Power and Obligation

What is the responsibility of those with power? Do they merely have an obligation to refrain from the misuse of that power? Or do they have a duty to protect those without it?

– Jennifer Walters, opening lines of She Hulk: Attorney at Law

This week’s featured post is “The Return of the Bitter Politics of Envy“.

This week everybody was still talking about the Mar-a-Lago search


In fact, we’ve been talking too much about it. You can waste a lot of time on this kind of story. Some new detail emerges almost every day, but there’s still a lot we don’t know, creating room for endless speculation about what will or ought to happen.

I recommend viewing from a distance: Trump continues to claim that he’s the victim of political persecution by the “Deep State” [see definition below]. But with every new revelation, it becomes clearer that the Feds had good reason to search Mar-a-Lago and did everything by the book. Here’s the gist:

  • When he left office, Trump kept dozens of boxes of documents that by law now belong to the US government and should be overseen by the National Archives.
  • Many of those documents are classified at the highest levels. We don’t (and shouldn’t) know precisely what’s in them, but their classification markings indicate that some of them (if they got into the wrong hands) would compromise human intelligence sources and/or the US government’s capabilities for intercepting signals.
  • Intelligence officials are now studying the recovered documents to assess the specific risks associated with them.
  • Mar-a-Lago is not a secure facility approved for housing such highly classified documents. (And that may understate its lack of security.)
  • The government tried to avoid a confrontation, which is why the documents weren’t seized more than a year ago. The Archives asked nicely, the Department of Justice served a subpoena, and still they didn’t get everything back. Going in and taking the documents was a last resort that Trump’s intransigence made necessary.
  • Trump has not explained why he needed or wanted these documents.
  • Laws were clearly broken. DoJ now has to decide whether to bring charges or to be satisfied to have the documents back.
  • Trump allies like Lindsey Graham are threatening violence if Trump is charged for his crimes.

There are also a few things about Trump’s defenses that you might notice from a distance without obsessing. Ask yourself:

To me, those all look like strategies for guilty people. They’re not about establishing innocence, they’re about making it hard for the government to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

You may now return to your ordinary news consumption. Don’t let Trump suck all the oxygen out of the room.


Another development this week: The memo that then-Attorney-General William Barr used to justify not charging then-President Trump with obstructing the Mueller probe has been released over the objections of the Garland Justice Department.

The memo is basically a whitewash to justify what Barr had decided to do anyway. One part of it is particularly bad, as former Mueller assistant Andrew Weissmann observes:

Key “reasoning” of Barr/Engel/O’Callaghan memo: if you successfully obstruct an investigation, you cannot be charged with obstruction as you were not charged with the crime under investigation. Future defendants will have a field day with this memo unless DOJ repudiates it soon.

When Senator Graham threatened violence, he compared Trump’s crimes to “the Clinton debacle”, i.e. the Hillary email thing, which was very thoroughly investigated and was not anything like what Trump has done.

I did all the background reading on Hillary’s emails about a month before James Comey explained his reasons for not charging Clinton, which was exactly the same conclusion I had come to. Other people who do more-or-less what Clinton did never get charged. People who do what Trump did always get charged.

If you want a laugh, check out Mrs. F talking to Trump as if he were a toddler.

Do you understand why they took those items from you? … No, not for no reason, friend. Those did not belong to you. You took them home and you were not supposed to, so they took them back. The FBI. Yeah. We need to start taking some responsibility for our actions.

[Deep State]: As I’ve said before, the “Deep State” is an ominous way of pointing to people who aren’t that hard to understand: They joined some government agency because they were committed to its institutional mission, and they continue to be more loyal to that mission than they are to the chain of command leading up to the White House.

So deep-staters at the EPA kept trying to protect the environment even when the Trump administration wanted to let corporations trash it. Deep-staters at CDC tried to fight Covid when Trump wanted to happy-talk it away. Deep-staters in the military pushed to stay in Afghanistan despite both Trump and Biden wanting to get out. Deep-staters in DoJ want to investigate crimes, and so on.

and Biden canceling some student debt

I cover this, and the Republican attempt to turn it into a culture-war issue, in the featured post.

and the pandemic

Reported cases are trending downward, for what that’s worth. But lagging indicators are lagging the way they should if something did indeed turn around a few weeks ago. Cases are down 14% in two weeks, hospitalizations down 10%, and ICU admissions down 7%. Deaths, the longest-lagging indicator, have barely budged, down 2%.

and you also might be interested in …

The uncrewed Artemis I mission was supposed to launch this morning, but got delayed. It is the first step towards new missions sending astronauts to the Moon, where no man has boldly gone in nearly half a century.

In 1960s science fiction, it was considered plausible to set missions to Mars and perhaps even Jupiter in the 1980s. By the 21st century, you could go almost anywhere in the solar system.

The Ukraine War has passed its six-month mark, leading to assessments of where things stand. Short version: Russia has lost in a lot of ways. Its initial plan to overwhelm Kiev failed, its military has badly underperformed expectations, and it has suffered enormous losses of both soldiers and equipment.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean Ukraine is winning, in that there’s no quick or obvious way for Ukraine to achieve its goals either. Russian forces continue to occupy territory in eastern Ukraine, and the Ukrainian military may not have what it takes to force them out.

One provision of the Inflation Reduction Act was to fund more employees at the IRS. This makes tons of sense, because IRS budgets have been trending downward for years, and every year there’s a huge backlog of unprocessed returns. In 2020 the Congressional Budget Office reported:

The IRS’s appropriations have fallen by 20 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars since 2010, resulting in the elimination of 22 percent of its staff. The amount of funding and staff allocated to enforcement activities has declined by about 30 percent since 2010.

One result is that rich people with clever accountants can gamble on outlasting the IRS; they can cheat in ways that IRS can only catch if they’re willing to invest a lot of person-hours they don’t have.

But the prospect of a larger IRS staff has turned into a major bugaboo on the Right. In the right-wing imagination, the employees the agency hopes to hire over ten years are all going to be there tomorrow, and they’re all going to be armed agents, rather than, say, people who answer questions on the phone or keep the computers running. Seriously, folks on the Right are scaring each other with visions of an IRS army breaking down their doors.

Dana Milbank sets the record straight. Bookmark this in case some social-media friend starts ranting about “87,000 armed IRS agents”.

Last week I forgot to mention the knife attack on author Salman Rushdie in upstate New York. Reports say he was on a ventilator for a time, but is now “articulate“, though still in a hospital.


Leonard Leo, the Federalist Society leader who essentially picked Trump’s three Supreme Court nominees, heads a new conservative group that just got a $1.6 billion donation from one guy. The group is the Marble Freedom Trust and the guy appears to be Barre Seid, an electronics-industry billionaire I had never heard of. (Several news organizations followed a paper trail to figure out who he is, but the law didn’t require any official announcement.)

Because of Supreme Court decisions by other Federalist Society judges, there are few limits on what Leo can do with all that money.

To put the total in context: If every person who voted in the 2020 presidential election sent in $10, we could almost equal Seid’s gift.

Republicans are trying to make hay out of Biden’s remark tagging their ideology as “semi fascism“, as if he were insulting everyone who voted for Trump rather than accurately characterizing the extreme MAGA faction — and perhaps giving it too much credit with that “semi” modifier.

It amazes me how sensitive MAGAts are, given how often they accuse liberals of being pedophiles and groomers and haters of America.

The comparisons being made to Hillary’s “basket of deplorables” line are accurate, but for the wrong reasons: Hillary was absolutely right, and subsequent history has vindicated her. Like Biden (and like Liz Cheney in other contexts), she was trying to get McCain/Romney Republicans to look at who they’re supporting these days: people who are fundamentally against democracy, who have formed a personality cult around their leader, and who feel justified in resorting to violence if they get outvoted or if their leader faces legal consequences for committing crimes. If that’s not “semi-fascism”, what do you call it?

and let’s close with something deep

If you go 3000 meters below sea level and hang around long enough, you might see an 8-foot-long sea creature known as a Solumbellula Sea Pen.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: