Author Archives: weeklysift

Doug Muder is a former mathematician who now writes about politics and religion. He is a frequent contributor to UU World.

Perks of the Office

No Sift next week. The next new articles will appear December 23.

The question presented by the set of facts enumerated in this report may be as simple as that posed by the President and his chief of staff’s brazenness: is the remedy of impeachment warranted for a president who would use the power of his office to coerce foreign interference in a U.S. election, or is that now a mere perk of the office that Americans must simply “get over”?

– Adam Schiff,
preface to The Trump-Ukraine Impeachment Inquiry Report

This week’s featured posts are “Articles of Impeachment: Broad or Narrow?” and “The Illusions Underlying our Foreign Policy Discussions“.

This week everybody was talking about articles of impeachment

The Schiff quote above is the key question in this impeachment, and I would follow it with two other questions:

  • If soliciting or coercing foreign interference is just what presidents do now, how will we ever again have a fair election?
  • If Trump’s Ukraine extortion scheme was wrong but not impeachable, as some Republicans suggest, what is the proper response that will keep Trump (and future presidents) from continuing to commit such offenses?

Two major reports came out this week: The House Intelligence Committee summarized the findings of its hearings regarding Trump’s Ukraine scheme, and the House Judiciary Committee reported on “Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment“.

The Judiciary Committee heard from four legal scholars Wednesday, three called by the Democrats and one by the Republicans.

The Republican witness, Jonathan Turley (who you may have seen over the years on CNN), was also a witness during the Clinton impeachment hearings, where he said the exact opposite of what he’s saying now. In 1998, he saw the danger of letting things go:

If you decide that certain acts do not rise to impeachable offenses, you will expand the space for executive conduct.

In 2014, when Obama was president, Turley listed five “myths” about impeachment, one of which was:

An impeachable offense must involve a violation of criminal law.

Now, though,

I’m concerned about lowering impeachment standard to fit a paucity of evidence and an abundance of anger.

and he argues that the evidence against Trump doesn’t exactly fit the statutory elements for criminal bribery. (The other three witnesses said that it did.) So the need for a violation of criminal law isn’t a myth when a Republican is president.

Further hearings are happening as I write this, and I’m not trying to keep up.

Digby sums up the current anti-impeachment argument:

So basically the GOP position is that you can’t have an impeachment without examining all the relevant evidence and since Trump has denied all requests for that relevant evidence there can be no impeachment.

Fox News raises a point that I think they read entirely backwards.

While Democrats may use impeachment as an anti-Trump talking point on the campaign trail, candidates — including Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Michael Bennet, D-Col. — could end up spending valuable days of the primary season torn between their campaigns and a Senate trial should Trump actually be impeached.

An impeachment trial at that stage of the game would put the senators at a disadvantage, while candidates such as South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Vice President Joe Biden and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg would be free to continue their efforts.

I think senators who are currently not polling in the top tier, like Booker or Klobuchar, could get far more traction out of a compelling pro-impeachment speech on the Senate floor than they could from a campaign event in Sioux City or Manchester. Conversely, who’s going to pay attention to Buttigieg or Bloomberg when there’s an impeachment trial on CNN?

BTW, I’m getting really tired of hearing pundits make the point that Democratic presidential candidates don’t talk much about impeachment in their campaign speeches. Why would they? One way or  the other, it should be all over before anyone votes in a primary. These candidates should be discussing their plans for 2021 and beyond, and leaving impeachment to Congress.

and the NATO summit

Trump came home early after a video of other NATO leaders laughing about him went viral. Biden capitalized with an ad about how the world is laughing at Trump, concluding with “We need a leader the world respects”.

The incident and Trump’s reaction gave me an idea that I hope catches on. Like a lot of people, I’ve been saying for a while that we need to be out on the streets holding pro-impeachment demonstrations. There should be a continuous impeachment vigil outside the White House.

But here’s the idea: It shouldn’t be an angry, chanting and sign-waving kind of demonstration. It should be comedy marathon. Every night, one or more of the country’s top comedians should be standing on a soap box outside the White House telling Trump jokes. Any time Trump opens a window in the White House, he should be able to hear people laughing.

and Confederate symbols

Nikki Haley told interviewer Glenn Beck that the Confederate flag represented “service, sacrifice, and heritage” until the Charleston church shooter Dylan Roof hijacked it for white supremacy. Former RNC Chair Michael Steele recalled “The black people who were terrorized & lynched in its name” and concluded that “Roof didn’t hijack the meaning of that flag, he inherited it.

The Washington Post points out that

Confederate symbols have not always been a part of American or Southern life. Many of them disappeared after the Civil War. When they reappeared, it was not because of a newfound appreciation of Southern history. … These symbols were not widely used after the Civil War but were reintroduced in the middle of the 20th century by white Southerners to fight against civil rights for African Americans.

Wake Forest and Garner, North Carolina have cancelled their annual Christmas parades, for fear that the participation of pro-Confederate groups would lead to protests and counter-protests. Of course, each side blames the other for ruining a popular children’s event with politics. I sympathize with town officials, who were in a tough place legally: Banning particular points of view from a public parade is very tricky legally, as is banning protests of those views.

The University of North Carolina solved its “Silent Sam” problem, but not in a way that made anybody happy. Silent Sam is a statue of a Confederate soldier that stood at an entrance to the UNC campus for over a century until students tore it down last year.

The University settled a lawsuit filed by Sons of Confederate Veterans (who made a controversial claim to own the statue, based on the theory that removing the statue violated the conditions under which United Daughters of the Confederacy donated it to the University). The settlement agrees that SCV now owns Sam, and UNC is contributing $2.5 million to a fund to transport the statue and build it a new home.

The University’s legal position was complicated by a 2015 North Carolina law that prohibits removal of historical monuments from public property. The law was passed after the Charleston Church massacre led to calls to remove Confederate monuments.

UNC’s anti-racist groups are glad that Sam will not be coming back to intimidate black students as they enter campus, but are outraged that the University is contributing to a neo-Confederate group.

[Assistant professor William] Sturkey said he came to UNC in 2013 because he felt it was the best place in the country to study the history of the South. In recent years, he said, he has repeatedly asked the university to endow a professorship in the Department of History for a specialist in the history of slavery, in part to research the university’s own connections to slavery.

Each time, he said, he has been told UNC couldn’t afford to fund such an endowment, which Sturkey said would cost about half the amount that has been pledged to the Sons of Confederate Veterans through the Silent Sam settlement.

and you also might be interested in …

If you’re worried that the House can’t legislate because it’s so obsessed with impeachment, consider this: Friday it passed a law to restore the parts of the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court voided in 2013.

In the Shelby case, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote that Congress remained free to try to impose federal oversight on states where voting rights were at risk, but must do so based on contemporary data. The measure passed on Friday was an attempt to do just that.

Specifically, it would update the parameters used to determine which states and territories need to seek approval for electoral procedures, requiring public notice for voting changes and expanding access for Native American and Alaska Native voters.

Two points are worth noting:

  • Protecting voting rights used to be a bipartisan issue, but no longer is. The previous extension of the Act, in 2006, passed the House 390-33 and the Senate 98-0. This time the VRA passed the House 228-187, with only one Republican voting for it.
  • Like hundreds of other bills passed by what Trump calls “the do-nothing Democrats”, the VRA is expected to die in the Senate without being brought to a vote. So the point isn’t that Republicans have a different vision of how to protect voting rights, which McConnell & Company could write into a Senate version of the bill and send back to the House. Instead, Republicans in Congress are happy with the efforts of many red states to make it as hard as possible to vote, and want the federal government to leave them alone.

Waitman Wade Beorn explains why avoiding war crimes is a good idea. (Hard to believe that point needs defending, but under the current administration it does.) Using both his own combat experiences and examples from his training, he argues that “Abiding by the law of war has both ethical and pragmatic value.” He quotes his first squadron commander: “the laws of warfare are designed not only to protect civilians, but also to minimize the risk of moral injury to troops.”

“Moral injury” is an abstract way of saying that you don’t have to wake up at night seeing the faces of the family you massacred because you shot first and thought later.

Katie Hill, the California congresswoman who was pushed out of public life by a revenge-porn scandal, wrote a very moving account of how close she came to suicide, and why she didn’t do it.

This makes me wonder: Men who go through scandals seem to benefit from an unofficial statute of limitations. (Louis CK is on his comeback tour. Woody Allen is still making movies. Eliot Spitzer had a post-scandal media career and even ran for office again.) Could the same thing possibly work for victims of sex scandals?

I mean, after some interval, could Ms. Hill run for office again? Would the media respond to her revenge-porn pictures as old news? I hesitate to urge someone to display more courage than I would probably have, but someone someday should try this, just to raise the issue.

An important article in YES! magazine about a former white supremacist who works to help others deradicalize. She focuses not on the philosophical points of ideology, but on the emotional needs that white supremacy satisfies.

In every case she’s ever encountered, Martinez said, she’s been able to identify some type of unhealed trauma. Sometimes it’s extreme, as in the case of a young woman interviewed for this story who was repeatedly raped as a child by her grandfather—and then, once in the movement, raped again by a White nationalist boyfriend … Sometimes the trauma is less extreme, but there are always fundamental and unmet needs, Martinez says: the need to love and be loved, to speak and be heard, and to be a part of something greater than yourself. Deradicalization involves identifying the trauma, and finding new resources, behaviors and networks outside extremist groups to meet those needs.

Too often, we think of people doing things because they believe things. Often it’s the reverse: They believe things that justify doing the things they feel compelled to do. If you are filled with fear, you find a paranoid worldview that justifies that fear. If you’re filled with anger, you adopt a worldview that justifies that anger. Such people don’t need to hear facts that debunk their beliefs; they need to learn healthier ways to deal with fear and anger.

The NYT reports that hundreds of Hong Kong protesters have fled to Taiwan, where their visas are renewable month-to-month. Meanwhile, the demonstrations continue: Hundreds of thousands of protesters were on the streets yesterday.

North Korea is back to testing rockets, in preparation for a “Christmas gift” for the US, which analysts suspect could be a satellite launch. Trump tweeted this response:

Kim Jong Un is too smart and has far too much to lose, everything actually, if he acts in a hostile way. He signed a strong Denuclearization Agreement with me in Singapore. He does not want to void his special relationship with the President of the United States

(Oval Office soundtrack: “Don’t Give Up on Us, Baby“.) I’ve been a skeptic about the Trump/Kim relationship from the beginning. It has always seemed like one of those movie-star romances that the PR departments liked to dream up back in Hollywood’s big-studio era.

The United Kingdom has an election Thursday. Boris Johnson hopes to get a majority behind his Brexit plan. Ben Judah writes in the Washington Post: “Russia has already won Britain’s election“.

There are (at least) two distinct kinds of bigotry. The most egregious is outright hate: Kill them all, send them back where they came from, and so on. Trump is insulated against being accused of this kind of anti-Semitism by his some-of-my-best-sons-in-law-are-Jewish defense.

The second kind of bigotry may not be overtly hostile, but it pushes the stereotypes that dehumanize the victimized group. That’s what Trump was doing when he spoke to the Israeli American Council Saturday.

A lot of you are in the real estate business, because I know you very well. You’re brutal killers, not nice people at all. But you have to vote for me — you have no choice. You’re not gonna vote for Pocahontas, I can tell you that. You’re not gonna vote for the wealth tax.

In other words, Jews are rich, ruthless businessmen who only care about money. Goebbels couldn’t have said it better.

The Bloomberg campaign will be a test of what money can do in presidential politics. A typical candidate raises enough money to compete in the early small states — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada — hoping that strong showings there will bring in more contributions that allow the campaign to continue nationwide.

Bloomberg is spending near-limitless amounts of his own money, so the early-state strategy doesn’t apply.

Jim Brown makes a strong case for raising pensions for NFL players who played before the million-dollar-contract era. It would cost a very tiny percentage of the revenue the league generates today.

The minister of a Methodist church in California posts a lengthy annotation of the church’s nativity scene, which shows the Holy Family separated in cages, as they might well have been if New Testament Egypt had been like America today.

In the Claremont United Methodist Church nativity scene this Christmas, the Holy Family takes the place of the thousands of nameless families separated at our borders. Inside the church, you will see this same family reunited, the Holy Family together, in a nativity that joins the angels in singing “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace and good will to all.”

I’m reminded of a stage production of The Odyssey I saw a few years ago: When Odysseus washes up on the island of the Phaeacians, he gets gets detained with all the illegal immigrants who have been streaming in since the fall of Troy.

and let’s close with a job well done

At Boise State, home of the famous blue football field, they’ve trained a dog to retrieve the tee after kickoffs.

The Illusions Underlying our Foreign Policy Discussions

So many of our debates about defense and foreign policy take place in a fantasy world.

Nations. Every time you look at a globe, you’re participating in an illusion: that the Earth’s land mass partitions neatly into nations. On the globe, ungovernable places like Afghanistan and Syria look every bit as solid and well-defined as Belgium or Japan.

In spite of ourselves, we fall for that illusion again and again. When American troops occupy a place like Iraq, we immediately start talking about “installing” a government, as if Iraq were a light socket that just needed a new bulb after we removed the old one. After all, there are lines on our globes, and little stars that denote their capitals. You just put somebody in charge, they send one of their people to the UN, and there you go: a nation.

In reality, the world is full of wild places where the word “government” doesn’t quite apply. Some of them, like Kashmir, are contested regions on the edges of larger entities. Some, like in Afghanistan, start right outside the capital and extend over the bulk of the alleged country. In places like Mexico, neighborhoods of major cities are controlled by crime families that the official government can’t overcome.

Some wild places are ruled by insurgencies that aspire to become governments themselves. Some are a field of play where rival warlords compete for dominance. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s going on: There are troops that claim to represent a government, insurgencies fighting against them, warlords picking a side one day at a time, criminal gangs just trying to do business, mercenaries paid by some interested party, official foreign troops allied with the government, or even covert foreign troops who wear no insignia and officially aren’t there at all.

Code that on a map.

War and peace. Another illusion is that war and peace are a binary pair of opposites. You’re at war, or you have peace. Peace is the natural order, but occasionally it is punctuated by relatively brief episodes of war, like the Civil War or World War II. Society has its normal rules for peacetime, but occasionally a switch gets flipped and the rules of war apply, giving more freedom to governments and armies, but less to citizens and foreign civilians caught in the wrong place.

Because peace is the natural state, within a few years any war is supposed to come to a conclusion: victory, defeat, or a negotiated settlement. Citizens submit to the restrictions of war on the implicit assumption that those restrictions are temporary. When events don’t play out that way — if say, the war goes on and on with no apparent end in sight — citizens get antsy and support for the war wanes.

Similarly to its localization in time, war is also supposed to be localized in space. There is a comparatively small and well-defined war zone where the shooting happens; everywhere else, life is normal but for a few restrictions necessary to support the war effort. Inside the war zone, people neatly divide into combatants and non-combatants. Combatants are soldiers of the afore-mentioned nations, which have agreed to rules that (up to a point) protect non-combatants.

The way a nation wins a war is through the quantity and quality of its combatants. Either you throw more troops at your enemy than it can handle (as Iran did against Iraq in the 1980s), or you equip your troops with expensive weapons that give them a decisive advantage (as the US has done wherever it fights).

Conventional war. One of the strangest bits of terminology we use is “conventional war”, which is supposed to distinguish a conflict from nuclear war on the one hand and “unconventional” war on the other.

The classic conventional war is World War II in Europe: There are two sides that each control well-defined territory. The line between those territories is the “front”, and each side tries to push the front one way or the other, using armies equipped with guns and tanks, and supported by air and naval power. Away from the front there might be spies, saboteurs, and assassins; covert partisan groups (like the French Resistance); or even enemy troops who have infiltrated past the front lines somehow (like our airborne troops on D-Day). But these behind-the-lines struggles are a sideshow compared to the big tank battles at the front.

What’s weird about calling this model “conventional” is that it rarely happens any more. Granted, it’s not totally gone. The Six Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors in 1967 was a conventional war. The opening phase of the Iraq War, where the US and its allies attacked and destroyed Saddam Hussein’s organized armies, was conventional.

But the US war in Vietnam wasn’t conventional. The Afghanistan War isn’t conventional. After the initial invasion, the Iraq War wasn’t conventional.

Unconventional war. “Unconventional” war is like what happens behind the lines of a conventional war. It’s all sabotage and partisans and irregular troops, but there is no “line” for this activity to be behind.

By calling this kind of war “unconventional”, we ghettoize it. It’s like the irregular verbs in a foreign language. War is mainly conventional war, and we’ve got that covered. But there are a few exceptional situations that fall through the cracks.

And that’s the problem we’ve had these last 60 years or so: Everything falls through the cracks. If the Viet Cong or the Taliban would just line up some tanks and roll them at us, we’d totally nail those suckers. If Boko Haram would field an air force and dogfight our F-16s, they’d have no chance. If the Colombian drug cartels floated a navy and tried to land narcotics on our Gulf coast in a Normandy-invasion sort of way, they’d find out just how mighty we are.

But they don’t. Everybody who takes on the United States fights an unconventional war against us. And we keep losing.

We lose in a fairly predictable way: We see war as a temporary thing. We imagine applying our matchless power until we’ve captured the enemy flag, and then we’ll declare victory and go back to our normal peacetime lives. So all the enemy has to do is refuse to give us a flag to capture. Melt into the countryside, hide among the civilian population, and come out just often enough to remind everyone that they’re not defeated yet. Eventually these tactics will run out our clock and we’ll start looking for a way to leave.

Obama took a lot of criticism in Iraq for a having a timetable, because you’re not supposed to tell the enemy how long they have to wait. But even without a timetable, we don’t fool anybody. Everyone knows we can’t stay forever.

Dr. McFate

The new rules of war. That’s where Sean McFate starts in his recent book The New Rules of War. How can we be so powerful and yet keep losing wars?

I find it hard to believe that “McFate” is his real name, but it seems to be. He’s on the faculty at Georgetown and the National Defense University. (Dr. McFate is not to be confused with Dr. Fate, the most powerful sorcerer of the DC comic book universe, even though McFate sounds a bit like a comic book character himself: He was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne, served as a mercenary in various conflicts he can’t talk about, got a Ph.D. in international relations from the London School of Economics, and published two novels. He’s exactly the kind of guy you’d expect to stumble across the Crimson Gem of Cyttorak, or maybe an infinity stone.)

The central point of McFate’s “new rules” is less that he knows exactly what we need to do and more that we need to start thinking about reality again. The book’s subtitle, “victory in the age of durable disorder” introduces the book’s central idea: that disorder is a chronic condition to be managed, not a disease we should expect to cure and be done with.

Dr. Fate

Durable disorder is something that happens in the twilight region between war and peace. It can be found in the physical places that we call “failed states”, but it also happens in abstract areas where the rules of war and peace have never been nailed down, as in cyberwar between rival countries’ hackers, or information war.

“Conventional war is dead.” is the first of McFate’s new rules. He points out that not even other great powers practice it any more. Look at Putin’s Russia. In the last few years they have

  • invaded Crimea with “little green men” — masked soldiers without Russian insignia — that Putin for a long time denied existed or had anything to do with him.
  • manipulated the American political process to put his man in the White House and co-opt one of our two major political parties. Similar tactics have just about succeeded in breaking the United Kingdom away from the European Union.
  • bombed civilian areas in Syria to produce a wave of refugees that destabilized democratic governments across Europe.

None of that is peaceful, but neither does it fit into the usual categories of war. It is aggressive and sometimes violent, but far from the tanks-pouring-into-Europe scenario that NATO was designed to oppose.

Weapons. McFate disapproves of the urge to invest fabulous amounts of money in ever-more-complex technology. Rule 2 is “Technology will not save us.” There’s a reason for that: Gee-whiz weaponry may succeed in giving us greater dominance of the battlefield, but it doesn’t address the problem that most of our conflicts don’t happen on traditional battlefields.

Tech is useful, he says, but not decisive.

Gizmos can shape our everyday lives, but not victory. War is armed politics, and seeking a technical solution to a political problem is folly. Ultimately, brainpower is superior to firepower.

Instead, he recommends investing more in people, particularly special forces, diplomats, and people who know how to shape narratives. Rule 5 is “The best weapons do not fire bullets.”

Mercenaries. Having been a mercenary, McFate has a more nuanced view of them than you typically see. The stereotypic merc is a killing machine for hire. But in McFate’s account, they are like any other professionals whose skills may be used for good or evil. (Compare, for example, computer programmers, who could be developing algorithms to help Facebook manipulate us more completely, or who could be hacking Cayman Island banks to expose the sources of dark money.) Maybe they will take a gig with the bad guys to keep food on the table, but they’d rather work for people they believe are the good guys.

McFate tells an amazing story that I have no other source for: During the Darfur genocide, he claims, Mia Farrow floated the idea of human rights organizations hiring mercs to secure safe places for refugees to run away to. It was seen as a temporary measure while a parallel PR campaign would try to shame the world community into taking action. The scheme was never put into action, but it could have been.

He foresees a future in which mercenaries play an ever-larger role. Rather than pay a corrupt government for protection (like Rachel Maddow describes Exxon-Mobil doing in Equatorial Guinea) why shouldn’t a corporation just establish its own fiefdom with paid soldiers? When individual people have tens of billions of dollars and strong views, why shouldn’t they take direct action rather than work through the political system? What if, say, the Koch brothers decided to take down Venezuela, or Bill Gates finally had enough of corrupt African governments getting in the way of his foundation’s good projects?

Educating strategists. Strategy, especially grand strategy, is held in low regard these days. It’s supposedly a bunch of ivory tower ideas that have lost touch with the real world.

But the United States’ biggest failures in recent years have been failures of strategy. Bad strategy is how you win all the battles but lose the war. The mess in Iraq arose because we didn’t know what we were trying to accomplish: Replace Saddam with a friendlier tyrant? Control a larger chunk of the world’s oil supply? Create a showpiece democracy for the rest of the Muslim world? We didn’t know, so we couldn’t do it.

McFate locates this problem in how we educate our military leaders: We start out teaching them tactics and expect them to grow into strategic thinkers as they rise up the ranks. It seldom happens. He also has a radical diagnosis: Our officer corps attracts and promotes too many engineers. Engineers make good tacticians, but strategy is a liberal art.

My take. I think that McFate has sold conventional war a little short: It’s not so much that conventional war is obsolete, but that US dominance has largely taken it off the table. The same is true of nuclear war: It’s not that nuclear weapons can’t be used to win a war — they were key to our victory over Japan. But that example defines the situation where nukes are usable: You have them and your enemy doesn’t.

The fact that we haven’t exploded a nuclear bomb (other than as a test) since 1945 doesn’t mean that there was no point in building them. Our nukes took nuclear war off the table for our enemies.

The same thing could be said about the tanks, planes, ships, and missiles of our conventional arsenal. Wars against the United States have been unconventional not because conventional war is obsolete, but because potential adversaries know the US would win such wars.

We want to keep nuclear and conventional war off the table, so we should still invest in weapons that will make those options unattractive to our adversaries. (That probably doesn’t require as much money as we currently spend — maybe ten aircraft carriers is enough — but it does require something.)

I think some of his other rules are questionable, but in some sense that criticism misses the point. He’s raising questions that somebody needs to raise. Our defense debate is often just about a number: How much are we going to raise the budget this year? It needs to be about what we’re trying to do and how we imagine doing it.

Articles of Impeachment: Broad or Narrow?

Should Democrats throw the kitchen sink at Trump, or keep the impeachment case short and simple?

Thursday, Speaker Pelosi announced that the House would go ahead with drafting articles of impeachment. The main debate at this point is how broad or narrow those articles should be.

Obviously, there will be an article about the Ukraine scheme, and almost certainly an article about Trump’s efforts to obstruct Congress’ investigation of the Ukraine scheme. The most obvious additional article could be built around the obstruction-of-justice evidence in the Mueller Report.

Beyond that, Democrats could throw the kitchen sink at him. NYT columnist David Leonhardt consulted legal experts and came up with eight articles of impeachment:

  1. Obstruction of justice. This count would include the obstructions laid out in Part II of the Mueller Report, as well as hiding evidence by improperly classifying the call notes on the Ukraine call.
  2. Contempt of Congress. This refers to Trump’s blanket refusal to cooperate with Congressional oversight.
  3. Abuse of power. This is where the bulk of the Ukraine scheme fits.
  4. Impairing the administration of justice. Attempting to use the power of the executive branch to hound his political opponents.
  5. Acceptance of emoluments. “Trump continues to own his hotels, allowing politicians, lobbyists and foreigners to enrich him and curry favor with him by staying there.”
  6. Corruption of elections. Michael Cohen is already in jail for campaign finance violations related to the Stormy Daniels payoff. He claimed to have been carrying out Trump’s orders.
  7. Abuse of pardons. “He has encouraged people to break the law (or impede investigations) with a promise of future pardons.” The Mueller Report discusses how hints at a pardon may have encouraged Paul Manafort not to cooperate (which is a big reason Mueller never got to the bottom of the Trump/Russia connection). But he also has told border enforcement officials not to worry about breaking the law.
  8. Conduct grossly incompatible with the Presidency. “He lies constantly, eroding the credibility of the office. He tries to undermine any independent information that he does not like, which weakens our system of checks and balances. He once went so far as to say that federal law-enforcement agents and prosecutors regularly fabricated evidence — a claim that damages the credibility of every criminal investigation.”

I have no trouble believing that Republicans would have impeached Obama if they could have mustered a charge as strong as any of those eight. Who can forget Rep. Blake Farenthold discussing the possibility of impeaching Obama over the totally phony birth-certificate issue? Or Rep. Kerry Bentivolio telling his constituents that it would be “a dream come true” to impeach Obama, but that unfortunately “you’ve got to have the evidence”. Rep. Mark Gaetz of Florida is still  talking about impeaching Obama, nearly three years after his term ended.

The danger in the broad approach is that the short-and-simple story of the Ukraine extortion scheme — something that is easy to grasp, clearly proven, and obviously wrong — can get lost. It gives credence to Trump’s talking point that Democrats have just been looking for anything they can possibly find to hang an impeachment on. “Conduct grossly incompatible” happens every day, but does it really call for impeachment?

On the other hand, if Trump is impeached just for Ukraine, does that send the message to future presidents that all the other stuff is OK? Does it tell 2020 voters that the other examples of corruption aren’t really serious?

Meanwhile, Lawrence Tribe argues that broad/narrow is a false choice:

The impeachment and removal of this president is necessary because Trump has been revealed as a serial abuser of power, whose pattern of behavior — and “pattern” is the key word, as Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.) and House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) emphasized during Wednesday’s hearing — makes clear he will repeat the same sequence again and again.

And Josh Marshall says something similar:

You can’t take any of the Ukraine stuff in isolation. Trump wasn’t a more or less normal President and then suddenly he did something totally bonkers. Both in soliciting foreign assistance in his election campaigns and obstructing the administration of justice, Trump has done all of this before. This is not only critical to establishing a pattern of conduct, which speaks to the question of guilt. It also provides powerful evidence that this is what he does and that he will unquestionably do it again.

This relates to the conclusion I came to in “What is Impeachment For?“, an article I wrote in June 2018 for the purpose of setting my impeachment standards before I knew what conclusions the Mueller investigation would reach. Impeachment shouldn’t be about punishing past wrong-doing; it should be about heading off a continuing threat to the Republic. If Trump’s abuse of power is over and done with, let the voters (and future prosecutors) deal with it. But if it’s ongoing, Congress should take that power away from him as soon as possible.

This argument points to a short list of articles, each of which includes multiple examples that establish a pattern of misbehavior. “Do us a favor, though” is an example of seeking foreign interference in our elections, but it’s also part of a pattern of seeking foreign interference that goes back to “Russia, if you’re listening” in 2016.

Then we run into the question of whether the less egregious articles of impeachment could pass the House, and what it would mean if they didn’t. On the one hand, debating a long list of articles, but passing only two or three, might show the public that Democrats are taking their constitutional responsibilities seriously. (Republicans wrote four articles of impeachment against Clinton, but passed only two.) Democrats representing purple districts could tell their constituents, “I voted for some articles and against others”, and sound like moderates rather than Trump-haters. But is it a good look if the Democrats are split on some counts, or should they try to stay united throughout the process?

Finally there’s this: A subpoena for the Senate impeachment trial would be hard to ignore, so that’s probably the quickest way to get testimony from people like Don McGahn. If there are key witnesses we’re not likely to hear from any other way, it might be worth including a related article of impeachment just to get them on the stand.

Personally, I’d go for three articles: Ukraine, obstruction of Congress’ Ukraine investigation, and obstruction of the Mueller investigation. Wavering Democrats could vote against the Mueller article, if they think they must, to give themselves cover back home.

The Monday Morning Teaser

Impeachment has a way of swallowing up all the other news in the world. (The UK is having an election Thursday. Who knew?) But we really are reaching the only-two-episodes-before-the-series-finale point. The Intelligence Committee submitted its report on the facts of the Ukraine scheme, the Judiciary Committee reported on the constitutional basis of impeachment, and Nancy Pelosi gave the go-ahead to write articles of impeachment.

So this week’s first featured post is “Articles of Impeachment: Broad or Narrow?”. It will cover the discussion about whether Democrats should focus on the simple Ukraine story, or attempt to produce a complete list of all of Trump’s impeachable offenses. It should be out shortly.

The second featured post has nothing to do with impeachment and is mostly a book review. I read Sean McFate’s The New Rules of War, which got me thinking about the fundamental illusions at the heart of most of our defense and foreign-policy discussions. Let’s predict that to appear around 11 EST.

The weekly summary covers impeachment stuff that the first featured article missed, the NATO summit, a series of more-or-less unrelated stories about Confederate symbols, restoring the Voting Rights Act, Hong Kong protests, North Korea’s latest threats, why Katie Hill didn’t kill herself, the UK election, and a bunch of other stuff, concluding with how a dog helps out on Boise State’s kickoff plays. That should be out between noon and one.

Primary Takeaway

Stated simply, the primary takeaway from the past 250 years of recorded American history is that Presidents are not kings.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson

This week’s featured post is “What Does Trump’s Inner Party Believe?

This week everybody was still talking about impeachment

Last Monday, a federal court ordered former White House Counsel Don McGahn to obey a congressional subpoena. The subpoena in question wasn’t part of the recent Ukraine hearings in the Intelligence Committee, but an earlier follow-up to the Mueller Report, in which McGahn’s testimony could be key in establishing an obstruction of justice charge against Trump.

The judge’s opinion was sweeping, and would seem relevant to Ukraine-related subpoenas as well. If any Trump officials were looking for permission to ignore Trump’s order, this would be it. But it has no direct legal impact on them.

It will also have no immediate effect on McGahn. The Department of Justice is appealing the ruling.

The House Intelligence Committee will discuss its Ukraine report tomorrow. The report goes to the Judiciary Committee, which will compose articles of impeachment.

Trump had a decision to make about the Judiciary hearings that begin on Wednesday: He was offered the chance to have his own lawyers participate, but decided not to. The lack of participation was a major objection Trump supporters made to the Intelligence Committee hearings, but a letter from the White House counsel continues to hold that the impeachment process is unfair.

It is hard for me to imagine Trump agreeing to any process of critical inquiry into his actions. His sense of victimization is axiomatic; if he is being criticized, it is unfair.

While purporting to be outraged by Hunter Biden cashing in on his father’s name, the Republican National Committee spent $100K to make Donald Trump Jr.’s book a bestseller.

Last week I mentioned the Fox & Friends phone interview where Trump repeated his absurd claims about Ukraine and the DNC server. The WaPo fact checker found four “whoppers” within ten sentences:

Ukraine does not have the server, the FBI did not need physical possession to investigate, CrowdStrike was not founded by a Ukrainian, and it is not a Ukrainian company. It is dismaying that despite all of the evidence assembled by his top aides, Trump keeps repeating debunked theories and inaccurate claims that he first raised more than two years ago.

There are some days when we wish we were not limited to just Four Pinocchios.

Trump supporters can’t talk about impeachment without using the term “witch hunt”. Stacy Schiff, author of The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem, knows a thing or two about real witch hunts.

By definition you do not qualify as the victim of a witch hunt if you are the most powerful man on the planet. You do, however, incite a witch hunt when you spew malignant allegations and reckless insinuations, when you broadcast a fictitious narrative, attack those who resist it and charge your critics with a shadowy, sinister plot to destroy you. (Witness intimidation can sound strangely like a witchcraft accusation. Did someone really tweet that everything a middle-aged woman touched during her diplomatic career tended to sour?)

And she calls on Republicans to heed the example of Thomas Brattle, who turned the tide against the Salem trials.

You can walk gutlessly into history behind a deluded man, holding tight to a ridiculous narrative. Or you can follow the lead of Thomas Brattle, in which case someone will be extolling your heroism 327 years from now.

BTW, I didn’t do a full family history, but don’t believe Stacy is related to Rep. Adam Schiff. At the very least, she is not his wife or daughter.

and Thanksgiving

The weather was kind of dicey in New York on Thurday, which made low-flying balloons a hazard.

During his surprise Thanksgiving visit to Afghanistan, Trump said he had restarted talks with the Taliban that had blown up in September. Neither the Taliban nor the Afghan government seem to know what he’s talking about. But it sounded good, so he said it.

Now there’s a War on Thanksgiving. A single Huffington Post article suggesting that environmentally conscious people might want to shrink the carbon footprint of their holiday meal (mainly by locally sourcing their ingredients, emphasizing more vegetarian dishes, and wasting less food) led to multiple Fox News segments claiming that liberals want to “cancel Thanksgiving”.

By Tuesday night Trump was chiming in, telling his cultists that liberals want to call the holiday something else. I still haven’t figured out what the left-wing name for Thanksgiving is supposed to be, but I’m sure right-wingers will tell me if I watch Fox long enough.

Here’s my liberal view: A holiday that emphasizes gratitude seems like a good idea — though whether or not that holiday needs a religious basis is debatable — and Thanksgiving seems like a good name for it. It’s up to you to decide what you’re thankful for or who you should thank for it, but a national gratitude holiday is a good thing.

While I didn’t notice any liberals calling for Thanksgiving to be cancelled, I did see many articles this year about how we should stop repeating the First Thanksgiving myth. Author David Silverman recounts the myth like this:

The myth is that friendly Indians, unidentified by tribe, welcome the Pilgrims to America, teach them how to live in this new place, sit down to dinner with them and then disappear. They hand off America to white people so they can create a great nation dedicated to liberty, opportunity and Christianity for the rest of the world to profit. That’s the story—it’s about Native people conceding to colonialism. It’s bloodless and in many ways an extension of the ideology of Manifest Destiny.

He also mentions the more subtle myth that “history doesn’t begin for Native people until Europeans arrive”. I occasionally still run into this misconception in my own thoughts. A few years ago I was at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, looking at an exhibit that explained the migrations of various Southwestern tribes. I had always pictured the tribes as fixed in their locations until European colonists started jostling them around, so the idea that they had an actual pre-Columbian history — different eras when different tribes held sway over different regions — was new to me. Realizing that I had never had that simple thought before was embarrassing.

and the Democratic presidential race

Governor Steve Bullock of Montana dropped out of the Democratic presidential race. The theory of his candidacy was that an outside-Washington moderate who had been successful in a red state would appeal to Democrats whose top priority was to beat Trump. No one seems to be able to make that model work.

Former congressman and Navy admiral Joe Sestak — another moderate outsider — also dropped out.

I keep seeing people on social media saying “The polls must be wrong; I don’t know anybody who’s for Biden.” CNN’s Harry Enten has an answer for that:

Biden’s polling in the low 60s with black voters 45 years and older. He’s got a 50 point lead on the field with them. This is a group that has stuck with him all year. If you don’t get Biden’s appeal, you probably need to talk a lot more with this group.

and unrest in foreign countries

The ongoing demonstrations in Iraq have led to the resignation of the prime minister. “Some 400 people have been killed since protests began in Baghdad and other cities at the start of October.”

I’m not sure why, but the Trump administration is again withholding military aid from a country in distress. This time it’s $100 million for Lebanon. Once again, Russia appears to benefit.

Foreign Policy has an interesting article about the Hong Kong district council elections last week, which were an overwhelming symbolic victory for the pro-democracy protesters. Apparently the Chinese media was so convinced by its own propaganda about a “silent majority” opposed to the protests that they had already written their stories about the electorate’s rebuke to the protesters, leaving space to fill in the numbers when they became available.

What caused such an enormous misjudgment? The biggest single problem is this: The people in charge of manipulating Hong Kong public opinion for the CCP are also the people charged with reporting on their own success.

and you also might be interested in …

A lot of my Facebook friends linked to this article about an outrageous anti-abortion bill in Ohio. Yeah, it’s insane. But I have a rule about these things (which I stole from David Wong at Cracked): Don’t get excited about a bill just because somebody “introduced” it in some legislature. There are just too many state legislators introducing too many crazy bills; you’ll live in perpetual outrage.

This bill was sent to the Criminal Justice committee on November 18. If it comes back out of the committee and still mandates surgical procedures that don’t exist, that might be worth your attention. It probably won’t.

My quick summary of the Trump economy: The economic expansion that started under Obama has been artificially extended by running up debt. This short-term strategy increases the likelihood of serious problems whenever a recession does finally arrive.

Usually we think about the federal deficit, but the Washington Post observes:

In recent weeks, the Federal Reserve, the International Monetary Fund and major institutional investors such as BlackRock and American Funds all have sounded the alarm about the mounting corporate obligations.

WaPo blames the problem on low interest rates, saying “rates have never been this low for this long”. The large amount of corporate debt might not be a problem if the money were being invested wisely, but the article notes that

the weakest firms have accounted for most of the growth and are increasingly using debt for “financial risk-taking,” such as investor payouts and Wall Street dealmaking, rather than new plants and equipment, according to the IMF.

The structural risk posed by large amounts of debt, as we saw in the real-estate bubble that brought on the Great Recession, is that bankruptcies can cascade: When a borrower can’t repay, the lender may become insolvent too, triggering a chain reaction.

Before Colin Kaepernick, there were the Black 14. In 1969, the 14 black players on the University of Wyoming football team met with their coach to discuss wearing a black armband during an upcoming game with BYU to protest racism. The coach kicked them all off the team. Fifty years later the university brought them back.

Gregory Downs (author of After Appomattox, whose central points are discussed in this article), has an interesting suggestion: Rather than talk about “the Civil War”, maybe we should call it “the Second American Revolution”.

To see the 1870s United States as a Second American Republic operating under a Second Constitution created by a Second American Revolution asks Americans to abandon their dreams of continuity and to develop a new, more vulnerable set of national understandings and also a new sense of the nation’s possibilities. Thinking through the implications of the Second American Revolution might lead us to see the First Founders as less successful and less consequential than celebrators and critics have imagined. As architects of a country that failed, the First American Republic, the First Founders might shimmer as warnings or ideals but not as guides. Americans might have to shed the sense that the Founders possess answers to our current predicaments or blame for our situation.

Whale corpses that wash up on shore turn out to be full of plastic. It’s hard to tell if that’s what killed them or not, and we have no idea how much plastic is in whales that don’t wash up, or in smaller ocean creatures that decay before anybody can examine them.

My annual dose of humility: the NYT’s 100 Notable Books of the Year list. This year I’ve read five, which is more than my usual two: The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff, The Education of an Idealist by Samantha Power, Fall by Neal Stephenson, The Institute by Stephen King, and The Nickel Boys by Colin Whitehead.

The Nickel Boys, I will point out, has one of the great opening lines: “Even in death, the boys were trouble.”

I would have added Ta-Nehisi Coates’ The Water Dancer to the list. I haven’t finished Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea, yet, but it also seems like a worthy novel. (If you have a 2019 book to add, leave a comment.)

CBS reports:

Caliburn International, a corporation with billions of dollars in government contracts, has scrapped plans to host a holiday party at the Trump National Golf Club in Virginia.

Some of those contracts involve “holding unaccompanied migrant children in government custody”. Former Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly is on Caliburn’s board. Somebody apparently decided that the appearance of corruption in this party was a little too obvious.

Cartoonist Damian Alexander relates an interesting point about his upbringing: It was OK for girls to admire male characters in fiction or history, but not for boys to admire female characters. A girl might want to be like Spider-Man, but it was weird if a boy wanted to be like Wonder Woman. Alexander comments: “Not allowing boys to look up to and aspire to be like women leads them to believe women are unworthy of admiration.”

I remember the same thing, and I wonder if American childhood has significantly changed.

and let’s close with a series of unfortunate misunderstandings

When you ask a PhotoShop expert for help, make sure you’re clear about what you really want.

What Does Trump’s Inner Party Believe?

Like a lot of liberals, I have spent more time than I care to admit thinking about Trump supporters. Who are they? What do they want? What are they thinking? And most of all: How can they possibly support this man?

One reason this task is so difficult is that the Trumpist message is not meant for me. St. Paul was an apostle to the gentiles, but there is no Trumpist apostle to the liberals. No one in the administration is out there translating for me, explaining what parts of the message to take seriously and what parts to ignore. No one is trying to resolve the apparent contradictions, or to make the case that my goals can be achieved by his methods. One symptom of this is White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, who appears on Fox News, but doesn’t hold briefings for the press in general. (Trump’s previous press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, has joined Fox News outright.)

As a result, the most widely available version of Trump’s message is the one intended for committed supporters, who already live inside the Fox News alternate reality, where climate change is not real and racism was solved in the 1960s. So if, like me, you live in a world where where Russia (and not Ukraine) meddled in our election, where health insurance companies would happily let people die if they could make bigger profits, and tax cuts don’t pay for themselves — well, there is no message for you. Trump’s world has an Us and a Them, and you’re a Them. You’re never going to be invited in.

The Inner Party. It’s easy (and very human) to reflect this attitude back at them: People support Trump because they’re uninformed and gullible. Or because he appeals to their deplorable passions: racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, or Islamophobia, to use Hillary Clinton’s list. Or because they’re rich and selfish; they just want to pay less tax and stop worrying about how much their industries pollute. Or because they just want power.

And if you look, you can confirm that bias: There certainly are Trump supporters who fit all those descriptions. (I’m not denying that point, so don’t argue it with me.) And I am capable of imagining a movement made up entirely of a cynical core surrounded by gullible and manipulated masses. But I have a test that I run when I’m considering such a theory: I picture it from the other side. If I were in that cynical core, how confident would I be that I could make this plan work?

And the answer in this case is: not very. A conspiracy of pure evil-doers is actually fairly hard to hold together, because the vast majority of people don’t like to think of themselves that way. Once you have a core bigger than a cabal, you need some kind of self-justifying story — not just for the gullible masses, but for your own people. There needs to be an explanation of why you are the good guys and why the things you are doing are right, or at least necessary.

To use Orwellian terms, you need an Inner Party message in addition to your Outer Party message. There are, I assume, lots and lots of Trumpists who understand that the Outer Party message is bullshit. I’m sure that a lot of Evangelicals, for example, realize that Trump’s knowledge of Christianity is superficial at best; that he has lived a life of licentiousness, infidelity, and fraud; and that his current administration is full of corruption. They may say “We are all sinners,” as Jerry Falwell Jr. acknowledges, and explain that Christianity is a religion of forgiveness rather than perfection. But they also know that forgiveness requires repentance, a step Trump has never been willing to take.

Republican politicians, likewise, are not generally stupid or gullible people. Lindsey Graham used to see Trump fairly clearly (and used terms like “loser” and “nut job”). They can’t all be intimidated by Trump’s sway over his base voters, either. Ted Cruz surely remembers Trump’s attacks on his father and wife, and having just won re-election in 2018 (along with ten other GOP senators), he doesn’t have to face the voters again until 2024, by which time everyone may have conveniently forgotten that they ever supported Trump. (George W. Bush was once immensely popular among Republicans, but by the 2008 campaign he had become an unperson.)

A lot of people who support Trump are not ignorant, and they are not all motivated by greed or fear. If this is all hanging together, and it seems to be, there has to be an Inner Party message for such people. What could it be?

The Barr speeches. That’s the context that I put around the recent spate of articles examining two Bill Barr speeches. Both of these speeches were given to what I think of as Inner Party audiences.

  • In October, he spoke to the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture at Notre Dame, an organization “committed to sharing the richness of the Catholic moral and intellectual tradition”.
  • In November, he delivered a named annual lecture to the Federalist Society’s 2019 National Lawyers Convention. The Federalist Society is a conservative legal organization that is responsible for vetting Trump’s nominees for federal judgeships.

In short, these are both audiences friendly to the Trump administration, but are not the MAGA-hat-wearing yahoos that show up at Trump’s public rallies. Both groups see themselves as having intellectual heft as well as moral purpose. Neither would be satisfied with a screed of obvious lies or slogans like “Lock her up!” or “Build the Wall!”

So this is what Barr offered them: To the Catholics, he spoke about the impossibility of maintaining  liberty without Christianity. To the Federalists, he advocated for the Presidency to shake itself free from the “usurpations” of Congress and the Judiciary.

The Notre Dame speech. Barr’s Notre Dame speech lays out the problem like this:

Men are subject to powerful passions and appetites, and, if unrestrained, are capable of ruthlessly riding roughshod over their neighbors and the community at large. No society can exist without some means for restraining individual rapacity. But, if you rely on the coercive power of government to impose restraints, this will inevitably lead to a government that is too controlling, and you will end up with no liberty, just tyranny.

On the other hand, unless you have some effective restraint, you end up with something equally dangerous – licentiousness – the unbridled pursuit of personal appetites at the expense of the common good. This is just another form of tyranny – where the individual is enslaved by his appetites, and the possibility of any healthy community life crumbles. …

But what was the source of this internal controlling power? In a free republic, those restraints could not be handed down from above by philosopher kings. Instead, social order must flow up from the people themselves – freely obeying the dictates of inwardly-possessed and commonly-shared moral values. And to control willful human beings, with an infinite capacity to rationalize, those moral values must rest on authority independent of men’s will – they must flow from a transcendent Supreme Being.

This cries out for annotation, which I’ll try to keep short so that I can get on with Barr’s argument: If you wanted a poster boy for “the unbridled pursuit of personal appetites at the expense of the public good”, you could hardly do better than to choose Barr’s boss, President Trump. If you allow corporate persons into the discussion, Exxon-Mobil (which knew the danger of climate change decades ago, but spent millions to keep the public confused about it) or one of the pharmaceutical companies that promoted the opioid crisis would be a good choice.

And unless the “transcendent Supreme Being” decides to express Their authority much more directly than They currently do, God’s will is going to be presented to us through “willful human beings, with an infinite capacity to rationalize”. For example: the Catholic hierarchy, which for decades — perhaps centuries — had no trouble enabling and covering up the sexual misconduct of its priests.

This far I agree with Barr: If a free society is going to work, the public good needs to be supported by moral values freely chosen, rather than rules enforced solely by government power. However, the countries that seem to be doing the best job of maintaining a free society in today’s world are the least religious ones: the Northern European humanist crescent that flows from Finland to Iceland. In the real world, moral values and religion have (at best) a tenuous relationship.

However, Barr takes this relationship as given and proceeds from there: Traditional Christianity is losing its hold on America, and at the same time a number of social ills have gotten worse: births outside of marriage, divorce,

record levels of depression and mental illness, dispirited young people, soaring suicide rates, increasing numbers of angry and alienated young males, an increase in senseless violence, and a deadly drug epidemic.

The causality here is clear to him: All these negative consequences come from an increase in “secularism”. Thomas Edsall offers a counterpoint here: If this were true, you’d expect the worst effects to show up in the most secular parts of society, but this seems not to be the case.

The white working class constituency that would seem to be most immune to the appeal of the cultural left — the very constituency that has moved more decisively than any other to the right — is now succumbing to the centrifugal, even anarchic, forces denounced by Barr and other social conservatives, while more liberal constituencies are moving in the opposite, more socially coherent, rule-following, direction.

Similarly, the highest rates of births outside of marriage are in the Bible Belt states.

Barr continues: Ordinarily, we’d expect the pendulum to swing back towards social conservatism. As people saw the calamitous results of social change, that change would be stopped, and then turned around. But this time is different, because America is not just dealing with the ordinary tides of culture. This time the story has an active villain: people like me, as best I can tell.

[T]he force, fervor, and comprehensiveness of the assault on religion we are experiencing today … is not decay; it is organized destruction. Secularists, and their allies among the “progressives,” have marshaled all the force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values. These instruments are used not only to affirmatively promote secular orthodoxy, but also drown out and silence opposing voices, and to attack viciously and hold up to ridicule any dissenters.

Speaking of ridicule, here how cartoonist Jen Sorensen responded to Barr’s speech:

It is very popular in conservative circles to talk about being “silenced”, despite the awesome wealth and power conservatives command. But the truth doesn’t stretch quite that far: Conservatives, and especially religious conservatives, are used to being the only voices in the room. In the days of mandatory Christian prayer in public schools, there was no equal time for atheists or Buddhists. Gays could be characterized as “deviants”, and women who made their own decisions about sex as “sluts”. Conservative Christians could say these things in public, and no one would respond. No one would dare stand up and say, “Wait, I’m gay, and there’s nothing deviant about it.” or “What happens in my bedroom is none of your business.” No one would strike back and say that the Christian was “judgmental” or “bigoted”.

Now, someone will. Maybe lots of someones. That’s what the Constitution calls “freedom of speech”, but Christians are not used to hearing it. When their opinion is not the last word in a discussion, it seems like persecution to them, even though it’s the normal situation for everyone else.

Barr uses another religious-right buzzphrase when he talks about “a comprehensive effort to drive [our traditional Judeo-Christian moral system] from the public square”. As best I can tell, this refers to another revocation of a special privilege. Christians used to be able to use public resources to promote their point of view: prayers at public events, nativity scenes on the town green, and so on. In recent decades, Christians have often been treated like everyone else and limited to promoting their views with their own resources. (Barr may say “Judeo-Christian”, but when have Jews ever tried to install a Moses-parting-the-Red-Sea model on the town green?) This is quite a come-down, but it is not persecution.

Secular moral values, Barr claims, are different from Christian ones, not just in content but in kind.

Christianity teaches a micro-morality. We transform the world by focusing on our own personal morality and transformation. The new secular religion teaches macro-morality. One’s morality is not gauged by their private conduct, but rather on their commitment to political causes and collective action to address social problems. This system allows us to not worry so much about the strictures on our private lives, while we find salvation on the picket-line. We can signal our finely-tuned moral sensibilities by demonstrating for this cause or that.

This is absurd on both ends: One one side, the anti-abortion movement Barr champions elsewhere in the speech is not a micro-morality; it is an attempt to use the law to constrain the choices of other people. Conservative leaders (Trump, for example) often exhibit horrible personal morality, but they signal their virtue by opposing abortion or gay rights. On the other side of the question, Barr has completely written off a long Catholic social-justice tradition, from Dorothy Day to liberation theology. As Archbishop Hélder Pessoa Câmara once put it, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist.”

To sum up: Christianity is at war against an active enemy. Secularists are not just trying to live their own lives as best they can, they are working to tear down the transcendent moral order. If they succeed, the result can only be anarchy or tyranny.

The Federalist Society speech. Barr’s Federalist Society speech inadvertently illustrates a point from his Notre Dame speech: Willful human beings have an infinite capacity to rationalize.

The claimed topic of the speech is “originalism”, the legal doctrine that tries to find the meaning of Constitution in the thinking of the Founders. Since the Founders faced a world far different from ours and could barely have imagined the issues of the 21st century, originalism provides boundless fields for rationalization. Like scripturalism in religion, the resulting propositions don’t have to justified on their own merits, because we did not think of them ourselves, but only found them in the texts written by our prophets.

What Barr finds in the Founders’ collective mind in this speech is a vision of executive power unbound by the other two branches of government.

In the orthodox reading of American history, the structure of American government got remade on two occasions: by Lincoln during the Civil War and by FDR during the Depression and World War II. In each case, executive power expanded, and has kept expanding in recent years, reaching the point where a President can unleash a global nuclear holocaust completely on his own authority. In my view, relating the apocalyptic power of today’s Presidency to Hamilton’s praise of “energy in the executive” is insane.

But that’s not how Barr sees it:

In recent years, both the Legislative and Judicial branches have been responsible for encroaching on the Presidency’s constitutional authority. [original emphasis]

Congress has encroached by refusing to rubber-stamp Trump’s unqualified and often corrupt appointees, and also by attempting to exercise oversight of questionable (and again, often corrupt) administration actions.

I do not deny that Congress has some implied authority to conduct oversight as an incident to its Legislative Power. But the sheer volume of what we see today – the pursuit of scores of parallel “investigations” through an avalanche of subpoenas – is plainly designed to incapacitate the Executive Branch, and indeed is touted as such.

In Barr’s view, this is pure harassment. There is nothing unusual in the Trump administration’s actions that invites these investigations. The most he will grant is this:

While the President has certainly thrown out the traditional Beltway playbook, he was upfront about that beforehand, and the people voted for him.

Of course, the people did not vote for him; the Electoral College did. But leave that aside. Fundamentally, the conflicts with Congress arise because, as in the Notre Dame speech, liberals are villains.

In any age, the so-called progressives treat politics as their religion. Their holy mission is to use the coercive power of the State to remake man and society in their own image, according to an abstract ideal of perfection. Whatever means they use are therefore justified because, by definition, they are a virtuous people pursing a deific end. They are willing to use any means necessary to gain momentary advantage in achieving their end, regardless of collateral consequences and the systemic implications. They never ask whether the actions they take could be justified as a general rule of conduct, equally applicable to all sides.

It’s weird to pull this back to the Notre Dame speech, where conservatives treat religion as their politics. What is an illegitimate “abstract ideal of perfection” for liberals becomes the “moral values” of a “transcendent Supreme Being” when conservatives do it. And what is the conservative project, if not to push women and gays back into an Eisenhower Era “abstract ideal of perfection”? What Barr says here in polemic terms about liberals is just the plain and simple truth when applied to the politics of the Notre Dame speech: Barr quite literally is on a “holy mission” to “remake man and society”. He literally, not figuratively, sees himself “pursing a deific end”.

And that conclusion about using “any means necessary to gain momentary advantage” without asking “whether the actions they take could be justified as a general rule of conduct” is a hair-pulling bit of projection. I mean, does Barr think withholding appropriated funds to coerce a foreign government into doing the President a political favor should be a “general rule of conduct”? Should the President routinely declare a state of emergency whenever Congress refuses to appropriate money for his pet projects? Should the Senate routinely refuse to hold hearings on Supreme Court nominees when the President is of a different party?

Conservatives, in Barr’s view, have failed by being too nice.

conservatives tend to have more scruple over their political tactics and rarely feel that the ends justify the means. And this is as it should be, but there is no getting around the fact that this puts conservatives at a disadvantage when facing progressive holy [fire], especially when doing so under the weight of a hyper-partisan media.

His judicial encroachments on executive power are similar: In his view, the number of court orders stopping Trump from doing what he wants has nothing to do with Trump wanting to do illegal things (like discriminate against Muslims or ignore our asylum laws); it’s just harassment.

Also, he sees no judicial power to arbitrate disputes between Congress and the President, like the current cases about the Wall “emergency” or whether Trump can stop his officials from testifying before impeachment hearings. What this means in practice is that the President has whatever powers he says he has. If, say, the President were simply to instruct the Treasury to start writing checks for all kinds of things Congress had never voted on, it would be a gross usurpation of Congress’ power. But what could Congress do about it on its own? It could pass more laws that the President could ignore, and the usurpations would continue.

He concludes with this:

In this partisan age, we should take special care not to allow the passions of the moment to cause us to permanently disfigure the genius of our Constitutional structure. As we look back over the sweep of American history, it has been the American Presidency that has best fulfilled the vision of the Founders. It has brought to our Republic a dynamism and effectiveness that other democracies have lacked. … In so many areas, it is critical to our Nation’s future that we restore and preserve in their full vigor our Founding principles. Not the least of these is the Framers’ vision of a strong, independent Executive, chosen by the country as a whole.

The underlying issue. Ezra Klein brings in this bit of context.

Robert Jones, president of the Public Religion Research Institute, estimates that when Barack Obama took office, 54 percent of the country was white and Christian; by the time he left office, that had fallen to 43 percent. This is largely because young Americans are less white, and less Christian, than older Americans. Almost 70 percent of American seniors are white Christians, compared to only 29 percent of young adults.

In 2018, Americans who claim no religion passed Catholics and evangelicals as the most popular response on the General Social Survey. … [T]he age cohorts here are stark. “If you look at seniors, only about one in 10 seniors today claim no religious affiliation,” Jones told me. “But if you look at Americans under the age of 30, it’s 40 percent.”

That’s at the root of the sense of panic Barr is voicing. This time really is different, because the white Christian majority in America is being lost forever. But Barr portrays this not as a simple changing of the guard, but as the end of a civilization: White Christians must hang onto power, because the alternative is a society without the moral values necessary to maintain a free society.

This, I think, is the essence of the Inner Party message: Trump offers himself as the bulwark against this looming catastrophe. He is the alternative to the too-nice conservatives who have let immigrants keep coming, let liberals secularize the youth, and have been too slow and too tentative about rallying the white Christian vote, stacking the courts with conservative white Christians, and suppressing all other votes. If he cheats in elections, say by getting illegal help from foreign countries, that’s a necessary evil. If he suppresses any attempt to check his power or investigate his corruption, that, too, is a necessary evil. Ultimately, if he loses at the ballot box and has to maintain office by violence, that may be necessary as well, because the alternative is the end of American civilization.

I’ll give Thomas Edsall the last word:

The reality is that Barr is not only selling traditional values to conservative voters, some of whom are genuinely starved for them, he is also marketing apocalyptic hogwash because, for his boss to get re-elected, Trump’s supporters must continue to believe that liberals and the Democratic Party are the embodiment of evil, determined to destroy the American way of life. Relentless pressure to maintain the urgency of that threat is crucial to Trump’s political survival.

And that, I think, is what the Inner Party believes.

The Monday Morning Teaser

I’m running behind today, so posts should come out a little later than usual.

The featured post is another one where I try to grasp what’s going on in the minds of Trump supporters. This time I’m looking at the ones who are well-educated, well-informed, and aspire to moral values, rather than the kinds of people who chant “Send her back!” at Trump’s rallies. I refer to them as the “Inner Party” and look at two Bill Barr speeches to see what the administration’s message to them is. The post is called “What Does Trump’s Inner Party Believe?”, and I’m hoping to get it out by noon EST.

The weekly summary will cover the progress in the impeachment effort, the import of the McGahn court decision, Thanksgiving, the threat of rising corporate debt, and a few other things. It should be out around 1.

Right Matters

This is America. This is the country I have served and defended, that all of my brothers have served. And here, right matters.

– Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman (11-19-2019)

[Gordon Sondland] was being involved in a domestic political errand. And we were being involved in national security foreign policy. And those two things had just diverged.

– Fiona Hill (11-21-2019)

This week’s featured post is “An Impeachment Hearing Wrap-Up“.

This week everybody was talking about the impeachment hearings

I’ve pulled my impeachment notes out into the featured post.

In a related matter, the Washington Post appears to have gotten an early look at the Justice Department Inspector General’s report on the origins of the Mueller investigation. It finds that one low-level FBI lawyer acted improperly, but that “political bias did not taint top officials running the FBI investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign in 2016”.

The lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, altered a email that was used to support renewal of the FISA warrant to surveil the former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. But even without that email, the report concludes, the application had sufficient legal and factual basis.

An earlier IG report on the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email investigation found “no evidence that the conclusions by the prosecutors were affected by bias.”

The report generally rebuts accusations of a political conspiracy among senior law enforcement officials against the Trump campaign to favor Democrat Hillary Clinton while also knocking the bureau for procedural shortcomings in the FBI, the officials said.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Bill Barr is running a criminal investigation into much of the same material.

but the latest developments are making me paranoid

OK, the latest developments in the dig-up-dirt-on-Biden story are starting to make me paranoid. Unsavory people are suddenly providing evidence that helps the good guys, and telling stories that are tempting to believe. It feels like a trap.

In this morning’s NYT, Vladimir Putin’s favorite Ukrainian oligarch, Dmitry Firtash, is saying that Rudy Giuliani’s now-indicted associates (Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman) made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. (See Rachel Maddow’s recent book Blowout for a long write-up on Firtash.) Firtash was encouraged to hire two Trump-connected lawyers (Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova) who could help with his case in the US. (The US is trying to extradite him on bribery charges. He is currently living in Austria, where he is out on bail from local charges.) Part of the $1.2 million he paid them would finance the effort to find dirt on Biden in Ukraine.

Mr. Parnas’s lawyer, Joseph A. Bondy, confirmed that account and added that his client had met with Mr. Firtash at Mr. Giuliani’s direction and encouraged the oligarch to help in the hunt for compromising information [about the Bidens] “as part of any potential resolution to his extradition matter.”

… In the [NYT] interview, Mr. Firtash said he had no information about the Bidens and had not financed the search for it. “Without my will and desire,” he said, “I was sucked into this internal U.S. fight.”

The same article claims Giuliani’s people tried to pressure another Ukrainian oligarch with US legal problems (Ihor Kolomoisky). This one is anti-Russian and refused to cooperate. Firtash also denies cooperating with the get-Biden conspiracy, but …

After Ms. Toensing and Mr. diGenova came on board, confidential documents from Mr. Firtash’s case file began to find their way into articles by John Solomon, a conservative reporter whom Mr. Giuliani has acknowledged using to advance his claims about the Bidens. Mr. Solomon is also a client of Ms. Toensing.

Those documents are the ones Giuliani kept waving around on TV.

Lev Parnas has also been implicating Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Maybe Firtash and Parnas are rats jumping off of a sinking ship, but I’m also reminded of the plot of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold [spoilers]. That classic John le Carré Cold War novel follows a British intelligence operation to frame an East German official, who had been getting too close to exposing the British spy in East German intelligence. At the same time, though, other Brits scatter bread crumbs that the Communists can follow to blow up the operation. After the operation is blown, the target’s East German critics look like tools of the West, and any future suspicion of him can be written off as part of the British conspiracy against him. The supposed target, of course, is the actual British spy, who has been protected by this convoluted operation that appeared to frame him.

Remember Putin’s KGB training, and apply that Cold War plot as a template: Wouldn’t it be marvelous for Trump if Democrats jumped on this new Firtash/Parnas information, which then turned out to be fabricated? That would feed Trump’s “hoax” and “witch hunt” narrative, and (in the public mind) invalidate much of the true evidence against him.

So I’m following the new developments in an isn’t-that-interesting way. But nobody should trust these people, or go out on a limb based on anything they say. Right now, Democrats are siding with patriots like Lt. Colonel Vindman. I’d hate to see a career criminal like Lev Parnas become the resistance’s new poster boy.

Meanwhile, the Democrats had a debate

My impression of the debate of ten Democratic presidential candidates on Wednesday was that nothing drastically changed. No top-tier candidate had a major gaffe. No lower-tier candidate had a breakout moment.

On a lesser scale, I thought Joe Biden looked old. He often stumbled over his words — not in a disturbing I-don’t-know-where-I-am way, but in an I’m-having-trouble-making-the-right-words-come-out way. For example, at one point he said he had been endorsed by the “only” African-American woman who had been elected to the Senate — apparently forgetting about Kamala Harris, who was standing right there — when he meant the “first” African-American woman, a correction he made immediately when challenged.

Watching Cory Booker, I wondered why he isn’t an top-tier candidate. But I’ve wondered that in previous debates too. His candidacy didn’t see a boost then, so it probably won’t now either.

No one was the focus of attack, which tells me that the candidates aren’t sure who the front-runner is. Biden is still comfortably ahead in national polls, but Pete Buttigieg (who is fourth nationally) has taken the lead in Iowa and New Hampshire. Elizabeth Warren, who briefly moved ahead of Biden nationally in early October, also sometimes looks like the front-runner. All three took a little flack, but the other candidates didn’t gang up in the way I would expect if one of them were considered the person to beat.

I don’t recall anyone directly attacking the other top-tier candidate, Bernie Sanders. That may reflect Nicole Hemmer‘s point that “Pretty much everyone has made up their mind about him.” At the moment, the other candidates aren’t afraid of him winning, but they also see no point in pissing off his supporters.

Having the debate in Georgia moved more attentionto the black vote (hence Biden’s unfortunate claim). I thought Charles Blow‘s post-debate analysis made a lot of sense: In the Deep South particularly, the attitude of the black electorate is changing:

Those voters may be less excited by a national revolution because they are living through a very real revolution on the ground. They are feeling their power in cities and increasingly in statewide races. But in presidential elections, their voices are drowned out on the state level — other than Barack Obama winning North Carolina in 2008, no Democratic presidential candidate has carried my Deep South states since the 1990s.

As such, until that changes, voting in presidential elections can feel mostly symbolic for blacks in the South. The Democratic candidate won’t carry their state. If that person wins the presidency, it will be because of people in faraway places.

But during the primaries, those Southern black voters have a chance to make their voices heard, to reward loyalty and fidelity, to support the candidates they feel they know and to spurn those they feel they don’t.

Big plans mean less and can ring hollow. … Black people in the South are experiencing a surge of real power and the ability to enact real change. Democratic candidates have to talk to them like the people they are: strong and pushing, not weak and begging.

The main criticism of Buttigieg has been his lack of experience. I still believe what I said when John McCain tried to use that issue against Barack Obama in 2008:

The danger of making experience your central issue and claiming that your opponent is “not ready to lead” (but you are) is this: When you finally debate your “unqualified” opponent, the difference needs to be apparent. If the other guy looks equally well prepared, he wins.

Ditto here: The inexperience claim against Buttigieg will work only if he displays the classic flaws of inexperience, by saying or doing things that are hot-headed, naive, or immature in some other way. His lack of a traditional resume makes him vulnerable, but the attacks won’t stick unless he gives them something to stick to.

I believe something similar about the age issue for Biden, Sanders, and Warren. It’s a problem when Sanders has a heart attack or Biden looks confused, but so far Warren hasn’t given the age issue a hook to hang on.

On the other hand (and related to Charles Blow’s point), Buttigieg lacks history with major voting blocks, and that’s why his black support is currently undetectable in polls. I can imagine a Southern black voter saying “You’re here when you need us. Where were you when we needed you?” By contrast, Georgians remember Biden and Warren campaigning for Stacey Abrams in 2018, and Bernie Sanders endorsing her in the primary.

Timothy Egan puts his finger on a point that we’re all a little afraid to talk about. In a column where he envisions Biden beating Trump a year from now, he says:

Most Democrats came to see that it would do nothing for their cause to gain another million progressives on the coasts if they still lost 80,000 people in the old industrial heartland.

American democracy is flawed in some important and predictable ways, and that’s how Trump became president despite Hillary Clinton getting 2.8 million more votes.

It’s wrong that not all votes count the same, but they don’t. And it’s totally understandable that blue-state voters (and I am one now that I’ve moved to Massachusetts) resent the purple-state elitism of candidates like Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar, whose main message is “I can appeal to the right voters.”

But that’s the real state of affairs in America today: There are right voters and wrong voters. Nobody wants to admit that or talk about it. But there it is.

That said, it shouldn’t become an excuse for making a fetish of white working class voters and ignoring people of color. The 2020 general election may well hinge on black turnout in Milwaukee, or the Hispanic vote in Arizona. The only recent Democratic presidential candidate to carry Indiana was Barack Obama, not some lunchpail-carrying white guy.

and Israel had some news

This week saw two significant developments regarding Israel: Thursday, Israel’s attorney general announced that Prime Minister Netanyahu would be indicted.  Monday, the Trump administration reversed previous US policy on the legality of Israeli settlements in the territories gained in the 1967 war.

The charges against Netanyahu reportedly will be bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. In the most serious charge, he traded regulatory favors to a news organization in exchange for favorable coverage. Under Israeli law, any government minister other than the prime minister has to resign when indicted, but the PM only has to resign if convicted.

Netanyahu is still PM, for now. Israel has now failed to form a new government despite holding two elections. In the most recent one, Netanyahu’s Likud Party finished a close second to Blue and White, led by Benny Gantz. But neither party had a majority in the Knesset, or could assemble a majority coalition of other parties. A third election will likely be held in a few months.

Netanyahu’s defensive rhetoric should sound familiar: The cases against him are all a “witch hunt”, and an “attempted coup”.

Secretary of State Pompeo announced a week ago that the United States no longer regards Israeli settlements on the West Bank of the Jordan as illegal, reversing a State Department legal opinion from 1978. Vox has a good article on the issue.

The case for claiming the settlements are illegal rests on the Fourth Geneva Convention, which says “the Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

Israel disputes the interpretation that it is an occupying power, claiming that the right of Jews to live in these territories is rooted in the League of Nations’ 1922 Mandate for Palestine.

In any case, it’s hard for me to see how this policy change promotes some ultimate vision of peace in the region, unless that vision involves either pushing Palestinians out of the territories entirely, or herding them into economically non-viable reservations, as the US did to its unwanted native population. East Jerusalem would be an example of a place where Palestinians are being slowly pushed out, and Gaza an example of them being penned in.

and you also might be interested in …

Hong Kong held district-council elections, the only real bit of democracy in their system. Usually, these elections revolve around mundane issues like traffic and parks and trash, because the administration that runs the city as a whole isn’t elected by the broad electorate.

But in the middle of the citywide crisis caused by pro-democracy demonstrations, the elections took on a symbolic meaning well beyond the legal duties of the offices being filled. And the result was a stunning endorsement of the demonstrators. Turnout was at record levels, and pro-democracy candidates got 80% of the council seats.

Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer is the latest casualty in Trump’s defense of war criminals. Trump intervened in the case of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, who had been acquitted of premeditated murder in the stabbing death of a 12-year-old ISIS prisoner, but was “convicted of bringing discredit to the armed services after posing next to a dead ISIS fighter’s body, which is against regulations.” Trump reversed Gallagher’s demotion, but the Navy still intended to hold a disciplinary hearing that could take away Gallagher’s SEAL trident.

This angered Trump, who tweeted about it. Sunday Defense Secretary Esper fired Spencer, claiming that Spencer had gone around him in attempting to negotiate directly with the White House.

Spencer released a letter acknowledging his firing, and shooting back.

The rule of law is what sets us apart from our adversaries. Good order and discipline is what has enabled our victory against foreign tyranny time and again. … Unfortunately, it has become apparent that in this respect, I no longer share the same understanding with the Commander in Chief who appointed me.

Trump’s betrayal of America’s Kurdish allies and attempt to play games with military support for Ukraine is rocking US alliances around the world. The Washington Post discusses the impact on South Korea, where Trump wants to quintuple the contributions the Koreans make towards the cost of maintaining US troops there.

The Post offers the orthodox foreign-policy argument that “a forward defense position in Asia pays for itself, in security”. I could imagine a reasonable debate about that point, not just in Asia but in all countries where American troops or American commitments are supposedly helping keep the peace: When are we heading off problems that would otherwise cause us bigger trouble later, and when are we getting drawn into conflicts we could safely ignore?

But that conversation should involve some alternate theory of American security, a Trump Doctrine that has much more detail than “America First”, and is much broader than a case-by-case debate about whether NATO or South Korea or Israel is taking advantage of us.

Sadly, though, no one in the Trump administration (least of all Trump himself) thinks on a grand-strategy level, or is capable of leading the kind of national discussion we need if we’re going to make a fundamental change in our foreign policy.

Fracking wastewater spills in North Dakota have resulted in rivers with high levels of radioactive contamination and heavy metals.

The NFL scheduled a behind-closed doors workout for blacklisted quarterback Colin Kaepernick, ostensibly so that scouts from various teams could see if his skills have diminished during his involuntary three-year exile from the league. The Nation’s David Zirin reports:

Roger Goodell and the NFL tried to bend Kaepernick to their will this week. They scheduled him for a tryout with only three days’ notice. They insisted he come to Atlanta and work with a coach not of his choosing at the Falcons’ headquarters. They told him that it would be on a Saturday, when coaches and top scouts are busy either preparing for Sunday games or analyzing college contests. They did not tell him who the receivers he would work with would be. They wanted him to sign a “non-standard injury waiver” that would have prevented Kaepernick from suing the league for collusion in the future. Most egregiously, they insisted that the workout not be open to the press. Roger Goodell wanted all the positive public relations for “ending the collusion” against Kaepernick and none of the transparency.

Kaepernick wasn’t having it.

He showed up in Atlanta and refused to work out at the Falcons facility under the watchful eye of an NFL chosen coach. He instead went to a high school an hour away with his own receivers. He kept it open to the press, several of whom live-streamed the workout over social media, preventing the NFL from spinning the event as if he no longer had the goods.

… Now that the spectacle in Atlanta is over, we are actually back where we started. Everyone knows that Kaepernick has the ability to play. Everyone knows that he is only being kept out for political and PR reasons. The question will be whether there is one team that is willing to put their team’s success over their political prejudices. This is where we have been for three years, and this is where we remain.

The NFL has found a place for numerous wife-beaters, child abusers, sexual assaulters, and felons of other varieties. But what Kaepernick did — respectfully kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality against people of color — is apparently unforgivable.

It’s the kind of story that happens all the time, but doesn’t usually make the New York Times: a local hardware store is closing. This one is on Ninth Avenue in Manhattan and is owned and operated by Russian immigrant Naum Feygin. Like many such stores it’s a victim of online competition and high rents.

We tell ourselves this shift in the economy is all about efficiency, but the reporter claims not.

[Mr. Feygin’s hardware store] is cheaper and faster than ordering from Amazon and offers expert advice that reduces the risk of buying the wrong thing. It is all too easy on Amazon, for example, to buy halogen bulbs that don’t fit your lamp base; Mr. Feygin has spared me many such headaches. And the store’s small size [600 square feet] is a virtue: Unlike at Home Depot, you can be in and out in 10 minutes.

… Competition from Amazon and a rent increase might seem like distinct phenomena, but they are two sides of the same coin. Both reflect the transformative consolidation and centralization of the American economy since the 1990s, which have made the economy less open to individual entrepreneurship. Amazon represents the increasing monopolization of retail; the high rents are a symptom of the enormous concentration of wealth in a handful of coastal cities like New York, San Francisco and Washington.

Both phenomena contribute to the same regrettable outcome: In today’s economy, returns on investment have shifted away from the individuals like Mr. Feygin who take personal risks. Instead, wealth is being routed to large middlemen, national monopolies, property owners and shareholders.

Feygin once hoped his son would take over the business, but his son is more in tune with the era: He works for a hedge fund

and let’s close with something that sounds like a tall tale

The Greek historian Herodotus was famous for believing outrageous stories told to him on his travels. (My favorite explains the Persian king’s massive tribute from India with a story about ants the size of dogs who dig up golden anthills. Apparently that was easier for his audience to swallow than the sheer size of India.) Marco Polo was similarly gullible at times, though some of his most outrageous stories about the Far East turned out to be true. (He claimed that some cities in China were too large for the surrounding forests to provide enough wood for fuel, so the Chinese had learned to “burn rocks”. He was talking about coal.)

So anyway, this story sounds like a traveler’s tall tale, but  it seems to be true: In the Nepalese Himalayas lives a species of honeybees that are more than an inch long. They build nests five feet across under cliffs and on rock faces. A nest can contain well over 100 pounds of honey. And here’s the best part: Because the bees feast on poisonous plants, the honey is hallucinogenic.

That makes it worth taking outrageous risks to acquire, as the Gurung “honey hunter” tribe has done since time out of mind.

An Impeachment Hearing Wrap-Up

Unless Democrats are able to break through the Trump blockade on key witnesses, the Ukraine part of the impeachment hearings ended this week. The Intelligence Committee is preparing its report for the Judiciary Committee, which is responsible for writing articles of impeachment.

Judiciary will almost certainly offer an impeachment resolution with an article on Ukraine. Whether that resolution will be narrowly focused or include additional articles like obstruction of justice (based on Part II of the Mueller Report) or obstruction of Congress (based on the administration’s withholding of evidence and refusal to let officials testify) is still up in the air.

As many people have noted, this investigation has reversed the usual detective story: We knew whodunnit from the beginning. As soon as the White House released the call notes from President Trump’s July 25th phone conversation with Ukrainian President Zelensky, it was obvious that Trump had used the threat of withholding American military aid to pressure Zelensky to announce investigations of “Crowdstrike” (the wacky conspiracy theory that Ukraine and the Democrats framed Russia for interfering in the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf) and “Biden’s son” .

The testimony we’ve heard the last two weeks has mainly done three things:

  • Educated the public on how important US military aid and the public appearance of US support was to Ukraine, which is fighting a war with Russia. Trump really did have Zelensky over a barrel.
  • Detailed just how wide and deep the effort to pressure Ukraine was, and how extremely it differed from the US policy towards Ukraine supported by a large bipartisan majority in Congress. Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani had no official government position, but for months ran a “shadow foreign policy” directly at odds with official US policy. (Fiona Hill put it like this: “[Gordon Sondland] was being involved in a domestic political errand. And we were being involved in national security foreign policy. And those two things had just diverged.”) Official policy wholeheartedly supported Ukraine in its war with Russia; the shadow policy threatened that support in order to create pressure on Ukraine to help Trump’s re-election campaign.
  • Shot down the wide range of unlikely claims by which Trump defenders urged us to ignore what we could see with our own eyes in the call notes. Trump may have spoken in a Mafia-don manner that only hinted at what he wanted, but the Ukrainians and the US personnel involved in the process understood the corrupt bargain Trump was offering. Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s testimony was the most explicit: “Members of this Committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a quid pro quo? As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes. … Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret.”

The fourth key point is what the hearings have not done: challenged the basic narrative of Trump shaking down Zelensky. Republicans weren’t allowed to turn the hearings into a circus by calling witnesses against the Bidens or Crowdstrike, but none of the witnesses they were denied had anything to offer relevant to the shakedown narrative. Similarly, Republican questioning of the witnesses offered distractions from the narrative and denigrated either the witnesses themselves or their knowledge, but offered no exculpatory facts.

It’s really kind of amazing just how crazy the “Crowdstrike” conspiracy theory is.

Most conspiracy theories are built on some real coincidence that the theory baselessly casts in a sinister light, but the most basic element of the Crowdstrike theory is just false: Crowdstrike is a California company that has no Ukrainian connection at all. The “suspicious” founder (Dmitri Alperovitch) is an American citizen who was born in Russia, not Ukraine, and has lived in the US since he was a teen-ager. The other founders are George Kurtz (born in New Jersey) and Gregg Marston (whose biography I haven’t been able to google up, but who is never mentioned as an immigrant in articles about the company’s founding).

In his recent Fox & Friends phone call, Trump referred to Crowdstrike as “a company owned by a very wealthy Ukrainian.” Wikipedia lists Crowdstrike’s major non-founder investors: Google, Telstra, March Capital Partners, Rackspace, Accel Partners, and Warburg Pincus. So Trump’s claim appears to be a pure invention. When challenged by F&F co-host Steve Doocy whether he was “sure” that the mythical DNC email server was in Ukraine, Trump said only “That’s what the word is.”

The weakness of the hearings has been the lack of star witnesses that the public already knows. Unlike the Clinton and Nixon impeachment hearings, Trump has successfully blocked his top officials from testifying. Republicans involved in the hearings have repeatedly denigrated witness testimony as “hearsay”, while supporting Trump in blocking the testimony of witnesses who had more direct contact with the President.

The public deserves to hear from administration officials like acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, former National Security Adviser John Bolton, and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, just to name a few. But they have defied subpoenas under Trump’s instructions.

TPM floats an interesting theory about why Democrats are not pushing the courts to enforce these subpoenas. Everyone agrees that if the cases go to the Supreme Court, they might not be resolved until the Court’s term ends in June, when the 2020 conventions will be looming. But an impeachment trial in the Senate might offer a quicker path to the desired testimony.

Under the Senate’s impeachment rules, the House managers will be able to issue subpoenas whose validity will be adjudicated directly by Chief Justice Roberts, who will preside over the trial. Roberts is the swing vote on the Supreme Court anyway, so going straight to a Senate trial will force him to decide in January rather than June.

There are two major objections to this plan, but both seem answerable. First, by majority vote, the Senate could overrule Roberts’ decisions to issue subpoenas. But that would be a very public vote to suppress evidence, and only a few Republican senators would need to defect to uphold Roberts’ decision. Second, Democrats will have no chance to interview the witnesses before they testify. That may produce some false starts and dead ends, but it will also increase the drama of the televised hearings: No one knows what these witnesses will say.

Yesterday, Adam Schiff was asked about this theory by NBC’s Chuck Todd:

I do think that when it comes to documents and witnesses, that if it comes to a trial, and again we’re getting far down the road here, that the Chief Justice will have to make a decision on requests for witnesses and documents.

Gordon Sondland corroborated David Holmes’ account of a phone call Sondland had with Trump while Sondland and Holmes were in a restaurant in Kyiv, but Trump told Fox & Friends “I guarantee you that never took place.” Holmes and Sondland were under oath. Maybe Trump should go under oath before he contradicts them.

Another tantalizing Sondland revelation: Zelensky “had to announce the investigations. He didn’t actually have to do them, as I understood it.”

This blows up the already far-fetched idea that Trump had a legitimate concern for corruption in Ukraine. (Holmes reports Sondland agreeing with the statement that Trump “doesn’t give a shit about Ukraine“. I know no example anywhere of Trump opposing corruption, unless it involved his political opponents.) Trump wanted Ukrainian investigations as a touchstone for lock-him-up chants against Biden, and was not counting on them finding any actual malfeasance.

According to 538’s polling analysis, support for impeachment has been slowly eroding during the hearings. A small plurality 46%-45% currently supports impeachment. Polls that specify removing the president from office are a virtual tie.

At least the hearings changed one person’s mind: Bret Stephens, the conservative columnist of the NYT, who now thinks Trump should be removed from office even though “This isn’t what I thought two months ago, when the impeachment inquiry began.”

What persuaded him isn’t what Trump did to Ukraine, but to politics in the United States.

we’ve been living in a country undergoing its own dismal process of Ukrainianization: of treating fictions as facts; and propaganda as journalism; and political opponents as criminals; and political offices as business ventures; and personal relatives as diplomatic representatives; and legal fixers as shadow cabinet members; and extortion as foreign policy; and toadyism as patriotism; and fellow citizens as “human scum”; and mortal enemies as long-lost friends — and then acting as if all this is perfectly normal. This is more than a high crime. It’s a clear and present danger to our security, institutions, and moral hygiene.

If people aren’t changing their minds about Trump during these hearings, I hope they are changing their minds about Republicans in general. Because it’s been really clear that the Republicans in the room are acting in bad faith. All the patriotism in the room is coming from the witnesses, because the Republicans, one and all, have chosen Trump over America. Again and again, they make ridiculous arguments that they can’t possibly believe themselves.

While complaining about the lack of witnesses who spoke to Trump directly, not one of them has asked Trump to let more witnesses testify. Thursday, Fiona Hill called them out for repeating talking points that originate in the Russian security services, and have been refuted by all American intelligence agencies.

Based on questions and statements I have heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country — and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did. This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetuated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves. … Right now, Russia’s security services and their proxies have geared up to repeat their interference in the 2020 election. We are running out of time to stop them. In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests.

They didn’t care. Devin Nunes in particular just kept repeating those same Russian talking points. So did Trump himself: “Don’t forget. Ukraine hated me. They were after me in the election.” (That was part of a long interview that included “at least 18 false statements“.) And here’s Senator Kennedy of Louisiana yesterday on Fox News Sunday:

CHRIS WALLACE: Senator Kennedy, who do you believe was responsible for hacking the DNC & Clinton campaign? Russia or Ukraine?

KENNEDY: I don’t know. Nor do you.

W: The entire intel community says it was Russia.

K: Right. But it could be Ukraine. Fiona Hill is entitled to her opinion


The goal of the Republican leadership is to make impeachment a party-line vote, with no Republicans crossing over. But I wonder if that might not rebound against them in 2020. That willingness to ignore all the evidence will underline that there are no “reasonable” Republicans. Whatever the candidate in your district might sound like, when push comes to shove, all Republicans are Trump.

The Monday Morning Teaser

Unless new witnesses become available, the House Intelligence Committee’s hearings on the Trump/Ukraine extortion plot wrapped up this week. The featured post will pull together where things stand. It should be out shortly.

The weekly summary will include a few impeachment-related tidbits that aren’t directly related to the hearings, like reports that Devin Nunes was in Europe seeking dirt on Biden, and leaks about the Justice Department Inspector General’s report on the origins of the Mueller investigation. But mainly it will be about the rest of the world: Israel, Hong Kong, the Democratic president debate, Colin Kaepernick, and a few other things. It should be out by noon EST.