The Democrats are back to cannibalizing themselves.

Well, it didn’t take long, but the Democrats are back to cannibalizing themselves. The focal point this time is the various statements of Somalia-born Michigan Representative Ilhan Omar.

Omar has been openly critical of AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee), which hardly makes her unique. Just like people have criticized the lobbying power of the oil and gas lobby or the NRA, criticizing AIPAC hardly makes a person anti-semitic.

But Omar has used language which has certainly been indelicate. People have accused her of using “antisemitic tropes.”

What got Omar intro trouble was tweeting that it was “all bout the Benjamins, baby” and then responding “AIPAC” when asked what it meant.

Now, if you’re like me, the first thing you might be asking yourself is, “what’s a trope?” Well, according to Wikipedia, a trope is “the use of figurative language, via word, phrase or an image, for artistic effect such as using a figure of speech.”

Okay, so what’s an “antisemitic trope?” Again, returning to Wikipedia, it’s “unfounded rumors or false allegations which are defamatory towards Judaism as a religion, or defamatory towards Jews as an ethnic or religious group.” As examples of Anti-semitic tropes Wikipedia cites

  • accusations of guilt for the death of Jesus;
  • accusations of host desecration, accusations of ritual murder and blood libel;
  • accusations of plotting to control the world;
  • accusations of usury and profiteering, accusations of dual loyalty
  • accusations of cowardice and lack of patriotism;
  • accusations of controlling the media, and;
  • accusations of controlling the world financial system.

Wow.

Those are some pretty serious accusations.

Clearly, criticizing the outsized influence of AIPAC is not in that category.

And yet, just the other day there was an opinion piece by Michael A. Cohen (not to be confused with the other Michael Cohen) complaining about Omar’s “stunning lack of introspection.”

Cohen (whose commentary I normally really appreciated) complained that Omar “activated a long-standing anti-Jewish stereotype: that Diaspora Jews use money to exercise influence and political power.”

No, I don’t think that’s what she did. She complained about the sway of a particular lobbying group, one that has the world “Israel” in its official title.

Lest we forget, Omar herself has been the target of anti-Muslim smears, such as a poster that associated Omar with the 9/11 hijackings.

The Democrats broadened their resolution that they had planned to vote on to include references to “anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism and other forms of bigotry.”

Fine. Let’s keep it there.

What should happen now is that Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership team take Rep. Omar aside and remind her that (as one of two Muslims in the House) she needs to be very careful not only of what she expresses, but also of how she expresses it.

And then maybe the Democrats can stop cannibalizing themselves.

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Paul Manafort was sentenced to 47 months in prison, and that doesn’t quite seem right

Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, was sentenced to 47 months in prison the other day. And that doesn’t seem right. In sentencing him, Judge Judge T. S. Ellis commented on the “otherwise blameless life” that Manafort has lived.

Hmm.

Franklin Foer of The Atlantic magazine took a quick look at this “blameless” life, observing that Manafort is a guy who has “always acted with impunity.” Foer noted that:

  • Manafort lobbied on behalf of the tobacco industry and wangled millions in tax breaks for corporations.
  • Manafort helped Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos bolster his image in Washington after he assassinated his primary political opponent.
  • Manafort worked to keep arms flowing to the Angolan generalissimo Jonas Savimbi.
  • Manafort was kicked out of the lobbying firm he co-founded, accused of inflating his expenses and cutting his partners out of deals.
  • Manafort spent a decade as the chief political adviser to a clique of former gangsters in Ukraine.
  • Manafort came to adopt the lifestyle and corrupt practices of his Ukrainian clients as his own.
  • Manafort produced a public-relations campaign to convince Washington that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was acting within his democratic rights and duties when he imprisoned his most compelling rival for power.
  • Manafort stood mute as Yanukovych’s police killed 130 protesters in the Maidan.
  • Manafort got himself nearly $20 million in debt to a Russian oligarch.
  • Manafort tried to use his perch atop the Trump campaign to help salvage his sorry financial situation.
  • Manafort installed one of his protégés as the head of the pro-Trump super PAC Rebuilding America. His friend allegedly funneled $125,000 from the super PAC to pay off one of Manafort’s nagging debts.
  • Manafort was found guilty of tax evasion on an industrial scale. He kept his cash in Cyprus and wired it home to buy more than $1 million in bespoke clothing.
  • Manafort disguised his income as loans so that he could bamboozle banks into lending him money.
  • Manafort attempted to phone a potential witness in his trial so that they could align their stories.
  • Manafort systematically lied to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutors, after he promised them his full cooperation.

Needless to say, the life that Manafort has led has hardly been “blameless.” Rather, it’s been scheming and advantageous.

And this is to say nothing about the racial aspects. A lot of commentators compared Manfort’s sentencing with the case of Crystal Gayle, a Texas woman who was sentenced to 5 years in prison after having been found guilty of voter fraud because she was a felon still on probation, and that is an obvious and uncomfortable comparison. But you don’t have to get that dramatic. You can just go to any black or Hispanic low-level drug offender if you want to see disparity in sentencing.

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The “controversy” around Leaving Neverland

Over the weekend HBO released the new documentary “Leaving Neverland.” Directed and produced by British filmmaker Dan Reed, the film focuses on two men, Wade Robson and Jimmy Safechuck, who allege they were sexually abused by the singer Michael Jackson as children.

  • Robson is an Australian dancer and choreographer who as a five year old he was befriended by Jackson on a tour of Australia.
  • Safechuck was a child actor from Simi Valley, California, who landed a role in a Pepsi commercial alongside the pop star in 1987 while he was eight.

Jackson was accused of sexual abuse back in 1993 to 1994 and again between 2002 to 2005. In 2005 he was charged and acquitted in a criminal trial. Both of these guys testified in Jackson’s favor while they were still boys in the criminal trial. So let us just remember:

  • Jackson had the same advantage as OJ Simpson, which is unlimited legal resources through which he could defend himself.
  • Both of these young men admitted that they thought that Jackson was a “God.”
  • Jackson groomed these boys expertly, and he also groomed the entire family of both of these boys.

Oprah Winfrey taped an interview with these two men (now 36 and 41) on her Oprah network. They come across as completely credible and reasonable, and their stories are very similar. I urge you to view it, if you doubt that this happened.

Anybody who knows anything about the clinical aspects of sexual abuse knows that the story these two men are telling is completely believable. There is no controversy. The Jackson family has (of course!) threatened to sue HBO for $100 million. Good luck, Jackson family.

  • Unlike criminal trials, in libel actions the burden of proof is on the complainant (in other words, the Jackson family).
  • In libel actions, truth is an absolute defense to the complaint.
  • In criminal trials, not only is the burden of proof on the state (standing in behalf of the victims) but the burden is proof beyond a reasonable doubt (or 90%).
  • Not having been criminally convicted is no proof of innocence. It just means that the state didn’t have enough proof to meet the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard.

I hope that the family does sue HBO in libel. They’re going to get their hats handed to them if they do.

Jackson is the best possible example of a celebrity who was tortured in his own way. Everyone knows that his father, Joe Jackson, was abusive, and it seems extraordinarily likely that Jackson himself was sexually abused as a child (because almost no one becomes an abuser without being abused themselves).

Some of the consequences of that were obvious:

  • Jackson’s mutilation of his own face through voluntary surgery (making him look like a weird Diana Ross).
  • Jackson’s whitening of his skin (which was not the result of a skin condition).
  • Jackson’s whisper quiet high voice, which sounded like the voice of a 13 year-old.
  • Jackson’s surrounding himself almost exclusively with children in order to socialize.

Jackson was about a year younger than I am. I look like I’m 61 (albeit, in pretty good shape for 61). Jackson looked, at the time of his death (at age 50) like he was maybe age 24. It was not natural. Something had tortured this guy all his life, and while we can sympathize with that, it doesn’t make what he did any less monstrous.

Personally, I’m not going to stop playing Jackson’s music from time to time. (Plenty of people I know are arguing for that.) I can separate his artistry from his humanity (or perhaps his monstrosity) but the defenders of Jackson (like the defenders of Donald Trump) need to take off the blinders and see this guy for who he really was.

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The Feel Good story of Rich Rebuilds

Well, today I’m departing from my usual doom and gloom, Sturm and Drang writing about how the world is going to hell in a handbasket to forward on the story of a guy who figured out how to rebuild a Tesla on his own — and then created a successful YouTube channel demonstrating his work.

This article showed up in my hometown newspaper, and these are the kind of things that keep us going. Somebody with extraordinary initiative, a little bit of luck, and demonstrating the (still, I believe) American quality of ingenuity. The guy in question is 36-year old Rich Benoit, who “works in IT” in Boston. As reported by the Globe:

The Tesla that started it all, a Model S that Benoit refers to as Delores, was purchased from a salvage yard after it had been caught in a flood in New Jersey. Benoit had a friend who owned a Model S, and the moment he pulled it into Benoit’s driveway to take him for a ride, Benoit was obsessed. The way it was whisper quiet. The impossible acceleration from zero to I-feel-like-I’m-on-a-roller-coaster-and-about-to-throw-up in an instant. The way he could feel all of the work that went into creating the vehicle, a history of progress that combined to create this feeling of the future.

Benoit stripped the car, tore out all of the ruined electronics, and pried out the seats, which had rusted in place, thanks to the saltwater. Then he contacted Tesla to order the parts he needed for the rebuild, and it was here that Benoit hit another obstacle, one that would define the arc of his story: Tesla does not want anyone working on its cars besides Tesla, and refused to sell Benoit the parts he wanted.

Benoit found another Model S that had been totaled in a collision but whose electronics and batteries were still good, bought it for a little more than he’d paid for Delores, and began the long process of turning two broken vehicles into one good one, figuring everything out as he went along and posting videos on a YouTube channel he’d created, Rich Rebuilds, to log his progress. The videos would sometimes get a few hundred views.

After more than a year of tinkering and of challenge after challenge, Benoit had proudly restored Delores nearly back to showroom quality, and in video #61, she passed state inspection.

Six days later, he posted video #62, in which he told the long story that answered the question everyone wanted to know: How much did this thing end up costing? The answer was $6,500 (after selling off a bunch of duplicate parts, including the entire shell of the second car).

“I gave the video the title ‘World’s Cheapest Tesla,’ and in the snap of a finger it had a million views,” he says.

Now that, my friends, is a story that we should all be able to get behind. It’s the kind of thing I have no talent for whatsoever, and for that reason alone, I totally respect what this guy is doing.

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How we know that Trump will never resign of his own accord

Here’s how we know that no matter what else happens, Donald J. Drumpf fill never resign the Presidency of his own accord: he gets way too much attention while being President.

Michael Cohen, in his testimony last week, confirmed what every educated person already knows: Trump never intended to be President and Trump never expected to be President. He intended to use his presidential campaign to raise his profile so that he could be more of a sought after blabbermouth on Fox News, and so that he could burnish his “brand.” And maybe launch his own TV channel.

Now exhibit #1 relative to how much Trump loves the presidential attention is his appearance over the weekend at the CPAC Conference where Trump carried on for two hours and twenty minutes.

By all accounts the speech was a tour-de-force of rambling, incoherent grievances and digressions from topic, or what Trump believes (and he might be right about this) got him elected.

I had argued previously that when Trump realized how much work being President really is, he might resign of his own accord. But that’s not going to happen. Trump spends hours every day watching TV — when he’s not golfing at one of his clubs — and has clearly proven that you can actually be President without having to work hard.

Take that Jimmy Carter or Barack Obama!

But the attention you get while President. It’s second to none. They play a fucking song when you walk into the room! That’s never going to happen again. Of course, like an aging prize fighter Trump will stay too long, and all the investigations that are currently underway will catch up to him. Once he’s no longer President he may even be indicted. In the meantime, he’s sowing the seeds of the Republican party’s eventual self-destruction.

Have fun while it lasts President Liar-in-Chief, because once the party’s over, you (and your acolytes) are going to have the biggest hangover in the history of the world!

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Donald Trump, Clarence Thomas, and the First Amendment

Donald Trump, as is well known, has been itching to open up the libel laws for a long time. As reported in the Boston Globe, Trump famously said this while campaigning for President:

I’m going to open up our libel laws so when [the New York Times or Washington Post] write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.

Trump gets reanimated about this issue every time Alec Baldwin does an impression of him on SNL, and threatens to sue the network as well.

And this from a man who repeatedly pretended to be his own spokesperson so that he could brag about himself to the gossip columns in New York and has told so many lies as President the fact checkers literally cannot keep up.

Whatever.

Well, recently Justice Clarence Thomas weighed in on the issue as well.[1] He said in a recent case that it might be time to revisit New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964), the landmark case protecting the press from most libel cases.

New York Times v. Sullivan

The NYT came out of the civil rights era and an effort to defend Martin Luther King (you may have heard of him). In brief, a group called Heed their Rising Voices published an advertisement (not even an article) in the Times with the intention of raising funds for MLK’s legal defense (after he had been arrested in Alabama again). In describing the actions taken by authorities in Alabama the ad made several factual errors (such as claiming MLK had been arrested seven times when he had only been arrest four times). Although L. B. Sullivan, the Montgomery Public Safety Commissioner was not named in the advertisement, Sullivan argued that the inaccurate criticism was defamatory to him as well because it was his duty to supervise the police department.

When the libel case came up to the Supreme Court four years later, the court created the “actual malice” standard, which requires that a plaintiff alleging libel or defamation who is a public figure must be able to prove that the publisher knew that the statement was false or acted in “reckless disregard of its truth or falsity.”

What this does is to protect newspapers and other publishers from simple reporting errors (like how often somebody was arrested) unless they knew it was a lie (or didn’t do any due diligence). This is the standard that President Drumpf and Justice Sexual Harasser object to.

Politicians can legally lie on the Campaign Trail

It is somewhat ironic, therefore, that there have been cases decided recently which essentially sanction politicans’ lying on the campaign trail. For example, the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts struck down a statute which prohibited a candidate from knowingly lying about the record of another candidate.[2]

But Massachusetts isn’t the only state. Ohio has a similar law that does not allow lying during elections, as well as 15 other states, and whether any of those statutes can be enforced is in question. The reason for that ambiguity has to do with a Supreme Court ruling called Susan B. Anthony List et al. V. Driehaus et al., 573 U.S. _ (2014).

The case is mostly procedural (which makes it complicated for the layperson); while not deciding the issue on the merits, the Supreme Court sent it back down, where a lower federal court decided that the Ohio statute violated the law.[3]

The bottom line is this: there is no statute that prohibits lying on the campaign trail that, when challenged, has been upheld as constitutional. Political candidates, PACs and their surrogates at this point pretty much have carte blanch to lie about their opponents.

Can sitting Presidents lie without consequences?

If candidates can lie about their opponents on the campaign trail, can sitting Presidents (or other elected office holders) just lie about anything without any consequences? That is to say, without any legal consequences (as opposed to political consequences)?

Well, first of all, lying isn’t illegal (Thank God!) or face it, we’d all be in jail. But we’re talking the President — which should theoretically raise the bar and now lower it — and also the many lies he’s told about his political opponents.

At the moment, none of that has any consequences for the Donald. But be careful what you wish for Liar-in-Chief, because if we hold the press to a higher standard, we may have to hold you and your fellow office holders to a higher standard as well.


[1] Technically this was dicta in a concurring opinion agreeing that the court had correctly turned down an appeal from Kathrine McKee (who has accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault) after she sued Cosby for libel based on what his lawyer had said about her.

[2] Although to be fair, that statue included criminal penalties, which is what the Justices of the SJC found particularly objectionable.

[3] Unlike a Supreme Court holding, that decision is not necessarily binding on other federal courts, but it is important.

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Trump & Kim Jung Un II not likely to bring anything more than Trump & Kim Jung Un I

Back in June of 2018 President Moron-in-Chief met with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in Singapore. Republicans were swooning at the time, and suggested that maybe President Moron-in-Chief should be eligible for the Nobel Prize.

I wrote at the time that if Trump could formally get the United States and North Korea to make peace [1] and could get North Korea to denuclearize, maybe he should be eligible for the Nobel.[2]

Of course, Trump, the great conman got conned by an even better conman. Kim promised a lot of things, but nothing fundamental has changed. As all the experts predicted.

In the meantime, Trump went off the deep end by declaring at a rally in September that he and Kim had “fallen in love” because of the “beautiful letters” that Kim had written him. (I mean seriously, if someone like Obama had ever said that, the Republicans would have had a collective apoplexy.)

Then, news came out last February that the White House had asked Japanese Prime Minister Shinto Abe to nominate him for the Nobel. Abe may have done so, but when asked to confirm by the Japanese parliament Abe refused, hiding behind the Nobel Committee policy of not disclosing who has been nominated until 50 years after the fact.

Then, news came out last week from the Nobel Committee itself that on two occasions — once this year and once last year — someone had forged an application on Trump’s behalf with the Nobel Committee.

What is this obsession on the part of Trump with the Nobel?

Obama has one.

I have argued before that Obama didn’t really deserve his Nobel and mostly received it for “being President while black.” But Trump is so obviously seething with envy. He hates everything Obama (and other have argued because Obama is everything that Trump will never be).

Here are three things you can bet on:

  • Trump will never receive a Nobel.
  • Regardless of what happens in Vietnam, Trump will claim victory.
  • Kim Jong Um will not give up his nuclear weapons.

Other than that, Trump’s latest tryst with Kim Jong Un is just a charade. But it makes for some good visuals.


[1] Remarkably enough, even though the Korean war ended in 1953 – so about 66 years ago – the United State and North Korea have never formally made peace.

[2] North Korea has a very different idea of what “denuclearization” means. The Americans think that it means that North Korea should denuclearize unilaterally. North Korea thinks that it means that the entire peninsula should be cleansed of nuclear weapons.

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The feeble efforts of the Republicans to discredit Michael Cohen

The White House and the apologists for the Donald Trump are going after Michael Cohen’s credibility in the same manner that criminal defense attorneys go after the associates of mobsters who have cut a deal.

Cohen has, of course, admitted to and been convicted of lying to Congress. And he has filed false tax returns and engaged in other actions that would ordinarily put his veracity in question.

But what is true for mobsters is also true for Michael Cohen: when they testify against former associates after have struck a “deal,” it is always contingent on their telling the truth.

Let me repeat that: this testimony is contingent on their telling the truth.

Let me repeat that: this testimony is contingent on their telling the truth.

What that means for Michael Cohen (as for testifying mobsters) is that if they don’t tell the truth, then their deal goes south.

Also, for some who have led a life of crime, there is a certain release in being able to confess their crimes.

Watching Michael Cohen, he has the slightly exaggerated precision of an attorney (or former attorney) who is doing his best to be hyper-correct, so that no one will (in fact) catch him in a lie for his testimony today.

The Republicans on the Intelligence Committee have been haranguing the Democrats for “not bringing an honest witness.” Well, if the Democrats were restricted to bringing honest witnesses who were former associates of Donald Trump, they would not be able to bring any witnesses at all.

Mic drop.

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The duckboats are barely back in drydock and Bob Kraft has a problem

The duckboats are barely back in drydock and Bob Kraft has a problem. On Feb. 22, 2019, the police chief in Jupiter Florida announced that Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, would be facing a solicitation of prostitution charge.

Oops.

I’m a Boston-area guy, and while I’m no football fanatic by any stretch, I do like the Patriots. Mostly because of their “do your job” tradition of sustained excellence.

The Trump Connection

Now, the “big three” of Patriots nation — Kraft, coach Bill Belichick, and quarterback Tom Brady — have all been identified in the past as supporters of Donald Trump (who, readers of the blog should know, I absolutely revile). Brady was seen early on with a MAGA hat in his locker, Belichick wrote him a supportive letter that Trump read at a rally in New Hampshire, and Kraft has been open about his support.

Brady and Belichick have been trying to distance themselves from the political ever since. Brady mostly explained that he had done some golfing with Trump long before he ran for President, and the ever loquacious Belichick has pretty much said nothing since.

Kraft, by contrast, has given the most reasonable explanation, which is that Trump was very supportive of him when his beloved wife Myra died. Called him every day to check in for a while. (They knew each other from Trump’s involvement and efforts to buy an NFL team.)

Bob and Myra and Ricki

Now Kraft and his wife Myra, who died of ovarian cancer in 2011, apparently had a very lovely 48 year marriage. There were never any issues of infidelity, and most observers thought they were very supportive of each other. Together they ran the Myra Kraft Charitable Foundation, which “supports organizations involved with arts and culture, higher education, health, youth development, and Judaism.” They gave out a lot of money here in New England.

Then, untethered from his lifelong anchor, Kraft — like many a billionaire businessman — got himself a young and skinny girlfriend. Ricki Noel Lander, who is 39 years younger. Lander recently got pregnant but it was reported that Kraft was not the father.

Whatever.

And now this.

Something Completely Different

So first of all, let’s acknowledge that Kraft has just been charged (for what is technically a misdemeanor) and is nowhere close to have been convicted of anything. As we saw in the discussion of Jussie Smollett, false accusation do happen. But not very often.

It looks bad for Kraft.

According to a report by the Boston Globe,

Twice between Jan. 18 and Jan. 22, Kraft allegedly visited a run-of-the-mill massage parlor called the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in a seaside town of Jupiter, about 20 miles north of the Breakers in Palm Beach. On both visits, the 77-year-old billionaire allegedly solicited prostitution from female workers exploited by Chinese traffickers

So now we’ve gone from loving husband and father to Chinese child sexual traffickers and “happy endings.”

In a subsequent article the Globe reported that this was part of an investigation into a human trafficking ring that brought Chinese girls to the USA under false pretenses, where some of them ended up sleeping on the massage tables in the massage parlors and “having unprotected sex with up to 1,000 men a year.”

Kraft wasn’t the only 77 year old billionaire from Massachusetts who was ensnared. Remarkably enough a much lower profile guy — John Childs, the founder of J.W. Childs Associates — was another one of the Johns who was caught up. (On Monday he resigned from the company that he founded.)

What is it with becoming a billionaire? Not every one of them goes off the rails of course, but too many of them start to think that they can do whatever the fuck they want. (And in certain ways they can.)

The silver lining in all of this for the rest of us is that Kraft’s celebrity may really shine a light on this problem. Just as Harvey Weinstein’s behavior really shown a light on sexual harassment, this could do a lot for beginning to combat sexual slavery in a much more systematic way.

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Jussie Smollett and Christopher Paul Hasson compared

I realize I’m not breaking really new ground here, but it really is interesting to compare the reaction to Jussie Smollett and Christopher Paul Hasson.

Jussie Smollett

Smollett is, of course, the “Empire” actor who staged the fake attack on him that resulted in considerable outrage. Smollett told police that he was attacked outside his apartment building by two men in ski masks who called him racial and homophobic slurs, said “This is MAGA country,” and put a noose around his neck. Pretty inflammatory stuff. Turns out that Smollett had hired two brothers of Nigerian descent, who have acted as extras on Empire, and paid them by check.

Oops.

It’s very rare that somebody files false accusations in a case like this, but it does happen. Other famous false accusations include:

Making these kind of false claims is especially pernicious because it then casts doubt on the credibility of future cases and future victims.

But mostly it proves how stupid Smollett is. In this day and age, with the sophisticated forensic capabilities that law enforcement has — and they are inclined to be especially diligent in an emotionally charged high-profile case like this — there was almost no chance that Smollett would get away with this.

Christopher Paul Hasson

Hasson is an entirely different matter. This guy — a former Marine and active member of the Coast Guard who identified openly as a white nationalist — planned on assassinating 23 specific politicians, media figures, and left-wing activists, planned on using biological weapons in other attacks, and professed his desire to “to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen.”

Ever since Stephen Paddock , you know there will always be someone looking to “raise the bar.”

Presidential Reaction

President Trump, being the calm even-handed personality that he is, fired up a tweetstorm about Jussie Smollett. He wasn’t wrong about everything he wrote, but still. And Christopher Paul Hasson? There was only silence.

Trump and his supporters wonder why all of the rest of us accuse them of racism. Use this as example #1.

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