A Reminder About Sexual Assault

I think Garrett Epps nailed this.

The gendered subtext of this moment is, not to put too fine a point on it, war—war to the knife—over the future of women’s autonomy in American society. Shall women control their own reproduction, their health care, their contraception, their legal protection at work against discrimination and harassment, or shall we move backward to the chimera of past American greatness, when the role of women was—supposedly for biological reasons—subordinate to that of men?

That theme became apparent even before the 2016 election, when candidate Donald Trump promised to pick judges who would “automatically” overturn Roe v. Wade. The candidate was by his own admission a serial sexual harasser. On live national television, he then stalked, insulted, and physically menaced his female opponent—and he said, in an unguarded moment, that in his post-Roe future, women who choose abortion will face “some form of punishment.”

In context, Trump promised to restore the old system of dominion—by lawmakers, husbands, pastors, institutions, and judges—over women’s reproduction.

And as they point out, the subtext has now become text with the allegations of sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh. There are plenty of other reasons to deny Kavanaugh a Supreme Court seat, mind you, but the Republican Party has descended so low that corruption and a dismissal of human rights mean nothing when it harms them (but everything when it harms their opponents). Even Senator Susan Collins, considered to be on the liberal side of the Party, still twists in knots to defend Kavanaugh. These allegations of sexual assault might have been the straw, though.

Of course, now that sexual assault is back in the news, all the old apologetics are being vomited up. “Why didn’t she speak up?” “Boys will be boys.” “You’re ruining his life!” “There’s no evidence.” “This can’t be a common thing.” “Just trust the system.” It’s all very tired, and has been written about countless times before.

For instance, here’s a sampling of my own writing:

Evidence-Based Feminism 2: Sexual assault and rape culture

Debunking Some Skeptic Myths About Sexual Assault

Index Post: Rape Myth Acceptance

Christina Hoff Sommers: Science Denialist?

A Statistical Analysis of a Sexual Assault Case

Men Under Construction

Sexual Assault As a Con Game

Consent on Campus

Colleges and Sexual Assault

Destruction of Justice

Sexual Assault as a Talking Point

“There are no perfect victims.”

False Rape Reports, In Perspective

Everyone Needs A Hobby

Steven Pinker and His Portable Goalposts

Perfect, In Theory

Holy Fuck, Carol Tavris

Recovered Memories and Sexual Assault

Talking Sexual Assault

The evidence around sexual assault is pretty clear, and even in Kavanaugh’s specific case there’s circumstantial evidence that makes the accusations plausible. If people are still promoting myths about it at this point, it’s because they want to.

[HJH 2018-09-17: Added a few more links. Props to Salty Current of the Political Madness thread for some of them.]

Don’t Do This, Skeptics

Science is not kind to minorities. Discrimination can make them difficult to identify and count, which combined with the minority’s relative rarity makes it nearly impossible to gather accurate statistics; convenience samples are the norm. Their rarity mean few people are researching them, so the odds of minority overcoming their discrimination and surviving academia to become a researcher are very small. Conversely, the few number of researchers means one bad apple can cause quite a bit of damage, and there’s a good chance researchers buy into the myths about this minority and thus legitimize discrimination.  A lot of care needs to be taken when doing science writing on the topic.

If you want to learn how to do it properly, read Dr. Harriet Hall’s recent article on gender dysphoria in children and do the opposite of what she does. [Read more…]

Why TERFs are not feminists

Nah, I’m not trying to start something with Siggy; heck, I too have pointed out the historical connections between TERFs and feminists. Whether one is a subset of the other will always be a secondary concern next to combating the damage they do. Still, I think there’s an argument for the other side, one that’s worth writing up.

Let’s start with a protest I’ve meant to blog about: a number of women attended a men’s-only swim night. Given just that, you can sketch out a rationale for the action. Sex separation for social gatherings has its roots in a time when we believed men and women should never mix, that we occupied separate spheres. The only good reason I know to allow sex segregation is to help victims of sexual assault, who in some cases can relive their trauma if they share a space with someone of a specific sex. Since that isn’t universal, sex segregation shouldn’t be either, and invading a space that wasn’t separated for that reason is a legit form of protest.

Female activists took a group of male swimmers by surprise on Friday evening when they attended a men-only swim session wearing just trunks and pink swimming caps. Amy Desir, 30, was one of the two women to gain access to the south London pool session, as part of a protest against proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act, which would enable men and women to choose their own gender.

Both women explained their attendance to staff at Dulwich Leisure Centre by saying they “identified as male” and subsequently had the right to be there. […]

Their actions form part of a nationwide campaign formed on Mumsnet called #ManFriday which encourages women to “self-identify” as men every Friday in protest of the proposed amendments to gender laws, which would enable people to self-identify as men or women.

When we add more information, though, things get twisted around. TERFs believe men and women occupy separate spheres, otherwise they wouldn’t have identified as male; at the same time, they also argue that housework shouldn’t be a woman’s duty and the workplace shouldn’t favor men. They also believe that anyone with a penis is a man, to the point of obsession and despite scientific arguments to the contrary. Because of those points, they believe men should be disgusted and unsettled to find women invading their spaces.

They also used the male changing rooms before going into the session and were later asked by an elderly man if they realised it was a male-only session.

In reality, the most common reaction is puzzlement or a shrug of the shoulders. Just recently, in fact, while running some chores I noticed a guy stopped right in the entrance of a men’s washroom, blankly staring at the “Men’s Washroom” sign as if deciphering some puzzle. I walked past, turned the corner, and sure enough someone identified as a woman was in there. She gave me an embarrassed glance as she hurried out; I rolled my eyes as I continued to the urinal, without missing a single step. Women participating in marathons will sometimes “claim” men’s washrooms, due to a lack of facilities and their greater numbers in these events (at least around here, YMMV elsewhere). I know it happens, because I helped do it once; there were no complaints, no protests, no need for guards, everyone just got on with their business amid a few nervous giggles.

Every premise behind that TERF protest is either contrary to another premise they believe, or the best evidence available. As I’ve pointed out before, TERFs do not have a coherent theory of sex or gender; in contrast, feminists bend over backwards to establish coherency. This solves Siggy’s best argument.

On the flip side, there are also real pretenders to feminism. One of the best known examples is Christina Hoff Sommers, who identifies as a feminist, but who has been a conservative critic of feminism for her entire career. Sommers is one of several public figures who call themselves “equity feminists”, a term that, as far as I know, does not have any real history within feminism, and seems to have been invented by external critics.

So it seems we have a difficult task, finding a definition for feminism that includes TERFs, and yet excludes equity feminists. Ideally, the definition would also apply to feminists of the past and future.

No matter where you stand on Christina Hoff Sommers’ feminism, she has a more coherent theory of sex and gender than TERFs. That is a line of demarcation.

As just hinted at, Siggy’s other main argument is that feminism has historically been quite transphobic. Fair enough, in fact at one point a significant number of feminists opposed any LGBT activism. But pointing out that this bigotry was once part of feminism does not demand that we continue to accept those bigots as feminists, any more than pointing out that astronomy was once astrology demands that we consider astrologers to be astronomers. Words and definitions can change over time. If the majority of contemporary feminists are bullish on LGBT rights, if the majority of them agree that gender identity is a fundamental right, then we can consider transphobic feminists to be anachronisms. To bring up another anecdote, I attended Calgary Pride and was heartened to see half the floats had “trans rights are human rights” or similar explicitly plastered on them. The lead float was trans-inclusive, too, which was welcome given the bullshit TERFs have pulled at Pride marches.

Given that very few feminists are TERFs, and even mainstream society has accepted that gender identity is a thing (on paper, anyway), counting TERFs as feminists muddies what “feminism” means, in my opinion. That may not be your opinion, and that’s cool! Whether we call TERFs bigots pretending to be feminists or bigoted feminists, we can all agree the stress should be on the “b.”


HJH 2018-09-10: Oh dear, I seem to have started something anyway. A small and insightful thing, thankfully. Read Crip Dyke’s posts, especially her second one as it has some good points to make about sexism. I mean, damn:

Sexism = Sex Prejudice + Enhanced Power of one sex relative to another

In the course of it all, though, I’m getting feedback from Siggy and others that suggests I could have done a better job in this post. The crux of it can be handled via a little copy-pasta.

Shoot, I should have explained this point a little better. I don’t argue that having a consistent definition is necessary for being a feminist, instead working towards a consistent definition is the key. You can see this quite clearly with Judith Butler:

Before Undoing Gender, Butler never addressed the T or the I (transgender and intersex) in GLBTQI in any sustained way. In turning her gaze toward what is unthinkable even for many gays and lesbians, Butler has continued to push against the boundaries of the field she had a large part in creating. Undoing Gender constitutes a thoughtful and provocative response to the new gender politics and elegantly employs psychoanalysis, philosophy, feminism, and queer theory in an effort to pry open the future of the human.

Zavaletta, Atticus Schoch. “Undoing Gender.” The Comparatist 29.1 (2005): 152-153.

Compare and contrast with this with TERFs. Confronted with evidence that their definition of “sex” is too simplistic, they discard the evidence rather than update the definition. Bigotry takes precedence over consistency, and we can exploit that to draw a dividing line.

The worst of it seems to flow from that misunderstanding, at least so far.

Judicial Math

Whew, quite a week of news, eh? The Manafort verdict has stuck with me, if only for this detail.

One of the jurors from the recently-concluded trial of Paul Manafort has described herself as a strong supporter of President Trump. She said she drove every day to the Alexandria courthouse where Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman was being tried with her “Make America Great Again” cap in the back seat, and that she planned to vote again for Mr. Trump if he runs for reelection in 2020. She said she thought prosecutors had targeted Mr. Manafort as a way to get dirt on Mr. Trump, and that she didn’t want Mr. Manafort to be guilty. Nonetheless, she voted to convict him because the evidence of his guilt “was overwhelming.” […]

The jury couldn’t come to unanimous agreement on 10 other counts and a mistrial on those charges was declared. Ms. Duncan revealed that there was just one juror who held out on conviction on those counts, citing reasonable doubt. The other eleven jurors were convinced of Mr. Manafort’s guilt.

I don’t know why that juror held out, so let’s instead consider a hypothetical. Earlier, I argued that Democratic and Republican voters were more polarized than first appeared because roughly 10-20% of the population can be convinced of nearly anything. The first juror in the Manafort trial to out themselves bought pretty heavily into some of Trump’s conspiracy theories, so they must have some grip on the general public.

What if this 10-20% of the populace was so deep into these theories that they’d never find one of Trump’s associates guilty? That would be a huge problem if they were on a jury. What are the odds of such an event occurring?

We can calculate this ourselves, via the Binomial distribution.

The expected number of jurors that'll never convict on a 12-jury panel. I'm cheating a bit and using a Beta, to create more visual distance between the 10% and 20% cases; for the latter, only use those values which correspond to an integer along the X axis.Assuming a 12-person jury, if 10% of the population would refuse to convict under any circumstance, then there’s about a 72% chance of at least one such person being a juror; if 20%, then there’s a whopping 93% chance. Since the US Federal courts require unanimity to reach a verdict, those are also the minimum odds of a mistrial on one count!

There’s an obvious workaround, drop unanimity and permit eleven people to reach a verdict. The minimum odds of a mistrial drop to 34%, if 10% of all people would refuse to convict, or 72.5% in the 20% case. Is that acceptable to you, or would you like those values to be lower? We can use math and computers to determine the ideal quorum of jurors needed to satisfy your threshold. Let’s define t as the minimum odds of a mistrial, n as the number of jurors, k as the minimum number of guilty votes needed to achieve a conviction, and q as the proportion of people guaranteed to refuse to convict. For any given combination of those, the minimum odds are

t = sum from p=(n-k+1) to n (n, p) q^p (1-q)^(n-p)

The good news: you can drive t to be as low as you wish. The bad: you accomplish that by inflating the size of the jury pool while keeping the quorum low, which means the weight of the evidence necessary to convict drops. Avoiding partisan bias means more false convictions, and vice-versa, so we have to calculate our preferred trade-off.

A chart of the minimum odds of mistrial, for a given jury size and quorum necessary to convict.

This math is par for the course. Every judicial system puts numbers to these questions:

  1. How many guilty people should be allowed to walk free?
  2. How many people should be convicted of a crime they didn’t commit?
  3. How much should we invest into those who have been convicted of a crime, and how should we spend those funds?
  4. How much should we spend on crime prevention, and which programs are the most effective?

For instance, its been estimated that at least 4.1% of all convicts given a death sentence in the US were falsely convicted; is that rate of killing innocent civilians acceptable, or should it be lowered? Of the hundred thirty-seven prisoners freed from US jails in 2017, their average time behind bars was 10.7 years; is putting an innocent person behind bars for that length of time something we can tolerate as a society, or should it be lowered? If it should be lowered, are we going to do that by doing more aggressive post-conviction audits, better training for police and prosecutors, both, or are there more effective tactics out there?

Working out this math also changes our judicial philosophy. If we build our system so that it punishes the guilty, then our false conviction rate had better be low. If instead we build our system so that it makes them better citizens, then putting an already-good citizen in there isn’t a big loss and we can instead tune other variables.

The only real choice here is if we consciously put those numbers in place ourselves, receive a nasty shock when we later calculate them, or pretend those questions don’t exist. Currently, we’re doing a lot of the last two in Canada and the US.

On Jakiw Palij

You may have heard of this story.

The last known Nazi collaborator living in the United States — a 95-year-old former camp guard who played an “indispensable role” in the murders of thousands of Jews — was deported to Germany from his New York City home early Tuesday morning, completing what the U.S. ambassador to Germany called a “difficult task.”

But I have yet to see a single news report that gives you the full account. For instance, they guy was 95 years old, yet there’s been an active hunt for Nazis for decades. Why did it take so long to find him?

Christopher A. Wray, Acting Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, announced that a federal judge in Brooklyn, N.Y., today revoked the citizenship of a Queens resident on the basis of his service as an armed guard at an SS slave-labor camp in Nazi-occupied Poland and his concealment of that service when he immigrated to the United States. The denaturalization decision issued today by U.S. District Judge Allyne Ross cited admissions and other evidence proving that Jakiw Palij, 79, served during 1943 as an armed guard at the notorious Trawniki Labor Camp, which the court found was created “[t]o further the exploitation of Jewish labor.”“By guarding the prisoners held under inhumane conditions at Trawniki, Jakiw Palij prevented their escape and directly contributed to their eventual slaughter at the hands of the Nazis,” said Roslynn R. Mauskopf, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

Some of the reason is due to Palij covering his tracks well, but if you do some mental math on his age you’ll realize he was stripped of US citizenship back in 2003. So why did it take 15 years to deport a Nazi war criminal?

Palij, an ethnic Ukrainian born in a part of Poland that is now Ukraine, said on his 1957 naturalization petition that he had Ukrainian citizenship. When their investigators showed up at his door in 1993, he said: “I would never have received my visa if I told the truth. Everyone lied.” […]

But because Germany, Poland, Ukraine and other countries refused to take him, he continued living in limbo in the two-story, red brick home in Queens he shared with his late wife, Maria. His continued presence there outraged the Jewish community, attracting frequent protests over the years that featured such chants as, “Your neighbor is a Nazi!”

The place he was born is now in a different country, and neither Poland nor Ukraine wanted Palij. There was no place to deport him to! And once they did deport him, why Germany?

The German government has acknowledged its moral responsibility to receive Palij, who could not be prosecuted in the US, and whom other countries such as Poland, where he was born, and Ukraine, where the place of his birth is now located, have refused to take in. […]

Palij has never possessed German citizenship. It has emerged that his current legal residency status in Germany is based on a clause of the residency law under which non-Germans can be transferred to Germany if “international law or urgent humanitarian reasons” requires it, or “to protect the political interests of Germany”.

The basic idea is that Germany was responsible for the rise of Nazis, ergo it should be responsible for cleaning up after them. They accepted Palij for humanitarian reasons, to heal old wounds. Though it’s kind of awkward to hold a trial for a frail 95-year-old person.

While authorities in the southern city of Würzburg had been trying to bring a case against Palij since 2016, Rommel said that investigation had been closed because no evidence was ever found linking Palij to any murders.

“His transfer from the USA doesn’t change anything about the state of evidence,” he added. “In theory, prosecutors in Würzburg could resume their proceedings in case something changed, but for that proof would be necessary in particular, which would bring the person into direct connection with the crimes, and that is what has been missing so far.”

Nobody, not even Palij himself denies he was part of the SS …

Palij admitted to officials that he was trained at an SS training camp in Trawniki, which was next to the labor camp, in the spring of 1943, according to court documents. But the documents didn’t say what he did after his training.

“There’s a big gap in the historical record,” Eli Rosenbaum, former director of the Department of Justice’s Office of Special Investigations, tells NPR. And Palij wasn’t talking: “Mr. Palij took the Fifth Amendment and would not cooperate in the search for truth in his case.”

… but beyond showing he was an employee of the Trawniki concentration camp at around the time a massacre occurred, there’s no evidence to close that gap. Palij claims he was coerced into the SS to save his family, which is a common defense of former Nazis, but there are circumstances where that did happen. It was enough to convince a US judge that he should be stripped of his citizenship and deported, but it’s not enough for German prosecutors to bring a case. Arguably, the move to Germany will be a step up for Palij; he used to live on his own in the US, relying on retirement funds he saved. Now:

“Palij will spend the rest of his life here,” an editorial in the left-leaning Taz read. “The Nazi collaborator will now be cared for, receive financial help, a roof, food, clothing, paid for by the state.”

Look, I’m quite firmly on the “Punch Nazis” side of things. But that doesn’t prevent me from also pointing out that very little justice has resulted from this deportation. It’s not something to crow about.

The president used Mr. Palij’s deportation, which came one day after he saluted an Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer and border agents at the White House, as an opportunity to praise the agency, implicitly challenging those who would denounce it. […]

A few hours later, the Republican National Committee sent out a news release noting that Mr. Palij had lived in the congressional district where Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a rising star among Democrats who has called for the abolition of ICE, is seeking a House seat. […]

At a campaign rally Tuesday night, Mr. Trump invoked Mr. Palij’s deportation during a screed against Democrats, who he said would throw open America’s borders and do away with ICE.

All those headlines about abused children being ripped from their families (almost 500 are still separated, despite a court order to reunite them nearly a month ago) have resulted in widespread calls to dissolve ICE and a movement to reform immigration procedure to make it more humane. Palij’s deportation is a cynical ploy to fight back: since no-one disagrees with deporting Nazis, it follows that his deportation is necessary and therefore both ICE and the current hard-line policy should remain in place.

Jakiw Palij’s deportation is a net plus to the world, but he was a not deported to promote justice; he was instead deported so he could become a political talking point for the Republican party. Like those children, he was not a human being in their eyes but an object to be exploited and abused.

Even when they do good, the Republican party cannot stop themselves from cruelty.

Conspiracy to Defraud the United States

Watching the fallout from yesterday’s shit-show has been fascinating. The White House’s official talking points are A) Trump has always thought Russia was behind the hack, and as proof they quote-mine his statements, B) Trump talked extensively about Russian election meddling with Putin, something we’ll never be sure of as he met with Putin alone for two hours, but seems to contradict what he said immediately afterwards to Sean Hannity as well as Putin and Lavrov‘s rosy assessments, and C) why dwell on the past?

That hasn’t gone over well; as I’m typing this, Trump has tried re-writing history and announced he said “would” when he meant to say “wouldn’t” in Helsinki, Finland, which is the opposite of convincing.

He didn’t come up with that on his own. Ditch the “would”/”wouldn’t” bit, switch “my campaign didn’t collude” to “there’s no proof it changed the outcome of the election,” and you’ve got a carbon copy of what Paul Ryan was spouting earlier in the day. Above all, what’s fascinating to me is how Republicans are reacting to Trump’s actions. Ryan, for instance, has plenty of criticism for Russia and yet completely omits Trump. Tom Cotton does the same, as does Mitch McConnell, while Trent Gowdy argues Trump is unable to detach criticism of the Kremlin from criticism of his election victory, which ignores Trump’s overtures to Putin before Trump was elected. There’s a bit of whataboutism from Warren Davidson and Tucker Carlson, in addition to old-fashioned question dodging from Devin Nunes. The other major line I’ve seen:

Mike Murphy – I’m furious R’s are cowardly about Trump. But here is what they say in private: 1.) Trump is a disgrace. 2.) I give fiery press conf tmmrw saying that. 3.) Nothing changes, Trump remains nuts and remains POTUS. 4.) A nut beats me in next primary. So how does my pol suicide help?

Jake Sherman – In playbook this am: what republicans are telling me on Russia: What the hell do you want us to do? They say they’ve done what’s been asked of them. They feel they can’t stop trump. They’ve opposed him at all times on Russia.

Kevin M. Kruse – Legislation is certainly needed, sir, but as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee you can also use your subpoena powers and convene public hearings to get to the bottom of the president’s relationship with Russia.

So the party with control of both the House and Senate, with Democrats eager to cooperate on this subject, is completely powerless to check the power of the President? No Republican is proposing a concrete action to censure Trump? John McCain may have had some very harsh words, for instance, but even he delegates any action to unnamed “Americans.” This is an extremely odd situation, and echos of it have been around since Trump was elected. [Read more…]

Watch American Democracy Die, LIVE

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge. – Issac Asimov

The far-Right in America has been obsessed with Peter Strzok. He and Lisa Page had an affair at the start of the Trump-Russia investigation, which they hid from their respective partners by swapping texts on their work phones. Alas, they turned out to be quite opinionated, privately trash-talking almost every elected official including then-candidate Trump. The texts were discovered, Strzok was removed from the investigation, now under Mueller’s control, and the far-Right latched on to these texts as “proof” that the FBI’s investigation into Trump was crooked.

Strzok eventually got sick of this, and signalled he was willing to talk in public to quell the conspiracy noise. Republicans responded by subpoenaing him for a private hearing which lasted eleven hours, then selectively quoted from the transcript while refusing to release it to the public. Somehow, the Republicans later agreed to a public hearing with Strzok, which is still being broadcast live as I type this.

I could only tune in for five minutes or so, which was good. Watching any longer would have permanently dislocated my jaw.

The small part I saw began with Congress-people shouting at one another: Representative Bob Goodlatte, the Republican chair of the hearing, was demanding that Strzok answer a question that FBI lawyers told him he could not answer, as it pertained to an ongoing investigation. Democrats were shouting that was out of order, while Goodlatte repeatedly insisted it was in order and threatened to hold Strzok in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer. When Goodlatte had bullied his way through that challenge, as well as charges of hypocrisy over his non-action involving a similar situation with Steve Bannon, Strozok pointed out that both his council and the FBI’s council were sitting directly behind him, so he could easily double-check if anything Goodlatte had said had swayed their minds.

Goodlatte said that Strzok could consult with his lawyer, but not the FBI lawyer. The non-Republicans in the room were floored, and Democrats weren’t afraid to tell Goodlatte how ridiculous that request was. One bitterly asked if Strzok’s lawyer could talk with the FBI lawyers and then relay that response, simultaneous with Strzok doing exactly that. There was no change: Strzok’s answer to Goodlatte’s question would compromise an ongoing investigation.

Trent Gowdy jumped in at that point. A Benghazi-obsessed Republican, he spent all of his allotted time harassing Strzok over who the “we” and “it” were in his now-famous message to Page that “we’ll stop it.” Strzok correctly guessed Gowdy’s next move, and offered to also provide additional context and insight into his state of mind when sending that text to Page. Gowdy would have none of it; amid shouts from Democrats that he’d gone over his time limit, Gowdy said he didn’t care about the context of the message, he only cared about what “we” and “it” referred to.

That was all the live content that I saw, which meant I missed Strzok’s blistering response, but I got the gist of the hearing. A Republican would ask a question; Strzok would read the intention behind the question and start to give a careful answer; the Republican would interrupt after a few words, unsatisfied at being thwarted, and ask the same question again. The Steve Bannon motion came to a vote, which went along party lines. Democrats countered the narrative that Mueller had accomplished nothing by bringing posters of the half-dozen people Mueller had earned guilty pleas from; Goodlatte tried to have them removed, but couldn’t cite a procedural rule that forbid them. Democrats threatened to release a cleaned transcript of Strzok’s previous testimony unless Goodlatte can give a procedural rule against it, something Goodlatte again couldn’t do. I briefly tuned in now to check if the hearing was ongoing (it was), and the last thing I heard was a Democrat complaining the Republicans weren’t yielding time to them.

We are now treated to the spectacle of Republican members of Congress threatening an FBI agent unless he answers questions about a pending, secret criminal and counterintelligence investigation. America, 2018. – Eric Holder

There’s no question about it, the Republicans have given up any pretense of being sound administrators. They’re scrambling to protect their asses and defend Trump, railing about conspiracy theories and ignoring reality, even if it undermines the very democracy they live in. And now, thanks to the wonders of technology, Americans can watch their democracy die in real time, from the comfort of their own home.

The Silent Army

Last week, the department was saying this:

[Health and Human Services] Secretary Alex Azar claimed migrant parents who have been separated from their kids under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” border policy should be able to easily locate their children, countering reports about difficulties families have faced. “There is no reason why any parent would not know where their child is located,” Azar testified at a Senate Finance Committee hearing this morning. Azar said he could locate “any child” in his department’s care “within seconds“ through an online government database.

Thursday, less than a week after they were ordered to reunite children with their families, the department was now reporting this:

Trump administration health chief Alex Azar said Thursday that no immigrant children separated from their parents have been reunited with their families in federal custody — yet — to comply with looming court order deadlines to do so. But Azar said the U.S. Health and Human Services Department will comply with the first of those deadlines to take children in HHS custody and place them with parents who are in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement next Tuesday.

Azar said there are somewhat fewer than 3,000 kids who were separated from their parents when they jointly tried to illegally cross the border with Mexico. That is much higher than the 2,047 children that HHS recently said were in its custody. Azar said the new number is higher because a judge has required HHS to reunite all separated children, including ones taken from parents before the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy took effect in May.

The story remained the same Friday morning, then changed again.

Just days ahead of a deadline, the Trump administration said it may need more time to reunite some of the immigrant families it separated. […] “If we’re not aware of where the parent is, I can’t commit to saying that reunification will occur before the deadline. … We’re still determining what the situation is there,” [Justice Department attorney Sarah Fabian] said, “and whether those are situations where reunifications may not be able to occur within the time frame.”

After the hearing, ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said it was troubling that officials still can’t provide precise statistics about families they separated. “It was clear today that the government has not even been able to match all the children with parents,” he said. “That is extremely troubling.”

Things are so bad, this government department is trying to redefine what “reunite” means. Emphasis mine.

“The secretary told us on a conference call that they do not have any intention to reunify these children with their parents. They are going to call it good if they could find anyone else to serve as a foster parent or might have some familial relationship,” [Washington state Governor Jay] Inslee told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes late Friday, when he asked about a June 29 meeting mentioned in a letter addressed to officials on Friday.

“Perhaps we should not be surprised. This whole indignant and traumatic episode was based in inhumanity at the beginning, it was based on deceit in middle, and now it’s based on incompetence. These people have no idea what they are dong — I’ve seen coat check windows operate with a better system.”

[Read more…]

A Little Racist Butterfly

Researchers have noted that, for decades, prison sentences have been just ever-so-slightly more harsh for black people than white people.

As a whole, these findings undermine the so-called ‘‘no discrimination thesis’’ which contends that once adequate controls for other factors, especially legal factors (i.e., criminal history and severity of current offense), are controlled unwarranted racial disparity disappears. In contrast to the no discrimination thesis, the current research found that independent of other measured factors, on average African-Americans were sentenced more harshly than whites. The observed differences between whites and African Americans generally were small, suggesting that discrimination in the sentencing stage is not the primary cause of the overrepresentation of African-Americans in U.S. correctional facilities.

Mitchell, Ojmarrh. “A meta-analysis of race and sentencing research: Explaining the inconsistencies.” Journal of Quantitative Criminology 21.4 (2005): 439-466.

Not as widely noted: incarceration sorta behaves like a contagious disease. [Read more…]