Category Archives: Weekly summaries

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


Each wave was broken, but, like the sea, wore away ever so little of the granite on which it failed. … One such wave (and not the least) I raised and rolled before the breath of an idea, till it reached its crest, and toppled over and fell at Damascus. The wash of that wave, thrown back by the resistance of vested things, will provide the matter of the following wave, when in the fullness of time the sea shall be raised once more.

T. E. Lawrence, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom

This week’s featured posts are “The Conor Lamb Victory: lessons for Democrats” and “Who Are Those Guys?” which covers some of the new faces in major Trump administration positions: Larry Kudlow, Mike Pompeo, and Gina Haspel.

This week everybody was talking about a Democratic victory

Most of what I have to say is covered in the featured post. But there is one more thing:

Hoping to get some election insight that wasn’t showing up yet on the networks, Tuesday afternoon I perused #pa18 on Twitter. I didn’t find any secret exit polls or deep inside knowledge of what was happening, but I did notice something interesting. Republican tweets were full of warnings about a Democratic dirty trick: People at the polls would try to tell Republicans (specifically Republicans) that they couldn’t vote because of the reorganization of Pennsylvania’s congressional districts. The redistricting doesn’t apply until November, the tweets said, so you should insist on voting and call this number to report whoever had tried to stop you.

None of the tweets I saw noted a particular precinct where this had happened or named a person it had happened to. As best I could tell, it was a pure fantasy.

I saw no comparable Democratic tweets, even though a Republican-dominated district would seem to offer far more opportunities for Republican dirty tricks. Pro-Lamb tweets had more of a cheerleading aspect: We can do this, we’re going to make history, and so on. The closest thing I saw to the Republican tweets were the ones urging you to stay in line to vote, because they can’t close the polls while you’re still waiting.

You can draw your own conclusions, but here’s mine: Republicanism these days is all about resentment, so the way you get out the Republican vote is to tell them that somebody is trying to cheat them. Never mind that the actual dirty tricks are overwhelmingly on their side: They’re the ones demanding new forms of ID and organizing “ballot security” groups to harass legitimate voters. The present-day conservative movement has evolved away from all its old principled stances: small government, balanced budgets, free markets, and spreading democracy abroad. All that’s left is feeling cheated and wanting to strike back at somebody.

and Trump’s cabinet shake-up

I discuss this in “Who Are Those Guys?

and the student protests against gun violence

The Wall Street Journal says that a million students participated in about 3000 protests Wednesday morning.

In D.C., thousands observed 17 minutes of silence as they sat with their backs to the White House. I love this photo of that moment: The girl is central and in focus, the White House small and a little blurry.

If you haven’t already, you should listen to what the students have to say. Look at this video and this one. Or this clip from MSNBC’s Last Word.

Do I believe this set of protests will break the power of the NRA and bring sensible gun laws to the United States? No, probably not. But I offer these kids the Lawrence of Arabia quote at the top of the page, to read and remember at those moments when it seems like nothing (or only a pitiful portion of what they imagined) has been accomplished, and they are tempted to ask themselves “What was that all about?” They have already worn away a chunk of the rock, and this is not the last time this particular sea will rise.

Conservatives will tell you that liberals make everything about race or gender. It turns out there’s a reason for that: if you dig deeply enough, everything is about race or gender.

Scientific American reviews the research about the increasing number of guns in America: Since the start of the Obama administration, the number of guns manufactured in the U.S. has tripled and gun imports have doubled. But it’s not that more and more people are buying guns — around 42% of households own a gun, a number that’s held steady for decades. It’s that a small number of people are stockpiling more and more guns: 3% of the population now owns half of them.

So who are these people? White men, mostly. But not all white men.

According to a growing number of scientific studies, the kind of man who stockpiles weapons or applies for a concealed-carry license meets a very specific profile.

These are men who are anxious about their ability to protect their families, insecure about their place in the job market, and beset by racial fears. They tend to be less educated. For the most part, they don’t appear to be religious—and, suggests one study, faith seems to reduce their attachment to guns. In fact, stockpiling guns seems to be a symptom of a much deeper crisis in meaning and purpose in their lives. Taken together, these studies describe a population that is struggling to find a new story—one in which they are once again the heroes.

What’s interesting about these results is that they flip one of the common NRA scripts about mass killings: The problem isn’t guns, it’s moral decay. It’s mental illness, it’s boys without fathers, it’s video games that dehumanize victims, it’s a punishment for taking God out of the classroom, and so on. None of that pans out in the research. But the research Scientific American is citing finds a moral link that doesn’t excuse guns as a cause, but goes through guns. Loss of meaning and purpose in life causes people to turn to guns. The Gun is the new God.

and the continuing effort to obstruct justice

The Republican effort to keep the public from knowing what happened in 2016 revved to a higher level this week. The House Intelligence Committee is ready to submit its Sgt.-Schultz-like report on Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Jeff Sessions sent a warning to all the FBI agents investigating the Trump administration by firing Andrew McCabe just 26 hours before his retirement, possibly screwing up his pension. Trump’s lawyer called for the end of the Mueller investigation. And Trump himself tweeted attacks on McCabe and Mueller, as well as James Comey.

Undoubtedly, the House report will be approved on an party-line vote, as it has been a very partisan investigation from the beginning. The Democrats on the committee not only played no role in writing the report, they didn’t even see it until Tuesday.

According to the one-page summary now available (the full report has to go through a declassification review before it can be released), the report will dispute the universal conclusion of the U.S. intelligence services of “Putin’s supposed preference for candidate Trump”. Also

We have found no evidence of collusion, coordination, or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

No doubt that statement is literally true, because the committee’s Republican majority didn’t look for such evidence and didn’t want to see it in the evidence they found.

For months it’s been clear that the committee was not running a serious investigation. Repeatedly, White House and Trump campaign officials would go to the committee, answer the questions they wanted to answer, and give no valid grounds for refusing to answer all other questions. Since a majority vote was necessary to subpoena those who wouldn’t testify voluntarily, or to cite for contempt witnesses who refused to answer valid questions, the committee mostly has assembled the information that Trump wanted it to have.

The committee used its power to harass and intimidate Trump critics, rather than to investigate their claims.  For example, it subpoenaed the bank records of the firm that funded the Steele dossier, but not records that would shed light on credible accusations that the Trump Organization engaged in money laundering for Russian oligarchs.

Again and again, it has staged elaborate sideshows to distract the public from the questions it should have been trying to answer. This report is yet another distraction. I agree with The Washington Post’s editorial conclusion:

History will not judge kindly these legislators who abased themselves and their institution.

The justification for McCabe’s firing is a report by the Justice Department Inspector General that still hasn’t been released, so there’s no way to know how solid it is. Maybe McCabe actually deserved to be fired, or maybe the Justice Department caved to political pressure to strike back at someone Trump blames for his legal troubles.

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz found that McCabe inappropriately allowed two top officials to speak to reporters in 2016 about his decision to open a case into the Clinton Foundation. This incident was under investigation as part of a broader look into how the FBI and Justice Department handled themselves during the most recent presidential election.

According to reports about the watchdog’s conclusion, which is still under wraps, McCabe apparently misled investigators during an interview with the inspector general, a charge McCabe denies.

McCabe himself sees another rationale:

The big picture is a tale of what can happen when law enforcement is politicized, public servants are attacked, and people who are supposed to cherish and protect our institutions become instruments for damaging those institutions and people.

Here is the reality: I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey. The release of this report was accelerated only after my testimony to the House Intelligence Committee revealed that I would corroborate former Director Comey’s accounts of his discussions with the President. … This attack on my credibility is one part of a larger effort not just to slander me personally, but to taint the FBI, law enforcement, and intelligence professionals more generally. It is part of this Administration’s ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the Special Counsel investigation, which continue to this day.

As if to corroborate McCabe, Trump began tweeting against McCabe’s firing, James Comey, and the Mueller investigation, supporting McCabe’s contention that these are all connected in his mind.

but keep your eye on Russia

The poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal, now a citizen of the United Kingdom is an important story to watch play out.

The key fact, to me, is that Russia is not even trying to get away with it. The chemical agent used in the attack was easily traceable back to Russia; they might as well have left a signed note. The point seems to be to make a statement, like certain mob killings, where it wasn’t enough to get some guy out of the picture, he had to die in a hail of bullets that would leave no doubt who was behind it.

The UK has thrown out some Russian diplomats in retaliation, and Russia has thrown out some UK diplomats. If it ends there, Putin has won. Vox’ Zeeshann Aleem notes that the UK has a much stronger weapon: It could freeze the London-based assets of Russian oligarchs with ties to Putin. But will it, given how much this Russian money means to London bankers and the UK economy in general? This follows the script of the old KGB kompromat: entangling a victim in schemes that make it hard for him to resist further schemes.

The US has signed onto a joint statement with France and Germany backing up the UK, but again, it’s not clear how far we’re willing to go. Putin may well come out of this feeling as if he won: The Western democracies made some noise, but in the end they did nothing  of consequence.

To no one’s surprise, Vladimir Putin won a landslide re-election.

and you also might be interested in …

Far from “draining the swamp”, Trump’s new tariff policies are a bonanza for lobbyists.

“The dinner bell is ringing for the trade bar and associated lobbyists and consultants,” said Chip Roh, a former partner at Weil, Gotshal & Manges. Lawyers and lobbyists are employed on both sides, arguing for and against exemptions, he said, adding, “It creates a fertile field.”

The erosion of local news coverage continues: The Denver Post is laying off another 30 journalists.

The newsroom would be below 70 positions: a startling drop from a time not much more than a decade ago when the Post and its rival, the Rocky Mountain News, together had more than 600 journalists. (The papers were in a joint operating agreement until the Rocky went out of business in 2009.)

Top editor Lee Ann Colacioppo comments on the impact of that loss: “It’s been a long time since we sat through every City Council meeting.”

What we’re seeing here is the growing “efficiency” of capitalism. Local newspapers used to be privately owned enterprises that, in the course of their normal function, provided cities with a public good: oversight. Public institutions knew that if they became too brazenly corrupt, someone would notice and make an issue of it. But it is inefficient to provide benefits that you don’t get paid for. The more efficient a business becomes, the closer it comes to capturing all the benefits it generates. The public good? Who’s paying for that?

and let’s close with something with a public service announcement

What better way to teach responsible alcohol consumption than to watch someone go slightly over the line? Shannon Odell is a Ph.D. candidate in neuroscience at Cornell Medical College, and is also seriously cute and adorable — which shouldn’t matter, but does. She explains the physiological effects of alcohol on your brain and nervous system while drinking shots.

We Are all Nixonians Now

It’s like Nixon going to China, but if Nixon were a moron.

– Jeffrey Lewis “Nixon Goes to McDonaldland
Foreign Policy 3-9-2018

There is no featured post this week. Just covering what happened in the last seven days was already overwhelming enough, without trying to go deeply into any particular story.

For those who don’t get the reference in the title: Nixon is supposed to have justified his economic policy by saying: “We are all Keynesians now.” The phrase was actually written earlier by Milton Friedman, who appears to have been making a tongue-in-cheek reference to a turn-of-the-century British politician who said, “We are all socialists now.”

This week everybody was talking about Trump meeting Kim Jong Un

By now we should be getting used to this pattern: Trump makes some bold statement that his staff knows nothing about until they hear it, and then there’s a long back-and-forth about what it means, or if it means anything. Just in the last few months, this pattern has played out with varying results on immigration, on guns, and on tariffs. During the campaign, he did the same thing with universal health care. (“The government’s going to pay for it,” he said. That turned out to mean nothing.)

This week it happened on North Korea. Thursday, South Korean national security adviser Chung Eui-yong came to the White House to talk to lower-level officials and didn’t expect to see Trump until Friday, when he would deliver the message that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wanted a face-to-face meeting. But Trump had Chung shown in to the Oval Office, and cut him off before he was done making his pitch, saying “Tell them I’ll do it.” Chung then met the press on the White House driveway and announced

I told President Trump that, in our meeting, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said he is committed to denuclearization. Kim pledged that North Korea will refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests. He understands that the routine joint military exercises between the Republic of Korea and the United States must continue. And he expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible. President Trump appreciated the briefing and said he would meet Kim Jong-un by May to achieve permanent denuclearization. [my emphasis]

Just that morning, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had been pessimistic about North Korean talks:

I don’t know yet, until we are able to meet ourselves face to face with representatives of North Korea, whether the conditions are right to even begin thinking about negotiations.

So just a few hours later, the whole foreign policy establishment — both outside and inside the administration — was trying to figure out what Trump had agreed to. It’s not clear Trump himself knows.

“The thing that’s striking here is that there is no letter from Kim. This was an oral message conveyed by North Koreans to the South Koreans,” said Eric Edelman, who served as undersecretary of defense for policy in the George W. Bush administration.

“What they actually said, what they heard him say, and then what they transmitted to Trump could be two or three different things, and it’s not like we haven’t had that in the past,” Edelman added. “There can be elements of wishful thinking here and so I think people really need to be approaching this with a great deal of caution.”

Friday, official sources gave a range of interpretations. In the afternoon, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made the meeting sound much more iffy:

The president will not have the meeting without seeing concrete steps and concrete actions take place by North Korea.

If that’s the case, then nothing has changed: Obama also demanded concrete actions, and he didn’t get them, so there were no talks. If North Korea actually takes concrete action, or the U.S. stops demanding it as a precondition, then that would actually be news. Trump himself was all over the place at a rally in Pennsylvania Saturday night.

Who knows what’s going to happen? It could happen, it doesn’t happen. I may leave fast, or we may sit down and make the greatest deal for the world and for all of these countries, including, frankly, North Korea, and that’s what I hope happens.

My interpretation is that the recent series of North Korean missile tests is now complete: They’ve tested (and demonstrated to the world) all the new developments that seem likely to work any time soon. So there was going to be a pause anyway, while the R&D comes up with new things to test. If that’s true, North Korea has nothing lose by announcing a suspension of tests and pretending it’s a concession.

I’m skeptical that a Trump/Kim meeting would accomplish anything, but I’m also not reflexively against it.

A point of view President Obama ran into whenever his administration negotiated with Iran was that you can’t negotiate with evil regimes. Back in 2014, I responded to this by quoting an exchange from Game of Thrones:

NED STARK: Make peace with the Lannisters, you say? With the people who tried to murder my boy?
PETYR BAELISH: We only make peace with our enemies, my lord. That’s why it’s called “making peace”.

Littlefinger was a slimeball, but in this instance his principle applies: If there’s some agreement to be made that will lower the threat of nuclear war in the Far East, the Trump administration should definitely work on it, and shouldn’t demand that North Korea become Denmark first.

Another objection you often hear is that a meeting with a U.S. president in itself is something of value that we should hold back until we get something of value in return. (That seems to be what Sanders was saying. The Jeffrey Lewis article I quoted at the top agrees: “THE MEETING IS THE CONCESSION.”)

I suppose if other countries are willing to play that game, we’d be stupid not to. (If a president can get something just for showing up, there’s no sense in refusing those concessions.) But in general I don’t like the idea, because it styles the American president as Emperor of the World — other world leaders are really his subordinates, and should feel honored by his presence. I don’t think that’s a promising approach to negotiations.

So why am I skeptical? As we saw with the Obama administration and Iran, a de-nuclearization agreement is complicated. We need some way to verify that they’ve really disarmed. If we agree to end our economic sanctions in return, they’ll need some reason to believe that we won’t reimpose them as soon as they’ve gutted their nuclear program. They’ll also need some reason to believe that we won’t attack them as soon as their mutual-destruction threat is gone. Maybe the only way to establish trust is for an agreement to be divided into phases: We do this, they do that, and then later we both take the next steps. How do you arrange the phases so that each step is more-or-less equal, so that neither side is motivated to get to Step 3 and then bail?

In short, a real agreement with North Korea would have to be full of technical details. What kind of inspections need to be made? Do we do them ourselves, or does somebody else (like the UN) do them? Where is the line between acceptable civilian use of nuclear power or rockets, and unacceptable military use? What protocols are needed to assure the Koreans that our inspectors aren’t spying on a lot of other things while they’re there? And so on.

Now ask yourself: Is Donald Trump going to negotiate all that a few months from now? (I suspect he wouldn’t have the patience to hear a briefing about what all those issues are, much less understand them as well as a negotiator needs to.) Is there any agreement he and Kim could make that couldn’t be undone later in the details? (Example: Kim agrees to give up nuclear weapons in general, but his technical people insist on loopholes in the verification protocols.) That’s why negotiations happen the way they do: Lower-level people work out technical details, and when they think they’ve got something, they call in the big bosses to finalize the agreement.

I don’t believe Trump understands any of that. What he knows how to do is put on a show. That’s why the meeting he agreed to, if it happens at all, will just be a big show.

and tariffs

This week I’m wondering what Trump’s announcement about North Korea really means. Last week I was wondering the same thing about his announcement of tariffs, which equally shocked the people who thought they were working on this issue for him. (Chief economic adviser Gary Cohn resigned as a result.)

Thursday the steel and aluminum tariffs were officially announced in separate proclamations whose wording is almost identical. They claim that steel and aluminum imports are a national security issue, which I haven’t heard from anybody else. Apparently the point of this finding is to match the wording of Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which

authorizes the President to adjust the imports of an article and its derivatives that are being imported into the United States in such quantities or under such circumstances as to threaten to impair the national security.

Starting March 23, steel imports face an increased tariff of 25%, and aluminum imports 10%. Imports from Canada and Mexico are exempted. If some steel consumer in the United States complains that an equivalent product isn’t produced in the U.S., an exemption can be granted for that product.

Trump’s usual rhetoric on trade is that specific other countries (especially China) are cheating in some way, and so tariffs might be necessary to even the playing field. But by targeting everybody but Canada and Mexico (and implying that he wants some concessions out of them too as part of a NAFTA renegotiation), he seems to be saying that the U.S. steel and aluminum industries aren’t competitive with anybody, so they need broad-based protection. (China supplies only 2% of our steel, due to a targeted tariff imposed by the Obama administration.)

The proclamations invite U.S. allies to

discuss with the United States alternative ways to address the threatened impairment of the national security caused by imports from that country. Should the United States and any such country arrive at a satisfactory alternative means to address the threat to the national security such that I determine that imports from that country no longer threaten to impair the national security, I may remove or modify the restriction on steel [or aluminum] articles imports from that country and, if necessary, make any corresponding adjustments to the tariff as it applies to other countries as our national security interests require.

No one seems to know what that means. Politico reports:

The result is that even some of the U.S.’s closest trading partners are bewildered about where the announcement leaves them. After a meeting with [U.S. Trade Representative Robert] Lighthizer over the weekend Cecilia Malmström, the European Union’s top trade official, said there was still “no immediate clarity on the exact U.S. procedure for exemption,” so the discussions will continue this week.

Any U.S. industry that exports may soon face retaliation. That includes agriculture, which is particularly vulnerable, given that “the world is awash in grain“, according to one Illinois farmer.

Three out of every five rows of soybeans planted in the United States find their way out of the country; half of those, valued at $14 billion in 2016, go to China alone. Mr. Gould estimates that 90 percent of his soybeans are exported, and 70 percent of his corn.

Farmers get hit on both sides: They also buy expensive equipment made of steel, and will probably have to pay more for it because of the tariffs.

It’s easy to play games with numbers on this issue and hard to know who to trust. ABC News quotes a study by a pro-trade group, the Trade Partnership:

The tariffs would increase U.S. iron and steel employment and non-ferrous metals (primarily aluminum) employment by 33,464 jobs, but cost 179,334 jobs throughout the rest of the economy, for a net loss of nearly 146,000 jobs.

Who knows how accurate this is, but I suspect the overall point is right: More jobs will be lost than gained. What makes the political calculation tricky, though, is that the jobs gained should be easier to identify than the jobs lost. If you’re a laid-off steel worker who gets his job back, you’ll be sure Trump’s tariffs worked for you. But if the good job you would have gotten in an exporting industry never gets created, you’ll never know.

Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress seem upset, since free trade has been a pillar of Republican orthodoxy for decades. Fareed Zakaria writes:

It is the Republican Party’s last stand against a total takeover by President Trump. Having ceded ground to Trump on personal character, immigration, entitlement reform and more, Republican leaders have chosen to draw the line at free trade. If they get rolled on this, Trump will have completed the transformation of the party.

I think the takeover is complete already; a few congresspeople will squawk about tariffs, but nothing will happen. In a tweetstorm yesterday, David Roberts laid it out: Despite the intellectual voices you will see touted as conservative in the mainstream media, the conservative movement today is not at all about principles or ideas.

It’s just a tangle of resentments & bigotries, driven by the erosion of white privilege. … Trump has swerved this way and that on immigration, taxes, healthcare, guns … and the base doesn’t care. They follow him this way, they follow him that way. It is the resentment, the aggrieved sense of persecution, that they respond to. That’s what US conservatism IS now.

and (still) guns

In Florida, the Parkland teens didn’t get what they asked for (an assault weapon ban), but they did something that seemed impossible a few weeks ago: Florida tightened some of its famously lax gun laws: The new law raised the age for buying firearms from 18 to 21 (it was already 21 for handguns), put a three-day waiting period on gun purchases, banned bump stocks (used in the Las Vegas massacre), established a process for courts to order the confiscation of guns from people who have threatened violence against others, and did a few other things.

On the more-guns side, it established a program for arming school employees, though not full-time teachers. The program requires the cooperation of local school boards, which could decide not to implement it.

The NRA is suing over the age restriction. It’s not clear to me that they have a case.

The big thing here, I believe, isn’t in the specifics of the law, it’s that it symbolizes a reduced status for the NRA. If the NRA can’t inflict revenge on the politicians who voted for something it opposed, the momentum on gun laws might be changing.

In The Atlantic, Garrett Epps gives an interpretation of the Second Amendment not far from what I stated last week.

Anyone who claims that the text of the amendment is “plain” has a heavy burden to carry. The burden is even heavier if an advocate argues that the Second Amendment was understood to upend laws against concealed carry or dangerous weapons—both of which were in force in many parts of the country long after it was adopted.

So it may be that the amendment’s text supports something like where we are now: Dick Heller, a law-abiding citizen, can own a handgun in his home for self-protection. The text and context, however, don’t point us to an unlimited individual right to bear any kind and number of weapons by anyone, whether a minor or a felon or domestic abuser.

In “More guns do not stop more crimes, evidence shows” Scientific American looked at public-health studies on the results of having a gun in your house: It’s a health hazard. A gun in the home makes you more likely to be killed in an argument with a family member or close acquaintance, more likely to commit suicide, more likely to be shot by accident, and so on. The event people think about when they buy a gun — protection against a home invasion — is much rarer, so even if that works out, the risks don’t balance. (I talked about the NRA’s immature attitude toward risk in 2015 in “Guns are security blankets, not insurance policies“.)

The belief that more guns lead to fewer crimes is founded on the idea that guns are dangerous when bad guys have them, so we should get more guns into the hands of good guys. Yet Cook, the Duke economist, says this good guy/bad guy dichotomy is a false and dangerous one. Even upstanding American citizens are only human—they can “lose their temper, or exercise poor judgment, or misinterpret a situation, or have a few drinks,” he explains, and if they’re carrying guns when they do, bad things can ensue. In 2013 in Ionia, Mich., a road rage incident led two drivers—both concealed carry permit holders—to get out of their cars, take out their guns and kill each other.

As I drove from Scottsboro to Atlanta to catch my flight home, I kept turning over what I had seen and learned. Although we do not yet know exactly how guns affect us, the notion that more guns lead to less crime is almost certainly incorrect. The research on guns is not uniform, and we could certainly use more of it. But when all but a few studies point in the same direction, we can feel confident that the arrow is aiming at the truth—which is, in this case, that guns do not inhibit crime and violence but instead make it worse.

Deep down, the NRA knows this. That’s why it got Congress to ban CDC and NIH from studying the public health effect of guns. You don’t shut down research unless you know the truth is against you.

and sanctuary cities

The Justice Department is suing the State of California over its non-cooperation with the federal government’s efforts to deport undocumented immigrants. Resistance to ICE deportations reached a new level two weeks ago, when Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf issued a public warning that deportation raids were coming. ICE claims that hundreds of deportable immigrants “with criminal records” may have escaped because of the mayor’s heads-up.

That sounds bad until you start hearing stories about the “criminals” ICE targets. As I mentioned a few weeks ago: Dr. Lukasz Niec, a 43-year-old Michigan physician with a green card, was picked up by ICE because of two offenses he committed as a teen-ager, one of which had been expunged from his record, but still counted against him.

Trump’s rhetoric is all about protecting the public from “bad hombres“. But ICE isn’t picking out people because they’re dangerous, it’s looking for excuses to deport as many people as it can.

and the Stormy Daniels scandal is not going away

A good summary of where we are is Michelle Goldberg’s column in Friday’s NYT. Unbelievable as it sounds, Trump having an affair with a porn star while his wife was home with a new baby ISN’T what makes this story a big deal. (Imagine reading that line about Obama while he was in office. But it’s true: We all already know that Trump is the kind of slimeball who would do something like that.) It’s the $130,000 pay-off, the unlikely story his lawyer tells about it, and that it supports the most controversial part of the Steele dossier: Trump can be blackmailed by people who know about his sexual exploits.

When I wrote “Trump’s Evangelical toadies are destroying the Christian brand” back in January, mega-church pastor Robert Jeffress hadn’t yet weighed in on Trump’s Stormy extra-marital affair, or the legally suspicious payoff to keep her quiet before the election. (Maybe he was still tired from his defense of Trump’s “shithole countries” comment.) But Thursday, he appeared on Fox News to spend down more of Christianity’s capital shoring up the defenses of his morally bankrupt president.

Evangelicals still believe in the commandment: Thou shalt not have sex with a porn star. However, whether this president violated that commandment or not is totally irrelevant to our support of him. … Evangelicals understand the concept of sin and forgiveness. Look, we are all sinners. We all need forgiveness. That forgiveness is available through Christ for anyone who asks. And whether the President needs that forgiveness for this particular allegation, whether he’s asked for it, is between him, his family, and his God.

[I have to pass on Steve Benen’s comment: “Let’s pause to note that anytime a prominent Christian evangelist begins an argument by saying, ‘Evangelicals still believe in the commandment: Thou shalt not have sex with a porn star. However…’ the sentence probably won’t end well.”]

Jeffress was basically echoing the anything-goes interpretation of forgiveness that Jerry Falwell Jr. gave in January when the Daniels scandal broke:

Our whole faith is based around the idea that we’re all equally bad, we’re all sinners.

[Benen again: “Many Christian conservatives appear to have discovered the virtues of moral relativism.”] I would guess that neither of these preachers has ever offered this vision of forgiveness to their congregations: “Do whatever you want, show no indication of remorse, and none of us will ever condemn your sin, because we will all just assume that you’re forgiven and everyone else is just as bad. In fact, we will support you in continuing to hold positions that require high moral character.”

This interpretation of Christianity isn’t meant for you and me. It’s a special gospel for the Powerful, and in particular, for powerful men who are allies of Evangelical leaders. It’s a complete reversal of the Bible’s prophetic tradition.

In addition to its integrity, support for Trump is costing the Evangelical movement the tangible progress it had made in the last few decades towards racial integration. Evangelical congregations have never been a fully representative sample of American diversity. (No major American denomination is.) But to their credit, many of them had managed to become less racially segregated than liberal churches that have made a bigger deal out of fighting racism.

The NYT describes a “quiet exodus” of blacks from majority-white Evangelical churches since the election. The stories are all different, but there’s a clear theme: The black Evangelicals had tried to ignore their church’s lack of interest in racial issues (“her fellow congregants did not seem to even know the name Trayvon Martin”), but they were shocked that Trump’s open racism wasn’t a deal-breaker for their brothers and sisters in Christ. Instead, they were told both from the pulpit and by their fellow parishioners that voting for Trump was the Christian thing to do.

Another NYT article describes another erosion: White Evangelical women are staying in their churches, but starting to have doubts about Trump.

but I’m still thinking about the Democrats’ possible strategies

Tomorrow there will be a special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district, which is just south of Pittsburgh, in the corner of the state that makes a right angle with Ohio and West Virginia. It had been represented by Republican Tim Murphy, an anti-abortion Republican who resigned in October after it came out that he (1) had an extra-marital affair, (2) got his mistress pregnant, and (3) urged her to get an abortion.

It’s a solidly Republican district. Murphy ran unopposed in 2016, and Trump beat Clinton there by 19%. A poll in January had Republican Rick Saccone ahead of Democrat Conor Lamb by 12%. But the race has tightened. Two polls have been done this month, and each has a different candidate up by 3%.

Lamb is 33 years old, a lawyer, and a former Captain in the Marines. He’s not making a big deal out of being a Democrat or opposing Trump. The big print on the home page of his web site says:

That biggest issues facing the 18th Congressional District aren’t partisan. Heroin kills both Republicans and Democrats. Health care is too expensive. The roads and bridges we all use are crumbling. But the people we send to Washington aren’t solving these problems.

He’s not big on gun control, supports Trump’s tariffs, and doesn’t support either a $15 minimum wage or Nancy Pelosi for Speaker.

Tomorrow, we’ll see if that works.

Trump held a rally in the 18th Saturday night. It was supposed to be for Saccone, but like all Trump speeches, it was really about himself, his accomplishments, and his endless struggles against his enemies. One of his claims was that he got 52% of women’s vote; actually he got 52% of white women’s votes. Apparently, women of color don’t count.

In yesterday’s NYT, four political science researchers compare two groups of 2012 Obama voters who didn’t vote for Clinton in 2016: those who voted for Trump and those who didn’t vote. Both groups are sizeable: 6 million Obama/Trump voters and 4.4 million Obama/Nobody voters. Pundits have done a lot of hand-wringing about how to appeal to the O/T voters; that’s what all those interview with middle-aged white working-class men are about.

But the researchers see the O/N people, who are younger and nearly evenly split between white and non-white, as a more promising target to win back: The O/T voters don’t identify as Democrats and are more conservative than Clinton voters on racial and social issues that the party would have a hard time compromising on.

In stark contrast, Obama-to-nonvoters share the progressive policy priorities of Democrats, and they strongly identify with the Democratic Party.

The O/T voters didn’t just turn against Clinton, they didn’t support down-ballot Democrats either. But surveys indicate that the O/N people would have supported down-ballot Democrats, if they could have been motivated to vote.

In the journal Democracy, Laura Putnam and Theda Skocpol point to a different group as the energy-center of the resistance to Trump: middle-aged, college-educated suburban women.

For those wondering who is going to rebuild the foundations of U.S. democracy— assuming the national guardrails survive—the answer across much of the U.S. heartland seems clear. The foundation rebuilders in many communities across most states are newly mobilized and interconnected grassroots groups, led for the most part by Middle America’s mothers and grandmothers. They see the work to be done and are well into accomplishing it.

If you do want to reach out to white working-class Trump voters, read “Can the Democratic Party be White Working Class Too?” in The American Prospect. It looks at the success of Democrats like Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana.

Some of the themes here resonate with the ones I outlined a few weeks ago in the context of Alaska, especially “run everywhere”, “think locally”, and “don’t settle for the people who want to run, find the people who ought to run”.

Bullock tells young people interested in politics to make a life in something else first. It will make them authentic and connect them with voters, rather than with issues, political insiders, and the process of governing.

I would change your major out of political science or law. Get a practical trade, study science or math. Go out and try to change the world in the private sector. Start a business and lose it. Start a family. … Do not learn how to run this country by working for people who already do.

Montana Democratic Party executive Nancy Keenan says:

A lot of the people who run as Democrats think that if we could just get into the depths and detail of the policy and make people understand it, then we’ll get elected. Oh, hell no! The detail doesn’t matter, people! What’s the first rule of politics? Show up. Everywhere. The second rule is: Show up where they didn’t want or ask you to come. I used to show up at the stock growers’ convention or the Chamber of Commerce conventions, and they’d all ask, “What the hell is she doing here?” And I’d tell everyone how terrific it was to be with them.

The article concludes:

Integrating Montana’s template into Democratic success will entail integrating Montana’s constituents—white, working-class, often rural voters who, despite their cultural differences, face many of the same frustrations with debt, health care, and labor as other working-class people in the Democratic coalition.

And that sounds a lot like Lamb’s message.

and you also might be interested in …

I’m barely touching the week’s craziest story, because despite all the noise about it, it seemed to have no serious consequences: Monday, Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg was on literally ALL the TV news networks, claiming that he was going to defy a subpoena to appear before Robert Mueller’s grand jury. He seemed not to believe that Mueller would arrest him if he did that, though the lawyers on the talk shows eventually seemed to get through to him. Friday, he appeared on schedule and testified.

For years, Sam Brownback’s Kansas has been the prime example of how tax cuts can drive a state into a fiscal crisis. The NYT’s David Leonhardt says:

Now Kansas seems to have a rival for the title of the state that’s caused the most self-inflicted damage through tax cuts: Louisiana. … Louisiana’s former governor, Bobby Jindal, deserves much of the blame. A Republican wunderkind when elected at age 36 in 2008, he cut income taxes and roughly doubled the size of corporate tax breaks. By the end of his two terms, businesses were able to use those breaks to avoid paying about 80 percent of the taxes they would have owed under the official corporate rate.

At first, Jindal spun a tale about how the tax cuts would lead to an economic boom — but they didn’t, just as they didn’t in Kansas. Instead, Louisiana’s state revenue plunged.

Leonhardt suggests they simply roll back Jindal’s corporate tax cuts, but that’s not even on the table. Instead, a special session of the legislature debated raising the sales tax, couldn’t find the votes to do it, and adjourned, having done nothing to close the looming $994 million shortfall. The regular session can’t raise taxes, so they’ll be looking for cuts in things like education and health care.

Trump continues to use words that have special meaning in alt-Right circles. Thursday, he paid dubious tribute to his soon-to-exit economic adviser Gary Cohn.

He’s been terrific. He may be a globalist, but I still like him. He is seriously a globalist, there’s no question. But you know what, in his own way he’s a nationalist because he loves our country.

If you don’t pay attention to racist groups, you may read through that without seeing anything wrong. But globalist is a common right-wing euphemism for Jew, which Cohn is. A fellow “globalist”, Peter Beinart, explains:

The term “globalist” is a bit like the term “thug.” It’s an epithet that is disproportionately directed at a particular minority group. Just as “thug” is often used to invoke the stereotype that African Americans are violent, “globalist” can play on the stereotype that Jews are disloyal. Used that way, it becomes a modern-day vessel for an ancient slur: that Jews—whether loyal to international Judaism or international capitalism or international communism or international Zionism—aren’t loyal to the countries in which they live.

Trump seems to grasp this connotation, so he tempers it by reassuring everyone that Cohn “loves our country” — implying that most globalists don’t. But Trump is not anti-Semitic; some of his best friends are “globalists”.

and let’s close with something otherworldly

If you think our weather has been strange lately, take a look at the swirling cloud formations on Jupiter.

Tyrant Envy

He’s now president for life. President for life. And he’s great. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll give that a shot someday.

Donald J. Trump,
responding to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s consolidation of power

This week’s featured post is “Three Misunderstandings About Guns and the Constitution“.

This week everybody was talking about chaos in the White House

It was a bad week for the Kushner household. Jared and possibly Ivanka  lost their interim top-secret clearances. Tuesday the Washington Post reported:

Officials in at least four countries [United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico] have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports on the matter.

The NYT reported that the Kushner family’s cash-strapped real estate company received massive loans after Kushner had meetings to discuss Trump-administration policy with bank executives. Everyone involved denies any wrong-doing, but Kushner (like Trump himself) has done little to insulate himself from conflicts of interest.

Mr. Kushner resigned as chief executive of Kushner Companies when he joined the White House last January, and he sold a small portion of his stake in the company to a trust controlled by his mother.

But he retained the vast majority of his interest in Kushner Companies. His real estate holdings and other investments are worth as much as $761 million, according to government ethics filings. They are likely worth much more, because that estimate has his firm’s debt subtracted from the value of his holdings. The company has done at least $7 billion of deals in the past decade.

Ivanka is also getting attention from the counter-intelligence people at the FBI, though it’s not clear why.

Hope Hicks resigned as White House Communications Director Wednesday, just a day after testifying to the House Intelligence Committee. Well, she sort of testified: She refused to answer any questions related to events after Inauguration Day, though she offered no valid grounds for refusing. The Republican-controlled committee has been letting Trump’s people get away with this kind of obstruction. Also the previous day, her deputy Josh Raffel resigned.

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster is also rumored to be on his way out the door.

Trump once again bashed his own attorney general for refusing to use the Justice Department to investigate Trump’s political enemies. Jeff Sessions referred the Nunes-memo nonsense about abusing the FISA process to the Justice Department Inspector General’s office, which is exactly where such questions belong. Trump objected because “Isn’t the I.G. an Obama guy?”. He assumes that everyone is as corrupt as he is; again and again he rejects the possibility of non-partisan government service.

and teachers with guns

The post-Parkland conversation about gun control is fading, but not nearly as fast as it usually does after a mass shooting. I’m not optimistic enough to call this a turning point, but I think it is breaking the usual false-equivalence frame for thinking about the two sides. In this case, one side wants to start limiting the availability of weapons designed to kill large numbers of people quickly, and the other side wants your kid’s teacher to bring a gun into the classroom.

I think the sheer insanity of the latter proposal is shocking large numbers of voters, even ones who aren’t sure exactly what limits they want on guns or how effective they’d be. More and more it becomes clear that this debate is no longer between anti-gun people and pro-gun people, it’s between sane people and crazy people.

The problems inherent in having multiple non-police shooters on the scene were demonstrated February 14 (the same day as the Parkland shooting) when Tony Garces disarmed a shooter at his church — and then was shot by police as he left the church carrying the shooter’s gun.

The problems inherent in expecting Ms. Frizzle to play Rambo were demonstrated Wednesday, when Dalton High School in Georgia was evacuated after a social studies teachers barricaded himself in his classroom and fired a gun.

If we arm hundreds of thousands of teachers, eventually one of them will snap and start shooting students. What’s the next step then — arm the students so that they can shoot back? I mean, otherwise they’re just sitting ducks. Isn’t that exactly the same logic that gets us to armed teachers?

Novelist Nick Harkaway’s four-year-old didn’t want to go to school for fear of a shooter. Fortunately for Harkaway, he’s British, so he could tell his son that things like that just happen in America. He feels sorry for American parents who have to come up with some other answer.

The vast majority of armed teachers will handle their responsibilities as well as can be expected, but they will face the same dilemma that gun-owning parents face in their homes: If you picture the gun being useful against an intruder, then it can’t be inside a gun safe, because you’ll need to get it out and fire it quickly. But if it’s that accessible, how do you keep it away from your children? (That’s how toddlers manage to shoot about one American each week.)

Concealed carry — the gun being on the teacher’s person at all times — is the most likely answer. But given how intimate teaching is, how concealed is that gun going to be? Do you not lean over a kid’s desk because he’ll see your shoulder holster? (Unconcealed carry is even worse. About a month ago, a third-grader fired a gun that was in the holster of a police officer working at the school. The police department statement said the officer was “unaware of the child touching his gun until the weapon was fired.” It turns out that the trigger-guard wasn’t designed for such small fingers.)

What’s more, as the NRA will tell you, concealed-carry comes with a mindset: You must constantly look out for threats (including threats to take your gun) and be prepared to deal with them, possibly with lethal force. Dan Baum described that awareness several years ago in Harper’s, contrasting Condition Yellow (constant low-level threat assessment) with Condition White (obliviousness).

Condition White may make us sheep, but it’s also where art happens. It’s where we daydream, reminisce, and hear music in our heads. Hard-core gun carriers want no part of that, and the zeal for getting everybody to carry a gun may be as much an anti–Condition White movement as anything else—resentment toward the airy-fairy elites who can enjoy the luxury of musing, sipping tea, and nibbling biscuits while the good people of the world have to work for a living and keep their guard up.

Condition White is also where the best teaching happens. You sink into a rapport with your students and let the outside world vanish for a while as you appreciate together the wonder of science or the beauty of the English language. Even if their guns stay holstered and out of sight, forcing our teachers to live constantly in Condition Yellow will have a major effect on the education our children get.

In 1999, Joel Miller explained “Why I Sold My Guns“. He trained with a gun, imagining that he could protect his family’s jewelry store in case of a burglary. Then a burglary happened, and he saw things more clearly.

If we do indeed arm 20% of our teachers, as Trump has suggested, two consequences are predictable: Teacher suicides will skyrocket, and white teachers will shoot black teens who frighten them, just as cops do.

Picture a teacher at the end of a bad day: tired, alone, feeling like a failure … and armed. Most suicides are snap decisions, not well-considered plans. (More precisely, suicides happen when a lot of vague I-should-just-kill-myself thoughts that anybody might have culminate in a snap decision.) The availability of a gun facilitates that snap decision, which is why there are over 20,000 gun-suicides in the U.S. each year. Israel lowered the suicide rate among its soldiers by discouraging them from taking their weapons home during leaves.

Elie Mystal lays out the second scenario:

We’ll be telling teachers to shoot armed terrorists breaching the school. What’s really going to happen is an unarmed black truant loitering in a hallway he’s not supposed to be in who gets shot eight times by the jumpy choir director.

and trade

Thursday, Trump announced that he would announce something: Tariffs on imported steel and aluminum are supposed to be announced next week.

Markets reacted around the world (and were still reacting this morning) but who knows whether these tariffs will actually materialize? Trump says a lot of things, like that he’ll back gun control measures or support whatever immigration bill Congress passes. Sometimes his statements mean something and sometimes they don’t.

It’s worth picturing how any previous administration would roll out such a policy: Across the government, implementation memos would be ready to distribute to the people who need to assess and collect the tariffs. Simultaneously, either Treasury or Commerce would publish a white paper explaining the logic of the move, pointing to the legal authority behind it, and predicting what it will accomplish. The entire administration would have a messaging strategy: Economists would have an economic message ready to go, foreign-policy people would have a foreign-policy message, defense people would have a national-security message, and so on. Only then would the President step in front of a microphone and make the announcement.

Instead, we got this:

It was not immediately clear whether the tariffs would be phased out over time and whether Trump would follow the advice of his national security advisers and exempt some countries from the tariffs to avoid harming key steel-producing US allies.

Trump announced the move during a hastily arranged meeting with steel and aluminum executives, even though the policy he announced is not yet ready to be implemented, let alone fully crafted. He acknowledged the policy is “being written now.”

So something is going to happen. Maybe. Or maybe next week will come and go, and tariffs will have slipped Trump’s mind because he’s too busy tweeting about the Black Panther movie. Or maybe Steph Curry or Jamele Hill will tick him off again. Maybe the media will be mean to Nazis or the KKK again, and he’ll have to stand up for them.

Assuming that some kind of tariff happens, I don’t know what to think, because neither the protectionist nor the free-trade visions really make sense to me. (I believe free trade increases global GDP in general, but I don’t believe the rising tide lifts all boats.) Paul Krugman’s wonkish column about tariffs mainly convinces me that the subject is complicated. International trade is a multi-player game where each player influences many interlocking variables (like interest rates, currency-exchange rates, and tariffs on unrelated goods). So making a simple change somewhere rarely produces the direct result you might imagine.

but I went to a museum

On my way home from Florida, I stopped in at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

I had heard that it was impossible to get tickets, but in fact that’s not true. Timed passes are available for free on the NMAAHC web site every morning, so you just need to be flexible and get online early. (It may be more difficult for a bigger group that needs to plan ahead. In the cafe, I sat next to somebody who complained about how long it had taken her group to schedule a visit.)

The museum is well worth your time. I came in with ambitions of seeing everything, and I failed. (There might theoretically be enough time in a day, but you have to have way more museum stamina than I do. You also have to avoid drifting into reverie or tearing up.) If you have two days, I’d recommend doing the history floors (below ground) on one day and the culture floors (above ground) on another.

I can’t imagine what visiting the NMAAHC means for African-Americans. As a white, I was constantly amazed by how often I asked myself, “How did I not know this already? How could I never have heard of this person?” (For example, I had heard the phrase Harlem Renaissance, but I couldn’t have told you exactly when it happened or who participated in it.) I often felt uneducated and culturally deprived, feelings that I imagine blacks must experience in museums where everything “historic” or “cultural” is European.

I also often saw in a new light events I had thought I understood. (There would have been a lot more if I hadn’t done a Reconstruction reading project a few years ago.) So, for example, I had always thought of breaking the color line in baseball in terms of the opportunities it had opened up for black players. I had never seen it as a tactic for driving the black-owned Negro Leagues out of business. But it was both. Major league owners never negotiated with Negro League owners. No one ever considered letting the strongest Negro League teams, like the Kansas City Monarchs, join the major leagues, the way that the San Antonio Spurs and three other ABA teams were allowed to join the NBA in a 1976 merger without racial implications.

Instead, white teams signed top Negro League stars (like the Monarchs’ Jackie Robinson and Satchell Paige, both now in the Hall of Fame) without compensation, and then a few years later the Philadelphia Athletics moved to Kansas City.

and you also might be interested in …

When historians look back, it’s possible that the most noteworthy recent event will be the arctic heat wave at the end of February, when temperatures at the North Pole went above freezing at what ought to be the coldest part of winter. Vice reports:

temperatures at the Cape Morris Jesup weather station—one of the northernmost in the world—remained above freezing for 24 straight hours. Meanwhile, climate change is causing a secret military base in Greenland to melt out of the ice, and scientists have reported open water north of Greenland. This, all in the dead of winter, when the Arctic has constant darkness.

A DACA student has three months more months of medical school. Will she get to finish? Can she apply for jobs?

The recent corporate tax cut was supposed to spur investment, and several companies got some good press by giving workers one-time bonuses. But it looks like the serious money is going to go to stockholders through dividends and stock buybacks.

Russian President Putin announced plans for new “invincible” nuclear weapons that will make U.S. defenses “useless”. Our president responded by … no he didn’t respond at all. It’s Russia. They own him. They can do whatever they want.

Last Tuesday, NSA Director Michael Rogers told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he had the capability to strike back at Russia for its attack against our election process, but that he has not been directed to do so. “I believe that President Putin has clearly come to the conclusion that there’s little price to pay here … and that therefore I can continue this activity.”

Too many pundits talk about “collusion” as if it were some obscure thing for Mueller to dig out of subpoenaed documents or bully out of reluctant witnesses. But it’s happening in plain sight and has been all along. Trump expects Russian help in the 2018 midterm elections, so he’s leaving our country open to it.

As a devout young Lutheran, I found Billy Graham’s televised “crusades” quite moving, before growing away from that point of view in later life. By all means, people who share his religion should honor him and mourn his death in their churches. If presidents and other public officials want to attend his funeral, that’s up to them. But I object to giving him public honors, as was done when he became the fourth private citizen to get a memorial service in the Capitol rotunda.

Graham was an adviser and confidant of several presidents, and ministers can sometimes play an important public role that justifies public honor. (For example, Rev. Thomas Starr King, whose statue used to be displayed in the Capitol, was sometimes credited with keeping California in the Union during the Civil War.) But Graham’s career was entirely sectarian. If you are not an Evangelical Christian, it’s hard to point to anything he ever did for you. If you’re gay or lesbian, he did a number of things to harm you, including supporting a North Carolina measure to ban same-sex marriage as recently as 2012.

In short, I see public honors for Graham as yet another claim by the Religious Right that they own the country.

Trump has accomplished at least one thing I thought would never happen: He made me appreciate the Bush administration. Watch Fareed Zakaria’s interview with Condoleeza Rice (broadcast yesterday) and see if you wouldn’t happily trade our current administration to get the Bushies back.

and let’s close with something strange

like a walking octopus.

Secret Agent Man

One year after Trump took office, it is still unclear whether the president of the United States is an agent of a foreign power. Just step back and think about that for a moment.

– James Risen “Is Donald Trump a Traitor?
The Intercept (2-16-2018)

NO SIFT NEXT WEEK. The next new articles will appear on March 5. (In the meantime, I’ll be speaking at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Lakewood Ranch, Florida on Sunday, February 25.)

This week’s featured post is “Alaska as a Red-to-Blue(ish) Model“.

This week everybody was talking about yet another school shooting

The basics: a timeline of how it happened, who the 17 victims were, a profile of the shooter, a story on the students becoming gun-control activists.

One conclusion that I hope people are drawing from this: If it can happen in Parkland, it can happen anywhere in America. The National Council for Home Safety and Security, a home security industry trade association, had picked Parkland as the safest city in Florida, because only seven violent crimes were reported there in 2017. The Atlantic describes Stoneman Douglas High School as “a mostly white school in a mostly upper-middle-class area.”

This isn’t some den of hopeless poverty and drugs that Middle America can just write off. (So of course Jeff Sessions responded to the shooting by talking about “gang-infested neighborhoods“. At least Trump hasn’t used this massacre to explain why we need a border wall … yet.) No matter where you live, the kids at Stoneman Douglas can’t be looked at as an “other” whose safety has nothing to do with the safety of your kids.

The NYT argues that the problem really is guns. The number of guns is the main variable that separates the United States from other developed nations where mass shootings are rare.

Numerous people have called for banning the AR-15 from civilian use. The tricky thing here is getting the definition right: The AR-15 is one of a class of military-style weapons, and if it were banned some other assault rifle would replace it. Banning all assault rifles has been done before, but there’s a legitimate complaint that “assault rifle” is not really a class of weapons — it’s more of a surface description that doesn’t really address the heart of the problem. Vox reported:

It’s quite easy to turn a military-style gun into something that Congress wouldn’t consider an “assault weapon” under its various definitions.

The key issue isn’t whether a weapon looks like something the military would use. It’s how many bullets it’s able to spray out in a short time, how long it can be fired without reloading, and how easy it is to reload over and over without providing a time-window for potential victims to rush the shooter. Those are the features to regulate.

I’m hoping that the energy of the Parkland students merges with the energy of the #MeToo movement and gets guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. Domestic abuse is a predictor of public violence. Such a movement would also push the buttons of many right-wingers: “You mean my stupid girl friend can get my guns taken away?”

Thinking about the NRA, I’m reminded of a George Orwell quote: “Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible.”

When the tide finally turns on them, it will turn fast. If I were running against an NRA-backed candidate in 2018, I’d focus on the complete resignation implicit in their position: Mass shootings are going to keep happening, and we’re not even going to try to do anything about them.

Liberals can also fall prey to fake news. One pseudo-fact that zoomed around social media (and even got on reputable news shows; I heard Chris Hayes repeat it, and he’s usually pretty careful) is that Parkland was the 18th school shooting already this year.

The WaPo debunks this number. It isn’t totally made up, like Pizzagate and some of the other anti-Clinton or pro-Trump stories that circulated before the election, but it has been spun out of recognition. The figure originated with a gun-control group, Everytown for Gun Safety, which defines a school shooting as “any time a firearm discharges a live round inside a school building or on a school campus or grounds.”

So the 18 figure mostly counts events that bear no resemblance to Parkland or to any other event that pops into your mind when you think “school shooting”: a gun that went off accidentally during a college  criminal-justice training, hurting no one; a guy who committed suicide while parked outside a school that had been closed for seven months.

Ultimately, spreading this kind of stuff does more harm than good. When it comes to mass shootings, the truth is shocking enough. In the long run, fake news makes the real news less believable.

Just five of Everytown’s 18 school shootings listed for 2018 happened during school hours and resulted in any physical injury.

“Just five”. Think about that. After you’ve gotten outraged about 18, five shootings merits a “just”.

and the Mueller investigation

Two major developments this week: Mueller indicted 13 Russians and three Russian companies for interfering in the 2016 election, and Rick Gates, who had previously been indicted for numerous crimes with Paul Manafort, has accepted a plea deal, presumably in exchange for testimony.

If you’re looking for a framework to fit these events into, look at James Risen’s “Is Donald Trump a Traitor?“, Part I of which was published by The Intercept on Friday. Risen breaks the investigation into four “tracks”:

  • Did Russia try to help Trump and hurt Clinton?
  • Was anyone from the Trump campaign knowingly working with the Russians?
  • Did Trump obstruct justice by interfering with the investigation?
  • Are Republicans in Congress conspiring to obstruct justice by undermining the investigation?

The indictment of the Russians all but settles the first question. (Trump’s National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said “the evidence is now really incontrovertible and available in the public domain”.) It also provides a fascinating window into how Russian influence operations work. For example, the Russians used a variety of techniques (including spending money on Facebook ads) to build up a few fake social-media identities like @March_For_Trump, which could then contact legitimate pro-Trump organizations seeking “help” in organizing rallies. Part of that “help” would be purchasing the necessary supplies, using money the Russian fake organization would wire to them. From the outside, the result would look like the legitimate organizations did everything themselves.

One Russian social-media identity, @Ten_GOP, claimed to represent the Tennessee Republican Party (which complained to Twitter about it, but couldn’t get Twitter to close the account for 11 months). It acquired 136,000 followers, and was frequently quoted by conservative media as a legitimate grass-roots conservative voice.

The indictment notes that Trump campaign officials sometimes cooperated with this Russian operation “unwittingly”, but does not make any conspiracy accusations against them. It also does not clear the Trump campaign, which may have conspired in other parts of the operation, like the hacking and release of Democratic emails.

That Gates plea is bad news for Paul Manafort, and might be bad news for other Trump campaign people. But the biggest threat to Trump is if Manafort himself now has to cop a plea. This is what an anonymous White House source was talking about when he called Mueller’s strategy “a classic Gambino-style roll-up“. If Manafort flips, then we might get a clearer picture of the second track.

As interesting as the Russian indictment is in itself, it has also had a significant effect on the national conversation, which was trending in that direction anyway. For a long time, The Intercept was a haven for left-wingers skeptical of the Russian investigation. Now it’s talking about treason.

More and more people are making that point: The Russian interference operation was a direct attack on America, and our president seems not to care. Worse, he provides public cover for Russia whenever new information comes out. He says there’s “no collusion”, but the collusion seems to be happening right in front of our eyes. Max Boot writes:

The most benign explanation is that he is putting his vanity — he can’t have anything taint his glorious victory — above his obligation to “protect and defend the Constitution.” The more sinister hypothesis is that he has something to hide and, having benefited from Russia’s assistance once, hopes for more aid in 2018 and 2020. Either way, we are at war without a commander in chief.

but I decided to write about Alaska

The politics of Alaska has been changing, turning a very conservative state government into a much more moderate one, with a Democrat as Speaker of the House and voters passing several liberal referenda. How that happened doesn’t follow either the establishment-Democrat or progressive-revolution model, and has something to teach Bernie and Hillary people alike.

and you also might be interested in …

Only during the Trump administration could I almost forget to mention a new sex scandal about the president. The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow tells the story of former Playmate of the Year Karen McDougal, who had a nine-month affair with Trump while he was married to Melania. Just before the 2016 election, her story was suppressed by The National Enquirer’s publisher American Media Inc., which paid McDougal $150K for the exclusive rights to her story and then didn’t publish it. Farrow claims that

Purchasing a story in order to bury it is a practice that many in the tabloid industry call “catch and kill.” … Six former A.M.I. employees told me that [A.M.I.’s CEO David] Pecker routinely makes catch-and-kill arrangements like the one reached with McDougal. “We had stories and we bought them knowing full well they were never going to run,” Jerry George, a former A.M.I. senior editor who worked at the company for more than twenty-five years, told me. George said that Pecker protected Trump. “Pecker really considered him a friend,” George told me. “We never printed a word about Trump without his approval.”

Also of note is a contemporaneous hand-written note that Farrow had obtained and McDougal identified as being in her own handwriting. (Presumably, that much corroboration didn’t violate her agreement with A.M.I.) It says that Trump offered her money after the first time they had sex, and that when McDougal turned it down Trump said, “You are special.”

These details make the most salacious part of the Steele dossier more credible. As Jonathan Chait points out:

So, we know Trump habitually pays for sex, and we also know he is willing to pay to keep embarrassing secrets from going public. That is to say, these secrets could be leveraged against him.

Vanity Fair’s Maya Kosoff makes the same point:

While some of the seedier allegations in Christopher Steele’s Trump-Russia dossier have not been verified, the central thesis of the dossier seems increasingly likely: that Trump’s long history of alleged affairs make him uniquely susceptible to blackmail.

A game I often play with some new Trump scandal is “What if this had happened to Obama?” Imagine if two playmate-type young women had told about their affairs with Obama, and how Obama allies had paid them six-figure sums to stay quiet. Far and away, that would have been the biggest scandal of his entire two terms. But with Trump, it almost gets lost.

A black reporter from Britain’s Channel 4 went out to interview Alt-right leader Richard Spencer. It’s an illuminating exchange, particularly the part where Spencer tells the reporter that he can never be British. “I’m living in the place of my birth,” the reporter says, “just like you.”

The NYT follows up on the four U.S. soldiers who were killed in Niger last October. What were they doing there and what went wrong?

You know who believes that climate change is a big deal? Trump’s Director of National Intelligence. But I suspect there’s a Director of National Stupidity somewhere on Trump’s org chart, and he has more influence.

The smart house of the future has two downsides: First it may not always work properly, with Sorcerer’s Apprentice-type results. And second, it may be smart enough to be disloyal to you. Gizmodo tries an experiment: Its reporter (Kashmir) fills her home with smart gadgets, and then has someone (Surya) monitor her router to see what the house is saying about her. (Basically, Surya says, he had the same information her ISP would have.)

Getting a smart home means that everyone who lives or comes inside it is part of your personal panopticon, something which may not be obvious to them because they don’t expect everyday objects to have spying abilities. One of the gadgets—the Eight Sleep Tracker—seemed aware of this, and as a privacy-protective gesture, required the email address of the person I sleep with to request his permission to show me sleep reports from his side of the bed. But it’s weird to tell a gadget who you are having sex with as a way to protect privacy, especially when that gadget is monitoring the noise levels in your bedroom.

Surya didn’t try to break the encryption on data the devices were reporting, but Hulu didn’t even bother, so he knew not just when Kashmir was watching TV, but what. He also could tell when she got up and went to bed, when her children woke up, and even when she brushed her teeth (with her smart toothbrush).

and let’s close with something I had never imagined

One idea that popped up in the smart-home article I discussed above is the internet-enabled sex toy. At first this sounded like a joke to me, but it turns out such things actually exist — and stay in contact with their manufacturers, who may be collecting all kinds of fascinating information about their customers.

Whether this idea fascinates or horrifies you, you can check it out here.

Preserve, Protect, and Defend

The bottom line of this is that they protected an abuser. And guess what is a job qualification to work in this White House? To protect someone who talked favorably about sexual assault on the Access Hollywood tapes. That is a job qualification in this White House. There’s a pattern of behavior. … They protect abusers. There’s no way of getting around it, and I guess people will say, “Well, it doesn’t matter. You can still be a good president. You can still do your job.” No. If you are willing to defend someone who hurt somebody in this fashion, you have no boundaries. You have no restraint. You have no respect for the law.

Amanda Carpenter, former staffer for Jim DeMint and Ted Cruz


This week’s featured post is “Does the Exploding Federal Deficit Matter?

This week everybody was talking about the White House defending spousal abuse

Porter’s first wife

CNN summarizes the background:

Rob Porter, a top White House aide with regular access to President Donald Trump abruptly resigned on Wednesday amid abuse allegations from two ex-wives, who each detailed to CNN what they said were years of consistent abuse from Porter, including incidents of physical violence.

As so often happens with this White House, the move arises not because higher-ups found out — White House Counsel Don McGahn apparently knew already — but because the story was becoming public. CNN reports:

By early fall, it was widely known among Trump’s top aides — including chief of staff John Kelly — both that Porter was facing troubles in obtaining the clearance and that his ex-wives claimed he had abused them. No action was taken to remove him from the staff. Instead, Kelly and others oversaw an elevation in Porter’s standing. He was one of a handful of aides who helped draft last week’s State of the Union address.

Porter was serving in the White House on an interim security clearance. (Until this week, I didn’t know such a thing existed. I used to have a job that required a clearance, and you couldn’t wander around the building unescorted until your clearance came through. Your boss would have to go outside the security perimeter to visit you in your temporary office. Apparently this White House has a more lax attitude. Jared Kushner also has an interim clearance.) He hadn’t gotten a permanent clearance precisely because his ex-wives had told their stories to the FBI, who consequently worried that Porter could be blackmailed by America’s enemies.

So far, we don’t know exactly what Kelly knew when. (A Congress that was doing its job would ask him.) But he definitely had known for weeks that Porter wasn’t getting a clearance, and that the issue involved a court order against him by one of his wives. When the initial reports surfaced in the press Tuesday, Kelly’s first reaction Wednesday was to stand by Porter:

Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor and I can’t say enough good things about him. He is a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him.

Sarah Sanders echoed his sentiment:

I have worked directly with Rob Porter nearly every day for the last year and the person I know is someone of the highest integrity and exemplary character. Those of us who have the privilege of knowing him are better people because of it.

Only later in the day, when pictures like the one above started circulating, did Kelly change his tune — sort of.

I was shocked by the new allegations released today against Rob Porter. There is no place for domestic violence in our society. I stand by my previous comments of the Rob Porter that I have come to know since becoming Chief of Staff, and believe every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation.

The difference wasn’t that Kelly learned new facts, but that the pictures in the press made Porter indefensible.

A second White House staffer resigned Friday after abuse allegations by his ex-wife. Trump played defense Saturday morning:

Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?

Porter’s second wife took that tweet personally. After all, Trump said “lives”, which indicates he’s talking about more than one case. In an op-ed in Time, Jennie Willloughby wrote:

The words “mere allegation” and “falsely accused” meant to imply that I am a liar. That Colbie Holderness is a liar. That the work Rob was doing in the White House was of higher value than our mental, emotional or physical wellbeing. That his professional contributions are worth more than the truth. That abuse is something to be questioned and doubted.

The really stunning part of this story is that Porter has been dating White House Communications Director Hope Hicks. Vanity Fair describes Hicks as: “one of the most powerful people in the White House, protected by Trump almost like a member of the Trump family.” We’re left with two possibilities: (1) Hicks knew that Porter had abused his two wives, and decided to date him anyway. (2) Hicks didn’t know, and Kelly was content to let her date Porter without knowing.

You might hope for some tearful apology from Porter, maybe coupled with a statement about how he had found Jesus and turned his life around. But no, he denies everything. So it’s a he-said/she-said-and-she-said-and-has-pictures story. The second staffer (David Sorenson) says he was actually the victim of his wife’s violence.

As for the rumors that Kelly might be on his way out … I’ll believe that when he’s gone.

Kelly has long been able to hide behind his reputation as a Marine general. But it has been obvious for some while that he himself is not “a man of true integrity and honor” either. Back in October, when Trump was feuding with the wife of a soldier killed in action in Niger, Kelly supported Trump’s false account of their phone conversation, and then slandered Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who heard the widow’s side of the call. When video proved that Kelly had lied about Wilson, he refused to apologize.

That’s the kind of man John Kelly is, and it’s totally consistent with what we’re seeing now.

and the budget deal

The government was actually shut down for a few hours after midnight on Friday, but hardly anybody noticed. Friday morning Congress passed and Trump signed a deal that did a few things:

  • kept the government funded until March 23
  • agreed on spending levels for the rest of FY 2018, which lasts through September
  • raised the debt ceiling for another year

The agreement blew away spending caps that have been around since the budget sequestration agreement that ended the 2013 debt-ceiling crisis. That deal had linked caps on defense spending with caps on non-defense spending. Republicans have long wanted to do away with the defense cap, which Democrats weren’t willing to do with the non-defense cap still in place. So they circumvented both: Each of the next two years, the Defense cap goes up by $160 billion to around $700 billion, and the non-defense cap goes up $128 billion to $591 billion.

Coupled with the recent tax cut, Congress is now looking at a deficit of around $1.2 trillion for FY 2019, not counting the infrastructure proposal Trump is making today. The featured post discusses just how worried we should be about that.

Raising the budget caps, though, doesn’t actually appropriate money. That has to happen in a separate bill that has to get worked out by March 23. The appropriation bill, called an “omnibus”, has to describe where the money goes in more detail.

Beyond just “making America great again”, I haven’t seen a detailed analysis of what the Pentagon needs more money for. The non-defense part includes money for disaster relief, community health centers, the opioid problem, and infrastructure.

and the Dreamers

One thing the budget deal didn’t include was a resolution to the problem of the Dreamers, who could start being deported next month (though probably not, because of certain court decisions). Certainly there is deportation risk later in the year.

Democrats sent mixed messages. Nancy Pelosi cited the lack of a DACA fix when she voted against the budget deal herself and gave a record-setting 8-hour speech on the floor of the House. But Democratic leadership did not try to hold House Democrats together to vote down the deal, which Democrats could have done if they had stuck together (given that some Republicans were also voting no for other reasons). I’m uncertain whether the caucus would have held together if Pelosi had tried.

In the deal that resolved the last shutdown, Democrats got a commitment from Mitch McConnell to let a DACA bill come to the floor, but the bipartisan group of senators who are supposed to write such a bill haven’t been able to agree on a text yet, so McConnell’s promise hasn’t been tested.

If you think the Dreamers won’t get deported even after DACA runs out, you need to understand the kind of things ICE is doing now: About a month ago, Dr. Lukasz Niec, “a physician specializing in internal medicine at Bronson Healthcare Group in Kalamazoo”, a legal permanent resident with a green card, and the father of a 12-year-old girl (who is an American citizen), got arrested in his home. The problem: the 43-year-old physician was convicted of two misdemeanors when he was a teen-ager, so he is “subject to removal” back to Poland, where he hasn’t lived since he was five years old, when his family escaped the Communist regime then in power.

He spent about three weeks in county jail and went back to work Thursday. His deportation case is still pending while a parole board considers whether to pardon him for his crimes.

So, Dr. Niec is one of the “bad hombres” Trump was talking about.

Another bad hombre is Syed Jamal, who lives in Lawrence, Kansas and teaches chemistry at Park University in Missouri. Jamal came to the U.S. legally in 1987 as a student from Bangladesh. He stayed after his student visa ran out, married, and is raising several children (U.S. citizens) between ages 7 and 14.

Jamal was arrested while walking his children to school, and was whisked away to a jail in El Paso, from which he could have been flown back to Bangladesh at any moment. (Sometimes ICE grabs people off the street and deports them the same day.) A judge has granted him a temporary stay until Thursday, at which point no one knows what will happen.

If the Iraq War taught us anything, it should have taught us that dragging fathers away while their sons watch is a good way to nurture future terrorism.

Roberto Beristain, who lived in the U.S. for 20 years, and owned and operated Eddie’s Steak Shed in Granger, Indiana, was deported to Mexico in April. His wife, a citizen, now regrets voting for Trump; she had believed his promise that he was only interested in deporting criminals. They were raising three children together, including one from her previous marriage.

CNN talked to Beristain’s attorney, who told this story:

Beristain bounced between detention facilities — Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Louisiana, New Mexico and Texas — making it more difficult for his attorneys to file legal motions in one jurisdiction. Then on Wednesday, as his legal team was expecting a ruling, they got the news: ICE had deported him to Juarez in the middle of the night.

From an immigrant shelter in Mexico, Beristain describes how it went down:

“They suddenly told me it was time to go,” Roberto Beristain was quoted as saying. “They told me to get my stuff, they put me in the back of a van and sped toward the border. They took me to another facility while in transport to sign paperwork. I asked to speak with my attorney, but was told there wasn’t time for that. At around 10 p.m., I was dropped off at the Mexico-US border and walked into Mexico.”

and the stock market

The stock market drop of the last couple weeks has been unnerving, but so far the problem seems to be more about the market economy than the real economy. In other words: Investors are worried that stock prices got too high, not that there is something wrong with the economy.

I don’t make market predictions, and you shouldn’t trust me if I did. But if you are invested in the market, you shouldn’t panic, you should just ask yourself why you own what you own. If the reasons you bought a stock are still valid — you believe in the product, the earnings and dividend numbers look good, and so on — then stand pat. But if you bought stocks because stocks were going up, well, lately they’ve been they’re going down. I don’t know what to tell you.

and (still) the Nunes memo

Last week I dissected the Republican memo that tried (and failed) to de-legitimize the Mueller investigation. This week Trump refused to allow the release of the Democrats’ memo critiquing the Republican memo. That’s where we are: The administration is openly cherry-picking classified information, releasing stuff that supports Trump and keeping secret anything it can that makes him look bad. National security is a secondary concern; propaganda comes first.

When Trump said he was “looking forward” to talking to Robert Mueller, and would do so under oath, I didn’t buy it.

If anybody expects to see Trump under oath without (or even with) an order from the Supreme Court, let me remind you of all the times he has said he would release his tax returns.

This week, we found out that Trump’s lawyers are laying the groundwork to resist a Mueller/Trump interview. Ultimately, it will probably come down to whether or not he invokes the Fifth Amendment. Lawyer Seth Abramson explains the legal issues involved.

Vox listed all the stories that slipped under the radar last week while everybody was arguing about the memo: A Labor Department analysis shows that a new rule will result in restaurants stealing billions from their workers, but it isn’t releasing that information. The CDC is facing a huge cut to programs that address foreign epidemics; I guess Trump’s Wall will stop all those germs from getting here. People in public housing will face higher rents and more red tape. Ben Carson’s son is benefiting from his Dad’s job as HUD secretary. The payday lending industry is rewarding Trump for favorable treatment by holding a big conference at one of Trump’s clubs.

and you also might be interested in …

Amazing article this week in the NYT Magazine: “What Teens Are Learning From Online Porn“. Some Boston teens from a variety of high schools attended a Porn Literacy class; their conversations have a lot to teach adults. Pretty much everybody understands that the plotlines of porn videos are ridiculous. (Delivering pizzas to lonely housewives is not a good strategy for losing your virginity.) But inexperienced teens are taking porn seriously as a lesson in what kinds of things their future partners will expect them to do, and what kinds of things s/he will enjoy. And since adults refuse to recognize that kids are seeing this stuff, the lessons don’t get critiqued.

Some people, as they get older, stop caring about other people’s approval and just say what’s on their minds. Check out this interview with 84-year-old musician Quincy Jones.

Jonathan Rauch and Benjamin Wittes argue that the Republican Party has passed a point of no return:

This, then, is the article we thought we would never write: a frank statement that a certain form of partisanship is now a moral necessity. The Republican Party, as an institution, has become a danger to the rule of law and the integrity of our democracy. The problem is not just Donald Trump; it’s the larger political apparatus that made a conscious decision to enable him. In a two-party system, nonpartisanship works only if both parties are consistent democratic actors. If one of them is not predictably so, the space for nonpartisans evaporates. We’re thus driven to believe that the best hope of defending the country from Trump’s Republican enablers, and of saving the Republican Party from itself, is to do as Toren Beasley did: vote mindlessly and mechanically against Republicans at every opportunity, until the party either rights itself or implodes

Jennifer Rubin, who used to work at The Weekly Standard and was a strong Mitt Romney supporter in 2012, comes pretty close to saying the same thing. She connects defending spouse-abusers in the White House with the abuse of classified documents, the abuse of Senate procedure, and the whole raft of norm-violations that have been going on for a while now. “The core mission of the GOP is now to defend abusers,” she writes.

EPA Director Scott Pruitt was interviewed by KSNV in Las Vegas. Here’s some of what he said:

We know humans have most flourished during times of what, warming trends. So I think there’s assumptions made that because the climate is warming, that that necessarily is a bad thing. Do we really know what the ideal surface temperature should be in the year 2100, in the year 2018? That’s fairly arrogant for us to think that we know exactly what it should be in 2100.

The stupidity here is subtle, so it probably gets past people who don’t want to think about the climate, or who have vested interests in the fossil-fuel industry.

  • The problem isn’t just that we’re in a warming trend, it’s that the speed of the warming is unprecedented. If global average temperature went up 4 degrees over 10,000 years or 100,000 years, various natural and human systems might adjust smoothly. But the same warming in 100 years is catastrophic.
  • The warming trend isn’t just happening to us, we’re causing it. So he’s got the arrogance exactly backwards: It’s arrogant to think that we can cause drastic climate change and not think about the consequences.

Closing the hole in the ozone layer is usually considered one of the victories of environmental regulation. But now there might be a new problem.

John Quiggen argues that Bitcoin disproves the idea that markets are efficient. The objects of previous bubbles — dot-com stocks, market derivatives — had plausible (if ultimately false) claims to value.

The contrast with Bitcoin is stark. The Bitcoin bubble rests on no plausible premise…. Hardly anyone now suggests that Bitcoin has value as a currency. Rather, the new claim is that Bitcoin is a “store of value” and that its price reflects its inherent scarcity. … If Bitcoin is a “store of value,” then asset prices are entirely arbitrary. As the proliferation of cryptocurrencies has shown, nothing is easier than creating a scarce asset.

Here’s the kind of clever entrepreneurship our country needs: A Girl Scout sold 300 boxes of cookies in six hours by setting up outside a legal marijuana shop in San Diego.

and let’s close with something unexpected

In New Zealand, elderly people (and others who think they might die sooner rather than later) have started forming “coffin clubs“. With help from the other members, they build their own coffins and decorate them creatively, preparing for funerals that will be celebrations of their lives rather than somber and depressing affairs. And they publicized the idea with a jazzy music video.

Doing Putin’s Job

The latest attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests – no party’s, no president’s, only Putin’s. The American people deserve to know all of the facts surrounding Russia’s ongoing efforts to subvert our democracy, which is why special counsel Mueller’s investigation must proceed unimpeded. Our nation’s elected officials, including the president, must stop looking at this investigation through the warped lens of politics and manufacturing partisan sideshows. If we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putin’s job for him.

Senator John McCain

This week’s featured post is “The Nunes Memo: It’s ridiculous and it damages the country, but it might work.” On my religious blog Free and Responsible Search, I posted the text of the sermon “Owning My Racism“, which I preached on Martin Luther King Sunday.

This week everybody was talking about the Nunes memo

The featured post goes into detail about the memo itself. But there are a number of articles about the larger effects, like “Why I Am Leaving the FBI” by counterterrorism expert Josh Campbell. The comments contain a lot of you-should-stand-and-fight messages, but they miss the point: FBI rules prevent agents from speaking out in public. If the problem is in the political arena, Campbell has to leave the FBI to work on it.

Another interesting perspective comes from former Illinois congressman and right-wing talk-radio host Joe Walsh: “Based on my experience working with him, nothing about the way he’s behaving now as chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence — overseeing part of the so-called Russia-Trump investigation — is particularly shocking. The Nunes I knew was a purely partisan animal. … With Nunes, I found it was all about politics, almost never about policy.”

As TPM’s Allegra Kirkland points out “the FBI isn’t a hotbed of Democratic partisans“. It makes sense that, say, career EPA officials would be Democrats, because protecting the environment is much more of Democratic value than a Republican one. But it defies logic that career FBI agents as a group would have a liberal bias, or that the FBI chain-of-command would be dominated by partisan Democrats.

Think about it: If you run into a college student who’s majoring in environmental studies and hoping to work at the EPA, she’s almost certainly a liberal. But if she’s majoring in law enforcement and hoping to work at the FBI, I don’t think you can say much about her politics. If anything, she’s probably more conservative than most Americans her age.

In the meantime, Putin’s investment in Trump continues to pay dividends. In particular, the Trump administration is not going to enforce some of the sanctions overwhelmingly passed by Congress.

Also, the head of a major Russian intelligence service came to the U.S., in spite of sanctions that are supposed to keep him out. Last I heard, no one was taking credit for letting him in.

and the State of the Union

Tuesday seems like a long time ago, but Trump’s first State of the Union address was this week. By now we all realize that Teleprompter Trump and Campaign Rally Trump are two very different speakers. This was Teleprompter Trump. The numbers are pretty much all nonsense, like the claim that cutting the corporate tax will “increase average family income by more than $4,000”, but at least he didn’t call Mexicans rapists or invite the gallery to punch his opponents in the face.

As I predicted before he took office, he’s taking credit for a lot of Obama’s accomplishments. (“We are now an exporter of energy to the world.”) He continued to paint immigrants as criminals, making the MS-13 gang the face of immigration, and a reason to turn away refugee children. He made a lot of probably empty promises about infrastructure and new trade deals. He talked about “clean coal” as if those words actually meant something. I would examine the text more closely, but I’ve become skeptical of anything Trump says. Let’s see what actual proposals get made.

One passage does deserve attention, because it’s a very dangerous idea I suspect we’ll hear again:

I call on the Congress to empower every Cabinet Secretary with the authority to reward good workers — and to remove Federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.

That’s how the federal government worked in the 19th century, when it was a giant patronage machine similar to some of the big-city political machines. That’s why the Civil Service Act got passed in 1883.

I thought Joe Kennedy did a good job with his response to Trump’s speech. The Trump administration, he said, is turning America into a zero-sum game, where “in order for one to win, another must lose”.

As if the mechanic in Pittsburgh and the teacher in Tulsa and the day care worker in Birmingham are somehow bitter rivals, rather than mutual casualties of a system forcefully rigged for those at the top. As if the parent who lies awake terrified that their transgender son will be beaten and bullied at school is any more or less legitimate than the parent whose heart is shattered by a daughter in the grips of opioid addiction. So here is the answer Democrats offer tonight: we choose both. We fight for both.

That sounds like a theme Democrats can run on. It ties right in to the budget battles, where there’s never enough money for what ordinary Americans need, because we’ve already given it away in tax cuts for the rich.

CBS News shines a light on the administration’s all-talk-no-action opioid policy.

The answers, according to the president’s speech: tightened immigration laws that will slow drug trafficking and getting “much tougher on drug dealers and pushers if we are going to succeed in stopping this scourge.” But the rhetoric omitted any mention of the actual solutions proposed by experts on the front lines of the crisis.

What’s left out?

  • Addiction to prescription drugs, which are made right here and trafficked through doctors and drug stores.
  • Funding for treatment programs.

Trump declared opioid addiction a “public health emergency” in October, but that in itself opened up only $57K in federal funding. Since then, he has not proposed any opioid program to Congress.

Another piece of the real state of the union is that we’re losing environmental protections.

By coincidence, the day after Trump’s speech I was reading David Wong’s latest novel What the Hell Did I Just Read?, where I ran into this passage:

Marconi’s pipe was leaning against an ancient figurine that looked like some kind of Egyptian god, only it had an enormous, erect penis almost as big as its torso, the figure’s left hand wrapped around the shaft. … “It’s the Egyptian god Min, popular in the fourth century B.C., the god of fertility. It is believed that during the coronation of a new Pharaoh, he would be required to masturbate in front of the crowd, to demonstrate that he himself possessed the fertility powers of Min. If you have watched a State of the Union address, you will find that the ritual has not changed much.”

The description of Min turns out to be accurate, but Wong writes intentionally absurd novels, so I wouldn’t trust the claim about Pharaoh.

but we need to be telling stories about the cruelty of Trump’s immigration policies

Max Boot tells about Helen Huynh. She and her husband came here from Vietnam after the war, in which her husband fought on our side. They became citizens and had two daughters, who of course are citizens. She developed leukemia and needed a stem-cell transplant; her sister in Vietnam turned out to be a perfect match. But the sister’s visa application to come here for the procedure was rejected three times, and Huynh died a few days before Trump’s State of the Union.

Also take a look at the Dreamer Stories web site. The more we can get voters to look at the Dreamers as individuals, the harder it will be to deport them.

and you also might be interested in …

The Super Bowl: Philadelphia 41, New England 33.

The federal government is expected to borrow nearly $1 trillion this year, a sharp increase over last year. Neither party in Congress seems to be worried about this or have any plan to do anything about it. I’ve explained in the past why I don’t believe the federal debt is a big problem, but it certainly looks like a big problem, so you can be sure that eventually we’ll be told that we have to accept major cuts in the social safety net because the country can’t afford it. (Reversing the recent trillion-dollar giveaway to corporations and the rich won’t come up.)

Judges keep knocking down voter suppression laws. This time it’s the disenfranchisement of felons in Florida. Under the current rules, anyone convicted of a felony (and many felonies are not such heinous crimes) has to serve the sentence and probation, wait five years (or seven for some offenses), and then begin an appeal process that ends up in front of “a panel of high-level government officials over which Florida’s governor has absolute veto authority.” According to Judge Mark Walker: “No standards guide the panel.”

In other words, the governor gets to choose which Floridians will be allowed to vote for his re-election. That conflict of interest is not just theoretical. The judge writes:

Plaintiffs identify several instances of former felons who professed political views amenable to the Board’s members who then received voting rights, while those who expressed contrary political views to the Board were denied those same rights. Applicants—as well as their character witnesses—have routinely invoked their conservative beliefs and values to their benefit.

The judge focused on the arbitrariness of the system of restoring voting rights to felons, and allowed the 5-7 year waiting period. He put off ordering a remedy until later this month.

But even without the political bias, such a system is wrong. It’s wrong on an individual basis, because after you’ve served your time, you should be allowed to re-enter society fully. But when you combine felon disenfranchisement with a justice system that is looking for black crime and far more likely to convict black law-breakers than white ones, you wind up with a significant disenfranchisement of the black community. (Walker notes that 1-in-5 of Florida’s black adults is disenfranchised.) Similarly, upper-class and middle-class voters accused of a felony are more likely to have good lawyers who can either get them off or plea-bargain to a misdemeanor. So a substantial class bias gets baked into the electorate as well.

Someone might argue that the system is fair, and blacks and poor people just commit more felonies. But I think that the burden of proof in that argument should be borne by the state.

In November, Floridians — at least the ones still allowed to — will vote on a ballot initiative to restore felon voting rights.

No human languages or institutions have lasted for 10,000 years, so how do you make a warning symbol for something that will be dangerous that long? (Consider the skull-and-crossbones. You might intend it to say “poison”, but some future person might think “pirate treasure”.) What kind of warning will get people’s attention, but not make them curious? Vox and 99% Invisible explore those questions in this fascinating video.

and let’s close with something cute

If you can’t wait for the Olympics to start, I offer this video of a girl doing an obstacle course that her Dad built in the back yard.

Saving Jesus

To save Jesus from those claiming to be his heirs, we must wrench him from the hands of those who use him as a façade from which to hide their phobias — their fear of blacks, their fear of the undocumented, their fear of Muslims, their fear of everything queer.

– Miguel De La Torre “The Death of Christianity in the U. S.

This week’s featured posts are “Trump’s Evangelical toadies are destroying the Christian brand” and “The Shutdown, DACA, and Immigration: Where We Are“.

This week everybody was talking about the end of the shutdown

One of the featured posts discusses this in more detail. One additional thing about the related immigration debate: Something you often hear European-Americans say is: “I’m not against immigrants. I just think they should come in the right way, like my ancestors did.”

Three points on that: First, when my German ancestors came to America in the 1840s and 1850s, there was no wrong way, because there were no rules. America didn’t start limiting immigration until the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. From the beginning, it’s always been about race.

Second, immigrating to this country legally, i.e., becoming a legal permanent resident, isn’t the simple thing that “why don’t they just …” statements imply. People come here without a green card because they see no chance of getting one, not because they want to flaunt our laws. MTV’s Franchesca Ramsey explains:

Finally, Trump’s latest proposal (which further tightens legal immigration) will just make this worse. So the statement boils down to “Why don’t they do something we’re not going to let them do?”

and the Mueller investigation

Thursday, The New York Times reported that Trump ordered the Justice Department to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller last June, after it became clear Mueller was investigating Trump for obstruction of justice. Reportedly, White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign rather than deliver the message to Justice, and Trump backed down.

For what it’s worth, Trump called the report “fake news” and “a typical New York Times fake story”. Joe Scarborough’s response to Sean Hannity’s attempt to first deny and then distract from this story is hilarious.

Wednesday, Trump told reporters he was “looking forward” to talking with Mueller, and said he would do so under oath, repeating a claim he made last June. It was only a few hours before his lawyers were walking that back.

Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer leading the response to the investigation, said Mr. Trump was speaking hurriedly and intended only to say that he was willing to meet.

If anybody expects to see Trump under oath without (or even with) an order from the Supreme Court, let me remind you of all the times he has said he would release his tax returns. All this just underlines the Jay Rosen quote I mentioned last week, about the pointlessness of interviewing Trump:

In an interview situation, [Trump is] just saying what — at the moment — makes him feel like the best, the biggest, the greatest, the brightest, the richest, the most potent. He’s just saying whatever comes to his mind as the most spectacular boast he can think of. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything about his policies.

Speaking of interviewing Trump, Matt Yglesias comes to a similar conclusion about an interview Trump did with CNBC’s Joe Kernen:

Listening to him talk is interesting from an entertainment perspective (he did once host a popular television show), but it conveys no information about the world, the American government, or the Trump administration’s policies. If Kernen wanted to help his viewers understand what’s going on, he’d have been better off interviewing someone else.

Trump is also trying to get the Justice Department to release a memo written by Rep. Devin Nunes. It seems to be a summary of the conspiracy-theory view of the Mueller investigation. It’s based on classified information, and career DoJ people think its release would be “extremely reckless”.

He has also recently said things that make it look like he doesn’t understand what obstruction of justice means.

On Wednesday, speaking briefly to reporters, Trump defended his actions in the probe as “fighting back” against unfair allegations. “Oh, well, ‘Did he fight back?’ ” Trump said. “You fight back, ‘Oh, it’s obstruction.’ ”

If you’re the president of the United States and the Justice Department is investigating you, using your official powers to “fight back” is exactly what obstruction of justice means. It’s illegal for good reason.

but I to push back on Trump’s claims about his first year

I can’t bring myself to watch the State of the Union address tomorrow night, but I’ll probably read the transcript. No doubt it will be full of claims about how the economy is growing and creating jobs.

The truth is that Obama left Trump an economy trending in the right direction, and it has continued to do so. The GDP growth graph looks like this:

And the job-growth graph like this:

This is about what I would expect, because the Trump tax cut has yet to take effect, and there has been no Trump budget — everything is still running on continuing resolutions based on Obama’s last budget. If there’s a boom next year, that might belong to Trump.

and you also might be interested in …

If you’re having trouble understanding or explaining net neutrality, explain it in terms of Burger King’s Whoppers.

If congressional districts weren’t gerrymandered, what should they look like? 538 looks at the different things you might want to optimize, and the maps they lead to.

A video made by the War Department in 1947 is going around on social media. Its message — that we shouldn’t let rabble-rousers turn us against Americans who look different than we do — still resonates. “Remember when you hear this kind of talk: Somebody is going to get something out of it, and it isn’t going to be you.”

The extended play version is about 23 minutes.

Mother Jones chronicles the rise and fall of ECOT, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, an Ohio charter school that made its founder rich, cost taxpayers millions, produced poor results, and now has collapsed, leaving many of its students in the lurch.

Multiple warning signs got ignored, because ECOT fit the Republican privatization ideal so well that it got tangled up in the partisan politics of the Ohio legislature. Former Democratic Governor Ted Strickland explains:

“I don’t think all political contributions are efforts to do something nefarious,” Strickland told me. “But in this case, I think it was so obvious that these schools were so bad and were failing and had such lax oversight. I cannot give the Republican Legislature the benefit of the doubt and say that they did not know.

“When you have a situation where public moneys are used to enrich individuals,” he added, “who then in turn support the politicians that support the policies that enrich them—it may not be illegal, but I think that fits the definition of corruption.”

Statewide, ECOT got “more than $1 billion in public funding, much of it diverted from better performing Ohio schools … at least 15 percent of that money—about $150 million—was paid to [founder William] Lager’s private companies”.

Yesterday [January 18], after 17 years of operation, the school came to a spectacular end. … Despite years of critics raising similar concerns, the school’s demise happened quickly, after two Ohio Department of Education reviews from 2016 and 2017 found that ECOT had overbilled taxpayers by $80 million for thousands of students it couldn’t show were meeting the department’s enrollment standards. As a result, last summer the state ordered the school to begin paying back almost $4 million per month in school funds, which ECOT claimed it was unable to do.

David Roberts writes about the role of climate change in our national strategy: It’s been taken out of the new version of the National Security Strategy, but the Pentagon continues to take it seriously in a lot of ways.

James Stavridis, a retired Navy admiral now serving as dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, succinctly lays out the reasons the military can’t ignore climate change in this piece. Scarcity of water and other resources will drive dislocation and conflict, he writes. Coastal Naval bases are in danger of being inundated by rising seas; the Arctic is melting and opening new areas of geopolitical conflict; the rising cost of climate impacts will squeeze the military budget; and responding to severe weather events will reduce military readiness.

However, the military can’t make up for climate denial in the rest of the government, because the military’s focus (appropriately, Roberts says) is to respond to climate change, not prevent it. And that could lead to this dystopian future:

As things get worse, those who can afford to protect themselves — move their military bases, build sea walls and desalination plants, claim newly navigable land in the Arctic — will pull farther and farther away from those who can’t (the global poor, who did so little to cause the problem). The US might come out on top in a more violent, chaotic world, but in the end, we do not stand apart. We will sink with it.

Dr. Larry Nassar got sentenced to 40-175 years in prison for molesting young women and girls who came to him for treatment. He’s 54 and already has a 60-year sentence to serve, so he’s never getting out.

In addition to Nassar himself, two institutions are in trouble for enabling Nassar and ignoring his accusers: USA Gymnastics and my alma mater, Michigan State, where Nassar was on the faculty.

The whole USA Gymnastics board has resigned. The NCAA is investigating the extent to which the university was complicit, and both the university president and the athletic director have resigned. The Nassar publicity has also brought attention to reports of sexual assaults by MSU football and basketball players, which were either ignored or taken lightly. The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights issued a report, which ESPN cites:

The report states students told investigators that Michigan State athletes “have a reputation for engaging in sexual harassment and sexual assault and not being punished for it, because athletes are held in such high regard at the university.” It also states that athletes received more training on sexual harassment and sexual assault than other students but noted possible mixed messages. It cites a program called “Branded a Spartan” about upholding the Spartan name. Some male athletes told investigators that “making a report about sexual assault might tarnish the Spartan brand,” and at least one said he might not report an incident involving a fellow athlete to the Title IX office, according to the report.

For a little over a month, Taco Bell has been trolling conspiracy theorists with its “Belluminati” ad campaign, like this commercial:

And guess what? It’s working. The Vigilant Citizen blog says this is “the Illuminati flaunting in plain sight”. The Unseen Encyclopedia warns that “the jokes on you … it’s always hidden in plain sight”.

And now Taco Bell is upping ante with this “Web of Fries” movie trailer.

Leaving the subject of Taco Bell, let’s talk about dietary fiber. Everybody knows it’s good for you, but nobody is sure exactly what it does for you. Now there’s an interesting theory that seems to prove out in mice: It’s good for the bacteria in your intestines.

and let’s close with something amazing

Somehow, my scientific education never covered the Leidenfrost Effect, which causes drops of water to float on a vapor layer above a metal surface heated to 500 degrees or so, and sometimes to climb up and over tiny grooves that can be formed into a ladder of sorts. It’s fun to watch.


Troubles and Issues

“Troubles” are the things that bother people in their lives, that they talk about at night over the kitchen table, the things that they are actively worried about. “Issues” is what the political system does to run elections. … When Issues don’t speak to Troubles, and Troubles don’t connect to Issues, you have a crisis in democracy.

Jay Rosen

This week’s featured post is “Lies, Damned Lies, and Trump Administration Terrorism Statistics“.

This week everybody was talking about a government shutdown

First, the simple facts: The shutdown became official at midnight Saturday morning. The Friday-night vote that made it final was 50-49 in the Senate. (John McCain, who is battling cancer, was the senator not voting.) The funding proposal fell well short of the 60 votes it needed to pass.

A continuing resolution to fund the government for four weeks had passed the House, but the 50 votes in the Senate were not enough to break a filibuster. The votes in both houses were mostly along party lines. In the House, Republicans voted 224-11 for the CR, and Democrats 186-6 against. In the Senate, Republicans voted for it 45-5 and Democrats against 44-5. The senators crossing party lines were five Democrats (Donnelly, Jones, Heitkamp, Manchin, McCaskill) and five Republicans (Flake, Graham, Lee, McConnell, Paul — I suspect there’s some procedural reason why McConnell voted against it once he knew it wasn’t going to pass).

The two main sticking points in the negotiations leading up to the shutdown were preventing the deportation of the Dreamers and health insurance for children. (The CHIP program expired at the end of September. The states have kept it going anyway, but some will start running out of money soon.) The CR that failed funded CHIP for six years, but did nothing about the Dreamers, who will lose legal status in March because Trump killed President Obama’s DACA program.

It is bizarre that these are the issues Congress is stuck on, because both are popular with the voters, and would pass if they came to the floor as individual measures. Probably the only reason CHIP wasn’t reauthorized a long time ago was precisely so that Republicans could use it as a bargaining chip now. (In other words: We want to do the right thing, but only if we get something for it.) Paul Ryan is grandstanding about CHIP now, but Dylan Matthews points out all the opportunities he had to handle this problem without making it part of a shutdown vote. (In particular: Why isn’t CHIP an entitlement like Medicare, rather than a program that comes up for a vote every few years?)

For weeks, optimists have expected a DACA-like program to be part of a deal that included tighter immigration rules and  more funding for border security, possibly even allowing Trump to claim that he had succeeded in getting money (from Congress and not from Mexico) to build his wall. The White House meeting that dissolved into the shithole-countries debacle was about precisely such a bipartisan deal that Senators Graham and Durbin had worked out. Since then, the main obstacle to a deal has been that Mitch McConnell didn’t want to get stuck championing something that Trump wouldn’t sign. All week he had been dropping ever-more-pointed hints that Trump should tell McConnell what he wants.

“I’m looking for something that President Trump supports, and he has not yet indicated what measure he is willing to sign,” McConnell said. “As soon as we figure out what he is for, then I would be convinced that we were not just spinning our wheels.”

Consequently: Nothing about DACA was in the deal voted on Friday night.

So here we are: Nobody really wants a government shutdown. Almost nobody wants children to lose health insurance. Only the most radical anti-immigration minority in Congress (and Stephen Miller in the White House) wants to deport the Dreamers. And yet, these are the things we’re fighting about.

There’s currently a vote scheduled in the Senate later today. This could all resolve quickly, or not.

In general, nobody-wins situations like this happen because each side has its own view of how the disaster will play out. (Labor strikes are similar: Each side thinks the other will have to fold first, so they push to the crisis.) So a large part of how this comes out depends on how the public reacts. Republicans clearly think the public will frame the issue as the Democrats standing up for illegal immigrants over the American people. (Part of that is code, as I’ve explained before: The “American people” are white Christians.) Democrats think that the Republicans in charge of everything will bear the blame, and also have the argument that they’re just trying to get Trump to do something he has often claimed he wants to do anyway. If one side is wrong, that side will eventually have to give in.

and a lie about immigrants and terrorism

That’s the subject of the featured post, “Lies, Damned Lies, and Trump Administration Terrorism Statistics“. To their collective shame, Homeland Security and the Department of Justice assembled a report to back up a lie Trump told to Congress: “The vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country.” The report is a textbook lesson on how to abuse statistics.

While we’re talking immigration, this meme has been going around:

and the Trump/Russia connection

This still looks speculative to me, but a bombshell story from McClatchy claimed that the FBI is investigating whether money from a Russian oligarch was funneled through the National Rifle Association to help elect Trump.

Investigating, of course, doesn’t always mean that they’ve found anything, or even that there’s anything to find. The purely factual part of the story is that the NRA spent way more money supporting Trump ($30 million) than they have on Romney or previous Republican presidential candidates. The NRA/Russia link is supposed to be “Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA.” It’s illegal to use foreign money to influence a U.S. election, so if this pans out, it’s a crime.

My usual test for stories like this is whether I’d believe them if the parties were flipped. If I had heard that the FBI was investigating whether Chinese money had flowed through the Sierra Club to help Hillary Clinton, would I believe there was fire under that smoke? At this point, probably not. I plan to wait and see.

Another transcript related to the Steele dossier came out this week: Glenn Simpson, a co-founder of Fusion GPS, the research firm that hired Christopher Steele to investigate Trump’s relationship with Russia and Russian oligarchs, testified before the House Intelligence Committee in November. The committee released that transcript, with a few redactions, Thursday.

I haven’t completed reading either this transcript or the comparable one from the Senate Judiciary Committee, but Simpson seems impressive in what I’ve read of both. His investigation sounds nothing like the conspiracy theories Republicans are spreading about it. And he tells a coherent Trump/Russia narrative that may not be proven yet, but does fit a lot of the known facts: During a period when the Trump Organization wasn’t considered credit-worthy, a lot of suspicious Russian money flowed into Trump projects in a way that looks like money laundering. This was the beginning of a Trump/Russia relationship that blossomed during the campaign, resulting in a significant effort by Russian intelligence to get Trump elected.

Simpson does a good job of stating what he knows and not overstating it. Like this:

“Evidence”, I think, is a strong word. I think we saw patterns of buying and selling that we thought were suggestive of money laundering. … You know, fast turnover deals and deals where there seemed to have been efforts to disguise the identity of the buyer.

Fusion GPS couldn’t get “evidence” because they didn’t have subpoena power to get bank records. But congressional committees do. Rep. Adam Schiff asked who they should subpoena, and Simpson laid it out:

I would go for the clearing banks in New York that cleared the transactions, you know. And there’s—again, it’s these sort of intermediary entities that have no real interest in protecting the information, and all you have to do is ask for it and they just sort of produced by rote. So we’ve done a lot of money laundering investigations where we go to the trust companies and the clearing entities. And so, you know, all dollar transactions are generally cleared through New York. So, you know, the main thing you have to do is identify the banks that were used.

Atlantic’s David Graham followed up by asking Schiff whether the committee will follow this course. It’s not happening, Schiff told him “because Republican members are not interested”.

One of the arguments about the Democratic message for 2018 is whether or not they should come out for Trump’s impeachment. I hope they don’t go that far, because the hard evidence isn’t there yet. (Evidence is a strong word.) Instead, I would argue that the public needs Democrats to take over Congress so that we can find out what happened. Republicans are blocking investigations, and Democrats will go wherever the facts lead. Maybe that will be impeachment and maybe it won’t. We need to know the facts before we can say, and we’ll never know them if Republicans stay in control.

and the end of Trump’s first year

I was hoping to do my own wrap-up this week, but the article didn’t come together, so I’ll push it off to next week. One of the things I plan to do is examine whether, going into this administration, I was afraid of the right things. In particular, I’ll look back at “The Trump Administration: What I’m Watching For“, which I wrote two weeks after the election.

In particular, I said was watching to see if Trump would be doing any of these seven things.

  • taking credit for Obama’s accomplishments
  • taking credit for averting dangers that never existed
  • profiteering
  • changing the electorate
  • winking at right-wing paramilitary groups
  • subverting government agencies for political advantage
  • paying Putin back

All in all, I think in hindsight, not a bad list.

and you also might be interested in …

If you don’t care about actual civil rights, you need to make up something else for your civil rights offices to do. HHS is going to task its office to protect healthcare workers who have moral objections typical of conservative Christians — not wanting to participate in abortions or in transgender patient transitions, for example.

The pending rule would establish a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division of the HHS civil rights office that would conduct compliance reviews, audits and other enforcement actions to ensure that health care providers are allowing workers to opt out of procedures when they have religious or moral objections.

The new office “would be empowered to further shield these workers and punish organizations that don’t allow them to express their religious and moral objections”.

Since it’s impossible to make allowance for everything that someone might claim is part of their religion — what if a Jehovah’s Witness EMT doesn’t want to participate in blood transfusions? what if a pharmacist has a religious objection to insulin manufactured through genetic engineering? or to any drug whose testing process involved killing animals? — there is literally no way to implement such a policy without favoring some religions over others. In practice, the moral objections of Baptists and Catholics will be seen as serious and reasonable, while those of less popular religions will get consideration only to the extent that popular religions share them. The moral objections of atheists will be ignored completely, since they’re not “religious”.

In short, having a religion (especially a popular one) gets you special rights.

In any other administration, it would be a major scandal if the president paid off a porn star not to talk about their affair. For Trump, it barely registers. I look at religious-right Trump supporters like Rev. Robert Jeffress and wonder what they’d be saying if The Wall Street Journal had written the exact same story about Obama.

BTW: I think it’s a low blow to point out the resemblance between Stormy Daniels and Ivanka. Probably they both look like a younger version of Ivanka’s mom, who Trump marrried. There’s a quote in Daniels’ article in In Touch that can be spun in an incestuous way, but it’s not obvious Trump meant it like that, even assuming he actually said it.

Trump got a physical from a well regarded Navy doctor, who pronounced him basically healthy. In particular, he passed a cognitive-function test. Admittedly, that test is not hard. But it would catch a lot of the kinds of dementia people imagine Trump has.

I never put a lot of stock in the Trump-has-dementia narrative, and to the extent I ever did, I’m going to stop talking about it. To me it’s like the Bush-is-stupid narrative that popped up so often during W’s administration. Bush was not stupid, he just had no interest in most of the topics we expect presidents to stay on top of. Probably if you talked to him about baseball, you’d be surprised how much he knows.

I suspect something similar about Trump: He has an unfocused mind, like a lot of people do. It’s hard for him to dig deeply into any subject, and the only topic that really interests him is himself. He indulges in wishful thinking, and refuses to let facts or expert opinions change his mind. These are all serious deficiencies in a president, but there’s no reason to think they point to a medical problem. His faults get more pronounced as he gets older, but that also is not unusual. Your uncle who was cantankerous at 50 is probably even more cantankerous at 70; that’s not a sign of insanity, it’s just how people age.

Earlier this month, Josh Marshall got this issue right: The important thing is what Trump does, not why.

All the diagnosis of a mental illness could tell us is that Trump might be prone to act in ways that we literally see him acting in every day: impulsive, erratic, driven by petty aggressions and paranoia, showing poor impulsive control, an inability to moderate self-destructive behavior.

There’s no need to argue about hidden causes when the effects are more important and so plain to see.

This interview with psychiatrist Allen Frances is well worth reading. He discusses both Trump (who he describes as bad rather than mad) and the people who support him. He advocates more political action from the public, rather than hoping that some cabal within the administration will use a psychological diagnosis to invoke the 25th amendment.

As a commenter pointed out last week: Most of the Americans who retire to Mexico are undocumented.

One 2015 study from Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography reveals that a stunning 91.2 percent of Americans in the country don’t have their papers in order.

Still no one knows what Trump’s inaugural committee did with the $107 million it raised. Obama’s committee put on a bigger show for more people with half as much money, so either somebody made a huge profit or there’s a $50 million dollar slush fund out there somewhere.

but you should listen to Jay Rosen

One my favorite news-media observers is Jay Rosen from NYU. His summary of how the news media has responded to Trump’s first year is the first half of this episode of the Recode podcast. He was interviewed on Recode last year, and made a number of observations that other news people eventually came around to — like that there was really no point in interviewing Kellyanne Conway, since it was impossible either for the journalist or the readers/viewers to pull any trustworthy information out of the mass of disinformation you would get from her.

In this interview, he talks about the press’s loyalty to “rituals” that no longer serve a purpose in the Trump era. The press continues to fight for access to the White House “because that’s what the White House press corps does”. But even scoring the ultimate access — an interview with the President himself — does practically nothing to keep readers/viewers informed.

The whole purpose of interviewing a sitting president is that you can find out about their thinking, you can illuminate their policy choices, you can dig a little deeper into what they plan to do. That assumes that the president has policy ideas.

In an interview situation, [Trump is] just saying what — at the moment — makes him feel like the best, the biggest, the greatest, the brightest, the richest, the most potent. He’s just saying whatever comes to his mind as the most spectacular boast he can think of. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything about his policies.

He criticized the press for continuing to project normality onto Trump, for example, by talking about his “foreign policy” as if there were such a thing.

One of the more interesting parts of the interview was when the interviewer (Peter Kafka) brought up Rosen’s previous statements that the press should “listen” to the American people more. Kafka related it to the various articles we have seen in which reporters go interview Trump voters in rural areas they don’t usually cover. Rosen agreed that some good journalism came out of that effort, but said it wasn’t what he had meant. He backed up to talk about a distinction (attributed to sociologist C. Wright Mills) between “troubles” and “issues”.

“Troubles” are the things that bother people in their lives, that they talk about at night over the kitchen table, the things that they are actively worried about. “Issues” is what the political system does to run elections and win coalitions. And his point is that when Issues don’t speak to Troubles, and Troubles don’t connect to Issues, you have a crisis in democracy.

So my point was not that journalists should just go out and listen to the Trump voters because they got the election wrong. It was that if journalists could somehow listen to people’s Troubles in a new and more potent way, then they would be in a position to represent those people better than the political system does when it fashions them into Issues. Now that’s a deeper and more ambitious project than “Let’s check in with Trump voters in Pennsylvania and West Virginia to see if they still support Donald Trump.”

I think we saw a lot of that kind of parachuting into Trump Country, which is sort of an anthropological — or some people said “zoological” — exercise. We saw a lot of that. But what I was talking about was trying to kind of recover authority by understanding the Troubles that led to the results that we saw in 2016.

and let’s close with something adorable

The world’s smallest cat lives in Sri Lanka and when fully grown, weighs about a kilogram.


The immigration debate has always carried with it an undertone of racism. I’m not attributing this to everyone who holds the position, but there’s a sense in which [opposition to] immigration is driven by a deep anxiety about the browning of America. That “how will we stem the tide?”, that “this is no longer a white nation.” … What Trump did yesterday was to make explicit the racist undertone of this debate.

– Eddie Glaude, speaking on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” (1-12-2018).

This week’s featured post is “The Real Immigration Issue“.

On MLK Day, I always like to link to a piece I wrote in 2013 to warn conservatives against cherrypicking King’s quotes. The real Martin Luther King was a radical: “MLK: Sanitized for Their Protection“.

This week everybody was talking about shithole countries

(More about this in the featured post.) Even in a presidency full of jaw-dropping moments, Trump’s statement about “shithole countries” was extreme.

Trump made the remarks Thursday during a meeting with lawmakers in the Oval Office in which they discussed protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of a bipartisan deal on the status of undocumented young U.S. immigrants, The Washington Post reported.

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, according to people in the room, including Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.). Trump then reportedly suggested that the United States instead should bring in more immigrants from countries such as Norway.

The most appalling thing here is not Trump — at least not any more; it’s not news that he’s a racist, or that he expresses himself crudely, or that his presidency is a constant embarrassment to the United States of America — it’s how few conservative or Republican voices speak out against him, even when he is so clearly in the wrong. For example, most members of his council of evangelical advisors made no comment, and the ones who did were supportive, like Baptist mega-church pastor Robert Jeffress:

“I support his views 100 percent, even though as a pastor I can’t use that language.” The United States, Jeffress said, has every right to restrict immigration according to whatever criteria it establishes, including race or other qualifications. “The country has the right to establish what would benefit our nation the most,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything racist about it at all.”

You read that right: Explicitly screening immigrants according to race would not be racist. What rabbit hole have we gone down here?

Jeffress was not alone in seeing a problem of bad language rather than evil intentions. Others saw only Trump’s style, which is just different from what previous presidents have led us to expect. Fox News’ Jesse Watters:

This is how the forgotten men and women in America talk at the bar. This is how Trump relates to people.

There’s a core of truth there, but Watters is leaving out something important: This is how racists talk at the bar, and how Trump relates to racists.

James Fallows imagines if previous presidents had acted like Trump.

Suppose, contrary to known (to me) fact, Eisenhower had said to Senators in WH meeting during Little Rock school deseg controversy, “why are these n****s so pushy and demanding?” Suppose that legislators meeting JFK, LBJ, or even Nixon at WH during nonstop 1960s civil-rights tensions had heard a sitting president refer to black neighborhoods as shitholes or used code word ‘Nigra.’ Those comments would *certainly* have “connected with the base” in states that were fighting de-segregation. They would have reflected what “a lot of people were thinking.”

But I don’t think you’d have found (or would find, if you went back and looked) *mainstream* news outlets that would explain away, from a sitting president, outright racist language. This kind of “connecting with the base” rationalization is a new thing, and bad. Every civilization has ugly elements, which leaders are supposed to help their society rise above rather than egg on.

The one positive thing to come out of this: The mainstream media debate over whether it is proper to describe Trump’s remarks or Trump himself as “racist” seems to be over: They are and he is.

At first the White House didn’t even deny Trump’s comment. Its initial statement said that “Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people.” Eventually, Trump got around to denying it sort of, and a few of the Republicans in the room backed him up. The striking thing to me, though, is that most of the people in the room were Republicans, and only a handful of them defended their president. Lindsey Graham didn’t specifically quote Trump, but more-or-less backed up the published accounts of the meeting.

I’ll give the last word on this to the Nazi website, The Daily Stormer, as quoted by The Hill:

This is encouraging and refreshing, as it indicates Trump is more or less on the same page as us with regards to race and immigration.

and the Hawaiian false alarm

I can’t decide whether the explanation is totally believable or totally unbelievable:

Around 8:05 a.m., the Hawaii emergency employee initiated the internal test, according to a timeline released by the state. From a drop-down menu on a computer program, he saw two options: “Test missile alert” and “Missile alert.” He was supposed to choose the former; as much of the world now knows, he chose the latter, an initiation of a real-life missile alert.

Couldn’t somebody have designed in one of those “Are you sure you want to do this?” boxes? If there’s a Doomsday Device somewhere, I hope its user interface is more forgiving.


A more detailed message scrolled across television screens in Hawaii, suggesting, “If you are indoors, stay indoors. If you are outdoors, seek immediate shelter in a building. Remain indoors well away from windows. If you are driving, pull safely to the side of the road and seek shelter in a building or lay on the floor.”

The false warning sparked a wave of panic as thousands of people, many assuming they had only minutes to live, scrambled to seek shelter and say their final goodbyes to loved ones. The situation was exacerbated by a 38-minute gap between the initial alert and a subsequent wireless alert stating the missile warning was a mistake.

and DACA

The “shithole countries” remark came during a meeting in which Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham were presenting a bipartisan compromise to avoid deporting the Dreamers, now that the program through which President Obama had protected them (DACA) has been ended by President Trump. Trump rejected their proposal, but so far there isn’t any other plausible plan out there.

DACA is one of many issues in a larger negotiation aimed at avoiding a government shutdown, which is otherwise is scheduled for Friday. The “shithole” meeting came two days after a televised meeting with lawmakers of both parties, in which Trump at various times put forward all possible positions.

538’s Perry Bacon thinks he knows what the ultimate compromise has to look like:

Even with the divides in both parties, the potential outlines of a bipartisan deal on immigration are obvious: some kind of permanent legal status and path to citizenship for Dreamers but with limits on their ability to sponsor relatives who also want legal status; an expansion of the physical barriers between the United States and Mexico; and the hiring of some additional border agents and other immigration enforcement personnel.

Meanwhile a court delayed the end of DACA by ordering the administration to keep renewing permits while the court rules on the legality of Trump’s order.

and Oprah 2020

Oprah’s speech at the Golden Globes, which I also linked to last week, started speculation about whether she wants to be president. That, in turn, sparked much pro-and-con arguing among Democrats. Some Democrats like the idea of challenging Trump with a better outsider: more famous, more accomplished, smarter, more articulate, more in touch with ordinary Americans, and just generally a better human being. Others hate the idea of nominating an inexperienced celebrity: Government is a serious profession, and calls for people who know what they’re doing; the fact that the Republican electorate decided to be irresponsible in 2016 is no reason for us to be irresponsible too.

Count me in the middle here. I get the attraction of Oprah 2020. If I could custom-design a Democratic candidate to run against Trump, I think a charismatic black woman who already has a following among whites might be a good start. I’m surprised that there might be one available.

The question is how much we should be willing to give up to get those features. I’m willing to give up a little, but not a lot. Specifically, I would run Candidate Oprah through the same tests as any other candidate. She’ll have to articulate a vision, show mastery of the issues, and lay out some detailed programs before I’d consider voting for her. (In 2016, Trump did have a vision — a reprehensible one — but he never demonstrated an understanding of issues or programs. He still hasn’t.)

Her lack of government experience is a factor, but not a decisive one for me. Over the centuries, the Presidency has grown to be such a big job that in fact no one is qualified for it, not even someone as smart and experienced as Hillary Clinton. Our system requires us to vote for an individual, but in practical terms we are always electing a team. While it’s true that Trump doesn’t know what he’s doing, the larger problem is that Team Trump also doesn’t know what it’s doing, and even when it does, Trump won’t leave his subordinates alone to do what they know how to do. (That’s a big piece of the lesson from Fire and Fury.) That’s why, for example, the administration keeps putting out executive orders that the courts overturn, and issuing directives that the generals refuse to implement. It’s also why there still is no Trump healthcare plan.

So Oprah’s inexperience would cause me to look more skeptically at Team Oprah, but I’m willing to be convinced if collectively they stand for something I can support and demonstrate varieties of expertise that Oprah lacks as an individual.

A lot of the anti-Oprah writers point to the pseudoscience that her TV show frequently promoted. Again, I see that as an issue, but not an insurmountable one: Her TV show was intended to engage people’s interest with ideas they weren’t seeing elsewhere, not to establish government policy. So I would be watching her campaign to see if similar tendencies emerged. Candidate Oprah would of course be asked about politically relevant science issues, and her answers should be critically examined. But if the answers she gives as a candidate stand up to scrutiny, if (unlike Trump) she shows appropriate humility and appreciates that she needs to lean on expert advice, I wouldn’t hold against her the stuff she promoted as an entertainer.

but you should pay attention to gerrymandering

A variety of cases are making their way up the ladder of federal courts. TPM has a good explanation of where they are and what they mean. The Texas case is about racial gerrymandering to limit the influence of Hispanic voters. But the North Carolina case opens a new front by directly confronting partisan gerrymanders, whether they are racially motivated or not. (As we increasingly have a party for whites and a party for non-whites, it’s hard to tell the difference.)

In 2012, Republicans won just 49 percent of the statewide vote but snagged nine of 13 House seats. Two years later, with 54 percent of the vote, they won 10 of 13 seats.

and you also might be interested in …

Trump continues to threaten to pull out of President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, but not to do it. Our side of the deal involves waiving sanctions against Iran, which the President needs to do every 120 days. Trump waived the sanctions again, but warned that this is the last time.

He continues to promise his base that he will get a new deal that is tougher on Iran. But no one else seems to think this is likely. In fact, Obama’s deal does important stuff:

Under the agreement, Iran agreed to eliminate its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium, cut its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98%, and reduce by about two-thirds the number of its gas centrifuges for 13 years. For the next 15 years, Iran will only enrich uranium up to 3.67%. Iran also agreed not to build any new heavy-water facilities for the same period of time. Uranium-enrichment activities will be limited to a single facility using first-generation centrifuges for 10 years. Other facilities will be converted to avoid proliferation risks.

None of our allies involved in the deal have expressed an interest in pulling out. The European Union’s chief foreign affairs representative, Federica Mogherini, said on Thursday:

The deal is working, it is delivering on its main goal which means keeping the Iranian nuclear program in check and under close surveillance. Iran is fully complying with the commitments made under the agreement.

Thanks to a Trump pardon, Joe Arpaio isn’t in jail. So why shouldn’t he be a senator? If you want background, I suggest Rolling Stone’s 2012 article “The Long, Lawless Ride of Sheriff Joe Arpaio“. Arpaio represents not “law and order”, but blatant bigotry acting in defiance of law and order.

Fascinating case in New Hampshire: The Border Patrol found marijuana by conducting no-probable-cause searches that would be illegal under New Hampshire law, and would also be illegal under federal law anyplace that wasn’t within 100 miles of a border. They turned the weed over to local police in Woodstock, NH, who charged the possessors with a crime. A state court now has to determine whether the evidence is admissible.

At stake is the possibility that American freedoms might seriously erode within a 100-mile band around the border. Already the Border Patrol can set up random checkpoints anywhere in that 100-mile band and ask for your ID. (I know a naturalized U.S. citizen from the U.K. who was stopped on an interstate highway in Vermont. He wasn’t driving, so he didn’t think he needed to be carrying his driver’s license. But his British accent created a problem that took some time to clear up.) It’s one thing to be asked to ID yourself and answer some questions when you cross the border. But if you just live near a border, you can be going about your everyday business and suddenly find yourself under search. If anything they find can be turned over to local police for prosecution … that doesn’t sound much like America, does it?

and let’s close with one last dance

iHeartRadio put together a celebration of performers who died in 2017, assembling clips of them dancing.


Not only would Trump not be president, almost everyone in the campaign agreed, he should probably not be. Conveniently, the former conviction meant nobody had to deal with the latter issue.

– Michael Wolff, Fire and Fury

This week’s featured post is “Visions of a Future Gift Economy“, which discusses Cory Doctorow’s recent novel Walkaway.

This week everybody was talking about Fire and Fury

Michael Wolff’s book shipped Friday, days after excerpts appeared in New York magazine and Wolff’s account of writing the book came out in Hollywood Reporter. I like Masha Gessen’s summary of what the book tells us:

The President of the United States is a deranged liar who surrounds himself with sycophants. He is also functionally illiterate and intellectually unsound. He is manifestly unfit for the job. Who knew? Everybody did.

I’m about 1/4 of the way through Wolff’s book, and I feel a consistent cognitive dissonance as I read it: It’s simultaneously shocking and unsurprising. If not these exact incidents, many similar ones have been reported over and over again. We all knew. We didn’t even have to rely on reporting; Trump’s tweets are not the work of a sound and capable mind, much less the “stable genius” he tells us he is. (What actually stable genius would say such a thing?) Read them yourself.

James Fallows points out that Trump’s unfitness for the presidency was already “an open secret”.

Who is also in on this open secret? Virtually everyone in a position to do something about it, which at the moment means members of the Republican majority in Congress.

They know what is wrong with Donald Trump. They know why it’s dangerous. They understand—or most of them do—the damage he can do to a system of governance that relies to a surprising degree on norms rather than rules, and whose vulnerability has been newly exposed. They know—or should—about the ways Trump’s vanity and avarice are harming American interests relative to competitors like Russia and China, and partners and allies in North America, Europe, and the Pacific.

They know. They could do something: hearings, investigations, demands for financial or health documents, subpoenas. Even the tool they used against the 42nd president, for failings one percent as grave as those of the 45th: impeachment.

They know. They could act. And they don’t.

Josh Marshall:

We are now back on to the feverish debate about whether or not Donald Trump is mentally ill or suffering from the onset of dementia. The most important thing to know about this debate is that it simply doesn’t matter. … All the diagnosis of a mental illness could tell us is that Trump might be prone to act in ways that we literally see him acting in every day: impulsive, erratic, driven by petty aggressions and paranoia, showing poor impulsive control, an inability to moderate self-destructive behavior. He is frequently either frighteningly out of touch with reality or sufficiently pathological in his lying that it is impossible to tell.

Trump fired back by threatening to sue both the publisher and Steve Bannon, which reinforces my belief that he gets bad legal advice. David Graham at The Atlantic explains why a suit is a bad idea. First, suing the publisher is likely to do accomplish nothing more than to increase the book’s sales.

In order to win, Trump would likely have to prove that Wolff and the publisher printed information that they knew was false. In the United States, it’s very hard to win a libel suit against a publisher or media outlet—as Trump knows well, since he has repeatedly complained that libel laws need to be loosened for plaintiffs. Many of the most damaging quotes to emerge from the book so far, like Bannon’s description of the June 2016 Trump campaign meeting with a Russian lawyer as “treasonous,” or aides repeated assessments of the president as unintelligent and distracted, are matters of opinion and not fact, and therefore not subject to libel laws.

Take, for example, the quote where Bannon says Ivanka is “dumb as a brick”. In order to sue Wolff for that, Trump would have to prove not that his daughter is smarter than a brick, but that Bannon didn’t say the quote.

Whether Bannon is vulnerable depends on how sweeping his non-disclosure agreement with Trump is. But even if it’s iron-clad and Bannon’s statements to Wolff violate it, Trump would be foolish to go to court.

If a lawsuit did go forward, however, Trump would open himself up to defense lawyers poring through all sorts of information he probably doesn’t want made public. Presidents are largely immune to litigation while in office, but if Trump initiated a suit, he’d open himself up to discovery.

“It would be an opposition researcher’s dream,” Abrams said. “The sort of discovery which would result from a challenge to this book, which deals with issues as broad as the president’s intelligence, would allow enormous discovery. His college grades! It’s very hard to minimize the potentially relevant areas that discovery could go into.”

Trump tried such a suit once before, in 2007 against the author of the book Trump Nation. It didn’t go well. While being deposed under oath, he was forced to recant 30 public lies.

Stephen Miller creeps me out, so I have not watched his CNN interview, the one Jake Tapper ended early, resulting in Miller needing to be escorted out of the studio. Maybe your stomach is stronger than mine. If I were casting a movie and needed somebody to play a fascist toady, Miller would be hard to top.

and the investigations of Trump

There have been a number of recent developments. The NYT reported Thursday on Trump’s attempts to dissuade Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from the Russia investigation. Anonymous sources say Trump sent White House Counsel Don McGahn to lobby Sessions against recusal, and quote him saying that it was Sessions’ job to “protect” him from the investigation. Trump also talked positively about AGs “protecting” their presidents in an on-the-record interview with the NYT in late December.

Sessions, in turn, reportedly tried to dig up dirt against then-FBI-Director James Comey, presumably to undermine the FBI’s investigation of Trump. Also, notes taken by then-Chief-of-Staff Reince Preibus apparently back up some of Comey’s claims about his interactions with Trump.

All of this supports the theory that Comey’s firing was part of a larger effort to obstruct justice.

The Republican conspiracy theory focused on Fusion GPS and the Steele dossier largely unraveled. The heart of that theory was that the original FBI investigation of the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia was based on the Steele dossier, which was partially paid for with money from the Clinton campaign. If that were true, it would point to a dangerous politicization of the FBI.

But it’s not true. Another NYT scoop says the FBI investigation began with a tip from Australian intelligence: Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos (who has already pleaded guilty and is cooperating with Mueller) bragged to an Australian diplomat at a London bar that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton. The diplomat initially thought nothing of it, but when such dirt started to come out, he reported the meeting.

Meanwhile, the founders of Fusion GPS published an op-ed saying that Congress already knows better than some of the conspiracy theories that Republican congressmen have been trafficking in, because they have already testified extensively under oath.

Yes, we hired Mr. Steele, a highly respected Russia expert. But we did so without informing him whom we were working for and gave him no specific marching orders beyond this basic question: Why did Mr. Trump repeatedly seek to do deals in a notoriously corrupt police state that most serious investors shun?

What came back shocked us. Mr. Steele’s sources in Russia (who were not paid) reported on an extensive — and now confirmed — effort by the Kremlin to help elect Mr. Trump president. Mr. Steele saw this as a crime in progress and decided he needed to report it to the F.B.I.

We did not discuss that decision with our clients, or anyone else.

They request that Chairman Grassley of the Senate Judiciary Committee release the transcript of their sworn testimony, but Grassley has refused to do so.

Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress seem more interested in punishing the whistle-blowers than in understanding how Russia interfered in the 2016 election and trying to prevent future interference. Senators Grassley and Graham made the criminal referral resulting from the Judiciary Committee’s investigation — against Christopher Steele, the author of the dossier whose contents were leaked to the public a year ago. The only bank records Congress has subpoenaed are those of Fusion GPS, Steele’s employers.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department has become less resistant to political pressure from Republicans. Investigations into the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton’s emails have re-opened. It would be one thing if these investigations were based on some new information, but so far that seems not to be the case. It looks like Benghazi all over again: If the last investigation didn’t find anything criminal, it must be time to launch a new investigation. There appears to be no way to clear the Clintons.

We can’t lose sight of the larger irrelevance of these issues: Bill and Hillary Clinton are private citizens now. If there’s some legitimate reason to investigate or prosecute them, fine. But none of that has any political significance any more, and nothing that might be uncovered about the Clintons would justify ignoring Trump’s law-breaking.

and you also might be interested in …

Oprah’s speech at the Golden Globes.

For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men. But their time is up.

Other people are wondering if Oprah’s time is arriving. It’s hard to picture anybody better equipped to channel anti-Trump outrage.

It’s amazing how fast Trump nuclear-button tweet got knocked out of the headlines by other outrageous stuff. The best response to it was Stephen Colbert’s Viagrageddon commercial:

When Susan Collins voted for Trump’s no-billionaire-left-behind tax cut that also repealed ObamaCare’s individual mandate, she insisted that she hadn’t just caved, she had made a savvy deal: In exchange for her vote, she was promised that Congress would pass other legislation to keep the ObamaCare marketplaces from collapsing. Many observers (including me) concluded that she’d been rolled. In fact that additional legislation would never pass; or if it ever did, it would only be as part of a larger package requiring new concessions. Her vote had bought nothing.

Collins was enraged by that assessment, calling it “unbelievably sexist“.

“I cannot believe that the press would have treated another senator with 20 years of experience as they have treated me,” she told reporters. “They’ve ignored everything that I’ve gotten and written story after story about how I’m duped.”

But maybe people wrote that because she was duped. TPM reports:

When Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) first announced she would support the GOP tax bill that killed Obamacare’s individual mandate, she insisted that three separate health care measures to prop up the Affordable Care Act and protect Medicare recipients be passed before she cast her vote. She then amended her demand, saying the bills had to pass before the tax bill came back from the House-Senate conference committee. She then insisted — after voting for the tax bill — that the policies pass by the end of 2017. When it became clear that wasn’t possible in the face of staunch opposition from House conservatives, she expressed confidence they would become law in January.

Now, Collins is moving the goalposts yet again.

In an interview with Inside Health Policy published Thursday, Collins said she hopes the policies she proposed will pass and be implemented before 2019, when the repeal of the individual mandate is expected to shrink the individual insurance market by several million people and drive up premiums by at least 10 percent.

Drug policy has long been the most obvious place where Republicans abandon their states-rights rhetoric. Drugs are bad, and so laws against them are good, even if they are federal laws that trump more permissive state laws.

In recent years, states like Colorado have relaxed their marijuana laws, to the point that their are retail marijuana shops like Local Product in Denver. At the New Year, marijuana laws changed in California and a few other states. The Obama administration had turned a blind eye to states legalizing marijuana. Federal law still banned it, but the Obama Justice Department decided it had better things to do than fight with states about weed.

The result has been something that Republicans ordinarily would applaud: Entrepreneurs started new businesses and created new jobs. What’s more, legally grown local marijuana keeps dollars in the country and lowers our real balance of payments deficit. (This may not show up in the official stats, because importing marijuana has always been off the books.) MarketWatch — a news site targeted at investors rather than potheads — projects that U.S. marijuana could be a $50-billion-a-year industry by 2026.

But this week Jeff Sessions announced that the oppressive hand of job-killing big-government regulation is coming back. He did not go so far as to order U.S. attorneys to crack down on those who grow or sell or use marijuana, but he rescinded Obama-era hands-off guidelines and instructed them to use their own judgment.

This policy change is expected to crimp the expansion of the legal marijuana industry, making bankers and other investors more skittish about risking their money. It will also give U.S. attorneys, who often go on seek higher office, a new temptation for corruption: Hey, Mr. Marijuana Mogul: Do you want to contribute to my campaign for governor, or should I arrest you?

Speaking of job-killing regulations, Slate points out that some jobs ought to be killed: the ones based on fleecing the public. The article points to the now-reversed regulation requiring financial advisors to act in their clients’ best interests.

Yes, these rules and regulations might technically kill jobs. But which jobs, and in order to accomplish what? Protections of this sort chase dodgy sellers out of the marketplace. If that’s job killing, good riddance.

Deregulation, in turn, paves the way for the return of these jobs for financial snake oil salesman.

Deregulation also spawns the need for regulatory sherpas—self-anointed “experts” hired by frightened members of the public who lack the time and sophistication to test the quality of (newly deregulated) drinking water, food, or prescription drugs.

Does the country really need a cottage industry of private testers and verifiers to help Americans get through the day? These are not jobs we need, nor ones we should want.

Israel’s response to Trump’s announcement that the American embassy will move to Jerusalem is to move further in the direction of annexing the territory it conquered in 1967. The NYT quotes Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan:

We are telling the world that it doesn’t matter what the nations of the world say. The time has come to express our biblical right to the land.

Whenever the Israel/Palestine conflict comes up, it’s worth remembering that there are only four long-term solutions:

  • two sovereign states
  • one democratic state in which all Jews and Palestinians are voting citizens
  • one undemocratic state in which half of the population rules the other half
  • ethnic cleansing

If you’re not for option 1, you’re implicitly for one of the other three.

Remember the commission that Trump established to prove his claim that 3-5 million people voted fraudulently in 2016, so he might have won the popular vote after all? Never mind. Trump disbanded the commission Wednesday. In the tweet announcing his decision, he continued to assert “substantial evidence of voter fraud”, though he has never produced any evidence for that claim.

One of Roy Moore’s accusers just had her house burn down. Maybe it’s a coincidence.

One of the key worries of never-Trump Republicans is coming true: College Republican groups are losing traditional Republicans and being taken over by Trumpists. That’s a trend that could affect the GOP for decades to come.

and let’s close with something remarkable

As any home-owner will tell you, construction projects take forever. Maybe they don’t have to: This house assembles itself in 10 minutes.