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Feb. 23 2017 5:21 PM

Spicer: Trump Supports States’ Right to Discriminate Against Trans Kids but Not to Legalize Pot

Press Secretary Sean Spicer dropped something of a bombshell at a Thursday press briefing, announcing that the Department of Justice may begin cracking down on recreational marijuana in states that have legalized it. Spicer clarified that the Justice Department will not prosecute medical marijuana because it is legally forbidden from doing so under an appropriations rider, and because Donald Trump understands that it provides “comfort” to patients. But then Spicer compared marijuana legalization to the opioid crisis, adding that the Justice Department will be taking “greater enforcement” action against recreational marijuana.

A federal assault on recreational cannabis would throw many marijuana users into legal limbo, subjecting them to prosecution and imprisonment even if they fully comply with state law. Seven states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana in some form. The Obama administration took a fairly lax approach to legalization, generally turning a blind eye to it so long as states rigorously enforced “strict regulatory schemes.” At the same time, his Justice Department launched a startling number of medical marijuana raids—and illegally prosecuted growers and dispensers of medical weed even after Congress explicitly forbade such prosecutions. (The federal judiciary ultimately had to force Obama’s DOJ to comply with the law.)

According to Spicer, Trump will respect Congress’ intentions regarding medical marijuana, but will reverse Obama’s laissez-faire approach to recreational cannabis. That, presumably, will involve sending federal agents to arrest, detain, and prosecute growers, dispensers, and users of recreational marijuana who are complying with state law. Spicer justified this “greater enforcement” by stating: “When you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people” to use marijuana.

Feb. 23 2017 4:45 PM

Arizona May Criminalize Involvement in Protests at Which Violence or Vandalism Occur

Good afternoon! Arizona's state Senate has voted to advance a law that the ACLU says could make protest organizers liable for prosecution if anyone—even someone they don't know—commits or is planning to commit an act of violence or property crime at said protest.

The Arizona Capitol Times has a report:

Republican state senators voted Wednesday to give police new power to arrest anyone who is involved in a peaceful demonstration that may turn bad — even before anything actually happened.
SB1142 expands the state’s racketeering laws, now aimed at organized crime, to also include rioting. And it redefines what constitutes rioting to include actions that result in damage to the property of others.

Here is the text of the law and here is some background on the unique individuals who proposed it, including a gentleman named Sonny Borrelli who has complained that anarchists are being paid to create chaos across the country and asserted at a Feb. 14 hearing that Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez would have supported his bill.

"The sponsors of the bill believe that there is some network paying people to go out and protest," Arizona ACLU spokesman Steve Kilar says. "They believe that they are creating a system that allows them to get back to these fictitious funders." The bill still needs to pass the Arizona state House and be signed by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey to become law; Kilar says the ACLU is taking that possibility "very seriously."

Feb. 23 2017 4:21 PM

Today in Conservative Media: James O’Keefe Reveals CNN’s “Leftist Bias”


A daily roundup of the biggest stories in right-wing media.

On Wednesday, conservative provocateur James O’Keefe announced on CNN that he planned to release more than 100 hours of audio recorded within that network’s headquarters in 2009. In an article titled, “CNN Throws Mud at James O’Keefe Ahead of Thursday’s Audio Bomb,” the Daily Caller mocked CNN’s Brian Stelter’s response to this threat, writing, “One thing is for certain: Stelter’s piece is a pre-emptive hit job on O’Keefe.”

After the promised Thursday release of those tapes, other conservative outlets quickly began to dig into them. Breitbart wrote that they “reveal CNN editors displaying their leftist bias.” By way of evidence, it pointed to one CNN editor’s dismissal of climate change deniers and another’s description of Fox News as “unbearable.” LifeZette focused on the former, claiming in a headline that the editor in question had “Disparaged Climate Change Doubters as ‘Creationists’ ”

Gateway Pundit covered the leak in multiple posts, including an “exclusive interview” with O’Keefe in which O’Keefe acknowledges that his source had been at CNN for some time and had “come forward” with the tapes. “Usually, we embed people … we still do that and have operative [sic] working at various organizations and media outlets as we speak.”

Another Gateway Pundit post described O’Keefe’s promise to pay $10,000 for additional recordings of “unethical” behavior from within newsrooms, as long as the resulting material is “good enough.”The Drudge Report also promoted that promise in the prime slot of its home page on Thursday afternoon:

Screen Shot 2017-02-23 at 12.18.36 PM

Drudge Report

Several conservative sites also turned their attention to Democratic National Committee chair candidate Rep. Keith Ellison. The Daily Caller published no fewer than three posts on Ellison between Wednesday and Thursday. One, which hearkened back to a claim Ellison had made in 1992, read, “Keith Ellison Once Said Black People Don’t Have ‘Obligation’ to Obey Government.” The headline of another suggested that he had “Stumble[d] When Pressed on Anti-Semitism,” though the body of the article only acknowledges that Ellison had denied that he was an anti-Semite and gone “on to cite examples of supporter [sic] in the Jewish community.” In both posts, the site noted that Ellison is a Muslim.

The Daily Caller’s third Ellison post reported that the congressman had “called Wednesday for an impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump,” news that both Breitbart and Sean Hannity’s website also covered. In its short post on the topic, the latter wrote, “This isn’t surprising for a desperate leftist party lacking new leadership, new candidates, and new ideas.” Reporting on Wednesday night’s DNC chair debate, Breitbart wrote, “‘Division’ was the word of the night.

Coverage of the Conservative Political Action Conference focused primarily on shows of unity.

On Thursday, posts about the death of Fox News anchor Alan Colmes were widely shared from conservative Facebook pages:

Feb. 23 2017 2:58 PM

New Immigration Rules Would Have Made 1990s Melania Trump a Deportation Priority


On Nov. 4, the Associated Press reported that it had obtained documents showing that Melania Trump—then known as Melania Knauss or Knaus—had been paid for modeling work performed in 1996 while she was staying in the United States on a B1/B2 visitor visa. A lawyer representing Melania Trump said the documents were not familiar to him but did not otherwise challenge their veracity or deny that she had done the work, which would have violated the terms of the visitor visa (sometimes referred to as a "tourist visa").

On Jan. 25, President Donald Trump issued an executive order prioritizing the deportation of a number of classes of individuals, among them those who have "engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency," who hadn't been considered top deportation targets under Obama. Department of Homeland Security documents released this week indicate that immigration officials are putting Trump's instructions into practice. If Donald Trump had been president in the '90s, would the deportation of his future wife have been considered a priority for immigration officers?

Yes, say two immigration attorneys I spoke to. Hasan Shafiqullah, the deputy attorney in charge of the immigration law unit at the Legal Aid Society, said, "If the current executive order on interior enforcement and the related Homeland Security memoranda on interior enforcement had been in effect at that time, then she would have certainly been an enforcement priority." New York City immigration specialist Cheryl David said that if Melania did in fact work while using a tourist visa, she "definitely violated her status, and if it came to immigration’s attention, yeah, they certainly could put her into removal proceedings." (To be clear, Melania would have been subject to deportation if she'd been caught even in 1996. What President Trump is—ostensibly—doing is putting DHS resources toward removing individuals like Melania who've—allegedly—committed transgressions that previous administrations would've considered too minor to worry about.)

Melania's violation could have come back to haunt her even though she went on to obtain an H-1B work visa on Oct. 18, 1996, become a legal permanent resident (or "green card" holder) in 2001, and become a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2006. (She married Donald Trump in 2005.) At various points in that process, the fact that Trump/Knauss had violated her tourist visa could have gotten her in trouble. If she failed to disclose the violation in her H-1B application, that may have made her ineligible for the H-1B visa, and thus ineligible for the subsequent H-1B-based green-card status, which could then have been revoked. (It's even technically possible to revoke someone's citizenship for lying on their paperwork, but that would be extremely unlikely in a case as minor as this. There is also a waiver process by which Trump/Knauss could have formally asked the U.S. government to let her off the hook for earlier misrepresentations, but her immigration file isn't public so we don't know if she availed herself of it.)

David added that the likelihood of getting caught red-handed doing something like what Melania did—then or now—is fairly low. Such a tourist-visa violation is usually only discovered, David said, if the offender leaves the country and is then caught upon re-entry by a border official who, for instance, finds pay stubs in his/her luggage or sees work contacts on his/her smartphone. Even so, the attorney added, "wealthier-looking people" like Melania—who'd already been modeling in Europe before coming to the U.S.—usually aren't carefully scrutinized for potential deportation. Under a Trump administration crackdown, though, perhaps that will change. After all, the POTUS has said, if immigrants violate U.S. law in any way, "they have to go."

Feb. 23 2017 2:51 PM

Alan Colmes, Buffoon and Patsy, Was Fox News’ Original Liberal Weakling

The death of Fox News contributor Alan Colmes, who passed away in New York City this week at the age of 66, has been greeted with an outpouring of emotion from the channel’s on-and-off-the-air talent. Colmes, it seems, was a nice guy, a good friend, and an ideal colleague: all qualities one would imagine people who have had to spend their lives around the likes of Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly would welcome. And while one should usually view tributes to the recently departed with a forgiving cynicism, in this case they are all too believable: Colmes was the most absurd, useless, and mocked television personality in America for many years, precisely because he was nice. In the context of Fox News, being a nice guy—and a “liberal” nice guy at that—meant being a buffoon, and a patsy. Colmes not only played the part to perfection—he defined it.

Colmes had a radio career, but he will almost surely be remembered for his job co-hosting Hannity & Colmes, the dreadful, morally bankrupt, Foxified version of Crossfire that ran for a dozen years and birthed the even more dreadful and morally bankrupt Hannity. The joke about Hannity & Colmes was always that Hannity dominated it to such an extent that Colmes was left as a mere bystander, asking soft questions while Hannity berated whatever liberal guest they brought on that night. This was of course true—Colmes’ air of nearly amused passivity became a running joke in itself—but it understated the way the format of the show set him up to fail. Yes, the two men appeared to have equal time during each segment, and yes, there was often a liberal guest and a conservative one. (Because it was Fox, the conservative guest was usually smarter or higher profile.) But the show, by design, was conservative, and often in racist or homophobic or Islamophobic ways.

A typical segment would begin as follows (I exaggerate only slightly): Hannity would announce that some college professor had said child molestation was fun. This professor had also once said he voted for Democrats. Therefore, the graphics would ask, why do Democrats support a national policy of mandatory pedophilia? Hannity would attack the pale, inarticulate liberal guest, and then ask the conservative how our country had gone so far off the rails. Then it would be Colmes’ turn, and he would say to the liberal guest something like, “It’s not really true that all Democrats love pedophilia, is it?” Then he would ask the conservative guest whether it was painting with too broad a brush to claim that an entire party were perverts and sadists. And that was that.

Eventually Hannity got his own show—with the football tossing and the many American flags—and Colmes was demoted to being a commentator who would occasionally weigh in on the O’Reilly Factor or some other program. He was usually paired with a conservative and would end up playing the role of the liberal guest on his previous program. I always thought this was a strategic mistake from Fox’s perspective, because Hannity is an exhausting presence, and because Colmes made liberals look dumb in a way no other Fox show could manage. To millions of Americans, Alan Colmes was liberalism.

I wrote that Colmes was a nice guy, and we should all be able to separate the personal from the political, and the personal from the professional, etc., etc., etc. But while Colmes may not have been a genius, he wasn’t a complete moron either; in short, he was smart enough to know he was being used, and to take the money that his services demanded. If this is something less than morally reprehensible, it is still pretty gross. We can mourn that Alan Colmes won’t be around to watch the political era he, as an important cog in the Fox News machine, helped usher in; unfortunately, the rest of us have no choice.

Feb. 23 2017 2:26 PM

CPAC Seems Very Confused About Whether or Not It Wants to Embrace the Alt-Right

NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland—Early on the second day of the Conservative Political Action Conference—the country’s largest annual gathering of the political right—Dan Schneider delivered an almost paternalistic lecture about dark, seductive forces afoot at his event. The executive director of the American Conservative Union, the group that organizes CPAC, started as parents often do by telling a story. A friend of his who worked in the Treasury Department had one time illuminated for him how to spot phony money.

“My friend explained to me that the way to identify a counterfeit is by looking only at the real deal,” Schneider explained. The training agents went through consisted of being shown, over a period of weeks, an endless stream of real currency. “When that counterfeit bill is slipped in it’s like a slap in the face,” he said. “It’s just so obvious and apparent.”

At that point, Schneider’s voice dropped ominously. “CPAC, we have been slapped in the face,” he said. “There is a sinister organization that is trying to worm its way into our ranks. And we must not be duped and we must not be deceived. This is serious business.”

The “organization” Schneider was describing was the “alt-right”—a name stolen, he claimed, by “left-wing fascists” from bona fide conservatives who had used the label for a long time. “They did it intentionally because they wanted to deceive the media and they wanted to deceive you all about what they stand for, so they can try to become normalized,” he said. “Hateful, left-wing fascists are not like anyone here,” he concluded. Who exactly these left-wing fascists were was left unclear. Presumably he did not mean the president’s top adviser and aide, Steve Bannon, who was invited to speak at CPAC later on Thursday and has proudly described his site, Breitbart, as "the platform for the alt-right."

Maybe he meant another avatar of that movement. As it happens, one of the people sitting not too far from the stage during Schneider’s speech was alt-right leader and white supremacist icon Richard Spencer. During the speech, Spencer tweeted indignantly that he had invented the term alt-right, a contention he would take to what started as a small gaggle of reporters just outside of the conference’s main ballroom. He told these reporters he wished there’d been a question and answer section with Schneider. “Do they grant a white person the moral legitimacy to stand up for himself? To have an identity?” I would ask that,” Spencer said. “Are you morally opposed to white people understanding themselves?

“What the alt-right is doing is clearly resonating with people,” he continued. “It’s clearly resonating with young people. And so you can basically call it names or you can ask what’s going on. Like why does a young white person feel alienated in the modern world?”

Not long after Spencer stepped out of the ballroom, he was spotted by two young white people, one of whom jumped and nearly squealed to his friend with glee.

“It’s him!” the fan exclaimed. This was J.P. Sheehan, a College Republicans president at an undisclosed New England school. “He’s, like, the coolest guy.” Out of nowhere, Sheehan, in a black Make America Great Again cap, produced a T-shirt sold by Spencer’s Radix Journal and waved it in front of Spencer to get his attention.

A few other young attendees then quickly recognized Spencer and approached him for photos, and the gaggle of reporters quickly and exponentially grew. Within minutes, Spencer was the center of a press mob that blocked passage through the hallway. As security tried to keep the crowd under control, puzzled attendees peered to get a glimpse at who’d stolen the show from the four Republican governors who had by then taken the stage. Perhaps a senator. Maybe Trump. A few caught a glimpse of Spencer, recognized him, and rendered diverging assessments to their companions.

That’s my boy, Ricky Spence!

What a scumbag.

Hang on, I want a picture.

You’re a joke, Spencer!


Spencer took questions from the press for nearly an hour and a half. At one point, Matt Schlapp, the president of the ACU who would later moderate that panel with Bannon, came out to try to draw the press’ attention away from Spencer. He largely failed. I asked Schlapp, who came under fire over the weekend for initially standing by his invitation of then Breitbart tech editor Milo Yiannopoulos to the conference, whether Spencer would be asked to leave. Schlapp would not say. “Look, this is America, and we have to deal with the laws,” he replied obliquely. “All I can tell you is that if he had comments that we’d agree with, he’d be on our stage. And he’s not on our stage.”

Spencer's in there somewhere, we promise.

Osita Nwanevu

At around 11:20 a.m., though, Spencer—still surrounded by reporters—was asked to give up his credentials and leave. Security told New York magazine's Olivia Nuzzi—with clarity that had eluded Schlapp—that Spencer’s views denied him a place at CPAC even though he had bought a ticket.* Shortly after this, a speaker took the main stage to explain how Muslim student organizations were working to import jihadist ideology to the United States—highlighting, almost comically, the xenophobia that has drawn some from the right wing into Spencer's movement.

Not long before being booted, Spencer remarked on the reception he’d received.

"I feel very welcome here,” he told a reporter. “Nobody's punching me yet."

*Correction, Feb. 24, 2017: This article originally misstated that Olivia Nuzzi is employed at the Daily Beast. She is now Washington correspondent for New York magazine.

Feb. 23 2017 12:41 PM

The Unintended Consequences of Deporting Criminals

Wednesday, in a meeting with Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, U.S. Homeland Security chief John Kelly appeared to contradict the prevalent understanding of Donald Trump’s recent deportation directives, assuring the Guatemalans that rather than deporting people en masse, the administration would simply step up deportations of people with criminal records.

Deporting undocumented people who commit crimes in the United States is the kind of policy that tends to get wide bipartisan support, even from people who are relatively sympathetic to immigration reform. The Obama administration deported such people at a record clip. But while the optics are certainly better than deporting hard-working families who are law-abiding aside from their immigration status, deporting “bad hombres,” as Trump memorably put it, is not without consequences. In fact, past rounds of this kind of deportation are in part driving much of the migration into the U.S. today.

Take the transnational mara criminal gangs, notably MS-18 and Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, which originated in Los Angeles and grew during the 1980s as a result of an influx of Salvadoran and Guatemalan refugees. Many of those refugees had come to the United States as children, fleeing their home countries’ long-running civil wars, in which the U.S. provided aid to anti-leftist forces. After the Rodney King riots of the early 1990s, California passed tough anti-gang laws. Congress also passed legislation making it easier to deport illegal immigrants with criminal records around that time. Between 1998 and 2005, the United States deported nearly 46,000 convicts to Central America, according to a 2009 report by the Small Arms Survey. The report describes what happened next:

Three countries—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—received more than 90 per cent of the deportations from the United States (USAID, 2006, pp. 18–19). Many of these deportees were members of the 18th Street and Salvatrucha gangs who had arrived in the United States as toddlers but had never secured legal residency or citizenship; they had joined the gangs as a way to feel included in a receiving country that often actively impeded their integration. On being sent back to countries of origin that they barely knew, deportees reproduced the structures and behaviour patterns that had provided them with support and security in the United States. They swiftly founded local clikas, or chapters, of their gang in their communities of origin; in turn, these clikas rapidly attracted local youths and either supplanted or absorbed pandillas [local gangs].

Driven largely by gang violence, Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate, El Salvador is second, and Guatemala is ninth. And the problem doesn’t stay in Central America. As Matthew Quirk wrote for the Atlantic in 2008, “Salvadoran police report that 90 percent of deported gang members return to the U.S. After several spins through the deportation-and-return cycle, MS-13 members now control many of the ‘coyote’ services that bring aliens up from Central America.”

They also create the violence that causes their law-abiding neighbors to flee. Unauthorized immigration from Central America has been steadily growing in recent years as immigration from Mexico has declined, including thousands of unaccompanied minors fleeing gang violence and poverty.

The U.S. contributed and prolonged Central America’s violence during the Cold War by arming and funding anti-communist governments and rebels, including those involved in vicious human rights abuses, prompting Central Americans to flee to the United States. Then in the 1990s, the U.S. deported criminals back to these countries, while simultaneously supporting government crackdowns on gangs and drug smugglers, essentially feeding both sides of increasingly deadly conflicts and driving a new round of migration.

Trump may believe that with deportations and a big beautiful wall he can cut the United States off from Central America’s problems, but he’s more likely just kicking off the next phase of the deadly cycle.

Feb. 23 2017 9:18 AM

Good Morning From CPAC: Richard Spencer Was Here, Has Been Kicked Out

NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland—Alt-right leader Richard Spencer was spotted at the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual gathering of conservative movement activists and leaders, on Thursday morning.* Spencer, has made at least one other appearance at CPAC as reported in Slate by David Weigel in 2014. The latest visit comes just days after the rescinding of an invitation to Milo Yiannopoulos to deliver the conference’s keynote address.

Spencer makes a habit of attending political events to court controversy. He was in Cleveland for the Republican National Convention in 2016 and was booted out of a libertarian gathering on Saturday.

At least one other leader of the alt-right has made a previous appearance at CPAC. In 2013, Matthew Heimbach of the white nationalist Traditionalist Youth Network came to CPAC with a companion who infamously suggested that slavery benefited slaves during a Q&A session at a panel on race.

Update Feb. 23, 2017, at 9:24 a.m.: Spencer is tweeting from the crowd of the conference, where White House counselor Kellyanne Conway is currently being interviewed.

Update Feb. 23, 2017, at 11:51 a.m.: And Spencer has now reportedly been kicked out of CPAC.

*Correction, Feb. 23, 2017: This post originally misstated when Spencer was seen at CPAC. It was Thursday, not Friday.

Feb. 22 2017 10:38 PM

Republican Senator Says Subpoenaing Trump’s Tax Returns a Possibility in Russia Investigation

Maine Sen. Susan Collins, unlike many of her Republican colleagues, indicated during an interview Wednesday on Maine Public Radio that she might just be serious about investigating the president and his administration’s shadowy relationship with Russia. As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Collins is involved in the probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and said Wednesday she is open to the possibility of subpoenaing President Trump’s tax returns, as part of the investigation, to ensure he doesn’t have any untoward dealings with Russia.

“I don’t know whether we will need to do that,” Collins said. “If it is necessary to get to the answers, then I suspect that we would.” Collins also indicated members of the Intelligence Committee will be requesting former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn appear before the committee. It was not clear if those hearings would be held in private or in public. Collins’ comments indicate an increasing interest in probing the Trump team’s Russian ties although the Maine Republican’s willingness to compel the president to release, at least hypothetically, his taxes as part of a broader investigation goes farther than her Republican colleagues in the Senate. “All of us are determined to get the answers,” Collins said. “In some ways, this is a counterintelligence cooperation—in many ways—and that’s what our committee specializes in.”

Feb. 22 2017 8:18 PM

Trump Administration Revokes Federal Protections for Transgender Students

The Trump administration removed federal protections for transgender students Wednesday evening, effectively rolling back Obama administration legal guidelines that allowed students in public schools to use the bathroom and locker room aligned with their chosen gender, not their sex at birth. The Trump administration cited states’ rights as the primary motivation for the change and kicked the contentious issue back to individual states and local school districts to draw up bathroom policies for transgender students that do not violate federal anti-discrimination law.

“Officials with the federal Education and Justice departments notified the U.S. Supreme Court that it was ordering the nation’s schools to disregard memos the Obama administration issued during the past two years that said prohibiting transgender students from using facilities that align with their gender identity violates federal anti-discrimination laws,” the Washington Post reports.

The two-page ‘dear colleague’ letter included in a Supreme Court filing late Wednesday does not offer schools any new guidance, instead saying that the earlier directive needed to be withdrawn because it lacked extensive legal analysis, did not go through a public vetting process and sowed confusion and legal challenges. The administration said that it would not rely on the prior interpretation of the law going forward.

“Congress, state legislatures, and local governments are in a position to adopt appropriate policies or laws addressing this issue,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement Wednesday. “The Department of Justice remains committed to the proper interpretation and enforcement of Title IX and to its protections for all students, including LGBTQ students, from discrimination, bullying, and harassment.”

“The question of how to address bathroom access, which the Obama White House clarified last year, had opened a rift inside the Trump administration, pitting Betsy DeVos, the secretary of education, against Jeff Sessions, the attorney general,” the New York Times reports. “The new policy overruled the advice of President Trump’s education secretary and placed his administration firmly in the middle of the culture wars that many Republicans have tried to leave behind.”