Category Archives: Weekly summaries

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



Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.

– Abigail Adams
Letter to John Adams, 3-31-1776

This week’s featured post is “Two Ways Brett Kavanaugh Could Be a Hero“. That sounds crazy, but here’s the basic idea: In a difficult situation, the hero is somebody who steps up to take the risk or pay the price. Heroes don’t shove burdens off on other people.

If you happen to be in west central Illinois next weekend, you can hear me discuss “Men and #MeToo” at the Unitarian Church of Quincy, Illinois on Sunday morning at 10:45.

This week everybody was talking about Brett Kavanaugh

The dust is still swirling from the second accusation that came out in The New Yorker yesterday. The second accuser is a Yale classmate, and apparently was picked out for victimization because she was drunker than the other women at the party. So her account is correspondingly muddled. She would have made a terrible first accuser, but her story does bolster Christine Blasey Ford’s.

This morning, other news outlets are still trying to figure out what to do with the second accusation. As of 9:30, the New York Times still wasn’t headlining it, but referred to it in an article about Diane Feinstein’s call for a delay. Otherwise, the committee will interview Dr. Blasey Ford on Thursday. (I predict Kavanaugh will withdraw before then.)

One constant in Republican defenses of Kavanaugh is that he is a “man of integrity” and “one of the finest human beings you will have the privilege of knowing“. But what exactly are they talking about?

I’m not aware of him working with Mother Theresa, making a major career sacrifice for a principle, rescuing people from burning buildings, winning a Medal of Honor, or doing anything else that rises above the kinds of things that ordinary decent people do. He drives other people’s kids in a carpool; he coaches girls basketball; a lot of women say he has treated them well. Good for him, but don’t we all know people we could say similar things about? I don’t think any of that should qualify him for sainthood.

To me, this sterling reputation looks like a benefit of privilege: He’s a straight white male Christian conservative from an upscale family, so he is presumed to be a man with a high sense of honor. No actual supporting evidence is needed.

When Kavanaugh was nominated, here’s the first thing he said:

Mr. President, thank you. Throughout this process, I have witnessed firsthand your appreciation for the vital role of the American judiciary. No president has ever consulted more widely or talked with more people from more backgrounds to seek input about a Supreme Court nomination.

It may not have seemed like a big deal at the time, but that was a brazen, obvious lie. Trump picked Kavanaugh off a list of 25 names that was given to him by the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo, a straight white male Catholic conservative from an Ivy League school. So Trump conspicuously didn’t consult widely or seek input from large numbers of people from diverse backgrounds. On the contrary, together with the Neil Gorsuch search process, the Kavanaugh process was probably the least rigorous search in recent American history. That was public knowledge, and Kavanaugh surely knew it too.

In other words, whatever Kavanaugh’s version of “integrity” entails, he’s not above telling a big public lie to flatter someone important. He’s not above introducing himself to the American people by telling a big, obvious lie.

So now he needs us to believe him rather than the women who accuse him of misconduct. Why exactly should we do that?

This picture of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Republican majority (posted by Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii) is worth contemplating. How small a slice of America do they really represent? If you were accusing an over-50 well-to-do Christian white man of something, is the group you’d want to judge your credibility?

TPM has the backstory on how Democrats on the Judiciary Committee handled the Blasey Ford accusation.

Some very unconvincing arguments are being made in Kavanaugh’s defense. The NYT’s Bret Stephens offers:

I believe human memory is imperfect. I believe it deteriorates over time. I believe most of us have had the experience of thinking we remember something clearly, only to discover we got important details wrong.

I know there are studies showing that spouses often remember very different facts about important moments, like their wedding or honeymoon or how they met. I myself sometimes notice that I remember an event happening in a room that didn’t exist at the time. But I very much doubt that ordinary human memory drift extends as far as “Wait, maybe it was the other guy who tried to rape me.”

A number of defenders have put forward some version of the he-was-just-17 argument. You know who’s not convinced by this? 17-year-olds.

“They just keep saying ‘He was in high school—boys will be boys,’” says Maurielle, a 17-year-old from Houston. “But I’m in high school—I don’t want that to happen to me.”

Making up stuff about Blasey Ford shows lack of faith that the truth is on your side. No, she isn’t poorly reviewed as a professor, she doesn’t carry a grudge against Kavanaugh’s mother, she didn’t accuse Neil Gorsuch of anything, she’s not a big Democratic donor, and her brother has no connection to the Trump/Russia investigation.

Flatly misstating Blasey Ford’s account is not convincing either. Here’s Franklin Graham (whose Dad apparently forgot to warn him about bearing false witness):

Asked by the CBN interviewer what kind of message his remarks send to sexual abuse victims, Graham replied: “Well, there wasn’t a crime that was committed. These are two teenagers and it’s obvious that she said no and he respected it and walked away.”

Kavanaugh “respected” her refusal, according Blasey Ford, after groping her, trying to pull off her swimsuit, and holding his hand over her mouth to keep her from screaming. And he didn’t “walk away”; she escaped after Kavanaugh drunkenly fell off her.

Two related items of interest: Following the lead of actress Alyssa Milano, many women have responded to Trump’s tweet

I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents.

by telling their own stories under the #WhyIDidntReport hashtag.

Or if you want to sum it all up with one story, look at “What Do We Owe Her Now?” in The Washington Post. When Elizabeth Bruenig was a sophomore in high school, a junior cheerleader reported a rape and became an outcast. The physical evidence supported her claims, but the authorities never filed charges, leading to the local rumor that she had made the whole thing up. When Bruenig grew up and became a journalist, she decided to investigate.

Nate Silver tweets that Kavanaugh is polling worse than any previous nominee who got confirmed. And that was before the latest charges.

and Rod Rosenstein

The New York Times is reporting that Rosenstein will lose his job today, either by resigning or being fired.

If Mr. Rosenstein exits, Noel Francisco, the solicitor general, would assume oversight of the Russia investigation, according to a Justice Department official. The acting deputy attorney general would be Matthew G. Whitaker, the chief of staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an unusual move.

This follow an NYT story earlier in the week, which claimed that Rosenstein felt misused after his memo gave Trump cover to fire Jim Comey. Reportedly, he discussed the 25th Amendment (through which Trump could be removed without impeachment) and suggested taping Trump secretly. Rosenstein denies those reports.

Vox sees problems ahead for Bob Mueller:

Rosenstein’s departure strikes at the heart of the Trump-Russia investigation because Mueller had to run major investigative decisions past the deputy attorney general. Rosenstein’s temporary replacement, Solicitor General Noel Francisco, could simply refuse to approve Mueller’s requests, effectively slowing the whole investigation to a crawl — or even fire Mueller outright if he felt there was a reason to do so.

So the long-anticipated constitutional crisis could be upon us.

and the midterm elections

We’re about six weeks out from the election, and everything the Republicans expect to turn the tide in their favor keeps backfiring. Kavanaugh was supposed to work for them, and several candidates have been running attack ads against Democratic senators for not supporting Kavanaugh. That now looks like wasted money.

Nate Silver’s model now gives the Democrats a 4 out of 5 chance of gaining control of the House and a 3 in 10 chance of winning the Senate.

and the consequences of Hurricane Florence

A lot of North Carolina wasn’t built with this kind of flooding in mind. (In fact, in 2012 the legislature banned state agencies from basing plans on a study that predicted rising sea level from climate change.) So toxic coal ash is entering the Cape Fear River and the waste pools from hog farms are also a problem.

Grist explores the side issue of why massive hog farms are in North Carolina to begin with. Hog farms should be in places that raise massive amounts of hog feed, like Iowa. Then the manure can fertilize the fields rather than build up in toxic pools.

If North Carolina wants to end the pattern of water pollution, it has to find a way to spread out the livestock or treat their waste. And the state needs to face the fact that once-in-a-lifetime floods are now hitting more than once a decade.

In this week’s episode of “What’s Wrong With That Man?”, President Trump toured hurricane-ravaged North Carolina. Talking to someone whose house was damaged by a storm-driven boat (and was having trouble getting his insurance company to cover it), Trump commented, “At least you got a nice boat out of the deal.” On the same trip, he also handed a box lunch to another victim, telling him to “Have a good time.

It’s hard to know what to do with comments reflecting such a basic lack of human empathy. Stephen Colbert decided to turn them into a children’s book.

but you have to see this political ad

It’s not often you can get six of your opponent’s siblings to make an ad for you.

BuzzFeed tells how this ad came about. Six of Rep. Paul Gosar’s nine siblings appear in the ad and two others support it. But their 85-year-old mother is still on Paul’s side. This should make for a lovely Thanksgiving.

and you also might be interested in …

Congress is currently working on appropriation bills for the fiscal year that starts next Monday. Current bills don’t include the funding Trump wants for the Mexican wall, so he is talking about a veto, possibly shutting down the government or some large part of it.

This is a time when major proposals can get swept into a bill without much fanfare. One such is in the House’s version of the appropriation bill for Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education: It would “cut 15% of federal adoption funding to states and localities that penalize adoption agencies that refuse to place children in families that conflict with the agency’s ‘sincerely held religious beliefs or convictions'” and also bar “the federal government from refusing to work with adoption agencies that discriminate.”

Once again, Christians would get the special right to ignore discrimination laws, and gays and lesbians would lose the “equal protection of the laws” promised in the Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

If you’re going to give huge tax cuts to rich people and big corporations, you have to crack down somewhere. How about on young people who have trouble repaying their student loans?

The proposal unveiled Monday would sharply curtail income-based loan repayment plans, scratch the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, embolden the government to go after students who don’t pay their loans and cut funding for federal work study in half.

… The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is eliminated in the proposed budget. This program allows former students who fulfill certain public service positions — such as public school teachers or health researchers — to have their loans erased after 10 years of on-time payments. Nearly two-thirds of student loan borrowers who’ve shown interest in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness earn less than $50,000 a year.

… People whose loans fall into delinquency would be subject to more stringent enforcement as the proposal also calls to “streamline the Department of Education’s ability to verify applicants’ income data held by the Internal Revenue Service.”

A new round of tariffs on Chinese goods went into effect today. These tariffs are 10%, and will automatically rise to 25% in 2019 if no new deal is negotiated. China is retaliating, and there’s no end in sight.

I’m slowly making my way through Bob Woodward’s Fear. I recently hit the point where Trump is reviewing a proposed speech on the economy and writes in the margin “Trade is bad.”

Apple has warned that tariffs on Chinese imports will raise the cost of its products to American consumers. Trump has responded that Apple should just make its iPhones in the US. Vox takes a look at how practical that is. Not very, as it turns out.

The issue is not so much cost of putting an iPhone together, or even the cost per part on paper. The issue is skill, scale, expertise, and infrastructure — all of which require money, time and long-term investment. Unlike other manufacturing jobs that have migrated from the United States, Apple wouldn’t be bringing them “back” so much as starting from scratch. The cost would come in attempting to build a system that’s never been in the US, but has been built over decades abroad.

China has these jobs because it has put together the right combination of “craftsman-like skill, sophisticated robotics, and computer science”.

“There’s a confusion about China,” [Apple CEO Tim] Cook said. “The popular conception is that companies come to China because of low labor cost. I’m not sure what part of China they go to, but the truth is China stopped being the low labor-cost country many years ago. And that is not the reason to come to China from a supply point of view. The reason is because of the skill, and the quantity of skill in one location and the type of skill it is.”

If Apple could do it, making iPhones in America would raise the price anywhere from $16 to $100, depending on what “Made in America” means to you: If the US plant would just assemble parts made elsewhere, you get the lower number. If you want all the parts made here too, you get the higher number.

For similar reasons, the official statistics exaggerate how big a dent iPhones make in our trade balance with China: China is reaping about $8 from each iPhone, but a tariff would fall on the full import price of around $240.

Florida GOP gubernatorial candidate DeSantis has run into another racial controversy (his fifth since winning the primary a month ago).

A Republican activist who donated more than $20,000 to Ron DeSantis and lined up a speech for him at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club recently called President Barack Obama a “F—- MUSLIM N—-” on Twitter, in addition to making other inflammatory remarks.

Steven M. Alembik told POLITICO on Wednesday he wrote the Obama tweet in anger, that he’s “absolutely not” a racist and that he understood that DeSantis’ campaign for governor would need to distance itself from the comments — which the campaign promptly did.

Of course Alembik isn’t a racist. I’m sure lots of non-racists tweet about F—- MUSLIM N—-s every day. Nonetheless, Paul Waldman raises the question: “Why do all these racists keep joining the GOP?

DeSantis may have been embroiled in an unusual number of these controversies, but it’s what every Republican candidate worries about these days. What if some supporter of mine says something shockingly racist? What if that guy who introduced me at that rally turns out to be a klansman? What if I get endorsed by some neo-Nazi group?

But you know who doesn’t have to worry about getting endorsed by neo-Nazis, white nationalists and racists? People who don’t give neo-Nazis, white nationals and racists any reason to believe that they share their views.

and let’s close with something awesome

A bridge through Vietnam’s Ba Na Hills, held up by stone hands.

To Speak or Stay Silent?

It is upsetting to discuss sexual assault and its repercussions, yet I felt guilty and compelled as a citizen about the idea of not saying anything.

Christine Blasey Ford

This week’s featured post is “10 Years After: the Post-Recovery Economy“.

This week everybody was talking about hurricanes

Early in the week, it was thought that Hurricane Florence might make landfall as Category 4 or even 5. But it spread out, slowed, and weakened, hitting North Carolina as Category 1. It’s now down to a tropical depression, but its cloud-field still covers a huge chunk of the Southeastern seaboard. Swansboro, NC has gotten over 30 inches of rain.

Meanwhile, Super Typhoon Mangkhut hit China’s Guangdong province (south of Hong Kong) yesterday.

The decision to evacuate towns and cities in southern China came as Hong Kong was left reeling by ferocious winds of up to 173 kilometers per hour (107 miles per hour) and gusts of up to 223 kph (138 mph).

Before getting to China, Mangkhut ravaged the Philippines, killing 54 people.

The series of huge storms we’ve seen in recent years is either an enormously improbable coincidence, or it’s evidence of global warming. But it’s not just that the administration doesn’t want to do anything about climate change, it’s actively been undoing what little Obama managed to get done.

In its latest retreat from federal action on climate change, the Trump administration on Tuesday proposed to lift rules on the leaking and uncontrolled release of the potent greenhouse gas methane from oil and natural gas operations.

Methane is such a potent greenhouse gas that (depending on your estimate of how much methane gets leaked between the well and the consumer), it might make natural gas less climate-friendly than coal. Environmental Defense Fund writes:

Whether natural gas has lower life cycle greenhouse gas emissions than coal and oil depends on the assumed leakage rate, the global warming potential of methane over different time frames, the energy conversion efficiency, and other factors. … Technologies are available to reduce much of the leaking methane, but deploying such technology would require new policies and investments.

In particular, government regulation is needed to make energy companies care about the methane they leak. Trump’s EPA is making sure they have no reason to care.

Florence is drawing attention back to the complete botch of the response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year. The NY Post reports:

Hundreds of thousands of water bottles meant for victims of Hurricane Maria are still sitting at a Puerto Rico airport — nearly a year after the deadly storm

Trump, of course, denies everything. The federal response to Maria was “one of the best jobs that’s ever been done with respect to what this is all about“. And the 3,000 excess deaths? Fake news, made up “by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible“.

It’s important to realize just how not-normal this is. George W. Bush was known to spin and dissemble (that’s how he got the Iraq War started), but it’s impossible to imagine him claiming that Katrina only killed a few dozen people, and that stories about more than a thousand deaths were just Democratic inventions meant to make him look bad. Literally NO previous president has ever been this dishonest, or willing to insult the public intelligence to this degree.

Jennifer Rubin draws the inescapable conclusion:

Trump’s outburst should remind us of several troubling facts. First, whether he is lying (or is simply a victim of his own self-delusion that he is incapable of error) is beside the point. He’s not functioning as a president or any other officeholder should. He cannot comprehend facts, process them and take appropriate action. He is, in a word, non-functional.

… Republicans’ inability to check or challenge the president and their insistence on rubber-stamping his decisions while ignoring his outbursts pose more than a constitutional and moral challenge. They, too, are responsible for confirmed Cabinet officials who are incompetent or corrupt, for lack of serious governance, for failure to hold officials accountable, and for the suffering and deaths (e.g. separated families, dead Puerto Ricans) that come about by virtue of a president who is never forced to confront reality.

and Paul Manafort

On Friday, Trump’s former campaign manager pleaded guilty and accepted a plea deal that involves him cooperating with the Justice Department. He also will forfeit ill-gotten assets that might be worth as much as $46 million. That means that the Mueller investigation could making money for the government. I have been unable to track down where I heard this line, but it’s not mine: “Trump will be impeached, and Russia will pay for it.”

There’s a big guessing game going on concerning what Manafort might be able to testify about, but nobody outside the investigation really knows. Noah Bookbinder, Barry Berke and Norman Eisen  wrote in the NYT:

According to prosecutors, Mr. Manafort has already participated in a so-called proffer session, in which he described information that investigators deemed valuable. Mr. Manafort’s agreement will also require him to give further interviews without the presence of his own counsel, turn over documents and testify in other proceedings. His surrender is complete.

Even if you’re a die-hard MAGA-hatter, you have to be wondering where this stops. With Flynn, Cohen, and Manafort all cooperating, the only bigger fish to go after are in the Trump family.

and Brett Kavanaugh

Last week, my comment about the hearings on Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court was “nothing matters”. Was Kavanaugh’s paper trail being covered up? Did he lie under oath in previous confirmation hearings? Would he gut abortion rights and grant conservative Christians the special right to ignore discrimination laws? Was he so pro-business that he was anti-consumer and anti-worker? It didn’t matter. Even an anonymous accusation of sexual assault (which became publicly known on Wednesday and which Kavanaugh denied) wasn’t worth taking the time to investigate. The Republicans have the majority in the Senate and were determined to push Kavanaugh through as fast as possible.

But now, finally, a few Republican senators are asking to slow this train down. The difference is that the anonymous accuser came forward yesterday. She’s Christine Blasey Ford,

a professor at Palo Alto University who teaches in a consortium with Stanford University, training graduate students in clinical psychology. Her work has been widely published in academic journals.

At WaPo’s “The Fix”, Amber Phillips assesses:

As far as tracing decades-old sexual harassment allegations go, Ford’s story is remarkably credible. Ford is speaking on the record about her experience. She passed a polygraph test, the results of which The Post reviewed. She told other people about the alleged attack years before Kavanaugh was a Supreme Court nominee. She allowed her records from a therapy session about it to be reviewed by The Post. She says she didn’t want to come forward and decided to do so only after her story was leaked to news outlets.

Will the presence of an actual accuser, a woman willing to stand up and watch her life be shredded by right-wing media outlets (as it inevitably will be), make a difference? Maybe. Republican Senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker have both called for Thursday’s vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee to be delayed. Flake’s view is particularly important here, since he is on the Judiciary Committee, and could be a swing vote against Kavanaugh if his doubts are not addressed. “We can’t vote until we hear more,” he said.

So what happens after Republican senators “hear more”, assuming they do? I can’t guess.

Jeet Heer:

I want a venn diagram of people willing to argue “Give Kavanaugh a break, he was only 17” and “Trayvon Martin got what he deserved.”

The accusations are about events that happened a long time ago, but Kavanaugh’s response to those accusations is happening now. We’ll see how that unfolds, and what it tells us about his character. Matt Yglesias:

There’s a good case for forgiving teenage misconduct but to receive forgiveness you have to seek it, not call the victim a liar and participate in a smear campaign against her.

Here’s the text of the letter Ford wrote to Senator Feinstein in July.

Other Kavanaugh issues: Kavanaugh’s previous Senate testimony under oath appears to not entirely correspond to the truth. But the legal scholars Vox consulted say the case falls short of criminal perjury.

Senator Kamala Harris showed a clip in which Kavanaugh appears to characterize contraceptives as “abortion-inducing drugs”, an extreme claim by religious-right groups that the science doesn’t support. If true, that would be disturbing, because a lot of court cases hang on whether or not a judge takes seriously some fantastic unscientific claim. But a longer version of the clip makes it clear that Kavanaugh was summarizing the position of one side of the case, not stating his own opinion. Politifact rated Harris’ charge false.

and you also might be interested in …

Thursday evening, dozens of fires broke out in the Boston suburbs of Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover. The cause hasn’t been officially identified, but the most likely speculation is that Columbia Gas overpressurized a gas main, resulting in multiple gas leaks.

The Trump administration is taking in many fewer refugees than the U.S. has in recent years. But one group’s numbers are up: white Evangelicals from the former Soviet Union.

Jonathan Chait’s take on Elizabeth Warren  is pretty similar to the one I gave a few weeks ago.

The Massachusetts senator has made a series of unusually early moves that, taken together, suggest a well-designed strategy to compete across the spectrum of the Democratic Party without risking her viability in a general election. … She is building a national profile to position herself to win a primary and a general election, without sacrificing one for the sake of the other.

Earlier this year, I often told people I had no idea at all who would win the Democratic nomination. In a potentially huge field, it is still impossible to predict the outcome with much confidence. But at this point, Warren’s early moves position her as a clear front-runner.

NRATV hit a new low last week: The September 7 edition of “Relentless”, hosted by Dana Loesch, closed by ridiculing the Thomas the Tank Engine TV show, which has made the trainyard more diverse by bringing in girl trains, including one from Kenya. Loesch rejected the idea that the trains had ever had races before, and showed this parody image, which presumably is how liberals saw the show before the new characters were introduced.

The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer explores the NRA’s perverse attitude towards police violence against blacks.

When armed black men are shot by the police, the NRA says nothing about the rights of gun owners; when unarmed black men are shot, its spokesperson says they should have been armed. … If innocent unarmed black men like [Botham] Jean are shot, it’s because they lack firearms; if innocent black men who are armed like [Fernando] Castile or [Alton] Sterling are shot, it’s because they had a gun. Heads, you’re dead, tails, you’re also dead.

He also notes that in recent years the NRA has become much more of an across-the-board right-wing organization, as the Thomas example above illustrates.

In recent years, the NRA has made frequent forays into culture-war disputes that have little to do with gun rights per se.

His explanation is that the NRA is primarily about selling guns, not defending gun-owners’ rights. (It’s funding comes primarily from gun manufacturers.) And its current why-you-should-be-armed message is a right-wing dystopian fantasy.

NRATV tells its viewers that they are under assault from liberals, black people, undocumented immigrants, and Muslims and that they might one day need to kill them—in self defense, of course. Like the president, the NRA has correctly divined that fomenting and exploiting white people’s fears and hatreds is an effective sales strategy. If marketing murder fantasies is what it takes to move the product, then so be it.

A Kansas woman who was born at home, rather than at a clinic or hospital, was denied a passport.

[S]he received a letter from the federal division of the U.S. Passport Agency out of Houston, TX, telling her the application was denied and required further documentation. … The letter stated, because her birth certificate was not issued at a institution or hospital, it was not considered proof enough of her citizenship.

She received a letter asking her to submit any number of the listed additional documents. “Border crossing card or green card for your parents issued prior to your birth? My parents were born in the United States….Early religious records? We don’t have any. Family Bible? They won’t accept a birth certificate but they will accept a family Bible?” Barbara said.

Eventually her senator intervened, and the passport came through.

If you live in Arizona (or are thinking of moving there), you should be aware that a young-Earth creationist was on the special committee that reviewed the state’s science curriculum standards on evolution. The outgoing Arizona Secretary of Education appointed Joseph Kezele, who teaches at Arizona Christian University and is president of the Arizona Origin Science Association.

He advocates for a literal interpretation of the history presented in the Bible, and claimed that all land animals, including humans and dinosaurs, were created on the sixth day when God created the universe. Adolescent dinosaurs were present on Noah’s Ark because adult dinosaurs would have been too big, Kezele said. “Plenty of space on the Ark for dinosaurs – no problem,” Kezele said.

and let’s close with something to make people look twice

Imagine flying this radio-controlled version of Snoopy’s dog house around your neighborhood.


The thing about autocracies, or budding autocracies, is that they present citizens with only bad choices. At a certain point, one has to stop trying to find the right solution and has to look, instead, for a course of action that avoids complicity.

– Masha Gessen, “The Anonymous New York Times Op-Ed
and the Trumpian Corruption of Language and the Media”

The New Yorker, 9-6-2018

The officials who enable the Trump administration to maintain some veneer of normalcy, rather than resigning and loudly proclaiming that the president is unfit, are not “resisters.” They are enablers.

– Adam Serwer,
There’s No Coup Against Trump
The Atlantic, 9-6-2018

This week’s featured post is “What should we make of Anonymous?

This week everybody was talking about “resistance” inside the Trump administration

See the featured post. Short version: Yes, Trump is unfit to be president. But setting up a government-within-the-government to thwart him is not the right solution.

and Brett Kavanaugh

I’ve had a hard time making myself pay attention to the Kavanaugh hearings, because as best I can tell nothing matters. This is a power play, and Republicans have the power to force it through.

Various Republican senators are posturing in various ways. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski pretend not to know that Kavanaugh will be the deciding vote to reverse Roe v Wade. (Nothing Collins takes as reassuring is interpreted as disturbing by the religious right; they know what Kavanaugh will do.) Mitch McConnell pretends not to know that Trump nominated Kavanaugh precisely so he would be a pro-executive-power vote when the Court has to decide whether Trump can be subpoenaed or indicted. Chuck Grassley pretends nothing is hidden in all those Kavanaugh papers we aren’t allowed to see. And all the Republicans avert their eyes so as not to see that Kavanaugh lied in his previous confirmation hearings.

All the Republicans will vote for him because they just will. Nothing matters. Collins continues to describe herself as undecided, but nothing she has said is laying the groundwork for a No vote.

I agree whole-heartedly with Katherine Stewart’s article “Whose Religious Liberty Is It Anyway?“. She notes Kavanaugh’s endorsement of “religious liberty”, and explores what that really means: Christian supremacy (as I’ve been claiming since 2013). Stewart writes:

Let’s call it by its true name: religious privilege, not religious liberty. Today’s Christian nationalists want the ability to override the law where it conflicts with their religious beliefs, and thus to withdraw from the social contract that binds the rest of us together as a nation.

… Religious privilege of this sort was never intended for all belief systems, but rather for one type of religion. Sure, its advocates will on occasion rope in representatives of non-Christian faiths to lend the illusion of principle to their cause. But the real aim and effect of the religious liberty movement is to advance their idea of religion at the expense of everyone else.

If your religion or deeply held moral beliefs include the view that all people should be treated with equal dignity, then this religious liberty won’t do anything for you. If you’re a taxpayer who helps to fund your local hospital, a patient who keeps it in business, or a professional who works there, then your sincerely held religious and moral conviction that all people are entitled to equal access to the best medicine that science can provide and the law permits won’t stand a chance against a Catholic bishop’s conviction that some procedures are forbidden by a higher authority.

Today’s Christian nationalists will insist they are the only victims here. But that is as false as it is lacking in compassion. The terribly real effect of the kind of religious supremacy they seek is to target specific groups of people as legitimate objects of contempt.

and Nike

Nike unveiled the full version of its ad narrated by Colin Kaepernick yesterday. (It also includes footage of Serena Williams, LeBron James, and a lot of other amazing athletes.) Nike is intentionally thumbing its nose at Trump here, and taking the side of players like the Miami Dolphins’ Kenny Stills, who is carrying forward the protest Kaepernick started.

Vice News explains the business reality pretty well:

Conservative old white guys may love Trump, hate Colin Kaepernick, and now hate Nike as well. But how many top-of-the-line athletic shoes are they going to buy this year? And how many younger people want to be like them? Nike showed how much it worries about the shoe-burning protesters with this ad:

The shoe-burnings practically parody themselves. But Brent Terhune pushed it a little farther.

and Barack Obama

President Obama went to the University of Illinois to receive an award Friday, and gave the students there the kind of speech ex-presidents rarely give: a serious one that went right at the problems of the current moment. If you have the time, it’s worth watching or reading in its entirety.

The overarching theme of the speech is that, in the long run, America makes progress towards the dreams it was founded on: equal rights for everyone, government of the people, and so on. But that progress isn’t steady; it doesn’t advance like clockwork, year in, year out. Instead, whenever we make progress, the forces of inequality and special privilege regroup and counterattack.

The status quo pushes back. Sometimes the backlash comes from people who are genuinely, if wrongly, fearful of change. More often it’s manufactured by the powerful and the privileged who want to keep us divided and keep us angry and keep us cynical because it helps them maintain the status quo and keep their power and keep their privilege. And you happen to be coming of age during one of those moments.

… Appealing to tribe, appealing to fear, pitting one group against another, telling people that order and security will be restored if it weren’t for those who don’t look like us or don’t sound like us or don’t pray like we do, that’s an old playbook. It’s as old as time.

And in a healthy democracy, it doesn’t work. Our antibodies kick in, and people of goodwill from across the political spectrum call out the bigots and the fear mongers and work to compromise and get things done and promote the better angels of our nature.

But when there’s a vacuum in our democracy, when we don’t vote, when we take our basic rights and freedoms for granted, when we turn away and stop paying attention and stop engaging and stop believing and look for the newest diversion, the electronic versions of bread and circuses, then other voices fill the void.

He goes on to summarize what Republicans are doing and what Democrats want to do instead. And then he tells the students to vote.

and you also might be interested in …

The Atlantic has an article about “zombie small business“: small businesses that are entirely under the thumb of the large businesses who control their pipeline to the consumer. The prime example is chicken growing: A handful of companies control just about the entire chicken market, and each works with “tied-and-bound contractors—so controlled by their agreements with giant food corporations that they no longer act like independent entities.”

The big company provides the chicks. The contract farmer raises them into chickens. The big company slaughters them for meat. It packages and brands that meat under one of dozens of labels. And it sells it cheap to the American consumer. … These big operations do not act like department stores, choosing goods from a broad variety of vendors and fostering competition and innovation. They instead act like a lord with serfs, or a landowner with sharecroppers.

The article quotes the head of a poultry-growers association:

I’ll list what they tell you: what time to pick up the chickens, what time to run the feed, what time to turn the lights off and on, every move that you make. Then, they say we’re not an employee—we are employees, but they won’t let us have any kind of benefits or insurance.

But it’s not just chickens:

The top four beef producers account for more than 80 percent of the market. The top four hog processors account for more than half. Much the same is true across the economy. The top four players account for more than 90 percent of overall revenue in a wide variety of market sectors and for a wide variety of consumer goods: web search, toilet paper, wireless services, arcade operations, soda, light bulbs, tires.

We’re used to thinking about the danger of monopolies, companies that can charge what they want for their product, because they are the only ones selling it. We need to think more about monopsonies, companies that can dictate to their suppliers, because they are the only buyers.

A monopsony-dominated economy is not a good place to achieve economic equality. Starting your own small business has traditionally been a way to get ahead in America. But if being a small businessman just means that you take orders in a different way, and your sole customer dictates how much money you get to make, then that avenue is shut off.

and let’s close with something awesome

Brightside collects the “100 best photographs taken without Photoshop“. It’s hard to chose just one, but I think I like the first one best: what it looks like to toss hot tea into the air in the Arctic.

America Is Better Than This

So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse can seem small and mean and petty, trafficking in bombast and insult and phony controversies and manufactured outrage. It’s a politics that pretends to be brave and tough, but in fact is born of fear. John called on us to be bigger than that. He called on us to be better than that.

– President Barack Obama, eulogy for John McCain

To the face of those in authority, John McCain would insist: We are better than this. America is better than this.

President George W. Bush, eulogy for John McCain

This week’s featured post is “John McCain Shot Liberty Valance“.

This week everybody was talking about John McCain

Last week, pundits were announcing the worst week of the Trump presidency, as the legal dominoes started to fall more swiftly. But I wonder if Trump actually disliked this week more, because so much of it wasn’t about him. Instead, it was about one of the few elected Republicans who didn’t kowtow to him, Senator John McCain.

From his funeral in Arizona on Thursday to his burial at the Annapolis Naval Cemetery on Sunday, the national focus was on the memory of McCain. And what most people seemed to remember was that he was nothing like Donald Trump.

The featured post uses the classic Western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance to discuss the phenomenon of a man whose life gets mixed up (and partially lost) in the myth we need to tell about him.

Many of the eulogies of McCain were seen as indirect attacks on Trump, because they praised McCain virtues that contrast so strongly with Trump vices. Humorist Andy Borowitz took the indirect-attack angle one step further: “Obama’s Barrage of Complete Sentences Seen as Brutal Attack on Trump“.

and revoking Hispanics’ US citizenship

Over the last year or so, a lot of different stories have revolved around a central theme: The Trump administration wants to use any excuse it can muster to get non-whites out of the country.

  • The most visible of those efforts has been the zero-tolerance policy on migrants crossing the southern border, which has had the effect of voiding the US’s commitments under treaties and international law to give reasonable consideration to pleas for asylum.
  • In May, the administration revoked the temporary protected status granted to 57,000 Hondurans in 1998 after Hurricane Mitch. (The hurricane, of course, is long gone. But the question remains: Is it safe for those people to go home?) All in all, about 400,000 people from a variety of countries have lost their permission to live in this country.
  • A program that offered citizenship to immigrants who had skills needed by the military hasn’t been eliminated, but it has become much harder to complete the process. According to Military Times: “The bottom line is that far more than 40 may soon be weeded out – and it’s possible that the majority of the remaining 1,000 or so participants in the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest, or MAVNI, program will be let go before they can be cleared for duty.”
  • Spouses of H-1B visa holders are being denied work permits.
  • A “denaturalization task force” has been formed to re-examine immigrants who have already been granted citizenship. “The creation of the task force itself is undoing the naturalization of the more than twenty million naturalized citizens in the American population by taking away their assumption of permanence,” wrote author Masha Gessen in a widely circulated New Yorker column. “All of them — all of us — are second-class citizens now.”

This week produced a new entry in this series: Because there have been cases in which midwives working in Texas near the Mexican border have provided fake Texas birth certificates for babies actually born in Mexico, the administration is regarding everyone delivered by a midwife in that area as suspect.

In some cases, passport applicants with official U.S. birth certificates are being jailed in immigration detention centers and entered into deportation proceedings. In others, they are stuck in Mexico, their passports suddenly revoked when they tried to reenter the United States. As the Trump administration attempts to reduce both legal and illegal immigration, the government’s treatment of passport applicants in South Texas shows how U.S. citizens are increasingly being swept up by immigration enforcement agencies.

Given the demographics of the area and who uses midwives, just about everybody affected is Hispanic.

Eugene Robinson:

If the government had specific evidence that an individual’s birth certificate was falsified, then we could have a debate about the right thing to do. But this administration is assuming that a person of a certain ethnicity, recorded as being born in a certain part of the country and meeting other unspecified criteria, is de facto not a citizen — and has the burden of proving otherwise.

Oh, and those kids the Trump administration took away from their parents at the border? 500 of them are still in government custody. We can’t forget about them just because no new events keep them in the headlines.

and the Catholic Church

The clergy sexual abuse story has now turned into a political football within the Catholic hierarchy. Last week, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò published a letter calling on Pope Francis to resign. It would be one thing if this looked like an honest call for a house-cleaning. But it seems to be a power move by conservatives in the hierarchy to get rid of a liberal pope and (simultaneously) blame the issue on homosexuality rather than abuse of power.

and the midterm elections in November

Both Florida and Georgia will have fascinating governor’s races that pit black progressives against right-wing whites with a history of dog-whistling about race.

We’ve known since July about Stacey Abrams against Brian Kemp in Georgia. Abrams is a black woman testing the theory that Democrats can do better with a clear progressive message that motivates its core voters than by shifting to the center to compete for moderates. Kemp was endorsed by Trump and has ads featuring guns, chain saws, and a get-tough attitude towards undocumented immigrants.

Now in Florida we’ve got black Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum against another Trumpist, Congressman Ron DeSantis. Things might get kind of dicey there.

Speaking to Fox News on Wednesday morning, the representative said Florida voters should not “monkey it up” and vote for what he called Gillum’s “socialist agenda.” DeSantis’ campaign denied the comment had any racial intent.

Again we’ve got the Trump base against an effort to give Democrats — especially poor and minority voters who often stay home — something exciting to vote for.

Whether or not DeSantis himself keeps dog-whistling, race is going to be an issue. A neo-Nazi group is already robo-calling against Gillum.

538 adds the right amount of skepticism to the poll showing Beto O’Rourke within one point of Ted Cruz in Texas. Specifically: Stranger things have happened, but they usually don’t. Lots of polls have the race within single digits, but none show Beto with a lead. So he has a real shot, especially this far out from election day, but it’s still an uphill struggle.

Trump is promising to campaign for Cruz. But when he gets to Texas he may see a few billboards like this:


A sad symptom of the times: Monday, when Trump announced a major new trade deal with Mexico (“an incredible deal for both parties” and “maybe the largest trade deal ever made”), my first thought was: “I wonder if anything actually happened.”

I mean, Trump announced the denuclearization of North Korea, too, and that meant nothing at all. It’s weird. I’ve often disliked, disapproved of, or disagreed with American presidents. But I’ve never been so inclined to discount presidential announcements as meaningless. If Trump announced that we were bombing Pyongyang, I’d think: “I wonder if the Pentagon knows about this.” And I wouldn’t believe it until somebody there had confirmed it.

Vox shares my skepticism:

The countries involved are closer to achieving Trump’s dream of a changed NAFTA that mostly helps America, but still not that close — which means the president may be celebrating too early. “There is still a long road ahead,” says [Christopher Wilson, a NAFTA expert at the Wilson Center].

Trump also announced a deadline of Friday for Canada to join the so-called agreement. But Friday passed and the negotiations continue.

Many people speculate that Trump is looking for an excuse to pull the plug on NAFTA. Republicans in Congress are mostly against that idea, but it’s not clear what can be done. Under NAFTA rules, the president can give Mexico and Canada six months notice.

A sidebar to this story is the off-the-record comment Trump made to reporters from Bloomberg, that somehow found its way into the Toronto Star:

Trump made his controversial statements in an Oval Office interview with Bloomberg News on Thursday. He said, “off the record,” that he is not making any compromises at all with Canada — and that he could not say this publicly because “it’s going to be so insulting they’re not going to be able to make a deal.”

Trump immediately blamed the Bloomberg reporters for breaking his confidence, but the reporter who broke the story says that’s not true.

I’d said I wasn’t going to say anything about my source for the quotes Trump made off the record to Bloomberg. However, I don’t want to be party to the president’s smearing of excellent, ethical journalists. So I can say this: none of the Bloomberg interviewers was my source.

The NYT’s Maggie Haberman raises the possibility that Trump had it leaked himself.

but let’s not forget about Puerto Rico

The latest estimates are that nearly 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico from the effects of Hurricane Maria last year. The federal government’s disaster-relief effort was its own kind of disaster, and the Trump administration has really paid no price for that. (This is one of the many events that you might think would call for congressional hearings. But Republicans’ attitude towards the Russian investigation has expanded to cover all areas of government: If Trump did something wrong, they don’t want to know.)

Vox makes the connection between this mistreatment and Puerto Rico’s lack of statehood, which it is seeking.

That a sitting US president would expect no political consequences from showing zero empathy toward the deaths of so many American citizens crystallizes the fact that Puerto Rico’s status as a US territory is more than a civil rights issue — it’s a human rights issue.

More than 3 million US citizens live in Puerto Rico with fewer constitutional rights than anyone living in one of the 50 states. Americans on the island can’t vote for president in the general election or elect a voting member of Congress. But the federal government’s response to Hurricane Maria has shown that the problem is even uglier than that: Puerto Rico’s status as a US territory, which is rooted in racist legal rulings, has created a class of citizens whose lives are valued less, and whose deaths can be ignored by America’s most powerful leaders.

and you also might be interested in …

Tom Tomorrow:

With all the talk of a “blue wave” in November, it’s worth remembering that it won’t happen by itself. If anyone you know hasn’t registered to vote, or is thinking about not voting, remind them of this scenario (from Matt Ygelsias):

Really worth emphasizing that there’s a good (~25%) chance Republicans hold the House, gain a senate seat or two, replace McCain/Flake/Corker with Trump loyalists, Mueller gets fired, Manafort gets pardoned, and then that’s game over — the coverup worked.

Nate Silver’s 538 quotes similar odds: a 28% chance that Republicans hold the House. If that happens, the People will not have held Congress responsible for not holding Trump responsible for anything he’s done. The door will be wide open to anything he wants to do in the future.

If you’re thinking far ahead, here’s the betting on who the Democrats will nominate in 2020. Kamala Harris is the front-runner, but not by a convincing margin. A ticket that pays $1 if she’s nominated is going for 22 cents. Other notables: Elizabeth Warren at 16 cents, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden at 15 cents. I still think Somebody You’ve Never Heard Of has a good shot.

Compare this to January, 2015 (the closest to a 4-years-ago parallel I could find), when Hillary Clinton’s nomination shares were at 75 cents.

Having not been invited to speak at McCain’s funeral, Trump held a rally in Indiana Thursday instead. It included this howler:

They want to raid Medicare to pay for socialism.

Medicare, of course, is socialism. (If you don’t believe me, believe Ronald Reagan, who predicted Medicare would lead to a socialist dictatorship.) The centerpiece of the Democratic Socialist agenda is to extend Medicare to everyone.

I guess Chuck Grassley has given up on Ivanka or John Kelly or anybody else keeping Trump in line. He’s handing the job to God.

Trump blocked a 1.9% pay raise for federal workers, citing the budget deficit that his recent corporate tax cut made much worse:

We must maintain efforts to put our nation on a fiscally sustainable course, and federal agency budgets cannot sustain such increases.

A few observations:

  • 1.9% isn’t a huge raise.
  • During the Great Recession, federal workers’ pay was frozen. They haven’t made up that ground yet.
  • Conservatives like to paint federal workers as “bureaucrats” and “paper-pushers”, but they do a lot of useful and necessary stuff. For example: the doctors and nurses at the VA, the disaster-relief folks at FEMA, air-traffic controllers at the FAA, and the Secret Service agents Trump is relying on to protect his life. Think about NASA, the CDC, the FBI, and all the people working to keep mercury out of your water and E coli out of your vegetables. They’re federal employees.

This is a “first they came for …” situation. “Bureaucrats” are not popular, so they’re the first ones to be sacrificed on the altar of Tax Cuts. After the election, though, Republicans are going to be trying to fill the tax-cut budget hole by cutting more popular stuff like Social Security and Medicare. (That’s what “entitlement reform” means.) That’s not a partisan charge against them, it’s what they’ve been saying for months.

and let’s close with something bigger

I know it doesn’t make any sense to close with an opening, but it’s hard to find anything bigger than Neil Patrick Harris’ opening to the 2013 Tony Awards.

Losing America (for a time)

In prison, I fell in love with my country. I had loved her before then, but like most young people, my affection was little more than a simple appreciation for the comforts and privileges most Americans enjoyed and took for granted. It wasn’t until I had lost America for a time that I realized how much I loved her.

– John McCain, Faith of My Fathers (1999)

This week’s featured post is “Elizabeth Warren stakes out her message“.

This week everybody was talking about Trump’s criminality

Since Tuesday, when Michael Cohen told a federal court under oath that Donald Trump had instructed him to commit crimes, a question has been hanging in the background of almost every news segment on Trump: Do we have him now? Are we entering the endgame in this presidency?

While the bank- and tax-fraud charges do not involve the president, the campaign-finance charges indisputably do. Cohen made the payments—$130,000 to Daniels and $150,000 to McDougal—through shell companies. He said Tuesday that the payments were intended to influence the election, making them a violation of campaign-finance laws, and that he had done so at the direction of the candidate.

The fact that I’ve been wrong so often about Trump makes me reluctant to say what seems to be true: It sure looks like walls are closing in on him. In hopes that the rule of law is eventually going to win out, here’s The Bobby Fuller Four singing “I Fought the Law and the Law Won“.

What walls are closing in? Well, two other people Trump has trusted have now gotten immunity deals from prosecutors:

  • David Pecker, whose National Enquirer not only ran pro-Trump propaganda on its front page all through the campaign (“Ted Cruz Father Linked to JFK Assassination!”, “Hillary, Bill & Chelsea Indicted!”), but who bought the rights to Trump-threatening stories of women like Karen McDougal in order to bottle them up. We know of two, but Steve Bannon once claimed there were many, many more such women, though he didn’t specifically insert Pecker into that claim. (Pecker’s unfortunate name has led to headlines like “Trump loses his Pecker“, “Trump Worried About Pecker Leaking“, and other childish amusement. It remains to be seen whether Pecker will stand up in court.)
  • Allen Weisselberg, the Chief Financial Officer of the Trump Organization. Weisselberg’s deal is described as “limited”, meaning that he has agreed to testify only about very specific things, and maybe not about his general knowledge of all things Trump. He has not split with Trump and is still Trump’s CFO. We’ll see what that means as events play out.

The fact that new witnesses keep coming forward, or finding themselves in a position where they need to make deals, is one big reason why Republican suggestions that Robert Mueller needs to “wrap up” are so off base. Witnesses like Cohen, Pecker, and Weisselberg will undoubtedly produce new leads that will need to be chased down. Maybe they will nail somebody at the next level, like Jared Kushner or Don Jr., and then those people will have decisions to make. That’s how investigations of mafia-style organizations go. (It’s just a guess, but I don’t believe Jared would go to prison for his father-in-law.)

A Trump investigation that hasn’t gotten much media attention is New York state’s against the Trump Foundation, which is chartered in New York. In June, the NY attorney general filed a civil suit against the foundation, claiming it engaged in “persistently illegal conduct”.

“As our investigation reveals, the Trump Foundation was little more than a checkbook for payments from Mr. Trump or his businesses to nonprofits, regardless of their purpose or legality,” said Attorney General [Barbara] Underwood. “This is not how private foundations should function and my office intends to hold the Foundation and its directors accountable for its misuse of charitable assets.”

… The Attorney General’s lawsuit seeks an order finding that the Foundation’s directors breached their fiduciary duties requiring them to make restitution for the harm that resulted, requiring Mr. Trump to reimburse the Foundation for its self-dealing transactions and to pay penalties in an amount up to double the benefit he obtained from the use of Foundation funds for his campaign, enjoining Mr. Trump from service for a period of ten years as a director, officer, or trustee of a not-for-profit organization incorporated in or authorized to conduct business in the State of New York, and enjoining the other directors from such service for one year (or, in the case of the other directors, until he or she receives proper training on fiduciary service). To ensure that the Foundation’s remaining assets are disbursed in accordance with state and federal law, the lawsuit seeks a court order directing the dissolution of the Foundation under the oversight of the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau.

Now New York is conducting a criminal investigation into the Trump Foundation, and has subpoenaed Michael Cohen to testify. Since it’s a state investigation, Trump has no way to shut it down. Probably New York wouldn’t get away with indicting a sitting president. (Imagine if Virginia had stayed in the Union long enough to indict Lincoln for something and have him extradited.) But the Trump children are directors of the foundation and appear to be in jeopardy. And presidential pardons don’t work against state offenses. Like Jared, the Trump kids weren’t raised to deal with hardship. Would they really go jail if they had a chance not to?

More and more, Trump is talking like a mob boss. He tweeted that White House Counsel Don McGahn is not a “John Dean type RAT” and praised Paul Manafort because “he refused to break” under pressure from federal prosecutors. In his telling, the villains are the people like Dean who tell the truth to law enforcement, while a “good man” protects his capo even if he has to go to prison.

Ralph Blumenthal has put together a surprisingly difficult who-said-it-quiz: Trump or John Gotti, the famous Teflon Don.

If the president is a crook, Republicans don’t want to know about it. Paul Ryan’s spokesman: “We are aware of Mr. Cohen’s guilty plea to these serious charges. We will need more information than is currently available at this point.” So that means Ryan will support a congressional investigation to get that information, right? … right?

Vox interviewed eight Republican senators, including retiring Senator Bob Corker, who sometimes has criticized Trump, and didn’t find one who would agree that the Senate needed to look into this. Some said they’d wait and see what Bob Mueller’s report will say. Others said they’d wait for court cases to play out. None of them want to start hearings.

This is the #1 reason why the country needs Democrats to control at least one house of Congress as soon as possible. It isn’t that Democrats should immediately vote for an impeachment. (As I’ve said before, I think impeachment should have to clear a high bar.) But if Republicans stay in control, Congress will avoid finding out whether or not Trump has committed high crimes and misdemeanors. They just don’t want to know.

I’m hearing a number of Republicans echo Trump about Manafort: He just did what lots of guys do, and he got caught because Mueller wants to get to Trump.

Here’s what amazes me about those lots-of-guys arguments: Nobody who makes them goes on to say we need a nationwide crackdown on white-collar crime. If a Salvadoran Mom carries her kid across the border, we’ve got a zero-tolerance policy. She’s got to be prosecuted no matter what the consequences for the kid, because of the rule of law and so forth. But if lots of rich white guys are laundering money, evading taxes, and getting fraudulent bank loans, well, that’s just business.

Glenn Kessler, who runs Washington Post’s Fact Checker column, discusses the challenge of Donald Trump, and why Fact Checker has begun using the word “lie” for the first time.

and attempts to distract with race

Wednesday night, when the other news networks were exploring the implications of Michael Cohen’s Tuesday guilty plea and his apparent willingness to testify about other matters, I suddenly wondered how Fox News was handling this. So I flipped over to catch the lead of Tucker Carlson’s show: the Mollie Tibbits murder. Tibbets was an Iowa college student who disappeared July 18 and whose body was found Tuesday. An apparently undocumented Mexican immigrant was charged.

Two things separate the Tibbetts murder from every other murder in the country (there are about 40-50 per day):

  • The media pays way more attention to pretty young white women than to any other victims. So even before Tuesday, Tibbetts’ disappearance was already getting wider attention than most disappearances.
  • The alleged murderer is undocumented.

If only we enforced our immigration laws better, conservatives have been saying, this crime would never have happened and Mollie would still be alive. “We need the wall,” Trump concluded. Carlson berated other networks for ignoring the story, and showed a clip of an MSNBC panelist saying “Fox News is talking about a girl in Iowa” (rather than the president’s criminality), which supposedly belittled Tibbetts.

Here’s what Fox and Trump are ignoring: If we threw everyone out of the country — you, me, everybody — that would stop all crime in the United States. That is obviously an absurd plan. To make their deport-the-illegals point less absurd, Carlson and Trump need to argue that there is a link between undocumented immigrants and violent crime. Otherwise, the murderer’s immigration status is just a random fact about him, and tells us nothing about his crime.

But to the extent that anyone has established a link between immigration status and violent crime (it’s not a widely studied topic), it goes the other way. The Cato Institute did the numbers:

increased enforcement of our immigration laws is not a good way to prevent murders.  Illegal immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated for crimes in the United States than native-born AmericansTexas is the only state that keeps data on the number of convictions of illegal immigrants for specific crimes (I sent versions of Public Interest Requests to every state). In Texas in 2015, the rate of convictions per 100,000 illegal immigrants was 16 percent lower below that of native-born Americans.

From what we know so far, the immigration status of the guy charged with Tibbetts’ murder is just a random fact about him, like the shoes he wears or what he eats for breakfast. It doesn’t make his case more newsworthy than any other murder.

Of course Trump’s Russian allies have helped:

Almost immediately after a guilty verdict was announced in the trial of Paul Manafort, the president’s former campaign chairman convicted on eight counts of bank and tax fraud charges, there was a flurry of activity among hundreds of pro-Kremlin Twitter accounts believed to be controlled by Russian government influence operations. Those accounts began posting thousands of tweets about Ms Tibbetts, the 20-year-old University of Iowa student who had been missing for nearly five weeks.

Peter Beinart claims the Trump and Tibbetts stories “represent competing notions of what corruption is”.

“Corruption, to the fascist politician,” [author Jason Stanley] suggests, “is really about the corruption of purity rather than of the law. Officially, the fascist politician’s denunciations of corruption sound like a denunciation of political corruption. But such talk is intended to evoke corruption in the sense of the usurpation of the traditional order.”

Fox’s decision to focus on the Iowa murder rather than Cohen’s guilty plea illustrates Stanley’s point. In the eyes of many Fox viewers, I suspect, the network isn’t ignoring corruption so much as highlighting the kind that really matters. When Trump instructed Cohen to pay off women with whom he’d had affairs, he may have been violating the law. But he was upholding traditional gender and class hierarchies. Since time immemorial, powerful men have been cheating on their wives and using their power to evade the consequences.

The Iowa murder, by contrast, signifies the inversion—the corruption—of that “traditional order.” Throughout American history, few notions have been as sacrosanct as the belief that white women must be protected from nonwhite men.

Another racial distraction was Trump’s tweet about “large scale killing of farmers” in South Africa. He referenced Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, who had been railing against a South African government plan to redistribute land, which has largely remained in white hands even after the end of apartheid.

Oddly, though, the killing of white farmers wasn’t in Carlson’s report.

We have no clue how this myth about farmers being killed ended up on the president’s Twitter feed. It didn’t come up on “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” the Fox News show Trump referenced in his tweet. But it has been swishing in the alt-right and white-nationalist ether for years. The Fox News segment may have jogged Trump’s memory about something he came across previously.

Something he came across while he was perusing white-supremacist propaganda — something he apparently does with some regularity. Slate reports how happy white supremacists are to see one their issues pushed by the President of the United States. South Africa, in white supremacist echo chambers, is ground zero for the “white genocide” that will engulf all Europeans if they let non-whites take over their countries.

Take a peek at Stormfront, the oldest and largest community of neo-Nazis and white supremacists on the internet and you’ll find post after post of pro-white commenters debating what Trump’s tweet means for the movement to uplift the white race. … Whatever happens in federal courtrooms to people like Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, the president still exerts a powerful reality-distortion field, into which he has now drawn the bogeyman of white genocide. No wonder white supremacists are giddy.

Last summer, Vox put together a video “Why white supremacists love Tucker Carlson“. It describes perfectly what he’s doing now with both the South Africa story and the Tibbetts murder.

Another topic Fox likes to bring up in lieu of the actual news is Venezuela. Things are bad in Venezuela now, and that supposedly proves that socialism is bad. Francisco Toro debunks: Just about every country in South America has experimented with socialism, with a variety of good and bad results.

Don’t be fooled. All Venezuela demonstrates is that if you leave implementation to the very worst, most anti-intellectual, callous, authoritarian and criminal people in society, socialism can have genuinely horrendous consequences. But couldn’t the same be said of every ideology? It’s a question that supporters of the current U.S. administration would do well to ponder.

and John McCain

Despite recognizing his flaws and disagreeing with much of his philosophy, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for John McCain, who died Saturday.

Presidential politics in New Hampshire traditionally has revolved around the town hall meeting, and McCain was the absolute master of that form. No matter what they’re asked, shallow candidates find a way to segue into their canned talking points. But (at least in the four events I went to) McCain always answered the question he was asked. Usually he did it knowledgeably and articulately while radiating a sense of earnestness tempered by self-deprecating humor. He would do that for two hours at a time, then go to the next town and do it again, and then maybe hit two or three more towns before his day was over. It’s no wonder he carried this state’s presidential primary in both 2000 and 2008. His rivals often groused about the way reporters sent to cover him would end up falling under his spell, but I understood completely.

Feeling about him the way I did, I wanted him to be a hero — not just years ago in Vietnam, but here and now. So he was a frustrating senator for me to watch, especially during Republican administrations. When something outrageous was happening — the Trump tax cut was a good recent example — he very often would ask the right questions, but then accept too-easy answers. He would make a stirring idealistic speech, and then find a way to lend his vote to Mitch McConnell’s cynical plan.

That’s what made the moment in this picture — last summer during the Senate’s effort to repeal ObamaCare — so magical: For once, he really did cast the decisive vote to stop something terrible from happening. (That’s McConnell who is staring him down with folded arms.) That day he was the hero I wanted him to be.

As a politician, McCain had his ups and downs. On the plus side, he recognized the rot at the heart of our political system and worked together with Democrat Russ Feingold to try to control money in politics. (Our country still suffers from the corporate rights the Roberts Court invented to make much of McCain-Feingold unconstitutional.) On the minus side, he always seemed to be willing to give war a chance, and he was responsible for unleashing Sarah Palin on the world.

All in all, he was a bundle of virtues and vices that we are not likely to see again. But even when was against him — as I was in 2008 — I could never stop myself from wishing him well. Often an opponent, but never an enemy.

The least compassionate response to the announcement that McCain was refusing further treatment — a virtual admission that he was near death — came from Kelli Ward.

Arizona GOP Senate candidate Kelli Ward suggested Saturday that the Friday statement issued by Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) family about ending medical treatment for brain cancer was intended to hurt her campaign. McCain died Saturday hours after she made the suggestion on Facebook, The Arizona Republic reported.  “I think they wanted to have a particular narrative that they hope is negative to me,” Ward wrote.

So, Arizona Republicans: If you think Washington is overrun with courtesy and empathy, and you want a candidate who will put a stop to all that mushy nonsense, here she is. The primary is tomorrow.

The McCain funeral seems likely to have political implications. Reportedly, Presidents Obama and Bush will be among those giving eulogies, and Trump appears not to have been invited to attend. I think commentators are likely to make McCain a symbol of a pre-Trump era when politics was pursued with honor and dignity.

Trump himself is acting out in a passive-aggressive way. So far he has restrained himself from insulting McCain’s memory, and has recognized his death with a tweet that says nothing about McCain’s life:

CNN reports that “White House aides drafted a fulsome statement for President Donald Trump on the death of Sen. John McCain, but it was never sent out.” No flag-lowering proclamation has been made, and the White House flag was back at full staff in less than 48 hours.

but I focused on how Senator Warren wants to change the national debate

The featured post gives some background on her two recent proposals, the Accountable Capitalism Act and the Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act.

and you also might be interested in …

Texas Senators Ted Cruz (who is a climate-change denier) and John Cornyn (who admits climate change is real but doesn’t want the government to do anything about it) are seeking $12 billion for a seawall to protect Texas gulf coast from the storm surges that are expected to become larger and more dangerous due to climate change. The wall would “shield some of the crown jewels of the petroleum industry“, the industry which is one of the major causes of climate change in the first place.

Exxon-Mobil alone made over $78 billion last year, of which a mere $1.2 billion went to taxes. So I suppose it’s only natural that those of us who pay a tax rate higher than 1.5% should bear the burden of protecting Exxon-Mobil’s assets against a crisis that it is causing for all of us.

Ezra Klein wrote a fair summary of the Trump economy:

Trump hasn’t unleashed an economic miracle, but he hasn’t caused a crisis either. Plenty of liberals believed a Trump victory would be devastating for the economy, tanking stock markets amid fears of trade wars, nuclear wars, and political chaos. That Trump has managed to keep growth going might be a less impressive record than he claims, but it’s a more impressive record than many of his critics expected.

Basically, the trends were positive when Obama left office, and they’ve kept going.

Political-science Professor Corey Robin writes a cogent description of the appeal of socialism in the current era. One key point is the way he reclaims the word freedom from the pro-market people.

Under capitalism, we’re forced to enter the market just to live. The libertarian sees the market as synonymous with freedom. But socialists hear “the market” and think of the anxious parent, desperate not to offend the insurance representative on the phone, lest he decree that the policy she paid for doesn’t cover her child’s appendectomy. Under capitalism, we’re forced to submit to the boss. Terrified of getting on his bad side, we bow and scrape, flatter and flirt, or worse — just to get that raise or make sure we don’t get fired.

The socialist argument against capitalism isn’t that it makes us poor. It’s that it makes us unfree.

For me, this touches on a point I discussed years ago in a talk called “Who Owns the World?” The traditional socialist solution — public ownership of the means of production — should be thought of as a means rather than an end. What we all really need is guaranteed access to the means of production. In less jargony words, we need to have confidence that we will always have ways to turn our work into the goods and services we need.

The central problem with capitalism is that (in addition to all his other roles, many of which are positive) the capitalist is a gatekeeper: You need his permission in order to enter to productive economy, and that puts him in a position to impose demands on you. Hence the “unfreedom” Robin talks about.

Statistics from Fresno flesh out the idea that police are biased against blacks. And this contrast between the coverage of two fathers accused of murder tells you something about bias in the media’s crime coverage.

Remember those 3-5 million illegal votes that supposedly cost Trump the popular vote (because of course they all voted for Hillary)? Well, after God knows how much effort, the Justice Department has managed to find 19 non-citizen voters, nationwide.

Secretary of State Pompeo was about to return to North Korea, which so far has done virtually nothing towards the “denuclearization” that Trump has bragged about achieving.

“Pompeo is stuck,” said one senior administration official who was not authorized to speak. “He’s a prisoner of championing a policy that’s based on what the president would love to see happen, but not based on reality and the facts on the ground.”

Whether Trump is starting to realize that or for some other reason, he cancelled Pompeo’s trip. Vox has a good summary of where things stand.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) was indicted for misusing campaign funds. But that’s not a reason for him to drop out of his re-election run, because he’s the victim of a Deep State conspiracy, and if anything bad did happen, it’s his wife’s fault:

When I went away to Iraq in 2003, the first time, I gave her power of attorney. She handled my finances throughout my entire military career and that continued on when I got into Congress. … She was also the campaign manager so whatever she did, that’ll be looked at too, I’m sure, but I didn’t do it.

That’s a family-values candidate for you: always willing to let his wife take one for the team. Politico quotes an anonymous Republican congressional staffer: “Like, how do you stay married to a guy who does that?” Better question: How do you not testify against him?

Fox News, though, stays fair and balanced by finding a scandal on the Democratic side as well: Hunter’s challenger Ammar Campa-Najjar doesn’t just have dark skin and a funny name, but his grandfather was one of the Munich Olympic terrorists. Gramps was killed by the Israelis 16 years before Ammar was born, but I guess the idea is that the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree that grew from that other acorn that didn’t fall far from its tree either. Those acorns somehow counterbalance the $250K Hunter stole.

Campa-Najjar artfully pulls the two stories together: “I’m happy to take responsibility for my own choices and my own decisions. I think other men are responsible for their own crimes.”

You’ve got to wonder why CNN allows stuff like this: CNN contributor Rob Astorino admitted on camera that the NDA he signed to work on the Trump 2020 Advisory Committee prohibits him from criticizing Trump.

On Thursday, a post I wrote in 2014, “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party” (the most popular post in Weekly Sift history) got 23 hits. On Friday it got 5,338. There’s still a lot about blogging I don’t understand.

and let’s close with something that strikes back

Earlier this summer I closed with James Veitch’s tormenting of an internet scammer. This time he’s going after email spam from a supermarket.

Remaining Questions

Mr. Trump’s claims of no collusion are, in a word, hogwash. The only questions that remain are whether the collusion that took place constituted criminally liable conspiracy, whether obstruction of justice occurred to cover up any collusion or conspiracy, and how many members of “Trump Incorporated” attempted to defraud the government by laundering and concealing the movement of money into their pockets.

– former CIA Director John Brennan (8-16-2018)

This week’s featured post is “The Drift Towards Autocracy Continues“.

This week everybody was talking about security clearances

In the featured post, I discuss Trump’s revoking of John Brennan’s clearance as one more example of his autocratic tendencies: He thinks presidential powers aren’t tethered to any presidential responsibilities, and are just his to use as he pleases.

Something else worth mentioning is that when Rob Porter was facing credible accusations of beating his ex-wives, Sarah Sanders claimed that the White House had nothing to do with security clearances.

and Aretha Franklin

a.k.a. the Queen of Soul, who died Thursday at the age of 76. In tribute, I offer this clip from The Blues Brothers.

and the continuing sabotage of ObamaCare

Wednesday, HHS Secretary Alex Azar had a WaPo column that makes it sound like Trump’s latest effort to sabotage ObamaCare is a great thing for middle-class Americans.

Americans will once again be able to buy what is known as short-term, limited-duration insurance for up to a year, assuming their state allows it. These plans are free from most Obamacare regulations, allowing them to cost between 50 and 80 percent less.

In other words, they’re junk insurance. Suppose you buy such a policy for a year. If you break your leg, fine, you’re covered. If you get cancer, though, you’re covered until the end of the policy, and which point the company wants nothing more to do with you. Or if your leg-break is complicated, requiring a series of surgeries and some rehab that lasts longer than the policy, forget about it.

In the meantime, these short-term junk policies will appeal to healthy people who don’t expect to get sick. Drawing them out of the risk pool will raise rates for people who want real insurance.

The proper goal of American health policy should be simple: If you need care, you will get it, and you won’t be forced into bankruptcy. This is a step away from that goal, not toward it.

and Trump administration epistemology

“Truth,” Rudy Giuliani told us this week, “isn’t truth.”

“This is going to become a bad meme,” Chuck Todd presciently warned.

Now is a good time to remind everybody of the concept of the “reverse cargo cult”. Hans Howe explains:

In a regular cargo cult, you have people who see an airstrip, and the cargo drops, so they build one out of straw, hoping for the same outcome. They don’t know the difference between a straw airstrip and a real one, they just want the cargo.

In a reverse cargo cult, you have people who see an airstrip, and the cargo drops, so they build one out of straw. But there’s a twist:

When they build the straw airstrip, it isn’t because they are hoping for the same outcome. They know the difference, and know that because their airstrip is made of straw, it certainly won’t yield any cargo, but it serves another purpose. They don’t lie to the rubes and tell them that an airstrip made of straw will bring them cargo. That’s an easy lie to dismantle. Instead, what they do is make it clear that the airstrip is made of straw, and doesn’t work, but then tell you that the other guy’s airstrip doesn’t work either. They tell you that no airstrips yield cargo. The whole idea of cargo is a lie, and those fools, with their fancy airstrip made out of wood, concrete, and metal is just as wasteful and silly as one made of straw.

In Putin’s Russia, democracy is the cargo and elections are the airstrips. Russian elections are bogus, but that just proves that all elections are bogus. The US and all those other countries don’t really have democracy either.

In Trump’s America, truth is the cargo, and public statements are the airstrips. There’s no point claiming any more that Trump tells the truth; it’s just too obvious that he doesn’t. If he testifies to Mueller, of course he will lie. But that just proves that everyone lies, and no statements contain truth.

So it’s totally unreasonable to put Trump under oath and expect truth, because there is no truth.

but you might wonder what’s going on with Turkey

In addition to all the other trade wars Trump is fighting, we now have one with Turkey. Trade with Turkey is too small to make much difference in terms of jobs or the trade deficit, but Evangelicals have made a cause out of an American pastor the Turkish government has arrested. The result is an economic crisis in Turkey that could spill over into European banks or other emerging market countries.

and you also might be interested in …

We’re waiting for a verdict in the Manafort trial. I’m concerned that it’s taking so long; the evidence seems pretty clear. Vox’ Emily Stewart just thinks the jury is being methodical: There are a lot of charges.

Meanwhile, Trump has been doing his best to influence the jury, which has not been sequestered. Any Trump supporters on the jury must know what their marching orders are: not guilty.

Rick Perlstein explains the history of “voter fraud” as an argument for discouraging minority voters.

James Corden’s musical version of the hoped-for Mueller report says that Trump is the “law defying, truth denying, dirty lying, Russian spying, absolutely horrifying worst”.

Dinesh D’Souza’s new propaganda movie is bound to restart the bogus talking point that the Democrats are the real racist party. (Somehow, Nazis and white supremacists never seem to get that memo, and keep supporting Trump.) If you find yourself in an argument about this, I already collected the research you’ll need a few years ago in “A Short History of White Racism in the Two-Party System“.

The even-shorter version is that the Democrats were the white-racist party at least until FDR. By 1948, racists had began to feel unwelcome among the Democrats, which is why Strom Thurmond ran for president against Truman as a Dixiecrat. Between then and 1980, racists had no clear home in either party, and kept flirting with the idea of running their own candidates, like George Wallace in 1968.

Nixon’s Southern Strategy in 1968 began inviting racists into the Republican Party, and Ronald Reagan sealed the deal in 1980 when he launched his post-convention campaign with a dog-whistle-laden speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi, not far from the site of the Mississippi Burning murders. Since then, the GOP has been the preferred party for white racists.

But the article needs this update: The Republican Party of 2012 still kept its racists in the closet and signaled to them with dog whistles. But in the Trump Era, racists have taken a central position in the party’s base.

PBS’ “Hot Mess” series about climate change has some clear, non-intimidating introductory videos that might get through to people still in denial about the problem. Here’s one:

Meanwhile, the Trump administration wants to let states set their own regulations for CO2 emissions from power plants. States that produce a lot of coal presumably will have lax standards, as if the rest of the planet were unaffected by their decisions.

The regulations look like a big win for the companies that used to employ William L. Wehrum, who is now the top air-pollution official at the EPA. #DrainTheSwamp

Pennsylvania’s attorney general released a grand jury report on clergy sex abuse.

Over a period of 70 years, Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania sexually abused thousands of children while bishops ran a systemic cover-up campaign, according to the state attorney general.

If you wonder where the “abolish ICE” sentiment comes from, read this story: ICE agents arrest a man at a gas station, leaving his wife to drive herself to the hospital to have their baby. Would it be so hard for ICE to drive the couple to the hospital, to sit with the man until his family is safe, and THEN to arrest him?

The problem with ICE is a pervasive lack of human decency. “Illegals” have been dehumanized to the point that the humane and compassionate responses that we owe to all human beings can be withheld from them. (If you want to see examples of this kind of dehumanization, read the comments on the article.)

You know where this story fits? In a flashback where a terrorist explains why he owes no compassion to his victims. “The day I was born …” he begins.

Much news-network time was taken up this week by speculation on whether or not there’s a tape where Trump says the n-word. Count me among the people who don’t see what difference it would make. If you don’t already know that Trump is a racist, I don’t know why an n-word tape would change your mind. I mean, we already have a tape of him confessing to sexually assaulting women, but his supporters still don’t believe the women who accuse him.

Elizabeth Warren’s Accountable Capitalism Act is an attempt to change the rules corporations work under. There’s a lot going on here that I need more time to unpack.

Tracey Ullman has been playing with the notion of Melania being a Russian robot for a while now. In this episode, the bot needs a reboot.

So Kris Kobach is now the Republican nominee for governor of Kansas. There are few politicians I have less respect for. His signature issue, voter fraud, which he has been riding for years, is bogus, and he has to know it’s bogus.

He chaired a presidential commission tasked with finding evidence of such fraud, and he didn’t find it. The commission disbanded without issuing a report. But he’s still talking about voter fraud as if it were a well established fact.

Denmark’s response to Fox Business Network’s hit piece is awesome. Just about every aspect of Denmark that FBN’s Trish Regan attacked is actually something that Denmark does better than the US.

Apparently the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is in financial trouble, which is a huge shame. I realize that most of you have no occasion to pass through Springfield, Illinois. But I do, since it’s on the road to my home town, so I’ve toured the museum. It’s a very worthwhile afternoon, and if the museum were on the Mall in D.C., I think everyone would go there.

I get where NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo was coming from when he responded to Trump’s MAGA slogan by saying that America “was never that great”. In other words, if you pick any particular date for “again” to refer to, something pretty awful was happening in America: slavery or Native American genocide or civil war or child labor or the Great Depression or second-class citizenship for women or Jim Crow or Japanese internment or whatever. There is no magic moment that we should want to roll the clock back to.

But I wish he hadn’t put it the way he did, because it’s also true that there has always been something great about America. Even as it was winking at slavery, the Constitution institutionalized rights for white men in a way that could eventually extend to others. Even as America was cramming the Irish, Italians, and Jews into squalid urban ghettos, it was also letting them build a base for breaking out of those ghettos. It promoted science and invention. It created an engine for producing wealth on a previously unheard-of scale, and eventually let that wealth spread out into a large middle class. With its allies, it defended the world from Nazism and held Soviet Communism in check until it fell of its own weight. All superpowers have a degree of arrogance, but compared to historical norms, I believe we have ruled our sphere of influence with a comparatively light hand.

So I find plenty to be proud of in American history, even if there is no Golden Age I would want to return to. My greatest worry is that if we follow Russia, Hungary, and Poland down the authoritarian/nationalist path, we may someday have cause to look back on the Obama years that way. No one would have said so at the time, but that’s how Golden Ages typically are.

and let’s close with a baby otter

Otters may have evolved to swim, but that doesn’t mean they take to water naturally. Mom has to drag the young ones in and force them under.

Massive Changes

In some parts of the country, it does seem like the America that we know and love doesn’t exist anymore. Massive demographic changes have been foisted upon the American people, and they are changes that none of us ever voted for, and most of us don’t like. From Virginia to California, we see stark examples of how radically, in some ways, the country has changed.  … It’s clear that we need a reset on the entire issue of immigration, illegal and legal.

– Laura Ingraham,
The Ingraham Angle on Fox News (8-8-2018)

Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion.

– Benjamin Franklin,
Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, etc.” (1751)

This week’s featured post is “Anti-immigrant rhetoric is an insult to your ancestors“.

This week everybody was talking about corruption

The Russia investigation gets all the headlines, but the widespread corruption of the Trump administration goes way beyond whatever accounts for his abject subservience to Vladimir Putin. Reason — a magazine that is more libertarian than liberal — calls the roll of Trump-administration crimes and cons. (They did the basic research, but I’ve summarized, inserted links, added a couple of people, and injected a little of my own commentary.)

  • Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort is currently on trial for tax fraud and bank fraud. His assistant campaign manager Rick Gates (who stayed with the campaign after Manafort had to leave, and who went on to have a position on the Trump Inaugural Committee) has testified against him, saying that they committed crimes together.
  • Rep. Chris Collins, an early Trump supporter, was indicted Wednesday for insider trading. He’s on the board of a foreign biotech company whose products are overseen by the committee Collins served on until this week. But that turns out to be legal for some unimaginable reason. What’s not legal is that as a board member he got an email saying that a major drug trial had failed, and then he immediately called his son, resulting in the whole family (other than Collins himself) saving hundreds of thousands by dumping stock before the news became public. Prosecutors have the email, the record of the call, and records of the stock sales by numerous relatives, but Collins calls the charges “meritless” and at first was going ahead with his re-election campaign. By Saturday he had backed down, though, denying his Democratic opponent the chance to run on the Nixonesque slogan: “I am not a crook.”
  • Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, and Gates pleaded guilty to the charge of lying to investigators. If I were Hillary Clinton, I would find it hard to resist attending Flynn’s sentencing hearing so that I could lead a chant of “Lock him up!”
  • Andrew Puzder withdrew as a nominee for Secretary of Labor after it came out that he had employed an undocumented immigrant and an ex-wife had accused him of violent abuse.
  • White House secretary Rob Porter similarly had to resign after two ex-wives accused him of abuse, including one who backed up her story with a black-eye photo.
  • Long-time Trump fixer Michael Cohen is waiting to see if he’ll be indicted by the Southern District of New York. He seems to be working on the assumption that he will be and has been floating various tidbits of what he might have to trade prosecutors. It’s still not clear whether the pay-offs he engineered to Trump mistresses Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal were unreported campaign expenses, or if he met with a Putin ally in Prague, as the Steele dossier claims he did.
  • Former HHS Secretary Tom Price is also unindicted, but had to resign after running up big travel bills and sticking the taxpayer with them. He’s long been ethically suspect because, like Collins, when he was in Congress he traded stocks in an industry his committee oversaw. (The NYT says a third of the members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have traded biotech, pharmaceutical and medical device stocks.)
  • After examining a long list of similar accusations from multiple sources, Forbes concludes that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross may have stolen as much as $123 million during his investing career.
  • Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is the subject of so many investigations that it’s hard to say which one brought him down.
  • Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke may be the luckiest guy in Washington. In any other administration, his long list of scandals would be front-page news. Instead, it’s like “Ryan Who?”
  • Trump himself reached a settlement to pay $25 million to the Trump University students he defrauded. The series of ever-more-expensive courses was supposed to teach them how Trump makes money, which (in a way) it did.
  • Pro Publica reports that the Veterans Administration (the second largest department in the government), is being overseen by a secret shadow council of Mar-a-Lago members. This is the clearest example of why Chris Hayes has dubbed Mar-a-Lago “the de facto bribery palace“: If you want to have access to the president, you pay him $200K to join Mar-a-Lago or $300K to join his Bedminster golf club. If your organization (or the foreign government you represent) wants to get in good with Trump, it can put money in his pocket by holding events at his clubs or at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.
  • Don Jr. appears to have lied to Congress, and probably also violated laws against political campaigns seeking help from foreign governments.

At least for the moment, while Robert Mueller is hanging on to whatever evidence he has assembled in the Russia probe, the Russian connection seems not to be affecting the voters much. But the Trump administration’s ubiquitous corruption does seem to be breaking through. “Drain the Swamp” has become an issue that favors Democrats.

and Alex Jones

Just about all the social media giants kicked conspiracy theory mega-star Alex Jones off their systems this week. Apple, Facebook, and YouTube (but not Twitter, for some reason) decided they’d had enough of his hate speech — most famously his persecution of the Sandy Hook parents, who he has repeatedly claimed are “crisis actors” who didn’t really lose their kids in a mass shooting.

It’s hard to know how to feel about this. First off, Jones is pond scum. Even if an injustice is happening here, it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. Second, it’s not a First Amendment issue, because the First Amendment only applies to the government. Nobody is fining Jones or putting him in jail for his rants; the social media giants are private companies that have no obligation to provide Jones with a platform.

But that’s where it starts to get tricky. A lot of The Weekly Sift’s traffic passes through Facebook. (A lot more did a few years ago, before they changed their algorithms to make it harder for posts to go viral.) What if they decided they didn’t like me? What if all the social media companies got together and decided they don’t like socialists or libertarians or people who promote Esperanto? What if saying something bad about the president — either Trump or some future Democrat — could get you banned? That wouldn’t exactly silence anybody, but it would tip the national conversation. Should a handful of commercial companies have that kind of power?

The Jones case caused a lot of people to recall the Martin Niemöller quote “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. … ” Over at World News Daily, another conservative site that promotes a lot of conspiracy theories, they made that comparison seriously:

So, first the Digital Cartel came for Alex Jones. Who will be next? I don’t know, but I don’t plan to find myself in the position in which Martin Niemöller found himself in Nazi Germany.

So did The Deplorable Climate Science Blog, which pushes its own global-conspiracy-of-climate-scientists theory of climate change:

Make no mistake about it. The evil empire has declared war on America.

But a lot of other people found the analogy ridiculous, like Denizcan Grimes:

First they came for Alex Jones, and I did not speak out because fuck that guy.

Or Alex Griswold:

First they came for Infowars, and I didn’t say anything because I didn’t like Infowars. Then they never came for me because I never accused grieving parents of murdered children of being crisis actors.

Or John Fugelsang:

First they came for Alex Jones & Infowars – but I wasn’t a race-baiting transphobic conspiracy cultist who claims murdered children in Newtown are hoaxes and admitted in court that I’m just an entertainer who makes shit up, so I said nothing.

Or Patrick Tomlinson:

First they came for Alex Jones, and I said nothing because the entire point of that poem was a warning against letting fascist assholes like him have a voice in the first place.

and Nancy Pelosi

It’s getting to be a thing among Democratic House candidates facing close elections: They say they won’t vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker. Republican House candidates, OTOH, love to attach Pelosi to their Democratic opponents like an anchor.

So should Pelosi announce she won’t run for Speaker? It’s a tough question for a bunch of reasons.

First, Pelosi was a very effective Speaker during the first two years of the Obama administration. She got a bunch of good stuff through the House that then failed in the Senate, like a cap-and-trade bill to fight global warming, for example. When Democrats unexpectedly lost their filibuster-proof margin in the Senate, it was largely Pelosi’s maneuvering that made ObamaCare a law.

A more progressive Speaker would not have produced more progressive legislation — just more division in the caucus and more bills that would have died in the Senate. If Democrats do get the majority back this fall, there’s every reason to believe that Pelosi will once again be effective at keeping the Democratic caucus together and pushing Democrats from purple districts to take a few risks they might otherwise back away from.

When you get outside of Congress, though, she hasn’t been a good national spokesman for the party. As Speaker in an era with a Republican president and a Republican Senate (which I think we’ll still have next year), she would be the top-ranking Democrat in the country, and I don’t think she’ll be good at that.

And then you reach the same dilemma that we had with Hillary Clinton: A lot of what makes her so easy to demonize is that she’s a woman. Republicans have put a lot of energy into demonizing her, and it has worked. But I hate to give in to that: We can’t let Republicans choose our leaders for us. At some point we have to stand up to demonization and defeat it. If you think that the next Democratic leader — especially the next female Democratic leader — will somehow escape demonization, you’re kidding yourself.

Even so, I find myself hoping Pelosi steps down. In the short term, that would improve Democrats’ prospects in the fall elections. And I’m not sure how much of a long term American democracy has if Trump is allowed to rule for two more years without congressional oversight.

and Charlottesville

People marked the anniversary of the Charlottesville Unite-the-Right rally in a variety of ways. Jonathan Capehart reviewed a year’s worth of Trump’s race-baiting pronouncements.

Trump himself tweeted a message that some pundits saw as conciliatory:

The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division. We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!

But the tweet is full of dog whistles that white supremacists will read differently than the rest of us. “all forms of racism” means that he is also condemning racism against whites, as if that were a thing. “all acts of violence” reinforces his “both sides” rhetoric of a year ago. “come together as a nation” means that white supremacists are part of the mainstream now, and the rest of us just have to tolerate them.

Why can’t he condemn white supremacists specifically, even when marking the anniversary of a murder one them committed? He certainly has no problem condemning Black Lives Matter by name. If BLM protesters and Antifa demonstators do something he doesn’t like, he doesn’t condemn “all forms” of whatever, he calls them out. But he can’t do that with white supremacists, because they’re a key part of his base.

So no, I’m not going to “come together” with Nazis or take their claims of anti-white racism seriously. I refuse to accept an even-handed view that puts Nazi and anti-Nazi demonstrators on the same level.

and you also might be interested in …

Speaking of calling out black people by name, Trump went after basketball star LeBron James.

Consider the context: James had just welcomed the first class to the I Promise school in his hometown, Akron Ohio. It’s  a school for at-risk kids, and gets a lot of its funding from James’ foundation.

At the I Promise school, tuition is free for all students, who were randomly selected among all Akron public school students between one to two years behind their peers in reading. Students get free uniforms, free meals and snacks during the school day, and free transportation to school. Every kid also gets a free bicycle and helmet, as James has said that having access to his own set of wheels gave him a way to escape from dangerous parts of his neighborhood and the freedom to explore during his childhood. And in a nod to the realities of the way schoolwork gets done in the digital age, every kid gets a free Chromebook, too.

In other words, James is a multi-millionaire who remembers where he came from, and who is trying to help people who are like him, but lack his all-world athletic talent. Any other president would give him a shout-out.

But with some nudging from CNN’s Don Lemon, James softly criticized Trump, saying that Trump

has kinda used sport to kinda divide us, and that’s something I can’t relate to, because I know that sport was the first time I ever was around someone white. And I got an opportunity to see them and learn about them and they got an opportunity to learn about me. And we became very good friends, and I was like “Oh wow, this is all because of sports.” And sports has never been something that divides people, it’s always been something that brings someone together.

Racism, he said, has “always been there”

But I think the president in charge now has given people … they don’t care now. They throw it in your face now.

Trump didn’t answer those criticisms but couldn’t ignore them, so he struck back with insults:

Lebron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do. I like Mike!

“I like Mike” refers to Michael Jordan, and is a way of saying that LeBron is only the second best player in basketball history. The tweet could hardly be a better example of “using sports to kinda divide us”.

All I can say is that you should watch the Lemon/James interview, and then listen to one of Trump’s incoherent and mistake-filled rants, and decide for yourself which of these men is truly smart.

Trump is back to another of his favorite bits of race-baiting: attacking NFL players who kneel to protest racial injustice. Seriously: the guy who can’t stand up to Putin is lecturing NFL players about patriotism. It’s not the state of Colin Kaepernick’s patriotism that worries me.

This morning the NYT editorial board assembled a compelling collection of graphs and charts to make a point that gets a little clearer all the time: The Trump tax cut is doing great things for stockholders and executives, but nothing at all for workers.

Inflation-adjusted wages are dropping, capital investment and productivity have been unaffected, and the federal deficit is skyrocketing (to the point that in a few years the record Bush/Obama deficit of FY 2009 will be the baseline). But the stock market is near a record, so it’s all good.

If you ever argue with somebody about voter fraud, chances are that they will tell you about “evidence” they have seen: something obviously not right that must be the result of fraud. Invariably, though, the fraud is by the people who constructed the claim of fraud. I took apart one example of this back in 2013 in “The Myth of the Zombie Voter“, but it’s a whack-a-mole process. Republicans are extremely gullible on this issue; it’s easy for fraudsters to gin up BS that they will believe and pass on to their friends.

Here’s another example, referring to the recent special election in Ohio’s 12th congressional district. First the accusation tweet:

Voter fraud is real: 170 Voters in Ohio Race ‘Over 116 Years Old,’ World’s Oldest Person Is 115

How much more obvious can fraud get? Well, Sean Imbroglio takes the time to figure out what’s really going on, and finds something even more amazing: According to the official database, which is available for inspection by the public, a bunch of those voters are actually 218 years old! Their birth years are listed as 1800!

So I called the Franklin BOE and guess what? isn’t overrun with immortal vampires or Napoleonic-era alchemists. Board of Elections confirmed 1800 means they registered under the old system which didn’t collect birthdates, and haven’t updated their registrations since.

Imbroglio goes on to google a bunch of the 218-year-olds, and finds out that they are real people who live in the district and actually have more reasonable ages. But in the time it took him to do that, probably five other voter-fraud conspiracy theories got launched. (If you follow the tweet-thread, it’s instructive to watch Proud Conservative argue with Imbroglio. He really, really wants to believe that voter fraud has been found and documented.)

Having investigated half a dozen or so of these stories over the years, I’ve come to a conclusion: Examples of rampant voter fraud are all like this. Something perfectly ordinary creates an anomaly that conspiracy theorists can trumpet without bothering to look for more mundane explanations.

I didn’t think Omarosa was worth paying attention to when she worked in the White House, and I don’t see any reason to change my mind now that she’s pushing a book about her White House experiences. Ping me if she releases any of the Trump tapes she claims exist.

Here’s the sad thing about Omarosa’s book, Sean Spicer’s book, and all the Trump-administration-insider books that will ever come out: In order to work for Trump to begin with, you had to be either dishonest or ridiculously gullible. Either way, I won’t believe your book unless you have proof.

Back in the 19th century, somebody remarked that watching the heavily manipulated wheat market at the Chicago Board of Trade was like watching men wrestling under a blanket; you could tell when something was happening, but not see what it was.

I feel that way when I hear about Trump negotiating an interview with Robert Mueller. There’s so much we don’t know. Trump’s people claim he is eager to talk to Mueller, but that his lawyers want to insist on prior conditions that Mueller so far has not agreed to. Is that true, or is Trump like the guy who complains about his friends holding him back from a bar fight he doesn’t really want any part of?

From Mueller’s side: Does he need Trump’s testimony to complete his report, or is he simply offering the president the courtesy of allowing him to tell his side of the story? If negotiations with Trump fail, as I think they will, does he then insist with a subpoena, or does he shrug and go on?

Trump’s lawyers claim they’re worried about a “perjury trap”, as if some mysterious prosecutor magic tricks witnesses into lying. But if Trump has done nothing wrong, as he claims, then he has a foolproof strategy against perjury: don’t lie.

The perjury problem, I think, arises because Trump is actually guilty of something, maybe many things. If he could be sure exactly what Mueller knows, then he could concoct a lie that fits within those bounds. But because he doesn’t know — and that’s why his allies in Congress keep demanding the Justice Department produce more and more documents — then he risks telling a lie Mueller can disprove. That’s the “perjury trap”.

The only real perjury trap I can imagine is the situation Bill Clinton found himself in: You want to cover up something (like an affair with an intern) that is legal but politically embarrassing. Finding an excuse to ask the question under oath is a way for your enemies to turn your political problem into a legal problem. But I don’t see anything like that here.

The trade war with China continues: The latest round of Chinese retaliatory tariffs have been announced and will take effect on August 23.

and let’s close with something cute

What could be cuter than a baby elephant who enjoys a bath?

Not Happening

NO SIFT NEXT WEEK. The next new articles will appear on August 13.

It’s all working out. Just remember: What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.

– Donald Trump (7-24-2018)

The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.

George Orwell, 1984

There’s no featured post this week.

This week everybody was still talking about Helsinki

because we still don’t know what Trump and Putin agreed to in their private two-hour meeting. And by “we”, I apparently also mean the rest of the US government.

Wednesday, Secretary of State Pompeo testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. [3-hour C-SPAN video and transcripts here.] Whenever he was asked what Trump may have promised Putin, he instead told the committee what American policy was and claimed it had not changed. USA Today summarized:

no matter how often they asked – and they asked again and again – Pompeo dodged. “Presidents are entitled to have private meetings,” he said. Pompeo did say that U.S. policy toward Russia has not changed as a result of the meeting and that “no commitment” was made to ease U.S. sanctions. Beyond that, details of the secret meeting remain mostly secret.

I did not watch the entire hearing, but the clips I have watched did not convince me that Secretary Pompeo himself knows what Trump and Putin discussed. Certainly CENTCOM Commander General Joseph Votel (who is responsible for US military operations in Syria as well as Iraq and Afghanistan) doesn’t know. CNN reported:

“The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation is ready for practical implementation of the agreements reached between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump in the sphere of international security achieved at the Helsinki summit,” Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, a Russian military spokesman, said in a statement Tuesday. The Russian military “is ready to intensify contacts with the US colleagues in the General Staff and other available channels to discuss the extension of the START treaty, cooperation in Syria, as well as other issues of ensuring military security,” Konashenkov said.

That “cooperation in Syria” would be with Votel, but he  knew nothing about it when ABC interviewed him.

Votel stressed he has not received any guidance from the White House about the Helsinki talks and had only seen press reports about the proposed joint plan to return Syrian refugees. … Cooperation between [US and Russian] militaries to help return the Syrian refugees is not possible under current law. Since 2014, the U.S. military has been prohibited from cooperating with their Russian counterparts in any capacity after Congress passed legislation prompted by Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

… “I’ve watched some of the things that Russia has done,” said Votel. “It does give me some pause here. These are not things that give me great confidence that just by stepping over into the next level of coordination that things are going to be fine,” he added. “It’s Russia. Let’s not forget that.”

Secretary of Defense Mattis also seemed to be in the dark:

We will not be doing anything additional until the secretary of state and the president have further figured out at what point we are going to start work alongside our allies with Russia in the future. That has not happened yet.

Votel’s ABC interview earned him a condemnation from the Russian Ministry of Defense.

With his statements, General Votel not only discredited the official position of his supreme commander-in-chief, but also exacerbated the illegality under international law and US law of the military presence of American servicemen in Syria,

Any other White House would slap that back, maybe by publicly telling the Russian Defense Ministry to worry about its own generals rather than ours. But not this White House. I can only imagine how demoralizing it must be to doubt your own understanding of your orders, and then to be left hanging by your president. All the American troops serving in Syria must be wondering whether they (or their commander) understand their current mission.

and families still separated

The administration missed its court-ordered deadline to reunite the migrant families it tore apart. It claimed it made the deadline, but only by reclassifying all the families it wasn’t reuniting as “ineligible”. The government is still holding 711 children, 431 of them because their parents have already been deported. It seems to regard deported parents as somebody else’s problem.

For some of the other children, the adult they crossed the border with wasn’t a parent, and the government refuses to turn kids over to grandparents or aunts or other relatives, even if those were the caretakers they were taken away from. Some other parents failed a criminal background check, which might mean something as simple as that they disturbed the peace 20 years ago. (In general, rather than restore the family it wrecked, the government seems to be using the same standards it would apply to prospective foster parents.) Others “voluntarily” gave up their right to get their children back, though the ACLU disputes this:

In some cases, the parents said the forms were not explained to them and that they felt pressured to sign. Some were not provided translation in their native languages and had no idea what they had signed. One said he was told that signing the form was the only way to prevent his daughter from being sent back to Guatemala.

The Washington Post describes the bureaucratic failures that have made reunification so hard, even for “eligible” families. The short version is that the government has no official designation for Children We Kidnapped, so the kids have been classified differently by each organization that gets hold of them, often lumping them in with children who arrived at the border without parents.

Customs and Border Protection databases had categories for “family units,” and “unaccompanied alien children” who arrive without parents. They did not have a distinct classification for more than 2,600 children who had been taken from their families and placed in government shelters.

So agents came up with a new term: “deleted family units.”

But when they sent that information to the refugee office at the Department of Health and Human Services, which was told to facilitate the reunifications, the office’s database did not have a column for families with that designation.

“Deleted family units” lines up with this week’s Orwellian theme. Here’s what deleted family units look like:

Apparently, the government is making no effort to find or contact the deported parents.

Government lawyers, according to the Times, will not allow parents to return to the U.S. to claim their children, but they have also stipulated that parents must be found and vetted before their children can go back home. And yet they are doing nothing, at present, to ensure that those parents can be found—or vetted.

The judge who ordered reunification is not happy about these shenanigans, but has not yet held the government in contempt. (Personally, I would like to see Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen jailed until the last child is returned. I think she’d soon discover that this situation is simpler and more urgent than she had previously thought.) The case resumes Friday.

It’s hard to come to any other conclusion than that the Trump administration is intentionally trying to cause as much pain as possible, to punish Mexicans and Central Americans for trying to come here (even legally, as applicants for asylum). It’s important for Americans to wrap their minds around the sheer malevolence here: Our government kidnapped these children from their parents, and is dragging its feet as the courts try to make it give the children back.

This has gone way beyond politics or policy debates: It’s capital-E Evil.

Meanwhile, the administration continues to come up with ways to make legal immigrants understand how unwelcome they are: It is about to rescind a program that allows spouses of H-1B visa-holders to work in this country. According to The Guardian, “Many are high-skilled workers who sacrificed their careers when their spouses were offered the chance to pursue a career in the US.” Can’t have that, can we?

After seeming to accept McConnell and Ryan’s strategy for next year’s appropriation bills on Wednesday, by Sunday Trump was back to threatening a government shutdown this fall unless Democrats capitulate on everything having to do with immigration, including funding the wall that he is still failing to get Mexico to pay for.

and trade

Trump’s meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was weirdly reminiscent of the Singapore summit with Kim Jong Un. Here’s the pattern:

  1. Trump ramps up tensions and creates a crisis atmosphere.
  2. He meets with a foreign leader and agrees on a vague statement of principles whose details are left to be worked out by future negotiations.
  3. He declares victory: The crisis has been solved to the advantage of the United States.

After his meeting with Kim, Trump tweeted:

everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.

After talking to Juncker, he tweeted:

A breakthrough has been quickly made that nobody thought possible!

And then he announced in Iowa:

We just opened up Europe for you farmers. You have just gotten yourself one big market.

In each case, though, he has made an agreement to negotiate rather than an agreement on substantial issues. The Economist described what came out of the meeting as a “truce” in which Trump backed down from the tariffs he had been about to impose on European cars and Europe held back on its retaliatory tariffs.

The two sides agreed to work together towards “zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers and zero subsidies on non-auto industrial goods.” Trade barriers in services, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, medical products and soyabeans are on the chopping block, too. Pundits were quick to point out that Mr Trump had, in fact, secured talks to negotiate something that looks remarkably similar to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, an accord put on ice when he became president. Such a deal might be possible, but it is a lot more remote than Mr Trump’s jubilation suggests.

In other words, Trump might have gotten back to where Obama was when he left office.

In their joint press conference, Trump made Europe’s commitments sound very immediate and definite:

And the European Union is going to start, almost immediately, to buy a lot of soybeans — they’re a tremendous market — buy a lot of soybeans from our farmers in the Midwest, primarily. … The European Union wants to import more liquefied natural gas — LNG — from the United States, and they’re going to be a very, very big buyer.

But Juncker sounded less definite:

We’ve decided to strengthen our cooperation on energy. The EU will build more terminals to import liquefied natural gas from the U.S. This is also a message for others. We agreed to establish a dialogue on standards. As far as agriculture is concerned, the European Union can import more soybeans from the U.S., and it will be done.

Building terminals takes years, and how much LNG Europe buys then depends on market forces. (By the time it arrives in Europe, American gas that has been fracked, liquefied, and shipped in refrigerated tankers is far more expensive than Russian gas that arrives by pipeline.) Also, 93% of American soybeans are genetically modified. The EU recently allowed the sale of some GMO soybeans, but products made from them must be strictly labeled and consumers may avoid them. So Juncker’s “more” may not be much more.

Meanwhile, the administration will provide $12 billion in subsidies to farmers who continue to be hurt by his trade war. In spite of this week’s focus on Europe, the main damage has been in trade with China, which is now buying record quantities of soybeans and wheat from Russia. #MRGA

Friday morning, the US got the first tangible benefit of the North Korea negotiations: The North Koreans delivered what are believed to be the remains of 55 Americans who died in the Korean War. (On June 23, Trump falsely claimed that the remains of 200 Americans had already been returned.)

and the economy

The numbers are out on second-quarter (April through June) GDP, and at first glance they look really good: The economy grew at an annualized rate of 4.1%.

As you can see from the graph, 4.1% growth is better than most quarters, but not unprecedented. (It was higher for two consecutive quarters in 2014, when I don’t recall anybody talking about how fabulous the Obama economy was.)

If you want a more detailed analysis, I recommend what Jared Bernstein wrote in The Washington Post. A few important points from him:

  • Year-over-year growth, i.e., how much bigger the economy is than it was a year ago, adjusted for inflation, is 2.8%, which is good but not extraordinary.
  • Growth in the second quarter was boosted by one-time factors, like businesses trying to import or export before tariffs kick in.
  • The effects of the Trump tax cut are showing up, but not where they’re supposed to: The economy is getting a push from the sheer size of the federal deficit, but not so much from the business investment that the tax cut was supposed to ignite.
  • Wages are still not keeping pace with overall growth.

Paul Krugman offers a somewhat wonkier explanation of the same phenomena: Capacity utilization went up from an already-high level, which is what you’d expect from a deficit-fueled expansion. That’s not sustainable: Sustainable growth expands the economy’s capacity by investing in new capacity. That was what the big corporate tax cut was supposed to do, but so far isn’t doing.

About those tax cuts: It turns out that when you slash corporate tax rates, revenue goes down and deficits go up! Who would have guessed?

Also, the data is still sketchy, but wages might be going down. Weren’t they supposed to go up as the corporate windfall trickled down to employees? Maybe corporate executives figured out that they could just keep the money for themselves and their shareholders.

Trump may deny it (and his son might outright lie about it), but Obama left him an economy that was humming along pretty well. Steve Benen talks jobs:

Consider this quote from the president’s remarks earlier today: “Everywhere we look, we are seeing the effects of the American economic miracle. We have added 3.7 million new jobs since the election, a number that is unthinkable if you go back to the campaign. Nobody would have said it. Nobody would have even in an optimistic way projected it.”

Reality isn’t that complicated. In the 17 full months since Trump took office — February 2017 to June 2018 — the U.S. economy created 3.22 million jobs. What’s wrong with that? Nothing. It’s a perfectly good number. But it’s not a “miracle.” In the 17 full months before Trump took office — September 2015 to January 2017 — the U.S. economy created 3.54 million jobs.

and Trump’s multiplying legal problems

For months there’s been speculation about whether Trump’s long-time fixer Michael Cohen was going to flip and testify against him. No one knows yet what federal investigators (from the U. S. Attorney’s office of the Southern District of New York, not from Bob Mueller) have on Cohen that would make him want to deal. But when they got a federal judge to sign off on a wide-ranging search warrant for Cohen’s office, home, and hotel room, they had to convince the judge that evidence of some particular crime was likely to be found in those places.

We still don’t know what crime they alleged, or if the search produced evidence of it. But federal searches of lawyer’s offices are rare, and this one was likely to (and did) lead to a hail of political criticism from the President and his supporters. So it’s reasonable to assume that the feds already had the makings of a good case against Cohen when they knocked on his door.

Since then, both sides seem to have been waiting to see what developed. It took weeks for the court to decide what of the material seized from Cohen (most of it, as it turned out) was free from lawyer/client privilege and so available for investigators’ inspection. And since we’re talking about millions of documents, it has taken more weeks for SDNY to figure out what it has. Until actual charges are on the table, it’s still premature for Cohen and federal prosecutors to discuss trading what Cohen knows about Donald Trump for leniency in his own case.

Recently, though, stuff Cohen knows has been leaking out. (It’s not clear from whom or why. Prosecutors would want to keep their case secret for as long as they can. If Cohen is doing it, he’s hurting his trade value as a witness. But why would Trump’s people leak information that reflects badly on him? Rachel Maddow proposes that the Trump side wants to degrade Cohen’s value, and also to get a head start on spinning the bad news for the President’s base. That seems strange, but all the explanations seem strange.)

Last week we got a tape in which Cohen and Trump discuss acquiring Karen McDougal’s story (of her affair with Trump) from The National Enquirer (so that they can make sure it doesn’t come out before the election). Personally, I was revolted by how this tape drove more significant news out of the headlines, so I didn’t cover it here last week, though I’m sure you heard about it. (It’s weird that evidence that the President lied about both his affair with a Playboy model and about paying her off isn’t significant to me any more — anything remotely similar would have sunk Obama — but that’s where we are. We know Trump has illicit sexual affairs and lies about them. We know he pays women to keep quiet. Nothing new.)

But this week we got a claim which, if true, is devastating:

Michael Cohen is reportedly ready to tell prosecutors that Donald Trump was aware of a June 2016 meeting between top campaign officials and Russians at Trump Tower before it occurred.

Not only would that mean that Don Jr. lied to Congress, but it could implicate the President himself. Fortune quotes a former federal prosecutor:

If Trump knew in advance that the Russians had stolen information, and understood its importance, that puts him at risk, in legal jeopardy, of being part of the conspiracy that the Russians have been charged with to defraud the U.S.

Of course, then, that leads to a who-do-you-believe question. So everybody in TrumpWorld is now trying to denigrate Cohen. Rudy Giuliani (who in May had called Cohen “an honest, honorable lawyer”) now says Cohen has “lied all his life”.

There’s something almost humorous here: After previously telling us the opposite, Trump’s lawyer is now telling us that Trump hires lawyers who lie a lot. So what do you believe after hearing that? It’s like the famous Cretan paradox from freshman logic class.

Paul Manafort’s trial starts tomorrow.

Wednesday, a federal judge in Maryland ruled on what the Constitution means by “emoluments”, and took an expansive view:

The text of both (Foreign and Domestic Emoluments) Clauses strongly indicates that the broader meaning of ’emolument’ advanced by Plaintiffs was meant to apply. As Plaintiffs point out, the Foreign Clause bans, without Congressional approval, ‘any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.’ Use of such expansive modifiers significantly undermines the President’s argument that this Clause was meant to prohibit only payment for official services rendered in an employment-type relationship.

Consequently, a lawsuit can go forward, charging that the Trump International Hotel (which many foreign officials stay at, hoping to curry favor with the President), violates the Emoluments Clause.

One of the striking things about the Trump/Cohen tape released last week is how Sopranos-like the conversation sounds, with Cohen using euphemisms like “our friend David” and making other oblique references. But one person is mentioned by name: Allen Weisselberg the longtime CFO of the Trump Organization. Now Weisselberg is facing a subpoena.

There’s now an official effort in the House to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, which would be a step towards shutting down the Mueller investigation. It doesn’t seem likely to go anywhere at this point, but it is an indication of just how far off the rails House Republicans have gone, and why it is important for the country that Democrats win the House in November. The center of the effort is the so-called Freedom Caucus, which maybe should change its name to the Autocracy Caucus, as its main purpose seems to be to raise the President above the law.

You can find the 7-page Articles of Impeachment here. Briefly, the five articles amount to this:

  • Rosenstein is derelict is his duties because he hasn’t appointed a special counsel to investigate the investigation of Trump, and hasn’t recused himself from the investigation of (falsely) alleged improprieties in the FISA warrant against Carter Page.
  • He has refused to provide the House Intelligence Committee all the documents they have requested for their own investigation of the investigators (which they almost certainly would then turn over to people in the White House who might be subjects of that investigation).
  • He redacted too much information from the documents he did provide (which makes them mostly useless to Trump as he tries to obstruct the Mueller investigation).
  • He hasn’t provided an unredacted classified memo detailing the full authorization of the Mueller investigation.
  • He oversaw FISA surveillance of members of the Trump campaign (which was authorized by four Republican-appointed judges).

These actions constitute “high crimes and misdemeanors”, though the articles do not tell us exactly which laws they break.

After Speaker Ryan refused to get on board with this effort, the sponsors went to Plan B: hold Rosenstein in contempt of Congress

Actions of Congress like this are not themselves actionable in court (and shouldn’t be). But it’s plainly part of a conspiracy to obstruct justice. wrote:

Every House Republican will face a momentous choice — perhaps the vote of their careers. They will have to decide if they stand for the rule of law or if they support a cover-up to prevent the American people from knowing whether President Trump’s campaign participated in Russia’s illegal attack on our elections and our democracy.

An idea I’ve seen several times on social media recently: When you go to vote in November, remember that D stands for Democrat and R stands for Russia.

More and more, Trump supporters are preparing themselves to stand by their man, even it turns out that he lied about everything and conspired with the Russians. Rep. Darrell Issa is already saying that’s just politics:

Well, if he’s proven to have not told the whole truth about the fact that campaigns look for dirt and that if someone offers it you listen to them, nobody is going to be surprised. There are some things in politics that you just take for granted.

and the environment

There are a lot of heat waves and wildfires going on right now. And while the media is covering those events, it isn’t connecting them to the larger story of global warming. New York Magazine’s David Wallace-Wells reflects on that in “How Did the End of the World Become Old News?

In other words, it has been a month of historic, even unprecedented, climate horrors. But you may not have noticed, if you are anything but the most discriminating consumer of news. The major networks aired 127 segments on the unprecedented July heat wave, Media Matters usefully tabulated, and only one so much as mentioned climate change.

He challenges the widely held view that climate change is “a ratings killer”.

When you think about it, this would be a very strange choice for a producer or an editor concerned about boring or losing his or her audience — it would mean leaving aside the far more dramatic story of the total transformation of the planet’s climate system, and the immediate and all-encompassing threat posed by climate change to the way we live on Earth, to tell the pretty mundane story of some really hot days in the region.

Instead, Wallace-Wells believes that media outlets are self-censoring for fear of bad-faith right-wing charges of “media bias”.

Los Angeles Water and Power wants to add a backwards pumping system to Hoover Dam. That would allow it to act as a giant battery to even out the surges of wind and solar power. When it’s windy and sunny, sustainable electricity could be used to pump water back into Lake Mead. When it’s not, the dam could generate more power by releasing more water.

Like everything connected with dams, there are environmental issues to assess and work out, and somebody will have to get the pro-fossil-fuel federal government on board. But it’s an interesting proposal.

Ocean Cleanup has tested a smaller version of its design. It’s essentially a big broom to sweep up plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The first system is supposed to launch in September. Here’s how it’s supposed to work:

and you also might be interested in …

ThinkProgress reports:

Fox & Friends on Tuesday featured an interview with Daily Caller associate editor Virginia Kruta about her experience attending an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez rally in St. Louis that could have been mistaken for satire.

Democratic Socialist Occasio-Cortez went deep into Trump country (i.e., Kansas) to hold a rally that was well attended and enthusiastic. It demonstrated that while socialists may not be the majority in the rural heartland, socialist ideas still appeal to a large number of people.

Kruta went to the rally and was horrified by how non-horrifying it was.

Kruta told hosts that both Ocasio-Cortez and the Democratic candidate for whom she was stumping, Cori Bush, “talk about things that everybody wants, especially if you’re a parent — they talk about education for your kids, health care for your kids. Things that you want. … If you’re not really paying attention to how they’re going to pay for it, or the rest of that, it’s easy to fall into that trap and say, ‘my kids deserve this, and maybe the government should be responsible for helping me with that.’”

Yes, even good Christian white middle-American parents could be seduced into thinking that their kids deserve healthcare and education, or that people who work full-time should make enough to live on. That’s how insidious the Socialist Menace is.

The NYT:

Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence … ensured “complete equality of social and political rights” for “all its inhabitants” no matter their religion, race or sex.

But a new “basic law” (the Israeli equivalent of a constitutional amendment) defines Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people”. Critics see this as a move away from democracy.

Max Fisher writes:

Growing numbers see their country as facing a choice between being Jewish first or democratic first. And for many on the political right, the choice is identity first.

I’ve focused on Fisher’s response because of my resolution to treat Israel as I would any other country, rather than judging it by unique standards, either higher or lower than the ones that would apply anywhere. Fisher points out that Israel is simply facing a sharper version of a conflict that many nations (including the United States) are struggling with:

when a majority demographic group believes it could become a minority, members of that group often become less supportive of democracy, preferring a strong ruler and harsh social controls

David Frum has pointed out something similar happening here:

If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy.

I’m puzzling over why anybody would read Sean Spicer’s new book. I stopped watching his briefings because I wasn’t getting any trustworthy information from him. Similarly, if I found something interesting in his book, could I believe it?

and let’s close with something funny but not funny

Weird questions people ask gay couples.

Recipe for Failure

QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. President, you tweeted this morning that it’s U.S. foolishness, stupidity and the Mueller probe that is responsible for the decline in U.S. relations with Russia. Do you hold Russia at all accountable for anything in particular? And if so, what would you — what would you consider them — that they are responsible for?

TRUMP: Yes I do. I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we’ve all been foolish. We should’ve had this dialogue a long time ago; a long time, frankly, before I got to office. And I think we’re all to blame.

Trump-Putin press conference,
Helsinki (7-16-2018)

The Obama Administration’s strategy of unconditional engagement with America’s enemies combined with a relentless penchant for apology-making is a dangerous recipe for failure.

– “Barack Obama’s Top 10 Apologies: How the President Has Humiliated a Superpower
The Heritage Foundation (6-2-2009)

This week’s featured posts are “What changed in Helsinki” and “On Bullshifting“.

This week everybody was talking about Helsinki

The fallout from Trump’s secret conversation with Putin and the press conference the followed has dominated the week. I discussed it in “What changed in Helsinki“. The short version of that post is that theories of Trump’s subordination to Putin may have seemed far-fetched eight days ago, but they no longer do.

Here’s a development that I remember somebody predicting, but can’t pinpoint who it was: There’s a pattern in Trump’s reaction to accusations. The first stage is simple denial: “It didn’t happen.” The second is goalpost-shifting: “Technically it happened, but it wasn’t a big deal.” Then comes defiance: “I did it. So what?” [These quotation marks are demonstrative; I’m not referring to specific Trump statements.]

Some Trump followers are already at Stage 3 with respect to Russia: If he did conspire with Russia to win the election, they’re fine with it.

Post-Helsinki, never-Trump Republicans are getting more vocal. Friday Max Boot proclaimed the ultimate heresy: “How I miss Barack Obama.”

It can be depressing to think about our current predicament under a president whose loyalty to America is suspect but whose racism and xenophobia are undoubted. However, Obama’s speech [honoring the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birth] gave me a glimmer of optimism — and not only because he cited Mandela’s “example of persistence and of hope.” He reminds me that just 18 months ago — can you believe it was so recently? — we had a president with whom I could disagree without ever doubting his fitness to lead.

and a Russian spy’s relationship with the NRA

It was reported back in January that the FBI was investigating whether money from Putin ally Alexander Torshin had been funneled through the National Rifle Association to be spent promoting Donald Trump’s campaign for president. Torshin is a member of Russia’s parliament and a deputy governor of the Russian central bank. The NRA spent $30 million on Trump in 2016, three times what it spent on Mitt Romney in 2012. If any of that money came from Torshin (or worse, from the Russian central bank), that would be illegal. Torshin has been under sanction by the Treasury Department since April.

Sunday, Russian national Maria Butina was arrested in the District of Columbia for acting as an unregistered agent of the Russian Federation, working for Torshin. The Justice Department announced the arrest Monday, shortly after the Trump/Putin summit in Helsinki.

So far, it’s hard to tell how important this is. Butina certainly met a lot of important people in Republican politics (in both the NRA and in religious-right circles, which overlap to a bizarre degree). The FBI affidavit that supports the indictment describes a plan to connect those people to influential people in the Putin government. But it’s hard to tell how insidious this was. The charge is that she did not register as a foreign agent. So if somebody who had registered as a lobbyist for Russia had done the same thing, would that have been illegal? Did the Americans who helped her do anything illegal? Not clear yet. We’ll have to see where this goes.

and a FISA warrant application

Remember the Nunes memo? Devin Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, wrote the memo to make the case that there was something wrong with the FISA warrants that collected the intelligence that got the Trump/Russia investigation started. Supposedly this blew the whistle on the whole anti-Trump conspiracy inside the Deep State, and meant that the entire Mueller investigation was invalid, because it was what lawyers call “fruit of the poison tree”.

As I and a lot of other people pointed out at the time, once the memo got declassified and released, it obviously didn’t live up to what Republicans had been saying about it. (Sean Hannity claimed it showed “the entire basis for the Russia investigation was based on lies that were bought and paid for by Hillary Clinton and her campaign.”)

The Nunes memo itself had a lot of internal inconsistencies, and obvious gaps between its claims and its evidence. But still, a big chunk of the controversy between it and a competing Democratic memo boiled down to a he-said/she-said: Both relied on a classified source, the applications for the FISA warrants, and they made conflicting claims about those applications that the general public couldn’t check.

Well, now we can. A heavily redacted version of the FISA applications has been released under a Freedom of Information Act request. And guess what? The Nunes memo was complete crap, often making totally false claims about what FISA applications contain. A tweetstorm by Pwn All the Things goes through it in detail, picking out Nunes statements about the documents that are directly contradicted by the documents themselves.

It’s honestly kind of amazing that *every single one* of the assertions about inadequacies about the FISA application by Nunes are just directly refuted by the FISA application. Utterly dishonest in its entirety.

Lawfare’s David Kris is less polemic (and seems to have gone through the new documents in less detail), but notes that now “the Nunes memo looks even worse” than he originally judged it to be. And he points out that the four different judges who approved the warrants were all Republican appointees: one by Reagan, on by Bush the First and two by Bush the Second.

On the flip side, it’s fascinating to watch the contortions conservative Byron York has to go through to claim that the Nunes memo is “almost entirely accurate“. He takes a tree-level view, going paragraph by paragraph, and ignores the forest. The overall purpose of the memo, to prove that there was something unsavory about surveilling Carter Page, and that the Mueller probe has consequently been delegitimized, has been discredited. York makes no attempt to claim otherwise.

and you also might be interested in …

Hate to say “I told you so“, but North Korean denuclearization turns out to be harder than Trump thought.

At some point a manipulative ploy is just too obvious. Trump is catching flak for kowtowing to a foreign leader, so what does he want to talk about? Unpatriotic black athletes. California Democrat Eric Swalwell decided not to put up with it.

This should be a standard response whenever Trump goes after the NFL players in the future: Colin Kaepernick doesn’t need a lesson in patriotism from Putin’s poodle.

The EPA is proposing major changes to the Endangered Species Act. After declaring victory in the War on Poverty last week, I guess we’re also going to declare that we’ve saved all the endangered species now.

In addition to what you see on TV, The Daily Show web site posts additional clips, like extended versions of interviews and so on. I found this one particularly insightful. On Monday’s show, host Trevor Noah had joked about how black people around the world considered France’s victory in the World Cup to be an African victory, because so much of the French team has African roots.

Wednesday, he read and responded to the letter he got from the French ambassador, who called him out for questioning the Frenchness of the black players, as French nativists do. Trevor’s response is brilliant, I think, and points out how much of what gets interpreted as a double-standard on race (i.e., why black rappers can say “nigger” and I can’t) aren’t double standards at all. French nativists, Noah says, are putting a wall between themselves and French blacks: “I’m really French and you’re not.” Noah, on the other hand, is claiming what he shares with them: “I’m African and so are you.” Noah is allowing the soccer players to be both French and African; nativists and the French ambassador are insisting it’s one or the other.

Mansplaining explained in a flow chart:

I will quibble at one point: Some people are just know-it-alls, and unnecessarily explain stuff to everybody who doesn’t tell them to shut up. Apparent mansplaining may just be a symptom of this larger dysfunction.

Former Politico editor Garrett Graff speculates that the Russians will switch sides in this year’s midterms and help the Democrats this time. As much as I might wish Republicans would believe this (and start protecting America’s democratic infrastructure for their own good), I don’t buy it.

Since its founding, Politico has been the home of false-equivalence both-sides-do-it journalism, in which the two parties are nothing more than teams with different-colored jerseys. Politico sees no essential difference between Republicans and Democrats, so Graff supposes that Russia doesn’t either. The Russians’ real goal, in Graff’s view, is “Weakening the West, and exploiting the seams and divisions of the West’s open democracies to undermine our legitimacy and moral standing.” Throwing one or both houses of Congress to the Democrats will create two years of strife and gridlock, so Russia should be all for it.

But Graff’s analysis ignores something important: Putin has a brand. Internationally, his message is that a nation has to defend its essential and traditional identity against globalist homogenization, and that (in an age of mass migration, racial mixing, and transnational media) neither democracy nor capitalism can do that. So in one country after another, he allies with racist, nationalist, traditionalist, and autocratic forces: the anti-immigrant pro-Brexit side in Britain, the National Front in France, AfD in Germany, 5 Star in Italy, Orban in Hungary. Within Russia, his brand is not just pro-ethnic-Russian, but also pro-Russian-Orthodox-Christianity; he is the restorer of traditional Russian moral values, like homophobia.

Whether Putin believes this stuff himself or not isn’t clear. But as a well-trained KGB man, he understands the power of ideology. He’s not going to blur his brand by helping Democrats.

“Vladimir Putin’s goal,” Graff writes, “isn’t—and never was—to help the Republican Party, at least in the long run.” In the most literal sense, that’s probably true: Putin is rooting for himself, and not for any particular American team.

But the two major American parties are not just teams. One of them has a brand that is entirely congruent with Putin’s. It is pro-white, nationalist, and xenophobic. It promotes traditional Christian rules and prejudices. It stands foursquare against democracy, regarding recent immigrants as unworthy of citizenship and embracing voter suppression, gerrymandering, and unlimited campaign spending in order to delay indefinitely the day when the white Christian minority loses its dominance.

That’s the GOP. It’s Putin’s party for a reason.

and let’s close with something amazing

We need a break from seriousness. Here’s Dude Perfect doing incredible things with ping-pong balls. They don’t say how many attempts they needed to get these tricks right, but I don’t care.

Those Left Out

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

Ian Millhiser

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

This week everybody was talking about Brett Kavanaugh

who I discussed in one of the featured posts.

and the new indictment from the Mueller investigation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and Trump in Europe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and families still separated

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

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

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

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

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

and Peter Strzok

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and Jim Jordan

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

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

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

and you also might be interested in …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and let’s close with some vicarious satisfaction

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