Browsing the blog archives for November, 2017.

Back to the Old Mental Illness Dodge

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Here is the “mental health and mass shooting” archive of Mahablog posts, starting with the most recent:

Evolutionary Psychology and Extreme Gun Ownership (October 7, 2017)

Labeling Stephen Paddock (October 3, 2017)

Are Guns Nuts Too Mentally Ill to Own Guns? (June 22, 2016)

The Fantasies of Terrorism (June 17, 2016)

On Crime, Crazy and Culture (December 24, 2014)

Impulse and Ideology (June 16, 2014)

Thoughts on the Mass Shooting du Jour (June 9, 2014)

The Heart of Darkness (Ma7 27, 2014)

Under the Crazy Rug (May 25, 2014)

Hitler and the Gun Nuts (January 12, 2013)

Guns as Sacred Objects (January 10, 2013)

Call Us All Crazy (December 24, 2012)

Defenses: Insanity (January 24, 2011)

Culture and Conditioning (January 11, 2011)

There may be some older ones, but I think that’s enough. They all kind of make the same argument, which is:

Most of the time, mass shooters don’t have a definable “mental illness.” They do tend to have a similar complex of common personality and behavioral characteristics, however. They tend to be hotheads. They tend to be impulsive. Often they are socially awkward in some way; women may call them “creepy.” They don’t tend to have successful relationships, in other words, although sometimes they are married. Very often they have histories of domestic violence and animal abuse. They probably hoard several firearms and have for a while.

Guys like this are as common as toast. What they don’t have is any kind of brain or medically defined psychiatric disorder that accounts for their decisions to kill people. They are not psychotic; they are not hearing voices in their heads or imagining that the nice people in the church are really space invaders.

And there is no way for the psychiatrists to know whether this or that creepy hotheaded asshole is the one who might be a mass shooter, or not.  Further, there is no medical treatment for being a creepy hotheaded asshole.

So, labeling mass shooters as “mentally ill” does absolutely nothing to help us address the problem. It’s no different from calling them “bad” or “evil.” It’s a meaningless label that gives us no usable information.

The problem (especially argued in the most recent posts) is that this is more of a social or cultural pathology than an individual one. There is something in our culture (plus the availability of firearms) that is causing this. One of those elements is our romanticization of firearms, I’m sure (see especially “Guns as Sacred Objects“). Somehow the acts of firing bullets into flesh is the “point”; mass killing by other means, such as by arson or bombs, is much less common among our creepy hotheaded assholes, which suggests those other means don’t have the same emotional appeal.

I’m also more and more convinced that the same complex of personality and behavioral traits that caused Devin Patrick Kelley to open fire in a church pushes young men elsewhere to join ISIS and other terrorist organizations. The difference between a “terrorist” and “some white guy shooting people for no good reason” is pretty damn blurry, and possibly meaningless, also. Well, except to some people.


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Trump in Asia; or, the Idiot Abroad

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President Donald Trump is apparently disappointed that Japan failed to shoot down the North Korean missiles that flew over the country earlier this year, according to diplomatic sources that talked to the Kyodo news agency. Trump reportedly questioned the country’s decision during conversations with Southeast Asian leaders over the past few months. The president was particularly confused about the lack of action because Japan is a “country of samurai warriors,” according to the report.

North Korea launched ballistic missiles over Japan in August and September. But Japan’s miliary quickly concluded the missiles were not a direct threat to the country and did not interrupt their path before they crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Commentators on Twitter were flabbergasted by the remarks, surprised at how the U.S. president seemingly did not understand how shooting down the North Korea missiles could have been seen as an act of war that would have needlessly escalated the conflict.

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Face It: The DNC Was Financially Dependent on the Clinton Campaign, Beginning in 2015

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After a few hours of hmming and hawing and shuffling of feet, the DNC’s Tony Perez came out with the story that of course the DNC had a joint fundraising agreement with Clinton, but Brazile was confusing the pre-nomination agreement from September 2015 with the post-nomination agreement in 2016. So there’s nothing to see here; move along.

This would seem to be a legitimate argument, since joint fundraising agreements that give the nominee considerable control over the DNC have been common for a long time. For nominees. Not candidates before the nomination is settled.

Late yesterday came out with a story that there was an additional agreement Perez hadn’t mentioned.

In a letter to DNC members, Chairman Tom Perez noted that the party reached joint fundraising agreements with both Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. “The joint fundraising agreements were the same for each campaign except for the treasurer, and our understanding was that the DNC offered all of the presidential campaigns the opportunity to set up a [joint fundraising agreement] and work with the DNC to coordinate on how those funds were used to best prepare for the general election.”

That may be true — but two Democratic officials tell NPR that Brazile and Perez are referring to two different things. In addition to that joint fundraising agreement the DNC reached with both campaigns, the party and the Clinton campaign struck that separate memorandum of understanding giving the campaign staffing and policy oversight.

That document was signed on Aug. 26, 2015 — before, among other things, Vice President Joe Biden ruled out a run for president.

The DNC has not denied this characterization or timeline.

But for now, let’s put aside questions of who signed what, and when. There is one big, fat, irrefutable fact that Clinton supporters refuse to face but cannot deny, which is this:

The joint fundraising agreement entered into by the Clinton campaign, the DNC and 33 states in 2015 made the DNC financially dependent on the Clinton campaign. And this provided a powerful incentive for the DNC to be sure that Clinton won the nomination and continued her campaign to the general election. If Sanders had won, the money spigot would have been turned off.

As has now been thoroughly reported, the DNC was broke in 2015. It was also broke in 2014 and 2013. This was not Clinton’s fault; news stories have blamed President Obama and Debbie Wasserman Schultz. But however it happened, it was broke. And the only solution to the DNC’s money problems that presented itself was the Hillary Victory Fund. So, even though the various agreements released so far have suggested that the DNC pledged to remain impartial during the primaries, they obviously were hugely motivated to not be so impartial.

Now, the next comment is bound to be, but Sanders could have raised money for the DNC and the states, too!  But he really couldn’t, and now I will explain why.

Here’s now the Clinton setup worked: The Hillary Victory Fund was a joint fundraising agreement set up with the Clinton campaign, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic parties of 33 states.  It was not exactly a PAC, but something like a PAC. Individual donors could give up to $356,100 per year, and since this was set up in 2015 some gave this maximum for two years, for a total of $712,200. Of course, a lot of donations were smaller.

The fund was controlled by a committee jointly staffed by the Clinton campaign and the DNC. Its treasurer was Clinton’s chief operating officer. However, there were legal restrictions on what the committee did with the money; election finance rules don’t allow campaigns to accept that much money and use it any way it wants. Kenneth Vogel and Isaac Arnsdorf reported for Politico in May 2016:

The venture, the Hillary Victory Fund, is a so-called joint fundraising committee comprised of Clinton’s presidential campaign, the Democratic National Committee and 32 state party committees. The setup allows Clinton to solicit checks of $350,000 or more from her super-rich supporters at extravagant fundraisers including a dinner at George Clooney’s house and a concert at Radio City Music Hall featuring Katy Perry and Elton John.

The victory fund has transferred $3.8 million to the state parties, but almost all of that cash ($3.3 million, or 88 percent) was quickly transferred to the DNC, usually within a day or two, by the Clinton staffer who controls the committee, POLITICO’s analysis of the FEC records found.

By contrast, the victory fund has transferred $15.4 million to Clinton’s campaign and $5.7 million to the DNC, which will work closely with Clinton’s campaign if and when she becomes the party’s nominee. And most of the $23.3 million spent directly by the victory fund has gone toward expenses that appear to have directly benefited Clinton’s campaign, including $2.8 million for “salary and overhead” and $8.6 million for web advertising that mostly looks indistinguishable from Clinton campaign ads and that has helped Clinton build a network of small donors who will be critical in a general election expected to cost each side well in excess of $1 billion.

Per reporting by Politico, the HVF committee was depositing big checks from fundraisers into state Democratic Party bank accounts, but then taking the money out again, usually the same day. This appears to have been a way to legally “launder” the money so that Clinton could take the equivalent of an individual contribution — $2700 for the primaries, and another $2700 for the general, off the top. Then the money was passed on to the DNC. which was entitled to $33,400 per donation, and eventually, for the general election, remaining monies were released to states. And this is completely legal, by the way.

But here’s the catch, as far as Sanders is concerned. Campaign finance reform was one of his signature issues, and he was working hard to accept only individual contributions. As a primary candidate, he was accepting only $2700 per person per donation. And no more. (When FEC records showed some of his donors had exceeded this amount, he was obliged to give the extra money back.)

So how was Sanders supposed to compete with Clinton without betraying his own principles? He couldn’t. Those of you saying that it was just Sanders’s personal choice to not raise money for down-ticket candidates can kiss my ass.

Politico reported in May, 2016:

The arrangement has sparked concerns among campaign finance watchdogs and allies of Clinton’s Democratic rival Bernie Sanders. They see it as a circumvention of campaign contribution limits by a national party apparatus intent on doing whatever it takes to help Clinton defeat Sanders during the party’s primary, and then win the White House.

But it is perhaps more notable that the arrangement has prompted concerns among some participating state party officials and their allies. They grumble privately that Clinton is merely using them to subsidize her own operation, while her allies overstate her support for their parties and knock Sanders for not doing enough to help the party.

 At that point, the article says, states were only allowed to keep about 1 percent of the funds being raised. Again, more would be kicked in for the general elections; see Open Secrets for what I assume are the final totals. But Clinton herself benefited from the HVF more than any of the states, so it wasn’t exactly an exercise in selfless altruism.
Further — and this is a significant point — there is no question that a significant amount of the money that went to the DNC during the primaries was being spent on behalf of the Clinton campaign, to the detriment of the Sanders campaign. Remember, even after the money allegedly had been passed on to the DNC, Clinton’s own chief operating officer was heading the committee controlling it.

Ad soliciting donations for the HIllary Victory Fund.

The financial disclosure reports on file with the Federal Election Commission indicate that the joint committee invested millions in low-dollar, online fundraising and advertising that solely benefits the Clinton campaign. The Sanders campaign “is particularly concerned that these extremely large-dollar individual contributions have been used by the Hillary Victory Fund to pay for more than $7.8 million in direct mail efforts and over $8.6 million in online advertising” according to the letter to the DNC. Both outlays benefit the Clinton presidential campaign “by generating low-dollar contributions that flow only to HFA [Hillary for America] rather than to the DNC or any of the participating state party committees.”

The questionable outlays “have grown to staggering magnitudes” and “can no longer be ignored,” Deutsch added.

The expenditures on advertising and fundraising are at best “an impermissible in-kind contribution from the DNC and the participating state party committees” to Clinton’s presidential campaign, the letter said. “At worst, using funds received from large-dollar donors who have already contributed the $2,700 maximum to HFA [Hillary for America] may represent an excessive contribution to HFA from these individuals.”

In addition, the joint committee has paid the Clinton campaign committee $2.6 million ostensibly to “reimburse” the Clinton presidential campaign staff for time spent running the joint committee. The unusual arrangement, Deutsch said, “raises equally serious concerns that joint committee funds, which are meant to be allocated proportionally among the participating committees, are being used to impermissibly subsidize HFA through an over-reimbursement for campaign staffers and resources.”

“While the use of joint fundraising agreements has existed for some time — it is unprecedented for the DNC to allow a joint committee to be exploited to the benefit of one candidate in the midst of a contested nominating contest,” said Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ campaign manager.

To read the letter, click here.

These issues were never properly addressed. Basically, the Democratic Party and mainstream media, including “liberal” media, told the Sanders campaign to shut up.

Today, Clinton sycophants are merrily telling themselves that Donna Brazile’s claims have all been “debunked,” allowing them to continue to stroll merrily along with their heads up their asses. Even if they are dimly aware that the HVF wasn’t being entirely fair, that’s okay, because Sanders wasn’t a real Democrat.

However, Martin O’Malley was a real Democrat, and when he complained about the debate schedule being rigged to help Clinton, he was ignored. And what about all the other Democrats who might have tried for the nomination, but were discouraged, because Clinton had the money brokers tied up by early in 2015?

As I have written elsewhere, I don’t want this issue to turn into further debates over whether Sanders was cheated out of the nomination. Sanders might have come up short anyway. I just want the DNC to come clean about what actually happened last year. It needs to acknowledge that the joint fundraising agreement amounted to Clinton’s buying the DNC. It depended on her campaign for operating money, which gave the DNC a powerful incentive to be sure she won the nomination. I think that is beyond dispute. It’s vitally important for the DNC to come clean about this, and for something like this to not happen again.


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The Republican Tax Bill: Screw You

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So, no surprise, the Republican tax bill rolled out yesterday would benefit the wealthy, hurt the middle class and poor, and increase the deficit. What else is new?

The New York Times has a list of deductions that would be eliminated by the tax bill. These include out-of-pocket medical expenses (a biggie for me, as I am old and poor) or losses like your house burning down. Seriously. On the other hand, embryos would be eligible for tax-advantaged 529 college savings plans.

Some business organizations are already coming out against the bill because of the loss of deductions. The National Federation of Independent Business complained that the bill favors big business and leaves out small businesses. The National Association of Home Builders is up in arms because it puts limits on deductions of mortgage payments.

And then there’s this, in which Stephen Curry is called out in the bill because Trump is feuding with him.

The bill is a nasty piece of work, and the vote on it is going to be close. As with the health care bills, if Senate Democrats hang together there’s a chance it will fail to pass. However, that may be a bigger “if” than with health care.


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The Hillary Victory Fund: Vindication

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Or, how Donna Brazile (of all people) threw Hillary Clinton under the bus …

Remember all those blog posts I wrote about the Hillary Victory Fund last year? And how it amounted to Hillary Clinton’s buying the DNC? I genuinely felt like a voice howling in the wilderness, as hardly anyone else but a Politico reporter and Matt Taibbi connected the same dots I was connecting.

Well, folks, Donna Brazile of all people has written a book that spills the beans and throws Hillary and her Victory Fund under the bus, to mix clichés. There’s an excerpt at Politico that corroborates all the stuff I wrote about the Hillary Victory Fund last year and how it amounted to Hillary Clinton buying the DNC, and the nomination. Please read the whole thing.

Update: See also Abigail Tracy at Vanity Fair.

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Tony Podesta and the Mueller Investigation

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When word got out that Tony Podesta, a Democrat and brother to John Podesta, was under investigation by Bob Mueller, the Right reacted with much joy. For example:

For the better part of a week, the Fox News program “Tucker Carlson Tonight” has been doing business as “The Tony Podesta Gazette.” The trend started with welcome news in Carlsonville: On Oct. 23, news reports indicated that eminent lobbyist Tony Podesta, of the Democratic-connected lobbying outfit Podesta Group, was a “subject” of the investigation of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is looking into allegations of collusion between Russia and the Trump presidential campaign. …

…In the best tradition of a cable-news opinionator, Carlson slipped his programming mitts around the Podesta-Manafort-Ukraine connection and squeezed until multiple segments trickled out. On Oct. 23, he riffed, “Robert Mueller’s team of investigators apparently has found evidence of suspected wrongdoing by the Podesta Group, which you will remember is a lobbying firm founded by Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta and his brother Tony. According to news accounts, the Podestas may have violated criminal law by failing to register as lobbyists for foreign powers.”

The next night, Carlson claimed to have his own little break in the story, thanks to a “source” who’d formerly worked at the Podesta Group. “According to our source … Manafort is indeed at the center of this investigation, but not because of his ties to Trump. In fact, Paul Manafort spent years working with the Podesta Group on behalf of Russian government interests.” The “source” also claimed that Manafort could be seen in the Podesta Group offices at least once a month.

More: “Now, why did the Russians choose the Podesta Group? Well, because both Podestas were close to the Clintons and Hillary was then secretary of state. She could get things done for the Podestas’ Russian clients. It was influence peddling, the most obvious kind,” said Carlson. Such content bumped along through the end of the week.

Lawyers for the Podesta Group eventually sent a sternly worded letter to Carlson. However, Tucker and others at Faux Nooz continue to say that the Podesta investigation is “the real Russia story,” not the investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. This is supposed to be making the Democrats look bad.

In fact, as Ben Mathis-Lilley writes at Slate, many Democrats would be thrilled if Mueller indicts Podesta.

The point is that the Trump-industrial complex is hyping Podesta’s resignation as if he were an irreplaceable cornerstone of modern progressivism. This isn’t true: While he is former Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s brother and certainly is/was a figure of more influence in the Democratic Party than, say, me, he’s not a household name and has never held office. His lack of importance to the Democrats’ public image is evident when you consider which party figures have suggested that Mueller’s investigation of his firm is inappropriate or misguided: none of them. To state what is weirdly not obvious to Trump and Fox News—possibly because they can only perceive of politics through their own lens of reflexive total partisanship?—Mueller prosecuting a few relatively minor Democrats here and there is good for the Democrats, because it burnishes his reputation as a man of nonpartisan integrity whose investigation deserves continued public support as it (presumably) uncovers more and more evidence of malfeasance in Trump’s inner circle.

Still, what exactly does Tony Podesta have to do with any of this? It turns out that in 2012 Manafort hired the Podesta Group and another lobbying firm to lobby for a Ukrainian political party within the United States. There’s nothing illegal about that. However, the Podesta Group did not disclose this work to the Justice Department as required by the Foreign Agents Registrant Act (FARA). Podesta claimed they believed the group was not affiliated with the Ukrainian government.

The indictment, unsealed Monday, refers to “Company A” and “Company B” as the firms Manafort and Gates solicited in 2012 to lobby on behalf of the Ukranian government. Company A is Mercury Public Affairs and Company B is the Podesta Group, the sources said. …

… According to the indictment, the lobbying firms were paid $2 million from offshore accounts controlled by Manafort.

Their work included lobbying “multiple members of Congress and their staffs about Ukraine sanctions, the validity of Ukraine elections” that the reasons for imprisoning Yulia Tymoshenko, the political rival of Russian-backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

The indictment also revealed that Gates told Company A, now known to be Mercury, in February 2012 that it would be “representing the Government of Ukraine in [Washington] D.C.”

Seems to me Podesta ought to have been at least suspicious that this work was being done on behalf of an entity connected to the government of Ukraine. But if that’s the entire beef against him, that’s not really “the real Russia story,” is it? Elsewhere we find,

Manafort organized a PR campaign on behalf of a nonprofit called the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine. Podesta Group was one of several firms that were paid to do work on the PR campaign to promote Ukraine in the U.S.

Podesta Group filed paperwork with the Justice Department in April stating that it had done work for the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine that also benefited the same Ukrainian political party that Manafort once advised. Podesta Group said at the time it believed its client was a European think tank untethered to a political party.

And in another place we read:

The work for the European Center, which ended in 2014, was cited in the indictment on Monday as part of a “scheme” by Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates to gain support in Washington for their longtime client, the pro-Russian leader Viktor F. Yanukovych, a former president of Ukraine, while evading disclosure requirements for foreign lobbying.

Here’s another wrinkle, however, from Natasha Bertrand for Business Insider:

A New York publicist who has represented clients including former Trump Organization adviser Felix Sater and Ukrainian billionaire Rinat Akhmetov says he was asked by Paul Manafort and Rick Gates if he could avoid registering with the Justice Department as a foreign agent while he worked for them — and whether he would agree to be paid from offshore accounts. …

… Ronn Torossian, the CEO of 5WPR, told Business Insider he was approached by Manafort and Gates in 2012. …

…Torossian said that he met and/or spoke with Manafort and Gates “on multiple occasions in February and March 2012” to discuss a prospective PR campaign “for billionaires and the Ukrainian government.”

It was around that time that Manafort and Gates “solicited two Washington, DC, firms (Company A and Company B) to lobby in the United States on behalf of” the Ukrainian government, according to the newly unsealed indictment. NBC News reported on Monday that Company A and B was Mercury Public Affairs and The Podesta Group, respectively.

“They acted like they controlled the government of Ukraine,” said Torossian, who did crisis work for the Eric Trump Foundation as recently as last month.

Torossian is not connected to the Podesta Group, as far as I know, and it’s possible that Manafort didn’t ask Podesta to not register as a foreign agent. But that may yet come out.

So Podesta, who has left the firm that bears his name, may end up facing some kind of penalty for not properly registering the work he did for Manafort. Or not. But so far, that’s all we know about why Podesta’s name turned up in all this.

See also Court Docs Reveal Fight Over Manafort’s Lawyer Testifying To Mueller Grand Jury, which relates to the 2012 lobbying project.

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Bad Vetting Isn’t the Problem

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I just want to point out that Sayfullo Saipov, the man accused of killing eight people in Manhattan yesterday, is from Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan is not on any of Trump’s unconstitutional travel ban lists. And while we may learn otherwise, so far it appears Saipov became radicalized after he arrived in the U.S. in 2010.

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