Monday, May 28, 2018

Ritual Sacrifices

Every school shooter learned from the history of school shootings, mimicked the strategies, was in a sense acting out a ritual which has become deeply rooted in our culture.

- Josh Marshall

This week's featured posts are "Outlines of a Reading Project on Class" and "It's time to let Israel be a country."

These last three weeks, we learned a lot about Trump's corruption and abuse of power

It's hard to know which revelation to focus on:

  • Trump has begun actively intervening in the Department of Justice to undermine the Mueller investigation and harass his political enemies. He "demanded" a DoJ investigation into his made-up Spygate theory, and forced a meeting between DoJ officials and his allies in Congress in which classified details about the investigation into the Trump campaign were revealed. So far DoJ has been fending off Trump's demands with minimal (but still inappropriate) concessions, but this is banana-republic stuff. It's orders of magnitude beyond the improper suggestions Trump's been making since Day 1.
  • Trump's public fulminations against Amazon, whose founder Jeff Bezos also owns The Washington Post, have gone beyond just hostile tweets. On several occasions, he has pressured the Postmaster General to raise Amazon's shipping rates. (So far the PG has been resisting him.) This appears to be an attempt to punish Bezos for The Post publishing stories Trump doesn't like. Again, this is banana-republic stuff. There is no parallel in any post-Nixon administration of either party.
  • Trump dropped sanctions against a Chinese corporation and backed off of proposed tariffs aimed at China shortly after a Chinese-government-owned corporation invested half a billion dollars in a Trump-related project in Indonesia. There's no direct proof that this is a bribe, but we'll never know for sure. That's why we have the conflict-of-interest rules and norms that Trump has flouted.
  • Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen began selling access to the White House as soon as Trump was elected, collecting millions of dollars from companies seeking favors from the new administration. We don't know yet whether Cohen was just being opportunistic, or if some of the money passed through him to Trump or other members of the Trump family.
  • Trump fund raiser (and fellow Michael Cohen hush-money client) Elliott Broidy engaged in his own "campaign to alter U.S. policy in the Middle East and reap a fortune for himself".
  • Jared Kushner's family company is negotiating a deal in which Brookfield Properties, a company largely funded by Qatari interests, will buy a skyscraper the Kushners paid too much for and were having trouble refinancing. The Kushners had tried to get Qatar's sovereign wealth fund to invest in the property a year ago; shortly after that deal fell through, Jared played an important role in the Trump administration deciding to support Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries in boycotting Qatar.
  • In addition to the meeting with Russians that we knew about, Donald Jr. held another Trump Tower meeting to discuss his father's campaign getting help from powerful foreigners: princes from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The scoops have been coming so fast and furious that I may have left some out. Looking at several of them also puts a different slant on Trump's rhetoric about "the Deep State": Officials like the Postmaster General and the Assistant Attorney General resist Trump's actions not because they belong to some sinister conspiracy, but because they believe in principles of American governance that he is trying to subvert.

and primaries

There are two theories of how Democrats can win more elections: Move to the center and appeal to the reasonable Republican voters Trump is alienating, or move to the left and raise turnout among people who don't vote because they have lost faith in both parties. Move-to-the-center has been the conventional political wisdom for a long time, and is still the approach the Democratic Party establishment supports.

I'm neutral in this debate. I can imagine that move-to-the-left could work, but I wish I could point to an example where a progressive Democrat had unseated a Republican in some high-profile race in a red or purple district. Sure, Bernie Sanders can win in a blue state like Vermont, but could a Bernie-ish candidate win in states like Missouri or West Virginia (where centrists like Claire McCaskill and Joe Manchin have won)?

Up until now, the party establishment has gotten its way in nearly all cases, so the only candidates who have made it to the general election in such races have been centrists. Sometimes they win (Doug Jones in Alabama) and sometimes they lose (Jon Ossoff in Georgia), but neither result answers the question of whether a more progressive candidate would have done better or worse.

The May primaries have guaranteed that the move-to-the-left theory will finally be tested in at least two cases: Kara Eastman won the Democratic primary for Nebraska's 2nd congressional district, and Stacey Abrams will be the Democratic candidate to be governor of Georgia. There are also plenty of centrist Democrats running in races of all sorts, so we should finally be able to make some comparisons.

and immigration

Two immigration stories have gotten attention recently:

  • When parents and their children are caught trying to enter the US without papers, the Trump administration has begun routinely separating them. Trump claims that this action is forced by laws that Democrats refuse to change, but that's simply not true.
  • HHS admitted that it has lost track of 1475 immigrant children that it put in foster homes.

A number of people have been connecting the two stories, implying that the government has lost children it separated from their parents. But so far that seems not to be the case. The 1475 are children who arrived at the border unaccompanied.

Still, there is a point to be made: If the government is going to take kids away from their parents, it had better keep better track of them than it has been keeping of the kids who show up at the border unaccompanied.

and deals about nuclear weapons

From Trump opining about his Nobel Peace Prize to canceling his summit with Kim Jong Un and announcing that there is no deal with North Korea was just 15 days. It turns out that getting a country to give up its nuclear program is really hard. Who knew?

The amazing thing to me is how many people were taken in by this whole charade. Trump's combination of threats, sanctions, and flattery was praised as masterful on the Right, and even publications that should know better, like The Atlantic, asked "What if Trump's North Korea bluster actually worked?" The NYT's David Brooks gave Trump credit for "lizard wisdom" through which he "understands the thug mind a whole lot better than the people who attended our prestigious Foreign Service academies".

Matt Yglesias' cynical view of Trump -- which I will sum up as "Bullshitters gonna bullshit" -- has once again proven prescient.

The factors that led to the collapse of the summit were there from the beginning. The only thing that ever seemed remotely promising about it was Trump’s say-so, but Trump’s say-so is meaningless. Not only is he a person who makes factual misstatements and lies, but he’s a person who has gotten ahead in life through extensive use of bullshit, leaving in his wake a trail of broken promises.

There was never any reason to believe that Kim was offering anything close to the complete denuclearization Trump said he was going to get out of this negotiation. That claim was always a castle-in-the-air for Trump's base to take pride in and give him credit for. Now that it has evaporated, expect a new castle-in-the-air somewhere else.

His supporters never learn, and have been saying "At least he tried." To which I respond: "He tried to bullshit us, you mean."

Now he's at it again, but whether ultimately there is a meeting or not, there's still no reason to believe anything will come of it. Trump and Kim remain miles apart.

Meanwhile, Trump has undone the hard work the Obama administration did to get Iran's nuclear program under control. Our European allies have been left in the lurch, trying to balance incompatible demands from Secretary of State Pompeo and Iran's Supreme Leader. Ordinarily, that choice would be a no-brainer, but Iran has been upholding its commitments to Europe while Trump has been breaking America's commitments.

“There’s little to no appetite in European capitals for the type of economic sanctions the U.S. is bringing back,” Ellie Geranmayeh, a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said in a telephone interview. “Following Pompeo’s demands there are a lot of eyes rolling and heads fuming.”

The kind of sanctions Trump is talking about are not just against Iran, but against companies in any country that do business with Iran. This is going to put us in direct conflict with Europe. The only country that wins from this is Russia; Putin has long wanted to separate the US from its NATO allies, a mission Trump is carrying out admirably.

With regard to both North Korea and Iran, Trump is betting on his ability to get the rest of the world to go along with economic sanctions so crippling that the regimes will have to either give in or be overthrown by a discontented populace. I think he overestimates his persuasiveness and power while underestimating the willingness of both countries' citizens to accept suffering.

Probably there are a lot of Iranians and Koreans who dislike their own country's government and yearn for more American-style rights and openness. But they still have national pride, and will endure a lot of hardship rather than knuckle under to a foreign bully. I suspect the pressure Trump applies will strengthen those governments' hold on power, not weaken it.

and trade

Something else that collapsed without a trace was Trump's trade war with China, which I already mentioned above in connection with the possibility that he took a bribe, or maybe that the whole point from the beginning was to extort a bribe.

When Trump announced tariffs in March, he tweeted:

When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win.

Then there was a back-and-forth of the US and China threatening tariffs against each other's goods, and China stopped buying US soybeans. Then a week ago Treasury Secretary Mnuchin announced that the trade war was "on hold" pending some nebulous future negotiations.

The joint statement that came out of Mnuchin's meeting with the Chinese is short and contains vague statements about China buying more American goods to lower the US/China trade deficit. It also mentions protecting intellectual property. (Stealing American technology without working out license agreements is a major complaint that US companies have against China.)

But it includes no specific commitments, ("The United States will send a team to China to work out the details.") so it's essentially meaningless. China's economy continues to grow rapidly, so of course it will "increase purchases of United States goods and services". And since the Chinese don't admit that they're stealing our intellectual property, it's easy for them to state that they "attach paramount importance to intellectual property protections".

A generous interpretation is that Trump surrendered on trade in order to get Chinese help dealing with North Korea. But there's also no progress with North Korea. So it sure looks like Trump backed down on his trade war without getting anything -- at least not for the United States.

One of Trump's chief boasts as a candidate was that he was the consummate deal-maker. He'd make "great deals" with other countries that would benefit both the economy and security of the United States.

So far, that hasn't happened. He has torn up a number of deals: TPP, the Paris Climate Accords, and the Iran nuclear deal. He is threatening to pull out of NAFTA. In every case, he has promised to negotiate a better deal than the one we already had. But he hasn't gotten those deals done. Again and again, he makes aggressive demands and other countries say no.

Jackson Diehl concludes:

[T]he past month has taught all sides a lesson about Trump, if they didn’t know it already: He’s not up to serious negotiation. He can’t be expected to seriously weigh costs and benefits, or make complex trade-offs. He’s good at bluster, hype and showy gestures, but little else. In short, he may be the worst presidential deal maker in modern history.

Fred Hiatt explains how to predict the "unpredictable" Trump:

Still, for a man who ran for office saying, “We have to be unpredictable,” Trump is proving not so hard to read. Look at whatever he has believed since the 1980s; ignore any evidence that has emerged since; and you can make a fairly educated guess where he will end up.

He operates according to his "gut feelings", but we know what those are:

What are these predispositions? Allied nations, and especially Japan, play the United States for a chump. Dictators are strong and decisive and therefore to be admired. Immigrants and people of color are suspect. Wealthy people usually know best, while intellectuals are not to be trusted. Trade deficits are the ultimate sign of national weakness, and manufacturing is the linchpin of any economy. Anything Barack Obama did should be undone.

yet another school shooting

This one at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas. Ten people were killed and 13 wounded.

Josh Marshall reacted to MSNBC's Pete Williams describing the shooting as "a huge mystery" because there had so far been no signs of an extremist ideology that motivated the shooter. Marshall, very astutely in my opinion, says that school shootings have become their own cult; jihadism or white supremacy or rebellion against the Deep State or whatever else the claimed motive might be isn't a cause so much as a detail about how things play out.

Again, this happens all the time. The motive is pretty clear: angry and alienated young man, a late adolescent consumed with rage and alienation who lives in the United States and thus has become a devotee of the cult, the ideology of the redemptive school shooting atrocity. The ideology is really the cult of the mass shooting, in which the gun, with all its cultural and political omnipotence, plays a central role. Every school shooter learned from the history of school shootings, mimicked the strategies, was in a sense acting out a ritual which has become deeply rooted in our culture. We know the motive. We know the ideology: rage and alienation transmuted through mass gun violence.

Marshall's point of view was expressed more elaborately and in more detail by Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker in 2015. Gladwell interprets school shootings as an unfolding social process: Each one lowers the threshold for the next. He compares it to window-breaking during a riot. The first window is broken by somebody who has been itching to break windows, but eventually ordinary people start doing it.

If that's true (and the argument seems convincing), stopping the process is going to be more complicated than just gun control or spotting at-risk students.

The biggest obstacle to arming teachers seems to be insurance companies. I've written before about the dysfunctional thinking that I see at the root of most NRA arguments: They respond to fantastic scenarios of what could happen rather than to realistic threats. (Sci-fi author William Gibson: "People who feel safer with a gun than with guaranteed medical insurance don’t yet have a fully adult concept of scary.") So it makes sense that the NRA's natural enemy would be an industry whose profits depend accurately evaluating risks.

Kansas passed its law arming teachers in 2013, after the mass shooting the previous year in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. That immediately led EMC Insurance to announce it would rather exit the school insurance market than cover armed teachers and staff. Republican lawmakers were upset but couldn’t find another insurer willing to take on the policies.

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Memorial Day is a good time to re-read this James Fallows article. "We love the troops," he writes, "but we'd rather not think about them." Back in March, USA Today reminded us of all the dangerous places the US has troops. When four US soldiers died in Niger, I suspect the first reaction of most of us was "We have soldiers in Niger?"

The original purpose of Memorial Day was that we not forget the sacrifices made by soldiers in past wars. These days, though, we're having trouble staying aware of the sacrifices our soldiers are making right now.

Ireland voted overwhelmingly to repeal its constitutional ban on abortion, despite the opposition of the Catholic Church. The vote will allow the government to establish the boundaries of legal abortion, which it has pledged to do by the end of the year. A referendum in 2015 had legalized same-sex marriage, which the Church also opposed.

It's something of a mystery (at least to me) why Ireland is moving left at the same time that much of the rest of Europe is moving right. Italy, for example, voted for a coalition of populist parties that is anti-immigrant and anti-Europe. Whether they will be able to form a government is still up in the air.

Excessive rains have flooded Ellicott City, Maryland, which is about 15 miles from Baltimore.

Vox takes apart Trump's baseless "spygate" conspiracy theory. Separately, Republican Senator Marco Rubio explains:

What I have seen so far is an FBI effort to learn more about individuals with a history of bragging about links to Russia that pre-exist the campaign. If those people were operating near my office or my campaign, I’d want them investigated.

The NFL established a new policy about protests during the national anthem: Players can stay in the locker room during the anthem, but if they come out on the field they have to stand respectfully. If they don't the league will fine the team, which can then decide whether to fine the player.

There are all kinds of problems here: The owners did this on their own, with no player input. Forced reverence for the flag (or any other symbol) is the exact opposite of the freedom the flag is supposed to represent. It's hard to come up with a protest more respectful than kneeling silently. The original purpose of the protest (against police shootings of unarmed blacks and other examples of racism by public officials) has been entirely lost. Players identified with the protest (Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid) seem to have been blackballed by the NFL; they are unemployed when players of lesser ability have jobs.

As someone who occasionally repurposes poetry himself, I can appreciate "The Incel Song of J. Alfred Prufrock".

and let's close with something

If you're looking for something meditative and beautiful, check out National Geographic's "5 Breathtaking Time-Lapses that are Perfect for Spring". Like this one.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Not All Appearances Are Deceiving

No Sift the next two weeks. New articles will appear May 28.
The bottom line — which will remain true no matter how much the Kochs spend trying to convince you otherwise — is that what looks like a big giveaway to wealthy investors is, in fact, a big giveaway to wealthy investors.
- Paul Krugman "Apple and the Fruits of Tax Cuts" (5-3-2018)
This week's featured post is "Speaking in Code: two phrases that no longer mean what they used to".

This week everybody was talking about lies

From the beginning I have resisted paying too much attention to the Stormy Daniels story -- or publishing pictures of her in low-cut tops -- because to the extent that it's about sex I just don't care. People who cared about Bill Clinton's affairs should have to explain why they don't care about Trump's. But I don't care about either one.

Increasingly, though, the Stormy story has come to exemplify other disturbing features of Trump and his administration: financial corner-cutting, and an approach towards lying that doesn't even seek deceive so much as destroy the idea of a knowable truth.

This week, Rudy Giulani began giving interviews in his role as Trump's new lawyer. He soon offered a new story of Trump's role in the $130K hush money Daniels was given by Michael Cohen, and then a new story after that, only to have Trump say that Giuliani didn't have his facts straight. By Sunday's interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, Giuliani was treating the simplest questions as deep philosophical mysteries. When did Trump know about the payment? Apparently the question is unfathomable.
It could have been recently, it could have been awhile back. Those are the facts that we’re still working on and that, you know, may be in a little bit of dispute. This is more rumor than anything else.
Remember: Giuliani is not a reporter dealing with a hostile source; he's a lawyer representing a client.
In general, it's getting harder and harder to get a straight story from anybody in the administration about much of anything. Vox compiled a timeline of the different things we've been told about the Daniels payoff: It didn't happen (January 12); Cohen paid it using his own money (February 13); Trump knew nothing about it (April 5); Cohen was representing Trump when he made the payment (April 26); Trump repaid Cohen (May 2). Since then we've heard that Trump repaid Cohen, but by paying a $35K monthly retainer without knowing what it was for. Or maybe he did know.
The latest version suggests that Cohen might have been running a deniable slush fund for the Trump campaign.

What never seems to happen, though, is that a person with knowledge walks us through the story from beginning to end, and takes responsibility for that story hanging together for the long haul.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended previously telling the press corps that Trump didn't know about the payment by saying "We’re giving you the best information that we’re going to have. Obviously the press team’s not going to be as read-in, maybe, as some other elements, at a given moment, on a variety of topics. But we relay the best and most accurate information that we have." Translation: Trump lied to her too.

My growing impression is that in TrumpWorld the concepts of truth and lie are meaningless. We are all told whatever will best placate us at the moment, by people who may not know any more than we do. If at some future moment we become agitated again, we'll be told something else.

Parkland survivor Cameron Kasky compared what Trump told the NRA Friday to what he told the Parkland families soon after the shooting.
If he's in front of families, he might say something in support of common sense gun reform. But then when he's at the NRA, he'll say something to get a big cheer.
Vox' Dara Lind recalls numerous moments when the press reported that Trump was considering some action -- changing his legal team, firing Rex Tillerson, firing H. R. McMaster -- Trump vociferously denounced the report as fake news, and then shortly thereafter he did the thing he had denied considering.
With their actions, Trump and his White House have forfeited the right to have any influence on which stories about the president should or should not be believed. If they have no scruples about when and about what to lie, the only responsible alternative is to assume, always, that their statements have no relationship whatsoever to the truth.

Then we get to the strange story of Trump's former doctor, Harold Bornstein, the one who signed a letter claiming that "If elected, Mr Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency."

He now tells us that Trump dictated that letter himself, and that Bornstein just signed it.

A few weeks after the inauguration, Bornstein claims, Trump sent a lawyer and his bodyguard to his office to take Trump's medical records by force, in what he characterized as a "raid" and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called "standard operating procedure". The BBC quotes Dr. Arthur Caplan, a professor of bio-ethics at NYU:
In the US, medical records are joint property. They do belong to the patient who can have a copy, but the doctor keeps one too because if an issue comes up about malpractice, they have to have the record. You can't just come in and take away everything.
The big question we're left with is: Do we actually know anything trustworthy about Trump's health? The report from his White House doctor, Ronny Jackson, also included an unprofessional level of flattery. ("He has incredibly good genes. ... If he had a healthier diet over the last 20 years he might live to be 200".) Jackson was then rewarded with a cabinet nomination, though he later had to withdraw.

and impeachment

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, wrote an op-ed in the NYT Friday urging Democrats not to "take the bait" on impeachment. He points out that impeachment is both a legal and a political process, and requires both a legal and a political justification:
while that political standard cannot be easily or uniformly defined, I think in the present context it means the following: Was the president’s conduct so incompatible with the office he holds that Democratic and Republican members of Congress can make the case to their constituents that they were obligated to remove him? ... This is a very high bar, and it should be.
If I were a Democrat running for Congress, I'd be talking about checks and balances rather than speculating about impeachment. The problem with the Republican Congress is that it doesn't want to know what Trump did or is doing. It tolerates Trump's blatant attempts to influence the Justice Department. It winks and nods at the various ways Trump is making money off the presidency. The House Intelligence Committee's investigation -- now concluded -- was more interested in harassing whistleblowers and intimidating investigators than in finding out whether anyone in the Trump campaign committed treason, or if Putin has some illicit hold on Trump himself.

At the same time, the evidence publicly available at this moment is more smoke than fire. It raises questions but does not by itself constitute proof of high crimes and misdemeanors, the constitutional standard for impeachment. The Mueller investigation may or may not have such evidence; that remains to be seen. But any Democrat who says, "Vote for me and I'll vote to impeach Trump" is going too far.

With regard to Trump, my recommended message would be: "Trump is not trustworthy, so we need a Democratic Congress to keep an eye on him and to make sure he fulfills his constitutional responsibility to faithfully execute the laws. We'll insist that he produce his tax returns, as every other recent president has. We'll investigate whether he's violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. We'll protect the Mueller investigation from improper interference until it can produce a full report."

"Will that lead to impeachment? That will depend on facts we don't know yet. But if you ever want to know the facts, you have to elect a Democratic Congress, because Republicans have proved already that they are more loyal to Trump than they are to America. A Republican Congress will continue to cover for him and make excuses for him, rather than be the kind of watchdog the Founders intended Congress to be."

and the role of parties in primaries

At the end of April, The Intercept published an article about the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the official Democratic group responsible for winning House elections. It is chaired by Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, who ranks just behind Nancy Pelosi among House Democrats.
The article centers on a tape of Hoyer trying to convince a progressive candidate to drop out of the race, clearing the primary for a moderate Democrat that Hoyer believes has a better chance to win the general election.

The article itself has a tone that suggests there is something illegitimate about this kind of pre-primary interference, that the national party ought to stay neutral and let the local voters decide for themselves. Some of the social media discussion this article provoked made that case more explicitly: The national party shouldn't be trying to "rig the primaries" by helping one candidate over another.

The contrary viewpoint was expressed by author Elaine Kamarck in Thursday's NYT. In her view, national parties in America are far less controlling than those in other democratic countries, and are already virtually abdicating their responsibility.
This is not to say that there is no role for primaries. But the pendulum between the party’s leaders choosing its candidates and primary voters choosing them has swung so far in the direction of the voters that even the smallest, most modest efforts to intervene in nomination races are deemed illegitimate.
Personally, I have trouble getting excited about this issue for a simple reason: If Steny Hoyer and a little money can stop you, then you're the revolutionary grass-roots candidate you claim to be. Look at what has happened on the Republican side: Trump-style populists like Roy Moore have repeatedly routed the more mainstream candidates Mitch McConnell tries to pre-select, to the point that it's not clear whether Mitch's endorsement helps more than it hurts.

Speaking of primaries and parties, Republicans are facing some strange dynamics.

Tomorrow is the West Virginia primary, where establishment Republicans are increasingly worried that coal baron Don Blankenship will win the Republican nomination for the Senate.

Blankenship's corner-cutting on safety regulations was the primary cause of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, which killed 29 people in 2010. Blankenship escaped conviction on the biggest charges against him and spent a mere one year in prison, so he's ready for the Senate.

The Onion has it about right:
I’m Don Blankenship, and I’m proud to say that my vision and leadership created countless new job opportunities in the fields of search and rescue, emergency surgery, funeral services, and many more. From trauma specialists and morticians all the way down to the manufacturers of vigil candles, gravestones, and sympathy cards, I’m committed to putting West Virginians to work. I’ve even created 29 new coal mining jobs. Can Mitch McConnell say the same?
In California, Diane Feinstein may end up running against an explicit anti-Semite.
Aghast at the possibility of being represented by a Senate candidate whose platform calls for “limiting representation of Jews in the government” and making it U.S. policy that the Holocaust “is a Jewish war atrocity propaganda hoax that never happened,” California Republican leaders were quick to denounce Little.
“Mr. Little has never been an active member of our party. I do not know Mr. Little and I am not familiar with his positions,” Matt Fleming, a California Republican Party spokesman, said in a statement. “But in the strongest terms possible, we condemn anti-Semitism and any other form of religious bigotry, just as we do with racism, sexism or anything else that can be construed as a hateful point of view.”
Should they be rigging the primary like that?

but you should read this hard-to-pigeonhole article

"The Spy Who Came Home" in The New Yorker. Patrick Skinner was a CIA operative in Afghanistan and Iraq. Then he came home to be a beat cop in Savannah.
“We write these strategic white papers, saying things like ‘Get the local Sunni population on our side,’ ” Skinner said. “Cool. Got it. But, then, if I say, ‘Get the people who live at Thirty-eighth and Bulloch on our side,’ you realize, man, that’s fucking hard—and it’s just a city block. It sounds so stupid when you apply the rhetoric over here. Who’s the leader of the white community in Live Oak neighborhood? Or the poor community?” Skinner shook his head. “ ‘Leader of the Iraqi community.’ What the fuck does that mean?”
“We have to stop treating people like we’re in Fallujah,” he told me. “It doesn’t work. Just look what happened in Fallujah.”

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The videos coming out of Hawaii are amazing.

The deadline for re-affirming the Iran nuclear deal is Saturday. In the Boston Globe, Harvard Kennedy School professor Matthew Bunn offers suggestions for building new agreements on top of the existing one, but presents this warning about simply walking away from the existing agreement.
if Trump walks out of the deal on May 12, the United States will be isolated. Few others will join the US sanctions, diluting the pressure that could be brought to bear on Iran. And in Iran’s internal debates, the advocates for engagement with the West would be discredited, probably making any new or better deal impossible for years to come. Iran would be freed from the deal’s nuclear limits and could begin building up its capability to produce nuclear bomb material. That could leave Trump with few choices between accepting an Iran on the edge of nuclear weapons or launching yet another war in the Middle East.

The NYT warns that verifying compliance of any North Korean nuclear deal will be even harder than verifying the Iran deal.

The nomination of Gina Haspel to be CIA director will reach the Senate floor soon. The nomination is controversial because of the still-not-fully-explained role she played in torturing detainees and/or covering up that torture. Here's how Trump is framing that:
My highly respected nominee for CIA Director, Gina Haspel, has come under fire because she was too tough on Terrorists. Think of that, in these very dangerous times, we have the most qualified person, a woman, who Democrats want OUT because she is too tough on terror.
Think about that: She's under fire because of suspicion that she broke the law against torture, putting the US in violation of the Convention Against Torture that President Reagan signed and the Senate ratified. But in Trump's book, breaking the law is fine if you break it over the heads of the right people.

The Krugman quote at the top concerns Apple's announcement that it will buy back $100 billion of its own stock. This will benefit Apple's shareholders, but do virtually nothing to create jobs or grow the US economy.

This is turning out to be typical of how corporations are spending the windfall they got from the Trump tax cut. The political hype was that companies with big offshore profits would now bring that money back to the US to build new factories, hire more workers, and pay them higher wages. Several companies made happy headlines by announcing $1000 worker bonuses immediately after the tax bill passed. But such actions represent only a tiny fraction of the corporate tax-cut windfall.

Unemployment went below 4% last month, a number not seen since the end of the Clinton administration. Basically, the unimpressive but steady job growth that started under Obama has continued under Trump. Unemployment peaked at over 10% in October, 2009, and has been headed down since then. Looking at the Fed's graph, it's hard to spot the Obama/Trump changeover.

Iowa just passed a law banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. That threshold is usually crossed at around 6 weeks, when many women do not even realize they are pregnant. So for most practical purposes abortion will have been banned in Iowa when the law takes effect on July 1.
Abortion-rights groups will ask courts to block the bill, but that seems to be the point: generating a legal case that will give the Supreme Court an opportunity to reverse Roe v Wade.

Liberals are often urged not to poke the bear with proposals that are unlikely to become law, but will validate conservative fears: sweeping gun bans, for example. For some reason, conservatives don't operate under the same restrictions.

The NYT's conservative columnist Bret Stephens makes the case for the US continuing as the world policeman.
The world learned on Sept. 1, 1939, where the mentality of every-country-for-itself leads. Our willful and politically wounded president is leading us there again. A warning to countries that have relied too long and lazily on the promises of Pax Americana: The policeman has checked out. You’re on your own again.

One standard feature of conservative health-care plans (at least for the conservatives who even bother to have a plan any more) is high-deductible insurance. The idea is that Americans will be less wasteful with their use of the healthcare system if they have what Paul Ryan calls "skin in the game".
High deductibles do decrease Americans' use of healthcare. However, sometimes the result is that people who need care forego it.
Women who had just learned they had breast cancer were more likely to delay getting care if their deductibles were high, the study showed. A review of several years of medical claims exposed a pattern: Women confronting such immediate expenses put off getting diagnostic imaging and biopsies, postponing treatment.
And they delayed beginning chemotherapy by an average of seven months, said Dr. J. Frank Wharam, a Harvard researcher and one of the authors of the study, published earlier this year in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
The NYT article gives anecdotes of patients facing financial choices, but doesn't say whether the study documented the effect of income. I have to suspect that the delayed or neglected care centered mainly on poorer households.
While high-deductible plans are meant to encourage people to think twice about whether a test or treatment is necessary and if it can be done at a lower price, “it’s also frankly to impede their use of these services,” said Dr. Peter Bach, the director of the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Shortly after he took office, Trump issued a drain-the-swamp executive order that was supposed to prevent people who leave the administration from going straight into lobbying. ProPublica studied how well that is working. It looks like there are ways around the order, but that it's not totally useless either. Somebody who took Trump at his word will likely be disappointed, but since I thought the executive order was complete BS, I'm surprised in a mildly pleasant way.

Jared Kushner is still fixing errors in his financial disclosure forms.

and let's close with a song parody

No, not one of mine this time. It's "Confounds the Science" to the tune of "Sounds of Silence".