Category Archives: Weekly summaries

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

Not All Appearances are Deceiving

No Sift the next two weeks. New articles will appear May 28.

The bottom line — which will remain true no matter how much the Kochs spend trying to convince you otherwise — is that what looks like a big giveaway to wealthy investors is, in fact, a big giveaway to wealthy investors.

– Paul Krugman “Apple and the Fruits of Tax Cuts” (5-3-2018)

This week’s featured post is “Speaking in Code: two phrases that no longer mean what they used to“.

This week everybody was talking about lies

From the beginning I have resisted paying too much attention to the Stormy Daniels story — or publishing pictures of her in low-cut tops — because to the extent that it’s about sex I just don’t care. People who cared about Bill Clinton’s affairs should have to explain why they don’t care about Trump’s. But I don’t care about either one.

Increasingly, though, the Stormy story has come to exemplify other disturbing features of Trump and his administration: financial corner-cutting, and an approach towards lying that doesn’t even seek deceive so much as destroy the idea of a knowable truth.

This week, Rudy Giulani began giving interviews in his role as Trump’s new lawyer. He soon offered a new story of Trump’s role in the $130K hush money Daniels was given by Michael Cohen, and then a new story after that, only to have Trump say that Giuliani didn’t have his facts straight. By Sunday’s interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Giuliani was treating the simplest questions as deep philosophical mysteries. When did Trump know about the payment? Apparently the question is unfathomable.

It could have been recently, it could have been awhile back. Those are the facts that we’re still working on and that, you know, may be in a little bit of dispute. This is more rumor than anything else.

Remember: Giuliani is not a reporter dealing with a hostile source; he’s a lawyer representing a client.

In general, it’s getting harder and harder to get a straight story from anybody in the administration about much of anything. Vox compiled a timeline of the different things we’ve been told about the Daniels payoff: It didn’t happen (January 12); Cohen paid it using his own money (February 13); Trump knew nothing about it (April 5); Cohen was representing Trump when he made the payment (April 26); Trump repaid Cohen (May 2). Since then we’ve heard that Trump repaid Cohen, but by paying a $35K monthly retainer without knowing what it was for. Or maybe he did know.

The latest version suggests that Cohen might have been running a deniable slush fund for the Trump campaign.

What never seems to happen, though, is that a person with knowledge walks us through the story from beginning to end, and takes responsibility for that story hanging together for the long haul.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended previously telling the press corps that Trump didn’t know about the payment by saying “We’re giving you the best information that we’re going to have. Obviously the press team’s not going to be as read-in, maybe, as some other elements, at a given moment, on a variety of topics. But we relay the best and most accurate information that we have.” Translation: Trump lied to her too.

My growing impression is that in TrumpWorld the concepts of truth and lie are meaningless. We are all told whatever will best placate us at the moment, by people who may not know any more than we do. If at some future moment we become agitated again, we’ll be told something else.


Parkland survivor Cameron Kasky compared what Trump told the NRA Friday to what he told the Parkland families soon after the shooting.

If he’s in front of families, he might say something in support of common sense gun reform. But then when he’s at the NRA, he’ll say something to get a big cheer.

Vox’ Dara Lind recalls numerous moments when the press reported that Trump was considering some action — changing his legal team, firing Rex Tillerson, firing H. R. McMaster — Trump vociferously denounced the report as fake news, and then shortly thereafter he did the thing he had denied considering.

With their actions, Trump and his White House have forfeited the right to have any influence on which stories about the president should or should not be believed. If they have no scruples about when and about what to lie, the only responsible alternative is to assume, always, that their statements have no relationship whatsoever to the truth.


Then we get to the strange story of Trump’s former doctor, Harold Bornstein, the one who signed a letter claiming that “If elected, Mr Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”

He now tells us that Trump dictated that letter himself, and that Bornstein just signed it.

A few weeks after the inauguration, Bornstein claims, Trump sent a lawyer and his bodyguard to his office to take Trump’s medical records by force, in what he characterized as a “raid” and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called “standard operating procedure“. The BBC quotes Dr. Arthur Caplan, a professor of bio-ethics at NYU:

In the US, medical records are joint property. They do belong to the patient who can have a copy, but the doctor keeps one too because if an issue comes up about malpractice, they have to have the record. You can’t just come in and take away everything.

The big question we’re left with is: Do we actually know anything trustworthy about Trump’s health? The report from his White House doctor, Ronny Jackson, also included an unprofessional level of flattery. (“He has incredibly good genes. … If he had a healthier diet over the last 20 years he might live to be 200”.) Jackson was then rewarded with a cabinet nomination, though he later had to withdraw.

and impeachment

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, wrote an op-ed in the NYT Friday urging Democrats not to “take the bait” on impeachment. He points out that impeachment is both a legal and a political process, and requires both a legal and a political justification:

while that political standard cannot be easily or uniformly defined, I think in the present context it means the following: Was the president’s conduct so incompatible with the office he holds that Democratic and Republican members of Congress can make the case to their constituents that they were obligated to remove him? … This is a very high bar, and it should be.

If I were a Democrat running for Congress, I’d be talking about checks and balances rather than speculating about impeachment. The problem with the Republican Congress is that it doesn’t want to know what Trump did or is doing. It tolerates Trump’s blatant attempts to influence the Justice Department. It winks and nods at the various ways Trump is making money off the presidency. The House Intelligence Committee’s investigation — now concluded — was more interested in harassing whistleblowers and intimidating investigators than in finding out whether anyone in the Trump campaign committed treason, or if Putin has some illicit hold on Trump himself.

At the same time, the evidence publicly available at this moment is more smoke than fire. It raises questions but does not by itself constitute proof of high crimes and misdemeanors, the constitutional standard for impeachment. The Mueller investigation may or may not have such evidence; that remains to be seen. But any Democrat who says, “Vote for me and I’ll vote to impeach Trump” is going too far.

With regard to Trump, my recommended message would be: “Trump is not trustworthy, so we need a Democratic Congress to keep an eye on him and to make sure he fulfills his constitutional responsibility to faithfully execute the laws. We’ll insist that he produce his tax returns, as every other recent president has. We’ll investigate whether he’s violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. We’ll protect the Mueller investigation from improper interference until it can produce a full report.”

“Will that lead to impeachment? That will depend on facts we don’t know yet. But if you ever want to know the facts, you have to elect a Democratic Congress, because Republicans have proved already that they are more loyal to Trump than they are to America. A Republican Congress will continue to cover for him and make excuses for him, rather than be the kind of watchdog the Founders intended Congress to be.”

and the role of parties in primaries

At the end of April, The Intercept published an article about the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the official Democratic group responsible for winning House elections. It is chaired by Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, who ranks just behind Nancy Pelosi among House Democrats.

The article centers on a tape of Hoyer trying to convince a progressive candidate to drop out of the race, clearing the primary for a moderate Democrat that Hoyer believes has a better chance to win the general election.

The article itself has a tone that suggests there is something illegitimate about this kind of pre-primary interference, that the national party ought to stay neutral and let the local voters decide for themselves. Some of the social media discussion this article provoked made that case more explicitly: The national party shouldn’t be trying to “rig the primaries” by helping one candidate over another.

The contrary viewpoint was expressed by author Elaine Kamarck in Thursday’s NYT. In her view, national parties in America are far less controlling than those in other democratic countries, and are already virtually abdicating their responsibility.

This is not to say that there is no role for primaries. But the pendulum between the party’s leaders choosing its candidates and primary voters choosing them has swung so far in the direction of the voters that even the smallest, most modest efforts to intervene in nomination races are deemed illegitimate.

Personally, I have trouble getting excited about this issue for a simple reason: If Steny Hoyer and a little money can stop you, then you’re not the revolutionary grass-roots candidate you claim to be. Look at what has happened on the Republican side: Trump-style populists like Roy Moore have repeatedly routed the more mainstream candidates Mitch McConnell tries to pre-select, to the point that it’s not clear whether Mitch’s endorsement helps more than it hurts.


Speaking of primaries and parties, Republicans are facing some strange dynamics.

Tomorrow is the West Virginia primary, where establishment Republicans are increasingly worried that coal baron Don Blankenship will win the Republican nomination for the Senate.

Blankenship’s corner-cutting on safety regulations was the primary cause of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, which killed 29 people in 2010. Blankenship escaped conviction on the biggest charges against him and spent a mere one year in prison, so he’s ready for the Senate.

The Onion has it about right:

I’m Don Blankenship, and I’m proud to say that my vision and leadership created countless new job opportunities in the fields of search and rescue, emergency surgery, funeral services, and many more. From trauma specialists and morticians all the way down to the manufacturers of vigil candles, gravestones, and sympathy cards, I’m committed to putting West Virginians to work. I’ve even created 29 new coal mining jobs. Can Mitch McConnell say the same?

In California, Diane Feinstein may end up running against an explicit anti-Semite.

Aghast at the possibility of being represented by a Senate candidate whose platform calls for “limiting representation of Jews in the government” and making it U.S. policy that the Holocaust “is a Jewish war atrocity propaganda hoax that never happened,” California Republican leaders were quick to denounce Little.

“Mr. Little has never been an active member of our party. I do not know Mr. Little and I am not familiar with his positions,” Matt Fleming, a California Republican Party spokesman, said in a statement. “But in the strongest terms possible, we condemn anti-Semitism and any other form of religious bigotry, just as we do with racism, sexism or anything else that can be construed as a hateful point of view.”

Should they be rigging the primary like that?

but you should read this hard-to-pigeonhole article

The Spy Who Came Home” in The New Yorker. Patrick Skinner was a CIA operative in Afghanistan and Iraq. Then he came home to be a beat cop in Savannah.

“We write these strategic white papers, saying things like ‘Get the local Sunni population on our side,’ ” Skinner said. “Cool. Got it. But, then, if I say, ‘Get the people who live at Thirty-eighth and Bulloch on our side,’ you realize, man, that’s fucking hard—and it’s just a city block. It sounds so stupid when you apply the rhetoric over here. Who’s the leader of the white community in Live Oak neighborhood? Or the poor community?” Skinner shook his head. “ ‘Leader of the Iraqi community.’ What the fuck does that mean?”

“We have to stop treating people like we’re in Fallujah,” he told me. “It doesn’t work. Just look what happened in Fallujah.”

and you also might be interested in …

The videos coming out of Hawaii are amazing.


The deadline for re-affirming the Iran nuclear deal is Saturday. In the Boston Globe, Harvard Kennedy School professor Matthew Bunn offers suggestions for building new agreements on top of the existing one, but presents this warning about simply walking away from the existing agreement.

if Trump walks out of the deal on May 12, the United States will be isolated. Few others will join the US sanctions, diluting the pressure that could be brought to bear on Iran. And in Iran’s internal debates, the advocates for engagement with the West would be discredited, probably making any new or better deal impossible for years to come. Iran would be freed from the deal’s nuclear limits and could begin building up its capability to produce nuclear bomb material. That could leave Trump with few choices between accepting an Iran on the edge of nuclear weapons or launching yet another war in the Middle East.


The NYT warns that verifying compliance of any North Korean nuclear deal will be even harder than verifying the Iran deal.


The nomination of Gina Haspel to be CIA director will reach the Senate floor soon. The nomination is controversial because of the still-not-fully-explained role she played in torturing detainees and/or covering up that torture. Here’s how Trump is framing that:

My highly respected nominee for CIA Director, Gina Haspel, has come under fire because she was too tough on Terrorists. Think of that, in these very dangerous times, we have the most qualified person, a woman, who Democrats want OUT because she is too tough on terror.

Think about that: She’s under fire because of suspicion that she broke the law against torture, putting the US in violation of the Convention Against Torture that President Reagan signed and the Senate ratified. But in Trump’s book, breaking the law is fine if you break it over the heads of the right people.


The Krugman quote at the top concerns Apple’s announcement that it will buy back $100 billion of its own stock. This will benefit Apple’s shareholders, but do virtually nothing to create jobs or grow the US economy.

This is turning out to be typical of how corporations are spending the windfall they got from the Trump tax cut. The political hype was that companies with big offshore profits would now bring that money back to the US to build new factories, hire more workers, and pay them higher wages. Several companies made happy headlines by announcing $1000 worker bonuses immediately after the tax bill passed. But such actions represent only a tiny fraction of the corporate tax-cut windfall.


Unemployment went below 4% last month, a number not seen since the end of the Clinton administration. Basically, the unimpressive but steady job growth that started under Obama has continued under Trump. Unemployment peaked at over 10% in October, 2009, and has been headed down since then. Looking at the Fed’s graph, it’s hard to spot the Obama/Trump changeover.


Iowa just passed a law banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. That threshold is usually crossed at around 6 weeks, when many women do not even realize they are pregnant. So for most practical purposes abortion will have been banned in Iowa when the law takes effect on July 1.

Abortion-rights groups will ask courts to block the bill, but that seems to be the point: generating a legal case that will give the Supreme Court an opportunity to reverse Roe v Wade.

Liberals are often urged not to poke the bear with proposals that are unlikely to become law, but will validate conservative fears: sweeping gun bans, for example. For some reason, conservatives don’t operate under the same restrictions.


The NYT’s conservative columnist Bret Stephens makes the case for the US continuing as the world policeman.

The world learned on Sept. 1, 1939, where the mentality of every-country-for-itself leads. Our willful and politically wounded president is leading us there again. A warning to countries that have relied too long and lazily on the promises of Pax Americana: The policeman has checked out. You’re on your own again.


One standard feature of conservative health-care plans (at least for the conservatives who even bother to have a plan any more) is high-deductible insurance. The idea is that Americans will be less wasteful with their use of the healthcare system if they have what Paul Ryan calls “skin in the game”.

High deductibles do decrease Americans’ use of healthcare. However, sometimes the result is that people who need care forego it.

Women who had just learned they had breast cancer were more likely to delay getting care if their deductibles were high, the study showed. A review of several years of medical claims exposed a pattern: Women confronting such immediate expenses put off getting diagnostic imaging and biopsies, postponing treatment.

And they delayed beginning chemotherapy by an average of seven months, said Dr. J. Frank Wharam, a Harvard researcher and one of the authors of the study, published earlier this year in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

The NYT article gives anecdotes of patients facing financial choices, but doesn’t say whether the study documented the effect of income. I have to suspect that the delayed or neglected care centered mainly on poorer households.

While high-deductible plans are meant to encourage people to think twice about whether a test or treatment is necessary and if it can be done at a lower price, “it’s also frankly to impede their use of these services,” said Dr. Peter Bach, the director of the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.


Shortly after he took office, Trump issued a drain-the-swamp executive order that was supposed to prevent people who leave the administration from going straight into lobbying. ProPublica studied how well that is working. It looks like there are ways around the order, but that it’s not totally useless either. Somebody who took Trump at his word will likely be disappointed, but since I thought the executive order was complete BS, I’m surprised in a mildly pleasant way.


Jared Kushner is still fixing errors in his financial disclosure forms.

and let’s close with a song parody

No, not one of mine this time. It’s “Confounds the Science” to the tune of “Sounds of Silence”.

Transforming Common Sense

The same analysts who invariably describe waves of unarmed revolt as spontaneous and uncontrolled spend endless hours speculating on which candidates might enter into elections that are still years away. They closely track developments in Congress, in the courts, and in the White House. They carefully study the arts of electioneering, lobbying, and legislative deal making — processes that dominate public understanding of US politics and that are shaped by elite values and practices. In doing so, they appeal to realism. This is how the system works, they tell us. This is how the sausage gets made. But is this really how change happens?

– Mark and Paul Engler, This is an Uprising (2016)

One of the chief aims of revolutionary activity is to transform political common sense.

David Graeber (2014)

This week’s featured post is “Change Can Happen Faster Than You Think.” It reviews what I think is a very important book: This is an Uprising by Mark and Paul Engler, which walks you through half a century or more of the theory and practice of nonviolent organizing.

This week everybody was talking about Korea

The leaders of North and South Korea met at the border Friday and signed a joint declaration agreeing to a number of laudable goals, like negotiating a peace treaty to finally put an official end to the Korean War (since 1953 there has been an armistice, but the countries are still officially at war), denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and reunification of families divided between the two nations. The details are to be worked out later.

But the details are the hard part, which is why it’s too soon to get really excited about this agreement. It’s a little like when an estranged married couple meets for lunch and decides they want to get back together. That’s hopeful, but they’re still going to have to resolve the issues — kids, careers, money, blame and forgiveness for past events — that split them up to begin with.

Anna Fifield writes in The Washington Post:

We were here in 1992, when North Korea signed a denuclearization agreement with South Korea. Again in 1994, when North Korea signed a denuclearization agreement with the United States. And in 2005, when North Korea signed a denuclearization agreement with its four neighbors and the United States. And then there was 2012, when North Korea signed another agreement with the United States.

But she also is mildly hopeful: The way North Korean media covered the meeting between North Korean President Kim and South Korean President Moon “sends a powerful message to the people of North Korea: This is a process Kim is personally invested in.”

Realizing the promise of this agreement will involve some concessions from the United States, like ending economic sanctions against North Korea and pulling our troops out of South Korea. We’re unlikely to make those concessions unless we’re confident we can verify that North Korea has gotten rid of its nukes (and maybe its ballistic missiles as well). Whether North Korea will submit to the kind of intrusive inspections we will want is probably going to be the sticking point. And what if they demand that we abandon our nuclear weapons as well?

Here’s what’s particularly ironic: In terms of inspections, about the best we can hope for is to duplicate the Iran denuclearization agreement that Trump is on the verge of scuttling.

As for why the Korea negotiations are happening now, James Fallows recommends this analysis by Patrick Chovanec. The Guardian suggests another reason for Kim’s willingness to halt nuclear tests: His testing site may be out of commission anyway.

and Trump administration scandals

Michael Cohen pleaded the Fifth Amendment in the civil case that Stormy Daniels has brought against him and President Trump. The judge granted Cohen’s motion to delay the trial for 90 days to see if Cohen is indicted. Presumably, his legal liability (and hence the scope of his Fifth Amendment claims) will be easier to assess then.


To no one’s surprise, the House Intelligence Committee’s Republican majority released a report that found no evidence of collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. It’s easy to not find evidence when you don’t really look.

Adam Schiff, the ranking Democratic committee member, summarized many of the committee’s interviews.

My colleagues had a habit of asking three questions: Did you conspire, did you collude, did you coordinate with Russians? And if the answer was “no,” they were pretty much done.

Schiff’s assessment is backed up by the report itself.

Finding #25: When asked directly, none of the interviewed witnesses provided evidence of collusion, coordination, or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

So: We asked them and they said they didn’t do it. What more could the American people expect from us?

Some key witnesses, like Paul Manafort, were never questioned at all. Donald Trump Jr. was allowed not to answer questions (about his father’s role in crafting the false statement responding to the initial report of Junior’s Trump Tower meeting with Russians) by claiming a plainly bogus “attorney-client privilege”. (Neither of the Trumps are lawyers, but there was a lawyer in the room somewhere. When mob bosses try this trick, courts don’t let them get away with it.) Several Trump-administration witnesses refused to answer questions, and the committee did not press them.

The report’s clever phrasing papers over these huge gaps.

We reviewed every piece of relevant evidence provided to us and interviewed every witness we assessed would substantively contribute to the agreed-upon bipartisan scope of the investigation.

If evidence wasn’t provided or witnesses refused to tell them anything, the committee simply accepted that limitation and moved on. The “agreed-upon bipartisan scope of the investigation” apparently did not include actually figuring out what happened.


Scott Pruitt testified before Congress about his conflicts of interest and his misspending EPA funds on first-class travel, round-the-clock personal security, and remodeling his office. He acknowledged nothing, blamed his staff, and attributed criticism to those who disagree with his policies. (If you think that the Environmental Protection Agency should protect the environment, there’s a lot to disagree with.)

I finally got around to reading the NYT article from last week about Pruitt’s pre-EPA career in Oklahoma. Pruitt virtually defines “the swamp” that Trump keeps saying he wants to drain. No smoking gun stands out above the general run, but the article is one long story of friends helping friends, business deals that always come out well for Pruitt, and a pro-business politician doing things that save businesses huge amounts of money. Corners are cut along the way, but it’s all much more gentlemanly than simple bribery. And of course, Pruitt spends large amounts of taxpayer money on himself, just as he has been doing at EPA.


In the same way that Scott Pruitt sees his job at the EPA as protecting businesses from environmental regulation, Mike Mulvaney at the Consumer Financial Protection Board works to protect banks and payday lenders from consumer-protection laws. Addressing his primary constituents at an American Bankers Association conference on Tuesday, Mulvaney told the ABA that “what you do here [i.e., give money to legislators who support bank-friendly laws] matters.” He explained why by pointing to his own practices when he was in Congress.

We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress. If you were a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you were a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.

I can’t claim I’m shocked to hear that some politicians’ attention is for sale. But it is stunning to find one so jaded that he doesn’t even see the point of pretending otherwise. For Mulvaney corruption is not an evil to be deplored or rooted out; it’s just life.


I’m not sure whether this counts as scandalous or just unhinged, but Trump called in to Fox & Friends Thursday morning and spoke almost nonstop for half an hour. The hosts frequently looked uncomfortable and frozen, tried (and often failed) to interrupt him, and finally pushed to end the conversation before Trump did himself any more damage. This was yet another scene no one could have imagined in any previous administration: TV news personalities trying to get the President of the United States to shut up.

As a result, we all got to see for ourselves the conversational style that James Comey described in his book: “The barrage of words was almost designed to prevent a genuine two-way dialogue from ever happening.”

You can watch the whole interview, read WaPo’s annotated transcript, or save time and watch Trevor Noah’s summary:

Seth Meyers’ summary is also entertaining.

Trump’s ramble did huge damage to his position in the Stormy Daniels case. Trump and Michael Cohen have contended that Daniels’ non-disclosure agreement is with Cohen, who paid the $130K hush money himself without Trump’s knowledge. But Trump admitted that Cohen “represents me like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal, he represented me.”

Trump and Cohen also want to keep both Robert Mueller and the US attorney for the Southern District of New York from examining the material the FBI took when it raided Cohen’s office, claiming that it is protected by attorney-client privilege. SDNY prosecutors, on the other hand, have argued in court that Cohen actually did very little legal work for Trump or anyone else. Trump backed up the SDNY claim:

Michael is a businessman. He’s got a business. He also practices law. I would say probably the big thing is his business … I have many attorneys … He has a percentage of my overall legal work — a tiny, tiny little fraction.

Within hours, SDNY had amended its court filing to include quotes from Trump’s interview.

Finally, two tidbits underline how bizarre the whole thing was: Trump started by saying it was Melania’s birthday. Then he admitted that he hadn’t gotten her anything yet beyond a card and flowers, because “you know, I’m very busy”. Then he rambled until the hosts cut him off, as very busy men often do on their wives’ birthdays.

And this exchange about CNN is either priceless or symptomatic:

KILMEADE: I’m not your doctor, Mr. President, but I would — I would recommend you watch less of them.

TRUMP: I don’t watch them at all. I watched last night.


White House doctor Ronny Jackson dropped out of consideration to lead the Veterans Administration Thursday morning.

Trump is claiming that Jackson has been wronged by his critics, but he’s also apparently not getting his old job back as White House physician.

By now we know that Trump does not care about the qualifications of the people he appoints, and frequently picks people just because he likes them or they look the part. (HUD ought to be led by a black, so why not Ben Carson? He knows nothing about public housing or urban planning, but so what?) Well, he likes Jackson, who looks impressive and is both a doctor and a rear admiral in the Navy. So what if he had never managed a large organization, and the VA has almost 400k employees and an annual budget just under $200 billion?

That by itself should have been enough to make the Senate think twice about confirming this nomination, but it soon became clear that Trump’s people had not done the most basic kind of vetting. Senators found many accusations against Jackson, which The Washington Post breaks into three categories:

  • Being sloppy about giving out and accounting for prescription drugs, including prescribing to himself.
  • Turning the White House Medical Office into a terrible place to work.
  • Being drunk on duty.

As WaPo emphasizes, these are merely accusations at this stage rather than proven facts. (However, the accusers are not random partisans coming out of the woodwork. Most are career Navy.) But a competent White House would at least have known that such issues would arise, and would have been prepared to address them. The Trump White House wasn’t.

Also worth noting: During the campaign, fixing the VA was a central part of Trump’s message. (In a speech to the VFW, he pledged to “take care of our veterans like they’ve never been taken care of before.”) If he cared about any cabinet position, he should have cared about this one.

and Macron’s visit

French President Emmanuel Macron visited the White House early in the week and gave a well-reviewed speech to Congress. But he failed to convince Trump to change his positions on Iran or the Paris Climate agreement.


New and better trade deals were a key promise of Trump’s 2016 campaign. But the deadline for imposing his tariffs on steel and aluminum is approaching, and other countries are not caving in to his demands.

and the new memorial to victims of lynching

From the moment that terrorists killed nearly 3,000 people on 9-11, it was obvious that there would someday be a memorial to them. And there is — how could there not be?

Now think about the more than 4,000 African-Americans who were lynched. They didn’t die all at once or all in one place, but they also were victims of terrorism. As Brent Staples puts it:

The carnivals of death where African-American men, women and children were hanged, burned and dismembered as cheering crowds of whites looked on were the cornerstone of white supremacist rule in the Jim Crow-era South. These bloody spectacles terrified black communities into submission and showed whites that there would be no price to pay for murdering black people who asserted the right to vote, competed with whites in business — or so much as brushed against a white person on the sidewalk.

Now, finally, they also get their memorial: The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. It opened Thursday.

The memorial houses 800 steel blocks, each 6 feet tall, suspended from above, and arranged in a square surrounding a grassy courtyard. There’s a monument for each county where racial killings occurred, including one from Carroll County, Miss., “where nearly two dozen people were lynched,” [Bryan] Stevenson [of the organization that created the memorial] says. They resemble elongated gravestones, etched with the names of victims.

Thinking of them as gravestones must be particularly eerie, since the visitor sees them from below.


The “lynching memorial”, as it is being called, is particularly timely given the controversies over the thousands of Confederate monuments scattered throughout the country, and especially the South. “Preserving history” is the excuse frequently given for forcing majority-black cities to give places of honor to men who fought to keep their citizens’ ancestors enslaved, or for punishing cities that remove such monuments. But until recently, what has been preserved is a very distorted view of history.

This was not an accident, but rather was an organized campaign by Southern state and local governments to whitewash the history of slavery and the Civil War. Virginia textbooks commissioned during the 1950s and still in use into the 1970s, taught school children lessons like:

Enslaved people were happy to be in Virginia and were better off than they would have been in Africa. Abolitionists lied about slavery in the South. … After the Civil War, carpetbaggers and scalawags came down to Virginia to oppress white Virginians. However, some ‘broad-minded’ Northerners came to understand and appreciate true Virginia and came to agree that Negroes were not ready to govern themselves.

Several Southern states celebrate an official Confederate Memorial Day: Today in Mississippi, last Monday in Alabama and Georgia. As far as I know, no state specifically honors the Southerners who have the best claim to Civil War heroism: slaves who escaped, joined the Union Army, and returned to liberate their people. They are the real heroes; Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson aren’t in the same league.

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James Fallows thinks that on a local level, America is revitalizing itself.


The Senate confirmed Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State. Individually, the Tillerson-to-Pompeo  switch probably doesn’t mean much. But with Bolton replacing McMaster as National Security Adviser, it’s ominous. I worry that at some key moment, no one in the room will regard war with Iran as a bad thing.


As if there weren’t enough crazies to worry about already, the man who used his van to kill 10 people in Toronto last Monday drew attention to yet another toxic worldview: Incels.

Incel, a contraction of “involuntarily celebate”, is a specific type of misogyny: Heterosexual guys who can’t find willing sexual partners blame women in general. They also aren’t wild about the guys who do manage to find partners.

Incels are a small spin-off group from the “pick-up artist” community, which [journalist David] Futrelle defines as men “obsessed with mastering what they see as the ultimate set of techniques and attitudes — known as ‘Game’ — that will enable them to quickly seduce almost any woman they want.”

Incels are men who researched pick-up artistry and found that the techniques did not work as advertised. So they have become embittered and have organized a deeply misogynistic and strange online community who believe, as Futrelle explains, “that women who turn down incel men for dates or sex are somehow oppressing them.”

Incels differentiate themselves from “Chads and Stacys,” their contemptuous term for men and women who have heterosexual sex on a regular basis.

Shortly before his attack, the Toronto guy characterized himself on Facebook as a “recruit” in “the Incel Rebellion” and hailed Incel hero Elliot Rodger, who killed six people in 2014 in an attack that centered on a sorority house, and then committed suicide. Rodger’s 137-page manifesto (which I’m intentionally not linking to) is supposedly a primary text in the Incel movement.

I wrote about Rodger at the time, not realizing he would symbolize a movement. I think that post holds up well. (It leans on Arthur Chu’s “Your Princess is in Another Castle“, which rambles, but also holds up well.) As long as men think of women’s bodies as prizes — and feel cheated if we don’t get the rewards we think we’ve earned — rape and other forms of misogynistic violence are never going to go away.


A Palestinian father living in Gaza explains why he risks his life to participate in the Great Return March, a protest on Gaza’s border with Israel.


Bill Cosby was found guilty of three counts of aggravated indecent assault, after nearly half a century of accusations. The New York Times Editorial Board draws what I think is the right conclusion: Convicting a rich and famous man of sexual assaults that happen behind closed doors is possible now, but it’s still really, really hard.

[S]ince it happened only after scores of women suffered in silence for decades, and only in the midst of a global reckoning with sexual violence, even a “victory” like this verdict suggests that the abused still face a desperately uphill battle.


Paul Ryan’s firing of the House chaplain (apparently for a prayer encouraging Congress to seek “benefits balanced and shared by all Americans” just before the vote on the tax bill), looks like another place where his political philosophy is incompatible with his Catholicism. That was a theme I explored years before he became Speaker in “Jesus Shrugged: Why Christianity and Ayn Rand Don’t Mix“.

This event is particularly strange given all the complaints from the religious right that liberals are trying to “silence” them.


Lots of people have noticed Trump’s silence about the Waffle House shooting and wondered: Would he have had more to say if all the races were reversed? What if a black guy (or a Muslim or Hispanic immigrant) had walked into a restaurant, killed four white people, and then gotten stopped and chased away by an unarmed white hero? You think that might have drawn Trump’s attention?

My own guess is that Trump just couldn’t see the Waffle House story. Heroes and victims are white Christians; villains are some other kind of people. Nothing else registers.

In WestWorld, when the robots are confronted with something that ought to make them question their programmed worldview, they just can’t process it. “It doesn’t look like anything to me,” they say. That’s how I imagine Trump responding to the Waffle House story.


HUD Secretary Ben Carson wants to raise the rent on poor families in government-assisted housing, especially the poorest ones.

Under current law, most tenants who get federal housing assistance pay 30 percent of their adjusted income toward rent, and the government kicks in the rest up to a certain amount. According to the HUD plan unveiled Wednesday, the amount many renters would pay jumps to 35 percent of gross income. In some cases, rental payments for some of the neediest families would triple, rising from a minimum of $50 per month to a minimum of $150, according to HUD officials. Some 712,000 households would see their rents jump to $150 per month under the proposal, the officials said.

This is why taxpayers shouldn’t concern themselves about Carson spending $31K on a dining-room set for his office, or the conflicts of interest involving his son’s business. He’s more than making it up by grinding money out of poor people.

Carson also proposes to allow states more options to impose work requirements on people who otherwise qualify for subsidized housing. This might sound sensible if you have a certain view of poor people: that they would rather sponge off the government than work. (I have no numbers on this; I suspect it’s true for some, but probably a lot fewer than Carson thinks.) From my point of view, the big thing HUD needs to be careful about is setting up a poverty trap: If you get thrown out of your apartment because you’re not working, how are you ever going to fix that? Once you’re homeless, it gets a lot harder to find a job.

The next time you pass homeless people on the street, try to picture them walking into a McDonalds and applying for a job. What manager would hire them? How much prep would be necessary to become presentable in a business context? Where would a homeless person do that prep?

Telling the poor to “shape up or else” is an appealing fantasy for some people. The problem is with the “or else”, because often it’s a state from which there is no recovering.

and let’s close with another road trip

So where can you get the best cup of coffee in every state? Food & Wine magazine has got it covered.

A Year Over the Limit

Go home, 2018. You’re drunk.

Jake Tapper, responding to the revelation
that Michael Cohen’s mysterious third client is Sean Hannity

This week’s featured posts are “Comey’s Book” (For a guy who has spent most of his life chasing criminals, James Comey is an excellent writer.) and “Flipping the Script on Fossil Fuels“. (As sustainable-energy technologies improve, it’s now the fossil-fuel defenders who stand against economic progress.)

This week everybody was talking about North Korea

In anticipation of the Trump/Kim summit that is supposed to happen sometime in May or June, the North Korean government made some encouraging announcements:

These included a declaration that North Korea was satisfied with its existing nuclear warhead designs, and that it had discontinued all nuclear and intercontinental-range ballistic missile (ICBM) tests and closed its nuclear test site at Punggye Ri. Kim also announced that North Korea would suspend nuclear testing, and reiterated his commitment not to use nuclear weapons “unless there is [a] nuclear threat,” and to stop the proliferation of nuclear technology.

However, there’s a little less here than meets the eye, as The Atlantic’s Adam Mount and Ankit Panda go on to explain. Trump seems to think that “they have agreed to denuclearization“, which they haven’t.

While Kim did say that Pyongyang supported the vision of “global disarmament,” this is a common trope in North Korean propaganda and suggests that North Korea will soon call for tit-for-tat arms control with the United States.

In other words, if Trump asks Kim to give up all his nuclear weapons, the answer may be: “I will if you will.” From North Korea’s point of view, the point of this summit meeting is to showcase Kim and Trump as equals. Kim isn’t going to submit to an unequal deal.

There are a number of ways around the pledges Kim just made, some of which North Korea has used to dodge past agreements. So while the recent announcements should be seen as a good sign, they shouldn’t be read as more than that.

the United States cannot accept these measures as a victory—they’re a starting point for forging a verifiable cap on Pyongyang’s arsenal. A hard cap can keep America and its allies safer while Trump negotiates a more comprehensive agreement—something that can only happen if the president does not give in to overconfidence and optimism.

and kids protesting against guns

One of the hardest tasks in political organizing is to turn a protest into a protest movement. Something happens and people want to express themselves, so a bunch of them show up for a demonstration. But what happens then? How does that momentary outrage turn into the kind of persistent force that politicians have to recognize and respond to? (More on that next week.)

That’s the challenge faced by the students who became gun-control activists after the Parkland school shooting on Valentine’s Day. They promoted a national school walkout to mark the one-month anniversary on March 14, and then held the massive March for Our Lives rally in Washington, DC (with mirror rallies around the country) on March 24.

Friday was another school walkout, this time to mark the anniversary of the Columbine shooting. I haven’t found any estimate of how the number of students participating compared to the March 14 walkout, but the amount of media attention definitely seemed down. This summer, I think, will be key. Will they keep their momentum, or will this all be a memory by the time schools starts again in the fall?


I remembered Jake Tapper’s “Go home, 2018. You’re drunk.” when I saw the headline “Naked Gunman Kills 4 in Waffle House Shooting“. But it wasn’t a joke.

A man wearing only a green jacket shot three people dead at a Waffle House. One person later died at a hospital where two others are being treated for injuries. Police say the suspect fled on foot, and is still on the loose.

The reason more people aren’t dead is that an unarmed bystander — a good guy without a gun — took action.

When the shooting momentarily stopped, a Waffle House customer took advantage of the moment. James Shaw Jr. told reporters, “At that time I made up my mind … that he was going to have to work to kill me. When the gun jammed or whatever happened, I hit him with the swivel door.” Shaw then wrestled the gun away, and threw it behind the counter — prompting the gunman to leave.


There’s a perverse effect through which every mass-shooting story causes more people to say, “I need a gun to protect myself.” It’s hard to figure out how to counter that, because (even though violent crime of all sorts has been falling for decades), you never read a story saying “Everybody in Our Town was Safe Today”.

Except this one: The 75th precinct in East New York “regularly logged more than 100 murders a year” during the 1990s. Last year there were 11, and none so far in 2018.

Sometimes such turnarounds happen because the underlying population changes. The neighborhood suddenly becomes fashionable and a bunch of rich people move in, pushing the previous residents out. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

those kinds of changes have been slow to reach more distant places like East New York, a predominantly black and Latino neighborhood that still struggles with severe poverty and leads the city in robberies this year.

and Barbara Bush

Barbara Bush died Tuesday at the age of 92. She was the matriarch of the Bush clan, wife of the first President Bush and mother of the second. She was First Lady from 1989 to 1993.

Most of the respect and attention her life received this week was due to its own merits. The Wife-and-Mother-of-Presidents Club, after all, includes only Barbara Bush and Abigail Adams. (If you happen across a little girl named, say, Cynthia Collins, you might want to keep an eye on her.) But I think it also reflects nostalgia for an era not so long ago, when public life had a dignity it now conspicuously lacks, and when we expected our leaders to exemplify values we aspire to.

Barbara and George were married for 73 years, and have now been parted in the way their vows anticipated, by death. To a large extent, it’s impossible to see inside other people’s marriages, even those of your close friends. Marriages of public figures may be very different than they appear from the outside. But everything we do know about the Bushes points to a relationship of deep mutual respect.

The Bush marriage was a traditional one. Barbara left Smith College when she became a wife, and never developed a resume of her own, or sought a career outside the home as George rose through a series of ever-more-impressive jobs. Not everyone wants such a life today, and one huge virtue of our era is that women who don’t want to walk that path are not forced onto it. (My own marriage of 34 years is quite different, and I would not trade it.) But nonetheless I find it inspiring to see that the path can be walked. Every successfully concluded life should give us hope.

and James Comey

His book A Higher Loyalty appeared in bookstores Tuesday. One featured post is my response after reading it.

and Michael Cohen

I hesitate to say much about Cohen, because most of the talk about him this week was speculation about whether he’ll be indicted and whether he’ll cut a deal to testify against Trump. Those are both tantalizing questions, but the fact-to-guess ratio has been pretty low.

The really striking thing in all this speculating, though, is the number of Trump supporters who seem genuinely worried that Cohen will flip on Trump. The Atlantic’s David Graham draws the obvious conclusion: Even Trump’s friends believe he’s guilty of something.

these people are at least aspirationally standing up for Trump, and yet their comments have a clear subtext of guilt. They all start with the premise that Trump has something to hide. You can’t flip on someone unless you’ve got something to offer prosecutors. Usually, the defenders of suspects in prosecutors’ cross-hairs loudly proclaim their innocence, and insist that the investigation will ultimately vindicate them. But Trump’s chorus is singing from a different hymnal.


Attorney-client privilege is one issue that might keep federal investigators from examining some of the stuff seized in the raid on Michael Cohen’s offices. But whether that applies at all depends in part on how much law Cohen actually practices. (The privilege only applies to conversations that are genuinely about legal work that the attorney is doing for the client. The mere fact that somebody is a lawyer doesn’t mean that whatever you say to him or her is privileged.) The government has claimed Cohen doesn’t really practice much law, and so the judge wanted to know who Cohen’s clients are. There was Trump, and another rich Republican who tried to cover up an affair with a Playboy playmate, and somebody Cohen didn’t want to name.

Last Monday, the unnamed client was revealed: Fox News host Sean Hannity, who had been constantly denouncing the raid on Cohen’s office without revealing to his audience that he might have a personal interest in the story.

On a legitimate news network, Hannity would have been in big trouble, and probably would have been fired. (Journalists aren’t supposed to report on stories they are involved in. At a bare minimum, Hannity should have disclosed his relationship to Cohen and let his viewers judge for themselves whether to trust his objectivity.) On Fox, not so much. The network announced he has its “full support“.

Quartz chided journalists who claimed to be “stunned” by Fox’ lack of ethical discipline.

Really? Stunned? Let’s be clear: Fox News is not, and never has been, a news organization. And while Hannity is an influential person on television—and one many listen to—he is not a journalist. That some media observers saw Fox’s non-response to the Hannity debacle as anything other than a sad inevitability shows that we still have a ways to go to normalize those two facts.


By far the best response to the Hannity revelation came from CNN’s Jake Tapper: “Go home, 2018. You’re drunk.”

and whether Trump will fire either Mueller or Rosenstein

Rumors continue to swirl that Trump is about to fire either Special Counsel Robert Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller and oversees his investigation. At the same time, it doesn’t actually happen, so I wonder if we’re getting de-sensitized to Trump’s threats. (For comparison: I almost forgot that today is supposed to be the Rapture. People keep predicting it and it keeps not happening, so it’s hard to raise any excitement about it. Even the embarrassment of people who take such prophecies seriously has become old news.)

Democrats in Congress have been worrying about this all along, and several have promoted legislation that would give Mueller some protection against arbitrary firing. But only a handful of Republicans have been willing to go along, until recently. This week the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on a bipartisan proposal put together by Republican Thom Tillis and Democrat Chris Coons. It might well pass, and then things get interesting.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been adamant that he will not bring the bill to the floor of the Senate. Like Paul Ryan in the House, McConnell claims legislation isn’t necessary, because Trump isn’t going to fire Mueller anyway. (But that could also be an argument for passing the bill: It puts no real restriction on Trump, because he wasn’t going to fire Mueller anyway.) But I’m not sure how anyone can read tweets like this one from Friday and have that kind of confidence.

Sometimes McConnell points out that the effort is doomed anyway, because Trump will veto the bill even if Congress passes it. That’s probably true, but Congress’ position would be on the record: Don’t fire Mueller. Let the investigation take its course. The same logic explains why the Senate should pass it even if the House won’t: at least the Senate’s position will be on the record, and Trump will have been warned.

But even ignoring his bogus arguments, I think I understand McConnell’s thinking: This is a no-win vote for Republicans facing re-election. If they vote against it, they’re spineless partisan hacks bowing down to Trump. If they vote for it, they tick off base voters that they’ll need in November. Much better to just say it isn’t going to happen.

Unless it happens, of course. That would be a true disaster for Republicans facing the voters, and the no-win decision would come back to them in spades: Trump has put himself above the law. Are you going to do something about it or not?


Other people might respond also: The Washingon Post claims that Attorney General Sessions has told White House Counsel Don McGahn that he might resign if Rosenstein gets fired.

That threat lends some credence to a claim James Comey made in an interview with Rachel Maddow Tuesday: The only way Trump could shut down the Russia investigation is to fire the whole Justice Department and the whole FBI.


And that brings up an important question: What are you going to do if Trump fires Mueller or Rosenstein? Nobody Is Above the Law rallies are planned all over the country, to be triggered either by a firing or by Trump pardoning key people who could be witnesses against him. If the triggering event happens before 2 p.m. the rallies start at 5 p.m. local time. If after 2 p.m., the rallies start at noon the next day.

Check for a rally in your area here. I’m planning to go to Veteran’s Park in Manchester. I’ll be the guy in the blue hat that says “Are We Great Again Yet?”

and corruption

There’s an everyday aspect to Trump’s corruption of the presidency that it’s easy to lose sight of. Here and here, for example, he turns the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe into glittering advertisements for his Mar-a-Lago club, which you can join if you’re willing to hand him $200,000. (Chris Hayes has dubbed Mar-a-Lago “the de facto bribery palace”. For just a few hundred thousand “you can personally lobby the president on whatever you want”.)

The videos end with the symbol of the White House, so I assume they were made with public funds. Each has had more than a million views. I have to wonder what advertisements of similar reach would have cost Trump, if they didn’t come as a perk of his job.

Gail Collins quotes Trump speaking to the press with Abe, and then asks:

People, which part of this makes you most unnerved? The fact that the president doesn’t make any sense when he talks or the fact that he devoted a large part of a press conference with the head of one of our most important allies to promoting his resort?

Neither the press-conference testimonial nor the promotional videos Trump made on the White House’s dime tells us how much Prime Minister Abe’s visit cost the two governments, or how much of that money wound up in Trump’s pocket. This was Abe’s second visit to Mar-a-Lago. (The picture above is from the first.) By contrast, President Obama last met Abe in a pair of joint appearances: at Hiroshima and Pearl Harbor. He did not personally profit from either one.

and you also might be interested in …

The Senate is considering a number of Trump nominees. Mike Pompeo is expected to lose a committee vote today, but be approved by the Senate anyway. Gina Haspel as head of the CIA and Ronny Jackson as VA chief will come up in early May.


Long article in Politico about Trump’s relationship with Christian TV networks., which is even more incestuous than his relationship with Fox News. TBN and CBN don’t even have to pretend to be objective.


Kansans talk about their state’s tax-cuts-will-spark-growth experiment, and what it might mean for the country.


Jeff Sessions’s attempt to keep federal funds away from so-called “sanctuary cities” is not legal. Three judges appointed by Republicans unanimously ruled against the Trump policy on Thursday.

“The Attorney General in this case used the sword of federal funding to conscript state and local authorities to aid in federal civil immigration enforcement. But the power of the purse rests with Congress, which authorized the federal funds at issue and did not impose any immigration enforcement conditions on the receipt of such funds,” [Judge Ilana] Rovner wrote, in an opinion joined by Judge William Bauer. “It falls to us, the judiciary, as the remaining branch of the government, to act as a check on such usurpation of power.”

The rule of law is tricky that way. If you want other people to obey the law, you have to obey it yourself.


While we’re on that topic, Trump’s tweets hit a new low on Wednesday:

There is a Revolution going on in California. Soooo many Sanctuary areas want OUT of this ridiculous, crime infested & breeding concept.

This kind of talk never ends well.

The idea that undocumented immigrants “infest” California and “breed” there is the kind of dehumanizing rhetoric that often precedes and justifies mass persecutions. Every genocide in modern times has begun with rhetoric that equated human beings with vermin. Hutu propaganda leading up to the Rwandan genocide referred to the Tutsis as “cockroaches“. Nazis portrayed Jews as “parasites, leeches, devils, rats, bacilli, locusts, vermin, spiders, blood-suckers, lice, and poisonous worms“.

In church yesterday, I found myself sitting one seat away from the woman my congregation is currently sheltering against deportation. I have not interacted with her much myself, but by all accounts she’s a lovely woman who is the mother of American citizens. (One of the kids is old enough to look after the others while Mom is away, but it’s far from an ideal situation.) She’s been living in a small apartment in our church for four months now, as the appeal of her deportation order churns through the system. (That’s the point of the sanctuary movement: to keep ICE from spiriting people away before their cases are heard. DACA recipient Juan Manuel Montes, for example, “had left his wallet in a friend’s car, so he couldn’t produce his ID or proof of his DACA status and was told by agents he couldn’t retrieve them. Within three hours, he was back in Mexico, becoming the first undocumented immigrant with active DACA status deported by the Trump administration’s stepped-up deportation policy.”)

The whole point of Trump’s rhetoric is that people like Maria or Juan aren’t really human — they infest America and breed — so the rest of us shouldn’t care what the government does to them any more than we care about termites.


One widely shared Barbara Bush quote said that she couldn’t understand how women could vote for Trump. She was talking about the way he had insulted Megyn Kelly, but this week we saw a more policy-driven reason for skepticism. Under Trump, the US delegation to the UN Commission on the Status of Women has been turned over to the most zealous culture warriors ever. Official US positions, BuzzFeed reports, are more conservative than even Russia or the Arab countries.

“They were against the whole concept of sexuality education,” the UN official said, adding that the US also opposed the phrase “harm reduction,” which in the context of CSW means “accepting the fact that young people have sex and trying to teach them how to do it safely rather than just abstinence only,” the official explained. The US wanted “no mention of sexuality at all,” the official said.

US representative Valerie Huber would allow no mention of contraception, abortion, or sex education in the consensus statement. She pushed for abstinence education and teaching women “refusal skills”.

“She spoke of ‘trying to get women to make better choices in the future,’ which is that terrifying and outmoded idea that women make bad sexual choices and that what happens to them is their fault,” one of the delegates who attended the meeting told BuzzFeed News.


Ever notice how conservatives talk about “law and order” while liberals talk about “justice”? That’s because laws protect the established order, which is often unjust.


Avoiding Brexit is still a long shot, but it’s possible.

and let’s close with something amazing

A fluid mechanics course at Lamar University came up with a fun way to demonstrate the properties of non-Newtonian fluids. It’s a simple formula — two parts corn starch to one part water, with some food coloring mixed for the sake of appearance — but it behaves in a weird way. It resists sudden motions, behaving like a solid when you jump on it or beat it. But it’s a liquid, so if you stay still you will sink into it.

To Investigate or Not?

At a certain point you’re either for an independent and impartial investigation, or you’re not.

– Ambassador Nikki Haley (4-10-2018)
She was talking about Russia’s approach to Syria’s chemical weapons.
What did you think she was talking about?

This week I have a lot of featured posts that are shorter than usual: “‘Make a Deal’: My Contribution to the Trump/Mueller Musical“, “Can I Stop Writing About Paul Ryan Now?“, and “My taxes are half what I’d pay if I just made wages“.

This week everybody was talking about Syria

A little over a week ago, the rebel-held Syrian town of Douma was hit with a chemical-weapons attack. Suspicion immediately fell on the Assad government, which has done stuff like this before. Assad’s ally Russia vetoed a US resolution in the UN Security Council that would establish a commission to investigate and assess responsibility for the attack.

Early Saturday morning (local time), the US, UK, and France launched missile strikes against what they described as chemical-weapons facilities in Syria. The point, apparently, was not to move the balance-of-power in Syria’s civil war, which Assad (with help from Russia and Iran) is winning. The point was to punish Assad for breaking the international convention against chemical weapons. The attacks were over in a few hours, but the coalition is ready to strike again if Assad uses chemical weapons again. At the moment, Russia appears unlikely to counter-attack.

There are a bunch of issues to unravel here, and I don’t have all the answers.

  • Did Assad use chemical weapons? Russia says no, but their credibility with me is not very high right now. In the US a number of voices — mainly on the right but also a few on the left — are skeptical. But none of the alternative stories — fraud, false flag operation — make a lot of sense. I think the Trump administration wishes the whole Middle East would go away, so I don’t see a motive to fake an attack.
  • Will missile strikes deter future chemical weapons use, or is there some better way? I totally agree with the idea that chemical weapon attacks shouldn’t be tolerated. But is this really the most effective response? Obama threatened an attack, and then tried to negotiate Assad’s weapons away (with Russia as guarantor). That didn’t work. Trump punished Assad with a missile strike last year, and that didn’t work. Why do we think incrementally more punishment is going to work now? Both presidents — Fareed Zakaria points out how similar they are on this issue — tried to calibrate their responses perfectly, so that Assad is deterred, but we don’t wind up more deeply involved in Syria. Is that even possible? I don’t have a better idea, but I have to wonder if we’re working within the wrong frame. Or maybe this attack is more for our own satisfaction — we did something! — than to accomplish a real purpose.
  • Is Trump wagging the dog? As a steadfast Trump critic, I don’t think so. Or if that is what he intended — to divert attention from the Mueller investigation and other scandals — it’s not working. In the absence of further strikes, headlines are already shifting back to Comey’s book and what the feds got by raiding Michael Cohen. (Trump didn’t even manage to distract himself for long.) And if this turns into a longer bombing campaign, Trump’s base will hate it as much or more than I do. They like chest-thumping, but not endless wars with no obvious goal.
  • Do we have some strategy in Syria, or are we just reacting to events as they happen? Compare to Russia: If Russians ask why their government is involved in Syria, they can get some simple answers: to secure an air and naval base in the Mediterranean; to support an allied government that’s fighting Islamic terrorism; to prevent the United States imposing its will on the region; to show the world that Russia is a player again on the international stage. As an American, I can’t think of any similar answers for our involvement. We’re usually just told that worse things would happen if we disengaged.
  • Are attacks like this even legal? The Constitution assigns the war-making power to Congress, which hasn’t passed any substantive authorization since right after 9-11 and just before the Iraq invasion. It’s hard to claim that either of those applies here, since Saddam is long dead and Assad had no connection to 9-11. So Congress is AWOL. It could write a new authorization for intervention in places like Syria, or it could object to presidential overreach. But it’s doing neither. It should at least debate a resolution. Constitutional checks and balances only work when the branches of government compete for influence. When one branch decides it just doesn’t want to be blamed for whatever happens next, the whole system falls apart.

Trump’s announcement of the attack on Syria was the first time I can recall him calling out Russia specifically. Not sure what it means: The WaPo also reports today on how angry Trump was when he realized he was expelling more Russian diplomats than our European allies were.


Thomas Friedman worries about a different aspect of the chaos in Syria: Iran and Israel are starting to shoot at each other. Prior to the US/French/British missile raid, this week the Israelis hit an Iranian base in Syria. They claim it was because an Iranian drone flew from that base in February with the intention of attacking Israel. The claim is hard to evaluate, because the drone was shot down before it could do any damage.

Israel and Iran are now a hair-trigger away from going to the next level — and if that happens, the U.S. and Russia may find it difficult to stay out.

and Paul Ryan

I never get used to the way big stories collide during the Trump Era. It’s like a play whose actors keep stepping on each other’s lines. Wednesday, the Speaker of the House announced his retirement, and it was a one-day wonder.

That’s because Thursday evening the first excerpts of James Comey’s new book appeared, and rumors came out of the White House that Trump was about to fire Rod Rosenstein to rein in the Mueller investigation. Friday we found out that the raid on Michael Cohen’s office may have netted tapes of his conversations with Trump, and then in the evening Trump went on TV to announce an attack on Syria. Oh, and he pardoned the guy who obstructed justice and lied to investigators to protect Dick Cheney during the Valerie Plame scandal, apparently just to remind everybody that obstruction of justice and lying to federal investigators are pardonable offenses. (Wink, wink.)

But let’s go back to Wednesday: The Speaker of the House is retiring in January. He’s the second Speaker to walk away from the job in the last three years. That didn’t used to happen. Sam Rayburn lasted for 17 years, and Tip O’Neil for nearly a decade. O’Neil was 74 when he retired and Rayburn died in office at 79. Ryan is 48 and Boehner was 65 when he retired.

Lots of people have a theory about why. I’ve paid a lot of attention to Ryan over the last six or seven years, so I offer my take in one of the featured posts.

and Michael Cohen

The New Yorker’s Adam Davidson thinks the raid on Michael Cohen’s office marks “the end stages of the Trump Presidency”.

This doesn’t feel like a prophecy; it feels like a simple statement of the apparent truth. I know dozens of reporters and other investigators who have studied Donald Trump and his business and political ties. Some have been skeptical of the idea that President Trump himself knowingly colluded with Russian officials. It seems not at all Trumpian to participate in a complex plan with a long-term, uncertain payoff. Collusion is an imprecise word, but it does seem close to certain that his son Donald, Jr., and several people who worked for him colluded with people close to the Kremlin; it is up to prosecutors and then the courts to figure out if this was illegal or merely deceitful. We may have a hard time finding out what President Trump himself knew and approved.

However, I am unaware of anybody who has taken a serious look at Trump’s business who doesn’t believe that there is a high likelihood of rampant criminality.

Michael Cohen is right in the middle of all that, and has been for decades. Another New Yorker article sums up:

Cohen was directly involved in the Trump Organization’s pursuit of international deals in the years leading up to Trump’s Presidential campaign. During this period, the Trump Organization did business with corrupt politicians, sanctions violators, and money launderers. A key question, which carries significant legal ramifications, is how much the company knew about these partners’ records and reputations. Michael Cohen can answer this question.

He apparently taped phone calls, possibly with Trump or his children. He could be facing jail for his role in the Stormy Daniels pay-off, and possibly other similar incidents. If so, he might have reason to testify against Trump about anything else he knows — testimony that would be admissible if his advice had been used to plan a crime.

Trump and Cohen are claiming that the information seized by the US attorney for the Southern District of New York (not Robert Mueller; this is the job that Chuck Rhodes has on the TV show Billions) is protected by attorney-client privilege and so is inadmissible in court. Right now, the judge does not seem to be buying that claim, but it’s interesting to consider what happens if evidence of criminality is ruled inadmissible, but somehow gets out anyway: Will we tolerate having a criminal president if the evidence proving his criminality can’t be used in court? Would an impeachment hearing in Congress be bound by those rules?

but I took a closer look at my taxes

After I got done with my taxes (within a few days of the deadline, as usual), I refigured what they’d be if I had the same income, but got it all in the form of wages rather than as more investment income than wages. The answer: “My taxes are half what they’d be if I just made wages“. If you’re expecting me to defend the tax system that gives me that kind of advantage, don’t.


BTW, Elizabeth Warren has a bill that would have the IRS send you a tax return, which you could either accept or answer by filing your own. Other countries do this already.

and you also might be interested in …

James Comey’s book appears in stores tomorrow.


The graph below is a little hard to parse, but it captures some really interesting and important information. The full explanation is at Vox.

The authors (Max Roser and Stefan Thewissen) are trying to capture the notion of “inclusive growth”. In other words, an economy that grows without increasing inequality. What they’re plotting is the inflation-adjusted income that puts you at the 90th percentile versus the inflation-adjusted income that puts you in the 10th percentile. Countries higher up the scale have less equality. If your economy grows equally for everybody, your path should be diagonal. More upward slopes indicate increasing inequality, while more horizontal slopes indicate decreasing inequality. The paths start with the data from 1979.

Two things are striking: Early in the Thatcher years, the UK’s path goes straight up, as virtually all the growth goes to the wealthy. And the US’s path is unlike all the other countries’: We’re zig-zagging upwards as our inequality increases over the long term.

The point to learn from the US path is that our inequality problem is unique. You can’t blame it on some global cause like technology or globalization. We’ve been doing something different in this country since roughly the time of Ronald Reagan, and it’s not good.

There’s one thing I’d like to add to their study: As has been pointed out numerous times, things only get more out of hand in the US if you look at the 99th percentile or the 99.9th percentile. I’m curious how the graphs would change if those percentiles were looked at rather than the 90th.


Just another day under the most openly corrupt administration of my lifetime:

An Austin lawyer who dropped the state of Texas’ investigation of Trump University in 2010 may get a lifetime post as a federal judge.

Trump made the payoff nomination Tuesday. It’s up to the Senate now.

“Drain the swamp,” he says.

and let’s close with something fascinating

Bats actually don’t fly like birds. They’re doing something different with their wings.

Scoping the Issues

Assault weapons and large-capacity magazines are not within the scope of the personal right to “bear arms” under the Second Amendment.

Judge William G. Young, U.S. District of Massachusetts

This week’s featured post is “Trump’s long-term effect on American democracy: How worried should we be?

This week everybody was talking about trade

The stock market has been see-sawing several hundred points a day, as investors try to figure out where Trump’s trade dispute with China will go. Are both sides exchanging bluff and bluster in preparation for negotiating some agreement? Or is the recent back-and-forth of tariff announcements exactly what it appears to be?

The really worrisome thought is that the ignorant things Trump (and his Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and trade advisor Peter Navarro) says represent the true depth of the administration’s policy. Matt Yglesias spells out what Ross and Navarro seems to believe: that the equation

GDP = Government spending + Consumer spending + Business investment – Trade Deficit

is more than just an accounting definition. He and Trump seem to believe that if you cut the trade deficit, GDP will automatically rise.

Here’s a quick way to tell that something has gone wrong with the Ross-Navarro argument. Last year, the United States imported $180 billion worth of petroleum products — oil and such.

According to Ross and Navarro, if the United States made it illegal to import oil, thus wiping $180 billion off the trade deficit, our GDP would rise by $180 billion. With labor constituting 44 percent of GDP, that would mean about $80 billion worth of higher wages for American workers. So why doesn’t Congress take this simple, easy step to boost growth and create jobs?

Well, because it’s ridiculous.

What would actually happen is that gasoline would become much more expensive, consumers would need to cut back spending on non-gasoline items, businesses would face a higher cost structure, and the overall economy would slow down with inflation-adjusted incomes falling. Modeling the precise impact of a total shutdown of oil imports is hard (hence the computer models). But we know from experience that the directional impact of sharp disruptions in the supply of imported oil, and it’s not at all what Ross and Navarro say it would be.

Trump seems to believe something similar about trade with China: that getting rid of that $500 billion trade deficit would automatically increase GDP. That’s why he tweets “When you’re already $500 Billion DOWN, you can’t lose!”

and chemical weapons

There’s been another major chemical weapons attack in Syria, and once again the Assad regime looks like the attacker.

When this happened under President Obama, he negotiated Assad giving up his chemical weapons stockpile in a deal guaranteed by Assad’s ally Russia. When it happened again in the early days of the Trump administration, Trump ordered a missile strike against a Syrian airbase.

This time, Trump has tweeted:

President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay.

Whatever that means.

and Scott Pruitt

Since taking over the EPA, Scott Pruitt has had the mission of reversing his agency’s mission: It’s now supposed to protect polluters from regulations rather than use regulations to protect the environment from polluters.

He’s been good at that job. He’s reversed Obama’s Clean Power Plan for lowering carbon emissions from power plants, and is in the process of undoing the higher CAFE standards for cars’ gas mileage. He’s doing his best to muzzle EPA’s scientists.

That industry-pleasing performance is why he’s managed (so far) to weather revelations of corruption that would have sunk any cabinet secretary in any previous administration. Pundits continue to predict that his days are numbered, and even a few Republican senators are saying he has to go. But only one opinion matters, and Trump thinks he is doing a great job.

but here’s somebody you should meet

Trump’s attempt to ban transgender soldiers may seem abstract, unless you know one. Here’s one.

and you also might be interested in …

The indications of a 2018 blue wave are holding. Wisconsin elected a liberal supreme court judge by a wide margin.


Andrew McCabe’s wife says all the stuff she couldn’t say when her husband worked at the FBI.

I have spent countless hours trying to understand how the president and so many others can share such destructive lies about me. Ultimately I believe it somehow never occurred to them that I could be a serious, independent-minded physician who wanted to run for office for legitimate reasons. They rapidly jumped to the conclusion that I must be corrupt, as part of what I believe to be an effort to vilify us to suit their needs.


A federal judge in Massachusetts has rejected a claim that Massachusett’s assault-weapons ban infringes Second Amendment rights. The Massachusetts law more-or-less duplicates the federal assault-weapons ban that was in place from 1994-2004. The opinion, which quotes Justice Scalia’s Heller opinion at length, argues that the AR-15 is fundamentally a military weapon, and that there is no constitutional right for civilians to own military weapons.

This ruling mirrors an appeals court ruling on a similar Maryland law, which the Supreme Court refused to review.


HuffPost has a good article on the roots of the teacher revolts in Oklahoma and Kentucky. Meanwhile, Kansas approved a big increase in education spending, in response to its Supreme Court ruling that the previous budget did not meet the state’s obligations under the Kansas constitution.


Health insurance in Iowa has just gotten more precarious. The state has undercut the ObamaCare market by approving new plans that it says aren’t really insurance, and so don’t have to meet the standards in the ACA. In other words, it’s back to the junk insurance the ACA got rid of. The policies are intended for basically healthy people, and will work for them only as long as they stay basically healthy.

The inevitable result will be a lot of healthy people leaving the ObamaCare system for the cheaper, junkier plans. So insurers will have to raise rates, which will cause more people to leave, and so on.


The Trump administration’s zeal to deport anyone they can now extends to at least one honorably discharged veteran:

Xilong Zhu, 27, who came from China in 2009 to attend college in the United States, enlisted in the Army and was caught in an immigration dragnet involving a fake university set up by the Department of Homeland Security to catch brokers of fraudulent student visas.

Zhu paid tuition to the University of Northern New Jersey, created by DHS to appear as a real school, long enough to ship to basic training using the legal status gained from a student visa issued to attend that school.

Then ICE found him and asked the Army to release him for alleged visa fraud. He left Fort Benning, Ga., on Nov. 16, 2016, in handcuffs as an honorably discharged veteran.

Zhu is a native speaker of Mandarin, a skill the Army values. He had enlisted “through a program designed to trade fast-tracked citizenship for medical and language skills”.


I was going to link to this article last week, but it somehow got lost in the shuffle. The Atlantic raises the question: “Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?” One side effect of the increased Muslim presence in European countries is that many of these immigrants are strongly anti-Semitic. At the same time, the generation of Europeans that felt responsible for the Holocaust is dying off.

There’s a weird counter-productivity going on: The Muslims largely act out against their local Jews because they hate Israel. But if the European Jews leave, many will probably go to Israel, making Israel stronger.


More than half a year after Hurricane Maria, some Puerto Ricans still don’t have power. The image shows how slowly the grid was coming back in the first two weeks. It’s still not all the way back, and the next hurricane season starts June 1.


The Dutch news-comedy show Zondag net Lubach (Sunday with Lubach) tells its viewers about the “devastating humanitarian crisis” afflicting the United States: Nonsensical Rifle Addiction.

and let’s close with something classically funny

I could use a laugh about now, so here are a few Buster Keaton clips.

Playing Beanbag

Sure, politics ain’t bean-bag. ‘Tis a man’s game, an’ women, childer, cripples an’ prohybitionists ‘d do well to keep out iv it.

Mr. Dooley, an Irish-American character created by writer Finley Peter Dunne (1895)

This week’s featured post is “Why does the Right hate victims?

This week everybody was talking (once again) about chaos and scandal in the White House

Like several other Trump officials, Scott Pruitt has already been under fire for overspending on travel and office remodeling. But this week something more serious came out: For his first six months in the Trump administration, Pruitt lived in a condo owned by a lobbyist, and paid a sweetheart rate. One of the lobbyist’s clients was Cheniere Energy, which according to Time, “is best known for its role in the growing U.S. liquefied natural gas industry.”

Worse, there appears to be a quid that pairs with this quo. One of the trips Pruitt overspent on was to Morocco, where

Pruitt met with top foreign affairs and energy officials … The EPA cited outlining the “potential benefit of liquified natural gas (LNG) imports on Morocco’s economy” as a reason for the trip even though promoting U.S. energy is not technically part of Pruitt’s job description.

That’s kind of an understatement. An EPA Director who actually cared about the environment would be encouraging other countries to reduce fossil fuel consumption, rather than encouraging them to buy more fossil fuels from American companies.

So who exactly was Pruitt working for on this trip?


The EPA was also in the news for distributing to its employees “a list of eight things they are allowed to publicly say about climate change.” None of the entries on the list is “Whatever the science shows is true.” Here’s some of what can be said.

Human activity impacts our changing climate in some manner. The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact, and what to do about it, are subject to continuing debate and dialogue.

While there has been extensive research and a host of published reports on climate change, clear gaps remain including our understanding of the role of human activity and what we can do about it.


Ad on Craigslist for Washington, DC: “SEEKING LEAD ATTORNEY FOR DIFFICULT CLIENT (1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW)”.


One of the weirder stories this week was Trump nominating White House physician Ronny Jackson to be head of the Veterans Administration.

A biography released by the White House shows Jackson is credentialed and experienced in medicine but has no background in management.

If you’re not a veteran, you probably only think about the VA when there’s a headline-grabbing scandal. But it’s huge. It “employs 360,000 people and has a $186 billion annual budget”.

You don’t have to think Jackson is a bad guy to believe that he’s way under-qualified. (The departing VA chief, David Shulkin, had been president and CEO of the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York.) Imagine what such a promotion would be like for you, or for someone in your field. My degree is in mathematics, and when I was actively employed in the field (I have a lot of rust on me now) I was reasonably good at it. But even at my best, what would I have known about managing some big organization that employs a lot of mathematicians, like say the university system in a state like California or New York? Not much.

How did he get the job?

White House physician Ronny Jackson’s performance during an extended grilling over President Donald Trump’s health and cognitive fitness played a part in his nomination for secretary of Veterans Affairs, a White House official told CNN Wednesday.

Jackson was almost a cheerleader for Trump’s health, praising his “great genes” and claiming that he might “live to be 200″ if he’d eat a healthier diet. He also signed off on a report listing Trump at 6’3” and 239 pounds — numbers that sound unlikely to “girthers“.

Of course, if you start asking questions about Jackson’s ability to manage the VA, you’re implying that government requires some kind of relevant knowledge or skill. And that idea is anathema in the Trump administration, where Rick Perry is Energy Secretary, Betsy DeVos is Education Secretary, Ben Carson runs HUD, and Donald Trump is President.


Shulkin, meanwhile, claims that his firing is really about his opposition to privatizing the VA.


Crazy story about Shulkin’s firing, which is best learned from Chris Hayes’ interview of Shulkin. (Watch Chris’ face. Normally he’s a subdued interviewer, but this time he can’t suppress expressions of bewilderment. Compared to his usual demeanor, it’s like watching a Looney Tunes character do wild takes. )

On the morning he was fired, Shulkin had a phone conversation with Trump, who gave no indication Shulkin’s job was on the line. Later that day, he gets a call from John Kelly moments before Trump announces via Twitter that Shulkin is fired.

The most plausible speculation I’ve heard is that after the bad press that came from firing Rex Tillerson over Twitter, Kelly insisted Trump do the job himself and arranged the call with Shulkin. Once the call started, though, Trump chickened out and had Kelly do the dirty work later. This, of course, is yet another example of Trump not really being the decisive businessman he played on TV.

Trump, perhaps afraid of unpleasant confrontations, lacks the courage to drop the hatchet himself, preferring to make staffing changes through tweets, leaving officials to learn of their fates from others.

and the Stephon Clark shooting

Clark was shot March 18 in his grandmother’s back yard. Police claimed to mistake the cellphone he was carrying for a gun.

There’s a lot to be suspicious about here. For one thing, police muted their body cameras a few minutes after the shooting, which invites speculation that they wanted to get their story straight. An autopsy shows that most of Clark’s wounds are in the back.

Sacramento has seen several nights of protests this week.


Meanwhile, there’s a bizarre case in Houston, which was caught on video by bystanders. Danny Ray Thomas was walking down the street in broad daylight with his pants around his ankles. When police showed up, he kept waddling towards them in spite of their commands to stop, so they killed him.

and the census

The Atlantic:

On Monday evening, the Commerce Department announced that it would make a controversial change to the next Census that the Trump administration has signaled for months: the addition of a question asking participants about their citizenship status.

The significance of that requires a little explanation: The census is mandated in the Constitution (Article 1, Section 2). It’s always been a count of residents, not citizens. And that count of residents determines how many representatives each state gets in Congress. The 14th Amendment says:

Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State

The problem with the citizenship question is that it might intimidate households that include undocumented immigrants, so that they don’t respond to the census at all. The Census Bureau says that it won’t turn people over to ICE, but the Trump administration says a lot of things that later turn out not to be true. (It’s not a purely paranoid thought: During World War II, census information was used in the infamous Japanese interment.) Given the potential consequences, I can understand respondents being careful.

The result would likely be a significant undercount in states with a lot of undocumented residents, or a lot of citizens and legal residents who live with undocumented relatives. These tend to be Democratic states like California and New York, so the likely result would be to shift Congress more towards Republicans. And because the census also determines how federal money gets distributed among the states, the change would shift federal spending to be even more in favor of red states than it is now.

Digby makes a good parallel:

Imagine the tantrums and rent garments on the right if instead of asking about citizenship status, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross inserted a question on the 2020 census that asked how many guns people keep in their homes.

A plot, I tell you! Why, it will lead to tyranny! It will keep white males from answering, resulting in an undercount and their underrepresentation in Congress.

But adding a question that might result in browner-skinned neighbors not responding? No problem.

I can imagine an argument that representation should be based on citizens alone, rather than on non-citizen residents and even ones who are here without permission. But the proper way to make that argument is to amend the Constitution. Until then, we should do what the Constitution says.


The citizenship question doesn’t just represent bad policy, it’s also bad process. There’s a procedure for introducing new questions into the census. Experiments are done to determine how valuable the data will be, and what the new question will do to the response rate. The citizenship question hasn’t been through that process. The Commerce Secretary just ordered it added with no study.

The Census Scientific Advisory Committee issued a statement:

There is a hierarchy of needs for the decennial census, with an accurate count of foremost importance, so any proposed changes should be evaluated in consideration of the potential impact on completeness and accuracy. … Fundamentally, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. In other words, just because there is not clear evidence that adding the question would harm the census accuracy, this is not evidence that it will not.


Secretary Ross claims the new data will help the Justice Department enforce the Voting Rights Act. But as best anybody can tell, this is the first indication that the Justice Department has any interest in enforcing the Voting Rights Act. It looks like a pretext.

but yesterday was Easter

It was also April Fool’s Day, a convergence that I’m sure inspired a lot of irreverent jokes. I’m going to leave that alone.

Believe or not, I led an Easter service in 2013. Funny story there: I signed up for that date because I had it open on my schedule, and only later realized I had volunteered for Easter. Anyway, I ended up talking about what Easter could mean to people with a secular worldview. I’m still pleased with how it came out.


But as long as it was also April Fool’s Day, there’s this: “Welsh Dragon Successfully Hatched at Bangor University“. It’s about as believable an article as could have been attached to that headline.

The Dragon was born at 00:01hrs this morning, 1st April, as far as we can tell, he appears to be a healthy Welsh Dragon and we‘ve called him Dewi, he is likely to develop his full red colouring on maturity, in about 250 years.

The puff of steam in the photo is a nice touch.

and you also might be interested in …

Tuesday, former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wrote an NYT op-ed calling for repeal of the Second Amendment.  This is not a completely new position for Stevens. In his 2014 book Six Amendments, he proposed inserting five words into the Amendment:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed.

That’s not a repeal, but it would take the Second Amendment out of the current gun-control debate.

Since a repeal is not going to happen, Stevens’ op-ed was interesting mainly for the responses it provoked. Lawrence Tribe in The Washington Post expressed a fairly widespread liberal view:

For years, [the NRA’s] most effective way to shoot down proposed firearms regulations has been to insist, falsely, that any new prohibition would lead to the eventual ban of all firearms. It is easy for those who revile our lax gun laws to lose sight of how many Americans cherish the right of law-abiding citizens to keep guns at home for self-defense or hunting.

The NRA’s strongest rallying cry has been: “They’re coming for our beloved Second Amendment.” Enter Stevens, stage left, boldly calling for the amendment’s demise, thereby giving aid and comfort to the gun lobby’s favorite argument.

You know what we sound like when we talk that way? Family members of a violent lunatic. “Just don’t set him off,” we tell each other.

Personally, I don’t see a need to lobby for a repeal, because I don’t believe that the Second Amendment blocks any particular thing I want to do. I don’t believe, for example, that the Second Amendment protects a personal right to own an AR-15. (Maryland passed an assault-weapons ban covering the AR-15 in 2013. In February, 2017, the federal 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the law constitutional, and the Supreme Court refused to review that ruling last November.)

But I also don’t see why a repeal should be off the table. In a larger sense, I don’t see why we should tip-toe around on any issue, for fear of setting off conservatives. Is there any issue where they give us similar consideration? Quite the opposite: Setting off liberals is often a goal of conservative proposals. On social media, right-wing trolls rejoice in producing “liberal tears”.

Take abortion, for example. Sometimes conservatives whittle away at abortion rights, with waiting periods and time limits and onerous standards for clinics. But that doesn’t stop other conservatives (or even the same conservatives) from proposing to ban abortion outright. They don’t worry at all that their radical proposals will rile up people against their more reasonable-sounding proposals. In fact, it’s the very existence of the radical proposals that makes the other proposals sound reasonable. (This phenomenon is called the Overton Window.)

Or gay rights. Some conservatives are subtly anti-gay, while others openly call for killing gays. I don’t see conservatives trying to police themselves on any issue at all. Why should liberals police ourselves on gun control? If you want to repeal the Second Amendment, you should feel free to say so. It’s a legitimate proposal.


Feeling stymied by the recent spending bill, Trump has floated the idea that the Pentagon should build his wall — it’s national defense, don’t you know?

Because of the $700 & $716 Billion Dollars gotten to rebuild our Military, many jobs are created and our Military is again rich. Building a great Border Wall, with drugs (poison) and enemy combatants pouring into our Country, is all about National Defense. Build WALL through M!

Think about that: “Our military is again rich.” In other words, his increased defense budget was not based on any military necessity, so Trump now sees the Defense Department as a big slush fund he can tap for pet projects.

So anyway, that’s the solution to a mystery I noticed last week: In Trump’s bill-signing ceremony, he claimed that a border wall would put us “in a position, militarily, that is very advantageous”. A military advantage over Mexico? I wondered. Is he anticipating a war there? Nope. He’s just anticipating doing a snow job on the generals.

Personally, I’m still waiting for Mexico to volunteer to pay for the wall. Anybody who claims Trump is keeping his campaign promises needs to explain what happened to that one.


Brian Klaas:

The White House intern photo is like a Where’s Waldo for a non-white person —in a country that is about 40% non-white.


Interesting developments happening out there: Michigan Republican Congressman Mike Bishop has changed the issues page of his web site:

[The page] no longer mentions guns or the Second Amendment. Also scrubbed from the page are descriptions of Bishop as a supporter of right to work laws, his opposition to abortion and to amnesty for undocumented immigrants.

The campaign site now features largely bipartisan issues, including the opioid epidemic, college affordability, Great Lakes conservation and protecting children from predators.

The previous version described him as “a life-long conservative leader with the record to prove it” and called attention to his A/A+ rating from the NRA.


Teachers are getting fed up in more and more states. This week: Oklahoma and Kentucky.

and let’s close with something delicious

I’m a sucker for Top Ten countdowns and Best Something in Every Something articles. (I once lost an hour watching NFL Network count down the top ten left-handed quarterbacks in football history. Would #1 be Steve Young or Ken Stabler?) Well, Food Network has made its official pronouncement of the best dip in every state and where to find its quintessential manifestation.

OK, it doesn’t take a genius to tell you to look for guacamole in California (though I couldn’t have pinpointed La Puerta in San Diego), or green chile salsa in New Mexico (Frontier’s in Albuquerque). But who knew that Vermont (The Skinny Pancake in Burlington) is the place for cheddar spinach artichoke dip? Road trip!

The Voters are Coming

Either represent the people or get out. Stand for us or beware. The voters are coming.

Cameron Kasky, survivor of the Stoneman Douglas shooting

This week’s featured post is “The Return of the Chicken Hawks“.

This week everybody was talking about the March for Our Lives

The Washington Post estimates that “hundreds of thousands” of protesters marched on Washington Saturday to demand an end to gun violence. Hundreds of satellite demonstrations were held around the country. Mayor Bill de Blasio estimated New York City’s march at 175K. Even a capital as small as Montpelier, Vermont saw 2,500 marchers.

Time magazine has assembled “the most powerful speeches” from the rally.

This march, like the nationwide school walkout on March 14, rises out of the Stoneman Douglas shooting in Parkland, Florida on February 14.

I suspect Congress will do little to respond, though there are little tidbits in the spending package passed this week: For example, the ban on federal research into gun violence has ended. (Or has it?) The full significance of marches like this won’t be felt until the fall elections, which should challenge the widespread belief that it’s political suicide to challenge the NRA. Maybe we’ll see that there are large regions of the country where it has become political suicide to get too close the NRA. That would change things.


The Parkland students have become targets of conservative media, which has doctored photos to produce negative memes about them. They’ve also become targets of a huge amount of whataboutism, some of which has gotten picked up by well-meaning people. So: what about bullying? What about learning CPR? What about just being nice to everyone? What about anything that takes the focus off guns?

Students deciding to befriend outcasts who otherwise might someday seek revenge sounds like a good idea, and who really can be against it? But if it’s presented in terms of “if the Parkland kids really wanted to do something, they’d …”, it’s whataboutism.

A key feature of whataboutism is that support for the laudable or important idea it purports to advocate vanishes as soon as the discussion shifts away from guns or whatever other difficult topic it had been on. The point is to divert the conversation, not to discuss the new subject. The obvious example is the way that conversations about police killings of blacks get derailed by “what about black-on-black violence?” The conservatives who bring that up quickly lose interest as soon as public attention shifts away from police killings.


BTW: There’s been another outrageous police killing in Sacramento.


One of the common NRA pushbacks is to say that the kids are using their First Amendment rights to try to take away gun-owners’ Second Amendment rights.

As I explained a few weeks ago, there is absolutely no reason to believe that the Constitution guarantees a right to own an AR-15. The U.S. used to have an assault weapons ban; it wasn’t rejected by the courts, it just expired. Maryland has one now. An appeals court upheld it, saying that “assault weapons and large-capacity magazines are not protected by the Second Amendment.” The Supreme Court refused to review that decision, so it is the most current precedent.


In other gun-related news, Remington filed for bankruptcy.

and Cambridge Analytica

It’s a British political consulting firm started by the Mercers, the conservative donor family that also gave us Steve Bannon and Brietbart. According to whistleblowing insiders, it got hold of 50 million Facebook profiles illicitly, and used that data to target messages intended to persuade voters to pick Trump. It also gave a corporate client, sanctioned Russian mega-corp Lukoil, briefings on how to micro-target American voters. One mystery of the Russian internet campaign for Trump has been how it was so good at targeting voters in a foreign country. This might be the answer.

The Guardian has a page summarizing the story.

and John Bolton

Bolton is the center of this week’s featured post “The Return of the Chicken Hawks“.

In addition to what I say there, it’s interesting to observe the “Scoop. Denial. Scoop confirmed.” pattern at work: At the beginning of this month, CNN and NBC began reporting that H.R. McMaster’s days as National Security Advisor would soon end, perhaps within the month. Trump derided that as “fake news“:

“I was just with President Trump and H.R. McMaster in the Oval Office,” the spokesman, Michael Anton, said in a statement provided to pool reporters. “President Trump said that the NBC News story is ‘fake news,’ and told McMaster that he is doing a great job.”

On March 15, The Washington Post reported McMaster would soon be fired, and mentioned John Bolton as a replacement. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders denied it.

So Thursday, Trump tweeted the non-fake news: McMaster is out, Bolton is in.

The Bolton appointment also follows another pattern that I mentioned last week, of Trump hiring people he likes to watch on Fox News. I expect Judge Judy to be his next Supreme Court pick. (Seriously, I think Judge Napolitano might have a shot.)

and the $1.3 trillion spending bill

This is an omnibus spending bill that appropriates money through the end of the fiscal year (September 30). It’s two thousand pages long, so it’s very hard to summarize. It includes a lot of defense spending, and Republicans had to give Democrats some domestic spending in return. Trumped described that as “things that are really a wasted sum of money”. But it includes stuff like opioid funding, a rail tunnel connecting New York City with New Jersey, and funding for the states to bolster election security against stuff like, say, Russian hacking.

Like so much that has passed recently, the bill shows no concern about the deficit, so Trump wanted to both sign the bill and distance himself from it. That’s why he said he would “never sign another bill like this again.” To avoid facing that choice, he demanded the Senate end the filibuster (which isn’t going to happen) and that he be given a line-item veto (which is unconstitutional).


Trump blamed Democrats for the bill’s failure to address the situation of undocumented immigrants who were allowed to come out of the shadows under President Obama’s DACA program.

DACA recipients have been treated extremely badly by the Democrats. We wanted to include DACA. We wanted to have them in this bill — 800,000 people. And actually, it could even be more. And we wanted to include DACA in this bill. The Democrats would not do it.

This is a little like a kidnapper claiming that he wants to return your little girl, but he can’t because you’ve failed to come up with all the ransom he demanded. Trump is the one who cancelled DACA. In these negotiations, he was holding out for full funding of his wall, all $25 billion of it (which Mexico is contributing none of), in exchange for a temporary extension of DACA. If Democrats were going to pay that much ransom, they wanted a permanent solution for the DACA participants, but Trump wouldn’t agree to that.

Trump and the Republicans could restore DACA any time they want. Just offer a clean bill with no ransom demands, and every Democrat will vote for it.


Three other things struck me odd in Trump’s signing ceremony. First, he said:

I want to address the situation on border security, which I call national defense. I call it stopping drugs from pouring across our border. And I call it illegal immigration. It’s all of those things. But national defense is a very important two words. Because by having a strong border system, including a wall, we are in a position, militarily, that is very advantageous.

Are we anticipating a war with Mexico? If not, why are we seeking military advantages over it?

Second:

we’ve gotten just about a hundred percent of our land back from ISIS

Does the U.S. have territory in Syria or Iraq that I didn’t know about? Talking about “our” land can only remind Syrians and Iraqis of Trump’s assertion — both during the campaign and after he took office — that we should have stolen Iraq’s oil when we had the chance.

Third is something that I can’t find anybody else commenting on. Defense Secretary Mattis noted the big increase in defense spending, and said:

We, in the military, are humbled and grateful to the American people for their sacrifices on behalf of this funding. Now, it’s our responsibility in the military to spend every dollar wisely in order to keep the trust and the confidence of the American people and the Congress.

Here’s what’s wrong with that: I know Mattis is a retired general, but as long as he is Secretary of Defense he is not part of the military. The Secretary of Defense is a civilian, and civilian control of the military is a key principle of American government. Mattis had to get a waiver from Congress to accept the DefSec role, because previous law said Defense secretaries had to have been out of the military for at least seven years.

So if Mattis is still thinking of himself as part of the military, that’s yet another barrier against autocracy that the Trump administration has cast aside.

and Trump’s submissiveness towards Putin

In spite of briefing notes that said DO NOT CONGRATULATE in capital letters, Trump called Putin to congratulate him on his recent victory in what passes for a presidential election in Russia. He talked about meeting Putin in person soon (a surprise to everybody else in the White House), and didn’t bother to mention pesky details like Russian meddling in the 2016 election or Russia’s chemical weapons assassination of an ex-spy in the UK. He is reportedly furious that the press found out about his briefing notes, but hasn’t expressed any second thoughts about his conversation.

Since the Mueller investigation is refusing to leak, the most convincing publicly-available evidence of Trump/Russia collusion comes from the administration’s own behavior:

  • Whenever Trump’s people have been asked about their Russia contacts, they’ve lied.
  • Trump consistently behaves as if he is in Putin’s pocket.

Innocent people don’t act this way, as even Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy has noted.


There is a weird disconnect between Trump and his administration on this issue: This morning Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced that the U.S. is expelling 60 Russian diplomats in response to the UK poisoning. Reportedly, that was on Trump’s order, but once again Trump himself is nowhere to be seen. Both McMaster and Tillerson made strong anti-Russia statements just before they got fired. Should the world pay attention to what they said, or to the fact that they got fired?


Trump defenders have pointed to the time Obama congratulated Putin on an election win. I have two things to say about that:

  • It was also a mistake when Obama did it.
  • Obama’s mistake was much more excusable than Trump’s. In 2012, Putin hadn’t yet stolen Crimea from Ukraine, he wasn’t skirmishing with American troops in Syria, and he hadn’t just ordered a chemical-weapons assassination in the United Kingdom.

and tariffs

Trump is threatening to impose tariffs on $60 billion of imported Chinese products, but there’s a 30-day period to reach some other agreement. The stock market is bouncing up and down, because nobody knows how seriously to take all this. Is it a negotiating tactic, or is it the “economic nationalism” we hear so much about?

The Americans with the most to lose here are farmers, who don’t account for that many votes any more, but are still key to the economies of Trump-supporting states like Iowa and Missouri.

and the Austin bomber

23-year-old Mark Anthony Conditt left a cellphone confession before blowing himself up Wednesday morning. He is believed to have been responsible for six package bombs that he Fed-Exed to his targets in Austin and San Antonio. Two people died and five others were injured, but how he picked them is not clear.

Conditt apparently was part of a Christian survivalist homeschooling group from ages 8 to 13. He had correspondingly conservative social and political views, but it’s not clear that they motivated the bombings.

It’s interesting to watch how careful the media is being not to jump on some detail of Conditt’s life and use it to define him and explain his violent rampage. He is also not being characterized as a terrorist, because that would imply a political motive that he didn’t mention in his confession. Austin police Chief Brian Manley said:

He does not at all mention anything about terrorism, nor does he mention anything about hate. But, instead, it is the outcry of a very challenged young man talking about challenges in his personal life that led him to this point.

That caution might be appropriate, but at the same time it contrasts sharply with how black or Muslim attackers are treated. Imagine if the bomber had been at a Sunni madrassah from 8 to 13. I suspect that would be all the evidence anybody needed to proclaim him a jihadi terrorist. And I doubt we’d be hearing so many reports from his friends and relatives about what a nice young man they thought he was.

That’s a big chunk of white Christian privilege: No matter what you do, people will try to see your point of view.

but I couldn’t help myself and watched the Stormy Daniels interview

In the spirit of all those men through the decades who have bought Playboy for the articles, I’m paying attention to the Stormy Daniels story because of the questions it raises about campaign finance violations and abuse of power. So is Vox’ Dylan Matthews:

As Daniel’s interview on 60 Minutes Sunday night makes clear, this isn’t a scandal about sex. I don’t care if Donald Trump had consensual sex with a woman other than his wife; that’s a matter for him and Melania to handle privately. What I do care about is that the President is a bully, who attempts to silence through money and intimidation anyone (but particularly women) who stands between him and what he wants.

The Daniels interview came just days after Anderson Cooper interviewed Karen McDougal, a Playboy Playmate of the Year — I bet there were great articles in that issue — whose story of an affair with Trump was hushed up just before the election.

The other reason to pay attention to this issue is to watch Evangelicals explain why it doesn’t matter. At the very least, they owe Bill Clinton an apology, because during the Clinton scandals everything they said about moral principles and God’s eternal laws was clearly bullshit. There is no moral principle here for them; it’s just partisanship. Trump is on their side; Clinton was on the other side. End of story.

and you also might be interested in …

In addition to replacing McMaster with Bolton (see above), Trump also either lost or got rid of John Dowd as his lawyer in the Russia investigation, and hired Joseph diGenova, another Fox News talking head who is fond of promoting conspiracy theories without evidence, like his recent charge that “A group of FBI and DOJ people were trying to frame Donald Trump of a falsely created crime.” (It now looks like there might be a snag in the diGenova hiring.)

It’s been widely speculated that the Dowd-out/diGenova-in move points to a change in strategy. Dowd had advised cooperation with the Mueller investigation; perhaps Trump wants to be more combative. Thursday, Rachel Maddow added an ominous spin: She observes that Trump’s legal team is far from a top-flight group. (Major-league Republican lawyers like Ted Olson reportedly aren’t interested.) Maybe that’s because dealing with this case legally is not the plan.

Maybe this is the kind of team he thinks he needs to fight the fight with Mueller’s prosecutors. But, if we are being honest here, let’s get real. What he’s putting together is not the kind of team you put together to mount a legal defense for a president, or in fact to do any serious legal work at all. It appears that that part is over.

What the President is putting together is the kind of team a guy like him might put together to run a PR operation on TV explaining the President’s actions. As hilarious as the President’s D-list lineup of lawyers is starting to look, I’m pretty sure they’re not actually there to do legal work. Him putting these people in place makes it seem like he is going to try to end this by some other means, and they are going to be the team that explains it on Fox News.


It’s official: Republican candidate Rick Saccone conceded the Pennsylvania special election to Conor Lamb.


In Tuesday’s Illinois primary, a Nazi won the Republican nomination in Illinois’ 3rd congressional district. The 3rd is one of those oddly-shaped gerrymandered districts, this time working in the Democrats’ favor. (It includes a chunk of Chicago’s South Side, and then snakes down towards Joliet.) In 2016, Republicans didn’t bother to run a candidate, but this year Arthur Jones, a former head of the American Nazi Party, decided to run as a Republican. The state party denounced him, but didn’t come up with anybody to run against him.

Local media covered the race pretty extensively, so anybody paying attention knew what was going on. There was no cost for skipping that race on the ballot: Running unopposed, Jones was going to win the nomination anyway. But 20,000 Republicans voted for him. It will be interesting to see how much support he gets in November.


An interesting primary is coming up in West Virginia on May 8. One of three candidates running for the chance to challenge Democratic Senator Joe Manchin is Don Blankenship, the coal baron whose corner-cutting on safety led to the deaths of 29 miners in the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.

If there were justice in the world, Blankenship would still be in prison on a manslaughter charge. But he’s rich enough to afford the best lawyers, so instead he’s free after serving one year for conspiring to violate federal safety standards. So he’s running for the Senate, because, why not? I mean, what better way is there to thumb your nose at liberal do-gooders and their bureaucratic rules than to vote for a guy who defied those rules? Going to prison just makes him a martyr, unlike the 29 miners who are merely collateral damage.


Trump’s first attempt to ban transgender Americans from the military fell apart under a combination of legal problems and pushback from the Pentagon. So there’s a new version out. It’s not quite as sweeping as the first version, but accomplishes most of the purpose: getting transgender Americans out.

There’s really no military justification for this policy; the Pentagon isn’t asking for it. But trans people give Trump’s base the creeps, so they feel satisfaction when Trump aims a kick in that direction. Jennifer Finney Boylan writes in the NYT:

God forbid that these most marginalized, maligned and misunderstood Americans make anyone uncomfortable — while staying in a homeless shelter. God forbid that students in high school be free from the threat of violence and bullying. God forbid that trans soldiers be honored for their service, rather than ridiculed, demeaned and discharged by — in Senator Tammy Duckworth’s elegant phrase — “Cadet Bone Spurs.”

The only possible cause served by such unrelenting ignorance and cruelty is the cause of bigotry. For our president, it’s the only motivation he’s ever needed.


The new collective bargaining agreement at the Department of Education is unique in two ways: It wasn’t bargained and the union didn’t agree. The Washington Post’s reading of a union statement says the “agreement”

“guts employee rights, including those addressing workplace health and safety, telework, and alternative work schedules.” Provisions on workplace discrimination, performance appraisals, compensation, child care and training “have all been deleted and replaced with nothing.”

It looks like the Department entered negotiations with the proposal “We’re going to screw you.” The union answered “No you’re not.” The Department interpreted that response as the union failing to negotiate, which it claims allows it to impose the agreement it wants.

It’s not clear to me what leverage the union has: It could shut down the Department of Education with a strike, but the administration doesn’t care about education and would probably be happy to see the Ed Department go away. It’s easy to imagine something similar happening at all the other departments and agencies the administration doesn’t care about: HUD, EPA, HHS … basically everything but Defense, Treasury, and ICE.

and let’s close with something self-diagnostic

Do you suspect you might have a cognitive bias? This graphic (high-res version you might actually be able to read) claims to cover all of them.

Waves

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.