Limitations of Experience

No Sift next week. The next new articles will appear on April 11

He characteristically would tell us things that we knew but would rather forget; and he told us much that we did not know due to the limitations of our own experience.

Supreme Court Justice Byron White
“A Tribute to Justice Thurgood Marshall”

This week’s featured post is “Where Does the Religious Right Go After Roe?

How did Christianity become so toxic?“, from two weeks ago, was one of the rare posts to have a bigger second week than its first. It has now gotten over 17,000 page hits, and is still running. That puts it in 13th place on the Sift’s all-time hit list, mostly behind posts from the era when Facebook algorithms let links go viral more easily.

This week everybody was talking about Judge Jackson

The televised interviews with the Judiciary Committee are over now. The committee vote on Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination is planned for April 4, and she seems likely to pass on a party-line vote.

The full Senate will vote sometime after that. She can be approved with only Democratic votes. So far, no senator of either party has announced a decision to break ranks. Senator Manchin recently came out in support, which probably means she’s in, though Senator Sinema still hasn’t committed herself.

Charles Blow pointed out how far the Senate has gotten from its constitutional duties. The point of the confirmation hearings on Judge Jackson’s nomination has never been to examine her qualifications or judicial philosophy. The point, rather, is to “put on a show”.

Lindsey Graham and various other Republican senators used the hearings to air their issues with Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings. But from my point of view, comparing those hearings makes a very different point: If you’ve ever wondered what white male privilege consists of, the contrast between the two hearings makes it obvious.

Judge Jackson had to be responsive, civil, and under control at all times, while Republican senators frequently interrupted her or talked over her. Kavanaugh, on the other hand, was free to go on a partisan rant, push a conspiracy theory, cry and express anger, lie and misdirect, and throw hostile questions back at his questioners. A Black woman could never get away with that kind of behavior.

The Republican senators at the hearing knew they were using smear tactics. Ted Cruz, for example, tied Jackson to books that are used at a private school where Jackson serves on the board (as if she had personally selected those books). He then misrepresented the books.

GOP senators repeatedly referenced Wesley Hawkins, an 18-year-old who Judge Jackson sentenced to three months prison, three months home detention, and six years of supervision because he possessed child pornography. He’s now 27 and has not been charged with anything since. The WaPo detailed his case and talked to him.

One popular falsehood I’ve heard during the hearings is that conservatives believe in judicial restraint while liberals want to expand judicial power. WaPo’s Henry Olsen put it like this:

Democrats favor the court expanding its jurisdiction into political matters; Republicans favor a restrictive view, generally deferring to democratically elected bodies at all levels of government rather than making the court the final arbiter of public policy. This is one of the most important political issues of our time.

If that was ever true, which I doubt, it certainly is not true now.

One case this week demonstrated how conservative justices are reaching for power: Three conservative justices — Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch — tried to insert judges into the Navy’s chain of command, undercutting President Biden’s role as commander-in-chief.

Another right-wing judicial power grab is the push for “nondelegation“, a theory under which Congress cannot delegate regulatory power to agencies of the executive branch like the EPA or the SEC. In practice, this makes the Supreme Court the ultimate regulator, as it decides which regulations are or aren’t sufficiently specified by Congress’ authorizing legislation.

And finally, we can’t ignore the two places where conservative justices regularly invent new rights: for corporations and for right-wing Christians. Corporations are not mentioned in the Constitution, and yet conservatives are constantly defending their right to influence elections or to act on their religious convictions as “corporate persons“. And right-wing Christians (but not other religious groups) are held to be largely exempt from laws they don’t like.

and Ginni Thomas

People who pay attention have known for years that Ginni and Clarence Thomas were a scandal waiting to happen: Ginni is a right-wing political organizer, and she runs a profit-making lobbying firm. Her husband Clarence is a Supreme Court justice who rules on cases that sometimes overlap with Ginni’s interests. That’s been going on for years. The New Yorker detailed the ethical problems the Thomases raise back in January. The NYT Magazine followed in February.

What’s new this week are text messages she exchanged with Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows during the period between the election and the January 6 riot.

The messages — 29 in all — reveal an extraordinary pipeline between Virginia Thomas, who goes by Ginni, and President Donald Trump’s top aide during a period when Trump and his allies were vowing to go to the Supreme Court in an effort to negate the election results.

Ginni encourages Meadows (and Trump) to “stand firm” against “the greatest Heist of our History”. She gives strategic legal advice on a case that her husband might have needed to rule on.

Among Thomas’s stated goals in the messages was for lawyer Sidney Powell, who promoted incendiary and unsupported claims about the election, to be “the lead and the face” of Trump’s legal team.

She repeatedly embraced the most bizarre and baseless conspiracy theories about the election.

Ginni has admitted attending the January 6 rally, but claims to have left early, before the assault on the Capitol.

Clarence was the lone dissent in an 8-1 decision not to hear Trump’s objections to the National Archives delivering documents to the January 6 Committee. The Ginni/Meadows texts were not part of that trove, but his wife’s involvement certainly creates a strong appearance of impropriety.

and Ukraine

This week Ukraine has been pushing back Russian troops threatening Kyiv, while Russian forces continue to make slow progress in the eastern part of the country.

Russia is now claiming that everything has gone according to plan.

“The main objectives of the first stage of the operation have generally been accomplished,” Sergei Rudskoi, head of the Russian General Staff’s Main Operational Directorate, said in a speech Friday. “The combat potential of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has been considerably reduced, which … makes it possible to focus our core efforts on achieving the main goal, the liberation of Donbas.”

Of course, the combat potential of the Russian forces has also been reduced, which probably wasn’t part of the plan. Maybe this announcement means that Russia has scaled down its ambitions and no longer intends to conquer the entire country. Or maybe the speech is just noise. It’s always hard to tell.

Karolina Wigura and Jaroslaw Kuisz write in the NYT about the divide within NATO. Everybody supports Ukraine against Russia, but the former Warsaw Pact countries in the East frame the issue differently than NATO’s original members in the West, including the United States.

For Western countries, not least the United States, the conflict is a disaster for the people of Ukraine — but one whose biggest danger is that it might spill over the Ukrainian border, setting off a global conflict.

For Central and Eastern European countries, it’s rather different. These neighbors of Russia tend to see the war not as a singular event but as a process. To these post-Soviet states, the invasion of Ukraine appears as a next step in a whole series of Russia’s nightmarish assaults on other countries, dating back to the ruthless attacks on Chechnya and the war with Georgia. To them, it seems foolhardy to assume Mr. Putin will stop at Ukraine. The danger is pressing and immediate.

While the West believes it must prevent World War III, the East thinks that, whatever the name given to the conflict, the war against liberal democratic values, institutions and lifestyles has already started. …

NATO’s cautious steps look to many Central and Eastern Europeans like an echo of the phony war of 1939, when France and Britain undertook only limited military actions and did not save their eastern ally, Poland.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas summed up the Eastern view:

At NATO, our focus should be simple: Mr. Putin cannot win this war. He cannot even think he has won, or his appetite will grow.

Elliot Ackerman is a former Marine and intelligence officer writing for The Atlantic. He had an enlightening conversation with a former Marine now fighting for Ukraine about the way weapons like the Javelin missile have changed the tactics of warfare.

When Ackerman was in Fallujah in 2004, Abrams tanks were key in the infantry’s advance into the city — a role the tank has played since it was invented in World War I to lead soldiers over enemy trenches.

On several occasions, I watched our tanks take direct hits from rocket-propelled grenades (typically older-generation RPG-7s) without so much as a stutter in their forward progress. Today, a Ukrainian defending Kyiv or any other city, armed with a Javelin or an NLAW, would destroy a similarly capable tank.

If the costly main battle tank is the archetypal platform of an army (as is the case for Russia and NATO), then the archetypal platform of a navy (particularly America’s Navy) is the ultra-costly capital ship, such as an aircraft carrier. Just as modern anti-tank weapons have turned the tide for the outnumbered Ukrainian army, the latest generation of anti-ship missiles (both shore- and sea-based) could in the future—say, in a place like the South China Sea or the Strait of Hormuz—turn the tide for a seemingly outmatched navy. Since February 24, the Ukrainian military has convincingly displayed the superiority of an anti-platform-centric method of warfare.

They also discussed the difference in philosophy between the Russian and the more NATO-style Ukrainian command structures.

Russian doctrine relies on centralized command and control, while mission-style command and control—as the name suggests—relies on the individual initiative of every soldier, from the private to the general, not only to understand the mission but then to use their initiative to adapt to the exigencies of a chaotic and ever-changing battlefield in order to accomplish that mission.

The Russian system breaks down when soldiers wind up in situations that make it impossible to carry out their specific orders. (As orders to go to a particular place break down when the roads are jammed with traffic.) They can’t improvise effectively, because they don’t know what the larger mission is.

Wednesday, the NYT and CNN published articles about US contingency planning for scenarios where Russia escalates to nuclear, chemical, or biological warfare. It’s very hard to tell how seriously to take this possibility.

Dictators have a long history of playing chicken with democracies, figuring that a leader not accountable to public opinion has more room to take risks, so he will be able to get elected leaders to back down. This is basically the story of Hitler and the West prior to his attack on France in 1940.

He is the very model of a Russian major general.

and the pandemic

Last week I wondered if we were in the eye of the storm. This week the trend definitely seems to have turned: After two months of steep drops in the number of new Covid cases, the curves look like they’re turning upward again.

Last week, new cases per day were running just under 30K, this week they’re just over. If you use a two-week window, that’s still a 12% decline. But the national flattening out over the last week hides the fact that cases have turned upward in the parts of the country that usually lead the statistics (New York City, for example), but are still falling in parts that lag.

This is personal to me. My wife takes a cancer-survivor drug that can have immune-suppressing side effects, so we’ve been especially cautious during the pandemic. And though I’ve started to enjoy cooking during the pandemic, I still miss the days when we ate out often. (Take-out is not the same.) A few weeks ago we made a judgment: If new-cases-per-100K in our Boston-suburb county got into single digits, we could eat indoors at restaurants if we avoided the times when they’re crowded.

We didn’t get there. Our county’s number bottomed out at 11 sometime last week, and is now back up to 16. This morning it’s snowing again, and outdoor dining seems far away.

and anti-LGBTQ oppression

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has sent the Austin Independent School District a letter informing them of his opinion that their Pride Week is illegal.

By hosting “Pride Week”, your district has, at best, undertaken a week-long instructional effort in human sexuality without parental consent. Or, worse, your district is cynically pushing a week-long indoctrination of your students that not only fails to obtain parental consent, but subtly cuts parents out of the loop.

AISD says the focus of its Pride Week is “creating a safe, supportive and inclusive environment”, not teaching about human sexuality. Apparently, Paxton can’t see the difference between teaching students to accept one another and teaching them how to perform sexual acts.

The district shows no signs of giving in; the superintendent tweeted back:

I want all our LGBTQIA+ students to know that we are proud of them and that we will protect them against political attacks

Paxton, you may recall, also opines that gender-affirming therapy is child abuse, and was investigating nine Texas families with trans children until a state court made him stop.

After he’s done persecuting children and their families, I have to wonder how much time he has left to do his job as the state’s chief law enforcement officer.

If you want to know where right-wing rhetoric about schools “grooming” children for pedophiles is headed, look at Mississippi’s former legislator and gubernatorial candidate Robert Foster, who tweeted:

Some of y’all still want to try and find political compromise with those that want to groom our school aged children and pretend men are women, etc. I think they need to be lined up against wall before a firing squad to be sent to an early judgment.

When Mississippi Free Press requested an interview to discuss this, Foster messaged back:

I said what I said. The law should be changed so that anyone trying to sexually groom children and/or advocating to put men pretending to be women in locker rooms and bathrooms with young women should receive the death penalty by firing squad.

So if you’re advocating for trans people to choose their own bathrooms, or trans women to be allowed to compete in women’s sports, you should be shot. Or let me boil that down further: I should be shot. Maybe you should be shot too.

It’s hard to come up with the right response to stuff like this, because real pedophiles do exist, just not with anything like the numbers or the organizational power of Foster’s fantasies. In the same way, there were a handful of real Soviet spies during the Red Scare, and probably some tiny percentage of the six million Jews Hitler killed were up to no good.

To be fair, this guy is nobody. He didn’t get nominated for governor, and there are a lot of crazy former state legislators out there. But Florida Governor DeSantis’ spokesperson has also described opponents of the Don’t Say Gay bill (that’s me again) as “groomers”.

If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children. Silence is complicity. This is how it works, Democrats, and I didn’t make the rules.

Foster is just pointing out where that kind of thinking leads.

The WaPo calls attention to books quietly vanishing from school library shelves. Administrators are ignoring the defined processes for dealing with complaints and just pulling books without any process, often over the objections (or without the knowledge) of librarians.

And after the school libraries are purged, they’ll come for the public libraries. Llano County, Texas just fired a librarian for refusing to remove books. KXAN quotes a library patron as saying “There are very clear rules that should be followed with regards to censorship to books in the public library, those rules were not followed.”

and you also might be interested in …

If you missed the Oscars, CODA won as best picture. Here’s a list of all the other winners.

One reason more and more Republicans feel they need to move on from Donald Trump is that he is stuck in the past; he’s still fixated on his crushing defeat in the 2020 election, which he lost by 7 million votes.

Well, this week he moved on from 2020, but in the wrong direction: to 2016. He’s filed a lawsuit in a Florida federal court against, as TPM puts it, “Everyone Who Ever Offended Him Over 2016 Election”.

At the core of Trump’s claim is the idea that Clinton ordered others to spread lies about him regarding Russia and the 2016 election. With Clinton at its head, the argument goes, a vast conspiracy to deprive Trump kicked into action, featuring people and entities that have populated Trump’s rhetoric since before he won in 2016 and, subsequently, right-wing media.

They include Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that the lawsuit accuses of creating “false and/or misleading dossiers” to damage Trump’s chances in the election.

Jim Comey, the former FBI director, makes the cut to be a defendant, as do FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. The DNC and its 2016 chief, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, also show up as defendants.

WaPo’s Phillip Bump points out the most ridiculous aspect of the suit: In order to “prove” that Clinton masterminded a conspiracy to manufacture a Trump/Russia “hoax”, the suit quotes from DNC emails illegally hacked by Russia to benefit the Trump campaign.

Whenever Trump’s 2016 conspiracy theory comes up, I feel obligated to repeat the established facts:

  • Russia did help Trump get elected in 2016.
  • That Russian effort included crimes, such as hacking computers at the DNC, and distributing illegally obtained emails through WikiLeaks during the fall campaign.
  • Trump knew Russia was helping him, to the point of saying in public “Russia, if you’re listening …”.
  • The Trump campaign had two major interfaces with the Russian effort: campaign manager Paul Manafort, who had been paid millions of dollars by Russian oligarch Oleg Derapaska, and long-time Trump ally Roger Stone, who was the campaign’s link to WikiLeaks. Neither man cooperated with the Mueller investigation, and Trump rewarded both of them with pardons.

In view of all that, and the likelihood that Trump would have to answer questions under oath if the suit made it to trial, probably the point is to scam more money out of his followers.

Oh, and they’re still trying to make a thing out of Hunter Biden’s laptop.

Belarus has granted asylum to a man charged in the January 6 insurrection. Putin’s allies consider people who rioted to keep Trump in power after he lost the election to be political prisoners.

In case you were still doubting that Mike Flynn is insane, he buys into the Bill-Gates-wants-to-microchip-you theory. The following picture is not authentic.

Vanity Fair has the sordid story of how the conservative Project Veritas obtained Ashley Biden’s diary.

If you ever watched the TV series Heroes, and if you had witnessed the scuffle involving actress Hayden Panettiere Thursday, could you have resisted calling out “Save the cheerleader!”?

and let’s close with some literal interpretation

This Dad assigned his kids the task of writing instructions for making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He then followed their instructions as literally as possible, with amusing results.

While I think this exercise taught the kids a valuable lesson, I predict Dad will soon regret having done it, as the kids will start following his instructions literally as well. “You told me to go to school. You didn’t tell me to go inside the school.”

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Dale Moses  On March 28, 2022 at 1:24 pm

    I think its too early to count tanks out of modern warfare. While the article says “Today, a Ukrainian defending Kyiv or any other city, armed with a Javelin or an NLAW, would destroy a similarly capable tank.” the fact of the matter is that the tanks the Russians have are not similarly capable. They were designed to be hard to hit before the era of precision munitions and as a result are both less armored and less resilient in other ways than the Abrams.

    At the end of the day you cannot get rid of tanks. You’re going to want some mobile armor just to move around. And once you have that mobile armor a big gun on it to let it shell enemy positions from range will have value.

  • Thomas Paine  On March 28, 2022 at 11:18 pm

    Oh, I think we all know what Robert Foster’s fantasies really are. Methinks the wingnut doth protest too much.


  • By Consolidation | The Weekly Sift on April 18, 2022 at 12:13 pm

    […] Last month, I told you about a librarian getting fired in Llano, Texas because she resisted conservative censorship. Yesterday, The Washington Post added a lot of detail about the right-wing-Christian takeover of the Llano public library system. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: