Democratic Process

The Dobbs decision is the culmination of a decades-long effort by Republicans to capture the Supreme Court and use it, not just to undercut abortion rights but also to implement an unpopular agenda they cannot implement through the democratic process.

– Ian Millhiser “The Case Against the Supreme Court

This week’s featured post is “The Court’s problems run deeper than Roe“.

This week everybody was talking about Trump’s bad week

Last week’s featured post was Trump-centered, and I refuse to do that two weeks in a row. Fortunately, other people covered the week’s developments quite well. The three big events were:

  • The New York Attorney General Letitia James announced a sweeping civil lawsuit accusing the Trump family and the Trump organization of fraud.
  • The special master in the Mar-a-Lago search case has been pinning Trump’s lawyers down: They can’t just vaguely imply stuff (like that Trump declassified the secret documents the FBI found or that the FBI may have planted evidence). If they want to be taken seriously, they have to make specific claims and back those claims up with evidence.
  • On appeal, the 11th Circuit reversed Judge Cannon’s decision to take the documents marked classified away from investigators and turn them over to the special master.

Those last two fulfilled the hopes I expressed last week:

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 NY lawsuit accuses Trump of claiming fraudulent valuations for his properties: high when he needed a loan, low when assessed for taxes.

James says in the suit that she estimates the financial benefits from this “fraudulent scheme” were $250 million. She wants Trump to give up those benefits and be permanently banned from serving as an officer in any New York business entity, and to ban the Trump Organization from buying commercial real estate in the state for five years.

Fraud is a crime, but this is not a criminal case. Other prosecutors investigated this as a criminal matter and decided not to proceed. Probably for two reasons:

  • The standard of proof in a civil case is lower: a preponderance of the evidence rather than proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • A jury might not be convinced that the scheme had victims. Banks that would not have made loans based on accurate valuations nonetheless got paid back. (Tax fraud would have to be prosecuted by the IRS, not the State of New York.)

As usual, Trump and his cult are claiming “witch hunt”. However, they don’t seem to be refuting any of the specific claims in the indictment. They’re throwing around a lot of outrage, but not offering a lot of facts.

Trump’s two main defenses don’t sound very good politically: His lies didn’t hurt anybody, and besides, everybody else in his business is a crook too.

Trump’s claim to Sean Hannity that he could declassify documents “by thinking” drew a lot of ridicule. His lawyers have refused to advance any such claim in court, and I doubt they will. After all, what if Biden’s first thought after taking office was to reclassify all Trump’s documents?

I take the claim as an indication that has no evidence to support his declassification claim. Ultimately, you just have to believe in the telepathic powers of the presidency.

In the same quote, Trump seemed to slip up:

If you’re the president of the United States, you can declassify just by saying, ‘It’s declassified,’ even by thinking about it because you’re sending it to Mar-a-Lago or wherever you’re sending it. [my italics]

To me, that implies he has more stolen classified documents hidden away somewhere else.

The weirdest and potentially scariest Trump news has to do with his increasing embrace of the QAnon movement, which is counting on him to save us all from the world-dominating conspiracy of liberal pedophiles by publicly executing thousands of them.

In a recent rally in Youngstown, Ohio (purportedly for Senate candidate J. D. Vance, who Trump belittled), Trump closed with a QAnon anthem playing in the background and people raising their index fingers in an almost religious salute.

The right-wing research I do confuses the social-media algorithms: Facebook has been showing me ads for the Trump Store, which is marking the end of summer with a sale on official Trump-branded sweatshirts. (Only $63.75!) I was going to leave a comment asking if they had any orange jumpsuits, but somebody had beaten me to it.

How about it, liberal entrepreneurs? I’m sure there’s a market.

and Russia

As his forces continue to lose on the battlefield, Putin keeps doubling down. Wednesday he announced mobilization of 300K reservists, pledging that he will “use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people.” He was clear that “all the means” includes nuclear weapons, but left vague what threats would make their use necessary.

According to The Economist, Russia has not had a mobilization since World War II.

Reports have emerged of men receiving conscription papers en masse, especially in poorer areas in the east and south of the country such as Chechnya and Dagestan. In Buryatia, an ethnic-Mongolian region in eastern Siberia, men were handed draft papers in the middle of the night, regardless of their experience or profession. According to Alexandra Garmazhapova of the Free Buryatia Foundation, an anti-war group, people were drafted within minutes of Mr Putin’s speech. …

According to RAND, a think-tank, many of Russia’s reservists lack military training sufficient or recent enough to be effective fighters. Experts suggest that training could take months. Yet in one recent video, officers can be heard telling newly mobilised recruits that they will get just two weeks of training before being sent to Ukraine.

The mobilization has led to protests, which are illegal in Putin’s Russia. Reportedly, 1300 protesters were arrested Wednesday. The NYT reported yesterday that 745 were detained from protests all across the country.

Thousands more have fled since [the mobilization announcement], and many flights to destinations where Russians are not required to have a visa have sold out. Border crossings with Finland and Georgia are clogged with cars.

The Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum suggests that Putin’s speech itself was a sign of chaos in the Kremlin.

If an American president announced a major speech, booked the networks for 8 p.m., and then disappeared until the following morning, the analysis would be immediate and damning: chaos, disarray, indecision. The White House must be in crisis.

In the past 24 hours, this is exactly what happened in Moscow. The Russian president really did announce a major speech, alert state television, warn journalists, and then disappear without explanation. Although Vladimir Putin finally gave his speech to the nation this morning [i.e. Wednesday], the same conclusions have to apply: chaos, disarray, indecision. The Kremlin must be in crisis.

Putin has also begun changing the definition of “Russia and our people” by holding referendums on whether four parts of Ukraine that his forces occupy will become part of Russia. This opens up the question of whether Putin would use nuclear weapons if Ukraine’s current offensive started recapturing Ukrainian territory that Russia is annexing.

Vox summarizes the reasons Russians give for being confident they will win this war.

  • The West is weak and shiftless; it won’t match Russia’s staying power.
  • China will be Russia’s lifeline.
  • Russia doesn’t need sanctioned Western tech all that much.

The author doubts all these points.

That’s the Russian point of view, but what about the pro-Russia American Right? What are they telling themselves? Here’s a piece from The American Conservative by Trump Pentagon veteran Douglas Macgregor about how badly Ukraine is losing the war.

Moscow’s determination to destroy Ukrainian forces at the least cost to Russian lives prevailed. Ukrainian casualties were always heavier than reported from the moment Russian troops crossed into Eastern Ukraine, but now, thanks to the recent failure of Ukrainian counterattacks in the Kherson region, they’ve reached horrific levels that are impossible to conceal. … Moscow is in no hurry. The Russians are nothing if not methodical and deliberate. Ukrainian forces are bleeding to death in counterattack after counterattack. Why rush? Moscow can be patient.

Macgregor made the same case to Tucker Carlson Thursday, adding the bizarre charge that it is the West that is threatening poor innocent Russia with nukes. (Zelenskyy, Carlson elaborates, is “demanding that we preemptively nuke Russia”, a charge that not even Russian state media outlet RT is making.)

As a reality check, I went back to see what Macgregor was saying in June, when Russia was still grinding out small territorial gains. Western media, he claimed then, was “preparing the public for Ukraine’s military collapse”.

Kiev’s war with Moscow is lost. Ukrainian forces are being bled white. Trained replacements do not exist in sufficient numbers to influence the battle, and the situation grows more desperate by the hour. No amount of U.S. and allied military aid or assistance short of direct military intervention by U.S. and NATO ground forces can change this harsh reality.

The problem today is not ceding territory and population to Moscow in Eastern Ukraine that Moscow already controls. The future of the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions along with the Donbas is decided. Moscow is also likely to secure Kharkov and Odessa, two cities that are historically Russian and Russian-speaking, as well as the territory that adjoins them. These operations will extend the conflict through the summer.

That take turned out to be totally wrong; summer is over, Ukraine’s military hasn’t collapsed, and Odessa and Kharkiv are still securely Ukrainian. But why should American conservatives care about the failed predictions of the past? Putin is great! His brilliant plan will prevail! Glory to Trump! Glory to Russia!

BTW: This is another example of the difference between Left and Right in America. Not that liberal pundits always make accurate predictions, but they are much more likely to regard a huge mistake as something they need to explain. Paul Krugman, for example, was wrong about inflation. But he owned up to it and tried to learn from his mistake. Macgregor just charges ahead with new predictions of Ukrainian doom.

and hurricanes

Puerto Rico continues to dig out from Hurricane Fiona. Like Maria in 2017, it took down the electric grid. Nearly 3/4 of a million people are still without power.

Meanwhile, Ian was upgraded to a hurricane this morning and is expected to keep strengthening until it makes landfall somewhere on Florida’s gulf coast on Wednesday.

The coverage of these two storms tells you something about the importance of statehood. Florida is going to get far more attention than Puerto Rico.

and you also might be interested in …

I’ve gotten my bivalent booster Covid vaccine.

Women in Iran seem to have had enough with the theocracy. Protest movements like this are hard to gauge, especially from a distance. Who knew the George Floyd protests would spread like they did? An observation from Vox:

One thing that’s certain is that protests in Iran are becoming more frequent, says [Ali] Vaez [an analyst with International Crisis Group], which shows the degree of discontent. “We used to see this kind of outburst of public ire once a decade in Iran,” he told me. “Now it’s becoming every other year, basically, and it’s becoming more ferocious, more violent.”

As the 100th anniversary of Mussolini’s March on Rome approaches, Italy looks ready to put another far-right government in power.

DeSantis’ stunt of flying Venezuelan asylum-seekers to Martha’s Vineyard just keeps getting weirder and weirder.

The Florida Republican refuses to release the state contract that funded the flights.

WaPo’s Greg Sargent speculates about the reason: The flights don’t match the budgetary language used to fund them. If that’s true, DeSantis can’t hide it forever.

Vox untangles the Mississippi welfare fraud scandal, which is bigger than NFL Hall-of-Famer Brett Favre.

What happened in Mississippi is less a case of criminal masterminds perpetrating a heist, and closer to walking into a vault that welfare reform left open and unguarded, all while purporting to protect the government from mooching citizens.

It points to the fundamental problem with putting people who don’t care about poverty in charge of poverty programs. In their minds, this is all wasted money anyway, so why not steal it?

and let’s close with something celebratory

Rosh Hashanah began yesterday and lasts through Tuesday. It is the first of the annual High Holy Days, which will conclude October 4-5 with Yom Kippur. Here’s a quick intro to Rosh Hashanah, which notes:

While Rosh Hashanah tends to be a joyful celebration, Yom Kippur is a more somber holiday often marked by fasting.

This musical piece sounds pretty joyful.

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  • Anonymous  On October 1, 2022 at 6:05 pm

    On the subject of vaccines , I heard an interesting interview with a guy from Scripts research (sorry didn’t’ catch his name). He said that the vaccines in the U.S., which are all shots, are good at reducing severe illness and death. in order to address long COVID, we need to get better at reducing infections. India seems to have developed a nasal vaccine that does that. It’s not authoriaed for use in the US.

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