Category Archives: Weekly summaries

Each week, a short post that links to the other posts of the week.

Sad Faces

As young girls, we feel like maybe now is a good time to just throw something out there. See if it sticks. A PSA to all grown men on the face of the Earth: We do not want to have sex with you. … If you remember where you were on 9/11, you’re too old for us. Did just thinking about that make you feel old? That’s because you’re old. You’re all a thousand to us. Your faces make us sad.

– Jessica M. Goldstein “Hi, It’s Us, All the 14-year-old Girls in America
[Goldstein isn’t actually 14, but I suspect she channels 14-year-olds pretty well]

There is no featured post this week.

If you’ve ever wondered what I talk about at churches, here’s a video of a talk I gave on “Foundational Faith and Visionary Faith” at First Parish in Bedford, MA in November. If you want to skip the hymns and other churchy stuff, start around the 16 minute mark for the readings, and then go to 25:55 for the sermon. (A week before, I did roughly the same talk at the Unitarian Church of Quincy, IL. They posted the text.)

This week everybody was talking about men resigning from Congress

Democrats Al Franken and John Conyers resigned from Congress after accusations of sexual misconduct. Republican Trent Franks resigned for a somewhat stranger reason, which I’ll discuss below. Donald Trump remains in office in spite of evidence far more compelling than anything we’ve seen against Franken. Blake Farenthold stays in Congress pending an investigation of why taxpayers spent $84K to settle a sexual harassment claim against him, and Roy Moore seems likely to win a seat in the Senate tomorrow, even though evidence is piling up against his denials of sexual misconduct.


Franks’ (not Franken’s) case appears to be The Handmaid’s Tale playing out in real life. Franks and his wife have failed to conceive, and so (according to AP), Franks offered a female staffer $5 million to be a surrogate mother. That seems a bit excessive, because Surrogacy America says:

Typically a surrogate mother’s fee will range from $35,000 to $40,000 plus expenses, depending on experience.

Why the difference? Politico suggests an answer:

The sources said Franks approached two female staffers about acting as a potential surrogate for him and his wife, who has struggled with fertility issues for years. But the aides were concerned that Franks was asking to have sexual relations with them. It was not clear to the women whether he was asking about impregnating the women through sexual intercourse or in vitro fertilization. Franks opposes abortion rights as well as procedures that discard embryos.

Allow me to read between the lines: The typical in vitro process involves fertilizing multiple ova in a laboratory, letting the embryos develop a little, and then discarding all but the most viable ones. BioEdge reports:

It appears that of every 100 eggs fertilised in an IVF laboratory, only 5 will become live births. In other words, 95% of all IVF embryos are discarded, perish in the Petri dish or die in the womb.

That 95% slaughter of what the pro-life movement calls “unborn babies” must be a horror to someone like Franks, who founded the Arizona Family Research Institute. Hence the temptation to go the way of Abraham and Jacob, who fathered children on female servants.


Dahlia Lithwick writes a thoughtful essay on an issue I’m still struggling with: We’re at a moment in public discourse where no standards of purity will protect liberals from charges of hypocrisy, because conservatives make those charges in bad faith to create false equivalence.

For example, now that Franken and Conyers have resigned, will Republicans acknowledge that Democrats are serious about this issue, and decide that they need to get serious too to protect their public image? Will they start demanding explanations from Moore and Trump, or taking action against them?

Don’t be silly. Of course not. New examples of liberal “hypocrisy” will be found, and will become new subjects for the whataboutism that derails any criticism of conservatives’ vanishing moral standards.

Who knows why the GOP has lost its last ethical moorings? But this is a perfectly transactional moment in governance, and what we get in exchange for being good and moral right now is nothing. I’m not saying we should hit pause on #MeToo, or direct any less fury at sexual predators in their every manifestation. But we should understand that while we know that our good faith and reasonableness are virtues, we currently live in a world where it’s also a handicap.

In an ideal Senate, Al Franken would probably have to leave. But sacrificing Franken won’t give us an ideal Senate, especially once Republicans seat Roy Moore — as they undoubtedly will, despite occasional rumblings to the contrary.

Michigan’s Republican Governor Rick Snyder has delayed the election to replace Conyers until August, which effectively keeps a Democratic district unrepresented for nearly a year. What if, in the meantime, some anti-woman measure passes the House by one vote?

What if that’s not the end of the story? What if dozens of Congressmen are accused in the next few months, with the precedent that Democrats resign immediately and Republicans hang on as long as they can (except for truly bizarre cases like Franks)? What then happens in Congress? It’s hard to find the right balance between idealism and pragmatism.


Moore’s sexual issues are only one of many reasons why he shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the Senate. In September, the LA Times reported on a Moore rally:

In response to a question from one of the only African Americans in the audience — who asked when Moore thought America was last “great” — Moore acknowledged the nation’s history of racial divisions, but said: “I think it was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery — they cared for one another…. Our families were strong, our country had a direction.”

It’s hard to express just how horrible this is. Some of those “strong families” of the slavery era consisted of women and the children they conceived after being raped by their masters. Other families were broken up when its members were sold to new masters hundreds of miles apart.


BuzzFeed’s Grace Wyler, covering Trump’s pro-Moore rally just outside Alabama:”This sort of sums up the general feeling on sexual harassment allegations at the Pensacola Bay Center tonight.”

In case you can’t make it out, the red t-shirts have a picture of Trump on the back. The front is a parody of the Nike Michael Jordan logo, with the silhouette of Trump reaching for a pussy cat and the Nike “Just do it” slogan replaced by “Just grab it”.

and the wedding cake case

I’ve already explained why the Masterpiece Cakeshop case is an easy call under the law: The same-sex couple should win and the baker should lose, because the baker refused to consider making them the exact same cake he would make for an opposite-sex couple. That makes it a pure discrimination case; all the free-speech and free-exercise-of-religion arguments are irrelevant. This is how all the lower courts have ruled.

But that simple clarity doesn’t mean that the Supreme Court will see it that way, because the Hobby Lobby case was also an easy call under the law: The owners had a legal responsibility to offer health insurance, and what the employees chose to do with their insurance was none of the owners’ business. So the owners’ religious beliefs about birth control were irrelevant.

Hobby Lobby’s owners won anyway. The problem is that the Court’s conservative bloc is not controlled by the law. Contrary to the Constitution, it sees no problem in granting special rights to people who hold popular Christian beliefs. That’s what Hobby Lobby was really about, and what this case is about too.

If the baker’s religious convictions caused him to refuse service to blacks or Jews, we wouldn’t be having this conversation — not because nobody’s religion would go that way, but because those views would be unpopular, even among most Christians. If he were a religious pacifist whose convictions required him to refuse service to members of the military, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Similarly, if Hobby Lobby had been a Hindu business trying to stop its employees from eating meat rather than using birth control, that case would have come out differently.

But the Supreme Court may choose to treat religious bias against gays as if it were a completely different animal from religious bias against blacks, just as it regards abortion and birth control as fundamentally more serious moral issues than pacifism or vegetarianism. That’s because the conservative justices believe that Catholics and popular types of conservative Protestants should have special rights; the law should give their issues a level of respect that the issues of Quakers or Hindus (or religious white supremacists) don’t deserve.


Like so many other controversial cases, this one is likely to come down to Justice Kennedy’s opinion. As long-time readers know, I don’t have a lot of respect for Kennedy as a judge. Even though he has often decided cases the way I want, he writes mushy opinions that (while they may be full of quotable rhetoric) consistently fail to define clear principles that lower courts can apply to new cases. (Justice Roberts sometimes does the same thing, as in his Voting Rights decision a few years ago. But I suspect him of conscious obfuscation rather than mushy thinking.)

That’s what I expect here, with the majority opinion being written by Kennedy if the gay couple wins or by Roberts or Alito if the baker wins. (Gorsuch and Thomas will file principled but off-the-wall opinions in the baker’s favor. Ginsburg will analyze the case clearly and correctly.) Whatever the decision, it will not illuminate the intersection of anti-discrimination laws, religious freedom, and freedom of speech. This murky outcome will inspire more people to file lawsuits, and, finding no clear guidance in Masterpiece Cakeshop, lower-court judges will decide those future cases in divergent ways. So the underlying issues will keep coming back to the Supreme Court for resolution.


In my view, it’s inaccurate to attribute the baker’s refusal to his “Christian beliefs”.

Traditional forms of bigotry and the practices that maintain them are often attributed to a traditional religion, even if they are purely cultural practices tangential to the religion. One example is the practice of “honor killings”, in which families kill daughters who “dishonor” the family by having sexual relations with men the families won’t accept as husbands. These killings are often attributed to Islam, both by Muslims who kill their daughters and by outsiders who cite this practice as evidence of Islam’s moral backwardness.

In fact, honor killings are not mandated by Islam, and they happen predominantly in regions of the world where such killings were part of the culture before Islam. So the cause-and-effect works backwards from the way most people think: It’s not that families kill their daughters because of Islam; rather, Muslims who believe in honor killings for cultural reasons interpret Islam in a way that justifies them.

Something similar is happening with Christianity and same-sex marriage. There are a small number of Bible verses that can be interpreted to condemn same-sex marriage. But no one who sat down to read the Bible with an open mind would come to the conclusion that this is the defining moral crisis of our era, or that homosexuality even compares as a moral issue with poverty or violence. (The same could be said about abortion, which existed in Biblical times, but barely seemed worth mentioning.)

In America today, prejudice against gays and lesbians is primarily cultural, not religious. Anti-gay Christians look to the Bible to justify their bigotry, but that’s not where they learned it.

and Jerusalem

I thought I was going to have to write my own article (it was going to be part of the Misunderstandings series) about why Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is such a big deal. It has been easy to find articles about all the outrage the decision is provoking, but hard to find a start-from-scratch explanation of why anyone considers it outrageous. Pro-Palestinian talking heads on TV have exacerbated the problem: For the most part they have jumped straight into venting their outrage, and have skipped the educational prologue that most Americans need. So I could easily picture a low-information voter (and maybe even a not-so-low-information voter) asking: “Don’t we usually put our embassy in the city that the host nation tells us is their capital?”

Saturday, the New York Times did the article I had been looking for: “The Jerusalem Issue, Explained“. The explanation has two main pieces, one having to do with Jerusalem itself, and the other with the United States’ complicated and conflicted role regarding the whole Palestine/Israel issue. As for Jerusalem:

The city’s status has been disputed, at least officially, since the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Before that, the United Nations had designated Jerusalem as a special international zone. During the war, Israel seized the city’s western half. It seized the eastern half during the next Arab-Israeli war, in 1967.

In most two-state-solution models, West Jerusalem winds up being the capital of Israel and East Jerusalem the capital of Palestine. But prior to any peace agreement, most countries — including our NATO allies — regard the status of the entire city as an unsettled issue. (A satirical article makes this point by claiming that the Palestinian Authority is about to recognize Texas as part of Mexico and will move its Mexican consulate to Houston. President Abbas expresses his hope that this decision “will help ease the tension between the two countries over security and immigration.”) Meanwhile, Israel regards Jerusalem as its historic capital since days of King David, and refuses to give up a single block of it.

What makes such a move particularly controversial for the United States is that we have two very different roles in the conflict: We’re Israel’s closest ally, and we’re also the global superpower who is trying to broker peace in the region. Previous administrations have tried to juggle those two contradictory roles, but increasingly it looks like Trump has decided to stop juggling: We are Israel’s ally and not a broker of peace. That means that no one is a broker of peace.


U.S. credibility with the Arab and Muslim worlds is also undermined by the fact that Trump has assigned the Israel/Palestine issue to Jared Kushner, who is both a diplomatic novice and an American Jew whose family foundation (at a time when he was a director) has financially supported the Israeli settlement movement. Trump’s Special Representative for International Negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, is also Jewish. So Palestinians might see little difference between negotiating with Americans and negotiating with Israelis.


The pro-Israel slant of the Trump administration and both parties in Congress makes it easy to go into an Elders-of-Zion rant about the disproportionate influence of Jews, but the American politics of the issue is way more complicated than that. Evangelical Christians (who are strongly anti-Muslim and see Israel as a factor in many end-times prophecies) are probably the larger pro-Israel influence. And perversely, the alt-Right — which is also highly anti-Semitic — sometimes figures in this alliance as well, seeing Israel as the kind of ethno-state they would like to establish for white Christians here, as well as a convenient destination for the Jews they would like to expel.


Trump’s announcement comes only days after leaks about a meeting last month between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a Trump ally who seems to be consolidating power in Saudi Arabia. Reportedly, Prince Salman made what Abbas considered an odious peace proposal:

The Palestinians would get a state of their own but only noncontiguous parts of the West Bank and only limited sovereignty over their own territory. The vast majority of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which most of the world considers illegal, would remain. The Palestinians would not be given East Jerusalem as their capital and there would be no right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants.

Both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia deny officially that any such plan is in the works. But it remains to be seen whether Palestinians will be offered anything they could regard as justice, or whether the U.S. and Saudi Arabia will join Israel in insisting that they recognize the reality that they are powerless and have to accept whatever Israel is willing to offer them.

You might wonder why Salman would do this. The explanation (again, not confirmed by the Saudis) is that the Palestinians have become expendable. Saudi Arabia is more concerned with possibility of a Muslim civil war between the Sunnis (led by Saudi Arabia) and the Shia (led by Iran). Abandoning the Palestinians might be a small price to pay if it leads to U.S. and Israeli cooperation in that larger struggle.


The embassy is not moving immediately. According to CNN: “It will take years for the US to build the new embassy.”


This is yet another example of Trump following Putin’s lead. Russia recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in April. But if the Sunni/Shia conflict does move to the center stage, it might recreate a Cold War situation, with Russia backing Iran.

and tax reform

It should be obvious that writing a tax reform bill isn’t like writing a freshman term paper: You can’t make a bunch of edits just before it’s due and expect things to go well. The Senate, though, didn’t see it that way, and so they made a tiny $289 billion mistake in the way they brought the corporate alternate minimum tax (AMT) back into the bill at the last minute. The move was supposed to raise $40 billion; it actually raises $329 billion. Oops.

The conference committee between the House and Senate (which starts meeting Saturday) will fix that, of course. But there is one consequence: If something goes wrong in the Senate, and it can’t pass the bill that comes out of the conference committee, one alternative would have been for the House to pass the Senate bill as written. (Democrats did something similar to pass ObamaCare after they lost their 60-vote majority in the Senate.) Now that can’t happen, because the Senate bill is so screwed up.

There are a number of other issues for the committee to work out, and things could still go wrong (or right, depending on your point of view). One thing that seems clear: Paul Ryan and House Republicans in general feel no commitment to the deal Susan Collins made with Mitch McConnell to stabilize the health insurance markets. When she gets stiffed, will she still support the bill?

House Republicans from high-state-tax states like California and New York may yet revolt against eliminating the deduction for state and local taxes. It’s going to be hard for them to run on a “tax-cut” bill that actually raises taxes on many of their constituents. And everything that gets taken out of the bill requires something else to be added in, so that the deficit totals work out. Every add-on creates a new issue for somebody.

and natural disasters

Not a movie special effect: I-405 in Los Angeles. I’ve been to the Getty Center, so I may have driven this road.


The number of deaths in Puerto Rico that have been attributed to Hurricane Maria and its aftermath is 62. But somehow, the number of excess deaths since Maria hit — deaths beyond what totals from recent years would tell you to expect — is 1052. I have to believe that if something similar were happening to white people on the mainland, it would get a lot more attention and action.

but here’s something more people should pay attention to

Congress responded to the financial crisis of 2007-2008 by passing Dodd-Frank. One of the things that law did was establish within the Treasury Department the Financial Stability Oversight Council, which is supposed to keep an eye on excessive risks to the U.S. financial system — things like the explosive growth of derivative investments that turned a slump in the U.S. real-estate market into a global catastrophe. (As the Wikipedia article on the 2007-2008 crisis points out, complex financial instruments “enabled a theoretically infinite amount to be wagered on the finite value of housing loans outstanding”. As a result, when people began to default on their mortgages, the losses at the big financial institutions far exceeded the total value of the defaulted loans.)

Working for the FSOC is the Office of Financial Research, which collects and analyzes data from the banks and other big financial players, looking for early warning signs of a flaw in the system that could lead to a crash. Washington Monthly called it “the most important agency you’ve never heard of” and explained its creation like this:

The idea for the OFR took root in early 2009 during the fallout from the financial crisis. Regulators struggled to make decisions during the height of the meltdown in part because they lacked real-time information about which banks were connected through financial relationships, and how. The crisis also exposed how little federal regulators knew about the world of “shadow banking,” such as the vast market for credit default swaps, collateralized debt obligations, and other complex securities that played a role in the meltdown. Regulators had no idea how much money was at risk in these activities, let alone who was involved or what the results would be if there were massive defaults.

OFR employs a little more than 200 people and has a budget around $100 million, so each year it costs about 30 cents for each American. So if OFR saved us from a financial crisis once every thousand years or so, it would be well worth the cost. But in fact, you don’t even pay your 30 cents, because OFR is funded by fees on banks.

The downside is that banks hate paying fees and hate having the government looking over their shoulders. And their point-of-view is the one that matters, so naturally the Trump administration is proposing big cuts at OFR. Matt Yglesias points out that this is part of a pattern:

Trump’s pick to run regulatory policy at the Fed wants to let banks take on more risky debt. He’s tapped a bank executive responsible for all kinds of shady foreclosure practices to run the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

From a short-term point of view, you can almost always make or save money by taking on more risk: Drop the insurance you carry on your health or house or car, and you’ll have more change in your pocket, at least for a little while. Put all your savings in the stock market rather than holding any government-insured investments like bank CDs, and most years you’ll do well. Better yet, borrow back all the equity in your house and put that money into the market too. Most years you’ll make money.

Most years. If you’d done that in 2008, though, it wouldn’t have worked out so well. Ygelsias explains the analogy to the larger economy.

The nature of a banking crisis is you probably won’t have one in any given year, regardless of how shoddy your regulatory framework is. As long as asset prices are trending upward, it just doesn’t matter. In fact, as long as asset prices are trending upward, a poorly regulated banking sector will be more profitable than a well-regulated one.

It’s all good. Unless things blow up. But if your bad policymaking takes us from a one-in-500 chance of a blow-up in any given year to a one-in-20 chance, you’re still in a world where things will probably be fine across even an entire eight-year span in office. Probably.

That’s been Trump’s way of doing business his whole life: Take big risks, and hope that somebody else is holding the bag when it all goes bust.

and you also might be interested in …

Following the electorate’s 62%-38% endorsement of same-sex marriage in a non-binding referendum in November, Australia’s Parliament made it official on Thursday:

The new law expands on earlier legislation that provided equality to same-sex couples in areas like government benefits, employment and taxes, and it changes the definition of marriage from “the union of a man and a woman” to “the union of two people.” It automatically recognizes same-sex marriages from other countries.


Police getting away with murder is not just a black issue any more. After a police officer was acquitted of second-degree murder and reckless manslaughter in Mesa, Arizona on Thursday, the judge released the officer’s body-cam video. It’s horrific, so I’ll link to it rather than embed it. A white man, Daniel Shaver, is clearly scared witless and doing his best to obey the shouted commands of the officer as he lies on the floor of the hall outside his motel room. But he fails and the officer kills him.

It gets worse when you know the backstory. Shaver was a traveling pest control worker who was drinking in his room with two people he had met in the elevator. They asked him about a pellet gun he had. While showing it to them, he pointed it out the window; somebody in the motel’s hot tub noticed and called the police. Shaver was drunk, but not at all belligerent, when six police officers showed up. The police were in complete control of the situation right up to the moment one of them killed him.

Pointing the pellet gun out the window was dumb, but everything else Shaver did is easy to empathize with. He’s away from home and bored, so he gets drunk in his room. He’s confused when the police show up, but he tries his best to comply with their commands. He has no weapons other than the pellet gun, which is still in the room when he’s on the floor in the hall. He winds up dead.

The officer made the usual claim: He was afraid that Shaver was going for a gun. (The more likely explanation is that Shaver’s shorts were starting to fall down as he obeyed the command to crawl towards the officer, so he reached back to tug on the waistband.) Various experts testified that the officer was acting in accordance with his training, and maybe he was. And I don’t know what instructions the judge gave the jurors, so it’s hard to say what I would have done in their shoes. (It’s a lot to ask of jurors that they reverse the result of a bad system. I’m reminded of the mock trial in Salem, where you get to vote on whether to indict a woman for witchcraft. If you put yourself in the mindset of the times, if you respect the opinions of the established church’s witchcraft experts, and respect the law as the judge explains it to you, there’s really no honest way to let her go.)

But if this really is what we train police officers to do, something is very, very wrong. And if you imagine that this is somebody else’s problem, that it can’t possibly touch you, you need to think again.


NBA star Steph Curry is serious about supporting the NFL players anthem protests, and about supporting veterans. There’s no contradiction there.


From the beginning, it was obvious that the Ireland/Northern Ireland border was going to be a problem when Brexit got implemented. Northern Ireland as a whole voted against Brexit, and wants to keep its easy-going border with Ireland. PM May thought she had a deal to do that, but an anti-Irish-unification party is part of her coalition, and wouldn’t support it.


Remember a year ago, when President-elect Trump negotiated something that was supposed to save all those manufacturing jobs in Indiana? Trump and the TV cameras are elsewhere now, and things aren’t going so well.


Trump caused a lot of speculation when he ended his statement on Jerusalem Wednesday by slurring several words. To me and a bunch of other people, it looked and sounded like a denture starting to slip, which the White House denied. But a brain specialist has a different opinion:

In turning my attention to the president, I see worrisome symptoms that fall into three main categories: problems with language and executive function; problems with social cognition and behavior; and problems with memory, attention, and concentration. None of these are symptoms of being a bad or mean person. Nor do they require spelunking into the depths of his psyche to understand. Instead, they raise concern for a neurocognitive disease process in the same sense that wheezing raises the alarm for asthma.


Trump’s Pensacola rally Friday included a bunch of bold, blatant lies. Not spin, not stuff that you can justify if you parse every word just so. Lies about simple, checkable things. For example: “Black homeownership just hit the highest level it has ever been in the history of our country.” Nope. It was 42% in the third quarter, down from 42.7% in the first quarter, and well below the peak of 49.7% in 2004.

Also: “Factories are pouring back into our country.” Not at all. AP says:

Spending on the construction of factories has dropped 14 percent over the past 12 months. There has been a steady decline in spending on factory construction since the middle of 2015

Trump claimed wages are going up “for the first time in 20 years”.

The latest jobs report shows average hourly earnings up 2.5 percent over the past 12 months, roughly the same pace of growth as the year before, when Barack Obama was president. Wages were rising faster in December 2016, up by 2.9 percent.

and let’s close with something frivolous

It’s been a long week. We could all stand to watch some birds dancing.

Persistence

What it all boils down to is that racism – white racial grievance, immigration restriction, generalized bashing of basically any political or cultural assertion by African-Americans – is the only consistent and persistent line connecting the campaign to the presidency. This is not quite the same as saying that that’s the only real bottom line for his supporters – though there’s a lot of truth to that. But for Trump, that’s clearly the only thing that isn’t opportunistic and situational. Those all fall away. The only thing that doesn’t is the ethno-nationalism and racism. It’s the real him.

Josh Marshall

This week’s featured post is “The Brazen Cynicism of the Tax-Reform Vote“.

This week everybody was talking about tax reform

That’s the subject of the featured post.

and Michael Flynn

Last week we knew that Flynn’s lawyers had stopped cooperating with the President’s lawyers, so many speculated that Flynn was about to make a deal with Robert Mueller’s investigation. This week it happened: Flynn pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI, and is cooperating with Mueller. This isn’t a trivial crime, in that it could lead to as much as five years in jail. But it’s also far less than Mueller could have gone for, and Flynn’s son has not been charged with anything.

It is easy to start speculating about what Flynn might know and be willing to share. The particular crime in his guilty plea seems chosen to reveal as little as possible. Trump supporters have jumped on this to imply Mueller has nothing, but those familiar with how plea deals work are pointing in another direction. Vox asked 9 legal experts for their reactions, and got stuff like this:

The fact that Flynn was charged with, and is pleading guilty to, such a minor crime suggests a bombshell of a deal with prosecutors. Flynn was facing serious criminal liability for a variety of alleged missteps, including his failure to register as an agent of a foreign power. If this is the entirety of the plea deal, the best explanation for why Mueller would agree to it is that Flynn has something very valuable to offer in exchange: damaging testimony on someone else.

In general, prosecutors use small fish to catch big fish. Flynn was Trump’s National Security Adviser, so there aren’t a lot of bigger fish Mueller could be using him against.

That could explain why Trump has been so wiggy lately, even by his own standards.

He’s denying the Access Hollywood tape is real. He’s back to saying Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States. Then publicly he retweeted those anti-Muslim hate group videos from the UK. Yesterday we heard he’s telling advisors a government shutdown would be good for him. He’s gotten more aggressive attacking other politicians accused of sexual misconduct while more aggressively backing Roy Moore, notwithstanding the copious list of accusations against him. All of it together amounts to acting out.

In a tweet Saturday, he stated that he knew Flynn had lied to the FBI before he fired him.

Legal experts said this could be used as evidence that the president was trying to obstruct justice when he allegedly asked James Comey to take it easy on Flynn and then, when he didn’t, fired him as FBI director.


The ongoing mystery of Flynn’s lies to the FBI is how he could be that stupid. As a former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Flynn had to know that conversations with the Russian ambassador were monitored, and that he would be caught in his lie if anybody bothered to check. So why do it?

Josh Marshall, who is working from publicly available information and knows nothing more than the rest of us do, has put some thought into this and has as good a working theory as I’ve seen. The short version is that Flynn wanted to get a new Russia policy installed before revelations of Russia’s campaign meddling made that impossible. So it was important to be doing groundwork during the transition period, when he had no authority to do it, and to hide that groundwork as long as possible from both the still-in-power Obama administration and the people within the intelligence services who would fight against the new policy. The new Russia relationship

had to become a fait accompli before the full story emerged. Indeed, if the Trump Team could get in place before most of the information was revealed it might never become known at all since they would take over the key agencies doing the investigating.


ABC initially reported that Flynn reached out to the Russians on Trump’s behalf before the election, but has withdrawn the report and suspended the reporter.

still more sexual harassment reports

It’s hard to keep up: Garrison Keillor, Matt Lauer, Russell Simmons and two new members of Congress: Blake Farenthold, and Ruben Kihuen.


These last few weeks, I’ve been struggling with how to express my own complicity in the culture’s objectification of women without presenting myself as either better or worse than I’ve actually been.

In “7 Reasons So Many Guys Don’t Understand Sexual Consent” David Wong does a great job writing the kind of article I haven’t been able to produce. In particular, he captures the shame so many of us felt about failing to achieve the truly fucked-up vision of manliness we were taught to admire: the James Bond kind of man, who can force himself on women and make them like it.

I never, in any of my public school years, had a lesson saying you needed to wait for verbal consent before touching a woman. I saw the quarterback of the football team slap girls on the butt, I saw guys reach around and grab girls’ boobs as a prank, I saw mistletoe hung over doorways and was told if you and a girl stood under it, she had to kiss you. One time when we were playing volleyball at the beach, Dr. Dre ran up and unhooked a girl’s bikini top.

Again, I never did any of those things. Not because I thought they were wrong, but because I was too nervous.

And I fucking hated myself for it.

Have I mentioned that yet? How much shame I felt at the time for not being a “real man”?

By my 20s, I think I had developed a reasonably healthy respect for women as human beings, but in high school and earlier I remember “pranks” and “jokes” (like the ones Wong mentions) as fairly common. There was a “game” going on between the two sexes: Boys were supposed to try to get away with stuff and girls were supposed to try to stop them. Our collective mythology said it was all in good fun, even if a few spoilsports didn’t get it.

At the time, I think we’d have laughed at anyone who suggested that we were training to be rapists (which I don’t recall that anyone did suggest). But in retrospect, of course we were.

[R]idding guys of toxic attitudes toward women is a monumental task. I’ve spent two solid decades trying to deprogram myself, to get on board with something that, in retrospect, should be patently obvious to any decent person. Changing actions is the easy part; changing urges takes years and years. It’s the difference between going on a diet and training your body to not get hungry at all.

In the meantime, to act like it’s crazy that a particular guy doesn’t see the clear line between consent and assault is misguided. The culture has intentionally blurred those lines and trained that man to feel shame for erring on either side.

meanwhile, Roy Moore is probably going to the Senate

The RCP polling average was in Doug Jones’ favor for about ten days, but Moore caught up on November 27 and appears to be surging ahead. This is not because there has been any good news for Moore. Alabamans have just gotten used to the idea that they’re going to elect a child molester, because he’s the Christian candidate.

It also looks like the Senate will let him take his seat. Sunday, Mitch McConnell said “We’re going to let the people of Alabama decide, a week from Tuesday, who they want to send to the Senate.”


Last Monday, The Washington Post revealed an attempted sting by Project Veritas, the James O’Keefe group responsible for a number of deceptively edited videos to smear liberal groups, including ACORN (his original, successful operation, which forced the organization to close, even if O’Keefe himself did end up paying a $100K settlement).

In a series of interviews over two weeks, the woman shared a dramatic story about an alleged sexual relationship with Moore in 1992 that led to an abortion when she was 15.

But rather than jumping on the chance to besmirch Moore, the Post became increasingly suspicious of the woman’s story, and eventually tracked her back to Project Veritas.

We can only guess what would have happened if the Post had been less careful and the sting had worked, but I assume it would have been used to undermine the credibility not just of the Post, but of all of Moore’s accusers.


Here’s Jay Rosen’s account of O’Keefe sending a fake student to tape his classes and meet with him afterward in 2011. The New Yorker covered O’Keefe’s failed attempt to sting George Soros last year.

and you also might be interested in …

While commenting on the strange announcement of Kellyanne Conway as the White House’s point person on opioids, The Atlantic summarizes the opioid effort as a whole:

The Trump administration has no opioid policy, beyond just continuing to arrest people who violate the (lax) existing drug laws. Throughout, Trump has treated the opioid tragedy as a messaging challenge, not a real-world disaster that calls for a real-world response: pretend to care while doing nothing, because the administration lacks the competence and capacity to do something. The idea that it would seek to appoint as head of the Office of National Drug Control the single member of the House of Representatives who did most to worsen the opioid crisis had a beautiful fitness to it.

So maybe after all Kellyanne Conway would be the right person for the “opioid czar” job. Trump’s concern for opioids is a cruelly deceptive fiction. And who propagates cruelly deceptive fictions more persistently and brazenly than Conway?

BTW, that “single member of the House of Representatives who did the most to worsen the opioid crisis” is Tom Marino. After 60 Minutes exposed his function as a tool of Big Pharma, he withdrew from consideration as drug czar.  He continues to represent Pennsylvania’s 10th district.


Filmmaker Sierra Pettengil:

I was struck by the way the word “history” was blankly lobbed as a defense of the [Confederate] monuments. Take Trump’s reaction, for one: “They’re trying to take away our history.” My instinct was, “Okay, then: Let’s look at the history.”

In particular, her short film Graven Image looks at the Stone Mountain monument in Georgia, where a gigantic carving of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson is known as “the South’s Mount Rushmore”. The film recalls Stone Mountain as the site of the KKK’s rebirth in 1915, and chronicles how progress on the monument paralleled Georgia’s resistance to civil rights.

In my film, a voiceover from a 1972 Stone Mountain promotional film says, “Remember how it used to be? It’s still that way for you to enjoy at Stone Mountain Park.” I want this film to make us remember how it actually used to be.

and let’s close with something magical

“The magician is the most honest of professionals,” said Karl Germain. “He promises to deceive you, and then he does.” Here, a guy I’ve known since he was a baby (and his partner in crime, who I didn’t meet until last spring) fulfills that promise. And in the finest magical tradition, they do it with mirrors.

Otherwise Admired

I’ve been saying all along, for the past few years, as I talk about sexual harassment, that when it comes down to it and when all the facts are brought out and into play, that we are going to have make some very tough decisions about people who we otherwise admire. And I think this is really something that we haven’t come to terms with.

Anita Hill, Meet the Press, yesterday

This week’s featured post is “The Looming End of Net Neutrality (and why you should care)“.

This week everybody was talking about sexual abuse

I have long admired Al Franken. Giant of the Senate is a fabulous book. I was rooting for Hillary to pick him as VP, and was looking forward to seeing him in 2020 presidential debates.

Shit, Al.

A bunch of the debate these last two weeks has been about the accusations against Franken, which he has at least partially confessed to or admitted the possibility of. And the question has been: Should he resign? Since then, stuff has come out about Rep. John Conyers, who so far is keeping his House seat, but stepping down from an important committee assignment.

I still haven’t figured out what I think about all this. On one side, it would be simple and idealistic for the Democratic Party to pitch itself as the party with zero tolerance for any behavior that disrespects women. On the other, I don’t think it is going to be that simple, no matter what Franken and Conyers do. If them resigning meant that the Democratic role in the scandal would be over, and we could move forward as the Party of Righteousness, it would probably be worth it. But I don’t think that’s the choice.

I suspect we’re a lot closer to the beginning of this scandal than the end. If everything were known about everybody, we might not just be talking about Franken and Conyers and Roy Moore and Donald Trump, we might be talking about hundreds of men with various degrees of political power, from Congress to the administration to state governments. If the Democrats all resign and the Republicans don’t, the short-term balance of power could shift in an anti-woman direction.

I expect those charges to appear in all degrees of seriousness and credibility. In general, I imagine three levels of seriousness:

  • negligible
  • forgivable, requiring an apology and the acceptance of some kind of public penalty or humiliation,
  • unforgivable, requiring resignation.

and three levels of credibility

  • unlikely claims
  • credible claims
  • claims so well supported that a denial is not credible.

Wherever you think the boundaries between those levels should go, there’s going to be some case that challenges it. We need to think this through both well and fast, a combination that very seldom happens.


Roy Moore is pretty close to denial-is-not-credible territory. Slate’s William Saletan does the details, but the gist is that on one issue after another, Moore’s accusers have provided supporting evidence or testimony, while Moore hasn’t (or has put forward objections that turn out to be false, such as claiming the restaurant where he was supposed to have met one of the accusers didn’t exist at the time). Moore’s denials are often not quite denials, and he hasn’t been willing to submit to follow-up questions from anyone this side of Sean Hannity.

The idea that all these girls, their mothers, their sisters, and their friends began coordinating a massive lie decades ago—and somehow conspired to keep it quiet through Moore’s many previous political campaigns, saving it for a special Senate election in 2017—is completely preposterous.

I could imagine the truth being shifted somewhat from accusers’ version: maybe he was marginally more deferential and less grabby than they remember him, for example. But the overall picture of a creepy 30-something guy trying to get it on with girls half his age — that’s looking pretty solid.

 

and tax reform

The House has passed its version and the Senate is still working on its own. As with ObamaCare, it will take three Republican defections to kill a bill. This time, it looks like Lisa Murkowski won’t be one of them. But there might be a defection from deficit hawks like Jeff Flake or Bob Corker. (The CBO expects the package to add $1.4 trillion to the national debt over 10 years, even after taking growth effects into account.)

The claims that the tax cuts will unleash massive economic growth are not catching on outside partisan Republican circles. A University of Chicago survey of 42 top economists found only 1 who believed that GDP would be substantially higher a decade after passing the tax cut than it would have been under the status quo.

One bit of sleight-of-hand in the Senate bill: They get around the limits on how much revenue the plan can lose by time-limiting the tax breaks on individuals, while writing the business benefits as permanent. The argument is that future Congresses won’t really let those time limits expire, so they both count and don’t count, depending on the scenario. Paul Krugman refers to this as “Schroedinger’s Tax Hike“. The graph takes the Republican bill as written, without assuming that a future Congress will amend it.

and Trump/Russia

Mike Flynn’s lawyers are no longer cooperating with Trump’s lawyers. This could signal that Flynn is negotiating his own deal with Robert Mueller.


Remember the sanctions-against-Russia bill that Congress passed and Trump signed in August? Trump didn’t like it, but there was no point in vetoing it because it passed by such huge margins. So instead the administration has been slow-rolling it. There was an October 1 deadline for releasing guidance on how it would implement the sanctions. That was ignored, and guidance finally came out 26 days later. Now new deadlines are looming, and Congress is wondering whether they’ll be met or not, and what they can do about it if Trump just decides to ignore the law he signed.

Another Russia-related news story is that we finally have details about that May 10 meeting Trump had with the Russian ambassador in the Oval Office, the one where he gave away sensitive intelligence we had gotten from the Israelis. But it wasn’t like nobody could have seen this coming:

It was against this reassuring backdrop of recent successes and shared history, an Israeli source told Vanity Fair, that a small group of Mossad officers and other Israeli intelligence officials took their seats in a Langley conference room on a January morning just weeks before the inauguration of Donald Trump. The meeting proceeded uneventfully; updates on a variety of ongoing classified operations were dutifully shared. It was only as the meeting was about to break up that an American spymaster solemnly announced there was one more thing: American intelligence agencies had come to believe that Russian president Vladimir Putin had “leverages of pressure” over Trump, he declared without offering further specifics, according to a report in the Israeli press. Israel, the American officials continued, should “be careful” after January 20—the date of Trump’s inauguration. It was possible that sensitive information shared with the White House and the National Security Council could be leaked to the Russians.

It’s almost like Trump doesn’t know where his real loyalties lie.


This is how 2016 election coverage looked from the Russian side:

During the 2016 election, the directions from the Kremlin were less subtle than usual. “Me and my colleagues, we were given a clear instruction: to show Donald Trump in a positive way, and his opponent, Hillary Clinton, in a negative way,” he said in his speech. In a later interview, he explained to me how the instructions were relayed. “Sometimes it was a phone call. Sometimes it was a conversation,” he told me. “If Donald Trump has a successful press conference, we broadcast it for sure. And if something goes wrong with Clinton, we underline it.”

But the Russian opposition finds the Trump/Russia story very annoying.

“The Kremlin is of course very proud of this whole Russian interference story. It shows they are not just a group of old K.G.B. guys with no understanding of digital but an almighty force from a James Bond saga,” Mr. Volkov said in a telephone interview. “This image is very bad for us. Putin is not a master geopolitical genius.”

but other ominous things are happening with less fanfare

The FCC is proposing to abandon net neutrality. I cover this in the featured post.


The Trump administration is blocking one corporate consolidation: the AT&T/Time Warner merger. This is very out of character, and “a major shift in antitrust policy from previous administrations”, so you have to wonder if getting back at CNN (a Time Warner property) figures in this somewhere. If so, that would have very ominous implications for media freedom to criticize the administration.


Those estimates of how fast sea level will rise are based on a model of how the big glaciers will melt. But what if their internal dynamics causes pieces to break off and melt much faster?


After the 2010 census, Republicans advanced the art of gerrymandering to new levels, creating a situation where Democrats have to win by 7-8% nationally in order to have a chance to have a House majority. In some state legislatures, the Republican advantage is even larger.

But this time, Trump seems to be planning to build an unfair advantage into the census itself. It’s hard to know what else to make of his pick for the #2 spot at the Census Bureau, who is both unqualified and has said ominous things. He is one of the few people who will publicly defend gerrymandering, and has written a book subtitled “Why Competitive Elections are Bad for America.”

The appointment is even trickier than it looks: There is no head of the Census Bureau, so the new guy would be running things. And he’d be running things without having gone through Senate confirmation, as a new director would have to do.

As for the kinds of tricks that might be in store:

For instance, there are concerns that Trump may issue an executive order requiring the 2020 Census to include a question about citizenship, which could result in fewer responses from minority and immigration populations, ultimately leading to their underrepresentation in the Census.

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The Supreme Court will hear arguments on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case (in which a baker refused to sell a same-sex couple a wedding cake) on December 5. I’ve previously given my opinion on this case: I think the baker should lose, because it’s a discrimination case, not a free-speech case. The baker didn’t object to some symbol or message the couple wanted him to put on the cake, he objected to selling any wedding cake to a same-sex couple, even one indistinguishable from a cake he would sell to an opposite-sex couple.

If the Court would decide in the baker’s favor (as no lower court has), the majority opinion would have to argue that anti-gay discrimination is fundamentally different from, say, anti-black or anti-Jewish discrimination, which some religion might also mandate. Otherwise it would insert a religious loophole into all anti-discrimination laws. An ACLU attorney points out:

There’s nothing in the theories that are being presented by the bakery in this case, or other parties in other cases, that would limit these arguments to LGBT couples in this very context.


Two presidential Thanksgiving messages make “a painful contrast“, says Matt Yglesias. Obama tweets a charming picture of his family, and wishes you a day “full of joy and gratitude”. Trump brags about his dubious accomplishments, because that’s what he does on any occasion.


One of the silliest things to grab headlines this week was Trump’s tweet-war with Lavar Ball, father of one of the UCLA basketball players recently arrested for shoplifting in China (and then released). Greg Sargent nailed it:

Trump’s rage-tweets about LaVar Ball are part of a pattern. Trump regularly attacks high-profile African Americans to feed his supporters’ belief that the system is rigged for minorities.

Trump has often gone after black athletes: Colin Kaepernick, Steph Curry, Marshawn Lynch, and others. It isn’t just that they said bad things about him first. San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich has said worse things about Trump without inciting him, and he’s done it more than once. So has Golden State Warriors Coach Steve Kerr. But they’re white guys; going to war with them wouldn’t rile up Trump’s base.

And it’s not just sports. Trump didn’t just go after a gold-star family and a war widow, he went after a Muslim gold-star family and a black war widow. It may seem like all the usual norms of presidential behavior are out the window, but not if you’re a white guy. For the most part, white guys still get the respect all citizens deserve.

While we’re on this subject, the stereotype of the ungrateful Negro (which Trump has invoked both against Ball and against the black football players protesting during the national anthem) has a long history. In the Slavery Era, blacks were supposed to be grateful that whites had civilized them and brought them to Christianity. And then whites died to free blacks from the slavery that whites had condemned them to. Post-slavery, whites provided low-paying, dangerous jobs for blacks, and generously treated some of them like human beings (as long as they behaved themselves). Since the Great Society, white taxes have paid the lion’s share of various forms of government assistance that help blacks survive in an economic system rigged against them. So why aren’t they grateful?


On Thanksgiving, Trump lamented on Twitter that in the NFL “The Commissioner has lost control of the hemorrhaging league. Players are the boss!” And Marc Faletti summed up how I feel about that: “If the league were ever actually owned by the people who give their bodies and brains to the sport, that would be maybe the first true justice in American sports history.” When the major sports leagues were starting out, owners were actual entrepreneurs and promoters. Today, however, they are just parasites. The players are the sport.

and let’s close with something peaceful

Spend some time watching this guy balance rocks in a stream.

Soulless Battle

No Sift next week. The next new articles will appear November 27.

This can’t even be described as a battle for the soul of the GOP, but instead a fight over whether the party should have a soul at all.

– Robert Schlesinger, “Roy Moore’s Sick Defenders

This week’s featured posts are “What Did Virginia Teach Us?” and “Roy Moore: Are we really having this conversation?

This week everybody was talking about the Democrats’ wins

(Well, except Fox News. Elections? Were there elections Tuesday?) The big race was Ralph Northam beating Ed Gillespie for the governorship in Virginia, which I discuss in one of the featured posts.

But it wasn’t just the governor’s race: Democrats took the other major statewide offices and gained substantially in the Virginia House of Delegates, making it close enough that control depends on recounts. But it’s a measure of the power of gerrymandering that the seats split almost evenly, despite the total Democratic vote crushing the total Republican vote 53%-44%. Anyone who believes in  democracy has to be deeply disturbed that 44% of the vote might be enough for Republicans to maintain control.

And it wasn’t just Virginia: Democrat Phil Murphy replaced Chris Christie as governor of New Jersey, beating Christie’s lieutenant governor 56%-42%. By a wide margin, Maine voted to expand Medicaid.

and Roy Moore

I talked about this in the other featured post. In particular, adult men pursuing girls in their mid-teens isn’t just a quirk of Roy Moore. It’s something that happens in an extremely conservative Christian subculture.

One thing I didn’t put into that article: I’m not the least bit shocked that there’s something icky in Moore’s past. When you style yourself as “the Ten Commandments Judge“, you’re compensating for something. Most Christians don’t need to install 5000-pound granite monuments to prove how upright they are.

and Veterans Day

As I watched all the ways veterans were honored this weekend, it reinforced my impression that America has a strangely bifurcated relationship with its military. On the one hand, military service has never been more distant from the lives of most Americans. Soldiers serve and are in danger all over the globe, in places (like Niger) that most of us couldn’t find on a map. We fight wars (like Iraq or Afghanistan) without any of the impacts on everyday life that previous generations took for granted: no rationing, no tax increases, no products missing from the shelves. If you didn’t follow the news you might not even know it was happening.

Simultaneously, we also mythologize our military and its personnel more than I can ever remember. At sporting events, we have them stand up to be applauded. We stick pro-military slogans to our bumpers. Those who don’t stand for the national anthem are condemned not for disrespecting our country, but for disrespecting our veterans. Politicians constantly tell us our soldiers are the best in the world, or the best among us.

And yet again, we only sort of care whether they’re treated right. It’s a scandal from time to time how badly the VA takes care of their medical needs, but it goes away, and most of us don’t bother to find out whether anything was done. When our attention is drawn to veterans issues, we demand the best for them. But we don’t follow through. We’re embarrassed when we realize that we haven’t done well by them, but we don’t really care.

and tax reform

The Senate came out with its tax-reform bill, which differs from the House bill in a number of ways, but keeps many of the features that make it a bonanza for rich people: big cuts in corporate taxes, getting rid of the alternative minimum tax, and cutting taxes on income from pass-through business entities (such as most of Donald Trump’s investments). (One report says that the rich don’t get the biggest cuts in percentage terms, but they’re not taking into account where the business tax breaks end up.) Like the House bill, it adds $1.5 trillion to the national debt over ten years. It differs mainly in which deductions it preserves or eliminates, but that’s barely worth talking about for one big reason: This still isn’t the bill they intend to pass.

The WaPo explains:

Senate Finance Committee aides said they planned to make adjustments to the legislation because it probably does not comply with the rules for a special Senate procedure they hope to use to pass the bill with 50 votes, rather than the 60 votes typically needed to beat a filibuster.

The big problem is that it will continue increasing the deficit after ten years, which reconciliation rules don’t allow. This isn’t just a frill that can be cut away without affecting the big picture; it comes from the revenue cuts that are what the bill is all about. So fixing it will require a lot more than mere “adjustments”.

So this is where we are: The plan is still for the House to pass its bill by Thanksgiving, and for the House and Senate to agree on something they can deliver to Trump’s desk by Christmas. But they still haven’t told us what that will be, and both the House and the Senate know that the bill they are currently discussing can’t be it. In other words, it’s all still playing out like I predicted two weeks ago.


Tuesday, on a phone conference with 12 Democratic senators, Trump made this outrageous claim:

My accountant called me and said “you’re going to get killed in this bill”.

Bloomberg consulted a tax accountant, who said:

Not only is there not much in this bill that would presumably hurt the president, but it kind of seems like it’s specifically designed to help him.

Of course, Trump could lay this debate to rest by releasing his tax returns, which (unlike every president since Nixon) he refuses to do. In the one year where we have some Trump tax information (2005), Trump paid $38 million in taxes on $150 million in income, about 25%. But $31 million of that total was due to the alternative minimum tax (AMT), which current proposals eliminate. Without the AMT, he would have paid less than 5%.

but Trump’s Russia comments are very disturbing

Saturday, Trump called former leaders of America’s intelligence agencies (James Clapper, John Brennan, and James Comey) “political hacks”, and insisted that he believes Vladimir Putin’s assurances that he didn’t meddle in the 2016 U.S. elections. The whole controversy, he claimed, “was set up by Democrats.”

Former Bush speechwriter David Frum commented that although we don’t yet have proof that Trump conspired with the Russian interference at the time,

What is becoming ever-more undeniable is Trump’s complicity in the attack after the fact—and his willingness to smash the intelligence and counter-intelligence agencies in order to protect Putin, Russia, and evidently himself. …

A year after the 2016 election, the Trump administration has done nothing to harden U.S. election systems against future interference. It refuses to implement the sanctions voted by Congress to punish Russia for election meddling. The president fired the director of the FBI, confessedly to halt an investigation into Russia’s actions—and his allies in Congress and the media malign the special counsel appointed to continue the investigation.

These are not the actions of an innocent man, however vain, stubborn, or uniformed.

“Beyond a reasonable doubt” is the standard for criminal justice. It’s not the standard for counter-intelligence determinations. The preponderance of the evidence ever-more clearly indicates: In ways we cannot yet fully reckon—but can no longer safely deny—the man in the Oval Office has a guilty connection to the Russian government. That connection would bar him from literally any other job in national security except that of head of the executive branch and commander- in-chief of the armed forces of the United States.

[I added the link and the emphasis.]

John McCain issued a statement:

There’s nothing ‘America First’ about taking the word of a KGB colonel over that of the American intelligence community. There’s no ‘principled realism’ in cooperating with Russia to prop up the murderous Assad regime, which remains the greatest obstacle to a political solution that would bring an end to the bloodshed in Syria. Vladimir Putin does not have America’s interests at heart. To believe otherwise is not only naive but also places our national security at risk.

and you also might be interested in …

It’s not just an American problem: Around 60K white nationalists from all over Europe came to Warsaw for an Independence Day demonstration.

Demonstrators with faces covered chanted “Pure Poland, white Poland!” and “Refugees get out!”. A banner hung over a bridge that read: “Pray for Islamic Holocaust.”


In the Roy Moore post I mentioned Jim Ziegler invoking Joseph and Mary to justify an adult man’s pursuit of a teen-age girl. But that wasn’t the week’s worst piece of theology: Rev. Hans Fiene of River of Life Lutheran Church in Channahon, Illinois (part of the Missouri Synod that I was raised in) takes that prize for this observation about the Sutherland Springs church shooting.

For those with little understanding of and less regard for the Christian faith, there may be no greater image of prayer’s futility than Christians being gunned down mid-supplication. But for those familiar with the Bible’s promises concerning prayer and violence, nothing could be further from the truth. When those saints of First Baptist Church were murdered yesterday, God wasn’t ignoring their prayers. He was answering them.

You see, when Christians ask God to “deliver us from evil” in the Lord’s Prayer, they are asking to be delivered from evil not just in the here and now, but eternally.

So when a madman with a rifle sought to persecute the faithful at First Baptist Church on Sunday morning, he failed. Just like those who put Christ to death, and just like those who have brought violence to believers in every generation, this man only succeeded in being the means through which God delivered his children from this evil world into an eternity of righteousness and peace.

So remember that, the next time a minister asks you to join in reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Unless you’re prepared for gunmen to burst through the doors and mow down your whole family, you might want to opt out.


Fiene’s essay is based on the romantic view of persecution that causes so many Christians to imagine they are being persecuted for their religion when they’re really not. The Sutherland Springs Baptists suffered exactly the same persecution as Sikhs in Wisconsin, country music fans in Las Vegas, and gay night-clubbers in Orlando: the persecution that we all risk by living in a gun-crazy society.

American Christians, who dominate this country only a little less completely than they used to, indulge in persecution fantasies the way that teen-agers safe in their parents’ basements indulge in horror movies. Someone might try to force me to sell a gay couple the same cake I would sell a straight couple! Or to provide health insurance for my employees! It’s just exactly like the stoning of Stephen, or facing the lions in Rome.


Oh, crap. We’re losing Louis C. K. to the rolling sexual abuse scandal. At least he owned up to the accusations, rather than trying to convince us that his accusers are lying. But we’ve got to stop tolerating this kind of stuff.

Karen Wehrstein explains why she’s still not convinced by the George Takei accusation, and what she would need to hear to become convinced.

and let’s close with something that could eat a lot of time

Singing animojis, the possibilities are endless, as this version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” shows.

French Revolution Levels

There is this small group of people who are not equally subject to the laws as the rest of us, and that’s on purpose. … It won’t be lost on wealth managers and those in the offshore industry that we are reaching sort of French Revolution levels of inequality and injustice.

– Brooke Harrington, quoted in “Offshore Trove Exposes Trump-Russia Links and Piggy Banks of the Wealthiest 1%

This week’s featured post is “Rigged?“, my reaction to that Donna Brazile book excerpt.

This week everybody was talking about indictments

Eight days ago, all we knew was that somebody was going to be indicted. Last Monday, we found out it was Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, who are accused of a long list of crimes, mostly involving money-laundering and schemes to either avoid taxes or defraud banks. The striking thing about the indictment is that it rests entirely on documents like vendor receipts, tax returns, and records of wire transfers. It will be hard to fight in court because it doesn’t depend on witnesses that a jury might be induced to distrust.

Also, some of the contents of the receipts would probably disgust a jury, even if the purchases are quite legal in themselves. For example, Manafort used wire transfers from foreign banks (which he didn’t report as income) to pay for more than $800K of purchases at a “men’s clothing store in New York” and another $500K at a similar store in Beverly Hills. I can imagine a middle-class juror wondering why anybody needs to dress that well.

A few hours later, Mueller released a sealed plea agreement with a Trump campaign foreign-policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, in which Papadopoulos pleads guilty to lying to the FBI. Papadopoulos was arrested July 27, and may have been working with the Mueller investigation since then. Some speculation has him wearing a wire. In the plea agreement, Papadopoulos admits to trying to arrange meetings between Russian officials and the Trump campaign, so that the campaign could obtain “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.

In other developments, House Democrats released a few of the 3000 targeted social-media ads through which Russian bots and trolls tried to influence the election.

Trump defenders rightfully pointed out that the Manafort/Gates indictment is about their own shenanigans and didn’t directly implicate the Trump campaign (though it does say something about Trump’s judgment in hiring a crook to run his campaign). So it’s worth considering exactly where we are in the investigation.

  • At this point it’s pretty clear that the Russians were working to help Trump win. They hacked the Democrats and released damaging emails. They used social media to get around election-law restrictions against foreign campaign ads. They created and promoted fake news stories to help Trump and damage Clinton. No one can say precisely how effective all this was, but given Trump’s razor-thin margin, it’s not unreasonable to speculate that Putin made the difference in the election.
  • Russia wanted to get involved with the Trump campaign directly, and made at least two overtures promising “dirt” on Clinton. At least some members of the campaign were interested, but we don’t know yet whether or to what extent the Trump campaign actively cooperated with the Russian interference or even knew the scope of it.
  • Members of the Trump campaign and administration, including Trump himself, have repeatedly lied about Russia, the Russia investigation, and the campaign’s contacts with Russia. (Papadopoulos places Trump and Sessions at a meeting where he talked about his Russian contacts and their desire for a meeting. Both have denied knowing that the campaign had any contact with Russians.) Those lies do not by themselves prove that Trump or his people did anything wrong (other than lie), but it’s reasonable to assume that they lied for some reason.

The question in the minds of a lot of people now is: What about Mike Flynn? Flynn is another top Trump advisor who would be easy to indict. Is that indictment coming? Does the fact that it hasn’t come indicate that Flynn is working with the investigation? Those questions have got to be keeping a lot of Trump aides awake at night.


The scariest question was raised by Vox‘s David Roberts: What if Mueller proves Trump is guilty, and nothing happens? What if the Republican base just refuses to believe it, and Republicans in Congress refuse to challenge their base?


If you need a more amusing way to take in this information, let John Oliver tell you. Or, here’s a song.

and mass killings

Yesterday, at least 26 people were killed in a mass shooting at a Baptist church in rural Texas. That knocked Tuesday’s New York City bikepath killer out of the public mind, and made the Las Vegas shooting, just over a month ago, seem like ancient history.

The apparent killer is white and no one has found a Muslim connection yet, so he is a “loner” whose violent tendencies don’t imply anything about our society or its problems. President Trump made sure we all realize that this isn’t a gun problem. Quite the opposite:

We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries, but this isn’t a “guns” situation. I mean we could go into it, but it’s a little bit soon to go into it but fortunately, somebody else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction, it would have been as bad as it was, it would have been much worse.

Back in those simpler times of the Las Vegas shooting, it was disrespectful to the families of the dead to “politicize” the tragedy by discussing gun control only a day or two afterward. But after the NYC attack, Trump started talking about immigration and “political correctness” within three-and-a-half hours. Within 13 hours, he had blamed the attack on Chuck Schumer and Democrats in general. After 29 hours, he called for the death penalty against the presumed perpetrator. Previously, he had said he would consider sending him to Guantanamo and denounced the U.S. justice system:

We need quick justice and we need strong justice — much quicker and much stronger than we have right now. Because what we have right now is a joke and it’s a laughingstock.

It’s kind of amusing, in a macabre way, to look back at the things conservatives wrote after Las Vegas, like this Marc Thiessen column:

Imagine for a moment what would have happened if, in his Monday statement on the Las Vegas shooting, President Donald Trump had praised the police who ran toward the gunfire and saved so many lives, and then said: “And for all those who have been taking a knee to protest the police, shame on you. On Sunday, you slander them, but then on Monday, you need them. The police deserve our respect every day.”

Heads would have exploded — and rightly so. His critics would have pointed out that workers still had not removed all the bodies from the crime scene, and yet he was already injecting politics into this tragedy. The president’s job is to unite the country, they would have said, not divide us.

Of course, Trump did not say anything of the sort.

No, he was just waiting for a better opportunity.


Wednesday, another white guy in Colorado killed three three people at a Wal-Mart for no apparent reason. His apartment contained “a stack of Bibles and virtually no furniture”. If they’d been Qurans, it might have been a terrorism story. But Bibles? Never mind.

and the Republican tax proposal

It was supposed to come out Wednesday, but they couldn’t get it together in time, so it came out Thursday, sort of. Vox summarizes the provisions, and lists the winners: corporations, the ultra-wealthy, people making high-six-figure incomes, pass-through companies like the Trump Organization, and heirs to large fortunes. (I lack the gumption to read the whole 429-page bill. But have at it, if you’ve got the cycles to spare.)

But to me the most interesting part of the Vox article is the “Where the Bill Goes from Here” section near the end. In order to qualify for reconciliation in the Senate (i.e., avoiding a Democratic filibuster), the bill can’t increase the long-term deficit.

it’s hard to imagine the bill not raising the deficit after 10 years. Some provisions phase out, presumably to lower the long-run deficit effects for scoring purposes, but that’s unlikely to be enough. And so long as the legislation still increases the long-run deficit, it’s a nonstarter in the Senate.

What’s likely, then, is that this is an opening entry designed to pass the House and then be worked over, and shrunk in scale, in the Senate.

In other words, this is the kind of process I predicted: We still haven’t seen the real bill, the one they hope becomes law. That will probably come out at the last possible minute, when the CBO can’t analyze it in time for the vote, and the public can’t mobilize its opposition. As I wrote last week:

The strange process we keep seeing in Congress is an effort to stay inside the [conservative] fantasy bubble until the last possible minute, then to sprint across the open ground between fantasy-world debates and real-world decisions as fast as possible.


The bill also has some other culture-war poison pills that I suspect will have to come out before the Senate can apply reconciliation. For example, it partially repeals the Johnson amendment that prevents churches from endorsing candidates.

There are two versions of Johnson-amendment repeal. One seems fairly narrowly tailored to prevent a church from losing its tax-exempt status because of political statements made from the pulpit, and the other abandons all limits on church-sponsored political activity. This seems like the narrowly-tailored one (see page 427 of the 429-page bill), which is mostly just unnecessary, since ministers ignore the restriction now and the IRS doesn’t enforce it.

The broader version of Johnson-amendment repeal would be a disaster, since it would turn every American church into a potential pathway for tax-deductible anonymous contributions to enter a political campaign. Some critics are reporting that’s the version in the tax bill, but I don’t think it is.

Other culture-war provisions:

  • 529 accounts, tax-favored savings accounts through which families save for their children’s education, can begin while the child is in utero. It is the first use of the pro-life-movement term unborn child in the tax code.
  • immigrant parents without citizenship or green cards will lose access to the refundable tax credit for their children, even if those children are citizens. This affects about three million children.

One of the most outrageous tax loopholes — the “carried interest” break that allows hedge fund managers to report their fees as capital gains, saving one billionaire as much as $100 million a year — is untouched. #BillionairesFirst

and the Democrats

Donna Brazile’s new book is ripping the band-aid off the 2016 Democratic primary wound. I talked about this in the featured post.

and the Civil War

I hesitate to comment on John Kelly’s Civil-War opinions, because it looks to me like an intentional political maneuver. Many members of the Trump base, particularly in the South, are attached to a false account of the Civil War. They feel persecuted by anybody who tries to make them face reality, and insulted by experts who make them feel stupid for believing false things. By inducing the same people to attack him in the same way, Kelly gets the base to identify with him, and reassures them that he’s on their side.

His treatment of Rep. Frederica Wilson — lying about her and then refusing to acknowledge the lie or apologize for it, even after he’s been caught red-handed — is similar. The Trump base is full of folks who have insulted black people at one time or another, but they don’t want to apologize for it either. In standing by his lie, Kelly is standing up for all of them.

So anyway, Kelly sat for an interview with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham on Monday evening, hours after the Mueller investigation unsealed its first indictments against officials of the Trump campaign. Shifting the narrative to the Civil War probably seemed like a good idea, and maybe it even was. It’s worth pointing out that Ingraham set up Kelly’s comments (beginning at the 18:20 mark) with a misleading premise:

A prominent church in Alexandria, Virginia, where George Washington worshiped — it’s historic, of course, and Robert E. Lee — they decided to pull the plaques memorializing both George Washington and Robert E. Lee because they want the church to be “inclusive” and be considered more tolerant. What is your reaction to that type of attempt to pull down little markers of history?

During Kelly’s answer, she injects: “They’ll be pulling down the Washington Monument at some point, or renaming it.” And Kelly jokes that it will be renamed after some “cult hero … Andy Warhol or someone like that”.

Actually, the church decided to move the plaques (which currently flank each side of the altar). But, according to the rector,

the plaques will remain in place until a new location for them is identified some time next year. A committee will be formed to deliberate on a new place of “respectful prominence.”

In other words, Washington and Lee are not being denied or hidden by the church, but it wants to be defined by Jesus rather than by Washington and Lee. (I can also imagine fans of Washington not wanting him to see him equated with Lee.) So Ingraham’s whole political-correctness-vs.-history angle is bogus.

Anyway, Kelly goes on to lecture about the inappropriateness of applying current standards of right-and-wrong to historical figures (which is valid in the abstract, up to a point), and brings up Columbus (who is maybe not the best example). He goes on to praise Lee as an “honorable man” and to repeat the Lost Cause narrative of the war:

The lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their consciences had them make their stand.

So let’s not bicker about trivia like who enslaved who. Whether your ancestors were slaves, slave-drivers, or liberators of slaves — let’s just agree that they were all good people doing the best they could.

I guess I do have to comment: It’s one thing to look back at some relatively peaceful time, when social practices that we abhor today were barely challenged, and fault individuals for not rising above their community and its worldview. It’s hard to be significantly better than your era. I can imagine, for example, that a century from now everyone will be vegetarian. But it will wrong, I believe, for those people to dismiss some great person of our era by saying, “he was a barbaric animal-eater”.

It’s something else entirely, though, to give people a pass for taking a stand against changing abhorrent practices, at a time when those practices were up for decision. In the 1790s, a Southern slave-owner might just have accepted slavery as the way things are, maybe vaguely wishing things could be different in the way that so many of us today wish poverty would go away. But by 1861, when everyone is picking sides in a war whose fundamental issue is slavery, deciding to lead the defenders of slavery is not something you get a pass for. That’s not just hindsight. Robert E. Lee’s era raised a moral question, and he got it wrong.

I’ll give W.E.B. DuBois the last word:

It is the punishment of the South that its Robert Lees and Jefferson Davises will always be tall, handsome and well-born. That their courage will be physical and not moral. That their leadership will be weak compliance with public opinion and never costly and unswerving revolt for justice and right.

but be sure to pay attention to the Paradise Papers

Remember the Panama Papers? Well, there’s more: The same group (International Consortium of Investigative Journalists) has released another massive trove of leaked documents it calls the Paradise Papers. The international press hasn’t had time to absorb it all yet, but here’s the NYT’s description:

The core of the leak, totaling more than 13.4 million documents, focuses on the Bermudan law firm Appleby, a 119-year old company that caters to blue chip corporations and very wealthy people. Appleby helps clients reduce their tax burden; obscure their ownership of assets like companies, private aircraft, real estate and yachts; and set up huge offshore trusts that in some cases hold billions of dollars.

The files relate to a number of tax-haven islands (i.e. paradises, hence the name) where assets can change hands without government attention. The sheer number of scandals that will spin out of this is hard to estimate at this point, but here’s one:

After becoming commerce secretary, Wilbur L. Ross Jr. retained investments in a shipping firm he once controlled that has significant business ties to a Russian oligarch subject to American sanctions and President Vladimir V. Putin’s son-in-law, according to newly disclosed documents.

The shipper, Navigator Holdings, earns millions of dollars a year transporting gas for one of its top clients, a giant Russian energy company called Sibur, whose owners include the oligarch and Mr. Putin’s family member. …

In the wake of reports of Russian interference in the United States presidential election, multiple investigations have explored potential business ties between Russia and members of the Trump administration. While several Trump campaign and business associates have come under scrutiny, until now no business connections have been reported between senior administration officials and members of Mr. Putin’s family or inner circle.

and there are elections tomorrow — don’t forget about them

Governorships in Virginia and New Jersey are the headliners, but lots local issues will be on the ballot as well. (Here in Nashua, NH, we’re deciding whether to build a performing arts center.)

and you also might be interested in …

The presidential commission headed by Chris Christie has released its report on the opioid problem. Vox summarizes its recommendations, which have an all-of-the-above flavor: they range from making treatment more accessible to changing doctors’ prescribing habits to law enforcement to a media campaign.

It looks like the commission took its job seriously, but it didn’t put price tags on its recommendations. It’s still unclear whether anyone will put up real money to deal with the problem.


The Pentagon just disappointed anybody who wanted to hear that a quick-and-easy series of air strikes could knock out North Korea’s nuclear capability. In response to questions from two Democratic congressmen, Ted Lieu of California and Ruben Gallego of Arizona, Rear Admiral Michael J. Dumont, the vice director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, wrote a letter whose full text has not been released. But apparently the congressmen have shared parts of it with The Washington Post.

The only way to locate and secure all of North Korea’s nuclear weapons sites “with complete certainty” is through an invasion of ground forces, and in the event of conflict, Pyongyang could use biological and chemical weapons, the Pentagon told lawmakers in a new, blunt assessment of what war on the Korean Peninsula might look like.

Given Trump’s statement last month that “only one thing will work” in dealing with North Korea — we all assumed he meant force, but who really knows what Trump ever means? — I have to wonder if the Pentagon is telling him the same thing, and if he’s listening.


So what did you do in the civil war that Antifa started Saturday? Nothing? Didn’t even notice? Conservative media wouldn’t lie to you, would it?

Maybe it would: The Alex Jones Show is telling its listeners that Hitler is still alive — at age 128. [After an objection in the comments, I feel obligated to add this: The guest-host on Alex Jones does say “The JFK files being declassified, Hitler still alive. All the history textbooks lied to us. I was lied to my entire life about JFK, knowingly, by my government. I was lied to my entire life about Hitler, knowingly, by my government.” But the kernel of truth in there comes from an actual story about the CIA investigating reports that Hitler was still alive in the 1950s.]


I’m going to defend a conservative judge: The Senate just confirmed Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. She’s not someone I want to see on the bench, but some of the attacks on her are unfair. Most are based on a report by Alliance for Justice, which says:

As a judge, Barrett could be expected to put her personal beliefs ahead of the law. She wrote specifically about the duty of judges to put their faith above the law in an article entitled “Catholic Judges in Capital Cases.” Among other things, she strongly criticized Justice William Brennan’s statement about faith, in which he said that he took an oath to uphold the law, and that “there isn’t any obligation of our faith superior” to that oath. In response, Barrett wrote: “We do not defend this position as the proper response for a Catholic judge to take with respect to abortion or the death penalty.”

That sounds terrible, doesn’t it? But if you actually read “Catholic Judges in Capital Cases“, it’s not what you think. She doesn’t say that a judge should rule based on her faith, even if the law says something different.

The article is about circumstances where a correct interpretation of the law requires a judge to give an order that a Catholic judge like Barrett might consider immoral: for example, to order the execution of a convicted murderer when church doctrine opposes the death penalty. If a judge applied Brennan’s opinion, she’d ignore her faith and order the execution anyway. But Barrett argues that if the conflict between the law and religious doctrine is really irresolvable — she puts some thought into ways it might be resolved, allowing the judge to sign the order with a clear conscience — the judge should recuse herself. In other words: Don’t put faith over the law, just get out of the conflicted situation.

I imagine that any judge with a moral code occasionally imagines laws he or she wouldn’t be willing to enforce. Recusal seems like the honorable choice.

There might have been all kinds of good reasons to oppose Barrett’s nomination, but in my mind this wasn’t one of them.

and let’s close with a guilty pleasure

Papa John’s pizza was in the news this week, because Papa himself blamed the chain’s falling sales on kneeling football players. The logic goes like this: Papa John’s strongly identifies itself with the NFL. (Peyton Manning is its most recognizable endorser.) So the Trump-invoked ambivalent feelings that eaters-of-mass-market-pizza are having about the NFL is causing them to buy less Papa John’s.

The Atlantic targets itself more at the haute cuisine crowd, people who would only enter a Papa John’s wearing sunglasses and a hat pulled low to hide their faces. But, in the same spirit of inquiry that sometimes motivated the Mythbusters to get drunk for science, the Atlantic staff decided that “investigative journalism” required them to explore the most likely alternate explanation: “that Papa John’s … is simply not very good.” In other words, they had to consume mass quantities of cheese and tomato sauce at the magazine’s expense — purely in the interest of the People’s right to know, of course.

Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic’s editor-in-chief, walked by the kitchen as the taste-test was going on. He looked upon his gathered employees, congratulated them on their dogged commitment to truth, gave a rousing speech about pizza and the American idea, told them that Ralph Waldo Emerson would be proud. The editor was offered a piece of pizza; he declined; he was informed that the spinach Alfredo pizza wasn’t actually as gross as it looked; he backed away.

What bad reviews are all about, and why people love to read them, is art of the Victorian insult: launching barbs at inferior beings without compromising your own superior dignity. The Atlantic does pretty well.

Looking Behind the Tree

Don’t tax you. Don’t tax me. Tax that fellow behind the tree.

Senator Russell Long (1918-2003)

This week’s featured post is “The Real Reason Republicans Can’t Pass Major Legislation“.

This morning, we found out it’s Manafort

Friday night, several news organizations started reporting that the Mueller grand jury had sealed one or more indictments. The weekend was full of speculation, but the investigation’s security held, and nobody knew who the targets were.

This morning we found out: Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates. That just happened, so I don’t know anything yet that isn’t in the Washington Post article. I didn’t remember Gates, but he was also part of the Trump campaign and stayed on after Manafort left. Since the election, Gates worked on fund-raising for Trump’s inauguration, and other Trump-related fund-raising.

But before that, everybody was talking about opioids

Unlike voter fraud, kneeling football players, the Clinton uranium deal, and most of the other things Trump speaks out about, the opioid-addiction epidemic is a real problem that deserves a president’s attention.

Nothing much has changed since I wrote about it in April, when Trump appointed the commission whose report is due Wednesday. Drug overdoses kill more people than car accidents. The annual total of American drug-overdose deaths is over 50K — roughly the same as the death total for the entire Vietnam War. (Since April, the 2016 totals have come out: 64K overdose deaths.) About a third of those deaths are from legal prescription drugs, and many of the people who die from illegal-drug overdoses first got addicted to legal drugs.

More than two months ago, Trump seemed to be declaring opioids a national emergency, which would unlock large quantities of federal money to spend on the problem.

The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I’m saying officially, right now, it is an emergency. It’s a national emergency.

That would have been an unorthodox move — a typical national emergency is sudden disaster like a hurricane or a flood, not a problem that has been building for decades, and FEMA is an odd agency to task with confronting drugs — but it would definitely have shaken things up.

But it was a false alarm. Trump seems not to have understood that the phrase national emergency has a specific meaning under the law, and is more than just another way of saying crisis or really bad problem. (This is like the difference between “making a federal case” out of something and actually filing charges in federal court.) So in spite of what he said, no national-emergency proclamation was ever signed. No FEMA. No new federal money.

Thursday, he announced something that sounds similar, but is actually very different: He proclaimed a “public health emergency”. That’s not nothing, but it doesn’t unlock any new funding. It allows some rules to be waived and some already-appropriated money to be moved around.

Most of the “actions” he mentioned in his speech were not new. For example,

We are requiring that a specific opioid, which is truly evil, be taken off the market immediately.

The opioid is Opana, and the FDA removed it from the market in June. It’s not clear whether the new administration had anything to do with that, or if it was just the career FDA people doing what they do. He also mentioned several ongoing efforts as if they were new initiatives: looking for non-addictive painkillers, asking the Chinese to crack down on fentanyl production, and so on.

It’s possible that something significant will be announced after the report comes out Wednesday, but Trump’s speech was a lot more flash than substance. USA Today quotes Baltimore health commissioner Leana Wen:

The public health emergency raises awareness, which is important, but we had hoped for a national state-of-emergency declaration, because that would carry with it a commitment for funding. We don’t need more rhetoric. We need resources.


Any major government effort against drugs will have to be leaderless for the near future: Tom Marino’s nomination as drug czar had to be withdrawn after he became the primary villain of this 60 Minutes segment. He was the point man for the drug industry’s successful effort to stop the DEA from prosecuting distributors who knowingly fill suspicious orders for large quantities of prescription drugs. (Marino shows up in the second half of the video. He is the lead sponsor of a bill written by the industry to handcuff the DEA, and then he starts an investigation that sidelines an aggressive DEA investigator until he quits.) The entire thing is a great lesson on how big business influences government at all levels, to the detriment of the American people. (The Marino bill’s second sponsor, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, is currently running to replace Bob Corker in the Senate.)

In the absence of a drug czar, leadership might come from the department level. But HHS Secretary Tom Price had to resign after it came out that he wasted as much as a million dollars of the taxpayers’ money on his personal travel. His replacement has still not been nominated, but the rumored front-runner is a drug-company executive.


Trump’s speech used the opioid problem to score political points on other issues. For example:

An astonishing 90 percent of the heroin in America comes from south of the border, where we will be building a wall which will greatly help in this problem. (Applause.) It will have a great impact.

No, actually it won’t. Sanjay Gupta has been reporting on this for CNN. The synthetic opioid causing the most deaths, fentanyl, comes in through legal entry points or through the U.S. mail. It isn’t usually smuggled across the open border.

For bulkier drugs that come across the border somewhere other than the ports of entry, there are other post-wall smuggling options: Dig tunnels under it or fly over it with drones. A wall is a fixed obstacle that takes years to build. Smugglers will adapt to it much faster than Homeland Security can alter it.


Here in America, we are once again enforcing the law; breaking up gangs and distribution networks; and arresting criminals who peddle dangerous drugs to our youth.

Obama wasn’t enforcing drug laws? Wasn’t breaking up gangs? Oh wait, I get it: You’re talking about deporting Mexicans (which Obama was also doing), because our drug problem is all their fault. It’s the immigrant-crime-wave lie from Trump’s convention speech.


This was an idea that I had, where if we can teach young people not to take drugs — just not to take them. … The fact is, if we can teach young people — and people, generally — not to start, it’s really, really easy not to take them. And I think that’s going to end up being our most important thing. Really tough, really big, really great advertising, so we get to people before they start, so they don’t have to go through the problems of what people are going through.

Tell young people not to start using drugs? That’s genius, Mr. President! Genius! When you say it so clearly, I have to wonder why no one ever thought of that before. I understand now why you so often need to remind us that you’re “a very intelligent person“.

Trump claims to know the importance of teaching the young to just say no, because his alcoholic brother Fred warned him never to drink or smoke or do drugs, so he never did. But Ana Marie Cox (self-describing as “a recovering addict and alcoholic”) notes the ineffectiveness of campaigns against “pleasurable but illicit behavior” in general and drugs in particular:

The federal government spent $10 million a year on DARE until 2002, when a surgeon general’s report stated that “numerous well-designed evaluations and meta-analyses that consistently show little or no deterrent effects on substance use.”

She also wonders whether “someone, somewhere once warned Donald Trump not to cheat on his wife.”


Here’s another thing that has started to annoy me: In talking about how bad the opioid problem is in West Virginia, he called it “a truly great state, great people”. He says stuff like that a lot, and it means something very specific: They voted for me. I haven’t done a comprehensive search, but I can’t recall Trump (as president) ever mentioning the “great people” of California or Illinois or Massachusetts.

Since Trump voters are overwhelmingly white, there’s also a racial subtext: The addicts of rural West Virginia aren’t like those low-life addicts in the black ghettos of Chicago or Baltimore. The West Virginia addicts are good Christian white people who deserve the compassion of other good Christian white people.

It’s important to keep in mind that this is not normal American political rhetoric. Previous presidents of both parties have understood that, once elected, they had become president of all the people, and not just of the people who voted for them. Trump doesn’t get this.

and tax reform

More about this in the featured post. The House passed the Senate’s budget resolution, so they’re set up to pass a tax reform bill that adds $1.5 trillion to the national debt without any Democratic votes. The basic problem: All but $1.5 trillion of the tax cuts Republicans want need to be cancelled out by eliminating “loopholes”. Unfortunately, everybody thinks loopholes are the deductions other people take advantage of, not the deductions they claim themselves. Hence the Long quote at the top.

and Jeff Flake

The speech he gave Tuesday on the Senate floor is worth reading.

There are times when we must risk our careers in favor of our principles.

It’s hard for someone as liberal as I am to know what to do with Flake and the handful of other Republicans like him, because the principles he wants to risk his career for are not my principles. To me, the moment for a principled exit came and went a long time ago. But Trump only falls if Republicans turn against him, so we need to make space for them to turn against him.

It’s complicated. So I’m thinking about this, and should have more to say in a week or two.

and the Russia investigation

In addition to the just-announced indictments, we learned a little more about the meeting in Trump Tower between a Russian lawyer and top Trump campaign people (Paul Manafort, Donald Jr., and Jared Kushner). Some of the information they were offered had previously been given to a Republican Congressman by a high Russian government official. This undermines the lawyer’s claim to be independent of Putin.


We also learned about the funding of the Steele dossier. It had been known since shortly after the dossier first became public that it had started as Republican-funded opposition research, but was dropped when Trump’s nomination became inevitable, and then was picked up by Democrats. Now we know more specifics: The first funder was the conservative web site Washington Free Beacon, and it was later picked up by the Clinton campaign. All of the research was conducted by the same firm: Fusion GPS.

On the right, the involvement of the Clinton campaign is being treated as some kind of scandal, one that discredits the dossier itself and perhaps even the whole Russia investigation. But I’m not seeing it. Opposition research is a normal part of American politics. (Much of what Bill Clinton got investigated for began as opposition research paid for by conservative billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife. I don’t recall Republicans having any problem with that.) Nothing in the Russia investigation is based on the authority of the dossier. We know that the FBI has been checking the claims in the dossier, but nothing is being accepted as true just because the dossier says so.

Let’s simplify things: Suppose opposition research had uncovered evidence that Trump robbed a bank, and a Justice Department investigation independently proved that conclusion. Would the big story be the opposition research, or the fact that Trump robbed a bank?

The main questions in the investigation are:

  • What did the Russian government do to try to influence our election?
  • Did anyone inside the Trump campaign know they were getting help from Russia, and did anyone actively cooperate?
  • Has the Russian government gotten anything from the Trump administration in exchange for its help?
  • Since the investigation started, has Trump or anybody else committed perjury or tried to obstruct justice?

Anything else is secondary. For example, I don’t particularly care about the sexual allegations in the dossier. I only care if Russian intelligence has something to hold over Trump’s head and has used it to influence him.


An old Republican conspiracy theory — that when she was Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton OK’d a Russian company’s deal to buy a North American uranium company in exchange for a big contributions to the Clinton Foundation — has surfaced again, and will be investigated by three different committees in the House. If Hillary didn’t exist, I think Republicans would need to invent her. Even after she eventually dies, I suspect Republicans will continue investigate her whenever they need to divert their base voters’ attention from their own scandals.

The WaPo’s fact-checker, Glenn Kessler, covers all the important points. The gist is that while the one-line description sounds scandalous, no details have ever emerged to back up any part of it. Treasury was the lead department on the approval, and “there is no evidence Clinton even was informed about this deal.” How the Russians are supposed to have bribed the other eight agencies involved the process is also unexplained.

and draining the swamp

Some recent stories demonstrate that the swamp has only gotten swampier since Trump took over.

  • A tool of the big drug companies got nominated to be drug czar. (Discussed above.) If not for 60 Minutes and The Washington Post, he’d probably have been confirmed. After the Tool (Rep. Tom Marino of Pennsylvania) withdrew his nomination, President Trump tweeted that he is “a fine man and a great congressman”.
  • A tiny Montana company from the same town as Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke got a $300 million contract to rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid. The local power company says FEMA approved the deal; FEMA denies it. A number of the details of the contract sound suspicious. The contract was canceled Sunday.
  • If you have a dispute with your bank, quite likely you can’t take it to court and can’t join other individuals in a class-action lawsuit, because the fine print of your contract says you have to submit to binding arbitration as an individual. (You could switch to another bank, but its fine print would say the same thing.) The Consumer Financial Protection Board nixed that process in June with a new regulation that allowed class-action lawsuits against banks in more circumstances. The House immediately voted to repeal that regulation, and the Senate followed suit Tuesday, passing what critics call the Wells Fargo Immunity Act. It was a 51-50 vote along party lines, with only two Republican defections. VP Pence broke the tie.

and anniversaries

Depending on how you count, the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution was either October 25 (the date on Julian calendar in use in Russia at the time) or will be November 7 (the date on the Gregorian calendar that most to the rest of the world was using and Russia adopted in 1918). The 500th anniversary of the Reformation is tomorrow. (That’s also by the Julian calendar; nobody seems to worry much about the 10 days that were added when the Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1582.)

but check out this article on the future of electricity

The old fantasy was to be off the grid. The new fantasy is to be on a grid designed for sustainability.

and you also might be interested in …

Most of Puerto Rico is still without electrical power. The governor tweeted this photo of surgery being performed using a phone as a flashlight. Nurses returning to the mainland from emergency work in Puerto Rico have been very critical of what’s going on there.

The nurses described doctors performing surgery in hospitals with light from their cellphones, children screaming from hunger, elderly residents suffering from severe dehydration, and black mold spreading throughout entire communities.

“We cannot be silent while millions of people continue to endure these conditions,” said Bonnie Castillo, associate executive director of National Nurses United.


Normally, the Virginia governor’s race doesn’t have much predictive value nationally. Democrat Terry McAuliffe won in 2013, for example, and Democrats went on to get pounded in the 2014 mid-terms.

This year’s race might be different, though, because Republican Ed Gillespie is running in a very Trumpian style: His campaign has a not-very-veiled racial focus, with red-meat ads about rampaging Hispanic gangs and defending Confederate monuments. Polls show that this tactic has energized non-college white voters to support him. The question is whether it is turning off the educated white suburbanites a Republican also needs if he’s going to win in Virginia. A recent poll says that it is, and that Northam is winning. We’ll see if that prediction is verified on November 6.

If it isn’t, if Gillespie pulls out a last-minute win due to a heavy white turnout, then I think his campaign becomes the model for an ugly 2014: Republicans will try to make the election a racial referendum.


Like Trump, Gillespie treats the national media as enemies. Here, Washington Post reporter Marc Fisher posts a sad but also amusing video of his attempts to find and speak to Gillespie.


Ezra Klein on the implications of the Mark Halperin and Leon Wieseltier sexual harassment scandals:

We routinely underestimate what it means that our political system has been constructed and interpreted by men, that our expectations for politicians have been set by generations of male politicians and shaped by generations of male pundits.  … The most influential institutions in America have long had serial sexual abusers and deep misogynists at their apex. Those abusers didn’t just shape their workplaces or their industries; they shaped our politics, our culture, and our country.

During the campaign, for example, Halperin described women’s accusations against Trump as “nothing even kind of, like, beyond boorish or politically incorrect”.

One reason why this kind of thing has remained acceptable for so long is that so many of the people shaping public opinion were doing it themselves.


If the Harvey Weinstein case started you wondering about Trump again, let Sarah Huckabee Sanders set you straight: All of the 17 women who accused him of sexual harassment or assault were lying.

Vox’ Anna North and Ezra Klein note the similarities between Weinstein and Trump, and then draw this conclusion:

This is, perhaps, the depressing lesson of the Weinstein and Trump stories. The allegations are similar. The evidence is similar. But power still protects, and while Weinstein had lost enough power to imperil his protection, Trump has only amassed more.


Innuendo Studios has a series of videos about the tactics of the alt-Right. Here’s one related to the Trump groping issue:


Our new ambassador to Canada claims to believe “both sides of the science” about climate change, as if climate change were some sort of quantum wave/particle duality. The best response comes from the NASA-based Twitter account that claims to be the AI running the Mars rover.

On the one side you have evidence and data and research, and on the other side you have… oil money. Both equal.

and let’s close with some bad suggestions

Haven’t decided on your Halloween costume yet? Don’t do any of these.

Military Swagger

We don’t look down upon those of you who haven’t served.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly

This week’s featured posts are “The Billie Jean Republicans” — picture a GOP senator backed by a chorus of corporate donors, denying their responsibility for Trump — and something a little more serious: “Niger, the Condolence Controversy, and Why the Founders Feared a Professional Military“.

In case “Billie Jean” has you trying to remember the Sift’s previous poetic posts, they’re: “Donnie in the Room” (based on “Casey at the Bat”) and “Fatherly Advice to Eric and Don Jr.” (based on “If”).

This week everybody was talking about the Niger operation, and the distracting controversy it launched

Mostly this is covered in one of the featured posts. But John Kelly has turned into his own issue. Vox’ Dara Lind compares his attitude to Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men.

But it’s not just that Kelly doesn’t respect the way that politics works within Washington — the time it takes to make a congressional deal, the way that embarrassing statements can get leaked to eager reporters. He actively thinks that they have America wrong, and that they will never understand it in the way those who serve it will.

Charles Pierce sees Kelly’s lying defense of Trump as

a terribly sad moment. Everything and everybody this president* touches goes bad from the inside out.

Matt Yglesias had another depressing thought.

Kelly’s performance today should be a wakeup call to anyone who still thinks there are “adults in the room” who’ll save us.

Occasionally the media speculates that Kelly will get tired of his thankless job and quit. I predict a different scenario: At some point Trump will have wrung all the credibility out of Kelly, and then he’ll toss the general away.


There’s one more part of Kelly’s remarks I can’t let go by:

You know, when I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor.

Kelly and I grew up in the same era. (He’s six years older.) So I can testify that he is totally full of crap on this. Women of our mothers’ generation were shown superficial respect — holding doors for them, etc. — as long as they lived narrowly scripted lives of service to men. But a woman was not honored if she spoke out in public, or entered the workplace, or sought an advanced degree, or decided not to get married, or did anything else outside the script. Quite the opposite.

and rebukes to Trump without naming him

George W. Bush spoke Thursday in New York. He addressed threats to democracy and said that “when we lose sight of our ideals, it is not democracy that has failed. It is the failure of those charged with preserving and protecting democracy.” (In case you don’t recognize it, that’s a reference to the presidential oath to “preserve, protect, and defend” the Constitution.)

We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism – forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America. We see a fading confidence in the value of free markets and international trade – forgetting that conflict, instability, and poverty follow in the wake of protectionism.

We have seen the return of isolationist sentiments – forgetting that American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places, where threats such as terrorism, infectious disease, criminal gangs and drug trafficking tend to emerge.

He also contradicted Trump’s claim that the Russia story is “fake news”.

America is experiencing the sustained attempt by a hostile power to feed and exploit our country’s divisions. According to our intelligence services, the Russian government has made a project of turning Americans against each other. This effort is broad, systematic and stealthy, it’s conducted across a range of social media platforms.

He also said “white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed.”

In a speech accepting the Liberty Medal from the National Constitution Center last Monday, John McCain said:

To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.

We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad.

As much as I approve of Republicans giving other Republicans permission to criticize Trump, though, the country needs a lot more from Republican leaders. How do they propose to limit the damage being done by this unfit president, or to remove him?

and healthcare

It looks like the Murray-Alexander bill on healthcare — the bipartisan one that tries to fix some of the damage Trump has been doing to the health insurance markets — will get a vote in the Senate. It still seems unlikely to get a vote in the House, and no one — including Mitch McConnell — knows what Trump would be willing to sign.


More proof that Trump has no ideas for improving American healthcare: In an appearance with the Greek prime minister Tuesday, Trump took questions. He was asked “What is your healthcare plan, sir?”

He responded with a long ramble justifying what he had just done (cancel CSR payments that reimburse insurance companies for losses on cheap policies to the working poor), criticized insurance companies, pronounced ObamaCare dead, said something about block grants to the states, predicted that he would have the votes to repeal ObamaCare after Congress got done with tax reform, called Democrats “obstructionists” who “have no good policies”, bragged about how many judges he has appointed (while criticizing Democrats for slowing down Senate approval of nominees), and denounced insurance-premium increases under ObamaCare.

The reporter followed up: “So is Graham-Cassidy still the plan, sir?” And Trump said: “Yeah, essentially that would be the plan. Yes, block grants.”

He has a two-word-answer grasp of the subject, which he hides under mountains of meaningless self-serving verbiage. How should Americans who aren’t rich get the care they need and pay for it? He has no idea.

but I eventually got around to looking at the Values Voters Summit

It was last week’s news, but I fall behind sometimes.

Trump: “As long as we have pride in our country, confidence in our future, and faith in our God, then America will prevail.” The phrase “our God” bothers me. That didn’t just pop out of his mouth. This was a scripted teleprompter speech, so the words were chosen. He could have said “faith in God”, which would already be controversial in a few ways. But instead he said “faith in our God”.

Does America have a national god who is different from the gods of other countries or of the Universe? What about citizens of the United States who don’t don’t worship the American God? Do they count as “us”, as Americans? Is Trump their president too?


I haven’t been the only one writing song lyrics. Roy Moore’s speech included new lyrics that almost fit the tune of “America the Beautiful”, outlining all the ways that today’s America seems ugly and evil to him, and calling down God’s judgment on us.

Moore and his audience are white instead of black, and the sins he charges against America (abortion, drug abuse, abandoning the death penalty) are different than the ones Rev. Jeremiah Wright focused on (slavery, herding Native Americans onto reservations, putting Japanese Americans into detention camps during World War II, funneling black youth into low-paying jobs or prison rather than educating them). But otherwise, how is this different from the “God damn America” sermon Wright got pilloried for?

and you also might be interested in …

The Senate moved Congress one step closer to tax reform. It passed a budget resolution that would make a Republican tax-cut bill eligible for reconciliation, letting it pass the Senate with 50 votes plus Vice President Pence. Now they just need to figure out what goes into that bill.


The Trump/Russia legal-fee issue just got weirder. For months, the RNC and the Trump campaign have been paying the legal bills of the President and of Donald Trump Jr., but no one else. Now, Trump says he will use up to $430,000 of his own money to pay legal bills for White House staff and campaign aides. So they’d better say what they’re told to say, right?


Fort Worth Weekly uses two local Christian seminaries to illustrate the diversity of American Christianity. If “Christian” means just one thing to you, you might find this enlightening.


After five years at the American Chemical Council, Nancy Beck became a primary EPA decision-maker on toxic chemicals. What could go wrong?

and let’s close with something terrestrial

No, it isn’t a starship, it’s a manta ray. The shot is from the Nature Conservancy’s 2017 photo contest. It’s not even the winner.

Self-awareness

Jeb Bush ran for president on the theory that tax cuts would generate 4 percent economic growth. Marco Rubio argued that Barack Obama was deliberately trying to damage the United States. Ed Gillespie claims that sanctuary cities that don’t even exist are responsible for the rise of a violent international criminal organization. The same congressional Republicans who swore for years that growing debt was the biggest threat to the country are lining up behind a budget that will authorize more than $1 trillion in new borrowing to finance tax cuts for the rich. The difference between these guys and the new crop of kooks — between a respected colleague like Bob Corker and a feared soon-to-be-colleague like Marsha Blackburn — as I understand it, is that the establishment politicians are aware that they are lying.

 – Matt Yglesias “Establishment Republicans mystified by their base should look at Ed Gillespie’s campaign

This week’s featured post is “Taking Hostages“.

This week everybody was talking about Trump’s moves to wreck things

I cover his threats to DACA, the Iran deal, and ObamaCare in the featured post. Increasingly, Trump is realizing that even having Republican majorities in Congress doesn’t allow him to run over Democrats. So now he’s trying to get their cooperation by taking hostages.

and we also paid attention to that other abuser of women, Harvey Weinstein

Before this week, I’m pretty sure I could have sat next to Harvey Weinstein on an airplane without recognizing him. I remember seeing the Weinstein Company logo in film credits, but I couldn’t tell you which movies they were. So I’ve been amazed at how much coverage his sexual abuse scandal is getting. To me, Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, Donald Trump, and Roger Ailes were public figures, but Weinstein is just another rich dude.

Actually, Ailes is probably comparable: a guy who’s powerful within his industry, but most people wouldn’t recognize on the street. (I just happen follow political journalism much more closely than I follow movies, so Fox News seems like a bigger deal to me than the Weinstein Company.) Like Roger Ailes’ story, Weinstein’s is driven largely by the star-power of his accusers: Gywneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie for Weinstein, Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson for Ailes.

It appears Weinstein has been doing this for a long time, but once accusations reached a critical mass, the response was swift. His company has fired him, the Motion Picture Academy expelled him, and I hope no one takes seriously the idea that some sort of therapy will qualify him for a comeback. (Personally, I don’t believe predatory behavior is treatable. Predators have more motivation to pretend to reform than to actually reform.) If there’s enough evidence for a criminal conviction, I hope prosecutors go for it.

What makes Weinstein’s story different from Trump, O’Reilly, and Ailes is that his political connections are liberal rather than conservative. Conservative media has tried to make a hypocrisy story out of that: See, liberals abuse women too.

I will note the major difference: It has been the liberal media (the NYT and The New Yorker) that has been leading the charge to break this story. And (unlike Ailes) Weinstein isn’t being defended (except by Woody Allen; they should start a club). Kellyanne Conway has tried to make a thing out of the fact that five whole days passed before Hillary Clinton spoke out against Weinstein. But Trump actively defended both Ailes and O’Reilly, and to my knowledge still hasn’t condemned them. And Conway herself defended Trump after more than a dozen women accused him of sexual assault, and he confessed on tape.


The one upside of this story is the attention it has drawn to situations that are not rape in the clearest sense — not a guy forcing sex on a woman who is unmistakably refusing — but where differences in status and power make refusal problematic, situations where ambiguous behavior will be interpreted in the man’s favor, up until the point where it will be assumed by many that the woman consented by not objecting. Even if no physical force is involved, the man has to know that the woman is giving in rather than participating.

Kate Manne’s article at Huffington Post, for example, rambles but also covers a lot of ground — through novels, TV shows, journal articles, and her own memories of an abusive piano teacher during a time when she dreamed of a professional career. The experience “tainted playing the piano for me”. Likewise, some of the Weinstein accusations come from women who gave up their dream of being actresses. Who can guess how many women have abandoned ambitions as a vague not-quite-intended response to harassment that they didn’t feel in a position to report at the time?

and Puerto Rico

Tuesday, AP reported that 10 people have been diagnosed with leptospirosis, a disease you get by drinking water contaminated by animal urine. Four deaths have been attributed to this disease, which is both preventable and treatable.

When he was in Puerto Rico, Trump bragged about the low death totals, then only 16. The official count is now higher, and is probably still too low.

At Vox, we decided to compare what the government has been saying with other reports of deaths from the ground. We searched Google News for reports of deaths in English and Spanish media from Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria. We found reports of a total of 81 deaths linked directly or indirectly to the hurricane. Of those, 45 were the deaths certified by the government. The remaining 36 deaths were confirmed by local public officials or funeral directors, according to the reports. We also found another 450 reported deaths, most of causes still unknown, and reports of at least 69 people still missing.

The estimates of how many people are without power change daily, but have been running in the 70-90% range.


I’ve been saying since before the Inauguration that Trump (like the alt-Right in general) distinguishes between Americans and real Americans. Real Americans (also sometimes referred to as “the American People”; I talked here about what it means to be “a people”) are English-speaking white Christians.

If you’re really adamant about two out of three, that might be enough for you to count as “real”, but just being white or Christian or speaking English as your first language isn’t. (For the Dreamers, even two out of three isn’t enough.) So Puerto Ricans, who (though often Catholic) are mostly brown-skinned Spanish-speakers, don’t qualify as real Americans, no matter what their passports say. That’s why the America-First President can tweet so blithely about abandoning them in their hour of need. The thought of how much money the U.S. is spending to help them, which never came up in presidential rhetoric after the Texas and Florida hurricanes, is never far from his mind. He also worries about whether they are doing enough to help themselves, another idea that didn’t come up in Harvey or Irma relief. It is as if he considers Puerto Rico disaster relief to be foreign aid.


Rachel Maddow has been making the Navy hospital ship Comfort a symbol of the relief effort’s mismanagement. It’s in Puerto Rico, but as of Thursday, only 8 of its 1000 beds were occupied.

and the California fires

As of Friday, the Tubbs fire in the Santa Rosa area had destroyed more than 5,000 buildings, most of them homes. And that’s just one of the still-raging fires.

As with the hurricanes, climate change is sitting in the background of this story. The usual caveats apply: There’s always been a wildfire season in California, so you can’t look at any particular fire and say that climate change caused it. But …

As the climate changes, extremes in seasonal conditions are exacerbated, [University of California Professor LeRoy] Westerling says. Climate change affects wildfires from two directions at different times of the year: Winters become wetter and shorter, while summers become hotter and last longer.

“Climate change is kind of turning up the dial on everything,” Westerling said. “Dry periods become more extreme. Wet periods become more extreme.”

One thing I didn’t understand before: Both sides of that process promote wildfires. The wet winters cause more vegetation to grow, which dries out in the summer and becomes fuel for the fires.


If you missed it the first time around, now is a good time to watch this episode of Years of Living Dangerously. It tells two stories about deforestation: Harrison Ford is in Indonesia, and Arnold Schwarzenegger talks to the people who fight wildfires in the American West.


From a friend whose home in Santa Rosa is within blocks of the total-loss zone:

Ronald Reagan famously said: “The most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help you’.”

Ronald Reagan was a fucking moron.

Rugged individualism just doesn’t cut it when you’re in the path of a hurricane or a major fire.

but we need to watch the Russia/Trump/social media story

Most of the talk about the Trump/Russia investigation centers on the hacks of Democratic emails and the process by which they got leaked to the press. But ultimately Russia’s social media strategy may turn out to be more important.

The Internet Research Agency employ hundreds of so-called “trolls” who post pro-Kremlin content, much of it fake or discredited, under the guise of phony social media accounts that posed as American or European residents, according to lawmakers and researchers.

Facebook announced last month it had unearthed $100,000 in spending by the Internet Research Agency and, under pressure from lawmakers, has pledged to be more transparent about how its ads are purchased and targeted.

Google has found tens of thousands spent by a different Russian group on its ads, and Microsoft is still looking into the issue. There have also been reports of Russian Twitter-bots who manipulated which stories were “trending”. A number of those Facebook ads targeted Wisconsin and Michigan.

Some of the Russian ads appeared highly sophisticated in their targeting of key demographic groups in areas of the states that turned out to be pivotal, two of the sources said. The ads employed a series of divisive messages aimed at breaking through the clutter of campaign ads online, including promoting anti-Muslim messages, sources said.

This is far from conclusive evidence of collusion with the Trump campaign, but it does suggest some American involvement: Somebody working with the Russians had a very deep, granular understanding of the American electorate.


Larry Kim reports on how easy it is to set yourself up as a fake-news mogul. He created a web site, spent $50 on Facebook ads, and reached 4,645 conservative-leaning people in Pennsylvania, generating 44 likes and 27 shares. Imagine what could be done with an army of trolls and hundreds of thousands to spend. If you build a bunch of sites all referencing each other’s fake-news stories, you could create your own bubble.

and you also might be interested in …

The NYT covers research into why wolves are different from dogs. The theory: wolf puppies learn the difference between “us” and “them” very early, before their eyes and ears are working yet, entirely by scent. Dog puppies stay open to socialization longer, and learn to recognize familiar humans by sight and sound. The reporter is only partly convinced, but really enjoys the chance to play with wolf puppies.


The WaPo predicts that someday 2017 will be seen as “the beginning of the end of the internal combustion engine“. The big reasons: China, Tesla, and GM.


Minister Carl Gregg discusses the question of how to deal with honest people who live in a world of alternative facts. Based a book called The Cynic and the Fool by Tad DeLay, he recommends starting with “motivational interviewing” rather than direct contradiction. “Why do you believe that?” rather than “That’s not true!”


Last week, Senator Corker described the White House as “an adult daycare center”. This week, Politico and The Washington Post explained how the daycare workers do their jobs. Mainly, when the Toddler-in-Chief is about to do something bad or dangerous, they distract him until his attention wanders somewhere else. (I picture them jingling a set of car keys.) And when he’s behaving, they tell him again and again what a good boy he is.


The nominee to head the Council on Environmental Quality doesn’t think carbon dioxide should count as a pollutant.


Since the election, I’ve been thinking that liberals need to explain things we used to take for granted, and explicitly argue against ideas that used to be off the table. (I’ve done that with articles against white pride and nationalism.) Economics blogger Noah Smith apparently feels the same way: He explained in September why an American white ethnostate would be a bad idea, not just for the non-whites who would be either driven out or subordinated, but for the whites themselves.

Two main arguments: An all-white USA would have a crappy economy, not just because talented non-whites wouldn’t want to come (or stay) here, but because a lot of talented whites would leave (in the same way that many non-Jewish scientists left Hitler’s Germany). And the harsh policies necessary to get rid of American non-whites would leave us with corrupt and tyrannical institutions, staffed by people who were willing to do nasty things. In spite of our ethnic homogeneity, we’d have a low level of public trust for generations.

The nation that currently most resembles a white ethnic Trumpistan, in Smith’s opinion, is Ukraine: nearly all-white, dominated by agriculture and heavy industry — and with a GDP per capita about 1/6th of the U.S.


This week’s most head-scratching story is that the Department of the Interior flies a special flag to mark when Secretary Zinke is in the building. Buckingham Palace has long flown a flag to mark when the monarch is in residence. In the U.S. the tradition goes back to the Navy in 1866; the ship carrying the fleet commander would fly a special flag. In the early 20th century, cabinet-level flags became a fad of sorts, but went out of style because they were considered “pretentious”.

Chris Lu, deputy Labor secretary under Obama, said: “If we had a secretarial flag at the Obama Labor Department, we never bothered to locate it or use it.”

There’s a theme building in a variety of Trump administration scandals and controversies: High government office is about self-glorification, not public service.

and let’s close with something humbling

This one chart shows all the known cognitive biases. Human minds, it turns out, are kind of kludgy.

Bipartisan Concerns

He concerns me. He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation. … Look, except for a few people, the vast majority of our caucus understands what we’re dealing with here.

Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), discussing President Trump yesterday

This week’s featured post is “Misunderstood Things: 10-9-2017“, where I discuss gun deaths and tax simplification.

This week everybody was talking about guns

The more we find out about Stephen Paddock, the more he looks like a white guy with a lot of guns. No one has uncovered a political or religious agenda behind the Las Vegas massacre. He just wanted to kill a lot of people and had the means to do it.


In The Atlantic, David Frum lays out “The Rules of the Gun Debate“. He’s pointing to the formulaic nature of the debate, in which anything likely to change either the frequency of mass killings or the number of gun deaths each year is eliminated before the discussion starts. Fundamentally, he says, the United States has too many guns that move around too freely.

a society is in a much better position to stop shooting deaths when it can tightly regulate the buying and carrying of weapons long before they are ever used to murder anybody. In all but a half dozen American states, it would be perfectly legal for people like the Charlie Hebdo killers to walk to the very front door of their targets with their rifles slung over their shoulders, lawful responsible gun owners to the very second before they opened fire on massed innocents.

… in an America where guns were viewed as they are in Australia or Canada, the project of moving two dozen of them into a hotel suite would likely be detected somewhere along the way. The person moving those guns would find himself in trouble—not for murder—but for some petty gun infraction. His weapons might be confiscated, or he himself sent to prison for some months. His plan would be interrupted very likely without anyone ever imagining what had been contemplated. Mass shootings so seldom happen in other countries not because they have developed carefully crafted policies against shootings, but because they have instituted broad policies to restrict guns.

He also points to a cultural change we need to prevent the much-more-frequent suicides, accidents, and fatal escalations of ordinary disputes:

Gun safety begins, then, not with technical fixes, but with spreading the truthful information: people who bring guns into their homes are endangering themselves and their loved ones.

I’m wondering if we need some anti-gun commercials similar to the ones that have been made to de-glamorize smoking. Nothing about statistics or laws, just a guy proudly showing his friends his vast gun collection, but rather than impressing them, he has creeped them out.


The gun control debate seems muted this time, with advocates having a hopeless tone in their voices. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone say, “If Sandy Hook didn’t change anything …”

Still, things that can’t go on forever don’t. The potential destructiveness of individuals keeps going up, and with it the size of mass killings. It stunned the nation in 1966 when a sniper killed 14 strangers in Texas. This time 58 died and more than 500 were injured. If nothing changes, someday it will be 100 dead, then a thousand. Is there really no point at which something changes?


Las Vegas isn’t the biggest mass killing in U.S. history, but you probably didn’t hear about the others in school, because the victims were black or Native American and the killers were white.

and Iran

The Washington Post reported Thursday that Trump is planning to decertify the deal the Obama administration negotiated to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Iran appears to be fulfilling its obligations under the agreement, but Trump is expected to say in a speech Thursday that the agreement is “not in the national interest”. Congress would then have 60 days to reimpose the sanctions the agreement relaxed, which would probably scuttle the whole thing, ticking off a bunch of our allies. Iran would then be free to construct a nuclear weapon as fast as it could.

Try as I might, I can’t see an achievable goal here. The reason the Obama sanctions were so crippling for Iran was that all the major players backed them. (The agreement in question isn’t just between us and the Iranians. The UK, France, China, Russia, and Germany are also involved, and none of them are expressing regrets.) If we unilaterally screw up the agreement and go back to sanctions, we’re unlikely to get a similar level of cooperation. So with less pressure on the Iranians this time, why will they give us more concessions?

I suppose Trump might be imagining that the Iranians will capitulate in the face of his resolve and negotiating skills, but seriously, where is the evidence for that view? And why would they offer any new concessions, when they know Trump reneges on deals and could just come back for more concessions later? (As I pointed out when the deal was first announced, there’s a Munich analogy to be made here, but we’re in the Germany role.)

Or maybe he thinks the Iranian public will rise up and overthrow their government if we put enough pressure on their economy, but I don’t think that’s how it works. People tend to rally around their government when foreign powers try to dominate it. Hardliners will argue that they tried to settle peaceably with the Americans, but Trump has no interest in anything but Iran’s surrender. Iranian democracy activists will look like traitorous American agents.

Neither of those upbeat possibilities is anywhere near as likely as this one: Iran will go full speed towards a nuclear weapon and dare us to either accept it or start a war. (Remember: Iran is three times the size of Iraq.)


Another example of Trump’s if-you-demand-it-they-will-fold approach is the renegotiation of NAFTA, which doesn’t appear to be going very well. So far the Trump administration’s demands are short on specifics, and it’s not clear he has the backing in Congress to approve whatever changes he might get.

As the son of an Illinois farmer (now deceased), I keep wondering when heartland farmers will notice how consistently Trump is selling them out on trade. Mexico may run a trade surplus with us in general, but it imports a lot of corn and soybeans. The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that Trump pulled out of had debatable effects in general, but it would have been great for farm exports.


Speaking of reneging on deals and making big demands, Trump has released his conditions for giving legal status to the Dreamers currently protected by the Obama DACA program that Trump is ending. It includes stuff that the outline-of-a-deal he agreed to with Democratic leaders explicitly ruled out, like building his wall. As president, he continues to deal with everybody the way he dealt with subcontractors in his real estate business or students at Trump U: No deal is ever complete; there’s always another opportunity to cheat people.

and Trump’s visit to Puerto Rico

Univision radio host Jay Fonseca and Puerto Rican lawyer Leo Aldridge had this reaction:

We were waiting for a Marshall Plan, something announcing the rebuilding of Puerto Rico. What we got was more congratulations for his own administration. Instead of showing compassion for the most vulnerable, he went to visit the richest areas of the island.

They warn that many Puerto Ricans are leaving the island for the mainland — which they can do freely, since they’re U.S. citizens. This could change the politics of the states they move to, since they can vote as soon as they establish residency, just like any other Americans who move to a new state.

The NYT suggests Florida could see a shift: Puerto Ricans were already passing Cubans as the largest Hispanic ethnic group in the state, and the current crisis might bring 100,000 more. Like Latinos in general, Puerto Ricans in the 50 states haven’t been voting in their full numbers. But Trump’s disrespect might motivate them.


BTW: Does anyone doubt that Puerto Rico would have been a state long ago if its people were white and spoke English as their first language?


Plenty of people noted how weird and self-centered Trump was in Puerto Rico. But by now, that’s not really news. Maybe instead we should be reminding ourselves how our leaders used to act, so that Trump doesn’t become a new model for our lowered expectations. (If you want a list of all the ways Trump has changed presidential behavior for the worse, the NYT has one.)

For example, this was candidate Obama visiting the town where I grew up during the 2008 Mississippi River floods. It’s hard to imagine Trump, either before or after the election, just pitching in and talking to other volunteers about the disaster, rather than about himself, his popularity, or how great he is.

The point, of course, isn’t that Obama’s sandbags made some huge difference. (Who knows how many he actually filled before the cameras were turned off and he went to his next campaign event?) The point is that American leaders should model good citizenship, and demonstrate that no one is too important to pitch in.

Similarly, after the softball-practice shooting that wounded Congressman Steve Scalise, Vice President Pence donated blood. Who knows where Pence’s pint actually went? But whether his blood type matched any of the victims or not, he responded to a tragedy by modeling public-spirited behavior.

and his other feuds

During the Obama administration, there was a certain amount of comparatively dignified back-and-forth between the President and Republican leaders like John Boehner. You expect that kind of thing in any democracy, as the leaders of different parties disagree with each other and jockey for public support.

What’s different this time is the vitriol between Trump and his own party, and sometimes his own people. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is currently in the doghouse for calling Trump “a moron” in front of witnesses in July, maybe with an extra expletive attached. Tillerson pointedly refused to deny making the comment, and there was considerable discussion this week of how long Tillerson and Trump will be able to stand working together.

(My own opinion is that Tillerson’s security clearance should be revoked, which would make it impossible for him to continue as Secretary of State. If he blurts out that Trump is a moron, how can we trust him not to reveal other sensitive information?)


And then there was this weekend’s exchange between Trump and Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, which resulted Saturday in Corker referring to the White House as an “adult daycare center” and charging that Trump’s tweets indicated that “Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.”

This isn’t like Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity railing against Obama. They had no responsibilities, but were just trying to appeal to an audience of partisans who hated Obama from the moment they saw him. Quite the opposite, these are officials publicly allied with Trump, who have tried to work with him and can’t.

BTW, if Tillerson has to be replaced, the nominee will have to be cleared by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Corker.

James Fallows has advice for Corker:

He could urge his colleagues toward the next step through their stages-of-tragedy relationship with Trump. Stage one was carping and dismissal during the first half of 2016, when he was an entertaining long-shot . Stage two was Vichy-regime acquiescence to him during the campaign. Stage three was “support” early this year, toward the goal of the Gorsuch confirmation and the hope of a tax-cut bill. Now we see the inklings of stage four, with the dawning awareness of what Corker spelled out: that they have empowered something genuinely dangerous. It’s time for Corker to act on that knowledge, and his colleagues too.


Trump sent Mike Pence to Indianapolis to keep his NFL feud bubbling. Pence made a big show of leaving the Colts/49ers game when some players kneeled for the national anthem.

The whole idea that kneeling “disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem” (as Pence tweeted) is absurd. I can’t think of any other situation where kneeling is a form of disrespect: Are Catholics disrespecting the altars in their churches? Are guys who kneel to propose disrespecting their girlfriends?

No, the protest isn’t about respect for the flag, it’s about racism. That’s why it upsets people.

Remember: there was no reason for the president to get involved in this controversy to begin with, and he only drew more attention to it. Trump came into the controversy to once again reassure racists that he’s on their side. Apparently he thinks that position is working for him, so he wants to keep the feud going.

and church and state

The administration loosened the guidelines for when businesses can refuse to offer their female employees contraception coverage on religious grounds. Also this week, Attorney General Sessions issued a memo changing government policy on “religious liberty”, which in many cases will trump anti-discrimination laws.

This all fits in with my prior conviction: None of it is about actual religious liberty. It’s about special rights for certain popular varieties of Christianity. You can see that in the immediate focus on contraception, which started out as a Catholic issue and was picked up by some Protestants. Why is this — and sexuality in general — the government’s central “religious liberty” focus, rather than situations where government policy impacts vegetarians or pacifists or environmentalists? Those can be religious positions too, but who in the administration cares about them?

I felt the same way about the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision.

Given that this principle will produce complete anarchy if generally applied, it won’t be generally applied. Contrary to Alito’s assertion, judges will have to decide whether the chains of moral logic people assert are reasonable or not. … In practice, a belief will seem reasonable if a judge agrees with it. That’s what happened in this case: Five male Catholic judges ruled that Catholic moral principles trump women’s rights. Three Jews and a female Catholic disagreed.

and you also might be interested in …

Jacob Levy calls for reconstructing American libertarianism as if black liberty mattered.

Not to put too fine a point on it, those who proclaim their commitment to freedom have all too often assessed threats to freedom as if those facing  African-Americans don’t count — as if black liberty does not matter.

And so, America is the freest nation on Earth — if you ignore the mass incarceration of black men, or the large number of them who get killed by police.

Think about the different ways that market liberals and libertarians talk about “welfare” from how they talk about other kinds of government redistribution. There’s no talk of the culture of dependence among farmers, although they receive far more government aid per capita than do the urban poor. Libertarians absolutely and clearly oppose corporate welfare, but they don’t do so in the paternalistic language that corporate welfare recipients are morally hurt by being on the dole. The white welfare state of the 1930s-60s that channeled government support for, e.g., housing, urban development, and higher education through segregated institutions has a way of disappearing from the historical memory; the degrees earned and homes bought get remembered as hard work contributing to the American dream. But too many libertarians and their market-oriented allies among postwar conservatives treated the more racially inclusive welfare state of the 1960s and 70s as different in kind. … [O]nce the imagined typical welfare recipient was a black mother, welfare became a matter not just of economic or constitutional concern but of moral panic about parasites, fraud, and the long-term collapse of self-reliance.

… And the conviction that freedom of speech is mostly threatened by “political correctness” in American life, that saying racist things is a brave stand against censorship, that calling what someone else says “racist” is pretty much like censoring them—these are important facts about American political discourse today.


I love this comic strip at Splinter News. A guy in the present is anti-Black-Lives-Matter, but claims he’s not a racist, and that he would totally have supported Martin Luther King in the 1950s. A fairy gives him his back-to-the-future wish, where an anti-MLK guy repeats the same arguments he’d been making against BLM. Convinced, he now is against MLK too, but believes he’d totally be an abolitionist if he were back in the 1800s. Here’s one panel:


Congressman Tim Murphy (R-PA) got caught in a major episode of hypocrisy this week. Tuesday, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette released text messages in which Murphy’s mistress took him to task for his public anti-abortion stance, when he had suggested she get an abortion during a pregnancy scare. Wednesday, he announced he would not be running for re-election in 2018. Thursday, he resigned from Congress.

If you’re pro-choice, you probably read this with a sense of vindication: Not even anti-abortion congressmen really believe the rhetoric they spout. But I wonder if voters on the other side interpret the story differently: The fact that even a pro-life congressman would want to kill his unborn child just shows the importance of making abortion illegal; personal conviction is not enough to keep us on the straight and narrow when temptation pressures us to sin. A parallel might be the alcoholic who favors prohibition: “I want a law getting rid of alcohol, because if the stuff is available, I know I’ll drink it.”


For a year or so I’ve been telling people to read Misbehaving, Richard Thaler’s entertaining biography of himself and his field (behavioral economics). Well, he just won the Nobel Prize.


The administration is continuing to sabotage ObamaCare.

and let’s close by getting medieval

Maybe you already know how to walk like an Egyptian without falling down like a domino, but can you walk like it’s 999?

 

The Right Way to Protest

It’s wrong to do it in the streets.
It’s wrong to do it in the tweets.
You cannot do it on the field.
You cannot do it if you’ve kneeled.
And don’t do it if you’re rich
You ungrateful son of a bitch.
Because there’s one thing that’s a fact:
You cannot protest, if you’re black.

– Trevor Noah (9-25-2017)

This week’s featured post is about the latest tax-reform proposal: “Just What We Needed: More Inequality, Bigger Deficits“.

This morning everybody is talking about the Las Vegas shooting

As I’ve often said, a one-person weekly blog is poorly equipped to handle breaking news. CNN is reporting at least 50 killed and 400 injured. Apparently, Sunday evening a gunman on the 32nd floor of a nearby hotel fired automatic weapons fired down on an outdoor county music concert. So far I have heard very little about the shooter or what his motives might be.

General advice: Avoid jumping to conclusions. Early reports are often wrong and have to be corrected later.

through the week everyone has been talking about Puerto Rico

It’s a disturbing testimony on news-in-the-age-of-Trump that it’s much easier to find articles about the war of words between Trump and San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz than about the current state of things in Puerto Rico.

Hurricane Maria was a category-4 storm when it hit Puerto Rico on September 20. The energy grid, which had already been damaged by the previous Hurricane Irma, went completely offline and is still not functioning on most of the island. Aid made it to the port of San Juan fairly quickly, but got bogged down there. Just over a week after landfall, CNN reported:

At least 10,000 containers of supplies — including food, water and medicine — were sitting Thursday at the San Juan port, said Jose Ayala, the Crowley shipping company’s vice president in Puerto Rico. Part of the reason for the distribution backlog is that only 20% of truck drivers have reported back to work since Hurricane Maria swept through, according to a representative for Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló. On top of that, a diesel fuel shortage and a tangle of blocked roads mean the distribution of supplies is extremely challenging. Even contacting drivers is a problem because cell towers are still down.

In many parts of the island, food and water are running out faster than aid is arriving. Many Puerto Ricans who rely on prescription medication are having a hard time getting it. Hospitals and nursing homes are mostly relying on local generators, which they don’t always have fuel for.

Many have contrasted the federal response to this predicted disaster on a U.S. territory, the home of 3.4 million American citizens, with how the U.S. handled the unexpected earthquake in Haiti in 2010. The Washington Post:

Within two days [of the earthquake], the Pentagon had 8,000 American troops en route. Within two weeks, 33 U.S. military ships and 22,000 troops had arrived. More than 300 military helicopters buzzed overhead, delivering millions of pounds of food and water.

… By contrast, eight days after Hurricane Maria ripped across neighboring Puerto Rico, just 4,400 service members were participating in federal operations to assist the devastated island, an Army general told reporters Thursday. In addition, about 1,000 Coast Guard members were aiding the efforts. About 40 U.S. military helicopters were helping to deliver food and water to the 3.4 million residents of the U.S. territory, along with 10 Coast Guard helicopters.


As always, Trump’s main concern seems to be taking credit for success and dodging blame for failure. Friday, acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke pushed the administration line:

I know it is really a good news story in terms of our ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths that have taken place in such a devastating hurricane.

That set off Mayor Cruz:

Well maybe from where she’s standing it’s a good news story. When you’re drinking from a creek, it’s not a good news story. When you don’t have food for a baby, it’s not a good news story. When you have to pull people down from buildings — I’m sorry, that really upsets me and frustrates me.

And then Trump got involved. Not in solving the problems, of course, but by tweeting that Mayor Cruz had been “told by Democrats to be nasty to Trump”. She and other Puerto Ricans “want everything to be done for them”.

Any compassionate human being — even one who honestly felt blamed for things that weren’t his fault — would cut some slack for a local leader in the middle of a humanitarian disaster. Not Trump. He also went after reporters on the ground, who showed the world what Puerto Ricans are going through.

Fake News CNN and NBC are going out of their way to disparage our great First Responders as a way to ‘get Trump’.

VoxMatt Yglesias sees the problem as lack of planning and an unwillingness to admit mistakes.

A president who was focused on his job could have asked in advance what the plan was for a hurricane strike on Puerto Rico. He would have discovered that since Puerto Rico is part of the United States, FEMA is the default lead agency but it’s the US military that has the ships and helicopters that would be needed to get supplies into the interior of a wrecked island. And he could have worked something out. Instead, he didn’t get worked up about Puerto Rico until more than a week after the storm hit when he saw the mayor of San Juan lambasting him on television. He lashed out with his usual playbook — one that will only make things worse.

… Trump doesn’t know much about governing. But he is very good at channeling every discussion into the same handful of culture war tropes. Shifting the discussion in this direction rather than adopting a tone of humility will, of course, only make substantive recovery more difficult by polarizing the topic in Congress and among the public.

Josh Marshall frames the tweets against San Juan’s mayor and Trump’s statements attacking NFL players as two examples of “The Primary Text of Trumpism“.

Every conflict quickly boils down [to] honorable and white soldiers, police and first responders versus non-white ingrates, complainers and protestors. In fact, the very actions of the latter group dishonors and assaults the sacrifices and purity of the first. …

The core and essence of Trumpism is a racist morality play. It plays out again and again, just with a different troupe of actors in each town.

and Tom Price

The travel-expense scandal that had enveloped the HHS Secretary last week only got worse this week, until he resigned Friday. (In his five months in office, the taxpayers spent more than $1 million on private and military aircraft for Price’s trips.) Trump clearly hopes this issue is behind him now, but Price seems to be only the most extreme example of this administration’s tendency to waste public money pampering top officials. The Atlantic summarizes:

[EPA Director Scott] Pruitt spent more than $800,000 for an around-the-clock security detail in his first three months in office alone, nearly double the cost for his predecessor. This week, The Washington Post revealed that the EPA is spending $25,000 to construct a soundproof privacy booth for Pruitt, who has faced a slew of leaks as he battles unhappy employees at the agency. He has also accrued thousands of dollars in costs for private and military jet flights, including travel between Washington and his home state of Oklahoma.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is another frequent private flyer, including chartering a plane from an oil-and-gas company for a flight from Las Vegas to his home state of Montana for $12,000 this summer. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is under investigation for a flight in a government plane that included viewing the solar eclipse from Fort Knox, Kentucky. That flight became public when his wife, Louise Linton, posted an Instagram photo of herself alighting from the plane, and then sniped at a commenter. She later apologized. Mnuchin also requested the use of a government plane for his honeymoon, though Treasury later decided against it.

And where did all these people get the idea that spending public money on yourself is OK? From the top. Trump not only spends vastly more on himself and his family than previous presidents, a chunk of that money goes straight into his own pocket. Not only do his private clubs in Florida and New Jersey gain valuable publicity and prestige from presidential visits nearly every weekend (sometimes with foreign leaders in tow), but his government entourage and security team has to follow him, with the taxpayer picking up the tab.

Always costly in manpower and equipment, the president’s jaunts to Mar-a-Lago are estimated to cost at least $3 million each, based on a General Accountability Office estimate for similar travel by former President Obama. The Secret Service has spent some $60,000 on golf cart rentals alone this year to protect Trump at both Mar-a-Lago and Bedminster.

The Washington Post reports that

The Trump [International] Hotel [in Washington] is the most blatant example of how Trump is selling the presidency. No ordinary luxury hotel in a city that boasts more than a few, the Trump Hotel is where foreign dignitaries, lobbyists, White House staff, Cabinet officials, Trump confidants, Republican fundraisers, elected officials, religious leaders and assorted sycophants gather — to see and be seen, to rub elbows with the powerful, to possibly catch a glimpse of the president himself, and, most crucially, to patronize the hotel owned by the most powerful person in the world.

And one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Trump tax plan looks to be Trump himself.

and the Republican tax plan

See the featured post: “Just What We Needed: More Inequality, Bigger Deficits“.

and Roy Moore

who beat incumbent Senator Luther Strange in Alabama’s Republican primary runoff 55%-45%. Establishment Republicans around the country are freaking out, and Steve Bannon is considering which sitting Republican senators he wants to launch primary challenges against.

However, it’s not clear how national the Moore/Strange race really was. Local/personal issues came into play as well.

  • Strange had been appointed to the seat by now-disgraced ex-Governor Robert Bentley after Jeff Sessions became attorney general just a few months ago, so he’s not comparable to a senator who has been elected before and served out one or more full terms.
  • Some shady circumstances surrounded Strange’s appointment. At the time Strange was Alabama’s attorney general, and was widely believed to have been investigating Bentley for the scandal that eventually caused him to resign. Appointing Strange put Bentley in line to appoint a new AG, so the whole thing just smelled like a corrupt manipulation. An ethical AG would have turned the appointment down.
  • Strange is a former lobbyist, a fact Moore used to great effect in their debate.

In short, Strange was tailor-made to be caricatured as one of the dreaded Swamp Creatures of Washington. A primary race against the other GOP senators said to be on Bannon’s list (Dean Heller, Jeff Flake, Roger Wicker) might be different.


Religious-right Republicans are often described as “theocrats” who want to put the Bible above the Constitution. Roy Moore really is that way. It’s not hyperbole.


An early poll makes the general-election race look surprisingly competitive, given that we’re talking about Alabama: Moore leads Democrat Doug Jones 51%-44%. However, we’ve been here before. Self-respecting Republicans like to toy with the idea that they won’t vote for the thoroughly objectionable candidate their party has nominated, but in the end they almost all do.

The special election to serve out the remainder of the Senate term Jeff Sessions was elected to in 2014 will be held December 12.


The standard narrative of the Republican insurgent, which Bannon is now packaging for his own purposes, is that grassroots conservatives are always being betrayed: They elect people to do what they want — repeal ObamaCare, ban abortion, balance the budget (while cutting taxes), deport all the undocumented immigrants, make our military so strong that other nations stop challenging us, etc. —  but then Washington corrupts them and those things don’t get done.

But Josh Marshall coined the term nonsense debt to describe another narrative for the same set of facts: Any politician who wins by promoting nonsensical views and raising impossible expectations is going to suffer under an unfulfillable obligation after taking office.

He came back to that theme after Moore’s victory, arguing that “the base” vs. “the establishment” is a meaningless distinction. The GOP is in

an infinite loop of inflammatory and engaging promises, claims and demands which are mostly entirely unrealizable, creating a permanent cycle of establishmentism and grassroots’ betrayal which continues spinning forward even as the players in each category change.

and the NFL

For much of the country and almost all of his base, Trump has succeeded in hijacking the NFL-protest story. It’s not about police misconduct or Black Lives Matter any more; it’s about the flag and the anthem. The next time someone whitesplains what the players are doing and why, tell them that we don’t have to speculate, because the original protesters have explained their motives very well.

More excellent commentary on the protest comes from Nick Wright of the FS1 sports-news show First Things First. He points out that making the protests about the anthem is like claiming that people who march in the streets are protesting against traffic. And he offers this thought experiment to test whether you’re really against the method of protest, or really just against the issue: What if players were kneeling to protest how poorly the U.S. has been treating its veterans? Would you be equally repelled by that? Or is the real problem that they’re protesting racism?

Finally, the Seuss-like poem at the top is the conclusion of an excellent Daily Show segment where Trevor Noah addresses the question: When is the right time for black people to protest?

and you also might be interested in …

There’s an interesting debate going on about what white supremacist should mean: Do we reserve the term for people like Richard Spencer, who explicitly yearn for the U.S. to become a white ethnostate? Or does it extend to Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump, whose vision of America is clearly one where whites continue to dominate, even if they don’t say so in so many words.

Trevor Noah was getting at this distinction with regard to the usage of racism. He contrasted Trump’s claim that some of the whites chanting Nazi slogans in Charlottesville were “very fine people” with calling black football players who take a knee “sons of bitches”.

I don’t know if Trump is racist, but I do know he definitely prefers white people to black people. I can say that with confidence.


When Trump imposed a travel ban on six Muslim-majority countries, one of the reasons we were told protesters were over-reacting was that it was temporary: just 90 days. Well, now it’s permanent. He also cut in half the number of refugees the U.S. can accept. The Supreme Court is set to reconsider the ban as soon as both sides rewrite their briefs in response to the changes.


Mexico is reaching the outer reaches of government privatization: Private security guards are replacing the police, but only for those who can afford it. The NYT paints a scary picture.


Two independence referenda: The Kurdish provinces of Iraq voted 93% for independence. The Catalonians also voted for independence from Spain. Both national governments oppose the independence movements, so it’s not clear where things go from here. Of the two, Kurdish independence is more complex, because neighboring Turkey and Iran also have large Kurdish minorities.

and let’s close with something awe-inspiring

National Geographic‘s photography competitions are always amazing. Here’s a set of 51 photos, including this vision of solitary contemplation over Morraine Lake in Canada’s Banff National Park. (All Canadian national parks currently offer free admission, in celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday.)