Playing Beanbag

Sure, politics ain’t bean-bag. ‘Tis a man’s game, an’ women, childer, cripples an’ prohybitionists ‘d do well to keep out iv it.

Mr. Dooley, an Irish-American character created by writer Finley Peter Dunne (1895)

This week’s featured post is “Why does the Right hate victims?

This week everybody was talking (once again) about chaos and scandal in the White House

Like several other Trump officials, Scott Pruitt has already been under fire for overspending on travel and office remodeling. But this week something more serious came out: For his first six months in the Trump administration, Pruitt lived in a condo owned by a lobbyist, and paid a sweetheart rate. One of the lobbyist’s clients was Cheniere Energy, which according to Time, “is best known for its role in the growing U.S. liquefied natural gas industry.”

Worse, there appears to be a quid that pairs with this quo. One of the trips Pruitt overspent on was to Morocco, where

Pruitt met with top foreign affairs and energy officials … The EPA cited outlining the “potential benefit of liquified natural gas (LNG) imports on Morocco’s economy” as a reason for the trip even though promoting U.S. energy is not technically part of Pruitt’s job description.

That’s kind of an understatement. An EPA Director who actually cared about the environment would be encouraging other countries to reduce fossil fuel consumption, rather than encouraging them to buy more fossil fuels from American companies.

So who exactly was Pruitt working for on this trip?


The EPA was also in the news for distributing to its employees “a list of eight things they are allowed to publicly say about climate change.” None of the entries on the list is “Whatever the science shows is true.” Here’s some of what can be said.

Human activity impacts our changing climate in some manner. The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact, and what to do about it, are subject to continuing debate and dialogue.

While there has been extensive research and a host of published reports on climate change, clear gaps remain including our understanding of the role of human activity and what we can do about it.


Ad on Craigslist for Washington, DC: “SEEKING LEAD ATTORNEY FOR DIFFICULT CLIENT (1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW)”.


One of the weirder stories this week was Trump nominating White House physician Ronny Jackson to be head of the Veterans Administration.

A biography released by the White House shows Jackson is credentialed and experienced in medicine but has no background in management.

If you’re not a veteran, you probably only think about the VA when there’s a headline-grabbing scandal. But it’s huge. It “employs 360,000 people and has a $186 billion annual budget”.

You don’t have to think Jackson is a bad guy to believe that he’s way under-qualified. (The departing VA chief, David Shulkin, had been president and CEO of the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York.) Imagine what such a promotion would be like for you, or for someone in your field. My degree is in mathematics, and when I was actively employed in the field (I have a lot of rust on me now) I was reasonably good at it. But even at my best, what would I have known about managing some big organization that employs a lot of mathematicians, like say the university system in a state like California or New York? Not much.

How did he get the job?

White House physician Ronny Jackson’s performance during an extended grilling over President Donald Trump’s health and cognitive fitness played a part in his nomination for secretary of Veterans Affairs, a White House official told CNN Wednesday.

Jackson was almost a cheerleader for Trump’s health, praising his “great genes” and claiming that he might “live to be 200″ if he’d eat a healthier diet. He also signed off on a report listing Trump at 6’3” and 239 pounds — numbers that sound unlikely to “girthers“.

Of course, if you start asking questions about Jackson’s ability to manage the VA, you’re implying that government requires some kind of relevant knowledge or skill. And that idea is anathema in the Trump administration, where Rick Perry is Energy Secretary, Betsy DeVos is Education Secretary, Ben Carson runs HUD, and Donald Trump is President.


Shulkin, meanwhile, claims that his firing is really about his opposition to privatizing the VA.


Crazy story about Shulkin’s firing, which is best learned from Chris Hayes’ interview of Shulkin. (Watch Chris’ face. Normally he’s a subdued interviewer, but this time he can’t suppress expressions of bewilderment. Compared to his usual demeanor, it’s like watching a Looney Tunes character do wild takes. )

On the morning he was fired, Shulkin had a phone conversation with Trump, who gave no indication Shulkin’s job was on the line. Later that day, he gets a call from John Kelly moments before Trump announces via Twitter that Shulkin is fired.

The most plausible speculation I’ve heard is that after the bad press that came from firing Rex Tillerson over Twitter, Kelly insisted Trump do the job himself and arranged the call with Shulkin. Once the call started, though, Trump chickened out and had Kelly do the dirty work later. This, of course, is yet another example of Trump not really being the decisive businessman he played on TV.

Trump, perhaps afraid of unpleasant confrontations, lacks the courage to drop the hatchet himself, preferring to make staffing changes through tweets, leaving officials to learn of their fates from others.

and the Stephon Clark shooting

Clark was shot March 18 in his grandmother’s back yard. Police claimed to mistake the cellphone he was carrying for a gun.

There’s a lot to be suspicious about here. For one thing, police muted their body cameras a few minutes after the shooting, which invites speculation that they wanted to get their story straight. An autopsy shows that most of Clark’s wounds are in the back.

Sacramento has seen several nights of protests this week.


Meanwhile, there’s a bizarre case in Houston, which was caught on video by bystanders. Danny Ray Thomas was walking down the street in broad daylight with his pants around his ankles. When police showed up, he kept waddling towards them in spite of their commands to stop, so they killed him.

and the census

The Atlantic:

On Monday evening, the Commerce Department announced that it would make a controversial change to the next Census that the Trump administration has signaled for months: the addition of a question asking participants about their citizenship status.

The significance of that requires a little explanation: The census is mandated in the Constitution (Article 1, Section 2). It’s always been a count of residents, not citizens. And that count of residents determines how many representatives each state gets in Congress. The 14th Amendment says:

Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State

The problem with the citizenship question is that it might intimidate households that include undocumented immigrants, so that they don’t respond to the census at all. The Census Bureau says that it won’t turn people over to ICE, but the Trump administration says a lot of things that later turn out not to be true. (It’s not a purely paranoid thought: During World War II, census information was used in the infamous Japanese interment.) Given the potential consequences, I can understand respondents being careful.

The result would likely be a significant undercount in states with a lot of undocumented residents, or a lot of citizens and legal residents who live with undocumented relatives. These tend to be Democratic states like California and New York, so the likely result would be to shift Congress more towards Republicans. And because the census also determines how federal money gets distributed among the states, the change would shift federal spending to be even more in favor of red states than it is now.

Digby makes a good parallel:

Imagine the tantrums and rent garments on the right if instead of asking about citizenship status, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross inserted a question on the 2020 census that asked how many guns people keep in their homes.

A plot, I tell you! Why, it will lead to tyranny! It will keep white males from answering, resulting in an undercount and their underrepresentation in Congress.

But adding a question that might result in browner-skinned neighbors not responding? No problem.

I can imagine an argument that representation should be based on citizens alone, rather than on non-citizen residents and even ones who are here without permission. But the proper way to make that argument is to amend the Constitution. Until then, we should do what the Constitution says.


The citizenship question doesn’t just represent bad policy, it’s also bad process. There’s a procedure for introducing new questions into the census. Experiments are done to determine how valuable the data will be, and what the new question will do to the response rate. The citizenship question hasn’t been through that process. The Commerce Secretary just ordered it added with no study.

The Census Scientific Advisory Committee issued a statement:

There is a hierarchy of needs for the decennial census, with an accurate count of foremost importance, so any proposed changes should be evaluated in consideration of the potential impact on completeness and accuracy. … Fundamentally, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. In other words, just because there is not clear evidence that adding the question would harm the census accuracy, this is not evidence that it will not.


Secretary Ross claims the new data will help the Justice Department enforce the Voting Rights Act. But as best anybody can tell, this is the first indication that the Justice Department has any interest in enforcing the Voting Rights Act. It looks like a pretext.

but yesterday was Easter

It was also April Fool’s Day, a convergence that I’m sure inspired a lot of irreverent jokes. I’m going to leave that alone.

Believe or not, I led an Easter service in 2013. Funny story there: I signed up for that date because I had it open on my schedule, and only later realized I had volunteered for Easter. Anyway, I ended up talking about what Easter could mean to people with a secular worldview. I’m still pleased with how it came out.


But as long as it was also April Fool’s Day, there’s this: “Welsh Dragon Successfully Hatched at Bangor University“. It’s about as believable an article as could have been attached to that headline.

The Dragon was born at 00:01hrs this morning, 1st April, as far as we can tell, he appears to be a healthy Welsh Dragon and we‘ve called him Dewi, he is likely to develop his full red colouring on maturity, in about 250 years.

The puff of steam in the photo is a nice touch.

and you also might be interested in …

Tuesday, former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wrote an NYT op-ed calling for repeal of the Second Amendment.  This is not a completely new position for Stevens. In his 2014 book Six Amendments, he proposed inserting five words into the Amendment:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed.

That’s not a repeal, but it would take the Second Amendment out of the current gun-control debate.

Since a repeal is not going to happen, Stevens’ op-ed was interesting mainly for the responses it provoked. Lawrence Tribe in The Washington Post expressed a fairly widespread liberal view:

For years, [the NRA’s] most effective way to shoot down proposed firearms regulations has been to insist, falsely, that any new prohibition would lead to the eventual ban of all firearms. It is easy for those who revile our lax gun laws to lose sight of how many Americans cherish the right of law-abiding citizens to keep guns at home for self-defense or hunting.

The NRA’s strongest rallying cry has been: “They’re coming for our beloved Second Amendment.” Enter Stevens, stage left, boldly calling for the amendment’s demise, thereby giving aid and comfort to the gun lobby’s favorite argument.

You know what we sound like when we talk that way? Family members of a violent lunatic. “Just don’t set him off,” we tell each other.

Personally, I don’t see a need to lobby for a repeal, because I don’t believe that the Second Amendment blocks any particular thing I want to do. I don’t believe, for example, that the Second Amendment protects a personal right to own an AR-15. (Maryland passed an assault-weapons ban covering the AR-15 in 2013. In February, 2017, the federal 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the law constitutional, and the Supreme Court refused to review that ruling last November.)

But I also don’t see why a repeal should be off the table. In a larger sense, I don’t see why we should tip-toe around on any issue, for fear of setting off conservatives. Is there any issue where they give us similar consideration? Quite the opposite: Setting off liberals is often a goal of conservative proposals. On social media, right-wing trolls rejoice in producing “liberal tears”.

Take abortion, for example. Sometimes conservatives whittle away at abortion rights, with waiting periods and time limits and onerous standards for clinics. But that doesn’t stop other conservatives (or even the same conservatives) from proposing to ban abortion outright. They don’t worry at all that their radical proposals will rile up people against their more reasonable-sounding proposals. In fact, it’s the very existence of the radical proposals that makes the other proposals sound reasonable. (This phenomenon is called the Overton Window.)

Or gay rights. Some conservatives are subtly anti-gay, while others openly call for killing gays. I don’t see conservatives trying to police themselves on any issue at all. Why should liberals police ourselves on gun control? If you want to repeal the Second Amendment, you should feel free to say so. It’s a legitimate proposal.


Feeling stymied by the recent spending bill, Trump has floated the idea that the Pentagon should build his wall — it’s national defense, don’t you know?

Because of the $700 & $716 Billion Dollars gotten to rebuild our Military, many jobs are created and our Military is again rich. Building a great Border Wall, with drugs (poison) and enemy combatants pouring into our Country, is all about National Defense. Build WALL through M!

Think about that: “Our military is again rich.” In other words, his increased defense budget was not based on any military necessity, so Trump now sees the Defense Department as a big slush fund he can tap for pet projects.

So anyway, that’s the solution to a mystery I noticed last week: In Trump’s bill-signing ceremony, he claimed that a border wall would put us “in a position, militarily, that is very advantageous”. A military advantage over Mexico? I wondered. Is he anticipating a war there? Nope. He’s just anticipating doing a snow job on the generals.

Personally, I’m still waiting for Mexico to volunteer to pay for the wall. Anybody who claims Trump is keeping his campaign promises needs to explain what happened to that one.


Brian Klaas:

The White House intern photo is like a Where’s Waldo for a non-white person —in a country that is about 40% non-white.


Interesting developments happening out there: Michigan Republican Congressman Mike Bishop has changed the issues page of his web site:

[The page] no longer mentions guns or the Second Amendment. Also scrubbed from the page are descriptions of Bishop as a supporter of right to work laws, his opposition to abortion and to amnesty for undocumented immigrants.

The campaign site now features largely bipartisan issues, including the opioid epidemic, college affordability, Great Lakes conservation and protecting children from predators.

The previous version described him as “a life-long conservative leader with the record to prove it” and called attention to his A/A+ rating from the NRA.


Teachers are getting fed up in more and more states. This week: Oklahoma and Kentucky.

and let’s close with something delicious

I’m a sucker for Top Ten countdowns and Best Something in Every Something articles. (I once lost an hour watching NFL Network count down the top ten left-handed quarterbacks in football history. Would #1 be Steve Young or Ken Stabler?) Well, Food Network has made its official pronouncement of the best dip in every state and where to find its quintessential manifestation.

OK, it doesn’t take a genius to tell you to look for guacamole in California (though I couldn’t have pinpointed La Puerta in San Diego), or green chile salsa in New Mexico (Frontier’s in Albuquerque). But who knew that Vermont (The Skinny Pancake in Burlington) is the place for cheddar spinach artichoke dip? Road trip!

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Comments

  • The Serapion Brotherhood  On April 2, 2018 at 1:50 pm

    In turmp’s tweet about the border wall. he says that a stream of enemy combatants is pouring across the border. This is completely insane, but it doesn’t even get a comment because its also so normal.

    • Deborah  On April 3, 2018 at 11:48 pm

      That’s Trump. That doesn’t make it normal.

  • TimBo  On April 2, 2018 at 2:49 pm

    I think you do the administration a clear disservice by implying that all the folks in the intern photo are white. There’s clearly an orange person right in the middle.

  • Lydia Spitzer  On April 2, 2018 at 4:14 pm

    Hey, let us know when you go up to The Skinny Pancake in Burlington, Doug — we’ll join you there!

  • weeklysift  On April 3, 2018 at 7:16 am

    In the Teaser, I promised an article on anti-Semitism in Europe, but in the rush to get this post out, it fell through the cracks. It’s Is it Time for the Jews to Leave Europe? from The Atlantic.

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