Primary Takeaway

Stated simply, the primary takeaway from the past 250 years of recorded American history is that Presidents are not kings.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson

This week’s featured post is “What Does Trump’s Inner Party Believe?

This week everybody was still talking about impeachment

Last Monday, a federal court ordered former White House Counsel Don McGahn to obey a congressional subpoena. The subpoena in question wasn’t part of the recent Ukraine hearings in the Intelligence Committee, but an earlier follow-up to the Mueller Report, in which McGahn’s testimony could be key in establishing an obstruction of justice charge against Trump.

The judge’s opinion was sweeping, and would seem relevant to Ukraine-related subpoenas as well. If any Trump officials were looking for permission to ignore Trump’s order, this would be it. But it has no direct legal impact on them.

It will also have no immediate effect on McGahn. The Department of Justice is appealing the ruling.

The House Intelligence Committee will discuss its Ukraine report tomorrow. The report goes to the Judiciary Committee, which will compose articles of impeachment.

Trump had a decision to make about the Judiciary hearings that begin on Wednesday: He was offered the chance to have his own lawyers participate, but decided not to. The lack of participation was a major objection Trump supporters made to the Intelligence Committee hearings, but a letter from the White House counsel continues to hold that the impeachment process is unfair.

It is hard for me to imagine Trump agreeing to any process of critical inquiry into his actions. His sense of victimization is axiomatic; if he is being criticized, it is unfair.

While purporting to be outraged by Hunter Biden cashing in on his father’s name, the Republican National Committee spent $100K to make Donald Trump Jr.’s book a bestseller.

Last week I mentioned the Fox & Friends phone interview where Trump repeated his absurd claims about Ukraine and the DNC server. The WaPo fact checker found four “whoppers” within ten sentences:

Ukraine does not have the server, the FBI did not need physical possession to investigate, CrowdStrike was not founded by a Ukrainian, and it is not a Ukrainian company. It is dismaying that despite all of the evidence assembled by his top aides, Trump keeps repeating debunked theories and inaccurate claims that he first raised more than two years ago.

There are some days when we wish we were not limited to just Four Pinocchios.

Trump supporters can’t talk about impeachment without using the term “witch hunt”. Stacy Schiff, author of The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem, knows a thing or two about real witch hunts.

By definition you do not qualify as the victim of a witch hunt if you are the most powerful man on the planet. You do, however, incite a witch hunt when you spew malignant allegations and reckless insinuations, when you broadcast a fictitious narrative, attack those who resist it and charge your critics with a shadowy, sinister plot to destroy you. (Witness intimidation can sound strangely like a witchcraft accusation. Did someone really tweet that everything a middle-aged woman touched during her diplomatic career tended to sour?)

And she calls on Republicans to heed the example of Thomas Brattle, who turned the tide against the Salem trials.

You can walk gutlessly into history behind a deluded man, holding tight to a ridiculous narrative. Or you can follow the lead of Thomas Brattle, in which case someone will be extolling your heroism 327 years from now.

BTW, I didn’t do a full family history, but don’t believe Stacy is related to Rep. Adam Schiff. At the very least, she is not his wife or daughter.

and Thanksgiving

The weather was kind of dicey in New York on Thurday, which made low-flying balloons a hazard.

During his surprise Thanksgiving visit to Afghanistan, Trump said he had restarted talks with the Taliban that had blown up in September. Neither the Taliban nor the Afghan government seem to know what he’s talking about. But it sounded good, so he said it.

Now there’s a War on Thanksgiving. A single Huffington Post article suggesting that environmentally conscious people might want to shrink the carbon footprint of their holiday meal (mainly by locally sourcing their ingredients, emphasizing more vegetarian dishes, and wasting less food) led to multiple Fox News segments claiming that liberals want to “cancel Thanksgiving”.

By Tuesday night Trump was chiming in, telling his cultists that liberals want to call the holiday something else. I still haven’t figured out what the left-wing name for Thanksgiving is supposed to be, but I’m sure right-wingers will tell me if I watch Fox long enough.

Here’s my liberal view: A holiday that emphasizes gratitude seems like a good idea — though whether or not that holiday needs a religious basis is debatable — and Thanksgiving seems like a good name for it. It’s up to you to decide what you’re thankful for or who you should thank for it, but a national gratitude holiday is a good thing.

While I didn’t notice any liberals calling for Thanksgiving to be cancelled, I did see many articles this year about how we should stop repeating the First Thanksgiving myth. Author David Silverman recounts the myth like this:

The myth is that friendly Indians, unidentified by tribe, welcome the Pilgrims to America, teach them how to live in this new place, sit down to dinner with them and then disappear. They hand off America to white people so they can create a great nation dedicated to liberty, opportunity and Christianity for the rest of the world to profit. That’s the story—it’s about Native people conceding to colonialism. It’s bloodless and in many ways an extension of the ideology of Manifest Destiny.

He also mentions the more subtle myth that “history doesn’t begin for Native people until Europeans arrive”. I occasionally still run into this misconception in my own thoughts. A few years ago I was at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, looking at an exhibit that explained the migrations of various Southwestern tribes. I had always pictured the tribes as fixed in their locations until European colonists started jostling them around, so the idea that they had an actual pre-Columbian history — different eras when different tribes held sway over different regions — was new to me. Realizing that I had never had that simple thought before was embarrassing.

and the Democratic presidential race

Governor Steve Bullock of Montana dropped out of the Democratic presidential race. The theory of his candidacy was that an outside-Washington moderate who had been successful in a red state would appeal to Democrats whose top priority was to beat Trump. No one seems to be able to make that model work.

Former congressman and Navy admiral Joe Sestak — another moderate outsider — also dropped out.

I keep seeing people on social media saying “The polls must be wrong; I don’t know anybody who’s for Biden.” CNN’s Harry Enten has an answer for that:

Biden’s polling in the low 60s with black voters 45 years and older. He’s got a 50 point lead on the field with them. This is a group that has stuck with him all year. If you don’t get Biden’s appeal, you probably need to talk a lot more with this group.

and unrest in foreign countries

The ongoing demonstrations in Iraq have led to the resignation of the prime minister. “Some 400 people have been killed since protests began in Baghdad and other cities at the start of October.”

I’m not sure why, but the Trump administration is again withholding military aid from a country in distress. This time it’s $100 million for Lebanon. Once again, Russia appears to benefit.

Foreign Policy has an interesting article about the Hong Kong district council elections last week, which were an overwhelming symbolic victory for the pro-democracy protesters. Apparently the Chinese media was so convinced by its own propaganda about a “silent majority” opposed to the protests that they had already written their stories about the electorate’s rebuke to the protesters, leaving space to fill in the numbers when they became available.

What caused such an enormous misjudgment? The biggest single problem is this: The people in charge of manipulating Hong Kong public opinion for the CCP are also the people charged with reporting on their own success.

and you also might be interested in …

A lot of my Facebook friends linked to this article about an outrageous anti-abortion bill in Ohio. Yeah, it’s insane. But I have a rule about these things (which I stole from David Wong at Cracked): Don’t get excited about a bill just because somebody “introduced” it in some legislature. There are just too many state legislators introducing too many crazy bills; you’ll live in perpetual outrage.

This bill was sent to the Criminal Justice committee on November 18. If it comes back out of the committee and still mandates surgical procedures that don’t exist, that might be worth your attention. It probably won’t.

My quick summary of the Trump economy: The economic expansion that started under Obama has been artificially extended by running up debt. This short-term strategy increases the likelihood of serious problems whenever a recession does finally arrive.

Usually we think about the federal deficit, but the Washington Post observes:

In recent weeks, the Federal Reserve, the International Monetary Fund and major institutional investors such as BlackRock and American Funds all have sounded the alarm about the mounting corporate obligations.

WaPo blames the problem on low interest rates, saying “rates have never been this low for this long”. The large amount of corporate debt might not be a problem if the money were being invested wisely, but the article notes that

the weakest firms have accounted for most of the growth and are increasingly using debt for “financial risk-taking,” such as investor payouts and Wall Street dealmaking, rather than new plants and equipment, according to the IMF.

The structural risk posed by large amounts of debt, as we saw in the real-estate bubble that brought on the Great Recession, is that bankruptcies can cascade: When a borrower can’t repay, the lender may become insolvent too, triggering a chain reaction.

Before Colin Kaepernick, there were the Black 14. In 1969, the 14 black players on the University of Wyoming football team met with their coach to discuss wearing a black armband during an upcoming game with BYU to protest racism. The coach kicked them all off the team. Fifty years later the university brought them back.

Gregory Downs (author of After Appomattox, whose central points are discussed in this article), has an interesting suggestion: Rather than talk about “the Civil War”, maybe we should call it “the Second American Revolution”.

To see the 1870s United States as a Second American Republic operating under a Second Constitution created by a Second American Revolution asks Americans to abandon their dreams of continuity and to develop a new, more vulnerable set of national understandings and also a new sense of the nation’s possibilities. Thinking through the implications of the Second American Revolution might lead us to see the First Founders as less successful and less consequential than celebrators and critics have imagined. As architects of a country that failed, the First American Republic, the First Founders might shimmer as warnings or ideals but not as guides. Americans might have to shed the sense that the Founders possess answers to our current predicaments or blame for our situation.

Whale corpses that wash up on shore turn out to be full of plastic. It’s hard to tell if that’s what killed them or not, and we have no idea how much plastic is in whales that don’t wash up, or in smaller ocean creatures that decay before anybody can examine them.

My annual dose of humility: the NYT’s 100 Notable Books of the Year list. This year I’ve read five, which is more than my usual two: The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff, The Education of an Idealist by Samantha Power, Fall by Neal Stephenson, The Institute by Stephen King, and The Nickel Boys by Colin Whitehead.

The Nickel Boys, I will point out, has one of the great opening lines: “Even in death, the boys were trouble.”

I would have added Ta-Nehisi Coates’ The Water Dancer to the list. I haven’t finished Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea, yet, but it also seems like a worthy novel. (If you have a 2019 book to add, leave a comment.)

CBS reports:

Caliburn International, a corporation with billions of dollars in government contracts, has scrapped plans to host a holiday party at the Trump National Golf Club in Virginia.

Some of those contracts involve “holding unaccompanied migrant children in government custody”. Former Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly is on Caliburn’s board. Somebody apparently decided that the appearance of corruption in this party was a little too obvious.

Cartoonist Damian Alexander relates an interesting point about his upbringing: It was OK for girls to admire male characters in fiction or history, but not for boys to admire female characters. A girl might want to be like Spider-Man, but it was weird if a boy wanted to be like Wonder Woman. Alexander comments: “Not allowing boys to look up to and aspire to be like women leads them to believe women are unworthy of admiration.”

I remember the same thing, and I wonder if American childhood has significantly changed.

and let’s close with a series of unfortunate misunderstandings

When you ask a PhotoShop expert for help, make sure you’re clear about what you really want.

What Does Trump’s Inner Party Believe?

Like a lot of liberals, I have spent more time than I care to admit thinking about Trump supporters. Who are they? What do they want? What are they thinking? And most of all: How can they possibly support this man?

One reason this task is so difficult is that the Trumpist message is not meant for me. St. Paul was an apostle to the gentiles, but there is no Trumpist apostle to the liberals. No one in the administration is out there translating for me, explaining what parts of the message to take seriously and what parts to ignore. No one is trying to resolve the apparent contradictions, or to make the case that my goals can be achieved by his methods. One symptom of this is White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, who appears on Fox News, but doesn’t hold briefings for the press in general. (Trump’s previous press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, has joined Fox News outright.)

As a result, the most widely available version of Trump’s message is the one intended for committed supporters, who already live inside the Fox News alternate reality, where climate change is not real and racism was solved in the 1960s. So if, like me, you live in a world where where Russia (and not Ukraine) meddled in our election, where health insurance companies would happily let people die if they could make bigger profits, and tax cuts don’t pay for themselves — well, there is no message for you. Trump’s world has an Us and a Them, and you’re a Them. You’re never going to be invited in.

The Inner Party. It’s easy (and very human) to reflect this attitude back at them: People support Trump because they’re uninformed and gullible. Or because he appeals to their deplorable passions: racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, or Islamophobia, to use Hillary Clinton’s list. Or because they’re rich and selfish; they just want to pay less tax and stop worrying about how much their industries pollute. Or because they just want power.

And if you look, you can confirm that bias: There certainly are Trump supporters who fit all those descriptions. (I’m not denying that point, so don’t argue it with me.) And I am capable of imagining a movement made up entirely of a cynical core surrounded by gullible and manipulated masses. But I have a test that I run when I’m considering such a theory: I picture it from the other side. If I were in that cynical core, how confident would I be that I could make this plan work?

And the answer in this case is: not very. A conspiracy of pure evil-doers is actually fairly hard to hold together, because the vast majority of people don’t like to think of themselves that way. Once you have a core bigger than a cabal, you need some kind of self-justifying story — not just for the gullible masses, but for your own people. There needs to be an explanation of why you are the good guys and why the things you are doing are right, or at least necessary.

To use Orwellian terms, you need an Inner Party message in addition to your Outer Party message. There are, I assume, lots and lots of Trumpists who understand that the Outer Party message is bullshit. I’m sure that a lot of Evangelicals, for example, realize that Trump’s knowledge of Christianity is superficial at best; that he has lived a life of licentiousness, infidelity, and fraud; and that his current administration is full of corruption. They may say “We are all sinners,” as Jerry Falwell Jr. acknowledges, and explain that Christianity is a religion of forgiveness rather than perfection. But they also know that forgiveness requires repentance, a step Trump has never been willing to take.

Republican politicians, likewise, are not generally stupid or gullible people. Lindsey Graham used to see Trump fairly clearly (and used terms like “loser” and “nut job”). They can’t all be intimidated by Trump’s sway over his base voters, either. Ted Cruz surely remembers Trump’s attacks on his father and wife, and having just won re-election in 2018 (along with ten other GOP senators), he doesn’t have to face the voters again until 2024, by which time everyone may have conveniently forgotten that they ever supported Trump. (George W. Bush was once immensely popular among Republicans, but by the 2008 campaign he had become an unperson.)

A lot of people who support Trump are not ignorant, and they are not all motivated by greed or fear. If this is all hanging together, and it seems to be, there has to be an Inner Party message for such people. What could it be?

The Barr speeches. That’s the context that I put around the recent spate of articles examining two Bill Barr speeches. Both of these speeches were given to what I think of as Inner Party audiences.

  • In October, he spoke to the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture at Notre Dame, an organization “committed to sharing the richness of the Catholic moral and intellectual tradition”.
  • In November, he delivered a named annual lecture to the Federalist Society’s 2019 National Lawyers Convention. The Federalist Society is a conservative legal organization that is responsible for vetting Trump’s nominees for federal judgeships.

In short, these are both audiences friendly to the Trump administration, but are not the MAGA-hat-wearing yahoos that show up at Trump’s public rallies. Both groups see themselves as having intellectual heft as well as moral purpose. Neither would be satisfied with a screed of obvious lies or slogans like “Lock her up!” or “Build the Wall!”

So this is what Barr offered them: To the Catholics, he spoke about the impossibility of maintaining  liberty without Christianity. To the Federalists, he advocated for the Presidency to shake itself free from the “usurpations” of Congress and the Judiciary.

The Notre Dame speech. Barr’s Notre Dame speech lays out the problem like this:

Men are subject to powerful passions and appetites, and, if unrestrained, are capable of ruthlessly riding roughshod over their neighbors and the community at large. No society can exist without some means for restraining individual rapacity. But, if you rely on the coercive power of government to impose restraints, this will inevitably lead to a government that is too controlling, and you will end up with no liberty, just tyranny.

On the other hand, unless you have some effective restraint, you end up with something equally dangerous – licentiousness – the unbridled pursuit of personal appetites at the expense of the common good. This is just another form of tyranny – where the individual is enslaved by his appetites, and the possibility of any healthy community life crumbles. …

But what was the source of this internal controlling power? In a free republic, those restraints could not be handed down from above by philosopher kings. Instead, social order must flow up from the people themselves – freely obeying the dictates of inwardly-possessed and commonly-shared moral values. And to control willful human beings, with an infinite capacity to rationalize, those moral values must rest on authority independent of men’s will – they must flow from a transcendent Supreme Being.

This cries out for annotation, which I’ll try to keep short so that I can get on with Barr’s argument: If you wanted a poster boy for “the unbridled pursuit of personal appetites at the expense of the public good”, you could hardly do better than to choose Barr’s boss, President Trump. If you allow corporate persons into the discussion, Exxon-Mobil (which knew the danger of climate change decades ago, but spent millions to keep the public confused about it) or one of the pharmaceutical companies that promoted the opioid crisis would be a good choice.

And unless the “transcendent Supreme Being” decides to express Their authority much more directly than They currently do, God’s will is going to be presented to us through “willful human beings, with an infinite capacity to rationalize”. For example: the Catholic hierarchy, which for decades — perhaps centuries — had no trouble enabling and covering up the sexual misconduct of its priests.

This far I agree with Barr: If a free society is going to work, the public good needs to be supported by moral values freely chosen, rather than rules enforced solely by government power. However, the countries that seem to be doing the best job of maintaining a free society in today’s world are the least religious ones: the Northern European humanist crescent that flows from Finland to Iceland. In the real world, moral values and religion have (at best) a tenuous relationship.

However, Barr takes this relationship as given and proceeds from there: Traditional Christianity is losing its hold on America, and at the same time a number of social ills have gotten worse: births outside of marriage, divorce,

record levels of depression and mental illness, dispirited young people, soaring suicide rates, increasing numbers of angry and alienated young males, an increase in senseless violence, and a deadly drug epidemic.

The causality here is clear to him: All these negative consequences come from an increase in “secularism”. Thomas Edsall offers a counterpoint here: If this were true, you’d expect the worst effects to show up in the most secular parts of society, but this seems not to be the case.

The white working class constituency that would seem to be most immune to the appeal of the cultural left — the very constituency that has moved more decisively than any other to the right — is now succumbing to the centrifugal, even anarchic, forces denounced by Barr and other social conservatives, while more liberal constituencies are moving in the opposite, more socially coherent, rule-following, direction.

Similarly, the highest rates of births outside of marriage are in the Bible Belt states.

Barr continues: Ordinarily, we’d expect the pendulum to swing back towards social conservatism. As people saw the calamitous results of social change, that change would be stopped, and then turned around. But this time is different, because America is not just dealing with the ordinary tides of culture. This time the story has an active villain: people like me, as best I can tell.

[T]he force, fervor, and comprehensiveness of the assault on religion we are experiencing today … is not decay; it is organized destruction. Secularists, and their allies among the “progressives,” have marshaled all the force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values. These instruments are used not only to affirmatively promote secular orthodoxy, but also drown out and silence opposing voices, and to attack viciously and hold up to ridicule any dissenters.

Speaking of ridicule, here how cartoonist Jen Sorensen responded to Barr’s speech:

It is very popular in conservative circles to talk about being “silenced”, despite the awesome wealth and power conservatives command. But the truth doesn’t stretch quite that far: Conservatives, and especially religious conservatives, are used to being the only voices in the room. In the days of mandatory Christian prayer in public schools, there was no equal time for atheists or Buddhists. Gays could be characterized as “deviants”, and women who made their own decisions about sex as “sluts”. Conservative Christians could say these things in public, and no one would respond. No one would dare stand up and say, “Wait, I’m gay, and there’s nothing deviant about it.” or “What happens in my bedroom is none of your business.” No one would strike back and say that the Christian was “judgmental” or “bigoted”.

Now, someone will. Maybe lots of someones. That’s what the Constitution calls “freedom of speech”, but Christians are not used to hearing it. When their opinion is not the last word in a discussion, it seems like persecution to them, even though it’s the normal situation for everyone else.

Barr uses another religious-right buzzphrase when he talks about “a comprehensive effort to drive [our traditional Judeo-Christian moral system] from the public square”. As best I can tell, this refers to another revocation of a special privilege. Christians used to be able to use public resources to promote their point of view: prayers at public events, nativity scenes on the town green, and so on. In recent decades, Christians have often been treated like everyone else and limited to promoting their views with their own resources. (Barr may say “Judeo-Christian”, but when have Jews ever tried to install a Moses-parting-the-Red-Sea model on the town green?) This is quite a come-down, but it is not persecution.

Secular moral values, Barr claims, are different from Christian ones, not just in content but in kind.

Christianity teaches a micro-morality. We transform the world by focusing on our own personal morality and transformation. The new secular religion teaches macro-morality. One’s morality is not gauged by their private conduct, but rather on their commitment to political causes and collective action to address social problems. This system allows us to not worry so much about the strictures on our private lives, while we find salvation on the picket-line. We can signal our finely-tuned moral sensibilities by demonstrating for this cause or that.

This is absurd on both ends: One one side, the anti-abortion movement Barr champions elsewhere in the speech is not a micro-morality; it is an attempt to use the law to constrain the choices of other people. Conservative leaders (Trump, for example) often exhibit horrible personal morality, but they signal their virtue by opposing abortion or gay rights. On the other side of the question, Barr has completely written off a long Catholic social-justice tradition, from Dorothy Day to liberation theology. As Archbishop Hélder Pessoa Câmara once put it, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist.”

To sum up: Christianity is at war against an active enemy. Secularists are not just trying to live their own lives as best they can, they are working to tear down the transcendent moral order. If they succeed, the result can only be anarchy or tyranny.

The Federalist Society speech. Barr’s Federalist Society speech inadvertently illustrates a point from his Notre Dame speech: Willful human beings have an infinite capacity to rationalize.

The claimed topic of the speech is “originalism”, the legal doctrine that tries to find the meaning of Constitution in the thinking of the Founders. Since the Founders faced a world far different from ours and could barely have imagined the issues of the 21st century, originalism provides boundless fields for rationalization. Like scripturalism in religion, the resulting propositions don’t have to justified on their own merits, because we did not think of them ourselves, but only found them in the texts written by our prophets.

What Barr finds in the Founders’ collective mind in this speech is a vision of executive power unbound by the other two branches of government.

In the orthodox reading of American history, the structure of American government got remade on two occasions: by Lincoln during the Civil War and by FDR during the Depression and World War II. In each case, executive power expanded, and has kept expanding in recent years, reaching the point where a President can unleash a global nuclear holocaust completely on his own authority. In my view, relating the apocalyptic power of today’s Presidency to Hamilton’s praise of “energy in the executive” is insane.

But that’s not how Barr sees it:

In recent years, both the Legislative and Judicial branches have been responsible for encroaching on the Presidency’s constitutional authority. [original emphasis]

Congress has encroached by refusing to rubber-stamp Trump’s unqualified and often corrupt appointees, and also by attempting to exercise oversight of questionable (and again, often corrupt) administration actions.

I do not deny that Congress has some implied authority to conduct oversight as an incident to its Legislative Power. But the sheer volume of what we see today – the pursuit of scores of parallel “investigations” through an avalanche of subpoenas – is plainly designed to incapacitate the Executive Branch, and indeed is touted as such.

In Barr’s view, this is pure harassment. There is nothing unusual in the Trump administration’s actions that invites these investigations. The most he will grant is this:

While the President has certainly thrown out the traditional Beltway playbook, he was upfront about that beforehand, and the people voted for him.

Of course, the people did not vote for him; the Electoral College did. But leave that aside. Fundamentally, the conflicts with Congress arise because, as in the Notre Dame speech, liberals are villains.

In any age, the so-called progressives treat politics as their religion. Their holy mission is to use the coercive power of the State to remake man and society in their own image, according to an abstract ideal of perfection. Whatever means they use are therefore justified because, by definition, they are a virtuous people pursing a deific end. They are willing to use any means necessary to gain momentary advantage in achieving their end, regardless of collateral consequences and the systemic implications. They never ask whether the actions they take could be justified as a general rule of conduct, equally applicable to all sides.

It’s weird to pull this back to the Notre Dame speech, where conservatives treat religion as their politics. What is an illegitimate “abstract ideal of perfection” for liberals becomes the “moral values” of a “transcendent Supreme Being” when conservatives do it. And what is the conservative project, if not to push women and gays back into an Eisenhower Era “abstract ideal of perfection”? What Barr says here in polemic terms about liberals is just the plain and simple truth when applied to the politics of the Notre Dame speech: Barr quite literally is on a “holy mission” to “remake man and society”. He literally, not figuratively, sees himself “pursing a deific end”.

And that conclusion about using “any means necessary to gain momentary advantage” without asking “whether the actions they take could be justified as a general rule of conduct” is a hair-pulling bit of projection. I mean, does Barr think withholding appropriated funds to coerce a foreign government into doing the President a political favor should be a “general rule of conduct”? Should the President routinely declare a state of emergency whenever Congress refuses to appropriate money for his pet projects? Should the Senate routinely refuse to hold hearings on Supreme Court nominees when the President is of a different party?

Conservatives, in Barr’s view, have failed by being too nice.

conservatives tend to have more scruple over their political tactics and rarely feel that the ends justify the means. And this is as it should be, but there is no getting around the fact that this puts conservatives at a disadvantage when facing progressive holy [fire], especially when doing so under the weight of a hyper-partisan media.

His judicial encroachments on executive power are similar: In his view, the number of court orders stopping Trump from doing what he wants has nothing to do with Trump wanting to do illegal things (like discriminate against Muslims or ignore our asylum laws); it’s just harassment.

Also, he sees no judicial power to arbitrate disputes between Congress and the President, like the current cases about the Wall “emergency” or whether Trump can stop his officials from testifying before impeachment hearings. What this means in practice is that the President has whatever powers he says he has. If, say, the President were simply to instruct the Treasury to start writing checks for all kinds of things Congress had never voted on, it would be a gross usurpation of Congress’ power. But what could Congress do about it on its own? It could pass more laws that the President could ignore, and the usurpations would continue.

He concludes with this:

In this partisan age, we should take special care not to allow the passions of the moment to cause us to permanently disfigure the genius of our Constitutional structure. As we look back over the sweep of American history, it has been the American Presidency that has best fulfilled the vision of the Founders. It has brought to our Republic a dynamism and effectiveness that other democracies have lacked. … In so many areas, it is critical to our Nation’s future that we restore and preserve in their full vigor our Founding principles. Not the least of these is the Framers’ vision of a strong, independent Executive, chosen by the country as a whole.

The underlying issue. Ezra Klein brings in this bit of context.

Robert Jones, president of the Public Religion Research Institute, estimates that when Barack Obama took office, 54 percent of the country was white and Christian; by the time he left office, that had fallen to 43 percent. This is largely because young Americans are less white, and less Christian, than older Americans. Almost 70 percent of American seniors are white Christians, compared to only 29 percent of young adults.

In 2018, Americans who claim no religion passed Catholics and evangelicals as the most popular response on the General Social Survey. … [T]he age cohorts here are stark. “If you look at seniors, only about one in 10 seniors today claim no religious affiliation,” Jones told me. “But if you look at Americans under the age of 30, it’s 40 percent.”

That’s at the root of the sense of panic Barr is voicing. This time really is different, because the white Christian majority in America is being lost forever. But Barr portrays this not as a simple changing of the guard, but as the end of a civilization: White Christians must hang onto power, because the alternative is a society without the moral values necessary to maintain a free society.

This, I think, is the essence of the Inner Party message: Trump offers himself as the bulwark against this looming catastrophe. He is the alternative to the too-nice conservatives who have let immigrants keep coming, let liberals secularize the youth, and have been too slow and too tentative about rallying the white Christian vote, stacking the courts with conservative white Christians, and suppressing all other votes. If he cheats in elections, say by getting illegal help from foreign countries, that’s a necessary evil. If he suppresses any attempt to check his power or investigate his corruption, that, too, is a necessary evil. Ultimately, if he loses at the ballot box and has to maintain office by violence, that may be necessary as well, because the alternative is the end of American civilization.

I’ll give Thomas Edsall the last word:

The reality is that Barr is not only selling traditional values to conservative voters, some of whom are genuinely starved for them, he is also marketing apocalyptic hogwash because, for his boss to get re-elected, Trump’s supporters must continue to believe that liberals and the Democratic Party are the embodiment of evil, determined to destroy the American way of life. Relentless pressure to maintain the urgency of that threat is crucial to Trump’s political survival.

And that, I think, is what the Inner Party believes.

The Monday Morning Teaser

I’m running behind today, so posts should come out a little later than usual.

The featured post is another one where I try to grasp what’s going on in the minds of Trump supporters. This time I’m looking at the ones who are well-educated, well-informed, and aspire to moral values, rather than the kinds of people who chant “Send her back!” at Trump’s rallies. I refer to them as the “Inner Party” and look at two Bill Barr speeches to see what the administration’s message to them is. The post is called “What Does Trump’s Inner Party Believe?”, and I’m hoping to get it out by noon EST.

The weekly summary will cover the progress in the impeachment effort, the import of the McGahn court decision, Thanksgiving, the threat of rising corporate debt, and a few other things. It should be out around 1.

Right Matters

This is America. This is the country I have served and defended, that all of my brothers have served. And here, right matters.

– Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman (11-19-2019)

[Gordon Sondland] was being involved in a domestic political errand. And we were being involved in national security foreign policy. And those two things had just diverged.

– Fiona Hill (11-21-2019)

This week’s featured post is “An Impeachment Hearing Wrap-Up“.

This week everybody was talking about the impeachment hearings

I’ve pulled my impeachment notes out into the featured post.

In a related matter, the Washington Post appears to have gotten an early look at the Justice Department Inspector General’s report on the origins of the Mueller investigation. It finds that one low-level FBI lawyer acted improperly, but that “political bias did not taint top officials running the FBI investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign in 2016”.

The lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, altered a email that was used to support renewal of the FISA warrant to surveil the former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. But even without that email, the report concludes, the application had sufficient legal and factual basis.

An earlier IG report on the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email investigation found “no evidence that the conclusions by the prosecutors were affected by bias.”

The report generally rebuts accusations of a political conspiracy among senior law enforcement officials against the Trump campaign to favor Democrat Hillary Clinton while also knocking the bureau for procedural shortcomings in the FBI, the officials said.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Bill Barr is running a criminal investigation into much of the same material.

but the latest developments are making me paranoid

OK, the latest developments in the dig-up-dirt-on-Biden story are starting to make me paranoid. Unsavory people are suddenly providing evidence that helps the good guys, and telling stories that are tempting to believe. It feels like a trap.

In this morning’s NYT, Vladimir Putin’s favorite Ukrainian oligarch, Dmitry Firtash, is saying that Rudy Giuliani’s now-indicted associates (Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman) made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. (See Rachel Maddow’s recent book Blowout for a long write-up on Firtash.) Firtash was encouraged to hire two Trump-connected lawyers (Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova) who could help with his case in the US. (The US is trying to extradite him on bribery charges. He is currently living in Austria, where he is out on bail from local charges.) Part of the $1.2 million he paid them would finance the effort to find dirt on Biden in Ukraine.

Mr. Parnas’s lawyer, Joseph A. Bondy, confirmed that account and added that his client had met with Mr. Firtash at Mr. Giuliani’s direction and encouraged the oligarch to help in the hunt for compromising information [about the Bidens] “as part of any potential resolution to his extradition matter.”

… In the [NYT] interview, Mr. Firtash said he had no information about the Bidens and had not financed the search for it. “Without my will and desire,” he said, “I was sucked into this internal U.S. fight.”

The same article claims Giuliani’s people tried to pressure another Ukrainian oligarch with US legal problems (Ihor Kolomoisky). This one is anti-Russian and refused to cooperate. Firtash also denies cooperating with the get-Biden conspiracy, but …

After Ms. Toensing and Mr. diGenova came on board, confidential documents from Mr. Firtash’s case file began to find their way into articles by John Solomon, a conservative reporter whom Mr. Giuliani has acknowledged using to advance his claims about the Bidens. Mr. Solomon is also a client of Ms. Toensing.

Those documents are the ones Giuliani kept waving around on TV.

Lev Parnas has also been implicating Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Maybe Firtash and Parnas are rats jumping off of a sinking ship, but I’m also reminded of the plot of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold [spoilers]. That classic John le Carré Cold War novel follows a British intelligence operation to frame an East German official, who had been getting too close to exposing the British spy in East German intelligence. At the same time, though, other Brits scatter bread crumbs that the Communists can follow to blow up the operation. After the operation is blown, the target’s East German critics look like tools of the West, and any future suspicion of him can be written off as part of the British conspiracy against him. The supposed target, of course, is the actual British spy, who has been protected by this convoluted operation that appeared to frame him.

Remember Putin’s KGB training, and apply that Cold War plot as a template: Wouldn’t it be marvelous for Trump if Democrats jumped on this new Firtash/Parnas information, which then turned out to be fabricated? That would feed Trump’s “hoax” and “witch hunt” narrative, and (in the public mind) invalidate much of the true evidence against him.

So I’m following the new developments in an isn’t-that-interesting way. But nobody should trust these people, or go out on a limb based on anything they say. Right now, Democrats are siding with patriots like Lt. Colonel Vindman. I’d hate to see a career criminal like Lev Parnas become the resistance’s new poster boy.

Meanwhile, the Democrats had a debate

My impression of the debate of ten Democratic presidential candidates on Wednesday was that nothing drastically changed. No top-tier candidate had a major gaffe. No lower-tier candidate had a breakout moment.

On a lesser scale, I thought Joe Biden looked old. He often stumbled over his words — not in a disturbing I-don’t-know-where-I-am way, but in an I’m-having-trouble-making-the-right-words-come-out way. For example, at one point he said he had been endorsed by the “only” African-American woman who had been elected to the Senate — apparently forgetting about Kamala Harris, who was standing right there — when he meant the “first” African-American woman, a correction he made immediately when challenged.

Watching Cory Booker, I wondered why he isn’t an top-tier candidate. But I’ve wondered that in previous debates too. His candidacy didn’t see a boost then, so it probably won’t now either.

No one was the focus of attack, which tells me that the candidates aren’t sure who the front-runner is. Biden is still comfortably ahead in national polls, but Pete Buttigieg (who is fourth nationally) has taken the lead in Iowa and New Hampshire. Elizabeth Warren, who briefly moved ahead of Biden nationally in early October, also sometimes looks like the front-runner. All three took a little flack, but the other candidates didn’t gang up in the way I would expect if one of them were considered the person to beat.

I don’t recall anyone directly attacking the other top-tier candidate, Bernie Sanders. That may reflect Nicole Hemmer‘s point that “Pretty much everyone has made up their mind about him.” At the moment, the other candidates aren’t afraid of him winning, but they also see no point in pissing off his supporters.

Having the debate in Georgia moved more attentionto the black vote (hence Biden’s unfortunate claim). I thought Charles Blow‘s post-debate analysis made a lot of sense: In the Deep South particularly, the attitude of the black electorate is changing:

Those voters may be less excited by a national revolution because they are living through a very real revolution on the ground. They are feeling their power in cities and increasingly in statewide races. But in presidential elections, their voices are drowned out on the state level — other than Barack Obama winning North Carolina in 2008, no Democratic presidential candidate has carried my Deep South states since the 1990s.

As such, until that changes, voting in presidential elections can feel mostly symbolic for blacks in the South. The Democratic candidate won’t carry their state. If that person wins the presidency, it will be because of people in faraway places.

But during the primaries, those Southern black voters have a chance to make their voices heard, to reward loyalty and fidelity, to support the candidates they feel they know and to spurn those they feel they don’t.

Big plans mean less and can ring hollow. … Black people in the South are experiencing a surge of real power and the ability to enact real change. Democratic candidates have to talk to them like the people they are: strong and pushing, not weak and begging.

The main criticism of Buttigieg has been his lack of experience. I still believe what I said when John McCain tried to use that issue against Barack Obama in 2008:

The danger of making experience your central issue and claiming that your opponent is “not ready to lead” (but you are) is this: When you finally debate your “unqualified” opponent, the difference needs to be apparent. If the other guy looks equally well prepared, he wins.

Ditto here: The inexperience claim against Buttigieg will work only if he displays the classic flaws of inexperience, by saying or doing things that are hot-headed, naive, or immature in some other way. His lack of a traditional resume makes him vulnerable, but the attacks won’t stick unless he gives them something to stick to.

I believe something similar about the age issue for Biden, Sanders, and Warren. It’s a problem when Sanders has a heart attack or Biden looks confused, but so far Warren hasn’t given the age issue a hook to hang on.

On the other hand (and related to Charles Blow’s point), Buttigieg lacks history with major voting blocks, and that’s why his black support is currently undetectable in polls. I can imagine a Southern black voter saying “You’re here when you need us. Where were you when we needed you?” By contrast, Georgians remember Biden and Warren campaigning for Stacey Abrams in 2018, and Bernie Sanders endorsing her in the primary.

Timothy Egan puts his finger on a point that we’re all a little afraid to talk about. In a column where he envisions Biden beating Trump a year from now, he says:

Most Democrats came to see that it would do nothing for their cause to gain another million progressives on the coasts if they still lost 80,000 people in the old industrial heartland.

American democracy is flawed in some important and predictable ways, and that’s how Trump became president despite Hillary Clinton getting 2.8 million more votes.

It’s wrong that not all votes count the same, but they don’t. And it’s totally understandable that blue-state voters (and I am one now that I’ve moved to Massachusetts) resent the purple-state elitism of candidates like Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar, whose main message is “I can appeal to the right voters.”

But that’s the real state of affairs in America today: There are right voters and wrong voters. Nobody wants to admit that or talk about it. But there it is.

That said, it shouldn’t become an excuse for making a fetish of white working class voters and ignoring people of color. The 2020 general election may well hinge on black turnout in Milwaukee, or the Hispanic vote in Arizona. The only recent Democratic presidential candidate to carry Indiana was Barack Obama, not some lunchpail-carrying white guy.

and Israel had some news

This week saw two significant developments regarding Israel: Thursday, Israel’s attorney general announced that Prime Minister Netanyahu would be indicted.  Monday, the Trump administration reversed previous US policy on the legality of Israeli settlements in the territories gained in the 1967 war.

The charges against Netanyahu reportedly will be bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. In the most serious charge, he traded regulatory favors to a news organization in exchange for favorable coverage. Under Israeli law, any government minister other than the prime minister has to resign when indicted, but the PM only has to resign if convicted.

Netanyahu is still PM, for now. Israel has now failed to form a new government despite holding two elections. In the most recent one, Netanyahu’s Likud Party finished a close second to Blue and White, led by Benny Gantz. But neither party had a majority in the Knesset, or could assemble a majority coalition of other parties. A third election will likely be held in a few months.

Netanyahu’s defensive rhetoric should sound familiar: The cases against him are all a “witch hunt”, and an “attempted coup”.

Secretary of State Pompeo announced a week ago that the United States no longer regards Israeli settlements on the West Bank of the Jordan as illegal, reversing a State Department legal opinion from 1978. Vox has a good article on the issue.

The case for claiming the settlements are illegal rests on the Fourth Geneva Convention, which says “the Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

Israel disputes the interpretation that it is an occupying power, claiming that the right of Jews to live in these territories is rooted in the League of Nations’ 1922 Mandate for Palestine.

In any case, it’s hard for me to see how this policy change promotes some ultimate vision of peace in the region, unless that vision involves either pushing Palestinians out of the territories entirely, or herding them into economically non-viable reservations, as the US did to its unwanted native population. East Jerusalem would be an example of a place where Palestinians are being slowly pushed out, and Gaza an example of them being penned in.

and you also might be interested in …

Hong Kong held district-council elections, the only real bit of democracy in their system. Usually, these elections revolve around mundane issues like traffic and parks and trash, because the administration that runs the city as a whole isn’t elected by the broad electorate.

But in the middle of the citywide crisis caused by pro-democracy demonstrations, the elections took on a symbolic meaning well beyond the legal duties of the offices being filled. And the result was a stunning endorsement of the demonstrators. Turnout was at record levels, and pro-democracy candidates got 80% of the council seats.

Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer is the latest casualty in Trump’s defense of war criminals. Trump intervened in the case of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, who had been acquitted of premeditated murder in the stabbing death of a 12-year-old ISIS prisoner, but was “convicted of bringing discredit to the armed services after posing next to a dead ISIS fighter’s body, which is against regulations.” Trump reversed Gallagher’s demotion, but the Navy still intended to hold a disciplinary hearing that could take away Gallagher’s SEAL trident.

This angered Trump, who tweeted about it. Sunday Defense Secretary Esper fired Spencer, claiming that Spencer had gone around him in attempting to negotiate directly with the White House.

Spencer released a letter acknowledging his firing, and shooting back.

The rule of law is what sets us apart from our adversaries. Good order and discipline is what has enabled our victory against foreign tyranny time and again. … Unfortunately, it has become apparent that in this respect, I no longer share the same understanding with the Commander in Chief who appointed me.

Trump’s betrayal of America’s Kurdish allies and attempt to play games with military support for Ukraine is rocking US alliances around the world. The Washington Post discusses the impact on South Korea, where Trump wants to quintuple the contributions the Koreans make towards the cost of maintaining US troops there.

The Post offers the orthodox foreign-policy argument that “a forward defense position in Asia pays for itself, in security”. I could imagine a reasonable debate about that point, not just in Asia but in all countries where American troops or American commitments are supposedly helping keep the peace: When are we heading off problems that would otherwise cause us bigger trouble later, and when are we getting drawn into conflicts we could safely ignore?

But that conversation should involve some alternate theory of American security, a Trump Doctrine that has much more detail than “America First”, and is much broader than a case-by-case debate about whether NATO or South Korea or Israel is taking advantage of us.

Sadly, though, no one in the Trump administration (least of all Trump himself) thinks on a grand-strategy level, or is capable of leading the kind of national discussion we need if we’re going to make a fundamental change in our foreign policy.

Fracking wastewater spills in North Dakota have resulted in rivers with high levels of radioactive contamination and heavy metals.

The NFL scheduled a behind-closed doors workout for blacklisted quarterback Colin Kaepernick, ostensibly so that scouts from various teams could see if his skills have diminished during his involuntary three-year exile from the league. The Nation’s David Zirin reports:

Roger Goodell and the NFL tried to bend Kaepernick to their will this week. They scheduled him for a tryout with only three days’ notice. They insisted he come to Atlanta and work with a coach not of his choosing at the Falcons’ headquarters. They told him that it would be on a Saturday, when coaches and top scouts are busy either preparing for Sunday games or analyzing college contests. They did not tell him who the receivers he would work with would be. They wanted him to sign a “non-standard injury waiver” that would have prevented Kaepernick from suing the league for collusion in the future. Most egregiously, they insisted that the workout not be open to the press. Roger Goodell wanted all the positive public relations for “ending the collusion” against Kaepernick and none of the transparency.

Kaepernick wasn’t having it.

He showed up in Atlanta and refused to work out at the Falcons facility under the watchful eye of an NFL chosen coach. He instead went to a high school an hour away with his own receivers. He kept it open to the press, several of whom live-streamed the workout over social media, preventing the NFL from spinning the event as if he no longer had the goods.

… Now that the spectacle in Atlanta is over, we are actually back where we started. Everyone knows that Kaepernick has the ability to play. Everyone knows that he is only being kept out for political and PR reasons. The question will be whether there is one team that is willing to put their team’s success over their political prejudices. This is where we have been for three years, and this is where we remain.

The NFL has found a place for numerous wife-beaters, child abusers, sexual assaulters, and felons of other varieties. But what Kaepernick did — respectfully kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality against people of color — is apparently unforgivable.

It’s the kind of story that happens all the time, but doesn’t usually make the New York Times: a local hardware store is closing. This one is on Ninth Avenue in Manhattan and is owned and operated by Russian immigrant Naum Feygin. Like many such stores it’s a victim of online competition and high rents.

We tell ourselves this shift in the economy is all about efficiency, but the reporter claims not.

[Mr. Feygin’s hardware store] is cheaper and faster than ordering from Amazon and offers expert advice that reduces the risk of buying the wrong thing. It is all too easy on Amazon, for example, to buy halogen bulbs that don’t fit your lamp base; Mr. Feygin has spared me many such headaches. And the store’s small size [600 square feet] is a virtue: Unlike at Home Depot, you can be in and out in 10 minutes.

… Competition from Amazon and a rent increase might seem like distinct phenomena, but they are two sides of the same coin. Both reflect the transformative consolidation and centralization of the American economy since the 1990s, which have made the economy less open to individual entrepreneurship. Amazon represents the increasing monopolization of retail; the high rents are a symptom of the enormous concentration of wealth in a handful of coastal cities like New York, San Francisco and Washington.

Both phenomena contribute to the same regrettable outcome: In today’s economy, returns on investment have shifted away from the individuals like Mr. Feygin who take personal risks. Instead, wealth is being routed to large middlemen, national monopolies, property owners and shareholders.

Feygin once hoped his son would take over the business, but his son is more in tune with the era: He works for a hedge fund

and let’s close with something that sounds like a tall tale

The Greek historian Herodotus was famous for believing outrageous stories told to him on his travels. (My favorite explains the Persian king’s massive tribute from India with a story about ants the size of dogs who dig up golden anthills. Apparently that was easier for his audience to swallow than the sheer size of India.) Marco Polo was similarly gullible at times, though some of his most outrageous stories about the Far East turned out to be true. (He claimed that some cities in China were too large for the surrounding forests to provide enough wood for fuel, so the Chinese had learned to “burn rocks”. He was talking about coal.)

So anyway, this story sounds like a traveler’s tall tale, but  it seems to be true: In the Nepalese Himalayas lives a species of honeybees that are more than an inch long. They build nests five feet across under cliffs and on rock faces. A nest can contain well over 100 pounds of honey. And here’s the best part: Because the bees feast on poisonous plants, the honey is hallucinogenic.

That makes it worth taking outrageous risks to acquire, as the Gurung “honey hunter” tribe has done since time out of mind.

An Impeachment Hearing Wrap-Up

Unless Democrats are able to break through the Trump blockade on key witnesses, the Ukraine part of the impeachment hearings ended this week. The Intelligence Committee is preparing its report for the Judiciary Committee, which is responsible for writing articles of impeachment.

Judiciary will almost certainly offer an impeachment resolution with an article on Ukraine. Whether that resolution will be narrowly focused or include additional articles like obstruction of justice (based on Part II of the Mueller Report) or obstruction of Congress (based on the administration’s withholding of evidence and refusal to let officials testify) is still up in the air.

As many people have noted, this investigation has reversed the usual detective story: We knew whodunnit from the beginning. As soon as the White House released the call notes from President Trump’s July 25th phone conversation with Ukrainian President Zelensky, it was obvious that Trump had used the threat of withholding American military aid to pressure Zelensky to announce investigations of “Crowdstrike” (the wacky conspiracy theory that Ukraine and the Democrats framed Russia for interfering in the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf) and “Biden’s son” .

The testimony we’ve heard the last two weeks has mainly done three things:

  • Educated the public on how important US military aid and the public appearance of US support was to Ukraine, which is fighting a war with Russia. Trump really did have Zelensky over a barrel.
  • Detailed just how wide and deep the effort to pressure Ukraine was, and how extremely it differed from the US policy towards Ukraine supported by a large bipartisan majority in Congress. Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani had no official government position, but for months ran a “shadow foreign policy” directly at odds with official US policy. (Fiona Hill put it like this: “[Gordon Sondland] was being involved in a domestic political errand. And we were being involved in national security foreign policy. And those two things had just diverged.”) Official policy wholeheartedly supported Ukraine in its war with Russia; the shadow policy threatened that support in order to create pressure on Ukraine to help Trump’s re-election campaign.
  • Shot down the wide range of unlikely claims by which Trump defenders urged us to ignore what we could see with our own eyes in the call notes. Trump may have spoken in a Mafia-don manner that only hinted at what he wanted, but the Ukrainians and the US personnel involved in the process understood the corrupt bargain Trump was offering. Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s testimony was the most explicit: “Members of this Committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a quid pro quo? As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes. … Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret.”

The fourth key point is what the hearings have not done: challenged the basic narrative of Trump shaking down Zelensky. Republicans weren’t allowed to turn the hearings into a circus by calling witnesses against the Bidens or Crowdstrike, but none of the witnesses they were denied had anything to offer relevant to the shakedown narrative. Similarly, Republican questioning of the witnesses offered distractions from the narrative and denigrated either the witnesses themselves or their knowledge, but offered no exculpatory facts.

It’s really kind of amazing just how crazy the “Crowdstrike” conspiracy theory is.

Most conspiracy theories are built on some real coincidence that the theory baselessly casts in a sinister light, but the most basic element of the Crowdstrike theory is just false: Crowdstrike is a California company that has no Ukrainian connection at all. The “suspicious” founder (Dmitri Alperovitch) is an American citizen who was born in Russia, not Ukraine, and has lived in the US since he was a teen-ager. The other founders are George Kurtz (born in New Jersey) and Gregg Marston (whose biography I haven’t been able to google up, but who is never mentioned as an immigrant in articles about the company’s founding).

In his recent Fox & Friends phone call, Trump referred to Crowdstrike as “a company owned by a very wealthy Ukrainian.” Wikipedia lists Crowdstrike’s major non-founder investors: Google, Telstra, March Capital Partners, Rackspace, Accel Partners, and Warburg Pincus. So Trump’s claim appears to be a pure invention. When challenged by F&F co-host Steve Doocy whether he was “sure” that the mythical DNC email server was in Ukraine, Trump said only “That’s what the word is.”

The weakness of the hearings has been the lack of star witnesses that the public already knows. Unlike the Clinton and Nixon impeachment hearings, Trump has successfully blocked his top officials from testifying. Republicans involved in the hearings have repeatedly denigrated witness testimony as “hearsay”, while supporting Trump in blocking the testimony of witnesses who had more direct contact with the President.

The public deserves to hear from administration officials like acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, former National Security Adviser John Bolton, and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, just to name a few. But they have defied subpoenas under Trump’s instructions.

TPM floats an interesting theory about why Democrats are not pushing the courts to enforce these subpoenas. Everyone agrees that if the cases go to the Supreme Court, they might not be resolved until the Court’s term ends in June, when the 2020 conventions will be looming. But an impeachment trial in the Senate might offer a quicker path to the desired testimony.

Under the Senate’s impeachment rules, the House managers will be able to issue subpoenas whose validity will be adjudicated directly by Chief Justice Roberts, who will preside over the trial. Roberts is the swing vote on the Supreme Court anyway, so going straight to a Senate trial will force him to decide in January rather than June.

There are two major objections to this plan, but both seem answerable. First, by majority vote, the Senate could overrule Roberts’ decisions to issue subpoenas. But that would be a very public vote to suppress evidence, and only a few Republican senators would need to defect to uphold Roberts’ decision. Second, Democrats will have no chance to interview the witnesses before they testify. That may produce some false starts and dead ends, but it will also increase the drama of the televised hearings: No one knows what these witnesses will say.

Yesterday, Adam Schiff was asked about this theory by NBC’s Chuck Todd:

I do think that when it comes to documents and witnesses, that if it comes to a trial, and again we’re getting far down the road here, that the Chief Justice will have to make a decision on requests for witnesses and documents.

Gordon Sondland corroborated David Holmes’ account of a phone call Sondland had with Trump while Sondland and Holmes were in a restaurant in Kyiv, but Trump told Fox & Friends “I guarantee you that never took place.” Holmes and Sondland were under oath. Maybe Trump should go under oath before he contradicts them.

Another tantalizing Sondland revelation: Zelensky “had to announce the investigations. He didn’t actually have to do them, as I understood it.”

This blows up the already far-fetched idea that Trump had a legitimate concern for corruption in Ukraine. (Holmes reports Sondland agreeing with the statement that Trump “doesn’t give a shit about Ukraine“. I know no example anywhere of Trump opposing corruption, unless it involved his political opponents.) Trump wanted Ukrainian investigations as a touchstone for lock-him-up chants against Biden, and was not counting on them finding any actual malfeasance.

According to 538’s polling analysis, support for impeachment has been slowly eroding during the hearings. A small plurality 46%-45% currently supports impeachment. Polls that specify removing the president from office are a virtual tie.

At least the hearings changed one person’s mind: Bret Stephens, the conservative columnist of the NYT, who now thinks Trump should be removed from office even though “This isn’t what I thought two months ago, when the impeachment inquiry began.”

What persuaded him isn’t what Trump did to Ukraine, but to politics in the United States.

we’ve been living in a country undergoing its own dismal process of Ukrainianization: of treating fictions as facts; and propaganda as journalism; and political opponents as criminals; and political offices as business ventures; and personal relatives as diplomatic representatives; and legal fixers as shadow cabinet members; and extortion as foreign policy; and toadyism as patriotism; and fellow citizens as “human scum”; and mortal enemies as long-lost friends — and then acting as if all this is perfectly normal. This is more than a high crime. It’s a clear and present danger to our security, institutions, and moral hygiene.

If people aren’t changing their minds about Trump during these hearings, I hope they are changing their minds about Republicans in general. Because it’s been really clear that the Republicans in the room are acting in bad faith. All the patriotism in the room is coming from the witnesses, because the Republicans, one and all, have chosen Trump over America. Again and again, they make ridiculous arguments that they can’t possibly believe themselves.

While complaining about the lack of witnesses who spoke to Trump directly, not one of them has asked Trump to let more witnesses testify. Thursday, Fiona Hill called them out for repeating talking points that originate in the Russian security services, and have been refuted by all American intelligence agencies.

Based on questions and statements I have heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country — and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did. This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetuated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves. … Right now, Russia’s security services and their proxies have geared up to repeat their interference in the 2020 election. We are running out of time to stop them. In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests.

They didn’t care. Devin Nunes in particular just kept repeating those same Russian talking points. So did Trump himself: “Don’t forget. Ukraine hated me. They were after me in the election.” (That was part of a long interview that included “at least 18 false statements“.) And here’s Senator Kennedy of Louisiana yesterday on Fox News Sunday:

CHRIS WALLACE: Senator Kennedy, who do you believe was responsible for hacking the DNC & Clinton campaign? Russia or Ukraine?

KENNEDY: I don’t know. Nor do you.

W: The entire intel community says it was Russia.

K: Right. But it could be Ukraine. Fiona Hill is entitled to her opinion


The goal of the Republican leadership is to make impeachment a party-line vote, with no Republicans crossing over. But I wonder if that might not rebound against them in 2020. That willingness to ignore all the evidence will underline that there are no “reasonable” Republicans. Whatever the candidate in your district might sound like, when push comes to shove, all Republicans are Trump.

The Monday Morning Teaser

Unless new witnesses become available, the House Intelligence Committee’s hearings on the Trump/Ukraine extortion plot wrapped up this week. The featured post will pull together where things stand. It should be out shortly.

The weekly summary will include a few impeachment-related tidbits that aren’t directly related to the hearings, like reports that Devin Nunes was in Europe seeking dirt on Biden, and leaks about the Justice Department Inspector General’s report on the origins of the Mueller investigation. But mainly it will be about the rest of the world: Israel, Hong Kong, the Democratic president debate, Colin Kaepernick, and a few other things. It should be out by noon EST.

Principled Actions

You can’t promote principled anti-corruption action without pissing off corrupt people.

– Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent (11-13-2019)

This week’s featured post is “Why Can’t I Watch This?“, where I meditate on my inability to make myself watch more than short snatches of the impeachment hearings. (A humorous aside: Ever since I titled that article, I’ve been humming Weird Al’s Hammer parody “I Can’t Watch This“.)

This week everybody was talking about the impeachment hearings

This week’s hearing schedule:

Tuesday morning: Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman of the NSC and Jennifer Williams, an aide to VP Pence.

Tuesday afternoon: former Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and Timothy Morrison of the NSC.

Wednesday morning: Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland

Wednesday afternoon: Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper and Undersecretary of State David Hale

Thursday: Fiona Hill of the NSC

This week we heard from three witnesses: Bill Taylor, George Kent, and Marie Yovanovitch. All of them had testified previously behind closed doors, and their opening statements became public then, so the main import of the public hearing was to see them in person, where we could judge their manner and see how they handled questioning.

In general, all three impressed me with the precision of their statements. Questioners from both sides often tried to lead them into stating an unsupported opinion, and they repeatedly refused to. Typical is the way Yovanovitch talked about Trump’s Twitter attack on her during the hearing.

ADAM SCHIFF: Ambassador, you’re shown the courage to come forward today and testify, notwithstanding the fact you urged by the White House or State Department not to, notwithstanding the fact that, as you testified earlier, the president implicitly threatened you in that call record. And now the president in real time is attacking you. What effect do you think that has on other witnesses’ willingness to come forward and expose wrongdoing?

MARIE YOVANOVITCH: Well, it’s very intimidating.

SCHIFF: It’s a designed to intimidate, is it not?

YOVANOVITCH: I mean, I can’t speak to what the president is trying to do. But I think the effect is to be intimidating.

There was also a closed-door session for State Department aide David Holmes. Holmes told an amazing story about being in a Kyiv restaurant with Gordon Sondland and two other people, when Sondland decides to call Trump. Trump talked at such volume that Sondland held the phone away from his ear, allowing Holmes (and maybe random other people) to hear both sides of the conversation. (As someone who once had a security clearance, I’m appalled by this whole situation.) Trump asked whether Zelensky was going to do the investigations, and Sondland assured him that Zelensky would do “anything you ask him to”.

Afterwards, Sondland explained that Trump “doesn’t give a shit about Ukraine”, but only cares about “big stuff” like investigating Biden.

One common refrain among Republicans in the hearings is that nothing really happened: Zelensky didn’t announce any investigations, and Ukraine got its military aid eventually anyway, so what’s the big deal?

Eric Swalwell took this point apart. First he got Ambassador Yovanovitch’s agreement that the Ukrainians only got the money after the whistleblower complaint became public, and then he summed up:

So you don’t really get points when you get your hand caught in the cookie jar, and someone says, “Hey, he’s got his hand in the cookie jar”, and then you take your hand out — which is essentially what my Republican colleagues and the President are trying to take credit for.

Republicans repeatedly tried to derail the hearings onto a discussion of the whistleblower. The fake outrage at the anonymity of the whistleblower was answered conclusively by Kellyanne’s husband over a month ago.

Someone calls 911 because they hear shots down the street at the bank. The cops show up at the bank, and, sure enough, it’s been robbed, and there are numerous witnesses there who saw the crime. The suspects confess. Normally, at this point, no one cares about who called 911.

And then Friday there was fake outrage about Rep. Schiff going by the rules that everybody already knew.

Both Nunes and Stefanik knew what the impeachment resolution said about the rules of the hearing. The entire committee knows what they are. I heard them complain about this particular rule—that the ranking member would only be able to yield time to counsel during these 45-minute periods, ahead of the usual five-minute rounds for each member that would come immediately afterward—when the resolution was released, and I watched them debate it in the Rules Committee. Wednesday’s hearing had already proceeded under precisely the same rules, with Nunes obediently sharing his time with his committee counsel, Steve Castor, and no one else. But, hey, they produced their content: Cult leader Adam Schiff shuts up a Republican woman. Coming soon to five hours of prime-time Fox News coverage.

Fareed Zakaria was the CNN interviewer to whom President Zelensky was supposed to announce the Biden investigation. Zakaria tells how this all looked from his side.

Bloomberg columnist Noah Feldman explains why he thinks the Supreme Court will rule that Trump’s accountant has to turn over his tax returns. His argument relies on John Roberts staying true to the principle of judicial restraint. I think it’s a stretch to see any principles in Roberts. (His handling of the Citizens United case was the exact opposite of restraint.) So we’ll see.

and Roger Stone

Guilty on all seven counts: five counts of lying to Congress, one of witness tampering and one of obstructing a congressional committee proceeding. Stone joins Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, Rick Gates, and George Papadopoulos as Trump associates convicted of crimes.

His sentencing hearing is set for February 6, so he may actually spend a few months in prison before Trump pardons him (and Manafort and maybe Flynn) the day after the 2020 election.

Trump is already setting up his justification: Everybody does it.

So they now convict Roger Stone of lying and want to jail him for many years to come. Well, what about Crooked Hillary, Comey, Strzok, Page, McCabe, Brennan, Clapper, Shifty Schiff, Ohr & Nellie, Steele & all of the others, including even Mueller himself? Didn’t they lie?

Did they? I’m not in a position to vouch for the 100% honesty of all those people, but anybody who wants to claim their equivalency with Stone’s lies ought to be a little more specific.

One thing that came out during Stone’s trial was that Trump’s written answers to Robert Mueller’s questions were misleading. They only reason they weren’t perjury was that Trump phrased them in terms of what he remembered rather than what happened. (The gist of Trump’s testimony is that he remembers virtually nothing. If I were VP Pence and I believed these statements, I’d invoke the 25th Amendment, because the President clearly has dementia.)

I have no recollection of the specifics of any conversations I had with Mr. Stone between June 1.2016 and November 8, 2016. I do not recall discussing WikiLeaks with him, nor do I recall being aware of Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with individuals associated with my campaign

Trump’s deputy campaign manager Rick Gates testified that he was in an SUV with Trump while Trump talked to Stone on the phone. After the conversation ended, Trump said that more information was coming from WikiLeaks.

but we should also pay attention to stuff happening overseas

The response to the protests in Hong Kong appears to be escalating. Police stormed a university campus this morning, and last week police shot an unarmed demonstrator. A good overall article on the protests (which have been going on for months now) is “The Hong Kong Protesters Aren’t Driven By Hope” in the Atlantic.

Interesting Engineering claims that Chilean protesters brought down a police drone by focusing lasers on it. People are trading theories about how that might have happened.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited the White House Wednesday. He returned the letter Trump sent him in October, the barely literate one where Trump urged him “Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool.” He showed an anti-Kurdish propaganda video to five Republican senators critical of his Syrian invasion. Turkish government media portrayed the event as Erdogan’s triumph over Trump.

In additional to killing many of our former Kurdish allies, Turkey has recently bought an air defense system from Russia. The new system is not compatible with NATO’s air defenses. How this got him the White House visit that Ukraine’s president can’t get is something of a mystery.

Remember Trump’s boast that Saudi Arabia would “pay cash” for the new US troops posted there? Turns out that his “100%” claim is not strictly true, but you had already guessed that, right?

But letting the details slide a little, we can all see the Trumpian vision: The US military becomes a mercenary force. You want our protection, you pay us.

South Korea is the latest country to get the Trump shakedown. It currently pays about $1 billion annually to defray the cost of maintaining US troops there. Trump is proposing raising that to $5 billion.

Meanwhile, there has been exactly zero progress towards denuclearizing North Korea.

and Stephen Miller

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch blog has published excerpts of emails that White House advisor Stephen Miller wrote to editors of the right-wing website Breitbart in 2015 and 2016, when he was working for then-Senator Jeff Sessions. In these emails, Miller was pushing Breitbart to pick up stories and talking points from openly white-supremacist sites like VDARE and American Renaissance.

Hatewatch reviewed more than 900 previously private emails Miller sent to Breitbart editors from March 4, 2015, to June 27, 2016. Miller does not converse along a wide range of topics in the emails. His focus is strikingly narrow – more than 80 percent of the emails Hatewatch reviewed relate to or appear on threads relating to the subjects of race or immigration.

There’s a lot more at the link, but I’ll just add my interpretation of what was going on: There’s a pipeline that flows from neo-Nazi and KKKer sites to the far right end of the widely-read news sources (like Breitbart), then to Fox News, and finally to the mainstream news outlets. In this way, ideas that start in the white supremacist fever swamps (like the “Great Replacement” theory) make their way into mainstream conversation. Miller’s job was to help that pipeline flow.

Now that he’s in the White House, Miller can do two additional things: (1) influence Trump to transmit white supremacist ideas through his Twitter feed, which mainstream outlets believe they have to cover; and (2) implement white-supremacist policies directly, by simultaneously abusing immigrants who come here without documents and shutting down just about every avenue for legal non-white immigration. [This link to the USA Today seems to have vanished.]

His administration has granted fewer visas, approved fewer refugees, ordered the removal of hundreds of thousands of legal residents whose home countries have been hit by war and natural disasters and pushed Congress to pass laws to dramatically cut the entire legal immigration system.

Many Democrats have called for Miller to resign. But Cas Mudde argues that a Miller resignation won’t really change anything, because Miller represents a white-supremacist majority within the Republican Party.

This is why calling for Stephen Miller’s resignation wouldn’t change much. Neither Miller nor Bannon “made” Trump the white-supremacist-in-chief. And Trump is not the only problem either, as Joe Biden seems to believe. He won the Republican primaries, and presidential elections, not despite white supremacy but because of it. In short, it is time for Democrats to face and name the ugly truth: the Grand Old Party is a party steeped in white supremacy.

The White House is attacking the messenger, calling SPLC “an utterly-discredited, long-debunked far-left smear organization” that is “beneath discussion”. But the leaked emails are what they are, and Miller has not denied writing them.

and the Democrats

I keep hearing people make sweeping pronouncements about the Democrats in the presidential race: Biden is doomed; Warren is too liberal to beat Trump; we need new candidates. And so on. Well, I think a lot of things can happen that we haven’t foreseen yet, so I’m keeping my powder dry prediction-wise. I continue to believe that at this stage in the campaign, the important thing is to pick somebody you like and think would be a good president. After we get down to three or four candidates who have real support from people who like them and think they would be good presidents, then we can worry about which one we want to see challenge Trump.

Support for my you-never-know position comes from the recent Buttigieg surge in Iowa. Did you see that coming? I didn’t. I mean, I love listening to Mayor Pete and admire the crispness of a lot of his answers. But has anything about him really changed in the last two months? On September 15, the RCP polling average had him running fifth in Iowa at 7.5%. Now he’s first with 21%, followed by Warren (19%), Biden (16.5%), and Sanders (16%).

Nationally, Biden (26%) is still the front-runner (after a brief blip in early October when Warren was ahead), followed by Warren (20.8%), Sanders (17.8%), and then Buttigieg (8%).

I’ve previously compared this race to the Republican 2012 contest, where a series of boomlets briefly pushed Romney out of the lead, only to see him go ahead again in a week or two. Again and again, Republicans would get excited about Candidate X, and then look at X more skeptically once X became the frontrunner. (Michele Bachmann? Herman Cain? Rick Perry? Newt Gingrich? Maybe Romney isn’t so bad.)

I’m not predicting that Biden definitely weathers all the past and future storms until he gets the nomination, as Romney did. But it’s foolish to discount that possibility, or to write other candidates off because they haven’t caught fire yet. A lot can still happen, and it’s easy to imagine that we know a lot more than we do.

One reason waves crest is that other candidates start attacking any new threat. Amy Klobuchar (who is probably competing for a lot of the same Iowa voters Buttigieg targets) pointed out the role sexism plays in the rise (or failure to rise) of inexperienced candidates:

Of the women on the stage — I’m focusing here on my fellow women senators, Sen. (Kamala) Harris, Sen. (Elizabeth) Warren and myself — do I think that we would be standing on that stage if we had the experience that he had? No, I don’t. Maybe we’re held to a different standard

That’s probably true, though it deserves two caveats: First, it’s not exactly an argument against Buttigieg; more precisely, it says that we might be overlooking good female candidates who have similar experience levels. Second, being gay has given Buttigieg his own hurdles to jump.

Atlantic has a good article about sexism in the coverage of Elizabeth Warren. Both rival candidates and the media are repeating a theme of Warren as an “angry” candidate. Anger is one of those emotions that men are allowed (see Brett Kavanaugh) but women are not.

New candidates: Mike Bloomberg is definitely in. And now former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is too.

Next debate: day after tomorrow. Ten candidates will be on stage: Biden, Booker, Buttigieg, Gabbard, Harris, Klobuchar, Sanders, Steyer, Warren, and Yang.

and you also might be interested in …

Matt Bevin finally conceded the Kentucky governor’s race, after spending a week talking about voting irregularities that he never provided any evidence for. It was the typical Trumpian thing: If I lost, somebody must have cheated.

I feel vindicated in my assessment last week, that the Kentucky legislature’s Republican majority wasn’t willing to steal the election for Bevin.

Saturday, Democrats also won another close governor’s race in a red state: Louisiana re-elected John Bel Edwards. Edwards’ message was a mixture of liberal and conservative issues: He favors expanding healthcare access and paying teachers more, but is against abortion and gun control.

Criminals have to stick together. Trump intervened in three war crimes cases Friday, pardoning one convicted war criminal, another accused and awaiting trial, and restoring the rank of a third.

Retired General Marty Dempsey tweeted in May (when the possible pardons were first floated)

Absent evidence of innocence or injustice the wholesale pardon of US servicemembers accused of war crimes signals our troops and allies that we don’t take the Law of Armed Conflict seriously. Bad message. Bad precedent. Abdication of moral responsibility. Risk to us.

In October, Trump took a different view:

We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill!

If I wore an American uniform, it would bother me that my commander-in-chief thought of me as a “killing machine”.

Dahlia Lithwick interviews Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island about the partisan nature of John Roberts’ Supreme Court.

Take a look at the situation right now. United States Supreme Court justices are selected based on a Federalist Society operative, on his recommendations, while the Federalist Society is taking large amounts of dark money from big donor interests. So there’s dark money behind the selection of justices. Then when the selection is made, the confirmation battles for those nominees are fought with dark money. The Judicial Crisis Network took two $17 million–plus contributions, one to push Garland out and Gorsuch in, and one to push Kavanaugh through and onto the court.

There’s every likelihood that the donor in those two $17 million contributions was the same donor, which, if that were true, means that somebody paid $35 million–plus to influence the composition of the United States Supreme Court. And we have no idea who that person is and what their interests are before the court.

… Most Americans have no idea that under Chief Justice Roberts, there are 73 of these 5–4 partisan decisions in which there was a big Republican donor interest implicated. And in 73 out of 73, the big Republican donor interest won.

And why can’t we trace all that dark money? Well, because of Supreme Court decisions that equate money with speech.

Understanding that any legislature will have a few crazies, I try not to get excited about every ridiculous bill that gets introduced somewhere. (Most will vanish in committee and aren’t worth your outrage.) But Ohio’s “Student Religious Liberties Act” (full text) has passed the House and now moves to the Senate, so it’s worth paying attention to.

The bill states that no school authority (there’s a long list of them, starting with the local board of education)

shall prohibit a student from engaging in religious expression in the completion of homework, artwork, or other written or oral assignments. Assignment grades and scores shall be calculated using ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance, including any legitimate pedagogical concerns, and shall not penalize or reward a student based on the religious content of a student’s work.

So six-day creation, Noah’s flood, light speeding up so that distant stars can be visible despite the universe only being 10,000 years old — if that’s what your religion says, you can express it on a test and still get an A. Heck, nothing in the bill restricts its scope to specific classes, so if your religion says 2 + 2 = 5, that’s an OK answer too.

The bill passed 61-31, with Republicans voting for it 59-0 and Democrats against it 2-31. Maybe the two parties really aren’t the same.

Planned Parenthood was awarded a $2.2 million settlement in their lawsuit against the Center for Medical Progress, which filmed PP workers secretly and produced a video claiming that PP was illegally selling fetal tissue from abortions.

Some parts of the economy are doing better than others. Farmers are suffering from Trump’s trade war, and that problem has spread to farm-equipment makers like Deere and Caterpillar, which are cutting production and laying off workers.

Yesterday’s NYT examined how the Trump tax cut played out for one big corporation: Federal Express. Its tax bill went from $1.5 billion in 2017 to zero in 2018. And did the company pay workers better, increase capital investment, or let that money trickle down in any other way? Not really.

As for capital investments, the company spent less in the 2018 fiscal year than it had projected in December 2017, before the tax law passed. It spent even less in 2019. … This year, the company cut back employee bonuses and has offered buyouts in an effort to reduce labor costs in the face of slowing global growth.

What did happen to the money? It went to stockholders.

FedEx spent more than $2 billion on stock buybacks and dividend increases in the 2019 fiscal year, up from $1.6 billion in 2018, and more than double the amount the company spent on buybacks and dividends in fiscal year 2017.

The closing is going to be a fun-fact chart from Our World in Data, but here’s an important thing to know from the same source. A lot of times we hear about which countries have the highest carbon emissions. By that measure, China is the worst offender, followed by the US and India. A related question is which countries have the highest per capita carbon emissions, and that list is topped by oil-rich nations that need a lot of air conditioning, like Qatar and Kuwait.

But OWiD has thought this out a little deeper. If a car gets manufactured in, say, Mexico, but is sold to somebody in the US, who is really responsible for that carbon? America, not Mexico. If you track carbon emissions to the ultimate consumer, then the map looks like this:

Again, the hot oil-producers — Saudi Arabia and smaller surrounding countries — are most responsible, but they are closely followed by the US, Canada, and Australia. China is much less of a factor and India barely figures at all.

and let’s close with something that’s been getting better for a long time

We could all stand to contemplate some good news this week. The Our World in Data website tracks the price of artificial light in the UK since 1300, when you probably would have lighted your book or gameboard or after-sundown project with a candle made from animal fat. A few centuries ago, whether or not an activity was “worth the candle” was a real consideration.

Why Can’t I Watch This?

I’ve been waiting for Congress to start the process of impeaching Trump. So why is it so hard to watch?

Fundamentally, the whole point of the Weekly Sift is that I dive deeply into the news so that people with busier lives don’t have to. So I read things like the Mueller Report or Supreme Court’s marriage-equality decisions or the transcripts of presidential debates. I check out neo-Nazi websites to see what they’re up to. I review polls, and examine enough of them to warn everybody not to get too excited about some surprising result that no other pollster can replicate. I keep track of books about the death patterns of democracies or the structure of the American news media.

And then once a week I report back. That schedule is a small revolt against the 24-hour news cycle. If an active shooter is still at large somewhere, you should probably get your updates somewhere else. But an awful lot of the news makes more sense if you take it in week-long chunks rather than five-minute blips. And it often turns out that something seems terribly important for an hour or two, but is not really worth your time at all.

So the impeachment hearings should be right up my alley. I’ve been keeping track of the story ever since the whistleblower report came out, so I know the characters, the basic outline of events, the range of arguments available to both sides, and a bunch of the legal and procedural nuances. The length of the hearings (ten hours Wednesday and eight Friday) makes it unreasonable for most of my readers to watch, so I should watch it for them.

More than that, it’s history. In the two-centuries-and-counting history of the United States, this is only the fourth serious attempt to impeach a president. And rather than some tawdry sex story like the last impeachment, this one is about war and intrigue and world leaders trying to bully each other. It’s about the rule of law, the separation of powers, and whether or not we’ll have a fair election in 2020 (or ever again). This impeachment matters in a way that the Clinton impeachment never really did.

So why can’t I watch this?

I try. I tune in for opening statements and maybe a little of the questioning by counsel. Maybe later in the day I try again and watch five or ten minutes. And then maybe again once more. But I’m making myself do it. I want to turn it off.

To be more specific, I can’t watch these Republicans. This is a problem I have never had before. I disagreed with President Reagan and his followers, but I could watch them. I was pretty sure George W. Bush’s people were lying to me a lot of the time, but I mostly understood where they were coming from, and why they thought they were the good guys. Some of them, I’m pretty sure, were trying to do the best they could with a bad situation (though some weren’t). There was something human in there, something I could empathize with.

I’m not seeing that now.

It seems perfectly clear at this point that Trump did what he is accused of: He withheld aid that Congress had appropriated for Ukraine, for the purpose of pressuring President Zelensky to launch a pretty clearly bogus investigation into Joe Biden, which would do nothing at all to help either Ukraine or the United States, but would work to Trump’s personal political benefit. Withholding the aid would have sabotaged Ukraine in its war against Russia, and even hinting at withholding the aid has harmed Ukraine’s negotiating position with Russia. So Trump has done public harm in an attempt to get private benefit.

It almost worked. Zelensky was within days of announcing the investigations in a CNN interview, but the whistleblower report and Congress’ resulting curiosity about what was going on caused Trump to release the aid, after which Zelensky cancelled the interview.

That’s bad enough, but it looks like there’s even shadier stuff going on in the background. With the President’s blessing, Rudy Giuliani has been running some scam of his own in Ukraine, one we don’t even begin to understand yet. But even without that, we’re looking at a corrupt style of governing, the kind that’s typical in kleptocratic regimes. If all this is OK, then the president should be able to skim personal favors off of all of our foreign aid.

Sad as all that is for America, so far it’s just the story of a simple mistake: The Electoral College elevated a scam artist to the presidency (against the will of the voters, I should point out) and he’s scamming us. It’s an unfortunate state of affairs, but by itself it doesn’t implicate our society or our system of government. In fact, the Founders anticipated stuff like this would happen from time to time. (That’s the nation-sized version of “Momma told me there would be days like this.”) That’s why they built impeachment into the Constitution.

But then the Republicans involved in the current impeachment hearings start to talk, and it’s crystal clear that they have no interest at all in finding out whether Trump has committed crimes, or how bad they are. They just want to make sure that he gets away with them.

That’s what I can’t stand listening to.

I’m old enough to remember the Nixon impeachment, and it wasn’t like this. The iconic Watergate question “What did the President know and when did he know it?” was asked by a Republican, Senator Howard Baker. He wanted to know. By and large, Republicans in Congress wanted to believe the best about Nixon and tried to frame the evidence against him in the best possible light. But they were not accomplices. If the President was guilty, they wanted to know.

These Republicans don’t want to know.

Once you acknowledge the facts of the case, there’s still a debate to be had about how bad this is, and whether it justifies removal from office. There is room to acknowledge that the president did something wrong, something that should never be repeated, without supporting removal. This is the position nearly all Democrats came to in the Clinton impeachment. (The liberal group Move On originated in an online petition saying: “Congress must Immediately Censure President Clinton and Move On to pressing issues facing the country.”) No one argued then that presidents have an absolute right to blow jobs from interns, or that DNA testing is not really a science, or that presidential ejaculations are covered by executive privilege. No one did a Lindsey Graham and just refused to pay attention. (“I’ve written the whole process off. I think this is a bunch of BS.”)

There is a thoughtful way to receive bad news about the leader of your party, and to consider what should be done about it. These Republicans are not doing that.

Instead, they’re ginning up fake controversies to keep their base outraged. They’re asking to call witnesses like Hunter Biden, who has no knowledge of Trump’s Ukraine extortion scheme, and no connection to it at all other than as an intended victim. (The point here is purely to claim some kind of our-scandal/your-scandal equivalence. It’s as if Democrats called Newt Gingrich as a witness in the Clinton impeachment, so that he could be questioned about his own infidelities.) They threaten to violate the laws protecting whistleblowers, and paint Democrats as Stalinists for not allowing them to do so.

In lockstep, these Republicans accept and promote the circular logic of the Trump defense: Testimony from people who didn’t deal with the President directly can’t be taken seriously, but anyone who did deal with the President directly can’t testify. Whether to remove the President for his crimes should be left to the voters, but the voters should not be allowed to learn what those crimes are. Any witnesses who testify against the President (or simply testify to facts the President finds inconvenient) must be opposed to him politically, and so their testimony can be written off as biased.

These Republicans charge that the impeachment process is a sham, but it is they who are making it a sham. By showing no interest in the facts of the case, they are sending a blunt message to the American people: “Nothing the President did matters. We have power and we’re keeping it.”

That’s what I find so hard to watch. I had thought I had prepared myself for this. I had thought I had lost all my illusions about the state of American democracy. But to see so immediately just how far one of America’s two great political parties has fallen, to bear witness to this degradation for hours at a time … it’s sad beyond my ability to process.

So this week, I have failed to adequately sift the news for you. I’ll try again next week, but I don’t know what I can promise.

The Monday Morning Teaser

I have to confess failure this week: I should have watched the impeachment hearings for you, and I couldn’t make myself do it. My full confession is in this week’s featured post “Why Can’t I Watch This?”. It should be out shortly.

The weekly summary has a lot to cover. The impeachment hearings, of course, but also the Roger Stone conviction. The regime’s response to the Hong Kong protesters escalated. We got more explicit information about Stephen Miller’s role in promoting white supremacy. Pete Buttigieg grabbed the lead in the Iowa polls, while new candidates entered the race. Kentucky’s defeated governor Matt Bevin finally conceded, and Democrats held on to the governorship in another red state, Louisiana. Turkish President Erdogan came to the White House to make Trump’s Syria surrender official. There’s more, and then we close with a fascinating graph about the drastic decline in the cost of artificial lighting since 1300.

That should be out, say, around noon EST.


As we drove past the rows of white grave markers, in the gravity of the moment, I had a deep sense of the importance of the presidency and a love of our country. In that moment, I also thought of all the attacks we’d already suffered as a family, and about all the sacrifices we’d have to make to help my father succeed – voluntarily giving up a huge chunk of our business and all international deals to avoid the appearance that we were ‘profiting off of the office.’ … Frankly, it was a big sacrifice, costing us millions and millions of dollars annually. Of course, we didn’t get any credit whatsoever from the mainstream media, which now does not surprise me at all.

– Donald Trump Jr.
Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us


As Christ died to make men holy, let men die to make us rich.

– Mark Twain, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic, Updated” (1900)


There is no featured post this week, but plenty of news to process.

This week everybody was talking about the off-year elections

Going into Tuesday night, every pundit had two narratives ready.

  • The anti-Trump blue wave of 2018 is still rolling.
  • Impeachment has rallied the Trump base and turned moderates away from Democrats.

The results picked out the first story: Democrat Andy Beshear won the Kentucky governorship over the incumbent Matt Bevin. Democrats took control of both houses of the Virginia legislature. And while Republicans held on to the governorship in Mississippi, the margin (52%-47%) was hardly encouraging for Republicans, given that Trump won the state in 2016 58%-40%.

The deeper story was that both sides were energized. 1.4 million votes were cast in the Kentucky race, compared to less than a million in 2015. Bevin got nearly 200K more votes than in 2015, when he won by a comfortable margin; it just wasn’t enough.

Also, the two parties’ geographical bases of support are shifting. 538 summarizes:

Rural areas got redder, and urban and suburban ones got bluer — and not only in Virginia. Even for centrist Democrats like Mississippi gubernatorial candidate Jim Hood, the old, pre-Trump Democratic coalition has been replaced by one that increasingly relies on suburban voters to make up for losses among rural whites.

The Kentucky race didn’t settle the Democrats’ progressive/moderate argument about how to win elections. Progressives argue that you win by energizing the base to get a big turnout, while moderates say you shouldn’t turn off the changing suburban voters, who could easily go back to voting Republican or just stay home.

Beshear’s performance Tuesday, like Doug Jones’ win in Alabama in 2017, showed that Democrats can win in red states if they do both. Beshear got a huge turnout in urban Democratic strongholds, but he also won the suburbs.

It also helps if your opponent is toxic, as Bevin and Roy Moore both were. Even as Beshear was beating Bevin, Republicans were winning the other statewide offices. It’s not clear what that says about Amy McGrath’s chances of beating Mitch McConnell next year.

Bevin has refused to concede, citing unspecified “irregularities” that could account for Beshear’s 5,000-vote margin. That has led to speculation that he could get the Republican legislature to overturn the election.

Think what a huge step towards might-makes-right that would be. Republicans have moved in this direction before: North Carolina’s and Wisconsin’s gerrymandered Republican legislatures both tried to diminish the power of the governorship after a Democrat won the office. But no state has simply refused to let the voters elect a Democrat.

Fortunately, it appears that Kentucky’s Republican legislators aren’t interested in that kind of power grab — particularly for Bevin, whom many of them didn’t like anyway. The Week reports:

“The best thing to do, the right thing to do, is for Gov. Bevin to concede the election today so we can move on,” Rep. Jason Nemes (R) told the Herald Leader. “There’s nothing wrong with checking the math,” added Rep. Adam Koenig (R), but “unless there is a mountain of clear, unambiguous evidence, then he should let it go.”

Kentucky could be a preview of the national situation a year from now: If Trump loses, he almost certainly will blame his loss on fraud, whether any evidence supports that conclusion or not. (That’s how he has explained Clinton’s 2.8 million vote margin in the 2016 popular vote.) Then the question will be what levers he can push to hold onto office, and whether other elected Republicans or Trump-appointed judges will support him if he does.

and impeachment

If you’re not watching Chris Hayes on Friday nights, you’re missing out. Hayes has been doing his show in front of a live audience on Fridays, and the format works really well. This Friday’s opening piece was Hayes’ response to Trump’s “read the transcript” mantra, which Hayes and I both believe he is putting forward cynically. Trump knows that his voters will not in fact read the transcript, but will conclude that he wouldn’t invite them to read it if his claim that it is “perfect” weren’t true. (One way to tell Trump’s supporters are not reading the transcript is that only 40% of Republicans say that Trump mentioned the Bidens in the call, when anyone who has read the transcript would know that he did.)

Hayes says “Yes, read the transcript”, and walks the audience through what the transcript says.

Public impeachment hearings will start Wednesday, when the House Intelligence Committee will hear testimony from Bill Taylor and George Kent. Ambassador Marie Yovanovich, whose dismissal is a key part of the story, will testify Friday.

This week the committee also released transcripts of several of the closed-door depositions: Colonel Vindman, Fiona Hill, George Kent, Bill Taylor, Gordon Sondland, Kurt Volker. The depositions were each hours long and altogether the transcripts run over 2500 pages. I haven’t attempted to read them, and will wait for public hearings to pick out the highlights.

In the meantime, it’s important to remember the sequence of events:

Friday night on CNN, David Gergen said the exact words I’d been thinking: Trump’s defense is basically a “Catch-22” that plays hearsay off against executive privilege: If a witness in the impeachment probe didn’t talk to Trump face-to-face, then his or her knowledge of the Ukraine extortion plot can be written off as hearsay. But people who did talk with Trump face-to-face can’t testify because of executive privilege.

In particular, all the testimony released so far points to three people: Mick Mulvaney, Mike Pompeo, and Rudy Giuliani. Each claimed to speak for Trump and was very explicit in detailing (in front of witnesses who have testified under oath) the plot’s quid-pro-quo: releasing the money Congress had appropriated to defend Ukraine from Russian aggression in exchange for investigations into Biden and into the Ukraine-framed-Russia conspiracy theory of 2016 election interference.

It is hard to imagine any or all of these men cooking up the extortion plot without Trump’s approval, but they are the ones who had the most direct contact with the President. So the obvious thing to do is ask them: Were you free-lancing or were you following the President’s orders? But Trump won’t let them testify because of executive privilege.

In my mind, the whole notion of reasonable doubt goes out the window when the defendant creates the doubt by withholding evidence and blocking testimony.

Lindsey Graham is trying out the next line of Trump defense, which is to simply refuse to think about the evidence of his crimes: “I’ve written the whole process off,” he said. “I think this is a bunch of B.S.”

The Republican strategy for the public hearings seems to be to turn them into a circus. Among the witnesses they want are Hunter Biden and the whistleblower, as well as a DNC staffer who is supposedly involved in the 2016 Ukrainian interference conspiracy theory, and Nellie Ohr, who had something to do with the Steele dossier.

Other than the whistleblower, none of these people have any light to shine on the question before the committee: whether or not President Trump abused the power of his office to extort partisan political help out of the Ukrainian government. It’s totally crazy that Hunter Biden and Nellie Ohr should have to testify, but not Mulvaney or Pompeo.

The focus on the whistleblower is also misguided and wrong. Exposing his identity strikes at the heart of the whistleblower protection laws. The main purpose of exposing him would be to intimidate other government officials who might blow the whistle on Trump’s crimes. At this point, the claims in the whistleblower complaint have been substantiated by testimony under oath from other officials, so it’s not clear what the whistleblower could add.

Here’s an analogy: Somebody pulls the fire alarm in a big office building. The building is evacuated, the fire department comes, and a real fire is discovered and put out. Afterward, investigators look at how the fire started, how it spread, and what can be done to prevent similar fires in the future. But a second set of investigators cares nothing about those questions. Instead, their efforts are focused on figuring out who pulled the alarm.

Committee Chair Adam Schiff has veto power over witnesses, and is going to use it:

This inquiry is not, and will not serve … as a vehicle to undertake the same sham investigations into the Bidens or 2016 that the President pressed Ukraine to conduct for his personal political benefit, or to facilitate the President’s effort to threaten, intimidate, and retaliate against the whistleblower who courageously raised the initial alarm

Schiff’s refusal will lead to a new round of process complaints from Republicans. The Devin Nunes letter listing witnesses already complains “You directed witnesses called by Democrats not to answer Republican questions.” I believe he is referring to questions intended to identify the whistleblower.

Steve Benen makes essentially the same argument I made a few weeks ago: Removing Trump can’t wait for the next election, because the whole issue here is that Trump will abuse his power in order to cheat in that election.

When this is all over, there needs to be legislation codifying a bunch of stuff that was taken for granted in all previous administrations: about Congress’ oversight powers, the responsibility of members of the executive branch to testify, and so forth. In addition, there needs to be a streamlined process for courts to adjudicate disputes over these issues, so that a president can’t simply use the courts to delay, as Trump is doing.

but what about censure?

The WaPo’s conservative columnist Marc Thiessen proposes that Democrats try to censure Trump instead of impeach him. (A censure resolution would be a moral condemnation, but would not result in removal from office or any other substantive penalties. Moreover, a House censure resolution could be ignored by the Senate.)

Thiessen argues that since the Senate is not going to remove Trump from office anyway, impeachment is really just a fancy kind of censure, and he offers the possibility that a censure resolution might gain Republican support:

A bipartisan censure vote would ultimately be more damaging to Trump than impeachment along party lines. The impeachment inquiry is energizing Trump voters, who believe Democrats are trying to invalidate their votes by removing Trump from office. Censure would take away that argument. It would be dispiriting to Trump’s base, especially if some Republicans joined Democrats in voting to rebuke the president. Trump would be furious at a bipartisan vote of censure.

That may sound reasonable, but we’ve seen this game before. When the Affordable Care Act was being debated, “moderate” Republicans would often hint that they might support it if it were watered down: if the public option were removed (it eventually was), or if it also included conservative features like tort reform (it never did). However, those Republican moderates never made a genuine counter-proposal, i.e., “Here’s an amended version of the ACA that I would vote for.” In the end, none of them did vote for the ACA, but we were left with the myth that somehow Democrats had been unreasonable and had passed up genuine compromise opportunities.

I fear the same thing here: Democrats retreat to censure in an effort to get Republican votes, and Republicans still don’t vote for it.

Here’s how I think the process should work: Democrats believe that Trump’s crimes are impeachable and that removal from office is the appropriate response, so that’s what they should propose. If Republicans believe the proper response is censure, they should propose that. In other words, if Republicans want to compose a censure resolution, introduce it (with a list of sponsors) in either the House or Senate, and try to persuade Democrats to vote for it instead of impeachment, they should go right ahead. But absent some legitimate counter-proposal from Republicans — one they would advocate in public and not just hint at — Democrats should continue doing what they believe is right.

If a Republican censure resolution existed, then its pluses and minuses could be discussed: Is the wording strong enough? Could it pass overwhelmingly? Would the Senate pass it too? Would such a public condemnation deter Trump and future presidents from committing similar crimes in the future? And so on. But until some number of Republicans in Congress are willing to clearly say, “Here is how we want to condemn the President’s actions”, there’s nothing to talk about.

and other Trump-related news

A New York state judge ruled that Trump must pay $2 million to a consortium of non-profits to resolve a lawsuit charging him with misusing the Trump Foundation for personal gain. The judge’s ruling sharply criticized the January, 2016 event Trump scheduled to conflict with the Republican debate he was boycotting. The event was billed as a Trump Foundation fund-raiser for veterans’ groups, but the Foundation allowed the Trump campaign to distribute the money in campaign events.

Mr. Trump’s fiduciary duty breaches included allowing his campaign to orchestrate the Fundraiser, allowing his campaign, instead of the Foundation, to direct distribution of the Funds, and using the Fundraiser and distribution of the Funds to further Mr. Trump’s political campaign.

Trump isn’t pursuing an appeal.

It marked an extraordinary moment: The president of the United States acknowledged in a court filing that he had failed to follow basic laws about how charities should be governed. Previously, Trump had insisted the charity was run properly and the suit was a partisan sham.

This scandal points to the same character flaw we see in the Ukraine scandal and throughout the Trump administration: He is incapable of distinguishing between himself and the roles he has taken on. He sees whatever power he has as his own, to do with as he likes, rather than as part of a role that includes responsibilities and restrictions.

The $2 million reminds me of the $25 million he had to pay to settle his Trump University fraud. Defrauding donors, defrauding students … what’s a guy gotta do to go to jail around here?

The Roger Stone trial started, which means that we might finally find out what all those redactions in the Mueller Report were about. Mother Jones summarizes the government’s case against Stone, and Rolling Stone discusses Steve Bannon’s testimony. And there’s this Dylan-parody meme.

Beppe Severgnini gives a European perspective on Trump’s decision to abandon America’s Kurdish allies. Another wave of Syrian refugees will result, he fears, and Europe (not America) will have to deal with them. “[W]e felt betrayed. No warning, no consultation. Trust has been shattered.”

The anonymous Trump official who wrote a controversial op-ed a year ago has a book coming out a week from tomorrow. It’s called A Warning, and to a large extent it contradicts the message of last year’s op-ed. That article assured the public that the administration was full of people who would control Trump’s venal or insane impulses, and thwart his ability to do illegal or destructive things.

This book — if the excerpts we’ve seen so far are typical — argues that those people (the “Steady State”, the author calls them) are failing, and that things will get much worse if the voters give Trump a second term.

Nikki Haley’s book With All Due Respect is coming out tomorrow. In it, she tells of Rex Tillerson and John Kelly confiding in her that they were intentionally undermining the president in order to “save the country”. Maybe one of them is Anonymous.

You may have heard that the Trump campaign is so desperate for black supporters that it has begun photoshopping its hats onto black people. Snopes tones that accusation down a little: The fake photo doesn’t come from the official Trump campaign, but does appear in an advertisement for the hat on the Conservative News Daily web site. The hat is not an official piece of Trump-campaign merchandise and is being marketed by someone else.

So the photo is an attempt to scam conservatives, who are often targeted for scams (and have been for years) because of their well-known gullibility. But it’s not an official Trump scam.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery: The founder of Students for Trump just pleaded guilty to a $46K fraud scheme. The 23-year-old posed as a lawyer with 15 years experience, and charged for online legal advice.

and Mike Bloomberg (and the Democratic presidential race)

I have two contradictory opinions about the number of candidates in the race for the Democratic nomination. On one hand, I want everybody who thinks they have the right message or ability or experience to run. I don’t want any Democratic voters looking at somebody on the sidelines and thinking “If only …”. A lot of Democrats did that with Hillary Clinton in 2004 and Elizabeth Warren in 2016. Let’s not do it again.

On the other hand, I’m tired of seeing ten or more candidates on the debate stage, or still running even though they can’t meet the debate-stage requirements. John Delaney, Steve Bullock, Tulsi Gabbard, and a bunch of other people whose names I can’t even think of right now — aren’t you just wasting everybody’s time, including your own?

So anyway, it looks like we might be getting a new entry: Mike Bloomberg. And part of me says: Why not? He served three terms as mayor of New York City, which has a bigger population than most states (way more than Steve Bullock’s Montana). He’s at least ten times richer than Trump, and got there by starting new businesses rather than being a scam artist. He’s got a national profile for gun control and some other issues. Why not?

But I’m very skeptical that he’s going to shake up the race. The beltway narrative is that he’ll compete with Joe Biden for the moderate vote, but I think that’s a misperception of Biden’s support, which is not fundamentally ideological. Biden represents a return to normalcy. The elect-Biden fantasy is that then the adults will be back in charge, the Twitter circus will be over, and we can pretend this whole Trump thing never happened. Bloomberg doesn’t offer that same comfort.

Also, the Biden moderate-lane narrative, the one that has him challenged not just by Bloomberg, but also by Mayor Pete and maybe Amy Klobuchar, ignores the racial component of Biden’s appeal. At the moment, here’s the most likely scenario: Warren, Sanders, or Buttigieg wins in Iowa, Warren or Sanders wins in New Hampshire, and then the black voters of South Carolina save Biden’s bacon by coming through for him. Then we head into the big-state primaries with two or three viable candidates: Biden, the Iowa winner, and the New Hampshire winner.

The black vote is what saved Hillary Clinton’s candidacy after Sanders’ New Hampshire wipe-out in 2016, and so far it’s lining up the same way for Biden. An Economist/YouGov poll that is otherwise quite favorable to Warren — she trails Biden 26%-25% — shows Biden getting 47% of the black vote, with Warren at 17% and Sanders at 14%. Kamala Harris is at 7%, Julian Castro 5%, and Cory Booker 3%. Buttigieg and Klobuchar clock in at zero.

Bloomberg is Mayor Stop-and-Frisk. He’s going nowhere with blacks. If there were a sudden boomlet for Harris or Booker, that would threaten Biden’s path to victory way more than Bloomberg does. But so far I see no sign of it.

After I wrote the previous note, the first Bloomberg-inclusive polls came out, showing him with single-digits of support.

Exactly why Biden has so much black support is an interesting question in its own right. Generalizations about large demographic groups should never be taken too seriously, since there will usually be gobs and gobs of exceptions. But let me toss out this theory: In general, the black electorate is wary and pragmatic. Falling in love with a candidate is seen as a luxury privileged people have. Blacks (especially older blacks) are used to the idea that the candidate they would fall in love with probably has no chance. They also distrust bright new faces and big promises, because they’ve seen their people get conned again and again. So they look for a candidate who can win and has a longstanding relationship with them. Right now, that’s Biden.

That can change. In the 2008 cycle, blacks were wary of supporting Barrack Obama against their longstanding ally Hillary Clinton. Eventually they did support him in a big way, but only after Obama’s performance in Iowa proved that white people would vote for him too. They loved Obama, but they weren’t going to do a charge-of-the-light-brigade for him, just like they’re not doing one now for Harris or Booker.

Elizabeth Warren has made an interesting tactical decision: She’s not going tit-for-tat against all the other candidates who are attacking her and her healthcare plan.

Warren aides said they’re not adopting a pacifist posture; they expect that some attacks will require a response. Rather, they say they’re adapting to the modern media environment where responding to everything can distract from more important tasks and muddle their message.

It’s too soon to tell whether this works, but I understand the impulse behind it: Next fall, Trump wants the national debate to be a food fight rather than a discussion of where the country is going or should go. The Democratic nominee will have to figure out how to deal with his constant name-calling and lies without just getting into a shouting match. The approach that worked against gentlemanly candidates like George Bush the First or Mitt Romney may play into Trump’s hands.

meanwhile, it’s Veterans’ Day

It used to be Armistice Day, marking the 11/11/1918 end of the shooting in World War I, then known only as “the Great War”.

Veterans’ Day, like Memorial Day on the other side of the calendar, can be a tricky holiday for liberals to celebrate. We have opposed many of our country’s recent wars. (And not-so-recent wars. Twain’s “Battle Hymn” protested the war in the Philippines. The Christmas carol “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” lamented the Mexican-American War of 1848.) We would like to see a less militarized country and culture. We think our government overspends on weapons and puts too many of our soldiers in danger overseas. Too often, national security is used as an excuse for restricting citizens’ rights and increasing government surveillance.

None of that, though, should turn us against the individual men and women who have stepped up to accept the risks of defending our country and its allies, and who have fulfilled their commitments honorably, often at dire cost to themselves and their families. If you’re not a pacifist (and I’m not) you’re consciously or unconsciously counting on someone to train for war and be ready to meet violence with violence. Particularly if we don’t take on that job ourselves (and I haven’t), we owe some gratitude to the people who do.

The soldier is the most visible symbol of militarism, but we must be careful not to let symbolism blind us to soldiers’ humanity. Soldiers didn’t send themselves to Vietnam or Iraq; our leaders sent them there. Soldiers don’t steal their pay or their equipment from schools and poor families who need help; it is politicians who set those priorities and distribute the nation’s resources. (Many soldiers come from those poor families, and see military service as the only viable ticket out of poverty for themselves and their children.) Again and again, voters have endorsed those choices.

The members of our armed forces have put their lives in the hands of our nation’s leaders, and ultimately in our hands. Veterans’ Day is a time to remember the costs of military service, and to rededicate ourselves to making sure that the nation does not abuse the trust that these men and women have placed in it.

and you also might be interested in …

Deciding which streaming TV services you want has gotten complicated over the past few years, and is about to get significantly more complicated. The Washington Post breaks it down.

Finally, the future I was promised is starting to arrive: an all-electric air taxi.

and let’s close with something stunning

SkyPixel has a contest for the best aerial photographs. The Verge has picked its favorites, including this image of Hong Kong that has been warped to make the sky a small circle of light surrounded by skyscrapers.