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Archive for May 2nd, 2019

The Catastrophic Performance of Bill Barr

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Benjamin Wittes, Editor in chief of Lawfare and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, writes in the Atlantic:

I was willing to give Bill Barr a chance. Consider me burned.

When Barr was nominated, I wrote a cautious piece for this magazine declining to give him “a character reference” and acknowledging “legitimate reasons to be concerned about [his] nomination,” but nonetheless concluding that “I suspect that he is likely as good as we’re going to get. And he might well be good enough. Because most of all, what the department needs right now is honest leadership that will insulate it from the predations of the president.”

When he wrote his first letter to Congress announcing the principal conclusions of the Mueller report, I wrote another piece saying, “For the next two weeks, let’s give Attorney General William Barr the benefit of the doubt” on the question of releasing the report in a timely and not-too-redacted fashion.

I took a lot of criticism for these pieces—particularly the second one, in which I specifically said we should evaluate Barr’s actual performance in regard to releasing the Mueller report, and thus wait for him to act, rather than denouncing him preemptively.

Barr has now acted, and we can now evaluate his actual, rather than his hypothesized, performance.

It has been catastrophic. Not in my memory has a sitting attorney general more diminished the credibility of his department on any subject. It is a kind of trope of political opposition in every administration that the attorney general—whoever he or she is—is politicizing the Justice Department and acting as a defense lawyer for the president. In this case it is true.

Barr has consistently sought to spin his department’s work in a highly political fashion, and he has done so to cast the president’s conduct in the most favorable possible light. Trump serially complained that Jeff Sessions didn’t act to “protect” him. Matthew Whitaker never had the stature or internal clout to do so effectively. In Barr, Trump has found his man.

Ironically, the redactions on the report—the matter on which I urged giving Barr the benefit of the doubt—are the one major area where his performance has been respectable. On this matter, he laid out a time frame for the release of the report. He met it. His redactions, as best as I can tell, were not unreasonable, though they were aggressive in some specific areas. To whatever extent he went overboard, Congress has a far-less-redacted version. The public, in any event, has access to a detailed account of Mueller’s conclusions. On this point, Barr did as he said he would.

Where Barr has utterly failed, by contrast, is in providing “honest leadership that insulates [the department] from the predations of the president.” I confess I am surprised by this. I have never known Barr well, but I thought better of him than that.

The core of the problem is not that Barr moved, as many people worried he would, to suppress the report; it is what he has said about it. I have spent a great deal of time with the Mueller report, about which Barr’s public statements are simply indefensible. The mischaracterizations began in his first letter. They got worse during his press conference the morning he released the document. And they grew worse still yesterday in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Barr did not lie in any of these statements. He did not, as some people insist, commit perjury. I haven’t found a sentence he has written or said that cannot be defended as truthful on its own terms, if only in some literal sense. But it is possible to mislead without lying. One can be dishonest before Congress without perjury. And one can convey sweeping untruths without substantial factual misstatement. This is what Barr has been doing since that first letter. And it is utterly beneath the United States Department of Justice.

The dishonesty only begins with the laughably selective quotation of Mueller’s report in Barr’s original letter, the scope of which Charlie Savage laid out in a remarkable New York Times article shortly after the full report was released. I urge people to look at Savage’s side-by-side quotations. The distortion of Mueller’s meaning across a range of areas is not subtle, and it’s not hard to understand why Mueller himself wrote to Barr saying that the attorney general’s letter “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions.”

Barr, before the Senate yesterday, described the letter as “snitty.” Actually, it was generous. As Paul Rosenzweig summarized the situation on Lawfare, “the excerpts of the report contained in Barr’s original summary letter are at best a favorable spin on the report and at worst a rather transparent effort to mislead the public in advance of the report’s release.”But selective quotation is actually only one of the means by which Barr is misstating Mueller’s findings. Here I want to focus on the substantive content of his mischaracterization of them—that is, not how he is doing it, but what Barr is doing.

As I read them, Barr’s public statements on the report reflect at least seven different layers of substantive misrepresentation, layers which build on one another into a dramatic rewriting of the president’s conduct—and of Mueller’s findings about the president’s conduct. It is worth unpacking and disentangling these misrepresentations, because each is mischievous on its own, but together they operate as a disinformation campaign being run by the senior leadership of the Justice Department.

The first element is Barr’s repeated conflation of that which Mueller has deemed to be not provable to the exacting standards of criminal law with that which is not true at all or for which there is no evidence. Mueller determined that the evidence “did not establish” Trump-campaign participation in a criminal conspiracy with the Russians to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. Mueller also makes clear that when his report describes that “the investigation did not establish particular facts,” this “does not mean there was no evidence of those facts.”

Yet Barr frequently talks as though Mueller found nothing of concern with respect to the underlying conduct on the part of the Trump campaign. “So that is the bottom line,” Barr said at his press conference. “After nearly two years of investigation, thousands of subpoenas, and hundreds of warrants and witness interviews, the special counsel confirmed that the Russian government sponsored efforts to illegally interfere with the 2016 presidential election but did not find that the Trump campaign or other Americans colluded in those schemes.”

Barr began his next sentence with, “After finding no underlying collusion with Russia …” Note his shift. In the first iteration, Barr is describing—accurately, if generously—that Mueller “did not find” something. By the second, however, he has pivoted to imply that Mueller found it didn’t happen. Barr vacillates in his public statements frequently from such careful, lawyerly descriptions of what Mueller did not find or establish to sweeping statements of vindication for Trump and his campaign.

The text of the Mueller report leads me to suspect that Mueller does not share Barr’s cavalier attitude toward the voluminous contacts between Russians and Trump-campaign figures and the positive enthusiasm for, and pursuit of, hacked emails on the part of the campaign. Had Mueller found no evidence of conspiracy, rather than insufficient evidence, he would have said so.

Barr’s second sleight of hand—also visible in the quotations above—is rendering the absence of a criminal-conspiracy charge as reflecting an active finding of “no collusion.” These two are very different matters. Conspiracy is a criminal charge. Collusion is a colloquial claim about history. Yet Barr, at his press conference, actually said that “there was in fact no collusion.” He used the phrase no collusion over and over. He even described it as the investigation’s “bottom line.”

In other words, Barr is not merely translating the absence of sufficient evidence for charges into a crime’s not taking place; he is translating the crime’s not taking place into an absence of misconduct in a more colloquial sense. He is also using the president’s specific talking point in doing so. This pair of mischaracterizations has the effect of transforming Trump into an innocent man falsely accused.

Barr amplifies this transformation with his third layer of misrepresentation: his adoption of Trump’s “spying” narrative, which states that there was something improper about the FBI’s scrutiny of campaign figures who had bizarre contacts with Russian-government officials or intermediaries. Barr has not specified precisely what he believes here, but yesterday’s Senate hearing was the second congressional hearing at which he implied darkly that the FBI leadership under James Comey had engaged in some kind of improper surveillance of the Trump campaign. In other words, not only is the president an innocent man falsely accused, but he’s now the victim of “spying on a political campaign”—as Barr put it a few weeks ago—by a biased cabal running the FBI.

To evaluate these allegations, we will have to await a forthcoming inspector general’s report on the matter. And Barr has promised some kind of review of his own as well. Suffice it for the present to say that I have seen no evidence to support these suggestions, which imply a kind of politically motivated “witch hunt” against Trump. Again, Barr is supporting political tweeting points of the president.

And here’s the fourth layer of misrepresentation. Barr has repeatedly insisted that our long-suffering president fully cooperated with the investigation, notwithstanding its illegitimate birth and the fact that there was nothing to any of the allegations it investigated. “The White House fully cooperated with the special counsel’s investigation, providing unfettered access to campaign and White House documents, directing senior aides to testify freely, and asserting no privilege claims,” he said at his press conference.

I suspect this would also come as a surprise to Mueller, who might point out that Trump tried to get witnesses not to cooperate—dangling pardons and seeming to threaten their families with investigation if they “flipped.” Mueller might point out that Trump tried to fire Mueller for conflicts that his own staff regarded as “silly” and “ridiculous.” Mueller might point out that Trump tried to rein in his jurisdiction, limiting him to the investigation of future electoral interference. Mueller might point out that Trump refused to sit for an interview and, even in written answers, refused to address questions concerning allegations of obstruction of justice. I say “might,” but Mueller actually didpoint all these things out in his report. Ignoring this reflects an astonishing conception of cooperation from the nation’s top prosecutor.

Fifth, it is on the collective back of these prior misrepresentations that Barr rests his particularly generous interpretation of intent in considering questions of obstruction. It is hard to read Mueller’s account of the president’s conduct as reflecting chiefly noncorrupt motives. But if you first adopt the fiction that the investigative subject is an innocent man falsely accused and being pursued by politically motivated FBI agents engaged in improper “spying,” and that he is nonetheless endeavoring in good faith to cooperate with his prosecutors, that does change the lens through which you look at his conduct. One might then indeed tend toward forgiving interpretations of the occasional eruption of anger.

One might then find, as Barr did in Mueller’s report, “substantial evidence … that the President was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks.” And one might then find that evidence of such “non-corrupt motives weighs heavily against any allegation that the President had a corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation.” The trouble is that if you don’t first adopt these conceits, the weight of the evidence Mueller cites on intent really doesn’t push in that direction. It pushes in exactly the opposite direction.

Barr adopts, sixth, a related mode of obfuscation with respect to obstruction, which is to . . .

Continue reading. There’s more that’s important.

Written by Leisureguy

2 May 2019 at 1:39 pm

TurboTax and H&R Block Saw Free Tax Filing as a Threat — and Gutted It

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Justin Elliott and Paul Kiel report in ProPublica:

Despite signing a deal with the IRS that pledged they would help tens of millions of Americans file taxes for free, tax software giants Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, and H&R Block instead deliberately hid the free option and actively steered customers into paid products, according to an internal document and five current and former employees of the companies.

H&R Block explicitly instructs its customer service staff to push people away from its free offering, according to internal guidance obtained by ProPublica.

“Do not send clients to this Web Site unless they are specifically calling about the Free File program,” the guidance states, referring to the site with the company’s free option. “We want to send users to our paid products before the free product, if at all possible.”

Steering customers away from TurboTax’s truly free option is a “purposeful strategy,” said a former midlevel Intuit employee. For people who find TurboTax through a search engine or an online ad, “the landing page would direct you through a product flow that the company wanted to ensure would not make you aware of Free File.”

When the Free File program launched 16 years ago, it was extolled as the best sort of collaboration between government and private enterprise. With little cost to the IRS, the huge companies that dominate online tax preparation would help millions of Americans file their taxes for free. Intuit and the industry have spent millions lobbying to make the Free File program permanent because it contains a noncompete provision that restricts the IRS from creating its own free, online filing system.

But privately, the free filing option is seen for what it is: a threat to the companies’ profits.

So the companies had to strike a delicate balance: They wanted to preserve their arrangement with the IRS to ward off government competition, but then they also sought to make sure the program didn’t recruit too many customers who actually got something for free.

The companies set out to convert people who qualify for the program into paying customers. Sure enough, use of the Free File program has collapsed. Soon after it was launched in 2003, more than 5 million Americans filed their taxes for free. Now it’s about half as many, according to the latest IRS data.

The industry has also succeeded in fending off a pair of grave dangers: the prospect of the government either creating its own easy online filing system or offering tax returns pre-filled with data the IRS already has, a practice common in other countries.

Now Intuit and H&R Block could be dealt a setback. A bill that would codify the Free File program, which passed the House last month, has stalled in the Senate after ProPublica reported that the companies were making it more difficult for people to find their Free File websites by hiding them from search engines.

Both companies employ similar tactics: They lure customers in with products advertised as “free” but that upsell them to paid products — or hit them with surprise charges.

At Intuit, “The entire strategy is make sure people read the word ‘free’ and click our site and never use” an actually free product, the former midlevel employee said. In reality, TurboTax’s Free Edition guides many people to a product that costs them money. It’s only free for people with the simplest tax situations. The “vast majority of people who click that will not pay $0,” the former employee said.

Only a small portion of taxpayers, under 3 million a year, find their way to the program, far below the 100 million who actually qualify. The program is open to anyone who makes under $66,000. The IRS, meanwhile, continues to tout the program as a success, despite its decline. Internal IRS documents show agency officials unconcerned that tens of millions of taxpayers have been drawn to other “free” options.

In statements in response to questions from ProPublica, Intuit and H&R Blockboth said they were “proud” of the Free File program and cited the fact that millions of taxpayers have used it. They did not specifically address the employee accounts. Intuit’s spokesman said the company “created and paid for 17 marketing initiatives … to raise awareness and educate taxpayers about the IRS Free File program.” He specifically pointed to a press release on about the program “syndicated through AOL at our expense to drive awareness.”

The H&R Block spokeswoman said the company’s Free File offering grew 8.3% this year, and “we have updated our search practices to make H&R Block’s Free File offer even easier to find.”

An IRS spokesman said the agency “continues to support the Free File program.”

At Intuit, it’s an open secret within the company that helping customers find the Free File program would be bad for business.

One former marketing employee recalled a May 2017 meeting of a marketing team at TurboTax’s San Diego headquarters. The tax filing season had just ended, and a dozen or so staffers up to the senior manager level were brainstorming. A new employee proposed that customers going through TurboTax’s interview-style filing process who were found to be eligible for Free File get a “hard recommendation” — essentially a pop-up window — to be routed to the truly free product.

The response? Laughter, according to the former employee. The meeting quickly moved on.

“They have ways of detecting if you’re paying too much, but they just don’t do it,” the former staffer said.

As a result, many people end up paying TurboTax even though they could have filed for free. The company won’t say how many people this is, but it is likely in the millions. Dozens of taxpayers have contacted ProPublica to tell their stories of being charged by TurboTax despite the fact that they earned under $34,000 a year, qualifying them for TurboTax’s Free File product. An 87-year-old retiree with a gross income of $11,000, for example, was charged $124.98 to file with TurboTax. . .

Continue reading.

There’s much more. It’s bad to have corporations run the country.

Written by Leisureguy

2 May 2019 at 12:40 pm

Employer Health Insurance Is Getting Worse and Worse

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Kevin Drum writes at Mother Jones:

Republicans have long championed high-deductible health plans, and it looks like they’re getting their wish. Employer coverage, long considered the gold standard among health insurance plans, has undergone a revolution over the past decade [see chart above – LG]

The LA Times teamed up with Kaiser to conduct a poll that examines the effect this has had:

The explosion in cost-sharing is endangering patients’ health as millions, including those with serious illnesses, skip care….Half said costs had forced them or a close family member to delay a doctor’s appointment, not fill a prescription or postpone some other medical care in the previous year….Hardest hit in the cost shift are lower-income workers and those with serious medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer — who are more than twice as likely as healthier workers, according to the Times/KFF poll, to report problems paying medical bills and to say they’ve cut back on spending for food, clothing and other household items.

Here in California, the maximum allowed deductible for a standard silver-level Obamacare plan is $2,500. For an enhanced Silver 87 plan it’s $650. In other words, employer insurance is no longer much better than Obamacare, and in some cases worse. And if you qualify for subsidies, it might even be cheaper.

Now tell me again why Americans are dead set against ever giving up their employer insurance and moving to Medicare for All?

Written by Leisureguy

2 May 2019 at 11:53 am

Education and understanding evolution

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A Quora question led me down a rabbit hole, and I ended up creating a spreadsheet that lists by state the percentage who deny the fact of evolution and also the amount spent per pupil on instruction. Obviously, these figures are crude and do not, for example, take into account per-state differences in cost of living and the like.

Still, it did provide two arrays, and so I calculated the linear correlation (Pearson r) between them: -56%. While that’s not a terribly strong correlation, it does indicate that spending more money per pupil on education correlates to a lower incidence of evolution denial. (I imagine Creationists would phrase this as “spending more on propaganda increases the number of persons deluded. 🙂 )

Written by Leisureguy

2 May 2019 at 10:45 am

Posted in Education, Evolution

“Get Out While You Can”

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Rosie Gray reports in BuzzFeed News:

If you remember Katie McHugh, it’s probably because of the tweets.

A short selection: “British settlers built the USA. ‘Slaves’ built the country much as cows ‘built’ McDonald’s. Amateur…”

“The only way to strike a balance between vigilance, discrimination, (& terror) is to end Muslim immigration.”

“Funny how Europeans assimilated, unlike Third Worlders demanding welfare while raping, killing Americans.”

There are many more examples, but this is the big one, the one that ultimately triggered her firing from her job as a writer and editor at Breitbart News in 2017: “There would be no deadly terror attacks in the U.K. if Muslims didn’t live there.”

If you look at her Twitter feed now, you’ll see that it’s changed. It’s locked, and her bio is blank. Where is McHugh? I can’t tell you, but I’ve seen her lately. The first time we met was late last summer, on the stoop of a house where she was then living in Washington, DC. She looked gaunt and anxious. When I shook her hand, it felt tiny and frail. We sat facing each other across a patio table on a hot, sticky day. She smoked.

I didn’t know what to make of her. This was someone whom I’d known to be a bigot, someone who freely threw around the “cuck” slur and who represented the kind of ideology I have devoted much of my career so far to explaining and exposing. It was a little over a year after Charlottesville. The bad things from the internet had started to come to life, with terrible, violent, and real consequences. It was bizarre to see in person someone who had existed for me only as an online symbol of the very worst parts of contemporary politics.

She was saying she wanted to leave it all behind: her years as a far-right media figure and tweeter, and someone who close observers of right-wing media knew was one of Breitbart’s most obvious connections to the white supremacist core of the alt-right. McHugh had dated Kevin DeAnna, the founder of Youth for Western Civilization, a now-defunct right-wing campus youth group that billed itself as promoting “the survival of Western Civilization and pride in Western heritage,” but was entwined with the white nationalist movement; Jared Taylor, the self-described “white advocate” founder of American Renaissance, once fundraised for the group. Her disparaging tweets about people of color and Muslims made her stand out even at Steve Bannon’s Breitbart, which had launched Milo Yiannopoulos’s career, had featured a “black crime” tag for stories, and had been described by Bannon himself as a “platform for the alt-right.”

After McHugh’s public dismissal, she had gone on to briefly contract for infamous troll Charles C. Johnson’s GotNews site. That didn’t work out, either. A difficult relationship had left her isolated, and she was on the outs with her former friends. She was going broke and could barely afford the expenses incurred by her Type 1 diabetes. Her time in Washington had ruined her life, and not in just a bump-in-the-road kind of way. She had been to a place you couldn’t really come back from.

She wasn’t sure about going on the record but later decided to. I met her again in September in a town a few hours outside of Washington where she was staying. As I approached her in a coffee shop on a Monday morning, she looked well enough. Her makeup was neatly applied, her nails were painted, and she was wearing a navy-and-white dress with coordinating white cardigan and loafers. Her skin had previously looked mottled and gray but now shone with a new vitality. She shook my hand with a firm grip and we started talking.

Her story is fascinating, and sometimes frustrating. She wishes she had never said the things she’s said or did the things she’s done, but when I first met her, she still insisted that they were often jokes gone wrong, and that, on some level, she’d said these things because she’d been egged on by others. She seemed unable to face her full complicity in her own behavior. Unlike Derek Black, the son of Stormfront founder Don Black and to date one of the most significant defectors from the white nationalist movement — he’s even the subject of a recent book by the Washington Post’s Eli Saslow — McHugh wasn’t raised in the movement. Although Black represented the old guard of white nationalism — his godfather is David Duke — McHugh was part of the vanguard. Her set took the emerging own-the-libs ethos that animated the online right and combined it with the new iteration of white nationalism, which called itself the alt-right.

Where was McHugh radicalized? Her story is about support systems and pipelines. It’s about how an angry young conservative with reactionary views got herself involved with a small coterie of ideologues in Washington and prepped for a conservative media career in the crucial years before the rise of Donald Trump, as extremism became more popular on the right and as people could optimize themselves for success through attention on social media. It’s about how the organizations she worked for either turned a blind eye to or were genuinely ignorant of the fact that one of their young stars was leading a double life among hardcore racist activists. And it’s about how the cultlike atmosphere of the so-called alt-right helped people make more and more harmful decisions.

Her story is also about something that has ended. The events she described to me took place mostly between 2013 and 2017, a span of time in which the alt-right rose and fell dramatically as it attempted to go mainstream. “There was a move to have people in the system who were our guys, so to speak,” said Richard Spencer, the white nationalist leader who has made himself the poster boy for the alt-right. “I think that’s failed on a number of levels.” All they’d gotten, he said, were “just a lot of people who just hang out in the conservative movement and don’t accomplish anything.”

But the legacy of this period — the racism, the spread of white nationalist ideas online, and the murder in Charlottesville — will affect American politics for a long time to come.

“I take responsibility for all my actions,” McHugh says now. “Everything I said that was terrible was my fault.” She says she knows she was a racist. She says that she has changed. And she’s ready to tell everything she knows.

In the spring of 2011, Katie McHugh was a student at Allegheny College. She grew up in western Pennsylvania and was attending the region’s oldest private college but wanted to make it to Washington and join the conservative movement. She was a quiet young woman who hadn’t ventured very far from where she’d grown up. Her reading had taken her to some unusual places, however, for a young person.

She’d become a devotee of Joe Sobran, the late Catholic columnist who was firedfrom National Review after falling out with William F. Buckley and whose writings deeply influenced the paleoconservative movement, which emphasizes nationalism and noninterventionism. Over the course of his career, Sobran’s writing on Israel and Jews became extreme, and he associated with Holocaust deniers and questioned Holocaust history. McHugh had liked Ron Paul, for whom she was slightly too young to vote in 2008, so a friend at church had told her to read Sobran’s “The Reluctant Anarchist.” In the piece, written in 2002, Sobran describes how he moved away from the ideology of mainstream conservatism and toward becoming a “philosophical anarchist.” Sobran opposed the concept of the state as a unifying force of government; he opposed the very idea of so-called constitutional government. The argument made sense to the budding young libertarian in Pennsylvania. “That was my step into the right,” she said. “I think I’ve read every single thing Sobran’s ever written.” Sobran’s death was also her introduction to even farther-right media; when he died in 2010, her online search for obituaries led her to the VDare and American Renaissance websites, she said.

By the time she arrived at Allegheny, things were changing on the right. The victory of the first black president — an unapologetic liberal with roots in the community organizing so hated by conservatives — had catalyzed a shift on the right toward conspiracy theories, a penchant for victimhood, and an increasing emphasis on winning at all costs. On Allegheny’s small 2,000-student campus, McHugh said, “I made it more difficult on myself by being a raging conservative.”

She felt herself on the wrong side of a class divide. Allegheny’s students seemed wealthy; she wasn’t. She couldn’t join a sorority because she couldn’t afford the dues, she said. Her sense of outsiderness gave her a bold pen, and she was already going to extremes. She published reactionary opinion pieces for the campus newspaper, such as one arguing that the “homosexual movement, a liberal sub–faction, proliferates like melanoma.” “I could have tempered my message, things like that,” she told me. But she didn’t.

In 2011 she applied for an internship with the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS), a nonprofit connected to George Mason University that promotes “classical liberalism” and libertarianism on college campuses and grants fellowships to students.

“I reviewed your application,” wrote John Elliott, the program’s director at the time, in an email to her in February of that year. “You are the first applicant to ever list Joe Sobran as an influence. Joe was a friend. He had the same influence on me. I was delighted to find a young journalist who has profited from his work.”

Elliott wrote that he had moved her to the second round and that they would arrange a phone interview. He also offered some advice: “Reporting on student council meetings or power outages may not be as ‘fun’ as a column. But it will teach you the skills to find a job in journalism and eventually write the columns.” Elliott placed McHugh in an internship at the Daily Caller. It was under this aegis that McHugh went to Washington as a cub reporter for the first time.

“John essentially selected me to come to DC as part of the libertarian–alt-right pipeline,” McHugh said of Elliott.

“I chose Katie to mentor as a libertarian, not as a member of the ‘alt-right,’” Elliott said in an email. “The ‘alt-right’ didn’t exist in 2011, and I’ve had no connection with the ‘alt-right’ since it was invented. I tried to be a mentor and a friend to Katie for a decade, even as she went down some of the dark paths of those fringe groups. But her decision to go down those paths had nothing to do with me. I truly feel bad for her.”

When she returned to school, she successfully made some noise as a campus journalist, getting her first taste of the conflict and controversy that would define her career. In 2013 she wrote a story for the College Fix, a campus conservative site, about how a sex-education seminar titled “I Heart the Female Orgasm” had been held in the school’s chapel. The story caused a stir and briefly entered the bloodstream of the conservative media.

So she was well prepared for the kind of work that was the coin of the realm for a young journalist trying to make it on the right during Barack Obama’s second term. She couldn’t wait to leave college. “Andrew Breitbart described his undergraduate degree as his release papers from prison,” she said. “That’s how I looked at my degree.”

McHugh already had a job waiting for her. According to her, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a college conservative group, gave her a $20,000 fellowship to work at the Daily Caller, the then-fledgling conservative news site founded by Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel. The Caller added $10,000. Famously, Carlson had given a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in 2009 about how conservatives needed to create a true alternative to the mainstream media by producing accurate journalism and modeling themselves after the New York Times. Carlson had a polyglot vision for his outlet, and the leadership of the Daily Caller cultivated a laissez-faire attitude toward its culture, which helped the Caller produce journalists from all over the spectrum; some have gone on to well-regarded mainstream or conservative outlets and launched successful careers. But others have veered much further toward the fringe.

McHugh was at the Caller for about 10 months. This kind of arrangement has for decades been a common way of launching a career in Washington. Nonprofits all over the ideological spectrum fund journalism internships and fellowships for a variety of outlets. There’s nothing out of the ordinary about it at all, which contributed to McHugh’s ability to fly under the radar.

Concurrently, she began dating Kevin DeAnna. The two met in July 2013, according to McHugh, at a going-away party in Alexandria, Virginia, for a mutual friend leaving a conservative group. Her double life was already developing because of her relationship with DeAnna and her connection to Elliott, who invited her to a dinner with the British Holocaust denier David Irving in 2013.

“David irving is in Washington. I had lunch with him in the Archives. He is speaking at 6:30 near Du Pont Circle. Are you interested?” Elliott wrote to her in an email in November 2013. (It was the first of three dinners she would attend with Irving over the course of her time in DC, though she claims she did not know who he was before the first one. Elliott, in an email, said he’d met Irving when he worked as a researcher and attended dinner with him because he’s “interesting and controversial,” not because Elliott endorses his views.) A group of committed fans attended these dinners, held at the Nage restaurant, when Irving passed through DC. People would ask pop history–type questions about Hitler, like whether he had one testicle, was gay, or had syphilis. McHugh says she mostly wanted to ask about Irving’s research into Nazi Germany’s attempt to develop the atom bomb.

“I was a white nationalist,” McHugh told me in a recent text message. “I wasn’t completely aligned with Irving’s anti-Semitism, but I was compelled to his ideas for the wrong reasons. Ideas which now horrify me.”

In December 2013, she corresponded with Chuck Ross, a blogger who freelanced at the Caller and later went on to a staff job at the Caller. At the time, Ross mused on his blog about politics and current affairs; years later, he apologized for the blog’s racism and misogyny. The exchange with Ross that McHugh provided me shows how brazen she was at the time. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

An interesting passage late in the article:

. . . McHugh thinks of her time in the alt-right like St. Augustine’s famous story about stealing pears in his Confessions — driven by seeking what others hated, alone in the world, but together. Augustine wrote: “A pear tree there was near our vineyard, laden with fruit, tempting neither for colour nor taste. To shake and rob this, some lewd young fellows of us went, late one night … and took huge loads, not for our eating, but to fling to the very hogs, having only tasted them.”

Augustine confesses to God that he had been “gratuitously evil, having no temptation to ill, but the ill itself”: “It was foul, and I loved it; I loved to perish, I loved mine own fault, not that for which I was faulty, but my fault itself. Foul soul, falling from Thy firmament to utter destruction: not seeking aught through the shame, but the shame itself!”

This titillating group shame is what McHugh thinks motivated her and the rest of the alt-right. And it allowed them to keep going even in the face of overwhelming social opprobrium.

“They indulge in negative social rituals, and that’s how their ties are bound tighter and tighter together,” she said. “By repeating these negative social rituals, they build tighter bonds with each other over ideology and shared experience. That’s why it’s hard for a lot of people to break out because they mistake these people for their friends.” Like the Wolves of Vinland, carrying on their bizarre playacting in the Virginia woods, the members of the alt-right are bound to one another in ways that make walking away daunting.

No one can be totally alone. Even if you’re hated by the majority of people, if you have kindred spirits cheering you on in the minority, you can survive. McHugh might have gone on longer if she hadn’t become toxic not only to the wider world but also to her alt-right former friends. In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt writes about the way the lonely deduce the worst, and the way that totalitarian government “bases itself on loneliness, on the experience of not belonging to the world at all, which is among the most radical and desperate experiences of man. …What makes loneliness so unbearable is the loss of one’s own self which can be realized in solitude, but confirmed in its identity only by the trusting and trustworthy company of my equals.” White nationalism thrives on the loneliness of the disaffected; McHugh’s own loneliness aided her escape — but with the help of the two friends. . .

Written by Leisureguy

2 May 2019 at 10:03 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Media, Politics

Barr Has Protected Trump. His Next Step Is to Smear His Opponents.

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Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

Over the last 24 hours, two events took place that will probably loom very large over the next 18 months. The first was an exchange between Senator Kamala Harris and Attorney General William Barr at a hearing yesterday. “Attorney General Barr, has the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone?” asked Harris. Barr stammered, asked Harris to repeat the quite simple question, and then began parsing. “I’m trying to grapple with the word ‘suggest,’” he told Harris. “I mean, there have been discussions of matters out there that they have not asked me to open an investigation, but …” before trailing off ominously.

The second is a strange, somewhat convoluted but highly significant reportthat appeared last night in the New York Times. The story simultaneously reports on efforts by Trump loyalists to gin up dirt Joe Biden and Ukraine, while also conveying the dirt itself. Put aside the substance of the reporting for a moment; what matters is that this is a bright flashing signal of where Barr’s fearsome powers may be directed next.

Trump has always demanded an attorney general who will act as his personal sword and shield. In Trump’s highly transparent mind, the two roles are inextricably linked. He is almost incapable of proclaiming his own innocence without immediately segueing to the alleged guilt of his enemies. He must be cleared, and his rivals must be investigated.

The Mueller report’s section on Trump’s many attempts to get the Department of Justice off his back incidentally describes his repeated efforts to sic it on his rivals. The president’s frustration with Attorney General Jeff Sessions consisted in almost equal measure his recusal from the Russia probe and his failure to follow through on Trump’s promises to lock up his opponents.

Sessions did not refuse Trump’s demand altogether — he simply dissolved them into pro forma bureaucratic measures. In November 2017, he ordered up a review of the department’s handling of the Russia investigation and various accusations against Clinton. Sessions asked the U.S. Attorney in Utah, John Huber, to look into Trump’s allegations.

Apparently these activities were little more than spinning of wheels in an effort to placate Trump with the appearance of activity. But it’s hardly safe to assume that he can be put off in this fashion forever. Trump fired Sessions and replaced him with an attorney general who has given every appearance of satisfying Trump’s demands. Trump “has told those around him that, after being disappointed by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, he has found an attorney general loyal to him,” reports the Associated Press, in one of the more chilling lines to appear in the news in some time.

One direction the loyal AG is obviously heading is yet another investigation into the origins of the Russia probe. At Barr’s hearing, Republican senators devoted most of their time to repeating wild allegations about the Russia investigation as deep state coup. The FBI has become in the right-wing mind “unelected progressive elites” nefariously seeking to reverse the 2016 election out of pure coastal elitist hatred for Trump and his voters. Barr has promised more counter-investigations of the FBI’s investigation of Trump. At both this hearing and the previous one, Barr — who has maintained a studious neutrality about Trump’s multiple demonstrated offenses — casually prejudged the outcome, telling Congress the FBI’s conduct disturbed him.

A second direction for Barr’s investigatory powers is now coming into view. As Hillary Clinton’s value as a foil has receded, Trump has taken aim at the candidate he sees as his most likely and formidable threat: Joe Biden. The new Times story describes both the connections between Biden and Ukraine, and Trumpworld’s efforts to criminalize them.

The evidence for the former is extant, but thin: Hunter Biden has legally but somewhat sleazily traded on his father’s name through various investment and consulting arrangements. One of those dealt with Ukraine, which involved his father during the Obama presidency, because Biden senior demanded the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor who “had been accused of turning a blind eye to corruption in his own office and among the political elite.” It happens that this corrupt prosecutor had targeted a client of Hunter Biden’s. That is a conflict of interest, though Joe Biden’s only “crime” was opposing a corrupt figure who his administration would and should have opposed anyway.

The far greater evidence of misconduct lies in the other half of the story. The Trump administration is pressuring Ukraine to advance the case specifically in order to smear Biden. Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s attorney of sorts, has discussed the case with both the ousted Ukrainian prosecutor and his successor. “He met with the current prosecutor multiple times in New York this year,” reports the Times. “The current prosecutor general later told associates that, during one of the meetings, Mr. Giuliani called Mr. Trump excitedly to brief him on his findings, according to people familiar with the conversations.”

The context for this revelation is another story the Times broke last year, and oddly fails to mention in its latest report. That story revealed that  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

2 May 2019 at 8:09 am

NY AG Letitia James is going to crush Trump (and other wrongdoers as well)

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Reid Wilson reports in the Hill:

President Trump has a new and powerful rival in Letitia James, the first woman and the first African American to serve as New York’s attorney general.

In just four months, James (D) has emerged as one of the most aggressive and ambitious litigators in the country.

She’s filed suit against or launched investigations into some of the most dominant special interests in the country, from the opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma and its owners the Sackler family to the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Facebook.

And she has made clear, from the campaign trail to the courtroom, that she is coming for Trump next.

In recent weeks, James’s office has sought bank records relating to the Trump Organization and its affiliates. She has continued a lawsuit brought by her predecessor against the now-defunct Trump Foundation, alleging violations of federal and state laws governing nonprofits.

Her office has joined or spearheaded some of the dozens of lawsuits against the Trump administration’s most controversial plans, including efforts to add a new question on citizenship status to the 2020 census and a plan to build a wall along the border with Mexico.

“As the next attorney general of [Trump’s] home state, I will be shining a bright light into every dark corner of his real estate dealings, and every dealing, demanding truthfulness at every turn,” James said in November.

Trump has noticed. In a December tweet, he said James “openly campaigned on a GET TRUMP agenda.”

James, 60, offers a striking contrast to her fellow New Yorker. Trump is the wealthy scion of a real estate development baron; James, who has six siblings, is the daughter of a maintenance man and customer service representative who defied her father’s wishes that she marry a plumber and put herself through Howard University School of Law.

She started her legal career as a public defender, and later as New York’s public advocate she filed lawsuits against landlords for allegedly violating tenant rights.

Her résumé is packed with firsts. She became the first third-party candidate to win a seat on the New York City Council in three decades, when she won a special election on the Working Families Party line in 2003. She became the first black woman to win citywide office, this time as a Democrat, and then the first African American and the first woman to win the attorney general’s office, in 2018.

“Tish is fearless, and Tish feels compelled by a higher calling. She doesn’t really, I suspect, care who the enemy is,” said Christine Quinn, a longtime ally who served as Speaker of the City Council during James’s time in office.

James was traveling Wednesday and unavailable to comment.

In a city and state beset by political corruption, James has fashioned herself as a reformer. She led an investigation into the New York Department of Sanitation after the department botched the response to a major snowstorm; the city’s snowplows now come equipped with GPS units.

After winning citywide office, she filed more lawsuits than all three of her predecessors combined. In the process, she clashed with both Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) and his more liberal successor, Mayor Bill de Blasio(D).

“She’s independent,” Quinn said. “She’s going to inform you of what she’s going to do.”

James had planned to run for mayor once de Blasio’s term expires in 2021. But she saw an opening instead in Albany, when Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) resigned amid allegations he had abused several women. (Schneiderman was not charged.) James defeated two other well-known Democrats to win the nomination, and she cruised to election in November.

Now, James sits atop one of the most powerful attorneys general offices in the country, a perch from which she can both join or lead lawsuits against the administration and cast a wide investigative net — including into Trump, his businesses and his former foundation.

The New York attorney general’s office “has broad statutory authority, and it’s the cop on the beat for some of the most important industries in the world that are located in New York City,” said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), who ran against James in the primary and calls her a friend.

To her critics, James’s attentions are misplaced. Rather than focusing on Trump, some Republicans say, she should be focused more on Albany, where a parade of public officials have traded pinstripes for prison stripes.

“She promised to be a far-left attorney general, and she’s making good on that promise. Most people in this state, however, wish she would focus her attention on [Gov.] Andrew Cuomo rather than Donald Trump,” said Joseph Borelli, a Republican member of New York’s City Council. “This state has a rampant problem with political corruption, and to make your focus on a man 500 miles away in Washington when there are ample targets that the attorney general of New York should be looking at is a cause for concern.”

James showed off her power in March, when her office filed suit against Purdue Pharma, makers of the opioid OxyContin, and the Sackler family itself. The suit alleges the Sacklers transferred millions of dollars to overseas accounts, shielding those assets from litigation as investigators prepared to sue over the fast-growing opioid epidemic.

In a statement, Purdue Pharma accused James of trying cases “in the court of public opinion rather than the justice system.”

James has made an unexpected impact in national politics, too. On the campaign trail, she pledged to investigate the NRA’s tax-exempt status. After she won the Democratic primary, the NRA began an audit, in anticipation of the potential investigation.

That audit led to a legal battle between  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Now SHE is a public servant. Wish we had more like her.

Written by Leisureguy

2 May 2019 at 7:34 am

Kamala Harris exposes AG Barr for the incompetent hack he is

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Written by Leisureguy

2 May 2019 at 7:10 am

Coffee shave

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Mama Bear’s Turkish Mocha made that splendid Mama Bear lather with the Mühle 2nd-generation synthetic. I really like this Wolfman Razors handle, so I moved it to the Charcoal head (an EJ clone) so I would have more chances to use it. (The iKon Shavecraft Short Comb has been moved to the back of the drawer.) Three passes, no nicks, perfect smoothness, and then a splash of Spring-Heeled Jack. A great start to the day.

And here’s a bush of blue from Finnerty Gardens:

Written by Leisureguy

2 May 2019 at 7:07 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

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