Should they stay or should they go?

I’ve gone back and forth on the question of whether Trump’s top officials and cabinet members should resign in protest, or stay and try to keep him as under control as possible.

Jamie Kirchick makes a strong argument for the latter:

…now that Trump is president, and barring his unlikely impeachment or resignation, it is essential that he be joined in the cockpit by competent, experienced, patriotic individuals, who, unlike their Commander-in-Chief, put the best interests of the country before their selfish and venal desires. To the extent they can, they need to wrestle Trump from the controls—perhaps by convincing him to be a largely ceremonial president. At the very least, they can lessen the damage Trump can do. Ultimately, it is better to have them there than to have Trump flying alone. Which is why it’s unfortunate to see commentators urging high-ranking administration staffers to resign.

[…]

…Unlike newspaper columnists and Twitter denizens, people working for the President of the United States do not have the luxury of sniping at him from the safety of the sidelines. Joe Scarborough, who transformed himself from one of Trump’s loudest media cheerleaders to moralizing scold without expressing even a scintilla of atonement in between, is calling for mass resignations.

Who does these pundits think will fill the positions of White House Chief of Staff and Defense Secretary were Kelly and Mattis to go? Very likely the kinds of conspiracy theorists and nationalists whom McMaster has been tirelessly cleaning out of the National Security Council, and who would have thrived were his predecessor Mike Flynn still around. Indeed, for all the administration backstabbing and high drama that has filled headlines over the past several months, such palace intrigue is far better than the alternative: an administration purged of reasonable individuals and replaced by Bannonites.

It is precisely when things get so bad that we want trustworthy individuals to serve. With any hope, they will be able to land this administration to safety.

If we make it through this alive, the tell-all books about the Trump Administration will be amazing.

A great weekend for online justice

In addition to the woman killed and others injured at Charlottesville, two innocent people had their lives turned upside down by the online mob.

First, “alt-right” supporters (and even some mainstream conservatives) fingered the wrong guy as the owner/driver who mowed down demonstrators with his car:

Prominent alt-right media personalities and websites framed a Michigan man that one labeled an “anti-Trump druggie” for Saturday’s car attack on anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville, Va that killed one and injured 19 others.

Police said the suspect in the incident is 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. from Maumee, Ohio. That is not the name of the man identified by the websites Gateway Pundit and GotNews earlier in the day.

[…]

…readers flocked to the Facebook page of the Michigan man who was falsely accused of the homicide. Users finally began to slow the harassment on his page when he posted to Facebook several times while the suspect of the car attack was in custody.
The wrongly accused man has since set his Facebook page to private.

Not to be outdone, the anti-Trump brigades then doxxed an Arkansas university professor as one of the far-right Tiki torch Nazis:

A man at the rally had been photographed wearing an “Arkansas Engineering” shirt, and the amateur investigators found a photo of Mr. Quinn that looked somewhat similar. They were both bearded and had similar builds.

By internet frenzy standards, that was proof enough.

Mr. Quinn, who runs a laboratory dedicated to wound-healing research, was quickly flooded with vulgar messages on Twitter and Instagram, he said in an interview on Monday. Countless people he had never met demanded he lose his job, accused him of racism and posted his home address on social networks.

Fearing for their safety, he and his wife stayed with a colleague this weekend.

[…]

People who then try to correct the record often feel drowned out by the false information.

Mark Popejoy, an art director in Bentonville, Ark., attempted to correct dozens of Twitter accounts that had inaccurately pegged Mr. Quinn as the Charlottesville rally participant. He would point out that the University of Arkansas had confirmed that Mr. Quinn was not involved, and ask that the Twitter users delete their erroneous tweets.

While some appreciated the new information, others adamantly refused to change their minds, he said in an interview on Monday. He said he didn’t know Mr. Quinn but sympathized with his position.

“While some appreciated the new information, others adamantly refused to change their minds” should be Twitter’s new motto.

Even the bad people have rights

If you’re going to encourage people to punch Nazis, at least give us a definition of “Nazis.”  We can all agree the guy walking around with a swastika flag is the genuine article, but many people on twitter hold to a definition much more…expansive than that.

Example: people are seriously making the argument that the American Civil Liberties Union is a pro-Nazi organization because of its free-speech activism:

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I don’t agree with Glenn Greenwald very often, but he is absolutely right to note that the same people who believe the United States government is racist and fascist should also have the power to decide what speech shall be allowed:

Let’s begin with one critical fact: the ACLU has always defended, and still does defend, the free speech rights of the most marginalized left-wing activists, from Communists and atheists, to hard-core war opponents and pacifists, and has taken up numerous free speech causes supported by many on the left and loathed by the right, including defending the rights of Muslim extremists and even NAMBLA. That’s true of any consistent civil liberties advocate: we defend the rights of those with views we hate in order to strengthen our defense of the rights of those who are most marginalizedand vulnerable in society.

The ACLU is primarily a legal organization. That means they defend people’s rights in court, under principles of law. One of the governing tools of courts is precedent: the application of prior rulings to current cases. If the ACLU allows the state to suppress the free speech rights of white nationalists or neo-Nazi groups – by refusing to defend such groups when the state tries to censor them or by allowing them to have inadequate representation – then the ACLU’s ability to defend the free speech rights of groups and people that you like will be severely compromised.

[…]

Beyond that, the contradiction embedded in this anti-free-speech advocacy is so glaring. For many of those attacking the ACLU here, it is a staple of their worldview that the U.S. is a racist and fascist country and that those who control the government are right-wing authoritarians. There is substantial validity to that view.

Why, then, would people who believe that simultaneously want to vest in these same fascism-supporting authorities the power to ban and outlaw ideas they dislike? Why would you possibly think that the List of Prohibited Ideas will end up including the views you hate rather than the views you support? Most levers of state power are now controlled by the Republican Party, while many Democrats have also advocated the criminalization of left-wing views. Why would you trust those officials to suppress free speech in ways that you find just and noble, rather than oppressive?

As I wrote in my comprehensive 2013 defense of free speech at the Guardian, this overflowing naïveté is what I’ve always found most confounding about the left-wing case against universal free speech: this belief that state authorities will exercise this power of censorship magnanimously and responsibly: “At any given point, any speech that subverts state authority can be deemed – legitimately so – to be hateful and even tending to incite violence.”

At best, this position is naive.  At worst, on the way-out-there fringes of the far left, it’s about someday seizing power and using it against the rest of us.

Like many American ideals, unfortunately, the right to freedom of expression is not equally protected in practice.  The Atlantic‘s Adam Serwer, in a thoughtful twitter essay, notes that predominantly African-American demonstrators in Ferguson were allowed far less leeway than the white supremacists of Charlottesville.

That’s why the principled liberal position – that of the ACLU – is that freedom of expression is for everyone.  Those damning the ACLU as Nazi collaborators, whatever they may be, are not remotely liberal.

 

The Nazis know

I’m often skeptical when those on the left accuse conservative politicians of using “dog whistle” rhetoric to appeal to racist, extreme-right supporters.  It can be, and often is, a non-falsifiable smear.

But President Trump’s disgraceful, amoral, mealy-mouthed “condemnation” of yesterday’s violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, leaves no room for doubt when you read the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer’s grateful response:

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I despise the “Antifa” movement, which promotes – often violently – its own brand of authoritarianism.  But the radical right actually has connections to the most powerful person on Earth.  Right now, that should be everyone’s top priority.

The founder of The Daily Stormer, interestingly, is bravely running away from a lawsuit launched by woman he encouraged his followers to harass:

Now Gersh is taking on the man who started it all. In a federal lawsuit filed in April, Gersh accuses Andrew Anglin, who publishes the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website, of invading her privacy, intentionally inflicting emotional distress and violating Montana’s Anti-Intimidation Act by organizing more than 700 instances of harassment since December 2016. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group, is representing Gersh.

[…]

How the case will turn out remains to be seen, in part because SPLC lawyers can’t find Anglin. Dinielli, Gersh’s lawyer, said his team hasn’t been able to serve Anglin and he hasn’t stepped forward to receive the complaint. A November 2016 article in HuffPost said Anglin “appeared” to be in Berlin, while other reports have placed him in Russia and Ohio. This week, CNN reported that Anglin said he now lives in Lagos, Nigeria.

Instead of staying, fighting and litigating the potentially important freedom-of-expression issues raised by this lawsuit, the brave neo-Nazi hero scampers away and hides like a cockroach.  It’s so, so perfect.

Trump is bluffing

The hothead-in-chief might be talking up war with North Korea, but there’s little sign that the military is preparing for it:

Among the signals that a major U.S. operation is not imminent is a trip just underway by Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a small cadre of his staff. He arrived Friday in Hawaii with plans to visit Japan, South Korea and China, all of which would be in peril if a war between North Korea and the United States explodes.

The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its accompanying flotilla of destroyers and guided-missile cruisers also returned to port Wednesday in Yokosuka, Japan, the Navy announced. The ships and the thousands of U.S. service members aboard spent three months patrolling the region and could have stayed at sea off the coast of the Korean Peninsula if the Pentagon was preparing for near-term conflict.

[…]

Despite North Korea’s colorful and threatening rhetorical broadsides, there also are few signs that the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, is spoiling for a fight that could lead to his ouster, and there has been no evacuation of American citizens from South Korea announced, said Michael C. Horowitz, a political-science professor and author at the University of Pennsylvania who studies military conflict.

“The U.S. is pre-positioned to respond to North Korean aggression on the peninsula all the time,” Horowitz said. “But what we are not seeing yet are true naval movements, family movements and troop movements that would suggest that the military is preparing for imminent conflict.”

If North Korea carries out its threat to launch missiles at Guam – especially if they actually hit that American island – Pyongyang will be a parking lot within the hour. It would be Pearl Harbor all over again, and even the Chinese would likely stay neutral if North Korea starts the war. (The announced plan is to have the missiles land several miles offshore, but how much faith do you have in North Korean targeting technology?)

But even with my low opinion of Trump, I don’t think he’ll launch this war. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s announced grandiose plans that come to nothing.

And call me optimistic, but I think Trump would suddenly find himself resigning for “health reasons” if he actually did order a pre-emptive nuclear strike on North Korea.

In 2017 that counts as optimism.

Why Netanyahu’s in trouble

Bloomberg explains why the Israeli Prime Minister is at risk of indictment:

Police are pursuing charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust against Netanyahu, according to the document outlining Harow’s plea agreement. Investigators have been questioning witnesses in at least four separate cases, details of which have been leaked over the past year to Israeli media.

[…]

The first [case] involves suspicions that Netanyahu received cigars, champagne and other gifts from businessmen, including billionaire Arnon Milchan, the Hollywood producer of films such as “Fight Club” and “The Big Short,” according to Channel 2 TV. In a second case, Netanyahu is suspected of conspiring with the owner of Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper to undermine Israel Hayom, a competing free daily backed by U.S. casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, chairman and majority owner of Las Vegas Sands Corp. In two other cases, involving associates of his, Netanyahu isn’t said to be a suspect. They involve officials and businessmen who allegedly profited from Israel’s purchase of nuclear submarines from Germany’s ThyssenKrupp AG in a deal worth more than $1.5 billion, and accusations that Netanyahu’s government gave special treatment to Bezeq Israeli Telecommunication Corp., the country’s largest telecommunications company, which is controlled by Netanyahu’s friend Shaul Elovitch.

[…]

Netanyahu, whose 11 years in office make him Israel’s longest-serving prime minister after founding father David Ben-Gurion, wouldn’t be legally obligated to resign. And putting him on trial could take years: Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, was indicted on corruption charges in 2009, acquitted on the most serious charges in 2012, convicted on other charges in 2014 and entered prison only in 2016 (he was released last month). Other investigations, of former Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, continued for years without resulting in charges against them.

The media in Israel’s Arab enemies will have a field day.  At the same time, people in these countries may start to wonder why the hated Zionist state is able to bring down its leaders for corruption.

When bad clients happen to good lawyers

Yesterday, lawyer Jay Sekulow appeared on Fox News Sunday to defend President Donald Trump.  It did not go well for him.  (The real fun starts around the 3:00 mark.)

From all indications, Sekulow’s appearances on other Sunday-morning interview shows didn’t go much better, and twitter’s blue checkmarks piled on:

The thing is, while Sekulow may have come across like Eugene Levy in Armed and Dangerous, the guy undeniably has some serious skills as a lawyer:

All told, Sekulow came off a bit like a Washington novice, which he’s definitely not. His face and his name are well known in the nation’s capital and among conservatives generally — but not for this kind of work. He’s an experienced litigator on behalf of conservative causes, especially causes dear to the religious right. White-collar defense lawyers, particularly those who defend political figures, form a small community in Washington, and Sekulow is not part of it.

Sekulow made his first big Washington debut in 1987 in the Supreme Court when he helped the evangelical group Jews for Jesus defeat a measure that banned the distribution of religious literature at Los Angeles International Airport.

His performance was unimpressive, American Lawyer magazine wrote at the time. Sekulow was “rude and aggressive,” the publication wrote, “so nervous that at times he appeared nearly out of control.”

Fortunately for Sekulow, it was an easy case to win. The ordinance barred “First Amendment activity” at the airport, presenting clear constitutional problems. And win Sekulow did — in a unanimous decision striking down the measure.

“I left the courtroom feeling like the Beatles must have felt leaving Shea Stadium,” he wrote in 2005.

The victory turned Sekulow, a self-described Messianic Jew, into a crusader for religious expression and a celebrity on the Christian right, a status that has only grown since then. Over three decades, he built a legal and media empire by representing religious groups, antiabortion advocates and other conservative organizations in high-profile court battles.

With televangelist Pat Robertson, Sekulow launched the American Center for Law and Justice — a conservative response to the American Civil Liberties Union — which litigates evangelical causes, often with great success. He has appeared before the Supreme Court on 11 other occasions and has filed numerous amicus briefs in cases related to civil liberties.

Even with Robertson’s backing, you don’t make it before the Supreme Court 11 times without being really good at your job.  Agree or disagree with his political and legal positions, Sekulow has a history of being a very effective advocate.

So what went wrong yesterday? It looks like Sekulow made a few mistakes often made by lawyers, though rarely with so many people watching:

1. He is trying to practice law in a legal area with which he has no experience.  Sekulow may be a skilled constitutional lawyer, especially for religious-freedom cases, but he seems hopelessly out of his depth in defending the President from impeachment or even possible criminal charges.

2. He is way too emotionally attached to his client.  Lawyers, like doctors, have to maintain some degree of professional distance from their clients.  You must advocate for their position in keeping with the law and professional decorum, but taking cases too personally can lead to smuggling drugs to a jailed client, or even providing support to terrorist organizations.

Like a depressing number of religious-right figures, Sekulow has practically sold his soul to Donald Trump.  A man who has never lived up to their personal standards, and is a latecomer to their political views, is now the great savior who got them a conservative Supreme Court Justice and promises more victories to come.

Trump’s approval rating is at 38.8% and falling, but he still has the true believers in his corner.  And they seem so personally invested in their hero that they’ll do anything for him, even making themselves look ridiculous and incompetent on television.

Serious question: has anyone ever done business with Donald Trump and come out better for the experience?  Anyone?