Some Judge Needs to Answer for This

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Trump Maladministration

Yesterday’s mass shooting in Tehama County, California, is already being forgotten. But let’s not forget it right away.

Alleged shooter Kevin Neal

In case you missed it, the shooter’s name was Kevin Janson Neal. Law enforcement says that his first victim was his wife, whose name is not given in news stories. After Neal killed her, he hid her body under floorboards. Then he shot and killed two neighbors. After that, he went tearing around on a spree, killing two more people. In total, he shot 14 people in seven locations, including an elementary school; fortunately, nine victims survived, including two children. Neal was killed by police.

No one can say this couldn’t have been anticipated. The guy had a long history of domestic and other violence.

In February, the shooter was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon, battery, crimes against an elder or dependent adult and discharging his firearm with gross negligence, PEOPLE confirms.

He was to stand trial on those charges on Jan. 11 and was out of jail on $300,000 bail at the time of his shooting spree.

Soon after the shootings on Tuesday, another neighbor spoke to reporters and said the killer had been firing off his guns in recent weeks and threatening his roommate. The neighbor said police were aware of this erratic behavior.

Also:

At the time of the attack, the gunman was out on bail after he was charged with stabbing a neighbor. Others had complained about him firing hundreds of rounds from his house, and he had been the subject of a domestic violence call the day before the shootings.

Yet he was out on bail. This is what he did at the elementary school:

The rampage could have been worse, Johnston said, had not the staff at the school heard gunshots around a quarter-mile away and initiated a lockdown.

“The shooter literally took his vehicle and rammed their fence and gate, entered the grounds on foot with a semiautomatic rifle,” Johnston said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference.

“It appears that because he couldn’t make access to any of the rooms — they were locked — that he gave it up and re-entered the vehicle and then went on his killing spree and took it to the streets of Rancho Tehama,” Johnston said. “So I really want to say that the quick action of those school officials, there is no doubt in my mind based on the video that I saw, saved countless lives and children.”

One child was wounded at the school and another child being driven to school was struck after Neal fired into a vehicle driven by a woman who was also wounded, Johnston said.

Yes, it could have been worse. And if he’d been in the county jail where he belonged, it would have been better.

Yet Kevin Neal was free and able to use a semiautomatic rifle and two handguns on Tuesday to shoot 14 people, killing four, in seven different locations across his rural community, including an elementary school, before he died in a shootout with police.

It is not yet clear what the terms of Neal’s bail were, and whether he would have been allowed to possess and fire the weapons on his property at the end of a dirt road in Rancho Tehama Reserve. Nor did sheriff’s officials give details on the domestic violence call.

But his many contacts with authorities raised questions of why he was out of custody and able to go on the 45-minute rampage that began with the killing of two neighbors in an apparent act of revenge before he went looking for random victims.

Someone — besides the now deceased Neal — needs to answer for this.

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The Trump Campaign: Too Screwed to Collude?

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Trump Maladministration

In light of Jeff Sessions’s testimony today, I call your attention to Paul Waldman’s commentary:

Unlike his boss, who claims he possesses “one of the greatest memories of all time,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a man who gazes into the past and sees only a fog of out-of-focus associates and half-remembered events. But in his testimony today before the House Judiciary Committee, Sessions may have hit on the new Trump administration defense for the Russia scandal, one that can be applied to almost any future revelation.

Its essence is that the Trump campaign was such an ungodly, bumbling mess that it was simply incapable of colluding with the Russians in their campaign to undermine Hillary Clinton, help Donald Trump get elected, and generally disrupt and discredit the American electoral system.

As weaselly a defense as that may seem, it contains a good bit of truth. With each new revelation about the campaign’s contacts with Russia, a picture is filling out. It’s one not of a well-organized collusion conspiracy, but instead of a bunch of nincompoops engaging in a kind of ongoing, ad hoc, fitful sort-of-collusion, one that involved lots of meetings, lots of emails, and lots of contacts between various Russians with Kremlin connections and people at different levels of the campaign. Whether it fits your definition of “collusion,” it was one heck of an incompetent conspiracy.

Yesterday the Atlantic published some private direct messages sent through Twitter between Julian Assange and Donald Trump, Jr.  What struck about these is that Junior seemed to have no clue what to do with Assange. Assange clearly was trying to rope Junior into collusion. Junior didn’t always respond, as if he wasn’t sure who Assange actually was, but he was too dim to have realized he should have nothing to do with Assange and did go along with some of his suggestions.

See also Charles Pierce:

To get back to Junior, however, how stupid do you have to be to get involved even marginally in something like this? Assange believes in nothing but himself. He’d sell Junior to the Somali pirates if he thought that would advantage him in some way. No game is worth that candle. And you can see how desperately WikiLeaks wanted to keep Junior on the string. (That request for the president*’s tax returns, so that WikiLeaks could publish them and thereby establish a neutral bona fides for future anti-Clinton news dumps, is positively Machiavellian—and it would’ve worked, too.) And now, in another perfectly predictable development, those emails are in the hands of congressional investigators. Apologies, again, to Eric Trump, who heretofore will be known as The Smart One.

Anyway, Paul Waldman continues:

There was the meeting that Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort had with Russians connected to the Kremlin on the promise of dirt about Hillary Clinton. There were the contacts multiple Trump officials like Papadopoulos and Carter Page had with Russians, and the fact that others within the Trump campaign were likely more aware of these contacts than we had been led to believe. Among other things, Papadopoulos was told that the Russians had “thousands of emails” that could prove damaging to Clinton, before the Russian hacks came to light; we still don’t know whom in the Trump campaign he relayed that juicy tidbit to. And I promise you, there will be more revealed about Michael Flynn; the fact that Trump was so incredibly eager to protect him after he left the White House is a flashing red light.

And Julia Ioffe reports on secret correspondence between Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks, which was essentially acting as an agent of the Kremlin during the campaign (and may still be to this day). Perhaps most striking, when WikiLeaks released a batch of information, it wrote to Trump Jr. suggesting that his father tweet about the revelations, which Trump did just 15 minutes later.

So to review, this appears to be what happened in that case: 1) Russia hacks the emails of Democrats, including Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. 2) Russia passes some of what it finds to WikiLeaks for public release. 3) WikiLeaks asks Trump’s son to promote the release. 4) Trump urges media to focus on WikiLeaks’ findings.

Was that a violation of the law? Maybe not. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump Jr.’s defense will be, “Hey, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing!”

You know, they probably didn’t. Take Michael Flynn, for example. Today Sessions, whose infamous lack of recall suggests brain damage, had to deny that he knew anything about Flynn’s alleged plan to kidnap U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen and return him to Turkey, where he is wanted to stand trial for being the “mastermind” behind an attempted political coup in 2016. In exchange for Gulen, Flynn would have been paid $15 million. And this was while Flynn was part of the Trump campaign.

Flynn brings us to another dim bulb named Steve Bannon. During the time Chris Christie was in charge of the transition, Christie wanted to keep Flynn completely away from the administration. Gov. Beachball may be an asshole, but he’s not an idiot. But Nancy Cook wrote at Politico,

But when Christie was fired from his transition perch on Nov. 11 — replaced by soon-to-be Vice President Mike Pence — Flynn and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon celebrated by tossing binders full of potential personnel picks, carefully culled by Christie’s team, into trash bins with a sense of ceremonial glee.

And do we want to talk about Stephen Miller? If that boy has an IQ in triple digits I’m the Tooth Fairy. Josh Marshall wrote last week:

According to the Times, Miller is the “senior policy advisor” referenced in the Papadopoulos court documents. He was the only unnamed player still unidentified. This means that Miller was one of the top Trump advisors Papadopoulos was keeping posted on his efforts to set up meetings between Russian officials and Trump campaign officials, perhaps even (preposterous as it may seem) a meeting between Trump and Putin himself. …

… Miller came to Trump via Jeff Sessions. He was a top staffer to Sessions in the Senate. By 2016 he had risen to Communications Director. And when Sessions endorsed Trump in late February 2016 he brought Miller into the Trump circle. As a speechwriter and advisor, Miller played a key role taking Trump’s instinctive racist-nationalist politics and aligning it with the comparable policy mix Sessions had been pushing, with no great luck, in the Senate for years. Here’s an interesting look at the relationship.

We still don’t have a terribly good explanation of how Jeff Sessions got on the Russia bandwagon, how he ended up having as multiple private conversations with then-Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak over the course of 2016, including one private meeting in Sessions’ senate office in September. Miller seems like at least one likely conduit. At a minimum, Miller getting updated on Papadopoulos’ adventures makes it much less credible that Sessions knew nothing about the channels opening up between the campaign and Russia.

And of course, in the center of this nest of nincompoops is the Mega Moron himself, Donald Trump, who is something like a perfect storm of idiocy. “Dimmer than a 5-watt bulb,” this guy says. Bob Mueller, save us.

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The Tax Plan Everybody Hates

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Trump Maladministration

I did a google search for “tax plan” to see what was going on with it in Congress. Here are some of the headlines that came up:

Forbes: How GOP Tax Plan Would Ruin Retirees, Underinsured

Mother Jones: The Republican Tax Plan Is an Assault on Renewable Energy

Business Insider/Motley Fool: The Republican tax plan could cut major tax breaks for education

Axios: Senate GOP tax plan causing heartburn for startups

New York Daily News: GOP tax plan ignites fear among N.Y. Republicans trying to keep control of Senate

Los Angeles Times: GOP tax plan may not curb incentives for firms to shift profits and jobs overseas

Buffalo News: Tax plan is a payoff to big contributors

WBIR-TV, Knoxville: GOP tax plan won’t ‘unleash’ economic growth. It’ll make things worse.

And that’s not counting the headlines quoting Democrats criticizing it. The only headline that says anything good about it is one in which Ivanka Trump gushes about it being “critical” for the middle class. But apparently the event in New Jersey in which she and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin appeared to talk up the bill didn’t go over very well.

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It’s Armistice Day

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Trump Maladministration

Click here for the Mahablog Armistice Day archives.

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Roy Unmoored?

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Trump Maladministration

Judge Roy Moore is being accused of inappropriate relations with a minor. I’m not surprised in the least. However, the interesting development here is that Mitch McConnell and a bunch of other Republicans are telling Moore to drop out of the race if the allegations are true.

This tells me McConnell et al. really don’t want Moore in the Senate. If they supported him, they’d be blustering about liberal media slandering this upstanding virtuous Christian man blah blah blah.

At this point the Alabama ballot cannot be changed, but Moore could still withdraw or be disqualified by his state party. The guy Moore defeated for the nomination, Luther Strange, could run as a write-in candidate.

Meanwhile, the Democrats have adopted a unique strategy for helping Doug Jones, Moore’s Democratic opponent. Well, not so unique for the Democrats.

With less than a month until Alabama’s special election for U.S. Senate, political experts say national Democrats are deploying a unique strategy to support their nominee, Doug Jones: They are staying away.

“I don’t have a sense at all that the DNC (Democratic National Committee) is anywhere in this state,” said Derryn Moten, chairman of the Department of History and Political Science at Alabama State University. “They don’t want to damage or do anything that might damage Jones’ chance to win that Senate seat,” he said. The party “doesn’t want to do anything that would be an albatross around Jones’ neck.”

That’s so … lame.

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What’s Up With the Time Warner, AT&T Thing?

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Trump Maladministration

AT&T has been planning to buy Time Warner for a while. The telecommunications giant would then also own CNN, HBO, Warner Brothers, and a bunch of other stuff with lots of content. One can see the potential.

The Justice Department appears to be trying to block the sale. There probably are good reasons to be leery of this much money and assets all glomming together into one global powerhouse. But there’s a strong appearance that the only reason Trump’s Justice Department is stepping in is that Trump wants to punish CNN.

There are all kinds of conflicting reports out today saying that either the Justice Department has made the sale of CNN a condition of the deal, or that AT&T offered to sell CNN, then said it wouldn’t. Whatever it is, the sticking point seems to be centered on CNN.

Reuters:

Reports that the Justice Department is pushing for significant asset sales and conflicting reports of its discussions with AT&T cast new doubt on the deal on Wednesday. Shares of Time Warner closed down 6.5 percent at $88.50.

The dispute is the latest twist in a deal which took on broader political significance immediately after its inception in October 2016. U.S. President Donald Trump, a frequent critic of CNN, attacked the deal on the campaign trail last year, vowing that as president his Justice Department would block it. He has not commented on the transaction since taking office in January. …

… The discussion of a potential sale of CNN has politicized the situation. Trump has repeatedly tangled with CNN, calling the network’s coverage “fake news.”

Senator Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, said on Wednesday he opposed the mega-merger but was also worried about political implications of any divestiture of CNN.

“I am deeply concerned with the notion that the Justice Department may be pressuring the companies to consider spinning off CNN’s parent company Turner Broadcasting as a path forward toward approval of the acquisition, given the president’s repeated public complaints about CNN’s coverage of him,” Franken said. “Any indication that this administration is using its power to weaken media organizations it doesn’t like would be a profoundly disturbing development.”

What makes this all especially suspicious is that Trump’s guy to head the antitrust division, Makan Delrahim, said in an interview last year that the AT&T/Time Warner sale did not constitute an antitrust problem.  But now, he has changed his mind. One suspects Trump is behind this.

And then there’s this:

AT&T also said it would invest an additional $1 billion in the United States next year if Trump signed into law the provisions in the current House of Representatives tax bill.

“By immediately lowering the corporate tax rate to 20 percent, this bill will stimulate investment, job creation and economic growth in the United States,” said Randall Stephenson, AT&T chief executive.

The lot of them can drop off the planet, IMO.

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Trump Gets Long Overdue Kick in the Butt

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elections

I would have preferred the Great Orange Mass of Wasted Protoplasm would have gotten his butt kicked a year ago, but I’ll take yesterday as a consolation prize.

Some cheering stories from Tuesday’s elections, in no particular order:

In New Jersey, Ravinder Bhalla was elected Hoboken’s first Sikh mayor. He won Tuesday night’s election just days after being targeted by flyers labeling him a terrorist.

Also in New Jersey, Democrat Ashley Bennet defeated Republican John Carman  for the Atlantic County freeholder seat. Bennet decided to challenge Carman after Carman posted a meme mocking the Women’s March.

Carman posted a meme on the day of the Women’s March that featured a woman in a kitchen and the message, “Will the women’s protest be over in time for them to cook dinner?”

“Just asking?” he wrote alongside the meme.

I don’t know enough about Phil Murphy to know what kind of governor he will be, but his lopsided victory against NJ Secretary of State Kim Guadagno was an obvious repudiation of Chris Christie.

In Montana, Wilmot Collins was elected first black mayor of Helena. Collins arrived in Helena 23 years ago as a refugee from Liberia. He was part of a progressive ticket that swept city commission races.

My goodness, Virginia, you had quite a night. The single sweetest story of the evening was Danica Roem’s victory over incumbent Robert Marshall for a seat in Virginia’s statehouse. Marshall had introduced a “bathroom bill” in Virginia and called himself Virginia’s “chief homophobe.” Roem is transgender.

“Discrimination is a disqualifier,” a jubilant Roem said Tuesday night as her margin of victory became clear. “This is about the people of the 13th District disregarding fear tactics, disregarding phobias . . . where we celebrate you because of who you are, not despite it.”

Marshall, 73, who refused to debate Roem and referred to her with male pronouns, declined an interview request but posted a concession message on Facebook.

Also sweet — Democrat Lee Carter, a Marine veteran from Manassas who openly ran as a socialist, beat Delegate Jackson Miller, a Republican incumbent who serves as  Virginia House Majority Whip.

Democrat Lee Carter, a red-haired, 30-year-old Marine veteran from Manassas, won a remarkable nine-point victory to oust Delegate Jackson Miller, a deep-pocketed Republican incumbent who serves as House Majority Whip. Carter ran openly as a socialist—he and his supporters croonedthe union anthem “Solidarity Forever” after their victory—and he won with almost no institutional support from the state Democratic Party. The Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Patrick Wilson reported last month that party leaders “abandoned” Carter after he declined to report campaign metrics like the number of doors he’d knocked and the amount of money he’d raised. Carter told Wilson he “ceased reporting to the House caucus after multiple information security lapses in which confidential information that we reported to the House caucus was leaked outside of the party infrastructure.” But he also said the party leaders “wanted a bit more editorial control over my messaging than I was comfortable with.” Wilson wrote that “Democratic Party leaders were not eager to discuss Carter, preferring to promote other candidates.” In fact, Wilson called Carter “the kind of rogue candidate that gives an apparatus like the Democratic Party of Virginia a fit.”

Another winner in Virginia was Kathy Tran, a former Vietnamese refugee, who became the first Asian-American woman to join Virginia’s House of Delegates

Democrats swept statewide races in Virginia — governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general — and so far have picked up 14 seats in the state legislature. Depending on some recounts, it is possible they could take over the majority.

The only state to not fall into line was Utah, which voted to replace Jason Chaffetz with another Republican. Well, Utah is Utah.

This should fire up Dems and, I hope, inspire them to pour every resource they’ve got into Alabama, where Democrat Doug Jones is running against Grand Inquisitor Roy Moore for U.S. Senate in a December 12 special election.

Update:

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Why Is Wilbur Ross Still Secretary of Commerce?

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Trump Maladministration

Seriously, there’s a new story out at Forbes that makes Ross out to be just plain creepy. He was presumed to be a billionaire, part of the aura of success that made people assume he knew something about business. But it turns out he wasn’t; he’s been lying for years about how much money he  has. His “success story” is pretty much a sham. Yes he has a lot of money, but he’s no billionaire, as he has long claimed.

And of course, it was discovered a couple of days ago that his actual business interests connect him to Vladi­mir Putin’s son-in-law, which seems a tad suspicious.

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Back to the Old Mental Illness Dodge

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Trump Maladministration

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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Trump Maladministration

Slate:

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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