Monday, September 24, 2018

Voiceless

NO SIFT NEXT WEEK. THE NEXT NEW ARTICLES WILL APPEAR OCTOBER 8.

Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.
- Abigail Adams Letter to John Adams, 3-31-1776

This week's featured post is "Two Ways Brett Kavanaugh Could Be a Hero". That sounds crazy, but here's the basic idea: In a difficult situation, the hero is somebody who steps up to take the risk or pay the price. Heroes don't shove burdens off on other people. If you happen to be in west central Illinois next weekend, you can hear me discuss "Men and #MeToo" at the Unitarian Church of Quincy, Illinois on Sunday morning at 10:45.

This week everybody was talking about Brett Kavanaugh


The dust is still swirling from the second accusation that came out in The New Yorker yesterday. The second accuser is a Yale classmate, and apparently was picked out for victimization because she was drunker than the other women at the party. So her account is correspondingly muddled. She would have made a terrible first accuser, but her story does bolster Christine Blasey Ford's.

This morning, other news outlets are still trying to figure out what to do with the second accusation. As of 9:30, the New York Times still wasn't headlining it, but referred to it in an article about Diane Feinstein's call for a delay. Otherwise, the committee will interview Dr. Blasey Ford on Thursday. (I predict Kavanaugh will withdraw before then.)

One constant in Republican defenses of Kavanaugh is that he is a "man of integrity" and "one of the finest human beings you will have the privilege of knowing". But what exactly are they talking about?

I'm not aware of him working with Mother Theresa, making a major career sacrifice for a principle, rescuing people from burning buildings, winning a Medal of Honor, or doing anything else that rises above the kinds of things that ordinary decent people do. He drives other people's kids in a carpool; he coaches girls basketball; a lot of women say he has treated them well. Good for him, but don't we all know people we could say similar things about? I don't think any of that should qualify him for sainthood.

To me, this sterling reputation looks like a benefit of privilege: He's a straight white male Christian conservative from an upscale family, so he is presumed to be a man with a high sense of honor. No actual supporting evidence is needed.

When Kavanaugh was nominated, here's the first thing he said:
Mr. President, thank you. Throughout this process, I have witnessed firsthand your appreciation for the vital role of the American judiciary. No president has ever consulted more widely or talked with more people from more backgrounds to seek input about a Supreme Court nomination.
It may not have seemed like a big deal at the time, but that was a brazen, obvious lie.

Trump picked Kavanaugh off a list of 25 names that was given to him by the Federalist Society's Leonard Leo, a straight white male Catholic conservative from an Ivy League school. So Trump conspicuously didn't consult widely or seek input from large numbers of people from diverse backgrounds. On the contrary, together with the Neil Gorsuch search process, the Kavanaugh process was probably the least rigorous search in recent American history. That was public knowledge, and Kavanaugh surely knew it too.

In other words, whatever Kavanaugh's version of "integrity" entails, he's not above telling a big public lie to flatter someone important. He's not above introducing himself to the American people by telling a big, obvious lie.

So now he needs us to believe him rather than the women who accuse him of misconduct. Why exactly should we do that?

This picture of the Senate Judiciary Committee's Republican majority (posted by Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii) is worth contemplating. How small a slice of America do they really represent? If you were accusing an over-50 well-to-do Christian white man of something, is the group you'd want to judge your credibility?



TPM has the backstory on how Democrats on the Judiciary Committee handled the Blasey Ford accusation.

Some very unconvincing arguments are being made in Kavanaugh's defense. The NYT's Bret Stephens offers:
I believe human memory is imperfect. I believe it deteriorates over time. I believe most of us have had the experience of thinking we remember something clearly, only to discover we got important details wrong.
I know there are studies showing that spouses often remember very different facts about important moments, like their wedding or honeymoon or how they met. I myself sometimes notice that I remember an event happening in a room that didn't exist at the time. But I very much doubt that ordinary human memory drift extends as far as "Wait, maybe it was the other guy who tried to rape me."

A number of defenders have put forward some version of the he-was-just-17 argument. You know who's not convinced by this? 17-year-olds.
“They just keep saying ‘He was in high school—boys will be boys,’” says Maurielle, a 17-year-old from Houston. “But I’m in high school—I don’t want that to happen to me.”

Making up stuff about Blasey Ford shows lack of faith that the truth is on your side. No, she isn't poorly reviewed as a professor, she doesn't carry a grudge against Kavanaugh's mother, she didn't accuse Neil Gorsuch of anything, she's not a big Democratic donor, and her brother has no connection to the Trump/Russia investigation.

Flatly misstating Blasey Ford's account is not convincing either. Here's Franklin Graham (whose Dad apparently forgot to warn him about bearing false witness):
Asked by the CBN interviewer what kind of message his remarks send to sexual abuse victims, Graham replied: “Well, there wasn’t a crime that was committed. These are two teenagers and it’s obvious that she said no and he respected it and walked away.”
Kavanaugh "respected" her refusal, according Blasey Ford, after groping her, trying to pull off her swimsuit, and holding his hand over her mouth to keep her from screaming. And he didn't "walk away"; she escaped after Kavanaugh drunkenly fell off her.

Two related items of interest: Following the lead of actress Alyssa Milano, many women have responded to Trump's tweet
I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents.
by telling their own stories under the #WhyIDidntReport hashtag.

Or if you want to sum it all up with one story, look at "What Do We Owe Her Now?" in The Washington Post. When Elizabeth Bruenig was a sophomore in high school, a junior cheerleader reported a rape and became an outcast. The physical evidence supported her claims, but the authorities never filed charges, leading to the local rumor that she had made the whole thing up. When Bruenig grew up and became a journalist, she decided to investigate.

Nate Silver tweets that Kavanaugh is polling worse than any previous nominee who got confirmed. And that was before the latest charges.

and Rod Rosenstein

The New York Times is reporting that Rosenstein will lose his job today, either by resigning or being fired.
If Mr. Rosenstein exits, Noel Francisco, the solicitor general, would assume oversight of the Russia investigation, according to a Justice Department official. The acting deputy attorney general would be Matthew G. Whitaker, the chief of staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an unusual move.
This follow an NYT story earlier in the week, which claimed that Rosenstein felt misused after his memo gave Trump cover to fire Jim Comey. Reportedly, he discussed the 25th Amendment (through which Trump could be removed without impeachment) and suggested taping Trump secretly. Rosenstein denies those reports. Vox sees problems ahead for Bob Mueller:
Rosenstein’s departure strikes at the heart of the Trump-Russia investigation because Mueller had to run major investigative decisions past the deputy attorney general. Rosenstein’s temporary replacement, Solicitor General Noel Francisco, could simply refuse to approve Mueller’s requests, effectively slowing the whole investigation to a crawl — or even fire Mueller outright if he felt there was a reason to do so.
So the long-anticipated constitutional crisis could be upon us.

and the midterm elections

We're about six weeks out from the election, and everything the Republicans expect to turn the tide in their favor keeps backfiring. Kavanaugh was supposed to work for them, and several candidates have been running attack ads against Democratic senators for not supporting Kavanaugh. That now looks like wasted money. Nate Silver's model now gives the Democrats a 4 out of 5 chance of gaining control of the House and a 3 in 10 chance of winning the Senate.

and the consequences of Hurricane Florence

A lot of North Carolina wasn't built with this kind of flooding in mind. (In fact, in 2012 the legislature banned state agencies from basing plans on a study that predicted rising sea level from climate change.) So toxic coal ash is entering the Cape Fear River and the waste pools from hog farms are also a problem.

Grist explores the side issue of why massive hog farms are in North Carolina to begin with. Hog farms should be in places that raise massive amounts of hog feed, like Iowa. Then the manure can fertilize the fields rather than build up in toxic pools.
If North Carolina wants to end the pattern of water pollution, it has to find a way to spread out the livestock or treat their waste. And the state needs to face the fact that once-in-a-lifetime floods are now hitting more than once a decade.

In this week's episode of "What's Wrong With That Man?", President Trump toured hurricane-ravaged North Carolina. Talking to someone whose house was damaged by a storm-driven boat (and was having trouble getting his insurance company to cover it), Trump commented, "At least you got a nice boat out of the deal." On the same trip, he also handed a box lunch to another victim, telling him to "Have a good time."

It's hard to know what to do with comments reflecting such a basic lack of human empathy. Stephen Colbert decided to turn them into a children's book

but you have to see this political ad

It's not often you can get six of your opponent's siblings to make an ad for you.

BuzzFeed tells how this ad came about. Six of Gosar's nine siblings appear in the ad and two others support it. But their 85-year-old mother is still on Rep. Paul Gosar's side. This should make for a lovely Thanksgiving.

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Congress is currently working on appropriation bills for the fiscal year that starts next Monday. Current bills don't include the funding Trump wants for the Mexican wall, so he is talking about a veto, possibly shutting down the government or some large part of it.

This is a time when major proposals can get swept into a bill without much fanfare. One such is in the House's version of the appropriation bill for Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education: It would "cut 15% of federal adoption funding to states and localities that penalize adoption agencies that refuse to place children in families that conflict with the agency’s 'sincerely held religious beliefs or convictions'" and also bar "the federal government from refusing to work with adoption agencies that discriminate."

Once again, Christians would get the special right to ignore discrimination laws, and gays and lesbians would lose the "equal protection of the laws" promised in the Constitution's 14th Amendment.

If you're going to give huge tax cuts to rich people and big corporations, you have to crack down somewhere. How about on young people who have trouble repaying their student loans?
The proposal unveiled Monday would sharply curtail income-based loan repayment plans, scratch the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, embolden the government to go after students who don't pay their loans and cut funding for federal work study in half.
... The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is eliminated in the proposed budget. This program allows former students who fulfill certain public service positions — such as public school teachers or health researchers — to have their loans erased after 10 years of on-time payments. Nearly two-thirds of student loan borrowers who've shown interest in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness earn less than $50,000 a year.
... People whose loans fall into delinquency would be subject to more stringent enforcement as the proposal also calls to "streamline the Department of Education's ability to verify applicants' income data held by the Internal Revenue Service."

A new round of tariffs on Chinese goods went into effect today. These tariffs are 10%, and will automatically rise to 25% in 2019 if no new deal is negotiated. China is retaliating, and there's no end in sight.

I'm slowly making my way through Bob Woodward's Fear. I recently hit the point where Trump is reviewing a proposed speech on the economy and writes in the margin "Trade is bad."

Apple has warned that tariffs on Chinese imports will raise the cost of its products to American consumers. Trump has responded that Apple should just make its iPhones in the US. Vox takes a look at how practical that is. Not very, as it turns out.
The issue is not so much cost of putting an iPhone together, or even the cost per part on paper. The issue is skill, scale, expertise, and infrastructure — all of which require money, time and long-term investment. Unlike other manufacturing jobs that have migrated from the United States, Apple wouldn’t be bringing them “back” so much as starting from scratch. The cost would come in attempting to build a system that’s never been in the US, but has been built over decades abroad.
China has these jobs because it has put together the right combination of "craftsman-like skill, sophisticated robotics, and computer science".
“There’s a confusion about China,” [Apple CEO Tim] Cook said. “The popular conception is that companies come to China because of low labor cost. I’m not sure what part of China they go to, but the truth is China stopped being the low labor-cost country many years ago. And that is not the reason to come to China from a supply point of view. The reason is because of the skill, and the quantity of skill in one location and the type of skill it is.”
If Apple could do it, making iPhones in America would raise the price anywhere from $16 to $100, depending on what "Made in America" means to you: If the US plant would just assemble parts made elsewhere, you get the lower number. If you want all the parts made here too, you get the higher number.

For similar reasons, the official statistics exaggerate how big a dent iPhones make in our trade balance with China: China is reaping about $8 from each iPhone, but a tariff would fall on the full import price of around $240.

Florida GOP gubernatorial candidate DeSantis has run into another racial controversy (his fifth since winning the primary a month ago).
A Republican activist who donated more than $20,000 to Ron DeSantis and lined up a speech for him at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club recently called President Barack Obama a “F---- MUSLIM N----” on Twitter, in addition to making other inflammatory remarks.
Steven M. Alembik told POLITICO on Wednesday he wrote the Obama tweet in anger, that he’s “absolutely not” a racist and that he understood that DeSantis’ campaign for governor would need to distance itself from the comments — which the campaign promptly did.
Of course Alembik isn't a racist. I'm sure lots of non-racists tweet about F---- MUSLIM N----s every day. Nonetheless, Paul Waldman raises the question: "Why do all these racists keep joining the GOP?"
DeSantis may have been embroiled in an unusual number of these controversies, but it’s what every Republican candidate worries about these days. What if some supporter of mine says something shockingly racist? What if that guy who introduced me at that rally turns out to be a klansman? What if I get endorsed by some neo-Nazi group?
But you know who doesn’t have to worry about getting endorsed by neo-Nazis, white nationalists and racists? People who don’t give neo-Nazis, white nationals and racists any reason to believe that they share their views.

and let's close with something awesome

A bridge through Vietnam's Ba Na Hills, held up by stone hands.

Monday, September 17, 2018

To Speak or Stay Silent?

It is upsetting to discuss sexual assault and its repercussions, yet I felt guilty and compelled as a citizen about the idea of not saying anything.

- Christine Blasey Ford

This week's featured post is "10 Years After: the Post-Recovery Economy".

This week everybody was talking about hurricanes

Early in the week, it was thought that Hurricane Florence might make landfall as Category 4 or even 5. But it spread out, slowed, and weakened, hitting North Carolina as Category 1. It's now down to a tropical depression, but its cloud-field still covers a huge chunk of the Southeastern seaboard. Swansboro, NC has gotten over 30 inches of rain.


Meanwhile, Super Typhoon Mangkhut hit China's Guangdong province (south of Hong Kong) yesterday.

The decision to evacuate towns and cities in southern China came as Hong Kong was left reeling by ferocious winds of up to 173 kilometers per hour (107 miles per hour) and gusts of up to 223 kph (138 mph).

Before getting to China, Mangkhut ravaged the Philippines, killing 54 people.


The series of huge storms we've seen in recent years is either an enormously improbable coincidence, or it's evidence of global warming. But it's not just that the administration doesn't want to do anything about climate change, it's actively been undoing what little Obama managed to get done.

In its latest retreat from federal action on climate change, the Trump administration on Tuesday proposed to lift rules on the leaking and uncontrolled release of the potent greenhouse gas methane from oil and natural gas operations.

Methane is such a potent greenhouse gas that (depending on your estimate of how much methane gets leaked between the well and the consumer), it might make natural gas less climate-friendly than coal. Environmental Defense Fund writes:

Whether natural gas has lower life cycle greenhouse gas emissions than coal and oil depends on the assumed leakage rate, the global warming potential of methane over different time frames, the energy conversion efficiency, and other factors. ... Technologies are available to reduce much of the leaking methane, but deploying such technology would require new policies and investments.

In particular, government regulation is needed to make energy companies care about the methane they leak. Trump's EPA is making sure they have no reason to care.


Florence is drawing attention back to the complete botch of the response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year. The NY Post reports:

Hundreds of thousands of water bottles meant for victims of Hurricane Maria are still sitting at a Puerto Rico airport — nearly a year after the deadly storm


Trump, of course, denies everything. The federal response to Maria was "one of the best jobs that's ever been done with respect to what this is all about". And the 3,000 excess deaths? Fake news, made up "by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible".

It's important to realize just how not-normal this is. George W. Bush was known to spin and dissemble (that's how he got the Iraq War started), but it's impossible to imagine him claiming that Katrina only killed a few dozen people, and that stories about more than a thousand deaths were just Democratic inventions meant to make him look bad. Literally NO previous president has ever been this dishonest, or willing to insult the public intelligence to this degree.

Jennifer Rubin draws the inescapable conclusion:

Trump’s outburst should remind us of several troubling facts. First, whether he is lying (or is simply a victim of his own self-delusion that he is incapable of error) is beside the point. He’s not functioning as a president or any other officeholder should. He cannot comprehend facts, process them and take appropriate action. He is, in a word, non-functional.

... Republicans’ inability to check or challenge the president and their insistence on rubber-stamping his decisions while ignoring his outbursts pose more than a constitutional and moral challenge. They, too, are responsible for confirmed Cabinet officials who are incompetent or corrupt, for lack of serious governance, for failure to hold officials accountable, and for the suffering and deaths (e.g. separated families, dead Puerto Ricans) that come about by virtue of a president who is never forced to confront reality.

and Paul Manafort

On Friday, Trump's former campaign manager pleaded guilty and accepted a plea deal that involves him cooperating with the Justice Department. He also will forfeit ill-gotten assets that might be worth as much as $46 million. That means that the Mueller investigation could making money for the government. I have been unable to track down where I heard this line, but it's not mine: "Trump will be impeached, and Russia will pay for it."

There's a big guessing game going on concerning what Manafort might be able to testify about, but nobody outside the investigation really knows. Noah Bookbinder, Barry Berke and Norman Eisen  wrote in the NYT:

According to prosecutors, Mr. Manafort has already participated in a so-called proffer session, in which he described information that investigators deemed valuable. Mr. Manafort’s agreement will also require him to give further interviews without the presence of his own counsel, turn over documents and testify in other proceedings. His surrender is complete.

Even if you're a die-hard MAGA-hatter, you have to be wondering where this stops. With Flynn, Cohen, and Manafort all cooperating, the only bigger fish to go after are in the Trump family.

and Brett Kavanaugh

Last week, my comment about the hearings on Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court was "nothing matters". Was Kavanaugh's paper trail being covered up? Did he lie under oath in previous confirmation hearings? Would he gut abortion rights and grant conservative Christians the special right to ignore discrimination laws? Was he so pro-business that he was anti-consumer and anti-worker? It didn't matter. Even an anonymous accusation of sexual assault (which became publicly known on Wednesday and which Kavanaugh denied) wasn't worth taking the time to investigate. The Republicans have the majority in the Senate and were determined to push Kavanaugh through as fast as possible.

But now, finally, a few Republican senators are asking to slow this train down. The difference is that the anonymous accuser came forward yesterday. She's Christine Blasey Ford,

a professor at Palo Alto University who teaches in a consortium with Stanford University, training graduate students in clinical psychology. Her work has been widely published in academic journals.

At WaPo's "The Fix", Amber Phillips assesses:

As far as tracing decades-old sexual harassment allegations go, Ford’s story is remarkably credible. Ford is speaking on the record about her experience. She passed a polygraph test, the results of which The Post reviewed. She told other people about the alleged attack years before Kavanaugh was a Supreme Court nominee. She allowed her records from a therapy session about it to be reviewed by The Post. She says she didn’t want to come forward and decided to do so only after her story was leaked to news outlets.

Will the presence of an actual accuser, a woman willing to stand up and watch her life be shredded by right-wing media outlets (as it inevitably will be), make a difference? Maybe. Republican Senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker have both called for Thursday's vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee to be delayed. Flake's view is particularly important here, since he is on the Judiciary Committee, and could be a swing vote against Kavanaugh if his doubts are not addressed. "We can't vote until we hear more," he said.

So what happens after Republican senators "hear more", assuming they do? I can't guess.


Jeet Heer:

I want a venn diagram of people willing to argue "Give Kavanaugh a break, he was only 17" and "Trayvon Martin got what he deserved."


The accusations are about events that happened a long time ago, but Kavanaugh's response to those accusations is happening now. We'll see how that unfolds, and what it tells us about his character. Matt Yglesias:

There’s a good case for forgiving teenage misconduct but to receive forgiveness you have to seek it, not call the victim a liar and participate in a smear campaign against her.


Here's the text of the letter Ford wrote to Senator Feinstein in July.


Other Kavanaugh issues: Kavanaugh's previous Senate testimony under oath appears to not entirely correspond to the truth. But the legal scholars Vox consulted say the case falls short of criminal perjury.

Senator Kamala Harris showed a clip in which Kavanaugh appears to characterize contraceptives as "abortion-inducing drugs", an extreme claim by religious-right groups that the science doesn't support. If true, that would be disturbing, because a lot of court cases hang on whether or not a judge takes seriously some fantastic unscientific claim. But a longer version of the clip makes it clear that Kavanaugh was summarizing the position of one side of the case, not stating his own opinion. Politifact rated Harris' charge false.

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Thursday evening, dozens of fires broke out in the Boston suburbs of Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover. The cause hasn't been officially identified, but the most likely speculation is that Columbia Gas overpressurized a gas main, resulting in multiple gas leaks.


The Trump administration is taking in many fewer refugees than the U.S. has in recent years. But one group's numbers are up: white Evangelicals from the former Soviet Union.


Jonathan Chait's take on Elizabeth Warren  is pretty similar to the one I gave a few weeks ago.

The Massachusetts senator has made a series of unusually early moves that, taken together, suggest a well-designed strategy to compete across the spectrum of the Democratic Party without risking her viability in a general election. ... She is building a national profile to position herself to win a primary and a general election, without sacrificing one for the sake of the other.

Earlier this year, I often told people I had no idea at all who would win the Democratic nomination. In a potentially huge field, it is still impossible to predict the outcome with much confidence. But at this point, Warren’s early moves position her as a clear front-runner.


NRATV hit a new low last week: The September 7 edition of "Relentless", hosted by Dana Loesch, closed by ridiculing the Thomas the Tank Engine TV show, which has made the trainyard more diverse by bringing in girl trains, including one from Kenya. Loesch rejected the idea that the trains had ever had races before, and showed this parody image, which presumably is how liberals saw the show before the new characters were introduced.


The Atlantic's Adam Serwer explores the NRA's perverse attitude towards police violence against blacks.

When armed black men are shot by the police, the NRA says nothing about the rights of gun owners; when unarmed black men are shot, its spokesperson says they should have been armed. ... If innocent unarmed black men like [Botham] Jean are shot, it’s because they lack firearms; if innocent black men who are armed like [Fernando] Castile or [Alton] Sterling are shot, it’s because they had a gun. Heads, you’re dead, tails, you’re also dead.

He also notes that in recent years the NRA has become much more of an across-the-board right-wing organization, as the Thomas example above illustrates.

In recent years, the NRA has made frequent forays into culture-war disputes that have little to do with gun rights per se.

His explanation is that the NRA is primarily about selling guns, not defending gun-owners' rights. (It's funding comes primarily from gun manufacturers.) And its current why-you-should-be-armed message is a right-wing dystopian fantasy.

NRATV tells its viewers that they are under assault from liberals, black people, undocumented immigrants, and Muslims and that they might one day need to kill them—in self defense, of course. Like the president, the NRA has correctly divined that fomenting and exploiting white people’s fears and hatreds is an effective sales strategy. If marketing murder fantasies is what it takes to move the product, then so be it.


A Kansas woman who was born at home, rather than at a clinic or hospital, was denied a passport.

[S]he received a letter from the federal division of the U.S. Passport Agency out of Houston, TX, telling her the application was denied and required further documentation. ... The letter stated, because her birth certificate was not issued at a institution or hospital, it was not considered proof enough of her citizenship.

She received a letter asking her to submit any number of the listed additional documents. “Border crossing card or green card for your parents issued prior to your birth? My parents were born in the United States….Early religious records? We don’t have any. Family Bible? They won’t accept a birth certificate but they will accept a family Bible?” Barbara said.

Eventually her senator intervened, and the passport came through.


If you live in Arizona (or are thinking of moving there), you should be aware that a young-Earth creationist was on the special committee that reviewed the state's science curriculum standards on evolution. The outgoing Arizona Secretary of Education appointed Joseph Kezele, who teaches at Arizona Christian University and is president of the Arizona Origin Science Association.

He advocates for a literal interpretation of the history presented in the Bible, and claimed that all land animals, including humans and dinosaurs, were created on the sixth day when God created the universe. Adolescent dinosaurs were present on Noah's Ark because adult dinosaurs would have been too big, Kezele said. "Plenty of space on the Ark for dinosaurs – no problem," Kezele said.

and let's close with something to make people look twice

Imagine flying this radio-controlled version of Snoopy's dog house around your neighborhood.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Complicity

The thing about autocracies, or budding autocracies, is that they present citizens with only bad choices. At a certain point, one has to stop trying to find the right solution and has to look, instead, for a course of action that avoids complicity.

- Masha Gessen, "The Anonymous New York Times Op-Ed
and the Trumpian Corruption of Language and the Media"

The New Yorker, 9-6-2018

The officials who enable the Trump administration to maintain some veneer of normalcy, rather than resigning and loudly proclaiming that the president is unfit, are not “resisters.” They are enablers.

- Adam Serwer,
"There's No Coup Against Trump"
The Atlantic, 9-6-2018

This week's featured post is "What should we make of Anonymous?"

This week everybody was talking about "resistance" inside the Trump administration

See the featured post. Short version: Yes, Trump is unfit to be president. But setting up a government-within-the-government to thwart him is not the right solution.

and Brett Kavanaugh

I've had a hard time making myself pay attention to the Kavanaugh hearings, because as best I can tell nothing matters. This is a power play, and Republicans have the power to force it through.

Various Republican senators are posturing in various ways. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski pretend not to know that Kavanaugh will be the deciding vote to reverse Roe v Wade. (Nothing Collins takes as reassuring is interpreted as disturbing by the religious right; they know what Kavanaugh will do.) Mitch McConnell pretends not to know that Trump nominated Kavanaugh precisely so he would be a pro-executive-power vote when the Court has to decide whether Trump can be subpoenaed or indicted. Chuck Grassley pretends nothing is hidden in all those Kavanaugh papers we aren't allowed to see. And all the Republicans avert their eyes so as not to see that Kavanaugh lied in his previous confirmation hearings.

All the Republicans will vote for him because they just will. Nothing matters. Collins continues to describe herself as undecided, but nothing she has said is laying the groundwork for a No vote.


I agree whole-heartedly with Katherine Stewart's article "Whose Religious Liberty Is It Anyway?". She notes Kavanaugh's endorsement of "religious liberty", and explores what that really means: Christian supremacy (as I've been claiming since 2013). Stewart writes:

Let’s call it by its true name: religious privilege, not religious liberty. Today’s Christian nationalists want the ability to override the law where it conflicts with their religious beliefs, and thus to withdraw from the social contract that binds the rest of us together as a nation.

... Religious privilege of this sort was never intended for all belief systems, but rather for one type of religion. Sure, its advocates will on occasion rope in representatives of non-Christian faiths to lend the illusion of principle to their cause. But the real aim and effect of the religious liberty movement is to advance their idea of religion at the expense of everyone else.

If your religion or deeply held moral beliefs include the view that all people should be treated with equal dignity, then this religious liberty won’t do anything for you. If you’re a taxpayer who helps to fund your local hospital, a patient who keeps it in business, or a professional who works there, then your sincerely held religious and moral conviction that all people are entitled to equal access to the best medicine that science can provide and the law permits won’t stand a chance against a Catholic bishop’s conviction that some procedures are forbidden by a higher authority.

Today’s Christian nationalists will insist they are the only victims here. But that is as false as it is lacking in compassion. The terribly real effect of the kind of religious supremacy they seek is to target specific groups of people as legitimate objects of contempt.

and Nike

Nike unveiled the full version of its ad narrated by Colin Kaepernick yesterday. (It also includes footage of Serena Williams, LeBron James, and a lot of other amazing athletes.) Nike is intentionally thumbing its nose at Trump here, and taking the side of players like the Miami Dolphins' Kenny Stills, who is carrying forward the protest Kaepernick started.

Vice News explains the business reality pretty well: Conservative old white guys may love Trump, hate Colin Kaepernick, and now hate Nike as well. But how many top-of-the-line athletic shoes are they going to buy this year? And how many younger people want to be like them? Nike showed how much it worries about the shoe-burning protesters with this ad:

The shoe-burnings practically parody themselves. But Brent Terhune pushed it a little farther.

and Barack Obama

President Obama went to the University of Illinois to receive an award Friday, and gave the students there the kind of speech ex-presidents rarely give: a serious one that went right at the problems of the current moment. If you have the time, it's worth watching or reading in its entirety.

The overarching theme of the speech is that, in the long run, America makes progress towards the dreams it was founded on: equal rights for everyone, government of the people, and so on. But that progress isn't steady; it doesn't advance like clockwork, year in, year out. Instead, whenever we make progress, the forces of inequality and special privilege regroup and counterattack.

The status quo pushes back. Sometimes the backlash comes from people who are genuinely, if wrongly, fearful of change. More often it’s manufactured by the powerful and the privileged who want to keep us divided and keep us angry and keep us cynical because it helps them maintain the status quo and keep their power and keep their privilege. And you happen to be coming of age during one of those moments.

... Appealing to tribe, appealing to fear, pitting one group against another, telling people that order and security will be restored if it weren’t for those who don’t look like us or don’t sound like us or don’t pray like we do, that’s an old playbook. It’s as old as time.

And in a healthy democracy, it doesn’t work. Our antibodies kick in, and people of goodwill from across the political spectrum call out the bigots and the fear mongers and work to compromise and get things done and promote the better angels of our nature.

But when there’s a vacuum in our democracy, when we don’t vote, when we take our basic rights and freedoms for granted, when we turn away and stop paying attention and stop engaging and stop believing and look for the newest diversion, the electronic versions of bread and circuses, then other voices fill the void.

He goes on to summarize what Republicans are doing and what Democrats want to do instead. And then he tells the students to vote.

and you also might be interested in ...

The Atlantic has an article about "zombie small business": small businesses that are entirely under the thumb of the large businesses who control their pipeline to the consumer. The prime example is chicken growing: A handful of companies control just about the entire chicken market, and each works with "tied-and-bound contractors—so controlled by their agreements with giant food corporations that they no longer act like independent entities."

The big company provides the chicks. The contract farmer raises them into chickens. The big company slaughters them for meat. It packages and brands that meat under one of dozens of labels. And it sells it cheap to the American consumer. ... These big operations do not act like department stores, choosing goods from a broad variety of vendors and fostering competition and innovation. They instead act like a lord with serfs, or a landowner with sharecroppers.

The article quotes the head of a poultry-growers association:

I’ll list what they tell you: what time to pick up the chickens, what time to run the feed, what time to turn the lights off and on, every move that you make. Then, they say we’re not an employee—we are employees, but they won’t let us have any kind of benefits or insurance.

But it's not just chickens:

The top four beef producers account for more than 80 percent of the market. The top four hog processors account for more than half. Much the same is true across the economy. The top four players account for more than 90 percent of overall revenue in a wide variety of market sectors and for a wide variety of consumer goods: web search, toilet paper, wireless services, arcade operations, soda, light bulbs, tires.

We're used to thinking about the danger of monopolies, companies that can charge what they want for their product, because they are the only ones selling it. We need to think more about monopsonies, companies that can dictate to their suppliers, because they are the only buyers.

A monopsony-dominated economy is not a good place to achieve economic equality. Starting your own small business has traditionally been a way to get ahead in America. But if being a small businessman just means that you take orders in a different way, and your sole customer dictates how much money you get to make, then that avenue is shut off.

and let's close with something awesome

Brightside collects the "100 best photographs taken without Photoshop". It's hard to chose just one, but I think I like the first one best: what it looks like to toss hot tea into the air in the Arctic.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Losing America (for a time)

In prison, I fell in love with my country. I had loved her before then, but like most young people, my affection was little more than a simple appreciation for the comforts and privileges most Americans enjoyed and took for granted. It wasn't until I had lost America for a time that I realized how much I loved her.

- John McCain, Faith of My Fathers (1999)

This week's featured post is "Elizabeth Warren stakes out her message".

This week everybody was talking about Trump's criminality

Since Tuesday, when Michael Cohen told a federal court under oath that Donald Trump had instructed him to commit crimes, a question has been hanging in the background of almost every news segment on Trump: Do we have him now? Are we entering the endgame in this presidency?

While the bank- and tax-fraud charges do not involve the president, the campaign-finance charges indisputably do. Cohen made the payments—$130,000 to Daniels and $150,000 to McDougal—through shell companies. He said Tuesday that the payments were intended to influence the election, making them a violation of campaign-finance laws, and that he had done so at the direction of the candidate.

The fact that I've been wrong so often about Trump makes me reluctant to say what seems to be true: It sure looks like walls are closing in on him. In hopes that the rule of law is eventually going to win out, here's The Bobby Fuller Four singing "I Fought the Law and the Law Won".

What walls are closing in? Well, two other people Trump has trusted have now gotten immunity deals from prosecutors:

  • David Pecker, whose National Enquirer not only ran pro-Trump propaganda on its front page all through the campaign ("Ted Cruz Father Linked to JFK Assassination!", "Hillary, Bill & Chelsea Indicted!"), but who bought the rights to Trump-threatening stories of women like Karen McDougal in order to bottle them up. We know of two, but Steve Bannon once claimed there were many, many more such women, though he didn't specifically insert Pecker into that claim. (Pecker's unfortunate name has led to headlines like "Trump loses his Pecker", "Trump Worried About Pecker Leaking", and other childish amusement. It remains to be seen whether Pecker will stand up in court.)
  • Allen Weisselberg, the Chief Financial Officer of the Trump Organization. Weisselberg's deal is described as "limited", meaning that he has agreed to testify only about very specific things, and maybe not about his general knowledge of all things Trump. He has not split with Trump and is still Trump's CFO. We'll see what that means as events play out.

The fact that new witnesses keep coming forward, or finding themselves in a position where they need to make deals, is one big reason why Republican suggestions that Robert Mueller needs to "wrap up" are so off base. Witnesses like Cohen, Pecker, and Weisselberg will undoubtedly produce new leads that will need to be chased down. Maybe they will nail somebody at the next level, like Jared Kushner or Don Jr., and then those people will have decisions to make. That's how investigations of mafia-style organizations go. (It's just a guess, but I don't believe Jared would go to prison for his father-in-law.)

A Trump investigation that hasn't gotten much media attention is New York state's against the Trump Foundation, which is chartered in New York. In June, the NY attorney general filed a civil suit against the foundation, claiming it engaged in "persistently illegal conduct".

“As our investigation reveals, the Trump Foundation was little more than a checkbook for payments from Mr. Trump or his businesses to nonprofits, regardless of their purpose or legality,” said Attorney General [Barbara] Underwood. “This is not how private foundations should function and my office intends to hold the Foundation and its directors accountable for its misuse of charitable assets.”

... The Attorney General’s lawsuit seeks an order finding that the Foundation’s directors breached their fiduciary duties requiring them to make restitution for the harm that resulted, requiring Mr. Trump to reimburse the Foundation for its self-dealing transactions and to pay penalties in an amount up to double the benefit he obtained from the use of Foundation funds for his campaign, enjoining Mr. Trump from service for a period of ten years as a director, officer, or trustee of a not-for-profit organization incorporated in or authorized to conduct business in the State of New York, and enjoining the other directors from such service for one year (or, in the case of the other directors, until he or she receives proper training on fiduciary service). To ensure that the Foundation's remaining assets are disbursed in accordance with state and federal law, the lawsuit seeks a court order directing the dissolution of the Foundation under the oversight of the Attorney General's Charities Bureau.

Now New York is conducting a criminal investigation into the Trump Foundation, and has subpoenaed Michael Cohen to testify. Since it's a state investigation, Trump has no way to shut it down. Probably New York wouldn't get away with indicting a sitting president. (Imagine if Virginia had stayed in the Union long enough to indict Lincoln for something and have him extradited.) But the Trump children are directors of the foundation and appear to be in jeopardy. And presidential pardons don't work against state offenses. Like Jared, the Trump kids weren't raised to deal with hardship. Would they really go jail if they had a chance not to?


More and more, Trump is talking like a mob boss. He tweeted that White House Counsel Don McGahn is not a "John Dean type RAT" and praised Paul Manafort because "he refused to break" under pressure from federal prosecutors. In his telling, the villains are the people like Dean who tell the truth to law enforcement, while a "good man" protects his capo even if he has to go to prison.

Ralph Blumenthal has put together a surprisingly difficult who-said-it-quiz: Trump or John Gotti, the famous Teflon Don.


If the president is a crook, Republicans don't want to know about it. Paul Ryan's spokesman: "We are aware of Mr. Cohen’s guilty plea to these serious charges. We will need more information than is currently available at this point." So that means Ryan will support a congressional investigation to get that information, right? ... right?

Vox interviewed eight Republican senators, including retiring Senator Bob Corker, who sometimes has criticized Trump, and didn't find one who would agree that the Senate needed to look into this. Some said they'd wait and see what Bob Mueller's report will say. Others said they'd wait for court cases to play out. None of them want to start hearings.

This is the #1 reason why the country needs Democrats to control at least one house of Congress as soon as possible. It isn't that Democrats should immediately vote for an impeachment. (As I've said before, I think impeachment should have to clear a high bar.) But if Republicans stay in control, Congress will avoid finding out whether or not Trump has committed high crimes and misdemeanors. They just don't want to know.


I'm hearing a number of Republicans echo Trump about Manafort: He just did what lots of guys do, and he got caught because Mueller wants to get to Trump.

Here's what amazes me about those lots-of-guys arguments: Nobody who makes them goes on to say we need a nationwide crackdown on white-collar crime. If a Salvadoran Mom carries her kid across the border, we've got a zero-tolerance policy. She's got to be prosecuted no matter what the consequences for the kid, because of the rule of law and so forth. But if lots of rich white guys are laundering money, evading taxes, and getting fraudulent bank loans, well, that's just business.


Glenn Kessler, who runs Washington Post's Fact Checker column, discusses the challenge of Donald Trump, and why Fact Checker has begun using the word "lie" for the first time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmYrui8XcuY

and attempts to distract with race

Wednesday night, when the other news networks were exploring the implications of Michael Cohen's Tuesday guilty plea and his apparent willingness to testify about other matters, I suddenly wondered how Fox News was handling this. So I flipped over to catch the lead of Tucker Carlson's show: the Mollie Tibbits murder. Tibbets was an Iowa college student who disappeared July 18 and whose body was found Tuesday. An apparently undocumented Mexican immigrant was charged.

Two things separate the Tibbetts murder from every other murder in the country (there are about 40-50 per day):

  • The media pays way more attention to pretty young white women than to any other victims. So even before Tuesday, Tibbetts' disappearance was already getting wider attention than most disappearances.
  • The alleged murderer is undocumented.

If only we enforced our immigration laws better, conservatives have been saying, this crime would never have happened and Mollie would still be alive. "We need the wall," Trump concluded. Carlson berated other networks for ignoring the story, and showed a clip of an MSNBC panelist saying "Fox News is talking about a girl in Iowa" (rather than the president's criminality), which supposedly belittled Tibbetts.

Here's what Fox and Trump are ignoring: If we threw everyone out of the country -- you, me, everybody -- that would stop all crime in the United States. That is obviously an absurd plan. To make their deport-the-illegals point less absurd, Carlson and Trump need to argue that there is a link between undocumented immigrants and violent crime. Otherwise, the murderer's immigration status is just a random fact about him, and tells us nothing about his crime.

But to the extent that anyone has established a link between immigration status and violent crime (it's not a widely studied topic), it goes the other way. The Cato Institute did the numbers:

increased enforcement of our immigration laws is not a good way to prevent murders.  Illegal immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated for crimes in the United States than native-born AmericansTexas is the only state that keeps data on the number of convictions of illegal immigrants for specific crimes (I sent versions of Public Interest Requests to every state). In Texas in 2015, the rate of convictions per 100,000 illegal immigrants was 16 percent lower below that of native-born Americans.

From what we know so far, the immigration status of the guy charged with Tibbetts' murder is just a random fact about him, like the shoes he wears or what he eats for breakfast. It doesn't make his case more newsworthy than any other murder.


Of course Trump's Russian allies have helped:

Almost immediately after a guilty verdict was announced in the trial of Paul Manafort, the president’s former campaign chairman convicted on eight counts of bank and tax fraud charges, there was a flurry of activity among hundreds of pro-Kremlin Twitter accounts believed to be controlled by Russian government influence operations. Those accounts began posting thousands of tweets about Ms Tibbetts, the 20-year-old University of Iowa student who had been missing for nearly five weeks.


Peter Beinart claims the Trump and Tibbetts stories "represent competing notions of what corruption is".

“Corruption, to the fascist politician,” [author Jason Stanley] suggests, “is really about the corruption of purity rather than of the law. Officially, the fascist politician’s denunciations of corruption sound like a denunciation of political corruption. But such talk is intended to evoke corruption in the sense of the usurpation of the traditional order.”

Fox’s decision to focus on the Iowa murder rather than Cohen’s guilty plea illustrates Stanley’s point. In the eyes of many Fox viewers, I suspect, the network isn’t ignoring corruption so much as highlighting the kind that really matters. When Trump instructed Cohen to pay off women with whom he’d had affairs, he may have been violating the law. But he was upholding traditional gender and class hierarchies. Since time immemorial, powerful men have been cheating on their wives and using their power to evade the consequences.

The Iowa murder, by contrast, signifies the inversion—the corruption—of that “traditional order.” Throughout American history, few notions have been as sacrosanct as the belief that white women must be protected from nonwhite men.


Another racial distraction was Trump's tweet about "large scale killing of farmers" in South Africa. He referenced Fox News' Tucker Carlson, who had been railing against a South African government plan to redistribute land, which has largely remained in white hands even after the end of apartheid.

Oddly, though, the killing of white farmers wasn't in Carlson's report.

We have no clue how this myth about farmers being killed ended up on the president’s Twitter feed. It didn’t come up on “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” the Fox News show Trump referenced in his tweet. But it has been swishing in the alt-right and white-nationalist ether for years. The Fox News segment may have jogged Trump’s memory about something he came across previously.

Something he came across while he was perusing white-supremacist propaganda -- something he apparently does with some regularity. Slate reports how happy white supremacists are to see one their issues pushed by the President of the United States. South Africa, in white supremacist echo chambers, is ground zero for the "white genocide" that will engulf all Europeans if they let non-whites take over their countries.

Take a peek at Stormfront, the oldest and largest community of neo-Nazis and white supremacists on the internet and you’ll find post after post of pro-white commenters debating what Trump’s tweet means for the movement to uplift the white race. ... Whatever happens in federal courtrooms to people like Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, the president still exerts a powerful reality-distortion field, into which he has now drawn the bogeyman of white genocide. No wonder white supremacists are giddy.


Last summer, Vox put together a video "Why white supremacists love Tucker Carlson". It describes perfectly what he's doing now with both the South Africa story and the Tibbetts murder.


Another topic Fox likes to bring up in lieu of the actual news is Venezuela. Things are bad in Venezuela now, and that supposedly proves that socialism is bad. Francisco Toro debunks: Just about every country in South America has experimented with socialism, with a variety of good and bad results.

Don’t be fooled. All Venezuela demonstrates is that if you leave implementation to the very worst, most anti-intellectual, callous, authoritarian and criminal people in society, socialism can have genuinely horrendous consequences. But couldn’t the same be said of every ideology? It’s a question that supporters of the current U.S. administration would do well to ponder.

and John McCain

Despite recognizing his flaws and disagreeing with much of his philosophy, I've always had a soft spot in my heart for John McCain, who died Saturday.

Presidential politics in New Hampshire traditionally has revolved around the town hall meeting, and McCain was the absolute master of that form. No matter what they're asked, shallow candidates find a way to segue into their canned talking points. But (at least in the four events I went to) McCain always answered the question he was asked. Usually he did it knowledgeably and articulately while radiating a sense of earnestness tempered by self-deprecating humor. He would do that for two hours at a time, then go to the next town and do it again, and then maybe hit two or three more towns before his day was over. It's no wonder he carried this state's presidential primary in both 2000 and 2008. His rivals often groused about the way reporters sent to cover him would end up falling under his spell, but I understood completely.

Feeling about him the way I did, I wanted him to be a hero -- not just years ago in Vietnam, but here and now. So he was a frustrating senator for me to watch, especially during Republican administrations. When something outrageous was happening -- the Trump tax cut was a good recent example -- he very often would ask the right questions, but then accept too-easy answers. He would make a stirring idealistic speech, and then find a way to lend his vote to Mitch McConnell's cynical plan.

That's what made the moment in this picture -- last summer during the Senate's effort to repeal ObamaCare -- so magical: For once, he really did cast the decisive vote to stop something terrible from happening. (That's McConnell who is staring him down with folded arms.) That day he was the hero I wanted him to be.

As a politician, McCain had his ups and downs. On the plus side, he recognized the rot at the heart of our political system and worked together with Democrat Russ Feingold to try to control money in politics. (Our country still suffers from the corporate rights the Roberts Court invented to make much of McCain-Feingold unconstitutional.) On the minus side, he always seemed to be willing to give war a chance, and he was responsible for unleashing Sarah Palin on the world.

All in all, he was a bundle of virtues and vices that we are not likely to see again. But even when was against him -- as I was in 2008 -- I could never stop myself from wishing him well. Often an opponent, but never an enemy.


The least compassionate response to the announcement that McCain was refusing further treatment -- a virtual admission that he was near death -- came from Kelli Ward.

Arizona GOP Senate candidate Kelli Ward suggested Saturday that the Friday statement issued by Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) family about ending medical treatment for brain cancer was intended to hurt her campaign. McCain died Saturday hours after she made the suggestion on Facebook, The Arizona Republic reported.  "I think they wanted to have a particular narrative that they hope is negative to me,” Ward wrote.

So, Arizona Republicans: If you think Washington is overrun with courtesy and empathy, and you want a candidate who will put a stop to all that mushy nonsense, here she is. The primary is tomorrow.


The McCain funeral seems likely to have political implications. Reportedly, Presidents Obama and Bush will be among those giving eulogies, and Trump appears not to have been invited to attend. I think commentators are likely to make McCain a symbol of a pre-Trump era when politics was pursued with honor and dignity.

Trump himself is acting out in a passive-aggressive way. So far he has restrained himself from insulting McCain's memory, and has recognized his death with a tweet that says nothing about McCain's life:

CNN reports that "White House aides drafted a fulsome statement for President Donald Trump on the death of Sen. John McCain, but it was never sent out." No flag-lowering proclamation has been made, and the White House flag was back at full staff in less than 48 hours.

but I focused on how Senator Warren wants to change the national debate

The featured post gives some background on her two recent proposals, the Accountable Capitalism Act and the Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act.

and you also might be interested in ...

Texas Senators Ted Cruz (who is a climate-change denier) and John Cornyn (who admits climate change is real but doesn't want the government to do anything about it) are seeking $12 billion for a seawall to protect Texas gulf coast from the storm surges that are expected to become larger and more dangerous due to climate change. The wall would "shield some of the crown jewels of the petroleum industry", the industry which is one of the major causes of climate change in the first place.

Exxon-Mobil alone made over $78 billion last year, of which a mere $1.2 billion went to taxes. So I suppose it's only natural that those of us who pay a tax rate higher than 1.5% should bear the burden of protecting Exxon-Mobil's assets against a crisis that it is causing for all of us.


Ezra Klein wrote a fair summary of the Trump economy:

Trump hasn’t unleashed an economic miracle, but he hasn’t caused a crisis either. Plenty of liberals believed a Trump victory would be devastating for the economy, tanking stock markets amid fears of trade wars, nuclear wars, and political chaos. That Trump has managed to keep growth going might be a less impressive record than he claims, but it’s a more impressive record than many of his critics expected.

Basically, the trends were positive when Obama left office, and they've kept going.


Political-science Professor Corey Robin writes a cogent description of the appeal of socialism in the current era. One key point is the way he reclaims the word freedom from the pro-market people.

Under capitalism, we’re forced to enter the market just to live. The libertarian sees the market as synonymous with freedom. But socialists hear “the market” and think of the anxious parent, desperate not to offend the insurance representative on the phone, lest he decree that the policy she paid for doesn’t cover her child’s appendectomy. Under capitalism, we’re forced to submit to the boss. Terrified of getting on his bad side, we bow and scrape, flatter and flirt, or worse — just to get that raise or make sure we don’t get fired.

The socialist argument against capitalism isn’t that it makes us poor. It’s that it makes us unfree.

For me, this touches on a point I discussed years ago in a talk called "Who Owns the World?" The traditional socialist solution -- public ownership of the means of production -- should be thought of as a means rather than an end. What we all really need is guaranteed access to the means of production. In less jargony words, we need to have confidence that we will always have ways to turn our work into the goods and services we need.

The central problem with capitalism is that (in addition to all his other roles, many of which are positive) the capitalist is a gatekeeper: You need his permission in order to enter to productive economy, and that puts him in a position to impose demands on you. Hence the "unfreedom" Robin talks about.


Statistics from Fresno flesh out the idea that police are biased against blacks. And this contrast between the coverage of two fathers accused of murder tells you something about bias in the media's crime coverage.

https://twitter.com/nowthisnews/status/1033323857912844288


Remember those 3-5 million illegal votes that supposedly cost Trump the popular vote (because of course they all voted for Hillary)? Well, after God knows how much effort, the Justice Department has managed to find 19 non-citizen voters, nationwide.


Secretary of State Pompeo was about to return to North Korea, which so far has done virtually nothing towards the "denuclearization" that Trump has bragged about achieving.

“Pompeo is stuck,” said one senior administration official who was not authorized to speak. “He’s a prisoner of championing a policy that’s based on what the president would love to see happen, but not based on reality and the facts on the ground.”

Whether Trump is starting to realize that or for some other reason, he cancelled Pompeo's trip. Vox has a good summary of where things stand.


Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) was indicted for misusing campaign funds. But that's not a reason for him to drop out of his re-election run, because he's the victim of a Deep State conspiracy, and if anything bad did happen, it's his wife's fault:

When I went away to Iraq in 2003, the first time, I gave her power of attorney. She handled my finances throughout my entire military career and that continued on when I got into Congress. ... She was also the campaign manager so whatever she did, that’ll be looked at too, I’m sure, but I didn’t do it.

That's a family-values candidate for you: always willing to let his wife take one for the team. Politico quotes an anonymous Republican congressional staffer: "Like, how do you stay married to a guy who does that?" Better question: How do you not testify against him?

Fox News, though, stays fair and balanced by finding a scandal on the Democratic side as well: Hunter's challenger Ammar Campa-Najjar doesn't just have dark skin and a funny name, but his grandfather was one of the Munich Olympic terrorists. Gramps was killed by the Israelis 16 years before Ammar was born, but I guess the idea is that the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree that grew from that other acorn that didn't fall far from its tree either. Those acorns somehow counterbalance the $250K Hunter stole.

Campa-Najjar artfully pulls the two stories together: "I'm happy to take responsibility for my own choices and my own decisions. I think other men are responsible for their own crimes."


You've got to wonder why CNN allows stuff like this: CNN contributor Rob Astorino admitted on camera that the NDA he signed to work on the Trump 2020 Advisory Committee prohibits him from criticizing Trump.


On Thursday, a post I wrote in 2014, "Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party" (the most popular post in Weekly Sift history) got 23 hits. On Friday it got 5,338. There's still a lot about blogging I don't understand.

and let's close with something that strikes back

Earlier this summer I closed with James Veitch's tormenting of an internet scammer. This time he's going after email spam from a supermarket.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Remaining Questions

Mr. Trump’s claims of no collusion are, in a word, hogwash. The only questions that remain are whether the collusion that took place constituted criminally liable conspiracy, whether obstruction of justice occurred to cover up any collusion or conspiracy, and how many members of “Trump Incorporated” attempted to defraud the government by laundering and concealing the movement of money into their pockets.

- former CIA Director John Brennan (8-16-2018)

This week's featured post is "The Drift Towards Autocracy Continues".

This week everybody was talking about security clearances

In the featured post, I discuss Trump's revoking of John Brennan's clearance as one more example of his autocratic tendencies: He thinks presidential powers aren't tethered to any presidential responsibilities, and are just his to use as he pleases.

Something else worth mentioning is that when Rob Porter was facing credible accusations of beating his ex-wives, Sarah Sanders claimed that the White House had nothing to do with security clearances.

and Aretha Franklin

a.k.a. the Queen of Soul, who died Thursday at the age of 76. In tribute, I offer this clip from The Blues Brothers.

and the continuing sabotage of ObamaCare

Wednesday, HHS Secretary Alex Azar had a WaPo column that makes it sound like Trump's latest effort to sabotage ObamaCare is a great thing for middle-class Americans.

Americans will once again be able to buy what is known as short-term, limited-duration insurance for up to a year, assuming their state allows it. These plans are free from most Obamacare regulations, allowing them to cost between 50 and 80 percent less.

In other words, they're junk insurance. Suppose you buy such a policy for a year. If you break your leg, fine, you're covered. If you get cancer, though, you're covered until the end of the policy, and which point the company wants nothing more to do with you. Or if your leg-break is complicated, requiring a series of surgeries and some rehab that lasts longer than the policy, forget about it.

In the meantime, these short-term junk policies will appeal to healthy people who don't expect to get sick. Drawing them out of the risk pool will raise rates for people who want real insurance.

The proper goal of American health policy should be simple: If you need care, you will get it, and you won't be forced into bankruptcy. This is a step away from that goal, not toward it.

and Trump administration epistemology

"Truth," Rudy Giuliani told us this week, "isn't truth."

"This is going to become a bad meme," Chuck Todd presciently warned.

Now is a good time to remind everybody of the concept of the "reverse cargo cult". Hans Howe explains:

In a regular cargo cult, you have people who see an airstrip, and the cargo drops, so they build one out of straw, hoping for the same outcome. They don’t know the difference between a straw airstrip and a real one, they just want the cargo.

In a reverse cargo cult, you have people who see an airstrip, and the cargo drops, so they build one out of straw. But there’s a twist:

When they build the straw airstrip, it isn’t because they are hoping for the same outcome. They know the difference, and know that because their airstrip is made of straw, it certainly won’t yield any cargo, but it serves another purpose. They don’t lie to the rubes and tell them that an airstrip made of straw will bring them cargo. That’s an easy lie to dismantle. Instead, what they do is make it clear that the airstrip is made of straw, and doesn’t work, but then tell you that the other guy’s airstrip doesn’t work either. They tell you that no airstrips yield cargo. The whole idea of cargo is a lie, and those fools, with their fancy airstrip made out of wood, concrete, and metal is just as wasteful and silly as one made of straw.

In Putin's Russia, democracy is the cargo and elections are the airstrips. Russian elections are bogus, but that just proves that all elections are bogus. The US and all those other countries don't really have democracy either.

In Trump's America, truth is the cargo, and public statements are the airstrips. There's no point claiming any more that Trump tells the truth; it's just too obvious that he doesn't. If he testifies to Mueller, of course he will lie. But that just proves that everyone lies, and no statements contain truth.

So it's totally unreasonable to put Trump under oath and expect truth, because there is no truth.

but you might wonder what's going on with Turkey

In addition to all the other trade wars Trump is fighting, we now have one with Turkey. Trade with Turkey is too small to make much difference in terms of jobs or the trade deficit, but Evangelicals have made a cause out of an American pastor the Turkish government has arrested. The result is an economic crisis in Turkey that could spill over into European banks or other emerging market countries.

and you also might be interested in ...

We're waiting for a verdict in the Manafort trial. I'm concerned that it's taking so long; the evidence seems pretty clear. Vox' Emily Stewart just thinks the jury is being methodical: There are a lot of charges.

Meanwhile, Trump has been doing his best to influence the jury, which has not been sequestered. Any Trump supporters on the jury must know what their marching orders are: not guilty.


Rick Perlstein explains the history of "voter fraud" as an argument for discouraging minority voters.


James Corden's musical version of the hoped-for Mueller report says that Trump is the "law defying, truth denying, dirty lying, Russian spying, absolutely horrifying worst".


Dinesh D'Souza's new propaganda movie is bound to restart the bogus talking point that the Democrats are the real racist party. (Somehow, Nazis and white supremacists never seem to get that memo, and keep supporting Trump.) If you find yourself in an argument about this, I already collected the research you'll need a few years ago in "A Short History of White Racism in the Two-Party System".

The even-shorter version is that the Democrats were the white-racist party at least until FDR. By 1948, racists had began to feel unwelcome among the Democrats, which is why Strom Thurmond ran for president against Truman as a Dixiecrat. Between then and 1980, racists had no clear home in either party, and kept flirting with the idea of running their own candidates, like George Wallace in 1968.

Nixon's Southern Strategy in 1968 began inviting racists into the Republican Party, and Ronald Reagan sealed the deal in 1980 when he launched his post-convention campaign with a dog-whistle-laden speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi, not far from the site of the Mississippi Burning murders. Since then, the GOP has been the preferred party for white racists.

But the article needs this update: The Republican Party of 2012 still kept its racists in the closet and signaled to them with dog whistles. But in the Trump Era, racists have taken a central position in the party's base.


PBS' "Hot Mess" series about climate change has some clear, non-intimidating introductory videos that might get through to people still in denial about the problem. Here's one:


Meanwhile, the Trump administration wants to let states set their own regulations for CO2 emissions from power plants. States that produce a lot of coal presumably will have lax standards, as if the rest of the planet were unaffected by their decisions.

The regulations look like a big win for the companies that used to employ William L. Wehrum, who is now the top air-pollution official at the EPA. #DrainTheSwamp


Pennsylvania's attorney general released a grand jury report on clergy sex abuse.

Over a period of 70 years, Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania sexually abused thousands of children while bishops ran a systemic cover-up campaign, according to the state attorney general.


If you wonder where the "abolish ICE" sentiment comes from, read this story: ICE agents arrest a man at a gas station, leaving his wife to drive herself to the hospital to have their baby. Would it be so hard for ICE to drive the couple to the hospital, to sit with the man until his family is safe, and THEN to arrest him?

The problem with ICE is a pervasive lack of human decency. "Illegals" have been dehumanized to the point that the humane and compassionate responses that we owe to all human beings can be withheld from them. (If you want to see examples of this kind of dehumanization, read the comments on the article.)

You know where this story fits? In a flashback where a terrorist explains why he owes no compassion to his victims. "The day I was born ..." he begins.


Much news-network time was taken up this week by speculation on whether or not there's a tape where Trump says the n-word. Count me among the people who don't see what difference it would make. If you don't already know that Trump is a racist, I don't know why an n-word tape would change your mind. I mean, we already have a tape of him confessing to sexually assaulting women, but his supporters still don't believe the women who accuse him.


Elizabeth Warren's Accountable Capitalism Act is an attempt to change the rules corporations work under. There's a lot going on here that I need more time to unpack.


Tracey Ullman has been playing with the notion of Melania being a Russian robot for a while now. In this episode, the bot needs a reboot.


So Kris Kobach is now the Republican nominee for governor of Kansas. There are few politicians I have less respect for. His signature issue, voter fraud, which he has been riding for years, is bogus, and he has to know it's bogus.

He chaired a presidential commission tasked with finding evidence of such fraud, and he didn't find it. The commission disbanded without issuing a report. But he's still talking about voter fraud as if it were a well established fact.


Denmark's response to Fox Business Network's hit piece is awesome. Just about every aspect of Denmark that FBN's Trish Regan attacked is actually something that Denmark does better than the US.


Apparently the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is in financial trouble, which is a huge shame. I realize that most of you have no occasion to pass through Springfield, Illinois. But I do, since it's on the road to my home town, so I've toured the museum. It's a very worthwhile afternoon, and if the museum were on the Mall in D.C., I think everyone would go there.


I get where NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo was coming from when he responded to Trump's MAGA slogan by saying that America "was never that great". In other words, if you pick any particular date for "again" to refer to, something pretty awful was happening in America: slavery or Native American genocide or civil war or child labor or the Great Depression or second-class citizenship for women or Jim Crow or Japanese internment or whatever. There is no magic moment that we should want to roll the clock back to.

But I wish he hadn't put it the way he did, because it's also true that there has always been something great about America. Even as it was winking at slavery, the Constitution institutionalized rights for white men in a way that could eventually extend to others. Even as America was cramming the Irish, Italians, and Jews into squalid urban ghettos, it was also letting them build a base for breaking out of those ghettos. It promoted science and invention. It created an engine for producing wealth on a previously unheard-of scale, and eventually let that wealth spread out into a large middle class. With its allies, it defended the world from Nazism and held Soviet Communism in check until it fell of its own weight. All superpowers have a degree of arrogance, but compared to historical norms, I believe we have ruled our sphere of influence with a comparatively light hand.

So I find plenty to be proud of in American history, even if there is no Golden Age I would want to return to. My greatest worry is that if we follow Russia, Hungary, and Poland down the authoritarian/nationalist path, we may someday have cause to look back on the Obama years that way. No one would have said so at the time, but that's how Golden Ages typically are.

and let's close with a baby otter

Otters may have evolved to swim, but that doesn't mean they take to water naturally. Mom has to drag the young ones in and force them under.