Category Archives: Weekly summaries

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

Pestilence and Cure

If I see Trump as a pestilence, I may not see in your tome of plans a cure.

– Charles Blow “To Beat Trump, Put Ideals Before Ideas

This week’s featured post is “Ten Principles that Unify Democrats (and most of the country)“.

This week everybody was talking about the impeachment trial

House impeachment managers head over to the Senate.

So it’s official now. The House delivered the articles of impeachment to the Senate on Wednesday. Thursday, the senators took an oath to render “impartial justice”. The substance of the trial will start tomorrow.

Fairly soon, the Senate will have to vote on the key question of whether to hear witnesses. Trump blocked the most important witnesses from testifying before the House, but would have a harder time blocking them from the Senate, if the Senate chooses to subpoena them. Mitch McConnell is against witnesses, because the less the public learns about this case, the better for Trump.

How this vote will go is still not clear. All 47 Democrats will probably want to hear witnesses. USA Today picks out Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Lamar Alexander as the most likely Republicans to vote for witnesses. I’d love to hear how other Republicans facing tough re-elections — Cory Gardner of Colorado comes to mind — will try to spin this. They have to realize that stuff is going to come out anyway. (John Bolton is writing a book, after all.) How will a decision to participate in Trump’s cover-up look when it does?

It’s striking how much of the closing message of Trump’s defenders is just simple intimidation. Here’s Rand Paul’s threat to Republican incumbents who might be thinking of taking their oath seriously:

Paul says if four or more of his GOP colleagues join with Democrats to entertain new witness testimony, he will make the Senate vote on subpoenaing the president’s preferred witnesses, including Hunter Biden and the whistleblower who revealed the Ukraine scandal — polarizing picks who moderate Republicans aren’t eager to call. So he has a simple message for his party: end the trial before witnesses are called.

“If you vote against Hunter Biden, you’re voting to lose your election, basically. Seriously. That’s what it is,” Paul said during an interview in his office on Wednesday. “If you don’t want to vote and you think you’re going to have to vote against Hunter Biden, you should just vote against witnesses, period.”

And Marc Thiessen warns that Hunter Biden could just be the beginning of a parade of witnesses that would lead to the former Vice President himself.

Biden has been shaky under mild questioning during the debates. How would he fare under the withering pressure of legal cross-examination? If he stumbled, or appeared confused, it could expose to voters how old and frail he really is at the very moment they are going to the polls to decide their party’s presidential nominee. Do Democrats really want to put Biden through that, especially since they know that the president is going to be acquitted?

And for what? Democrats have no idea what Bolton will say under oath. His testimony may be exculpatory for the president, in which case they will have opened the Pandora’s box of witness testimony for nothing. So, call your witnesses, Sen. Schumer. They may very well pose a greater danger to Biden’s presidential prospects than they do to Donald Trump.

Trump’s defenders can’t credibly argue that he’s innocent, so this is what they’re left with: Do what we say and nobody gets hurt. [BTW: I think the Biden-is-shaky point is off-base. Biden has a lifelong stuttering problem, which can make it hard for him to answer quickly, as you have to do in a debate. As a witness, he could take a moment to compose his answers.]

and the new evidence

Maybe I’m paranoid, but I get suspicious when a bad guy suddenly switches sides and starts telling us exactly what we want to hear. Lev Parnas is under indictment, so it would make sense for him to tell this stuff to his prosecutors to get a plea deal. But it’s not clear what advantage he gets from putting it all out there in public. So I’m listening closely to what Parnas is saying, looking at the corroborating documents he’s providing, and wondering where the trap is.

Nonetheless, I think Tom Malinowski has got it right:

GOP Senators are entitled to be skeptical of Parnas, since he wasn’t under oath. They’re not entitled to be skeptical while refusing to call sworn witnesses who could corroborate or refute him.

That point makes sense across the board. Again and again, Republicans have complained about the evidence House Democrats assembled: The witnesses weren’t always in the center of the action they were describing, few of them talked to Trump directly, and so on. Those are all reasonable things to complain about in the abstract. But it’s unreasonable to complain about those issues when you have the power to resolve them, but you’re refusing to do so.

Another major development this week was that a GAO report came out, saying that Trump’s freezing of the Ukraine aid violated the Impoundment Control Act. So much for the “no laws were broken” defense.

So who is Parnas anyway? He’s a crony of Rudy Giuliani who was working the Ukraine side of Trump’s get-Biden scheme. He did a long interview with Rachel Maddow that broadcast this week, and he’s provided a bunch of text messages and other relevant documents to the House impeachment investigators. Pieces of the Maddow interview are available online, but I haven’t found a complete video or transcript of it yet.

The Hill boils it down to five big points:

  • Trump was ready to withhold all aid from Ukraine if they didn’t announce a Biden investigation.
  • Bill Barr “had to have known everything”.
  • Trump knew exactly what was going on.
  • When Mike Pence cancelled his trip to the Ukraine president’s inauguration, that was part of the pressure campaign.
  • The effort to pressure Ukraine was never about corruption; it was about Biden.

In addition, I was struck by how clear Parnas makes it that Giuliani was operating as Trump’s personal attorney, not as a government official. So far, none of Trump’s defenders has been able to explain why (if this whole scheme was legit) it had to be done outside ordinary channels. To me, the off-the-books nature of things looks like consciousness of guilt.

Why, for example, couldn’t Trump just fire or transfer Ambassador Yovanovitch because he wanted to? Why did she have to be smeared and followed and threatened first?

Another thing that’s striking me: For a long time there, Rudy Giuliani just couldn’t shut up. He was all over TV saying all kinds of crazy things. Since Parnas started talking though, where has Rudy been?

Ben Rhodes asks a more general question:

Can you imagine how many corrupt grifters there are like Parnas circling around Trump’s foreign policy? On Saudi, UAE, Venezuela, China, Russia?

and the Democratic debate

The featured post was inspired by watching Tuesday’s debate, but doesn’t actually say that much about it. Here’s the transcript.

The debate in Des Moines was much like the previous debates, with the difference that there were only six candidates. That meant that each got to speak often enough that I never forgot who was up there. So while the previous debates looked like cattle calls, this one looked like a collection of possible nominees (with the possible exception of Steyer, who I still can’t take seriously). That had to work to the benefit of Amy Klobuchar, who trails the clump of Iowa front-runners (Biden, Buttigieg, Sanders, Warren), but looked like she belonged in that group.

Any of the front-running four is polling close enough to the top to win, especially considering how bizarre the caucus process is. So I don’t understand how soft all the other candidates were with Biden. Biden is the leader in almost every national poll. He could win Iowa, and if he does, that victory could be the beginning of the bandwagon that he rides to the nomination. This debate was the last chance to take him down before the caucus, so I don’t understand why nobody tried to exploit that opportunity.

So while Biden wasn’t all that sharp in the debate — he almost never is — to me he came off as the winner, because his opponents missed another opportunity to knock him down.

The NYT endorsement came out this morning: a split decision between Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar.

The whole Bernie-and-Elizabeth spat has got to be the dumbest story in this debate. Warren claims Sanders told her that a woman couldn’t beat Trump; Sanders denies saying that. It was a one-on-one conversation, so there’s no tie-breaking witness. I have two reactions:

  • So what if he did? Lots of people — most of them women — have told me in private conversations that (after watching what Hillary went through) they doubt that a woman can beat Trump. If Sanders were arguing publicly that people should vote for him rather than Warren because women aren’t electable, that would be terrible, because he’d be trying to cash in on the public’s sexism. But in private it’s a completely legitimate point of strategy for two politicians to discuss. So I think this whole thing should never have become an issue and CNN shouldn’t have asked about it. If Warren is responsible for raising the issue (and she may not have been), she shouldn’t have.
  • I thought Bernie’s response in the debate (“as a matter of fact, I didn’t say it”) was unskillful, because he turned the disagreement into a somebody-must-be-lying issue. I agree with GoodNewsRoundup on Daily Kos, that people can remember conversations differently without either party lying about what was said. So Bernie could have answered: “That’s not what I believe, so I can’t imagine that I would have said something like that. But apparently something I did say gave Elizabeth that impression, so I wish I had caught that misunderstanding at the time.” From there he could have segued into the rest of his answer: “If any of the women on this stage or any of the men on this stage win the nomination … I will do everything in my power to make sure that they are elected in order to defeat the most dangerous president in the history of our country.”

and you also might be interested in …

I’m not all that interested in the British royal family, so I’ve mostly ignored the Harry-and-Meghan-move-to-Canada story. However, BuzzFeed did some interesting research into what might have motivated the move: The article pairs 20 Meghan stories in the British press with directly comparable stories about her sister-in-law Kate Middleton. Again and again, something that was covered positively or indulgently for Kate and William was covered negatively for Meghan and Harry.

Here’s the transcript of a rally Trump held in Wisconsin on Tuesday. It’s common to read isn’t-that-outrageous articles based on specific quotes from Trump rallies. But what strikes me about this rally isn’t any particular part; it’s the impact of reading the whole thing.

If your Dad or Grandpa were this incoherent, the family would need to have a conference and make some decisions. You wouldn’t want him living on his own any more, and probably you’d want someone with him whenever he went out.

BTW, he still says Mexico is going to pay for the wall. “It’s all worked out. Mexico’s paying.” Sad.

The claim that no Americans were injured in the Iranian missile attack on January 8 … let’s just say it wasn’t completely accurate.

and let’s close with something that will blow you away

You might think that since the Netherlands is so flat, Dutch bicycle races wouldn’t be that arduous. However, there is one very Dutch obstacle: the wind. Every year on some very windy day they hold the Dutch Headwind Cycling Championships: 8.5 kilometers straight into a wind that gusted up to 127 kilometers an hour, riding a standard upright single-speed bicycle.

Since I don’t speak Dutch, most of the YouTube postings on the event are unintelligible to me. But Global Cycling News covered it like this, with one word of commentary: “Nutters.”

Ascribed Meanings

There is always a temptation to ascribe a deep, unspoken strategy to Trump’s improvised approach to politics—to find order in the chaos, a signal in the noise. But all of the available evidence suggests that there is no plan at all, that Trump is a deeply incompetent liar who has no idea what he is doing and no respect for the few people around him who do. If there is war with Iran, it will be because of Trump’s incompetence and lies; if there is not, it will be in spite of these things. Coverage that attempts to find the hidden meaning behind his actions only obscures what’s really happening.

– Alex Shephard “What the Media is Getting Wrong about Soleimani’s Killing
The New Republic 1-7-2020

This week’s featured post is a review of how every president since FDR has talked about war: “Remember Normal Presidents?

This week everybody was talking about Iran

This week’s news has been dominated by the multiple incoherent stories the Trump administration has been telling about the killing of Soleimani.

One thing just about everybody in this country agrees on is that Soleimani was a bad guy. (Though Trump lies about this: “The Democrats and the Fake News are trying to make terrorist Soleimani into a wonderful guy“. If anybody has heard a single major voice in either the media or the Democratic leadership imply such a thing, mention it in the comments. I don’t know of any.) However, he was an Iranian official carrying out Iranian policy. Blaming him personally for every attack Iran has supported seems misguided. He was a replaceable individual who has been replaced; the Quds Force has a new commander, who presumably is following the same policy directives.

There has been much back-and-forth about whether Soleimani was killed to prevent an “imminent” attack, or just because he was evil. It’s important to understand why this point keeps coming up, because Trump keeps trying to have it both ways: He claims that an attack was imminent, but if challenged too hard backs off tobut it doesn’t really matter because of his horrible past!”

If Soleimani’s assassination wasn’t intended to break up an attack that was in progress and about to happen — and it’s hard to see how that could be; I mean, Soleimani wasn’t going to drive a truck bomb himself — then it’s arguable that Trump had no legal authority to order it. If, instead, he just decided that Soleimani was a bad guy and Iran had been getting away with too much, he should have sought authorization from Congress. “his horrible past” is an argument that Trump could have offered to Congress, but it’s not a justification now.

At the very least, Trump had an obligation to inform the Gang of Eight that the attack was happening.

This disrespect for Congress is why Republican Senator Mike Lee blew his stack after the classified briefing of the Senate by the Secretaries of State and Defense, and the heads of the CIA and the Joint Chiefs.

He also fumed that officials refused to acknowledge any “hypothetical” situations in which they would come to Congress for authorization for future military hostilities against Iran.

It’s fairly apparent that the administration is just making up the “imminent attack” argument, and dodging the legal authority issue. The briefing showed profound arrogance; the briefers walked away after 75 minutes with questions unanswered.

Trump himself has been lying outrageously, for example claiming that Soleimani was planning attacks on four US embassies. Apparently, though, the Secretary of Defense knew nothing about this, and the embassies in question were never notified that they faced an imminent threat.

When no one was killed in Iran’s reprisal strike against the Iraqi base where the Soleimani attack originated, many Trumpists declared the exchange a “win” for the US: We killed a major person on their side and they killed nobody on our side.

Ben Rhodes demonstrates how an adult looks at this: according to the results, not the body count.

Iran abandoned nuclear deal limits. Iraq wants us out. Counter ISIS mission is suspended. We don’t know what asymmetric attacks could come from Iran. Yet I see Trump supporters celebrating a “win”. What are we winning?

Is there any way in which Americans or our allies are safer now than before the assassination? Was some strategic purpose achieved?

Nobody really knows whether Iran intended to kill Americans or not in its missile strike. Of course Iran would say that the result was intended.

Iraq’s parliament voted unanimously that the prime minister should ask our 5200 troops to leave the country, and apparently the PM has asked Secretary of State Pompeo to send a delegation to Baghdad to negotiate the withdrawal. But we’re not going to do that. Here’s how a State Department spokesperson put it:

Our military presence in Iraq is to continue the fight against ISIS and as the secretary has said, we are committed to protecting Americans, Iraqis, and our coalition partners. At this time, any delegation sent to Iraq would be dedicated to discussing how to best recommit to our strategic partnership — not to discuss troop withdrawal, but our right, appropriate force posture in the Middle East.

That makes us sound more like an occupying power than an ally. Any Iraqi militia that kills American troops can now claim that it is repelling invaders.

The Trump administration is also making economic threats against our “ally” Iraq if it insists on our troops leaving:

The Trump administration this week warned Iraq that it could lose access to its central bank account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York if Baghdad expels American troops from the region, Iraqi officials told The Wall Street Journal.

One of the week’s weirder stories was about a letter that somehow got shared with the Iraqi military.

The document in question was an unsigned draft of a memo from the US Command in Baghdad notifying the Iraqi government that some US forces in the country would be repositioned. It also seemed to suggest a removal of American forces from the country, prompting an immediate wave of questions, particularly after US officials in Baghdad said the letter was authentic but could not confirm whether it indicated a troop withdrawal.

You need to be a comedian, like Trevor Noah, to respond to this appropriately.

These people control nuclear weapons and they can’t even handle Microsoft Outlook.

If you want to put it all in perspective, again, it helps to be a comedian. Like Seth Meyers.

One of the points in the featured post is that Trump is not even trying to talk to the people who didn’t vote for him. That point was also made by Anderson Cooper in a Ridiculist segment about the 301 days that have passed since the last White House press briefing.

If you’re wondering “Who’s Stephanie Grisham?” you’re probably not a regular Fox News viewer, because that channel is seemingly the one place she feels safe enough to regularly appear.

… If a president were to escalate the potential danger to U.S. interests overseas by killing a high-ranking Iranian general, you might think the White House press secretary would head to the podium to keep the country and the world abreast of what’s going on, to try to fill in some gaps between the President’s Twitter threats. But that doesn’t happen any more.

Remember CJ on The West Wing? Imagine her going most of a year without filling the podium in the briefing room.

and impeachment

Nancy Pelosi says the articles of impeachment will go to the Senate soon, probably this week. The debate has begun about what, if anything, was accomplished by the delay. In my mind, it was important to put at least a little distance between the House and Senate processes, so that even low-information voters realize that the Senate isn’t going to hear any witnesses of its own, even though it could. If the case could still be pending when Trump gives his State of the Union address on February 4, that would be a bonus.

and Iowa

The Iowa caucuses are February 3, or three weeks from today. (Yes, they happen on a Monday. Every time.) The last Democratic debate before the caucuses happens tomorrow. Only six candidates qualified: Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Sanders, Steyer, and Warren.

The RCP polling average shows the top four bunched up. Sanders 21.3%, Buttigieg 21.0, Biden 17.7, Warren 17.0. Because the caucus process yields a much lower turnout than a primary would, and because there are complex rules about minor candidates’ supporters switching their votes, polls often do a bad job of predicting the outcome. So it would not really be an upset if any of those four won.

I would say that the front-runner is whoever the other candidates decide to attack in the debate. And if either Steyer or Klobuchar decides to go kamikaze and relentlessly attack one of the top four, that candidate probably won’t win. I’m not predicting that, but the possibility demonstrates how unpredictable the process is at this point.

and you also might be interested in …

The planet continues to heat up:

The Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) announces today that 2019 was the fifth in a series of exceptionally warm years and the second warmest year globally ever recorded.

Maybe the secret to getting infrequent voters to the polls is to have their friends ask them.

5G will arrive in 2020, but it won’t live up to the hype.

Australia is still on fire.

The cancer death rate is down 29% between 1991 and 2017, with a 2.2% drop in 2017, the most recent year where statistics are available. Lung cancer accounts for much of the decline; researchers credit decreased smoking, as well as improvements in treatment.

I hate tie every story to Trump, but he has a way of inserting himself, sort of like Rhupert the Ostrich photobombing classic paintings. In this case, Trump took credit for the long-term trend whose most recent data is from the same year he took office: “A lot of good news coming out of this Administration.”

The justification for holding asylum seekers in concentration camps is that they won’t show up for their hearings, and instead will just vanish into the general immigrant population. At a rally last January, Trump claimed that only 2% show up “And those people, you almost don’t want, because they cannot be very smart.”

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University presents the actual numbers:

With rare exception, asylum seekers whose cases were decided in FY 2019 also showed up for every court hearing. This was true even though four out of five immigrants were not detained or had been previously released from ICE custody. In fact, among non-detained asylum seekers, 99 out of 100 (98.7%) attended all their court hearings.

Conservative rhetoric lauds local control and disparages rule by distant politicians and bureaucrats — except when localities want to protect the environment or gay rights or something. In Florida, Coral Gables outlawed plastic bags at stores and styrofoam containers at restaurants — and lost a lawsuit from a trade organization representing the big retail chains. State law doesn’t allow “regulation of the use of sale of polystyrene products by local governments.” Take that, small government.

Republicans are the party of big corporations, not local control. When WalMart can get what it wants from the state legislature, why let city councils screw that up?

Remember the whole pseudo-scandal about the Clinton Foundation and Uranium One?

A Justice Department inquiry launched more than two years ago to mollify conservatives clamoring for more investigations of Hillary Clinton has effectively ended with no tangible results, and current and former law enforcement officials said they never expected the effort to produce much of anything.

That’s a similar result to the State Department’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails. So if you decided not to vote for Hillary because you figured there had to be fire somewhere under all that smoke — no, there wasn’t. You were conned.

Media Matters’ Matt Gertz traces the Uranium One story back to its source: Clinton Cash, a hit job written by Peter Schweitzer and pushed by Steve Bannon. A subsequent Schweitzer book, Secret Empires, is a source of much of the bogus reporting about Hunter Biden. Gertz comments on Schweitzer’s new book, Profiles in Corruption, which reportedly will target not just Biden but also “Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, and Elizabeth Warren.”

Journalists should consider this final and inevitable collapse of Schweizer’s bogus claims as they decide whether and how to cover his forthcoming book, which will reportedly target the purported corruption of several Democratic presidential candidates.

and let’s close with something wild and woolly

I never thought of wool as a medium for animation, but I guess it is.


No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.

Executive Order 12333 (1981)

Of course you realize, this means war.

Bugs Bunny

This week’s featured post is “Is It War Yet?

This week everybody was talking about conflict with Iran

Many aspects of the situation are covered in the featured post.

Here are a couple of things I didn’t get around to mentioning: A key feature of both Iraq wars is that we had allies, like Bush’s famous “coalition of the willing”. But we’re pretty much without allies here. There are three main reasons for this:

On the war crimes issue, Chris Hayes points out that it shouldn’t surprise anybody.

The President of the United States ran on a pro-war-crimes platform, explicitly. He likes war crimes and thinks they are good. He’s been very clear about this.

and 2020

Ever since the Electoral College put Trump in office, the number 2020 has taken on mythic significance. It’s the time of hope, of dread, of comeuppance, of the opportunity to escape from this national nightmare, and so on.

Now, suddenly, it’s a year. It’s a number we write on our checks. Seeing “2020” staring back at us from our calendars is like hearing the conductor announce that the train has stopped in Narnia or Mordor.

Who thought we’d actually get here?

So now that we’ve arrived in this portentous year, it’s time to take stock of the presidential race. The Iowa caucuses are less than a month away now, and things happen quickly after that. By the time California votes on March 3, some candidate might have the Democratic nomination in the bag.

At the moment that candidate looks like Joe Biden, though there’s still a lot of uncertainty. Individual polls have been volatile, but the most striking thing about the long-term trends has been how steady they are. On January 1, 2019, the RealClearPolitics polling average for Democratic candidates nationwide had Biden at 27.0%, Sanders at 17.0, and Beto O’Rourke at around 9%.

As of yesterday, the RCP averages were Biden 29.4%, Sanders 19.4%, Warren 14.8%, Buttigieg 7.9%, Bloomberg 5.8% and nobody else over 5%.

The main development of 2019 was that a lot of minor candidates got eliminated: Beto is long gone, and so are Kamala Harris and Julian Castro. In fact, the only candidate of color left in the race is Cory Booker, who the RCP has at 2.3%. A bunch of interchangeable white male moderates entered the race hoping to emerge as Biden faltered, but none of them got anywhere. Some have dropped out and some are still in the race, but I have trouble remembering which is which. (I watched Senator Bennet get interviewed by Chris Hayes a week or so ago, and my wife asked “Who is that guy?” Currently, Bloomberg and Klobuchar are the moderate-establishment hopes if something happens to Biden.) Warren and Buttigieg have gained, though Warren’s boom may be over; she briefly led the pack in October before falling back to third.

The most notable developments in the Democratic race during 2019 were the ones that could have happened, but didn’t: Some candidate of color could have broken out, challenging Biden’s hold over the black vote the way that Obama challenged Clinton in 2008. Or Biden might have taken off and become the inevitable nominee by now.

As was true a year ago, the Democratic electorate is divided between moderates and progressives. They represent not just two governing philosophies, but two approaches to beating Trump: Moderates hope to win the way that Democrats took the House in 2018, by flipping educated suburbanites who used to vote Republican. Progressives hope to win by exciting young voters and poor voters whose non-appearance at the polls was the main difference between Obama 2012 and Clinton 2016.

That argument is ongoing, and no candidate has managed to bridge the gap the way Obama did in 2008. So the most serious question in the race right now is whether (since there appears to be no compromise candidate) Democrats can stay united after one side wins and the other loses. My opinion: Either a moderate or a progressive can beat Trump if the party unites behind him or her. But neither can if the losing side demonizes the nominee to the point that a significant number of their voters stay home in November. Whether you see yourself as moderate or progressive, I urge you to keep that in mind whenever you’re tempted to pass on dubious information about candidates in the other faction.

On the other side of the electorate, not much has happened to Trump’s approval rating. On January 1, 2019, 52.2% of the country disapproved of Trump’s job performance. The most recent number is 52.3%. (It’s too soon to tell whether the growing conflict with Iran will affect it one way or the other.)

and Australia’s wildfires

It’s hard to grasp the extent of the fires Australia has been having since September, but Interesting Engineering provides some comparisons. The area affected by smoke, if moved to the US, would stretch from San Diego to Minneapolis. The burnt area is roughly the size of Belgium, or just a little smaller than Ireland.

Canberra’s 340 rating on the air quality index is double that of famously polluted Beijing. The Parliament House looks like this:

Australia is in many ways a microcosm of the rest of the world. It is suffering from climate change, but refusing to do anything about it. Volunteer firefighter Jennifer Mills writes:

Sadly, the fires are also an illustration of the principle that while a nation might share the same facts, its people can still refuse to share a reality. [Prime Minister Scott] Morrison likes to note that Australia produces just 1.3 percent of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions. But Australia is also the world’s biggest exporter of coal, and we have regularly sided with other big, fossil fuel-dependent nations to stymie global climate negotiations. At December’s climate talks in Madrid, we came under fire for attempting to fiddle with the books to hide increased emissions. Australia is not just dragging its feet on climate change; it is actively making things worse. Internationally, there is a sense that we are getting what we deserve.

and you also might be interested in …

Three were killed and two more injured in an attack on an American military base in Kenya. The attack was attributed to al Shabab, a Islamist group associated with al Qaeda. It’s a Sunni group and Iran is Shia, so there’s probably no connection to the Soleimani assassination.

Trump may have blocked congressional subpoenas, but a number of impeachment-related emails have been revealed through the Freedom of Information Act. Just Security obtained a number of emails that show Pentagon officials worrying about the legality of withholding military aid that Congress had authorized for Ukraine. OMB’s Mike Duffy cited “Clear direction from POTUS” as the reason to hold up the aid.

Duffy is one of the witnesses Democrats would like to call in Trump’s impeachment trial, but Mitch McConnell doesn’t want any witnesses to testify.

The Washington Post collects reactions from people who watched the movie Cats while on drugs. (The reactions of people not on drugs are almost universally negative.)

It was unclear, on balance, whether getting high made “Cats” better, or much, much worse. Certainly, it seemed to raise the emotional stakes.

When Vladimir Putin faced the two-term limit on Russia’s presidency, he backed a stooge who would name him prime minister. Trumpists seem to be picturing something similar.

In a poll of 2024 possibilities, 40% of Republicans picked Mike Pence, but Donald Jr. and Ivanka were second and fourth, between them garnering 45%. Nikki Haley was third at 26%.

and let’s close with a drink that is out of this world

The Yoda-rita.


Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible.

– George Orwell

This week’s featured posts are “The Decade of Democracy’s Decline” and “Trumpist Evangelicals Respond to Christianity Today“.

This week there was nothing much to say about impeachment

The House has passed articles of impeachment, but adjourned for the holidays without sending them to the Senate. So officially, nothing happened this week.

Nancy Pelosi wants to get a commitment from Mitch McConnell that the Senate will hold a real trial, with witnesses, including the big ones the House wasn’t able to get to testify: Mick Mulvaney and John Bolton. McConnell knows that more (and more impressive) testimony will only make it harder for Republican senators (especially the ones facing tough re-election fights in 2020) to ignore the facts and vote to acquit their party’s president. So he’d like to make this process go away with as few headlines as possible.

Pelosi only has two pieces of leverage: She can delay by not delivering the articles, and the public agrees with her about witnesses. She needs four Republican senators to surrender to some combination of public opinion and their consciences. I’m not predicting that, but it’s within the realm of possibility.

Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said she was “disturbed” by McConnell’s willingness to work hand-in-glove with the White House on impeachment. But whether her disturbance translates into any actual votes — either on process or substance — remains to be seen. Other Republican senators have either been full-throated Trump partisans or have stayed quiet.

The one substantive development in the impeachment case tightened the timeline of Trump’s Ukraine shakedown:

About 90 minutes after President Trump held a controversial telephone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine in July, the White House budget office ordered the Pentagon to suspend all military aid that Congress had allocated to Ukraine, according to emails released by the Pentagon late Friday.

but there were two acts of religious violence

Five were wounded in a knife attack during a Hanukkah celebration in the home of a Hasidic rabbi in Monsey, New York. Presumably the motive has something to do with anti-Semitism, but there’s been no official statement.

Three people, including the attacker, were killed in a shooting at a church in White Settlement, Texas. Two members of the church’s security team shot the gunman. It’s easy to guess both the pro-gun and anti-gun versions of this story: “Thank God somebody at the church had a gun to stop the attack.” and “That’s how gun-crazy our culture has gotten: Our churches are like the OK Corral.”

and I’m still trying to figure out “religious liberty”

I’ve often been critical of the way the Christian Right has co-opted the concept of “religious liberty”. (Going back to my 2013 article “Religious Freedom means Christian Passive-Aggressive Domination“).

Decades ago, the principle of religious liberty prevented the abuse of religious minorities by the more powerful religions. (You can’t, for example, require employees to work on Saturday as a way to avoid hiring Jews. You can’t ban new steeples in order to keep a Mormon temple out of your town.) Now “religious liberty” means that the majority religion is free to throw its weight around, which is more-or-less the opposite of what it used to mean.

But that’s my jaundiced outsider’s view. So it’s worthwhile to consider the insider’s view that conservative WaPo columnist Hugh Hewitt presents in “Evangelicals should thank Trump for protecting their religious liberty“. Hewitt uses six Supreme Court cases since 2014 to “illustrate the stakes” of what he sees as the liberal assault on religious liberty.

Looking at Hewitt’s list, though, I don’t see embattled Christians just trying to practice their faith. I see the religious right’s aggression against the rest of us:

  • Hobby Lobby, where the Supreme Court ruled that an employer’s Christian beliefs trump the right of employees to make their own healthcare choices.
  • Greece v Galloway, which established a town council’s right to begin its meetings with sectarian prayers. (My take in that week’s summary: “If you’re in the majority and you want to lord it over the minority, the Court thinks you should dot your i‘s and cross your t‘s first, but otherwise, go ahead.”)
  • Trinity Lutheran v Comer, which allows public money to be spent on religious institutions.
  • Masterpiece Cakeshop, where the issue is whether Christian businesses can violate discrimination laws.
  • Becerra. Crisis pregnancy centers run by religious groups don’t have to tell women about the state services available to them, and unlicensed crisis pregnancy centers don’t have tell anyone that they’re unlicensed.
  • American Legion. Public money can be spent to maintain Christian religious symbols.

One thing I have never seen in these religious-right cases is a clear explanation of how the Supreme Court’s current interpretation of “religious liberty” protects anyone other than conservative Christians. In general, phrasing rights in terms of religion implies that religious people have special rights that don’t apply to people with secular motivations.

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Trump retweeted an apparent outing of the whistleblower Friday night. This appears to be a violation of the law protecting whistleblowers, but it’s Trump. What’s new about him breaking the law?

The Assad regime, backed by Russia and Iran, is making a push into what was formerly rebel-held territory in the northwestern Idlib region. The Washington Post says 250,000 people have fled in just the last two weeks.

Yascha Mounk, author of The People vs Democracy (which I reviewed in UU World) draws a lesson from the growing extremism of the Hindu nationalist Modi government in India: authoritarian populist regimes get worse in their second terms.

As we’ve seen in countries including Hungary, Turkey, and Venezuela, populist leaders are at first hamstrung in their ability to concentrate power in their own hands. Many key institutions, including courts and electoral commissions, are still dominated by independent-minded professionals who do not owe their appointment to the new regime. Media outlets are still able and willing to report on scandals, forcing the government to tread somewhat carefully.

Once these governments win reelection, these constraints begin to fall away. As the independent-minded judges and civil servants depart, populist leaders feel emboldened to pursue their illiberal dreams.

Saudi Arabia has finished accounting for the murder of Virginia resident and WaPo contributor Jamal Khashoggi. Five people were sentenced to death, but justice stayed far away from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is widely believed to have ordered the murder.

The claim by the Saudi prosecutors, who report directly to the royal court, that Mr. Khashoggi was killed in a “spur of the moment” decision defies all the evidence that points to a premeditated extrajudicial assassination — the bone saw the assailants brought along, the gruesome chitchat taped by Turkish intelligence, the Khashoggi look-alike who was filmed walking out of the consulate after the killing.

When Trump claims that he could shoot somebody on 5th Avenue and get away with it, you have to remember that some of his biggest allies on the world stage literally do such things.

Trump’s pardon of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher looks worse and worse the more we find out. The NYT got hold of videos of the testimony from Gallagher’s fellow SEALs.

“The guy is freaking evil,” Special Operator Miller told investigators. “The guy was toxic,” Special Operator First Class Joshua Vriens, a sniper, said in a separate interview. “You could tell he was perfectly O.K. with killing anybody that was moving,” Special Operator First Class Corey Scott, a medic in the platoon, told the investigators.

Local newspapers are getting thinner across the country, and many areas have essentially no local news coverage. In many towns, something calling itself a local paper survives, but it is owned by a distant conglomerate with little local presence.

I have to wonder if we’ll soon see an uptick in small-government corruption, or if maybe it’s already happening but going unreported. It’s easy to get away something if nobody’s covering town councils and other public bodies. And in cities with just one major news source (i.e., most of them) the publisher may just be one more party who needs to be cut in on the deal.

Climate change in a nutshell: 2019 is going to be Alaska’s warmest year on record, but it’s ending with a dangerous cold snap. Temperatures of -60 F and colder have been recorded.

and let’s close with something cute

It’s a week (and a decade) that calls for puppy pictures. I have a particular weakness for huskies, but the link includes many breeds.

Clear Failures

We don’t invade poor countries to make them rich. We don’t invade authoritarian countries to make them democratic. We invade violent countries to make them peaceful, and we clearly failed in Afghanistan.

James Dobbins, former special envoy to Afghanistan

This week’s featured post is “The Evangelical Deal with the Devil“.

If you were wondering what I was up to last week, I talked at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Billerica, MA about the humanistic holiday that has built up around Christian Christmas.

This week everybody was talking about impeachment strategy

The House approved two articles of impeachment, but adjourned for the holidays without delivering the articles to the Senate. This temporarily freezes the process in a state where the public agrees with Democrats on the next step.

Majority Leader McConnell has expressed his preference for a minimal trial in the Senate: no witnesses, just introduce the record from the House, have closing arguments, and go straight to debate on the vote. Presumably, the vote would happen quickly, and Trump would be acquitted.

Democrats (and most of the American people) understand that Trump has prevented key witnesses from testifying, but would have a harder time blocking them if the Senate subpoenaed them. For example, the best witness to Trump’s role in blocking military aid to Ukraine is clearly Mick Mulvaney, who was simultaneously White House chief of staff and head of the Office of Management and Budget. The best witness to the policy discussion within the White House is then-National Security Advisor John Bolton. If there are any doubts about how things happened, why not ask them?

I think it’s safe to assume that Trump (and McConnell) don’t want Mulvaney or Bolton to be asked, because they’ll have to either perjure himself or reinforce the evidence of Trump’s guilt. If (on the other hand) they were happily waiting to exonerate Trump, Republicans would have every reason to want them to testify.

Delaying the process at this point may have little effect in the long run, but it does make clear to the American people who wants to get to the bottom of things and who doesn’t.

It’s possible that four Republican senators can be persuaded to vote with the Democrats to have an actual trial. It’s still a long shot that four out of the 53 Republican senators would decide to take their responsibilities seriously rather than obey Trump, but it’s possible.

The abuse-of-power article passed 237-190-1, and obstruction-of-Congress 236-191-1. No Republicans voted to impeach. Two Democrats (Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey — who has announced that he’s switching parties — and Collin Peterson of Minnesota) voted against the Abuse article and a third (Jared Golden of Maine) against Obstruction.

Presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard voted Present on both counts, explaining it on her campaign website like this:

I come before you to make a stand for the center, to appeal to all of you to bridge our differences and stand up for the American people. My vote today is a vote for much needed reconciliation and hope that together we can heal our country.

Personally, I don’t see how letting Trump get away with attempting to cheat in the 2020 election is “standing up for the American people.” When the question is whether the president is above the law, and when he acknowledges no wrongdoing and apologizes for nothing, I don’t see a way to bridge that difference. Either you grant him permission to commit more crimes or you don’t.

Gabbard’s vote gave weight to a speculation Hillary Clinton made in October, that the Russians had “their eye on somebody who is currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate. She’s the favorite of the Russians.”

Speaking of the Russians, Vladimir Putin takes Trump’s side in the impeachment debate, and Trump thinks it boosts his case to point to Putin’s support.

A number of conservative voices have unexpectedly come out in favor of removing Trump: Christianity Today, National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru, American Conservative’s Daniel Larison.

Michele Goldberg identified an ailment I can identify with: democracy grief.

The entire Trump presidency has been marked, for many of us who are part of the plurality that despises it, by anxiety and anger. But lately I’ve noticed, and not just in myself, a demoralizing degree of fear, even depression.

When I examine those feelings in myself, it’s not about democracy per se. It’s more related to something I have believed in, perhaps naively, all my life: the power of truth. The most dispiriting thing about watching the impeachment hearings has been to realize just how little it matters that Trump actually did the things he’s accused of. Republicans have enough votes to acquit, and they don’t care.

and trade

Months after Trump started taking credit for a Phase One trade deal with China, a deal actually exists. The US has cancelled tariffs scheduled to start December 15, and rolled back some other tariffs. The Chinese have pledged to buy more American farm products. The major goals the trade war supposedly was seeking — progress on intellectual property rights, for example, — have been kicked down the road to a future Phase Two agreement.

Trump (of course) is claiming victory, but so are Chinese hardliners.

In essence, a year and a half into the trade war, China seems to have hit on a winning strategy: Stay tough and let the Trump administration negotiate with itself.

“The nationalists, the people urging President Xi Jinping to dig in his heels and not concede much, have carried the day,” said George Magnus, a research associate at Oxford University’s China Center. “I don’t see this as a win for market liberals.”

Frequent Trump critic (and Nobel Prize winner) Paul Krugman proclaims Trump the loser of this trade war.

On one side, our allies have learned not to trust us. … On the other side, our rivals have learned not to fear us. Like the North Koreans, who flattered Trump but kept on building nukes, the Chinese have taken Trump’s measure. They now know that he talks loudly but carries a small stick, and backs down when confronted in ways that might hurt him politically.

but we should all pay more attention to the Afghanistan Papers

It’s a coincidence that I just wrote an article about “The Illusions Underlying our Foreign Policy Discussions“, but the themes of that article couldn’t have been better illustrated than they were by the revelations about the Afghanistan War that the Washington Post started publishing the same day.

The Post articles are based on a “Lessons Learned” project undertaken by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR). The Post won a three-year legal battle to get the 2000-pages of reports released to the public, and supplemented the material with its own reporting. The Post summarizes its conclusions:

  • Year after year, U.S. officials failed to tell the public the truth about the war in Afghanistan.

  • U.S. and allied officials admitted the mission had no clear strategy and poorly defined objectives.

  • Many years into the war, the United States still did not understand Afghanistan.

  • The United States wasted vast sums of money trying to remake Afghanistan and bred corruption in the process.

In particular, I want to call your attention to two aspects of the series: First, the Post article on the lack of strategy.

In the beginning, the rationale for invading Afghanistan was clear: to destroy al-Qaeda, topple the Taliban and prevent a repeat of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Within six months, the United States had largely accomplished what it set out to do. The leaders of al-Qaeda and the Taliban were dead, captured or in hiding. But then the U.S. government committed a fundamental mistake it would repeat again and again over the next 17 years, according to a cache of government documents obtained by The Washington Post. In hundreds of confidential interviews that constitute a secret history of the war, U.S. and allied officials admitted they veered off in directions that had little to do with al-Qaeda or 9/11. By expanding the original mission, they said they adopted fatally flawed warfighting strategies based on misguided assumptions about a country they did not understand. …

Diplomats and military commanders acknowledged they struggled to answer simple questions: Who is the enemy? Whom can we count on as allies? How will we know when we have won?

Second, the unwillingness to tell a complex story of limited successes and larger failures that led to a consistent misleading of the American people across three administrations.

It’s worth considering what that more complex story might have sounded like, and how unlikely it is that the American public as it is could have accepted it.

Imagine if, six months or so into the war, we had declared partial victory for getting Al Qaeda out of Afghanistan and sending Osama bin Laden into hiding. Imagine further that we had begun negotiating a settlement (in an honest coordination with Pakistan) that would have given the Taliban a role governing the country in exchange for verifiable assurances that Al Qaeda would not be allowed back in.

Whatever administration negotiated such a deal would have had a hard time defending it. Al Qaeda is an international group that attacked us and the Taliban is an indigenous Afghan group that we could only keep out by continuing to fight a long-term civil war (more intensely than we have been). Pakistan would help us against Al Qaeda, while protecting the Taliban against us. But both groups represent “radical Islam” and neither hold values consistent with ours.

But we could probably have worked out a way to live with one and get rid of the other.

and corporate surveillance

The NYT and the WaPo independently had scoops on the extent of the surveillance we have all put ourselves under by using current technology.

The NYT’s Privacy Project acquired a datafile of 50 billion location pings from 12 million smartphones, and demonstrated some of the things that could be done with such data.

Each piece of information in this file represents the precise location of a single smartphone over a period of several months in 2016 and 2017. The data was provided to Times Opinion by sources who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to share it and could face severe penalties for doing so. The sources of the information said they had grown alarmed about how it might be abused and urgently wanted to inform the public and lawmakers.

The data comes from a “data location company” that buys data from apps on your phone that collect location information. Such companies are essentially unregulated.

The companies that collect all this information on your movements justify their business on the basis of three claims: People consent to be tracked, the data is anonymous and the data is secure. None of those claims hold up, based on the file we’ve obtained and our review of company practices.

For example, the companies refuse to attach personally identifying information (like your name) to your data. But if a smartphone regularly makes the trip from your home to your workplace, who else could it possibly belong to? And yes, you did click a box that allowed a Weather app or a restaurant-review app to access your location, but you probably assumed these apps would only access your location when they needed it to answer your questions, not that they would track you wherever you go.

Such a track can be very revealing.

One person, plucked from the data in Los Angeles nearly at random, was found traveling to and from roadside motels multiple times, for visits of only a few hours each time.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post pulled apart the computers in a 2017 Chevy Volt to find out what General Motors knows about its customers.

On a recent drive, a 2017 Chevrolet collected my precise location. It stored my phone’s ID and the people I called. It judged my acceleration and braking style, beaming back reports to its maker General Motors over an always-on Internet connection. … Many [cars] copy over personal data as soon as you plug in a smartphone.

The reporter’s hacking was necessary, because GM doesn’t tell owners what data it’s collecting on them, much less allow them to see it.

When I buy a car, I assume the data I produce is owned by me — or at least is controlled by me. Many automakers do not. They act like how and where we drive, also known as telematics, isn’t personal information.

When you sell your car, the information about you the car has stored goes with the car, unless you figure out how to delete it.

For a broader view, Mason also extracted the data from a Chevrolet infotainment computer that I bought used on eBay for $375. It contained enough data to reconstruct the Upstate New York travels and relationships of a total stranger. We know he or she frequently called someone listed as “Sweetie,” whose photo we also have. We could see the exact Gulf station where they bought gas, the restaurant where they ate (called Taste China) and the unique identifiers for their Samsung Galaxy Note phones.

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An uplifting story from the world of sports: Recently retired NBA star Dwayne Wade (best known as the Miami Heat star who created a multiple-championship team by convincing LeBron James and Chris Bosh to join him) supports his trans child.

I’ve watched my son, from Day 1, become into who she now eventually has come into. For me it’s all about, nothing changes with my love. Nothing changes with my responsibilities. Only thing I got to do now is get smarter and educate myself more. And that’s my job.

I had to look myself in the mirror when my son at the time was 3 years old and me and my wife started having conversations about us noticing that he wasn’t on the boy vibe that [older brother] Zaire was on. I had to look myself in the mirror and say: “What if your son comes home and tells you he’s gay? What are you going to do? How are you going to be? How are you going to act? It ain’t about him. He knows who he is. It’s about you. Who are you?”

I’m doing what every parent has to do. Once you bring kids into this world, you become unselfish. It’s my job to be their role model, to be their voice in my kids’ lives, to let them know you can conquer the world. So go and be your amazing self, and we’re going to sit back and just love you.

The Hallmark Channel backed down on banning the lesbian-wedding-themed ad from the wedding-planning site Zola. Afterwards, GLAAD looked into the One Million Moms organization that pressured Hallmark, and found that it’s more like One Mom.

and let’s close with something cold

It’s a cliche to call music “cool”, but ice drumming on Lake Baikal surely qualifies.

Perks of the Office

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

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

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

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

This week everybody was talking about articles of impeachment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An impeachable offense must involve a violation of criminal law.

Now, though,

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

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

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

Digby sums up the current anti-impeachment argument:

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the NATO summit

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

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

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

and Confederate symbols

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

The Washington Post points out that

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two points are worth noting:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and let’s close with a job well done

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

Primary Takeaway

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

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson

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

This week everybody was still talking about impeachment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the Democratic presidential race

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

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

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

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

and unrest in foreign countries

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

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

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

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

and you also might be interested in …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CBS reports:

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

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

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

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

and let’s close with a series of unfortunate misunderstandings

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

Right Matters

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

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

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

– Fiona Hill (11-21-2019)

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

This week everybody was talking about the impeachment hearings

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

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

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

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

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

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

but the latest developments are making me paranoid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, the Democrats had a debate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and Israel had some news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and you also might be interested in …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kaepernick wasn’t having it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Principled Actions

You can’t promote principled anti-corruption action without pissing off corrupt people.

– Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent (11-13-2019)

This week’s featured post is “Why Can’t I Watch This?“, where I meditate on my inability to make myself watch more than short snatches of the impeachment hearings. (A humorous aside: Ever since I titled that article, I’ve been humming Weird Al’s Hammer parody “I Can’t Watch This“.)

This week everybody was talking about the impeachment hearings

This week’s hearing schedule:

Tuesday morning: Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman of the NSC and Jennifer Williams, an aide to VP Pence.

Tuesday afternoon: former Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and Timothy Morrison of the NSC.

Wednesday morning: Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland

Wednesday afternoon: Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper and Undersecretary of State David Hale

Thursday: Fiona Hill of the NSC

This week we heard from three witnesses: Bill Taylor, George Kent, and Marie Yovanovitch. All of them had testified previously behind closed doors, and their opening statements became public then, so the main import of the public hearing was to see them in person, where we could judge their manner and see how they handled questioning.

In general, all three impressed me with the precision of their statements. Questioners from both sides often tried to lead them into stating an unsupported opinion, and they repeatedly refused to. Typical is the way Yovanovitch talked about Trump’s Twitter attack on her during the hearing.

ADAM SCHIFF: Ambassador, you’re shown the courage to come forward today and testify, notwithstanding the fact you urged by the White House or State Department not to, notwithstanding the fact that, as you testified earlier, the president implicitly threatened you in that call record. And now the president in real time is attacking you. What effect do you think that has on other witnesses’ willingness to come forward and expose wrongdoing?

MARIE YOVANOVITCH: Well, it’s very intimidating.

SCHIFF: It’s a designed to intimidate, is it not?

YOVANOVITCH: I mean, I can’t speak to what the president is trying to do. But I think the effect is to be intimidating.

There was also a closed-door session for State Department aide David Holmes. Holmes told an amazing story about being in a Kyiv restaurant with Gordon Sondland and two other people, when Sondland decides to call Trump. Trump talked at such volume that Sondland held the phone away from his ear, allowing Holmes (and maybe random other people) to hear both sides of the conversation. (As someone who once had a security clearance, I’m appalled by this whole situation.) Trump asked whether Zelensky was going to do the investigations, and Sondland assured him that Zelensky would do “anything you ask him to”.

Afterwards, Sondland explained that Trump “doesn’t give a shit about Ukraine”, but only cares about “big stuff” like investigating Biden.

One common refrain among Republicans in the hearings is that nothing really happened: Zelensky didn’t announce any investigations, and Ukraine got its military aid eventually anyway, so what’s the big deal?

Eric Swalwell took this point apart. First he got Ambassador Yovanovitch’s agreement that the Ukrainians only got the money after the whistleblower complaint became public, and then he summed up:

So you don’t really get points when you get your hand caught in the cookie jar, and someone says, “Hey, he’s got his hand in the cookie jar”, and then you take your hand out — which is essentially what my Republican colleagues and the President are trying to take credit for.

Republicans repeatedly tried to derail the hearings onto a discussion of the whistleblower. The fake outrage at the anonymity of the whistleblower was answered conclusively by Kellyanne’s husband over a month ago.

Someone calls 911 because they hear shots down the street at the bank. The cops show up at the bank, and, sure enough, it’s been robbed, and there are numerous witnesses there who saw the crime. The suspects confess. Normally, at this point, no one cares about who called 911.

And then Friday there was fake outrage about Rep. Schiff going by the rules that everybody already knew.

Both Nunes and Stefanik knew what the impeachment resolution said about the rules of the hearing. The entire committee knows what they are. I heard them complain about this particular rule—that the ranking member would only be able to yield time to counsel during these 45-minute periods, ahead of the usual five-minute rounds for each member that would come immediately afterward—when the resolution was released, and I watched them debate it in the Rules Committee. Wednesday’s hearing had already proceeded under precisely the same rules, with Nunes obediently sharing his time with his committee counsel, Steve Castor, and no one else. But, hey, they produced their content: Cult leader Adam Schiff shuts up a Republican woman. Coming soon to five hours of prime-time Fox News coverage.

Fareed Zakaria was the CNN interviewer to whom President Zelensky was supposed to announce the Biden investigation. Zakaria tells how this all looked from his side.

Bloomberg columnist Noah Feldman explains why he thinks the Supreme Court will rule that Trump’s accountant has to turn over his tax returns. His argument relies on John Roberts staying true to the principle of judicial restraint. I think it’s a stretch to see any principles in Roberts. (His handling of the Citizens United case was the exact opposite of restraint.) So we’ll see.

and Roger Stone

Guilty on all seven counts: five counts of lying to Congress, one of witness tampering and one of obstructing a congressional committee proceeding. Stone joins Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, Rick Gates, and George Papadopoulos as Trump associates convicted of crimes.

His sentencing hearing is set for February 6, so he may actually spend a few months in prison before Trump pardons him (and Manafort and maybe Flynn) the day after the 2020 election.

Trump is already setting up his justification: Everybody does it.

So they now convict Roger Stone of lying and want to jail him for many years to come. Well, what about Crooked Hillary, Comey, Strzok, Page, McCabe, Brennan, Clapper, Shifty Schiff, Ohr & Nellie, Steele & all of the others, including even Mueller himself? Didn’t they lie?

Did they? I’m not in a position to vouch for the 100% honesty of all those people, but anybody who wants to claim their equivalency with Stone’s lies ought to be a little more specific.

One thing that came out during Stone’s trial was that Trump’s written answers to Robert Mueller’s questions were misleading. They only reason they weren’t perjury was that Trump phrased them in terms of what he remembered rather than what happened. (The gist of Trump’s testimony is that he remembers virtually nothing. If I were VP Pence and I believed these statements, I’d invoke the 25th Amendment, because the President clearly has dementia.)

I have no recollection of the specifics of any conversations I had with Mr. Stone between June 1.2016 and November 8, 2016. I do not recall discussing WikiLeaks with him, nor do I recall being aware of Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with individuals associated with my campaign

Trump’s deputy campaign manager Rick Gates testified that he was in an SUV with Trump while Trump talked to Stone on the phone. After the conversation ended, Trump said that more information was coming from WikiLeaks.

but we should also pay attention to stuff happening overseas

The response to the protests in Hong Kong appears to be escalating. Police stormed a university campus this morning, and last week police shot an unarmed demonstrator. A good overall article on the protests (which have been going on for months now) is “The Hong Kong Protesters Aren’t Driven By Hope” in the Atlantic.

Interesting Engineering claims that Chilean protesters brought down a police drone by focusing lasers on it. People are trading theories about how that might have happened.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited the White House Wednesday. He returned the letter Trump sent him in October, the barely literate one where Trump urged him “Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool.” He showed an anti-Kurdish propaganda video to five Republican senators critical of his Syrian invasion. Turkish government media portrayed the event as Erdogan’s triumph over Trump.

In additional to killing many of our former Kurdish allies, Turkey has recently bought an air defense system from Russia. The new system is not compatible with NATO’s air defenses. How this got him the White House visit that Ukraine’s president can’t get is something of a mystery.

Remember Trump’s boast that Saudi Arabia would “pay cash” for the new US troops posted there? Turns out that his “100%” claim is not strictly true, but you had already guessed that, right?

But letting the details slide a little, we can all see the Trumpian vision: The US military becomes a mercenary force. You want our protection, you pay us.

South Korea is the latest country to get the Trump shakedown. It currently pays about $1 billion annually to defray the cost of maintaining US troops there. Trump is proposing raising that to $5 billion.

Meanwhile, there has been exactly zero progress towards denuclearizing North Korea.

and Stephen Miller

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch blog has published excerpts of emails that White House advisor Stephen Miller wrote to editors of the right-wing website Breitbart in 2015 and 2016, when he was working for then-Senator Jeff Sessions. In these emails, Miller was pushing Breitbart to pick up stories and talking points from openly white-supremacist sites like VDARE and American Renaissance.

Hatewatch reviewed more than 900 previously private emails Miller sent to Breitbart editors from March 4, 2015, to June 27, 2016. Miller does not converse along a wide range of topics in the emails. His focus is strikingly narrow – more than 80 percent of the emails Hatewatch reviewed relate to or appear on threads relating to the subjects of race or immigration.

There’s a lot more at the link, but I’ll just add my interpretation of what was going on: There’s a pipeline that flows from neo-Nazi and KKKer sites to the far right end of the widely-read news sources (like Breitbart), then to Fox News, and finally to the mainstream news outlets. In this way, ideas that start in the white supremacist fever swamps (like the “Great Replacement” theory) make their way into mainstream conversation. Miller’s job was to help that pipeline flow.

Now that he’s in the White House, Miller can do two additional things: (1) influence Trump to transmit white supremacist ideas through his Twitter feed, which mainstream outlets believe they have to cover; and (2) implement white-supremacist policies directly, by simultaneously abusing immigrants who come here without documents and shutting down just about every avenue for legal non-white immigration. [This link to the USA Today seems to have vanished.]

His administration has granted fewer visas, approved fewer refugees, ordered the removal of hundreds of thousands of legal residents whose home countries have been hit by war and natural disasters and pushed Congress to pass laws to dramatically cut the entire legal immigration system.

Many Democrats have called for Miller to resign. But Cas Mudde argues that a Miller resignation won’t really change anything, because Miller represents a white-supremacist majority within the Republican Party.

This is why calling for Stephen Miller’s resignation wouldn’t change much. Neither Miller nor Bannon “made” Trump the white-supremacist-in-chief. And Trump is not the only problem either, as Joe Biden seems to believe. He won the Republican primaries, and presidential elections, not despite white supremacy but because of it. In short, it is time for Democrats to face and name the ugly truth: the Grand Old Party is a party steeped in white supremacy.

The White House is attacking the messenger, calling SPLC “an utterly-discredited, long-debunked far-left smear organization” that is “beneath discussion”. But the leaked emails are what they are, and Miller has not denied writing them.

and the Democrats

I keep hearing people make sweeping pronouncements about the Democrats in the presidential race: Biden is doomed; Warren is too liberal to beat Trump; we need new candidates. And so on. Well, I think a lot of things can happen that we haven’t foreseen yet, so I’m keeping my powder dry prediction-wise. I continue to believe that at this stage in the campaign, the important thing is to pick somebody you like and think would be a good president. After we get down to three or four candidates who have real support from people who like them and think they would be good presidents, then we can worry about which one we want to see challenge Trump.

Support for my you-never-know position comes from the recent Buttigieg surge in Iowa. Did you see that coming? I didn’t. I mean, I love listening to Mayor Pete and admire the crispness of a lot of his answers. But has anything about him really changed in the last two months? On September 15, the RCP polling average had him running fifth in Iowa at 7.5%. Now he’s first with 21%, followed by Warren (19%), Biden (16.5%), and Sanders (16%).

Nationally, Biden (26%) is still the front-runner (after a brief blip in early October when Warren was ahead), followed by Warren (20.8%), Sanders (17.8%), and then Buttigieg (8%).

I’ve previously compared this race to the Republican 2012 contest, where a series of boomlets briefly pushed Romney out of the lead, only to see him go ahead again in a week or two. Again and again, Republicans would get excited about Candidate X, and then look at X more skeptically once X became the frontrunner. (Michele Bachmann? Herman Cain? Rick Perry? Newt Gingrich? Maybe Romney isn’t so bad.)

I’m not predicting that Biden definitely weathers all the past and future storms until he gets the nomination, as Romney did. But it’s foolish to discount that possibility, or to write other candidates off because they haven’t caught fire yet. A lot can still happen, and it’s easy to imagine that we know a lot more than we do.

One reason waves crest is that other candidates start attacking any new threat. Amy Klobuchar (who is probably competing for a lot of the same Iowa voters Buttigieg targets) pointed out the role sexism plays in the rise (or failure to rise) of inexperienced candidates:

Of the women on the stage — I’m focusing here on my fellow women senators, Sen. (Kamala) Harris, Sen. (Elizabeth) Warren and myself — do I think that we would be standing on that stage if we had the experience that he had? No, I don’t. Maybe we’re held to a different standard

That’s probably true, though it deserves two caveats: First, it’s not exactly an argument against Buttigieg; more precisely, it says that we might be overlooking good female candidates who have similar experience levels. Second, being gay has given Buttigieg his own hurdles to jump.

Atlantic has a good article about sexism in the coverage of Elizabeth Warren. Both rival candidates and the media are repeating a theme of Warren as an “angry” candidate. Anger is one of those emotions that men are allowed (see Brett Kavanaugh) but women are not.

New candidates: Mike Bloomberg is definitely in. And now former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is too.

Next debate: day after tomorrow. Ten candidates will be on stage: Biden, Booker, Buttigieg, Gabbard, Harris, Klobuchar, Sanders, Steyer, Warren, and Yang.

and you also might be interested in …

Matt Bevin finally conceded the Kentucky governor’s race, after spending a week talking about voting irregularities that he never provided any evidence for. It was the typical Trumpian thing: If I lost, somebody must have cheated.

I feel vindicated in my assessment last week, that the Kentucky legislature’s Republican majority wasn’t willing to steal the election for Bevin.

Saturday, Democrats also won another close governor’s race in a red state: Louisiana re-elected John Bel Edwards. Edwards’ message was a mixture of liberal and conservative issues: He favors expanding healthcare access and paying teachers more, but is against abortion and gun control.

Criminals have to stick together. Trump intervened in three war crimes cases Friday, pardoning one convicted war criminal, another accused and awaiting trial, and restoring the rank of a third.

Retired General Marty Dempsey tweeted in May (when the possible pardons were first floated)

Absent evidence of innocence or injustice the wholesale pardon of US servicemembers accused of war crimes signals our troops and allies that we don’t take the Law of Armed Conflict seriously. Bad message. Bad precedent. Abdication of moral responsibility. Risk to us.

In October, Trump took a different view:

We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill!

If I wore an American uniform, it would bother me that my commander-in-chief thought of me as a “killing machine”.

Dahlia Lithwick interviews Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island about the partisan nature of John Roberts’ Supreme Court.

Take a look at the situation right now. United States Supreme Court justices are selected based on a Federalist Society operative, on his recommendations, while the Federalist Society is taking large amounts of dark money from big donor interests. So there’s dark money behind the selection of justices. Then when the selection is made, the confirmation battles for those nominees are fought with dark money. The Judicial Crisis Network took two $17 million–plus contributions, one to push Garland out and Gorsuch in, and one to push Kavanaugh through and onto the court.

There’s every likelihood that the donor in those two $17 million contributions was the same donor, which, if that were true, means that somebody paid $35 million–plus to influence the composition of the United States Supreme Court. And we have no idea who that person is and what their interests are before the court.

… Most Americans have no idea that under Chief Justice Roberts, there are 73 of these 5–4 partisan decisions in which there was a big Republican donor interest implicated. And in 73 out of 73, the big Republican donor interest won.

And why can’t we trace all that dark money? Well, because of Supreme Court decisions that equate money with speech.

Understanding that any legislature will have a few crazies, I try not to get excited about every ridiculous bill that gets introduced somewhere. (Most will vanish in committee and aren’t worth your outrage.) But Ohio’s “Student Religious Liberties Act” (full text) has passed the House and now moves to the Senate, so it’s worth paying attention to.

The bill states that no school authority (there’s a long list of them, starting with the local board of education)

shall prohibit a student from engaging in religious expression in the completion of homework, artwork, or other written or oral assignments. Assignment grades and scores shall be calculated using ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance, including any legitimate pedagogical concerns, and shall not penalize or reward a student based on the religious content of a student’s work.

So six-day creation, Noah’s flood, light speeding up so that distant stars can be visible despite the universe only being 10,000 years old — if that’s what your religion says, you can express it on a test and still get an A. Heck, nothing in the bill restricts its scope to specific classes, so if your religion says 2 + 2 = 5, that’s an OK answer too.

The bill passed 61-31, with Republicans voting for it 59-0 and Democrats against it 2-31. Maybe the two parties really aren’t the same.

Planned Parenthood was awarded a $2.2 million settlement in their lawsuit against the Center for Medical Progress, which filmed PP workers secretly and produced a video claiming that PP was illegally selling fetal tissue from abortions.

Some parts of the economy are doing better than others. Farmers are suffering from Trump’s trade war, and that problem has spread to farm-equipment makers like Deere and Caterpillar, which are cutting production and laying off workers.

Yesterday’s NYT examined how the Trump tax cut played out for one big corporation: Federal Express. Its tax bill went from $1.5 billion in 2017 to zero in 2018. And did the company pay workers better, increase capital investment, or let that money trickle down in any other way? Not really.

As for capital investments, the company spent less in the 2018 fiscal year than it had projected in December 2017, before the tax law passed. It spent even less in 2019. … This year, the company cut back employee bonuses and has offered buyouts in an effort to reduce labor costs in the face of slowing global growth.

What did happen to the money? It went to stockholders.

FedEx spent more than $2 billion on stock buybacks and dividend increases in the 2019 fiscal year, up from $1.6 billion in 2018, and more than double the amount the company spent on buybacks and dividends in fiscal year 2017.

The closing is going to be a fun-fact chart from Our World in Data, but here’s an important thing to know from the same source. A lot of times we hear about which countries have the highest carbon emissions. By that measure, China is the worst offender, followed by the US and India. A related question is which countries have the highest per capita carbon emissions, and that list is topped by oil-rich nations that need a lot of air conditioning, like Qatar and Kuwait.

But OWiD has thought this out a little deeper. If a car gets manufactured in, say, Mexico, but is sold to somebody in the US, who is really responsible for that carbon? America, not Mexico. If you track carbon emissions to the ultimate consumer, then the map looks like this:

Again, the hot oil-producers — Saudi Arabia and smaller surrounding countries — are most responsible, but they are closely followed by the US, Canada, and Australia. China is much less of a factor and India barely figures at all.

and let’s close with something that’s been getting better for a long time

We could all stand to contemplate some good news this week. The Our World in Data website tracks the price of artificial light in the UK since 1300, when you probably would have lighted your book or gameboard or after-sundown project with a candle made from animal fat. A few centuries ago, whether or not an activity was “worth the candle” was a real consideration.


As we drove past the rows of white grave markers, in the gravity of the moment, I had a deep sense of the importance of the presidency and a love of our country. In that moment, I also thought of all the attacks we’d already suffered as a family, and about all the sacrifices we’d have to make to help my father succeed – voluntarily giving up a huge chunk of our business and all international deals to avoid the appearance that we were ‘profiting off of the office.’ … Frankly, it was a big sacrifice, costing us millions and millions of dollars annually. Of course, we didn’t get any credit whatsoever from the mainstream media, which now does not surprise me at all.

– Donald Trump Jr.
Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us


As Christ died to make men holy, let men die to make us rich.

– Mark Twain, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic, Updated” (1900)


There is no featured post this week, but plenty of news to process.

This week everybody was talking about the off-year elections

Going into Tuesday night, every pundit had two narratives ready.

  • The anti-Trump blue wave of 2018 is still rolling.
  • Impeachment has rallied the Trump base and turned moderates away from Democrats.

The results picked out the first story: Democrat Andy Beshear won the Kentucky governorship over the incumbent Matt Bevin. Democrats took control of both houses of the Virginia legislature. And while Republicans held on to the governorship in Mississippi, the margin (52%-47%) was hardly encouraging for Republicans, given that Trump won the state in 2016 58%-40%.

The deeper story was that both sides were energized. 1.4 million votes were cast in the Kentucky race, compared to less than a million in 2015. Bevin got nearly 200K more votes than in 2015, when he won by a comfortable margin; it just wasn’t enough.

Also, the two parties’ geographical bases of support are shifting. 538 summarizes:

Rural areas got redder, and urban and suburban ones got bluer — and not only in Virginia. Even for centrist Democrats like Mississippi gubernatorial candidate Jim Hood, the old, pre-Trump Democratic coalition has been replaced by one that increasingly relies on suburban voters to make up for losses among rural whites.

The Kentucky race didn’t settle the Democrats’ progressive/moderate argument about how to win elections. Progressives argue that you win by energizing the base to get a big turnout, while moderates say you shouldn’t turn off the changing suburban voters, who could easily go back to voting Republican or just stay home.

Beshear’s performance Tuesday, like Doug Jones’ win in Alabama in 2017, showed that Democrats can win in red states if they do both. Beshear got a huge turnout in urban Democratic strongholds, but he also won the suburbs.

It also helps if your opponent is toxic, as Bevin and Roy Moore both were. Even as Beshear was beating Bevin, Republicans were winning the other statewide offices. It’s not clear what that says about Amy McGrath’s chances of beating Mitch McConnell next year.

Bevin has refused to concede, citing unspecified “irregularities” that could account for Beshear’s 5,000-vote margin. That has led to speculation that he could get the Republican legislature to overturn the election.

Think what a huge step towards might-makes-right that would be. Republicans have moved in this direction before: North Carolina’s and Wisconsin’s gerrymandered Republican legislatures both tried to diminish the power of the governorship after a Democrat won the office. But no state has simply refused to let the voters elect a Democrat.

Fortunately, it appears that Kentucky’s Republican legislators aren’t interested in that kind of power grab — particularly for Bevin, whom many of them didn’t like anyway. The Week reports:

“The best thing to do, the right thing to do, is for Gov. Bevin to concede the election today so we can move on,” Rep. Jason Nemes (R) told the Herald Leader. “There’s nothing wrong with checking the math,” added Rep. Adam Koenig (R), but “unless there is a mountain of clear, unambiguous evidence, then he should let it go.”

Kentucky could be a preview of the national situation a year from now: If Trump loses, he almost certainly will blame his loss on fraud, whether any evidence supports that conclusion or not. (That’s how he has explained Clinton’s 2.8 million vote margin in the 2016 popular vote.) Then the question will be what levers he can push to hold onto office, and whether other elected Republicans or Trump-appointed judges will support him if he does.

and impeachment

If you’re not watching Chris Hayes on Friday nights, you’re missing out. Hayes has been doing his show in front of a live audience on Fridays, and the format works really well. This Friday’s opening piece was Hayes’ response to Trump’s “read the transcript” mantra, which Hayes and I both believe he is putting forward cynically. Trump knows that his voters will not in fact read the transcript, but will conclude that he wouldn’t invite them to read it if his claim that it is “perfect” weren’t true. (One way to tell Trump’s supporters are not reading the transcript is that only 40% of Republicans say that Trump mentioned the Bidens in the call, when anyone who has read the transcript would know that he did.)

Hayes says “Yes, read the transcript”, and walks the audience through what the transcript says.

Public impeachment hearings will start Wednesday, when the House Intelligence Committee will hear testimony from Bill Taylor and George Kent. Ambassador Marie Yovanovich, whose dismissal is a key part of the story, will testify Friday.

This week the committee also released transcripts of several of the closed-door depositions: Colonel Vindman, Fiona Hill, George Kent, Bill Taylor, Gordon Sondland, Kurt Volker. The depositions were each hours long and altogether the transcripts run over 2500 pages. I haven’t attempted to read them, and will wait for public hearings to pick out the highlights.

In the meantime, it’s important to remember the sequence of events:

Friday night on CNN, David Gergen said the exact words I’d been thinking: Trump’s defense is basically a “Catch-22” that plays hearsay off against executive privilege: If a witness in the impeachment probe didn’t talk to Trump face-to-face, then his or her knowledge of the Ukraine extortion plot can be written off as hearsay. But people who did talk with Trump face-to-face can’t testify because of executive privilege.

In particular, all the testimony released so far points to three people: Mick Mulvaney, Mike Pompeo, and Rudy Giuliani. Each claimed to speak for Trump and was very explicit in detailing (in front of witnesses who have testified under oath) the plot’s quid-pro-quo: releasing the money Congress had appropriated to defend Ukraine from Russian aggression in exchange for investigations into Biden and into the Ukraine-framed-Russia conspiracy theory of 2016 election interference.

It is hard to imagine any or all of these men cooking up the extortion plot without Trump’s approval, but they are the ones who had the most direct contact with the President. So the obvious thing to do is ask them: Were you free-lancing or were you following the President’s orders? But Trump won’t let them testify because of executive privilege.

In my mind, the whole notion of reasonable doubt goes out the window when the defendant creates the doubt by withholding evidence and blocking testimony.

Lindsey Graham is trying out the next line of Trump defense, which is to simply refuse to think about the evidence of his crimes: “I’ve written the whole process off,” he said. “I think this is a bunch of B.S.”

The Republican strategy for the public hearings seems to be to turn them into a circus. Among the witnesses they want are Hunter Biden and the whistleblower, as well as a DNC staffer who is supposedly involved in the 2016 Ukrainian interference conspiracy theory, and Nellie Ohr, who had something to do with the Steele dossier.

Other than the whistleblower, none of these people have any light to shine on the question before the committee: whether or not President Trump abused the power of his office to extort partisan political help out of the Ukrainian government. It’s totally crazy that Hunter Biden and Nellie Ohr should have to testify, but not Mulvaney or Pompeo.

The focus on the whistleblower is also misguided and wrong. Exposing his identity strikes at the heart of the whistleblower protection laws. The main purpose of exposing him would be to intimidate other government officials who might blow the whistle on Trump’s crimes. At this point, the claims in the whistleblower complaint have been substantiated by testimony under oath from other officials, so it’s not clear what the whistleblower could add.

Here’s an analogy: Somebody pulls the fire alarm in a big office building. The building is evacuated, the fire department comes, and a real fire is discovered and put out. Afterward, investigators look at how the fire started, how it spread, and what can be done to prevent similar fires in the future. But a second set of investigators cares nothing about those questions. Instead, their efforts are focused on figuring out who pulled the alarm.

Committee Chair Adam Schiff has veto power over witnesses, and is going to use it:

This inquiry is not, and will not serve … as a vehicle to undertake the same sham investigations into the Bidens or 2016 that the President pressed Ukraine to conduct for his personal political benefit, or to facilitate the President’s effort to threaten, intimidate, and retaliate against the whistleblower who courageously raised the initial alarm

Schiff’s refusal will lead to a new round of process complaints from Republicans. The Devin Nunes letter listing witnesses already complains “You directed witnesses called by Democrats not to answer Republican questions.” I believe he is referring to questions intended to identify the whistleblower.

Steve Benen makes essentially the same argument I made a few weeks ago: Removing Trump can’t wait for the next election, because the whole issue here is that Trump will abuse his power in order to cheat in that election.

When this is all over, there needs to be legislation codifying a bunch of stuff that was taken for granted in all previous administrations: about Congress’ oversight powers, the responsibility of members of the executive branch to testify, and so forth. In addition, there needs to be a streamlined process for courts to adjudicate disputes over these issues, so that a president can’t simply use the courts to delay, as Trump is doing.

but what about censure?

The WaPo’s conservative columnist Marc Thiessen proposes that Democrats try to censure Trump instead of impeach him. (A censure resolution would be a moral condemnation, but would not result in removal from office or any other substantive penalties. Moreover, a House censure resolution could be ignored by the Senate.)

Thiessen argues that since the Senate is not going to remove Trump from office anyway, impeachment is really just a fancy kind of censure, and he offers the possibility that a censure resolution might gain Republican support:

A bipartisan censure vote would ultimately be more damaging to Trump than impeachment along party lines. The impeachment inquiry is energizing Trump voters, who believe Democrats are trying to invalidate their votes by removing Trump from office. Censure would take away that argument. It would be dispiriting to Trump’s base, especially if some Republicans joined Democrats in voting to rebuke the president. Trump would be furious at a bipartisan vote of censure.

That may sound reasonable, but we’ve seen this game before. When the Affordable Care Act was being debated, “moderate” Republicans would often hint that they might support it if it were watered down: if the public option were removed (it eventually was), or if it also included conservative features like tort reform (it never did). However, those Republican moderates never made a genuine counter-proposal, i.e., “Here’s an amended version of the ACA that I would vote for.” In the end, none of them did vote for the ACA, but we were left with the myth that somehow Democrats had been unreasonable and had passed up genuine compromise opportunities.

I fear the same thing here: Democrats retreat to censure in an effort to get Republican votes, and Republicans still don’t vote for it.

Here’s how I think the process should work: Democrats believe that Trump’s crimes are impeachable and that removal from office is the appropriate response, so that’s what they should propose. If Republicans believe the proper response is censure, they should propose that. In other words, if Republicans want to compose a censure resolution, introduce it (with a list of sponsors) in either the House or Senate, and try to persuade Democrats to vote for it instead of impeachment, they should go right ahead. But absent some legitimate counter-proposal from Republicans — one they would advocate in public and not just hint at — Democrats should continue doing what they believe is right.

If a Republican censure resolution existed, then its pluses and minuses could be discussed: Is the wording strong enough? Could it pass overwhelmingly? Would the Senate pass it too? Would such a public condemnation deter Trump and future presidents from committing similar crimes in the future? And so on. But until some number of Republicans in Congress are willing to clearly say, “Here is how we want to condemn the President’s actions”, there’s nothing to talk about.

and other Trump-related news

A New York state judge ruled that Trump must pay $2 million to a consortium of non-profits to resolve a lawsuit charging him with misusing the Trump Foundation for personal gain. The judge’s ruling sharply criticized the January, 2016 event Trump scheduled to conflict with the Republican debate he was boycotting. The event was billed as a Trump Foundation fund-raiser for veterans’ groups, but the Foundation allowed the Trump campaign to distribute the money in campaign events.

Mr. Trump’s fiduciary duty breaches included allowing his campaign to orchestrate the Fundraiser, allowing his campaign, instead of the Foundation, to direct distribution of the Funds, and using the Fundraiser and distribution of the Funds to further Mr. Trump’s political campaign.

Trump isn’t pursuing an appeal.

It marked an extraordinary moment: The president of the United States acknowledged in a court filing that he had failed to follow basic laws about how charities should be governed. Previously, Trump had insisted the charity was run properly and the suit was a partisan sham.

This scandal points to the same character flaw we see in the Ukraine scandal and throughout the Trump administration: He is incapable of distinguishing between himself and the roles he has taken on. He sees whatever power he has as his own, to do with as he likes, rather than as part of a role that includes responsibilities and restrictions.

The $2 million reminds me of the $25 million he had to pay to settle his Trump University fraud. Defrauding donors, defrauding students … what’s a guy gotta do to go to jail around here?

The Roger Stone trial started, which means that we might finally find out what all those redactions in the Mueller Report were about. Mother Jones summarizes the government’s case against Stone, and Rolling Stone discusses Steve Bannon’s testimony. And there’s this Dylan-parody meme.

Beppe Severgnini gives a European perspective on Trump’s decision to abandon America’s Kurdish allies. Another wave of Syrian refugees will result, he fears, and Europe (not America) will have to deal with them. “[W]e felt betrayed. No warning, no consultation. Trust has been shattered.”

The anonymous Trump official who wrote a controversial op-ed a year ago has a book coming out a week from tomorrow. It’s called A Warning, and to a large extent it contradicts the message of last year’s op-ed. That article assured the public that the administration was full of people who would control Trump’s venal or insane impulses, and thwart his ability to do illegal or destructive things.

This book — if the excerpts we’ve seen so far are typical — argues that those people (the “Steady State”, the author calls them) are failing, and that things will get much worse if the voters give Trump a second term.

Nikki Haley’s book With All Due Respect is coming out tomorrow. In it, she tells of Rex Tillerson and John Kelly confiding in her that they were intentionally undermining the president in order to “save the country”. Maybe one of them is Anonymous.

You may have heard that the Trump campaign is so desperate for black supporters that it has begun photoshopping its hats onto black people. Snopes tones that accusation down a little: The fake photo doesn’t come from the official Trump campaign, but does appear in an advertisement for the hat on the Conservative News Daily web site. The hat is not an official piece of Trump-campaign merchandise and is being marketed by someone else.

So the photo is an attempt to scam conservatives, who are often targeted for scams (and have been for years) because of their well-known gullibility. But it’s not an official Trump scam.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery: The founder of Students for Trump just pleaded guilty to a $46K fraud scheme. The 23-year-old posed as a lawyer with 15 years experience, and charged for online legal advice.

and Mike Bloomberg (and the Democratic presidential race)

I have two contradictory opinions about the number of candidates in the race for the Democratic nomination. On one hand, I want everybody who thinks they have the right message or ability or experience to run. I don’t want any Democratic voters looking at somebody on the sidelines and thinking “If only …”. A lot of Democrats did that with Hillary Clinton in 2004 and Elizabeth Warren in 2016. Let’s not do it again.

On the other hand, I’m tired of seeing ten or more candidates on the debate stage, or still running even though they can’t meet the debate-stage requirements. John Delaney, Steve Bullock, Tulsi Gabbard, and a bunch of other people whose names I can’t even think of right now — aren’t you just wasting everybody’s time, including your own?

So anyway, it looks like we might be getting a new entry: Mike Bloomberg. And part of me says: Why not? He served three terms as mayor of New York City, which has a bigger population than most states (way more than Steve Bullock’s Montana). He’s at least ten times richer than Trump, and got there by starting new businesses rather than being a scam artist. He’s got a national profile for gun control and some other issues. Why not?

But I’m very skeptical that he’s going to shake up the race. The beltway narrative is that he’ll compete with Joe Biden for the moderate vote, but I think that’s a misperception of Biden’s support, which is not fundamentally ideological. Biden represents a return to normalcy. The elect-Biden fantasy is that then the adults will be back in charge, the Twitter circus will be over, and we can pretend this whole Trump thing never happened. Bloomberg doesn’t offer that same comfort.

Also, the Biden moderate-lane narrative, the one that has him challenged not just by Bloomberg, but also by Mayor Pete and maybe Amy Klobuchar, ignores the racial component of Biden’s appeal. At the moment, here’s the most likely scenario: Warren, Sanders, or Buttigieg wins in Iowa, Warren or Sanders wins in New Hampshire, and then the black voters of South Carolina save Biden’s bacon by coming through for him. Then we head into the big-state primaries with two or three viable candidates: Biden, the Iowa winner, and the New Hampshire winner.

The black vote is what saved Hillary Clinton’s candidacy after Sanders’ New Hampshire wipe-out in 2016, and so far it’s lining up the same way for Biden. An Economist/YouGov poll that is otherwise quite favorable to Warren — she trails Biden 26%-25% — shows Biden getting 47% of the black vote, with Warren at 17% and Sanders at 14%. Kamala Harris is at 7%, Julian Castro 5%, and Cory Booker 3%. Buttigieg and Klobuchar clock in at zero.

Bloomberg is Mayor Stop-and-Frisk. He’s going nowhere with blacks. If there were a sudden boomlet for Harris or Booker, that would threaten Biden’s path to victory way more than Bloomberg does. But so far I see no sign of it.

After I wrote the previous note, the first Bloomberg-inclusive polls came out, showing him with single-digits of support.

Exactly why Biden has so much black support is an interesting question in its own right. Generalizations about large demographic groups should never be taken too seriously, since there will usually be gobs and gobs of exceptions. But let me toss out this theory: In general, the black electorate is wary and pragmatic. Falling in love with a candidate is seen as a luxury privileged people have. Blacks (especially older blacks) are used to the idea that the candidate they would fall in love with probably has no chance. They also distrust bright new faces and big promises, because they’ve seen their people get conned again and again. So they look for a candidate who can win and has a longstanding relationship with them. Right now, that’s Biden.

That can change. In the 2008 cycle, blacks were wary of supporting Barrack Obama against their longstanding ally Hillary Clinton. Eventually they did support him in a big way, but only after Obama’s performance in Iowa proved that white people would vote for him too. They loved Obama, but they weren’t going to do a charge-of-the-light-brigade for him, just like they’re not doing one now for Harris or Booker.

Elizabeth Warren has made an interesting tactical decision: She’s not going tit-for-tat against all the other candidates who are attacking her and her healthcare plan.

Warren aides said they’re not adopting a pacifist posture; they expect that some attacks will require a response. Rather, they say they’re adapting to the modern media environment where responding to everything can distract from more important tasks and muddle their message.

It’s too soon to tell whether this works, but I understand the impulse behind it: Next fall, Trump wants the national debate to be a food fight rather than a discussion of where the country is going or should go. The Democratic nominee will have to figure out how to deal with his constant name-calling and lies without just getting into a shouting match. The approach that worked against gentlemanly candidates like George Bush the First or Mitt Romney may play into Trump’s hands.

meanwhile, it’s Veterans’ Day

It used to be Armistice Day, marking the 11/11/1918 end of the shooting in World War I, then known only as “the Great War”.

Veterans’ Day, like Memorial Day on the other side of the calendar, can be a tricky holiday for liberals to celebrate. We have opposed many of our country’s recent wars. (And not-so-recent wars. Twain’s “Battle Hymn” protested the war in the Philippines. The Christmas carol “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” lamented the Mexican-American War of 1848.) We would like to see a less militarized country and culture. We think our government overspends on weapons and puts too many of our soldiers in danger overseas. Too often, national security is used as an excuse for restricting citizens’ rights and increasing government surveillance.

None of that, though, should turn us against the individual men and women who have stepped up to accept the risks of defending our country and its allies, and who have fulfilled their commitments honorably, often at dire cost to themselves and their families. If you’re not a pacifist (and I’m not) you’re consciously or unconsciously counting on someone to train for war and be ready to meet violence with violence. Particularly if we don’t take on that job ourselves (and I haven’t), we owe some gratitude to the people who do.

The soldier is the most visible symbol of militarism, but we must be careful not to let symbolism blind us to soldiers’ humanity. Soldiers didn’t send themselves to Vietnam or Iraq; our leaders sent them there. Soldiers don’t steal their pay or their equipment from schools and poor families who need help; it is politicians who set those priorities and distribute the nation’s resources. (Many soldiers come from those poor families, and see military service as the only viable ticket out of poverty for themselves and their children.) Again and again, voters have endorsed those choices.

The members of our armed forces have put their lives in the hands of our nation’s leaders, and ultimately in our hands. Veterans’ Day is a time to remember the costs of military service, and to rededicate ourselves to making sure that the nation does not abuse the trust that these men and women have placed in it.

and you also might be interested in …

Deciding which streaming TV services you want has gotten complicated over the past few years, and is about to get significantly more complicated. The Washington Post breaks it down.

Finally, the future I was promised is starting to arrive: an all-electric air taxi.

and let’s close with something stunning

SkyPixel has a contest for the best aerial photographs. The Verge has picked its favorites, including this image of Hong Kong that has been warped to make the sky a small circle of light surrounded by skyscrapers.