Defending the Constitution

No Sift next week. The next new articles will appear on March 4.

We call upon our Republican colleagues to join us to defend the Constitution.

– Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer
joint statement on President Trump declaring a national emergency

This week’s featured posts are “A Fishy Emergency Threatens the Republic” and “I See Color“.

This week everybody was talking about the “national emergency”

I covered this in one of the featured posts. I left out a link to the proclamation itself, so here it is.


Before getting around to declaring the emergency, (There is no emergency, so what’s the hurry?) Trump talked about trade with China, demonstrating that he has no idea how international trade works.

We have been losing, on average, $375 billion a year with China. A lot of people think it is $506 billion. Some people think it is much more than that.

He doesn’t seem to know that this is not a guessing game; his own government actually keeps track of foreign trade. The US trade deficit with China in goods in 2018 was $382 billion. In services, we run a trade surplus with China — $38.5 billion in 2017 (I haven’t found a 2018 figure)  — so the total trade deficit in 2018 was probably less than $350 billion.

The only person who says $500 billion or more is Trump himself. He has been saying it since 2015 and it has repeatedly been pointed out to him that this is wrong.

The more subtle but more important error in his statement is that we aren’t “losing” that $350 billion. We’re spending money and getting stuff for it.

“A bilateral balance doesn’t really tell you anything about what the economy is doing,” said Scott Lincicome, an adjunct fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, “just like my bilateral deficit with my grocery store doesn’t tell you anything about whether I’m in debt.”

Trump continued:

We’re gonna be leveling the playing field. The tariffs are hurting China very badly. They don’t want them and frankly if we can make the deal, it would be my honor to remove them. But otherwise, we are having very many billions of dollars pouring into our Treasury; we have never had that before with China.

He also doesn’t understand how tariffs work. China doesn’t pay the tariffs; American importers do, and they pass the cost on to their customers. So if you bought anything made in China this year, you paid a tariff. The Chinese paid nothing.


Military Times asked 900 active-duty troops to rate a variety of threats. Each bar in this graph represents the percentage of troops who described the threat as either “significant” or “very significant”. Both “immigration” and “Mexico” ranked way down the threat list.


The conservative National Review has taken a very strong stand on the abuse of executive power:

Because executive power is awesome, and intended to be that way, certain abuses of it can be discouraged only by the credible threat that Congress will remove the president from power — or, if discouragement fails, can be remediated only by the president’s actual removal. That is why Madison believed that the inclusion of impeachment in Congress’s arsenal was “indispensible” to preserving the Constitution’s framework of liberty vouchsafed by divided power.

Of course, it took that stand in 2014, when the “executive overreach” in question was Obama’s decision to tell 5 million undocumented immigrants that he was not going to get around to deporting them. To it’s credit, NR isn’t happy about Trump’s seizure of power, but I haven’t noticed them talking about impeachment.

and anti-Semitism

Ilhan Omar, one of two Muslim women in Congress, got herself in trouble by tweeting six words. Glenn Greenwald had just tweeted:

GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy threatens punishment for @IlhanMN and @RashidaTlaib over their criticisms of Israel. It’s stunning how much time US political leaders spend defending a foreign nation even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans.

Omar responded:

It’s all about the Benjamins baby

If you’re not tuned in to the history of anti-Semitism, you might not get why this is anti-Semitic. If the issue under discussion were, say, guns or drugs, there would be nothing particularly out-of-bounds about tweeting “It’s all about the Benjamins” as a way of saying that McCarthy had been bought by the NRA or Big Pharma. But what makes it different when the subject is Israel is the long history (going back to the Rothschilds and even further) of conspiracy theories about Jewish money controlling events from behind the scenes.

Most recently, the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh was motivated by the belief (widely held on the right-wing fringe) that Jews are plotting to dilute the US’s white majority by encouraging caravans of illegal Hispanic immigrants to come up from Central America. George Soros is supposedly financing the caravans. Soros himself was a target of the MAGA Bomber in October, who shared a social-media meme showing Soros at the top of the “Controlled False Opposition”.

So it’s playing with fire to imply without evidence that Jewish money has bought Kevin McCarthy, because irresponsible accusations like that have resulted in people getting killed, not just in Eastern Europe during the pogroms, but recently here in America. (If terrorists were attacking NRA conventions, I’d be more careful about how I talked about them, too. I wouldn’t stop disagreeing with them, but I’d be careful not to seem to endorse the violence.)

Omar apologized. Some Jewish writers, like David Perry, want to accept that apology and move on:

too often, my would-be allies against injustice on the left can easily stumble into anti-Semitic tropes and only sometimes realize quickly enough to reverse course. The most recent example happened on Twitter when Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, whose district in Minneapolis surrounds me as I write in my office, made a flippant tweet about Israeli money buying off Congress. She clearly meant it as a comment on the power of lobbyists, but it inadvertently invoked long-standing tropes of wealthy Jewish cabals exerting influence. The ensuing political firestorm revealed just how hard it is to maintain solidarity in the face of the oppressive forces that want to divide and conquer. The solution is this: Listen. Believe people when they reach out to you in good faith. Ignore bad-faith hypocrites. Apologize if necessary. Then we can move forward together.

But then there are the “bad-faith hypocrites” like Trump, who said Omar should resign. Or Mike Pence and Kevin McCarthy, who want Democrats to take away Ilhan’s committee assignments, as Republicans did to Steve King after a lifetime of racist comments.

CNN’s Jake Tapper did a great job of demonstrating that hypocrisy.

There is nothing that this White House finds more offensive than a politician feeding into stereotypes about Jews, Jewish money, and controlling politicians, which is what Congresswoman Omar is accused of having done.

But instead of a clip of Omar doing this — there isn’t one, she just tweeted those six words — what rolled instead was Trump talking to the Republican Jewish Coalition in 2015:

You’re not going to support me, even though you know I’m the best thing that could ever happen to Israel. … You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money. … You want to control your own politicians.

Tapper then apologized for showing the wrong clip, and began a mock struggle with his “rogue” control room. As Tapper kept asking for the Omar tape, what he got instead was

  • A Trump tweet showing Hillary Clinton on a backdrop of money, with “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” printed on a large red Star of David.
  • Trump lecturing the press that “very fine people” were “on both sides” of the marches in Charlottesville, where right-wing extremists chanted “Jews will not replace us.”
  • A Kevin McCarthy tweet: “We cannot allow Soros, Steyer, and Bloomberg” [three Jewish billionaires] “to BUY this election!”

He could have kept going by showing the 2016 Trump campaign’s final ad, which The Guardian characterized like this:

The film features lurid shots of Wall Street and the Federal Reserve interspersed with images of three prominent Jewish people: Janet Yellen, who chairs the Federal Reserve, the progressive financier George Soros and the Goldman Sachs chief executive, Lloyd Blankfein.

“The establishment has trillions of dollars at stake in this election,” Trump is heard saying in the advert. “For those who control the levers of power in Washington and for the global special interests, they partner with these people that don’t have your good in mind.”

Instead, Tapper apologized and went to commercial, saying “We seem to be having some issues here sorting out which anti-Semitic tropes are offensive and which ones are not.”


I understand the arguments for and against boycotting Israel (or perhaps just products made in the occupied territories) over the Israeli treatment of Palestinians. For: The situation is frequently compared to apartheid in South Africa, where a boycott played a significant role in putting pressure on the white government. Against: Of all the countries that violate human rights in one way or another, Israel is being picked out because of anti-Semitism.

But I don’t understand why one side or the other of that debate should be illegal.

and Amazon

After that long public process about siting a second headquarters, Amazon has now changed its mind about building it in New York. Progressive politicians had begun to challenge the $3 billion in tax incentives that drew Amazon to New York.

There’s a broader conversation to be had about corporations playing communities off against each other. I’m sure Amazon will get the deal it’s looking for somewhere else. But should it?

Usually this issue comes up in the context of sports, when a city feels like it has to invest hundreds of millions in a sweetheart stadium deal in order to attract or keep a team. This is a situation where some federal rules might benefit everyone: Even the cities that “win” these competitions often wind up as losers.

and you also might be interested in …

It looks like Bernie is running again.


Let’s review: Kamala Harris isn’t black enough, Kirsten Gillibrand is so out of touch that she doesn’t know how to eat fried chicken, Elizabeth Warren should never have told anybody about her Native American ancestor, and Amy Klobuchar is a bad boss.

Isn’t that weird? For every woman who runs for president, there’s some story that blocks out consideration of what she wants to do.


I think the video rolling out Mark Kelly’s campaign for the Arizona Senate seat that’s up in 2020 is one of the best political pieces I’ve ever seen. Kelly has been a Navy pilot in Desert Storm, an astronaut, and the husband of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who survived being shot in the head by a mass shooter. The video is a fabulous mix of themes: service, heritage, heroism, risk, family. He may be a man running against a woman (Martha McSally, who lost her race to Kyrsten Sinema, but got appointed to fill out John McCain’s term), but he’s a man who has supported his wife through a difficult recovery. I think that’s going to count for something.

To me, the most heart-breaking exchange is when Mark is sitting on a couch with Gabby, who apparently is still challenged to put together long sentences. “Do you remember when you entered Congress for the first time?” “Yes, so exciting.” “It was exciting. You know, I thought then that I had the risky job.”


Former FBI Director Andy McCabe isn’t an unbiased source, but his account of the days after James Comey was fired is worth a look. I’ll probably read his book when it comes out in a few weeks.


Cartoonist Jen Sorensen responds to Tom Brokaw’s suggestion (since apologized for) that “Hispanics should work harder at assimilation”.


Politicians put religion to the strangest uses. Wyoming recently came close to repealing the death penalty. The repeal bill passed the House and was unanimously approved by the appropriate Senate committee, only to lose 12-18 on the floor of the Senate. One senator explained her No vote like this:

Sen. Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne, argued that without the death penalty, Jesus Christ would not have been able to die to absolve the sins of mankind, and therefore capital punishment should be maintained.

“The greatest man who ever lived died via the death penalty for you and me,” she said. “I’m grateful to him for our future hope because of this. Governments were instituted to execute justice. If it wasn’t for Jesus dying via the death penalty, we would all have no hope.”

That’s what she learned from the story of Jesus.


What kind of woman has a late-term abortion, which the far right calls a “partial-birth” abortion? This kind.

In December 2014, I had an abortion at 29 weeks, after my first baby was diagnosed with a brain abnormality called lissencephaly. The early diagnosis—lissencephaly is sometimes not diagnosed until after birth—meant her case was severe and her prognosis was grim: We could expect her to live for two to six years while suffering from frequent respiratory infections and intermittently choking on her own saliva. Her cognitive development would be arrested or even reversed by painful seizures. She might have been able to smile socially and/or track motion with her eyes, but maybe not. Eventually, one of the bouts of pneumonia or choking episodes or complications from one of the surgeries needed to sustain basic life functions would have killed her.

The author, Margot Finn, eventually got involved with a support group for women who have gone through late-term abortions. None of them fit the anti-abortion stereotype of an irresponsible woman who just whimsically decided to kill her baby after procrastinating for six months.

I’m not sure I’ll ever understand how incurious some pro-life people seem to be about the reasons people seek abortions. In response to the version of my story I posted recently on Facebook, I’ve had people confidently claim that no one’s talking about people like me, that what I did was between me and my doctor. They say they’re talking about people who “just change their minds” at 24-plus weeks of pregnancy about whether they want the presumably healthy fetus cresting today’s fulcrum of “viability” inside them.

Oh, those people. Has anyone ever met one?

and let’s close with some stupidity

Some would-be hi-tech thieves in Silicon Valley stole a shipment of GPS tracking devices. Within hours, police had tracked the devices, some of which were in the thieves’ storage locker and the rest in their car. The storage locker also contained other stolen property, as well as some drugs.

And that’s not all they did wrong.

Before making off with about $18,000 worth of the devices, the thieves grabbed a beer out of the fridge and cut themselves in the process, leaving fingerprints and blood evidence.

Clearly these guys need to spend time in prison, where they can meet more accomplished thieves and begin to educate themselves in their chosen profession.

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Comments

  • George Washington, Jr.  On February 18, 2019 at 2:34 pm

    Finn’s story, and the other one she linked to by Kate Carson, are heartbreaking. One example I’ve heard of “evil” is someone who would torture a baby to death for their own ego gratification; I can only assume that the people who would have prevented Finn and Carson from having abortions are either ignorant, or are, in fact, evil.

  • Paul  On February 20, 2019 at 4:38 pm

    Id just like to point out that Omar did go further than just saying “Its all about the Benjamin’s.” I largely agree with your overall points, but she followed that tweet up, and its a little bit disengenous to say that’s all there was.

  • jh  On February 22, 2019 at 1:25 pm

    Doesn’t this entire Mexico/ southern border feel like it should have been part of the movie “Wag the Dog”? Instead of honest media that isn’t beholden to corporate interests, we have shills who have to play “he said/she said” without any way of assessing which one is “more right”.

    As for the Omar situation, I don’t care what the optics look like anymore. It feels like in US society you can’t make any criticism about Israel or AIPAC without shrieks from conservatives and milquetoast liberals calling you an anti-Semite. It feels like Israel should be added as yet another “third rail” because Americans and Europeans are neurotic. Yeah. The Holocaust happened. Yeah. A bunch of Jewish people who didn’t deserve it were murdered by their fellow citizens while the world ignored their plight. But the Israeli government aren’t those people. I’m tired of our politics pretending that the apartheid and brutality of the Israeli government is somehow “okay” whereas the brutality and nonsense of other regimes is somehow “an axis of evil”. (hey, I think that the neighboring countries that have Palestinian “ghettos” need to work at integrating those refugees into their countries as well. They are deliberately increasing human misery by using the Palestinian victims as some rallying cry.) I reject the argument that Israel forms some strategic geopolitical asset to the US. If anything, they are an anchor and our support of Israel is what led to 9/11. Our blind support of Israel is leading to a lot of muslim radicalization.

    And notice how conservatives reacted with this. When Susan Rice was compared to a monkey, they pretended to not understand the historical consequences of white supremacy and the routine dehumanization of black people. But suddenly, they see a “All about the Benjamins” and they jump to screaming antisemitism? When I read about the controversy, the thing I got from that statement “All about the Benjamins” was what any normal person would have gotten. That AIPAC, like the NRA, and like every other political lobbying group, routinely bribes our politicians and that’s why we have the current Israel policy. If conservatives want to battle the “global jewish conspiracy” nonsense, they need to stop attacking the Omar’s of the world and start attacking their own base. After all, it’s not the left side of the spectrum that pushes the ‘global jewish conspiracy”. It’s a distinctly right/conservative meme.

    And I’ll leave with this one final thought. Look at how well the Israeli government has modeled itself after the Nazi government. It’s all the way down to the papers and the systems they implemented to keep the “dirty palestinians” down. Hitler would be very proud at how well the Israeli government has implemented his system.

    • George Washington, Jr.  On February 22, 2019 at 1:38 pm

      I was with you until you compared Israel to the Nazis. That’s patently ridiculous. The birth rate in the Occupied Territories is among the highest in the world; there’s no “genocide” just because the residents need to carry papers and their movements are restricted. They’re not being rounded up and herded into the gas chambers.

      It’s these kinds of hysterical comparisons that make many liberals and conservatives reluctant to criticize Israel at all, because they’re afraid of being lumped in with nutcases and actual, honest-to-God Nazis. Ironically, what worsens the Palestinians’ plight is anti-semitism. The displacements affecting every other group of people from that time period – the Germans in Poland who were expelled after World War Two, the Hindus and Muslims who were forced to relocate when India and Pakistan were created, have all more or less been resolved by now. The only conclusion as to why the Palestinian situation hasn’t can only be because their oppressors are Jewish and are held to a different standard.

    • weeklysift  On February 27, 2019 at 7:09 am

      I’ve got to agree with GW Jr. about the Nazis. Even the most extreme Zionists, I believe, would be content to see the Palestinians become a docile underclass, living where they’re told to live and doing the jobs they’re given without protest or violence. Nazi hatred of the Jews was far more virulent.

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