Looking Behind the Lies

A lie isn’t always a crime, but it is always an indication that the person telling it has something they want to conceal.

– Paul Waldman, “This is not how innocent people act

This week’s featured post is “Trials of Individual-1: a scorecard“.

This week everybody was talking about the President’s legal problems

A list of the various investigations and where they stand is in the featured post. Also of note has been the shifting defenses  offered by Trump and his supporters, which in nearly every case evolve according to this general pattern:

  1. Nothing happened.
  2. Whatever happened, Trump didn’t know about it.
  3. It wasn’t a crime.
  4. He had no way to know it was a crime.
  5. It’s not a serious crime.

When one step turns out not to be true, they move on to the next. We’ve gone through the whole list with the pay-offs to Stormy Daniels and Karen MacDougal to hide from voters the fact that Trump cheated on Melania with them. In particular, Orrin Hatch and Kevin McCarthy have made it to Step 5. (Though Hatch later tried to walk it back, retreating to the position that “I don’t believe the President broke the law.”)

Hatch:

I don’t think he was involved in crimes, but even then, you know, you can make anything a crime under the current laws if you want to, you can blow it way out of proportion, you can do a lot of things.

McCarthy:

If [Democratic Congressman Adam] Schiff is taking this beyond to go forward and say that there’s an impeachable offense because of a campaign finance problem, there’s a lot of members in Congress who would have to leave.

We can only wonder what step 6 will be, because there’s no reason to think that the current explanations are any more true than the previous ones.

The progression hasn’t yet played out all the way with regard to Russian collusion, but think about the steps we have already seen:

  1. It’s all fake news.” Trump had “nothing to do with Russia“. The campaign didn’t talk to Russians and Trump wasn’t doing business deals with them.
  2. Trump’s people (at least 14 of them, according to the Washington Post) were talking to Russians, but not about influencing the election. And Trump was trying to do a major business deal in Russia, but it didn’t happen, it was “very legal & very cool“, and “everybody knew about” it (in spite of Trump’s public denials in Step 1).
  3. Donald Trump Jr. arranged a meeting with Russians to talk about getting “dirt on Hilary Clinton” as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump”, and Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner also attended, but nothing came of it. WikiLeaks started releasing hacked DNC emails shortly thereafter, but the Trump campaign knew nothing about that. (Ignore whatever happened between WikiLeaks and Roger Stone.)

Again, there’s no reason to believe it stops here, or that it will stop with Step 5. To me it’s pretty obvious where this could go: “Sure, he committed treason, but it wasn’t TREASON treason.”

Trump supporters need to ask themselves if they’re willing to stick with him that far down the slippery slope. (For that matter, did you ever imagine you’d be defending what you’re defending now?) And if not, at what point short of that are they planning to get off?

and ObamaCare

A judge in Texas ruled the entire Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. This appears to me to be exactly the kind of activist-judge-legislating-from-the-bench that conservatives always accuse liberals of.

It’s worthwhile to look back at an 2012 article by Salon’s Andrew Koppelman “Origins of a healthcare lie“. The lie in this case is that the individual insurance mandate is somehow unconstitutional.

The constitutional limits that the [Affordable Care Act] supposedly disregarded could not have been anticipated because they did not exist while the bill was being written. They were invented only in the fall of 2009, quite late in the legislative process.

For now, the ruling will have no effect as the appeal works its way up the chain of courts. It should make it to the Supreme Court by next year, where it ought to be reversed. As the NYT’s Cristian Farias notes “all five justices who, in 2012, already determined that the Affordable Care Act was constitutional will still be there.” Please petition the deity of your choice that nothing happens to any of them.

Politically, I think this is a disaster for Republicans, one that they have made for themselves. It means that the 2020 campaign will begin (and possibly end) with millions of people facing either the loss of their health insurance or being shunted off into plans that won’t cover what they need. Meanwhile, neither Republicans in Congress nor the administration will have produced a health plan of their own, because “get rid of ObamaCare” is the only idea they’ve been able to agree on. (A large number of Republicans hold a position they can’t say out loud: People should only get the health care they can afford. If you’re not rich and you get something that requires an expensive treatment, too bad for you.) Any actual plan will expose the lie in the various contradictory promises Trump has made.

One anchor GOP candidates carried in 2018 was the need to claim that they supported the popular parts of ObamaCare (like coverage of pre-existing conditions) without being able to point to any viable plan that preserved those features of the law. That conservative judge has guaranteed that they’ll continue carrying that anchor for a while longer.

but I’ve been ignoring other countries lately

It’s hard for the US news media — myself included, in this case — to cover foreign affairs properly, for a number of reasons:

  • The US produces enough news of its own that it doesn’t need to import any. This has only gotten worse during the current administration. So a change of government in Brazil or Germany can get lost in a Trump tweet storm.
  • The American audience (and a number of American journalists, and a lot of times, myself) don’t have the background to appreciate foreign news events. So it’s a little like watching a sport when you don’t know the rules or the players. You can try to look them up and explain them on the fly, but it’s still hard to appreciate the action while it’s happening.

To catch up a little, let’s start in the UK. Brexit is scheduled to happen on March 29, but there is still no agreed-on plan for how it happens. Here’s the BBC’s chart of where things stand:

The problem is that at the time of the referendum Brexit was just a vague idea: Britain leaves the EU. That can mean a lot of different things, and no individual one of those things is popular. So the UK is in the curious situation where all the possible outcomes (PM May’s plan to leave the EU in name only, and remain subject to EU customs laws; leave for real and erect a national border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, possibly restarting the Troubles; Parliament deciding to oppose the Brexit referendum and stay in the EU; holding a new referendum on some particular Brexit plan) seem far-fetched.

I can’t help noticing the comparison to repealing ObamaCare, and why Republicans were never able to come through on the “replace” part of repeal-and-replace: ObamaCare is a specific program and “repeal” is a vague idea. As soon as Republicans tried to flesh out their specific replacement, it was less popular than ObamaCare.

The Brexit situation is at least producing some good humor, like Andy Serkis portraying some kind of Gollum/Theresa May synthesis.

Now let’s move to the yellow vest protests in France. Basically, it’s as if in 2016 the angry Trump and Sanders voters had gotten together and taken to the streets. Or maybe if Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party found a common cause. It’s a strange mixture of left-wing and right-wing populism. It’s anti-government, but none of the opposition parties have managed to stake a claim on it. Crimethinc comments:

Clearly, neoliberal capitalism offers no solutions to climate change except to place even more pressure on the poor; but when the anger of the poor is translated into reactionary consumer outrage, that opens ominous opportunities for the far right.

The issue that seems to have touched off the recent protests is a green tax, a move “to increase fuel taxes to raise money for eco-friendly projects“. The Macron government has since backed off, but the protests — mostly non-violent, but occasionally violent — continue.

As in the US, there is a widespread but inchoate feeling that the system is working against ordinary people. It remains to be seen whether someone will manage to turn that view into a program that makes things better, whether some demagogue will ride the yellow vests to power, or whether the energy will dissipate without doing anything to decrease the general dissatisfaction.

In Germany, Angela Merkel won’t seek re-election when her term ends in 2021. She has already stepped down as head of her party, the Christian Democrats. Her replacement is Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.

The party has faced a dilemma, to either keep itself on the course set by Merkel – who was determined to secure the centre ground and has turned the CDU into a champion of gay marriage, a minimum wage and a quota for women in politics – or to take it more to the right in an attempt to win back the voters lost to the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). … Kramp-Karrenbauer’s victory is a sign that the party wants to continue on the path set for it by Merkel. Nevertheless, Kramp-Karrenbauer has repeatedly said she would forge her own path, and is decidedly more socially conservative than her predecessor.

In Brazil, right-wing populist Jair Bolsonaro will take office on January 1. He plans to pull Brazil out of the UN’s Global Compact for Migration, and to develop the Amazon rain forest. In many ways a Brazilian version of Trump, we’ll see if he has a similar impact on Brazil’s rule of law.

Vox talks to North Korea watcher Van Jackson, who is not impressed with the “progress” Trump thinks he has made toward de-nuclearization. In his view, events are proceeding according to Kim Jong Un’s plan, not Trump’s.

He’s been pushing for simultaneously growing the economy and becoming a nuclear power. Now that he’s got the nuclear program where it needs to be, he’s decided to more aggressively pursue economic development, because that’s the other part of his strategy.

Pursuing economic development means getting sanctions relief. And how can you possibly get sanctions relief without pursuing a charm offensive?

So where we are today is because Kim reached what he sees as a position of strength.

… The structure of the confrontation has not changed. The nuclear situation has not changed. Sanctions have not changed. And frankly, they’re not likely to.

And finally, Yemen, where a war has combined with an ongoing famine to produce a truly horrifying situation. The UN has warned that 13 million people in Yemen are facing starvation in “the worst famine in the world in 100 years”

The famine is the direct result of the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen and blockade. Yemen was already the most impoverished nation in the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East, and Al Hudaydah one of the poorest cities of Yemen, but the war and the naval blockade by the Saudi-led coalition and the United States Navy made the situation much worse. Fishing boats, the main livelihood of Al Hudaydah’s residents, were destroyed by Saudi airstrikes, leaving them without any means to provide for their families. As a result, one child dies every ten minutes on average. A UN panel of experts found that Saudi Arabia is purposefully obstructing the delivery of humanitarian aid into Yemen.

The particularly dismal thing about the US role in this tragedy is that so few Americans have any idea where Yemen is or why we’re involved in a war there. (Yemen’s civil war is a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. We’re on the Saudi side.)

The murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudi crown prince has at least got people taking another look at our relationship with Saudi Arabia. Thursday, the Senate passed a resolution against US involvement in Yemen.

This joint resolution directs the President to remove U.S. Armed Forces from hostilities in or affecting Yemen within 30 days unless Congress authorizes a later withdrawal date, issues a declaration of war, or specifically authorizes the use of the Armed Forces. Prohibited activites include providing in-flight fueling for non-U.S. aircraft conducting missions as part of the conflict in Yemen.

The resolution is not being debated in the House, though, and Trump could veto it even if it passed the House, so it has no legal effect. It does, however, mark the willingness of at least a few Republican senators to break with Trump on this issue. No doubt it will come up again when Democrats take control of the House in January.

and you also might be interested in …

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is the latest corrupt official to leave the Trump administration. But in a virtual replay of Scott Pruitt’s exit, his replacement will be no improvement in policy terms: Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt is a former oil-industry lobbyist.


I’m trying not to make too much of the showdown in the Oval Office between Trump and Nancy Pelosi. I think Pelosi handled him well, but even so: Personality conflict is what Trump does; if we’re talking about whether our leader beat their leader, we’re on his turf.

Democrats need to stay focused on the people who gain or lose from what the government does, like the 7-year-old girl who died of dehydration while in the custody of the Border Patrol, or the millions who stand to lose their health insurance if ObamaCare really is ruled unconstitutional. Whether or not Pelosi got in the best line is of little importance by comparison.


Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez:

Double standards are Paul Ryan being elected at 28 and immediately being given the benefit of his ill-considered policies considered genius; and me winning a primary at 28 to immediately be treated with suspicion & scrutinized, down to my clothing, of being a fraud.

When I was discussing the ways that Hillary Clinton had to overcome sexism in 2016, one of the things I pointed to was the abundance of positive cultural stereotypes that are open to men with some weakness or character flaw: A duplicitous man can be a charming rogue, for example. An angry man can be a Jeremiah. No comparable framing is available to a woman.

In the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, both Kavanaugh and Lindsey Graham expressed anger in ways that would have made Christine Blasey Ford or Diane Feinstein appear to be raving. We’re used to seeing men as channels for righteous indignation. Women, not so much.

We’re seeing a similar thing here. An inexperienced man can be a whiz kid, a young gun, or a young Turk. None of those frames fits a woman. Some types open to young women are ingenue, mean girl, and damsel in distress — none of which are all that useful to a woman in a position of power.

It’s important to understand this as structural sexism. Even if nobody were consciously trying to mistreat Ocasio-Cortez, the same problem would be present: American men (and a lot of women as well) don’t know how to think about or talk about women in certain roles. So even when we think we are open to them playing those roles, our unconscious reactions will betray us if we don’t pay attention.


Another much-maligned female politician is Nancy Pelosi. She seems to have nailed down the support she needs to become Speaker when the new Congress takes office on January 3. To get the last few votes, she pledged to step down as Speaker after 2022.


Pro Publica looks at the IRS, whose budget and staff keeps shrinking. Meanwhile, audits are down and uncollected taxes are up, providing a “tax cut for tax cheats”.

Tax collection largely depends on the public’s voluntary cooperation, which could be endangered if people start to think that everyone else is cheating. That was largely the problem in the Greek economic crisis. It wasn’t that the Greek government spent too much money, it was that it couldn’t collect the taxes it was owed.


The Republican attempt to undo the 2018 election continues. Michigan has now passed a law that guts a referendum to raise the minimum wage and require paid sick leave. In states where the legislature is heavily gerrymandered, the only way voters can control the state government is through referenda and through state-wide offices like the governorship. But undemocratic Republican legislatures are doing their best to take power away from these voter-controlled institutions.

and let’s close with something memorable

In August, 2014, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Britain’s entry into World War I, 888,246 red ceramic poppies (one for each of the British and colonial soldiers who died in that war) were arranged to flow out of a window in the Tower of London and fill the moat. The temporary exhibit (now gone) was called “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red”. It’s one of the most stunning views of the cost of war I’ve ever seen.

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