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Nevilledog's Journal
Nevilledog's Journal
September 7, 2023

Chemo for Democracy


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With four separate criminal cases moving forward against Donald Trump, the rule of law in America appears both commanding and startlingly fragile. Small scenes at courthouses from Florida to New York underline the ever-present threat of violence. In Fulton County, Georgia, officials set up bright-orange security barriers around the courthouse in advance of Trump’s indictment there. In Washington, D.C., fences and yellow tape surrounded the U.S. district court. Judge Tanya Chutkan, who will oversee the federal case against Trump for his efforts to overturn the election, has received increased protection from U.S. marshals—and perhaps not a moment too soon, as a Texas woman was recently arrested for calling in death threats against the judge. Trump, meanwhile, has been busy attacking Chutkan and other judges on social media, smearing the prosecutors bringing the cases against him as a “fraud squad” doing the bidding of President Joe Biden, and promising to turn the Justice Department against his foes should he win a second term.

It’s a grim picture. “The next 18 months could further undermine confidence in democracy and the rule of law,” The Washington Post warned in June. Some commentators, largely on the right, have cautioned that the investigations and prosecutions of Trump might widen cracks in the already-unstable foundations of the American public sphere. Last year, the National Review editor Rich Lowry cautioned in Politico that U.S. institutions “are ill-equipped to withstand the intense turbulence that would result from prosecuting the political champion of millions of people.” Writing more recently in National Review, John Yoo and John Shu argued that even a successful prosecution of Trump for his efforts to overturn the election “will leave many doubtful of the conviction and more distrustful of the Justice Department and the criminal-justice system, especially at a time when public trust in our institutions is already in decline.”

As the threats of violence and attacks on the justice system show, these concerns are not unfounded—far from it. But worrying about the dangers of prosecuting Trump is a bit like focusing on the risk that chemotherapy poses to a cancer patient’s health. The reasoning isn’t exactly wrong; it just begins the analysis in the wrong place. The chemotherapy might be ugly, but it isn’t the source of the problem. It’s the treatment for the underlying disease.

During Watergate, Richard Nixon’s White House Counsel, John Dean, famously told the president that the scandal had become a “cancer growing on the presidency.” Trump’s presence in American politics is similarly malignant. He has made the country meaner, uglier, and more violent. During his first term, he ate away at the protections guarding the U.S. system from authoritarianism, insisting on his own right to absolute power. For prosecutors to have ignored Trump’s provocations would have been to allow the cancer to progress—to acquiesce to his vision of a fundamentally corrupt politics in which the only constraint on power is the threat of vengeance.

September 1, 2023

Keri Blakinger: The Dungeons & Dragons Players of Death Row


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The first time Tony Ford played Dungeons & Dragons, he was a wiry Black kid who had never seen the inside of a prison. His mother, a police officer in Detroit, had quit the force and moved the family to West Texas. To Ford, it seemed like a different world. Strangers talked funny, and El Paso was half desert. But he could skateboard in all that open space, and he eventually befriended a nerdy white kid with a passion for Dungeons & Dragons. Ford fell in love with the role-playing game right away; it was complex and cerebral, a saga you could lose yourself in. And in the 1980s, everyone seemed to be playing it.

D.&D. had come out a decade earlier with little fanfare. It was a tabletop role-playing game known for its miniature figurines and 20-sided dice. Players were entranced by the way it combined a choose-your-own-adventure structure with group performance. In D.&D., participants create their own characters — often magical creatures like elves and wizards — to go on quests in fantasy worlds. A narrator and referee, known as the Dungeon Master, guides players through each twist and turn of the plot. There’s an element of chance: The roll of the die can determine if a blow is strong enough to take down a monster or whether a stranger will help you. The game has since become one of the most popular in the world, celebrated in nostalgic television shows and dramatized in movies. It is played in homes, at large conventions and even in prisons.

By the time Ford got to high school, he had drifted toward other interests — girls, cars and friends who sold drugs and ran with gangs. Ford started doing those things, too. He didn’t get into serious trouble until Dec. 18, 1991. Sometime before 9 p.m., two Black men knocked on the door of a small home on Dale Douglas Drive in southeast El Paso, asking for “the man of the house.” The woman who answered, Myra Murillo, refused to let them in. A few minutes later, they returned, breaking down the door and demanding money and jewelry. One opened fire, killing Murillo’s 18-year-old son, Armando.

Within hours, police picked up a suspect, who said Ford was his partner. They arrested Ford, who was 18 at the time, the following day. He has maintained that the two men who entered the house were brothers, and that he was outside in the car the whole time. There was no physical evidence clearly connecting him to the crime. He was so confident that a jury would believe him that he rejected a plea deal and took his case to trial in July 1993. He lost. By October, at age 20, he was on death row.


August 23, 2023

Trump Judges Have a New Strategy for Gutting Minority Rights


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Can a state prohibit gay people from adopting children or stop immigrants from purchasing property? Under modern Supreme Court precedent, the answer to these questions is an emphatic no. Over the past week, however, federal judges appointed by Donald Trump have answered both questions yes, and without a hint of doubt or discomfort. To greenlight this wave of hate, Trump judges are ignoring more enlightened contemporary precedent, relying instead on old, repudiated decisions that upheld bigotry and oppression. By invoking these zombie precedents, Trump’s judges are attempting to roll back decades of constitutional progress to create space for the Republican Party’s ongoing pursuit of nativist and anti-LGBTQ state-level legislation. Only the Supreme Court can send these discredited pseudo-precedents back to their tomb—and it is unclear if they will bother to do so.

The award for most shocking and gratuitous revival of zombie precedent must go to Judge Barbara Lagoa, whose opinion in Monday’s Eknes-Tucker v. Alabama constitutes a venomous ambush of the South’s LGBTQ+ community. Writing for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, Lagoa upheld Alabama’s criminalization of gender-affirming care for transgender minors, joined in full by fellow Circuit Judge Andrew Brasher and District Judge J.P. Boulee, who’s sitting on the case. (All three are Trump appointees.)

There are several constitutional infirmities in Alabama’s law, most of which Lagoa tried to circumvent by mechanically citing Dobbs to support the notion that trans health care can’t be a fundamental right because it didn’t exist in 1868. But that approach did not resolve a different problem: The Supreme Court has long held that parents do have a fundamental right “to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children.” As the lower court ruled in this case, Alabama infringed on that right by revoking parents’ ability to “direct the medical care” of their kids in accordance with “medically accepted standards.” This intrusion into parental authority is subject to strict scrutiny, which the law cannot survive because it is far broader than necessary to achieve its stated purpose of protecting children.

To avoid Supreme Court precedent supporting parents’ rights, Lagoa turned to one of the most bigoted appellate decisions of the century so far: 2004’s Lofton v. Secretary of Department of Children and Families. In Lofton, the 11th Circuit upheld a Florida law barring gay people—whom the court dubbed “practicing homosexuals”—from adopting children. The Lofton court held that this ban, which has since been overturned, served the state’s “overriding interest” in placing children “with a secure family environment,” which gay people were less likely to provide. “Homosexuals,” the court continued, are unable to provide the “stable and nurturing environment for the education and socialization” of children that heterosexuals can. So Florida had legitimate cause to prevent gay people from “shaping” adoptive children’s “psychology, character, and personality.” The state also had rational reasons to conclude that gay parents could inhibit their children’s “sexual development throughout pubescence and adolescence.”

August 16, 2023

A Public Service: Translating the President's many crimes for the Fox News watchers


Hey everyone. This will be a short public service announcement for consumers of right wing media, who I think we should call “patriots” in deference to their own narratives about themselves.

If you aren’t one of these, please feel free to use it yourself when explaining recent news to the patriots in your life.

As you’re probably aware, the former white christian president and aspiring fascist dictator Donny D-town Trump got hit with a fourth set of indictments this week, which means that his next one is free and will include a complimentary muffin.

The charges against the white supremacist demagogue are many, and damning in both their scope and their severity, and also by the fact that we actually watched him do many of them right on television, or heard tape of him doing them over the phone some weeks after he did them, and in some cases also heard him brag about doing them while denying he did them, and so forth.

In a court of law, he’s innocent until proven guilty. In a court of our own eyes and ears, however, he is—to quote young 60s college radio personality “Marvelous” Mark Slackmeyer—“Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!” And as somebody who still hopes—after watching one institution after another crumble in the face of horrible people who are simply shameless enough to ignore rules that were apparently built not on a system of checks and balances but on tissue paper and a wan handshake—that some center might hold, I have to say that it is heartening to see that a lifetime of open crime eventually can lead, after decades of self-enrichment and untold damage done, to some criminal charges, if not actual convictions.


August 1, 2023

Judd Legum: Meet the "scholars" who created Florida's new Black history curriculum


To comply with the Stop WOKE Act, a 2022 law championed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R), the state needed to create a new curriculum for Black history. The law required the curriculum to "celebrate the inspirational stories of African Americans who prospered, even in the most difficult circumstances" and banned instruction that would make students "feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the individual played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race."

The new Black history curriculum was approved by the State Board of Education on July 19. The response has been scathing. "Today's actions by the Florida state government are an attempt to bring our country back to a 19th century America where Black life was not valued, nor our rights protected," NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in a statement.

Much of the criticism has centered around a provision of the new curriculum that requires instruction about "how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit." That provision was blasted by Black Republicans. “There is no silver lining in slavery,” Senator and presidential candidate Tim Scott (R-SC) said. “Slavery was really about separating families, about mutilating humans and even raping their wives. It was just devastating.” Congressmen Byron Donalds (R-FL) and John James (R-MI) also spoke out against the curriculum. DeSantis responded by attacking the three Black Republicans, claiming they accepted Democrats' "false narratives" and "lies."

DeSantis also defended the notion that enslaved people benefited from slavery. "Some of the folks…eventually parlayed, you know, being a blacksmith into doing things later in life," DeSantis told a reporter while campaigning in Iowa.


July 17, 2023

A.R. Moxon: What you find "understandable" depends on who it is you choose to understand


So let’s say you’re on the subway and it’s crowded, and let’s say a guy gets onto your car and crowd in next to you. And let’s say he steps on your toes.

And you think, hey, it’s a crowded car, that’s just a mistake. It hurt, but it didn’t injure. You assume no ill will. You might not even say anything about it. It’s city living.

Say he does it again, so you clear your throat, to make sure he’s aware of you. And then again. And so you break your silence, and politely ask him to please take care.

And then he tells you that he didn’t step on your toes, and while he tells you that, he makes eye contact with you, and steps on them again—hard. And you yell at him, because you now know it is intentional. And he loudly protests that he has no intention of stepping on feet, he doesn’t even see feet, and that the place where your feet are is his area of the car anyway. He is only concerned about equality. This is a question of integrity in matters of subway floor-plan fairness, he says, and if you’re getting your little toes stepped on—which you aren’t—it’s because you’re putting yourself somewhere where you shouldn’t be, which means that you are actually the one infringing on the space of others. And, having said this, he steps on your toes.

So you shove him away.

Now let’s say I see this, and come over.

Say I scold you that violence is never appropriate, and explain that you are adding to the overall polarization and division on the subway car. Say I tell you that while you have the right to your opinion, he has the right to his, because this is a free country, and we all have to exist together on this subway car, and his position is perfectly understandable, if you’ll just listen to it. And if you won’t, then you are actually causing him to kick you.

July 7, 2023

Inside Moms for Liberty's summit: Big money and even bigger conspiracy theories


Last weekend’s Moms for Liberty summit cemented the group as a key player in Republican politics, with the party’s presidential primary front-runners Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis addressing attendees both at the conference and at home via livestream. But it’s what happened in the breakout strategy sessions that were closed to the press that reveals why the group has become so effective — and dangerous.

In session after session, speakers offered a warped view of reality aimed at manipulating parents into believing they’re righteous liberators battling some ambiguous enemy located in public schools. They warned audience members that the teachers unions and other school officials that are “indoctrinating our kids” are on a mission to do everything from grooming their children to securing “world domination.”

I’ve been following Moms for Liberty for over two years, and it’s now the fastest-growing self-described “parental rights” organization in the United States, hiding behind the innocuous descriptor to covertly push a far-right agenda. Its meteoric rise has coincided with an alarming increase in harassment and threats directed at teachers, administrators, and school officials across the country — so much so that the Southern Poverty Law Center designated Moms for Liberty as an extremist group this year.

What always strikes me about Moms for Liberty is the leadership’s ability to provoke such intense and hateful reactions from members, like threatening gun violence against librarians and bringing a 10-year-old to tears. I was morbidly curious about what exactly they were telling them. Although I pieced together a decent enough picture by viewing recorded meetings, streamed events, documents, and interviews, I felt like I was missing something because I was behind a desk, not on the ground.

Until I attended this year’s summit.


July 5, 2023

Jessica Valenti: Abortion Exceptions Don't Exist


As 2024 approaches, Republicans are struggling with how to defend abortion bans to the American people. Polls continue to show that the laws are deeply unpopular, and support for abortion rights is at the highest it’s ever been in the country’s history. It’s not so easy to talk up legislation that the vast majority of voters oppose—but conservative lawmakers and strategists think they may have the answer: Exceptions.

The only thing that Americans want more than broad access to abortion is access to abortion for sexual violence victims and those whose health and lives are in danger. The polling is downright astronomical—even in red states, even among Republicans. And so it makes sense that conservatives would focus on exceptions; they desperately need an abortion stance that’s popular.

Best of all for the GOP, exceptions aren’t real. They’re deliberately designed to be unusable. So when Republicans announce their support for so-called exceptions—loudly proclaiming that they’re willing to meet in the middle—they’re presenting a compromise that doesn’t actually exist. For them, it’s a win-win.

Inexplicably, Democrats have spent little time pointing out that exceptions aren’t real—even though they have all the proof they need.

Since Roe was overturned, horror story after horror story has come out of states with ‘exceptions’ to their bans. A woman in Texas going septic, a Missouri woman with a doomed and deadly pregnancy, a 10 year-old rape victim in Ohio. All lived in states where their circumstances should have qualified them for abortions, yet none were able to access care. One woman in Louisiana even had a fetus with a fatal condition that was specifically listed in the state’s exceptions, yet had to leave her home state for an abortion.

June 26, 2023

Trump's Document Stash Put American Lives at Risk


THE CLASSIFIEDS DOCUMENTS THAT Donald Trump is charged with mishandling were marked “SECRET” or “TOP SECRET,” the highest classification we afford our nation’s secrets. By definition, the uncontrolled release of that information could be expected to cause “serious” or “exceptionally grave” damage (respectively) to our national security. As bad as that sounds, it gets worse: According to the indictment against Trump, eight of the TOP SECRET documents may have had information about or derived from so-called Special Access Programs (SAPs). The sensitivity of these documents was so great that prosecutors were obliged to redact even the codewords on the documents. The implication is that even publicly acknowledging the codenames of these projects, without discussing their operations at all, was deemed a great security risk.

These included documents about the nuclear capabilities of another country, military attacks by a foreign country, the military capabilities of a foreign country, the timeline and details of an attack in a foreign country, the regional military activity of a foreign country, the military activity of foreign countries and the United States, and military activity in a foreign country.

And as sensitive as the subjects of those documents are, what was really put at risk by our former commander-in-chief were the nation’s most sensitive activities and information derived from them.

Broadly defined in Executive Order 13526, which governs classification, an SAP is “a program established for a specific class of classified information that imposes safeguarding and access requirements exceeding those normally required for information at the same classification level.” These are programs or activities so sensitive they require enhanced safeguards and the strictest access requirements. Even those who go through the arduous and sometimes years-long process of obtaining a Top Secret clearance often require additional security adjudication for to gain access to SAPs. Details of SAPs are usually limited to the bare minimum number of people with a “need to know.” Some are divided into several compartments with individuals given access only to those compartments requiring their expertise or knowledge; only a select few—a dozen or so, maybe fewer—might have access to the totality of the SAP.


June 26, 2023

703 Ways Trump's Mar-a-Lago Conduct Bears No Resemblance to Hillary Clinton's Emails


“When caught, Hillary [Clinton] then deleted and acid washed ... 33,000 emails in defiance of a congressional subpoena already launched,” ex-President Donald Trump lamented on the evening after his federal arraignment on 37 counts of willful retention of national defense information, obstruction of justice, and false statements. “There’s never been obstruction as grave as that. . . . Hillary Clinton broke the law and she didn’t get indicted.”

“Is there a different standard for a Democratic secretary of state versus a former Republican president?” asked Florida governor and Republican presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis shortly after news of Trump’s classified-documents indictment broke. “I think there needs to be one standard of justice in this country.”

Many Republicans who know in their guts that, as I will establish in this piece, Trump’s conduct is palpably different from Clinton’s are publicly encouraging the corrosive myth that a double standard has been applied in the indictment of one and the non-prosecution of the other. Here’s Sen. Lindsey Graham doing just that on ABC’s This Week earlier this month: “Most Republicans believe we live in a country where Hillary Clinton did very similar things and nothing happened to her.” Note that Graham didn’t say that he believed we live in that world. Yet he managed to leave the impression that he was sympathetic to that view and that Republicans who held it were justified in doing so.

Even Fox News chief political analyst Brit Hume, while voicing concerns about Trump’s conduct, did a version of the “many-Republicans-believe” dodge recently:

At the same time, of course, . . . we’re going to hear an awful lot about the unequal application of justice from [Trump’s] defenders and perhaps from his defense team in light of the way in particularly the Hillary Clinton case was handled, where she was, where James Comey, then FBI director, had conducted an investigation of her handling of material at her home in New York and outlined a case that he said could be brought but shouldn’t be. He didn’t dispute her guilt.


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