Contrasts and Comparisons

Dozens are killed every year on skateboards. Thousands injured. Hey Beto! Heck yes, we’re going to take your SKATEBOARD!

Governor Mike Huckabee

My daughter didn’t hide in a fucking closet for 3 hours because someone was hunting and murdering her classmates with a skateboard. Asshole.

Barry Schapiro, MD

This week’s featured post is “The Democratic Healthcare Debate“.

This week everybody was talking about the attack on Saudi Arabia

Until Saturday, many of us foolishly imagined that the US could monopolize weaponized-drone technology for a while longer. But both drones and the weapons someone might put on them are comparatively cheap, and the science of them is far simpler than, say, nukes. Proliferation is inevitable.

Saturday, drones attacked Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities, at least temporarily knocking out about half of its oil production, or about 5% of the world total. Oil prices spiked by about 20% Monday morning, but settled back to about a 10% gain.

Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who Saudi Arabia is fighting in the Yemeni civil war, claimed responsibility for the attack. The Houthis are allied with Iran, and are known to use drones. The maximum range of Houthi drones is just barely long enough to put the attacked oil fields within reach. Nonetheless, the US is blaming Iran for the attacks.

A day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran for the attack on Saudi oil facilities and argued there is “no evidence the attacks came from Yemen,” a senior administration official briefed CNN on information to back up Pompeo’s claims. Pompeo did not provide evidence, but the official pointed to satellite imagery provided to CNN showing the oil facilities were struck from the northwest, suggesting an attack from Iraq or Iran, among other information.

Iranian forces have a presence in Iraq. Iran denies attacking the Saudis, either from its own territory or from Iraq. Max Boot sees no reason to believe Pompeo’s claims “given how often the administration has lied about even minor matters”, but independently assesses that the Houthis “lack the sophistication to carry out such a surgical strike without a lot of help from their allies in Tehran”.

President Trump is threatening a military response against Iran, pending verification from the Saudis that Iran was responsible. Tensions between the US and Iran have been elevated ever since Trump pulled the US out of the agreement to keep Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Matt Yglesias points out one of the problems Trump will have selling a war, if he decides to launch one: In addition to being president, “he also runs an opaque network of LLCs and does no financial disclosure, so we have no way of knowing how many cash payments he receives from the Saudi government.

and the Democratic debate

[video, transcript]

This is the first debate that put all the major candidates on one stage. To me, that had the subtle effect of making single-digit candidates seem stronger. Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, and Beto O’Rourke all had moments that sounded presidential.

I’d be surprised if the debate changed much at the top of the polls: Biden continues not to be the sharpest tool in the box, but he had no disqualifying gaffes and none of the attacks wounded him much. I could imagine that Warren stole some support from Sanders, but the effect was probably small, if it happened at all. (A 538/Ipsos poll more or less matches my intuition.)

I thought Castro’s “Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?” attack on Biden was unfair. The two of them were having a misunderstanding about the difference between “buying in” to Biden’s public option for healthcare and “opting in” rather than being enrolled automatically. Biden was clearly not forgetting what he had just said.

Beto’s most controversial moment was the strong position he took on assault rifles: As he has stated before, he supports not just banning new sales, but a mandatory buy-back of existing weapons.

Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47. We’re not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore.

I’ve spent the week in the upper South (North Carolina and Tennessee), where I heard several people tremble at the audacity of that, as if assault-weapon supporters were the majority of the country. This analogy has been made by many people before me, but often Democrats sound like victims of domestic abuse who are afraid that someone will set off their abuser. We worry that Beto’s threat will rile up AR-15 owners, and ignore the people who might be inspired to vote by the thought that somebody is finally going to get serious about mass shootings.

In a Republican debate, it would be no surprise at all to hear some candidate take extreme positions far more unpopular than Beto’s, say, that abortion should be criminalized, or that all 11 million undocumented immigrants should be rounded up and deported. No one worries that they will set off liberals; setting off liberals is considered a virtue in a Republican, not a vice.

In the discussion of mass incarceration, Biden’s statement that “no one should be in jail for a non-violent crime” is just wrong. Consider Bernie Madoff, for example. For that matter, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen never pointed a gun at anybody, but instead fulfilled the Godfather adage “A lawyer with his briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns.” And if Trump obstructed justice — as the Mueller Report strongly indicates — he should go to jail.

It’s true that too many Americans are in jail, many of them for things that aren’t all that serious. But violent/non-violent is the wrong place to draw the line. More non-violent white-collar criminals should be in jail, but far fewer non-violent drug users.

Interesting poll from YouGov: They ran a ranked-choice poll, in which people listed their second, third, and fourth choices. Interestingly, Warren beat Biden in the ultimate face-off, even though Biden held a 33%-29% lead in the first round.

The poll suggests that Biden might be vulnerable in the later primaries, as the field starts to narrow. At the same time, though, we shouldn’t read too much into it for a number of reasons:

  • It’s just one poll, and different polls have diverged from each other quite a bit so far.
  • No state other than Maine currently does ranked-choice voting, so the poll doesn’t directly mimic any major primary.
  • Ranked-choice polling is in its infancy, so we don’t know yet how well it predicts people’s actual second and third choices. I might support Candidate A and imagine that B is my second choice, but if A drops out I might suddenly see the charms of C.

Another interesting polling quirk about Warren: She polls far better among people who care a lot about politics than among less involved people. This is true particularly in comparison to Bernie, who leads her substantially among those who are alienated from politics.

There are two obvious ways to interpret this: Either it’s a real division in the progressive electorate that will continue through the primaries, or support for Bernie over Warren depends largely on name recognition; as people get more information, they drift from Bernie to Warren.

Nate Silver favors the later interpretation, describing the political junkies who back Warren as “early adopters”.

and John Bolton

John Bolton, Mr. Walrus Moustache himself, is out as Trump’s national security advisor. Fired, quit — it depends on who you talk to. Incompatible differences. (It would be ironic if Bolton gets his long-desired war with Iran only after leaving the administration.)

Here’s a sign of the times: I agree with the Washington Post’s negative assessment of Bolton’s tenure as NSA (“chaos, dysfunction, and no meaningful accomplishments”), and yet I worry that he’s gone. I’m struggling to come up with an example of Trump getting rid of an official and replacing him with someone better. (OK: his second NSA, H. R. McMaster, was better than his first, Michael Flynn, who was being paid by foreign countries and should be going to jail soon. We can only hope that Trump NSAs are like Star Trek movies, where the even-numbered ones are superior.)

John Gans comments in the NYT:

Mr. Bolton’s singular achievement was to dismantle a foreign-policymaking structure that had until then kept the president from running foreign policy by the seat of his pants. Mr. Bolton persuaded Mr. Trump he didn’t need the National Security Council to make decisions; it is no surprise that the president eventually felt confident deciding he did not need a national security adviser, either. Whether Mr. Trump names a replacement for Mr. Bolton does not matter: No one is going to convince the president he needs a system now, let alone the one that existed for 70 years.

The underlying problem here is that Trump doesn’t really want a national security advisor, and doesn’t respect the expertise that the National Security Council represents. The official role of the NSA is to chair the NSC. The job entails listening to the government’s top military and intelligence people, summarizing their diverse points of view fairly, and presenting that summary to the President. (The WaPo’s version: “to oversee a disciplined policymaking process that includes the State Department, the Pentagon and intelligence agencies”.) The ideal NSA is often described as an “honest broker” pulling together the collective wisdom of the country’s foreign policy establishment.

Trump doesn’t want any of that. He has no interest in a “disciplined policymaking process”. He doesn’t care what the national-security experts have to say about what is going on in the world and what the US should do about it. He wants to be told that the world is exactly the way he thinks it is, and that his instincts for handling it are brilliant. Bolton was a terrible NSA, but at least he would occasionally disagree with Trump or tell him things he didn’t want to hear.

Ezra Klein sees the upside:

the best thing about Donald Trump is that he seems instinctually skeptical of going to war. His hiring of Bolton was a strike against that. His firing of Bolton is a rare bright spot in his presidency.

While Amanda Marcotte is balancing her negativism:

We need a German word for the confused emotions of seeing someone get what they deserve, while also hating the person who dished it out.

And Daniel Summers replies:

Let’s just hope there’s enough pox for both houses.

and you also might be interested in …

These days the really badass people in American politics are Democratic women. It started two years ago with fighter-pilot Amy McGrath, who is currently running for the Senate against Mitch McConnell.

And now Valerie Plame is raising the bar.

NYT reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly didn’t drop the Brett Kavanaugh investigation after his confirmation vote. Yesterday the Times published an excerpt from their upcoming book The Education of Brett Kavanaugh. The excerpt concerns the accusation that didn’t get investigated, that “a freshman named Brett Kavanaugh pulled down his pants and thrust his penis at” Debbie Ramirez during a Yale party. If the NYT paywall has you stymied, Vox summarizes.

Josh Marshall heard the same thing I did in Kavanaugh’s testimony to the Judiciary Committee: He obviously lied about minor incidents mentioned in his high school yearbook.

There was no ambiguity. He was being scrutinized for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court and he was perfectly willing to lie under oath. The conduct was less egregious than the assault allegations. But the unambiguous evidence of willful and malicious deception was clarifying.

North Carolina is one of several states where gerrymandering maintains an entrenched Republican majority in the legislature against the will of the voters.

North Carolina has been one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation, both in congressional districts and state legislative ones. Democratic state legislators won a majority of the popular vote in 2018 but Republicans held control of both chambers.

Wednesday, the state’s Republican legislators found a new way to spit in the face of democracy. The legislature is currently in a budget battle with Democratic Governor Roy Cooper (who did get more votes than his opponent).

Since late June, the state has been stuck in a legislative impasse; Cooper vetoed a two-year budget bill, arguing it underpaid teachers, awarded unnecessary giveaways to corporations and failed to include a Medicaid expansion.

Republicans previously had a veto-proof majority in the legislature, but their 2018 loss at the ballot box at least clipped that part of their power. Wednesday, however, they came up with a new trick: After telling Democrats that no votes would be held on the September 11 anniversary, they waited for Democrats to attend a commemoration ceremony and then voted to override Cooper’s veto.

The veto override still has to pass the Senate, where it will need either one Democratic vote or some new trick.

Michelle Goldberg reviews the sequel to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. She notes the difference between a dystopia envisioned in the 1980s and the kind of dystopia we’re moving towards today: We used to worry about tyrannies that tightly controlled information, and hoped that the truth would set us free. Today the truth sits in a garbage heap of misinformation. It’s free for the taking, if you could only recognize it.

Speaking of how tyranny works today

Mr. Trump is openly hinting that CNN should be sold off in an effort to modify its coverage to something more of his liking. This is an increasingly common tactic among authoritarian leaders: no need to shutter a TV station, just find a friendly businessman or oligarch to buy it. Ask President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Viktor Orban of Hungary or Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey how it is done.

More came out about #SharpieGate and the political pressure that produced that embarrassing Trump-over-science statement from NOAA. The NYT reported that

The Secretary of Commerce threatened to fire top employees at the federal scientific agency responsible for weather forecasts last Friday after the agency’s Birmingham office contradicted President Trump’s claim that Hurricane Dorian might hit Alabama, according to three people familiar with the discussion.

According to the Washington Post, the impetus came straight from Trump:

President Trump told his staff that the nation’s leading weather forecasting agency needed to correct a statement that contradicted a tweet the president had sent wrongly claiming that Hurricane Dorian threatened Alabama, senior administration officials said.

That led White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to call Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to tell him to fix the issue, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly about the issue.

This is not unusual. Trump regularly instructs government employees to cover up his mistakes or manufacture evidence for his lies.

Of all Trump’s crimes and abuses, I think it’s corruption that will ultimately bring him down. About the report from last week that US military planes have increasingly been using the obscure Scottish airport nearest Trump’s Turnberry resort (something he claimed to know nothing about):

documents obtained from Scottish government agencies show that the Trump Organization, and Mr. Trump himself, played a direct role in setting up an arrangement between the Turnberry resort and officials at Glasgow Prestwick Airport.

The government records, released through Scottish Freedom of Information law, show that the Trump organization, starting in 2014, entered a partnership with the airport to try to increase private and commercial air traffic to the region.

Mike Pence’s political action committee has spent $224K at Trump properties. His brother, Rep. Greg Pence, has spent $45K. The Daily Beast reports:

The spending by the Pence brothers reflects a broader trend taking place throughout the Republican Party, where officials are doling out campaign cash to properties and businesses associated with the president.

A decade ago, the major grift in conservative politics was to accumulate a list of gullible donors so that you could sell them miracle drugs the government has suppressed, or preparations for the coming collapse of civilization, or get-rich-quick multi-level marketing schemes. But it’s all more organized and much simpler now: Contribute money so that we can give it to Trump.

And while we’re talking about conservative grift, consider Jerry Falwell Jr.

The general insanity of open carry laws was demonstrated a week ago Saturday when a man with an assault weapon strolled through the popular farmer’s market in Alexandria, Virginia. This was a “freedom walk” organized by Right to Bear Arms Richmond.

I’ve been to that farmer’s market. It’s a bring-your-kids-and-dogs kind of event that is wholesome, upbeat … and would make an ideal site for a mass shooting, if you’re into that kind of thing. I’m sure the guy flashing his weapon felt very free, and that everyone else felt much less free. You have to wonder how many people saw the “freedom walker” and just went home.

Alexandria police were informed by R2BA-R ahead of time, and received complaints during the event, but there was nothing they could do. By Virginia law, such people aren’t doing anything wrong until they start shooting.

If you’re a prospective mass shooter these days, you don’t have to do so much of your own scouting and planning. Second Amendment activists will do it for you.

and let’s close with something natural

It’s easy to take a great nature photograph. Just go to a beautiful place and look up.

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  • David101  On September 18, 2019 at 1:16 pm

    Please revise my email address New address


    • weeklysift  On September 21, 2019 at 7:38 pm

      I suspect you’re subscribed through WordPress or some other service I have no control over. I maintain a fairly small MailChimp email list, and I’m not finding anyone whose name resembles yours.

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