Monday, February 19, 2018

Secret Agent Man

You can view this post on weeklysift.com: https://weeklysift.com/2018/02/19/secret-agent-man/

Monday, February 12, 2018

Preserve, Protect, and Defend

The bottom line of this is that they protected an abuser. And guess what is a job qualification to work in this White House? To protect someone who talked favorably about sexual assault on the Access Hollywood tapes. That is a job qualification in this White House. There's a pattern of behavior. ... They protect abusers. There's no way of getting around it, and I guess people will say, "Well, it doesn't matter. You can still be a good president. You can still do your job." No. If you are willing to defend someone who hurt somebody in this fashion, you have no boundaries. You have no restraint. You have no respect for the law.

- Amanda Carpenter, former staffer for Jim DeMint and Ted Cruz

 

This week's featured post is "Does the Exploding Federal Deficit Matter?"

This week everybody was talking about the White House defending spousal abuse

Porter's first wife

CNN summarizes the background:

Rob Porter, a top White House aide with regular access to President Donald Trump abruptly resigned on Wednesday amid abuse allegations from two ex-wives, who each detailed to CNN what they said were years of consistent abuse from Porter, including incidents of physical violence.

As so often happens with this White House, the move arises not because higher-ups found out -- White House Counsel Don McGahn apparently knew already -- but because the story was becoming public. CNN reports:

By early fall, it was widely known among Trump's top aides -- including chief of staff John Kelly -- both that Porter was facing troubles in obtaining the clearance and that his ex-wives claimed he had abused them. No action was taken to remove him from the staff. Instead, Kelly and others oversaw an elevation in Porter's standing. He was one of a handful of aides who helped draft last week's State of the Union address.

Porter was serving in the White House on an interim security clearance. (Until this week, I didn't know such a thing existed. I used to have a job that required a clearance, and you couldn't wander around the building unescorted until your clearance came through. Your boss would have to go outside the security perimeter to visit you in your temporary office. Apparently this White House has a more lax attitude. Jared Kushner also has an interim clearance.) He hadn't gotten a permanent clearance precisely because his ex-wives had told their stories to the FBI, who consequently worried that Porter could be blackmailed by America's enemies.

So far, we don't know exactly what Kelly knew when. (A Congress that was doing its job would ask him.) But he definitely had known for weeks that Porter wasn't getting a clearance, and that the issue involved a court order against him by one of his wives. When the initial reports surfaced in the press Tuesday, Kelly's first reaction Wednesday was to stand by Porter:

Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor and I can't say enough good things about him. He is a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him.

Sarah Sanders echoed his sentiment:

I have worked directly with Rob Porter nearly every day for the last year and the person I know is someone of the highest integrity and exemplary character. Those of us who have the privilege of knowing him are better people because of it.

Only later in the day, when pictures like the one above started circulating, did Kelly change his tune -- sort of.

I was shocked by the new allegations released today against Rob Porter. There is no place for domestic violence in our society. I stand by my previous comments of the Rob Porter that I have come to know since becoming Chief of Staff, and believe every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation.

The difference wasn't that Kelly learned new facts, but that the pictures in the press made Porter indefensible.


A second White House staffer resigned Friday after abuse allegations by his ex-wife. Trump played defense Saturday morning:

Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused - life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?

Porter's second wife took that tweet personally. After all, Trump said "lives", which indicates he's talking about more than one case. In an op-ed in Time, Jennie Willloughby wrote:

The words “mere allegation” and “falsely accused” meant to imply that I am a liar. That Colbie Holderness is a liar. That the work Rob was doing in the White House was of higher value than our mental, emotional or physical wellbeing. That his professional contributions are worth more than the truth. That abuse is something to be questioned and doubted.


The really stunning part of this story is that Porter has been dating White House Communications Director Hope Hicks. Vanity Fair describes Hicks as: "one of the most powerful people in the White House, protected by Trump almost like a member of the Trump family." We're left with two possibilities: (1) Hicks knew that Porter had abused his two wives, and decided to date him anyway. (2) Hicks didn't know, and Kelly was content to let her date Porter without knowing.


You might hope for some tearful apology from Porter, maybe coupled with a statement about how he had found Jesus and turned his life around. But no, he denies everything. So it's a he-said/she-said-and-she-said-and-has-pictures story. The second staffer (David Sorenson) says he was actually the victim of his wife's violence.


As for the rumors that Kelly might be on his way out ... I'll believe that when he's gone.

Kelly has long been able to hide behind his reputation as a Marine general. But it has been obvious for some while that he himself is not "a man of true integrity and honor" either. Back in October, when Trump was feuding with the wife of a soldier killed in action in Niger, Kelly supported Trump's false account of their phone conversation, and then slandered Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who heard the widow's side of the call. When video proved that Kelly had lied about Wilson, he refused to apologize.

That's the kind of man John Kelly is, and it's totally consistent with what we're seeing now.

and the budget deal

The government was actually shut down for a few hours after midnight on Friday, but hardly anybody noticed. Friday morning Congress passed and Trump signed a deal that did a few things:

  • kept the government funded until March 23
  • agreed on spending levels for the rest of FY 2018, which lasts through September
  • raised the debt ceiling for another year

The agreement blew away spending caps that have been around since the budget sequestration agreement that ended the 2013 debt-ceiling crisis. That deal had linked caps on defense spending with caps on non-defense spending. Republicans have long wanted to do away with the defense cap, which Democrats weren't willing to do with the non-defense cap still in place. So they circumvented both: Each of the next two years, the Defense cap goes up by $160 billion to around $700 billion, and the non-defense cap goes up $128 billion to $591 billion.

Coupled with the recent tax cut, Congress is now looking at a deficit of around $1.2 trillion for FY 2019, not counting the infrastructure proposal Trump is making today. The featured post discusses just how worried we should be about that.

Raising the budget caps, though, doesn't actually appropriate money. That has to happen in a separate bill that has to get worked out by March 23. The appropriation bill, called an "omnibus", has to describe where the money goes in more detail.


Beyond just "making America great again", I haven't seen a detailed analysis of what the Pentagon needs more money for. The non-defense part includes money for disaster relief, community health centers, the opioid problem, and infrastructure.

and the Dreamers

One thing the budget deal didn't include was a resolution to the problem of the Dreamers, who could start being deported next month (though probably not, because of certain court decisions). Certainly there is deportation risk later in the year.

Democrats sent mixed messages. Nancy Pelosi cited the lack of a DACA fix when she voted against the budget deal herself and gave a record-setting 8-hour speech on the floor of the House. But Democratic leadership did not try to hold House Democrats together to vote down the deal, which Democrats could have done if they had stuck together (given that some Republicans were also voting no for other reasons). I'm uncertain whether the caucus would have held together if Pelosi had tried.

In the deal that resolved the last shutdown, Democrats got a commitment from Mitch McConnell to let a DACA bill come to the floor, but the bipartisan group of senators who are supposed to write such a bill haven't been able to agree on a text yet, so McConnell's promise hasn't been tested.


If you think the Dreamers won't get deported even after DACA runs out, you need to understand the kind of things ICE is doing now: About a month ago, Dr. Lukasz Niec, "a physician specializing in internal medicine at Bronson Healthcare Group in Kalamazoo", a legal permanent resident with a green card, and the father of a 12-year-old girl (who is an American citizen), got arrested in his home. The problem: the 43-year-old physician was convicted of two misdemeanors when he was a teen-ager, so he is "subject to removal" back to Poland, where he hasn't lived since he was five years old, when his family escaped the Communist regime then in power.

He spent about three weeks in county jail and went back to work Thursday. His deportation case is still pending while a parole board considers whether to pardon him for his crimes.

So, Dr. Niec is one of the "bad hombres" Trump was talking about.


Another bad hombre is Syed Jamal, who lives in Lawrence, Kansas and teaches chemistry at Park University in Missouri. Jamal came to the U.S. legally in 1987 as a student from Bangladesh. He stayed after his student visa ran out, married, and is raising several children (U.S. citizens) between ages 7 and 14.

Jamal was arrested while walking his children to school, and was whisked away to a jail in El Paso, from which he could have been flown back to Bangladesh at any moment. (Sometimes ICE grabs people off the street and deports them the same day.) A judge has granted him a temporary stay until Thursday, at which point no one knows what will happen.

If the Iraq War taught us anything, it should have taught us that dragging fathers away while their sons watch is a good way to nurture future terrorism.


Roberto Beristain, who lived in the U.S. for 20 years, and owned and operated Eddie's Steak Shed in Granger, Indiana, was deported to Mexico in April. His wife, a citizen, now regrets voting for Trump; she had believed his promise that he was only interested in deporting criminals. They were raising three children together, including one from her previous marriage.

CNN talked to Beristain's attorney, who told this story:

Beristain bounced between detention facilities -- Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Louisiana, New Mexico and Texas -- making it more difficult for his attorneys to file legal motions in one jurisdiction. Then on Wednesday, as his legal team was expecting a ruling, they got the news: ICE had deported him to Juarez in the middle of the night.

From an immigrant shelter in Mexico, Beristain describes how it went down:

"They suddenly told me it was time to go," Roberto Beristain was quoted as saying. "They told me to get my stuff, they put me in the back of a van and sped toward the border. They took me to another facility while in transport to sign paperwork. I asked to speak with my attorney, but was told there wasn't time for that. At around 10 p.m., I was dropped off at the Mexico-US border and walked into Mexico."

and the stock market

The stock market drop of the last couple weeks has been unnerving, but so far the problem seems to be more about the market economy than the real economy. In other words: Investors are worried that stock prices got too high, not that there is something wrong with the economy.

I don't make market predictions, and you shouldn't trust me if I did. But if you are invested in the market, you shouldn't panic, you should just ask yourself why you own what you own. If the reasons you bought a stock are still valid -- you believe in the product, the earnings and dividend numbers look good, and so on -- then stand pat. But if you bought stocks because stocks were going up, well, lately they've been they're going down. I don't know what to tell you.

and (still) the Nunes memo

Last week I dissected the Republican memo that tried (and failed) to de-legitimize the Mueller investigation. This week Trump refused to allow the release of the Democrats' memo critiquing the Republican memo. That's where we are: The administration is openly cherry-picking classified information, releasing stuff that supports Trump and keeping secret anything it can that makes him look bad. National security is a secondary concern; propaganda comes first.


When Trump said he was "looking forward" to talking to Robert Mueller, and would do so under oath, I didn't buy it.

If anybody expects to see Trump under oath without (or even with) an order from the Supreme Court, let me remind you of all the times he has said he would release his tax returns.

This week, we found out that Trump's lawyers are laying the groundwork to resist a Mueller/Trump interview. Ultimately, it will probably come down to whether or not he invokes the Fifth Amendment. Lawyer Seth Abramson explains the legal issues involved.


Vox listed all the stories that slipped under the radar last week while everybody was arguing about the memo: A Labor Department analysis shows that a new rule will result in restaurants stealing billions from their workers, but it isn't releasing that information. The CDC is facing a huge cut to programs that address foreign epidemics; I guess Trump's Wall will stop all those germs from getting here. People in public housing will face higher rents and more red tape. Ben Carson's son is benefiting from his Dad's job as HUD secretary. The payday lending industry is rewarding Trump for favorable treatment by holding a big conference at one of Trump's clubs.

and you also might be interested in ...

Amazing article this week in the NYT Magazine: "What Teens Are Learning From Online Porn". Some Boston teens from a variety of high schools attended a Porn Literacy class; their conversations have a lot to teach adults. Pretty much everybody understands that the plotlines of porn videos are ridiculous. (Delivering pizzas to lonely housewives is not a good strategy for losing your virginity.) But inexperienced teens are taking porn seriously as a lesson in what kinds of things their future partners will expect them to do, and what kinds of things s/he will enjoy. And since adults refuse to recognize that kids are seeing this stuff, the lessons don't get critiqued.


Some people, as they get older, stop caring about other people's approval and just say what's on their minds. Check out this interview with 84-year-old musician Quincy Jones.


Jonathan Rauch and Benjamin Wittes argue that the Republican Party has passed a point of no return:

This, then, is the article we thought we would never write: a frank statement that a certain form of partisanship is now a moral necessity. The Republican Party, as an institution, has become a danger to the rule of law and the integrity of our democracy. The problem is not just Donald Trump; it’s the larger political apparatus that made a conscious decision to enable him. In a two-party system, nonpartisanship works only if both parties are consistent democratic actors. If one of them is not predictably so, the space for nonpartisans evaporates. We’re thus driven to believe that the best hope of defending the country from Trump’s Republican enablers, and of saving the Republican Party from itself, is to do as Toren Beasley did: vote mindlessly and mechanically against Republicans at every opportunity, until the party either rights itself or implodes

Jennifer Rubin, who used to work at The Weekly Standard and was a strong Mitt Romney supporter in 2012, comes pretty close to saying the same thing. She connects defending spouse-abusers in the White House with the abuse of classified documents, the abuse of Senate procedure, and the whole raft of norm-violations that have been going on for a while now. "The core mission of the GOP is now to defend abusers," she writes.


EPA Director Scott Pruitt was interviewed by KSNV in Las Vegas. Here's some of what he said:

We know humans have most flourished during times of what, warming trends. So I think there's assumptions made that because the climate is warming, that that necessarily is a bad thing. Do we really know what the ideal surface temperature should be in the year 2100, in the year 2018? That's fairly arrogant for us to think that we know exactly what it should be in 2100.

The stupidity here is subtle, so it probably gets past people who don't want to think about the climate, or who have vested interests in the fossil-fuel industry.

  • The problem isn't just that we're in a warming trend, it's that the speed of the warming is unprecedented. If global average temperature went up 4 degrees over 10,000 years or 100,000 years, various natural and human systems might adjust smoothly. But the same warming in 100 years is catastrophic.
  • The warming trend isn't just happening to us, we're causing it. So he's got the arrogance exactly backwards: It's arrogant to think that we can cause drastic climate change and not think about the consequences.

Closing the hole in the ozone layer is usually considered one of the victories of environmental regulation. But now there might be a new problem.


John Quiggen argues that Bitcoin disproves the idea that markets are efficient. The objects of previous bubbles -- dot-com stocks, market derivatives -- had plausible (if ultimately false) claims to value.

The contrast with Bitcoin is stark. The Bitcoin bubble rests on no plausible premise.... Hardly anyone now suggests that Bitcoin has value as a currency. Rather, the new claim is that Bitcoin is a “store of value” and that its price reflects its inherent scarcity. ... If Bitcoin is a “store of value,” then asset prices are entirely arbitrary. As the proliferation of cryptocurrencies has shown, nothing is easier than creating a scarce asset.


Here's the kind of clever entrepreneurship our country needs: A Girl Scout sold 300 boxes of cookies in six hours by setting up outside a legal marijuana shop in San Diego.

and let's close with something unexpected

In New Zealand, elderly people (and others who think they might die sooner rather than later) have started forming "coffin clubs". With help from the other members, they build their own coffins and decorate them creatively, preparing for funerals that will be celebrations of their lives rather than somber and depressing affairs. And they publicized the idea with a jazzy music video.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Doing Putin's Job

The latest attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests – no party’s, no president’s, only Putin’s. The American people deserve to know all of the facts surrounding Russia’s ongoing efforts to subvert our democracy, which is why special counsel Mueller’s investigation must proceed unimpeded. Our nation’s elected officials, including the president, must stop looking at this investigation through the warped lens of politics and manufacturing partisan sideshows. If we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putin’s job for him.

- Senator John McCain

This week's featured post is "The Nunes Memo: It's ridiculous and it damages the country, but it might work." On my religious blog Free and Responsible Search, I posted the text of the sermon "Owning My Racism", which I preached on Martin Luther King Sunday.

This week everybody was talking about the Nunes memo

The featured post goes into detail about the memo itself. But there are a number of articles about the larger effects, like "Why I Am Leaving the FBI" by counterterrorism expert Josh Campbell. The comments contain a lot of you-should-stand-and-fight messages, but they miss the point: FBI rules prevent agents from speaking out in public. If the problem is in the political arena, Campbell has to leave the FBI to work on it.

Another interesting perspective comes from former Illinois congressman and right-wing talk-radio host Joe Walsh: "Based on my experience working with him, nothing about the way he’s behaving now as chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence — overseeing part of the so-called Russia-Trump investigation — is particularly shocking. The Nunes I knew was a purely partisan animal. ... With Nunes, I found it was all about politics, almost never about policy."


As TPM's Allegra Kirkland points out "the FBI isn't a hotbed of Democratic partisans". It makes sense that, say, career EPA officials would be Democrats, because protecting the environment is much more of Democratic value than a Republican one. But it defies logic that career FBI agents as a group would have a liberal bias, or that the FBI chain-of-command would be dominated by partisan Democrats.

Think about it: If you run into a college student who's majoring in environmental studies and hoping to work at the EPA, she's almost certainly a liberal. But if she's majoring in law enforcement and hoping to work at the FBI, I don't think you can say much about her politics. If anything, she's probably more conservative than most Americans her age.


In the meantime, Putin's investment in Trump continues to pay dividends. In particular, the Trump administration is not going to enforce some of the sanctions overwhelmingly passed by Congress.

Also, the head of a major Russian intelligence service came to the U.S., in spite of sanctions that are supposed to keep him out. Last I heard, no one was taking credit for letting him in.

and the State of the Union

Tuesday seems like a long time ago, but Trump's first State of the Union address was this week. By now we all realize that Teleprompter Trump and Campaign Rally Trump are two very different speakers. This was Teleprompter Trump. The numbers are pretty much all nonsense, like the claim that cutting the corporate tax will "increase average family income by more than $4,000", but at least he didn't call Mexicans rapists or invite the gallery to punch his opponents in the face.

As I predicted before he took office, he's taking credit for a lot of Obama's accomplishments. ("We are now an exporter of energy to the world.") He continued to paint immigrants as criminals, making the MS-13 gang the face of immigration, and a reason to turn away refugee children. He made a lot of probably empty promises about infrastructure and new trade deals. He talked about "clean coal" as if those words actually meant something. I would examine the text more closely, but I've become skeptical of anything Trump says. Let's see what actual proposals get made.


One passage does deserve attention, because it's a very dangerous idea I suspect we'll hear again:

I call on the Congress to empower every Cabinet Secretary with the authority to reward good workers — and to remove Federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.

That's how the federal government worked in the 19th century, when it was a giant patronage machine similar to some of the big-city political machines. That's why the Civil Service Act got passed in 1883.


I thought Joe Kennedy did a good job with his response to Trump's speech. The Trump administration, he said, is turning America into a zero-sum game, where "in order for one to win, another must lose".

As if the mechanic in Pittsburgh and the teacher in Tulsa and the day care worker in Birmingham are somehow bitter rivals, rather than mutual casualties of a system forcefully rigged for those at the top. As if the parent who lies awake terrified that their transgender son will be beaten and bullied at school is any more or less legitimate than the parent whose heart is shattered by a daughter in the grips of opioid addiction. So here is the answer Democrats offer tonight: we choose both. We fight for both.

That sounds like a theme Democrats can run on. It ties right in to the budget battles, where there's never enough money for what ordinary Americans need, because we've already given it away in tax cuts for the rich.


CBS News shines a light on the administration's all-talk-no-action opioid policy.

The answers, according to the president's speech: tightened immigration laws that will slow drug trafficking and getting "much tougher on drug dealers and pushers if we are going to succeed in stopping this scourge." But the rhetoric omitted any mention of the actual solutions proposed by experts on the front lines of the crisis.

What's left out?

  • Addiction to prescription drugs, which are made right here and trafficked through doctors and drug stores.
  • Funding for treatment programs.

Trump declared opioid addiction a "public health emergency" in October, but that in itself opened up only $57K in federal funding. Since then, he has not proposed any opioid program to Congress.


Another piece of the real state of the union is that we're losing environmental protections.


By coincidence, the day after Trump's speech I was reading David Wong's latest novel What the Hell Did I Just Read?, where I ran into this passage:

Marconi's pipe was leaning against an ancient figurine that looked like some kind of Egyptian god, only it had an enormous, erect penis almost as big as its torso, the figure's left hand wrapped around the shaft. ... "It's the Egyptian god Min, popular in the fourth century B.C., the god of fertility. It is believed that during the coronation of a new Pharaoh, he would be required to masturbate in front of the crowd, to demonstrate that he himself possessed the fertility powers of Min. If you have watched a State of the Union address, you will find that the ritual has not changed much."

The description of Min turns out to be accurate, but Wong writes intentionally absurd novels, so I wouldn't trust the claim about Pharaoh.

but we need to be telling stories about the cruelty of Trump's immigration policies

Max Boot tells about Helen Huynh. She and her husband came here from Vietnam after the war, in which her husband fought on our side. They became citizens and had two daughters, who of course are citizens. She developed leukemia and needed a stem-cell transplant; her sister in Vietnam turned out to be a perfect match. But the sister's visa application to come here for the procedure was rejected three times, and Huynh died a few days before Trump's State of the Union.

Also take a look at the Dreamer Stories web site. The more we can get voters to look at the Dreamers as individuals, the harder it will be to deport them.

and you also might be interested in ...

The Super Bowl: Philadelphia 41, New England 33.


The federal government is expected to borrow nearly $1 trillion this year, a sharp increase over last year. Neither party in Congress seems to be worried about this or have any plan to do anything about it. I've explained in the past why I don't believe the federal debt is a big problem, but it certainly looks like a big problem, so you can be sure that eventually we'll be told that we have to accept major cuts in the social safety net because the country can't afford it. (Reversing the recent trillion-dollar giveaway to corporations and the rich won't come up.)


Judges keep knocking down voter suppression laws. This time it's the disenfranchisement of felons in Florida. Under the current rules, anyone convicted of a felony (and many felonies are not such heinous crimes) has to serve the sentence and probation, wait five years (or seven for some offenses), and then begin an appeal process that ends up in front of "a panel of high-level government officials over which Florida's governor has absolute veto authority." According to Judge Mark Walker: "No standards guide the panel."

In other words, the governor gets to choose which Floridians will be allowed to vote for his re-election. That conflict of interest is not just theoretical. The judge writes:

Plaintiffs identify several instances of former felons who professed political views amenable to the Board’s members who then received voting rights, while those who expressed contrary political views to the Board were denied those same rights. Applicants—as well as their character witnesses—have routinely invoked their conservative beliefs and values to their benefit.

The judge focused on the arbitrariness of the system of restoring voting rights to felons, and allowed the 5-7 year waiting period. He put off ordering a remedy until later this month.

But even without the political bias, such a system is wrong. It's wrong on an individual basis, because after you've served your time, you should be allowed to re-enter society fully. But when you combine felon disenfranchisement with a justice system that is looking for black crime and far more likely to convict black law-breakers than white ones, you wind up with a significant disenfranchisement of the black community. (Walker notes that 1-in-5 of Florida's black adults is disenfranchised.) Similarly, upper-class and middle-class voters accused of a felony are more likely to have good lawyers who can either get them off or plea-bargain to a misdemeanor. So a substantial class bias gets baked into the electorate as well.

Someone might argue that the system is fair, and blacks and poor people just commit more felonies. But I think that the burden of proof in that argument should be borne by the state.

In November, Floridians -- at least the ones still allowed to -- will vote on a ballot initiative to restore felon voting rights.


No human languages or institutions have lasted for 10,000 years, so how do you make a warning symbol for something that will be dangerous that long? (Consider the skull-and-crossbones. You might intend it to say "poison", but some future person might think "pirate treasure".) What kind of warning will get people's attention, but not make them curious? Vox and 99% Invisible explore those questions in this fascinating video.

and let's close with something cute

If you can't wait for the Olympics to start, I offer this video of a girl doing an obstacle course that her Dad built in the back yard.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Saving Jesus

To save Jesus from those claiming to be his heirs, we must wrench him from the hands of those who use him as a fa├žade from which to hide their phobias — their fear of blacks, their fear of the undocumented, their fear of Muslims, their fear of everything queer.

- Miguel De La Torre "The Death of Christianity in the U. S."

This week's featured posts are "Trump's Evangelical toadies are destroying the Christian brand" and "The Shutdown, DACA, and Immigration: Where We Are".

This week everybody was talking about the end of the shutdown

One of the featured posts discusses this in more detail. One additional thing about the related immigration debate: Something you often hear European-Americans say is: "I'm not against immigrants. I just think they should come in the right way, like my ancestors did."

Three points on that: First, when my German ancestors came to America in the 1840s and 1850s, there was no wrong way, because there were no rules. America didn't start limiting immigration until the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. From the beginning, it's always been about race.

Second, immigrating to this country legally, i.e., becoming a legal permanent resident, isn't the simple thing that "why don't they just ..." statements imply. People come here without a green card because they see no chance of getting one, not because they want to flaunt our laws. MTV's Franchesca Ramsey explains.

Finally, Trump's latest proposal (which further tightens legal immigration) will just make this worse. So the statement boils down to "Why don't they do something we're not going to let them do?"

and the Mueller investigation

Thursday, The New York Times reported that Trump ordered the Justice Department to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller last June, after it became clear Mueller was investigating Trump for obstruction of justice. Reportedly, White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign rather than deliver the message to Justice, and Trump backed down.

For what it's worth, Trump called the report "fake news" and "a typical New York Times fake story". Joe Scarborough's response to Sean Hannity's attempt to first deny and then distract from this story is hilarious.


Wednesday, Trump told reporters he was "looking forward" to talking with Mueller, and said he would do so under oath, repeating a claim he made last June. It was only a few hours before his lawyers were walking that back.

Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer leading the response to the investigation, said Mr. Trump was speaking hurriedly and intended only to say that he was willing to meet.

If anybody expects to see Trump under oath without (or even with) an order from the Supreme Court, let me remind you of all the times he has said he would release his tax returns. All this just underlines the Jay Rosen quote I mentioned last week, about the pointlessness of interviewing Trump:

In an interview situation, [Trump is] just saying what — at the moment — makes him feel like the best, the biggest, the greatest, the brightest, the richest, the most potent. He’s just saying whatever comes to his mind as the most spectacular boast he can think of. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything about his policies.


Speaking of interviewing Trump, Matt Yglesias comes to a similar conclusion about an interview Trump did with CNBC's Joe Kernen:

Listening to him talk is interesting from an entertainment perspective (he did once host a popular television show), but it conveys no information about the world, the American government, or the Trump administration’s policies. If Kernen wanted to help his viewers understand what’s going on, he’d have been better off interviewing someone else.


Trump is also trying to get the Justice Department to release a memo written by Rep. Devin Nunes. It seems to be a summary of the conspiracy-theory view of the Mueller investigation. It's based on classified information, and career DoJ people think its release would be "extremely reckless".

He has also recently said things that make it look like he doesn't understand what obstruction of justice means.

On Wednesday, speaking briefly to reporters, Trump defended his actions in the probe as “fighting back” against unfair allegations. “Oh, well, ‘Did he fight back?’ ” Trump said. “You fight back, ‘Oh, it’s obstruction.’ ”

If you're the president of the United States and the Justice Department is investigating you, using your official powers to "fight back" is exactly what obstruction of justice means. It's illegal for good reason.

but I to push back on Trump's claims about his first year

I can't bring myself to watch the State of the Union address tomorrow night, but I'll probably read the transcript. No doubt it will be full of claims about how the economy is growing and creating jobs.

The truth is that Obama left Trump an economy trending in the right direction, and it has continued to do so. The GDP growth graph looks like this:

And the job-growth graph like this:

This is about what I would expect, because the Trump tax cut has yet to take effect, and there has been no Trump budget -- everything is still running on continuing resolutions based on Obama's last budget. If there's a boom next year, that might belong to Trump.

and you also might be interested in ...

If you're having trouble understanding or explaining net neutrality, explain it in terms of Burger King's Whoppers.


If congressional districts weren't gerrymandered, what should they look like? 538 looks at the different things you might want to optimize, and the maps they lead to.


A video made by the War Department in 1947 is going around on social media. Its message -- that we shouldn't let rabble-rousers turn us against Americans who look different than we do -- still resonates. "Remember when you hear this kind of talk: Somebody is going to get something out of it, and it isn't going to be you."

The extended play version is about 23 minutes.


Mother Jones chronicles the rise and fall of ECOT, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, an Ohio charter school that made its founder rich, cost taxpayers millions, produced poor results, and now has collapsed, leaving many of its students in the lurch.

Multiple warning signs got ignored, because ECOT fit the Republican privatization ideal so well that it got tangled up in the partisan politics of the Ohio legislature. Former Democratic Governor Ted Strickland explains:

“I don’t think all political contributions are efforts to do something nefarious,” Strickland told me. “But in this case, I think it was so obvious that these schools were so bad and were failing and had such lax oversight. I cannot give the Republican Legislature the benefit of the doubt and say that they did not know.

“When you have a situation where public moneys are used to enrich individuals,” he added, “who then in turn support the politicians that support the policies that enrich them—it may not be illegal, but I think that fits the definition of corruption.”

Statewide, ECOT got "more than $1 billion in public funding, much of it diverted from better performing Ohio schools ... at least 15 percent of that money—about $150 million—was paid to [founder William] Lager’s private companies".

Yesterday [January 18], after 17 years of operation, the school came to a spectacular end. ... Despite years of critics raising similar concerns, the school’s demise happened quickly, after two Ohio Department of Education reviews from 2016 and 2017 found that ECOT had overbilled taxpayers by $80 million for thousands of students it couldn’t show were meeting the department’s enrollment standards. As a result, last summer the state ordered the school to begin paying back almost $4 million per month in school funds, which ECOT claimed it was unable to do.


David Roberts writes about the role of climate change in our national strategy: It's been taken out of the new version of the National Security Strategy, but the Pentagon continues to take it seriously in a lot of ways.

James Stavridis, a retired Navy admiral now serving as dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, succinctly lays out the reasons the military can’t ignore climate change in this piece. Scarcity of water and other resources will drive dislocation and conflict, he writes. Coastal Naval bases are in danger of being inundated by rising seas; the Arctic is melting and opening new areas of geopolitical conflict; the rising cost of climate impacts will squeeze the military budget; and responding to severe weather events will reduce military readiness.

However, the military can't make up for climate denial in the rest of the government, because the military's focus (appropriately, Roberts says) is to respond to climate change, not prevent it. And that could lead to this dystopian future:

As things get worse, those who can afford to protect themselves — move their military bases, build sea walls and desalination plants, claim newly navigable land in the Arctic — will pull farther and farther away from those who can’t (the global poor, who did so little to cause the problem). The US might come out on top in a more violent, chaotic world, but in the end, we do not stand apart. We will sink with it.


Dr. Larry Nassar got sentenced to 40-175 years in prison for molesting young women and girls who came to him for treatment. He's 54 and already has a 60-year sentence to serve, so he's never getting out.

In addition to Nassar himself, two institutions are in trouble for enabling Nassar and ignoring his accusers: USA Gymnastics and my alma mater, Michigan State, where Nassar was on the faculty.

The whole USA Gymnastics board has resigned. The NCAA is investigating the extent to which the university was complicit, and both the university president and the athletic director have resigned. The Nassar publicity has also brought attention to reports of sexual assaults by MSU football and basketball players, which were either ignored or taken lightly. The Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights issued a report, which ESPN cites:

The report states students told investigators that Michigan State athletes "have a reputation for engaging in sexual harassment and sexual assault and not being punished for it, because athletes are held in such high regard at the university." It also states that athletes received more training on sexual harassment and sexual assault than other students but noted possible mixed messages. It cites a program called "Branded a Spartan" about upholding the Spartan name. Some male athletes told investigators that "making a report about sexual assault might tarnish the Spartan brand," and at least one said he might not report an incident involving a fellow athlete to the Title IX office, according to the report.


For a little over a month, Taco Bell has been trolling conspiracy theorists with its "Belluminati" ad campaign, like this commercial.

And guess what? It's working. The Vigilant Citizen blog says this is "the Illuminati flaunting in plain sight". The Unseen Encyclopedia warns that "the jokes on you ... it's always hidden in plain sight".

And now Taco Bell is upping ante with this "Web of Fries" movie trailer.


Leaving the subject of Taco Bell, let's talk about dietary fiber. Everybody knows it's good for you, but nobody is sure exactly what it does for you. Now there's an interesting theory that seems to prove out in mice: It's good for the bacteria in your intestines.

and let's close with something amazing

Somehow, my scientific education never covered the Leidenfrost Effect, which causes drops of water to float on a vapor layer above a metal surface heated to 500 degrees or so, and sometimes to climb up and over tiny grooves that can be formed into a ladder of sorts. It's fun to watch.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Troubles and Issues

"Troubles" are the things that bother people in their lives, that they talk about at night over the kitchen table, the things that they are actively worried about. "Issues" is what the political system does to run elections. ... When Issues don't speak to Troubles, and Troubles don't connect to Issues, you have a crisis in democracy.

-- Jay Rosen

This week's featured post is "Lies, Damned Lies, and Trump Administration Terrorism Statistics".

This week everybody was talking about a government shutdown

First, the simple facts: The shutdown became official at midnight Saturday morning. The Friday-night vote that made it final was 50-49 in the Senate. (John McCain, who is battling cancer, was the senator not voting.) The funding proposal fell well short of the 60 votes it needed to pass.

A continuing resolution to fund the government for four weeks had passed the House, but the 50 votes in the Senate were not enough to break a filibuster. The votes in both houses were mostly along party lines. In the House, Republicans voted 224-11 for the CR, and Democrats 186-6 against. In the Senate, Republicans voted for it 45-5 and Democrats against 44-5. The senators crossing party lines were five Democrats (Donnelly, Jones, Heitkamp, Manchin, McCaskill) and five Republicans (Flake, Graham, Lee, McConnell, Paul -- I suspect there's some procedural reason why McConnell voted against it once he knew it wasn't going to pass).

The two main sticking points in the negotiations leading up to the shutdown were preventing the deportation of the Dreamers and health insurance for children. (The CHIP program expired at the end of September. The states have kept it going anyway, but some will start running out of money soon.) The CR that failed funded CHIP for six years, but did nothing about the Dreamers, who will lose legal status in March because Trump killed President Obama's DACA program.

It is bizarre that these are the issues Congress is stuck on, because both are popular with the voters, and would pass if they came to the floor as individual measures. Probably the only reason CHIP wasn't reauthorized a long time ago was precisely so that Republicans could use it as a bargaining chip now. (In other words: We want to do the right thing, but only if we get something for it.) Paul Ryan is grandstanding about CHIP now, but Dylan Matthews points out all the opportunities he had to handle this problem without making it part of a shutdown vote. (In particular: Why isn't CHIP an entitlement like Medicare, rather than a program that comes up for a vote every few years?)

For weeks, optimists have expected a DACA-like program to be part of a deal that included tighter immigration rules and  more funding for border security, possibly even allowing Trump to claim that he had succeeded in getting money (from Congress and not from Mexico) to build his wall. The White House meeting that dissolved into the shithole-countries debacle was about precisely such a bipartisan deal that Senators Graham and Durbin had worked out. Since then, the main obstacle to a deal has been that Mitch McConnell didn't want to get stuck championing something that Trump wouldn't sign. All week he had been dropping ever-more-pointed hints that Trump should tell McConnell what he wants.

"I'm looking for something that President Trump supports, and he has not yet indicated what measure he is willing to sign,” McConnell said. “As soon as we figure out what he is for, then I would be convinced that we were not just spinning our wheels."

Consequently: Nothing about DACA was in the deal voted on Friday night.

So here we are: Nobody really wants a government shutdown. Almost nobody wants children to lose health insurance. Only the most radical anti-immigration minority in Congress (and Stephen Miller in the White House) wants to deport the Dreamers. And yet, these are the things we're fighting about.

There's currently a vote scheduled in the Senate later today. This could all resolve quickly, or not.

In general, nobody-wins situations like this happen because each side has its own view of how the disaster will play out. (Labor strikes are similar: Each side thinks the other will have to fold first, so they push to the crisis.) So a large part of how this comes out depends on how the public reacts. Republicans clearly think the public will frame the issue as the Democrats standing up for illegal immigrants over the American people. (Part of that is code, as I've explained before: The "American people" are white Christians.) Democrats think that the Republicans in charge of everything will bear the blame, and also have the argument that they're just trying to get Trump to do something he has often claimed he wants to do anyway. If one side is wrong, that side will eventually have to give in.

and a lie about immigrants and terrorism

That's the subject of the featured post, "Lies, Damned Lies, and Trump Administration Terrorism Statistics". To their collective shame, Homeland Security and the Department of Justice assembled a report to back up a lie Trump told to Congress: "The vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country." The report is a textbook lesson on how to abuse statistics.


While we're talking immigration, this meme has been going around:

and the Trump/Russia connection

This still looks speculative to me, but a bombshell story from McClatchy claimed that the FBI is investigating whether money from a Russian oligarch was funneled through the National Rifle Association to help elect Trump.

Investigating, of course, doesn't always mean that they've found anything, or even that there's anything to find. The purely factual part of the story is that the NRA spent way more money supporting Trump ($30 million) than they have on Romney or previous Republican presidential candidates. The NRA/Russia link is supposed to be "Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA." It's illegal to use foreign money to influence a U.S. election, so if this pans out, it's a crime.

My usual test for stories like this is whether I'd believe them if the parties were flipped. If I had heard that the FBI was investigating whether Chinese money had flowed through the Sierra Club to help Hillary Clinton, would I believe there was fire under that smoke? At this point, probably not. I plan to wait and see.


Another transcript related to the Steele dossier came out this week: Glenn Simpson, a co-founder of Fusion GPS, the research firm that hired Christopher Steele to investigate Trump's relationship with Russia and Russian oligarchs, testified before the House Intelligence Committee in November. The committee released that transcript, with a few redactions, Thursday.

I haven't completed reading either this transcript or the comparable one from the Senate Judiciary Committee, but Simpson seems impressive in what I've read of both. His investigation sounds nothing like the conspiracy theories Republicans are spreading about it. And he tells a coherent Trump/Russia narrative that may not be proven yet, but does fit a lot of the known facts: During a period when the Trump Organization wasn't considered credit-worthy, a lot of suspicious Russian money flowed into Trump projects in a way that looks like money laundering. This was the beginning of a Trump/Russia relationship that blossomed during the campaign, resulting in a significant effort by Russian intelligence to get Trump elected.

Simpson does a good job of stating what he knows and not overstating it. Like this:

"Evidence", I think, is a strong word. I think we saw patterns of buying and selling that we thought were suggestive of money laundering. ... You know, fast turnover deals and deals where there seemed to have been efforts to disguise the identity of the buyer.

Fusion GPS couldn't get "evidence" because they didn't have subpoena power to get bank records. But congressional committees do. Rep. Adam Schiff asked who they should subpoena, and Simpson laid it out:

I would go for the clearing banks in New York that cleared the transactions, you know. And there's—again, it's these sort of intermediary entities that have no real interest in protecting the information, and all you have to do is ask for it and they just sort of produced by rote. So we've done a lot of money laundering investigations where we go to the trust companies and the clearing entities. And so, you know, all dollar transactions are generally cleared through New York. So, you know, the main thing you have to do is identify the banks that were used.

Atlantic's David Graham followed up by asking Schiff whether the committee will follow this course. It's not happening, Schiff told him "because Republican members are not interested".

One of the arguments about the Democratic message for 2018 is whether or not they should come out for Trump's impeachment. I hope they don't go that far, because the hard evidence isn't there yet. (Evidence is a strong word.) Instead, I would argue that the public needs Democrats to take over Congress so that we can find out what happened. Republicans are blocking investigations, and Democrats will go wherever the facts lead. Maybe that will be impeachment and maybe it won't. We need to know the facts before we can say, and we'll never know them if Republicans stay in control.

and the end of Trump's first year

I was hoping to do my own wrap-up this week, but the article didn't come together, so I'll push it off to next week. One of the things I plan to do is examine whether, going into this administration, I was afraid of the right things. In particular, I'll look back at "The Trump Administration: What I'm Watching For", which I wrote two weeks after the election.

In particular, I said was watching to see if Trump would be doing any of these seven things.

  • taking credit for Obama’s accomplishments
  • taking credit for averting dangers that never existed
  • profiteering
  • changing the electorate
  • winking at right-wing paramilitary groups
  • subverting government agencies for political advantage
  • paying Putin back

All in all, I think in hindsight, not a bad list.

and you also might be interested in ...

If you don't care about actual civil rights, you need to make up something else for your civil rights offices to do. HHS is going to task its office to protect healthcare workers who have moral objections typical of conservative Christians -- not wanting to participate in abortions or in transgender patient transitions, for example.

The pending rule would establish a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division of the HHS civil rights office that would conduct compliance reviews, audits and other enforcement actions to ensure that health care providers are allowing workers to opt out of procedures when they have religious or moral objections.

The new office "would be empowered to further shield these workers and punish organizations that don’t allow them to express their religious and moral objections".

Since it's impossible to make allowance for everything that someone might claim is part of their religion -- what if a Jehovah's Witness EMT doesn't want to participate in blood transfusions? what if a pharmacist has a religious objection to insulin manufactured through genetic engineering? or to any drug whose testing process involved killing animals? -- there is literally no way to implement such a policy without favoring some religions over others. In practice, the moral objections of Baptists and Catholics will be seen as serious and reasonable, while those of less popular religions will get consideration only to the extent that popular religions share them. The moral objections of atheists will be ignored completely, since they're not "religious".

In short, having a religion (especially a popular one) gets you special rights.


In any other administration, it would be a major scandal if the president paid off a porn star not to talk about their affair. For Trump, it barely registers. I look at religious-right Trump supporters like Rev. Robert Jeffress and wonder what they'd be saying if The Wall Street Journal had written the exact same story about Obama.

BTW: I think it's a low blow to point out the resemblance between Stormy Daniels and Ivanka. Probably they both look like a younger version of Ivanka's mom, who Trump marrried. There's a quote in Daniels' article in In Touch that can be spun in an incestuous way, but it's not obvious Trump meant it like that, even assuming he actually said it.


Trump got a physical from a well regarded Navy doctor, who pronounced him basically healthy. In particular, he passed a cognitive-function test. Admittedly, that test is not hard. But it would catch a lot of the kinds of dementia people imagine Trump has.

I never put a lot of stock in the Trump-has-dementia narrative, and to the extent I ever did, I'm going to stop talking about it. To me it's like the Bush-is-stupid narrative that popped up so often during W's administration. Bush was not stupid, he just had no interest in most of the topics we expect presidents to stay on top of. Probably if you talked to him about baseball, you'd be surprised how much he knows.

I suspect something similar about Trump: He has an unfocused mind, like a lot of people do. It's hard for him to dig deeply into any subject, and the only topic that really interests him is himself. He indulges in wishful thinking, and refuses to let facts or expert opinions change his mind. These are all serious deficiencies in a president, but there's no reason to think they point to a medical problem. His faults get more pronounced as he gets older, but that also is not unusual. Your uncle who was cantankerous at 50 is probably even more cantankerous at 70; that's not a sign of insanity, it's just how people age.

Earlier this month, Josh Marshall got this issue right: The important thing is what Trump does, not why.

All the diagnosis of a mental illness could tell us is that Trump might be prone to act in ways that we literally see him acting in every day: impulsive, erratic, driven by petty aggressions and paranoia, showing poor impulsive control, an inability to moderate self-destructive behavior.

There's no need to argue about hidden causes when the effects are more important and so plain to see.

This interview with psychiatrist Allen Frances is well worth reading. He discusses both Trump (who he describes as bad rather than mad) and the people who support him. He advocates more political action from the public, rather than hoping that some cabal within the administration will use a psychological diagnosis to invoke the 25th amendment.


As a commenter pointed out last week: Most of the Americans who retire to Mexico are undocumented.

One 2015 study from Mexico's National Institute of Statistics and Geography reveals that a stunning 91.2 percent of Americans in the country don't have their papers in order.


Still no one knows what Trump's inaugural committee did with the $107 million it raised. Obama's committee put on a bigger show for more people with half as much money, so either somebody made a huge profit or there's a $50 million dollar slush fund out there somewhere.

but you should listen to Jay Rosen

One my favorite news-media observers is Jay Rosen from Columbia University. His summary of how the news media has responded to Trump's first year is the first half of this episode of the Recode podcast. He was interviewed on Recode last year, and made a number of observations that other news people eventually came around to -- like that there was really no point in interviewing Kellyanne Conway, since it was impossible either for the journalist or the readers/viewers to pull any trustworthy information out of the mass of disinformation you would get from her.

In this interview, he talks about the press's loyalty to "rituals" that no longer serve a purpose in the Trump era. The press continues to fight for access to the White House "because that's what the White House press corps does". But even scoring the ultimate access -- an interview with the President himself -- does practically nothing to keep readers/viewers informed.

The whole purpose of interviewing a sitting president is that you can find out about their thinking, you can illuminate their policy choices, you can dig a little deeper into what they plan to do. That assumes that the president has policy ideas.

In an interview situation, [Trump is] just saying what — at the moment — makes him feel like the best, the biggest, the greatest, the brightest, the richest, the most potent. He’s just saying whatever comes to his mind as the most spectacular boast he can think of. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything about his policies.

He criticized the press for continuing to project normality onto Trump, for example, by talking about his "foreign policy" as if there were such a thing.

One of the more interesting parts of the interview was when the interviewer (Peter Kafka) brought up Rosen's previous statements that the press should "listen" to the American people more. Kafka related it to the various articles we have seen in which reporters go interview Trump voters in rural areas they don't usually cover. Rosen agreed that some good journalism came out of that effort, but said it wasn't what he had meant. He backed up to talk about a distinction (attributed to sociologist C. Wright Mills) between "troubles" and "issues".

"Troubles" are the things that bother people in their lives, that they talk about at night over the kitchen table, the things that they are actively worried about. "Issues" is what the political system does to run elections and win coalitions. And his point is that when Issues don't speak to Troubles, and Troubles don't connect to Issues, you have a crisis in democracy.

So my point was not that journalists should just go out and listen to the Trump voters because they got the election wrong. It was that if journalists could somehow listen to people's Troubles in a new and more potent way, then they would be in a position to represent those people better than the political system does when it fashions them into Issues. Now that's a deeper and more ambitious project than "Let's check in with Trump voters in Pennsylvania and West Virginia to see if they still support Donald Trump."

I think we saw a lot of that kind of parachuting into Trump Country, which is sort of an anthropological -- or some people said "zoological" -- exercise. We saw a lot of that. But what I was talking about was trying to kind of recover authority by understanding the Troubles that led to the results that we saw in 2016.

and let's close with something adorable

The world's smallest cat lives in Sri Lanka and when fully grown, weighs about a kilogram.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Undertones

The immigration debate has always carried with it an undertone of racism. I'm not attributing this to everyone who holds the position, but there's a sense in which [opposition to] immigration is driven by a deep anxiety about the browning of America. That "how will we stem the tide?", that "this is no longer a white nation." ... What Trump did yesterday was to make explicit the racist undertone of this debate.

- Eddie Glaude, speaking on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" (1-12-2018).

This week's featured post is "The Real Immigration Issue".

On MLK Day, I always like to link to a piece I wrote in 2013 to warn conservatives against cherrypicking King's quotes. The real Martin Luther King was a radical: "MLK: Sanitized for Their Protection".

This week everybody was talking about shithole countries

(More about this in the featured post.) Even in a presidency full of jaw-dropping moments, Trump's statement about "shithole countries" was extreme.

Trump made the remarks Thursday during a meeting with lawmakers in the Oval Office in which they discussed protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of a bipartisan deal on the status of undocumented young U.S. immigrants, The Washington Post reported.

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, according to people in the room, including Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.). Trump then reportedly suggested that the United States instead should bring in more immigrants from countries such as Norway.

The most appalling thing here is not Trump -- at least not any more; it's not news that he's a racist, or that he expresses himself crudely, or that his presidency is a constant embarrassment to the United States of America -- it's how few conservative or Republican voices speak out against him, even when he is so clearly in the wrong. For example, most members of his council of evangelical advisors made no comment, and the ones who did were supportive, like Baptist mega-church pastor Robert Jeffress:

"I support his views 100 percent, even though as a pastor I can’t use that language.” The United States, Jeffress said, has every right to restrict immigration according to whatever criteria it establishes, including race or other qualifications. “The country has the right to establish what would benefit our nation the most,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything racist about it at all.”

You read that right: Explicitly screening immigrants according to race would not be racist. What rabbit hole have we gone down here?

Jeffress was not alone in seeing a problem of bad language rather than evil intentions. Others saw only Trump's style, which is just different from what previous presidents have led us to expect. Fox News' Jesse Watters:

This is how the forgotten men and women in America talk at the bar. This is how Trump relates to people.

There's a core of truth there, but Watters is leaving out something important: This is how racists talk at the bar, and how Trump relates to racists.

James Fallows imagines if previous presidents had acted like Trump.

Suppose, contrary to known (to me) fact, Eisenhower had said to Senators in WH meeting during Little Rock school deseg controversy, “why are these n****s so pushy and demanding?" Suppose that legislators meeting JFK, LBJ, or even Nixon at WH during nonstop 1960s civil-rights tensions had heard a sitting president refer to black neighborhoods as shitholes or used code word ‘Nigra.' Those comments would *certainly* have “connected with the base” in states that were fighting de-segregation. They would have reflected what “a lot of people were thinking.”

But I don’t think you’d have found (or would find, if you went back and looked) *mainstream* news outlets that would explain away, from a sitting president, outright racist language. This kind of “connecting with the base” rationalization is a new thing, and bad. Every civilization has ugly elements, which leaders are supposed to help their society rise above rather than egg on.


The one positive thing to come out of this: The mainstream media debate over whether it is proper to describe Trump's remarks or Trump himself as "racist" seems to be over: They are and he is.


At first the White House didn't even deny Trump's comment. Its initial statement said that "Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people." Eventually, Trump got around to denying it sort of, and a few of the Republicans in the room backed him up. The striking thing to me, though, is that most of the people in the room were Republicans, and only a handful of them defended their president. Lindsey Graham didn't specifically quote Trump, but more-or-less backed up the published accounts of the meeting.


I'll give the last word on this to the Nazi website, The Daily Stormer, as quoted by The Hill:

This is encouraging and refreshing, as it indicates Trump is more or less on the same page as us with regards to race and immigration.

and the Hawaiian false alarm

I can't decide whether the explanation is totally believable or totally unbelievable:

Around 8:05 a.m., the Hawaii emergency employee initiated the internal test, according to a timeline released by the state. From a drop-down menu on a computer program, he saw two options: “Test missile alert” and “Missile alert.” He was supposed to choose the former; as much of the world now knows, he chose the latter, an initiation of a real-life missile alert.

Couldn't somebody have designed in one of those "Are you sure you want to do this?" boxes? If there's a Doomsday Device somewhere, I hope its user interface is more forgiving.

Anyway, cellphones all over the state got a text: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

A more detailed message scrolled across television screens in Hawaii, suggesting, “If you are indoors, stay indoors. If you are outdoors, seek immediate shelter in a building. Remain indoors well away from windows. If you are driving, pull safely to the side of the road and seek shelter in a building or lay on the floor.”

The false warning sparked a wave of panic as thousands of people, many assuming they had only minutes to live, scrambled to seek shelter and say their final goodbyes to loved ones. The situation was exacerbated by a 38-minute gap between the initial alert and a subsequent wireless alert stating the missile warning was a mistake.

and DACA

The "shithole countries" remark came during a meeting in which Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham were presenting a bipartisan compromise to avoid deporting the Dreamers, now that the program through which President Obama had protected them (DACA) has been ended by President Trump. Trump rejected their proposal, but so far there isn't any other plausible plan out there.

DACA is one of many issues in a larger negotiation aimed at avoiding a government shutdown, which is otherwise is scheduled for Friday. The "shithole" meeting came two days after a televised meeting with lawmakers of both parties, in which Trump at various times put forward all possible positions.

538's Perry Bacon thinks he knows what the ultimate compromise has to look like:

Even with the divides in both parties, the potential outlines of a bipartisan deal on immigration are obvious: some kind of permanent legal status and path to citizenship for Dreamers but with limits on their ability to sponsor relatives who also want legal status; an expansion of the physical barriers between the United States and Mexico; and the hiring of some additional border agents and other immigration enforcement personnel.


Meanwhile a court delayed the end of DACA by ordering the administration to keep renewing permits while the court rules on the legality of Trump's order.

and Oprah 2020

Oprah's speech at the Golden Globes, which I also linked to last week, started speculation about whether she wants to be president. That, in turn, sparked much pro-and-con arguing among Democrats. Some Democrats like the idea of challenging Trump with a better outsider: more famous, more accomplished, smarter, more articulate, more in touch with ordinary Americans, and just generally a better human being. Others hate the idea of nominating an inexperienced celebrity: Government is a serious profession, and calls for people who know what they're doing; the fact that the Republican electorate decided to be irresponsible in 2016 is no reason for us to be irresponsible too.

Count me in the middle here. I get the attraction of Oprah 2020. If I could custom-design a Democratic candidate to run against Trump, I think a charismatic black woman who already has a following among whites might be a good start. I'm surprised that there might be one available.

The question is how much we should be willing to give up to get those features. I'm willing to give up a little, but not a lot. Specifically, I would run Candidate Oprah through the same tests as any other candidate. She'll have to articulate a vision, show mastery of the issues, and lay out some detailed programs before I'd consider voting for her. (In 2016, Trump did have a vision -- a reprehensible one -- but he never demonstrated an understanding of issues or programs. He still hasn't.)

Her lack of government experience is a factor, but not a decisive one for me. Over the centuries, the Presidency has grown to be such a big job that in fact no one is qualified for it, not even someone as smart and experienced as Hillary Clinton. Our system requires us to vote for an individual, but in practical terms we are always electing a team. While it's true that Trump doesn't know what he's doing, the larger problem is that Team Trump also doesn't know what it's doing, and even when it does, Trump won't leave his subordinates alone to do what they know how to do. (That's a big piece of the lesson from Fire and Fury.) That's why, for example, the administration keeps putting out executive orders that the courts overturn, and issuing directives that the generals refuse to implement. It's also why there still is no Trump healthcare plan.

So Oprah's inexperience would cause me to look more skeptically at Team Oprah, but I'm willing to be convinced if collectively they stand for something I can support and demonstrate varieties of expertise that Oprah lacks as an individual.

A lot of the anti-Oprah writers point to the pseudoscience that her TV show frequently promoted. Again, I see that as an issue, but not an insurmountable one: Her TV show was intended to engage people's interest with ideas they weren't seeing elsewhere, not to establish government policy. So I would be watching her campaign to see if similar tendencies emerged. Candidate Oprah would of course be asked about politically relevant science issues, and her answers should be critically examined. But if the answers she gives as a candidate stand up to scrutiny, if (unlike Trump) she shows appropriate humility and appreciates that she needs to lean on expert advice, I wouldn't hold against her the stuff she promoted as an entertainer.

but you should pay attention to gerrymandering

A variety of cases are making their way up the ladder of federal courts. TPM has a good explanation of where they are and what they mean. The Texas case is about racial gerrymandering to limit the influence of Hispanic voters. But the North Carolina case opens a new front by directly confronting partisan gerrymanders, whether they are racially motivated or not. (As we increasingly have a party for whites and a party for non-whites, it's hard to tell the difference.)

In 2012, Republicans won just 49 percent of the statewide vote but snagged nine of 13 House seats. Two years later, with 54 percent of the vote, they won 10 of 13 seats.

and you also might be interested in ...

Trump continues to threaten to pull out of President Obama's nuclear deal with Iran, but not to do it. Our side of the deal involves waiving sanctions against Iran, which the President needs to do every 120 days. Trump waived the sanctions again, but warned that this is the last time.

He continues to promise his base that he will get a new deal that is tougher on Iran. But no one else seems to think this is likely. In fact, Obama's deal does important stuff:

Under the agreement, Iran agreed to eliminate its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium, cut its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98%, and reduce by about two-thirds the number of its gas centrifuges for 13 years. For the next 15 years, Iran will only enrich uranium up to 3.67%. Iran also agreed not to build any new heavy-water facilities for the same period of time. Uranium-enrichment activities will be limited to a single facility using first-generation centrifuges for 10 years. Other facilities will be converted to avoid proliferation risks.

None of our allies involved in the deal have expressed an interest in pulling out. The European Union's chief foreign affairs representative, Federica Mogherini, said on Thursday:

The deal is working, it is delivering on its main goal which means keeping the Iranian nuclear program in check and under close surveillance. Iran is fully complying with the commitments made under the agreement.


Thanks to a Trump pardon, Joe Arpaio isn't in jail. So why shouldn't he be a senator? If you want background, I suggest Rolling Stone's 2012 article "The Long, Lawless Ride of Sheriff Joe Arpaio". Arpaio represents not "law and order", but blatant bigotry acting in defiance of law and order.


Fascinating case in New Hampshire: The Border Patrol found marijuana by conducting no-probable-cause searches that would be illegal under New Hampshire law, and would also be illegal under federal law anyplace that wasn't within 100 miles of a border. They turned the weed over to local police in Woodstock, NH, who charged the possessors with a crime. A state court now has to determine whether the evidence is admissible.

At stake is the possibility that American freedoms might seriously erode within a 100-mile band around the border. Already the Border Patrol can set up random checkpoints anywhere in that 100-mile band and ask for your ID. (I know a naturalized U.S. citizen from the U.K. who was stopped on an interstate highway in Vermont. He wasn't driving, so he didn't think he needed to be carrying his driver's license. But his British accent created a problem that took some time to clear up.) It's one thing to be asked to ID yourself and answer some questions when you cross the border. But if you just live near a border, you can be going about your everyday business and suddenly find yourself under search. If anything they find can be turned over to local police for prosecution ... that doesn't sound much like America, does it?

and let's close with one last dance

iHeartRadio put together a celebration of performers who died in 2017, assembling clips of them dancing.