Author: Mitchell Blatt (Page 2 of 25)

Chinese Constitution Day: “Study the Party Congress”

The current constitution of the People’s Republic of China was adopted on December 4, 1982, making December 4 Constitution Day. Some of the subway stations in Nanjing are blanketed this month with ads calling for the public to “study the implementation of the 19th Party Congress.” The high-level Communist Party meeting was held this October and ushered in a new Politburo Standing Committee. In the photo above, I have added the English translation.

Public propaganda hailing the party and calling for study of recent political doctrines is common around China. On the campuses of universities, the 19th Party Congress is often hailed.


A banner at Hehai University in Nanjing calls for studying the implementation of the 19th Party Congress.

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Republicans investigating political enemies, defending power

In November 2016, I questioned whether Republicans who investigated the Obama administration with passion would do their job as a check on the president.

“Many Republicans are more concerned about excusing Trump’s abuses of power than investigating them,” I wrote.

We’ve seen their performance for one year. How have they done? There are token efforts in the House and a somewhat more critical effort in the Senate to look into the Russian controversies. The Republicans haven’t even lifted a finger to investigate Trump’s conflicts of interest as owner of a vast business network, including a DC hotel where foreign diplomats like to stay.

But there have always been a Trumpist Republicans eager to run interference for their guy. Rep. Devin Nunes met with the White House to coordinate talking points this spring. Now Nunes and other Republicans are using their powers to try to undermine the FBI. Rep. Matt Gaetz called for firing Mueller.

Attacks on Special Prosecutor and Republican Party member Robert Mueller have been picking up in recent weeks. Republicans have just held an investigatory session of FBI Director Andrew McCabe, and asked seemingly tougher questions than they ask of Trump’s allies.

The Trumpist wing of the right-wing media is picking up any and every straw they can find to try to undercut the investigation. The conservative wing of the right-wing media is often downplaying or ignoring revelations.

Meanwhile, Republicans are pushing harder and harder for Trump to investigate people who aren’t in power, like Hillary Clinton. Department of Justice director Jeff Sessions, after being pushed by Republicans to pick a Special Council to investigate Clinton, has “begun asking FBI agents to explain the evidence they found in a now dormant criminal investigation into a controversial uranium deal that critics have linked to Bill and Hillary Clinton, multiple law enforcement officials told NBC News.”

The idea for many Republicans seems to be to be a check (or even obstructionists) on watchdogs like the FBI and defeated politicians like Clinton and a guarddog on power.

Latinx is bullshxt

Just want to call attention to this op-ed by Daniel Hernandez in the L.A. Times from December 17: Op-ed: The case against ‘Latinx’.

In particular:

Nor is “Latinx” an organic neologism. It did not emerge from L.A.’s bilingual FM stations. The term is used mostly by an educated minority, largely in the U.S. And although there is little to no research yet on its specific origins, “Latinx” is definitely not used by working-class immigrant adults, who probably have no idea that some of us brown folks are debating this at all.

The difference between hypocrisy and evil

When Republican senators Mark Foley and Larry Craig were forced to resign because of sex scandals just over a decade ago, Byron Williams accused them of harboring “the hypocrisy of the hypocrisy.” Articles about the right-wing’s biggest sex hypocrites flood out every time a Donald Trump is exposed as having sexually assaulted someone or a Roy Moore is found to be a child molester.

The primary problem with Foley, Craig, Trump, and Moore, however, isn’t hypocrisy but immorality. Foley abused his power to proposition a page for oral sex. In addition to sexual harassment and abuse of power, Trump and Craig also committed adultery.

Sexual harassment and assault is a crime and an immoral violation of one’s rights no matter what one’s ideological or moral values system one follows. If a sexist man who believed that it was his right to grab women anytime, anywhere committed sexual assault, it would still be immoral despite the fact that that evil man wrongly believed it was his right.

To focus overwhelmingly on the “hypocrisy” aspect could have the unfortunate effect of downgrading immoral acts committed by immoral men. In effect, we are giving a free pass to the worst of the worst.

A common refrain from Trump supporters when Trump is caught lying, speaking like a 5th-grader, or having a temper tantrum at 5 am, is that, “We knew what we were getting with Trump.” Why, we did indeed know that he was guilty of multiple character flaws. He still is. Period.

If Osama bin Laden had been caught and brought in front of a judge, should he get off if he argued, “I have directed terrorist attacks for years. I openly talked about it and threatened it in propaganda statements. You already knew this”? Pathological dishonesty, incompetence, corruption and the like are in and of themselves.

When hypocrisy really matters

The Republicans just passed a tax bill that increases the deficit by $1 trillion and repeals the mandate that individuals purchase health insurance.

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Did the US and Iraq really defeat ISIS? Not so fast.

David French has a piece bemoaning that the Western media hasn’t reported America defeated ISIS in Iraq. Iraqi’s military, with American support, pushed ISIS out of Mosul and most of the area they occupied in Iraq, and now Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory. Iraq’s PM has a clear-self interest to declare victory, but it’s true that ISIS lost ground.

“So why does no one seem to care?” French wrote.

It’s just not that clear of a victory. Iraq remains an unstable, low-quality semi-democracy–the US didn’t accomplish its objectives there–and there’s no reason to believe that Iraq won’t ever be threatened by militants or terrorists again in the near future.

I won’t spend too much time on this, but here are a few relevant sources for why people should not get too excited about what is possibly an incomplete and short-lasting victory:
Iraq’s PM has a clear-self interest to declare victory, but it’s true that ISIS lost ground. – AFP

As Sumantra and I have written for The National Interest,

It is important to remember that the liberation of Mosul is not something to be proud of just yet. Economically, it is a damaged city—in worse condition than Stalingrad or Dresden. Materially, it is a commodity that nobody wishes to touch. Strategically, it is important—but that too is a curse, as it’s almost inevitable that a backlash will transpire, and Sunni civilians will suffer.

Unfortunately, Mosul is only one among many cities on the fault line of what increasingly appears to be an Iranian race to form a land bridge to the Mediterranean against periodic Sunni opposition. People will continue to suffer. Iraq’s central government is not, and will not be, capable of continuing to safeguard the area from falling further into the hands of jihadists. And the flawed counterinsurgency tactics of the West mean that the jihadist threat will merely go dormant until the next opportune moment.

Read our full article: Winning the hearts and minds won’t eliminate ISIS

Just a reminder: Trump is unhinged

Donald Trump went off on another gibberish-filled rant at 5 am EST today, as he does most days. I would like to say this is “bad even by Trump’s standards,” but that would be a cliche and not true. His ordinary level of discourse is extremely coarse.

But that doesn’t mean we should ignore reality just because some of the press that covers Trump wants us to define down deviancy. If you saw this message and didn’t know who wrote it, you would think that person was an extremely thin-skinned, ill-tempered, vain man with no self-control.

He doesn’t respond to the charges. He doesn’t sound original or unaffected. His message contains precisely no useful information to reflect poorly on his presumed target (and no truthful information whatsoever). The only person who would be moved to support the message is someone who values the power of emotional charisma, the low-brow “dominance” politics of a tyrant, and “loyalty” to a political leader.

Trump’s attacks on the foundational tenets of republican democracy are important. The health of our republican form of democracy is not trivial. The American system is based on rational-legal authority. Revolutionary systems like fascism and communism are often based on the charismatic authority of a Mao, Pol Pot, Stalin, Chavez or Duterte. The megalomaniac in charge asserts someone hasn’t been “loyal” to him personally, and that is taken as a criticism–and grounds to rise up in fury–by the leader’s cultish followers.

Trump’s purposeful divide strategy is contributing to the biggest partisan division Pew has found on record. The president attacking the legitimacy of his political opponents–who make up a majority of the country–and acting in a manner undignified of his office, or of anyone speaking in society, really, is a recipe for creating social strife.

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A solution to sexual assault

The epidemic* of men being fired for sexual harassment and assault has laid bare the scale of men abusing their power at the highest levels—and the depths to which their depravity extends.

Pundits, journalists, reformers and the public are talking about what can be done to solve the problem. For some men, solving the problem doesn’t so much mean decreasing the incidence of sexual assault as it does protecting themselves from getting fired for allegedly committing sexual assault.

Proposals have included refusing private meetings with women (i.e. students, coworkers, and partners in deals) and invoking US Vice President Mike Pence’s personal policy. If I don’t meet with women, I will never be accused of assault!, the thinking goes.

One obvious problem at the start is that men often have to meet with women to correct papers or discuss topics relating to their work. Shutting women out could deny women opportunities—simply because of improprieties committed by other men.

I would propose what might be a better idea: not sexually assaulting women. Reading the cases from Harvey Weinstein, Louie CK, and Matt Lauer to Roy Moore, Al Franken, and Donald Trump, it’s amazing how many of these controversies could have been avoided if only they didn’t sexually assault people in the first place.

Louie masturbated in front of women in his office. Lauer locked women in his office and attempted to seduce and/or coerce them. Weinstein allegedly raped a dozen women.

The Washington Times paraphrases Jay Richards of the Catholic University of America:

The entry of women into the workforce since World War II, followed by the sexual revolution and the erasure of well-established sexual mores, has left men and women with little guidance as to how to interact in the workplace, Mr. Richards said.

Don’t give women sex toys, like Lauer did, for starters. Don’t make passes at every woman in the office, particularly employees in low-level jobs, and use appurtances of power to pressure them. Don’t meet your subordinates in a hotel room, as Weinstein and Trump made a practice of doing.

Basically, not doing things against someone’s will is a pretty easy and universal rule.

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When will conservatives admit that sometimes a Democrat is better than a Republican?

If you want to vote for the lesser of two evils, then you would vote for the Democrat in Alabama, for the US presidency.

The Federalist published an article by a Christian studies professor at Ouachita Baptist University arguing for Alabama voters to vote for “the lesser of two evils”–by which he meant Roy Moore. Christians supporting a corrupt liar and sexual degenerate guilty of assault? Wouldn’t be the first time they’ve done it in the past two years.

After both questioning the heavily-substantiated allegations and stating that the allegations are probably true, he eventually gets to the meat of his argument:

If one can’t vote for someone who is better (that is, less bad or less evil) or who is equally bad but has better policies, then one should opt out of politics and the voting process altogether!

That sentence, itself, is absolutely true! So why do conservatives and Republicans–including the writer himself–never follow it? To wit, why, if he thinks we should vote for the lesser of two evils, did he write an article expressly advocating for voting for the most evil candidate (“Why Alabamans Should Vote for Roy Moore,” it is titled).

A lot of conservative Republicans are so extremely partisan that they think the very fact of one being a Democrat is the worst thing anyone can do in the world.

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Michael Flynn plea explains a lot

From Trump’s transition, his demands for loyalty, to his recent unhinged tweets, Mike Flynn’s plea deal brings things into focus.

The news that former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn plead guilty to lying to the FBI is a bombshell that opens up uncertainties and rumors to clearer interpretations.

The one single charge appears small when compared to news reports detailing Michael Flynn’s alleged actions as a foreign influence-peddler, his failures to disclosure Russian-sourced income, and even his possible consideration of a scheme to kidnap a Turkish disident living in America and send him to Erdogan in exchange for $5 million dollars. As others have pointed out, including David French, Lawfare’s team, and David A. Graham, intense prosecutors, like the one who threw the books at Manafort, don’t give away sweet plea deals for nothing (Flynn is recommended to face no more than 6 months). This points to Flynn likely cooperating nicely with Mueller and offering useful testimony.

Lawfare noted that Flynn’s deal doesn’t absolve him from all potential charges. Again, another reasonable interpretation is that if Flynn doesn’t deliver he might be facing much worse.

What could the promised testimony be? Already there is a flood of articles reporting that high-level Trump administration officials directed him to communicate with the Russian government, with Jared Kushner being named personally. ABC News reports that Flynn is prepared to testify that Donald Trump directed him to talk to Russia about ISIS. Eli Lake reports that Kushner told him to contact Russia. BuzzFeed reports that Kushner also told him to call foreign countries to lobby them on the controversial UN resolution on Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory that the Obama administration refused to veto. Kushner had previously been reported to have tried to set up a backchannel to Russia.

All three reports, or some variation, could be simultaneously be true; if Trump personally mentioned ISIS, whether as a pretext or otherwise, when telling Flynn to contact Russia, Kushner could have given more specifics. Also worth emphasizing is that the ABC story refers to things Flynn is allegedly prepared to testify to, while the other two refer to things that reportedly happened, the difference between a reporter substantiating a story enough to say it probably happened and investigators substantiating something enough to convince a witness he has no choice but to admit it happened.

The documents reveal what had been reported in the first two months of the Trump administration: that Flynn lied about discussion sanctions with Russian officials. The documents state that Flynn then informed Trump transition team officials stationed in Mar-a-lago about his communications. At the time, Russia abstained from ratcheting up its response, and Trump praised Putin for his “smart” decision. Trump officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, made public statements denying that Flynn had discussed sanctions. Flynn was then fired on the pretense that he had lied to Pence.

At the very least this is reignites the political problem for Trump that it seems that he and his leading deputies likely intentionally misled about Flynn, even after having been warned by Sally Yates.

Furthermore, it makes Trump’s attempts to get the stiffle the Flynn investigation even more suspect. At the time, the Flynn was the particular individual mentioned specifically to Comey in the Oval Office. That he wanted Comey to “see to it” to drop the investigation, and then fired him on pretenses that he would let slip days later were unreliable, suggests with a very high degree of likelihood that he knew something that reflected poorly on him or his administration would be uncovered.

Reports from late in the campaign through the transition up until now about the nature of Russian meddling and the investigation are being confirmed or corroborated with each new indictment that comes out.

Trump Tweets Mirror Flynn Cooperation

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2 new articles for Areo and Acculturated

Your editor Mitchell Blatt is back with big pieces in Accultrated and Areo Magazine.

First, commenting in Acculturated on the lack of appeal for a movie about failed candidate for Texas governor and two-time filibusterer Wendy Davis:

In an interview with Refinery 29, Davis said, “I honestly never believed something like this would happen” (before stating in the next sentence how many people were telling her after the filibuster that a film should be made about her). Indeed, she might be right. The movie idea is still in the early stages of development and might very well end up suffering the same fate as her TV series.

Full article: Why Would Sandra Bullock Want to Make a Movie About Wendy Davis?

Next, in Areo Magazine I point to the problem of clickbait reporting–when journalists and/or editors distort facts in their headlines and leads such that it fundamentally changes the meaning of the story.

If you were reading Salon, ThinkProgress, or Glenn Greenwald this October 3rd, you might think the United States under Trump’s leadership began the process of criminalizing homosexuality and executing gays…

Full article: Why Clickbait Reporting is the Real Problem, Not Liberal Bias

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