Category Archives: Weekly summaries

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

The Lost

No Sift next week. The next posts will appear on May 20.

And then you are lost. He has eaten your soul.

– James Comey, “How Trump Co-Opts Leaders Like Bill Barr

This week’s featured post is “What should ‘electable’ mean?“. If you happen to be near Quincy, Illinois (my hometown) next Sunday, I’ll be speaking at the Unitarian church at 10:45.

This week everybody was talking about Bill Barr, Robert Mueller, and Congress

Trump is now saying that Mueller should not testify to the House Judiciary Committee. May 15 had been put forward as a date for Mueller to appear, but no definite agreement had been made.

It’s not clear to me how much power Trump has to stop Mueller’s testimony, or whether he is officially invoking that power or just blathering. Mueller is still a DoJ employee, so Trump could order him not to testify. But Mueller has been expected to leave his job soon, now that his investigation has wrapped up. Once he is a private citizen, it would be up to him whether to testify, though he may still honor executive privilege claims that seem legitimate to him. Mueller himself hasn’t commented yet.

This is another example of incoherence in Trump’s message. He claims Mueller has “totally exonerated” him. If that’s the case, he should want Mueller testifying in public as much as he can.

Tuesday it came out that Barr had received a letter from Mueller protesting Barr’s characterization of the report and requesting that the summaries contained in the report itself be released, which Barr decided not to do. In his subsequent testimony to Congress, Barr was asked whether Mueller agreed with his summary, and his answer gave no indication that there was any friction between them. The exact statement of the question and answer leave me thinking that it couldn’t be prosecuted as lying to Congress, but I agree with Senator Leahy: “”Mr. Barr, I feel that your answer was purposely misleading, and I think others do, too.”

Barr testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee the next day, and the hearing was contentious. He was clearly playing his role as Trump’s defender rather than attorney general. He made hair-splitting distinctions (like the difference between “firing” Mueller and “having a special counsel removed for conflict” even though the conflicts were bogus). When asked whether the White House would claim executive privilege, Barr’s answer talked about what “we” would do, not what the White House would do.

He put forward a bizarre explanation of why Trump did not obstruct justice, which Jonathan Chait summarized as “It’s not obstruction if the obstruction works.” He made a big deal about the lack of an underlying crime, which is not a factor in the definition of obstruction.

Barr then refused to appear before the House Judiciary Committee, and has ignored a subpoena for the unredacted Mueller Report. The Judiciary Committee is threatening to find him in contempt, though it’s not clear how they would enforce any penalties. Chair Jerry Nadler:

The choice is simple: We can stand up to this president in defense of the country and the Constitution we love, or we can let the moment pass us by.

Bill Barr’s complete embrace of Trumpism and rejection of traditional Justice Department standards of independence and the rule of law has provoked a lot of discussion about what happens to people when they join the Trump administration. Jim Comey, who has been in Trump’s orbit before being ejected from it, thinks he knows.

Trump’s corruption of those around him starts with behavior Comey has experienced first-hand.

It starts with your sitting silent while he lies, both in public and private, making you complicit by your silence. … Speaking rapid-fire with no spot for others to jump into the conversation, Mr. Trump makes everyone a co-conspirator to his preferred set of facts, or delusions. I have felt it — this president building with his words a web of alternative reality and busily wrapping it around all of us in the room.

Then his expectations and peer pressure push you to flatter him in public.

From the private circle of assent, it moves to public displays of personal fealty at places like cabinet meetings. While the entire world is watching, you do what everyone else around the table does — you talk about how amazing the leader is and what an honor it is to be associated with him.

Then you stop defending the institutions you’re responsible for.

Next comes Mr. Trump attacking institutions and values you hold dear — things you have always said must be protected and which you criticized past leaders for not supporting strongly enough. Yet you are silent.

You become convinced that if you weren’t in your current position, things would be much worse.

you tell yourself you are too important for this nation to lose, especially now.

By the end, you have convinced yourself that you must hold onto your job, no matter what it takes to do so.

You use his language, praise his leadership, tout his commitment to values. And then you are lost. He has eaten your soul.

and foreign policy

China: For some while we’ve been hearing that a trade deal with China was near. Then yesterday Trump tweeted:

For 10 months, China has been paying Tariffs to the USA of 25% on 50 Billion Dollars of High Tech, and 10% on 200 Billion Dollars of other goods. … The 10% will go up to 25% on Friday.

Stock markets around the world started plunging. Chinese officials “had been scheduled to arrive Wednesday for what was shaping up to be the final round of negotiations”, but now they’re not sure when or whether to come.

North Korea: Increasingly, it looks like the Trump/Kim summits have accomplished nothing beyond raising Kim Jong Un’s stature at home. This weekend, North Korea fired “multiple projectiles” towards Japan in what appears to be some kind of weapons-system test.

Trump has claimed that his diplomacy with Kim was getting rid of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, tweeting at one point that “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”

Saturday’s launch comes weeks after North Korea announced it had conducted a test launch of a “new-type tactical guided weapon” that was personally overseen by Kim.

The North Korean leader declared a moratorium on missile and nuclear testing last year, but satellite imagery reported in recent months has shown continuing nuclear activity at the country’s plants.

Venezuela: An attempted coup to unseat Venezuelan President Maduro failed this week.

The NYT has an interesting article about how coups work, and why this one didn’t. It reminded me of the high-school-party problem: The cool kids will come only if they think the other cool kids are coming. Nobody wants to be on the losing side, so a coup gets the support of the various power brokers only if they think the other power brokers are in.

A weird addendum to the whole event came after Trump talked on the phone to Putin. Trump came out of the call claiming that Putin “is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela, other than he’d like to see something positive happen for Venezuela.” WaPo’s Aaron Blake points out that Secretary of State Pompeo is saying the exact opposite: He characterized the Russian (and allied Cuban) presence in Venezuela as “an invasion”.

It’s yet another example of Trump talking to Putin and then repeating Putin’s propaganda, even when it undercuts his own administration.

but here are two article you might like that have nothing to do with Trump or politics

InVerse reports what happens when researchers hook monkeys up to an AI image generator, looking to home in on images that provoke the most neural stimulation. The maximally stimulating images are vaguely dream-like: They have realistic elements (that resemble, say, faces) but are also oddly wrong.

Don’t miss Guinevere Turner’s “My Childhood in a Cult” in the April 29 New Yorker. Turner grew up in the Lyman Family, a little-known cult that is still around.

What makes her account unique is that she didn’t experience two of the standard elements in the typical I-left-a-cult story: She wasn’t recruited and didn’t escape. Her mother joined the Family when she was pregnant with Guinevere, and (although mother and child had little to do with each other inside the cult), she was thrown out at age 11 when her mother left. She went back for a visit before starting college at 18, thought about staying, but then didn’t.

That allows her to give a remarkably balanced view of life in the Lyman Family. She sees the absurdity (Lyman’s central tenet was that spaceships would come to take him and his followers to Venus) and the ugliness (cult leaders sometimes chose 13-year-old girls to be their wives). But she also has good memories of living in a close-knit community.

In the back yard of our Los Angeles compound, the adults built a wooden pyramid, big enough to hold about twenty kids, small stilts raising it a few feet off the ground. The smell of blooming jasmine surrounded us as we climbed into it at night, sat cross-legged in a circle, and sang one note all together. We would do this for hours. There were skylights in the ceiling, and we stared up at the stars as we sang. I loved those moments, holding on to the note until I thought my lungs would burst, then taking a deep breath and starting again. It felt as if we were one being

and you also might be interested in …

I’m having a hard time figuring out whether the Trump/Schumer/Pelosi agreement to pursue an infrastructure plan actually means anything. I suspect it doesn’t.

Senate Republicans are cold to the idea, so Trump would have to do some serious arm-twisting to make legislation happen. His own chief of staff is also against it, which suggests that Trump was just free-lancing here and has no plan beyond the initial headline.

The shooter at the Poway synagogue belongs to a congregation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, an off-shoot that finds mainstream Presbyterianism too liberal. Apparently his manifesto (which I have not read) is full of “not only invective against Jews and racial minorities but also cogent Christian theology he heard in the pews.

If we were talking about a mosque rather than an evangelical Christian church, we’d be hearing claims that the young man had been “radicalized” by his religious institution, or that someone at the church must have known what he was planning, but didn’t report it. But no one is going to suggest that the government should “watch and study” OPC churches, or that some of them may have to be shut down. That because we have freedom of religion in America — at least for Christians.

Another good jobs report pushes down the unemployment rate. This looks good for Trump, but it’s important to put it in the right context: Trump is continuing a trend that started in Obama’s first term.

Paul Krugman’s “The Trouble With Joe and Bernie” makes a good point: Neither candidate seems prepared for what would obviously happen after they got elected.

No matter how many friends he has made across the aisle in Congress, Biden is not going to get Republicans to negotiate bipartisan solutions. Obama tried that and it didn’t work.

what Sanders appears to believe is that he can convince voters not just to support progressive policies, but to support sweeping policy changes that would try to fix things most people don’t consider broken.

That, after all, is what his Medicare for All push, which would eliminate private insurance, amounts to. He is saying to the 180 million Americans who currently have private insurance, many of whom are satisfied with their coverage: “I’m going to take away the insurance you have and replace it with a government program. Also, you’re going to pay a lot more in taxes. But trust me, the program will be better than what you have now, and the new taxes will be less than you currently pay in premiums.”

Could those claims be true? Yes. Will voters believe them? Probably not.

I’m always amused when somebody presents an example they think obviously favors their point, when to me it obviously doesn’t. Electoral College defender Dan McLaughlin poses this hypothetical:

R candidate wins 48 states by identical 54-46 margins, D wins CA, NY & DC by 75-25 margins, D wins national popular vote. Who should win?

And my answer is: The candidate who gets the most votes. I don’t see why votes should count less if they clump together in a few states. Americans are Americans, no matter what state they live in.

Rachel Held Evans, a liberal Christian writer that I have quoted several times on this blog, died this week at age 37.

Remember the Deepwater Horizon disaster, when a problem with an offshore drilling platform caused 4.9 million barrels of crude oil to pour into the Gulf of Mexico over a period of months? Afterward, new rules were put into effect to prevent something like that from happening again. This week the Trump administration is expected to roll back a bunch of those rules. Oil companies will be grateful.

When Stephen Moore was nominated for the board of the Federal Reserve, I wondered if Senate Republicans could go that far. I mean, it’s one thing to appoint know-nothing yahoos to manage things Republicans don’t care about, like education or public housing. But the Fed controls money. Surely, I suggested, there are still some standards when we’re talking about money.

Well, apparently so. Moore’s nomination was withdrawn Thursday afternoon after a number of Republican senators expressed their doubts about supporting him. This follows fellow know-nothing Herman Cain withdrawing from consideration for the Fed board two weeks ago.

For years, anti-gay Christians have piously talked about loving the sinner while hating the sin. Now a Methodist confirmation class has flipped the script on their denomination, whose General Conference strengthened its prohibitions against gay clergy and raised the penalties for performing same-sex marriages.

The eight 13-14-year-olds making up the confirmation class at First United Methodist Church in Omaha read a letter to the congregation expressing great love for their church, but declining to participate in the denomination’s immorality by becoming members.

We have spent the year learning about our faith and clarifying our beliefs. Most of us started the confirmation year assuming that we would join the church at the end. But with the action of the General Conference in February, we are disappointed about the direction the United Methodist denomination is heading. We are concerned that if we join at this time, we will be sending a message that we approve of this decision. We want to be clear that, while we love our congregation, we believe that the United Methodist policies on LGBTQ+ clergy and same-sex marriage are immoral.

and let’s close by fixing a common mistake

If you celebrated Cinco de Mayo yesterday, you probably did it wrong.

Separation of Powers

It is not your job to tell us what we need, it is your job to comply with things we need to provide oversight over you. The day Richard Nixon failed to answer that subpoena is the day that he was subject to impeachment, because he took the power over the impeachment process away from Congress, and he became the judge and jury.

Lindsey Graham,
House debate on the impeachment of Bill Clinton

This week’s featured posts are “Charity Liberalism and Justice Liberalism” and “Impeachment: On second thought …“.

This week everybody was talking about obstruction of Congress

This week Trump announced his intention to fight “all the subpoenas“. That’s an authoritarian position that, if he gets away with it, will fundamentally change our constitutional system. That was enough to change the position against impeachment that I announced last week.

Part of that obstruction is that Bill Barr is now backing out of his commitment to testify about the Mueller Report.

and the census

For several years now I’ve been chronicling the Republican Party’s attempts to rule from the minority. Their positions on the issues are increasingly unpopular and demographic trends are against them, but rather than move with the country they’ve decided to change the rules to make their voters count more than other voters. Hence gerrymandering, voter suppression, felon disenfranchisement, and so on, plus removing all restrictions on the ability of the rich to buy elections. These factors pile onto the already anti-democratic parts of our constitutional system, like the Electoral College and the fact that small states get as many senators as large states.

As a result, a president elected with a minority of the vote can combine with a Senate majority elected by a minority of the country to appoint Supreme Court justices who will rubber-stamp these minority-rule tactics.

The latest move in that game is to rig the census. The Constitution is clear that the census is supposed to be the “actual enumeration” of “the whole number of free persons”, and that the number of congressional seats and electoral votes each state gets is based on that number. It says nothing about citizenship or eligibility to vote, but excludes “Indians not taxed”, i.e., those living in their own nations.

The Trump administration wants to add a citizenship question to the census,

which the government stopped asking in the 1950s because of the projected undercount in communities with large immigrant populations.

But to Republicans, that undercount isn’t a bug, it’s a feature: They want states with a lot of non-citizens to lose representation.

A lawsuit is trying to block that move, largely because it was made outside the process established by Congress. The suit has now reached the Supreme Court. Given the questions asked by the justices during the hearing, predictions are that the Court will back the administration on this, on a 5-4 vote decided by those judges appointed by this minority president and approved by this minority Senate.

and 2020

Biden is in, making 20 Democratic presidential candidates. Is that everybody now? Biden opened with this video. The message is all theme and no policy:

I believe history will look back on four years of this president and all he embraces as a aberrant moment in time. But if we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation.

That’s the biggest campaign-strategy split among Democrats so far: The Buttigieg/Beto candidates put values and narrative first, and the Warren/Sanders candidates have long lists of policy proposals.

I understand the argument for Biden: He won’t scare away people in the center, so he’s a good bet to hang on to those formerly Republican suburban voters who were responsible for the Democrats retaking the House in 2018. He has a working class image, so he should be strong in the industrial Midwestern states that put Trump over the top in 2016.

But here’s something to think about: What does Biden bring to the table that Amy Klobuchar doesn’t? And she doesn’t have the baggage of Anita Hill, voting for the Iraq invasion, …

Nate Silver rates Biden’s chance at the nomination higher than any other current candidate, but still makes him an underdog against the field. Although Sanders leads in at least one poll, Silver’s polling average has Biden at 28% and Sanders at 20%.

there’s a gap between where Sanders is polling and where Biden is, and empirically, it’s a relevant one. Based on historical data, we estimate that candidates with high name recognition who are polling at 20 percent (Sanders) in early national polls can expect to win their nominations about 15 percent of the time, other factors held equal. But candidates who are polling at 28 percent (Biden) win their nominations something more like 35 percent of the time, or roughly twice as often.

The interesting number in the new WaPo/ABC poll is that a majority of Democrats (54%) haven’t picked a candidate yet, and they don’t seem to be making up their minds very fast. (The same number was 56% in January.)

The Post-ABC poll, conducted largely before Biden’s Thursday campaign announcement, asked whom respondents support in an open-ended format that did not name any of the candidates. The results show notably lower levels of support than produced in polls that ask people to pick from a list of names.

So Biden leads the pack with 13% support and Sanders is second with 9% — not the kind of numbers that should scare other candidates out of the race. (One of Nate Silver’s points is that candidates who are already well-known have less room to grow their support. The undecided 54% know what Sanders and Biden are about, but they’re still looking.)

If you chase the link to the poll questions, one of them seems a lot more significant than it actually is: 47% of Democrats say they’re looking primarily for someone who agrees with them on the issues, while 39% say they’re primarily looking for someone who can beat Trump. Here’s why that result isn’t interesting: Just about everyone I know thinks that the way to beat Trump is to nominate someone who agrees with them on the issues. I think the tail wags the dog here. If you like Bernie, you think he’s the best bet to beat Trump. If you like Biden, you think he is, and so on down the line.

I think the best candidate to beat Trump is someone who threads the needle: progressive enough to motivate the base, but not scary to the suburban college-educated whites who had trouble deciding between Bush and Kerry in 2004 and probably voted for Hillary in 2016. Threading that needle was the secret to Obama’s 2008 landslide: He held Kerry’s voters, picked up some Bush voters, and motivated new people to come to the polls. Probably neither Biden nor Sanders is the person to pull that off in 2020, but I don’t know who is yet. So I’m in the 54%.

One of the things that worries me in this crowded primary race is that candidates will take positions that will come back to haunt them in the general election. I’m not talking about core issues of the progressive agenda, like Medicare for All or free college. I mean hot-button issues that most of the country is not even considering, and that will produce an immediate “That’s just wrong” reaction from a large segment of the electorate.

I feel like Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris did that in their CNN town halls, in calling for felons currently in prison to retain their voting rights. Don Lemon specifically mentioned the Boston Marathon bomber, but Bernie affirmed that all prisoners should be voting. Harris responded with a less commital “We need to have that conversation.”

That’s an attack ad waiting to happen. Given the racial disparity in felony convictions, Democrats definitely need to make an issue out of restoration of voting rights after prison terms end. But in a crowded field, there’s always a temptation to push a position too far. Murderers and rapists lining up to vote in prison is an image that will scare lots of otherwise persuadable people.

The homophobic dog whistles have started: Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera describes Pete Buttigieg as a “the young buckaroo with flamboyant ideas”. Flamboyant is a dog whistle for gay, the same way that inner-city is a dog whistle for black. Rivera makes it sound like Buttigieg is campaigning in one of Elton John’s old costumes rather than a white shirt and dark tie. And which Buttigieg ideas are so “flamboyant”?

The principles that will guide my campaign are simple enough to fit on a bumper sticker: freedom, security, and democracy.

Abe Lincoln could have said that. Then again, he may have been gay too.

and Charlottesville

Biden’s video begins with the Charlottesville neo-Nazi “Unite the Right” rally, and with Trump saying that there were “very fine people on both sides”.

I think it’s a good move for Democrats to keep reminding the country of this moment (the low point so far in Trump’s national approval rating), because Trump can’t really counter. He continues to wink-and-nod at the extreme right, even as he denies being racist. Racism is a key part of the attraction between Trump and his base, and he’s never going to produce the whole-hearted denunciation that the majority of the country would like to hear.

He’s still winking, still pushing a false counter-narrative in which good and decent Confederate sympathizers were “quietly” protesting the removal of a Lee statue when a few violent folks got out of hand — as if that’s what the Unite the Right rally was ever about.

All you have to do to refute that story is look at the posters that convinced people to attend. The headliner was Richard Spencer, the white nationalist leader who got mainstream attention after his Nazi-salute producing “Hail, Trump!” speech. Numerous posters included the white nationalist “You will not replace us!” slogan, which turned into “Jews will not replace us!” during the march. The Daily Stormer poster above is nakedly anti-Semitic.

So if you went to this rally intentionally, you knew what you were supporting. And if you happened to stumble in by mistake, the “Sieg Heil!” chants should have tipped you off. So I can assert with some confidence that the number “very fine people” in that torchlight parade was very close to zero.

Meanwhile, there’s been another synagogue shooting, apparently committed by someone who buys into the kinds of conspiracy theories Trump has been pushing. But Trump himself takes no responsibility.

Speaking of Lee statues … If you ever doubt that Confederate monuments are really monuments to white supremacy, consider who almost never gets memorialized: James Longstreet. He was a top Confederate general, arguably second to Lee in military significance. But after the war he supported Reconstruction, endorsed Grant for president, resisted the Lost Cause mythology, and urged Southern white politicians to cooperate with black politicians. That got him thrown out of the Confederate pantheon.

If you were trying to commemorate Confederate military history, you’d have as many monuments to Longstreet as you do to Stonewall Jackson, and way more than to KKK-founder Nathan Bedford Forrest. But if you were trying to celebrate the heroes of white supremacy, you wouldn’t. The South didn’t.

and you also might be interested in …

Yuval Levin is a conservative writer who tries to maintain some kind of intellectual rigor. In National Review, he points out the same thing a lot of people have seen in the Mueller report: the extent to which “the people who work for the president use their judgment to decide when to do what he says and when to ignore him or flatly contradict his decisions.”

This feature of the Mueller report didn’t surprise him, though, because he has been seeing the same pattern from the beginning of this administration.

On January 15 of 2017, a few days before Trump’s inauguration, the President-Elect was interviewed by the Washington Post, and when asked about health care he said his team would soon propose its own health-care reform—that it was worked out, and that it would not reduce coverage numbers but would cost less than Obamacare. The statement sent the little conservative health policy world into a frenzy: What was this plan? Who was working on it? What kinds of ideas was it based on? The barrage of group emails was soon ended, however, by a note from a member of Trump’s little policy circle, who would soon become a senior administration official. The message was simple: Trump had no idea what he was talking about, the proposal he mentioned was a figment of his imagination, and don’t worry about it—everything was under control.

This was simultaneously reassuring and alarming in the way that Mueller’s window into the administration is. It was evidence that there were people around the president who were doing the work required to govern and make decisions, but it was also evidence that the president was not at the center of that process, and that a significant amount of their work involved deciding when to ignore him.

I will point out that this is not a general or typical feature of the American presidency. It’s the unique property of an administration whose president has not earned the respect of the people who deal with him most closely.

Nothing like it appears in the various Obama-administration insider accounts I’ve read or heard about. In fact, I can’t think of a single Obama-administration tell-all book. By and large, people left the Obama administration believing that Barack Obama was an intelligent person trying his best to do a very difficult job. What passed for a shocking revelation was that Obama sometimes sneaked a cigarette after telling Michelle he had quit. That’s the Obama equivalent of paying off the porn stars you’ve had sex with while your wife was pregnant.

Michelle Cottle of the NYT editorial board wonders what Sarah Huckabee Sanders job is: Press secretaries used to hold daily briefings, but Sanders has held only two so far in 2019. She frequently doesn’t respond to press inquiries, and what she does say is often untrue.

Veteran reporter Sam Donaldson says this isn’t normal:

“Look, I’ve had the pleasure of working with almost every press secretary beginning with Pierre Salinger of John F. Kennedy’s administration and, except for Ron Ziegler who lied for Richard Nixon, I’ve never seen anything like this with Sarah Sanders,” Donaldson told CNN host Anderson Cooper.

Donaldson explained, however, how Ziegler lied only about matters related to the Watergate scandal but “would often be truthful” on other issues.

Sanders “simply lies about everything” on behalf of President Donald Trump’s administration, Donaldson claimed. “Not just one thing.”

Twitter managed to all but eradicate ISIS propaganda on its platform, but has been much less successful with white supremacist and neo-Nazi propaganda. At an all-hands meeting, an employee asked why.

With every sort of content filter, there is a tradeoff, [a technical employee] explained. When a platform aggressively enforces against ISIS content, for instance, it can also flag innocent accounts as well, such as Arabic language broadcasters. Society, in general, accepts the benefit of banning ISIS for inconveniencing some others, he said.

In separate discussions verified by Motherboard, that employee said Twitter hasn’t taken the same aggressive approach to white supremacist content because the collateral accounts that are impacted can, in some instances, be Republican politicians.

The employee argued that, on a technical level, content from Republican politicians could get swept up by algorithms aggressively removing white supremacist material. Banning politicians wouldn’t be accepted by society as a trade-off for flagging all of the white supremacist propaganda, he argued.

I think that if Twitter can’t teach an AI to distinguish between you and a neo-Nazi, maybe you need to take a long look in the mirror.

Interesting bit of nostalgic thinking in this morning’s NYT: Helen Andrews laments that there isn’t a Phylliss Schlafly in her generation to lead the anti-feminist fight. My hunch is that an interesting point is being obscured by distorted framing and bad prior assumptions, but I haven’t thought it all through yet.

The interesting part is the nostalgia for the days when one middle-class income was enough to raise a family on, allowing for the model of a breadwinning parent (usually male) and a caretaking parent (usually female), if that’s what a couple wanted to do. The problem, of course, is that in those days the model was more-or-less forced on couples, with a strict gender-based assignment of roles.

The bad background assumption is to connect the increase in women’s incomes with the stagnation of men’s incomes, and with the cost-explosion in housing, healthcare, and college that make two incomes necessary for a middle-class lifestyle. Those things happened at the same time, but I suspect the cause was something else entirely: The conservative political revolution that put the government on the side of employers rather than workers. With their increased bargaining power, employers squeezed workers incomes enough that the addition of a second income had minimal effect on household prosperity.

There should be a contest: What will the 10,000th lie be about?

Trump got accused of obstruction of justice by an unexpected critic: Fox News’ Judge Andrew Napolitano. Trump, naturally, ignored the content of the criticism and went straight for an ad hominem argument:

Ever since Andrew came to my office to ask that I appoint him to the U.S. Supreme Court, and I said NO, he has been very hostile!

Orrin Kerr comments:

In Trump’s world, everyone who turns on him at one point asked him for a favor and was turned down, making Trump the top dog in the end.

and let’s close with a fantasy that came true

Have you ever dreamed about having one golden moment that everyone will still be talking about when you’ve died, even if it’s half a century later?

“Hi, my name is John Havlicek. I played for the Boston Celtics. And on April 15, 1965, I stole the ball.”

It’s interesting to consider what makes a moment like that, in addition to the beauty of the play itself. There’s the immediate situation: the deciding game of a playoff series, a one-point lead with five seconds left. And Havlicek is memorable in his own right; he went on to have a hall-of-fame career. But the play also crystalized a larger story: The biggest rivalry in 1960s basketball was Wilt Chamberlain vs. Bill Russell. Chamberlain always had better statistics (30 points in this game to Russell’s 15), but Russell’s teams almost always figured out a way to win, as they did here.

The recent sports event that comes closest is Malcolm Butler’s Super-Bowl-saving interception in 2015. Now imagine that Butler followed that moment with another dozen years of stardom, and that Super Bowl XLIX had been a Brady/Manning showdown with both still in their prime. Then you’d have another Havlicek-stole-the-ball.


The President ‘s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.

The Mueller Report

This week’s featured posts are “Yes, Obstruction” and “Is Impeachment the Right Answer?“.

This week everybody was talking about the Mueller Report

I discussed that in the featured posts. Here I’ll talk about the issues surrounding the report.

First, reading the report makes it clear that Attorney General Barr has been misrepresenting the it, both in his four-page summary and in the press conference [video, transcript] he held just before releasing his redacted version of the Report. The benefit of the doubt I granted him four weeks ago was undeserved.

Barr began his summary of the report (that reporters and the country still had not seen) with an actual partial-sentence quote, that the

investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.

But the full sentence is a little less favorable to Trump:

Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.

Imagine if the AG had selected the other part of this sentence to emphasize: “the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts”.

A bit later, the Report explains what “did not establish” means:

while the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign, the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges.

But Barr pretended “did not establish” meant that the opposite was established, and he spun “evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges” into “no evidence”.

But thanks to the Special Counsel’s thorough investigation, we now know that the Russian operatives who perpetrated these schemes did not have the cooperation of President Trump or the Trump campaign – or the knowing assistance of any other Americans for that matter.

He repeated some version of Trump’s “no collusion” mantra four times, in spite of the fact that Mueller rejected that term.

All along (there are numerous examples given in the Report itself), Trump has been complaining that Barr’s predecessor, Jeff Sessions, did not “protect” him. In other words, he expected the attorney general to be his lawyer, not the chief law enforcement officer of the United States. Barr has clearly taken this to heart; his performance would have been appropriate for the President’s personal lawyer.

The basic structure of the press conference was bizarre. Typically, when the Justice Department holds a press conference to announce the release of a report, reporters have gotten advance copies of the report “under embargo”, meaning that they can’t talk about it until the release time. That makes meaningful questions possible. This time, no one could see the report until more than an hour later, so questions could only be shots in the dark.

Also, Justice Department press conferences typically center on the people who did the work. But Bob Mueller was nowhere to be found.

Stephen Colbert summed up what Barr was doing with this analogy: “Officer, before I open the trunk of this car, I’d like to first give a short speech about what you’re about to smell.”

Former FBI counter-intelligence agent Asha Rangappa explains the Russian disinformation tactic of “reflexive control”, and how it relates to Trump’s manipulation of the legally meaningless word collusion.

“collusion” is now the same as “conspiracy,” and without proof beyond a reasonable doubt of the latter, the former doesn’t exist.

He warns that we’re being similarly manipulated now by the word spying, which Trump often says and Barr used in his congressional testimony.

One winner from the Mueller Report: the news media. A lot of those stories that Trump called “fake news” turn out to be true. (Biggest example: Trump asked Don McGahn to fire Mueller. At the time, Trump characterized the newspaper report as “A typical New York Times fake story.”) Those anonymous sources quoted by the New York Times and Washington Post usually turned out to be real people who said the same thing under oath.

Trump, on the other hand, has been a font of fake news. His “total and complete exoneration” was just the latest. And conspiracy theories that got a lot of play on Fox News (like the claim that murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich was the actual source of the WikiLeaks material) were debunked by Mueller.

What Ross Douthat sees in the Mueller Report is “the same general portrait” as Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury:

Donald Trump as an amoral incompetent surrounded by grifters, misfits and his own overpromoted children, who is saved from self-destruction by advisers who sometimes decline to follow orders, and saved from high crimes in part by incompetence and weakness.

If you look at the report, be sure to check out Appendix C, which consists of Trump’s written answers to questions posed by the investigation. The word that best describes this testimony is slippery. Trump offers little information beyond what he knows is available to the Special Counsel from other sources, and makes no claims specific enough to be contradicted by other witnesses. In general, he just doesn’t remember.

If he’s not being slippery, the other possibility is senile dementia. I’d like to ask Mike Pence if he has read Appendix C, and if it made him consider invoking the 25th Amendment.

This is how a 30-year career at the Justice Department ends for Rod Rosenstein, who stood behind Barr unblinking and expressionless. Three weeks ago I wrote:

If Rod Rosenstein really does agree with Barr’s conclusion, I’d like to hear him say so himself, rather than let Barr put words in his mouth.

Thursday, Rosenstein looked like somebody whose daughter is being held in an undisclosed location pending his good behavior. Once again, Barr made claims in his name, but Rosenstein never spoke. Twitter noticed.

Barr’s redactions also drew some humorous comment.

and this musical spoof from Jimmy Fallon:

I’m glad we got this settled:

President Donald Trump’s spokeswoman Sarah Sanders pushed back Friday against allegations that special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia report exposed a culture of lying at the White House.

Sanders says there is no culture of lying at the White House, and why would she lie about that?

She’s under fire because the Mueller Report exposed this blatant lying, which she had to own up to under oath:

In the afternoon of May 10, 2017, deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders spoke to the President about his decision to fire Comey and then spoke to reporters in a televised press conference. Sanders told reporters that the President, the Department of Justice, and bipartisan members of Congress had lost confidence in Comey, ” [a]nd most importantly, the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director. Accordingly, the President accepted the recommendation of his Deputy Attorney General to remove James Comey from his position.” In response to questions from reporters , Sanders said that Rosenstein decided “on his own” to review Comey’s performance and that Rosenstein decided “on his own” to come to the President on Monday, May 8 to express his concerns about Comey. When a reporter indicated that the “vast majority” of FBI agents supported Comey, Sanders said , “Look, we’ve heard from countless members of the FBI that say very different things.” Following the press conference, Sanders spoke to the President, who told her she did a good job and did not point out any inaccuracies in her comments. Sanders told this Office that her reference to hearing from “countless members of the FBI” was a “slip of the tongue.” She also recalled that her statement in a separate press interview that rank-and-file FBI agents had lost confidence in Comey was a comment she made “in the heat of the moment” that was not founded on anything.

Typically, White House press secretaries correct their honest “slips of the tongue”. (WWCJD?) But that’s too high a standard for this White House.

Mitt Romney was the first major Republican to criticize Trump after reading the Mueller Report, tweeting:

I am sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the President. I am also appalled that, among other things, fellow citizens working in a campaign for president welcomed help from Russia — including information that had been illegally obtained; that none of them acted to inform American law enforcement; and that the campaign chairman was actively promoting Russian interests in Ukraine.

Republican leaders fall into three basic groups:

  • gung-ho Trumpers (Mike Huckabee, for example, or Jim Jordan) who shout down any criticism of him, no matter how justified.
  • cowards (too numerous to name) or corrupt bargainers (Mitch McConnell) who recognize the damage Trump is doing to America, but avert their eyes and keep their heads down in hopes of surviving into the post-Trump era.
  • hand-wringers who want credit for their high moral principles, even though they are unwilling to take any action on them. (Susan Collins)

Mitt is hand-wringing here. That’s better than keeping his head down or actively collaborating, so it marks progress of a sort. I wish more Republicans would speak out like this, even if they don’t intend to do anything either. But I can’t get too excited about it. If Mitt starts demanding change and either calls for impeachment or supports a primary challenge to Trump, let me know.

and the Sri Lanka Easter bombings

Suicide attacks killed nearly 300 people in Sri Lanka yesterday. Three Christian churches and three major hotels were bombed. An Islamic terrorist group is suspected, and the government has arrested 24 people.

and Notre Dame

The iconic Paris cathedral burned last Monday. The spire fell, but the two towers, with their famous stained glass rose windows, survived.

Tragedies typically bring people together in a sense of loss and grief. So I found it bizarre how many folks tried to make this event divisive. When art, architecture, and historic relics are lost, we are all the poorer for it. OK, maybe there have been other losses that should have evoked a similar response, but didn’t. Maybe rich donors ponied up quickly for this, when they have no money for other worthy projects. I don’t care. Losses like this are emotional, and emotions can’t be weighed and measured like that.

I also have no patience with the folks who want to see some special providence in the fact that the disaster wasn’t worse, or that some particular object was saved. It would have taken only a smidgen of godly power to site somebody with a fire extinguisher in the right place when the whole thing started, but God seems not to work that way. The fact that shit happens, but that humanity survives somehow nonetheless, neither raises nor lowers the odds on the existence of a higher power.

I’m reminded of this exchange on Game of Thrones.

Jon Snow: What kind of God would do something like that?

Melisandre: The one we’ve got.

and you also might be interested in …

Everybody else is running for president, so why not my congressman, Seth Moulton? I just moved to this district in the fall, though, so I can’t claim to have any special insight. Moulton is the 19th Democratic candidate. Joe Biden, the current front-runner in most polls, is expected to become the 20th on Wednesday.

Noah Smith explains in two graphs why you shouldn’t read too much into polls about specific issues: A poll that phrases the issue differently might get a different result, and a large number of people might reject the inevitable consequence of something they support.

For example: whites who think we spend too little on “assistance to the poor” change their minds when you call it “welfare”.

And Americans favor eliminating “health insurance premiums”, but not eliminating “private health insurance companies”.

While we’re talking about redactions …

Two examples of how religion is favored in America, and those who consider themselves non-religious are discriminated against.

Friday, an appeals court ruled that the House chaplain doesn’t have to allow atheist guest chaplains to deliver the invocation. The judge wrote:

House counsel represented to this court that the House interprets its rules to require ‘a religious invocation’.

Atheists, by definition, can’t be religious. (Of course, this interpretation will go out the window the next time it’s convenient to claim that atheism is just another religion.)

Second: Lawsuits that try to enforce the wall between church and state sometimes leave the names of the plaintiffs out of the public record for their own safety. A law that just passed the Missouri House will make this illegal, but just for church-and-state suits. In other words, if you represent a Christian majority that is imposing its will on the public square, you have the right to know exactly who is challenging you, in case you want to threaten or intimidate them. Other defendants in other suits don’t have that right, because they’re not the Christian majority.

and let’s close with something incongruous

Sesame Street invades HBO. First WestWorld,

and then Game of Thrones.


At long last, it is Spring. All around us, the ancient miracle is happening once again. The season of Death is behind us, and new life is springing up. You have an invitation to join that renewal, but the Earth will not wait for you. So don’t delay until the yeast has raised the dough; make your bread without it. Have your walking stick ready; it’s time to go. The stone has been rolled away and the path to the light is open.

Are you coming? It’s too late to wish you could be replanted somewhere else, because it’s time to sprout. Here. Now. It’s Easter.

– from my 2013 sermon “Struggling With Easter

This week’s featured post is “Buttigieg vs. Pence“. You also might want to look at the church service the quote above is from. I’ve never liked Easter services, but that year I volunteered to lead a service in my hometown without realizing that date was Easter. With some trepidation, I accepted the challenge and did an all-spring-holidays-at-once service. I’m happy with how it came out. If you don’t care for Easter services either, check it out.

This week everybody was wondering whether the administration will obey the law

This was a question that united a number of news stories: the purge at DHS, Mnuchin’s refusal to let the House Ways and Means chair see Trump’s tax returns, the plan to dump detained immigrants in sanctuary cities, and whether Trump offered a pardon to the Custom and Borders Protection Commissioner to induce him to ignore laws about applicants for asylum.

DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned last Monday, just in time for me to mention it in last week’s summary. Tuesday, Acting Deputy Secretary Clare Grady was also forced out, leaving the Department in the hands of the next-in-line, Kevin McAleenan.

Secret Service Director Randolph “Tex” Alles was ousted, and at least two officials have been named as possibly heading out the door: US Citizenship and Immigration Services director Francis Cissna and Office of the General Counsel’s John Mitnick.

On April 5, Trump withdrew his nomination of Ron Vitiello to lead ICE, saying he wanted to go in a “tougher direction”. Vitiello was already the acting head of ICE.

Thursday, a Washington Post scoop began to flesh out what a “tougher” head of ICE might do.

The White House believed it could punish Democrats — including Pelosi — by busing ICE detainees into their districts before their release, according to two DHS whistleblowers who independently reported the busing plan to Congress. … Homeland Security officials said the sanctuary city request was unnerving, and it underscores the political pressure Trump and Miller have put on ICE and other DHS agencies at a time when the president is furious about the biggest border surge in more than a decade.

“It was basically an idea that Miller wanted that nobody else wanted to carry out,” said one congressional investigator who has spoken to one of the whistleblowers. “What happened here is that Stephen Miller called people at ICE, said if they’re going to cut funding, you’ve got to make sure you’re releasing people in Pelosi’s district and other congressional districts.”

… “It was retaliation, to show [Democrats in Congress], ‘Your lack of cooperation has impacts,’ ” said one of the DHS officials, summarizing the rationale. “I think they thought it would put pressure on those communities to understand, I guess, a different perspective on why you need more immigration money for detention beds.”

Administration sources initially described this as a “nonstory”, but then Trump himself verified it.

Due to the fact that Democrats are unwilling to change our very dangerous immigration laws, we are indeed, as reported, giving strong considerations to placing Illegal Immigrants in Sanctuary Cities

CNN commentator Jeffrey Toobin:

These are human beings, and treat treat them like a form of plague that you want to impose on your enemies is really grotesque.

This fits into the larger context of the Trump administration breaking down barriers between politics and law enforcement. Little by little, we are losing the democratic ideal that political appointees set priorities and make policy, while the government’s career professionals are mission-driven and carry out their jobs apolitically. Instead, Trump is moving us toward the authoritarian model where everything is political.

Masha Gessen makes a good point: This is one of those stories that is wrong on so many levels that it’s hard to know how to respond. Merely pointing out the illegality of using government resources to punish uncooperative congresspeople yields a point that shouldn’t be yielded: These immigrants are not a plague. They don’t bring crime and drugs and disease as Trump keeps claiming.

The response Gessen favors is similar to the one given by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan:

Here’s a message to President Trump: Seattle is not afraid of immigrants and refugees. … This president believes that immigrants and refugees burden our country and burden cities like ours. But he could not be more wrong. In Seattle, we know that our immigrant and refugee communities make our city a stronger, more vibrant place. … So if this president wants to send immigrants and refugees to Seattle and other welcoming cities, let me be clear: We will do what we have always done, and we will be stronger for it. And it will only strengthen our commitment to fighting for the dignity of every person. We will not allow any administration to use the power of America to destroy the promise of America.

I think it’s important to keep telling immigrants’ stories, because they’re so antithetical to the image Trump is trying to sell us. Mother Jones tells about Ansly Damus, a Haitian who legally sought asylum in the US, and has been held like a prisoner for two years.

Friday, the New York Times added:

President Trump last week privately urged Kevin McAleenan, the border enforcement official he was about to name as acting secretary of homeland security, to close the southwestern border to migrants despite having just said publicly that he was delaying a decision on the step for a year, according to three people briefed about the conversation.

It was not clear what Mr. Trump meant by his request or his additional comment to Mr. McAleenan that he would pardon him if he encountered any legal problems as a result of taking the action.

House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal requested six years of Trump’s tax returns last week. The law authorizing him to make this request is clear: It instructs the IRS to deliver the documents.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is delaying, while not admitting that he intends to disobey the law. Instead, he pretends that there is some kind of legitimate legal issue here.

Mnuchin, who has consulted with the White House and Department of Justice about Trump’s tax returns, said earlier this week that Neal’s request raised concerns about the scope of the committee’s authority, privacy protections for U.S. taxpayers and the legislative purpose of lawmakers in seeking the documents.

Think about what Mnuchin is putting forward here: that the executive branch has the right to judge the “legislative purpose” of the legislative branch. In other words, Congress is not really an equal branch of government.

Sarah Sanders to Fox News’ Chris Wallace:

Frankly, Chris, I don’t think Congress — particularly not this group of congressmen and women — are smart enough to look through the thousands of pages that I would assume that President Trump’s taxes will be,” Sanders said. “My guess is most of them don’t do their own taxes, and I certainly don’t trust them to look through the decades of success that the president has and determine anything.

It’s laughable that Trump can question the intelligence of Chairman Neal.

and a black hole

or at least a picture of where one ought to be.

and the Israeli elections

Netanyahu will be prime minister for another term. Israel will impose its will on Palestine, and keep pushing until there’s another intifada. I continue to believe that ultimately this situation is headed towards an ethnic cleansing.

and Julian Assange

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange had been inside the Ecuadoran embassy in London for the last seven years, until Thursday, when British police arrested him after Ecuador stopped granting asylum.

His arrest raises a bunch of issues about freedom of the press that I haven’t unraveled yet — like “What’s the difference between journalism and espionage?” — so for now I’ll just link to a CNN article that points to the complexity.

and Brexit

There’s a new deadline: Halloween. It’s still not clear what will be different then.

Channel 4 commentator Jon Snow (not the Game of Thrones guy) touched off an uproar while he was covering a rally outside the Prime Minister’s residence by angry pro-Brexit protesters. “I’ve never seen so many white people in one place,” he said.

Why, wondered Myriam François in The Guardian, would white people be upset to be identified as white people?

First, white people are not used to being marked out by race. Despite habitually racialising others, we generally don’t take well to being racialised ourselves. Acknowledging our “whiteness” means accepting that our worldview isn’t universal nor objective. It is a white perspective, forged by a particular experience. The “facts of whiteness”, to paraphrase Frantz Fanon, make many white people uncomfortable.

It’s telling that Snow’s remark has sparked more outrage than the fact that a rally held in a city with 40% black and minority-ethnic population was almost entirely white. Far-right extremist Tommy Robinson addressed crowds in Parliament Square and somehow this doesn’t raise questions about race? If we weren’t so intent on ringfencing white people from any introspection, white people themselves might legitimately ask why the leave campaign has attracted so many racists and so few people of colour.

and you also might be interested in …

If Attorney General Barr has been telling the truth, his redacted version of the Mueller report should come out this week. (Thursday, possibly.) Trump has gotten nearly a month to shape a “no collusion, no obstruction” narrative, which his base will probably continue to believe even if the report says something different.

The Trump tweet linking Muslim Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and 9-11 is not worth discussing in itself. The speech Omar’s one line was lifted from was making the point that Muslims are not collectively guilty for 9-11, so attacking their civil liberties was unjustified. Trump’s tweet essentially makes the point that Muslims are collectively guilty for 9-11. I think we all (in one way or another) resemble people who have done bad things, so any support for the idea of collective guilt should threaten all of us.

What is worth discussing is the role Trump is playing in what has come to be called “stochastic terrorism“. Omar reports that her death threats have skyrocketed since Trump’s tweet, and Nancy Pelosi has asked the House Sergeant-at-Arms to pay special attention to Omar’s security, noting that Trump’s “hateful and inflammatory rhetoric creates real danger”.

Trump himself is not threatening to kill Omar, and he is not conspiring with any particular assassin. But he knows full well the kind of people who are out there, and how they might react to what he says.

It took about a month for New Zealand to change its gun laws after the horrific March 15 mosque shootings. The Prime Minister got behind a bill to ban military-style assault weapons, and Parliament passed it 119-1 on Wednesday.

Over the last two weeks I’ve been raising the question of whether Republicans would allow Trump to fill the Federal Reserve Board of Governors with stooges like Stephen Moore and Herman Cain. I mean, it’s one thing to let know-nothings take charge of education or public housing or the environment, but this is money we’re talking about. Billionaires and multinational corporations are counting on money to continue having meaning, so you’d think Republicans in Congress would want to keep the likes of Moore and Cain from screwing around with it.

It turns out they do. Four Republican senators — Cramer, Romeny, Murkowski, and Gardner — have come out against Cain’s nomination, which pretty much dooms it. Stephen Moore still might get the job.

Politico’s account of Trump’s visit to Mount Vernon sounds like something from The Onion.

“If [George Washington] was smart, he would’ve put his name on it,” Trump said, according to three sources briefed on the exchange. “You’ve got to put your name on stuff or no one remembers you.”

The tour was for visiting French President Emmanuel Macron, who was more into it than Trump.

The president’s disinterest in Washington made it tough for tour guide Bradburn to sustain Trump’s interest during a deluxe 45-minute tour of the property which he later described to associates as “truly bizarre.” The Macrons, Bradburn has told several people, were far more knowledgeable about the history of the property than the president.

I suspect if you picked a subject at random, Macron would be more knowledgeable about it than Trump.

I’m looking forward to a book that comes out this week: A Lot of People Are Saying by Russell Muirhead and Nancy Rosenblum. It talks about conspiracy theories, and about a subtly different concept: conspiracism.

In an interview with Vox, Rosenblum explains the distinction: Conspiracy theories are attempts to explain something, and often to re-explain randomness by imposing a cause-and-effect structure on it, however unlikely. In my view, Kennedy assassination theories are the archetypes: It seemed inconceivable that a lone loser like Lee Harvey Oswald could bring down a popular president, so bigger explanations were invented.

Conspiracism, though, is “conspiracy without the theory”. There are no dots to connect, just a bald assertion that somebody you don’t like is up to something.

For example, Trump’s claim that elections are rigged to favor Democrats (and hence that he’d have won the popular vote without the millions of illegal Hillary votes) is not an actual conspiracy theory, because he offers no explanation of how this could have happened. It’s not at all like a Kennedy-assassination theory, where the theorists can drown you in detail.

It would be great if white people would listen to black people’s explanations of privilege, but for a lot of whites that’s just never going to happen. So there’s a need for articles like this one by white NBA player Kyle Korver, where a white guy suddenly gets it.

By the way, there have been several books lately that belie the stereotype of the dumb jock. For example, look at Things That Make White People Uncomfortable by NFL defensive lineman Michael Bennett or The Last Pass: Cousy, Russell, the Celtics, and what matters in the end.

I’ve got to plug an explanation of the current Supreme Court gerrymandering cases co-authored by my nephew Mike Stephens, a recently-minted lawyer.

and let’s close with some low-tech high-tech

One of the problems with renewable energy sources like wind and solar power is how to regulate the flow: the times when you need the most power may not be the times when the most power is being generated. A lot of work has gone into designing batteries, but a conceptually simpler idea may work better: stacking concrete blocks. When you have more power than you need, you build the tower higher. When you need more power than you have, you let a block fall, generating power as it goes.

Another company is working on a similar notion, but instead of building a tower, it raises and lowers weights inside a deep mine shaft.

Alarm Bells

It is deeply alarming that the Trump administration official who put children in cages is reportedly resigning because she is not extreme enough for the White House’s liking.

Nancy Pelosi

There is no featured post this week. This summary is all I’m posting.

This week everybody was talking about the cover up

I’m ready to start describing the slow-walking of the Mueller Report as a cover-up. The Mueller Report has been done for more than two weeks, and all the public or Congress has seen is a four-page summary that we now have reason to believe is inaccurate.

During the investigation the Mueller team was famous for not leaking. They published indictments and made motions in court that became part of the public record. Beyond that, our information came second-hand, from the witnesses they interviewed, from lawyers for potential targets of the investigation, and from watching who came or left the courtroom.

This week they began to leak. It started with a New York Times article on Wednesday:

Some of Robert S. Mueller III’s investigators have told associates that Attorney General William P. Barr failed to adequately portray the findings of their inquiry and that they were more troubling for President Trump than Mr. Barr indicated, according to government officials and others familiar with their simmering frustrations.

The Washington Post confirmed via their own sources that the investigators were unhappy with Barr’s conclusion that the President had not obstructed justice.

[M]embers of Mueller’s team have complained to close associates that the evidence they gathered on obstruction was alarming and significant. “It was much more acute than Barr suggested,” said one person, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the subject’s sensitivity.

Barr originally said that his redacted version would be available by mid-April “if not sooner”. That’s in the next week or so. Assuming he follows through, we’ll see then whether the redactions are insubstantial enough to be worth a what-were-you-worried about response, or so extensive as to be one big fuck-you to Congress and the public.

In either case, Congress needs to know what Mueller found out, and not just what Trump’s hand-picked protector deigns to tell them.

In a similar story about Congress’ oversight duty, Democrats are also trying to get Trump’s tax returns.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) Wednesday evening sent IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig a request for six-years worth of Trump’s personal and business tax returns. Neal made the request under a part of section 6103 of the federal tax code that states that the Treasury Secretary “shall furnish” tax returns to the chairmen of Congress’s tax committees upon written request, so long as the documents are viewed in a closed session.

According to Maddowblog’s Steve Benen, section 6103 was put in the tax code in the wake of the Teapot Dome scandal of the 1920s, which centered on President Harding’s Treasury secretary. Up until then, only the President had the power to examine tax returns, but Teapot Dome brought up the possibility that the President might be politically motivated not to investigate his own administration. So the appropriate committee chairs in the House and Senate were also given the power.

Since this is the Trump administration, the fact that the law is clear doesn’t mean it will be followed, at least not without a fight. (Chief of Staff Mulvaney pledges that Democrats will “never” see Trump’s taxes.) Republicans in Congress seem likely, once again, to back Trump in his attempt to subvert Congress’ legal power.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said Thursday that courts have ruled that congressional requests for information need to have legitimate legislative purposes, and Democrats have fallen short on that front.

The administration routinely rejects courts looking into whether its own actions have legitimate purposes, arguing instead that the judicial branch owes deference to the executive branch’s judgments. (This came up, for example, in the Muslim ban case, where Trump’s claims about national security were clearly specious. It will likely come up again in the lawsuits of his border-wall national emergency, which is similarly based on nonsense.)

Section 6103 hasn’t been invoked since Watergate, because Trump is the first post-Watergate presidential candidate to keep his tax returns secret. It’s illuminating to watch both sides spin this dearth of examples. Fox News describes this as “the first such demand for a sitting president’s tax information in 45 years” while Benen notes that “no administration has ever denied a lawmaker access to tax returns under this law”.

A subsequent Fox News article links to the first one to back up its clearly false claim that the Democrats have made an “unprecedented demand“. Again, the only unprecedented thing here (at least in the post-Watergate era) is that the President’s tax returns are not already public. The last time a president’s returns weren’t public (i.e., Nixon), Congress received them under Section 6103.

My guess: Not even this Supreme Court can ignore such a clear statement of law. The main question is how long Trump’s legal challenges can delay the matter.

and Joe Biden’s touching problem

Biden still hasn’t announced his candidacy, but it’s looking more and more like a foregone conclusion that he will. This week he put out an I-get-it video to respond to the accusations of inappropriate touching. It wasn’t exactly an apology, but he acknowledged that standards of propriety have changed and promised “I will be more mindful about respecting personal space in the future.” That started an is-that-good-enough debate that got more intense after he joked about having permission to hug a child.

One problem Democrats are having dealing with situations like this is that abuse-of-women is often framed as a where-to-draw-the-line problem. But like many problems, abuse is a continuum that ranges from the annoying to the criminal.

What Biden has been accused of doing is down in the second-lowest row. (Accusations against Trump and Brett Kavanaugh are much higher up.) Biden denies having bad intentions, and so far no one has claimed otherwise. But it’s still not OK. Doing what Biden did creates opportunities for people who want to do worse.

We’re also struggling over how to forgive inappropriate behavior, and how one should seek forgiveness. I think a lot of people in privileged groups — not just men, but also whites, straights, cis-gender, and so forth — share a partly-but-not-entirely-irrational fear of being exiled to Siberia for violating (through obliviousness rather than malice) some norm we’d never heard of before. (That fear hit close to home recently. I’m a contributing editor for UU World magazine. In the current issue, one of the other contributing editors published an article that a number of transgender and gender-nonbinary people found offensive, and for which the magazine has apologized. It was disturbingly easy for me to imagine winding up in a similar situation myself.)

I found this how-to-respond graphic helpful.

I wasn’t planning to support Biden in the primaries anyway, though I’ll happily vote for him over Trump if he is the nominee, and I’m not inclined to trash him unnecessarily. To me, this flap is not so damaging in itself, but putting a weight on Biden’s negative pan raises the question: What are the positives that we’re counting on to outweigh this?

Biden arrived at the Senate in 1973 as a 30-year-old whiz kid. He came of age politically in an era shaped by Reagan’s annihilation of Carter in 1980 and Mondale in 1984, Dukakis’ landslide loss in 1988, the Gingrich Revolution of 1994, and Bill Clinton’s successful rightward shift in 1996. During that time liberals became timid, and felt that they needed some signature conservative issues and sound bites to prove that they weren’t crazy McGovernites.

All that stuff will return to haunt him in the coming months, making him look inauthentic. He’s not really inauthentic, or at least no more than anybody else. He’s just a politician of his time and place. But this is a different time, and once the campaign gets rolling I think candidates who don’t have to answer for the 1980s and 1990s will have an advantage over him.

and Brexit

Brexit is one of those strange situations where every conceivable outcome is accompanied by a rational and coherent explanation of why it can’t happen. But something will have to happen, at least eventually.

Friday is the latest deadline for that Something, but no one knows what it is yet, so Prime Minister May is seeking an extension to June 30. (What will change by then is unclear.) This would mean that the UK participates in European Parliament elections in May. All 27 of the other EU nations would have to agree to the extension. If not, the disaster of a no-deal Brexit could happen as early as Friday.

The biggest obstacle to implementing any form of Brexit is the Good Friday Agreement that ended the so-called “Troubles” in Northern Ireland. The GFA requires a soft border between Northern Ireland (which is part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland (which remains in the EU). But control of the border (to keep out immigrants not just from Syria, but also from <gasp> Poland) is what Brexit was all about in the first place. If job-stealing Poles or terrorist Muslims can walk in from Ireland, Brexiteers ask, what was the point? On the other hand, no one wants the Troubles back.

The New Yorker has a clear explanation of all the possible resolutions of Brexit’s Irish-border problem, and why each of them is opposed by some veto-wielding party.

I have a tangential personal connection to the Troubles. In 1985, I attended an IEEE information-theory conference at the Metropole Hotel in the English seaside resort of Brighton. (Claude Shannon spoke, and, though clearly aging, was still dexterous enough to juggle oranges.) The original announcement had sited the conference at the Grand Hotel, but that was before the IRA blew it up. (During a break in the conference, I walked past the rubble.) It was like I had a reservation on the Titanic’s second voyage.

I am told that brexit has become a verb: to announce that you’re leaving and then not go. So you might call your sitter and say: “I thought we’d be home from this party by now, but Bob has been brexiting for nearly an hour.”

and the border

Kirstjen Nielsen resigned as Homeland Security secretary yesterday, just days after Trump withdrew his nominee for head of ICE because he wants someone “tougher”. The NYT news article on her resignation says that Nielsen repeatedly made Trump angry by telling him what the law said. Reportedly, he felt “lectured to”. The partner NYT editorial says:

The president grew impatient with Ms. Nielsen’s insistence that federal law and international obligations limited her actions.

Nielsen’s career should be a lesson for anyone thinking of working in the Trump administration. Her reputation is ruined: For the rest of her life, she will be the woman who put children in cages. And she leaves not with the President’s gratitude and the support of his base, but taking the blame for the failure of his harsh policies to stop migrants from coming to our border.

This is what Trump does: He uses up whatever credibility people can bring to his organization, until the only value they have left is to be sacrificed as scapegoats.

On the subject of mistreatment of migrant children, the government Friday estimated it would take two years to identify all the children it took from their parents. Think about how long two years is for a child.

Trump had been making a lot of noise about closing the border with Mexico, and then suddenly backed down. I assume somebody finally explained to him what “closing the border” actually means. (Maybe that was one of the “lectures” that got Nielsen ousted.) It would disrupt trade and tourism in both directions, interrupt supply chains for factories on both sides of the border, and do nothing to stop either those who are trying to cross the border illegally, or those who are planning to turn themselves in and claim asylum.

Before his retreat, Trump had been expected to announce the border closing when he went to the Calexico Friday. He was there to dedicate what an official plaque calls “the first section of President Trump’s border wall.” It actually isn’t.

A fence had existed at the spot for decades. … [T]he Border Patrol had identified this section as a priority for replacement in 2009, during President Barack Obama’s administration.

In fact, no new sections of border fencing have been built during Trump’s administration.

While at Calexico, Trump repeated a popular bit of white nationalist rhetoric, saying “Our country is full.” SNL’s Michael Che had already answered that last week: “How can America run out of space? We’ve still got two Dakotas.”

The Mexican Wall play/counterplay so far: Congress denied Trump’s budget request for money to build more of the wall, so Trump declared a national emergency that he claims allows him to seize the money from other programs, so Congress passed a bipartisan resolution rescinding the emergency, so Trump vetoed that resolution, so Congress tried to override his veto and failed.

Next move: House Democrats are going to court., joining the states that have already filed suit.

but I read a book

I continue my quest to understand Trump’s base voters, but I’m starting to lose hope. A few weeks ago I told you about Timothy Carney’s Alienated America. The key insight there is that the original Trump supporters, the ones who were with him in the primaries and helped him take the Republican Party away from the Jeb Bushes and Marco Rubios, were people who were doing relatively well in communities that were doing badly. Yes, they were angry, but not so much on their own behalf. They were angry because they saw their towns and their families crumbling around them.

That explained why they might take a flier on an untried candidate who promised to shake things up, but not why they would stick by him while he did nothing to help their communities, choosing instead to enrich himself, increase government corruption, and give big tax breaks to his fellow billionaires. (There’s a reason why he doesn’t want you to see his taxes, people.)

This week I read Robert Wurthnow’s The Left Behind: Decline and Rage in Rural America. Wurthnow is a Princeton sociologist, and believes that when you don’t understand people, you should go out and talk to them.

That makes sense up to the point where you realize that what they’re telling you is bullshit. So, for example, rural Americans claim they were incensed by the deficits that Obama ran up, but they are strangely unmoved by Trump’s large deficits. They claim they have to be anti-abortion and anti-gay because of their religion and how much they value their religious communities. But many of them left the Christian denominations they were born into when those churches got soft on abortion and gays. (It’s like what Bush did in the Iraq War: He always followed the advice of his generals, but he’d fire generals until he got one that gave him the advice he wanted.)

In short, listening to the nonsense they say isn’t helping me understand them.

and you also might be interested in …

If you’re a regular Sift reader, you’ve heard most of these ideas before, but this video from Represent.US puts them together effectively.

Israel has elections tomorrow. Benjamin Netanyahu is going for his fifth term as prime minister, and is promising to unilaterally annex chunks of the occupied territories if he wins. The peace process has been going nowhere for many years now, but such a move pretty announces Israel’s intention to impose its will on the Palestinians.

Israel’s attorney general has announced its intention to indict Netanyahu for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, but the charges have not been filed yet. The polls are close.

Josh Marshall raises a good point: Trump often talks to American Jews as if they were expatriate Israelis. Speaking to the Republican Jewish Coalition on Saturday, Trump referred to Netanyahu as “your prime minister”. In October, when Trump visited the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh (site of the mass shooting), he met the Israeli ambassador at the front gate — as if the synagogue were a piece of Israel inside the US.

This kind of othering is a classic anti-Semitic tactic, and is consistent with the way that many white ethno-nationalists support Israel: as the true home of all Jews, even the ones who think they’ve made a home here.

I know what you’ve all been thinking: “I wish the government would stop doing all those invasive inspections and leave the pork industry alone.” Well, our populist government has heard you and is responding to the public demand for privatized meat inspection.

The Trump administration plans to shift much of the power and responsibility for food safety inspections in hog plants to the pork industry as early as May, cutting the number of federal inspectors by about 40 percent and replacing them with plant employees. Under the proposed new inspection system, the responsibility for identifying diseased and contaminated pork would be shared with plant employees, whose training would be at the discretion of plant owners. There would be no limits on slaughter-line speeds.

Back when Trump started saying “Make America Great Again”, many of us wondered what time period the “again” referred to. Now we know: the era of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.

Jill Filipovic wrote in the NYT about age and the female politician:

They are seen as too young and inexperienced right up until they are branded too old and tedious.

I don’t entirely follow her point about Kirsten Gillibrand, who at 52 and in her second Senate term is youngish and newish for a presidential candidate, but not strikingly so. Elizabeth Warren, on the other hand, at 69

finds herself put in the same “old” category as Mr. Sanders and Joe Biden, even though both men are nearly a decade older than she is. Men who are more or less the same age as Ms. Warren — Sherrod Brown (66), John Hickenlooper (67), Jay Inslee (68) — are not lumped in with the white-hairs.

In 2016 I wrote about the stereotypes that portray a man’s deficiencies as virtues: the charming rogue, the wheeler-dealer, and so on. Filipovic points to another one that Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke are taking advantage of: the fresh face, the new kid on the block. JFK, Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama — there’s a well-established pattern of a man coming from nowhere and jumping the line to the top job. Young Paul Ryan hit Congress as a young gun or a whiz kid; I haven’t heard those phrases used to describe AOC.

My can-you-believe-this story last week was Stephen Moore being nominated to the Federal Reserve Board. This week’s is that Trump is getting ready to nominate Herman Cain. The point isn’t to change the economic philosophy of the Fed, it’s to fill the Board with Trump loyalists who will pump the economy full of cheap money to get him re-elected in 2020. (Cain would also join the fairly large contingent of people in the administration who have been accused of harassing women.)

That’s the pattern with several of the recent Trump appointees: Bill Barr in the Justice Department and Charles Rettig and Michael Desmond at IRS. They’ve been appointed to serve Trump, not to serve the country.

The next time somebody tries to tell you that both parties are the same, remember Thursday’s vote in the House to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. It passed 263-158. The No votes were 157 Republicans and 1 Democrat. The bill faces challenges in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Here’s the main point of contention:

Under current federal law, only people convicted of domestic violence offenses against spouses or family members can lose their gun rights. The [new version of the] VAWA would add people convicted of abusing their dating partners, closing the so-called “boyfriend loophole.” It would also prohibit people convicted of misdemeanor stalking offenses from owning or buying firearms, as well as abusers subject to temporary protective orders.

That provision is too much for the NRA, and so for the Republicans the NRA controls. The gun rights of stalkers and abusers should be protected, even if that means more women will die.

A study comparing abused women who survived with those killed by their abuser found that 51 percent of women who were killed had a gun in the house. By contrast, only 16 percent of women who survived lived in homes with guns.

Even if you don’t care about women, there’s still good reason to support adding this provision to the VAWA: When you look at mass shooters and ask “How could we have known what he would do?”, one strong clue is a history of domestic violence. Keeping guns out of the hands of abusers would probably save a lot of men’s lives too.

After some legislative shenanigans on Mitch McConnell’s part, Congress passed a resolution invoking the War Powers Act to end US support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. Trump is expected to veto it.

Trump’s constant lying got renewed attention Wednesday after he uncorked a slew of them in 24 hours, including a ridiculous one (that the noise from wind turbines causes cancer) and a transparent and pointless one (that his father was born in Germany when he was actually born in New York). Anderson Cooper debunked a bunch of Trump lies in one segment. Social media just had fun with it all.

Sportswriter Rick Reilly claims to have played golf with Trump. This is from his article “Whatever Trump is Playing, it isn’t Golf“, which looks like an abstract of his new book Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump.

If Trump will cheat to win $20 from his friends, is it that much further to believe he’d cheat to lower his taxes, win an election, sway an investigation?

Yet another lie: Puerto Rico has not received $91 billion in hurricane relief aid.

and let’s close with something to envy

Helsinki’s new Oodi library.

Upon entering Oodi, an enforced hush does not descend. Nor are there any bookshelves in sight, but on the first floor – a large, fluid space – there is a cinema, a multi-purpose hall and a restaurant. The second floor, called the “attic”, is entirely dedicated to skills development. Here the public can use 3D printers and sewing machines, or borrow musical equipment and rock out in specially modified studios. There is even a kitchen and socialising area, which can be hired for a small fee, where the librarians hope birthday parties will take place, perhaps followed by a spot of karaoke. Staff roam the site ready to help the public use the resources available. …

“We believe,” [Helsinki’s executive director of culture Tommi] Laitio expounds, “that everyone deserves to have free access to not only knowledge, but also our shared culture, spaces that are beautiful, and to dignity.” Central to Oodi’s concept, he explains, is bringing a wide range of people together under one roof. “A lot of emphasis has been put on how we make sure that this building is safe and welcoming to homeless people [or] to CEOs with a couple of hours to spare … We need to make sure that people believe that we can live together, and I don’t think €100m for that feeling is a lot of money.”

Be Best

Americans should expect far more from a president than merely that he not be provably a criminal.

George Conway

This week’s featured post is “Mueller By Gaslight“.

This week everybody was talking about the Mueller Report

which none of us have been allowed to read. So the advantage at this point goes to people who are comfortable making bold claims about things they know nothing about. Has there ever been a situation so tailor-made for Donald Trump?

In the featured post, I realize that I can’t wait until I know what I’m talking about, because then Trump and his people own the field, a position that they have been abusing mightily this last week. So I say what I can.

In general, I find myself agreeing with Matt Yglesias:

I continue to be confused as to why republicans are working so hard to suppress the contents of a report that exonerates Trump and utterly discredits Dems + the media.

and ObamaCare

After spending a bunch of the mid-term campaign denying that they wanted to take health insurance away from people with pre-existing conditions, the Trump administration is back to trying to take health insurance away from people with pre-existing conditions.

This week, his Justice Department filed a legal brief arguing that a judge should find Obamacare unconstitutional — a decision that would turn the insurance markets back into the Wild West and eliminate Medicaid coverage for millions of Americans. By at least one estimate, a full repeal could cost 20 million Americans their health care coverage.

But rather than deal with that reality, the Trump administration retreated into fantasy.

President Donald Trump has insisted his party “will become ‘The Party of Healthcare!’” and said things like, “if the Supreme Court rules that Obamacare is out, we will have a plan that’s far better than Obamacare.”

He’s been talking about this mysterious plan since his campaign, and during that time no single detail of it has ever leaked out. I’ll go out on a limb and say that’s because there are no details to leak. Trump has never in his entire life had two consecutive thoughts about healthcare.

The basic outline of the plan Republicans want goes like this:

  • It covers everybody.
  • It doesn’t force healthy people to pay for sick people’s coverage.
  • It costs less money.
  • It provides better care.
  • It doesn’t raise taxes.
  • It doesn’t lower the profits of drug companies, insurance companies, or hospitals

There is no such plan, but as long as you don’t nail down any details, you don’t have to admit that.

and the border

In the latest manufactured crisis, Trump is threatening to close the border with Mexico this week (cutting off trade worth $612 billion last year) because of “the mother of all caravans“, which the Mexican interior secretary says is forming in Honduras. (Honduras knows nothing about it, and immigration activists call the story a hoax.)

I recommend reading this morning’s Washington Post article on this, which captures the atmosphere of surrealism. Both Trump and Chief of Staff Mike Mulvaney say closing the border is a real threat. “I’m not playing games,” Trump said Friday. On a Sunday interview show, Mulvaney said that only “something dramatic” could persuade Trump not to close the border. However,

Administration officials have offered no details about the president’s intentions, and border control officials have received no instructions to prepare for a shutdown, according to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the issue. Implementing such an order would require time to notify Congress and labor unions representing Border Patrol agents and customs officers, the official said.

A Pentagon spokesman said the military, which has about 5,300 troops in the border region, has not received such orders either.

It’s not clear that Trump has any idea what “closing the border” even means. Factories on both sides of the border will close for lack of parts, just to name one consequence. You also might want to stock up on avocados.

Even if the mother of all caravans were forming, it would constitute a conspiracy to do something legal: ask for asylum in the United States. Trump actually admits this is legal, but does it in his usual backhanded way:

“We have the most laughed-at immigration laws of anywhere in the world,” Mr. Trump said to reporters as he and [resigning SBA Director Linda] McMahon sat in the ornate front room of the club. “They’re the Democrats’ laws, and I got stuck with them.”

The implication here is that the laws of the United States can be separated into Democratic and Republican laws, and that Trump’s oath to “faithfully execute the laws” doesn’t apply to Democratic laws. I can only imagine the heads that would have exploded if President Obama had ever made such a claim.

Another part of Trump’s threat is to cancel assistance to the countries the refugees come from: Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. (A Fox News chyron proclaimed “Trump cuts aid to three Mexican countries“.) As anyone should be able to imagine, cutting aid to these countries will make conditions worse there, and motivate more people to try to leave for the United States.

I can’t decide whether that plan is stupid or diabolical. Maybe Trump understands that cutting aid will produce more refugees for him to demonize.

The House failed to override Trump’s veto of the bipartisan Congressional resolution to revoke the state of emergency Trump proclaimed in order to build his wall. Only 14 Republicans were willing to defend Congress’ constitutional power of the purse.

USA Today reports that there is indeed a surge of immigrants coming across the southern border: about 100,000 in March, “the highest monthly total in over a decade”.

Think about that: “over a decade” probably puts us in the Bush administration, when some people were concerned about immigration, but hardly anybody thought it constituted an emergency. We have seen these kinds of numbers before, and dealt with them without attacking the constitutional separation of powers.

Around 90 percent of those – or 90,000 – crossed the border between legal ports of entry. The vast majority of those crossing between ports of entry turn themselves into Border Patrol agents, seeking asylum.

Turning yourself in and requesting asylum is the appropriate legal process. So this is not an “invasion” or a wave of criminal activity. The article makes one more observation: Trump’s Wall would be useless to stop asylum-seekers, because in many places it will sit back from the actual border.

A wall would go up on levees about a mile from the winding Rio Grande, which is the U.S.-Mexico border. Migrants will just have to cross the river to be in U.S. territory and seek asylum, [McAllen Mayor Jim Darling] said.

and the administration’s proposed budget

If you were looking for something to watch on TV and came across a movie that IMDB told you was about billionaire politicians conspiring to kill the Special Olympics, you’d know right away that this was not high drama. No serious director would allow his or her villains to be so cartoonish.

But that’s the movie we were living in for a few days this week. The proposed Trump budget cut the Department of Education budget by $7 billion, and achieved $18 million of that total by zeroing out the federal contribution to the Special Olympics. That’s just the highlight of broad cuts in special education generally.

To defend those cuts to Congress, Trump sent out yet another billionaire, Education Secretary Betsy Devos. For reasons I can’t put my finger on, DeVos always makes me think of Dolores Umbridge from the Harry Potter movies. Apparently I’m not the only one to see the resemblance; this photo-pairing is going around on social media.

But Rep. Mark Pocan wasn’t having it. His largely futile effort to get any kind of straight answer out of DeVos is worth watching.

After considerable public outcry, Trump announced that Special Olympics wouldn’t be cut. (But the broader cuts to special education and education in general stand.) DeVos (whose budget request has defunded Special Olympics three years in a row) then issued this statement:

I am pleased and grateful the President and I see eye-to-eye on this issue and that he has decided to fund our Special Olympics grant. This is funding I have fought for behind the scenes over the last several years.

Which raises the question: Who did she fight behind the scenes with? If it’s not her, then who is the mysterious Special-Olympics-hating villain within the Trump administration?

Similarly, Trump promised a crowd of his supporters in Michigan that he will get full funding for the Great Lakes Restoration program, which his budget proposes to cut by 90%.

Trump also called for decimating funds for the program in 2017 and 2018, but funding was saved both years by Congress, which would likely do so in the next budget as well. President Barack Obama supported funding for the program each year since it was established in 2010. Yet Trump tried to portray himself at the Midwestern rally as the savior of the program.

It’s not new that politicians promise to back some program and then end up cutting it later. But I can’t recall a situation — let alone so many situations simultaneously — where a politician promised to defend something at the exact same time that he was in the process of slashing it. We’ve never seen this kind of disinformation campaign in America before.

and you also might be interested in …

When I first heard the idea that Joe Biden might run for president in this cycle, I prepared myself for a Me-Too moment. Not because I think Biden is unusually suspect in this area, but just because he’s a man from an era with different standards of behavior. I doubted that he had grabbed anybody by the pussy, as certain other politicians of his generation have bragged about doing, but I found it hard to believe he hadn’t patted somebody’s butt in the wrong way at some time or another.

So Friday, Lucy Flores published her account of a rally in 2014 when Biden was supporting her run for lieutenant governor of Nevada. As the speakers are lining up to go on stage, Biden is standing behind her. He puts his hands on her shoulders and kisses the back of her head.

To me that sounds more grandfatherly than predatory — a sort of “Go get ’em, girl” encouragement — but I wasn’t there, and either way it’s not appropriate either for 2014 or for today. Flores says she found the experience “demeaning and disrespectful”, which is entirely her judgment to make.

I doubt this is the last we’ll hear of this kind of thing. Whether he intends disrespect or not, Biden tends to be touchy-feely in a way that used to be accepted, but isn’t any more. That problem interacts badly with at least one of his other problems: the resentment some women still feel about his treatment of Anita Hill when he was chairing Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court nomination hearings.

I continue to think that this presidential cycle will take many twists and turns before it gets wherever it’s going. Being on top of the polls right now counts for very little.

According to the General Social Survey, the number of Americans who identify their religious tradition as “no religion” is now 23.1%, or slightly larger than either Evangelical Christians or Catholics. And yet, do you ever hear pundits speculate about how people of no religion might react to some public issue?

I think it’s important to understand that the so-called Nones are not necessarily agnostics or atheists. They may have spiritual intuitions or practices. They may pray to someone or something. And they might admire religious leaders like Pope Francis or the Dalai Lama. They just don’t identify with any of the publicly recognized faiths. I suspect many would agree with what Thomas Paine wrote in The Rights of Man.

My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.

The relative stability of Catholicism masks a lot of churn, I think. If we just looked at native-born Americans, the Catholic line in the graph might fall off the way that the mainline Christian line does. But a constant inflow of Catholic immigrants hides that decline.

While we’re looking at graphs, here’s one that has me shaking my head. Americans are having less sex. Partly that’s caused by the population getting older. But another major factor is the unusual number of celibate 20-somethings.

In particular, since 2009 celibacy has been disproportionately rising among young men.

The article cites three possible factors:

  • The percentage of young men in the workforce has declined, and unemployed men have a hard time attracting partners.
  • A lot of 20-something men are living with their parents, which is just not an attractive situation.
  • “There are a lot more things to do at 10 o’clock at night now than there were 20 years ago. Streaming video, social media, console games, everything else.”

I’m not buying the first explanation, because the graph doesn’t seem to follow the economy. The third factor strikes me as weak. I mean, TV has improved in recent decades, but it’s not that good. (A social media post I can’t find now reproduces the graph above, draws an arrow at the turning point and captions it “Fallout 3 released”.) Living with parents … maybe. (I mean, there are still cars.) I don’t feel like the article has really gotten to the bottom of this mystery.

Conservatives have started to notice that their beliefs don’t track with the Bible. Solution? Re-translate the Bible to make it fit.

OK, we’ve gotten used to the idea that Trump appoints ignorant and incompetent people to high office. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch the Betsy DeVos clip I referenced above.) For the most part, Republicans have been OK with that, because large chunks of the government don’t matter to them. So if Ben Carson knows zip about public housing, well, who cares about public housing anyway? Scott Pruitt and his successor Andrew Wheeler aren’t interested in protecting the environment, but from a Republican point of view that’s just fine.

In two years, Trump nominated more judges rated “unqualified” by the ABA than the last four presidents put together; but conservative judges don’t need to know the law, they just need who they’re for and against: for the rich, corporations, and fundamentalist Christians, against workers, the poor, non-whites who want to vote, and LGBTQ people. You don’t need to go to Harvard Law to learn that.

But now we’re seeing that obliviousness challenged. Trump has nominated Stephen Moore to a position that even Republicans have to think matters: the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve.

Moore is not an economist; he is a booster. His career includes neither major academic posts nor practical experience in banking. Instead, he has lived entirely inside the world of right-wing policy think tanks: the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, Club for Growth, and so on. He promotes the snake-oil notion that taxes should always be lower, and that cutting tax rates will produce more revenue because of the growth that the lower rates will stimulate. That claim flies in the face of all evidence, but boosters don’t face either peer review or angry stockholders, so they can be wrong again and again without consequences.

The Fed, on the other hand, is one of the most consequential institutions our system has: It defines what money means. What money is and why it has value is one of the High Mysteries of Economics, and the Fed Board of Governors is the priesthood whose rituals manage that mystery. Is the Republican Senate really willing to let somebody like Stephen Moore screw around with that?

The session in which the Pennsylvania legislature would swear in its first Muslim woman began with prayer: State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz mentioned Jesus 13 times, including “at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess, Jesus, that you are Lord”. She also thanked God that President Trump “stands by Israel”.

A reporter spoke to her afterward and tweeted:

“That’s how I pray everyday.” When asked to respond to Dems calling for an apology she says “Oh no, I don’t apologize ever for praying”

In case you’re ever in a position to open some public meeting, I want to point out the difference between an invocation and a prayer. An invocation calls people together, reminds them of the values they share, and challenges them to put aside ego as they take up their public responsibilities. For example:

We gather together here today intent on doing good work.

We seek to represent fairly and well, those who have given us this task. May our efforts be blessed with insight, guided by understanding and wisdom.

We seek to serve with respect for all. May our personal faiths give us strength to act honestly and well in all matters before us.

On the other hand, a public prayer is a moment when believers in a particular god collectively address that god. The more sectarian your prayer is, the greater its expression of your group’s supremacy. “We own this room,” it announces.

And so, ironically, even as Borowicz was supporting Israel, she was telling Pennsylvania’s Jewish legislators that they don’t really belong. What was objectionable in her prayer wasn’t the Christianity, it was the expression of Christian supremacy in the legislature.

The original Brexit deadline passed on Friday, but Parliament still doesn’t have a plan. The deadline has been pushed off to April 12.

A new Banksy was unveiled in time to mark the occasion:

and let’s close with an unusual sporting event

This year’s ACC Tournament Baby Race featured an amazing comeback.

Very Fine Terrorists

In Charlottesville and around the globe, we stand firmly in stating there are not very fine people on both sides of this issue.

Charlottesville, VA Police Chief RaShall Brackney
announcing the arrest of a teen who threatened an “ethnic cleansing”
at Charlottesville High School

This week’s featured posts are “A Very Early Response to the Mueller Report” and “Confronting Season-Change Denial“.

This week everybody was talking about the Mueller Report

It’s done, but you don’t get to read any of it yet, beyond Attorney General Barr’s four-page summary. It’s easy to get caught up in speculation, which I tried to keep to a minimum in the featured post.

and the 2020 Democrats

Remember: At this point four years ago, the Republican front-runners were Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, and people argued over whether dark horses like Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz might overtake them. Trump wouldn’t come down the escalator talking about Mexican rapists until June, and most self-appointed prognosticators weren’t taking his candidacy seriously until he won New Hampshire the next February. (I’ve got nothing to brag about in that regard.) There was even a Ben Carson boom in November, 2015 (a point still 8 months in the future for this cycle) when he briefly passed Trump in the polling averages.

So take all this with a grain of salt, but right now polls say Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are the front-runners, with Biden maybe a nose ahead. There’s also buzz about Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke. Maybe that’s meaningful, but maybe it isn’t. Most of the candidates are people that the public has barely heard of. And even if you do know about Cory Booker or Elizabeth Warren or Amy Klobuchar, you may not have put much serious thought yet into imagining any of them as president.

My personal guess, for what it’s worth, is that both Biden and Sanders are vulnerable. I don’t have any idea who comes out of this scrum, but if you offered me the Field against Biden and Sanders, I’d take the Field.

Biden’s support is largely nostalgia for Obama, and Biden isn’t Obama. That will quickly become clear when his official campaign starts. And Bernie’s popularity has long been exaggerated, first by his underdog status against Clinton, and then by regret after Clinton lost. Campaigning as a co-frontrunner will be a completely different experience for him. That fact is already showing up in his favorable/unfavorable numbers, which are starting to look like any other candidate’s.

One theme I see developing in the early stump speeches is the contrast between values and policies. Elizabeth Warren has been very policy-heavy, with proposals like breaking up the big tech companies and changing the way capitalism works in this country. Bernie Sanders also has a very specific list of policies — Medicare for All and free college being the foremost — and his followers are using them to test whether other candidates are progressive or not. (Since the policies come from Bernie’s list, ultimately he’s going to be the only candidate who qualifies as a progressive.)

But it’s an interesting question how many voters care about such specific proposals, and how many write them off as undeliverable promises. At the other extreme, Beto O’Rourke talks mainly about progressive values — like taking care of sick people and helping young people get the education they need — while dodging questions on specific proposals. Talking about values can be more inspiring than explaining the details of your legislation, but I think voters also need some assurance that the values aren’t empty: Maybe you don’t go deeply into the details, but we need some assurance that you have done your wonkish homework and could get into that if anybody wanted to hear it.

538 pours cold water over those what-voters-want-in-a-candidate surveys.

The reality is that what voters say they value doesn’t appear to match which candidates they support. … Indeed, what voters say they value can change depending on which way the political winds are blowing. To see this, we need only go back to the last presidential primary. In March 2015 — the same point in the 2016 cycle as we are in now for the 2020 cycle — 57 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning voters told the Pew Research Center that it was more important for a candidate to have experience and a proven record than new ideas and a different approach. Only 36 percent preferred a candidate with a fresh approach. But when Pew asked the same question just six months later, the results were reversed: 65 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners preferred new ideas and a different approach, while 29 percent said experience and a proven record were more important.

I have to admit: When first I heard that a 37-year-old gay mayor of a medium-sized city (South Bend, Indiana) wanted to run for president, I decided this news was not worth my further attention.

But maybe it is. There seems to be a minor (so far) Pete Buttigieg boomlet underway. He’s made some well-received appearances on TV, and this interview in Esquire hits all the right notes. Suddenly he’s polling in double digits in Iowa.

By coincidence, I’ve just finished reading Jim and Deb Fallows’ book Our Towns, where they visit a bunch of small and medium-sized American cities that are doing something right. One of their underlying themes is that while national politics is polarized and log-jammed, local politics actually works in a lot of places. They suggest that mayor may be the best job in politics right now, because you have a chance to carry out your vision and do things that produce positive change in your constituents’ lives. So it makes sense that a mayor would project a nice balance of principles and practicality.

One of the impressive things in this clip from The View is how easily and naturally he talks about his Christian religion. Unlike Trump, he clearly knows something about that religion. He lays claim to the Bible’s progressive views on helping the poor, while neither pandering to fellow Christians nor casting non-Christians as the enemy.

and the electoral college

One of Elizabeth Warren’s many policy proposals is to get rid of the Electoral College, as she suggested at her recent CNN townhall meeting in Jackson, Mississippi.

My view is that every vote matters. And the way we can make that happen is that we can have national voting. And that means: Get rid of the Electoral College.

When you consider that two of the last five presidential elections have been won by the popular-vote loser, and that those presidents (George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016) have been pretty horrible, the Electoral College is hard to defend.

But it’s been interesting to watch Republicans try. The EC gives small states disproportionate weight, which in general shifts power in the direction of rural areas, which tend to be more white and more Republican than the country as a whole. (All of those statements are generalities that have specific exceptions. Texas is a big conservative state, while Vermont is a small liberal state. Rhode Island is a small state whose electorate is overwhelmingly urban.)

Mark Thiessen writes:

The purpose of the electoral college is to protect us from what James Madison called the “tyranny of the majority.” Each state gets to cast electoral votes equal to the combined number of its U.S. representatives (determined by population) and its senators (two regardless of population). The goal was to make sure even the smallest states have a say in electing the president and prevent those with large, big-city populations from dictating to the less populous rural ones.

This is totally fake history. Madison and the Founders did worry about the tyranny of the majority, but their solution was to put limits on what government could do, by precisely enumerating the government’s powers and by adding a Bill of Rights that protects individuals. Also, the largest state at the time was Virginia, which was dominated by its rural plantations rather than its big cities.

The Electoral College was about something else entirely, and doesn’t work anything like the way the Founders envisioned. They intended electors to run on their own reputations as men (yes, men) of wisdom, not on their prior support of specific candidates. The EC would then make a judgment entirely separate from the voters. And since the Founders didn’t believe in political parties, probably the electors wouldn’t be organized enough to give anyone a majority vote (except in cases where the choice was obvious, like George Washington). So in most cycles they’d end up being a nominating body for the House of Representatives, which would make the final choice. In short, the Founder’s fear wasn’t about the tyranny of the majority, it was about the ignorance of the rabble — a point present-day Trumpists should probably stay away from.

So the present effect of the EC has little to do with the Founders’ vision, and has instead evolved into a simple boost for rural white voters, whose votes have more weight than those of urban people of color. Defending that system involves arguing that rural whites deserve a weightier vote. Thiessen does that like this:

Thanks to the electoral college, Democrats have no choice but to try to win at least some of those voters back if they want to win the presidency. But if we got rid of the electoral college, Democrats could write off voters in “fly-over” country and focus on turning out large numbers of their supporters in big cities and populous liberal states such as New York and California. Unburdened by the need to moderate their platform to appeal to centrist voters, they would be free to pursue full socialism without constraint.

In other words, rural white voters deserve a weightier vote because they are more sensible than urban people of color, who might get hoodwinked into electing socialists. That’s what this argument boils down to.

and you also might be interested in …

In the wake of the Christchurch mosque shooting, it took New Zealand less than a week to ban military-style weapons.

“In short, every semi-automatic weapon used in the terrorist attack on Friday will be banned in this country,” said [Prime Minister Jacinda] Ardern.

Wednesday an anonymous post on 4chan (a favorite discussion site for white supremacists) “threatened an ethnic cleansing in the form of a shooting at the poster’s school, telling white students at CHS to stay home”. By Friday, Charlottesville, VA police had arrested a 17-year-old who isn’t a Charlottesville High student. Charlottesville schools had been shut down for two days.

An arrest was also made Friday in response to a threat against nearby Albemarle High School. That threat appeared on Thursday. The two arrested teens don’t seem to have conspired, but whether or not the Albemarle threat was inspired by the Charlottesville threat is still being investigated.

From Associated Press:

The Alabama Senate has approved a bill to abolish judge-signed marriage licenses as some conservative probate judges continue to object to giving marriage licenses to same-sex couples. … A few Alabama probate judges for years have refused to issue marriage licenses to anyone so they do not have to give them to gay couples.

To me, this issue underlines the fact that “conscience” is a special right reserved for Christians. Any government officials who imposed their sincerely held non-Christian beliefs on the public would soon find themselves unemployed.

Picture it: Your county’s chief health inspector believes that his Jain religion forbids his participation in the killing of animals. So he refuses to approve any meat-serving restaurants. How long does he keep his job?

We’re #19! We’re #19!

The new World Happiness Report is out. The happiest country in the world is still Finland, followed by Denmark, Norway, and Iceland. (I detect a correlation between socialism and happiness. MAHA!) The US is 19th, between Belgium and the Czech Republic. According to the FAQ:

The rankings are based on answers to the main life evaluation question asked in the [Gallup World Poll]. This is called the Cantril ladder: it asks respondents to think of a ladder, with the best possible life for them being a 10, and the worst possible life being a 0. They are then asked to rate their own current lives on that 0 to 10 scale.

The report then interprets the extent to which a country’s happiness depends on six factors (which the report calls “sub-bars”): “GDP, life expectancy, generosity, social support, freedom, and corruption”. Some news sources (the Washington Post, for example) erroneously report that the rankings are “based” on these factors, but the FAQ explicitly says that’s not true.

The sub-bars have no impact on the total score reported for each country, but instead are just a way of explaining for each country the implications of the model estimated in Table 2.1. People often ask why some countries rank higher than others – the sub-bars (including the residuals, which show what is not explained) are an attempt to provide an answer to that question.

As I’ve said many times, when you rant at length about whatever dumb or crazy or offensive thing President Class Clown just said, you’re playing his game. So I’ll just briefly note something that got a lot of attention this week: He can’t seem to stop dissing John McCain, whose death prevents him from responding.

People are talking about this as a bad-taste or low-character thing, but it strikes me as a sign of mental instability. I think lots of us occasionally find ourselves arguing  with the dead people who live on in our heads. But when you start defending your side of that argument out loud, in front of living people who don’t hear those voices, it’s a sign you need help.

I’m not just making a cute jibe; I’m serious. Stuff like this is why I think even Republicans should be worried about Trump continuing in office. He’s been lucky so far, in that he hasn’t faced a challenge on the scale of the Cuban Missile Crisis. But if something like that comes up, are you really confident he won’t snap completely?

and let’s close with something illuminating

A fascinating presentation of population data — historical and projected — about the world’s largest cities. from 1950-2035. A similar video goes from 1500 to the present.


We are experiencing an invasion on a level never seen before in history. Millions of people pouring across our borders, legally, invited by the state and corporate entities to replace the White people who have failed to reproduce, failed to create the cheap labor, new consumers, and tax base that the corporations and states need to thrive. … Mass immigration will disenfranchise us, subvert our nations, destroy our communities, destroy our ethnic bonds, destroy our cultures, destroy our peoples — long before low fertility rates ever could. Thus, before we deal with the fertility rates, we must deal with both the invaders within our lands and the invaders that seek to enter our lands. We must crush immigration and deport those invaders already living on our soil. It is not just a matter of our prosperity, but the very survival of our people.

The Manifesto of Brenton Tarrant
explaining why he killed 50 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand

Last month, more than 76,000 illegal migrants arrived at our border. We’re on track for a million illegal aliens to rush our borders. People hate the word “invasion,” but that’s what it is. It’s an invasion of drugs and criminals and people.

President Trump,
explaining his decision to veto the bipartisan Congressional resolution
terminating the state of emergency he declared in order to build his wall

This week’s featured post is “Fear of White Genocide: the underground stream feeding right-wing causes“.

This week everybody was talking about white supremacist terrorism

50 people were killed and another 41 injured in shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on Friday. One man has been charged with murder, and two other suspects have also been arrested.

The suspect, Brenton Tarrant, live-streamed 17 minutes of the massacre on Facebook, and had previously published a manifesto on 8chan. I look at the manifesto in the featured post.

Josh Marshall echoes my feelings about how Trump responded:

He gave a generic condemnation of the massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand and then proceeded to give a meandering speech about foreign “invasion”, i.e., immigrants “rushing our border”, calling them “murderers and killers”. In other words, moments after denouncing the massacre he went on with a lie-laden screed much of which was indistinguishable from the attacker’s manifesto.

and the college admissions scandal

As so often happens when some illegal plot is uncovered, it turns out that the bigger scandal is what people do legally every day.

As it stands now, well-to-do families can game the college admission process in a lot of ways, and there’s no consensus about where to draw the line. Of course parents who can afford it move to the upscale school district that will give their kids the most advantages. From there, families with money can spend it on courses that will pull up SAT scores, producing an additional advantage over students too poor too afford such courses, as well as those too poor even to retake the test. At an elite high school, you can make the varsity team in sports that inner-city public-school kids may never have heard of, like water polo or lacrosse. Ivy League schools have teams in such sports, so you might get recruited as an athlete, increasing your chances further.

Maybe Mom or Dad is a good writer who can coach you on writing a convincing college-application essay, or maybe they’ll get frustrated with you and just write it themselves. They can even hire a consultant to design your whole high school career, so that your resume will look good to Ivy League schools. Activities originally envisioned as opportunities to find yourself — sports, theater, music, student government, community service — instead teach you to manufacture a persona that will be attractive to those who will judge you. Or your wealthy parents can help you fake that career, bribing teachers and coaches to back up your story, or paying proctors to look the other way when a smarter kid takes a test for you.

Those last things are illegal, but you crossed the line into unfair a long time ago. But where, exactly? What’s cheating, and what’s just doing right by your child? How are you going to feel as a parent if you challenge your sons or daughters to make it on their own, and then you see less deserving kids vault over them?

One corrosive idea in the background of all this is that getting onto the right track is more important than learning the virtues that a meritocratic system is supposed to nurture and reward. Getting degrees is more important than developing talents. High test scores matter more than the knowledge the tests are supposed to measure. Education is not a thing of value in itself, it’s a gate to get through any way you can.

and  the first significant Republican rebellion against Trump

The Senate took two moves to oppose Trump this week.

Thursday, 12 Republicans crossed over to vote with the Democrats on the resolution to terminate Trump’s national emergency declaration. The emergency is still in effect though, because Trump vetoed the resolution. There weren’t enough votes in either house to overturn a veto, so now the issue is up to the courts.

This issue gave senators a clear choice between supporting Trump and defending Congress’ constitutional power to control spending. The 41 Republicans who supported Trump should be reminded of this every time they try to pose as defenders of the Constitution. That ship has sailed and they chose not to be on it.

One interesting fact about who sided with Trump against the Constitution: Republicans who are up for re-election in 2020. Among that group, only Susan Collins voted for the resolution. Thom Tillis of North Carolina had a particularly bizarre performance: He had explained in the Washington Post why his principles required him to vote for the resolution, and then he voted against it. I guess we know what his principles are worth now.

Wednesday, the Senate voted 54-46 to end US aid for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. The resolution is virtually identical to one passed by the House in February, so some Yemen resolution should soon be headed to the White House, where Trump is expected to veto it. The Senate had previously passed a Yemen resolution in December, when Republicans still controlled the House; then-Speaker Paul Ryan refused to let the House vote on it.

The resolution invokes the War Powers Act of 1973, which puts a time limit on conflicts not approved by Congress. In the unlikely event that Congress could override Trump’s expected veto, there would undoubtedly be a battle in court over the constitutionality of the WPA, which both Congress and the White House have danced around since 1973. Presidents of both parties have held that the WPA intrudes on the President’s constitutional power as commander-in-chief, while supporters of the WPA have held that it reclaims Congress’ constitutional power to declare war. (Significantly, the WPA itself was passed over President Nixon’s veto.)

The Yemeni War started in 2015, when Houthi rebels deposed President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, who fled to Saudi Arabia. The Saudis have been trying to restore him to power ever since, while the rebels are believed to be armed by Iran (though both the Houthis and Iran deny this). Since the Obama administration, the US has provided logistic and intelligence support for the Saudi forces, but US troops have not been involved in the fighting.

Increasingly, the Yemeni War is seen as a humanitarian disaster. National Interest sums it up:

Four years later, the Saudis have failed to disgorge the Houthis from the capital city or make significant inroads in the country. The deaths from direct violence and the Saudi bombing campaign are inconclusive but are estimated at over 50,000 people. Before the intervention, Yemen was the poorest country in the Middle East and had to import over 90 percent of its food supplies. A Saudi naval blockade along its coasts has led to a man-made famine with up to fourteen million people on the brink of starvation. The lack of nutrition and the destruction of health- and water-related infrastructure due to the bombing has led to the largest outbreak of cholera in modern history, with 10,000 new cases a week. It is the worst humanitarian crisis happening in the world.

Saudi Arabia has become a source of conflict between Trump and Senate Republicans. The Trump administration has identified itself with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), a friend and possible financial patron of Jared Kushner, and Trump himself has accepted MBS’ improbable claim of innocence in the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. In December, the Senate passed a resolution condemning MBS’ role in the murder.

The killing of Khashoggi now appears to be part of a much larger scheme to silence critics of MBS.

and gun control

The Connecticut Supreme Court rejected a lot of the claims that parents of Newtown massacre victims raised against the company that manufactured the weapon, but it left one tantalizing avenue open: wrongful marketing. The claim is that Remington advertised the Bushmaster rifle in a way that encouraged its illegal use.

The case is still far from won, but it does get to go to the discovery phase. That means plaintiffs can look at the Remington emails and internal memos concerning the Bushmaster’s marketing, which might be very embarrassing for the company.

and you also might be interested in …

Beto is in, Sherrod Brown is out. Now we’re mainly waiting on Joe Biden’s decision to complete the field. (I refuse to devote serious attention to this race until we have a complete field.) Beto’s first campaign event was in Keokuk, Iowa, the next town up the river from Quincy, Illinois, where I grew up. So I watched the video wondering, “Why haven’t I ever been to that coffee shop?”

One way to defuse criticism about lack of experience is ignore it and to do your job at a high level. In Congress, that means Investing time in researching the issues, so you can ask questions that are smart and pointed rather than just showy. Here, second-term Rep. Nanette Barragan of California nails Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen about the Trump administration’s illegal policy of turning away migrants seeking asylum.

And here, freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York grills Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross about where the idea of adding a citizenship question to the census actually comes from. (This clip was posted by the conservative Daily Caller, so the title seems critical of AOC. But I’m using it because it includes her full questioning of Ross, rather than just the highlights.)

Peter Beinart notes a dog that hasn’t been barking: Most Democrats running for President did not invoke God in their announcement speeches. This is a change from a few cycles ago, when such speeches routinely ended with “God bless America” or some other religious phrase.

A second interesting point: Not long ago, political rhetoric in both parties had an ecumenical slant, with worship of God portrayed as something that united Americans, even if Americans pictured God in divergent ways. Now, at least on the left, religion is more likely to be mentioned as a source of divisions we need to overcome.

Meanwhile, rhetoric on the right has become increasingly sectarian. Republicans uphold Christianity while denouncing Islam (something George W. Bush pointedly refused to do after 9-11: “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.”). On the extreme right, blatant anti-Semitism is common. And while Trump himself on occasion denounces anti-Semitism in general, he has refused to recognize or criticize anti-Semites in his base (like the neo-Nazis who chanted “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville), and used anti-Semitic tropes himself in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Remember how Barack Obama hinted that his supporters might riot if he lost? Me neither, because it never happened.

Trump, however, did just that this week:

I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.

The New York attorney general’s office isn’t letting go of the Trump Foundation scandal. New York wants Trump to pay $5.6 million “in restitution for spending money from his charitable foundation on business and political purposes”.

and let’s close with something

My favorite performers of anachronistic music do the Pinky and the Brain theme in an early-20th-century nightclub style.

With Compassion

You wanted to separate children and families, and you wanted to do it with compassion?

Rep. Nanette Barragán,
questioning Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen

This week’s featured posts are “Where is Congress’ Center on Climate Change?” and “The Balloon Pops on Trump’s Economic Promises“.

This week everybody was talking about investigations

Last week’s Michael Cohen testimony was just the overture. This week House Democrats started the hard work of investigating the many irregularities of the Trump administration. The NYT runs down the various avenues of investigation.

  • Judiciary Committee (chaired by Jerry Nadler): obstruction of justice and abuse of power.
  • Oversight Committee (Elijah Cummings): hush money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen MacDougal, and Trump’s over-ruling of the ordinary security clearance process to get clearances for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
  • Intelligence Committee (Adam Schiff): Russian interference in US elections, as well as undue influence over Trump wielded by Saudi Arabia or other nations.
  • Ways and Means (Richard Neal): Trump’s tax returns.
  • Foreign Affairs (Eliot Engel) (in concert with Intelligence and Oversight): the meetings Trump had with Vladimir Putin with no other Americans present.

Nadel announced a sweeping document request this week, sending letters out to 81 people or entities. However, this set of requests was not as onerous as it might otherwise sound: The Judiciary Committee has started by requesting documents that have already been turned over either to Mueller’s investigation or someone else.

Republicans, who investigated Benghazi eight times and would probably launch a ninth if Hillary Clinton seemed likely to run again, objected to Democrats’ overreach, obstructionism, and waste of time.

Various pearl-clutching folks worry about a public backlash against investigating Trump, similar to the backlash against the Bill Clinton impeachment. But I think that only happens if the investigations are perceived to be making a big deal about nothing, as Republicans often did when Obama was president. It looks to me like there’s so much Something to investigate that Democrats won’t get around to investigating Nothing for a long, long time.

In addition to the investigations focused on Trump himself and the Trump Organization, there are also hearings about the administration’s policies. Wednesday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen testified before the House Homeland Security Committee about the general situation on the Mexican border, and in particular about the zero-tolerance policy that has separated immigrant children from their parents. (Full C-SPAN video here.)

Chair Bennie Thompson of Mississippi led off by citing the numerous false statements the president has made to justify his national emergency declaration, and said:

Today, the secretary can choose whether to be complicit in this administration’s misinformation campaign or she can correct the record.

Nielsen tried to do neither; she acknowledged facts (the number of people trying to cross illegally is down substantially since 2000, the great majority of drug smuggling comes through ports of entry rather than across the unwalled parts of the border) without admitting that she was contradicting the President.

Questioned about kids in cages, she got semantic about the definition of a cage. And the kids weren’t kids, they were UACs (unaccompanied minors). I’ll let WBUR’s Steve Almond sum up:

Her performance was among the most chilling spectacles of the Trump era. … What stood out was Nielsen’s robotic manner, her sheer bureaucratic heartlessness. …

Over and over again, legislators asked Nielsen to reckon with the effects of tearing young children away from their parents. Nielsen responded with the kind of bureaucratic doublespeak more commonly associated with fascist regimes — a rhetoric intended to eliminate the moral problem of her own conduct by dehumanizing the children her agency routinely traumatizes.

and Paul Manafort

Trump’s former campaign chairman was sentenced to 47 months in prison, drastically less than the sentencing guidelines (19-24 years, essentially a life sentence for a man about to turn 70) for the crimes he was convicted of. The best response I saw is in a New Yorker cartoon. A couple is in their living room and Trump is on the TV. “On the other hand,” the wife is saying, “four years can seem like a life sentence.”

This sentence results from only one of Manafort’s two trials, the one in Virginia where the judge has consistently seemed sympathetic to him. He still hasn’t been sentenced for his convictions in D.C. The Virginia sentence covers the eight felonies he was convicted of there: five counts of filing false tax returns, two counts of bank fraud (i.e., getting bank loans under false pretenses), and one count of failing to disclose a foreign bank account. According to reports, only one holdout juror prevented his conviction in ten more crimes. The Washington Post described the eight felonies in everyday English:

At a trial last year, Manafort was found guilty of hiding millions he made lobbying on behalf of Ukrainian politicians in overseas bank accounts, then falsifying his finances to get loans when his patrons lost power.

The comparatively light sentence raises three issues:

  • In general, courts treat white-collar criminals with more leniency than street criminals. Manafort is an example of the adage Mario Puzo put into the mouth of Don Corleone in The Godfather: “One lawyer with a briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns.” The lawyer will also go to prison for less time. There are a variety of reasons for this: The white-collar criminal has better lawyers, so the government is usually happy just to get a conviction. Also, judges identify more with educated suit-wearing criminals than with lower-class muggers or burglars. Judges find it harsh to put an educated professional in prison, which they see as an appropriate place for low-lifes.
  • The judge at times expressed resentment with what the prosecution was trying to do: convict Manafort of crimes that had nothing to do with Trump or Russia, in order to put pressure on him to talk about Trump and Russia. This is a common enough tactic in organized-crime cases, but Judge T. S. Ellis didn’t like it here. Manafort wasn’t being prosecuted for being close to Trump, but if he hadn’t been at the center of the Trump/Russia scandal, investigators probably wouldn’t have devoted enough resources to his case to prove his crimes, so he probably would have gotten away with all this. You have to wonder how many similar crooks are walking around free. Does that make you feel like Manafort is being treated unfairly, or not?
  • Beyond simple class affinity, Ellis seemed to have a bizarre personal identification with Manafort, crediting testimony that he has been “a good friend” and “a generous person”, and absurdly concluding that Manafort has “lived an otherwise blameless life”. (A person who had lived an otherwise blameless life wouldn’t be awaiting sentence for a different set of felonies in another jurisdiction.) In response, The Atlantic laid out how Manafort’s career has revolved around enabling bad people to do bad things. Even when he wasn’t breaking the law, he was happy to be paid in blood money from the tobacco industry; from Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos; from apartheid-funded Angolan generalissimo Jonas Savimbi; and from Putin’s client in Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. In short, Manafort is a dyed-in-the-wool villain. Villains may also have friends, and if they sometimes distribute their dubious profits more generously than people whose money comes from honest work, that doesn’t disprove their villainy.

Ellis is a Reagan appointee. It seems sad that we have to mention the political affiliations of judges, but that’s the point our legal system has reached. I don’t know how to explain this sentence without invoking political bias.

This week, Manafort faces another sentencing hearing in the District of Columbia, where he has pleaded guilty to witness tampering and conspiracy against the United States. Judge Amy Berman Jackson (an Obama appointee) has shown him far less sympathy. This is also where his cooperation agreement blew up because he continued lying to prosecutors and may have spied on them for Trump.

Also, Bloomberg reports that New York state is ready to file charges against Manafort if President Trump pardons him for his federal crimes.

At the state level, [New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.] is preparing an array of criminal charges. While their full extent isn’t clear, they would include evasion of New York taxes and violations of state laws requiring companies to keep accurate books and records, according to one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the investigation is confidential.

While we’re on this topic, I’m seeing all sorts of speculation about when the Mueller report will come out and what it will say. What if it has some smoking-gun evidence against Trump? What if it doesn’t? What if Trump has AG Barr try to suppress it? I just want to remind everybody: Speculation can be fun, but it doesn’t really matter. Mueller will produce something eventually. The House majority will figure out a way to see the significant parts of it. It will say what it says. At that moment, all the TV-hours and column-inches of speculation will instantly become irrelevant.

So if speculation is a fun game you play with your friends, go ahead. But if it’s making you nuts, you can stop. Reality can take care of itself.

A piece that skirts the edge of speculation, but has value anyway, is Quinta Jurecic’s in yesterday’s NYT. The headline “Will There Be Smoking Guns in the Mueller Report” teases speculation, but the value of the article is in organizing our thoughts about what questions still need answers.

and economic reports

I cover them in one of the featured posts.

and you also might be interested in …

Arizona Senator Martha McSally revealed that when she was in the Air Force, she had been raped by a superior officer. McSally retired as a colonel in 2014.

She joins another Republican senator, Joni Ernst, who said in January that she had been raped in college, and that her husband had assaulted her. Their divorce was finalized in January.

I wish I’d gotten to edit the New Yorker’s article about Fox News: It mixes really alarming stuff with the kind of stuff we’ve come to expect.

The most alarming thing is that Fox had the Stormy Daniels story before the election, and decided not to run it because “Rupert wants Donald Trump to win.” It’s also alarming the way that Fox has merged with the administration, so that sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s leading who. Did the Fox & Friends hosts get an idea from Trump, or did Trump get it from them?

Similarly, people go from Fox to the administration and back, with no clear change of loyalties. It’s all one big operation. “It’s the closest we’ve come to having state TV,” says the University of Virginia’s Nicole Hemmer.

Trump has taken over Fox the way he’s taken over the Republican Party: Both used to represent American conservatism, but there’s really no room in either any more for an anti-Trump conservatism. Reagan conservatism — free trade, pro-NATO, pro-immigration, willing to compromise — is pretty much dead.

Speaking of the Fox/Trump pipeline, former Fox executive Bill Shine is out as White House communications director.

The administration is trying to hassle reporters who tell the American people what’s actually going on at the border.

Customs and Border Protection has compiled a list of 59 mostly American reporters, attorneys and activists who are to be stopped for questioning by border agents when crossing the U.S.-Mexican border at San Diego-area checkpoints, and agents have questioned or arrested at least 21 of them, according to documents obtained by NBC station KNSD-TV and interviews with people on the list.

Looks like the Trump/Kim romance has hit a rough patch. North Korea is preparing a new missile launch.

The collapse of a chain of for-profit colleges that leaves 26,000 students in the lurch illustrates the whole problem with for-profit colleges: They have no mission to educate. Rather than a duty to the students, they have a duty to make money for their stockholders.

The easiest way to extract profit from students who dream about having a college degree is to manipulate government programs: Sell the students a fantasy, get them to max out their student loan potential, and give them as inexpensive an education as will keep the scam going. If and when the whole thing goes belly-up, the scammers keep their profits and the kids are still on the hook for loans.

The wrinkle in this particular collapse is that the collapsing entity is technically non-profit: The Dream Center is a spin-off of a Los Angeles megachurch. It acquired the for-profit Education Management Corporation in 2017 in a transaction the Trump administration approved despite the church’s complete lack of experience in higher education. The original press release said:

As part of the acquisition, the Dream Center Foundation will be converting the EDMC schools into not-for-profit institutions with the intent of investing a percentage of revenue into humanitarian and charitable programs supported by the Dream Center Foundation in Los Angeles and throughout the United States.

In other words: profit by another name. The colleges would be cash cows for other Dream Center programs.

Dream Center showed little inclination to curb the tactics that got Education Management in trouble, like misleading students about their employment prospects. The executives it installed cultivated a high-pressure culture in which profit surpassed all other concerns, according to a report filed last year by Thomas J. Perrelli, the court-appointed monitor overseeing the schools’ compliance with their state settlements.

The students are left with nothing. They won’t get the degrees they were working for. Their credits probably won’t be accepted by any accredited institution. And they still owe on their loans for previous semesters, though this semester’s federal loans will be forgiven under a school-closure program.

Obama tried to shut these scams down, but the Trump administration has relaxed the regulations again.

and let’s close with something aetherial

I’ve been hearing for years that Iceland in winter is a great place to see the aurora borealis, but this display of a dragon and a phoenix are a bit much.


Not Again

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again

– Pete Townsend, “Won’t Get Fooled Again

This week’s featured post is “Before We Even Think about Candidates for 2020“. During my week off, I preached this sermon.

This week everybody was talking about Michael Cohen

Two things were striking about Michael Cohen’s public testimony to the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday.

  1. He accused the president of multiple crimes, offered documents to back up his claims, and gave names of people who were also involved.
  2. Republicans on the committee did not rebut any of these claims. With only a few clumsy exceptions (see below) they did not even defend Trump’s character.

Republicans were right, of course, in the observation that Cohen’s word by itself shouldn’t count for much. But that’s not what Democrats are asking the country to believe. They’re going to use Cohen’s account as a road map to assemble supporting evidence. I want to know what Trump’s accountant, Alan Weisselberg, is going to say, and what’s in the tax returns of Trump himself and the Trump Organization.

To anyone outside the Fox New bubble, Republican Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows embarrassed themselves in the hearings. They made crystal clear what House Democrats have been saying for two years: If Trump has done anything wrong, House Republicans don’t want to know about it. [Another thing that’s apparently OK if you’re a Republican: witness intimidation.]

The SNL parody (with Ben Stiller as Cohen and Bill Hader as Jordan) wasn’t far from the truth.

Cohen’s actual comment was dead-on:

I did the same thing you are doing now for 10 years. I protected Mr. Trump for 10 years … And I can only warn [that] people that follow Mr. Trump as I did, blindly, are going to suffer the same consequences that I’m suffering.

Cohen cleared up the question of whether Trump “directed” him to lie to Congress, as BuzzFeed reported and Mueller’s office rebutted: Before his testimony, he had a conversation with Trump in which the President spoke to him “in code“.  [at 2:26 in the transcript]

He doesn’t tell you what he wants. Again: “Michael, there is no Russia. There’s no collusion. There’s no involvement, no interference.” I know what he wants, because I’ve been around him for so long.

Also, Cohen says Trump’s lawyers read and edited his prepared remarks for that hearing, which included the lie.

Many people (including James Comey and Andrew McCabe) have made this observation: In private, Trump talks like a mob boss. This kind of non-specific direction resembles dialog from The Sopranos.

Cohen started his prepared remarks by saying that Trump is a racist. That started a long and silly dispute, in which Rep. Mark Meadows attempted to “prove” that Trump is not racist by producing a black woman who works in his administration. (The woman in question had no background in public housing, but qualified for her position at HUD by working for the Trump family. She is reported to be angling for a role in reality TV.)

Sure, Trump is a racist, but that’s the wrong point to get hung up on, especially given the many definitions of racism and the fact that many people (like me, for instance) admit that we’re pretty much all racists in one way or another.

The more significant fact, the one we can observe directly without trying to see into the man’s heart, is that Trump exploits racism. He supports efforts to suppress the black vote. He makes racist appeals. He is very slow to criticize white supremacists, because they’re a key part of his base. Whenever he needs to get his minions stoked up, he picks a fight with some black athlete like LeBron James or Steph Curry or Marshawn Lynch. (Actually, his biggest critics in the sports world are white coaches: Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr. But hitting back at them wouldn’t make the racial contrast, so what would be the point?)

While we’re talking about racism, don’t miss this article by Robin DiAngelo, the author of White Fragility. She points to the “racial illiteracy” that is promoted by the notion that racism is an individual attitude (that nice people don’t have), rather than a problem in the very shape of our society.

If I don’t understand racism as a deeply embedded system that I have been shaped by and participate in, my inaction will uphold it.

Given his article, you can read the Mark Meadows episode as an example of her point: Meadows interprets racism as an individual hostility towards blacks, and is offended that anyone would accuse either Trump or Meadows himself of racism. After all, he has nieces and nephews who are people of color, and is friends with the black chair of the committee, Elijah Cummings.

But none of that really matters. Good for him as an individual for consciously accepting his nieces and nephews, but that doesn’t mean racism doesn’t affect his actions, or that his votes as a congressman don’t uphold a racist system.

and the Trump/Kim summit

I wasn’t surprised that nothing came of the summit, but it did surprise me that everyone admitted nothing came of it. Trump is now trying to paint the summit’s failure as an expression of his strength, but it really just reflected the fact that the whole Trump/Kim relationship has been a reality TV show.

In the early part of the week, Republicans and Democrats contrasted Cohen’s testimony with the approaching summit: Which was the news and which was the distraction? Don Jr. laid it out like this:

You got a President trying to deal with a major world issue, and to try to distract – or whatever it is – by bringing in a convicted felon and known liar. I mean, it’s pretty pathetic, but it really shows you how much the Democrats hate Trump.

I interpreted the summit as the distraction, because Trump’s whole approach to North Korea has been more theater than substance. He theatrically exaggerated the threat of war with his “fire and fury” remarks, and then he resolved the self-induced tension with his ridiculous claim that “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” His statement that “we fell in love” should have made the whole US foreign policy team cringe, and probably did.

In reality, Kim did enough testing to establish North Korea’s nuclear threat, and then paused to play Trump for propaganda points, which Trump gave him. Kim’s people have now seen him meet the American president as an equal, and to refuse to be bullied into giving up his country’s nuclear status. Trump has scaled back military cooperation with South Korea and vouched for Kim’s innocence in the death of American Otto Warmbier (which his family disputes).

In return, Kim hasn’t given up anything. There never was a serious prospect that he would.

and the national emergency

The House passed a resolution voiding Trump’s declaration of national emergency on the southern border. The Senate has to vote on it, and four Republican votes are needed to pass it. This weekend, Rand Paul became the fourth to come out against the emergency, saying:

I can’t vote to give the president the power to spend money that hasn’t been appropriated by Congress. We may want more money for border security, but Congress didn’t authorize it. If we take away those checks and balances, it’s a dangerous thing

He joins Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Tom Tillis. The vote is expected next week. Trump is expected to veto the resolution after it passes, setting up a legal battle that undoubtedly will be decided by the Supreme Court.

I generally try to rein in my urge to speculate, but I don’t think John Roberts really wants this responsibility. I expect him to look for some way to drag the process out until the point becomes moot.

and the US government taking children from their parents

The House Oversight Committee is looking into the Trump administration policy of separating families at the border. The first hearing was Tuesday. Channel 3000 lists its takeaways:

  • There was no cross-agency mechanism to track children as they moved from the jurisdiction of Homeland Security into HHS.
  • No officials along the way objected.
  • There are thousands of complaints of sexual abuse against minors in custody.
  • Scott Lloyd from ICE (and now a senior advisor at HHS) kept track of pregnant minors in order to block them getting abortions.

The committee is now subpoenaing documents from the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and HHS.

and an unusual amount of hypocrisy and projection

Hypocrisy is constant in this administration, so I generally let it go. But this week stood out.

Ivanka Trump went straight from her inherited role in the family business to a job in her father’s White House (that she has no qualifications for). Here’s her comment on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ idea for a federal job guarantee:

I don’t think most Americans, in their heart, want to be given something. I’ve spent a lot of time traveling around this country over the last 4 years. People want to work for what they get.

She is, I deduce, deeply envious of all those people who were born with nothing and have only the things they’ve earned.

Paul Krugman went on to look at the further claim Ivanka made: that people “want the ability to live in a country where there is the potential for upward mobility.”

Ms. Trump is surely right in asserting that most of us want a country in which there is the potential for upward mobility. But the things we need to do to ensure that we are that kind of country — the policies that are associated with high levels of upward mobility around the world — are exactly the things Republicans denounce as socialism.

Allies of President Trump are incredulous that anyone still listens to a person who has lied in the past. White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders:

It’s laughable that anyone would take a convicted liar like Cohen at his word, and pathetic to see him given yet another opportunity to spread his lies.

It’s worth noting that during Michael Cohen’s first opportunity to “spread his lies” to Congress, he was actually spreading Trump’s lies. Fact-checkers estimate that in 2018 Trump averaged 15 false claims per day.

After years of ranting about imaginary voter fraud by Democrats, Trump has nothing to say when an actual absentee-ballot scam by Republicans causes an election to be thrown out.

The same people who object strongly when Rep. Ilhan Omar’s tweets hint at anti-Semitism don’t care at all when she faces blatant Islamophobia.

and books you might want to read

Andy McCabe turns out to be a really good writer. His new book The Threat is worth reading for its content, of course. But McCabe also has a deft hand for including just enough scene-setting details to make his account come alive.

In addition to all the Trump-and-Comey stuff, he also tells the story of the FBI’s role in tracking down the Boston Marathon bombers.

Timothy Carney’s Alienated America is a frustrating book. The first half is really good: He seems to be the kind of conservative who was opposed to Trump (but voted for him over Hillary), and he’s pursuing the mystery of why Trump was attractive to so many other conservatives. He popularizes a lot of good sociology, cuts through some simplistic stuff about the white working class, and comes to a very interesting conclusion: The Trump base, the first supporters who picked him over Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, were people who were doing well in places that were doing badly. Not the guys dying of opioid overdoses, but the neighbors of guys dying of opioid overdoses.

He then does some more good work to identify what’s wrong with those communities: Their civic institutions have been hollowed out. So when people hit misfortune, they feel like they’re on their own: no churches, no extended family, no union, nothing that anchors a supportive network. People lack social capital, so they respond to the Trump message that the American Dream is dead. (In places that still have social capital, it turns out, the chances for social and economic mobility are much higher, so the American Dream is alive.)

That was all fascinating. And then, very abruptly at Chapter 8, all the data goes away and we’re in Conservative Just-So-Story Land: Local civic institutions were killed off by centralization, and especially by government. Liberal government is hostile to churches, and to anybody but government doing anything for the community. There’s no need for data; just tell a couple of uncheckable anecdotes and rely on the fact that there’s no other way things could be.

A second culprit is hyper-individualism, which is embodied in the sexual revolution, but has nothing to do with the conservative push to replace public schools with voucher-supported private schools, or to turn public-policy decisions over to the market. (Upscale liberal communities, he believes, teach our kids the sexual abstinence we think is judgmental in school programs. He doesn’t know the same teens I know, and hasn’t talked to the people who teach UU sex education.) Mom-and-pop shops are being killed off by zoning rather than the market. The local diner is the kind of “third place” a community needs, but he never mentions the public library.

It’s like a very interesting and intelligent guy wrote the first seven chapters, and then turned the manuscript over to a yahoo to finish.

and you also might be interested in …

Washington Governor Jay Inslee has joined the 2020 presidential race. He is likely to make climate change his central issue.

Great article: “Mitch McConnell, Republican Nihilist“.

there is only the will to power. He is a remorselessly political creature, devoid of principle, who, more than any figure in modern political history has damaged the fabric of American democracy. That will be his epitaph.

The mainstream media loves Democrats-in-chaos stories like this one from the Washington Post. But nothing in this story sounds alarming to me: Moderate Democrats from swing districts sometimes vote with Republicans to amend bills that more liberal Democrats want. The progressive wing of the Party may challenge the notion that those districts really are that conservative, by running primary candidates who are more liberal than the current Democratic representative.

That’s all as it should be. Neither the moderate votes nor the threat of progressive primary challenges sound like betrayals to me. A healthy party has these kinds of debates.

Now it’s the Methodists’ turn to fracture over LGBTQ issues.

No charges will be filed in the Stephon Clark case. Clark was an unarmed 22-year-old black man who was shot by Sacramento police in his grandmother’s back yard.

The officers fired their weapons 20 times in Mr. Clark’s direction within seconds of turning a blind corner. “Both officers believed that he was pointing a gun at them,” Ms. Schubert said. She added that police video showed Mr. Clark was “advancing” on the officers.

Mr. Clark was later found to be unarmed; his cellphone was found under his body. An autopsy released by the Sacramento County Coroner’s Office in May found at least seven bullets had hit Mr. Clark.

A comprehensive analysis of police video footage by The New York Times found that gunfire continued after Mr. Clark had fallen to his hands and knees. Six of the seven shots most likely hit Mr. Clark as he was falling or was already on the ground, according to The Times’s analysis. Three minutes passed after the shooting before police officers identified themselves to Mr. Clark, and he did not receive medical attention for six minutes.

So Clark was someplace he had every right to be, holding his phone and “advancing” towards a corner police had not turned yet. Whenever I hear about such cases, I imagine myself trying to raise a black teen-ager. What do you tell him to do or not do, so that he can avoid getting killed like this?

and let’s close with something we’ve seen far too often already

Namely: a trailer for a movie where a white person plays a key role in black progress.