What They Rule

What we’re really talking about is this plan to capture the U.S. Supreme Court, to install people on it who are sure things. Not to choose people because they have reputations for being fair (or we think they might be fair), but because the people who are at the decision-making table — Leonard Leo, who chose the judges that Trump chose from — believes that they will be sure votes. … We are seeing this revolution that Leonard Leo has put in place. It is one that the American people didn’t ask for, didn’t give consent to, weren’t informed that this is why these judges were chosen. In fact, they were said to be judges who were “rule of law judges”. … Their definition of “rule of law” is not the same as most people’s, which is following precedent, respecting those rules. Instead, their definition of “rule of law” appears to be to change the law to be what they rule.

Lisa Graves, interviewed by Dahlia Lithwick

This week’s featured post is “Does the US have a spending problem?

This week everybody was talking about the debt ceiling

When House Republicans began threatening a debt-ceiling showdown shortly after winning a majority last November, most commentators (and most voters who were paying attention) assumed it would lead to the usual dance: a lot of posturing leading up to the deadline (which might come as early as June 1), then a temporary increase to give negotiations more time, and then a deal seconds before the extra time ran out.

As the date of the catastrophe gets closer, more and more people are warning that we could really go over the cliff this time.

This week’s featured post is the third in my debt-ceiling series.

Speculation about ways to circumvent the debt ceiling is getting more serious. Lawrence Tribe explains why he believes the debt ceiling is unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment:

The right question is whether Congress — after passing the spending bills that created these debts in the first place — can invoke an arbitrary dollar limit to force the president and his administration to do its bidding.

There is only one right answer to that question, and it is no.

And Eric Levitz describes how consol bonds get around the debt ceiling:

In simple terms, a consol bond is one that never matures. A normal bond commits a borrower to paying back the principal on their loan plus interest at a set date. A consol bond, by contrast, requires the borrower to make annual interest payments forever but does not require them to pay off the loan’s full value at any particular point in time.

This is handy since the legislation establishing the U.S. debt limit defines the federal debt as the amount of principal that the government is obligated to repay. Thus, while a normal U.S. Treasury bond increases the national debt as defined by the debt ceiling, a consol bond does not. If the government borrows money via bonds that have no principal — only interest-payment obligations — then it can continue funding its operations indefinitely, even in the absence of a debt-ceiling hike.

A less extreme version could resemble a traditional bond but take advantage of the same loophole: Suppose a bond had a principle of $1,000, but paid $100 a year in interest? The Treasury could sell it for a lot more than $1,000, but it would only count $1,000 towards the debt limit.

and we’re still finding out more about Clarence Thomas’ corruption

Two new Thomas scandals broke this week: Harlan Crow (the billionaire who we already knew takes the Thomases on annual vacations that would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for them to replicate on their own) paid the private-school tuition of Thomas’ grandnephew, whom Thomas was “raising as a son”.

And Leonard Leo (who is at the center of a network of dark-money groups whose purpose is to make our courts more conservative) directed groups he influences to pay at least $100K to Thomas’ wife’s consulting firm. Leo’s instructions say nothing about work to be done, but just to “give” Ginni Thomas money, with “no mention of Ginni, of course”.

Vox is keeping a running count of the revelations. Another good summary comes from New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz, who also sums up the problem they outline:

In a world where low-level civil servants get nervous about letting friends buy them lunch, it is not easy to explain why it is totally fine for a man entrusted with enormous, democratically unaccountable power to accept hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts from partisan political activists, let alone fail to disclose them.

Chris Hayes did a good job covering the Thomas scandals on his Friday show. His opening block reviewed the new developments and raised the question: “Just how much money has secretly flowed from right-wing donors and interests into the household of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas?” His conclusion is that we just don’t know, but that it’s clearly quite a lot.

A later block of that show felt validating to me personally. Last week, I presented my theory of what Crow has been doing: He is Thomas’ “minder”, and the point of showering Thomas with expensive favors is not to “buy his vote on any particular case”, but to “give him something to lose if he should start seeing the charms of liberal philosophy” — as previous Republican-appointed justices like David Souter and John Paul Stevens had.

That interpretation seemed obvious to me, so I was wondering why I wasn’t hearing it from other commentators. Well, Friday Chris made precisely that case. So did Levitz:

The claim that none of these payments actually influenced Thomas’s jurisprudence seems plausible. Thomas was a reactionary long before he met Harlan Crow. It is possible that Crow’s largesse was motivated by a desire to insure against the risk of Thomas converting to liberalism à la David Souter.

Senator Whitehouse tells the Judiciary Committee that Clarence Thomas’ acceptance of luxurious unreported vacations has a precedent: Justice Scalia took more than 70 free vacations at expensive resorts, and declared none of them.

If you want to dig deeper into the dark-money network that is pushing the courts to the right in ways that undermine democracy, listen to the “Clarence Thomas and the Billionaires” episode of Dahlia Lithwick’s Amicus podcast. That’s where the quote at the top of the page comes from.

and the case(s) against Trump

Closing arguments are happening today in E. Jean Carroll’s defamation suit against Trump. The case, which hangs on whether Trump raped Carroll in the 1990s, will then go to the jury.

The Trump team mounted no defense, while Carroll not only described the rape under oath, but presented supporting evidence:

  • Two women testified that Carroll told them about the rape soon after it happened.
  • Two other women testified that Trump attacked them in similar fashion.
  • The jury saw the Access Hollywood tape from 2003 in which Trump bragged about assaulting women.
  • The jury also saw a Trump deposition from October. In the course of that testimony, Trump said that Carroll was “not my type”, but also mistook a photo of Carroll for his second wife, Marla Maples. (He also told Carroll’s lesbian lawyer that she wasn’t his type either. The lawyer was unfailingly polite during questioning, but I would have loved to hear her say, “With all due respect, you’re a fat old man. Nobody cares whether they’re your type.”)

The weakness of Carroll’s case is that

  • No third person saw the rape happen.
  • Carroll can’t say when it happened any more precisely than late 1995 or early 1996.

The standard of proof in a civil case is more-likely-than-not. So while I can imagine deciding that Carroll hasn’t proved her case beyond a reasonable doubt, given the vagueness of the timeframe, it’s hard for me to see how Trump’s non-defense can seem more likely than what Carroll has presented. (Trump’s lawyer is portraying the whole case as a conspiracy of Trump-hating women. But the judge will undoubtedly remind jurors that what either lawyer says is not evidence.) The defense has to be hoping that the jury contains at least one die-hard Trump cultist.

Whichever way it goes, we’re likely to get a verdict this week. It will be the first time a jury has ruled on Trump’s behavior.

If Joe Biden gave a deposition like Trump’s, Fox News would be replaying it 24/7 as evidence of dementia. Trump not only misidentified his second wife Marla Maples in a photo, but also says he can’t remember whether his affair with her started before or after his divorce from Ivana. In fact that affair was headline news at the time.

But nobody worries about that second thing being dementia, because we all — even his supporters — assume he’s lying under oath.

Ditto for his previous written responses to Robert Mueller’s questions. His answer to almost every question was that he didn’t remember.

Four members of the Proud Boys, including their former leader Enrique Tarrio, were convicted of seditious conspiracy Thursday. This is the third trial in which the Justice Department has gotten seditious conspiracy convictions against people involved in January 6. (Two previous trials convicted members of the Oath Keepers, including their founder Stewart Rhodes.)

Tarrio was convicted despite spending January 6 in Baltimore. He is the first person to be convicted of conspiring to organize the attack without directly participating in it. This suggests that DoJ is finally moving up the chain, and could eventually get to Trump.

Collectively, the three trials demonstrate that DoJ has gotten good at proving that there indeed was a seditious conspiracy on January 6. The question now is just: Who were the conspirators?

None of the convicted conspirators have been sentenced yet, but the DoJ just made its sentencing recommendation for Oath Keeper founder Stewart Rhodes: 25 years in prison. We’ll see if the judge agrees. Meanwhile, a man convicted of attacking police with a chair and bear spray was sentenced to 14 years, the most any January 6 defendant has received so far. Prosecutors had asked for 24 years.

Sentences like that increase pressure on conspirators to flip on someone higher up the chain.

Speaking of flipping, The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that at least eight of the 16 fake electors Trump lined up to cast Georgia’s electoral votes for him (in spite of the fact that he lost the state to Joe Biden) have accepted immunity deals from Fulton County DA Fani Willis.

It’s not immediately clear what they’re going to testify to or who they’re going to testify against, but it is an indication that Willis will be seeking indictments against people higher in the fake-elector conspiracy. Willis has already warned local officials to be ready for indictments to come down (with possible violent responses from protesters) during the July 11 to September 1 grand jury term.

She hasn’t said whether she plans to indict Trump, but it’s hard to see why indictments against John Eastman or Rudy Giuliani would provoke violence.

and you also might be interested in …

King Charles III was crowned in England Saturday. I’m not sure why anybody cares about this, but a lot of people seem to.

President Biden did not attend, because no American president has ever attended an English coronation. (No offense, but kings just aren’t our thing.) He was represented by the First Lady.

The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center gives a 62% chance of El Nino developing by July. If so, that will likely mean record global temperatures.

My somewhat oversimplified understanding of El Nino and the climate is that the temperature measurements we usually see are air temperatures, but global warming also affects the oceans. El Nino releases ocean heat into the air.

Jordan Neely was a homeless man acting weird on the New York subway, until someone killed him. Everyone knows who did it, but the killer hasn’t been arrested or charged with anything. Some people regard him as a hero.

To me, this is the urban version of shooting a stranger who rings your doorbell. These days, everyone who exhibits unexpected behavior seems like a threat, and many seem to believe that potentially deadly force is a reasonable response, especially if the object of your fear fits into some easily dehumanized category.

Ted Cruz has a challenger in 2024: Congressman Colin Allred, who faced an interesting choice when he graduated from college. Allred hadn’t been drafted by the NFL, but he had gotten into law school. He took the risky path and went to an NFL training camp anyway. He made the squad, and had a four-year career as a Tennessee Titans linebacker. Then he returned to the law.

I wonder if Allred has read Josh Hawley’s book on manliness yet.

Ted is already rattled. His fund-raising text against Allred used a picture of Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg instead of Allred. (Those Black people — they all look alike. Right?)

Another mass shooting in Texas and once again Republican officials are calling for prayer. They need to read the Book of Amos, which quotes God saying this:

I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

In other words: “It pisses me off when you expect me to fix problems you caused and refuse to work on.”

Early indications can be misleading, but the mall shooter looks like a right-wing extremist.

Governor Abbott repeats the other popular meaningless response to our gun-violence problem:

The long-term solution here is to address the mental-health issue.

But of course he’s been cutting mental-health funding. Because he doesn’t actually care about mental health; he just wants to shift attention away from gun control.

This is a popular rhetorical tactic on the Right: minimize one problem by comparing it to another, when in fact you don’t want to address either one.

So if you want to talk about how many unarmed people of color are killed by police, they’ll ask why nobody on the Left cares about the much more serious problem of black-on-black crime. But their interest in black-on-black crime goes away as soon as you stop talking about the police. Or they’ll ask why we’re sending money to Ukraine when there are homeless veterans here in the US. “OK, then,” you say, “let’s do something about homeless veterans.” Never mind. They only cared about the veterans to argue against aiding Ukraine.

Who in 1967 suspected that the unknown young Cat Stevens was writing an anthem for the 2020s, “I’m Gonna Get Me a Gun“?

Also in Texas: A car plowed into a crowd of people outside a shelter serving migrants and homeless people in Brownsville, while the driver shouted anti-migrant obscenities. Seven dead, ten injured.

Deborah Fallows borrows her husband’s Substack blog to tell her story of long Covid.

Brexit was the UK’s version of Trump’s America First policy: The rest of the world has been taking advantage of us and we’re going to put a stop to it.

Well, it’s now pretty clear that was a huge mistake, and the British economy is in bad shape.

and let’s close with something retro

The next big thing in transportation might be a ship with sails. Not big cloth ones like the old clipper ships, but huge vertical wings. Cargo ships may never against be completely wind-powered, but what if wind assistance could cut fuel use by 30% or so?

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  • Renee Fraser  On May 8, 2023 at 3:46 pm

    Regarding Jordan Neely: This case is entirely different from shooting someone knocking at your door. The man was threatening to kill people. It was on public transportation. The person who killed him had no intent to kill him, just to restrain him, and he was not a cop trained to restrain people. Others assisted. No gun was used. Imagine if this happened on a plane instead of a subway: would you still compare it to someone shooting a stranger at their door?

    • SCL  On May 8, 2023 at 8:12 pm

      It’s still homicide or at least manslaughter. You’re fine with the black guy being executed for “saying threatening things”. Yet no need to charge the white guy for his homicide? Funny how your brain works.

      • Renee Fraser  On May 8, 2023 at 11:41 pm

        That’s not what I said. I am not fine with any killing. And I didn’t say the white guy should not be charged. Funny how your brain does not work.

  • George Washington, Jr.  On May 8, 2023 at 9:22 pm

    I just don’t understand the English. All that fuss over an old man putting on a hat.

  • YaronD  On May 9, 2023 at 5:35 pm

    If you would have a problem with someone making a statement like “With all due respect, you’re a black jew. Nobody cares whether they’re your type”, then you should have a problem with “With all due respect, you’re a fat old man. Nobody cares whether they’re your type”, instead of wanting to hear it. That’s a fatphobic and ageist statement.
    Something like “With all due respect, you’re not my type” is a valid statement which is personal. But making a general statement based on wide criteria, and one that assumes and states that these criteria are universal, is bigoted/discriminatory. It targets, and insults, a lot more people than the one it’s told to (in this case would have been told to very publicly with expectation of a wide audience).
    Also, well, demonstrably false, as there are old, and fat, men who have people romantically/sexually interested in them. So possibly easy to prove slander…

    • George Washington, Jr.  On May 10, 2023 at 8:23 am

      You are, of course, correct. And if the target was Rob Reiner, more people would consider it unacceptable. But because Trump routinely attacks people for their appearance, including their age and weight, he invites the same directed back at him. Maybe a better response would have been “fortunately, that hasn’t been an issue for quite some time,” which implies Trump’s undesirability without getting specific.

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