Monday, February 24, 2020

The Present Darkness

The dark days are not "coming". The dark days are here.

- Rachel Maddow (2-21-2020)

This week's featured posts are "What's Wrong With a Decision-Making Convention?" and "Accelerating Corruption and Autocracy".

This week everybody was talking about the Justice Department

I covered this in "Accelerating Corruption and Autocracy".

and Bernie Sanders as front-runner

Sanders' win in the Nevada caucuses was impressive. He was a clear winner among Latino voters, a demographic that wasn't behind him in 2016. Sanders is now the clear front-runner, partly due to his own strength and partly due to the fracturing of his opposition. Even if you wanted to vote for the stop-Bernie candidate (and from my comment stream, I can tell that a lot of you don't), who would that be?

Now that I'm a Massachusetts voter, I have to make my choice on March 3. I'm still undecided, but I promise to explain my thinking next week, the day before I vote.

Right now I'm wondering if I've given Bernie a fair shake. I've been rooting against him, and I'm not sure whether that's for justifiable reasons, or whether it's because I'm still annoyed from 2016. In 2016, I was part of his big majority in the New Hampshire primary, but I was voting more to send a message to Hillary than because I seriously intended to make Bernie president. As the campaign wore on, I came to regret that vote.

Unlike some people who voted for Hillary against Trump, I don't fault Bernie for not campaigning harder for her in the fall. I think he did as much as could have been reasonably expected. But I thought a lot of his late-primary-campaign criticism of Hillary was unfair, that it continued well past the point where he had a chance to win, and that it set up Trump's "crooked Hillary" rhetoric. It was irresponsible, and he should have known better.

That said, this is one of those situations where turnabout is not fair play. As Bernie becomes the front-runner, I think we all should bear in mind that he may well become the nominee. And while I'm all for every candidate's and every voter's right to criticize, I think we need to try very hard to criticize fairly. For example, I think it's fine to say that Bernie should release his medical records, or to ask how his plans will be paid for, or how he will get them through Congress. But I don't think it's fair to call him a "communist" or to lie about what his healthcare plan will do. Trump will want to do that in the fall, if Bernie is nominated, and his rhetoric will sound more convincing if it can be prefaced with "Even Democrats say ..."

On electability, I don't know what to think. Polls consistently show Sanders running as well or better against Trump than the other Democrats do -- worse than Biden in some polls, but never by much. At the same time, I have yet to meet a Republican who's afraid of facing Bernie in the fall. Many of them are actively rooting for him, including (it seems) Trump. Maybe they're just stupid, or maybe they have some insight.

and the continuing spread of the Chinese virus

It's now known as COVID-19. Outbreaks are now happening in Italy and South Korea, which might imply that they will eventually happen everywhere.

Even so, try to maintain some perspective. Staying away from Chinese restaurants is not going to make you safer.

but you should pay more attention to Trump's acting DNI

I also discussed this in "Accelerating Corruption and Autocracy". Few things are could be worse than a Director of National Intelligence who tells the CIA what the President wants to hear them say, rather than tells the President what the best experts think is true.

and you also might be interested in ...

As I write this morning, the stock market is plunging. The Dow is about 1300 points below the peak it hit a week or two ago. I don't think the fall is Trump's fault any more than the rise was, but if you live by the sword you die by the sword.


I don't know how good her chances are, but I've got to root for Amy McGrath to beat Mitch McConnell. This online ad is from last summer, but it's still worth looking at.


Remember the original justification for the assassination of Iranian General Qassim Soleimani? Supposedly it prevented one or more "imminent attacks".

Well, never mind. The White House has sent Congress its official explanation for the raid, and the imminent-attack justification has vanished. Now the purpose of the assassination was to "deter future attacks".

Without the threat of an imminent attack, there was no reason the administration couldn't have consulted Congress, as envisioned in the War Powers Act. Instead, the report makes the argument that Congress intended the pre-Iraq-invasion Authorization for the Use of Military Force to include Iran, which is patently absurd.

In short, the Soleimani attack was an illegal assassination, and the President's initial explanation of it was a lie.


Researchers at Scripps Oceanography Institute offer some good news on climate change: One of the tipping-point disaster scenarios is less likely than previously thought.

A long-feared scenario in which global warming causes Arctic permafrost to melt and release enough greenhouse gas to accelerate warming and cause catastrophe probably won’t happen.

and let's close with something ambiguous

Sometimes it's hard to tell who a satirist is satirizing. ABC News reported:

Pigeons wearing MAGA hats and Donald Trump wigs have been released by a shadowy protest group calling themselves P.U.T.I.N. – Pigeons United to Interfere Now -- across the city of Las Vegas, Nevada

When I saw that, my first thought (after some concern about the pigeons) was "What a clever protest against Trump!" Plainly, the stunt casts MAGA-hatters as pigeons -- stupid and gullible. When I heard the group was calling itself PUTIN, that cinched it.

But apparently not, at least if the Las Vegas Review-Journal has it right.

The pigeon release was done as an “aerial protest piece in response to the arrival of the 2020 Democratic debate,” the group said. Six Democratic presidential candidates will debate Wednesday night in Las Vegas.

“The release date was also coordinated to serve as a gesture of support and loyalty to President Trump,” said a group member who goes by the alias Coo Hand Luke.

Or maybe Coo Hand Luke is spoofing the local reporter, pretending to be precisely the kind pigeon-like Trumpist the birds represent. Or not. Maybe the satire is too subtle for any of us to grasp.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Malice

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

- Abraham Lincoln
2nd Inaugural Address (3-4-1865)

As everybody knows, my family, our great country, and your President, have been put through a terrible ordeal by some very dishonest and corrupt people. They have done everything possible to destroy us, and by so doing, very badly hurt our nation. They know what they are doing is wrong, but they put themselves far ahead of our great country.

- Donald Trump
at the National Prayer Breakfast (2-6-2020)

This week's featured post is "Let's Talk Each Other Down". Think of it as a counterweight to all the depressing or panic-worthy stuff in this summary.

This week everybody was talking about Iowa and New Hampshire

OK, Iowa was a mess. But there's a reliable paper trail, so there's good reason to believe the result. Tomorrow is the New Hampshire primary, which I am amazed to discover I have not covered at all. I have not been to a single candidate event this year, despite living just over the border in Massachusetts.

To a large extent that's because the main thing that matters to me is electing Not Trump. I have likes and opinions, but I'm all-in for whoever gets the nomination. Anyway, here's one comment about each major contender:

  • Biden's fourth-place finish in Iowa was a huge disappointment, and he doesn't look to be running well in NH either. He's counting on his black support to get him back in the race in South Carolina. I'll bet Kamala Harris is kicking herself for getting out, because there is no obvious inheritor of Biden's black support if he fails.
  • Bloomberg is running such an unorthodox campaign that it's hard to know whether his strategy is working or not. But he gets Trump's goat better than any other candidate, and that has to count for something.
  • Buttigieg was the biggest beneficiary of Iowa. Sanders won the popular vote, but Buttigieg was the big surprise and wound up with the most delegates. His NH polls shot up afterwards, largely, I think, because his Iowa performance gave people who already like him a reason to take his candidacy seriously. (Likeability is one of those nebulous concepts that is easy to abuse and hides a bunch of prejudices. But for what it's worth, Pete is the candidate I feel the most affection for. That doesn't necessarily mean I plan to vote for him, though.) It's hard to tell whether this week's debate blunted his momentum or not.
  • Klobuchar is the tortoise in this race. She also got on the map in Iowa, and is probably the second choice of a lot of Biden's white supporters. She's polling near zero in South Carolina, though, so she needs to do well in New Hampshire to stay in the race.
  • Sanders got more first-round votes than any other candidate in Iowa, but his case for beating Trump didn't do so well. The theory of how Sanders wins in November is that (even though he may lose some voters in the center) he raises turnout by inspiring a lot of new voters to come to the polls. But turnout in Iowa was not much different from 2016, and much lower than 2008, when Obama really did inspire people. He needs a win in NH, but he also needs to win the right way, with a big turnout.
  • Warren is the president I would appoint, if the Universe would grant me that power. She's got to be disappointed in her distant third-place finish in Iowa, and recent polls have her running third in NH as well. She was briefly the front-runner last fall, but it's hard to see where her break-out state is.

Josh Marshall makes a prediction of how Trump will smear Bernie, should he become the front-runner. He also pre-debunks the smear.

and the final impeachment trial result

The biggest surprise of the Senate vote was that Trump's acquittal wasn't a party-line vote, and that the lone defector was a Republican, not a Democrat. After lots of speculation that Joe Manchin or some other red-state Democrat would find a way to excuse Trump, the Democrats held firm, and Mitt Romney found his conscience.

I've been a bit appalled at how uncharitable many of my social media friends have been, trying to see Romney's choice as some kind of 2024 calculation. That seems really unlikely to me. Mitt is smart enough to realize that no matter how badly Trump blows up, nobody is going to get the 2024 Republican nomination by being anti-Trump. Assuming Trump even bothers to observe the term-limit rule -- I mean, the Constitution is just a piece of paper -- the next Republican nominee is either a Trump successor (Pence? Ivanka? Don Jr.?) or somebody who has stayed conveniently off the national stage (like Paul Ryan or a governor).

I think Mitt is at a point in his career where he sees History staring him in the face, and doesn't want to be remembered as Trump's accomplice. I'm amazed that more late-in-their-careers Republicans haven't looked at things that way. Lamar Alexander, for example, has just guaranteed that none of the things he's proud of will be remembered. The headline of his obituary will be that he shut down the witnesses to Trump's crimes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5oPNG6HLgM&fbclid=IwAR3euto6Zz2lZoYM-ytCKtA3mkWkFcNysRR8QomtARqB7Y8-1h4HAl8gUKI

Mitt's vote has provided contrast for the cowardice of the other Republican senators. We can hope other Republicans will be emboldened to take a stand as well.

and reprisals against those involved in Trump's impeachment

The Washington Post put President Clinton's and President Trump's post-acquittal speeches side-by-side. They could not be more different. Clinton was short, contrite, and tried to put conflict behind him. ("I believe any person who asks for forgiveness has to be prepared to give it.")

Trump, by contrast, was long-winded and dishonest, and took no responsibility for the acts that started this whole national trauma.

Trump repeatedly called Democrats involved in the impeachment “evil,” “corrupt” and “vicious and mean.” He railed against the Russian investigation, former FBI director James B. Comey, and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, adding, “It was all bullshit.”

He seemed poised for revenge, and soon began to take it. Donald Jr. made the threat explicit:

Allow me a moment to thank—and this may be a bit of a surprise—Adam Schiff. Were it not for his crack investigation skills, @realDonaldTrump might have had a tougher time unearthing who all needed to be fired. Thanks, Adam!


After the show trial, the purge. Ambassador Gordon Sondland lost his job, as did Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman at the National Security Council. Somewhat stranger, Vindman's brother Yevgeny was also fired from his job as an NSC lawyer. But that also fits the Stalinist pattern: Once you've been judged to be an Enemy of the People, your relatives are also suspect. That's probably why Mitt Romney's niece, RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel, has been so quick to declare her fealty to the regime.

Joshua Geltzer and Ryan Goodman comment on the Just Security blog:

Some have suggested that the outcry sparked by Friday’s reprisals was overblown. After all, any president is, on some level, entitled to surround himself at the White House and be represented overseas by those he trusts. But the question raised by Friday’s purge is: trusts to do what? And that’s where these actions raise serious concerns for American democracy: because Trump increasingly wants an executive branch that’ll serve not the United States of America but Donald J. Trump personally.

Trump was punishing key witnesses for doing precisely what the United States Congress swore them in to do: explain what they’d seen and heard.

... [E]xploitation of America’s diplomatic, military, and law enforcement mechanisms was the very usurpation of power that got Trump impeached in the first place. At the heart of the Ukraine extortion scheme was Trump and his personal lawyer’s appropriation of those mechanisms for political benefit and to the detriment of the country’s national security interests. Having survived impeachment, Trump now seeks to accelerate the redirection of America’s instruments of power into his own instruments of power.


Trump is not the only Republican engaged in post-impeachment reprisals. During the trial, Senator Rand Paul on numerous occasions named someone he claimed was the whistleblower whose complaint started the Ukraine investigation.

Friday, Tom Mueller (author of the book Crisis of Conscience about the history of whistleblowing) wrote a complaint to the Senate Select Committee on Ethics, explaining how Senator Paul's behavior violated the law.

Senator Paul’s actions constituted a retaliatory outing of a government witness—which is criminal conduct. Federal criminal law prohibits the obstruction of justice, and provides that “[w]hoever knowingly, with the intent to retaliate, takes any action harmful to any person, including interference with the lawful employment or livelihood of any person, for providing to a law enforcement officer any truthful information relating to the commission or possible commission of any Federal offense, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.”

Paul's outing of the whistleblower occurred not just on the floor of the Senate (where it might be constitutionally protected) but also outside the Senate and on Twitter.

If Senator Paul goes unpunished, this will be the kind of weakening of the law typical of the descent towards fascism. In the late stages of fascism, criticism of the Leader is punished by the State directly. But in earlier stages, critics simply lose the protection of the laws and can be attacked by followers of the Leader without consequence. When the Brownshirts come to beat them up, the police watch and do nothing.


Speaking of brownshirts: Immediately after Romney's guilty vote, CPAC chair Matt Schlapp disinvited him from the flagship conservative convention. Yesterday, Schlapp said "I would actually be afraid for his physical safety" if he showed up.

and the State of the Union

The State of the Union address was Tuesday. Trump stayed on script, but the script was full of lies and exaggerations.


At the end of the State of the Union address, Nancy Pelosi very decisively ripped up Trump's speech. For some reason, this display of disrespect resounded across right-wing media, as if this were most uncivil thing to happen in months. I agree with Trae Crowder, a.k.a. the Liberal Redneck:

The level of disrespect she showed by, like, ripping up the president's speech at the State of the Union like that -- it's nowhere near disrespectful enough. ... This is the most disrespectful motherfucker on Planet Earth.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDm_virxvxw&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR1x8u3UMKyyHav5Vm0l127O5QvJw8wGSQr0p1MwA7z6-LOtYi0hM7rZJP4


Medals of Freedom are essentially lifetime achievement awards that presidents give to people who make Americans proud. Usually that means other Americans, but sometimes a medal goes to a foreigner (Nelson Mandela, Stephen Hawking) who just makes us proud to be human.

Presidents have complete discretion to pick whoever they want, and for the most part they've done a good job. Over the years MoF awards have gone to authors like John Steinbeck and Harper Lee, artists like Georgia O'Keefe and Andrew Wyeth, musicians like Count Basie and Bob Dylan, and businessmen like Henry Ford II and IBM-founder Tom Watson. Computer-programming pioneer Grace Hopper got one, and so did photographer Ansel Adams. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel got one for being the conscience of the world.

In baseball's Hall of Fame not everyone is Babe Ruth, and the same thing happens with Medals of Freedom. They've also gone to people who were famous and deserving of respect but not legendary, like actor Tom Hanks, Western-genre author Louis L'Amour, and Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels. It happens. Presidents have their own idiosyncratic tastes. Some awards looked fine at the time, but shameful in retrospect, like President Bush giving one to Bill Cosby in 2002.

Well, Tuesday during the State of the Union address, President Trump awarded one to Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh has been a purveyor of hate and lies for more than 30 years. Who can forget his branding of Georgetown student Sandra Fluke as a "slut" and a "prostitute" for the unpardonable sin of defending ObamaCare's contraception mandate?

So, Ms. Fluke and the rest of you feminazis, here's the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I'll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.

Feel proud yet? How about when he accused Michael J. Fox of exaggerating the symptoms of his Parkinson's Disease? Or when he made up a series of "facts" in order to falsely blame measles outbreaks on immigrant children? Or his addiction to prescription drugs, which resulted in a settlement with the State of Florida to get them to drop charges for doctor shopping?

Politifact has looked into 42 of Limbaugh's controversial statements, and found zero of them to be entirely true. Thirty-five were rated Mostly False, False, or Pants on Fire.

In short, if I were Sidney Poitier or Buzz Aldrin or some other living recipient of the Medal, I'd be looking at that award with considerably less pride than I did a week ago.

Not all of Trump's awardees have cheapened the Medal. (I thought NBA legends Bob Cousy and Jerry West were worthy choices.) But a number of them look like deliberate attempts to debase the award: ethically challenged Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese; Arthur Laffer, creator of the discredited "Laffer Curve" theory that tax cuts increase revenue; and Miriam Adelson, wife of GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson.

This is some of the hidden damage Trump is doing to America. Even if we get rid of him in November, it will take a while to recover the value of things he has desecrated.

and you also might be interested in ...

David Fahrenthold has found yet another way that Trump is profiteering off the presidency: He's making the Secret Service stay at his properties, and then overcharging them.

President Trump’s company charges the Secret Service for the rooms agents use while protecting him at his luxury properties — billing U.S. taxpayers at rates as high as $650 per night, according to federal records and people who have seen receipts. ...

“If my father travels, they stay at our properties for free — meaning, like, cost for housekeeping,” Trump’s son Eric said in a Yahoo Finance interview last year.

Are you surprised to learn that's a lie? However, the really scandalous part of the story is the extent to which Trump has kept the public in the dark about his self-dealing.

The Secret Service is required to tell Congress twice a year about what it spends to protect Trump at his properties. But since 2016, it has only filed two of the required six reports, according to congressional offices. The reasons, according to Secret Service officials: key personnel left and nobody picked up the job. Even in those two reports, the lines for Bedminster and Mar-a-Lago were blank.

As I said above about Rand Paul, this is how fascism starts: Not with new laws, but with refusing to enforce the old laws.


A somewhat technical but worth-reading NYT article about Instex, a device Germany, France, and Britain set up to avoid US sanctions on countries and businesses that trade with Iran. It's not working, but the lengths the US is going to in order to keep it from working is a lesson in how hard it is to be an independent US ally these days. Either you give up sovereignty and let Trump write your foreign policy, or the full economic fury of the United States will be unleashed on you. Sooner or later, our former allies will realize they need to work with China to balance our power.


China's National Health Commission announced the 97 people died of coronavirus yesterday, more than any previous daily total. That brought the overall Chinese death toll to 908.

and let's close with an inside joke

In order to understand this, you need to know the stories of my people.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Decadent Superfluities

The proper procedure, the gathering of evidence -- these things mean nothing, not anymore. Not since Hitler. He cuts through these decadent superfluities and shows us that the conclusion is everything, Gunther. You of all people should understand this. The important thing in concluding a case successfully is actually concluding it.

- SS General Johann Rattenhuber,
as fictionalized in Prussian Blue by Philip Kerr

Will we pursue the search for truth, or will we dodge, weave, and evade?

-- Senator Mitch McConnell,
discussing investigations of President Clinton, 2-12-1998

This week's featured posts are "If Obama ..." and "Jared's Plan for Mideast Peace".

This week everybody was talking about impeachment

Friday, the Senate voted not to hear any witnesses or subpoena any documents. The vote was 51-49, with Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, and all 47 Democrats voting to hold a real trial. The other 51 Republicans voted to join Trump's obstruction conspiracy.

it was predictable (I predicted it Tuesday on Facebook) that the number of Republican crossovers would be either two or many. If a third Republican voted to hear witnesses the motion would still have failed, but then all 50 Republicans voting against a real trial would be personally responsible. ("You, Cory Gardner, could have made the difference and let the American people hear what John Bolton had to say, but you joined the cover-up instead.") If exactly four voted with the Democrats, each of them would be held personally responsible by Trump's base. Nobody wanted that kind of responsibility, so it had to be two or many.

As it is, the only surprising thing was that the Senate didn't go straight into an acquittal vote Friday by the dark of night. Instead, Senators will get the opportunity to make speeches explaining their positions before voting to acquit Trump on Wednesday.

I intend the quote at the top of the page as a comment on the Republican approach to this trial: The conclusion was fore-ordained, and nothing mattered other than getting there. Don't think about the evidence, don't try to find out what happened, don't concern yourself with the good of the country -- just get to the conclusion, because that's all that counts. It's fundamentally a fascist approach to justice, so I think the Nazi comparisons are appropriate.


Mitt Romney's vote to call witnesses in Trump's impeachment trial had immediate consequences: It got him explicitly uninvited from CPAC 2020, the flagship convention of what used to be the conservative movement. Not even his niece would defend him. If she did, maybe she'd become an Enemy of the People too.

Romney's expulsion just underlines something that should be obvious anyway: Today's "conservative" movement is no longer about conservative principles, or any principles at all. It's a cult of personality centered on Donald Trump. Romney's vote didn't subvert conservatism in any way, but it did inconvenience the Great Orange F├╝hrer. So Mitt is excommunicated.


Alan Dershowitz's opinion that Trump's misdeeds are not impeachable represents a complete reversal of the opinion he held during the Clinton impeachment. But he explains the difference like this:

[Then] I simply accepted the academic consensus on an issue that was not on the front burner at the time. But because this impeachment directly raises the issue of whether criminal behavior is required, I have gone back and read all the relevant historical material as nonpartisan academics should always do and have now concluded that the framers did intend to limit the criteria for impeachment to criminal type acts akin to treason, bribery, and they certainly did not intend to extend it to vague and open-ended and non-criminal accusations such as abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Tuesday, Josh Marshall pulled no punches in his assessment:

To put it baldly, if it’s a topic and area of study you know nothing about and after a few weeks of cramming you decide that basically everyone who’s studied the question is wrong, there’s a very small chance you’ve rapidly come upon a great insight and a very great likelihood you’re an ignorant and self-regarding asshole.

Then, in the Q&A period Wednesday, Dershowitz went completely off the rails:

[I]f a hypothetical president of the United States said to a hypothetical leader of a foreign country, "unless you build a hotel with my name on it, and unless you give me a million dollar kickback, I will withhold the funds." That’s an easy case. That’s purely corrupt and in the purely private interest.

But a complex middle case is, "I want to be elected. I think I’m a great president. I think I’m the greatest president there ever was. If I’m not elected the national interest will suffer greatly." That cannot be impeachable.

A lot of people misrepresented this doctrine as saying that the president can do anything to get elected, and it's OK. Bad as it is, it doesn't quite go that far. A better explanation is here.

and Jared's Mideast "Peace" plan

I originally just wanted a quick note about this, but it got out of hand and became its own post.

and the Iowa caucus

It's tonight, and I have no idea who will win. Bernie Sanders seems to have the late momentum, but the polling is really tight. The RCP polling average has Sanders at 24.2%, Biden 20.2%, Buttigieg 16.4%, Warren 15.6%, and Klobuchar 8.6%.

and Brexit finally happened

It became official in London Friday night at 11, which was midnight in Brussels. The United Kingdom is no longer part of the European Union. There is still a lot to work out: an UK/EU trade agreement, trade arrangements with other countries that are used to dealing with the UK as part of the EU, whether Scotland will seek independence and rejoin the EU, and so forth. But at least the uncertainty is over and the adjustment can begin. I'm reminded of a quote from the South African author Alan Paton:

Sorrow is better than fear. Fear is a journey, a terrible journey, but sorrow is at least an arrival. When the storm threatens, a man is afraid for his house. But when the house is destroyed, there is something to do. About a storm he can do nothing, but he can rebuild a house.

and the Coronavirus is still spreading

The latest numbers say that 361 Chinese have died from the virus. That already makes it deadlier than the 2002 SARS outbreak, which killed 349 people in mainland China. There are more than 17,000 confirmed cases.

Large parts of the Chinese economy have shut down in response to the virus, and it's anybody's guess how big a hit the world economy will take. Lots of manufactured goods contain some part that is made in China and nowhere else, so it's hard to say how far the ripple effects will go. And if your company sells products in China, your financial plan may take a hit.

you also might be interested in ...

This week three news stories made Trump's border wall look a little less "impenetrable" than advertised. Wednesday, a section of it blew down in a windstorm. (We knew that coyotes were helping migrants sneak across the border, but now it looks like the Big Bad Wolf has gotten involved as well.) Thursday, the Washington Post reported that the wall is vulnerable to flash floods, and so it will need flood gates that will have to be left open for months at a time. Also on Thursday, US officials announced the discovery of a tunnel under the border; it's 70 feet underground and goes for nearly a mile.

Previous articles have noted how easy it is to saw through the wall or climb over it.


I'm not sure how I missed this Vox video "Why Obvious Lies Make Great Propaganda" when it came out in August, 2018. It examines the "Firehose of Falsehoods" propaganda technique, which was pioneered by Putin before it was adopted by Trump.

Unlike most propaganda, the lies in the firehose aren't intended to be credible. The point is not to convince people that your lies are true, but to demonstrate that reality has no power to control what you say. Ultimately, the goal is to reduce everything to a struggle: There is no True or False, only Our Side vs. Their Side.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nknYtlOvaQ0&feature=youtu.be


A justice of the peace in Waco has been refusing to perform same-sex marriages, despite being the only marriage-performing JP in town. When the state's Commission on Judicial Conduct gave her an official warning, she sued. She is seeking $100K in damages. The state attorney general is refusing to defend the Commission in court, claiming that this is a "religious liberty" issue.

Once again, "religious liberty" being used as a code-word for Christian special rights. Imagine, for comparison, that a devout Hindu health inspector refused to sign any permits to open restaurants that serve beef. It's absurd to think the Texas AG would stand up for his non-Christian religious liberty. "Religious liberty" is for conservative Christians, not for anybody else.

My position: I think public officials should either do their jobs, implement reasonable workarounds that are invisible to the public they serve, or find new jobs. No citizen should ever go to a public office, only to be told that they can't be served because some official's "religious liberty" allows him or her to discriminate against that citizen.


The Trump administration rolled back Obama's restriction on the use of land mines because ... . I got nothing; it just looks like evil for the sake of evil.

Well, I don't exactly have nothing, I have an attack of paranoia: What if this is a prelude to mining the southern border? I haven't heard anybody in the administration threaten to do this, so my fear is based on nothing right now.


In spite of an $28 billion dollar federal bailout, farm bankruptcies were higher in 2019 than in any year since 2011.


Six more countries have been added to Trump's travel ban, including Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa.


Every week I could do a bunch of Trump-is-stupid stories, but I don't think they serve much purpose. Occasionally, though, one is actually funny.

So after the Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl last night -- in a great game, BTW -- Trump tweeted congratulations for how well they "represented the Great State of Kansas". (The tweet was later removed.) The problem: Kansas City straddles the Kansas/Missouri border, and the Chiefs play on the Missouri side.

Recalling Trump's hurricane-threatening-Alabama fiasco, somebody on Facebook came up with a Sharpie solution.

 

and let's close with something backwards (or not)

Weird Al's song of palindromes: "Bob".

Monday, January 27, 2020

What Matters

Right matters. And the truth matters. Otherwise we are lost.

- Adam Schiff

This week's featured post is "Can Bankers Become Allies Against Climate Change?"

This week everybody was talking about the impeachment trial in the Senate

 

Tuesday was taken up with procedural votes that all went along party lines: Republicans rejected motions to call witnesses or subpoena documents prior to hearing the lawyers' arguments. Another vote will be taken this week, and is expected to also hew close to party lines.

All through the week, Republican senators kept saying that they were hearing nothing new. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand responded:

To my Republican colleagues who've complained that there's no new evidence in this impeachment trial: You voted more than ten times to block relevant witnesses and evidence. Don’t bury your head in the sand and then complain that it’s dark.

The House managers presented the case against Trump Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Adam Schiff was the lead voice, and he was brilliant. His 2 1/2 hour opening statement Wednesday pulled the various pieces of the argument together in a compelling way. His 48-minute closing statement Friday pre-buted the arguments Trump's lawyers will make this week.


That no-new-evidence stance got a lot harder to justify yesterday, when leaks about John Bolton's book appeared in the NYT. I can see why Trump doesn't want him to testify.

President Trump told his national security adviser in August that he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens, according to an unpublished manuscript by the former adviser, John R. Bolton.

The president’s statement as described by Mr. Bolton could undercut a key element of his impeachment defense: that the holdup in aid was separate from Mr. Trump’s requests that Ukraine announce investigations into his perceived enemies.

We've also seen a cover letter showing that Bolton sent the White House a copy of his manuscript on December 30. So presumably Trump's lawyers know what's in it. That raises another question about whether they have intentionally lied during the Senate trial.

Will any of this make any difference to GOP senators? I'm starting to doubt it. More and more it looks like seemingly independent senators like Collins or Murkowski or Romney are still puppets of McConnell, who is a puppet of Trump (who is a puppet of Putin).


To the extent that it makes any sense at all, Trump's defense is basically the same one a clever mob boss would use: He worked by implication rather than by making explicit deals. Trump's phone call was "perfect" because he got his point across without telling Zelensky something like: "Here's the deal: I deliver the aid you need to defend your country from Russia, and you announce that you're investigating Joe Biden." Instead, Trump segued from Zelensky's mention of Javelin missiles to "I need you to do us a favor, though" and then talked about investigations. The quid pro quo was implicit, so it's OK. (And in case Zelensky was dense, Trump representatives like Gordon Sondland and Kurt Volker and Rudy Giuliani had previously explained the explicit quid pro quo to Zelensky's people.)

It's like when the mob boss says, "That's such a lovely daughter you've got. I'm sure you worry a lot about the kinds of things that can happen to girls these days." and then goes on to say what he wants the father to do for him. Because he never says, "I'm threatening you. Do what I say or your daughter gets hurt." it's a perfect conversation. At least in TrumpWorld.


Finally, somebody makes the obvious counter-argument to Trump defenders' claim that impeachment is disenfranchising the voters who elected Trump. Frank Bruni:

If Republican leaders were really so invested in a government that didn’t diverge from voters’ desires, more of them would be questioning the Electoral College. Because of it, the country has a president, Trump, who received about three million fewer votes than his opponent.

Impeachment-and-removal is a constitutional process for getting rid of a corrupt president. Yes, it partially reverses the 2016 election. (It's far from a complete reversal, because Mike Pence, not Hillary Clinton, becomes the next president.) And so it partially undoes the votes of the 63 million people who voted for Trump. But the Electoral College, another constitutional process, already completely undid the votes of 66 million Clinton voters. Trump's people were fine with that disenfranchisement.


The strangest "defense" of Trump came from Lindsey Graham:

All I can tell you is from the president’s point of view, he did nothing wrong in his mind

That's not a claim of innocence, it's an insanity plea. I'm not exaggerating. One of the original statements of the insanity defense is known as the M'Naghten Rule:

to establish a defence on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was labouring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong.

Isn't that more or less word-for-word what Graham is claiming?


More support for the insanity defense: Wednesday, Trump tweeted or retweeted 142 times, a new record. Consider what that means: If you were online for 14 hours and tweeted something every six minutes, you'd still only get to 140. I think the guy needs to get a real job.


A Trump tweet from Sunday morning: "Shifty Adam Schiff ... has not paid the price, yet, for what he has done to our Country!" A bit of translation is in order: In Trumpspeak, "our Country" means "me".

So if you're violent Trumpist like the El Paso shooter, you have your marching orders. The term for this is "stochastic terrorism".


Last week I pointed out that the White House's closing arguments had become more and more about intimidation. Thursday, CBS News tweeted:

A @POTUS confidant tells CBS News that GOP senators were warned: “vote against the president & your head will be on a pike.”

But what other argument do they have? It's not like they can tell senators to do the right thing.

GOP senators are denying that the warning ever took place. I can imagine that the "@POTUS confidant" was speaking figuratively rather than relaying an exact quote.


Are there any bigger snowflakes than Republican senators? They were outraged that Jerry Nadler called their cover-up a cover-up. They were outraged when Adam Schiff referred to the CBS report about the "head on a pike" threat. (But so far they have expressed no outrage about Trump's implicit threat of violence against Schiff.) It's all distraction; they'd rather talk about their outrage than about what the president did, or how abjectly they're bowing down to him.


More new evidence: A short video of a dinner in 2018 where Lev Parnas told Trump that he needed to get rid of Ambassador Yovanovich, and Trump said, "Get rid of her." The importance of the video isn't so much that Trump wanted Yovanovich out -- presidents can have the ambassadors they want. (This is part of a 90-minute audio.)

The significance is twofold: First, Trump was lying when he said he didn't know Parnas. This isn't just a photo op, it's a dinner conversation with a significant policy discussion. (Parnas' attorney says he has other recordings of conversations with Trump.) Second, it's not clear who Trump is telling to get rid of Yovanovich. If it's Lev Parnas, that's really weird, because Parnas is just a guy working with Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal attorney.

and the new virus from China

Coronaviruses are common, and normally cause things like colds. But a new strain of coronavirus has appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where it has caused pneumonia symptoms in thousands of people, leading to 80 deaths so far. Comparisons are being made to the SARS virus, which killed nearly 800 people in 2002-2003. Isolated cases of the new virus have been found in other countries, including five so far in the US. All five had traveled here from Wuhan, so thusfar there is no example of somebody catching the virus in the US.

China is taking this very seriously: Wuhan has been quarantined. At last count, the quarantine affected 50 million people, making it the largest quarantine in history.

One of the things I learned reading The Great Influenza (about the 1918-1920 Spanish flu epidemic) was that there is no libertarian answer to plague. Still, public health experts have considerable skepticism about the authoritarian approach China is taking. Somebody has to make public-health decisions and enforce them, but they only work if the public cooperates; that depends on a level of trust between leaders and citizens that is often lacking in authoritarian states.

and Mike Pompeo

Mike Pompeo's interview with NPR's Mary Louise Kelly, and her description of its aftermath, speaks volumes about this administration's attitudes towards the press and the public. The interview is 9 1/2 minutes long, with an extra 1 1/2 minutes of Kelly describing what happened next. [Listen.]

The first topic is Iran. Pompeo repeats a number of common Trump administration lies about what Obama's Iran nuclear deal did and how well Iran was complying with it. Kelly points out that since Trump pulled out of the deal, there are no longer any constraints on Iran's nuclear program. She asks how the administration plans to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Pompeo stonewalls.

KELLY: My question again: How do you stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?

POMPEO: We'll stop them.

KELLY: How? Sanctions?

POMPEO: We'll stop them. The President made it very clear. The opening sentence in his remarks said that we will never permit Iran to have a nuclear weapon. The coalition that we've built out, the economic, military, and diplomatic deterrence that we have put in place will deliver that outcome.

Then Kelly shifts to Ukraine, and in particular to whether Pompeo adequately stood up for Ambassador Yovanovich, who was targeted by Rudy Giuliani's smear campaign, and then removed suddenly without explanation. Kelly is a tough but fair interviewer here, refusing to let Pompeo mischaracterize her question as based on "unnamed sources", and referencing precisely the testimony she's referring to. Pompeo again stonewalls ("I've done what's right for every single person on this team" with no specifics.), and then abruptly cuts off the interview.

Kelly describes to he All Things Considered co-host Ari Shapiro what happened next:

You heard me thank the Secretary. He did not reply. He leaned in, glared at me, and then turned and with his aides left the room. Moments later, the same staffer who had stopped the interview re-appeared, asked me to come with her -- just me, no recorder, though she did not say we were off the record, nor would I have agreed. I was taken to the Secretary's private living room, where he was waiting, and he shouted at me for about the same amount of time as the interview itself had lasted. He was not happy to have been questioned about Ukraine. He asked, "Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?" He used the F-word in that sentence and many others. He asked if I could find Ukraine on a map. I said yes. He called out for his aides to bring him a map of the world with no writing, no countries marked. I pointed to Ukraine. He put the map away. He said, "People will hear about this." And then he turned and said he had things to do, and I thanked him again for his time and left.

So asking tough questions gets a reporter yelled and cursed at. I assume the beatings won't start until the second term. (I'm being a little flip there, but not much. How out of character would it be?)


Afterwards, Pompeo claimed:

NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly lied to me, twice. First, last month, in setting up our interview and, then again yesterday, in agreeing to have our post-interview conversation off the record.

At least one of those claims was a lie. In an email exchange with Pompeo's press aide Katie Martin, Kelly refused to limit her questions to Iran, as the aide had suggested.

Kelly responded, “I am indeed just back from Tehran and plan to start there. Also Ukraine. And who knows what the news gods will serve up overnight. I never agree to take anything off the table.”

Martin replied, “Totally understand you want to ask other topics but just hoping . . . we can stick to that topic for a healthy portion of the interview .

Pompeo went on to imply, while leaving himself room to deny it later, that Kelly pointed to Bangladesh. In addition to probably being a lie as well, what's with that test anyway? It's obviously a planned thing, because how many people keep blank world maps handy? And incidentally, how many countries does he think Trump could find on a blank map?


Former Ukraine Ambassador Bill Taylor (who you may remember from his testimony in the impeachment hearings) answered Pompeo's "Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?" by explaining why we should.

Russia is fighting a hybrid war against Ukraine, Europe and the United States. This war has many components: armed military aggression, energy supply, cyber attacks, disinformation and election interference. On each of these battlegrounds, Ukraine is the front line.

and you also might be interested in ...

Retired basketball star Kobe Bryant, star of five championship-winning teams, died yesterday in a helicopter crash. He was 41.


Trump's trip to Davos cost over $4 million, plus another couple million for Air Force One.


The number of US service members reporting concussions or traumatic brain injuries from the Iranian missile attack two weeks ago is now up to 34. Immediately after the attack, Trump announced: "no Americans were harmed in last night’s attack by the Iranian regime. We suffered no casualties, all of our soldiers are safe, and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases."

As we all know, the Great Leader can never be wrong. So he has stuck by that assessment, dismissing the injuries as "headaches".


I've noted on several occasions that in the last several years American life expectancy has been negatively affected by so-called "deaths of despair": premature deaths due to suicide, drug overdoses, or the long-term effects of substance abuse.

A new study claims that we can do something to mitigate that problem: raise the minimum wage.

Using data from all 50 American states and the District of Columbia from 1990 to 2015, the authors estimate that a $1 increase in the minimum wage is associated with a 3.5% decline in the suicide rate among adults aged 18 to 64 with a high-school education or less. This may sound small, but the numbers add up. The authors reckon that a $1 increase would have prevented 27,550 suicides in the 25 years covered by the study; a $2 increase would have prevented 57,000.

I have to make the standard correlation-is-not-causality disclaimer. Maybe it's not the minimum wage per se that produces the effect. It's possible that the connection is more roundabout. For example, maybe high-minimum-wage states are mostly blue states that have fewer guns. (Guns make suicide attempts much more effective, and so raise the suicide rate.) Or maybe they have better mental health services.


Even if you're not into basketball, you might find this NYT sports-medicine article interesting. Zion Williamson is 19 years old, stands 6-6, weighs 284 pounds, and is an incredible leaper. When he jumps, he puts more pressure on the floor (and hence on his body, in a Newtonian equal-and-opposite reaction) than any athlete previously tested. In college last year, he once changed directions with so much force that his sneaker exploded.

Two things result from that jumping and cutting ability in a man his size: (1) He was the #1 choice in last spring's NBA draft, is widely projected to be the next great pro basketball star, and (2) he tore the lateral meniscus in his right knee during the pre-season, so he only played his first NBA game this week.

The article centers on two questions: Is Williamson's knee just doomed to break down under the unprecedented stress, or can he still have a long career if he strengthens supportive tissues and learns to jump and land with better stress-distributing technique? And more generally, does premature specialization -- playing nothing but basketball from an early age, rather than the usual seasonal round of sports -- lead to greater injury risk in adulthood?


Hardly anybody noticed when, just before Christmas, ICE changed its standards to allow harsher treatment of detained immigrants. This week, Texas Observer noticed:

ICE broadened the reasons a detainee can be placed in solitary confinement and removed language preventing officers from using “hog-tying, fetal restraints, [and] tight restraints.” The agency also extinguished requirements for new facilities to have outdoor recreation areas and provisions guaranteeing that nonprofit organizations have access to the detention centers. There were also significant revisions to protocols in the case of serious injury, illness, or death, such as allowing guards to notify ICE “as soon as practicable” (as opposed to immediately) that a detainee needs to be transferred to a hospital and removing any mention of how to proceed if a detainee dies during the transfer. ...

The new guidelines apply to as many as 140 facilities across the United States, including as many as 18 in Texas. The standards primarily apply to local jails and prisons that have contracted with ICE to rent beds to hold immigrants alongside other inmates. ... Under the new weaker standards, chances are that local jails and prisons will have an easier time passing inspections and keeping their lucrative contracts with ICE in place.

But the new standards may just codify bad behavior that ICE was allowing anyway.

Although ICE conducts annual inspections in most detention centers, even those that repeatedly violate the standards are given a pass. Among the most egregious examples is Alabama’s Etowah County Detention Center, deemed one of the worst in the country, where the sheriff personally pocketed $400,000 meant to buy food for detainees while roughly 300 of them were served barely edible food. Despite the fact that the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties called for ICE to stop detaining immigrants at Etowah, a contract remains in place.

This is the end result of the Trump administration's dehumanizing rhetoric about immigrants. (He seldom mentions immigrants without talking about "invasions", or about criminal gangs, who are "animals" that "infest" our country.) We tolerate inhumane treatment because we've stopped seeing the victims as fully human.


Good article in Grist about plant-based meat. It has a lot of potential, but so far it's mostly a curiosity. In order to have a serious impact on the climate, production will have to scale up a lot. And the people in the best position to produce on that scale, ironically, are the established meat-processing companies.

Right now, the best results are in replacing burgers or chicken nuggets. Imitating steak is much harder.

and let's close with something amusing

Some signs at airports tell us more than we want to know.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Pestilence and Cure

If I see Trump as a pestilence, I may not see in your tome of plans a cure.

- Charles Blow "To Beat Trump, Put Ideals Before Ideas"
1-15-2020

This week's featured post is "Ten Principles that Unify Democrats (and most of the country)".

This week everybody was talking about the impeachment trial

House impeachment managers head over to the Senate.

So it's official now. The House delivered the articles of impeachment to the Senate on Wednesday. Thursday, the senators took an oath to render "impartial justice". The substance of the trial will start tomorrow.

Fairly soon, the Senate will have to vote on the key question of whether to hear witnesses. Trump blocked the most important witnesses from testifying before the House, but would have a harder time blocking them from the Senate, if the Senate chooses to subpoena them. Mitch McConnell is against witnesses, because the less the public learns about this case, the better for Trump.

How this vote will go is still not clear. All 47 Democrats will probably want to hear witnesses. USA Today picks out Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Lamar Alexander as the most likely Republicans to vote for witnesses. I'd love to hear how other Republicans facing tough re-elections -- Cory Gardner of Colorado comes to mind -- will try to spin this. They have to realize that stuff is going to come out anyway. (John Bolton is writing a book, after all.) How will a decision to participate in Trump's cover-up look when it does?


It's striking how much of the closing message of Trump's defenders is just simple intimidation. Here's Rand Paul's threat to Republican incumbents who might be thinking of taking their oath seriously:

Paul says if four or more of his GOP colleagues join with Democrats to entertain new witness testimony, he will make the Senate vote on subpoenaing the president’s preferred witnesses, including Hunter Biden and the whistleblower who revealed the Ukraine scandal — polarizing picks who moderate Republicans aren’t eager to call. So he has a simple message for his party: end the trial before witnesses are called.

“If you vote against Hunter Biden, you’re voting to lose your election, basically. Seriously. That’s what it is,” Paul said during an interview in his office on Wednesday. “If you don’t want to vote and you think you’re going to have to vote against Hunter Biden, you should just vote against witnesses, period.”

And Marc Thiessen warns that Hunter Biden could just be the beginning of a parade of witnesses that would lead to the former Vice President himself.

Biden has been shaky under mild questioning during the debates. How would he fare under the withering pressure of legal cross-examination? If he stumbled, or appeared confused, it could expose to voters how old and frail he really is at the very moment they are going to the polls to decide their party’s presidential nominee. Do Democrats really want to put Biden through that, especially since they know that the president is going to be acquitted?

And for what? Democrats have no idea what Bolton will say under oath. His testimony may be exculpatory for the president, in which case they will have opened the Pandora’s box of witness testimony for nothing. So, call your witnesses, Sen. Schumer. They may very well pose a greater danger to Biden’s presidential prospects than they do to Donald Trump.

Trump's defenders can't credibly argue that he's innocent, so this is what they're left with: Do what we say and nobody gets hurt. [BTW: I think the Biden-is-shaky point is off-base. Biden has a lifelong stuttering problem, which can make it hard for him to answer quickly, as you have to do in a debate. As a witness, he could take a moment to compose his answers.]

and the new evidence

Maybe I'm paranoid, but I get suspicious when a bad guy suddenly switches sides and starts telling us exactly what we want to hear. Lev Parnas is under indictment, so it would make sense for him to tell this stuff to his prosecutors to get a plea deal. But it's not clear what advantage he gets from putting it all out there in public. So I'm listening closely to what Parnas is saying, looking at the corroborating documents he's providing, and wondering where the trap is.

Nonetheless, I think Tom Malinowski has got it right:

GOP Senators are entitled to be skeptical of Parnas, since he wasn't under oath. They're not entitled to be skeptical while refusing to call sworn witnesses who could corroborate or refute him.

That point makes sense across the board. Again and again, Republicans have complained about the evidence House Democrats assembled: The witnesses weren't always in the center of the action they were describing, few of them talked to Trump directly, and so on. Those are all reasonable things to complain about in the abstract. But it's unreasonable to complain about those issues when you have the power to resolve them, but you're refusing to do so.


Another major development this week was that a GAO report came out, saying that Trump's freezing of the Ukraine aid violated the Impoundment Control Act. So much for the "no laws were broken" defense.


So who is Parnas anyway? He's a crony of Rudy Giuliani who was working the Ukraine side of Trump's get-Biden scheme. He did a long interview with Rachel Maddow that broadcast this week, and he's provided a bunch of text messages and other relevant documents to the House impeachment investigators. Pieces of the Maddow interview are available online, but I haven't found a complete video or transcript of it yet.

The Hill boils it down to five big points:

  • Trump was ready to withhold all aid from Ukraine if they didn't announce a Biden investigation.
  • Bill Barr "had to have known everything".
  • Trump knew exactly what was going on.
  • When Mike Pence cancelled his trip to the Ukraine president's inauguration, that was part of the pressure campaign.
  • The effort to pressure Ukraine was never about corruption; it was about Biden.

In addition, I was struck by how clear Parnas makes it that Giuliani was operating as Trump's personal attorney, not as a government official. So far, none of Trump's defenders has been able to explain why (if this whole scheme was legit) it had to be done outside ordinary channels. To me, the off-the-books nature of things looks like consciousness of guilt.

Why, for example, couldn't Trump just fire or transfer Ambassador Yovanovitch because he wanted to? Why did she have to be smeared and followed and threatened first?


Another thing that's striking me: For a long time there, Rudy Giuliani just couldn't shut up. He was all over TV saying all kinds of crazy things. Since Parnas started talking though, where has Rudy been?


Ben Rhodes asks a more general question:

Can you imagine how many corrupt grifters there are like Parnas circling around Trump’s foreign policy? On Saudi, UAE, Venezuela, China, Russia?

and the Democratic debate

The featured post was inspired by watching Tuesday's debate, but doesn't actually say that much about it. Here's the transcript.

The debate in Des Moines was much like the previous debates, with the difference that there were only six candidates. That meant that each got to speak often enough that I never forgot who was up there. So while the previous debates looked like cattle calls, this one looked like a collection of possible nominees (with the possible exception of Steyer, who I still can't take seriously). That had to work to the benefit of Amy Klobuchar, who trails the clump of Iowa front-runners (Biden, Buttigieg, Sanders, Warren), but looked like she belonged in that group.

Any of the front-running four is polling close enough to the top to win, especially considering how bizarre the caucus process is. So I don't understand how soft all the other candidates were with Biden. Biden is the leader in almost every national poll. He could win Iowa, and if he does, that victory could be the beginning of the bandwagon that he rides to the nomination. This debate was the last chance to take him down before the caucus, so I don't understand why nobody tried to exploit that opportunity.

So while Biden wasn't all that sharp in the debate -- he almost never is -- to me he came off as the winner, because his opponents missed another opportunity to knock him down.


The NYT endorsement came out this morning: a split decision between Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar.


The whole Bernie-and-Elizabeth spat has got to be the dumbest story in this debate. Warren claims Sanders told her that a woman couldn't beat Trump; Sanders denies saying that. It was a one-on-one conversation, so there's no tie-breaking witness. I have two reactions:

  • So what if he did? Lots of people -- most of them women -- have told me in private conversations that (after watching what Hillary went through) they doubt that a woman can beat Trump. If Sanders were arguing publicly that people should vote for him rather than Warren because women aren't electable, that would be terrible, because he'd be trying to cash in on the public's sexism. But in private it's a completely legitimate point of strategy for two politicians to discuss. So I think this whole thing should never have become an issue and CNN shouldn't have asked about it. If Warren is responsible for raising the issue (and she may not have been), she shouldn't have.
  • I thought Bernie's response in the debate ("as a matter of fact, I didn't say it") was unskillful, because he turned the disagreement into a somebody-must-be-lying issue. I agree with GoodNewsRoundup on Daily Kos, that people can remember conversations differently without either party lying about what was said. So Bernie could have answered: "That's not what I believe, so I can't imagine that I would have said something like that. But apparently something I did say gave Elizabeth that impression, so I wish I had caught that misunderstanding at the time." From there he could have segued into the rest of his answer: "If any of the women on this stage or any of the men on this stage win the nomination ... I will do everything in my power to make sure that they are elected in order to defeat the most dangerous president in the history of our country."

and you also might be interested in ...

I'm not all that interested in the British royal family, so I've mostly ignored the Harry-and-Meghan-move-to-Canada story. However, BuzzFeed did some interesting research into what might have motivated the move: The article pairs 20 Meghan stories in the British press with directly comparable stories about her sister-in-law Kate Middleton. Again and again, something that was covered positively or indulgently for Kate and William was covered negatively for Meghan and Harry.


Here's the transcript of a rally Trump held in Wisconsin on Tuesday. It's common to read isn't-that-outrageous articles based on specific quotes from Trump rallies. But what strikes me about this rally isn't any particular part; it's the impact of reading the whole thing.

If your Dad or Grandpa were this incoherent, the family would need to have a conference and make some decisions. You wouldn't want him living on his own any more, and probably you'd want someone with him whenever he went out.

BTW, he still says Mexico is going to pay for the wall. "It's all worked out. Mexico's paying." Sad.



The claim that no Americans were injured in the Iranian missile attack on January 8 ... let's just say it wasn't completely accurate.

and let's close with something that will blow you away

You might think that since the Netherlands is so flat, Dutch bicycle races wouldn't be that arduous. However, there is one very Dutch obstacle: the wind. Every year on some very windy day they hold the Dutch Headwind Cycling Championships: 8.5 kilometers straight into a wind that gusted up to 127 kilometers an hour, riding a standard upright single-speed bicycle.

Since I don't speak Dutch, most of the YouTube postings on the event are unintelligible to me. But Global Cycling News covered it like this, with one word of commentary: "Nutters."

Monday, January 13, 2020

Ascribed Meanings

There is always a temptation to ascribe a deep, unspoken strategy to Trump’s improvised approach to politics—to find order in the chaos, a signal in the noise. But all of the available evidence suggests that there is no plan at all, that Trump is a deeply incompetent liar who has no idea what he is doing and no respect for the few people around him who do. If there is war with Iran, it will be because of Trump’s incompetence and lies; if there is not, it will be in spite of these things. Coverage that attempts to find the hidden meaning behind his actions only obscures what’s really happening.

- Alex Shephard "What the Media is Getting Wrong about Soleimani's Killing"
The New Republic 1-7-2020

This week's featured post is a review of how every president since FDR has talked about war: "Remember Normal Presidents?"

This week everybody was talking about Iran

This week's news has been dominated by the multiple incoherent stories the Trump administration has been telling about the killing of Soleimani.

One thing just about everybody in this country agrees on is that Soleimani was a bad guy. (Though Trump lies about this: "The Democrats and the Fake News are trying to make terrorist Soleimani into a wonderful guy". If anybody has heard a single major voice in either the media or the Democratic leadership imply such a thing, mention it in the comments. I don't know of any.) However, he was an Iranian official carrying out Iranian policy. Blaming him personally for every attack Iran has supported seems misguided. He was a replaceable individual who has been replaced; the Quds Force has a new commander, who presumably is following the same policy directives.


There has been much back-and-forth about whether Soleimani was killed to prevent an "imminent" attack, or just because he was evil. It's important to understand why this point keeps coming up, because Trump keeps trying to have it both ways: He claims that an attack was imminent, but if challenged too hard backs off to "but it doesn’t really matter because of his horrible past!"

If Soleimani's assassination wasn't intended to break up an attack that was in progress and about to happen -- and it's hard to see how that could be; I mean, Soleimani wasn't going to drive a truck bomb himself -- then it's arguable that Trump had no legal authority to order it. If, instead, he just decided that Soleimani was a bad guy and Iran had been getting away with too much, he should have sought authorization from Congress. "his horrible past" is an argument that Trump could have offered to Congress, but it's not a justification now.

At the very least, Trump had an obligation to inform the Gang of Eight that the attack was happening.

This disrespect for Congress is why Republican Senator Mike Lee blew his stack after the classified briefing of the Senate by the Secretaries of State and Defense, and the heads of the CIA and the Joint Chiefs.

He also fumed that officials refused to acknowledge any “hypothetical” situations in which they would come to Congress for authorization for future military hostilities against Iran.

It's fairly apparent that the administration is just making up the "imminent attack" argument, and dodging the legal authority issue. The briefing showed profound arrogance; the briefers walked away after 75 minutes with questions unanswered.

Trump himself has been lying outrageously, for example claiming that Soleimani was planning attacks on four US embassies. Apparently, though, the Secretary of Defense knew nothing about this, and the embassies in question were never notified that they faced an imminent threat.


When no one was killed in Iran's reprisal strike against the Iraqi base where the Soleimani attack originated, many Trumpists declared the exchange a "win" for the US: We killed a major person on their side and they killed nobody on our side.

Ben Rhodes demonstrates how an adult looks at this: according to the results, not the body count.

Iran abandoned nuclear deal limits. Iraq wants us out. Counter ISIS mission is suspended. We don’t know what asymmetric attacks could come from Iran. Yet I see Trump supporters celebrating a “win”. What are we winning?

Is there any way in which Americans or our allies are safer now than before the assassination? Was some strategic purpose achieved?


Nobody really knows whether Iran intended to kill Americans or not in its missile strike. Of course Iran would say that the result was intended.


Iraq's parliament voted unanimously that the prime minister should ask our 5200 troops to leave the country, and apparently the PM has asked Secretary of State Pompeo to send a delegation to Baghdad to negotiate the withdrawal. But we're not going to do that. Here's how a State Department spokesperson put it:

Our military presence in Iraq is to continue the fight against ISIS and as the secretary has said, we are committed to protecting Americans, Iraqis, and our coalition partners. At this time, any delegation sent to Iraq would be dedicated to discussing how to best recommit to our strategic partnership — not to discuss troop withdrawal, but our right, appropriate force posture in the Middle East.

That makes us sound more like an occupying power than an ally. Any Iraqi militia that kills American troops can now claim that it is repelling invaders.

The Trump administration is also making economic threats against our "ally" Iraq if it insists on our troops leaving:

The Trump administration this week warned Iraq that it could lose access to its central bank account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York if Baghdad expels American troops from the region, Iraqi officials told The Wall Street Journal.


One of the week's weirder stories was about a letter that somehow got shared with the Iraqi military.

The document in question was an unsigned draft of a memo from the US Command in Baghdad notifying the Iraqi government that some US forces in the country would be repositioned. It also seemed to suggest a removal of American forces from the country, prompting an immediate wave of questions, particularly after US officials in Baghdad said the letter was authentic but could not confirm whether it indicated a troop withdrawal.

You need to be a comedian, like Trevor Noah, to respond to this appropriately.

These people control nuclear weapons and they can’t even handle Microsoft Outlook.


If you want to put it all in perspective, again, it helps to be a comedian. Like Seth Meyers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jKdvMISFrE


One of the points in the featured post is that Trump is not even trying to talk to the people who didn't vote for him. That point was also made by Anderson Cooper in a Ridiculist segment about the 301 days that have passed since the last White House press briefing.

If you're wondering "Who's Stephanie Grisham?" you're probably not a regular Fox News viewer, because that channel is seemingly the one place she feels safe enough to regularly appear.

... If a president were to escalate the potential danger to U.S. interests overseas by killing a high-ranking Iranian general, you might think the White House press secretary would head to the podium to keep the country and the world abreast of what's going on, to try to fill in some gaps between the President's Twitter threats. But that doesn't happen any more.

Remember CJ on The West Wing? Imagine her going most of a year without filling the podium in the briefing room.

and impeachment

Nancy Pelosi says the articles of impeachment will go to the Senate soon, probably this week. The debate has begun about what, if anything, was accomplished by the delay. In my mind, it was important to put at least a little distance between the House and Senate processes, so that even low-information voters realize that the Senate isn't going to hear any witnesses of its own, even though it could. If the case could still be pending when Trump gives his State of the Union address on February 4, that would be a bonus.

and Iowa

The Iowa caucuses are February 3, or three weeks from today. (Yes, they happen on a Monday. Every time.) The last Democratic debate before the caucuses happens tomorrow. Only six candidates qualified: Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Sanders, Steyer, and Warren.

The RCP polling average shows the top four bunched up. Sanders 21.3%, Buttigieg 21.0, Biden 17.7, Warren 17.0. Because the caucus process yields a much lower turnout than a primary would, and because there are complex rules about minor candidates' supporters switching their votes, polls often do a bad job of predicting the outcome. So it would not really be an upset if any of those four won.

I would say that the front-runner is whoever the other candidates decide to attack in the debate. And if either Steyer or Klobuchar decides to go kamikaze and relentlessly attack one of the top four, that candidate probably won't win. I'm not predicting that, but the possibility demonstrates how unpredictable the process is at this point.

and you also might be interested in ...

The planet continues to heat up:

The Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) announces today that 2019 was the fifth in a series of exceptionally warm years and the second warmest year globally ever recorded.


Maybe the secret to getting infrequent voters to the polls is to have their friends ask them.


5G will arrive in 2020, but it won't live up to the hype.


Australia is still on fire.


The cancer death rate is down 29% between 1991 and 2017, with a 2.2% drop in 2017, the most recent year where statistics are available. Lung cancer accounts for much of the decline; researchers credit decreased smoking, as well as improvements in treatment.

I hate tie every story to Trump, but he has a way of inserting himself, sort of like Rhupert the Ostrich photobombing classic paintings. In this case, Trump took credit for the long-term trend whose most recent data is from the same year he took office: "A lot of good news coming out of this Administration."


The justification for holding asylum seekers in concentration camps is that they won't show up for their hearings, and instead will just vanish into the general immigrant population. At a rally last January, Trump claimed that only 2% show up "And those people, you almost don’t want, because they cannot be very smart."

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University presents the actual numbers:

With rare exception, asylum seekers whose cases were decided in FY 2019 also showed up for every court hearing. This was true even though four out of five immigrants were not detained or had been previously released from ICE custody. In fact, among non-detained asylum seekers, 99 out of 100 (98.7%) attended all their court hearings.


Conservative rhetoric lauds local control and disparages rule by distant politicians and bureaucrats -- except when localities want to protect the environment or gay rights or something. In Florida, Coral Gables outlawed plastic bags at stores and styrofoam containers at restaurants -- and lost a lawsuit from a trade organization representing the big retail chains. State law doesn't allow “regulation of the use of sale of polystyrene products by local governments.” Take that, small government.

Republicans are the party of big corporations, not local control. When WalMart can get what it wants from the state legislature, why let city councils screw that up?


Remember the whole pseudo-scandal about the Clinton Foundation and Uranium One?

A Justice Department inquiry launched more than two years ago to mollify conservatives clamoring for more investigations of Hillary Clinton has effectively ended with no tangible results, and current and former law enforcement officials said they never expected the effort to produce much of anything.

That's a similar result to the State Department's investigation of Hillary Clinton's emails. So if you decided not to vote for Hillary because you figured there had to be fire somewhere under all that smoke -- no, there wasn't. You were conned.

Media Matters' Matt Gertz traces the Uranium One story back to its source: Clinton Cash, a hit job written by Peter Schweitzer and pushed by Steve Bannon. A subsequent Schweitzer book, Secret Empires, is a source of much of the bogus reporting about Hunter Biden. Gertz comments on Schweitzer's new book, Profiles in Corruption, which reportedly will target not just Biden but also "Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, and Elizabeth Warren."

Journalists should consider this final and inevitable collapse of Schweizer’s bogus claims as they decide whether and how to cover his forthcoming book, which will reportedly target the purported corruption of several Democratic presidential candidates.

and let's close with something wild and woolly

I never thought of wool as a medium for animation, but I guess it is.