‘How broke that brain?’ Understanding President Trump’s mental health – what his exam did not tell us

Cross-posted from skyislandscriber.com

Ever since Trump got on the list of presidential candidates (and I think long before) there have been questions about his mental fitness for the job he now holds. For example, SNL revisits Trump’s cognitive test results and asks, ‘How broke that brain?’

“There’s been questions about the president’s mental fitness, and the White House has, of course, pushed back on that,” says a reporter, played by Kate McKinnon. “Since you’ve examined him personally, my question is: How broke that brain?”

The rest of this post is less barbed. To start, in it’s email summary over the weekend, wired.com succinctly reported on the cognitive assessment part of Trump’s recent physical exam.

It was only under mounting public pressure that the White House allowed Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson to publicize the details of his examination of Trump, and those results haven’t clarified much for those hungry for a better sense of the president’s physical and cognitive fitness. … although Trump passed his physician’s cognitive assessment with flying colors, his ability to differentiate a lion from an elephant probably doesn’t say much about his appetite for consuming the vast amounts of information necessary to make complex policy decisions.

And there is another angle, The test that Trump passed does not measure personality characteristics, such as narcissism. Let me explain.

What is NOT wrong with Trump

First let’s look at the cognitive test he was given. Here’s the information from a Canadian site, globalnews.ca: Donald Trump aced the Montreal Cognitive Assessment: here’s what the test looks like.

Developed in Montreal in 1996, it was designed to measure “mild cognitive dysfunction” according to the Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery.

The MoCA test Trump took includes exercises to the likes of remembering a list of spoken words; listening to a list of random numbers and repeating them backward; naming as many words that begin with, say, the letter F as possible within a minute; accurately drawing a cube; and describing concrete ways that two objects – like a train and a bicycle – are alike.

According to administration and scoring instructions, the MoCA exam is a rapid screening test and assesses different cognitive functions like attention, concentration, language and conceptual thinking.

The test itself take about 10 minutes and the total possible score is 30 points. A score of 26 or above is considered normal. Trump scored a perfect 30, according to Jackson.

In general, patients with good or average memory forget one of the five words and can still be within the normal range, said Dr. James Mastrianni, an expert in memory disorders and other neurodegenerative conditions at the University of Chicago Medicine.

“It’s a screening assessment that we use routinely in the clinics to determine whether someone has some degree of cognitive impairment or not,” he said.

“If they score poorly on that assessment, then usually there is more detailed evaluation that follows. But if they score well that usually indicates there is pretty good cognitive function. They are essentially intact,” Mastrianni added.

The standard version of the test is “pretty good” but “not definitive” said Dr. Ronald Petersen, an Alzheimer’s disease expert at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Petersen said he could not comment specifically on the president’s cognitive health.

You can take the test here. However:

The test does not assess the president’s psychiatric fitness and the president did not undergo a psychiatric evaluation, according to his doctor.

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) reports on Trump’s misplaced boast about passing a cognitive test.

… as long as Trump is talking about this, it’s probably taking a moment to understand what his high score is all about.

“If you look at the test, it’s pretty hard to see how you could not score a 30,” a Washington Post piece explained yesterday, adding, “Yes, Trump passed with flying colors, as any adult with normal cognitive function probably would.”

We’re talking about an exam, known as MoCA, that’s used to identify evidence of dementia, mental deterioration, and neurodegenerative diseases. Those who take it may be asked, for example, to draw a clock or describe the similarities between oranges and bananas.

I’m glad Trump was able to do well on the test, but let’s be clear: we’re talking about being able to clear a very low bar for an adult in a position of enormous responsibility. The idea of a president bragging, even jokingly, about getting 30 out of 30 on the exam is comparable to a president boasting about knowing the alphabet.

So here’s the dangling question.

Trump’s score is not evidence of a towering intellect. On the contrary, as New York’s Jon Chait put it, “[W]hile Trump’s behavior may not be medical symptoms of a debilitating mental disease, it is clear evidence of a mind that’s totally unfit for the presidency. What excuse does he have for his behavior?”

The MoCA is diagnostic of mental deterioration as explained in this Washington Post article: Why you may be misunderstanding the mental test that Trump passed with flying colors.

Studies have shown that this test can be used to spot problems with the brain’s executive functioning even before other signs of mental decline are apparent. There are questions about the proper scoring method and about the extent to which educational differences may be apparent, but, generally, there’s a reason that the test is included.

The point is not that the test is easy. The point is that an inability to complete aspects of the test reveals different types of mental decline. The clock test is about executive brain function: memory, planning ahead. The different parts of the MoCA are labeled according to what they test, with the clock test falling under “visuospatial/executive.” Questions about the current year and date are under “orientation.” The request to identify a drawing of a camel is under “naming.” In the test’s scoring instructions, it explains what is covered: “attention and concentration, executive functions, memory, language, visuoconstructional skills, conceptual thinking, calculations and orientation.”

Hang onto that list of cognitive functions. I’ll return to it in a moment. Phillip Bump, the Post author, continues:

Yes, Trump passed with flying colors, as any adult with normal cognitive function probably would. And that’s the point. There’s every indication from Tuesday’s report that Trump maintains normal cognitive function. That he passed the test is just like you successfully singing the alphabet song. Sure, it’s easy — unless you have that can’t-say-H disease. Here, the MoCA test is easy — unless you have the sort of impairment that Trump was said to have suffered by any number of public critics.

You’re supposed to get 30 out of 30 — and when you don’t, that’s when the doctors learn something.

Bump updates his post.

The original post above was meant to explain to readers why the seemingly easy nature of the test was not a reason that Trump’s passing it should be pooh-poohed. After all, the lingering question was one of Trump’s cognitive abilities and whether or not he was affected by the early stages of mental decline, perhaps in the form of dementia. Mocking as easy a test meant to detect that particular thing is as dumb as mocking someone for passing a blood test.

But the flip side of this is that this is not a test you should brag about — any more than you should brag about passing a blood test. [No one] should see Trump’s perfect score on the test as indicating anything other than “this person’s brain is not showing obvious signs of deterioration.”

What IS wrong with Trump

OK, so Trump is not gorked. His brain is not the neurological equivalent of Swiss cheese. What then is wrong with this guy?

At the psychological level, here is my nomination: Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Rethinking What We Know.

… Persons with NPD are aggressive and boastful, overrate their performance, and blame others for their setbacks; current editions of DSM portray them as arrogant, entitled, exploitative, embedded in fantasies of grandeur, self-centered, and charming but emotionally unavailable …

Prototypical persons with NPD present with many interpersonal problems … Romantic relationships are typically shallow, and narcissistic persons build and maintain them with difficulty. Conflicts at work are the rule rather than the exception, as are problems with commitment when faced with negative feedback.

Feelings of grandiosity and fantasies of power and success are certainly important but are not the core theme in a narcissistic stream of consciousness …

NPD manifests as anger triggered by feelings of social rejection and tendencies to derogate those who give negative feedback. Persons with NPD often feel hampered in pursuing goals and blame others for being inept, incompetent, or hostile. States in which the self-image is extremely negative are important but are so hard to bear that fighting with others and blaming them for any personal flaws is a more suitable defensive maneuver. …

In persons with NPD, self-experience patterns coalesce into self-other relational schemas: the dominant motives are concerns with social rank/antagonism, and the need to be admired and recognized by others as being special; the dominant image is of an “other” person unwilling to provide attention. The main schema is the “self” who desires to be recognized or admired and the “other” who is dominant and critical. In one schema, the self reacts with overt antagonism or by resorting to a metaphorical ivory tower. Another prominent schema is the self that needs attention while the other rejects and again criticizes the self, which, in turn, steers the self to compulsive self-soothing and denial of attachment needs. In general, such persons spend much time ruminating about issues of antagonism/social rank and avoid forming or thinking about attachments, thus concealing their vulnerable self. Empirical support has been found for the possibility that patients with NPD or narcissistic traits tend to seek self-enhancement, to overreact when they perceive others are setting limits, and to self-soothe.

Remember that list of cognitive functions? “attention and concentration, executive functions, memory, language, visuoconstructional skills, conceptual thinking, calculations and orientation.” I challenge you to find any mention of any of these functions in the passages quoted above on narcism. Similarly, I challenge you to find any mention of the characteristics of someone with NPD in this list of cognitive functions.

So: what the MoCA tells us about Trump’s mental function totally misses what is really wrong with him. In my opinion, the descriptors for NPD apply to Trump. To confirm that hypothesis, we would have to have Trump undergo a comprehensive psychiatric workup – and that is as likely to happen as the release of his tax records.

What this Narcissistic president costs America

Leonard Pitts Jr. reviews Trump’s accomplishments: One year later Trump continues race to the bottom

And here we are, one year later.

If you are groping for markers by which to measure how profoundly we have been changed since Inauguration Day, here’s one you might want to consider:

In January of 1998, reports surfaced of a sexual affair between President Bill Clinton and a 24-year-old White House intern. It would mushroom into the biggest story of the year.

In January of 2018, reports surfaced of an alleged payoff by lawyers for the present president to silence a porn star from talking about their alleged sexual affair. It wasn’t even the biggest story of the day.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more visceral illustration of how our sensibilities have been bludgeoned into submission in the last year. Surprises no longer surprise. Shocks no longer shock. We have bumped up against the limits of human bandwidth and find ourselves unable to take it all in.

One simply cannot keep up with, much less respond with proper outrage to, all of this guy’s scandals, bungles, blame-shifting, name-calling and missteps, his sundry acts of mendacity, misanthropy, perversity and idiocy. It’s like trying to fill a teacup from Niagara Falls. It’s like trying to read the internet.

One year later, we’ve seen a procession of feuds that would impress a Hatfield, a McCoy or a ’90s rapper, running beefs with Mitch Connell, Elizabeth Warren, Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, Jeff Sessions, Dick Durbin, Colin Kaepernick, James Comey, Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski, CNN, The New York Times and reality, to name just a few.

One year later, the man who promised to “work so hard” for the American people is setting new standards for presidential laziness, a short workday, hours of television and endless golf.

One year later, the man who bragged of having “the best words” has pundits parsing the difference between “s-house” and “s-hole” as descriptors of Africa, El Salvador and Haiti.

One year later, the man who asked African-Americans “what the hell” they had to lose by voting for him, is praised by tiki-torch-wielding white supremacists — “very fine people,” he says — and his name is chanted as a racist taunt by white mobs.

One year later, we live in a state of perpetual nuclear standoff, a Cuban Missile Crisis that never ends.

But hey, at least the stock market is doing well. It did well under President Obama, too, but nobody seems to remember that.

Not that a bull market mitigates — or even addresses — the sense of ongoing upheaval, of constant chaos, that have become our new American norm. This guy is flat-out exhausting.

Give him this much, though. He has banished apathy, made fools of those people who once declared with pontifical certitude that we should “blow up” the system and said voting didn’t matter because there was no difference between the parties. More, he’s galvanized a powerful resistance that has claimed upset victories from Alabama to Wisconsin and left Gumby-spined Republicans looking over their shoulders. That resistance might even save this country, assuming the guy leaves us anything to save.

All this better fits the president as suffering from a personality disorder, not one experiencing cognitive deficits. Pitts concludes:

If that sounds bleak, well, that’s where we stand. Indeed, one year later, both our despair and our hope are encompassed in the same five syllables.

One down. Three to go.

Democratic priorities for The Arizona We Deserve

Cross-posted from SkyIslandScriber.com.

Here is a link to the 2018 AZ state Democratic legislators’ priorities (h/t Penny Pestle) – and a couple of examples.

Our vision
Arizona is a fast-growing, culturally and geographically diverse land of opportunity. But families in our communities are still falling behind. Our vast potential as a state will remain unmet until we make the investments in education and infrastructure that a 21st century economy demands. Dishonest state leadership has held back the state we love. Short-sighted, extremist Republican policies favoring corporate interests over ordinary families have forced a race to the bottom for our schools and our kids. By purposefully starving our schools, Republicans have placed an anchor on our economic recovery while giving away tax dollars under the ruse of “trickle-down economics.” The result has seen state revenue fall off a cliff and a glut of low-wage, back-office jobs that degrade workplace rights and provide little promise of advancement and prosperity.

Itʼs time to focus on our kids not corporations, on job holders not shareholders. At the Arizona Legislature, it’s Democrats who always have and always will stand up to those who would attack and dismantle the educational institutions that have made our state great. Itʼs Democrats who will fight for equal rights, equal pay and equal opportunity. And it’s Democrats who will advance the priorities that will move toward a better future for every Arizonan. We must fight to make our state government honest and accountable to you. We must fight for education and to shut off the pipeline of taxpayer dollars to wealthy private schools. And we must attract and develop talent, empower and encourage local entrepreneurs, and lift up and protect the rights of the disadvantaged. Together we are prepared to ignite and expand an economy that provides real opportunities to succeed for all Arizona residents regardless of who they are, where they live or who they love.

Education
Gov. Ducey has paid lip service to supporting education, but the results – a meager one-time bonus for teachers – were an insult to educators and our kids. Small steps in the right direction have not
changed the fact that Arizona has one of the most poorly funded school systems in the nation. On top of that, our schools are facing a fiscal cliff with the looming expiration of Prop. 301. We must do right by our kids and boost our economic strength by securing a long-term, sustainable K–12 invest- ment increase and a curriculum that reflects the diversity of our state. We must stop Arizona’s teacher exodus crisis and find a way to pay our educators a competitive wage. And we will protect taxpayer money by making charter schools transparent and accountable to the public they serve.

Tax fairness
Republicans have given away the funding our state needs to invest in schools, roads, bridges and healthcare. Tax collections from businesses are the lowest since 1993. Decades of tax breaks for rich donors and corporations have not delivered the promised benefits to our economy,which lags competitor states that invest more heavily in education and infrastructure. Instead, we face a $100 million budget shortfall and don’t have the money to invest in schools and other priorities that all Arizonans share. We will focus on our kids not corporations, on job holders not shareholders. Democrats will help rebuild the middle class by closing egregious tax loopholes and by restoring fiscal responsibility to ensure equity in Arizona’s tax system. Our plan stops incen- tives for cheating by putting the referees back on the field to require tax compliance for corpora- tions. And we will protect Arizona’s revenues and strategic investments by capping the pipeline of state taxes that subsidize wealthy private schools.

Read THE ARIZONA WE DESERVE for more priorities and specific solutions.

Why we kill so many of our fellow Americans. Here are false arguments and real facts about gun control.

Cross-posted from skyislandscriber.com

The reason why the NRA, the gun lobby, and their shills in congress oppose funding research on gun violence is that they collectively fear the answer the to the questions bound to be raised by such research. Here’s the problem framed by Wired.com in their email Tuesday.

A man with an AR–15 rifle killed 26 people in a small Texas church last weekend. Another man with an AR–15 fired back at the shooter, disabling him. Which means that both sides of the gun control debate can, and have, turned the massacre into a political talking point. But any discussion about whether the AR–15 is an overpowered gun that kills a lot of people or a crucial component of civilian defense is bound to falter. Nobody really knows whether AR–15s do more harm than good in the United States. No one has collected the data.

That’s not completely true. Read on.

Or really, as science writer Adam Rogers explains, no one has been allowed to collect it, or even access the information that does exist. The US political system and the corporate interests that influence it has been hostile to science for decades (consider the now-proven links between fossil fuels and climate change, or between tobacco and cancer). The Trump administration has only escalated that conflict, hiding and obfuscating information about weather, crime, and even how many people live in the United States. And that makes sound public policies nearly impossible to implement. As Adam puts it: “If nobody can know anything, why bother to try to regulate anything? It’s government-by-ignorance—a shrugocracy.”

All that is certainly true. However, enough research has been done to draw some conclusions about what is and is not related to the incidence of mass shootings in America. I’ll start with what is not predictive of the incidence of mass shootings in America.

Adam Gopnik (New Yorker) considers A Mass Shooting in Texas and False Arguments Against Gun Control (Monday, Nov. 6). The recent mass shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, raises familiar questions—and myths—about guns in America.

Feelings of powerlessness and depression are bound to infect those—by all surveys, the majority of Americans—who would like to see something done to prevent these increasingly common occurrences of mass slaughter. It’s hard to be hopeful. If nothing was done after the killing of twenty school children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut, and if nothing was done—not even the “bump stock” limitation—after the murder of fifty-eight concertgoers from a sniper’s perch in Las Vegas, a month ago, then twenty-six more dead won’t alter things. But there is never a time to give way to hopelessness: the politics are hard but far from insurmountable, and, meanwhile, as with every public crisis, the truth matters and clarifies and brings light, even when the light can’t immediately show a better path forward. If we can’t defeat the gun lobby now, we can out-argue it, and expose it. Here are some myths that are trotted out regularly by that lobby, and that will likely be trotted out again today.

Indeed they were. The Huffington Post describes the explosion of fake news across the internet in The Texas Shooter Was Called A Liberal, Antifa Communist Working With ISIS — Before Anyone Knew Anything. The Post added a “Welcome to the world of right-wing propaganda.” “By late Monday night, hundreds of thousands of users across multiple platforms had shared fake news about the shooter.”

Back on track, I’ll list the myths about gun deaths with Gopnik’s (truncated) rebuttals but my focus is on the very last of Gopnik’s list.

  1. The kinds of rules and limitations most often proposed—i.e., a ban on military-style weapons of the kind used in the two most recent high-profile gun massacres and in so many others before—wouldn’t have an effect on gun violence in America, which tends to be concentrated on handguns, and more typically involves suicides and domestic disputes. Gun massacres are not the only or even the most lethal form of gun violence.

… Making one kind of gun illegal or restricted makes the broader work of restricting violence more plausible. (Which is, of course, exactly why the National Rifle Association, et al., oppose it.) …

  1. Why, if there are too many guns in America, is there less crime than there used to be? People keep buying guns and the crime rate keeps going down. Doesn’t that prove that the more guns there are, the less crime there will be?

Well, no—the crime rate, contrary to the picture of carnage that Donald Trump likes to frighten his voters with, has been going down over the past decades in every Western country … The only question worth asking is why, given that crime has declined so universally, does America still have such a uniquely highly level of gun violence? Crime rates descend, gun massacres increase. That’s the “Why” to ask and answer.

  1. Given the number of weapons of mass murder already in place in the country, any change we can make, any law we might pass—even if we could pass such laws—will be inadequate to the problem. And, anyway, any particular proposal being debated wouldn’t have stopped this or that massacre, whose perpetrator would have escaped its rules.

… Gun control in any form will limit gun violence. Child labor was a terrible thing, and small boys forced to become chimney sweeps was among the worst of it. But if we want to abolish child labor, we don’t put lids on chimneys. We abolish it more broadly, and know that the specific abuse will likely end, too.

  1. The Second Amendment.

… The argument that the Second Amendment remains a formidable obstacle in the way of gun control, even if there were a political will to pass such legislation, is perhaps the most frustrating of the objections. Only a recent, radical, and bizarre rereading found in it an individual right to gun ownership. The decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, in 2008, which featured Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s invention of a previously undiscovered right to private gun ownership, was 5–4. …

I will have more to say about this “right” to own large-capacity assault rifles when I turn to the data.

  1. The social science on gun violence is inconclusive.

It will always be a given that it’s impossible to have real controlled experiments. The closest thing in this case would be to have two contiguous countries—both with similar “root” populations, and both subject to massive immigration from abroad. Both would have a frightening number of mentally ill people capable of mass killing. One, however, would have reasonable gun-control laws regularly reinforced, in the light of new kinds of violence—with guns broadly available for recreation and pest control, but the kinds capable of killing many people quickly prohibited or highly restricted. The country on the other side of the border would impose few gun-control measures. Then we would compare the results. One country—let’s call it Kanada—would have a per-capita rate of gun homicide seven times smaller than the other country. That experiment’s been run. The results are in. We really do know. Now we only have to do.

And here are the results In a broader international context reported by Max Fisher and Josh Keller (NY Times/The Interpreter) in What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings? International Comparisons Suggest an Answer.

When the world looks at the United States, it sees a land of exceptions: a time-tested if noisy democracy, a crusader in foreign policy, an exporter of beloved music and film.

But there is one quirk that consistently puzzles America’s fans and critics alike. Why, they ask, does it experience so many mass shootings?

Perhaps, some speculate, it is because American society is unusually violent. Or its racial divisions have frayed the bonds of society. Or its citizens lack proper mental care under a health care system that draws frequent derision abroad.

These explanations share one thing in common: Though seemingly sensible, all have been debunked by research on shootings elsewhere in the world. Instead, an ever-growing body of research consistently reaches the same conclusion.

The only variable that can explain the high rate of mass shootings in America is its astronomical number of guns.

Here’s the (graphically displayed) evidence that “The United States has 270 million guns and had 90 mass shooters from 1966 to 2012. No other country has more than 46 million guns or 18 mass shooters.” There is a correlation between guns and mass shooters but the USA is way, way off scale.

Americans make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns. From 1966 to 2012, 31 percent of the gunmen in mass shootings worldwide were American, according to a 2015 study by Adam Lankford, a professor at the University of Alabama.

Worldwide, Mr. Lankford found, a country’s rate of gun ownership correlated with the odds it would experience a mass shooting. This relationship held even when he excluded the United States, indicating that it could not be explained by some other factor particular to his home country. And it held when he controlled for homicide rates, suggesting that mass shootings were better explained by a society’s access to guns than by its baseline level of violence.

… the United States is not actually more prone to crime than other developed countries, according to a landmark 1999 study by Franklin E. Zimring and Gordon Hawkins of the University of California, Berkeley.

It’s not that we have more crime. Instead, it is the case “that American crime is simply more lethal. A New Yorker is just as likely to be robbed as a Londoner, for instance, but the New Yorker is 54 times more likely to be killed in the process.”

Similarly, mental health and race do not explain the USA’s unique number of mass shootings because “the mental health care spending rate in the United States, the number of mental health professionals per capita and the rate of severe mental disorders are all in line with those of other wealthy countries.”

Racial diversity or other factors associated with social cohesion also show little correlation with gun deaths. Among European countries, there is little association between immigration or other diversity metrics and the rates of gun murders or mass shootings.

What does matter is gun ownership.

More gun ownership corresponds with more gun murders across virtually every axis: among developed countries, among American states, among American towns and cities and when controlling for crime rates. And gun control legislation tends to reduce gun murders, according to a recent analysis of 130 studies from 10 countries.

This suggests that the guns themselves cause the violence.

But there is one other factor that conspires to influence America’s “leadership” with respect to mass shootings: how Americans think about guns.

In 2013, American gun-related deaths included 21,175 suicides, 11,208 homicides and 505 deaths caused by an accidental discharge. That same year in Japan, a country with one-third America’s population, guns were involved in only 13 deaths.

This means an American is about 300 times more likely to die by gun homicide or accident than a Japanese person. America’s gun ownership rate is 150 times as high as Japan’s. That gap between 150 and 300 shows that gun ownership statistics alone do not explain what makes America different.

The United States also has some of the world’s weakest controls over who may buy a gun and what sorts of guns may be owned.

Switzerland has the second-highest gun ownership rate of any developed country, about half that of the United States. Its gun homicide rate in 2004 was 7.7 per million people — unusually high, in keeping with the relationship between gun ownership and murders, but still a fraction of the rate in the United States.

Swiss gun laws are more stringent, setting a higher bar for securing and keeping a license, for selling guns and for the types of guns that can be owned. Such laws reflect more than just tighter restrictions. They imply a different way of thinking about guns, as something that citizens must affirmatively earn the right to own.

The Difference Is Culture

The United States is one of only three countries, along with Mexico and Guatemala, that begin with the opposite assumption: that people have an inherent right to own guns.

The main reason American regulation of gun ownership is so weak may be the fact that the trade-offs are simply given a different weight in the United States than they are anywhere else.

After Britain had a mass shooting in 1987, the country instituted strict gun control laws. So did Australia after a 1996 incident. But the United States has repeatedly faced the same calculus and determined that relatively unregulated gun ownership is worth the cost to society.

That choice, more than any statistic or regulation, is what most sets the United States apart.

“In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate,” Dan Hodges, a British journalist, wrote in a post on Twitter two years ago, referring to the 2012 attack that killed 20 young students at an elementary school in Connecticut. “Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”

As I have said before (here, here, and here), every American is complicit in the epidemic of mass shootings – the killing of Americans by other Americans using large capacity [semi]automatic rifles of the sort never envisioned by those who wrote the 2nd amendment. And I mean every American from the president down to the guy that owns a bolt-action hunting rifle (as did my dad). But we can change that at the ballot box. Make gun safety a litmus test for your vote. Does Martha McSally think that killing children is “bearable”? How about Kyrsten Sinema? Ann Kirkpatrick? Demand an answer and vote accordingly. Make the upcoming elections a single issue. Our politicians are willing to live with more mass shootings or they are not. And if they duck the issue, vote them out.

As Gopnik put it in his New Yorker essay: “The results are in. We really do know. Now we only have to do.”

Thoughts and prayers are part of America’s gun violence problem

Cross posted from skyislandscriber.com.

450
That’s my significant digit for this morning. That, according to the front page headline in the Daily Star, is the number of rounds the Texas gunman fired in the southern Texas church killing 26 and wounding many more. Reactions from around the nation are, once again, that it is too soon to talk about gun violence in America. That from from our President Donald Trump who is woefully unprepared on every subject other than himself. Other reactions are that the shooting was due to mental health problems. That also is from Trump. Both these are standard dodges to duck the central issue here and that is that we have too many freaking guns in America. A third dodge is to exhort us to offer our thoughts and prayers. For more on the moral bankruptcy of that dodge continue reading.

If you offered your thoughts and prayers for the victims of the Texas church shooting, you are part of the problem — the problem, here, being America’s epidemic of gun violence. You need to read this editorial in this morning’s Daily Star by Shira Goodman: Enough with the useless thoughts and prayers. I’ll save you a couple of mouse clicks by reprinting it below.

Thoughts and prayers — that’s what’s being offered in the wake of the mass shooting in Texas. But here’s the truth: Thoughts and prayers are offered in lieu of real effort and meaningful change. To cover up the fact that we can save lives and prevent the daily horror of gun violence and the uniquely American phenomenon of repeated mass shootings.

Thoughts and prayers are meant to comfort, and they can and do. Especially when offered sincerely, and by those close to those who are suffering most.

But I’ve worked with enough survivors and victims — of mass shootings, random homicides, suicides and unintentional shootings — to confidently say this: enough with the thoughts and prayers.

Those thoughts and prayers seem never to include thoughts about how to prevent the next shooting, how to make sure the next person intent on doing harm doesn’t get that gun or those bullets.

Gun violence is a complicated problem, but it’s not rocket science. It’s a combination of criminal behavior, law enforcement, regulatory structures, economic challenges, mental-health issues, social and cultural factors. It demands a multifaceted approach.

Here’s the simple truth: We have too many guns, and it’s too easy for people who shouldn’t have them to get them. We can address that right now. We can expand the background-check system, which blocks sales to people who shouldn’t have guns. We can close loopholes that allow people to get guns without background checks. We can have a whole new conversation about what kinds of guns should be available to civilians and whether different regulatory schemes should be in place for obtaining different kinds of guns.

We can start carefully regulating the sale of ammunition. We can ban things like “bump stocks” that make already deadly weapons even more efficient killing machines. And we can erect a system that notifies law enforcement when people are amassing arsenals of weapons and ammunition in a short time frame.

There is virtually no other problem that we allow to fester and grow as we do gun violence in America. We now lose close to 100 people a day to guns. When did we decide that was acceptable? The history of America is to solve problems, do things better, build a better mouse trap. Because of the innovations in automobile and highway safety, we now have fewer auto deaths in Pennsylvania and several other states every year than gun deaths. We have turned a blind eye to those gun deaths, somehow convinced that we can’t do anything about it.

That is shameful, unacceptable and wrong.

Things must change, and they must change now. If you’re not part of the solution, if this isn’t an issue on your radar, if you’ve been offering thoughts and prayers and nothing else, you’re part of the problem. Gun violence must be a voting issue for you, and you must vote on it every time. Ask every elected official who represents you — and every candidate who wants to represent you — where they stand on the policies outlined above and what their plan is for making your community safer. Don’t give a pass to someone who’s good on some other issue you care about but who doesn’t sponsor background-check bills in Washington.

We don’t need thoughts and prayers. We need action, money and votes. Our elected officials have been getting away with thoughts and prayers — and silence and inaction — for far too long. So, elected officials, consider yourself on notice: If you’re not thinking of action, praying for change and taking steps to make it a reality, you’re not doing anything. And we’re going to hold you accountable.

Some will undoubtedly say it’s too soon to talk about this, and we don’t have all the facts. I disagree — we have no time to waste. We can’t afford it. As we’ve waited, and sent thoughts and prayers, more have died, and the NRA has continued to advance its agenda of guns for anyone, anywhere, anytime. That agenda is failing us.

We all have blood on our hands, and thoughts and prayers won’t wash it away.

Let’s honor those already lost and suffering with action that will save lives.

MAGA: Murder by American Guns Again shows our society’s criminal culpability

Once again, J’accuse. America writ large – its institutions, organizations, and individuals – has once again failed its citizens.

Laurie Roberts (The Republic/azcentral.com) tweeted:

After Texas church massacre, God help us. #sutherlandspringsshooting azc.cc/2AafOqw via @azcentral

Here’s the Roberts column in full.

A week ago, Devin Patrick Kelly posted a picture of a semiautomatic rifle on his Facebook page.

“She’s a bad bitch,” he wrote.

Certainly a deadly one.

At 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, Kelly, dressed in all black and wearing a ballistic vest, walked into the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, with his “bad bitch” and opened fire.

Twenty six dead, ranging in age from 5 to 72. Another 20 wounded.

It was the fourth deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, tied with Sandy Hook. It comes just a month and four days after the deadliest shooting, at the Route 91 Harvest Festival Las Vegas.

Four of the top five gun massacres have occurred in the last 18 months.

There will be calls for a tightening of gun laws.

There will be calls for a greater commitment to mental health treatment.

There will be grieving and there will be the usual “thoughts and prayers” and there will be a brief national fistfight.

And there will [be] … no change.

Last Sunday, one of the pastors at First Baptist, Pastor Frank Pomeroy, delivered the sermon at First Baptist of Sutherland Springs. He told the church faithful to trust in God’s plan, no matter how hard it might be.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely, or lean, on your own understanding,” he said.

On Sunday morning, Pastor Pomeroy’s daughter, Annabelle, was among the 26 killed. She was 14 years old.

Tonight, I’m praying, God help us.

For surely, we cannot, will not help ourselves.

There are two things wrong with those concluding lines. One is the “god thing.”

In a reply to Roberts’ tweet. Frannyjean weighed in on the god thing:

Leave god out of it. This was in a church AGAIN; obviously god was there and allowed it to happen. Enough with the god thing. It’s guns.

The second thing is “cannot” vs. “will not”. Roberts cannot have it both ways. “Cannot” implies helplessness. America the great, the “sleeping tiger” feared around the world, is helpless to protect its own citizens here at home? That is the great lie promoted by NRA, the gun lobby, the firearms industry, and their shills in congress.

That leaves “will not” which implies moral and criminal culpability.

In another reply to Roberts’ tweet, Toby @PhxGingi concluded that

It’s time to admit that as a society we’re ok with mass killings as we lack the moral, ethical & political will to stop them #GunContolNow

As I wrote after the Las Vegas shooting, just over a month ago, in J’accuse: Our national failure and disgrace:

I accuse, then, most of all, the United States of America for its failure as a nation. I accuse the USA of failing “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity …” I accuse the USA of inflicting unjust injury on its citizens. I accuse the USA of fostering domestic discord. I accuse the USA of harming the general welfare. I accuse the USA of the dishonest equation of guns and liberty. I accuse the United States of America of accepting and condoning the deaths of its citizens.

Sure, have a heart. Cry for the departed. And then cry again for our country.

J’accuse: Our national failure and disgrace

J’accuse

Cross posted from http://www.Skyislandscriber.com

In 1898 the French writer Emile Zola published an open letter critical of the French government titled “J’accuse” – I accuse. I’ll get back to that in a moment. But first …

J’avoue

I confess.

Viewing the TV news last evening I discovered something ugly about myself. That thing I discovered is that I no longer had a visceral, emotional reaction to the news of the latest mass shooting. The numbers, 59 killed and 527 injured, are mere statistics. The videos of people getting shot and running for their lives are visual props for the nightly news.

I don’t think it’s just me. I think it is a cultural malady afflicting Americans. We have seen this cycle so often that our innate reactions, our primordial reflexes, have now been inhibited by repeated mass shootings with no consequences. David Fitzsimmons in this morning’s Daily Star perfectly captures this cycle of insanity.

We psychologists know about latent inhibition in which “a familiar stimulus takes longer to acquire meaning (as a signal or conditioned stimulus) than a new stimulus.” That is, in the present context, repeated exposure to mass shootings via the broadcast news renders us less capable of feeling revulsion that such events should cause.

You think I’m over-reacting? Consider this op-ed in this morning’s Daily Star, As a longtime gun owner, I wonder what to say. The author, Stu Bykofsky, says “As a lawful gun owner, as a defender of the Bill of Rights — all of them — I say you can’t saddle the 99.9 percent of gun owners who have done nothing wrong with the sins of the 0.1 percent who have criminal intent. But it gets harder for me to say that, to believe that, each time something like this happens. It gets harder to justify those deaths as the cost of living free.

So we are to believe, on this twisted logic, that those 59 people voluntarily gave up their lives to insure some one’s freedom to own assault weapons? I guess I have not been rendered totally insensate. This guy pisses me off. And so does the inability of the most powerful nation on earth to protect those 59 people.

And all that brings me back to my cold start.

J’accuse

I accuse.

I accuse the gun industry of promoting profits over people.

I accuse the National Rifle Association of propaganda in defense of weapons of mass murder. I accuse the NRA of abandoning their original purposes in favor of becoming a political machine divorced from anything other than its own ends.

I accuse our political leaders, every one of them, of being craven cowards. I accuse our political leaders of favoring the gun lobby that bribes them to do the will of the gun industry and NRA. I accuse our political leaders of trading the lives of their constituents for guns and bullets. I accuse Congress of being complicit in those murders.

I accuse the news media of being the means by which our aversions to blood and gore have been extinguished.

I accuse our religious leaders of accepting an association between God and guns. I accuse our religious leaders of doing nothing to prevent more murders of God’s children.

I accuse the American people for tolerating the murders of their fellow citizens – adults and children alike – in the name of an archaic document. I accuse my fellow Americans of rewriting their Constitution so as to bestow a right to bear weapons of mass murder. I accuse my fellow Americans of living in mindless fear, of being so afraid of all that surrounds us. I accuse my fellow Americans of being gulled by the gun industry and the NRA and the political leaders into believing that more guns mean more freedom and security.

I accuse, then, most of all, the United States of America for its failure as a nation. I accuse the USA of failing “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity …” I accuse the USA of inflicting unjust injury on its citizens. I accuse the USA of fostering domestic discord. I accuse the USA of harming the general welfare. I accuse the USA of the dishonest equation of guns and liberty. I accuse the United States of America of accepting and condoning the deaths of its citizens.

Why America must fix income inequality – and do it fast

Cross-posted from skyislandscriber.com

FACT: Economic inequality in America has been on a steep rise for over 40 years.

FAC T: The inequality curve persisted regardless of which political party controlled Congress and regardless of which political party controlled the White House.

FACT: CEO compensation has risen dramatically while worker wages have stagnated or declined.

THEORY: America is about to have a second Civil War.

Back in Feb 2016 I posted on a Politico essay by a very rich guy named Nick Hanauer: Read this one (again):The pitchforks are coming … and are central to the 2016 election.

Now yesterday morning (Aug 30 2017), NPR’s 1A interviewed Nick Hanauer on inequality and what the 1% can do to prevent the pitchforks from coming (Zillionaire To Other Zillionaires: “Pay Up”).

Billionaires: Pay up or else...
Nick Hanauer to Billionaires: It’s this or the pitchforks

You probably don’t know Nick Hanauer, but he has more money than you. As a self-proclaimed “unapologetic capitalist,” Hanauer deals in millions the way many Americans deal in hundreds … or tens.

A few years ago, Hanauer called on his fellow one percenters to address America’s growing income inequality.

If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It’s not if, it’s when.

Hanauer’s advice hasn’t exactly been heeded. And he’s now telling the super-wealthy to pay workers more to avoid an uprising.

Thing is, is anyone listening?

The short answer is “no”.

Here is a 2017 update in Politico, To My Fellow Plutocrats: You Can Cure Trumpism. Pay your workers a decent wage and maybe you can stave off the pitchforks that are still coming for us. by NICK HANAUER, July 18, 2017.

My own ideas about the effect of inequality on social instability align with the work of social scientist Peter Turchin. He and his collaborators use mathematical models to study the rise and fall of societies—an analysis that postulates a new American civil war arriving as soon as 2021 (and in a highly-armed nation already suffering from an epidemic of gun violence, he doesn’t mean “civil war” metaphorically). For the first time in history, polls show that most Democrats and Republicans identify Americans from the opposing party as the biggest threat to our country. So yes—if you have a deep sense that something is very wrong with our nation, you are almost certainly correct.

This is stunning. If you want a look at what this might mean, check my post from yesterday about the American War. If the prediction about the timing is even close, it means that we have four years to correct the economic misdeeds of four decades – 40 years. I’m taking on as a project reading Turchin’s book and writing a précis of it. Stay tuned.

America can be fixed. But Trumpism is not the answer – it is the symptom of the social/political consequences of gross inequality. If you want to know what Trumpists are doing about the fear of an impending revolt, see AZBlue Meanie’s post yesterday on An authoritarian vision of ‘law and order’. Trump has just renewed the flow of military grade hardware to local police departments. Exactly who do you think such arms will be used against? Hint: it ain’t the 1%. Hanauer explains: “You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state.”

America can be fixed but, ironically, the folks best positioned to do something about it are Hanauer and his real audience – the other multi-multi-millionaires and billionaires. The solution, according to Hanauer, is to immediately raise the minimum wage. That may not be cake, but it sure as hell would put more bread on the table of millions of working Americans. Consult Hanauer’s essay for data on the effects of raising the minimum wage. In all cases studied, increasing the minimum wage proved good for the economy.

Hanauer identifies what won’t work.

President Trump promises to restore the middle class to its former glory by bringing back old industrial-era jobs—as if slashing environmental regulations could somehow make coal competitive again with plummeting solar prices, let alone our fracking-induced glut of cheap natural gas. This is magical thinking. Manufacturing as a percentage of the overall economy, and of jobs, has been declining globally for decades. This trend will not reverse. Trump cannot restore the middle class with empty promises to bring manufacturing jobs back from the dead.

Many of us wealthy folks are laudably philanthropic; we feel like we are already doing our part to improve the lives of our fellow citizens. And this is true, to some extent. But if my thesis is correct—if the only cure for what truly threatens our democracy and our capitalist economy is to enact laws and standards that ensure that businesses pay people enough to lead secure, dignified lives—then some of our effort may be misdirected. Philanthropy is useful, but only about $100 billion per year is spent on helping disadvantaged folks. Raising the minimum wage to $15 would increase income for the bottom 60 percent of Americans by about $450 billion per year. No philanthropy comes close to the scale of that one policy.

So let’s get on with fixing America. If you are reading this, you are a progressive or Democrat or Berniecrat and you most likely belong to some related organization. If your organization does not have as its top priority addressing income inequality now, your organization is part of the problem. You can quote me on that.

More on the Magical Moderate Makeover of Martha McSally: A "centrist" she is not

McSally and AHCA vote
From AZBlueMeanie

Cross posted from skyislandscriber.com

Now that the Obamacare repeal seems dead, I’m watching the magical moderate makeover of Martha McSally with a witches brew of some amusement and some anger. You might recall that she exhorted her Republican colleagues in the House to “get this fucking thing done”- “this” being the AHCA repeal and replace bill that would have kicked 23 million people off of health insurance. And she then voted for that bill.

Now McSally is riding a different horse. She is part of a supposed “centrist” group in the House working up a way to save Obamacare.

Before proceeding, let me remind you of how one can arrive at a “centrist” group. It’s called averaging. Suppose the group consists of two Republicans, one voting with Trump 51% of the time and the other voting with Trump 49% of the time. The average is a centrist 50%. Now suppose a different group, one Republican voting with Trump 100% of the time and the other voting with Trump 0% of the time. The average is still 50% – (100 + 0)/2. Martha McSally, until recently, was voting 100% Trump (now her record is 97.5%). I see nothing “centrist” about McSally.

Politico.com reports on Centrist lawmakers plot bipartisan health care stabilization bill.

The [so-called centrist] push was intensified after the Senate’s repeal collapsed in the wee hours of Friday morning when Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and John McCain (R-Ariz.) joined with all Senate Democrats to reject the GOP’s “skinny repeal."

The Problem Solvers caucus, led by Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) and Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), is fronting the effort to stabilize the ACA markets, according to multiple sources. But other centrist members, including Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), and several other lawmakers from the New Democrat Coalition and the GOP’s moderate Tuesday Group are also involved.

Their plan focuses on immediately stabilizing the insurance market and then pushing for Obamacare changes that have received bipartisan backing in the past.

The most significant proposal is funding for Obamacare’s cost-sharing subsidies. Insurers rely on these payments – estimated to be $7 billion this year — to reduce out-of-pocket costs for their poorest Obamacare customers.

Locally, the proposal was reported in today’s Green Valley News by editor Dan Shearer in Bipartisan effort tackles health care and defended by McSally in an editorial Bipartisan collaboration will make a statement.

But this proposal may be DOA. Politico acknowledges that Trump could still kill Obamacare by withholding those payments.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to cut off the payments, deriding them as a “bailout” for insurance companies. White House counselor Kelly Conway said on Sunday that Trump will decide “this week” whether to scrap the subsidies — which could make the markets implode.

For more on McSally and related issues see this morning’s post, The rehabilitation of Martha McSally as a mythical moderate Republican begins, at Blog for Arizona by AZBlueMeanie

Oh, this is rich. Rep. Martha McSally, who rallied House GOP members to pass House Speaker Paul Ryan’s American Health Care Act in the House with the battle cry of “Let’s get this fucking thing done!”, has now joined a bipartisan House group to stabilize “Obamacare.”

This is like the arsonist who burns your house to the ground and then pretends to be a hero by rescuing you from the fire she set. And the GOP-friendly media in Arizona is playing along with McSally’s attempt to rehabilitate her image by again pretending that McSally is a mythical moderate Republican when she votes with Donald Trump’s agenda nearly 100% of the time.

If GOP leaders actually revive an Obamacare repeal plan, you can bet that our mythical moderate Republican Martha McSally will again vote to take health care away from millions of Americans and to gut Medicaid.

Just in case there is any doubt remaining on that matter, here is part of what McSally had to say in her GV News editorial.

To be clear, I think the Affordable Care Act was not the right approach to fix the broken health care system that existed before its passage,

What other approaches might she admit and support? Yesterday in speculating about the GOP’s future I posted this:

… Last night CD2 Rep. Martha McSally was interviewed by Chris Hayes on MSNBC. He asked her if defunding the ACA cost reduction payments, as Trump has threatened, is the right thing to do. He asked and asked and got only dodges and fog. …

Now I obtained Monday’s transcript. Here are (lightly edited) snippets.

Hayes: … in congress now that efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare have yet again failed, some lawmakers are now looking for bipartisan solution to strengthen the law.

Politico reports their proposal includes funding, those cost sharing subsidies to help low income Americans, as well as easing insurance requirements for smaller employers.

And two of those lawmakers join me now. Democratic Congressman Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, and Republican Congresswoman Martha McSally of Arizona.

Congresswoman, let me begin with you. Do you think it is appropriate for the President to be essentially threatening to take away that money and spike peoples premiums as a means of gaining political leverage over the law?

McSally: Well, Chris, thanks for having us on. Let me be clear, this is a hot button issue, and we still have sincerely held different beliefs about what is a sustainable health care system. … [lots more here but no answer to the question]

Hayes: … I just want to come back because I did ask you a question, whether you think it is appropriate for the President and not just to threaten, but a thing he might do which is to hold back the money– you talk about costs are too high for people and people are having problems, that would explicitly making that problem worse. He shouldn`t do that, should he?

McSally: As you can see from our plan that we released, 43 members of congress nearly equally on both sides aisle, one of the elements is to fund those cost sharing reductions, those CSRs. But not just throwing money at the problem and not being fiscally responsible because structurally it needs some changes. So the Stability Fund is absolutely critical to address those with the highest expenses and most complex medical needs so we can help drive down premiums and provide more options so the that young healthy people are in the market.

She never did answer the question which was about the morality of Trump’s threat to stop cost sharing payments.

I wrapped up my McSally segment yesterday with this:

… Former air force pilot McSally is scarfing up all kinds of good PR with her problem solving caucus but does not have the right stuff when it comes standing up to Trump. Shame on her.

Trump makes war on the states: More on the voter data demand from Trump’s voter suppression commission

Cross posted from skyislandscriber.com.

Donald Trump has picked fights with the judiciary, members of Congress, and the executive branch itself (Comey, Obama). In addition, he has waged all-out war on our free press. Having exhausted potential targets for his infamous and indecent Twump-ly trirades at the national level, he is now picking a fight with state-level election officials.

What started this spat (which is likely to develop into something bigger because of the stakes), is the letter sent to the 50 Secretaries of State by the co-chair of Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity (aka by some as the voter suppression commission), Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. (The full text of the letter follows the break.)

Nearly 1/3 of the states responded negatively for reasons developed below. In response, Trump says states are ‘trying to hide’ things from his voter fraud commission. But: Here’s what they actually say.

More than two dozen states have refused to fully comply with a sweeping and unprecedented White House request to turn over voter registration data, including sensitive information like partial Social Security numbers, party affiliation and military status.

Overall, the states that have said they will not be complying at all with the Kobach commission’s request represent over 30 percent of the nation’s population. That could complicate any efforts to build a truly national voter file, although it remains unclear what the commission’s ultimate goal is in collecting the data.

As it turns out, the bipartisan group of state officials withholding information from the commission have been very forthcoming about their reasons for not complying. …

Here are a couple of examples of the responses from Secretaries of State.

“I will not provide sensitive voter information to a commission that has already inaccurately passed judgment that millions of Californians voted illegally,” said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat.

“California’s participation would only serve to legitimize the false and already debunked claims of massive voter fraud made by the President, the Vice President, and Mr. Kobach,” he added. "[Kobach’s] role as vice chair is proof that the ultimate goal of the commission is to enact policies that will result in the disenfranchisement of American citizens.”

Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, another Democrat, struck a similar note.

“The president created his election commission based on the false notion that ‘voter fraud’ is a widespread issue — it is not,” Grimes said. “Kentucky will not aid a commission that is at best a waste of taxpayer money and at worst an attempt to legitimize voter suppression efforts across the country.”

In addition to the states’ responses, voter advocacy groups have been especially critical of the Trump/Kobach play. Snopes.com reports Growing Number of States Reject Voter Data Request From Trump’s Election Commission

Voter advocacy groups have also come out against the commission’s push for access to the data, which it said it wanted by 14 July 2017. League of Women Voters president Chris Carson said in a statement that her group would support any state that refused to comply with Kobach’s request:

There is no justification for this giant fishing expedition. The Commission itself is a distraction from the real issue of voter suppression, and that efforts to “investigate voter fraud” threaten our most fundamental voting rights. This most recent move by Mr. Kobach is an indicator that the so-called Election “Integrity” Commission is not interested in facts, but false accusations and dangerous policy recommendations.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law also condemned Kobach’s letters and called on his counterparts in other states to “discourage state and local officials” from participating in the commission’s activities:

This meritless inquisition opens the door for a misguided and ill-advised Commission to take steps to target and harass voters and could lead to purging of the voter rolls.

[From the Washington Post report:] “We’re concerned about unlawful voter purging, which has been something that Kris Kobach has been leading the charge,” said Vanita Gupta of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and former head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, in an interview Friday.

Part of the problem here is that few people trust Kris Kobach and Trump’s war against the states does not endear him to the state election officials.

[Snopes:] Kobach has not elaborated on how information collected by the commission would be kept safe.

Before joining Trump’s administration, Kobach worked as an attorney for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a hardline anti-immigration group. In September 2016, a federal appeals court found that Kobach had provided “precious little” evidence that non-U.S. citizens were engaging in voter fraud.

[Post:]Gupta and others argue that Kobach doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being honest about his work on voter fraud. Just a week ago, a federal judge fined Kobach $1,000 for “presenting misleading arguments in a voting-related lawsuit.”

To learn more about the man who Trump made co-chair of this bogus commission, see Ari Berman’s report on The Man Behind Trump’s Voter-Fraud Obsession. How Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, plans to remake America through restrictive voting and immigration laws.

Here is one reason, among dozens listed by Berman, why Kobach is an existential threat to our republic and deserves both respect and fear.

On June 8, Kobach announced his candidacy in the 2018 Kansas gubernatorial race, telling a room full of supporters in the Kansas City suburb of Lenexa that he had “the honor of personally advising President Trump, both before the election and after the election, on how to reduce illegal immigration. And is he doing a good job?” The crowd cheered. If Kobach wins, he could be positioned to run for president as the legal mind who can deliver the promise of Trumpism without the baggage of Trump himself.

Paul Waldman (Washington Post/Plum Line) sums it up in Why we should be very afraid of Trump’s vote suppression commission.

Let’s be clear: The sole purpose of this commission on “election integrity” is to suppress votes and give the GOP a structural advantage in every election. It’s being led by Kris Kobach, whose twin missions in life are to scale back immigration and to make voting more difficult. Other commission members include Ken Blackwell, a far-right activist who as secretary of state of Ohio in 2004 (while he was simultaneously serving as state co-chair of the George W. Bush campaign) tried to disenfranchise people whose registration forms were submitted on insufficiently heavy paper stock. The administration just added Hans von Spakovsky, who before Kobach emerged was known as the country’s most prominent advocate of vote suppression.

These people are not trying to determine whether there are problems with our voting system and find the best solutions to those problems. They have come together to promote the myth of voter fraud and enable vote suppression in order to advantage the Republican Party. No one should be fooled into thinking this enterprise is anything other than that.

If Kobach were successful in obtaining full names, addresses, dates of birth, and last four digits of social security numbers, and then putting all that in the public domain, as he said he would do, he would be inviting identity theft on a national scale. Every Secretary of State should join the resist movement.

Correction to yesterday’s post: Kris Kobach is the Kansas Secretary of State, not the Attorney General. His first name is Kris, not Chris.

The full text an example letter follows – it is the one sent to Maine. Emphases are mine.

Continue reading

Putin’s assault on our election, Obama’s secret responses, and Trump administration missing in action on preventing future election hacks

Cross-posted from skyislandscriber.com

Yesterday evening (Friday, June 23rd), Rachel Maddow reported on a stunning Washington Post story about Obama’s secret struggle to punish Russia for Putin’s election assault. I am not in the least ashamed to admit that I cannot do justice to the Post’s story with a few – or even many – snippets. It’s a long article but if you want to understand what the Russians did to our election, and what serious threat remains, you must read this story.

Here are my take-away messages from the Washington Post report.

  • Putin ordered and directed the Russian effort to help Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton.
  • Political push-back from Republican politicians, nationally and locally, prevented effective counter-measures.
  • American response was tempered by the fear that Russia would take additional cyber-action to disrupt the 2016 election.
  • Russia still has the means to disrupt future elections – 2016 was practice for a larger-scale intervention.
  • Obama initiated a U. S. program to develop cyber “implants” that could be triggered remotely as part of retaliation for any Russian aggression against our election system or power grid.
  • Trump has not interfered with that program but neither has he pushed for bolstering the security of our election infrastructure.

That last one based on an article by NBC News, Trump White House Has Taken Little Action To Stop Next Election Hack that appeared this morning (June 24).

The Trump administration has taken little meaningful action to prevent Russian hacking, leaking and disruption in the next national election in 2018, despite warnings from intelligence officials that it will happen again, officials and experts told NBC News.

“This attack is really the political equivalent of 9/11 — it is deadly, deadly serious,” said Michael Vickers, a career intelligence official who was the Pentagon’s top intelligence official in the Obama administration. “The Russians will definitely be back, given the success they had…I don’t see much evidence of a response.”

According to recent Congressional testimony, Trump has shown no interest in the question of how to prevent future election interference by Russia or another foreign power. …

Dozens of state officials told NBC News they have received little direction from Washington about election security.

That apparent top-level indifference, coupled with a failure to fill key jobs at the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies, has resulted in a government paralyzed by inaction when it comes to protecting the next election, experts and government officials told NBC News.

“The Trump administration is woefully missing in action,” said Gregory Miller, co-founder of the Silicon Valley based Open Source Election Technology Institute, a non-profit research group.

“It isn’t happening,” said David Jefferson, a voter security expert and computer scientist in the Center for Applied Scientific Computing, when asked whether he saw a U.S. government effort to address the problem.

What is the Trump administration doing? Apparently, they are pursuing a different agenda.

The White House says it’s sending letters to states and municipalities next week asking them to send data to an election fraud commission. It also points to the signing of a cybersecurity executive order as a step toward protecting elections.

WTF? They’re chasing a bogeyman down a rat hole while the clock is running out on time to strengthen our cyber defenses.

In interviews, dozens of state officials told NBC News they have had limited interaction with the Department of Homeland Security, which is tasked with helping them guard against cyber intrusions. They have seen no major initiative from the Trump administration, they added. …

And the threat remains.

… experts say Russia and other nation-states have shown themselves fully capable of manipulating actual votes.

“It was and is within the technical capacity of Russia and other nation states to interfere with our elections and to change votes, ” said Edward Felton, a Princeton computer scientist who served as deputy chief technology officer in the Obama administration. “We’re fortunate that they chose not to do it.”

J. Alex Halderman, professor of computer science at the University of Michigan, told a Senate hearing this week that he and his team demonstrated the ability to reprogram voting machines “to invisibly cause any candidate to win. We also created malicious software — vote-stealing code — that could spread from machine to machine like a computer virus, and silently change the election outcome.”

… U.S. intelligence officials say, it has to be made clear to the Russians or any other nation that there is a price to be paid for hacking an American election.

John McLaughlin, a former acting CIA director, said he had seen no indication that President Trump and his team have “weighed in with Russians or made clear to the Russians our determination to stop this.”

Links to clips from Rachel’s Friday show

Russian election hacks took US to brink of cyberwar: Rachel Maddow reviews some of the highlights of a lengthy, eye-opening report from The Washington Post about the reaction of the Obama administration to the news that Vladimir Putin was directing a cyberattack on the U.S. election.

Russia 2016 cyberattacks seen as dry run for future elections: Ellen Nakashima, national security reporter for The Washington Post, talks with Rachel Maddow about her reporting on Russia’s cyberattack on the U.S. election and the Obama administration’s deliberations on retaliation.

Uptick in Russian visa requests ahead of 2016 election: Ned Price, former NSC spokesman and senior director, shares with Rachel Maddow insights on the reporting by the Washington Post of an uptick in visa applications from Russia ahead of the 2016 election.