In the days and hours leading up to the counting of the electoral votes in Congress, a cadre of outside lawyers to the President spun a web of lies and disinformation, to him and to the public, for the purpose of pressuring the Vice President to betray his oath to uphold our laws and the Constitution of the United States. … There is no room in the legal profession for Grima Wormtongues who counsel their clients with half-truths and deceptive presentations made in pursuit of a personal agenda.

Greg Jacob
Chief Counsel to Vice President Mike Pence
January, 2021

This week’s featured post is “Freedom Isn’t What It Used To Be“.

This week everybody was talking about the state of the Democrats’ negotiations


Thursday, President Biden announced a slimmed-down version of his Build Back Better plan: $1.75 trillion versus the previous $3.5 trillion. Senators Manchin and Sinema have not endorsed the plan, but they also haven’t rejected it. Josh Marshall observes that “The number of outstanding issues has dropped precipitously.”

So maybe we’re almost there. Vox has a summary of what Biden’s framework (it’s still not a bill) contains, but I’m trying not to get too excited one way or another until we know that it’s really going to happen.

and the Virginia governor’s race

Tomorrow is election day in Virginia. It comes at a bad time for the Democrat, Terry McAuliffe. The Democrats’ struggle to pass some version of Biden’s agenda makes them look ineffective right now, even if it might result in significant action soon. The latest Covid surge is fading, but the back-to-normal promise of last spring is still unfulfilled. Inflation and supply-chain issues are global, but Biden is being blamed for them.

In addition, Republicans are trying out their 2022 strategy. Biden beat Trump by more than seven million votes in 2020 for two main reasons:

  • Huge Black turnout.
  • Previously Republican suburban voters, especially educated women, turned against Trump.

Maybe in some parallel universe Republicans are responding to that resounding rejection by toning down the racism and sexism of the Trump years. But in our world, they’re passing laws to make voting harder for Black people, while hyping a phony issue (critical race theory in the public schools) to scare White parents away from Democrats.

Voter suppression is hard to do in Virginia, which currently has a Democratic governor and legislature. But the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Glenn Youngkin, is all-in for the phony issue. Paul Waldman puts it like this:

Imagine it’s January 2023, and Gov. Youngkin gathers his staff for a meeting to celebrate the end of his first year in office. “I want to congratulate all of you,” he says. “We’ve done just what we said we would: For the last year, all of you have worked tirelessly, day in and day out, to make sure no critical race theory is taught in any school in the state.”

That scene is preposterous to the point of parody. The idea that what Youngkin would do as governor has even a remote relationship to what he is running on is absurd.

Recent polls are close, but show Youngkin with a very small lead and momentum. If he wins, Republicans will feel their 2022 strategy is good to go nationally.

and the climate summit

World leaders are currently meeting in Glasgow to attempt to hammer out a successor to the Paris Agreement of 2015, which Trump withdrew the United States from.

President Biden would like to be a leader in forging a significant agreement, but his position has been undercut by the changes Senator Manchin of coal-mining West Virginia has forced on his Build Back Better plan.

If Mr. Biden lacks a reliable plan for the United States to significantly cut its emissions this decade, it would “send a signal” to other major emitters that America is still not serious, [Lia Nicholson, a senior adviser to the Alliance of Small Island States] said. And it would be difficult for Mr. Biden to urge other countries to take more meaningful steps away from fossil fuels, others said.

Biden went to Glasgow from the G-20 meeting in Rome, which endorsed a 15% minimum corporate tax. Up to now, corporations have been able to play countries off against one another, creating a race to the bottom on corporate tax rates. If the G-20 nations follow through, that race would stop.

and the pandemic

Tuesday, an advisory committee for the FDA recommended approving Covid vaccinations for children ages 5-11. Vaccines are already approved for everyone 12 and up. The vaccines for younger children are still not available and there’s considerable disagreement about how many families will want them.

Case numbers are not falling as fast as in recent weeks. The US is averaging about 73K new cases per day, which is about the same as last week. Deaths are down to an average of 1346 a day, down from over 1400 last week. The NYT is reporting that unvaccinated people are dying at about 12 times the rate of fully vaccinated people.

The Supreme Court refused to block Maine’s vaccine mandate. The case was brought by healthcare workers who were up against the Friday deadline.

This is a shadow docket case asking for emergency relief, so no majority opinion was published. Justice Gorsuch did write a dissent, which Justices Alito and Thomas signed on to. Justices Barrett and Kavanaugh published a one-paragraph concurrence on largely technical grounds: The shadow docket shouldn’t be used to force the court to rule on a case that otherwise was unlikely to reach them.

Briefly, the reason for Gorsuch’s dissent is that healthcare workers can get an exemption for medical reasons, but not for religious reasons. His argument builds on previous ridiculous opinions from 2020-21 that elevate the most tenuous religious claims to the highest level — if they’re based on popular Christian (especially Catholic) beliefs. Gorsuch also quotes the 2018 Masterpiece Cakeshop case, which similarly granted conservative Christian beliefs about marriage a level of consideration no non-Christian belief will ever get from this Court.

The plaintiffs’ religious objection in this case is

that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine required the use of abortion-related materials in its production, and that Moderna and Pfizer relied on aborted fetal cell lines to develop their vaccines.

Note how far we have gotten, both in time and in the causal chain, from any actual abortion. I’m not sure what the J&J issue is, but for Pfizer and Moderna we’re talking about a cell line developed from an abortion in 1973, with no suggestion that the research value of the cells played any role in the abortion decision. This is the kind of thing I was talking about in 2013 when I described conservative “religious freedom” as passive aggression. People are arbitrarily extending their moral concerns for the purpose of tripping up other people.

If a policy Gorsuch liked were at stake, would he give similar weight to a Hindu whose scruple is based on a sacred cow killed in 1973, none of whose original cells are present? What if someone’s religious objection had a similarly long causal chain related to climate change? (The implementation of just about any policy involves fossil fuels at some point.)

Those cases would be laughed out of court. But three justices want to approve this one, because Gorsuch et al grant special rights to people who share their religious beliefs.

Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto tested positive for Covid, which is a big deal for a guy whose lungs were involved in a previous bout with cancer. He believes that being vaccinated has saved his life, and said so on the air, while urging his viewers to get vaccinated. “Then came the death threats,” NPR reports.


I’m not going to repost the graph (because it has tiny print and displays really badly), but you should look at Duke sociology Professor Kieran Healy’s “The Polarization of Death“. He groups US counties into deciles, based on Trump’s percentage of the 2020 vote, and then plots the cumulative Covid death rates per 100K people through time. This results in “an ecological picture of the relationship between deaths and political polarization”.

The bluest decile starts out with the most deaths. (Recall how the first wave hammered New York City, the Northeast, and big cities in general.) But last year’s Thanksgiving-to-New-Years holiday surge primarily targeted the reddest counties, and by now the deciles are in almost-perfect order, from the 90-100% Trump counties averaging over 300 deaths per 100K to the 10-20% counties a hair above 200. (The 0-10% counties are slightly higher than the 10-20% counties. That’s the only out-of-sequence result.)

You can imagine a lot of explanations for this, including that Trump counties tend to have more old people than Biden counties. But the Trumpist resistance to public health measures of all sorts has to play an important role.

and Halloween

which was yesterday. For some reason, what caught my attention this year was the funny stuff rather than the creepy or scary stuff.


You don’t see a lot of telescope jokes.


And candy corn had enough PR problems before someone noticed its resemblance to a former president.

I loved this tweet from (currently suspended) @leahtriss:

I’m going as a Former Gifted Kid for Hallowe’en. The whole costume is just going to be people asking “What are you supposed to be?” and me saying, “I was supposed to be a lot of things.”

And finally: Ruth Vader Ginsburg wielding her light gavel.


and the Trump coup

This week we found out about an article Mike Pence’s chief counsel Greg Jacobs drafted but decided not to publish after January 6. The most striking quote is at the top of this page.

Emails exchanged during the riot between Jacobs and John Eastman, the architect of the Pence-can-undo-the-election theory, also came out. Jacobs blamed the siege of the Capitol on Eastman’s “bullshit legal advice”. Eastman replied that

The ‘siege’ is because YOU and your boss did not do what was necessary to allow this to be aired in a public way so that the American people can see for themselves what happened

Rolling Stone has a long article about Trump officials and Republican members of Congress who helped plan the January 6 demonstrations. To me, the key point is whether the people at those planning sessions knew or should have known that the event would turn violent. If January 6 had just been a Trump rally, followed by a march to surround the Capitol and yell a lot, that would have been a legitimate use of the right to assemble. If I were somebody involved in January 6 planning, I’d claim the violence was a complete surprise to me.

and more book restrictions in Texas

Following up on “Reading While Texan” from two weeks ago: The Texas Tribune reports that a Republican state representative (who is running for attorney general) is opening an official legislative “inquiry into Texas school district content”. So far that mainly means that he has sent a list of 850 books to the districts, asking them how many copies they have of each, where they shelve them, and how much they spent acquiring them.

The accompanying letter asks for information on additional

books or content … that address or contain the following topics: human sexuality, sexually transmitted diseases, or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), sexually explicit images, graphic presentations of sexual behavior that is in violation of the law, or contain material that might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex or convey that a student, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.

By focusing on how content “might make students feel”, the inquiry liberates itself from any objective criteria. (Ever notice how fuck-your-feelings conservatives turn into bleeding hearts as soon as White people are upset?) It also risks misidentifying the root cause of those feelings. Being well informed is not always comfortable. (“The more knowledge, the more grief,” says Ecclesiastes.) So if reading Me and White Supremacy causes “discomfort”, maybe the problem is white supremacy, not the book.

The legislator’s list includes highly regarded titles like The New Jim Crow, Caste, Between the World and Me, and just about any other book you can think of that suggests America might have a race problem. (New Kid, which I talked about two weeks ago, is on the list.) It includes novels, graphic novels, memoirs, history books, and books about the physical changes teens might be noticing in their bodies. Oddly, the graphic novel version of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is on the list, but the original is not. And I’m not totally sure why V For Vendetta is listed.

It’s not a censorship list (yet), but the fact that these books are the subject of an “inquiry” is bound to have the kind of chilling effect on teachers and librarians that I talked about two weeks ago.


A counterpoint is Maia Kobabe’s op-ed in the Washington Post about the banning (in multiple school districts) of her graphic (in the words-plus-drawings sense) book Gender Queer: a memoir.

Queer youth are often forced to look outside their own homes, and outside the education system, to find information on who they are. Removing or restricting queer books in libraries and schools is like cutting a lifeline for queer youth, who might not yet even know what terms to ask Google to find out more about their own identities, bodies and health.

and you also might be interested in …

Paul Krugman on the current inflation/supply-chain problems:

The most important point, however, may be not to overreact to current events. The fact that shortages and inflation are happening around the world is actually an indication that national policies aren’t the main cause of the problems. They are, instead, largely inevitable as economies try to restart after the epic disruptions caused by Covid-19. It will take time to sort things out — more time than most people, myself included, expected. But a frantic attempt to restore the status quo on inflation would do more harm than good.

The migrant families who had their children stolen away by the Trump administration may get compensation from the Biden administration.

A case that initially seemed to validate the conservative dark fantasy about trans people and bathrooms turns out not to be as it first appeared.

Contrary to opinions I’ve been linking to in recent weeks, a University of Virginia professor claims Trump can claim executive privilege.

Kyle Rittenhouse, the teen-ager who killed two people during anti-police demonstrations in Racine, and who has become a hero on the Right, seems to have lucked into a biased judge. The defense can refer to the people he killed as “looters” and “rioters”, but the prosecution is not allowed to call them “victims”.

When liberals complain about the growing violence of the Right, the usual response is to point to the sporadic clashes between liberal demonstrators and police during the George Floyd protests. The Rittenhouse-is-a-hero phenomenon, though, has no parallel on the Left. Ditto for Ashley-Babbitt-is-a-martyr.

You’ll never guess who’s been getting the biggest paychecks in the NFL: the commissioner, Roger Goodell. He was paid $128 million over the last two years. The highest-paid player, Patrick Mahommes, makes a measly $45 million a year.

That comparison of executive and athlete salaries reminds me of what Babe Ruth is supposed to have said during the Depression, when somebody pointed out that his $80,000 salary was more than President Hoover was making: “I had a better year than he did.”

Slate posted an article “Historians Are Fighting” about the within-the-profession battles touched off by The 1619 Project, which posits the preservation of slavery as a major motivation for the American Revolution. It seems to me that there’s room for a middle ground about the Founders: We can celebrate their revolution as a generally positive step in the global march towards democracy and human rights, while correcting past scholarship that air-brushed their failings and made them into gods. Liberty-for-White-Christian-males was a glass-partly-full in a world of mostly empty glasses.

Vulture’s Roxana Hadadi looks at what she calls the “desert problem” of Dune, both in the new movie and in Frank Herbert’s original book. One thing that has changed since the novel’s debut in 1968 is the attention we pay to cultural appropriation, or what Edward Said labeled “orientalism” in his 1978 book.

Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) is being investigated by the SEC for insider trading. Burr sold $1.6 million in stocks in January and February of 2020, shortly before the market reacted to the Covid pandemic by dropping sharply. Burr’s brother-in-law also unloaded stock around the same time, shortly after a phone conversation with Burr.

Burr was cleared by the Trump Justice Department (which more and more looks like it bore the same resemblance to justice that Trump University did to universities) on Trump’s last day in office, but the SEC has continued to investigate.

Rand Paul reported — 16 months past the legal deadline — that his wife bought stock in Gilead Sciences, the maker of anti-Covid drug remdesivir, on February 26, 2020. That would be after a committee Paul sits on had been briefed about the approaching global pandemic, but before the danger was appreciated by the general public.

There are a couple of reasons why this isn’t the torches-and-pitchforks scandal that Burr’s might be: Gilead stock in fact didn’t take off. (The article says Paul’s wife is slightly underwater on the investment.) And the investment was less than $15K.

Still, I think Chris Hayes has the right take on this:

Let’s imagine how @RandPaul would react to this news if it were about Fauci.

To me, all the questions about whether congresspeople were trading on inside information raises a more basic question: Why are they allowed to trade stocks at all? They’re paid a nice salary, have a good pension plan, and usually have good job prospects if they leave or lose their seats without disgracing themselves. Would it be such a hardship to lock their investments in an index fund while they’re in office?

University of Florida has ordered three of its professors not to testify as expert witnesses against the state’s voter suppression law. The university characterized the expert-witness gig as “outside paid work that is adverse to the university’s interests as a state of Florida institution”.

Actually, though, the lawsuit the wants the professors’ testimony is just adverse to the De Santis administration and the Republican Party, not the state of Florida. If UF has been threatened with repercussions if its professors testify, that’s a significant violation of American political traditions, and probably the law. Josh Marshall comments:

One of the features of American democracy is a fairly sharp line between political activity, the electoral activity of parties and the functions of the state. A state governor has budgets and powers to run the state. But he or she can’t use them to run for reelection. Ignoring these distinctions was one of the most defining features of Trump’s presidency. I am the state, as it were. We can see now that that approach increasingly suffuses the whole GOP.

and let’s close with something brilliant

Financial Times identifies twenty of the most “brilliant” bookstores in the world. Several are in the US, but none of the American shops look quite as awesome as the Dujiangyan Zhongshuge Bookstore in Sichuan, China, which was profiled in more detail in Architectural Digest. I’m not sure how you get to all those shelves, though.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • charlesroth2016  On November 1, 2021 at 12:27 pm

    One has to wonder just how well Greg Jacob knows (or is channeling) his ‘Lord of the Rings’. If the “cadre of outside lawyers to the President” are “Grima Wormtongue(s)”… that suggests that their client, Trump, was either (a) the then-old-and-incompetent Theoden, or (b) the evil Saruman.

  • rwforce  On November 1, 2021 at 2:41 pm

    ” I’m not sure how you get to all those shelves, though.” Quote from AD:
    The firm used film printed with books on the upper shelves so it would appear that books stretched from floor to ceiling. “If we placed real books on the upper shelves, it’s not only hard for readers to reach them but also difficult for operators to take care of,” says Li.

  • 1962bookworm  On November 1, 2021 at 3:44 pm

    You may be interested in an American organization of lawyers entitled Lawyers Defending American Democracy (“LDAD”) “a coalition of lawyers united in the defense of our democracy.” Although I am not a founder, I wish I had been a founder of this organization. I sign on to each letter where i can when such unethical lawyers such as Rudy Giuliani’s breach of ethics resulted in his license being suspended. Likewise, a coalition of lawyers joined with LDAD to file an ethics complaint against former Attorney General Jeffrey B. Clark and Texas AG Paxton, U.S. Attorney William Barr, Request for Oversight of the ODC in the case of William Barr, Letter calling ofr the immediate removal of President Trump (1-7-21), Call for Condemnation and investigation of Trump’s Campaign Lawyers, and more. See https://ldad.org/letters-briefsk.

    The quote you provided is absolutely correct, “There is no room in the legal profession for Grima Wormtongues who counsel their clients with half-truths and deceptive presentation made in pursuit of a personal agenda.’

    Nancy Lee Nelson, Esq., MPH Health Law Attorney Weber & Nelson Law office, PLLC 150 3rd Avenue, Suite 100 Minneapolis MN 55401 Remote Office: (612) 227-0226 Fax (612 )928-2828


  • Liberty  On November 4, 2021 at 3:09 am

    Virginia lost thanks to CRT. Democrats need to have a hard look at themselves and stop being in the thrall of this theory.

    E.g., what Youngkin actually said

    • charlesroth2016  On November 4, 2021 at 10:47 am

      Who exactly is “in thrall” to this theory (CRT)? Name names. I am skeptical of the assertion.

      Are there SOME forms of systemic racism? The hard data says “absolutely yes”.

      The GOP has this great (and effective!) lie that telling any truths (about what forms of systemic racism exist) is somehow “dividing us”. That’s not the Democrats’ fault.

      Do Democrats need to be better about countering that? Absolutely.

  • ccyager  On November 6, 2021 at 5:59 pm

    Every year there’s someplace that wants to ban books that actually help kids be human beings. But this move by that Texas State Representative reminds me a LOT of how the world worked in “Fahrenheit 451” as well as Nazi Germany. Just one more point scored for the march to Fascism, I think. Is that what we want for America and Americans?

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