Category: Politics

The NFL and Politics

I’ve been a football fan for as long as I can remember, for both college and the pros. I grew up in Atlanta on Steve Bartkowski and Herschel Walker and having my heart broken (although this year’s Super Bowl was probably the biggest sports heartbreak of my life). But there’s something to fall weekends when you can just on turn on the TV and watch a game between two teams you don’t care about that is unique and special.

This year, we’re seeing a bit more controversy though. NFL ratings are down significantly. There’s a lot of blame being thrown around and a lot of it is being thrown at politics, particularly the recent trend of black players taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police misconduct.

First of all, I don’t think that’s the reason for the NFL’s ratings drop. It is probably a reason, but not the reason. Ratings had been going up for a long time but weren’t going to rise forever. There is a growing concern about the damage the game does to players’ bodies and minds, particularly with regard to CTE. That is the one thing that really gives me pause. The dominance of certain teams — Alabama in the college ranks, New England in the pros — has turned some people off. The Falcons were the closest thing we’ve had to a Cinderella in recent year and, come on, even this lifelong Falcons fan has to admit they weren’t going to capture America’s hearts. Some people say the quality of play is down, but I’m not convinced.

But, second of all … I do think politics are a problem for the NFL. It’s very easy for the elites in our society to forget, but players kneeling during the national anthem bothers people. Politics being injected into the NFL bothers people. It may not seem like a big deal when you’re inside the political bubble. But, for most people in this country, sports is a place where we can be passionate, angry, elated, dejected or thrilled without having to worry about politics. While watching the Super Bowl last year, I shared my excitement and then my devastation with Falcons fans of all political stripes. That’s the beauty of the thing. As Doug Mataconis likes to post every year:

We’re tired of politics in everything. We’re tired of it in our movies — witness the drop in this year’s box office. We’re tired of it in awards shows — notice the plunging ratings. And we’re tired of it in our sports. Politics infests our lives in too many ways and many of us just wanted a damned break.

It’s not that I’m not sympathetic. I do think these players have a point. I will never understand how enraging it must be to see cops caught on video gunning down unarmed black people only to be acquitted. Yeah, some of those shootings turns out to be justified (e.g, Michael Brown). But not all of them. And every time it happens, the media starts going through the dead man’s past to find any black mark that can retroactively justify his death. It is a relentless and maddening rhythm. So … I’m not going to begrudge them their small non-violent protest. I’m not going to tell them to just shut up and play football.

But protest comes at a price. There is always a price to pay for social activism. And that price may be falling ratings and a lot less money. I suspect Kaepernick et al. are fine with the price being paid if it brings attention to the issue. But let’s not pretend there isn’t a price or be all surprised when the bill comes due.

Cersei Clinton

Hillary Clinton has a book coming out blaming everyone but herself for her loss in 2016. It’s mostly an academic exercise. The election was so closely decided — 70,000 votes in three states — that you could literally blame it on anything you want. Comey’s letter? Yeah, that might have moved the polls less than a percent. Sexism? Sure. Bernie? Of course. Russia? Fine. In the end, however, she won the popular vote. She lost the election because three states she was supposed to win easily — Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan — went to Trump by tiny margins. And she barely campaigned in those states. Everything else — Comey, Russia, Bernie, sexism, Mars being in the house of the ram — were not things she could control. The one thing she could control — campaigning in those states — was the thing she didn’t do.

Anyway, excerpts from the book are coming out now and some of them just make you say … Wut?

In the book, Clinton manages to work in references to both Game of Thrones and The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel that is now a hit Hulu drama. Because Clinton is down with the kids.

“Crowds at Trump rallies called for my imprisonment more times than I can count,” Clinton writes. “They shouted, ‘Guilty! Guilty!’ like the religious zealots in Game of Thrones chanting ‘Shame! Shame!’ while Cersei Lannister walked back to the Red Keep.”

Clinton refers to GoT’s Season 5 finale, “Mother’s Mercy,” in which Cersei—confessing to adultery—is forced to walk, naked, through King’s Landing to atone for her sins under the radical Faith Militant religious group’s regime. All the while, Septa Unella, walks behind her ringing a bell and chanting “Shame,” while passersby heckle and spit at her.

This is … not a comparison Clinton should be making (assuming it’s genuine and not just made up for gits and shiggles). First of all, Cersei was guilty of adultery. And incest. And treason. And everything else under the sun. Second, Cersei became queen, which Clinton never managed to do. Third, just … seriously? I can’t put it better than Robby Soave:

What’s the difference between Game of Thrones character Cersei Lannister and failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton? One is an entitled narcissist who quietly supported her lecherous husband (whom she clearly loathed) when it was politically convenient, then insisted it was her turn to rule (even though it wasn’t), chose boot-lickers, ass-kissers, and elitist bankers as her advisors while alienating more competent and better-liked people who might have helped her, exacted petty vengeance on imagined enemies, escaped justice and the judgment of the people by destroying her main rival—the charismatic, income-inequality obsessed populist—with an explosive cheat, and was left confused why so many people in her country would rather be ruled by a complete political unknown who tells it like it is.

The other fucks her twin brother.

I suspect this was inserted by a ghost writer or someone who wasn’t terribly familiar with the series. I’m reminded of Joe Posnanski writing about Ted Cruz (who had his own hilarity today):

One of my dream jobs is to become a political sports consultant. It works pretty simply. Let’s say that Carly Fiorina decides during her Iowa caucus campaigning to send what she might later call a “tongue-in-cheek” tweet about how she loves her alma mater Stanford, but she’s “rooting for a Hawkeyes win today” in the Rose Bowl.

I would tell her: Don’t do it. That’s all. If it is a joke, nobody will get the joke. And if it’s a pander, hey, that’s fine, but it’s a terrible pander. No real sports fan in Iowa would expect you to root against your alma mater in a bowl game.

I bring this up now, obviously, because I sure as heck wish that presidential candidate Ted Cruz had come to me first. He was in the gym where they filmed much of the movie “Hoosiers,” and he was referring to the scene where coach Norman Dale has his players use a tape measure to show that the rim is the same height in Indianapolis as it was in little ol’ Hickory.

“The amazing thing is,” Cruz said, “that basketball ring in Indiana, it’s the same height as it is in New York City and every other place in this country.”

Basketball ring. He called it a basketball ring.

“Fortunately,” the writer Anthony Castrovince tweets, “It was in Indiana. Not a big basketball state.”

Great “Spinal Tap” reference. Anyway, I feel like one of those “superheroes” who helplessly watches a senseless calamity. I could have stopped him.

It’s hard to know exactly where “basketball ring” falls in the list of awkward sports talk by politicians. At first glance, it seems like THE most awkward because, honestly, nobody on planet earth has ever referred to a “basketball ring” except when pointing out that Carmelo Anthony hasn’t won one. Put it this way: My 14-year-old daughter laughed, and she actively loathes sports.

Politicians desperately need a position of “pop culture advisor” who will keep them from doing things like comparing themselves to the biggest villain in a popular TV series or urging their supporter to “Pokemon Go” to the polls.

Trump’s Deal

So, here’s the thing. Yesterday, Trump, during intense negotiations over the debt ceiling, basically caved into the Democrats:

President Trump struck a deal with Democratic congressional leaders on Wednesday to increase the debt limit and finance the government until mid-December, blindsiding his own Republican allies as he reached across the aisle to resolve a major dispute for the first time since taking office.

The agreement would avert a fiscal showdown later this month without the bloody, partisan battle that many had anticipated by combining a debt ceiling increase and stopgap spending measure with relief aid to Texas and other areas devastated by Hurricane Harvey. But without addressing the fundamental underlying issues, it set up the prospect for an even bigger clash at the end of the year.

Mr. Trump not only accepted the spending-and-debt plan advanced by Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leaders, but also aligned himself with them on immigration. A day after rescinding President Barack Obama’s program protecting younger illegal immigrants on the grounds that it went beyond a president’s authority, Mr. Trump said he wanted to work with Democrats to legalize the program.

“We had a very good meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer,” Mr. Trump told reporters after the Oval Office session without mentioning that Mr. Ryan and other Republican leaders had also attended. Regarding the immigration program, Mr. Trump said, “Chuck and Nancy would like to see something happen, and so do I.”

Mr. Schumer and Ms. Pelosi pressed for a three-month deal to keep the government running and raise the debt ceiling along with the hurricane aid to give Democrats leverage later this year when other matters, including a longer-term government funding deal, could be negotiated between the two parties. By ensuring that all the pending issues converge at the end of the year, Democrats hope a longer-term agreement on fiscal matters could include immigration, health care and any number of other issues.

So instead of siding with the Republicans to push for an 18-month debt ceiling hike that would push the issue past the 2018 elections, Trump decided to deal with Pelosi and Schumer to put us on the path to yet another fiscal crisis in December. I’m normally one for compromise. That’s how government has to work. But when you compromise, you should get something. Trump’s gain was a Harvey relief package that was going to pass anyway. He didn’t get immigration reform or a Wall or tax cuts or anything else. But he gave the Democrats the crisis they need to force their issues to the floor in December. Mainly, as far as I can tell, so that he could boast about having made a deal.

Here’s the thing. For years, Republican leadership have been pilloried and blasted for making deals with Obama. The debt ceiling deal, the fiscal cliff, the sequester — the deals that cut the budget deficit in half by keeping spending flat for six years. These were supposedly the actions of “RINOs”. Yet these deals were way more favorable to conservative interests than the one Trump just cut. And yet the same people who blasted Republicans for “giving in” to Obama are praising Trump for bypassing Republican leadership.

The revelation I have had since 2016 … and a big reason my blogging has tailed off … is because I’ve realized that a lot of people don’t really care about issues. They care about identity. And nowhere is this more distilled than in the ongoing presidency of Donald Trump. The support for Trump is not based on issues or philosophy or conservatism. It’s based on one or both of two Cults of Personality: one based on worship of Trump; the other based on hatred of Obama. Cutting deals, no matter bad they are, is suddenly OK.

DACA in Danger

So this happened:

The Trump administration on Tuesday formally announced the end of DACA — a program that had protected nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children from deportation.

The Department of Homeland Security will stop processing any new applications for the program as of Tuesday and rescinded the Obama administration policy, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
“I am here today to announce that the program known as DACA that was effectuated under the Obama administration is being rescinded,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Tuesday at the Justice Department.

Trump has given the program six months to live and challenged Congress to replace it. He has, however, undermined that a bit by saying he might “revisit” the issue if Congress fails to act. DACA originally passed the House but fell five votes short of breaking a Senate filibuster. So Obama enacted it by Executive Order.

First of all, I think this demonstrates yet again how dangerous rule by Executive Order is. Thanks to DACA, about 800,000 individuals came forward to gain status under it. They provided the government with tons of documentation on their location, how they came into this country illegally and so on. But because DACA was passed with the stroke of a pen, it can now be undone with one. And so now these people are more vulnerable deportation because they tried to do the right thing.

And that brings to the second point, which is how cruel and pointless this policy is. DACA isn’t an amnesty. It grants legal work permits to people who came into this country as minors, have not broken the law and are either in school, have graduated school or are in the armed forces. On balance, they add to our economy. Cutting them out of the workforce would impose billions in compliance costs, estimated to be along the impact of a few dozen new regulations. These are the kind of immigrants — working, law-abiding, serving — that we want. And now they are in danger of being sent to countries they have never lived in so that can Trump can pander to the nativists.

The gripping hand however is that … Trump is right in one respect. DACA is something that Congress should do, not the President. They’ve been screwing around with this legislation for 16 years. I don’t know that this kind of deadline will make them do their damned job (although the fiscal cliff and debt ceiling games of chicken worked). But they need to stop playing around. It’s time to make DACA permanent. And it’s time to do it through the proper legislative process.

Antifa on the Attack

No matter how much I might criticize the GOP, Trump or anyone else, that will never diminish my disgust for the crap like this:

Their faces hidden behind black bandannas and hoodies, about 100 anarchists and antifa— “anti-fascist” — members barreled into a protest Sunday afternoon in Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park.

Jumping over plastic and concrete barriers, the group melted into a larger crowd of around 2,000 that had marched peacefully throughout the sunny afternoon for a “Rally Against Hate” gathering.

Shortly after, violence began to flare. A pepper-spray-wielding Trump supporter was smacked to the ground with homemade shields. Another was attacked by five black-clad antifa members, each windmilling kicks and punches into a man desperately trying to protect himself. A conservative group leader retreated for safety behind a line of riot police as marchers chucked water bottles, shot off pepper spray and screamed, “Fascist go home!”

Let’s be clear. These weren’t Nazis. Or Klan members. These were peaceful protesters marching in opposition to Marxism and support of Trump. And Antifa set upon them, even (according to rumor) beating a passerby into a coma. There’s plenty of video if you want it.

In the wake of Charlottesville, there was a brief surge of portraying Antifa as heroes for fighting against fascism. There were even bizarre comparisons made to World War II. But this is not fighting against fascism. This is using violence to shut down speech Antifa doesn’t like. It’s disgraceful. And if the Republicans were as slow to denounce similar violence as the Democrats have been to denounce this violence, it would be a national scandal.

Months ago, someone sucker punched Richard Spencer. I and many others objected to it, pointing out that this was using violence against a man who, while hateful and vile, was not engaged in violence. The Left split on this, with some opposing it but many saying punching a Nazi was OK because … you know … Nazis.

But now we’re seeing that the “don’t punch people” side was right. It has proven to be a very short leap from “punch a Nazi” to “punch a Trump supporter” to “beat the hell out of anyone you think might be”.

Wrong Robert Lee

I have somewhat mixed feelings about the current debate over the removal of confederate statues. I see the point of the defenders that they reflect pride and history. And I am against vigilantes pulling them down on their own. But I also see the point of the critics: that these statues were mostly erected in the 1920’s and 1950’s, when America was undergoing spasms of racial strife. Some — like the Battle of Liberty Place Monument — were specifically erected as an act of defiance against the federal government by racists. I probably end up where Radley Balko is: preferring they be moved from places of honor to museums or parks where their context can be given. But I certainly see the other side of this debate and don’t think it is entirely defined by racist shitheads.

The question always gets asked: where do you draw the line? Should statues of Jefferson and Washington come down, too? But first of all, you’ve already drawn a line. I doubt that anyone would want statues of Che or Mao or Stalin or Hitler in a places of honor. If you favor keeping the current confederate statues up, you’re just drawing the line behind Jeff Davis rather than in front of him. Second, line-drawing is what we do in politics. We say that consensual sex is OK, but non-consensual is not. We say that killing someone in self-defense is OK, but murder is not. We draw lines constantly. And I see no reason why we can’t at least debate where the line gets drawn on statues. Agreeing with the Lefty Kooks on one thing does not mean you have to agree with them on everything. There’s no law of nature or politics requiring that we let this be a slippery slope.

For example

On Tuesday night, [ESPN] confirmed that its management moved an Asian-American announcer, Robert Lee, off the University of Virginia’s home opener football game “simply because of the coincidence of his name.”

Earlier Tuesday, a source had told CNN that Lee was abruptly switched to the Youngstown versus Pitt game. He had recently been promoted by ESPN, so the switch was a sensitive matter.

News of the decision follows the violence that broke out earlier this month at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, protesting plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The night before the deadly violence, white nationalists marched across the UVA campus, carrying torches and chanting racist slogans.

This is … ridiculous. And I’m sure the network realized it about ten seconds into the ensuing uproar. There is a valid debate to be had over Robert E. Lee’s character and legacy. I can see why some people might be offended by venerating the man who fought for slavery. But, Christ, his name is not kryptonite to black people. Just hearing that name, or someone with a similar name, is not going to make them weep. Removing him isn’t going to ease racial tension by one iota. And while the debate over the confederacy’s legacy is an interesting one, it is not the most important race issue we face right now.

On the Brink

Hmmm:

North Korea’s military is “examining the operational plan” to strike areas around Guam with medium-to-long-range strategic ballistic missiles, state-run news agency KCNA said early Wednesday local time.

Specifically, the statement mentioned a potential strike on “Andersen Air Force Base in which the US strategic bombers, which get on the nerves of the DPRK and threaten and blackmail it through their frequent visits to the sky above south Korea, are stationed and to send a serious warning signal to the US.”
Guam’s Office of Civil Defense issued a statement Wednesday saying there was no imminent threat to the safety of the US territory’s residents and visitors. Around 160,000 people live on Guam, including thousands of US troops.

The immediate cause of this appears to have been Trump’s statement that if the Norks continued to threaten the US, they would “face fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

There are several things to unroll here in the building tension with North Korea. North Korea has nukes, but it’s not clear that they can mate them to missiles (yet). If a conventional military engagement occurred, we could easily beat them. But the cost would be catastrophic — most likely Seoul bombarded with one of the largest artillery actions in history. Thousands, maybe tens of thousands dead and one of the world’s economic powerhouses reduced to rubble. Not to mention the potential of an engagement with China.

The X-factor, of course, is our own nuclear weapons which Trump has single and unconstrained control over. And Trump is showing, every day, that everything we feared about his temperament is correct. Rick Wilson:

Some presidents meet crisis with resolve and discipline. Some have a team of serious, capable advisers who bring knowledge, focus, and insight into complex regions and actors. Some have guts. Some have intellectual horsepower and mental bandwidth. Some understand people and power.

What we know of Donald Trump is that he lacks all of these characteristics, and while some of his advisers have shining parts, he ignores those who offer him counsel on how to behave, govern, and lead as a president. The Scaramucci sideshow was one more example of how deeply unready Trump is for a real crisis and how at risk our nation is because the president is temperamentally (and, let’s be real, mentally) unfit to serve. Donald Trump the television character—decisive, worldly, smart, and always in control—is precisely the opposite of Donald Trump the man. The real Donald Trump is moody, needy, shallow, and impulsive.

This is something we forget. The Trump Administration is under siege during a time of peace and reasonable prosperity. But a real crisis is coming. Even if cooler heads prevail in Korea, it could be something else: a terrorist attack, an attack on an ally, a stock market crash, something. Has anything Trump has done so far made you think he’s capable of dealing with it?

For what it’s worth, I don’t know that there is a solution to the North Korean situation. But if there is one, I am not confident that we have the leadership in place to achieve it.

Empathy Part II: Why Trump Won

So, a few weeks ago, I wrote about how a lack of empathy has wrecked our political system. There was an aspect of political empathy, however, that didn’t fit into that post and that I wanted to riff on. It’s the role that empathy plays in the success of politicians rather than in political discourse.

One of the big realizations of 2016 for me was that issues don’t matter as much as we’d like to think. Oh, they matter … on the edges. But our politics have become so tribal that 60 million Republicans would happily vote for a big-government authoritarian and 60 million Democrats would happily vote for globalist darling of Wall Street. There is a growing body of evidence that people define themselves by their political party, not their philosophy. And when that party changes its views, they change with the party. So suddenly, Democrats favored free trade while Republicans opposed it. Democrats though Russia was the quintessence of evil while Republicans thought they were misunderstood. An amoral sexual predator became an acceptable political leader for Republicans and an amoral money grubber became an acceptable political leader for Democrats … as long as they beat the other side’s amoral pig.

But while tribalism is an appealing and glib explanation for 2016, I think there’s more to it than that. One of the things that doesn’t get talked about too much is the importance of the perception — however flawed — that a party is listening to your concerns and cares about your concerns regardless of whether or not they have a solution for them. That is, that the party shows empathy to its constituents.

Every year, African-Americans voter overwhelmingly Democratic, despite the failure of the Democratic party to deliver anything resembling prosperity. Democrats have avidly supported policies — urban renewal, the welfare state, the War on Drugs — that I believe have made things worse for black people. So why do black people vote for them? Because Democrats listen to them. Because they go to churches and local meetings and listen. And even if they don’t do anything about black people’s concerns, the fact that they are being listened to matters. Remember when Rand Paul spoke at an historically black college? The media mocked him for making a few faux pas. But the students liked it. They were happy that a Republican was trying to reach out to them. Even if they disagreed with him, the fact that he made an effort and listened to them mattered. And if the GOP continued on that effort, they would start getting black votes. Because when the GOP does not try to get black votes, that sends a message too: “We don’t give a damn about you.”

And there’s a flip side to that, one that reared it’s head strongly in 2016. Every year, pundits wonder “what’s the matter with Kansas?” — why do rural voters vote “against their economic interests”. I’ll put aside the idea that wealth redistribution and big welfare states are “in people’s interests”. The real reason that rural voters support Republicans is because Republicans listen to them and Democrats don’t. Republicans may not have solutions to the problems of rural voters. But on many rural voters’ concerns — immigration, outsourcing, drugs, etc. — Republicans listen. And listening is far more important, politically, than solving.

We all used to joke about Bill Clinton saying “I feel your pain”. But we shouldn’t have. That was Bill Clinton’s greatest strength as a politician. He may have been a liar with the sexual habits of a Delta Tau Chi toga party. But he was probably the best President in my lifetime at making people feel like he understood, like he knew what they were going through. And a lot of the time that’s all people want, to feel like their concerns are not just being ignored, even if they aren’t or can’t be addressed.

The 2016 election puzzled a lot of people because Donald Trump won traditional Democratic constituencies in the midwest. But it was no puzzle to me. In “Shattered”, the authors note that Clinton did not want to campaign in the Midwest because she knew her pro-trade stance was unpopular. But by not campaigning, she gave a much worse message: “I don’t give a damn about you.”

Now imagine an alternative universe where Clinton gave a series of speeches like so:

Yes, I supported NAFTA. And I still think it was a good call. On balance, it has benefited our nation immensely. But over the last two decades, we’ve found that it didn’t benefit everyone. Some communities got hit very hard by it. This is why I changed my position on TPP. Because I want to make sure that this time we get it right and we take care of the communities that will be hurt before we sign the deal.

That wouldn’t necessarily have been truthful. But if she’d given something like that speech, she’d be President today. Because even if she didn’t have a solution to the problems of unemployment, drugs and crime hitting rural communities, she’d at least have given the impression that she cared.

We know that because that’s why Trump is President. Because for all the sexism and bigotry and pussy-groping and incoherence, Trump gave the impression, in his clumsy way, that he felt people’s pain. That he was aware of how people felt about trade and immigration and crime and Washington corruption. And while his policies were nonsense and he’s doing little to help people in rural America, they voted for him because at least he seemed to give a damn, no matter authentic you think that damn was. A good politician would have torn him apart, of course. But Clinton was such a poor politician, she made Donald Trump look like the caring sympathetic one.

(As an aside, this is one of the reasons why libertarianism will always be a niche political philosophy and a big reason why it tends to be male-dominated. It is filled to the brim with theoreticians who have all the ideas in the world but little understanding of human nature.)

Empathy matters. Being listened to matters. It’s matters in our politics; it matters in our elections. And until the Democrats start to empathize with unwashed masses between the coasts, they will continue to lose elections.

The Shakeup

Plenty to write about, but little time. It’s been a crazy week for Team Trump though. First, they hired Anthony Scaramucci as communications director. Scaramucci instantly declared war on leakers, threatened to fire the entire communications staff, gave an off-color interview slamming other members of the Administration, then had a fit because a newspaper printed his on-the-record interview as well as published his financial records, which are public. Sean Spicer subsequently resigned. Then today, Trump’s Chief of Staff Prince Reibus, having been described by Scaramucci as a paranoid schizophrenic, resigned. In the meantime, we still have a lot of positions at defense and state going unfilled.

I’ll have more to say on the trans soldier ban, the failed Obamacare repeal and other things. But this Administration is devolving into a mess. It’s like Game of Thrones, only everyone is Viserys.

Sessions Embraces Thievery

Of all the appointments that Trump has made, the appointment of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General was the one I most opposed. The AG has a lot of power and Sessions’ ideas on crime are … archaic might be a generous word. He has ordered reviews of the consent decrees on troubled police departments. He wants to restore mandatory minimum drug sentences. He wants to revive DARE, one of the biggest wastes of money in the history of the Drug War. The Democrats focused on his past racism. But while I was concerned about that, I was way more concerned with his approach to law and order, one defined by more prisons, more cops, more laws, less freedom. You should read Radley Balko taking apart one of Sessions’ speeches on the Drug War, showing over and over again that Sessions is poorly informed and out of touch with what’s been going on in criminal justice reform for the last decade or so.

Yesterday, he dropped a bombshell:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions just made it easier for police to seize cash and property from people suspected ─ but not necessarily charged with or convicted ─ of crimes.

He did it by eliminating an Obama administration directive that prevented local law enforcement from circumventing state restrictions on forfeiture of civil assets. The technique was embraced in the early years of the war on drugs, but it has since been linked to civil rights abuses: people losing cash, cars and homes without any proven link to illegal activity; police taking cash in exchange for not locking suspects up; a legal system that makes it hard for victims to get their possessions back.

Two dozen states have made it harder for authorities to take property from suspects without first securing criminal convictions. Three have outlawed it entirely, according to the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit that advocates for reform.

Multiple states — conservative states — have been reigning in asset forfeiture as abusive and unconstitutional. Police departments have been trying to bypass these rules through “adoption” — getting the federal government to nominally participate in the case so they can just take the money regardless of state law. It is a perversion of the law and abuse of state’s rights. Eric Holder put a stop to that, requiring the Feds to respect state law in the matter, one of the few things he did right. Sessions now wants to reverse that. There are a few little protections left in place — review of seizures and scrutiny of smaller amounts. But this amount to open season.

Words can not express my disgust at this. Civil asset forfeiture — in which the property is charged with a crime and its owners must prove their innocence to get it back — is a violation of our most basic constitutional rights. The IJ calls it “policing for profit” and some police departments — notably that of Tenaha Texas — have become notorious for abusing the process. It shows the duplicity of supposed federalists like Sessions that they are all about “state’s rights” when it comes to discrimination but suddenly all against them the second a state wants to shore up the basic civil liberties of its citizens.

National Review:

This is almost certainly unconstitutional, something that conservatives ought to understand instinctively. Like the Democrats’ crackpot plan to revoke the Second Amendment rights of U.S. citizens who have been neither charged with nor convicted of a crime simply for having been fingered as suspicious persons by some anonymous operative in Washington, seizing an American’s property because a police officer merely suspects that he might be a drug dealer or another species of miscreant does gross violence to the basic principle of due process. No doubt many of the men and women on the terrorism watch list are genuine bad guys, and no doubt many of those who have lost their property to asset forfeiture are peddling dope. But we are a nation of laws, which means a nation of procedural justice. If the DEA or the LAPD wants to punish a drug trafficker, then let them build a case, file charges, and see the affair through to a conviction. We have no objection to seizing the property of those convicted of drug smuggling — or of crimes related to terrorism, or many other kinds of offenses. We object, as all Americans should object, to handing out these punishments in the absence of a criminal conviction.

Conor Friedersdorf:

This was highway robbery perpetrated against American citizens by their own government. The official euphemism for the practice: “Civil-asset forfeiture.” And egregious abuses have happened in every region of the country. Over the last fifteen years, I have heard these abuses criticized by people from almost every part of the political right. The issue united conservatives at National Review and the Claremont Institute with Cato Institute libertarians and right-wing populists at Breitbart.

Conor also quote from Clarence Thomas’s scathing rejection of civil asset forfeiture, a must-read.

Ciaramella:

Lee was referring to conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ notable dissent in an asset forfeiture case this June. Thomas wrote that forfeiture operations “frequently target the poor and other groups least able to defend their interests in forfeiture proceedings.”

Data on asset forfeiture backs up what Thomas says. A Reason investigation of more than 23,000 police seizures in Cook County, Illinois over the last five years showed that Chicago’s poor neighborhoods were hit hardest by asset forfeiture. A similar investigation of Mississippi court records showed that law enforcement recorded many big hauls of cash, but the records were also littered with petty and abusive seizures.

A 2014 Washington Post investigative series found that warrantless police seizures of cash through the equitable sharing program have boomed since 9/11, hauling in $2.5 billion. Also in 2014, for the first time ever, the U.S. government seized more property from Americans than burglars did.

You can also watch John Oliver’s takedown of the practice.

If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that maybe Congress or the Court will wake up from their Constitutional stupor and put hard restraints on this abusive practice. But I prefer not to depend on that. Opposition to Sesssions’ directive should be immediate, sharp and relentless. We should not take one step back when it comes to civil asset forfeiture.