Author Archives: weeklysift

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

Pace and Scale

While the pace of change that would be required to limit warming to 1.5°C can be found in the past, there is no historical precedent for the scale of the necessary transitions, in particular in a socially and economically sustainable way.

— The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Global Warming of 1.5°C

This week’s featured post is “The Media is Failing Us on Climate Change“.

This week everybody was talking about the weather

Hurricane Michael hit the Florida panhandle Wednesday as yet another “worst storm in 100 years“. These days, several places in the US each year have their worst storms in living memory. Michael was the fourth strongest storm to hit the US. You’d think people would start to notice.

Federal help seems slow to arrive.

Since the storm, there’s been no electricity and no water in Panama City. Emergency disaster relief was yet to be seen in strength as of Saturday morning and residents were growing more frustrated and desperate. Chantelle Goolspy sat in her car making phone calls to get help. Goolspy and many of her neighbors live in a public housing area in downtown Panama City that was badly devastated.

“We’re in need of food, water, anything, we’re not getting any help. The whole street needs help,” Goolspy told the Red Cross. “FEMA referred me to you. That person told me to call 211.”

One reason Michael did as much damage as it did was that it went through “rapid intensification” as it approached land, going from Category 1 to Category 4 (and nearly Category 5) in just 24 hours.

Climate scientists have begun to focus on hurricane rapid intensification as an increasingly prevalent feature in the world we’re entering. Simply put, with warmer seas, storms ought to be able to pull this off more often.

In a recent study in the Journal of Climate, researchers found more rapid intensifications in a simulation of a human-warmed world, and also that this would prove a key pathway toward more intense hurricanes in general.

As usual, it’s impossible to blame any particular storm on global warming, just as it’s impossible to blame any particular lung cancer on tobacco or any particular home run on steroids. It’s a systemic factor that increases risks.

and a missing journalist

Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi journalist who had been living in Virginia and writing for The Washington Post, disappeared October 2. He was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. It’s widely believed that the Saudis murdered him inside the consulate.

This has become an international incident involving Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United States. At first, President Trump expressed his usual disregard for non-citizen residents of the United States. An incident like this isn’t worth interrupting, say, arms sales:

This took place in Turkey and to the best of our knowledge, Khashoggi is not a United States citizen, he’s a permanent resident. We don’t like it, even a little bit. But as to whether or not we should stop $110 billion dollars from being spent in this country, knowing they [Saudi Arabia] have four or five alternatives, two very good alternatives, that would not be acceptable to me.

His further responses have resembled his reactions Russian interference in the 2016 election: He spoke to King Salman, who denied murdering Khashoggi, and Trump seems inclined to take him at his word (as he takes Putin). He repeated the Saudis “rogue killers” theory, which is a little like Trump’s fantasy of the 400-pound guy who hacked the DNC.

and the midterm elections

The Georgia governor’s election is a coin flip at this point, but Republican candidate Brian Kemp has a special advantage: He’s Secretary of State, and his office maintains the voting rolls.

Marsha Appling-Nunez was showing the college students she teaches how to check online if they’re registered to vote when she made a troubling discovery. Despite being an active Georgia voter who had cast ballots in recent elections, she was no longer registered.

“I was kind of shocked,” said Appling-Nunez, who moved from one Atlanta suburb to another in May and believed she had successfully changed her address on the voter rolls. “I’ve always voted. I try to not miss any elections, including local ones,” Appling-Nunez said.

She tried re-registering, but with about one month left before a November election that will decide a governor’s race and some competitive U.S. House races, Appling-Nunez’s application is one of over 53,000 sitting on hold with Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s office. And unlike Appling-Nunez, many people on that list — which is predominantly black, according to an analysis by The Associated Press — may not even know their voter registration has been held up.

The 53K would-be voters are about 70% black. Civil rights groups are suing.


Saturday, Senator David Perdue was campaigning for Kemp at Georgia Tech when a student tried to ask him about suppressing black votes. Perdue took his phone, then returned it and walked away.


The generic-ballot polls are going the way I expected: Republicans got a brief advantage by riling up their base over the Kavanaugh hearings. But that’s already fading while the Democratic anger is sustained.

but the ongoing sabotage of ObamaCare deserves your attention

In August, HHS issued a set of regulations to allow short-term health insurance policies that don’t meet the ACA minimum standards. The plans are as short as a year, and can be renewed for up to three years. But they have two big loopholes:

  • They don’t have to cover all the stuff ACA plans do.
  • If you do get sick, after three years, the insurance company can refuse to renew your policy, leaving you with a pre-existing condition and no insurance until the next ObamaCare open-enrollment date.

The upside of the policies is that they cost less — because companies don’t have to issue them to people with pre-existing conditions.

The essence of the idea here is to rob Peter to pay Paul. Paul, in this case, is a healthy person who

  • makes just slightly too much money to qualify for the subsidies in ObamaCare, or
  • lives in one of the states that still refuses to expand Medicaid and falls into the “Medicaid coverage gap“, making him ineligible for either Medicaid or the ACA subsidies.

In either case, the ACA required Paul to spend a serious chunk of his own money on health insurance that he believed (sometimes correctly, sometimes not) he wouldn’t need.

One provision of the Trump Tax plan passed last year is that Paul can go uninsured without paying a penalty. But under the new regulations, Paul can buy a short-term plan that covers him against the things he might worry about (like a broken leg), but not pay as much as an ACA plan costs. If he develops MS or some other expensive long-term condition, he’ll be in trouble, but he’s willing to take that risk, if it means that he’ll have thousands of dollars each year to spend on something else.

Peter is everybody else, but especially people with pre-existing conditions. Promoters of the short-term plans say that they just provide consumers with more options: If you want ACA-compliant insurance, you can still buy it. But that’s deceptive, because ACA-compliant plans will become more expensive as more and more healthy people leave the risk pool.

HHS projects that 500,000 people will shift from individual market plans to short-term plans in 2019 as a result of the proposed rule. … And by 2028, they expect the total increase in the short-term insurance population to reach 1.4 million, while the individual insurance market population is expected to decline by 1.3 million over that time. … HHS acknowledged that the people who are likely to switch to short-term plans will primarily be young and healthy. As a result of the sicker, older risk pool that will remain in the individual market, premiums will rise

The way that ObamaCare can ultimately fail is if it gets into what is called a “death spiral”: As premiums rise, more healthy people decide to risk going without ACA-compliant insurance, making the risk pool sicker and forcing premiums to go higher yet.

Ever since ObamaCare passed in 2010, Republicans have been trying to push it into that death spiral. It began with the 5-4 Supreme Court decision (written by Chief Justice Roberts) that let states opt out of Medicaid expansion, creating the Medicaid coverage gap. A series of additional court cases created doubt about the program, discouraging people from signing up. The Koch brothers spent millions of dollars on ads that further discouraged sign-ups. They prevented states from setting up exchanges, forcing that duty onto the federal government. They eliminated provisions like risk corridors that kept premiums down.

Since Trump took office, the sabotage has gotten worse. HHS has refused to spend money to promote ObamaCare by, for example, telling people when the enrollment periods are. Cost-sharing reductions are gone, further increasing premiums. The tax bill eliminated the penalty for going uninsured, motivating the healthiest people to leave the risk pool. And now, healthy people will have even more incentive to leave.

and so does the return of Iran sanctions

Trump announced on May 8 that the US was pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal. The serious effects of that decision will hit on November 4, when economic sanctions resume. NYT editorial board member Carol Giacomo writes a critical analysis.

The main difference between these sanctions and the ones that pushed Iran to negotiate with the Obama administration is that this time the US is going it alone.

Crucially, Mr. Trump has failed to enlist Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — the major powers that joined the United States in negotiating the nuclear deal — in his anti-Iran crusade. The Europeans say the deal is in their national security interest; they resent that Mr. Trump has unilaterally upended it.

And now the Europeans are trying to save it by developing a financial mechanism that would skirt American sanctions by enabling their companies to trade oil in local currencies or barter rather than in dollars. The aim is to create an alternative way to move money in and out of Iran when Western banks, handcuffed by Mr. Trump’s sanctions, won’t do it.

All the parties face a moment of truth after Nov. 4, when, Mr. Trump has decreed, any country or company trading with Iran will be barred from doing transactions with American financial institutions.

On one hand, you have to wonder how effective these US-only sanctions will be, and whether the Iranian public will respond by revolting against its current government or rallying around it.

But I worry about this move for reasons that go way beyond Iran.

At its root, banking is about trust. The US dominates the international banking system largely because other countries and their citizens trust the soundness of the dollar and the rule of law that protects their dollar-denominated transactions. But nothing forces other countries into our system, and if we push that advantage too far, they’ll eventually create an alternative. In particular, we should be wary of any issue, like this one, that gives Europe and China a common cause against us.

Remember the larger picture: The Chinese economy is still far behind the US economy in a per capita sense, but in sheer size it is rapidly catching up and most likely will pass us in just a few years. In the long run, power follows money. So our long-term challenge is to use our waning power to construct a global system that is capable of constraining China when it eventually becomes the world’s most powerful country.

The worst thing that we can do in this situation is to wield our power in an arbitrary and self-centered way, making our former allies yearn for the day when we get pushed off our perch.

and you also might be interested in …

The US trade deficit with China set a record in September.


CNN’s way-too-early poll shows Joe Biden as the front-runner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. I’m skeptical. Nate Silver, though, seems skeptical of my skepticism:

Hard to take these early polls seriously after they predicted that Hillary Clinton (!) and Donald Trump (!!) would be the party nominees in 2016.


Meanwhile Elizabeth Warren is taking on the “Pocahontas” issue.


Lynzy Lab has the perfect answer to those guys worried about false accusations.


Explanations of how Republican policies benefit the 1% are always more convincing when they come from members of the 1%, like Abigail Disney, Walt’s granddaughter. Illustrating the recent tax cut with footage from Scrooge McDuck was maybe just a little bit over the top, but I enjoyed it. Or, you could illustrate it with this graph from the Center for American Progress:


Sears Holding Company, which owns both Sears and K-Mart, is declaring bankruptcy. Once the dominant retailer in the country, Sears has lost $11.7 billion since its last profitable year in 2010. The New York Times has a lengthy obituary.


The NYT expose of how Trump got rich — by inheritance and evasion of taxes — raised a question: Some of what the Trump family did was legal and some illegal; which is the most scandalous?

It’s personally scandalous to do something illegal, but to the extent that the manipulations the Trumps pulled off are actually legal, or at the very least broadly accepted, that’s scandalous in a different way. Matt Taibbi explores that angle:

The parts I found most interesting were less about the rapaciousness of the Trump family per se than the myriad opportunities for gaming the system one presumes is available to everyone of this income level. The ordinary person cannot hire an outside appraiser to tell the IRS what it thinks he or she is worth, but the Trumps could systematically undervalue their properties for tax purposes (and then go back and overvalue them when it served their public relations needs).

The timidity that enforcement officials show toward the very wealthy is also a running theme in the story. When the Trump family claimed a $17.9 million building had fallen to $2.9 million, supposedly losing 83 percent of its value in just 18 days, the IRS auditor who caught it made them push the value back up by just $100,000.

The infamous $3.35 million casino chip scheme — an illegal multi-million-dollar loan under New Jersey law — inspired just a $65,000 fine.

And now the NYT finds that Jared Kushner also paid little-to-no tax over an 8-year period when his net worth was skyrocketing. Here the main avenue was a common (and legal) real-estate scam involving depreciation.

In theory, the depreciation provision is supposed to shield real estate developers from having their investments whittled away by wear and tear on their buildings. In practice, though, the allowance often represents a lucrative giveaway to developers like Mr. Trump and Mr. Kushner. The law assumes that buildings’ values decline every year when, in reality, they often gain value. Its enormous flexibility allows real estate investors to determine their own tax bills.

Ending the shennigans of the very rich was a big chunk of what Trump ran on in 2016. The system was rigged against ordinary people, he claimed, and he was just the guy to fix it.

The Trump tax cuts are fully paid for by: 1. Reducing or eliminating most deductions and loopholes available to the very rich.

He bragged that his business experience made him the perfect person to un-rig the tax system, because “I know the details of taxes better than anybody. Better than the greatest CPA.” As late as November of last year, he made this 4-Pinocchio claim at a rally in St. Charles, Missouri:

This is going to cost me a fortune, this thing, believe me. This is not good for me. . . . I think my accountants are going crazy right now.

But of course, that’s not what happened.

“The Trump administration was in a position to clean up the tax code and promised to get rid of some of the complexity that certain taxpayers use to their advantage,” said Victor Fleischer, a tax law professor at the University of California, Irvine. “Instead, they doubled down on those provisions, particularly the ones they have familiarity with to benefit themselves.”

and let’s close with something out of this world

Here’s what a category 4 hurricane looks like from space.

The Media is Failing Us on Climate Change

What you’ve heard about the new IPCC report is highly misleading.


A week ago, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report “Global Warming of 1.5o C” came out, we got more than a lesson on climate change. We also got a lesson in what’s wrong with mainstream media coverage of climate change.

CNN’s headline was typical: “Planet has only until 2030 to stem catastrophic climate change, experts warn“. The corresponding article had all the standard elements of climate-change coverage: a collection of threats (hotter heat waves, more extreme rainfall, more intense droughts, coral reefs dying off), a date when they’ll come due (2030), and a list of things the experts want done to avoid them (move away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and develop technology to remove CO2 from the atmosphere).

The problem with that article isn’t that it misstated any facts. But framing the situation in that way makes scientists sound like comic-book terrorists: “Do what we want by our deadline or the Earth is finished.”

The usual coverage invites the usual responses from those committed to denial, like this one from National Review:

Those working to raise awareness about climate change have a problem. While most Americans believe global warming is occurring and think human activities are causing it, fewer than half think it will pose a serious threat to the planet in their lifetimes.

So what do those seeking drastic change do? They publish predictions of imminent catastrophe based on computer models, threatening doom and gloom unless dramatic measures are taken immediately. When that fails, they change the deadline and try again. … Now the IPCC tells us we have until 2030, but the longer period to take action is accompanied by heightened predictions of calamities.

How the report comes to be. When you tell the story of the report from the beginning, though, it actually isn’t anything like that.

The story starts in Paris in December, 2015, when 195 nations made commitments to take action against climate change. (The US was one of the 195, but President Trump renounced the agreement in June, 2017.) The Paris Agreement recognized that global warming of 2o C above pre-industrial levels would have unacceptable consequences, and instead set a goal of trying to keep the increase down to 1.5o C. The report’s FAQ says:

With the adoption of the Paris Agreement, the [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] invited the IPCC to provide a Special Report in 2018 on ‘the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emissions pathways’. The request was that the report, known as SR1.5, should not only assess what a 1.5°C warmer world would look like but also the different pathways by which global temperature rise could be limited to 1.5°C.

This report addresses that goal from two sides: What would the world have to do to meet the goal? And how much damage will the climate and the biosphere suffer even if we do?

Global warming is not a bomb. The biggest problem with the usual climate-change media coverage is that our standard metaphor for a future crisis — a ticking bomb — is completely wrong. Climate change is not something that will happen all at once at some point in the future; its negative effects won’t “go off” when some timer ticks down to zero. Instead, climate change is a process we are already in the middle of; negative effects — like this week’s devastation of the Florida panhandle — are already happening.

A better analogy might be smoking. Imagine you’re a heavy-smoking 25-year-old. You’re probably already seeing some effects: You get winded more easily, climbing stairs is harder, and so on. But you can live with that. Then your doctor tells you that if you keep smoking, your odds of dying before you’re 60 go up by X per cent. It might be a heart attack or lung cancer or something else, but your odds of dying go up.

Notice what he didn’t say: He didn’t say that you have until you’re 60 to change your ways. Age 60 is a somewhat arbitrary reference point that makes the situation quantifiable. The direst consequences of your smoking may hit when you’re 60, or sometime before or after that. In the meantime, the lesser effects you’ve already been seeing will get worse. And there’s a time lag: The cigarette you smoke tomorrow might (or might not) be the one that gives you cancer when you’re 57. Quitting before the cancer hits doesn’t mean it won’t hit.

On the other hand, if you quit now and exercise to get your wind back, your heart will likely regain its strength and your lungs might clear themselves out before anything happens that is significantly worse than the effects you can already see.

Climate change is like that; there are time lags all over the place. Every time a new investment is made in fossil fuel infrastructure — a new coal mine, a new oil well, a new pipeline — that’s an economic commitment to keep burning fossil fuels far into the future. And once a molecule of CO2 (or some other greenhouse gas) gets into the atmosphere, it’s likely to stay there for a long time. Yale Climate Connections reports on what would happen to the CO2 in the atmosphere if we went cold turkey on fossil fuels.

Using a combination of various methods, researchers have estimated that about 50 percent of the net anthropogenic pulse would be absorbed in the first 50 years, and about 70 percent in the first 100 years. Absorption by sinks slows dramatically after that, with an additional 10 percent or so being removed after 300 years and the remaining 20 percent lasting tens if not hundreds of thousands of years before being removed.

Putting that another way, emissions from the Model T’s of the 1920s are still affecting the climate today. About half of the CO2 I produced while driving to the grocery yesterday will still be warming the planet in 2068.

Some effects have longer time lags than others. If we manage to stabilize the climate at some level, for example, the heat waves and droughts might stabilize as well, and the world could adjust to a new normal in that regard. But if that stabilizing point is too high, the melting of the world’s ice might continue for some while and sea levels would keep rising.

So we don’t have until 2030 to change our ways. The whole notion that we have until the Year Y to take action completely misses the point.

Where we are in the process. The first thing the IPCC had to do was define its reference points. Like: What does “pre-industrial levels” mean? It settled on 1850-1900, which may seem a little late, given how much coal-burning industry already existed in 1850. The FAQ explains that the reference point had to be an era with temperature measurements from all over the world. (Picking an earlier period, like the 1750s, would mean using mainly European data. The results might get biased by purely local effects.) The FAQ picks up the story there:

In the decade 2006–2015, warming reached 0.87°C (±0.12°C) relative to 1850–1900, predominantly due to human activity increasing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Given that global temperature is currently rising by 0.2°C (±0.1°C) per decade, human-induced warming reached 1°C above pre-industrial levels around 2017 and, if this pace of warming continues, would reach 1.5°C around 2040.

But don’t forget Paris. Every major nation in the world (but the US) has made a commitment to emit less carbon than it otherwise would have. Those commitments were voluntary, based more on what the local politics could sustain rather than what the problem required. (Apparently, US politics can’t sustain any action at all, so Trump pulled out of the agreement rather than revise our commitments under it.)

Different groups of researchers around the world have analysed the combined effect of adding up all the NDCs [nationally defined contributions under the Paris Agreement]. Such analyses show that current pledges are not on track to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. If current pledges for 2030 are achieved but no more, researchers find very few (if any) ways to reduce emissions after 2030 sufficiently quickly to limit warming to 1.5°C. This, in turn, suggests that with the national pledges as they stand, warming would exceed 1.5°C, at least for a period of time, and practices and technologies that remove CO2 from the atmosphere at a global scale would be required to return warming to 1.5°C at a later date.

Plans to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, the report notes, have not scaled up well so far. (It’s easier to plant a tree than to regrow a forest.) So relying on them is speculative; maybe something practical will develop and maybe it won’t.

One example of a [carbon dioxide removal] method in the demonstration phase is a process known as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), in which atmospheric CO2 is absorbed by plants and trees as they grow, and then the plant material (biomass) is burned to produce bioenergy. The CO2 released in the production of bioenergy is captured before it reaches the atmosphere and stored in geological formations deep underground on very long timescales. Since the plants absorb CO2 as they grow and the process does not emit CO2, the overall effect can be to reduce atmospheric CO2.

Given the time lags involved in reducing CO2 through natural means, though, if we blow through the 1.5°C mark the only practical way to get back to it in any reasonable length of time involves some kind of CO2 removal process, or “negative emissions”, as they put it. That speculative technology, then, is what we’ll have to count on if nations don’t make more aggressive commitments than the ones in the Paris Agreement.

How bad is 1.5°C? Much of the report compares 1.5°C warming to 2°C, and unsurprisingly finds that 1.5°C is better. But, to return to the smoking analogy, it’s like comparing quitting smoking at 45 with quitting at 60. The statistics of the risk change, but the kinds of things at risk mostly don’t. Sea levels will rise, but not as far. Weather will get more violent, but not as much. Species will go extinct, but not as many.

Much of what is at risk depends on processes we don’t fully understand. So, for example, higher global temperatures will change weather patterns. But nobody can pinpoint a temperature at which, say, Kansas becomes a desert. National Post reports on the “climate apocalypse” talk:

A lot of the press coverage on the new report has liberally employed terms like “nightmare,” “apocalypse,” or “a world on fire.” The IPCC report contains plenty of dire scenarios of a 2 degree world: Death of the world’s coral reefs, an extra 300 million exposed to crop failures, deadly heat waves becoming an annual occurrence in South Asia. Climate change could undo decades of progress on improving human welfare, but it’s not an existential threat to the species. Even unchecked climate change is not on the scale of a nuclear holocaust; its costs are more akin to a couple world wars and global pandemics. The most dire images come from a section where report authors imagine a world in which humanity has made almost no attempt to curb emissions. By the year 2100 the world “is no longer recognizable, with decreasing life expectancy, reduced outdoor labour productivity, and lower quality of life in many regions because of too frequent heatwaves and other climate extremes.”

Where does 2030 come from? We’re on pace to breech 1.5°C in 2040, so why is everybody talking about 2030? Time lags.

If current pledges for 2030 are achieved but no more, researchers find very few (if any) ways to reduce emissions after 2030 sufficiently quickly to limit warming to 1.5°C. …

A world that is consistent with holding warming to 1.5°C would see greenhouse gas emissions rapidly decline in the coming decade, with strong international cooperation and a scaling up of countries’ combined ambition beyond current NDCs. In contrast, delayed action, limited international cooperation, and weak or fragmented policies that lead to stagnating or increasing greenhouse gas emissions would put the possibility of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels out of reach.

Should we believe the IPCC? In a word: Yes. They’re not infallible prophets, but they do represent the consensus of the world scientific community.

Climate-change skeptics try to paint the argument as he-said/she-said, with vested interests lining up on both sides. But in fact, the overwhelming vested interest is on the climate-change-denial side: Fossil fuels in the ground represent literally trillions of dollars on the books of fossil-fuel corporations. If that coal and oil and natural gas can’t be burned, some of the world’s largest corporations — not to mention governments like Saudi Arabia or Russia — are insolvent.

Within the scientific community, motives are split. Some scientists have staked their reputations on climate change, but no one really wants to believe their grandchildren face some hellish future. A climate scientist who could make a genuinely persuasive case in the other direction would be celebrated. Fossil fuel companies would create institutes from thin air, if necessary, to fund his or her research.

That’s why, when you push hard on the question of climate-change-believing vested interests, denialists eventually resort to some version of the Global Socialist Conspiracy.

Global warming is not about science, but about politics — that is, about expanding the power of elites using the coercive instruments of government to control the lives of people everywhere. Just as the governing class embraces ineffective Keynesian stimulus spending to justify expansion of government, they now extol [anthropogenic global warming] as the basis for increasing their power to rule over the rest of us.

Why scientists around the world are more committed to expanding the coercive power of elites than to finding scientific truth is never fully explained. What’s more, promoters of this theory deny the obvious: If you have a genuine scientific case that global warming isn’t happening (or is going to level off on its own, without any changes in public policy), trillions of dollars in otherwise stranded assets are waiting to support you.

Techniques of denial. If you’re a fossil-fuel company and you want to keep selling your product, you don’t have to convince people that climate change isn’t happening, you just have to spread doubt and rely on the human tendency to resist change.

And here’s where our smoking metaphor does double duty: The techniques for spreading doubt about science go back to the tobacco companies, who wanted to create just enough doubt about the cigarette/cancer link that people who wanted to keep smoking could talk themselves out of quitting. (A lot of those doubtful people, I will point out, died. But they bought a lot of cigarettes before they did.) You can see echoes in that National Review quote above.

For example, back in the 60s and 70s, tobacco-company-funded groups like the Tobacco Institute would say that the cigarette/cancer link was just “statistical”, implying that statistics was some kind of voodoo science not worth your notice. National Review is repeating a similar fossil-fuel industry talking point when it refers contemptuously to “computer models”.

Like statistics, computer modeling is something the average person doesn’t understand, and so it is a good target for unscrupulous people who want to sow doubt. But computer modeling is how we predict almost anything complicated these days. Predictions of hurricane tracks, for example, are based on computer models.

And yes, a dishonest programmer can make a computer spit out anything he or she wants. But that’s why the scientific community has processes for assessing claims. Something like the IPCC report doesn’t come from just one guy with an iMac. Each claim has been examined by dozens, sometimes hundreds or thousands, of scientists who are trained to look for mistakes or fraud in this particular area. They come from countless institutions in 195 countries. No vested interest ties them all together. The vested interest, recall, lies with the trillions of dollars at risk for the fossil-fuel industry.

What’s the overall message of the report? The commitments nations made in the Paris Agreement are steps in the right direction, but they aren’t adequate. If that’s all the world does, 1.5°C will be locked in by 2030, even if it won’t show up until 2040 or so. To avoid 1.5°C, we have to phase out fossil fuels far more quickly.

What you won’t find in the report is a safe zone, a line in the sand that tells us how far we can go. Where we are now isn’t “safe”, it’s just less risky than where we’re headed.

The Monday Morning Teaser

Last week’s Sift came out right after the IPCC’s new climate-change report. With no time to think about it, I ignored it. I’ll try to make up for that this week.

When I did have time to think about it, I was struck as much by the coverage of the report as by the report itself. It almost didn’t matter what IPCC’s scientists had said. The headlines would be about the terrible things that were set to happen by a particular date, and the denialists would denounce those predictions as scaremongering. If the predictions grow more extreme, that’s not taken as evidence that the situation is getting worse, but that the proponents of the climate change theory are growing more desperate.

On either side, the media talks about climate change as if it were a bomb set to go off in some future year. The argument, then, is about whether or not the bomb is a dud or the timer is accurate. That’s a totally screwed-up frame and produces a screwed-up public debate.

So the featured article this week, which I still haven’t titled, doesn’t begin with the predictions of disaster. Rather, I start with why this report was written, why it focuses on the particular parameters it does, and why it is coming out now. I frame the issue with a different metaphor than a bomb: Burning fossil fuels is like smoking cigarettes. That more accurate metaphor makes it easier to see through the sophistries of climate-change denial.

I still have a lot of work to do on that, so it may not appear before 11 EDT. The weekly summary covers Hurricane Michael, how the mid-term elections look, the missing Turkish journalist, the return of Iran sanctions, the ongoing sabotage of ObamaCare, and a few other things. It should be out by 1.

Actual Happenings

The truth is it’s women — women are the victims in this situation. It doesn’t mean you’ve got to be feeling sorry for women, but women are the victims and that’s what we’re trying to fix. But Trump has managed to turn that, and he’s turned it with everybody. He goes: “The real victims in this story is not the kids in the cages, it’s you. It’s you who — they’re coming to take your place. The real victim isn’t the refugee from Syria, it’s you, who’s going to get blown up by a terrorist bomb.” … People felt, because of Trump, like they were losing their country. They felt like America was losing. And feeling is oftentimes more powerful than what is actually happening.

Trevor Noah

This week’s featured post is “Are Men Victims Now?

This week everybody was talking about Brett Kavanaugh

After much Sturm und Drang, Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court Saturday by a 50-48 Senate vote. All Republicans voted Yes except Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and all Democrats voted No except Joe Manchin of West Virginia. (The votes don’t add up to 100 because Murkowski made a deal with Montana Senator Steve Daines. Daines, a Yes vote, wanted to go to his daughter’s wedding, so Murkowski, a No vote, agreed to cover for him by voting Present. In other words, they preserved the two-vote margin that would have existed if Daines had stayed in Washington. I don’t hold the Present vote against Murkowski; it was a collegial thing to do.)

Most of the people I know are struggling to accept this. Some are angry, some are depressed, and a lot of us bounce through a range of emotions.

Now that the Senate has made such a travesty of its responsibility to seek the truth, the onus passes to us. The reason they’re not supposed to do stuff like this is that the voters will vote them out. Well, that’s what we need to do now. There’s an election in four weeks, and we all need to do whatever we can to sway it. Vote, of course, but also (to the extent that you’re able) volunteer, give money, convince your friends to vote, and do whatever else you can think of.

If Republicans can do this and not pay a price in elections, then they really have won.


A issue I’ve been talking about on this blog since I retrospectively declared it a major theme of 2013 is minority rule. Democrats have won the popular vote in 6 of the last 7 presidential elections, and yet Republicans have appointed 5 of the 9 Supreme Court justices. The GOP Senate “majority” that approved Kavanaugh represents fewer citizens that the Democratic “minority”. Gerrymandering in the House means that Democrats probably will have to win at least 7% more votes than Republicans if they want to take control.

Looking ahead, the Supreme Court will hear a number of cases that bear on the GOP’s ability to maintain its minority rule: gerrymandering cases, techniques to suppress voting blocs likely to support Democrats, and so on. You have to wonder how many of those decisions will be 5-4 to maintain Republican power at the expense of democracy.

Paul Waldman writes in The Washington Post:

When he ran for president, Donald Trump told his voters that they were the victims of a rigged system. Nurture your rage, he urged them, and strike a blow against that system by voting for me. In truth, he was the product of the rigged system, not its enemy.


The Senate hearing last week with Kavanaugh and his main accuser, Dr. Catherine Blasey Ford, was set up to offer a he-said/she-said choice, but it didn’t seem that 50/50 to me. Dr. Blasey Ford was forthright and honest about the limitations of her memory, while Judge Kavanaugh was evasive and refused to admit the most trivially embarrassing things, even if he had to insult our intelligence to deny them. (We all know what the “Beach Week Ralph Club” was: a list of boys who drank until they threw up during Beach Week. What’s the point of claiming otherwise?) A good analysis of his testimony is in the Current Affairs article “How We Know Kavanaugh is Lying“.

The most likely scenario, in my view, is that Kavanaugh did drink to excess in high school, and that he did attack Blasey Ford. But he doesn’t remember it because (1) he was drunk, (2) it was a long time ago, and (3) the attack was too brief and unsuccessful to be memorable from his point of view.


That hearing also provided a clear lesson in male privilege, especially with regard to the expression of anger. If Blasey Ford had seethed and exploded like Kavanaugh did, or if Diane Feinstein had blown her top like Lindsey Graham, both would have been written off as hysterical women, and the substance of what they had said would have been ignored.


Several observers, including retired Justice John Paul Stevens (damn, I hope I have that many of my marbles at age 98), thought that Kavanaugh expressed too much partisan bias in his testimony to be an effective judge. Stevens implied that Kavanaugh’s publicly displayed political bias ought to lead him to recuse himself from so many cases that he would only “do a part-time job” on the Supreme Court.

I suspect he won’t recuse himself, and will vote in the way his bias points. To me, Kavanaugh is more of a political operative than a judge. When the Court hears politically sensitive cases about, say, gerrymandering or voting rights or the Trump investigation, I expect Kavanaugh’s rulings to maximize Republican power. He will examine the facts and the law only to the extent necessary to reach his desired outcome. (Feel free to quote this back to me and gloat if I’m wrong.)


Republicans consistently argued for an innocent-until-proven-guilty standard, which I think is ridiculous. James Fallows critiques this better than I could:

Proof beyond reasonable doubt is the right standard for depriving someone of liberty. Bill Cosby’s jury was satisfied on those grounds, and O.J. Simpson’s was not. But that has never been the standard for choosing a university president, or a CEO, or a four-star general, or a future marriage partner, or a Nobel prize winner, or a lifetime federal judge. With all their differences, the standard for these decisions is supposed to be: is this the best person for the role?

When you understand that, the only conceivable excuse for voting Yes on Kavanaugh is if you believe whole-heartedly that Dr. Blasey Ford is lying (along with the other women who have accused Kavanaugh), and that any Trump-appointed judge would face similar false charges (although Neil Gorsuch did not). Otherwise, Republicans ought to be able to find some other conservative judge untainted by serious, plausible charges.


I thought this Bruce MacKinnon cartoon was raw but devastating:


I don’t see the political logic for Susan Collins’ Yes vote. And I’m not just thinking about the $3 million and counting that has been raised for whoever challenges her in 2020.

If current projections hold, the Democrats will take the House in November. So when the new Congress starts in January, Democrats will have the ability to conduct investigations. At that point, a real Kavanaugh investigation will take place. Quite likely it won’t produce enough evidence to remove a sitting justice. (Two-thirds of the Senate would have to agree. My guess is a real investigation will find numerous false statements to Congress, but Republicans will see them lacking sufficient significance to count as perjury. Sexual assault charges will become more credible, but not rise to the beyond-reasonable-doubt standard Republicans will insist on.)

But it will be clear that senators who voted for Kavanaugh weren’t interested in finding the truth. That information will be available for some devastating attack ads against Collins. She’ll also have to take responsibility for whatever decisions Kavanaugh makes in the next two years, and I strongly suspect there will be some that expose her reading of his record and character (“Despite the turbulent, bitter fight surrounding his nomination, my fervent hope is that Brett Kavanaugh will work to lessen the divisions in the Supreme Court so that we have far fewer 5-4 decisions and so that public confidence in our Judiciary and our highest court is restored.”) as the wishful thinking it is.

Collins’ speech announcing her decision was full of misrepresentations of the case against Kavanaugh, like this:

There are some who argue that given the current Special Counsel investigation, President Trump should not even be allowed to nominate a justice. That argument ignores our recent history. President Clinton, in 1993, nominated Justice Ginsburg after the Whitewater investigation was already underway. And she was confirmed 96-3. The next year, just three months after Independent Counsel Robert Fiske was named to lead the Whitewater investigation, President Clinton nominated Justice Breyer. He was confirmed 87-9.

Clinton was suspected of participating in a shady real-estate deal. Trump is suspected of gaining the presidency by conspiring with an enemy power. The similarity escapes me. If the worst suspicions about Trump are true, then Russia has reshaped our Supreme Court.

Maine voter and NYT contributor Jennifer Finney Boylan judges Collins in the light of the long tradition of maverick senators from Maine, from Margaret Chase Smith to Angus King. In contrast, Boylan finds Collins to be

the kind of centrist who wants to please everyone. For Ms. Collins, it’s often meant voting with the most right-wing members of her party, even while attempting to occupy some imaginary moral high ground. … In [voting to confirm Kavanaugh], she has proved herself, in the end, to stand for nothing.


I also don’t see the logic for Joe Manchin, but maybe he’ll prove me wrong. I think red-state Democratic senators were in a no-win situation: A No vote energizes their opposition, while a Yes vote demoralizes their supporters. So Heitkamp and McCaskill (no) and Manchin (yes) probably all suffer.


Trump tweet Friday morning:

The very rude elevator screamers are paid professionals only looking to make Senators look bad. Don’t fall for it! Also, look at all of the professionally made identical signs. Paid for by Soros and others. These are not signs made in the basement from love!

The Washington Post fact-checkers gave this three Pinocchios. Trump and Chuck Grassley have decided to push an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that has worked for right-wing dictators like Putin in Russia and Orban in Hungary.


Some of the responses to the Senate hearing were hilarious. The Pulp Fiction mash-up stood out. (If you’re at work, keep the volume low.)

So did Matt Damon’s SNL parody of Kavanaugh:

And Tom Toles added this cartoon

and where Trump’s money comes from

The New York Times published an enormous article detailing how Donald Trump got rich: Not by being the brilliant businessman he claims to be, but by inheriting his father’s empire while using illegal methods to dodge taxes.

If Congress were doing its job under the Constitution, this would be investigated. But Congress isn’t doing its job, and it won’t as long as Republicans remain in control. That’s why it’s so important for Democrats to win at least the House.

and a small sign that black lives actually might matter

The shooting of Laquan McDonald (which was captured on video) has resulted in a murder conviction for an on-duty Chicago cop. A white cop is going to prison for shooting a black teen-ager. In Chicago. This is huge. I know, it required overwhelming evidence and was only a second-degree murder conviction, but change has to start somewhere. Here’s the NYT’s description of the shooting:

After a truck driver reported that evening that someone was breaking into vehicles in a parking lot, police officers followed Laquan, who was carrying a three-inch pocketknife and refused to stop when they told him to. The pursuit — with Laquan walking down the street and officers on foot and in squad cars behind him — ended when Officer Van Dyke arrived in a car, stepped out and shot him repeatedly, even after his body was crumpled on the street.

The jury included only one black, but the 11 others also didn’t buy the usual police argument that the officer was just doing his job and feared for his life.

“It seemed kind of like he was finally giving the play after they had been rehearsing with him for weeks,” said one juror, a white woman, who noticed Officer Van Dyke “staring at us, trying to win our sympathy” when he testified. … “Police officers aren’t going to be as confident moving forward with taking their case to a jury, getting that heightened credibility just by being a police officer,” said Alan Tuerkheimer, a Chicago-based jury consultant. “That’s not a given anymore.”

Sadly, though, police are still more intent on defending their own than in winning back the public’s trust by getting bad cops off the street:

“This sham trial and shameful verdict is a message to every law enforcement officer in America that it’s not the perpetrator in front of you that you need to worry about, it’s the political operatives stabbing you in the back,” Chris Southwood, a state leader of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police, said.

The case has already had political consequences. After the video was released,

The police superintendent was fired, the local prosecutor lost her re-election bid, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced shortly before the trial began that he would not seek re-election next year.

but I’m thinking about cyber attacks

The paragraphs in Bob Woodard’s Fear that I found most alarming got practically no coverage.

[Tom Bossert, Trump’s advisor for homeland security] knew the United States was already in a constant state of low-intensity cyber war with advanced foreign adversaries such as China, Russia, North Korea and Iran. These countries had the ability to shut down the power grid in United States cities, for example, and the only deterrent was to make clear that a massive cyber attack would not just be met with cyber-for-cyber symmetry.

The full force of the U.S. military, including nuclear weapons [my emphasis], would have to be a central part of the deterrent. Bossert liked to say, and he said it regularly, that the use of any element of national power would be justified. The United States had too much to lose in a high-consequence cyber attack. Bossert had repeated it so often that the president seemed to understand, but the import of this — nuclear weapons as a cyber deterrent — had not quite become part of the public debate.

No shit it hadn’t, and still hasn’t. The next time you read about some cyber vulnerability (and I’m about to tell you about one) you need to think about it as a place where a spark could set off nuclear war.

If we have a weakness that would require nuclear war as a response, you’d think we’d rapidly be trying to cover it, and that nuclear-war-type money — hundreds of billions, in other words — would be available. But no. The FY 2019 budget calls for $15 billion in cyber security, mostly focused on securing the federal government’s own systems. But power grids, the communication infrastructure, pipelines, and much of the financial system all lie in the private sector. Corporations definitely have their own reasons to want to stop hackers, but I don’t believe their motivation rises to avoiding-nuclear-war levels.

[Full disclosure: My wife, though mostly retired, still works in the computer-security industry. I doubt we would profit significantly from a big increase in cyber-security spending.]


China appears to have pulled off an amazing hack: The Chinese military built a microchip that surreptitiously got inserted onto motherboards built in Chinese factories for Supermicro, an American corporation whose

motherboards can be found in made-to-order server setups at banks, hedge funds, cloud computing providers, and web-hosting services, among other places. Supermicro has assembly facilities in California, the Netherlands, and Taiwan, but its motherboards—its core product—are nearly all manufactured by contractors in China.

… With more than 900 customers in 100 countries by 2015, Supermicro offered inroads to a bountiful collection of sensitive targets. “Think of Supermicro as the Microsoft of the hardware world,” says a former U.S. intelligence official who’s studied Supermicro and its business model. “Attacking Supermicro motherboards is like attacking Windows. It’s like attacking the whole world.”

… Since the implants were small, the amount of code they contained was small as well. But they were capable of doing two very important things: telling the device to communicate with one of several anonymous computers elsewhere on the internet that were loaded with more complex code; and preparing the device’s operating system to accept this new code.

About 30 companies appear to have been affected. Amazon and Apple are reported to have found the hack on their own. A certain amount of luck was involved.

and you also might be interested in …

The video of Trump climbing the stairs into Air Force One with paper stuck to his shoe is funny, but it points to a serious problem: Trump has surrounded himself with people who are afraid to tell him when he looks ridiculous. What else might they be willing to let him do, rather than burst his I-never-make-mistakes bubble?


In the wake of the revised NAFTA deal, now called USMCA, an NYT article by Neil Irwin claims to have found a strategy in the administration’s trade policies, which at times have looked almost random.

Now that the administration has shown it can get to yes with [Canada, Mexico, and South Korea], similarly patterned agreements with Europe and Japan are expected to come next. After revised deals with those allies are in place, the administration will most likely seek a concerted effort among them to isolate China and compel major changes to Chinese business and trade practices.

… A crucial question is whether the administration’s strategy of pummeling allies with attacks, threats and tariffs can yield not just revised trade agreements, but also the trust needed to undertake a concerted campaign against China.

A contrasting view comes from Robert Kagan in The Washington Post, who says we are “sleepwalking into war” with China. The problem is that Trump thinks only in terms of money, and doesn’t understand that “Trade, finance, diplomacy and military power are all aspects of comprehensive national power.”

Historically, however, economics and trade have always been an adjunct to geopolitics. Trade wars and economic competition were often precursors to real wars — Germany and Britain before World War I, for example, or the mercantilist competition among England, Spain and France in the 17th and 18th centuries.

… It’s not clear Trump administration officials quite see that their tough trade policies could lead down a path toward conflict. They are treating the trade dispute as a matter of punishing China for unfair trade practices and correcting imbalances. … It would be one thing if Trump’s trade policy were part of an overall geopolitical strategy to deal with a rising China, but it isn’t.

… In our current inward-looking myopia, we think about jobs and votes. The Chinese, as always, think about power. In case you didn’t recognize it, this is what sleepwalking into war looks like.

and let’s close with something symbolic

An 8-year-old girl found a pre-Viking sword in a lake in Sweden. If you have a good mythological imagination, you might muse on the timing. As patriarchy reasserts itself in North America …

Are Men Victims Now?

In an increasingly unequal society, it’s very soothing for the winners to hear that they’re the “real” victims.


In the film “How to Murder Your Wife“, Jack Lemmon’s character is innocent — in reality his wife isn’t dead at all — but as his trial progresses the evidence against him becomes so convincing that he decides to try a risky strategy: Confess, and make a closing argument that appeals to the self-interest of his all-male jury. Think how great it would be if women knew we could kill them!

If one man – just one man – can stick his wife in the goop from the gloppitta-gloppitta machine, and get away with it! Whoa-ho-ho, boy, we’ve got it made. We have got it made. All of us.

The men vote to acquit. (Then Lemmon’s wife turns up and there is a happy ending.)

In 1965, that was comedy: Men feel henpecked, so the fantasy of regaining respect by making women fear for their lives has enough appeal to be worth joking about.

Forty-three years later, the closing argument in the Brett Kavanaugh nomination was a strangely inverted version of Lemmon’s: If just one woman can stop a man from going to the Supreme Court by accusing him of sexual assault, then we’re finished. All of us.

President Trump made the argument like this:

I say that it’s a very scary time for young men in America when you can be guilty of something that you may not be guilty of. This is a very difficult time. What’s happening here has much more to do than even the appointment of a Supreme Court Justice.

Asked what his message for young women was, Trump said “Women are doing great.”

He was echoing something his son, Don Jr., had said in an interview with Britain’s Daily Mail TV: He’s more afraid for his sons than his daughters:

I’ve got boys, and I’ve got girls. And when I see what’s going on right now, it’s scary.

Glenn Beck warned:

If the Democrats cram this down, I believe Americans will rise up at the polls, as we don’t want this to happen to our sons, brothers, husbands fathers.

“This”, apparently, is to pay some tangible price because a woman makes a false accusation against you. Many people making this argument don’t even claim that Christine Blasey Ford is lying about Kavanaugh. Even if she’s telling the truth, they say, she has little in the way of supporting evidence. And if just one woman can make a man pay a price purely on the strength of her testimony … then we’re finished, all of us.

The reverse-handmaid dystopia. Something strange is going on here, and it speaks to the roots of the conservative mindset: There is a fantasy dystopia that they can imagine we might be moving towards, and the fear of that dystopia outweighs reams and reams of actual injustice in the here and now.

In the dystopia, the reverse-Handmaid’s-Tale world, any woman can inflict dire consequences on any man just by making up an accusation against him. She will be believed and he won’t, so he’ll be “guilty until proven innocent“, as Mitch McConnell puts it. Every man will be forced to live in fear that a false accusation will suddenly “ruin his life“.

There are a number of weird things about this thought process:

  • Women live in fear now. Not fear of some imagined future damage to their reputations or career prospects, but of actual physical attacks that are happening every day.
  • False accusations already can be made against anyone for almost anything; sexual assault is not special in that way. So Hillary Clinton supposedly murdered Vince Foster and was also involved in a child sex ring hidden under a pizza restaurant. Barrack Obama, according to then-citizen Donald Trump, was a Kenyan Muslim who ascended to the presidency by fraud. Somehow, these well known recent examples of false accusations don’t cause us all to live in terror.
  • Black men actually lived in such a dystopia for centuries: If a white woman accused him of sexual impropriety (which could be little more than a lecherous glance), just about any black man could be lynched.

But the weirdest thing is the idea that society will suddenly flip from one extreme to the other, without ever occupying the reasonable ground in between. Right now, a woman’s report of sexual assault is often disbelieved, and is rarely seen as sufficient reason to impose any consequences at all on the reported attacker. It’s not just that you can go to the Supreme Court if one (or three) women accuse you, you can be elected president if more than a dozen women accuse you. If your rapist is viewed as a promising young white man from a good family, even a conviction might only result in a light sentence.

Perversely, the fact that women’s accounts of sexual assault so rarely lead to any serious consequences (except negative ones for the woman) is precisely the reason to believe them: Christine Blasey Ford went into the Kavanaugh hearings expecting to achieve nothing and knowing that her own life would be disrupted. That’s the typical situation these days. By far, the most likely explanation of why she would put herself through this ordeal is that Kavanaugh actually assaulted her.

False accusations are not impossible, but they are not common. False-accusation worriers still bring up the Duke lacrosse team case. But that was a dozen years ago. That’s still the standard example because false accusations that lead to punishments are so rare.

What’s the reasonable middle? If we ever got to a point where men could be jailed just on one woman’s say-so, the situation I just described wouldn’t hold any more: Women would have motive to make stories up, just as Mike Flynn’s son was motivated to promote false stories about PizzaGate, or Donald Trump Jr. to make false claims about Anderson Cooper.

Ideally, we could get to a point where sexual-assault accusations could be treated like other accusations: Absurd ones could be discounted, but plausible ones would be investigated, with the investigation becoming more serious as lighter investigations failed to disprove them. Different levels of plausibility would lead to different consequences: Proof beyond reasonable doubt would continue to be the standard for taking away someone’s liberty, but lesser standards would hold for lesser consequences.

That’s how things are now for non-sexual charges. Suppose your colleagues at work believe you’ve been stealing money out of their desks. If they have proof beyond reasonable doubt, you might go to jail. If they don’t, but a preponderance of evidence points to your guilt, your boss might agree with them and fire you. If your guilt or innocence is hard to determine, you might keep your job, but when a better job opens up that requires more trust, you might miss out.

As long as Donald Trump is president and Brett Kavanaugh has a lifetime appointment to our highest court, we’re not in that reasonable middle. We’re clearly not treating sexual assault charges like other charges.

Other conservative fantasies that overpower actual events. The male-threatening dystopia follows a common pattern on the right: a particularly worrisome fantasy or unique example often outweighs far more common real events.

So the fantasy that men will hang around in women’s bathrooms falsely claiming to be transsexual, and then assault women there — has that ever actually happened? But on the right, that imagined horror outweighs the actual problems of transsexuals, like the middle school student in Stafford County, Virginia who was left on the bleachers during an active-shooter drill and eventually told to sit in the hall between the boys’ and girls’ locker rooms, because school officials couldn’t decide which one she should shelter in. (In essence, the school practiced letting the shooter kill her.) That happened last week, not a dozen years ago.

If you want to discuss limits on the size of gun magazines (which would save actual lives, because mass shooters are most commonly stopped when they have to reload), you’ll be met with fantasies of home invasions in which ten bullets (or any finite number) just aren’t enough. Even the most reasonable and toothless gun control proposal will invoke fantasies of a tyrannical government herding its disarmed populace into concentration camps. (Strangely, this doesn’t happen in Japan, or in any other democratic country with very few civilian guns.)

The reversal of victimhood. The person who best expressed what this is all about this week was Trevor Noah of The Daily Show.

“Trump’s most powerful tool,” Noah says, is that he knows how to wield victimhood. He knows how to offer victimhood to people who have the least claim to it.”

If you belong to a privileged group, quite possibly at some level you feel guilty about that. Or maybe you just feel vulnerable to the charge that you don’t deserve what you have, or that other people who deserve more actually have less. Although you try not to think about it, you may vaguely wonder if somewhere innocent people are being mistreated in your name.

So it’s very powerful when a demagogue like Trump can tell you that you are “the real victim”. He allows you to project your guilty feelings onto someone else, and instead to claim the moral righteousness of victimhood. Noah explains:

It’s not that we have to be feeling sorry for women, but women are the victims and that’s what we’re trying to fix. But Trump has managed to turn that, and he’s turned it with everybody. He goes: “The real victims in this story is not the kids in the cages, it’s you. It’s you who … they’re coming to take your place. The real victim isn’t the refugee from Syria, it’s you, who’s going to get blown up by a terrorist bomb.”

… People felt, because of Trump, like they were losing their country. They felt like America was losing. And feeling is oftentimes more powerful than what is actually happening.

So we wind up in the situation I described years ago in “The Distress of the Privileged“: Whites think they are the real victims of racism. Christians think their religious freedom is under attack, and needs the government’s defense. Anglos are being victimized by Hispanic immigrants who do our dirty work for almost no money. Rich people are being “punished” by taxes — even taxes far lower than rich people used to pay.

And men can still, with a great deal of impunity, harass women. It’s embarrassing when they start to complain about it, but that embarrassment doesn’t make us the victims. Dr. Blasey Ford has her memories, both of being attacked decades ago, and of being vilified in front of a cheering crowd by the President of the United States. Meanwhile, Justice Kavanaugh has the job he has wanted all his life. He is not the victim.

We live a nation that is becoming increasingly unequal, that is ever-more-harshly divided between winners and losers. If you are a winner with any semblance of a conscience, you probably are uneasy about that, whether you think about it consciously or not. It’s very soothing to be told that the situation is exactly the reverse of how it appears, that you, the winner, are the “real” victim.

It’s soothing, but it’s false. And the more we indulge in this kind of thinking, the more unjust our society will be.

The Monday Morning Teaser

So Brett Kavanaugh is on the Supreme Court now. You probably heard. Some of the people I know are angry about that, some are depressed, and some are energized to work harder than ever on the midterm campaigns. If we could choose our emotional responses, probably most of us would choose to be energized. But sadly, that seems not to be how it works. You are where you are and you feel what you feel.

Can we at least agree, no matter how we feel most of the time, to muster the energy to vote? If they beat us down that far, to the point where we’re too depressed to vote against them, then they really have won.

George Orwell wrote: “Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible.” But the forces that put Trump in the White House and Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court are not invincible. They represent a minority of the country, and it took a series of flukish events to put them in this position: division and apathy on our side (does anyone still believe today that Hillary would have been “just as bad”?), Russian interference, bad campaign strategy, Comey’s last-minute announcements, and a small number of votes in key states breaking exactly the wrong way, nullifying a popular-vote victory.

Their power is based on a number of injustices that are widely unpopular, if they can be brought to voters’ attention: gerrymandering, dark money, and the disenfranchisement of a significant slice of the non-white citizenry. Victims of those injustices can no longer expect to get a fair hearing at the Supreme Court, but there is still hope from ballot initiatives like the ones in Michigan and Florida.

The Supreme Court will be a bastion of injustice for the next 10-15 years. But the country has weathered that before; for most of American history, I would say, the Court has been a defender of the privileged classes. The path back to sanity is still well marked: Retake the House this year, and get the Senate and the Presidency in 2020.

But that only happens if we vote and we get the majority that agrees with us to vote. Take care of yourself, but also look for ways you can contribute energy to that project.

So what’s in the Sift this week? The main article is about the reversal of victimhood that we’ve seen in the defense of Kavanaugh: Not just Kavanaugh himself, but all men are victims now, because we might be accused of something. The women who have actually been assaulted have been shoved out of the picture. I’m still working on a title for that article, but I hope to have it out by 10 EDT.

The weekly summary will include a broader array of observations about the Kavanaugh process, The New York Times’ exposure of the real source of Trump’s wealth, trade deals, the murder conviction of a Chicago cop, and a few other things. But I also want to call your attention to something really important that I, at least, hadn’t been aware of: A cyber attack might be the spark that sets off nuclear war. Nuclear retaliation for a cyber attack is a  rarely discussed piece of American defense policy. I’ll try to have the summary out by noon.

Voiceless

NO SIFT NEXT WEEK. THE NEXT NEW ARTICLES WILL APPEAR OCTOBER 8.

Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.

– Abigail Adams
Letter to John Adams, 3-31-1776

This week’s featured post is “Two Ways Brett Kavanaugh Could Be a Hero“. That sounds crazy, but here’s the basic idea: In a difficult situation, the hero is somebody who steps up to take the risk or pay the price. Heroes don’t shove burdens off on other people.

If you happen to be in west central Illinois next weekend, you can hear me discuss “Men and #MeToo” at the Unitarian Church of Quincy, Illinois on Sunday morning at 10:45.

This week everybody was talking about Brett Kavanaugh

The dust is still swirling from the second accusation that came out in The New Yorker yesterday. The second accuser is a Yale classmate, and apparently was picked out for victimization because she was drunker than the other women at the party. So her account is correspondingly muddled. She would have made a terrible first accuser, but her story does bolster Christine Blasey Ford’s.

This morning, other news outlets are still trying to figure out what to do with the second accusation. As of 9:30, the New York Times still wasn’t headlining it, but referred to it in an article about Diane Feinstein’s call for a delay. Otherwise, the committee will interview Dr. Blasey Ford on Thursday. (I predict Kavanaugh will withdraw before then.)


One constant in Republican defenses of Kavanaugh is that he is a “man of integrity” and “one of the finest human beings you will have the privilege of knowing“. But what exactly are they talking about?

I’m not aware of him working with Mother Theresa, making a major career sacrifice for a principle, rescuing people from burning buildings, winning a Medal of Honor, or doing anything else that rises above the kinds of things that ordinary decent people do. He drives other people’s kids in a carpool; he coaches girls basketball; a lot of women say he has treated them well. Good for him, but don’t we all know people we could say similar things about? I don’t think any of that should qualify him for sainthood.

To me, this sterling reputation looks like a benefit of privilege: He’s a straight white male Christian conservative from an upscale family, so he is presumed to be a man with a high sense of honor. No actual supporting evidence is needed.


When Kavanaugh was nominated, here’s the first thing he said:

Mr. President, thank you. Throughout this process, I have witnessed firsthand your appreciation for the vital role of the American judiciary. No president has ever consulted more widely or talked with more people from more backgrounds to seek input about a Supreme Court nomination.

It may not have seemed like a big deal at the time, but that was a brazen, obvious lie. Trump picked Kavanaugh off a list of 25 names that was given to him by the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo, a straight white male Catholic conservative from an Ivy League school. So Trump conspicuously didn’t consult widely or seek input from large numbers of people from diverse backgrounds. On the contrary, together with the Neil Gorsuch search process, the Kavanaugh process was probably the least rigorous search in recent American history. That was public knowledge, and Kavanaugh surely knew it too.

In other words, whatever Kavanaugh’s version of “integrity” entails, he’s not above telling a big public lie to flatter someone important. He’s not above introducing himself to the American people by telling a big, obvious lie.

So now he needs us to believe him rather than the women who accuse him of misconduct. Why exactly should we do that?


This picture of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Republican majority (posted by Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii) is worth contemplating. How small a slice of America do they really represent? If you were accusing an over-50 well-to-do Christian white man of something, is the group you’d want to judge your credibility?


TPM has the backstory on how Democrats on the Judiciary Committee handled the Blasey Ford accusation.


Some very unconvincing arguments are being made in Kavanaugh’s defense. The NYT’s Bret Stephens offers:

I believe human memory is imperfect. I believe it deteriorates over time. I believe most of us have had the experience of thinking we remember something clearly, only to discover we got important details wrong.

I know there are studies showing that spouses often remember very different facts about important moments, like their wedding or honeymoon or how they met. I myself sometimes notice that I remember an event happening in a room that didn’t exist at the time. But I very much doubt that ordinary human memory drift extends as far as “Wait, maybe it was the other guy who tried to rape me.”


A number of defenders have put forward some version of the he-was-just-17 argument. You know who’s not convinced by this? 17-year-olds.

“They just keep saying ‘He was in high school—boys will be boys,’” says Maurielle, a 17-year-old from Houston. “But I’m in high school—I don’t want that to happen to me.”


Making up stuff about Blasey Ford shows lack of faith that the truth is on your side. No, she isn’t poorly reviewed as a professor, she doesn’t carry a grudge against Kavanaugh’s mother, she didn’t accuse Neil Gorsuch of anything, she’s not a big Democratic donor, and her brother has no connection to the Trump/Russia investigation.


Flatly misstating Blasey Ford’s account is not convincing either. Here’s Franklin Graham (whose Dad apparently forgot to warn him about bearing false witness):

Asked by the CBN interviewer what kind of message his remarks send to sexual abuse victims, Graham replied: “Well, there wasn’t a crime that was committed. These are two teenagers and it’s obvious that she said no and he respected it and walked away.”

Kavanaugh “respected” her refusal, according Blasey Ford, after groping her, trying to pull off her swimsuit, and holding his hand over her mouth to keep her from screaming. And he didn’t “walk away”; she escaped after Kavanaugh drunkenly fell off her.


Two related items of interest: Following the lead of actress Alyssa Milano, many women have responded to Trump’s tweet

I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents.

by telling their own stories under the #WhyIDidntReport hashtag.

Or if you want to sum it all up with one story, look at “What Do We Owe Her Now?” in The Washington Post. When Elizabeth Bruenig was a sophomore in high school, a junior cheerleader reported a rape and became an outcast. The physical evidence supported her claims, but the authorities never filed charges, leading to the local rumor that she had made the whole thing up. When Bruenig grew up and became a journalist, she decided to investigate.


Nate Silver tweets that Kavanaugh is polling worse than any previous nominee who got confirmed. And that was before the latest charges.

and Rod Rosenstein

The New York Times is reporting that Rosenstein will lose his job today, either by resigning or being fired.

If Mr. Rosenstein exits, Noel Francisco, the solicitor general, would assume oversight of the Russia investigation, according to a Justice Department official. The acting deputy attorney general would be Matthew G. Whitaker, the chief of staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an unusual move.

This follow an NYT story earlier in the week, which claimed that Rosenstein felt misused after his memo gave Trump cover to fire Jim Comey. Reportedly, he discussed the 25th Amendment (through which Trump could be removed without impeachment) and suggested taping Trump secretly. Rosenstein denies those reports.

Vox sees problems ahead for Bob Mueller:

Rosenstein’s departure strikes at the heart of the Trump-Russia investigation because Mueller had to run major investigative decisions past the deputy attorney general. Rosenstein’s temporary replacement, Solicitor General Noel Francisco, could simply refuse to approve Mueller’s requests, effectively slowing the whole investigation to a crawl — or even fire Mueller outright if he felt there was a reason to do so.

So the long-anticipated constitutional crisis could be upon us.

and the midterm elections

We’re about six weeks out from the election, and everything the Republicans expect to turn the tide in their favor keeps backfiring. Kavanaugh was supposed to work for them, and several candidates have been running attack ads against Democratic senators for not supporting Kavanaugh. That now looks like wasted money.

Nate Silver’s model now gives the Democrats a 4 out of 5 chance of gaining control of the House and a 3 in 10 chance of winning the Senate.

and the consequences of Hurricane Florence

A lot of North Carolina wasn’t built with this kind of flooding in mind. (In fact, in 2012 the legislature banned state agencies from basing plans on a study that predicted rising sea level from climate change.) So toxic coal ash is entering the Cape Fear River and the waste pools from hog farms are also a problem.

Grist explores the side issue of why massive hog farms are in North Carolina to begin with. Hog farms should be in places that raise massive amounts of hog feed, like Iowa. Then the manure can fertilize the fields rather than build up in toxic pools.

If North Carolina wants to end the pattern of water pollution, it has to find a way to spread out the livestock or treat their waste. And the state needs to face the fact that once-in-a-lifetime floods are now hitting more than once a decade.


In this week’s episode of “What’s Wrong With That Man?”, President Trump toured hurricane-ravaged North Carolina. Talking to someone whose house was damaged by a storm-driven boat (and was having trouble getting his insurance company to cover it), Trump commented, “At least you got a nice boat out of the deal.” On the same trip, he also handed a box lunch to another victim, telling him to “Have a good time.

It’s hard to know what to do with comments reflecting such a basic lack of human empathy. Stephen Colbert decided to turn them into a children’s book.

but you have to see this political ad

It’s not often you can get six of your opponent’s siblings to make an ad for you.

BuzzFeed tells how this ad came about. Six of Rep. Paul Gosar’s nine siblings appear in the ad and two others support it. But their 85-year-old mother is still on Paul’s side. This should make for a lovely Thanksgiving.

and you also might be interested in …

Congress is currently working on appropriation bills for the fiscal year that starts next Monday. Current bills don’t include the funding Trump wants for the Mexican wall, so he is talking about a veto, possibly shutting down the government or some large part of it.

This is a time when major proposals can get swept into a bill without much fanfare. One such is in the House’s version of the appropriation bill for Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education: It would “cut 15% of federal adoption funding to states and localities that penalize adoption agencies that refuse to place children in families that conflict with the agency’s ‘sincerely held religious beliefs or convictions'” and also bar “the federal government from refusing to work with adoption agencies that discriminate.”

Once again, Christians would get the special right to ignore discrimination laws, and gays and lesbians would lose the “equal protection of the laws” promised in the Constitution’s 14th Amendment.


If you’re going to give huge tax cuts to rich people and big corporations, you have to crack down somewhere. How about on young people who have trouble repaying their student loans?

The proposal unveiled Monday would sharply curtail income-based loan repayment plans, scratch the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, embolden the government to go after students who don’t pay their loans and cut funding for federal work study in half.

… The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is eliminated in the proposed budget. This program allows former students who fulfill certain public service positions — such as public school teachers or health researchers — to have their loans erased after 10 years of on-time payments. Nearly two-thirds of student loan borrowers who’ve shown interest in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness earn less than $50,000 a year.

… People whose loans fall into delinquency would be subject to more stringent enforcement as the proposal also calls to “streamline the Department of Education’s ability to verify applicants’ income data held by the Internal Revenue Service.”


A new round of tariffs on Chinese goods went into effect today. These tariffs are 10%, and will automatically rise to 25% in 2019 if no new deal is negotiated. China is retaliating, and there’s no end in sight.

I’m slowly making my way through Bob Woodward’s Fear. I recently hit the point where Trump is reviewing a proposed speech on the economy and writes in the margin “Trade is bad.”


Apple has warned that tariffs on Chinese imports will raise the cost of its products to American consumers. Trump has responded that Apple should just make its iPhones in the US. Vox takes a look at how practical that is. Not very, as it turns out.

The issue is not so much cost of putting an iPhone together, or even the cost per part on paper. The issue is skill, scale, expertise, and infrastructure — all of which require money, time and long-term investment. Unlike other manufacturing jobs that have migrated from the United States, Apple wouldn’t be bringing them “back” so much as starting from scratch. The cost would come in attempting to build a system that’s never been in the US, but has been built over decades abroad.

China has these jobs because it has put together the right combination of “craftsman-like skill, sophisticated robotics, and computer science”.

“There’s a confusion about China,” [Apple CEO Tim] Cook said. “The popular conception is that companies come to China because of low labor cost. I’m not sure what part of China they go to, but the truth is China stopped being the low labor-cost country many years ago. And that is not the reason to come to China from a supply point of view. The reason is because of the skill, and the quantity of skill in one location and the type of skill it is.”

If Apple could do it, making iPhones in America would raise the price anywhere from $16 to $100, depending on what “Made in America” means to you: If the US plant would just assemble parts made elsewhere, you get the lower number. If you want all the parts made here too, you get the higher number.

For similar reasons, the official statistics exaggerate how big a dent iPhones make in our trade balance with China: China is reaping about $8 from each iPhone, but a tariff would fall on the full import price of around $240.


Florida GOP gubernatorial candidate DeSantis has run into another racial controversy (his fifth since winning the primary a month ago).

A Republican activist who donated more than $20,000 to Ron DeSantis and lined up a speech for him at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club recently called President Barack Obama a “F—- MUSLIM N—-” on Twitter, in addition to making other inflammatory remarks.

Steven M. Alembik told POLITICO on Wednesday he wrote the Obama tweet in anger, that he’s “absolutely not” a racist and that he understood that DeSantis’ campaign for governor would need to distance itself from the comments — which the campaign promptly did.

Of course Alembik isn’t a racist. I’m sure lots of non-racists tweet about F—- MUSLIM N—-s every day. Nonetheless, Paul Waldman raises the question: “Why do all these racists keep joining the GOP?

DeSantis may have been embroiled in an unusual number of these controversies, but it’s what every Republican candidate worries about these days. What if some supporter of mine says something shockingly racist? What if that guy who introduced me at that rally turns out to be a klansman? What if I get endorsed by some neo-Nazi group?

But you know who doesn’t have to worry about getting endorsed by neo-Nazis, white nationalists and racists? People who don’t give neo-Nazis, white nationals and racists any reason to believe that they share their views.

and let’s close with something awesome

A bridge through Vietnam’s Ba Na Hills, held up by stone hands.

Two Ways Brett Kavanaugh Could Be a Hero

What might Brett Kavanaugh do
if he really were the man his supporters claim he is?


[The bulk of this article was written before a second accuser came forward. At this moment, it’s still not clear how her account will affect the process.]

The most insightful piece on the Kavanaugh nomination I have seen so far was written by Benjamin Wittes and appeared at The Atlantic. Wittes claims to know something about Kavanaugh.

I have known Brett Kavanaugh for a long time—in many different contexts. I am fond of him personally. I think the world of him intellectually. I don’t believe he lied in his Senate testimony. I don’t believe he’s itching to get on the Supreme Court to protect Donald Trump from Robert Mueller. I’m much less afraid of conservative judges than are many of my liberal friends. As recently as a few days ago, I was cheerfully vouching for Kavanaugh’s character.

But then Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of attempting to rape her when she was 15 and he was 17. That allegation, Wittes says, is “credible” and “deserves to be taken seriously”. Kavanaugh’s supporters claim that there’s no good way to respond to an accusation like this and complain that the unanswerability of the charge makes it unfair. But Wittes takes that claim and goes somewhere else with it:

The circumstances in which he should fight this out are, in my view, extremely limited. I would advise him against letting Senate Republicans ram his nomination through in a fashion that will forever attach an asterisk to his service on the Supreme Court. Assuming she is not impugning him maliciously, Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, deserves better than that. The Court deserves better than that. And Kavanaugh himself, if he is telling the truth about his conduct in high school, deserves better than to be confirmed under circumstances which tens of millions of people will regard, with good reason, as tainted.

The real burden of proof. Given how long ago the attempted rape is supposed to have happened and the haziness of the details, it shouldn’t be hard for Kavanaugh and his defenders to create reasonable doubt. But that’s not enough in this situation: It’s Kavanaugh who should bear the burden of proof.

The question before us, after all, is not whether to punish Kavanaugh or whether to assign liability to him. It’s whether to bestow on him an immense honor that comes with great power. Kavanaugh is applying for a much-coveted job. And the burden of convincing in such situations always lies with the applicant. The standard for elevation to the nation’s highest court is not that the nominee established a “reasonable doubt” that the serious allegations against him were true.

In other words: It makes sense to let ten guilty people go free rather than send one innocent person to prison. But if we’re talking about positions of high power, I would rather turn down ten innocent people than elevate one guilty one.

Of course, there’s a very real possibility that Kavanaugh might prevail simply because the Republicans have the political power to confirm him. That would get him onto the Court, but would be

a disaster for anyone who believes in apolitical courts. And it is not what Kavanaugh should want. Clearing one’s name sufficiently to convince only senators who are already ideologically aligned is not, in fact, clearing one’s name. It’s winning. And while winning may be the highest value for Trump, it isn’t actually the highest value—particularly for a justice.

A scorched-earth campaign to impugn Blasey Ford’s credibility would leave a similar taint on the Court and on Kavanaugh’s reputation.

I would never say that no attack on Ford’s credibility could be appropriate; if Kavanaugh can produce some hypothetical emails in which she hatched the plot to bring him down, he certainly gets to use those. But an attack on Ford’s credibility that is not devastating and complete will only worsen Kavanaugh’s problem—and such an attack should worsen it.

Who pays the price? And so Wittes reaches the same point many of Kavanaugh’s defenders do: There’s no good way for him to respond to the accusation against him. But rather than rage at the injustice of that and focus their ire on Blasey Ford or Diane Feinstein or Democrats in general, Wittes calls on Kavanaugh to do what’s best for the country: withdraw.

Getting out does not mean admitting that Ford’s account of his behavior is accurate, something Kavanaugh should certainly not do if her account is not accurate. It means only acknowledging that there is no way to defend against it in a fashion that is both persuasive and honorable in the context of seeking elevation to a job that requires a certain moral viability. It means acknowledging that whatever the truth may be, Kavanaugh cannot carry his burden of proof given the constraints upon him.

It means accepting that it is better to continue serving as a D.C. Circuit judge than to play the sort of undignified games that Republicans are playing on his behalf.

There would be heroism in that path. I am reminded of the ending of Lev Grossman’s The Magician King, when Quentin gets banished from the magical kingdom he has just saved. “I am the hero,” he protests, “and the hero gets the reward.”

But Ember, the god who is banishing him, disagrees: “No, Quentin. The hero pays the price.”

If his Republican support in the Senate holds firm, Kavanaugh can get the reward of a seat on the Supreme Court. But there is a price to be paid in this situation, and if Kavanaugh doesn’t pay it the nation does, in the form of a diminished Supreme Court whose moral authority will always be questionable when it rules on issues of women’s and victims’ rights. There’s nothing heroic about that.

The second heroic path. Wittes argues that Kavanaugh should withdraw even if he is innocent. But there is a second heroic path available if he is guilty, or if he honestly doesn’t remember Blasey Ford or anything about the night in question: Tell the truth.

Many of Kavanaugh’s supporters have been skipping past his denials and arguing for forgiveness: He’s not the same man today that he was at 17. What he did then shouldn’t disqualify him.

That, I think, is a discussion the nation needs to have: What is forgivable? How long should a youthful mistake hang over someone who has lived an admirable life since? How admirable does that life need to be? Does some other kind of restitution need to be made?

But if we were to have that discussion, it shouldn’t just apply to Kavanaugh, or to people on one side or the other of the partisan divide. It should apply, for example, to immigrants who are deportable for something they did decades ago, but have done good work, lived good lives, and been a credit to their communities in the years since. It should apply to people serving long prison sentences for non-violent drug crimes, some of which were committed when they were not much older than Kavanaugh was. You can’t expect forgiveness for the people on your side while you apply eye-for-eye justice to those you disagree with or disapprove of.

Even if we want to have that discussion, though, we can’t as long as Kavanaugh insists on his complete innocence. It’s unreasonable to expect to reap the benefits of forgiveness while simultaneously painting your accusers as liars. (That principle would also apply to President Trump.)

Imagine if Kavanaugh went before the Senate Judiciary Committee and told the nation, “Here’s how I remember that night.” What if he told his story without lawyerly caveats, but just as a human being trying to get a difficult memory off his chest? Or maybe he could say, “I don’t remember the event Dr. Blasey Ford describes. But I went to a hard-drinking school, and things may have happened that I don’t remember. I feel terrible that she has had to carry such a memory all these years, and I am ashamed to think that I could have been the cause of it.”

After all the Bill Cosbys and Harvey Weinsteins we have seen, what a breath of fresh air that would be.

Who shoulders the risk? If Kavanaugh did throw himself on the nation’s mercy, what would happen then? I don’t think anyone knows. And that’s what makes the path heroic: Heroes take risks; they don’t push risks off on others. Blasey Ford took a risk by coming forward, and she has been paying for that decision. Kavanaugh could take much of that burden off of her. It wouldn’t make sense to threaten or abuse her any more, if Kavanaugh himself were taking her account seriously.

Instead, he would shoulder the risk of public judgment. Blasey Ford, the Senate, and the country as a whole would have to face squarely the issues of forgiveness and the passage of time, rather than consider them only as a Plan B for those who doubt Kavanaugh’s denials. That honest public debate would be a step in the direction of healing the wounds that the #MeToo movement has revealed. However it came out — whether Kavanaugh ascended to the Supreme Court, remained where he is, or left public life entirely — it would be a service to the nation.

We keep hearing from Republicans, Evangelicals, and Kavanaugh’s other defenders what a fine man he is. He has a chance to prove them right. But you don’t get to be a hero just by claiming the reward. You have to pay the price.

The Monday Morning Teaser

Once again, Monday morning finds us in the middle of breaking news: Brett Kavanaugh has a second accuser. This incident is supposed to have happened during his freshman year at Yale, and also involves drinking. The woman seems to have been targeted because she was drunk, and her memories are correspondingly hazy. The story was broken yesterday by The New Yorker, and this morning other major news outlets (The New York Times and The Washington Post, for example) seem uncertain about how much to say.

This leaves me with a decision about what to do with this week’s featured article, which was written under the assumption of a single accuser. I plan to go ahead with it, but I’m still not sure what kind of adjustments are appropriate.

I wrote the piece yesterday with the idea of raising the discussion to a higher level: The country has gotten focused on whether the Republicans can or should “plow through” the accusations against Kavanaugh and confirm him. I asked a different question: How would Kavanaugh handle this situation if he really were the man of high virtue his supporters claim he is? The result is “Two Ways Brett Kavanaugh Could Be a Hero”. I suspect it’s the first time an article on the Kavanaugh nomination has quoted one of the gods of Fillory.

Anyway, I’ll figure out the final edits and get the piece posted, probably before 9 EDT.

Kavanaugh, Dr. Blasey Ford, and the Senate Judiciary Committee dominated the news this week to the extent that the weekly summary will also have a lot to say about them. (A picture of the 11 aging white men who form the committee’s Republican majority is itself worth a little meditation.) But there was also news about Rod Rosenstein, Trump’s callous interactions with hurricane victims, the political ad six members of the Gosar family made against their brother, the trade war with China, how the fall elections are shaping up, and a few other things. That post should appear between 11 and 12.

To Speak or Stay Silent?

It is upsetting to discuss sexual assault and its repercussions, yet I felt guilty and compelled as a citizen about the idea of not saying anything.

Christine Blasey Ford

This week’s featured post is “10 Years After: the Post-Recovery Economy“.

This week everybody was talking about hurricanes

Early in the week, it was thought that Hurricane Florence might make landfall as Category 4 or even 5. But it spread out, slowed, and weakened, hitting North Carolina as Category 1. It’s now down to a tropical depression, but its cloud-field still covers a huge chunk of the Southeastern seaboard. Swansboro, NC has gotten over 30 inches of rain.


Meanwhile, Super Typhoon Mangkhut hit China’s Guangdong province (south of Hong Kong) yesterday.

The decision to evacuate towns and cities in southern China came as Hong Kong was left reeling by ferocious winds of up to 173 kilometers per hour (107 miles per hour) and gusts of up to 223 kph (138 mph).

Before getting to China, Mangkhut ravaged the Philippines, killing 54 people.


The series of huge storms we’ve seen in recent years is either an enormously improbable coincidence, or it’s evidence of global warming. But it’s not just that the administration doesn’t want to do anything about climate change, it’s actively been undoing what little Obama managed to get done.

In its latest retreat from federal action on climate change, the Trump administration on Tuesday proposed to lift rules on the leaking and uncontrolled release of the potent greenhouse gas methane from oil and natural gas operations.

Methane is such a potent greenhouse gas that (depending on your estimate of how much methane gets leaked between the well and the consumer), it might make natural gas less climate-friendly than coal. Environmental Defense Fund writes:

Whether natural gas has lower life cycle greenhouse gas emissions than coal and oil depends on the assumed leakage rate, the global warming potential of methane over different time frames, the energy conversion efficiency, and other factors. … Technologies are available to reduce much of the leaking methane, but deploying such technology would require new policies and investments.

In particular, government regulation is needed to make energy companies care about the methane they leak. Trump’s EPA is making sure they have no reason to care.


Florence is drawing attention back to the complete botch of the response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year. The NY Post reports:

Hundreds of thousands of water bottles meant for victims of Hurricane Maria are still sitting at a Puerto Rico airport — nearly a year after the deadly storm


Trump, of course, denies everything. The federal response to Maria was “one of the best jobs that’s ever been done with respect to what this is all about“. And the 3,000 excess deaths? Fake news, made up “by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible“.

It’s important to realize just how not-normal this is. George W. Bush was known to spin and dissemble (that’s how he got the Iraq War started), but it’s impossible to imagine him claiming that Katrina only killed a few dozen people, and that stories about more than a thousand deaths were just Democratic inventions meant to make him look bad. Literally NO previous president has ever been this dishonest, or willing to insult the public intelligence to this degree.

Jennifer Rubin draws the inescapable conclusion:

Trump’s outburst should remind us of several troubling facts. First, whether he is lying (or is simply a victim of his own self-delusion that he is incapable of error) is beside the point. He’s not functioning as a president or any other officeholder should. He cannot comprehend facts, process them and take appropriate action. He is, in a word, non-functional.

… Republicans’ inability to check or challenge the president and their insistence on rubber-stamping his decisions while ignoring his outbursts pose more than a constitutional and moral challenge. They, too, are responsible for confirmed Cabinet officials who are incompetent or corrupt, for lack of serious governance, for failure to hold officials accountable, and for the suffering and deaths (e.g. separated families, dead Puerto Ricans) that come about by virtue of a president who is never forced to confront reality.

and Paul Manafort

On Friday, Trump’s former campaign manager pleaded guilty and accepted a plea deal that involves him cooperating with the Justice Department. He also will forfeit ill-gotten assets that might be worth as much as $46 million. That means that the Mueller investigation could making money for the government. I have been unable to track down where I heard this line, but it’s not mine: “Trump will be impeached, and Russia will pay for it.”

There’s a big guessing game going on concerning what Manafort might be able to testify about, but nobody outside the investigation really knows. Noah Bookbinder, Barry Berke and Norman Eisen  wrote in the NYT:

According to prosecutors, Mr. Manafort has already participated in a so-called proffer session, in which he described information that investigators deemed valuable. Mr. Manafort’s agreement will also require him to give further interviews without the presence of his own counsel, turn over documents and testify in other proceedings. His surrender is complete.

Even if you’re a die-hard MAGA-hatter, you have to be wondering where this stops. With Flynn, Cohen, and Manafort all cooperating, the only bigger fish to go after are in the Trump family.

and Brett Kavanaugh

Last week, my comment about the hearings on Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court was “nothing matters”. Was Kavanaugh’s paper trail being covered up? Did he lie under oath in previous confirmation hearings? Would he gut abortion rights and grant conservative Christians the special right to ignore discrimination laws? Was he so pro-business that he was anti-consumer and anti-worker? It didn’t matter. Even an anonymous accusation of sexual assault (which became publicly known on Wednesday and which Kavanaugh denied) wasn’t worth taking the time to investigate. The Republicans have the majority in the Senate and were determined to push Kavanaugh through as fast as possible.

But now, finally, a few Republican senators are asking to slow this train down. The difference is that the anonymous accuser came forward yesterday. She’s Christine Blasey Ford,

a professor at Palo Alto University who teaches in a consortium with Stanford University, training graduate students in clinical psychology. Her work has been widely published in academic journals.

At WaPo’s “The Fix”, Amber Phillips assesses:

As far as tracing decades-old sexual harassment allegations go, Ford’s story is remarkably credible. Ford is speaking on the record about her experience. She passed a polygraph test, the results of which The Post reviewed. She told other people about the alleged attack years before Kavanaugh was a Supreme Court nominee. She allowed her records from a therapy session about it to be reviewed by The Post. She says she didn’t want to come forward and decided to do so only after her story was leaked to news outlets.

Will the presence of an actual accuser, a woman willing to stand up and watch her life be shredded by right-wing media outlets (as it inevitably will be), make a difference? Maybe. Republican Senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker have both called for Thursday’s vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee to be delayed. Flake’s view is particularly important here, since he is on the Judiciary Committee, and could be a swing vote against Kavanaugh if his doubts are not addressed. “We can’t vote until we hear more,” he said.

So what happens after Republican senators “hear more”, assuming they do? I can’t guess.


Jeet Heer:

I want a venn diagram of people willing to argue “Give Kavanaugh a break, he was only 17” and “Trayvon Martin got what he deserved.”


The accusations are about events that happened a long time ago, but Kavanaugh’s response to those accusations is happening now. We’ll see how that unfolds, and what it tells us about his character. Matt Yglesias:

There’s a good case for forgiving teenage misconduct but to receive forgiveness you have to seek it, not call the victim a liar and participate in a smear campaign against her.


Here’s the text of the letter Ford wrote to Senator Feinstein in July.


Other Kavanaugh issues: Kavanaugh’s previous Senate testimony under oath appears to not entirely correspond to the truth. But the legal scholars Vox consulted say the case falls short of criminal perjury.

Senator Kamala Harris showed a clip in which Kavanaugh appears to characterize contraceptives as “abortion-inducing drugs”, an extreme claim by religious-right groups that the science doesn’t support. If true, that would be disturbing, because a lot of court cases hang on whether or not a judge takes seriously some fantastic unscientific claim. But a longer version of the clip makes it clear that Kavanaugh was summarizing the position of one side of the case, not stating his own opinion. Politifact rated Harris’ charge false.

and you also might be interested in …

Thursday evening, dozens of fires broke out in the Boston suburbs of Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover. The cause hasn’t been officially identified, but the most likely speculation is that Columbia Gas overpressurized a gas main, resulting in multiple gas leaks.


The Trump administration is taking in many fewer refugees than the U.S. has in recent years. But one group’s numbers are up: white Evangelicals from the former Soviet Union.


Jonathan Chait’s take on Elizabeth Warren  is pretty similar to the one I gave a few weeks ago.

The Massachusetts senator has made a series of unusually early moves that, taken together, suggest a well-designed strategy to compete across the spectrum of the Democratic Party without risking her viability in a general election. … She is building a national profile to position herself to win a primary and a general election, without sacrificing one for the sake of the other.

Earlier this year, I often told people I had no idea at all who would win the Democratic nomination. In a potentially huge field, it is still impossible to predict the outcome with much confidence. But at this point, Warren’s early moves position her as a clear front-runner.


NRATV hit a new low last week: The September 7 edition of “Relentless”, hosted by Dana Loesch, closed by ridiculing the Thomas the Tank Engine TV show, which has made the trainyard more diverse by bringing in girl trains, including one from Kenya. Loesch rejected the idea that the trains had ever had races before, and showed this parody image, which presumably is how liberals saw the show before the new characters were introduced.


The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer explores the NRA’s perverse attitude towards police violence against blacks.

When armed black men are shot by the police, the NRA says nothing about the rights of gun owners; when unarmed black men are shot, its spokesperson says they should have been armed. … If innocent unarmed black men like [Botham] Jean are shot, it’s because they lack firearms; if innocent black men who are armed like [Fernando] Castile or [Alton] Sterling are shot, it’s because they had a gun. Heads, you’re dead, tails, you’re also dead.

He also notes that in recent years the NRA has become much more of an across-the-board right-wing organization, as the Thomas example above illustrates.

In recent years, the NRA has made frequent forays into culture-war disputes that have little to do with gun rights per se.

His explanation is that the NRA is primarily about selling guns, not defending gun-owners’ rights. (It’s funding comes primarily from gun manufacturers.) And its current why-you-should-be-armed message is a right-wing dystopian fantasy.

NRATV tells its viewers that they are under assault from liberals, black people, undocumented immigrants, and Muslims and that they might one day need to kill them—in self defense, of course. Like the president, the NRA has correctly divined that fomenting and exploiting white people’s fears and hatreds is an effective sales strategy. If marketing murder fantasies is what it takes to move the product, then so be it.


A Kansas woman who was born at home, rather than at a clinic or hospital, was denied a passport.

[S]he received a letter from the federal division of the U.S. Passport Agency out of Houston, TX, telling her the application was denied and required further documentation. … The letter stated, because her birth certificate was not issued at a institution or hospital, it was not considered proof enough of her citizenship.

She received a letter asking her to submit any number of the listed additional documents. “Border crossing card or green card for your parents issued prior to your birth? My parents were born in the United States….Early religious records? We don’t have any. Family Bible? They won’t accept a birth certificate but they will accept a family Bible?” Barbara said.

Eventually her senator intervened, and the passport came through.


If you live in Arizona (or are thinking of moving there), you should be aware that a young-Earth creationist was on the special committee that reviewed the state’s science curriculum standards on evolution. The outgoing Arizona Secretary of Education appointed Joseph Kezele, who teaches at Arizona Christian University and is president of the Arizona Origin Science Association.

He advocates for a literal interpretation of the history presented in the Bible, and claimed that all land animals, including humans and dinosaurs, were created on the sixth day when God created the universe. Adolescent dinosaurs were present on Noah’s Ark because adult dinosaurs would have been too big, Kezele said. “Plenty of space on the Ark for dinosaurs – no problem,” Kezele said.

and let’s close with something to make people look twice

Imagine flying this radio-controlled version of Snoopy’s dog house around your neighborhood.