Monday, February 17, 2020

Down in Forest City

A new book about what the authors call "one of America's most dangerous cults" focuses on the Word of Faith Fellowship in Rutherford County, just down the mountain from us. The two authors were interviewed on Morning Edition today.

Democrat David Wheeler, who is running again this year against incumbent Republican Ralph Hise in NC Senate District 47, made some news in 2018 when he tried to take cameras inside the church. Wheeler accuses Hise of essentially shielding the church from meaningful scrutiny (which numerous law enforcement agencies in Rutherford County are also accused of).

The authors of "Broken Faith" talk about the leader of the Word of Faith, Jane Whaley, as a frightening scourge of God:
You have to realize they believe that Jane Whaley was a prophet, that God spoke to her and everything she said was the gospel. And one of the techniques that she used was that she had everybody inform on each other. And the reason they did that was because that was the godly way of doing things. It was, in a way, she would have them tell her their deepest, darkest secrets. And then she kept a file of those secrets. And if they threatened to leave or did something wrong, she had all the evidence she needed there to keep them in line.
A peculiar form of abuse at the church has been talked about for years, as insiders escaped and described what went on there: was something that really got worse over time. And you have to understand what her philosophy is. The doctrine is really pretty simple — devils are real. And if you're a drug addict, it's because you have this drug devil. If, you know, you're an alcoholic — the same. If you're having an affair, it's the same thing. There are lustful devils. And so what she would do is it was called Devils in Deliverance, where they would have people surround you and scream at you to get the devils out. Get out, devil. And it would go on and on and on. Perfect example is with a baby. If babies cried, it wasn't because they were hungry or they had a dirty diaper. It was because there was a devil inside them that was making them cry. So you would have groups of people surrounding an infant and screaming until that baby would just get tired and finally, you know, go to sleep....
None of the press investigative pieces or law enforcement investigations or lawsuits have seemed to make a dent:
You have the sheriff. You have the district attorney. You have all these people who have looked the other way, who know what's going on, and they're just not doing their job. This church now is thriving.

Friday, February 14, 2020

The Source of His Appeal

More evidence of the rotting away of our commonweal.

Proving, once again, that irony is dead
Since Trump’s rise, his inflammatory language about people of color and the Muslim religion has seeped into schools across America. Reporters for the WashPost just documented a whole bunch of examples, like these: In Tennessee, a group of middle-schoolers linked arms, imitating Trump's proposed border wall as they refused to let nonwhite students pass. In Ohio, another group of middle-schoolers surrounded a mixed-race sixth-grader and taunted her: "This is Trump country."

"Kids as young as 6 [are] mimicking the president’s insults and the cruel way he delivers them."

@jbouie made this incisive observation today on Twitter:

"The extent to which children mimic and emulate Trump’s bigotry is, for me, the surest evidence that Trump’s explicit racism is the main thing that breaks through to the public and the source of his appeal." 

Nothing sets off a Trumpeter like accusations of racism. It's like touching a red hot poker to the backside of a mule. The kick could kill ya.

Truth hurts.

Our President Would Be a Better Crook If He Could Stop the Strut

In his interview with ABC News, Attorney General William Barr said it was “time [for Trump] to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases.” He added that such statements from Trump “about the department, about people in the department, our men and women here, about cases pending here, and about judges before whom we have cases, make it impossible for me to do my job and to assure the courts and the prosecutors and the department that we’re doing our work with integrity.”

Shorter, clearer William Barr: "Listen, moron, STFU so I can help your friends and hurt your enemies without the entire effing world cluing in on what I'm doing because you can't keep your fingers off the keyboard."

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Elections of March: Democratic Primary in NCH33

Reading The Indy Week's endorsements in Wake County races for the NC Senate and House has caused me to take a closer look at the Democratic primary race in the NCH33 between incumbent Democrat Rosa Gill and her insurgent challenger Antoine Marshall. The Indy endorsed Marshall, and I can see why.

Democrat Antoine Marshall is a 33-year-old Millennial and a lawyer trained at Wake Forest. He's clearly a rising star in the Wake County Democratic Party (serving on the Progressive Caucus, among many other party offices and activist roles). As an undergraduate student at Claflin University, an HBCU in Orangeburg, S.C., Marshall worked in the congressional office of then-Majority Whip Congressman James Clyburn. He returned to Washington as a Kaiser Family Foundation Health Policy Fellow in the office of Congresswoman Donna Christensen, and also interned with the Congressional Black Caucus of the South Carolina State Legislature.

Marshall began his career as an attorney with Legal Aid of North Carolina, working with low income families in the areas of landlord/tenant law, government benefits, and mortgage foreclosures. This background has made Marshall especially focused on "access to legal justice," especially in this age of Trump when there seems to be different justice depending on wealth and influence:
...roughly 3 out of 4 low income households will have at least one civil legal problem in the upcoming year. These include problems with health care, housing conditions, disability access, veterans benefits, and domestic violence, the seriousness of which could be the difference between someone receiving medical assistance, being homeless, or in some cases protection from bodily harm or death. For many of those families North Carolina legal aid programs such as Legal Aid of North Carolina, Pigsah Legal Services and the Legal Services of Southern Piedmont provided lawyers at no charge to work on behalf of low income individuals, but these programs have been woefully underfunded. ["Antoine Marshall on the Issues"]
Noted: Marshall also challenged Rosa Gill for this seat in the Democratic primary of 2018, and only got 24.7% of the vote. It's still an uphill climb, but perhaps Marshall has organized better this year and has built a following to take on an intrenched incumbent.

Democratic incumbent Rosa Gill is 75 years old and is in her sixth term in the NC House. She was appointed to the District 33 seat in 2009 by Governor Bev Perdue when Rep. Dan Blue got moved up by appointment to the NC Senate. She earlier spent two decades as a public school math teacher and then a full decade as a government employee in the NC Division of Motor Vehicles.

She was elected to the Wake County Board of Education in 2009 and was reelected in 2003 and 2007. She was serving as chair of the school board when she was appointed to the General Assembly. She's also been chair of the Wake County Democratic Party and chair of the Wake County Board of Elections, so she's a powerhouse of political networking and has a formidable history of burying both Republican opponents and Democratic primary opponents.

She's been endorsed by Lillian's List and by the Raleigh-Wake Citizens Association. She failed to win another endorsement from The Indy Week because "in our questionnaire this year, she told us that trans people should not be eligible for gender dysphoria treatments under the State Health Plan, and—while we appreciate her advocacy for schools—we can do better. Antoine Marshall has less experience, but he’s also passionate—and not quite as behind the times."

"Behind the times" is a serious indictment for a Democratic incumbent in 2020, but Antoine Marshall still has an awfully heavy "lift" to make his insurgency happen.

The Body Count -- Career Prosecutors in the US Department of Justice

A Reoccurring Feature on Who's Jumping Off Luxury Liner Trump

All four career prosecutors handling the case against Roger Stone withdrew from the legal proceedings yesterday — and one, Jonathan Kravis, quit his job entirely — after the Justice Department under Attorney General and Trump-enabler William Barr signaled it planned to undercut their sentencing recommendation for Trump’s longtime friend and confidant. 

The career prosecutors handling the case recommended that a judge sentence Stone — convicted in November of obstructing Congress and witness tampering — to between seven and nine years in federal prison. First, Trump attacked the prosecutors on Twitter. Then Barr's department, in an unprecedented interference with justice, also intervened.

One by one, the career prosecutors, two of whom had worked on Mueller’s investigation, filed notices in court of their intention to leave the case. Though none of the prosecutors gave a reason, their asking to do so was highly unusual and suggested they could not ethically affix their names to the government’s revised position. 

Former Justice Department officials and others characterized the department’s abrupt shift on the Stone case as an egregious example of the president and his attorney general manipulating federal law enforcement to serve their political interests. David Laufman, a former Justice Department official, called it a “shocking, cram-down political intervention” in the criminal justice process. “We are now truly at a break-glass-in-case-of-fire moment for the Justice Dept.,” he wrote on Twitter.

Eric H. Holder Jr., attorney general under President Barack Obama, said it was “unprecedented, wrong and ultimately dangerous.” Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.) said the move amounted to “obstruction of justice.”

“We are seeing a full-frontal assault on the rule of law in America,” Pascrell said. “Direct political interference in our justice system is a hallmark of a banana republic. Despite whatever Trump, William Barr, and their helpers think, the United States is a nation of laws and not an authoritarian’s paradise.”

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The Elections of March: Democratic Primary in NCH45

Frances Jackson
North Carolina House District 45 in Cumberland County was redistricted and is now rated "Toss-Up" with a Republican incumbent, John Szoka, who was first elected to the seat in 2012. Two African-American Democrats are facing each other in the March 3rd primary, one a serious candidate -- Frances V. Jackson -- and the other apparently not (Keith Byrd, who has no campaign presence and no biography that we can detect).

Frances Jackson could be formidable -- and she'll have to be to take the seat in November -- so I was glad to see on her Facebook page that she's mounted at least one canvass in the district leading up to the primary. She's been endorsed by both the local AFL-CIO and by Planned Parenthood.

She teaches political science at Fayetteville Tech and holds a doctorate from Walden University in Minnesota. She's been active in civic life in Fayetteville. She was appointed to a seat on the Fayetteville City Council after the death of a member but was forced to resign after only a month because of a possible conflict of interest with her other appointed position as a Cumberland County magistrate.

According to Michael Bitzer, the newly drawn District 45 has a population that's 33% African-American, with Democrats out-numbering Republicans some 38% to 27%, and with unaffiliated voters holding the balance of power, accounting for 34% of registered voters. Bitzer classifies 79% of the district as "suburban voters outside a central city but inside an urban county." All of these numbers sound good for Francis Jackson ... except for this: Hillary Clinton took 47.37% of the district in 2016 to Trump's 49.93%.

Ought to be a pretty solid Democratic district. Goes wobbly, though, when the Democrat on the ballot fails to inspire.

Frances Jackson, assuming she easily wins her primary, will need an intense ground game -- especially canvassing those suburban neighborhoods -- to carry the vote come November. This could be an unanticipated Democratic pickup in the NC House is she's got the mojo, the volunteers, and the shoe leather.

Monday, February 10, 2020

NC "White Nationalist" Leader Gets in Hot Water with State Bar

Forsyth County Lawyer Harold Ray Crews, a leader of the League of the South, is scheduled for a hearing before the disciplinary commission of the NC State Bar on Feb. 21 for allegedly mishandling client funds. Crews says he has closed his law firm, and reporter Michael Hewlett with the Winston-Salem Journal says he's also disconnected his phones. The case against Crews looks pretty strong.

Hewlett's reporting:
Crews has served as the chairman of the League of the South’s North Carolina chapter. The league, which was formed in 1994, promotes white Southern nationalism and was one of the white nationalist and neo-Confederate groups that participated in the “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017. During that rally, white nationalist James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one person and injuring more than 20.
Crews was at the rally and two months later he obtained an arrest warrant from a city magistrate in Charlottesville for DeAndre Harris, a then-20-year-old black man who was severely beaten by a group of white nationalists. Crews alleged that Harris had hit him in the face with a flashlight. Harris was eventually acquitted of charges that he assaulted Crews. Three men were convicted of beating Harris.
The League of the South was also involved in rallying neo-Confederates to the Pittsboro protest trying to prevent the removal of a Confederate monument at the Chatham County courthouse. The league’s Mississippi state chairman used a Facebook post in October to direct members to show up in the league’s uniform – khaki cargo pants, black combat boots and black polo shirts – and be ready to fight for “our beloved Dixie” and “defend our heritage.”

Uniforms make the man.

Saturday, February 08, 2020

The Body Count -- Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Ambassador Gordon Sondland

A Reoccurring Feature on Who's Jumping Getting Pushed Off Luxury Liner Trump

Yesterday Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, a decorated Iraq war veteran on the National Security Council staff and a witness at Trump's impeachment investigation who had direct evidence about the July 25th phone call with the Ukrainian president, was marched out of the White House by security guards -- as though he had stolen a laptop. Vindman’s brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, an Army officer who also worked on the National Security Council staff and who had no connection to the impeachment, was also fired.

A few minutes later, Trump ordered Ambassador Gordon D. Sondland, the founder of a hotel chain who donated $1 million to the president’s inaugural committee and who was a key witness in the impeachment, recalled from his post as the ambassador to the European Union.

The White House made no effort to portray the ousters as anything other than reprisals. The president’s critics had warned that he would feel unbound if acquitted, and some said the dismissals proved their point. Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, celebrated the dismissals, offering mock thanks to Congressman Adam Schiff. “Were it not for his crack investigation skills, @realDonaldTrump might have had a tougher time unearthing who all needed to be fired,” he tweeted.

Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican who voted to acquit the president but expressed hope that he would learn a lesson from the impeachment, said witnesses should not be punished. “I obviously am not in favor of any kind of retribution against anyone who came forward with evidence,” she said in Maine, according to The Portland Press Herald.

[The above draws on reporting by Peter Baker, Maggie Haberman, Danny Hakim, and Michael S. Schmidt]

Friday, February 07, 2020

Rachel Bitecofer Makes Me Nervous

Rachel Bitecofer is a 42-year-old political scientist who teaches -- and writes extensively, disruptively -- at Christopher Newport University in Virginia. She is rather unique among her prognosticating brethren for coming within one US House seat of nailing the Blue Wave of 2018. She predicted a Democratic gain of 42 seats. The Democrats took 41. She got it right, according to David Freedlander (, "even as other forecasters went wobbly in the race’s final days. Not only that, but she put out her forecast back in July, and then stuck by it while polling shifted throughout the summer and fall." While all the other analysts were saying, "Oh the Democrats are going to screw this up. They are overreaching. They are going to get 23 seats if they're lucky" -- Bitecofer was the too optimistic one who was right.

Reading her analysis both jazzes me and scares the God-blessed living shit out of me. Because what Bitecofer predicts for 2020 in red Trump counties -- and I'm surrounded by blood-red western North Carolina Trump counties -- is that the Trump vote will likely increase over 2016. There aren't enough "soft Republicans" to make a difference for Democratic candidates, and right-leaning independent (Unaffiliated) voters will be leaning harder right, as their hatred of Democrats congeals like lard. The Republican coalition -- mostly non-college whites, with a smattering of religious-minded voters, financiers, and people in business, largely in rural and exurban counties -- is now -- following impeachment -- not only mad as hell but they're scared, too, of what could come next after a rejection of Trump. 

With a red wall building for this November, if there's not enough left-leaning and otherwise previously disinterested voting-age population who will commit to vote in sufficient numbers to overtop that red wall, there's little hope for Democratic campaigns in districts rated "Safe Republican" (and that label applies to most of western North Carolina). What is a political "wave," anyway, but the working of "negative partisanship," an instinctive human reaction to extreme departures from the norm. Bitecofer relies on "negative partisanship" to explain the Democratic wave of 2018. She sees "negative partisanship" as an almost genetic American inheritance -- a pushing back against whoever's in power. In 2018, it became a wave of revulsion to a plain awful human being -- his cruelties, his double-dealing, his willful and destructive ignorance.

Negative partisanship is not exclusive to Democrats. In 2010, it was the Tea Party wave of revulsion against the government spending of a black man. The Tea Party wave became the Trump surprise of 2016. "...Modern American elections are rarely shaped by voters changing their minds, but rather by shifts in who decides to vote in the first place." 

Turnout explains everything. Turnout of new people entering and exiting the electorate rather than people switching sides. What drives that kind of turnout in major "change" elections? "Negative partisanship." Shorter definition: Mass expression of instinctive human emotion rejecting an ideology or a personage.

The Chuck Todd Theory of American Politics

"About 55 percent of eligible voters are likely to go to the polls, and the winner is determined by the 15 percent or so of 'swing voters' who flit between the parties. So a general election campaign amounts to a long effort to pull those voters in to your side."

Bitercofer laughs at that. The swing voter -- at least in appreciable numbers -- is largely a myth. “The idea that there is this informed, engaged American population that is watching these political events and watching their elected leaders and assessing their behavior and making a judgment -- it's just not true.”

As she sees it, it isn’t quite right to refer to a Democratic or Republican “base.” Rather, there are Democratic and Republican coalitions. “In the polarized era, the outcome isn’t really about the candidates. What matters is what percentage of the electorate is Republican and Republican leaners, and what percentage is Democratic and Democratic leaners, and how they get activated,” she said.

Isn't really about the candidates. Bitecofer has said that any one of the Tier 1 or Tier 2 Democratic candidates can -- and will -- win against Trump, but more recently on Twitter she's hedged a bit on both Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, calling them the riskiest options for Democrats. Alarmingly, Sanders failed to turn out his promise of record numbers of new voters in the Iowa caucuses this week, and Biden represents too much the status quo. “If you want to win the election, you have to be able to frame your candidacy in a way that reminds voters that Trump is an abnormality that must be excised,” Bitecofer said.

I realize that Bitecofer has critics.

Bitecofer hasn’t exactly been clairvoyant: Her original Senate prediction was off in 2018. She didn’t anticipate the surge in GOP turnout that would match the surge in Democratic turnout in places where the demographics still favored Republicans. She thought Democrats would win Florida, and maybe even Texas, and that the Georgia governor’s race was winnable. What she didn’t count on at the time was that negative partisanship can work both ways, even when there is one party in power, and that no one knows how to fire up the fear factor in his coalition quite like Donald Trump. He did just that, and Blue Dog Democrats in Missouri and Indiana and South Dakota were done for.

But still, the results bore out her theory: For Democrats to win, they need to fire up Democratic-minded voters. The Blue Dogs who tried to narrow the difference between themselves and Trump did worse, overall, than the Stacey Abramses and Beto O’Rourkes, whose progressive ideas and inspirational campaigns drove turnout in their own parties and brought them to the cusp of victory.

The Democratic coalition -- people of color, college-educated whites, and people in metropolitan areas -- has got to grow in 2020, and appreciable growth in rural jurisdictions is sometimes just plain impossible.

Finding a new voting cohort -- including college students, for example -- the "step-up" voters, the previously disengaged, the young, especially the educated -- is far easier in urban areas. I don't like feeling apprehensive about that, never mind my little blue dot of Watauga County.