Political Animal

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Has No Sense of Humor

To quote the old Fleetwood Mac song, it’s not that funny.

No, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ’s decision to whack progressive editorial cartoonist Rob Rogers after a quarter-century is not censorship in the strictest sense of the word: there is no direct evidence that Donald Trump urged the paper’s owners to strike down upon Rogers with great vengeance and furious anger. However, the ouster of Rogers is tacky, to say the least. The newspaper has all but admitted that it gave Rogers the Eddie-Murphy-through-the-window treatment for ideological reasons:

In recent weeks, a number of his cartoons, including some on President Donald Trump, were killed by the paper’s editorial director, Keith Burris…

Mr. Burris began overseeing the Post-Gazette’s editorial pages in March after the paper’s owner, Block Communications, combined them with the editorial pages of its other newspaper, The Blade of Toledo, Ohio. He was formerly the editorial page editor for The Blade and now splits his time between the two cities.

He acknowledged that he is “more conservative” than past editorial page editors and that even prior to Mr. Trump’s election in 2016, the owners of the newspaper had been trying “to right the ship” to reflect less liberal views.

Mr. Rogers said he began to feel “a lot more pushback” about his work after Mr. Trump announced his run for office in 2015.

But few of his cartoons were killed until Mr. Burris took over the editorial page, he said. Since March, nine cartoon ideas and 10 finished cartoons were killed, he said…

When he came to Pittsburgh in March, Mr. Burris said he met Mr. Rogers for lunch and told the cartoonist, “Obviously, we don’t think that Trump is the worst president in history.”

“It was an agonized conversation on both sides,” said Mr. Burris.

After that, the two exchanged frequent emails about Mr. Rogers’ cartoons in which Mr. Burris said he was trying to address “the tone and frequency” of his drawings about Mr. Trump…

On some occasions, he spiked Mr. Rogers’ cartoons and ran others from different artists on the same topics “with a little more humor,” Mr. Burris said.

Burris probably thinks Mallard Fillmore is funnier than Richard Pryor in his prime.

The low-class nature of Rogers’ termination shocks the conscience. It seems that Burris was personally offended by Rogers’ criticism of the 45th President, and decided to do something about it. Hope he’s happy. Of course, if, say, Tom Steyer bought a newspaper with a right-of-center cartoonist or columnist and made it clear to that individual that his or her services were no longer needed, conservatives would start a virtual riot.

Former Los Angeles Times cartoonist Ted Rall notes the fundamental cowardice of Rogers’ firing:

If there’s a class about how to fire people at any decent business school, they should probably use the Rob Rogers firing as an example of exactly what not to do. Look, it’s their paper. They can publish or not publish whoever they want. Maybe it’s crazy for a city like Pittsburgh to have a pro-Trump newspaper but that’s their prerogative if they want to go under. They had the right to fire him.

But why do it that way? Why not simply call him into the office, explain the fact that the editorial orientation of the newspaper had changed, and offer him a generous severance package (I would think two or three years salary would be sufficient) along with full retirement? And send him out with a little bit of glory and dignity, allowing him to say his goodbyes in cartoon form and perhaps showcasing a few pages of his best cartoons over the years? 25 years of loyal service earned him that. More than that, Rob is a fixture in the community. He is always front and present, organizing and hosting cartooning-related panels and shows at art galleries. Disappearing him like a Soviet apparatchik airbrushed out of photos from the top of Lenin’s tomb is a little insane.

Alternatively, why not simply make clear that he could stay on board as a liberal cartoonist even though the editorials would be conservative? My former employer the Los Angeles Times did that with cartoonist Mike Ramirez in the 1990s, but in reverse. The paper had a liberal editorial orientation but Mike was very conservative. Many newspapers with a specific editorial orientation run columns by columnists whose politics disagree with them.

The folks who ran the Times weren’t as petty as the folks who run the Post-Gazette. There were presumably plenty of left-leaning newspapers that ran syndicated columns from Charles Krauthammer over the years for purposes of ideological balance, and resisted the urge to discontinue the publication of his columns even when he wrote clearly offensive stuff (i.e., the 2003 column accusing opponents of the Iraq War of having “Bush Derangement Syndrome,” or the 2008 column about the supposedly religious overtones of climate activism). It doesn’t happen the other way around.

Of course, people can vote with their wallet, doing to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette what it did to Rogers. When it comes to publications that want to suck up to Trump, it’s time to turn the page.

Trump’s Voters Separated the Families. They’ll Never Apologize for Doing So.

Don’t ever forget–and don’t forget to teach your children and your grandchildren–that this atrocity occurred thanks to, and with the full and undisputed consent of, 62 million American voters:

In South Texas, pediatricians started sounding the alarm weeks ago as migrant shelters began filling up with younger children separated from their parents after they crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.

The concerned pediatricians contacted Colleen Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and she flew to Texas and visited a shelter for migrant children in the Rio Grande Valley. There, she saw a young girl in tears. “She couldn’t have been more than 2 years old,” Kraft says. “Just crying and pounding and having a huge, huge temper tantrum. This child was just screaming, and nobody could help her. And we know why she was crying. She didn’t have her mother. She didn’t have her parent who could soothe her and take care of her.”

The number of migrant children in U.S. government custody is soaring — partly the result of a policy decision by the Trump administration to separate children from their parents who are being prosecuted for unlawful entry. Hundreds of the children being held in shelters are under age 13.

Medical professionals, members of Congress and religious leaders are calling on the Trump administration to stop separating migrant families. They question whether these shelter facilities are appropriate for younger children.

President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions say the administration is enforcing immigration law. But House Republicans plan to vote next week on a bill that they say would end the practice of separating children from their parents.

Pediatricians and immigrant advocates are warning that separating migrant children from their families can cause “toxic stress” that disrupts a child’s brain development and harms long-term health.

This is nothing short of psychological murder, the asphyxiation of the soul. How could a compassionate people allow this to happen? The question, of course, presupposes that those who voted for Trump regarded compassion as anything other than a form of political correctness.

11,351 children are being subjected to this horror. 11,351 children being held in internment camps–oops, sorry, “shelters”–for no reason other than the color of their skin and the country where they were born. This is sickness. This is madness. And thanks to those 62 million voters, this is America.

Why did Attorney General Jeff Sessions even bother reaching for Biblical quotes to defend the moral cancer that is this policy? He doesn’t have to convince Trump’s supporters about the supposed Biblical morality of this policy; after all, it comes from the Book of Donald, so by definition it is good and righteous. May the Church of Trump say amen!

I also can’t help wondering why Playboy reporter Brian Karem even bothered asking White House spokesflack Sarah Huckabee Sanders if she has any empathy for the families Trump’s voters have split apart. Come on, Brian, you already know damn well she doesn’t. If she had any empathy, she never would have joined the Trump team.

As we witness this horror, we must also condemn media entities who gullibly report that some members of Trump’s fan club disagree with this policy. An example of such gullibility comes from the Washington Post:

The policy has cracked Trump’s usually united conservative base, with a wide array of religious leaders and groups denouncing it. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Southern Baptist Convention issued statements critical of the practice.

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, who delivered a prayer at Trump’s inauguration, signed a letter calling the practice “horrible.” Pastor Franklin Graham of Samaritan’s Purse, a vocal supporter of the president’s who has brushed aside past Trump controversies, called it “terrible” and “disgraceful.”

Rodriguez and Graham are obviously lying. They support this policy by virtue of their support of Trump. They signed on to the whole package. Their disavowals of the policy are all for show. Shame on the Post for not pointing that out.

The reality is that Trump’s “conservative base” is fully united behind this policy. They love this stuff. What rational and compassionate Americans view as ugly, they view as beautiful.

The Historical Precedent of Trotting Out the Bible to Justify Oppression

To defend the Trump administration’s practice of criminally prosecuting everyone who crosses our southern border, leading to the separation of children from their parents, Attorney General Jeff Sessions trotted out a Bible verse.

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes,” Sessions said during a speech to law enforcement officers in Fort Wayne, Ind. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent and fair application of the law is in itself a good and moral thing, and that protects the weak and protects the lawful.”

If you have a hard time imagining how a policy of separating children from their parents can be described as “a good and moral thing” that protects the weak, you probably have a conscience. But here’s how it is justified in the mind of someone like Sessions:

“In 2013, fewer than 15,000 family units were apprehended crossing our border illegally between ports of entry in dangerous areas of the country,” he said. “Five years later, it was more than 75,000, a five-fold increase in five years. It didn’t even have to be their child that was brought, it could be anyone. You can imagine that this created a lot of danger.”

What he is suggesting is that adult migrants bring children with them in order to avoid detention, which he goes on to suggest has “created a lot of danger.” He ignores the fact that there was a time when undocumented immigrants were made up primarily of Mexicans coming to the United States for seasonal work and now things have shifted towards Central American women and children feeling violence. There are very good reasons why we’re now seeing an influx of family units.

But let’s get back to the use of the verse in Romans 13. Given what has happened this week, it is interesting to note that the most recent use of that passage came during the time that Trump was threatening “fire and fury” against North Korea.

Texas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, one of President Trump’s evangelical advisers who preached the morning of his inauguration, has released a statement saying the president has the moral authority to “take out” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“When it comes to how we should deal with evildoers, the Bible, in the book of Romans, is very clear: God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary — including war — to stop evil,” Jeffress said. “In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un.”…

The biblical passage Romans 13 gives the government authority to deal with evildoers, Jeffress said. “That gives the government … the authority to do whatever, whether it’s assassination, capital punishment or evil punishment to quell the actions of evildoers like Kim Jong Un,” he said.

I can’t find an updated statement from Jeffress now that Trump has done a complete reversal and is talking about how the North Korean dictator is such a good strong leader.

In terms of how Sessions used Romans 13, there are a couple of very ugly precedents for that.

“There are two dominant places in American history when Romans 13 is invoked,” said John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. “One is during the American Revolution [when] it was invoked by loyalists, those who opposed the American Revolution.”

The other, Fea said, “is in the 1840s and 1850s, when Romans 13 is invoked by defenders of the South or defenders of slavery to ward off abolitionists who believed that slavery is wrong. I mean, this is the same argument that Southern slaveholders and the advocates of a Southern way of life made.”

Yoni Applebaum explained that the use of Romans 13 to justify slavery has another thing in common with the administration’s current policy.

Abolitionists of the era argued that slavery was unconscionably cruel; in particular, they pointed to the forcible separation of families as running counter to God’s law. Apologists for slavery recognized the strength of the claim…In response, defenders of slavery insisted on the duty to abide by the law—including the Fugitive Slave Act. They cited verses which stressed this duty, Romans 13:1 prominent among them.

Persisting beyond the end of the Civil War was the policy of separating Native American children from their parents and putting them in boarding schools. I haven’t seen an example of anyone using Romans 13 to justify that practice, but the schools were run by Christian missionaries who were asked to “civilize” and “Christianize” the children.

I’m also reminded of the letter Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote from a Birmingham jail. It was in response to criticism he had received from white clergymen over the activities of nonviolent resistance. We don’t know if they actually quoted the verse from Romans 13, but it is clear that they were critical of the fact that laws were being broken, because a justification for doing so made up a large portion of what King wrote. He said that there are two types of laws: just and unjust.

How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.

Martin Luther King is on much firmer theological ground than Jeff Sessions. It is interesting to note that the Apostle Paul, who wrote the book of Romans, spent a fair amount of time in jail—which suggests that he occasionally disobeyed unjust laws. Sessions also seemed to ignore that Paul went on in that chapter of Romans to say that, “love is the fulfilling of the law.” It seems to me that a pretty good definition of “love” would be, as MLK wrote, anything that uplifts the human personality. That is the essence of what is recorded in the Gospels about the message of Jesus, who was constantly questioned by the Pharisees because he didn’t adhere to their legalistic interpretation of scripture.

Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40

By quoting the Bible to justify the disgusting practice of separating children from their parents, AG Sessions aligns himself with a whole host of deplorably racist practices throughout this country’s history. For those who have actually paid attention to what the Bible says, he also undermines the central message of the gospel. There is nothing even remotely moral about what he’s doing.

Are Manafort and Cohen Primed to Flip?

Paul Manafort is in court right now and the president feels badly about it. The former Trump campaign chairman has already pleaded not guilty to new charges of witness tampering, and his lawyers are pleading with the judge not to jail him. [UPDATE] They were ultimately not successful.

During the hearing, Judge Amy Berman Jackson pressed a prosecutor on Mueller’s team on the question of whether Manafort currently represents a danger to the public.

The prosecutor said that Manafort is a threat because of the likelihood that he will commit new crimes.

However, Manafort’s lawyer scoffed at the idea that he was trying to tamper [with] witness[es].

Berman has yet to rule on the request to revoke Manafort’s bail, which would lead to him being jailed before his trials, or to modify the terms of his release.

Per usual, Trump simply cannot be honest about any of this:

President Donald Trump, while speaking to reporters outside the White House on Friday morning, was asked about Manafort.

“Manafort has nothing to do with our campaign,” Trump said. “I feel a little badly about it.”

“You know, Paul Manafort worked for me for a very short period of time. He worked for Ronald Reagan. He worked for Bob Dole. He worked for many others, he worked for me, what, 49 days or something. Very short period of time.”

In fact, Manafort served 144 days as Trump’s presidential campaign chairman. He was hired in late March 2016, and resigned on Aug. 19 of that year.

It’s hard to tell a bigger lie than to claim that your campaign chairman had “nothing to do with” your campaign. But that’s par for the course with this man.

His potentially bigger problem has been reported by Shimon Prokupecz of CNN.

Could be an exciting weekend.