Home / Politics / Abbreviated pundit roundup: Braking the Kavanaugh hearings; Puerto Rico—tax paradise for the rich

Abbreviated pundit roundup: Braking the Kavanaugh hearings; Puerto Rico—tax paradise for the rich

Matt Ford at The New Republic writes—The American Rule of Law Has Failed Women:

It may be tempting to turn to another institution in American society that could properly weigh the situation. But one of the persistent lessons of the past year is that no such institution exists. The rot runs deep in American society: in movie studios and in media empires, in television networks and major publications, in churches large and small, in courthouses and statehouses, in prosecutors’ offices and prisons, in the military, and universities, and Olympic teams, and Congress, and the White House. If there is a nerve center in American society where persistent, gendered abuses of power have not been found, it may only be because nobody’s thoroughly scrutinized it.

The inescapable conclusion is that the #MeToo movement represents, in practical terms, a crisis for the American rule of law. Countless women and some men have come forward over the past year to describe what are essentially criminal acts committed against them. With rare exceptions, there are typically no formal indictments against those they name, no prosecutions or trials, no verdicts or sentences. Organized society hinges on the premise that there can be restitution for harms done and consequences for those who inflicted them. The consequences felt by those swept up in the Weinstein effect, however, often appear to be rare and fleeting. (Weinstein himself is among the few facing criminal charges.)

Even those who endure workplace sexual harassment and other misdeeds that aren’t quite criminal sometimes have little recourse. Human-resource departments have the paradoxical responsibility of both protecting workers and limiting their company’s legal liability, and the latter often triumphs over the former. […]

E.J. Dionne Jr. at The Washington Post writes—The most infuriating aspect of the Kavanaugh conversation:

Republicans hate it whenever anyone brings up Garland precisely because the episode is such a clear demonstration of their determination to muscle their way to an ideological majority on the Supreme Court. Hurtling toward a vote on Kavanaugh before November’s elections is part of the same effort. Lisa Banks, Ford’s lawyer, issued a statement Wednesday evening saying, “The rush to a hearing is unnecessary, and contrary to the Committee discovering the truth.”

Conservatives who have worked with Kavanaugh have a deep respect for him and cannot believe these charges are true. In light of their confidence, is there any reason they should fear a short delay to allow for a more thorough inquiry?

Yes, many come to this fight with political and ideological agendas. And, yes, revisiting behavior from more than three decades ago creates a lot of discomfort and uncertainty. But a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court is at stake, and so is our willingness to respect the courage of a woman who anticipated the price she could pay for coming forward. Whose interests are served by haste?

Charles M. Blow at The New York Times writes—The Kavanaugh Charade:

Donald Trump and Senate Republicans have no interest whatsoever in revealing the whole truth about Brett Kavanaugh.

Their plan was to perform a rush-job confirmation that installed him on the Supreme Court over all objections well enough in advance of the midterm elections to provide a shield to Republicans worried about what feels like an imminent blue wave.

That is why his hearings were scheduled so quickly. That is why more than 42,000 pages of documents were released the night before his confirmation hearings started — all of which were to be treated as “committee-confidential” at the time.

As The New York Times editorial board wrote then, Republicans are “now running the most secretive and incomplete confirmation process in modern history.”

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Jake Johnson at Common Dreams writes—‘This Election Is Last Chance to Stop Them’: Kudlow Confirms Trump and GOP Ready to Gut Safety Net After Midterms:

As the GOP plows ahead with another round of budget-exploding tax cuts for the rich just before the crucial 2018 midterms, President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser and former television personality Larry Kudlow confirmed on Monday that the White House will push for cuts to life-saving safety net programs like Medicare and Social Security if the GOP retains control of Congress in November.

“We have to be tougher on spending,” Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council, declared in remarks to the Economic Club of New York.

Asked when Social Security and Medicare will be targeted for “reforms,” which, as one advocacy group noted, is “code for massive cuts,” Kudlow said, “Everyone will look at that—probably next year.”

“Believe them when they say they are coming after Medicare and Social Security,” Topher Spiro, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, wrote on Twitter in response to Kudlow’s comments. “This election is the last chance to stop them.”

Ilana Novick at TruthDig writes—Rich U.S. Mainlanders Are Finding a Tax Paradise in Puerto Rico:

The official death toll from Hurricane Maria has increased to nearly 3,000 people. The storm left $90 billion in damage in its wake, and NBC reported that more than 200,000 Puerto Ricans have departed from the island. Families on smaller islands like Vieques and Culebra still have no power, and houses across Puerto Rico remain in pieces. Amid this death and destruction, which compounded the problems of an already shaky economy, Americans determined to profit from the situation can be found. In a new feature for GQ, writer Jesse Barron tells of the mainlanders who, thanks to two obscure laws, have turned the island into their own personal tax haven.

Puerto Rico passed the laws, called Acts 20 and 22, in 2012, intended to turn the island into a “global investment destination.” Act 20, GQ reports, “allows corporations that export services from the island to pay only 4 percent tax. Act 22 goes much further: It makes Puerto Rico the only place on U.S. soil where personal income, capital gains, interest and dividends are untaxed.”

About 1,500 U.S. mainlanders have taken advantage of these laws. Among them are Mark Gold, whom Barron calls the “kingpin of traffic-ticket contesting.” Gold explained his decision to move to Puerto Rico to Barron at an event called Cocktails and Compliance, where wealthy Americans sip expensive drinks and learn how to comply with the laws so they can skirt taxes:

I was looking at different tax havens … Andorra, Lichtenstein, Monaco. But the problem is, you have to give up your U.S. passport. When I heard about this, it was too good to be true. But it’s real. I live in paradise. I live at the Ritz-Carlton. I drive my golf cart to the beach club for breakfast. Then I go to my sunset yoga class on the beach.

Rafia Zakaria at The Nation writes—The Fate and Future of Christine Blasey Ford What lies ahead for the women who expose the despicable pasts of powerful men?

Judging the veracity of women who allege sexual assault has, in the United States, been erected on an impossibility—the production of a perfect victim. The media and the various PACs and posses of conservative operatives have already gotten to work attacking Ford. The White House has dismissed her as a liar; conservative commentator Tomi Lahren implied that she was an opportunist; and a Wall Street Journal editorial not only impugns her but suggests that going to therapy can result in invented memories. The Senatorial cavalry of male entitlement is also getting into gear, chief among them Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who in his scowling questioning of Hill implied that she was working with “slick lawyers” and Democratic operatives to ensure that Thomas did not get on the Court.

The hearing will likely come on Monday, and an out-resourced Ford will have the chance to bravely confront the man who allegedly assaulted her and tell her story while the GOP’s all-male section of the Senate Judiciary Committee waits to shred her to bits—it’s no wonder she’s disinclined to testify. Hatch has already sounded the herald, declaring Ford was “mistaken” in her recollection of who was at the party in question. His long-time pals Senator Chuck Grassley and Senator Mitch McConnell, who assistedHatch in the slicing and dicing of Hill, will likely also play leading roles—all part of the pack of aged avengers of Kavanaugh.

Harry Cheadle at Vice writes—The Kavanaugh Allegations Are a Test and Republicans, They’re Failing:

South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham was particularly blunt about [Christine Blasey Ford’s stating that she won’t testify until there has been an FBI investigation], saying on Twitter that Ford’s request “is not about finding the truth, but delaying the process till after the midterm elections” and insisting that “It is imperative the Judiciary committee move forward on the Kavanaugh nomination and a committee vote be taken ASAP.”

Maybe more clearly than Graham intended, this shows what the debate over Kavanaugh is about: not the truth of the accusation or what to do about prominent figures who’ve done terrible things (in this case, when they were much younger), but the power that conservatives can acquire with another right-wing justice on the Supreme Court. If confirming Kavanaugh means granting a lifetime appointment to a man who might have assaulted a girl years ago, then lied about it, Republicans will take that over the alternative, which is to risk not having a majority on the court. […]

…  when someone from any given side of American politics is accused of something like what Kavanaugh has been accused of, it’s a test: Are you open to hearing that a figure you back may have done things that disqualify them from wielding power? Or do you just want more victories for people you agree with politically, at any cost? Republicans as a party failed this test as Trump rose to power, they failed as Roy Moore nearly got elected to the Senate, and it looks like they’re failing again now.

Jill Filopic at The Guardian writes—Rapists have no place on the supreme court. Kavanaugh’s accuser must be heard:

The Trump administration has already undermined American confidence in so many of our institutions, and they seem to be gunning for democracy itself. The Kavanaugh hearings are a crucial moment for members of both parties to put a stop to this administration’s habit of running roughshod over the very thing that makes our democracy admirable and functional (if occasionally maddening): fair, predictable and transparent processes.

No one who has committed an act of violence against women should be in a position to make decisions about women’s lives – even if they were a reckless teenager when they attacked a woman; even if they’re very sorry; even if they are good people in myriad other ways. The promise of rehabilitation is always on the table, and people who do terrible things must always have the option of paying for their crimes, atoning fully and reintegrating into society.

But Brett Kavanaugh isn’t a criminal who has done his time and simply wants to be able to support himself. He’s trying to sit on the highest court in the land. And it’s not asking too much to say that there should be a hard rule for judges: no rapists (or attempted rapists) allowed.

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Christine Emba at The Washington Post writes—The Kavanaugh allegations are making us wait. Thank God:

It’s reasonable to suggest that crimes of youth should not follow you to old age, that America is a place of new beginnings, that we are not who we were yesterday. But do we really believe that? Seventeen-year-olds are regularly charged as adults — but they tend to be poor and of color, not wealthy students at elite prep schools. And are all “chances” the same? Losing a chance to be seated on the highest court in the land would be a disappointment, certainly, but some things are privileges, not entitlements.

This wait is an excellent moment to take stock of how much has changed and how far we have yet to go. The #MeToo movement has advanced, but maybe it hasn’t gone far enough. And while filling a Supreme Court seat is important, there are other questions of justice that matter more. They could even reshape how we see the role.

Washington isn’t known for its habits of contemplation, but the wait for Ford and Kavanaugh might force us to change our ways. And if we allow it to, we can give some of the bigger questions the hearing they deserve.

Jill Abramson at The Guardian writes—Will sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh derail his confirmation?

Back in 1991, I covered the second set of hearings that Hill’s allegations belatedly triggered for the Wall Street Journal and later wrote a bestselling book about the controversy, Strange Justice, with Mayer. I watched as Thomas’s Republican supporters on the judiciary committee attempted to destroy Hill, who had corroborators in whom she had confided about Thomas’s lewd behavior. Despite her credibility, Republican senators portrayed Hill as a vengeful erotomaniac, shoveling out absurd evidence like a false affidavit from conservative law students claiming Hill had returned their exam books with pubic hair in them. It’s still amazing to me that Hill maintained her steadfast composure in the face of such partisan poison.

Democrats were cowed by the onslaught and did little to support Hill. Joe Biden, then the committee’s chairman, failed to call other women as witnesses who could have buttressed Hill’s testimony and knew Thomas as a harasser. Fearing political backlash, the curtain was brought down hastily and the vote to confirm Thomas was muscled through. That’s how we got one sexual miscreant, who lied his way to confirmation, on to the US supreme court. Last week, Hill, who now teaches at Brandeis University in Boston, called for a fair process to weigh the late-breaking charges against Kavanaugh. She said she has seen “firsthand what happens when such a process is weaponized against an accuser and no one should have to endure that again”.

Once again, the senior Democrat on the judiciary panel is under fire. It was Biden in 1991 who so badly fumbled the investigation of Hill’s allegations, with the silent ascent of fellow Democrats. Now it’s Feinstein who seems only belatedly to have referred Ford’s letter to the FBI. Feinstein, mistakenly, saw herself as protecting Ford’s identity. But a lifetime appointment to the court hung in the balance. Ironically, Feinstein’s election to the Senate in 1992 was part of the “Year of the Woman” backlash sparked by the mishandling of Hill’s case. Despite Ford’s concerns about her identity being protected, Feinstein should have been proactive.

Rebecca Grant at The Nation writes—McDonald’s Workers Walk Out Over Sexual Harassment​​​​​​​:

Standing outside McDonald’s on St. Charles Rock Road in St. Louis, Missouri, 61-year old Bettie Douglas joined over 100 people in a chant: “Hold the burgers, hold the fries, keep your hands off our thighs.”

The crowd, made up of restaurant employees in and out of uniform, local community activists in brightly colored T-shirts, and members of the clergy, gathered on Tuesday at lunch time to protest the fast-food chain’s handling of workplace sexual harassment. […]

Sexual harassment is pervasive in the fast-food industry. A 2017 report from the Center for American Progress found that sexual harassment is most common in low-wage sectors with high levels of gender inequality such as food service and retail, with women of color disproportionately affected. According to a 2016 national survey conducted by Hart Research Associates, 40 percent of women in the fast-food industry report facing sexual harassment on the job and 42 percent feel forced to accept abuse because they can’t afford to lose their job. […]

This strike is part of a larger effort to get McDonald’s to address sexual harassment in a meaningful way. The workers are hoping they can attract enough attention from McDonald’s, and from the public, to spur change. Their goals include the formation of an anti–sexual harassment committee, actual enforcement of the company’s stated zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment, mandatory trainings for managers and employees, and a hotline where employees can make reports.

David Dayen at In These Times writes—Below the Surface of ICE: The Corporations Profiting From Immigrant Detention:

ICE was established during the golden age of Bush-era privatization in 2003. Though ICE tracks, captures and transports immigrants and imprisons an average daily population of over 41,000 (with plans to increase that to 52,000 in 2019), the part of the agency carrying out that work, Enforcement and Removal Operations, only has 6,000 employees. The vast majority of the immigration machine is left to private-sector contractors.

According to data from the Urban Justice Center’s Corrections Accountability Project, 72 percent of all migrants under ICE’s control sleep in privatized detention beds, mostly managed by private prison behemoths Geo Group and CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America). In 2017, Geo Group and CoreCivic together earned $985 million from ICE contracts, more than a third of what ICE spends each year on custody operations. The corporations get paid whether the beds are full or not, arguably providing government an incentive to seek out prisoners so as not to “waste money.”

Geo Group and CoreCivic each run massive family detention centers in south Texas, nicknamed “baby jails” even before the current crisis. They also manage ICEdedicated facilities for adults and many of the federal prisons and local jails ICE sublets to lock up migrants. This practice is likely to expand: ICE posted a request in June for up to 15,000 more family beds at a cost of $1.7 billion annually. And if ICE pivots to electronic monitoring, Geo Group holds that contract, too.

Edward Hunt at The Progressive writes—As More Yemenis Die, U.S. Support Keeps a Major Oil Trade Route “Open for Business”:

As the Trump Administration continues to support the vicious Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen, growing evidence indicates that its support is largely motivated by concerns about the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, a narrow sea passage off Yemen’s western coast.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the Bab el-Mandeb Strait is one of the three most important oil trade chokepoints—narrow channels along widely used global sea routes—around the Arabian Peninsula. Although its place in the war has been largely ignored by the U.S. media, the strait has been a central factor in U.S. planning. Roughly five million barrels of oil and oil-based products pass through the strait on a daily basis, eventually making their way to Asia, Europe, and the United States.

Publicly, Trump Administration officials say very little about the strait, insisting they are simply looking for a way to end the war. They claim to be focused on helping the Saudi-led military coalition pressure Iranian-backed Houthi rebels into accepting a political deal that will return to power the government of exiled Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.

Yet over the past year, Trump officials and analysts have repeatedly prioritized the strait in both strategic and military planning.


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