Category Archives: Weekly summaries

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and Puerto Rico

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the California fires

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ronald Reagan was a fucking moron.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and you also might be interested in …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and let’s close with something humbling

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

Bipartisan Concerns

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

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

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

This week everybody was talking about guns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and Iran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and Trump’s visit to Puerto Rico

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and his other feuds

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Fallows has advice for Corker:

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

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

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

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

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

and church and state

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

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

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

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

and you also might be interested in …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The administration is continuing to sabotage ObamaCare.

and let’s close by getting medieval

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


The Right Way to Protest

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

– Trevor Noah (9-25-2017)

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

This morning everybody is talking about the Las Vegas shooting

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

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

through the week everyone has been talking about Puerto Rico

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That set off Mayor Cruz:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and Tom Price

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

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

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

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

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

The Washington Post reports that

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

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

and the Republican tax plan

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

and Roy Moore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the NFL

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

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

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

and you also might be interested in …

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

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

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

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

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

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

and let’s close with something awe-inspiring

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

False Choices

Flexibility with reduced funding is a false choice. I will not pit seniors, children, families, the mentally ill, the critically ill, hospitals, care providers, or any other Nevadan against each other because of cuts to Nevada’s health-care delivery system proposed by the Graham-Cassidy amendment.

Governor Brian Sandoval (R-Nevada)

This week’s featured post is “Nationalism Reconsidered” and “Why Republicans Can’t Stop Trying to Repeal ObamaCare“.

This week everybody was talking about yet another last-ditch attempt to repeal ObamaCare

which appears to be failing, just like the others did. Sadly, even this is probably not the end, as I explain in the second featured post.

Like previous attempts, the Graham-Cassidy bill contains nothing to attract Democrats and so can afford to lose only three Republican senators. Rand Paul declared against it first, because it retained too much of the spending in ObamaCare, even if it did redirect it through the states. John McCain declared against it Friday, saying that he couldn’t vote for it without more information, like a complete CBO analysis, which would not be available in time for the vote. Susan Collins seems to be waiting for what little analysis the CBO will provide, but finds it “very difficult for me to envision a scenario where I would end up voting for this bill.” Lisa Murkowski hasn’t committed herself, but she’d have a hard time squaring a yes vote with the principles she has laid out. Even Ted Cruz and Mike Lee are said to be against the bill “in its current form”, which probably means their votes are available for the right concessions, with the risk that those concessions might alienate some other senators.

So it’s not completely dead yet, but Graham-Cassidy has to roll a long series of sevens to pass.

Midnight Saturday is the deadline for passage, which sounds like a bad-movie plot device rather than a real rule, but that actually seems to be how things shake out. [Skip this if you’re already bored: In a nutshell, the reason has to do with an arcane process for avoiding filibusters, known as reconciliation. To be eligible for reconciliation, which allows a bill to pass the Senate with a simple majority (50 senators plus the vice president) rather than the 60 votes necessary to break a filibuster, a bill has to meet a long list of conditions, one of which is that it has to match up with reconciliation instructions in the current fiscal year’s budget resolution. Fiscal 2017 ends on September 30, so the budget resolution’s reconciliation instructions expire then.]

[Keep skipping: So why not roll the reconciliation instructions from FY2017’s budget resolution over into FY2018’s? That runs into another rule that also sounds like a plot device: There are limits on how many reconciliation instructions a budget resolution can contain, and FY2018’s are already reserved for tax reform. (Or at least that’s how it looks at the moment; Orrin Hatch is looking for a way to do both.) So at midnight on Saturday, the ObamaCare-repeal coach becomes a pumpkin, the horses turn back into mice, but for some reason the slipper is still glass — stop asking so many questions.]

You expect Democrats in Congress and former Obama administration officials (including Obama himself) to make the case against this bill. But the strongest opposition voice has turned out to be someone you wouldn’t usually expect: late-night host Jimmy Kimmel.

Kimmel first spoke out about healthcare when in May when he told the story of his newborn son’s heart problem, repeatedly choking up as he did so.

A week later Kimmel came back to the topic, and had an on-air conversation with Senator Cassidy, who had just started talking about “the Jimmy Kimmel test”, which he summarized like this: “Would a child born with a congenital heart disease be able to get everything she or he would need in that first year of life?”

Cassidy sounded great in that interview. But if he thought Kimmel wasn’t going to check whether he followed up on those good words, he found out differently Tuesday:

I know you guys are going to find this hard to believe, but a few months ago after my son had open-heart surgery (which was something I spoke about on the air) a politician, a senator named Bill Cassidy from Louisiana, was on my show, and he wasn’t very honest. … This guy, Bill Cassidy, just lied right to my face.

Cassidy responded by lamenting that Kimmel “does not understand” his bill. Kimmel played that clip the next night, characterizing it as playing “the all-comedians-are-dummies card”. He then asked Cassidy which part of the bill he doesn’t understand, and listed all the objectionable things the bill does. And the back-and-forth continued Thursday as well.

The wonderful thing about this whole series is the way Kimmel has flipped conservatives’ favorite script. They love to portray liberals as out-of-touch Washington insiders dishonestly condescending to concerned American parents. Now that’s what Senator Cassidy and Senator Graham doing.

and the NFL

No, not the games, the players’ response to Trump. Everything in the world is about Trump now.

It started Friday in Alabama at a rally for GOP Senator Luther Strange (who seems to be losing a primary battle with the truly strange Roy Moore), where we found out what Donald Trump thinks about free expression:

Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, say: “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired.”?

This, of course, is an insult directed at former Super Bowl quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who last season began protesting against police brutality and racial inequality by quietly and respectfully kneeling during the national anthem. Many players (Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, for example) had expressed respect for the protest, but only a few (Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks comes to mind) had participated themselves.

Until yesterday. Seeing the President of the United States call their colleagues a “sons of bitches” (for doing something that hurts no one, and that offended people can just look away from) made players take a stand … or a knee. Not all players and not all teams responded the same way, but in every game in the country (and one in London), players did something, often with the support of the team’s owners. Some players joined the kneeling protest, while others simply protested Trump’s attempt to turn players against each other by locking arms. Some teams resisted being divided by staying in the locker room until the anthem was over. The WaPo’s Jerry Brewer summed up:

The prevailing statement was rather simple, at least for people who have the decency to resist acting like Trump and labeling an athlete protesting police brutality and [in]equality a “son of a bitch.” It was about having concern for the person next to you and showing that unity doesn’t require shaming others to think the way you do.

A few of my reactions:

  • It’s disturbing the way that Trump has stepped out of the usual bounds of politics and taken over the entire national conversation. Back in 2011, Hank Williams Jr. got fired by Monday Night Football for ranting about President Obama, but that was all him; Obama never engaged with the controversy. For eight years, you could escape Obama by watching football. But today, where can you put your attention and be confident of escaping Trump?
  • This event is a lesson in what usually happens when a president talks tough: His fans cheer, but whatever problem they think he’s solving just gets worse. (Far from being intimidated, more players are kneeling.) The people who cheer Trump’s North Korea rhetoric should think about this.
  • If only Trump got this outraged by people waving swastikas. Maybe if black athletes would start doing that, he’d finally denounce it with some real feeling.
  • Here’s the saddest thing about this story: The issues that motivated Kaepernick to begin with are playing out in St. Louis right now, but the country isn’t paying attention.

Lest basketball players feel left out, Trump insulted them too. Traditionally, championship teams visit the White House, and everybody has a feel-good photo op. But Trump’s appeals to racism have made that ceremony problematic for black athletes like Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors. It’s a real dilemma: politicize a tradition that used to be purely ceremonial, or normalize a president who is squishy on the KKK?

Athletes have turned down the White House before, for a variety of reasons, and presidents have never made a big deal about it. But Trump did, tweeting that he was “disinviting” Curry. Like Kaepernick, Curry enjoyed a wave of social-media support from his fellow players, including LeBron James, who tweeted at Trump: “Going to the White House was a great honor until you showed up.” All-star guard Chris Paul added something about the NFL controversy: “I doubt he’s man enough to call any of those players a son of a bitch to their face.”

Sports TV anchors — at least black ones — haven’t escaped either. After ESPN’s Jamele Hill called Trump a “white supremacist” on her personal Twitter account, the White House called for her to be fired. ESPN basically told her not to do it again.

An aside: Hill’s show, SportsCenter’s flagship 6 o’clock slot, is an interesting cultural phenomenon. For years, a typical sports-TV segment featured white guys talking about black guys. SC6’s two black hosts, Hill and Michael Smith, break that mold. And Hill isn’t just eye candy, or a Mom moderating between outspoken men; she’s a sharp sports fan with a mind of her own. (Hill and Smith banter and bicker like a married couple that feels secure about the strength of their relationship.) Smith describes the criticism the show sometimes gets for being too black, and too full of young urban cultural references that older whites may not understand:

This election was about taking the country back from people like us, right? And now, it’s like, “Dammit, I got to come home and watch these two?!” That may not be what you want on SportsCenter. OK. That’s fair. Watch Fox.

and Trump’s UN Speech

My threshold of embarrassment for my country has gone up considerably since Inauguration Day, but Trump’s speech to the UN General Assembly Tuesday did the trick. Apparently it did for White House chief of staff John Kelly too. (Based on this picture, I’m guessing Melania cleans Kelly’s clock at White House poker games.)

In many ways it was the kind of speech a heavy-handed liberal script writer (Aaron Sorkin, maybe) would put in Trump’s mouth, full of unintentional ironies. For example, he denounced “rogue regimes” that “threaten other nations”. And a bit later he was threatening to unleash “the most destructive weapons known to humanity” against another nation:

The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.

but meanwhile, back at the swamp …

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price wants to cut government spending on your healthcare, but not on himself. In particular, he prefers to travel by private plane rather than take commercial flights, even though they are vastly more expensive.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has taken at least 24 flights on private charter planes at taxpayers’ expense since early May, according to people with knowledge of his travel plans and a review of HHS documents.

The frequency of the trips underscores how private travel has become the norm — rather than the exception — for the Georgia Republican during his tenure atop the federal health agency, which began in February. The cost of the trips identified by POLITICO exceeds $300,000, according to a review of federal contracts and similar trip itineraries.

Price’s excuses for the extravagance don’t hold water. The article says that Obama’s HHS secretaries, Sylvia Mathews Burwell and Kathleen Sebelius, took commercial flights. Price claims he uses privates jets “only when commercial travel is not feasible”, but Politico found that many of the flights are between large cities with frequent, low-cost airline traffic”. (D.C. to Philadelphia was one of them.) An HHS spokesperson said Price took private jets because commercial flights are “unreliable” and once caused him to miss important an meeting.

But the flight in question — to a two-day industry conference at a Ritz-Carlton hotel in Southern California — didn’t get off the ground on a day when storms virtually shut down air traffic in the Washington region, preventing even private jets from getting out.

None of this should be surprising, because we’ve known all along that Price has low ethical standards. The Senate knew when it confirmed him that when he was in Congress, Price bought stock in pharmaceutical companies while sponsoring legislation that would benefit those companies.

Saturday, Price announced that he would stop taking tax-payer funded private jets until a review is completed.

Price’s excesses shouldn’t be confused with those of fellow cabinet member Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin (net worth: half a billion), who requested a military plane to take him and his wife on their European honeymoon, and took an expensive government-funded private flight to visit Fort Knox, for reasons no one has been able to explain, at precisely the time of the eclipse.

Nor with those of EPA Director Scott Pruitt, whose “business” trips keep taking him home to Oklahoma, where he is rumored to be planning to run for governor. Pruitt is also diverting resources from environmental protection to his own security.

Scott Pruitt’s round-the-clock personal security detail, which demands triple the manpower of his predecessors at the Environmental Protection Agency, has prompted officials to rotate in special agents from around the country who otherwise would be investigating environmental crimes. … Pruitt’s protective detail is the rare area of the EPA that is growing even as the Trump administration seeks a 31 percent cut to the agency’s budget.

Here’s a security idea: Maybe Pruitt would face fewer threats if he actually started trying to protect the environment.

Associated Press has been unsuccessfully investigating what happened to the whopping $107 million Trump raised for his inaugural celebration. Obama’s inauguration was bigger in almost every sense, but cost only $50 million, a sum many at the time already considered outrageous. Trump had pledged that any left-over money would go to charity … but we’ve heard that before.

During the campaign, the WaPo’s David Fahrenthold investigated Trump’s (lack of) donations to charity:

[Trump] spent years constructing an image as a philanthropist by appearing at charity events and by making very public — even nationally televised — promises to give his own money away. It was, in large part, a facade. …

Instead, throughout his life in the spotlight, whether as a businessman, television star or presidential candidate, The Post found that Trump had sought credit for charity he had not given — or had claimed other people’s giving as his own. …

Trump promised to give away the proceeds of Trump University. He promised to donate the salary he earned from “The Apprentice.” He promised to give personal donations to the charities chosen by contestants on “Celebrity Apprentice.” He promised to donate $250,000 to a charity helping Israeli soldiers and veterans.

Together, those pledges would have increased Trump’s lifetime giving by millions of dollars. But The Post has been unable to verify that he followed through on any of them. Instead, The Post found that his personal giving has almost disappeared entirely in recent years.

Rachel Maddow has also been looking into the inaugural-money story and getting no-commented. On Thursday, she interviewed Craig Holman of Public Citizen, who told her:

The source of funds has to be disclosed after the inauguration, but how that money gets spent is anyone’s guess — no rules, no regulations. Quite frankly, it could even go into the pocket of Donald Trump.

Holman also addressed the fact that the Russia-related legal expenses of both Trump and Donald Trump Jr. are being paid by either the RNC or Trump’s re-election fund. Paying for the president seemed legal to him, but Trump Jr. (who had no official role in the campaign) raised issues.

Maddow has been wondering about the mounting legal expenses for administration figures who aren’t rich, like Mike Pence and Sean Spicer. The RNC and the re-election fund aren’t paying for them.

and you also might be interested in …

One of the under-appreciated aspects of the Russia/Trump story is how Russian operatives used social media to spread fake news against Clinton and to boost Trump. The Daily Beast describes one Russian-sponsored Facebook page that actively organized face-to-face pro-Trump rallies in Florida.

Facebook agreed to turn over to Congress thousands of pro-Trump and anti-Hillary ads that alleged Russian agents spent $100K distributing. NBC reports:

A Facebook employee said Wednesday that there were unspecified connections between the divisive ads and a well-known Russian “troll factory” in St. Petersburg that publishes comments on social media.

Black Lives Matter protesters went to a pro-Trump rally and were actually given a chance to speak. It went well. Seriously.

Paul Manafort was offering private briefings to a Russian oligarch while he was Trump campaign chairman.

and let’s close with something natural

Looking for a prescription that will help you deal with the stress of modern life? Try Nature.


That was some weird shit.

– George W. Bush’s reaction to Trump’s inaugural address,
as quoted by Hillary Clinton

This week’s featured post is “Single Payer Joins the Debate“.

This week everybody was talking about North Korea

Last week, a commenter took me to task for ignoring the North Korea situation. And then this week even more stuff happened: Last Monday, the UN Security Council approved new sanctions against North Korea. Friday, North Korea flew another missile over Japan. U.S. rhetoric remained at a high level, with National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster insisting that “There is a military option.” And yesterday, UN Ambassador Nicki Haley warned: “If North Korea keeps on with this reckless behavior, if the United States has to defend itself or defend its allies in any way, North Korea will be destroyed.”

That all sounds very urgent, but I continue to be unmoved by all the apparent drama. I think all the major players already knows how this comes out: Kim Jong-Un will keep his bombs and missiles, and will be restrained only by mutually assured destruction, as all of our other nuclear-armed enemies and rivals have been. That sounds like a defeat for the U.S., so of course nobody wants to admit it. But try to come up with some other outcome.

  • Kim isn’t going to give up his nukes, because without them he could be overthrown by a U.S. invasion, as Saddam Hussein was. He sees this as a survival issue, so nobody — not China or anybody else — is going to change his mind.
  • This is a regime that watched half a million (or more) of its citizens die in the famines of 1994-1998, so no economic sanctions the rest of the world could stand to impose are going to make it do something it doesn’t want to do. (And Russia is going to undercut those sanctions anyway.)
  • We could undoubtedly take down the Korean regime in a preemptive strike, but not before it leveled Seoul with conventional artillery, or nuked both Seoul and Tokyo. If we start a war that results in tens of millions of our allies’ citizens dying, we’ll be a pariah nation. No one will ever ally with us again.
  • The only military strike that could avoid that outcome would be an all-out nuclear annihilation that happened too fast for any response. In other words, we’d mass-murder 25 million people, with God knows what environmental consequences for South Korea, Japan, and China. Again, we’re a pariah nation and all our leaders are war criminals.

You could imagine some magnificently planned limited strike that took out only (and all of) North Korea’s nuclear facilities, or only (and all of) its missiles, leaving Kim with no reprisal options other than raining conventional hell down on Seoul. And you could imagine that he’d decide not to do that, for fear of what our next response would be. But seriously, is anybody going to roll those dice?

So yeah, there’s a military option: If Kim starts using his nukes without provocation — which I don’t think he’ll do; he’s a survivalist, not a madman — we’ll have to overthrow him militarily and accept the consequences. But in any other circumstance, we’ll just have to learn to live with another nuclear-armed enemy.

In short, I see all the rhetoric and sanctions and threats as a bunch of sound and fury that signifies nothing. North Korea will eventually have nuclear missiles capable of reaching the U.S., just as Russia and China already do. I’m not happy about that, but jumping around and yelling about it isn’t going to make any difference.

and single-payer health care

I covered Senator Sanders’ latest Medicare-for-All bill in the featured post.

and the Equifax breach

A company you may have never heard of announced it let hackers steal information about 143 million people.

What makes this loss of personal data different from a lot of the others we’ve seen is that none of us ever decided to trust Equifax. It’s not like we took a job there or shopped with them or typed our information into their web site. Most people probably didn’t even know what Equifax was until they heard that it had let their personal information get stolen.

The big three credit-reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, and Transunion) are to personal credit what the big three bond-rating companies (Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s, and Fitch) are to corporate credit: private companies that have become gatekeepers. You can’t live anything like a normal life in America without generating a file in all three.

Adding insult to injury, three high Equifax executives sold shares of company stock before the breach was announced, saving themselves hundreds of thousands in losses. I’m not a lawyer, but that looks kind of suspicious. (If I were them, I’d claim that somebody hacked my brokerage account and made the trades. Who could have suspected that “password” wasn’t a good password?)

While reading security wonks, I occasionally run into the Pudd’nhead Wilson Principle:

Put your eggs in the one basket, and — WATCH THAT BASKET.

The Verge argues:

Thursday’s breach should wake us up to how fundamentally broken this system is, and how urgently we need to replace it. Breaches aren’t simply security failures; they’re the inevitable result of a broken identity system. It’s time to rip it up and start again.

Consumer Reports has a article about how to protect yourself against identity theft by criminals using the stolen data. (Lucky me: I got a free credit-tracking service back when the federal government let criminals steal my information.) Sadly, most of the things you can do are examples of the you-don’t-have-to-swim-faster-than-the-shark principle: You don’t need to make yourself bulletproof, you just need to present criminals with a stiffer challenge than most other people do.

and Hillary Clinton

She came back in to the public eye this week with a new book and a string of high-profile interviews. And no, she’s not running for anything; that part of her life is over.

I haven’t read her book yet. I probably should; I read her other books as research when her campaign was starting, and I was surprised to find that I liked her authorial voice. And people I respect (like James Fallows and Rachel Maddow) say it’s not like the usual politician’s memoir. But I’m not sure I have it in me to relive 2016 yet.

Still, Fallows relates one line that makes me interested: Hillary’s account of George W. Bush’s response to Trump’s inaugural speech: “That was some weird shit.” I can imagine that Hillary has heard a lot of similarly interesting comments that have never made it into the public record.

One really tiresome way to rehash the 2016 election is to have this argument: “No, your explanation of Trump’s win is wrong; my explanation is the correct one.” In an election as close as 2016, all kinds of things were decisive factors; if they’d been different, Clinton would be president.

So yes, Clinton’s loss was due to bad strategy, Comey, Russia, misogyny, overconfidence, Jill Stein, fake news, racist backlash against Obama, lack of personal warmth, decades of slanders, false equivalence in the media, and a long list of other things. Nobody who makes any of those arguments is wrong. When a straw breaks the camel’s back, every single straw is decisive.

and you also might be interested in …

Congress has one last chance to repeal ObamaCare before its reconciliation authority ends on September 30.

Tuesday, the Supreme Court “blocked two lower court rulings that invalidated parts of Texas’ [legislature and congressional district] maps where lawmakers were found to have discriminated against voters of color.” So the racially gerrymandered maps will help Republicans hang onto their House majority in 2018.

The ruling was 5-4, so this decision is a partisan dividend that Republicans get for blocking President Obama from appointing Merrick Garland (or anybody) to the seat now held by Neil Gorsuch. Charles Pierce:

The new Gorsuch majority performed the way that the Gorsuch majority was designed to behave as soon as it was determined by Mitch McConnell that the Garland majority was something up with which he would not put.

Another institution that is behaving as it was designed to behave is Trump’s Presidential Commission on Election Integrity: Vice Chairman Kris Kobach is using it as a platform to spread lies about voter fraud. He wrote a column at Breitbart claiming that New Hampshire’s 2016 election was contaminated by as many as 5313 fraudulent votes. Since both Hillary Clinton and Maggie Hassan won by less than that, Kobach concludes:

Facts have come to light that indicate that a pivotal, close election was likely changed through voter fraud on November 8, 2016: New Hampshire’s U.S. Senate Seat, and perhaps also New Hampshire’s four Electoral College votes in the presidential election.

What he actually found is that 5313 people took advantage of same-day registration while using an out-of-state ID (like a driver’s license), and had not gotten a New Hampshire driver’s license or registered a car in the state in the next ten months.

PolitiFact explains why this is not proof of anything. What Kobach seems to have found are out-of-state college students who spend enough time in New Hampshire to vote here legally. Forty years ago, that would have been me: I voted at my college address in Michigan, while keeping my Illinois driver’s license. Eventually my parents gave me their old car, but it stayed registered in their names.

Like so many voter-fraud claims, this could be nailed down if anybody decided to invest the effort, but they never do. (One case were investigators took the fraud claims seriously — and watched them evaporate — was the basis for my post “The Myth of the Zombie Voter“.)  Kobach has a list of names. He knows who these 5313 people are. If they’ve committed fraud, why not press charges? In fact he will never track them down and never press charges, because the point was to create a headline out of nothing. Being laughed out of court — as he would be — doesn’t serve his purposes. The only fraud here is Kobach himself.

Supposedly, Trump is negotiating a DACA deal with Pelosi and Schumer. I’ll believe it when I see it.

Just what we need: another hurricane. Maria is up to Category 3 and apparently headed for Puerto Rico.

Trump is still trying to make Susan Rice the villain of his version of the Russia story, the one where Obama officials manufactured something out of nothing to start a witch hunt against him. But it’s still not working.

The latest in Trump’s Herculean attempt to drain flood the swamp: The Office of Government Ethics has approved lobbyists making anonymous donations to legal defense funds for White House staffers. Because of course no lobbyists would be crass enough to wink and nod to White House staff in ways that pierced their anonymity. And staffers wouldn’t be grateful or anything, or see the contributions as favors that should be answered with more favors.

I was surprised how even-handed this WaPo article on Antifa was.

Gretchen Kelly explains something she suspects men don’t know. (I think she’s right.) Namely, just how pervasive various forms of harassment are.

and let’s close with something far out

The Cassini spacecraft died a hero’s death Friday. Years past the originally scheduled end of its mission to explore Saturn, Cassini used its last bit of fuel to plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere, burning itself up to insure that no Earth microbes contaminated Saturn’s moons, which (thanks to Cassini’s discoveries) we now think might have life.

All kinds of sites posted their favorite Cassini photos; the most complete collection is (of course) NASA’s. Here is what Saturn looks like when the Sun is behind it. You can see the translucence of the rings, and even an outermost ring we usually don’t notice.

Facing the Storm

Every life has to end one way or another

– Senator John McCain
discussing his brain cancer yesterday on CNN’s State of the Union

There’s no featured post this week. The week’s news was dominated by hurricane-watching, which is the kind of current event a one-person blog isn’t equipped to cover well.

This week everybody was talking about Irma

All week the story was Irma: her strength, her path of destruction across the Caribbean, and where current projections said she would hit the United States.

Personally, I spent a lot of the week listening to hurricane coverage and wondering why Irma had seized so much more of my attention than Harvey had two weeks before. Both were huge and deadly. Both hit the United States and did (and in Irma’s case is still doing) major damage. Yet for some reason Harvey coverage seemed like all the other storm coverage I’ve watched over the years — Andrew, Katrina, Wilma, Sandy — while I got caught up in the drama of Irma: Would it hit Florida’s east or west coasts? What would happen to the Keys? Would it make landfall at Naples, Fort Myers, Tampa?

Part of the reason was undoubtedly personal: I know Florida much better than I know Texas. I have close friends outside of Sarasota. I used to visit my snowbirding parents each year in Fort Lauderdale. My wife and I honeymooned in Key West. I’ve walked the riverwalk in Tampa (where Anderson Cooper had stationed himself Sunday). Texas’ gulf coast, on the other hand, is just a place on a map to me. Whether Harvey made landfall at Corpus Christi or Rockport or further up the line at Galveston … no doubt it mattered tremendously to the people who live there, but I don’t have any personal reason to care about one of those towns more than the others.

I wonder also if the media coverage was different: Irma seemed to blot out the country’s usual politics in a way that Harvey didn’t. (That’s one reason why it seemed pointless to write a featured post this week.) I don’t have any objective measurement of that, and I’d be interested to hear in the comments whether it seemed that way to you.

As for why the networks might have covered Irma differently (if it indeed they did), I think my reaction might be more widespread than I initially suspected: Most of the country has some reason to feel a personal connection to Florida. It is the most visited state in the union. Nearly half the non-Floridians in the U.S. report having gone to Florida for either work or pleasure. It’s also the country’s top retirement destination, which means that almost everybody cares about somebody in Florida: parent, grandparent, mentor, or friend. Lots and lots of Americans have wondered if they might move there themselves someday.

After tracking Irma’s path for a while, Jose diverged to the north, missing islands Irma had already devastated. It now looks likely to stall over the Atlantic.

Irma’s winds hitting 185 sparked discussion about whether the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale needs a Category 6. After all, Category 4 starts at 130 mph winds and Category 5 at 157. Surely by 185 you need a new category.

Popular Mechanics explains why not: The scale was created not as an abstract measure, but to help communities calibrate their preparations.

Category 5 is widespread, catastrophic damage. There’s not really anything worse than that.

In other words, if Cat 5 already means “Run for your lives!” there’s no need for any higher category.

First responders who breathed in the fumes from the post-Harvey chemical-plant explosion in Crosby, Texas are suing the company. They claim the owner minimized the dangers and failed to give them adequate warnings of what to expect after the explosion.

The last time a hurricane season pointed so clearly to global warming was 2005, when Katrina and Wilma hit, and the Atlantic storm list ran out of letters in the alphabet. Until this year, though, no subsequent Category 3 or higher hurricanes had made landfall in the United States. (Sandy had declined to Category 2 by the time it ravaged the Northeast in 2012.) So there had been talk of a  “hurricane drought”.

Chris Mooney discusses what happened. First, there was simple luck. The Atlantic continued producing an above-average number of hurricanes, but their paths stayed out to sea. There does appear to be some decades-long cycle in hurricane activity, but it’s more like bull-and-bear cycles in the stock market than anything you’d want to count on: The oscillations are of no standard length, and since we don’t understand the mechanism, we don’t really know that the apparent pattern is more than a statistical anomaly.

Mooney’s article re-emphasizes a point I’ve made before about climate change: Weather is such a noisy system that it’s not really the place to start when you look for evidence (or try to convince someone else). As an analogy, think about the annual winter-to-summer warming: If all you had to go on was your own thermometer, you might suffer through a Memorial Day cold snap, look back to that one freakishly warm day in early April, and convince yourself that “spring warming” is a myth.

The other end of the phenomenon is easier to understand and see evidence of: The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is rising. It goes up every year. The rise is caused by burning fossil fuels. CO2 is a greenhouse gas that causes the planet to radiate less of the Sun’s energy back into space.

Given all that, you’d expect the planetwide increase in retained energy to show up in all sorts of ways: heat waves, hurricanes, rising oceans, shrinking glaciers, and so on. And in the long term it does, just as summer always eventually arrives. But all of those effects arise in complex systems with many inputs other than how much solar energy the planet is retaining. CO2 has its foot on the accelerator, but sometimes the car is going uphill, and the increase won’t show up until it starts downhill again.

While we’re on climate change, have you ever wondered about that 3% of climate-science papers that don’t support the consensus theory? Researchers looked at them, and found nothing they could replicate.

Is there anything more annoying than people who see natural disasters as evidence of God’s fury and are sure they know why God is angry? It’s one thing to use God-language metaphorically to personalize actual cause-and-effect, like saying God is sending hurricanes in response to the thoughtless way we’re pumping CO2 into the atmosphere. But attributing Harvey and Irma to abortion or same-sex marriage is treating God like a puppet: He says whatever you want Him to say.

Texas’ recovery from Harvey is producing a church-and-state issue: Should churches get FEMA help to rebuild? Previously, churches weren’t eligible for disaster-relief funds, but that was before the Supreme Court’s recent Trinity Lutheran decision, which extended a state program subsidizing playground resurfacing to cover a school operated by a church. Chief Justice Roberts wrote:

But the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.

A new lawsuit by Houston churches wants to extend that decision to disaster relief for houses of worship themselves. I haven’t read the Trinity Lutheran decision yet, so I’m not ready to weigh in. But whatever the outcome, I want it to apply equally to all religions. Would Texas Christians be willing to see their tax dollars rebuilding mosques and synagogues?

and Trump’s deal with the Democrats

In spite of the hurricanes, the week’s most unexpected event came Wednesday when Trump sided with the Democrats on a deal to keep the government running until December 8. The bill (signed Friday) appropriated $15.3 billion for hurricane relief, continued government spending at current levels elsewhere, and raised the debt ceiling. It did all that without any of the usual hostage-taking: no spending cuts to balance the hurricane relief, no attacks on ObamaCare or Medicaid, not even money for Trump’s border wall. There was also none of the brinksmanship we’ve gotten used to: The House and Senate didn’t play chicken with each other, and the vote wasn’t delayed until minutes before the government would have to shut down.

Republicans felt undercut and several were “seething” (according to The L.A. Times). All 90 of the House votes against the bill came from Republicans. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and Budget Director Mulvaney reportedly were “met with groans, boos and hisses” Friday morning when they tried to get Republican congresspeople to support the deal.

That agreement was part of a larger Trump charm offensive towards Democrats. When Trump went to North Dakota Wednesday to promote his (so far vacuous, as I explained last week) tax reform proposal, he took Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp with him on Air Force One, and appeared with her on stage.

For a Democrat fighting to keep her seat next year in a state Trump won by 36 points, the senator’s day could not have gone much better. Trump’s tax push has yet to be written as legislation, and a vote still remains a hypothetical. Heitkamp’s appearance with the president, then, cost her little in exchange for what amounted to an endorsement of her willingness to work across the aisle.

Since so far Trump’s tax reform “proposal” is only a vague list of principles, Heitkamp could easily support it in theory and still vote against the bill that ultimately comes to the floor.

He also took Nancy Pelosi’s suggestion to reassure DACA immigrants that they won’t be deported in the next six months. He agreed with Chuck Schumer on the goal of repealing the debt ceiling permanently.

(BTW: That’s a good idea. The debt limit has essentially become a self-destruct button that Congress must periodically decide whether to push. A debt ceiling made sense before 1974, when Congress considered each tax and appropriation separately and members could duck responsibility for the deficits those bills added up to. But now the irresponsibility runs in the other direction: A member can vote for a budget that includes a deficit, and then preen for his constituents by voting against allowing the government to borrow the money.)

The punditry has a number of theories about why Trump is doing this. If you’re in a generous mood, you might imagine that he’s doing it for the good of the country. After all, we avoid a government shutdown or a debt crisis for another three months, and hurricane victims start getting help, all without creating another artificial crisis.

You might also imagine that he’s decided to begin taking seriously the populism he campaigned on. Up until now, Trump’s executive orders have nodded in the direction of campaign promises about immigration and trade, but he has let Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell control his legislative agenda. So ObamaCare repeal-and-replace would have done its greatest damage in precisely the poor rural communities where Trump is so popular, and tax reform looked likely to become yet another giveaway to the super-rich, with working-class Americans offered little more than a mess of pottage in exchange for Social Security and Medicare birthrights that would inevitably be cut once budget deficits balloon.

So charming Democrats could, in theory, be the overture of an authentically populist tax reform, one that eliminates the loopholes where the rich hide their income and uses the money to either cut middle-class taxes or lower the deficit.

Another theory is that Trump didn’t like hearing that Congress would be too busy in September to accomplish much on tax reform or infrastructure, so he made a quick deal that would “clear the decks“. The Hill reports:

Lawmakers had expected to fight over fiscal issues right up until the end of September, but now the schedule for the month is surprisingly clear.

Finally, there’s Josh Marshall’s theory, which I have to say sounds the most plausible to me:

Trump needs to dominate people. Clearly Trump felt that McConnell and Ryan are not serving him well enough or loyally enough or both. So he lashed out or tried to damage them. Schumer and Pelosi were simply the most convenient cudgels available. … It’s been clear for weeks that [Trump] feels routinely betrayed by these two men. They don’t produce for him. They embarrass. They fail to defend him. The need to dominate runs deeper than any policy agenda or ideological ambition.

I interpret the recent overtures with a high-school-dance metaphor: Trump’s date hasn’t been giving him enough adulation, so he’s punishing her by flirting with her rival. Pelosi and Schumer should enjoy the dance, but not get fooled into thinking that some great romance is starting. Trump will be back with Ryan and McConnell as soon as he thinks they’ve learned their lesson.

and DACA

It’s still not clear what’s going to happen to the Dreamers. Their protection against deportation will start phasing out in six months, and Congress might or might not find a way to help them. (That’s a test of Congress’ functionality: Almost nobody really wants to deport them, but dysfunctional systems often do things that nobody wants.) And Trump is now leaning both ways: He says he will “revisit” his DACA decision in six months if Congress doesn’t do anything.

The stereotypic Dreamer is a teen-ager or 20-something brought to this country from Mexico around age 5. Like a lot of stereotypes, there is some statistical truth in it, but a lot of Dreamers don’t fit.

The NYT does the demographics. About 3/4ths of the Dreamers are from Mexico, and other Latino countries provide most of the rest. But not all: 7250 are from South Korea, 4655 from the Philippines, 3435 from Jamaica, and 3182 from India.

Part of what you see there is that not all undocumented immigrants get into the country by sneaking across a border. A large number of them (even ones from Mexico) come here legally as tourists and then stay after their visas expire. The Great Wall of Mexico won’t do anything to stop them.

15 state attorney generals are suing to block Trump from ending DACA. It’s a difficult argument, and I find it hard to believe they’ll succeed. In some sense their case is modeled on the one against Trump’s so-called Muslim ban, in which he blocked visitors from six Muslim-majority countries. There, the argument wasn’t that Trump lacked the power to issue that order, but that it was unconstitutional for him to issue it capriciously, as a way of discriminating against Muslims.

Ditto here: Obama started DACA via executive order, so Trump certainly has the power to un-order it. To win the case, then, the AGs would have to convince a federal court that Trump’s order could only be motivated by anti-Latino animus. It seems like a tough case to make.

but USA Today’s investigation of corruption deserves more attention

Wednesday, USA Today published “Trump gets millions from golf members. CEOs and lobbyists get access to president“. Abstractly, we all knew the problem Trump’s private clubs create:

for the first time in U.S. history, wealthy people with interests before the government have a chance for close and confidential access to the president as a result of payments that enrich him personally.

The initiation fee is $200K at Mar-a-Lago and $300K at Bedminster, with thousands more expected in membership fees each year. A lobbyist or CEO seeking government favors knows that he might meet the President in either place, and the President will know that he has received a large payment — not a campaign contribution, but a payment that benefits him personally.

[This is an important point: If you believe a politician’s policies are good for the country, civic virtue might motivate you to contribute to his or her re-election. But giving a government official money to spend on himself is always improper.]

Even if that’s theoretically possible, does it actually happen? It’s been hard to prove. The membership rolls at Trump’s clubs are secret, so you can’t check them for suspicious names. You also can’t check whether Trump suddenly started making more money off his clubs after he became president, because his tax returns are secret. The Obama administration would at least tell you who the President was playing golf with, but the Trump administration won’t even do that.

So journalists had to get creative.

USA TODAY set out to identify as many members of Trump’s private clubs as possible. We found more than 4,500 names by scouring social media posts, news stories and a public website golfers use to track their handicaps.

Our reporters then reviewed many hundreds of members’ names and used information available online and public documents such as lobbying registrations, corporate records, property deeds and medical licenses to determine the members’ jobs and if they make their living trying to influence the federal government or win contracts with it.

And they found some.

Members of the clubs Trump has visited most often as president — in Florida, New Jersey and Virginia — include at least 50 executives whose companies hold federal contracts and 21 lobbyists and trade group officials. Two-thirds played on one of the 58 days the president was there, according to scores they posted online.

As the article notes, there is nothing illegal about this, as long as the executives and lobbyists pay the same fees other people do, and no government favor is an identifiable quid pro quo. But it’s unsavory at a level that has not been seen in American politics for the last century or so.

Trump isn’t draining the swamp, he’s flooding it.

Speaking of corruption, we’re still not in a league with Brazil. This is how you know that you’ve got a problem:

and you also might be interested in …

About that “American carnage” we supposedly need an anti-immigrant, law-and-order president to protect us from: no sign of it in the numbers.

Tom Heberlein is an American living in Sweden who likes Swedish taxes. Sure they’re higher than American taxes, but you also get more: healthcare, public transportation, and college, just to name a few benefits. Interestingly, Heberlein turns the conservative “free to choose” argument upside-down:

No matter how rich Bill Gates is, he cannot buy a hiking trail system in Seattle like those we take for granted in Stockholm. I get to use it for free and have more choices for hiking than I can ever enjoy in Wisconsin.

… Betty and I used to live the village of Lodi, about 25 miles from Madison. This being America, I was free to travel to Madison however and whenever I wanted, as long as it was by private automobile. There was (and is) no bus service to Madison. Even though railroad tracks run right through the village, there is no commuter rail service either.

If this were a suburb of Stockholm or any other European city of 250,000, there would be train service and bus service several times an hour. These are the choices Europeans have that we don’t, because they devote more of their income to collective goods.

Ta-Nehisi Coates proclaims Trump “America’s first white president“, meaning (I think) that he’s the first president whose appeal is based on white identity politics.

Explanations of Trump’s victory that rely on economic resentment rather than racial resentment just don’t cut it.

Trump’s white support was not determined by income. According to Edison Research, Trump won whites making less than $50,000 by 20 points, whites making $50,000 to $99,999 by 28 points, and whites making $100,000 or more by 14 points. This shows that Trump assembled a broad white coalition that ran the gamut from Joe the Dishwasher to Joe the Plumber to Joe the Banker. So when white pundits cast the elevation of Trump as the handiwork of an inscrutable white working class, they are being too modest, declining to claim credit for their own economic class. Trump’s dominance among whites across class lines is of a piece with his larger dominance across nearly every white demographic. Trump won white women (+9) and white men (+31). He won white people with college degrees (+3) and white people without them (+37). He won whites ages 18–29 (+4), 30–44 (+17), 45–64 (+28), and 65 and older (+19). Trump won whites in midwestern Illinois (+11), whites in mid-Atlantic New Jersey (+12), and whites in the Sun Belt’s New Mexico (+5). In no state that Edison polled did Trump’s white support dip below 40 percent.

… Sixty-one percent of whites in this “working class” supported Trump. Only 24 percent of Hispanics and 11 percent of blacks did. Indeed, the plurality of all voters making less than $100,000 and the majority making less than $50,000 voted for the Democratic candidate. So when Packer laments the fact that “Democrats can no longer really claim to be the party of working people—not white ones, anyway,” he commits a kind of category error. The real problem is that Democrats aren’t the party of white people—working or otherwise. White workers are not divided by the fact of labor from other white demographics; they are divided from all other laborers by the fact of their whiteness.

As interesting and consequential as the Russian hack of Democrats’ email systems is the Russian social-media bot network. It’s still working to influence American political opinion. Most recently, it’s been pushing a pro-alt-Right anti-Antifa angle.

A follow-up to the article I mentioned last week about the morality of being rich: Rachel Sherman wrote in the NYT about her interviews with some wealthy people in New York: They do feel conflicted about their wealth, and many of them try not to appear to be as rich as they are.

Yet we believe that wealthy people seek visibility because those we see are, by definition, visible. In contrast, the people I spoke with expressed a deep ambivalence about identifying as affluent.

One of the interviewees takes the price tags off of everything, because she is embarrassed to have the housekeeper know she spends $6 for a loaf of bread.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wants to expand publicly funded charter schools nationwide. She was responsible for the law that expanded them in Michigan, which isn’t working out so well.

Michigan’s K-12 system is among the weakest in the country and getting worse. In little more than a decade, Michigan has gone from being a fairly average state in elementary reading and math achievement to the bottom 10 states. It’s a devastating fall. Indeed, new national assessment data suggest Michigan is witnessing systemic decline across the K-12 spectrum. White, black, brown, higher-income, low-income — it doesn’t matter who they are or where they live.

and let’s close with something out of the ordinary

Looking ahead to Irma hitting Florida, NPR did an article on disaster planning at zoos. It’s usually not possible to load a bunch of exotic animals into a truck and head up the turnpike to safety, so zoos have to get creative about sheltering in place. In this photo, a flock of flamingos (even the females) wait out 1998’s Hurricane Georges in a men’s bathroom.

A related concern is Gatorland in Orlando, where 2,000 alligators (and a few pythons and other dangerous reptiles) live. The theme park assured the public that none of its creatures will escape; a five-person crew stays on duty through a storm. Now there’s an idea for your horror-movie script: You were supposed to be on your way back to college by now, but instead you’re in the crew weathering a disaster at an alligator park. “Don’t worry!” the boss says as he catches the last jeep out.

Weird Times

Our climate has been in a rough temperature equilibrium for about 10,000 years, while we developed agriculture and advanced civilization and Netflix. Now our climate is about to rocket out of that equilibrium, in what is, geologically speaking, the blink of an eye. We’re not sure exactly what’s going to happen, but we have a decent idea, and we know it’s going to be weird.

– David Roberts “Climate change did not ’cause’ Harvey, but it’s a huge part of the story

This week’s featured posts are “Houston, New Orleans, and the Long Descent” and “Trump has no agenda“.

This week everybody was still talking about Harvey

By now, we’ve all seen the pictures of the flooding, and heard about the explosions at the chemical plant. The long-term environmental impact is still unknown.

It’s interesting to consider how differently liberals and conservatives might be watching the response to Harvey. Conservatives can focus on the ordinary people who are using their boats to rescue their neighbors, Dunkirk style. “That’s what we need more of,” they think, “good-hearted individuals volunteering to be heroes without a lot of bureaucracy getting in the way.”

Liberals, meanwhile, focus the larger picture: Will individual volunteers find everybody that needs rescuing? Once you rescue somebody with your boat, where do you take them? Will they have a place to sleep? Will somebody feed them? If they’re injured, will somebody treat them? try to reunite them with whoever might be looking for them? Once in a while all those pieces may fall together without any government organization, but most of the time not.

VoxDavid Roberts makes a good point about whether climate changed “caused” Harvey: It’s a malformed question. Climate change is a background condition that affects literally everything, but it doesn’t replace more immediate causes.

He makes a good analogy: What if gravity suddenly got 1% stronger? More people would be injured in falls, but it would be silly to blame any particular injury on “gravity change”. Each fall would still have some more immediate cause like a patch of ice or a dizzy spell.

With more heat energy in the system, everything’s going to get crazier — more heat waves, more giant rainstorms, more droughts, more floods. That means climate change is part of every story now. The climate we live in shapes agriculture, it shapes cities and economies and trade, it shapes culture and learning, it shapes human conflict. It is a background condition of all these stories, and its changes are reflected in them.

So we’ve got to get past this “did climate change cause it?” argument. A story like Harvey is primarily a set of local narratives, about the lives immediately affected. But it is also part of a larger narrative, one developing over decades and centuries, with potentially existential stakes. We’ve got to find a way to weave those narratives together while respecting and doing justice to both. [my emphasis]

A broader question to ponder: Sometimes we do this kind of narrative-blending well and sometimes we don’t. It goes without saying, for example, that individual war stories always take place in a broader context. So there’s no need to rehash the Cold War and the Domino Theory every time Grandpa tells his I-stepped-on-a-mine-but-it-was-a-dud story from Vietnam.

Racism and sexism, on the other hand, are like climate change: They’re background conditions for literally everything that happens in America. At the same time, though, they’re seldom the reason something happens. How do we talk about that?

Paul Krugman’s “Why Can’t We Get Cities Right?” is a rare both-sides-do-it column that I agree with. He argues that Houston’s vulnerability to Harvey shows the downside of the unregulated development allowed in red-state cities, while the ridiculous cost of housing in San Francisco shows what goes wrong in blue-state cities.

Why can’t we get urban policy right? It’s not hard to see what we should be doing. We should have regulation that prevents clear hazards, like exploding chemical plants in the middle of residential neighborhoods, preserves a fair amount of open land, but allows housing construction.

In particular, we should encourage construction that takes advantage of the most effective mass transit technology yet devised: the elevator.

and North Korea

Talking tough to Kim Jong Un doesn’t seem to be working. Yesterday, North Korea tested what it says was an H-bomb, and the seismic data seems to back up that claim. Tuesday, it flew a missile over Japan.

and the Russia investigation

Three major recent developments: First, while he was running for president, Trump signed a letter of intent to build Trump Tower Moscow, and his people contacted Putin’s people to try to get the Russian government behind the idea. As far as I know, there is nothing illegal in any of that. But it does show that Trump’s blanket denials of having any business relationship with Russia were false.

In July 2016, Trump denied business connections with Russia and said on Twitter: “for the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia.” He told a news conference the next day: “I have nothing to do with Russia.”

It might also give a financial motive for the Putin-friendly things he said during the campaign.

Second, we learned about the existence of a letter Trump wrote to James Comey but never sent, in which he fired Comey and explained why. The NYT broke the story, and claims the Mueller investigation has a copy of the letter, but no Times reporter has seen it. The article does not quote the letter directly, but only recounts the assessments of people who have read it. The letter is said to be a “screed” that “offered an unvarnished view of Mr. Trump’s thinking in the days before the president fired the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey.” White House Counsel Don McGahn talked him out of sending it.

If the letter says that Comey was fired because he wouldn’t shut down the Russia investigation, then it’s evidence of obstruction of justice — but we don’t really know that. What it clearly does prove is that the story Trump’s people (including VP Pence) told the public about Comey’s firing was false.

Third, Mueller is now working with the New York state attorney general on a money-laundering investigation of Paul Manafort. By bringing in the state, Mueller nullifies Trump’s pardon power, which only extends to federal crimes.

It’s often hard to know what to make of the news we hear about Russia and Trump. To the credit of the Mueller investigation, very little of the evidence it has gathered has leaked. (This is a welcome change from the constant leaks about the Clinton email investigation, many of which turned out to be misleading.) So the information available to the public doesn’t prove anything either way.

What I keep coming back to, though, is that whenever Trump and his associates have had to deal with some issue related to Russia, they have lied. They don’t act like people with nothing to hide.

Friday we saw another one of those North-Korea-like moments in the White House.

So, remember that one time when President Donald Trump held a Cabinet meeting and everyone at the table outdid themselves when it came to heaping praise on POTUS? Well, we got a similar situation today during a signing ceremony in the Oval Office in which Trump had a bunch of religious leaders surround him and profusely thank the president for his response to Hurricane Harvey.

With the president proclaiming that this coming Sunday will be a day of prayer for Harvey victims, he began going around the room and calling on different faith leaders to give remarks. And, wouldn’t you know, they all tripped over each other to express their gratitude for all the president had done so far.

The link includes a video, which is stomach-turning. I can’t think of any previous president, of either party, who would have allowed this kind of public fawning, much less encouraged it.

and DACA

Tomorrow, Trump is expected to announce what he will do with Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows immigrants who came to America outside the legal immigration system, but as children, to remain in the country and work legally. These “Dreamers” (named after the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act that would have given them legal status, had Congress passed it) are the undocumented immigrants who raise the most public sympathy, because they did nothing wrong and have no other home they can return to. The U.S. has invested in their education, and it makes little sense to deport them just as they’re starting to become productive.

Politico reports that Trump plans to end DACA with a six-month delay, which would give Congress time to change the law to protect some or all of the 800,000 Dreamers, if it wants to.

This is not entirely crazy, because DACA was always a kluge of executive orders that President Obama built to cover Congressional inaction. The right solution is for Congress to pass some version of the DREAM Act, or maybe even some larger immigration reform (like the Senate passed in 2013). This was one of many situations where Obama saved Republicans from themselves: They could simultaneously denounce Obama’s “tyrannical” circumvention of the law while avoiding responsibility for the injustice the law mandates.

However, the Republican base regards the DREAM Act is a form of “amnesty”, which they are rabidly against. In this environment, it’s hard to imagine the House passing anything. And if they don’t, in six months ICE will start deporting college students who speak perfect English, but possibly no other language. I doubt Paul Ryan wants to see a steady stream of such stories as his people campaign for re-election next year.

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Republicans only believe in local control until the workers win somewhere. Latest example: St. Louis, which raised its minimum wage three months ago, only to see the state force a wage rollback.

University of Washington Professor Kate Starbird has been studying the ways conspiracy theories flow through social media.

The information networks we’ve built are almost perfectly designed to exploit psychological vulnerabilities to rumor.

“Your brain tells you ‘Hey, I got this from three different sources,’ ” she says. “But you don’t realize it all traces back to the same place, and might have even reached you via bots posing as real people. If we think of this as a virus, I wouldn’t know how to vaccinate for it.”

Starbird says she’s concluded, provocatively, that we may be headed toward “the menace of unreality — which is that nobody believes anything anymore.” Alex Jones, she says, is “a kind of prophet. There really is an information war for your mind. And we’re losing it.”

It looks like this administration has no interest in changing the $20 bill to replace the guy who opened up the lower South for slavery (Andrew Jackson) with a woman who helped people escape slavery (Harriet Tubman). Seeing a black face on their money, I think, would hit Trump’s base on a visceral level: “We’re losing our country!”

Politico sums up the Democrats 2020 dilemma: “Familiar 70-somethings vs neophyte no-names“. Sanders, Biden, Warren, or somebody most of America has never heard of?

A bizarre thing I’m seeing on my Facebook feed: People who hated Hillary Clinton in 2016 are afraid that the dark cabal in control of the Democratic Party will nominate her again in 2020. These are the same people who have believed the worst stories about her all along. To them, she’s like some horror-movie villain that they fear can never die.

Business Insider does a takedown of Palmer Report, which produces a lot of thinly-sourced stories that appeal to liberals. Palmer’s stuff appears on my social media feeds fairly regularly, and I don’t give it much credence. If a claim looks interesting, I will make a mental note to check whether a reliable source is reporting anything similar.

Charles Blow connects some dots I hope aren’t really connected: Many of Trump’s divisive actions can be explained by the theory that he wants an armed insurrection when the Russia investigation finally forces him out of office.

A. Q. Smith writes in Current AffairsIt’s Basically Just Immoral to be Rich“. What’s interesting in the article is that it’s not a screed against capitalism or a plea for the government to redistribute wealth.

You can hold my position and simultaneously believe that CEOs should get paid however much a company decides to pay them, and that taxes are a tyrannical form of legalized theft. What I am arguing about is not the question of how much people should be given, but the morality of their retaining it after it is given to them.

There’s a third distinction I wish the article had made: Spending is different from either receiving or retaining. When you make money, you play the economic game as you find it. Retaining money may just mean letting a bank record a large number next to your name. (Smith’s point is that in retaining, you have the ability to feed the poor and pay for life-saving medical care, but choose not to.) But spending money is when you allocate the labor of others; if you spend on ridiculous luxuries for yourself, you’re bending the economy towards producing those things rather than either producing necessities for the many or investing in future production.

Since reading Smith’s article, I have not given away all my possessions and entered a life of voluntary poverty, so clearly I don’t find the argument totally convincing. But it is a question that I think should be raised more often, and that everybody who can afford more than basic necessities should have to think about.

I was initially attracted to ESPN the Magazine‘s interview with Aaron Rodgers (the consensus choice as the top NFL quarterback, for those of you who don’t follow football) because of his comments on the Colin Kaepernick situation. But it’s a fascinating conversation about family issues, race, being famous, religion, and the meaning of life, closing with: “I’ve been to the bottom and been to the top, and peace will come from somewhere else.”

A white Congregational minister in Charleston says white and black American Christianity are based on two different narratives about Ameria:

The white narrative said this: We’ve made it to the promised land. Life is good here. It’s the city on a hill. What a blessing. And the black narrative said this: We’ve been brought here in chains. It’s the new Egypt. What a curse. We’ve got to get the hell out of here. And therein lies a founding contradiction in American Christianity. One version celebrated and reinforced the status quo and another version sought liberation from it.

Ancestry isn’t destiny, though.

Of course, we don’t all fit neatly into one of two categories. Yours truly can often be found at vigils in the street or wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt. But I had to lose my white religion to get there. I had to give up a narrative that supported the suffering of the status quo for one that dreamed of the liberation of all people from social and political oppression.

… For too long white Christianity has been part of the problem. Its narrative of a promised land has never rung true with those who were left out of the promise. If those of us who are white gave up that old story or walked away from it, we could begin to tell a larger truth. And we could find something more deeply American in the black church’s struggle for freedom, dignity, and equality.

But I think he’s missing a third narrative, the angry one of downwardly mobile white Christianity: America was the promised land of our grandparents, but we have been cast out.

and let’s close with some music

Alf Clauson just lost his job doing the musical score for The Simpsons. In honor of his career, The Washington Post picked out his 12 most memorable songs. Because it’s Labor Day, I’ll highlight Lisa’s union song. (I suspect copyright issues won’t let YouTube post the video, so they fill in with generic Simpsons stills.)


By pardoning Arpaio, Trump made it clear that institutional racism is not just OK with him. It is a goal.

– the Editorial Board of The Arizona Republic

This week’s featured posts are “Fascism as a Unifying Principle” and “The Message in Joe Arpaio’s Pardon“. I also want to call your attention to a column I wrote for UU World magazine: “Of course I’m racist“.

This week everybody was talking about Hurricane Harvey

Usually the big damage in a hurricane comes from the storm surge and the high winds. But in addition to that, Harvey has stalled over the Texas Gulf Coast and is dumping record quantities of rain. By the time it’s all over, some areas may get 50 inches. The worst rain I’ve ever seen personally was 11 inches in one day at Mount Cook Village in New Zealand. The idea of that going on for nearly five days is mind-boggling.

The average annual rainfall here in New Hampshire is 47 inches, a bit higher than the national average of 39, a bit lower than Houston’s annual average of 49.77. So picture that: all of your rain for a year falling in a few days.

Texas Tribune is saying “I told you so”, because they told us so. Last year, TT and ProPublica wrote about how vulnerable Houston had become to floods caused by sudden, massive rainfall. Two causes: (1) climate change, which allows “100-year storms” to happen every few years, and (2) unregulated development, which lets builders pave over wetlands that absorb rainfall.

That second point is the kind of tragedy-of-the-commons that unregulated market economies are prone to. If you own a chunk of wetland, it’s to your economic benefit to build a home or shopping mall or industrial park on it. You hope somebody preserves a wetland somewhere, but why should it be you?

And of course, the Texas congresspeople who voted against recovery aid after Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast now have to ask for their own disaster relief. I wasn’t the one who thought to connect that hypocrisy to this New Yorker cartoon, but it’s too good not to copy.

Who are you kidding? You’re all about small government until you get stuck in a tree.

Funny how when natural disasters strike conservative areas, we don’t hear preachers proclaiming God’s judgment against America. But why couldn’t God be angry about something like voter suppression?

and Joe Arpaio’s pardon

I covered that in a featured post.

and whether the government will shut down October 1

From Slate:

At his Phoenix rally on Tuesday night, the president promised the crowd that, even “if we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall.”

Two points about the Wall:

  • Trump only got 46% of the vote to Hillary’s 48%. So while he is legally president (by grace of the Electoral College), he can’t claim a popular mandate for any part of his agenda, including the Wall.
  • Literally no one voted for a wall funded by American taxpayers. Trump promised that Mexico would pay; if that’s not happening, the deal is off.

and the transgender ban

When Trump tweeted this a few weeks ago, the Pentagon basically said: Send us some real orders; we don’t take instructions over Twitter.

Friday, an official directive came out. It stops new transgender recruits from joining the armed forces, and gives Defense Secretary Mattis discretion about what to do with the current transgender troops. It halts insurance coverage for gender-reassignment surgery.

Two lawsuits to overturn the directive have already been filed.

but we shouldn’t move on so quickly from Trump’s Afghanistan speech

A featured post talks about the speech’s national-unity introduction, but the body of the speech deserves attention too. A few minor points

  • He says that his instinct was to pull out of Afghanistan, but “decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office”. To me, that says that he owes President Obama an apology.
  • As usual, he was vague on any details. Ostensibly, this was so that the enemy won’t know his plans. But of course, that means the American people don’t know them either. All we need to understand, he thinks, is that we’re going to “win”.
  • Despite the rhetoric, the “new strategy” looks like Obama’s old strategy with a slight escalation.

My major point, though, is an objection I’ve had to the Afghan and Iraq interventions at least since I wrote “Cut and Run” in 2005: When we say (as Trump did) that we have to continue a war because bad things will happen if we pull out, is the point that we can pull out at some future time without those bad things happening? Or is the point that we have to stay forever?

What I want to hear from an American president — and I would want the same thing from Hillary Clinton, if she’d been elected — is an explanation of what exactly we are fixing in Afghanistan, so that it will be more stable when we eventually pull out later. I want to hear measurable benchmarks of progress, with regular updates on whether the measurements are matching our predictions.

And if there is no clear answer to those questions, then I want to hear an explanation of why the cost of the war (in both blood and dollars) is worth paying indefinitely.

And if that also has no answer, then I want our troops out now. Yes, bad things will happen, but they’re going to happen eventually anyway.

The worst possible reason to continue a war is so that the soldiers we’ve already lost will not have “died in vain”. In economics, that’s called the sunk cost fallacy. Those soldiers have already died, and if it was a mistake to send them in the first place, then they have already died in vain. Let’s not send more soldiers to die in vain after them.

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Both the LA Times and the NYT have now published opinion pieces making the point I made last week: It’s shameful that Trump’s religious advisers stand by him even as his business advisers abandon him for moral reasons. In the NYT, President Jim Winkler of the National Council of Churches (an association of what we used to call “mainline” Christian denominations) calls out Evangelicals:

Our congregations will continue to witness to a God who loves everyone regardless of race or creed. We need our evangelical sisters and brothers to join us.

In the LAT, Randall Balmer notes the history of the Religious Right, which came together not over abortion, but to defend segregation.

The 2016 presidential election, then, allowed the religious right finally to dispense with the fiction that theirs was a movement concerned about family values. Evangelical voting behavior suggests that the religious right was merely reverting to the racism that prompted its entry into the political arena in the late 1970s.

Last week Boston, this week San Francisco and Berkeley: Planned far-right rallies were overwhelmed by counter-protesters. Police were up to the job. San Francisco reported no major incidents. Berkeley had some scuffling and a few arrests, but I haven’t seen any reports of major injuries.

Last week I wrote an even-handed article about Antifa. The Berkeley protest looks to me like the kind of situation where they do a lot more harm than good. There’s a reason right-wingers schedule these events in communities where they’ll face a lot of opposition, rather than in rural Mississippi or some more sympathetic place. They’re hoping for incidents that make them look like victims.

The WaPo lays out the details of how the police lost control of events in Charlottesville.

When we think about communities affected by the immigration crackdown, we usually picture someplace near the border. This week, both the WaPo and the NYT looked at the effect on Saratoga Springs, a tourist town in upstate New York.

Far from the “really bad dudes” Trump claims to be targeting, in Saratoga Springs ICE is hauling away people with jobs at the famous Saratoga racetrack or in the downtown restaurants. They’re just hard-working folks trying to get along and raise their kids.

After Steve Bannon’s ouster, I hoped that Sebastian Gorka and Stephen Miller would soon leave the White House too. Miller is still around, but Gorka either resigned or was fired Friday. BuzzFeed has an account of how Gorka manufactured anti-terrorism credentials for himself. It didn’t work in Hungary, but it did in the Trump administration. He doesn’t seemed to be an expert in much of anything, other than self-promotion and anti-Muslim bigotry.

Gorka’s exit together with Arpaio’s pardon made for one of the greatest Friday night news dumps ever. For decades, administrations have put out their worst news on Friday nights, figuring they’ll get less attention that way. I guess they figured a Friday night that featured a major natural disaster was just too good to pass up.

and let’s close the week the way it started … with the eclipse

It was already starting when I posted last week’s Sift, but hadn’t gotten to New Hampshire yet. See how long a week is these days?

Yeah, I know you were out there snapping your own pictures, but I bet you didn’t get these: 12 images from the Earth Polychromatic Imagine Camera (EPIC) show the Moon’s shadow cross the Earth.

Sky and Telescope assembled a gallery of photos submitted by its readers. I’m especially fond of “diamond ring” images, which happen just slightly off totality.

And I’m not sure what kind of photographic tricks you need to do to see the Sun’s corona like this:

When to Bolt

I live in this area and used to be active in the local Tea Party group. I know people who are not white nationalists who oppose the removal of the statues based on high-minded ideas about preserving history. None of them were [at the Charlottesville rally], and if they had been, they would have bolted the moment they saw a bunch of guys with torches chanting “Blood and soil.”

– Robert Tracinski, “Donald Trump Needs Not To Be President Yesterday
The Federalist, 8-16-2017

This week’s featured posts are “What to Make of Antifa?” and “A Few Points About Confederate Monuments“.

This week everybody was still talking about Charlottesville

Led by the president — more about him below — conservative media has been pushing an even-handed or even pro-alt-Right narrative of the Unite the Right rally — the one that culminated with the murder of counter-protested Heather Heyer in a car attack that injured 19 others: The “alt-Left” was just as bad. Lots of “fine people” were rallying not for white supremacy, but to defend Charlottesville’s Robert E. Lee statue, and so on.

These stories become more convincing the further away from the events you get, so I think it’s important to distribute as much raw video footage and as many eye-witness accounts as possible. (Along with the posters advertising the event, which say little-to-nothing about Robert E. Lee, and a whole lot about white supremacy and anti-Semitism.) I’ve already linked to some eye-witness accounts about Antifa in “What to Make of Antifa?“, but I’ll add some more testimony here.

If you’ve got a half hour, Vice News had a reporter embedded with the white supremacists, and that piece makes compelling television.

Some of the most thoughtful accounts are by clergy who came to protest, perhaps willing to get their heads bashed in or perhaps imagining that KKK types would be cowed by ministerial vestments. (They weren’t.) Here’s Brian McLaren of Auburn Seminary and local Unitarian Universalist ministers Wayne Arnason and Kathleen Rolenz.

Alan Zimmerman, president of Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, describes the atmosphere of fear:

For half an hour, three men dressed in fatigues and armed with semi-automatic rifles stood across the street from the temple. Had they tried to enter, I don’t know what I could have done to stop them, but I couldn’t take my eyes off them, either. Perhaps the presence of our armed guard deterred them. Perhaps their presence was just a coincidence, and I’m paranoid. I don’t know.

Several times, parades of Nazis passed our building, shouting, “There’s the synagogue!” followed by chants of “Seig Heil” and other anti-Semitic language. Some carried flags with swastikas and other Nazi symbols.

But there were also heart-warming moments:

A frail, elderly woman approached me Saturday morning as I stood on the steps in front of our sanctuary, crying, to tell me that while she was Roman Catholic, she wanted to stay and watch over the synagogue with us. At one point, she asked, “Why do they hate you?” I had no answer to the question we’ve been asking ourselves for thousands of years.

At least a dozen complete strangers stopped by as we stood in front the synagogue Saturday to ask if we wanted them to stand with us.

and Trump’s horrible response

The day Heather Heyer was murdered, Trump denounced violence “on many sides“, and seemed mainly to regret that Heyer’s death — he didn’t mention her by name — was diverting attention from his own accomplishments.

Our country is doing very well in so many ways. We have record — just absolute record employment. We have unemployment, the lowest it’s been in almost 17 years. We have companies pouring into our country. Foxconn and car companies, and so many others, they’re coming back to our country. We’re renegotiating trade deals to make them great for our country and great for the American worker. We have so many incredible things happening in our country. So when I watch Charlottesville, to me it’s very, very sad.

Monday, his staff prevailed on him to read a more specific statement finally saying the kinds of things that any other president would have said immediately:

Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.

At the time, I thought he looked like a hostage reading a statement prepared by his kidnappers, and I wondered how long it would take him to undercut the whole thing. About a day: His Wednesday press conference went completely off the rails. He was back to “blame on both sides” and “very fine people, on both sides”. He supported the pretense that the rally was primarily to protest removal of a Robert E. Lee statue, and suggested that Thomas Jefferson and George Washington would be next. (I discuss that in more detail in “A Few Points About Confederate Monuments“.)

Trump supporters started to bail out on him almost immediately. Both his Manufacturing Jobs Initiative Council and his American Manufacturing Council had to be disbanded as its members resigned. Several Republicans in Congress also criticized him. But Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell made careful statements against violence and white supremacy in general, without confronting Trump directly.

Russ Feingold makes a good point:

The lesson from Charlottesville is not how dangerous the neo-Nazis are. It is the unmasking of the Republican party leadership. In the wake of last weekend’s horror and tragedy, let us finally, finally rip off the veneer that Trump’s affinity for white supremacy is distinct from the Republican agenda of voter suppression, renewed mass incarceration and the expulsion of immigrants.

It’s nice to see a few tweets separating elected Republicans from Trump, but they need to speak out on substance, not just symbolism. Toxic statements are not an impeachable offense, but an official resolution of censure would be a good start, followed by action on the issues Feingold lists. So far, no Republicans are taking those steps.

Trump keeps “waiting for all the facts” before condemning white supremacists. But the massive counter-demonstration against a proposed right-wing “free speech” rally in Boston Saturday got no such consideration. He knew at a glance that the thousands of counter-protesters were “anti-police agitators“.

His wait-for-the-facts stance also got under the skin of Yusef Salaam, who was one of the falsely convicted “Central Park 5” sent to prison in 1990 for beating and raping a white female jogger. (DNA evidence cleared them years later and someone else eventually confessed.)

During our trial, it seemed like every New Yorker had an opinion. But no one took it further than Trump. He called for blood in the most public way possible. Trump used his money to take out full-page ads in all of the city’s major newspapers, urging the reinstatement of the death penalty in New York. … He never acknowledged his rush to judgment, and last year when asked about us, he still stuck to the line that “They admitted they were guilty” and “The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty.” Never mind that we weren’t.

and Steve Bannon’s exit

Bannon’s firing/resignation/whatever on Friday means that in a mere seven months, Trump has gotten rid of his entire Inauguration Day inner circle: Bannon, Reince Preibus, Michael Flynn, and Sean Spicer. Pence’s mandate comes from the Electoral College, so Trump can’t fire him.

The fact that Bannon was going to be in the White House at all was bad news, so him leaving has to be good news. He has been the administration’s clearest link to the alt-Right, and was responsible for other white nationalist hires like Sebastian Gorka and Stephen Miller. (It would be great if they go next.)

That said, it’s not like Trump is a puppet who will now be voiced by some more reasonable puppeteer like John Kelly. Trump has been at his worst when he spoke with the least outside input, as during his unhinged Tuesday news conference. Bannon encouraged and orchestrated Trump’s worst instincts, but those instincts are still there.

but not enough people are heaping shame on Trump’s religious lickspittles

The Thoughtful Pastor blog, written by Rev. Dr. Christy Thomas, a Methodist, notes something that should be scandalous: Even as Trump’s business advisory councils are exploding, his Religious Advisory Council is standing firmly behind him. As of Friday, exactly one of the 24 (mostly Evangelical Christian) members had resigned, and none has spoken out clearly against Trump’s echoing of white supremacist rhetoric. Some have openly supported those statements.

This points to an issue that deserves a lot more attention: The leadership of the Evangelical Christian movement has been corrupted by politics, to the point that it has abdicated the traditional prophetic role of speaking truth to power. Increasingly, “Christian” is a tribal identity rather than a religion. How else can we explain white Christians’ allegiance — both among the leadership and the rank and file — to an amoral, self-righteous, non-religious huckster like Trump?

During Bill Clinton’s administration, conservative Christian ministers frequently talked about the importance of character and of having a strong Christian man in the White House. During Bill Clinton’s Monica Lewinsky scandal, Trump RAC member James Dobson wrote:

Why aren’t parents more concerned about what their children are hearing about the President’s behavior? Are moms and dads not embarrassed by what is occurring? At any given time, 40 percent of the nation’s children list the President of the United States as the person they most admire. What are they learning from Mr. Clinton? What have we taught our boys about respecting women? What have our little girls learned about men? How can we estimate the impact of this scandal on future generations?

But he looked at Trump’s Pussygate scandal differently:

There really is only one difference between the two [candidates]. Mr. Trump promises to support religious liberty and the dignity of the unborn. Mrs. Clinton promises she will not.

Since the election, Evanglical leaders have been acting as if Trump were God’s anointed, and competing to see who can be the most perfect toady. (Robert Jeffress is winning.)

Rev. Thomas finds this kind of thing appalling, as any authentic Christian would. Ministers who can’t keep up morally with the CEOs of the big corporations deserve nothing but public shame. I often hear that Islam needs a reformation. Well, Evangelical Christianity needs a reformation; its corruption runs both wide and deep.

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If the sky suddenly goes dark while you’re reading this, you might be in the middle of a solar eclipse. Go check.

The Trump administration has decided what to do about that annoying National Climate Assessment: disband the federal advisory board that produced it.

This evening, Trump will announce his Afghanistan strategy. Speculation is that he will call for a modest increase in troop levels and maybe some changes in how they’re used. This is one of the rare cases where I wish Trump would stick to the isolationism of his 2016 campaign. Somebody needs to explain to me what our 15-year military action has accomplished, and what more we can expect from further involvement. I suspect tonight’s speech will not do that.

Those of us who encountered Neo-Paganism back in the day, as a movement inside the liberal counterculture, can be shocked to discover some of the reactionary directions it has taken since. I recommend reading Amy Hale’s “Marketing Rad-Trad: the Co-Influence Between Paganism and the New Right“.

[T]he idea that there is a sacred link between people and place can inspire fixed ideas about the relationship between people and territory.

It is almost ironic that this wider conversation about cultural preservation and a desire to not appropriate have created the conditions for the New Right to be successful among Pagans. Particularly in the United States where Pagans and practitioners of New Age religions have been accused of appropriating symbolism and practices from Native American traditions, Pagans have become especially sensitive to these complaints and wish to practice their religion with a sense of cultural integrity. In short, Pagans do not want to be seen to be stealing traditions that “do not belong to them.”

As a result, Pagans feel as though they need to be able to legitimately claim ownership to the traditions they practice, which has led to an increase in ethnic reconstruction Paganism within the United States, as people try to become involved with traditions they feel they can legitimately claim as their own. The models for this type of practice tend to be heavily culturally bounded, using a genetic model of cultural transmission, one anthropologists recognize to be greatly flawed and incorrect, but which is a defining feature of New Right ethnopolitics.

and let’s close with something controversial

The closing I promised in the Teaser fell through (the video wasn’t what it claimed to be), so I’m going to substitute Tina Fey’s cake routine. A few people — like Rose Dommu at Out — took her literally as saying that we should all just stay home and eat cake rather than do anything. But I think there’s more to it than that. I saw as an expression of the frustration of seeing something obviously wrong and not knowing whether anything you do will make any difference.

And besides, it’s funny.

They’ve Got a Friend

These [white supremacist] groups seem to believe they have a friend in Donald Trump in the White House. I don’t know why they believe that, but they don’t see me as a friend in the Senate, and I would urge the president to dissuade these groups that he’s their friend.

– Senator Lindsey Graham,
Fox News Sunday, 8-13-2017

This week’s featured post is “The Battles Within the White House are Even Crazier Than You Think“. I’m still intending to get back to the “Misunderstandings” series, if the immediate news developments ever slow down.

This last couple of days everybody has talking about Charlottesville

Charlottesville is where Thomas Jefferson put the University of Virginia. Like most university towns, it’s solidly blue: Clinton beat Trump 80%-13%. Like a lot of liberal areas in the South, it’s been wondering why it has all these monuments to the Confederacy. Sure, the Confederacy ought to be remembered, but does it really deserve to be celebrated?

In particular, a huge statue of Robert E. Lee on a horse was erected there in 1924. In April, the City Council voted to remove the statue, but there’s a court case based on a 1902 state law protecting war monuments, so it’s not clear what will happen.

This weekend, an alliance of alt-Right groups (including the KKK and some neo-Nazis), converged on Charlottesville for a “Unite the Right” rally centered on the Lee statue. Many came armed and in military-style riot gear, or waved Confederate or Nazi flags. Friday night there was a torchlight march, reminiscent of the torchlight parades of the Third Reich.

It wasn’t the first time: White supremacist Richard Spencer led a torchlight protest in support of the statue back in May. The KKK had rallied at a different Charlottesville park in early July.

Counter-protesters, many of them clergy, also converged on Charlottesville. (I’m not clergy, but I’m on some of the same mailing lists as Unitarian ministers. I got a request to come to Charlottesville for the counter-protest. It did not say anything about coming armed or in riot gear.) Reportedly, there were also some anti-fascist counter-protesters (not clear how many), who believe in meeting violence with violence.

Friday night, the right-wingers marched through the university campus chanting “white lives matter” and other white supremacist slogans, including some anti-Semitic ones. Counter-protesters had gathered around a Jefferson statue; they were encircled by the marchers and some scuffling occurred, apparently with only minor injuries.

Saturday, the violence peaked with a reported Nazi sympathizer ramming his car into a crowd of protesters, killing one and injuring 19. The photo below shows the alleged driver carrying a shield with the Lee statue in the background. (He’s just below the horse’s tail.)

Piece of advice these next few days: Don’t get trolled. Some truly awful links are going around on social media, including a number to articles that I think were written purely to outrage people like me (and, I assume, you). By linking to them, we publicize the web sites they come from, which I think was the point.

You who know who really deserve to be on Southern Civil War monuments? Slaves who escaped, joined the Union Army, and came back to fight for the freedom of their people. Those are the real Southern heroes.

Some previous Sift articles: “You Don’t Have to Hate Anybody to be a Bigot“, “Please Take Down Your Confederate Flag“,  and “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party“.

and Trump’s lack of response

The President responded to this act of right-wing terrorism by listlessly reading a statement that refused to take sides between Nazis and people who protest against Nazis.

We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides, on many sides.

He continued with boilerplate rhetoric about “restoring law and order” and urging everyone to “come together as Americans with love for our nation”, before complaining that this violence was taking him off message.

Our country is doing very well in so many ways. We have record, just absolute record, employment. We have unemployment the lowest it’s been in almost 17 years. We have companies pouring into our country, Foxconn and car companies and so many others. They’re coming back to our country. We’re renegotiating trade deals to make them great for our country and great for the American worker. We have so many incredible things happening in our country, so when I watch Charlottesville, to me it’s very, very sad.

Because it doesn’t matter who’s dead, everything is about him and his accomplishments. And once again he talked as if his base were the whole of America.

We are all Americans first. We love our country. We love our God. We love our flag. We’re proud of our country. We’re proud of who we are.

So if you feel mistreated by America, don’t believe in God, have mixed feelings about the flag, or if recent events — including the very event he’s supposed to be responding to — sometimes make you feel ashamed of your country, then he’s not even trying to be your president. You’re not part of the “all” he’s speaking for.

You only had to look at other Republicans to realize that getting this right is not difficult. Orrin Hatch tweeted:

We should call evil by its name. My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.

Ted Effing Cruz, for God’s sake, wrote:

The Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists are repulsive and evil, and all of us have a moral obligation to speak out against the lies, bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred that they propagate.

How hard was that? But even after nearly two days, nothing from the President against white supremacy and Nazism.

Here’s what it comes down to. KKK types like David Duke are invoking Trump’s name and telling their followers that Trump is on their side. Trump is not telling them that they’re wrong, because they’re not wrong. He and his administration have been cultivating white supremacist support for years. He won’t criticize them because they’re his base.

Trump also has said nothing about the bombing of a mosque in Minnesota more than a week ago. His spokesman Sebastian Gorka said Trump would comment “when we have some kind of finalized investigation”, but not before, because “people fake hate crimes … with some regularity”.

Gorka, Stephen Miller, Steve Bannon — the alt-Right recognizes them as their own people inside the Trump administration.

Another place where Trump is slow to speak out is against Vladimir Putin. Putin responded to the new sanctions Congress just passed (by a near-unanimous margin that caused Trump to sign the bill rather than face a veto override) by demanding large cuts in the U.S. diplomatic mission to Russia. When asked about it by a reporter on Thursday, he thanked Putin for helping him trim the payroll.

He later claimed he was being “sarcastic“. But whether he was serious or not, he clearly avoided criticizing or opposing Putin, who seems to be the alpha in their relationship.

but before that it looked like we might go to war with North Korea

It’s starting to look like we might not go to war after all, though it’s hard to say that anything has changed in the last few days. And as Rachel Maddow keeps pointing out, it’s also not clear what changed before that to ratchet up the tensions.

Over-simplifying recent history into one paragraph: The Clinton administration recognized that we had no good military options against North Korea, so instead it bribed the Kim dynasty with aid in exchange for it not developing nuclear weapons. Then the Bush administration came in and decided to “get tough” and end Clinton’s “appeasement”. So the Clinton deal collapsed, and Bush got to posture in a manly fashion. But there were still no good “tough” options, so North Korea developed nuclear weapons. That’s how we got into this situation.

Josh Marshall concludes:

The real lesson I draw from this is that we should be extremely wary about actions which have the feeling or appearance of toughness but which are likely to have negative or even dire results because we have no viable, alternative policy. That seems very much like the situation we are moving toward with North Korea. Certainly it’s what President Trump was doing yesterday when he made wild threats he is highly, highly unlikely to follow through on.

Back in May, Stephen Krasner wrote “A Least Worst Option on North Korea“, which I recommend. His conclusions:

  • All-out war would mean the destruction of Seoul (and possibly Tokyo, though Krasner doesn’t say so), so it’s not acceptable. “If South Korea suffered such a large loss of life as a result of a basically unilateral American strike, it would be the end not only of the South Korean-U.S. alliance but of NATO as well. No country will tie itself to the United States if the United States through its own actions can take measures that would result in hundreds of thousands of citizens in other countries being killed.”
  • Only China has enough influence in North Korea to bring about new leadership with less destabilizing policies.
  • Our best-case outcome is China’s worst-case outcome: a unified Korea allied with the United States. We can’t hope for Chinese help that makes such an outcome more likely.

His proposal:

So there is a deal that the United States could credibly offer to China: leadership change in North Korea and the end to nuclear and missile programs there, in exchange for the withdrawal of American troops from the peninsula. All U.S. forces would be removed, if China actually succeeded in engineering the ouster of Kim Jung-un and an associated end to its nuclear and missile programs. A North Korean commitment to end its nuclear program made by a leader dependent on China would be more credible than any commitment made by Kim.

China is trying to be the grown-up in the room. In contrast to Kim’s usual over-the-top rhetoric and Trump’s off-the-cuff threats, Thursday a Chinese state-owned newspaper published a carefully worded editorial that Western observers regard as a “semi-official” statement from the government.

China should also make clear that if North Korea launches missiles that threaten US soil first and the US retaliates, China will stay neutral. If the US and South Korea carry out strikes and try to overthrow the North Korean regime and change the political pattern of the Korean Peninsula, China will prevent them from doing so.

I imagine this being said in the tone of voice of a Mom drawing a line down the center of the back seat and insisting that the kids each stay on their own side.

and that Google anti-diversity memo

In case you didn’t hear about it: Google engineer James Damore posted a memo to one of Google’s internal discussion lists, criticizing Google’s program to promote race-and-gender diversity in the workforce and management. The two final bullet points in his introduction were:

  • Differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership.
  • Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.

The memo got out and went viral. Google fired him. This also sparked a huge amount of discussion, and the engineer is on his way to becoming an alt-Right hero. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets a book-and-movie deal out of it.

Rather than write my own article about these issues, I think I’ll just say a few things briefly and then point you at the commentary I found most thoughtful.

My few things:

  • There probably are “differences in distributions of traits” between men and women that might continue to be present in a totally non-sexist world. But society as we know it — and the tech workplace in particular — is such a contaminated environment that I don’t know how you’d do convincing research to measure how significant those differences are.
  • There is a long, sad history of science being used to bolster social stereotypes. To borrow a legal term, any conclusions along those lines deserve strict scrutiny.
  • If there is some “natural” level of women in tech — the number you’d get if there were neither sexism nor diversity programs to counter it — I’ll bet it’s higher than Google’s current 20-25%. Talking about 50% is a red herring; there are more possibilities than (1) perfect equality and (2) the status quo.
  • Job descriptions and the population of people who hold those jobs evolve together. Our current understanding of what it means to be a software engineer was shaped during an era when it was a job for men, so it may well depend on certain stereotypically male traits that aren’t actually necessary. If the job as currently defined is “unnatural” for women, that could be a reason to change the job.

Now let’s get to other people’s comments. The best zinger I heard was tweeted by Sarcastic Rover, the alleged voice of the AI governing the NASA Mars rover.

Some people just love a merit-based system… right up until the merit you want is “not being an asshole.”

If you want to argue the science with Damore, start here.

Claire Cain Miller writes on NYT’s “The Upshot” blog that stereotypic male nerdiness is not necessarily what software engineering is about.

Technical skills without empathy have resulted in products that have bombed in the market, because a vital step to building a product is the ability to imagine how someone else might think and feel. “The failure rate in software development is enormous, but it almost never means the code doesn’t work,” Mr. Ensmenger said. “It doesn’t solve the problem that actually exists, or it imagines a user completely different from actual users.”

Ezra Klein went meta, thinking about the reasons this incident hit such a nerve with the larger public.

Behind the furor over the memo is our unease with the unaccountable, opaque power Google in particular, and Silicon Valley in general, wields over our lives. If Google — and the tech world more generally — is sexist, or in the grips of a totalitarian cult of political correctness, or a secret hotbed of alt-right reactionaries, the consequences would be profound.

Google’s influence is much harder to avoid than McDonalds’ or WalMart’s.

Compounding the problem is that the tech industry’s point of view is embedded deep in the product, not announced on the packaging. Its biases are quietly built into algorithms, reflected in platform rules, expressed in code few of us can understand and fewer of us will ever read. And yet those hidden commands and unexamined choices can lead to discrimination in housing and jobs, to a public sphere that fosters continual harassment of women and people of color, to a world where conservative news is suppressed, to a digital commons that everyone must use but that only a certain kind of person gets to build.

… The technology industry’s power is vast, and the way that power is expressed is opaque, so the only real assurance you can have that your interests and needs are being considered is to be in the room when the decisions are made and the code is written. But tech as an industry is unrepresentative of the people it serves and unaccountable in the way it serves them, and so there’s very little confidence among any group that the people in the room are the right ones.

So long as that’s true, any indication that the builders of tomorrow are quietly against you, which is what Damore’s memo was, will be explosive.

and you also might be interested in …

Early in the week I thought I might have space to talk about final draft of the “Climate Science Special Report” of the U.S. Global Change Research Program. Key quote:

It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.

Amy McGrath made a big splash with the opening video of her campaign for the congressional seat in Kentucky’s 6th district. The district has more registered Democrats than Republicans, but has been held by Republican Andy Barr since 2012. Barr got 61% of the vote in 2016.

CNN does its best to make sense of Trump’s attacks on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Attacking McConnell over Senate inaction also allows Trump to cultivate the two crucial sectors of his political support at the same time — his loyal base of less ideological voters who hate the establishment, and purist conservatives who are livid that Obamacare remains the law of the land.

But not even Newt Gingrich is on board with Trump here.

One constant of Trump’s character is that nothing is ever his fault. Very little that he promised during the campaign is actually getting done, so he needs a scapegoat. But this much should be obvious: If Trump had offered the healthcare plan he promised — the one that gave everybody better coverage for less money, and was less expensive for the government too — it would have zoomed through Congress. The fact that he was lying and actually had no plan at all is his own fault, not McConnell’s.

From The Weekly Standard, which is one of the flagship publications of the conservative media:

Short-lived White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci was an utterly forgettable political hack. But he said one thing before he was dismissed that’s worth reflecting on: “There are people inside the administration that think it is their job to save America from this president. Okay?” Scaramucci was right about that. We know these people, and we admire them. We wish them every success.

Taylor Swift’s $1 countersuit against the guy who’s suing her for millions (because her complaint of sexual harassment, he claims, got him fired) could be a teaching moment for the larger society. Being famous, beautiful, well-known, rich, and so forth, Swift has advantages that most harassed women lack. So at the same time that it’s instructive and satisfying to watch the usual attacks fail to throw her off-stride, the trial also has to give you sympathy for the women who usually have to face these tactics.

538 puts data behind the case I was making last week: Colin Kaepernick deserves to have a job in the NFL.

Two white women in Washington state have started White Nonsense Roundup.

If you are a Person of Color (POC), you have enough on your plate! It’s not your job to educate white people about privilege, racism, and what’s really going on in the world. If a white person is filling your social media with white nonsense – anything from overt racism to well-intentioned problematic statements – tag us and a white person will come roundup our own.

and let’s close with something brilliant

By now readers know that I love song parodies and Game of Thrones. So how could I resist “Westerosi Rhapsody”?

Be warned: The video is not safe for work, contains graphic sex and violence, and includes spoilers for most of the major plot developments through Season 6.