Category Archives: Weekly summaries

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

Those Left Out

Brett Kavanaugh is an incredibly nice guy. That’s the point. The entire point of Brett Kavanaugh is that he is extraordinarily generous to the people around him. It’s all the people who aren’t around him that are cut out of the bargain.

Ian Millhiser

This week’s featured posts are “Trump doesn’t want skilled immigrants either“, and “What kind of justice would Brett Kavanaugh be?“.

This week everybody was talking about Brett Kavanaugh

who I discussed in one of the featured posts.

and the new indictment from the Mueller investigation

In contradiction to the pleading by Trump partisans that Mueller wrap things up quickly, his investigation continues to produce results at a consistent pace. Friday, Mueller’s D.C. grand jury issued an indictment against 12 members of Russian military intelligence, the GRU. The indictment describes in some detail exactly how and when these specific Russians hacked into computers at the DNC, the DCCC, and the Clinton campaign, and then distributed information they stole. The account flies in the face of President Trump’s repeated denials that anyone actually knows who did the hacking, as when he suggested the hack might be due to “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”

It was Russians, and not just any old Russians. It was the Russian military. This was information warfare.

The Trump administration is still resisting that message. Even after the indictments came out, with a full recitation of how Russian military intelligence did what they did, White House spokesperson Lindsay Walters referred to “the alleged hacking“. And although the indictments had not yet been released, Trump had already been briefed on them when he said this Friday at a press conference in the UK:

I think we are being hurt very badly by the, I would call it the witch hunt, I would call it the rigged witch hunt. I think that really hurts our country and really hurts our relationship with Russia. I think we would have a chance to have a very good relationship with Russia and a very good relationship with President Putin.

He also blamed the Democrats for getting hacked and blamed Obama. He has still never blamed Putin.

The stories you heard about the 12 Russians yesterday took place during the Obama Administration, not the Trump Administration. Why didn’t they do something about it, especially when it was reported that President Obama was informed by the FBI in September, before the Election?

(Vice President Biden has claimed that Obama tried to get leaders of both parties to make a strong bipartisan statement before the election, but Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused, leaving Obama with the choice between soft-pedaling the Russian interference and appearing to be trying to sway the election himself by creating a fake partisan issue.)

The official White House response to the indictments was not to be outraged at Russia or to stand up for the United States, but to defend itself:

Today’s charges include no allegations of knowing involvement by anyone on the campaign and no allegations that the alleged hacking affected the election result. This is consistent with what we have been saying all along.

Imagine, for example, President Bush taking a similar stand after 9-11: worrying mainly about whether his administration could be blamed for something and regretting the impact of the incident on his relationship with Osama bin Laden.

Russia, of course, is not going to extradite these people — and President Trump isn’t going to demand they do so — so they will never stand trial. So the main impact of the indictment is to get a collection of facts into the public record. Unlike, say, the Starr investigation of President Clinton or the many Republican congressional investigations of Benghazi or Hillary Clinton’s emails, Mueller’s team doesn’t leak. So far, indictments have been its primary avenue for communicating with the public.

No Americans were subjects of this indictment, but the text contained hints that Americans were involved and may possibly be indicted later. People are speculating, but I’m content to wait and see.

There is a tantalizing coincidence in the indictment. On July 27, 2016, Trump said in the press conference:

Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 [Hillary Clinton] emails that are missing.

It’s possible that somebody in Russia responded to that suggestion. The indictment says:

The Conspirators spearphished individuals affiliated with the Clinton Campaign throughout the summer of 2016. For example, on or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton Campaign.

For a long time now I’ve been thinking of Trump’s election as a perfect storm of things going wrong: Russian meddling, Comey’s announcements, Hillary running a bad campaign, and so on. But what if at least two of those factors are connected?

On her Empty Wheel blog, Marcy Wheeler has been calling attention to one key detail in the indictment:

I have been saying forever that the easiest way to steal the election would be to steal Hillary’s analytics. The indictment reveals that,

In or around September 2016, the Conspirators also successfully gained access to DNC computers hosted on a third-party cloud-computing service. These computers contained test applications related to the DNC’s analytics. After conducting reconnaissance, the Conspirators gathered data by creating backups, or “snapshots,” of the DNC’s cloud-based systems using the cloud provider’s own technology.

The indictment is silent about what happened to this stolen analytics data.

She retweeted Jonathon Rubin’s explanation of what could be done with that data:

What they could have done is used her analytics to figure out how they could target ads to fuck with turnout in a way where her model wouldn’t detect what was happening—an adversarial example attack in machine learning parlance. To expand a bit: you could run scenarios against her data to find situations where it would return the same results for different input. Brute-force detect edge cases where her model would fail. Like where to run ads in Wisconsin so that her model wouldn’t see support softening.

and Trump in Europe

Today he’s in Helsinki reporting in to his GRU handler meeting with Russian President Putin. The administration has not explained the purpose of this meeting, though many speculate it has something to do with pulling US troops out of Syria and abandoning that country to the Putin-supported Assad regime.

For Putin, the purpose is obvious, even if he gets no freebies from Trump

All [Putin] really needs to make his meeting with Mr. Trump a success is for it to take place without any major friction — providing a symbolic end to Western efforts to isolate Russia over its actions against Ukraine in 2014, its meddling in the United States election in 2016 and other examples of what the United States Treasury Department has described as Russia’s “malign activity” around the world.

“If Trump says, ‘Let bygones be bygones because we have a world to run,’ that is essentially what Moscow needs from this,” said Vladimir Frolov, an independent foreign policy analyst in Moscow.

Before meeting Putin, Trump spent the NATO meetings in Brussels attacking our allies. Germany, he claimed is “totally controlled by Russia” because it gets much of its energy from Russia. He demanded that the other NATO leaders commit to increasing their defense spending faster than previously agreed to. CBS News reports Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group saying:

“Trump was very frustrated; he wasn’t getting commitments from other leaders to spend more. Many of them said, ‘Well, we have to ask our parliaments. We have a process; we can’t just tell you we’re going to spend more, we have a legal process.’ Trump turns around to the Turkish president, Recep Erdogan, and says, ‘Except for Erdogan over here. He does things the right way,’ and then actually fist-bumps the Turkish president.”

“The right way”, of course, is to be a dictator.

Andrew Sullivan suspects that Trump may have unintentionally widened the sliver of a chance that Britain might undo Brexit. His basic thesis is that Trump has emboldened the “hard Brexit” crowd, which means that there may no longer be a Parliamentary majority behind Prime Minister May’s “soft Brexit” proposal — or any other Brexit proposal. And that means that when time runs out in nine months, Britain faces a crash exit instead: Connections with the EU end abruptly with no negotiated agreement to replace them.

Among the immediate doomsday possibilities the government itself is worried about in a crash exit are the effective, immediate collapse of the port of Dover — grinding trade to a halt — and the dispatch of thousands of electricity generators on barges in the Irish Sea to keep Northern Ireland’s lights on, because the province’s ability to share a single electricity market with the whole island of Ireland would end with an E.U. exit. Northern Ireland itself could explode in sectarian violence again if a hard border is erected between north and south, as it would have to be. Scotland would move toward independence. Critical shortages of food, fuel, and medicine would open up within two weeks, by the government’s own estimation. The military would have to be deployed to ensure transportation of essentials. Stocks and the pound would plummet. A steep recession at home, and maybe also abroad, could follow. It would be one of the most harmful things a democratic country ever did to itself, or to its neighbors.

With that disaster staring them in the face, Britain might decide to redo the referendum.

For a break over the weekend — destroying the western alliance is hard work, after all — Trump went to his golf resort in Scotland, turning the trip into what Norman Eisen at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington calls “an infomercial for his properties” — sponsored by the American taxpayer. Taxpayer money also goes directly into his pocket, as Secret Service agents and other members of his entourage are obliged to rent rooms from him.

Here we see the Angry Baby Trump balloon flying over the Winston Churchill statue in London’s Parliament Square. Trump said he felt “unwelcome” and avoided London. If we fly some balloons in the US, do you think maybe he’ll decide not to come back?

and families still separated

In every way possible, the Trump administration has been dragging its feet to delay giving back the children it stole. A federal judge is pushing them, but they are moving as slowly as they can.

Imagine how this would look if it were happening to you: You get arrested for some misdemeanor offense, like speeding or disturbing the peace or shoplifting some small item. (Crossing the border without a visa is a misdemeanor.) You might not even be guilty. (Some of the separated families did not try to sneak across, but presented themselves at an entry port and requested asylum. This is not illegal. Others tried to request asylum legally, but were left waiting on the border for days, until they gave up and crossed the border anyway.) But government has a new policy of zero tolerance for whatever it is you are supposed to have done, so you are imprisoned and denied bail.

Because you can’t take care of your kids while you’re in jail, the government takes custody of them and doesn’t tell you where they are. When a court orders the government to give your kids back to you, the government demands that you prove you are really your kids’ parent, and says that it can’t give the kids back until it completes an investigation into your fitness as a parent. When the President is asked about your situation, he does not respond directly, but says only that people shouldn’t do whatever it is you are supposed to have done, even if you didn’t do it.

The people responsible for this, from Trump on down, are monsters. I can’t think of any other way to describe them. Any moral person would resign rather than carry out these orders.

Jesuit Priest James Martin takes a Christian look at refugees and immigrants.

and Peter Strzok

The House Judiciary and Oversight Committees held a joint session Thursday in which the Republican majority presented the villain of their Russia-Witch-Hunt fantasy: FBI counter-intelligence agent Peter Strzok.

Hours and hours of this hearing were shown on TV. I can’t guess how it played for the country as a whole. Switching back and forth between Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity Thursday night was like looking at two different worlds. Hannity showed long stretches of Republican congressman making speeches against Strzok, and clipped off his answers. Rachel focused on Strzok’s answers, particularly the ones that made the questioners look ridiculous.

The one piece of useful information I gleaned from this hearing was Strzok’s explanation for his infamous “No he won’t. We’ll stop it” text message to his paramour Lisa Page, who had been worried about Trump becoming president. His explanation is the one I had guessed: Strzok says the “we” in the text is the American people, not the FBI in general or some Strzok/Page deep-state cabal within the FBI. He added some context.

In terms of the texts that ‘we will stop it,’ you need to understand that was written late at night, off-the-cuff, and it was in response to a series of events that included then-candidate Trump insulting the immigrant family of a fallen war hero, and my presumption, based on that horrible, disgusting behavior that the American population would not elect somebody demonstrating that behavior to be President of the United States

In general, the debate over Strzok is similar to the one over Christopher Steele, author of the famous Steele dossier. In each case, someone with a long history in counter-intelligence against the Russians expressed alarm about the prospect of a Trump presidency and played a role in starting the Trump/Russia investigation. Two radically different explanatory scenarios have been put forward, one by Trump loyalists and the other by Strzok and Steele themselves.

  • Trump scenario. Steele and Strzok were hostile to Trump for some mysterious reason, and that hostility led them to try to derail his candidacy by dreaming up a Trump/Russia conspiracy theory. If their invention of the conspiracy theory were ever exposed, it would wreck the credibility each had spent an entire career building, but that risk was worth it in order to satisfy their irrational hunger to destroy Donald Trump. For some other mysterious reason, though, each failed to publicize the invented conspiracy before the election, when it might have prevented Trump’s victory. Neither has any current role in the Mueller investigation, which pursues Trump for some third mysterious reason.
  • Strzok/Steele scenario. Two experts on Russian intelligence activities saw very real signs of Russian influence on the Trump campaign and of a Russian effort to get Trump elected. Each was freaked out by the possibility that an American president might take office while indebted to Russia or even under Russian control. In their professional roles, they began pushing for a broader investigation, while personally they hoped Trump would lose the election.

To me it’s obvious that the second scenario fits the known facts and makes sense, while the first one doesn’t.

But there’s a more important point: None of it matters. Sooner or later, Bob Mueller will issue a report. That report will either find wrongdoing or it won’t. The evidence it provides will either prove those points or not. At that point, how the investigation started will be irrelevant.

and Jim Jordan

So far Paul Ryan and his fellow Republicans are standing by Jim Jordan, in spite of the allegations against him.

About half a dozen former Ohio State wrestlers say Jordan had to have known young men were complaining about being fondled by the team doctor in the 1990s, when Jordan was an assistant coach.

His defenses amount to (1) the wrestlers are lying, and (2) it’s a deep state conspiracy.

and you also might be interested in …

Remember the Bundy militia yahoos who took over the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon? They were protesting the five-year sentences in the Hammond arson case, in which Dwight and Steven Hammond (father and son) set fires on federal land, apparently to cover up evidence of illegal deer hunting.

Well, Trump pardoned the Hammonds Tuesday. This administration has zero tolerance for refugees seeking asylum, and justifies that stance by invoking crime and terrorism. But people who have connections to actual terrorists, terrorists who attacked a federal government facility and held it by force of arms, they’re OK.

NYT article on student debt: Debt per student is leveling off, but probably because students can’t borrow any more. Parental debt is still growing, and there’s evidence that students are scaling back their educational ambitions because of cost.

The War on Poverty is over and we won! At least that’s what a new report from Trump’s Council of Economic Advisors says.

Between 1961 and 2016, consumption-based poverty fell from 30 percent to 3 percent, amounting to a 90 percent decline (and it fell by 77 percent since 1980). This likely even understates the reduction in material hardship as it omits the consumption-value of increased public expenditure on healthcare and education for the poor. Based on historical standards of material wellbeing and the terms of engagement, our War on Poverty is largely over and a success

The key phrase here is consumption-based poverty. Typically we measure poverty by income, but even if your income crashes (because, say, you lost your job and can’t find another one), your spending may stay at a non-poverty level for a while if you have savings, material goods you can sell, relatives willing to subsidize you, or a credit card that isn’t maxed out yet.

Of course, there are still people who need Food Stamps, Medicaid, and various other government programs, but that’s because welfare makes them lazy.

Today, many non-disabled working-age adults do not regularly work, particularly those living in low-income households. Such non-working adults may miss important pecuniary and non-pecuniary benefits for themselves and their households, and can become reliant on welfare programs.

You might wonder how many of these unemployed adults are lying on the couch smoking dope and how many are chasing toddlers, but the report-writers aren’t curious about stuff like that. And they have a solution: Put work requirements on all the assistance programs that don’t already have them, like Food Stamps, housing subsidies, and Medicaid.

A question you always have to ask about plans like this is: “What happens the next time the economy crashes?” as it always does eventually. At precisely the moment when lots of people lose their incomes and jobs are scarce, the government says we can’t help you unless you are working. Then you may become homeless and undernourished while you go off your meds, none of which is going to help you land one of those scarce jobs.

and let’s close with some vicarious satisfaction

James Veitch responds to a common email scam, and keeps the exchange going until the scammers can’t take it any more.

Welcome to All

The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations And Religions.

George Washington (1783)

This week’s featured post is “‘America First!’ means China wins.” I’ve been working on this piece for a few weeks and I’m pleased with it. Take a look.

This week everybody was talking about the next Supreme Court nominee

who is supposed to be announced in a prime-time extravaganza tonight. (Don’t watch. It only encourages him.) It’s tempting to speculate about who Trump will name, but it seems silly when we’ll know so soon. It’s not like any of the names being discussed are significantly better than the others.

What kind of opposition the nominee will face is another question. Politico asks the question “Will Susan Collins Get Snookered Again?“, which kind of answers itself. The article explains what a senator with Collins’ professed beliefs could do if she had some iron in her spine.

Here’s how she can get what she wants: partner with red-state Democratic senators, and anyone else who’s willing, and jointly announce that they will not vote for any nominee who isn’t the result of bipartisan consultation, in advance.

Trump would have to scrap his vaunted judges list, which Collins has criticized as too heavily influenced by the conservative Federalist Society. Either he nominates a ninth justice who will hold the center, or it’s a 4-4 court until the president relents.

It’s a fun scenario to think about, but it’s not going to happen because of the whole iron-in-the-spine thing. (An aside: I happened to be in Portland Friday, when I ran in to Collins’ Democratic challenger, Zak Ringelstein, who was standing on the Congress Street sidewalk shaking hands. I know nothing about him, but he looks like an energetic young guy.)

and the swamp

Scott Pruitt has finally resigned.

In an administration where the President’s company benefits from massive foreign-government investments, the President owes hundreds of millions to foreign banks, and the President’s daughter and her husband make tens of millions while being presidential advisors (at least some of it due to concessions from the Chinese), it is still possible to go too far. That’s good to know.

Pruitt was the most blatantly corrupt member of Trump’s cabinet. He openly took valuable favors from lobbyists and granted them favors, apparently in return. He treated the EPA staff as his personal assistants and wasted millions of public dollars on himself. He is the subject of 13 ethical or legal investigations. He covered up his cozy relationships with polluting-industry lobbyists by “scrubbing” his published schedule to remove questionable meetings, which violates government transparency laws. He demoted or reassigned underlings who raised questions about any of this.

Most of this illegal and unethical activity has been public for a long time, but Trump didn’t seem to care. Pruitt was doing what Trump and many Trumpists wanted: re-orienting the EPA to protect polluters from the law rather than using the law to protect the environment from polluters. His corruption was an acceptable part of that package. (Pruitt’s deputy, a former vice president of the Washington Coal Club and lobbyist for energy companies, will continue his work.)

In his resignation letter to Trump, Pruitt admitted nothing and apologized for nothing, citing only “unrelenting attacks” on himself and his family that have “taken a sizable toll on all of us”. Obsequious to the end, Pruitt closed his letter with the kind of flattery that used to be anathema within the American government, but is all too common in this administration, where expressions of praise and personal thanks to the president are expected from both cabinet secretaries and religious leaders.

My desire in service to you has always been to bless you as you make important decisions for the American people. I believe you are serving as President today because of God’s providence. I believe that same providence brought me into your service. I pray as I have served you that I have blessed you and enabled you to effectively lead the American people. Thank you again Mr. President for the honor of serving you and I wish you Godspeed in all that you put your hand to.

For contrast, look at Hillary Clinton’s resignation letter as Secretary of State and the statement Eric Holder made when he resigned as Attorney General. Both cited the good work of the people they had managed. (Pruitt’s letter reads as if he had worked alone.) They thanked President Obama for the opportunity to serve the country, not Obama personally. Holder referred to Obama as “my friend”, not as a superior being or an instrument of God’s plan.

That attitude towards government service — that equal citizens work together for the country rather than under a divine-right King who “leads” the People and “makes decisions for” the People rather than serving them — is an American thing, not a partisan thing. Look at Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation letter as President Bush’s Secretary of Defense. He compliments Bush’s leadership and wishes him well, but his good feelings are primarily directed outward, not upward towards the Great Man:

It has been the highest honor of my long life to have been able to serve our country at such a critical time in our history and to have had the privilege of working so closely with the truly amazing young men and women in uniform.

That’s what Americans sound like. Let’s not forget.

and trade war

Trump’s trade war with the rest of the world (China, Europe, Canada) had mostly been a lot of bluster until this week.

The United States just after midnight on Friday made good on its threat to impose sweeping tariffs on Beijing, putting a 25 percent border tax on $34 billion worth of Chinese goods imported to the US. China responded with $34 billion of tariffs of its own on its imports from America.

It’s been two weeks now since Harley Davidson announced it was moving some of its production to Thailand to avoid European Union tariffs that were imposed in response to Trump’s tariffs on European steel and aluminum. Competing manufacturer Polaris may do the same.

One of the most worrisome things about the trade war is that it’s not clear what would end it. Getting-tough-on-trade seems to be its own goal. What concessions does Trump want before he will call it off? No one seems to know.

Meanwhile, most of the pain is being felt in parts of the country that supported Trump in 2016. US soybean prices have approached 10-year lows, prompting calls for a farm bail-out. Mexico has already started buying more grain from South America. Reuters examines a Missouri county that sees both sides: Its aluminum smelter plans to re-open, but its farmers are worried.

and immigration

For some reason the Trump administration can’t seem to reunite the families it broke up, in spite of an approaching court deadline to do so. Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee put it in terms anybody should be able to understand: “I’ve seen coat check windows operate with a better system.”

A federal court in San Diego has issued an order that

gives the government until Tuesday to reunify children younger than 5 with their parents, and until July 26 for older children.

The government has asked for more time in general. Friday, the judge said no, but acknowledged that he might agree to a looser deadline in specific cases, if some special factor made that reasonable.

The government still doesn’t seem to grasp that it has done something horrible and needs to make it right. For example, HHS wants to be let off the hook for finding parents who have already been deported and getting their children back to them, because that would be hard. A further revelation came from Gov. Inslee, who tweeted:

My office recently learned the shocking revelation from that reunification could mean placing a separated child with ANY long-term sponsor — regardless of whether it’s their parents, other family in the US, family back in their home country or in long-term foster care.

Having been careless about taking the kids away, the government now wants to be extra-careful about giving them back. It’s insisting on DNA tests to match parents and children. What will happen to adopted children or step-children is anybody’s guess, and it’s not clear what the government will do with this highly personal information going forward.

One fact bears repeating every time this story is discussed: Coming the the United States to seek asylum is not illegal. Our laws obligate us to give asylum-seekers a fair hearing, and there is no justification for treating them like criminals. The question isn’t whether they will obey our laws, but whether we will.

Conservatives like to pretend that their problem is only with illegal immigration, but that doesn’t explain the behavior of this administration. Friday, AP reported:

Some immigrant U.S. Army reservists and recruits who enlisted in the military with a promised path to citizenship are being abruptly discharged. … The service members affected by the recent discharges all enlisted in recent years under a special program aimed at bringing medical specialists and fluent speakers of 44 sought-after languages into the military. The idea, according to the Defense Department, was to “recognize their contribution and sacrifice.”

Instead, the Trump administration has abruptly raised the standards on background checks, which either the soldiers fail (because “they have relatives abroad”) or the soldiers get discharged because the checks can’t be completed in a timely fashion.

Also, the US Citizenship and Immigration Service is going after immigrants who are already citizens. A task force is trying to identify people who may have lied on their applications for citizenship, even if it happened decades ago. The New Yorker’s Masha Gessen describes what that can mean:

Back in 1989, I had to make a decision about whether to lie on my citizenship application. At the time, immigration law banned “aliens afflicted with sexual deviation,” among others suffering from “psychopathic personality,” from entry to the United States. I had come to this country as a fourteen-year-old, in 1981, but I had been aware of my “sexual deviation” at the time, and this technically meant that I should not have entered the country. I decided to append a letter to my citizenship application, informing the Immigration and Naturalization Service that I was homosexual but that I disagreed with the exclusion and would be willing to discuss the matter in court. …

My application was granted without my having to fight for it in court. I hadn’t thought about my naturalization for years, but I find myself thinking about it now, thankful for the near-accident of not having lied on my application.

Gessen thinks twice, and realizes that she might have to lie if she were doing her paperwork today.

Question 26 on the green-card application, for example, reads, “Have you EVER committed a crime of any kind (even if you were not arrested, cited, charged with, or tried for that crime)?” (Emphasis in the original.) The question does not specify whether it refers to a crime under current U.S. law or the laws of the country in which the crime might have been committed. In the Soviet Union of my youth, it was illegal to possess foreign currency or to spend the night anywhere you were not registered to live. In more than seventy countries, same-sex sexual activity is still illegal. On closer inspection, just about every naturalized citizen might look like an outlaw, or a liar.

It seems more and more obvious that the primary goal of Trump’s immigration policy across-the-board is to delay the day when whites become a minority in the US. Talk about jobs or crime or security risks is just a smokescreen.

and the continuing discussion of civility

Here’s one contribution.

And Katha Pollitt at The Nation points out that the owner of the Red Hen Restaurant just gave the wrong reason for refusing service to Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Instead of basing her objection on the discomfort of her LGBT staffers, she should simply have said serving Sanders was against her religion. She could have quoted Psalm 101:7: “No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in my presence.”

“Religion,” Pollitt observes, “gives you freedom of speech denied to your opponents.” At least if you’re Christian.

Claiming that religion gives you the right to harm your fellow Americans probably works best if you are Christian. Only Christians get to impose their religion on others. A Hindu wouldn’t get very far with a lawsuit to shut down the beef industry.

And if you want to be uncivil, it helps to be conservative.

No matter how vulgar, gross, threatening, cruel, illegal, and insane the right becomes, it’s always the left that is warned against piping up too loudly and in the wrong way. It’s like the old Jewish joke: Three Jews stand before a firing squad. Each is offered a blindfold. The first Jew takes a blindfold. The second Jew takes a blindfold. The third Jew refuses the blindfold. The second Jew elbows him and says, “Moshe, take a blindfold—don’t make trouble.”

but I noticed the Republican trip to Russia

Something very odd happened this week: A delegation of seven Republican senators and one Republican House member visited Russia over the Fourth of July break, hoping to talk to Putin. Putin was too busy to fit them into his schedule, so they met with their counterparts in the Russian Duma.

There’s some disagreement about the topics of discussion and the emphasis. Senator Richard Shelby sounded conciliatory, almost deferential.

“I’m not here today to accuse Russia of this or that or so forth,” Shelby told Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin. “I’m saying that we should all strive for a better relationship.”

In other words: Let’s forget all about the fact that you’ve been waging an information war against us and our allies, and just move on from here. It’s hard to imagine a weaker message. It’s like a bullied junior high kid saying “I’m willing to overlook that you’ve been stealing my lunch money. Let’s both strive for a better relationship.”

The Russians certainly didn’t seem impressed.

Duma member Vyacheslav Nikonov, on the other hand, said he had met with many American lawmakers in years past and that this meeting “was one of the easiest ones in my life.” The question of election interference, he said, was resolved quickly because “the question was raised in a general form. One shouldn’t interfere in elections — well, we don’t interfere.”

A few of the Republicans have tried to portray their message as much more stern. Senator Kennedy of Louisiansa

described the meetings as “damn frank, very, very, very frank, no holds barred.”

“I asked our friends in Russia not to interfere in our elections this year,” Kennedy said. “I asked them to exit Ukraine and allow Ukraine to self-determine. I asked for the same thing in Crimea. I asked for their help in bringing peace to Syria. And I asked them not to allow Iran to gain a foothold in Syria.”

I think it’s telling that Kennedy described himself as “asking our friends” rather than demanding that enemies stop attacking us. Senator Moran of Kansas told NPR:

There is no way that a Russian official, the people that we met with, could come away from those meetings without believing that we sincerely believe [election meddling] happened. We believe we have the proof that it happened, and that if anything is going to improve, it involves stopping what’s occurred to date.

But whatever was said, coming as a partisan group was very unusual, and that by itself sent a weak message. (By coincidence, I just finished reading John McCain’s recent book The Restless Wave. He tells many stories of being on foreign trips with Democratic senators like Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton. Traveling in bipartisan groups is the norm. Partisan groups larger than two or three senators are almost unheard of.) In December, Republican Senators Johnson of Wisconsin and Barrasso of Wyoming cancelled a trip to Russia when the Russians refused to give a visa to Democratic Senator Shaheen of New Hampshire. That sent a powerful message that Americans stand together, and that Russia can’t exploit our partisan differences.

This trip sent the opposite message: Republicans are willing to seek their own relationship with Russia, independent of the national interest.Of course, the Republican senators’ trip is just a prelude to the Trump/Putin summit in Helsinki next Monday, when the two leaders will meet with no one present but their interpreters. Meeting without advisors present is also very unusual, especially for a president who has so little foreign-policy experience and such sketchy knowledge of the issues between the two countries. They spoke privately once before, last summer at a G-20 dinner in Germany, where no other Americans were involved and only Putin’s interpreter was used.

There’s been a lot of speculation about why they would meet this way, but I have an interpretation that explains everything: Putin is giving Trump his annual performance review.

and you also might be interested in …

Trump is still working to sabotage ObamaCare. And he still has no plans to replace it with anything.

As we celebrated the 4th of July, a record low percentage of Americans reported that they are proud of their country.

In May, the White House released “President Donald J. Trump’s Blueprint To Lower Drug Prices“. So far, the drug industry isn’t cooperating.

The across-the-board increases cast doubt on whether Trump and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar can pressure manufacturers to voluntarily drop prices without the threat of specific consequences.

One of the mysteries I’ve been studying in recent months is how Evangelicals manage to keep supporting Trump in spite of (1) his personal life contradicting all their standards of good character, and (2) his policies contradicting all the teachings of Jesus. Useful input on this question comes from John Fea, a historian at Messiah College in Pennsylvania.

Fea argues that Evangelical support for Trump arises from projecting a religious narrative onto American history: The US is a Christian nation with a divinely appointed destiny.

Ever since the founding of the republic, a significant number of Americans have supposed that the United States is exceptional because it has a special place in God’s unfolding plan for the world. Since the early 17th century founding of the Massachusetts Bay colony by Puritans, evangelicals have relished in their perceived status as God’s new Israel—His chosen people. America, they argued, is in a covenant relationship with God.

Like much of the Evangelical worldview, this idea is totally non-Biblical. (You’d have to do some serious stretching of the text to find some mention of America in the Bible.) It’s also false history. But Evangelicals have found their own pseudo-historians (David Barton being the most prominent) to promote the belief that the Founders intended to create the new Israel.

So why don’t real historians dispel all this nonsense?

We do.

We have.

But countering bad history with good history is not as easy as it sounds. David Barton and his fellow Christian nationalist purveyors of the past are well-funded by Christian conservatives who know that the views of the past they are peddling serve their political agenda. Barton has demonized Christian intellectuals and historians as sheep in wolves’ clothing. They may call themselves Christians on Sunday morning, but, according to Barton, their “world view” has been shaped by the secular universities where they earned their Ph.Ds. Thanks to Barton, many conservative evangelicals do not trust academic and professional historians—even academic and professional historians with whom they share a pew on Sunday mornings.

If you read the comments on Fea’s article, you’ll fine abuse from several Evangelical commenters. All of which proves Carl Sagan’s point:

One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.

No matter how low my opinion of this administration drops, I still get surprised sometimes: The Trump delegation at the World Health Organization strong-armed several small nations out of sponsoring a resolution to encourage breast-feeding.

Based on decades of research, the resolution says that mother’s milk is healthiest for children and countries should strive to limit the inaccurate or misleading marketing of breast milk substitutes. Then the United States delegation, embracing the interests of infant formula manufacturers, upended the deliberations.

… The Americans were blunt: If Ecuador refused to drop the resolution, Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid. The Ecuadorean government quickly acquiesced. … Health advocates scrambled to find another sponsor for the resolution, but at least a dozen countries, most of them poor nations in Africa and Latin America, backed off, citing fears of retaliation, according to officials from Uruguay, Mexico and the United States.

You know who finally stepped up to submit the resolution? Russia. For whatever reason, Trump never threatens Russia. (It would probably hurt his performance review.) So they get to be the good guys in this story.

and let’s close with something speculative

Inquiring minds want to know: Did Mary Poppins go to Hogwarts?

The Wrong Week

I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.

Lloyd Bridges, Airplane! (1980)

This week’s featured posts are “Minority Rule Snowballs” and “Giving up is a prerogative of privilege.

This week everybody was talking about the Supreme Court

Not only did the Court end it’s spring term with a number of disappointing decisions — I listed them in the previous post — but we also got an additional piece of bad news: Justice Kennedy is retiring, giving Trump an opportunity to appoint his replacement while Republicans still control the Senate.

In general, Kennedy has been part of the Court’s conservative majority, as he was on several decisions this week. But in the past he has also sided with the liberals on a number of key social-issue decisions: most notably the series of cases leading to the Obergfell decision, which affirmed a same-sex couple’s right to marry, but also upholding Roe v Wade, which keeps Congress or the states from outlawing abortion altogether.

As the Court stands now, Alito, Gorsuch, and Thomas are doctrinaire far-right extremists, particularly on social issues. They routinely award special rights to Christians, and have only a hazy notion of the separation of church and state. (Thomas believes that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment only prevents the federal government from establishing a religion. If Texas wanted to declare itself a Baptist state or Utah wanted to establish Mormonism, he’d be fine with that. I’m not exaggerating.)

If Trump appoints another Gorsuch to the Court, then Chief Justice Roberts becomes the fifth-and-deciding conservative vote. Roberts also has a conservative voting record, but is cagier than the other three: He seldom writes a ringing opinion that enunciates some new conservative principle, but instead has a way of seeming to re-affirm a previous decision while actually gutting it. (In 2012, for example, his vote upheld the constitutionality of ObamaCare, but did so by destroying the Commerce Clause justification Congress had in mind when it passed the law. He invented a much narrower constitutional basis for ObamaCare, which is now under fire in a new case. Similarly, he upheld the Voting Rights Act while destroying the main mechanism for enforcing it.)

So on social-issue cases — gay rights, civil rights, abortion, etc. — the typical decision will be a ringing piece of conservative rhetoric representing Alito, Gorsuch, Thomas, and the new guy, and then a more reasonable-sounding concurrence by Roberts that comes to the same conclusion on this particular case in a less sweeping way.

On economic issues, it won’t even be close: Roberts is an economic royalist; he’s for anything that increases corporate power, the influence of the 1%, or the voting power of the white Christian conservative bloc. Kennedy may have written the Citizens United opinion, but it was Roberts who maneuvered the case into position. Roberts is consistently anti-union and anti-consumer. He’ll support voter suppression and gerrymandering, as long as it has a fig leaf of alternative explanation.

I try not to speculate much on this blog, because I think way too much of the media’s “news” coverage is devoted to speculation about things that may never happen, rather than reports about what is happening. But I can’t resist here: In picking Gorsuch, Trump followed conservative orthodoxy. Gorsuch had appropriate experience and looked the part, so he might also have been appointed by President Rubio or President Cruz. I think in his second pick, Trump will want to make the point to Evangelicals that nobody else would have done this for them. That’s why they should be loyal to him personally rather than the GOP generally. So this one is going to be off the wall. If Roy Moore didn’t have that teen-age girl baggage, he’d be perfect.

Reportedly, Trump is using a candidate list created by Leonard Leo, until recently a vice president of the Federalist Society, an organization of right-wing lawyers. Trump has reportedly said he won’t ask candidates about specific issues like Roe v Wade, but that doesn’t reassure me for three reasons:

  • Undoubtedly Leo already has asked about Roe, and a judge who wasn’t sufficiently committed to overturning it wouldn’t be on the list. So Trump doesn’t need to ask; he already knows.
  • Trump lies and has no self-control. The fact that he says he won’t ask about something doesn’t mean much.
  • What really worries me is that Trump will ask for “loyalty”, as he did with James Comey. The Court may soon have to rule on questions like whether Trump can be subpoenaed, how far civil suits against him can go, and whether he can either pardon himself or pardon fellow members of a criminal conspiracy. I don’t want him negotiating a favorable ruling with judges as a condition of appointment.

Democrats currently have 49 senators. If they hold together against Trump’s nominee and John McCain’s health doesn’t allow him to attend, then only one Republican needs to cross over to block the nomination. Susan Collins said Sunday that she “would not support a nominee who demonstrated hostility to Roe v. Wade.” But as we saw in the tax-cut debate, Collins looks for reasons to go along, not reasons to resist. She happily settles for empty promises about tomorrow in exchange for a real vote today. So if the nominee says s/he hasn’t promised Trump anything about Roe, and professes a false open-mindedness in committee hearings, I’m sure Collins will be satisfied. When the Court finally overturns Roe she will tut-tut her disapproval, never admitting that she did nothing when she had the chance to prevent it.

and immigration

The government is still keeping about 2,000 immigrant children away from their parents. When the Trump administration took them, apparently it didn’t make any plan for how to return them. A judge has given them 30 days, and it’s not clear if they’ll meet that deadline.

OK, it’s official now: The Trump administration wants to replace family separation with family detention.

In federal court Friday night, Trump’s Department of Justice, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, filed an announcement that it is now keeping families in detention “during the pendency of” their immigration cases. That could easily mean months of detention (or longer) for some asylum-seekers — or, alternatively, a form of “assembly-line justice” that moves families’ cases through too quickly to allow for real due process.

The whole we-have-to-enforce-the-law chorus is ignoring an important point: The law says we grant asylum to people who face persecution in their home countries. If the Trump administration sends them home without a hearing or rams them through a kangaroo court, it is breaking the law. The rule of law means that laws don’t just apply to the powerless, they apply to the government too.

Hundreds of thousands of people attended protest rallies around the county Saturday, the largest being in Chicago, Washington, and New York. In little Nashua, NH, I was at a rally with about 400 others.

A slogan at many of this weekend’s protest rallies was “Abolish ICE”. Trump interprets this as an anarchic slogan that calls for no policing of the border and predicts “Next it will be all police.” Actually, the proposal is quite a bit more sensible than that, as Alt. U.S. Press Secretary explains in a tweet storm:

Let’s talk about : What it is and what it means. Does this mean getting rid of all border enforcement, or “open borders”? NO. ICE is an interior enforcement agency. They don’t guard the border. Who suggested abolishing ICE? ICE Special Investigators & Special Agents.

ICE consists of two portions with two differing missions. ICE HSI consists of trained investigators who handle highly significant drug tracking, child pornography, and other highly important translational law enforcement. And ICE ERO. ICE ERO does interior enforcement: Arresting people at courthouses, including domestic violence victims, and their places of work. Over 200 people have died in their custody. ICE routinely reallocates resources away from the important work of ICE HSI to ERO.

… ICE HSI and ICE ERO should be immediate separated within DHS, and ERO should be entirely restructured. In the interim, a more established agency such as FBI should manage both of the functions of both ICE HSI and ICE ERO.

and primaries

Progressive candidates did well in Democratic primaries Tuesday. Three in particular, in very different circumstances:

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated Rep. Joe Crowley, who was part of the Democratic House leadership. The race drew comparisons to Dave Brat beating Eric Cantor in 2014. Ocasio-Cortez is in New York’s 14th district, which is very blue. She seems very likely to hold the seat.

Ben Jealous won the Democratic nomination for governor of Maryland. The incumbent Republican, Larry Hogan, is very popular even though Maryland is a blue state. The conventional wisdom is that Jealous will lose, but that a centrist Democrat would have lost too.

Dana Balter defeated a candidate backed by the Democratic establishment in NY-24. This is precisely the kind of district Democrats need to win if they’re going to take the House: carried by Hillary Clinton but represented by a Republican. So this is a real test of the electability of progressives.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted:

A major point of my campaign: in the safest blue seats in America, we should have leaders swinging for the most ambitious ideas possible for working-class Americans. You’re largely not going to get gutsy risk-taking from swing-district seats.

This makes perfect sense to me. It’s the flip side of Doug Jones running on middle-of-the-road ideas in Alabama and Joe Manchin having some conservative positions in West Virginia.

and a new kind of mass shooting

Thursday, a gunman rampaged through the newsroom of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, killing four editors and a member of the advertising staff. Police charged Jarod Ramos, who was captured at the scene and had previously lost a defamation suit against the newspaper. Ramos is an MS-13 gang member Muslim jihadist angry white guy with a gun. His defamation suit was in regard to a story about his harassment of a former classmate whom he had re-contacted on Facebook.

If I had to pick out one class of people to watch closely for violence, it would be men who have had harassment/domestic violence issues with women. To me, they seem way more dangerous — to the general public, and not just to the women in their lives — than any group defined by race, religion, or country of origin.

Have you ever read one of Carl Hiaasen’s Florida novels? Carl’s brother Rob, apparently a first-class journalist in his own right, was one of the victims.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted:

A violent attack on innocent journalists doing their job is an attack on every American.

Apparently, the White House only endorses Twitter attacks on innocent journalists doing their job, such as:

The FAKE NEWS media (failing , , , , ) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!

It’s a good thing the American People know not to take this “enemy” stuff literally. That Trump, what a kidder!

and you also might be interested in …

NBC News quotes five anonymous intelligence officers as saying that North Korea is in fact increasing its production of weapons-grade nuclear material.

U.S. intelligence agencies believe that North Korea has increased its production of fuel for nuclear weapons at multiple secret sites in recent months. … While the North Koreans have stopped missile and nuclear tests, “there’s no evidence that they are decreasing stockpiles, or that they have stopped their production,” said one U.S. official briefed on the latest intelligence. “There is absolutely unequivocal evidence that they are trying to deceive the U.S.”

The scenario that has most worried me since the Trump/Kim summit was announced is that Kim will take advantage of Trump’s tendency to exaggerate his accomplishments and his inability to admit mistakes. Having already taken a victory lap for getting Kim to talk about denuclearization (which North Korea has pledged many times before), Trump will be strongly tempted to deny or explain away any evidence that diminishes his premature claims of historic progress.

Puerto Rico appears to have drawn a conclusion from the federal government’s botching of Hurricane Maria recovery: It needs to be a state.

Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón (R) filed a bill on Wednesday that would pave the way for the island to become a state no later than January 2021. The measure is co-sponsored by 21 Republicans and 14 Democrats and fulfills the promises of González-Colón and Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who campaigned on a statehood platform and said statehood is a civil rights issue for Puerto Ricans.

I did a calculation as part of my article on minority rule: Puerto Rico has about the same population as Alaska, the Dakotas, Vermont, and Wyoming put together. Puerto Ricans are already American citizens, but they have no voting representatives in Congress. Does anybody doubt that if the island were populated by English-speaking white people, it would have been a state a long time ago?

There’s an ongoing debate about civility, which somehow is supposed to apply to everyone but Trump. I should say more about this eventually, but for now I’ll settle for this:

We’re at the stage of “just say shit and hope your base repeats it”. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow says the federal budget deficit is “is coming down, and it’s coming down rapidly.” This contradicts figures from the administration itself:

The White House’s Office of Management and Budget says the deficit is rising from $665 billion in 2017 to $832 billion in 2018, and will approach $1 trillion annually in 2019.

We’re at the point in the economic cycle when classic Keynesian theory says the government should be running a surplus, not building towards one of the highest deficits in history. When the next recession hits — and one always does, eventually — tax receipts will fall, automatic payments like unemployment compensation will rise, and the economy will need a stimulus. If you start from a baseline of a trillion-dollar deficit, you might suddenly be looking at $2 trillion or $3 trillion.

and let’s close with something amusing

I can’t decide whether this is cute or cruel, but I can’t help laughing at how dogs react to seeing their humans disappear.

Naming the Crisis

The important thing to understand is that the atrocities our nation is now committing at the border don’t represent an overreaction or poorly implemented response to some actual problem that needs solving. There is no immigration crisis; there is no crisis of immigrant crime. No, the real crisis is an upsurge in hatred — unreasoning hatred that bears no relationship to anything the victims have done.

– Paul Krugman “Return of the Blood Libel” (6-21-2018)

This week’s featured posts are “Family Separations: Should we be horrified, relieved, or just confused?” and “You can’t compromise with bullshit“.

This week everybody was still talking about immigration

At times it was hard to remember that anything else was going on. On the other hand, when your country starts talking about opening concentration camps, maybe that deserves some public attention. Jesse Hawken pointed out how the national conversation has evolved since the 2016 campaign:

2016: “Come on, you’re talking like Trump’s going to put people in concentration camps”

2018: “First of all, I think it’s offensive that you refer to them as ‘concentration camps'”

Anyway, the “Family Separations” post deals directly with the immigration issue, and “You can’t compromise with bullshit” was largely inspired by it.

and two cracks in the Republican wall

All along, the question facing anti-Trump Republicans has been: “Yes, but are you going to do anything?” So far, their responses have mostly been disappointing: A few congressional Republicans will tut-tut a little, and then back Trump when their votes are needed, including backing him in his effort to discredit the Mueller investigation. During the election, conservative columnists groused about their situation, but most ultimately called for an anti-Hillary vote, even if they couldn’t bring themselves to endorse Trump.

But this week, two well-known anti-Trump Republicans, George Will and Steve Schmidt, both renounced their party and called for voters to elect Democrats this fall.

In an article titled “Vote against the GOP this November“, veteran Washington Post columnist George Will castigated the Republican majorities in Congress for failing to put any checks on President Trump.

The congressional Republican caucuses must be substantially reduced. So substantially that their remnants, reduced to minorities, will be stripped of the Constitution’s Article I powers that they have been too invertebrate to use against the current wielder of Article II powers.

In particular, he denounced Paul Ryan, who has “traded his political soul for … a tax cut. … Ryan and many other Republicans have become the president’s poodles.”

Schmidt, manager of John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, withdrew “my membership in the Republican Party. It is fully the party of Trump.”  In a lengthy tweet-storm, he called for Democratic majorities in Congress.

Our country is in trouble. Our politics are badly broken. The first step to a season of renewal in our land is the absolute and utter repudiation of Trump and his vile enablers in the 2018 election by electing Democratic majorities. I do not say this as an advocate of a progressive agenda. I say it as someone who retains belief in DEMOCRACY and decency.

The current scandal of separating refugee families seems to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

[President Reagan] would be ashamed of McConnell and Ryan and all the rest while this corrupt government establishes internment camps for babies. Every one of these complicit leaders will carry this shame through history. … Today the GOP has become a danger to our democracy and values. This Independent voter will be aligned with the only party left in America that stands for what is right and decent and remains fidelitous to our Republic, objective truth, the rule of law and our Allies. That party is the Democratic Party.

I doubt that either man has a large following in today’s Republican Party. Their statements are important, though, as cover for long-time Republican voters who see no place for themselves in the corrupt and heartless Party of Trump, but still aren’t comfortable voting for Democrats. They need to understand that they will never get back the Republican Party they have loved unless Trump and his “poodles” lose.

I’ve seen a few reactions like “It took you long enough” or blaming Schmidt for putting us on this road by elevating Sarah Palin, and so on. None of that is false, but this isn’t the way to greet defectors. The more defectors, the better. Pressure should be on the most anti-Trump Republican who hasn’t called for a Democratic victory yet, not on the one who just did.

The leaders of Republican Majority for Choice also announced that they were leaving the party. This is a little less shocking, because it is so overdue. Susan Bevan and Susan Cullman seem to be the last people to realize that the GOP has no place for pro-choice activists.

but I got something wrong last week

Last week I falsely attributed a white supremacist quote by Richard Spencer to White House Advisor Stephen Miller. It was an honest, sloppy mistake: The Vanity Fair article I linked to was about Miller, but it quoted Spencer, attributing the quote to “he”. I was reading too quickly and thought “he” referred to Miller, which it obviously didn’t on closer examination. (No fault to VF.) Thanks to commenter Mark Flaherty for catching the misattribution. I removed the quote as soon as I realized my error.

and you also might be interested in …

Turkey, our NATO ally, took another step towards authoritarianism. President Erdogan won Sunday’s election, in spite of some polls that indicated he might be in trouble. So far, I’m not seeing accusations of fraud.

As I’ve been predicting, Republicans are responding to the budget deficit their tax cut created by calling for cuts in Medicare. They want you to pay more for medical care when you get old, so that rich people and multinational corporations and Donald Trump can pay lower taxes. It’s a more-or-less direct transfer of wealth from you to them.

Josh Marshall’s critique of Trump’s negotiating style is worth a read. Basically, he is building on a point made several other places, including the NYT and the Calculated Risk economics blog: You have to negotiate differently when you’re going to face the same players in future deals. In one-time deals, like on a used-car lot, you can get an advantage through bluffing, lying, and threats (like the threat to walk away). But situations where you are bound to the other party in some way (union/management, or any firm with its major clients and suppliers) call for a whole different toolkit, because you’re not just trying to grind the other party into the dust, you need to build trust, and work towards mutually beneficial agreements that continue into the future.

If you’re going to be dealing with the same players again and again, using threats or bad faith to make a one-sided deal really isn’t necessarily in your longterm interest. Because you’re going to have to deal with that cheated player again.

When we deal with allies like Canada or Germany, or even with rivals like China or Russia, the point isn’t to make a one-time “great deal” and walk away with the profit. Because unless we conquer the world, we’ll have to keep going back to these same players and making new deals.

The Washington Post’s editorial board points out something else about Trump’s international trade negotiations: You can’t fight a trade war against the whole world at the same time.

The U.S. position regarding China would be stronger if Beijing faced a united front that also included Europe, Japan, Mexico and Canada. As it is, Mr. Trump is threatening them with large tariffs as well, driving them to explore closer relations with Beijing.

and let’s close with something spiritual

I think I’ve linked to this meditation video before, but repetition is part of any good spiritual practice. This seems like a particularly good week for this practice.


The best distillation of the Trump Doctrine I heard, though, came from a senior White House official with direct access to the president and his thinking.  … “The Trump Doctrine is ‘We’re America, Bitch.’ That’s the Trump Doctrine.”

— Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic

“Fuck you, bitch, make me a sandwich” is the unofficial motto that rides sidecar to “Make America Great Again.”

– Amanda Marcotte, Troll Nation

This week’s featured posts are “The corporate tax cut will never trickle down.” and “Is Trumpism a new religion?

This week everybody was talking about separating immigrant families

Any discussion of this issue has to fight through the Trump administration’s disinformation campaign, which simultaneously brags about what it’s doing, denies that it’s doing it, justifies it by quoting the Bible, and blames Democrats for it.

Vox and The New York Times do a good job summarizing what’s going on.

Between October 1, 2017 and May 31, 2018, at least 2,700 children have been split from their parents. 1,995 of them were separated over the last six weeks of that window — April 18 to May 31 — indicating that at present, an average of 45 children are being taken from their parents each day.

The facts are just complex enough to allow Trump’s fans to fool themselves about the level of villainy being perpetrated.

  • When people are caught crossing the border without authorization, they have the right to claim that they are seeking asylum to avoid persecution in their home country. If they do, they can’t just be sent back without a hearing.
  • The courts that hear these cases are overwhelmed, so it takes months for an asylum case to be heard.
  • If border-crossers are not charged with a crime, they are held in immigration detention, where families are kept together. If they are charged with a crime, parents go to jail and the government takes custody of their children.
  • Court rulings limit how long people can be detained without a hearing, so many asylum-seekers have been released until their hearings, sometimes with an ankle bracelet. Not all show up for their hearings, and become undocumented immigrants.
  • Previous administrations did not charge asylum-seekers with a crime (unless some other crime was involved, like smuggling). They also typically held families (even those not claiming asylum) in immigration detention rather than send parents to jail, precisely to avoid the situation we’re seeing now.
  • The Trump administration has instituted a policy of pursuing criminal charges against anyone who crosses the border without going through an official entry point. The crime (improper entry) is a misdemeanor with a maximum jail time of six months for a first offense. NYT: “Unlike Mr. Obama’s administration, Mr. Trump’s is treating all people who have crossed the border without authorization as subject to criminal prosecution, even if they tell the officer apprehending them that they are seeking asylum based on fear of returning to their home country, and whether or not they have their children in tow.”
  • The government already had responsibility for children who show up at the border unaccompanied. (A wave of such children created an issue during the Obama administration.) The new children are entering a system already over-burdened. The Washington Post reports: “As of Thursday, 11,432 migrant children are in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, up from 9,000 at the beginning of May.”

Numerous reports are coming out about the facilities where the children are being held. It’s pretty horrifying, but I can’t blame HHS too much for that: If somebody dropped a couple thousand extra children on me, I’d have trouble arranging for their care too. The blame should rest higher up the chain.

Like many Trump administration policies — particularly those involving presidential advisor Stephen Miller, who has no qualifications for government office beyond his white supremacist views and would not have been hired by any previous administration — the family separation policy was poorly planned. There appears to be no system for reuniting the families, either in this country (after asylum is granted) or in their country of origin (after deportation). In many cases, the parent is deported while the child remains in government custody.

Trump has said pretty clearly what the breaking-up-families policy is about: It’s hostage-taking. He claims to hate the policy. But Democrats hate it more, because they have more empathy. So they should give in to his demands. It’s basically the same argument he’s made about DACA: He doesn’t want to deport the Dreamers, but he will if Democrats won’t pay his price.

You have to wonder how far he can push this kind of thuggery before even his supporters recognize what he’s doing. Suppose he starts taking immigrants out and having them shot until he gets his wall. It won’t be his fault, it will be the Democrats’ fault, because they won’t give him what he wants.

and about North Korea

Here’s how the Trump/Kim summit shakes out: Kim agreed to somewhat less than North Korea has agreed to in past documents. In exchange he got a huge propaganda victory: His flag was displayed as an equal of the American flag, and the President of the United States stood next to him and flattered him. Kim also got the very real concession of Trump canceling our military exercises with the South Koreans.

Imagine being a dissatisfied North Korean and hearing Trump say this:

His country does love him. His people, you see the fervor. They have a great fervor. … I think that he really wants to do a great job for North Korea. … And, he wants to do the right thing.

And human rights? It’s all relative.

“He’s a tough guy, it’s a tough country,” he told Fox News host Bret Baier Wednesday. Trump went on to praise Kim for taking over the country at such a young age calling him a “very smart guy” and a “great negotiator.” “I think we understand each other,” Trump added.

When Baier pressed Trump, protesting that Kim has done many “bad things,” the President was unmoved. “So have a lot of other people,” he said, before moving on to praise himself for his performance at the United States-North Korea summit this week.

In fact, Trump envies Kim:

He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.

In this hyper-partisan era, I find it useful to run a what-if-the-parties-were-reversed thought experiment: What if the exact same things were happening, but all the Republicans were Democrats and vice versa? Sometimes the experiment makes no sense, because you can’t really imagine the opposite party playing its role: I can’t picture President Hillary Clinton defending the Charlottesville Nazis, for example.

But the North Korea negotiation is a good place to run that experiment: What if President Hillary Clinton met Kim Jong Un without preconditions, signed a vacuous joint statement, flattered him effusively, gave a concession by cancelling military exercises with South Korea, and then came home claiming “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.“?

I think I’d be saying about what I’m saying now: Talking is better than not talking, so I’d give Clinton credit for that. But I’d be skeptical that anything real had been accomplished, and disturbed that the President of the United States had given Kim the propaganda victory of appearing together as a equal and being praised. The one-sided concession would bother me, and the no-longer-a-threat claim would seem unfounded. I think I’d be more inclined to imagine that something was going on behind the scenes, because I would trust Clinton’s intelligence and experience more than I trust Trump. But I’d still find the whole event worrisome and disturbing.

For Democrats in Congress, I think the difference would be between speaking up and keeping silent. But those who commented would say something close to what they’re saying now.

Republican statements, however, would bear no resemblance to what they’re saying now. They’d be talking about treason.

and voter suppression

I only skimmed the Supreme Court decision on Ohio’s method for purging its voter-registration rolls. But that was enough to convince me that I would have a hard time figuring out which side of the 5-4 decision was legally right. States are allowed to purge their voter rolls under the National Voter Registration Act, but the NVRA also restricts how they can do it.

Here’s what Ohio did: If someone didn’t vote for two years, the state sent them a mailing to find out if they’d moved. If the pre-addressed postage-paid response card didn’t come back, and if the person didn’t vote for another four years, they’d be removed from the rolls.

The NVRA says voters can’t be removed from the rolls just for failing to vote. Writing for the conservative majority, Justice Alito says the non-voting together with the card is a sufficient justification. Writing for the four liberal justices, Justice Breyer says it isn’t.

In general, I trust Breyer more than Alito. (Alito’s Hobby Lobby decision was horrible and seemed disingenuous at every turn.) And I know what I wish the law said. But without a lot more study, I can’t tell you how this should have come out.

Given that the Court has decided, I hope Ohio fixes this by referendum. Undoubtedly, lots of names are on the voter-registration rolls that shouldn’t be, but every study shows that this leads to very few illegal votes. (I’m planning to move this summer; I’ll bet my names stays on the rolls for years. But that doesn’t mean I plan to come back here and vote.) On the other hand, voter-registration purges invariably result in thousands of legal voters being turned away.

Even if the process Ohio used does satisfy the NVRA, it makes a lot less sense now than it did when the NVRA was passed. All of us get far more junk mail than legitimate mail, and we invariably throw out some mail we ought to open. It’s predictable that lots of legitimate voters won’t return the card.

and the Trump Foundation

It’s weird that the Clinton Foundation got so much critical attention during the campaign, when the Trump Foundation was clearly the sleazier enterprise.

Thursday, the New York Attorney General’s office filed a lawsuit against the Trump family and the Trump Foundation (which is incorporated in New York). According to the NYT, the suit “seeks to dissolve the foundation and bar President Trump and three of his children from serving on nonprofit organizations”, or at least “nonprofits based in New York or that operate in New York for one year, which would have the effect of barring them from a wide range of groups based in other states.”

The lawsuit claims that the Foundation has no employees and its board has not met since 1999. (New York state law requires at least annual meetings.) President Trump alone decides all grants and signs all checks. The Foundation’s accounts are managed by the same office that oversees all the other Trump Organization entities.

The sole criteria that the accounting staff used to determine whether to issue a check from the Foundation, rather than another entity in the Trump Organization or Mr. Trump personally, was the tax-exempt status of the intended recipient; no one made any inquiry into the purpose of the payment.

On several occasions listed in the lawsuit, the Foundation made payments that were clearly Trump’s personal responsibility. For example, in 2007 when his Mar-a-Lago club had a legal dispute with the Town of Palm Beach about the height and location of its flagpoles, the negotiated settlement included Trump contributing $100,000 to the Fisher House Foundation, a charity that benefits veterans. But Trump did not make this payment; the Foundation did. The lawsuit includes a photocopy of Trump’s handwritten note to the accounting staff: “DJT Foundation $100,000 to Fisher House (settlement of flag issue in Palm Beach)”. Trump reimbursed the Foundation in 2017, after he knew the issue was under investigation.

A longer-term and more complex abuse happened during the presidential campaign. Trump boycotted an Iowa debate (because Megyn Kelly would be a moderator) and held a parallel event to raise money for veterans’ charities. The money raised was channeled through the Trump Foundation, but the Trump campaign was in charge from beginning to end: It “planned, organized, financed, and directed” the event; the campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” was displayed on the podium; the charities receiving the money were chosen by the campaign and were often located in states that had upcoming primaries; much of the money raised was distributed during campaign events (with Trump presenting a giant check).

Mr. Trump’s wrongful use of the Foundation to benefit his Campaign was willful and knowing. Mr. Trump was aware of the prohibition on political activities and the requirement of restrictions on related-party transactions. Among other things, he repeatedly signed, under penalties of perjury, IRS Forms 990 in which he attested that the Foundation did not engage in transactions with interested parties, and that the Foundation did not carry out political activity. Mr. Trump also signed, again under penalty of perjury, the Foundation’s Certificate of Incorporation, in which he certified that the Foundation would not use its assets for the benefit of its directors or officers, and that it would not intervene in “any political campaign on behalf of any candidate.”

The New York attorney general’s office has made referrals to the IRS and the Federal Election Commission, which could take further action. Another NYT article quoted Jenny Johnson Ware, a criminal tax attorney in Chicago: “People have gone to prison for stuff like this, and if I were representing someone with facts like this, assuming the facts described in this petition are true, I would be very worried about an indictment.”

and the inspector general’s report on the FBI

I didn’t even skim the Justice Department’s 500-page report on the FBI’s Clinton email investigation. Here are Vox’ four takeaways:

  • The investigative decisions in the Clinton email case seemed to be made on the merits.

  • Some FBI officials expressed anti-Trump opinions in private messages.

  • The IG wonders whether Strzok may have pursued the Trump-Russia probe more vigorously than new Clinton emails found on Anthony Weiner’s laptop due to political bias. (But in the end that worked to Trump’s advantage. Since the Weiner emails were all duplicates, the sooner the public knew that the better for Clinton.)

  • The IG sharply criticizes Comey for deviating from policy and procedure in his statements about the Clinton case.

The idea that this report somehow de-legitimizes the Mueller investigation seems to be more Trumpian bullshit.

and you also might be interested in …

The $81 billion merger between ATT and Time Warner was completed shortly after a federal court rejected the Justice Department’s attempt to block it on Tuesday.

As best I can tell, this is one of those bad-guys-against-worse-guys stories, so it’s hard to know how to feel about it. In general, I dislike media mergers, because the media is concentrated enough already. But the Justice Department’s effort to block the merger appears to be Trump’s attempt to punish CNN, which is part of Time Warner. (The government was fine with Sinclair Broadcasting buying Tribune Media — requiring only that Sinclair not wind up owning two TV stations in the same city — because Sinclair slants even more towards Trump than Fox News does.)

So if the Justice Department had been trying to block the merger as part of some larger effort to step up antitrust enforcement, I’d be with them. But the message seems to be “You can get bigger, but only if we like your news coverage.” That strikes me as seriously dangerous to American democracy, so I’m glad they didn’t get away with it.

Some very bogus arguments have been made claiming that the Mueller investigation is unconstitutional. Here, they’re taken apart by George Conway — Kellyanne’s husband.

and let’s close with something funny

It’s been a while since I’ve linked to Bad Lip Reading. Here’s their NBA clip.


Dividends on Putin’s Investment

For anyone who asks why Putin helped Trump get elected, take a look at this G-7 Summit.

Ben Rhodes

This week’s featured posts are “Who won the Masterpiece Cakeshop case?” and “Thoughts on Depression Sparked by Anthony Bourdain’s Suicide“. This morning, bad news broke on a voting rights case. I’ll have to cover that next week.

This week everybody was talking about summit meetings

For the G-7 meeting in Quebec, Trump arrived late and left early, skipping sessions on trivialities like climate change. After leaving, he tweeted a denunciation of the host, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and instructed the remaining US representatives not to sign the meeting-concluding joint communique that he had previously agreed to. (That is so Trump: For all his apparent bluster, he can’t handle face-to-face confrontation. He’ll leave and then tweet something nasty from the road.)

Trump described the US as “the piggy bank that everybody’s robbing”, and threatened to cut off trade with the other G-7 countries entirely:

It’s going to stop. Or we’ll stop trading with them. And that’s a very profitable answer, if we have to do it.

There is so much wrong with this. First, remember who we’re talking about here. These are our most trusted allies: Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Japan. If we want to solve any of our real trade problems (like getting China to respect our intellectual property), we’ll need them on our side.

And second, Trump continues to display a child’s understanding of international trade: If the US has a trade deficit with a country, he imagines that cutting off trade with them results in a “profit”, as if everything stays the same except that we now have back all the money we would have spent in the other country.

As economists will happily explain to you, this is pre-Adam-Smith economics, a long-debunked theory known as mercantilism. A more likely outcome than “profit” is that the world economy (and ours) simply shrink. Matt Ygelsias explains, using the example of oil:

According to [the theory espoused by Trump’s economic advisors], if the United States made it illegal to import oil, thus wiping $180 billion off the trade deficit, our GDP would rise by $180 billion. With labor constituting 44 percent of GDP, that would mean about $80 billion worth of higher wages for American workers. So why doesn’t Congress take this simple, easy step to boost growth and create jobs?

Well, because it’s ridiculous.

What would actually happen is that gasoline would become much more expensive, consumers would need to cut back spending on non-gasoline items, businesses would face a higher cost structure, and the overall economy would slow down with inflation-adjusted incomes falling.

Third, Trump has no power to cut off trade with other countries, and Congress isn’t going to give it to him. Foreign leaders know that he’s just blustering. To re-purpose a John Kelly insult: Empty barrels make the most noise.

John McCain tried to mitigate the damage:

To our allies: bipartisan majorities of Americans remain pro-free trade, pro-globalization & supportive of alliances based on 70 years of shared values. Americans stand with you, even if our president doesn’t.

And Paul Krugman said what we’re all thinking:

He didn’t put America first; Russia first would be a better description. And he didn’t demand drastic policy changes from our allies; he demanded that they stop doing bad things they aren’t doing. This wasn’t a tough stance on behalf of American interests, it was a declaration of ignorance and policy insanity.

… Was there any strategy behind Trump’s behavior? Well, it was pretty much exactly what he would have done if he really is Putin’s puppet: yelling at friendly nations about sins they aren’t committing won’t bring back American jobs, but it’s exactly what someone who does want to break up the Western alliance would like to see.

BTW: Trump’s proposal to let Putin back into the G-7 isn’t just servile, it makes no sense (as Krugman points out): The G-7 is an economic forum of democratic countries. Russia is an autocracy and its economy is tiny; it never belonged in this group. If the G-7 wants to expand, Brazil and India are much better candidates. And if nobody cares about democracy any more, China should be there.

In a different column, Krugman points out something important: The more Trump insults other democratic countries and acts like he has the whip hand over them, the less those countries’ leaders can offer him.

Real countries have real politics; they have pride; and their electorates really, really don’t like Trump. This means that even if their leaders might want to make concessions, their voters probably won’t allow it.

You can see this most clearly in Mexico: Trump is poison in Mexico. Any leader who refused to stand up to him would be committing political suicide.

Trump’s tough talk, then, is purely for the consumption of his base. If he were really trying to negotiate something that would help American workers, he’d “speak softly and carry a big stick” when he dealt with other democratic leaders.

Trump is also spreading joy and happiness in Germany, where his new ambassador has said that he wants to “empower other conservatives throughout Europe”. Diplomats typically do not visibly interfere in the politics of their host countries. The ambassador doubled down in the face of criticism: “I stand by my comments that we are experiencing an awakening from the silent majority – those who reject the elites & their bubble. Led by Trump.” In Germany, the “elites” include Angela Merkel and her government.

Trump is on to Singapore, where he is scheduled to meet with North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un tomorrow morning.

and immigrant children

Since May 7, the Trump administration has been routinely separating children from their parents when they arrive at our southern border. Vox has a good article describing what’s new about this and what isn’t. The big thing that’s new is that we’re not even trying to claim that we’re doing this for the children’s own good. The policy is purely punitive; it’s meant to discourage people from coming to America without a visa.

It’s worth pointing out that people who come here seeking asylum are not breaking the law if they present themselves at an official border crossing. Trump has characterized our asylum laws, which require some kind of due process for asylum seekers, as a “loophole”.

To me, it’s the government that seems to be taking advantage of loopholes.

and about cake

I cover the legal side of the Supreme Court’s Masterpiece Cakeshop decision in a featured post.

I wanted that article to have a tone that is opinionated, but not abrasive. But here I want to get more argumentative: I think the media as a whole, and liberals in particular, have been way too soft on special-rights-seeking people who claim to be motivated by Christianity. We’ve been way too willing to grant their claims that their actions have something to do with Jesus, and are motivated by sincere religious faith rather than simple bigotry.

I want to assert a few things:

  • Wedding cakes do not have, and have never had, religious significance in the Christian tradition. For the wedding at Cana, Jesus did not turn water into cake. Or into flowers or photographs or catering. It is ridiculous to treat cakes for same-sex wedding receptions as if they were communion wafers for a Satanic black mass. (Gorsuch really does invoke a comparison to “sacramental bread”.)
  • From the beginning of the Republic, civil marriage has been a separate institution from religious marriage. If your Christian religion says that people the state regards as married are not married in the eyes of God, you have the freedom to believe and proclaim that view. But you don’t get to decide whether or not they’re married in the eyes of the state, because that has nothing to do with Christianity or any other religion. And if a couple wants to hold a party to celebrate becoming married in the eyes of the state, that also has nothing to do with Christianity or any other religion.
  • In the Bible, marriage is not “between one man and one woman”. Often it’s between one man and several women. Example: Jacob and Leah and Rachel and their two handmaidens. If you don’t support that kind of marriage today, then you don’t believe in “Biblical” marriage. You also don’t believe that an unchanging institution of marriage was established by God once and forever. (Justice Kennedy quotes the baker: “God’s intention for marriage from the beginning of history is that it is and should be the union of one man and one woman.” The baker should tell that to whoever wrote Genesis.)
  • Most of the self-described Christians who refuse to serve same-sex couples are not acting out of sincere religious conviction; they’re acting out of spite. Their side lost the same-sex marriage debate, they’re pissed about it, and they want to take it out on somebody. There is nothing Christ-like about this set of motives. The New Testament does not record any examples of Jesus being a sore loser.

and healthcare

If you’re an insurance company that doesn’t want to cover people with pre-existing conditions, the Trump administration has your back.

Led by Texas, twenty Republican-dominated states are participating in a lawsuit asserting that the individual mandate portion of the Affordable Care Act (i.e., ObamaCare) will become unconstitutional in 2019, when the tax penalty that enforces it goes away. (That was part of last year’s big tax cut bill.) That may sound harmless — who cares if the courts eliminate something that was unpopular to begin with and isn’t going to be enforced any more anyway? — but there’s a kicker: The suit claims that the whole ACA is inseparable from the individual mandate, so it all has to be struck down, including the popular parts like the guarantee of insurance to people with pre-existing conditions.

In other words: If you’re a cancer survivor (like my wife), or have something else in your medical history that makes you a bad risk, you may not be able to get health insurance at all, and if you do it will be exorbitantly expensive.

This suit has been considered a long shot, but its shot got a little less long Thursday when the Justice Department announced that it won’t defend the case in court. (Typically, the Justice Department defends the constitutionality of laws when they are challenged. But on rare occasions, an administration decides that a law is indefensible. That’s what’s happening here and what happened when the Obama Justice Department refused to defend the Defense of Marriage Act.) Democratic-controlled states like California are expected to step into the breech and lead the defense.

The brief filed by the Justice Department doesn’t agree with Texas that the whole ACA is unconstitutional, but it does agree that two other parts of the ACA are inseparable from the individual mandate and so have to be struck down: guaranteed issue (insurance companies that offer coverage in an area have to offer it to everybody) and community rating (which says that all individuals of the same age in the same community have to be offered the same rate). Those are exactly the parts that protect people with pre-existing conditions.

It’s worth pointing out the reason we’re in this situation: Back in 2012, the Supreme Court decided 5-4 that Congress did not have the power under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution to require individuals to buy health insurance. This would have sunk the ACA then and there, but Justice Roberts reinterpreted the individual mandate as a tax. That allowed him to flip and vote for the constitutionality of the ACA, which survived 5-4.

But here’s the interesting part: The idea that an individual mandate exceeded the range of the Commerce Clause was invented from whole cloth to create a pretext for striking down the ACA. Until it became part of the ACA, the mandate — which was originally the brainchild of the conservative Heritage Foundation in the 1990s — had never been considered constitutionally questionable.

So one conservative long-shot legal argument leads to another, and the upshot is that millions of Americans may lose their health insurance.

and leaks

The LA Times reports:

The former security director for the Senate Intelligence Committee was arrested Thursday on charges of lying to federal investigators probing a leak of information involving a former campaign aide to President Trump.

In the course of the investigation, the government seized several years worth of emails belonging to the staffer’s girlfriend, who is a New York Times reporter. The case is making journalists nervous about how far the government is now willing to go to track down leaks.

and the NFL

Last Monday, the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles were disinvited from the White House visit scheduled for the next day, because not enough of them were going to show up to suit Trump. Instead he held a patriotic rally that seems to have been attended mainly by White House staffers and interns. During the ceremony, Trump appeared not to know the words to “God Bless America”.

Trump has decided that portraying black football players as unpatriotic is a winning issue for him, so he’s going to keep doing it. This has got to be a disappointment to the NFL owners, who changed their policy specifically to try to mollify the President. Under the new rules, players can stay in the locker room during the national anthem if they want, but if they come onto the field they have to stand at attention. Kneeling — no matter how silently and respectfully it is done — will result in a fine for the team, which may decide to pass that fine on to the player.

But Trump is not having that. “No escaping to locker rooms” he tweeted. Previously he had said:

You have to stand proudly for the national anthem. Or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.

and you also might be interested in …

Anybody who decided that it didn’t matter whether Trump or Clinton won the presidency should take a look at the EPA. The headlines are all about Scott Pruitt’s flagrant corruption, but the real damage is deeper. Thursday, the NYT described a change in how the EPA will evaluate possibly toxic or carcinogenic chemicals:

the E.P.A. has in most cases decided to exclude from its calculations any potential exposure caused by the substances’ presence in the air, the ground or water, according to more than 1,500 pages of documents released last week by the agency.

Instead, the agency will focus on possible harm caused by direct contact with a chemical in the workplace or elsewhere. The approach means that the improper disposal of chemicals — leading to the contamination of drinking water, for instance — will often not be a factor in deciding whether to restrict or ban them.

The big winner here is the chemical industry. The big losers are anybody who breathes air or drinks water and was hoping not to get cancer.

Here’s an unforgettable exchange from Wednesday’s Anderson Cooper 360:

Former Fox News military analyst Lt. Colonel Ralph Peters (retired): As a former military officer of the United States, I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. And I saw, in my view, Fox — particularly their prime time hosts — attacking our constitutional order, the rule of law, the Justice Department, the FBI, Robert Mueller, and (oh, by the way) the intelligence agencies. And they’re doing it for ratings and profit, and they’re doing it knowingly — in my view, doing a grave, grave disservice to our country.

Anderson Cooper: Do you think, some of the hosts in prime time, do they believe the stuff they’re saying about the Deep State, what they’re saying about the Department of Justice, about the FBI?

Lt. Colonel Peters: I suspect Sean Hannity really believes it. The others are smarter. They know what they’re doing.

When somebody from the White House says some awful thing, it’s hard to know whether to take the bait. If we ignore it, we normalize it. (“Oh yeah, public officials say shit like that. It’s no big deal.”) If we pay attention, we’ve let ourselves be distracted from the ongoing destruction of the environment, the decay of the rule of law, the plight of the Puerto Ricans, the alienation of America’s allies, the mistreatment of families who come here looking for asylum under our laws, the opening of a misguided trade war, and lots of other more immediately consequential stuff.

But OK, Rudy Giuliani, I’m taking the bait this time.

In Israel, Giuliani went on to criticize Daniels’ credibility and allegation she had an affair with Trump because she is a porn star. “Look at his three wives. Beautiful women. Classy women. Women of great substance. Stormy Daniels?” Giuliani said while shaking his head. “I’m sorry I don’t respect a porn star the way I respect a career woman or a woman of substance or a woman who has great respect for herself as a woman and as a person and isn’t going to sell her body for sexual exploitation.” …

On Thursday, Giuliani was asked to explain his comments. “So the point I made about her industry is, it’s an industry in which you sell looks at your body for money. That’s demeaning to women, the way I was brought up and the way I always believed the feminist movement has,” Giuliani said.

During the campaign, I objected to Trump critics trying to make an issue of Melania’s nude photos, because they’re irrelevant to how America is governed and “because I believe all of us have the right to display or not display our bodies as we see fit”. But if the president’s lawyer is going to claim there’s some difference-of-kind between Melania and Stormy Daniels because Daniels sells looks at her body for money, I have to call him on it. (And point out that Trump himself has appeared in three porn films, though he was clothed at the time.)

And as for who is credible, based on their previous actions, let me point out a few things Stormy Daniels hasn’t done:

  1. created a fake university that defrauded its students;
  2. molested more than a dozen women;
  3. laundered money for Russian oligarchs;
  4. lied to the American people several times each day.

So if it comes down Trump’s word against a porn star’s, I’ll believe the porn star.

and let’s close with something fun

“Happy as a dog in a ball crawl” needs to become a standard English phrase.

We Have to Believe

I want to be very clear about one thing: Americans remain our partners, friends, and allies. This is not about the American people. We have to believe that at some point their common sense will prevail. But we see no sign of that in this action today by the U.S. administration.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

This week’s featured post is “What is impeachment for?

This week brought back everything that last week seemed to stop

A week ago, the North Korea summit was off and the trade war was “on hold”. Now they’re both back.

The summit is scheduled for a week from tomorrow in Singapore. Until Trump and Kim actually appear, though, who can say whether it will really happen? Originally, Trump implied that the meeting would signal North Korea’s complete denuclearization, for which he should win a Nobel Peace Prize. Now it’s just supposed to “start a process“.

Back in March, Trump announced tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. Then he appeared to back down, temporarily exempting Canada, Mexico, and the European Union. The time limit on that exemption ran out Thursday without Trump getting the concessions he wanted, so the tariffs are back on.

The affected countries are retaliating. Canada seems particularly offended by the pretext for the tariffs: Trump is exercising powers the president has under a national security provision. Essentially he is saying that Canada can’t be trusted to continue selling us metals we need for our defense industries.

Tariffs on Chinese goods were announced Tuesday, to take effect “shortly after” the complete list of goods affected is released on June 15. China also plans to retaliate.

For a guy whose book is called The Art of the Deal, Trump’s negotiating style seems particularly artless: He makes threats and demands concessions. If other countries don’t yield to his demands, he seems to have no Plan B.

and everyone was talking about jobs

The economy added 223K jobs in May. That number was fairly typical of job growth over the last five years, but the accumulation of good job creation over a long period has pushed the unemployment rate down to 3.8%, a number not seen since the end of the Clinton administration, and only briefly then.

and new claims of presidential power

A letter that Trump’s lawyers wrote to Bob Mueller in January got leaked this week. The point of the letter is to argue against Mueller’s need to interview Trump, and along the way it makes an amazing claim: Obstruction of justice laws simply don’t apply to the president, because since he is the highest law-enforcement official “that would amount to obstructing himself”. The President has complete authority to terminate investigations as he sees fit, and to pardon anybody he wants for any reason. The letter recognizes no exception for a president with corrupt intent.

Matt Yglesias draws an obvious conclusion:

Consider that if the memo is correct, there would be nothing wrong with Trump setting up a booth somewhere in Washington, DC, where wealthy individuals could hand checks to him, and in exchange, he would make whatever federal legal trouble they are in go away. You could call it “The Trump Hotel” and maybe bundle a room to stay in along with the legal impunity.

Trump (and his lawyer Rudy Guiliani) is also claiming that he could pardon himself. Strange that Nixon never thought of that.

and Roseanne

Roseanne Barr managed to get her hit sitcom revival Roseanne cancelled by ABC by tweeting a racist insult at former Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett.

Barr’s defenders are using one of the standard conservative tactics: stripping away the context of the insult, making a simplistic comparison to things liberals have said, and then claiming a double standard. (How is claiming Jarrett is the child of apes different from, say, Bill Mahr suggesting Donald Trump was fathered by an orangutan?) As always, they are the victims.

Let me go back to the analysis I wrote in 2015: “Slurs, Who Can Say Them, When, and Why“. (This isn’t the Sift’s most-viewed post because it never had a viral moment, but it is the most consistently popular. After three years, it still reliably gets a few hundred hits every week.) Then I was talking about words like nigger and honky, but the same ideas apply to images and metaphors, like comparing people to apes.

If you just look them up in a dictionary you might think they are equivalent: honky is a racial slur directed at whites, nigger at blacks. What’s the difference?


Nigger has centuries of usage behind it, and the connotation of that usage is that blacks are a subhuman race. Nigger evokes a detailed stereotype — lazy, stupid, violent, lustful, dangerous — while honky just says you’re a white guy I don’t like. For centuries, niggers weren’t really people. There’s no equivalent word for whites, because whites have always been seen as people.

Whenever you use a word or an image or a metaphor, you’re not just applying a dictionary meaning. You’re invoking the whole history of the usage. For centuries, whites have compared blacks to apes — sometimes literally claiming they are not a fully human species — in order to portray them as a race of unintelligent subhumans. Barr’s tweet evokes this history.

There is no comparable usage-history dehumanizing Trump’s ancestors (Germans) by comparing them to orangutans, and Maher was not plugging into anything of that sort. Instead, he’s applying a more general and much less toxic physical-resemblance-to-animals usage-history, such as when Mitch McConnell is compared to a turtle.

Given the history of black dehumanization, comparing blacks to animals is always tricky, but it can be done. For example, this cartoon of Obama dressed as a Russian bear does not strike me as racist, because bears are not typical dehumanizing symbols. But this photo-shopped image of Barack and Michelle as apes clearly is.

Trump couldn’t leave this controversy alone, but he also couldn’t condemn Barr’s racism, since she and her racism are typical of an important segment of his base. So he portrayed himself and his daughter as the real victims.

About the Samantha Bee/Ivanka Trump thing: A key point in my “Slurs” analysis is that slurs-that-can-be-turned-around-on-the-slurrer are a completely different category than slurs-that-only-go-one-way.

The various disadvantaged communities are all debating whether or not it’s ever OK to use the slurs themselves. Some argue that when black rappers use nigger, they jam the stereotype rather than perpetuate it. Some women believe that saying bitch is liberating, because it shows the word doesn’t scare them. Others disagree, believing that any use of a slur promotes its stereotypes.

I think this: Those issues are for those communities to figure out. In the unlikely event that they ask my advice, I might give it. But until then, my opinion as a white guy doesn’t and shouldn’t matter.

Samanthan Bee calling Ivanka Trump a “feckless cunt” falls into this same category. Overwhelmingly, women who have commented on Bee’s use of cunt have condemned it, which is their right. But men like me and Donald Trump should stay out of that discussion. The propriety of a woman saying cunt is not for us to decide.

but now we have a clearer notion of what Hurricane Maria did to Puerto Rico

According to a study in the current New England Journal of Medicine, Hurricane Maria resulted in about 4600 “excess deaths” in Puerto Rico between landfall (September 20) and December 31. That number includes not just people killed immediately in the storm, but also deaths due to “delays or interruptions in health care” caused by the storm and its subsequent island-wide power failure. It’s also a statistical estimate, not a list of specific deaths. The official death toll is 64, a number which has been criticized by many sources.

Puerto Rican writer and podcast-host Julio Ricardo Varela wasn’t surprised.

We knew. … When funeral directors started telling people that they were burying way more bodies than usual, or when our family members told us about their neighbors dying in still-darkened rooms, or being buried outside their homes, we knew that the official death toll was much higher than the 64 people the government had eventually admitted to. When we heard the stories of people having no refrigeration for their insulin, that dialysis machines weren’t operational or that hospitals were still in the dark but had people on life support, we knew that it wasn’t some small counting error.

This estimate of Maria’s death toll on Puerto Rico is higher than the reported death tolls of 9/11 (2996) and Hurricane Katrina (1833), but it’s not clear to me this is an apples-to-apples comparison. Both of those numbers also might rise in an excess-deaths analysis.

But that’s quibbling: Thousands of American citizens died, many of them because of a slow and inadequate response. Aid was stuck at the port in San Juan, a Navy hospital ship was substantially underused, and about a third of the island’s residents still had no electric power four months after the storm.

And yet, this has not become a scandal or prompted a national soul-searching like Katrina and 9/11 did. There is no blue-ribbon panel preparing a what-went-wrong report. Heads have not rolled in the agencies that bungled the response.

Is there any doubt why this is? Puerto Ricans are Spanish-speaking brown people, not “real Americans” like the Texans affected by Hurricane Harvey and Floridians hit by Hurricane Irma.

There’s a lot of blame to spread around here, from Puerto Rico’s pre-hurricane infrastructure to the local Puerto Rican officials to the federal government. But a big piece of it has to come back to Trump’s inability to admit failure or fix mistakes. At a time when the full scope of the problem was starting to become clear, Trump could only congratulate himself on the low reported death numbers. When criticism began, he was the victim, not the lazy Puerto Ricans who “want everything done for them”.

The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump. Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job.

During the Obama administration, conservatives proclaimed a series of events to be “Obama’s Katrina“. Well, Trump has presided over a natural-disaster screw-up that is arguably worse than Katrina, and no one seems to care.

and you also might be interested in …

A very good Washington Post article about sexual abuse in evangelical churches centers on Rachael Denhollander, who was abused as a child in her church and then became one of the young gymnasts assaulted by Larry Nassar.

Today, Denhollander can see how her church, which has since shut down, failed to protect her. But as a child, all she knew from her parents was that her abuse had made their church mad and that she wasn’t able to play with some of her friends. She blamed herself — and resolved that, if anyone else ever abused her, she wouldn’t mention it.

And so when Larry Nassar used his prestige as a doctor for the USA Gymnastics program to sexually assault Denhollander, she held to her vow. She wouldn’t put her family through something like that again. Her church had made it clear: No one believes victims.

The Catholic Church’s sexual-abuse problems have gotten a lot of attention, but similar forces are at work in evangelical churches:

When congregants believe that their church is the greatest good, they lack the framework to accept that something as awful as sexual abuse could occur within its walls; it is, in the words of Diane Langberg, a psychologist with 35 years of experience working with clergy members and trauma survivors, a “disruption.” In moments of crisis, Christians are forced to reconcile a cognitive dissonance: How can the church — often called “the hope of the world” in evangelical circles — also be an incubator for such evil?

Some good news on prospects for the climate: NetPower is building a small (50 MW) plant in Texas to prove that its revolutionary technology works. The plant will run on natural gas, but emit no air pollution and no waste heat. Carbon capture isn’t an expensive separate unit bolted onto the end of the process; it’s a normal part of the combustion cycle. The plant has achieved first fire, and should be generating power later this year.

Vox’ environmental writer David Roberts is impressed.

So: more efficient power, with zero air pollution, virtually no water consumption, and pipeline-ready carbon dioxide capture built in … for cheaper than today’s best fossil fuel power plants. Quite a bold promise.

It works in an unusual way, which Roberts explains in more detail (and links to even more technical explanations): Natural gas is burned with pure oxygen, and the turbine is driven by supercritical carbon dioxide rather than steam. There’s a pipe and the end of the cycle producing excess CO2, which can be sold or sequestered.

Theoretically, the process also would work with coal.

Roberts points out that “Combustion is only one part of the damage done by fossil fuels.”

But it’s best not to be shortsighted here. Even under the most optimistic scenarios, there are going to be hundreds of fossil fuel power plants built across the world in coming years. This is especially true of natural gas plants, which play an important role in “firming” the fluctuations in variable renewable energy (and could potentially be run in the future on renewable biogas).

If we could start right now making all those new coal and natural gas plants air-pollution-free, it would be a public health win of historic proportions, to say nothing of the regulatory and civic battles that could be avoided.

And capturing all that carbon rather than throwing it into the atmosphere might be enough to give the fight against climate change some much-needed breathing room.

While we’re talking about fossil fuels … a longtime Republican talking point has been that the government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers, so it shouldn’t subsidize renewable fuels over fossil fuels. I have argued against this (because it makes sense for the government to use taxes and subsidies to balance hidden fossil-fuel costs that the market externalizes, like the cost of cleaning up after hurricanes), but at least it’s a coherent point of view.

But Friday Bloomberg broke the story that Trump is planning to pick winners and losers … and the winners are coal and nuclear.

The Trump administration has been preparing to invoke emergency powers granted under Cold War-era legislation to order regional grid operators to buy electricity from ailing coal and nuclear power plants.

Think about that: Trump insists on wrecking the environment by burning coal, even if the market is against it.

If he genuinely believed the free-market principles he has been promoting for his entire career, Paul Ryan would be moving to stop this. But I’m not holding my breath.

Every congressional district is different. Here’s how a Democrat tries to appeal to farmers as he runs against Iowa Republican Steve King, one of the most unabashed racists in Congress.

Elsewhere, the Southern Poverty Law Center says that eight explicitly white-supremacist and/or anti-Semitic candidates are running for office this year, including one (Arthur Jones) who has already gotten the Republican nomination for Congress in Illinois. (He’s running in a Democratic district that mainstream Republicans didn’t contest. The state GOP has denounced him.) MSNBC’s Morgan Radford (who is part black and part Jewish) went to Illinois to interview Jones and to California to interview Senate candidate Patrick Little, who is running against Diane Feinstein on the slogan “End Jewish Supremacy“. (His primary is tomorrow.)

Illinois voted to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, which was approved by Congress in 1972. The deadline for ratification passed 36 years ago, but there’s some dispute about whether that matters. If it doesn’t, the ERA only needs to be ratified by one more state.

Congress and the Trump administration have been undoing the restrictions on financial companies that were put in place after the collapse of 2008. After the collapse, all the major banks were relying on federal dollars to stay solvent, so the government had enormous leverage, if it chose to use it. There were three basic theories of what to do:

  • The technocratic approach (favored by establishment Democrats and embodied in Dodd-Frank), in which the structure of the banking system remained fundamentally the same, but regulators got better information and more power to stop banks from doing foolish things.
  • The progressive approach, in which too-big-to-fail banks would get broken up into pieces too small to sink the system, and FDIC-insured banking would once again be walled off from riskier investment banking with a 21st-century Glass-Steagall Act.
  • The Republican approach, which would get federal institutions (like Fannie Mae) out of the mortgage business, and instill discipline in the market by making future bank bailouts almost impossible.

Now we’re seeing the weakness of the technocratic approach: The public doesn’t really understand the technical rules Dodd-Frank established, so undoing them doesn’t set off alarm bells with the electorate.

Trump campaigned on some progressive banking proposals like Glass-Steagall, but once in office he has given the big banks whatever they want.

He has, instead, simply appointed industry insider figures to all the key positions and has them steadily working to twist every dial available in a more industry-friendly direction.

And the nature of bank regulation is that even when it’s done really, really poorly, the odds are overwhelming that on any given day, nothing bad is going to happen. As long as the economy is growing and asset prices are generally rising, a poorly supervised banking sector is just as good as a well-supervised one.

But when the music stops, and it always does, a poorly supervised banking sector can turn into a huge disaster. It’s only a question of when.

Everybody knows that old people are conservative, but now there’s a new explanation why: Poor people tend to be liberal, and they die before they get old.

mortality among the poor increases during middle age — which is when citizens generally get more involved in politics. The premature disappearance of the poor, then, occurs precisely at the moment when they would be expected to reach their “participatory peak” in society. But they don’t live long enough to achieve that milestone.

and let’s close with something

A town in Norway celebrates summer solstice each year by making a huge bonfire. The one it built last year holds the record for being the tallest bonfire ever.

Ritual Sacrifice

Every school shooter learned from the history of school shootings, mimicked the strategies, was in a sense acting out a ritual which has become deeply rooted in our culture.

Josh Marshall

This week’s featured posts are “Outlines of a Reading Project on Class” and “It’s time to let Israel be a country.

These last three weeks, we learned a lot about Trump’s corruption and abuse of power

It’s hard to know which revelation to focus on:

  • Trump has begun actively intervening in the Department of Justice to undermine the Mueller investigation and harass his political enemies. He “demanded” a DoJ investigation into his made-up Spygate theory, and forced a meeting between DoJ officials and his allies in Congress in which classified details about the investigation into the Trump campaign were revealed. So far DoJ has been fending off Trump’s demands with minimal (but still inappropriate) concessions, but this is banana-republic stuff. It’s orders of magnitude beyond the improper suggestions Trump’s been making since Day 1.
  • Trump’s public fulminations against Amazon, whose founder Jeff Bezos also owns The Washington Post, have gone beyond just hostile tweets. On several occasions, he has pressured the Postmaster General to raise Amazon’s shipping rates. (So far the PG has been resisting him.) This appears to be an attempt to punish Bezos for The Post publishing stories Trump doesn’t like. Again, this is banana-republic stuff. There is no parallel in any post-Nixon administration of either party.
  • Trump dropped sanctions against a Chinese corporation and backed off of proposed tariffs aimed at China shortly after a Chinese-government-owned corporation invested half a billion dollars in a Trump-related project in Indonesia. There’s no direct proof that this is a bribe, but we’ll never know for sure. That’s why we have the conflict-of-interest rules and norms that Trump has flouted.
  • Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen began selling access to the White House as soon as Trump was elected, collecting millions of dollars from companies seeking favors from the new administration. We don’t know yet whether Cohen was just being opportunistic, or if some of the money passed through him to Trump or other members of the Trump family.
  • Trump fund raiser (and fellow Michael Cohen hush-money client) Elliott Broidy engaged in his own “campaign to alter U.S. policy in the Middle East and reap a fortune for himself”.
  • Jared Kushner’s family company is negotiating a deal in which Brookfield Properties, a company largely funded by Qatari interests, will buy a skyscraper the Kushners paid too much for and were having trouble refinancing. The Kushners had tried to get Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund to invest in the property a year ago; shortly after that deal fell through, Jared played an important role in the Trump administration deciding to support Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries in boycotting Qatar.
  • In addition to the meeting with Russians that we knew about, Donald Jr. held another Trump Tower meeting to discuss his father’s campaign getting help from powerful foreigners: princes from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The scoops have been coming so fast and furious that I may have left some out. Looking at several of them also puts a different slant on Trump’s rhetoric about “the Deep State”: Officials like the Postmaster General and the Assistant Attorney General resist Trump’s actions not because they belong to some sinister conspiracy, but because they believe in principles of American governance that he is trying to subvert.

and primaries

There are two theories of how Democrats can win more elections: Move to the center and appeal to the reasonable Republican voters Trump is alienating, or move to the left and raise turnout among people who don’t vote because they have lost faith in both parties. Move-to-the-center has been the conventional political wisdom for a long time, and is still the approach the Democratic Party establishment supports.

I’m neutral in this debate. I can imagine that move-to-the-left could work, but I wish I could point to an example where a progressive Democrat had unseated a Republican in some high-profile race in a red or purple district. Sure, Bernie Sanders can win in a blue state like Vermont, but could a Bernie-ish candidate win in states like Missouri or West Virginia (where centrists like Claire McCaskill and Joe Manchin have won)?

Up until now, the party establishment has gotten its way in nearly all cases, so the only candidates who have made it to the general election in such races have been centrists. Sometimes they win (Doug Jones in Alabama) and sometimes they lose (Jon Ossoff in Georgia), but neither result answers the question of whether a more progressive candidate would have done better or worse.

The May primaries have guaranteed that the move-to-the-left theory will finally be tested in at least two cases: Kara Eastman won the Democratic primary for Nebraska’s 2nd congressional district, and Stacey Abrams will be the Democratic candidate to be governor of Georgia. There are also plenty of centrist Democrats running in races of all sorts, so we should finally be able to make some comparisons.

and immigration

Two immigration stories have gotten attention recently:

  • When parents and their children are caught trying to enter the US without papers, the Trump administration has begun routinely separating them. Trump claims that this action is forced by laws that Democrats refuse to change, but that’s simply not true.
  • HHS admitted that it has lost track of 1475 immigrant children that it put in foster homes.

A number of people have been connecting the two stories, implying that the government has lost children it separated from their parents. But so far that seems not to be the case. The 1475 are children who arrived at the border unaccompanied.

Still, there is a point to be made: If the government is going to take kids away from their parents, it had better keep better track of them than it has been keeping of the kids who show up at the border unaccompanied.

and deals about nuclear weapons

From Trump opining about his Nobel Peace Prize to canceling his summit with Kim Jong Un and announcing that there is no deal with North Korea was just 15 days. It turns out that getting a country to give up its nuclear program is really hard. Who knew?

The amazing thing to me is how many people were taken in by this whole charade. Trump’s combination of threats, sanctions, and flattery was praised as masterful on the Right, and even publications that should know better, like The Atlantic, asked “What if Trump’s North Korea bluster actually worked?” The NYT’s David Brooks gave Trump credit for “lizard wisdom” through which he “understands the thug mind a whole lot better than the people who attended our prestigious Foreign Service academies”.

Matt Yglesias‘ cynical view of Trump — which I will sum up as “Bullshitters gonna bullshit” — has once again proven prescient.

The factors that led to the collapse of the summit were there from the beginning. The only thing that ever seemed remotely promising about it was Trump’s say-so, but Trump’s say-so is meaningless. Not only is he a person who makes factual misstatements and lies, but he’s a person who has gotten ahead in life through extensive use of bullshit, leaving in his wake a trail of broken promises.

There was never any reason to believe that Kim was offering anything close to the complete denuclearization Trump said he was going to get out of this negotiation. That claim was always a castle-in-the-air for Trump’s base to take pride in and give him credit for. Now that it has evaporated, expect a new castle-in-the-air somewhere else.

His supporters never learn, and have been saying “At least he tried.” To which I respond: “He tried to bullshit us, you mean.”

Now he’s at it again, but whether ultimately there is a meeting or not, there’s still no reason to believe anything will come of it. Trump and Kim remain miles apart.

Meanwhile, Trump has undone the hard work the Obama administration did to get Iran’s nuclear program under control. Our European allies have been left in the lurch, trying to balance incompatible demands from Secretary of State Pompeo and Iran’s Supreme Leader. Ordinarily, that choice would be a no-brainer, but Iran has been upholding its commitments to Europe while Trump has been breaking America’s commitments.

“There’s little to no appetite in European capitals for the type of economic sanctions the U.S. is bringing back,” Ellie Geranmayeh, a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said in a telephone interview. “Following Pompeo’s demands there are a lot of eyes rolling and heads fuming.”

The kind of sanctions Trump is talking about are not just against Iran, but against companies in any country that do business with Iran. This is going to put us in direct conflict with Europe. The only country that wins from this is Russia; Putin has long wanted to separate the US from its NATO allies, a mission Trump is carrying out admirably.

With regard to both North Korea and Iran, Trump is betting on his ability to get the rest of the world to go along with economic sanctions so crippling that the regimes will have to either give in or be overthrown by a discontented populace. I think he overestimates his persuasiveness and power while underestimating the willingness of both countries’ citizens to accept suffering.

Probably there are a lot of Iranians and Koreans who dislike their own country’s government and yearn for more American-style rights and openness. But they still have national pride, and will endure a lot of hardship rather than knuckle under to a foreign bully. I suspect the pressure Trump applies will strengthen those governments’ hold on power, not weaken it.

and trade

Something else that collapsed without a trace was Trump’s trade war with China, which I already mentioned above in connection with the possibility that he took a bribe, or maybe that the whole point from the beginning was to extort a bribe.

When Trump announced tariffs in March, he tweeted:

When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win.

Then there was a back-and-forth of the US and China threatening tariffs against each other’s goods, and China stopped buying US soybeans. Then a week ago Treasury Secretary Mnuchin announced that the trade war was “on hold” pending some nebulous future negotiations.

The joint statement that came out of Mnuchin’s meeting with the Chinese is short and contains vague statements about China buying more American goods to lower the US/China trade deficit. It also mentions protecting intellectual property. (Stealing American technology without working out license agreements is a major complaint that US companies have against China.)

But it includes no specific commitments, (“The United States will send a team to China to work out the details.”) so it’s essentially meaningless. China’s economy continues to grow rapidly, so of course it will “increase purchases of United States goods and services”. And since the Chinese don’t admit that they’re stealing our intellectual property, it’s easy for them to state that they “attach paramount importance to intellectual property protections”.

A generous interpretation is that Trump surrendered on trade in order to get Chinese help dealing with North Korea. But there’s also no progress with North Korea. So it sure looks like Trump backed down on his trade war without getting anything — at least not for the United States.

One of Trump’s chief boasts as a candidate was that he was the consummate deal-maker. He’d make “great deals” with other countries that would benefit both the economy and security of the United States.

So far, that hasn’t happened. He has torn up a number of deals: TPP, the Paris Climate Accords, and the Iran nuclear deal. He is threatening to pull out of NAFTA. In every case, he has promised to negotiate a better deal than the one we already had. But he hasn’t gotten those deals done. Again and again, he makes aggressive demands and other countries say no.

Jackson Diehl concludes:

[T]he past month has taught all sides a lesson about Trump, if they didn’t know it already: He’s not up to serious negotiation. He can’t be expected to seriously weigh costs and benefits, or make complex trade-offs. He’s good at bluster, hype and showy gestures, but little else. In short, he may be the worst presidential deal maker in modern history.

Fred Hiatt explains how to predict the “unpredictable” Trump:

Still, for a man who ran for office saying, “We have to be unpredictable,” Trump is proving not so hard to read. Look at whatever he has believed since the 1980s; ignore any evidence that has emerged since; and you can make a fairly educated guess where he will end up.

He operates according to his “gut feelings”, but we know what those are:

What are these predispositions? Allied nations, and especially Japan, play the United States for a chump. Dictators are strong and decisive and therefore to be admired. Immigrants and people of color are suspect. Wealthy people usually know best, while intellectuals are not to be trusted. Trade deficits are the ultimate sign of national weakness, and manufacturing is the linchpin of any economy. Anything Barack Obama did should be undone.

yet another school shooting

This one at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas. Ten people were killed and 13 wounded.

Josh Marshall reacted to MSNBC’s Pete Williams describing the shooting as “a huge mystery” because there had so far been no signs of an extremist ideology that motivated the shooter. Marshall, very astutely in my opinion, says that school shootings have become their own cult; jihadism or white supremacy or rebellion against the Deep State or whatever else the claimed motive might be isn’t a cause so much as a detail about how things play out.

Again, this happens all the time. The motive is pretty clear: angry and alienated young man, a late adolescent consumed with rage and alienation who lives in the United States and thus has become a devotee of the cult, the ideology of the redemptive school shooting atrocity. The ideology is really the cult of the mass shooting, in which the gun, with all its cultural and political omnipotence, plays a central role. Every school shooter learned from the history of school shootings, mimicked the strategies, was in a sense acting out a ritual which has become deeply rooted in our culture. We know the motive. We know the ideology: rage and alienation transmuted through mass gun violence.

Marshall’s point of view was expressed more elaborately and in more detail by Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker in 2015. Gladwell interprets school shootings as an unfolding social process: Each one lowers the threshold for the next. He compares it to window-breaking during a riot. The first window is broken by somebody who has been itching to break windows, but eventually ordinary people start doing it.

If that’s true (and the argument seems convincing), stopping the process is going to be more complicated than just gun control or spotting at-risk students.

The biggest obstacle to arming teachers seems to be insurance companies. I’ve written before about the dysfunctional thinking that I see at the root of most NRA arguments: They respond to fantastic scenarios of what could happen rather than to realistic threats. (Sci-fi author William Gibson: “People who feel safer with a gun than with guaranteed medical insurance don’t yet have a fully adult concept of scary.”) So it makes sense that the NRA’s natural enemy would be an industry whose profits depend accurately evaluating risks.

Kansas passed its law arming teachers in 2013, after the mass shooting the previous year in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. That immediately led EMC Insurance to announce it would rather exit the school insurance market than cover armed teachers and staff. Republican lawmakers were upset but couldn’t find another insurer willing to take on the policies.

and you also might be interested in …

Memorial Day is a good time to re-read this James Fallows article. “We love the troops,” he writes, “but we’d rather not think about them.” Back in March, USA Today reminded us of all the dangerous places the US has troops. When four US soldiers died in Niger, I suspect the first reaction of most of us was “We have soldiers in Niger?”

The original purpose of Memorial Day was that we not forget the sacrifices made by soldiers in past wars. These days, though, we’re having trouble staying aware of the sacrifices our soldiers are making right now.

Ireland voted overwhelmingly to repeal its constitutional ban on abortion, despite the opposition of the Catholic Church. The vote will allow the government to establish the boundaries of legal abortion, which it has pledged to do by the end of the year. A referendum in 2015 had legalized same-sex marriage, which the Church also opposed.

It’s something of a mystery (at least to me) why Ireland is moving left at the same time that much of the rest of Europe is moving right. Italy, for example, voted for a coalition of populist parties that is anti-immigrant and anti-Europe. Whether they will be able to form a government is still up in the air.

Excessive rains have flooded Ellicott City, Maryland, which is about 15 miles from Baltimore.

Vox takes apart Trump’s baseless “spygate” conspiracy theory. Separately, Republican Senator Marco Rubio explains:

What I have seen so far is an FBI effort to learn more about individuals with a history of bragging about links to Russia that pre-exist the campaign. If those people were operating near my office or my campaign, I’d want them investigated.

The NFL established a new policy about protests during the national anthem: Players can stay in the locker room during the anthem, but if they come out on the field they have to stand respectfully. If they don’t the league will fine the team, which can then decide whether to fine the player.

There are all kinds of problems here: The owners did this on their own, with no player input. Forced reverence for the flag (or any other symbol) is the exact opposite of the freedom the flag is supposed to represent. It’s hard to come up with a protest more respectful than kneeling silently. The original purpose of the protest (against police shootings of unarmed blacks and other examples of racism by public officials) has been entirely lost. Players identified with the protest (Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid) seem to have been blackballed by the NFL; they are unemployed when players of lesser ability have jobs.

As someone who occasionally repurposes poetry himself, I can appreciate “The Incel Song of J. Alfred Prufrock“.

and let’s close with something

If you’re looking for something meditative and beautiful, check out National Geographic’s “5 Breathtaking Time-Lapses that are Perfect for Spring“. Like this one:

Not All Appearances are Deceiving

No Sift the next two weeks. New articles will appear May 28.

The bottom line — which will remain true no matter how much the Kochs spend trying to convince you otherwise — is that what looks like a big giveaway to wealthy investors is, in fact, a big giveaway to wealthy investors.

– Paul Krugman “Apple and the Fruits of Tax Cuts” (5-3-2018)

This week’s featured post is “Speaking in Code: two phrases that no longer mean what they used to“.

This week everybody was talking about lies

From the beginning I have resisted paying too much attention to the Stormy Daniels story — or publishing pictures of her in low-cut tops — because to the extent that it’s about sex I just don’t care. People who cared about Bill Clinton’s affairs should have to explain why they don’t care about Trump’s. But I don’t care about either one.

Increasingly, though, the Stormy story has come to exemplify other disturbing features of Trump and his administration: financial corner-cutting, and an approach towards lying that doesn’t even seek deceive so much as destroy the idea of a knowable truth.

This week, Rudy Giulani began giving interviews in his role as Trump’s new lawyer. He soon offered a new story of Trump’s role in the $130K hush money Daniels was given by Michael Cohen, and then a new story after that, only to have Trump say that Giuliani didn’t have his facts straight. By Sunday’s interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Giuliani was treating the simplest questions as deep philosophical mysteries. When did Trump know about the payment? Apparently the question is unfathomable.

It could have been recently, it could have been awhile back. Those are the facts that we’re still working on and that, you know, may be in a little bit of dispute. This is more rumor than anything else.

Remember: Giuliani is not a reporter dealing with a hostile source; he’s a lawyer representing a client.

In general, it’s getting harder and harder to get a straight story from anybody in the administration about much of anything. Vox compiled a timeline of the different things we’ve been told about the Daniels payoff: It didn’t happen (January 12); Cohen paid it using his own money (February 13); Trump knew nothing about it (April 5); Cohen was representing Trump when he made the payment (April 26); Trump repaid Cohen (May 2). Since then we’ve heard that Trump repaid Cohen, but by paying a $35K monthly retainer without knowing what it was for. Or maybe he did know.

The latest version suggests that Cohen might have been running a deniable slush fund for the Trump campaign.

What never seems to happen, though, is that a person with knowledge walks us through the story from beginning to end, and takes responsibility for that story hanging together for the long haul.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended previously telling the press corps that Trump didn’t know about the payment by saying “We’re giving you the best information that we’re going to have. Obviously the press team’s not going to be as read-in, maybe, as some other elements, at a given moment, on a variety of topics. But we relay the best and most accurate information that we have.” Translation: Trump lied to her too.

My growing impression is that in TrumpWorld the concepts of truth and lie are meaningless. We are all told whatever will best placate us at the moment, by people who may not know any more than we do. If at some future moment we become agitated again, we’ll be told something else.

Parkland survivor Cameron Kasky compared what Trump told the NRA Friday to what he told the Parkland families soon after the shooting.

If he’s in front of families, he might say something in support of common sense gun reform. But then when he’s at the NRA, he’ll say something to get a big cheer.

Vox’ Dara Lind recalls numerous moments when the press reported that Trump was considering some action — changing his legal team, firing Rex Tillerson, firing H. R. McMaster — Trump vociferously denounced the report as fake news, and then shortly thereafter he did the thing he had denied considering.

With their actions, Trump and his White House have forfeited the right to have any influence on which stories about the president should or should not be believed. If they have no scruples about when and about what to lie, the only responsible alternative is to assume, always, that their statements have no relationship whatsoever to the truth.

Then we get to the strange story of Trump’s former doctor, Harold Bornstein, the one who signed a letter claiming that “If elected, Mr Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”

He now tells us that Trump dictated that letter himself, and that Bornstein just signed it.

A few weeks after the inauguration, Bornstein claims, Trump sent a lawyer and his bodyguard to his office to take Trump’s medical records by force, in what he characterized as a “raid” and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called “standard operating procedure“. The BBC quotes Dr. Arthur Caplan, a professor of bio-ethics at NYU:

In the US, medical records are joint property. They do belong to the patient who can have a copy, but the doctor keeps one too because if an issue comes up about malpractice, they have to have the record. You can’t just come in and take away everything.

The big question we’re left with is: Do we actually know anything trustworthy about Trump’s health? The report from his White House doctor, Ronny Jackson, also included an unprofessional level of flattery. (“He has incredibly good genes. … If he had a healthier diet over the last 20 years he might live to be 200”.) Jackson was then rewarded with a cabinet nomination, though he later had to withdraw.

and impeachment

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, wrote an op-ed in the NYT Friday urging Democrats not to “take the bait” on impeachment. He points out that impeachment is both a legal and a political process, and requires both a legal and a political justification:

while that political standard cannot be easily or uniformly defined, I think in the present context it means the following: Was the president’s conduct so incompatible with the office he holds that Democratic and Republican members of Congress can make the case to their constituents that they were obligated to remove him? … This is a very high bar, and it should be.

If I were a Democrat running for Congress, I’d be talking about checks and balances rather than speculating about impeachment. The problem with the Republican Congress is that it doesn’t want to know what Trump did or is doing. It tolerates Trump’s blatant attempts to influence the Justice Department. It winks and nods at the various ways Trump is making money off the presidency. The House Intelligence Committee’s investigation — now concluded — was more interested in harassing whistleblowers and intimidating investigators than in finding out whether anyone in the Trump campaign committed treason, or if Putin has some illicit hold on Trump himself.

At the same time, the evidence publicly available at this moment is more smoke than fire. It raises questions but does not by itself constitute proof of high crimes and misdemeanors, the constitutional standard for impeachment. The Mueller investigation may or may not have such evidence; that remains to be seen. But any Democrat who says, “Vote for me and I’ll vote to impeach Trump” is going too far.

With regard to Trump, my recommended message would be: “Trump is not trustworthy, so we need a Democratic Congress to keep an eye on him and to make sure he fulfills his constitutional responsibility to faithfully execute the laws. We’ll insist that he produce his tax returns, as every other recent president has. We’ll investigate whether he’s violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. We’ll protect the Mueller investigation from improper interference until it can produce a full report.”

“Will that lead to impeachment? That will depend on facts we don’t know yet. But if you ever want to know the facts, you have to elect a Democratic Congress, because Republicans have proved already that they are more loyal to Trump than they are to America. A Republican Congress will continue to cover for him and make excuses for him, rather than be the kind of watchdog the Founders intended Congress to be.”

and the role of parties in primaries

At the end of April, The Intercept published an article about the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the official Democratic group responsible for winning House elections. It is chaired by Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, who ranks just behind Nancy Pelosi among House Democrats.

The article centers on a tape of Hoyer trying to convince a progressive candidate to drop out of the race, clearing the primary for a moderate Democrat that Hoyer believes has a better chance to win the general election.

The article itself has a tone that suggests there is something illegitimate about this kind of pre-primary interference, that the national party ought to stay neutral and let the local voters decide for themselves. Some of the social media discussion this article provoked made that case more explicitly: The national party shouldn’t be trying to “rig the primaries” by helping one candidate over another.

The contrary viewpoint was expressed by author Elaine Kamarck in Thursday’s NYT. In her view, national parties in America are far less controlling than those in other democratic countries, and are already virtually abdicating their responsibility.

This is not to say that there is no role for primaries. But the pendulum between the party’s leaders choosing its candidates and primary voters choosing them has swung so far in the direction of the voters that even the smallest, most modest efforts to intervene in nomination races are deemed illegitimate.

Personally, I have trouble getting excited about this issue for a simple reason: If Steny Hoyer and a little money can stop you, then you’re not the revolutionary grass-roots candidate you claim to be. Look at what has happened on the Republican side: Trump-style populists like Roy Moore have repeatedly routed the more mainstream candidates Mitch McConnell tries to pre-select, to the point that it’s not clear whether Mitch’s endorsement helps more than it hurts.

Speaking of primaries and parties, Republicans are facing some strange dynamics.

Tomorrow is the West Virginia primary, where establishment Republicans are increasingly worried that coal baron Don Blankenship will win the Republican nomination for the Senate.

Blankenship’s corner-cutting on safety regulations was the primary cause of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, which killed 29 people in 2010. Blankenship escaped conviction on the biggest charges against him and spent a mere one year in prison, so he’s ready for the Senate.

The Onion has it about right:

I’m Don Blankenship, and I’m proud to say that my vision and leadership created countless new job opportunities in the fields of search and rescue, emergency surgery, funeral services, and many more. From trauma specialists and morticians all the way down to the manufacturers of vigil candles, gravestones, and sympathy cards, I’m committed to putting West Virginians to work. I’ve even created 29 new coal mining jobs. Can Mitch McConnell say the same?

In California, Diane Feinstein may end up running against an explicit anti-Semite.

Aghast at the possibility of being represented by a Senate candidate whose platform calls for “limiting representation of Jews in the government” and making it U.S. policy that the Holocaust “is a Jewish war atrocity propaganda hoax that never happened,” California Republican leaders were quick to denounce Little.

“Mr. Little has never been an active member of our party. I do not know Mr. Little and I am not familiar with his positions,” Matt Fleming, a California Republican Party spokesman, said in a statement. “But in the strongest terms possible, we condemn anti-Semitism and any other form of religious bigotry, just as we do with racism, sexism or anything else that can be construed as a hateful point of view.”

Should they be rigging the primary like that?

but you should read this hard-to-pigeonhole article

The Spy Who Came Home” in The New Yorker. Patrick Skinner was a CIA operative in Afghanistan and Iraq. Then he came home to be a beat cop in Savannah.

“We write these strategic white papers, saying things like ‘Get the local Sunni population on our side,’ ” Skinner said. “Cool. Got it. But, then, if I say, ‘Get the people who live at Thirty-eighth and Bulloch on our side,’ you realize, man, that’s fucking hard—and it’s just a city block. It sounds so stupid when you apply the rhetoric over here. Who’s the leader of the white community in Live Oak neighborhood? Or the poor community?” Skinner shook his head. “ ‘Leader of the Iraqi community.’ What the fuck does that mean?”

“We have to stop treating people like we’re in Fallujah,” he told me. “It doesn’t work. Just look what happened in Fallujah.”

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The videos coming out of Hawaii are amazing.

The deadline for re-affirming the Iran nuclear deal is Saturday. In the Boston Globe, Harvard Kennedy School professor Matthew Bunn offers suggestions for building new agreements on top of the existing one, but presents this warning about simply walking away from the existing agreement.

if Trump walks out of the deal on May 12, the United States will be isolated. Few others will join the US sanctions, diluting the pressure that could be brought to bear on Iran. And in Iran’s internal debates, the advocates for engagement with the West would be discredited, probably making any new or better deal impossible for years to come. Iran would be freed from the deal’s nuclear limits and could begin building up its capability to produce nuclear bomb material. That could leave Trump with few choices between accepting an Iran on the edge of nuclear weapons or launching yet another war in the Middle East.

The NYT warns that verifying compliance of any North Korean nuclear deal will be even harder than verifying the Iran deal.

The nomination of Gina Haspel to be CIA director will reach the Senate floor soon. The nomination is controversial because of the still-not-fully-explained role she played in torturing detainees and/or covering up that torture. Here’s how Trump is framing that:

My highly respected nominee for CIA Director, Gina Haspel, has come under fire because she was too tough on Terrorists. Think of that, in these very dangerous times, we have the most qualified person, a woman, who Democrats want OUT because she is too tough on terror.

Think about that: She’s under fire because of suspicion that she broke the law against torture, putting the US in violation of the Convention Against Torture that President Reagan signed and the Senate ratified. But in Trump’s book, breaking the law is fine if you break it over the heads of the right people.

The Krugman quote at the top concerns Apple’s announcement that it will buy back $100 billion of its own stock. This will benefit Apple’s shareholders, but do virtually nothing to create jobs or grow the US economy.

This is turning out to be typical of how corporations are spending the windfall they got from the Trump tax cut. The political hype was that companies with big offshore profits would now bring that money back to the US to build new factories, hire more workers, and pay them higher wages. Several companies made happy headlines by announcing $1000 worker bonuses immediately after the tax bill passed. But such actions represent only a tiny fraction of the corporate tax-cut windfall.

Unemployment went below 4% last month, a number not seen since the end of the Clinton administration. Basically, the unimpressive but steady job growth that started under Obama has continued under Trump. Unemployment peaked at over 10% in October, 2009, and has been headed down since then. Looking at the Fed’s graph, it’s hard to spot the Obama/Trump changeover.

Iowa just passed a law banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. That threshold is usually crossed at around 6 weeks, when many women do not even realize they are pregnant. So for most practical purposes abortion will have been banned in Iowa when the law takes effect on July 1.

Abortion-rights groups will ask courts to block the bill, but that seems to be the point: generating a legal case that will give the Supreme Court an opportunity to reverse Roe v Wade.

Liberals are often urged not to poke the bear with proposals that are unlikely to become law, but will validate conservative fears: sweeping gun bans, for example. For some reason, conservatives don’t operate under the same restrictions.

The NYT’s conservative columnist Bret Stephens makes the case for the US continuing as the world policeman.

The world learned on Sept. 1, 1939, where the mentality of every-country-for-itself leads. Our willful and politically wounded president is leading us there again. A warning to countries that have relied too long and lazily on the promises of Pax Americana: The policeman has checked out. You’re on your own again.

One standard feature of conservative health-care plans (at least for the conservatives who even bother to have a plan any more) is high-deductible insurance. The idea is that Americans will be less wasteful with their use of the healthcare system if they have what Paul Ryan calls “skin in the game”.

High deductibles do decrease Americans’ use of healthcare. However, sometimes the result is that people who need care forego it.

Women who had just learned they had breast cancer were more likely to delay getting care if their deductibles were high, the study showed. A review of several years of medical claims exposed a pattern: Women confronting such immediate expenses put off getting diagnostic imaging and biopsies, postponing treatment.

And they delayed beginning chemotherapy by an average of seven months, said Dr. J. Frank Wharam, a Harvard researcher and one of the authors of the study, published earlier this year in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

The NYT article gives anecdotes of patients facing financial choices, but doesn’t say whether the study documented the effect of income. I have to suspect that the delayed or neglected care centered mainly on poorer households.

While high-deductible plans are meant to encourage people to think twice about whether a test or treatment is necessary and if it can be done at a lower price, “it’s also frankly to impede their use of these services,” said Dr. Peter Bach, the director of the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Shortly after he took office, Trump issued a drain-the-swamp executive order that was supposed to prevent people who leave the administration from going straight into lobbying. ProPublica studied how well that is working. It looks like there are ways around the order, but that it’s not totally useless either. Somebody who took Trump at his word will likely be disappointed, but since I thought the executive order was complete BS, I’m surprised in a mildly pleasant way.

Jared Kushner is still fixing errors in his financial disclosure forms.

and let’s close with a song parody

No, not one of mine this time. It’s “Confounds the Science” to the tune of “Sounds of Silence”.

Transforming Common Sense

The same analysts who invariably describe waves of unarmed revolt as spontaneous and uncontrolled spend endless hours speculating on which candidates might enter into elections that are still years away. They closely track developments in Congress, in the courts, and in the White House. They carefully study the arts of electioneering, lobbying, and legislative deal making — processes that dominate public understanding of US politics and that are shaped by elite values and practices. In doing so, they appeal to realism. This is how the system works, they tell us. This is how the sausage gets made. But is this really how change happens?

– Mark and Paul Engler, This is an Uprising (2016)

One of the chief aims of revolutionary activity is to transform political common sense.

David Graeber (2014)

This week’s featured post is “Change Can Happen Faster Than You Think.” It reviews what I think is a very important book: This is an Uprising by Mark and Paul Engler, which walks you through half a century or more of the theory and practice of nonviolent organizing.

This week everybody was talking about Korea

The leaders of North and South Korea met at the border Friday and signed a joint declaration agreeing to a number of laudable goals, like negotiating a peace treaty to finally put an official end to the Korean War (since 1953 there has been an armistice, but the countries are still officially at war), denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and reunification of families divided between the two nations. The details are to be worked out later.

But the details are the hard part, which is why it’s too soon to get really excited about this agreement. It’s a little like when an estranged married couple meets for lunch and decides they want to get back together. That’s hopeful, but they’re still going to have to resolve the issues — kids, careers, money, blame and forgiveness for past events — that split them up to begin with.

Anna Fifield writes in The Washington Post:

We were here in 1992, when North Korea signed a denuclearization agreement with South Korea. Again in 1994, when North Korea signed a denuclearization agreement with the United States. And in 2005, when North Korea signed a denuclearization agreement with its four neighbors and the United States. And then there was 2012, when North Korea signed another agreement with the United States.

But she also is mildly hopeful: The way North Korean media covered the meeting between North Korean President Kim and South Korean President Moon “sends a powerful message to the people of North Korea: This is a process Kim is personally invested in.”

Realizing the promise of this agreement will involve some concessions from the United States, like ending economic sanctions against North Korea and pulling our troops out of South Korea. We’re unlikely to make those concessions unless we’re confident we can verify that North Korea has gotten rid of its nukes (and maybe its ballistic missiles as well). Whether North Korea will submit to the kind of intrusive inspections we will want is probably going to be the sticking point. And what if they demand that we abandon our nuclear weapons as well?

Here’s what’s particularly ironic: In terms of inspections, about the best we can hope for is to duplicate the Iran denuclearization agreement that Trump is on the verge of scuttling.

As for why the Korea negotiations are happening now, James Fallows recommends this analysis by Patrick Chovanec. The Guardian suggests another reason for Kim’s willingness to halt nuclear tests: His testing site may be out of commission anyway.

and Trump administration scandals

Michael Cohen pleaded the Fifth Amendment in the civil case that Stormy Daniels has brought against him and President Trump. The judge granted Cohen’s motion to delay the trial for 90 days to see if Cohen is indicted. Presumably, his legal liability (and hence the scope of his Fifth Amendment claims) will be easier to assess then.

To no one’s surprise, the House Intelligence Committee’s Republican majority released a report that found no evidence of collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. It’s easy to not find evidence when you don’t really look.

Adam Schiff, the ranking Democratic committee member, summarized many of the committee’s interviews.

My colleagues had a habit of asking three questions: Did you conspire, did you collude, did you coordinate with Russians? And if the answer was “no,” they were pretty much done.

Schiff’s assessment is backed up by the report itself.

Finding #25: When asked directly, none of the interviewed witnesses provided evidence of collusion, coordination, or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

So: We asked them and they said they didn’t do it. What more could the American people expect from us?

Some key witnesses, like Paul Manafort, were never questioned at all. Donald Trump Jr. was allowed not to answer questions (about his father’s role in crafting the false statement responding to the initial report of Junior’s Trump Tower meeting with Russians) by claiming a plainly bogus “attorney-client privilege”. (Neither of the Trumps are lawyers, but there was a lawyer in the room somewhere. When mob bosses try this trick, courts don’t let them get away with it.) Several Trump-administration witnesses refused to answer questions, and the committee did not press them.

The report’s clever phrasing papers over these huge gaps.

We reviewed every piece of relevant evidence provided to us and interviewed every witness we assessed would substantively contribute to the agreed-upon bipartisan scope of the investigation.

If evidence wasn’t provided or witnesses refused to tell them anything, the committee simply accepted that limitation and moved on. The “agreed-upon bipartisan scope of the investigation” apparently did not include actually figuring out what happened.

Scott Pruitt testified before Congress about his conflicts of interest and his misspending EPA funds on first-class travel, round-the-clock personal security, and remodeling his office. He acknowledged nothing, blamed his staff, and attributed criticism to those who disagree with his policies. (If you think that the Environmental Protection Agency should protect the environment, there’s a lot to disagree with.)

I finally got around to reading the NYT article from last week about Pruitt’s pre-EPA career in Oklahoma. Pruitt virtually defines “the swamp” that Trump keeps saying he wants to drain. No smoking gun stands out above the general run, but the article is one long story of friends helping friends, business deals that always come out well for Pruitt, and a pro-business politician doing things that save businesses huge amounts of money. Corners are cut along the way, but it’s all much more gentlemanly than simple bribery. And of course, Pruitt spends large amounts of taxpayer money on himself, just as he has been doing at EPA.

In the same way that Scott Pruitt sees his job at the EPA as protecting businesses from environmental regulation, Mike Mulvaney at the Consumer Financial Protection Board works to protect banks and payday lenders from consumer-protection laws. Addressing his primary constituents at an American Bankers Association conference on Tuesday, Mulvaney told the ABA that “what you do here [i.e., give money to legislators who support bank-friendly laws] matters.” He explained why by pointing to his own practices when he was in Congress.

We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress. If you were a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you were a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.

I can’t claim I’m shocked to hear that some politicians’ attention is for sale. But it is stunning to find one so jaded that he doesn’t even see the point of pretending otherwise. For Mulvaney corruption is not an evil to be deplored or rooted out; it’s just life.

I’m not sure whether this counts as scandalous or just unhinged, but Trump called in to Fox & Friends Thursday morning and spoke almost nonstop for half an hour. The hosts frequently looked uncomfortable and frozen, tried (and often failed) to interrupt him, and finally pushed to end the conversation before Trump did himself any more damage. This was yet another scene no one could have imagined in any previous administration: TV news personalities trying to get the President of the United States to shut up.

As a result, we all got to see for ourselves the conversational style that James Comey described in his book: “The barrage of words was almost designed to prevent a genuine two-way dialogue from ever happening.”

You can watch the whole interview, read WaPo’s annotated transcript, or save time and watch Trevor Noah’s summary:

Seth Meyers’ summary is also entertaining.

Trump’s ramble did huge damage to his position in the Stormy Daniels case. Trump and Michael Cohen have contended that Daniels’ non-disclosure agreement is with Cohen, who paid the $130K hush money himself without Trump’s knowledge. But Trump admitted that Cohen “represents me like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal, he represented me.”

Trump and Cohen also want to keep both Robert Mueller and the US attorney for the Southern District of New York from examining the material the FBI took when it raided Cohen’s office, claiming that it is protected by attorney-client privilege. SDNY prosecutors, on the other hand, have argued in court that Cohen actually did very little legal work for Trump or anyone else. Trump backed up the SDNY claim:

Michael is a businessman. He’s got a business. He also practices law. I would say probably the big thing is his business … I have many attorneys … He has a percentage of my overall legal work — a tiny, tiny little fraction.

Within hours, SDNY had amended its court filing to include quotes from Trump’s interview.

Finally, two tidbits underline how bizarre the whole thing was: Trump started by saying it was Melania’s birthday. Then he admitted that he hadn’t gotten her anything yet beyond a card and flowers, because “you know, I’m very busy”. Then he rambled until the hosts cut him off, as very busy men often do on their wives’ birthdays.

And this exchange about CNN is either priceless or symptomatic:

KILMEADE: I’m not your doctor, Mr. President, but I would — I would recommend you watch less of them.

TRUMP: I don’t watch them at all. I watched last night.

White House doctor Ronny Jackson dropped out of consideration to lead the Veterans Administration Thursday morning.

Trump is claiming that Jackson has been wronged by his critics, but he’s also apparently not getting his old job back as White House physician.

By now we know that Trump does not care about the qualifications of the people he appoints, and frequently picks people just because he likes them or they look the part. (HUD ought to be led by a black, so why not Ben Carson? He knows nothing about public housing or urban planning, but so what?) Well, he likes Jackson, who looks impressive and is both a doctor and a rear admiral in the Navy. So what if he had never managed a large organization, and the VA has almost 400k employees and an annual budget just under $200 billion?

That by itself should have been enough to make the Senate think twice about confirming this nomination, but it soon became clear that Trump’s people had not done the most basic kind of vetting. Senators found many accusations against Jackson, which The Washington Post breaks into three categories:

  • Being sloppy about giving out and accounting for prescription drugs, including prescribing to himself.
  • Turning the White House Medical Office into a terrible place to work.
  • Being drunk on duty.

As WaPo emphasizes, these are merely accusations at this stage rather than proven facts. (However, the accusers are not random partisans coming out of the woodwork. Most are career Navy.) But a competent White House would at least have known that such issues would arise, and would have been prepared to address them. The Trump White House wasn’t.

Also worth noting: During the campaign, fixing the VA was a central part of Trump’s message. (In a speech to the VFW, he pledged to “take care of our veterans like they’ve never been taken care of before.”) If he cared about any cabinet position, he should have cared about this one.

and Macron’s visit

French President Emmanuel Macron visited the White House early in the week and gave a well-reviewed speech to Congress. But he failed to convince Trump to change his positions on Iran or the Paris Climate agreement.

New and better trade deals were a key promise of Trump’s 2016 campaign. But the deadline for imposing his tariffs on steel and aluminum is approaching, and other countries are not caving in to his demands.

and the new memorial to victims of lynching

From the moment that terrorists killed nearly 3,000 people on 9-11, it was obvious that there would someday be a memorial to them. And there is — how could there not be?

Now think about the more than 4,000 African-Americans who were lynched. They didn’t die all at once or all in one place, but they also were victims of terrorism. As Brent Staples puts it:

The carnivals of death where African-American men, women and children were hanged, burned and dismembered as cheering crowds of whites looked on were the cornerstone of white supremacist rule in the Jim Crow-era South. These bloody spectacles terrified black communities into submission and showed whites that there would be no price to pay for murdering black people who asserted the right to vote, competed with whites in business — or so much as brushed against a white person on the sidewalk.

Now, finally, they also get their memorial: The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. It opened Thursday.

The memorial houses 800 steel blocks, each 6 feet tall, suspended from above, and arranged in a square surrounding a grassy courtyard. There’s a monument for each county where racial killings occurred, including one from Carroll County, Miss., “where nearly two dozen people were lynched,” [Bryan] Stevenson [of the organization that created the memorial] says. They resemble elongated gravestones, etched with the names of victims.

Thinking of them as gravestones must be particularly eerie, since the visitor sees them from below.

The “lynching memorial”, as it is being called, is particularly timely given the controversies over the thousands of Confederate monuments scattered throughout the country, and especially the South. “Preserving history” is the excuse frequently given for forcing majority-black cities to give places of honor to men who fought to keep their citizens’ ancestors enslaved, or for punishing cities that remove such monuments. But until recently, what has been preserved is a very distorted view of history.

This was not an accident, but rather was an organized campaign by Southern state and local governments to whitewash the history of slavery and the Civil War. Virginia textbooks commissioned during the 1950s and still in use into the 1970s, taught school children lessons like:

Enslaved people were happy to be in Virginia and were better off than they would have been in Africa. Abolitionists lied about slavery in the South. … After the Civil War, carpetbaggers and scalawags came down to Virginia to oppress white Virginians. However, some ‘broad-minded’ Northerners came to understand and appreciate true Virginia and came to agree that Negroes were not ready to govern themselves.

Several Southern states celebrate an official Confederate Memorial Day: Today in Mississippi, last Monday in Alabama and Georgia. As far as I know, no state specifically honors the Southerners who have the best claim to Civil War heroism: slaves who escaped, joined the Union Army, and returned to liberate their people. They are the real heroes; Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson aren’t in the same league.

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James Fallows thinks that on a local level, America is revitalizing itself.

The Senate confirmed Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State. Individually, the Tillerson-to-Pompeo  switch probably doesn’t mean much. But with Bolton replacing McMaster as National Security Adviser, it’s ominous. I worry that at some key moment, no one in the room will regard war with Iran as a bad thing.

As if there weren’t enough crazies to worry about already, the man who used his van to kill 10 people in Toronto last Monday drew attention to yet another toxic worldview: Incels.

Incel, a contraction of “involuntarily celebate”, is a specific type of misogyny: Heterosexual guys who can’t find willing sexual partners blame women in general. They also aren’t wild about the guys who do manage to find partners.

Incels are a small spin-off group from the “pick-up artist” community, which [journalist David] Futrelle defines as men “obsessed with mastering what they see as the ultimate set of techniques and attitudes — known as ‘Game’ — that will enable them to quickly seduce almost any woman they want.”

Incels are men who researched pick-up artistry and found that the techniques did not work as advertised. So they have become embittered and have organized a deeply misogynistic and strange online community who believe, as Futrelle explains, “that women who turn down incel men for dates or sex are somehow oppressing them.”

Incels differentiate themselves from “Chads and Stacys,” their contemptuous term for men and women who have heterosexual sex on a regular basis.

Shortly before his attack, the Toronto guy characterized himself on Facebook as a “recruit” in “the Incel Rebellion” and hailed Incel hero Elliot Rodger, who killed six people in 2014 in an attack that centered on a sorority house, and then committed suicide. Rodger’s 137-page manifesto (which I’m intentionally not linking to) is supposedly a primary text in the Incel movement.

I wrote about Rodger at the time, not realizing he would symbolize a movement. I think that post holds up well. (It leans on Arthur Chu’s “Your Princess is in Another Castle“, which rambles, but also holds up well.) As long as men think of women’s bodies as prizes — and feel cheated if we don’t get the rewards we think we’ve earned — rape and other forms of misogynistic violence are never going to go away.

A Palestinian father living in Gaza explains why he risks his life to participate in the Great Return March, a protest on Gaza’s border with Israel.

Bill Cosby was found guilty of three counts of aggravated indecent assault, after nearly half a century of accusations. The New York Times Editorial Board draws what I think is the right conclusion: Convicting a rich and famous man of sexual assaults that happen behind closed doors is possible now, but it’s still really, really hard.

[S]ince it happened only after scores of women suffered in silence for decades, and only in the midst of a global reckoning with sexual violence, even a “victory” like this verdict suggests that the abused still face a desperately uphill battle.

Paul Ryan’s firing of the House chaplain (apparently for a prayer encouraging Congress to seek “benefits balanced and shared by all Americans” just before the vote on the tax bill), looks like another place where his political philosophy is incompatible with his Catholicism. That was a theme I explored years before he became Speaker in “Jesus Shrugged: Why Christianity and Ayn Rand Don’t Mix“.

This event is particularly strange given all the complaints from the religious right that liberals are trying to “silence” them.

Lots of people have noticed Trump’s silence about the Waffle House shooting and wondered: Would he have had more to say if all the races were reversed? What if a black guy (or a Muslim or Hispanic immigrant) had walked into a restaurant, killed four white people, and then gotten stopped and chased away by an unarmed white hero? You think that might have drawn Trump’s attention?

My own guess is that Trump just couldn’t see the Waffle House story. Heroes and victims are white Christians; villains are some other kind of people. Nothing else registers.

In WestWorld, when the robots are confronted with something that ought to make them question their programmed worldview, they just can’t process it. “It doesn’t look like anything to me,” they say. That’s how I imagine Trump responding to the Waffle House story.

HUD Secretary Ben Carson wants to raise the rent on poor families in government-assisted housing, especially the poorest ones.

Under current law, most tenants who get federal housing assistance pay 30 percent of their adjusted income toward rent, and the government kicks in the rest up to a certain amount. According to the HUD plan unveiled Wednesday, the amount many renters would pay jumps to 35 percent of gross income. In some cases, rental payments for some of the neediest families would triple, rising from a minimum of $50 per month to a minimum of $150, according to HUD officials. Some 712,000 households would see their rents jump to $150 per month under the proposal, the officials said.

This is why taxpayers shouldn’t concern themselves about Carson spending $31K on a dining-room set for his office, or the conflicts of interest involving his son’s business. He’s more than making it up by grinding money out of poor people.

Carson also proposes to allow states more options to impose work requirements on people who otherwise qualify for subsidized housing. This might sound sensible if you have a certain view of poor people: that they would rather sponge off the government than work. (I have no numbers on this; I suspect it’s true for some, but probably a lot fewer than Carson thinks.) From my point of view, the big thing HUD needs to be careful about is setting up a poverty trap: If you get thrown out of your apartment because you’re not working, how are you ever going to fix that? Once you’re homeless, it gets a lot harder to find a job.

The next time you pass homeless people on the street, try to picture them walking into a McDonalds and applying for a job. What manager would hire them? How much prep would be necessary to become presentable in a business context? Where would a homeless person do that prep?

Telling the poor to “shape up or else” is an appealing fantasy for some people. The problem is with the “or else”, because often it’s a state from which there is no recovering.

and let’s close with another road trip

So where can you get the best cup of coffee in every state? Food & Wine magazine has got it covered.