No Sift Next Monday

The next new articles will appear on August 22.


Against all evidence, I keep thinking the assholes are outliers.

– James Holden,
a character in the novel Babylon’s Ashes by James Corey

This week’s featured post is “What’s the point of punishing Trump?“.

This week everybody was talking about Kansas

In a deep red state, the Republican-dominated legislature hoped voters would approve a constitutional-amendment referendum that would let it ban abortion. So it scheduled the vote to coincide with a low-turnout primary where Republicans had interesting races and Democrats mostly didn’t. Result: the amendment failed by a wide margin, 59%-41%.

The result raises an obvious question: If an anti-abortion referendum can’t pass in Kansas, where could it pass? The NYT tried to answer. This kind of speculation is always sketchy, but here’s what they came up with: A similar national referendum (if such a thing existed) would be opposed by 65%. Seven states would clearly pass the anti-abortion referendum, and the question would be a toss-up in several more.

One thing the Kansas referendum proved is that people will come out to vote on this issue. During the Roe era, that was always the question: People might tell pollsters they supported abortion rights, but would they cast a vote on that issue, or just count on the Supreme Court to protect them?

The next question, which won’t be answered until November, is whether voters will choose candidates based on abortion rights. For years, suburban Republican women in particular may have thought of themselves as feminists, but have cast their votes with other priorities in mind, like taxes or national security.

The clearest test of this question is the Michigan governor’s race, where Gretchen Whitmer faces Republican challenger Tudor Nixon, who would ban abortion even in cases of rape and incest.

Indiana banned abortion Friday, except in cases of rape, incest, lethal fetal abnormality, or serious health risk to the pregnant woman. Along the way, a Democratic representative unsuccessfully offered an amendment also banning erectile dysfunction drugs.

If an unwanted pregnancy is an act of God, then impotency must be an act of God.

Here’s how the abortion issue is being used in Texas by Mothers Against Greg Abbott (the other MAGA).

Texas has virtually banned abortion, but that doesn’t mean it values fetuses. Bloomberg has a long article about how bad maternity care is in rural areas near the Mexican border. Presidio (a town of 4500 or so residents) has no full-time doctor. The nearest hospital is 90 minutes away: Big Bend in Alpine (population 5900). But that hospital has had trouble staffing its labor and delivery unit.

Some months it’s been open only three days a week. … If [visiting Dr. Adrian] Billings’s patient goes into labor when the maternity ward is closed, she’ll have to make a difficult choice. She can drive to the next nearest hospital, in Fort Stockton, yet another hour away. Or, if her labor is too far along and she’s unlikely to make it, she can deliver in Big Bend’s emergency room. But the ER doesn’t have a fetal heart monitor or nurses who know how to use one. It also doesn’t keep patients overnight. When a woman gives birth there, she’s either transferred to Fort Stockton—enduring the long drive after having just had a baby—or discharged and sent home.

Why can’t Big Bend staff its maternity unit? Covid, of course, but also a more basic problem:

As quaint as Alpine is, it has some drawbacks. It’s three and a half hours from El Paso and more than five from San Antonio. There’s one grocery store, and the closest Walmart is an hour away. There’s no day care, which makes it hard for businesses to recruit families with two working parents.

“We’ll hire a nurse who’ll say, ‘Great, I can start work in two weeks. Just let me get day care set up.’ We tell them, ‘Well, we don’t have day care in Alpine.’ They’re like, ‘What are you talking about?’ They can’t accept the job,” says Roane McLaughlin, Alpine’s only obstetrician and gynecologist. Before she moved to the area in 2014, Alpine didn’t have an OB-GYN at all.

In short, rural Texas is a bad place to be pregnant, whether you want to be or not. The state is anti-abortion because it’s anti-woman, not pro-fetus.

Thinking about related rights, Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby defends Rep. Glenn Thompson against charges of hypocrisy. Thompson is the GOP congressman who voted against a bill to codify same-sex marriage rights, and then delivered an upbeat toast at his son’s same-sex wedding. So: yes, a hypocrite.

Jacoby defends the vote because the Respect For Marriage Act is a “political gimmick” that is unnecessary because same-sex marriage rights aren’t in danger. We know this because “the court’s majority opinion [in Dobbs] repeatedly emphasizes that the overruling of Roe v. Wade does not cast doubt on prior rulings involving marriage or gay rights”.

And Supreme Court justices would never mislead us about something like that, would they? Also, if the bill accomplishes nothing, why not pass it? What harm would it do?

For those of you who don’t follow the Boston papers, before I read a Jacoby column I always ask myself “What would Pope Benedict have said about this issue?” That’s usually a good predictor.

BTW: the religious Right doesn’t think protecting same-sex marriage rights is a phony issue. They’re solidly against it, and are pressuring Republican senators.

and the Inflation Reduction Act

The Senate passed the Inflation Reduction Act Sunday, 51-50 on a straight party-line vote, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie. (Remember this the next time someone tells you there’s no difference between Republicans and Democrats.)

The IRA is primarily a climate bill that over-funds itself by cracking down on corporations that pay no taxes, leaving $300 billion to offset the deficit over the next ten years. It also protects ObamaCare subsidies, cuts drug costs for seniors, and does a few other things. According to the environmentalist website Grist:

Independent analyses estimate that the IRA would slash approximately 6.3 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from the nation’s emissions ledger over the course of the next decade, prevent up to 3,894 premature deaths per year by 2030, and get the U.S. two-thirds of the way to Biden’s goal of reducing total emissions 50 percent compared to 2005 levels by the end of this decade.

It now goes to the House, where it is expected to pass quickly.

This is a big deal. It’s much smaller than the $4 trillion plan Biden originally proposed, and smaller yet than the $6 trillion plan Bernie Sanders wanted. But getting it through the Senate with only 50 Democratic senators was a major accomplishment.

In other legislative news, Tuesday Mitch McConnell’s Republicans relented and passed the Honoring our PACT Act to help veterans suffering from the effects of toxic fumes from burn pits. It was the exact same bill they blocked last week.

The history of this bill is a lesson in Republican disinformation. In June, a version of the bill passed the Senate with 84 votes, which means at least 34 Republicans voted for it. (The 14 No votes were all Republicans.) The House passed the same bill, minus one line deleted technical reasons that had little impact on what the bill would do. So it went back to the Senate, where it was expected to pass without incident.

But then Senator Manchin announced that he had found a version of Biden’s Build Back Better plan he could support, now relabeled the Inflation Reduction Act (see above). McConnell decided to throw a tantrum by scrapping whatever bipartisan bill he could find, which turned out to be PACT.

Suddenly, 41 Republican senators — the exact number needed to sustain a filibuster — had grave reservations about PACT. In particular, Ted Cruz (who had voted for the nearly identical bill in June) now denounced it as a “budgetary trick” that would lead to $400 billion in pork-barrel spending.

Over the weekend, the GOP realized just how unpopular it is to play games with the health care of veterans who may be dying from something we did to them. So they came back and passed the same bill that was so terrible last week. Cruz voted for it, and put out a statement applauding its passage. All the features Cruz complained about when he blocked the bill had been in it when he voted for it in June, and when he voted for it again Tuesday.

Bear this history in mind as you hear Cruz and other Republicans tell you terrible things about the Inflation Reduction Act.

and the economy

The late-pandemic economy is breaking all the usual patterns. By some definitions, we’re already in a recession, but job growth is still booming and unemployment is the lowest it’s been since the 1960s. Year-over-year inflation is the highest since 1981, but gas and food prices have been dropping this last month or two.

In short, just about anything anybody says about the economy these days, good or bad, deserves a yes-but response.

and the pandemic

Case-numbers are nearly meaningless in this era of home tests whose results are never reported. But hospitalization and death statistics continue to creep upwards. Deaths per day are running just under 500, up from under 300 in early June.

and Alex Jones

A jury ruled that he has to pay nearly $50 million to two parents of a child killed at Sandy Hook. I discuss this in the featured post. I didn’t get around to mentioning that his lawyers’ blunder has exposed him to a possible perjury charge. That’s what happens when you should have called Saul.

and you also might be interested in …

Even the “courageous” Republicans are lining up to support election-denying anti-democracy Trumpists once the primaries are over. Peter Meijer endorsed the guy he lost to. After seeing anti-democracy Republicans win the primaries in his state, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey tweeted:

This is going to be an important election given the issues our state is facing and it’s important for Arizona Republicans to unite behind our slate of candidates.

It’s party-over-country, all the way.

I wish all the Biden’s-low-approval-rating articles would break out WHY voters disapprove: How many conservatives think he’s too liberal? How many liberals think he hasn’t done enough? How many people of all sorts don’t know what he’s done or believe he’s done something he hasn’t?

I remember similar polls about how unpopular ObamaCare was at first: They never broke out how many people wanted the status quo versus how many wanted universal health care. Those polls fooled Republicans into thinking a repeal would be popular.

Jamestown, Michigan just voted to defund its public library.

The controversy in Jamestown began with a complaint about a memoir by a nonbinary writer, but it soon spiraled into a campaign against Patmos Library itself. After a parent complained about Gender Queer: a Memoir, by Maia Kobabe, a graphic novel about the author’s experience coming out as nonbinary, dozens showed up at library board meetings, demanding the institution drop the book. (The book, which includes depictions of sex, was in the adult section of the library.) Complaints began to target other books with LGBTQ+ themes.

One library director resigned, telling Bridge she’d been harassed and accused of indoctrinating kids; her successor also left the job. Though the library put Kobabe’s book behind the counter rather than on the shelves, the volumes remained available.

“We, the board, will not ban the books,” Walton told Associated Press on Thursday.

The library’s refusal to submit to the demands led to a campaign urging residents to vote against renewed funding for the library.

I emphasize: This is a town library, not a school library. “Jamestown Conservatives” are trying to control what their fellow citizens are allowed to read.

Christianity Today looks at White Southern Protestants who have mostly stopped going to church. (About 45% of White Southerners report going to church once or less in the past year.) When Northeastern Catholics left their church, they tended to become more liberal, particularly on social issues. But WSP’s aren’t doing that. Instead, they’re just losing their trust in other people.

When asked, “Do you think most people would try to take advantage of you if they got a chance or would they try to be fair?” 54 percent of white Protestant southerners who attended church no more than once a year said that most people would try to take advantage of them.

In response to the question “Would you say that most of the time people try to be helpful or that they are mostly just looking out for themselves?” 58 percent said the latter.

The responses from white Southern Protestants who attended church every week were almost the direct opposite. Sixty-two percent said that most people would “try to be fair” rather than take advantage of them, and 57 percent said that most of the time people “try to be helpful.”

This isn’t news, but it’s such a good line I have to repeat it. In the preface to the 10th anniversary edition of his spy novel Slow Horses (now an Apple TV+ series) Mick Herron confessed that he actually doesn’t know that much about spies.

A writer spends the first part of his or her career hoping to be discovered; the rest hoping not to be found out.

and let’s close with something sporty

Legendary sports announcer Vin Scully died Tuesday night at the age of 94. He called the Brooklyn/LA Dodger games for 67 seasons (1950-2016), but also covered a wide variety of other sports events. If you’re a sports fan, you probably know his voice from historic moments like Hank Aaron’s 715th home run.

But if you don’t remember Vin or his voice, here’s some amusing proof that he could make anything sound engaging: A guy who did the sports report for a San Diego rock station (and met Scully in the press box during a Padres/Dodgers game) once asked Scully to read his grocery list.

What’s the point of punishing Trump?

Or Alex Jones? Or Deshaun Watson?

The Info-warrior. Friday, a Texas jury assessed $45.2 million in punitive damages against Alex Jones, on top of the $4.1 million it previously ordered him to pay in ordinary damages. The $49.3 million total would go to Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose 6-year-old son Jesse Lewis was killed in the Sandy Hook massacre. On his widely viewed program Info Wars, Jones repeatedly claimed that the massacre was a hoax designed to give the government an excuse to confiscate guns, that Heslin and Lewis were “crisis actors”, and that their son never existed.

Because a large number of Jones’ fans actually believe the dark fantasies he spins, Heslin and Lewis have not only seen their grief exploited for someone else’s gain, but they’ve been harassed and even in physical danger for the last nine years.

As the linked article makes clear, the total amount Jones ends up paying could go either up or down. He might appeal to get this judgement reduced, but he also faces additional cases brought by other victims of his malicious lies. Or he might wriggle out of accountability by abusing the bankruptcy laws.

Like a lot of people, I take satisfaction from the prospect of Jones paying millions of dollars. I don’t throw the word evil around lightly, but Alex Jones qualifies. He has amassed a huge fortune by slandering people who have already suffered something worse than most of us can imagine. This is purely predatory behavior, and there is no excuse for it.

The quarterback. Last Monday, another punishment was announced (pending appeal): NFL quarterback Deshaun Watson will be suspended for six games. Watson was the target of lawsuits by 24 female massage therapists. Despite playing for a team (the Houston Texans) that had its own massage therapists, Watson arranged private appointments with more than sixty women, 24 of whom claim he tried to pressure them into sexual acts.

Watson sat out all last season (with pay) while the Texans watched the progress of the cases against him and tried to decide what to do with him. (He had demanded a trade before the scandals broke, but his value was hard to determine until the criminal probes concluded.) Ultimately, Watson was not indicted and he has settled all but one of the suits. The Texans then traded him to the Cleveland Browns, who signed him to a five-year $230 million contract. The contract was structured to have a large signing bonus, but a small first-year salary. As a result, he’ll lose only $345K if he misses the six games.

Like a lot of people, I had the exact opposite reaction to this announcement: Really? That’s all? I don’t know what I thought justice would be, but this isn’t it. If the decision stands, Watson will be back on the field for the Browns’ game against Baltimore on October 23. He should barely notice the lack of $345K, and it will be as if nothing ever happened. Come February, his accusers might be watching him in the Super Bowl. [1]

The former president. Meanwhile, the mills of justice grind very slowly in the case of Donald Trump. The House January 6 Committee has put together a compelling case that he did the single worst thing any American president has ever done to the country: He lost an election and tried to stay in power anyway. The January 6 attack on the Capitol was the culmination of a much larger anti-democracy plot, which he set in motion and tried to benefit from.

If he had succeeded, the republic set up by the Founders would effectively have fallen. After ignoring the Constitution and overruling the voters in 2020, why would he ever give up power? And if he should happen to die or retire, why should any future president give up power?

Whether Trump will face any consequences for these actions is still up in the air. Mitch McConnell and his fellow Republican senators refused to hold Trump accountable in his second impeachment trial. A Georgia prosecutor is investigating the former president’s attempts to reverse that state’s 2020 election, and the Department of Justice finally appears to be going up the chain from the January 6 rioters to the plotters whose will they were carrying out.

Will any of that lead to indictments? Convictions? Jail time? It’s still not clear.

The point of punishment. I’m discussing these three men together — Jones, Watson, Trump — because their cases raise a common theme: What is punishment for? How much is enough? Thinking about Jones and Watson, I believe, can give us insight into what we should want for Trump.

As I said above, it’s satisfying to see bad men punished. That’s a very human response. Particularly when evil-doers appear to prosper, it’s easy to convince yourself that anything bad that might happen to them is justified and even good. [2]

At the same time, I believe that the propensity to glory in revenge (whether personal, vicarious, or rooted in some abstract sense of justice) is not humanity’s best feature. At some point we need to let the Past pass, so that we can move ahead unencumbered.

But when is that? When can we say “OK, enough”? [3]

Nixon. Before we think about that, I want to consider one more example: Richard Nixon. President Ford pardoned Nixon about a month after he resigned, and as a result Nixon was never held fully accountable for his crimes. He never went to prison. He never even had to stand trial, so no once-and-for-all judgement about his actions was ever recorded.

At the time (I turned 18 shortly after the pardon, so I got to vote against Ford in 1976), I thought Nixon got off too easily. OK, he had to leave power, but most of us never have much power. If being returned to the ranks of ordinary citizens counts as “punishment”, then presidents really are above the rest of us in a way that I think the Founders never intended.

But as I look back now, I’m willing to cut Ford a little more slack. Even without a trial or prison, Nixon became a cautionary tale in American politics. For decades afterwards, a stain of illegitimacy hovered over everything he did. No American politician wanted to hear his or her actions compared to Nixon’s. His name went unmentioned at Republican conventions. Post-Nixon presidents couldn’t justify their actions by citing Nixon as a precedent.

In retrospect, I think that was a good outcome.

What I want for Trump, Jones, and Watson. What I want for each of them is not some specific punishment. What I want is an outcome that makes them cautionary tales for anyone in a position to offend in similar ways.

I want current and future sports stars to consider their possible actions and think “I don’t want to become another Deshaun Watson.” I want current and future conspiracy-theory entertainers to think, “That might gain me some viewers, but it’s a little too much like Alex Jones.”

And most of all, I want a stain of illegitimacy to fall across everything Donald Trump ever did. I want the adjective “Trumpian” to become a pejorative label that every major American politician tries to deflect, just as no one wanted to be “Nixonian” for the rest of the 20th century. I want the advisors and assistants in all future administrations to consider what happened to Trump’s people and think about what they might be risking.

What kind of punishments would do that?

It’s tempting to see the Nixon example as proof that punishment isn’t necessary at all. But Nixon was a very different case: By the time he left office, his party had already turned against him. He was never again a force in American politics.

By contrast, Trump is actively trying to return to power, and remains a cult figure whose members regard him as a hero.

He won’t go quietly into the Past, so he has to be brought down. I don’t see how that happens without mug shots, a trial, and an orange jumpsuit. The evidence against him needs to be presented in a court where he is not in control, with the result (I hope) that a jury unanimously convicts him of crimes. He needs to go to jail.

His trial and sentencing will be traumatic for the country, but his own actions and lack of remorse make it necessary. There needs to be an outcome whose reality he can’t deny. His followers may continue to claim, against all evidence, that he won the 2020 election. But if he’s in jail they can’t claim that a jury acquitted him.

How much jail time? Revenge says “He tried to overthrow my country’s Constitution and sent his mob to attack my Capitol.” The rest of his life would not be long enough to satisfy my desire for Revenge.

But that’s not an urge I want to indulge. So: how long? Long enough for the country to move on, and for the Republican Party to find new leaders. A four-year political cycle needs to come and go without any expectation that he might participate.

So that’s what I want: four years.

[1] For comparison, Tom Brady served a four-game suspension at the conclusion of the Deflategate saga. The Patriots managed a 3-1 record while he was gone. After he returned, the team continued on to the Super Bowl, where Brady led a historic comeback against the Atlanta Falcons and was named MVP. That game is considered one of the highlights of his career.

[2] I believe this is where the myth of Hell comes from. For many people, the vision of bliss in Heaven would be incomplete without the knowledge that the people who abused them in life are suffering endless torment. My own beliefs about God or the afterlife are uncertain, and waver sometimes from day to day. But one thing I’m certain I don’t believe is that a loving God condemns anyone to eternal suffering.

[3] My detailed analysis is in a sermon I gave in 1999, “Forgiveness“. I stand by it.

The Monday Morning Teaser

Two big themes dominated last week: Biden got things done, and punishments were handed out to wrong-doers.

Yesterday, the Senate passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which may pale in comparison to the Build Back Better plan the President originally proposed, but is a big deal all the same. The House is expected to follow suit, and so finally Congress is doing something to fight climate change. The drama is no longer centered on executive orders and whether the Supreme Court will sustain them. The third branch of government is weighing in.

This would not be happening if Biden had not won in 2020, or if Georgia hadn’t sent two Democrats to the Senate in 2021. So if you’re tempted not to vote in the fall because elections never make any real difference, think again.

In addition, Republicans relented and let the PACT Act pass, so veterans affected by toxic fumes from burn pits will get their health care paid for. And this is on top of the CHIPS Act that passed last week, not to mention the bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed earlier in Biden’s presidency.

It hasn’t been easy and it hasn’t been everything we wanted or the country needed, but the steamship of American government is finally pointed in the right direction and beginning to chug. We need to vote in November so that it doesn’t stall again.

The week’s other theme was punishment. A jury told Alex Jones to pay nearly $50 million to two parents of a Sandy Hook victim, and an NFL arbitrator handed Deshaun Watson a six-game suspension. I found the Jones verdict satisfying (assuming it gets enforced) and the Watson ruling frustrating. That raised some interesting issues about punishment, which I’ll discuss in this week’s featured post “What’s the Point of Punishing Trump?”. That should be out around 10 EDT.

The weekly summary will discuss legislation, the stunning victory for abortion rights in Kansas, the weirdness of the late-pandemic economy, and a few other things, before closing by celebrating a voice that could make a grocery list sound interesting. I’ll try to get that out a little after noon.

Kosher Legislation

Eventually is not OK. Tell someone with cancer that’s been fighting this for years that eventually they’ll get the help that they’ve earned. That is not an acceptable answer. It is despicable to continue to use America’s men and women who are fighting for this country as political pawns for anger you have about separate issues. This bill is utterly and completely focused on veterans’ issues. There is no pork in it. It is a kosher bill.

Jon Stewart, responding to the claim that the PACT Act will pass eventually

This week’s featured post is “A Week When Congress Mattered“.

This week everybody was talking about important legislation

The featured post covers the CHIPS Act, which passed last week; the Honor Our PACT Act, which Republicans blocked in the Senate; and the Inflation Reduction Act, which came back from the dead last week and now just needs Senator Sinema to sign on.

and a third party

Some moderate, Trump-rejecting Republicans and Democrat Andrew Yang announced a new political party this week, calling it Forward.

I think this effort is doomed, for reasons spelled out by NYT columnist Jamelle Bouie. A winner-take-all method of election, like the one that prevails in most the US, favors a two-party system. There’s no way to form a coalition after the election, as parties do in proportional-representation parliamentary systems, so there’s a strong incentive to form a majority coalition before the election. Typically that results in two coalitions battling to see which can command a majority.

Third parties, then, are temporary phenomena in America. They arise primarily when both of the existing parties have agreed to ignore some contentious issue. In the 1840s, for example, Democrats and Whigs both tried to downplay the slavery issue, which split both of them regionally. The Republican Party arose because there was effectively no way to vote against slavery. The Whigs then broke apart, the Civil War was fought, and Republicans took the Whigs’ place in the two-party system. (If you’re wondering how we got from there to here, where Republicans are the white-supremacy party, I explained that in 2012.)

Most third parties never even make a splash. The few that do usually get co-opted by one of the major parties. For example, when the Democrats in 1948 embraced the previously Republican issue of civil rights, the Dixiecrats gave worried Whites an anti-civil-rights option. That led to George Wallace’s American Independent Party in 1968, whose issues eventually got co-opted into the Republican Party by Nixon’s “southern strategy”.

The typical thought pattern of a third-party voter is “Neither major party offers any hope on my issue, so I don’t care which one of them wins.” That’s why third parties usually emerge on the extremes. If Donald Trump had lost the Republican nomination in 2016 to another John-McCain-style neo-conservative who would probably support the same foreign interventions as Hillary Clinton, an America First Party could have made a significant run. If Democrats continue to spin their wheels on climate change, a Green Party is a possibility. Either of those movements would probably fail at first, while simultaneously wrecking the chances of the major party closest to it, so the faction that spins off really needs to have hit that I-don’t-care-any-more point.

Like Bouie, I don’t see how to make that work in the center. Picture it: “I am so committed to my sensible middle-of-the-road agenda that it makes no difference to me whether America gets ‘woke’ or goes fascist.” Who thinks like like that?

The only way a centrist third party can succeed in our current system is with some non-partisan national hero at the top, like a Dwight Eisenhower fresh off of winning World War II. But Andrew Yang and Christine Todd Whitman can’t fill those shoes.

The other way a third party works is if we change the system first, say by instituting ranked-choice voting, as Alaska and Maine have. Why shouldn’t John Kasich have offered a centrist-Republican third option in 2016, if his Hillary-fearing voters could have listed Trump as their second choice?

The Forward platform resembles what Matt Yglesias promotes as “popularism”: focusing on the popular parts of your party’s message rather than the unpopular parts. David Roberts explains why that’s not likely to work:

Every proposal for a third party in the US ends up amounting to the same thing: a dream of center-left policy without all the nasty politics. It’s just a bunch of [very serious people] thinking, “hey, *we* won’t talk about defunding the police or pronouns, so the right will leave us alone.”

In other words, it takes the right’s bad-faith characterization of the left as its starting point. Of course, if such a party ever became a threat, the right could just as easily smear it! Then I guess the VSPs would start pining for a fourth.

The right’s entire raison d’être is to make being on the side fighting for fairness & justice *unpleasant*, to associate it with marxism or pedophilia or whatever. Third party wankers think they can escape this dynamic by being theatrically Reasonable, but they are deluded.

and tomorrow’s votes

According the Kansas Supreme Court, that state’s constitution currently contains a right to privacy that prevents the legislature from banning abortion. There’s a provision on tomorrow’s ballot that would change that, setting up a possible abortion ban (which the very Republican legislature would almost certainly pass).

This is the first time actual voters have gotten to weigh in on abortion since the Supreme Court junked a federal right to abortion in June. You’d expect a conservative state like Kansas to pass it, but the polling is unclear.

Also, it’s a confusing situation: The legislature scheduled this vote to coincide with a primary, when turnout is low. Initially that was assumed to favor anti-abortion voters, but abortion-rights voters may be more motivated than the legislature expected.

Plus, a Yes vote is a vote against abortion rights, while a No vote is a vote for abortion rights. Some number of voters are going to get that backwards.

The other state to watch is Missouri, where the GOP Senate primary tests just how much scandal the MAGA electorate is willing to write off. Former Governor Eric Greitens resigned in 2018 to avoid impeachment, assailed by charges of sexual assault on his mistress as well as various campaign finance violations.

Charges were eventually dropped and he escaped going to trial, but the claims are still out there. In addition, his ex-wife has accused him of domestic violence.

But Mr. Greitens has adopted the Trump guide to making vileness and suspected criminality work for you: Brace up, double down and bray that any and all allegations are just part of — all together now! — a political witch hunt.

Like Mr. Trump, Mr. Greitens is a political grievance peddler. Also like Mr. Trump, he saves his most concentrated bile for fellow Republicans. One of the most puerile ads of the midterms thus far has been Mr. Greitens’s “RINO hunting” spot, in which he leads a group of armed men in tactical gear as they storm a lovely little suburban home in search of G.O.P. heretics.

Greitens was the front-runner until big money got behind an ad campaign highlighting the ex-wife’s claims. That seems to have brought him down, but he’s still close enough that it’s not a foregone conclusion that he’ll lose.

Multiple polls show the former governor’s support slipping, dropping him behind a couple of his opponents. The state’s attorney general, Eric Schmitt, appears to have taken the lead. He, too, is an election-denying Trump suck-up. But at this point the G.O.P. is operating on a curve; simply weeding out those alleged to be abusers and other possible criminals can feel like a major achievement.

We’ll see what happens tomorrow.

and the DoJ’s 1-6 investigation

With Congress’ 1-6 hearings on hiatus, attention shifts to the Department of Justice. From the beginning, pundits have been skeptical of Attorney General Merrick Garland’s stomach for indicting the political actors behind the insurrection. Sure, DoJ might prosecute rioters by the hundreds and get convictions for trespassing and so forth, but would investigators ever start to climb the pyramid?

It looks like they are. The federal grand jury has been interviewing aides to Mike Pence, and asking them questions about conversations with Trump. DoJ also seems to be looking into Trump’s fake-elector scheme.

DoJ investigations are supposed to make as few waves as possible until indictments come down, and to vanish without a trace if there is no crime to indict. So you need experienced tea-leaf-readers to interpret the signs. My favorites are the folks at Lawfare.

you also might be interested in …

The Biden administration has been trying to get Russia to accept a prisoner swap for WNBA star Brittney Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, but so far it’s not working.

She’s black and female and in trouble with Russia, so course we know what side Trump will come down on: Biden shouldn’t try to get her out at all, because she’s “spoiled” and “loaded up with drugs”. (To me, that sounds like a good description of Don Jr.)

[The Russians] don’t like drugs. And she got caught. And now, we’re supposed to get her out — and she makes, you know, a lot of money.

Griner makes the WNBA max salary of $227K, less than what Bill Russell was making in the 1960s. That’s not a lot of money for somebody who is (1) at the top of her profession and (2) expecting the short career of a professional athlete. The reason she (and other WNBA stars) go overseas during the off-season is to supplement their income.

The Celebrity Net Worth web site estimates her entire fortune at $5 million. It takes Steph Curry about ten games to earn that much.

The Juice Media has a project it calls “honest government ads”. Here’s one for the Supreme Court.

Amanda Marcotte points out the similarities between Republican reactions to mass shootings and to horror stories from their abortion bans: Blame the victims, claim liberals have manufactured the story, and blatantly gaslight about what their laws actually say.

This is all in line with what I was pointing out two weeks ago: It’s an article of faith that conservative policies have no victims. If some obvious victim begins to get attention, that story has to be knocked down by any means necessary.

Michelle Goldberg makes a similar point:

Members of the anti-abortion movement, including [Alexandra] DeSanctis, often claim that abortion is never medically necessary. If they can’t bear to look clearly at the world they’ve made, maybe it’s because then they’d have to admit that what they’ve been saying has never been true.

Welcome to the world, George Jetson, who (according to a Warner Brothers wiki was born yesterday. Other sources have his birthday as August 27, but there’s general agreement he’s born in 2022.

Bill Russell died at age 88. He was arguably the greatest winner in sports history. In his 13-year NBA career, his Boston Celtics won 11 championships. He also won two NCAA championships at the University of San Francisco, and an Olympic gold medal with the US national team in 1956.

Also dead at 89 is Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura on the original Star Trek series. Her character wasn’t as central to the show as the Kirk/Spock/McCoy triad, so her importance is easy to overlook these days, when we’re used to seeing black actors in all sorts of roles. In 2016, a 50th anniversary retrospective noted:

Those of us who weren’t alive at the time probably can’t grasp how groundbreaking the character of Lieutenant Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols, was for audiences of the day. She was one of the first black women on TV not portrayed as a servant. … Nichols played her part in Star Trek’s most famous milestone – what is widely considered the first inter-racial kiss on American television. It wasn’t, in fact – Nancy Sinatra smooched Sammy Davis Jr on TV the year before, to name but one instance – but the moment was so iconic and definitive that it deserves credit.

and let’s close with a science-meets-horror moment

The researchers are calling it “necrobiotics“, which sounds like it ought to be the study of the living dead. Talk about high concept: the movie just seems to write itself. They’re manipulating dead spiders to grab things. What could possibly go wrong?

It turns out that after spiders die, their corpses are basically hydraulic devices. If you can suppress your urge to run out of the room, it’s actually pretty cool.

A Week When Congress Mattered

Three important bills and what happened to them.

Most of the time in America, it’s hard to believe that the Founders intended Congress to be the center of our government. Today, our political conversation spends weeks at a time focused on what the Supreme Court did or might do, what the President did or might do, or how one of them will respond to the other’s latest move.

But wait — isn’t there a third branch? What ever happened to it?

When we talk about Congress at all, it’s usually because they’re investigating some scandal or pseudo-scandal in the executive branch. Or because the Senate is confirming a new judge. Or Congress is the backdrop where the Fed chair makes headlines by commenting on the economy or interest rates.

Of course, members of Congress can become a topic of discussion if they tweet something outrageous or share a platform with Nazis or embarrass our country in some other way. When Republicans control one house or the other, Congress occasionally manufactures a news-making event out of nothing: a government shutdown or a debt-ceiling crisis. The world would be puttering along just fine if Congress weren’t standing on an important life-line and threatening to shoot itself in the foot.

Every now and then, congressional coverage is about legislation, but the bill in question is only symbolic: The House may be voting to codify Roe (i.e. respond to the Supreme Court) or ban assault weapons or protect voting rights (again, in response to the Supreme Court letting states violate rights previously established), but its members rest secure in the knowledge that a Senate filibuster will prevent any of that from becoming law. The point isn’t to accomplish something for the country, but to get one party or the other on the record, so that their votes can be issues in the next election.

In short, we’re used to viewing Congress through a veil of Shakespearean cynicism: Its doings may be full of sound and fury, but ultimately they signify nothing.

To the country’s great surprise, though, this week was different: Congress was in the headlines for three pieces of legislation, all of which matter to people in the non-political world and stand a real chance of becoming law: One bill passed and is on President Biden’s desk. One bill that looked like a slam-dunk failed. And one that seemed dead came back to life.

The bill that Congress passed is the CHIPS Act, which subsidizes American high-tech manufacturing in an attempt to bring the semiconductor industry back to the United States. (Currently, the US imports its most advanced computer chips from Taiwan, a supply chain that China might be able to interrupt.) Promoted as a move to stay competitive with China, the bill spends $52 billion directly, and also includes a tax credit for certain kinds of investments.

The bill is aimed at the future, and won’t do much to solve the immediate chip shortage, which is hampering a variety of American industries. Vox summarizes:

The bulk of the CHIPS Act is a $39 billion fund that will subsidize companies that expand or build new semiconductor manufacturing facilities in the US. The Commerce Department will determine which companies receive the funding, which will be disbursed over five years. More than $10 billion is allocated to semiconductor research, and there’s also some support for workforce development and collaboration with other countries. The bill also includes an extensive investment tax credit that could be worth an additional $24 billion.

The bill that unexpectedly failed was PACT. The point of this bill is to expand VA care to veterans whose illnesses may have been caused by exposure to toxic fumes from burn pits during foreign deployments. Wikipedia says:

Burn pits were used as a waste disposal method by the United States Armed Forces during the Gulf War, the Kosovo War, the War in Afghanistan, and the Iraq War, but have since been terminated due to the toxic fumes that posed health risks to nearby soldiers. Currently, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) requires veterans to prove that their illness is directly related to burn pits.

From 2007 to 2020, the VA denied 78 percent of disability claims by veterans that were alleged to have been caused by burn pits. The Honoring our PACT Act would remove the requirement that veterans prove that burn pits caused their illness and retroactively pay veterans who did not receive care for their illnesses after claiming disability caused by burn pits. The Congressional Budget Office estimated the cost of the Act would be $300 billion from 2022 to 2032.

This was supposed to be a done deal. The House passed the bill in March. With only minor changes, the Senate passed the bill 84-14 in June. It then went back to the House, where “technical problems were discovered in the language of the bill”. The House made the needed technical changes and passed the bill again. Because the bill wasn’t identical to the one the Senate passed, it went back to the Senate, where passage should have been a formality. But instead Republicans blocked it.

“Why?” you might ask. Well, for reasons that have nothing to do with the bill itself, but rather with the other two bills. Democrats intend to avoid the Senate filibuster by passing the third bill, the Inflation Reduction Act (see below), via reconciliation. They can do that without any Republican votes, if they get all 50 Democratic votes. (That’s why an individual Democrat like Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema has so much power.)

Passing a bill without Republican votes is a horrible miscarriage of democracy — at least if you listen to Republicans. (Of course, they passed the Trump tax cuts via reconciliation, and tried to repeal ObamaCare via reconciliation, both without the votes of any Democratic senators. But that’s fine, because that was them. When Democrats do it, it’s unthinkably awful.)

As usual when Republicans aren’t getting their way, they took hostages. McConnell promised that there would be no bipartisan CHIPS Act if Democrats went ahead with a reconciliation bill. 17 Republican senators apparently believe that the CHIPS Act is good for America — that’s why they voted for it. But they were willing to torpedo something good for America if Democrats didn’t do what they wanted. (God forbid senators should just vote for what they think is good and against what they think is bad.)

But when Joe Manchin blew up what was left of the reconciliation bill two weeks ago, Republicans decided they didn’t need a hostage any more. So the CHIPS bill passed.

And then Manchin and Schumer announced they had come to an agreement. Someone had to be punished for tricking Mitch McConnell (who is always such a straight shooter himself, right?), and the only whipping boy at hand was PACT. So McConnell blocked it. (For technical reasons, PACT doesn’t qualify as a reconciliation bill, so 41 Republican votes was enough to stop it.)

Veterans were outraged, as they should be. Veterans’ healthcare shouldn’t be collateral damage in a dispute that has nothing to do with them. Nothing should, but especially not that. (Various Republicans have given a variety of bogus reasons for blocking the bill. But nothing that they’re talking about has changed since the same senators supported the bill in June.)

Fortunately, veterans have a celebrity speaking up for them: Jon Stewart, who has been championing these sorts of issues for a long time. (Before PACT, he nagged Congress until it fully funded the September 11 Victims Compensation Fund for first responders whose health problems traced back to working in the ruins of the Twin Towers.)

Partly due to Stewart’s ability to draw attention and channel outrage, the optics of this are terrible for Republicans, especially with the fall elections approaching. So I expect them to come back from the August recess looking to fix their blunder. I hope Chuck Schumer just takes the win and gets this done.

The bill that came back from the dead was the Inflation Reduction Act, a smaller and re-jiggered version of President Biden’s Build Back Better plan.

Build Back Better started out as a massive $3.5 trillion initiative that addressed a wide range of issues, from tax policy to healthcare to infrastructure to immigration to climate change. No Republican in Congress has ever supported it, so from the beginning, the only way to pass it was to get almost every Democrat in the House to support it, and then to squeeze it to fit the arcane rules of the reconciliation process in the Senate. If that happened, then Democrats could pass it if all 50 Democratic senators supported it and Vice President Harris broke the tie.

That need for unanimity gives every Democratic senator a veto. Most Democrats have seen the bill as a chance to prove to reluctant voters (especially young voters) that Democratic control of Congress actually matters, and that important things can get done if you vote. (Conversely, the best weapon Republicans have to suppress the youth vote in the midterm elections is “It doesn’t matter. Congress never accomplishes anything anyway.”) So they’ve been easy to convince. All along, though, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia have been more difficult.

Most of the attention has gone to Manchin, who represents a state that Donald Trump carried more than 2-to-1 in 2020. So Manchin wins his elections almost entirely on his own, rather than because he represents the Democratic Party. When he runs again in 2024, “He saved Joe Biden’s agenda” is likely to appear in an attack ad against him, rather than an ad in his favor. So he has been understandably careful about what he agrees to.

(On the Left, I often see people attributing his position to corruption, to having coal industry donors, and to having coal interests himself. Similarly, the Senate’s inability to pass significant climate legislation gets attributed to “the Democrats” not really wanting to do so, because of donors and whatnot. I don’t see any reason to go there. Manchin represents a poor state with substantial fossil fuel resources. He needs to get votes from people who are skeptical about climate change, and are particularly skeptical that the Democratic Party wants to solve their problems. And “the Democrats” haven’t been able to pass a bill because they need 50 people to be unanimous, which is hard. Remember when the Republicans tried to repeal ObamaCare? They had 52 senators, but they couldn’t get 50 of them to agree on any particular proposal.)

For a year and a half, Manchin has been hard to please. The bill kept getting whittled down to fit what he claimed to want, but the goalposts would always move again before an agreement got made. (In his defense, the issue that he said he was worried about — inflation — kept turning out to be worse than previously anticipated.) Two weeks ago, it looked like he had ended any hope of getting a bill done in this session of Congress. And if Democrats lose either house of Congress in the fall, as seems likely (especially if they can’t generate more accomplishments to run on), it might be a long time before they’ll get another shot.

From the beginning, I’ve been debating whether Manchin was serious, or was just stringing President Biden along. (Moderate Republicans played a similar game with President Obama about ObamaCare. They kept hinting that their votes were available, but then never getting to Yes.) If he was serious, I figured, then eventually he would agree to something. Two weeks ago, I concluded that he was not serious and had never been serious.

But then Wednesday, Manchin and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced an agreement, which they dubbed the Inflation Control Act. Vox sums up what the bill includes:

  • $739 billion in revenue increases and $433 in new spending, leaving more than $300 billion for deficit reduction over ten years.
  • $370 billion of the spending addresses climate change. Most of the money goes for renewable energy and electric vehicles. The bill also includes a new penalty to discourage methane leaks.
  • The cap on the cost of ObamaCare insurance policies (adopted as part of Covid legislation in 2021) is extended for another three years.
  • Medicare is finally allowed to save money by negotiating the price of at least some drugs.
  • The IRS will get more money to help it catch rich people who cheat on their taxes.
  • Loopholes will close so that corporations pay at least a 15% tax rate.

The wild card in this is the other renegade Democrat, Kyrsten Sinema. She’s the last veto standing, and she might use that power to either get something that she wants or to scuttle the deal entirely. We should find out this week.

The Monday Morning Teaser

When you consider how much power the Constitution theoretically gives Congress, it’s amazing how seldom that body is the focus of our national political conversation. When we do talk about Congress, it’s usually because Congress is investigating somebody else (as in the 1-6 hearings) or because it’s taking some symbolic vote that won’t actually change anything (like all the progressive legislation that gets through the House but predictably dies in the Senate).

This week, though, the focus was on Congress legislating, believe it or not. The CHIPs bill passed. Joe Manchin finally agreed to a climate reconciliation bill, which now is all lined up to pass (assuming Kyrsten Sinema doesn’t torpedo it). And a bill that looked like a slam dunk, the PACT Act to provide healthcare to veterans suffering the effects of toxic burn pit fumes, unexpectedly got blocked by Republicans in the Senate — apparently as a temper tantrum about the Manchin-Schumer deal. That was a huge self-inflicted wound on the GOP, and I think the pressure to reverse it will be irresistible once the August recess ends.

The opportunity to focus on meaningful legislation is so novel that I have to make that the featured post this week. “A Week When Congress Mattered” should appear around 10 or so EDT.

The weekly summary will also cover tomorrow’s primaries, including the referendum on abortion in Kansas. Also, why I think the newly announced centrist Forward Party is doomed. With the 1-6 Committee in recess, attention has shifted to the DoJ’s investigation, which might be aiming higher than it has sometimes appeared. WNBA star Britteny Griner is still on trial in Russia, and NBA legend Bill Russell died at the age of 89. How the Right’s tactics for avoiding the unfortunate results of their abortion policies resemble their tactics for avoiding the unfortunate results of their gun policy. Plus a few other things. I’ll aim to get that out around noon.

No Ambiguity

In our hearing tonight, you saw an American President faced with a stark and unmistakable choice between right and wrong. There was no ambiguity. No nuance. Donald Trump made a purposeful choice to violate his oath of office, to ignore the ongoing violence against law enforcement, to threaten our constitutional order. There is no way to excuse that behavior. It was indefensible.

– Liz Cheney, 7-21-2022

This week’s featured post is “Trump doesn’t have a side of the 1-6 story“.

This week everybody was talking about the final summer 1-6 committee hearing

Thursday’s prime-time hearing [video, transcript] focused on the three hours between when Trump told his supporters to march to the Capitol and when he asked them to go home.

In between, he sat in the Oval Office dining room watching the riot unfold on Fox News and doing nothing to stop it. He could have asked the rioters to go home sooner, and he could have mobilized federal resources to support the Capitol Police resisting the attack. Many of his staffers urged him to do one or the other, but he refused.

Instead, he tweeted more incitement to those who wanted to hang Vice President Pence, and called Republicans in Congress urging them to further delay the counting the electoral votes. It seems clear that his primary goal that day was to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s victory, and the riot was just one of his tools for achieving that purpose. He didn’t stop the riot because he wanted it to succeed.

Some of the most striking evidence presented concerned Vice President Pence’s safety. Audio and video of Pence’s Secret Service detail trying to move him from his office in the Capitol to a more secure location showed just how tense the situation was.

In addition, an anonymous White House security official (whose voice was disguised), told about listening to the Secret Service radio chatter.

Members of the V.P. detail at this time were starting to fear for their own lives. There was a lot of yelling—a lot of very personal calls over the radio. It was very disturbing. I don’t like talking about it. There were calls to say goodbye to family members. For whatever reason on the ground, the V.P. detail thought that this was about to get very ugly.

The comic relief in the hearing was video of Josh Hawley pumping his fist to encourage the 1-6 mob, but then later running through the Capitol to get away from them. The clip got one of the few audible laughs we’ve heard in these hearings. His home-state Kansas City Star proclaimed Senator Hawley “a laughingstock” and quoted this tweet:

From now on, if political reporters ask Josh Hawley if he’s planning to run, he’s going to have to ask them to clarify.

Hawley has a book coming out next May: “Manhood: the Masculine Virtues America Needs“. When I first heard that, I thought it was a joke. It’s not, or at least not an intentional one.

The mystery of the missing Secret Service text messages from January 6 is looking worse and worse. The Service is claiming they innocently deleted the messages as part of a system upgrade, but that’s hard to credit. I upgraded computer this year, and I managed not to delete my files. The Secret Service, meanwhile, is an agency responsible for investigating cybercrimes. Basic data hygiene shouldn’t be beyond them.

The Service is also connected to another 1-6 mystery: Why was Mike Pence so reluctant to get in the car when agents wanted to take him to a safer place?

Mr Pence then reportedly outright refused to get into the vehicle, saying his security detail would ignore his demand not to leave the building and would instead “take off” against his wishes.

“I’m not getting in the car, Tim,” Mr Pence replied. “I trust you, Tim, but you’re not driving the car. If I get in that vehicle, you guys are taking off. I’m not getting in the car.”

This is speculative to the point of being a conspiracy theory, but what if the two are connected? Maybe the agents’ text messages say something about their plans for Pence.

Beaux of the Fifth Column doesn’t expect the hearings to turn Trump supporters into liberals, but he does suggest the lesson they should learn from what has been presented: Trump conned them with his whole stolen-election grift, and Trump’s people have been laughing at them this whole time. Now they need to look at their 2022 candidates, and sort out which ones were also fooled by Trump, and which ones were in on the con.

Steve Bannon was found guilty of two counts of contempt of Congress. He called no witnesses, and the jury deliberated for two-and-a-half hours.

I wonder what they talked about. “Should we hang around for lunch? Anybody know what they’re feeding us?” They needed to answer two questions: Did Bannon receive a lawful subpoena? Did he defy it? The answers were clearly yes.

He’ll be sentenced in October, possibly for as long as two years. He’s planning to appeal. His only hope is a purely partisan intervention by the Supreme Court’s Republican majority.

Peter Navarro has also been charged with contempt of Congress; his trial is due to start November 17. Mark Meadows and Dan Scavino have also been cited by Congress for contempt, but the Justice Department has not pressed charges.

The Murdoch Empire seems to have turned on Trump. This week both The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post spoke out against him.

and abortion

A leading Republican candidate for governor of Michigan is clear about her position:

Asked … about a hypothetical situation in which a 14-year-old girl became pregnant as a result of sexual abuse by a family member, Dixon said, “Perfect example.” She went on, “Because I know people who are the product. A life is a life for me. That’s how it is. That is for me, that is my feeling.” 

“A life is a life” doesn’t seem to apply to the 14-year-old, whose life might be thrown considerably off-track.

The NYT has been staying on this theme: Life-of-the-mother exceptions to state abortion bans are not all they’re made out to be. Yes, they allow abortions if a pregnant woman is in danger of immediate death. But they don’t cover the situation where death is merely a probable consequence of carrying a fetus to term, or even of waiting to see how things develop.

Case in point: pregnant women with cancer.

[Rachel Brown] had always said she would never have an abortion. But the choices she faced were wrenching. If she had the chemotherapy that she needed to prevent the spread of her cancer, she could harm her baby. If she didn’t have it, the cancer could spread and kill her. She had two children, ages 2 and 11, who could lose their mother.

… Ms. Brown’s first visit was with a surgical oncologist who, she said, “made it clear that my life would be in danger if I kept my pregnancy because I wouldn’t be able to be treated until the second trimester.” He told her that if she waited for those months passed, her cancer could spread to distant organs and would become fatal.

This situation is exceptional, but not freakishly so. The article claims that about one in a thousand pregnant women gets diagnosed with cancer (often breast cancer). Given that millions of babies are born in the US each year, that means thousands of women face this decision. Or at least they did face it, before state governments began deciding for them that they must risk their lives.

Similar considerations apply to pregnant women prone to blood clots or at risk of stroke or heart attack. They may not be facing death at this particular moment, but waiting for a crisis might mean intervening too late to save them.

Some women, no doubt, want a child so badly that they would choose to accept such a risk. But that should be their decision, not the government’s.

A political science professor at Indiana University calls out IU leadership for its timidity in defending Dr. Caitlin Bernard, the woman who became a target for Indiana’s attorney general when she performed an abortion on the pregnant 10-year-old who came to her from Ohio, where the abortion was illegal. Bernard is an assistant professor at the IU School of Health.

President Whitten and Dean Hess especially ought to be ashamed of themselves for their cowardly silence. Indiana University is a public university, not an extension of the state’s Republican administration or the attorney general’s far-right, anti-abortion agenda. If it stands for anything, it is the freedom of its faculty and professional staff to do their jobs without being attacked for doing so.

and the pandemic

Numbers have definitely turned upwards in the last few weeks. For a long time deaths in the US had stayed in the 300s per day. Now they’re averaging 444.

President Biden tested positive for Covid Friday. He seems to be doing fine, which is a credit to the effect of vaccination. President Trump, if you remember, got very seriously ill in the days before vaccines.

and fascists being as outrageous as possible

Before getting angry, consider that these folks are trying very hard to make people like us angry. So if you’re in a bad mood already, I recommend skipping this section.

The quotes below are from the Turning Point USA’s Student Action Summit in Tampa this weekend. Turning Point USA claims it’s mission is “to identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote freedom”, but it has basically become a Young Fascists organization. Recognizing the similarity (and possibly looking to recruit), local neo-Nazi groups showed up outside the conference. But TPUSA did at least find it necessary to officially denounce them. And I have to confess that the far right is so bizarre these days that it’s hard to tell whether someone is attempting to parody them. (I mean, is the guy carrying a “DeSantis Country” flag next to the guy with a swastika flag really a DeSantis supporter? He could be, but who can say for sure?)

Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz won the prize for provoking the most social-media backlash with this gem:

Why is it that the women with the least likelihood of getting pregnant are the ones most worried about having abortions? … Nobody wants to impregnate you if you look like a thumb.

Because, of course, only women Gaetz finds attractive are entitled to have opinions or constitutional rights. (This quote is reminiscent of Trump defending himself against charges of sexual assault by claiming that his accusers were too ugly to assault, as if that ever stopped anybody.) Gaetz also went on an anti-Hunter-Biden rant, inspiring the crowd to chant “Lock him up!” Meanwhile, Gaetz himself is under investigation for sex trafficking and sex with a minor. Las Vegas should offer odds on whether Hunter or Matt sees the inside of a prison cell first.

Marjorie Taylor Greene labeled herself a “Christian nationalist”, because that always turns out well, particularly for Jews and Muslims, and even the occasional liberal Christian. “I think that’s what the Republican Party needs to be about,” she said.

Rick Scott used the classic Nazi technique of accusing opponents of your own sins.

In their new socialist America, everyone will obey, and no one will be allowed to complain. … The modern Left in America are the modern day version of book burners.

His state of Florida is where math books are banned from the schools for political reasons, and teachers are ordered to remove rainbow flags from their classrooms. The state’s largest school district currently has no sexual education curriculum, because the board has rejected all the texts.

Ted Cruz informed the crowd “I’m Ted Cruz, and my pronoun is Kiss My Ass.” I hope people start using that preferred pronoun to refer to Kiss My Ass. It’s the respectful thing to do.

Trump Jr. gave such an unhinged (and possibly drug-fueled) speech that liberals didn’t even bother to argue with whatever he was trying to say. Instead, Molly Jong-Fast asks “Is he OK?” I suspect the answer is no.

Donald Trump easily won the 2024 presidential straw poll with 79%, followed by Ron DeSantis with 19%. Mike Pence and other would-be contenders definitely need to worry about their lack of fascist appeal.

and you also might be interested in …

Cities across Europe have been setting heat records. Large chunks of the US have been pretty hot too.

Somebody tried to stab Rep. Lee Zeldin, the Republican nominee for governor of New York. The guy has been arrested and charged. President Biden immediately denounced the attack. “Violence has absolutely no place in our society or our politics.” I completely agree.

A note to the Republicans still making excuses for the January 6 rioters: See how easy that is? You can Just Say No to violence.

One thing the Speaker of the House can do without support in the Senate is force the other party to go on the record. This week Speaker Pelosi held votes on two of four bills that passed the House, but will probably die in the Senate:

  • The Women’s Health Protection Act, which codifies into law abortion rights that were constitutional rights before the Dobbs decision. In particular, no state can restrict abortion prior to fetal viability. This passed the House on July 15 with no Republican votes.
  • The Ensuring Access to Abortion Act, which ensures that “no person acting under state law could prevent, restrict, or otherwise retaliate against a person traveling across state lines for lawful abortion services.” This also passed on July 15, with three Republican votes and 205 votes against.
  • The Right to Contraception Act, which passed Thursday with eight Republican votes and 195 against. This codifies the right to use contraception, which is currently protected by the Supreme Court’s Griswold decision. That precedent is shaky now because it rests on the same legal base as Roe v Wade.
  • The Respect for Marriage Act, which codifies the right to same-sex and interracial marriage. These rights also are currently backed by Supreme Court precedents that the current Court might overturn. This passed Tuesday with 157 Republicans voting against it.

Expect to hear about these votes again in the fall campaign. These are all bills with substantial popular support, but they offend a small-but-influential sliver of the Republican electorate. Many Republicans would like to soft-pedal their position on such issues, but Pelosi forced them to vote Yes or No.

and let’s close with something squirrelly

Every photographer needs a theme. Geert Weggen’s theme is squirrels. I’m not sure how much he stages, how much he photoshops, and how much he captures in the wild, but the images are both amusing and amazing.

Trump doesn’t have a side of the 1-6 story

Before you complain about the 1-6 hearings being “one-sided”, you might want to ask Trump what his side of the story is.

As the January 6 Committee wraps up its public hearings until September, it’s time to assess what we’ve learned and where we are. Using primarily testimony from people inside Trump’s orbit (and occasionally inside his family), the Committee has put together a compelling narrative of how the January 6 riot happened. The key points are:

  • Trump lost the election.
  • His own experts, in his campaign as well as his appointees in the government, knew that his claims of widespread election fraud were false, and told him so on numerous occasions. This was not a matter of debate among administration officials. Every official in a position to investigate came to the same conclusion.
  • Trump tried everything he could think of to stay in power in spite of the voters. At every level, he tried to influence and intimidate Republican officials to change the results in his favor.
  • He pressured Justice Department leaders to lie about the conclusions of their investigations and back his false claims of election fraud.
  • He promoted a series of dubious legal theories, ranging from the unlikely to the absurd, that would give various intermediate entities (state legislatures, Congress, the Vice President) the authority to reverse the will of the voters and keep him in power. Again, the experts within his own administration unanimously told him that these theories had no merit.
  • He encouraged Republicans in seven states to assemble false slates of electors, and to submit fake electoral-vote totals to Congress. He then pressured Vice President Pence to count those phony votes, or to illegally refuse to count the votes of legitimate electors because their slate was “disputed”.
  • When it became clear that key departments within his administration — Justice, Homeland Security, Defense — would not abuse their powers to cooperate with his schemes, he called for a massive rally on January 6, promising it would be “wild”.
  • On January 6 itself, Trump knew that some members of his audience were armed when he told them to go to the Capitol.
  • Although a march to the Capitol was not announced in advance (even in drafts of Trump’s speech), right-wing militia groups like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys knew it was coming. Before Trump started speaking, they were already preparing to breach the Capitol’s defenses and spearhead the mob Trump would send their way.
  • He intended to go to the Capitol himself, with his armed Secret Service detail, but the Secret Service refused to take him there. Instead, they returned him to the White House.
  • For three hours as the attack unfolded, he sat in the Oval Office dining room watching Fox News. The official White House records from that period are blank — no phone records, no photographs. During that time, virtually his entire staff pleaded for him to do something to stop the riot. But he made no effort to interfere with the attack, either by asking the mob to go home, or by mobilizing federal resources to aid the Capitol Police. Such orders, when they finally came, were given by Vice President Pence.
  • He knew that the mob was already angry with the vice president when he tweeted “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution”. He never called Pence to make sure he was safe. Meanwhile, members of Pence’s Secret Service detail were sending messages to their families in case they died.
  • Although the White House call record for those three hours is blank, President Trump was calling Republican congressmen, urging them to continue the work of the mob by delaying further the counting of electoral votes.
  • Only when the tide had already turned, and law enforcement was beginning to regain control of the situation, did Trump ask the rioters to go home. In that video message, he repeated the false stolen-election claims that had inflamed the mob, and told the rioters “We love you. You’re very special.”

If Trump supporters are forced to comment on this narrative, they nearly always say, “That’s just the Democrats’ version. The hearings don’t present Trump’s side of the story.”

I’ve heard various responses to this point, all of which are true as far as they go:

But there is a more fundamental answer that I seldom hear: Trump doesn’t have a side of the story to tell.

I know that sounds crazy: We’re often told that every story has at least two sides. But Trump has had every opportunity to tell his side of the story, and he has offered us nothing. If he wants to get his version out, he has immediate access to the vast resources of right-wing media, including Fox News, which I’m sure would love to be running shadow hearings orchestrated by his followers.

But in the last year and a half, Trump and his loyalists have made literally no positive contribution to the public record of the Capitol riot. From the beginning, Trump’s position has been consistent: No one should talk about January 6. No one should investigate it. No one should testify about it. (Josh Marshall comments on what Jim Jordan et al might have added to the hearings: “The point is to find out what happened … not to have a public presentation of findings along with another group making fart sounds and jeering and generally trying to throw the presentation or testimony off track.”)

Such comments on the hearings as Trump and his people have made are entirely negative: This event never happened, that witness shouldn’t be trusted, this testimony is hearsay, and so on.

But what did happen, Mr. Trump?


Well, that’s not entirely true: TrumpWorld does occasionally offer some transparent gaslighting about January 6, like when Trump described the mob that injured 150 police officers as “loving“, or Republican Congressman Andrew Clyde compared the Capitol invasion to “a normal tourist visit“, or the Republican National Committee characterized mob violence as “legitimate political discourse“.

But if any of the points in the Committee’s narrative are false, it shouldn’t be hard to assemble an alternative narrative and flesh it out with evidence. Did some investigator inside Trump’s Departments of Justice or Homeland Security (and not just amateur yahoos like Sidney Powell and the My Pillow guy) find evidence of the kind of widespread fraud that could have turned the election? (And not just a handful of people submitting false ballots, many of them for Trump?) Was there a faction — or even one person — inside DoJ’s Office of Legal Counsel or the White House Counsel’s office who supported Trump’s Pence-can-decide-what-votes-to-count theory? Can Trump tell us about any call he made to send help to the Capitol Police, and get the person he called to back him up? What’s the innocent explanation of how the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys knew ahead of time that a mob was coming to storm the Capitol?

Tell us about it. That would constitute another side of the story.

Or Trump could discuss his intentions. When he told the mob that he would go with them to the Capitol, did he mean it? Where exactly was he planning to go? What was he planning to do when he got there? Why didn’t he tell his supporters to go home sooner?

Other Trumpists could also tell us interesting facts, if they were so inclined. We know Roger Stone spent a lot of time with right-wing militia leaders prior to January 6. Maybe he could tell his side of that story (rather than pleading the Fifth in response to every question). Steve Bannon seems to have been tipped off about the riot. (“All hell is going to break loose tomorrow,” he said on his January 5 podcast. “It’s not going to happen like you think it’s going to happen.”) I’d love to discover how he knew, but he’d rather go to jail than talk about 1-6 under oath.

Mike Flynn retweeted a call for then-president Trump to declare martial law and hold a new election, and called for similar actions himself in public speeches. Other Trump officials have testified that Flynn wanted Trump to order the military to seize voting machines. Maybe he could tell us what he had in mind, rather than pleading the Fifth to a basic civics question like “Do you believe in the peaceful transition of power in the United States of America?”

Those accounts could turn into another side of the story. But it’s not the 1-6 Committee that’s preventing you from hearing such a narrative. It’s Trump.

So if you’re still a Trump supporter in spite of the evidence accumulated and presented by the Committee so far, your problem isn’t that Bennie Thompson and Liz Cheney are suppressing Trump’s side of the story.

Your problem is that Trump doesn’t have a side.

The Monday Morning Teaser

Thursday was the final 1-6 Committee hearing of the summer. The weekly summary will link to a complete video and transcript, plus summarizing the main points.

I thought this was a good time to take a step back and reflect on the larger picture. In particular, I wanted to answer the objection that the hearings are “one-sided”, because no one on the committee is representing Trump. I summarize that objection’s flaw in the featured post “Trump doesn’t have a side of the 1-6 story”, which should be out shortly.

From the very beginning, the effort of Trump and his allies hasn’t been to tell his side of the 1-6 story, but to prevent any discussion of the incident at all. Mitch McConnell blocked the proposal for a bipartisan commission, and Kevin McCarthy pulled his nominees off the House committee in an attempt to discredit it. Fox News has been refusing to air the hearings. Many of Trump’s closest allies have refused to testify, and Steven Bannon seems ready to go to jail rather than tell his “side” of the story.

People who complain about not hearing Trump’s “side” during the hearings should instead be asking Trump what his side is.

The weekly summary will also discuss the further response to the Dobbs decision, the bizarre speeches at the Young Fascists Turning Point USA conference this weekend, the House’s attempt to codify rights before the Supreme Court takes them away, the European heat wave, and a few other things. It should be out a little before noon EDT.