infringement of Rights and How to Compensate for Them

Property rights were one of the first causes for which the Revolution was fought, and they were a large part of what drove the Framers of 1787 to replace the Articles of Confederation with the Constitution. Yet they are repeatedly infringed for the greater good – so long as property owners are compensated for the infringement.

There is clearly no property as personal as one’s own person. Yet millions of American women know that pro-lifers would infringe upon their rights with no compensation. That many of those women are themselves pro-life doesn’t make this mistake any less egregious politically. Pro-lifers should instead acknowledge not just that they are proposing an infringement on women’s rights – but also that women should be compensated for that infringement.

There can – and will – be arguments about how that compensation should be measured, but in my opinion, the easement/eminent domain examples should be followed. In these cases, governments are supposed to examine the loss of income and value to the landowner. and compensate accordingly. If I may be flippant for sound bite purposes, what works for farmland should work for fallopian tubes.

So what would be included in compensation for a women whose rights have been infringed by pre-born legal protection? I have four categories in mind.

Child-rearing cost: This is the most obvious, and in theory, it’s covered by child support for single parents. Whether or not the current child-support regimes are sufficient is not something I wish to argue here. Moreover, the government itself needs to recognize that even married or cohabitating couples will face these costs – which pre-born protection would make unavoidable (and thus, in my view, worthy of compensation).

Pre-natal cost: There was a time where I thought this could be solved by simply moving the start date of child support to a point before birth (be it conception, fetal viability, or whatever point a legislature decides life begins). As one might infer from the last paragraph, I’m more open to direct government compensation in this area too.

Lost wages: In most areas of employment, late pregnancy and early childhood mean time away from work for the mother. At present, paid family leave is largely seen as a policy to help families. However, it can be more than that – -namely, a recognition of the opportunity cost of bearing and raising a child. This is especially true if said cost is effectively mandated by pre-born protection.

Lost income due to career impact: This is the opportunity cost usually discussed the least, and yet it could be the greatest cost. Given the current cultural norms, the decision to bear and raise a child can have serious impact on a women’s career path (and her earnings). If pre-born protection becomes law, this cost is actually the closest to the loss of income and value a property owner suffers from an easement or from eminent domain. Any compensation plan that doesn’t take this into account does not properly compensate women for the injury to their rights.

Implications

Of course, this policy would have a cost to the government implementing it, but said cost involves what I would consider a vital function of government: redressing injuries to rights. Moreover, unlike previous pro-life policies without compensation, this policy acknowledges and respects a woman’s personal property rights. Finally, this policy would make visible the externalities inherent in our current cultural norms regarding child rearing – or, if I may again be flippant, it’s places a price tag on the patriarchy. Governments that wish to protect pre-born life and avoid the expenditure can then focus on reducing (or, I hope, eliminating) the patriarchal norms that have made child bearing and child rearing potential career and financial hazards.

As I am not a lawyer, I am unsure as to whether or not this will be enough to allow pre-born protection to pass current constitutional muster (although I am optimistic). I am certain, however, that future courts would be more respectful of a policy that acknowledges women’s rights as something to be compensated, rather than something to be overruled. Thus, even in the post-Roe world (or post-Casey world, if one prefers), this could come down to a minor judicial change or clarification. Again, however, I am no lawyer, so don’t take my word for it.

I would expect that some would read this and ask if all of this can be done without protecting pre-born children in law. Personally, that would be optimal to me, but I am willing to try it. In the end, this is about changing the incentives that still lead to hundreds of thousands of pre-born children dying in America every year. Even changing the law itself is about changing incentives (as nearly all pro-lifers would legally punish only the performer of an abortion, rather than the women themselves). Whether or not the compensation effort without a change in the law is incentive enough remains to be seen, but I’m willing to see it if a change in the law remains politically impossible.

Conclusion

As the title of this post makes clear, I am trying to find a solution where none has seemed at hand for decades. I am doing this because I still want these children saved, but I also recognize that neither of the two fundamental tenets cited in the post’s beginning will trump the other in 21st Century America – nor should they. Moreover, a society that is serious about saving these children will not be – and must not be – shortsighted enough to let nearly half of their population experience no cost for the effort.

Women have the right to control their own bodies, no less than a landowner or a homeowner has a right to their property. Those of us who wish to infringe on that right must recognize that proper and full compensation for said infringement is necessary. Otherwise, Americans will continue to talk past each other, while hundreds of thousands of children die because those who insist life is precious in words will act as if life is cheap.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described “progressive conservative” – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015.

Pop Goes The Political Culture Week of May 7

A photo of dedicated MPU listeners watching their screens, waiting for a new episode to drop.

By Rebekah Kushmider, MPU co-host

We’ve had another week of groundbreaking hard news. From the release of hostages in North Korea to the release of Michael Cohen’s shady financial dealings, there’s all kinds of important stuff to discuss when we get to our recording session. But that’s days away and no one wants to wait, do they?

So in the meantime, here’s a taste of all the news that’s not fit to ‘cast!

Call 1-800-799-SAFE: If there has been a motto for women in 2018, I would have to say it’s “Fine. I’ll do it myself.” Podcast listeners have heard me say this before but I think there is a subset of women who walked away from the 2016 election with a new and clear awareness that no one is going to ascend to the top of the power structure and fix things for us. We don’t get our knight in shining pantsuit after all.

In response, many of us have pulled up our socks and said “Fine. I’ll do it myself.” From the Women’s March to record numbers of women running for office to the #MeToo movement to Emma Gonzalez standing silently on a stage in DC and daring us to deny the gravity of her movement, women are standing up for ourselves and each other in a more organized and determined way than we’ve seen in perhaps a century.

Podcast listeners have also heard me say that my hopes for the #MeToo movement are not that it takes down every prominent predator in America but that it changes behavior at the grassroots level. Today I saw an article that makes me think that’s happening and it’s happening hand in hand with the gun violence prevention movement having its renaissance right now.

According to USA Today, calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline were up 75% in 2017 over 2016. And in particular, calls about a violent abuser having possession of firearms was up dramatically, increasing to 12,000 in 2017 from 6,800 in 2016.

“Many survivors feel like they are alone,” Hotline CEO Katie Ray-Jones says.  “When they hear stories in the media, they see reflections of themselves and want to chat.”  Along with reporting threats to themselves and their children, women are “calling to say, ‘My husband may be capable of a mass shooting,’ ” Ray-Jones says. 

There is a direct connection between domestic violence and mass shootings. In the most technical sense, a mass shooting is defined as a shooting for four or more people. More than half of the mass shootings from 2009 to 2016 were family violence situations. Moreover, many shooters in dramatic cases like Las Vegas and Parkland have a history of domestic violence. We are learning that the person who harms his family can easily escalate to killing them or harming and killing others. These calls to the domestic violence hotline reflect that knowledge.

So thank you to the media for reporting on these serious issues. Thank you to the women of #MeToo and the #NeverAgain movements for standing up and speaking. And thank you to all the women calling the hotline to get help leaving your abusers. Thank you for learning that you’re not alone and gathering the strength to say “Fine. I’ll do it myself.” You are strong and you are brave.

Match Made in Cable News Heaven: Donald Trump Jr. is off the dating market again. Eight whole weeks after announcing his wife’s intention to divorce his elephant-shooting ass, leading real-estate wunderkind the heir apparent to the Trump fortune Ivanka’s brother has been romantically linked to FoxNews’ Kimberly Guilfoyle. No explanation needed for how the two met, honestly. I’m sure we can look forward to many photos of the two of them romantically standing over the bodies of slaughtered wildlife together. 

This Is America: If you have an internet connection, you have no doubt heard the buzz about Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino’s music video “This Is America”. The four minute film is a masterpiece of musical and dance styles. It’s also one of the most disturbing and unsettling pieces of art I’ve come across since the first time I saw a piece by artist Damien Hirst.

The video features Glover dancing through a barren warehouse, sometimes accompanied by teens in private school uniforms, as chaos seethes around him. There is violence and bloodshed at every turn but you have to force yourself to look away from the dancing in the foreground to see what’s going on just outside of the camera’s focal range. The rioting is blurry and sometimes indistinct but it’s also ceaseless and unforgettable.

Experts in dance, Jim Crow history, music, and history and pop culture have dropped legit knowledge about this video. I’m hesitant to offer my own thoughts on it because, frankly, I feel lost in the imagery and unable to take it all in. Watching it is like staring at the Guernica canvas. There’s too much to take in and, while you know that you’re looking at something with indisputable artistic merit, you also want to look away. But you can’t look away.

And given the message Glover is trying to send, you really shouldn’t look away.

Book Club: Anyone who knows me knows I am a voracious reader and have been since I was a little girl. The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder were my childhood favorites and I read them all over and over again. So the Pulitzer Prize winning biography of Wlider and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane is a perfect read for me. Prairies Fires by Caroline Fraser offers nostalgia for my favorite books, with additional details about people I feel like I already know, and incredible historical context for the stories of the lives of the Ingalls and Wilder families.

And then it offered this passage:

This discussion of aid for farmers came in the wake of four consecutive years of locust infestations that left entire regions defoliated. The bugs arrived in swarms so thick, they inhibited trains from moving. One of the infestations was literally the largest in humans history, resulting in damage to plants across one quarter of the United States.

But offering direct aid to farmers would be demeaning and contribute to “suicidal indolence” and “[weaken] the habit of sel-reliance”.

And here I thought Reagan had invented the idea of the Welfare Queen.

It’s shocking but not surprising to see that America has never been eager to offer unconditional aid to people, no matter how desperate their straits. In the years that followed these events, the country would start to cobble together different supports for farmers, realizing that they weren’t just rugged individualists but were in fact becoming the very life-force of a population that would turn from growing food to buying food, even if we never got quite good enough at giving food to the needy.

You can see all of this playing out again this year. The House Committee on Agriculture has a draft of a Farm Bill out and while it continues to support farmers, it adds a controversial and work requirement to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance for Families. In the words of Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN), “This really isn’t about training anybody. They’re going after the old Republican talking points that there’s a lot of lazy people,”

It is an old talking point. Older than probably even Peterson knows. It’s long past time to retire it.

There’s lots more to discuss in the news this week. Tune in to The More Perfect Union podcast to here what we have to say!

“Impeachment” Not A Dirty Word for Dems

by Kevin Kelton 

Rep. Adam Schiff and others in the Democratic party have argued that talking about impeaching President Trump would only “normalize it” as a four year ritual, and running on it in the midterms is a sure path to defeat for the Democratic party. They reason that the political issue should be back-burnered for now while Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation continues quietly without comment. Some assert that even if crimes are found, Democrats should not follow through on impeachment because it could result in Trump being emboldened if acquitted, and that every presidency will be living under a cloud of impeachment from here on out.

But the problem isn’t normalizing impeachment; it’s normalizing presidencies such as Trump’s. If Democrats simply settle for winning the midterms (if they do) and turn their focus to 2020, they will be rewarding Trump for his alleged crimes and obstruction of justice, as well as his atrociously non-presidential behavior. That is the existential danger to our democracy, not the idea of impeaching a president who deserves it.

As for the idea that Democrats should just run on local issues in the midterms and avoid a unified national message, that might have worked when Trump’s approval numbers were in the mid-30s. But as he consolidates his base around scrapping the Iran deal, the North Korea peace summit, and an historically low unemployment rate, just hoping anti-Trump sentiment will carry the party over the finish line this fall is a fool’s errand. Connor Lamb won PA18 by a whisker when Trump’s numbers were at their worst, and Doug Jones prevailed in Georgia’s senate special election because he was running against an alt-right pedophile. And it was still close!

Contrast that to this fall, when GOP candidates will be bragging about ending the Obamacare mandate, delivering tax cuts, a growing economy, and maybe even a Korean peace treaty. Against all that, a “just win and we’ll talk later” strategy may leave Democrats several House seats short of a majority.

To those who argue that the specter of impeachment backfired against Republicans in the 1998 midterms, people forget that Bill Clinton was a vastly popular second-term president when he was impeached for relatively minor transgressions of a personal nature. That contrasts greatly from Trump, a broadly reviled first-term president who may have subverted an election in return for future favors to Russia, which, if provable, is clearly an act of bribery and treason. It should also be noted that while their 1999 senate impeachment trial may have failed to convict Clinton, the GOP won back the presidency in 2000. Had they not made Clinton’s character failings a national issue for almost two years, George W. Bush might not have defeated a sitting vice president in times of relative peace and prosperity. A president impeached is a president disgraced, be he convicted or acquitted.

A more apt comparison for Trump is Richard Nixon, who clearly deserved his fate as a result of congressional impeachment hearings, just as does any president who abuses the law and manipulates an election to further his political ambitions.

By following through on the impeachment process, Democrats aren’t looking to punish Donald Trump (though he may deserve it). They are looking to defend the laws and values of the nation, and defend our democratic electoral process from foreign subterfuge.

That is never “wrong” – be it in an election year or between them.

If  Mueller’s investigation connects the president to serious crimes (and that’s a big “IF”), Trump should be held accountable. He may not ultimately be removed from office by a divided senate, and that’s a political outcome Democrats will have to deal with – possibly with a censure vote. But a majority of Americans are clamoring for justice. They aren’t watching MSNBC every day at historic ratings hoping there’s no impeachment. They’re watching to see the case against Trump blossom.

Of course, the party shouldn’t run solely on impeachment in the midterms, or promise a result it can’t deliver. But it should run on a promise to enforce justice and hold elected officials accountable for their actions. It should run on being the better party, both in ideas and in character. That is a platform that most Americans will rally to. 

Everyone wants an America that lives up to its ideals. Letting a lawless, deceitful president get away with breaking the law does not advance those ideals. It disintegrates them forever.

That’s a normalcy no one should settle for.

Kevin Kelton is a cohost of The More Perfect Union podcast and founder of Open Fire Politics on Facebook.

How NBC News Helped Trump

by Kevin Kelton

Last week, NBC News broke an exclusive report that Robert Mueller’s special counsel office had “wiretapped” Michael Cohen, President Trump’s longtime attorney. As NBC later acknowledged, Mueller’s team did not wiretap Cohen. They had merely monitored the log of calls coming in and out of Cohen’s phone lines, without actually listening in.

While Trump and his supporters have blasted NBC for its sloppy reporting, the mistake actually helps Trump and his cohorts.

Before the revelation of the pen register mistake, whenever a witness came before the Mueller grand jury to testify, the prosecutors could blindside them with a question such as, “On this date, did you receive a call from [insert name] at 12:52 p.m. that lasted 19 minutes?” The witness, surprised at the level of detailed the special prosecutors were displaying, might naturally assume the call had been tapped or someone else had testified about it already, giving prosecutors the specific content of the conversation. That might lead a nervous witness to be more forthcoming with facts and details than they otherwise might.

Now, with the revelation that Mueller’s office was only monitoring phone logs, not tapping calls, the same witness might not be as candid about the conversation.

Indeed, this exact scenario might have been waiting for Don Trump Jr., especially regarding his June 9, 2016 mystery call from a blocked number moments before his meeting with a gaggle of Russian agents. The same would be true for Trump pal Roger Stone’s suspicious phone call to Julian Assange in August of that year.

In that way, the NBC blunder might inhibit key witnesses from giving detailed testimony that would help Mueller build a case against Trump. So while NBC’s error might have given the network a black eye and given Trump a talking point, what it really did was hamper a criminal investigation and maybe let some bad guys get away.

So when Trump rails about NBC’s “fake news,” take it with a grain of salt. The most fake thing about this story is his faux outrage itself.

Kevin Kelton is a cohost of The More Perfect Union podcast and founder of Open Fire Politics on Facebook.