Doing Putin’s Job

The latest attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests – no party’s, no president’s, only Putin’s. The American people deserve to know all of the facts surrounding Russia’s ongoing efforts to subvert our democracy, which is why special counsel Mueller’s investigation must proceed unimpeded. Our nation’s elected officials, including the president, must stop looking at this investigation through the warped lens of politics and manufacturing partisan sideshows. If we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putin’s job for him.

Senator John McCain

This week’s featured post is “The Nunes Memo: It’s ridiculous and it damages the country, but it might work.” On my religious blog Free and Responsible Search, I posted the text of the sermon “Owning My Racism“, which I preached on Martin Luther King Sunday.

This week everybody was talking about the Nunes memo

The featured post goes into detail about the memo itself. But there are a number of articles about the larger effects, like “Why I Am Leaving the FBI” by counterterrorism expert Josh Campbell. The comments contain a lot of you-should-stand-and-fight messages, but they miss the point: FBI rules prevent agents from speaking out in public. If the problem is in the political arena, Campbell has to leave the FBI to work on it.

Another interesting perspective comes from former Illinois congressman and right-wing talk-radio host Joe Walsh: “Based on my experience working with him, nothing about the way he’s behaving now as chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence — overseeing part of the so-called Russia-Trump investigation — is particularly shocking. The Nunes I knew was a purely partisan animal. … With Nunes, I found it was all about politics, almost never about policy.”


As TPM’s Allegra Kirkland points out “the FBI isn’t a hotbed of Democratic partisans“. It makes sense that, say, career EPA officials would be Democrats, because protecting the environment is much more of Democratic value than a Republican one. But it defies logic that career FBI agents as a group would have a liberal bias, or that the FBI chain-of-command would be dominated by partisan Democrats.

Think about it: If you run into a college student who’s majoring in environmental studies and hoping to work at the EPA, she’s almost certainly a liberal. But if she’s majoring in law enforcement and hoping to work at the FBI, I don’t think you can say much about her politics. If anything, she’s probably more conservative than most Americans her age.


In the meantime, Putin’s investment in Trump continues to pay dividends. In particular, the Trump administration is not going to enforce some of the sanctions overwhelmingly passed by Congress.

Also, the head of a major Russian intelligence service came to the U.S., in spite of sanctions that are supposed to keep him out. Last I heard, no one was taking credit for letting him in.

and the State of the Union

Tuesday seems like a long time ago, but Trump’s first State of the Union address was this week. By now we all realize that Teleprompter Trump and Campaign Rally Trump are two very different speakers. This was Teleprompter Trump. The numbers are pretty much all nonsense, like the claim that cutting the corporate tax will “increase average family income by more than $4,000”, but at least he didn’t call Mexicans rapists or invite the gallery to punch his opponents in the face.

As I predicted before he took office, he’s taking credit for a lot of Obama’s accomplishments. (“We are now an exporter of energy to the world.”) He continued to paint immigrants as criminals, making the MS-13 gang the face of immigration, and a reason to turn away refugee children. He made a lot of probably empty promises about infrastructure and new trade deals. He talked about “clean coal” as if those words actually meant something. I would examine the text more closely, but I’ve become skeptical of anything Trump says. Let’s see what actual proposals get made.


One passage does deserve attention, because it’s a very dangerous idea I suspect we’ll hear again:

I call on the Congress to empower every Cabinet Secretary with the authority to reward good workers — and to remove Federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.

That’s how the federal government worked in the 19th century, when it was a giant patronage machine similar to some of the big-city political machines. That’s why the Civil Service Act got passed in 1883.


I thought Joe Kennedy did a good job with his response to Trump’s speech. The Trump administration, he said, is turning America into a zero-sum game, where “in order for one to win, another must lose”.

As if the mechanic in Pittsburgh and the teacher in Tulsa and the day care worker in Birmingham are somehow bitter rivals, rather than mutual casualties of a system forcefully rigged for those at the top. As if the parent who lies awake terrified that their transgender son will be beaten and bullied at school is any more or less legitimate than the parent whose heart is shattered by a daughter in the grips of opioid addiction. So here is the answer Democrats offer tonight: we choose both. We fight for both.

That sounds like a theme Democrats can run on. It ties right in to the budget battles, where there’s never enough money for what ordinary Americans need, because we’ve already given it away in tax cuts for the rich.


CBS News shines a light on the administration’s all-talk-no-action opioid policy.

The answers, according to the president’s speech: tightened immigration laws that will slow drug trafficking and getting “much tougher on drug dealers and pushers if we are going to succeed in stopping this scourge.” But the rhetoric omitted any mention of the actual solutions proposed by experts on the front lines of the crisis.

What’s left out?

  • Addiction to prescription drugs, which are made right here and trafficked through doctors and drug stores.
  • Funding for treatment programs.

Trump declared opioid addiction a “public health emergency” in October, but that in itself opened up only $57K in federal funding. Since then, he has not proposed any opioid program to Congress.


Another piece of the real state of the union is that we’re losing environmental protections.


By coincidence, the day after Trump’s speech I was reading David Wong’s latest novel What the Hell Did I Just Read?, where I ran into this passage:

Marconi’s pipe was leaning against an ancient figurine that looked like some kind of Egyptian god, only it had an enormous, erect penis almost as big as its torso, the figure’s left hand wrapped around the shaft. … “It’s the Egyptian god Min, popular in the fourth century B.C., the god of fertility. It is believed that during the coronation of a new Pharaoh, he would be required to masturbate in front of the crowd, to demonstrate that he himself possessed the fertility powers of Min. If you have watched a State of the Union address, you will find that the ritual has not changed much.”

The description of Min turns out to be accurate, but Wong writes intentionally absurd novels, so I wouldn’t trust the claim about Pharaoh.

but we need to be telling stories about the cruelty of Trump’s immigration policies

Max Boot tells about Helen Huynh. She and her husband came here from Vietnam after the war, in which her husband fought on our side. They became citizens and had two daughters, who of course are citizens. She developed leukemia and needed a stem-cell transplant; her sister in Vietnam turned out to be a perfect match. But the sister’s visa application to come here for the procedure was rejected three times, and Huynh died a few days before Trump’s State of the Union.

Also take a look at the Dreamer Stories web site. The more we can get voters to look at the Dreamers as individuals, the harder it will be to deport them.

and you also might be interested in …

The Super Bowl: Philadelphia 41, New England 33.


The federal government is expected to borrow nearly $1 trillion this year, a sharp increase over last year. Neither party in Congress seems to be worried about this or have any plan to do anything about it. I’ve explained in the past why I don’t believe the federal debt is a big problem, but it certainly looks like a big problem, so you can be sure that eventually we’ll be told that we have to accept major cuts in the social safety net because the country can’t afford it. (Reversing the recent trillion-dollar giveaway to corporations and the rich won’t come up.)


Judges keep knocking down voter suppression laws. This time it’s the disenfranchisement of felons in Florida. Under the current rules, anyone convicted of a felony (and many felonies are not such heinous crimes) has to serve the sentence and probation, wait five years (or seven for some offenses), and then begin an appeal process that ends up in front of “a panel of high-level government officials over which Florida’s governor has absolute veto authority.” According to Judge Mark Walker: “No standards guide the panel.”

In other words, the governor gets to choose which Floridians will be allowed to vote for his re-election. That conflict of interest is not just theoretical. The judge writes:

Plaintiffs identify several instances of former felons who professed political views amenable to the Board’s members who then received voting rights, while those who expressed contrary political views to the Board were denied those same rights. Applicants—as well as their character witnesses—have routinely invoked their conservative beliefs and values to their benefit.

The judge focused on the arbitrariness of the system of restoring voting rights to felons, and allowed the 5-7 year waiting period. He put off ordering a remedy until later this month.

But even without the political bias, such a system is wrong. It’s wrong on an individual basis, because after you’ve served your time, you should be allowed to re-enter society fully. But when you combine felon disenfranchisement with a justice system that is looking for black crime and far more likely to convict black law-breakers than white ones, you wind up with a significant disenfranchisement of the black community. (Walker notes that 1-in-5 of Florida’s black adults is disenfranchised.) Similarly, upper-class and middle-class voters accused of a felony are more likely to have good lawyers who can either get them off or plea-bargain to a misdemeanor. So a substantial class bias gets baked into the electorate as well.

Someone might argue that the system is fair, and blacks and poor people just commit more felonies. But I think that the burden of proof in that argument should be borne by the state.

In November, Floridians — at least the ones still allowed to — will vote on a ballot initiative to restore felon voting rights.


No human languages or institutions have lasted for 10,000 years, so how do you make a warning symbol for something that will be dangerous that long? (Consider the skull-and-crossbones. You might intend it to say “poison”, but some future person might think “pirate treasure”.) What kind of warning will get people’s attention, but not make them curious? Vox and 99% Invisible explore those questions in this fascinating video.

and let’s close with something cute

If you can’t wait for the Olympics to start, I offer this video of a girl doing an obstacle course that her Dad built in the back yard.

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