Tag Archives: politics

Making Your Own Appointment to Die

At the Walrus, Dave Cameron profiles David Forsee, a man with a fatal lung disease called Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF), who chose to end his life under Canada’s right to die legislation. As his time diminishes, Forsee and his friends and caregivers struggle to be at peace with the choice he made and the time he has left.

Forsee says he’s trying to be “conscious of being curmudgeonly,” but he can’t deny that dying, and the ipf in particular, has made him impatient with small talk. In his prime, he rarely hurried a thought, and in his illness he can’t afford to. “It’s not always necessary to fill the air with empty words,” he once scolded Ollmann during a drop-in.

Truman again appears at Forsee’s back. “It’s strange, rooting for someone to be able to die,” she says. “He could be with us, cognizant, for a couple more months, but it’s not up to us.”

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The Colorblind Whitewashers of American History

Law professor and critical race theorist Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, writing in The Baffler, considers the elections of Barack Obama and Donald Trump, and the way that  declarations of America as “post-racial” or “colorblind” serve to diminish our history of racial violence. To those who understand Obama’s success as owing to his race-neutrality, she offers a sharp rebuke.

In the same way that elite institutions have congratulated themselves as sites where merit flourished, American society held up Barack Obama as conclusive evidence that power is indeed colorblind. Yet Obama’s election proves very little about the triumph of colorblindness either as a tactic for gaining power or as a frame for how it is exercised. In fact, upon closer inspection, the election of Obama supports the opposite inference. Despite the common refrain that Obama made history as the nation’s first post-racial Black candidate, the Obama campaign reflected the ongoing salience of race-consciousness among the electorate, the pundits, and the candidates. Obama’s steadied posture of racial avoidance was actually one of highly selective racial engagement, showcasing the candidate’s talent for deftly navigating the complex terrain of race and emerging with a reassuring tale of individual uplift—a moral, as it happens, best illustrated by the candidate’s own life story. The public image of Obama’s so-called race neutrality masked an intensely race-conscious campaign to counter Obama’s racial deficit on the electoral map. In key swing states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, whites were mobilized to talk about race with other whites to neutralize Obama’s racial disadvantage. Even the celebration of Obama as “race-neutral” was obviously not colorblind, but rather a reflection of the opposite impulse. Voters and pundits of all races engaged in a complex assessment of Obama’s racial performance to determine what kind of Black Obama was going to be.

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What’s The Matter With Texas? How Long Do You Have?

It’s hard to pinpoint the most Texan detail in Lawrence Wright’s magnum opus in the New Yorker on the state’s changing politics. (Seriously, it’s 19,000 words long.) It might be a nighttime hunt for wild pigs, with Democratic lawmakers armed with pistols, wearing cutoff jeans and tennis shoes. Or perhaps it’s the “Poo-Poo Choo-Choo,” a train that shipped toxic sludge from New York City to El Paso in 1991.

For Wright’s purpose, which is to map the permanent shift right — far, far right — of the Texas State Legislature, it would likely be the 2003 redistricting plan, which involved a run to the border, an old fashioned manhunt, and a standoff at a Holiday Inn.

Tom Craddick, an ultra-conservative Republican lawmaker, became the Speaker of the House that year. Spurned by a lifetime of Democratic obstruction, he came up with a plan not just to win elections, but to make winning a foregone conclusion through gerrymandering. The Democrats, faced with a bill that would create a permanent Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, left the state house and hightailed it to Oklahoma.

Under Craddick’s leadership, the Texas legislature began carving historical congressional districts into new fiefdoms. Taking care not to violate Supreme Court guidelines on minority representation, lawmakers jigsawed Texas into shapes that would decisively capture the state for the right.

In May, 2003, the redistricting plan came up for a vote in the Texas House. Fifty-three Democrats, sensing a lethal threat to their party, fled to Oklahoma, denying Craddick a quorum. He locked the capitol chamber, to prevent any more defections, and called out state troopers to hunt down the missing members, who became known as the Killer Ds.

In the midst of this hubbub, Pete Laney, the former speaker, flew his Piper turboprop from the Panhandle to Ardmore, Oklahoma, where he joined his Democratic colleagues at the local Holiday Inn. Someone from DeLay’s office obtained Laney’s flight plan from the Department of Homeland Security by implying that Laney’s plane was overdue to land and might have crashed or been seized by terrorists. Texas troopers and national reporters swarmed into Ardmore. The Democratic faction remained in Oklahoma for four days, until the deadline for considering new legislation had passed. The governor, Rick Perry—by then a stalwart Republican—called a special session for late June, whereupon eleven Democratic state senators decamped to New Mexico. It took two more special sessions to ram the vote through.

It was a successful gambit. So successful that redistricting has become the key tool in elections all over the country, resulting in a Congress with a steadfast and confident Republican majority. So should we watch Texas for what the future will bring? The future, writes Wright, is already here.

Because Texas represents so much of modern America—the South, the West, the plains, the border, the Latino community, the divide between rural areas and cities—what happens here tends to disproportionately affect the rest of the nation. Illinois and New Jersey may be more corrupt, and Kansas and Louisiana more out of whack, but they don’t bear the responsibility of being the future.

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The 1972 Movie of the 1969 Musical, “1776”

There’s no going out on the 4th of July at my house. The evening is allocated to the soothing of an anxious dog. The shift runs from dusk (around 8:30 in my Northwest corner of the U.S.) until the bad noises stop. It’s a good night for movies. Thanks to a recommendation from Salon, I landed on 1776, the 1972 movie version of the 1969 musical.

“1776” brings to life the vibrant personalities that helped bring America to life. You have Daniels as the acerbic, indignant and unshakably honorable Adams, Da Silva as the sly and charming but deeply idealistic Franklin and Howard as the quiet and cerebral Jefferson. Like all of the best works about history, it forces audiences to see important figures from the past as flesh-and-blood human beings rather than stodgy icons.

Spoiler alert: the vote goes to independence and the rest is (sorry) history.  I did not read the entire Salon piece up front; I didn’t want to know anything more than “Yep, this movie is a great choice (for those of you stuck under 15 pounds of quaking dog) for July 4th.”

Because I didn’t read the entire write up, I didn’t know that none other than President Richard Nixon had feelings about the movie. It’s thanks to him the song “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men” was cut; it’s since been restored.

In the musical “1776,” the song “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men” depicts Revolutionary War era conservatives as power-hungry wheedlers focused on maintaining wealth. So it’s not surprising that then-President Richard Nixon, who saw the show at a special White House performance in 1970, wasn’t a big fan of the number.

What is surprising is that according to Jack L. Warner, the film’s producer and a friend of the president, Nixon pressured him to cut the song from the 1972 film version of the show–which Warner did. Warner also wanted the original negative of the song shredded, but the film’s editor secretly kept it intact.

Small wonder — it’s a scathing number. “Don’t forget that most men with nothing would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich than face the reality of being poor,” scowls John Dickinson. (Dickinson refused to sign the Declaration of Independence.) The cast breaks into a second verse about the joys of conservatism.

We’re the cool, cool considerate men
Whose like may never, ever bee seen again
With our land, cash in hand
Self command, future planned

And we’ll hold to our gold
Tradition that is old
Reluctant to be bold

We say this game’s not of our choosing
Why should we risk losing?

No wonder Nixon hated it. It was the Broadway version of the 1776 version of “We’ve got ours, we’re good, thanks.”

The movie holds up well enough for 1972, though I’m fairly certain Martha Jefferson would not have sung to John Adams and Ben Franklin about her husband Thomas’ prowess at… violin, sure, that song is about his musical skills, sure. I found Franklin too cartoonish, though I liked William Daniels’ Adams a lot (he played Benjamin’s dad in The Graduate). I was riveted by “Molasses to Rum,” the number praising, among other things, the slave trade.

Once the credits rolled, I had to research any number of things — where Edward Rutledge stood on slavery, what happened to John Dickinson after he declined to sign the Declaration, and what about that Abigail Adams anyway?

I don’t know how I got through the 70s without seeing 1776. When I posted to Facebook that I was watching it, my feed lit up with commentary — including one friend admitting he would like to play Andrew McNair, the long suffering custodian/bell-ringer who keeps trying to open the windows to let some air into what’s now known as Independence Hall.

All those men in brocade, arguing in the heat of a Philadelphia summer. It must have stunk to high heaven in the room where it happened.


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How Do You Introduce A Candidate Like Randy Bryce?

When a political ad for Randy Bryce, the Wisconsin ironworker challenging Paul Ryan’s congressional seat, hit the internet last month, it quickly went viral. Esquire called it “one hell of a political ad.” A Twitter user suggested that Bryce was “genetically engineered from Bruce Springsteen songs.” Bryce himself was elated when GQ wrote it up, tweeting from his own account — @IronStache, naturally — that his mother told him he’d never reach such heights.

The ad is a compelling mix of verité documentary filmmaking and political savvy. It was produced by Acres New York, which last year made a four-minute ad for Bernie Sanders   featuring a testimonial from the daughter of Eric Garner. (In 2015, Acres also produced an ad for the Senate run of John Fetterman, the major of Braddock, PA, who had pulled his town away from the brink of disaster and into the world of Levi’s ads).

Longreads reached out to Acres founder Matt McLaughlin and director Paul Hairston to learn more about their approach to storytelling. McLaughlin is business partners with Bill Hyers, a political strategist who ran Bill de Blasio’s 2013 campaign. The pair recently launched WIN, which develops political strategy around video campaigns, and whose list of clients includes Bryce, Fetterman, Sanders, Bill De Blasio, and Martin O’Malley. The Bryce ad is WIN’s inaugural work. 

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Building a World of Acceptance: A Conversation with DeRay Mckesson

Cody Delistraty | Longreads | July 2017 | 9 minutes (2392 words)

 

It was one o’clock in the morning on August 16th, 2014. In Minneapolis, DeRay Mckesson watched the news on television and scrolled through Twitter. “I saw what was happening on CNN; I saw what was happening on Twitter, and they were telling two different stories. And I said, ‘I just want to go see for myself.’” Exactly one week before, Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson had killed Michael Brown, an unarmed, black teenager. The television narrative highlighted protesters’ supposed unrest and Wilson’s self-defense claim. The narrative on Mckesson’s Twitter timeline was quite different: police brutality and murder.

That morning, Mckesson drove nine hours from Minneapolis to St. Louis to protest in the streets. The Ferguson protests not only propelled to the national stage the Black Lives Matter movement — originally sparked after George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, another unarmed, black teenager, in 2012 — it also launched Mckesson’s political activism career — one which he amplifies via social media.

Mckesson makes news in every direction. In March 2015, he quit his job in human resources at Minneapolis Public Schools to devote himself to full-time activism. He helped launch a police-reform initiative called Campaign Zero. He ran for mayor in his hometown of Baltimore. He started a podcast about policy and social justice called Pod Save the People, for which he recently interviewed Edward Snowden and Katy Perry. And he is currently finishing his term as interim chief human capital officer at the Baltimore City Public School System.

He has been tear gassed and arrested during a protest (with charges later dropped). His Twitter following, at around 1,000 in 2014, is now over 800,000 today, and he has become a sought-after guest and speaker. The only constant: Mckesson’s puffy, blue Patagonia vest — his sartorial trademark. But the question on everyone’s mind for the 31-year-old is simple: what’s next?

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To Win in Georgia, Ignore the Data and Follow the Signs

A few days ago, a colleague encouraged me to check out the donation page of Jon Ossoff, the 30-year-old Democratic candidate for Georgia’s 6th district. The graphics were simple and clear, the Apple Pay checkout appeared to be smooth, the increments of pay accessible to all. It was a slick operation. “But whatever you do, DON’T sign up for the emails,” he warned. “I get, like twelve a day.” Read more…

Will Jeff Sessions’ Testimony Delight Us Like James Comey’s Did?

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is expected to testify in an open hearing today as part of the congressional investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Some believe he may be more truthful this time than he was at his last public hearing, when he falsely claimed he never communicated with Russian entities. (Sessions met with the Russian ambassador twice, and will likely be asked about a possible third meeting.)

Others are concerned President Donald Trump may try to block Sessions’ testimony at the eleventh hour. He has until 2:30pm to make his decision.

James Comey’s testimony last week drew more than 19 million viewers and raised new questions about the attorney general’s contact with Russia, his role in Comey’s firing, and his recusal from the investigation itself.

Much has been made of Comey asking Sessions not to leave him alone with Trump, which came up in Comey’s testimony. Comey also indicated the FBI knew that Sessions’ involvement in the investigation would have been “problematic” well before the attorney general recused himself:

He was … inevitably going to recuse himself for a variety of reasons. We also were aware of facts that I can’t discuss in an open setting that would make [Sessions’s] continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.

Comey also said that Sessions “lingered” when Trump ordered him to leave the room before pressuring Comey to drop his investigation into former national security advisor Michael Flynn. “My sense was the attorney general knew he shouldn’t be leaving, which is why he was lingering.” Comey was also asked about Sessions’ involvement in his own firing, which the former FBI director deemed “a reasonable question.”

If, as the president said, I was fired because of the Russia investigation, why was the attorney general involved in that chain? I don’t know, and so I don’t have an answer for the question.

Sessions has dodged testifying at least three times already, and Washington Post has published 40 questions they would ask the attorney general. It’s possible Sessions will be asked not only about Trump’s firing of Comey, but of his firing of U.S. Attorneys, after Preet Bharara gave an interview to ABC on Sunday in which he said Comey’s firing felt like “déjà vu,” and maintained there is sufficient evidence to launch an investigation into obstruction of justice by the president.

The New York Times reported last week that Trump is “discontented” with Sessions, and that Sessions had “offered to resign in recent weeks, as he told President Trump he needed the freedom to do his job.” It remains to be seen whether Sessions will show Trump the loyalty that the president so badly wants.

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Who Is Christopher Wray, Trump’s Nominee for FBI Director?

True to form, President Donald Trump announced his nominee for the new FBI director via Twitter Wednesday morning. If his pick — Christopher Wray, an alumnus of the Justice Department under George W. Bush who currently works at D.C.-based law firm King & Spalding — is confirmed by the Senate judiciary committee, he will enter into a politically fraught scene in which two of his former colleagues are major players.

So who, exactly, is Christopher Wray?

As the New York Times reported, Wray is a graduate of Yale and Yale Law School who worked as a federal prosecutor in Atlanta before joining President Bush’s Justice Department as an associate deputy attorney general in 2001. CNN reported that Wray was unanimously confirmed by the Senate in 2003 to lead the DOJ’s criminal division, where he oversaw major investigations, including the one into Enron, as well as the government’s response to terrorism after 9/11. He left in 2005 to join King & Spalding.

Given that timing, it’s unsurprising that a search for Wray’s name in the American Civil Liberties Union’s torture database turns up 83 search results, including a fax he sent regarding Iraqi detainees at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison. (The documents are almost all entirely redacted.)

Over at Wired, Garrett Graff offers some insight into Wray, particularly during his time at the DOJ:

“We all recognized that the old paradigms wouldn’t work. In some cases there weren’t any rules at all,” Wray told me just a few years after he left the Justice Department. It was also a time of unprecedented pressure.

“Every time the pager went off, every time the phone rang, you thought, ‘We’re moments away from being attacked again,’” Wray told me. “You had no idea when or where it was coming.”

It would be interesting to learn what Wray thinks of how ISIS has changed the rules. As Graff notes, if Wray is confirmed, he will be “confronting new critical threats, like cyber, that were barely on the horizon during his last stint in government.”

Because of his time at Justice, Wray has a relationship with James Comey, his recently and controversially fired predecessor, and Robert Mueller, tapped as special counsel to investigate the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia. Graff reports that Wray has deep admiration for both men. Mueller led the FBI when Wray was there, and headed the criminal division 15 years prior to Wray doing so. Comey was Mueller’s second-in-command.

He came away deeply impressed on a daily basis by Mueller. “If you’re in law enforcement, your immediate reaction was this is my kind of guy,” said Wray. “Bob Mueller has an uncanny ability to be really dedicated and idealistic about public service without being cheesy or naive.” 

Graff also recounts an incident in early 2004, during which Comey was fighting with Vice President Dick Cheney over an NSA surveillance program Comey believed was unconstitutional. Mueller had Comey’s back, and “rumors had circulated of a mass resignation of the department’s senior-most leaders,” Graff writes. Wray apparently pulled Comey aside in a hallway and told him, “Look, I don’t know what’s going on, but before you guys all pull the rip cords, please give me a heads-up so I can jump with you.”

Comey ultimately took his concerns directly to Bush, who agreed to change the program. 

“For Wray, the episode was a signal lesson in the necessary independence, moral compass, and leadership necessary to succeed at the Justice Department.

‘[Mueller] has a strong moral compass and I think that the great thing about strong moral compasses is that they don’t have to hand-wring, Wray told me years later. ‘When they’re uncomfortable, they know what they have to do.’”

The Times describes Wray as “a safe, mainstream pick from a president who at one point was considering politicians for a job that has historically been kept outside of politics” who “is likely to allay the fears of F.B.I. agents who worried that Mr. Trump would try to weaken or politicize the F.B.I.”

According to the Times, Wray apparently “bonded” with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie when they were both at the Justice Department. He also represented Christie in the recent Bridgegate scandal, in which Christie got off scot-free while two of his deputies were sentenced to federal prison. (A third pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.) “He managed to soothe and counsel the volatile Mr. Christie, a Trump ally,” the Times reported.

Christie told the Bergen Record last week that the president “certainly would not be making a mistake” if he tapped Wray to lead the FBI. “I have the utmost confidence in Chris. He’s an outstanding lawyer. He has absolute integrity and honesty,” Christie said.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions (whom Trump is apparently not happy with these days) also highlighted Wray’s “integrity” in a statement that concluded, “We have found our man.”

Wray has a connection to another controversial figure for Trump: Sally Yates. CNN noted that Wray signed a 2015 letter to the Senate judiciary committee from partners at his law firm endorsing Sally Yates’ nomination as deputy attorney general for her “extraordinary legal skill and judgment.” Trump fired Yates and accused her of “betrayal” because she would not carry out his travel ban.

While Wray investigated white collar crime while at Justice, CNN noted that since joining the private sector, he “has represented a slew of Fortune 100 companies that have been the subject of state and federal investigations.” He currently chairs King & Spalding’s Special Matters and Government Investigations Practice Group, according to CNN.

Both the Times and CNN reported on Wray’s contributions to political campaigns. The Times prefaced the disclosure by saying Wray “is not known as a partisan,” though his donations have been to Republican candidates, including $2,300 to John McCain in 2008 and $7,500 to Mitt Romney in 2012. He did not make any donations to presidential campaigns in 2016, according to the Times, which calculated a total of $35,000 in donations to Republican candidates and committees over the past decade. CNN totaled $53,350 in donations in the same time period, including to his law firm’s political action committee and the National Republican Senatorial committee in 2016.

While detractors are highlighting Wray’s work for Christie, his competitors for the post as FBI director have been quick to praise him. Former assistant attorney general Alice Fisher, who followed in Wray’s footsteps at the criminal division and was under consideration by Trump to lead the Bureau, told CNN and the Times Wray is a “wonderful choice… who cares deeply about the institution.” Notably, in light of recent reports about Trump’s tumultuous leadership, Fisher told CNN that Wray “will provide even-keeled leadership.”

For those wondering about Wray’s thoughts on the position, the most interesting tidbits come in his own words, as reported by Graff in Wired. According to Graff, Wray once told him the ideal FBI director “is tough but fair and unfailingly honest,”  and that the position of FBI director “has got to be one of the toughest jobs in government. There aren’t too many humans who could ride out that kind of stress and punishment and not let it get them down.”

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Donald Trump As Bad Contractor

Most people who have lived through a renovation know the hallmark of a bad contractor. Those renovation survivors probably bristle at the words “two weeks.” Your completely gutted kitchen? It’ll be ready in two weeks. The nursery for your child due in a month? Two weeks, tops. The roof of the house you’re waiting to move into? Definitely done in two weeks, no sweat.

A good rule of thumb to remember, for those who have managed to escape this experience: it’s never, ever two weeks.

Bear that in mind as you read Toluse Olorunnipa’s Bloomberg Politics story, “In Trump’s White House, Everything’s Coming in ‘Two Weeks.’” Olorunnipa chronicles the many occasions on which President Donald Trump has vowed to deliver on a promise, projected a two-week deadline and missed it by a mile (or by 11 weeks, or 15 weeks), and smartly places the tactic in context using Trump’s own words from his book, The Art of the Deal.

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