November 25, 2017 by
Thomas Jefferson was a man of many contradictions when it came to race. As the dust-up over the infamous Google memo earlier this year made clear, a new front in the culture wars is forming around disputes between science and identity politics. Pockets of scientists and self-proclaimed “skeptics” are uniting around the notion that politics related to the identities of people of color, women, LGBTQ individuals, people with disabilities, and Muslims represent an adulteration of the fruits of scientific rationalism and “Enlightenment values.” This romanticized view, however, conveniently ignores less palatable elements of 18th century Enlightenment history — like chattel slavery — in an attempt to frame identity as an irrational or purely ideological distraction from scientific fact. Progressive activists, critics say, are engaging in a self-defeating exercise by emphasizing feelings and political views over pragmatism and common sense. Moderate and left-leaning critics of identity politics argue further that an overemphasis on identity concerns undermines political solidarity. This sloppy application of scientific knowledge in order to further white supremacy actually has a long history in the U.S. We see a similar logic playing out in “alt-right” or white supremacist circles, which rally behind white “identitarians” like Richard Spencer but disavow the identity politics of feminists and Black Lives Matter activists. Indeed, just as far-right groups have taken an interest in what are otherwise relatively obscure corners of academia (like evolutionary psychology and medieval studies), they’ve found strange bedfellows in scientists and other prominent rationalists. The sloppy application of scientific knowledge to further white supremacy has a long history in the U.S. These individuals reject white supremacy but are also opposed to identity politics and political correctness. Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, for example, has received plaudits from “alt-right” figures for questioning those who raise issues like gender and racial representation in science. Centuries before the rise of the alt-right, Thomas Jefferson, author of perhaps the most famous words of the American Revolution — “all men are created equal” — also believed that black people were “much inferior” to white people in reason, comprehension and imagination. This may help explain how Jefferson was able to pen the Declaration of Independence and also own hundreds of slaves over his lifetime. That American luminaries like Jefferson, who believed genuinely in individual freedom, used science to justify a legal framework that granted rights and citizenship according to the race doesn’t mean all Enlightenment ideas are racist. But it does show how identity politics and racism went hand-in-hand during a period we’re fond of referring to as the Age of Reason. Today progressives and “alt-right” rationalists squabble over whether race is a “social construct” or biological fact — a false and misleading dichotomy that arises more from methodological turf wars than from an understanding of how the concept of race has changed over time. But our contemporary notion of race was actually born in the Enlightenment, at the intersection of science and identity politics. The Enlightenment-lead shift in our understanding of race laid the foundation for how we understand racism today. Faced with the conundrum of believing in individual liberty while living in societies that reaped the fruits of the Atlantic slave trade, Enlightenment thinkers from Voltaire to Johann Blumenbach created a human taxonomy. This system categorized Caucasians as, in Blumenbach’s words, “the most beautiful race of men,” while the African man was labeled, in Voltaire’s words, an “animal” with “a flat and black nose with little or hardly any intelligence.” Voltaire’s description is particularly telling, as it aligns observable characteristics (phenotype) with an unrelated and unscientific impression of character and diminished intelligence. This is a textbook example of scientific racism, the misapplication of scientific knowledge to justify a belief in white supremacy. Whereas throughout much of the 18th century the word “race” was used to describe national and geographical identity, not skin color, Enlightenment thinkers like Blumenbach introduced scientific theories that applied taxonomy to human traits, drawing on the influential work of Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus. But Blumenbach took Linnaeus’ biological classification system a step further by creating a hierarchy of worth based on physical appearance, forever altering the concept of race. These theories lent legitimacy to the stereotypes on which slavers relied to hold human beings in bondage and keep the slavery economy running. Phenotype or differences of appearance are not Enlightenment constructs, of course. But it was during the Enlightenment that certain characteristics — like skin color and facial features — became widespread signifiers of character and intelligence. Scientists and rationalists whitewash the Enlightenment to score points against identity politics.   Today’s scientific racism sometimes involves misappropriating scientific findings (as in the Google memo), or over-interpreting data (as in, I would argue, Charles Murray’s "The Bell Curve" or Jason Richwine’s doctoral work). But it increasingly involves the adoption of a generally scientific or rationalist attitude to dismiss the political concerns of women, LGBTQ individuals and people of color as fanciful or irrational.In such cases, as with statistician Nassim Taleb’s critique of classicist Mary Beard over the ethnic diversity of Roman Britain, practitioners of scientific racism may portray identity concerns as superficial, and thus as distortions of Real Knowledge. Often, as in Taleb’s case, the move to situate race and identity outside the scope of rational concerns requires either historical ignorance or historical distortion to pull off. Thus, while Enlightenment values like rationalism and skepticism ostensibly guide the modern case against identity politics, they also explain the relevance and importance of identity politics throughout Western history. Today we see how that historical affinity is utilized for ever-sinister purposes. Proponents of the “Dark Enlightenment,” for example, have even found a way to justify white supremacy. This intellectual fringe borrows from Enlightenment scientific racism to make the case for eugenics and racial segregation, but rejects Enlightenment egalitarianism and democratic virtues. Thus, while scientists and rationalists whitewash the Enlightenment to score points against identity politics, some white supremacists are keeping the bathwater. The far-right continues to misuse science in the service of an identity politics of white supremacy. For this reason we can no longer afford to ignore the deep historical connection between science and identity politics. For every rationalist who argues that identity politics is just another form of discrimination, there’s a cadre of white supremacists nodding in approval. Aaron Hanlon an Assistant Professor of English at Colby College where he specializes in 18th-century British and transatlantic literatures, as well as literature and culture of the Enlightenment. His essays about politics, literature, teaching and higher education have appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Atlantic, Salon, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Ploughshares Blog, The Chronicle of Higher Education and others.

November 25, 2017 by
No group stirs the Trumpian ire quite like rich black folks. I do not like sports. There are lots of other things I hate more—cancer, genocide, lite jazz—but ultimately, they’re all separated by a matter of degrees. I don’t care who won last night’s game, who’s in anyone’s brackets or how great the Whatchamacallits are "looking this year." But while the sporting aspect of sports may strike me as boring, for the past few years, I’ve been pretty taken by the on- and off-field political commentary coming from sports stars using their platforms to call out oppression and social injustice. This refusal to be apolitical is a sign of the times that speaks to both the historic importance of this cultural moment while simultaneously underscoring all the awful reasons why their voices are needed. That, and there’s nothing like watching Donald Trump’s rage at having black millionaires tell him where to get off. You can basically sum up this country’s political spectacle for the last two years as crazy, racist, old man Trump yelling at people of color to get off his lawn, a patch of land known as America. But no group stirs Trump's—and his followers’—ire quite like rich black folks, whose success they believe is always unearned, more prima facie evidence of a system that now gives black folks a leg up over deserving, hard-working, real—and thus definitionally white—Americans. Rich black folks who dare criticize this country instead of endlessly thanking mythical, benevolent white America for successes their own talents and ambition actually garnered are the particular targets of Trumpian anger and racial resentment. In a recent Politico piece attempting to explain Trump voters’ unwavering support for their president, Michael Kruse concludes, “it’s evidently not what he’s doing so much as it is the people he’s fighting,” a list that includes “NFL players (boy oh boy do they hate kneeling NFL players) whom they see as ungrateful, disrespectful millionaires.” That’s fitting for a political movement without a single unifying element except its rejection of eight years of leadership by an African American so uppity he thought his rightful place was in the White House. “For Trump,” Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in a recent Atlantic piece, “it almost seems that the fact of Obama, the fact of a black president, insulted him personally.” Trump and his supporters appear to feel just as insulted by the reality of millionaire black sports stars. It’s true that Trump’s belligerence is boundless, his outsized insecurity fueling his counter-attacks against even the mildest of perceived slights. But Trump goes after powerful black folks with a particular vengeance that is both politically expedient—his base absolutely eats these displays up—and attributable to his own deep-seated racism. More than a year ago, Trump suggested that Colin Kaepernick "should find a country that works better for him.” The San Francisco 49ers quarterback had already begun sitting, and then out of respect for veterans, kneeling, because he asserted, "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color." Since then, Trump has used the office of the presidency to demand an apology from a private citizen, ESPN sports reporter Jamele Hill, who rightly declared via her personal Twitter account that “Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.” Trump embarrassed himself by angrily attepting to disinvite Warriors point guard Steph Curry from the White House a day after Curry had already said he would turn down any such invitation to show he doesn’t “stand for basically what our president...the things that [he’s] said.” Trump tweeted that NFL players, 70 percent of whom are black, have been given the "privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL,” as if talent, hard work, and years of rigorous physical training have nothing to do with it. A day earlier, Trump called peacefully protesting NFL players “sons of bitches”—a stark contrast to his “very fine” white nationalist and neo-Nazi supporters in Charlottesville—and demanded their firing, a direct assault on their First Amendment rights. (In that same speech, Trump bemoaned NFL rules designed to protect against traumatic brain injury claiming players “want to hit”; just the language a white racist would use to animalize black minds and bodies he imagines exist solely to be brutalized for his own entertainment.) But for all Trump’s efforts to silence black sports figures—even those quasi-stars on the periphery, which I'm just about to get to—he’s failed miserably. There may be no better case than the recent back and forth between Trump and LaVar Ball. Trump petulantly demanded, and received, a thank-you for his alleged part in obtaining the release of Ball’s son LiAngelo, one of a trio of black UCLA players accused of shoplifting in China. When the elder Ball refused to praise Trump and downplayed his role in facilitating the release, the petty president sent a series of tweets insisting “IT WAS ME” who deserved both credit and profuse thanks, claiming Ball “could have spent the next 5 to 10 years during Thanksgiving with [his] son in China,” and calling him an “ungrateful fool” and a “poor man’s version of Don King, but without the hair.” (In the midst of this pre-dawn tirade, Trump inexplicably wedged in a complaint about Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch, figuring while he was attacking "the blacks" in sports, he might as well throw another one on the pile.) In the CNN interview that preceded Trump’s outburst, Ball dismissively stated, "I would have said thank you if he put [LiAngelo] on his plane and took him home. Then I would have said, 'Thank you, Mr. Trump, for taking my boys out of China and bringing them back to the U.S.' There’s a lot of room on that plane. I would have said thank-you kindly for that." I’d never thought much either way about the senior Ball before. He’s famous enough that he’d appeared in my non-sports-oriented news feed, mostly with the dubious distinction of being a class A sports dad. His recent resistance to standing down for Trump has basically made me a fan by default. It’s true that in Ball, Trump met his match, the only other public figure with a mouth as big and an ego as undeservedly huge. But Ball’s refusal to comply with Trump’s belief that black celebrities must acquiesce to his every demand comes off as a political act. It’s not a coincidence that black players who refuse to stop acknowledging the reality of systemic racism are consistenty accused of being unappreciative. As Shaun King noted in a recent tweet, “Ungrateful is the new nigger.” Trump’s consistent record of playing the race card—which is how that phrase should properly be applied going forward—managed to do what I’d never previously thought possible. As long I don’t have to actually participate in any organized sports, I’m fully Team Ball. Ditto my support for LeBron James, who on the heels of Trump’s miserable failure to diss Steph Curry, blasted Trump as a “bum” and noted that “going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!” In a video followup, James stated he was “a little frustrated because this guy that we’ve put in charge has tried to divide us once again,” adding that for Trump to “use [sports] to divide us even more is not something I can stand for and it’s not something I can be quiet about.” Jamele Hill, after a two-week suspension from ESPN that Trump likely hailed a victory that would shut her up, pointedly stated in an interview that she “will never take back what [she] said." Colin Kaepernick, proving this was never about Trump—who's just the most obvious symptom of America’s problems—has kept on being awesome, charitable and outspoken on all the right issues despite an obvious conspiracy to keep him off the field. Steph Curry called Trump’s response to his non-RSVP “surreal” but also intimated that Trump was stoking racial flames, an issue we should never stop talking about.   “I don’t know why he feels the need to target certain individuals rather than others,” Curry told reporters following a Warriors practice. “I have an idea of why, but it’s kind of beneath the leader of a country to go that route. It’s not what leaders do.” That’s also true. Trump has been deafeningly silent in response to white sports figures who have criticized him, from Warriors coach Steve Kerr (who has called Trump a “blowhard” who “couldn’t be more ill-suited to be president”) to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich (who dubbed the president a "soulless coward”), to a number of NFL, NBA and MLB owners who have criticized Trump and defended protesting players. Trump even ignored Eminem’s BET cypher in which he labeled the president a “racist grandpa,” among many other insults. "I feel like he’s not paying attention to me,” the rapper said Friday, and I’m sure we can all guess why. Friday, Trump lamented that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell “has lost control” of a league in which “players are the boss,” which is to say the help have forgotten their place. That was the day after Thanksgiving, when he enthusiastically replied “Make America Great Again” in response to a tweet criticizing his racist attacks on “high-profile” black folks. (Some have theorized it was a technical "mistake," which is not how you spell "Freudian slip.") Trump will keep tossing red meat to the white supremacists who comprise the bulk of his base, and he doesn’t mind sharing the meal. And those sports stars who have spoken up will hopefully keep telling him exactly where he can stick it. I’m not hailing this as a revolutionary act, or pretending those words are going to radically transform white racists into decent people. But every time Trump is reminded it’s 2017 and uppity black folks are still talking, there’s a tiny bit of joy to behold. Kali Holloway is a senior writer and the associate editor of media and culture at AlterNet.

November 25, 2017 by
"Everything the Trump campaign told you about the connections between Trump and Russia was a lie." Donald Trump Jr. greets his father during the Oct. 9, 2016 presidential debate in St. Louis. (Photo by Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images) Bill Moyers: You’re the consummate trial lawyer with a celebrated reputation for summing up the closing argument for the jury, but from our work together on the timeline I know you also have the instincts of a journalist. So write the lede to the story this far: What’s the most important thing for us to know about the Trump/Russia connection as of today? Steven Harper: Everything the Trump campaign told you about the connections between Trump and Russia was a lie. Moyers: Go on. Harper: Well, there are a number of different dimensions to the issue, but let’s just take the easiest one. The other day The Washington Post published a very good article that said for all of Trump’s denials during the campaign of any connections between him, his campaign and Russia, it turns out there were 31 interactions. And there were 19 meetings. Furthermore, what Trump and his people have been doing since then is everything they can to keep the public from being aware of the truth. And this feeds into the obstruction story. Moyers: How so? Harper: Up to and including the firing of James Comey, Trump did everything he could to try to shut down, slow down or stop the investigation. First, he tried to shut down the investigation of Mike Flynn. Then it turned out that Mike Flynn is probably just a piece of a much larger problem, which is Russia. Trump admitted to the Russian ambassador and to the Russian foreign minister shortly after he fired Comey that now he’s got some relief from the Russia problem — in other words, Comey’s gone! But what’s happened since then is the continuing effort to interfere with the investigation, even in the form of tweets — all of which sure look a lot to me like witness intimidation for some of the key players in the saga. And then there’s a third component, which is in a way the most insidious — the willingness of the congressional GOP to be complicit in all of this. We’re talking now about a prescription for disaster for democracy. It’s all part of the same story. If you think about it, every single person who has said something about there being no connection between Trump and Russia during the campaign has been caught in a lie about it. Even with this fellow George Papadopoulos, the talking point immediately became, “Well, he didn’t get in trouble for anything that he did, he got in trouble for lying to federal investigators.” Sure, and what was he lying to federal investigators about? About whether or not there were any contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. And that’s the part that everybody glosses over in terms of the talking points on the Republican side. Moyers: George Papadopoulos was the youngest of Trump’s foreign policy team and not a prominent public figure. Now Trump loyalists say he wasn’t taken all that seriously by the campaign. Harper: That’s another remarkable thing, of course — all the policy advisers all of a sudden are relegated to the status of low-level, unpaid volunteers, even though they sat in a meeting of foreign policy advisers with the presidential candidate himself early on. When they turn out to be suspects in this investigation, they all drop to the bottom of the heap, and it’s as if Trump had never heard of any of them. Moyers: It’s usual in a case like this to move the paramount figures to the expendable list, no? Harper: Oh sure, absolutely, and I fully expect before this is over, you’re going to get to a point where Donald Trump will say, “Oh, yeah, Donald Jr. — you know he was only my son for a very limited period of time.” It’s absurd. And it started with Paul Manafort — the same Manafort who actually delivered decisive delegates to Trump during a crucial period of the campaign. When the heat was turned on Manafort, they all said: “Oh, well, he played a limited role for a limited period of time.” Yeah, he was only manager of the campaign, how about that? Moyers: Perhaps Trump, who aspired to be a great American president, will confess: “And I was just a real estate guy.” [laughter] Robert Mueller is moving quickly with the investigation now. We have new news almost every day. What’s the most recent development that strikes you as most important? Harper: Three different strands have now begun to coalesce. There’s a core strand running through it that I call the “follow the money” strand. Perhaps most of what happened throughout the campaign, if you view it from Vladimir Putin’s side of the transaction, looks quite reasonable and makes a great deal of sense. Putin wants to eliminate sanctions on Russia, both because they affect him personally in a financial way and because they affect his country’s economy in a big way. So you dangle in front of Trump the prospect of a Trump Tower in Moscow. We always knew that Trump wanted a Trump Tower in Moscow, because Trump told us he did. But what we didn’t know was that during the campaign, the Trump organization was actively negotiating for such a development. But two other strands have come together, and we need to understand them for all this to become a cogent narrative. The second strand involves political operatives. It turns out we’re hearing about people like George Papadopoulos, who obviously was in communication with the Russians, and that strand is now probably taking Mueller — certainly taking me — further up the food chain. Papadopoulos implicated Sam Clovis, the former co-chairman of the campaign. And with people like Stephen Miller and Hope Hicks, you’re getting right to the inner circle of the Trump campaign. All of a sudden last year, these low-level underlings, as they are now being described to us, were getting remarkable access, and they’re getting responses from within the campaign. They’re not sending emails off into cyberspace that no one ever answers; they’re hearing back from some of these higher-ups. And the third strand is what I would call the “digital strand.” Cambridge Analytica, the Kushners, WikiLeaks — they’ve started coming together in a very dramatic fashion over the past two or three weeks. Pundits say they keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. Well, didn’t John McCain say, “This is a centipede. I guarantee you there will be more shoes to drop.” It seems as though there is just no limit to the number of shoes that keep dropping in this thing. Everyone thought the big bombshell was the June 9 meeting and the Don Jr. emails that had set up that meeting in Trump Tower relating to dirt the Russians were promising on Hillary Clinton. And then we just get this even more stunning series of interactions and communications and exchanges that show the people that Kushner hired to run the digital campaign going to WikiLeaks, and reveal Don Jr. having direct Twitter communications with WikiLeaks about Clinton documents. It’s just remarkable. If all of this had hit at the same time, it would have been blockbuster, but because of the dribbling out of it, no one focuses on the extent to which some of these three strands coalesce. And they sometimes coalesce around what I call very hot dates in the timeline. Moyers: Let’s pause right there. There’s a beginning to a story like this. So I hope you’re reading a new book out this week by Luke Harding, once the Moscow correspondent for The Guardian of London. The title is Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money and how the Russians Helped Donald Trump Win. Have you been following coverage of the book? Harper: Yes. I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve read a couple of excerpts and summaries of certain portions of it. Moyers: Harding, who’s a very experienced reporter, quotes the British ex-spy, Christopher Steele, who worked in Russia for years and compiled that notorious dossier on Trump that mysteriously appeared last year. He quotes Steele saying that “Russian intelligence has been secretly cultivating Trump for years.” As you and I discussed in August, Trump appears to have attracted the attention of Soviet intelligence as far back as 1987, on his first visit to Moscow — a visit arranged by the top level of the Soviet diplomatic service, with the assistance of the KGB. Trump was of course looking for business in Russia. If you go to Trump’s own book, The Art of the Deal, he acknowledges “talking about building a large luxury hotel across the street from the Kremlin in partnership with the Soviet government.” And he quotes a letter he got from the Soviet ambassador to Washington saying the Soviet state agency for international tourism is inquiring about his interest in that partnership. Now, one has to ask: There were lots of ambitious real estate moguls looking for deals with Russia in the mid-’80s; why did they select Donald Trump? Harper: And that’s the $64,000 question. It’s very interesting and Harding notes this as well, and it also was an early entry on our timeline — that in 1988, when Trump came back from the Soviet Union, he first made noises about wanting to run for president. Which brings us back to the second strand developing in this story, which is the personal contacts, the personal operatives, involved in a pretty straightforward if not classic Russian intelligence operation. Russian agents — the recruiters — look for soft spots in their target — in this case, the US — and those soft spots become points of penetration. The Russians must have been astonished at how they achieved penetration in Trump’s circle — astonished at the success that they were having across many different fronts simultaneously. Moyers: I remember from my own experience in Washington in the ‘60s that the Russians were always trying to find “soft targets” — American citizens — who were drawn to that sort of relationship. Harper: And what could be a softer target for a guy like Putin than a guy who measures the world and everyone’s self-worth in dollars? Moyers: Much of what Harding reports in his book is circumstantial, but it adds up to what is fairly damning evidence. You’re the lawyer — how much can circumstantial evidence be introduced in an argument in a trial? Harper: Plenty. There are lots of people sitting in jail who were convicted on circumstantial evidence. In fact, how often is it that there is actually what you would call eyewitness or direct evidence of criminal behavior, except in a situation where you can get one of the co-conspirators to turn state’s evidence and squeal on the others? People talk about circumstantial evidence as if there’s something terrible about it. Circumstantial evidence is the way most people go about proving their cases, whether they’re civil or criminal cases. And what separates circumstantial from direct evidence isn’t even all that clear. Would you say that the email exchanges between Donald Trump Jr. and the lawyer who was supposed to come to Trump Tower with dirt on Hillary Clinton were circumstantial evidence or direct evidence? It’s certainly direct evidence of Donald Trump Jr.’s intent when he says, “If you have what you say you have, in terms of dirt on Clinton, I love it.” Some people keep saying there’s there’s no collusion. Trump’s favorite expression is “No collusion. No collusion. No collusion.” All right, let’s talk about something else. Let’s talk about something the law recognizes as conspiracy or “aiding and abetting.” Let’s talk about a conspiracy to obstruct justice. In that respect, Trump’s own tweets become evidence. So it’s not as clear as I think some of the talking-head pundits would like to make it, that no collusion means the end of the inquiry. That’s just wrong. Moyers: Suppose the circumstantial or direct evidence prove to be true; does it have to be out-and-out treason for Trump and his team’s actions to be impeachable offenses? Harper: No. In all likelihood, treason may be the toughest thing of all to prove, because treason, at least in a technical legal sense, requires that you’re actually at war. And a decent defense could be for Trump that there’s been no declaration of war, so whatever was going on you’re never going to get it past the threshold of treason. There are still plenty of legal bases for concluding that Trump has some serious problems. One would be the election laws, including the financing of elections. It’s pretty clear you can’t accept help from a foreign government in order to win an election, and it seems pretty clear, at least to me, that if they weren’t actually using the help — and that’s a big if; I think they were, based on some of the things that I’ve seen — there’s certainly ample evidence that they were willing to be participating in whatever help anybody would give them to help Trump win the election. The second category — apart from election laws and related finance laws — would be aiding and abetting computer theft insofar as there were illegal hacks into the DNC computers, and WikiLeaks and/or the Trump campaign knew that that happened, knew the hacks were illegal and knew they were willing to do everything they could to take advantage of it in order to help Trump win the election. That’s another fertile ground for illegality. And the third category would of course be what I think will ultimately turn out to be the easiest to prove: the obstruction issues, relating to some of the behavior that we already know that George Papadopoulos, for one, engaged in when he lied to investigators about the nature of the connections between Trump and Russia. Moyers: On the money issue, The Atlantic magazine published a very strong piece last week by Bob Bauer, in which he argues that Donald Trump Jr.’s private Twitter correspondence with WikiLeaks provides evidence of criminal violations of federal campaign finance rules which prohibit foreign spending in American elections, as you pointed out. He reminds us that those rules disallow contributions, donations or “anything of value” provided by a foreign national to sway an election. Those rules also bar a campaign from offering substantial assistance to a foreign national engaged in spending on American races. Here’s a direct quote from Bauer’s article: “Trump Jr.’s messages not only powerfully support the case that the Trump campaign violated these rules, but they also compound the campaign’s vulnerability to aiding and abetting liability under the general criminal laws for assisting a foreign national in violating a spending ban. … The facts and circumstances here are without precedent in the history of campaign finance enforcement, and it’s hard to imagine that any truly neutral analyst informed about the law would conclude otherwise.” So he concludes that Trump and his campaign face a “whopping legal problem.” Harper: I agree with him completely. And here we reach one of what I call “the hot dates” when all these strands coalesce. You have these September-October email exchanges between Don Jr. and WikiLeaks. But now listen to what else you have: On Oct. 12, [Trump’s friend and former adviser] Roger Stone tells NBC that he has a backchannel communication with WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks’ private message to Don Jr. suggests that Trump publicize the Clinton documents from WikiLeaks. Fifteen minutes later Trump Sr. tweets about those WikiLeaks documents. That’s on one day. This is all on Oct. 12. And two days after that, Don Jr. tweets the very WikiLeaks link that WikiLeaks had already suggested that they publicize. That’s one point where these strands coalesce. My point is that Bauer’s case is even stronger than he may realize when you look at what you and I have called circumstantial evidence of what other things were happening, and how other layers of action were behaving at the same time. Moyers: As you know, American intelligence has identified WikiLeaks as a conduit for information that Russian operatives stole from Democrats during the 2016 presidential campaign, and now of course it seems there was a connection between WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign, as you’ve just outlined it. What do we know about why the Russian government would choose WikiLeaks to release information hacked from Hillary Clinton’s computers? Harper: I think it was an outlet that would ensure publicity, maximum publicity. It’s a notorious organization. And I think if you want bad stuff to get out there and you want everybody to notice it, WikiLeaks would be the way to do it. Moyers: Donald Trump Jr. reportedly has released all of his correspondence with WikiLeaks. Does this indicate his lawyers don’t think it is incriminating? Harper: I think it is probably more likely the case that his lawyers assume that it’s going to come out eventually anyway. So the best way to do it is to sort of dribble these things out, hope for an intervening scandal, like Al Franken groping somebody or Roy Moore upsetting the Alabama election, and then let the mind of the body politic move on to something different. The good news is that Robert Mueller is not going to be distracted by the intervening events, and he’ll put all this together. Moyers: But how significant is it that when Donald Trump Jr. had all of this information from WikiLeaks, it’s now being reported that he looked around the campaign to see if he could find someone who would act on WikiLeaks’ information, and it doesn’t seem that anyone responded? His appeals seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Harper: What makes you think no one responded? The fact that there’s no email trail doesn’t necessarily mean that there wasn’t a response. We know, for example, that what was happening throughout the campaign were interactions and conversations and discussions in which certainly one of the topics included granting Russia relief from sanctions. I don’t conclude that because an email response to Donald Jr. has yet to make its way into the public domain, nothing happened. Moyers: So when Donald Trump on Oct. 10, tells the crowd at a campaign rally, “I love WikiLeaks,” and accuses the press of not picking up on what WikiLeaks was publishing, he knew WikiLeaks had dirt on Clinton, where it came from, and he wanted to get it out. Harper: You would think so. And I’m most happy, frankly, that Mueller has such an extraordinary team of talented lawyers working with him, because the case from the prosecutor’s side is a dream in terms lending itself to a coherent, cogent narrative that strikes me as a really damning case. Moyers: Is Julian Assange of WikiLeaks in any danger of facing US prosecution? Harper: Not as long as he stays in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Let’s assume he will stay out of the country for a while. I suppose Trump could pardon him. Moyers: Is there any way that Assange could be viewed as an agent of a foreign power at this point, or is he just a rogue player? Harper: My opinion is that during the election, he was an agent acting for the benefit for Trump. He claims that he wasn’t dealing with Russian documents. I find that difficult to believe. And certainly, as you said, the US intelligence community is of the view that WikiLeaks was the vehicle through which Russia distributed and disseminated its hacked documents. And I think he’s clearly acting on behalf of interests that are Russian interests. Moyers: What do you make of Assange and WikiLeaks urging Donald Trump Jr. to suggest to his father that if he loses the election, he should contest the election? What was that about? Harper: Chaos. I think the goal was chaos. That’s what takes me back to believing that at some level Russia was behind what WikiLeaks was proposing. Because for Putin there are two ways for him to improve Russia’s standing. One is to figure out a way to bring his country up. One easy way would be to get some relief from the sanctions. But an equally powerful way to do it is to bring Western democracies, especially America, down. So what better way to foment chaos than a postelection trauma, if you will, in which Trump is contesting election results in various states and doing all of the things he certainly would have been capable of doing? And of course, WikiLeaks feeds right into Trump’s soft spot by suggesting, in that same email that you just mentioned, that this could be good for him too, particularly if what he really wants to do is launch a new media network. So it all fits. Moyers: What do you make of the fact that Donald Trump Jr. did not report to the FBI that WikiLeaks was soliciting him last year? Does that put him legally at risk? Harper: The mere failure to report doesn’t, but it certainly adds to the question about what Trump Jr.’s true motives and the motives of the Trump campaign were in pursuing the information WikiLeaks was offering. Now, let me give you something else to think about, and see if your reaction causes you some of the heartburn it causes me. In June of last year — quite a month, no? — there was another “hot date.” Jared Kushner — Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser — assumed control of the digital campaign and hired the firm Cambridge Analytica. We talked about Cambridge Analytica a moment ago. Well, Cambridge Analytica’s vice president had been Steve Bannon. And about the same time that Kushner hired Cambridge Analytica, the CEO of Cambridge Analytica is reaching out to WikiLeaks with an offer to help disseminate hacked documents. And then you get to July 22 and WikiLeaks is releasing hacked documents. In August, George Papadopoulos is continuing to push Russia on the campaign team, Roger Stone is continuing to talk about his communications with Assange and WikiLeaks (and it certainly looks as if Stone is predicting more WikiLeaks releases of documents) and the daughter of the part-owner of Cambridge Analytica, Rebekah Mercer — who is also a Trump donor — tells its CEO to reach out to WikiLeaks too. And then Donald Jr.’s email exchange with WikiLeaks comes in September. See what I mean? There’s a ramping up of the process that culminates in those email exchanges that Don Jr. had with WikiLeaks and that becomes, I think, an important narrative to understanding the story. Moyers: I need some Tums. [laughter] Harper: It’s good and bad, I guess — getting mired in all these details. The good news is we learn more facts. The bad news is we learn more facts — and it may not be possible for Americans to put it all together and conclude that anything significant happened, when actually there’s a grave threat to democracy. Moyers: Let me pause right there. As Josh Marshall points out at Talking Points Memo, the Justice Department is directly overseeing Mueller’s investigation. It has absolute power over the inquiry. Meaning that Mueller is now investigating his overseers. Isn’t that certain to have some impact on the process? Harper: I don’t think so. Let me tell you why. I think the only thing that will affect the process, and this is the thing frankly that I fear more than anything else, will be if Trump fires Mueller. We know Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself. If he should resign, that would be a great victory for Trump, who could then appoint someone else as an acting attorney general who could then fire Mueller, and the ball bounces to Rod Rosenstein. Rosenstein’s been on record a couple of times saying that he hasn’t seen any basis for firing Mueller. And at this point, I have competing views of Rosenstein in general, but I think on this issue, he realizes that his personal interest and his professional interest and even the country’s interest requires that if Trump were to issue an order to fire Mueller or even if he were to try to interfere with Mueller’s investigation in some way, allowing him to do so will be a very bad thing for Rosenstein personally. I don’t think he’ll do it. Moyers: There’s a precedent for this, of course. Nixon went ahead and fired the special prosecutor investigating Watergate. Harper: Yes, but he had to go through [Attorney General] Richardson and [Deputy Attorney General] Ruckelshaus to do it. Trump would have to fire Rosenstein, then he’d have to fire an associate attorney general named Rachel Brand, who — based on everything everything I’ve read about her — would likely balk and not be inclined to follow an order unless she were satisfied that there was in fact good cause to do it. Moyers: What might provoke Trump to risk everything — firestorm, constitutional crisis, even impeachment — to fire Mueller? Harper: I think he’ll do it if he thinks that things are getting too close. I think he’s already been close to doing it in the past. And I think at some point, and I think it’s probably a question of when [not if], he will fire Mueller. I really fear that’s what’s going to happen. And of course the irony is that for the amount of time Mueller has spent on the job, he’s achieved remarkable results. He’s working very quickly, very efficiently. The median life of a special counsel is just under two years. The average is three years. The Iran-Contra investigation went for six and a half years. Whitewater went for more than eight years. The Valerie Plame NSA leak went for two years. We’re what? Just five months in? Moyers: And Mueller’s already obtained two indictments and one guilty plea. Harper: Precisely. Moyers: The indictments are for Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. But the indictments are not related to the Trump/Russia connection, are they? Harper: I think the answer to that is it remains to be seen. That’s clearly the way the Trump people are going to continue to try to spin it. But step back for a minute and think about the fact that a campaign manager [Paul Manafort] for a presidential candidate [Donald Trump] has been indicted for money laundering, tax evasion and all sorts of other wrongdoing arising from his work for Ukraine, where Putin and Russia were fomenting trouble. And shortly after he became the manager of the campaign, as we’ve learned, he was also offering to provide special briefings to a Ukrainian oligarch with whom he’d had business dealings. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see at some point some of these things merge into one another. Moyers: You mentioned earlier that a new series of Trump advisers are under scrutiny. Hope Hicks is one of them. She’s perhaps the closest staffer to Donald Trump. Not even 30 yet, keeps a low profile, been with him a long time, apparently spends more time with the president than anyone else on the White House team. We’ve learned Mueller wants to talk to her. What have you learned about her and what can she add to this? Harper: She can add a lot, I suspect. And I suspect that Mueller thinks so too, because as you say, she’s as close to the inner circle as you can get. She was also present at two really key points in this story — and many others, I could add. One in connection with what ultimately led to the firing of James Comey in May of 2017 — she was around for that. And as you may recall, we now have learned that it turns out that Trump had dictated to Stephen Miller, another close aide, what was apparently a four-page rant, or screed, of his real reasons for wanting to fire James Comey. So it’s hard to imagine that Hope Hicks wasn’t somehow involved in, or at least aware of, what was going on that weekend in Bedminster, New Jersey, when Trump was pouring his rage into that letter. She was also aboard Air Force One — and maybe the lesson is you just never want to be on Air Force One with Donald Trump — when they were coming back from Europe, and Trump, as we learned much later, had a hand, a very heavy hand, in drafting a very misleading statement about what had transpired at that June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Don Jr., Manafort, Kushner and some Russians with ties to the Kremlin. Hope Hicks reportedly was advocating on behalf of transparency, but it appears that she lost out. And that’s just what we know Ms. Hicks was involved in. Who knows what else she was involved in and participated in, but I suspect a lot. I also think she’s got a bit of problem because Carter Page revealed that she had been copied on those messages about what he had learned in Russia, or what he was planning to learn in Russia, when she had denied adamantly there had been no Trump campaign contacts with Russia. So she’s got a bit of a consistency issue there, it would seem. Moyers: You mentioned Carter Page. He and George Papadopoulos traveled the world, apparently representing themselves as able to speak for the Trump campaign, even though the Trump campaign later said they weren’t. You’ve tracked down many instances of Papadopoulos in particular speaking to foreign leaders on behalf of Trump. Why is that important? Harper: Well, he’s given extraordinary access to some very high-level people. He was giving speeches in which he was representing himself as being able to speak on behalf of Trump at least with respect to certain policies. And you know, it’s hard for me to imagine that he gets that kind of access unless there’s some credibility to what he’s saying about what his actual role in the campaign is. And of course we all know from the infamous photo taken at the Trump International Hotel that Papadopoulos was one of a handful of people seated at the table with Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump as Sessions presided over a meeting about Trump’s foreign policy and Trump told the group that he didn’t “want to go to ‘World War III’ over Ukraine.” And I believe that’s what started the process of making clear to everybody who was on Trump’s foreign policy team that easing relations with Russia by easing sanctions, would be something that Trump would be open to. And I think a lot of what happens afterward you can fit into this broader framework of the question: What is Putin’s angle in all this? Well, Putin’s angle in all this is if he can get the Russian sanctions lifted, he’s a winner. And if Trump will help him do that, great. And even if Trump can’t help him, even if Trump doesn’t win the election, it can’t hurt that he’s created some chaos in a Western democracy, which clearly is what he intended and what happened. Moyers: You mentioned Jeff Sessions. In his testimony to Congress last week, Sessions said it’s hard for him to remember meeting with, and conversations about, the Russians because the Trump campaign was in constant chaos. The fact that the campaign was in chaos certainly seems accurate, but would his excuse play at all in a trial? Harper: No. And remember what Steve Schmidt, who was involved in John McCain’s campaign, said? He said he hopes that Jeff Sessions never gets a puppy because he’s not going to remember to feed it, he’s not going to remember to get it watered, he’s not going to remember to let it out. That puppy’s just going to be in terrible trouble. But what’s interesting about Sessions to me is this: What Sessions said in his recent statements was, I haven’t remembered that Papadopoulos raised the issue of Trump meeting with Putin or members of the campaign meeting with representatives of Putin until I read about it in the news reports. But now that I’ve read about it, now I remember, and listen — I pushed back really hard and I said that it would not be appropriate for anyone to be meeting with a representative of a foreign government. All of the sudden, it’s like the light has gone on in Jeff Sessions’ head. Now, you have a situation sometimes in trials where a witness in a previous setting had sworn that he couldn’t remember something. And then six months or a year later, all of a sudden they have this epiphany and the memories came flooding out. And there’s something counterintuitive about somebody who says they remember more now about a specific event than they did a year earlier when asked about that same specific event. That just doesn’t play well with most juries. And bear in mind, too, something else about Sessions that’s worth remembering that I doubt would necessarily be obvious to non-lawyers. Going into those Senate hearings, going into each one of those hearings, Sessions had to know that he was going to be asked about all of this stuff. And he had to know that he needed to be as familiar as he could be with whatever he could learn so that what he gave was truthful, straightforward, candid and ultimately something that the public and Congress would believe. And yet despite that, at each subsequent appearance, somehow there’s something new and the attorney general of the United States shrugs his shoulders and says, “Oh, I guess I did know that.” My problem is, I want Sessions to hang on. I don’t want him not to be attorney general yet, because the minute that Sessions resigns or Trump fires him, then you have the door open to an acting attorney general, and I don’t want to live to see Scott Pruitt [head of the Environmental Protection Agency] or [former New York mayor and Trump ally] Rudy Giuliani become acting attorney general, which is something that Trump could do without even Senate confirmation. It doesn’t even have to be those two guys, because we know Trump has a plethora of cronies who will do whatever he says, because Trump says that’s what he wants, and if Trump says he wants Mueller fired, that to me is the disaster scenario for the country. Moyers: So, to sum up for now: What’s the most innocent explanation for everything we know? What if all of this was simply Trump’s inexperienced people trying to establish diplomatic rapport with the Russians and hoping to reset America’s connection with Moscow? Harper: Well, the most innocent explanation would be a level of incompetence and ignorance and stupidity that I honestly don’t think anyone could credibly believe, because the most innocent explanation is that Russia was launching a very sophisticated, multipronged intelligence operation and succeeded, but they succeeded because of the blind ambition and greed of the Trump organization coupled with a lack of judgment and intelligence and a fundamental failure to take into regard anything that would remotely look like patriotism when it came to the defense of democracy, subjugating all of that to the need to win. That’s the most innocent explanation. And I just don’t think all of them are that stupid. Moyers: So what’s the most damning explanation for everything we know? Harper: The most damning explanation is that the Russians launched a sophisticated intelligence operation. They found willing partners up and down the line throughout the Trump organization. And up and down throughout the Trump organization, as the details of that intelligence operation became known, the participants lied about it, lied about its existence, lied about their personal involvement in it and now they are all facing serious criminal jeopardy as a result. Moyers: One more: I assume most people believe Russia’s interference in the election last year is a bad thing, a serious offense, but is it possible that by treating Vladimir Putin and his cronies as an existential threat, we’re playing directly into Putin’s hands and making him appear a more significant figure in the world than he really is? Harper: Well, he’s already achieved that, but the problem is, what’s the alternative? Back in January, John McCain and Lindsey Graham were on national television acknowledging the seriousness of the Russian interference. McCain called it the cyber equivalent of “an act of war.” And if you acknowledge and recognize the existential threat, do you sit back and let the let the next thing happen in 2018 that Vladimir Putin wants to do? Remember, we have elections coming up next year. The uniform view of US intelligence is unambiguous, and if you don’t view it as an existential threat then you’re willing, I think, to sacrifice democracy. We keep hearing, “Yeah, but Trump was still legitimately elected, he won the election fair and square.” Now we’re realizing that that may not even be true. I don’t personally believe that to be true anymore. I rankle every time somebody says he won fair and square, because that’s become less obvious every day. So the last line of defense would be, “Well, even if he didn’t win fair and square, he’s our president, so we’ve got to sit back and let whatever Putin’s going to do to us continue to happen because we don’t want our response to raise his standing in the world.” Well, I would submit it raises Putin’s standing in the world even more to have an accomplice in the White House. Moyers: Thank you, Steve Harper. Editor’s Note: The news is coming so fast and furious, from so many sources and in so many fragments, that it takes more than a scorecard to keep up with the Trump-Russia connection. It takes a timeline — a “map,” if you will, of where events and names and dates and deeds converge into a story that makes sense of the incredible scandal of the 2016 election and now of the Trump Administration.

November 25, 2017 by
If a House provision gets enacted, churches will be able to endorse – not just pray for – political candidates. Andrew Cline/ The tax package pending in Congress includes a provision that would leave churches and other nonprofits, which by law must be nonpartisan, suddenly free to engage in political speech. This measure, currently only in the House version of the bill, could potentially change charitable life as we know it. As an accounting professor who teaches nonprofit taxation, I believe that this significant change deserves vigorous public debate and is too big to bury in tax legislation. Johnson Amendment Tax law currently bars religious and secular charities alike from engaging in political activity, which the government defines as attempting to influence legislation or intervening in a campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) specific candidates. Nonprofits caught breaking this law may pay back taxes or lose their tax-exempt status. Known as the Johnson Amendment, this provision dates back to 1954, when then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson led the effort to get this restriction on the books. More nonprofits say they welcome this as a form of protection from political pressure than object to it as a restriction on their rights. President Donald Trump vowed as a candidate to repeal the Johnson Amendment to give church leaders the ability to speak about politics without penalty. But repealing a law takes an act of Congress and power he lacks. As a step in that direction, he issued an executive order directing the IRS not to enforce it for religious institutions. The tax bill’s proposed change would actually repeal the Johnson Amendment, and it would apply to all charitable organizations, including churches and other houses of worship like mosques and synagogues. It came as an unwelcome surprise to most charities, which have been openly rejecting it. “Charitable nonprofits don’t want to be dragged into the toxic political wasteland,” said Tim Delaney, who leads the National Council of Nonprofits. If the House language becomes law, political speech by these groups would technically need to meet two requirements. First, charities would be able to make political statements in the ordinary course of business – that is, doing whatever it is they do. For example, a prominent pastor could endorse political candidates during a sermon that’s broadcast or livestreamed. Second, making such statements must cost no more than an “incremental de minimis amount” – regulatory language that basically translates into “not much.” In other words, calls to vote for a particular candidate could be printed in flyers as long as those missives were mainly about something else. And nonprofits could endorse candidates on their websites as long as the details do not dominate that digital space. Politicking would be allowed on the sidelines and if it does not consume a large share of a group’s budget. Where exactly the government would draw a line isn’t clear yet. Most likely, churches wouldn’t be free to mail their congregants straightforward calls to “vote for Jennifer Doe on November 7.” But they might be able to include that language in their monthly newsletters or on a web page about a church supper. Why bother? Why lift current restrictions on political speech by charities? The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal group, argues that the Johnson Amendment unconstitutionally restricts free speech by not allowing nonprofits to speak on big issues that matter to the public. However, there’s no clear evidence that this is a valid concern. Plenty of pastors already speak out often on policy issues, such as abortion, immigration and income inequality. Some even endorse candidates running for office, according to a 2016 Pew study. In fact, religious leaders have been reportedly speaking out more because of increasingly lax IRS enforcement of nonprofit political activity starting years before Trump signed his executive order. President Donald Trump, shown here signing an executive order on May 4. The order instructed the IRS to use ‘maximum enforcement discretion’ in enforcing a tax code provision barring nonprofits from engaging in political activity. AP Photo/Evan Vucci Arguments against this change The Johnson Amendment entangles church and state by requiring the IRS to determine whether speech by 501(c)(3) nonprofits – the kind to which Americans who itemize their returns can make tax-deductible donations – is political or merely issue advocacy. For example, religious leaders currently can speak about abortion as long as they do not endorse candidates based on their views regarding the procedure. If the proposed tax code amendment becomes law, they would be free to do just that. Delaney and other nonprofit leaders – including religious ones – say that they would prefer to see partisan politics kept out of charities, churches and foundations. This arrangement, they argue, currently shields them from political pressure from donors, board members or politicians. There is also a risk that some charities would superficially serve an educational purpose while actually engaging in political activity, according to Roger Colinvaux, a Catholic University law professor who previously served as a lawyer for the Joint Committee on Taxation, a congressional committee with members from both the House and Senate whose staff analyzes tax proposals. Without restrictions on political speech by churches and secular charities, many experts predict that taxpayers seeking to make political contributions would shift such nondeductible donations from politicians, parties and political organizations to nonpartisan charities. This would mean potentially billions of dollars in political donations could be written off. And like the tax cuts themselves, this change would come with a price tag. Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat, raised questions about the proposed changes to charity tax laws during a congressional hearing. The House bill would lift this restriction for five years beginning in the 2019 tax year, reducing revenue by approximately US$1.5 billion, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. What’s more, contributions to nonprofits for political purposes could be anonymous. While the names of donors who contribute to political campaigns must be disclosed, charitable donations don’t have to revealed. In other words, donors could make their contributions to nonprofits contingent upon endorsements for candidates without anyone knowing about it if this provision becomes part of the tax code. What nonprofits say More than 4,200 religious leaders signed an interfaith petition to keep the Johnson Amendment intact. At the same time, 5,500 charitable organizations have objected to the proposed revision by signing a letter to that effect. And a national poll by the Independent Sector, an organization representing charities, foundations and corporations seeking to advance the common good, found that 72 percent of respondents wanted to keep the Johnson Amendment on the books. The only people who have called for this change are evangelical Christian pastors. Rushed timetable Given the pending tax package’s potential to make sweeping changes, the question of whether it makes sense to loosen restrictions on political speech by charitable organizations is getting less attention than it should. Most Americans do not know what is in this legislation, which Trump wants to sign into law before Christmas on a rushed timetable. If he gets his wish, chances are strong that the debate will follow passage rather than precede it. A huge shift like this deserves a real and open debate, not the kind of behind-the-scenes deal-making that apparently went on before House Republicans folded this nonprofit provision into its tax bill. Susan Anderson , Professor of Accounting, Elon University

November 27, 2017 by
Bad news for people who aren’t already rich. Last night, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released its analysis of the Senate tax bill. The report concludes that the GOP’s tax bill is bad for the poor from the get-go, and ends up eventually raising taxes on the middle class too. Per the Washington Post: By 2019, Americans earning less than $30,000 a year would be worse off under the Senate bill, CBO found. By 2021, Americans earning $40,000 or less would be net losers, and by 2027, most people earning less than $75,000 a year would be worse off. On the flip side, millionaires and those earning $100,000 to $500,000 would be big beneficiaries, according to the CBO’s calculations.  The main reason the poor get hit so hard in the Senate GOP bill is because the poor would receive less government aid for health care. The Senate Republican tax bill eliminates the requirement that almost all Americans purchase health insurance or else pay a penalty. The CBO has calculated that health insurance premiums would rise if this bill becomes law, leading 4 million Americans to lose health insurance by 2019 and 13 million to lose insurance by 2027. As Kevin Drum notes, this will hurt Trump’s supporters the hardest: “It’s yet another way that Donald Trump is screwing the very people who put him in office. Most of these folks don’t seem to realize it, though. They’ll either blame Democrats or else shrug and figure that at least Trump hates the same people they do.” If you analyze the effects of the bill without the individual mandate repeal, then all income brackets get a tax cut through 2026, according to the Joint Committee On Taxation.  But the bill, as currently written, does in fact repeal the individual mandate. The CBO also found that the bill would add $1.4 trillion to the debt. Read the report in full below: Ben Dreyfuss

November 29, 2017 by
The former head of the University of California Berkeley College Republicans is suing Yvette Felarca, the far-left activist behind By Any Means Necessary, and one of the leaders of the Antifa movement. According to Campus Reform, Troy Worden is seeking more than $100,000 in damages over what he claims are a series of harassing and frivolous restraining orders he says Felarca filed in order to keep the UC Berkeley College Republicans from exercising their right to free speech. The orders, which have since been tossed out, prevented Worden from approaching the Berkeley native and her Antifa colleagues, but, in practice, completely restricted his movement in and around the UC Berkeley campus since he couldn't come within so many feet of BAMN members, including Felarca herself. “Felarca’s frivolous legal actions were meant to intimidate me and hinder my political activism, but also prevented me from going to class on occasion. I can now go on with my main purpose at UC Berkeley, which is to get an education and exercise my free speech rights without interference,” Worden said in a statement through his attorney. “Felarca filed a frivolous restraining order that restricted Worden’s First and Second Amendment rights, and made it difficult for him to move around the campus to attend classes,” the statement continues. “Felarca and her attorney attempted to make free speech expensive and it is time that they pay for their misuse of the court system.” Felarca's attorney, Shanta Driver, is also named in the suit on the theory that Driver created the strategy of filing restraining orders that would heavily restrict Worden's movement in order to prevent Worden from hosting events, speaking on campus, or attending any Antifa rallies. This lawsuit is just the latest volley in an ongoing legal battle between the UC Berkeley College Republicans and UC Berkeley administration, as well as Antifa activists, whom the CRs claim colluded to prevent conservatives from having any voice on campus. The Daily Wire's Bradley Devlin has been covering the issue from campus. Emily Zanotti

November 30, 2017 by
Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) blasted President Trump on the House floor Wednesday following Trump re-tweeting several anti-Muslim videos, saying “anyone who incites hate ought to be … removed from a position such that they can harm society.” “When hate emanates from the highest office in the land … when hate emanates from the presidency, the solution is impeachment,” Green said. “Impeachment will be voted on before Christmas.” Green’s floor speech came after Trump re-tweeted a series of videos Wednesday morning purporting to show violent acts by Muslims posted by the leader of the ultranationalist Britain First Party, Jayda Fransen. Trump faced backlash soon after sharing the videos. British commentator Piers Morgan implored Trump to “stop this madness and undo your retweets," and Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the U.K.’s Labour Party, called on the British government to condemn Trump’s sharing of the videos. But Trump also received praise for sharing the videos, including from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who said Trump re-tweeting the videos is “why we love him." Green announced earlier this month that he plans to force a vote on Trump’s impeachment before Christmas after unveiling articles of impeachment last month. The Texas Democrat stopped short of forcing a vote at the time, citing a desire for the public to consider the articles before a vote was held. Green’s impeachment articles do not accuse Trump of committing a crime, but instead state Trump has “undermined the integrity of his office” and “brought disrepute on the presidency.” By Brandon Carter

December 2, 2017 by
(Photo/Eric Draper/White House) I have been helping immigrants apply for citizenship for more than two decades. Something I learned over the years is that applications for citizenship go up dramatically during presidential elections and fall just as dramatically the following year. This makes sense because people want to vote for the next president, and they rush to get their naturalization forms in. Then, typically, the number of applications drops precipitously after the election. This year is exceptional. Instead of a reduction in applications, there has been a 10 percent jump over the already high numbers during the election year. In the last year, 1,028,647 naturalization applications were filed, 100,000 more than in the election year. New York State saw an increase from 119,000 applications in 2016 to 125,000 this year. There are several reasons cited for the increase in naturalizations, all of them tied to the Donald Trump presidency. According to a new report from the National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA), “the current climate of insults and threats toward immigrants, and increased immigration enforcement by this administration has resulted in millions of immigrants feeling fear and resentment towards unfair scapegoating. This has resulted in increased naturalization applications as immigrants seek to protect their families and empower themselves to vote.” The attacks on immigrants have also prompted community groups, who previously did not consider naturalization a part of their agenda, to step forward to offer free help for permanent residents who want to become citizens. After the election of Donald Trump, many cities and states funded citizenship programs to help harden their communities against the harsh new Trump administration policies. The Trump administration has responded to the growth of naturalization by slowing down the processing of citizenship applications. The number of backlogged cases is now nearly double what it was just two years ago. According to the NPNA, whose local affiliate is the New York Immigration Coalition, “the massive naturalization processing backlogs are a ‘Second Wall’ that prevents legal immigrants from becoming U.S. citizens and voters. If this is being done intentionally–if the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and this administration is ‘slow-walking’ the citizenship applications of lawfully present immigrants–then this is a particularly offensive form of voter suppression.” New York has the second largest number of backlogged cases, with more than 93,000. Keeping permanent residents from becoming citizens is a key element of the White Nationalist agenda. While the media depicts Trump and the White Nationalists who support him as opposed to undocumented immigration, it is really legal immigration that most worries them. Legal residents are the people who become citizens and voters, and in turn, those who the White Nationalists fear will deprive them of power. Patrick Young, Esq.

December 2, 2017 by
Donald Trump is a one-man hate group. If the president were an organization instead of an individual, it would not be a big stretch to define him as a "hate group" under the FBI's simple definition: “an organization whose primary purpose is to promote animosity, hostility, and malice against persons of or with a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity which differs from that of the members or the organization.” Now, of course, Donald John Trump's "primary purpose" isn't to advocate for hate and violence. But after that qualifying phrase, Trump pretty much checks off every box in the FBI’s definition. “When you look at the list of extremist material that he’s put out there, it’s extraordinary,” said Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups. Let's break it down, element by element. 'Animosity, hostility, and malice against persons' Based on race Trump continually wages public feuds with people of color. Last week Trump focused his ire on LaVar Ball, father of one of the UCLA students taken into Chinese custody after they were caught shoplifting in a mall. All three students thanked Trump and the American government for freeing securing their release but when Ball refused to thank the president, Trump called him an “ungrateful fool.” “When you look at the list of extremist material that he’s put out there, it’s extraordinary,” said Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups. Let's break it down, element by element. 'Animosity, hostility, and malice against persons' Based on race Trump continually wages public feuds with people of color. Last week Trump focused his ire on LaVar Ball, father of one of the UCLA students taken into Chinese custody after they were caught shoplifting in a mall. All three students thanked Trump and the American government for freeing securing their release but when Ball refused to thank the president, Trump called him an “ungrateful fool.” The insult salvo carried on for days. Critics of Trump said the exchange followed a pattern: his apparent proclivity for attacking people of color in general, and black people specifically, in the sports world. Trump regularly takes shots at former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and anyone else who’s participated in his “Take a Knee” protest against police brutality during the national anthem. The president scolded Golden State Warriors All-Star Stephen Curry and disinvited his team from a customary White House visit for the NBA champs. He criticized ESPN anchor Jemele Hill for calling him a white supremacist, prompting White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to call for ESPN to fire her. This hostility isn’t limited to athletics. And it isn't a recent phenomenon. In 1989, after a jogger was raped in Central Park and her alleged assailants caught, Trump took out a full page ad in New York newspapers calling for the execution of the so-called “Central Park Five”—all of whom were black and Latino and turned out to be innocent of the crime. Trump's ads were widely seen as reckless and partly responsible for the men's wrongful convictions, which were all overturned. And before becoming president, Trump championed the birther movement against President Barack Obama. A member of the Ku Klux Klan looks on during a rally, calling for the protection of Southern Confederate monuments, in Charlottesville, Virginia on July 8, 2017. The afternoon rally in this quiet university town has been authorized by officials in Virginia and stirred heated debate in America, where critics say the far right has been energized by Donald Trump's election to the presidency. Photo credit should read ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images Then there was Charlottesville. He waited two days to comment on the Unite the Right rally where white supremacists marched through the town with torches and chanted Nazi slogans. The demonstration culminated with the death of counterprotester Heather Heyer, who was run over by a car driven by a white supremacist, cops said. “You also had some very fine people on both sides,” Trump said when asked about the violence. He also said there was violence "on both sides." Comments like that show Trump is teetering on the precipice of white supremacy, Beirich said, though he doesn't fully fit the label because he has never explicitly expressed hatred for certain minority groups. Without crossing that line, according to Beirich, he cannot be categorized a white supremacist, though almost. “Does Trump peddle racist propaganda? No doubt. Has he played footsie with extremists? Absolutely,” Beirich said. So maybe Donald Trump isn't a white supremacist. But he promotes their ideology. And that's part of the FBI definition. Trump has also surrounded himself with controversial and polarizing figures. He brought on Stephen Bannon to be his chief strategist in the White House before Bannon returned to head up Breitbart. Sebastian Gorka, a man accused of having ties to a Hungarian Nazi party, was Trump's deputy assistant before he resigned in August. And Trump appointed then-Senator Jeff Sessions to the office of Attorney General, a move that dismayed many civil rights advocates and whose public record led to fiery exchanges during his confirmation hearings in Congress.  In 1986, Sessions was rejected from a federal judgeship over accusations of racism for calling a black attorney "boy," an allegation he denies, and for calling the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union “un-American.”  Sessions was also the keynote speaker at a 2007 board meeting for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which the Alabama-based nonprofit has deemed an anti-immigrant hate group. The organization gave Sessions its Franklin Society award for the lawmaker's help in killing an immigration reform bill that year.  Based on religion Trump's most recent public display of religious intolerance came Tuesday morning when he retweeted three anti-Muslim videos originally posted by British white supremacist Jayda Fransen. Fransen is the deputy leader of the far-right fringe party Britain First. Donald Trump retweeted a British white supremacists' anti-Muslim disturbing and graphic post that purported to show an "Islamist mob" throw a man off of a structure and beat him to death. Twitter One of the retweeted videos purportedly showed an “Islamist mob” throw a man off a structure before beating him to death. Another claimed to show a “Muslim migrant” beat a Dutch boy walking with crutches. (The attacker was neither a Muslim nor a migrant, according to Dutch media and police.) The third video showed an apparently Muslim man shattering a statue of the Virgin Mary on the ground. British Prime Minister Theresa May criticized Trump later that day, saying he was “wrong” to retweet the videos, but Trump responded on Twitter, “Don’t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine!” “There’s no question he’s expressed ideas about immigrants and about Muslims that could be coming out of the mouths of some of our white supremacists,” Beirich said. The international episode comes just a week before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is slated to hear arguments on Trump’s third iteration of his travel ban. Trump initially called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” days after the San Bernardino shooting in 2016. As president, Trump signed an executive order banning immigration from several Muslim majority countries. Two federal judges have blocked versions of bill. Next week, the appeals court in Maryland will hear arguments on a tweaked version of the bill that’s been scrubbed of any seemingly anti-Muslim language. Based on disability Trump may not routinely target disabled people but he famously mocked disabled New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski during a campaign speech, even pantomiming the body movements of Kovaleski as a result of the congenital joint condition arthrogryposis. "Now, the poor guy—you've got to see this guy!" Trump said of Kovaleski, who was part of a Times team that debunked Trump's claim that he saw American Muslims cheering the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Based on sexual orientation, gender or gender identity Trump’s position on the gay community has been mixed. He’s defended gays in the military in the past, but in October, he became the first sitting president to speak at the Family Research Council, an organization the Southern Poverty Law Center designated an anti-LGBTQ hate group. That speech occurred just months after Sessions also gave a speech to the Alliance Defending Freedom organization, another group the law center — based out of Sessions' homestate of Alabama — had labeled an anti-LGBTQ hate group. In July—on the 79th anniversary of President Truman’s signing of Executive Order 9981 that established equality of treatment and opportunity in the Armed Services—Trump signed an executive order prohibiting transgender people from serving in the military. The federal district court later struck it down, finding the order unconstitutional. Two months later, Trump's Department of Justice argued in court that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect Americans from being fired based on their sexual orientation. The Justice Department awkwardly pitted itself against another federal agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which had already sided with the plaintiff who claimed he was fired from his job for being gay. "(It's) as conservative as it could possibly get: if having sex with a man is okay for a woman, it has to be okay for a man as well," Greg Nevins of Lambda Legal, told Newsweek at the time. "You cannot apply a different rule based on gender, according to the law. Apparently, that wasn’t conservative enough for the DOJ." This is by no means a complete compendium of Trump's promotion of hate; it is merely an abridged list. White Supremacist groups marched through Charlottesville, Va, during the "Unite the Right" rally. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images The FBI did not immediately respond to an email asking if the Bureau was investigating Trump as a possible hate group. By Ryan Sit

December 3, 2017 by
Photo by Solana Larsen | CC BY 2.0 Long before hurricanes Irma and María utterly devastated Puerto Rico, the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), the most important public higher education institution on the Archipelago, was weathering a storm of its own: austerity. Puerto Rico is currently drowning under the weight of a $74 billion debt, and $49 billion in pension obligations, the likes of which is a product of a decades-long recession, illegal bond issuances and trades, and an overly-advertised tax haven. The legal framework that made these practices possible was enacted by the US Congress, implementing a rationale of exceptionality, establishing Puerto Rico as an exception to the tax code of the US. This has lead many to argue that PR’s debt is inherently colonial. To try to deal with PR’s financial crisis, the US Congress legislated PROMESA [1], which former President Barack Obama signed into law in 2016, and which, among many things, allowed for the creation and establishment of an oversight board and a process for restructuring debt [2]. And so, an unelected Financial Oversight and Management Board [3], or, as it’s referred to locally, La Junta de Control Fiscal or the Fiscal Control Board, was undemocratically imposed onto Puerto Rico, and an austerity campaign has characterized its reign. The fatal blow of the violence of austerity has spared no public service institution, including the University of Puerto Rico. Draconian budget cuts, campus and academic program eliminations and consolidations, tuition spikes, payroll reductions, worsening adjunct professorship conditions, UPR was being primed for these and other cut-throat measures. Rumors regarding the privatization of Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority (PREPA) were/are making their rounds as well, just as the rising popularity of public-private partnerships, and given the “restructuring” and fiscal plans [4] UPR’s administration, the Fiscal Control Board and the central local government were concocting for the University, fear emerged that UPR could be heading in the same direction, However, even though UPR found itself under blatant neoliberal attacks, a considerable portion of its student body and faculty were resisting these measures and fighting back, UPR’s recent student strike  a protagonist of this struggle. But then hurricanes Irma and María hit the Archipelago. And even though their passage was temporary, the aftereffects and the socio-political chaos they set off will be long-lasting, recovery an arduous road. The UPR campuses, all 11 of them, suffered considerable damages and losses. After hurricane María, UPR assessed more than $118 million in losses system-wide [7], UPR-Humacao registered as the campus that suffered the most devastation, having been the closest to the area through which the eye of the hurricane entered Puerto Rico. Between hurricanes Irma and María, all campuses were closed for almost a month to more than five weeks, losing a considerable portion of the semester. But beyond, and because, of these quantifiable and calculable consequences, profounder, more insidious dangers lurk on the horizon. And UPR affiliates and allies have already started pointing them out. “CAREFUL, while perhaps for some this is well-intentioned, initiatives to offer students in hurricane-affected areas in-state tuition in states such as Florida might also embolden further shock-doctrine-style shake ups at UPR. […] I understand the positive intention of these initiatives, but I think it would be naive to think that they couldn’t be used in a disastrous way for UPR[8]. [Note: This was a public Facebook post uploaded on September 29, and there have been many exchanges about this since].” As professor Maritza Stanchich, from UPR-Río Piedras, pointed out above, invoking journalist Naomi Klein, after the passing of both hurricanes, the University of Puerto Rico is at a greater risk than before of falling victim to the perils of disaster capitalism, and of having pro-corporate measures characteristic of the shock-doctrine shoved down its throat. Before UPR had decided to re-open its campuses, a number of universities stateside, such as Tulane University [9]  and Brown University [10], and private universities in Puerto Rico, started hurricane-relief programs, offering students an opportunity to continue their academic semester and studies. Although these initiatives are well-meaning and helpful to a portion of UPR’s student body (often a privileged portion of the student body that can afford the related expenses, that can leave their families, that had internet access to find out about or apply to these programs, etc.), they’re simultaneously creating a problematic situation [11] for UPR as an institution. The University of Puerto Rico had a difficult choice to make after hurricane María, the repercussions of which are yet to be seen: on the one hand, UPR could decide not to continue with the semester because proper recovery and reconstruction would require an extensive amount of time, but watch as a portion of its student body was snatched away by universities stateside and private universities and colleges on the island itself. On the other hand, UPR could decide to reopen (which it did)[12], but watch a portion of its student body leave anyways, due to the fact that the University hasn’t been fully and properly rehabilitated to serve its student body, faculty and staff (there are fungus infestations; power outages and non-potable water service; closed libraries and research centers; damaged classrooms, offices and public spaces; etc.), and that the reality of Puerto Rico is not compatible with the “normality” the University is trying to craft and establish; either of the decisions having serious repercussions. And it is clear that the University was pinned between this rock and a hard place, not by the hurricanes (the hurricanes just exacerbated the situation at hand), but by years of corrupt and inept government administrations and a colonial debt that PR has been amassing for the past decades, followed by the imposition of the Fiscal Control Board, and the resulting measures coated in austerity, privatization and plunder. A student from UPR-Río Piedras, Verónica del Carmen, comments on this complication, and the possible resulting privatization, as well: “I’m not registered at the university this semester, so I don’t have to go back on Monday. But I read you, I hear you, and I feel anxious, sad, nervous… But mostly, I feel pissed, because if I were registered I’d have to choose between working or studying. Between eating or taking the bus. I would probably be planning with friends which would be the shelter with water and the best space for us to go rest and “study”. I think of the possibilities and get even more pissed. Both the government and the university’s administration have more than enough excuses to continue the privatization of UPR and the access to education. Hurricane María’s passing paved the way for them to finish implementing their plans. Closing campuses, increasing the cost of tuition, cutting grants and financial aid, letting buildings and student residencies fall into ruin, in other words, for UPR to only be for those who can afford it.[13]” It’s an important and concerning situation to consider and address: how many students will be able to keep up with the pace UPR has established to try and finish the semester in time; how many students will be able to handle the “normality” the University is trying to impose within its walls, while outside, beyond UPR grounds, a colonial-humanitarian crisis is unfolding? In recent news, UPR’s Governing Board emitted a radical decision that UPR-Mayagüez’s rector was quick to implement. Rector Wilma Santiago instructed that all deans should begin to elaborate plans which contemplate the substantial reduction of the number of required credits for all academic programs, and present curricular alternatives so as to offer two-year programs of study, hence, associate degrees. “They’re taking advantage of the tragic moment the country is going through to neutralize any possible opposition to their anti-academic measures that intend to convert UPR into a training center for technical jobs,” Jorge Schmidt, professor at UPR-Mayagüez, remarks regarding the decision of UPR’s Governing Board, a resolution that would transform UPR’s role as a leading academic and research center; that implies the reduction of faculty and spending on teaching/research-based resources; that privileges profit over academic excellence; a clear tell-tale of privatization. To make matters worse, primary and secondary public education in Puerto Rico are under threat of privatization as well [15], Julia Keleher, the Secretary of Education of Puerto Rico, and her team using the hurricanes as an excuse to execute this transition, looking to New Orleans post-Katrina as a model. UPR is the the most important public higher education institution in PR; 46.1% [16] of the population on the Archipelago lives below the poverty line (and it’s likely to increase post-hurricane María, the rate potentially rising to 59.8%, according to a study conducted by The Census Information Center (CIC) of UPR-Cayey ), and economic accessibility is already a problem for too many studying at or wanting to attend UPR. If UPR succumbs to the underlying threats of privatization, an accessible education will no longer be a possibility for a considerable sector of the population, especially for underserved communities of disadvantaged socio-economic sectors. Many would also be forced to take on student loans, incurring on student debt and sparking a debt-crisis like the one ailing the United States and many other countries. Public education as we know it would cease to exist, and only those affluent enough to afford the commodity education would become would have access to higher education. Local and international media coverage have been focusing on the privatization and questionable dealings regarding Puerto Rico’s Power Authority (PREPA), but the spotlight should be shared; the University of Puerto Rico’s pressing vulnerable state must gain visibility. As time goes by in this post-Irma and María era in Puerto Rico, it’ll be important to remember that UPR’s bureaucratic and administrative forces, the local central government and the Fiscal Control Board will gather around a table, potable water in cool pitchers, the air conditioner with a low energy efficiency ratio at full blast because they’ve had their power restored, and fiddle around with the future of the University of Puerto Rico. Notes. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] Another reason for UPR’s reopening involved issues with Pell Grants. [13] Note: For the purposes of this piece, this Facebook post was translated from Spanish to English. [14] Note: For the purposes of this piece, this quote was translated from Spanish to English. [15] [16] by:Ana Portnoy