Category Archives: Weekly summaries

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


Against all evidence, I keep thinking the assholes are outliers.

– James Holden,
a character in the novel Babylon’s Ashes by James Corey

This week’s featured post is “What’s the point of punishing Trump?“.

This week everybody was talking about Kansas

In a deep red state, the Republican-dominated legislature hoped voters would approve a constitutional-amendment referendum that would let it ban abortion. So it scheduled the vote to coincide with a low-turnout primary where Republicans had interesting races and Democrats mostly didn’t. Result: the amendment failed by a wide margin, 59%-41%.

The result raises an obvious question: If an anti-abortion referendum can’t pass in Kansas, where could it pass? The NYT tried to answer. This kind of speculation is always sketchy, but here’s what they came up with: A similar national referendum (if such a thing existed) would be opposed by 65%. Seven states would clearly pass the anti-abortion referendum, and the question would be a toss-up in several more.

One thing the Kansas referendum proved is that people will come out to vote on this issue. During the Roe era, that was always the question: People might tell pollsters they supported abortion rights, but would they cast a vote on that issue, or just count on the Supreme Court to protect them?

The next question, which won’t be answered until November, is whether voters will choose candidates based on abortion rights. For years, suburban Republican women in particular may have thought of themselves as feminists, but have cast their votes with other priorities in mind, like taxes or national security.

The clearest test of this question is the Michigan governor’s race, where Gretchen Whitmer faces Republican challenger Tudor Nixon, who would ban abortion even in cases of rape and incest.

Indiana banned abortion Friday, except in cases of rape, incest, lethal fetal abnormality, or serious health risk to the pregnant woman. Along the way, a Democratic representative unsuccessfully offered an amendment also banning erectile dysfunction drugs.

If an unwanted pregnancy is an act of God, then impotency must be an act of God.

Here’s how the abortion issue is being used in Texas by Mothers Against Greg Abbott (the other MAGA).

Texas has virtually banned abortion, but that doesn’t mean it values fetuses. Bloomberg has a long article about how bad maternity care is in rural areas near the Mexican border. Presidio (a town of 4500 or so residents) has no full-time doctor. The nearest hospital is 90 minutes away: Big Bend in Alpine (population 5900). But that hospital has had trouble staffing its labor and delivery unit.

Some months it’s been open only three days a week. … If [visiting Dr. Adrian] Billings’s patient goes into labor when the maternity ward is closed, she’ll have to make a difficult choice. She can drive to the next nearest hospital, in Fort Stockton, yet another hour away. Or, if her labor is too far along and she’s unlikely to make it, she can deliver in Big Bend’s emergency room. But the ER doesn’t have a fetal heart monitor or nurses who know how to use one. It also doesn’t keep patients overnight. When a woman gives birth there, she’s either transferred to Fort Stockton—enduring the long drive after having just had a baby—or discharged and sent home.

Why can’t Big Bend staff its maternity unit? Covid, of course, but also a more basic problem:

As quaint as Alpine is, it has some drawbacks. It’s three and a half hours from El Paso and more than five from San Antonio. There’s one grocery store, and the closest Walmart is an hour away. There’s no day care, which makes it hard for businesses to recruit families with two working parents.

“We’ll hire a nurse who’ll say, ‘Great, I can start work in two weeks. Just let me get day care set up.’ We tell them, ‘Well, we don’t have day care in Alpine.’ They’re like, ‘What are you talking about?’ They can’t accept the job,” says Roane McLaughlin, Alpine’s only obstetrician and gynecologist. Before she moved to the area in 2014, Alpine didn’t have an OB-GYN at all.

In short, rural Texas is a bad place to be pregnant, whether you want to be or not. The state is anti-abortion because it’s anti-woman, not pro-fetus.

Thinking about related rights, Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby defends Rep. Glenn Thompson against charges of hypocrisy. Thompson is the GOP congressman who voted against a bill to codify same-sex marriage rights, and then delivered an upbeat toast at his son’s same-sex wedding. So: yes, a hypocrite.

Jacoby defends the vote because the Respect For Marriage Act is a “political gimmick” that is unnecessary because same-sex marriage rights aren’t in danger. We know this because “the court’s majority opinion [in Dobbs] repeatedly emphasizes that the overruling of Roe v. Wade does not cast doubt on prior rulings involving marriage or gay rights”.

And Supreme Court justices would never mislead us about something like that, would they? Also, if the bill accomplishes nothing, why not pass it? What harm would it do?

For those of you who don’t follow the Boston papers, before I read a Jacoby column I always ask myself “What would Pope Benedict have said about this issue?” That’s usually a good predictor.

BTW: the religious Right doesn’t think protecting same-sex marriage rights is a phony issue. They’re solidly against it, and are pressuring Republican senators.

and the Inflation Reduction Act

The Senate passed the Inflation Reduction Act Sunday, 51-50 on a straight party-line vote, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie. (Remember this the next time someone tells you there’s no difference between Republicans and Democrats.)

The IRA is primarily a climate bill that over-funds itself by cracking down on corporations that pay no taxes, leaving $300 billion to offset the deficit over the next ten years. It also protects ObamaCare subsidies, cuts drug costs for seniors, and does a few other things. According to the environmentalist website Grist:

Independent analyses estimate that the IRA would slash approximately 6.3 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from the nation’s emissions ledger over the course of the next decade, prevent up to 3,894 premature deaths per year by 2030, and get the U.S. two-thirds of the way to Biden’s goal of reducing total emissions 50 percent compared to 2005 levels by the end of this decade.

It now goes to the House, where it is expected to pass quickly.

This is a big deal. It’s much smaller than the $4 trillion plan Biden originally proposed, and smaller yet than the $6 trillion plan Bernie Sanders wanted. But getting it through the Senate with only 50 Democratic senators was a major accomplishment.

In other legislative news, Tuesday Mitch McConnell’s Republicans relented and passed the Honoring our PACT Act to help veterans suffering from the effects of toxic fumes from burn pits. It was the exact same bill they blocked last week.

The history of this bill is a lesson in Republican disinformation. In June, a version of the bill passed the Senate with 84 votes, which means at least 34 Republicans voted for it. (The 14 No votes were all Republicans.) The House passed the same bill, minus one line deleted technical reasons that had little impact on what the bill would do. So it went back to the Senate, where it was expected to pass without incident.

But then Senator Manchin announced that he had found a version of Biden’s Build Back Better plan he could support, now relabeled the Inflation Reduction Act (see above). McConnell decided to throw a tantrum by scrapping whatever bipartisan bill he could find, which turned out to be PACT.

Suddenly, 41 Republican senators — the exact number needed to sustain a filibuster — had grave reservations about PACT. In particular, Ted Cruz (who had voted for the nearly identical bill in June) now denounced it as a “budgetary trick” that would lead to $400 billion in pork-barrel spending.

Over the weekend, the GOP realized just how unpopular it is to play games with the health care of veterans who may be dying from something we did to them. So they came back and passed the same bill that was so terrible last week. Cruz voted for it, and put out a statement applauding its passage. All the features Cruz complained about when he blocked the bill had been in it when he voted for it in June, and when he voted for it again Tuesday.

Bear this history in mind as you hear Cruz and other Republicans tell you terrible things about the Inflation Reduction Act.

and the economy

The late-pandemic economy is breaking all the usual patterns. By some definitions, we’re already in a recession, but job growth is still booming and unemployment is the lowest it’s been since the 1960s. Year-over-year inflation is the highest since 1981, but gas and food prices have been dropping this last month or two.

In short, just about anything anybody says about the economy these days, good or bad, deserves a yes-but response.

and the pandemic

Case-numbers are nearly meaningless in this era of home tests whose results are never reported. But hospitalization and death statistics continue to creep upwards. Deaths per day are running just under 500, up from under 300 in early June.

and Alex Jones

A jury ruled that he has to pay nearly $50 million to two parents of a child killed at Sandy Hook. I discuss this in the featured post. I didn’t get around to mentioning that his lawyers’ blunder has exposed him to a possible perjury charge. That’s what happens when you should have called Saul.

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Even the “courageous” Republicans are lining up to support election-denying anti-democracy Trumpists once the primaries are over. Peter Meijer endorsed the guy he lost to. After seeing anti-democracy Republicans win the primaries in his state, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey tweeted:

This is going to be an important election given the issues our state is facing and it’s important for Arizona Republicans to unite behind our slate of candidates.

It’s party-over-country, all the way.

I wish all the Biden’s-low-approval-rating articles would break out WHY voters disapprove: How many conservatives think he’s too liberal? How many liberals think he hasn’t done enough? How many people of all sorts don’t know what he’s done or believe he’s done something he hasn’t?

I remember similar polls about how unpopular ObamaCare was at first: They never broke out how many people wanted the status quo versus how many wanted universal health care. Those polls fooled Republicans into thinking a repeal would be popular.

Jamestown, Michigan just voted to defund its public library.

The controversy in Jamestown began with a complaint about a memoir by a nonbinary writer, but it soon spiraled into a campaign against Patmos Library itself. After a parent complained about Gender Queer: a Memoir, by Maia Kobabe, a graphic novel about the author’s experience coming out as nonbinary, dozens showed up at library board meetings, demanding the institution drop the book. (The book, which includes depictions of sex, was in the adult section of the library.) Complaints began to target other books with LGBTQ+ themes.

One library director resigned, telling Bridge she’d been harassed and accused of indoctrinating kids; her successor also left the job. Though the library put Kobabe’s book behind the counter rather than on the shelves, the volumes remained available.

“We, the board, will not ban the books,” Walton told Associated Press on Thursday.

The library’s refusal to submit to the demands led to a campaign urging residents to vote against renewed funding for the library.

I emphasize: This is a town library, not a school library. “Jamestown Conservatives” are trying to control what their fellow citizens are allowed to read.

Christianity Today looks at White Southern Protestants who have mostly stopped going to church. (About 45% of White Southerners report going to church once or less in the past year.) When Northeastern Catholics left their church, they tended to become more liberal, particularly on social issues. But WSP’s aren’t doing that. Instead, they’re just losing their trust in other people.

When asked, “Do you think most people would try to take advantage of you if they got a chance or would they try to be fair?” 54 percent of white Protestant southerners who attended church no more than once a year said that most people would try to take advantage of them.

In response to the question “Would you say that most of the time people try to be helpful or that they are mostly just looking out for themselves?” 58 percent said the latter.

The responses from white Southern Protestants who attended church every week were almost the direct opposite. Sixty-two percent said that most people would “try to be fair” rather than take advantage of them, and 57 percent said that most of the time people “try to be helpful.”

This isn’t news, but it’s such a good line I have to repeat it. In the preface to the 10th anniversary edition of his spy novel Slow Horses (now an Apple TV+ series) Mick Herron confessed that he actually doesn’t know that much about spies.

A writer spends the first part of his or her career hoping to be discovered; the rest hoping not to be found out.

and let’s close with something sporty

Legendary sports announcer Vin Scully died Tuesday night at the age of 94. He called the Brooklyn/LA Dodger games for 67 seasons (1950-2016), but also covered a wide variety of other sports events. If you’re a sports fan, you probably know his voice from historic moments like Hank Aaron’s 715th home run.

But if you don’t remember Vin or his voice, here’s some amusing proof that he could make anything sound engaging: A guy who did the sports report for a San Diego rock station (and met Scully in the press box during a Padres/Dodgers game) once asked Scully to read his grocery list.

Kosher Legislation

Eventually is not OK. Tell someone with cancer that’s been fighting this for years that eventually they’ll get the help that they’ve earned. That is not an acceptable answer. It is despicable to continue to use America’s men and women who are fighting for this country as political pawns for anger you have about separate issues. This bill is utterly and completely focused on veterans’ issues. There is no pork in it. It is a kosher bill.

Jon Stewart, responding to the claim that the PACT Act will pass eventually

This week’s featured post is “A Week When Congress Mattered“.

This week everybody was talking about important legislation

The featured post covers the CHIPS Act, which passed last week; the Honor Our PACT Act, which Republicans blocked in the Senate; and the Inflation Reduction Act, which came back from the dead last week and now just needs Senator Sinema to sign on.

and a third party

Some moderate, Trump-rejecting Republicans and Democrat Andrew Yang announced a new political party this week, calling it Forward.

I think this effort is doomed, for reasons spelled out by NYT columnist Jamelle Bouie. A winner-take-all method of election, like the one that prevails in most the US, favors a two-party system. There’s no way to form a coalition after the election, as parties do in proportional-representation parliamentary systems, so there’s a strong incentive to form a majority coalition before the election. Typically that results in two coalitions battling to see which can command a majority.

Third parties, then, are temporary phenomena in America. They arise primarily when both of the existing parties have agreed to ignore some contentious issue. In the 1840s, for example, Democrats and Whigs both tried to downplay the slavery issue, which split both of them regionally. The Republican Party arose because there was effectively no way to vote against slavery. The Whigs then broke apart, the Civil War was fought, and Republicans took the Whigs’ place in the two-party system. (If you’re wondering how we got from there to here, where Republicans are the white-supremacy party, I explained that in 2012.)

Most third parties never even make a splash. The few that do usually get co-opted by one of the major parties. For example, when the Democrats in 1948 embraced the previously Republican issue of civil rights, the Dixiecrats gave worried Whites an anti-civil-rights option. That led to George Wallace’s American Independent Party in 1968, whose issues eventually got co-opted into the Republican Party by Nixon’s “southern strategy”.

The typical thought pattern of a third-party voter is “Neither major party offers any hope on my issue, so I don’t care which one of them wins.” That’s why third parties usually emerge on the extremes. If Donald Trump had lost the Republican nomination in 2016 to another John-McCain-style neo-conservative who would probably support the same foreign interventions as Hillary Clinton, an America First Party could have made a significant run. If Democrats continue to spin their wheels on climate change, a Green Party is a possibility. Either of those movements would probably fail at first, while simultaneously wrecking the chances of the major party closest to it, so the faction that spins off really needs to have hit that I-don’t-care-any-more point.

Like Bouie, I don’t see how to make that work in the center. Picture it: “I am so committed to my sensible middle-of-the-road agenda that it makes no difference to me whether America gets ‘woke’ or goes fascist.” Who thinks like like that?

The only way a centrist third party can succeed in our current system is with some non-partisan national hero at the top, like a Dwight Eisenhower fresh off of winning World War II. But Andrew Yang and Christine Todd Whitman can’t fill those shoes.

The other way a third party works is if we change the system first, say by instituting ranked-choice voting, as Alaska and Maine have. Why shouldn’t John Kasich have offered a centrist-Republican third option in 2016, if his Hillary-fearing voters could have listed Trump as their second choice?

The Forward platform resembles what Matt Yglesias promotes as “popularism”: focusing on the popular parts of your party’s message rather than the unpopular parts. David Roberts explains why that’s not likely to work:

Every proposal for a third party in the US ends up amounting to the same thing: a dream of center-left policy without all the nasty politics. It’s just a bunch of [very serious people] thinking, “hey, *we* won’t talk about defunding the police or pronouns, so the right will leave us alone.”

In other words, it takes the right’s bad-faith characterization of the left as its starting point. Of course, if such a party ever became a threat, the right could just as easily smear it! Then I guess the VSPs would start pining for a fourth.

The right’s entire raison d’être is to make being on the side fighting for fairness & justice *unpleasant*, to associate it with marxism or pedophilia or whatever. Third party wankers think they can escape this dynamic by being theatrically Reasonable, but they are deluded.

and tomorrow’s votes

According the Kansas Supreme Court, that state’s constitution currently contains a right to privacy that prevents the legislature from banning abortion. There’s a provision on tomorrow’s ballot that would change that, setting up a possible abortion ban (which the very Republican legislature would almost certainly pass).

This is the first time actual voters have gotten to weigh in on abortion since the Supreme Court junked a federal right to abortion in June. You’d expect a conservative state like Kansas to pass it, but the polling is unclear.

Also, it’s a confusing situation: The legislature scheduled this vote to coincide with a primary, when turnout is low. Initially that was assumed to favor anti-abortion voters, but abortion-rights voters may be more motivated than the legislature expected.

Plus, a Yes vote is a vote against abortion rights, while a No vote is a vote for abortion rights. Some number of voters are going to get that backwards.

The other state to watch is Missouri, where the GOP Senate primary tests just how much scandal the MAGA electorate is willing to write off. Former Governor Eric Greitens resigned in 2018 to avoid impeachment, assailed by charges of sexual assault on his mistress as well as various campaign finance violations.

Charges were eventually dropped and he escaped going to trial, but the claims are still out there. In addition, his ex-wife has accused him of domestic violence.

But Mr. Greitens has adopted the Trump guide to making vileness and suspected criminality work for you: Brace up, double down and bray that any and all allegations are just part of — all together now! — a political witch hunt.

Like Mr. Trump, Mr. Greitens is a political grievance peddler. Also like Mr. Trump, he saves his most concentrated bile for fellow Republicans. One of the most puerile ads of the midterms thus far has been Mr. Greitens’s “RINO hunting” spot, in which he leads a group of armed men in tactical gear as they storm a lovely little suburban home in search of G.O.P. heretics.

Greitens was the front-runner until big money got behind an ad campaign highlighting the ex-wife’s claims. That seems to have brought him down, but he’s still close enough that it’s not a foregone conclusion that he’ll lose.

Multiple polls show the former governor’s support slipping, dropping him behind a couple of his opponents. The state’s attorney general, Eric Schmitt, appears to have taken the lead. He, too, is an election-denying Trump suck-up. But at this point the G.O.P. is operating on a curve; simply weeding out those alleged to be abusers and other possible criminals can feel like a major achievement.

We’ll see what happens tomorrow.

and the DoJ’s 1-6 investigation

With Congress’ 1-6 hearings on hiatus, attention shifts to the Department of Justice. From the beginning, pundits have been skeptical of Attorney General Merrick Garland’s stomach for indicting the political actors behind the insurrection. Sure, DoJ might prosecute rioters by the hundreds and get convictions for trespassing and so forth, but would investigators ever start to climb the pyramid?

It looks like they are. The federal grand jury has been interviewing aides to Mike Pence, and asking them questions about conversations with Trump. DoJ also seems to be looking into Trump’s fake-elector scheme.

DoJ investigations are supposed to make as few waves as possible until indictments come down, and to vanish without a trace if there is no crime to indict. So you need experienced tea-leaf-readers to interpret the signs. My favorites are the folks at Lawfare.

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The Biden administration has been trying to get Russia to accept a prisoner swap for WNBA star Brittney Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, but so far it’s not working.

She’s black and female and in trouble with Russia, so course we know what side Trump will come down on: Biden shouldn’t try to get her out at all, because she’s “spoiled” and “loaded up with drugs”. (To me, that sounds like a good description of Don Jr.)

[The Russians] don’t like drugs. And she got caught. And now, we’re supposed to get her out — and she makes, you know, a lot of money.

Griner makes the WNBA max salary of $227K, less than what Bill Russell was making in the 1960s. That’s not a lot of money for somebody who is (1) at the top of her profession and (2) expecting the short career of a professional athlete. The reason she (and other WNBA stars) go overseas during the off-season is to supplement their income.

The Celebrity Net Worth web site estimates her entire fortune at $5 million. It takes Steph Curry about ten games to earn that much.

The Juice Media has a project it calls “honest government ads”. Here’s one for the Supreme Court.

Amanda Marcotte points out the similarities between Republican reactions to mass shootings and to horror stories from their abortion bans: Blame the victims, claim liberals have manufactured the story, and blatantly gaslight about what their laws actually say.

This is all in line with what I was pointing out two weeks ago: It’s an article of faith that conservative policies have no victims. If some obvious victim begins to get attention, that story has to be knocked down by any means necessary.

Michelle Goldberg makes a similar point:

Members of the anti-abortion movement, including [Alexandra] DeSanctis, often claim that abortion is never medically necessary. If they can’t bear to look clearly at the world they’ve made, maybe it’s because then they’d have to admit that what they’ve been saying has never been true.

Welcome to the world, George Jetson, who (according to a Warner Brothers wiki was born yesterday. Other sources have his birthday as August 27, but there’s general agreement he’s born in 2022.

Bill Russell died at age 88. He was arguably the greatest winner in sports history. In his 13-year NBA career, his Boston Celtics won 11 championships. He also won two NCAA championships at the University of San Francisco, and an Olympic gold medal with the US national team in 1956.

Also dead at 89 is Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura on the original Star Trek series. Her character wasn’t as central to the show as the Kirk/Spock/McCoy triad, so her importance is easy to overlook these days, when we’re used to seeing black actors in all sorts of roles. In 2016, a 50th anniversary retrospective noted:

Those of us who weren’t alive at the time probably can’t grasp how groundbreaking the character of Lieutenant Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols, was for audiences of the day. She was one of the first black women on TV not portrayed as a servant. … Nichols played her part in Star Trek’s most famous milestone – what is widely considered the first inter-racial kiss on American television. It wasn’t, in fact – Nancy Sinatra smooched Sammy Davis Jr on TV the year before, to name but one instance – but the moment was so iconic and definitive that it deserves credit.

and let’s close with a science-meets-horror moment

The researchers are calling it “necrobiotics“, which sounds like it ought to be the study of the living dead. Talk about high concept: the movie just seems to write itself. They’re manipulating dead spiders to grab things. What could possibly go wrong?

It turns out that after spiders die, their corpses are basically hydraulic devices. If you can suppress your urge to run out of the room, it’s actually pretty cool.

No Ambiguity

In our hearing tonight, you saw an American President faced with a stark and unmistakable choice between right and wrong. There was no ambiguity. No nuance. Donald Trump made a purposeful choice to violate his oath of office, to ignore the ongoing violence against law enforcement, to threaten our constitutional order. There is no way to excuse that behavior. It was indefensible.

– Liz Cheney, 7-21-2022

This week’s featured post is “Trump doesn’t have a side of the 1-6 story“.

This week everybody was talking about the final summer 1-6 committee hearing

Thursday’s prime-time hearing [video, transcript] focused on the three hours between when Trump told his supporters to march to the Capitol and when he asked them to go home.

In between, he sat in the Oval Office dining room watching the riot unfold on Fox News and doing nothing to stop it. He could have asked the rioters to go home sooner, and he could have mobilized federal resources to support the Capitol Police resisting the attack. Many of his staffers urged him to do one or the other, but he refused.

Instead, he tweeted more incitement to those who wanted to hang Vice President Pence, and called Republicans in Congress urging them to further delay the counting the electoral votes. It seems clear that his primary goal that day was to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s victory, and the riot was just one of his tools for achieving that purpose. He didn’t stop the riot because he wanted it to succeed.

Some of the most striking evidence presented concerned Vice President Pence’s safety. Audio and video of Pence’s Secret Service detail trying to move him from his office in the Capitol to a more secure location showed just how tense the situation was.

In addition, an anonymous White House security official (whose voice was disguised), told about listening to the Secret Service radio chatter.

Members of the V.P. detail at this time were starting to fear for their own lives. There was a lot of yelling—a lot of very personal calls over the radio. It was very disturbing. I don’t like talking about it. There were calls to say goodbye to family members. For whatever reason on the ground, the V.P. detail thought that this was about to get very ugly.

The comic relief in the hearing was video of Josh Hawley pumping his fist to encourage the 1-6 mob, but then later running through the Capitol to get away from them. The clip got one of the few audible laughs we’ve heard in these hearings. His home-state Kansas City Star proclaimed Senator Hawley “a laughingstock” and quoted this tweet:

From now on, if political reporters ask Josh Hawley if he’s planning to run, he’s going to have to ask them to clarify.

Hawley has a book coming out next May: “Manhood: the Masculine Virtues America Needs“. When I first heard that, I thought it was a joke. It’s not, or at least not an intentional one.

The mystery of the missing Secret Service text messages from January 6 is looking worse and worse. The Service is claiming they innocently deleted the messages as part of a system upgrade, but that’s hard to credit. I upgraded computer this year, and I managed not to delete my files. The Secret Service, meanwhile, is an agency responsible for investigating cybercrimes. Basic data hygiene shouldn’t be beyond them.

The Service is also connected to another 1-6 mystery: Why was Mike Pence so reluctant to get in the car when agents wanted to take him to a safer place?

Mr Pence then reportedly outright refused to get into the vehicle, saying his security detail would ignore his demand not to leave the building and would instead “take off” against his wishes.

“I’m not getting in the car, Tim,” Mr Pence replied. “I trust you, Tim, but you’re not driving the car. If I get in that vehicle, you guys are taking off. I’m not getting in the car.”

This is speculative to the point of being a conspiracy theory, but what if the two are connected? Maybe the agents’ text messages say something about their plans for Pence.

Beaux of the Fifth Column doesn’t expect the hearings to turn Trump supporters into liberals, but he does suggest the lesson they should learn from what has been presented: Trump conned them with his whole stolen-election grift, and Trump’s people have been laughing at them this whole time. Now they need to look at their 2022 candidates, and sort out which ones were also fooled by Trump, and which ones were in on the con.

Steve Bannon was found guilty of two counts of contempt of Congress. He called no witnesses, and the jury deliberated for two-and-a-half hours.

I wonder what they talked about. “Should we hang around for lunch? Anybody know what they’re feeding us?” They needed to answer two questions: Did Bannon receive a lawful subpoena? Did he defy it? The answers were clearly yes.

He’ll be sentenced in October, possibly for as long as two years. He’s planning to appeal. His only hope is a purely partisan intervention by the Supreme Court’s Republican majority.

Peter Navarro has also been charged with contempt of Congress; his trial is due to start November 17. Mark Meadows and Dan Scavino have also been cited by Congress for contempt, but the Justice Department has not pressed charges.

The Murdoch Empire seems to have turned on Trump. This week both The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post spoke out against him.

and abortion

A leading Republican candidate for governor of Michigan is clear about her position:

Asked … about a hypothetical situation in which a 14-year-old girl became pregnant as a result of sexual abuse by a family member, Dixon said, “Perfect example.” She went on, “Because I know people who are the product. A life is a life for me. That’s how it is. That is for me, that is my feeling.” 

“A life is a life” doesn’t seem to apply to the 14-year-old, whose life might be thrown considerably off-track.

The NYT has been staying on this theme: Life-of-the-mother exceptions to state abortion bans are not all they’re made out to be. Yes, they allow abortions if a pregnant woman is in danger of immediate death. But they don’t cover the situation where death is merely a probable consequence of carrying a fetus to term, or even of waiting to see how things develop.

Case in point: pregnant women with cancer.

[Rachel Brown] had always said she would never have an abortion. But the choices she faced were wrenching. If she had the chemotherapy that she needed to prevent the spread of her cancer, she could harm her baby. If she didn’t have it, the cancer could spread and kill her. She had two children, ages 2 and 11, who could lose their mother.

… Ms. Brown’s first visit was with a surgical oncologist who, she said, “made it clear that my life would be in danger if I kept my pregnancy because I wouldn’t be able to be treated until the second trimester.” He told her that if she waited for those months passed, her cancer could spread to distant organs and would become fatal.

This situation is exceptional, but not freakishly so. The article claims that about one in a thousand pregnant women gets diagnosed with cancer (often breast cancer). Given that millions of babies are born in the US each year, that means thousands of women face this decision. Or at least they did face it, before state governments began deciding for them that they must risk their lives.

Similar considerations apply to pregnant women prone to blood clots or at risk of stroke or heart attack. They may not be facing death at this particular moment, but waiting for a crisis might mean intervening too late to save them.

Some women, no doubt, want a child so badly that they would choose to accept such a risk. But that should be their decision, not the government’s.

A political science professor at Indiana University calls out IU leadership for its timidity in defending Dr. Caitlin Bernard, the woman who became a target for Indiana’s attorney general when she performed an abortion on the pregnant 10-year-old who came to her from Ohio, where the abortion was illegal. Bernard is an assistant professor at the IU School of Health.

President Whitten and Dean Hess especially ought to be ashamed of themselves for their cowardly silence. Indiana University is a public university, not an extension of the state’s Republican administration or the attorney general’s far-right, anti-abortion agenda. If it stands for anything, it is the freedom of its faculty and professional staff to do their jobs without being attacked for doing so.

and the pandemic

Numbers have definitely turned upwards in the last few weeks. For a long time deaths in the US had stayed in the 300s per day. Now they’re averaging 444.

President Biden tested positive for Covid Friday. He seems to be doing fine, which is a credit to the effect of vaccination. President Trump, if you remember, got very seriously ill in the days before vaccines.

and fascists being as outrageous as possible

Before getting angry, consider that these folks are trying very hard to make people like us angry. So if you’re in a bad mood already, I recommend skipping this section.

The quotes below are from the Turning Point USA’s Student Action Summit in Tampa this weekend. Turning Point USA claims it’s mission is “to identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote freedom”, but it has basically become a Young Fascists organization. Recognizing the similarity (and possibly looking to recruit), local neo-Nazi groups showed up outside the conference. But TPUSA did at least find it necessary to officially denounce them. And I have to confess that the far right is so bizarre these days that it’s hard to tell whether someone is attempting to parody them. (I mean, is the guy carrying a “DeSantis Country” flag next to the guy with a swastika flag really a DeSantis supporter? He could be, but who can say for sure?)

Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz won the prize for provoking the most social-media backlash with this gem:

Why is it that the women with the least likelihood of getting pregnant are the ones most worried about having abortions? … Nobody wants to impregnate you if you look like a thumb.

Because, of course, only women Gaetz finds attractive are entitled to have opinions or constitutional rights. (This quote is reminiscent of Trump defending himself against charges of sexual assault by claiming that his accusers were too ugly to assault, as if that ever stopped anybody.) Gaetz also went on an anti-Hunter-Biden rant, inspiring the crowd to chant “Lock him up!” Meanwhile, Gaetz himself is under investigation for sex trafficking and sex with a minor. Las Vegas should offer odds on whether Hunter or Matt sees the inside of a prison cell first.

Marjorie Taylor Greene labeled herself a “Christian nationalist”, because that always turns out well, particularly for Jews and Muslims, and even the occasional liberal Christian. “I think that’s what the Republican Party needs to be about,” she said.

Rick Scott used the classic Nazi technique of accusing opponents of your own sins.

In their new socialist America, everyone will obey, and no one will be allowed to complain. … The modern Left in America are the modern day version of book burners.

His state of Florida is where math books are banned from the schools for political reasons, and teachers are ordered to remove rainbow flags from their classrooms. The state’s largest school district currently has no sexual education curriculum, because the board has rejected all the texts.

Ted Cruz informed the crowd “I’m Ted Cruz, and my pronoun is Kiss My Ass.” I hope people start using that preferred pronoun to refer to Kiss My Ass. It’s the respectful thing to do.

Trump Jr. gave such an unhinged (and possibly drug-fueled) speech that liberals didn’t even bother to argue with whatever he was trying to say. Instead, Molly Jong-Fast asks “Is he OK?” I suspect the answer is no.

Donald Trump easily won the 2024 presidential straw poll with 79%, followed by Ron DeSantis with 19%. Mike Pence and other would-be contenders definitely need to worry about their lack of fascist appeal.

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Cities across Europe have been setting heat records. Large chunks of the US have been pretty hot too.

Somebody tried to stab Rep. Lee Zeldin, the Republican nominee for governor of New York. The guy has been arrested and charged. President Biden immediately denounced the attack. “Violence has absolutely no place in our society or our politics.” I completely agree.

A note to the Republicans still making excuses for the January 6 rioters: See how easy that is? You can Just Say No to violence.

One thing the Speaker of the House can do without support in the Senate is force the other party to go on the record. This week Speaker Pelosi held votes on two of four bills that passed the House, but will probably die in the Senate:

  • The Women’s Health Protection Act, which codifies into law abortion rights that were constitutional rights before the Dobbs decision. In particular, no state can restrict abortion prior to fetal viability. This passed the House on July 15 with no Republican votes.
  • The Ensuring Access to Abortion Act, which ensures that “no person acting under state law could prevent, restrict, or otherwise retaliate against a person traveling across state lines for lawful abortion services.” This also passed on July 15, with three Republican votes and 205 votes against.
  • The Right to Contraception Act, which passed Thursday with eight Republican votes and 195 against. This codifies the right to use contraception, which is currently protected by the Supreme Court’s Griswold decision. That precedent is shaky now because it rests on the same legal base as Roe v Wade.
  • The Respect for Marriage Act, which codifies the right to same-sex and interracial marriage. These rights also are currently backed by Supreme Court precedents that the current Court might overturn. This passed Tuesday with 157 Republicans voting against it.

Expect to hear about these votes again in the fall campaign. These are all bills with substantial popular support, but they offend a small-but-influential sliver of the Republican electorate. Many Republicans would like to soft-pedal their position on such issues, but Pelosi forced them to vote Yes or No.

and let’s close with something squirrelly

Every photographer needs a theme. Geert Weggen’s theme is squirrels. I’m not sure how much he stages, how much he photoshops, and how much he captures in the wild, but the images are both amusing and amazing.

To Bind or Protect?

Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect. There is nothing more or else to it, and there never has been, in any place or time.

Frank Wilhoit

This week’s featured post is “No Victims Allowed“.

This week everybody was talking about January 6

The public hearings will return to prime time on Thursday, with a “minute by minute” recreation of what Trump was doing (and not doing) while the Capitol was under attack.

Last Tuesday’s hearing [video transcript] centered on the decision to call a mob to Washington, and who some of the key organizers were. Vox lists the key takeaways from the hearing.

I had not previously made the connection between the “unhinged” White House meeting of December 18 — when Rudy, Sid Powell, Flynn and “the Overstock guy” urged Trump to have the military seize voting machines — and Trump’s “will be wild” announcement of the January 6 demonstration that he tweeted only hours later. In context, it looks like Cipollone et al convinced him that martial-law tactics wouldn’t work, so he moved on to the riot plan.

The other detail that struck me: Even though the call to march to the Capitol was only added to Trump’s speech at the last minute, lots of people seemed to know it would be there.

As one organizer texted a conservative journalist on January 5, “Trump is supposed to order us to capitol at the end of his speech, but we will see.” Another organizer texted that the plans had been kept under wraps to keep it a surprise: “It can also not get out about the march because I will be in trouble with the national park service and all the agencies but POTUS is going to just call for it ‘unexpectedly.’”

That starts to sound like conspiracy.

Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony continues to pick up corroboration. None of the TrumpWorld sources who supposedly were going to dispute her account have gone on the record. Meanwhile,

a Metropolitan Police Department officer corroborated details of Hutchinson’s account and recounted what was seen to committee investigators.

Rep. Raskin:

[Pat] Cipollone has corroborated almost everything that we’ve learned from the prior hearings. I certainly did not hear him contradict Cassidy Hutchinson. … He had the opportunity to say whatever he wanted to say, so I didn’t see any contradiction there.

The Committee continues to warn Trump about witness tampering. It’s a simple crime that is not that hard to prove — kind of like Al Capone’s tax evasion.

Part of putting together an account of Trump’s behavior during the 1-6 riot involves looking at Secret Service text messages. But it turns out that some texts were deleted as part of a “device-replacement program”. We’ll see if that’s really as suspicious as it sounds. The committee says it will try to “reconstruct” the deleted messages.

The most amusing take on the Secret-Service-text-deletion story is that it vindicates Major Biden, who had to leave the White House because he kept biting agents. Maybe he had sniffed out that some of them weren’t good boys.

Steve Bannon’s trial starts today. He tried to delay or derail it every possible way, but it’s happening. Also, the Trump-appointed judge is not allowing the spurious defenses that Bannon pledged would turn the trial into a “misdemeanor from Hell”. “What’s the point in going to trial here if there are no defenses?” his lawyer asked.

Other investigations also seem to be picking up steam. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has sent “target letters” to a number of Georgia Republians

informing them they could be indicted for their role in a scheme to appoint alternate electors pledged to the former president despite Joe Biden’s victory in the state

Target letters are typically used to invite lower-level members of a conspiracy to come in and make a deal to testify against higher-level conspirators.

Willis has already subpoenaed Senator Lindsey Graham and Rudy Giuliani.

DoJ reportedly is also looking at the fake electors, possibly because it would be easy to make a case: People signed their names to false documents and sent them to the National Archives.

and more Manchin sabotage

Early on, I was inclined to give Joe Manchin the benefit of the doubt: He represents a conservative state, and is entitled to vote his worldview just like any other senator. If Biden’s Build Back Better plan doesn’t make sense to him, he shouldn’t vote for it.

And in a 50-50 Senate, each Democrat is in a position to hold out for whatever deal they want. That’s how politics is, and if people don’t like it they should elect a few more liberal Democratic senators to take Manchin’s veto away.

What’s been driving me nuts, though, is that Manchin doesn’t seem to be negotiating in good faith. Negotiations that have no reason to take more than a few weeks instead stretch into many months, and then at the end there’s no deal. If there was nothing he could agree to, why didn’t he just say so early on?

This week the climate portion of Build Back Better fell apart.

Sen. Joe Manchin appears to have torpedoed a cornerstone of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda, telling Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer Thursday evening that he won’t support moving forward on proposed tax hikes on wealthy Americans and corporations that would pay for a package of climate change and energy policies, at least not right away, this according to two aides familiar with the matter.

Manchin cites fears about inflation, but since the spending is balanced against taxes, and won’t drive up the deficit, it’s not clear why the bill should be inflationary.

Meanwhile, new climate anomalies keep popping up. Europe is seeing wildfires in France and Spain, and England is set to break 40 degrees Centigrade (104 Fahrenheit) for the first time ever.

and abortion

The featured post discusses the pregnant Ohio 10-year-old who had to leave the state for an abortion.

I don’t think this story is a one-timer. Abortion is fundamentally a more complicated decision than conservatives picture, and their simplistic bans are going to lead to a long series of I-didn’t-mean-that cases.

The Biden administration is insisting that hospitals have to provide abortions in emergency situations, even if state law bans them.

[HHS Secretary Xavier] Becerra said the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act pre-empts state laws that restrict abortion access in emergency situations. … Although most of the state abortion bans make exceptions for when the woman’s life is in danger, U.S. health officials worry that wary doctors could wait too long to treat ectopic pregnancies and complications from miscarriages while awaiting legal guidance.

Texas, meanwhile, appears to be holding out for a hospital’s right to let a woman die.

Texas on Thursday asked a federal court to block the Biden administration’s requirement that physicians and hospitals provide abortions in medical emergencies.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, in a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, argued that federal law does not confer a right to an abortion.

Dov Fox is a law professor and the director of University of San Diego’s Center for Health Law Policy and Bioethics. In a NYT column, he raises the issue of doctors who perform illegal abortions for reasons of conscience.

The American legal regime that governs medical conscience is broken. While conscientious providers find virtually no refuge in the conscience clauses that are codified in almost every state, refusers are protected almost categorically. And just about all of these conscience laws are reserved for denials of care.

It’s not hard to imagine what a conscience-based abortion would look like: Even if the state has a life-of-the-mother exception in its abortion ban, the doctor may draw that line in a different place than the legislature does. A doctor said this to ABC News:

When I see patients, for instance, who have a major cardiac problem, a lot of the time they have a risk of a major cardiac event of up to 15% to 25%, even up to 50%. At the moment they’re fine. But as they get further into pregnancy, that’s going to put their life more and more at risk.

So do I have to wait until they’re on death’s doorstep, or can I intervene at that point to prevent more harm and more damage to them?

The NYT is covering the Kansas referendum on abortion. A Yes vote amends the state constitution to allow the legislature to restrict or ban abortion. The Republican legislature has scheduled the vote to coincide with the August 2 primary election, which has a lower turnout than a November election. The amendment is also confusingly worded. It doesn’t sound like what they’d do if they thought the electorate was solidly behind them.

The whole process smacks not so much of returning power to the people as of showing contempt for them and for the democratic process, a trend that is becoming standard operating procedure throughout much of the G.O.P.

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Remember what a to-do it was last week, when protesters came to a restaurant Justice Kavanaugh was eating at, but there was no interaction, no one was harmed, and nothing was damaged?

A source told Politico that Kavanaugh did not actually see or hear the protestors in question during his dinner at Morton’s, though he did reportedly leave the restaurant before dessert.

What? No dessert? Is this Nazi Germany or something?

My comment was:

Any time liberal protesters inconvenience a conservative official, it’s going to get national attention. (Generally, conservative protesters have to shoot somebody to get similar coverage.)

Well, Saturday an armed man was arrested outside Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s home in Seattle. He was armed, and was yelling that she should “go back to India” because he was going to kill her. The story just didn’t seem to take off like the Kavanaugh story did, even though the threat seems far more serious.

Maybe if he’d actually shot her, that would get Kavanaugh-level attention.

The New Yorker has an enlightening article about LGBT children’s books. Often the issues that children bring up in a book discussion are not the ones that adults anticipate. The article also makes a distinction between “didactic” queer stories (which are suppose to teach children that difference is OK) and “just-are” queer stories (in which gay or trans people are just characters in a story about something else).

Ron DeSantis types assume that the presence of LGBTQ characters makes a story “sexual”, when kids don’t read that into the text at all.

Several prominent Republicans — former senators, former judges, etc. — have put out a report debunking the various stolen-election theories Trump supporters have put forward. It’s called Lost, Not Stolen, and it goes through the claims state by state.

If you’ve been following this stuff closely, you won’t find anything new. I already knew, for example, that when the Cyber Ninjas were hired by Arizona’s Republican legislature to “audit” the state’s 2020 election results, Biden’s lead actually grew in their recount. And that when a committee in Michigan’s Republican state senate investigated their state’s election, they found “no evidence presented at this time to prove either significant acts of fraud or that an organized, wide-scale effort to commit fraudulent activity was perpetrated in order to subvert the will of Michigan voters”.

But the report is significant for two reasons

  • This isn’t Democrats saying Biden won and Trump lost, it’s Republicans.
  • The report is encyclopedic, so it addresses the whattabout-this/whattabout-that tactic of Trumpists, where refuting one conspiracy theory just causes them to raise another.

A committee of the Texas House has put out its report on the Uvalde school shooting. The Texas Tribune summarizes:

No one was able to stop the gunman from carrying out the deadliest school shooting in Texas history, in part because of “systemic failures and egregious poor decision making” by nearly everyone involved who was in a position of power

Police from various jurisdictions, from the school district to the state to the Border Patrol, descended on Uvalde, but nobody took charge of the 376 officers.

The report speculates that the shooter had never fired a gun until the day of the massacre.

and let’s close with something cosmic

I like to close with something you haven’t seen before, and often the closing is some set of spectacular photos. This week, though, the most spectacular photos (maybe ever) were headline news: The first returns from the James Webb Space Telescope.

Land of the Free

Even the most stalwart conservative who dares not venture out in the street at night and hesitates on occasion to drink the water or breathe the air must now wonder if keeping public services at a minimum is really a practical formula for expanding his personal liberty.

– John Kenneth Galbraith (1969)

This week’s featured post is “The Right has an immature notion of Freedom“.

This week everybody was talking about gun violence

I discuss the symbolic meaning of Highland Park (home of Ferris Bueller and Joel Goodsen) in the featured post. But I wanted to keep that post short, so I’ve got more to say here about guns.

Friday, former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated. Still an influential politician after his retirement, Abe was giving a campaign speech for his party’s candidates when someone killed him with the homemade gun shown below. The gun would only allow two shots, so no one else was injured.

NRA shills are using Abe’s assassination, together with a recent shooting at a mall in Denmark, to argue that gun restrictions don’t work. “See,” they say, “even countries with serious gun control can’t stop shootings.”

This kind of thinking is similar to the claims that Covid vaccines and masks don’t work, because vaccinated people can still get sick, even if they wear masks. It exemplifies the conservative tendency to think in absolutes while ignoring numbers. (Scientific American analyzed statistics from March and deduced that vaccinated-and-boosted Americans were 17 times less likely to die of Covid than their unvaccinated countrymen. That’s not a guarantee, but I see it as an advantage well worth the inconvenience.)

It’s true that Japan and Denmark have both controlled guns much more tightly than the US, and so have fewer civilian guns. The US has 120 guns per 100 residents, Denmark 9.9, and Japan 0.3. Even those numbers don’t capture the full difference, since millions of American guns are powerful semi-automatics like AR-15 rifles or Glock handguns.

As a result, gun violence in both countries is rare and incidents are less deadly than in the US. In 2017, (the most recent year Wikipedia had statistics for) the US had 12.21 gun deaths per 100K residents per year, 4.46 of which were murders. In 2015, Denmark had 0.91 gun deaths and .18 gun murders per 100K residents. Japan in 2015 had 0.02 gun deaths and no gun murders. According to the NYT, Japan has had only 14 gun-related deaths since 2017, fewer than the number of Americans who died in the Uvalde shooting alone.

The Danish mall shooter apparently used a hunting rifle that was not semi-automatic and was purchased illegally. He managed to kill three people before being subdued. Abe’s assassin used a homemade zip gun that gave him only two shots.

The Abe shooting could be a dictionary example of an exception that proves the rule. Months of planning and preparation allowed his shooter to get those two shots off. Contrast the Abe attack with the Gabby Giffords assassination attempt in Tucson in 2011, when a shooter with a legally purchased semi-automatic handgun got off dozens of shots, killing six and wounding 13 others.

The NYT sums up:

[A]n American-style shooter can, virtually on a whim, readily arm themselves with the firepower to kill large numbers of people before police can respond, targeting victims even hundreds of yards away.

But a Japanese shooter may require long stretches of dangerous preparation to build their weapon. They then must secret it to within feet of their victim and squeeze off what may be their only shot before they become effectively defenseless, and a bystander overpowers them.

It is also worth noting that, contrary to NRA propaganda, a disarmed citizenry has not made either Denmark or Japan vulnerable to tyranny. In 2021 the US had a democracy index of 7.85, noticeably lower than Denmark’s 9.09 and Japan’s 8.15. In neither country has a leader defeated at the polls tried to hang onto power by force, as Donald Trump recently did.

Quite the opposite of promoting democracy, America’s loose gun culture has made our politicians more distant and less approachable. Our presidents talk to us from behind shields and after we’ve been searched, because it’s not safe to do anything else.

Our gun culture is also related to the trigger-happy nature of our police. Police in America are now killing more than 1000 people per year. That’s a per capita rate a bit higher than countries we think of as repressive, like Pakistan and Egypt. By contrast, Denmark had no police killings in 2019, and Japan had two in 2018, the most recent years I could find statistics for.

Living with the risk of being killed by the police doesn’t sound like freedom to me. But it’s necessary, police tell us, because every suspect they meet might be armed and ready to shoot them.

and January 6

The next hearing is tomorrow at 1 p.m. It’s supposed to be focused on the role of extremist groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers. Rep. Jamie Raskin said:

One of the things that people are going to learn is the fundamental importance of a meeting that took place in the White House [on Dec. 18, 2020].

That was the meeting when “Team Crazy” — Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Michael Flynn — urged Trump to take radical actions like seizing voting machines. The next day, Trump sent out his tweet inviting his followers to a protest rally in DC on January 6, promising it would “be wild”.

We’re also likely to see video from Pat Cipollone’s testimony Friday. Cipollone was Trump’s White House Counsel and figured in several of the stories told by Cassidy Hutchinson. (She described his attempts to put the brakes on before too many laws got broken.) Rep. Adam Kinzinger has said Cipollone’s testimony didn’t contradict what the committee had previously heard. I assume that means that when they asked him about the actions and statements Cassidy Hutchinson attributed to him, he didn’t say no.

We now know the reason Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony was rushed into an “emergency” session: The Committee was afraid of TrumpWorld’s escalating witness tampering.

This isn’t a January 6 story exactly, but it’s part of the whole abuse-of-power theme. The IRS randomly selects a handful of taxpayers, about 1 in 30,000 for extreme audits. By some bizarre “coincidence”, both Jim Comey and Andy McCabe — FBI directors Trump blamed for the Russia investigation — got “randomly” selected. The Treasury Department inspector general will investigate whether the White House used inappropriate influence.

As so often happens, this Trump scandal appears to be a real version of a fake scandal Republicans tried to pin on Obama.

The Atlantic’s Barton Gellman looks into “What Happened to Michael Flynn?

and Boris Johnson

After a series of scandals (that look fairly tame by Trump standards) caused members of his Conservative Party to quit his government, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his resignation on Thursday.

It’s only sort of a resignation, though, because he will continue as “interim” prime minister until the Party can settle on a new leader, which might not happen for months.

Jonathan Pie is a fictional news commentator created by comedian Tom Walker. His “Bye-bye Boris” rant is epic. From an American point of view, it’s hard not to notice how much of Pie’s characterization of Johnson and the Tories also applies to Donald Trump and the Republicans who still bow down to him.

Lies on top of lies on top of lies. He lies and then gets people to lie on his behalf and then lies about the lying. … who is so blatant about his dishonesty that when accused of lying to Parliament, he simply tries to change the rules to make it OK to lie to Parliament. …

The devastating cries over the last few days from the Tory Party of “Enough is enough” and “one step too far” are coming from the same people who have sat and watched him take a flame-thrower to their party and our constitution for three fucking years. … All of them, talking about trust and integrity. If you cared so much about trust and integrity, then why the fuck did you put Boris Johnson in #10 in the first place?

and responses to Roe

So many red states are restricting or banning abortion that it’s hard to keep up. NBC has a state-by-state rundown as of Friday. CNN covers the legal challenges to those laws. In some states, the state constitution may protect reproductive rights even if the federal constitution no longer does.

The first real test of abortion’s new electoral significance will come in a few weeks in Kansas. On August 2, Kansans will vote on a constitutional amendment that will not outlaw abortion itself, but will give the legislature the power to do so — power it will almost certainly use.

  • YES, which supports amending the Kansas constitution to state, that nothing in the state constitution creates a right to abortion or requires government funding for abortion and that the state legislature has the authority to pass laws regarding abortion, or
  • NO, which opposes amending the Kansas constitution, thereby maintaining the legal precedent established in Hodes & Nauser v. Schmidt, that there is a right to abortions in the Kansas Bill of Rights.

Interestingly, abortion has given blue states a way to appeal to business: Come here and you won’t have trouble recruiting women to work for you.

It’s hard to know what to make of President Biden’s response to the Dobbs decision overturning Roe. He waited three days to comment, but said more-or-less the right thing when he did, denouncing “the outrageous behavior of the Supreme Court” and calling on Congress to put aside the filibuster and protect reproductive rights by statute.

He issued an executive order on Friday, but it doesn’t have a lot of teeth. It’s mostly about instructing HHS and DoJ to identify actions the government can take, rather than telling them to do anything. Maybe those departments will come back in two weeks with a list of meaningful actions. Or maybe not. One way of the other, it raises the question: We all saw this coming after Alito’s draft leaked in May. Why wasn’t there a contingency plan in place?

Now quite possibly Biden has concluded that anything he can do without Congress will be set aside by the Supreme Court anyway, and he may be right. But my personal opinion is that he should force the Court’s theocrat majority to show its hand. Trump understood the importance of putting up a fight, even if you were going to lose; Biden doesn’t seem to.

Any time liberal protesters inconvenience a conservative official, it’s going to get national attention. (Generally, conservative protesters have to shoot somebody to get similar coverage.)

Wednesday night, reproductive-rights protesters learned that Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was eating at Morton’s Steakhouse in downtown DC. They showed up in front of the restaurant and appear not to have assaulted anybody or broken anything. Kavanaugh avoided them by slipping out the back. Sources differ about whether he finished his meal first.

Anyway, this is now an outrage in right-wing media, with Fox News’ Steve Doocy hilariously denouncing the protesters for violating Kavanaugh’s “privacy”. Such moments make me miss Jen Psaki, who I’m sure would have had the perfect response.

Pete Buttigieg, though, did pretty well with the question yesterday on Fox News.

Look, when public officials go into public life, we should expect two things. One, that you should always be free from violence, harassment, and intimidation. And two, you’re never going to be free from criticism or peaceful protest, people exercising their First Amendment rights.

Implicit in that answer is that Supreme Court justices need to develop the same kind of thick skin politicians have, now that they’ve decided to start running the country.

It was going to happen: Chaz Stevens is asking a Florida high school that he attended if he can lead a Satanist prayer at the 50-yard-line at one of its football games. “There’s been no word back from them on that,” Stevens said.

Jonathan Rauch argues for a federal abortion compromise based on the Defense of Marriage Act:

Congress could take important steps to localize the issue. It could make abortion bans unenforceable across state lines, for example, which would please pro-choicers. It could clarify that states have the power to restrict abortion within their boundaries, which would please pro-lifers. Such measures allowing states to go their separate ways would provide time and political space for a durable policy consensus to form.

Rauch anticipates that consensus eventually mirroring Roe, just as the debate that raged during the DOMA years eventually settled on legal same-sex marriage. (According to Wikipedia, Mississippi and Arkansas are the only states where a majority opposes same-sex marriage, and those margins are narrow. Support is over 80% in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Washington.)

Here’s why I don’t buy that comparison: The main thing same-sex marriage had going against it in the 1990s was that most people had never seen one. That made the practice easy to demonize in the most outlandish terms: In 2004, as the first American same-sex marriages were being performed in Massachusetts, religious-Right leader James Dobson claimed they would cause the American family to crumble, “presaging the fall of Western civilization itself”.

Lots of people really believed that kind of nonsense. But those arguments collapsed as soon as same-sex marriages became real events rather than apocalyptic fantasies. It was hard for theocrats to claim that civilization would fall in New York, after it had obviously not fallen in Massachusetts. Once same-sex marriage became that woman at the office, or that gay couple down the street, the panic was hard to sustain.

Legal abortions, on the other hand, have already been happening for 50 years. I fail to see why a DOMA-like era will usher in a new consensus.

and the pandemic

It’s hard to know what to make of the numbers: deaths remain in the 300-350-per-day range they’ve been in for weeks, hospitalizations and positivity rates are rising, and nobody knows what the case numbers mean any more, now that so many people with minor cases never tell the medical system they’ve tested positive at home.

Meanwhile, the BA-5 omicron subvariant has become the dominant strain of Covid in the US. It circumvents immunity produced by both vaccinations and infections by previous strains.

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The June jobs report came out and was surprisingly good.

The unemployment rate held steady at 3.6%, as analysts expected, while the alternative U6 measure of unemployment, which includes discouraged and some part-time workers, fell sharply to 6.7% — an all-time low that suggests the labor market remains exceptionally tight.

That alternate measure is known to economists as U6. The number you usually hear is U3.

More and more Democrats are discussing whether Biden should run for reelection — and mostly saying “no”. Personally, I think Biden has been dealt a difficult hand and does not get nearly enough credit for cleaning up Trump’s mess. But I also think he shouldn’t run. I believe his heart is in the right place, but that he’s not an effective spokesman for Democratic ideals.

I think alternative candidates should start declaring, without waiting for Biden to decide what he’s doing.

The situation reminds me of one early in Lyndon Johnson’s career. The congressman from his district died, and his widow was dithering about whether she would run. If she ran, she would be the obvious favorite.

Some mentor figure, I forget who, told LBJ not to wait for her decision. He should announce his own candidacy, and make it clear that the campaign would be a real battle rather than a coronation. If he did that, the widow probably wouldn’t run. And that’s how it worked out.

Obviously, people inside the administration like Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg can’t do that without appearing disloyal. But there’s no reason why Democrats in Congress or in governorships shouldn’t try it.

The tables have turned: Now Elon Musk wants out of his agreement to buy Twitter, but Twitter’s board is trying to hold him to it.

Musk’s problem is that he overbid, and the market has turned against him. He offered $54.20 per share for the Twitter shares he doesn’t already own, but Friday’s closing price was $36.81. He needs to either sell or borrow against his Tesla stock to finance the purchase, but that share price also has dropped: from $985 per share to $752.

An unsuccessful Republican candidate in Georgia’s recent gubernatorial primary made an issue of the Georgia Guidestone monument, calling it “satanic” and promising to have it torn down. Wednesday it was bombed, reminding me at least of when the Taliban blew up the Bamiyan Buddha statues.

A new Arizona law makes it illegal to film police encounters within eight feet unless you’re the one being questioned.

GOP Senate candidate and ex-football-star Herschell Walker hasn’t just been lying to the public about his three secret children (that we know of). He’s been lying to his campaign staff. Quoting an anonymous source, The Daily Beast reported:

He spouts falsehoods “like he’s breathing,” this adviser said—so much so that his own campaign stopped believing him long ago.

“He’s lied so much that we don’t know what’s true,” the person said, adding that aides have “zero” trust in the candidate. Three people interviewed for this article independently called him a “pathological liar.”

The Walker campaign declined comment. But hours after this story published, [Scott] Paradise—the campaign manager—issued a statement broadly criticizing, but not denying, the story.

A small town in New Hampshire got a lesson in what happens when you don’t show up to vote. Libertarians took over the town meeting and cut the school budget in half.

I know I’ve talked about this before, but librarians are under fire from the Right.

and let’s close with something cultural

An article in Friday’s NYT combines high-tech, cloak-and-dagger tactics, and issues of cultural appropriation: The British Museum displays the Elgin Marbles, statuary that was originally in the Parthenon, but was bought from the Turks by a British ambassador (Thomas Bruce, earl of Elgin) in the early 1800s. Greece holds that the Ottoman Empire was an invading power, and had no right to sell the statues; it wants them back.

Repatriating them would require an act of Parliament, and the British Museum doesn’t want to give them back, for a variety of reasons, which I find unconvincing. For one: The marbles have been in England so long that they have put down cultural roots there as well. Keats wrote a poem about them, and Rodin was inspired by seeing them in the British Museum. But if you make that case, you also have to acknowledge another part of that cultural heritage: Byron’s characterization of Elgin as a “filthy jackal” in “The Curse of Minerva“.

For Elgin’s fame thus grateful Pallas pleads,  
Below, his name—above, behold his deeds!     
Be ever hailed with equal honour here     
The Gothic monarch and the Pictish peer:  
arms gave the first his right, the last had none,  
But basely stole what less barbarians won.     
So when the lion quits his fell repast,     
Next prowls the wolf, the filthy jackal last

Byron envisioned an angry Athena withdrawing wisdom from Britain, resulting in the loss of both its empire and its industry — which has pretty much come to pass.

Enter high tech. Roger Michel, executive director of the Institute of Digital Archaeology, suggests a possible solution: Do detailed 3-D scans, and have his robot sculptors make near-perfect copies. Send the Marbles to the Acropolis Museum in Athens, and let the British Museum display the copies. “When two people both want the same cake, baking a second, identical cake is one obvious solution.”

This scenario opens up philosophical issues about the meaning of “identical”. (What happens to the Louvre if robot reproduction eventually allows anybody to own a brushstroke-by-brushstroke Mona Lisa copy that only a laboratory can distinguish from the original?) And since Michel’s plan involves repatriating the originals, the British Museum isn’t cooperating. That’s where the cloak-and-dagger comes in.

In March, after the museum refused a formal request to scan the pieces, Mr. Michel and Alexy Karenowska, the technical director of the Institute, showed up in the Duveen Gallery of the British Museum as visitors and resorted to guerrilla tactics. While security staff looked on, the two used standard iPhones and iPads, as many of the latest models are equipped with Lidar sensors and photogrammetry software, to create 3-D digital images.

Then the robots got to work. Two samples will be displayed somewhere in London by the end of the month. Next, Michel plans to produce two more duplicates, which will (in some ways) be more authentic than the originals.

Later this summer, Mr. Michel plans to have the robot fabricate two more copies and touch them up to show how the originals would have looked, with any absent pieces restored and damage repaired.

But wait, there are more issues: If the Marbles aren’t Michel’s, and aren’t even the British Museum’s, what right does he have to make these copies?

The Greek government’s apparent reluctance to weigh in troubles Bernard Means, director of the Virtual Creation Lab at Virginia Commonwealth University. Dr. Means said he would only have attempted such a project with the consultation and full support of Greece. “Otherwise,” he said, “the effort is suggestive of that colonial mind-set, where those who appropriated objects without the informed consent of the colonizers feel they have the right to do with the objects as they please — often in the guise of science, and even if well-intentioned.”


Some years ago, I remarked that “[w]e’re all textualists now.” It seems I was wrong. The current Court is textualist only when being so suits it. When that method would frustrate broader goals, special canons like the “major questions doctrine” magically appear as get-out-of-text-free cards.

– Justice Elena Kagan
dissenting opinion in West Virginia v EPA

This week’s featured post was “Inside the White House on 1-6“.

It’s traditional on the 4th of July to say something patriotic and upbeat about America. But I don’t have it in me this year. As historian Michael Beschloss put it on MSNBC this week:

We’re living through a time where I can’t predict to you whether we’ll be living in a democracy five years from now or not. I hope we are.

This week everybody was talking about Cassidy Hutchinson

I discuss her testimony to the 1-6 Committee in the featured post. But here I’ll mention a couple of other things about Tuesday’s hearing.

One of the more amazing moments was video of Michael Flynn repeatedly invoking the Fifth Amendment (against self-incrimination) to avoid answering what ought to be softball questions, like “Do you believe in the peaceful transition of power in the United States of America?” WTF, General Flynn?

The closed captioning on at least one stream of the hearing provided a little comic relief: Somebody forgot to tell the automated speech-to-text app about White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, so it struggled whenever anyone said his name. My favorite of its many attempts was “passive bologna”. I think Pat has a new nickname.

and new Supreme Court decisions

Last week I focused on three major decisions: overturning Roe, telling Maine it had to support religious schools (in certain circumstances), and tossing out New York’s gun law. Two more important decisions have happened since then: supporting a public-school football coach’s right to lead public prayers on the 50-yard line, and blocking the EPA from pushing utilities to shift away from coal-fired power plants.

Both rulings were typical of this term: their direct effects were less significant than the principles they laid down, and how those principles might be used in future decisions. (Even the Roe reversal, significant as that is on its own, presages a still broader rollback of rights.)

Next term could be even worse: The Court has accepted a case that tests the right of state legislatures to handle federal elections however they want, independent of any previous laws or the state constitution that brought the legislature into existence. Some legislatures in swing states (Wisconsin, for example) are so gerrymandered that the voters have no real say any more. If this case goes wrong, those legislatures could deliver their states’ electoral votes as well, disenfranchising voters in presidential elections.

It’s hard to know what to make of the praying-coach decision, Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, because Neil Gorsuch’s majority opinion so badly misstates the facts of the case. Gorsuch says Coach Kennedy “offered his prayers quietly while his students were otherwise occupied.” If that were true, Kennedy would never have lost his job and there would be no case to decide. But in reality, the coach’s “quiet, personal prayer” looked like this:

Bremerton, Washington is not far from Seattle, and a Seattle Times columnist tells the real story, going back to a 2015 Times article.

It was an account of a news conference Kennedy gave before the team’s big homecoming game against Centralia. “Football coach vows to pray” was the print headline.

It describes — in Kennedy’s own words — how he was inspired to start holding midfield prayers with students after he saw an evangelical Christian movie called “Facing the Giants,” in which a losing team finds God and goes on to win the state championship.

Kennedy “has held his postgame ritual at midfield after each game for a motivational talk and prayer ever since,” the story recounted. By doing so, Kennedy said he is “helping these kids be better people.”

So, the coach’s intention was never the personal “free exercise” of religion the First Amendment protects. He was abusing his publicly-financed position in order to influence his students to participate in a religious ritual, precisely the “establishment of religion” the First Amendment bans. This was not an obscure point that the lawyers overlooked — it was why the appeals court ruled against Kennedy.

Since the decision, I’ve seen lots of people on social media say that Muslims, Pagans, and Satanists should start leading students in prayer, now that the Court has said it’s OK. But that’s not going to work, because Muslims, Pagans, and Satanists won’t be able to find a Supreme Court justice willing to lie for them the way Gorsuch lied for Kennedy.

Dating myself a little, I’m recalling the cereal commercials that always ended “Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids.” Similarly, “religious liberty” is for Christians, as Muslims, Pagans, and Satanists will discover if they try to imitate Coach Kennedy.

The decision in West Virginia v EPA has no immediate consequence: In 2015, Obama’s EPA put forward a plan that would force utilities to lower carbon emissions by shifting from high-carbon generation (like coal-fired plants) to low-carbon generation (like renewables, nuclear, or from coal to natural gas). Red states sued to block the plan, the Supreme Court put a temporary stay on it, and then the Trump administration reversed it. In the meantime, the market forced the same shift the Obama administration had wanted to mandate.

So why is this a case? Well, the Biden White House is considering an updated version of the plan, which the Court is trying to scuttle preemptively.

More importantly, though, Chief Justice Roberts used this occasion to announce a newly invented legal principle: the major questions doctrine:

In certain extraordinary cases … [a regulating] agency must point to “clear congressional authorization” for the power it claims.

This is a relative of the “nondelegation doctrine” of the infamous Lochner Court, which Neil Gorsuch has been trying to revive since he came to the Supreme Court. (Gorsuch’s concurrence makes the connection more explicit.)

Justice Kagan’s dissent describes the situation in more detail: In the Clean Air Act, Congress understood that new environmental dangers would appear, and new regulatory tactics would become necessary. So it wrote a special section into the law, section 111, to give the EPA authority to handle such situations. This is the authority the EPA was using when it issued the Clean Power Plan.

The major questions doctrine says that authorization is not clear enough. Kagan writes:

The majority’s decision rests on one claim alone: that generation shifting is just too new and too big a deal for Congress to have authorized it in Section 111’s general terms. But that is wrong. A key reason Congress makes broad delegations like Section 111 is so an agency can respond, appropriately and commensurately, to new and big problems. Congress knows what it doesn’t and can’t know when it drafts a statute; and Congress therefore gives an expert agency the power to address issues—even significant ones—as and when they arise. That is what Congress did in enacting Section 111. The majority today overrides that legislative choice. In so doing, it deprives EPA of the power needed—and the power granted—to curb the emission of greenhouse gases.

Where in the Constitution does either “major questions” or “non-delegation” reside? Well, nowhere exactly. It’s supposedly implicit in the separation of powers. Why either doctrine is more obvious than the right to privacy is lost on me.

What these doctrines are is a major power grab by the conservative court. No criteria defines what makes a law’s delegation of power too “unclear” or an agency’s regulation too “major” to be invalid under these doctrines. So basically it’s open season on regulations, and the Court can invalidate whichever ones it doesn’t like.

One observation about the EPA ruling: If Congress is supposed to authorize policy changes at a level that previously has been left to administrative agencies, then the Senate filibuster has to go. A filibuster-gridlocked Senate is not nimble enough to address the regulatory challenges of fast-changing fields like climate change or technology.

To me, that statement is independent of partisanship. If the Supreme Court is going to force Congress to take a more hands-on approach to governance, then Congress has to be able to pass legislation. If Republicans get control of Congress again, they will probably pass laws that I consider bad. But even that would be action that the public could see and respond to, maybe by electing better people to Congress. I have more faith in such a back-and-forth process than in the current nothing-can-be-done logjam, which is more likely to cause voters to give up in despair.

Ezra Klein raised a good point on his July 1 podcast (where he interviewed Kate Shaw, who is a law professor and has her own podcast “Strict Scrutiny”): If the conservative majority is serious about this new focus on history as the determining factor in its decisions, then the Court needs to have world-class historians on its staff, rather than just law clerks.

After all, the justices were not chosen for their historical expertise, and their clerks are recent law-school graduates who have probably never studied American history to any depth. That’s why the historical debates between the conservative rulings and the liberal dissents sound so amateurish on both sides. (Robert Spitzer disparaged Justice Scalia’s Heller decision — the granddaddy of originalist opinions and the model for Thomas’ majority opinion in Bruen — as “law office history“.)

When the current court does history, it’s as if the bankers at the Federal Reserve decided not to bother consulting economists, or using IT people to keep their computer models running. (“I’ve calculated on this napkin that we need to raise interest rates another half percent.”)

Of course, maybe that’s the point. Maybe the history lessons in the recent decisions aren’t intended to be accurate. Maybe they’re just stories that allow the conservative majority to justify whatever it wants to do.

and reaction to Roe’s reversal

Polls show abortion is rising as an election issue. A lot of pundits are calling on Democrats to make a clear commitment on the issue, more or less along the lines of the Republicans’ “Contract with America” in 1994. Being vaguely pro-choice and encouraging people to vote isn’t enough.

Josh Marshall (hardly a radical progressive) suggests this phrasing:

If the Democrats hold the House and add two Senators in November I will vote to pass a law making Roe’s protections the law nationwide and change the filibuster rules to guarantee that bill gets an up or down vote. And I will do that in January 2023.

As I mentioned in the Supreme Court note above, an ambitious and extremist Supreme Court means that the other branches of government have to step up and compete for power. If any vagueness in the laws is going to give this Court an opening it is eager to fill, then Congress has to be able to pass new laws as developments warrant. The filibuster absolutely has to go.

The Indianapolis Star reports that a 10-year-old girl who was six weeks and three days pregnant traveled to Indiana in order to get around Ohio’s six-week abortion ban. The girl was referred by a child-abuse doctor in Ohio.

Sunday, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem was questioned about her state’s abortion ban, which criminalizes any abortion not necessary to save a woman’s (or girl’s) life. Asked how that 10-year-old would fare in South Dakota, Noem dodged the question.

But the messiness of real life is why this issue isn’t going to go away by November. (Ten-year-olds do get pregnant. Some fetuses can’t be saved, and endanger their mothers without any upside. Some men will kill their girlfriends rather than take responsibility for a child.) There’s going to be a steady stream of cases where radical anti-abortion laws lead to results that the public isn’t going to like. It’s not going to be as simple as “save the babies”.

The satire site McSweeney’s takes on the we-will-adopt-your-baby offers from anti-abortion couples, by describing all the things the couples won’t adopt.

We want that baby when it’s nice and cute and fully formed, but we aren’t planning on adopting anything else. Obviously, we can’t adopt your morning sickness, so when you wake up at 5 a.m. to puke your guts out before work, and when you also puke your guts out at work in the employee bathroom, we won’t adopt that.

… Oh, and if you have a miscarriage and nearly bleed out in your bathroom before the paramedics can get to you? That part is not a tiny little chubby baby, so we won’t be adopting it.

One particularly annoying anti-abortion argument keeps popping up: What about the lost potential of the aborted fetus? The memes are like “What if that baby would have grown up to cure cancer?” or “What if they had aborted Jesus?”

I’ve begun responding to these by pointing to the lost potential of women who are thrown off their life path by an unplanned pregnancy. “It’s more likely that cancer would have been cured by a woman who had to leave medical school to raise an unwanted child.” Or “Maybe Mary could have saved the world herself if God hadn’t forced motherhood on her.”

and the pandemic

Numbers continue to be flat-ish, but to me they look ready for a jump upward after the holiday weekend. Cases are up 13% in the last two weeks, and deaths up 24%. More and more people I know are getting sick, and I wonder how many of their cases show up in the official statistics. I believe a lot of people with minor symptoms test positive at home and never enter the medical system.

and primaries

Tuesday’s primary elections brought mostly good news for democracy.

In Colorado, Republicans rejected candidates for governor and senator who claim Trump won the 2020 elections. The GOP Senate nominee largely supports reproductive rights, and defeated a candidate who wants to ban abortion nationally (and who was at the 1-6 rally). Republicans rejected a secretary of state candidate who is under indictment for tampering with voting machines in an attempt to prove one of Trump’s election-fraud theories.

Mississippi Republican Michael Guest was renominated for his House seat, in spite of his minor rebellion against Trump: He voted to establish a bipartisan commission to investigate 1-6, a measure that MAGA Republicans are probably sorry they torpedoed.

The more moderate candidate won the Republican nomination for governor in Illinois, though Rep. Mary Miller, the woman who last week declared the Dobbs decision “a victory for white life”, defeated a less Trumpy congressman in a newly formed district that forced two sitting representatives to face off. (The district includes my hometown.) Progressive candidates won Democratic nominations for Congress in two districts in the Chicago area.

Illinois was one state where Democrats tried to game the system by helping the more radical Republican in the gubernatorial primary, in the belief that such a candidate would be easier to beat. This is a dangerous practice, and I’m happy that it failed.

and Ukraine

Russia has captured Lysychansk, the last major city in Luhansk province.

With Luhansk Province now in hand, Russian forces can aim squarely southwest at the remaining Ukrainian-held parts of the neighboring province of Donetsk, the other territory that makes up the Donbas.

The Economist predicts Putin’s strategy:

You can see where Mr Putin is heading. He will take as much of Ukraine as he can, declare victory and then call on Western nations to impose his terms on Ukraine. In exchange, he will spare the rest of the world from ruin, hunger, cold and the threat of nuclear Armageddon.

and you also might be interested in …

The Brownshirts are out.

Dozens of white supremacists marched through Boston on Saturday. The group wore white masks and were seen boarding Orange Line trains at Haymarket Station. Some carried police shields and flags. They are members of a group called Patriot Front.

Gallup reports that only 81% of Americans say they believe in God, down from 87% in 2017, and the lowest number since Gallup started asking the question in 1944. That number looks likely to fall further, because the people least like to believe are the young: only 68% of adults ages 18-29.

In Florida, the other shoe is dropping. After raising public anger about largely imaginary liberal indoctrination through “critical race theory” or “grooming”, the DeSantis administration is instituting indoctrination of its own.

New civics training for Florida public school teachers comes with a dose of Christian dogma, some teachers say, and they worry that it also sanitizes history and promotes inaccuracies.

The Miami Herald:

Teachers who spoke to the Herald/Times said they don’t object to the state’s new standards for civics, but they do take issue with how the state wants them to be taught. “It was very skewed,” said Barbara Segal, a 12th-grade government teacher at Fort Lauderdale High School. “There was a very strong Christian fundamentalist way toward analyzing different quotes and different documents. That was concerning.”

Meanwhile, the Texas Education Agency is taking flak for considering changing the word “slavery” to “involuntary relocation” in the second-grade curriculum standards.

In Wisconsin, a novel about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II has been kicked out of the curriculum because it’s “unbalanced” and presents only one side of the issue. A parent in the district commented: “The other side is racism.”

and let’s close with something too small to work

In this age of miniaturization, smaller is often better. But once in a while the shrinking process goes too far. Well, it’s good to know that Nature also makes this mistake occasionally: Witness the pumpkin toadlet, a frog about the size of Skittle. It looks very froggish, but it doesn’t have that whole jumping thing down yet. I can’t explain why it’s so much fun to watch them try, but it just is.

Rule by Judges

The majority has overruled Roe and Casey for one and only one reason: because it has always despised them, and now it has the votes to discard them. The majority thereby substitutes a rule by judges for the rule of law.

– Justices Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor
dissent in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health

This week’s featured posts are “Three Supreme Court decisions with long-term consequences” and “The January 6 hearings are accomplishing more than you think.

This week everybody was talking about the Supreme Court

Friday’s announcement that the reversal-of-Roe that leaked in May is indeed the decision overshadowed all other developments. But it was not the only radical and consequential thing the Court did this week: It blew a hole in the wall between church and state in Carson v Makin, and it further restricted states’ power to control guns in NY State Rifle & Piston v Bruen.

I discuss the opinions themselves in the first featured post. Here I want to consider consequences. All three of these decisions look like the first of many: As sweeping as the Dobbs decision is, it sets up a reconsideration of all rights based on a legal doctrine known as substantive due process (which I explained in March): the right to access contraceptives, to marry a person of the same sex or a different race, and for consenting adults to choose their own sexual practices. Carson will make it difficult to deny government funding to religious organizations in a wide variety of settings. Bruen calls a long list of gun regulations into question.

Planned Parenthood provides an interactive map that allows you to see the current abortion restrictions in any state. Abortion is already illegal in the black states, and severely restricted in the dark red states (many of which will probably ban it entirely before long).

Exactly what illegality means is still being worked out in many states. Mother Jones raises a good question: “If Abortion is Illegal, Will Every Miscarriage Be a Potential Crime?” If it is, who is the criminal — the woman, or just the doctor? What if the abortion takes place in a different state, where it is legal? My social media is full of people in blue states offering to help women come to their state for abortions. Will they be accessories, who dare not show their faces in Texas or Mississippi for fear of arrest?

What if a miscarriage (or a birth defect) results from negligence rather than intent? Is that manslaughter? As Dana Sussman of National Advocates for Pregnant Women puts it: “You can’t add fetuses to the community of individuals who are entitled to constitutional rights without diminishing the rights of the person carrying that fetus.”

The impact this decision will have on the midterm elections, or on all future elections, is hard to gauge. In particular, what happens to educated suburban women, the “soccer moms” who supported Bush and Romney but had trouble stomaching Trump? Will they turn out in force and vote Democratic, or will their generally conservative leanings on economic issues keep them voting Republican?

A brief message to pro-choice women: Make sure the men in your life know how seriously you take the Court’s decision, and the new laws that it will inspire.

I say this because my 65 years of male experience have taught me something about how men think. A man, even one who ought to know you better than this, is likely to imagine that losing reproductive rights isn’t that big a deal to you because (1) you want to have a child anyway; or (2) you’re unlikely to get pregnant; or (3) you’re past childbearing age. He may not grasp that you take this assault on your rights personally, or be able to imagine why. But he may listen if you tell him. (If he won’t listen, you might want to reconsider his role in your life.)

Susan Collins now feels she was “misled” by Brett Kavanaugh and possibly other justices during their confirmation hearings. Of course, everyone in the world was telling her at the time that she was being a gullible fool, but she still doesn’t own up to that. I am reminded of her vote for the Trump tax cut, which Mitch McConnell got in exchange for promises that turned out to be worthless. But Collins dismissed criticism of her gullibility as sexist.

I didn’t cover this in the featured post, but a fourth important decision limited the consequences police will face if they don’t give suspects a Miranda warning before questioning them.

And just this morning, the Court launched another attack on the separation of church and state by siding with a high school football coach who led prayers at the 50-yard-line after games. The coach is, of course, Christian. No one from any other religion would imagine that he had such a right.

and the continuing revelations of the 1-6 hearings

This week the 1-6 Committee held its fourth [video transcript] and fifth [video transcript] public hearings.

Both were gripping hearings. The fourth hearing centered on Trump’s pressure on state and local officials to change the election results. As always, most of the witnesses were Republicans who wanted Trump to win, but wouldn’t cheat for him.

Rusty Bowers is the Speaker of the House in Arizona. He testified about how Trump and Rudy Giuliani pressured him to call a special session of the legislature, so that Arizona could decertify its Biden electors. They promised him evidence of massive voter fraud, but never delivered any. Bowers gave an emotional statement about how his Mormon faith teaches that the Constitution is divinely inspired, and that he would never go against the Constitution just “because somebody asked me”.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger told the story of the famous phone call where Trump refused to listen to his refutation of Trump’s election-fraud claims, and urged him to “find” enough votes for Trump to win the state. His subordinate Gabriel Sterling explained why he publicly warned Trump that “somebody’s going to get killed” if he kept pushing his election-fraud deceptions.

But the heart-wrenching moment of the fourth hearing was the testimony of Shaye Moss (supplemented by the taped testimony of her mother), who was a Georgia election worker that Trump targeted falsely as a perpetrator of the “election fraud” that kept him from winning Georgia. Trump had to know, if he bothered to think about it at all, what his followers would do.

Moss testified about the impact Trump’s lies had on her life, including telling about a panicked phone call she got from her grandmother:

I received a call from my grandmother. This woman is my everything. I’ve never even heard her or seen her cry ever in my life. And she called me screaming at the top of her lungs, like, “Shaye, Shaye, oh my gosh, Shaye.” Just freaking me out saying that there are people at her home and they, you know, they knocked on the door and of course she opened it seeing who was there, who it was.

And they just started pushing their way through, claiming that they were coming in to make a citizen’s arrest. They needed to find me and my mom. They knew we were there. And she was just, like,screaming and didn’t know what to do. And I wasn’t there. So, you know, I just felt so helpless and so horrible for her.

Both Shaye and her mother (who also was an election worker and also was targeted by Trump) said that they were still afraid to go out in public, and afraid to let anyone know who they are. It was easy to see the signs of depression in her testimony.

I felt horrible. I felt like it was all my fault, like if I would have never decided to be an elections worker, like, I could have — like, anything else, but that’s what I decided to do. And now people are lying and spreading rumors and lies and attacking my mom, I’m her only child, going to my grandmother’s house.

I’m her only grandchild. And — and my kid is just — I felt so bad. I — I just felt bad for my mom, and I felt horrible for picking this job and being the one that always wants to help and always there, never missing not one election. I just felt like it was — it was my fault for putting my family in this situation.

The President of the United States did this. We’ve gotten used to Trump falsely and baselessly attacking political rivals or well-known journalists or even non-political celebrities like LeBron James. But this was him picking out an ordinary American who did nothing wrong, and just ruining her life.

The fifth hearing centered on the Justice Department, and Trump’s effort to get DoJ officials to back up election-fraud claims that they had investigated and knew were lies. This effort culminated in a January 3 meeting at the White House, in which Trump proposed replacing Acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen, who wouldn’t make false claims on his behalf, with Jeff Clark, who would.

Ultimately it fell apart not because anyone convinced him the scheme was wrong, but because it wouldn’t work. The entire DoJ leadership would resign, including Office of Legal Counsel head Steven Engel. Engel warned Trump:

look, all anyone is going to sort of think about when they see this — no one is going to read this letter [that Clark wanted to send to leaders of the Georgia legislature, falsely claiming that the DoJ had found evidence of fraud]

All anyone is going to think is that you went through two attorneys general in two weeks until you found the environmental guy to sign this thing. And so, the story is not going to be that the Department of Justice has found massive corruption that would have changed the result of the election. It’s going to be the disaster of Jeff Clark.

Video was shown of the committee asking Clark about these events: He repeatedly pleaded the Fifth and executive privilege (which are contradictory claims; if no crime is involved, the Fifth doesn’t apply; if a crime is involved, there’s no executive privilege).

And the grand finale of Thursday’s session was the list of GOP congresspeople who sought pardons from Trump: Mo Brooks, Matt Gaetz, Andy Biggs, Louie Gohmert, Scott Perry, and Marjorie Taylor Green.

What did they think they had done, that they would need a pardon for?

and whether the hearings are changing anything

They’re accomplishing more than you think. That’s the topic of the second featured post.

and gun legislation

Any other week, this would be a big story. Today, it’s hard to find space for it.

Two weeks ago a bipartisan group of senators announced that it had settled on a framework for legislation to do at least something in response to the Uvalde school shooting and the surge of other mass shootings. Last week it looked like the agreement might blow up as they tried to write a bill based on that framework. This week it passed both houses of Congress and is awaiting President Biden’s signature.

The bill is simultaneously an accomplishment and a disappointment. Here’s what the bill does:

  • requires enhanced background checks for young adults 18-21 to buy a gun, and gives authorities ten days (up from three) to perform the checks;
  • gives states $750 million in incentives to implement red-flag laws, which temporarily take guns away from people a judge deems dangerous;
  • appropriates money for mental health and school safety;
  • extends federal law that stops domestic abusers from buying guns, so that it now covers dating partners as well as spouses, live-in partners, and co-parents;
  • makes certain kinds of interstate gun trafficking a federal crime.

What it doesn’t do is ban assault weapons or high-capacity magazines, establish universal background checks on gun purchases, prevent assault-weapon purchases by young adults 18-21, or enact a federal red-flag law.

As small as these steps are, the bill is the first tightening of gun laws since the Clinton administration. The fact that 15 Republican senators and 14 Republican representatives were willing to vote for it — in spite of heated opposition from the NRA and some wild attacks from Fox News — is significant. The next few elections will be tests of the gun lobby’s power: If these senators are ousted in Republican primaries by pro-gun challengers, this might be the last federal gun-control legislation for another few decades. If they aren’t, the NRA’s stranglehold on the GOP might be broken.

and you also might be interested in …

The pandemic keeps chugging along at the level of about 100K new cases per day. Deaths are increasing slightly, running around 350 per day.

The European Union has formally accepted Ukraine as a candidate to join the Union.

Herschel Walker stories just get weirder and weirder. Somebody found a tape of him claiming his mulitiple personality disorder isn’t a mental illness. He offers this interesting theological notion:

Do our Lord Jesus Christ have a mental illness because he said he’s the father, the son and the Holy Spirit? To me, those are 3 different personalities.

I thought I had heard every possible explanation of the Trinity, but that one is new to me. Georgia Republicans must be so proud, particularly the Christian ones.

I don’t like to read too much into what are obviously slips of the tongue, because we all have them, and a harsh standard of judgment would hurt everybody. But this is hard to ignore: Appearing with President Trump Saturday in Mendon, Illinois — not far from where I grew up; the rally was at the county fairgrounds, where I remember seeing a talent show and a tractor pull and eating cotton candy — Rep. Mary Miller said:

I want to thank you for the historic victory for white life in the Supreme Court yesterday.

Apparently she meant to say “right to life”, not “white life”. But according to NBC, the crowd — which had no way of knowing that something different was in her script — cheered. “Victory for white life” sounded good to them.

Q appears to be back.

and let’s close with something musical

Here’s proof that anything is musical if you have an ear for it. The Floppotron 3.0 orchestra uses 512 floppy disk drives, 16 hard drives, and four flatbed scanners to play the Imperial March from Star Wars. Somebody had to hear all those noises and imagine what could be done with them.

Never Leave

Prior to these hearings, Republicans tried to claim that tonight was going to be a nothingburger. They were wrong. … It was such a juicy burger that Fox News knew that even their viewers would be tempted to take a bite. Which is why — and this is true — for the first hour of his show opposite the hearings, Tucker Carlson took no commercial breaks. [Neither did Sean Hannity.] Do you understand what that means? Fox News is willing to lose money to keep their viewers from flipping over and accidentally learning information. … But I’m not surprised. That’s the first rule of any cult: Never leave the compound.

Stephen Colbert

This week’s featured post is “The 1-6 hearings begin.

This week everybody was talking about the 1-6 hearing

If you only get one thing out of these hearings, it should be a response you can give to anybody on social media who thinks Trump really won the 2020 election: “Not even Ivanka believes that.”

I cover the first hearing in the featured post. The second hearing is going on as I write this, but I’m writing rather than watching, so I’ll have to cover it next week.

In the featured post I mentioned the WSJ’s opinion that Trump is morally but not criminally responsible for the 1-6 insurrection. Arkansas’ Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson is taking that line as well.

and Ukraine

Russian forces continue to advance slowly into eastern Ukraine, with high casualties on both sides. From the outside, it’s hard to tell who can keep this up longer.

and the pandemic

Two trends are fighting each other, so national case numbers are more-or-less flat, as a continuing decline in the Northeast is canceled out by increases in other regions. Hospitalizations are bending upwards, and deaths have been bouncing around in a 250-400 daily range for nearly two months.

and Senate compromises

Bipartisan committees of senators have reached compromises in two areas: mass shootings and revising the Electoral Count Act that Trump tried to abuse on 1-6.

The mass-shooting compromise gives credibility (probably more than they deserve) to Republican talking points about mental health and school vulnerability as causes. Vox summarizes:

The framework itself is heavy on mental health interventions, like setting aside funding for in-school mental health and support services, as well as telehealth services for individuals and families in mental health crisis. It also calls for a national expansion of community mental health services for children and families. … [A]lthough the framework is thin on details, it suggests investing in “programs to help institute safety measures in and around primary and secondary schools, support school violence prevention efforts and provide training to school personnel and students.”

But there is some gun control included as well. One carefully worded part of the framework:

Provides resources to states and tribes to create and administer laws that help ensure deadly weapons are kept out of the hands of individuals whom a court has determined to be a significant danger to themselves or others, consistent with state and federal due process and constitutional protections.

It also may close the “boyfriend loophole” in an existing law that prevents gun ownership by people under restraining orders for domestic violence, and also enhance background checks for gun purchasers under 21 years old.

Everything depends on the final wording, which remains to be worked out. Any of the ten Republicans involved in the negotiations could torpedo a bill, since all ten would be needed to break a filibuster.

According to Susan Collins, the group negotiating to revise the Electoral Count Act

has already drafted language that would make clear that the vice president’s role is ministerial in the process of counting Electoral College votes. The new language also raises the threshold for triggering a challenge to a state’s slate from one member in each chamber to 20% of the members in each body. There would be a majority vote for sustaining an objection.

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The May consumer price index came in higher than expected: Inflation is running at 8.6%. Many economists had been theorizing that the peak inflation rate had been reached in March. But apparently not.

Obviously, this is an issue that drives down Biden’s approval numbers, but it’s not clear what he can do, what he should have done in the past, or what Republicans would do differently. Inflation would probably be lower if the American Rescue Plan hadn’t passed, but unemployment would be considerably higher. I doubt that would be a win for the country.

Inflation is happening around the world, and is worse in many other countries than it is here.

Some Republicans want to blame Build Back Better or even the Green New Deal for inflation, but it’s hard to see how that’s possible, since neither of them passed Congress.

In view of the attempted right-wing coup being exposed by the 1-6 Committee hearings, the ongoing rash of mass shootings caused by our insane gun culture, and the pandemic that has already killed a million Americans, it makes perfect sense that Republicans would want to focus on … kids going to drag shows.

Yep, that’s this week’s outrage, and public officials like Ron DeSantis are talking about siccing child protective services on parents who allow such a thing.

Because apparently seeing men dress like women will do some kind of permanent damage to a minor. I can’t quite imagine what, but probably my imagination has been stunted by my childhood trauma of seeing Flip Wilson’s Geraldine character, Corporal Klinger in MASH, and various Monty Python men-dressed-as-women skits. An earlier generation of American youth had to recover from seeing Milton Berle in a dress, as well as Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot.

It’s a miracle the Republic has survived.

A related outrage I forgot to mention last week: Right-thinking folks are boycotting Pizza Hut because the Hut’s Book-It program (to encourage children to read more) endorsed the book Big Wig, about a boy who creates a drag character. I personally favor local pizza places, so I’ve been unofficially boycotting the national chains for many years. But if you find yourself ready to flip a coin between chain pizzerias, you might want to give the Hut an edge.

A question to meditate on: Unless they go bare-chested at the beach, women dressing like men is hardly ever a big moral issue, and a kids’ book about a girl creating a hyper-masculine fantasy character wouldn’t be worth national attention. Why is that? Extra credit if your answer also accounts for the Hebrew Bible (a.k.a. Old Testament), which denounces gay men but doesn’t mention lesbians.

A guy was arrested Wednesday for plotting to assassinate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. It’s kind of a bizarre story: He called 911 on himself, and gave the police his description. He was arrested with multiple weapons. As motive, he cited both the Court’s pending decision to reverse Roe v Wade and the possibility that Kavanaugh might vote to loosen gun laws.

My IRL friend Abby Hafer has published an article fleshing out one of the strongest arguments for abortion rights: The law should not be able to commandeer parts of one person’s body, even to save the life of another person. In “Do pregnant women have fewer rights than the dead?” she points out that not even a corpse can be forced to donate a kidney or liver unless permission was granted before death.

Yet the anti-abortion lobby feels that [a pregnant woman] must donate her entire body, and not for her own good. She is being required to make this sacrifice of her own organs and tissues without her consent, in order to help someone else, even though our society does not require this at any other time, from any other kind of person.

Poland is an example of what can happen when anti-abortion radicals get their way. The NYT tells the story of Izabela Sajbor, who died of sepsis after her water broke prematurely, and doctors refused to intervene for fear of killing her fetus. Shortly before dying, Sajbor wrote something that echoes Abby’s point:

They cannot help as long as the fetus is alive thanks to the anti-abortion law. A woman is like an incubator.

and let’s close with something to make us all feel smarter by comparison

People under pressure tend to say stupid things — like when they’re on TV, a clock is running, and a game show host is looking at them expectantly.


You don’t have to be that gung-ho on trans rights to realize that a world where girls’ genitals need to be inspected before they can play any sport is worse for girls than a world where once in a while there’s a trans girl on a girls’ team.

Evan Urquhart

This week’s featured post is “America’s guns have changed in my lifetime.

This week everybody was talking still talking about guns

Because the mass shootings won’t stop. A gunman killed four at a hospital in Tulsa on Wednesday. Three died and 11 were wounded in a multi-party shoot-out in Philadelphia Saturday. Three died Sunday morning in a shooting in Saginaw. Also on Sunday, three died and 17 were injured in a shooting near a bar in Chattanooga.

The Senate is under pressure to “do something”, but if anything gets done, it will be small. Perhaps there will be some expansion of red-flag laws that prevent some criminals and mentally ill people from buying guns, perhaps an expansion of federal background checks that would still leave loopholes. But no universal background checks, no assault weapon ban, nothing remotely on the scale of the problem.

This week’s featured post examines my own history with guns, and concludes that the apparently stable level of gun-ownership in America over the decades has masked a huge increase in the destructive potential of our civilian arsenal.

Yes, I grew up in a gun-owning household. But no, the guns (and the gun culture) of America in the 1960s and 70s bears no resemblance to what we see today.

In discussions of the Second Amendment, gun advocates often ignore the phrase “well regulated Militia”, and gun-control advocates correspondingly call attention to it. But both sides usually forget that the Constitution uses the word “Militia” elsewhere, so the word is not an impenetrable mystery to be interpreted however we see fit. The constitutional context paints a pretty clear idea what the Founders meant a militia to be.

Article I, section 8 gives Congress the power “To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions; To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States”

Article II, section 2 says that the President “shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States”.

So it’s clear that self-appointed groups of guys playing war games in the woods are NOT militias in the constitutional sense. They are not organized, armed, and disciplined by Congress, and they picture themselves BEING the insurrection, not responding to a call from Congress to submit to the command of the President and put down an insurrection.

The only organizations today that fit the constitutional uses of “Militia” are National Guard units.

Michael Fanone, a 20-year DC policeman who testified about the 1-6 riot and now works for CNN, explains why the AR-15 should be banned.

If banning them outright seems like too extreme a solution to be politically palatable, here’s another option: Reclassify semi-automatic rifles as Class 3 firearms.

That would mean that someone wanting to purchase an AR-15 would have to go through a background check, fingerprinting and review by an official from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — a process that takes anywhere from 12 to 16 months. And since Class 3 weapons can’t be purchased by anyone younger than 21, it would solve the issue of emotionally unstable 18-year-olds buying them.

A Class 3 firearm reclassification would also make those who are approved to purchase these weapons subject to an annual check that they are complying with federal regulations regarding secure storage of the firearm, and to confirm their licensing and other paperwork is up to date. All of these hoops and hurdles are sure to reduce the civilian demand for these weapons.

in his Substack blog, Michael Sifry discusses the role of money in making the gun-control movement “a monoculture” that employs only the most vanilla tactics.

Faced with the same confluence of events that we had in 2018, even worse since now we’re reeling from the racist massacre in Buffalo along with the insanity in Texas, all the wings of today’s “stay on message” gun violence prevention lobby, from the youngest to the oldest, are not just singing from the same songbook, they’re following the same theory of change: trying to convert momentary public attention into successful lobbying of legislators, plus calling occasional big marches and walkouts aimed at converting attention into the successful lobbying of legislators. To be followed by the inevitable electioneering for candidates who are almost all Democrats. When media attention fades, as it will, this lobby has no plans to create attention on its own beyond “vote harder.” …

It’s as if we’re living in the 1950s and the only groups leading the charge for civil rights are the NAACP and the Urban League, and the only strategy they’re willing to try is polite protest and lobbying.

A Florida school-shooting survivor asked Marco Rubio if he would reject NRA contributions. The question got a standing ovation. Rubio could not say yes. “That is the wrong way to look,” he explained.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

but we need to shift the focus to January 6

The House committee’s televised hearings start Thursday evening. I’m getting disturbed that I’m not hearing more buzz about that. We’re going to see in detail the story of how an American president almost overthrew democracy so that he could stay in power. It’s a big deal.

Fox News still hasn’t committed to covering Thursday night’s hearing.

I can already predict the Republican response: It’s all just a rehash of the second impeachment hearings. But it’s not. Those hearings happened mere weeks after the insurrection, and spent most of their time recounting what happened at the Capitol on 1-6 itself.

The Committee now knows a great deal more about Trump’s conspiracy to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election. They have sources inside the Trump White House, and can trace the plot through the fake electors and the attempt to induce Vice President Pence to break his oath of office. We’ll hear just how many people told Trump explicitly that his stolen-election narrative was bullshit, and that his scheme to disrupt counting the electoral votes was illegal. I expect the hearings to reveal connections between the White House and the right-wing paramilitary groups that planned the Capitol assault. We’ll find out if Republican congressmen were involved. We’ll hear from executive-branch officials who Trump tried to pressure to go along with the plot, and get testimony about how Trump responded as events unfolded on January 6.

One indication that the Committee has the goods on Trump is just how hard his people have tried to obstruct its investigation.

Friday, Trump economic advisor (and proponent of the election-nullifying plot he called “the Green Bay sweep“) Peter Navarro was arrested for contempt of Congress. He’s pretty obviously guilty: He was subpoenaed by the 1-6 committee and just blew them off. He has tried to claim that executive privilege prevents him from testifying. However, it didn’t prevent him from writing about the same topics in his book or discussing them on television. It isn’t the world that’s not supposed to know, just Congress.

“In any event, you must appear to assert any executive privilege objections on a question-by-question basis during the deposition,” the committee wrote.

Navarro seems deeply offended about being treated like a criminal just because he broke the law.

“Who are these people,” Navarro said. “This is not America. I mean, I was a distinguished public servant for four years and nobody ever questioned my ethics. And they’re treating me in this fashion.”

Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert railed against the deep injustice of enforcing the laws Republicans break:

It actually puts an exclamation point on the fact that we have a two-tiered justice system. If you’re a Republican, you can’t even lie to Congress or lie to an FBI agent or they’re coming after you. They’re gonna bury you. They’re gonna put you in the D.C. jail and terrorize and torture you and not live up to the Constitution there.

Josh Marshall couldn’t resist getting snarky:

you murder one person and suddenly ev’body’s like LAW LAW LAW

Remember: the Benghazi Committee was precisely the kind of partisan witch hunt Republicans claim the 1-6 Committee is. But Hillary Clinton testified to them for 11 hours, because she was confident she had answers for all their questions. Trump and his people, on the other hand, know that they’re guilty, so they want to prevent the American people from finding out what they did.

Can you imagine Trump showing up for hours of testimony under oath? He knows he couldn’t go five minutes without either babbling or committing perjury.

meanwhile, the pandemic continues

The trends of the past few weeks continue: Case numbers are drifting downwards, particularly in the Northeast. (In my Massachusetts county, new cases per day per 100K were running in the high 50s a few weeks ago; it’s 35 now.) Hospitalizations are well below their January peaks and deaths (now around 270 per day) never really did spike during this wave.

To put the death number in perspective, compare to the flu:

According to data collected by the CDC from 2010 to 2020, the agency estimates that the flu has caused 12,000–52,000 deaths annually.

Dividing by 365 gets you to 33-142 deaths per day. So right now Covid deaths are running about double the rate of a bad flu year. (That’s assuming we could maintain this rate for a whole year. If deaths shoot up again in the fall and winter, we’ll be much higher than double a flu death-rate.)

In Atlantic, Yasmin Tayag examines how this wave feels different from previous ones: It’s a much longer but shallower wave.

The recent omicron variants have gotten better at evading the vaccines’ protections against infection, but deaths among the fully vaccinated-and-boosted are still rare. I’ve noticed this in my own social circle, which is almost entirely vaccinated: More people I know have gotten sick lately, but none seriously.

and the Ukraine War

It’s been 100 days since the Russian invasion began. Russian forces occupy about a fifth of the country, mostly in the east. The Russian offensive in the east has turned into a war of attrition, with each side making claims that the battle is turning in its favor.

It gets harder and harder to imagine how this war might end. Neither side is likely to give up, and there is no obvious settlement that both could accept.

Meanwhile, a debate is rising about America’s and NATO’s long-term commitment. The NYT’s Ross Douthat expresses one side of that debate:

[G]iven the state of the war right now, the more likely near-future scenario is one where Russian collapse remains a pleasant fancy, the conflict becomes stalemated and frozen, and we have to put our Ukrainian policy on a sustainable footing without removing Putin’s regime or dismantling the Russian empire. … [I]f Kyiv and Moscow are headed for a multiyear or even multi-decade frozen conflict, we will need to push Ukraine toward its most realistic rather than its most ambitious military strategy.

Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum the other:

The West should not aim to offer Putin an off-ramp; our goal, our endgame, should be defeat. In fact, the only solution that offers some hope of long-term stability in Europe is rapid defeat, or even, to borrow Macron’s phrase, humiliation. In truth, the Russian president not only has to stop fighting the war; he has to conclude that the war was a terrible mistake, one that can never be repeated. More to the point, the people around him—leaders of the army, the security services, the business community—have to conclude exactly the same thing.

… Only failure can persuade the Russians themselves to question the sense and purpose of a colonial ideology that has repeatedly impoverished and ruined their own economy and society, as well as those of their neighbors, for decades. Yet another frozen conflict, yet another temporary holding pattern, yet another face-saving compromise will not end the pattern of Russian aggression or bring permanent peace.

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Dr. Oz will be the GOP’s Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, after David McCormick conceded in the photo-finish primary. Oz got just over 31% in a multi-candidate race and won by less than 1,000 votes out of 1.2 million.

The Democratic candidate, John Fetterman, is still recovering from a stroke suffered just before the primary, which appears to have been caused by an underlying heart condition. He is said to be walking several miles a day.

Elon Musk buying Twitter still isn’t a done deal.

A couple of Republican conspiracy theories blew up this week.

A jury took only six hours to acquit Michael Sussman of lying to the FBI. After three years of investigating the origin of the Trump/Russia investigation, this was Special Counsel John Durham’s first indictment, and it was a pretty flimsy one. The main point of the indictment seems to have been to fan pro-Trump conspiracy theories about the Clintons, not to get a conviction.

Another long-running conspiracy theory has been the “unmasking” of Michael Flynn. WaPo’s Aaron Blake summarizes the theory:

The idea was that Obama administration officials deliberately targeted Donald Trump associates — and particularly Flynn — by requesting the disclosure of their names in intelligence reports before Trump took office, doing so for political purposes. This fed into long-running allegations of the government “spying” on Trump, who chose Flynn as his national security adviser.

The Trump Justice Department investigated that claim and found nothing. BuzzFeed released the previously classified report (by then-US Attorney John Bash) last Monday:

“My review has uncovered no evidence that senior Executive Branch officials sought the disclosure of” the identities of US individuals “in disseminated intelligence reports for political purposes or other inappropriate reasons during the 2016 presidential-election period or the ensuing presidential-transition period,” Bash’s report says.

In particular, unmasking had nothing to do with the scandal that eventually got Flynn convicted of lying to the FBI (which Trump pardoned him for).

A central focus of the probe was the leak showing that Flynn had been in communication with then–Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak prior to Trump’s inauguration, and whether Flynn’s involvement was revealed through an unmasking request from a government official.

But Bash’s review of unmasked intelligence reports about the calls found that the FBI did not in fact disseminate any that contained Flynn’s information, and that a single unmasked report that did contain Flynn’s information did not describe the calls between him and Kislyak. “For that reason, the public disclosure of the communications could not have resulted from an unmasking request,” Bash’s report concludes.

Both of these attempts to come up with a nefarious origin story for the Trump/Russia investigation ignore the fact that there were perfectly good reasons to investigate, and that the public still has not heard the full story of what went on between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

Let me summarize at the highest level:

No innocent explanation of these facts has ever been offered.

Ron DeSantis continues his Orban-like tactics to use government power to punish corporations that don’t support him. This time the target is the Tampa Bay Rays, who recently spoke out against gun violence and made a contribution to a gun-control organization.

Ohio’s legislature has passed the “Save Women’s Sports Act”, which bans transgender girls from playing sports in public schools. Reason summarizes:

So, to be very clear here, no evidence is needed that a particular athlete is trans or not a biological female in order to demand that she prove her sex. The athlete must then go to a physician and either subject herself to a physical inspection of her sexual organs or arrange for hormone or genetic tests. And no, the bill does not fund the costs of such tests. … News 5 in Cleveland notes that there is currently only a single trans female student competing in high school sports in Ohio.

Evan Urquhart comments:

You don’t have to be that gung-ho on trans rights to realize that a world where girls’ genitals need to be inspected before they can play any sport is worse for girls than a world where once in a while there’s a trans girl on a girls’ team.

Yes, Marjorie Taylor Greene really did say “peach tree dish“. But it was funnier when Sarah Silverman said it to Conan O’Brien in 2010.

Brynn Tannehill reports that her friend’s husband is a retired police officer who does police trainings. He finds that young officers are soaked in right-wing propaganda, to the point that they just don’t believe FBI statistics about right-wing domestic terrorism.

Follow up. Spoke with his wife last night. The first responders also didn’t believe that police were attacked on January 6th. Or if they were, it was Antifa. These are the people that will be propping up our post-democracy government. They’re true believers. We’re f****d.

and let’s close with something religious

George Carlin seems to be having a comeback lately, in spite of having been dead since 2008. The streaming channels I subscribe to keep recommending his videos, and he’s been coming up more often on my social media feeds. In addition to just being funny, Carlin generally gave you something to think about, like this attempt to edit the ten commandments down to a more manageable list.

Adult Fears

People who feel safer with a gun than with guaranteed medical insurance don’t yet have a fully adult concept of scary.

William Gibson

This week’s featured post is “Repeating myself about guns“.

This week everybody was talking about gun violence

This week’s featured post is my confession that I’ve got no new ideas about America’s gun problem. Instead, I review what I’ve written on the topic since 2015. As far as I can see, nothing has changed in the last seven years, other than the list of mass shootings getting longer.

I also can’t report any ideas from others that struck me as new this week. The battle of ideas, such as it is, has been going around in circles for a very long time.

What did seem fresh, though, was the earnestness of emotion that I heard from many people, particularly from folks who aren’t politicians or news-show hosts. To me, the most moving comments came from people who have been successful enough to have people pay attention to them, but used that opportunity to channel what ordinary people are feeling.

One of them was NBA coach Steve Kerr, who on Tuesday couldn’t bring himself to focus on questions about his team’s progress in the playoffs. (They advanced to the finals on Thursday.) Violence is personal for Kerr. He was 18 when his father was gunned down by terrorists in Beirut. This is what he had to say.

The bill he’s talking about, HR-8, is summarized here. It’s hardly an attempt to seize people’s guns. Rather, it just makes it illegal to sell a gun to someone without a background check. Polls indicate that most Americans believe that’s already what the law demands, but it isn’t.

Jimmy Kimmel also had trouble keeping his voice steady. He recorded this statement without an audience.

Video can capture weaselly responses as well. In this clip, Ted Cruz has no answer for a British reporter who asks him why these kinds of shootings happen so much more often in America than anywhere else, and if our lax gun laws have something to do with it. Cruz can only pretend to be offended and storm off, because there’s nothing he can say.

Three years ago, the American Independent listed 13 absurd “causes” for mass shootings that Republicans offer to distract attention from guns. We heard just about the whole list this week as well. None of them answer the question the reporter asked Cruz: What’s special about the United States other than the ease with which people with violent intentions can lay their hands on weapons appropriate for fighting a war?

The lack of any link between shootings and video games, for example, was already clear nine years ago in this chart: If you’re having trouble reading it, the United States is the dot floating high above the field because of its per capita gun-related murders, while the Netherlands and South Korea spend far more per capita on video games.

The Texas Observer does a pretty thorough takedown of Governor Abbott and his finger-pointing at mental illness (which, of course, only exists in the US).

Abbott is simply changing the topic.

The Uvalde shooter did not kill those children with his purported mental health struggles. He did not shoot them with estrangement; he did not murder them with malaise; he did not ravage their little bodies with the inchoate rage of his misguided youth. He killed them with a goddamn assault rifle, and high-capacity magazines, designed for the precise purpose of human annihilation.

Abbott’s interest in mental health lasts just as long as it takes for voters’ attention to shift away from guns. (About four days, according to Princeton Professor Patrick Sharkey.) Just last month, he cut the state’s mental health budget.

Texas ranked last out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia for overall access to mental health care, according to the 2021 State of Mental Health in America report.

Texas could easily start reversing that sorry record by approving ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion, which the Republican legislature still refuses to do.

But if you think pro-gun gaslighting can’t get any worse, I have bad news for you: The problem isn’t guns, says Derek Gilbert, it’s demons. Killing so many children with an AR-15 is so hard, Gilbert improbably claims, that the Uvalde shooter couldn’t have managed it unless he were possessed by a demon who has done this before. (Again, it’s not clear why this demon doesn’t possess people in the Netherlands or South Korea.)

The police in Uvalde arrived at the school within minutes. (It’s a small town. I saw someone on Twitter claim that nothing is more than five minutes from the school.) But they didn’t enter the room where the shooter was killing children until more than an hour later. Kids were calling 911 while police were just outside the door. The police changed their story many times in the first few days. Whether we have the true story now is anybody’s guess.

and Ukraine

Russia continues to advance slowly into eastern Ukraine. CNBC calls this “a subtle momentum shift in the war”. Some of the pro-Ukraine voices I’ve been following have stopped commenting, which worries me. The Week summarizes speculations in both directions.

As the war drags on, the likelihood of a global food shortage rises. It’s easy to sensationalize that possibility, but The Economist covers it pretty well.

Russia and Ukraine supply 28% of globally traded wheat, 29% of the barley, 15% of the maize and 75% of the sunflower oil. Russia and Ukraine contribute about half the cereals imported by Lebanon and Tunisia; for Libya and Egypt the figure is two-thirds. Ukraine’s food exports provide the calories to feed 400m people. The war is disrupting these supplies because Ukraine has mined its waters to deter an assault, and Russia is blockading the port of Odessa.

Even before the invasion the World Food Programme had warned that 2022 would be a terrible year. China, the largest wheat producer, has said that, after rains delayed planting last year, this crop may be its worst-ever. Now, in addition to the extreme temperatures in India, the world’s second-largest producer, a lack of rain threatens to sap yields in other breadbaskets, from America’s wheat belt to the Beauce region of France. The Horn of Africa is being ravaged by its worst drought in four decades.

If you’re a middle-class-or-higher American, this will be a nuisance but not a crisis. Food prices will increase, but the average American household spends only 10% of its income on food. We could afford to spend more, and we could eat more cheaply without starving. And if the rest of us choose to look out for Americans who are food insecure (always a dubious proposition), they could be fine too.

What will happen in poorer countries, though, is up in the air. The world still produces plenty of calories to feed everybody, if that were a priority. But much of that production goes into producing meat (which delivers calories much less efficiently) or fuel.

and the pandemic

Case numbers, which have been increasing since late March, seem to have leveled off nationally. In the Northeast, where the current surge started a little earlier, cases have started to drift downward. Hospitalizations, a lagging indicator, are still rising nationally, but are headed down in Maine, Vermont, and Rhode Island. Deaths never did take off during this surge, but are running at 374 per day, up somewhat from a low of around 300 a few weeks ago.

At this point, if you are in good health, have no special risk factors, and have gotten all the recommended vaccinations (including boosters), you don’t need to worry that much about dying from Covid. A number of people I know personally have had Covid in the last month or so, and none have been hospitalized for it.

My personal fear at this point centers around long Covid, in which symptoms unpredictably last for months or years.

and you also might be interested in …

The Georgia Republican primary showed the limits of Trump’s influence. Few Republicans have drawn more of the Great Orange One’s wrath than Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. But both won their primaries easily.

My reading of Republican primaries to date is that the GOP base fully supports Trump’s fascism, but is ambivalent about his personal vendettas. I lean towards believing that the party’s 2024 nominee will be a post-Trump fascist, like Ron DeSantis.

Georgia Republicans should be ashamed of themselves for nominating Herschel Walker to run against Senator Raphael Warnock. I don’t know whether to feel sorry for Walker as a victim of cerebral damage from his football career or to fault him for just being stupid. But he has trouble speaking in complete sentences, as his response to the Uvalde shooting demonstrated. He’s also dishonest and prone to violence. I know Republican standards have dropped sharply in the Trump Era. But this far? Really?

One of the themes of Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning was how racism in America has continuously evolved, from slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration and beyond. Well, I think I just saw the future of racism in America: anti-racialism, as promoted in the current Atlantic by Reihan Salam of the Koch-funded Manhattan Institute.

Anti-racialism, basically, is an updated version of color-blindness, the idea that if we just stop calling attention to race, everybody will forget about it.

If liberal anti-racism is grounded in the idea that raising the salience of race is essential to achieving racial justice, anti-racialism holds that heightened race consciousness, and the racialization of disparities and differences that would obtain in any culturally plural society, more often than not cuts against fostering integration, civic harmony, and social progress.

One true observation Salam makes is that what we currently have (and are evolving toward) is not white supremacy, strictly speaking, because an increasing number of Asians and Hispanics are finding their way into the formerly all-white “mainstream” of American society.

In The Great Demographic Illusion, Alba underscores that the American mainstream is not coterminous with whiteness. “Just as the white Protestant mainstream that prevailed from colonial times to the middle of the twentieth century evolved through the mass assimilation of Catholic and Jewish ethnics after World War II,” he writes, “the racially defined mainstream of today is changing, at least in some parts of the country, as a result of the inclusion of many nonwhite and mixed Americans.”

Salam recognizes that of course there’s still the problem of “black exceptionalism”, i.e., not even an expanded mainstream has space for Black people.

the intense racial isolation experienced by most Black descendants of enslaved African Americans remains an important social fact

But, well, it sucks to be them. The rest of us should form a broad (or at least broader) multi-racial coalition that pretends race isn’t an issue any more.

and let’s close with something from another universe

The Marvel Cinematic Universe, to be exact. There’s probably no easier piece of music to turn into a fun video than Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk”. But together with this collection of Marvel outtakes, it’s irresistible.