Category Archives: Morning tease

The Monday Morning Teaser

So Trump is meeting Putin in Helsinki as I type this. We haven’t been told what this meeting is about, and it’s behind closed doors with no one but interpreters present, so we may never know. We can be sure that Trump will emerge from the meeting and declare it a great success, no matter how many concessions he yielded or how little he got in return.

Anyway, I’m not equipped to do breaking news, so I’ll try to suppress the temptation.

There will be two featured posts this week. The first one explores a different aspect of an issue I raised in the weekly summary last week: Trump usually frames his objections to immigrants in terms of illegal immigration of unskilled people, and talks about how we need to enforce our laws, while also changing them to claim a more useful class of immigrant. But that’s not really what’s going on. Last week I linked to articles describing how he’s making life harder for legal immigrants, and blocking their paths to citizenship. This week I’ll describe how he’s discouraging skilled immigrants from coming to America. The point is to keep America white; everything else is just rhetoric.

I haven’t titled that article yet, but it should be out before 9 EDT.

The second featured post will look at Judge Kavanaugh and ask what we could expect from him as a justice on the Supreme Court. There’s been a huge amount of speculation both ways about whether he would reverse Roe v Wade, and I’ll cover that, but a lot of other important issues are at stake: the government’s ability to regulate corporations at all, including worker-safety regulations; the survival of any right (other than corporate rights) not specifically listed in the Constitution; the Court’s willingness to reverse precedent; the limits of presidential power; the increasing partisanship of the Court; and so on. I’ll try to get that out by 11.

The weekly summary will discuss Trump’s tumultuous European tour, the new Mueller indictments, Peter Strzok’s televised testimony to Congress (which already seems so long ago, but it was Thursday), Jim Jordan, the administration’s declaration of victory in the War on Poverty, and a few other things, before closing with a very satisfying story about a guy tormenting email spammers. I’ll try for noon, but it may slip to 1 or so.

The Monday Morning Teaser

Tonight we get to find out just how bad Trump’s Supreme Court pick will be. I refuse to speculate.

The featured post is something I’ve been working on for a while. The main thesis is that we’re at a point in history where China is about to pass us in a variety of measures, and so this is the worst possible time for us to go it alone in an “America First” foreign policy. We have a few more years where we could reap some benefits by acting like the world’s 800-pound gorilla, abandoning all principles, and trashing multilateral agreements and institutions. But then we will start wishing we had those institutions and alliances to rein in China. Long-term, the only way we will be able to compete with China is by representing values that the world admires and leading a coalition of nations that share those values.

The post is called “‘America First!’ means China wins”. It should be out shortly.

The weekly summary will talk briefly about the Supreme Court (still refusing to speculate). Then I’ll discuss Scott Pruitt, the trade war, immigration, the Republican senators’ trip to Russia, the ongoing discussion of “civility”, and a few other things, before closing with a speculation that the first Hogwarts grad to headline a movie was actually not who you think.

The Monday Morning Teaser

OK, this was not our best week. If you went to one of the keep-families-together demonstrations on Saturday, you might have gotten energized by that. But overall, the news was pretty depressing.

As I warned last week, that sense of victory we felt when Trump appeared to reverse the family-separation policy was premature. It’s still uncertain whether or not the policy will come back or what will replace it. In the meantime, about 2,000 kids are still separated from their parents, and the government is either unwilling or unable to reunite them. We’re now seeing the spectacle of kids too young to know which country they came from facing an immigration hearing.

And then there was the Supreme Court. Every year, there’s a flurry of decisions at the end of the term in June, and usually there’s a little something for everybody. You’re happy about this, sad about that, you hoped for more here, and so on. This year, the news was uniformly bad. The Muslim ban, voting rights, gerrymandering, unions, gay rights … it all came out wrong. Some of the decisions were merely disappointing, while others were horrible.

And then, guess what? We found out that it’s going to get worse. Justice Kennedy is retiring. Unless a miracle happens, Trump will replace him with a clone of Gorsuch, making Roberts the new swing vote. Since Roberts is already Chief Justice, he’ll be the most powerful American jurist in a long, long time. If you know anything about him, that’s seriously bad news.

Personally, I bounce back and forth between being depressed and being energized, so I wrote two featured posts this week. The depressing one is “Minority Rule Snowballs”. Back in 2013, I outlined what I saw as the new Republican strategy: They were going to stop trying to appeal to a majority of the American people, and instead see if they could rule from the minority. That’s been way more successful than I thought was possible, and this post will describe how. It should be out shortly.

Then there’s a post about not giving up — actually, the depressing post ends with a riff on not giving up too — that I haven’t titled yet. When I look at the aw-fuck-it temptation in my own heart, it’s uncomfortably rooted in my sense of privilege. That’s why I wasn’t prepared for a decades-long struggle against fascism: Once people like me get mobilized, what we want is supposed to happen pretty quickly. And it’s also why I imagine that giving up is an option: If the worst happens, I could easily melt into the population of “good Germans” who get along relatively well.  Aw-fuck-it-we’re-going-to-lose-anyway is a much too easy way out. If the Gandhis and Kings and Mandelas had gone that way, the world would be a much worse place.

So let’s call that for 11 EDT and the weekly summary for noon or so.

The Monday Morning Teaser

As I’m sure you know, the debate over how we’re treating families trying to enter the U.S. illegally is still going on. Far from clearing things up, the executive order Trump issued Wednesday created even more confusion about what will happen next and what should happen. Just about everybody who comments on this is trying to spin it one way or another, so it requires a bit of work to sort out where exactly we are. I’ll try to lay that out as clearly as I can in “Family Separations: Should we be horrified, relieved, or just confused?”. That should be out before 10 EDT.

Like last week’s “The corporate tax cut will never trickle down“, this week’s other featured post spins out of a Paul Krugman column — this time a far less technical piece called “The Return of the Blood Libel“. Paul’s point is that the case against immigrants — that they are pouring across our border in record numbers, spreading murder and mayhem across our country — can’t be dealt with by any rational policy, because it’s just not happening. Like the ancient belief that Jews ritually sacrifice Christian children, the immigrant-caused “American carnage” exists only as a dystopian fantasy.

Eastern European Jews couldn’t stop sacrificing children, because they had never done it. Similarly, no proposal to make Trump’s followers safe from immigrant crime can ever succeed, because their fear is not based in reality. For decades, we’ve been building fences, adding border agents, and increasing deportations, and yet the fear is greater than ever. A wall, family concentration camps, dictatorial powers to evict immigrants without hearings — none of that is going to help either, because those actions happen in the real world, and that’s not where the problem is.

In my post, I’ll take this example and generalize a bit: “You can’t compromise with bullshit”. (Other examples: Canada can’t wipe out its trade surplus with the US, because it doesn’t have a trade surplus with the US. Nothing can be done to stop the persecution of Christians in the US, because there is no persecution of Christians in the US.) It’s in the liberal DNA to seek win-win solutions through compromise, but compromising with bullshit never works. Whatever you offer to do, it won’t solve the imaginary problem, precisely because the problem is imaginary. The other side will end up just feeling conned again, because (from their point of view) they gave you something, and they got nothing.

That should be out around 11.

The weekly summary will have to be short. It will link to some articles about the trade war, Republicans starting to defect from Trump, and a few other things. It should post sometime between noon and 1.

The Monday Morning Teaser

This week the separating-families-at-the-border issue blew up, with even Republicans trying to distance themselves from it. Hostage-taking has been part of the Republican toolbox at least since the debt-ceiling crisis of 2011, but it has never been done this nakedly before. Trump is terrorizing young children, and promises to keep doing it until his demands are met. He wants a wall, changes in immigration laws, and safe passage to a country of his choice. (OK, I made that last one up.)

More significant reports were issued this week than I was able to read. There was the NY attorney general’s lawsuit against the Trump Foundation, the Supreme Court’s OK of Ohio’s voter suppression plan, and the Justice Department Inspector General’s report on how the FBI handled the Clinton email investigation. I’ll have to rely on other people’s opinions on most of that.

Oh, and North Korea. Remember North Korea? That’s so last week, but people have been making up their minds about the outcome of the Trump/Kim summit. My opinion is that we’ll be lucky if it turns out to have been just a big photo op. A far worse outcome is that Trump makes a bad deal and then can’t admit it, so to protect his own ego he winds up covering for Kim’s misbehavior (in much the same way that he has been covering for Putin).

What I like to do with the Sift is mention and link to the important stories of the week, but also take a step back and look at the bigger picture. This week’s big-picture view de-wonkifies a Paul Krugman column that explains something important: There’s a reason why the big corporate tax cut passed in December is never going to trickle down to workers, and it has to do with the difference between an information economy and an industrial economy. We all sort of know that things are different now, but still a lot of our economic intuitions come from the age of Henry Ford and J. P. Morgan. That article “The corporate tax cut will never trickle down” should be out before 9 EDT.

Another long-view question I want to raise is whether Trumpism is turning into a religion. As the majority of evangelicals continue to support him (in defiance of just about everything Jesus ever said) and the anti-Trump minority begins to peel off, more and more people are starting to use religion as a metaphor for Trumpism. But what if it isn’t a metaphor? What if Trumpism is really, literally becoming a new American religion? I still haven’t decided whether that’s its own article or just a paragraph or two in the weekly summary.

There’s still a lot to do on the summary, so I’ll be lucky to get it out by noon.

The Monday Morning Teaser

Another week, another month’s worth of news.

Trump is in Singapore, awaiting his meeting with Kim Jong Un. He just left the G-7 summit in Quebec with all our allies mad at us and a trade war brewing, so mission accomplished there. (It takes real talent to piss off the Canadians; most politicians couldn’t manage it.) The main debate about his G-7 performance is whether he’s destroying the alliance of western democracies intentionally or through incompetence. Presumably, this week he will find the company of an absolute dictator more congenial.

But domestic news doesn’t slow down just because the President is making foreign mischief. The Justice Department has just signed onto a case that would declare the pre-existing-condition parts of ObamaCare unconstitutional. We’re running out of space to store all the immigrant children we’re taking away from their parents. A leak case against a Senate committee staffer is invading the workspace of a NYT reporter in new ways, setting up some First Amendment issues. The Supreme Court issued a murky ruling on the case of the anti-gay baker. The EPA gave a major win to the makers of toxic chemicals.

Plus, there’s stuff that stirs up public debate and discussion, even if it doesn’t have major policy consequences. Trump insulted and lied about the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. Anthony Bourdain, the guy who arguably had the best job on TV, committed suicide. Rudy Giuliani slut-shamed Stormy Daniels.

So here’s how I’m going to handle this week: The featured post will take apart the Supreme Court’s Masterpiece Cakeshop decision, and what the divergent opinions mean for future cases. That should be out by 10 EDT.

The rest of it I’ll discuss in the weekly summary. I’ll try to get that out by noon.

The Monday Morning Teaser

It’s another week where I have to chose between talking about stuff of substantial importance (like the shocking new estimates of the death toll of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico) and outrageous notions coming out of the White House (like the President’s lawyer making us think about Trump pardoning himself by declaring it “unthinkable”).

Everything that was off last week (the North Korea summit, the trade war with everyone from China to Canada) is on again this week. Does any of it mean anything? Are we witnessing the bumbling of an administration that can’t figure out what it wants? Or is it like the aikido master who makes you react to so many feints and bluffs that you fall over without being touched?

I don’t have an answer to that question, but I’ll try to stay on my feet for another week.

White House rhetoric about the Mueller investigation has been building up, and I’m left with the feeling that one side or the other is about to do something major. The White House might be anticipating a move by Mueller: a presidential subpoena, a new set of indictments, a preliminary report. Or it might be laying the groundwork for it’s own bold strike: a wave of pardons, firing Mueller or Rosenstein, naming a second special prosecutor to investigate the investigators. Or maybe the rhetoric is just rhetoric and doesn’t mean anything at all; who can say? It could all be another aikido feint.

I don’t know what I can do about any of that, but I thought I’d get out in front of Mueller’s eventual report by setting down my own general ideas about impeachment. When the report comes out, Trump critics like me will be strongly tempted to adjust our definitions of impeachable offense to match whatever was found. I’d prefer not to do that, so I want to get my basic principles into words now. That post “What is impeachment for?” should be out shortly.

The weekly summary should be out around 11 EDT. It will cover the Hurricane Maria estimates, the on-again trade war, and the bizarre claims Trump’s lawyers make in a recently leaked letter. I’ll use the Roseanne Barr/ Samantha Bee controversy to revisit one of the Sift’s more useful articles “Slurs: Who can say them, when, and why“. And I’ll point to a lot of significant events that haven’t been getting the attention they deserve: the rollback of Dodd/Frank restrictions on the big banks, Illinois’ long-delayed ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, Trump’s attempt to force power companies to burn more coal, and a revolutionary new way to generate power with natural gas. And then I’ll close with the world’s tallest bonfire.

The Monday Morning Teaser

OK, I’m back. I’ve been off leading a Sunday service about “Why Be a Congregation?” and watching my nephew graduate from law school. (Yay, Mike!)

Did I miss anything?

Well, the whole Korea negotiation saga, the fizzling of the US/China trade war, a long string of scoops detailing the corruption of the Trump regime, more aggressive attempts to derail the Mueller investigation, some primaries that set up interesting races for the fall, another school shooting, and maybe a few other things.

I’ll get to those in the weekly summary, which I’m aiming to have come out between noon and 1, EDT. But there are also two featured posts.

Part of what I’ve been doing while traveling is a bunch of background reading about class and inequality. Eventually I suspect that’s going to lead to a long article where I try to reach some deeper insight, but for now I’ll just outline what I’m reading in case you want to read along. That will be “Outlines of a Reading Project on Class”, and it should come out between 9 and 10.

The other news event that happened these last three weeks was an opening ceremony for the new US embassy in Jerusalem. That pageantry happened simultaneously with the lethal Israeli response to protesters trying to cross the Gaza border. To me, the whole tableau symbolized that the assumptions underlying US policy towards Israel are obsolete now. Many were never realistic, but were based on a variety of positive and negative mythic roles that Americans have assigned to Israel and/or the Jews. So whatever your position on Israel, I suggest it’s time to go back to first principles and rethink, as if Israel were just a nation with no more mythic significance than any other nation has. That article is “It’s time to let Israel be a country”, and I aim to get it out before 11.

The Monday Morning Teaser

I’m on the road again, relying on the hotel WiFi, so this morning’s Sift may experience unexpected delays.

This week I ran across two statements that, according the way I use language, were so outrageous as to be almost humorous: The RNC praised Donald Trump’s “commitment to religious freedom”, and Mike Pence called Joe Arpaio “a champion of the rule of law”. Neither, however, was trying to be amusing or shocking. Both were saying things that seemed true to them.

Puzzling over that led me to a larger theme: Both religious freedom and the rule of law are centuries-old phrases that conservatives have repurposed to mean something new. People who know the new usages say things to each other that appear ridiculous to those who don’t. To us, it may look like Pence and the RNC are being dishonest or hypocritical, but actually they’re just misappropriating words. If you’re going to argue with them, you need to know what they’re really saying.

That’s the topic of this week’s featured post, “Speaking in Code: two phrases that no longer mean what they used to”. It should be out before 10 EDT, hotel WiFi willing.

The weekly summary has to cover the barrage of lies and contradictions that came out of the administration this week, particularly from Trump’s new lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. More and more, I’m thinking of the administration as running a new kind of disinformation campaign. Previous administrations have presented a spin on the truth, possibly bolstering weak points in their defenses with lies (or, more likely, statements that deceive while being technically true). But the Trump administration seems to be doing away with truth completely. Often they have no version of events, but simply label somebody else’s version as “fake news”. Rather than present a narrative, they just say things, and tomorrow they may say different things without acknowledgement or apology.

In addition, I’ll discuss Adam Schiff’s warning against “taking the bait” of impeachment, the debate over what role party establishments should play in primaries, the bizarre candidates who might be emerging from those primaries, the problems caused by high-deductible health insurance, how the economy is doing, and a few other things. I’ll try to get that out by noon.

The Monday Morning Teaser

A lot of the books I recommend on this blog are depressing, or at least have depressing themes or titles. One recent example was How Democracies Die, which I reviewed three weeks ago. How cheery. Even if the conclusion is that the United States still has time to reverse the recent decline in democratic norms and values, the fact that we have to consider the issue at all is a bit dismal.

This week, though, I’m looking at an optimistic book: This is an Uprising by Mark and Paul Engler. It’s also, I think, a very important book: a primer on the theory and practice of nonviolent action. By considering what went right and wrong in all sorts of movements from the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the Arab Spring, it argues against the idea that big protest movements “just happen” when the time is right, “spontaneously”.

Politics as usual is full of depressing compromises with the powers that be. Activists are constantly warned to be “reasonable”, and to seek goals that are “possible” rather than to push for a radical transformation of society. And yet, more and more often we are confronted by problems — like climate change — where what is “possible” most likely won’t get the job done.

What the Englers remind us in this book is that there are moments — whirlwinds, they call them — when what is politically possible drastically changes: the British leave India, the Berlin Wall is torn down, same-sex marriage is accepted by the majority. Whirlwind moments, they claim, don’t just happen. There is a craft to sparking and exploiting them.

I’ve written a fairly lengthy summary of the book. It should be out before 10 EDT.

The weekly summary will discuss the Korea negotiations, the barrage of Trump scandals, the new lynching memorial, Bill Cosby, Incels, and a few other things before closing with Food & Wine’s guide to the best coffee in every state. Let’s figure that for 11 or so.