Exclusive Profile: Hillary Clinton Deputy Operations Director Alessandra Biaggi

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On October 15, 1991, at age five, Alessandra Biaggi’s passion for women in politics was awakened. She was attending the opening of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, which was founded by her grandfather, Representative Mario Biaggi of New York. Then-State Attorney for Dade County and eventual-Attorney General Janet Reno spoke at the dedication. After the ceremony, Alessandra met Reno personally. Though Alessandra has been told before that women could succeed in politics, seeing Reno in real life was concrete proof of it.

Throughout her childhood, Alessandra’s family supported her political ambitions. They encouraged her to be thoughtful and critical. “When I’d say ‘I really wanna do X,’ my parents would ask me why I want to do that, who it’ll help, how it would affect the community, stuff like that. They were priming me.”

Alessandra entered politics with an internship for Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY). She went on to work at the Kings County D.A.’s Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of NY, the Presidential Succession Clinic at the John D. Feerick Center for Social Justice as an editor, and the NYS Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery as Assistant General Counsel.

In early 2015, Alessandra was offered a position on the vetting team of the Hillary Clinton campaign. She accepted immediately, ecstatic about the opportunity to help elect the first female president in United States history.

On April 1, her official title on the campaign became Deputy National Operations Director. She described her roles and responsibilities as “literally everything.”

“I was helping balance the budget, I was requesting extra funds, I was helping them sort all the merch while working the compliance… All of the hiring for all dates as well as all of the offices, which includes negotiating leases… All of the paid canvassing programs, GOTV, everything that you can imagine at this point fell underneath operations.”

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Alessandra described the days following Election Day as a “blur.” The sense of loss was heavy, with two suicides in her network of friends occurring “as a result of the stress caused by the current state of our country and the political climate.”

However, she did not fall into a state of despair. She said that there was a quote from Persian poet Rumi that became her mantra following the election: “The wound is the place where the light enters.”

So along with thousands of other women across the country, Alessandra redirected her suffering into action.

She created an extensive “Take Action Guide for Activism” to help activists and organizers get involved with progressive politics and stay informed in a time when every Trump tweet becomes a national headline. The guide is unbelievably comprehensive, providing readers with links to grassroots organizations across the country that focus on everything from immigration to rebuilding the Democratic Party at a state level to helping women run for office to civics education, and so on.

Alessandra also got involved with countless progressive efforts such as Ladies Get Paid, Rally + Rise, New York University’s Women’s Initiative, Impact Hub, Solidarity Sundays, Columbia University, Changemaker Chats, All In Together Campaign, and the latest, with Diane Von Furstenberg. She currently sits on the Advisory Board of the New Leaders Council, is a member of The New Agenda’s Young Women Leadership Council, and serves on the host committee for the Arena Summit. She describes all of these organizations as “communities” of politically active progressives from across the country.

“We all need to jump on board and link arms. That’s how you get stronger.”

One of her main focuses has been connecting people. “I would say that one of my superpowers is identifying what people are working on and identifying people in my network already and then connecting them… This is my ritual of democracy.”

For example, at The New Agenda, a nonpartisan organization “started after the 2008 election cycle because of how the media was treating Hillary Clinton,” Alessandra helped organize National Girlfriends Networking Day. “They have different events across the country that they stream the one event from New York City into. It’s basically a network of women to support other women, so it’s like a mentor-mentee networking group focused on young women, middle-aged women, and older women.”

But while she has found many meaningful ways to get involved, Alessandra knows that civic engagement is not easy. She recommends that folks start by asking themselves three questions.

The first is a personal one: “What does it mean to be a citizen?” In other words, the infamous words of President John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

To Alessandra, the question of what it means to be a citizen “begs the answer” of “social change.” “How we’re going to have that social change” leads to the next question:

How do you create community?

Once you pinpoint what you care about, Alessandra says, you should find a community that shares your interests.

“You can never underestimate a quick Google search of ‘progressive millennial organizations.’”

If “it doesn’t exist… create that group!” And that leads to the final question:

What’s the way in which my voice can be most heard, or where can I make the most impact?

Alessandra said that once you have found your “tribe,” you have the strength in numbers to set concrete group goals that can make a real difference. Whether it be making 50 calls to a senator, holding workshops, creating a PAC, or signing up for ResistBot, Alessandra’s final question is meant to guide people to their own “Rituals for Democracy.”

“I think we need to treat activism and our engagement as another thing that we schedule… What can I do in a day, what can I do in a week… We have to break it down for people like that because not everything is for all of us.”

For progressives who want to get involved in politics in particular, Alessandra says that the best way is always to volunteer.

“Volunteer in a campaign office, and from there you meet the staff, and then you become an organizer and then organizers go into headquarters, and it just grows there. But you have to start with what you got, and usually what you got is a field office, so volunteer for a candidate that you care about.”

“Volunteer, cause that’s where the people are.”

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Alessandra speaking at NYU.

Volunteering for progressives candidates is especially important given the midterms occurring next year. But women can do more than just volunteer.

“My call to action for women would be to consider running for office even if they’ve never considered it before and if not for federal office or even state, consider putting their name in the ring for non-competitive seats on the county level. There are many roles, upwards of 500,000 public offices that you can hold, and we need more women.”

But what are the next steps after consideration? How can women actually prepare themselves to run for public office?

“You can do all the training in the world, and you’ll never be ready. You just do it because you make the decision. There will be a support network around you once you decide to do it, that’s no question, so equip yourself with the right tools. Take a training. Go online, look at the courses. She Should Run has an online incubator that you can do from home. Look wherever you are, see what training groups can help. The Yale Women’s Campaign School or New Leader Council, these different groups have all of these different trainings and make yourself the most prepared that you possibly can. Figure out what issues you care about and just run.”

Alessandra already knows what her top issue is: women in politics. It is what she’s dedicating her life to at the moment through public speaking and advocacy. But she hopes that soon, she will be able to empower women from a different position. When I asked her if she plans to work on the presidential campaign in 2020, she told me:

“If it were a campaign I believed in as much as I believed in Secretary Clinton’s. So the bar is very high. But the next campaign I hope to work on is my own.

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AU student creates website to ship your ashes to GOP if AHCA kills you

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Zoey Salsbury, a junior at American University, recently launched MailMeToTheGOP.com, a website that helps allow Americans to get their ashes sent to Republican congressmen who voted for the AHCA if “they die from lack of access to health care.”

“People will literally die,” Salsbury told The Huffington Post. “It’s really morbid and not fun to talk about. But that’s the reality of passing a health care bill like this.”

The AHCA, the bill House Republicans and Donald Trump crafted as the fulfillment of their “repeal and replace Obamacare” promise, passed the House of Representatives yesterday by only four votes. It is a wildly unpopular and cruel piece of legislation that would strip tens of millions of Americans of healthcare.

Vox explains the awfulness of the AHCA in detail here, but the biggest and most devastating difference between the bill that was passed yesterday and the initial version, which was so disliked in the House that it was never even put to a vote, is that it legalizes discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions. What counts as a pre-existing condition? The list is endless, ranging from HIV/AIDS to mental illness to alcoholism to cancer to being LGBTQ to “pending surgery or hospitalization” to being a survivor of rape or domestic violence. Yes, you read that right – according to congressional Republicans, rape is now a pre-existing condition.

In essence, the AHCA is a massive tax cut for the wealthy that would deny affordable coverage to the millions of Americans who most need it. The Republican Party has always been cruel, but it is still unbelievable that 217 GOP congressmen would vote for a bill that would quite literally end the lives of American citizens.

And that cruelty is what Zoey Salsbury is trying to emphasize through her new website. She even has a page that lists five “reasons why we will die.” It reads:

Reason #5

My combat tour in Iraq resulted in enough disability to make me uninsurable, but not enough to get all my healthcare through the VA. You killed me, you prick.

Reason #4

Asthma. I cannot afford to be in a high-risk pool and without health insurance, I will die of an asthma attack. I will die of an easily controlled incurable lung disease that affects millions. I hope my parents put my blue-faced body on Congressman Lloyd Smucker’s doorstep.

Reason #3

because you took away my fucking insurance

Reason #2

This morning, the House vote for the AHCA sent a strong message to my family – some of which who are your loyal constituents. Today, half of Congress made it clear that American lives are meaningless. Today, this vote said that funding the wealthy is more important than my father receiving insulin, my mother purchasing antidepressants, or me finding comfort and safety through assistance following on-campus rape. You are all meant to represent and serve the people, but today it was clear that you only serve yourselves. Today, I implore you think about what an American life is worth. I beg you to think of your family, your friends, and your fellow citizens. Worry about the future of your Senate seat as well as your conscience if you choose to push AHCA forward. If you want blood on your hands, continue to fight against the basic human right to public health. If you want to lose voters through death and poverty, push this through. But if you have any sense of morality and duty to this country, stand up for what is right. Vote no to AHCA and vote yes to the continued health and wellbeing of Americans. Be better.

Reason #1

I have incurable brain cancer. And if prices skyrocket and subsidies are hard to maintain it will shorted my already shortened life and put my family in significant financial jeopardy.

The website has a “send my ashes to the GOP” form where “donors” can fill out their information and even choose which Republican congressmen they want their remains to be sent to.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score has not yet been released for the AHCA, so we do not know quite how many more this version of the bill would leave uninsured than the last. But the reality is that if congressional Republicans get their way here, people will die. I will not be covered under the AHCA, and it’s fairly likely, dear reader, that you won’t be either.

Use this tool to find the phone numbers of your senators and demand that they reject the AHCA. You can use scripts provided by Bustle here or come up with your own. But take action. This is life or death.

Trump, Law & Order, and Record High Incarceration

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Inmates gather in the gym at San Quentin Prison due to overcrowding (Eric Risberg/Center for American Progress)

Trump and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions have done little to implement specific criminal justice policy, but their threats to undo Obama’s reforms are jarring. What we are seeing from the Trump administration is not surprising, many Republican presidents have a history of being tough on crime. President Nixon’s “war on drugs” agenda is most memorable, as he ordered for an outright war on drugs in inner-cities by implementing mandatory prison sentences and no-knock warrants, disproportionately effecting Black and Brown folks.

During Reagan’s presidency, his “tough on crime” rhetoric resulted in a sharp increase in prison population and incarceration rates. As a result, prison populations in the U.S. continue to increase at a rate faster than any other nation in the world.  However, Obama was the first president in 36 years to leave office with a lower federal prison population than when he started.

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Federal prison population (Pew Research Center/Vox)

During Obama’s presidency, he took executive action to pardon 1,324 inmates charged with nonviolent drug offenses and backed former Attorney General, Eric Holder, on his Smart on Crime Initiative, which placed pressure on federal prosecutors to stop charging low-level drug offenders. In 2010, he signed into law the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the sentencing disparity between powder cocaine and crack cocaine. This disparity explicitly targeted the Black community during the “war on drugs” and “tough on crime” eras.

Obama stressed the importance of looking at drug addiction through the lens of a health problem, not a criminal justice problem. He often explained the hypocrisy in locking up children and individuals for low-level drug offenses, while many lawmakers have used drugs before–admitting his trial use of marijuana and cocaine. All of this was to stop prison overcrowding and put an end to oppressive laws that disproportionately targeted people of color.

Using 2010 Census information, the Prison Policy Initiative calculated that Black folks are five times more likely to be incarcerated than White folks, and Hispanic folks are twice as likely than White folks. Additionally, Black citizens make up 13% of the U.S. population but 40% of the incarcerated population. Hispanics only make up 16% of the U.S. population but 19% of the incarcerated population. This equates to 2,306 Black citizens incarcerated per 100,000 and 831 Hispanic citizens incarcerated per 100,000 people. The statistics for the White population, however, are frighteningly lower. Making up 64% of the population, White folks make up 39% of the incarcerated population, equating to 450 White folks incarcerated per 100,000. From a Vox study on FBI data on racial disparities in police killings, it was found that racial minorities make up about 34% of the general population but account for 62% of unarmed victims killed by police.

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Racial disparities in police shootings (Alvin Chang/Vox)

The Trump administration disagrees with many of the criminal justice reform laws passed by the Obama administration. Even though crime is at an all-time low, Sessions has made it clear that he believes the criminal justice system should not go easy on low-level drug offenders, and openly criticizes Obama’s decrees issued in response to violent police activity. As a result, Sessions has created a Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, which aims to increase prosecution and police force against violent crimes. However, it is still unclear what exactly this task force will do, but more details will be released on July 27th.

One positive policy in Trump’s criminal justice agenda is his commission to study the opioid epidemic, which is headed by Governor Chris Christie, who is known for treating drug addiction as a health issue and not a criminal justice issue. This newfound commission, when fully developed, has the possibility of helping those with severe addictions by providing them with rehabilitative services rather than issuing prison sentences. The only caveat is that this opioid epidemic is mainly affecting White communities. So, what does this commission task force mean to Black people?

D. Watkins–a prominent author and Professor at the University of Baltimore–came from a drug-laden neighborhood in East Baltimore. In a recent article published in Salon, Watkins remembers his early life as a drug dealer while addressing the current opioid epidemic in prominently White neighborhoods.

“White people and those in more privileged areas are starting to feel the same way. And even though I’d never wish that pain on anybody, I’m glad this problem is finally getting the attention it needs,” writes Watkins, while looking back on the crack cocaine epidemic and the Black communities that were destroyed. It is unfortunate that these problems are being addressed when the epidemic mainly affects White communities, but not when they effected Black communities.

Although this commission to end opioid addiction has yet to be fully developed, it is a start, at best. Unfortunately, Sessions does have the final say in all-things criminal justice related and he, historically, has a harsh stance against drugs. This is not to say Sessions does not believe in treatment programs, but he believes they come too late to solve the drug problem.

Time will only tell if these suggested programs will curb addictions, end prison overcrowding, and put a stop to racial disparities but, with Sessions in charge, the odds are not in our favor.  Fortunately, it is ultimately up to the states whether or not they choose to adopt federal criminal justice policies and, in the past, cities and states have supported initiatives to shorten prison sentences and favor prosecutors who are soft on crime. So, there may be hope after all.

Anti-LGBTQ executive order coming Thursday

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Chelsea Lauren / AP

On Thursday, May 2, the National Day of Prayer, Donald Trump is set to sign the anti-LGBTQ “religious liberty” executive order Christian conservatives have been begging for even since he took office.

The order will legalize anti-LGBTQ discrimination on the basis of what conservatives call “sincerely held religious beliefs.” A draft of the order was leaked to The Nation less than two weeks into Trump’s illegitimate presidency, and was immediately met with terror and anger from the LGBTQ community. The Nation‘s Sarah Posner wrote of the “sweeping” order:

The four-page draft order, a copy of which is currently circulating among federal staff and advocacy organizations, construes religious organizations so broadly that it covers “any organization, including closely held for-profit corporations,” and protects “religious freedom” in every walk of life: “when providing social services, education, or healthcare; earning a living, seeking a job, or employing others; receiving government grants or contracts; or otherwise participating in the marketplace, the public square, or interfacing with Federal, State or local governments.”

[…]

Language in the draft document specifically protects the tax-exempt status of any organization that “believes, speaks, or acts (or declines to act) in accordance with the belief that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, sexual relations are properly reserved for such a marriage, male and female and their equivalents refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy, physiology, or genetics at or before birth, and that human life begins at conception and merits protection at all stages of life.”

The order is modeled after similar “religious freedom” bills legalizing anti-LGBTQ discrimination, including the one pushed by Vice President Mike Pence during his time as Governor of Indiana. Pence has been one of the top Christian conservatives in the White House pushing for this executive order.

The leaked draft, which the White House claimed to be “one of hundreds circulating,” was criticized by legal scholars not just for its bigotry, but for its illegality.

“This executive order would appear to require agencies to provide extensive exemptions from a staggering number of federal laws—without regard to whether such laws substantially burden religious exercise,” Georgetown University Law Center professor Marty Lederman told The Nation. “The exemptions would raise serious First Amendment questions, as well, because they would go far beyond what the Supreme Court has identified as the limits of permissive religious accommodations.”

The Nation wrote that the order would likely violate both the Establishment Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, just as a federal district court ruled last year that a similarly-worded Mississippi bill did.

The drafted order, in essence, was “religious freedom” legislation on steroids. It would allow any – yes, any – person or organization to discriminate against LGBTQ people in the United States without any interference whatsoever from the federal government. It went so far as to create a new group in the Department of Justice specifically to protect “religious freedom.” So if that provision is kept in the new order, Jeff Sessions’ already unjust Department of Justice will be tasked with enforcing discrimination across the country.

Apparently, however, following the legal critiques of the leaked draft, Pence and other Christian conservative policymakers have worked to reword the order so that it may pass muster in court. Nonetheless, its discriminatory intent cannot be erased, which is why the American Civil Liberties Union had already promised to fight the order in court. But even if a court rules against the order, as has been the case with several of Trump’s other executive orders, Trump and his colleagues could take it to the Supreme Court, where the ideological balance has been shifted right with Trump’s appointee Neil Gorsuch.

Regardless of what comes out of the executive order, this is yet another reminder of just how difficult the battle for LGBTQ and abortion rights will be under Trump and the GOP. With both Congress and the Oval Office against us, we must always be prepared to defend our humanity and our right to exist as ourselves.

Fake news isn’t the problem.

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Recently, The New York Times has sparked a fierce debate amongst journalists and readers by hiring rape apologist, climate change denier, racist, and Islamophobe Bret Stephens, supposedly in order to bring a conservative voice to the Times‘ (already right-leaning) op-ed page. The argument further exploded after the Times published Stephens’ first column, which was entirely dedicated to climate change denial. Stephens’ claims were immediately debunked by journalists and scientists alike, but that did not stop defenders of Stephens from claiming that critics were trying to insulate themselves in a “liberal bubble” and silence conservative voices.

I wrote earlier about how hiring conservative writers to create a supposed ideological diversity is not the diversity the overwhelmingly white, cisgender, heterosexual male New York Times needs, but now that the Times has been forced to justify publishing Stephens’ absurd first column, there is much more to dig into.

But let’s back up a bit. Why, exactly, did the Times feel the need to hire a man who denies the existence of climate change and the rape epidemic, attacks Muslims, Arabs, and black Americans, and calls hunger in America an “imaginary enem[y]”? It goes back to the media’s ridiculous post-mortem on the results of the 2016 presidential election.

Following Donald Trump’s Electoral College victory, the (white) liberal media had an existential crisis about how shocked it was at the results. (Reminder: Hillary Clinton won the popular vote.) Rather than take responsibility for their undying, cynical obsession with Hillary Clinton’s emails that not only sunk her popularity, but also massively overshadowed legitimate policy coverage, the media blamed its own (white) liberal bias and decided that it needed to diversify – not in terms of race, class, gender, sexuality, status, or education, but in ideology. The media diagnosed its problem as liberal bias, meaning that it needed to balance itself out with more conservative voices. (Interestingly, despite propagating the myth that Trump’s Electoral College victory was rooted primarily in the “white working class” vote, the media has still declined to bring in poor voices, thus staying in its elite bubble.)

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This logic, one that refuses to actually take responsibility for the irresponsible coverage of Hillary Clinton’s emails, led to the Times bringing Wall Street Journal writer Bret Stephens onto its op-ed team. As The New Republic‘s Sarah Jones explained, this reasoning really makes no sense given the current ideological leanings of the Times‘ op-ed section:

It runs from the standard right-wing propaganda of Stephens, to the centrist bromides of David Brooks, to a moderate liberalism that cheers Trump’s bombs on Syria and boos student protesters at Middlebury, to the howling wasteland that is Thomas Friedman’s column, where he screams gibberish at a merciless sky. (His last contribution to public discourse was a blow-by-blow description of playing golf in Dubai with a yogi. Truly, we are blessed.) When she is not describing her intolerance for weed chocolate, Maureen Dowd is commending Donald Trump for being the true dove in the presidential race. Frank Bruni, meanwhile, does whatever it is that Frank Bruni does.

The op-ed page is unbearably white—spare a thought for Charles Blow—and predominantly male. There is space for Ross Douthat to casually wonder if there’s a case to be made for a bigot like Marine Le Pen, but none whatever for a bona fide socialist, even though America’s most popular politician is a democratic socialist. Stephens isn’t even a particularly cogent or striking conservative—he’s bog-standard neoconservative material. His hire can’t even be defended as an attempt to understand the populist insurgence upsetting the Republican Party.

But ultimately, this goes even deeper than the (white) liberal media’s post-election self-critique. There is a deep-seated belief in the media that the voices of “both sides” must always be heard if news is to truly be fair and balanced. While well-intentioned, this belief is absolute nonsense, especially in our current political climate. Simply put, not all opinions are equal, and sometimes one side is simply wrong and not worth giving a platform. Senior Deakin University philosophy lecturer Patrick Stokes covered this issue all the way back in 2012 in a Conversation piece:

The problem with “I’m entitled to my opinion” is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for “I can say or think whatever I like” – and by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful. And this attitude feeds, I suggest, into the false equivalence between experts and non-experts that is an increasingly pernicious feature of our public discourse.

Stokes used the example of the anti-vaxxer movement. In this case, one side is simply wrong. Vaccines do not cause childhood diseases. That’s a fact. But the media has felt the need to portray “both sides” of the story, forcing actual scientists to defend themselves against anti-vaccine activists whose entire cause is based on lies. By elevating both voices and acting as if anti-vaxxers need to be heard out, the media, whether intentionally or not, validates anti-vaxxers and implies that their “opinions” are just as important as actual facts.

But this is not limited to the vaccine debate. The “both sides” approach to news is applied to every topic, from transgender equality to police brutality to climate change, and so on, and so on. But in case after case, “both sides” are not equally valid, and the voice of one side is not worth elevating whatsoever.

“Both sides” are not equally valid when one believes that we should keep symbols of slavery while the other knows we should not. “Both sides” are not equally valid when one believes that transgender women are fake while the other knows that they are real. “Both sides” are not equally valid when one defends police brutality while the other condemns it. “Both sides” are not equally valid when one side denies scientific facts while the other accepts them. Both sides are not equally valid when the extremists of one side advocate for the extermination of the Jews, the deportation of black and brown immigrants, and the criminalization of queerness while extremists of the other side advocate for universal healthcare, the expansion of the social safety net, and democratic socialism. In all of these cases and many more, one side’s beliefs are rooted in ignorance and bigotry. When that’s the case, both sides do not deserve equal platforms.

While “both sides” journalism is always intellectually dishonest, it is outright dangerous when it comes to discussions of marginalized folks in the United States. Validating the opinions of anti-transgender bigots isn’t being “fair and balanced”; it’s dehumanizing and demeaning trans folks and elevating rhetoric that leads to anti-trans violence. When 11 trans people have already been murdered in the United States in 2017, the stakes are quite high. The media should not be allowing the perpetuation of bigoted myths – such as the ones that trans women are sexual predators or that Black Lives Matter is inherently anti-police – by giving a platform to bigots. By uncritically giving a platform to bigots and forcing marginalized folks to debate their oppressors on live television, or in a Heineken ad, as if marginalized identities and bigotry are equally valid, the supposedly “liberal” media is actively participating in the oppression of marginalized folks.

That isn’t to say that bigots can’t have their bigoted beliefs. They can think and say whatever they want. But it is by no means the responsibility of the media to give a megaphone to those voices. Rather, the media should give a voice to the marginalized folks it has excluded for all of American history. That’s not censorship. It’s simply choosing to do the right thing. Bigots can still say whatever they want, just not on your platform. And if it means creating a “liberal bubble,” then so be it. However, I’d like to hope that respecting, accepting, and embracing marginalized identities is a universal value, not just a liberal one.

This also isn’t to say that the left is perfect and the right is downright evil. Modern American politics are much more complex than a simple liberal-conservative spectrum, especially in our post-election political society. Liberal transphobia and racism are alive and well in 2017, and the Democratic Party is a hot mess regarding its approach to abortion rights. But as The New Republic‘s Brian Beutler wrote following polling results about Trump’s Syria attack:

Negative partisanship—the observable effect that antipathy to the other party has on public opinion—seems, like everything else in U.S. politics, to be asymmetric between the parties. Republicans are the key drivers of it.

[…]

Reflexive even-handedness the analytical foundation of countless news stories, and nearly all punditry, but it wasn’t derived from dispassionate observation of political reality. Rather, it was contrived to burnish the mainstream media claim to political neutrality, and the neutrality of parent companies. But its effect was to leave implacable conservative critics of mainstream culture totally dissatisfied, and has failed every other consumer in the market for accurate, unskewed news and on-the-level commentary. It should have been put to rest long ago, and can’t die soon enough.

This brings us back to Bret Stephens, and why a venerable publication like the Times, which post-election proudly touted itself as a purveyor of truth in a vast sea of fake news, would hire a man who so blatantly rejects reality in order to justify his conservative views.

The Washington Post‘s Erik Wemple reached out to the Times for an interview about Stephens’ first column. Times editor James Bennet declined, but gave Wemple this response:

Wemple wrote in his analysis of the response:

In anticipation of future clashes with social media, Bennet would be well-advised to keep that statement in his top drawer, or perhaps a Microsoft Word file. Because it deserves the title “Editorial Page Editor’s Boilerplate Kumbaya Response to Public Outrage.” It could apply to a controversial op-ed on abortion, on gun control, on climate change, on a criminal-justice report, whatever. That’s because it doesn’t grapple with any of the substantive issues raised about the column itself.

When it comes down to it, there’s no real justification for publishing Stephens’ column. If news outlets are going to share falsehoods, it should only be in the context of debunking them. Letting a column like Stephens’ stand on its own, unchallenged, was a mistake, and a mistake it seems that the Times is eager to repeat.

In the first three months after the election, the Times gained hundreds of thousands of subscribers through its “truth” campaign, more than it added in all of 2015. “The truth is more important now than ever,” the Times proudly proclaimed.

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Unfortunately, it’s clear that the Times‘ dedication to “truth” has been overridden by the the mainstream media’s overwhelming obsession with representing “both sides.” The Times and other respected news outlets have loudly touted themselves as the cure for the epidemic of “fake news.” But “real news” cannot be the solution when it so fervently feels the need to prop up bigotry and lies. It looks like “real news” is the real “fake news” in Trump’s America.

Chris Murphy counters Trump’s NRA speech by honoring gun violence victims

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From left to right: Top NRA lobbyist Chris Cox, Donald Trump, and NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre. (Scott Olson / Getty)

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy countered illegitimate president Donald Trump’s National Rifle Association speech Friday with a Twitter thread honoring victims of gun violence, an issue close to his heart as he assumed office in the United States Senate less than a month after the Sandy Hook massacre, which occurred in his home state of Connecticut.

Donald Trump is the first president to speak at the NRA’s annual national convention since Ronald Reagan in 1983. In his address, Trump bemoaned President Barack Obama’s “eight-year assault” on the Second Amendment. “You have a true friend and champion in the White House,” Trump told the roaring audience “No longer will federal agencies be coming after law-abiding gun owners. No longer will the government be trying to undermine your rights and your freedoms as Americans.”

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Donald Trump proudly holding a gun during the 2015 Republican Society Patriot Dinner. (Richard Ellis / Getty Images)

Murphy, on the other hand, posted to Twitter 11 pictures of victims of gun violence, ranging from ages six to 24. “I wanted to show some of the faces of Washington’s inaction — to share a small sliver of the lives we’ve lost because our nation is overflowing with guns,” Murphy said in a statement to the New York Times. “This issue is only controversial in the halls of Congress. Outside Washington, people understand the horror of gun violence and are increasingly unwilling to tolerate a Congress that is owned and operated by the gun lobby.”

The NRA responded by saying that “voters are sick of politicians who spend more time on publicity stunts than solving problems.” This is an odd response to Murphy’s tweets given that the Connecticut senator has worked tirelessly to pass gun control legislation, despite the refusal from the NRA-controlled GOP to take any action whatsoever to curb gun violence.

Most memorably, following the 2016 Pulse mass shooting that ended the lives of 49 LGBTQ people, Murphy launched a filibuster to force Republicans to vote on gun legislation. At the time, it was the 9th longest filibuster in American history.

Unfortunately, even when Murphy convinced Republican leadership to put two measures up for a vote, the GOP refused to budge. The amendment to ban anyone on the terror watchlist from purchasing weapons received the support of only two Republicans –  Mark Kirk of Illinois and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. Kirk was the only Republican to support the amendment to expand background checks to gun shows and Internet sales.

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Murphy and Democratic colleagues advocate for gun control after the Pulse massacre. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which was created after the 1981 attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan, gave Murphy a perfect score. Only 11 other senators received 100%. All were Democrats. The highest-ranking Republican, Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, had a 66% rating. 144 members of Congress received a 0% rating, with only 12 being Democrats.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been almost 20,000 incidents of gun violence in the United States in 2017 so far, resulting in 4,831 deaths and 9,469 injuries. 109 of these incidents have been mass shootings.

Trump threatens 9th Circuit Court, but what can he actually do?

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Protestors outside of the 9th Circuit Court. (Haven Daley / Associated Press)

On Tuesday, April 25th, the 9th Circuit Court ruled against President Trump’s executive order to halt federal funding for sanctuary cities. In response, Trump issued a threat to split the 9th Circuit.

But can he actually follow through on his threat?

In a word: Yes. It is possible for Trump to break up the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals – through Congress, that is. However, it is highly unlikely members of Congress will push forward the legislation. He isn’t the first president to threaten it, either. In 1980, President Carter signed a bill to split up the 5th Circuit Court in the South. As a result, the western half is under the 5th Circuit, while the eastern half is under the 11th.

It seems odd that Trump is pursuing the 9th Circuit when the block of his executive order came from Judge William Orrick of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. The sanctuary ruling will not get to the 9th Circuit Court until Trump appeals the lower court’s decision, as he has threatened.

Attacks on the 9th Circuit tend to come from conservatives, who complain that the court rulings are too liberal and that the court itself is too large. They argue that breaking it up into more circuits would make cases move faster.

But Trump’s concerns are different. He is not concerned about the efficiency of the court; he is simply angry about the lower court’s ruling as well as the 9th Circuit Court’s rulings to halt two of his executive orders on immigration.

In terms of the partisan bias the GOP accuses the court of, Democratic presidents have appointed over twice as many judges as Republican presidents. Splitting the court creates the opportunity to form a separate circuit with more conservative judges, which also means more judicial appointments for President Trump. Currently, the 9th Circuit has four vacancies and with the lower court judicial filibuster nuked by Republicans in 2013, the GOP only needs a simple majority – 51 votes – to elect lower court judges nominated by Trump. This shouldn’t be difficult given that they have 52 seats, which even allowed them to nuke the Supreme Court filibuster in order to confirm Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch.

A top concern, however, is the inevitable abuse of power by the ruling party in the Senate if a circuit court is broken up. With Republicans narrowly holding the majority in Congress, they have the ability to appoint any judges they please without a single Democratic vote. Gaining political power and sway over courts – which are supposed to act as checks and balances to the legislative branch – means less independence and more partisan bias. It would signal the death of the courts’ ability to reliably enforce the Constitution and protect the rights of the American people.

Though this all sounds quite terrifying, it would be a lengthy, brutal, drawn-out process, and is therefore unlikely to happen. So for now, it seems that Trump may just be stuck with the 9th Circuit as is.