The truth of the braying ass

viaangusOne day on my ventures, following the road that I think Roy used, I saw a braying ass in a field with a broken fence. He was standing in a rotting pile of dead thing, and every kind of animal stood around and listened as he brayed. Sometimes he leaned down to eat a mouthful of dead thing.

I did not leave the road, but I could hear them because they were very loud.

“I will keep you safe from the Man” said the ass. “The Man hates you, but I love you. The Man put this fence around you to hurt you, but I will build a wall around you to help you. It will be tall and excellent. The Man will not be able to come in.”

“Didn’t you help the Man build the fence? I saw you carry this wood for him” said a raven. But the ass made a sound and two goats charged the raven and made it fly away.

“I hate the Man, but you love me. Let me build a wall around you to keep you safe” brayed the ass. “Our field will be great. You will eat grass, roots, and seeds I give you. I won’t let squirrels and rabbits take them away.”

A squirrel said “I am a squirrel. My family is a squirrel family. Can’t they come inside and live with me?” A rabbit said “I think we should study and make plans.” A crow asked, “Didn’t I see you with bags on your back? Didn’t you help the Man carry grass, roots, and seeds away to sell them in the market?”

The ass leaned down to take a bite of dead thing, but four stink foxes ran to the squirrel, the rabbit, and the crow. They sprayed stink on them to make them go away. After they were gone, the braying ass said “I am the one who will help you. Follow me into the woods and we will live without the Man.”

“Doesn’t the Man own the woods and go there to make fence rails?” asked a snake. But a pony trampled the snake dead. Some animals were afraid. But others came up to trample its body.

Then I saw the front eyes. I had met this front eyes before. He had wanted me to help him lead but I had not wanted to lead. He said “Let us follow the braying ass.”

I felt a lot of things but words did not work right in this field. So I emptied my bowels by the road before them and walked away.

From the Trenches at the Nevada Caucuses – Part 3 – Amongst Republicans

This is Part 3 of a 3-part series on the Nevada Caucuses. Here is the Previous episode, Part 2

3.0 – I enter the nest of the Republicans

I approached the high school where the Republican Caucus was going to take place as if I were scrambling over rocks to approach Mordor. I hadn't even told that many people where I was going. I calculated the odds in my head… 50-1, I would die here today. Not bad odds, but still. 75-1, sold into slavery. 14-1, gang raped with a plunger like Amadou DialloAbner Louima. Fistfight? Even money.

I got out of my car and started following a woman who seemed to know where she was going. No yoga pants, but it was not unpleasant using her ass as a lighthouse, guiding me to the hive of crazy. I could hear them all chanting some mysterious incantation. Would there be a cross burning? It was goddamned freezing, so if there was, would I just run away? Or would I go warm up by the fire for a bit?

It was like wasp's nest (heh, see what I did there?). There were a lot of them gathered around the entrance, and then a mysterious series of passageways… I took a deep breath… I went in.

People streamed in as if it were a sporting event or a concert. While the Democrats looked like a homogenous group of rummage-sale clothed drones, resigned to lives in the salt mines of life, the Republicans were actually a lot more diverse. There were guys non-ironically wearing cowboy hats, a guy with that helmet where you put beer cans, just with soda cans in it. Mexicans. There was even a black guy — although he was blind. Lots of fat guys in MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN hats. Clearly, the Trump crowd was the dominant gang.

All of the "precincts" were tables in a high school cafeteria, but it felt like each table was supposed to be a place where someone would try and sell you Amway products or give you a 1 minute speed networking session. I sat down at my precinct, and still no Yoga pants moms, but there were a few of those Republican women who don't blink. The conversation was scintillating — it was as if someone had put on an episode of "stereotype theater" for me. The woman next to me was SO EXCITED to meet a neighbor, and she immediately asked me "what in the hell is going on with all the break ins around here?" I just looked at her blankly. "Probably because of the new mall," she said. I wondered if that was her code word for "Mexicans." I don't think it was. But, I was inside the Trump hive mind. Anything could happen.

Knowing that this scene could break out into violence, torture, horror at any moment, I chose my words carefully. I tried not to make too much eye contact.

I then explained that the homes on the perimeter of the neighborhood, where the wall to the "outside world" was, well they were getting broken into. But, those of us on the interior, we were all relatively safe. Everyone nodded. She said, "Yup, just too much temptation with that wall there and they see the nice homes, hop over, steal something, someone is going to get hurt."

I decided to conduct an experiment…

I said "yeah, we gotta do something about that… you know what I think? We need to all go to the next Homeowners Association Meeting and demand that they increase our HOA dues to pay for a higher wall around the neighborhood." Everyone nodded with approval. "It isn't our homes being broken into, but if our neighbors' homes get broken into, that's not ok, we gotta stick together!" Everyone was loving the idea. I was making friends.

"They could raise our HOA dues by $100 a month and get us some real security! We can afford it!"

I was very popular at the table by now — what calling for "law and order" and a nice big wall.

I had just called for raising our "taxes" to pay to help other people out… surrounded by MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN hats and Cruz buttons.

I laughed inside. I am in you, Republican devils. Ha! Live Republican trolling!

"Don't get cocky," I said to myself. That was really fucking stupid. If they figured out that I had just suggested a tax increase for the common good, they would have torn me apart like salt water taffy, except with bile and the sound of snapping bones and ligaments. I wondered how long the tendons would hold my joints together as they ripped me to shreds.

I realized that unless I actually told them, they wouldn't be able to figure out that I had voted for Obama in 2008, and that I was really rooting for Bernie Sanders.

Then, the unthinkable happened… Out of nowhere comes a friend of mine, Chris. He is a hard core Republican Mormon guy, and he KNOWS that I'm a pro-gay-marriage, Bernie Sanders loving, porn guy.

"MARC, HOW THE HECK ARE YA?" He gives me that "Mormon smile." If you don't know, Mormons can actually make much larger smiles than other humans. That magic seer stone smile filled face of his, and all of a sudden I freeze… "Chris! How the… hi… hey, fancy seeing you here!" As if he would be anywhere else…

He introduces me to his wife, who hugs me like I'm her long lost brother. I hold on just a little longer than I ought to when hugging a friend's wife that I never met before. Not anything creepy, I just knew that I was going to be killed within 10 minutes, and I just wanted one last embrace from a woman. I took a deep whiff of her hair. Not in like a sexy way… I just wanted the smell of a clean Mormon woman's shampooed hair in my lungs as they filled with blood as the Trump supporters took one of many steps toward "Making America Great Again," by stomping on my face screaming "TAKE THAT YOU LASAGNA EATING PIECE OF SHIT!"

Any second now, and Chris was going to out me. Not on purpose. I imagined he would just say "so, what he HECK are YOU doing here! Hey, everyone, my buddy here, he's a Socialist porn lawyer!"

And that would be how I would die.

The crowd was so dense they could just form a circle around me and kick me to death. The sheer number of concealed hand guns in the place was enough to start a genuine revolution, not that hippie Sanders crap. The encounter took all of 25 seconds… but it felt like being on the run for three years behind enemy lines. Everything slowed down. I breathed.

I remembered how MacDonald gets caught by replying in English to a Gestapo agent who wishes him "Good luck". Don't be McDonald. Don't be McDonald… Don't say anything… stupid…

And then he just swirled past, waving over his shoulder. His Marco Rubio pin shining in the light almost as bright as his white white white Mormon teeth. "Mormons are great at dental hygiene," I thought.

Someone tapped me on the shoulder. "Can I borrow a pen?"

I screamed: "BERNIE SANDERS, I WANT BERNIE SANDERS TO WIN, OKAY? HE'S FUCKING AWESOME!"

Everything froze for me…, as I say about 5 or 6 times a day, I wondered "did I just say that out loud?" I really wasn't sure… FUCK.

I half expected the entire room to go quiet. Maybe the sound of a record scratching. Then, some big black guys to come up and say "mind if we dance wit' yo' dates?" But who was I kidding? This was the Republican caucus… there was only one black guy here, and he was blind.

The woman just looked at me and smiled… not even a "this guy is crazy" smile, but just a "hi, have you found our lord and savior Jesus Christ" smile. I handed her a pen. "I like him too," she said. "He's honest. But, I just think that Donald Trump has the best chance of making us safe from all that this Muslim traitor has tried to do to destroy our country."

She didn't even skip a beat.

"Did you hear? Today he said he wants to give Guantanamo Bay back to the Castro brothers!"

I said, "well, that was one of his campaign promises, and one of the reasons I voted for him was that I didn't want to have this 'constitution-free zone' in Cuba."

Everyone at the table was interested in what I had to say. I explained why I thought Guantanamo Bay was an awful thing. And they asked questions. And nodded. And… jesus christ… I was now proselytizing total Leftist shit in the middle of a crowd of Trump supporters. I looked around for my Mormon friend. At least he was wearing a Rubio button… and I had given $50 to the Rubio campaign. Maybe he could save me before the Trump-ites held me down and did the Louima thing to me.

"That makes sense," one of them said. "I guess it just feels like surrender. And you have to admit, if you voted for him cuz he said he was gonna do that, and he's just getting around to it, he's sort of a shit, wouldn't you say?"

"yeah…" I shrugged. "You got a point."

We talked for a while. Them all explaining why they liked Trump. Yeah, about half of them had overdosed on Fox News and believed that Obama was a Muslim, and terrorists were hiding under every rock, and Obama had ruined the country. I couldn't quite get what "ruined" meant. But, they were so damned civil. Here I was talking about how I really wanted Bernie Sanders to win, and how we should close Guantanamo Bay, and raise our HOA dues to pay for better security patrols… and the most negative thing anyone said was "oh, that's nice" in a non sarcastic way.

Nobody was arguing with anybody.

I noticed that Jeb Bush and Carly Florina were still listed on the ballots. People started handing their ballots in. The caucus went on until 9:00 PM, giving people four hours in which to come in, shoot the shit about how much they hated Obama, hug each other, talk about getting together some time. Drop off their ballots and be home in time to catch whatever they catch on Fox News.

I won't say these were the smartest people I had ever met, but they sure as hell weren't the sub-humans the press seems to find to represent the "average Trump voter." In fact, as misguided as some might think they are, they weren't any less brilliant than the morons at the Democratic caucuses. The average intelligence level seemed about the same. But, the Republicans were all smiling. They were a group of genuinely happy people. It was totally weird. Their views were angry, but they were not.

That was one big difference. The Democrats were all scared. They were all pissed off. Pissed off at the banks. Pissed off at (and scared of) Trump. The Democrats were fuming about Obamacare being taken away by Sanders (yes really). The Sanders people were pissed off at Hillary for selling us out to the Banks. Everyone was just miserable.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party felt… well… like a party. I all but expected someone to spark up a joint, or at least hand me a flask.

There was no coercion. No union reps walking around watching who was where. The ballots were secret, and you could just vote without sitting in a segregated pen. People discussed the issues, but nobody got bussed in, and nobody seemed to have been told who to vote for by any bow-tied preachers.

There were a few MILFs in yoga pants.

It was weird. I've never voted Republican before, and I don't think I agreed with my neighbors about anything except the need for a wall — around our neighborhood — not on the border. They knew I was a Socialist in their midst, and that I didn't agree with them about anything, except that I didn't want Hillary Clinton to be president.

I think they were nice to me in part because they thought I might be mentally disabled myself, especially given how nervous I was… and what with the outburst about Bernie Sanders. I think they may have actually thought I yelled out FRANKS AND BEANS!

But, all in all, I have to say that while I want the guy on the Left to win, I will be looking up the Trump supporters to have cocktails with.

From the Trenches at the Nevada Caucuses – Part 1.0

This is Part 1 of a 3-part series on the Nevada Caucuses.

1.0 I know Dirty… and I know Elections

The big news of the day is Donald Trump's runaway victory in the Nevada Republican caucuses. Along with it, "reports" that the process was tainted, crooked, a Trump flimflam. The "sources" for these reports are almost all people griping on social media.

The Republican caucuses that I observed were either clean or they hired Penn & Teller to handle the shenanigans – because I didn't see a damn thing happen. Maybe it was a little disorganized, but certainly nothing that suggested a dirty election.

I know a dirty election when I see one. In 2004, I was an election observer in Florida, and I saw things that you probably wouldn't believe happened, even if I had video.

Crowds of black voters came in to vote, noting that "volunteers" had come to their neighborhoods to “help” them register to vote. After taking their registration information, these “volunteers” seemed to "forget" to send in the forms. Oopsie!

Ok, perhaps it was just an honest mistake that dozens of people came in with the same story, that a "nice volunteer" came to their house to "help them register," and then their registration forms magically didn't ever get submitted. The black voters, believing they were registered, would not discover the truth until election day – when it was too late to rectify the injustice. “Y’all come back in four years now,” the poll workers said with cheshire smiles and voices as sugary as sweet tea. Some might come back….but, the damage was done for that election.

And in other situations, I recall more than a few voters being told that they weren't registered to vote, even though they personally turned in their voter registration forms on time. When I showed up by his side, all of a sudden, his name would appear.

After I apparently helped too many of them get ballots, a Republican election observer made a call, and ten minutes after the call, a white van screeched to a halt in front of the polling center, and five stocky, buzz-cut white men (one shaved bald) in red shirts barged into the polling station and demanded that I be removed from the polling place. Finally, the gang of five thugs found a corrupt deputy who ejected me from the place under threat of arrest. I was more than happy to go to jail for the cause. But, when I called the HQ, they gave me strict instructions to stand down — their concern was that if voters saw a civil rights attorney getting hauled off in cuffs, it would most scare the shit out of them, and thus likely be the best vote-suppression strategy the Republicans could hope for.

Outside the polling station, I walked over to a chair, and fell into it. I thought that battle ended before I was born. The emotion that sat on my shoulders and collapsed my whole body was shame – shame at being part of a society that still considered equal rights to be a nuisance, shame that I didn’t do more, shame that I was so naive that until Nov. 2, 2004, I truly disbelieved everyone who told me a story like this. But this time I was there. I couldn’t deny that it happened, and I couldn’t deny that what I saw was an organized effort to deny people the right to vote.

That was a dirty election.

So here in Nevada… were the caucuses really dirty? What were they like?

NEXT: Part 2.0 – Wallowing in the Democrats

#FreeStacy — But From What? In Defense of Free Speech Legalism

You should regard anything I say about Robert Stacy McCain with skepticism, because I hate him.

My loathing for him is sincere and entire. My revulsion for him is both conscious and subconscious, like a Donald Trump perforated with asymmetrical holes

That said, I don't regret — not even a little — speaking out for his First Amendment rights in the face of vexatious litigation by unrepentant domestic terrorists and their lickspittles. That's the deal in America, or is supposed to be. We defend the rights of people we hate. We defend the First Amendment from frivolous, censorious litigation — even in favor of unserious hypocrites who advocate frivolous censorious litigation themselves. My only regret about arguing for Robert Stacy McCain's free speech rights is if I passed up any opportunity to say that I feel for him a transport of uncordiality.

Over the last 24 hours the rightward side of Twitter has been in an uproar — captured by the #FreeStacy hashtag — about Twitter's suspension of McCain's main account, @rsmccain. Many see it as a trend in Twitter disproportionately and arbitrarily disciplining conservative voices, as Marc argued last month. Though I've questioned that proposition, it's grown considerably more persuasive since Twitter appointed a "Trust and Safety Council" that appears calculated to have a narrow view of legitimate speech and a broad view of "harassment" (at least insofar as it is uttered by the wrong people.)

I don't know what McCain did (or is alleged to have done) to be suspended, and as far as I can tell nobody else does either. I've seen him say some pretty despicable things, either sincerely or mastubatorilly, so I'm not presuming that the suspension was based on nothing. Nor do I presume that any report of his conduct was honest, nor that any analysis of his actions was rational or principled.

So do I shout #FreeStacy?

Sort of.

When I say #FreeStacy, I mean "Twitter, you've providing an increasingly shitty product, I'm expecting to be banned from it arbitrarily soon, and I've been thinking for some time about where to focus social media attention instead." Or "Twitter, before I thought this was mostly about low-level employees acting on their own biases. But I'm increasingly convinced by the argument that you've decided to offer a product aimed at a specific political group." Or "Twitter, you sell yourself as separating harassment from free speech, but you don't deliver."

In other words, rather than indulging in cries that Twitter is engaged in fascism, or book-burning, or Nazism, or totalitarianism (all of which I've seen said today), I'm saying that Twitter is engaging in a mix of private speech and product development that I don't like, and demonstrating that its marketing patter about free expression has traveled beyond the realm of acceptable sales puffery into the noisome Kingdom of Bullshit.

Some people say this is pedantic. Some currently popular ideas are premised on blurring the distinction between state action and private action against speech: "cultural libertarianism," "thick liberty," "free speech values."

They're wrong.

The right to free speech is America's most important right because it's how we identify and defend all rights. But you can't defend a right you don't understand or can't define. Distorting or blurring the definition of a right undermines it. In short: free speech legalism matters.

You think that Twitter has a civic or moral obligation to uphold "values of free speech"? Fine. How do you distinguish that from people arguing that Twitter has a moral and civic obligation to defend people from offense? If you say that Twitter ought to uphold "American values" of diversity of views and the freedom to utter unpopular views, how do you respond to the argument that Twitter ought to uphold "American values" of equality and "decency"?

To quote a noted food critic quoting a Roman emperor, of each particular thing ask: what is it in itself? What is its nature? What does a private business do? It makes money and advances the agendas of its owners and/or leaders. They act according to two conservative principles: caveat emptor and there ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

Blurring the classification of things leads to exactly the sort of nonsense that Robert Stacy McCain normally rails against. Take a university. Is it a thing that teaches students? Or is it a place that empowers social justice? Is it a place for young adults, or is it a place for children in need of protection from mean ideas? Or take it up a few levels: do governments exist to impose their will upon us, or do they exist for us to impose our will upon them?

I classify Twitter's action as bad customer service and as private speech I don't like because of my conservative views. Those views include the following: private companies (which are individuals organized to do things as efficiently and safely as possible) have a right to free speech and free association. Corporations are people! They don't lose those rights because they get too big or because someone thinks they look like public entities if you squint. It's okay for corporations to sell products, or engage in speech, that people hate. People and corporations don't owe you anything: not a free lunch, not a free platform. You're responsible for reading the contracts you sign, physically or digitally. Whether or not you support anti-discrimination laws governing private entities, they can't be reconciled completely with free speech and free association rights. Or, put in law-professor-speech, anti-discrimination values and free speech values are in tension.

At least I thought those were conservative views. I mean, how can you argue that a bakery shouldn't have to make a gay marriage cake, but Twitter should have to offer a platform to someone they think (not unreasonably) is a total douche?

So, will I say #FreeStacy? Absolutely! For every hour McCain is gone, some feminist remains unfrothed-at. For every absent moment, there's a dead black kid whose Facebook page hasn't been thoroughly vetted. So #FreeStacy. By which I mean: free him from your foolish marketing decision to adopt a suspension system that predictably leads to arbitrary suspensions, because it's bad business and I'm a customer who doesn't like it. Free him by repenting your ill-considered and destructive expression in the form of a "Trust and Safety Council" that looks like a bad SNL skit. Free him from a system that — whether it's a marketing tool or a sincere gesture of opposition to harassment — will lead inevitably to button-mashing abuse of your report systems and endless (and unprofitable) internecine warfare amongst your very worst customers (or products, whatever). While you're at it, if you can, free him and his supporters from the Bernie-Sanderseque delusion implied by their rhetoric: that they have a right to speak on your platform that supersedes your right to run it the way you want. If you convince enough of them, maybe one will invent a good alternative I can seek out the day you suspend me.

Williams College: Our Students Are Children, And We Must Protect Them

There are legitimate reasons to question to the project of "Uncomfortable Learning," a movement to bring speakers with controversial views to the Williams College campus to challenge students to question their beliefs and assumptions. The most serious problem is one of framing. Our culture already has a very strong appetite for shouting matches, horse races, and ginned-up controversy. We have a weakness for people throwing chairs at each other on Jerry Springer's stage and a disinclination towards complex ideas explained at length. Rhetorically speaking, we don't like to eat our vegetables unless someone pours nacho cheese over them for us. A movement like "Uncomfortably Speaking" risks turning that weakness into a purported virtue. Ideas don't have more value the more controversial they are; they have value despite their controversial nature. The proposition that kittens should be strangled in the public square is more provocative and controversial than the proposition that all kittens should be spayed, but that does not mean that kitten-strangling is more worthy of debate or more productive of serious thought. Picking speakers because they are controversial — rather than whether or not they are controversial — risks mistaking trolling for intellectual courage, polemicists for philosophers, entertainers for thinkers.

But there are also wholly illegitimate reasons to question Uncomfortable Learning. Williams College, predictably, has seized upon such a reason to cancel a speech by John Derbyshire, who had been invited by students to speak as part of Uncomfortable Learning. Williams College President Adam Falk explained that Williams wasn't merely disinviting Derbyshire (for the college itself didn't invite him in the first place), it was refusing to allow students to invite him on the premises:

The college didn’t invite Derbyshire, but I have made it clear to the students who did that the college will not provide a platform for him.

Academic officialdom has rhetorical frameworks as rigid as a haiku. Just as one must always preface an attempted polite breakup by explaining how great the other person is and how wonderful your time together has been, a discussion of some speech being acceptable must always begin with an unconvincing gesture towards free speech, the awkward and self-conscious genuflection of the nominal Catholic who goes to mass every third or fourth Easter:

Free speech is a value I hold in extremely high regard. The college has a very long history of encouraging the expression of a range of viewpoints and giving voice to widely differing opinions.

Next comes the pretense to principle — the claim that the decision is based on something other than subjective and arbitrary:

There’s a line somewhere, but in our history of hosting events and speeches of all kinds, we hadn’t yet found it. We’ve found the line. Derbyshire, in my opinion, is on the other side of it. Many of his expressions clearly constitute hate speech, and we will not promote such speech on this campus or in our community.

That's not a line, except in the sense of "the line is wherever I choose to draw it." "Hate speech" is whatever you want it to be; it is not a legally defined category in America. The line between hate speech and not-hate-speech is drawn by power, not analytical rigor. Could John Derbyshire be regarded as someone who indulges in hate speech under many popular subjective definitions of the term? Sure he could. But that's not what President Falk was saying. He was claiming there is a neutral and principled test. There isn't.

President Falk went on to explain that he stands in loco parentis to the nominal adults at one of America's most elite liberal arts colleges:

But at times it’s our role as educators and administrators to step in and make decisions that are in the best interest of students and our community. This is one of those times.

President Falk's position seems to be that Williams College students can't be counted upon to deal with John Derbyshire's views themselves — whether by ignoring him as a puerile race-grumbler unworthy of their time, or by refuting him and his fans. Maybe he's right.

I probably wouldn't bother to attend Derbyshire's speech, myself. If I wanted to read warmed-over turn-of-the-twentieth-century junk-science self-satisfied "race realism" smugly presented as something new and daring, I'd go on Twitter and bait Trump supporters. Derbyshire strikes me as an excellent illustration of my opening point: being contrarian and controversial is not the same as having something worthwhile to say. Derb is the just the reactionary-curmudgeon version of the performance artist who strips down and smears chocolate and bean sprouts over her body: lots of belabored attention-seeking transgression and not much substance, and swiftly tedious. I question the seriousness of the people who thought he would provoke worthwhile academic debate. Williams College and its President Adam Falk had an excellent opportunity to make that point. They could have challenged the Uncomfortable Learning people to articulate what exactly separates Derbyshire from your idiot cousin you sends you the Obama-is-a-Kenyan emails or from cranks on Reddit, other than an English accent and a thin veneer of literary tradition. Instead, they chose to proclaim that Williams College students are weak children who require protection.

That's pretty insulting, if you ask me. But I didn't go to Williams.

Inside Department of Justice Culture: Locals Vs. "Main Justice"

Lawyers and non-lawyers alike chuckled this week when a federal judge in Texas blasted attorneys –and one attorney in particular — from the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.

Hughes thundered, “If the pretentious lawyers from ‘main’ Justice knew what they were doing — or had the humility to ask for help from the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Texas — it would not have taken three days, seven telephone calls, three voicemail messages, and one snippy electronic message for them to indirectly ask the court for assistance in ordering a transcript.”

This story displays two elements of the culture of the federal criminal justice system. The first is obvious: federal judges, who enjoy lifetime tenure and are almost never impeached, behave pretty much however they want. The black robe tends to amplify preexisting foibles; a bad temper, free from rebuke and guaranteed lifetime employment, grows steadily from an occasional peccadillo to a notorious habit. Fortunately, once you have reached a certain point in your career, being yelled at by a federal judge is merely bracing, like a brisk walk on a cold morning.

But another cultural truth lurks. There are two types of federal prosecutors: Assistant U.S. Attorneys who work at, and for, the 94 U.S. Attorney's Offices across the country, and the Assistant U.S. Attorneys who work in Washington D.C. at "main justice." The "main justice" attorneys often work in specialized and elite units, and frequently travel about the country "supervising" their cases. Those cases might involve terrorism, or civil rights, or political corruption. This can result in tension between main justice and the local prosecutors. To grotesquely overgeneralize, main justice can see the locals as hicks who don't know how to run "elite" cases, and locals can see main justice as arrogant, not as good as they think they are, and both clueless about and indifferent to local practices.

These are exaggerations, but there are occasional examples. About 20 years ago I was a young AUSA in Los Angeles, assigned to the "Complaints" division. Complaints handled intake, complaints, and search warrants on run-of-the-mill cases that didn't already have a federal prosecutor assigned. One day a team from main justice swept in seeking a search warrant on some "elite" matter. The legal core is the same — is there probable cause to believe the items sought are evidence of a federal crime and will be found at the specified location? — but the formatting and paperwork of warrants vary across the 94 federal judicial districts. Each set of judges likes its warrant applications prepared just so. This team from main justice prepared their warrant package the way they wanted to do it, and ignored my suggestions about how to conform to practices in Los Angeles. "Good luck," I said, not entirely sincerely. Sure enough, half an hour later I got a call from the duty magistrate judge. This man was the most pleasant and welcoming judge I've ever encountered; sometimes he was so nice on the bench that people worried he was making fun of them. "Mr. White," the judge asked, "could you please give these . . . . gentlemen some help preparing the warrant application to conform to the local rules?" asked the judge, using a tone suggesting that someone might leave this encounter in leg irons. I promised to do so. The main justice lawyers returned, fuming, indignant, railing against the fact that some backwater like Los Angeles didn't format its search warrant paperwork in exactly the same way they were used to in Washington. I helped them without comment.

Or there was the time that lawyers from main justice, during an argument on a securities case, blundered into the well. The well is the dead space between the counsel tables and the bench. In some places, it's considered culturally appropriate to walk into the well to address the court, just as it's considered appropriate to address the judge from a seated position in some places. But not in Los Angeles. The federal judge — a gentleman who has verbally flayed the flesh from my bones on more than one occasion1 — blasted them, and they were terrified and perplexed.

What's the point of all this? Well, it's partly about the easy truth that the system is made up of flawed human beings. But it's also about the job of lawyering. Nobody cares how you do it back in your courthouse. You're in this courthouse now, and effective representation of your client requires you to pay attention to how things are done here, however much you disdain the locals. Don't be an arrogant ass, it's bad for your client. Also: federal judges gonna federal judge, so shrug and move on.

Atlas Mugged

Wesley Mouch had never paid much attention to men like Henry Rearden, who had risen on his own merits from the pits of a Minnesota iron mine to become sole owner of 57% of the world's steel mills. The industrialists surrounding Rearden, men like Francisco D'Anconia, who had  built on a fortune established by the legendary Sebastian D'Anconia, a disgraced Spanish aristocrat who had been transported to Peru for speaking against the corruption surrounding the king; women like Dagney Taggart, the ice cold beauty who singlehandedly ran the operations of the massive Taggart Transcontinental railway line which provided the motive blood coursing through the veins of American industry: what could they, with their merciless focus on the creation of wealth, know of tender feelings; of the sense of terror experienced by a man such as Wesley Mouch in the company of these diamond-encrusted titans of wealth? And so Mouch, though he was very well thought of by such leading lights of the culture as Tiggle Munson, the author of "The Grateful Slave: A Paradigm For Our Times," and by Ignitz Urkelmop, the playwright whose musical comedy "Burp! Burp! Burp!" was the toast of Broadway, and by Edna Sloggle, whose salon in Washington was the gathering place of fashionable American intellect, took a stiff belt of bourbon to fortify himself as he entered Rearden's party.

As he made his first trip to Rearden's bar, Mouch looked furtively at the industrialists around him, with their tasteful, understated displays of supreme confidence in themselves and their hard-earned wealth. Mouch wanted nothing so much as to to vomit, to sully the marble floors and columns with the half-digested lunch of his own inadequacy in the face of such self-assurance. It was then that he saw Donald Trump enter, insult Rearden's butler with an ethnic joke, and wade into the crowd with the thoughtless swagger that can only belong to a man who has stolen a fortune through graft, pull at City Hall, and the liberal use of eminent domain. Mouch's heart rose at the sight of such a man.

Trump slouched against the buffet table as Rearden held forth on the merits of his newly invented wonder alloy, Rearden Metal, which was said to combine the tensile strength of a spider's web with the durability and load-bearing capacity of the purest titanium. Rearden was saying that his metal, with its unheard-of resistance to heat, could revolutionize the smelting of vital industrial ores in foundries of such might as to approach the heart of the sun, when Trump interrupted the conversation.

"Rearden Metal? Let me tell you something about metals. Now I happen to be quite an expert in metals, and alloys, and it's very well known that my opinion counts for a lot in these things. Reporters, cable tv guys, metallurgists, all the polls, they say Trump's the go-to guy when you want the latest on metals. Trump knows metals, they all tell me. It's a fact. I've been making deals in the metal markets for a long time. And not your average everyday metals, no tin pots at a Trump hotel. I'm talking about high grade metals, the very best of metals, you understand. Gold, platinum, all of your classier metals, that's what you'll find at my resorts and casinos. All of the guests at my Trump Atlantis resort, they come up to me after dining on USDA prime angus steaks, those mouth-watering steaks you can only find at world-class restaurants and exclusively through The Sharper Image with my Trump Steaks brand, the very best steaks you can buy, with my beautiful silverware, and they say, 'Donald, I have never seen such rare and expensive metals as are on display at your five star resorts and casinos. Where do you find such metals?' And I tell them I know all there is to know about metal. You could say, and people have said it, very influential people say it, they say it all the time: that Donald Trump is America's foremost expert on metals."

As Rearden cleared his throat to reply, Trump went on. "And it's because I know people. I make deals. I negotiate the lowest and best prices for the finest quality metals. I do it all the time. Not like Rearden here, who to put it frankly, doesn't know metals the way I do. Now Hank's a good friend, Hank and I go back in the metals markets, so I hate to say it, but Hank doesn't know his metals, doesn't know his alloys, doesn't know his chromium from a hole in the ground. Totally ignorant about metals.  A very low energy guy, this Hank Rearden. Came up in life the hard way, dug his way out of an iron mine. And it shows. Hank Rearden would never be admitted to one of my top-rated golf courses, the groundskseeper would take one look at Hank and he'd say, 'This guy looks like a bum. Probably dug his way out of an iron mine, or a coal smelter, or something.' And who can blame him? Everybody come round and look at this guy Hank: he's wearing Rearden Metal cufflinks. Jesus Christ, is that what you wear to a business gathering, among all these titans of industry? No class. And no Rearden Metal, not at any of my hotels and resorts, which are consistently rated five stars, the best in the world. I wouldn't use a Rearden Metal club at the training hole at a Putt-Putt Goofy Golf in Fargo North Dakota, and I sure as hell wouldn't allow one at the Trump golf course and country club at Mar-A-Lago, the finest in south Florida, where the waiting list for a guest reservation is six months, the most exclusive golf resort in the United States of America."

It was at this point that Francisco D'Anconia, with the self-assurance that comes of a man who has taken a great fortune and built on it through decades of thrift, hard work, sweat, and native intelligence, grinned icily and asked Donald Trump, "Sir, do you insinuate that —"

"I insinuate nothing," Trump replied. "That would be a lie, and unlike some people I could name, I was raised never to tell a lie. I'm just telling the truth about this Rearden guy, who begged like a cripple in the streets to get a reservation at my Trump Hotel on Fifth Avenue in New York City. I told him no, because I don't want my guests exposed to some hick from the boondocks in Pennsylvania who is a complete and total failure in life. My guests appreciate the finer things, and they're sure to get them at any of my hotels, resorts, and casinos, not like this Hank Rearden, who between you and me looks like a hobo with a tin cup in his hands. Probably buys his suits off the rack at Men's Wearhouse to go with those cheap Rearden Metal cufflinks. I'm sorry to say it Hank, but you're a loser. And as for you, D'Anconia, whatdayou know about metals? Got a copper mine or two in Chile or Tijuana or someplace I never heard of, right? Now don't take that as an offense against Tijuana. They love me in Tijuana, the little brown people. Let me tell you something about copper. I buy only the best and most luxurious copper in the world, and at bargain prices, because I'm such a great negotiator. I get up at 4 in the morning, every morning, and I'm working the phones, trying to wheel and deal, and succeeding I might add, in the copper markets. They all know me in the copper markets, the big copper merchants, and they say 'Oh no, it's Donald Trump, come to skin us alive on another copper deal.' But they can't resist me, because they know their copper will be on display at the greatest hotels in all of the world's most beautiful cities. Not at all like the tarnished stuff that my good friend Francisco, a great guy but he wasn't even born in America, what the hell kind of name is D'Anconia anyway? Sounds like something you get a dose of at a cathouse in Reno. Anyway, like I was saying, all of the right people, the experts, the Drudge Report, my good friend Rush Limbaugh, they say that my exploits in the copper market are legendary. Because it's true. I'm the world's foremost authority on copper. I make the deals. Not like this guy D'Anconia here: zero knowledge on copper. I'd call him a Mexican bum, but that wouldn't be politically correct, so I'll say he's an underachiever. Now don't take offense, they love me in Mexico. They come up to me with their little pinatas and burritos and they say, 'Donald, tell us all about this guy D'Anconia.' And I tell them, well, it's not for me to say, but if Francisco D'Anconia somehow got to be a participant on my award-winning, top-rated television show "The Apprentice," I'd have to say, 'Francisco, you're fired!'"

Trump3

Unable to restrain herself, Dagney Taggart, the arctic blonde beauty whose railroad empire kept the beating heart of American industry pumping, vociferated, "Mr. Trump, surely you don't suggest that —"

"Get a load of this bimbo, oops, I'm not supposed to say that," Trump winked. "Now don't misunderstand me, Miss Taggart's a beautiful woman, but she's a bit of a lightweight. More than a bit, in fact. Never been married. A spinster! Probably on her, well, let's just say that if Rearden's floor was a rag, they'd need to bring in a bucket and mop to clean the place up. I mean, I hate to say it, I respect Miss Taggart as a railroad executive, I respect all women. Motherhood and apple pie are what made America great. Have I ever told you about the apple pie the pastry chef serves at my Trump Hotel and Spa in Chicago? Brought him in from France, from Paris, the finest pastry chef in the world, serving the greatest apple pie you'll ever taste. Anyway, as I was saying about Dagney here, wonderful woman but no children. And flat-chested. Frankly, I wouldn't…"

As Trump held forth, Wesley Mouch smiled to himself. Finally, here was an industrialist who understoood. Mouch ran to the nearest telephone, and dialed Washington…

A Response To Marc: Institutions, Agendas, and the "Culture War"

Earlier this week Marc asserted that Twitter is "taking a side in the culture war" wars by removing the identity-confirming blue check from the account of Milo Yiannopoulos, who is what we refer to these days as a personality, like an unusually literate Kardashian. I think Marc is blurring the difference between individual and institutional action.

But let's get this out of the way at the start: Twitter is a private company. Conservative extremist that I am, I believe that private companies have free speech rights. They use those rights to create their brand. Conservatives normally approve of this. They question, for instance, why the government should be able to force a bakery to bake a cake for a same-sex marriage when that contradicts the business' beliefs and brand. Many progressives, on the other hand, applaud such government intervention. Cases like this have an odd way of flipping that dynamic: conservatives cast about for legal theories that might let the government regulate how private businesses deal with speech they don't like, and progressives suddenly applaud private autonomy.

We feel that places like Twitter are a public place, and ought to be run like a public forum. But it's self-indulgent to mistake our feelings for reality or law. Twitter is free to us. It makes money (if it makes money) by serving our eyeballs to advertisers. Our feelings and desires are relevant to Twitter only to the extent it wants to brand itself or wants to retain sufficient eyeballs to sell. Otherwise it's irrational to expect Twitter to care what we want. In deciding how the Kylo Ren action figure ought to be posed on the box art, Disney does not consider the sentiments of the Kylo Ren action figure. Nobody's entitled to a free corporate platform run the way they like: this, too, is supposed to be a conservative ideal. You get what you pay for, and we aren't paying. Can we threaten to vote with our feet and go be somebody else's eyeball supply if we don't like how Twitter is run? Of course we can, just like we can refuse to eat at Chik-Fil-A if we don't like the owners' politics. But if we couch it as a right, we look silly.

But on to Twitter's side-taking. I think Marc probably overstates Twitter's focus and degree of deliberation. Big companies, even when run by ideologues, tend to make decisions like big companies, not like individuals. The decision-making looks less cinematic and more cynical. The focus tends to be on branding, but mostly on money-making, avoidance of unpleasantness, reduction of cost, and ease of use. Twitter's line employees are almost certainly disproportionately liberal, and by assigning command-and-control of individual account decisions to them, the impact is probably that evaluations of abuse complaints will have a liberal bias. Similarly, if you make a corporate decision to police harassment (or at least pretend to), and the people doing the policing have a bias, then the results will have a bias. But that's not the same as a deliberate decision to take sides; it's a cost-driven, practicality-driven decision. Consistency in such decision-making is expensive and troublesome. Running decisions up the chain to ensure consistency on inherently subjective calls costs time and money. Moreover, Twitter's lack of clear articulated standards about exactly what speech will get you in trouble is a feature, not a bug. If you have clear articulated standards, then there will be endless rules-lawyering about why this cases fell under the definition but that case didn't, and you will be more vulnerable to legal attacks (for instance, from people saying that you ban folks of one ethnicity for conduct but folks of another ethnicity get a pass, which could even create a viable claim). Again: the fact that Twitter kinda looks like a public forum if you squint doesn't stop it from being a big business.

In short, I think Marc substantially overstates the coherence and intentionality of Twitter's side-taking.

If Twitter is taking sides, then it's being uncharacteristically incompetent.

Look: Milo's a troll. There's nothing inherently wrong with being a troll. Some trolls are amusing. But de gustibus non est disputandum. I prefer somewhat more subtle trolls. Milo's a troll in the tradition of Ann Coulter, saying outrageous things and benefiting from both the fist-pumping of the like-minded and the profitable outrage of people who think it's sensible to feed trolls. Milo's no Ann Coulter, of course, but it seems he aspires to be number two, and number two tries harder. To my taste Milo's trolling is too loud, too precious, too busy, too edgelord-twee. Plus, he strikes me as a rather blatant huckster. Only fickle fate has led to him trying to sell me anti-feminist tropes rather than extended warranties. He says some phenomenally nasty things, and sends chortling heaps of clumsily animated body soil to threaten and curse at people he calls out. He does so to an extent that I believe Marc significantly understates. Does he genuinely hate the people he reviles? Does he actually believe the more shocking lines he delivers in self-conscious and belabored fashion, like a dull eighth-grader attempting Macbeth? I rather doubt it. He's probably indifferent to them, and to the impact of his words. But he likes the attention — the clicks and the credulous adulation and the money. Whomever Milo hates, Milo loves Milo.

Given that, Twitter's action is like throwing Milo into the brier patch and throwing hundred-dollar-bills in after him. The removal of the silly blue check is utterly insubstantial, but promotes Milo's conservatives-are-persecuted-and-liberals-are-evil narrative. It's free publicity. To his audience suggesting that he harasses ideological opponents is a promotion, not a rebuke. It's like banning a hot dog stand from one side of the park on the explicit grounds that the hot dogs are too delicious. He should be sending them some sort of fruit basket. It is, in short, more like fumbling decentralized decision-making and less like a centralized agenda.

I'd be interested in seeing Marc's evidence of systemic bias in Twitter's approach to what is harassment and what isn't. I have noticed anecdotal differences. But then I've also noticed plenty of bad conduct from "the right" that hasn't been punished. My strong suspicion is that the difference is not the result of a corporate agenda, but of a routine corporate decision to decentralize decision-making.

I'll probably stay on Twitter, knowing that I could get kicked off at any time by some low-level decision maker who doesn't like me. When I don't want to take that risk, I'll pay for my platform — like here.

[Sometime soon, I want to say more about how blurring the line between First Amendment violations and "spirit of free speech" violations leads to all sorts of bad attitudes, like thinking that your speech can suppress mine.]

Twitter Takes a Side in the Culture Wars – Lies About It

Twitter announced that in order to combat abuse and harassment on its increasingly unpopular online platform, that it would enact new rules and regulations that would hopefully get control of things. The stated mission was to cut down on loosely-defined "harassment." But, what it seems to really be is yet another example of someone with a little bit of power behaving arbitrarily in favor of their "team."

Twitter didn’t call it “censorship.” They called it “fighting abuse to protect freedom of expression.” Ok, fair enough. Since it gives away accounts for free, and every lunatic has access to a computer, the barrier for entry on Twitter is very low. That means that the guy who used to stand on the street corner and scream at the clouds, or the crazy cat lady, both have as much access to Twitter as someone reasonably intelligent. The underside of the human condition is ugly and brutish, and if you spend 15 minutes on Twitter, you figure that out.

Twitter has every right to try and get ahold of things. If I ran Twitter, I wouldn't be very proud of it. And, its value is rapidly plummeting, both as a website worth visiting, and in financial terms. I'd imagine that this is, in no small part, because people are just sick of the bullshit on Twitter. While you can't really express much nuance in 140 characters, you sure can express stupidity and cruelty in less than that. You can form a mob and ruin Justine Sacco's existence with very little effort. Meanwhile, these bite sized chunks of shit do very little to promote discourse.

So I'll admit that if I ran Twitter, I'd probably engage in a little bit of a crackdown myself. I believe in an expansive view of freedom of expression, but I am not an absolutist. I get close, but I think that free speech absolutism is simply intellectual laziness. There is a line.

Where is it? I'm not sure precisely — that's part of my personal search for truth, and I'm not done with it yet. But, I do know that we have to draw a line somewhere.

If you recoil in horror, consider Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines. In 1994, that radio station was the Zyklon-B of the Rwandan genocide. Would I go back to 1994 and "censor" RTLMC? Yes. But, we must admit, that is a hell of an extreme example. But, it at least demonstrates that I can defend freedom of expression, but I'm not a religious zealot about it. (On the other hand, I do not think I would approve of censorship to prevent hypothetical localized harms).

With that out of the way, I don’t have any problem with Twitter deciding that it wants to be less of a shithole and more of a place where people can go to express themselves and read other peoples’ expressions without it turning into an intellectual trash-heap. Remember: it’s their site, their rules.

Nevertheless, I do fault Twitter for is its hypocrisy and its outright lies about what it claims that it is doing. Twitter is not at all interested in making Twitter a "nicer" place, nor promoting more constructive discourse. Twitter is taking a side in the culture wars, and it has chosen that it will be the destination of choice for the "social justice warriors" echo chamber.

A stark example came to light this weekend when Milo Yiannopoulos discovered that his account had suffered the “discipline” of having his official public figure status revoked. On Twitter, the real public figures get a blue checkmark next to their names so that people realize that they’re dealing with the real celebrity, and not one of any number of imposters, impersonators, or satirists. Mr. Yiannopoulos is, for those who are uninitiated, a conservative who frequently disagrees with the “social justice warrior” mentality. And that’s strike one against him. Yiannopoulos had the audacity to disagree with certain politically correct notions, and thus he was subjected to this minor form of discipline.

His reaction was a bit over the top, but far be it from me to criticize him for being hyperbolic. He immediately launched the hashtag “#JeSuiMilo.” Equating losing a little blue checkmark next to your name to the murders at Charlie Hebdo makes me spit a little. But, I’m not entitled to an offense-free existence, so if Mr. Yiannopoulos wants to damage his own credibility by trying to compare himself to those who actually laid their lives at the altar of freedom of expression, so be it. I’m not going to let that get in the way of the fact that he has a valid point.

And what is his valid point? There’s not a damn way that his account would have suffered any discipline at all had his views not been from the disfavored side of the debate. For all Twitter’s lip service to freedom of expression and prevention of abuse, Twitter believes in neither. As Allum Bokhari wrote, "The fingerprints of social justice warriors, who delight in redefining political disagreement as “harassment,” are all over this new rule. Twitter’s reputation for arbitrary, politically-motivated punishment looks set to grow."

In fact, in order to test Twitter’s so-called newfound prevention of harassment, I have tracked a number of Twitter accounts and even have set up decoy accounts. In what I've tracked, so far, pretty strong “harassment” emanating from accounts that purport to promote a "social justice" or feminist agenda remain unscathed – even with pretty extreme content, up to and including death threats. However, even slightly offensive messages coming from conservative voices wind up being disciplined. Thus far, the experiment has not gone on long enough to actually call it "scientific," so I'm not going to say that the early stages of studying the bias in Twitter suspensions is ready for prime time – but it is certainly confirming what we hypothesized.

Twitter, we see through your bullshit. It’s okay, you can simply announce that you’ve decided to take a side in the culture wars and you’re just not going to apply the rules the same way to conservatives as you will to liberals. You can say you’re going to discriminate on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, and anything else you want. But please don’t pander to us by trying to tell that this has anything to do with “harassment” or “free speech.” Somebody, or a group of somebodies in your organization has a political agenda and you’re going to use your power, diminishing as it is, to promote that agenda. That’s allowed. Maybe it will even make you more popular than ever, but just cut the lies. Because some of us are watching and we know better.