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Republican Election Commissioners Just Released Key Legal Documents—Nearly a Decade Too Late

Mother Jones

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A strange thing happened last week at the Federal Election Commission, the nation’s watchdog for campaigns and elections. On Friday evening, the FEC’s three Republican members quietly released a slew of missing legal memos related to cases dating back as far as 10 years. The commissioners gave no reason for why they decided to act now, after a decade of silence on the cases in question.

But it turns out that the newly released memos were the result of a Freedom of Information Act request recently filed by Mother Jones. The request was a modest one and asked only for a list of all such overdue legal documents at the FEC. That list would show every case for which FEC commissioners had failed to perform a customary part of their jobs: explaining to the public why they had voted a certain way on cases that had come before the agency. Dismiss a complaint, open an investigation, assess a fine—whichever way a commissioner decides, he or she is expected to explain that decision in a memo made available to the public.

In a move that perplexed several legal experts, the FEC denied our FOIA request. Yet soon after that, the FEC’s three Republican commissioners hastily wrote and released to the public 11 of these long-overdue legal memos. When Mother Jones asked the three Republican commissioners if our FOIA request had anything to do with their decision to act, two of them, Lee Goodman and Matthew Petersen, confirmed that it had. “Most of these were on the back burner as our reasons were either already clear or changes in the law made the issues moot,” Petersen says. “Your request was a useful reminder to bolster the record with formal statements.”

Congress created the FEC in the 1970s to police campaign-related abuses and enforce election laws passed in the wake of Watergate. Unlike most federal agencies, the FEC has an even number of commissioners—six—divided equally by political party. In today’s hyper-partisan environment, with frequent 3-3 deadlocks on key votes, it’s hard not to see the FEC as an institution designed to fail. (The commission will be without a sixth member now that Democrat Ann Ravel has announced her resignation, effective March 1.)

But for most of its 40-year history, the FEC worked mostly fine. The commissioners regularly found the four-vote majority they needed to act—to investigate potential wrongdoing, assess fines against lawbreakers, and provide guidance to candidates, committees, political parties, and other outfits looking to get involved in federal elections. That began to change in the mid-2000s. Three new Republicans came aboard who took a more ideological approach to campaign finance laws and free speech. Led by then-Commissioner Donald McGahn, who is now President Donald Trump’s White House counsel, the Republicans often voted in lockstep to block enforcement actions. A Public Citizen analysis found that the FEC hit a 3-3 vote on enforcement actions roughly 1 percent of the time between 2003 and 2007. In 2008, deadlocks rose to 10 percent. In 2013, they hit a peak of 23 percent. “For nearly every case of major significance over the past several years, the Commission has deadlocked on investigating serious allegations or has failed to hold violators fully accountable,” outgoing Democratic Commissioner Ann Ravel wrote in a recent report titled Dysfunction and Deadlock.

When FEC commissioners vote on a case to go against what the agency’s lawyers recommend, they are required to publish a legal justification—a Statement of Reasons, in agency jargon—for why they voted the way they did. These memos educate the public on the legal underpinnings of the commission’s decisions and give outside parties a basis to sue the agency if they disagree. But starting in the mid-2000s, the FEC’s Republicans simply stopped explaining many of their decisions. Some or all of the Republican commissioners failed to write Statements of Reasons in 25 such cases over a 10-year span, according to an unofficial tally obtained by Mother Jones earlier this month. (The tally shows that Democratic commissioners had no overdue Statements of Reasons.)

Larry Noble, a former FEC general counsel who now works at the Campaign Legal Center, a group that supports tighter political donation limits and more transparency in elections, says that failure to file Statements of Reasons is longstanding problem that has worsened over time. “Delaying them deprives the public of knowing what’s going on or why commissioners did what they did,” Noble says.

A few weeks ago, Mother Jones filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking the FEC’s own list of all overdue legal Statements of Reasons. In its February 17 denial letter, an FEC official cited FOIA Exemption 5, which shields from disclosure “documents covered by the attorney work-product, deliberative process, and attorney-client privileges.”

Two hours after the denial, the FEC posted its weekly digest. It included the 11 Statements of Reasons authored by Republican commissioners relating to old cases. The documents were all signed and dated within a four-day span last week, and each one is only several pages long, unlike the lengthy, footnote-laden documents typically produced by the commissioners and their staffs.

Ellen Weintraub, the senior-most Democratic commissioner at FEC, applauded the release of the 11 legal memos. “I am pleased on behalf of the American people that they are finally getting some kind of explanation for the commission’s failure to act in so many cases,” she says.

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Republican Election Commissioners Just Released Key Legal Documents—Nearly a Decade Too Late

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Why Kansas’ Fiscal Implosion Is Bad News for Trump

Mother Jones

An ambitious effort by a Republican governor to drastically cut his state’s taxes is crumbling—and that’s a bad omen for Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress who are hoping to slash tax rates at the national level.

Shortly after he became governor of Kansas in 2011, Sam Brownback went to work on rewriting the state’s tax code. Together with the Republican-dominated legislature, he eliminated the top income tax bracket, lowered everyone else’s income tax rate, and created a loophole that allowed some business owners to pay no state income taxes at all.

Brownback sold the cuts as a way to jolt the Kansas economy to life, promising major job growth thanks to the lower tax rates. To pass these tax measures, Brownback worked to replace moderate Republicans in the legislature who opposed his ideas with true-believer conservatives. He helped knock off nine moderate Republican incumbents, and the effort paid off when his tax reform passed in 2012.

Read more about how Sam Brownback created a Kochtopia in Kansas.

But instead of the miracle growth that Brownback promised, the tax cuts have left a widening crater in the state budget. State economic growth has lagged behind the national pace, and job growth has stagnated. Lawmakers have been left scrambling each year to pass unpleasant spending cuts when tax revenue comes in below expected levels, leading to contentious fights in the legislature and state courts over reduced public school funding. When the state legislature convened last month, it faced a $320 million budget shortfall that needed to be closed before the end of the current fiscal year in June—and a projected additional $500 million shortfall for the next fiscal year.

After more moderate Republicans joined the GOP-dominated legislature following last November’s election, the party has appeared more willing to concede defeat and ditch Brownback’s tax experiment. Last week, the state House and Senate passed a bill that would generate more than $1 billion by eradicating most of Brownback’s reforms. It would raise personal income tax rates (though still not as high as the pre-Brownback rates) and end the loophole that has allowed 330,000 business owners—including subsidiaries of Wichita-based Koch Industries—to avoid paying income taxes.

The fate of that bill is still in doubt. Brownback vetoed the measure on Wednesday morning, after explaining, “I am vetoing it because the legislature failed to fulfill my request that they find savings and efficiencies before asking the people of Kansas for more taxes.” But the House quickly fought back, voting 85-40 to override the veto. But late Wednesday afternoon, the Senate fell three votes short of the the two-thirds majority necessary to pass the law without Brownback’s approval, leaving the fate of the state’s tax system uncertain.

So what’s all of this got to do with Trump? Brownback’s failures could complicate national tax-reform efforts, which have been high on the Trump administration’s agenda. “Lowering the overall tax burden on American business is big league,” Trump told airline executives earlier this month. “That’s coming along very well. We’re way ahead of schedule, I believe. And we’re going to announce something I would say over the next two or three weeks that will be phenomenal in terms of tax.”

Like many of Trump’s policy plans, his tax agenda remains largely a mystery. But the proposal he outlined during the presidential campaign shared many features with Brownback’s experiment. It would slash personal income tax rates and reduce the number of brackets. It wouldn’t eliminate business income taxes, but it would lower them to 15 percent, allowing many super-wealthy Americans to avoid paying high tax rates by funneling their income through their businesses.

That’s not entirely coincidental. Trump and Brownback share a tax guide: Reaganomics guru Art Laffer. Laffer is best known for the Laffer curve, a diagram of his hypothesis that lowering tax rates could increase tax revenue by boosting economic output. Kansas paid $75,000 for Laffer to spend three days consulting with lawmakers on the state’s tax plans. Laffer also visited Trump Tower to consult on tax reform last year, and in December he called Trump’s campaign tax plans “terrific.” When Trump’s treasury secretary nominee went before the Senate last month, Trump’s transition press office emailed reporters a list of endorsements that started with glowing praise from Laffer. “Steven Mnuchin is a wonderful choice for Treasury Secretary,” Laffer said. “He has a great understanding of finance, markets, and housing. He is committed to tax reform that will get our economy growing, create jobs, and make America the best place to do business.”

By now, it’s clear that Brownback’s tax experiment hasn’t produced the growth he promised. But that hasn’t put an end to Republican efforts to replicate it on the national level. In December, Brownback suggested to the Wall Street Journal that Kansas’ tax reforms could offer a model for Trump. And on Thursday morning, Brownback is scheduled to speak—almost certainly about his taxation model—at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, DC, on a panel titled “How Governors are Reclaiming America’s Promise.”

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Why Kansas’ Fiscal Implosion Is Bad News for Trump

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Donald Trump’s Mystery $50 Million (or More) Loan

Mother Jones

Among Donald Trump’s debts—the source of some of his most intractable conflicts of interest—is a mystery loan that Trump has not publicly explained. And this means that the president could have a secret creditor to whom he owes tens of millions of dollars.

According to Trump’s financial disclosure records and various news reports, Trump is carrying hundreds of millions of dollars in debt. These transactions could provide his creditors with leverage over the new commander-in-chief. Moreover, it would be difficult for Trump to refinance or modify the terms of his various loans without raising suspicion that he is receiving favorable treatment because of his position. (Imagine a bank gives him a good rate. Would this suggest it might receive preferential treatment from the US government Trump heads?) Because Trump has refused to release his tax returns, it’s impossible for the public to know exactly how much he owes and to whom. And Trump never kept his campaign promise to reveal all his creditors and obligations.

The financial disclosure form he filed last year did note more than a dozen loans totaling at least $713 million. But the full amount could be more. And buried in the paperwork is a puzzling debt that ethics experts say could suggest that Trump has a major creditor he has not publicly identified.

According to the disclosure, in 2012, Trump borrowed more than $50 million from a company called Chicago Unit Acquisition LLC. (The true value of the loan could be much higher; the form requires Trump only to state the range of the loan’s value, and he selected the top range, “over $50,000,000.”) Elsewhere in the same document, Trump notes that he owns this LLC. That is, he made the loan to himself. There’s nothing necessarily unusual about that.

Here’s where the situation gets odd. With Trump owning the Chicago Unit Acquisition LLC—and the LLC being owed $50 million or more by Trump—this company should be listed on Trump’s disclosure as worth at least that much, unless it has debt offsetting this amount. Yet on Trump’s latest disclosure form, Chicago Unit Acquisition is not listed at all. The disclosure rules say that any asset worth more than $1,000 must be noted. So this is the mystery: Why is this Trump-owned firm that holds a $50 million-plus note from Trump not worth anything?

The answer could be that Chicago Unit Acquisition has its own debts that cancel out its value, says Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, who specializes in government and corporate ethics. In other words, Trump’s LLC could owe $50 million and possibly much more to one or more creditors that have not been disclosed to the public. Though the president essentially could be on the hook to some entity or some person for over $50 million, the financial disclosure rules do not require Trump to list the loans and liabilities of companies he owns. (He only has to reveal his personal loans.)

“I think the American people are at risk because we don’t know know with whom Donald Trump is entangled financially,” Clark says. “If I owe a lot of money to someone, I will probably want to do what I can to keep that person or institution happy. We don’t know the terms of this debt and we don’t know whether Donald Trump will be tempted to look out for his own financial interest in addressing the concerns of his creditor, whoever that is.”

A recent Wall Street Journal article noted that Trump pays a minimum of $4.4 million a year in interest in connection with his loan from Chicago Unit Acquisition LLC. His disclosure form states he pays the prime interest rate plus 5 percent for this loan. (Consequently, Chicago Unit Acquisition would have at least that much in annual revenue, though none is reported.) And the Journal report deepened the mystery. It noted that it had paid two research firms to search for paperwork connected to this loan, but both came up empty-handed.

In a 2016 interview with the New York Times, Trump briefly addressed the loan. He said that he had purchased the debt, via Chicago Unit Acquisition, from a group of banks he had previously borrowed from. Jason Greenblatt, the Trump Organization’s chief legal officer, would not discuss with the Times why Trump had not simply retired the debt and instead was continuing to pay interest on it. “I am not sure it’s appropriate for us to discuss our sort of internal financial reasoning behind transactions in the press,” Greenblatt told the Times. “It’s really personal corporate trade secrets, if you will. Neither newsworthy or frankly anybody’s business.”

On his 2015 disclosure form, Trump did list Chicago Unit Acquisition LLC as having a value, putting it at between $1,000 and $25,000—still substantially lower than the sum Trump reports owing to it. When the Times asked Trump why Chicago Unit Acquisition LLC was valued so low on his financial disclosure, he replied, “We don’t assess any value to it because we don’t care. I have the mortgage. That is all there is. Very simple. I am the bank.”

“Whether or not Mr. Trump cares or not about a liability is irrelevant to his obligation to disclose information on the Form 278,” says Norm Eisen, who was a top ethics attorney in the Obama administration and who now co-chairs Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “Questions about the apparent inconsistency in how the loan was and is treated on his disclosures are legitimate, and a normal president would provide additional information to clear them up.”

Alan Garten, Trump’s personal attorney, did not respond to a request for comment, nor did the White House.

Richard Painter, who served as the chief ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration and who co-chairs CREW with Eisen, says if there are no loans offsetting the value of Chicago Unit Acquisition, Trump’s disclosure form should list the outstanding debt as an asset. “None of the underlying assets or liabilities of the LLC owned by Trump need to appear on the 278—just its net value and Trump’s ownership in it,” Painter says. “That is one of the reasons the form is incomplete. If the LLC is owed money, that is a positive; if it owes money, that is a negative, for determining its value.”

Either Trump’s disclosure report is incomplete or there could be a hidden creditor, Eisen and Painter assert. If Trump were to release his tax returns, as all other major presidential candidates have done in recent decades, they point out, he could clear up the matter by providing information on his interest payments. (Eisen and Painter have filed a lawsuit against Trump alleging that the president has violated the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution by maintaining a number of beneficial financial relationships with foreign governments.)

“Without more information, we cannot properly assess the import of this entry, or of the changes in how it was reported,” Eisen says. “We need those additional details, including to assess possible conflicts. It may well be the case that the answers lie in Mr. Trump’s tax returns, but he has refused to provide them. This is yet another transparency failure on the part of the president.”

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Donald Trump’s Mystery $50 Million (or More) Loan

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Lyrical Genius John Darnielle Has a Scary New Novel

Mother Jones

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Cult indie-folk band the Mountain Goats is known for having fans that are rabidly devoted—and you’d almost have to be like that just to keep up. Led by John Darnielle—a charmingly nerdy 49-year-old songwriter whose professed admirers include Stephen Colbert, and whom Rolling Stone recently dubbed rock’s “best storyteller”—the Goats have put out 15 albums since 1994, using simple chord structures as a framework for Darnielle’s complex lyrical narratives. Fans have even petitioned to make him America’s Poet Laureate, so maybe it’s no surprise that Darnielle recently stumbled into literary success as well.

His debut novel, Wolf in White Van, about a reclusive, disfigured game designer who seeks refuge in a role-playing game, was a 2014 National Book Award finalist. Out February 7, Darnielle’s latest, an enchanting horror mystery called Universal Harvester, follows a video store clerk in small-town Iowa whose customers begin complaining of disturbing footage spliced into their rented VHS tapes. (The paperback review copy came sheathed in a plastic VHS clamshell.) When he’s not writing something, Darnielle, raised in a progressive activist household, is out fighting for reproductive justice—serving, for instance, on the board of the National Abortion Rights Action League and performing in support of Planned Parenthood.

Mother Jones: So you’re this celebrated songwriter and touring musician, and one morning you wake up as a novelist?

John Darnielle: It was much slower than that! An editor from Continuum asked me how come I hadn’t pitched to “33 1/3” a series of books about individual LPs. I pitched Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality. He liked it, so I wrote it. The critique was housed in this fictional narrative, the longest long-form narrative I’d ever attempted—at least since I wrote a very long poem cycle in the late ’80s. An album you write a bunch of songs and put them together, but with this, the focus it required was exhilarating. I submitted the manuscript, and while waiting to hear back I just started writing something else—I ended up writing what became the last chapter of Wolf in White Van. It was just something to do. A lot of good work sort of starts in idleness and becomes labor. Labor for a lot of people has a negative connotation. But not for me. I always want to be working.

MJ: And you got a National Book Award nomination straight out of the gate!

JD: I’m still kind of processing that. I thought that people wouldn’t hate it, but really, I was in shock. That happened two days after it got published! My editor calls me, “Hey, you’re not gonna believe this.” Laughs.

MJ: So, many successful first-time authors struggle with their second novel.

JD: It’s both easier and harder. The easier part is you know you can do it, whereas at a certain point on Wolf in White Van I’m sitting on the floor in the hallway with the manuscript all over the place, cutting up with scissors, trying to figure out what went where. There was a point where I was like, “This is going to be a mess. I’ll never put it get it back together.” If I hadn’t done it out in physical space, it would’ve never gotten finished. The second one, you know well enough to be planning ahead. A lot of the time with Wolf, I would find out what was going to happen as I wrote the sentence: click click click click…Oh! He went to a hospital! You can ad-lib a song. A novel is a performance you have to plan.

MJ: In the new book, as we often see in your music, there’s this horror motif.

JD: When I was a kid, I was a big science fiction fan, but current horror books were harder to get your hands on. You’d get, you know, Poe and Lovecraft. So there was this zine called Whispers. They would publish things by Robert Aikman, Manly Wade Wellmann, and Dennis Etchison, big names in a very small pond. Whispers was very hard to find, but it was really cool. Aikman would write horror stories that weren’t gore, they weren’t slashers, and they weren’t monster stories either. He called them ghost stories. The main thing about them was the vibe. It was really disquieting. He wanted to sketch the scene so that you could see it and know the characters and get a feel for the motion—and then ask yourself why and not get a final answer. Leave something that itches. I loved that! Etchison would write stories that were just punch lines at the end. You wouldn’t realize something horrific was happening until the last paragraph.

MJ: So what scares you most?

JD: The possibility of disaster remains horrific to me. Like when you know everything’s about to go wrong in a way that’s not controllable or knowable. What’s scary is the unknown, the stuff you can’t put your finger on. Hauntings are also scary—the notion that there are things from the past that render, that you can’t wash out, that you can’t be free of. The notion of the mark—the mark of Cain—is scary. Stuff clinging to you is scary.

MJ: Did you ever work in a video store?

JD: I worked the AV counter at the Roland Heights public library in the ’80s.

MJ: Did people ever record weird stuff on the tapes?

JD: No, I made that up. My best story from the library was the time a couple asked for a recommendation, and I recommended Raising Arizona and they absolutely hated it. They came back hungry for blood. I was on my lunch break and my boss came out and said, “Hey kid, you need to come talk to these people. They totally hate Arizona.” And he said, “Arizona‘s a dog; nobody gets that movie.” I said, “What’re you talking about! All my friends love that movie.” Laughs.

MJ: Was it your idea to package the book in a VHS case?

JD: No. This is the funny thing about me. People think John just comes up with all the ideas. I’m honored. People think I have a big old brain, but actually I am the sum of the people I work with. I do a few things pretty well. I write good songs, I hope I write good books, and I’m a pretty bitchin’ performer, I will say—you come to a Mountain Goats show and you’re gonna have a good time. But I consider myself a prep cook. The stuff I do is indispensable to the meal, but it’s not the whole meal.

MJ: You write so many songs. Do you ever get bored of it?

JD: Nah. People don’t tend to notice, but in the past 10 years especially there’s been a lot of growth in how I write songs and what goes into them. You can listen to Mountain Goats from 1991 to 2007 and never hear a seventh chord. In 2007 or 2008, I started working on the piano to grow as a songwriter. I started throwing major sevens in and sixes and more interesting stuff. I still write in 4/4 time. Maybe not the next hurdle, but one I want to meet in a couple years, is writing something in three or in six.

MJ: Wait, you’re going to turn the Mountain Goats into math rock?

JD: Well, six is not that complicated, but 13—I’d like to write something in 13!

MJ: You officially retired your song “Going to Georgia.” Have you retired others?

JD: Yeah, I think that’s pretty natural. I suspect by the time the Beatles were writing the White Album, they didn’t go, “‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand!’ I wanna play that!” It’s like if somebody asked you to put on the clothes you wore in high school. Well, no. No!

MJ: What was it like growing up in this intensely pro-choice household?

JD: It was exciting, insofar as I was thinking about things that few of my peers were. Young people like to feel self-righteous, like they’re on the right side of things.

MJ: In recent years, abortion rights have come under serious assault.

JD: If you’re working at the very local level and there are nine of you and six of the other people, you can strong-arm them. The anti-choice forces stole that tactic from the left! They’ve learned that if you act locally, you can get stuff on the books that will take forever to undo. It’s the same with redistricting. It’s hard to get people from far away to give a shit. That’s the issue! It’s easy to follow national politics and weigh in on social media, but if I’m tweeting stuff about Chatham County, no one cares. All you can do is wait until they make a move that’s unconstitutional, and then you have to sue, and you appeal—that’s how it works.

MJ: You’re based in Durham, North Carolina, these days?

JD: Yessir. We’re actually right next door to Wade County, where the first targeted regulation of abortion provider (TRAP) laws were enacted. They can’t outlaw abortion, so they say, “Well, you can have an abortion, but the operating table has to be a Möbius strip, and the public restroom has to be 1,000 yards from the operating table.” It’s so playground! It’s: “Cross this line and I’m gonna punch you in the face,” and then they draw the line in back of you.

MJ: North Carolina recently has been on the vanguard of being against trans rights and eroding voting rights and so on.

JD: North Carolina was on the vanguard of being for those things, and that’s why we’re seeing this pushback. The conservatives noticed that there had been a lot of progress and they tried to tamp it down. Conservative forces in the South have a lot of power—almost dynastic—dating back many years. Our former governor Pat McCrory was supposed to be a moderate, but he found himself beholden to people who have much more draconian ideas. I think he assumed this stuff flew under the radar.

MJ: The Black Lives Matter movement in Charlotte seems pretty robust.

JD: Durham was gonna vote Democrat regardless of whether the Republicans nominated this madman—it’s a very blue county. Charlotte—things are a little different. But over the past 40 years, the tradition of Southern progressivism has been somewhat successfully erased by right-wing revisionist historians. The South actually has a very strong tradition of activism. The civil rights movement came from down here! It was black activists demanding that their voices be heard. People say these are red states. No they’re not! They’re hotbeds of progressivism that have been legislated against and redistricted out of existence. The fighting spirit remains in the voice of the people down here.

MJ: Are you tempted to infuse your songs and books with your politics?

JD: No. I have a hunger for justice, but art is a place I’ve always enjoyed being able to be free—to live in worlds that you don’t have to be thinking about that all the time. I don’t see myself writing Upton Sinclair books. My books are to entertain, although to me, entertainment is to make you feel sadness or to get in touch with your own pain—or fear, or to remember somebody who has gone missing from your life. That’s my calling. There are real teachers out there; I don’t pretend to have their mantle.

MJ: Are there any writers you’ve tried to emulate?

JD: There are stylists I really love. I’m a huge Joan Didion fan—if I wrote something that she might like, then I’d feel very proud. I want the action to move as quickly as it does in A Book of Common Prayer, where one thing bonks right into another very quickly, but I want the effect to be a little more velvety—simple language that has lush effects.

MJ: Had you ever written fiction prior to Wolf?

JD: I wrote short stories when I was a teenager, but they weren’t any good and I kinda knew it. I was 14 or 15 when I discovered poetry, and I pretty much stopped writing prose until Master of Reality. I did a lot of music criticism. I don’t think much of it was any good. I think I wanted to show off a lot when I was younger. Now I just want people to enjoy the story. If it were possible to publish anonymously, that would be awesome.

MJ: A lot of your fans seem to know your entire catalog. They sing along at shows and shout out constant requests. What does that feel like?

JD: It’s a a huge honor. I try not to dwell on it, because anything that might lead to me being too egocentric is not healthy. I’ll look at them and try to have a moment with them, but I hope it’s more of a shared experience than a didactic one.

MJ: Do the requests get annoying?

JD: Generally no. A good show—and this is on the band as much as on the audience—people will get a sense of the rhythm, so they won’t yell out a request after some song where everyone has gotten real sad together. That would be unkind. But I don’t really have any position to complain about my job. Yeah, every job has its moments like, “Ah, you know, it’s Wednesday.” But I’m blessed. I love my work.

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Lyrical Genius John Darnielle Has a Scary New Novel

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Petraeus Warns That Divisive Actions on Muslims Strengthen Extremists

Mother Jones

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President Donald Trump has faced criticism from across the political spectrum after signing an executive order last Friday restricting travel from seven majority-Muslim countries. On Wednesday, one of Trump’s favorite military minds appeared to add his voice to the public condemnation.

General David Petraeus, a finalist for secretary of state in the Trump administration despite his disgraced exit from the CIA, told the House Armed Services Committee that broad-brush statements from Trump and others in his administration about Islam and Muslims complicate the fight against groups like ISIS.

“We must also remember that Islamic extremists want to portray this fight as a clash of civilizations, with America at war against Islam,” Petraeus said at a hearing on national security threats and challenges. “We must not let them do that. Indeed, we must be very sensitive to actions that might give them ammunition in such an effort.”

Trump’s executive order grew out of his campaign promise to implement a “Muslim ban.” It followed reports that the Trump administration was considering reopening CIA black sites, based on a draft executive order that replaced phrases like “global war on terrorism” and “jihadist” with “radical Islamic terrorism” and “Islamist.” This weekend, Trump also elevated adviser Steve Bannon by giving him a seat on the National Security Council’s Principals Committee. Bannon has said that Islam is a “religion of submission” and frequently hosted and praised guests on his radio show who disparaged Islam.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Petraeus also pushed back on Trump’s suggestions that NATO alliances might be weakened and Russian aggression tolerated. Trump has called NATO “obsolete” and has worried leaders across the world with his seemingly soft stance on Russia.

“Americans should not take the current international order for granted,” the retired general said. “It did not will itself into existence. We created it. Likewise, it is not naturally self-sustaining. We have sustained it. If we stop doing so it will fray and eventually collapse. This is precisely what some of our adversaries seek to encourage.”

Petraeus told the committee that “conventional aggression” may get US adversaries like Russia “a bit of land on its periphery,” but the real fight is more fundamental. “The real center of gravity is the political will of the major democratic powers to defend Euro-Atlantic institutions like NATO and the European Union,” Petraeus said. “That is why Russia is working tenaciously to sow doubt in the legitimacy of these institutions and our entire democratic way of life.”

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Petraeus Warns That Divisive Actions on Muslims Strengthen Extremists

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