Actual Happenings

The truth is it’s women — women are the victims in this situation. It doesn’t mean you’ve got to be feeling sorry for women, but women are the victims and that’s what we’re trying to fix. But Trump has managed to turn that, and he’s turned it with everybody. He goes: “The real victims in this story is not the kids in the cages, it’s you. It’s you who — they’re coming to take your place. The real victim isn’t the refugee from Syria, it’s you, who’s going to get blown up by a terrorist bomb.” … People felt, because of Trump, like they were losing their country. They felt like America was losing. And feeling is oftentimes more powerful than what is actually happening.

Trevor Noah

This week’s featured post is “Are Men Victims Now?

This week everybody was talking about Brett Kavanaugh

After much Sturm und Drang, Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court Saturday by a 50-48 Senate vote. All Republicans voted Yes except Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and all Democrats voted No except Joe Manchin of West Virginia. (The votes don’t add up to 100 because Murkowski made a deal with Montana Senator Steve Daines. Daines, a Yes vote, wanted to go to his daughter’s wedding, so Murkowski, a No vote, agreed to cover for him by voting Present. In other words, they preserved the two-vote margin that would have existed if Daines had stayed in Washington. I don’t hold the Present vote against Murkowski; it was a collegial thing to do.)

Most of the people I know are struggling to accept this. Some are angry, some are depressed, and a lot of us bounce through a range of emotions.

Now that the Senate has made such a travesty of its responsibility to seek the truth, the onus passes to us. The reason they’re not supposed to do stuff like this is that the voters will vote them out. Well, that’s what we need to do now. There’s an election in four weeks, and we all need to do whatever we can to sway it. Vote, of course, but also (to the extent that you’re able) volunteer, give money, convince your friends to vote, and do whatever else you can think of.

If Republicans can do this and not pay a price in elections, then they really have won.

A issue I’ve been talking about on this blog since I retrospectively declared it a major theme of 2013 is minority rule. Democrats have won the popular vote in 6 of the last 7 presidential elections, and yet Republicans have appointed 5 of the 9 Supreme Court justices. The GOP Senate “majority” that approved Kavanaugh represents fewer citizens that the Democratic “minority”. Gerrymandering in the House means that Democrats probably will have to win at least 7% more votes than Republicans if they want to take control.

Looking ahead, the Supreme Court will hear a number of cases that bear on the GOP’s ability to maintain its minority rule: gerrymandering cases, techniques to suppress voting blocs likely to support Democrats, and so on. You have to wonder how many of those decisions will be 5-4 to maintain Republican power at the expense of democracy.

Paul Waldman writes in The Washington Post:

When he ran for president, Donald Trump told his voters that they were the victims of a rigged system. Nurture your rage, he urged them, and strike a blow against that system by voting for me. In truth, he was the product of the rigged system, not its enemy.

The Senate hearing last week with Kavanaugh and his main accuser, Dr. Catherine Blasey Ford, was set up to offer a he-said/she-said choice, but it didn’t seem that 50/50 to me. Dr. Blasey Ford was forthright and honest about the limitations of her memory, while Judge Kavanaugh was evasive and refused to admit the most trivially embarrassing things, even if he had to insult our intelligence to deny them. (We all know what the “Beach Week Ralph Club” was: a list of boys who drank until they threw up during Beach Week. What’s the point of claiming otherwise?) A good analysis of his testimony is in the Current Affairs article “How We Know Kavanaugh is Lying“.

The most likely scenario, in my view, is that Kavanaugh did drink to excess in high school, and that he did attack Blasey Ford. But he doesn’t remember it because (1) he was drunk, (2) it was a long time ago, and (3) the attack was too brief and unsuccessful to be memorable from his point of view.

That hearing also provided a clear lesson in male privilege, especially with regard to the expression of anger. If Blasey Ford had seethed and exploded like Kavanaugh did, or if Diane Feinstein had blown her top like Lindsey Graham, both would have been written off as hysterical women, and the substance of what they had said would have been ignored.

Several observers, including retired Justice John Paul Stevens (damn, I hope I have that many of my marbles at age 98), thought that Kavanaugh expressed too much partisan bias in his testimony to be an effective judge. Stevens implied that Kavanaugh’s publicly displayed political bias ought to lead him to recuse himself from so many cases that he would only “do a part-time job” on the Supreme Court.

I suspect he won’t recuse himself, and will vote in the way his bias points. To me, Kavanaugh is more of a political operative than a judge. When the Court hears politically sensitive cases about, say, gerrymandering or voting rights or the Trump investigation, I expect Kavanaugh’s rulings to maximize Republican power. He will examine the facts and the law only to the extent necessary to reach his desired outcome. (Feel free to quote this back to me and gloat if I’m wrong.)

Republicans consistently argued for an innocent-until-proven-guilty standard, which I think is ridiculous. James Fallows critiques this better than I could:

Proof beyond reasonable doubt is the right standard for depriving someone of liberty. Bill Cosby’s jury was satisfied on those grounds, and O.J. Simpson’s was not. But that has never been the standard for choosing a university president, or a CEO, or a four-star general, or a future marriage partner, or a Nobel prize winner, or a lifetime federal judge. With all their differences, the standard for these decisions is supposed to be: is this the best person for the role?

When you understand that, the only conceivable excuse for voting Yes on Kavanaugh is if you believe whole-heartedly that Dr. Blasey Ford is lying (along with the other women who have accused Kavanaugh), and that any Trump-appointed judge would face similar false charges (although Neil Gorsuch did not). Otherwise, Republicans ought to be able to find some other conservative judge untainted by serious, plausible charges.

I thought this Bruce MacKinnon cartoon was raw but devastating:

I don’t see the political logic for Susan Collins’ Yes vote. And I’m not just thinking about the $3 million and counting that has been raised for whoever challenges her in 2020.

If current projections hold, the Democrats will take the House in November. So when the new Congress starts in January, Democrats will have the ability to conduct investigations. At that point, a real Kavanaugh investigation will take place. Quite likely it won’t produce enough evidence to remove a sitting justice. (Two-thirds of the Senate would have to agree. My guess is a real investigation will find numerous false statements to Congress, but Republicans will see them lacking sufficient significance to count as perjury. Sexual assault charges will become more credible, but not rise to the beyond-reasonable-doubt standard Republicans will insist on.)

But it will be clear that senators who voted for Kavanaugh weren’t interested in finding the truth. That information will be available for some devastating attack ads against Collins. She’ll also have to take responsibility for whatever decisions Kavanaugh makes in the next two years, and I strongly suspect there will be some that expose her reading of his record and character (“Despite the turbulent, bitter fight surrounding his nomination, my fervent hope is that Brett Kavanaugh will work to lessen the divisions in the Supreme Court so that we have far fewer 5-4 decisions and so that public confidence in our Judiciary and our highest court is restored.”) as the wishful thinking it is.

Collins’ speech announcing her decision was full of misrepresentations of the case against Kavanaugh, like this:

There are some who argue that given the current Special Counsel investigation, President Trump should not even be allowed to nominate a justice. That argument ignores our recent history. President Clinton, in 1993, nominated Justice Ginsburg after the Whitewater investigation was already underway. And she was confirmed 96-3. The next year, just three months after Independent Counsel Robert Fiske was named to lead the Whitewater investigation, President Clinton nominated Justice Breyer. He was confirmed 87-9.

Clinton was suspected of participating in a shady real-estate deal. Trump is suspected of gaining the presidency by conspiring with an enemy power. The similarity escapes me. If the worst suspicions about Trump are true, then Russia has reshaped our Supreme Court.

Maine voter and NYT contributor Jennifer Finney Boylan judges Collins in the light of the long tradition of maverick senators from Maine, from Margaret Chase Smith to Angus King. In contrast, Boylan finds Collins to be

the kind of centrist who wants to please everyone. For Ms. Collins, it’s often meant voting with the most right-wing members of her party, even while attempting to occupy some imaginary moral high ground. … In [voting to confirm Kavanaugh], she has proved herself, in the end, to stand for nothing.

I also don’t see the logic for Joe Manchin, but maybe he’ll prove me wrong. I think red-state Democratic senators were in a no-win situation: A No vote energizes their opposition, while a Yes vote demoralizes their supporters. So Heitkamp and McCaskill (no) and Manchin (yes) probably all suffer.

Trump tweet Friday morning:

The very rude elevator screamers are paid professionals only looking to make Senators look bad. Don’t fall for it! Also, look at all of the professionally made identical signs. Paid for by Soros and others. These are not signs made in the basement from love!

The Washington Post fact-checkers gave this three Pinocchios. Trump and Chuck Grassley have decided to push an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that has worked for right-wing dictators like Putin in Russia and Orban in Hungary.

Some of the responses to the Senate hearing were hilarious. The Pulp Fiction mash-up stood out. (If you’re at work, keep the volume low.)

So did Matt Damon’s SNL parody of Kavanaugh:

And Tom Toles added this cartoon

and where Trump’s money comes from

The New York Times published an enormous article detailing how Donald Trump got rich: Not by being the brilliant businessman he claims to be, but by inheriting his father’s empire while using illegal methods to dodge taxes.

If Congress were doing its job under the Constitution, this would be investigated. But Congress isn’t doing its job, and it won’t as long as Republicans remain in control. That’s why it’s so important for Democrats to win at least the House.

and a small sign that black lives actually might matter

The shooting of Laquan McDonald (which was captured on video) has resulted in a murder conviction for an on-duty Chicago cop. A white cop is going to prison for shooting a black teen-ager. In Chicago. This is huge. I know, it required overwhelming evidence and was only a second-degree murder conviction, but change has to start somewhere. Here’s the NYT’s description of the shooting:

After a truck driver reported that evening that someone was breaking into vehicles in a parking lot, police officers followed Laquan, who was carrying a three-inch pocketknife and refused to stop when they told him to. The pursuit — with Laquan walking down the street and officers on foot and in squad cars behind him — ended when Officer Van Dyke arrived in a car, stepped out and shot him repeatedly, even after his body was crumpled on the street.

The jury included only one black, but the 11 others also didn’t buy the usual police argument that the officer was just doing his job and feared for his life.

“It seemed kind of like he was finally giving the play after they had been rehearsing with him for weeks,” said one juror, a white woman, who noticed Officer Van Dyke “staring at us, trying to win our sympathy” when he testified. … “Police officers aren’t going to be as confident moving forward with taking their case to a jury, getting that heightened credibility just by being a police officer,” said Alan Tuerkheimer, a Chicago-based jury consultant. “That’s not a given anymore.”

Sadly, though, police are still more intent on defending their own than in winning back the public’s trust by getting bad cops off the street:

“This sham trial and shameful verdict is a message to every law enforcement officer in America that it’s not the perpetrator in front of you that you need to worry about, it’s the political operatives stabbing you in the back,” Chris Southwood, a state leader of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police, said.

The case has already had political consequences. After the video was released,

The police superintendent was fired, the local prosecutor lost her re-election bid, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced shortly before the trial began that he would not seek re-election next year.

but I’m thinking about cyber attacks

The paragraphs in Bob Woodard’s Fear that I found most alarming got practically no coverage.

[Tom Bossert, Trump’s advisor for homeland security] knew the United States was already in a constant state of low-intensity cyber war with advanced foreign adversaries such as China, Russia, North Korea and Iran. These countries had the ability to shut down the power grid in United States cities, for example, and the only deterrent was to make clear that a massive cyber attack would not just be met with cyber-for-cyber symmetry.

The full force of the U.S. military, including nuclear weapons [my emphasis], would have to be a central part of the deterrent. Bossert liked to say, and he said it regularly, that the use of any element of national power would be justified. The United States had too much to lose in a high-consequence cyber attack. Bossert had repeated it so often that the president seemed to understand, but the import of this — nuclear weapons as a cyber deterrent — had not quite become part of the public debate.

No shit it hadn’t, and still hasn’t. The next time you read about some cyber vulnerability (and I’m about to tell you about one) you need to think about it as a place where a spark could set off nuclear war.

If we have a weakness that would require nuclear war as a response, you’d think we’d rapidly be trying to cover it, and that nuclear-war-type money — hundreds of billions, in other words — would be available. But no. The FY 2019 budget calls for $15 billion in cyber security, mostly focused on securing the federal government’s own systems. But power grids, the communication infrastructure, pipelines, and much of the financial system all lie in the private sector. Corporations definitely have their own reasons to want to stop hackers, but I don’t believe their motivation rises to avoiding-nuclear-war levels.

[Full disclosure: My wife, though mostly retired, still works in the computer-security industry. I doubt we would profit significantly from a big increase in cyber-security spending.]

China appears to have pulled off an amazing hack: The Chinese military built a microchip that surreptitiously got inserted onto motherboards built in Chinese factories for Supermicro, an American corporation whose

motherboards can be found in made-to-order server setups at banks, hedge funds, cloud computing providers, and web-hosting services, among other places. Supermicro has assembly facilities in California, the Netherlands, and Taiwan, but its motherboards—its core product—are nearly all manufactured by contractors in China.

… With more than 900 customers in 100 countries by 2015, Supermicro offered inroads to a bountiful collection of sensitive targets. “Think of Supermicro as the Microsoft of the hardware world,” says a former U.S. intelligence official who’s studied Supermicro and its business model. “Attacking Supermicro motherboards is like attacking Windows. It’s like attacking the whole world.”

… Since the implants were small, the amount of code they contained was small as well. But they were capable of doing two very important things: telling the device to communicate with one of several anonymous computers elsewhere on the internet that were loaded with more complex code; and preparing the device’s operating system to accept this new code.

About 30 companies appear to have been affected. Amazon and Apple are reported to have found the hack on their own. A certain amount of luck was involved.

and you also might be interested in …

The video of Trump climbing the stairs into Air Force One with paper stuck to his shoe is funny, but it points to a serious problem: Trump has surrounded himself with people who are afraid to tell him when he looks ridiculous. What else might they be willing to let him do, rather than burst his I-never-make-mistakes bubble?

In the wake of the revised NAFTA deal, now called USMCA, an NYT article by Neil Irwin claims to have found a strategy in the administration’s trade policies, which at times have looked almost random.

Now that the administration has shown it can get to yes with [Canada, Mexico, and South Korea], similarly patterned agreements with Europe and Japan are expected to come next. After revised deals with those allies are in place, the administration will most likely seek a concerted effort among them to isolate China and compel major changes to Chinese business and trade practices.

… A crucial question is whether the administration’s strategy of pummeling allies with attacks, threats and tariffs can yield not just revised trade agreements, but also the trust needed to undertake a concerted campaign against China.

A contrasting view comes from Robert Kagan in The Washington Post, who says we are “sleepwalking into war” with China. The problem is that Trump thinks only in terms of money, and doesn’t understand that “Trade, finance, diplomacy and military power are all aspects of comprehensive national power.”

Historically, however, economics and trade have always been an adjunct to geopolitics. Trade wars and economic competition were often precursors to real wars — Germany and Britain before World War I, for example, or the mercantilist competition among England, Spain and France in the 17th and 18th centuries.

… It’s not clear Trump administration officials quite see that their tough trade policies could lead down a path toward conflict. They are treating the trade dispute as a matter of punishing China for unfair trade practices and correcting imbalances. … It would be one thing if Trump’s trade policy were part of an overall geopolitical strategy to deal with a rising China, but it isn’t.

… In our current inward-looking myopia, we think about jobs and votes. The Chinese, as always, think about power. In case you didn’t recognize it, this is what sleepwalking into war looks like.

and let’s close with something symbolic

An 8-year-old girl found a pre-Viking sword in a lake in Sweden. If you have a good mythological imagination, you might muse on the timing. As patriarchy reasserts itself in North America …

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  • dp  On October 9, 2018 at 12:23 am

    The Democrats shouldn’t impeach Kavanaugh until they have control of the Senate, it is a lifetime appointment and no statute of limitations. I would even be inclined not to investigate until he makes a few decisions which prove that he was less than truthful. He told Susan Collins that Rowe was settled, but yet Steve King thinks that it will be overturned. When he turns it back to the States he will show the partisan hack that he is. All five in the majority have some pretty scary interpretations of the constitution and the amendments.

    • Guest  On October 9, 2018 at 4:51 pm

      As Justice Stevens and others noted, through his own testimony Kavanaugh has already proved himself both a partisan hack and less than truthful, so I don’t know why you’d wait on those grounds, dp. Also, I believe it’s not simple control of the Senate, but 2/3rds to remove a sitting Justice. To get to 2/3, we need people to show up for a blue wave next month and an immensely popular presidential candidate that can not only ignite the democratic base but also attract independents as part of a blue tsunami in 2020, pulling down-ticket Senators along for the ride. Short of that, we’d need control of the House to start impeachment with Mark Judge supporting Dr. Ford under oath and/or a conviction in Maryland to have a chance, but there’s no indication the she will be pressing charges. We may be stuck morbidly awaiting liver failure.

      • Dp  On October 9, 2018 at 5:36 pm

        It doesn’t do any good if you can’t remove him from office. Yes there is enough evidence to impeach him but without 2/3 of the Senate he stays on the bench and can’t be tried again. The Democrats have to start with a majority to have any hope. So wait let him screw up and maybe with public pressure they could get enough votes.

      • Guest  On October 10, 2018 at 11:13 am

        “wait let him screw up and maybe…”

        You mean screw up like, perjure himself or be credibly accused of sexual assault? He’s already screwed up, there was public pressure, and there wasn’t enough votes. Given that, I’m weary of the approach of wait till he screws up (again). I’m not sure what you’re waiting for. A partisan hack of an opinion on an important case? That will come, but he won’t be alone in doing so, and giving a terrible opinion on the wrong side history and justice is not an impeachable offense anyway. I prefer your starting point of creating of Democratic majority, and let’s make it as significant as possible. That means getting the vote out in November, maintaining a coalition of engaged citizens that can apply targeted pressure as needed, and, pretty please, an exciting presidential candidate in 2020 that can energize the base and draw the moderates/independents/undecideds such that we not only take the White House but a good portion of the 20+ Republican senate seats that will be up as well.

  • Xan  On October 9, 2018 at 10:21 am

    As I read on Twitter, that little girl is in charge now. That’s how it works.

  • knb  On October 14, 2018 at 7:54 pm

    Re: “China appears to have pulled off an amazing hack” – This sort of thing was described in “Ghost Fleet” a couple of years ago. It’s a novel, but the authors were well known figures in defense policy circles, and every technological attack that they described was already possible when they wrote the book.

    It’s one big reason why we shouldn’t be relying on manufacturing done in China.

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