Law

trump pouting

We Need to Talk About the Defense Bill Veto

As promised, Donald Trump has vetoed the Defense Spending Bill

For those who don’t spend their days happily digging through policy and nomming on the legalese, the Defense Spending Bill is, basically, the bill that pays for the Military and all of its related…stuff. It pays for everything from paying the wages of the people who are currently actively serving in our armed forces to making sure that the lights stay on at Base Whateverthefrick. 

It is yet another tiny-fisted punch in the face of every single person who has or is currently serving in the military and to the people who love them and depend on them for their safety and livelihoods. 

If it’s so important, then, why did he veto it?

The short answer? Because he can. 

The longer answer? Because he’s mad at Twitter, mad at Congress, mad at voters, and doesn’t actually understand how laws, like, work and stuff.

The official answer? If you want to read the whole thing, the White House has released Trump’s Official Veto Message for anybody who wants to read it. 

If you don’t want to read the whole thing (and who can blame you), there are four main reasons he gives for vetoing, among other things, a 3% raise in pay to active service members. 

1. Because, like, China sucks, yo.

Note: He does not go into any sort of detail of *how* funding the military creates “a gift” to the Chinese, he just insists that it does. 

2. Because racism is awesome!

The bill contains funding earmarked for changing the names of some military bases that are currently named for Confederates—you know, the guys who insisted that white humans should totes be able to own non-white humans and treat them in whatever way made their tingly bits feel the tingliest? The dudes who were so in love with having slaves that they STARTED A WAR WITH THE GOAL OF DESTROYING THE COUNTRY to maintain their racist status quo? The side that LOST? Those guys. Several military bases are still named after some of those losers. Trump says that renaming those bases dishonors their legacy and that preserving the legacy of THE PEOPLE WHO TRIED TO DESTROY THE COUNTRY is more important than paying the people who are currently trying to defend it and keep it safe. 

Sorry. I got all capsy there for a minute, but that stuff really molds my cheese.

3. Because the bill limits the powers of the President re: Military Spending.

It took a while, but it seems that Congress is *finally* getting hip to some of Trump’s BS. Remember when he yanked a bunch of funding away from the military to pay for his wall? The bill says he can’t do that anymore without getting Congress’s permission first. So no, Donno—you can’t declare your billion dollars of outstanding debt “a national emergency” and use the military ‘s money to pay it back. 

While Trump’s whole “I should be able to spend your tax dollars on whatever I want” thing is concerning, it isn’t surprising. It probably matters more to him than a “gift” to China or the renaming of military bases, but the fourth reason he gives for his veto is the one that I think we can all agree matters to him the most:

4. Because the bill doesn’t repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.

According to Trump, Sec230 needs to be repealed because it poses a huge national security risk.

This? Is a lie. 

Here’s a handy link to the actual text (including a Trump EO that tries to undo it) of Section 230.

If you don’t want to nerd out on all of the policy minutia, here’s a quick overview:

Section 230 says that internet sites—particularly those with a lot of user interaction—are distributors of content, not publishers and, therefore, cannot be held liable for content shared by the site’s users. It also gives the site owners discretion as “Good Samaritans” to label/restrict/block content (and the users who post it) that the site owners believe is harmful to other users and/or the public good. 

In Other Words

A) You can’t make Facebook give you a bag of money because you had a conniption fit when you saw what someone else posted. 

B) Facebook can flag or take down posts it deems harmful or that it decides violate its terms of service. It can also shut down your account and block you from setting up a new account if the powers that be in Facebook-land decide that you are a threat to the well-being of the majority of the other Facebook users.

Basically, Trump is vetoing the Defense Spending Bill because he’s mad that he can’t sue Twitter for adding comments to his tweets. 

Trump has repeatedly insisted that Twitter’s labels, etc. constitute some form of First Amendment violation and that, under the Constitution, Twitter, Facebook, etc., aren’t allowed to police his (or, theoretically, anybody else’s) speech. 

Section 230 isn’t about that. 

Even Trump’s EO, which tries to make the case that if a site’s owner wants to police users’ content then that owner forfeits their categorization as “distributor” and becomes a “publisher”, isn’t valid here because publishers are not constitutionally required to give every voice a platform. They get to pick and choose who they elevate. Remember: the first amendment guarantees your right to free speech. It does not guarantee your right to an audience. 

Nobody is stopping Trump from spewing whatever he wants online. If he wants to build a website on which he rants about every conspiracy theory and perceived slight, he’s free to do that. If he wants to use a private company like Twitter’s bandwidth to amplify his message then they get to set the rules for how his messages are broadcast. 

I’m pretty sure the only reason Trump is so focused on Section 230 (which, again, has nothing to do with national security, defense spending, or even the petty stuff he’s mad about) is because it contains language about “filing suit,” and we all know that Trump’s most favorite thing to do in the universe is to sue people. He probably heard it was about suing websites and decided it fit his needs. Because the devil isn’t in the details anymore. It’s in an ill-fitting suit wearing an ugly red tie. 

TL;DR: Trump is refusing to fund the military and his reasons for doing so are, like always, complete Bull Smoothie.

House Impeachment Inquiry Day Two: Marie Yovanovitch

Photo Credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

QUICK NOTE: Hello from the future! It has taken me a while to actually get around to writing these posts (for reasons we’ll talk about in a mental health post soon). When I finally sat down to start writing about these hearings, trying to write about them in the past tense just felt weird. So, I’m going to write what I would have written had I been able to write up each hearing on the day it happened and then backdate them here on the blog. I realize that I probably could have just done that anyway without telling you but that felt like a shady thing to do. Just thought you should know! Onward!

Today the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (House Intel Committee) listened to testimony from Former Ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Why is Fmr Ambassador Yovanovitch important? 

The short version? Trump fired her because he wanted to do some illegal sh*t and she pushed back. Then Trump and his henchman Rudy Giuliani did everything they could to trash the Ambassador’s reputation and ruin the rest of her life. (Spoiler Alert: it didn’t work)

Marie Yovanovitch spent 33 years as a member of the US Foreign Service. That’s more than half her life. She has served all over the world and for two years was the Deputy Director of the Russian Desk at the State Department. She was given her first Ambassadorship by George W Bush when he appointed her the US Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan in 2005. In 2008 she was appointed the US Ambassador to Armenia. In 2016 President Obama appointed her the US Ambassador to Ukraine. She has a degree in Russian Studies from Princeton, studied at Moscow’s Pushkin Institute and has a Master of Science from the National Defense University’s National War College. 

That means? She knows what the frak she’s talking about. And, like Taylor and Kent before her, she’s neither a Trump sycophant nor a Never-Trumper (all affirmed this under oath). 

Why does Fmr Ambassador Yovanovitch’s testimony matter? Because Trump is massively afraid of her.

As she stated multiple times during her testimony, Trump was allowed to fire her at any time and for any reason he wanted. And while she certainly didn’t deserve to be fired (she was doing an amazing job), his recalling her was totally legal. 

What’s not cool is the way that Trump, Giuliani, and their marauding band of buffoons went to town on her reputation and livelihood. These jerks did everything they could to trash her reputation, to vilify her and, essentially to ruin her life. They sicced their frothing base on her and, this is not hyperbole, she is lucky to be alive.  

Why? Why not just fire her and move on? Why do everything possible to make sure her life was borked? Because she is a strong woman who had the audacity to stand up to a man in power. And we all know how much Trump hates it when the ladies try to think for themselves. And because he’s intimidated by smart, funny, accomplished women who are, by leaps and bounds, better people than he could ever dream of being.

One of the things that struck me during this hearing was how often the GOP members of the committee tried to brush off Trump’s threats and disparagements—even as he tweeted them during the damn hearing—because after all, she landed a fellowship at a prestigious University, right? She’s not going to be hurting financially or anything. It’s not like she’s homeless now, after all. 

This? Is like saying: Sure, I burned down your house but look at the check the insurance company gave you! That’ll pay for a sweet-ass minivan, for sure! We’re good, right? 

No, bros. You most definitely are not good.

Here’s the tweet thread:

House Impeachment Inquiry Hearing Day One: Taylor and Kent

Photo Credit: NBC News

QUICK NOTE: Hello from the future! It has taken me a while to actually get around to writing these posts (for reasons we’ll talk about in a mental health post soon). When I finally sat down to start writing about these hearings, trying to write about them in the past tense just felt weird. So, I’m going to write what I would have written had I been able to write up each hearing on the day it happened and then backdate them here on the blog. I realize that I probably could have just done that anyway without telling you but that felt like a shady thing to do. Just thought you should know! Onward!


After weeks of closed-door depositions, the House Permanent Select Committee for Intelligence (House Intel Committee) held it’s first public Impeachment Inquiry hearing today. First up at the table were Bill Taylor and George Kent.

Bill Taylor was obviously the main “get” for today. He’s currently serving as the Acting US Ambassador to Ukraine. He was brought in to replace Marie Yovanovitch (whose hearing is tomorrow). Yovanovitch, you probably already know, was ousted because she wouldn’t roll over when Trump wanted to, well, be Trump. 

It’s important to understand that, though Taylor is technically currently serving as a political appointee, he has served his country for literally his entire adult life. He started in the military in 1969, served in Vietnam, has held a variety of important federal positions and served as the as an Ambassador in NATO and was originally appointed to be US Ambassador to Ukraine by George W Bush in 2006 and served in that role until May of 2009. In other words? Dude is not a Trump toady by, like, a loooooong shot. 

Taylor is the star of today’s hearing because he was the one who not only realized that Trump was up to no good but communicated about the shenaniganry via text and email. He made sure that there was a paper trail to back up every claim he made to his superiors and, eventually, to the Committee. 

George Kent is also important (though he was clearly the sidekick in today’s hearing). He started serving in the State Department in 1992 and is currently the official Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasian Affairs. TL;DR? Also not a Trump toady.

What makes Kent an important witness is his long history of dealing with and rooting out corruption in Eastern Europe, particularly in Ukraine. He’s the person who raised the alarm about Rudy Giuliani running “shadow” foreign policy for Trump. 

As for the hearing itself? It wasn’t super eventful. Since the cameras were on, the GOP members of the committee did their best to compete for first place in the Best Stooge Olympics. Today’s heat was won by Rep John Ratcliffe, which left Jim Jordan feeling very pouty, I’m sure. 

Anyway, here’s the tweet thread!

Chelsea Manning Will Be Set Free

One of the few things that we can be sure about in today’s United States is that if President Obama does something, the Republicans are going to hate it. It won’t matter what it is, they will hate it because he is the one that did it. Forever and ever Amenalenadingdong.

Today the big news out of the White House is President Obama commuting the rest of Chelsea Manning’s prison sentence. Predictably, the GOP are screaming themselves silly over it.

Chelsea Manning, for those of you who don’t remember, is the soldier who leaked a crap ton of classified and sensitive diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks in 2010. She was convicted of Espionage in 2013 and sentenced to 35 years in prison. Many believe that Chelsea is a hero to be admired and even emulated. Others insist she is a traitor of the worst kind. I? I…don’t know.

I have mixed feelings about Chelsea Manning. On the one hand, I do believe that her actions put many in harm’s way. There is no doubt, though, that her actions have also likely saved many more. I know that I think far higher of her than I do of Edward Snowden or Julian Assange.

However I feel about Chelsea Manning and what she did, I do know that I am glad that President Obama commuted the rest of her sentence (provided Our Lord and Miser Fake n’ Bake doesn’t try to revoke it in a few days). I am glad she is going free. And though this will likely make many of you angry, I am also glad she was not fully pardoned.

That probably sounds harsh, but look: whether or not we like them or agree with them we are governed by a set of laws. And the military’s code of law is incredibly strict for a reason. Chelsea Manning knew what those laws were and she broke them. Was she brave to do so? Absolutely. Was what she did necessary for the protection of the greater good? Probably. Was her heart in the right place? Totes.

It’s easy to sit here in our bubbles and say that Chelsea should have been offered the same compassion and understanding that is offered to other people who break the law and aren’t sent to prison because their intentions were to serve the greater good, and to wax poetic about Kohlberg and the Heinz Dilemma.

A) Chelsea Manning was not tried in civilian court where the Heinz Dilemma could come into play.

B) Even if she was, war is not as simple as a broken window.

In moral/ethical cases the question is not only whether the ends justified the means but whether the ends outweigh the means. There is no doubt that a life is far more valuable than a window, as a window is easily replaceable and a human life is not.

War is not a broken window pane that can easily be replaced. Blasting out information to millions of people who don’t have the necessary qualifications or background to understand it properly is irresponsible and dangerous. In saving many lives Chelsea also put many lives at risk and likely ended quite a few, too. She knew that lives could be lost because of her actions. She took those actions anyway. She deserved to face some sort of consequence.

I do not think, however, that she deserved to face the consequence she was served. 35 years in a men’s prison because of a system that hasn’t yet caught up to science could be argued as extreme (and likely even extremely prejudiced). Forcing her to stay in that prison even after multiple suicide attempts? I’m pretty sure that’s considered cruel and unusual. And I’m glad she will soon be free.

Commuting the sentence might not seem like much to those who believe she deserves a full pardon. But hopefully if that’s how you feel you can take some comfort in knowing just how badly it pissed off the other side. Remember: they didn’t get their way, either. Personally I’m a fan of the solution that found the middle ground between the two extremes–and does so with respect to the law, not just how something feels.

I’m really going to miss having a President who cares about how all this stuff works.