Decadent Superfluities

The proper procedure, the gathering of evidence — these things mean nothing, not anymore. Not since Hitler. He cuts through these decadent superfluities and shows us that the conclusion is everything, Gunther. You of all people should understand this. The important thing in concluding a case successfully is actually concluding it.

– SS General Johann Rattenhuber,
as fictionalized in Prussian Blue by Philip Kerr

Will we pursue the search for truth, or will we dodge, weave, and evade?

— Senator Mitch McConnell,
discussing investigations of President Clinton, 2-12-1998

This week’s featured posts are “If Obama …” and “Jared’s Plan for Mideast Peace“.

This week everybody was talking about impeachment

Friday, the Senate voted not to hear any witnesses or subpoena any documents. The vote was 51-49, with Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, and all 47 Democrats voting to hold a real trial. The other 51 Republicans voted to join Trump’s obstruction conspiracy.

it was predictable (I predicted it Tuesday on Facebook) that the number of Republican crossovers would be either two or many. If a third Republican voted to hear witnesses the motion would still have failed, but then all 50 Republicans voting against a real trial would be personally responsible. (“You, Cory Gardner, could have made the difference and let the American people hear what John Bolton had to say, but you joined the cover-up instead.”) If exactly four voted with the Democrats, each of them would be held personally responsible by Trump’s base. Nobody wanted that kind of responsibility, so it had to be two or many.

As it is, the only surprising thing was that the Senate didn’t go straight into an acquittal vote Friday by the dark of night. Instead, Senators will get the opportunity to make speeches explaining their positions before voting to acquit Trump on Wednesday.

I intend the quote at the top of the page as a comment on the Republican approach to this trial: The conclusion was fore-ordained, and nothing mattered other than getting there. Don’t think about the evidence, don’t try to find out what happened, don’t concern yourself with the good of the country — just get to the conclusion, because that’s all that counts. It’s fundamentally a fascist approach to justice, so I think the Nazi comparisons are appropriate.

Mitt Romney’s vote to call witnesses in Trump’s impeachment trial had immediate consequences: It got him explicitly uninvited from CPAC 2020, the flagship convention of what used to be the conservative movement. Not even his niece would defend him. If she did, maybe she’d become an Enemy of the People too.

Romney’s expulsion just underlines something that should be obvious anyway: Today’s “conservative” movement is no longer about conservative principles, or any principles at all. It’s a cult of personality centered on Donald Trump. Romney’s vote didn’t subvert conservatism in any way, but it did inconvenience the Great Orange Führer. So Mitt is excommunicated.

Alan Dershowitz’s opinion that Trump’s misdeeds are not impeachable represents a complete reversal of the opinion he held during the Clinton impeachment. But he explains the difference like this:

[Then] I simply accepted the academic consensus on an issue that was not on the front burner at the time. But because this impeachment directly raises the issue of whether criminal behavior is required, I have gone back and read all the relevant historical material as nonpartisan academics should always do and have now concluded that the framers did intend to limit the criteria for impeachment to criminal type acts akin to treason, bribery, and they certainly did not intend to extend it to vague and open-ended and non-criminal accusations such as abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Tuesday, Josh Marshall pulled no punches in his assessment:

To put it baldly, if it’s a topic and area of study you know nothing about and after a few weeks of cramming you decide that basically everyone who’s studied the question is wrong, there’s a very small chance you’ve rapidly come upon a great insight and a very great likelihood you’re an ignorant and self-regarding asshole.

Then, in the Q&A period Wednesday, Dershowitz went completely off the rails:

[I]f a hypothetical president of the United States said to a hypothetical leader of a foreign country, “unless you build a hotel with my name on it, and unless you give me a million dollar kickback, I will withhold the funds.” That’s an easy case. That’s purely corrupt and in the purely private interest.

But a complex middle case is, “I want to be elected. I think I’m a great president. I think I’m the greatest president there ever was. If I’m not elected the national interest will suffer greatly.” That cannot be impeachable.

A lot of people misrepresented this doctrine as saying that the president can do anything to get elected, and it’s OK. Bad as it is, it doesn’t quite go that far. A better explanation is here.

and Jared’s Mideast “Peace” plan

I originally just wanted a quick note about this, but it got out of hand and became its own post.

and the Iowa caucus

It’s tonight, and I have no idea who will win. Bernie Sanders seems to have the late momentum, but the polling is really tight. The RCP polling average has Sanders at 24.2%, Biden 20.2%, Buttigieg 16.4%, Warren 15.6%, and Klobuchar 8.6%.

and Brexit finally happened

It became official in London Friday night at 11, which was midnight in Brussels. The United Kingdom is no longer part of the European Union. There is still a lot to work out: an UK/EU trade agreement, trade arrangements with other countries that are used to dealing with the UK as part of the EU, whether Scotland will seek independence and rejoin the EU, and so forth. But at least the uncertainty is over and the adjustment can begin. I’m reminded of a quote from the South African author Alan Paton:

Sorrow is better than fear. Fear is a journey, a terrible journey, but sorrow is at least an arrival. When the storm threatens, a man is afraid for his house. But when the house is destroyed, there is something to do. About a storm he can do nothing, but he can rebuild a house.

and the Coronavirus is still spreading

The latest numbers say that 361 Chinese have died from the virus. That already makes it deadlier than the 2002 SARS outbreak, which killed 349 people in mainland China. There are more than 17,000 confirmed cases.

Large parts of the Chinese economy have shut down in response to the virus, and it’s anybody’s guess how big a hit the world economy will take. Lots of manufactured goods contain some part that is made in China and nowhere else, so it’s hard to say how far the ripple effects will go. And if your company sells products in China, your financial plan may take a hit.

you also might be interested in …

This week three news stories made Trump’s border wall look a little less “impenetrable” than advertised. Wednesday, a section of it blew down in a windstorm. (We knew that coyotes were helping migrants sneak across the border, but now it looks like the Big Bad Wolf has gotten involved as well.) Thursday, the Washington Post reported that the wall is vulnerable to flash floods, and so it will need flood gates that will have to be left open for months at a time. Also on Thursday, US officials announced the discovery of a tunnel under the border; it’s 70 feet underground and goes for nearly a mile.

Previous articles have noted how easy it is to saw through the wall or climb over it.

I’m not sure how I missed this Vox video “Why Obvious Lies Make Great Propaganda” when it came out in August, 2018. It examines the “Firehose of Falsehoods” propaganda technique, which was pioneered by Putin before it was adopted by Trump.

Unlike most propaganda, the lies in the firehose aren’t intended to be credible. The point is not to convince people that your lies are true, but to demonstrate that reality has no power to control what you say. Ultimately, the goal is to reduce everything to a struggle: There is no True or False, only Our Side vs. Their Side.

A justice of the peace in Waco has been refusing to perform same-sex marriages, despite being the only marriage-performing JP in town. When the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct gave her an official warning, she sued. She is seeking $100K in damages. The state attorney general is refusing to defend the Commission in court, claiming that this is a “religious liberty” issue.

Once again, “religious liberty” being used as a code-word for Christian special rights. Imagine, for comparison, that a devout Hindu health inspector refused to sign any permits to open restaurants that serve beef. It’s absurd to think the Texas AG would stand up for his non-Christian religious liberty. “Religious liberty” is for conservative Christians, not for anybody else.

My position: I think public officials should either do their jobs, implement reasonable workarounds that are invisible to the public they serve, or find new jobs. No citizen should ever go to a public office, only to be told that they can’t be served because some official’s “religious liberty” allows him or her to discriminate against that citizen.

The Trump administration rolled back Obama’s restriction on the use of land mines because … . I got nothing; it just looks like evil for the sake of evil.

Well, I don’t exactly have nothing, I have an attack of paranoia: What if this is a prelude to mining the southern border? I haven’t heard anybody in the administration threaten to do this, so my fear is based on nothing right now.

In spite of an $28 billion dollar federal bailout, farm bankruptcies were higher in 2019 than in any year since 2011.

Six more countries have been added to Trump’s travel ban, including Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa.

Every week I could do a bunch of Trump-is-stupid stories, but I don’t think they serve much purpose. Occasionally, though, one is actually funny.

So after the Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl last night — in a great game, BTW — Trump tweeted congratulations for how well they “represented the Great State of Kansas”. (The tweet was later removed.) The problem: Kansas City straddles the Kansas/Missouri border, and the Chiefs play on the Missouri side.

Recalling Trump’s hurricane-threatening-Alabama fiasco, somebody on Facebook came up with a Sharpie solution.


and let’s close with something backwards (or not)

Weird Al’s song of palindromes: “Bob“.

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  • Paul Bradford  On February 3, 2020 at 12:15 pm

    Kansas City, Kansas, is an independent city from the much more populous home of the Chiefs, Kansas City, Missouri.

  • Paul Bradford  On February 3, 2020 at 12:19 pm

    Why is the coronavirus raising such alarm? The flu kills thousands, or tens of thousands just in the USA each year. Is there a reason to think coronavirus would be far worse?

    • AC  On February 5, 2020 at 11:32 am

      In addition to the comment below, this NPR story made an interesting point that stopping an outbreak early can stop a disease from having a constant ongoing presence in the long term, like the flu already does. It could become one more virus type we need to live with, like we live with flu, RSV, etc., or it could be stopped. That’s from a public health official’s point of view.

      From the point of view of an individual in the US, the flu is definitely more of a concern right now. We must beware the psychological tendency to overestimate the risk of something novel, and underestimate risk of something familiar.

    • Dale Moses  On February 6, 2020 at 8:26 pm

      The “risk” isnt that it kills 10,000-60,000 people in the US (and 650,000 worldwide) this year like the flu does. Its that it hecomes a second flu that kills 10,000-60,000 people in the US every year forever because it gets too widespread to kill off.

  • Guest  On February 3, 2020 at 12:53 pm

    Now that primary voting has started in earnest, who’s got predictions? My doomsday scenario came true four years ago, so here’s another. Sanders wins the most delegates but gets the rug pulled out from under him at the convention by a DNC dutifully stacked by Tom Perez with anti-Bernie fanatics. In a completely unethical (but juust this side of legal) move, the nomination is gifted to an uninspiring, less-electable candidate, effectively setting the Democratic party on fire and rolling the dice on the electoral college.

    I’m less pessimistic this time around though for a couple reasons. One, the disgraceful CNN debate attack against Sanders/Warren may have been a turning point. The unethical (but legal) attack backfired and saw Bernie rise in the polls as a result. This did not happen four years ago when CNN/DNC pulled similar shenanigans. Voters trust him more now and I think the attacks going forward will continue to be less effective than hoped, if not counter-productive. And two, no modern candidate has won both Iowa and New Hampshire and then fail to secure the nomination. Sanders seems well positioned in both states, so history and momentum may be on his side. Here’s hoping!

  • alandesmet  On February 3, 2020 at 1:03 pm

    To an extent it’s novel and thus scary. But in a practical sense, it has a death rate of about 2% (based on early numbers), making it about 200 times more deadly than the usual seasonal flu. If it becomes widespread, a hell of a lot of people are going to die.

    • Paul Bradford  On February 3, 2020 at 1:54 pm

      Thanks. The news stories I read have not had simple substantiating statements like that.

    • Guest  On February 3, 2020 at 2:52 pm

      Thanks for the link, Alan, always appreciated. For those who didn’t click through, the Lancet estimated the death rate closer to 3% a few days prior to the WHO’s 2%. For comparison, the Lancet states the infamous Spanish Flu had a case-fatality ratio of under 5% (I’ve seen it recorded as low as 2.5%). The page has SARS at 10%. Hopefully the world’s largest quarantine is successful…

    • hat_eater  On February 3, 2020 at 5:09 pm

      Quote from the link: “When you look at how many people have died, you need to look at how many people where infected, and right now we don’t know that number. So it is early to put a percentage on that.”
      It seems that most cases are mild and similar to other coronaviruses causing colds, so the actual number of infected is probably at least an order of magnitude higher; consequently, case fatality is much lower. If that’s true, the bad news is that’s there’s no way to stop the global spread of the virus.

  • Dale Moses  On February 3, 2020 at 8:45 pm

    Re: landmines

    This probably has to do with the military not kiking Obamas policy and not finding a way to make it work than a wish to mine the southern border(though yea, Trump would do that). And also probably it was an Obama policy that Trump had missed so ot had to go.

    I base this on the fact that the US uses a large amount of land mines in the defense of South Korea. These landmines need to be maintained and as a result the US needs to maintain landmine use. I dont believe the US uses landmines outside of the North Korea border or has it a policy to do so. But signing the anti-landmine treaty would require us to dismantle that field.

    Now i am not saying that landmines are good. But our policy is a bit more locked in by present situation regardless of how true you think the statement “landmines are bad and we should not use them” is.

    • Dale Moses  On February 3, 2020 at 8:47 pm

      *liking obamas policy

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