Moving On

Even if Durham approached the probe with earnest sincerity, the real reason he was appointed is that Donald Trump’s political con requires the promise of total vindication right around the corner. For a time, Durham provided that hope for Trump backers. But now, as Trump moves on to other ploys, the Durham probe has served its purpose, even though it has produced no major convictions or epiphanies.

– David Graham
The John Durham Probe Gave Trump What He Wanted

This week’s featured post is “How the Trump Grift Works“.

This week everybody was talking about something that doesn’t interest me

I have spent exactly zero time these last two weeks watching coverage related to the British royal family. I just don’t see what connects the royals to anything I find meaningful. If I’d been running a news network, I would have briefly announced developments on the days they happened: the Queen’s death, Charles’ coronation, her funeral — and then moved on to something that might actually matter.

and Ukraine

After a grinding Russian offensive in the summer made only minimal gains, Ukraine has been striking back surprisingly effectively. It has regained a comparatively large amount of territory in the Kharkiv area, and put Russian forces into a disorganized retreat.

Like the collapse of Russia’s Kyiv offensive in the spring, this new series of reverses is raising questions about the effectiveness of the Russian military in general. Putin is also beginning to face criticism from the political right, from Russians who believe in the goals of the war but are disappointed by how it’s going.

The main thing to worry about is that Putin will respond by escalating further, which is why Biden warned him not to use tactical nuclear weapons.

and the fall elections

It’s hard to imagine what Lindsey Graham is thinking as he introduces a national 15-week abortion ban. It’s obviously not going to pass in this Congress, and it’s also giving Democrats a wedge issue for the midterm elections: It unites Democrats and splits Republicans.

Nationally, the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe has motivated Democratic voters in special elections and in the Kansas referendum. The Republican response has amounted to “Calm down. The Dobbs decision is just federalism; it returns the abortion question to the states.”

But Graham’s bill points out the obvious: National abortion bans will be proposed in every Congress from now on, and Republicans will not be able to stand up to their base and vote them down. So if Americans elect Republican majorities in Congress and regain the presidency, abortion will eventually be banned.

Graham is pitching his bill as a “late-term” abortion ban, but 15 weeks is early in the second trimester, and has never previously been considered “late-term”.

Polls show that late-term abortion bans are more popular than general abortion bans. But I encourage Democrats to keep raising this question to women who have ever been pregnant: “At what point in your pregnancy did your judgment become inferior to the government’s?” Late-term abortions are nearly all complex situations where difficult decisions need to be made. I can’t imagine that any large percentage of those decisions will be made better by Congress than by the people actually involved.

One reason I didn’t panic when Democrats were doing so badly in the polls was that I expected Republicans to do what they’re doing: nominate extreme MAGA candidates who represent about a third of the electorate.

Latest example: Don Bolduc, who is the Republican Senate nominee in New Hampshire. Incumbent Democrat Maggie Hassan won by a whisker in 2016, so she has been an obvious target for Republicans looking to flip the 50-50 Senate. Popular Governor Chris Sununu probably could have won that seat, but decided he didn’t want to be part of a Republican Senate caucus with no policy other than blocking whatever President Biden wants to do.

So the primary came down to Bolduc against a more mainstream Republican, Chuck Morse.

Bolduc holds a wide variety of extreme beliefs: He wants to eliminate both the FBI and the Department of Education, has backed former President Donald Trump’s lies about the election and called GOP Gov. Chris Sununu a “Chinese Communist sympathizer.”

But Sununu has pledged to support Bolduc, because mainstream Republicans are content to watch the fascists take over their party. Bolduc, meanwhile, has had a sudden conversion on election denial: The day after his primary opponent conceded, he announced that he no longer believes Biden stole the 2020 election from Trump.

One of Bolduc’s most charming positions is that voters shouldn’t be able to pick their senators at all: He wants to repeal the 17th Amendment and return to the system where state legislatures picked senators.

That’s how it’s supposed to be. And it worked until the 17th Amendment.

Weirdly, Bolduc sees this as an anti-corruption measure, when the pre-amendment Senate was a big part of what made the Gilded Age notoriously corrupt, as memorialized in the famous political cartoon “Bosses of the Senate“. Bolduc clearly doesn’t know American history.

So anyway, New Hampshire: If you don’t vote for Hassan, you may never get to vote for a senator again.

Another example is the Massachusetts governor’s race. Massachusetts is one of the bluest states in the country, but it has a history of electing moderate Republican governors — like currently popular Governor Charlie Baker, as well as Mitt Romney and Bill Weld in the not-so-distant past.

So there’s every reason to believe the GOP could have put up a real fight this year. Instead, they nominated MAGA Republican Geoff Diehl. The lastest poll has him trailing Democrat Maura Healey by a ridiculous margin, 52%-26%.

Of course Republicans are doctoring videos to exaggerate the effects of John Fetterman’s stroke. How did I not see that coming?

and the secret documents Trump stole

I’ve been reluctant to talk about “Trump judges” in a way that implies they’re all MAGA cultists. First, because it’s too reminiscent of the way Trump himself has talked about “Obama judges“, as if the judiciary is necessarily partisan. If we start assuming that every judge is in the tank for the party that appointed him or her, it’s hard to see how democracy stands.

But also, a number of “Trump judges” have held the line against his most outrageous attacks against democracy, and even his Supreme Court appointees refused to overturn the election he lost.

However, it’s hard to explain Judge Aileen Cannon’s rulings in the Mar-a-Lago documents case without assuming some kind of bias or corruption. Her position makes no sense as law, and gives Trump a unique above-the-law status.

Most telling is the way that she takes seriously claims that Trump has made in public, but which his lawyers have not raised in court: that the clearly marked secret documents the FBI recovered may not actually be classified at all, and that this is something for her appointed special master to decide. (Based on what?)

In their court filings, Trump’s lawyers imply claims they do not actually state, referring to “purportedly classified” documents and observing that the government “wrongly assumes that if a document has a classification marking, it remains classified in perpetuity”.

Any real judge would have pressed them to make a factual claim: Did Trump declassify these documents or not? When? How? I believe Trump’s lawyers would have backed down because they know Trump’s public claims are lies, just as Trump’s lawyers often refused to claim fraud in his election lawsuits. Lawyers can be sanctioned for lying to the court, but not for vague implications that the judge lets stand.

Cannon, however, did not ask the obvious questions, and instead just observed that there is a “dispute” about the documents’ classification that the court needs to resolve somehow.

The Justice Department has appealed to the 11th Circuit, which also includes a lot of Trump-appointed judges. Hopefully, though, these are real judges who will insist on applying the law, even to the man who appointed them.

the Martha’s Vineyard stunt

You’ve probably already heard about Florida Governor DeSantis using state funds to fly Venezuelan immigrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. They arrived not knowing where they were (since DeSantis’ people had lied to them), and local officials were not told they were coming. In short, it was a political stunt designed to create maximal chaos. The Martha’s Vineyard community seem to have handled it well, and the Venezuelans are now housed at a military base on Cape Cod.

Similar stunts have been going on for a while, as when Texas Governor Abbott bused about 100 Hispanic immigrants to Vice President Kamala Harris’ residence, again unannounced.

To some, this is reminiscent of the “reverse freedom rides” that Southern racists organized (again, tricking their victims) in the 1960s. Others wonder about the political reaction from Florida’s large Venezuelan population, after seeing how little regard DeSantis has for people escaping the Maduro government.

My reaction to this series of events is to ask: How does dropping migrants in a resort community with no warning make anything better? DeSantis and Abbott seem to share one dominant motive: spite.

The underlying problem is that both treaties and our own laws require the United States to allow people facing persecution in other countries to claim asylum here. (This is largely a response to the shameful way Jewish refugees were treated when they tried to escape the Holocaust.) Once refugees get here and turn themselves in [1], we are legally obligated to hear their claims. Currently, the asylum courts are overwhelmed, and it can take years to decide if someone’s claims of persecution are legitimate.

As it did in so many areas, and as Trump continues to do today, the Trump administration dealt with the asylum problem by ignoring the law. The Biden administration refuses to do that, and systemic reforms have been logjammed in Congress for many years.

It’s important that we get this figured out soon, because in the coming decades many millions of people will become climate refugees, as their homes are flooded out or their fields become deserts. What’s our plan for dealing with the ones who appear on our border? Let them all in? Shoot them?

[1] The Republican rhetoric about “securing the Southern border” is way off-base when we’re talking about asylum seekers. They are not avoiding or breaking our laws, they are seeking the protection of our laws. And of course no one worries about our Northern border, because we think of Canadians as White English-speaking people.

you also might be interested in …

Geoffrey Berman’s new book Holding the Line is a good read. Chapter-by-chapter, it’s a real-life crime series that covers art fraud, Jeffrey Epstein, street gangs, extortion, international banking fraud, and many other cases, underlining the wide variety of issues that arise in the Southern District of New York, where Berman was the US attorney for 2 years during the Trump administration.

Like any good TV crime series, the episodes have a long-term background plot playing out: How Trump and Bill Barr tried to use the Justice Department to protect Trump’s friends and attack his enemies. Berman’s refusal to play ball involved strategic resistance, as he was constantly forced to decide which concessions mattered and which didn’t. He eventually did get fired, but managed to avoid handing SDNY off to a Trump/Barr puppet.

One point that makes Berman’s book topical: When Trump talks about “weaponization of the justice system“, it’s projection. He spent four years trying to weaponize it.

A legal battle is playing out in Texas over Governor Abbott’s and Attorney General Paxton’s desire to persecute families of trans youth. In Abbott and Paxton’s view, parents who allow their children to receive puberty blockers or other gender-identity-affirming medical care (under a doctor’s supervision) should be investigated for child abuse. A state judge disagrees, but Paxton will appeal the ruling.

Whatever happened to the praying football coach? You know, the one that the Supreme Court eviscerated the Constitution’s Establishment Clause for? Has he been reinstated, as he demanded and the Court ordered?

Well, not exactly. His reinstatement papers have been sitting around since August 8, but “we haven’t gotten so much as a phone call” says a spokesperson for the school district.

Instead, ex-Coach Kennedy has been living large as a conservative celebrity.

Instead, as the Bremerton Knights were prepping for the season in August, Kennedy was up in Alaska, meeting with former Vice President Mike Pence and evangelist Franklin Graham. On the eve of the first game, which the Knights won, Kennedy was in Milwaukee being presented with an engraved .22-caliber rifle at an American Legion convention.

The weekend of the second game, which the Knights also won, Kennedy appeared with former President Donald Trump at the Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey. He saw Trump get a religious award from a group called the American Cornerstone Institute.

Coming up this month, Kennedy’s scheduled to give a talk as part of a lectureship series at a Christian university in Arkansas.

No doubt we can soon expect a book tour and a movie. It sure looks like “the praying coach” is just another right-wing grifter.

The purge continues at CNN: Don Lemon has lost his prime time slot and has been moved to the morning.

The latest “woke” thing that upsets the Right: In the live-action remake of Disney’s animated “The Little Mermaid”, Ariel is played by a Black actress.

Let me provide some perspective: When I was growing up in the 1960s in the Midwestern White working class, I was still a little uncertain about imitating great athletes like Willie Mays or Bill Russell on the playground, because White boys weren’t supposed to identify with Black men. That all changed in my lifetime, and now there’s nothing the least bit strange about players of any race or age trying to shoot like Steph Curry.

Same thing here: If you worry that your daughter can’t really identify with a Black Ariel, it undoubtedly bothers you a lot more than it does her. And in the future, she will look back on this controversy as something weird about her childhood.

and let’s close with something well designed

The Betterdoggos web site picks out dozens of examples of cleverly designed public spaces, like these Bulgarian benches.

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  • Kenneth Duda  On September 19, 2022 at 9:44 pm

    I think you underestimate the importance of the British royal family. They are a symbol of Great Britain that all British people can admire together. We lack anything comparable in the US, which accelerates the Red-vs-Blue split that is putting our entire democracy at risk. It would be nice if we (in the US) had more symbols we could point to to feel like one country, however superficial and “disconnected to anything Doug Muder finds meaningful” they may be.

  • Anonymous  On September 19, 2022 at 9:57 pm

    And Wyoming illustrates why Democrats should always run a candidate. Wyoming eleccted a MAGA candidate for Secretary of state and there is no opponent in the General Election.


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