When A Newspaper Editorial Board Doesn’t Understand the First Amendment

The Kansas City Star editorial board published an editorial that suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of what the First Amendment does and doesn’t do.

Here’s the lede: “Here’s a brief refresher course on the First Amendment we all studied in the seventh grade: Individuals in America are free to express their opinions and beliefs.”

The problem? They left out a key concept. Among several rights, the First Amendment gives individuals the freedom to express their opinions and beliefs without government restriction.

As the editorial points out, this includes making political statements and declaring support for elected officials, including Donald Trump. But, this is simply wrong:

“…no matter what you think of President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” mantra or policies, you don’t have the right to belittle or attack someone on the other end of the political spectrum.”

The truth is that the First Amendment doesn’t say anything about individuals voicing their political opinions or belittling someone on the other end of the political spectrum. It might be rude or insulting, but just as one individual is free to state their support of Trump, others are free to say they don’t like it.

This is not to pick sides in any particular case. The point here is that the First Amendment bars government control of speech, but it does not absolve individuals from consequences or from responses from other individuals.

Today’s Most Interesting Reads, 12/11/18

  • The solution for urban highways might be to eliminate them completely.
  • This is from a while back. It’s an interesting analysis of two-point vs. three-point shooting that starts off in a weird direction and ends up at the same conclusion that analytics nerds have been repeating for years now: it’s better to shoot threes than two-point jumpers. 
  • Dave Zirin reviews a new documentary: The Trials of Muhammad Ali, which offers a deep look at Ali and includes rarely seen footage. Zirin writes that it’s the best Ali documentary he’s ever seen.
  • No. Just no.
  • Ezra Klein writes about Paul Ryan’s legacy as a con man. Ryan presented himself as someone ready to make “tough choices” (mostly slashing support for poor people and the elderly), but when he became Speaker, led the charge to pass budgets that increased budget deficits by 80% annually. Key point by Klein: “The question here is not why Ryan didn’t live up to a liberal philosophy of government; it’s why he didn’t live up to his own philosophy of government.”
  • Also from Ezra Klein, a critique of Andrew Sullivan’s shitty reasoning.
  • Matt Yglesias bids good riddance to John Kelly.
  • Researchers have found that “despite extreme heat, no light, minuscule nutrition, and intense pressure…the subterranean biosphere is teeming with…micro-organisms, hundreds of times the combined weight of every human on the planet.”

Today’s Most Interesting Reads, 12/10/18

Okay, I’m cheating a little. Some of these are things I read over the weekend.

  • Conservative pundit takes a GOP campaign’s theft of absentee ballots in North Carolina and weirdly pretends it’s some sort of vindication for GOP voter suppression efforts. To recap: Trump and the GOP claimed (without evidence) Democrats were engaging in widespread voter fraud, which included millions of undocumented immigrants voting illegally. In North Carolina, someone working for the GOP candidate assembled a team to at minimum steal absentee ballots and trash ones he didn’t like. “At minimum” because his team probably filled some of those ballots out themselves and submitted them. 
  • The Two Faces of Lummie Jenkins — a helluva story about the differing portrayals of the same guy. This gets at something critical in examining history, telling and enjoying stories, and being an adult person who isn’t an asshole: point of view.
  • Behind the scenes of John Kelly’s departure as Chief of Staff.
  • Adam Davidson with a superb article detailing just how incompetent Trump’s shitty henchmen actually were. Davidson has done some great work chronicling the corrupt and almost certainly illegal business practices of the Trump Organization since at least 2006.
  • This article about why the Spurs offense is effective is from five years ago, but it’s worth a read or re-read because it so accurately describes what NBA teams are trying to do today.
  • An interview with Steven Pinker about why we think civilization is worse than it used to be despite optimism about our personal lives and objective facts that show civilization is much better than it was in the past.
  • Manafort, Cohen and Invidual 1 are in grave danger.
  • Programmers created AlphaZero, a system that taught itself to play chess (and other strategy games) in a closed system — meaning, they didn’t let it study human games. The program taught itself by playing randomly at first and developing its own strategies. It found its way to classic human strategies and worked out novel ways of playing that humans hadn’t figured out.
  • And, former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, writes about AlphaZero.
  • Quickly becoming one of my favorite basketball reads, Caitlin Cooper breaks down how Bojan Bogdanovich uses screens. Side note: there’s literally nothing he does that wasn’t taught during a Station 13 at Five Star basketball camp in Pittsburgh during the summer of 1987.
  • Shane Young writes that Stephen Curry is the best player in the game. Back in 2016, I wrote for Vice about how Curry was having the best single season ever. Shane has some cool video to go with his piece. Really good stuff, even if he misuses “desolated.”
  • Glenn Kessler and the fact-checking team at the Washington Post have come up with a new category for Trump’s incessant lying: the Bottomless Pinocchio. To qualify, a false statement needs to be repeated at least 20 times. Trump is the only politician to accomplish this feat. I’m glad they’ve come up with something, but I would prefer they just called it what it is: Disinformation Campaign.
  • I didn’t read or write this — it’s the #SoWizards podcast, which consists of Ben Becker and me running our mouths about the Washington Wizards. 

Today’s Most Interesting Reads, 12/7/18

  • Just the former director of the Office of Policy Analysis in the U.S. Department of the Interior highlighting the ways Trump’s Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke purged staff, sidelined scientists and elevated industrial interests since taking office.
  • India is beefing up its navy to counter Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean.
  • Hitler didn’t know about the Pearl Harbor attack but was “delighted” when he heard about it. He followed it up by declaring war on the US, which meant FDR didn’t have to worry about congress agreeing to enter World War II. Interestingly, one reason Japan decided to attack was their alliance with Germany, which they viewed as an unstoppable force. Germany joined them in declaring war on the US because they had a high opinion of Japan’s power. Oops.
  • Greg Sargent of the Washington Post with some analysis of how Trump is failing on many fronts.
  • Paul Krugman on Trump’s ignorance and how that’s affecting trade and the US economy. Krugman highlights that US trade law has worked well for 80 years, but notes that “…it wasn’t intended to handle the problem of a corrupt, irresponsible president.”
  • This is one of the weirdest “eye test vs. analytics” juxtapositions I’ve read. Everything discussed as being visible to the eye, but obscured in “the analytics,” is readily available in the data.
  • The disinformation challenges created by deep fake technology, and what we might be able to do about it. Fascinating read.
  • Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the president is impulsive and undisciplined in his decision-making, and that Trump often wanted to do things that would violate the law.
  • Inspired by a cranky Gregg Popovich, Tom Haberstroh took a look at which box score stats correspond most with winning in the NBA. No surprise that it’s still FG% — it has been since forever.

Today’s Most Interesting Reads, 12/6/18

Today’s Most Interesting Reads, 12/5/18

Day three, but with the innovation of a new headline!

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Interesting Stuff I Read Today, 12/4/18

Day two of the experiment in posting links to things I read and found interesting.

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  • New York City wants to protect the Strand bookstore by making it a designated landmark. The catch: owner Nancy Bass Wyden doesn’t want it and says it could kill the bookstore by imposing landmark restrictions. Killer line: “The richest man in America, who’s a direct competitor, has just been handed $3 billion in subsidies. I’m not asking for money or a tax rebate,” Ms. Wyden said. “Just leave me alone.”
  • The “three C’s” of screenwriting — concept, characters, conflict. Nothing earth-shaking about the advice here, but still useful reminders.
  • It’s looking like the campaign for Republican Mark Harris committed coordinated election fraud in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District race. After all the noise made by Trump and the GOP about voter fraud, they’re weirdly not saying anything about GOP campaign workers stealing absentee ballots.
  • While on the subject of GOP efforts to disenfranchise voters…this one is from Georgia.
  • And this one, which includes: “Let’s start in Wisconsin, where Republicans gerrymandered so ruthlessly…Democratic candidates won 54 percent of votes for the state house but Republicans held on to an incredible 64 percent of the seats.” Similar crap is happening in Michigan, and North Carolina.
  • Odd how these white nationalist types keep emerging from the ranks of the GOP.
  • Lee Child is working on bringing his iconic character Jack Reacher to television. This is great news (if you haven’t read any of the Reacher books, you’re missing out). My hope is they don’t get too caught up in casting a star. Pick a talented “unknown” who can be Reacher, and let the fan equity from writing a popular series of books build the TV audience.
  • Interesting analysis of the effects of the NBA’s emphasis on freedom of movement this season.
  • Parts of this article about Robert Covington from Ben Falk read like a subtweet of this year’s Washington Wizards.

Interesting Stuff I Read Today, 12/3/18

This idea popped into my head while I was on a long drive around Thanksgiving. I spend a lot of time reading each day, and some of it is pretty interesting. So, I’m going to endeavor each day to post links to interesting things I read, and we’ll see how it goes. The subject matter is likely to be all over the place because I read about a lot of stuff.

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Feel free to leave comments here or to talk to me on Twitter — @broom_kevin.

  • A thoughtful column by Aymann Ismail about CNN firing Marc Lamont Hill. According to Ismail, the “river to the sea” line from Hill’s speech is commonly used, including by Likud, a center-right Israeli political party.
  • And this from David Schraub, which gives an in-depth view of the history of “river to the sea” and analysis of what it means today.
  • This one is about the world building expertise of N.K. Jemisin, who is one of my favorite writers. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy won the Hugo Award three consecutive times.
  • Illuminating article from Ben Falk at Cleaning the Glass about the always-evolving tactical battle between NBA coaches. This one, from a couple weeks ago, is about teams using weakside empty screen/roll sets. Lots of video examples and clear descriptions. ($)
  • A nerdy analysis of whether Trump’s recent tweets about Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and Michael Cohen might violate witness tampering statutes.
  • The always insightful Adam Serwer with a column about the GOP’s efforts to reduce the influence of minority voters, and how it shouldn’t fall to the only black Republican senator to take a stand against voter disenfranchisement.
  • This guy made an 18-page “Perjury Chart” which shows Trump associates’ false or misleading statements on Russia to federal authorities, that we know about so far.
  • A look at why Darren Collison isn’t making shots this season by my pal Tony East. It doesn’t exactly answer the question, but the analysis was interesting.
  • An AP story about how the GOP continues to disgrace itself and America and push further into the future the point at which I’d even consider voting for a Republican candidate. This time, it’s Wisconsin.

Oh yeah, not to be left out, I’m reading Lights Out In Wonderland by DBC Pierre, a novel about an anti-capitalist who has decided to off himself, but not yet. I’m 75 pages in, and so far would highly recommend it.

Why Brett Kavanaugh Doesn’t Belong on the Supreme Court

kavanaugh

Brett Kavanaugh doesn’t belong on the Supreme Court because he’s dishonest and unable to use his considerable legal education and experience to form a logical, coherent defense strategy. In addition, his performative, self-pitying rage before the Senate Judiciary Committee revealed him to be a conspiratorial partisan, which undercuts any notion that he can be a fair-minded adjudicator of the cases that come before him.

It’s indisputable that Kavanaugh lied repeatedly in his testimony to the Senate. At Current Affairs, Nathan J. Robinson wrote an 11,000-word article dedicated to refuting an array of Kavanaugh assertions with facts.

As Robinson wrote, when viewing the testimony of Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford “honestly, impartially, and carefully” it’s clear that:

  1. Kavanaugh is lying.
  2. There’s no reason to believe Blasey Ford is lying.

Now, that Kavanaugh drank too much (and underage) 35 years ago doesn’t matter very much today. His dishonesty is happening right now in real time, and that is important because it undermines his credibility as a judge. I’m not going to recreate Robinson’s article here. Read it for yourself and you’ll see a sober-minded dissection of Kavanaugh’s lies, misdirection, and use of performative anger to blunt Democratic questioning.

Robinson’s excellent article missed one Kavanaugh whopper: his assertion that he got to Yale Law School “without any connections” by “busting his tail.” In fact, Kavanaugh was a legacy student because his grandfather attended Yale as an undergraduate.

Kavanaugh’s blatant dishonesty ought to be disqualifying, but I’m also bothered by something else: how inane his defense has been. He’s supposed to be an elite legal thinker — one of the top legal minds the country has to offer. But what he’s offered in his defense has been:

  1. A calendar
  2. A letter signed by 65 women, some of whom later retracted their support
  3. The lack of corroboration of Ford’s story
  4. Irrelevant and misleading assertions about his career and the nature of federal background checks
  5. Misleading and false claims about his high school behavior in general, and his drinking in particular.
  6. Evading direct questions.
  7. Self-pitying indignation.

I understand the difficulty in attempting to prove a negative. But, there’s a difference between asserting innocence, and accusing Senate Democrats of a “well-orchestrated political hit.” (It’s sorta interesting to note that while defending himself from an accusation made without supporting evidence, Kavanaugh makes an accusation without supporting evidence.)

The point, however, is how flimsy and dishonest Kavanaugh’s arguments are on his own behalf. Imagine a similar accusation made against Antonin Scalia, for example. While I think Scalia was wrong about a great many things, there’s no doubt in my mind that he would have made a forceful, logically coherent, and legally sound case in defending himself. There is no chance he’d have offered up a calendar and tried to claim that because he didn’t have this particular underage drinking party penciled in, it could not have happened. (Side note: Robinson points out that such an event actually IS in Kavanaugh’s calendar, including the names of two of the boys Ford remembers being at the gathering where she was sexually assaulted.)

As a public relations professional with some experience in crisis communications, one thing is particularly striking: how easy it would be to construct a response that used existing facts, avoided telling obvious lies, and would likely have Kavanaugh already confirmed an on his way to the Supreme Court.

What we know from multiple descriptions from people who knew Kavanaugh, and from Kavanaugh’s own contemporaneous accounts that he was a binge drinker who got belligerent and aggressive when he was drunk. He’d already be on the Supreme Court if when Ford’s allegations were made public he emerged with a statement in which he:

  1. Admitted to binge drinking in high school and college
  2. Admitted that he sometimes drank so much that he could not remember what he’d done the night before
  3. Acknowledged it was possible that during one of these blackout episodes, he did exactly what Ford has claimed
  4. Apologized to Ford and anyone else he may have hurt when he was drunk and out of control, and
  5. Asserted that his life of service to America is demonstration that while he’s personally ashamed of his excessive drinking and out of control behavior, he doesn’t live that way anymore.

He could even toss in a sixth point about how he’ll work with an appropriate organization to address the dangers of drinking alcohol underage and to excess, but I don’t think that would have been necessary. Those five points above would not have satisfied many on the left. He’d be acknowledging it was possible he’d committed sexual assault without admitting it.

That statement would likely have headed off the second round of hearings and the FBI investigation. It would have given Republicans cover to mutter platitudes about how youthful indiscretions shouldn’t disqualify someone from important office, and a majority of voters would probably have agreed. In the end, the strategy I describe would have likely resulted in Kavanaugh being confirmed on a mostly party-line vote (although I think it’s possible he could have picked up the support of a few red-state Democrats).

It’s almost inconceivable that no one on Kavanaugh’s team or in the GOP proposed this strategy. It has the advantage of being the easiest path, in part because it’s a good fit with things the public already knows about Kavanaugh.

Instead, Kavanaugh and the GOP decided to construct their defense on lies and bluster. They may be able to bully Kavanaugh through the system and onto the Supreme Court. But his nomination and the confirmation process lays bare the fundamental dishonesty and abuse of power that lies at the heart of today’s Republican party.

Whether or not Kavanaugh assaulted Ford, he doesn’t belong on the Supreme Court because he’s revealed himself as entitled, dishonest, partisan, and unable to think clearly under pressure.

For what it’s worth, I believe her

blasey ford

I don’t want to write about this, but I feel like I should because of how some are attacking Christine Blasey Ford’s credibility based on her not remembering certain details. Maybe my experience will help others understand, maybe not. Either way here goes…

I was abused as a child. Not sexually, but physically and emotionally. It was violent. It was torture. It wasn’t daily, but it was frequent, and I lived in fear at all times. The abuse left physical marks — scratches, bruises, welts, lumps. It left indelible emotional scars that are with me to this very fucking moment. I’m 48 years old. The last episode of abuse I recall was at least 34 years ago.

I remember many details, which I don’t want to share. Just thinking about them as I write is awful enough. Here’s what haunts me most:

In the midst of abusive episodes, in the midst of physical and verbal violence, the phone would ring. My abuser would go on screaming vile insults and answer the call with a calm and placid tone — just another relaxing day. I’d be required to stand silently while a protracted conversation took place, which would be followed by resumption of the abuse.

One time, it was our priest on the line. After a cheerful conversation, the abuse resumed.

At the time, it was terrifying and humiliating. Looking back as an adult, I realize this wasn’t someone getting angry and losing control. It was intentional. Even with breaks and an opportunity to reconsider, the abuser would go back to torturing me. Decades later, this knowledge tears me up.

I remember where most of these events took place because they were at home. I know who abused me because I knew them well. I recall with specificity some of the exact things done to me — implements used, injuries caused, words said. Being forced to clean up after.

I remember instances where there were witnesses, and who those witnesses were. I remember feeling powerless, frightened, and hopeless. I remember feeling nauseous every day coming home from school. It wasn’t until I left home that I learned I wasn’t just prone to being car sick.

But, I couldn’t give you a single date. There are instances where I couldn’t give a location other than “the car” or “beach house.” At this point, I couldn’t tell you what precipitated even one episode of abuse, although I surely knew at the time.

I never reported any of this despite frequent opportunities. I talked about it years later with loved ones, and then in counseling, but at the time, I lied. The abuse left visible marks that drew questions from friends, teachers, and in some cases complete strangers. At every turn, I lied about the cause of the injuries.

I still don’t fully understand why I protected the abuser. As an adult looking back, I think it was fear that nothing would happen and that I’d get it even worse. And there was shame because I believed I deserved it. One time, I ran away from home (it lasted maybe four hours). The aftermath…well…the difference between me escaping that episode alive or without serious head trauma was the quick reflexes of someone nearby.

I sometimes wonder: what the fuck was wrong with me? Not just for not telling someone, but what was wrong with me that caused the abuse. Because, as crazy as it sounds now, I believed I deserved it. Intellectually I know I didn’t. I know it was about the abuser’s problems. But…I still sometimes wonder.

I recognize there are differences in how child abuse and sexual assault are viewed by many. Children are considered blameless victims. Teen girls and women who get assaulted are often assigned some measure of responsibility for getting attacked. “What was she doing at a drinking party with boys?” “She was wearing a short skirt…” and so on.

That’s all bullshit. What causes sexual assault is the same thing as what causes child abuse: an abusive person. It’s not the victim’s fault. Even if we sometimes blame ourselves.

What does all this say about whether Blasey Ford or Kavanaugh are telling the truth? Maybe nothing. But, the delay in Blasey Ford talking about the assault, and the gaps in her recollection are not indicators she’s lying. It’s normal. For what it’s worth, I believe her.